Bruce Brugmann

The back story of the celebrated Boys’ Night Out at John’s Grill



By Bruce B. Brugmann (Scroll down for photo id and to see Ex- Marine Pete McCloskey jump the barricade and storm Martin’s Beach) 

Boys’ Night Out, a creation of press agent Lee Houskeeper, was held recently at John’s Grill, home of Dashiell Hammett and the Maltese Falcon.   Houskeeper turned the falcon on its side, which meant that all of the news and gossip turned up by his newsworthy guests was privileged and could not be repeated to the outside world.

Nonetheless, the timing was perfect because the next day came the welcome news that a San Mateo Superior Court judge had ruled for the public and against a  billionaire coastal landowner to open up a valuable chunk of privately held San Mateo coastline. The Surfrider case was handled by  Attorneys Joe Cotchett and Pete McCloskey, both of whom were at the dinner.

Houskeeper, who does publicity work for Cotchett,  explained the back story to me after the dinner. He said that the Surfrider forces started “the public brouhaha” two years ago when the “Blackwater type security goons were arresting surfers who dared jump his locked Martin’s Beach gate fence.”  Vinod Khosla, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist, had acquired the 53-acre parcel near Half Moon Bay in 2008. Houskeeper asked McCloskey, a Korean War veteran,  if he would risk arrest, jump the gate, and lead the surfers a half mile to “free” the beach.

“The former Marine (Silver Star, Bronze Star, Navy Cross and two Purple Hearts did just that at 85 years old,” Houskeeper said. 

“Six sheriff cop cars showed up and decided to protect Pete’s right to march to the beach. That action effectively stopped Khosla from arresting any more surfers.” And it was yet another victory for McCloskey, an environmenrtal hero as a fighting attorney, 16 year peninsula congressman, and the politician who beat Shirley Temple for Congress and then ran against Nixon in the Republican primary for president.  McCloskey was 87 on Sept.29. 

In the above photo, Cotchett is in the middle in the back row. McCloskey is sitting in the second row in suit and tie on the right between Houskeeper and Ron Turner.  Others in the picture in no particular order are listed below.  The photo was taken by Robert Altman, official photographer at  Boys’ Night Out events. b3

Ex-Marine Pete McCloskey jumps the barricade…

…and leads the charge of surfers to free Martin’s Beach. This was the key assault in the winning battle to save the beach.  Photos by San Francisco Stories 

Wavy Gravy, Joe Garrity, Greg Corrales, Joe Cotchett, Pete McCloskey, Mark Leno, Ron Turner, Bruce Brugmann, Don Sanchez, Al Saracevic, Bob Sarlatte, Michael Finney, Don Sanchez, Peter Albin, Kevin Fagan, Joe Rosato Jr., Alex Clemens, Gene Schoenfeld, Mark Matthews, Jonathan Bloom, Herb Gold, Tony Ribera, Rich Corriea, J.C. Juanis, John Marshal, Tomas Roman, Paul Wells, Phil Gregory, Paul Alvarado, Larry Kamer, Fred Pardini, David Ebarle, Jim Huntington, Marc Vogel, Rob Caughlan, Rod Glaubman, Robert Altman, Eric Christensen, Michael Taylor and Jack Balentine

Franklin Delano Roosevelt: His 1932 speech to the Commonwealth Club previewed the New Deal


By Bruce B. Brugmann (with the full text of FDR’s address) 

Ken Burns’ documentary on the Roosevelts, broadcast last week by KQED,  was a stunning achievement and the best work Burns has done. It previewed key elements of the New Deal and provided historic context and relevance for the progressive politics of San Francisco and California. But it didn’t mention a key local angle, FDR’s famous speech to the Commonwealth Club on Sept. 21, 1932, in the heat of his winning campaign for president. 

I got on to the speech when Joseph J. Ellis, the noted historian, spoke to the club last year on his new book, “Revolutionary Summer, The birth of American independence.” In his introduction, Ellis said that “in my view the most important political speech in the 20th century was delivered here by Franklin Roosevelt.”

 The speech was written by Adolph Berle, a member of Roosevelt’s “brain trust,” and drew heavily on earlier progressive ideas, particularly  those of John Dewey, a leading progressive scholar who taught mainly  at Columbia University in New York. His speech is in the Commonwealth Club collection “Each a Mighty Voice,” a beautiful hardcover book published by Heyday.  Here is his speech. b3

(The Bruce blog is written and edited by Bruce B. Brugmann, editor at large of the San Francisco Bay Guardian. He was the editor and with his wife Jean Dibble the co-founder and co-publsher of the Guardian, 1966-2012.)

Citizen Agnos comes on strong for Proposition B in support of his Athenian oath


By Bruce B. Brugmann  (with the complete  text of Art Agnos speech  to the  May 21 dinner of San Francisco Tomorrow)

When Art Agnos was sworn in as mayor in 1988, he used the Athenian Oath that was taken by young men reaching the age of majority in Athens 2000 years ago.  He shortened the oath (as many did) to say: “I promise…upon my honor…to leave my city better than I found it.”

For Agnos, a Greek steeped in Greek traditions, the oath was a serious matter. “At the heart of our vision,” Agnos said in his inaugural address, “ is a refusal to let San Francisco become an expensive enclave  that locks out the middle class, working families and the poor. At the center of our strategy is a belief in the basic right of people to decent jobs and housing.”  

Twenty-six years later, Citizen Agnos was working hard  in private life to leave his city better than he had found it. He led a citizens’ movement that stopped the monstrous 8 Washington project, knocked the Warriors off the piers, forced the Giants to lower their  highrise expectations,  and promoted Proposition  B that would stop  the Wall on the Waterfront and require a public vote on any increases  to current height limits on port property.

 And Agnos is having the time of his life doing all this, as he made clear in his remarks to San Francisco Tomorrow, the one organization in town that has been manning the barricades in every major Manhattanization battle all these years  on the waterfront and everywhere else.  He enjoys taking on Mayor Lee and “the high tech billionaire political network that wants to control city hall and fulfill their vision of who can live here and where.” And he must relish  the Chronicle’s C.W.Nevius and the paper’s editors and their self-immolating bouts of hysteria.  

Agnos gave a splendid speech and confirms that he really is our best ex-mayor. I particularly liked his point about the “power to decide” on development. “Today that power to decide is in a room In City Hall. I know that room. I have been in that room. 

“You know who is in there? It is the lobbyists,..the land use lawyers…the construction union representatives..the department directors..and other politicians. You know who is not in that room. You.Prop B changes that dynamic and puts you in the room that matters. No more ‘advisory committees’ that get  indulged and brushed off. No more ‘community outreach’ that is ignored. It will all matter.”

Yes, yes, yes, a thousand times yes, on B and stopping the Manhattanization of the waterfront. b3

Agnos remarks to San Francisco Tomorrow 

I am delighted to speak to the members and friends of SFT about the waterfront tonight…and a special shout out to Jane Morrison as one of the pioneer professional  women in the media… and one of the  finest Social Service Commissioners in our City’s history. I also welcome the opportunity to join you in honoring tonight’s unsung heroes…Becky Evans with whom I have worked closely over the past year and half …Tim Redmond  the conscience of the progressive community for the past 35 years…Sarah Short and Tommi Avicolli Mecca from the Housing Rights Committee who stand up every day for poor and working people who need a voice in our city.

Twenty-four years ago in 1990, I made one of the best decisions of my mayoralty when I listened to the progressive environmental voice of San Francisco and ordered the demolition of the Embarcadero Freeway. That freeway was not only a hideous blight but also a wall that separated the city from its waterfront. Hard to believe today…but it was a very controversial decision back then… just 3 years before…in 1987 the voters had defeated a proposal by Mayor Feinstein to demolish it. The Loma Prieta Earthquake gave us a chance to reconsider that idea in 1990. Despite opposition of 22,000 signatures on a petition to retrofit the damaged freeway… combined with intense lobbying from the downtown business community led by the Chamber of Commerce, North Beach, Fisherman’s Wharf and especially Chinatown…we convinced the Board of Supervisors to adopt our plan to demolish the freeway… by one vote.

And the rest is history…until today. 

After a period of superb improvements that include a restored Ferry Building…the Ball park… new public piers where one can walk further out into the bay than ever before in the history of this city… the 
Exploratorium…the soon to be opened Jim Herman Cruise Ship terminal…Brannan Wharf Park…there is a new threat. Private development plans that threaten to change the environment of what Herb Caen first called “our newest precious place” …not with an ugly concrete freeway wall…but with steel and glass hi-rises that are twice as tall.

Today…the availability of huge amounts of developer financing …combined with unprecedented influence in city hall and the oversight bodies of this city…the Waterfront has become the new gold coast of San Francisco. Politically connected developers seek to exploit magnificent public space with hi-rise, high profit developments that shut out the ordinary San Franciscan from our newest precious place. We love this city because it is a place where all of us have a claim to the best of it…no matter what our income…no matter that we are renter or homeowner…no matter what part of the city we come from.

And connected to that is the belief that waterfront public land is for all of us…not just those with the biggest bank account or most political influence. 

That was driven home in a recent call I had from a San Franciscan who complained about the high cost of housing for home ownership or rent…the high cost of Muni…museum admissions…even Golden Gate Bridge tours and on and on. When he finished with his list, I reminded him I was mayor 23 years ago and that there had been 4 mayors since me,  so why was he complaining to me?
“Because you are the only one I can reach!” he said.

Over the past few weeks…that message has stuck with me.  And I finally realized why. This is what many people in our city have been seeking… someone who will listen and understand. Someone who will listen…understands… and acts to protect our newest precious place…our restored waterfront. You see…it was not just about luxury high-rise condos at 8 Washington last year…It was not just a monstrous 
basketball arena on pier 30-32 with luxury high-rise condos and a hotel across the street on public land. It’s about the whole waterfront that belongs to the people of San Francisco…all 7 and half miles of it… from the Hyde Street Piers to India Basin. And it must be protected from the land use mistakes that can become irrevocable. 

This is not new to our time…8 Washington and the Warriors arena were not the first horrendous proposals…they were only the latest. Huge… out of scale… enormously profitable projects… fueled by exuberant boosterism from the Chamber of Commerce… have always surfaced on our waterfront. 50 years ago…my mentor in politics…then Supervisor Leo McCarthy said, “We must prevent a wall of high rise apartments along the waterfront…and we must stop the filling in of the SF bay as a part of a program to retain the things that have made this city attractive.” That was 1964…

In 2014…Former Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin said it best this way…”It seems like every 10 years…every generation has to stand up to some huge development that promises untold riches
  as it seeks to exploit the waterfront and our public access to it.” Public awareness first started with the construction of the 18 stories of Fontana towers east and west in 1963. That motivated then Assemblyman Casper Weinberger to lead public opposition and demand the first height limits… as well as put a stop to 5 more Fontana style buildings on the next block at Ghirardelli Square. This was the same Casper Weinberger who went on to become Secretary of HEW and Secretary of Defense under President Ronald Reagan.

In 1970 the Port Commission proposed to rip out the then “rotting piers” of piers 1 – 7 just north of the Ferry Building. They were to be replaced with 40 acres of fill (3 X Union Square) upon which a 1200-room hotel and a 2400 car garage would be built. It passed easily through Planning and the Board of Supervisors. When the proposal was rejected on 22 to 1 vote by BCDC, Mayor Alioto complained, “We just embalmed the rotting piers.” No… we didn’t …we saved them for the right project…and if one goes there today… they see it…the largest surviving renovated piers complex with restaurants, walk in cafes, port offices, free public docking space, water taxis and complete public access front and back. 

In 2002… that entire project was placed on the U.S. National Historic Register. But my favorite outrageous proposal from that time was the plan to demolish another set of “rotting piers” from the Ferry Building south to the Bay Bridge. And in place of those rotting piers… the plans called for more landfill to create a Ford dealership car lot with 5000 cars as well as a new Shopping center. That too…was stopped.

So now it’s our turn to make sure that we stop these all too frequent threats to the access and viability of our waterfront.

In the past 2 weeks…we have seen momentum grow to support locating the George Lucas Museum on piers 30-32 or the sea wall across the Embarcadero.I love the idea…but where would we be with that one be if a small band of waterfront neighbors and the Sierra Club had not had the courage to stand up to the Warriors and City Hall 2 years ago. Once again they used the all too familiar refrain of “rotting piers” as an impending catastrophe at piers 30-32.

Proposition B will help prevent mistakes before they happen. Most of all… Prop B will ensure protection of the port on more permanent basis by requiring a public vote on any increases to current height limits on Port property.All of the current planning approval processes will stay in place…Port Commission…Planning commission…Board of Permit Appeals…Board of Supervisors…will continue to do what they have always done. But if a waiver of current height limits along the waterfront is granted by any of those political bodies…it must be affirmed by a vote of the people. Prop B does not say Yes or No…it says Choice. It is that simple. The people of SF will make the final choice on height limit increases on port property. 

The idea of putting voters in charge of final approval is not new. In the past the people of San Francisco have voted for initiatives to approve a Children’s budget…a Library budget…retaining neighborhood fire stations… minimum police staffing… as well as require public authorization for new runway bay fill at our airport. And at the port itself… there have been approximately 18 ballot measures to make land use and policy decisions.

So…we are not talking about ballot box planning…we are talking about ballot box approval for waivers of existing height limits on public property. Opponents like Building Trades Council, Board of Realtors, 
and Chamber of Commerce are raising alarms that we will lose environment protections like CEQA by creating loopholes for developers. 

Prop B is sponsored by the Sierra Club…Tonight we honor Becky Evans of the Sierra Club who sponsored Proposition B. That same set of opponents are joined by city bureaucrats issuing “doomsday” reports stating that we will lose thousands of units of middle class housing… billions of dollars in port revenues…elimination of parks and open space on the waterfront. Astonishing!

These are the same bureaucrats who issued glowing reports a couple of years ago that the America’s Cup would mean billions in revenue for the port and the city. And they wanted to give Oracle’s Larry Ellison 66-year leases to develop on 5 of our port piers for that benefit! Now…how did THAT work out? So far…city hall will admit to $11 million dollars in known losses for the taxpayers.

Another opponent… SPUR says any kind of housing will make a difference and there are thousands in the pipe line… so don’t worry.

We have not seen one stick of low income or affordable housing proposed on the waterfront since the 80s and 90s when Mayor Feinstein and I used waterfront land for that very purpose. Hundreds of low-income housing dwellings like Delancey Street and Steamboat Point Apartments…affordable and middle class housing like South Beach Marina apartments and Bayside village comprise an oasis of diversity and affordable housing in the midst of ultra expensive condos. For me…that was part of an inaugural promise made in January 1988…I said, “At the heart of our vision is a refusal to let San Francisco become an expensive enclave that locks out the middle class, working families and the poor. At the center of our strategy is a belief in the basic right of people to decent jobs and housing. 

Yes…that was the commitment on public land on the waterfront by 2 mayors of a recent era… but not today. Indeed…San Francisco has been rated the #1 least affordable city in America…including NY Manhattan. That is one of the many reasons we see middle class  people…as well as working poor…being forced to leave San Francisco for Oakland and elsewhere in the bay area. That reality was reinforced in the February 10, 2014 issue of Time Magazine…Mayor Lee said, “I don’t think we paid any attention to the middle class. I think everybody assumed the middle class was moving out.”

Today…An individual or family earning up to $120,000 per year …150 per cent of the median in this city… do not qualify for a mortgage and can’t afford the rent in one of the thousands of new housing units opening in the city. The Chronicle reported a couple of weeks ago that a working family of  3 who have lived in a rent-controlled studio apartment in the Mission is offered $50 K to leave. That is what the purely developer driven housing market offers. And that philosophy is reinforced by a planning commission whose chair was quoted in December 2013 issue of SF Magazine saying, “Mansions are as just as important as housing.”

Prop B changes that dynamic by putting the Citizen in the room with the “pay to play” power brokers. That is what it is all about my friends. Power.

Former SF city planning director and UC School of City Planning Professor…Alan Jacobs recently related what he called the Jacobs Truism of land economics: “Where political discretion is involved in land use decisions…the side that wins is the side with the most power. And that side is the side with the most money.” Prop B will ensure that if developers are going to spend a lot of money to get a height waiver on port property …the best place to spend it will be to involve, inform, and engage the citizen as to the merit of their request…not on the politicians.

Today that power to decide is in a room in City Hall. I know that room…I have been in that room. You know who is there? It is the lobbyists…the land use lawyers…the construction union representatives…the departmental directors… and other politicians. You know who is not in the room? YOU. The hope is that someone in that room remembers you. But if you really want your voice to be heard…you have to go to some departmental hearing or the Board of Supervisors…wait for 3 or 4 hours for your turn… and then get 2 minutes to make your case. Prop B changes that dynamic and puts you in the room that matters. No more “advisory committees” that get indulged and brushed off. No more “community outreach” that is ignored. 

It will all matter. That is why today there is no opposition from any waterfront developer…They get it. We are going to win. It is easy to see how the prospect of Prop B on the ballot this June has changed the dynamics of high-rise development along the waterfront. The Warriors have left and purchased a better location on private land in Mission Bay. The Giants have publicly announced that they will revise their plans with an eye to more appropriate height limits on port land. Forest City is moving with a ballot proposal to use Pier 70 to build new buildings of 9 stories…the same height as one of current historic buildings they will preserve on that site for artists.

The Pier 70 project will include 30 percent low-income…affordable and middle class housing on site… along with low-tech industries, office space and a water front promenade that stretches along the entire shoreline boundary. A good project that offers what the city needs will win an increase in height limits because it works for everybody. A bad one will not. My friends…I have completed my elected public service career. There will be no more elections for me.

And as I review my 40 years in public life…I am convinced of one fundamental truth. The power of the people should… and must… determine what kind of a city this will be. It must not be left to a high tech billionaire political network that wants to control city hall to fulfill their vision of who can live here and where. It starts with you… the people of this city’s neighborhoods… empowered to participate in the decisions that affect our future. You are the ones who must be vigilant and keep faith with values that make this city great. This city is stronger when we open our arms to all who want to be a part of it…to live and work in it…to be who they want to be…with whomever they want to be it with. Our dreams for this city are more powerful when they can be shared by all of us in our time…

We are the ones …here and now… who can create the climate to advance the San Francisco dream to the next generation. And the next opportunity to do that will be election day 
June 3. Thank you.

B3 note: The full Athenian oath: “We will never bring disgrace on this our City by an act of dishonesty or cowardice. We will fight for the ideals and Sacred Things of the City both alone and with many. We will revere and obey the City’s laws and will do our best to incite a like reverence and respect in those above us who are prone to annul them or set them at naught. We will strive unceasingly to quicken the public’s sense of civic duty. Thus, in all ways, we will transmit this City not only, not less, but greater and more beautiful than it was transmitted back to us.”  The National League of Cities publishes the oath and says it “was recited by the citizens of Athens, Greece, over 2,000 years ago. It is frequently referenced by civic leaders in modern times as a timeless code of civic responsibility.” 

(The Bruce blog is written and edited by Bruce B. Brugmann, editor at large of the San Francisco Bay Guardian. He is the former editor and co-founder and co-publisher of the Guardian with his wife Jean Dibble, 1966-2012. He can be reached at 




“Monologos de la Vagina” An artistic and cultural triumph at the Brava theater in the Mission


I had just settled into my seat Friday night at the  Brava Theater in the Mission to see  the opening night  production of “Monologos de la Vagina” and the San Francisco debut of Eliana Lopez as a performer and producer.

This would be an interesting evening, I mused, because the play is being performed in Spanish and I speak only a word or two of Spanish.  The play, known in English as the “Tne Vagina Monologs,” was written by Eve Ensler. It opened in 1994 for a five year run off Broadway and has been produced internationally in many variations. It became, as the New York Times put it, “probably the most important piece of political theater of the last decade.” .

 Art Agnos, the ex-mayor who is leading  the battle to stop the Manhattanization of the waterfront, was attending the performance  with his wife Sherry. He tapped me on the shoulder and said quietly, Bruce, they filed a lawsuit this afternoon to block our waterfront initiative. They, he explained,  were the developers, the Building Trades and Construction Union, and the San Francisco Giants.  We chatted for a few moments about the impact of the suit and what  must be done quickly to stop  it in court.

This was, I thought, a quintessential San Francisco moment.

Here were Sherry and Art, coming to the Brava Theater, deep in the heart of the Mission at 2781 24th St., on the very day that the waterfront  gang were bringing up their big guns to knock out a people’s initiative aimed at saving the waterfront on the other end of town. The timing was exquisite and the political and community points became eminently clear as the evening wore on.

The  Warriors’ arena proposal, as Art and his allies have argued, is merely a loss leader for a monstrous condos-for-millionaires project by a Los Angeles developer  that would do serious short and long term damage to one of the most valuable pieces of property  in the world.  And it’s on public property on the waterfront  and would involve enormous public subsidies for the duration. The Giants, quiet till now, have their own highrise agenda.

 By contrast, here were Eliana, the Brava Theater, and  her merry band of monologists  working to do good, lots of good,  by producing  the first professional Spanish-speaking  production of the Monologs in San Francisco—and its message  that illuminated  women’s sensuality and the social stigma of rape and abuse.  In the process they were helping to save a lovely old Mission theater building and institution and  helping  the Mission District, which needs all the help it can get these days.

 Neighborhood theaters like Brava are an endangered species in San Francisco and its home base in  the Mission is under relentless eviction and gentrification pressure.  San Francisco is the only major urban municipality in California  that is not seeing an increase in its Latin population..

Eliana became famous in her native Venezuela as a star in television soap operas, but her real passion is live theater.  Her father is a theater director in Caracas and live theater is in her bones. She feels strongly that San Francisco needs more and better access to Spanish-speaking  theater and Brava is a wonderful venue for her to indulge her passion.  She and her husband, Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, live with their son Theo, 4,  on the edge of the Mission, only three blocks from the theater. 

I found that the good  thing about seeing the Monologos without knowing  the language was that I could still get a lot out of the play and the production  The lady from Venezuela can act—and did so beautifully and with charm, gusto, and style. And she can perform in both English and Spanish, as she has done in other Monolog productions. .

 She can also produce, mounting  a professional production that could play on any stage in San Francisco or Caracas or points in between. And she is also a splendid promoter and public face of the play and the theater, appearing regularly on Spanish  programs on radio and television and in public appearances. Her six person ensemble  included  two actors  who have performed  the Monologs in Spanish in Miami and New York: Alba Roversi  and Marisol Correra. Eliana performed with Alba in Caracas.

The actors  worked together nicely, obviously enjoyed each other and  the dialog, played to each other’s strengths, and got their points across with expressive  gestures and voice inflections and humor and poignancy. They loved the play and got a big kick out of performing at the Brava Theater. The audience loved the ladies and their performance and gave them a standing ovation.  Alas, the play was only for the three day Valentine’s Day weekend.

Bravo, Eliana. Bravo.  Keep on rolling, as we say in English. B3 

A newspaper is not just for reporting the news as is, but to make people mad enough to do something about it.  Mark Twain  (The motto of Random Lengths, an alternative newspaper published by James Allen in San Pedro, Calif.)

(The Bruce blog is written and edited by Bruce B. Brugmann, editor at large of the Bay Guardian.  He was the editor and co-founder and  co-publisher with his wife Jean Dibble of the Guardian, 1966-2012)

Sue Hestor’s 70th birthday party: “We Shall Overcome.”


By Bruce B. Brugmann

Plus: Tim Redmond reports on Sue Hestor and her environmental legacy on his new local  website 48  

How do you say happy birthday to a San Francisco icon like Sue Hestor?

Some 200 of her friends, allies, pro bono legal clients, political heavies, and fellow warriors against big developers and their pals in City Hall gathered Saturday at Delancey Street for a surprise party to celebrate Sue’s 70th birthday.

When she arrived, she was obviously surprised to find a band playing “We shall overcome” and her friends standing, clapping, cheering, and singing  in admiration for a woman who has spent more than four decades as a citizen activist and attorney fighting for one good cause after another, usually at bad odds against the big guys, often for clients without pay. It was truly a historic moment in the history of San Francisco politics. 

I first knew Sue when she popped up as a feisty volunteer in the Alvin Duskin anti-high rise campaign of the the early 1970s. The Bay Guardian was doing an investigative book, “The Ultimate HIghrise,” on the impact of highrises on the city. She pitched in on the project and was in the book’s  staff photo, jauntily wearing her trademark straw hat, standing next to the hole in the ground for the Yerba Buena Center development.

 We billed a central feature of the book as “the world’s first comprehensive study of the true cost of skyscrapers.” Our research group demonstrated that highrises cost much more in services than they bring back in revenue,  a finding that infuriated the Chamber of Commerce because they could never effectively refute it. We also laid out in detail for the first time the power structure behind pellmell Manhattanizaton, how destructive those policies are, how they shift the tax burden from dowotown to neighborhoods and small business, who profits from them, why there are more muckmakers than muckrakers. Our talented art director Louis Dunn provided brilliant graphics that drove home the damaging points about highrises.

Our conclusion was most prophetic: “The most disturbing finding can’t be quantified–but it should be shouted to the heavens.  It is this: unless the city of San Francisco reverses past practice and immediately enacts an ironclad land-use policy such as Duskin’s proposed height limit, the long scoffed at ‘Manhattanization’ of the entire city is a surefire, 100%-guaranteed inevitability.” 

I like to think this project and its results were a fitting start to Sue’s career in land use litigation and terrorizing big developers, City Hall enablers, and their ever more virulent forms of Manhattanization. 

In the early l990s, I called on Sue again, this time to be the founding chair of the spanking new Sunshine Task Force. It was a new task force formed to enforce the Sunshine Ordinance, which gave citizens the right to make complaints about government secrecy and its tradition of keeping City Hall safe for PG&E, big landlords, and developers etal. The task force would, I knew, drive the bureaucrats nuts and  it thus needed a strong attorney as chair who would be smart enough and tough enough to go up against the city attorney and the crocodiles in the back bays of City Hall.

 The neat thing was that nobody could kick Sue off the task force.  She was one of two members who were “grandfathered” in by the ordinance–an attorney (Sue)  and a media rep (B3) –who were selected by the Northern Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, not the supervisors. She performed admirably and got the task force on a firm footing as the first and still the best local open government task force in the country, if not the world. 

Through the years of development battles, it was often Sue and Calvin, Calvin and Sue.  Calvin being Calvin Welch, a crafty environmental and neighborhood strategist who worked with Sue and others in developing counters and initiatives and all kinds of hellish moves to beat or slow down and mitigate development.  He said Sue’s career could be summed up in two words: “cumulative impacts.”  The good thing was that we all knew, when the developers brought up their heavy artillery or their sneaky back alley maneuvers, Sue and Calvin would be there to blow the whistle and take on the fight. Call Sue, call Calvin was the watchword but they usually called us first at the Bay Guardian. 

Let me call now on Tim Redmond, a Guardian reporter who covered Sue and Calvin and the highrise battles from 1982 on, to explain what Calvin meant.  Tim laid out the political points in his piece, “Sue Hestor’s birthday and a lesson in SF environmental history,” on his new local  website “48”  Read Tim’s first paragraphs for the fun stuff on Sue and the last paragraphs for the really important contributions she has made to the city and urban planning, as explained by Calvin.

As Tim concludes, “In 1964, Hestor, representing San Franciscans for Reasonable Growth, sued and won a stunning decision in the California Court of Appeal mandating that the city start studying the cumulative impacts of development. As Welch noted, ‘there was an obligation for developers to prioritize mitigations.’ That’s where the affordable housing program, the transit-impact fees–and the entire concept of analyzing development on the macro, not the micro level emerged.  That was the idea behind the 1986 measure Prop. M, which included no height limits at all–but did include programs and policies designed to protect neighborhoods from the effects of unlimited growth.” 

Well, the Hestor faithful may not have “overcome” the big developers and their latest monstrous Manhattanization plans.   But they have come pretty damn close. On Sunday, the day after Sue’s party, the Warriors caved on its waterfront project and Matier and Ross did a Chronicle column with the head, “Warriors call for timeout on Waterfront arena plan.” And on Monday, the waterfront warriors marched triumphantly into City Hall and, as the  Chronicle’s John Cote reported,  “turned in more than double the number of signatures needed to qualify a measure for the June 3 ballot that would require voter approval for any development on the San Francisco waterfront to exceed existing height limits.”

That could kill the massively inappropriate project.  “If passed,” the Chronicle continued, “the measure would put a check on high-rise hotels and condo towers along the bay and require voter approval for height increases for three major waterfront development plans, the Golden State Warriors’ proposal for an 18,000-seat arena complex, the San Francisco Giants’ plan for an urban neighborhood on what is their main parking lot and the development of the industrial Pier 70 area.”

Whew! That’s what I call a nifty bit of Hestoring and Calvinizing.   b3

If you don’t like the news, go out and make some of your own. (Wes “Scoop” Nisker on KSAN radio during the dark days of the Vietnam War.) 

(The Bruce blog is written and edited by Bruce B. Brugmann, editor at large of the Bay Guardian.  He is the former editor and co-founder and co-publisher of the Bay Guardian with his wife Jean Dibble, from 1966 to 2012.)









Joe Bulgo: The neglected hero of Pearl Harbor


By Bruce B. Brugmann

(B3 note: reprinted from last year and to be reprinted every year by me for reasons that will become apparent upon reading this story.)

This is the incredible story of the neglected hero of Pearl Harbor.

His name is Joe Bulgo and he lived across the street from our family for years on 14th Avenue in the West Portal area. I knew him as a neighbor, and our daughter and son played with his two daughters. His wife Val for decades has sold and still sells fine jewelry in a downtown department store. Daughter Linda played the star Snow White for years in Beach Blanket Babylon and now has her own show in Las Vegas. Daughter Dianne is the catering director at the St. Francis Hotel.  And our families shared a wonderful domestic helper, Rose Zelalich.

But neither our family nor any of his neighbors had any idea of his Pearl Harbor heroism until his daughter Linda gave me a copy of a story on Joe in the December issue of the 1990 Readers Digest.

The story, “No Medals for Joe,” started when the reporter on the story, Mayo Simon, was asked to do a television script about the sinking of the battleship Oklahoma on December 7, 1941.  Simon tracked down the phone number of a sailor who was believed to be an eyewitness to the Oklahoma disaster. When Simon called,  Joe said in his Hawaiian accent, “Nobody knows this story.  Not my wife, not my children. Come on up, I tell you everything. I remember everything.”

So Simon came to Joe’s house, sat on the living room couch, and got Joe’s first and only interview on the Oklahoma disaster. Joe laid out the story of how he, a 21-year-old shipyard worker,  and his “chipping” gang of 20 worked for four days and nights to save 32 sailors who had been locked in their compartments amidst the pandemonium, floating bodies,  trapped air, and rising water.

“Joe worked tirelessly, opening bulkhead after bulkhead, only to find himself in a maze of compartments filled with debris,” Simon wrote. “Sometimes he came upon smashed bodies of sailors in passageways, but he had to keep going. Whenever Joe paused, he could hear desperate tapping reverberating through the ship. Save me, save me, the terrified sailors were saying. Give me life…That sound would live in Joe’s marrow forever.

“Night fell, and the clatter of the chipping guns continued. Fully expecting another Japanese attack, the workers could not use lights on the hull.  Instead, they relied on the grisly illumination from the burning Arizona. Toward midnight, when Joe cut into the hull, water bubbled out. He tasted it: sweet.  He hit a fresh water tank…They drilled open its bottom and a shout went up: inside was a dry, white shaft. A way in!”

He kept on going and “suddenly the ship began to sway and groan. Joe’s stomach tightened in terror. If it starts to settle, I’m gone. Fighting the urge to turn back, he tried to catch his breath in the choking stench of oil and sewage. Then he heard the tapping. Faint. Steady. Joe tapped back with his chisel on the sweating metal bulkhead. Come on, he thought. Tell me where you are. Finally, answering taps.

“Joe’s chipping gun dug into the steel, the trapped air came out with a whoosh, water was rising to Joe’s waist, but he refused to be distracted. “Keep on going, he told himself. Get them out!” Finally he was able to pry open the steel and “immediately the sailors came out in a huge rush of water—kids smeared with oil, hardly able to move or breathe after being trapped for more than 20 hours. None had the strength to get up to the hatch. So Joe said, ‘Here, up on my back!’

“One by one they climbed on his broad back, and he lifted them to the hatch, where other workers pulled them to safety.  By the time the last sailor got out, the water was up to Joe’s neck.” Joe scrambled up the hose line and the hatch was sealed behind him. “Joe blinked in the sunlight, filling his lungs with fresh air. The sailors, wrapped in their blankets, were already in the launch that was taking them to the hospital ship. Joe shouted and waved, but they were too far away to hear. He watched them disappear across the gray harbor.” They were gone and he didn’t know who they were and knew he would probably never see them again.”

More than 400 men died in the Oklahoma, but Joe Bulgo and his chipping crew saved 32 men. And Joe, miraculously, carried l0 of them to safety on his back as the water kept rising dangerously.

Simon reported that later that year the Navy gave citations to Joe and his crew “for heroic work with utter disregard of personal safety.” After the war, Joe married, joined the merchant marine and came to San Francisco during the Vietnam War to work on a chipping gang at the San Francisco Naval Shipyard.

His most valuable possession, his citation, was lost when his suitcase was stolen in a bus station. He wrote letters to Washington and finally got a copy of the citation with a note that he might someday get a medal. But Joe never got a medal and “it seemed the rescue was a forgotten episode about a forgotten ship.”

Simon said kept thinking to himself. “This man deserves a medal. Well, if nothing else, the film will give him and his fellow shipyard workers the recognition they merit.” But the film was never made and he put away his interview notes and script.

A year later, Simon  was asked to speak at the next convention in San Jose of the U.S.S. Oklahoma Association, an organization of all who had ever served on the ship. He almost declined but then remembered that Joe had  lamented the fact that he had never seen any of the men he had saved. “It was all in the dark and so quick.  I wish I could have talked with them once.”

On May 16,1987, Val and Linda Bulgo and Linda’s husband Matt wheeled Joe into the big convention room. Joe was in a wheelchair, his once powerful body shrunken, his eyes filled with the pain of bone cancer. The Bulgo family was seated in front at the head table. Simon told Joe’s story and how Joe had finally cut through the bulkhead and released the trapped sailors and told them in his island accent, “Here, on my back” and then lifted each one to safety.

“I know three of those men are here tonight,” Simon said. “And I also know you never got a chance to thank him. So if there’s something you would like to say to that Hawaiian kid who risked his life to save yours 46 years ago—well, he’s right over there.”

Simon wrote that it was “impossible to describe the emotions that swept the hall as I  pointed to Joe, and 200 people rose to their feet and cheered. He covered his face with his napkin. He didn’t want them to see him crying. Three elderly veterans embraced the man who could no longer stand, even to acknowledge the applause, but on whose broad, strong back they had once been carried.”

Joe Bulgo died two months later. The San Francisco Examiner called Simon and he gave them the story that the hometown daily paper had missed all those years. The obituary started:  “Joseph Bulgo, Jr., a neglected hero of Pearl Harbor…”

Simon supplied Joe’s epitaph in the conclusion to his own story: “Well, yes, there hadn’t been any medals for Joe. But, I thought to myself, in the end we made things right. We said thank you, at last, to an American hero.”

Linda Bulgo told me, as her dad lay dying in the hospital, that she asked him how why he risked his life to rescue the sailors. “I just knew I had to do it,” he told her. She has never forgotten those eight words.

For my tribute to my old neighbor,  I will do the story of Joe Bulgo, the neglected hero of Pearl Harbor, on every  Pearl Harbor anniversary.  Click here for the full Readers Digest story.


Extra! Extra! Calling all Nebraska Cornhuskers!


How to watch the Nebraska vs. Wyoming game at 5 p.m today on 403 cable and at the Final Final bar  in SF (Saturday, Aug. 31, 2013). Plus: Some inside Nebraska football.

Well, today, first game day at the University of Nebraska/Lincoln, I got out my red Nebraska cap and my white sweat socks with a red trim and the former Jean Dibble got out her red Nebraska sweater.   

Today is the opening game of the season for the Nebraska Cornhuskers and we planned to watch the game. We faithfully watched every game last year and we planned to do so again this year. Jean and I are both graduates of the University of Nebraska. I was editor for a semester in the spring of 1956  of the Daily Nebraskan (known affectionately in my day as the Rag) and we plan to return in October for a grand reunion of the Rag staffs through the years.  Our grandson Nicholas Perez of Santa Barbara is a sophomore mechanical engineering student and has season tickets. And so we became even more faithful fans.

Normally, the opening game is a breeze for the Cornhuskers, but the opening game of the 1955 season, when I was the sports editor of the Rag, was a classic Nebraska loss in a state where NU football losses aren’t tolerated. Nebraska played terribly and lost, 6-0, to the University of Hawaii at Memorial Stadium in a game so humiliating that the Cornhuskers never got closer than Hawaii’s 13-yard line.

Immediately, the Nebraska press and the sports writers across the state  erupted virtually in unison and started pounding on  Bill Glassford, the coach, and kept piling  on with increasing ferocity  for the rest of the season.  

The most virulent were the local sports editors, Dick Becker of the Lincoln Journal and Don Bryant of the Lincoln Star, operating with the power and safety of a joint operating agreement (JOA). (The JOA monopoly  was soon to be declared illegal with President Kennedy’s famous federal antitrust case against the JOA papers in Tucson, Arizona. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled  that the JOA was a  prima facie violation of antitrust law because it pooled profits, fixed prices, and shared markets. The JOA publishers, including the Lee chain that owned the morning  Star and the Seacrest family that then owned the afternoon Journal, lobbied Congress and President Nixon to legalize retroactively  JOAs with special interest legislation.)

I called Becker and Bryant  the Bobbsey Twins of the Journal-Star, countered them whack for whack and defended Glassford with facts and gusto .After all, he was a solid coach with a decent  5-5 season, won second place in the tough Big Seven conference and went on to play in the Orange Bowl.  I was surprised to find that I was about the only sports writer in the state to support Glassford.

Sadly, this was Glassford’s last season and  the end of his coaching career. However, a couple of coaches later, along came Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne and national champsionships and five decades of sold out crowds in Memorial Stadium. Later, I felt that I had been the precursor to Wes “Scoop” Nisker, a Nebraska native from Norfolk, and his famous motto he laid out as a newsman on KSAN radio in San Francsico during the during the dark days of Nixon and Vietnam. “If you don’t like the news,” Scoop would say, “go out and make some of your own.” Perhaps, I later mused,  this unlikely game in this unlikely place was the unlikely start of my career in fighting for the underdog and promoting  alternative journalism.with the Bay Guardian.

But I digress. Updating my research from last year, this is how to watch today’s game.

Nebraska is now a member of the Big Ten conference and so its games are shown on the Big Ten Network (BTN, cable station 403 in San Francisco.) Today’s game will be broadcast at 7 p.m. Nebraska time, 5 p.m. California time.

And then there’s the Nebraska bar in San Francisco, aptly called Final Final, the lively neighborhood sports bar at 2990 Baker Street, across from the Presidio. The bar is real Nebraska. It is owned by Arnie Prien, who comes from Lyons, Nebraska, and graduated from the university in 1964.  He has been running Final Final for the past 36 years and loyally broadcasts Nebraska football games every Saturday on his premier giant screen.

The NU faithful, he told me,  come from all over the Bay Area to see the games and enjoy Husker camaraderie.   (I have always been leery of the alleged Herb Caen rule: never check the item, you might lose it.) So I called Final Final this morning to check. The game, I am happy to report, is on the big screen today at 5 p.m and the suggestion is to come an hour or so early for a seat and first shot at the free pop corn and inexpensive beer.  

Final Final got its name from the days when the soldiers got their final drink before heading back to their barracks at the Presidio after a night on the town. This is most ironic, since the Lincolnites of my era suffered under strict drinking laws,  which meant that one could not get a hard drink nor cocktail in a public bar but only in the sanctuary of the private University Club in the Stuart Building. And then only if one kept a bottle in a private locker.

There is no place like Nebraska. Especially in San Francisco. Go Big Red. b3

Final Final. 2990 Baker St.  San Francisco 94123. 415-931-7800. Nebraska vs. Wyoming, 5 p.m.

P.S. The NU alumni site lists three other “watch sites” in the Bay Area.  Jack’s Brewing Company in Fremont. Legends and Heroes in Concord. And Knuckles Sports Bar in Monterey.

(Bruce B. Brugmann, who signs his blogs and emails b3,  writes and edits the bruce blog on the Bay Guardian website at He is the editor at large of the Bay Guardian and the former editor and co-founder and co-publisher with his wife Jean Dibble, l966-2013. He can be reached at

Normon Solomon: Terminal


Edward Snowden has provided, in my estimation and that of many others, a valuable journalistic and public service. And he has accomplished what he said he wanted to do: start a public debate on the NSA and its heretofore unknown amassing of our emails and phone messages, et al.  Here’s how you can help him.

Thunder from West Portal: Quentin Kopp savages the Warriors’ Embarcadero Wall and its $220 million taxpayer subsidy


(Scroll down to read Kopp’s column from the Westside Observer)

When then State Sen. Quentin Kopp was appointed to the bench in San Mateo County, some of his fellow judges took him out to lunch.  “We hope you realize you have now given up your First Amendment rights,” he was told.

Judge Kopp did as he was told and kept silent for years on the bench on the many issues he felt strongly about and would have taken on in the public arena.   Today, however, he is retired, given up judicial restraint, and is back in action exercising his First Amendment rights with gusto. Operating from a desk in the office of Atty. Peter Bagatelos in West Portal, Kopp blasted the scavengers on behalf of an initiative aimed at upending the scavenger monopoly and controlling rates (he was right.) He has fired away at the RosePak/Willie Brown/Chinatown power structure on the Central Freeway.
He regularly blasts Mayor Lee for “compliancy” on big development, District Attorney for any number of misdemeanors and indiscretions, and former Sup. Sean Elsbernd for being Sean Elsbernd.

Now, in the current edition of the Westside Observer, Kopp has hit his stride with an acidic but well argued column titled appropriately, “The Art of Picking the Public Purse.” 

His lead: “It’s all privately funded!  Those aren’t my words; those are the words of the billionaire owners of the San Francisco Warriors and compliant Mayor Edward Lee respecting the proposed (and financially complicated) Warriors proposal to build a mammoth sports and entertainment arena on San Francisco Piers 30-32.”

Kopp wryly urges his readers to forget that the proposed project, “with Lee as the spear carrier (proudly proclaiming that the wrongly placed arena would be his ‘legacy’) would, if ever built, be higher than the “hated Embarcadero Freeway, which many San Franciscans spent years detesting and attempting to eliminate.”

Instead, he said taxpayers should concentrate on the “taxpayer subsidy of up to $200,000 (including interest) to the Warriors.” And he lays out the arguments and stats that demolish the Warriors’ line that “it’s all privately funded.”  Warming up, Kopp writes that the Warriors demand that Piers 30-32 be fully reconstructed, at Port cost, to a standard that will support the immense 19,000-seat arena.  The reconstruction cost is an estimated $120,000,000. Every single penny of such $120,000,000 is public money, i.e. the Port. The Port must borrow the money to reconstruct those piers.

“From whom? The Warriors, of course, and for the privilege of borrowing such money (for the Warriors’ benefit), the Port will pay the Warriors an exorbitant 13% per year as interest.”

More: “the port must sell the Warriors an enormously valuable piece of public land across the Embarcadero (Seawall 330) for a highrise hotel, condominium and retail development (b3: gulp).” Still more: “under the proposed Warriors’ deal, the $120,000,000 borrowing would be approved by a simple majority of the Board of Supervisors. The San Francisco Giants in 1996 and the San Francisco 49ers in 1971 were not afraid to secure voter/taxpayers approval. Maybe Lee and the Warriors are afraid the truth is that $120,000,000 is needed for the extraordinary cost of bearing the proposed arena’s weight, and supporting facilities the Warriors want to build on a platform over San Francisco Bay (b3: gulp again.)” You get the idea. 

Kopp’s arguments cry for an independent analysis by Harvey Rose, the city’s respected  budget analysis, who did a prescient assessment of the costs of the America’s Cup project. Kopp’s columns, along  with the excellent reporting of Patrick Monette-Shaw on Laguna Honda and George Wooding on the Ethics Commission and others, demonstrate that the Westside Observer under Editor Doug Comstock and Publisher Mitch Bull has become a sharp critic of City Hall from a neighborhood point of view and the best neighborhood paper in town.

Click here to read Kopp in full:
The paper is distributed monthly  West of Twin Peaks but you can see it easily by going to the Observer’s website at  b3

(Bruce B. Brugmann, who signs his blogs and emails b3, writes and edits the Bruce blog at the Bay Guardian website at He is the editor at large of the Bay Guardian and former editor and co-founder with his wife Jean Dibble, 1966-2012.  He is now off to attend his 60th reunion of the dream high school class of 1953 in Rock Rapids, Iowa. He will keep you posted.)

Bully for the ACLU! It went after the real lawbreakers


Scroll down to read the ACLU complaint in the New York Times story

For me, the crucial question was not whether Edward J. Snowden broke the law but whether the U.S. government had broken the law in secretly setting up and secretly expanding what the American Civil Liberties Union called its “dragnet”collection of logs of domestic phone calls.

The ACLU, filing on Tuesday one of its most important lawsuits ever, stated that “this practice is akin to snatching every American’s address book, with annotations detailing who we spoke to, when we talked, for how long, and from where.  It gives the U.S. government a comprehensive record of our associations our associations and public movements, revealing a wealth of detail about our familial, political, professional, religious, and intimate associations.”

The suit stated that this mass tracking violates the Patriot Act and the First and Fourth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.  The ACLU asked for the court to stop the Obama Administration from the practice and expunge the records.

“Every American” needs to read the ACLU suit embedded in the New York Times story. Let’s get our priorities straight and go after the real lawbreakers. Bully for the ACLU. b3

Click here to read the Times story and complaint.

Bruce B. Brugmann, who signs his blogs and emails B3, is the editor at large of the San Francisco Bay Guardian. He writes and edits the Bruce Blog on the Bay Guardian website at He is the former editor and co-founder and co-publisher of the Bay Guardian with his wife Jean Dibble, 1966-2012.

The Pulitzer Prize Board surrender – and how the New York Times blew the Ed Kennedy story (Part l)


In the May 19, 1945 edition of the New Yorker magazine, the legendary press critic A. J. Liebling wrote a prescient article on what happened when Edward Kennedy, an Associated Press combat correspondent, defied military censorship to break one of the century’s biggest and most important stories.

His lead said that “the great row over Edward Kennedy’s Associated Press story of the signing of the German surrender at Reims served to point up the truth that if you are smart enough you can kick yourself in the seat of the pants, grab yourself by the back of the collar and throw yourself out on the sidewalk. This is an axiom that I hope will be taught to future students of journalism as Liebling’s Law.” Liebling titled his piece, “The AP surrender,” because AP, caving in to government pressure, led the attack on its own reporter by publicly censuring and then firing him. He cited the New York Times as leading the charge with a nasty editorial blasting Kennedy only two days after it had splashed Kennedy’s story on the front page with huge heads. Kennedy, the editorial intoned solemnly, had done a “grave disservice to the newspaper profession.”

Liebling, a mid-1920s  student at the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University in New York City, was presumably aiming his axiom at his alma mater, which was in a building endowed by Joseph Pulitzer, a crusading liberal publisher in New York at the turn of the century.  Pulitzer also endowed the prestigious Pulitzer Prizes, which are housed in the school and administered by a senior member of the faculty.

I especially enjoyed Liebling’s Law as a Columbia journalism graduate (’58) and as a charter member of the committee working to get Kennedy a posthumous Pulitzer prize this year for his story. The axiom was timely because my wife Jean and I were at the journalism school in April to attend my 55th class reunion and the school’s centennial celebration. The event was full of Pulitzer references and remembrances, highlighted by an address by James McGrath Morris, a respected Pulitzer biographer, speaking in the World room, named after Pulitzer’s newspaper.

The day after the centennial weekend, the Pulitzer Prize Board announced its Pulitzers and rejected the two Kennedy nominations without comment. One nomination was for his story, the other for a previously unpublished book by Kennedy on his career as a WWII foreign correspondent. The rejections demonstrated a serious flaw in the Pulitzer Prize process.

The point of quoting Liebling today, in May of 2013, is that almost seven decades after his article, the Pulitzer Prize Board and the New York Times have once again left Kennedy out on the sidewalk for doing his job as a reporter who, in a favorite Pulitzer phrase, knew “the  right and had the courage to do it.” Since this is a historic story of military censorship for political reasons, it is as timely and relevant now as it was then, since the Pulitzer Board and the Times still do not get the point.

So let me put the issue in context. Let me start by quoting Liebling’s main arguments and link his full six page piece, written in the heat of the censorship battle.

Liebling, who was himself a distinguished World War II correspondent, wrote,  ”The important aspect of the story of the row, I am sure, is not that Kennedy got his dispatch out of Europe before the SHAEF Public Relations bosses wanted him to but that only three representatives of the American press were admitted to one of the memorable scenes in the history of man, and only on condition that they promise not to tell about it until the brigadier general in charge of public relations gave them permission.

“No correspondent of a newspaper published in the United States was invited to the signing; besides Kennedy, Boyd Lewis of United Press, and James Kilgallen, of Hearst’s International News Service, the official list included four radio men, an enlisted correspondent for the Stars and Stripes, and a collection of French, Russian, Australian, and Canadian correspondents.

“Whether a promise extorted as this one was, in an airplane several thousand feet up, has any moral force is a question for theologians…I suppose Kennedy should have refused to promise anything and thus made sure of missing an event that no newspaperman in the world would want to miss, but I can’t imagine any correspondent doing it.

“I do not think Kennedy imperiled the lives of any Allied soldiers by sending the story, as some of his critics   have charged. He probably saved a few, because by withholding the announcement of an armistice you prolong the shooting, and, conversely, by announcing it promptly you make the shooting stop. Moreover, the Germans had broadcast the news of the armistice several hours before Kennedy’s story appeared on the streets of New York, and Alsie, the OWI’s American Broadcasting Station in Europe, broadcast it in 24 languages, including English, within an hour after.”

Liebling noted that the Russians “had their own surrender show in Berlin, and probably had a better publicity break on it than they would have had if the two surrenders has been announced simultaneously… One unconditional surrender of the Reich a day is as much as the public can absorb.” 

Liebling brought out the crucial political censorship point. “Moreover, the row can do a lot of good if it brings into the clear the whole disturbing question of military censorship imposed for political, personal, or merely capricious reasons and reveals the history of the prodigious amount of pure poodle-faking that has gone under the name of Army Public Relations.” Liebling was right on because it later turned out that a secret agreement between Stalin, Roosevelt, and Churchill had imposed a 24 hour embargo on the surrender story so the Russians could announce it the next day in Berlin. Kennedy’s story was in effect the start of the Cold War.

Last year, almost 70 years later,  Tom Curley, as president and CEO of AP,  backed up Liebling’s Law and apologized publicly on behalf of  AP. for the way it treated Kennedy. “tt was a terrible day for AP,” he was quoted as saying on the AP wire.  “It was handled in the worst possible way,.” He wrote a strong  defense of Kennedy in an introduction to a book published last year by the Lousiana State University Press,  titled “Ed Kennedy’s War: V-E Day, Censorship & the Associated Press.” The book was a personal account by Kennedy of his career as a foreign correspondent and a detailed account of his side of the controversy. His daughter, Julia Kennedy Cochran, found Kennedy’s manuscript in his papers after he died in a pedestrian accident in Monterey in 1963 at age 58 where he was editing the Monterey Peninsula  Herald. 

Curley wrote that “Kennedy and his editors performed superbly. They delivered one of the most significant scoops in journalism history. They did four things right. A great correspondent was assigned to the story. He kept reporting even after the censors tried to shut him down. The London desk moved the news without hesitation. The correspondent and editors adhered to the wartime rules as they knew them.  Finally, Kennedy wins the argument on a technicality. With the signing of a surrender treaty, there was no longer a war in Europe and not any excuse to submit to censors.”

Curley said “the book matches the best memoirs by World War II combat reporters for the quality of writing and telling detail, some of it gripping.  And in one way it surpasses the others. Not only does Kennedy give his final, thoughtful explanation for what happened on May 7, 1945. In describing his struggles with censorship and bureaucratic red tape and stupidity over many months, not just on May 7, he provides the fullest first-person account we have of the difficulties World War II correspondents encountered every day trying to do their jobs.

“Perhaps in some small way we bring posthumous recognition to an American hero and embrace – too belatedly – what McClean and Cooper (B3: AP executives) and the AP board could not admit. Edward Kennedy was the embodiment of the highest aspirations of the Associated Press and American journalism.” Curley said his account drew upon newly available records held in the Associated Press Corporate Archives.

Curley’s co-author was John Maxwell Hamilton, founding dean of the Manship School of Mass Communications at LSU.  He is the editor of “From Our Correspondent,” a series of books that features forgotten works and unpublished memoirs by pioneering foreign correspondents and illuminates “the development of foreign news gathering at a time when it has never been more important.” Hamilton, once a foreign correspondent himself, is currently the executive vice chancellor and provost of LSU. The book was submitted by LSU Press for a Pulitzer in the book category but the board rejected the nomination and, in keeping with tradition, rejected it without comment.

Following V-E Day, Kennedy was out at AP and the big  mainstream dailies. He became a managing editor for two years at the Santa Barbara News-Press and then edited the Monterey County Herald, later the Monterey Peninsula Herald.   The Herald won lots of journalism awards under Kennedy and he wrote many international commentaries under the initials E.K. He loved his community and he loved his job. .A memorial to Kennedy stands in the form of a sundial in Laguna Grande Park in nearby Seaside. It reads: “He saved the world an extra day of happiness.”

Meanwhile, Ray March, editor of the Modoc (Calif.) Independent News  and a former reporter under Kennedy on the Herald, decided it was time to nominate Kennedy for a posthumous Pulitzer prize and help right a historic journalistic and public policy wrong. With the help of Eric Brazil, a former Examiner editor and reporter, he put together a committee and petition.  I signed up immediately when Brazil called me.  And I helped put together the first ever panel anywhere on the Kennedy story for last year’s annual meeting of the California Press Association. It featured as moderator Ward Bushee, the Chronicle editor whose father had been recruited by Kennedy to work on the Herald. (He turned down the offer.)  Ward’s father had earlier won a Pulitzer as editor of the Watsonville Register-Pajaronian for exposing corruption involving the local district attorney.

The historic panel included March, Kennedy’s daughter, and Dave Perlman, a Chronicle reporter at 93, who was in Paris as a reporter at the time of the surrender. Jim Ewert, general counsel of the California Newspaper Publishers Association, drafted  a stirring resolution supporting the nomination and the members approved it unanimously.  It was submitted as part of the nomination package, put together by the Chronicle’s promotion department. March, Brazil, and  Frank McCulloch, former bureau chief for Time magazine in Vietnam who later held top editorial positions at the LA Times, the Sacramento Bee, and the old San Francisco Chronicle, wrote the nomination letter. It stressed that Kennedy had been the victim of military censorship for political reasons.  Meanwhile, the nomination got much media coverage, including the Chronicle, Washington Post, Sacramento Bee, Atlantic Magazine, Portland Oregonian, Editor and Publisher, and many other print and online venues.

When the New York Times announced this year’s Pulitzers, the paper gushed that  it got four Pulitzers, giving it a total of 112 Pulitzers, ”far more than any other newspaper,” as trumpeted in full page promotion ads. Margaret Sullivan, the public editor, was even more glowing in her Sunday column (4/21/2013). Her lead:  “The Times, it is safe to say, had a very good week. On Monday, it won four Pulitzer prizes – “the third most in its history and twice a many as any other news organization this year.”  (She also quite properly gave credit to the Times for its coverage of the Boston bombings and in particular for staying on the safe side of the “Rubicon of inaccuracy” by not reporting that an arrest had been made and a suspect was in custody.) She concluded her appraisal by saying that “The Times is far from perfect.  But last week, in its intelligent and restrained handling both of images and facts, it looked like a newspaper worthy of this year’s Pulitzer glory.”

However,  I and many others weren’t as smitten by Pulitzer glory. We were disappointed to see that the Pulitzer Board  not only rejected a Pulitzer for Kennedy, but that it did so without reference or mention of the Kennedy nominations, made no special citation (such as the special citation to the late Chronicle columnist Herb Caen) and gave no reasons nor acknowledgment of any kind for the rejections or to the historic importance of righting a major  journalistic and public policy wrong on one of the most crucial issues of our time:  military censorship for political reasons of news the public needs to know. I couldn’t find any evidence that the Times ever changed its editorial opposition to Kennedy and that it ever properly covered Kennedy’s side of the story. And the Times, unlike AP and so many other papers, didn’t cover the current story of the nominations to award Kennedy a posthumous Pulitzer prize or the censorship issues, before or after the Pulitzer awards were announced. Will it do so now? I am sending this report to the public editor and other Times editors and public  for comment.

I emailed Sig Gissler, the former Milwaukee Journal editor who now administers the a journalism professor. I put the above points to him and asked why the committee “instead of coming down on the side of the free press that Pulitzer and his school and prizes represented, the committee in effect came down on the side of government censorship for political reasons and supported a politically charged embargo agreement that would allow Stalin to catch up on the surrender announcement and hold his own press conference in Berlin.” 

Specifically, I asked Gissler  “was there any discussion on the Kennedy nominations, was there a vote and what was it, who voted for and against, what were the reasons for the rejection, was there any real internal debate on the importance and timeliness of this issue, and anything else that you or the Columbia officials (Outgoing Dean Nicholas Lemann or incoming Dean Steve  Coll, President Lee Bollinger) or the committee chairs or member would like to add. Is there a spokeperson I can talk to?”  I also asked for the names and contact information of the full Pulitzer committee and subcommittees and the appropriate Columbia spokespeople.

Gissler is a good man in a tough job burdened with honoring a dated policy. He emailed me back promptly and thanked me for my “interesting note.”  He said that, “regarding Kennedy, your desire for an explanation is testimony to your earnestness. However, each year the Pulitzer process produces many similar situations. Entrants desire to know why they did not become finalists. Finalists desire to know why they didn’t become winners. Petitioners for special citations desire to know why no special citations were bestowed. The Board declines to provide explanatory details, consistent with its tradition of basically not discussing, debating or defending its decisions.

“I understand your disappointment. However, at the risk of eternal irritation, I can only reiterate that the request for a special citation for Ed Kennedy was duly considered and that we do not issue statements when a request does not result in a citation.” He didn’t send me the names or contact information of the board or Columbia spokespeople. 

To give Gissler every opportunity to explain, I emailed him again and asked more questions: “So, after all these years, are you saying that the Pulitzer Board has no way for anyone (entrants or journalists or the public) to comment on the awards or the contest or the process? If not, why not?” I also asked again how the Kennedy nominating committee and others could make comments this year, right now. I ended by saying there was now much interest in “making the Pulitzer process more transparent, representative, and accountable.” I hope you agree, I told Gissler, and that you “at least present the issue to the board and the proper Columbia officials.”  I got no further comment from Gissler.

The Pulitzer School of Journalism and the Pulitzer prizes are endowed by Joseph Pulitzer. The school has the venerable Columbia Journalism Review magazine with a mission to “encourage excellence in journalism in the service of a free society.” And it has the excellent website that “weighs in daily, hosting a conversation that is open to all who share a commitment to high journalistic standards in the U.S. and around the world” and that could, let me suggest,  display the Pulitzer winners properly and host a lively forum for congratulations and comment  on the Pulitzers and the Pulitzer process,  It has a large and distinguished faculty and hosts a wide array of newsworthy panels and programs. It attracts each year an excellent class of students. It has a huge statue of Thomas Jefferson, paid for by Pulitzer, standing as a beacon of press freedom in front of the entrance to the journalism building. It is situated in the media capital of the world and promotes itself as the best journalism school in the country and a source of many of the country’s best journalists. It can do better, much better, with the prizes that the New York Times proclaimed, in its full page ad promoting its four Pulitzers, as “widely considered journalism’s highest honor.” .

And so I recommend that Columbia, the Graduate School of Journalism, and its Pulitzer Prize Board use the rejected nominations of Edward Kennedy, the reporter who was tarred and feathered for the crime of committing journalism, as the catalyst for major Pulitzer reforms. I recommend making the Pulitzer process more transparent, more responsive, and more prepared in our militarized age to fight government censorship and more prepared to promote and defend the First Amendment values of free speech and free press.

I will keep you posted. B3

POSTSCRIPT:  THE RUSSIAN PLAN TO PREEMPT THE SURRENDER STORY:   Ed Kennedy writes in his book that in the turmoil over his dispatch the correspondents overlooked another story almost as big as the surrender story. It came from  “no less august an official spokesman”  than Brig. Gen. Frank A. Allen Jr., the SHAEF commanding officer,  who told the corresponents in a May 8 meeting that “the official announcement might be delayed even further beyond the time set for it–3 p.m., Paris time.  He revealed that the Russians, having induced Washington and London to hold up the announcement, until the hour set for their own ceremony in Berlin, now were asking that news of the real surrender at Reims be suppressed until some hours after the phony surrender of Berlin. HIs disclosure was ‘off the record’ at the moment but could have been legitimately been reported the following day. It never was. 

“The sole purpose of the Soviet request, it was later established–and even then was obvious–was to convince a large part of the world that the Russians had obtained the surrender of Germany, with but contributory help from the Western Allies, whom they had generously invited to share in the final honor.  The Berlin ceremony was staged purely for Soviet propaganda purposes. Although a Russian correspondent was one of those whom General Allen had invited to Reims to the exclusion of any reporter of an American newspaper, no word of the Reims surrender appeared in the Russian press. So far as I know, none has to this day.

“The Russian action was the inauguration of the propaganda build-up for the course of expansion on which the Soviet Union was shortly to embark in Europe. Its importance as news was that it was the first clue to Moscow’s postwar policy.  But it went unreported at that time.”

Bruce B, Brugmann, writing as editor at large of the San Francisco Bay Guardian, as editor and co-founder and co-publisher of the Guardian with his wife Jean Dibble (1966-2012, now  retired), as a graduate of the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism (’58), as a recipient of  the Columbia Journalism School’s  Distinguished Alumnus award (2011), as a former bureau chief of the Korea Bureau of the Pacific edition of Stars and Stripes who encountered milItary censorship  (1959-60), and as a charter member of the Kennedy nominating committee. 








Honoring Edward Kennedy for defying and defeating political censorship in WWII


The campaign to award a posthumous Pulitzer Prize to Edward Kennedy, the Associated Press reporter who defied political censorship to break the story of the German surrender on May 7, 1945, was given a historic boost at the 135th annual meeting of the California Press Association on Dec. 7, 2012 at the Marines Memorial Building in San Francisco.

See the video of the Cal Press panel on Kennedy after the jump.

Honoring Edward Kennedy from The Intermountain News on Vimeo.

Video Credit: Craig Harrington, publisher of the Intermountain News in Burney

The association unanimously approved the first ever resolution by a news organization in support of Kennedy and it hosted the first ever panel discussion on Kennedy. Cal Press, as it is affectionately known in the newspaper business, is the oldest press organization west of the Mississippi and one of the oldest in the country. It was founded in 1876 at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco.

The resolution noted what happened to Kennedy after he broke the 36-hour embargo on the story. “Whereas the story made page one in nearly every newspaper, it angered General Dwight Eisenhower, the supreme allied commander, and all the other newsmen Kennedy had scooped. The military lifted his war correspondent’s credential, he was threatened with court martial and was fired by the Associated Press.”

The resolution explained that “unbeknownst to the reporters at the time, that suppression was the result of an agreement between U.S. President Harry Truman and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to allow Russian Premier Joseph Stalin to hold a second surrender ceremony in Berlin.”

Kennedy broke the embargo, Cal Press explained, after “he learned that news of the German surrender was being broadcast to Germany from a radio station in Flensburg, Germany. He contacted military censors and said that since the story was being reported in Germany, the security of Allied troops was no longer an issue and he intended to defy censorship and report the news, which he proceeded to do by using a military phone line thereby registering the biggest scoop of the entire war.”

The resolution noted that Kennedy’s story is now the subject of two major efforts to “rectify the journalistic injustice by awarding him a Pulitzer Prize posthumously.” The resolution was written by Jim Ewert, general counsel of the California Newspaper Publishers Association.

One effort is a campaign launched from Modoc County by Ray A. March, editor of the Modoc Independent News monthly newspaper, to win a posthumous Pulitzer Prize for Kennedy’s hard news international reporting. March worked for Kennedy as a reporter on the Monterey Peninsula Herald a half century ago. Kennedy was the editor and associate publisher of the Herald until his death at age 58 in November 1963 when he was struck by a car while a pedestrian in Monterey.

The Kennedy campaign, the resolution stated, “is supported by 54 noteworthy professional reporters, editors, and photographers, that include San Francisco Chronicle editor Ward Bushee, Pulitzer-prize winning photographers Kim Komenich and Sal Veder, San Francisco Chronicle Science editor David Perlman, former San Francisco Bay Guardian owner Bruce Brugmann, former AP legal reporter Bob Egelko and Frank McCulloch, former senior editor at the Los Angeles Times and the Sacramento Bee, and Eric Brazil,  a retired Examiner and Chronicle reporter, who co-chairs the effort with March.”

The panel gave life and substance to the resolution. Brugmann introduced Bushee as the moderator, who read the eloquent Pulitzer nominating letter from McCulloch. Bushee introduced March, and Perlman, 93, who was a reporter for the old New York Herald-Tribune shortly after World War II,  and Julia Kennedy Cochran, Kennedy’s daughter who discovered her father’s unpublished memoir among his belongings after his death. She got the manuscript published as a major book by Louisiana State University Press. It is titled “Ed Kennedy’s War: V-E Day, Censorship, and the Associated Press.”

The LSU Press and Tom Curley, former AP president and CEO, entered the book in the Pulitzer competition on the basis of its literary qualities. Curley had issued a formal apology in 2011, saying that AP’s repudiation of Kennedy “was a terrible day for the AP. It was handled in the worst possible way…Kennedy did everything right.” In a later interview, he elaborated, “Once the war is over, you can’t hold back information like that. The world needed to know.”

Sixty seven years after Kennedy defied and defeated political censorship, the Cal Press sent its resolution to the Pulitzer board as a formal part of the Kennedy nomination. It said that Cal Press “honors Edward Kennedy for his distinguished example of reporting on international affairs and his courage in the face of potential personal and professional hardship to share with the world one of the most important events of the 20th century.”

 Cal Press concluded that it “applauds and endorses the efforts of Ray A. March, Eric Brazil, and the 54 noteworthy journalists and calls upon the Pulitzer Prize Board and Columbia University to recognize Edward Kennedy for journalistic excellence and posthumously award him with a Pulitzer prize for his groundbreaking coverage of the end of WWII in Europe.”

The 135th meeting of the California Press Association was an historic occasion with an historic pronouncement to right an historic wrong in American history. We’ll keep you posted.  B3


Louis Dunn comments on the shootings in Newtown


“Pupils were all shot multiple times with a semiautomatic, officials say.”  New York Times Sunday edition (December 16, 2012).  Guardian artist Louis Dunn comments. Click on the artwork to view the full-size image.

Miami First Amendment attorney: election suppression is “unbelievably awful”


Thomas R. Julin, one of the top First Amendment attorneys in the country, emailed me this afternoon about the election suppression situation in Miami. Julin, an attorney with the firm of Hunton & Williams in Miami, reported that “the election situation here has been just unbelievably awful.”

“I spent three-and-a-half hours on line on Saturday at an early voting office. One of my partners was in line five-and-a-half hours today for regular voting.  And I just got a message from my wife that she is still one-and-a-half hours from the voting booth now, having been there most of the day. The outrage at the GOP for orchestrating this vote suppression is everywhere. The three primary tools that have been effective were the reduction in early voting days, the elimination of early voting on the Sunday before the election, and flooding the ballot with extremely lengthy constitutional amendments, none of which had any merit, but that slowed every voting line to a crawl.”

Cartoonist Louis Dunn puts things in perspective.

Extra! Extra! Gov. Rick Scott welcomes you to the State of Florida on election suppression day


And so, thanks to Republican Governor Rick Scott and his Republican allies, the lines of voters were once again impossibly long at Florida voting places and many voters started chanting dramatically on national television, “Let us vote, let us vote, let us vote.” It was a chant that rang throughout many battleground states where Republicans had the power to reduce early voting and implement other policies designed to keep the lines long and to make it as difficult as possible for prospective Democrats to exercise their constitutional right to vote. 

Guardian cartoonist Louis Dunn sizes up the situation. And I ask the Impertinent Question: Are Florida and other such places becoming third world countrIes? This kind of voter suppression and repression is an update of the old poll tax policy used in the South for generations to keep blacks from voting–and used eight years ago to put Bush into office over Gore, who won by more than 500,000 votes.  It has no place anywhere in the U.S. in 2012. The first thing Obama and the Democrats need to do is to move to investigate, prosecute, and criminalize this behavior.

Obama, let me predict, is going to win and he needs to aggressively assert himself and his presidency at the outset. This is a good place to start. b3

P.S. Thomas R.Julin, a noted Miami First Amendment attorney,  told me this afternoon that the election suppression in Miami  is “unbelievably awful.”  B3







Halloween 1951: Fast times in Rock Rapids, Iowa


The tale of what really happened on Halloween Eve in 1951 in Rock Rapids, Iowa.  (Reprinted by popular demand.)

As I was preparing to update my annual Halloween blog, I checked Tuesday’s San Francisco Chronicle to see what the action looked like for Halloween on Wednesday.

The Giants had just swept the World Series and Kevin Fagan’s front page story caught the spirit of  Wednesday’s parade and celebration, “We’re No. 1, let’s party, Celebration likely to bring a million to downtown SF.”  There was no mention of Halloween in his story and the only reference to mischief on Halloween was a dire warning from Police Chief Gregg Suhr.  “If you’re coming (to San Francisco) to do mischief, don’t come.”
Well, back where I come from in the Halloweens of my youth, we didn’t have parades on Halloween and the cops never issued any public warnings about mischief. But we did have some fast times and created some almost famous smalltown  legends on Halloween. This was in my hometown of Rock Rapids, a small farming community nestled along the Rock River in northwest Iowa. I can speak for a generation or two back in the early 1950s when Halloween was the one night of the year when we could raise a little hell and and hope to stay one step ahead of the cops.

Or, in the case of Rock Rapids, the one and only cop, who happened to be Elmer “Shinny” Sheneberger. Shinny had the unenviable job of trying to keep some semblance of law and order during an evening when the Hermie Casjens gang was on the loose. Somehow through the years, nobody remembered exactly when, the tradition was born that the little kids would go house to house trick and treating but the older boys could roam the town looking to make trouble and pull off some pranks.

It was all quite civilized.

The Casjens gang would gather (no girls allowed) and set out about our evening’s business, being careful to stay away from the houses of watchful parents and Shinny on patrol. Dave Dietz and I specialized in finding cars with keys in the ignition and driving them to the other end of town and just leaving them. We tipped over an outhouse or two, the small town cliche, but one time we thought there was someone inside. We never hung around to find out. There was some mischief with fences and shrubs and lawn sprinklers and potted plants on porches.

After an evening of such lusty adventures, we would go home about 11 p.m. and tell our parents what we had been up to and how we evaded Shinny the whole evening and they would (generally) be relieved. Shinny would just drive around in his patrol car and shine his lights here and there and do some honking. But somehow he never caught anybody or made any serious followup investigation. And the targets of our pranks never seemed to make police complaints. I once asked Paul Smith, the editor of the celebrated Lyon County Reporter, why he never wrote up this bit of zesty small town lore. “Bruce,” he said, “I don’t want things to get out of hand.” During my era, they never did. As a Rock Rapids reporter on special assignment, I feel an obligation to retell this story on Halloween and bring some Rock Rapids values to San Francisco.

Nonetheless, the city elders decided to keep Halloween devastation to a minimum and scheduled a dance in the Community Building, with the misbegotten idea the pranksters would give up their errant ways and come to the dance. The Casjens Gang would have none of this. In fact it was the year of the dance diversion that we made our most culturally significant contribution to Halloween lore in Rock Rapids. We happened upon a boxcar, loaded with coal, parked on a siding a block or so from Main Street, which also served as a busy main arterial highway for cars coming across northwest Iowa.

It is not clear to this day who came up with the idea of rolling the boxcar across Main Street and blocking all traffic coming from both directions. We massed behind the car and pushed and pushed but it wouldn’t budge. Then Bob Babl came up with a brilliant idea:  to use a special lever his dad used to move boxcars full of lumber for his nearby lumberyard. Bob slipped through a fence behind the yard and somehow managed to find the lever in the dark.

We massed again, now some 20 or so strong, behind the car and waited for the signal to push. Willie Ver Meer climbed to the top of the car and wrenched the wheel that loosened the brakes. We heaved in unison and the car moved slowly on the tracks until it reached the middle of Main Street. Willie gave a mighty heave and ground the car to a dead stop, bang, square in the middle of the street. Almost immediately, the cars started lining up on both sides of the car, honking away. Grace under pressure. An historic event. Man, were we proud.

We slipped away and from a safe distance watched the fruits of our labor unfold. Shinny, the ever resourceful police chief, soon came upon the scene. He strode into the dance in the nearby Community Building and commandeered enough of the dancers to come out and help him move the car back onto its siding. We bided our time and then went back and pushed the car once again into the middle of the street. Jerry Prahl added a nice touch by rolling out a batch of Firestone tires onto the street from his Dad’s nearby store. Suddenly, Main Street was a boxcar- blocked, tire-ridden mess. Again, the cars started lining up, honking away. Then we fled, figuring we were now wanted pranksters and needed to be on the lam.

The Casjens gang and groupies have retold the story through the years at our regular get togethers at the Sportsmen Club bar at Heritage Days in Rock Rapids and at our all-Rock Rapids Cocktail Party and Beer Kegger held for years in a Long Beach park and then in the back lawn of the Mary Rose Babl Hindt house in Cupertino. We would jokingly say that the statute of limitations never runs out in Rock Rapids and so we needed to be careful what we said and ought not to disclose fully the involvement of Dave Dietz, Hermie Casjens, Ted Fisch, Ken Roach, Jerry Prahl, Bob Babl, Romain Hahn, Willie Ver Meer, and lots of others, some who were there working in peril, others who declared they were there safely after the fact.

A few years ago, just before Halloween, I was invited back to Rock Rapids to speak to a fund-raising event for the local high school. It was a a crisp clear night just like the night of Halloween in l95l and a perfect setting to tell the story publicly in town for the first time. The event was at the new community building, on Main Street, just a block or so from the old Community Building, and a block or so from the siding where we found the boxcar. I told the audience that Shinny had assured me the statute of limitations had run out in Rock Rapids and that I could now,  five decades later, tell the boxcar- across -Main -Street caper with no fear of prosecution. And so I did, with relish.

Chuck Telford was in the audience and I recalled that he had driven up to us that night, as part of a civilian patrol, and inquired as to what we were doing. When he could see what we were doing, he just quietly drove off. “Very civilized behavior,” I told the audience.  Afterward, I told Chuck I would back him for mayor, on the basis of that incident alone. Craig Vinson, then the highway patrolman for the area, came up to me and said he remembered the incident vividly because he was on duty that night and came upon the boxcar blocking the highway with long lines of honking cars. “I got ahold of Shinny that night and told him it was his job to move the boxcar and get it off the highway,” he said. Others in attendance said they had gotten a whiff of the story but were never able to pin it down and were glad to get the real story.  The high school principal and superintendent didn’t say much and, I suspect, were worried my tale might lead to the Rock Rapids version of the movie “Ferris Buhler Takes A Day Off.”

For years, I said in my talk, I didn’t think that Shinny ever knew exactly what happened or who was involved in the caper or how we pulled it off, twice, almost before his very eyes. Shinny retired in Rock Rapids and I saw him twice a year when I came back to visit my parents. But I never said anything and he never said anything but I finally found the right moment and cautiously filled him in. He chuckled and said, “Let’s drink to it.”  And we did,  for years.

At the 55th reunion of the famous Dream Class of l953, I invited Shinny to sit in with us. He was still going strong at 89. He assured us once again that the statute of limitations had run out and we could speak openly about the Halloween caper in his presence and in front of witnesses. So Dave Dietz and I retold the story with expansiveness and gusto. Shinny supplied some key missing details. For example, he said that he didn’t get his troops out of the dance but out of the nearby movie theater with the threat that he would arrest them if they didn’t help him move the boxcar. However, Dave and I didn’t pin down some key details, such as how Shinny got someone nimble and brave enough to undo the work of Willie Ver Meer, climb to the top of the boxcar, twice, and wrench loose the brake. The boxcar would not budge until that brake was undone. That would have required some  expertise with boxcars, plus some physical skills, and would have been quite a feat to do at night with a gallery of a crowd and honking cars. Thus, there are some tantalizing questions that may never get answered.

So there we were, five decades later, working to make the fast times even faster on Halloween in Rock Rapids. Did Shinny  ever arrest anybody on Halloween? “No,” he said. “I would just shine my car lights and honk my horn and everybody would run.” Any hard feelings? Shinny chuckled. “Naw,” he replied. “Let’s drink to Halloween in the good old days.”

And so we did. Shinny often called me at my office in San Francisco and he always told  the receptionist, “Tell Bruce, it’s Shinny. I’m his parole officer in Rock Rapids.”  I”m glad that we were able to confess properly to the top cop of Rock Rapids in l951 and to hear Shinny’s side of the story.  We plan to go over the story again at our 60th class reunion, coming up next June at the country club in Rock Rapids. Alas, Shinny has died, but his fame as an enlightened, humane, non-arresting peace officer continues on and we will remember him and toast him properly.

Those were the days, my friends. The days of fast times and safe Halloweens in Rock Rapids, Iowa. Let’s hope they never end.  B3

P.S.: Ted Fisch, a key conspirator, and I talk regularly about Rock Rapids. He was the center and I was the left-handed quarterback on our 195l football  team. He became a colonel in the Air Force and loved to say that he was the only field grade officer he knew of who was a solid Democrat. He lives in Redondo Beach and we talk often on the phone and I visit him and and the rest of the Casjens gang now living in Southern California. We discuss Obama’s prospects and the campaign in detail and the eternal question why there are so few Democrats in Rock Rapids. In  one conversation, he said, Bruce, a friend of mine googled my name the other day and found that I was mentioned in your Halloween story. How could that be? Does that mean I am up there forever? Does that mean the boxcar story will be up there forever? Somehow, the news made me feel good.

P.S.1 I love smalltown lore and from time to time lay out the life and fast times and wild adventures of my hometown, the best little town in the territory. I invite others to do the same. B3

Avalos, Campos, Kim, Olague: Four profiles of courage at City Hall


Supervisors John Avalos, David Campos, Jane Kim, and Christina Olague earned profiles of courage for their votes to reinstate suspended Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi up against enormous pressure for a political assassination, accelerated by Mayor Lee’s demand for a pre-election vote.

And the other seven supervisors, well, they helped answer the question, who’s afraid of Willie Brown? Who’s afraid of Rose Pak?

Note to Mirkarimi: It’s time to repair the damage and get back to work implementing the ambitious program of rehabilitation outlined in your splendid inaugural address as Sheriff.

Unsolicited advice to mayor Ed Lee: Stop taking bad advice.

See my “Profiles of courage” blog for the context of this crucial vote.

The Mirkarimi vote: Will there be some profiles of courage?


(See the postscript for the Chronicle’s shameful crucifixion coverage of Mirkarimi and a timely, newsworthy oped it refused to run by Mirkarimi’s former girl friend. And how Chronicle columnist Debra Saunders ran the Nieves piece on her blog. Damn good for you, Debra Saunders.)

On Jan. 6, 2011, the Bay Citizen/New York Times broke a major investigative story headlined “Behind-the-Scenes Power Politics: The Making of Ed Lee.” The story by Gerry Shih detailed how then Mayor Gavin Newsom, ex-Mayor Willie Brown, and his longtime political ally Rose Pak orchestrated an “extraordinary political power play” to make Ed Lee the interim mayor to replace Newsom, the lieutenant governor-elect.

The story also outlined the start of a chain of events that leads to the vote by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors on Tuesday on whether Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi keeps his job.

Shih reported that “word had trickled out” that the supervisors had narrowed the list of interim candidates to three—then Sheriff Michael Hennessey, former Mayor Art Agnos, and Aaron Peskin, then chairman of the city’s Democratic party.  But the contenders “were deemed too liberal by Pak, Brown, and Newsom, who are more moderate.”

Over the next 48 hours, Pak, Brown, and the Newsom administration put together the play, “forging a consensus on the Board of Supervisors, outflanking the board’s progressive wing and persuading Lee to agree to become San Francisco’s first Asian-American mayor, even though he had told officials for months that he had no interest in the job,” Shih wrote.

The play was sold on the argument that Lee would be an “interim mayor” and that he would not run for mayor in the November election. The Guardian and others said at the time that the play most likely envisioned Lee saying, or lying, that he would not run for mayor and then, at the last minute, he would run and overpower the challengers as an incumbent with big downtown money behind him.  This is what happened. That is how Ed Lee, a longtime civil servant, became the mayor and that is how the Willie Brown/Rose Pak gang won the day for the PG&E/Chamber of Commerce/big developer bloc and thwarted the progressives.

Let us note that the other three interim candidates would most likely never have done what Lee did and suspend Mirkarimi for pleading guilty to misdemeanor false imprisonment in an arm-bruising incident with his wife Eliana. In fact, Hennessey supported Mirkarimi during the election and still does and says he is fit to do the job of sheriff. 

This was a political coup d’etat worthy of Abe Ruef, the City Hall fixer at the start of the century. “This was something incredibly orchestrated, and we got played,” Sup. John Avalos told Shih. Sup. Chris Daly was mad as hell and he voted for Rose Pak because, he told the Guardian, she was running everything in City Hall anyway. Significantly, the San Francisco Chronicle missed the story and ever after followed the line of its columnist/PG&E lobbyist Willie Brown and Pak by supporting Lee for mayor without much question or properly reporting the obvious power structure angles and plays.

This is the context for understanding a critical part of the ferocity of the opposition to Mirkarimi. As the city’s top elected progressive, he was a politician and force to be reckoned with. His inaugural address as sheriff  demonstrated his creative vision for the department and that he would ably continue the progressive tradition of Richard Hongisto and Hennessey. That annoyed the conservative law enforcement folks. He could be sheriff for a good long time, keep pushing progressive issues from a safe haven, and be in position to run for mayor when the time came. So he was a dangerous character.  

To take one major example, the  PG&E political establishment and others regard him as Public Enemy No. 1. Among other things, he managed as an unpaid volunteer two initiative campaigns during the Willie Brown era. They were aimed at kicking PG&E out of City Hall, enforcing the public power provisions of the federal Raker Act, and bringing  the city’s cheap Hetch Hetchy public power to its residents and businesses for the first time. (See Guardian stories since 1969 on the PG&E/Raker act scandal.)

He then took the public power issue into City Hall when he became a supervisor and aggressively led the charge for the community choice aggregation (cca) project.  His work was validated in the recent 8-3 supervisorial vote authorizing the city to start up a public power/clean energy program. This is the first real challenge ever to PG&E’s private power monopoly.

Significantly, Willie is now an unregistered $200,000 plus a year lobbyist for PG&E. He writes a column for the San Francisco Chronicle promoting, among other things, his undisclosed clients and allies and whacking Mirkarimi and the progressives and their issues on a regular basis.  And he is always out there, a phone call here, an elbow at a cocktail party there, to push his agenda.   The word is that he’s claiming he has the votes to fire Mirkarimi.

The point is that the same forces that put Lee into office as mayor are in large part the same forces behind what I call the political assassination of Mirkarimi.  And so, when the Mirkarimi incident emerged, there was an inexorable  march to assassination. Maximum resources and pressure from the police on Mirkarimi. And then maximum pressure from the District Attorney. And then maximum pressure from the judicial process (not even allowing  a change of venue for the case after the crucifixion media coverage.)  And then Lee calls Mirkarimi “a wife beater” and suspends him with cruel and unusual punishment: no pay for him, his family, his home, nor legal expenses for him or Eliana for the duration.

And then Lee pushes for maximum pressure from the City Attorney and the Ethics Commission to try Mirkarimi and force the crucial vote before the election to put maximum pressure on the supervisors. Obviously, the vote would be scheduled after the election if this were a fair and just process.

Lee, the man who was sold as consensus builder and unifier, has become a polarizer and punisher on behalf of the boys and girls  in the backroom.  

And so the supervisors are not just voting to fire the sheriff.  Mirkarimi, his wife Eliana, and son Theo, 3, have already paid a terrible price and, to their immense credit, have come back together as a family.

The supervisors got played last time and voted for a coup d’etat to make Lee the mayor, rout the progressives, and keep City Hall safe for Willie Brown and Rose Pak and friends.   This time the stakes are clear: the supervisors are now voting on the political assassination of the city’s top elected progressive and it’s once again aimed at helping keep City Hall safe for PG&E, the Chamber, and big developers.

The question is, will there be some profiles of courage this time around? b3

P.S.1  Julian Davis for District 5 supervisor: “Supes mum on sheriff,” read the Sunday Chronicle head. Nobody would say how he/she would vote. And poor Sup. Sean Elsbernd claimed that he would be “holed all Sunday in his office reading a table full of thick binders of official documents related to the case plus a few that he’s prepared for himself containing some case law.”  (Anybody wonder how he’s going to vote? Let’s have a show of hands.)  

The last time I saw Julian Davis he was holding a “Stand with Ross” sign at a Mirkarimi rally on the City Hall steps. With Davis, there would be no second guessing and hand wringing on how he would vote. That’s the problem now with so many neighborhood supervisors who go down to City Hall and vote with Willie and downtown. Davis would be a smart, dependable progressive vote in the city’s most progressive district (5), and a worthy successor to Matt Gonzalez and Ross Mirkarimi. If Davis were on the board now, I’m sure he would stand with Ross and speak for Ross, no ifs, ands, or buts. And his vote might be decisive.  

P.S. 2 The Chronicle’s  shameful crucifixion of Mirkarimi continues  The Chronicle has refused to run a timely and  newsworthy op ed piece from Evelyn Nieves, Mirkarimi’s former girl friend. She  wrote an op ed piece for the Chronicle four days before the Tuesday vote.  Nieves is an accomplished journalist who for several years was the San Francisco bureau chief for the New York Times.  She told me that she was notified Monday morning that the Chronicle didn’t have room for the op ed in Tuesday’s paper. I sent an email to John Diaz, Chronicle editorial page editor, and asked him why the Chronicle couldn’t run her op ed when the paper could run Willie Brown, the unregistered $200,000 plus PG&E lobbyist who takes regular whacks at Mirkarimi, as a regular featured column in its Sunday paper.  No answer at blogtime.

This morning, I opened up the Chronicle to find that the paper, instead of running the Nieves piece today or earlier,  ran an op ed titled “Vote to remove Mirkarmi,” from Kathy Black, executive director of the Casa de las Madres, the non profit group that advocates against domestic violence. It has been hammering Mirkarimi for months. On the page opposite, the Chron ran yet another lead editorial, urging the supervisors to “Take a Stand” and vote for removal because “San Francisco now needs its leaders to lead.” It was as if Willie was not only directing the Chronicle’s news operation but writing its editorials–and getting paid both by PG&E and the Chronicle.  And so the Chronicle started out with shameful crucifixion coverage of  Mirkarimi and then continued the shameful crucifixion coverage up until today. Read Nieves on Ross.

Well, the honor of the Chronicle was maintained by columnist Debra Saunders, virtually the Chroncle’s lone journalistic supporter of Mirkarmi during his ordeal. Many Chronicle staffers are privately supportive of Ross, embarrassed by Willie’s “journalism,” and critical of the way the Chronicle has covered Mirkarimi. Saunders posted the Nieves column her paper refused to print on her Chronicle blog. Damn good for you, Debra Saunders.  



The return of the Irish Newsboys to Lefty O’Doul’s


Fresh from a recent command performance at Lee Houskeeper’s Boys Night Out gathering at Lefty O’Doul’s, the Irish Newsboys return to Lefty O’Doul’s this Friday night.

Friday, October 5 from 6:30pm-9:30pm @ Lefty O’Doul’s, 333 Geary, SF

Sunshine eclipsed


As an advocate for the passage of the San Francisco Sunshine Ordinance in the early 1990s, I felt obligated to take my first and only City Hall position and serve as a founding member of the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force. I served for l0 years and helped with many other good members to build the task force into a strong and respected agency for helping citizens get access to records and meetings and hold city officials accountable for suppressing access and information.

The task force is the first and best local sunshine task force of its kind in the country, if not the world. It is the only place where citizens can file an access complaint without an attorney or a fee and force a city official, including the mayor, to come before the task force for questioning and a ruling on whether they had violated sunshine laws. The task force lacked enforcement powers, but it still annoyed city officials, including Mayor Willie Brown.

In fact, Brown spent a good deal of time trying to kick me off the task force. He used one jolly maneuver after another, even getting an agent to make a phony complaint against me for violating the ordinance with an email (The complaint went nowhere). I refused to budge and decided to stay on until Brown left office—on the principle that neither the mayor nor anybody else from City Hall could arbitrarily kick members off the task force.

That principle held until about 3pm last Thursday (May 17) at the meeting of the Board of Supervisors Rules Committee to appoint candidates to the task force. At that meeting, without proper notice, advance warning, explanation, apology, or even a nice word or two, the supervisors suddenly turned a normal drowsy committee meeting into an unprecedented bloodbath for the task force and its independence. Sup. Mark Farrell played the heavy, Jane Kim was the facilitating chair, and David Campos was the reluctant third party, working together to bring Willie Brownism back at the task force with a vengeance.

The committee rejected four qualified candidates from three organizations who are mandated by the Sunshine Ordinance to choose representatives for the task force because of the organizations’ special open government credentials. (Doug Comstock, editor of the West of Twin Peaks Observer; Attorney Ben Rosenfeld from the Northern California chapter of Society of Professional Journalists, sponsor of the ordinance; Allyson Washburn from the League of Women Voters and Suzanne Manneh from America New Media.)

The committee without blushing asked the organizations to come up with a “list of names,” a whiff of grapeshot aimed at members and organizations who had served the public well for years. Who wants to go before the supervisors on a list of names for a bout of public character assassination? Meanwhile, while knocking off the qualified, knowledgeable candidates, the committee approved four neophytes without experience and then unanimously appointed David Pilpel, a former task force member known for delaying meetings with bursts of nitpicking. He almost always comes down on the side of City Hall and against citizens with their complaints.

Farrell also tried to bounce Bruce Wolfe, an excellent member, but Kim and Campos supported him and his name was sent on to the full board for approval.

Then, when Wolfe’s name got to the board on May 22, it was a repeat of Willie Brownism and this time to the max. Sup. Scott Wiener moved to amend the motion and substituted Todd David. Farrell seconded. The vote was 6-5, meaning that Willie Brownism wiped the sunshine slate clean of anybody who would raise a pesky question of city officials and the City Attorney’s Office.

The infamous votes against Wolfe: Wiener (ah, yes, the heir of the Harvey Milk and Harry Britt seat in the Castro), Farrell (where is Janet Reilly when we need her?), Malia Cohen (who comes from the Potrero Hill/Bay View/Hunters Point district that needs all the sunshine it can get in facing an Oklahoma-style land rush of development), David Chiu (who was reportedly angry over the unanimous task force opinion finding he violated the Sunshine Ordinance with late submission of documents before the controversial vote to redevelop Parkmerced), Carmen Chu and Sean Elsbernd (neighborhood supes way out in West Portal and the Sunset who almost always vote the downtown line at City Hall). The good votes for Wolfe: John Avalos, Eric Mar, Cristina Olague, Jane Kim, and David Campos.

Campos told me that the organization candidates were “eminently qualified,” that they should have been appointed, and that he would fight for them. He advised the organizations to “stand by their candidates.” He is urging that the issue of organization candidates come back to the next Rules Committee.

Rick Knee, SPJ’s mandated journalist on the task force surveying the carnage, said the supervisors’ actions stem “partly from a desire by some supervisors to sabotage the task force and ordinance itself, and partly from a vendetta by certain supervisors after the task force found several months ago that the board violated local and state open meeting laws when it railroaded some last minute changes to a contract on the Parkmerced development project without allowing sufficient time for public review and comment.”

Knee is right, and it isn’t just Parkmerced, but all the high-stakes development deals flowing through City Hall these days, with their advocates preferring to cut backroom deals rather than being subjected to the full scrutiny of the public and the task force.

James Chaffee, a former chair of the task force, watched the board proceedings with outrage and fired off a letter to all supervisors later that day. He charged that the board in sacking Wolfe violated the Sunshine Ordinance on several counts. Among them: the board changed the committee recommendation on Wolfe without allowing public comment and it passed over Wolfe even though the ordinance requires at least one member of the task force to be “physically handicapped.” That was Wolfe.

Thus, Chaffee wrote, the orchestrated coup was “the perfect example of a failure to follow the sunshine ordinance that led to the sort of problem that it was intended to forestall, namely the supervisors taking an action without being informed of what they are doing.  If Scott Weiner and David Chiu and the rest of the crew did not consider the citizens the enemy and exercize judgment about whether they were complying with the spirit of open government rather than just shaving off the letter of the law as closely as possible, this could have been avoided.”

Chaffee said he couldn’t tell if David was physically handicapped but he said nothing in his application for the task force nor was any disability apparent from the video of the rules committee meeting.

Chaffee said David’s  application showed he  was “self-employed as an investor, obtained a BA from Stanford in 1993, has never attended a task force meeting, and left the statement of his qualifications blank.”

Chaffee said, “It’s easy to see why Scott Wiener likes him. He said it would be a long road before he would go against the city attorney’s office and when it came to constitutional law, he would place the city attorney’s opinion above his own because the city attorney is an ‘expert.'”

I sent Chaffee’s letter and my Bruce Blog post ( “The return of Willie Brown to the Sunshine Task Force,” 5/21) to City Attorney Dennis Herrera for comment: How can his office sit by while the letter and spirit of the sunshine laws are being violated in the move to sabotage the sunshine ordinance and task force? I also sent Chaffee’s letter, with the Bruce blog, to the supervisors with similar questions: Why  are you violating the sunshine laws to kick out the best candidates? For their answers (coming)  and the latest on this evolving controversy, follow along at

There you have it:  the state of sunshine and open government in city hall in San Francisco in May of 2012. Todd David over Bruce Wolfe. David  Pilpel uber alles.  Five inexperienced candidates over five experienced candidates. David Pilpel uber alles. A city attorney who rolls over and over and over again. And a whiff of grapeshot for the three organizations mandated by the charter to have represenatives on the task force  because of their open government and public access credentials (the Northern California chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, the League of Women Voters, and America New Media.)  On guard,  b3


Nicholas Perez drives Robotics Team 1717 to the No. 1 position in the world


Well, my addiction to robotics continues as the fabled Dos Pueblos Robotics Team 1717, led by my grandson Nicholas Perez as the ace driver,  has been ranked number one in the world out of 2,332 robots. The team is from Dos Pueblos High School in Goleta, California.

It was a splendid finale to a bittersweet season for the team.Team 1717 had breezed through the regionals and competed flawlessly in the early rounds in the national competition in St. Louis, but encountered mysterious communication problems in the final rounds and never made it to the championship round. The DP spokesman said, “clearly there’s a difference between winning the competition and being number one in the world.”

The team won a spectacular series of awards in the most sophisticated robotics competition in the world.  First place in the Los Angeles and Central Valley regional competitions. Innovation control award in the Central Valley regional. Zerox creativity award and Number l robot in the St. Louis world championship competition. Number l robot out of the 2,221 first robots as named by the Chief Delphi Offensive Power Ranking, the official authority for FIRST robotics rankings.

This was a remarkable year for the Dos Pueblos robotics team under Coach Abo-Shaeer.  It helped dramatize “the new cool” and how high school robotics is coming up fast behind football, basketball, and soccer as a major high school sport.  A past 1717 team and Coach Abo-Shaeer were featured in a book “The New Cool” by Neal Bascomb.

The robot is named Lindsay Rose after a classmate who died in a freak surfing accident in Goleta in her freshman year. She would have been a senior this year.  The rallying cry of the team was “Lindsay Rosebot, show us what you’ve got.” Her parents attended the championship competition in St. Louis.

The Dos Pueblos video was filmed by Emily Thomopson and Yibing Zhangand and put together by Mariel Bildstein, Phillip Hampton, and Jacob Moghtader.

The photo above shows Team 1717 with basketball star Kareem Abdul Jabbar  (from left to right): Lane Fuller (co-driver), Nick De Heras (Human player), Jami Abo-Shaeer (mentor), Amir Abo-Shaeer (coach), Nicholas Perez (driver).

Read more about the competition here and view a video of all the action below.



Louis Dunn asks ex-President Bush: Was the Iraq war worth it?


Lead paragraph in the lead story in Thursday’s New York Times (12/29/11):

“BAGHDAD–The Obama administration is moving ahead with the sale of nearly $11 billion worth of arms and training for the Iraqi military despite concerns that Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki is seeking to consolidate authority, create a one party Shiite-dominated state and abandon the American-backed power-sharing government.”

B3 note: the graphics and cartoons of Louis Dunn, a former Guardian art director and artist, will be featured regularly in the Guardian, on the Guardian website, and on the Bruce blog.

The dramatic video: UC-Davis Chancellor Linda P. B. Katehi and her walk in shame



My granddaughter Madeline, a senior at the University of California-Davis, has been camping out with the Occupy movement at Davis.  And so I have been watching the demonstrations with outrage and awe.  Outrage at the pepper-spraying campus cops and the cowering Davis president Linda P.B. Katehi in her bunker. And with awe and admiration for the inspired and inspiring reaction of the Davis students. Let me summarize.

On Friday afternoon, the campus police moved to take down the tents of peaceful occupation on the campus.  Several protestors sat down on the sidewalk, linked arms, and refused to stand as the cops ordered. As bystanders chanted, “Don’t shoot the students, don’t shoot the students,”  the New York Times reported on Monday that “an officer shakes a pepper spray canister and walks before a line of seated protesters, spraying them. The protesters’ faces and clothes are quickly covered in the orange-tinted spray.

“Some protesters are heard screaming and crying as they are arrested. One bystander is heard shouting; “These are children! These are children!” The Times reported that 11 protesters were treated at the scene after being sprayed, and two of them were sent to the hospital.  Ten proresters were arrested on misdemeanor charges of unlawful assembly and failure to disperse and were later released, according to the Times.

Katehi at first came forth with the usual UC robotic response: support the cops, to hell with the students. She then scheduled a press conference without notifying the students or giving them a chance to respond. However, the word leaked out and the students began gathering outside the building where the press conference was held.

You can read the account here.

According to the person recording the video, Lee Fang, Katehi had scheduled a 4pm press conference that was set to last an hour. During the press conference, protesters gathered outside the building and demanded to be heard, at which point Katehi refused to leave for several hours. Students eventually created a large pathway through which Katehi could leave and chanted “We are peaceful” until the Chancellor agreed to walk out to her car.

As you can see, the protesters’ silence is absolutely deafening. Having been a part of a supposedly “silent” march at Occupy Wall Street earlier this year, I was amazed at how unified the Occupy Davis protesters were. Also, right before Katehi gets into her car (at about the 1:36 mark), you can hear someone ask, “Did you feel at all trapped inside, Chancellor?” which is a direct reference to the justification the UC Davis police claimed for using pepper-spray during the protests. Phenomenal job, UC Davis protesters.

Here’s the video:


I have walked around the Davis campus and found what is happening there is happening on many other UC campuses: there is a vigorous building program at odds with all the talk of limited budgets and increased fees. I can see the massive UCSF/Mission Bay program from my office window on Mississippi Street at the bottom of Potrero Hill.  The buildings keep going up, the workmen keep working, the jolly press releases keep emerging, and the funds seem to gush forth without interruption.  Yet  the students and their families are screwed with ever escalating tuition and ever escalating debt–and all with little prospect for jobs after graduation. And California’s once world famous educational system is floundering in ignominy?  Can anyone in the UC administration cite a case where a campus building program has been stopped or seriously scaled back during this student and economic crisis? Thank God for students who know how to demonstratre peaceably and creatively.  Thank God for students who know how to force their chancellor to walk in shame before the world.



Potrero Hill History Night: a special occasion for a special neighborhood


Scroll down for Potrero Hill History Night photos

And so Country Joe McDonald ambled on to the stage Saturday night at the International Studies Academy on Potrero Hill and told an full auditorium full of history night groupies  that since he was playing in a school he would open with a spelling lesson.

“Give me an F,” he roared,  and the audience roared back with an F.

“Give me a U, give me a C, give me a K,” and the audience roared back again and again  with knowledge of the lyrics of the anti-war song “I Feel Like I’m Fixing To Die” that Country Joe made famous during the Vietnam war and has been singing as his trademark song ever since.

He would pause and the audience would continue on with the words. Country Joe was in top form, the audience loved him, and it was a stunning beginning to the 12th annual Potrero Hill History Night.  And the fact that Occupy SF and Occupy Oakland were fixing to explode sooner or later in nearby neighborhoods  only gave some timely poignancy to the occasion.

But Country Joe wasn’t at History NIght to perform as a singer or political activist. He explained that he was there as a turnaround artist to interview Joel Selvin, the veteran San Francisco Chronicle pop culture reviewer and author of “Smart Ass,” a collection of 40 years of Selvin’s music journalism. Significantly, Selvin also happens to be a longtime Potrero Hill resident. The latter phrase is the key, because the point of History Night is to focus on the rich history and colorful personalities of Potrero Hill and put them together into a lively program. In this segment, Joe the performer interviewed Joel the reviewer/reporter who had been writing about Joe for years.

The two made a splendid team and it turned out that Joel was as good onstage in this format as Country Joe. It was good fun, instructive at times, particularly with the stories about Bill Graham’s antics and angry outbursts and how each dealt with him. The audience had fun trying to figure out through questions just how rock n’ roll and Country Joe from Berkeley connected to the hill. Well, one answer was that Jann Wenner, the founder of Rolling Stone magazine, claimed three different addresses on Rhode Island Street.

The program this year was the best ever. A barbecue outside the building serviced by a platoon of History Night  groupies on a warm and wondrous Potrero Hill evening. And a program featuring a formal presentation of a chunk of goat hoofprints embedded in concrete, an interview with the woman who tended the goats decades ago, a surprise appearance by the lady who found and preserved the hoofprints for years, and a starring role by Phillip DeAndrade of Goat Hill Pizza who was given the goat hill hoofprints as a surprise gift because he once had goats in the back of his Goat Hill pizza parlor and because, well, he’s Phil DeAndrade.

DeAndrade is a Potrero Hill version of the Scarlett Pimpernel (he’s here, he’s there, he’s everywhere). For this evening, he was doing triple duty as the worthy receiver of goat hoofprints in concrete, as master of ceremonies, and as the Hot Interviewer of the Colorful Potrero Hill Veteran, the key finale of every history night event.

DeAndrade was specially eloquent in explaining the importance of history night. It is, he said, a special event (nobody else in town has one) that showcases Potrero a special place and its people as special people who live in a special neighborhood with a special culture and a special history and such institutions as the Neighborhood House built in the 1920s  with Julia Morgan as the architect.

The goat hoofprints in cement  made his special point. The artifact dates from 1925 or so and was found and preserved by Rose Marie Ostler, a Potrero Hill native. She kept the hoofprints for years and then decided they should go to DeAndrade of Goat Hill for his historic connection with goats.  She presented them at the ceremony, with help from Dr. Frank Gilson, a local chiropractor wearing a Halloween type goat hill mask.

This year’s Potrero Hill veteran was Josephine Firpo Alioto, who was born on Potrero Hill 90 years ago, and now lives in San Jose.  She married Frank Alioto, son of Police Capt Calogero and Vincenza Alioto.  The Alioto family moved to 755 Carolina St. around 1930, just around the corner from Josephine’s house. There were no houses on the cornerin those days,  so they had a clear view of one another’s houses. Josephine and Frank were friends for 80 years and married for 65 and a half years.  They were married at nearby St. Theresa’s Church.  With expert coaching from DeAndrade, she was most articulate and provided the details of life and times of growing up on the hill in the 1920s and 1930s.

Perhaps the most “newsworthy” comment came when she took the audience by surprise when she mentioned that her cousin, Luis  Firpo, known as the Raging Bull of the Pampas in Argentina, knocked Jack Dempsey out of the ring in a  championship fight. (My google check showed she was right. Firpo did knock Dempsey out of the ring in the  famous 1923 heavyweight championship fight at the Polo Grounds in New York City and Dempsey’s head hit a reporter’s typewriter. But Dempsey got back in the ring on a contested long count and won the fight in the third round in what many think is the greatest fight of all time. It was Dempsey’s last successful defense of his title. The fight is on UTube and googleable under Firpo.)

As is the history night custom, there were lots of Firpos and Aliotos in the audience to help fill in Josephine Alioto’s story and answer questions from the audience and provide the evidence of a very special neighborhood.

All in all, it was a most memorable event and all to the credit of Peter Linenthal, the founder and impresario of Potrero Hill History Night. His event even got a nice writeup in Leah Garchik’s Chronicle column. UCSF at Mission Bay was the sponsor of the event and the Parkside, Chat’s Coffee, and Bottom of the Hill donated to the barbecue.  Linenthal  is also the curator of the Potrero Hill Archives project, assisted by Abigail Johnston. The two co-authored an excellent book on Potrero Hill.  For more on the archives project, go to  You may find out more about Potrero Hill than you need to know.

I think Linenthal has done what every impresario dreams of doing:  making his event so special and so memorable that it will live on and on.  B3

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Rose Marie Ostler formally  presents the goat hoofprints in cement to Goat Hill Phi.

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The audience of History Night groupies.

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Selvin expands, Country Joe listen.

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Josephine and Phil,  a dynamic duo, 

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Josephine and Phil, getting ready for prime time.

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The Apollo  jazz group in concert at History Night.

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A student from the International Studies Academy selling tickets for the barbecue.  The money goes to the ISA student travel program.