Volume 42 Number 23

March 5 – March 11, 2008

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Health care paradoxes


OPINION What does homicide in the Western Addition have to do with the closure of the worker’s compensation clinic at San Francisco General Hospital? How does a mobile methadone-treatment van affect the broader public health of San Francisco?

These are just two of the questions that University of San Francisco nursing students are asking while San Francisco residents face a public health and safety crisis.

Public health and safety are both affected by economic conditions. Nonetheless, we must all question a need-blind cutback in services to public health.

It’s the task of San Francisco nursing professors to address the following confounding paradoxes:

Homelessness Nursing students, Department of Public Health staff, and a host of individuals and organizations work together at the commendable, but intermittent, Project Homeless Connect, while midyear budget cuts will shutter Buster’s Place, the only 24-hour drop-in center that serves homeless persons every day of the year.

Mental health Last semester USF students learned that increasingly scarce hospital beds for mentally ill and impoverished San Francisco residents were going to be cut back even further. Now budget cuts are planned that will decrease services for individuals on an outpatient basis.

Violence Nursing students learn about the effectiveness of education and physical exercise in ameliorating the deplorable conditions of the city’s housing projects and streets. The Western Addition has recently suffered from a spate of shootings; it seems an odd time to close a healthy and safe alternative to the violent streets such as tennis courts.

Occupational health The Occupational Health Clinic at SF General will soon be closed. USF students want to know why they should choose to work for a public health system that puts them at high risk for hepatitis B, HIV, back injury, and exposure to violent patients.

Substance use Methadone treatment for opiate addiction is an imperfect clinical intervention, but it’s certainly better than users overdosing on the street or spreading HIV and antibiotic-resistant skin infections by sharing needles. However, methadone treatment is expensive, and an innovative program to bring it to addicts will be delayed for budget reasons.

Access to care While the city’s health plan, Healthy San Francisco, is a laudable attempt to provide optional health care coverage to more residents, the budgets of public health clinics and hospitals that provide the care are being cut back.

Public health nursing San Francisco has pioneered effective programs tackling the disproportionate infant-mortality, asthma, diabetes, and hypertension rates among African American and Latino San Francisco residents. Now the cadre of public health nurses who do this work will be reduced, and Laguna Honda Hospital is being rebuilt with fewer patient beds. Who will monitor and support the disabled and seniors in the community if not the public health nurses?

As public health nurses, we implore our elected officials to protect the most vulnerable while making difficult decisions.

Sasha J. Cuttler

Sasha Cuttler is an assistant professor at the University of San Francisco School of Nursing

Chemicals and quarantines


› sarah@sfbg.com

As the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) pushes ahead with plans to aerially spray the Bay Area with pheromones to eradicate the light brown apple moth (LBAM), the San Francisco Board of Supervisors has signed onto state senator Carole Migden’s efforts to ask CDFA to put a moratorium on the spraying.

"We haven’t seen this level of concern and debate since the medfly days of then governor Jerry Brown," Sup. Ross Mirkarimi told the Guardian. "At this point, spraying sounds premature and reckless, even though I understand this is a nasty invasive pest."

Meanwhile, four members of the California State Assembly, including San Francisco’s Mark Leno, are working collaboratively on a group of LBAM-related measures to address health, scientific, and efficacy issues that remain unresolved since the agency’s multimillion-dollar eradication campaign began last year.

Leno’s part in this collaboration with fellow assembly members John Laird, Loni Hancock, and Jared Huffman involves demanding that CDFA complete an environmental impact report (EIR) before being able to apply pesticide in an urban area for LBAM eradication, which can be a lengthy process.

"By making this an urgency measure, it would take immediate effect," Leno told the Guardian. "We recognize that urban areas are concerned about health and safety, that LBAM is a real threat to the agricultural industry, and that the other side must be considered."

Last year, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and CDFA both gave LBAM emergency status after the tiny, leaf-rolling Australian native was found in a Berkeley backyard, the first time it was confirmed in the continental United States.

As the USDA’s Larry Hawkins told the Guardian, the federal declaration of emergency allowed his department to access the Commodity Credit Corporation, a federally owned and operated entity within the USDA that supports and protects farm income and prices.

So far, the USDA has allocated $90 million to cover the costs of what Hawkins called "an expensive regulatory program," along with those of developing suitable pesticides and a nationwide survey to see if the moth has spread beyond California.

Hawkins claims the state separately declared an LBAM emergency — a move that allowed CDFA to go ahead and abate the pest — and that impacted the state’s normal EIR process.

"Emergency status doesn’t relieve [CDFA] of EIR requirements, but it allows them to do it simultaneously," Hawkins explained.

Since then some citizen activists have challenged the moth’s emergency status, claiming that there is no evidence that LBAM has severely damaged or infested local crops. But Hawkins says this purported lack of evidence proves that the government’s eradication program is working.

"We know the insect exists, that it destroys crops in other countries, and now you find the same insect here," said Hawkins, whose department has predicted that LBAM could inhabit 80 percent of the United States and nibble on 2,000 plant species.

"So, we can logically conclude it will cause damage here. The reason you haven’t seen major damage here is because we’ve found it early enough to deal with it before it becomes substantial. And the reason you won’t find reports of major LBAM damage in New Zealand or Australia is because they are constantly using pesticides," Hawkins said.

Asked if the USDA will fully disclose the ingredients of any product the state plans to use aerially, Hawkins said, "We cannot force a private company to reveal all their ingredients. But we have told all those companies that hope to provide products that they should expect to reveal them all."

Critics of the state’s pheromone spraying program observe that Suterra LLC, which manufactured the spray used over Santa Cruz and Monterey counties, refused to release the full ingredients until it was sued — and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger demanded immediate full disclosure.

These same critics also note that Schwarzenegger, who continues to support CDFA’s LBAM-eradication program, received $144,600 in campaign contributions from Los Angeles–based Roll International owners Stewart and Lynda Resnick, who control Suterra, Fiji Water, Paramount Agribusiness, and the Franklin Mint.

Records show the Resnicks donate broadly, mostly to Democrats — including the gubernatorial campaigns of Steve Westly and Phil Angelides, and US Sens. Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, and Barack Obama — with a lesser-size donation to Republican presidential front-runner John McCain, proving they play both sides of the fence.

With researchers testing a variety of LBAM-related products in New Zealand, Hawkins hopes to have a product formulated for California by June 1, which is when spraying is scheduled to resume in Santa Cruz and Monterey; spraying in the Bay Area is set for Aug. 1.

"We would like to give communities maximum notice, but we’re also working towards a beginning-of-June date, and as much as we’d like to insert artificial time frames, the insect couldn’t care less. It’s on a biological time table and is multiplying every day," Hawkins said.

David Dilworth of the Monterey nonprofit group Helping Our Peninsula’s Environment, which advocates the use of targeted pheromone-baited sticky traps, conceded that even if CDFA was forced to stop the aerial spraying, the USDA could spray anyway.

"But it would take them several months to organize, and we don’t believe they have the constitutional power," claimed Dilworth, whose organization is preparing a 60-day notice of intent to sue the USDA and the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

Meanwhile, organic farmers find themselves in an uncomfortable limbo that continues to shift. Take the Santa Cruz–based California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF). Last fall, CCOF supported the aerial pheromone spray after the National Organics Program approved it, meaning sprayed farmers didn’t lose organic certification

But March 4, CCOF spokesperson Viella Shipley told the Guardian that the group is about to release a revised position on the spraying, and could not comment further "because CCOF’s government affairs committee has not yet approved this revised position."

"We lobbied for an organically approved product and supported it last fall when lots of our members were suffering because they were in quarantine and couldn’t sell beyond county lines," was all Shipley would say.

Meanwhile, organic farmers who spoke on condition of anonymity largely supported aerial spraying for economic and environmental reasons.

"If the moth isn’t dealt with now, it’ll become a bigger problem, from both an environmental and toxic perspective," one farmer told us, citing the already high costs of controlling such bugs as coddling moths and medflies.

"This is somebody else’s pest at the moment, a nonnative pest," he said. "If farmers have to start dealing with LBAM as well, they’ll be ruined."

He also cited his belief that there aren’t 40 million pheromone-soaked twist ties on the market, which is what the CDFA claims is needed to blanket infested counties from the ground up with female pheromones to confuse the males.

Nigel Walker, an organic farmer in Dixon, recalled the devastating costs of quarantine thanks to a medfly-infested mango that someone brought back from Hawaii.

"Their vacation cost me $60,000 because of lost sales," Walker said. "So, for God’s sake, don’t bring, mail, or FedEx fruit and vegetables into California, because border inspectors are looking for bombs and terrorists, not produce and moths.

"We live in a global economy, and we have trade agreements that say if one person gets a pest, you have to do something about it," Walker added. "Nobody wants to be sprayed. Even when I spray organic seaweed on my fruit trees, I wear a mask. So I understand the gut reaction. But by refusing to be sprayed, you’re punishing the wrong person — the farmer — who already has to deal with the vagaries of the weather, the marketplace, and pests like the medfly."

Chris Mittelstaedt, who lives in San Francisco with his family and runs Fruitguys, a small business that delivers organic fruit to offices, said he’s personally against the spraying. "But as a company, we are going to wait a few weeks before letting people know what we officially think or endorse as a plan of action," Mittelstaedt told us.

Other city dwellers are less ambivalent. Frank Eggers, a former Fairfax mayor who is organizing a group called Stop the Spray, said, "[World Trade Organization] stuff is driving this so-called moth emergency.

"We’re allowing other countries to quarantine our produce. And with the global economy, climate change, and travel, we’re going be facing this issue continuously. But we can’t keep putting poison on our land, or say we’ll put you in quarantine if you don’t accept our aerial bombardment," he said.

Paul Schramski, state director of Pesticide Watch, worries that the state and federal agencies are still not listening to the people of California.

"If this is not being driven by trade agreements, then I’m not sure what is the driver. We don’t have all the facts. But it’s not being driven by actual crop damage," Schramski said. "We agree that this invasive moth should be controlled, but it’s a false premise to believe that the choice is between aerial spraying or nothing. The state has known since August that the public was opposed to spraying, so why aren’t we producing more twist ties?"

CDFA, which used $500,000 in USDA funds to hire PR agency Porter Novelli last November at the height of public outcry, is currently researching pheromone products that last up to 90 days and is also planning to use pheromone-loaded twist ties, sticky traps, and stingerless parasitic wasps in its LBAM program.

"We believe this to be a biological emergency," CDFA public affairs supervisor Steve Lyle told us. "If we waited a year or two, so we could first do an EIR, we would lose the battle and become generally infested."

Ironically, California’s best hope for not being sprayed ad infinitum may lie in the discovery that the moth has spread to other states.

"It would make a significant impact if we were to find the insect established in other places," the USDA’s Hawkins told us. "It doesn’t mean we would throw up our hands and walk away, but it would remove some of the argument that the rest of America is at risk from California if other states already have it."

But until that time, Hawkins warned that if state legislators demand a moratorium, forced spraying won’t be the federal government’s only option: "Maybe California would have to be quarantined. And now we are talking about hundreds of millions of dollars."

Questioning Matt


Matt Gonzalez consulted few of his colleagues in San Francisco’s progressive political community before announcing Feb. 28 at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, that he’ll be Ralph Nader’s running mate on another quixotic run for president.

That’s fairly typical for Gonzalez, who has tended to keep mostly his own counsel for all of his big political decisions: switching from Democrat to Green in 2000; successfully running for president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 2002; jumping into the mayor’s race at the last minute the next year; abruptly deciding not to run for reelection to his supervisorial seat in 2004; and — last year — deciding against another run for mayor while being coy about his intentions until the very end.

But if he had polled those closest to him politically, Gonzalez would have learned what a difficult and divisive task he’s undertaken (something he probably knew already given what a polarizing figure Nader has become). Not one significant political official or media outlet in San Francisco has voiced support for his candidacy, and some have criticized its potential to pull support away from the Democratic Party nominee and give Republican John McCain a shot at the White House.

In fact, most of his ideological allies are enthusiastically backing the candidacy of Barack Obama, who Gonzalez targeted with an acerbic editorial titled “The Obama Craze: Count Me Out” on the local BeyondChron Web site on the eve of his announcement (while not telling BeyondChron staffers of his impending announcement, to their mild irritation).

It’s telling that all of the top Green Party leaders in San Francisco — including Sup. Ross Mirkarimi, school board president and supervisorial candidate Mark Sanchez, and Jane Kim, who got the most votes in the last school board election after Gonzalez encouraged her to run — have endorsed Barack Obama.

Mirkarimi, who ran Nader’s Northern California presidential effort in 2000 and ran Gonzalez’s 2003 mayoral campaign, has had nothing but polite words for Gonzalez in public, but he reaffirmed in a conversation with the Guardian that his support for Obama didn’t waver with news of the Nader-Gonzalez ticket.

Mirkarimi has a significant African American constituency in the Western Addition and has worked hard to build ties to those voters. He’s also got a good head for political reality — and it’s hard to blame him if he thinks that the Nader-Gonzalez effort is going nowhere and will simply cause further tensions between Greens and progressive Democrats.

Sup. Chris Daly is strongly supporting Obama and said the decision of his former colleague to run didn’t even present him with a dilemma: “It’s unfortunately not a hard one — or fortunately, depending on how you look at it.”

Daly doesn’t think the Nader-Gonzalez will have much impact on the presidential race or the issues it’s pushing. “The movement for Obama is so significant that it eclipses everything else,” Daly told us. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to change how politics happens in this country.”

While few San Francisco progressives argue that Obama’s policy positions are perfect, Daly doesn’t agree with Gonzalez’s critique of Obama’s bad votes and statements. “I don’t understand the argument that you should only back a candidate that you agree with all the time,” Daly said. “If that was the case, I would only ever vote for myself.”

On the national level, Gonzalez told us that he was running to challenge the two-party hold on power and to help focus Nader’s campaign on issues like ballot access for independent candidates. “If I’m his running mate, then we’ll be talking about electoral reform,” he said.

On a local level, the Gonzalez move will have a complicated impact. It will, in some ways, damage his ability to play a significant role in San Francisco politics in the future. That’s in part because Gonzalez has taken himself out of the position of a leader in the local progressive movement.

San Francisco progressives don’t like lone actors: the thousands of activists in many different camps don’t always agree, but they like their representatives to be, well, representative. That means when housing activists — one of Daly’s key constituencies — need someone to carry a major piece of legislation for them, they expect Daly to be there.

Sup. Tom Ammiano hasn’t come up with his landmark bills on health care, public power, and other issues all by himself; he’s been part of a coalition that has worked at the grassroots level to support the work he’s doing in City Hall.

Daly sought to find a mayoral candidate last year through a progressive convention. That seemed a bit unorthodox to the big-time political consultants who like to see their candidates self-selected and anointed by powerful donors, but it was very much a San Francisco thing. This is a city of neighborhoods, coalitions, and interest groups that try to hold their elected officials accountable.

Obama’s politics are far from perfect, and Nader and Gonzalez have very legitimate criticisms of the Democratic candidates and important proposals for electoral reform. But right now the grassroots action in San Francisco and elsewhere in the country the movement-building excitement — is with Barack Obama. The activists who made the Gonzalez mayoral effort possible are now working on the Obama campaign.

In fact, Daly has repeatedly voiced hope that an Obama victory could help empower the progressive movement in San Francisco and give it more leverage against moderates like Mayor Gavin Newsom who support Hillary Clinton (see “Who Wants Change?” 1/30/08).

Daly said the Gonzalez decision complicates that narrative a little. “I don’t think it’s undercut,” Daly said, “but I think it’s confused a bit.”

Wrapping it up


› tredmond@sfbg.com

The Guardian went to press this week without a jury verdict in our lawsuit against the SF Weekly.

As of the morning of March 4, the jury had been deliberating more than two days and was still behind closed doors in Superior Court. Any updates will be posted to www.sfbg.com.

The jurors have to answer a series of questions to reach a decision in the case, which alleges a violation of the state’s Unfair Practices Act. First they have to decide if the Weekly sold ads below cost. Then they have to determine whether that was done to injure a competitor (us) and whether the below-cost sales were a substantial factor in actually causing the Guardian harm. Only at that point would the jurors begin discussing damages.

The fact that the panel is still talking after more than 10 hours means it’s likely they answered yes to the first question and possibly the second or third — if those answers had been no, the case would have been over.

But trial lawyers all agree that it’s always a mistake to try to predict the outcome of jury deliberations. The trial has been going on for more than four weeks, with detailed and sharply conflicting testimony on the behavior, intent, and financial status of the city’s two alternative weekly newspapers.

The Guardian argued that the Weekly, owned by the Phoenix-based chain Village Voice Media (VVM; formerly known as New Times), has since at least 2001 engaged in a practice of selling ads for far less than the cost of producing them in an attempt to damage the local, independent competitor. Testimony showed consistently that the chain-owned paper was indeed selling below cost. In fact, the Weekly has lost money for the past 12 years, and the chain has shipped $13 million to San Francisco to prop up the paper and allow it to continue below-cost selling, testimony showed.

Three witnesses testified that they had heard Mike Lacey, one of the two principals of VVM, announce when the chain bought the Weekly in 1995 that he intended to put the Guardian out of business.

But the Weekly‘s lawyers argued that Lacey was just engaging in hyperbole, and that there was never a predatory intent. In fact, they argued, any financial0 losses the Guardian had seen were the result of a weak economy and competition from the Internet.

The Guardian‘s expert accounting witness, Clifford Kupperberg, conducted a study showing that the local paper had lost money to the Weekly‘s price-cutting. In 90 percent of the sample accounts he studied, the Weekly had sold ads below cost — and two-thirds of those were associated with the Guardian either losing a customer or having to cut its rates.

The Weekly brought out $1,075-per-hour Harvard economist Joseph Kalt to argue that it would be economically irrational for the Weekly to try to put the Guardian out of business. But the Guardian‘s business expert, Bill Johnson, publisher of the Palo Alto Weekly, said that VVM was behaving just the way many big chains do: it was cutting rates to seize as much market share as possible with the aim of undermining a competitor.

Kupperberg put the damages at between $5 million and $11 million. The Weekly‘s expert, Everett Harry, tried to belittle those claims, but in the process he gave the jury some misleading charts that completely misinterpreted Kupperberg’s work.

Even if the jury awards only modest damages, the Guardian can ask Judge Marla Miller to issue an injunction barring the Weekly from continuing to sell ads below cost.

Muni’s makeover


› news@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY San Francisco’s streets are some of the most congested in the nation, our gasoline prices are reaching record highs, and parking is both scarce and expensive (particularly given the rising cost of parking tickets). But most drivers still haven’t been willing to switch to public transit, something that Muni officials hope to change with the help of a highly anticipated study that’s just been released.

The Transit Effectiveness Program (TEP) is a systemic proposal to make Muni faster and more attractive, mostly by focusing resources on the busiest routes. The study kicks off what could be a transformative year for the Municipal Transportation Agency, which got another $26 million annually through the passage of Proposition A in November 2007 and has been struggling for years to meet its on-time performance goals and win back lost riders.

It has been over two decades since Muni had its last major overhaul. The TEP boasts "hundreds of changes" in the works, from larger buses to route additions. The current draft of the proposal reflects 18 months of data collection on rider trends and community input. Officials found residents citywide were most concerned with reliability in the system.

"We have some schedules that are up to 10 minutes short of how long the line actually takes," said Julie Kirschbaum, program manager of the TEP. "We also need to reduce the number of breakdowns. We need more mechanics."

Data also showed 75 percent of Muni passengers board in the system’s 15 busiest corridors, which include the 49 Mission/Van Ness, 38 Geary, and 30 Stockton routes. TEP calls for increasing service on these corridors by 14 percent and cutting wait times to five minutes or less.

The study also proposed new routes to better reflect changing growth patterns and travel needs. For the first time, a bus would directly connect Potrero Hill with downtown. A new "downtown circulator" would loop Market Street on Columbus, Polk, and Folsom streets, replacing the 19 Polk and 12 Folsom. Some proposals would increase service between neighborhoods in the western and southern parts of the city as well as create better connections to BART and Caltrain for those who commute to or from the city.

University students and employees could also benefit from the TEP, as increased service to destinations such as San Francisco State University and University of San Francisco were high priorities for the project team. In order to maximize resources, some routes could be scaled back or removed, potentially making the walk to the bus stop a few blocks longer for some city residents. For example, in the Mission District, there is a proposal to fold the existing routes on Folsom and Bryant into a faster, higher-capacity route on Harrison. A proposal to end the 56 Rutland route would leave Visitation Valley even more isolated.

Once the TEP’s environmental impact report is complete sometime next year, there will be public hearings before the MTA board decides which recommendations to adopt. The Board of Supervisors could ultimately vote to overrule controversial route changes.

The TEP is one of many high profile green initiatives Mayor Gavin Newsom has rolled out, from a solar panel initiative he introduced with Assessor Phil Ting to the controversial appointment of Wade Crowfoot as the director of climate protection initiatives, whose salary is paid with MTA funds.

"The best thing we can do is get people out of single occupancy vehicles…. This mode shift is my primary goal," Crowfoot said at a Feb. 27 public information workshop, one of many planned throughout the coming months to educate and receive feedback from residents on the TEP.

Yet like many of Newsom’s splashier initiatives, the plan lacks clear funding sources and commitments. "There’s a whole capital piece to the TEP that’s been missing the whole time," Tom Radulovich, executive director of Livable City and a member of the TEP’s policy advisory board, told us. "Without this capital element, TEP won’t happen."

Many of the proposals could be covered by reallocating operational costs, yet some expensive projects remain without a clear source of financing. Despite the price tag, Radulovich said ambitious investments now could more than pay for themselves in the long run: "If you’re smart about how you spend money, you can use capital money to save money in operating costs down the line."

Editor’s Notes


› tredmond@sfbg.com

When Jerry Brown was governor of California, he was almost done in by the Mediterranean fruit fly. So he knows a thing or two about bug infestations and aerial spraying.

It was 1981, and Brown, approaching the end of his second and final term, was running for a spot in the United States Senate. He was the odds-on favorite to win the seat being vacated by the Republican S.I. Hayakawa; his chief Republican rival was a mild-mannered and hardly charismatic San Diego mayor named Pete Wilson.

But that summer, the fruit flies, known as medflies, started showing up in residential areas, mostly in gardens and fruit trees outside of San Francisco. Farmers worried that the pest could spread to the central valley and points south — and experts warned that the state stood to lose $1 billion per year if the agricultural industry got hit.

The flies breed rapidly and turn fresh fruit to mush. That would have been bad for growers. Even worse, the rest of the country was so worried about the tiny creatures that any sign of a commercial crop infestation might have led to a nationwide boycott of California produce.

Brown, still the staunch environmentalist, ordered the California Conservation Corps to strip the fruit off trees in the affected areas, and he ordered the release of millions of sterile flies to interrupt the mating cycles. As it turns out, the shipment of supposedly sterile flies from a Peruvian lab included at least some that were fertile; Brown argued that the error prevented the ecologically sound alternative from working.

But for whatever reason, the flies continued to spread — so the chorus from agribusiness got louder and louder. They wanted aerial saturation spraying of the pesticide malathion.

But Brown resisted. "All I could think about," he told me 10 years later, "was poison raining down from the sky."

That’s all a lot of environmentalists could think about too. The governor was knocked around like a ping-pong ball, to the delight of a mainstream media that never much liked or respected Jerry Brown. And in the end, he caved: helicopters, flying five abreast in military-style formation, began carpet bombing hundreds of square miles of mostly residential areas, dumping a chemical that a lot of critics argued could have untold long-term health effects.

The indecision pissed off the conservatives. The final outcome pissed off the environmentalists. Brown lost the Senate race.

When I talked to him about the decision, it was 1991 and I was writing a book — and Brown was mounting a surprisingly strong run for president. In retrospect, Brown thought the spraying was wrong. He thought he had to do it, but he felt horrible about it. Back then, he was a progressive populist.

And now he’s California’s attorney general, and he’s defending the state’s plans to bombard San Francisco, Marin, and the East Bay with an artificial pheromone wrapped in tiny plastic bubbles to eradicate the light brown apple moth (see page 10). I know all the arguments, but please: I have two little kids now. It’s a nasty chemical, raining down on us from the sky.

The medflies came back. So will the moths. Brown wants to come back to his old job too. You wonder if he’s learned anything.

No aerial spraying


EDITORIAL The tiny light brown apple moth has become a huge environmental deal in Northern California. Ever since a retired entomologist found one in his Berkeley back yard a year ago, state and federal agencies have been in full attack mode. Now they’re preparing to send a fleet of airplanes to dump thousands of gallons of pest-control spray over San Francisco and the East Bay this summer. The aerial bombardment is likely to be ineffective — and it may have serious health impacts on humans. It’s a bad idea, and it needs to be stopped.

As Sarah Phelan, who first broke this story, reports on page 10, that won’t be easy: the California Department of Food and Agriculture is holding public hearings on the spraying but has insisted it will go forward no matter how much opposition emerges. State Sen. Carole Migden is trying to block the plan in the Legislature, but the governor will likely veto any bill she can get passed. So it may be that the only way to prevent San Franciscans from facing a pesticide carpet-bombing the first week in August is for somebody to file a lawsuit.

The moth frightens farmers because its larvae eat a wide variety of plants. The tiny caterpillars could do more than $600 million worth of damage to the state’s crops every year, the CDFA says.

The pest is native to Australia and had never before been reported on the United States mainland. So the authorities decided that the best solution was to eradicate it — and that the most effective way to do that was to drown the affected regions in a chemical called Checkmate.

Checkmate isn’t a poison, the way some of the nastier pesticides are. It contains an artificial version of a pheromone that female moths release to attract males during mating season. The idea is that if the pheromones are floating around in the air, the boy moths will get confused and never find the girls, and eventually the population will die out.

The mating scent is delivered in tiny bubbles of a plastic-type substance. Over time, the little capsules melt and the pheromone is released into the air. The way the state describes the spray, it can take up to 70 days for all of the active ingredients to become airborne. One application is supposed to last throughout the moth’s mating season.

But this theory has never been tested on a large scale, and some critics say it’s unlikely the pheromone assault will actually wipe out the brown apple moth population. If even just a few of the creatures manage to mate and produce offspring, the whole effort could be a failure.

The CDFA insists that Checkmate is totally safe for humans and pets, that it contains nothing toxic, and that the moth pheromone has no impact on anything other than this one type of insect. But the advisory label on Checkmate cans warns people who are applying the stuff to wear protective clothing and masks. The tiny capsules (which are not biodegradable) can’t be good for people with respiratory issues. Some residents of Santa Cruz and Monterey counties, where a first batch was sprayed last summer, reported health effects.

And we’ve been around long enough to distrust officials who tell us that chemicals sprayed into the air are perfectly safe. As one Vietnam veteran testified at a public hearing last week, the government used to say that Agent Orange was harmless too.

San Francisco and the East Bay are dense urban areas with millions of people — hundreds of thousands of them children. If the health impacts of massive aerial spraying of moth pheromones are not definitively known, it’s a bad idea to go forward.

We recognize that the moth is a threat to agriculture; so are thousands of other pests. Organic farmers manage to produce crops every year without dumping chemicals on them.

There was a time when a governor named Jerry Brown stood his ground and refused to allow aerial spraying of a toxic chemical called malathion to kill Mediterranean fruit flies. Ultimately he backed down and allowed the spraying — and in retrospect he admits that was a mistake. Brown is now the state’s attorney general, and there’s talk that he’d like his old job back. If he wants to demonstrate that he’s a real environmentalist, he ought to file suit to block the spraying.

Since that’s unlikely, it’s going to require an environmental group with the resources and legal support to take this to court. San Francisco’s full of them; someone needs to step forward.

More funny money at City College


EDITORIAL The chancellor and the board of the San Francisco Community College District have tried hard to act as if the diversion of $30,000 in public funds for political purposes was just an isolated error, easily fixed. But as G.W. Schulz reports on page 14, an audit has found at least one other diversion, this time of at least $28,670 — and it’s starting to look as if there’s a pattern here.

The college administration, possibly with the knowledge of some of the trustees, has been spending public money on political campaigns. Money earmarked for public education has gone to promote bond acts that bring in money for the district — and that’s not only sleazy and unethical, it’s clearly a violation of law.

San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris is reportedly looking at the second diversion — but she needs to expand the probe immediately. If the administration of the outgoing Chancellor Philip Day shuttled public cash to bond campaigns twice, there’s a good chance it happened a few more times. And at a certain point, this rises to the level of serious criminal charges.

The first diversion, first reported in the Chronicle, involved a $30,000 payment from a motorcycle school that was using college parking lots for its classes. That rent money never made it into the public coffers; instead, it wound up helping to pay for the campaign for the latest round of City College bonds.

The latest revelation is just as smelly: the Foundation of the City College of San Francisco, a nonprofit that takes in donations for the school, gave $35,000 on November 6, 2006, to a political group that supports statewide college bond elections. A day later, on Nov. 7, the college itself handed $38,670 (the school’s $28,670 and another $10,000 in private money) to the foundation. That’s odd in and of itself — the foundation usually gives money to the school, not the other way around. And the timing is highly suspect; given the history of questionable financial moves at City College, the idea that some administrator would use the foundation to launder a cash contribution to a political group is not at all beyond the imagination.

The college board needs to hire its own special counsel to check every contribution to local college bond acts to see if there’s any more evidence of improper diversion of public funds. But an internal audit isn’t enough; Harris needs to look into this and make public her findings.

City College is a valuable public institution, and for years, the people running it have undermined public confidence in its financial integrity. That’s a crime itself — and if someone broke the law along the way, the district attorney has to make clear that it won’t be tolerated.

On shaky ground


› gwschultz@sfbg.com

The violations were purported to be accidental. Top administrators broke the law in two separate incidents in 2005 when they diverted a total of $30,000 belonging to City College of San Francisco to a local bond campaign committee, although they said it was an innocent mistake.

Now new documents obtained by the Guardian show an apparent pattern to this misuse of public funds. A special audit indicates that on Nov. 7, 2006, administrators from the school district transferred $38,670 to a bank account controlled by the Foundation of the City College of San Francisco, a nonprofit that seeks donations for the school and funds scholarships.

Just one day before, on Nov. 6, 2006, the foundation made a $35,000 cash contribution to the Community College Facility Coalition Issues Committee, which lobbies for and promotes statewide bonds to benefit schools like City College. State law bars City College from using public funds for such political purposes.

When asked about the money transfers, Vice Chancellor Peter Goldstein conceded to the Guardian that $28,670 of the newly uncovered funds were improperly moved to the foundation to replenish the Nov. 6, 2006 contribution, but he referred questions regarding who made that decision to outgoing chancellor Phil Day, who did not return a call.

The firm that conducted the audit, Louie & Wong, based in San Francisco, could find no evidence that the foundation’s board approved the contribution, and a lawyer hired by the foundation says the directors were not aware of the transfer of district funds into the foundation bank account at that time.

Although some of the board members later recalled authorizing the contribution, it wasn’t reflected in meeting minutes, and the directors say they never intended to launder public funds into a political contribution.

These revelations further damage the credibility of City College administrators, who for several months have undergone an investigation by the District Attorney’s Office into political fundraising efforts by the school. Spending public funds to support or oppose a ballot measure or candidate is against California law.

Two school trustees, Rodel Rodis and Julio Ramos, confirmed for the Guardian that the district attorney in recent weeks requested documents related to the transactions and will be interviewing senior administrators at the school soon, presumably including Day, who is leaving for a new job in Washington, DC, as this story goes to press. Both say the trustees only learned about the audit’s conclusions this month, although it was completed last summer.

"The way it’s always been presented to me is the foundation is supposed to give the district money in order for the district to fulfill its function of educating students," Ramos told us, "not vice versa."

The District Attorney’s Office will neither confirm nor deny the existence of such probes, but its investigation has been confirmed by sources and reported in both the San Francisco Chronicle and the Guardian (see "Day’s Dilemma," 8/8/07).

Day characterized the earlier diversions from the 2005 bond campaign as a simple misunderstanding when they were publicized last year. His administration wasn’t trying to do anything illegal, he wrote in a public statement at the time, and a resulting internal investigation called for by City College’s board of trustees seemed to confirm his claim.

"The 2005 campaign was compressed into little more than three months, and as a result of this rush, we made some mistakes," Day wrote in response to the report when it was released in January. "As the chancellor and CEO of this college, I take responsibility for these missteps."

But despite the breadth of the internal investigation, which filled 232 pages and detailed the history of the hastily organized 2005 bond election, its scope never reached the foundation’s political activities.

Now it appears that after the Chronicle published stories last April exposing the misdirected funds from 2005, the foundation’s board of directors asked for a special audit to ensure that all its financial transactions between 2005 and 2007 were free from any association with public funds the board wasn’t aware of.

The foundation at that time hired a lawyer, Peter Bagatelos, who told the Guardian that the board didn’t know $38,670 was transferred to the foundation’s bank account on the day of the November 2006 statewide election, when voters were asked for $10.4 billion in bond money to support California’s public schools.

"It was never done with their consent or knowledge or participation," Bagatelos said.

During the same two-year period covered by the audit, the foundation made cash donations to other political action committees (PACs) totaling $110,000, including $75,000 that went toward City College’s $246.3 million local bond election in 2005.

Those transactions appear to be legal because the foundation is a 501(c)3 nonprofit that technically operates separately from the school and can promote political causes that benefit community colleges within certain parameters, according to a coalition lobbyist. Each of those contributions were approved and properly documented by the foundation’s board, unlike the transactions from early November 2006.

Goldstein also said that the foundation’s board was not happy about the discovery and that the directors returned the money last April, just as the Chronicle‘s stories were breaking. He said the remaining $10,000 was legally acquired from yet another nonprofit controlled by the college and through a private vendor, but the foundation’s board elected to return that money as well on the advice of legal counsel "to avoid any appearance of impropriety."

"Any funds that the college is entitled to cannot and should not be transferred to the foundation," Goldstein told us. "The particular item that you’re asking about was absolutely a mistake. It should not have been transferred. It was found internally, corrected, and the funds were distributed to a variety of student organizations."

The Community College Facility Coalition, which received the $35,000 donation, was formed by a small group of school presidents in the spring of 1993 and today includes 52 districts across California. Its "issues committee" was created expressly for financing statewide bond campaigns.

The political action committee’s state election filings show that the foundation’s contribution was actually made on the same day City College transferred the $38,670 to the foundation’s bank account, rather than a day earlier as the audit states.

City College has aggressively sought such state money — nearly $200 million since 1998 — to match funds raised through local bonds from San Francisco taxpayers to help with its ongoing capital projects like a new gymnasium, a performing arts center, and campuses in the Mission and Chinatown.

The $35,000 contribution was among the largest made to the coalition’s PAC leading up to the election, and Paul Holmes, a lobbyist for the coalition, said only 10 to 12 schools use their foundations to support ballot measures each year. Rarely does it receive a donation of more than $20,000, he said. Holmes added that many colleges use their supporters for donations.

Judy Iannaccone, a spokesperson for the Rancho Santiago Community College District in Orange County, which helped raise $13,600 for the 2006 election, said they did so by forwarding the names of potential donors to the coalition, which allowed the school to remain impartial.

"The money was absolutely not from the general fund," Iannaccone told us.

Colleges and universities commonly form nonprofit foundations to raise money on their behalf from alumni and other supporters, like the behemoth $1.1 billion endowment of the UCSF Foundation, which encourages and administers private giving to the medical school and health-related research of the University of California-San Francisco.

City College’s foundation is considerably smaller. It had $22 million in net assets at the end of the 2007 fiscal year, according to district documents, and describes itself in an audit as a discrete component of the school. The foundation gives out hundreds of relatively small scholarships to students every year, some worth up to $3,000, but most for smaller amounts of between $250 and $500.

The foundation also maintains a separate board of directors that, like many higher-education foundations, contains top officials from the school itself, like Chancellor Day and Vice Chancellor Goldstein.

Most of the foundation’s other directors, however, are simply civic leaders who support City College’s mission but don’t work for the district and aren’t affiliated directly with Day’s administration.

The two entities are still close enough that the district handles bookkeeping for the foundation and shares its employees. For instance, the audit shows that the foundation’s finances — including its political contributions — were often prepared by City College’s chief administrative services officer, the title carried by Stephen Herman, who was implicated in the first round of illegal diversions made public last year.

"People literally thought that the college was obligated to make a contribution to this statewide campaign and that meant funds that would otherwise be under the college’s control could be eligible for a donation," Vice Chancellor Goldstein told us. "But, of course, that’s incorrect."

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