Amanda Witherell

PG&E lobbying doubletime


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image courtesy of

PG&E spent almost $2 million on lobbying during the first quarter of 2008, according to an Associated Press report today. Last year they spent just under $4 million, which means they’re pacing to spend double that this year.

As the industry tally for electric utilities on shows, PG&E is third in the national field – outranked by Southern Company and the Edison Electric Institute (basically a gigantic energy lobbying group of which PG&E is also a member.)

Of course, that’s just taking care of national business. Closer to home, the $13 billion utility company has dropped $208,357.08 this year on lobbying – mostly wining and dining California Public Utilities Commissioners, influencing election outcomes, and paying the salaries of their employees who sit on public boards like the Bay Conservation and Development Commission.

And just an FYI for y’all — the spike in PG&E lobbying in 2006, as shown in the above graph, can be traced to the $11 million the corporation spent defeating a public power campaign in Yolo County. As a public power initiative for San Francisco heads to the November 2008 ballot, can we expect another banner year of spending from PG&E?

City sues ExxonMobil


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440 Jefferson St. to Exxon: “Clean me!”

Man…city attorney Dennis Herrera is on a roll these days. Gay marriage out of the way, he’s now moved on to the largest corporation in the world. Hot.

The city is suing ExxonMobil for its “defiant refusal to address environmental damage caused by decades of disposal and release of hazardous petroleum products on property owned by the Port of San Francisco in the City’s Fisherman’s Wharf area,” according to a press release.

Mobil Oil operated a fueling facility at 440 Jefferson St. on Fisherman’s Wharf for 54 years. Documentation of leaks and spills from the site dates back to 1986, when a 1000-gallon underground fuel tank was removed. The company formally agreed to remediate the site in 1994. The city’s suit alleges they haven’t.

“The contamination is injurious to the environment, is offensive to the senses, and obstructs the free use, development and comfortable enjoyment of the city’s property,” states the 20-page complaint. [PDF]

You tell ‘em, Dennis. That area is long overdue for some comfortable enjoyment. The complaint outlines a tedious back and forth between the city, the Regional Water Quality Control Board, and ExxonMobil, on getting that shit cleaned up – all to no avail.

“There’s a whole history of broken promises,” said city attorney spokesperson Matt Dorsey. “It’s certainly within the means of ExxonMobil Corporation to remediate the environmental damage its responsible for.”

Currently worth $501.17 billion, the oil company may soon be reaping new profits as a result of no-bid Iraqi oil contracts to be granted to it, Shell, Chevron, and others, at the end of this month. (One under emphasized result of ousting Saddam Hussein is that a state-controlled resource is now open to the free market.)

Dorsey said of the relationship with ExxonMobil, “We had an agreement in 1994. I would leave it to ExxonMobil for the rationale on why it takes 14 years to clean up a site.”

A call to ExxonMobil seeking an answer to that question hasn’t been returned.

The company doesn’t have a great track record on cleaning up their messes or paying for them: they still haven’t coughed up the $2.5 billion they owe for the Valdez spill in Alaska.

They also continue to stand by the “we’ll believe it when we see it argument” when it comes to global warming. That is – when they’re not busy funding skeptics to deliberately obfuscate the truth of the matter.

Let’s change the bike laws



Should bicyclists be allowed to treat stop signs as “yields” and stop lights like stop signs? Tomorrow, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s Bicycle working group will be pondering the question.

Idaho, recognizing the law of momentum is just as important as the vehicle traffic code, already adopted this practice back in 1982. And it’s working out fine, as guest writer Rachel Daigle pointed out in our special bike issue this year.

A piece in today’s Examiner highlighted naysaying from the Police Department about how this could increase accidents.

What if the exact opposite happened? What if changing the law to favor cyclists actually decreased accidents?

We all know most cyclists disregard the letter of the law because it’s really annoying to come to a full, unclipped stop at an empty intersection. Even Capt. Greg Corrales, chief of SFPD’s traffic company, was quoted in the Examiner saying, “There’s a small minority of bicyclists who actually obey the law.”

So let’s look at that. How difficult would it be – in fact, how difficult has it been – to break the will of cyclists? Clearly, ticketing cyclists doesn’t work – it’s a waste of strapped SFPD staff and resources and I’ll be the first to testify that my ticket for blowing through a stop sign only created a lot of resentment.

As it stands now, every intersection where a bike meets a car is a free for all. No driver really knows how a cyclist is going to behave because there is such a range of compliance with the law,

Instead, what if it were understood that at an intersection a cyclist was expected to roll through the sign and stop at the light, then wouldn’t that improve things?

This isn’t a call to toss safety to the wind. I’m a cautious cyclist: I function under the premise that no one can see me and I’m in constant and imminent danger of being creamed by a car. I would argue most smart cyclists also follow that creed and should continue to if California law were changed.

To that end, anyone interested in this issue should attend the meeting tomorrow at 1pm, at the MetroCenter Claremont Conference Room.

This memo [PDF], from Sean Co to the commission, outlines some of the issues really well.

Humanize humanity! Theatre of the Oppressed workshop


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A two-day Theatre of the Oppressed workshop is coming to the Bay Area in July. It’s open to anyone interested in learning how to use theatre as a way to get people to understand and care about social, environmental, and political justice issues. It’s been used in prisons, schools, war zones, rural villages, and urban streets. Founded in 1970 in Brazil by Augusto Boal, it’s now an international movement. There’s a short but sweet history of it here.

In short, it’s pretty frickin’ cool.

Details and how to apply in the jump.

Another shelter down



Inside the front door of the Marian Residence for Women, a small handmade sign by a former resident advises newcomers, "Don’t compare this place to any others."

But I’ve stayed in the city-funded homeless shelters, and after a night at Marian, it’s hard not to rave about the differences. I’m given an actual bed to sleep on, with freshly laundered sheets, blankets, and a pillow. The bathrooms and showers are clean, and I’m offered every toiletry I could possibly need — as well as pajamas. Dinner is a wholesome meal of turkey, potatoes, and steamed greens — not the mystery meat on Wonder bread I received at the city’s MSC South shelter.

And unlike the tension I’ve witnessed at other shelters, the atmosphere inside Marian is close to pacific. After dinner, the 29 other women shower, read, rest on their beds, work on their laptops, or talk quietly while sitting at small tables in the common area. After my mandatory shower, I sit with an employee who explains the rules — be respectful of others, no drinking or drugs, and don’t forget to do my chore, which is assisting with dinner service. As long as I’m home by 7 p.m., I can have my bed as long as I need it.

That is, she clarifies, until the end of August — when they’re closing the shelter. For good.

Marian is a casualty of a plan by St. Anthony Foundation to cut $3 million from the foundation’s operating budget. In addition to closing the $1.2 million Marian facility, which houses 30 women in the emergency shelter and 27 in a transitional program, St. Anthony also will shutter its 315-acre organic dairy farm in Petaluma, currently used as a rehabilitation program for homeless addicts. Its Senior Outreach and Social Services [SOSS] is also losing staff and office space as it consolidates with the Social Work Center.

Five of the foundation’s 11 programs face cuts, the result of a two-year sustainability study that St. Anthony’s executive director, Father John Hardin, said will keep the charity out of a fiscal tailspin.

"We’re not in a financial crisis," he told the Guardian. "The reason we’re doing this is so we won’t be in a financial crisis."

He said the closures reflect the organization’s desire to get back to basics.

But, as one of the 40 soon-to-be-laid-off employees said, "They’ve said they want to refocus on basic services, but I see shelter as a basic service."

St. Anthony receives no city money for the work it does, but the closures are occurring in what’s already a war zone of budget cuts for social services in San Francisco. The loss of any of St. Anthony’s programs affects the city as a whole.

"Are we concerned? Yes," said Dave Knego of Curry Senior Services, which frequently refers seniors the group can’t help to St. Anthony’s SOSS program. "Unfortunately, we already have a waiting list, and the city’s cutting our funding back by 10 percent."

The closure of Marian is yet another sign of the slow erosion of shelter space in San Francisco. Since July 2004, 364 shelter spots have disappeared. By the end of August, Marian’s 57 beds and Ella Hill Hutch’s 100 mats will be gone as well. "You can’t afford to lose 57 beds, especially in a place where women are being treated like human beings," said Western Regional Advocacy Project’s Paul Boden, who’s worked with homeless services in the city since the 1980s. "What I thought was really ironic was there wasn’t any attempt to build a community effort to discuss how to save this facility. These beds are an incredibly important community resource."

Some of the women who live in the transitional program at Marian wanted to rally and save the shelter. "First and foremost was to try to save Marian Residence for Women," said Leticia Hernandez, a two-year resident of the transitional program who still hasn’t lined up a place to go when the shelter closes. "Even if we couldn’t save it, we thought it was still worth a try because any money that would come would go back to them." The women drafted a letter asking for help, which they’d hoped management would distribute to the press and public.

The foundation, Hernandez said, had a "thanks, but no thanks" response.

Hardin told us that St. Anthony’s wasn’t facing a financial crisis, so "we’re not going to get up and cry wolf. We want to go back to some of the basics. We’re turning people away from the clinic," he pointed out.

He agreed that shelter was a basic service, but said, "We can’t do it all."

The foundation wouldn’t detail its intentions for the building once it’s vacated Aug. 31, beyond affirming that it would be rented. "That’s going to be an income generator," said foundation spokesperson Francis Aviani. "We are hoping to get a social service agency to use the space in the way it’s designed for, helping folks."

Multiple St. Anthony employees said they were told the facility would be used for medical respite — beds set aside for people who aren’t in critical condition, but are too ill or fragile to mingle with the general population and have nowhere else to go — and a St. Anthony board member confirmed that was the only plan presented to the board.

Marc Trotz, director of the San Francisco Department of Public Health’s Housing and Urban Health division, which oversees its $2.5 million, 60-bed medical respite program currently housed in two facilities, told us the city is looking for a new respite site. He confirmed that the Marian building is a facility the agency has seriously considered. "We’re not looking to push one program out in favor of another or anything like that." But, he said, "It’s a potential site that would work well."

While St. Anthony is cutting $3 million in programs, foundation staffers have been working for several years on a $22 million capital campaign for a new administrative building at 150 Golden Gate Ave. The building will replace a facility at 121 Golden Gate, where offices, the clinic, an employment center, and a dining room are currently housed. The popular dining room — which serves 2,600 meals a day — will ultimately move back to 121 Golden Gate after the building is razed and rebuilt to meet modern earthquake safety standards. The project is part of another $20 million campaign that includes a partnership with Mercy Housing to build affordable rentals on the upper floors.

St. Anthony staffers say the types of donors who will contribute to a new building are very different from those who will fund ongoing programs.

Meanwhile, food costs in the dining room have increased 18 percent in the last three months, and St. Anthony staffers expect another 25 percent increase during the coming quarter. At the same time, other free food programs in the city have closed, which means St. Anthony is seeing new faces in the dining room.

Aviani confirmed that donations have increased 8 percent to 10 percent, but the group receives very few "unrestricted" funds. Most of the money is earmarked for the dining room. In a way, she said, "that’s the community deciding what they want."

A third of the organization’s $19.7 million budget comes from bequests — a form of donation that has waxed and waned in recent years. According to Aviani, the foundation has yet to receive a single bequest this year.

The group has increased grants and deployed new fundraising methods, but she said that "The amount of grants out there for shelters and women’s programs are few and far between." She acknowledged that shelters are needed, and said St. Anthony has been "pretty outspoken about that."

The foundation has kept a tight lid on talk about the closures. None of the employees contacted by the Guardian would speak on the record — for fear, they said, of losing their severance packages.

Aviani said severance packages — which include pay and personal job coaching — are not on the line. "We asked them not to create a gossip chain, to stay focused on their work, and when people have questions, direct them to me. We didn’t say they couldn’t talk to anyone at all. That wasn’t the message at all."

Whether or not the gag order was intentional, it has had an effect and created suspicion about the foundation’s true intentions.

Even the city deferred to the organization when questioned about the potential plan to rent the Marian building and use it as a medical respite facility. "We’re not going to talk about that," said DPH spokesperson Eileen Shields. "We’re going to let St. Anthony talk about that at this point because it’s St. Anthony’s call."

On Feb. 14, Newsom — who has said shelters don’t solve homelessness — announced he would like to redesign the city’s shelters and called on the community to come up with suggestions. One of his specific suggestions was to create more medical respite centers.

In May, the Local Homeless Coordinating Board, which is chaired by Hardin, released a report outlining a number of detailed suggestions for improving city-funded shelters and services. It specifically stated that shelter beds shouldn’t be sacrificed to make room for respite.

The Mayor’s Office has yet to formally respond to the report, but at the June 2 LHCB meeting, Kayhan said there were a few things he felt confident the mayor would endorse.

"We heard loud and clear: more senior beds," Kayhan said. "And I’ll add to that women’s beds." He said that respite care would be "moving and co-locating with another location. We think that could free up space at one of the shelters." And, he added, that space could be allocated to women or seniors.

Which makes it sound like more beds for women and seniors are in the works — but considering the elimination of Marian and a shelter at Ella Hill Hutch Community Center, the city is still looking at a net loss of places for the homeless to sleep at night.

Board member Laura Guzman, who runs the Mission Neighborhood Resource Center, said she heard Hardin announce the Marian closure at a May 5 meeting. "He said it was a very difficult decision. I believe he said we’re going to try to open some medical respite beds," Guzman said. "All along we’ve said we don’t want to replace shelter with medical respite beds, but that’s exactly what’s happening."

Shuttering Marian is just one more loss in an environment of dwindling resources for women. Buster’s Place, the only 24-hour drop-in center for men and women, closed in March, and was replaced by a smaller facility that only allows men.

Five of the city’s other shelters have sections for women, but one of them is slated to close as well and none can offer a women-only safe space like Marian. A Woman’s Place is the only other all-female facility, and its 15 mats on the floor are always full. "With Marian closing, there’s going to be more of a demand on the total system," said Janet Goy, executive director of Community Awareness and Training Services, which runs A Woman’s Place. "It’s a loss, no question."

Emily Murase of the Commission on the Status of Women said it’s difficult to accurately count homeless women because women tend to take more measures than men to stay off the streets, though they may not necessarily be safely housed. Women are more prone to couch-surf, stay in abusive relationships, or settle for some other kind of compromised situation.

Murase’s group now funds a special women-only program at Glide Memorial Church, whose director, Willa Seldon, said, "We’re certainly seeing an increase in volume of women in the city to our programs. In October, we were seeing 11 in our support groups. That increased to 18 by March. It could definitely be related to Buster’s Place closing."

Hardin acknowledged the need for women’s shelters but said the city ought to take on the burden. "Maybe closing the Marian is a tipping point," he said. "As I said in front of the Board of Supervisors, it’s the government’s responsibility to provide the safety net. We’re the hands beneath the safety net."

Sandy Van Dusen has been living in the transitional program for a year and a half since her husband was murdered. She’s been told that she is about to get a studio apartment. She’s visibly excited about the move, and grateful to the foundation. But, she says, she’s still been crying every day since she heard Marian is closing. "They saved my life," she says, crying a little now. "They’re doing what they told me to never do — throw in the towel."


Sunshine Task Force shoe-in shot down


Chalk this one up in the “take nothing for granted” category.

The Board of Supervisors at today’s meeting gave an empty seat on the Sunshine Task Force to James Knoebber, rather than David Waggoner — the candidate recommended by Rules Committee. The switch came from Sup. Sean Elsbernd, who happens to be sitting on the opposite side of the courtroom as Waggoner in a case currently before the Ethics Commission.

Yet, there was no discussion about the amendment from Elsbernd to vote in Knoebber over Waggoner. The supes voted 9-1 in favor of Knoebber, ignoring the recommendation from the Rules Committee.

As one witness told us, “Nobody said anything except Elsbernd. They just voted. It smacked of an insider deal. The proper thing to do would be to send it back to Rules.”

On May 15, the Rules Committee (comprised of Ammiano, Dufty, and Daly) recommended Waggoner to the seat — an attorney with experience using the Sunshine Ordinance and who other task force members had looked forward to working with.

Waggoner expressed some shock at the news. “I don’t really know the back story yet. I don’t know why the supervisors changed their votes,” he told us. “At the Rule Committee, the conversation was about former chair Doug Comstock [the incumbent for the seat] and myself. They barely discussed the other candidate.”

“Supervisor Daly in particular mentioned I was very well qualified,” he recalled.

Daly is apparently the only one that stuck to his guns and was the lone dissent on the vote (though Maxwell was out of the room.)

A call of Ammiano on why he changed his vote has not been returned.

But here’s the back story:

Stunning doublespeak on electricity rates



While PG&E is requesting the California Public Utilities Commission allow them a 6.5 percent electricity rate hike over the next six months, ostensibly to cover skyrocketing natural gas prices, they’re telling local citizens they’re expecting prices to drop.

In Marin County, our neighbors to the north have been listening to PG&E lobbyists criticize their county’s plan to provide 100 percent renewable energy to residents through Community Choice Aggregation. Their CCA plan, called Marin Clean Energy, will offer customers 25 percent renewable energy by 2009 twice what PG&E offers, and for the same rate. Customers who want to pay a little more can go 100 percent renewable right out of the gate. Ultimately, they’ll scale the 25 up to 51 percent by 2013, and 100 percent thereafter.

Marin argues that 100 percent renewable energy is a more fiscally responsible way to go – precisely because natural gas prices are volatile and will continue to rise. But PG&E says Marin’s plan is too risky and too costly. You can read PG&E’s critique of the plan, and Marin’s apt rebuttal, here.

But recent testimony from Dawn Weisz, MCE’s planner, sums it up pretty succinctly.

“Their [PG&E’s] main criticism is that we won’t be able to achieve the cost benefits,” Weisz told a May 23, 2008 meeting of San Francisco’s Local Agency Formation Commission, who had invited her to brief them on their CCA’s progress. Weisz said they had an independent third party analyze the CCA plan and PG&E’s critique.

The analyst found a key flaw in PG&E’s logic. “They’re using a gas forecast that assumes gas will be 14 percent cheaper in 12 years,” Weisz said.

At this, the entire LAFCO board broke out in laughter. Any sane person knows that isn’t going to happen. As Weisz pointed out, natural gas prices rose an average of 30 percent over the last five years, and as the San Francisco Chronicle reported today, they’re 63 percent higher than they were a year ago. Natural gas is a fossil fuel just like crude oil, and speculators are having their day with it, too.

But PG&E is using their estimate to contend their prices will be cheaper than MCE’s over the long run, so you best not switch services. And as we can see from the awkwardly placed chart to the left, PG&E”s rates have only and ever gone up.

As PG&E continues to cling to their fossil fuel infrastructure, and combats communities who attempt to prove viable, renewable alternatives are possible, we should expect to see PG&E pleading at the CPUC for more and more rate hikes.

Newsom’s power play



GREEN CITY Mayor Gavin Newsom finally outlined what he calls a "more promising way forward than the current proposal" of building two publicly owned power plants in San Francisco.

The way forward: retrofit three existing diesel turbines at the Mirant-Potrero Power Plant, while simultaneously shutting down Mirant’s most polluting smokestack, Unit 3.

Newsom wrote a letter to the Board of Supervisors just before a June 3 hearing on the power plants, describing a May 23 meeting that he convened with SFPUC General Manager Ed Harrington, City Attorney Dennis Herrera, California Independent System Operator President Yakout Mansour, California Public Utilities Commission Chair Mike Peevey, Mirant CEO Ed Muller, and Pacific Gas & Electric Co. CEO Bill Morrow.

"In the meeting, we vetted the possibility of retrofitting the diesel turbines [currently owned and operated by Mirant] and asked each stakeholder to give us the necessary commitments to advance this alternative," Newsom wrote. The board then voted to shelve the power plant plan until July 15 so the retrofit option can be vetted.

Most significant, Newsom’s meeting with top dogs at energy companies, who stand to lose a lot from San Francisco owning its own power source — and the resulting correspondence elicited a new response from Cal-ISO, the state’s power grid operator, about exactly how much electricity generation San Francisco needs.

For the first time, Cal-ISO said it will allow Mirant’s Unit 3 to close as early as 2010, when the 400-MW Transbay Cable comes online, saying that the city no longer needs to install a combustion turbine peaker plant at the airport.

Sup. Sophie Maxwell expressed frustration that the questions she, her staff, and other stakeholders have been asking for the past several years are suddenly getting different answers. "I think we’re seeing a big movement by Cal-ISO. This is huge. Before, we asked all these questions, [but] they weren’t saying what they’re saying now," she told the Guardian after the hearing.

When asked why she thought this was happening now, she simply pointed to PG&E. "Who stands to benefit from us not generating our own power? Who sent out all that stuff?" she asked, referring to the flyers depicting filthy power plants that PG&E has been mailing to residents in an effort to drum up public sentiment against the city’s plan to build peakers. "Have they been concerned about what’s clean, about our people?"

Some environmental activists are hailing the change as a triumph. "David has just moved Goliath, but we need to keep pushing," said Josh Arce of Brightline Defense, which sued to stop the city’s plan to build the two power plants. He said his organization’s goal is ultimately to have no fossil fuel plants in the city. But when asked about the retrofit alternative, he said, "We don’t support it; we don’t not support it."

Cal-ISO has insisted that San Francisco needs 150 MW of electricity to stave off blackouts. This grid reliability is currently provided by Mirant-Potrero, but the plant’s Unit 3 is the greatest stationary source of pollution in the city. Bayview residents, who have borne a disproportionate share of the city’s industrial pollution, have been agitating for more than seven years to close the plant. Much of the leadership has come from Maxwell, who represents the district and has championed the plan to replace the older Mirant units with four new ones owned and operated by the city.

That vision was integrated into San Francisco’s 2004 Energy Action Plan, which Cal-ISO has used as a guiding document for the city’s energy future. The plan outlines a way to close Mirant by installing four CTs and 200 MW of replacement power. "Cal-ISO has consistently said in writing, in verbal instructions, and at meetings, that the CTs are the only specific project that was sufficient to remove the RMR [reliability must-run contract] from Mirant," said SFPUC spokesperson Tony Winnicker.

As San Francisco’s energy plans have evolved over recent years, SFPUC staff have been instructed at numerous public hearings in front of the Board of Supervisors to ask Cal-ISO if all four CTs are still necessary. Letters obtained by the Guardian show Cal-ISO has never said the airport CT isn’t necessary until now. When asked why, Cal-ISO spokesperson Stephanie McCorkle said, "The questions are not the same. That’s why the answers are different."

When pushed for more details on what’s different, she said, "We feel the introduction of the Mirant retrofit fundamentally changes our approach to the fourth peaker. I think it’s the megawatts. It’s basically the retrofit that changes the picture."

Mirant’s peakers currently put out 156 MW, an amount that may be reduced by retrofitting. The city’s three peakers would produce 150 MW. Winnicker couldn’t explain why the story is changing, telling us, "We’re really deferring to the leadership of the mayor and the board because they’ve been able to get a really different view from Cal-ISO than we’ve been able to get."

"We’ve always said we’re open to alternatives," McCorkle said. "We can only evaluate what’s presented to us and the Mirant retrofit was only presented in mid-May." Opponents of the peaker plan say the new position indicates SFPUC officials haven’t been pushing Cal-ISO hard enough or asking the right questions.

"The city hasn’t done its due diligence insisting on different configurations of the peakers," Sup. Ross Mirkarimi told us. "What we’re learning now we could have learned two years ago." He went on to add, "With the abundant paper trail, one can only surmise or conclude there may have been a presupposed bias on the part of the PUC to the answers expected from Cal-ISO."

The SFPUC has been instructed by the mayor’s office to determine if Mirant retrofit diesels would be as clean as the city’s CTs. Until that can be proved, some are withholding support.

"I haven’t seen any information that a Mirant retrofit is as clean as the peakers," City Attorney Dennis Herrera told the Guardian. "From my perspective, I want the most environmentally clean solution."

To that end, some would like to see a formal presentation to Cal-ISO of a "transmission-only" alternative, which would outline a number of line upgrades and efficiencies that would obviate the need for any in-city power plants. Sup. Maxwell introduced a resolution urging the SFPUC to put such a proposal before Cal-ISO and to enact strict criteria for any alternative to the city’s CTs.

"We need to remember that Mirant was a bad actor. Mirant is not to be trusted," Maxwell said. "We sued them and we won our suit," she added, citing litigation brought by the city against the private company for operating the power plants in excess of its permitted hours and for market manipulation during the 2001-02 energy crisis.

Maxwell’s legislation, cosigned by six other supervisors, lays those concerns out and cautions, "In view of this history, the city should be cautious and vigilant in taking any steps that expand the operation of Mirant’s facilities in San Francisco."

The legislation also reminds policymakers that San Francisco’s Electricity Resource Plan identifies eight specific goals — one of which is to "increase local control over energy resources." It goes on to say, "City ownership of electric generating supplies can reduce the risk of market power abuses and enable the city to mandate the use of cleaner fuels when feasible or to close down any such generation when it is no longer needed."

Maxwell’s resolution also outlines a series of conditions that any alternative to the city’s peakers would have to meet. The alternative would have to be as clean or cleaner than the city peakers, have the same comprehensive community benefits package that was attached to the city’s peaker plan, have no impact on the bay’s water, and only be run for reliability needs.

The City Attorney’s Office said these criteria are not set in stone — it’s a resolution and therefore requires some level of enforcement or action. Mirkarimi, who signed on to the resolution, is still uncomfortable with it as it stands, saying it should include discussion of the city’s new community choice aggregation (CCA) plan for creating renewable public power projects.

Some environmentalists cautioned that the transmission-only approach still leaves too much control in the hands of others. "We shouldn’t let PG&E be the ones to solve this problem," said Eric Brooks, a Green Party rep and founder of Community Choice Energy Alliance. He’s urging city officials to put all the city’s energy intentions — from the CCA plan for 51 percent renewables by 2017 to an exploration of city-funded transmission upgrades — into a presentation for Cal-ISO.

Brooks noted a conspicuous absence from the May 23 meeting with the mayor: "CCA and environmentalists weren’t at the table, as usual."

Wow! Homeless people win for once!


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photo courtesy of Indybay

It looks like the city of Fresno will be writing a big fat check to 225 homeless people who sued when city workers trashed their belongings in a series of raids on encampments in 2006.

Homeless people, with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, and the private firm of Heller Ehrman LLP, filed a class action lawsuit against the city of Fresno and the California Department of Transportation, claiming their possessions were seized and destroyed without their notice. Back in 2006, the city was barred from continuing the raids by a preliminary injunction. And today United States District Judge Oliver W. Wanger gave preliminary approval to a $2.35 million dollar settlement for what occurred during those raids.

“It’s completely unprecedented,” LCCR’s, Anayma de Frias, told us, adding that they’d been hoping to get something, but nothing as substantial as this.

The terms are as follows:

Cal-ISO totally changes tune on power plants


Oh my. For all you folks that have been following the controversy around building new power plants in San Francisco, it just got even better.

Mayor Gavin Newsom sent a letter to the Board of Supervisors today outlining a “more promising way forward than the current proposal” to build two natural gas-burning “peaking” power plants in the city.

The way forward: retrofit three existing diesel turbines at the Mirant-Potrero Power Plant, while at the same time shutting down Unit 3, the most polluting part of the power plant, as soon as the Transbay Cable comes online.

“On Friday, May 23, Ed Harrington [General Manager of the SFPUC], City Attorney Dennis Herrera and I met with president of Cal-ISO – Yakout Mansour, the chairman of the CPUC – Mike Peevey, the CEO of Mirant – Ed Muller, the CEO of PG&E – Bill Morrow, and our respective staffs. In this meeting we vetted the possibility of retrofitting the diesel turbines [currently owned and operated by Mirant] and asked each stakeholder to give us the necessary commitments to advance this alternative,” Newsom wrote to the Board.

For anyone who’s been closely following the nuances of this argument, this is a significant change in position from the California Independent System Operator [Cal-ISO], and it should be noted that it took — not just the Mayor sitting down at the table — but top dogs from PG&E and Mirant (who both stand to lose money by the city building its own power plants), as well as the CPUC’s Peevey, who’s never expressed a positive opinion about the true need for more power plants in the city.

Now, suddenly, Cal-ISO is departing significantly from all previously expressed demands that we build power plants.

The background: The state, through Cal-ISO, has for the last several years insisted that San Francisco needs 150 megawatts of peak electricity at the ready. We currently get this from Mirant-Potrero, but Unit 3 of that facility has a bad rep as the greatest single source of pollution in the city. People in the Bayview neighborhood, which have carried more of their fair share of pollution, have been waiting a long time for the plant to close. Stakeholders have been meeting for over seven years, working on ways to close the plant, and much of the leadership on the issue has come from Sup. Sophie Maxwell, who represents the Bayview district.

Cal-ISO has insisted that the only way to close Unit 3 is to build new peakers, which would be owned and operated by the city, run cleaner and more efficiently, and still supply that 150 MW of peak power. Even when the 400 MW Transbay Cable was approved, Cal-ISO insisted San Francisco would still need the peakers.

But in a June 2 letter, Cal-ISO suddenly had a different response for the Mayor.

Budget picks on poor and infirm


The Coalition on Homelessness has done a quick survey of the budget slashes that were announced today.

To sum, if you’re a cop, you’re psyched. If you’re down on your luck, without a place to stay and off your meds, and the city’s been helping you sort all that out….well, you’ve got until the end of the month to get it together.

From COH’s executive director, Jennifer Friedenbach:

Mayor Newsom released a budget today that will terminate critical health and human services, while pumping up salaries for police by 25% and adding many new high paid patronage positions into his own administration.

Some highlights of the devastating impact of the budget include:

1) Closure of Ella Hill Hutch shelter, serving up to 100 people every night in the Western Addition.

2) Closure of Caduceus Outreach Services, a mental health treatment and wrap around support program for severely disabled homeless adults with co-existing addictive disorders.

3) Almost total elimination (66% cut) of “SRO Families United,” a program for families with dependent children living in hotels.

4) Cut of 22% to residential substance abuse and mental health treatment programs budgets. This includes:

a. Removal of support from Conard supportive housing program for severe psychiatric disabilities.
b. Closure of Cortland Acute Diversion Unit for individuals in psychiatric crisis.
c. Loss of 12 out of 24 community based medically supported detox beds.
d. Many more residential cuts yet to be determined.

5) Cut of 30% to all outpatient substance abuse and mental health treatment

6) Almost total elimination of STOP treatment program.

7) 1,600 people lose psychiatric treatment through Private Provider Network.

8) Closure of Tenderloin Health, homeless multi-service center in the Tenderloin serving over 300 people a day, 16,000 unduplicated people a year. Program provides health services, HIV case management, HIV prevention, mental health services, harm reduction work, improving quality of life by getting people out of rain, providing hygiene kits, bathrooms, snacks, crisis intervention, 30, 000 shelter reservations a year.

Mayor’s plan for changing homeless shelters



At today’s Local Homeless Coordinating Board meeting, Mayor Gavin Newsom’s homelessness “czar,” Dariush Kayhan, briefed the group on new ideas for improving city-funded shelters that he and the mayor have been hashing over.

There were just a few, and most of them seem like they need coordination more than cash, but they all answer, to some extent, some of the calls for help that have been coming from the city’s homeless shelter system.

All of this comes from a Feb. 14 announcement by Mayor Newsom that he’d like to redesign the city’s shelters, (the day after SFBG published an expose on conditions inside.) At the announcement, Newsom discussed possibly consolidating shelters into larger facilities, offering more medical respite care, and bringing Project Homeless Connect into the shelters. Ultimately, he called on the people working in San Francisco’s homeless services industry to come up with for how to make shelters better.

Since then, a series of long, comprehensive meetings have been held to gather ideas from homeless people, shelter clients and employees, non-profit groups, medical and mental services providers, and advocates. Meetings were held at shelters and other places convenient to the homeless population (though at all the meetings I attended there was a lot of criticism that the forums weren’t drawing in enough actual homeless people.) Topics tackled included problems accessing the shelters and the quality of medical and other support services — and suggestions were plenty. The Local Board pulled together a report, outlining the most frequent, concrete, and consensual, the most repeated being: don’t reduce the number of beds. (Too bad: The Human Services Agency cut the shelter at Ella Hill Hutch from their budget, which means, as of June 30, 100 fewer mats will be available every night unless advocates rally the Board of Supervisors to put the funding back.) The other biggest cry was for more services in general, made more easily accessible, and a number of really smart ideas came out for how to do that and are included in the report [PDF].

Kayhan said he and the Mayor would be putting together an official response to the report with more concrete details of their vision. In the meantime, he threw a few ideas to the meeting.

They include:

Why is PG&E attacking Leno on education?


It’s not like schools are their business – at all. But the $13 billion utility company is the big money behind recent television ads depicting Mark Leno as a foe of children and schools.

“San Francisco Assemblyman Mark Leno claims that he’s for better schools,” the ad informs, according to a transcript provided by the California Teacher’s Association. “Yet in 2004, it was Leno who joined Republicans, and with one vote to spare, cut $3.1 billion from California schools.”

Actually, said CTA in a news release, “It distorts Leno’s support for a state budget in 2004 that temporarily reduced some funding for schools. The budget was approved by the Legislature with bipartisan support in that financially difficult year for the state.”

CTA, which represents 90 percent of the state’s educators, endorsed Leno in the District 3 State Senate race, and held a rally today in Mill Valley to affirm their support and criticize PG&E.

“Why is PG&E behind this?” CTA’s Mike Myslinski wondered when we spoke to him. “Leno has a strong education record and parents and teachers are very disturbed by this ad.”

The ad was attributed to a political action committee called “Protect Our Kids,” which late independent expenditure filings [PDF] with the CA Secretary of State show is heavily funded by CALIFORNIANS FOR A CLEAN ENERGY FUTURE, A COALITION OF ENVIRONMENTALISTS, TAXPAYERS, AND PACIFIC GAS AND ELECTRIC COMPANY. [PDF]

Looks like the San Francisco Police Officers Association, as well as a couple of out of state companies, also kicked in to cover the $100,000 in cash that’s been spent on anti-Leno propaganda that has nothing to do with energy – clean or otherwise. But, as CTA points out, “The PG&E-funded ad comes at a time when one of Leno’s opponents in the Senate race, Joe Nation, is being criticized for his huge financial support from business interests. PG&E is a supporter of Nation.”

It wasn’t all that long ago Leno was shaking hands with PG&E over at the LGBT center.

Marin goes 100% renewable…with natural gas


photo of PG&E’s Pittsburg power plant (now owned by Mirant) in front of a horizon full of SMUD’s windmills, courtesy Barbara George of Women’s Energy Matters

I’ve been reading through the Marin Clean Energy plan, which is designed to offer customers in 12 potential cities in Marin County the possibility of powering their homes and businesses with 100 percent renewable energy. How can this be, and how can San Francisco do the same?

Their community choice aggregation plan offers folks two options: “light” green (25 percent renewable, ramping up to 50 percent by 2014) or “deep” green (100 percent renewable right out of the gate.) Initially, this will be achieved through power purchase agreements with third-party renewable energy suppliers, while at the same time contracting to build their own renewable power sources and encouraging citizens, through incentives, to put up their own solar panels and wind vanes. (Studies have shown that Marin County has the potential for as much as 846 megawatts of renewables, mostly from solar and wind, though biomass and methane capture are also achievable, especially with all those dairy farms.) The county’s draw is about 240 megawatts.

But my question was if they would still need to rely on natural gas or any other “conventional” power sources as they transition, or to meet peak needs and state-mandated reliability standards.

I queried Tim Rosenfeld, of the Marin Energy Management Team, who has been consulting the county on the plan. “We can’t abandon conventional natural gas generation,” he told me. “It will still be there for firming and shaping our grid, but we will be able to ‘green’ it through our renewable generation.”

Ongoing threat



The debate over city plans to build and own two combustion turbine power plants, a project Mayor Gavin Newsom has made a last minute effort to alter, shows that public power — and Pacific Gas & Electric Co.’s fear of it — is still a significant issue at City Hall.

Newsom, a past advocate of the project, pulled the plug on its progress May 13. The proposal for the natural gas–fired power plants to handle peak energy demand (called "peakers") was up for approval at the Board of Supervisors until Newsom requested a one-week continuance.

Christine DeBerry, the mayor’s liaison to the board, told supervisors the mayor would use the time to aggressively pursue better options than the peakers, even though it’s an item that spent eight years on the planning block and was approved by the Newsom-appointed San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.

"What can be aggressively pursued in the next week that hasn’t been aggressively pursued in the last few years?" asked Sup. Chris Daly, one of the four supervisors publicly opposed to the plan, questioning DeBerry on why the mayor and his SFPUC hadn’t put forth the best energy project.

"The mayor engaged in a full exploration of the options over the last several years," DeBerry said, but wants to ensure the city is considering all options.

"Are you anticipating there’s going to be a new technological breakthrough in the next several days?" Daly asked before casting the lone vote against granting the continuance. As of the Guardian‘s press time, the plan’s hearing was scheduled for May 20, but sources said June 3 would be more likely. Newsom Press Secretary Nathan Ballard would not confirm whether another continuance would be requested or discuss what alternatives the mayor’s office is pursuing.

But it appears that the new technological breakthrough being pursued by the mayor’s office is actually a retrofit of an older, existing power plant in Potrero Hill, owned by Mirant Corp.

Sam Lauter, representing Mirant on the issue, said the company has been answering questions about a retrofit from diesel to natural gas for its three turbines. Mirant already agreed to close the older natural gas units at its Potrero plant once the $15 million contract, which requires the plant to maintain the reliability of the power grid, is pulled by California Independent System Operator (Cal-ISO). Lauter also said Mirant’s redevelopment of the site for commercial use would still happen if the board decides a retrofit of Mirant is a better deal than building city-owned power plants.

As of the Guardian‘s deadline, no sources could provide any solid numbers on what a retrofit would cost and if pollution would be more, less, or equal to what the city anticipates from the peakers. But, Lauter told us, "The cost is considerably less than the cost of the peakers."

The contract with Cal-ISO could mean that the costs of retrofitting the diesels would be passed on to ratepayers. As for the pollution, Lauter said it’s not an easy answer and depends on how often the units have to run: "It’s not exactly correct to say they’d be less polluting, and it’s not exactly correct to say they’d be more polluting."

Barbara Hale, SFPUC’s assistant general manager of power, agreed there are still many uncertainties about retrofitting Mirant, including permits for the plant, restraints on how much it could operate, exactly how much it would pollute, and if it would even meet Cal-ISO’s demand for 150 megawatts of in-city generation. "I’m told by engineers that when generators go through a retrofit, often their megawatt capacity goes down," Hale told us. Each Mirant diesel unit currently puts out 52 megawatts.

As for other options Newsom requested from the agency, Hale said they’re exploring how to get more demand response and efficiency from the existing grid.

That suggestion comes from Pacific Gas and Electric Co., which actively opposes the city’s peaker plan and sent representatives to meet with Newsom’s staff May 5 (while Newsom was in Israel with Lauter, who said the two did not discuss Mirant or the peakers while overseas), shortly before he sought the delay.

PG&E spokesperson Darlene Chiu confirmed the contents of the proposal as presented to the mayor’s staff, which includes ways to eke more from the grid as well as a new transmission line between two substations.

Tony Winnicker, spokesperson from the PUC, said of PG&E’s plan: "We absolutely support each of these projects, think they’re long overdue improvements to the city’s transmission reliability, and hope they are committing the necessary funding to begin and complete them."

He added that there is little in the plan that differs from a past PG&E proposal that Cal-ISO rejected — except the new transmission line. But, he said, its target completion date of 2012-13 was "very ambitious, given that they haven’t even started the permitting."

PG&E’s Chiu, a former spokesperson for Mayor Newsom, didn’t respond to a question about the time frame for such a project, nor did she comment on whether PG&E considers the city’s ownership of the peakers a threat to its jurisdiction.

She didn’t have to. While City Hall scrambled to come up with an alternative that hasn’t been vetted during the last eight years of community meetings, city studies, and negotiations, PG&E was telling its shareholders that the threat of public power is alive and well.

At the May 14 annual meeting of PG&E investors, held at the San Ramon Conference Center, CEO Peter Darbee assured the assembled, "I, too, am concerned about municipalization and community choice aggregation."

He was responding to a criticism from an employee and member of Engineers and Scientists of California Local 20, who said PG&E shouldn’t be contracting outside the company because it created an experienced proxy workforce ripe for employment by another entity, like a municipality, that would be a threat to PG&E’s jurisdiction.

In responding, Darbee recalled the recent efforts in Yolo County, where the county attempted to defect from PG&E and join the Sacramento Municipal Utility District. "Peter, it’s half-time, your team is down, you better get directly involved with this," he said of the potential loss of 70,000 customers. The company mustered 1,000 employees to volunteer their time, walking from house to house and knocking on doors, prior to the November 2006 vote. "I was one of them," he said. "That vote went overwhelmingly in favor of PG&E."

Beyond knocking on doors, PG&E dropped $11 million on the campaign, outspending the competition 10 to 1.

But Darbee said it was a real victory in a state like California. "There’s always been in the water a desire for public power," he said, adding that 30 percent to 40 percent of the population approves of municipally-owned utilities.

Customer service, Darbee went on to say, is the best defense against threats to PG&E. And for the past two years, PG&E’s corporate strategy has been focused on that. To that end, its ranking in an annual JD Power customer satisfaction survey rose from 51 to 43 last year for the residential sector, and from 46 to a lofty second place for business customers.

But the JD Power survey also ranks municipal utilities, and 2007 results show PG&E was outpaced by three municipalities — the Salt River Project, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, and the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, which also took the highest ranking in the nation. *

Disclosure: Amanda Witherell owns 14 shares of PG&E Co. common stock.

Peakers delayed 2 weeks


At the May 20 meeting, the Board of Supervisors agreed to a two-week hold on a plan to build two combustion turbine “peaker” power plants in the city. (Also known as the CTs.) The delayed legislation was also amended by Sup. Sean Elsbernd, who injected a 90-day due diligence period into the process.

Translation: if the Board, two weeks from now, passes the plan to build the peakers, a 90-day due diligence period kicks in. And if, during that period, the SFPUC general manager finds that another plan meets a certain list of criteria (which are included in the amendments and can be read here), then he can kill the city’s peaker plan and put forth the alternative. The alternative would still have to go through all the permitting and planning processes that the city’s peakers have already weathered, but the city’s peaker project would be dead.

Elsbernd’s amendments contain a list of qualifications that any alternative must meet, including an agreement that Mirant’s Unit 3 would still close (so the company can redevelop that site for some other profitable commercial use), and that any other “proposed project” would improve environmental quality and city control over energy supplies.

The language here is pretty careful: nowhere does it say that a new proposal must be as clean, if not cleaner, than the city’s peakers. Nor does it say it must be owned by the city.

Elsbernd asked for the two week continuance when introducing the amendments, to give the Board more time to get comfortable with them and “to make sure that the CTs are either the right thing or the wrong thing.”

Peskin, describing the motion before them, jabbed that the extra time was for any possible alternative “proposed by PG&E and/or Mirant.”

To which Elsbernd took issue, “Actually, I would disagree with your statement,” he said. “This is not a proposal from PG&E.”

After the item passed, with Sup. Chris Daly citing it as a delay tactic and dissenting, Elsbernd told the Guardian the amendments did not come from the Mayor’s staff. “They came from my pretty little head,” he said. “I asked the city attorney to draft them for me.”

RFK Jr. and NRDC part ways on power plants in SF


On May 12, Robert F. Kennedy Jr, founder of Waterkeeper, senior counsel for the Natural Resources Defense Council, and as big a wig as Al Gore in the environmental hall of fame, decided to weigh in on San Francisco’s plan to build two fossil fuel-burning power plants. He sent this letter to the Board of Supervisors, Mayor Gavin Newsom, the CPUC’s Mike Peevey, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, urging them to back away from a future hooked to fossil fuels.

“Given the size and impact of this project, I respectfully urge you to listen to the public interest and environmental groups such as Sierra Club and SPUR that are calling for an independent study to determine whether these power plants are truly required in 2008,” Kennedy wrote.

But, lest you get confused about how emphatically concerned an eco-heavy-hitter like NRDC is about San Francisco’s energy future, the group sent another letter three days later saying they don’t have a position on the controversial issue, and don’t plan on taking one. That letter was signed by Ralph Cavanagh, who handles energy issues for NRDC and has been a champion of decoupling — which utility companies love because it separates the profit-making from the energy-consuming, thus ensuring they still take home a pretty penny while encouraging customers to cut back on energy use.

Craig Noble, spokesperson for NRDC, explained the discrepancy by email, writing, “Bobby wasn’t representing NRDC in his official capacity when he took a position on that particular project. It was unclear to some people that he was speaking as a private citizen, so NRDC released a letter of clarification – we have not looked at this project and therefore have not taken a position.” He also wrote they probably wouldn’t, as they tend to focus on broader policy issues rather than individual projects.

A number of environmental and social justice groups have also allied against San Francisco’s plan to build the peakers, strongly urging city officials to step it up with renewables rather than natural gas, and sending letters with their eco-group stamps all over them. They also met with Newsom to express alternatives to the peakers, according to Josh Arce of Brightline Defense, one of the leaders of the environmental front.

But it wasn’t until Newsom’s staff met with PG&E, the quiet giant of the anti-peaker movement, that the Mayor put the brakes on the power plant’s approval process. After that meeting, Newsom intervened last week at the Board of Supervisors, temporarily pausing the approval process of the peaker plan while he called for the exploration of other alternatives.

PG&E’s peaker-less proposal


For all those following the latest and greatest in the saga of San Francisco’s energy future, here’s a copy of the proposal PG&E put before Mayor Gavin Newsom’s staff on March 5, and which has been making rounds at City Hall. It outlines (though doesn’t go into too much detail) a number of energy efficiency measures, demand-response targets, and transmission upgrades.

Tony Winnicker, spokesperson for the SFPUC, seemed nonplussed by the plan, and said it only slightly differed from a past anti-peaker proposal from PG&E that Cal-ISO found wasn’t enough for San Francisco to forgo building two new combustion turbine power plants. The new plan includes a line connecting two substations in Potrero and Embarcadero, ultimately making our local grid a little more dynamic. But, said Winnicker, “There’s no indication from Cal-ISO that doing this would allow us to close Potrero without Cal-ISO’s consistent requirement of ‘in city, dispatchable, reliable’ generation.”

Cal-ISO’s Gregg Fishman said the new proposal had pros and cons they’d have to weigh, and introducing a new plan at this point could mean more delays on closing Mirant. “One drawback to a transmission alternative is that building a new major transmission project, instead of installing the peakers, will mean potentially years of delay in the closure of the highly polluting Potrero. Additionally, any new in-city resources, including demand response, would need to be available “around-the-clock” to meet national reliability standards the ISO is required to uphold. Currently, demand response is not available 24/7.”

Don’t know about you, but my Mission district mailbox has been bombarded by scary mailers from PG&E, posing as the Close It Coalition, screaming “NO NEW POWER PLANTS.” They claim environmental reasons but one inside source told me PG&E is “paranoid” about public power. Their 2007 annual report to shareholders includes a section detailing the risks of loosing customers to Community Choice Aggregation or municipalization of electricity services. (See pages 74-76 of this document. I also recommend page 56 for details on the fossil fuel burning power plants PG&E is also building, that are bigger and dirtier than the city’s would be.) Peter Darbee, CEO of the corporation, also expressed his own personal concern about public power at PG&E’s May 14 annual meeting (but you’ll have to tune into tomorrow’s Guardian for details on that.)

PG&E investors get “say on pay”



The official results are still pending, but it looks like PG&E investors may get a little more control over take-home pay for the top dogs at the corporation. That’s right, Mr. Peter Darbee. Me and my 14 shares of PG&E stock are coming after you and your $7,821,073 in compensation.

PG&E investors voting by proxy passed a shareholder proposal that would allow some “say on pay” when it comes to compensation for named executive officers of the company. At the May 14 annual meeting it was announced that 52 percent of proxy voters approved of the resolution, enough of a majority for it to pass, although votes from the couple hundred attendees of the meeting had not yet been tallied. An official count will be released Monday.

UPDATE: May 19, 2008. We got the official word. From today’s PG&E filing with the SEC: “PG&E Corporation shareholders approved a shareholder proposal requesting that the Board of Directors adopt a policy to provide the shareholders an opportunity to vote at each annual meeting on an advisory resolution to ratify the compensation paid to certain executive officers. The Board of Directors will consider the approved shareholder proposal.”

Ticketing cyclists sucks



Because there’s NOTHING BETTER TO DO in the Mission at 7 a.m. on a Tuesday, I got pulled over by a cop for rolling through a stop sign at 17th and Harrison. Yeah, happy Bike to Work Week to you, too.

Two other cyclists blew through the intersection at the same time, but the cops picked on me, with a $166.96 fine for violating vehicle code 22450(a). Why? Because I was “the closest to getting hit,” Officer McBride told me.

At this point I just had to mention that the only time I’ve ever been struck by a vehicle it was by a cop on a motorcycle who failed to use his blinker before he plowed me down in a crosswalk.

But Officer McBride didn’t feel like chatting about that, so I asked him and his partner, whose name I didn’t catch, how many cyclists they’d pulled over that morning. I was the second. I asked how often they did stings on cyclists and McBride’s partner said they never did that.

He quickly corrected himself, adding, “to my knowledge.” (Is this true? I’ve never seen a bike trap, but I’ve heard rumors about the Wiggle. Anyone out there have some deets on that?)

I also asked about their protocol for Critical Mass, when thousands of bikers just flow through the lights and stop signs. They both said they didn’t work Critical Mass, so they don’t know how or why the law is magically suspended then.

But it wasn’t magically suspended for me, and I’m pissed. In effect, I’ve been punished for riding my bike.

The Bike Issue: Getting in gear


1. City Hall has a bike room. For a while I thought only a scant number of city employees rode to work because the racks out front are usually pretty barren. Then I came across a storage room in the basement, near the café, full of bikes. What an encouraging sight. It was opened a few years back by the Department of the Environment, which is tasked with many of the city’s greening chores, and is available for all City Hall employees to park their rides safely inside.

2. More than 50 percent of San Francisco’s greenhouse-gas emissions come from transportation. Despite this, 20 percent of San Francisco residents polled in November 2007 by David Binder Research said riding a bike did nothing to curb global warming. Au contraire. Bicycles emit zero greenhouse gases (although the rider emits some carbon monoxide from huffing and puffing). A car produces roughly 20 pounds of CO2 for every gallon of gas burned. Gas stations in San Francisco sell about 953,000 gallons of fuel a day. At $4 a gallon, it would take about five months’ of fill-ups to buy every San Franciscan a $750 bicycle — and that’s a nice bike.

3. Someday when you’re waiting for a BART train, take a good look at a system map. It has almost every East Bay bike trail detailed, and many of the trails connect BART stations with recreation areas. "There are a lot of great ways to get out to nature from BART," said BART board member Tom Radulovich.

4. BART is getting more bike-friendly. About 15 percent of the 580 trains now have removed seats to create special areas for bikes. (Look for the cars marked "Bicycle Priority Area.") Though some riders would like each train to have an entire car dedicated to bikes (Caltrain’s approach), a BART spokesperson told me that it would be difficult because cars are added and dropped throughout the day to handle fluctuating ridership. Soon more stations will be outfitted with bike lockers, for rent at a couple of pennies an hour with a BikeLink pass (for information, go to Later this year, the Embarcadero Station will be getting an entire storage room (like City Hall’s, and again, partially funded by the Dept. of the Environment.)

5. One BART oddity: That groove running beside the stairs at the 16th and Mission station is to wheel your bike up and down rather than carrying it. Who knew? Not me. It’s a pilot project, so if you use it and like it, let BART know by calling (415) 989-2278 and the transit agency might install some more.

6. A San Francisco Bicycle Coalition ( membership provides mad discounts, and not just at bike shops. Get 10 percent off at Rainbow Grocery and 50 cents off beers at Hole in the Wall — and that’s just the beginning.

7. Make sure you write down your bike’s serial number so it’s easier for the cops to track your ride if it gets ripped off (see "Chasing My Stolen Bicycle," 2/13/07, for more on bike theft in San Francisco). How do you find these magic digits? Flip your bike over and copy the number stamped on the bottom bracket where the pedals go through the frame.

8. Distant lands like Larkspur, Mill Valley, and Muir Woods are all much closer when you mix the bike with the boat. Marin has an amazing network of bike paths, and the Marin Bicycle Coalition ( has a map that one-ups San Francisco’s. (It shows the direction of the hills, not just the grade.) And … the ferries have bars.

9. DIY is the way forward. The three-class series at Box Dog Bikes (, which covers flats, replacing cables, and truing wheels, is cheap and goes into enough depth that I no longer feel like there are certain parts of my bike I’m not supposed to touch with an Allen wrench. Follow it up with a membership to the Bike Kitchen (, a DIY shop with tools, parts, and people on hand to help you tune your spokes. It also regularly hosts "WTF" nights for girls, queers, and transpeople.

10. Need to know how to find the bike lanes and avoid the hills? Get one of those great bike maps (available at City Hall and at bike shops) when you join the SF Bike Coalition through a free download at You can also pick them up at the energizer stations all over town on Bike to Work Day. It will help you find the best routes and navigate groovy spots like the Wiggle, which is the best route from mid-Market Street to Golden Gate Park. If you look along the sides of the streets, you’ll even see the green bike route signs that say "Wiggle." If you get lost, just look for a bike lane, which are well-marked all over town. Or follow all the other bikers.

Another peaker analysis


Steven Moss, of SF Community Power, an organization that does energy efficiency work with small businesses, sent us an analysis showing we don’t need the peaker power plants.

Check it out. (It’s an Excel file.)

“This is all publicly available data,” Moss told us. “And all the data is right there. People can mess with it any way they want,” he added, encouraging number crunchers to dig into the spreadsheet.

For example, the tab titled “DC Line 72 Trans” was generated “based on Cal-ISO’s claim that 28 percent of transmission is not available,” said Moss. According to their analysis, with the Transbay Cable online, we’d still have a 100-megawatt cushion of extra power.

Moss said the data was collated and crunched by James Fine, an economist for the Environmental Defense Fund, and Richard McCann, of M.Cubed, who doesn’t seem like a slouch either.

Fine told me they did the analysis about a year ago and it came from questioning whether or not the city needed the 400 megawatt Transbay Cable. They assumed we’d have the peakers and factored them in. Now we’re getting the cable but questioning if we need the peakers, so the data’s the same but the question is different. Moss presented this data to the Mayor’s office last week. Mayor Newsom’s support for the peakers seems to have waned a bit recently.

No peace, no work



Workers, students, immigrants, and antiwar activists came together in historic fashion on May Day in San Francisco, but it was hard to tell from the next day’s mainstream media coverage, which adopted its usual cynical view of the growing movement to end the war in Iraq.

Sure, there were articles in newspapers from the San Francisco Chronicle to the New York Times about how the International Longshore and Warehouse Union shut down all 29 West Coast ports for the day, with far more than 10,000 workers defying both their employers and the national union leadership to skip work.

But each article missed the main point: this was the first time in American history that such a massive job action was called to protest a war.

“In this country, dock workers have never stopped work to stop a war,” Jack Heyman, the ILWU executive board member and Oakland Port worker who spearheaded the effort, told the Guardian.

The ILWU’s “No Peace, No Work” campaign and simultaneous worker-led shutdowns of the Iraqi ports of Umm Qasr and Khor Al Zubair are part of a broader effort, called US Labor Against the War, that labor scholars agree is something new to the political landscape of this country.

Steven Pitts, labor policy specialist at UC Berkeley’s Labor Center, told the Guardian the effort was significant: “It wasn’t simply a little crew of San Francisco radicals. It has a breadth that has spread out across the country.”

In fact, USLAW has about 200 union locals and affiliates with a detailed policy platform that calls for ending war funding, redirecting resources from the military to domestic needs, and boosting workers’ rights — including those of immigrants, who staged an afternoon march in San Francisco following the ILWU’s morning event.

Traditionally labor unions have been big supporters of US wars. But Pitts said the feelings of rank-and-file workers have always been more complex than the old “hard hats vs. hippies” stories from the Vietnam era might indicate.

Blue-collar workers have always been skeptical of war, Howard Zinn, a history professor and author of the seminal book A People’s History of the United States (HarperCollins, 1980), told the Guardian.

“Working people were against the [Vietnam] War in greater percentages than professionals,” Zinn told us, referring to polling data from the time. “There is always a tendency of organizations to be more conservative than their rank and file.”

This time, union members and the public as a whole have more aggressively pushed their opposition to the Iraq War, winning antiwar resolutions among the biggest unions in the country and in hundreds of US cities and counties.

“I think it’s a reflection of how far the nation as a whole has come in our anger at the continuation of this war,” Zinn told us.

The media coverage of the May Day event belittled its significance, noting that missing one day of work had little practical impact to the economy or war machine, while playing up comments by spokespeople for the Pacific Maritime Association and National Retail Federation that the strike was insignificant and perhaps more aimed at upcoming contract talks than the war.

Heyman wasn’t happy about that bias.

The strike “was totally for moral, political, and social reasons. It had nothing to do with the contract,” Heyman told us.

A big factor for the ILWU was the newfound solidarity between dock workers in the United States and those in Iraq, who were prohibited from organizing in 1987 by the Baathist regime, an edict that the US has continued to enforce.

The Iraqi dock workers issued a May Day statement that detailed the horrors of their situation: “Five years of invasion, war, and occupation have brought nothing but death, destruction, misery, and suffering to our people.”

In fact, the banner leading the ILWU procession down the Embarcadero and into Justin Herman Plaza in San Francisco read, “An injury to one is an injury to all.” That theme of solidarity — among all workers, American and Iraqi, legal and illegal — was laced through all the speeches of the day.

Joining labor leaders on the podium were antiwar movement stalwarts such as Cindy Sheehan, who is running an independent campaign to unseat Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, now a target of the movement for continuing to fund the war.

“Nancy Pelosi wants to give George [W.] Bush more money [for the Iraq War] than he even asked for,” Sheehan said, drawing a loud, sustained “boo!” from the crowd. At the afternoon rallies at Dolores Park and Civic Center Plaza, which focused on immigration issues, the war was also a big target, with signs such as “Stop the ICE raids, Stop the War,” and “Si se puede, the workers struggle has no borders.”

Even for protest-happy San Francisco, it was an unusually spirited May Day, with more than 1,000 people appearing at each of the four main rallies and two big marches. There were lots of smaller actions as well, including demonstrations at the ICE offices and Marine recruiting center, and activists from the Freedom From Oil Campaign disrupting a Commonwealth Club speech by General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner.

But it was the port shutdown that was unique. Annually the 29 West Coast ports process 368 million tons of goods, averaging more than 1 million tons a day moved by 15,000 registered ILWU workers and a number of other “casuals.” Eight percent of that comes in and out of Oakland, but West Coast trade affects business throughout the country — as many as 8 million other workers come in contact with some aspect of that trade.

Mike Zampa, spokesperson for APL — the eighth-largest container shipping company in the world, with ports in Oakland, Los Angeles, and Seattle — told us, “Over a long period of time a shutdown like this does have an impact on the US economy.”

More port shutdowns are possible, Heyman said. But he hopes the action inspires other workers and activists to increase the pressure for an end to the war.

“We are taking action to swing the pendulum back the other way,” Heyman told us during the march. “We are stopping work to stop the war.”

Small Business Awards 2008: Die-Hard Independent Award


One day last August I was standing in line at my favorite local sandwich shop, Hazel’s Kitchen, chatting about boats with a guy I’d seen around the Potrero neighborhood.

Meanwhile, the owner, Leslie Goldberg, overheard our conversation while she prepped my sandwich. She asked if I was a sailor and I confirmed that yes, before wrestling deadlines at the Guardian, I hauled lines as a deckhand. I told her I missed sea life and was thinking about getting in on some local yacht club action. "If you know any hot single sailors, send them my way," I joked.

"Actually, I do," she said, smiling wryly.

This is how I met Brian and learned that a handful of happy couples in the neighborhood can testify to Goldberg’s sixth sense for matchmaking.

But the talent most patrons see is sandwich-making. Wholesome, grab-and-go comfort food is the theme of Hazel’s lunch and catering menus. Homey standards like mac and cheese and minestrone soup mingle with sandwiches of turkey and cranberries or roast beef with horseradish.

Goldberg, a Pennsylvania native, opened the sandwich shop 16 years ago with a $10,000 seed grant from another Potrero local she calls her guardian angel. The standing-room only shop serves fresh salads, soups, and sandwiches with ingredients sourced from family-owned local distributors. Produce hails from Marin Organics and the to-go containers are compostable, a move that cut her garbage bill in half.

The shop’s not named after a distant relative, but the wife of Farley, the namesake of the café next door. To Goldberg, a single mother who lived and raised her 12-year-old twins, Emma and Jake, in the apartment upstairs, being a part of the neighborhood is what it’s all about. "Every merchant, every neighbor, helped take care of my kids with me."

When asked about the challenges of being a small business in San Francisco, she immediately cites big-business competition. "When Whole Foods came it was the first time I saw such a drastic change in business," she said. She checked out the grocery chain’s new Potrero location shortly after it opened and was blown away. "Whatever you wanted, they had and it was done beautifully. No one can compete with that."

So how does Hazel’s keep up? Goldberg says the magic ingredient is service. "That’s what I do. It’s my pleasure. When people walk into Hazel’s I want them to smile and feel good."

Perhaps that’s why a couple of months after the Whole Foods grand opening she saw her business go back to normal. "What a small business really has is service and community. Those are two things Whole Foods can’t give people."

I bet it’s hard to order up hot, single sailors there too. (Amanda Witherell)


1319 18th St., SF

(415) 647-7941