G.W. Schulz

Profitting off injured contract workers in Iraq



Henry Waxman, the U.S. Congressman representing California’s 30th District, which includes West Hollywood and Beverley Hills, is spittin’ mad at private contractors in Iraq.

According to CNN, Waxman raged yesterday that the Pentagon allows private contractors to negotiate worker’s compensation without any major concern for competition between insurance providers to make sure taxpayers get a good deal. See, we bankroll workers’ comp for such companies, but the state department, the corps of engineers and other federal bodies that aren’t the Pentagon make carriers compete to offer the federal government their coverage.

Meanwhile, insurance providers that sell the insurance to contractors for the defense department, like KBR and Blackwater, who then send us the bill, make huge profits of nearly 40 percent, according to Waxman. CNN quoted Waxman saying that during the last half decade, the four largest private insurers have made almost $600 million in profits through this system.

Renters fight back


› gwschulz@sfbg.com

A stream of perturbed tenants living in buildings owned by one of the city’s largest landlords, CitiApartments, Inc., converged on City Hall May 12 to testify that in recent years the company has engaged in an alleged campaign of intimidation and harassment against residents living in rent-controlled units.

Attendees, many wearing stickers that read "Tenants standing together for fair treatment," quickly filled to capacity a committee room used by the Board of Supervisors before the overflow was moved to two other large rooms where televisions airing the meeting were situated.

CitiApartments turned out its own army of supporters in an attempt to offset the impression that it’s unpopular among renters in the city. Dozens of people who claimed to back the company’s business practices attended the meeting wearing shirts that stated, "I support CitiApartments."

But a volunteer with the Queer Youth Organizing Project and organizer against CitiApartments complained to the supervisors that the crowd of supporters had either been paid to attend the meeting or were employees of the company. Few CitiApartments supporters filled out comment cards or spoke publicly in defense of the company.

Some CitiApartments tenants said they endured months of lingering construction work that filled their buildings with debris and garbage after CitiApartments bought its buildings, the upheaval intentionally designed to drive them out in frustration and thus give up their stabilized rent rates.

Others said vulnerable tenants like undocumented immigrants and seniors were specially targeted with intimidation tactics by a private security group working for CitiApartments that appeared at their doors asking for personal information. Utilities were frequently shut off, tenants said, or elevators relied upon by the physically disabled were left inoperable for long periods of time, all part of a campaign to scare them away from their apartments.

"This is not simply about a bad landlord," tenant Debbie Nuñez, who lives in a Lower Nob Hill building purchased by CitiApartments in 2000, told the supervisors. "This is about a well-oiled machine."

Sup. Chris Daly sponsored the hearing by the board’s Land Use and Economic Development Committee to receive an update on the city attorney’s lawsuit against CitiApartments, a.k.a. Skyline Realty. He also wanted to discuss the company’s swift rate of property acquisitions in San Francisco and to hear testimony about mounting alleged building code violations at some of its buildings.

City Attorney Dennis Herrera sued the company and several of its subsidiaries in August 2006 alleging an "egregious pattern of unlawful and unfair business practices," and a "shocking panoply of corporate lawlessness, intimidation tactics, and retaliation against residents."

Five months prior, the Guardian published a three-part series of stories documenting claims by current and former CitiApartments tenants that they had been the victims of persistent, aggressive attempts to oust them from rent-controlled housing units. If such tenants vacate the apartments for whatever reason, CitiApartments can raise the rent on those units dramatically.

A recent report by the Legislative Analyst’s Office shows CitiApartments today owns nearly 300 properties here, which combined hold from 6,300 to 7,500 units and about 12,000 tenants.

Sup. Aaron Peskin, who sits on the committee with Sups. Gerardo Sandoval and Sophie Maxwell, said at the meeting that his office receives a complaint once a week or at least every 10 days about CitiApartments, a figure that has increased over the last three years.

"I don’t recall ever hearing complaints about Trinity Properties in the city," Peskin said. "They own 6,000 units."

Daly pointed to a May 9 New York Times article that reported on the rising phenomenon of "predatory equity," in which private investment funds bankroll the acquisition of a large number of rent-controlled apartments in New York anticipating higher-than-usual vacancy rates. But tenant advocates say achieving such rates requires a concerted effort, either through offering one-time buyouts, finding nuances in the law that allow for an eviction, or harassing tenants until they grow exasperated and leave.

The significantly higher revenue generated from market-rate rental prices then enable building buyers there to repay the equity firms that gave them the huge loans to buy the properties in the first place. Daly wants to find out if CitiApartments is deploying a similar "business model" in San Francisco.

According to the Times piece, developers backed by private equity firms have purchased nearly 75,000 rent-controlled units over the last four years in New York. One company that bought a group of buildings in Queens subsequently filed around 1,000 cases against tenants in housing court during an 18-month period.

A lawyer for CitiApartments, Tara Condon, promised the committee members that the company would investigate the complaints made by tenants at the May 12 meeting. She added that the company increases tax revenue for the city when it improves the conditions and appearances of buildings it purchases. She also declared that the company makes local charitable contributions and has reached out to financially troubled tenants.

"We are a business, but we try to work with [the tenants,]" Condon said. "We want to make sure they can stay in their apartments."

One former tenant, Donna O’Brien, testified that CitiApartments helped her and her husband find a more affordable apartment after the company bought a previous building she lived in at 516 Ellis St. last year. She said CitiApartments also paid for her moving expenses. "Quite honestly, CitiApartments has been very good to us."

Cow tipping in Daly City


› gwschulz@sfbg.com

Daly City’s desperate campaign to shut down the famous Cow Palace and sell the land it’s located on to developers continues.

In the newest twist, promoters of shows and conventions that have long been held at the Cow Palace are being approached by officials from an expo center in San Mateo County about moving their events, which could increasingly drain the Cow Palace’s income and kill efforts to stop Daly City and its allies in Sacramento from selling it.

Some promoters also contacted the San Mateo County Event Center about a possible move, worried that efforts to demolish the Cow Palace will make it difficult for them to schedule future events. Chris Carpenter, general manager of the San Mateo center, refused to name the shows because the promoters have asked him not to say anything.

"We are very interested in filling as many dates as we can for the Event Center," Carpenter told the Guardian. "We have a very active sales department."

Carpenter denied that Daly City officials encouraged him to steal business from the Cow Palace, saying no one from the city had contacted him. But Daly City manager Pat Martel eagerly promoted the alternative venue on the KQED radio show Forum March 28.

"Today we have state-of-the-art facilities throughout the Bay Area where a number of events currently at the Cow Palace can continue…. The San Mateo County Expo Center would welcome the opportunity to keep that kind of business in the county," Martel said.

The San Francisco Flower and Garden show announced in late April that it was leaving the Cow Palace after 12 years and heading to San Mateo, where flower show proprietor Duane Kelly signed a five-year agreement. Kelly said he made the move because the state had long ago promised certain renovations and improvements would occur at the Cow Palace, but they never happened.

In the meantime, the San Mateo center received a $3 million renovation that included fresh paint and new carpet and draperies. It was simply a better situation for a show that relies on aesthetics, Kelly said.

Kelly added he wasn’t impressed with how Daly City officials and state senator Leland Yee have handled the discussions about the proposed sale by trying to exclude Cow Palace officials from deliberations about the venue’s future. He said it looked more to him like a land grab, and despite the construction of new, glitzy convention centers elsewhere, the Bay Area remains underserved.

"Particularly [San Francisco’s Moscone Center] does not lend itself to public shows because of the parking issue, and it’s a very expensive building to work in," Kelly said.

Following a March public meeting on the Cow Palace’s fate, officials at the San Mateo center approached the organizer of the Great Dickens Christmas Faire about moving that event. Kevin Patterson, who runs the fair and has since helped lead a campaign to save the Cow Palace, said the San Mateo center isn’t suitable because of the amount of space he needs and the cost required to alter his event logistically. Besides, he said, he likes the Cow Palace.

"Daly City just got greedy and pushed too hard and tried to get too much," Patterson said.

In December, Daly City officials voted to dispatch their lobbyist for a chat with Yee about developing the land after complaining that two years of lease negotiations over a 13-acre plot of Cow Palace property had gone nowhere. The lobbyist, Bill Duplissea, is a former Republican member of the State Assembly whose firm, Cline and Duplissea, has earned $266,000 from Daly City since 2001, according to state records, to "monitor budget issues" and hit up lawmakers like Yee.

Weeks after Daly City sent Duplissea after Yee, the senator introduced Senate Bill 1527, originally designating as "surplus" all 67 acres of state-owned property the Cow Palace sits on so that Daly City could purchase it, flip the valuable real estate to a developer, and await the local boost in tax revenue coming from new condos, storefronts, and a retail grocer.

Daly City was so determined to circumvent the Cow Palace on the issue that when the California Department of Food and Agriculture, which oversees the property, tried to convene peace talks between the Cow Palace and Daly City, Duplissea sent a letter to the state declaring that his client would prefer to deal only with Sacramento.

After the bill was introduced, Yee and Daly City officials embarked on a media blitz condemning the Cow Palace as a decrepit relic with event income that couldn’t sustain it. Many of the events Cow Palace hosts, Daly City complains, are offensive to the sensibilities of locals or don’t match the neighborhood fabric, like an annual gun show and the San Francisco–centric Exotic Erotic Ball, "a celebration of flesh, fetish, and fantasy," according to the ball’s Web site.

"Every single neighborhood association surrounding the Cow Palace asked the senator to carry this legislation," Yee spokesperson Adam Keigwin told us. "This was always about revitalizing the neighborhood."

After Cow Palace supporters mounted a resistance campaign, Yee came up with a mid-April "compromise" bill that would result in the sell-off of the 13-acre parking lot adjacent to the Cow Palace while appearing to protect the historic venue for now.

Patterson of the Great Dickens fair said a lease provision in the bill would be preferable so revenue could go toward giving the Cow Palace an earthquake retrofit and other needed improvements. But Keigwin said that’s not something the senator’s interested in.

The California Senate Government Organizational Committee was debating the bill as we went to press. That committee includes Yee and Sens. Jeff Denham and Mark Wyland, two Republican cosponsors of the bill who represent districts that aren’t affected by the Cow Palace at all.

Denham, whose District 12 contains the cities of Modesto and Salinas, tellingly promoted legislation two years ago asking the state to study transferring control over agricultural fairs to local governments, but it died in the assembly’s Appropriations Committee.

Opponents of Yee’s bill are concerned it could set a precedent for the state to declare other agricultural districts "surplus" and sell them to developers without local supporters and promoters of fairs and expos having a say in the matter, not unlike what the Cow Palace faces now.

A capitol insider also told us that because Yee declared SB 1527 "urgent" in hopes of rushing it through the legislature, it requires a two-thirds vote, hence the cosponsorships from two minority GOP lawmakers.

As for the future of the Cow Palace’s clients, we contacted the Grand National Rodeo, the San Francisco Sport and Boat Show, and the Golden Gate Kennel Club Dog Show, but didn’t hear back from representatives of any of these events.

Baba, a tattoo artist in Los Angeles, said San Francisco’s Body Art Expo, held at the Cow Palace, secured an agreement with the venue for another year, but he wouldn’t offer further details. Mega Productions, which hosts the event, didn’t return our call.

Howard Mauskopf, executive producer of the Exotic Erotic Ball, said he recently looked at other possible venues, but he’s keeping them confidential for now. The Moscone Center is big enough, Mauskopf said, "but they wouldn’t touch an event of this ilk." He added that the ball’s coordinators regularly receive letters from law enforcement commending them on the lack of trouble they cause.

"There are things we really like about the Cow Palace, which includes the fact that they kind of let the event happen the way it needs to happen," Mauskopf said. "It’s big enough. That’s the most important thing. And they have a very high-quality ticket office that really knows how to deal with consumers."

Burning Man ’08 to be terrifyingly sober



Burning Man will lose all meaning this summer for thousands of revelers who will attempt to attend the event under a dark cloud of startling sobriety.

That’s because a man named Yacov “Jacob” Yida was sentenced today in federal court for conspiring to smuggle into the United States 500,000 ecstasy pills from Paris to California.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office is claiming that the pills had a street value of about $15 million. If you know anything about the drug war, $15 million is probably a vastly overstated figure, but that’s still a lot of fucking drugs now unavailable to people with bad dye jobs and goggles as accessories.

So now what are you people going to do? Rely on cocaine, booze and pot alone to convince you for two weeks that bolting back and forth across the desert next to a guy in a leather thong who works as a corporate branding consultant by day is a good idea? That surely won’t be enough.

Okay, okay. So we’re being a little cruel. Yida actually arranged the sale all the way back in 2000, according to court records, which means that short-lived void in the black market is long gone.

A confidential source tipped off the feds to Yida’s pending exchange, and when the shipment arrived in the United States, it was intercepted by narcs. Yida fled the country to Mexico before police could nab him, but he was extradited in 2005. He was convicted by a jury in December of 2007 and today sentenced to 121 months in prison.

Examiner expanding to Sundays



Editor & Publisher is reporting that the San Francisco Examiner will be creating a Sunday edition of the paper and also expanding its Thursday edition. Right now it’s published six days a week. It will also be scaling back home delivery of the free paper — residents have been enraged over them piling up on their porches — to Thursday and Sunday.

It seems odd that a newspaper company would be growing its deadwood edition when so many dailies are laying people off and trimming back operating expenses. But one theory says that the Examiner papers, which are also available in Washington and Baltimore, are popular even among younger readers because they’re free, easy to pick up on the way to public transit and contain mostly boiled down local coverage. The company that owns the Examiner, Clarity Media Group, took over the Examiner in 2004 after the Fang family nearly ran it into the ground.

Tolls going up at Golden Gate



Officials at the Golden Gate Bridge are pondering a $7 toll. In early April, we brought you a story outlining why the bridge district was facing a $91 million long-term deficit. Part of the reason is that it operates a transit system that’s incredibly expensive. We all love public transit, of course, but the Golden Gate Bridge’s bus and ferry system, we discovered, isn’t all that efficient. (By the way, it took us a damn long time to understand how the feds crunch transit efficiency figures, but once we figured it out, it made a lot of sense.)

We also showed that the district’s overloaded board of directors contained members who received health insurance coverage through the district, but they also obtained it in the towns where they lived and worked as local public officials. One guy even got three layers of health coverage. Inducements to get out of the car, like high gas prices and bridge tolls, in the long run seem like a good idea. But it doesn’t look like higher tolls are going to save the bridge district from its long-term debt and organizational problems.

Oaklanders pissed about robberies



Just got a call from the folks over at Uhuru Furniture & Collectibles in Oakland. They’re involved with a press conference that will take place today at noon calling on the city of Oakland to deal with a spate of recent aggressive robberies on Grand Avenue. Uhuru endured a takeover robbery on Sunday that left eight customers and two employees short of $1,000 in cash. Silver Screen Video at 3850 Grand Ave. has been robbed twice recently, as has Grand-Piedmont Liquors.

The press conference will be held at Uhuru, 3742 Grand Avenue, in Oakland.

“We recognize that the robbery at Uhuru Furniture & Collectibles and the increased robberies of Oakland businesses go hand in hand with the sharp escalation of desperate poverty of Oakland’s black community,” store coordinator Joel Hamburger said in a presser. “Although we denounce this attack on our nonprofit work, we are calling on the city to respond in a way that will not exacerbate the terrible conditions in the African community but address the root causes of crime and poverty.”

Uhuru Furniture & Collectibles is a nonprofit project of the African People’s Education and Defense Fund (APEDF) that relies on support from community donations. Residents are mad about the robberies, but organizers of today’s press conference want the city to respond by improving economic development in the neighborhood.

Tipping your waiter health coverage



Here’s another example of a restaurant passing on the cost of Healthy San Francisco to its patrons. The lady and I had brunch at the Slow Club in the Mission on Saturday and this is our bill. Healthy San Francisco is the program created by Sup. Tom Ammiano to reach the more than 73,000 uninsured San Franciscans with a reasonably inexpensive form of health insurance.

The program is tied up in federal court right now because restaurants have sued arguing that it’s illegal for local governments to require employers to fund health insurance for their employees, which Healthy San Francisco does. About 19,000 San Franciscans had already signed up for the plan by last week and on Wednesday about 13,000 more were added as local businesses met a deadline for registering with the program.

Part of the idea is that without insuring more Americans, you and I pay for it each time someone who lacks coverage ends up making a costly emergency room visit at a public hospital with a preventable disease, illness or injury because they couldn’t access advance treatment, mental health assistance or any other type of care before they reached a tipping point. This program might actually prove that if the government extends coverage to more people who haven’t traditionally received it, we may all save money in the end.

For now, you’re stuck with the bill while the restaurant industry sues to ignore the true cost of our robust local economy.

ICE raids San Francisco restaurants


We’re receiving early reports from the Bay Area Immigrant Rights Coalition that federal immigration officials have raided restaurants around the Bay Area and are arresting undocumented workers including in the Haight. So much for our sanctuary city “awareness campaign” that San Francisco launched in April. Limited details below.


Friday, May 02, 2008

Evelyn Sánchez, (415) 572-0639, evelyn@immigrantrights.org
Larisa Casillas, (415) 640-4557, larisa@immigrantrights.org

ICE Unleashes Immigration Sweeps Against Bay Area Restaurant Workers, Arrests Dozens of Workers
Coalition Urges People to Call Hotline to Get Legal Help

We are calling on members of the Bay Area community to be alert to an immigration police presence in your neighborhoods or workplaces. Today, the Bay Area Immigrant Rights Coalition started receiving reports of immigration police raids, carried out by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). ICE arrested dozens of restaurant workers in El Balazo restaurants in San Ramon, Lafayette, Concord, Pleasanton, San Francisco and Danville. ICE arrests were also reported in Oakland. The numbers of workers detained, which cities, and if only EL Balazo restaurants were targeted have not yet been fully confirmed. Please report the names of any individuals, your co-workers, neighbors and others, who may have been picked up by ICE to BAIRC.

More on the raids including who to contact for help and a Spanish translation of the presser after the jump.

Postal workers go postal with picket



A group of local postal workers are hitting the streets this afternoon, Friday, and going postal on their boss who they say won’t stop going postal on them. Okay, that’s not the best way to put it. Local postal carriers say there’s a guy working as a supervisor at the Bryant Annex Post Office in the Mission named Ron Malig who’s simply out of control. This postal boss, they allege, has long abused and discriminated against his underlings, behavior they describe as “obnoxious” from finding ways to punish fellow postal workers he dislikes to claiming certain colleagues are “disrespecting” him.


The highly publicized postal shootings of the ‘90s helped create an unfortunate image of letter carriers. But two union officials from the AFL-CIO’s National Association of Letter Carriers, Golden Gate Branch 214, told us that over the last few decades, their local hasn’t resorted to pickets all that often, maybe a handful of times. Mostly a quiet bunch, says union vice president Bill Thornton, at least compared to the ILWU, which briefly shut down West Coast ports this week on May Day to protest the Iraq war.

“We don’t picket. It has to be a really bad situation,” said Don Limin, a steward for Branch 214.

In fact, the last time Bryant Annex employees did hit the streets was for a vigil in late 2006 when a postal supervisor named Genevieve Paez from the 180 Napoleon St. post office in the Bayview was shot to death execution-style outside of her home in Visitacion Valley. Paez, who Limin said once worked at the Bryant Annex, had been involved in a dispute with another postal employee named Julius Tartt. The next day, Tartt himself was found in a Livermore parking lot dead from what the Alameda County Coroner’s Office declared was a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Police believed Tartt killed Paez and then took his own life.

No May Day party for day laborers



Power tools, light fixtures, house paint, lumber, immigration raids. You can find it all at Home Depot. While everyone else was celebrating the May Day holiday of international solidarity and workers’ rights, a group of undocumented workers were either sitting in jail waiting to hear if they’d be permitted to stay in the United States or they’d already been deported.

Last month, law enforcement officials including the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department and the federal Immigration and Control Enforcement bureau arrested several workers waiting for jobs in front of the Home Depot location on Ice House Terrace in Fremont.

“They detained many of us, leaving only a couple of us behind. From what we know, most of them were deported,” one worker told KCBS April 29.

Just before the holiday, immigration activists from La Raza Centro Legal, the Living Wage Coalition and other groups held a press conference to denounce the raids.

“These are human beings we’re talking about, workers who were simply trying to work and earn a living,” a La Raza organizer said in a prepared statement. “We’re going to find out what happened to them.”

NBC 11 reported that several weeks ago Home Depot called the Fremont Police Department complaining about workers loitering in front of the store and 13 people were eventually taken to the Santa Rita Jail because they could not be properly identified.

Merc circ up despite newsroom bloodbath


How is it possible that one of the only major daily newspapers in the United States to show an increase in circulation over the last six months is the closest to up and dying? The San Jose Mercury News added 4,000 weekday copies over the last half-year, according to their most recent figures.


The Merc, once the prestigious gem of the Knight-Ridder chain of newspapers, has undergone heartbreakingly massive staff cutbacks and turnovers of top editors over the last two years. One editor even tragically took his own life. Knight-Ridder was one of the few chains in the United States that aggressively challenged the White House on the war, something they didn’t get proper credit for until much later when Bill Moyers made his triumphant return to public television.

Besides the Merc, everybody’s down in circulation by several percentage points these days: the LA Times, the Chronicle, the Sacto Bee, the Orange County Register. And we all know why, of course. People don’t want to pay for paper anymore. So how could a paper product like the Merc, which is losing all of its talent and enduring the infamous operations consolidations of parent company MediaNews that predictably lead to more boring and error-laden copy, actually be raising the number of people who read the deadwood version at home?

Their circ is up by a seemingly small 1.7 percent, but when you consider the most attention the Merc has gotten lately came from a series of depressing photos portraying the Merc newsroom as a graveyard, this seems like a pretty big deal for the Silicone Valley daily. We couldn’t actually find a good explanation for why their circ is up … anywhere. Folks linked to the news but no one explained the turnaround. We weren’t able to reach anyone in the Merc‘s circ department right away either. They may have blitzed the city with subscription deals, but that seems unlikely if MediaNews CEO Dean “Obama Bin Laden” Singleton, like everyone else, is gravitating toward the Web, even if the Web formula he’s come up with for all of his newspaper holdings frankly looks like crap. I mean really, Dean. The MediaNews sites aren’t nice to navigate or look at. Moyers and Singleton videos after the jump.

Annemarie Conroy lands on her feet … again


You might remember local political cog Annemarie Conroy from such films as The Career Hack and How to Get Inexplicably Bigger Job Titles in San Francisco Without Real Credentials. After disappearing for a while, she’s back. Joe Russoniello, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California, just announced that Conroy is his new “law enforcement coordinator.”


Her primary responsibilities will be to “maximize the use of federal resources to meet crime abatement objectives,” be a “chief liaison to local law enforcement officials” and direct the district’s “Project Safe Neighborhood and Weed and Seed programs.” Despite the confusing title, that last program there involves taking on drug activity and gangs with the feds, which she’s no doubt suited to do.

Some of you might recall the trajectory of Conroy’s career. Dan Noyes at ABC 7 pointed out in 2005 that when Newsom appointed her to head San Francisco’s Office of Emergency Services, she had no experience in disaster management, but she did have political connections, just like Michael Brown, head of FEMA when Katrina struck. A retired Navy admiral who held the job before Conroy went public and declared that Newsom should remove her for being ill-prepared, and behind the scenes, the fire department wasn’t happy about her post either. She finally resigned in January of 2007.

Mercury Interactive CFO indicted


In January of 2007, we brought you the story of a Silicone Valley company called Mercury Interactive, which was trying to bar media access to a detailed civil court complaint filed by shareholders against the company.


Mercury Interactive for months has been waste deep in the stock options backdating scandal, defined in the simplest terms possible as a version of card counting in which corporate executives can maximize their personal compensation by finding a date on the calender at which their stock was valued the lowest. That way, they can both buy the stock from the company at a fire sale price and then sell it when the company’s performing well, which results in a huge windfall profit. Another comparison might be knowing winning lottery numbers in advance.

Details of the scheme allegedly perpetrated by Mercury Interactive execs appeared in the civil complaint and it named names, so defense attorneys tried to keep them sealed off from the press. But local and national news outlets — including the Chronicle, a San Francisco legal newspaper and other business news services — sued to open them up. The Wall Street Journal ended up getting a hold of the documents before the drama could really play out in court.

A year-and-a-half later, Mercury Interactive CFO Sharlene Abrams has been indicted by federal prosecutors for tax evasion and aiding in the preparation of false tax returns. She’s looking at 11 years in prison and $750,000 in fines if proved guilty. It’s the first case in Northern California where someone’s been charged with criminal tax violations from the backdating scandal. Hewlett-Packard bought Mercury in July 2006. More details after the jump.

Nickels and dimes


We get a lot of press releases announcing that San Francisco has made it to the top of another "greenest" list. Popular Science named SF the second-greenest city in the nation last February. Sustainlane.com called this place the second-greenest city in 2006. Reader’s Digest added honors for the fifth-cleanest city in 2005, the same year San Francisco hosted the UN’s World Environment Day.

The city’s ban on plastic grocery bags is spreading, and last year Mayor Gavin Newsom won a Green Cross Award from Global Green USA alongside Irmelin DiCaprio, the mother of film star Leonardo DiCaprio.

But none of that adds up to what the city really needs: cash.

Then the US Department of Energy in late March designated three more California cities — Sacramento, San Jose, and Santa Rosa — as new "Solar American Cities" — and this award came with money attached. And the DOE has dough: the agency requested $25 billion from Congress this year.

The solar grant was worth $2.4 million. The money was divided among 12 cities nationwide, leaving each municipality with just $200,000. And that was supposed to cover a two-year period.

Berkeley, San Francisco, and San Diego made the "Solar American Cities" list in 2007. San Francisco’s Department of the Environment received the money, and a conciliatory Johanna Partin, the renewable energy program manager there, said it was the only grant from Bush’s Solar America Initiative her office had actually applied for.

San Francisco at least will able to use the money to help the owners of large buildings assess what it would take to install solar technology. We’ve already digitally mapped the city’s grandest roofs.

Margie Bates, a project manager for the DOE’s Solar Energy Technologies Program in Golden, Colo., told us that the grant includes $200,000 in additional credit for hiring local experts to advise building owners on the technology or retain the expertise of DOE officials themselves.

"The funding is allowing us to do some pieces of our solar program that we didn’t otherwise have funding for. So in that sense it’s good," she said. "But, you know, $200,000 over two years is not a lot of money."

Limbaugh decries cops who want ‘special rights’


Okay, so maybe that’s actually the phrase Rush Limbaugh uses to describe LGBT rights. But when the folks in law enforcement, mostly a conservative bunch, start demanding special treatment, shouldn’t conservative pundits hit the ceiling then, too? Of course not. That would alienate a significant portion of their listening audience.


We’ve already written in the past about police in the state of California winning special protections against publicly disclosing their personnel records. But why should their salaries be kept secret also? And their badge numbers? And, the Contra Costa Times explains in that last link, their identities?

Being a cop is tough, yeah. Just read the thousands of pages of evidence filed in Superior Court for Dennis Herrera’s gang injunctions. They read like an episode of The Wire. (Seriously, we’re surprised more reporters aren’t pouring over those records. There’s a whole lot in there about local criminal activity you haven’t seen in the news, and this is the only time you’ll have public access to so many details of what the SFPD’s Gang Task Force is up to.)

But why should salaries be kept secret, particularly when the police union’s new contract has played such a significant role in this year’s local budget deficit? All those stories from Matier & Ross about how much it costs to provide a police presence at political demonstrations would just be ruined if the police had their way. The CoCo Times and the LA Times have already been through this battle with the state Supreme Court.

Is the police lobby really that strong in Sacramento?

The new zoo blues


› gwschulz@sfbg.com

Ten years ago, the San Francisco Zoo asked voters for $48 million in bonds to overhaul its decaying animal enclosures, rebuild its entrance, expand educational facilities for children, and make a host of other improvements.

Every major figure in San Francisco with even an ounce of political ambition made sure his or her name was attached to the voter information pamphlet that went out to residents in 1997 urging passage of the bonds.

The list included Willie Brown, Dianne Feinstein, and Nancy Pelosi; members of the community college and school boards; the district attorney and city attorney then in office; Republican judges and local chambers of commerce; and countless grade school teachers.

The entire board of supervisors signed on, declaring that the improvements would "include new habitats where many of the animals will experience grass under their feet for the first time."

Prop. C passed, and the private San Francisco Zoological Society, which had taken control of the zoo from the city five years before, was on its way to introducing real live sod to exotic animal species. Just like a sanctuary, or even the wild itself.

But it hasn’t quite turned out like the pretty pictures suggested.

On March 18, the San Francisco Animal Control and Welfare Commission quietly released a report that made it clear many of the promises of that bond campaign were never kept. The private zoo didn’t spend the money the way all of those giddy city officials had told the voters it would.

The report was largely overlooked because on the same day the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which inspects San Francisco’s zoo for accreditation, released its own long-anticipated investigation of what happened at Christmastime when a hulking Siberian tiger named Tatiana mauled three people, killing one.

That attack, as we all know now from the relentless headlines, is the sexier story. But the commission, in a document with much greater long-term implications, said that only two significant new exhibits were built using the bond money — the African Savannah and the Lemur Forest, completed in 2004 and 2002 respectively.

A scheduled $13.4 million Great Ape Forest was deferred from the list of projects. The zoo promised that project would "remain a fundraising goal for the SF Zoological Society," according to an update on the bond expenditures presented to the public in 2005. Orangutan and chimpanzee exhibits scheduled for improvement with the bond money were cancelled, the commission said, and the lone hippo was moved to an "arguably worse exhibit."


Besides a new exhibit for grizzlies, habitations for the other bears "have not undergone any meaningful renovation," according to the commission.

And while the zoo spent the last decade downgrading projects promised to voters from the construction of new exhibits to the mere renovation of existing ones, others targeting the feel-good sensibilities of patrons that had little to do with actually caring for animals were completed as swiftly as possible.

The zoo’s miniature train system, "Little Puffer," was fully restored with $700,000 worth of private funds in 1998. A $4 million education center, which doesn’t actively house animals, was completed in 2001 using the bond money. A new entryway, improved streetscapes, parking, and a restaurant costing $20 million, which came largely from the zoo bonds, were completed two years late and $10 million over budget in 2002.

The renovation of an amusement ride for kids — the historic Dentzel Carousel — was also finished that year at a cost of more than $1 million. (Restorers spent almost 1,000 hours on each fake animal, according to the zoo’s Web site.)

"It’s evident that capital improvements from the bond measure focused on visitor amenities, not improvements for the animals," the report states. "The Joint Zoo Committee and Recreation and Park Commission did not provide adequate oversight to ensure capital improvements made with bond money focused on animal enclosures and exhibits."

The report also points in part to a 1999 performance audit of the zoo conducted by San Francisco’s respected budget analyst, Harvey Rose. The audit at that time argued that improving animal exhibits should come before building new gift shops and dining facilities, but that this recommendation was "not heeded," according to the commission.

"It was clear that none of that had been addressed," Mara Weiss, an animal welfare commissioner and veterinarian in the city, said of the 1999 audit.

Zoo officials received repeated invitations to attend recent commission meetings on the zoo, but they were mostly ignored. Weiss, however, acknowledged that the zoo was distracted by the tiger attack and resulting media circus.


Early this year, three zoo experts from abroad visited the San Francisco Zoo at the request of the group In Defense of Animals. Each sent a letter to the supervisors that decried the conditions in San Francisco. Robert Atkinson, a former Oxford University conservation, welfare researcher and one-time curator at the Woburn Safari Park in the United Kingdom, noted a failure "to adopt modern approaches to animal husbandry." Peter Stroud, a former zoo director from Australia, described the Black Rhinoceros exhibit as "utterly impoverished."

"It is in fact completely barren…. This exhibit conveys the general impression of a stock yard in which the interests of the animals are of no concern whatsoever," Stroud wrote.

The crown jewel of the zoo’s animal habitations constructed using bond money, the African Savanna, was completed in 2004. It features giraffes, zebras, kudus — a species of antelope — and a bird aviary. But even that exhibit, the welfare commission argues, has problems.

"The new African Savanna exhibit was located in the most weather-exposed part of the zoo, and constructed without shelter or windbreaks for the warm-weather animals displayed there," the report states. "In fact, the most sheltered part of the African Savanna exhibit was designed for the human visitors, leaving the animals who live there exposed to the cold wind and fog off the ocean just across the street."

We tried to reach the zoo for comment, but an administrative assistant told us that spokesperson Paul Garcia recently left his job there and a replacement wasn’t available for questions. Another spokesperson was out of town. We were told that Bob Jenkins, the zoo’s director of animal care, might return our call but he never did.

Jim Lazarus, a former zoo executive and current rec and park commissioner, said the zoo had to devote significant funds to its entrance to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. In addition, he said, the cost of construction materials globally has ballooned since 1997.

"None of this money goes as far as originally thought with the worldwide demand for steel and concrete…. We need a multiyear plan, both in terms of priority construction and a capital campaign funding strategy, to complete the half of the zoo that hasn’t been renovated and that should be our goal," Lazarus said. "It’s a wonderful facility."

But future projects planned for the zoo appear to continue the emphasis on visitors. A wish list of projects from the zoo’s 2007 master plan update includes adding new conference spaces and retail, improving areas for family activities, creating a 1,000-seat amphitheater, installing yet another new café, and possibly a full-service restaurant called Windows on the Pacific.

The commission, however, has proposed that the zoo become a haven for saving animals rather than simply exhibiting them for the enjoyment of people. A rescue zoo, as they describe it, would provide a new home for exotic animals once held by private owners in inhumane conditions. Zoo veterinarians and other staff already possessing experience treating sick animals would naturally fit into the new concept, and the zoo’s past conservation efforts, like programs for eagles and wild cats, could be grandfathered in.

Deniz Bolbol, a co-coordinator of the Bay Area–based Citizens for Cruelty-Free Entertainment and supporter of the rescue zoo idea, describes the joint committee that oversees the zoo as a rubber stamp and says, "everything the zoo proposes is approved; everything is unanimous."

"The Board of Supervisors really needs to reform the zoo at its base," Bolbol said.

Lazarus opposes the idea of a rescue concept because he believes it won’t generate enough revenue to keep the zoo self-sufficient. Sup. Sean Elsbernd, whose district includes the zoo, was also cool to the idea, saying no one has an idea of how much it might actually cost. Discussions at the board about how the $48 million in bond money was spent, in the meantime, would likely take a back seat to the lingering citywide $338 million budget deficit.

Besides, he said, the zoo’s new Grizzly Gulch, where two bears that were close to being euthanized by Montana wildlife officials live, represents what the commission is asking for.

"In concept, it’s a great idea," Elsbernd said. "In concept, I also support every street being repaved every year. But there’s reality. There was no realism in their report that showed us how to achieve [a rescue zoo] in the means that we have."

The operating agreement between the Zoological Society and the city comes up for renewal in June.

Bureaucrats blow $375k reading Matier & Ross


Employees working for the city and county of San Francisco have squandered $375,000 in salaried work hours over the last 12 months reading San Francisco Chronicle columnists Matier & Ross, time that could have been spent finding cheaper ways to provide a police presence at political demonstrations and repaint parking garages located at far-flung BART stations, according to a new report by Controller Ed Harrington.

“Our analysis shows that City Hall staffers spent precious work time reading about how wasteful they are when they could have been figuring out how to make the board’s chambers ADA compliant for less money or more quickly dispatch frivolous and costly lawsuits against the city,” Harrington said.

The report shows that overpaid City Hall staffers in particular devoted seemingly endless salaried hours reading about how they and their colleagues have burdened San Francisco’s already bloated $338 million budget deficit and how Jerry Brown’s recent office redo in Sacramento cost a whole lot of taxpayer money.

“Dude, I’m totally expensive,” said one City Hall insider after reading about how much it cost for him to have a big title but few actual tasks. “And holy shit, did Don Perata’s new taxpayer-subsidized car really cost that much? No wonder we’re laying off teachers.”

Cookie monster is fucking metal


Kathleen Richards over at the East Bay Express is our new hero. She found some utterly hilarious videos someone made of Cannibal Corpse and other metal bands playing over images of Cookie Monster. Metal vocalists are sometimes accused of sounding like Cookie Monster, so we were laughing our asses off around here when we caught her blog post. We’ve inserted the videos below and added a new one: an entire band of Muppets playing awesome metal. This rules. Our next challenge for Richards is to find video of Big Bird floorpunching to Judge and yelling about how he’s Xpoison-freeX ’til death. Two more videos after the jump.

Cannibal Corpse

Muppets crank to 11

Adopt 8-pound Tatiana the cat


We like to check the San Francisco SPCA’s Web site from time to time, because, well, we really, really like kittehs. We’d posted more images of cats looking for homes on the blog, but we’re afraid our colleagues might ridicule us for liking kittehs so much. Well screw them. We’ve long embraced the politics of kittehs, and if you’ve ever reported on animal welfare and animal rights, you know there’s no shortage of politics surrounding kittehs.

Anyway, someone at the SPCA has a sense of humor. The shelter’s site won’t let us save the image of Tatiana the cat for some reason, so you’ll have to go here to actually see her.

Meet the other Tatiana:
TATIANA – ID#A066862
I am a spayed female, brown tabby Domestic Shorthair.
The shelter staff think I am about 10 years old.
I weigh approximately 4 kgs (8 lbs).
I have been at the shelter since Mar 15, 2008.

Shelter Staff made the following comments about this animal:
“Tatiana is a tabby but a tender tiger at heart. This shy and delicate little girl will need some extra time getting to know you and your home. She will benefit from a patient adopter willing to spend the time necessary to make her comfortable in her new surroundings.”


The price of gold


› news@sfbg.com

Five years ago, the overseers of San Francisco’s iconic Golden Gate Bridge were facing a $454 million budget deficit. That figure was larger than the gross domestic products of East Timor, the west African country of Gambia, and the Independent State of Samoa.

Investigative reporter Thomas Peele of the Contra Costa Times decided to try and figure out how a bridge in the United States could amass a funding shortfall that dwarfed the economic output of entire nations. For one, he reported in a 2002 story, the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway, and Transportation District used money from the tolls paid by motorists to bankroll an expensive transit system that includes a network of buses in Marin County and a fleet of ferry boats that collectively cost millions per year to operate.

Peele also discovered that the bridge’s 19-person board of directors, some members of which live far from the Bay Area, spent more than $56,000 over a two-year period just to cover trips — including meals, rental cars, and hotels — to regular meetings at the Golden Gate’s administrative offices in San Francisco.

The embarrassed district promised reforms and vowed to get its economic house in order.

But five years later, we’ve learned, very little has changed.

The district touts its substantial cuts in overhead, insisting everything possible has been done to avoid raising the toll on motorists. But the Golden Gate Bridge District’s financial problems aren’t going away — and the only solution the administration can come up with is perpetual toll increases.

Even that answer poses huge problems. The bridge doesn’t expect that the actual volume of toll-paying motorists, or the ridership on its buses and ferries, will rise in the near future at the same pace as its expenses, which are largely consumed by employee salaries, benefits, and other perks that the district’s hundreds of workers, including its board members, enjoy.

Public records show today that the district pays for health insurance for 14 of the (very) part-time directors. Last year alone, that insurance combined cost $48,000 — even though several of the board members, including two mayors and four county supervisors, are already eligible for insurance coverage in their home counties.

The bridge district’s projections show vast deficits stretching off into the next decade — and if the problem isn’t solved, a public transit system will be at risk. Riders, among them a high number of business commuters, make 9.4 million annual trips on Golden Gate’s transit system. If the fiscal mess continues unabated, the board will either have to hike tolls to larger numbers ($10, $15, $20?) or start cutting back on the buses and ferries.

The only alternative, says Golden Gate board member and San Francisco supervisor Gerardo Sandoval, may be to ask state lawmakers for the right to change the district’s charter so it can raise money a different way, such as through sales or parcel taxes.

But many of the board members, who benefit from the lucrative sinecure and the power of this bureaucracy, don’t want to take that risk. "Their fear is that if they go to Sacramento, no one’s going to ask them their opinion," Sandoval told us. "The end result is going to be some legislation that significantly changes the way the bridge is run."


Bridge officials say the projected deficit was a lot worse five years ago, before they instituted cost-cutting measures. The biggest cuts came in the form of eliminating nearly 200 positions, about a fifth of the workforce. The district also instituted a hiring freeze and forced workers to negotiate wage rollbacks and share more of the costs of their medical coverage.

Bus services from the district’s fleet of 200 were reduced by 22 percent in March and November of 2003, and taking a bus from Marin to San Francisco now costs 34 percent more than it did five years ago. The weekday fare for a ferry from Larkspur to San Francisco was raised a whopping 118 percent, and available ferry seats were reduced 23 percent by cutting trips. It can cost between $7 and $8 one-way to ride Golden Gate’s ferries and buses today.

But over the next five years, the district still anticipates its deficit will reach $91 million.

So after raising the toll five years ago, bridge officials want to do so again as soon as September. Motorists would pay $6 in cash, $5 if using a FasTrak prepaid device, and $3 instead of $1.50 for disabled drivers.

"It seems pretty clear that the [bridge’s] staff is driving the board of directors, and not the other way around, toward infinite toll increases," Sandoval said. "It’s a ludicrous idea, but that’s the only one they have right now."

Earnest bridge staffers point out in reports prepared for the public that they’ve implemented "revenue enhancements," such as putting out a donation box for visitors who might be willing to give up some pocket change and creating special sales programs at the gift shop.

Online trinkets for sale have even been expanded. At Goldengate.org you can purchase a piece of the bridge’s original cable for $175 or an $8 baby bib that reads "Golden Gate Bridge: Big, Strong and Awesome, Just Like My Dad."

But that’s not going to add up to $91 million.

Meanwhile, the anticipated deficit doesn’t even include capital projects like the nearly $185 million the district wants to spend overhauling and replacing its buses and ferries, or the $36 million it hopes to spend over the next 10 years deterring suicides, which are perhaps the second best-known feature of the Golden Gate Bridge after its aesthetic beauty.

And, of course, the bridge constantly needs repainting, thanks to the wind and salt air. "There’s more [required] maintenance on the Golden Gate Bridge than any other bridge in the country because of where it’s at…. It has to be looked after everyday by a crew of ironworkers and painters and whatever else is needed," said board president John Moylan.

The district’s largest operating expense involves paying the remaining 836 full- and part-time workers at the bridge and granting them fringe benefits like insurance coverage and supplemental pensions. This year alone salaries and benefits will cost about $100 million.


About 60 percent of the district’s budget goes toward keeping its ferries and buses running, but key performance measures show that Golden Gate’s transit system does poorly in three crucial areas, including cost efficiency and effectiveness. When compared with national averages, Golden Gate Transit has one of the top five highest operating costs per "vehicle revenue mile" — a barometer of efficiency — out of the 150 largest transit agencies nationwide, making it more inefficient than BART, AC Transit in Alameda County, and the transportation authorities in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, according to 2005 figures maintained by the federal Department of Transportation.

It’s common for transit systems to rely on government subsidies, and few environmentalists have sympathy for drivers who whine about toll increases from the comfortable interiors of their automobiles. Mass transit is the future of urban living.

"The Golden Gate Bridge may not be as efficient as other comparable systems," Sandoval said, "but if we abandon the investment we have made in mass transportation, it will really leave us with poor options in the years to come."

Alan Zahradnik, Golden Gate’s director of planning, adds that the bridge’s buses and ferries are dissimilar to other transit systems around the country because they tend to carry fewer commuter passengers over greater distances mostly during peak hours compared to transportation authorities like San Francisco’s Muni and AC Transit.

"It’s more expensive to provide suburban, fixed-route transportation," Zahradnik said.

Nonetheless, without an increase in the toll for motorists, the bridge expects to sustain annual deficits for each of the next 10 years until the red ink reaches $290 million.

So it would seem that if the district is asking everyone to tighten their belts, its board of directors should probably do the same. The extraordinarily large 19-member Golden Gate board contains more than twice as many directors as the seven-member board that oversees Muni’s trains and buses and the nine-member board that governs BART.

That’s a throwback to history. When the bridge district formed in 1928, several counties north and south of the span were asked to participate in the $35 million bond issue required to construct a road across the Golden Gate, and although the bonds were paid off decades ago, each of those counties still receives representation on the board.

"There have been attempts to topple the bridge district in the past, but they’re so hard-wired, it’s been impossible," said Susan Deluxe, a Tiburon resident and long-time critic of the district.

The list includes two counties located far to the north, Mendocino and Del Norte — the latter bordering Oregon. But the board’s structure hasn’t been tinkered with since its formation.

When asked whether the far-flung board has outlived its usefulness, the representative from Del Norte County, Gerald Cochran, explained that the distant jurisdictions help diminish tension between the representatives from San Francisco and Marin, who frequently argue over who should contribute more to maintain the bridge. Besides, he said, Del Norte stepped up to help make the Golden Gate Bridge happen in the first place.

"It’s not what we do today," Cochran said, "it’s what we did 75 years ago to get this bridge built. We make our contributions."

The travel expenses of the two directors representing Del Norte and Mendocino counties were the highest board-meeting travel costs he found back when Peele first reported on the board’s budget — $42,404 to cover trips from their home counties to San Francisco for regular board meetings over two years.

In 2002, bridge officials told the public that the district’s top-heavy administration would spend less along with everyone else to save money. The newest $6 toll was proposed "with the understanding that staff will continue to focus on finding internal cost savings," one staff report promised.

But that’s not exactly what new numbers we obtained from the district through a public records request show. Transporting distant directors to district meetings over the past two years cost more than $54,000.

Exasperated district staffers respond that travel for board members to conferences around the globe has already been trimmed and the number of regular meetings they hold in San Francisco were cut to save on the $50 stipends board members traditionally earned per meeting for serving.


A majority of the directors receive health insurance coverage from the district, either Blue Shield or Kaiser — a perk that few other part-time boards in the state offer. Last year, that cost $48,000.

But many of the directors already receive coverage from plans in their home counties. The bridge paid $1,200 last year to cover Mike Kerns; he is also a Sonoma County supervisor, where he’s on a second plan that includes life, dental, vision, and health coverage — and costs taxpayers there about $63,000 annually, the clerk of Sonoma County’s board told us. Kerns was on vacation when we called his office at press time.

Board member Albert Boro receives health insurance through the bridge, but taxpayers in San Rafael, where he’s the mayor, pay an additional $19,000 annually to cover him there, according to figures provided by San Rafael’s city manager.

But Boro told the Guardian that the bridge coverage is "secondary and it’s only utilized when my primary doesn’t cover something…. It’s not a premium in the sense that it might be through the city [of San Rafael]."

Three San Francisco supervisors participate in the plan offered here for county employees, which annually costs taxpayers approximately $10,500 per person, according to the controller’s office. But the bridge also covers those individuals. The list includes Tom Ammiano, Jake McGoldrick, and Gerardo Sandoval and costs a total of $14,000 to cover all three of them, according to district numbers we requested.

Ammiano said the benefit could be done away with if it truly became a burden on the bridge’s budget. "That would take the will of the board," he said. "[Doing away with it is] not something I would be against, but I can only speak for myself."

Board director Bevan Dufty, also a San Francisco supervisor, declined to sign up for the coverage when he joined the bridge’s board in 2005.

"I had insurance and it seemed duplicative to me … I meet with people every day who don’t have insurance from all walks of life and so I felt fortunate," Dufty said.

Only about 12 percent of the 450 or so special districts that responded to a survey two years ago asking about health coverage said they offered such benefits to their directors or trustees, according to Neil McCormick, head of the California Special Districts Association. The group represents around 900 waste management, utility, fire, and recreation districts across the state. The Golden Gate district is not a member.

The real problem here is that after the district retired its bond debt in 1971, it never came up with an adequate revenue source to cover all of its operating or capital costs. Bridge officials never sought from state lawmakers a mechanism, for instance, to borrow money at a fixed rate, like school districts do.

So what will the bridge do in five more years? Nobody seems to know. According to San Francisco board member Janet Reilly, "That’s the $64,000 question…. There’s only so much toll tolerance among drivers."

Gorilla escapes from San Francisco zoo


According to a statement posted today, a gorilla has escaped from the San Francisco Zoo and officials have not yet located the animal. Here’s video purporting to document the gorilla moving around the outside of the zoo.


*Closely observe the site linked above. Someone’s on a mission.

The land that hardcore left behind


“You look more like a hardcore kid than a hipster.”

In San Francisco? Doubt it. This is the land of science-teacher flats, floppy bangs and terrifyingly large sunglasses. The residue escaped to the East Bay years ago.

The infamous Boston Beatdown

Tragedy in Austin

XLimp WristX “I love hardcore boys”

Laid off reporters won’t find Cali’s Spitzer


Ghost Word has a smart take on what newspaper layoffs mean for Bay Area readers:

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Good Old-Fashioned Reporting led to the Eliot Spitzer Story; Too Bad There Won’t Be Enough Bay Area Reporters to Do the Same

The New York Times deconstructs how it uncovered the Eliot Spitzer prostitution ring story. The Times reporters got the information through good old-fashioned beat reporting. The Attorney General’s office had sent out a press release announcing the break-up of a prostitution ring. There was nothing unusual about that. But reporters noticed that the lead prosecutor in court on March 6 was very high up in the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s office. That got people thinking.

“No one had talked of the escort ring’s inner workings, and certainly no one mentioned the governor’s name,” according to a story in the Times. “Just one fact piqued interest for some in the room: The lead prosecutor on the case was Boyd M. Johnson III, the chief of the public corruption unit of the Manhattan United States attorney’s office.”

“Later that day, reporters at The New York Times learned of the unusual presence of three lawyers from the corruption unit, including the boss of that division and an F.B.I. agent from one of the bureau’s public corruption squads. The public corruption units often look at the conduct of elected officials.”

“Within hours, the reporters were convinced that a significant public figure was involved as a client of the prostitution ring.”

That’s how reporters get stories. By being around and working sources. That’s the kind of gumshoe reporting that will now be missing all around the Bay Area as virtually every paper has slashed its staff to the bone.

Posted by Frances at 5:53 PM
Labels: Bay Area Newspaper Layoffs, Eliot Spitzer, New York Times