Lisa Carmack

States push back on Citizens United ruling


With the upcoming anniversary of the Citizens United decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allowed corporations to make unlimited campaign contributions, California Assembly member Julia Brownley (D-Santa Monica) is pushing a bill to ensure that corporate entities making political donations are required to at least disclose those contributions.

The California Disclose Act, AB 1148, specifically addresses accountability in election campaign ads, forcing corporate sponsors to step out from behind cryptic political action committee (PAC) names when they fund political advertisements.

“Currently the top two donors must be disclosed on political ads, usually behind meaningless campaign committee ads,” said Michelle Romero, manager of the Our Democracy program at the Greenlining Institute, which is supporting the legislation. “We hope to really pierce through the committee names to the top three donors behind ballot measure expenditure campaigns.”

Romero’s ideal realization of this bill would be to require political ads to list donors by the name of the corporation, rather than just its made-up PAC name. “Instead of saying, ‘This ad was paid for by the Committee for Responsible California,’ the ad would list the logos and names of top donors,” said Romero. “For example: the donors are Chevron, Comcast, etc.”

Yet other states have taken even bolder steps to counteract the Citizens United decision. The Montana Supreme Court recently affirmed a ban on unlimited corporate spending on political campaigns, seemingly defying the U.S. Supreme Court. But the Montana judges said that due to the rural state’s low-budget elections and the ability of a few large corporations (particularly mining interests) to drown out everyone else, the Citizens United case did not apply to Montana’s Corrupt Practices Law, which bars corporations from using company resources to make political contributions.

“The government is supposed to represent the people,” Romero said, “not corporate interests.” said Romero.

Following court ruling, SF Redevelopment seeks a “legislative fix”


Redevelopment agencies were dealt a statewide hit after a unanimous ruling Dec. 29 by the California Supreme Court decided not only that lawmakers had the ability to terminate the agencies, but that those agencies could not continue forward with redevelopment projects as smaller entities.

Assembly Bills 1X 26, which eliminates redevelopment agencies but makes existing redevelopment housing projects an “enforceable obligation,” and 1X 27, which would have required agencies to make payments to the state of California in exchange for continuing to exist in smaller form, both came under scrutiny by the state Supreme Court. AB26 was upheld, but AB27 was considered illegal.

While large-scale redevelopment projects in San Francisco have generated no shortage of criticism and controversy, Mayor Ed Lee described the decision as disappointing and harmful for the city’s future.

“Redevelopment has not only played a critical role in creating jobs, transforming disadvantaged communities and delivering affordable housing, but it has spurred economic growth for our entire City at a time when we needed it most,” Lee said in a statement issued earlier today.

Gov. Jerry Brown introduced the idea of eliminating redevelopment agencies about a year ago as part of budget cuts designed to revitalize the state economy, as the Guardian reported last January. Today’s decision, which leaves the state with $1.7 billion more to work with in the first year of implementation of this plan, may help cushion the blow as state legislators seek to balance the budget.

However, the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency isn’t giving up.

“We are aggressively looking at solutions, most likely a legislative fix, to provide for redevelopment to continue,” S.F. Redevelopment Agency executive director, Tiffany Bohee, told the Guardian. “The state will do what it needs to do to fill the hole [in the state budget] but there are unintended consequences.”

Private funding from companies like Lennar Homes supplementing state funding has made the continuation of redevelopment projects in San Francisco’s Mission Bay, Bayview Hunters Point Shipyard, and Treasure Island possible. Lee maintains that these areas will remain unaffected.

The legislation does, however, affect future projects. “We call on the state to find a legislative solution to this problem” Lee’s statement noted. “And while we are committed to working with the state, we have already started to look at local solutions and alternatives.”

Bohee echoed the mayor’s resolve. “We are committed to the long haul and focused on what the next steps are,” she said.

Castro residents clash over proposed restrictions in public spaces


UPDATE: This article has been changed to include three corrections.

Community activists in the Castro District of San Francisco have been riled up by recent legislation proposed to limit public use of the Harvey Milk and Jane Warner plazas.

The ordinance proposes to ban “wheeled equipment” and prevent people from sleeping, camping, or selling merchandise. Further, the ordinance limits the time that seating will be available to 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. 

“Poor people and low income people can’t live in the neighborhood anymore,” said community activist and Housing Rights Committee member Tommi Avicolli Mecca. “This ordinance is a response to people’s discomfort with people who look homeless in the plaza.”

Mecca believes that this legislation was pushed forward by the Castro/Upper Market Community Benefit District and the Merchants of Upper Market and Castro (MUMC) as a way to privatize the public spaces and, in effect, prevent homeless people from occupying them.

“(The legislation) talks about sleeping and camping. Who is doing that other than homeless people and what printed materials are being distributed other than the Street Sheets?” said Bob Offer-Westort human rights organizer for the Coalition for Homelessness. “All of this really clearly targets homeless people.”

Other community activists, such as blogger Mike Petrelis, believe that this legislation is a preemptive act against the Occupy movement and that meetings discussing the ordinance intentionally excluded activists like himself. “This new legislation is part of a downtown agenda to prevent an Occupy encampment set up,” said Petrelis.

Petrelis wrote about the legislation on his blog, and among his arguments he states that preventing tents to be present in Harvey Milk and Jane Warner plazas expresses direct disapproval of the movement.

“I read this and hear fear on the part of [Sup. Scott] Wiener, MUMC and the CBD that an Occupy the Castro encampment could take root at the top of Market Street,” he said.

Wiener, who is sponsoring the legislation, says that it was drafted under the Pavement to Parks effort to transform the space into park land and that the provisions are standard for that use. 

“We’re trying to have usable vibrant public space and this legislation will help us have it,” Wiener told us. “This legislation provides what we already have in our parks. It’s pretty basic provisions.”

Wiener says that many local merchants and advocates, such as the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, have been involved in discussions around of this legislation, but the Sisters have not taken a stand on the measure.

“The Sisters, as far as I know, have not made a collective effort one way or another on the legislation at this time,” said Sister Barbi Mitzvah in an email. “The Sisters individually can comment, but coming from the organization takes a majority vote as we are a 501c3 non profit.”

Whether this legislation addresses homelessness, an attempt to prevent an Occupy Castro movement, or if it is to create a “usable vibrant public space,” the community is demanding participation in this decision.

“Both plazas play a vital role in the Castro community,” Petrelis said. “So why won’t he hold a public meeting?”


Students forage in SF park for weekend Fungus Fair


Late fall is the time for the fleshy bodies of fungi to find their way to the moist, earthy surface.

This time of year, mushroom specialist and biology teacher JR Blair can be found at McClaren Park with students from San Francisco State University collecting hundreds of species of mushrooms for the much-anticipated Fungus Fair (check Caitlin Donohue’s piece on last year’s fair here). 

“All of the mushrooms are collected the Friday before the fair,” Blair said. ”Between 100 and 200 species of mushrooms are sorted and brought to (the exhibit) by Friday night.”

Blair was featured on KQED’s video series Science on the Spot, foraging around McClaren Park sniffing, tasting, and delicately handling the mushrooms to identify the species.

“It’s like an Easter egg hunt,” said Blair in the Quest video. “You hear squeals of delight off in the woods.”

The collected mushrooms are spread over several tables and meticulously labeled, providing an elaborate mushroom gallery of all shapes, sizes, colors and smells.

The Fungus Fair has been an annual event for 41 years with exhibits that show mushroom hunters how to identify edible species and workshops that demonstrate how to grow your own on pieces of wet newspaper.

Around 200 volunteers, comprised of UC Berkeley and SF State students, help to gather mushrooms and run the different exhibit stations. The fair includes live cooking demonstrations, informational exhibits on poisonous, hallucinogenic, medicinal, and microscopic mushrooms and family-friendly workshops on how to make spore prints.

“I think everyone should go to the fungus fair,” said volunteer coordinator Stephanie Wright. “But I’m biased.”

This is Wright’s fourth year helping out with the Fungus Fair and her job wrangling college students is not one she takes lightly. An incredible amount of planning goes into the fair each year, but the rewards of the fair are worth it to those dedicated to spreading the mushroom love.

“Foraging for mushrooms puts me in touch with nature, slows me down,” said mushroom enthusiast and Fungus Fair coordinator Lisa Gorman. “I’m stopping, breathing more deeply and observing. The process compels me to attend to a world and kingdom other than my own.”

The fair takes place Dec. 3 and 4 at the Lawrence Hall of Science in the Oakland Hills from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and costs $15 at the door. For more information you can visit the Mycological Society of San Francisco website or the museum event site.


Whose park?


Golden Gate Park and Ocean Beach have long been destinations for locals and tourists to take in natural beauty within an urban setting, but a controversial plan to build a complex of artificial turf soccer fields at their intersection is drawing opposition from neighbors and environmentalists.

The project seems to belie the original intent of Golden Gate Park as a uniquely wild setting. The Master Plan for Golden Gate Park, drafted in 1995, emphasizes environmental stewardship and maintaining the park in a natural, multi-use way. Among its provisions are “major meadows and lawns should be adaptable to host a wide variety of activities, rather than designed for a specific use.”

But the Recreation and Park Department (RPD) and sports advocates are pushing a plan to install seven acres of synthetic turf fields, complete with 60-foot, 150,000-watt lighting that will shine until 10 p.m. year-round.

The project will have its first major public hearing before the Planning Commission on Dec. 1 at 5 p.m. in Room 400 at City Hall. Public comments on the project’s Draft Environmental Impact Report, which was released in October, will be accepted at the Planning Department until 5 p.m. on Dec. 12.

Critics of the plan, including the Ocean Edge Steering Committee, have been distributing educational materials and trying to energize people to oppose a project that the group says runs counter to the park’s purpose and which will harm wildlife and cause other negative impacts.

The fields are slated to be installed over the four existing run-down grass fields in the Western Edge of Golden Gate Park, which sits directly across from Ocean Beach and next to the Beach Chalet historical building and restaurant. The project is projected to cost up to $48 million, about $20 million of which comes from the Clean and Safe Neighborhood Parks bond measure approved by city voters in 2008.

Advocates for the synthetic fields — most notably the City Fields Foundation, the main proponent of converting grass to turf in city parks (see “Turf wars,” 10/13/09) — say that this project will only take up a fraction of the natural space in the park, and that turf has many benefits over natural parkland.

“You can put a grass field in, but then you have to limit public access,” said Patrick Hannan, communications director for the City Fields Foundation. “If you want to have grass, there’s only so much sports play that can happen.”

Hannan says that this project is a response to the high demand for usable athletic fields and the limited play provisions of grass fields and availability of usable fields also limits the number of adults and children able to play sports.

RPD spokesperson Connie Chan was not responsive to Guardian questions about the project’s consistency with the Master Plan, and on the main project, she referred to a statement on the RPD website: “We are proposing to renovate the dilapidated Beach Chalet Athletic Fields in the western end of Golden Gate Park with synthetic turf, field lights and other amenities because Beach Chalet is one of three primary ground sports fields in San Francisco but unfortunately, these fields are in abysmal condition, often closed, and lacking spectator seating.”

But activists say the RPD shouldn’t disregard its own planning documents. “It took a long time to draft the Master Plan,” said Shawna McGrew, an activist who worked at RPD for 30 years. “They have no legal obligation, but a moral obligation to uphold the Master Plan.”

The grass soccer fields have been run down due to lack of maintenance and a continuing gopher problem. But environmental advocates argue that installing the planned light fixtures and synthetic turf will interfere with the wildlife, particularly the nesting birds.

“It’s been referred to as the mothership landing,” said Nature Trip tour guide and bird watcher Eddie Bartley, discussing the impact of the proposed lighting fixtures.

Environmentalists are seeking a greener alternative to this project.

“We feel that there’s a compromise alternative that should really satisfy the concerns that everyone has,” said Katherine Howard of the Ocean Edge Steering Committee. She said her group’s goal is “to renovate the athletic fields, but to do it with real grass. They need a good drainage system, a state of the art irrigation system, gopher control barriers, and top notch grass.”

Howard has spent a significant amount of time approaching people at Golden Gate Park to inform them of the upcoming plans. She believes that not enough park users have been notified about the proposal to install the synthetic turf.

“I had no idea that they were going to do that,” native San Francisco resident Rick Rivero said in response to Howard’s description of the plans. “I played soccer in this field myself and I don’t want to see them changed.”

Rivero said that he hadn’t seen any flyers around the park mentioning plans to change the soccer fields.

RPD originally tried to do the project with conducting an EIR to study alternatives and environmental impacts, but groups like the Golden Gate Audubon Society and Ocean Edge objected. The resulting DEIR stated that, after a few alterations and formal recommendations, the project will have a “less than significant impact” on the biological resources of the area. But environmentalists are dissatisfied with the report.

Among their objections was the report labeling some trees as “tall shrubs” in order to allow for their removal. Studies cited in the DEIR state that water toxicity from the runoff of synthetic turf fields — which can contains plastic and other waste products — “decreased over time” and should have no effect on those using them.

But there have been conflicting studies of that issue, the subject of controversy through the country. Environmentalists noted that water used in natural fields filters down into the underground aquifer where it can be reused, whereas runoff from the turf will be need to be treated as wastewater, a fact given short shrift in the DEIR.

“In our opinion, the EIR is inadequate and incomplete,” Howard said. “And we will be submitting letters to that effect before Dec. 12th, as well as testifying to that on Dec. 1st.”

But the DEIR doesn’t wholly endorse the project. For example, it also states that the project’s impact on cultural resources, referring to the original intent of Golden Gate Park, will be “significant and unavoidable.”

Some parents and sports enthusiasts are disappointed with this backlash and argue that the turf fields will provide an important asset to the city.

“I’m 60, but a few decades ago I played soccer on the Beach Chalet Fields. They were in crappy condition [then] and they’re still in crappy condition,” said Tim Colen, a “soccer parent” we were referred to by Hannan. Colen is also executive director of the San Francisco Housing Action Coalition and someone who regularly testifies at City Hall in favor of large development projects.

“It surprises me that a small minority of people has been able to obstruct this project,” Colen said, noting that many parents support the project because the shortage of fields is forcing families out of the city and toward the readily available fields in the suburbs.

Community meetings and even mayoral forums have addressed the proposed Beach Chalet fields. As reported by the RichmondSF blog, mayoral candidate Joanna Rees showed up to a debate wearing her daughter’s soccer jersey and voiced opposition to the artificial turf. Board of Supervisors President David Chiu also reminisced about the joy of playing soccer on grass fields.

Other community meetings have been flooded with youth soccer players from San Francisco and beyond advocating the installation of the turf fields. But local environmentalists say Golden Gate Park was meant to be a refuge for all city residents and visitors.

“Golden Gate Park was created as a place for people to get away from the city,” Howard said. “The amount of contiguous park land is very important.”

Timber war returns


Protestors in flashy animal costumes picketed the appearance of infamous logger Archie “Red” Emerson, who was giving a guest lecture to the Forestry Department, at the University of California Berkeley campus on Oct. 14 to bring awareness to the increasing use of environmentally destructive logging practices.

The protesters were admittedly having fun parading around as skunks and beavers, but there was a heavy point to go with the theatrics. Emerson’s company, Sierra Pacific Industries (SPI) is being targeted by a new campaign to curtail and eventually eradicate the destructive logging technique called “clearcutting.”

The Redding-based Battle Creek Alliance, in cooperation with the Sierra Club, wants Californians to push for environmental protection measures that would ban clearcutting on the state level.

“We’re building a statewide coalition of people from all across the state — and hopefully, eventually, all across the country — who can be helping to call on the state of California and Gov. Brown to stop clearcutting and to protect our forests, watersheds, and wildlife,” said Sierra Club member Sarah Matsumoto, an East Bay resident who has joined the Battle Creek Alliance.

Those living close to clearcut areas say that the damage is devastating

“I live about a mile from most of the clearcutting,” said Patty Gomez, a resident of the Battle Creek area. “We like to call it ground zero.”

The term clearcutting describes the complete eradication of trees and shrubs from forest areas, some the size of Golden Gate Park. The area is then doused with thousands of gallons of herbicides and then replanted as a tree farm.

“Industrial tree farms are sterile and lifeless,” said Juliette Beck, coordinator of the Sierra Club’s Stop Clearcutting Campaign. “This particular method is incredibly ecologically destructive.”

SPI is the largest private landowner in California, owning 1.9 million acres. It owns 24 industrial facilities and employs approximately 3,400 workers.

“SPI own[s] so much land and potentially controls the fate of the forest,” said Beck. “SPI is the poster child for the one percent.” Because of SPI’s scorched-earth policy of completely clearing an area and sterilizing it for replanting, biologists are concerned that crucial plant species will soon become extinct.

“After clearcutting, there is a huge flush of sprouting natural regeneration of native species,” said veteran biologist Vivian Parker, who has lived in the Battle Creek area for 30 years and has worked for the U.S. Forest Service. “When the newly sprouting plant layer is sprayed with chemical herbicides and thus eliminated, the plants do not get a chance to grow and shed their seed.”

Parker argues that this interruption of natural regeneration over several periods of clearcutting will destroy the natural growth of plant life necessary to maintain a healthy forest.

This copious use of herbicides has also been suspect in a strange phenomenon affecting wildlife in North America. According to a study conducted by UC Berkeley professor of endocrinology Tyron Hayes, the use of herbicides, even at extremely small amounts, have been linked to biological mutations such as male frogs growing ovaries.

SPI is insistent that its practices are environmentally sound and internally regulated.

“We monitor all of our own activities to see where we have room for improvement,” Mark Pawlicki, director of Corporate Affairs and Sustainability at SPI, told the Guardian. “In many cases we’ve changed our practices.” New research on the effects of these herbicides have shown that current regulations don’t always address the cumulative impacts of chemical applications and other practices.

“We now know that it is the very diluted amounts of chemicals that [have the potential to] cause the most damage because they behave just like hormones,” Parker said. “The quantities are so small you can barely measure [them], but they have a disproportionate effect.”

Hayes’ study was publicized in a press release several years ago by ForestEthics, an environmental nonprofit intimately involved with campaigning against SPI’s environmentally destructive practices.

“After that release, we started getting calls from families,” said ForestEthics communication director Will Craven. “One family had a six-year-old daughter who developed brain cancer.”

Craven said the family lived across from one of SPI’s mills and close to clearcut areas. He had heard of families developing severe endocrine issues where they could no longer digest fruit or sugar.

Pawlicki cites studies done internally by scientists about the biodiversity of SPI’s land, stating that the proper measures have been taken to put aside enough land for endangered species like the spotted owls and that the effect of the herbicides are negligible if not insignificant.

“People make allegations all the time about us but there’s just no proof,” said Pawlicki. “Show us the proof, tell us the evidence that we’re harming anything.”

Marily Woodhouse, a resident of the Battle Creek area who has been a particularly passionate adversary of SPI, has spearheaded efforts to collect sufficient information in order for the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board and the California Natural Resources Agency to take legal action; a process she said SPI has tried to undermine.

“SPI has given out the Water Board report and disparaged the way we collected the sample at public meetings,” Woodhouse said in an email conversation. “We collected the sample the way the lab instructed us to.”

However, these studies have a financial limit. Some tests can cost up to thousands of dollars, and ensuring that the tests are targeting specific herbicides used by SPI can be a guessing game. SPI is only required to disclose chemical use to the California Department of Pesticide regulation once a month and a yearly report can be requested, but this information is not disclosed to the public at the time of application.

The Water Board, a subsidiary of the Environmental Protection Agency, has conducted water tests and found no significant amount of chemicals in nearby watershed, but Parker said she believes this is because the agency doesn’t test for the specific chemicals used by SPI.

“Although they could request this information from the industry, the water board doesn’t know which chemicals are used, the quantities, or locations where they are applied,” Parker said. “Lack of information and inadequate testing ensures that the company is able to continue doing business.”

Residents and environmental groups have filed several lawsuits against SPI for more than 34 environmental and health policy violations, but have not been successful in curbing SPI’s destructive practices. According to legal experts, this is not necessarily because they don’t have a valid case.

“When you’re challenging these actions by SPI, what you’re really doing is challenging a decision by a state agency for approving their logging plan,” said Justin Augustine a staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The agency can get deference from the court when it makes a good decision or a bad decision.”

The state agency Augustine is talking about is the California Department of Fire and Forestry Protection (Cal Fire). In the hierarchy of state agencies, Cal Fire sits next to the Department of Fish and Game and both are directly under the Natural Resources Agency. Each department plays a role in monitoring and enforcing logging practices and code violations.

Logging companies are required to file a Timber Harvesting Plan that describes the biodiversity of plant life, acreage, and wildlife of an area meant for harvesting. Cal Fire then approves or rejects the plan within 10 days of receipt. This approval process shields SPI from directly facing charges in court because Cal Fire is ultimately responsible for approving the plan.

Sierra Club and the Battle Creek Alliance are now fighting for legislation that will bar the use of clearcutting altogether.

“[SPI] could minimize clearcutting. The method is not appropriate to today’s forests,” said Beck. “We are demanding that they make the change to completely stop clearcutting.”

A new report by the State Water Resources Control Board regarding SPI is scheduled to be presented at a Board of Forestry hearing on Nov. 9, describing whether or not sediment from the clearcuts is reaching the creeks and harming the valuable salmon recovery project. The report is available on the Board of Forestry website.

“[There has been] a lot of evidence that the logging roads have to do with the sedimentation,” said Richard Stapler, deputy secretary of communications at the Natural Resources Agency. “It was brought to our attention by Marily Woodhouse, and is very much worth review.”

The review may bring about protections for the Battle Creek watershed, but activists remain focused on legislation to prohibit clearcutting on a broad scale. “Right now the only things valued are the short term profit for the timber industry,” said Beck. “There needs to be a change in the way the forests are managed”

Onek supporters rally ’round


A small crowd of District Attorney Candidate David Onek’s most passionate supporters gravitated to the Pilsner Inn to celebrate the end of an energized campaign.

“The last four days of an election are complete chaos,” said one volunteer. “It’s exciting but I’m exhausted.”

San Francisco political icon Jane Morrison and school board candidate Sandra Fewer came to show their support as well as Onek’s father, Joe, who traveled from Washington D.C. to help with Onek’s campaign.

Onek stopped in briefly to thank his supporters and volunteers before returning to an undisclosed location to monitor the polls as they come in through the night.

“We’re looking forward to the next round of results, but I’m really just incredibly proud of all my supporters and every one else [from all] over the city who came by,” said David Onek after shaking hands with his supporters and expressing thanks to his campaign volunteers. “..We feel great and we’re about to head out and await the next results and we’ll go from there.”