Thursday, April 26, 2007

Study Suggests Cutting Edge (Cough!) Ways to Retain Teachers

by Lauren Gard
Thu, Apr 26, 2007 at 4:54 PM

Who would have guessed that 18,000 California teachers throw in the towel every year! No way! California State University researchers quizzed more than 1,900 teachers to find out why, and what can be done to lower that astonishing attrition rate. We just hope they didn't put too much time into the study (titled "A Possible Dream: Retaining California Teachers So All Students Can Learn") because the six recommendations they came up with are less than... well, let's just say they make a good argument for sending kids to private school. Among them are these humdingers: "The state should establish standards for teaching and learning conditions," "California should increase education funding to at least adequate levels," and "Principals should focus on 'high-quality teaching and learning conditions.'" By golly, seems they're on to something! Read the full report here.

David Halberstam's J-School Speech Available Online

by Kara Platoni
Thu, Apr 26, 2007 at 4:54 PM

The UC Berkeley Journalism School has set up a memorial Web page in memory of David Halberstam, who was killed in a car crash only one day after visiting the school to give a lecture as part of its alumni weekend program. The Web page contains an audio download of his final speech, as well as a transcript. It's one last chance to hear one of journalism's greatest practicioners describe the craft he loved (and did) so well.

Ignacio's Long Day

by Robert Gammon
Thu, Apr 26, 2007 at 12:06 AM

Yesterday was a long day for Oakland City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente. First, he spent most of the day with his family watching the opening of the rape trial of his son, Ignacio De La Fuente Jr.. Then he dashed over to City Hall for a press conference with Mayor Ron Dellums, announcing the city's intention to make Oakland a sanctuary for all illegal immigrants. The city had only been a refuge for immigrants from certain countries. Dellums also announced that no city employee or police officer would assist federal raids on illegal immigrants.

Shouldn't We Mount the Barricades to Strengthen Organic Rules?

by John Birdsall
Thu, Apr 26, 2007 at 12:05 AM

Together, two tidbits in today's food pages are convincing arguments to hug the US Department of Agriculture's unlovely, loophole-pitted Organic Standards and never let them go. In an excellent report on soon-to-be-mandated rules for pasteurizing almonds, Chron staffer Carol Ness describes the California almond industry's solution to salmonella flare-ups traced to the state's golden cash crop in 2001 and 2004. While conventional almonds will be blasted -- starting September 1 -- with what Ness describes as "a carcinogenic chemical that's used to make bowling balls," federal organic rules, she writes, will allow for steam treatment. The latter is a form of pasteurization sure to make raw-philes and those of us who like to know what's been done to our food rather steamed ourselves, since no descriptive labeling will be required. Nibble on that troubling factoid for a minute. Over in the Oakland Trib's Picky Eater column, Jolene Thym picks up this week's story about the National Organic Standards Board voting to exclude cloned livestock and its meat from being called "organic." Thym breaks it down: "The upshot? For now, if you buy organic, you will be sidestepping any possible risks associated with cloning." A rare victory. The two stories underline both the imperfection and importance of the government's Organic Standards. In one case it's stood up for the integrity of traditional livestock breeding, in the other it condones a presumably gentler practice than chemical treatment, but thwarts transparency. Love it or hate it, the USDA's organic label carries huge consequences. To paraphrase food policy maven Marion Nestle, if you think the Organic Standards are too weak, organize to strengthen them -- just don't pretend the fight will be anything but a long, bloody slog. Of course, as Ness points out in her nut reporting, "almonds sold through farmers' markets, roadside stands, and CSA boxes are exempt" from the pasteurization mandate. That's a good argument to say "feh" to the officially sanctioned organic label. But don't we have an obligation to save "organic" from a fatal toothlessness, and demand more decisions like the one that excluded cloned meat?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Too Pooped Not to Pop

by Kelly Vance
Wed, Apr 25, 2007 at 4:54 PM

How bad is the movie biz? Well, now they're giving away free popcorn. The common wisdom in film exhibition has always been that you sell tickets however you can, then score a profit selling overpriced popcorn and candy at the concession stand. But Renaissance Rialto, operator of Oakland's ornate Grand Lake and the attractive Art Deco Orinda, is trying out a new strategy: free popcorn Mondays through Thursdays at both movie houses. For Renaissance Rialto boss Allen Michaan, it's a bit of a desperation move. "We're doing it strictly to try to get first-time visitors into the theater," he explains. Both the Grand Lake and the Orinda are elaborate throwbacks to the movie-going experience of 50-60 years ago, an alternative to multiplexes. "We have no commercials, no video games in the lobby," Michaan says. But a combination of home entertainment and the big circuits are gobbling up his customer base. Complains Michaan, who also operates Antiques by the Bay, his antiques auction business in Alameda: "Our audience is declining at the same time our costs are rising." So now it's popcorn on the house. What's next, a set of dishes?

De La Fuente Trial Kicks Off

Wed, Apr 25, 2007 at 4:54 PM

Ignacio De La Fuente Jr.'s trial for his alleged sexual assault of four women - three prostitutes and a 15-year-old girl he believed to be a prostitute - began today, reports the Chron. He approached each between October 2003 and April 2005 in the vicinity of International Boulevard and Fruitvale Avenue in East Oakland. The son of the Oakland City Council prez has been charged on five counts: two of rape and one count each of assault with intent to commit rape, digital penetration by force and forced oral copulation. If convicted on all, the 34-year-old could end up with multiple life sentences.

The folks at CBS5.com also found it noteworthy that opening statements began at least a half-hour late because "a juror was stuck on a Bay Area Rapid Transit train that stalled near the Dublin station because of a switching problem." Now c'mon - how is that news?

Oakland Task Force Names Revealed!

by Robert Gammon
Wed, Apr 25, 2007 at 4:54 PM

If you're looking for the names of Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums' forty-two secret task forces (see second item), you've come to the right place. They're published here for the first time anywhere, despite the mayor's request to keep them secret. However, the list is not complete. There are only forty-one task forces named. The missing one, Full Disclosure has learned, is the transportation task force.

Russo: It's Wrong, But We're Sticking with It

by Robert Gammon
Wed, Apr 25, 2007 at 4:54 PM

Last week, Erica Harrold, the spokeswoman for Oakland City Attorney John Russo, e-mailed the Express a letter to the editor that seemed to contain a startling revelation: The controversial deal to build 3,100 condos on the waterfront, known as Oak to Ninth, was illegal. The e-mail also misstated Oakland law and appeared to contradict Russo's official position in the legal battle over whether the condo project should be put on a citywide ballot. After the Express pointed out these issues, Harrold and Russo, in a phone interview, backtracked from the letter, but stopped short of retracting it.

The unsolicited letter was not in response to any specific Express story. Indeed, it appeared to be in response to Oakland Tribune op-ed pieces penned by Russo's Oak-to-Ninth opponents. The op-eds argued that the City Council had violated the City Charter - Oakland's primary municipal law - when it approved the condo deal last July 18.

In her letter, Harrold wrote that the council did no such thing. But she proceeded to contradict this notion: As she recounted the council's passage of the ordinance, its actions would have indeed been illegal. She stated that council members had "debated the issue, made their final decisions AT [her emphasis] the public meeting, and then directed staff to conform the documents to their decisions." She defended these actions as "the epitome of public disclosure. ... It is not in the interest of our democracy to have proposals rubber-stamped at public meetings as 'done-deals,'" she wrote.

In fact, city law requires that an ordinance be a done deal at the time of its passage. Section 212 of the City Charter clearly states that if the council changes an ordinance, it must wait at least five days before approving it. The reasoning is simple: It's a given that we want the council to debate a law prior to its passage, but when it changes a proposed law, it needs to give the public, especially people who weren't at the meeting, time to understand exactly what it is voting on.

Harrold's description of the process appeared to contradict Russo's official position. In court, the city attorney maintains that the council debated and changed the ordinance at its June 20 meeting, and then approved the changes a month later on July 18. Such a scenario, of course, would have been legal.

So has Russo changed his position? The city attorney says he has not. He argued in last week's interview that Harrold's e-mail was not technically wrong or contradictory because she mentioned "no date." In other words, what Harrold meant to say was that the "council debated the issue on June 20, made their final decisions AT the July 18 public meeting, and then directed staff... ."

So was the letter intended to mislead Express readers? And who approved it? Russo did not respond when asked whether he gave Harrold the green light.

If he did, he should have known that the e-mail also misrepresented another section of the charter. Harrold claimed "there is no requirement in the City Charter obligating the final version of an ordinance be made available to the public on the very same night that it passed." That's simply not true. Section 214 states that the city must make "three full copies" of an ordinance "available for use and examination by the public in the Office of the City Clerk ... at least three days before" the council approves it.

Russo admitted that "full copies" were not available prior to the July 18 meeting, or even at the meeting. In fact, the "full copies" were not available until July 27, nine days later. So why didn't he invalidate the ordinance for violating section 214 of the charter? He blamed the problem on a "clerical" error. Under city law, "typographical or clerical errors" can serve as exceptions to the "full copy" rule, he said.

Harrold's e-mail is reprinted below:

[To the editor:] Members of the Oak to Ninth Committee continue to obscure the facts on our office's invalidation of their petition. The Committee insists that the ordinance they used was what the Council passed in public, and changes were made later in violation of the Brown Act and Sunshine laws. This is where they are fundamentally confused. First, the Brown Act requires that meetings be noticed and that the public be apprised of what is being considered by their elected officials. We want City Council to debate, discuss, change, amend and ultimately decide important issues in full view of their constituents. It is not in the interest of our democracy to have proposals rubber-stamped at public meetings as 'done deals'. In this instance, Council debated the issue, made their final decisions AT the public meeting, and then directed staff to conform the documents to their decisions. The Oak to Ninth Committee ironically asserts that these actions were somehow a violation of transparency laws; when in reality, it was the epitome of public disclosure. Second, the size of the document (more than 1000 pages) alone meant that the FINAL ordinance would not be available the same night of passage. Court depositions prove that the Oak to Ninth Committee chose to go forward with an earlier and incorrect version of the ordinance because they admitted they wanted to be ready for a press conference. The version they chose to use did not disclose to the public the open space and public access in the project, issues that would have been integral to a voter's decision and ultimately invalidated their petition under state law. Finally, there is no requirement in the City Charter obligating the final version of an ordinance be made available to the public the very same night that it is passed. The City Charter requires 'notice' of an issue. Readers can review the City Charter at: http://bpc.iserver.net/codes/oakland/. Oak to Ninth leaders are clearly frustrated by the outcome of Council's decision and, perhaps, their own failure to follow state law. Nevertheless, the City Attorney's office will continue to safeguard the transparency and legal integrity of the petition process and the public's right to know, even if it is seen as unpopular by some.

-- Erica Harrold, Communications Director, Office of the City Attorney

The East Bay Today: April 25, 2007

Wed, Apr 25, 2007 at 4:54 PM

Today's Top Event: Tim Perkis' documentary Noisy People screens at Berkeley's Pacific Film Archive, with an appearance by Perkins and musical performers.

Brainiac: Learn something new every day. Today's lecture: The Holy Land in the Scriptures & Its Significance to the Children of Abraham: a community cultural diversity training featuring Rabbi David Cooper of Kehilla Community Synagogue, Reverend SHaron Haynes of Third Baptist Church, and Dr. Hatem Bazian of UC Berkeley at the Cal State East Bay University Union

Is It Lunch Yet? Express food critic John Birdsall recommends: Krung Thep in El Cerrito.

On the Town: Going out tonight? Need a laugh? Check out the comedy night at Albany's Sea Mi Restaurant and Bar.

Hardly Working: You've got time. We know how to waste it. Check out The Museum of Hoaxes.

Feed Us: Got an East Bay news tip, photo, video, or link we need to know about? E-mail us.

You Write Too Long -- This Week's Cover Story Bite-Sized

by Kelly Vance
Wed, Apr 25, 2007 at 4:54 PM

This week, "Pirates of the Web: At World's End": No doubt about it, file sharing is a dirty rotten shame. Some band had a million downloads but never actually sold a single unit. And the big boys - the RIAA, Hollywood movie studios, etc. - are sobbing all the way to the bank about lost profits, anarchy, and that poor kid with a great song, sitting in his garage with his guitar and amp, unpaid, while ungrateful leeches vamp on his creativity for free. So, you filthy pirates out there, you'd better hurry up and take advantage of open sourcing, file sharing, peer-to-peer networks, and the rest of that "all-you-can-eat, unlimited access to content" - because an Emeryville company, Gracenote, has figured out a way to help copyright holders and other owners of intellectual property e-fingerprint everything you'll ever want to listen to or watch or read, for the rest of your life, and make you pay. In other words, no more freebies forever. Express Music Editor David Downs crawls deep into the guts of the beast and lays the story out straight.

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