Give a guy some credit: Smells like trouble over at ANG Newspapers, which publishes the Oakland Tribune, Hayward Daily Review, and several other East Bay suburban dailies. According to a report in the Rocky Mountain News, credit-ratings outfit Moody's Investors Service has dealt a blow to ANG's parent company, MediaNews Group, which all told owns nearly fifty daily papers and eighty weeklies. Moody's has downgraded the company's credit rating to "junk" status. The reason? Try $976.4 million in long-term debt. The company now has a debt-to-equity ratio of 41 to 1, which means majority owner William Dean Singleton would have to liquidate all of his company's assets 41 times over to get it out of the red.Over the last fifteen years, Singleton has borrowed nearly $1 billion as he built a newspaper empire stretching across the country. He honed a formula of buying up struggling small-town newspapers for a song, stripping operations to the bone, cutting overheads as much as possible, and waiting for the ledger to roll into the black. But such leveraging is always risky, and if profits drop even incrementally -- say, um, during a brief recession -- the debt payments can become a massive burden. MediaNews' net income slipped to a mere $2.75 million last quarter, an eighty percent drop from six months earlier. But don't expect the Trib's staff to shed any tears. The average ANG reporter's salary is just $30,000, and several reporters and editors expressed a grim sense of schadenfreude when they learned the bad news. With hubris befitting a media mogul, Singleton reportedly named his daughter Paige One Singleton. Let's hope she won't have to change it to Paige One Retraction.
Give a gal a break: So what better time than this for Singleton to have labor troubles? On May 10, ANG's union announced that it had filed a grievance against the management of the Hayward Daily Review, claiming that the paper unfairly disciplined reporter Karen Holzmeister, who has worked at the Review for 29 years. According to union rep Jeff Chorney, editor Liz Agnello claimed that Holzmeister was transferred to the Castro Valley beat (the local equivalent of Siberia) for displaying unacceptable bias in her reporting. "That's a very serious accusation, and we feel it's not only untrue, but inappropriate," Chorney says. "Since then, they have denied making the accusation that she was biased. But I was present when they made the accusations."
Chorney claims that Agnello cited the case of John Kyle, a persistent critic of the Hayward City Council. Months earlier, Holzmeister had written several stories alleging that Kyle made racial and homophobic slurs against three councilmembers, and Kyle responded by demanding a retraction and penning an opinion piece -- which the Daily Review published -- criticizing Holzmeister's work. Oddly, Kyle told the San Jose Mercury News that he had in fact made the remarks, but complained that Holzmeister failed to note that they were made in private, a distinction 7 Days finds, well, novel.
Agnello denies accusing Holzmeister of bias. The paper, she says, merely needed an experienced reporter to cover Castro Valley, which is about to push for incorporation again and is apparently bursting with topicality. But the editor acknowledges that Holzmeister views the move as punitive. "I see the argument that it was a demotion," she says. "Now that people have explained it three times, I see it. Hayward is big and Castro Valley is small, and I can see how in the [Newspaper] Guild's mind she's losing power. But that's not how I view it. You've got to put your best people on your most important beats."
Holzmeister was on vacation and unavailable for comment.
Give a city a handout: The empty fountain in Oakland's City Hall plaza will finally get a sculpture late this summer -- if someone will kindly drop $21,300 into the city's extended hand. Back in 1998, Oakland caused a stink by awarding its largest-ever publicly funded art project to New York sculptor R.M. Fischer. But the $265,000 commission was rescinded after local artists vigorously protested what they viewed as municipal bias against Oaklanders when it came to public art. Last February, the city picked a new sculpture by Oakland artist Bruce Beasley. But artists also griped about that. Beasley, the only Oakland resident selected as a finalist in the original competition, had helped lead the charge against Fischer, and his comrades in arts felt it was a case of the squeaky wheel getting greased.
Beasley's 31-foot-tall bronze sculpture "Vitality" is nearing completion and is slated to be installed in the fountain in late August, says Ben Hazard, director of Oakland's Craft and Cultural Arts Department. But first, there are some practical matters. At last week's Cultural Affairs Commission meeting, Hazard announced that the city needed someone to foot the bill for all the pipes and filters and such that will move the fountain's water.
You'd think that a city planning to spend $250,000 on a fountain sculpture could have set aside $21,300 to keep it from becoming a stagnant mosquito pond. Apparently not. "It wasn't in the original budget, because it was part of the original contract two years ago when they were building the plaza and those funds have been exhausted through whoever built the plaza," Hazard says.
Give a foe a prize: The thirtieth anniversary party of the homeless service provider Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency must have been inspirational. On May 16, more than three hundred clients, staffers, and muckety-mucks assembled for a delightful evening of finger food, as BOSS execs presented a series of community awards to those selfless heroes working day and night on behalf of the homeless. Ron Dellums got the Statesman Award, dance impresario Ruth Beckford got the Inspiration Award, and the Friend Award went to, envelope please ... Shirley Dean?
That's right, Berkeley's very own mayor, whose antipathy to the homeless is so renowned that a drag queen named "Surely Mean" used to heckle her at public events, got her very own certificate hailing her compassion. While she's figuring out where to hang it, let's run through the list of generous acts the mayor has committed.
Who can forget Measure O, the anti-panhandling ordinance that Dean pushed through during her 1994 mayoral campaign? In addition to turning begging into a crime, the ordinance -- which the courts later ruled unconstitutional -- outlawed sitting and lying down in public areas, and threw the city into a divisive public squabble. A year later, Dean fought the Rose Street project, which aimed to provide low-income housing for people with AIDS. In fact, 1995 was a bumper year for Dean, who met behind closed doors with Rasputin Music owner Ken Sarachan and strong-armed him into killing another low-income housing project at the corner of Telegraph Avenue and Haste Street, just because she so hated his business partner. Standing at that corner today is a weed-choked lot.
But that was just a prelude to 1998. Facing a tough reelection campaign against progressive challenger Don Jelinek, Herzonner rode back into office on the backs of Telegraph street kids. After she called for a crackdown on the plague of homeless teens who spare-changed on the Avenue, the cops started a new program to intimidate the homeless called "Operation Avewatch," and city staff mysteriously began using a green industrial sidewalk scrubber at the very spots where street kids hung out.
Those were just the big-ticket items; under the radar, Dean was also working on a host of nickel-and-dime moves against affordable housing. In 1995 and '96, the two years that the moderates controlled the city budget, she gutted the Housing Trust Fund, which helps finance affordable housing. She tried to evict Food Not Bombs from People's Park and voted against the Irma Harris low-income apartments on University Avenue. But according to BOSS executive director boona cheema, we haven't seen Shirley's softer side. "She has voted for BOSS funding and has come to all of our ceremonies for people graduating from our programs," cheema says. "When it comes to her relationship with the people at the graduation, she has been quite inspiring. The only thing we disagree on is what's best to do with homeless people who are still on the street." And what's a little disagreement between friends?
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