Friday, July 30, 2010

Is There Money to Operate Future Sports Facilities? N-O Spells No

By Steven Tavares

"No" was the response Thursday from San Leandro School Superintendent Cindy Cathey when asked if the school district had financial resources to operate revamped sports facilities across the city, including a new Burrell Fied, if the $50 million bond measure recently added to the November ballot is approved by voters.

San Leandro Mayor Tony Santos asked the pivotal question at a joint meeting of the city council/school board liaison committee. It is ironic Santos posed the query since the opening of the city's new senior center on East 14th Street was pushed back due to a lack of funding. Nevertheless, Cathey was noticeably distressed by the question. She paused, stared at papers in front of her for moment and simply said with a reddened face, "No." Once she gathered herself she said the district hopes to discuss entering into an equitable joint-use arrangement with the city.

If Burrell Field is eventually transformed into a state-of-the-art facility similar to the park constructed at Castro Valley High School, rental dollars and user fees will greatly increase, said School Trustee and city council candidate Pauline Cutter. The language of the bond measure contains far more than reconstructing Burrell Field. It also includes rehabbing sports fields at nearly every school in the district. Paying for the bond in the middle of the deepest recession in generations may be a tough sell, in addition to a quarter-cent sales tax measure already on the ballot. Property owners would be asked to pay roughly $25 per $100,000 assessed value of their property. Santos indicated receiving numerous calls from seniors about an exemption to the bond, but the school district says the demographic is only exempt from a parcel tax.

Santos, though, says the district could have received a new sports facility for practically nothing if it sold the lucrative land under Burrell Field. Retail developers have longed desired the patch of land situated next to Interstate 880, he said. "Is this the best use of this land?" asked Santos who said the city and both the San Leandro and San Lorenzo School Districts could work on using land at San Lorenzo High School for a facility and possibly forming a regional district similar to the Hayward Area Recreational District to operate it. "This is something that should have been discussed, but wasn't," said Santos. Both Cutter and Cathey both said the plan was looked at, but found it not feasible and a hard sell to fund a project in another municipality.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Insurance Companies Spend Less on Care, Reap Large Profits

Lately, insurance company Anthem Blue Cross has been a political punching bag for politicians in California. Rep. Pete Stark took another right cross at its parent company, Wellpoint, along with Aetna telling both to lower their premiums in light of record mid-year profits.

"Wellpoint and Aetna are on track for great years with multi-billion dollar profits. Now it's time for them to return those windfalls to their enrollees in the form of reduced premiums," Stark said today in a press release. "With business booming, there is no excuse for any premium hikes or benefit cuts next year by Wellpoint or Aetna in their private sector or Medicare Advantage plans."

Wellpoint's subsidiary Anthem Blue Cross made headlines earlier this year when it attempted to hike premiums for its customers in California up to 39 percent. After a huge public outcry and testimony in Sacramento, it eventually relented. Anthem has recently filed a rate hike topping 20 percent.

Both companies announced mid-year earnings that vastly outstretched its costs. Wellpoint's profits rose 25 percent to $1.6 billion while it spent $1.21 billion less on medical care than a year ago. Aetna's profits were almost as sterling by bringing in $1.05 billion in profits--up 34 percent--while spending $557 million less on care. UnitedHealthcare also reported last week $471 million in profits.

A report in the Huffington Post attributes the profit-taking by health insurance companies as a sign of uncertainty over recently signed health care reform legislation and ultimately unfounded fears of a extremely harsh flu season last year boosting expenses.

Some economists believe large cash reserves amassed by corporate America is stifling a rebound of the national economy. Many companies are racking up large profits at the same time as reporting declining revenues. This may not be the case in regards to insurance companies whose business is predicated on uncertainty, but a Wellpoint executive says the companies inability to increase rates for its premiums could result in over $100 million in loses from its large California market.

Funding for Crossing Guards Again Absent from Budgets

By Steven Tavares

With less than a month before the start of school San Leandro students may be without crossing guards at the start of the school for a second consecutive year. The city, already decimated by cuts to its workforce and services, did not allocate funding for crossing guards in its recently approved budget despite cries by a large number of parents and residents last year to reinstate the program.

The city and school district ultimately shared the roughly $100,000 cost of running the program in 2009, but only after parents and volunteers attempted to fill the gap in service for the first few months. A similar chain of events from last year is playing out again. Despite the loud criticism last fall, there was little talk among the city council during its long budget process for funding crossing guards. Mayoral candidates Sara Mestas and Stephen Cassidy alerted the council to the importance of the program, but like the year before, the city chose to forego funding.

"The proper time to raise their concern was during the budget process," said City Manager Stephen Hollister. "Why didn't they ask about it at the proper time?" Hollister said the city has already been forced to make drastic cuts to city employees along with the reduction and elimination of some services. The possibility of further cuts may be imminent if the quarter-cent sales tax measure slated for the ballot does not pass in November. He added there is no legal requirement for the city to provide crossing guards calling it a "municipal myth." Hollister also said "there's nothing to stop the [school] district from funding the guards."

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

San Leandro Hospital to Remain Open for the Near-Term

By Steven Tavares

The Eden Township Healthcare District and Sutter Health have called a ceasefire for the time being. The District announced Wednesday evening the sides have agreed to keep San Leandro Hospital in operation until pending litigation is complete. Sutter has also promised to continue construction of its $300 million rebuild of Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley.

"Eden Township Healthcare District and Sutter Health agreed that the activities would continue as usual, that is, San Leandro Hospital would continue to operate as an acute general hospital with an emergency department and the construction of the replacement hospital for Eden Hospital in Castro Valley would proceed as planned, during the process of resolution of the current litigation," Eden Township Chair Carole Rogers said in a brief written statement.

Just how long the beleaguered community hospital remains safe is unknown. According to Eden Township Director Dr. Vin Sawhney it could take anywhere between six months and two years for the legal skirmish to be resolved. He called the announcement a "positive sign" and said "It ensures, at the least, the hospital will remain open for the time being," said Sawhney.

The agreement punctuates the success of the District's countersuit in luring the large Northern California health provider to the negotiating table after over a year of numerous threats to close San Leandro Hospital and lease it to the county for acute rehabilitation. The March countersuit against Sutter alleged various conflicts of interests in regards to some of the signers of the controversial agreement signed in 2008 which allowed Eden to be rebuilt, but also effectively put San Leandro Hospital's future on shaky ground.

Aside from keeping San Leandro Hospital open indefinitely, the deal also quells anxiety Sutter would pull out of constructing the new facility in Castro Valley. Despite large-scale excavation and steel framing rising from the Lake Chabot Road site of the new hospital, a few including Director Dr. Rajendra Ratnesar and former Eden Township director Dr. Francisco Rico raised concerns that litigation by the board against Sutter would put its completion in serious jeopardy.

The deal taken from a June 16 executive session of the board and its counsel is similar to a report in The Citizen May 28 detailing a thaw in Sutter's position towards San Leandro Hospital after the filing of the District's countersuit. In the report, sources constructed a scenario where Sutter would continue operating the hospital in its current configuration while adding a multi-million dollar subsidy to a pool with other stakeholders including the District and county for up to five years. There is no word on any specifics attached to the deal announced Wednesday, but a source tells The Citizen that Sutter may be willing to increase its subsidy offer.

Over $50 million in Equity Transfers from Eden to Sutter

By Steven Tavares

Since 2004, Sutter Health has diverted a net amount of over $50 million in equity transfers from Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley while its nearby hospital in San Leandro is languished in debt. The disclosure comes from annual financial reports filed with the state.

The issue of equity transfers by Sutter has dogged the healthcare provider recently in Marin County and which led state Sen. Ellen Corbett and Assemblyman Jared Huffman to refer the case to the attorney general's office last year. Sutter has maintained the practice of pooling profits from its better performing facilities to help struggling ones is common. Critics, though, in San Leandro have long said Sutter's explanation  for the transfers are not equitable. The company says the hospital at one point was losing up to $600,000 per month yet received no assistance leaving the impression Sutter aims to eliminate nearby competition as it builds a new $300 million Eden Medical Center.

According to the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development, a vast majority of the equity transfers from Eden Medical Center (Eden and San Leandro Hospital operate under the same license) occurred in 2008 when $51,209,737 was transferred to Sutter. The previous year $23,660,923 was transferred out of Eden to Sutter corporate along with $4,400,000 in 2005. Eden, though, received over $10 million from Sutter in 2004, the first year of its involvement with San Leandro Hospital, but that number is offset by nearly $18 million in transfers in 2002-2003.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Report: Sutter Transferred $156 million from Former Affiliate

Sutter Health, the operator of both Eden Medical Center and San Leandro Hospital, moved $156 million in equity transfers from its former affiliate Marin General Hospital between 2002-2009, according to a report in the North Bay Business Journal.

The company says it uses a common accounting procedure to pool the financial resources of all its affiliates to help underperforming hospitals prosper from revenues at better performing facilities. “Yes, money has been pooled,” a Sutter spokeswoman told the North Bay Business Journal. “That’s part of the Sutter practice. The other thing about the pool is that monies are invested and this really becomes a safety net for some Sutter hospitals that have really struggled."

Control of Marin General Hospital was recently returned to its local health district, but not before it balked at the amount of transfers moving out of the hospital into Sutter's coffers. Officials in Marin believe Sutter plundered the hospital's finances to eventually build a competing facility in nearby San Rafael. The district also contends Sutter disproportionately singled out Marin's profits during the same time. The scheduled transfer of Marin General June 30 to the local district board was negotiated in 2006.

The question of equity transfers has lingered in the East Bay too, where Sutter says the financial stability of San Leandro Hospital is untenable as it builds a new facility in nearby Castro Valley. Supporters of keeping the hospital open have long pointed to Sutter's reluctance to use the pooled reserves to help San Leandro Hospital. Sutter has said the facility suffers from a poor patient base and loses up to $600,000-a-month.

Monday, July 26, 2010

99 Days To Election Day

Election Day is November 2. Listed below are the candidates who have been issued paperwork for their nomination to the ballot through July 26. The deadline to file is Aug. 6.

Stephen Cassidy
Lou Filipovich
Sara Mestas
Tony Santos (I)
Joyce Starosciak

District 1
David Anderson
Michael Gregory (I)

District 3
Diana Souza (I)

District 5
Pauline Cutter
Ted Kai
Corina Lopez

Area 2
Lance James
Victoria Wong

Area 4
Latrina Dumas
Mike Katz (I)

Area 6
Merlinda Morales

Vote 2
Sheila Sims

Short term
Jesus Armas

District 2
Liz Figueroa
Nadia Lockyer

Anger and Disrespect Comes From Uncertainty

By Steven Tavares

We live in turbulent times. Composure is not something usually attached to times like these when uncertainty is hitting Americans in both their pride and checkbooks. We are frazzled. Unemployment reached a plateau off over 11 percent in the East Bay and just under 10 percent nationally. In scary times like this it is no wonder we see such an outpouring of fear, hot-tempered rhetoric and name-calling at events like Rep. Pete Stark's town hall meetings last weekend. In fact, such behavior is unfortunately the norm in troubling times.

A vast majority of the people gathered in Hayward and Alameda did so to unleash their anger at the long-time congressman who many times stokes the fire of discontent identified with the growing Tea Party movement. The Bay Area may be a bastion of liberal politics but the rancor emanating from the edges of the East Bay are growing. From Fremont to Dublin to Oakley conservative contempt is rising and liberals cannot turn a deaf ear to their voices. Let's be clear, the movement is not racist in its intent, but a disenchanted group of mostly white, middle class Americans absolutely terrified of what the future holds for them. In these times, the threshold of tolerance is vastly lowered as the vice of uncertainty twists and tightens. Disparate groups like the poor, minorities and their subset, undocumented workers, become the scapegoats for all that has gone wrong with America. Their destruction becomes an easy antidote for a return to the halycon days of Americana based on their perception of the good ol' day or as a 75-year-old man in Walnut Creek told me last week, "normal times."
After eight years of wildly increasing spending under President George W. Bush and the severe recession that followed, many people in the Tea Party exhibit a peculiar political schizophrenia regarding the economy

A boiling, pink-faced man repeatedly jumped to his feet last Saturday anytime Stark made reference to taxes and every time his argument would diverge with the growing immigration problem. "God, Guns and Country," he declared to Stark. He described his experience patrolling the Arizona borders and made reference to "rounding up" those "illegals" and sending them back to Mexico. A Hayward man told me Stark wins elections every two years because "illegals" vote for him, without realizing you have to be an American citizen to vote.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Acrimony and Threats Dog Stark at Town Halls

Supporters of possible Tea Party independent candidate for Congress Chris Pareja hold a demonstration last Saturday morning before Rep. Pete Stark's town hall meeting in Hayward. 

By Steven Tavares

As his constituents shuffled into the Hayward City Hall chambers Saturday morning, the first thing they saw was Rep. Pete Stark dressed casually in an orange button-up shirt and khakis. He was propped on a stool like an animatronic statesman. He smiled and greeted a few as the took the seats in the first few rows. Steve Kemp, the now famous Golden Gate Minuteman who Stark asked last month at another town hall meeting whether he had killed anybody that day, was back with his video camera hoping to capture another quip sure to rile the Tea Party patriots around the country (he may have).

Seated next to Kemp was Tim Goeppner, a Hayward resident who calls himself a political activist. With a shaved head and goatee Goeppner has the look of a someone you don't want to mess with, although his bespectacled eyes lend themselves to a man in his forties past his brawling prime, meaning his bark nowadays is better utilized than his bite.

Ten minutes before the first of two town hall meetings in his district, Stark scanned the filling room that would eventually hit its 160-person capacity. Stark's attention turned towards Kemp and Goeppner who were positioning their cameras nearby with small, unobtrusive single-legged stands. As one of Stark's aides passed by, he motioned him over. The aide leaned in and Stark ostensibly gave him instructions to remove the camera stands. The aide paused and politely asked both men to not use the accessory during the meeting. Both gave no outward sense of disagreement and began twisting them loose.

Stark congenially spoke up and joked to the men, "It's so you don't hit me over the head with it," he said with a wide grin. Goeppner glared at the congressman for a second and said, "I don't need a camera to do that." The aide later said he clearly heard Goeppner's comment, assessed the situation and determine the threat benign. After the 90-minute meeting, Goeppner said the much-publicized video of Stark disparaging one of his constituent so incensed him that he was compelled to see Stark in person. He denied the remark was a threat and when asked if he thought the the group inside represented a small minority of the 13th Congressional District, he said no. "He gets re-elected because he has all the illegals voting for him," Goeppner said.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Return of the Public Option

Republicans sat on reinstating unemployment benefits to the consternation of millions of Americans on the presumption the $32 billion expenditure would only add to the nation's bloated deficit. But Thursday, House Democrats, led by the Bay Area's Reps. Lynn Woolsey (CA-6) and Pete Stark (CA-13), are flipping that argument on its head to gain approval of a popular Progressive provision left out of the historic health care reform bill passed last March.

Stark, along with Woolsey, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and over 128 co-sponsors, want to bring the public option back to the table. The public option would allow Americans who do not receive health insurance from their employer to purchase benefits from the federal government starting in 2014.

The bill comes on the same day the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office said the public option would save $68 billion from 2014-2020 and typically cost 5-7 percent less than insurance purchased from exchanges. The cost savings may put conservative deficit-hawks on the defensive. Many Republicans were vehemently against extending unemployment insurance because of its costs. The rigid fiscal stance by Republicans in previous debate will now be challenged by Woolsey, who wrote in The Hill last week, the "robust" public option will keep insurance rates low through increased competition.

"Progressives argued at that time that the public option is the best way, short of a single-payer system, to make healthcare available and affordable to those who don’t have it and keep it affordable for those who do," said Woolsey, "That argument still rings true, but in this time of rising concern about deficits, the robust public option offers other compelling advantages."

Stark, who also chairs the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee, says insurance companies are catering to profits rather than consumers and pointed to a recent report showing Blue Cross Blue Shield is awash in billion dollar reserves while hiking premiums into the double-digits. In February, legislators in Sacramento grilled executives from Anthem Blue Cross for attempting raise rates up to 39 percent.

"Today, Consumers Union reported that Blue Cross Blue Shield plans amassed billions in surpluses as they raised rates for millions of Americans," said Stark. "This is a good example of why we need a public option – to create an insurance plan that competes based on delivering quality, efficient care, not on delivering profits to shareholders. The result is more competition, better coverage, and lower premiums for millions of Americans."

At the end of last year, as the health care debated raged, Stark admitted in August many of his constituents would have rather he move even further left and back the single-payer plan. Stark, though, said in Alameda he did not feel the country is comfortable moving too quickly on public policy. "The American public doesn't make these kind of radical changes rapidly," he said then, but the political winds may be better now, although there may still be a dearth of will in Washington for those willing to re-fight the battles of health care reform so quickly. Woolsey told the Washington Post she can wait even as far as next year saying, "This will be there for the next Congress."

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Baker on Stark: 'He Can't Be That Stupid'

The Republican nominee for California's 13th Congressional District weighed in on his opponent Rep. Pete Stark and his proposal to levy a 0.005 percent tax on currency transactions used primarily by some of the world's largest financial houses. Here's Forest Baker's comments on H.R. 5783 to the Contra Costa Times' Political Blotter:
Forest Baker, the Republican nominee to challenge Stark in November’s election, calls the idea “pretty crazy.” Though the .005 percent rate seems tiny, he said, it would be constantly compounding to ultimately cost currency traders a tremendous slice of their funds.

“That would never be tolerated by any of those entities, they would simply close those accounts, and that would then cripple the global financial capitalism mechanism of currency trading,” he said. “That would never happen, and Pete Stark has to know that. … It’s astounding to me that such a thing would even be proposed.”

The tax would be “astoundingly burdensome” both upon those on whom its imposed and for those administering it, Baker continued. “He can’t be that stupid, he’s got to be kidding us or playing politics. It’s possible one of his interns wrote that and he said, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, submit it.’”

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Currency Tax Offered by Stark to Limit High-Speed Traders

Has Rep. Pete Stark been watching too much of the cult movie classic Office Space? Stark's proposal to enact a micro currency tax on financial transactions favored by the world's largest firms sounds like it was pulled straight out of a scene from the 1999 comedy starring Ron Livingston and Jennifer Aniston.
Peter Gibbons: [Explaining the plan] Alright so when the sub routine compounds the interest is uses all these extra decimal places that just get rounded off. So we simplified the whole thing, we rounded them all down, drop the remainder into an account we opened.

Joanna: [Confused] So you're stealing?

Peter Gibbons: Ah no, you don't understand. It's very complicated. It's uh it's aggregate, so I'm talking about fractions of a penny here. And over time they add up to a lot.

Joanna: Okay.

Peter Gibbons: Um... the 7-11. You take a penny from the tray, right?

Joanna: From the cripple children?

Peter Gibbons: No that's the jar. I'm talking about the tray. You know the pennies that are for everybody?

Joanna: Oh for everybody. Okay.

Peter Gibbons: Well those are whole pennies, right? I'm just talking about fractions of a penny here. But we do it from a much bigger tray and we do it a couple a million times.
And scene! Of course, the difference here is only Wall Street would characterize Stark's House bill taxing each financial transaction 0.005 percent as "stealing". The bill is a response to economists who have pilloried Wall Street for using computer technology to accrue large amounts of microprofits from their trades.

"Wealthy traders and big financial institutions make huge bets on the fluctuations in currency value and they can make massive profits if their bets are correct," wrote Stark in both the Huffington Post and The Hill. "This type of speculation helped to worsen the recent financial crisis and serves no purpose other than making a few people and institutions even richer.

The op-ed piece links to a 2009 column by The New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, who referenced the idea first originating in 1972 with Nobel-winning economist James Tobin who beleived such trading was "socially useless." "Such a tax would be a trivial expense for people engaged in foreign trade or long-term investment; but it would be a major disincentive for people trying to make a fast buck (or euro, or yen) by outguessing the markets over the course of a few days or weeks," wrote Krugman.

Stark has never been much of a friend of corporate America and the bill goes a long way in stoking the populist anger levied recently towards Wall Street. "For the average person or business, this small tax will hardly be noticed," said Stark. "But, due to the extreme speculation that takes place, it would raise significant funds." Starks says such a tax would "raise $28 billion a year and reduce currency speculation by 14 percent."

One sticking point may be the bill's use of the proceeds to fund specific programs and causes such as "children, global health, and climate change mitigation."

Aside from that, someone in Stark's Fremont office may soon be losing their coveted Swingline stapler. We know who you are.

San Leandro's Quarter Cent Solution (Dilemma)

By Steven Tavares

After nearly a year of discussion and unofficial campaigning, San Leandro will place its near-term fiscal health on a ballot measure slated for the November ballot. The San Leandro City Council approved the placement of the measure which would increase the city's sales tax by 0.25 percent to 10 percent and raise an estimated $4 million annually for the next 7 years. The council voted 6-1, with Councilman Bill Stephens being the lone no vote. Stephens has longed been an opponent of the measure and took umbrage with it as early as last fall for the perception the city was "prepping" voters for the measure.

If approved by San Leandro voters, the 10 percent sales tax would be the highest in Bay Area. The big, round number could be an unprecedented psychological obstacle for some voters, a fact some proponents of the bill made reference Monday night. Councilman Jim Prola discounted the perception by framing the potential tax increase as merely 25 cents for every [$100] spent. "I will still be shopping in San Leandro," he said.

San Leandro Mayor Tony Santos alluded to Great Britain's seemingly unrelated 17 percent value-added tax as not being a determent to commerce in that country. "When I go to Europe," said Santos, "I still see people shopping."  Aside from Santos' brief statement, none of the three councilmembers running for office this November (Joyce Starosciak, Michael Gregory and Diana Souza) made much of a statement regarding the sales tax measure. Starosciak, who is running for mayor, only congratulated the city staff for "giving a concise reason for why this is urgent."

City Manager Stephen Hollister again starkly painted the city's dire economic situation and said numerous city services and programs would greatly suffer without passage of the sales tax increase, although he said the measure would only create precious time for the city to begin the path towards economic health. "It does not get us out of the woods," he said.

Eden Township Director Will Not Seek Re-Election

By Steven Tavares

A crucial majority vote in the Eden Township Healthcare District's fight to keep San Leandro Hospital and its emergency room open says he will not seek re-election this November.

Retired thoracic surgeon Dr. Harry Dvorsky says he will not seek to retain his seat--one of three open on the board this year. Current Chair Carole Rogers and Dr. Bill West tell The Citizen they plan to run for re-election as the District continues its nearly two-year battle with Sutter Health to keep San Leandro Hospital from being converted to an acute care rehabilitation center replacing the county's aging and seismically-deficient Fairmont Hospital.

Dvorsky's wife, Isobel, who also sits on the Chabot-Las Positas Community College District, responded to an inquiry about her husband's future plans through her personal email saying, "No, I will not be running." The 86-year-old Dvorsky, along with Dr. Rajendra Ratnesar have the longest tenure on the board. Both were first elected in 1998.

The mental state of the once-prominent surgeon who practiced at San Leandro has been a concern of many boardmembers and observers as the District has fought to keep the hospital in operation. Dvorsky's vote on the now-reworked board has been crucial in moving it forward to a more offensive stance leading to a countersuit filed March 10 against Sutter. The suit has put the future of San Leandro Hospital on pause for much of the past three months, but Dvorsky's indecision nearly scuttled the move.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Mehserle Rally and Counter Protest in Walnut Creek


Grant Prostesters Outnumber Pro-Mehserle Rally in Walnut Creek

By Steven Tavares

WALNUT CREEK - Pro-Oscar Grant prostesters over-shouted and overwhelmed with numbers a rally Monday afternoon in Walnut Creek meant to support convicted former BART police officer Johannes Mehserle.

A brick retaining wall in front of the courthouse on Ygnacio Valley Road acted as the only barrier between a mob of vocal protesters and the smaller, more sedate group of around 50 Mehserle and law enforcement supporters.

The Pro-Mehserle group was made up of mostly older men and women and almost entirely white. In total, the protest which eventually closed the westbound lanes of the road, numbered close to 300 without any reports of illegal activity, but consistently featured fiery arguments between the two sides at times more vitriolic than the protests held in Oakland July 9 after the verdict.

A few Grant protesters using a bullhorn screamed "Murder is murder is murder" on a loop while a refrain calling Mehserle protesters racist was common, including one man who taunted the group telling them to "Take off their white robes."

The accusations rankled many Mehserle supporters who were far less vocal and chose to hang out far from the commotion on the sidewalk. "It was not racial until people like those down there made it racial," said Stephen Dieves, who made the trip from Moss Beach. "It was a professional decision made during the heat of the moment." Dieves attended the rally holding a sign reading, "Thank you, Arizona."

One older man Walnut Creek who chose not to be identified said the vociferous protesters were actually the real racists. "I worked in Oakland and I know how people like these were given job because of affirmative action who were not qualified over people like me with more experience," he said. I know what racism is." He also believes very few of the protester were from the area, but also agreed having a rally in Walnut Creek brought attention to city.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Judge Dismisses Nurses Suit Against Sutter

By Steven Tavares

An Alameda County Superior Court judge has dismissed a lawsuit against Sutter Health that attempted to halt the rebuild of Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley.

The suit filed by the California Nurses Association just over a year ago was put forth after the Alameda County Board of Supervisors approved the EIR in June 2009 allowing the $400 million rebuild of Eden to commence.

CNA claimed construction of the new hospital would be detrimental to the air and soil quality, add noise pollution and increase traffic around the site. The nurses also objected to the rebuild of Eden on the basis it would adversely affect the future of nearby San Leandro Hospital.

"We have always believed that this misguided attempt to stop a state-mandated rebuilding project was not based upon merit," said Eden Medical Center CEO George Bischalaney on its web site.

The order denying the petition was signed by Judge Frank Roesch June 28, but only filed last week.

The likelihood of success for the nurses suit was always low and has almost no connection to the Eden Township Healthcare District's countersuit against Sutter filed last March.

Undaunted, less than a month after CNA filed their lawsuit, Sutter broke ground on the 230,000-square-foot hospital and 80,000-square-foot medical office building. The hospital's steel framework is already completed, according to Bischalaney and completion of the hospital is due in January 2013 despite heavy rains that bogged down construction late last year.

Friday, July 16, 2010

What Could Happen to the 18th Assembly Seat

By Steven Tavares

The 18th Assembly district covers San Leandro, Hayward, Dublin and parts of Castro Valley and Pleasanton. Those areas will obviously still exist, but the seat currently held by Mary Hayashi may not after the Citizens Redistricting Commission is finished redrawing the landscape of the California Legislature.

Advocates of taking the Legislature's power of gerrymandering away and giving it to the people will point to the crazy-quilt borders of 18th district as evidence of the gridlock in Sacramento and redistricting meant to preserve the status quo. For instance, despite widespread dissatisfaction with the Legislature and constant bipartisan battles over its woeful state budget, not one seat has changed hands in either the Assembly or State Senate.

A seat from the 18th will likely look vastly different than it does today or even cease to exist. This dilemma has a few possible suitors for the seat waiting on the commission's finding to make a slew of political calculations.

By 2012, term limits will preclude Hayashi from running for her seat (presuming she beats her youthful Republican opponent Michael Havig this November.) Most say her political aspirations run further than the Assembly. She could have two options: wait until state Sen. Ellen Corbett terms out of office and run for her seat in 2014 (again, assuming Corbett wins in November) or aim higher. Hayashi is one of many said to have interest in snapping up Rep. Pete Stark's spot in Congress once his time in Washington ends. She has told insiders one of her goals is to become the first Korean-American member of Congress, but her political moves are often times difficult to assess.

Earlier this year she set off a mini-commotion among local politicos when she moved from Castro Valley to Stonebrae in the Hayward Hills. Some believed she was making a calculated move for the future. Eyebrows were then raised widely when rumors began swirling Hayashi's new home was not within the boundaries of the 18th making her candidacy this year ineligible for the ballot. It turns out her Stonebrae home sits just a few homes within the district. Others contend Hayashi recent move is designed to give her more options later. Sources say she is renting her previous home in the Palomares Hill development in Castro Valley to an aide.  In addition, they believe Hayashi is renting the home for a below-market rate--a possibly severe ethics violation, if proven.

What happens to the 18th in 2012 may depend on whether the strong likelihood the commission cobbles either Fremont or areas further east of Dublin and Pleasanton or even both scenarios to the existing district. Two possible Democratic candidates for the seat could be Hayward Councilmembers Bill Quirk and Olden Henson. Quirk, who is a Hayashi acolyte, said Tuesday he is definitely eyeing the seat, but is waiting on the commission's findings. For both Quirk and Henson or any other Democrat who enters the fray, the inclusion of the more voters from the slightly more conservative Tri-Valley area could be the deciding factor.

"If you add voters from Fremont to Hayward, San Leandro and Castro Valley, that's a solid Democratic seat," said Quirk. "But if you add voters from Dublin and Pleasanton, then you might have a Democratic tossup." He also adding he would not encroach on a seat held by new Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski in Fremont 20th district. No matter how the political redrawing of California falls in place, the political aspirations of many across the state will lie at the mercy of the 14-person commission.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Did Santos Snuff Out the Pot Debate Before it Begins?

By Steven Tavares

As opposed to Oakland, where the city council is moving forward with studying an ordinance that would allow industrial-sized, indoor growing facilities to go along with the city's successful dispensary industry, the political landscape in San Leandro is far more pristine without any legal groundwork in place. So, why did Santos blow the bugle so early on the perceived scourge of marijuana eyeing San Leandro before any work was done on its feasibility and possible cost benefits?

A group with interests in bringing the burgeoning marijuana dispensary and cultivation industries to San Leandro had already reached out to one mayoral candidate before meeting last week with Mayor Tony Santos. The group offered a significant amount of campaign dollars, but was ultimately turned down.

At least initially, Santos appears to be the candidate most amendable to bringing marijuana to the city. While the other three candidates quickly shot down the idea, Santos said he had no position, but later floated the idea the possibility of an estimated $5 million per year from the growing facility would go far in reinstating many city services residents lament losing or being pared back because of the recession.

Law enforcement is against any sort of marijuana distribution, according to Santos and the city's attorney predictably will advise against it, like many neighboring cities, on the basis it conflicts with federal law. An ordinance for Williams Street has not been discussed, nor has the city council weighed in. When dealing with such an inherently divisive and fear-proselytizing issue Santos may have made a blunder in bringing attention to the issue and effectively killing it along with the possibility of a financial windfall at a time when the city's budget is teetering near collapse.

Did Santos want to lay waste to marijuana cultivation in the city with overexuberance that effectively acted as a political defoliating agent on purpose? He may or may not have but the likelihood of getting four votes on a very anemic and timid city council would be nearly impossible. When Hayward Councilman Bill Quirk, who unsuccessfully fought earlier this year for the city to reinstate medical marijuana dispensaries, was asked about the chances of get support in San Leandro he said, "Not with that board. I don't think any of them have the guts to pass it." He later added maybe Councilman Jim Prola.

Aside from the contentious issue, this is also a poor time for political adventurism in San Leandro. Three council positions are up for grabs and three challengers are vying to end Santos' time in the mayor's office. In addition, the heads up given by Santos will likely unleash a torrent of fear and false information against anything marijuana from the usual suspects ranging from police, little old ladies and concerned conservatives.

What San Leandro may face in the next few months with this debate is going to dovetail with discussions surrounding Proposition 19--the measure to legalize small amounts of marijuana--in the state and nation. The crux of the problems aims squarely at why purveyors of marijuana are shopping for real estate, if Prop 19 passes, large facilities are going to be in greater demand. If San Leandro passes up the large influx of tax dollars, another city will happily swoop in.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Sweeney Calls for Hayward to Raise Its Expectations

By Steven Tavares

Change comes to Hayward City Council Tuesday night with the waning moments of outgoing members Anna May and Kevin Dowling on the dais seated fifth and sixth from the left.

The city of Hayward has taken some hits to its pride recently. Crime is up and a rising number of homicides have taken a toll on the community's sense of safety. The label of being the county's most underperforming school district has also exacted a noticeable loss of prestige. Hayward Mayor Michael Sweeney hopes his city is entering a new beginning of sorts as he was sworn-in Tuesday night for a second term and welcomed two new councilmembers.

Sweeney, who ran unopposed last June, delivered a rousing and inspirational address to an overflow crowd at City Hall. The former state assemblyman called for the city to "raise expectations" at every level from students to principals all the way up to his own office. "We need to stop making excuses for our kids," said Sweeney.

He also called talk of the city's underperforming schools "uncomfortable" but said all residents regardless of whether or not they have school-age children have a philosophical and financial interest in improving the school district. "We all have a stake in our schools," said Sweeney.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Group to Hold Protest in Favor of Mehserle Next Week

As far as bad ideas go, planning a rally in support of former BART cop Johannes Mehserle seems to be high on the list. Especially after general unrest followed last Thursday's verdict of involuntary manslaughter.

A Facebook page planning a demonstration in support of Mehserle and law enforcement was reported earlier today by the blog Claycord. According to the group, the event is planned for July 19 on the steps of the Walnut Creek Courthouse.

Organizers urge the event will be peaceful and not meant to incite violence or disrespect the family of Oscar Grant, who was killed New Year's Day 2009 by Mehersle on the platform of the Fruitvale BART Station. They group believes their opinions on the case also need to be heard.

"People who support law enforcement and Johannes have just as much right to rally together with other believers to have their voices heard and support one another," the message on Facebook reads.

Such a rally poses the potential for conflict after a series of protest in downtown Oakland and the perception the case forged an even wider split between African Americans and law enforcement and, by extension, whites and blacks.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Hayashi is in Good Hands

Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi loves the cameras. Remember this lovely photo? Sometimes these things backfire, though. The San Jose Mercury published Sunday a year-long study focusing on the power of special interests introducing legislation through lawmakers and features a photo of Hayashi chatting with a lobbyist who represents Verizon Wireless, the San Francisco 49ers and Anheuser-Busch. Sixty percent of the bills sponsored by special interest were signed into law in 2007-80, according to the Mercury News.

In 2009, Hayashi came under fire for AB 1200 which consumer rights advocates said weakened then-state Sen. Jackie Speier's landmark anti-steering legislation prohibiting insurance companies from advocating for the body shops of their choosing. Hayashi's bill was signed last September by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and was co-sponsored by some of the insurance industry's biggest players. In return for her help, Hayashi received a total of  $8,000 in campaign donations from Allstate, Liberty Mutual, Farmers, the Personal Insurance Federation of California and the Association of California Insurance Company PAC.

Oakland Police Arrested An Eclectic Group of Protesters

By Steven Tavares

They got a prominent civil rights attorney, a beat poet, a Berkeley activist, a pregnant woman, a Starbucks barista, a guy riding his bike home carrying a bag of groceries and a political blogger (that would be me). The band of usual suspects reeled in by the Oakland Police Department last Thursday was hardly the menacing posse of violent criminals and anarchists bent on widespread chaos. Instead, the group of 78 were a hodge-podge of every race, gender, age and social standing mirroring the composition of a college classroom more than a shadowy group using Oakland as a playground of destruction as the Chief Anthony Batts said over the weekend.

Attorney Walter Riley says he was grabbed by the scruff of his neck by the cops as he was heading into his office on Broadway. Riley, who braved the turbulent civil rights movement of the 1960s starting in North Carolina, was at the protest as an observer, he said. Riley was arrested resplendent in a crisply tailored gray suit and tie and expensive leather loafers. His arrest best illustrated the indiscriminate roundup of protesters based solely on being at the wrong place at the wrong time. In the police bus parked a block away from the line of police, Riley, handcuffed, twisted to produce business cards and passed them among his fellow inmates. His presence gave many there a sense of solace. What luck! The jailhouse lawyer is an actual lawyer!

Most of those arrested who were not charged with failure to disperse waited between 15 and 22 hours to be released with a citation. Officers periodically gave one of three explanations for the delay: the computer system crashed necessitating faxing fingerprints for identification, problems using a new system or the large influx of arrests that night. The Alameda County Sheriff Department did not respond Monday to an inquiry. One sheriff told me booking usually takes between 8 and 10 hours, but many arrested believed the snails pace was due to police punishing the group. "They think we came here because we're against the cops," pointed out one man who was arrested. "We're here because we're against killers."

As the bedraggled group begin dozing off on the floor and intermittently snoozing, Riley chose to stand. He closed his eyes and slightly and slowly rocked side-to-side on the balls of his feet. At around 4 a.m. Friday he led an impromptu 45-minute seminar on the history of Haiti. Did you know Haiti has the highest number of NGOs in the world and most Haitians despise the Red Cross? Haitian History 101 quietly captivated some while others asked questions and offered opinions. Another man with large gash still fresh on his forehead from a cop's baton even attempted to learn a few Haitian phrases.

Despite what Chief Batts says, the blanket implication 78 hostile and pernicious people came to Oakland Thursday night to cause trouble and were dutifully nabbed by his officers is a colossal misnomer. In fact, over 400 heavily armed and armored police officers were unable to stifle the breaking of windows and small-scale theft by less than a dozen people in an area no larger than one-and-a-half blocks. Batts also offered the media a tantalizing statistics obediently used by many reporters, including the San Francisco Chronicle's Henry K. Lee.

Seventy-five percent of those arrested were from outside of Oakland said Batts. Oscar Grant, himself, was from Hayward. On itself it means almost nothing unless you attached it to the meme put forth by the chief in the weeks before that "outside agitators" were eyeing probable protests in the city. Batts never described what an anarchists looked like despite saying they were eyeballed throughout the night. I witnessed officers on 13th Street around 7 p.m. pointing at a group of seven young men and woman standing in the open street dressed like slackers. Is it the plan of anarchists to openly announce their presence presumably to be caught by the authorities? Later, I asked the group if they were anarchists. They laughed. I think they were stoned.

The most damning statistic coming from Thursday's protest is this: 1.2 percent of those arrested were pregnant. Obviously an anarchist with the demon seed of Guy Fawkes growing inside of her, right?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Police As Agent Provocateurs: Oakland Cops Set Violent Tone at Grant Protest

By Steven Tavares

Over the course of two hours Thursday night a line of Oakland police clad in riot gear creeped towards the vast majority of people protesting the involuntary manslaughter verdict against BART cop Johannes Mehserle in the death of Oscar Grant as the sun began to fall on Downtown Oakland.

Around 6 p.m. Thursday, police emerged as far down Broadway as 11th Avenue and began assembling on adjacent streets on Franklin and Washington where very few people were actually milling about. From the time of the announcement of the verdict at 4 p.m. to six there was no incidence of problems. In fact, every instance of unrest later on was precipitated by sly provocation from the Oakland Police Department.

Just after 6 p.m., protesters took over the intersection of 14th Avenue and Broadway, placed a small platform in the middle of the street and place speakers around. Plans by protesters to voice their opinions on the Grant and the verdict were expected, but organizers may have acted earlier than planned as traffic on Broadway was blocked for about five minutes before police cordoned off the area on both sides. Cars with a desire to pass honked horns and haphazardly switched lanes searching for a way out. Two buses travelling north on Broadway were blocked though. One man with the group rose to the platform and yelled at protesters to let the bus pass. The actions of those blocking the bus were not violent, but possibly characterized as briefly defiant. As the buses began slowly moving in reverse, the speakers continued. Most called for calm, asked for the community to come together. A few lamented the struggle of the poor and minorities in regards to the shooting of Grant. Most of the estimated 1,000 on-lookers were trained on the speakers on the platform. What looked like a dune buggy labeled with the seal of the Oakland Police Department rolled upon the southwestern corner of 14th and Broadway. "Can I have your attention," the speaker placed upon the small vehicle blared. As soon as the sentence was uttered, most of the people in attendance quickly snapped their heads towards the police vehicle. The announcement signaled a rush of protesters to move briskly towards the vehicle. Many yelled angrily at the officers in the dune buggy. The rest of the announcement was never heard since the vehicle moved in reserve, pivoted and revved away. At the same moment two squad cars had driven up between 13th and 14th Avenue possibly to escort the two buses away from the protesters. The cars also attracted a large group of protester to surround them. Protester similarly screamed at the officers inside and forced both to begin moving in reverse in a southerly direction. The scene of law enforcement in retreat delighted many of the protesters. But, because the cars had nearly a block and a half to travel in reverse, many more protesters began surrounding the cars. They banged on the windows and some put a foot to the body work. One squad car travelling no more than five miles per hour--not terribly fast for the circumstances--clipped the body a young deaf woman with the back driver's side corner. The woman fell to the ground while the car slowly begin to roll over her legs. The squad car stopped. Onlookers pulled the woman a foot away. The squad car again rolled in reverse moving south on Broadway. Predictably, the image of the woman slightly curled and motionless led some to begin kicking the cars more passionately. One young man threw his skateboard at one of the cars as they swung right and pointed their cars to again move forward.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Stark Says Toke Up, California!

Rep. Pete Stark is backing Proposition 19, the November ballot initiative legalizing marijuana in California, according to a report in The Huffington Post.

The site says Stark along with Bay Area legislators Reps. Barbara Lee and George Miller will support the measure sure to be a lightning rod for national debate.

The article speculates whether the drive to legalize marijuana may also be used to stoke young Progressives to vote in droves and allow Democrats like Attorney General Jerry Brown and Sen. Barbara Boxer to ride the wave to victory similar to the Rovian gambit in 2004 used to encourage conservatives to the voting booth with various anti-gay measures.

A RAND study published Wednesday said marijuana prices would drop precipitously if the initiatives is passed along with a rise in consumption, which is not surprising based on the precepts of supply and demand. The study also took aim at the main focus of Prop. 19--the ability of the state and local municipalities to regulate marijuana sales through taxes. The study speculates some operators may undermine loopholes in the proposed law to avoid  taxation or, at the very least, lower their share. Also not surprising since a majority of Corporate America avoids paying their share of taxes anyway.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

San Leandro Drawing Interest of Local Cannabis Club

By Steven Tavares

An Oakland medical marijuana dispensary is showing interest in expanding its operations in San Leandro, The Citizen has learned, although the city has a moratorium on the clubs in place since 2005.

According to San Leandro Mayor Tony Santos, a dispensary currently operating in Oakland is interested in making an investment in upwards of $10 million to place a club possibly in the industrial area of Williams Street. Santos would not disclose the dispensary's name.

Advocates of medical marijuana dispensaries have recently attempted to replicate the success of thriving clubs in Oakland to no avail in neighboring cities. In the past few months, the councils of Hayward and Alameda provided opposition to the clubs in their cities. The possible move to San Leandro almost appeared inevitable.

The impetus for San Leandro's 2005 moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries was borne out of uncertainty stemming from Alameda County's discussion over clubs within its unincorporated areas. At the time, there were no dispensaries in San Leandro. The county eventually limited its ordinance to three clubs. Two currently exist on Lewelling and Mission Boulevards.

The emerging issue of legal marijuana on the state's November ballot is bound to become a hot button issue along with any possible discourse regarding the substance at the city level.

Santos says he does not have a stated position on medical marijuana but recognized its helps some chronically ill patients relieve their pain. Councilwoman Joyce Starosciak, one of Santos' opponents this fall, told The Citizen she supports the council's current moratorium.

Stephen Cassidy says the dispensaries can attract crime, something the city's diminished law enforcement staff cannot currently handle. "Medical marijuana dispensaries operate in Oakland and other nearby areas of Alameda County that San Leandro residents with medical conditions use," said Cassidy. "However, the dispensaries can also serve as a magnet for crime. Tony Santos and Joyce Starosciak have cut our police force by 10 percent in the last two years. We should not risk straining our understaffed police force by ending San Leandro's moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries."

MediaNews Hastening Fall from Newspaper to Fish Wrap

Dean Singleton dictates what most of the East Bay reads everyday. At least, those few who still subscribe to the rapidly shrinking Daily Review, Contra Costa Times, Oakland Tribune and once-mighty San Jose Mercury News. Singleton is the most reviled newspaperman in the Bay Area. Just ask any long-time journo in the area and brace yourself for 30 minutes of fiery invective on the man who they say is killing their craft. "Satan's Scribe," as one former Chronicle reporters calls him also owns a considerable amount of the newsstands in the Denver and his empire in the Rockies is as rickety as the one here.

A media group including Singleton's MediaNews sent a cease and desist order to the editors of ColoradoPols.com, a news site devoted to the state's political news. Much like The Citizen, the site is laid out like a blog and sometimes posts stories based on links to other stories, but mainly does its own reporting. The letter sent to coloradopols.com asked the site to refrain from posting links and quoting from articles produced by the media companies, including the Denver Post, which Singleton owns.

Coloradopols.com responded on their site questioning how they could "steal" something that is free and proceeded to basically describe the simple function of a blog.

Not only are we posting only a few paragraphs from stories THAT ARE ALREADY FREE FOR EVERYONE ONLINE, we have gone out of our way to name the publication, highlight the author in particular, and provide a clear link to the story. Legally speaking, we don't actually need to do any of this, but we've always tried to be symbiotic Internet purveyors and give credit where credit is due (incidentally, the Post almost never links to us or even mentions Colorado Pols when we have a story before they do, which happens all the time, but we don't go all "attack of the killer attorneys" on them). What's more, the case law this letter cites pertains to some obscure spam site that was republishing AP news stories in their entirety without attribution. After the efforts we have always made to properly credit the cited publication as well as the story's author in boldface, such a comparison is insulting in the extreme.

The key point here is blogs are not required to provide a link to referenced materials so long as attribution is given as you do with any academic writing, but doing so violates the unwritten code of the Link Economy that fuels everything on the web. Jeff Jarvis of the influential media blog BuzzMachine has long scratched his head on the inability of big media companies to understand how sites like Google and aggregators like The Huffington Post are beneficial to their bottom lines and not "stealing" content. According to Jarvis, cutting out sites like coloradopols.com and search engines will decrease traffic to MediaNews-owned sites like InsideBayArea.com (sorry, no link included) by between one-third and, in some cases, one-half. Singleton and his group have it backwards, according to Jarvis.

In the link economy - instead of the outmoded content economy in which you operate - Google and aggregators and bloggers are bringing value to you; they should be charging you for the value they bring. You should rise up today and give Mr. Schmidt a big thank you for not charging you. But you won’t, because you’ve refused to understand this new business reality.
Some of this might be just media mumbo-jumbo, but here's Singleton's ambivalence to the realities of the future of journalism in common practice. Readers of The Citizen may notice links or attribution to the Daily Review and Oakland Tribune are rarely given. It is not necessarily because I have a low opinion of their reporting, but I don't wish to provide eyeballs to what I consider my competition. Both MediaNews papers are almost always two days or more behind on stories already posted on The Citizen.

This is the Link Economy in its basic form and why Singleton and others like The New York Times and Wall Street Journal who wish to put their content behind paywalls don't seem to understand.  In addition, the editors of coloradopols.com are correct, the big legacy papers never provide links to other sites who have broken news. The San Francisco Chronicle's Matier & Ross did not give attribution to The Citizen or East Bay Express for the story of State Treasurer Bill Lockyer's previous relationship with Liz Figueroa, who is now running for Alameda County Supervisor against Lockyer's wife, Nadia. Neither did the Los Angeles Times.

Separating the MediaNews from the rest of the blogosphere is not good business and suicidal and ignores the basics of a free market enterprise. The best product will rise to the top. Just pick up the Daily Review and enjoy the coupons. Even their commercials admit its the papers best selling point.
PHOTO: Dean Singleton, owner of MediaNews, which owns every major daily in the East Bay, and not likely a future employer of the author of this posting.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Ice Cream Social(ism)

San Leandro mayoral candidate Sara Mestas speaks to her supporters Friday in front of Loard's Ice Cream in The Greenhouse. She emphasized city government helping people is not "socialism" as some conservatives have intimated and criticized city employees making over $200,000-a-year--a pointed reference to City Manager Stephen Hollister. Mestas told supporters who received a free scoop of ice cream, she believes the city needs to create incentives for new businesses and new home ownership. 

Question #3: Glenn Beck & "Peetsy-Weetsy"

Glenn Beck again took aim Tuesday at Rep. Pete Stark and his somewhat jocular conversation with a member of the Minutemen. Beck used a nearly 20 year old video of Stark to set up an eight minute rant about...I don't know. Can you tell me?

Question #3: What point is Glenn Beck trying to make about Pete Stark?

It is clear Beck had never heard of Fortney Stark before last week. For one, his name is not Peter and those making $45,000 in the East Bay are not itching to kick him out of Congress. If Beck had done his homework before thrashing Stark, he would have included this fact to bolster his argument during his childish exhibition: Stark does not live in California. The fancy home on the lake, it's in Maryland.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Oakland On Edge

When it comes to next week's likely verdict in the Johannes Mehersle trial invariably the knee-jerk local reaction will be devoid of contemplation. Images of protesters will be splashed on television screens focusing squarely on unknown out-of-town anarchists and minorities and make this brew of possible civil disturbance its the main talking point. But is it? A blogger at Oakland Local details an alternate view of the story that will likely not be reported focusing on the "why." "What saddens me more than anything else about this murder is the collective failure of every branch of law enforcement to condemn or even criticize Mehserle for killing an unarmed man," wrote Oakland writer and educator Roger Porter. "There has not been one police officer of any kind to state publicly that what Mehserle did was wrong and that he does not represent all police officers." This is the spot where the anger in the streets of Oakland will emanate if jurors pass down a verdict less than murder in the first degree and not a zeal to break windows and steal merchandise. Oakland Local also linked to a blog called Hip Hip And Politics which reported the city's police department has acquired a eardrum-piercing crowd control device known as a Long-Range Acoustic Device and wondered if law enforcement is "itching" to use it on protesters next week.
Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan is gearing up for a November rematch for her seat with San Ramon Mayor Abram Wilson and Halfway to Concord poked fun this week at an email sent by her office to constituents. The notice urged residents to check the Secretary of State's unclaimed property database. The blog labeled the move in a comedic way and offered other "get-rich-quick" schemes, the best being,  "Free WORK AT HOME OFFER licking stamps for Joan’s fundraising mailers — Get 0.05% of proceeds!" Buchanan, who finished third in last year's special election for the 10th Congressional seat to John Garamendi, will face the pointed-headed Wilson this November. Wilson lost by less than five points in 2008 and has mounted an effort to paint Buchanan as ineffectual and alarmingly AWOL on a large number of assembly votes detailed in a web site set up by the campaign called Where's Joan?
Today in Montclair, 94611 is speculating whether Oakland Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan's announced run for mayor will affect fellow candidate and Councilwoman Jean Quan in ways nobody has contemplated. The blog wonders if Kaplan's nascent and surprisingly robust candidacy might force Quan to lower her sights to a third term at the city council. The Bay Citizen, which in its first month of existence has failed miserably in saving journalism in the Bay Area, alerted readers Kaplan, who looks like a cross between an Argentine striker and Tony Danza, would be Oakland's first Lesbian mayor. Who cares? Is this really news anymore?
Apparently the Alameda School District employs the same Oakland consulting firm as the City of San Leandro. After Alameda's parcel tax measure designed to help the city's school system failed last June by less than a half percent, school trustees are leaning towards the theory of "if you first don't succeed, try, try again." The Island reports the school district wants residents to contemplate another parcel tax measure, but this time some are ruthlessly laying out the consequences of not succeeding next time around--schools will be closed. Some critics of San Leandro's likely sales tax measure for the November ballot believe the city is positioning a similar argument, if the quarter-cent sales tax increase is not approved by voters cuts to public safety will increase crime and your house will burn down!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Putting Democrats in the Crosshairs of the Right

By Steven Tavares

Rep. Pete Stark is more of a liability for the Democratic Party than he is to the prospects of retaining his long-time seat in Congress. He has always had a propensity for shooting from the hip and the proliferation of YouTube has made his biting, sometimes callous comments, fodder for conservatives across the country, but typically elicits so-what shrugs and wry smiles from his constituents.

Stark has not faced a viable challenger since the 1970s. Republican Bill Kennedy has come the closest to unseating Stark in the last 30 years and he only gained 40 percent of the vote in 1980. In fact, during the past five elections cycles, opponents have surpassed a quarter of the vote just once. On George Bruno's second attempt, he registered 25.1 percent.

For East Bay voters, though, Stark's staunch liberal views have been long embraced. Stark began his political career on the heels of protesting the Vietnam War and has consistently been critical of the U.S. occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. He also urged the administration to go further with health care reform by supporting the public option. While Stark is an institution in the East Bay, his controversial comments over the past five years have gotten him in hot water with House Democrats. Many pointed to his remarks ranging from saying President Bush enjoyed having soldiers get "their heads blown off" in Iraq to denigrating comments made to constituents in Fremont last year as one of the reasons he inexplicably held the coveted chair of the House Ways and Means Committee for just a single day before stepping down.