Heather Mack

Canine conflict



San Francisco enjoys proximity to natural beauty and recreation on a scale unlike any other major urban area in the country. The 75,000-acre Golden Gate National Recreation Area offers city dwellers almost 60 miles of rugged coastline, forested hiking trails, and scenic beaches to enjoy. In most cases, people can bring their dogs.

While the city is notoriously difficult to raise human children in, four-legged friends flourish in an environment that celebrates their existence. With a multitude of dog-friendly parks, pet hotels, and ubiquitous doggie boutiques to accommodate the estimated 120,000 dogs that call San Francisco home, the canines and their companions form their own political constituency.

So it’s only natural that GGNRA’s Draft Dog Management Plan, which restricts dog walking in the park, has the pet set howling. The plan would limit off-leash dogs to 21 different areas of the park, including some of the most popular places such as Crissy Field, Fort Funston, and Ocean Beach, and ban dogs from some areas, like Muir Beach, where they have long been welcome.

The 2,400-page plan has been in the works since 2002, created out of the need to uphold the agency’s duty to protect the sensitive wildlife and plant species in the park while accommodating a growing population of visitors. Since its unveiling in January, thousands have rallied against it, filing so many comments to the National Park Service that it has extended the public comment period until May 30.

Currently, dogs are allowed off-leash in small fraction of the GGNRA lands and on-leash throughout most of the park. The proposed plan offers six alternatives for each of the 21 areas examined, all strengthening existing — but often ignored — leashing policies and reducing areas where dogs are allowed to roam tether-free.

“This is overly restrictive and unrealistic,” said Martha Walters, chair of the Crissy Field Dog Group. “There are certainly more management measures that can be taken with signage and educational outreach to protect these environments without having to impose this plan.”

Opposition has been widespread among pet owners and groups like the SPCA and Animal Care and Control. The Board of Supervisors voted 10-1 on April 26 to adopt a resolution formally opposing the plan, although the city has no jurisdiction over the area.

“It’s one thing to make sure we protect endangered species, but this plan doesn’t just do that,” said District 8 Sup. Scott Wiener, who authored the resolution. “This is a much more extreme proposal that is a significant restriction to dogs.”

Opponents fear the plan will force more dogs into city parks where overcrowding and aggressive behavior could become problems. Dog owners and advocates stress that responsible dog guardianship can be compatible with environmental stewardship, and that the NPS should better enforce the pet policy already in place.

“This is not right for our community,” said Jennifer Scarlett, codirector of the SPCA. “I would never want to wish harm on any wildlife, but it’s a piece of land stuck in one of the most densely populated cities in the country.”

But the GGNRA is still part of NPS, although many existing national environmental policies have largely been ignored here.

“We don’t get to choose whether or not to fulfill federal mandates,” said Alexandra Picavet, public affairs specialist for the GGNRA.

The GGNRA allows leashed dogs in more places than any other national park, and is the only park in the entire NPS system that allows off-leash dogs. It achieved National Park status in 1972, but its unique position as the backyard of a major city caused it to bend the rules when it came to letting the dogs out.

“The policy was adopted by the superintendent at the time of the GGNRA, and even that wasn’t really enforced,” GGNRA spokesperson Howard Levitt told us. “This was relatively early in the parks history, and in the early days, we didn’t really understand the importance of natural resources and history in the park.”

According to NPS, GGNRA is home to more threatened and endangered species than Yellowstone, Yosemite, Sequoia, Death Valley, and Kings Canyon national parks combined. It has a higher concentration of sensitive species than all but four of the 394 parks in the system.

The new pet plan would not be implemented until late 2012, after public comment is taken and the plan is revised. For six to 12 months, monitoring areas to measure compliance with leash laws will be conducted. If 75 percent of users do not comply, further restrictions will be made.

Current regulations are broken everyday at Ocean Bean and Fort Funston. Like the lax marijuana laws that are synonymous with San Francisco, leash laws have historically been considered more of a suggestion than a rule. At Crissy Field, one of the most popular recreation spaces for off-leash dogs, NPS observed dog owners disobeying the guidelines more than 60 percent of the time.

Many people do not realize that the four-mile stretch of Ocean Beach slated for restriction currently only allows dogs from May to June, or that the Great Meadow of Upper Fort Mason has never allowed the many off leash dogs seen there every day. Dog advocates say better signage about existing rules would help.

“To me, they went this way instead of having any intermediate steps in current policy and off leash areas,” said Rebecca Katz, director of the Animal Care and Control. “I am not supportive of the alternative. This isn’t like any other national park, and we don’t want it to be.”

On a recent visit to Fort Funston, it was evident that the park was, as some environmentalists call it, a de facto off-leash area. Dozens of dogs, most off leash, romped in the windy dunes, far outnumbering dog owners and professional dog walkers. Most dogs happily jumped from car to sand without ever being put on a leash.

Longtime San Francisco resident Candy Deboer and her giant schnauzer, Leila, have been coming to the park for years after finding city parks unsatisfactory.

“Golden Gate Park? I’ve tried that and I ended up stepping over hypodermic needles,” Deboer said. “Plus, I have a dog that loves junkie poop. I grew up camping, hiking, and fishing. I know how to preserve wildlife and take care of a park.”

Many said closing Fort Funston and Ocean Beach in March during tsunami warnings resulted in horribly crowded dog parks, and felt that GGNRA’s plan would deliver more of the same.

“We are using the parks the way they are supposed to be used,” said San Francisco resident Willa Hagerty, who also spoke at some of the hearings on the plan. “If we are doing something wrong, let us know with signs or fences.”

For some, walking dogs isn’t just a means of enjoying the outdoors, it’s a source of income. “The plan would really affect a lot of jobs like mine,” said SF resident and dog walker Josh Boutelle, who impressively handled eight different dogs while on a run for SF Pup Prep. “There will be more incidents in parks when there is crowding.”

Although everyone surveyed at Fort Funston stridently opposed the plan, most supported regulations in some form, from limiting the number of dogs professional walkers can handle to requiring leashes in some parts of the park. Sup. Wiener is also in the process of devising regulations for dog walking in city parks.

But the GGNRA plan has pitted environmentalists against dog advocates. The Sierra Club and Golden Gate Audubon Society support the plan and even argue that more restrictions are needed than proposed. Those groups, along with six other organizations including the California Native Plant Society and Nature in the City, wrote a letter to the Board of Supervisors April 8 opposing Wiener’s resolution.

“The GGNRA was created in part to bring a national park-caliber experience to all Bay Area residents and visitors, not to expand recreation opportunities for dog owners,” the letter states. “Contrary to what some are saying, the proposed plan is not about keeping dogs out of the GGNRA. Rather, it is about inviting dogs into the park in a manner that is sustainable and fair to all park users.”

The Sierra Club has even used the dog debate as a big factor for its mayoral endorsement. Sen. Leland Yee has spoken in support of the plan, while mayoral candidates Sup. John Avalos and Board President David Chiu voted to oppose it.

“I’m concerned that the Sierra Club is going to use a microscope on a tiny, insignificant measure to make a decision on mayoral endorsement,” Avalos told us. “The dog policy is insignificant compared to so many other environmental issues.”

Others disagree. Michael Lynes, director of the Golden Gate Audubon society, thought Wiener’s resolution was hasty and did a disservice to the years of work NPS has put into the plan.

“They keep talking about the impacts to the city, while here they are trying to do something that impacts the National Park,” Lynes said. “The resolution is really strange. It opposes the Park Service’s effort to regulate land in a way that is sustainable and equitable.”

Opponents say evidence of dog-induced damage to wildlife and humans is unclear, but the plan gives hundreds of pages of studies and incident reports. In 2008, nearly 900 dog-related incidents were reported, including attacks on vulnerable populations such as young children, seniors, and, disabled people. In 2005, Guide Dogs for the Blind found that 89 percent of their graduates had guide dogs interfered with by off leash dogs.

Plus, as difficult as it may be for dog lovers to fathom, not everyone wants to be around dogs when enjoying the outdoors. Currently, dogs are allowed on all but one major trail in the GGRNA, and China Beach in the Presidio is the only beach where people can have a dog-free experience.

“At the end of the day,” Lynes said, “people don’t want to change their behavior.”


HOC farmers market bans live chicken sales


Feathers will cease to fly over alleged cruelty practices at the Heart of the City Farmers Market that we reported in February. The outdoor Civic Center market has announced it will no longer offer live poultry for sale as of May 27, a practice that had been grounds for a lawsuit and two years of fervent protesting from animal rights groups.

Raymond Young’s Poultry, a popular vendor, has been selling live chickens by the hundreds for nearly two decades at the HOC market every Wednesday and Sunday. In January, animal rights activist group LGBT Compassion filed a lawsuit alleging cruelty and civil rights violation against Young and the HOC after months of protesting and several attempts to get city agencies involved.

While the poultry stall remained popular with its largely Chinese clientele in spite of an ever-present throng of protesters, the practices caught the attention of Animal Care and Control and the Department of Public Health. Young had received hundreds of citations from ACC and warnings from the DPH, but they were essentially void due to an exemption in California law pertaining to poultry.

HOC market managers would not comment for this story, nor would Raymond Young. While the lawsuit is still pending, the announcement was perceived as a victory to the activist group.

“It sent a message to the city and to the public that animal cruelty and public health offenses is not acceptable and should not be endorsed or subsidized by the city,” said Andrew Zollman, founder of LGBT Compassion. “Having the market finally recognize that something like that should change is great.”

Zollman and fellow protestor Alex Felsinger filed the lawsuit with San Francisco attorney Matt Gonzalez. Zollman said that they had continued to protest in the months since filing the suit. Along with ACC, they said that Young had repeatedly violated animal cruelty laws and health codes even after the level of scrutiny on his stall had increased.

The ACC, which had cited Young hundreds of times for practices such as unsanitary conditions, lack of water, and improper handling of the chickens, viewed the decision by the market to ban sales as good news.

“Animals are food for a lot of people, but as Proposition 2 in California exhibited, people do care about the treatment of them,” said Rebecca Katz, director of the ACC, referring to the Prevention of Farm Cruelty Act of 2008. “If the vendors had been able to treat the animals appropriately, I don’t think it would have become this issue. This was profitable; he still could have made good money and done it properly.”

Bullfeathers Quail, the other live bird vendor at the market, had received significantly less attention from protesters and city agencies because it sold far fewer birds – about 350 per week – and had not been accused of nearly as many violations. Nonetheless, the vendor will also be banned.

Zollman said they will continue to protest the stall up until May 27, mainly because they fear the vendors will operate with a higher level of disregard since they have “nothing to lose.” Although they have received caustic criticism from groups who believe their protests are an attack on Chinese culture, they will plan to shift their attention north to Chinatown to live markets operating there.

“We are hoping that what we have learned and what city agencies have learned will pave the way,” said Zollman.

Last stand against Lennar



Hunters Point, the last major swath of usable land in San Francisco, appears at first glance to be a developer’s dream — a prime piece of real estate with sweeping views of the bay, ample space, and a city government eager to capitalize on its potential.

But community groups have filed lawsuits challenging the project’s many uncertainties, such as the fate of the toxic stew beneath the former U.S. Navy base in the heart of the project area, and both sides are now awaiting a court ruling on whether more studies are needed.

As an EPA-designated Superfund site, the 500-acre plot is home to an abundance of buried chemical contaminants, radioactive waste, and other unknown toxins, and the Navy has been slow to clean it up. Concerned that development plans have been premature in the face of this lingering mess, opponents filed lawsuits against developer Lennar Corp. and the city last year.

The project, approved July 2010 by the Board of Supervisors, includes plans for a new stadium for the 49ers, 10,500 housing units, parks, and commercial retail space. It has received praise from city and state government agencies as an economic and cultural boon to the community. But activist groups say the cleanup should happen before development occurs.

The Sierra Club settled its lawsuit over the project after the developer made some design changes (see “Uncertain developments,” Jan. 18), so the lawsuit filed by People Organized to Win Employment Rights (POWER) and Greenaction is the last piece of litigation holding up the project. At the core of the legal challenge is whether the environmental impact report (EIR) properly analyzed the health impacts from toxic contamination at the site. After an April 18 hearing on the case, both sides are awaiting a ruling on whether the claims have merit and should be the subject of further study.

Activists claim the EIR violates California Environmental Quality Act protocols because it contains too much uncertainty, including the unknown fate of a large parcel of land slated for a stadium that is contingent on whether the 49ers decide to stay in San Francisco. POWER wants more details about the possible threats to human health before the 20-year project gets the final green light. But since the Navy is responsible for the cleanup, Lennar and the city have repeatedly countered that a full analysis is not their responsibility.

“The main issue that Greenaction and POWER have been concerned about throughout lawsuit is that it’s very unclear from the EIR what exactly is going to happen and what level of contamination will be left,” said attorney George Torgun with EarthJustice, which is representing the community groups. “What are the impacts of building on a federal Superfund site? There is a real lack of knowledge in the EIR.”

April 18 was the second of two recent hearings held on the case. On March 24, Judge Ernest H. Goldsmith listened to a full day of testimony before a packed courtroom. Subsequent settlement discussions weren’t successful, so both sides returned to court to seek a ruling that is expected sometime in the next two months.

Lennar attorneys offered to relinquish the possibility of a pre-cleanup early transfer of the property, which has been a major concern for POWER. Under this proposal, no development on any of the six parcels slated for transfer from the Navy could proceed until the federally mandated cleanup process was finished and certified. However, POWER does not believe this offer reduces the scope of the issues because final approval would still ultimately award control of the land to the developer based on what they believe is a flawed EIR.

“Severing any discussion of early transfer from this EIR would only serve to worsen the defects that petitioners have identified and would be contrary to the requirements of CEQA,” Torgun wrote in the April 13 letter to the court.

POWER’s counterproposal would allow large portions of the project to go through — rebuilding the Alice Griffith housing project and development on Candlestick Point — but Lennar considers it economically unfeasible. These portions of the project are not located on the shipyard but are included in overall plan.

“We want to see the project move forward with Alice Griffith and Candlestick Point,” said POWER organizer Jaron Browne. “They’ve rebuilt housing projects at Cesar Chavez and other areas in the city — why can they only rebuild this one if they can redevelop the shipyard? It’s a political game that Lennar has tied the rebuilding of it to this mammoth 770-acre development.”

Lennar representatives wouldn’t comment for this story. Community members have clashed with the megadeveloper over health issues in recent years. In 2008, Lennar was fined more than $500,000 by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District for allowing dust containing asbestos to settle on the surrounding neighborhoods. Then, in March, community organizations released a report showing e-mails from 2006 to 2009 between the EPA, the San Francisco Department of Public Health, and Lennar revealing a possible cover-up of the asbestos exposure.

“They underestimated our understanding of what is happening here,” Browne said. “The whole heart of this issue is that this is a Superfund site. Even if you remove the possibility of early transfer, they are still planning on doing work while remediation is still years to go on other parcels.”

Longtime Bayview resident and Greenaction member Marie Harrison said that not only is the EIR too fraught with uncertainty, it’s incomplete. “There are over 600 blank pages in that document,” she said. “How can you approve an EIR that is supposed to tell you what is there, what the effects will be, and what the project will be? We kept asking the supervisors: How do you convince the community that they are doing something that is good and safe when the history shows otherwise?

During both court hearings, it was evident no clear definition of the project exists since it contains many variables to account for unknowns. Attorneys for Lennar and the city argue that the EIR effectively addresses each potential use and demonstrates a full knowledge of possible contaminants.

Wilma Subra, an environmental scientist for New Orleans-based Environmental Health Advocates, has worked with POWER and Greenaction to understand the breadth of contamination and the typical process of cleanup of a Superfund site. She pointed out that the Navy’s cleanup plan is completely separate from the EIR submitted for the project.

“Those two documents don’t agree with what development will be,” Subra said. “Usually you wait much longer in the process to really know that the land is safe. In a normal Superfund process, you would first do an implementation of the remediation process, find out if it worked, then — years down the line — you would start thinking about development.”

If the EIR is deemed inadequate, Lennar and the city will be required to further analyze the contaminants, outline cleanup strategies, and resubmit a new EIR. If the judge rules the EIR satisfies CEQA, the project can move forward.

“CEQA is one of the few really democratic processes,” Browne said. “If you just have this one moment in 2011 when people are able to comment and weigh in, and then have 20 years where they are building within that, it’s not really fair.”

Mayor derails hearing on nightclub crackdown


Will entering a large nightclub in San Francisco be akin to a TSA pat down? We won’t know for a while, as the proposal for heightened security measures by San Francisco Police has caught the interest of Mayor Ed Lee and further discussion has been stalled pending his analysis.

A hearing last night (Tues/12) at the Entertainment Commission proved to be a disappointment for the dozens of people who attended in hopes of getting closure on the hotly contested proposal, which has drawn criticism for its infringement on freedom and privacy and burdensome cost to club owners, as well as being the latest battle in San Francisco’s War on Fun.

“We need to protect our events,” said Liam Shy of the organization Save the Rave, a coalition of people dedicated to keeping electronic dance parties alive. “They are in a state of crisis right now, and this would make it much worse.”

Shy and fellow Save the Rave member Matt Kaftor saw the mayor’s interest in the issue was a good indication that community dissent has been heard.

“I would be truly shocked if this passed,” said Kaftor. “If it does, we will be protesting constantly.”

The proposal would require all venues with an occupancy of 100 or more people to record the faces of all patrons and employees and scan their IDs for storage in a database, which would be available to law enforcement on request for at least two weeks. Metal detectors, security cameras and brighter lights in the venues would also be required. The proposal was created in response to recent violence in and around nightclubs, most notably the shooting outside Suede in Fisherman’s Wharf last year that resulted in the closing of the club.

However, critics say this is an overreaction that unfairly targets events as sources of violence.

“What I keep getting from measures like this is that police work is hard,” said SF resident Jonathan Duggan. “But instead of doing their hard work, they are just creating another avenue for privacy invasion that shifts the responsibility to everyone else.”

Although the main target is nightclubs, many events in San Francisco would be affected. Events with strong cultural, ideological, and political components are frequently held at venues that would be affected by these rules.

Eva Galperin of the Electronic Frontier Foundation showed up last night prepared to give the commission a piece of her mind. She shared a letter with us outlining her concerns, which listed the support of many other civil liberty and privacy protection groups such as the Bill of Rights Defense Committee.

“The city of San Francisco has a long history of political activism and cultural diversity which would be profoundly threatened by this proposed rule,” Galperin wrote. “Scanning the IDs of all attendees at an anti-war rally, a gay night club, or a fundraiser for a civil liberties organization would result in a deeply chilling effect on speech…This would transform the politically and culturally tolerant environment for which San Francisco is famous into a police state.”

District 8 Supervisor Scott Weiner, who has been instrumental in the effort to keep events in San Francisco alive, told us that he does not support the proposal. His resolution to protect events passed the Board of Supervisors on March 29 and focuses on collaboration between city agencies and nightclub owners to combat violence rather than simply cracking down on entertainment venues.

 “It’s one thing for a large club with a history of problems to receive those kinds of exceptional security measures, but for the majority of clubs, it strikes me as overkill as well as invasion of privacy,” Weiner told us.

Jocelyn Kane, executive director of the Entertainment Commission, could not give any indication as to when another hearing would be or what prompted the mayor’s decision.  Neither she nor the mayor’s office could elaborate on whether the mayor has problems with the proposal or is simply responding to the public outrage.

Smart meters, stupid company



Smart meters seemed like a good idea at first glance — a little wireless device that, unlike it’s dumb analogous predecessor, would track precise readings of household energy usage in real time, identifying wasteful activities and helping consumers make informed choices about conservation and consumption.

Considered a crucial first step in enabling a smart grid that would modernize the existing power grid for the information age, the technology was touted as offering potential benefits such as cheaper service, fewer new power plants and transmission lines, cleaner air, and more reliable services.

But Pacific Gas & Electric Co.’s $2.2 billion program for installing smart meters has now become the subject of caustic criticism by thousands of customers and activists as the culprit for skyrocketing rates, adverse health effects, and threats to privacy.

Since deployment began in California in 2009, consumers have mobilized to halt the spread of the devices, demanding further studies of the technology and options for those who don’t want to join the rush toward a wireless world. Thirty-three local governments have called for moratoriums on the installation of the devices.

The California Public Utilities Commission, which in 2006 authorized the state’s investor-owned utility companies to install more than 10 million meters in California, has done little to quell the storm of protests and concerns. But that began to change March 10 when CPUC President Michael Peevey announced that the agency would require PG&E to develop an opt-out proposal for consumers within two weeks.

Prefacing the decision with an observation that almost every speaker against smart meters the CPUC heard from was a PG&E customer, Peevey called out Northern California residents as the main opponents to the program.

“I am directing PG&E to prepare a proposal for our consideration that will allow some form of opt-out for customers who object to these devices, at a reasonable cost to be paid by the customers who choose to opt-out,” Peevey said at the hearing. “Obviously I cannot prejudge how this commission will evaluate any such proposal by PG&E, nor can I predict what PG&E itself will propose. But I think it’s clear the time has come for some kind of movement in the direction of customer opt-outs.”

But the announcement did little to quell the opposition by the scores of customers, local governments, health professionals, and advocacy groups that claim it undercuts the true concerns while simultaneously opening another avenue the utility behemoth could profit from.

“Admitting to the problem is the first step to resolving it,” says Joshua Hart, executive director of grassroots organization Stop Smart Meters!, which has been at the forefront of the rebellion. “But we obviously think a ton of things were left out of this.”

The makeup of the meter haters spans interests and ideals, from Tea Party conservatives to liberal environmentalists. Their unifying trenchant criticism of Peevey, who was president of Edison International and Southern California Edison Company until 1995, has only increased with each meter installed. PG&E has already replaced 74 percent of its analog electrical meters and 83 percent of its gas meters.

Resolutions critical of PG&E’s smart meter deployment have been passed by many Bay Area cities and the counties of Santa Cruz and San Luis Obispo. Assemblymember Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) introduced a bill in December 2010 that would create a statewide system for opting out.

Although PG&E officials didn’t return repeated Guardian calls about the controversy, they have told other media outlets that the meters are completely safe and installation is continuing as scheduled, despite the growing furor.



A total of 670,000 meters are planned for San Francisco, and installation has already begun in the Marina and Richmond districts, much to the dismay of many residents. During a series of public meetings at the CPUC since 2010, dozens of people regularly line up to ask for alternative options and conclusive, third-party studies on the technology.

Speakers mainly consist of those claiming to suffer from exposure to electromagnetic fields, a condition known as electrohypersensitivity (EHS) that causes headaches, nausea, fatigue, and ringing in the ears. Sufferers liken themselves to canaries in coal mines and say smart meters are just one aspect of larger problem: understudied, overhyped wireless technology.

“The bottom line is it’s a debacle that been rolled out without any public input, without any long-term study,” Hart said. “This is the wireless technology industry being too greedy and going too far.”

Smart meters emit less powerful electromagnetic fields than many smart phones, but activists worry about the effects, both cumulative and on those with EHS, a condition recognized by the Swedish government. But here in the United States, few experts outside of holistic and alternative health circles take it seriously as a health threat.

Hart pointed to the recent publication of a study by the National Institutes of Health finding cell phone emissions affect brain activity, calling it the “smoking gun.” But most scientists found the report inconclusive about how that stimulation affects the brain.

Yet the activists have held regular protests lambasting PG&E for endangering their health and invading their privacy. “This is forced installation of untested devices on an unwilling public,” Carol Page of Marin County told us at a large Feb. 24 protest outside the CPUC meeting in San Francisco. “It’s time this commission stopped enabling and started regulating.”

CPUC officials have said there was no need for additional analysis of the program, arguing that the meters are safe and that installation is a routine procedure allowed under existing utility contracts.

But the venerable consumer watchdog The Utility Reform Network (TURN) has long-opposed the program, focusing primarily on its cost and privacy threats from the data that is being transmitted. Hundreds of customers have contacted TURN to complain about the meters, and the group says Peevey’s policy change misses the mark.

“It’s certainly a step in the right direction, but the devil is going to be in the details,” TURN spokesperson Mindy Spatt told us. “We would review any proposal to charge customers very carefully. We don’t want to see them have pay again.”

She said PG&E’s consumer outreach efforts have been “abysmal,” and TURN supports a moratorium on smart meter installation.

“We are not hearing from any people who are benefiting from it,” Spatt said. “We are hearing from people who are upset about it, and we remain unconvinced that these meters offer any benefits commensurate with their costs.”

TURN’s website offers a flyer that reads “Do Not Install,” which customers can print and place on their analog meter. Wellington Energy, the company performing installations, has respected the signs, Spatt said.

“The flyer is still getting tons and tons of play,” Spatt said. “PG&E has done nothing to address customers who say that the smart meter is unwanted and unwelcome. We are very anxious to see what sort of an opt-out they can offer.”

Although the flyer conveyed a direct message to utilities, some chose the more radical route of blocking installation physically. In January, two women, one a grandmother, were arrested in Rohnert Park for blocking a Wellington truck carrying a load of smart meters.

Sandi Maurer, founder of the EMF Safety Network, believes the movement from the CPUC falls short of taking real action addressing the threat of harmful electromagnetic frequencies to the environment and human health.

“We really need a moratorium while we study the health impacts and have evidentiary hearings where we could determine whether they are safe,” she said. In December 2010, the EMF Safety Network’s request for the CPUC to open an investigation into smart meters was denied.



One smart meter claim the CPUC did investigate was the allegation that the new meters weren’t accurate, following up on more than 600 complaints from customers that their energy bills shot up after the new meters were installed.

The Structure Group, a Houston-based consulting company, tested 750 smart meters and 147 electromechanical meters and concluded that they worked fine. But the study also found that PG&E didn’t properly handle the complaints.

“PG&E’s process did not address the customer concerns associated with the new equipment and usage changes,” the report said. “Some customers interviewed during this assessment did not consider their complaint resolved, despite indications from PG&E and the CPUC that the customer agreed with the resolution.”

As a demonstration of how the program could have been rolled out differently, one needs only to look up the road to Sacramento. The publicly owned Sacramento Municipal Utilities District has installed 184,000 meters and encountered little opposition.

“I’ve seen what’s happening in the Bay Area and we haven’t seen anything like that whatsoever,” SMUD spokesperson Chris Capra said. “I’m amazed at the difference in our customers compared with customers around the country. “

Capra credits the relative embrace of the meters to the method SMUD used to mobilize them. Before installing any meters, SMUD build its wireless network. Then SMUD installed 78,000 trial meters in two separate areas — one in close-quartered downtown and one in suburban areas — to see how the meters behaved under topographical and proximity challenges. Then it led the meters through automated trials doubled with traditional manual reads and found that they were 99 percent accurate.

“We wanted to be certain before we began with full deployment,” Capra said. “We had estimated reads, manual reads, and made sure everything is functional. “

But some problems go beyond customer service. Along with health and safety concerns, critics remain unconvinced that the smart meters live up to their purported benefits to consumers, even though they’re the ones paying for the program.

“If I wanted to monitor my usage, I could go buy an in-home electricity monitor myself and just plug it in,” Maurer said. “For utilities to say we absolutely need this technology to reduce energy costs is false.”

Privacy advocates warn the meters could erode the privacy of daily life unless regulators limit data collection and disclosure. In a joint filing in March 2010, the Center for Democracy and Technology and the Electronic Frontier Foundation urged the CPUC to adopt rules to protect consumer’s energy usage information.

“Smart meters generate more information in formats easier to share and analyze, which is part of the future of energy utilization,” said Jim Dempsey, vice president of public policy at CDT. “That being said, some significant questions remain.”

Smart meters collect 750 to 3,000 data points a month per household. This detailed energy usage data can indicate whether someone is at home or out, how many people are in the house, and if they are using particular appliances. In effort to stave off data mining by marketers or hackers, CDT and EFF urged the CPUC to adopt comprehensive privacy standards for the collection, retention, use and disclosure of consumers’ household energy data.

Smart meters represent a worst case scenario in terms of security, Dempsey warned. Not only do they lack sufficient power to execute strong security software, they are easily accessible and installed in numbers large enough that a few may not be missed if they are stolen. The safest way to protect cyber security is to assume from the outset that they will be attacked.

“You are not going to stop technology and the benefits,” said Dempsey. “It’s hard to say we should not take advantage of something that gives us more information, but you need corresponding security. It’s not too late to adopt the privacy rules, and we certainly hope that the commission will do that soon.”

CDT and EFF say that utilities collecting the data from smart meters must set rules specifying in advance how data will be used. Disclosing information to marketers and government agencies should be restricted.

“Smart meters really do penetrate into the ways we live in ways that no other technology is doing now,” said Lee Tien, senior staff attorney at EFF. “It’s a special circumstance because there isn’t anything else like this that is in everyone’s home.”



As opposition increased along with the installations, further requests for investigation into the program were filed. In July 2010, Huffman asked the California Center for Science and Technology to analyze whether the federal safety standards were sufficiently protective of public health, a move that was supported by fellow Assemblymember Bill Monning (D-Carmel) and the City of Mill Valley.

In December, Huffman also introduced Assembly Bill 37, directing the CPUC to offer an opt out alternative to customers who did not want smart meters and to disclose important information to the public. However, like the ordinances passed throughout the state, the move was largely symbolic and wouldn’t be implemented until the time most installations would have been completed in 2012.

The report released by the CCST in January analyzed the threat posed by smart meters, concluding that additional research was needed to accurately gauge the potential threat and had found “no clear evidence that additional standards were needed to protect the public from smart meters or other common household devices.”

The report has since served as a reference point for both PG&E and the CPUC as evidence of safety of the meters. Nevertheless, consumer groups dispute the findings.

“We need investigations from a truly independent third party, not an industry-promoting group hired by PG&E,” Maurer said. “We need evidentiary hearings on the health impacts of microwave facilities. Every time someone buys a new wireless router on a cell phone, it’s a drop in the bucket of more wireless technology. But [with smart meters] we’re talking about a massive increase of the density of these wireless emissions.”

The CPUC’s Division of Ratepayer Advocates was also unconvinced by the CCST’s conclusion. It noticed that the report did not fully explore issues related to cumulative exposure or from multiple co-located meters, as would be the case on apartment buildings and close quarters typical in San Francisco.

A California Senate bill imposing restrictions and revisions on utilities regarding their handling of smart meter information passed in February 2010, and in June the CPUC announced it had adopted a framework requiring utilities to modernize security standards, but details on upgrades have not appeared.

For now, protesters remain focused on pressuring regulators to stop the installation and they plan to keep up the fight for as long as needed.

“It is shock and awe to get the meters installed before people figure out that they are being scammed,” Hart said. “Until there is a moratorium called, we are urging people to resist. Stopping smart meters is just one part of the battle against the telecommunications companies.”

Playing chicken



The Heart of the City farmers market in U.N. Plaza may not exude the bourgeois foodie reputation of the Ferry Plaza farmers market. It doesn’t sell micro-roasted coffee or artisan cheeses, and its fountain may sometimes double as a public shower, but it does offer one product that no other San Francisco farmers market does: fresh, live poultry.

Raymond Young has sold live chickens here for two decades, showing up at dawn to set up shop and peddle his poultry to an eager throng of customers, mostly Chinese, who happily take home upwards of 600 birds per day.

But a group of animal rights activists is saying that the poultry stand is inhumane, violates health codes, and that Young’s employees have infringed on their civil rights as protestors. Since April 2010, members of LGBT Compassion have been showing up in the wee hours of the morning next to Young’s stand with banners, brochures, and signs promulgating the alleged cruelty of his business and seeking to block the sale of live birds. In January, protesters upped the ante when they slapped Young and the HOC market with a lawsuit alleging continuous abuse and negligence by those who supervise the market.

“For me, it was as simple as seeing the animal cruelty,” said Andrew Zollman, 43, the founder and organizer of LGBT Compassion. “The cages are dilapidated and cramped, there are feces everywhere, and the chickens are shoved in plastic bags, two at a time, while they scream in fear or pain. It was like walking down the street and seeing a dog beaten — and it’s really frustrating to see it happen here in San Francisco.”

Zollman and fellow protester Alex Felsinger, 25, filed the lawsuit with San Francisco attorney Matt Gonzalez after months of attempts to get city officials to intervene.

The allegations have Young and market management squawking, saying that the activists are opposing a practice that is both legal and routine. They claim the protesters are overly sensitive to the treatment of the chickens simply because they can see it, and decry their tactics as an attack on a small business and cultural traditions since almost all of his customers are Asian.

“These people just don’t seem to like other people’s culture of selling live chicken,” Young said. “”I think that what I do is right. I abide by all the health codes and animal care codes. I try to do everything I can to satisfy everyone. These protesters think they can override the law because they don’t like what they see.”



Zollman and Felsinger have been encouraging the city to investigate Young’s stall, regularly sending videos and photos taken at Young’s stall to the Department of Public Health and Animal Care and Control. But their quest to protect the chickens has been complicated by the lack of city oversight and an inability to enforce animal cruelty laws due to provisions exempting poultry.

The clash between the vociferous vegans and the poultry purveyors reached its pinnacle in late December 2010, when Felsinger claimed he was punched in the side of the head, wrapped up in a tarp, and had the memory card from his camera stolen by one of Young’s employees. As painful as the altercation was, Felsinger’s scuffle has helped him garner support.

Felsinger doesn’t have footage of the December attack, but he and Zollman have documented several instances of alleged verbal and physical abuse by Young’s employees, including anti gay statements from Young’s daughter, which was the subject of a complaint to the Human Rights Commission.

“There is a long list of things being done to us over the past year,” Felsinger said. “I never expected them to take such a violent act against me. It’s not how I wanted to go about it. But it might have the end result we’re looking for.”

Christine Adams, manager of the HOC market since it first opened in 1981, has consistently defended Young and called the lawsuit “completely outrageous.”

“This is a market, and if they (Young’s crew) were illegal, they would have been booted,” she said. “I have done nothing wrong; Raymond has done nothing wrong. I’m not worried at all about the lawsuit.”

Adams said that while she had not been personally affected by the protesting in the past, she did not approve of Zollman and Felsinger’s actions and attributed a decline in live poultry sales to their presence.

“Their sales have gone down considerably,” Adams said. “They used to sell more than 1,000 birds a day and now it’s more like 600 or 700. I think it’s definitely because of the protesters. People don’t like to be followed through a market and have a camera shoved in their face just because they bought a live chicken.”



Almost every market day, Zollman and Felsinger would show up to protest and take video and still photography of Young’s stall. They have posted numerous videos and photos to their group’s website (lgbtcompassion.org) — the same ones they say they send to DPH and ACC — documenting the conditions at Young’s stall.

The DPH makes routine inspections twice per year to the market. In November, Zollman, Young, and Adams held a meeting with principal environmental health inspector Lisa O’Malley to address issues of sanitation, handling, and guidelines for bringing live animals near food. The department says the vendor is operating within guidelines.

“There were some problems in the past, but they’ve been fixed,” O’Malley told us, naming a few instances of inadequate removal of chicken feces from the area and improper hand-washing as past problems. She said the challenge was maintaining the guidelines, the most difficult of which is making sure people do not walk through the market after purchasing their birds. Health codes prohibit animals from being within 20 feet of food. The primary concern is contamination from fecal matter, which could cause illnesses such as Salmonella poisoning.

O’Malley walks by the market regularly because of its proximity to her office and says all operations seem compliant. At the same time, official enforcement and inspection is limited to the Public Health Department’s semi-annual visits. This means the only people watching over the operations of the stall and customers are the security guards, who don’t start working until two and half hours after the market opens, long after prime time for buying live chickens.



Young stands by his actions and said he is not guilty of any wrongdoing. The activists criticize him for practices such as cutting off the tips of the chickens’ beaks, but Young said he only does this to prevent fighting injuries sustained when they are caged for transport and sale, a common practice for any chicken farmer.

In their pamphlets and the lawsuit, the activists claim that the poultry is a “collection of ‘spent’ live chickens (those who are no longer productive egg layers) from large Central Valley farms,” according to the suit. But Young contests that characterization and the activists can’t produce credible evidence of the birds’ age or origins.

“They don’t know how old my birds are. They don’t know how I care for them,” Young said, refusing to tell us how old the chickens are. “They just assume. What’s the difference between Safeway chicken and my chicken? They were all alive at one time, but you see mine.”

Young has three farms listed on his permit — in Modesto, Sacramento, and Manteca — that he runs with the help of his children and a few employees. Adams has visited his Modesto facility and reported that the chickens are free-range, seem to be in good health, and are treated no differently than they would be at any other farm. She also supported the accusation that the protests undermine cultural norms.

“How can it not be cultural? All their customers are Asian!” she said. “And why is it only the chicken man they harass? There is a guy who sells quail and pheasants and they aren’t bothering him.”

Zollman, Felsinger, and Gonzalez call that cultural criticism a diversionary tactic. “I don’t even want to dignify culture and race as an issue in this,” Zollman said. “I understand that people want to buy live chickens. Animal cruelty issues aside, this isn’t a live animal market like they have in most of Asia.”

Young and Adams stressed that Zollman could not possibly know about operations on the farm, and that his suggestion that the operation is extremely profitable is absurd. “Do you know how hard it is to work on a farm?” asked Young, a single father of three. “You don’t make any money except to put food on the table or send your kids to school. And now I have to pay for a lawyer.”



Although the activists oppose factory farms and live animals for sale for human consumption in general, they have focused their attention on the HOC market because it is permitted by the city.

Gonzalez said the lawsuit aims to address three different issues. The first is violating his client’s free speech rights by Young and HOC market. The second seeks to compel the city to better identify and enforce alleged health code violations. The third and trickiest aspect deals with animal cruelty laws, which the activists hope will force more humane treatment of the birds.

Penal Code 597 outlines animal cruelty provisions, defining the word “animal” as “frogs, turtles, and birds sold for human consumption, with the exception of poultry.” That law was adopted in the early 1900s. Elsewhere the code defines animals as “every dumb creature.” But in 2000, the Fourth District California Court of Appeals analyzed the section and deemed that the definition should include birds.

But Gonzalez and ACC say city officials have allowed the poultry exemption to stick. “[The law] refers to live animals and makes a specific exemption for poultry,” Rebecca Katz, director of the Department of Animal Care and Control, told us. “I would venture to guess that poultry lobby was very strong at that time.”

The ACC, prompted by the protests, inspected Young’s facilities and cited him for 700 different violations, according to the lawsuit. Katz mentioned a few instances in which they observed chickens suffering to the point where they had to be euthanized. But most of the citations were for inadequate water supply or holding birds improperly.

“A lot of people eat animals for food, and that’s what it is,” Katz said. “I’m not a vegetarian, but the way they are being kept is not the way we would recommend they be cared for. Do we think there is some cruelty? Probably. But there is nothing we can do at this time until the law changes.”

Like his predecessors, newly appointed District Attorney George Gascón seems to believe that chickens are not protected by state law, regardless of perceived cruel treatment.

“To date, our position has been that there is a clear exception under the law for live poultry being sold for human consumption,” said Gascón spokesperson Erica Derryck. “As much as it appears that the treatment of these animals is inhumane, there is nothing we can do to prosecute these allegations under the current laws in California.”

Gonzalez disagrees, and his office referenced similar cases in the state in which poultry was protected from cruelty. “Frankly, it’s kind of embarrassing that they are taking the position they are taking,” Gonzalez told us. “They are trying to avoid a topic that would compel them to do what they need to do. Many in the Asian community and Mexican community see this as an attack on their cultural traditions, and that’s not the issue. We see it as a straight matter of misinterpretation.”



On a recent visit to the market, the stall appeared clean and the chickens were out of view. The stall features prominent signage in English and in Chinese languages of the ban on bringing live animals into the market, with additional signs throughout the plaza, but customers routinely step directly into the market after buying their chickens.

“This is not easy,” security guard Diana Ybarra said while trying to point a man carrying a bag with two chickens in the right direction. “Nobody wants to listen — most of them don’t speak English. Everyone wants to take a shortcut right back through the market.”

Ybarra and her coworker, Washington (who chose to be identified only by his last name), said that their entire day is consumed trying to get customers to abide by this rule. Prior to the November meeting, no signage was posted and customers just “walked all over the place as if it didn’t matter at all,” Ybarra said.

“Chinese New Year was bad,” Washington added.

The guards see enforcing the rule as an unnecessary waste of time that takes their focus off tasks such as preventing theft. Both said shoving birds in sacks was “messed up,” but they were also quick to criticize the protestors.

“Why are they bothering this man? This is a family business and people have to make money,” Washington said. “Those protestors came in and fucked everything up, if you ask me.”

Young said he resents getting caught up in this controversy. “We are so loyal to this city and to this market,” he said. “We have put up with drug dealers and crime just so we can serve the people. Maybe these protesters think differently.”

For now the activists are more focused on the lawsuit than remaining vigilant in their protests, hoping it will accomplish their goal.

“I wasn’t always so adamant about getting rid of them, it was having people notice something that is animal cruelty,” Felsinger said. “It had been good in some ways to have people exposed to this cruelty in San Francisco because it gave us a platform to speak on animal rights. These are egregious offenses and it’s hard to ignore when it is right in your back yard.”