Amanda Witherell

Omar’s Post


A few months ago we profiled an Iraqi journalist named Omar Fekeiki, who escaped Baghdad to attend j-school at UC Berkeley, with the hope of returning to Iraq to be with his family and start his own newspaper.

Today the Christian Science Monitor ran their own profile of Fekeiki. It’s a great update on the young journalist and the challenges of his summer internship at the Washington Post.

Wicked, wicked wikis


by Amanda Witherell


OK, who read the NY Times article about wikiscanner, the new website that makes it possible to track who’s editing Wikipedia entries?

Very interesting. We, of course, checked to see if our neighbors over at PG&E happened to be editing Wikipedia entries, and if so, which ones.

Heck yeah. Looks like someone over there has made it a regular hobby. Everything from solar power to — ha ha — pubic lice.

The site takes a little savoir faire to navigate, but if you put in the name of a company you’re curious about their IP addresses will come up. Then hit the little [wp] and it will list the entries that particular IP address edited. Then if you hit the [diff] it will show you exactly how they were edited.

There are some real gems from the minds of some PG&E employees — I had no idea that Robert Novak is also known as the “Douche Bag of Liberty.” Or that reality TV star Heidi Montag has a thing for Gremlins after midnight and that’s why she’s hot for Spencer Pratt.

Now, you could draw a lot of speculations from all of this. Here’s one: PG&E employees have too much time on their hands. Remember that when PG&E is making claims that the city could never meet or beat its electricity prices.

Who knows — maybe the boss said to make sure our company and all the shitty things we do looks good on Wikipedia, but clearly this person has other interests and is perhaps more of a sportsfan than a solar energy proponent.

Te quiero lavado de verde


by Amanda Witherell


Pardon my ninth grade Spanish, but it looks like PG&E’s having a little fiesta at Limon this Wednesday. Last time I ate there it seemed thick with hipsters, not Latinos, but greenwashing is equal opportunity, non? If you can’t get into the event, at the very least the protesting should be bueno! Espero verles alla!

Dot com, dot org…what’s the diff?


by Amanda Witherell

In fine, self-aggrandizing form PG&E just issued this press release congratulating themselves for having such a great website.

Normally, I wouldn’t notice such trivialities if it weren’t for the recent gaffe with their other website, which didn’t work…but does now!

Looks like someone over there at PG&E reads the Guardian!

The real smokescreen


by Amanda Witherell

PGE_closeitcoalition1 copy.jpg

The real smokescreen is the one PG&E is puffing in the Potrero and Bayview neighborhoods. This is the flier their bogus front group mailed out last week. PG&E is claiming the neighborhood can’t handle any more pollution — which is true — but at the same time, the corporation is mishandling the clean-up of their toxic Hunter’s Point power plant, which was shuttered in 2006.

Tidal Power Turmoil


by Amanda Witherell

tidal pic.png

The New York Times is reporting problems with the tidal power technology being field tested in the East River. Looks like the underwater windmills couldn’t hack a current that sheared off the tips of the blades, but optimists from Verdant, the start-up company that owns the project, say that’s what field testing is all about. While several permits have been issued to the more tidally blessed coastal areas in North America, Verdant is the only company to actually deploy some of the much talked about technology to see if it works.

The SFPUC, in a strange partnership with PG&E, is exploring similar technology to harness tidal power in the Bay. But last night I overheard the PUC’s general manager, Susan Leal, say they were still looking into it, but she wasn’t enthusiastic about anything yet. She said she’d visited the East River project and “wasn’t impressed.”

Their neighborhood



Some interesting mail landed in the boxes of Potrero Hill residents last week: flyers with a photograph of industrial stacks spewing plumes of pollution. They read, "Potrero Hill doesn’t need three more power plants in our neighborhood."

There’s a handy clip-out membership card to join the Close It! Coalition, from which you can "find out more about the city’s rush to judgment and their plan to put more power plants in our neighborhood." The return address on the card is 77 Beale, which isn’t in "our" neighborhood at all.

It’s the address of the downtown headquarters of Pacific Gas and Electric Co.

The utility, in the guise of a grassroots community organization, is opposing the contract that the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission is currently hammering out with a private company, J-Power USA, to build a new 145-megawatt, natural gas–<\d>fired power plant on a four-acre plot at 25th and Maryland streets. The plant would be owned and operated by J-Power for a period of 10 to 12 years, after which the title would turn over to the city.

This so-called peaker plant, one of three that would run when San Francisco’s power needs exceed the normal load, would be cleaner burning than Mirant’s dirty old Potrero Hill power plant, which city officials and environmentalists want closed. Mirant’s "Reliability Must Run" contract with the California Independent System Operator (Cal-ISO) could be terminated once the three peakers (whose generators the city received years ago through a lawsuit settlement) are built, according to the SFPUC.

Though PG&E, which has a questionable environmental record, claims to be against the peaker plants for pollution reasons, public power advocates say this is really opposition to the city owning its power sources. "PG&E has finally gone over the line. This is a good thing because this is so egregious and so transparent," said Joe Boss, a Dogpatch resident who received the mailer. "They’ll do all they can do to kill public power in San Francisco."

Boss and a group of neighborhood activists who support the construction of the peakers have put together their own mailer countering the claims of the Close It! Coalition, which has been dormant lately but was active prior to 2006, when community activists were fighting for the shuttering of PG&E’s Hunters Point power plant.

Other anti–<\d>public power literature also circulated recently in supervisorial district 11, where the California Urban Issues Project sent a flyer urging residents to oppose Community Choice Aggregation, the city’s gradual public power plan that is focused mostly on renewable energy sources. The mailer was apparently sent before the Board of Supervisors voted to approve the plan, which it did in June.

Sup. Ross Mirkarimi, who coauthored the CCA legislation with Sup. Tom Ammiano, called the CUIP flyer "shameful" and told the Guardian, "This is signature PG&E, but it’s not just PG&E. It now very well implicates the [Gavin] Newsom administration either with complicity or silence." The CUIP board includes Committee on Jobs director Nathan Nayman, small-business advocate and Newsom appointee Jordanna Thigpen, Democratic Party political consultant Rich Schlackman, Golden Gate Restaurant Association executive director Kevin Westlye, and other Newsom supporters.

Newsom signed the CCA legislation but tacked on a letter vaguely expressing concerns about the plan. He recently authored a letter to Cal-ISO expressing his support for the peaker project. While PG&E is opposing peakers here, it has plans under way to build at least two farther south, near communities it is also battling.

The San Joaquin Valley Power Authority has filed a formal complaint against PG&E with the California Public Utilities Commission regarding how the utility is conducting itself as the community moves forward with a plan for public power.

The SJVPA is a group of 11 cities and two counties, representing about 300,000 citizens, that has filed a plan with the CPUC to purchase its power through a CCA plan. Assembly Bill 117, written by Sen. Carole Migden when she was in the State Assembly and made law in 2004, allows communities to act as their own wholesale power customers and purchase electricity for residents.

San Francisco, Marin, Berkeley, Oakland, and Emeryville are working on CCA plans, but the SJVPA is the furthest along. With CCA, power is still transmitted by utility companies, but residents pay their electricity bills to the city. The SJVPA plans to build its own 500 MW power plant — which PG&E also opposes, claiming studies show it isn’t necessary — and has issued a request for proposals from interested companies for 400 MW of renewable energy. It estimates citizens would save about 5 percent with CCA.

But representatives of PG&E have been attending city council meetings in the area and even holding their own informational workshops at which they refute elements of the CCA plan.

In a lengthy memo sent to a Hanford City Council member and very similar in tone and content to one distributed to San Francisco nonprofit organizations a couple of months ago, PG&E offers misleading claims such as "Over 30 percent of PG&E’s supply comes from a diverse portfolio of renewable energy … about 20 percent comes from PG&E’s large hydro system, and approximately 12 percent comes from smaller renewable generation sources."

But according to state law, a large hydro system does not qualify as a renewable energy source — a rule the utility doesn’t apply to itself but is quick to point out a paragraph later when it attacks the CCA plan for renewable energy.

The SJVPA complaint details several examples of PG&E spokespeople cautioning against the plan in local media and at public meetings. CEO Peter Darbee even penned an editorial for the Fresno Bee in which he wrote, "The fundamental problem with the program is that the numbers don’t add up," a statement he attempted to clarify with unsourced data showing that rates will go up even if the CCA plan says they won’t. Darbee went on to say that PG&E is just looking out for the best interests of the people.

The Fresno City Council recently voted 4–<\d>3 not to join the SJVPA, a close vote that "was based in large part on PG&E raising questions," said David Orth, the general manager of the Kings River Conservation District, which is overseeing the implementation of the CCA plan. "That is their intent, frankly — to clutter the discussion and decision-making field with a lot of uncertainties and threats of complexity."

Fresno would have been the largest consumer of power in the coalition, using 45 percent of its electricity.

Orth said obfuscation has been the utility’s tool, coupled with reassurances that power "is too difficult for you to understand, so accept the status quo."

He said PG&E hasn’t been entirely factual with its advice and cited a specific example in which PG&E claimed that if a community opted out of CCA after joining, it could be liable for as much as $11 million. "It was a fabricated number, and it was a fabricated scenario, but it lead certain council members to believe there was a risk we weren’t explaining," Orth said.

Lawyers representing the SJVPA say the utility is using ratepayer funds for its anti-CCA marketing, and that’s a violation of the CPUC’s rules. AB 117 states clearly that utilities should cooperate fully with municipalities enacting CCA plans. In a December 2005 decision seeking to clarify how CCAs will be implemented, the CPUC wrote, "There is little if any benefit from permitting a battle for market share between CCAs and utilities. Of course, we expect utilities to answer questions about their own rates and services and the process by which utilities will cut-over customers to the CCA. However, if they provide [sic] affirmatively contact customers in efforts to retain them or otherwise engage in actively marketing services, they should conduct those activities at shareholder expense. We do not believe utility ratepayers should be forced to support such marketing."

"SJVPA is informed and believes and thereon alleges that these marketing and related activities were undertaken at PG&E’s ratepayer expense to compete against SJVPA," the authority’s lawyers wrote in the complaint to the CPUC.

Even if PG&E is drawing from the proper budget for the marketing, the appearance that it isn’t needs to be addressed, and the SJVPA complaint further calls on the CPUC to clarify its rules on what utilities can and can’t do. Local customer representatives, usually salaried by ratepayer funds, are telling folks to stick with PG&E, and that’s a betrayal of trust. "You have someone who’s worked with a customer for years and years and years saying, ‘Don’t support CCA,’<\!q>" Orth said.

PG&E, which has disputed the allegations in the SJVPA complaint, did not return our calls seeking comment. The two parties are currently in mediation, and SJVPA attorney Scott Blaising said the utility has yet to provide solid evidence that ratepayer money isn’t footing the bill for the anti-CCA marketing. Southern California Edison Co., which provides about a quarter of the SJVPA’s current power, has not been as contentious as PG&E, Orth said.

"Theoretically, [anti-CCA marketing] should be covered by shareholders," said Bill Marcus, an energy consultant who works with the Utility Reform Network. "Realistically, a bunch of it leaks into ratepayer accounts."

He pointed out that PG&E’s budget allocation for local public affairs has stood at 22 percent over the course of several general rate cases, despite clear peaks in marketing for certain campaigns.

Some San Franciscans will be closely watching what happens next as a sign of things to come as this city moves forward with its CCA plan. As Mirkarimi told us, "What San Joaquin is experiencing is likely a prelude to what San Francisco will be confronting as it pertains to PG&E’s desire to deny CCA and San Francisco’s pursuit of energy independence."

Migden, who wrote the CCA law, said, "PG&E’s alleged actions controvert the letter and the spirit of the bill. The utility and the SFPUC should take heed, because green public power is the people’s passion."<\!s>*

PS PG&E can’t even get its own Web site right.

H2Oh My God!


by Amanda Witherell

dam photo.jpg

The Commonwealth Club is doing a thorough wash of water issues this month with their Cool Clear Water lecture series. Tonight they hosted the SFPUC’s general manager, Susan Leal. Besides telling us that the whole banning bottled water thing was her idea, not Mayor Newsom’s, who’s taking some lovely credit for it, she also gave us the run down on the PUC’s massive overhaul of our water system.

For the low, low price of $4.3 billion we’re getting…

The Right Whale to hit


by Amanda Witherell

Right whale.jpg

Geez,,,whales are like pandas and koalas, right? They usually get all the love when it comes to conservation and protection. Not when there’s money to be made! As someone who used to spend time out in the middle of the Atlantic hoping to glimpse even a fin of one of these rare whales, it’s distressing to see the federal government bending to the pressures of industry…again. Whales may be the largest mammals, but tankers, cruise ships, car ferries, and even whale watching boats are a hell of a lot bigger and should be more tender when plying our communal seas. Researchers say large, fast-moving ships rarely notice if and when they’ve nailed a whale.

PG&E in need of copy editors


by Amanda Witherell

Ahh, this is so good. I almost don’t want to point it out, but hey, we hardly get any laughs when it comes to PG&E.

The corporation recently revived its dormant “Close it Coalition,” a fake grassroots community group they cooked up to show the $12 billion company really cares about the pollution their power plant was spewing into the southeast neighborhoods. Now they’re opposed to the city’s plan to build its own peaker power plant there because of, they claim, the pollution in “our” neighborhood. Most likely they’re really against it because it would be owned by the city and not them, but read this Wednesday’s issue for more on that.

Anyway they printed up a bunch of mailers that were sent to the Potrero neighborhood, inviting folks to join the Close It Coalition and oppose the new peakers. They also invite you to their website:

Oops, looks like they forgot they aren’t a nonprofit. It’s actually

It also looks like they bought up the alternate domain names of their enemies at and routed them to PG&E’s bogus green web site.

Which means they’re calling themselves greenwashers. Ha ha. Dorks. My work here is done.

In other greenwashing news: we also heard they nominated themselves for an environmental justice award from the EPA. In the words of our source on that tidbit, “Who nominates themselves for an award?”

Double dorks.

Nuke barrels fall, go BOOM


by Amanda Witherell


Yikes, doesn’t this picture give you the willies? It’s from the Japanese nuclear power plant, located on a fault line like another nuke plant we know. (Ahem, Diablo Canyon.) Last month it succumbed to the Murphy’s Law of its seismology. This week a UK Times reporter took a tour of the facility and reports that officials are actually considering restarting the reactors even though the superstructure is still impassable and waste leaked out after the quake. Awesome.

Green City: When it rains …



GREEN CITY A few years ago my friend Andrew and I sailed a small boat to the northern Abaco region of the Bahamas, a shallow archipelago frequented by Palm Beach, Fla., sports fishers and vacationing couples on sailboats.

We made our first landfall on Walker’s Cay, and while Andrew paid the customs official for the cruising permit, I hosed salt off our decks and refilled our water tanks. I didn’t notice the fellow standing at the spigot, watching a meter, and it wasn’t until we’d fired up the engine and were untying the spring line that he handed us a bill for $30 worth of water.

We couldn’t pay it — after clearing customs, we had about $12 in cash between us — and the meter tender was livid. This was my first experience in a place where every house has a cistern, only the wealthy can afford the luxury of desalination, and dry spells mean costly shipments of water from the United States.

To Bahamians, water is almost more precious than wine. And yet they’re surrounded by it.

A scorched San Francisco faced a similar dilemma back in postquake 1906, and a series of savvy politicians laid the political piping that would eventually funnel a steady, cheap supply of drinking water to the city by damming the Tuolumne River at the Hetch Hetchy Valley near Yosemite.

It was ultimately way more than we needed, and most of the 225 million gallons of river water diverted daily is piped to 28 wholesale customers. The overdue upgrade to the Water System Improvement Plan is being orchestrated by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. But a joint study by the Tuolumne River Trust and the Pacific Institute has found several flaws in the plan.

While the SFPUC included conservation and efficiency when calcuutf8g a marginal decrease in San Francisco’s water use over the next 23 years, similar standards weren’t applied to the wholesale customers, who claim they will use 14 percent more — almost entirely for irrigation and landscaping. This could draw another 51 million gallons a day from the Tuolumne, the lower branch of which is already considered an impaired water body under the Clean Water Act.

Yet encouraging its suburban customers to conserve may not be in the financial interests of the SFPUC, which is pursuing $4.3 billion worth of repairs and upgrades, about two-thirds of which could be financed by tripling the price of water. The TRT-PI study argues that cost will be an incentive to conserve and concludes that a number of the SFPUC’s predictions are based on a continuation of people’s wasteful ways. It instead recommends that San Francisco set an example for its suburban neighbors and collaborate on efficiency and conservation measures.

Global warming will disrupt worldwide water cycles in unpredictable ways. Accordingly, the PI says one-third of urban water use can be cut employing existing technologies to recycle gray water and capture rainwater. We’re still flushing our toilets with the sweat of the Sierras while the California Department of Water Resources predicts that 33 percent less snowpack will melt into the Tuolumne over the next 50 years.

But people can adapt to such circumstances. Working with the premise of one gallon per person per day, Andrew and I got by: we washed our dishes in salt water and donned bathing suits when it rained, plugged up the drain in the cockpit so that it filled like a bathtub, and let the furls in the mainsail pour rinse water onto our heads.

During one memorable thunderstorm, several other boats sailed into a safe harbor where we’d anchored. Andrew was busy taking a rainwater shower while I washed a load of laundry in the cockpit, and it wasn’t until I was pinning our clothing up to dry on the lifelines that I noticed couples on the boats around us doing the same thing. It was comic to see, and heartening too, because we were doing it out of poverty, and they were doing it just because it looked like fun.

Or maybe because it was the right thing to do.

The SFPUC is still in the review stage of the plan and will hold hearings in September, at which the public may comment on our aquatic future. Stay updated by visiting, and read the critical study at

All aboard!


by Amanda Witherell

This is sort of funny and sort of annoying, considering that when I contacted Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant to request a tour for a story I was working on about the future of nuclear power, I was denied admittance and told:

“All tour requests are screened against the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s post-9/11 requirement that U.S. nuclear plant licensees provide tours only when there is a clear business need. Upon review of your request, we have determined that it does not meet this screening requirement.”

Which is total bullshit. The same week I made my request, a reporter at the OC Register got a tour of San Onofre.

That aside, this guy got a free ride in!

Ballot measure threat!


by Amanda Witherell

Gavin for sale.jpg
photo courtesy of Green Guerrillas,

Some of the city’s PG&E watchdogs are sweating over what the mayor’s been up to lately and are worried he may sneak a pro-PG&E/anti-public power measure on the ballot by Friday’s deadline. Take a look at their concerns here and give ole Gav a ring to let him know what you think.

A real “green” in 2008?


by Amanda Witherell

Awesome enviro news website Grist is gauging the greenness of the presidential candidates through a series of interviews. So far none of them are perfect, but we’ll see what Dennis Kucinich has to say when he gets in front of their mike.

Also, one of our readers, Molly Johnson, sent some quotes from the candidates (from the YouTube debate, me thinks) on whether or not we need more nuclear power plants…tsk, tsk, Obama…

Read their atomic words after the jump…

Our unnecessary nuclear future


by Amanda Witherell

diablo canyon.jpg

photo of Diablo Canyon nuke plants courtesy of PG&E’s Jim Zimmerlin

Sigh. Just when you’re starting to think something productive might occur in the legislature, enter the monkey wrench. A recently released study outlines exactly how we could be planning for an energy future free of nuclear and coal. If only our leaders would quit pandering to industry and adopt such a plan, but instead it looks like the nuclear industry has quietly tucked a provision into the new energy bill that would provide billions of dollars of loan guarantees for new nuclear power plants.

Whose Ethics?


Part two in a Guardian series The read part one, click here.


The San Francisco Ethics Commission is at an important crossroads, facing decisions that could have a profound impact on the city’s political culture: should every violation be treated equally or should this agency focus on the most flagrant efforts to corrupt the political system?

The traditionally anemic agency that regulates campaign spending is just now starting to get the staff and resources it needs to fulfill its mandate. But its aggressive investigation of grassroots treasurer Carolyn Knee (see “The Ethics of Ethics,” 7/4/07) — which concluded July 9 with her being fined just $267 — is raising questions about its focus and mission.

“For the first time in our history, we’re having growing pains,” Ethics Commission executive director John St. Croix told the Guardian, noting that the agency’s 16 staffers (slated to increase to 19 next year) are double what he started with three years ago.

Reformers like Joe Lynn — a former Ethics staffer and later a commissioner — say the commission should do more to help small, all-volunteer campaigns negotiate the Byzantine campaign finance rules, be more forgiving when such campaigns make mistakes, and focus on more significant violations by campaigns that seek to deceive voters and swing elections.

“The traditional thinking is there’s no exception to the law, and that’s been my traditional thinking too,” Lynn said. “But it doesn’t cut the mustard when you see a Carolyn Knee say, ‘I’m not going to do that again.'<\!s>”

At Knee’s June 11 hearing, Doug Comstock — who often does political consulting for small organizations — urged commissioners to reevaluate their mission. “Why are you here?” he asked them. “You’re not here to pick on the little guys.”

Yet St. Croix told us, “That’s not really the way the law is written. Everybody is supposed to be treated the same…. The notion that the Ethics Commission was only created to nail the big guns is not correct.”

That said, St. Croix agrees that regulators should be tougher on willful violators and those who have lots of experience and familiarity with the rules they’re breaking. And he said they do that. But it’s the grassroots campaigns that tend to have the most violations.

“It’s frustrating because the people who make the most mistakes are the ones with the least experience,” St. Croix said, noting that the commission can’t simply ignore violations.



But critics of the commission say the problem is one of priorities. Even if there were problems with Knee’s campaign, there was no reason the commission should have launched such an in-depth and expensive investigation four years after the fact. That decision was recently criticized in a resolution approved by the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee, which argued that the approach discourages citizens from getting politically involved.

“[The] San Francisco Ethics Commission spends an inordinate amount of its meager resources in pursuing petty violations allegedly committed by grassroots campaigns; this disproportionate enforcement against grassroots campaigns is directly contrary to the goal of the Campaign Finance Reform Ordinance,” one “whereas” from the resolution read.

The resolution’s principal sponsor, Robert Haaland, is intimately familiar with the problem. When he ran for supervisor in District 5 two years ago, his treasurer had a doctorate from Stanford and still struggled to understand and comply with the law. But they made a good-faith effort, he said, and shouldn’t be targeted by Ethics.

“It’s sort of like the IRS going after the little guy,” Haaland told us. “The commissioners need to set the direction of the commission for where they’re spending their time and resources.”

Eileen Hansen is perhaps the only member of the five-person commission to really embrace the idea that its mission is to help citizen activists comply with the law and to go after well-funded professionals who seek to skirt it. To do otherwise is to harm San Francisco’s unique grassroots political system.

“It’s true, the law is the law,” Hansen told us. “But I do think the Ethics Commission needs to grapple with how to apply the law in a fair manner.”

Is it fair to apply the same standard to Knee and to the treasurer of the campaign on the other side of the public power measure she was pushing, veteran campaign attorney Jim Sutton, whose failure to report late contributions from Pacific Gas and Electric Co. later triggered a $240,000 fine by Ethics and the California Fair Political Practices Commission, while those contributions might have tipped the outcome of the election?

Sutton gets hired by most of the big-money campaigns in town, such as Mayor Gavin Newsom’s, and has a history of skirting the law, including a recent case of allegedly laundered public funds at City College; coordination of deceptive independent expenditures against Supervisors Chris Daly, Gerardo Sandoval, and Jake McGoldrick; District Attorney Kamala Harris’s violation of her spending-cap pledge in 2003; and an apparent attempt to launder inaugural-committee funds to pay Newsom’s outstanding campaign debts (see “Newsom’s Funny Money,” 2/11/04). Yet the practice of the commission is to ignore that history and treat Sutton, who did not return calls seeking comment, the same as everyone else.

“We all admire and want grassroots organizations to do what they need to do,” Commissioner Emi Gusukuma said. But, she said, “the laws are there for a reason…. We’re supposed to enforce and interpret the law. The law should only apply to big money? The law has to apply to everybody. We can’t pick or choose.”

David Looman, a campaign consultant and treasurer involved in dozens of past elections, put it wryly. “Some people talk as though the grassroots campaigns shouldn’t have to obey the law,” he said of some activists he’s worked for who consider themselves the good guys. He said he reminds them, “This is the act that you helped pass, and now you gotta abide by it.”

“But there ought to be some kind of business sense here. Most regulatory agencies have offenses which they regard as de minimis,” Looman said, meaning “you get a nasty letter that says, ‘Don’t make a habit of it,’ and when you do make a habit of it, stricter penalties come into play.”

His experience with the commission has led him to believe there’s no sense of priorities when it comes to what Ethics pursues. Many of the small campaign committees Looman represents have been audited to what he feels is a ridiculous extent.

In one case, he told us, he took over the management of the Bernal Heights Democratic Club and discovered that it hadn’t been filing certain documents for years. He ended up paying $10,000 out of his own pocket to cover Ethics fines just because his name was now on the dotted line.

“Yes, the Bernal Heights Democratic Club was in complete violation of the law. They deserved to pay a penalty, but it was so far out of proportion. It was two times our yearly income. I think that’s inappropriate,” Looman told us.



Some say the whole idea of local campaign reform is to nurture an important and unique aspect of San Francisco: its vibrant and diverse grassroots political culture. “For every two committees in LA, there are three in San Francisco,” Lynn said, adding that it used to be a more extreme, two-to-one ratio. Larger cities often have more professionals involved, he said. “San Francisco has a unique political culture, very heavy on the grass roots.”

Yet the Ethics Commission doesn’t see protection of the little person as part of its mission.

“The fundamental problem with Ethics is it is not staffed by people who have been advocates for good government reforms,” Lynn said. “The Ethics Commission needs to come to grips with the fact that they’re tampering with the grassroots political culture of San Francisco.”

Lynn would like the commission to direct some resources toward hiring assistants to staff the office during the two or three weeks prior to Election Day, a crew that would help prevent violations and inoculate campaigns against being fined for errors that do occur.

“If you looked at the money that the Ethics Commission is spending going after citizen filers and reallocated it toward a staff of clerks, the cost to the city would be minimal,” Lynn said, estimating it at about $100,000.

Calling it the “H&R Block Unit,” Lynn thinks a staff of 10 to 15 clerks could be trained to assist small campaigns, individuals, and first-time filers who would come in and be walked through the complex paperwork.

St. Croix said such services are available now to inexperienced treasurers and those who ask for help — although not nearly as extensive as Lynn envisions — and he’d like to expand them in the future. But he said there are legal and practical complications to giving campaigns formal advice in letters that they might later use in their defense.

“I think it’s a lofty goal to educate people,” commission chair Susan Harriman told us. “We have staff with the sole job to keep people educated.” She said she’s attended meetings at which outreach occurred between the commission and community, but only as an observer. She thinks it’s the job of the staff to take an active community role, although St. Croix said that’s a resource issue.

Commissioner Emi Gusukuma thinks the appointed commissioners should be more involved. “I would be happy to be part of that team,” she said of joining any Ethics community outreach. “Going to clubs — I would definitely be willing to do that.” She noted that she and her fellow commissioners are all very busy, but she still thinks the educational aspect of their role is important.

Hansen also noted that a commission filled with relatively new appointees needs to hear more about the real-world impacts of its policies. “The public can educate the commissioners, and right now the commissioners are not educated on these issues,” Hansen said.

She and other reformers would like to see St. Croix facilitate a discussion of what the commission’s enforcement history has been and where the focus should be going forward.

“The perception is all we ever do is go after the small guys, but I don’t know if that’s really true,” Gusukuma said. She’s pushing staff to do more research into past enforcement actions “so we can tell the staff … not who to prosecute but what kinds of cases are important. We haven’t been able to get that analysis yet.”

Lynn said another key component in the education campaign would be to televise Ethics Commission hearings, which would help people become more engaged with the agency’s work. Commissioners Hansen and Gusukuma agreed, endorsing the proposal in this year’s budget cycle and winning the support of Sup. Chris Daly before he was ousted as chair of the Budget and Finance Committee, after which the expenditure (estimated at about $30,000 per year) was removed from the budget.

Harriman is opposed to televising hearings and thinks the money should be spent elsewhere. “I don’t think it’s a good idea. I think interested people who are interested in items on the agenda will appear. I think it’s a waste of city funds to televise something.”

Lynn said that attitude is the problem.

“The Ethics Commission doesn’t want to be televised, which is the reason to televise them,” he said. “They don’t want it because they’re trained that they are quasi-judicial and you don’t have cameras in courtrooms. Right now Ethics is invisible. The only way it can build a constituency is if it’s visible.”

Bob Planthold, another former commissioner, agreed. “Ethics doesn’t make friends,” he said. “It doesn’t have a constituency of positive advocates, and you need that at City Hall to get money and resources.”<\!s>*


The ethics of Ethics


Part one in a Guardian series


Back in 2002, Carolyn Knee did what many other citizens of San Francisco were doing — she volunteered her time and energy campaigning for a ballot measure she hoped would pass.

Five years later the retiree living on a fixed income has found herself threatened with $26,700 in fines levied by the Ethics Commission enforcement staff, who turned up several alleged violations of campaign finance laws during a random audit of San Franciscans for Affordable Clean Energy, the committee for which Knee was a volunteer treasurer.

At a June 11 probable cause hearing before the Ethics Commission, investigator Richard Mo itemized several infractions, including failure to report $19,761 in contributions on time, in addition to another $9,500 that came in right before the election but wasn’t reported until afterward; failing to notify two organizations that they were major donors who needed to file as such (one of which was the Guardian); not providing all the required information about two donors; and disparities between bank account statements and campaign finance reports.

Mo alleged Knee had "cooked the books," saying she "takes no responsibility" and "claims she was ignorant of the law, passes the blame on to her personal accountant. She cites her inexperience as a treasurer when in fact she served as treasurer for one prior committee."

It sounds like a litany of campaign crime, with Knee as the linchpin, but she maintains that none of it was intentional and that many of the reporting mistakes were made by her accountant, Renita Lloyd-Smith of the Simon Group, a company she’d hired to handle the complicated ledger of campaign finance reports. "Perhaps I was wrong in placing confidence in someone I had to hire because I didn’t know the rules," Knee told the Ethics Commission. "It was all in good faith. It was all done in love of my city. But I’ll never do it again."

Those words have a dual meaning: Knee hopes never to make another financial mistake, and she’ll never again take on the risk of steering the financial helm of a grassroots campaign.

Ethics Commission hearings such as this are usually held in closed session, but this one was opened at Knee’s insistence because she suspected she’s not the only one who’s had difficulties handling campaign finance laws or negotiating fair settlements. It was the first publicly aired probable cause hearing in the commission’s 13-year history, and both commissioners and attendees walked away with questions after issues of perceived bias and a lack of timeliness in the investigation were raised, as well as the possibility that the fines being threatened are inflated and arbitrary.

"There’s only one department in the city and county of San Francisco with no oversight — Ethics," Joe Lynn told the Guardian. Lynn is a former Ethics commissioner and staffer who still watchdogs the agency and has been openly critical of the laxness he perceives there.

His question is one of many about the commission: How does the staff conduct its investigations? Should smaller campaigns staffed with volunteers be handled differently than larger, more professionally managed operations? If resources are tight, should Ethics be more focused on going after the big guys? If the commission had more resources, would the public benefit from both a greater understanding of campaign laws and a more open, honest, and just government?

SFACE raised a little more than $100,000 during the 2002 election season (including about $29,000 from the Guardian and editor and publisher Bruce B. Brugmann), but the measure it supported — Proposition D, which would have allowed the city to set up its own public power system and break ties with Pacific Gas and Electric Co. — failed.

PG&E spent more than $2 million defeating Prop. D, $800,000 of it in the final days of the race, which campaign attorney James Sutton, the treasurer of the utility’s front group, San Franciscans Against the Blank Check, didn’t report until nearly a month after election day, a violation of campaign finance laws. That act likely scored SFACE’s opponents the win.

The Ethics Commission staff launched an investigation, and in 2004, Sutton’s old law firm was fined $100,000 — the largest amount ever levied by the city for breaking election laws. The state Fair Political Practices Commission also slapped Sutton with $140,000 in fines for vioutf8g the Political Reform Act (see "Repeat Offender," 10/27/04).

At Knee’s recent hearing, Lynn, who was once a finance officer for the Ethics Commission, pointed out she was being fined 14 times what Sutton was fined, and if the same formula had been applied, his fine would have been nearly $1.5 million. "You can’t change the standards arbitrarily," Lynn cautioned the five commissioners. "You need to establish standards for these fines, and you need to keep them across the board."

According to the governing law, which mirrors state mandates at the FPPC, commissioners may levy a fine of up to $5,000 or three times the amount of the violation, whichever is greater. Knee’s fine could be as much as $230,000, and Sutton’s could have been $2.4 million — about the same amount that it costs to run the Ethics office for a year.

The Ethics Commission has never imposed the maximum fine, and executive director John St. Croix doesn’t like to draw comparisons between campaigns. "They’re like snowflakes, very different," he said.

A review of the past three years of enforcement history, posted on the commission’s Web site, bears out this truth and shows fines ranging from a sliver to as much as half of the contested amount. In many cases, fines are dismissed completely for financial hardship reasons. The commission does not abide by a formula, fearing that would handicap it during negotiations, but a number of considerations are weighed, including the experience of the campaign treasurer, the appearance of intent, the overall outcome of the election, and a willingness to make right.

Eric Friedman, spokesperson for New York City’s Campaign Finance Board, considered by many good-government activists to be the national gold standard for ethics groups, said its members use similar tactics for settlements, but "the structure that they follow is precedent. They’ve seen pretty much everything at this point." New York’s board is about five years older than San Francisco’s and audits all campaigns.

According to investigator Mo, the $26,700 in fines pointed at Knee was an "opening salvo" designed to inspire negotiations, which have not been smooth. Knee and her pro bono lawyer, David Waggoner, initially offered $500 to settle. Ethics continued to press for more, but Knee didn’t flinch. "I don’t think I should have to pay anything," she said, pointing out that Oliver Luby, the commission’s current fines officer, recommended a complete waiver of all fines. St. Croix said Luby doesn’t work in the enforcement division and doesn’t know all the facts of the case. The current settlement offer from Ethics is $267, which Knee is willing to accept if the commissioners agree.

It’s unclear how often such hardball is played. "Frankly, we took that settlement because that’s what they were willing to pay," St. Croix said of the Sutton case. So too with a $17,000 fine imposed on Andrew Lee for a variety of campaign finance violations (see "Enforcing Equity," 5/2/07). St. Croix said that was what Lee was willing to pay on the spot.

"I’m not sure we could set a standard," said Commissioner Eileen Hansen, who thought both the Lee and the PG&E fines were too low and said if that’s the bar, it should be raised. She pointed out that the law does provide guidance, but read literally, it could mean exorbitant fines for the same slipup echoed through a whole season of paperwork. "I think it’s a good thing to have the law," she said, but "some should pay the maximum amount and some should pay less."

"I’m happy to pay $250 to get it out of the way," Knee said. "This has taken so much of my time and energy." When asked about her audit experience, she replied, "I would never do this again. It totally discourages grassroots" campaigns.

A legal assistant for 25 years, Knee was not a professional accountant but did have experience doing some bookkeeping. "The IRS is like kindergarten compared to the Ethics Commission," she said.

David Looman, a professional treasurer who’s currently managing about 10 campaign accounts and undergoing three audits by the Ethics Commission, agrees that the potential liability is a huge risk. "Twenty years ago when I started in politics in this town, nobody paid for a treasurer. Nobody had a lawyer. Nowadays you’d be crazy not to do both," he said.

The audits in Looman’s cases involve small grassroots campaigns similar to the one Knee oversaw. "There’s no good business principle for why these people should be audited," Looman said. "The fewer resources you have to employ, the more intelligent your decisions should be for how to employ them. Here they are auditing my $12,000 committee when there are clear miscreants running around."

Part of the Ethics Commission’s charter calls for mandatory audits of all publicly financed campaigns, and St. Croix said the agency does as many random audits as resources allow. Last year, he recalled, more than a dozen were completed. With full financial backing, St. Croix said, he would audit all campaigns. He said, "It’s funny. People know they’re going to get audited and they still try to get away with stuff."<\!s>*

Next: what does the Ethics Commission need to rein in the most frequent and flagrant violators?



by Amanda Witherell

Solar panel.jpeg

This afternoon Mayor Gavin Newsom signed legislation permitting the city to move forward with its plan for Community Choice Aggregation.

Rumors were flying around all week that Newsom might veto, especially after his press conference coup with PG&E last week. PG&E is none too keen on this CCA thing.

That’s because it intends to kick PG&E’s ass at the renewables game. But what’s a little friendly competition? The plan is for the city to build or buy 51 percent of our electricity from renewable sources, which is permitted under a state law pushed by Carole Migden in 2002, and some 30 percent more than what PG&E is offering. Supervisors Tom Ammiano and Ross Mirkarimi have spent the last few years hammering out legislation and what they came up with was passed by nearly all their fellow board members. (Alioto-Pier and Jew were the no-go’s.)

Newsom issued a letter expressing his concern that the plan must “meet or beat” PG&E’s rates in the first 60 days, but ended on a lighter note with his commitment to “moving forward expeditiously.” He’s asked the SFPUC to get on it by July 15. They’ll be issuing a Request for Information, followed by a formal call for proposals for more wind, water, and sun power in the city.

Turning the tides



On June 19 the Board of Supervisors cast its final ayes in favor of San Francisco’s new plan for public power, Community Choice Aggregation, which allows the city to own or purchase as much as 51 percent of the electricity for its residents and businesses from renewable sources. The plan’s goal is to meet or beat the rates of the city’s current provider, Pacific Gas and Electric Co., which draws 13 percent of its power from renewable sources. CCA has become the popular choice for public power fans, who have long pushed the city to get a divorce from PG&E’s monopoly.

But across town the same day, it looked as if Mayor Gavin Newsom was renewing nuptial vows with the $12 billion utility. In front of the charming backdrop of the Golden Gate Bridge, Newsom announced a partnership between the city and PG&E to look into tidal power. He promised "the most comprehensive study yet undertaken to assess the possibilities for harnessing the tides in San Francisco Bay."

PG&E committed as much as $1.5 million, which will bolster $146,000 from the city and a $200,000 grant from the Sidney E. Frank Foundation.

The news conference had public-power advocates wondering about Newsom’s real commitment to renewable, locally owned power. "I’ve asked all the members of the Board of Supervisors," Sup. Ross Mirkarimi told the Guardian. "That press conference — nobody knew it was taking place." He said a mayoral aide later apologized that his office hadn’t been informed, but he added, "I don’t think it was a mistake that it occurred on the same day as the vote for CCA."

The Mayor’s Office said the scheduling was purely coincidental and had been on the books for at least three weeks, but it did not issue a news release about the news conference, and no media advisory was sent to us.

Parties involved in the deal say it will bring more money to researching a shaky, untested technology — even if it means that the power any project generates could be controlled by PG&E. "We’re always going to have that issue of ownership later, and I’d rather get the research data into the public domain," said Jared Blumenfeld, director of the city’s Department of the Environment (SFE).

Blumenfeld insisted that the deal would give the public direct oversight of all research, including work done by the private utility. The memorandum of understanding between San Francisco, PG&E, and Golden Gate Energy, which holds the permit license for tidal energy in the bay, makes it clear that all information will be shared by all parties and open to public scrutiny.

Newsom made a similar announcement in September 2006, when he called for the creation of a Tidal Power Advisory Group and allocated $150,000 for a feasibility study through the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and the SFE. But that program hasn’t gone far — and the little that has happened is secret.

A review of the agendas and minutes of SFPUC and SFE commission meetings shows only scant and passing mention of tidal power. The Tidal Power Advisory Group eventually came to fruition as one of five subcommittees of the Clean Tech Advisory Council, a 16-member board of local "green" business executives, entrepreneurs, and environmental experts that was formed at the call of the mayor in November 2005. Chaired by William K. Reilly, an Environmental Protection Agency administrator under George H.W. Bush, the council neither announces meetings or agendas nor makes public its minutes.

A special subcommittee devoted to tidal and wave energy has worked closely with the SFPUC to advance a feasibility study. The contract for that study went without bid to URS Corp. and will continue in conjunction with the new PG&E partnership.

URS, an international engineering, design, and construction firm based in San Francisco and formerly run by Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s husband, Richard Blum, has a long history with the city. The tidal power study was not subject to competitive bids and was awarded to URS because the company had undertaken significant computer models of the entire Bay Area for a past proposal to fill in part of the waterway to extend runways at San Francisco International Airport, Blumenfeld said. That plan was shot down, but the environmental impact report it spawned contains information relevant to studying tidal power.

Additionally, URS has an as-needed work agreement with San Francisco, Blumenfeld said, "and everything moves glacially" in regard to contracting with the city.

The kind of tidal power being considered — called "in-stream" and analogous to a wind farm of water-pushed turbines — is such a new technology that there is only one deployment in the world that’s generating more than one megawatt of energy. One megawatt is enough to power about 1,000 average homes. The Electric Power Research Institute released a study in 2006 concluding that the Golden Gate has the potential to generate 237 megawatts but suggesting that only 15 percent of that — about 35 megawatts — would be available without negative environmental impact.

"I think that number’s made up, personally," said Mike Hoover, a partner at Golden Gate Energy. "We know the energy that’s coming in and out of the bay is more than that."

URS, which has conducted no other tidal power studies in the United States, may support those findings, but the outlook at this point doesn’t bode well. "It appears EPRI used optimistic assumptions on water velocities," the SFPUC’s Power Enterprise director, Barbara Hale, wrote to officials in the Mayor’s Office and at the SFPUC and the SFE. "Our feasibility study estimates around 10 MW extractable power, peak, and five MW on average with a commercial plant." Additionally, Hale wrote, the cost per kilowatt-hour could be closer to 20 cents than the 5.5 cents the EPRI predicted.

Hale told us it’s difficult to say how much power would make dropping a pilot project into the bay feasible, and the best-case scenario has a pilot project four or five years away. An actual grid connection of any significance would be several years in the future.

Then there’s the huge issue of who would own the power. San Francisco Bay is considered a public trust — and under any reasonable policy scenario, the power generated by its tides should belong to the public.

After hearing about the mayor’s handshake with PG&E, Mirkarimi introduced legislation at the June 19 board meeting that would require any power harnessed in the bay to be publicly owned. He said tidal technology is still at an "embryonic stage," but the memorandum of understanding "that was unilaterally devised by the mayor and the PUC at the exclusion of the Board of Supervisors demonstrates an early intention to give the new technology to the profiteers, and that alarms me."*

Green City: A wiser Earth movement



GREEN CITY Have you ever wondered how many environmental and social justice nonprofits are really out there?

Noted local environmentalist Paul Hawken estimates there are at least one million and as many as 10 million do-gooder alliances throughout the world, toiling away at their local niche problems or tackling the grander crises of the day, staffed by volunteers sacrificing time and desperately trying to raise enough money and political will to rebuild from the ruins.

And while environmentalists often are derided — and even criticize themselves and their allies — for being too fractured, lacking focus and an overarching leadership, Hawken thinks that’s actually a good thing.

Hawken is the founder of the gardening and tool company Smith and Hawken and author of several books, including The Ecology of Commerce and Natural Capitalism (the latter with energy efficiency guru Amory Lovins). He runs the Sausalito research group Natural Capital Institute, and that is where the research began for his new book, Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming.

Hawken attempted to quantify the entire environmental and social justice movement. He quickly realized its ever-shifting nature would make that impossible, and instead he’s qualified the movement into 414 taxonomies, from prison reform to chemical pollution, from ecopsychology to worker health and safety.

Blessed Unrest is both a history of environmental and social justice activism and an account of its modern efforts. Hawken traces the roots of the movement back to a meeting of a dozen abolitionists in 1787, identifying them as the first group of people who fought to better the lives of others they didn’t know. He lays bare the chilling truth that business owners then made the same economic arguments in support of slavery that corporations now make to justify the continued extraction of natural resources at the cost of human and planetary health.

Hawken contends that the environmental and social justice communities, despite their different objectives, actually function with the same core values. He thinks this plethora of small groups is a good thing and likens the overall movement to an immune system for the earth. The immunology of the human body became an even apter metaphor when he learned that the ability to heal doesn’t follow any top-down management but instead depends on cellular growth and change.

Now, rather than trying to count all the organizations, he’s invited them to account for themselves through WiserEarth (, a Wikipedia-like database in which groups can post information and outreach.

"WiserEarth is a tool," Hawken told the Guardian. The "Wiser" part of the name is actually an acronym for World Index of Social and Environmental Responsibility, and Hawken hopes activists use the site to pool scant resources and spread their rich loam of knowledge. It’s a place where philanthropists can find organizations of a similar ilk, and perhaps most important, the Web site reflects the real identity of a group that could never find a room big enough to host all its members.

"It brings more awareness of the scope and diversity of the movement," Hawken said. "You can see yourselves as part of a larger whole. That’s very assuring and helpful."

The Web site is only a couple of months old, but there are already 106,000 organizations listed, and it’s growing daily. At his public appearances, Hawken now stands in front of a large screen scrolling a list of all the names. "People cry when they see it," he said. "Repeatedly, everywhere I show it. And I don’t try to make it emotional. The reason, I think, is it’s a relief. The relief has to do with scale."

Fighting the good fight can feel like an exhausting, frustrating, and lonely battle, an overextended run of a play called David and Goliath that should have left the stage long ago. Hawken said he never imagines an audience for his books, and though this isn’t exactly a rallying cry, there is an affirmation coming across that flagging activists, freedom fighters, and friends of the earth need to hear: keep it up. And add your org to WiserEarth.*

CCA full steam ahead


by Amanda Witherell

Yesterday the Board of Supes overwhelmingly endorsed the Community Choice Aggregation public power plan with a 10-1 vote. Ed Jew dissented…maybe one of his last nays. Michaela Alioto-Pier cast a “no” on the second vote for the governance structure, but that 9-2 tally is still veto-proof. Alioto-Pier wanted to tweak some language as well, which is being done and there will be another wee vote next week on it, but nothing suggests support will flag over the coming days.

How is that gratitude?



GREEN CITY Doing the right thing often costs a little more. Organic food, solar panels, and compact fluorescent lightbulbs are all pricier than conventional options. But Café Gratitude is now adding legal fees to the cost of going green for terminating a linen service contract in order to use unbleached cotton napkins in its four restaurants.

It’s hard to imagine how a restaurant could be any more humane, sustainable, and environmentally conscious. Café Gratitude’s raison d’être is encouraging deeper human relationships with one another and the world while serving strictly raw, vegan food. Wheatgrass grows on its counters, and if it’s not organic, it’s not on the menu.

Terces and Matthew Engelhart opened the first restaurant in the Mission District in 2004 and have since spread to the Sunset, Berkeley, and San Rafael, with a Los Angeles location on the way. Each spot has compact fluorescent lightbulbs, toilets that flush with a low-flow gush, high-output hand dryers, and cornstarch to-go containers.

In order to eliminate plastic from their entire supply chain, the Engelharts have leaned on their bulk-food carriers to use fusti containers (large, stainless-steel casks provided by the café) instead of those ubiquitous, unrecyclable five-gallon buckets when shipping their raw goods. A recent raw food recipe book by Terces was printed on 100 percent recycled paper at her insistence. The cafés frequently host fundraisers for local nonprofits. Of course they compost, recycle, and buy local. The delivery van putters along on biodiesel.

Yet in the process of seeking to further green their business, the issue of bleached napkins came up. The Engelharts have always used cloth napkins rather than paper. Once washing napkins themselves became infeasible for their growing business, they contracted for clean cotton napkins from Mission Linen Supply. From the start, they asked the company for an unbleached alternative, but none was available.

Anyone with a bottle of Clorox can read the warning label cautioning against allowing its contents anywhere near your skin, mouth, or eyes. The use of chlorine bleach in laundry produces chloroform, a human carcinogen, and additional industrial uses create another 177 organochlorine byproducts, including dioxin, the stuff found in pesticides like DDT and Agent Orange. No level of exposure to dioxin is considered safe, but it has pervaded the environment so deeply that it typically turns up in breast milk and semen, drinking water, and the fatty tissue of the fish we eat. Dioxin can lead to hormone imbalances, reproductive disorders, kidney and liver diseases, and cancer of all kinds.

So the Engelharts decided to switch from Mission Linen to another nationally known company, Aramark, which offers unbleached cotton cloth rags, often used in the auto industry. The rags, which are a creamy beige color and look like they could have come off a shelf at Crate and Barrel, would have a first run at Café Gratitude, then be recycled for their next job, wiping oil dipsticks. "We thought this was a great green solution," Terces said.

But now Café Gratitude is being sued for $25,000 by Mission Linen for breach of contract.

Before terminating their contract with Mission Linen, the Engelharts continued to press the company for a green solution, but no dice. They decided to keep the bleached supply coming to the Harrison Street location, but as new cafés opened, they’d use Aramark’s unbleached alternative, which is the same price.

After repeatedly requesting a greener laundry service from Mission Linen, they reviewed their contract and determined it could be terminated if Mission Linen couldn’t provide a product or service of the quality found at a similar laundry in the area. Mission Linen did not return calls for comment, but according to the Engelharts’ lawyer, Fania Davis, the linen company interprets that language more narrowly and is suing for the estimated lost profit. The Engelharts offered a settlement, and the company turned them down, so the fight continues, but the Engelharts still think it’s unfair.

"We were more committed to green than to continuing to bleach in ever-increasing numbers," Terces said.

Matthew added that the point isn’t to cast Mission Linen in a bad light but to bring attention to an important need in the restaurant community for more environmentally friendly laundry options.

"We’re not doing this for us," Matthew said. "It’s for everyone, our children and grandchildren." *

Comments, ideas, and submissions for Green City, the Guardian‘s weekly environmental column, can be sent to

More nuclear on the bill


by Amanda Witherell

It’s taken awhile, but Congress is finally moving toward federal legislation that would combat global warming in concert with the 2007 Energy Bill. The first of possible options was introduced today by New Mexico’s Senator Jeff Bingaman, and calls for all states to generate or purchase 15 percent of their power from renewable sources. That’s almost as good as what California already does, but definitely an improvement for the 26 states that don’t have such a mandate.

However, Binagaman’s Republican statesman, Pete Domenici is already trying to kick the knees out of the bill with an amendment to allow more nuclear power plants and so far unproven carbon capture sequestration technology to be permitted to meet that goal.

The Union of Concerned Scientists already has a “write your rep” campaign going…if you don’t think it’ll matter, remember all those border fanatics that stalled the immigration bill last week.

You can make a diff, too.