Thursday, December 23, 2010

2010-12-23 Bay Area news

- Omissions in the following articles are noted as "[ ... ]"
- Anything added by the blog's editors are shaded blue

San Pablo Bay ecology
2010-12-17 "Proximity to Freeways Could Increase Autism Risk; The risk may be due to the type and level of pollutants on a freeway" from "KTLA News"
LOS ANGELES ( KTLA) -- A new study suggests that traffic pollution may put children at a greater risk of developing autism. Researchers at the Saban Research Institute of Children's Hospital Los Angeles found that babies who lived within 1,000 feet of a freeway, but not a major road, had twice the risk of autism.
The study suggests that environmental factors may play a role in the development of the disease in some children. Researchers say the heightened risk may be due to the type and high level of pollutants on a freeway. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reported cases of autism cases increased by 57 percent between 2002 and 2006. There is no cure for autism.
A 2006 study also found autistic children were 50 percent more likely to have been born around contaminated air.

2010-12-19 "US water has large amounts of likely carcinogen: study" from "AFP" newswire
WASHINGTON (AFP) – A US environmental group has found that drinking water in 35 American cities contains hexavalent chromium, a probable carcinogen, The Washington Post reported Sunday. The study by the Environmental Working Group -- the first nationwide analysis measuring the presence of the chemical in US water systems -- is to be made public on Monday, the daily reported.
The group found hexavalent chromium in the tap water of 31 out of 35 cities sampled. Of those, 25 had levels that exceeded the goal proposed in California, which has been trying aggressively to reduce the chemical in its water supply.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency is considering whether to set a limit for hexavalent chromium in tap water. The agency is reviewing the chemical after the National Institutes of Health, deemed it a "probable carcinogen" in 2008.
Hexavalent chromium has long been known to cause lung cancer when inhaled, and scientists recently found evidence that it causes cancer in laboratory animals when ingested. It has been linked in animals to liver and kidney damage as well as leukemia, stomach cancer and other cancers.
A widely used industrial chemical until the early 1990s, hexavalent chromium still used in some industries, such as in chrome plating and the manufacturing of plastics and dyes. The chemical can also leach into groundwater from natural ores.
The chemical compound was first made famous in the hit 2000 Hollywood movie "Erin Brockovich" about the eponymous environmental crusader who also commented on the EWG's alarming finding.
"This chemical has been so widely used by so many industries across the US that this doesn't surprise me," said Brockovich, known for her fight on behalf of the residents of Hinkley, California against Pacific Gas & Electric. In that case, PG&E was accused of leaking hexavalent chromium into the town's groundwater for more than 30 years, and ultimately was made to pay 333 million dollars in damages to more than 600 inhabitants of the town, which it was required to clean up. "Our municipal water supplies are in danger all over the US," Brockovich told The Post. "This is a chemical that should be regulated."

2010-12-16 "Dangers Of Plastic Addiction Revealed In New Documentary" by Beth Buczynski
Forget the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Traces of plastic and the chemicals used to make plastic have been found in our soil, food, and even our blood.
The plastic industry [] annually generates hundreds of billions of dollars. Every industrial sector in the world today is dependent on plastic. The amount of plastic we have produced since it was invented would be enough to cover the entire globe six times over. But this inexpensive and convenient substance comes with a hefty price [].
In "Plastic Planet," [] an investigative motion-picture documentary slated to hit American markets next month, director Werner Boote shows that plastic has emerged as a global threat. For Boote, the plastic problem is personal: His grandfather was one of the early manufacturers of plastic
The movie asks questions that concern all of us: Why don't we change our consumption behavior? Why is the industry not reacting to apparent dangers? Who is held accountable for hills of garbage mounting in Deserts and Seas? Who wins in this game? And who loses?
Watch [] as interviews with the world's foremost experts in biology, pharmacology, and genetics shed light on the perils of plastic to our environment and expose the truth of how plastic affects our bodies and the health of future generations [].

2010-12-17 "Wild coho salmon run in Marin County renews hope" by Peter Fimrite from "San Francisco Chronicle" newspaper
One of the last runs of wild coho salmon in California has surged into the Lagunitas Creek watershed in western Marin County, bringing renewed hope to fisheries experts, watershed managers and those who have devoted their lives to salmon procreation. The endangered fish had all but disappeared over the past two years, creating fear among biologists that the species was in the midst of a death spiral. Then, during rains this past week, the fish arrived and began laying eggs in the creek and tributaries, which wind through the lush San Geronimo Valley.
Biologists with the Salmon Protection and Watershed Network, or SPAWN, the Marin Municipal Water District and the National Park Service counted 55 coho and 30 egg nests, or redds, in Lagunitas and San Geronimo creeks and in Devil's Gulch over the past week. "That's the most that we've seen in a single week in three years," said Eric Ettlinger, the aquatic ecologist for the water district. "After two terrible years for coho, it's a relief to have more fish returning to Lagunitas Creek, so I'm cautiously optimistic that we've seen the worst of the population decline."
The Lagunitas watershed, which winds 33 miles through the picturesque redwood- and oak-studded valley on the northwest side of Mount Tamalpais, supports the largest wild run of coho salmon along the Central Coast and is considered a model for fisheries restoration around the state. It is unique in that the primary spawning grounds are in the middle of developed communities. Some 40 percent of the coho in the watershed are hatched in tributaries surrounded by homes, golf courses, roads and horse corrals in the 9-square-mile San Geronimo Valley.
Coho in Central California were listed as endangered in 2005 under the Endangered Species Act. The Lagunitas is considered by fisheries biologists to be the last true refuge for wild coho on the Central Coast. There are bigger runs elsewhere - especially after the dramatic decline over the past two years - but many of the coho in other places were raised in hatcheries.
Marin's wild coho took their time this year - they usually swim up the creek during the first rains - and even though their undulating figures can be seen over the gravel beds, the numbers are well below average for this time of year. Last winter, 67 live fish and 51 redds were spotted during spawning season. The year before that, 43 fish and 26 redds were counted. Those two years are the worst on record. In 2004-05, 1,342 coho were seen in the watershed. Those fish left 496 egg nests. The average since 1995 is 524 fish and 217 redds in Lagunitas Creek and its tributaries. While the fish now in the creek are encouraging to water and fisheries managers, not everyone is so optimistic.
"We are down to the end of the line," Todd Steiner, the executive director of SPAWN, said. "Despite better than average rainfall and early rainfall, which is normally good for coho, we didn't see fish until about two weeks ago. The National Marine Fishery Service is saying we're in an extinction vortex. We're at the now-or-never point."
SPAWN filed a lawsuit in September accusing Marin County of inadequately evaluating the environmental dangers to coho. Steiner wants the county to pass regulations forcing property owners to consider impacts to fish habitat during renovations, when cutting trees or when building near the creek. The issue is a difficult one for Marin County, which uses the Lagunitas system as its primary source of drinking water. Seven dams have been built since 1873, blocking 50 percent of the historic salmon spawning habitat. It is a common story. Hydroelectric dams, reservoirs, gravel mining and development have been blamed all along the West Coast for a catastrophic decline in the population of coho, chinook salmon and steelhead trout.
So few chinook returned to spawn in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River system the past few years that ocean fishing has been severely curtailed in California and Oregon. The county recently completed a Salmon Habitat Enhancement Plan focused on Lagunitas Creek, and the water district has worked with SPAWN to restore riparian habitat. Most of the fish and eggs that biologists observed this week were in San Geronimo Creek, which Ettlinger said is good because coho eggs and fry are less vulnerable to floods in the tributaries than in the main stem of Lagunitas Creek. The hope, said Ettlinger, is that more coho will spawn in the creek over the next two weeks, bringing the totals at least somewhere close to average.
"The population has fluctuated for a lot of years, and it's been declining now for probably the last six years, so each year's class has been smaller than its parent generation," Ettlinger said. "But we've seen the population rebound after low returns in the past." There are encouraging signs, Ettlinger said. Biologists spotted a lot of jacks, small male salmon that return to their natal streams one year earlier than their siblings. The number of jacks in any given stream is a good indicator of how many fish will return the next year. Of the 55 coho observed, 17, or 30 percent, were jacks, he said. Seeing fish at all is encouraging, said Steiner's colleague, watershed biologist Carrie Sendack, as she watched a coho couple wriggling together over their eggs. "As long as there's fish," she said, "there's hope."

2010-12-18 "Brentwood fish ladder to help Marsh Creek salmon" by Carolyn Jones from "San Francisco Chronicle" newspaper
The last time salmon swam through Brentwood, the town wasn't much more than peach orchards and a post office. But on Friday, a giddy team of officials and environmentalists unveiled a $400,000 fish ladder along Marsh Creek that will allow fall runs of chinook and steelhead into one of the East Bay's biggest watersheds for the first time in 52 years. "We want to make this a nicer place to be, not just for the fish but for the entire community," said Oakley resident Diane Burgis of Friends of Marsh Creek, one of a dozen groups that helped build the fish ladder. "This will help people care more about the creek and hopefully more about the bigger picture."
The fish ladder is a 50-foot-long sloped concrete chute bypassing a 6-foot waterfall on the creek. The waterfall was built in 1958 to slow the creek's flow, protecting nearby farms from erosion and flooding. Salmon, once plentiful in Marsh Creek, have been unable to pass the waterfall since then. Passers-by have spotted 30-inch chinook floating dead by the waterfall, just 3 miles from the San Joaquin River. Historically, hundreds of salmon annually swam through the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to Marsh Creek, one of the first major tributaries along the San Joaquin for fish returning from the ocean to spawn. Marsh Creek, which originates in the eastern slopes of Mount Diablo, collects water from five or six other streams before it flows into the delta, making it the second-largest watershed in Contra Costa County behind Walnut Creek. Five years after the artificial waterfall was built, Marsh Creek flora and fauna suffered another setback. In 1963, Contra Costa County built Marsh Creek Reservoir 3 miles upstream from Brentwood. Blackfish, catfish, Sacramento suckers and other non-migrating fish were essentially trapped between the waterfall and the dam.
Catfish and their brethren are still there, but thanks to the fish ladder, they can now see what lies beyond Brentwood. And soon they'll be joined by salmon. With the fish ladder, salmon will be able to travel 7 more miles up Marsh Creek, wending through shady, gravel-filled pools until they hit the dam. The county has no plans to remove the dam, so this is as good as it'll get for salmon in Marsh Creek. Residents, environmentalists and county officials have been working on helping salmon on Marsh Creek for 10 years. The primary hurdles were money and engineering, finding a simple and cheap way to make the creek friendlier for salmon without eroding adjacent farms. "We own the creek, but the fish live in it," said Mitch Avalon, deputy chief engineer for the Contra Costa County Flood Control District, which oversaw the project engineering. "We wanted to respect that, give the fish someplace to go."
Salmon need all the respect they can get these days. The runs expected in Marsh Creek are deeply diminished over the past few years due mostly to temperature changes in the delta and depleted food sources in the Pacific Ocean. In 2004-05, 115 salmon swam as far as the waterfall on Marsh Creek. Since then, scientists have seen none, said Sarah Puckett of the Natural Heritage Institute, a San Francisco nonprofit that worked on the fish ladder. In all, salmon have lost 90 percent of their habitat over the last century or so. "We're doing our small part to help restore the salmon population," Puckett said. "All these groups, we all have to work together on this problem. Nothing gets done alone."

2010-12-23 "Marin County sewage spills may be sabotage" by Peter Fimrite from "San Francisco Chronicle" newspaper
As much as a million gallons of sewage has poured into Marin County's Corte Madera Creek this week - including sludge from a pipe that ruptured Wednesday - following a series of mishaps that officials believe could be sabotage. The raw sewage bubbled out of a badly clogged pipeline in Kentfield Friday. Then, about 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, a large pipe apparently burst underneath a berm used by locals as a jogging trail next to the creek, about three-quarters of a mile west of Sir Francis Drake Boulevard. An undetermined amount of effluent spewed out of the ruptured pipe, said Brett Richards, general manager of the Ross Valley Sanitary District.
"It was a major pipe failure," said Richards, whose agency handles sewage for the Ross Valley, including Fairfax, San Anselmo, Kentfield, Greenbrae and San Quentin State Prison. "We don't know how much spilled or the exact cause until we dig it up and take a look at it, but our hunch is that the two are related." Richards said an estimated 740,000 gallons overflowed Friday in several locations in Kentfield, the worst of which was at Stadium Way and College Avenue. As much as 95 percent of the stinking brew flowed out of a manhole cover into a storm drain and emptied out into the creek, he said. Workers dispatched to the scene found what Richards said was "an extraordinary amount of debris in our pipe."
The 30-inch-diameter PVC pipe was clogged with large chunks of road asphalt, thick pieces of the kind of rubber used on running tracks, rolls of wire and even construction helmets. The junk was enough to fill a small dump truck, he said. "There is no rational explanation for that stuff to be in the pipe," Richards said. "The only way for that debris to get inside the manhole is for someone to open the manhole cover and put it in there." Richards said the pipe failure Wednesday is a half mile away on the same sewage line. He doubts debris is blocking that section because it is a much larger pipe, but he said something that was dumped into the pipeline might have caused the damage. The pipe that failed was made out of an asphalt-lined fiberglass substance known as Techite, a product that was used widely in the 1970s but was discontinued after it was blamed for numerous burst pipes. Richards said the district spent $6 million this past year replacing sections of Techite and intends to replace all of it, but he doesn't believe that was the reason for the pipe failure.
He believes someone either sabotaged the sewer line or a construction worker threw the debris down a manhole instead of taking it to the dump. "It is not uncommon to find garbage and other debris stuffed down manholes, but usually its just small stuff," he said. "We have wheelbarrows full of debris. There is some malice involved in this. We just don't know who." The sanitary district notified the FBI in addition to the Regional Water Quality Control Board, the Marin County Department of Health and Human Services and California Department of Fish and Game.

Solano County [Vallejo, Vacaville, etc.]
2010-12-23 "About 15 percent of Solano County smokes tobacco" by Ryan Chalk from "The Reporter" newspaper, and Matthias Gafni from "Contra Costa Times" newspaper
Roughly 15 percent of Solano County's population smokes tobacco, one of the highest rates in the nine Bay Area county region, according to a county-by-county study released by the state Department of Health Services. Solano County ranked seventh among the nine Bay Area counties at 14.6 percent, twice as high as Marin County's 7.3 percent smoking rate and higher than the statewide rate of 13.1 percent, according to the state Department of Health study examining 2008 data.
The statewide rate is the lowest its been, with nearly 4 million Californians smoking. Felicia Flores-Workman, project director for the Solano County Tobacco Prevention & Education Program, said this is the first time Solano County has had its own data analyzed by the state. In the past, Solano County had been included in a larger sample which included San Mateo County data. The low East Bay rates are not surprising, California's public health director said. "Smoking prevalence tends to be higher in rural counties than urban counties," Dr. Mark Horton said.
The state hopes to investigate why rural counties average 15.9 percent versus 10.9 percent in urban counties, he said. "I can see how from a surgeon general's prospective there are some concerns," Flores-Workman said. She suggested one reason Solano County's smoking rate was higher than other Bay Area counties was demographics. "I would suspect that when income increases, smoking prevalence decreases," she said. The same holds true for one's education level playing a part in whether they smoke, she added.
Flores-Workman also pointed out that Solano County is also home to Travis Air Force Base, which might have played a part in the county's smoking rate since there is a higher population of young people in the service and smoking is prevalent among that population. However, the county has taken measures to curb smoking.
Solano County Tobacco Prevention & Education Program is working with housing authority staff in Benicia to help property managers develop smoke-free policies for apartments and other multi-unit housing complexes. Such measures have already been implemented in Vacaville and Suisun. Not only does it help protect non-smokers from second-hand smoke but acts encourages smokers to kick their habit, according to Flores-Workman.
While the FDA recently banned flavored cigarettes, Flores-Workman said the Solano County Tobacco Prevention & Education Program is in line with other counties hoping to lobby the Federal Drug Administration to ban menthol cigarettes, which target young smokers and black neighborhoods. "Those are considered to be youth starter products," she said.
In addition to educating the public about the harmful effects of smoking through outreach and advisory groups, the program is scheduled to offer a series of free "Kick The Butts!" classes in January, just in time for those New Year's resolutions that include quitting smoking, Flores-Workman said.
For more information about tobacco cessation information and quit smoking services in Solano County, log on to, or call 784-8900, or 800-287-7357. The report also provided statewide smoking demographics.
Some other report findings:
* Men still smoke at higher rates than women, 15.6 percent versus 10.7 percent, according to 2009 data.
* The college graduate smoking rate was 5.9 percent in 2008, compared to 12 to 15 percent for those with lesser education.
* In 2008, households with an income of more than $150,000 had a 7.8 percent smoking rate, compared to a 19.8 percent rate for those making less than $20,000.
* The Asian smoking rate in 2008 dropped to 8.1 percent, and the Latino rate dropped to 10.2 percent.
* Americans smoke more than 360 billion cigarettes annually in America, leading to 135 million pounds of discarded butts. The toxic filters represent 28 percent of total litter collected worldwide, the most prevalent item identified.

Napa Valley
2010-12-17 "A catch-22 at Cuttings Wharf" letter to the editor of "Napa Valley Register" newspaper

I have been following the story regarding the rental homes at Cuttings Wharf that are operated by Mr. Moore. Napa County apparently inspects rental properties to ensure that they are safe to live in. The county has determined that improvements must be made to Mr. Moore’s homes or they cannot be occupied. Mr. Moore has chosen to demolish them.
If the improvements were made, higher rental rates would be justified. One renter identified in the paper is paying $375 per month. The least expensive rental listed in today’s classifieds is $800 per month. It appears that the current tenants are aware of the conditions of the homes and have decided that they are the best value for their money.
The dilemma is whether to allow people to knowingly rent unsafe housing or, in the interest of their safety, to force them to pay higher rental costs. If Napa County is concerned with the safety of its residents, I hope it can help these people find safe housing that is affordable to them. Otherwise, the possibility exists that they will not have any roof over their heads. How safe is that?
Doug Marx / Napa

2010-12-17 "New ‘green’ coordinator brings flair, enthusiasm" by Natalie Hoffman from "Napa Valley Register" newspaper
Andrea Fox, the new coordinator for the city’s blossoming sustainability program, is fired up about making Napa a greener place to live.
Driving her self proclaimed “CleanGreenNapa” program is about $700,000 in federal stimulus funding from the U.S. Department of Energy. About $250,000 of that will pay for Fox’ salary and benefits for two years, while also covering program administrative costs in the same time frame.
Fox’s role is twofold: managing grant money and projects while helping the city become more sustainable and energy-efficient overall.
Fox, 30, said she gave the program its new name — CleanGreenNapa — to get away from a title riddled with city jargon. The idea, she said, is keeping things catchy so locals recognize the program as the city gets ideas from residents.
“My interest in sustainability comes from growing up with the understanding that it is very important,” she said. “I think where my big passion lies is in finding the easy ways to be green and more sustainable.”
Hailing from Omaha, Neb., Fox’s work history put her in one of the nation’s more conservative — and perhaps less ecologically-friendly — regions. That experience honed her skills when it comes to finding practical ways to save fuel, energy and other resources to benefit the environment, she said.
“Having come from Nebraska really exposed me to learning to be really practical when talking about sustainability issues,” she said.
Aug. 30 was Fox’s first day on the job in Napa. She most recently specialized in sustainability issues as a legislative aid to Nebraska state Senator Heath Mello from fall 2009 to summer 2010. Before that, she worked as an assistant to Omaha’s mayor from 2005 to 2009, with a range of duties including managing a sustainability program for the city.
Among other projects, Fox’s CleanGreenNapa program will include a two-part sustainability plan, but details and budgets have yet to be ironed out, she said.
Overall, the city plan will guide each department in becoming more sustainable, and includes plans to convert city streetlamps to more energy-efficient LED lighting. Brainstorming ideas with city department managers about making city operations more environmentally friendly is also on the horizon, she said.
When it comes to ideas from residents, Fox said the city will rely on feedback from public meetings in coming months. The idea, she said, is tapping Napa’s collective ideas about new ways people or the city can go green.
“I really want the community to own that plan,” she said. “It’s really important to me that the community is heard.”
Fox said the city will be finding ways over the next few months to get ideas from residents.
Fox is also launching a greenhouse gas inventory for city buildings, with plans to complete it within the same time frame.
Finally, Fox will also be ferreting out future grant opportunities for the city during her two-year tenure as program coordinator.
Fox comes aboard with the city as the Napa County Transportation and Planning Agency moves forward with plans for an expanded transit center on Burnell Street near Napa Valley Exposition. The agency wants more riders and reduce Napa’s carbon footprint.
Napans and other Californians are “leading the way on a lot of fronts” when it comes to sustainability, Fox said Thursday. The city is hiring a firm to work with Fox and other city employees on green projects, she said.
“As someone who has cared about these issues for so long, it’s great to be around people who are like-minded,” she said.

2010-12-23 "American Canyon man convicted for cocaine smuggling" by Josh Richman from "MediaNews Group"
An American Canyon man has been convicted by a federal jury for his role in leading a smuggling operation that ran large amounts of cocaine through Oakland International Airport.
Evidence at his seven-day trial showed Millard Chambers, 46, led a smuggling operation in which an airport employee carried the drug past security checkpoints and handed it off to a courier, who then flew to Pittsburgh for delivery to a customer in Warren, Ohio. The conspiracy lasted for eight months, from February to September 2008, before FBI agents caught the courier with six kilograms of cocaine in her luggage, federal prosecutors said; Chambers was first indicted in October 2008.
Chambers was convicted Tuesday on one count each of conspiracy; attempted distribution and possession with intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine; and distribution and possession with intent to distribute the drug. He's scheduled to be sentenced March 9 by U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton in Oakland; the maximum penalty for his crimes would be life imprisonment. Chambers has three prior felony convictions for drug trafficking and possession -- including an earlier federal conviction for distributing one kilogram or more of cocaine -- so he's now subject to a mandatory minimum prison term of 20 years and a maximum fine of $8 million.
Two co-conspirators pleaded guilty earlier: Tommy Dyson was sentenced in May 2009 to 10 years in federal prison, and Robert Ellis was sentenced in November 2009 to six years and eight months in federal prison. The three other co-conspirators -- Donald Phillips II, Kenneth Payton and Elizabeth Fainelli -- have charges pending against them; Fainelli, the courier, testified against Chambers at his trial.

San Francisco city
2010-12-24 "Local-hire ordinance is law - no veto" by John Coté from "San Francisco Chronicle" newspaper

San Francisco's local-hire ordinance - billed as the toughest in the country - will become law after Mayor Gavin Newsom on Thursday declined to veto the measure. Newsom returned the legislation to the Board of Supervisors unsigned, saying he has reservations about parts of it and wants the city to pursue reciprocity agreements with neighboring counties. Because his move was short of a veto, the measure will go into effect in 2011. "Local-hire policy is a complex arena that operates on a delicate balance," Newsom wrote in his letter.
Even if Newsom had tried to kill the measure, his veto probably would have been overturned. A veto-proof majority of the board had approved the measure earlier this month on an 8-3 vote. Under the ordinance, introduced by Supervisor John Avalos, city contractors and subcontractors working on city-funded construction projects worth $400,000 or more would have to ensure that at least 20 percent of the workers live in San Francisco during the first year the mandate becomes effective; the local-worker requirement increases 5 percentage points every year until it hits the 50 percent mark in seven years. Contractors who fail to meet the requirement will face financial penalties. The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors and other Peninsula officials called on Newsom to veto the measure, saying it will hurt workers there. "The economic recession has no boundaries," said Assemblyman Rich Gordon, whose district includes much of the Peninsula and Silicon Valley. "If local governments choose to tackle their challenges through myopic self- interest, regional problems relating to employment, the environment, education and transportation will not be solved for the betterment of Bay Area residents." The legislation contains exemptions, though, for two major projects in San Mateo County - improvements to San Francisco International Airport and San Francisco's water system, which also serves much of the region.

Alameda County
[Oakland, Berkeley, etc.]
2010-12-22 "My nephew is killed by Oakland police" by Wanda Sabir from "San Francisco Bay View" newspaper

Bay View Arts Editor Wanda Sabir can be reached at wsab1 @ Visit her website at [] throughout the month for updates to Wanda’s Picks, her blog, photos and Wanda’s Picks Radio. Her shows are streamed live Wednesdays at 6-7:30 or 8 a.m. and Fridays at 8-10 a.m., can be heard by phone at (347) 237-4610 and are archived on the Afrikan Sistahs’ Media Network [].
My nephew was shot and killed by Oakland police Monday afternoon, Dec. 20. I’m in Dakar at a plenary about youth while a youth in Oakland lies dying in a backyard. Aba was 19. The elder of two sons, he was a sweet boy hanging out with the wrong people. No matter what my sister, Octavia, his mother, suggested, he resisted, yet this was no reason to kill him. I know the neighborhood where Aba was killed well. My daughter and I used to live just around the corner from where the crash and foot chase happened, near Oakland’s Highland Hospital.
I invited Aba and his mother, Octavia, to the Susan L. Taylor kick-off just three weeks ago: A New Way Forward: Healing What’s Hurting Black America. I told Octavia that she would meet some of the organizers who could help her with Aba, like Baayan Bakari, who is at The Mentoring Center, Dr. Shawn Ginwright, whose specialty is addressing the violence and dysfunction among urban youth, and Dereca Blackmon, who is project director for Oakland Cares and an expert on radical healing exemplified in her outstanding work with youth at Leadership Excellence. We even invited Aba’s parole officer.
Aba complained he was bored, so he and his mother left early; they left before the youth spoke and presented later in the program. The youth testimonies were really powerful. I wonder why when there is a program about or for the youth, they present last or not at all, as was the case at the plenary in Dakar. The three youth who made comments only had between one and five minutes just before the session ended. Only one youth was from the Diaspora. No one mentioned the genocide in Black communities outside continental Africa.
Perhaps if Aba had heard the youths’ stories he might not have been in the car yesterday. It’s all about choice and sometimes one makes certain choices based on one’s known world. The police also make choices, and theirs is to shoot to kill. The news report said this was the sixth shooting in recent months and four out of the six ended in fatality. What a wasted life! Aba had so much to live for, so much unexplored. Black America really does need to look at a new way forward and, for boys like Aba who are in crisis, there has to be some kind of on-the-ground mechanism to reach them before the coroner’s office does.
Aba’s mother was looking for help, looking for answers and the fact that Aba was there with her – complaining but there – meant that perhaps on a deep psychic and spiritual level he wanted to try something different as well. We were just too slow to reach him and his need was urgent. We need a better triage system so we stop losing our youth. On the street, young Black men fear and are feared. They are like the ducks sitting in a row at the amusement park: Aim and shoot is the protocol. The ducks are all taken dead; there are no live ducks sitting on the wire when the game is played right.
Therefore, we have to rescue our kids, pull them off and away from the rifle range. Often, these boys don’t listen to their mothers, and Aba had a good mother in Octavia. They need men to lovingly offer them alternatives and give them boundaries with logical and reasonable consequences. One would think that if in the six police altercations, the four people killed were shot in pursuit, then perhaps one shouldn’t run. But even if one stops, that doesn’t mean one isn’t going to die. As Aba’s mother said, the police only come into the Black community to kill our youth, hardly ever as friends. I never heard in the report that the youth in the car were shooting at the police, just that guns were found. So why the excessive force?

Sacramento metropolis
2010-12-23 "Sacramento school districts consider selling naming rights to campus properties" by Melody Gutierrez from "Sacramento Bee" newspaper
In one Massachusetts school district, the naming rights to the principal's office can be yours for $10,000. In that same district, $100,000 puts your name on a school auditorium; $5,000 gets you a classroom. Sound outlandish? Think again, said Sacramento County schools chief David Gordon. "At this point districts are so desperate for any source of revenue that I can't blame them for looking into this," Gordon said. And area districts are doing just that.
The Sacramento City Unified School District and Twin Rivers Unified in northern Sacramento County are considering selling naming rights to athletic fields, school buildings, auditoriums and other campus properties as a way to shore up cash. Last week, the Los Angeles Unified School District approved a plan to seek corporate sponsorships for its campus properties. Officials there say such sponsorships could raise $18 million. It's too early to put price tags on school amenities in Sacramento. But local districts point to dozens of examples nationally where schools have been creative in selling naming rights and advertisements.
• In the Newburyport Public Schools district in Massachusetts, the education foundation has been aggressively selling naming rights since 2003 to classrooms and other spaces at prices ranging from $1,000 to $100,000.
• Independent School District 15 in St. Francis, Minn., expects to generate $190,000 this school year by selling ad space on school lockers.
• A Kentucky lawmaker is pushing a proposal to allow districts to sell advertisements on the sides of buses.
Numerous school districts in California are following the trend as they brace for another bleak budget round next year. Schools across the state have packed more students into classrooms, shortened the school year and cut extracurricular activities to cope with financial shortfalls. State budget analysts say K-12 districts and community colleges could receive as much as $2.2 billion less next year because of lower state tax rates in 2011.
"We can't take cut after cut and still be expected to educate kids," said Sacramento City Unified Superintendent Jonathan Raymond. "We need to explore unorthodox approaches." Raymond said he is talking with staff about the possibility of allowing corporate sponsorships at district schools. He said he plans to bring the issue to the school board for discussion. Critics of the practice worry about commercializing the public school experience. The Campaign for a Commercial-free Childhood says its mission is to "reclaim childhood from corporate marketers" and takes issue with schools' sponsorships. Students are a captive audience, said Josh Golin, the coalition's associate director. The organization says such marketing teaches students to be passive consumers instead of critical thinkers. "Naming rights are one thing we are seeing more and more of," Golin said. "It's just really unfortunate. I understand that schools are trying to get creative about raising funds. But there are ways of engaging business without exposing kids to advertising messages." Raymond sees a difference between selling the naming rights to a field or building and exploiting children. "I think you have to be very careful," Raymond said. "If you have guidelines, you can develop community partnerships and corporate support that is good for kids and good for schools. You have to find that place."
Twin Rivers Superintendent Frank Porter said his district already has banner ads up at most of its football stadiums. But selling naming rights to buildings and classrooms would be new territory. The district is looking for a corporate sponsor to buy a JumboTron screen for Grant Union High School and for sponsors for the Grant Sports Health Academy. "If you know anyone who is interested," Porter said, "have them call me."

Central Valley
[Fresno, Modesto, etc.]
2010-12-16 "A Modesto WikiLeaks? 'Police Insider' Sheds Light on Latest Shooting" from "Modesto Anarcho" newsmagazine
According to the muckraker blog 'The Voice of Modesto,' [] an 'insider from inside the Modesto Police Department' has disclosed information regarding the most recent police killing last weekend, mirroring an anonoymous letter that was sent into the media detailing ongoing police brutality [].
According to the Modesto Bee, what happened at the shooting:
[begin quote] Authorities said the truck drove erratically and lost control near McHenry Avenue and Patterson Road. It struck a car, injuring the car’s driver, according to officials. Police tried to stop the pickup, the Sheriff’s Department said, by having a patrol car bump the pickup’s rear in an attempt to disable it. The truck drove on until it hit a power pole near Ladd Road and McHenry Avenue, officials said. As the truck came to a stop, officers pulled their patrol cars behind it and got out of their cars. The pickup truck driver then drove in reverse toward the officers and rammed a patrol car, sheriff’s officials said. Four Modesto police officers fired into the pickup’s cab, sheriff’s officials said. The driver of the truck, a man, was struck several times and was pronounced dead. The female passenger also was hit several times and was in serious condition at a Modesto hospital. She was not arrested. [end quote]
Of course, we have to ask, where is the Modesto Bee getting this information from? Not the injured woman that was hit when police opened fire - no, from the very people investigating the shooting - the Stanislaus County Sheriff Department. That's right folks! From the cops!
The shooting brings to mind the brutal murder by CHP police of Joey Pinasco in 2008. Joey was shot by a CHP officer who claimed that Joey raced toward him and he was then forced to fire on Joey's truck to stop him. However, after many months of Joey's family demanding that the truck be returned to them, they found that in fact many of the bullets were located on Joey's driver's door. Joey wasn't shot head on, he was murdered as his car was parked []. Witnesses backed up the story, and Joey's family still continues to fight for justice. Check out their website here [].
The latest Modesto murder also brings back memories of the killings of James Rivera in Stockton in July [], as well as a Bakersfield teen, Traveon John Avila []. In James case, which we covered in this blog months ago, he was shot and killed after police forced his car to crash into a house. According to witnesses that were interviewed by Modesto Copwatch, James was shot by police before he even was able to get out of the car. Sickeningly, James family was warned by police (who were looking for him after he understandably escaped by juvenile hall) that they would be "going to a funeral." In Traveon's case, he was shot and killed when police claim, like in this latest Modesto shooting, that the car he was driving was "trying to hit them." Witnesses who were at the scene however, claim otherwise. One of the cops involved in the Bakersfield shooting, was in fact involved in multiple other shootings and killings in the Bakersfield area.
Like the Traveon case in Bakersfeild, Modesto Police officers responsible for the shooting were involved in past murders as well []. One officer involved, Robert Laxton, has been involved in two incidents that readers of Modesto Anarcho should know about quite well, the murder of Franscico Moran and the attack on Harry "Dan" Tessien.
Franscico Moran was shot and killed in his home by Laxton and other officer when they responded to a fight between Moran and a family member. According to witnesses and family members, Moran had a wooden spoon at the time of his death in his waste line (this is information that we have gotten talking to family members directly who were there) and when told to lie down, was shot repeatedly and died. Police then later claimed that Moran had a knife, and 'lunged' at them. Dan's case goes back to 2007, when he was stopped by MPD because they mistook his car for matching a description. Dan, who is deaf, was ordered to get out of his car. When Dan did not reply, his windows were shot out with bean bags and he was hit with other projectiles. All the while he was reported to be screaming, "I'm deaf! I'm deaf!"
So, already we have an sketchy situation brewing with a known killer Modesto cops. But according to the insider known as "BlueBaton," the problems go much deeper [], as they discuss the chase and killing that night:
[begin quote] Mainly because at best the crime committed by the bad guy was a no jail misdemeanor vandalism. This was known about 2 minutes into the chase when an officer went to the scene and reported to all that there was no entry…therefore no burglary or attempted burglary. A good supervisor would have ended it there. It happens all the time. And when the bad guy started ramming PD vehicles (which does justify a response of deadly force), shots were fired by cops who didn’t have a clear field of fire resulting in friendly fire hits to 2 police cars (with one round going into the head rest of a cop who had just exited his vehicle) and a bystanders vehicle which was occupied by a woman and her daughter. Bottom line this should never have happened. All that...for a misdemeanor? This is a predictable scary result for the now infamous 5B shift that that has been out of control for over 2 years and will soon be investigated by the out of town lawyer hired by the city. [end quote]
We can also see the limits of the 'BlueBaton' insider. In their eyes, it was 'okay to get the bad guy,' even though as they stated, this was all over a misdemeanor. Sorry, but we aren't going to lose any sleep over some broken windows of a business owned by someone on the City Council. We aren't writing this off as a revolutionary deed; we simply have no tears for the rich our their property - they certainly have none for us.
Furthermore, this 'case' illustrates our point. Police, in the act of chasing down and murdering someone who attempted to steal something also almost killed the woman in the car with him. They almost killed or seriously injured another police officer. And, they almost killed a women and her daughter who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Are the police going after NUMMI or Hershey fatcats who sell us out and lay us off? Are they there to stop banks from taking people's homes? Are they there to stop the government from shutting down schools or stopping social programs that we all need and use? No! The police are there to make sure you get evicted. They are there to make sure that the family is broken apart when a father is arrested on a raid at a slaughterhouse and found to be 'without papers.' The police are there to make sure that the picket line outside of the factory doesn't turn into an occupation or full on revolt. The police are there to make sure that if you dare to steal the property of the rich you might just end up dead.
Because of this reality, 'BlueBaton's' calls for a restructuring of the MPD with a 'new chief' sadly are just asking for a new face on the same old system. No amount of protection can stop us from getting screwed by the long dick of the law. It's time to stand up and fight back.

[Mendocino, Humboldt, Yurok and Hoopa, etc.]
2010-12-18 "North Coast towns can't ban military recruiters" by Bob Egelko from "San Francisco Chronicle" newspaper
Ordinances approved by voters in Arcata and Eureka to prohibit military recruiters from contacting minors are unconstitutional attempts to regulate the federal government and limit its authority over the armed forces, a federal appeals court ruled Friday. The measures, which won majorities of 73 percent in Arcata and 57 percent in Eureka in November 2008, were promoted as protections for local youths from heavy-handed and misleading recruiting pitches. Backers in the Humboldt County communities cited an international treaty, signed by the United States, that bars military recruitment people younger than 17. The ordinances prohibited contacting those younger than 18 but allowed recruiters to respond if approached by a minor.
Neither ordinance has taken effect. The government sued to overturn them in December 2008, and a federal judge in Oakland struck them down six months later, a ruling upheld Friday by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
By restricting the actions of federal employees, "the ordinances seek to regulate the government," which is beyond the power of a local or state agency, the court said in a 3-0 ruling. The ordinances follow other unsuccessful attempts to limit military recruiting. Gay-rights advocates' efforts to bar recruiters at college campuses and law schools because of the armed forces' ban on openly gay and lesbian service members were thwarted by federal legislation. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld that legislation in 2006.
The San Francisco school board expelled the Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps in 2006 but readmitted it three years later. Brad Yamauchi, a lawyer for Arcata and Eureka, said he was disappointed by Friday's ruling and would await City Council decisions on whether to appeal.
The ruling can be viewed at [].

[Los Angeles, San Diego, Shoshone, etc.]

2010-12-17 "Pay cut sparks teachers strike" by John Green and Sarah Knopp
TEACHERS IN an Orange County, Calif., school district were back on the job December 16 after a week on the picket line in a strike-turned-lockout. The teachers, members of the La Habra Education Association (LHEA), walked off the job December 8 to force the district to the negotiating table in an effort to stop a permanent 2 percent pay cut imposed by the school board in November. Teachers voted to go back to work December 14 because the district agreed to negotiations. Nothing had been settled, but for the first time in California history, teachers were locked out of their classrooms for two days after the return-to-work vote. LHEA pushed back by seeking--and winning--an injunction. A judge has ordered the La Habra school district to pay teachers for the two days that they were locked out. "Everyone is still solid and strong," said Jim Rogers, a teacher at Imperial Middle School, who is also on the board of the California Teachers Association (CTA). "Although there's a lot of disappointment that this contract hasn't been settled, we're changing the focus and pace. We're encouraged by the injunction." The strike came after a year of negotiations. The school board ignored a fact finder's report and took the unprecedented step of imposing a permanent 2 percent salary reduction--which also reduces state retirement payouts--two mandatory furlough days and cuts in health benefits. The teachers say they would be willing to accept a 2 percent cut if it were temporary rather than a permanent reduction. But the school board's aggressive move to impose the cuts left teachers seething. They pointed to the district's $8.2 million reserve as they voted November 19 to authorize a strike. "The district imposed an unfair contract that was extreme and unnecessary--and then they refused to negotiate," said Rogers. "We had to strike." The La Habra School District is small, with only five elementary and two middle schools. Consequently, the 225 teachers are a tight-knight group. They picketed outside each school and held rallies to build solidarity. Some 93 percent of teachers actively supported the strike. Most dramatic is the level of parent support for teachers. At a meeting of the La Habra school board December 9, nearly 100 parents stood in line outside to pack the meeting--the boardroom only holds 140 people, showing how concerned with parent participation and democracy the school board really is. Teachers got out of line to let parents go ahead. Then, to pack more parents in, all the children were sent outside to the teachers, who organized impromptu child care outside the meeting. Every single parent spoke either in support of teachers or about the levels of chaos at the schools in their absence. The school district reported student attendance on the third day of strike at just 62 percent of the normal rate. The parent support is notable because 87 percent of children in the district qualify for subsidized lunches, and La Habra teachers are among the best-paid in Orange County. Still, parents seem to recognize that the relatively higher pay of their teachers explains a lot about the good quality of their schools. According to Bill Guy, a union staff member, approximately 35 businesses in downtown La Habra have posted signs that read, "We Support La Habra Teachers! Settle the Contract!" For now, the reduced pay for teachers remain in force, but the school board has been forced to return to the bargaining table. THE LA Habra strike and lockout highlights the latest wave of attack on teachers' living standards, which has become a local expression of the austerity programs that leave working people from California to Ireland paying for the financial shenanigans of the elites. In April, the Capistrano Unified Education Association struck for five days over a 10.1 percent pay cut, similarly imposed by the school board. San Juan Capistrano is on the opposite side of Orange County from La Habra. That strike failed to rescind the cuts, but won "restorative" language in the contract promising to undo the reductions as the economy improves. And a few days after the Capistrano Unified School District imposed its draconian cuts on teachers, the Oakland Unified School District ignored a fact finder's recommendations and imposed a contract on its teachers that eliminated contractual class size caps (effectively, a speedup that results in a loss of teachers' jobs). Oakland teachers responded with a one-day strike. The CTA was missing in action in those earlier fights. This time, however, the CTA has greatly ramped up its support. Calls for solidarity went out to CTA locals across the state, and they have begun pouring money into the La Habra strike fund. A Facebook group for La Habra teachers gathered hundreds of statements of solidarity, from as far away as Alaska and New York City. CTA President David Sanchez posted a reminder that "an injury to one, is an injury to all," urging strikers to stay strong. But Sanchez didn't join the picket lines and remained in Washington, D.C., during the strike. He also missed the Oakland strike (when he was also in Washington) and walked the lines for only a single day in Capistrano (before going back to Washington again). The CTA's business unionism prioritizes lobbying over struggle, to great detriment in these dangerous times for public education. The struggle in La Habra isn't over. But the strike shows how teachers can gain union solidarity and community support when they draw the line and fight back.
2010-12-17 "Chevron Auditorium? Halliburton High? Corporate sponsors for L.A. schools is bad idea" by Steve Lopez from "Los Angeles Times" newspaper online blogs
I walked my daughter onto her L.A. Unified campus the other day and saw a fresh face being escorted around by a teacher.
"Who's that?" I asked my girl.
"The new janitor," she said.
Part-time janitor, actually, and so it goes in the LAUSD, which is in the midst of yet another juggling act after dumping 1,000 office aides, library assistants and groundskeepers.
And if you heard about the comments made this week by incoming Gov. Jerry Brown, public education is going to keep getting whacked because of gigantic budget deficits.
Which is why the LAUSD board is considering corporate sponsors to help fill the hole. The sponsors would pay up to $500,000, or more in some cases, to have their names branded on auditoriums, scoreboards and athletic fields.
They couldn't sell specific products, but we could end up with the Bank of America Auditorium at my daughter's elementary school, and the money would be shared by all schools.
Good idea?
I don't like it because I don't want a world in which every inch of every flat surface, including space on public buildings, is sold to the highest bidder.
Especially not in schools. It's tough enough to keep kids innocent and free from being totally consumed by consumerism before they enter the fourth grade. We don't need to throw corporate logos at them in the lunchroom.
But mostly I don't like it because it's a weak, simple-minded, Band-Aid approach to the critical issue of funding shortages in a state that ranks 47th in spending per pupil nationally, when adjusted for income.
I'd rather see the school board lead a statewide discussion on returning funding decisions to local jurisdictions. I'd like to see the board show some courage and demand serious consideration of a split roll on property taxes in California, because as it stands, corporations have gotten a huge break from Proposition 13. Commercial property, which got the same protection and tax-increase limits as residential property, doesn't turn over as often as residential property.
As a result, many corporations pay nowhere near in taxes what their land is worth. If that were addressed, we wouldn't be talking about Chevron Athletic Field and Halliburton High.
Your thoughts?

California Republic
Here's a report from, describing how the process of Fascism is used by "PG&E"
2010-12-23 "PG&E pushed controversial pipeline inspection plan" by Eric Nalder, Jaxon Van Derbeken, from "San Francisco Chronicle" newspaper
Pacific Gas and Electric Co. led the successful lobbying campaign to persuade federal regulators writing natural-gas safety rules seven years ago to endorse a pipe inspection method many experts see as deficient - the technique used on the pipeline that later failed catastrophically in San Bruno. A PG&E executive was one of the main industry proponents of the then-new testing regimen, interviews with people who were involved in the rule-writing process and a Chronicle review of documents show. The federal government's decision to allow the method saved PG&E millions of dollars because the utility didn't have to upgrade its system to accommodate other inspection technology. The method PG&E used in San Bruno is called direct assessment, which involves records research, surface-level electronic testing and digging holes to spot-check small portions of buried pipelines. When the utility used it on the San Bruno transmission line in November 2009, it found no problems. Ten months later, the line ruptured, causing an explosion and fire that killed eight people and destroyed 37 homes. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the blast and has not arrived at a cause, but said last week that it was looking into whether a weld on a lateral seam of the pipe had failed.
Direct assessment is not designed to check for weak welds - it is most effective at detecting corrosion on the outside of pipes - and operators are supposed to document that a line is free of such problems before they rely solely on the technique. PG&E has defended the use of direct assessment on the San Bruno line, but also conceded that until the disaster, it was unaware the pipeline had the type of seam weld that may have failed. The utility has used direct assessment elsewhere on the 51.5-mile pipe running from Milpitas to South San Francisco, as well as on much of the rest of its pipeline system. "I think all the direct assessment techniques work very well," said Kirk Johnson, PG&E vice president in charge of transmission pipelines.
The lobbying campaign to allow direct assessment stemmed from a law Congress passed in 2002 requiring regular gas pipeline inspections in populated areas. Former congressional staffer Rick Kessler said lawmakers had accepted the concept of direct assessment so the industry would buy into the law's other requirements. But he said it was the "least favored" of three test methods listed in the statute. Final inspection rules were left to regulation writers at the federal Office of Pipeline Safety, said Kessler, now vice president of the Pipeline Safety Trust, an advocacy group. That rule-making process, said group executive director Carl Weimer, is where "the details get laid." And for PG&E, the initial details were not encouraging. In January 2003, the Office of Pipeline Safety published proposed rules that favored the use of two inspection methods - hydrostatic testing, in which water is run through a gas pipe at high pressure to see if it leaks, and ultrasonic assessments, in which torpedo-shaped devices known as smart pigs are run through a line. Both methods are far more likely than direct assessment to detect non-corrosion problems that can weaken a pipe, such as a bad weld. But both posed problems for PG&E. Many of its gas-transmission lines have curves, sharp angles and constrictive valves that make it impossible to accommodate smart pigs, and retrofitting the system would take years and cost the utility millions of dollars. Hydrostatic tests are expensive, require pipeline shutdowns and involve other complications, such as disposing of the wastewater. Persuading federal regulators to let PG&E and other pipeline operators use direct assessment with as few restrictions as possible was Alan Eastman's job.
Eastman was PG&E's manager of system integrity, a metallurgical engineer with the utility for two decades and an early advocate of direct assessment, which had been cobbled together from previously used inspection techniques. He left PG&E in 2005 to oversee direct assessment for the contracting firm that later inspected the San Bruno pipe. Eastman had plenty of help from industry allies in the lobbying campaign. At one public hearing in Washington, D.C., in March 2003, at which Eastman presented a case for direct assessment, U.S. Transportation Department executive Sam Bonasso called for a show of hands. Industry officials and contractors packed the room, government officials were less numerous, and there was one person representing the general public: Richard Kuprewicz, a pipeline safety consultant from Redmond, Wash., who maintained that direct assessment was inferior to other testing methods. "Well, Rick ... you've got a big job ahead of you," Bonasso said. "Anybody wants to change sides? ... He could use some help on his team." In a recent interview, Kuprewicz recalled, "Let's see. There's three or four of us against 4,000. It's the American way." PG&E spokesman Joe Molica stressed that Eastman and the utility were not the only ones pushing direct assessment. Eastman, however, was a clear leader among his peers. A recent report prepared for a Utah pipeline company described him as being "instrumental in development of direct assessment methods in the period 2000 through 2003." Terry Boss, vice president of the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, said Eastman was a "thought leader" in the battle for direct assessment. Besides lobbying federal regulators, Eastman worked with the head of the pipeline safety division at the California Public Utilities Commission to pave the way for direct assessment, said pipeline engineering consultant Ed Ondak, who headed the Western regional office of the federal pipeline safety office until 2002. "Alan helped get a lot of that passed," Ondak said. Eastman did not respond to requests for comment for this story.
The Office of Pipeline Safety's initial rule proposal in January 2003 created impediments for a pipe operator that wanted to use direct assessment. A company would have to prove to the government the necessity and viability of the technique every time it wanted to use that method instead of running a smart pig or high-pressure water through a pipeline. Also, at least once in a pipeline's lifetime, it would have to be tested with hydrostatic pressure unless the operator could prove that wasn't needed. Pipeline operators were already on record as being unenthusiastic about such tests. In a letter to the Office of Pipeline Safety in December 2002, the American Gas Association, representing gas retailers, and a group representing public gas utilities said hydrostatic testing should be "sparingly used." Eastman had told regulators the year before that PG&E hadn't used hydrostatic pressure tests often. What's more, he said, the utility had "little experience" with smart pigs, and making its lines able to accommodate them wouldn't be cheap. The company had spent $5 million in the previous two years making just 200 miles of its 6,300 miles of transmission pipes piggable, Eastman said. On the other hand, he said, "Pacific Gas and Electric Co. has been effectively using direct assessment for years." He was referring to test uses of direct assessment, a technique that wasn't formalized in industry standards until 2002. PG&E had legitimate financial and operational issues, said Boss, and too few gas retail companies were paying attention. "He did have a dog in the fight," Boss said, "but there were a lot of dogs out there that didn't know they had a fight."
Industry arguments in favor of direct assessment were made on technical, safety and cost-benefit terms, but the financial issues were always in the foreground. At the time, for example, the majority of pipelines nationally could not accommodate smart pigs. Most of the skepticism about direct assessment came from a handful of people who had been touched by two pipeline disasters that prompted Congress to pass the inspection law - a 1999 gasoline-line explosion in Bellingham, Wash., that burned three boys to death, and a 2000 natural-gas pipeline blast at a campground outside Carlsbad, N.M., that killed 12 members of a family. Carol Parker, a lawyer for the state of New Mexico, said she couldn't forget a nurse's account of how a woman mortally injured in the campground explosion had assured her dying daughter that she would be safe in the hands of a firefighter who was carrying her away. She said recently that lawmakers and regulators "don't appreciate the consequences" of pipeline accidents. "They want a rule that makes the worst company in the industry happy," Parker said, without naming any firm. Kuprewicz, the pipeline safety consultant, recalled the "pleading eyes" of a mother of one of the boys who had been killed in the Washington blast. He said in 2003 that direct assessment was "seriously deficient" because it was ill-equipped to find problems other than corrosion, a view he still holds. Parker pointed out that maintaining accurate records on the condition of pipes is a major ingredient in establishing that a line is suitable for direct assessment, and recalled telling federal rule-writers that pipeline operators often fall short. In the case of the San Bruno pipeline, that concern proved valid, as PG&E was forced to admit it hadn't known the line had been held together by a seam weld. That's potentially crucial because the Office of Pipeline Safety never approved direct assessment to check for weak welds. If there was a bad weld present at the time of the November 2009 inspection, direct assessment would not have been the way to catch it.
Much of what PG&E and the rest of the gas-pipeline industry sought during the rule-making process, they won. When the final rule was published in December 2003, the major impediments to direct assessment were gone. The federal government blessed it as a primary inspection technique not just for external corrosion, but for corrosion on the inside of a pipe and for stress corrosion cracking. Also gone was the proposed requirement that pipeline operators run high-pressure water through their lines at least once. A key to PG&E's eventual widespread use of direct assessment was a provision that allowed it to consider older pipes, which are most at risk of weld problems, as being vulnerable only to corrosion if an operator's "pre-assessment" - a review of records - ruled out other risks. Four months before the San Bruno blast, California auditors questioned whether PG&E was doing enough to examine those risks, saying the utility appeared to have "preordained" the use of direct assessment. The utility denied doing so. Julia Valentine, a spokeswoman for the federal pipeline office, defended the rule-making process, saying that without the 2002 law, there would be "no regulations that required pipeline operators to identify risks and address them." Without direct assessment, she added, pipelines couldn't be checked if they couldn't accommodate smart pigs or be shut down for hydrostatic testing. Today, former PG&E executive Eastman is a vice president for Mears Group, in charge of direct assessment, overseeing the contract work on PG&E's lines. Ondak, the former pipeline safety agency official, said he had been impressed by Eastman's grasp of the issues and recalled him as being "very honest in what he was doing." But he was concerned about Eastman's movement through industry's revolving door. "They (Mears) were the very people who PG&E brought in to do the assessment of the pipelines," Ondak said. "To me it was shocking - it just felt like it was a conflict of interest, like feathering our own bed."
So far, PG&E has run smart pigs through 21 percent of the gas transmission lines it has tested under the federal law and run high-pressure water tests on just 2 percent. It has used direct assessment on the rest. By contrast, Southern California Gas Co., the state's largest gas retailer, has run smart pigs through 80 percent of the lines it has tested. PG&E's Johnson declined to discuss why the company relies so heavily on direct assessment. He said the company's greatest concerns are third-party damage by people who dig near pipelines and external corrosion, and added: "You have to pick the right tool for the right job. "We go straight by the code," he said. Bonasso, the now-retired government executive who took roll at the 2003 meeting, says PG&E's reliance on direct assessment is disappointing. "That's unfortunate, as many people as they serve," he said. "It's too bad that they don't have better technology."

2010-09-10 "PG&E, Owner of Exploded California Pipeline, Also Runs Major Political Operation" by Evan Mackinder from "Open Secrets" online journal

Energy giant PG&E, which owns and manages a natural gas pipeline that Thursday night ignited a massive inferno in San Bruno, Calif., is one of the nation’s most notable political players, routinely spending millions of dollars each year on government lobbying and campaign donations, a Center for Responsive Politics analysis finds.
The pipeline explosion has so far torched a swath of suburban houses and killed at least six people, according to the Los Angeles Times. The cause of the explosion is yet to be determined, and PG&E's immediate response to the disaster has been measured; a spokesperson noted that the company would not claim responsibility until they were certain the company is to blame for the explosion. But it’s clear that in the wake of the crisis, should any political fallout come its way, PG&E stands well prepared. Since 2000, PG&E Corp., the parent company of PG&E Co., has spent more than $112 million on federally reportable lobbying efforts, according to the Center’s analysis. Its roster of lobbyists includes an elite force of ex-government officials, and at least one of the lobbyists the company has deployed this year is a former member of Congress, Rep. Vic Fazio (D-Ca.). And the explosion in San Bruno comes at a time when PG&E Corp. is reaching new heights in lobbying efforts. During the first six months of the year, PG&E put unprecedented capital into lobbying efforts, reporting to the federal government that it’s so far spent nearly $44 million. Such a figure represents a more than 600 percent increase from the total it spent during all of 2009, and marks an industry-wide record for electric and utilities companies.
Much of the lobbying money it’s spent this year has gone toward efforts to influence a California budget proposal that would make it difficult for counties in the state to start their own electric utility companies. Unlike many companies, PG&E reports its state-level lobbying expenditures to the federal government, in addition to its lobbying of Congress, the White House and federal agencies. PG&E Co primarily operates out of central and northern California and services more than 15 million customers in the area, according to its website.
The company both backed the measure and has been widely reported to have financed state-wide efforts to pass it.
Voted on by residents of California in June, the measure ultimately failed.
But PG&E also lobbied on major federal legislation during the first half of the year, according to federal lobbying reports. PG&E put its political muscle behind several of the Democratic-led legislative efforts to address global warming through cap-and-trade measures, including the House and Senate versions of the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, and the Carbon Limits and Energy for America’s Renewal (CLEAR) Act.
The west coast utilities giant also operates an active political action committee. During the 2008 election cycle, the company contributed more than $384,000 to federal candidates and members of Congress, setting another company record in the process. The company favored Democrats more than two-to-one during the cycle .
In the House, recipients included 32 members of the California delegation, including Democrat Henry Waxman, the chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, who received $3,000, and Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, who received $10,000, the most of any other member to collect from PG&E. The company donated $4,700 each to both of California’s U.S. senators, Democrats Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer. At least one member of Congress, in 2008, also reported personally investing in PG&E – Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.). Sensenbrenner had invested between $1,001 and $15,000 that year, according to a Center for Responsive Politics analysis of the congressman’s personal financial disclosure statement. Members of Congress are only required to report their personal holdings in broad ranges.

2010-12-16 "Parents Pull The Trigger To Take Over Compton School" by Judy Molland

Last week, 85 adults and children arrived at district headquarters in Compton, California, to present a petition requiring the district to turn over management of McKinley Elementary School to a charter school company [].
The petition was signed by 62% of parents at the school, which is one of the state's worst performing schools. Parent Trigger Law The parents are operating under the brand-new "parent trigger" law, the first of its kind in the country. Under the law, if at least 51 percent of parents at a school sign a petition, it "triggers" one of four actions, including takeover by a charter school.
Reactions to this new legislation have been mixed: union officials refer to it as a "lynch mob provision," while supporters say it puts children and parents ahead of interest groups. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared, "Giving power to the parents - this is what this is all about," in a conference call, and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has also praised the developments in Compton.
A Troubled School District -
Why are these parents so frustrated? Compton Unified School District, a school system of 26,000 students south of downtown Los Angeles, has struggled for years. In October, as I wrote here [], the district superintendent was fired, accused of using district credit cards for personal purchases.
Even in a troubled school district, McKinley looks particularly bad. The school is one of the lowest performing on state tests, with less than 25 percent of fifth-grade students at grade level in math and reading. That said, there has been some improvement in the last two years.
Understandably, this was not enough for many parents. But how did they know about this law, and get this petition organized? Parent Revolution Enter Ben Austin. He is a state Board of Education member and the chief executive of Parent Revolution, a nonprofit that lobbied for the parent-trigger law, and has been organizing parents in Compton.
His group spun off last year from Green Dot Public Schools, (a charter school company), and Green Dot founder Steve Barr heads the Parent Revolution Board.
Green Dot Charter Schools -
From The Los Angeles Times [,0,1038265.story]:
[begin excerpt] Austin said his goal is not so much to create more charters as to improve public education using the lever of parental power. He and Barr were key figures behind the one other local example of a school converted to a charter through an outside organization: Locke High in South Los Angeles in 2008.
"The obvious connection between McKinley and Locke is Ben Austin and Green Dot and Steve Barr," said Alexander Russo, an education blogger writing a book about Green Dot's takeover of Locke. "And there's also the sense that both situations involved people from their organizations doing something a school district seemed otherwise unable or unwilling to do."
At Locke, Barr and his then-lieutenant Austin worked behind the scenes with allied teachers to gather signatures on a petition. There, they used an older law that allowed a school's teachers to force a charter conversion. In the end, Green Dot retained few teachers.
At McKinley, with Austin's new group, the goal also was to keep things quiet. Compton school board members and a district spokesperson said they knew little about the petition a day before its delivery.
[end excerpt]
A Charter School In Compton?
One reason could be that Compton has been hostile to charter schools and has never authorized one within its boundaries. To take over McKinley, organizers recruited locally based Celerity Educational Group, a charter group that has no experience taking over a traditional school.
The operating methods of Parent Revolution may be questionable, but when you are a parent who sees your child failing at school, or not being challenged, what are you going to do? Are you going to stand by every day and do nothing? What would you do?
Related Story -
Chicago Parents File School Lawsuit, Los Angeles Parents Pull The "Trigger" [].

2010-12-22 "Drug overdoses spur effort to outlaw raves" by Brent Begin from "San Francisco Examiner" newspaper
The beat will not go on under a proposal to ban raves in California. The Anti-Raves Act of 2011 would ban public events that boom prerecorded music for more than 3½ hours at night, according to legislation introduced by Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, on Wednesday. Promoters would be guilty of a misdemeanor and fined $10,000 or twice the receipts for the event, whichever is greater. The proposal — in response to several deaths and illnesses related to Ecstasy use at all-night dance parties — is directed at events on public land. It carves out a major exception for bars, clubs, theaters and other venues that are licensed to hold events.
“Raves foster an environment that threatens the health and safety of our youth,” Ma said in a statement. “The introduction of AB 74 is the first step toward eliminating these dangerous events.” The legislation comes in response to drug overdoses at two events at the Cow Palace, a Daly City venue controlled by the state, and one at the Los Angeles Coliseum, where someone died. After the second set of overdoses at the Cow Palace, venue CEO Joe Barkett announced that the historical property would stop hosting rave-type events. He has since made decisions on a case-by-case basis, saying he doubts there is an easy way to define a rave.
“That’s just not something that’s easy to define, especially in legislation,” said Barkett, who spoke with Ma about the legislation. “[Ma] acknowledged to me that she knows it’s difficult to define, but I think she’s just trying to start a dialogue.” Ma acknowledged that an all-out ban is only a starting point, and the bill might go through several changes before it comes up for a vote. But she said with so many instances of drug-related illnesses in the past year or two, the time had come for action. “I feel that urgency is needed to protect our young people who are being put at risk at these types of events,” Ma said. Sean Manchester, the owner of dance club Mighty in The City and president of the California Music and Culture Association, worried that the law would affect many events in San Francisco, such as New Year’s Eve at City Hall and street festivals.
“One of the big problems we have in San Francisco is that there aren’t many venues to host a DJ that draws a lot of fans,” Manchester said. Also, state Sen. Leland Yee has been crafting a bill geared toward making events safer. “The senator’s position is that a ban on raves is not the right approach,” Yee spokesman Adam Keigwin said. “Raves are not the problem. It’s the activity that’s happening within these raves, without adequate law enforcement, that is the problem.”

2010-12-23 "Fiona Ma's anti-rave bill criticized as too broad" by Marisa Lagos from "San Francisco Chronicle" newspaper
A bill by a San Francisco assemblywoman who wants to ban raves at public venues in California is being criticized as too broad because it could forbid many other kinds of parties. Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, said she simply wants to ban raves from publicly owned venues, such as Daly City's Cow Palace and the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. She said the drug-fueled dance parties are typically unruly and have led to numerous deaths, overdoses and arrests.
While Ma said the measure would not apply to private events, such as weddings and birthday parties, the bill would make it a misdemeanor for anyone to conduct "a public event at night that includes prerecorded music and lasts more than three and one-half hours" - with the exception of private entities, such as bars or clubs, that have business licenses. Violators would be fined at least $10,000.
Critics of the bill say it's vague, could end up impacting events other than raves, and if passed, would be ripe for a court challenge. "The expression in legal analysis is 'overbroad,' " said UC Berkeley law Professor Frank Zimring. "The problem is it sweeps innocent people up with not-so-innocent people. The problem of combining prerecorded music and a time period because you are worried about teens taking drugs is that it would also apply when there are no teenagers, or apply when there are no drugs."
Matt Kumin, a civil rights attorney in San Francisco, said the bill could violate two constitutional rights: freedom of assembly and equal protection. He said political assemblies and religious gatherings, for example, don't have business licenses and would also be swept up under the current language. "I applaud any effort to keep people away from tainted drugs, or drugs that were made illegally, but you can't do it this way," he said. "This shows a severe lack of understanding of constitutional guarantees." Ma said she is open to tweaking the bill and wants to hear from those in the nightlife community in the coming months. A law change is necessary, she said, because it's been hard for local or state lawmakers to hold publicly owned venues accountable. State venues such as the Cow Palace are owned by the state but are operated by boards of directors appointed by the governor.
"There are certain events at these facilities that don't cause this type of outcome, and there are others that do, typically where younger people gather. The drugs seem to be linked to these types of activities," Ma said. "We will save lives and resources. Everyone knows this is happening, but nobody is doing anything." Two people died after overdosing on drugs at the Cow Palace in May, and a teenage girl also suffered a fatal overdose at a June event at the Coliseum. Alix Rosenthal, a nightlife and culture advocate in San Francisco, said the bill is targeting the wrong thing. "If the problem is tainted drugs, it seems the solution is penalizing people who distribute tainted drugs," she said. "This is like saying, 'A kid got hit in the head with a baseball at a birthday party, so we're going to ban all birthday parties.' " Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, has pushed for Daly City officials to have more oversight power over the Cow Palace facility. But his chief of staff, Adam Keigwin, said the senator would not support Ma's bill as written. "Sen. Yee doesn't believe that the answer is banning raves; the rave is not the problem in and of itself. The problem is the activity that is happening at raves combined with lack of adequate law enforcement and health services," he said. "Raves can be done the right way, and young people need outlets and things to go to. There's nothing wrong with a rave - it's a type of music, a social scene. It is illegal activity happen at raves we need to go after."

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