‘Gabe’s’ fields must endure

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‘Gabe’s’ fields must endure
By Phil Catalfo
Berkeley Daily Planet
Saturday February 09, 2002

Editor:
I for one am long since fed up with the arguments with which L. A. Wood regularly fills the op/edvpages of local papers, but I must say I'm grateful to him for finally laying on the table what has always been his objective — not the protection of the local environment or the health of local children, but the relocation of the city's Corporation Yard.

Those of us who have watched him do his thing at city council and commission meetings over the years, standing virtually in lone opposition to the creation of a city park at Fourth and Harrison, are relieved to have him say this so bluntly, as he did in the statement you published on February 6. But it's time for him to dispense with his pretense of concern over our childrens' health.

As he has innumerable times in the past, Mr. Wood raises the specter of putative ill effects the respiratory health of children using the new park as a reason the park should never have been developed. He doesn't mention that in a study just published in the British medical journal The Lancet (Feb. 2, 2002), it was high concentrations of ozone (which is not found in high levels at the new park), and not particulates (which were found in recent studies done at the park), which were found to have an adverse effect (in the form of increased relative risk of new diagnoses of asthma among children playing outdoor sports) on the health of children in the study. Indeed, while the study's authors conclude that "the incidence of new asthma diagnoses is associated with heavy exercise in communities with high levels of ambient ozone," they point out that "no effect of sports on asthma was seen in communities with high concentrations of pollutants other than ozone."

Even if there had been conclusive proof of an adverse effect on children playing at this site, there's another key point to keep in mind. As the city's own public health officer, Dr. Poki Namkung, stated at a Park & Rec Commission hearing concerning the new park (when it was still being proposed) some years ago, any increased risk of respiratory illness that might result from sports activities at the site would have to be weighed against the obvious and pervasive increased benefit of having a great number of children exercising on a regular basis--which, happily, now takes place year-round at the
park.

I must say I'm perplexed at Mr. Wood's references to the citizens who advocated the development of a park at the Harrison Street site as a "special interest" group. From where I sat it looked like something a lot simpler and less dastardly: citizen activism. The plain fact is that a great many people in our community wanted the park to happen, whereas very few people wanted the site used for as a new location for the Corporation Yard.

Lastly, I would like to express my dismay at the Planet's (and in this case, Mr. Wood's) repeated references to the playing fields at the park as the "Harrison play fields" and the like. In 2000, the city council, acting on the recommendation of its Park & Rec Commission, officially named the fields after my son, Gabriel ("Gabe") Catalfo, who played soccer, baseball, and many other sports all over Berkeley, and who died in 1998 at age 15 after struggling for half his life against
leukemia.

For reasons unknown to me, there are still no signs at the park making this clear, but the fact remains that they are officially named Gabe Catalfo Fields, as both you and Mr. Wood should be well aware. As I pointed out at a city council meeting years ago, given the terrible illness which claimed Gabe's life, I would be the last person on earth to want to expose my neighbors' children to untoward health risks. It is precisely because I have always believed that this park--which, when I was among those working to create it, I hoped to see Gabe and his brother play at one day, not have named after him — would enhance the health and spirit of Berkeley's kids that I worked so hard alongside so many other Berkeley parents to help make it happen. Notwithstanding the problems that have attended its development, the fact that the park exists today is a great victory for the kids of Berkeley, and the city council, commissions, staff, and everyone else involved in the effort.

Phil Catalfo

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