Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Two East Bay Leaders Attempt To Saves Lives At Any Cost

By Steven Tavares

At first glance, there is little commonality between San Leandro Hospital and Hayward’s proposed gas-fired, 600-megawatt Russell City Energy Center other than the causal effect of pollution from one eventually landing you in the other.

What the neighboring conflicts share are the political courage of two people to do what is right rather than basing their decisions on the monetary costs. Critics of the Eden Township Healthcare District Boardmember Carole Rogers and Chabot College Chancellor Joel Kinnamon charge both with spending exorbitant public funds on seemingly hopeless causes—one, saving a community hospital and the other, ensuring the health of 20,000 students located just miles from a power plant.

Both stories are difficult to report and span the better part of the last decade. It is one of the reasons why both have suffered from local coverage sorely lacking anything but the insipid slant of big business. In the Russell City’s case, two recent articles seemingly derided Chabot College for spending its dwindling public dollars on a case deemed a lost cause. Why? Apparently because they are the sole entity attempting to thwart the power plant from gaining a license. In reality, Chabot College is the only participant unwilling to accept enticements from the operator of the future power plant, Calpine.

Hayward accepted $10 million from Calpine for its public libraries and the East Bay Regional Parks District took 26 acres of land and $5 million to maintain its walking trails. Both dropped their opposition, but Chabot College relented. In both articles, Kinnamon’s statements last month regarding possible layoffs of teachers and staff were used against him to show the lunacy of the college’s actions. There's a reason for that. Part of Calpine’s public relations apparatus is led by San Francisco consulting guru Sam Singer. He is the same guy who represents Pleasanton’s Castlewood Country Club in its wicked quest to lockout $12-per-hour service workers for currently over a year. Singer has somehow given cover to the golf cart-riding rich in screwing over the struggling lower class in addition to duping Hayward into believing a power plant on its shoreline is environmentally suitable for a city of 140,000. A spokesman for Calpine even lauded Calpine for producing clean energy. Power plants? Clean energy? To be fair, maybe Calpine is the cleanest of the bunch—the cleanest of the dirtiest.

Instead, Kinnamon and Chabot College should be admired for standing firm. This sort of protest is exactly the example higher education should be teaching young adults. It is also within the unstated quasi-parental function a college represents to its students, especially if your parents are doling out monthly tuition checks in return for keeping their child safe and making them better citizens. It doesn’t matter the amount of money it takes for Chabot College to do what is morally correct, the same way no amount of legal fees spent by the Eden Township Healthcare District to save San Leandro Hospital, and in turn, save lives, is too much. Not $200,000, not $2 million, not even $20 million.

The critics of Carole Rogers also point the rising cost of battling Sutter Health in court over the fate of San Leandro Hospital. It’s a red herring to put a price tag on what is right, the same way it is to turn down a fight some believe will end up in the lost column. What both leaders are fighting is a sense billionaire dollar corporations are siphoning more money from municipalities against its best wishes. A non-profit health provider like Sutter purports to heal the sick, but instead chooses those with the most credit available on their credit cards over the less fortunate and a power company seeks to place a plant within an already congested urban area when , instead, it sees enormous profit in providing electricity to the existing power grid.

If this area had more leaders of Kinnamon and Rogers’s ilk around, it’s likely there would less of a general apathy in the minds of local residents. Instead, we get this statement from a consultant for Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi: “She’s not opposed. She’s not in favor. She’s not involved with Russell City,” said Ross Warren, her chief consultant. Hayashi also famously announced to supporters of San Leandro Hospital in the summer of 2009 that their cause was her top priority. In the next two years she went on to do absolutely nothing to help the hospital. It’s that kind of blindness to virtue that only illuminates the fight in leader like Kinnamon and Rogers and we should all be inspired to get behind that sort of courage which is sadly far less than the norm.


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