Amanda Witherell

Kiwis score points as Oracle regroups


After a week of one-boat “races,” an argument over rules, and an angry sponsor making waves in international media, it would be easy to write off the America’s Cup as the lamest party in town (so lame, in fact, that the organizers have ceased broadcasting the one-boat shows on YouTube).

But, it was a week of wins for Emirates Team New Zealand, most obviously the solid drubbing they delivered to Luna Rossa on Saturday (7/13) during the first race at which two boats actually showed. A smart “hook” by ETNZ blocked Luna Rossa from the start line and gave the Kiwis a five second advantage that stretched to over five minutes during the seven legs of the race. Unfortunately, that was the peak of the action as the gap between the boats grew so great and Luna Rossa officially earned a “did not finish” result for exceeding the five minutes allowed to cross the finish line after ETNZ. Overall, the match was almost as boring to watch as the single-boat snoozefests of earlier in the week, however it did show off the capabilities of the Kiwi crew, who are clearly mastering foiling while jibing, a key move for maintaining high speeds downwind. Which brings us to the other big win for the New Zealanders this week. On Thursday, the international jury ruled in favor of ETNZ and Luna Rossa, who protested a new rule requiring larger, symmetrical rudder elevators as a matter of safety. The jury decided that allowing the larger rudder elevators — which Oracle have been using on their boat since they relaunched in April after a pitch-pole in October destroyed their wing sail — would violate the AC72 Class Rule that governs the design specifications of the boats.

They said regatta director Iain Murray couldn’t change this rule without buy-in from all the competitors and that voluntary compliance of the other safety rules would appease the Coast Guard, which permitted the event based on the additional safety measures made after Andrew Simpson died. The rudder elevators help stabilize the lightweight boats while foiling, or lifting off the surface of the water to hit speeds of over 40 knots — ETNZ saw 42.3 on the speedometer on Saturday while Luna Rossa maxed out at 39.9 knots. The crew that masters this move and can maintain it over the course of a race will likely come out ahead. ETNZ is doing it now and will likely get better and better at it over the coming weeks as they continue to race the course through the multiple round robins of the Louis Vuitton Cup.

Meanwhile, Oracle will have to return to the drawing board and Ellison’s crew will need to get out on the water and re-learn how to handle their boat with a new rudder that complies with the Class Rule. Oracle has been tight-lipped on the subject, with just a brief statement from general manager Grant Simmer on the jury’s decision. “We continue to support the Regatta Director and we believe all teams have benefited from his review. We don’t have an issue complying with the Class Rule, and we will be ready to race under the rules affirmed by the Jury.” However, they may have an issue playing catch-up to the Kiwis, who have a lot on the line. If they aren’t able to wrest the Auld Mug from Larry Ellison’s hands, it’s likely the New Zealand government won’t chip in for a future campaign — especially if high-tech, billion-dollar boats remain the name of the game. The Kiwis have already chalked up four points and will need to win just one more of the next three bouts with Italy to advance to the Louis Vuitton Cup semifinals, during which the Swedish team, Artemis, should be back on the water. Spectators won’t see Oracle on the course until September 7, when the America’s Cup final matches commence, however there should be plenty of opportunities to observe their practice sessions with a newly rule-compliant boat. To that end, it’s worth noting that situating the race close to land for the first time in the Cup’s history, and with a short course completed in multiple laps, was supposed to draw crowds to the shoreline and the television screen. Now that I’ve seen the boats live and on television, I have to admit that so far it’s still a pretty boring sport to watch. Standing near the start line at Marina Green or the finish line at Piers 27/29 may get you flashes of action and watching it on television is like watching a video game.

The best of both worlds is to park as near as possible to the water and get your hands on a portable marine VHF radio tuned to channel 20, which transmits the official America’s Cup broadcast. Then you can hear details on speed and tactics while actually seeing the most unforgettable part of this race — the boats jibing downwind, hitting freeway speeds while foiling with spray flying and crewmembers bouncing from one hull to the other.

That’s still drawing gasps and cheers from the crowd.

Kiwis win first real America’s Cup race as Oracle adapts to rejected rule change


After a week of one-boat “races,” an argument over rules, and an angry sponsor making waves in international media, it would be easy to write off the America’s Cup as the lamest party in town (so lame, in fact, that the organizers have ceased broadcasting the one-boat shows on YouTube).

But, it was a week of wins for Emirates Team New Zealand, most obviously the solid drubbing they delivered to Luna Rossa on Saturday (7/13) during the first race at which two boats actually showed.

A smart “hook” by ETNZ blocked Luna Rossa from the start line and gave the Kiwis a five second advantage that stretched to over five minutes during the seven legs of the race. Unfortunately, that was the peak of the action as the gap between the boats grew so great and Luna Rossa officially earned a “did not finish” result for exceeding the five minutes allowed to cross the finish line after ETNZ. Overall, the match was almost as boring to watch as the single-boat snoozefests of earlier in the week, however it did show off the capabilities of the Kiwi crew, who are clearly mastering foiling while jibing, a key move for maintaining high speeds downwind.

Which brings us to the other big win for the New Zealanders this week. On Thursday, the international jury ruled in favor of ETNZ and Luna Rossa, who protested a new rule requiring larger, symmetrical rudder elevators as a matter of safety. The jury decided that allowing the larger rudder elevators – which Oracle have been using on their boat since they relaunched in April after a pitch-pole in October destroyed their wing sail – would violate the AC72 Class Rule that governs the design specifications of the boats.

They said regatta director Iain Murray couldn’t change this rule without buy-in from all the competitors and that voluntary compliance of the other safety rules would appease the Coast Guard, which permitted the event based on the additional safety measures made after Andrew Simpson died.

The rudder elevators help stabilize the lightweight boats while foiling, or lifting off the surface of the water to hit speeds of over 40 knots – ETNZ saw 42.3 on the speedometer on Saturday while Luna Rossa maxed out at 39.9 knots. The crew that masters this move and can maintain it over the course of a race will likely come out ahead. ETNZ is doing it now and will likely get better and better at it over the coming weeks as they continue to race the course through the multiple round robins of the Louis Vuitton Cup.

Meanwhile, Oracle will have to return to the drawing board and Ellison’s crew will need to get out on the water and re-learn how to handle their boat with a new rudder that complies with the Class Rule.

Oracle has been tight-lipped on the subject, with just a brief statement from general manager Grant Simmer on the jury’s decision. “We continue to support the Regatta Director and we believe all teams have benefited from his review. We don’t have an issue complying with the Class Rule, and we will be ready to race under the rules affirmed by the Jury.”
However, they may have an issue playing catch-up to the Kiwis, who have a lot on the line. If they aren’t able to wrest the Auld Mug from Larry Ellison’s hands, it’s likely the New Zealand government won’t chip in for a future campaign – especially if high-tech, billion-dollar boats remain the name of the game.

The Kiwis have already chalked up four points and will need to win just one more of the next three bouts with Italy to advance to the Louis Vuitton Cup semifinals, during which the Swedish team, Artemis, should be back on the water. Spectators won’t see Oracle on the course until September 7, when the America’s Cup final matches commence, however there should be plenty of opportunities to observe their practice sessions with a newly rule-compliant boat.

To that end, it’s worth noting that situating the race close to land for the first time in the Cup’s history, and with a short course completed in multiple laps, was supposed to draw crowds to the shoreline and the television screen. Now that I’ve seen the boats live and on television, I have to admit that so far it’s still a pretty boring sport to watch. Standing near the start line at Marina Green or the finish line at Piers 27/29 may get you flashes of action and watching it on television is like watching a video game.

The best of both worlds is to park as near as possible to the water and get your hands on a portable marine VHF radio tuned to channel 20, which transmits the official America’s Cup broadcast. Then you can hear details on speed and tactics while actually seeing the most unforgettable part of this race – the boats jibing downwind, hitting freeway speeds while foiling with spray flying and crewmembers bouncing from one hull to the other.

That’s still drawing gasps and cheers from the crowd.

Is Larry Ellison cheating?

If you’re wondering why the hell there was only one boat was out there “racing” in the first match of the America’s Cup on Sunday, here’s the rundown on “Ruddergate,” yet another contentious chapter in the 162-year history of the America’s Cup.

At issue is the size and shape of the rudders on the twin hulls of the AC72s. Original design parameters were established back in 2010 when, in the interest of fairness, details of the boats were agreed upon by all teams — so exactly this kind of conflict wouldn’t occur. A “box rule” was applied, which means the boats won’t be identical, but they will be similar (Emirates Team New Zealand and Luna Rossa actually have near-identical boats as the Italians came late to the party and bought New Zealand’s design to save time.)

Then, after Andrew Simpson was killed when Artemis’s boat capsized on May 9, regatta director Iain Murray made 37 new safety recommendations, which the Coast Guard made into requirements when they permitted the race.

“Basically, for marine events, marine event sponsors are responsible for the safety of the events,” U.S. Coast Guard chief Mike Lutz explained, noting that the 37 rule changes originated with Murray and were approved by the Coast Guard as a package.

Some of those changes are straightforward and simple, like no guests aboard during races, more body armor, buoyancy and other personal safety gear, and no racing in winds over 23 knots (That one is actually a hindrance for ETNZ and Luna Rossa, who deliberately built for prevailing San Francisco Bay conditions, i.e. as much as 35 knots of wind.) 

But that’s not what the two teams are protesting. They don’t like new size and shape rules for the rudder elevators, which are designed to stabilize the boat when it’s foiling. Oracle has a pretty good description of how they work here.

The new rule lays out minimum and maximum area, depth, and span and says they should be symmetrical. None of the 36 other safety recommendations touch on design elements. The fishy part is that Oracle has been practicing with a bigger, symmetrical rudder elevator since they launched their second boat on April 24. Before Simpson died, before Murray’s new safety rules, Oracle was using what would be considered an illegal rudder. And now, voila, it’s legal.

The Kiwis immediately filed a protest to the rule, on June 28, and four days later Luna Rossa joined them.

“I’m not saying all the changes have been made for them, but it’s nothing related to safety. What really upsets me is that there is one boat sailing since they launched on April 24 who has been sailing out of the class rule,” Luna Rossa’s Max Sirena told the media on July 2. “Why design a boat that doesn’t comply with the class rule? And then one week before the Louis Vuitton Cup, you ask the other teams to change the position of the rudders and the elevators…”

In the meantime, rather than delay the first race or move up the date of the protest hearing, Murray said it was okay for the Kiwis and Italians to race without the “safer” rudder elevators, to which ETNZ’s Grant Dalton said, “The point is that under the recommendations you can run both. The question is why?  Because, if you can run both, then why do you need the ones that aren’t rule compliant?”

Dalton also thinks this design change could make the boats more dangerous because the rudder elevators would extend wider than the maximum beam of the boat and could slice a sailor in half if he slips over the side of the hull.

He hasn’t said something dirty’s going down. He told the media, “If the question is, has that rule been put in there deliberately to help Oracle, then no I don’t think it has – I don’t think for a second Iain Murray has done that. Is it helping them as a kind of byproduct of it, then yes it is.”

Luna Rossa’s Max Sirena has been more critical. “It is not safety related at all … It is the first time in the history of the America’s Cup that they can change the class rule just like that, just because they want to change it and with no reason. To change a class rule you need unanimity. Why when Oracle capsized last October did they not come up with this change then?”

Luna Rossa boycotted until the jury made a decision, stating that it would seem like silent affirmation if they raced. A last minute deal to get them on Sunday’s course fell through and for the time being, the Italians are sticking to their principles – they were out practicing yesterday, showing their boat is more than capable of performing with the smaller, asymmetrical, noncompliant rudders.

“The teams don’t believe it’s proper to change the class rule without a vote of the teams,” said America’s Cup spokesperson Sean McNeill. “They believe [Murray] didn’t have the authority to make such a change.”

If the jury rules in favor of Luna Rossa and ETNZ, Murray would have to go back to the Coast Guard with a new safety plan in order to obtain a new racing permit. “If there’s any change, they would have to submit an updated safety plan,” Lutz noted, saying he was confident that it could be reviewed in a short time and a second permit could be issued without too much of a delay.

The jury convened yesterday to hear the protests and a decision is due Wednesday, but this debacle raises a couple of questions. Why didn’t they hear the protests prior to the first race? That race day was established a long time ago, and hasn’t changed. The jury had at least five days to review the protests – ample time if the race organizers were really concerned with keeping the event from totally losing face.

Instead, two of the three boats were out of the race before it had even begun, creating animosity among the handful of sponsors still involved. Louis Vuitton’s Bruno Trouble – who initially anticipated 15 contenders, then 8, and certainly no less than 5 – is pissed that not even two could show up and the event has been very far from the big splash it was billed to be. Meanwhile, international media aren’t holding back the ridicule. Fairfax NZ’s Duncan Johnstone called it “a hugely embarrassing situation for regatta organisers, a major dent for the on-shore festivities and massive sponsorships that envelop this ridiculously expensive event.”

And, if the larger rudder elevators really are safer, why didn’t Oracle say something back in April before Simpson died? Or in October when their boat capsized? Instead, they’ve been very mum on the subject. Control is going to be as important as speed in this Cup and with the Kiwis and Italians burnt by the lowered wind limits, it looks like Ellison is hoping to top them in the control category. Larger rudders create more drag and less speed, but may get Oracle foiling for longer periods with enhanced stability – which they desperately need.

ETNZ and Luna Rossa have indicated it would be impossible for them to adapt their rudders now that racing has begun. Meanwhile, Oracle gets to hang back until the finals in September, practicing their moves while Ellison carries on with acting too rich too fail.

Rebecca Bowe contributed to this report.

New Zealand’s Cup


A few weeks ago I was walking down the dock in the marina where I live, in Wellington, New Zealand, when I passed a woman and a young boy. I’d never seen them before, which is uncommon here in this municipal marina — about 100 boats — in a small suburb of the country’s capital.

The boy was walking from berth to berth pointing out certain rig and hull features and expounding on them as only a future aficionado can. “Lots of different boats, huh?” I asked as I passed.

“Different than America,” he confirmed in an accent the same as mine.

The kid is sharp, I thought, or maybe it’s just obvious, even to an eight-year-old from Chicago. The New Zealand sailing scene is vastly different than its American counterpart, which is not to say there’s no comparing — they’re not exactly navigating carved logs with gunnysack sails down here.

But the boats in my marina are, in fact, mostly homebuilt from steel, cement, aluminum, and wood. They appear a motley crew compared to the cookie-cutter production fiberglass Beneteaus, Catalinas, and Hunters, with their identical pacific blue sail covers lined up in San Francisco’s South Beach Marina.

In New Zealand, a boat is rarely a status symbol — it’s part of the middle-class way of life, the home base for holidays and weekend fishing trips and lots and lots of competitive racing. If I’ve noticed one thing since I arrived in this country (aboard a sailboat, after leaving San Francisco and my job as a Bay Guardian staff writer), it’s that every little harbor town has a yacht club and an awful lot of Kiwis own boats — and they sail the shit out of them.

Which is part of the reason why the New Zealand government is willing to invest NZ$36 million (US$27 million) to compete in the 34th America’s Cup against some of the richest men in the world in a race that has become so elite there’s barely any competition.

Small as the field is, Emirates Team New Zealand (ETNZ) is quickly shaping up to be the team to beat if you’re on a high-speed, air-catching AC72 catamaran. If they succeed, it will show that developing an America’s Cup team doesn’t have to come from having deep pockets in your Nantucket Red pants — it comes from having the sport ingrained in your culture, filtered through affordable local boat clubs, city-run facilities, volunteer programs, publicly accessible shorefronts, and an innovative marine industry.

In fact, without New Zealand’s maritime way of life, Larry Ellison wouldn’t have much of a team: of the 27 sailors and management crew aboard Oracle, a third are Kiwis. Another third are Australians. If you count Ellison, there are only three Americans aboard. Just one of them — tactician and grinder John Kostecki — grew up sailing on San Francisco Bay.

Ellison’s boat is mostly a Kiwi production, too — the fixed-wing sails and structural components for Oracle’s two AC72s were made in New Zealand, as were the boats, sails, and rigs for ETNZ and Luna Rossa. The only other syndicate competing, Sweden’s Artemis, in the wind since the death of crewmember Andrew Simpson, is the outlier, but they still have eight New Zealanders on board.

America’s Cup is looking more and more like it owes a lot to New Zealand. Is the Cup doing as much for San Francisco as it is for this little island nation, with a population just a tenth of California’s?

“If it wasn’t called Team New Zealand, we wouldn’t get a lot out of it,” says Sven Pannell, a competitive dinghy racer and employee of the economic development agency Grow Wellington. “The numbers of boat builders, carbon fabricators, sail makers, yacht designers coming out of New Zealand are the reason we’re still at the top of the global game. If we can bring the Cup home that means a lot for our country.”

It may also save America’s Cup from becoming even more out of touch with reality.



It’s June 8, summer in San Francisco but winter in Wellington. The first race of the 2013 Winter Series at Evans Bay Boat Club hits hypothermic seas beneath steely overcast skies and 20-30 knots of wind — “perfect conditions,” one sailor enthuses. Tame, actually, for Wellington. A week ago, wind blew out the fifth story windows of a building downtown.

Sven Pannell has just finished racing a 12-foot skiff, a super lightweight, often homebuilt boat that probably originated in Australia and is almost exclusively raced in the Southern Hemisphere, though an 18-foot version will be showcased in San Francisco this September alongside the America’s Cup finals. Weighing about 100 pounds, with no class restrictions on sail area, they rooster-tail around Wellington harbor, bow high, barely in the water. They seem to require a similar caliber of nerve as the AC72s.

Which Pannell, who won today, evidently has. He grew up sailing as a kid, as did his crew, Craig Anderson. Neither of them can think of anyone who didn’t get into sailing as a child.

“A lot of people around the world think yachting is a well-heeled sport, but not in New Zealand,” he says. “There’s a reason that half those [America’s Cup] boats are full of Kiwis and Aussies. Go out and see the number of eight-year-olds in Optis in all kinds of weather here. A high number of people sailing at that age creates a deep pool of sailors in demand.”

“America’s Cup is about stretching the limits, but it starts here, when you’re eight years old,” he adds.

Eager to get out of the icy Antarctic wind, I enter the boat club where about 35 people are gathered at the bar, buzzing from adrenalin, barefoot and wet from spray or capsizes, gripping ginger beers and green bottles of Steinlager, the Budweiser of New Zealand. It’s a humble looking crowd — no flash gear or cashmere.

I’m introduced to Mike Rhodes, 26, wearing a blue sweatshirt and camo pants. He’d love to race an America’s Cup boat, but he also satisfies himself with a 12-foot skiff, which he stripped and rebuilt, fashioning the stainless steel fittings himself — he’s a sheet metal worker.

“New Zealand sailing is all about learning and moving forward,” he says. “The boats we’re sailing are always changing. We have set rules for weight, width, and length. After that it’s wide open. You can put up as much rig as you can handle. We went out in 50 knots last weekend. It was insane. We probably had boat speeds of 30 knots.”

The speed and innovations are what appeal to Rhodes and also connect to the America’s Cup, which has been an historic proving ground for leaps forward in boat design. “Who thought New Zealand could make the boat fly first?” he says of ETNZ’s proficiency at foiling the AC72 — going so fast the hull actually lifts off the water.

We’re soon joined by Laura Hutton, a 30-year-old from Cape Cod. She’s raced dinghies, coached and taught sailing for years. Now a speech therapist, she moved to New Zealand three months ago and immediately hooked into the local yachting scene. It’s palpably different than what she’s used to in the States. Here, she says, “It’s a lot more laid back. It’s more inclusive than exclusive. I used to go to events at New York Yacht Club in Newport and I felt so uncomfortable there. It’s the most elite, snobby place.”

“You can’t get coaching in the US unless you’re part of a yacht club or go to a school with a racing team,” she adds, and there’s often a huge cost to enter the sport. “Here, I can join the local yacht club for $35 a month,” she deadpans.

I spend more money riding the bus, I tell her, but I wouldn’t in San Francisco, where it’s cheap to catch a bus but where most people rarely board boats.

The American yacht club tradition has a certain “if you have to ask how much it costs, you can’t afford it” attitude. Ellison is one of 300 members of Golden Gate Yacht Club, official host for the Cup. Its neighbor, St. Francis Yacht Club, 2,300 strong, also has a role in the festivities. Both are exclusive, members-only clubs and neither would tell me what their members pay for the club’s privileges.

However, they’re officially nonprofit organizations and filings with the IRS show St. Francis made nearly $13 million in 2011. Golden Gate Yacht Club took home $660,000 the same year. Ironically, both clubs are on public lands, leased from San Francisco’s Recreation and Parks Department for $231,125 and $64,000 annually respectively.

Both clubs run learn-to-sail programs for kids — $350 for St. Francis and $200 for GGYC — which seem affordable, but what’s the next step? Joining the club, but apparently it’s too rude to query the price.

By contrast, Wellington’s Evans Bay Boat Club charges NZ$281 (US$210) to join and Royal Port Nicholson Yacht Club, which is a sister club to St. Francis, costs NZ$160 (US $120). The Bay Area is lucky — Berkeley and Treasure Island both have affordable clubs, however one could argue that if St. Francis and GGYC are on public lands, they should be paying more in dues to the city.

If there’s a posh club in Auckland, it’s ETNZ’s home — the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron. “But it’s a Kiwi version of posh, nothing like some of the yacht clubs I have been to in places like England, where women aren’t allowed to order drinks at the bar,” says Ben Gladwell, a journalist for Boating New Zealand who will be racing an 18 foot skiff in San Francisco in a regatta concurrent with the Cup finals. “At the Squaddy, there are obviously rules, like no cell phones, and dress codes and such like, but the fees are still only a few hundred dollars per year and it is much more inclusive than other yacht clubs around the world.”

Gladwell explored the health of New Zealand’s sailing culture in a story called “State of the Racing Nation” for Boating New Zealand. He found that although there is a drop-off in interest during university years, many yacht clubs have created partnerships to keep kids in the sport, there are mobile learn-to-sail units roaming the country, and lots of accessible city-run programs for kids. Couple that with low lifetime fees to stay in the sport and you see healthy clubs like Evans Bay, where people of all ages are out racing every weekend, all year round.

“Having so many people involved in sailing is a major reason we are successful,” he says. “Children are introduced to it at such a young age…by the time they come to competing at youth international regattas, they are hugely experienced and winning becomes a habit.”



In 1995, when Black Magic smoked Dennis Connor’s Stars and Stripes in a five-race shut-out, commentator Peter Montgomery famously quipped “America’s Cup is now New Zealand’s cup,” a line that’s gone down in Kiwi history like the “I have a dream” speech.

For the first time, the Auld Mug would be defended in New Zealand. Back then, Auckland’s Viaduct Harbor probably looked a lot like parts of San Francisco’s waterfront does today — dilapidated piers and old industrial buildings crumbling on their pilings. It would cost of NZ$58 million (US$29 million at the time) to dredge the harbor and spruce up the waterfront for the Cup.

The city made its money back. Hosting for two years, in 2000 and 2003, brought NZ$1 billion (US$500 million, at the time) in economic benefits to the country, about 85 percent of that going to Auckland’s local businesses, mostly from visiting megayachts and the services required for the nine syndicates that competed — twice as many as are in San Francisco today.

And Auckland made a lot less than the US$900 million predicted for San Francisco, already trimmed from the US$1.4 billion initially estimated. What the city actually gains from the $22.5 million investment they’ve been forced to make remains to be seen. Meanwhile, Auckland continues to benefit from the race.

It’s been estimated that the four Cup contenders have collectively spent half a billion on their campaigns and a decent chunk of that has been in Auckland, particularly during the AC72 design, build, and testing phases. Already, taxes paid by ETNZ employees amount to NZ$22.4 million (US$16.5 million). That doesn’t include the employee payroll taxes of all the businesses doing Cup-related activity, like the boat builders, riggers, and sailmakers.

ETNZ CEO Grant Dalton has netted sponsorships from more than 100 companies and argues that the Cup efforts have kept many marine businesses afloat that would have otherwise shuttered. Kiwis have not been immune to the world financial situation: the high New Zealand dollar hurting exports and the NZ$30 billion (US$22.5 billion) price tag for the February 2011 Christchurch earthquake have stressed the country’s coffers.

Because of that, funding ETNZ has been as contentious here as hosting Ellison’s party has been to San Franciscans. The agreement was signed in 2007 by a Labour Party-led government and when National Party’s John Key won the Prime Minister’s seat in 2008, he looked into breaking the contract, a move supported by other parties. “Funding the America’s Cup is surely a ‘nice to have’, rather than essential spending, in the current economic climate,” said Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei at the time.

The government was advised they’d still be legally on the hook for the money if they broke the contract, so ETNZ proceeded, but proof of economic return was a contingency and Dalton has taken pains to keep the public good in the conversation, a sharp contrast to Ellison’s attitude toward San Francisco. Dalton has said if New Zealand wins, the world should expect a sharp scaling back of costs. “We stand for nationality rule and we stand for real budget numbers that real people can raise,” he has said.

There’s definitely a sense that this could be New Zealand’s last chance to bring the Auld Mug home. If they don’t, the America’s Cup also loses. Who else will save it from American-style exclusiveness?

Circus battles “animal special interest groups”


By Steven T. Jones

I’m still waiting for the dispatch from our correspondent at opening day of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus elephant abuse trial, which I’ll probably post in the morning. But for now, I wanted to offer circus owner Feld Entertainment’s side of the story, which seems to center on the notion that this is all about “animal special interest groups.”
That phrase peppers the press release that was put out by Feld Entertainment, clearly hoping to capitalize on the “special interest” pejorative that has been coined and hammered home by conservative political forces over the last few decades.
“Animal special interest groups are distorting the facts by making false allegations about the treatment of Ringling Bros. elephants as part of a long-running crusade to eliminate animals from circuses, zoos and wildlife parks. Feld Entertainment will show during the trial that its elephants are healthy, alert, and thriving, and it intends to debunk the misinformation that has been spread by those who do not own or know how to care for an elephant,” wrote Michelle Pardo of Fulbright & Jaworski L.L.P., which is representing Feld Entertainment in the case.
It’s certainly true that most animal welfare groups don’t think endangered Asian elephants should be performing in circuses, doing stunts they say can only be coerced with abusive treatment, and many are opposed to them being displayed in zoos. But the opening day testimony reportedly included that of Dr. Joyce Poole, who is an expert in caring for elephants and who, according to a plaintiffs’ press statement, “testified that it’s her expert opinion that Ringling Bros.’ routine practices do in fact harass as well as harm the animals.”
But the defendants don’t agree and say they’re “prepared to refute the meritless allegations of animal special interest groups.”

Profiles of change


Photos by Pat Mazzera

"Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America," President Barack Obama told US citizens on his Inauguration Day. "For everywhere we look, there is work to be done."

He’s not just cheering himself on — he’s asking his constituents to embrace what’s to come and to consider what more we can be as the individual moving parts of this incredibly complex country.

Even as far back as the Democratic National Convention, Obama turned his campaign slogan into a call to action. "All across America something is stirring. What the naysayers don’t understand is this isn’t about me — it’s about you."

That rang in the ears of people profiled below, who changed their lives in response to his call. That inspired other changes, suggesting that the effort to elect Obama is having a spillover effect on organizing at other levels — which may become a part of how US citizens respond to his actions in office.

Expectations are high for the changes he will order and already there’s indications of what’s to come, such as the closure of the Guantánamo Bay detention facility, the end of the military’s "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy on homosexuality, and a commitment to action on climate change.

Many are eager to see more fundamental change in areas such as war, jobs, housing, energy, and transportation — areas we explore in this issue — as well as greater engagement between the White House and the grassroots groups that helped elect Obama.

In the profiles and stories that follow, the Guardian asks questions about what and who will change and how to move past a pithy slogan to trigger the transformation this country desperately needs.




Maria Gomes was committed to Obama from the beginning. "I signed up right after he announced," said this Menlo Park resident, who joined Silicon Valley for Obama and volunteered on the campaign.

Her first big assignment was in Iowa, where she spent 10 days campaigning before the caucus along with her husband and two teenage children. For Gomes, Obama’s Iowa win was a particularly powerful and pivotal moment. "I just realized the power of the volunteers and how awesome it was," she said. "It was clear to me after Iowa that he was going to win, so I just dove in."

Gomes, a 60-year-old lawyer, took an eight-month unpaid leave from her work as an immigration and dependency attorney for San Mateo County to devote herself fulltime to Obama’s campaign. It was the first time she devoted her life to get a politician elected.

"In fact, I [had] steered away from politics because I don’t really like politics," she said. "This was different. I really strongly felt the people carried this campaign. I canvassed with CEOs, doctors, young people … nobody took a back seat in this campaign. We did not take it lightly."

She and her husband served as precinct captains in California. After the primary, she coordinated volunteers and voter registration efforts for the general election. Gomes traveled to seven states in the months leading up to Nov. 4, spending Election Day working on voter protection in Las Vegas.

"I felt that the only way he was going to get elected was if people got in there. It wasn’t just going to happen," said Gomes, an immigrant from Cabo Verde, off the western coast of Africa.

And it’s not over for Gomes. Her whole family went to Washington DC for the inauguration, where she answered Michelle Obama’s call to volunteer on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Gomes has also signed up to work on Kamala Harris’ run for attorney general and she’s still active with her fellow workers at Silicon Valley for Obama.

"About a week after the election I went to a meeting for our field office. Five hundred people were there. We brainstormed how to stay involved in his campaign," she said. They ranked issues they’d like to see addressed by Obama and organized themselves into teams to work on messaging them to the new administration. "We received a survey from the national team…. The [Silicon Valley] team took the national survey and made it local, community by community. That’s the kind of movement that’s happening now. I’m sure it’s going on everywhere because the campaign wanted every state and every county involved." Her husband is now on the tech team and she’s doing fundraising work for the inauguration.

"It’s not over. Nothing has stopped," she said, adding that she believed this kind of organizing would be very present in the administration. "It’s going to be governed by the people. I plan to be involved for the next four years at whatever level I can. I still write e-mails to whoever I think can change something. I hope it will be transparent enough that we can still communicate to people higher up in the administration — all the way to Barack and Michelle Obama."




Aaron Knapp graduated from law school in 2002 and spent the subsequent six years working for big corporate law firms. By 2008, he began to feel that all of the major decisions in his life had been made based on money and materialism, an certain emptiness that changed suddenly at summer’s end.

"Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention was a real turning point for me," he recalled. "The change that I needed in my life was to join in this campaign that transcended the individuals."

He said he did what he always wanted to do: "I quit a job I don’t enjoy." Knapp went to work instead on the Obama campaign, spending about four months in Nevada. Putting Obama in office became too important to not give it his all: "I just wanted to make sure on November 4, I could say to myself I did everything I could."

On election night, with the feeling of victory rushing through him, there was also a kind of malaise, a feeling of "now what?"

"Our roles in the campaign were predetermined — there are a finite amount of things you do in a campaign. Make phone calls, gather data, knock on doors…. After the election, after we won…. What do we do now? Those predetermined roles are no longer set up for us," he said.

Knapp said it required some soul searching to find the next important thing to do: "The task is to get real specific."

He’s now writing a book and working to get the Employee Free Choice Act passed by Congress. The act would amend existing labor laws to make it easier for workers to create unions that are recognized by employers. In 2007, it passed in the House and failed in the Senate, but it was part of Obama’s platform during the primary season, and one of the reasons he garnered support from organized labor.

But, said Knapp, "It’s one of those things that’s being put on the back burner as we transition in this administration…. While Obama was championing this cause during the campaign, there’s no sign of it now."

The waning of enthusiasm for it is indicative of how Obama’s administration may start to handle some of those crucial campaign promises that drew so many people into his fold. That piqued Knapp’s interest and reminded him of the goals of his grandfather, an auto worker for Chevrolet during the 1940s, who passed away during Knapp’s first year of law school: "My grandfather always would plead with me to do whatever I could to get the labor laws back in order. So that’s an issue that’s really important to me."

Knapp also said that it’s important to keep the grassroots Obama movement alive by continuing to push crucial legislation that was part of his platform for change.

"It goes right to the controversial pieces of law and policy that he’s addressing," Knapp said. "If he’s able to keep this mobilization together, that will help him significantly in getting policies through."




Pauli Ojea, who’s about to turn 30 years old, says that she’s spent her entire adult life "voting for the loser" and advocating for change that’s been slow to happen.

A New Jersey native, Ojea came to California to work for the San Francisco Conservation Corps on environmental education programs. That lead to a position with Breast Cancer Action as a community organizer, where she found that hopeful efforts were often frustrated by political pitfalls.

Then, Ojea attended a 2004 event where she heard Van Jones speak about how a new green wave was coming and it needed to lift all boats. When a position opened with Jones’ new organization, Green for All, she applied to be a policy analyst for the Oakland-based green-jobs advocacy group.

In between the two jobs, she spent a week campaigning for Obama with her mother, a Spanish immigrant who groused that if he lost, she’d be spending more time back in Spain.

Ojea now works on federal green-jobs policy and climate change equity, and has already been deeply affected by the Obama election. "For most of my career in advocacy, there’s been this sense that we probably don’t want to work on federal policy because we’re not going to get anywhere," she explained. "I started at Green For All with Barack Obama elected as president and we’re actually putting a lot of resources into federal policy, and there’s this whole feeling like we’re going to get somewhere. That’s shifted for me. I imagine that for a lot of other environmental and social justice advocates, there seems to be a door opening."

She’s even more enthused after meeting with members of the Obama transition team who were tasked with a review of the Department of Energy. About 30 to 40 people, representing organizations including the Sierra Club and Natural Resources Defense Council as well as renewable energy business leaders and public officials doing energy work in different states, convened in Washington DC to discuss energy policy.

"I’ve been to a lot of public agency meetings and what usually happens is you have maybe an hour and a half of presentation from the agency and maybe a half hour for all the organizations and people trying to get in their piece," she said. "This was different. It was about a two-hour meeting and the whole time it was dedicated to hearing from the community, from businesses, from people with experience in energy efficiency. The transition team members were fully engaged, actually listening, asking questions, asking for clarifications if they didn’t understand something. They were really humble and they seemed really excited about what kinds of changes were possible. I’d never been part of a process like that."

Ojea sees more potential than ever for the activist community in the Obama administration. "It could provide more opportunity and open more doors for what your activism is about. There’s such a difference between being used to being on the outside of the fence, behind the barricade, screaming because it’s the only way to be heard. Is that going to change? Are we going to be inside the fence?"

She recalled Obama’s campaign observation that "change doesn’t come from Washington, change comes to Washington." She’s hoping the Obama team’s outreach will continue.

"We’re at a really strange and critical time," Ojea said. "As Van says, in America, in terms of the economy, the floor has dropped out from under us. But with the election of Obama, the ceiling has come off. There’s a lot of opportunity, and things could also go downhill. What are we going to do?"

Obama kite


By Amanda Witherell

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It was a great day to be out and about in San Francisco. This morning, before I headed to Civic Center to watch the swearing-in ceremony in front of City Hall, I was recalling where I had been in 2005 when Bush was inaugurated for the second time — sitting glumly at my kitchen table in Sedgwick, Maine, listening to the brutal truth broadcast by NPR. Though I lived in the heart of Sedgwick, one could say the “civic center” of what could still be considered a one-horse town — the street was empty. Town was silent. I turned off the news and, like many of my friends and family, didn’t turn it back on for weeks. It was too depressing.

But today, it felt like a time to be among people. Hundreds filled Civic Center to watch the ceremony broadcast on a giant screen by NextArts, and when he spoke, the crowd was silent, attentive, listening, digesting his words and cheering en masse at the ones that hit home.

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And it seemed that everywhere I went there were signs of Obama. I walked down the sidewalk behind a group of women were talking about how they felt like a great weight had been lifted off their shoulders. Upbeat strangers chatted amicably with me at the DMV, in spite of waiting lines streaming out the door. At Ocean Beach, a man was flying a floppy, awkward square kite in the unusually calm afternoon breeze.

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When I got closer, I could see it was Obama.

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This land was your land


Anyone paying any kind of attention has a deep-gut feeling that things aren’t going well for Earth. No matter how fancy or technologically advanced we get, everything humans make and break is fashioned from the resources at hand — water, air, petroleum, minerals, soil and its nutrients, and plants and trees and their fruit. Your MacBook may look space age, but it didn’t fall from the sky. "Nearly everything you use every day is based on minerals mined somewhere, often leaving behind disfigured land and a toxic mess," Howard G. Wilshire, Jane E. Nielson, and Richard W. Hazlett write in The American West at Risk: Science, Myths, and Politics of Land Abuse and Recovery (Oxford University Press, 619 pages, $35)

"Mining is the prow of America’s consumer-propelled ship. Its whole purpose is to dig up resources for transformation to consumer goods," the authors go on to note, with the kicker that such resources are nonrenewable. "A three-bedroom, two-and-a-half bathroom house of about 2,000 square feet, with a two-car garage, central air conditioning, and a fireplace, contains more than a quarter-million pounds of mined metals and other minerals."

The American West at Risk explains the exact effects mining has on Western ecosystems — in other words, the other living things trying to survive alongside humans. Beginning with forests, the authors outline the history of logging and how the right to do it on public lands was weasled from a weak Environmental Protection Agency made even weaker over the last eight years. All professional geologists, the three authors draw upon science in their argument for preservation.

An EPA library in condensed form, The American West at Risk presents a coherent survey of forestry, agriculture, water use, outdoor recreation, road building, military operations, garbage disposal, and nuclear power. "Western US public lands, about 47 percent of the region, are this nation’s patrimony — the bulk of its remaining natural capital," the authors observe. In each of the book’s 13 chapters, they study a single major resource and its uses. The chapters are tidy and stand on their own, but read together, they reveal an abuse of public lands and resources for the benefit of a very few. They also reveal how government science has been warped to perpetuate myths — for example, the idea that grazing on rangelands doesn’t harm the soil, or that military testing shouldn’t have bothersome effects on downwind populations.

The conclusions reached by Wilshire, Nielson, and Hazlett aren’t all doom and gloom — solutions are included — but amid climate change, the authors deserve great credit for not mincing words. The American West at Risk is being marketed as a textbook, and although schools are one ideal realm for its ideas, they aren’t the only one. This book appeals to anyone with an interest in environmental issues, and is essential bedside reading for any environmentalist or activist. It should be read by all Westerners — and by anyone who cares about this great, vast, once bountiful planet, now on the brink of death.

HOWARD G. WILSHIRE, JANE E. NIELSON, AND RICHARD W. HAZLETT read from The American West at Risk. Thurs/8, 7 p.m. at Books Inc. Opera Plaza, 601 Van Ness, SF. (415) 776-1111,

>>Read Amanda Witherell’s interview with the authors here

LIT: Authors and SFBG talk saving the earth


by Amanda Witherell


Yes, even careless placement of renewable energy is hurting the land — addressed in chapter five.
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This week we reviewed The American West at Risk, a recently-published tome that details how ongoing environmental issues are destroying the general livability of Earth for all species, including humans. In short, this book shouldn’t just be on every wannabe Greenpeace activist’s nightstand. Each of the 13 chapters explore one subject in depth — forestry, mining, military operations, road building, to name a few — and balances science with politics and reality to sharpen the argument for preservation of natural resources.

We spoke with two of the authors, Howard G. Wilshire and Jane E. Nielson, who will be reading and discussing the book with co-author Richard Hazlett on Thursday, Jan. 8 at Books Inc, 601 Van Ness Ave.

SFBG: I’m curious why you wrote this book and who you feel you wrote it for.

Howard G. Wilshire: We wrote it because the three of us, all geologists, have a great deal of experience working on environmental issues in the West and we were concerned about it. We get a lot of inquiries from reporters and lawyers and others about specific issues and we figured that since we’re not going to be around forever we should write down our responses and make them available.
When we began the book we told Oxford University Press that we were writing it for nonscientists as well as for academic use, but they’re pretty fussy and decided they would market it only as an academic book. But we wrote it for people who have a problem in their own backyard and want to get some background information on how to respond to it.

Jane E. Nielson: Or for decision makers and environmental lawyers. Often they are not people trained in science and they may not know all the ramifications. Reporters often don’t know all the questions to ask when presented with some sort of a program that’s going to improve things or they have a hard time figuring out what the answers mean. These are the kinds of people who would call us, as well as people from a citizens group who have some kind of major problem coming up and want to know what they needed to think about and what they should be concerned about. This is really the reason we wrote the book. There’s a lot of expertise here and a lot of consideration of things that most people don’t think about.

Losing the West



GREEN CITY Our society can’t continue functioning the way it does. Exploiting the natural abundance of resources in the western United States, without balancing the needs of nature, has lead to the myriad environmental problems outlined in The American West at Risk, a book recently penned by Bay Area–based geologists Richard W. Hazlett, Jane E. Nielson, and Howard G. Wilshire.

A thorough survey of environmental issues related to forestry, water, agriculture, mining, road building, outdoor recreation, waste disposal, military testing, nuclear energy, and warfare, the book was written from the perspectives of scientists, but told in such a way that the science makes the case for preservation by driving home the point that everything the human race depends on comes from nature. Ultimately, the authors stress that the solution is homegrown. "Americans have to start caring about the survival of small communities, their local towns, and their local resources."

We caught up with Nielson and Wilshire by phone to discuss the book in anticipation of their visit to San Francisco this week.

SFBG It often seems like saving the world becomes an emotional or moral stance and less of a scientific one — or that’s how it frequently gets framed by opponents.

JANE E. NIELSON That’s right, and for no reason. Economics have become more important. One of the things we’re trying to say is the environment is the basis for our economic well-being.

SFBG Do you think that if people more fully realize that resources aren’t infinite, thriftiness will become more of the American lifestyle?

JEN It would be very desirable for people to realize that more, to have it taught in schools. How much time we have left to do that, I don’t know. I feel that once people do get an appreciation for the fact that life is going to be leaner, that the soil is really important, things can change very rapidly.

HOWARD G. WILSHIRE My pessimism is borne of the fact that they will have to respond quickly because we are on the brink of serious problems. Climate change is a big one and coping with that — the plans that are being endorsed now and pushed now by politicians and businesspeople — are that we’re going to have to find alternatives to cheap oil to keep on doing what we’re doing.

SFBG In the book you reveal a pattern of public commons being used to benefit a minority, whether its subsidies for big growers, cheap grazing rights, water rights for a handful of a farmers …

HGW It’s across the board.

SFBG How do we break these patterns of privilege, because it’s so ingrained it seems like an institutional problem?

JEN I have to tell you this is something that just sort of grew on us as we wrote the book. We knew about various subsidies, but the immensity of it and the pervasive pattern really only became clear as we progressed through the book.

SFBG It’s interesting that not only is there a pattern of subsidies, but they’re for a very small percentage of people.

JEN The whole history of land ownership in this country was intended to support the small person. The Homestead Act was supposed to give land to individuals, but most people failed at homesteading and there was no provision built in to prevent land from being gobbled up by big landowners.

SFBG So how can we flip this? Some of it is local, but for a lot of it these laws are federal.

HGW We have to take money out of the election system so we can get people free of monetary interest promoting their offices to do something useful. There are people who have the insight and the knowledge to know that we have got to stop this bleeding of our resources through subsidies.

The three authors will be reading and discussing the book Thursday, Jan. 8 at Books Inc. Opera Plaza, 601 Van Ness Ave. The event begins at 7 p.m. More information can be found at

>>Read the full interview with the authors here

>>Read Amanda Witherell’s full review of the book here

Waning wildlife



GREEN CITY Changes to ocean and air temperatures, rising sea levels, loss of habitat, scarcity of food, altered precipitation patterns, environmental asynchronicity — these are the concerns of wildlife biologists who are watching the increased effects of climate change on the thousands of plant and animal species that share the earth with people. Overall, global warming threatens a third of existing species, with 50 percent now in general decline due to a variety of human activities.

Bay Area wildlife is already being negatively affected by a warmer world, one that locally manifests in nesting birds roasting to death during heat waves, plummeting fish populations, and starving whales. Those stories were part of "Irreplaceable: Wildlife in a warming world," a recent seminar held at the San Francisco Public Library by the Endangered Species Coalition. Maria Brown, superintendent of Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary — one of the most biologically diverse regions in the world, shared a grim account of the Cassin’s auklet.

"This little seabird you maybe never heard of may predict the future of climate change in San Francisco," said Brown.

The auklet spends most of its life far out at sea, and flies inland to breed in burrows on remote islands and coastlines. Invasive grasses have choked many of the prime burrowing spots along the coast, so wildlife biologists have installed bird boxes as an alternative. April, the height of the annual nesting season, was an unusually warm month, with thermometers on the Farallones Islands clocking 90-degree temperatures. The bird boxes turned into ovens. "They literally cooked," said Brown of the breeding auklets. "This is a prediction of what’s to come."

The auklet’s story also shows how species have already been negatively impacted by human activity, even before dramatic climate change was factored into the equation. That’s a point all the speakers drove home.

"We’re dealing with these threats that already exist. Now with climate change we superimpose all these unknowns," said Tamara Williams, a hydrologist for the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, a 60-mile swath of incredibly diverse land spanning from Tomales Bay to San Mateo that is home to 34 threatened or endangered species — more than any other national park in continental North America. "Those listed species were listed without considering impacts of climate change. We’re dealing with species that were in trouble already."

And how will it affect other species that aren’t listed? Williams gave an example of the coast redwood, which relies on a foggy environment to stave off drought during summer months. Will the coast continue to be as foggy as it’s been in the past? "We wish we could predict what’s going to happen, but we can’t," she said.

Mike Lynes of Golden Gate Audubon said the Bay Area has global significance for birds, but there’s already been a 90 percent loss of its historic wetlands — one of the primary habitats for shorebirds, which are already in a 50 percent decline. Climate change is only going to make the world harder for them, he said as he flashed maps of altered land masses in the event of a one-meter sea level rise — the modest prediction for what will happen by 2100. The maps showed that such a rise will cause wetlands in Richmond, along the Petaluma River, and in Silicon Valley to disappear. Lynes pointed out that the reconfigured coast doesn’t allow room for new wetlands — the coastlines will butt up against already heavily developed urban enclaves for people.

But, he said, expanding and preserving wetlands would benefit birds and humans — wetlands mitigate flooding and are a high-quality CO2 trap.

Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, didn’t sound optimistic about preserving one critical wetland — the Sacramento-San Joaquin delta — when he spoke about the collapsed Pacific salmon population.

"We know pretty much what the problems are for the Central Valley salmon. It doesn’t take a blue-ribbon panel like the governor would like to appoint," he said. "We’ve affected most all of its lifestyle, its lifecycle, by blocking off the places where these salmon spawn," rattling off the names of dams and rivers — Shasta, Bryant, American, Feather — that are no longer easily passable for fish returning to lay eggs where they were born.

On top of that, eggs that are successfully laid hatch into fish that then migrate downstream where they encounter the delta, an "estuary beginning to die." There, agricultural runoff, limited freshwater, and powerful pumps all threaten fish survival.

The few salmon that make it out to sea are faced with altered currents, fewer cool water upwellings, lower quantities of food, and literal dead zones where pollution has obliterated the natural diversity of the water.

"We know what has to be done to fix it. What has been done? Absolutely nothing. Now comes global warming. How well are we going to respond now that we have global warming?" asked Grader. "This year there was no fishing for the first time since 1848," bringing the issue back to the basic human need for food, as well.

He urged people to start demanding more from elected leaders, including a stronger Endangered Species Act with a well-funded mandate, and to begin "raising a much higher bar if we expect to have salmon on the planet, humans on the planet, in the future."

At the start of the evening’s presentation, Representative Nancy Pelosi’s aide, Melanie Nutter, delivered a short message from the Speaker of the House calling global warming a moral challenge. Nutter didn’t stay for the presentation, however, and wasn’t there to hear speaker after speaker call out the government for lack of action and, in some cases, inappropriate action.

Tom Dey, a water policy analyst who was seated in the audience, commented that change might come from the top of Barack Obama’s administration, but local officials need to be lobbied. "We have Senator [Dianne] Feinstein and Governor [Arnold] Schwarzenegger, who have written off the delta," he said, bringing up their support for a $9 billion bond to build more dams.

All the speakers urged individual action as well, and Williams said the Interior Department was "committed to doing what we can to reduce our own carbon footprint."

So far, that has been an analysis of carbon emissions throughout the national park system. GGNRA recently approved its climate action plan and is just beginning implementation of three major phases: emissions reduction, education, and adaptation, according to Laura Castellini, an environmental protection specialist. So far, that has meant an energy reduction partnership with Pacific Gas and Electric Co., an integration of climate change into interpretations, and beginning a more focused look at how sea level rise will affect GGNRA lands.

There have been hurdles, too. Castellini said most of the park’s emissions actually come from visitors, so the organization is looking at ways to enhance shuttles to and through parks as well as encouraging alternative transportation to arrive there in the first place. When asked how GGNRA was changing its own driving patterns, she said the agency was having problems getting more fuel-efficient cars. "Right now we get all of our vehicles from the General Services Administration. They have been a little slow in getting us vehicles that get us closer to our goal." Specifically, GSA only offers flex-fuel automobiles that run on ethanol, a plant-based fuel that many environmentalists are criticizing as unsustainable. Furthermore, Castellini said there are no ethanol stations in San Francisco.

Even given the concrete actions the park system is taking, there are still a lot of big unanswered questions, said Castellini. What if Glacier National Park no longer has any glaciers? "What does it mean if our protected areas no longer protect what they were established to?" she asked.

The Irreplaceable campaign, which includes a photo exhibit (closing Dec. 31 at the Main Branch of the SFPL), is traveling the country, ending in Washington, DC, as part of a push for Congress to recognize the gravity of the problem. Mark Rockwell, director of the program, closed the seminar by saying, "The only constant in nature is change. Change is what we’re going to have to become more comfortable with."

That includes human change.

The Chron’s skewed notions of water and rights


by Amanda Witherell


“Is there a right to water?” The San Francisco Chronicle’s editors asked today. The editorial outlined how water isn’t currently considered a human right by the UN, an issue the Guardian also recently covered. The Chron still found a way to criticize the notion that we all deserve a clean, safe glass of it.

“Enshrining water as a right sounds innocent. But it carries multiple implications. On one level, such a right would put nations on notice to upgrade water systems to make sure all their citizens have access. It’s an inarguable ideal for a human necessity.”

They go on: “But it also carries a political undercurrent. Such a right would be a powerful signal to international water companies such Veolia, Suez and RWE (all based in Europe) that their attentions are unwelcome in developing countries. These poor nations are prime targets as their leaders wrestle with the costs and engineering needs to improve outdated pipes, dams and spigots. In this setting, water shifts from a [sic] everyday need to an economic issue.”

Doubtless water is an economic issue – it costs money to install pipes, pumps, filtration systems, and monitoring equipment. It costs money to keep the system running properly. It costs money to ensure the cleanliness of water sources. How much should it cost? Should that cost include a profit margin?

Corporations and private companies would contend that governments just don’t have enough money to do the massive infrastructure improvements that are called for worldwide – in the US alone water infrastructure needs amount to a $1 trillion investment.




GREEN CITY Sup. Sophie Maxwell, who represents a disproportionately polluted district that is host to the city’s only fossil fuel-burning power plant, has introduced legislation to change the way energy flows into and around the city.

The ordinance collates some past resolutions already affirmed by the Board of Supervisors — to close the Mirant Potrero Power Plant as soon as possible and to request that the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission conduct a transmission-only study to update the city’s Electricity Resource Plan (which is currently based on building a new peaker power plant in the city in order to shutter Mirant’s older, more polluting facility).

Maxwell’s legislation further calls on the city to provide 100 percent clean energy by 2040 — a mandate lifted directly from Proposition H, a clean energy and public power act that was voted down in November.

But the three elements of the ordinance, which was co-signed by outgoing Sup. Aaron Peskin, are somewhat lacking.

The clean energy goals outlined by Maxwell only apply to the SFPUC — not to anyone who gets a Pacific Gas and Electric Co. bill — and SFPUC power is already almost 100 percent clean, consisting mostly of Hetch Hetchy hydroelectric, solar, biomass, and a small amount of cogeneration. (Large hydro and cogeneration do not meet the state’s definition of renewable, but they are considered among the greenest kinds of "brown" power.)

Prop. H would have required the city to conduct an energy study, and specifically stated that the option of city-owned and operated power be considered as part of the study. Subject to board and mayoral approval, the city could have public power if it was determined to be the most efficient and economic way to provide 100 percent clean energy to all citizens by 2040.

Neighborhood and environmental activists, including Julian Davis, who ran the Prop. H campaign, Tony Kelly of the Potrero Boosters, and John Rizzo of the Sierra Club, said they weren’t consulted or even clued in that the Maxwell legislation was being introduced. Rizzo called the clean energy goals "window dressing," and said, "It doesn’t accomplish what Prop. H does."

"I was surprised by the Maxwell ordinance," said Sup. Ross Mirkarimi, one of the authors of Prop. H, which Maxwell, Peskin, and six other supervisors endorsed. "We hadn’t learned of it until the day it was introduced. I believe it’s going in the right direction but I’d like to see it more committed to its insistence on public power — not just elements of Prop. H, but public power so that we are able to be clear about what forms of energy independence, clean energy, renewable that the city should administer."

Maxwell’s aide, Jon Lau, said they did reach out to Mirkarimi’s staff, as well as Mayor Gavin Newsom’s office, and the legislation was written broadly so that there was "something here for everybody if you’re interested."

"The ordinance she introduced is sort of agnostic toward public power," he said. "But it could and should be part of the analysis to the extent that we study residential needs in the city. It’s totally relevant to have a public power analysis." He called public power a "flash point," and said, "The whole conversation would be about that."

Rizzo said the legislation doesn’t demand anything of PG&E, in terms of clean energy goals, but Lau said they don’t have the authority to legislate a private company’s energy procurement. "We can’t just dictate goals for PG&E."

The board doesn’t have the authority to close Mirant either — the gas and diesel power plant operates with a Reliability-Must-Run contract and the state’s grid operator, California Independent System Operator (Cal-ISO), has said Mirant must run or be replaced by some other in-city, instantly available power generation.

The plant also operates with a water permit from the Regional Water Quality Control Board, and though City Attorney Dennis Herrera, Maxwell, and Peskin recently sent a letter urging no renewal of the permit, which expires Dec. 31, the water board seems to be waiting for the plant to close by some other means rather than taking up the issue. "I’m currently reworking the permit reissuance schedule without Potrero because Potrero’s status is really more like ‘to be determined’ at this point," wrote water board staff member Bill Johnson in an e-mail to the Guardian. Because the board hasn’t acted on it, the permit will automatically be extended on Jan. 1, 2009, meaning the plant will be operating indefinitely until the water board makes a final decision or some other way to close it is found.

There’s almost unanimous approval throughout the city that beefing up transmission lines would be better than building a power plant or allowing Mirant to keep operating. Transmission is also one way the city could gain more control of energy resources and potentially save, and even make, some money.

On Dec. 15, Barbara Hale, assistant general manager for power, sent a request to Cal-ISO asking that two new SFPUC transmission proposals be considered as part of the state’s regional planning. They include upping the voltage of existing lines between the Hetch Hetchy dam and Newark, and adding a new line between Newark and Treasure Island, which would allow Hetch Hetchy power to travel exclusively on city-owned lines. The city currently pays PG&E $4 million per year to carry Hetch Hetchy power from Newark into the city — a fee San Francisco has been paying since 1925 when the city, during construction of the transmission lines between Yosemite and the Bay, mysteriously ran out of copper wire just a few miles shy of PG&E’s Newark station.

The new line would run under the bay, using an existing SFPUC water pipeline right-of-way. "This pathway will allow transmission lines to traverse the environmentally sensitive Don Edwards Regional Wildlife Preserve [in Newark] that is likely to be a bottleneck between PG&E’s pivotal Newark substation and the substation serving the Peninsula," the letter states. The SFPUC also predicts some possible cost recovery from Cal-ISO for building the Newark line because it would improve regional reliability. The agency also says it’s exploring partnerships with other municipal utilities for joint ownership.

Budget funeral



Hundreds of people gathered for a funeral among makeshift gravestones buried in the lawn of City Hall on Dec. 11. The tombstones marked some of the essential public health and community services laid to rest by mid-year budget cuts: health care for jail inmates, day services for the homeless, the SRO Collaborative, and the Laguna Honda adult day care center.

Collectively they amount to a $36 million thinning of an already stretched social safety net that is designed to catch the most vulnerable populations in San Francisco. Of the city’s $118 million projected deficit, about 30 percent will be recovered from the Department of Public Health, with cuts to care and counseling for the mentally ill, services for the elderly, and closing some medical respite housing. All these services — and more — have been suggested by the DPH in response to Mayor Gavin Newsom’s request for deep budget cuts.

But advocates and front-line workers say these cuts will only create a greater cost to the city over time, as people with acute illnesses and mental health and substance abuse problems lose their primary care and end up in the emergency room, potentially in worse condition, receiving more costly care.

"The cuts in services are going to cost," Marykate Connor, director of Caduceus Outreach Services, said at the rally. Cuts to nonprofit organizations that handle much of the city’s drop-in health services mean more ill people will end up at SF General.

But the city’s premier — and only — public hospital is already crunched. "It’s sort of crazy right now. Six to eight months from now if these cuts go through, it will get a lot crazier," said Ed Kinchley, an emergency room social worker.

In a memo to the Health Commission, DPH director Mitch Katz pointed to a higher-than-budgeted census at SF General, which provided a short-term boost in revenue but also stretched resources at the busy hospital and exacerbated its budget situation.

Kinchley, who’s been at General for 24 years (12 of them as a social worker), said part of his job is getting substance abusers and people with mental health out of the ER and into care programs. "It’s already hard for me to get someone in detox in a day," he said.

On a typical Friday afternoon, he’s successful with one in five people. Unfortunately, when someone comes in asking for detox is the time when it can do the most good, if it’s available. "It’s really crucial in that situation to seize the time," Kinchley said. Though they try to keep in touch with clients and get them in as beds become available, there’s high attrition on the waiting list. "They don’t have a hell of a lot of choices except to start drinking again that day."

Martha Hawthorne has spent 23 years as a public health nurse for DPH, working out of the Castro Mission clinic. She does targeted case management for high-risk mothers and their newborn babies — essentially making sure they’re connected with other health care workers who specialize in chronic problems such as diabetes, hypertension, and substance abuse. "I’m one of the people that sees the system from the patient’s point of view," she said.

She’s also able to illuminate how certain cuts can have spillover effects on a newborn baby. "There are five to six specialized, highly skilled RNs being eliminated. One is an expert in diabetes care for pregnant women," Hawthorne explained. If that nurse is cut, "the clinic will still exist, the patient will have five to 10 minutes with the doctor and receive instructions, but there will be very few people to teach her how to use insulin, to follow the instructions, to change her diet…. A woman without this care can have very sick babies. This is one little, little example of a staff cutback that has a direct effect on care."

Furthermore, the way the cuts are being exacted carves deeper into the social safety net than ever before. For example, Progress Foundation contracts with the city to do acute diversion and transitional housing and services for mentally ill people coming out of General’s emergency room. Its annual budget is roughly $14.8 million, mostly funded by Medi-Cal with matching state monies. A smaller amount of city money fills the gaps.

DPH has asked Progress, as well as many other nonprofit providers, for a 5 percent cut — but the cut is based on the entire foundation’s funding, not just what the city gives them. Executive director Steve Fields said that means closing two out of three acute diversion programs or four out of six transitional residential treatment programs.

"It ends up closing about $3 million in programs to save $700,000 [of city money] over the next 12 months," Fields said. "I’m sympathetic to the problem, but it just doesn’t make sense to give up that much [state and federal] money." He pointed out this represents 40 to 50 transitional beds or 20 acute diversion beds in facilities that have been licensed, permitted, received neighborhood approval, and have been functioning at 90 to 95 percent capacity. "Once you lose these beds, you don’t get them back."

And, he said, the real effects are felt on their clients. "However you look at it, the need will be there. They don’t leave town. We end up seeing them somewhere. They’re going to be in a hospital bed or they’re going to be in jail or they’re going to be in a longer-term skilled nursing facility" — all more expensive solutions to a chronic problem. "We may be making decisions that we may regret down the road because we’ve had to react so immediately to the crisis," Fields said.

"This is happening at a time when there’s all this increased need," said Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness.

The numbers for families, provided by Compass Community Services, are grim: between 2007 and 2008, the number of families seeking shelter jumped from 75 to 148. At the same time, the city has reduced family shelter beds by 20 percent, and the waiting list is now more than four months long — meaning families are waiting for shelter longer than they can actually stay in it.

"It’s a really brutal time to cut health and human services," said Friedenbach, whose group is advocating for an alternative list of cuts that incorporate some of the suggestions posed by SEIU and the Coalition to Save Public Health. They call for capping city salaries at $150,000 and letting go of all management staff brought in since a 2007 hiring freeze.

Hawthorne pointed out that while these cuts hit the neediest hardest, public health for everyone will suffer, pointing out that the city will be less prepared for a large-scale emergency or epidemic.

"SF General is a trauma center, and anybody who needs top-level trauma care is going to end up there. If it’s crowded with people who don’t need that level of trauma care, their response will be slower," said Hawthorne, adding that all emergency rooms in public and private hospitals are ultimately affected by cuts to clinics and nonprofit services.

"On a hopeful note, there’s huge potential as people realize the depth of these cuts," Hawthorne said. "The public needs to demand the human right to health care."

Tap dreams



On Dec. 2 two water conferences were held in San Francisco, attended by very different groups of people.

Downtown, in a room deep within the Hyatt Regency hotel, executives from PepsiCo, Dean Foods, GE, ConAgra, and other major companies gathered for the Corporate Water Footprinting Conference. The agenda that the conference made public included a presentation by Nestlé on assessing water-related risks in communities, Coca-Cola’s aggressive environmental water-neutrality goal, and MillerCoors plan to use less water to make more beer.

But what these giant corporations, which are seeking to control more and more of the world’s water, really discussed the public will never know. Only four media representatives were permitted to attend — all from obscure trade journals not trafficked by the typical reader — and both the Guardian and the San Francisco Chronicle were denied media passes.

The event was sponsored by IBM, and tickets were $1,500 — out of reach for many citizens and environmentalists who might have liked to attend.

And why might people take such a keen interest in the kind of corporate conference that probably occurs routinely in cities throughout the world?

Because there’s almost universal agreement that the world is in a water crisis — and that big businesses see a huge opportunity in the privatization of water.

Only one half of 1 percent of all the water in the world is freshwater. Of that, about half is already polluted. Although water is a $425 billion industry worldwide — ranking just behind electricity and oil — one in six people still don’t have access to a clean, safe glass of it. If the pace of use and abuse remains, the 1.2 billion people living in water-stressed areas will balloon to more than 3 billion by 2030.

That includes California. On June 4, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a statewide drought after two lackluster seasons of Sierra snowfall. Scientists are predicting the same this winter. You can see how the state is mishandling the issue by looking at some recent legislation. Schwarzenegger and Sen. Dianne Feinstein have proposed a $9.3 billion bond to build more dams, canals, and infrastructure. At the same time, the governor vetoed a bill that would have required bottled water companies to report how much water they’re actually drawing out of the ground.

In that context, while the big privatizers were hobnobbing at the Hyatt, activists were attending a very different event, the "Anti-Corporate Water Conference," held at the Mission Cultural Center. It was free and open to the public and the media. More than 100 people gathered to hear a cadre of international organizations share information on how to keep this basic human right — water — in the hands of people.

Speakers included Wenonah Hauter, director of Washington, DC-based Food and Water Watch; Amit Srivastava of Global Resistance, a group that works to expose international injustices by Coca-Cola; Mark Franco, head of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, which lives among water bottling plants near Mount Shasta; and Mateo Nube, a native of La Paz, Bolivia, and the director of Movement Generation Justice and Ecology Project.

Nube spoke about water as a commons, requiring stewardship, justice, and democracy. "We’re literally running out of water. Unless we change the way we manage, distribute, and consume water, we’re going to have a real crisis on our hands," he said. Nube’s remarks tied together the tensions of control and revolt, democracy and privatization, ecological balance and human need — all enormous issues, all related to water and water scarcity, which the Worldwatch Institute has called "the most under-appreciated global environmental challenge of our time."


Water is a basic human need, perhaps even more important than clean air, food, and shelter. People will never strike against water and stop drinking.

And that means, from a capitalistic point of view, it’s a perfect, nearly infinite market. "As water analysts note, water is hot not only because of the growing need for clean water but because demand is never affected by inflation, recession, interest rates or changing tastes," wrote Maude Barlow in her 2007 book Blue Covenant.

If scarcity drives price, anyone with a stake in the water industry stands to gain from an increasingly water-stressed world. As Barlow also reported, "In 1990, about 51 million people got their water from private companies, according to water analysts. That figure is now more than 300 million." By controlling the resource and choosing when and if they engage with the public it allows some of the biggest water abusers to set the terms of a critical ongoing debate.

The fact that humans need water raises important questions: should water be classified as a basic human right available to everyone? Is water part of the commons? If so, should corporations be allowed to control the taps or bottle it, mark up the price, and sell it for profit?

Not much polling has been done on people’s opinions of water, but during 35 informal on-the-street interviews conducted by the Guardian, 31 people said it is a basic human right. The other four said it was subject to the laws of supply and demand.

This week marks the 60th anniversary of the United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights, and Barlow, who has been appointed special advisor on water to the UN, will be addressing the General Assembly on the fact that water is still missing from the original 30 Articles.

"The reason that water was not included in the original 30 Articles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is that no one at that time could conceive there would be a problem with water," Barlow told the Guardian. "It’s only in the last 10 years that the concept of water as a human right has come to the fore."

The problem has its roots in the inherent conflict between conservation and profit. Saving water is relatively cheap, but there’s no money to be made by eliminating waste. Developing expensive new water sources, though, is a potential private gold mine.

As Barlow points out in her book, technology is becoming an integrated part of the solution to the water crisis. Desalination plants, water recycling facilities, and nanotechnology are all being thrown at the problem — in some cases before a full assessment of use and abuse has occurred.

While technological solutions may be warranted in some places, Barlow worries that relying on them bypasses any true attempts at efficiency and conservation. "I’m not going to say there’s no place for water cleanup," she told the Guardian. "What I’m concerned about is we’re going to put all the eggs in the cleanup basket and not nearly enough in the conservation and source protection basket. What I’m concerned about is the idea that technology will fix it. Meanwhile, don’t stop polluting, don’t stop the over-extraction, allow the commercial abuse of water, allow the agricultural abuse of water because what the heck, there’s tons of money to be made cleaning it up. I think that’s the wrong way of coming at it."

The technological fix is one way the state’s water crisis may slowly seep into private sector control, and a couple of examples show what can happen when private companies don’t play nice with the public, how citizens constantly battle with state agencies to enforce regulations, and how the public process could and should be honored.


In theory, California has plenty of water — its 700 miles of coastline border the giant reservoir known as the Pacific Ocean. But humans can’t drink salt water — and some companies see a nice industrial niche in that dilemma. Build a plant that takes out the salt, and suddenly there’s plenty for all.

Several small desalination facilities already exist throughout the state, mostly cleaning water reservoirs brined by agriculture. But another 30 desalination plants have been proposed for the coast as a way to deal with future water shortages.

One is in Carlsbad, near San Diego, where Poseidon Resources is constructing the only large-scale desalination plant that the state has permitted to date. It’s a 10-year-old project that, so far, doesn’t even have a pipe in the ground.

Despite Poseidon’s ability to grease the wheels with local officials, the facility is controversial. It sits next to a fossil-fuel burning peaker power plant, and will be desalinating the power plant’s discharge water, thus shielding its negative environmental impacts by claiming its the power plant that’s sucking up seawater and damaging marine life — the desalination plant is just making use of the wasted water.

That argument doesn’t sit well with Joe Geever of the Surfrider Foundation, who pointed out that part of the power plant is scheduled for a retrofit to air-cooling, and talk is of a potential state ban on using water for this type of cooling system. There are other more environmentally benign seawater extractions, he said, like drilling and capturing subsurface sources, that the desalination plant could have used.

Mostly, he contends, the plant subverts conservation. "Per capita consumption of water in San Diego is much higher than other places," he said. "In southern California we waste an enormous amount of water on growing grass. There’s a lot to be saved."

Poseidon, a private company, is footing the bill for the plant’s construction, but the financing scheme is predicated on a future increase in the cost of water. As Poseidon’s Scott Maloni explained to the Guardian, the contract with the San Diego Water Authority states that the cost of desalinated water can never be more than the cost of imported water. It can, however, walk in lock-step with it — and by all accounts the price to pipe water to sunny southern California is going to increase. Maloni said his company was taking an initial loss but would start paying itself back as imported water costs increase. Eventually rates will be set halfway between the real cost of desalinated water and the higher cost of imported water.

What kinds of guarantees are there that this will happen? Nobody knows. "They’ll say anything, but when it comes to showing you a contract, we’ve never seen anything," said Adam Scow of Food and Water Watch. "There’s a lack of regulation with a private company controlling the water."

The plant now has no less than three lawsuits hanging over it, all filed with state agencies in charge of permitting and oversight — the Coastal Commission, the State Lands Commission, and the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board. All basically contend that the state didn’t do enough to require Poseidon to implement the most environmentally sound technology that’s least harmful to marine organisms, as required by state law.

Geever stresses that desalination is an energy-intensive way to get water. "Every gallon of water you conserve is energy conserved," he said. "Not only could San Diego do more conservation, but they don’t recycle any wastewater to potable water standards. That’s much less energy intensive."

Poseidon counters by saying that it invested $60 million in energy efficiency measures for the plant and will be installing solar panels on the roof. Perhaps most telling is that the company sees itself as vending reliability. "It’s not the current cost of water the San Diego Water Authority is concerned about, but the future cost for an acre-foot," Maloni said. "There’s a dollar figure you can put on reliability. Public agencies are willing to pay us a little more for that."

Which gets back to a comment Barlow made about capitalizing on crisis. "We are frightened half to death and everyone who looks at it, right-wing or left-wing, sees that. … They use the crisis to say we have no alternative except to go into massive desalination plants."

And, as Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute pointed out, San Diego wasn’t calling for proposals to bring it more water. "Poseidon wanted to build a desalination plant and it came to San Diego. That’s one way to do it. The other way is for a municipality to say we want a desalination plant, we’re opening it up to bids, let’s have a competition. That didn’t happen, and instead we have one contractor."

Geever added, "Poseidon has been really successful at lobbying politicians and convincing regulators to give them permits."

Which points to one of the chronic ills of managing water systems, particularly in California where water has always been political. "In the 20th century decisions about water were made by white males in back rooms," said Gleick. "It solved a lot of problems, but it led to a lot of environmental problems. The days when water decisions made in back rooms should be over. And they aren’t over, and that’s part of the problem."


Nowhere is that more obvious than the delta, where the state’s two most prominent rivers — the Sacramento and the San Joaquin — meet the Pacific Ocean just north of San Francisco. It’s ground zero for one of the most charged political fights in the state.

Two-thirds of California’s water comes from the delta. About 80 percent of it goes to cropland, watering about half of the state’s $35 billion agricultural industry, much of it through historic water rights that have been granted to a small lobby of powerful growers who sell their surplus rights for profit. Another 18 percent goes to urban water needs, and — in spite of the fact that this is the largest estuary on the west coast of North and South America — only 2 percent of the water remains for natural environmental flows.

Delta issues are legion and begin at the headwaters of the Sacramento River, near Mount Shasta, a land Mark Franco describes as an Eden. "The deer, salmon, and acorns that we eat — everything that we need is there," Franco told the Guardian. "It’s such a beautiful place. Now they’re drying it, that Eden."

Franco is head of the Winnemem Wintu, or "little water people" tribe, and is fighting the first phase of water diversions from the Sacramento River, 200 miles north of the capitol where companies like Coca-Cola, Crystal Geyser, and now, potentially, Nestlé, pump millions of gallons a year into small plastic bottles and ship it around the country to sell in groceries and convenience stores.

"Here in the US, people have become soft. They’ve become so used to just having things directly handed to them that they no longer understand where their water comes from," he said at the anti-corporate water conference. "Realize this: those springs on Mount Shasta are not an infinite supply of water."

After the Sacramento feeds the bottled-water companies, what remains wends its way south, with more diverted directly to farmers and into the State Water Project, which pipes it to drier southern regions. What’s left empties into the delta.

A lack of fresh water, flagging environmental preservation, increasing agricultural needs, and leveed island communities that are seismically unsafe and sinking, all mean the delta is failing as an ecosystem, and has been for some time. Chinook salmon and delta smelt populations are collapsing to such an extent that court orders have halted a percentage of water diversions and salmon fisherman were forced to dock their boats this year. Levees are crumbling, causing islands to flood and raising ire among landowners. Farmers with historic water rights are fiercely protective of them, while environmentalists are lobbying them to use more conservation and efficiency.

Nearly all stakeholders agree that the status quo won’t hold.

The challenge is finding a solution. Ending exports seems impossible, limiting them means massive investments in other resources. No one agrees on what will really save the endangered salmon and smelt or improve conditions for the 700 other native plants and animals.

In 2006, the governor convened a seven-member Delta Vision Blue Ribbon Task Force, which released a strategic plan in October calling for balancing co-equal goals of ecological restoration and water reliability.

The plan also specifically recommended a dual conveyance system similar to what was proposed in a study by the Public Policy Institute of California. It combines some through-delta pumping with a peripheral canal around the delta. PPIC crunched the numbers and determined that the canal was economically better than any of the four options they had weighed.

The peripheral canal idea isn’t new, but it’s been controversial since it was first proposed almost three decades ago. The plan was ushered by then-Gov. Jerry Brown, but defeated by voters in 1982 after a major organizing effort by environmentalists. (Whether voters will cast ballots on it this time remains to be seen, though the Attorney General’s Office, now headed by Brown, has counseled the Department of Water Resources, which is charged with implementing whatever plan is decided upon, that a vote of the people isn’t required.)

Shortly after its release in July, the PPIC report was criticized by five elected Congressional Democrats — Reps. George Miller, Ellen Tauscher, Doris Matsui, Mike Thompson, and Jerry McNerney. "The PPIC report should not be used to ignore the many things that can be done today to restore Delta health, including providing necessary fish flows, undertaking critical ecosystem restoration projects, and making major investments in water recycling and improved conservation measures," Miller said.

Numbers used by the PPIC report have also been criticized by Jeffrey Michael, a business professor at the University of the Pacific in Stockton. In an analysis of PPIC’s work, Michael said the group had used inflated population figures, as well as high costs for desalinated and recycled water, therefore resulting in a report that made it look like it was too expensive to end delta exports altogether and replace them with other water sources.

The PPIC said the state’s population would be 65 million by 2050, that desalinated water costs $2,072 per acre-foot, and recycled water goes for $1,480 per acre-foot — numbers that were scaled to 2008 dollars from 1995 figures. Michael contends that if the numbers were adjusted to reflect actual costs, the peripheral canal wouldn’t look like such a sweet deal.

Maloni, of Poseidon Resources, said the desalinated water cost would be $950 per acre-foot for San Diego, including a $250 subsidy. A similar plant the company is hoping to construct in Huntington Beach will be about $50 more per acre foot.

When asked if $2,100 per acre-foot was a reasonable figure for desalinated water in California, Maloni said, "That’s nuts."

What does all this illustrate? That even among a small cast of purported experts there’s little consensus on several fundamental issues.

Adding more fuel to the fires of public skepticism is that a third of the funding for the PPIC report came from Stephen D. Bechtel Jr. — heir to the Bechtel Corp., which has come under tremendous criticism for its moves to privatize water around the world.

"That is very upsetting to us. They would stand to gain a lot with a contract to build a peripheral canal," said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla of Restore the Delta.

PPIC’s Ellen Hanak said the funding didn’t affect their findings. "It’s really much more linked to the fact that the foundation is really interested in the environment and water is a part of that."

Linda Strean, the PPIC’s public affairs officer, told the Guardian that it was Bechtel himself who wrote the check, not the foundation. It’s the first time Bechtel has given to PPIC.

But considering Bechtel’s past performance managing water, it doesn’t inspire much confidence.


In April, Cesar Cardenas Ramirez and César Augusto Parada, traveled from Guayaquil, Ecuador, to San Francisco. The two men were on a fact-finding mission: they wanted to know more about the company that owns Interagua, the company that is supposed to deliver the drinking water that only occasionally comes out of the taps in their homes.

One of the first things they discovered is that 50 Beale St. doesn’t necessarily advertise itself as the home of Bechtel — one of the world’s largest private corporations, with global construction and infrastructure contracts amounting to billions of dollars annually.

In Guayaquil, water service has been problematic for decades. During the 1990s the country received a loan from the Inter-American Development Bank to improve basic infrastructure. The money was given directly to the government, but like many World Bank and International Monetary Fund loans granted throughout Latin America at the time, it was predicated on an eventual privatization of the water service contract.

The money helped — water conditions improved, and the city seemed to be on track to bring service to outlying areas. But in 2000, the city, abiding by the loan conditions, requested bids to run the water and sewage systems. No bids were received. Leaders scaled back provisions that kept some control in the hands of the government, and they got one response. In 2001, Interagua, a company owned by Bechtel, took over water service.

"Since the contract, nobody has been able to drink the tap water," Cardenas, who represents the Citizen’s Observatory for Public Services, a watchdog group formed in Guayaquil to monitor the water contract between the government and Interagua, told the Guardian. "Prior to the contract you could drink the tap water, although there were some sections of the city where the plumbing was old and inadequate."

Even though Interagua is managing a public service, because it’s a private company, information about its exact responsibilities have been elusive. The Observatory does know that Interagua pays nothing for the water it draws from the local river, is guaranteed a 17 percent rate of return, and that it has a minimum mandate to expand service. What’s also known is its citizens’ experience — during the first six months of the contract, some rates were increased 180 percent.

Bechtel’s SF office refused to meet with the two men or answer their phone calls, e-mails, and letters, which highlights the inherent problem with corporate control of water — a lack of accountability. Bechtel didn’t answer any of the Guardian‘s detailed questions regarding the Interagua contract, and only provided a three-page letter originally drafted to the World Bank in December 2007, that paints a rosy scene of productivity and accomplishment in Guayaquil.

"At present, over 2.1 million residents of Guayaquil (84 percent of the population) are connected to the municipal potable water system, and more than 90 percent of the customers have 24-hour per day, uninterrupted service." The letter goes on to state that coverage is expanding with new connections, water quality meets public health standards, prices have decreased, and procedures are in place to help customers who have higher than average bills.

"There are things that have improved, yes," said Emily Joiner, who spent last summer in Ecuador and is author of the book Murky Waters, a history of water issues in Guayaquil published by the Observatory in 2007. But the bottom line is that citizens pay for the service, but they can’t drink the water.

"You still don’t drink the water anywhere in the city at any time," said Joiner. People buy bottled water or boil it. "Bottled water is expensive, as a percentage of income," she said.

Whereas water service was previously priced more like a progressive income tax, with the lowest consumers paying the lowest rates, Interagua has flattened out the rate structure and now big water consuming businesses are paying the same as residents. "It’s pricing some families out of the market," Joiner said. "It’s great for business. It’s not great for people who don’t have enough water to bathe or wash their clothes."

The Observatory would like the water system turned back over to the government. The local authority, which once ran the water service and is now charged with overseeing Interagua, fined the company $1.5 million for not meeting goals for expanding service. According to Joiner, there’s been no follow-up on whether the company is meeting those goals now.

The Observatory also filed complaints with the World Bank, which attempted a settlement, but, according to Joiner, representatives from Interagua refused to sit down at the same table as Cardenas. "The process stalled," Joiner said. "Interagua said the issue had become too politicized. César [Cardenas] has a reputation for rabble-rousing, and at the time he was lobbying for constitutional amendments outlawing privatization. Interagua considered it negotiating with a hostile party."

A new constitution was passed in September that does, in fact, outlaw privatization, but still allows existing contracts to be honored if they pass a government audit.

In the meantime, the local rumor is that Bechtel is arranging to sell Interagua to another company. Bechtel wouldn’t confirm this, and no one could say more beyond what was reported in speculative articles in Guayaquil’s local newspapers.

It wouldn’t be the first time Bechtel bailed on an international water contract. In what was part of a massive privatization of a variety of Bolivia’s national services, in 1996 the World Bank granted the city of Cochabamba a $14 million loan to improve water service for its 600,000 citizens. Like Ecuador, there were strings attached: a future privatization of the city’s water service. It was sold to Aguas del Tunari, the sole bidder — also a subsidiary of Bechtel. Almost immediately rates increased by nearly 200 percent for some families. In January 2000, people stopped paying, started rallying, and the water war began.

Led by La Coordinadora for the Defense of Water and Life, organizers shut down the city, physically blockading roads and demanding the regional governor review the contract. The battle went on into February, resulting in injuries to 175 people and the death of one. Originally the government announced a rate rollback for six months, but the Bechtel contract remained. "The [Bechtel] contract was very hard to get a hold of," Omar Fernandez of the Coordinadora told Jim Schulz of the Democracy Center. "It was like a state secret." Once they did examine a copy of it, Bechtel’s sweetheart deal for a guaranteed 16 percent profit was exposed and people demanded a full repeal.

Eventually, the residents got it, and though decent water service in Cochabamba is still elusive, the water war has become the poster child for successful grassroots activism.

"One of the most inspiring struggles around community control of water happened in Cochabamba, Bolivia, in the year 2000, when international corporation Bechtel — based here in San Francisco — privatized the municipal water system and hiked the water rates for citizens by 30 to 40 percent. Thankfully, there was a popular upsurge. It was a very bitter struggle and people succeeded in turning control back to public hands.

"This success changed the public debate in Bolivia," said Mateo Nube, a native of La Paz, Bolivia, who spoke at the anti-corporate water conference. "People said ‘enough’ to privatization, enough to corporate control. We need to seize control of our government."

You don’t have to go to Bolivia to find water-privatization battles. In 2002, catching wind that the city of Stockton was on the brink of privatizing its water services, the Concerned Citizens Coalition rallied signatures for a ballot measure against the idea. Weeks before the vote, the Stockton City Council narrowly approved one of the west’s largest water privatization deals — a 20-year, $600 million contract with OMI-Thames. The ballot measure still received 60 percent approval, and activists took the issue to court arguing there hadn’t been a proper CEQA process. In January 2004, according to the Concerned Citizens Coalition Web site, "San Joaquin County Superior Court Judge Bob McNatt ruled in our favor — we won on all points. The judge ruled that privatizing, in and of itself, needed environmental review." The city appealed, but eventually dropped the suit and OMI walked away in March 2008.


Bechtel also failed to hold on to a more local contract, a $45 million deal with the SFPUC to manage the first phase of its multibillion dollar Water System Improvement Project. After a 2001 story by the Guardian exposed Bechtel’s exorbitant billing for services that resulted in few gains (see "Bechtel’s $45 million screw job," 9/12/01), the contract was revoked by the Board of Supervisors and granted to Parsons, which runs it now.

Years later, in 2007, when the SFPUC released a draft of the Environmental Impact Report for the $4.4 billion project, massive public outcry arose against it. The plan outlined major seismic upgrades for miles of aging water infrastructure between San Francisco and Yosemite National Park, where the headwaters of the Tuolumne River are captured by a giant dam in Hetch Hetchy Valley and gravity-fed to the city. While the EIR projected little additional water use for San Franciscans, it called for diverting an additional 25 million gallons of water per day from the Tuolumne to meet the needs of 23 wholesale customers in San Mateo, Santa Clara, and Alameda counties.

The Pacific Institute and Tuolumne River Trust collaborated on a study showing that 100 percent of the anticipated water increases were for those wholesale customers — most of it for outdoor water use. The SFPUC hadn’t factored in any increased conservation, efficiency, or recycling measures, nor had it independently questioned the growth numbers.

The EIR received upwards of 1,000 public comments, more than any other document ever generated by the SFPUC. Environmental groups rallied, writing editorials, flooding public meetings, and asserting a different vision of the Bay Area’s water future and stewardship of its primary, pristine water resource.

And it worked. "We got about 95 percent of everything we wanted out of the WSIP process," said Jessie Raeder of the Tuolumne River Trust. "We do consider the WSIP a huge win for the environmental community … because we were able to organize and get a seat at the table and discuss this with the PUC." She said the Bay Area Water Stewards, a coalition of environmental groups, met with the PUC nearly every month and slowly the initial additional river diversions were pared down to a possible 2 million gallons. Also, a cap has been placed on any diversions until 2018, which gives agencies time to implement conservation and efficiency measures.

The SFPUC feels positive about it, too. "We are really thrilled that the program EIR was approved by the Planning Commission, approved by the PUC, and not appealed," said spokesperson Tony Winnicker. He said there were really controversial elements and the trick was balancing the competing interests of wholesale customers and environmental groups. "It took a really hard-nosed look at our demand projections and what we could really do for conservation." He concedes there are still controversies, in particular over the Calaveras Dam, which the Alameda Creek Alliance opposes. "It would be hubris for us to say it’s been a complete success."

"This is a process that would only occur through a public agency," Winnicker added.

"What we saw with the WSIP was a solution where everything was fully transparent," Raider added. "It was all a public process, and there was plenty of opportunity for public input."

Which is really what a public water utility should be doing. "When you’re talking about public water, it isn’t them, it’s us," said Wenonah Hauter, director of Food and Water Watch. "A public water system is only as good as the people involved with it."


"This conference isn’t a public event," organizer Andrew Slavin told the Guardian when we tried to gain admittance to the Corporate Water Footprinting Conference. While water activists rallied outside deriding the corporations inside for greenwashing their images, Slavin said that the fact that the conference wasn’t open to the public proved that the corporations weren’t trying to do environmental PR. "If they’re trying to do greenwashing this isn’t the place to do it. The aim is to try to share information."

Slavin pointed to representatives speaking from the Environmental Protection Agency, the SFPUC, and NGOs like the World Wildlife Fund. From an environmental perspective, if these companies are going to be using water, isn’t it worth working with them to reduce their impacts?

"There are companies I call water hunters," explained Maude Barlow. "They destroy water to make their products and profit. Unfortunately, some of the companies that are leading this conference are bottled water companies. I don’t know how you can become ‘water neutral’ if your life’s work is draining aquifers."

Many water activists consider bottled water the low-hanging fruit as far as getting people to change behaviors. San Francisco banned the use of tax dollars to buy it, and the SFPUC has been promoting its pristine Hetch Hetchy tap water, gravity-fed from Yosemite National Park. "Bottled water companies are basically engaged in a multiyear campaign. Their marketing approach is you can’t trust the tap, your public water isn’t safe," Winnicker said.

Slavin said he thought it was weird to protest the conference, because the corporations are genuinely trying to avoid conflicts. He pointed to a company called Future 500 that has created a business out of mediating between corporations and communities. "It’s hard for companies to speak to people so they use other companies to do it," Slavin said.

In fact, representatives from Future 500 appeared to be the only conference attendees who stepped outside to watch the protest.

"I think it’s great," Erik Wohlgemuth of Future 500, said of the protest. "I think press should have been there. I think more of these voices should have been there. My personal view is they need to come up with some sort of reduced rate to allow these nonprofits to attend these kinds of conferences."

Jeremy Shute, a representative from global infrastructure company AECOM who was standing with Wohlgemuth, said, "There’s a tremendous amount of research and thought going into these questions and it would be great if that knowledge could be shared."

But is that going to happen when private companies cite "proprietary interest" as a reason for not sharing more information about their businesses? Or when they don’t have to abide by public records laws, leaving their contracts shielded from public scrutiny? Or when they refuse to answer calls from their constituencies and the media? In which case, should those advocates be in the same room as some of the biggest water users in the world? When pressed with the question, Slavin seemed stumped. "Why didn’t we invite them?" he asked. Then, after a long, thoughtful pause, he said, "I don’t know."



One-half of 1 percent of the world’s water is fresh. [1]

Of that .5 percent, about 50 percent is polluted. [2]

One in 6 people don’t have access to clean, safe water. [3]

Five food and beverage giants — Nestlé, Unilever, Coca-Cola, Anheuser Busch, and Groupe Danone — consume almost 575 billion liters of water per year, enough to satisfy the daily water needs of every person on the planet. [4]

The average human needs about 13 gallons of water each day for drinking, cooking, and sanitation. [5]

An average North American uses about 150 gallons of water each day. [6]

An average African: 1.5 gallons. [7]

An average San Franciscan: 72 gallons. [8]

The average Los Angeles resident: 122 gallons. [9]

About half the water used by a typical home goes for lawns, gardens, and pools. [10]

50 percent of US water comes from non-renewable groundwater. [11]

86 percent of Americans get their water from public water systems. [12]

80 percent of California’s homes get water from public systems. [13]

The 20 percent of CA households receiving water from privately-owned systems pay an average of 20 percent more for it. [14]

Of the 4.5 billion people with access to clean drinking water worldwide, 15 percent are buying it from private water companies. [15]

It takes 3 liters of water to produce 1 liter of bottled water. [16]

Tests of 1,000 bottles of water spanning 103 brands revealed that about one-third contained some level of contamination. [17]

The bottled water industry is worth $60 billion a year. [18]

Water is the third biggest industry in the world, worth $425 billion, ranking just behind electricity and oil. [19]

About 70 percent of CA’s water lies north of Sacramento, but 80 percent of the demand is from the southern two-thirds of the state. [20]


[2] Maude Barlow, interview with SFBG


[4] The Economist magazine






[10] American Water Works Association



[13] California Public Utilities Commission

[14] Black and Veatch’s 2006 California Water Rate Survey



[17] Natural Resources Defense Council study, "Pure water or pure hype?" (1999)




Ricky Angel and Katie Baker assisted with research.

Great day for biking


by Amanda Witherell

More please. Image courtesy of San Francisco Bicycle Coalition

In spite of the dreary un-bicycle friendly weather today, things are looking up for cyclists in the “safety” and “free shit” categories.

First off, this afternoon City attorney Dennis Herrera filed a request with San Francisco Superior Court Judge Peter J. Busch to amend the injunction against the city’s Bike Plan. The city is banned from making any bicycle-related infrastructure improvements until an Environmental Review of the plan is completed, a draft of which was released last Friday.

But, the injunction was recently waived for the deadly intersection of Fell and Masonic Streets, which allowed the city to alter the traffic flow and install a bike signal. It’s great. We love it. (Though I still see cars blowing right through it occasionally, so don’t take it for granted, fellow pedalers.)

Similar to the Fell and Masonic waiver, Herrera is asking the court to review more than 100 pages of supporting evidence detailing an alarming increase in the number of collisions between bicycles and automobiles at locations throughout San Francisco. You can read the full pleading here.

“We are confident that our motion today makes a compelling case for how we can best address and alleviate hazards to cyclists and pedestrians while respecting the limits of the court’s injunction,” Herrera said in a press release. “With more and more commuters making use of bicycles as their preferred means of transportation, we have an obligation to do what we can to make bicycling as safe as possible on San Francisco streets.”

Top of Herrera’s hit list is Market and Octavia where, according to the press release, at least fifteen bicyclists have been struck by cars since the 101 highway entrance opened on Sept. 9, 2005. Cars routinely make illegal right turns and clip cyclists who have right of way to cross. The city is asking to change the traffic lanes so cars and bikes queue up in front of each other, rather than side by side.

Five other sketchy places to ride are also listed for safety improvements. They, and their collision totals as of 2003, are as follows:

Chevron not guilty


by Amanda Witherell

The jury didn’t think so.
Image courtesy of Justice in Nigeria Now

A federal court jury in San Francisco has found Chevron not guilty in a case alleging the corporation was complicit in the shootings, killings, and torture of protesters on a Chevron oil platform off the Niger Delta in 1998.

Plaintiffs in the case, who include Larry Bowoto, injured when Nigerian police opened fire on the unarmed protesters, have announced they will appeal the decision to the 9th Circuit, the most liberal appeals courts in the country.

“The fact that Bowoto v. Chevron made it this far in the process is a victory in and of itself, because it means that we have demonstrated that there is a clear pathway in the US court system for holding corporations accountable to the rule of law,” said Laura Livoti, founder of the group Justice in Nigeria Now, in a press release after the verdict. “This is the first time a case against a company for aiding and abetting human rights violations overseas has even gone before a jury.”

The case was filed under the Alien Tort Statute, an 18th century law that allows foreign victims of human rights crimes inflicted by US-based corporations to sue them in US courts, and a ‘guilty’ verdict would have been a first – similar cases settled out of court in the past.

So, this is a victory for Chevron, which has been spending a lot of cash on its image lately and was dealt a losing hand from voters on Election Day with the passage of Measure T, a business tax reform measure that will cost the billion-dollar corporation $26 million. The money will go to Richmond city coffers and Green Party Mayor Gayle McLaughlin has said funds will be allocated for projects through an open public process, according to a story in today’s Chronicle.

Now what with this power plant, Mayor?


By Amanda Witherell

The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously against Mayor Gavin Newsom’s proposal to retrofit Mirant Potrero power plant at their Nov. 25 meeting.

Everyone’s been calling this political theatre, as the legislation was originally tabled, then dragged off the table at the last moment by Sup. Aaron Peskin. At the Board’s Nov. 18 meeting Peskin and Sup. Sean Elsbernd rattled sabers over whether or not tabling equaled death to the legislation and all it contains. The supervisors agreed with Peskin to take it off the table and vote it down properly, in a 7-4 vote (sans Elsbernd, Carmen Chu, Michela Alioto-Pier, and Chris Daly, who, in an aside to the press box, said he voted ‘no’ on everything related to the power plant. “If I keep voting ‘no’ there will be no power plant.”)

Anyway, the big, bad ‘no’ vote happened yesterday. But that doesn’t mean the issue is dead as the Mayor will still need board approval for a contract or any kind of deal with Mirant.

The other political undercurrent is the mayor’s introducing of the legislation in the first place. If you read the actual language [PDF], it would have given him, his staff, and the SFPUC sole authority to negotiate a retrofit with Mirant. If it had passed it would have essentially given the mayor pre-approval for what ever crackpot plan they come.

And, as Peskin and Maxwell uncovered in committee hearings on the issue, retrofitting Mirant is pretty crackpot. It’s something that’s never been done to any similar power plant and may actually be technologically impossible.

So. they moved the Mayor’s legislation forward in order to forcefully kill it. It was Alioto-Pier who called for tabling it. The board went along with the idea, thinking that tabling is effectively killing legislation. but, as Maxwell said yesterday at the hearing, “Originally on this item, I asked for a no vote. Sup. Alioto-Pier asked for a table, and it was tabled. This is just an assurance that no is no. This is not about the Mayor. I’m voting no on this issue, not the Mayor.”

The other day I spoke with Elsbernd about a different issue, but he mentioned the tabling thing and told me, “You can only pull it off the table the week after it’s been tabled.”

Mary Red, clerk for the Rules Committee, told me this is true, but also said tabled legislation can be brought back for up to 12 months — but if more than a week lapses after the tabling, then it has to go back to committee and all the way through the legislative process again.

This is really a minor legislative distinction and its very likely we’ll see a new proposal to retrofit Mirant at some point, but there is a certain kind of message that gets out there when a piece of controversial legislation gets voted down unanimously. For example, the SF Chronicle headline on the story reads, “S.F. supervisors kill mayor’s power plant plan.”

Sounds like a done deal, right?

Eastern Neighborhoods moving forward


by Amanda Witherell

The Board of Supervisors, at their Nov. 25 meeting, moved the Eastern Neighborhoods plan a little farther along in the legislative process. The political peregrinations that occurred at the previous meeting, during which the legislation was splintered into several pieces for political reasons, were resolved and the entire package is once again unified

As we reported in this week’s issue, Sup. Aaron Peskin had made some last minute amendments to add more accountability to parts of the plan. Sup. Sean Elsbernd didn’t like the move and severed them – effectively making them their own individual pieces of the legislation and vulnerable to line-item vetos from Mayor Gavin Newsom. Why would Newsom veto them? Why would speculating developers want to be required to start building within three years? Right.

Additionally, with Sup. Tom Ammiano outbound for Sacto and Sup. Chris Daly recused from voting because he owns property in the plan area, the board majority on this issue withers to six, with already suspicious intentions coming out of Sup. Gerardo Sandoval.

Anyway, yesterday the Board agreed to mend fences and move forward by rolling all the amendments back into the original legislation, which no longer allows Newsom to target specific parts of it. Most of the amendments still weren’t favored by Elsbernd, Chu, and Alioto-Pier, and Sandoval was the sole vote against a “use it or lose it” provision to reduce speculation (See above link, and our story that details his own precious amendment designed to benefit one developer in particular.)

The legislation will get its last read and vote at the Dec. 9 meeting.

New member of the SFPUC?


by Amanda Witherell

From left, Juliet Ellis with Manuel Pastor from UC Santa Cruz and Lori Reese-Brown with the city of Richmond

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission has had two empty seats for months, but Mayor Gavin Newsom has finally made another appointment to the body that oversees the city’s water and power infrastructures. Juliet Ellis has been offered the “advocacy” seat on the five-member board.

For the past seven years she’s been executive director of Oakland-based Urban Habitat, a non-profit social and environmental justice organization that works on affordable housing, transportation, and land use planning issues throughout the Bay Area, though mostly in the East Bay. The organization has been around since 2004, and receives most of its funding from grants. [PDF of its most recent 990.] (A quick check of grants made by Pacific Gas & Electric since then showed none to Urban Habitat, unlike other purported community groups.)

Ellis told the Guardian she’s interested in joining the SFPUC because it will bring her focus back toward San Francisco, where she’s been living since 1995. She currently resides in Bernal Heights.

When asked how her experiences have prepared her to be a public utilities commissioner, she said, “I have a long track record of working with folks who are often the most left out of the process,” she said, and that would continue at the SFPUC. If appointed, she plans to keep her job at Urban Habitat.

“Our organization is really interested in justice components,” she said, and in particular, climate justice. “What are the implications for low income communities if sea levels rise? If air pollution increases?” And, she pointed out, what kinds of mitigations can protect more vulnerable communities when it comes taxation through congestion pricing or the continual siting of power plants in areas where people live, with their pollution and carbon offsets occurring elsewhere?

That relates intimately to long term water and power issues under discussion in San Francisco, like the 51 percent renewable energy projections for the Community Choice Aggregation plan and what to do about the Mirant Power Plant that’s still operating in the mostly black, mostly low-income, and, consequently, most cancerous part of town, as well as how to move the city toward more affordable energy bills.

Ellis didn’t have much to say on specific issues like Mirant or CCA, admitting that she hasn’t “gone deep enough, I haven’t learned all the information” about these heavily nuanced and political issues.

But, her thinking seemed to fall along the right lines of public accountability and control, citing “the more obvious benefits of having more control than when it’s privatized. It seems like CCA would provide more clean energy and control and that in and of itself makes it something that’s attractive.”

Ellis said she sees real opportunities to connect the SFPUC with the communities she’s been helping at Urban Habitat. “The main issues I’m excited about are job opportunities and thinking through how to position those,” she said, pointing out that the SFPUC is projecting 24,000 jobs through the Water System Improvement Plan. She would like to see some of those jobs go to people who are low-income and jobless now. She’s also interested in “out of the box thinking for mitigating impacts for communities like Bayview Hunters Point and Potrero on water and energy issues.” She said most people don’t understand the scale of work undertaken by the SFPUC and she’d like to build a better relationship between it and low income and communities of color.

She said the recommendation to join the SFPUC came from Fred Blackwell, a former Urban Habitat board member who was appointed by Newsom to head the Redevelopment Agency in 2007. So far she’s met with several members of the Board of Supervisors and her appointment will be heard by the Rules Committee during their Dec. 4 meeting.

After the bubble



Speculators will be able to sit on tracts of San Francisco land until the market improves. Development impact fees will be set too low to cover the costs of neighborhood improvements like parks, streets, and transit. Affordable housing development is intimately tied to a busted market rate-housing boom.

This is the future of the eastern South of Market, Potrero Hill, Central Waterfront, and Mission District neighborhoods as laid out in the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan, a community rezoning effort that began in 2001 that now fills a binder thicker than a weightlifter’s bicep.

After more than 30 public hearings, the plan is approaching final approval by the Board of Supervisors. While some are lauding all the heavy lifting that’s been done to get it to this stage, there are still some noticeable shortcomings.

"The plan itself is despicably deficient in terms of affordable housing," housing activist Calvin Welch told the Guardian. That sentiment was echoed by spokespeople from the Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition and the South of Market Community Action Network, who may join together in a legal challenge of the plan’s Environmental Impact Report for failing to properly consider socioeconomic impacts.

"There will be environmental impacts in terms of displacement, increased amounts of traffic and cars, increased levels of noise," said April Veneracion, SOMCAN’s organization director. "The Board of Supervisors could have addressed these inadequacies in the EIR with amendments."

Some last minute amendments were added that would audit the financing of projects and reduce land speculation — but due to a tricky legislative maneuver, even these concessions could be axed by a veto from Mayor Gavin Newsom.

The bulk of the plan rezones vast tracts of industrial land on the eastern flank of the city for housing, mixed urban use (including retail and commercial sites), and a light industrial category called "production, distribution, and repair" (PDR) that protects many of the working-class jobs remaining in San Francisco.

Building height limits will increase in some areas and remain at 40 feet in others. Between 7,000 and 10,000 new units of housing are anticipated, with affordable housing rates between 15 to 25 percent, depending on the location and project.

However, the one method of financing affordable housing — known as inclusionary housing, which requires market-rate developers to include a certain percentage of affordable units — is entirely linked to a now-waning economic boom. "Events have rendered it meaningless," said Welch. "The Eastern Neighborhoods Plan is a plan predicated on a red-hot real estate market. Planning has no ability to shift with the market and the market, since mid-September, has changed radically."

The Controller’s Office recently readjusted the city’s revenue projections, suggesting a $90 to $125 million budget shortfall in the current fiscal year, with 40 to 49 percent of that directly connected to flagging real estate transactions.

Yet housing in the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan remains primarily composed of market-rate units, fetching upward of $700,000 apiece, with "middle-income" units discounted to half that, and below-market-rate apartments still costing over $200,000 each. Development impact fees are set for $10 per square foot of construction — not enough to cover the proposed improvements that would make these industrial areas pleasant and safe for everyday residential living and working.

"In order to support the population that’s expected to move in, you need transit improvements, park improvements, street improvements," said Tony Kelly of the Potrero Boosters, a neighborhood group. "Less than half [of these] have been funded by the project."

He characterized the approved parts of the plan as "pretty weak." "They’re rezoning 500 acres of industrial land for housing — predominantly market-rate — right at a time when no one’s building market-rate housing," Kelly said. He also said the plan lacked many creative financing ideas. "When the area plans were presented to our neighborhood back in 2006, the Planning Department outlined all the things a neighborhood needs. There was a chart with 18 different ways to pay for it. How many are now in the plan? One."

Ways to ensure that developer fees are used well and land doesn’t sit fallow were introduced at the last minute. Amendments to the plan, made by Sup. Aaron Peskin, require audits of the neighborhood improvement fees and forcing developers to actually build rather than speculate — but they received a potentially fatal last-minute blow.

The Board’s first vote on the plan occurred during the Nov. 18 meeting and the bulk of the plan received unanimous support (minus Sup. Chris Daly, who is recused from voting because he owns property in the plan area).

But late in the game, a standoff arose between Peskin and Sup. Sean Elsbernd, who opposed blindly rubberstamping the last-minute amendments offered by Peskin during the previous night’s Land Use and Economic Development Committee hearing.

"We saw the actual language of this if you looked in your e-mail in the last two hours," Elsbernd said during the heat of the Board hearing. "I’d like a week to read the changes made by you last night."

The Board voted to continue the matter for a week, but then, at the end of that day’s business, Peskin rescinded the vote and forced the issue. As promised, Elsbernd severed the four Peskin amendments — a legislative tactic that allows one supervisor to slice out parts of legislation and place them into individual files for separate votes.

Peskin countered by severing another amendment, added by Sup. Gerardo Sandoval, which would have allowed special height increases for two lots on Mission Street, where the New Mission Theatre and the Giant Value store currently sit. Gus Murad, who owns the properties as well as the adjacent restaurant Medjool, has been lobbying to convert the properties to commercial and residential space.

The supervisors shot down the "spot zoning" amendment that would let future buildings on the two sites to be built higher than what’s currently allowed on Mission Street. MAC spokesperson Nick Pagoulatos later applauded the move: "It would have been a ridiculous exception to make and one that clearly favored one developer."

Despite Elsbernd’s move to sever the amendments, all four passed, but didn’t receive enough votes to block a veto from Newsom. Supervisors Carmen Chu and Michela Alioto-Pier voted with Elsbernd.

The mayor’s ability to line-item veto some key protections sought by neighborhood activists was at the heart of the move. "That’s absolutely right," Elsbernd told the Guardian, who added that although he hadn’t spoken with Newsom and didn’t know his intentions, "These are issues that absolutely concern me."

The amendments add "metering" and "use it or lose it" provisions to the plan. Metering is essentially an audit performed by the board every five years to ensure that collected developer impact fees are used properly. Peskin said that while they couldn’t meet all the requests of neighborhood groups and housing rights activists, "this was something that we could do that made good public policy sense."

Elsbernd told the Guardian he didn’t object to the concept of metering but would like oversight by the Controller’s Office. "Metering gives the Board of Supervisors full power and takes the executive out of the mix," he said of the plan as it stands now, adding that it should be viewed as a long-term protection. "This is not about Mayor Gavin Newsom. It’s about Mayor Mirkarimi or Mayor Peskin."

The "use it or lose it" requirements are designed to reduce speculation by mandating that a developer with a project that has received a green light from the Planning Department must procure a building permit within three years, after which they have one year to break ground. Currently, there’s no limit to the amount of time a developer can sit on a property, which becomes more valuable after receiving city approval.

Elsbernd said, "Three years is just not fair," but again, he said he thought there was a middle ground and would like to see project developers given opportunities to make cases for extensions. However, if the developer has one of those grandfathered projects that doesn’t have to meet the new, stricter inclusionary housing regulations or pay public benefits charges, they should "have to pay full fare, full affordability, full fees," said Elsbernd.

A second vote on the plan and its amendments is scheduled for the Nov. 25 Board meeting, after Guardian press deadline, but Elsbernd expressed optimism about a compromise as part of last-minute dealmaking. "I would say there’s a possibility, as colleagues realize the potential mayoral veto."

Still, Welch pointed out that resistance to a "use it or lose it" protection is proof that San Francisco’s real estate market is in no way immune to the economic crisis afflicting the rest of the country. "The assumption built into the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan was this robust growing market for condo development and I think the bubble has burst," said Welch. "If that isn’t the case, then why would developers care about a requirement that says you have to build in three years? The Mayor’s Office told me the phones were melting after Monday night’s amendments passed."

But Welch said one of the great ironies of a market-rate housing crash is that it makes nonprofit housing development even more competitive. "That’s why we pushed so hard for ‘use it or lose it.’ It forces developers to say to the city ‘we’ll do it,’ or ‘would you like to buy the site?’<0x2009>" He said the city should be poised to buy those sites in order to build affordable housing and suggested the city lobby Barack Obama’s administration for the funds to do it as part of the large infrastructure improvements planned by the president-elect.

"I think the way housing is financed is going to be totally transformed and the federal government is going to play a bigger role," said Welch. *

CA nuke plant on two fault lines


by Amanda Witherell

photo by Jim Zim

Ahh, a Friday afternoon toast to science. PG&E announced today that its Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power plant is actually situated on two seismically sensitive faults, not just the one previously identified in the 1970s when the plant was sited and built.

“The new fault is thought to be smaller than the other fault off the plant’s coastline, the Hosgri fault, but it is closer to shore. The new fault is less than a mile offshore while the Hosgri fault is about three miles offshore,” according to a story in the San Luis Obispo Tribune.

The geologists are calling it a vertical strike-slip fault with a potential magnitude of 6.5. The California Energy Commission has recommended more seismic mapping and studies and may require them before PG&E can apply for a license to renew the plant in 2025.

“The first fault was discovered before the nuclear plant was licensed, and retrofitting resulted in billions of dollars in cost overruns,” said Rochelle Becker in an Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility newsletter. “While the utility downplayed the significance of the fault on safe plant operations, the new fault is not good news for PG&E and may not be good news for San Onofre.”

In 2006 state legislators passed AB 1632, authored by Rep. Sam Blakeslee, that directs the CEC to assess the potential vulnerability of Diablo Canyon and the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in Riverside to a major disruption due to a seismic event, as well as the role these older plants play in the state’s overall energy portfolio.

Diablo Canyon serves a key role in what PG&E calls its “emissions free” power mix, a statistic it routinely cites as it tries to kill more progressive renewable energy proposals like Community Choice Aggregation in Marin County and San Francisco. PG&E uses 24 percent nuclear power, which is not renewable, but nattily names it “emissions free.” It doesn’t routinely mention the thousands of pounds of nuclear waste that are also housed at the power plant.

Taxi merger



A plan to merge the Taxi Commission with the Municipal Transportation Agency will be heard by the Board of Supervisors on Nov. 25. Most city officials and taxi industry bigwigs support the change, but some drivers fear it could signal the end of the semi-autonomous medallion system that has been in place for 30 years.

The merger legislation by Sup. Aaron Peskin is brief, simply transferring duties from the Taxi Commission to the MTA beginning March 1, 2009. But Peskin also helped write another key piece of legislation — last year’s sweeping MTA reform measure Proposition A — that contains a provision allowing the MTA to wipe out all prior taxi regulations.

Skeptics fear that the real target of the merger is Prop. K, the 1978 law that created the current driver permitting system, which requires taxi medallions that are owned by the city to be in every car. With the MTA in control, the door could be open to privatizing taxi medallions. These permits are currently leased by the city for a fee — $658 a year for most cabs — to longtime drivers, but a scheme to sell or transfer them could mean huge profits for the select group of drivers who now hold medallions, with a potentially high transfer fee kicked back to the city.

Reguutf8g San Francisco’s taxi industry involves ensuring cabs are being properly operated, with medallions held by legitimate drivers, and investigating various complaints. But the Taxi Commission barely has enough money to meet its mandate. Proponents of the merger say the MTA can bring more resources and professional attention to the industry. Mayor Gavin Newsom, who as a supervisor in 1998 pushed for formation of the Taxi Commission, has long supported the merger as a way to have all transportation housed in one agency.

“The benefit of merging is the MTA already regulates all surface transportation,” said Jordanna Thigpen, acting director of the Taxi Commission, who was appointed by Newsom after the Taxi Commission ousted Heidi Machen in 2006. “Most cities in the country do incorporate taxis into the common transportation agency.”

Currently, cab companies, medallion holders, and rank and file drivers essentially function as a feudal system, with the serfs driving San Franciscans around in vehicles usually owned by the lording cab companies and permitted by older drivers who hold the coveted medallions. There are only 1,500 of these permits, which are literally tin medallions that correspond to the numbers printed on the sides of cabs. They are owned and regulated by the city, and leased for life to drivers who wait years to move up the list.

Medallion holders make about $20,000 to $50,000 per year leasing their medallions to cab companies, which then charge drivers daily “gate fees” that are set by the city. Drivers pay an average of $96.50 per day to use a cab, but are allowed to pocket all their fares. Drivers usually clear about $150 a day, but that’s before paying gas, tolls, and tickets, and before even sometimes allegedly slipping bribes to dispatchers to get the best assignments. Drivers have no health insurance and are essentially treated as independent contractors.

Drivers have criticized the newly formed Taxi Advisory Group, which has made recommendations to the MTA and is likely to be expanded after the merger into a 15-member council, which would have only three drivers, but seven medallion holders and cab company representatives. Five members of the public would also be seated and their unanimous support would be required for a driver-led initiative or idea to trump the medallion and cab company bloc.

“We want a much greater and fairer representation on this Taxi Advisory Council,” said driver and United Taxicab Workers chair Bud Hazelkorn. “Without that, all the issues that we bring will not be heard.” Those issues include providing health care for drivers and creating a centralized dispatch system so fares are allocated more equitably. He pointed out that drivers are the only people in the system making all their income directly from fares. Everyone else in the industry gets slices from other pies.

And the existing provisions outlined by Prop. K may soon be a thing of the past.

Prop. A included language that allowed for the Taxi Commission merger and stated that once the MTA was in control, “Agency regulations shall thereafter supersede all previously adopted ordinances governing motor vehicles for hire that conflict with or duplicate such regulations.”

During the 2007 election season, this was interpreted by the UTW and Judge Quentin Kopp, a former supervisor who authored Prop. K, as possibly undermining the current medallion system. “The taxicabs CEOs have tried EIGHT times to undo Prop. K, failing each time as voters upheld this good government measure,” Kopp wrote in a paid ballot argument at the time. “Now encouraged by City Hall, Prop. A slips in a deceptive clause undoing 30 years of voter policy.”

Back in 2007, when seeking the Guardian‘s endorsement for Prop. A, Peskin told us, “I have met with the mayor. The mayor has no desire, as do I, to undermine Prop. K, and what we would do if we ever were to transfer the Taxi Commission to MTA, we would transfer upon the condition that they adhere to and embrace by regulation all of the previously voter approved ordinances, such as Prop. K. So I think we have it handled.”

Peskin said he reaffirmed that commitment in a letter, cosigned by Newsom, but neither office could locate a copy of that letter as of Guardian press time.

But at a Nov. 17 Government Audit and Oversight Committee meeting, Peskin asked MTA executive director Nathaniel Ford if it was his understanding that this merger was not to undermine Prop. K. “That is my understanding,” said Ford. “I think it is important to all stakeholders.”

Yet the interpretation is still correct. “The MTA will now have the authority to enact provisions that supersede Prop. K,” City Attorney’s Office spokesperson Matt Dorsey told the Guardian.

This past summer, the Taxi Commission established a Charter Reform Workgroup with a primary goal of reviewing Prop. K. The group is expected to meet for about six months with any recommendations subject to a citywide vote.

Although the workgroup has yet to release any specific statements regarding Prop. K, chairman Malcolm Heinecke believes it’s already making strides simply by opening up public discourse among citizens, companies, medallion holders, and drivers.

“One of the problems with the taxi industry and discussions of reform is that they are very insular,” said Heinecke, who is also an MTA board member. “I believe we have a balanced group of voices [in the group].”

Heinecke said he thinks varied stakeholders are essential because of broad dissatisfaction with Prop. K. “You hear everyone — both inside and outside the industry — bemoaning some aspect of Prop. K. It’s a system we’ve had in place for 30 years; rather than just say it’s bad and not do anything, [the goal of the workgroup] is to look at where we are and revise.”

While it may be true that no one is satisfied, that hardly means members of the factional workgroup agree on how exactly Prop. K should be changed. For some, the problem begins with issues of representation. Not everyone agrees with Heinecke that this is a “balanced group.” Of 12 members, there are just three drivers and three members of the public, with the rest representatives from the upper echelons of the industry.

Driver and UTW member Thomas George Williams pointed out that “companies and medallion holders often have the same interests — most companies are owned by medallion holders.”

Furthermore, Mark Gruberg, a UTW member, told us, “Everyone would say some things can and possibly should be done to improve provisions of Prop. K. But it’s one thing to work around the edges to reform a law and another thing to throw it out the window.”

He pointed out that one proposal before the workgroup would allow medallions to be sold for profit, something he said “would be a complete reversal of Prop. K.” If other cities are an example, medallions could fetch as much as $500,000 apiece, enough for the holder to retire handsomely. “People that have them would clean up at the expense of the next generation of cab drivers,” Gruberg said. “It would be a completely indefensible windfall.”

“This is public property, these medallions,” Hazelkorn said. “They could be misused as a pension, but that’s not a pension that applies to everyone.”

When questioned, Heinecke was vague about concrete changes the workgroup might instigate. “This is a delicate position for me because the whole purpose of the task force is to hear the views of all the stakeholders,” he said.

Taxi drivers, the serfs of the industry, do not have high hopes about the merger. “If the merger happens, the MTA [officials] will be able to do whatever they please,” Williams said. “Everyone knows MTA is always in need of money … they don’t care about drivers or improving industry, only their budget.”

Williams worries that, under the MTA, the commission will lease medallions to companies instead of individual drivers, which would “totally ruin the concept of Prop. K.” Gruberg agreed. He pointed out that some proposals mention levying a tax on the medallion transfers, a potential revenue source the MTA could be eyeing. “It’s a whole new ball game with MTA and if they’re so desperate for cash and they see the taxi industry as a cash cow, they might go for any scheme.”

MTA spokesperson Judson True told us, “We have no intention of looking to taxi revenue to supplement existing Muni operations.”

Judge Kopp said, “By itself that does not disturb Prop. K, but if that’s a fig leaf for some recommendation from this ersatz Charter Reform Workgroup, then it becomes ominous.” He said dressing the changes in a group with a pithy name like Charter Reform “is not reform, it’s subterfuge.”

And, he added, Prop. K doesn’t need reform as much as it needs enforcement. “They’ve been at this for 30 years. Their revisions are always to start to restore the pre-1978 conditions and enable them to treat these permits as personal possessions for sale.”

Peskin, with the approval of other members of the committee, calendared the full board hearing on the merger for a date after the MTA announces the result, expected sometime this week, of its national search for a director of taxi and accessible services. Solid leadership has been elusive: two years ago the Taxi Commission fired executive director Heidi Machen, reportedly for being too tough on cab companies. Machen was replaced by another Newsom appointee, Jordanna Thigpen, who said she has applied to stay on the job but doesn’t know if she’ll be selected.

When asked if the merger would unnecessarily stretch the MTA’s resources, Thigpen said, “On the one hand you could look at it that way. On the other hand, we’re so chronically understaffed. Trying to add staff is so complicated because we’re funded by the taxi industry.”

The taxi industry brings about $1.6 million in revenue to the city, mostly from fees paid by 1,500 medallion holders and about 7,000 drivers. However, “Fees do not currently meet the city’s cost recovery needs,” according to a Taxi Commission merger report. “Both Taxi Commission and Taxi Detail are understaffed and additional enforcement personnel are needed.”

MTA’s True said, “We expect some cost savings or at least increased efficiencies,” when asked how the merger will affect the MTA’s budget. “When it comes to changing Prop. K, raising fees, or adjusting how medallions are allocated,” True said, “I can’t say that it’s not on the table … In the last several months the focus has been on procedural issues. I think that policy questions will largely come post-merger.”

The American imagination



REVIEW If you’re one of the 200,000 San Franciscans who voted for Barack Obama, maybe you’re staring at that map of red and blue states wondering, "How could 56 million people vote for John McCain? Why is there still this incredible swath of crimson belting our country?"

Similar questions have been burning in the minds of liberals since the 2000 election. In 2005, San Francisco resident Rose Aguilar turned them into a quest: "One night, after spending several hours online, sending articles to friends who were probably sick of me barraging them with e-mails and practically falling over political books and magazines I had yet to open, I realized it was time to leave my comfort zone. I needed to turn off my computer and get out into the streets to find out why people vote the way they do and find out if we’re as divided as we’re led to believe."

Red Highways: A Liberal’s Journey into the Heartland (PoliPoint Press, 221 pages, $15.95) is the result of Aguilar’s six-month road trip through reliably red states to ask people why they identify with one party over another, or vote for certain candidates, or don’t vote at all.

Aguilar, the host of Your Call, a public interest radio show on KALW, kept her mic keyed up and conducted hundreds of interviews as she and her boyfriend, Ryan, traveled by van through Texas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Montana. Some of these talks are with the hotel employees and restaurant owners one might typically encounter on a cross-country road trip. But Aguilar and her partner also venture to places they wouldn’t normally go — places that are mainstays in the lives of many Americans. Malls and churches provide the setting for much of the narrative, but the duo also attend their first gun show, chill out at a water park, and take in a bull-riding event. Nearly every experience is charged with politics — even at Oklahoma’s Bullnanza, Aguilar discovers riders who are heavily sponsored by the US Army.

Aguilar’s easy prose style, no doubt fine-tuned by her daily radio conversations, makes this part-travelogue, part-political inquiry a quick read, with a fine balance of visual observation, first-person anecdote (she outlines the challenges of roadside dining when you’re a vegan), and political fine-tuning. Aguilar discovers that most people like to talk about politics, but feel they shouldn’t. In Kerrville, Texas, she meets two closet Democrats, one who is a registered Republican because there are never any Democrats on the local ballot.

The phenomenon of closeted politics recurs as Aguilar travels deep into red state territory. She also criticizes the media for failing to adequately portray America’s nuances. "We breathe the same air, we live under the same political system, we’ve probably seen the same television and news shows, and most of us grew up going to public schools," she writes. "Yet because we might vote differently once every four years, we find ourselves stereotyped in the national media and separated by red and blue borders."

While exposing the impact of political peer pressure, Aguilar also encounters jarring social inconsistencies — billboard advertisements for strip clubs compete with signs for mega-churches throughout Dallas. With an awareness of such juxtapositions, she seeks a deeper truth in her talks with gay conservative environmentalists in Montana, Republican funders of local Planned Parenthood chapters, and a pro-war Texas vegan. Their tales make her book an important piece of evidence on America’s political complexity. Red Highways uncovers a country full of fierce individuals prone to herd mentality.

Aguilar finds islands of unquestionable compassion. Speaking with churchgoer Bob Bartlett after a service at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian church in Austin, she asks him: ‘I noticed that this is a progressive church. What does that mean exactly?

‘It means we’re open to everybody’s thoughts and we’re open to everyone, no matter what your nationality is or what your religion is or what your sex is. We like all of it.’

"CNN or MSNBC should send a reporter here to challenge stereotypes by doing a segment about religious Republicans who attend progressive churches in conservative-leaning states. This one wasn’t hard to find. There must be others," she concludes.

In a Sept. 29, New Yorker article revisiting Lionel Trilling’s The Liberal Imagination, a collection of essays written more than 50 years ago, Louis Menand wrote, "A key perception in The Liberal Imagination is that most human beings are not ideologues. Intellectual coherence is not a notable feature of their politics. People’s political opinions may be rigid; they are not necessarily rigorous. They tend to float up out of some mixture of sentiment, custom, moral aspiration, and aesthetic pleasingness."

Menand goes on to point out that such assumptions need critical attention. Perhaps now, as the country decompresses from two years of campaigning that resulted in the election of the first black president to lead this diverse, complex, and deeply wounded populace, as people who voted Republican are already speaking about their pride in this historic moment, and as political commentators are already talking about the "purpleness" of the country and blurring of hard lines between states and political stances, writers and reporters like Aguilar will start to look more closely at who we really are. Red Highways deserves a place in the library of modern political Americana.