Osama bin Longshoreman?: All's quiet along Oakland's waterfront -- for now. Back in November, President Bush signed the federal Maritime and Transportation Security Act into law, sending jitters into the hearts of longshoremen with criminal records. The new law banishes anyone convicted of a felony considered a "terrorism security risk" from working in secured areas -- and if a longshoreman can't work in those areas, he's out of a job.
But the law doesn't spell out which past indiscretions count: Aggravated assault? Possession of a firearm? Pot peddling? By some estimates, as many as one in ten port workers have some colorful smudge on their records, and many are now in limbo, wondering whether that pot bust way back when will come back to haunt them.
"Frankly, our union doesn't trust this whole process of looking into backgrounds at all," says Lindsay McLaughlin, legislative director for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. "But we're hoping cool minds will prevail when they announce the new regulations."
Thanks to the union lobbyists, the policy already has been softened up so port workers won't suffer the same fate as airline employees. In the weeks following 9/11, the FBI ran background checks on all airline workers and handed over the reports to their employers. Several thousand lost their jobs, all of them suddenly deemed a "security risk." The longshoremen will have it easier: The government can't look into their backgrounds beyond seven years, the employers won't see the reports, and the union can appeal any termination.
Union officials are still waiting for word from the Office of Homeland Security. A few weeks ago, Coast Guard regulators descended on the Long Beach-Los Angeles port to research the issue and report back to Congress. Their findings, expected in a few months, will serve as the template for West Coast ports. "We're hopeful that they don't go crazy and look into every little thing," McLaughlin says. "If they do, we'll kick and we'll scream. Because we don't know of any member of our union who's ever been considered a terrorist security risk." -- Justin Berton
Kitty's kiddies: A year ago, the Supreme Court upheld the Oakland Housing Authority's ability to ruthlessly evict problem renters -- even if their kids or grandkids are the troublemakers. Now, the city council's super Nacho, Ignacio De La Fuente, is contemplating suing the public housing agency to force it to exercise that power. De La Fuente is seething over the case of Kitty B. and her seven grandchildren, who live in a subsidized apartment on East 22nd Street. Neighbors have been complaining to the OHA and De La Fuente's office for a year and a half about Kitty's foster-grandkiddies (ages one to nineteen). Among the brood's purported offenses: Burning a Christmas tree in the street, "harassing" a neighbor's puppy, planting broken glass under a car tire, emptying garbage bags on a neighbor's porch, buying weed, and threatening people who complained. "We got a lot of calls, a lot of complaints, and people crying on my shoulder," De La Fuente says, adding that he "is not happy" with how long it's been taking the housing authority to kick out the 55-year-old Cadillac Escalade-driving matriarch.
The resulting court case, incidentally, has devolved into a catfight between high-profile politicos. Representing the housing authority is eviction lawyer and West Contra Costa County school board member Charles Ramsey. In Kitty's corner is Marc Janowitz, former chairman of the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board.
The other day in court, Kitty quietly looked on as the lawyers acted like warring neighbors. At one point, the mercurial Ramsey gently advised Janowitz to consider "keeping your mouth shut." Janowitz later soapboxed that everyone should be out protesting the impending war in Iraq, prompting Ramsey to accuse him of "trivializing" the court proceedings. Janowitz shot back that the powers that be were trivializing "killing innocent children."
Outside the courtroom, Kitty, dressed in a leopard-print pantsuit and black leather jacket, said she'd lived at the East Oakland house for sixteen years and only drew complaints when a couple -- whom Janowitz uncharitably described as "yuppies" -- bought the house next door two years ago. "They're trying to evict me for something I didn't do," she said somberly, noting that, for instance, she and her kids were all at church when they supposedly burned the Christmas tree in the street.
In the end, Kitty tentatively agreed to move out with financial assistance from county-run program Project Destiny. "I wanna move," she said. "It's uncomfortable. ... The kids can't even go out and play." --Will Harper
Sippy cups for adults: When 7 Days heard about the "BART-approved" spill-proof mugs that let morning commuters sip their coffee in transit, we were puzzled. Had BART changed its strict no eating/no drinking policy? No such luck. "People shouldn't be eating or drinking anything on the BART," says Lt. Maria White of the BART fuzz. Yes, you can scarf your donuts in the outer area of the station, but once you pass the pay gates, no mas.
The mugs are sold only at the Pleasant Hill BART station's All Aboard kiosk, which opened last July. Kiosk owner Brian Black says they are designed for riders to carry their coffee safely across the bay, but not drink it. Wink. Yep, and bongs are for tobacco-smoking.
But given that the mugs bear the official BART logo, and the kiosk also sells breakfast foods, some confusion seems inevitable. "I know it sometimes seems like an oxymoron allowing food vendors at the station," White admits. In fact, with citations ranging from $75 to $150 for snacking on board, the whole thing reeks of entrapment.
Controversy over food being sold at stations isn't new. Efforts by BART directors to ban the practice have failed in the past; the board instead moved to increase public awareness. But you can't fight low blood sugar. "We've had cases where people have brought roasted chicken onto the BART and tossed the bones on the floor after they got through eating," says BART spokesman Mike Healy.
Black, whose stand also sells candy, newspapers, and a "Morning Break -- In Transit" pack that includes a breakfast pastry or bagel with cream cheese, may inadvertently be adding to the confusion. In fact, when Healy first found out about the mugs, he was concerned: "The logo implies that BART has approved this mug for people to take it on the system and drink coffee out of it," he says. Healy blames BART's real-estate office for telling Black he could use the logo; the spokesman says he instructed the office to tell Black in no uncertain terms to "cease and desist."
But eight months later, Black, who's sold over 1,500 of the mugs, insists BART managers ultimately told him the mugs were okay. The kiosk operator has plans to open at least eight more stands throughout the system. There are signs all over the station detailing the food and beverage policy, he notes, and it's clear the mug is made for travel, not for drinking: "Most of your die-hard coffee people are hip to that," he says. Hipness, however, has nothing to do with it. The real question is whether any die-hard coffee person could make it from Pleasant Hill to Embarcadero station without nipping on the caffeine. -- Helene Blatter
Clearing the tab: As Peralta Community College District Chancellor Ronald Temple prepares to leave office on a platinum parachute, the Alameda County DA's office is wrapping up its investigation of Temple's spending habits and district contracts.
In spite of Temple's rep for living large on the public dime -- his own highly lucrative contract, overseas travel, and publicly funded SUV -- the DA's months-long inquiry has turned up nothing criminal. Inspector John Lovelady says he's reviewed Temple's credit card expenditures, district-paid trips to his home in Chicago, and the district's controversial multimillion-dollar contract with CampusWorks -- a software firm for which the chancellor served as a consultant -- and has yet to find any chargeable improprieties.
Lovelady is still looking at two professional service contracts approved by either Temple or another Peralta exec. He wouldn't identify the contracts, but said he's trying to determine whether the work billed to the district was actually done. It may well turn out that, again, there's nothing criminal to report. Temple's only crime, in that case, is being arrogant and overpaid, and unfortunately, nobody ever went to jail for that. -- Will Harper
Seven Days - April 26, 6:48 PM
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