Amanda Witherell

Get paid $100, if you’re not too liberal


by Amanda Witherell

After we ran an article on the remarkable coincidences between opponents of the Clean Energy Act and people who take money from PG&E, reader J.J. Hollingsworth sent the following anecdote. Has anyone else had a similar experience?

Hollingsworth wrote:

“Regarding Eric Jaye’s comment, “They’ve pledged enough to educate every voter in San Francisco.”

On August 19th, I received a call from Focus Point Marketing Group which promised to pay me $100 for two hours of my time provided I call back for an interview in order to be a part of a group seminar on August 21st which would address social issues.

I called the lady back and asked what the social issue was about.

She said it was about the administration of public utilities in San Francisco. We established a rapport and I said that the subject would interest me and I checked my schedule and indeed was available for the two-hour seminar at 450 Sansome on August 21st from 6-8 p.m. The pay at $50 per hour was intriguing.

I proceeded with the interview which was a question tree about if I’m registered to vote, how likely I am to vote in November, etc. When we got to the part about whether I consider myself conservative, moderate, or liberal. My answer was, “I guess I’m liberal.” She said something to the effect of, “Well, you are in San Francisco where people are liberal, but unfortunately I can’t sign you up.”

Still intrigued by the $100, I said something to the effect of “Well, let’s mark me down as ‘moderate’ because some people out here think I’m conservative on certain issues.” So we proceeded with the interview. The next question was “What political party are you affiliated with?” I told her that I registered with the Green Party over twenty years ago. (It’s not easy being green and my voting record does not always concur with the Green Party line.)

The sweet lady at the other end of the phone replied, “Ma’am, I can’t win for losin’ here.” And so we left it cordially, and with humor – I could not attend the August 23rd ‘party’ and go home with $100.

My main point here is that despite all the fundraising bravura, I believe PG&E considers at least some of the population here in San Francsico uneducable.”

Unaffordable nation



GREEN CITY Bay Area author Michael Pollan opened the first event of Slow Food Nation by pointing out that food prices have risen more than 80 percent in the past three years. "Food has emerged as one of the most important issues," Pollan said from the stage of the Herbst Theatre, where he was discussing "The World Food Crisis" with Indian author and activist Vandana Shiva, Slow Food founder Carlo Petrini, and authors Raj Patel and Corby Kummer in front of a sold-out crowd.

"Prices are going up, but wages aren’t," Patel said to Pollan, and the real crisis is in that gap between what people make and what people spend on food — and that includes the people who grow our food.

"The World Food Crisis" was one of several panels held during the three-day Slow Food Nation, the first major event staged in the United States for what has become an international movement focused on the pleasures and politics of eating. San Francisco, a city with a food consciousness that chimes with many tenets of the slow-food movement — and one with a proximity to fertile regions that provide a wide range of local food — seems the perfect host. An oft-repeated phrase at Slow Food events throughout the weekend was that eating healthy is a right, not a privilege.

But how can that sentiment be translated into sustenance? Can the people who grow our food even make a decent living? And how does an event where tickets went for as much as $159 focus on the needs of people who struggle just to get adequate nutrition?

This much is sure: prices may be up, but small farmers aren’t getting rich. "It’s very difficult for many of our farmers," Aliza Wasserman of Community Alliance with Family Farmers told the Guardian.

Jeff Larkey runs Route One Farm in Santa Cruz. He’s been farming for 27 years and rents 65 acres for about $45,000 per year because it’s too expensive to buy the land. In the past he’s worked up to 150 acres, but now, he said, "Going forward is a big question in my mind because the costs of doing business have skyrocketed so much."

Larkey has many long-term workers making wages that vary based on experience, with the bottom rung starting at or slightly above minimum wage. "I’d love to pay them all $20 an hour because that’s what the work is really worth," he said.

A way to solve the problem might be for growers to raise their prices — but many already consider organic, sustainably-grown food as fuel fit only for the well-heeled.

"To eat organic, healthy, local food generally costs more," Pollan admitted in a later talk. "The whole system is canted to support fast food. That’s what we subsidize."

He pointed out that Americans spend only 9.5 percent of their income on food — an all-time and international low — and people need to become more comfortable with paying more so growers and processors can earn fair wages. "We all need to spend some amount more on food."

That’s tough for people who can barely afford food now.

Anya Fernald, director of Slow Food Nation, said the group constantly struggles with the financial issue. Fernald also said proceeds from ticket sales will be used to seed future events and the next course of action, which will be determined by the farmers, food artisans, and nonprofits that participated.

When asked how they intended to get their message out to people who might have been priced out of attending the event, she said the group chose the Civic Center as a way to reach a broad audience. She pointed out that 60 percent of the events were free.

Pollan also said that policy needs to change to make food more accessible, and that’s what the Declaration for Healthy Food and Agriculture seems to speak to. The document was unveiled in the rotunda of City Hall on the eve of Slow Food Nation and outlines 12 principles that "should frame food and agriculture policy." Included are statements that affordable, nutritious food should be accessible to everyone and it shouldn’t mean exploiting farmers, workers, or natural resources to get it. Roots of Change, which coordinated drafting the declaration, is hoping for 1 million signatures by fall 2009, when they take it to policymakers in Washington, DC.

City Sued over Care not Cash, again


by Amanda Witherell

Berkeley-based Disability Rights Advocates filed suit in US District Court today against the city of San Francisco for denying access to shelter beds for disabled homeless people. The suit alleges that Mayor Gavin Newsom’s Care not Cash program sets aside a certain amount of beds that are thus unavailable to disabled people who are banned from the program.

“There are limited resources in the shelter system and there are large numbers of beds that are set aside that people with disabilities don’t have access to as a statutory matter,” said Julia Pinover, DRA’s attorney on the case. “The city has a responsibility to provide services equally.”

Care not Cash, which was passed by voters in 2002, pools the General Assistance money that used to go to individuals into a fund for financing housing and supportive services. People still receive small portions of their $395 GA cash — $29 checks every two weeks – and they’re guaranteed shelter beds in exchange for giving the rest of the cash to the city. Not everyone uses their allocated beds, but they still must be set aside – thus eliminating them from the pool of beds available to other people seeking shelter.

Homeless people who receive Supplemental Security Income, Social Security Disability Insurance, or veterans and disabled benefits do not get GA money and therefore cannot participate in Care not Cash. The suit alleges there are 60 to 80 Care Not Cash beds that go unfilled every night while hundreds of people seeking shelter are turned away. At least 50 percent of homeless people self-identify as disabled, though many consider that a low figure. “Because any person who is eligible for disability benefits is not able to participate in the CNC program even is there is an empty CNC bed at a shelter, a homeless person with a disability may be denied shelter solely because of his or her disabled status,” states the claim.

“Right now the shelter system for disabled people with mental illness is the equivalent to having a shelter at the top of a hill with a giant staircase and you’re in a wheelchair,” said Paul Boden of Western Regional Advocacy Project, a nonprofit homeless rights group based in San Francisco that is party to the class action suit. “It’s being run more like a capitalist venture than a social program. If it was a social program with a soul then disabled people, seniors, and women would be your priorities.”

PG&E’s blank check



For a complete list (2.35 MB) of everyone who signed on to a PG&E-paid ballot argument and a full list of all of the individuals, companies, and nonprofits that get PG&E money every year, click here (Excel).

It’s Saturday morning, Aug. 23, and at the plumber’s union hall on Market Street, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. employees are leading a rally in opposition to San Francisco’s Clean Energy Act. A table at the back of the room sags with urns of coffee and uneaten pastries. To the side are towers of glossy black "Stop the Blank Check" window signs. E-mails sent by event organizers said Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Mayor Gavin Newsom were expected to attend, but so far, there’s no sign of either.

"On behalf of the men and women at PG&E, thanks for giving up your Saturday," PG&E vice president John Simon tells participants, who will be spending the afternoon walking San Francisco’s streets passing out No on Proposition H propaganda.

But the audience isn’t listening.

Most of the people packed into the room are Asian kids, giggling and chatting and ignoring the English-only presentation. One group of boys playfully pushes each other, accidentally bumping into some stage lighting and earning a reprimand from a rally organizer. The kids ignore him. I ask some of the young people if they’re with a school or club, or if they’re part of JROTC, which has an informational booth in the vestibule. They look at me blankly and turn away, muttering in Cantonese. I question a few others and get similar responses.

Outside, I find a young man who speaks English. He tells me the kids aren’t really here for the rally. "It’s just a job," he says. They’re getting $15 an hour to hang flyers on doorknobs — flyers that read "hand-delivered by a Stop the Blank Check Supporter."

The Committee to Stop the Blank Check is the official campaign committee fighting the Clean Energy Act, which will appear as Prop. H on the November ballot. The group, however, is funded by a blank check from PG&E.

"They’ve pledged enough to educate every voter in San Francisco," the committee’s campaign manager, Eric Jaye, told the Guardian at the Saturday rally.

It’s no surprise that the campaign workers are paid for by PG&E — in fact, just about everyone who has come out against Prop. H seems to be getting money from the utility.

The Clean Energy Act sets ambitious goals for moving the city into renewable energy — goals that go far beyond current state mandates. It also calls for a study into San Francisco’s energy options and authorizes the city to issue revenue bonds to buy or build energy facilities.

An investigation into the elected officials, committees, and groups that oppose Prop. H shows cash from PG&E in nearly every coffer.

The official ballot argument against the Clean Energy Act is signed by Feinstein, Newsom, and three supervisors initially appointed to the board by the mayor: Michela Alioto-Pier, Carmen Chu, and Sean Elsbernd.

Feinstein’s loaded with PG&E money. Since 2004, Feinstein has received $15,000 in direct contributions from PG&E, according to More significant, perhaps, is that Feinstein’s husband, Richard Blum, serves as chairman of the board of CBRE, a real estate firm that did $4.8 million in business with PG&E in 2007, according to an annual report the utility files with the state of California.

Campaign finance disclosure statements from Feinstein state that her husband receives fees and income from CBRE, and has $250,000 and $500,000 in investment holdings.

Feinstein’s spokesperson, Scott Gerber, said there was no conflict of interest. But Citizens for Responsibility in Ethics spokesperson Naomi Seligman added, "The ethics rules are so incredibly narrow that unless Senator Feinstein was pushing or voting for something that would impact only Mr. Blum, it doesn’t count as a conflict."

Still: Feinstein’s getting cash directly from PG&E, and then doing the company’s political bidding.


Newsom, who has won campaigns with PG&E’s financial support in the past, is hosting a party called "Unconventional ’08" in Denver this week. Guess who’s one of the three listed sponsors? PG&E. (The other two are AT&T and the carpenter’s union.) And, of course, the person running Newsom’s campaign for governor is PG&E’s main man, Eric Jaye.

Sups. Alioto-Pier and Elsbernd? Both had PG&E money shunted through independent expenditure committees. Sup. Chu is currently running to keep her seat in District 4.

Former Mayor Willie Brown tops the list of endorsers on Committee to Stop the Blank Check’s Web site. PG&E paid Brown $200,000 in consulting fees during 2007.

Neither Brown nor PG&E returned calls for comment and clarification on what exactly Brown’s consulting involves, or how much he’s getting this year.

Of the 30 paid ballot arguments that will be listed in November’s Voter Information Pamphlet, PG&E bought 22 of them — many for well-funded organizations like the Bay Area Council, Golden Gate Restaurant Association, and the Republican Party that could presumably pay for their own $2-per-word screeds against the measure.

The arguments all make the same points and parrot the same PG&E lines.

Jaye said that ballot arguments were routinely paid for by other entities, and of the groups that have healthy bank accounts, he said, "We’d rather those groups invest their money in capacity building for November."

The San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, the Building Owners and Managers Association, and Plan C all paid for their own ballot arguments. In 2007 the Chamber received more than $350,000 from PG&E in the form of dues and grants. BOMA got a $26,500 grant from the utility company, which also hired the outfit for almost $100,000 worth of consulting work. Plan C’s Political Action Committee regularly receives deposits from PG&E during election season.

Other entities that signed arguments paid for by PG&E include: the San Francisco police and firefighter unions, which are constantly asking the city for more money (and now oppose a potential revenue source); the Asian Pacific Democratic Club; the Small Business Network; the Rev. Amos Brown, and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Paying for their own No on H arguments: former San Francisco Public Defender and California Public Utilities Commission member Jeff Brown, the Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods, BART board member James Fang, and prominent small businessowner Harold Hoogasian.

PG&E spends millions each year on consultants — and at campaign time, that money turns into political support.

"PG&E’s philanthropy has been paying off into manipuutf8g a network of supporters who believe [Prop. H] is going to do something adverse to their interest when in reality it’s not," said Sup. Ross Mirkarimi.

Money isn’t everything for some organizations. Oakland’s Ella Baker Center for Human Rights received a $10,000 grant from PG&E in 2007. Cofounder Van Jones has endorsed the Clean Energy Act.

There’s no paper trail for how much PG&E has spent to date on this campaign and the utility will be free to spend money without scrutiny until Oct. 6, when the first financial statements related to the November election are due at the Ethics Commission.


But PG&E can’t buy everyone — and the coalition supporting the Clean Energy Act is large, broad, and growing.

Prop. H has been endorsed by eight of the city’s 11 supervisors, Assemblymembers Fiona Ma and Mark Leno, and environmentalist and author Bill McKibben. Groups with a variety of different interests, like the League of Conservation Voters, the SF Democratic Party, SEIU 1021, the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, and the Senior Action Network also have given it a green light.

"I think the coalition for it is a much broader coalition than has been for it in the past," said Susan Leal, former head of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, who supports Prop. H. "Because of that, PG&E has ramped up the campaign and put a lot more money into it than in the past."

Mirkarimi, who authored the measure, called the early phone banking, mailers, and door knocking a "signature blitzkrieg campaign," similar to what he witnessed as the manager of the 2001 public power measure that also raised PG&E’s ire — and which lost by about 500 votes. "That’s why PG&E is working so hard now. We were so close in 2001."

John Rizzo of the Bay Chapter of the Sierra Club said his group has already committed money and people to walk districts. But he noted that he has already seen Committee to Stop the Blank Check signs posted in windows on the west side of the city. "We expected it," he said of the resources PG&E has spent to date. "The only thing they have is money."

Rizzo said the Sierra Club has endorsed past public power measures and considers this an environmental issue. "We are finding it’s a pretty broad coalition of folks who might not be together on an environmental issue. The San Francisco Women’s Political Committee PAC just recommended endorsing it to their membership, and that’s not normally an environmental group — though they are a good group."

Leal says the Clean Energy Act really transcends arguments against public power. "I’m mystified why people would not be on board for something that’s cleaner and cheaper," said Leal. "I think I know why a number of others have gotten on board. They recognize that this is the path to clean energy for power."

Jaye wouldn’t assign a specific dollar amount to how much the company is willing to spend to defeat the measure — but he made it clear that there are no limits: "It could take $1 million, it could take $5 million." In 2006, when public power was on the ballot in Yolo County, PG&E spent almost $10 million keeping the 77,000 customers they would have lost to the Sacramento Municipal Utility District. The measure lost by one percentage point.

Jaye, who also manages Newsom’s gubernatorial campaign, is quick to point out that the committee has already received 12,000 signed cards of support. Still, he said, they weren’t asking for money from these potential campaign donors "because we have significant and sufficient resources pledged from PG&E."

Lights out on Labor Council endorsement


by Amanda Witherell

Picture 1.png
Graph from San Francisco Chronicle, July 26, 2007


Last night while the San Francisco Labor Council was meeting to vote on endorsements for the November election, the power cut out.

“I immediately started chanting public power, public power,” said Robert Haaland, who was there on behalf of SEIU 1021. He was referring to the Clean Energy Act – Prop H on the ballot.

Haaland called the experience surreal. “It was literally in the dark and the people counting votes were doing it by flashlight.” Because voting was by delegates, with people standing up for or against it in a dark room it was impossible to see who exactly voted for each side. “Maria Guillen, the COPE chair for 1021 gave a very impassioned speech for public power and also addressed how the campaign against public power has been attacking city workers,” said Haaland. SEIU’s Joint Council voted in favor of endorsing the measure.

Despite the PG&E power outage, the Council chose to go neutral. PG&E has more power outages than any other utility company in the state, according to a July 26, 2007 article in the Chron.

Apparently representatives from some of the trades urged neutrality on the issue, and expressed concern about how retirement and pension benefits would be affected should the city go into the retail power business and buy out PG&E’s infrastructure. According to the Clean Energy Act’s website, “any PG&E employees who become City employees as a result of this Act will not suffer any reduction of compensation or seniority.

If passed, the Clean Energy Act would force the city to establish a long-term energy plan with renewable power benchmarks more aggressive than current state mandates. The city will study how best to achieve this and if it’s determined that a municipally owned electricity system is the most efficient and expeditious way to achieve 100 percent renewable power by 2040, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission will have the authority to issue revenue bonds to purchase and construct the infrastructure to do that.

The full list of Labor Council endorsements can be found in this PDF.

People ride bikes


by Amanda Witherell

Record bike attendance at Outside Lands Friday night

I volunteered for the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition on Friday evening, valet parking bikes during the Outside Lands concert in Golden Gate Park. It was busy: Radiohead fans ride bikes. Even though it was a hustle to move all the bikes and keep the waiting line flowing, it was a remarkably smooth and stress-free experience, which I’ll chalk up to the healthful effects of cycling and a general good feeling from being around bikes. People walking by the pen of parked bikes kept commenting on how it was a sight to see so many bikes in one place.

According to a “thank you” email I got from the SFBC today all previous bike parking records were broken. We parked over 1,000 bikes on Friday night, and over 2,400 for the entire weekend. As I was riding my own bike out of the foggy park on Friday night I saw thousands more bikes locked all over the containment fencing of the festival, meaning a significant number of people cycled to the festival.

And just today the Chron noticed that more people are riding bikes.

PG&E pays for Newsom’s party in Denver


by Amanda Witherell


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Just in case you had any questions about our Mayor’s relationship with private utility monopolies. And they co-opted Jenny Lewis!

Feed our elders well



GREEN CITY Conventional wisdom is that it costs more to eat well, but Alameda County Meals on Wheels has found real value in switching from processed foods to the kind of fresh, local, sustainable fare being touted at the upcoming Slow Food Nation conference, which begins Aug. 29 in San Francisco.

Bay Area Community Services (BACS), the nonprofit that manages Meals on Wheels, has been struggling with a perennial budget deficit, rising fuel and food costs, and a waiting list of 200 seniors eager to join the program.

Even though the easy, heat-and-serve method is the national model for feeding large amounts of people cheaply, BACS was finding that trying to supply 1,200 people a day with meals in their homes and at 21 different congregate sites through a contract with a food processing company just wasn’t working.

"Our solution to the problem was a social enterprise kitchen," Jenny Huston told the Guardian. The 20-year veteran chef and educator is director of Culinary Social Enterprise at BACS. She and her boss, executive director Kent Ellsworth, took the program in a new direction. They went "farm to table," meaning they stopped serving frozen food and started serving meals made with fresh meat, dairy, fruits, and vegetables, and they did it by establishing a culinary arts training program with a curriculum based on the day-to-day work of preparing the Meals on Wheels fare from scratch.

"If you have a structural deficit, why are you spending more money on food?" Huston pondered, asking herself the question many critics might raise. "Sure," she said, "processed stuff is much cheaper, but you’re not seeing the full cost."

What is that full cost? That’s a hot topic for the Slow Food Nation forums, such as how far an avocado travels to become guacamole in Maine. Beyond aligning meals with produce that’s locally available, Huston and Ellsworth are attuned to what happens to a community when its most vulnerable populations — children, seniors, and the disabled — stop eating well.

"Good foods are not the privilege of people who have money. It’s the right of everybody," Ellsworth told the Guardian. "When we buy wholesale, local, and fresh, we get a better product for a good price. It’s the right way to do business."

But raw ingredients require more kitchen work. By partnering with a number of organizations, including the Pleasant Valley Adult School and Oakland Adult and Career Education Program, BACS was able to find budding cooks though a free, 12-week job training program.

They also connected with Community Alliance for Family Farms, a network of local growers and distributors who could provide up to 350 pounds of each raw ingredient a day. Just a few months into the new program, a typical Meals on Wheels lunch now includes all local milk, 10 percent local meat, and 19 percent local produce — and it’s made from scratch by workers who are learning enough food preparation skills to qualify for entry-level kitchen jobs.

And they’re doing it for just pennies more a day. "Our food cost has only gone up five cents per meal since we’ve gone farm to table," Huston said. Yet donations since April have increased 25 percent — about $20,000 — meaning that people who were once asked to give a dollar or two for their lunches are voluntarily giving more for better food.

Though the Meals on Wheels budget gap hasn’t disappeared, Huston likens it to the first few months of any business, when turning a profit is elusive. They’re hoping to expand catering services and market the meals to other day and residential programs.

At the Aug. 14 graduation dinner, Ellsworth announced that a foundation had approved a $200,000 program investment loan to purchase new equipment, remodel their kitchen, and grow the school. It was welcome news for the first class of five cooks. Reflecting on the experience, Geri Haas said, "It was really nice going there, knowing I was relied upon to provide fresh food for our elders."

Orlando De’Aguero, another graduate, announced that he got a job with a local organic food preparation company, eliciting cheers from the gathering of friends, family, and fellow classmates. He said, "I wouldn’t have traded the three months I had here for anything at a culinary school."

Marian Shelter closing, but not without fight


Marian Residence for Women has been called a “model for shelter and transitional services for women,” yet it’s closing for good on August 31, adding another 60 beds to the 400+ that have been lost from the San Francisco’s homeless shelter system since Mayor Gavin Newsom took office.

That fact was reiterated once again during an August 7, 2008 City Operations and Neighborhood Services committee hearing on the closure, a mostly somber affair except when Quintin Mecke, chair of the city’s Shelter Monitoring Committee, praised the shelter’s model service, eliciting cheers and applause from the crowd of onlookers – many of whom were current or former Marian residents. “It really is a catastrophic loss,” he added. Mecke and the committee are tasked with monitoring health and safety in the city-funded shelters. Marian receives no city money.

The 60-bed shelter and transitional housing facility is owned by St. Anthony Foundation and, as we previously reported, the nonprofit is short on cash and shuttering the facility. To generate revenue it’s hoping to lease the building – and as testimony at the hearing showed, it’s the city who will be renting the space and converting it to a medical respite facility, thus serving a different, yet equally desperate homeless population.

Currently, medical respite – which provides bed and care for homeless patients too ill for the streets but not critical enough for the hospital – is conducted at two different locations in the city, though the Dept. of Public Health and Mayor Newsom have long desired a single, comprehensive facility.

Joyce Crum of the city’s Human Services Agency said they were working with St. Anthony Foundation to ensure that all of the women staying at Marian would have a place to go. In an effort to ramp up the waning services for women, HSA has also identified a building with 56 units that they plan to lease and devote entirely to housing homeless women. Mayor Gavin Newsom’s homeless policy director, Dariush Kayhan, said the mayor had set aside $500,000 for the project.

That’s a far cry from the $1.3 million St. Anthony spends every year to run Marian Residence. While some might say that’s what it takes to run a model shelter, Kayhan said, “It seems that it’s an unsuitable program design.”

DCCC endorses….


The newly elected progressive block of the local Democratic Party flexed their muscles during tonight’s endorsements. It was a full house, with only Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s seat empty. She neglected (perhaps purposefully) to send a proxy.

Many of the supervisors’ measures passed — including the Affordable Housing measure and the Clean Energy Act. All of the items put on the ballot by Mayor Gavin Newsom failed, despite a small consistent cabal following his centrist party line. Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s proxy cast steady abstentions on many local issues, with notable “no” votes against Affordable Housing, Clean Energy, and decriminalizing prostitution. She did, however, support Newsom’s Community Justice Center, which some pointed out had already been funded and should have been taken off the ballot.

All the progressive candidates handily won top seats, with David Campos beating out Eric Quezada in the hot district nine race. Nods went to incumbents Elsbernd and Chu. There was a lot of debate over whether to select second and third choices for ranked choice voting in the district supervisor races. Though there were attempts to get second and third seats filled, there was too much division among candidates and enough progressives stuck with “no endorsement” for those seats to keep solidarity behind the top seeded candidate. After some talk about the need to have at least one woman on the slate, Denise McCarthy, running in district three, was the only candidate to receive the second billing, getting votes from Debra Walker and Michael Goldstein, who stepped outside the progressive contingent that was urging a “no endorsement” vote to keep loyalty lined up behind Chiu.

The Clean Energy Act received a healthy majority of 22, with more choosing to abstain than cast a “no.” Tom Hsieh, Joe Julian, Megan Levitan, Mike Tuchow, Dianne Feinstein, and August Longo, voted against it while Laura Spanjian, Scott Wiener, Jackie Speier, Leland Yee, and Fiona Ma, abstained.

The complete rundown, after the jump:

PG&E’s Lie of the Week


The mailer that arrived last week shows a bullet hole blown through a pile of money and urges voters to beware the Board of Supervisors’ $4 billion takeover of Pacific Gas and Electric Co. It was paid for by the "Committee to Stop the Blank Check, a coalition of concerned consumers, small businesses, labor, community organizations and Pacific Gas and Electric Company." PG&E, needless to say, is picking up the check for the campaign.

Nowhere does the mailer specify the legislation it’s attacking. Why not? Because the charter amendment is called the Clean Energy Act, a proposition mandating that the city pursue a comprehensive plan for 100 percent renewable energy. That plan may include buying or constructing an electricity distribution system — which is what PG&E is really fretting about.

"The only thing green about it is cost," the flyer says. "The fact is, this proposal is backed by many of the same supervisors who are trying to build fossil fuel power plants in San Francisco."

Actually, the Clean Energy Act was authored by Sup. Ross Mirkarimi, who consistently opposes burning more fossil fuel for energy and is against the city power plants.

PG&E, on the other hand, gets 41 percent of its electricity from burning fossil fuels and the company is not on track to meet the state’s meager mandate of 20 percent renewables by 2010. In fact, the company’s record is only getting worse: four new PG&E-owned fossil fuel plants are under construction — the Tesla plant in Alameda County, Gateway in Antioch, and two other facilities in Colusa and Humboldt.

Sun protection failures



GREEN CITY Have you ever spent a day at the beach, dutifully slathering yourself with sunscreen — only to return home with the unmistakable prickle of a sunburn?

It’s probably because your sunscreen isn’t doing what it claims, according to a recent analysis conducted by the Washington, DC–based Environmental Working Group. The nonpartisan, nonprofit group known for watchdogging consumer products studied 952 sunscreens with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher and discovered that 80 percent contain harmful chemicals and didn’t really protect skin from the most damaging rays of the sun.

And, the report charged, the three top selling sunscreen companies — Coppertone, Banana Boat, and Neutrogena — produce some of the most toxic and useless products. Even ones you might find on the shelves of your health food store, like Alba organic lavender sunscreen, contain oxybenzone, which allegedly disrupts hormones.

Although there is no definitive science on the effects of oxybenzone, studies have shown that "mothers with high levels of oxybenzone in their systems were more likely to have low birth weight baby girls," said Rebecca Sutton, a staff scientist with a PhD in environmental chemistry who works for the Oakland office of EWG.

Julie Lux, a spokesperson for Coppertone, said the company’s products are reviewed by independent scientists and dermatologists and said she’s "concerned that reports like the one released by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) will inappropriately discourage consumers from protecting themselves from the sun."

Ariel Kern, a spokesperson for Sun Pharmaceuticals, said the company "stands behind the safety and efficacy of Banana Boat products" and Iris Grossman, a spokesperson for Neutrogena, said that company’s products have been patented and tested.

A sunscreen’s SPF indicates protection from the short-wave UVB rays that cause sunburn, but it’s the long-wave ultraviolet radiation (UVA) that is more directly linked to cancer. Even so, protecting against UVA radiation isn’t currently required. Furthermore, nearly 50 percent of the products tested by EWG deteriorated in the sun, "raising questions about whether these products last as long as the label says," read the report.

The Food and Drug Administration has the authority to regulate sunscreens, but the agency’s standards have been a 30-year work in progress and are relatively limited. Despite a congressional mandate to update the regs by May 2006, the FDA is just now entering the latter stages of its rulemaking, spokesperson Rita Chappelle told us.

Currently the agency is proposing more thorough labeling protocols, including a new four-star system for UVA protection. Additionally, sunscreens manufacturers will not be allowed to say that their products are waterproof, and the upper threshold of SPF will rise from 30 to 50+.

In an attempt to light a fire under the FDA, Sens. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.) have introduced the Sunscreen Labeling Protection Act of 2008, which would require finalized sunscreen safety standards within 180 days.

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal released a statement supporting the legislation. "The FDA has failed to implement proposed sunscreen labeling rules that would bar false claims about all-day protection, waterproof, broad spectrum UVA/UVB protection, and SPF over 50," he wrote.

Claims on the label are also a factor in the potential danger of sunscreens. "With claims like ‘all day protection’ people don’t reapply," Sutton said.

Though EWG’s analysis (which can be found at was criticized as "junk science" by one doctor cited in a New York Times report, the group stands by its work. "We use industry standard methods, so it’s hard for criticism to stand," Sutton said.

EWG’s ratings were based on three factors: UVB protection, which SPF indicates; UVA protection, which blocks the more harmful rays; and overall stability of the ingredients. The group recommends that sunbathers search for products with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which are less readily absorbed by the skin and provide more of a physical barrier between users and the sun. While these minerals may be safe on your skin, they’re not so great in your lungs. So give the spray and powder versions a pass, and beware products that have been reduced to nanoparticle size.

And, of course, spend more time in the shade.

PG&E grantees: Revealed


By popular demand, here’s some highlights from PG&E’s 2007 charitable giving. If you want to see the complete list, look at pages 58-90 of this PDF. That document also includes the dues they pay to belong to certain organizations which tend to have certain sway with certain politicians and voting blocks. Example: a whopping $325,000 to belong to the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce. Who shows up at the first public hearing on the Clean Energy Act, to argue — with PG&E talking points — against putting it on the ballot? The San Francisco Chamber of Commerce.

PG&E also paid $90,000 to the Committee on Jobs, $92,500 to the Bay Area Council (on top of the $40,000 gift they also gave the group — which has also shilled for them at public meetings), and $26,500 for BOMA

There are some other interesting grants to note. For example, Slide Ranch got $5,000. Who’s on the board of Slide Ranch? Francesca Vietor, who’s up for possible appointment to the SF Public Utilities Commission.

Most of the grants are pennies to PG&E, but a couple nudge up into significant chunks of change. Over a million each went to the Foundation for Environmental Education and the National Energy Education Development Project.

See some other familiar faces, after the jump:

Who is (and isn’t) taking cash from PG&E


cash 082707.jpg

Besides dumping millions of dollars on influencing the outcomes of elections, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. also doles out a lot of cash to charities – about $18 million a year, which is around one percent of their pre-tax income. It’s a gift from the shareholders back to you, the community that’s making them rich.

The list of non-profits that get grants from PG&E is long and spreads from coast to coast, but most of them are based in and around San Francisco. It’s an interesting thing to look over, for it says a lot about who might have a soft spot for PG&E, and it reminds us of the perennial shills, like the A. Philip Randolph Institute (APRI), which sends members to speak at public meetings against anything PG&E also opposes.

But I was a little surprised to see Brightline Defense Project make the list of grantees in 2007.

My bike accident: The city’s fault?


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That was my first thought, sprawled on the pavement in the middle of a northbound lane on Van Ness Avenue: is this the city’s fault? Shouldn’t there be a goddamn bike lane here by now? And is the belated CEQA study that’s stalling the city Bike Plan the real antagonist here?

Here’s what happened: I was leaving a public meeting at 25 Van Ness and heading toward City Hall, just a few blocks north. The most expeditious route is to stay on Van Ness, which is horribly unfriendly to bikes, full of fast cars and funky pavement – but I was only going a couple blocks. I was riding in the far right line, but had to move out into the second lane to get around a bus stop. That left me straddling the white line between the two lanes. The pavement here, I’ll remind you, is full of potholes and cracks that like to grab the skinny, slick tires on my Univega. I swerved right, around one of these cracks, just as a car decided to accelerate past me in that right lane. The side of the car hit the side of me and we dragged along together for several yards until it passed me and I collapsed on the pavement. Fortunately, traffic behind us stopped, as did the driver of the car that hit me.

Despite exploding immediately into tears, which I’m prone to do when bitchslapped by death…

PG&E’s PUC appointee


The Rules Committee of the Board of Supervisors voted Monday to forward the appointment of Nora Vargas to the SF Public Utilities Commission, without recommendation. The three supervisors on the committee (Tom Ammiano, Chris Daly, and Bevan Dufty) all expressed concern that Vargas’ lack of experience with local politics and public utilities issues might be a setback should she fill the seat.

Vargas is director of Latino Issues Forum, a statewide nonprofit advocacy group, with offices in Fresno, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. LIF works on healthcare reform, educational issues, and consumer rights for immigrants and Latino populations. Vargas would fill the ratepayer advocate seat on the PUC.

Vargas, when questioned by the Rules Committee, said she felt confident of her ability to act independently of her appointing authority, Mayor Gavin Newsom, and that she would put ratepayers and consumers first. When asked if she’d be able to push back against powerful entities like Pacific Gas and Electric, which takes an active interest in many things the SFPUC control, Vargas cited her experience advocating on behalf of ratepayers at the California Public Utilities Commission.

We know PG&E likes to spread their money and influence throughout the city. In this case, between 2004 and 2006, PG&E has given $150,000 to Latino Issues Forum, as part of their community grantmaking.

This is the same kind of giving that would presumably end should San Francisco voters approve the Clean Energy Act this November. “We no longer will be contributing to San Francisco’s non-profits and service organizations,” PG&E’s Brandon Hernandez told a June 27 meeting of the Rule Committee, at which they voted to put the Clean Energy Act on the November ballot. The measure calls for San Francisco to move toward 100 percent clean and renewable energy, possibly through public construction and ownership, thus putting PG&E out of business in this city.

Additionally, Guillermo Rodriguez, Jr., former public relations flak for PG&E, is on the board of Latino Issues Forum (along with two other private utility executives.) Rodriguez left PG&E to head the A. Philip Randolph Institute, which also receives lots and lots of PG&E’s money on a regular basis.

Vargas’ appointment to the SFPUC is up for approval by the full Board of Supervisors at today’s meeting, along with Newsom’s four other appointments – Ann Moller Caen, FX Crowley, Francesca Vietor, and Dick Sklar. Sklar, at the last PUC meeting, withdrew his candidacy for the seat.

New appointees coming to a PUC near you


Mayor Gavin Newsom has made his recommendations for the five seats on the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, up for grabs after voters passed Prop E in June. His choices reflect a little out with the old, in with the new, but he’s also passed up a commissioner he appointed just a year ago and selected a veteran member who barely squeaked through the last approval process.

So, who has Newsom picked?

Death of teen immigrant farm worker nets $260K fine



Earlier this month we reported on Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez, a 17-year-old immigrant farm worker whose heat-related death sparked a public outcry against Trader Joe’s and their cheaper-than-thou “Two-buck Chuck” wine.

Jimenez was employed by Merced Farm Labor, which contracts with the same company that supplies the grapes that go into the infamous $2 a bottle Charles Shaw wine, sold exclusively at Trader Joe’s. While Jimenez was not picking grapes specifically for that wine, United Farm Workers asked supporters to pressure Trader Joe’s to ensure that their vendors are contracting with responsible companies.

Jimenez’s death also instigated an investigation by California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal-OSHA), into Merced Farm Labor’s protocols. Today, the state agency announced they’re citing the company for three alleged serious and willful violations of state laws. Penalties could run as much as $263,000.

Makes putting out a little water and shade for your workers look a lot more affordable.

Bucking off Chuck



It was a steamy 95 degrees inside the vineyard, just east of Stockton, where Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez was pruning a shadeless stretch of young vines. It was May 14, the third day of work for the 17-year-old immigrant from Oaxaca, Mexico. She’d been working more than nine hours, with just one water break, when she collapsed from heat exhaustion at 3:40 p.m.

An hour and a half later, when she finally arrived at an emergency room, her body temperature was 108.4 degrees. For two days her heart stopped and started, then ceased beating completely.

The California Division of Industrial Relations has opened an investigation of the death and her employer, Merced Farm Labor, whose operating permit had already been temporarily suspended by state officials based on past unpaid fines for unheeded heat safety violations, and a permanent revocation could be imminent.

The San Joaquin county coroner determined that heat was the fatal factor, and so Jimenez’s family has filed a civil suit claiming wrongful death. The district attorney and attorney general have also opened investigations.

"We’re hoping to send a signal to farmers that you don’t just hire a labor contractor because it’s the lowest bid," Robert Perez, the lead attorney on the case, told the Guardian. "We think farmers, when they hire a labor contractor, should check them out."

But activists connected to the case want to send the message even further, to stores like Trader Joe’s that market products made with cheap or exploited agricultural labor.

Merced Farm Labor was subcontracted by West Coast Grape Farming, whose president, Fred Franzia, also owns Bronco Winery, makers of Charles Shaw wine — also known as Trader Joe’s cheap and wildly popular "Two-Buck Chuck." Approximately 72 million bottles of the $2 wine are sold each year, exclusively at Trader Joe’s.

United Farm Workers, responding to Jimenez’s death, have asked supporters to fire off letters to Trader Joe’s requesting the company "implement a corporate policy to ensure that its your suppliers are not vioutf8g the law by failing to provide basic protections such as cold water, shade, and clean bathrooms."

So far reaction has been swift and significant. "We always get a big volume of response because our Listserv is very socially conscious," said Jocelyn Sherman, UFW’s director of Internet communications. "But for this we’ve gotten an overwhelming volume of response. It’s the situation. People need something to be done."

Sherman estimates as many as 15,000 e-mails have been sent from UFW supporters to Trader Joe’s, whose spokesperson, Alison Mochizuki, told us the ire has been misplaced: "The unfortunate and tragic death of Maria Jimenez highlights issues and concerns facing all agricultural industries across America. Maria Jimenez was employed by an independent contractor working in an independent vineyard. The vineyard supplies many wineries, but was not supplying grapes for Charles Shaw. The company employing the young farm worker has no more of a relation to Trader Joe’s than they do to any other wine retailer or restaurant."

However, UFW asserts that subcontracting is the historic artful dodge of many a vineyard, and a vendor like Trader Joe’s, which serves a progressive community, ought to exert its clout on these issues.

"Lovingly nicknamed ‘Two-Buck Chuck’ by a member of the wine press, these California wines have become something of a phenomenon in the wine world, and in our stores," trumpets Trader Joe’s Web site. "Contrary to many an urban legend, these super-value wines began as the result of an oversupply of wine and a great relationship with a valued supplier."

"You say you have a great relationship with this supplier," Sherman responded. "Use this great relationship to protect workers."

A spokesperson for Franzia told the Guardian that the company had no comment. Mochizuki said Trader Joe’s — which has 62 stores in Northern California — is committed to protecting workers: "Our vendors have a strong record of providing safe and healthy work environments and we will continue to make certain that our vendors are meeting if not exceeding government standards throughout all aspects of their businesses."

Local Heroes


Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon

Del Martin, left, and Phyllis Lyon

Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon have lived active lives — although “activist” would be the better word. One, the other, or both have been founding members of the Daughters of Bilitis, the Alice B. Toklas Democratic Club, the Council on Religion and the Homosexual, and Old Lesbians Organizing for Change. Martin, 87, was the first lesbian elected to a position in the National Organization for Women, where she was also the first to assert that lesbian issues are feminist issues. Lyon, 83, edited the Ladder, the first magazine in the United States devoted to lesbian issues. And together, it seems, there’s little they haven’t done, from coauthoring books to becoming the first gay couple in the nation to legally marry on Feb. 12, 2004, almost 50 years to the day they first became a couple.

Deemed void later that year, their marriage was reconstituted this June when the California Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage is, in fact, legal. Once again, Martin and Lyon were the first in line to tie the knot.

But gay marriage wasn’t the right they were fighting for when their relationship began back in 1954. “We had other, bigger issues. We didn’t have anything in the ’50s and ’60s,” Lyon recalls. “We were worried about getting a law passed to disallow people from getting fired or thrown out of their homes for being gay.”

Even something as simple as having a safe space to congregate was elusive. Before the mid-1950s, the only organizations that dealt with gay issues were run by and focused on men. So Martin and Lyon, along with a few other lesbian couples, founded the Daughters of Bilitis in 1955. “We would meet in homes, dance, and have drinks and so on, and not be subject to police raids, which were happening then in the gay and lesbian bars,” Lyon said. Those informal get-togethers eventually became the first lesbian organization with chapters nationwide.

They say their activism isn’t something that was sparked by their gender and sexuality, but came from being raised in politically conscious homes — Lyon in Tulsa, Okla., and Martin in San Francisco. When they met, working at the same company in Seattle, “both of us were already politically involved,” Lyon says.

“Really, ever since we were kids,” Martin adds. “You followed elections. You followed things like that. We wore buttons for Roosevelt. We couldn’t send money because we didn’t have any.”

“And then when we both moved in together, in San Francisco, the first thing we did was get involved with Adlai Stevenson,” Lyon says. They quickly got to know the major Democratic movers and shakers in the city, like the Burton family and later Nancy Pelosi, whom they would eventually turn to when there were gay issues that needed a push.

“We didn’t come out to everybody, but we came out to Nancy and the Burtons,” Lyon says.

These days age has tamped down the physically active part of their political activism, although they still donate money and were ardent Hillary Clinton supporters during this year’s Democratic primary race. They’re now backing Barack Obama over John McCain, though Martin expressed reservations. “I’m waiting to see how he handles the question about women and women’s rights. I’m not satisfied yet.”

Amanda Witherell


Local hero

Alicia Schwartz

Alicia Schwartz

Whether she’s demanding sit-down time with the mayor to discuss asbestos dust at Hunters Point Shipyard, offering to debate former 49ers president Carmen Policy over the need to develop 50 percent affordable housing in the Bayview, or doing the cha-cha slide on Third Street to publicize the grassroots Proposition F campaign, which fought the Lennar-financed multimillion-dollar Proposition G on the June ballot, Alicia Schwartz always bubbles with fierce enthusiasm.

“I absolutely love my job,” says Schwartz, who has been a community organizer with POWER (People Organized to Win Employment Rights) for four years.

Born and raised in Marin County, Schwartz graduated from the University of California, San Diego, with a degree in sociology and anthropology before returning to the Bay Area, where she is enrolled in San Francisco State University’s ethnic studies graduate program and works for the San Francisco–based POWER.

“It’s an amazing organization full of amazing people, united for a common vision, which is ending oppression and poverty for all,” says Schwartz. “In cities, the priorities are skewed to benefit folks who are wealthier and have more benefits. But the folks who keep the city running are not recognized or are suppressed.”

Prop. F wasn’t Schwartz’s first campaign experience. She had previously organized for reproductive justice, for access to health care and sexual-health education, and against the prison-industrial complex.

But it was the most inspirational campaign she’s seen so far.

“I saw the Bayview transformed,” Schwartz explains. “I saw people who’d lost faith in politicians come to the forefront and fight for the future. And I saw people across the city rallying in support, too.”

Schwartz acknowledges that Prop. F didn’t win numerically.

“But practically and morally, and in terms of a broader vision, Prop. F advanced the conversation about the future of San Francisco, about its working-class and black future,” Schwartz says. “Clearly, that fight isn’t over. It’s just beginning.”

Schwartz says she believes that the other success of Prop. F is that it raised the question of who runs our cities.

“And I think it was a huge victory, even being able to accomplish running a grassroots campaign, with no money whatsoever and where we had to up the ante, in terms of getting to know some of the political establishment.”

Most of all, Schwartz says she appreciated being able to work with people who hadn’t been part of POWER.

“And I appreciated being able to advance a set of demands that a broad range of people could support, while keeping the Bayview and its residents at the forefront,” she says.

While that particular campaign may be over, the battle for Bayview–Hunters Point continues on many fronts, says Schwartz.

“Are we going to allow it to be run by developers who don’t have our best interests at heart and who fool us with payouts and false promises?” she asks. “Are we going to allow San Francisco to become a place where people can’t afford to live, but surely have to come to work?”

Amanda Witherell

Local hero

James Carey, Daniel Harder, and Jeff Rosendale

From left, Daniel Harder, James Carey, and
Jeff Rosendale

It would be unfair to give any one person credit for stopping the state’s foolish plan to aerially spray synthetic pheromones to eradicate the light brown apple moth (LBAM). Thousands were involved in that struggle.

But there are at least three individuals we can think of who successfully fought the state with science, a tool that too often is used to dupe, not enlighten, the public.

They are James Carey, a University of California, Davis, entomology professor; Daniel Harder, botanist and executive director of the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum; and Jeff Rosendale, a grower and horticulturalist who runs a nursery in Soquel.

Together and separately, this trio used experience, field observation, and fact-finding tours to make the case that the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) would court disaster, in terms of lost time, money, and public goodwill, if it went ahead with the spraying.

And they did so at a time when UC, as an institution, remained silent on the matter.

“I felt like I needed to do this. No one was stepping up from a position of entomological knowledge,” says Carey, whose prior work on an advisory panel working with state agencies fighting the Mediterranean fruit fly between 1987 and 1994 led him to speak out when the state sprayed Monterey and Santa Cruz counties last fall.

Carey says the signatures of two UC Davis colleagues, Frank Zalom and Bruce Hammock, on a May 28 letter to the US Department of Agriculture also helped.

“All of us are senior and highly credentialed scientists,” Carey notes, “so our letter was taken really seriously by the agriculture industry.”

Rosendale and Harder had taken a fact-finding tour last December to New Zealand, which has harbored this leaf-rolling Australian bug for more than a century, to find out firsthand just how big of a problem the moth really is.

“We wanted to get the best information about how they were dealing with it, and what it was or wasn’t doing,” Rosendale recalls. What he and Harder discovered was that New Zealand had tried using organophosphates, toxic pesticides, against the moths — but the chemicals killed all insects in the orchards, including beneficial ones that stopped parasites.

“When they stopped using organophosphates, the food chain took care of the LBAM,” Rosendale says.

Like Carey and Rosendale, Harder believes that the state’s recently announced plan to use sterile moths instead of pesticides is a lost cause. He says it’s impossible to eradicate LBAM at this point because the pest is already too widespread.

“It’s not going to work, and it’s not necessary,” Harder says.

And now, Glen Chase, a professor of systems management specializing in environmental economics and statistics, says that the CDFA is falsely claiming that the moth is an emergency so it can steal hundreds of millions from taxpayer emergency funds.

“The widespread population of the moth in California and the specific population densities of the moth, when analyzed with real science and statistics, dictate that the moth has been in California for at least 30 to 50 years,” states Chase in a July 15 press release.

The state has put spraying urban areas on hold, but the battle isn’t over — and the scientists who have gone out on a limb to inform the public are still on the case.

Sarah Phelan


Local hero

Queer Youth Organizing Project

From left, Fred Sherburn-Zimmer,
Josue Arguelles, Jane Martin, Vivian Crocket,
Justin Zarrett Blake,
Joseles de la Cruz, and Abel-Diego Romero

The queer-labor alliance Pride at Work, a constituent group of the AFL-CIO, added a youth brigade last year, and it’s been doing some of the most inspired organizing and advocacy in San Francisco. The Queer Youth Organizing Project can marshal dozens of teen and twentysomething activists with a strong sense of both style and social justice for its events and causes.

Founded in March 2007, QYOP has already made a big impact on San Francisco’s political scene, reviving the edgy and indignant struggle for liberation that had all but died out in the aging queer movement. Pride at Work has also been rejuvenated and challenged by QYOP’s youthful enthusiasm.

“It really is building the next generation of leaders in the queer community, and man, are they kick-ass,” says Robert Haaland, a key figure in both Service Employees International Union Local 1021 and Pride at Work. “Pride at Work is now a whole different organization.”

QYOP turned out hundreds of tenants for recent midday City Hall hearings looking at the hardball tactics of CitiApartments managers, an impressive feat that helped city officials and the general public gain a better understanding of the controversial landlord.

“They have a strong focus on tenant issues and have done good work on Prop. 98 and some tenant harassment legislation we’ve been working on,” says Ted Gullickson, director of the San Francisco Tenants Union. “They really round out the coalition between tenants and labor. They do awesome work.”

In addition to the energy and numbers QYOP brought to the campaign against the anti–rent control measure Prop. 98, the group joined the No Borders encampment at the Mexican border in support of immigrant rights and turned a protest against the Human Rights Campaign (which angered some local queers for supporting a workplace rights bill that excluded transgenders) into a combination of pointed protest and fun party outside the targeted group’s annual gala dinner.

“It’s probably some of the most interesting community organizing I’ve seen in San Francisco,” Haaland says. “It’s really made a difference in our capacity to do the work.”

As an added bonus in this essentially one-party town, QYOP is reaching young activists using mechanisms outside the traditional Democratic Party structures, an important feature for radicalized young people who are wary of partisan paradigms. And its members perhaps bring an even stronger political perspective than their Party brethren, circulating reading lists of inspiring thinkers to hone their messages.

Haaland says QYOP has reenergized him as an activist and organizer: “They’re teaching me, and it’s grounding me as an activist in a way I haven’t been for a long time.”

Steven T. Jones

The dirty fight over clean power



A charter amendment for renewable energy and public power appears headed for the November ballot, and already Pacific Gas and Electric Co. is rounding up front groups and touting inaccurate figures in an attempt to scuttle the plan.

The San Francisco Clean Energy Act, introduced by Sup. Ross Mirkarimi, would mandate that the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission "produce a comprehensive plan for providing clean, secure, cost-effective electricity for city departments and residents and businesses."

If passed, San Francisco would exceed state standards by requiring 51 percent clean, renewable energy by 2017; 75 percent by 2030; and 100 percent by 2040. Workforce development is also part of the plan, and if it’s determined that public ownership of the grid is the way to go, any employees fired by PG&E will be hired by the SFPUC.

"The San Francisco Board of Supervisors is talking about taking over PG&E," Brandon Hernandez, the corporation’s manager of government relations, said at a June 27 Rules Committee hearing on the legislation. "PG&E’s system is not for sale," he asserted. He then went on to say a takeover would cost the city "at least $4 billion."

PG&E spokesperson Darlene Chiu told the Guardian: "That’s our estimate for what our system costs in San Francisco."

But the California State Board of Equalization says all of PG&E’s state-assessed San Francisco property was worth $1.2 billion in 2007. The board’s appraisers assess PG&E’s property for tax purposes and their final figure includes millions of dollars of property that San Francisco would not want to own.

PG&E threw other punches at the city. Hernandez threatened the loss of as much as $29 million per year in taxes and charitable giving. "We no longer will be contributing to San Francisco’s nonprofits and service organizations," he said of groups that received $5 million from PG&E last year.

That money buys some political loyalty. The only organizations that spoke against the measure — the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, the Bay Area Council, and the A. Phillip Randolph Institute — all received bucks deluxe from PG&E. Between 2004 and 2006, the Chamber of Commerce Foundation received $166,000 from the utility; the Bay Area Council and Economic Forum grossed $132,500; and APRI banked slightly more than $100,000.

The Chamber’s vice president of public policy, Rob Black, criticized the move toward municipalization because it would make San Francisco, like other municipal utilities, exempt from the state-mandated 20 percent renewable energy by 2010. "The Los Angeles utility is at 48 percent coal. That’s not green, that’s not renewable. That’s something we need to be very careful about," he told the committee.

According to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, their power mix is actually 44 percent coal. But Black didn’t bother to check; he just took his figures from PG&E moments before, while conferring with Hernandez and Chiu. When questioned by the Guardian, Black said, "They didn’t come to me. I went to them."

He reiterated the concern that municipally-owned power isn’t required by the state to be clean and green, and becoming so could increase rates. "If we’re creating cheaper energy, where’s the incentive to do conservation?" he asked.

According to statistics from the meeting, the average PG&E household spends $74.55 per month on electricity, with 12 percent of the energy used hailing from renewable resources. An equivalent customer in the Sacramento Municipal Utility District has a bill of $46.60 for 18 percent renewable.

APRI’s James Bryant said his Bayview community group has issues with the costs and the idea that former PG&E employees would be hired by the city and subsequently receive worse retirement plans.

When asked if he was there because his organization gets money from PG&E, Bryant said, "Not really." He added, "I don’t have anything to do with their decisions. They don’t have anything to do with my decisions.

"Of all the amoral things PG&E does, they fund very worthy grassroots organizations and then lean on them to speak against things," Sup. Tom Ammiano said when expressing his support for the legislation. "Not only is San Francisco going to have public power, the state of California is going to have public power."

Other public comments overwhelmingly supported the measure. Some energy activists have been concerned that the legislation would derail or delay efforts to move toward renewables through the community choice aggregation (CCA) program.

Clean Energy Act excites supervisors


At today’s Rules Committee, Supervisors Bevan Dufty, Tom Ammiano, and Chris Daly, all expressed enthusiasm for San Francisco’s Clean Energy Act. Daly and Ammiano even broke into chants of “victory, victory” during discussion of approving the measure for November’s ballot.

“In 2002 I supported Prop D and I look forward to supporting this measure,” said Dufty during his comments on this new public power ballot initiative. “I think PG&E has not held the public trust in San Francisco well,” he added, citing the smear campaign PG&E launched against Mark Leno during his bid for State Senate.

The measure, known as the “San Francisco Clean Energy Act,” would amend the city charter to require that, within 120 days of passing the legislation, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission must “produce a comprehensive plan for providing clean, secure, cost effective electricity for city departments and residents and businesses.” This may include construction city-owned transmission lines, as well as procuring the resources to advance the Community Choice Aggregation plan of 51 percent renewables by 2017.

It actually goes one step farther and says if CCA falls through, the city must still get 51 percent of their energy from renewable and clean sources, 75 percent by 2030, and 100 percent by 2040. A green jobs workforce development must also be part of the plan, and if it’s determined that public ownership of the grid and resources is the way to go, any employees fired by PG&E, the private company that provides our power now, will be hired by the PUC.

Sup. Ross MIrkarimi, who introduced the measure, rattled off figures from Alameda, Santa Clara, Palo Alto, and Sacramento, all of whom have publicly-owned utilities and all of whom charge the average household rates far below PG&E.

His figures, for a 500 kilowatt hour household:

LIT: Beautiful photography exposes crude reality


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photo by Lou Dematteis

Crude Reflections opens with pastoral scenes of a rainforest lagoon and the looming roots of a giant ceiba tree. Indigenous Ecuadorians are dancing in an open-air hall and traveling by canoe down tributaries of the Amazon River. A placid stretch of water seems threatened by nothing more than a puffy white thunderhead.

Turn the page. The viewer is blasted by roiling flames: the liquid surface of a waste oil pit on fire, the foreground charred to coal, the forest horizon blurred by a shaky haze of heat.

Turn another page and the river has given way to a viscous stream of oil seeping out of a “remediated” pit. A family is walking down a road, sprayed with waste oil to keep down the dust. They are barefoot. They are the Aguindas from Rumipamba, lead plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit against Chevron,

Photographers Lou Dematteis and Kayana Szymczak have put together an unparalleled pictorial account of life in the northern Amazon region of Ecuador, where certain elements of life are cruel and crude. For over 30 years, the land, water, and people have been tossed asunder in favor of a more marketable natural resource: oil.

From 1964 to 1992, Texaco drilled for oil in the Oriente region, but chose not to employ best practices for the industry, instead dumping the waste and byproducts into 627 open, unlined pits, polluting a region three times the size of Manhattan.

Color shots by Dematteis and black and white images from Szymczak are interspersed with profiles, written in English and Spanish, of families and children who have fallen ill from decades of drilling.

“After bathing, our skin was covered with crude,” says Maria Garofalo, whose husband and daughter both suffer from different forms of cancer. “I went to the oil companies, and they said this wouldn’t affect me; that the reason I had cancer was because I didn’t have good personal hygiene.”

Jairo 02.jpg
photo by Lou Dematteis

Yum! Local food party!


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Munchies from Chez Panisse, Millenium, and Serpentine. Cubes of jack and cheddar from Spring Hill Cheese Company. Maybe a glass of sangiovese from Long Meadow Ranch or a rose from Berkeley’s Donkey and Goat winery. Cap it off with a slice of Mission Pie and scoops from Bi-Rite Creamery.

Damn. It would take all day to scoot around sampling all that, but they’ll be serving up together on Thursday down at Fort Mason, celebrating the annual release of the Bay Area Local Food Guide.

Coordinated by Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF), the food guide is the primer of all things locally grown, grilled, and garnished. Listings include farms, wineries, markets, restaurants, caterers, bakers, and food artisans, and the implicit mission is to make more people travel less for sustenance.

CAFF’s raison d’etre is to link the people who grow the food with the people who cook it, sell it, and enjoy it. Skyrocketing food and fuel prices make the ideal of “buying local” even more of an imperative, so if you’ve been searching for the perfect CSA to deliver you a box of fresh veggies every week, or you’ve been meaning to somehow get more locally-grown food into your business’ bottom line…or you just like to eat lots of good food with fun people, maybe I’ll see you there.

The event is happening Thursday, June 26 from 4:30 to 8:30 pm.

Tickets are $30 and going fast at:

Check here for more details, a schedule of events, and a full list of foodies and drinkers.