Remember when air-quality regulators urged Bay Areans to swap our cars for public transit on hypersmoggy Spare the Air days in June and July? Well, it turns out that in order to coordinate and promote the days, publicists for the Bay Area Air Quality Management District had to ... drive their cars.
During the two-month period in which the air district declared nine Spare the Air days, public information officers Darrell Waller and Luna Salaver clocked a total of 167 miles for the express purpose of telling people not to drive, records show. A good chunk of those miles were logged on actual Spare the Air days. The district, which discourages its employees from driving on Spare the Air days, provided the employee expense reports in response to a public records request from Feeder, who wanted to know if air regulators practiced what they preached.
Sometimes there's just no way to get around using a car, says Bill Guy, assistant counsel for the district. Take the district's sixty air-quality inspectors: They often must drive on smog-alert days, although many zip around in hybrid cars from the district's fleet. As for media flacks like Waller and Salaver, Guy says that they often have to bounce from one press conference to another. "There's really no way for someone to get around to all these events without a vehicle," Guy reasons.
Well, that's not exactly right. In fact, Salaver says that on one Spare the Air day she convened with reporters at BART stations all over the map, from Fremont to Oakland to Concord. And Waller says he doesn't drive to work if Spare the Air days fall on a weekday. But both Waller and Salaver say weekends are a different story.
The district's publicists are on call around the clock during high-smog season. When a pollution alert goes out on their days off, they're required to hightail it to the office to deal with reporters and coordinate with the 25 public transit agencies offering free rides the following weekday. This year, Waller says his boss called him into work three times on a weekend, telling him to get there right away. To get to San Francisco ASAP, Waller says he needs to hop in his Mazda Miata.
Salaver also says that if she's called in on short notice over the weekend, she has to drive. She can't work from home because she needs to be somewhere with multiple phone lines and fax machines.
One final, karmic, note: After finishing her Spare the Air tasks one Sunday at the district's offices near the Tenderloin, Salaver returned to her Volvo S60 to find someone had broken into it and made off with $700 worth of her stuff.
Power to Some People
Even though he won't take office for another three months, Oakland Mayor-elect Ron Dellums is already getting some heat over the way people are being selected or excluded from his much-ballyhooed citizen advisory task forces.
During the campaign, Dellums talked a lot about creating public task forces to advise him on issues ranging from public safety to health care. He promised that these bodies would reflect the city's diversity he would even invite people who didn't vote for him to take part. But two prominent community activists are now grumbling about the lack of publicity for Dellums' recruitment efforts.
Ralph Kanz, a member of the city's ethics commission, and rabble-rouser Nancy Sidebotham, who ran unsuccessfully for city council in District 6, say they found out only last week, through word of mouth, that the deadline to apply to be on the task forces had come and gone on August 16. Kanz says he called the Dellums campaign to ask how the process was publicized. He was told, he says, that the campaign had contacted people on select mailing lists and in the faith community, and encouraged them to apply online at RonDellumsForMayor.com. Kanz said he had hoped recruitment would be open and inclusive. "It doesn't look like that's what we've gotten," he says.
Sidebotham also heard about the process post-deadline, she says, from friends who'd been invited to participate. In an e-mail to Feeder, she groused, "That there has been no noticing [or] publicity, and that only certain individuals are being invited to participate, brings into question about who will be on Dellums' staff and who is pulling the strings that will control the next four years."
Before you dismiss this as political sour grapes, neither Kanz nor Sidebotham are affiliated with Dellums' enemies in the Perata machine. Kanz is a good-government Puritan, and Sidebotham has been an ardent critic of Jerry Brown, and a Dellums supporter to boot.
According to the mayor-elect's Web site, task forces will launch this week and continue meeting after Dellums takes office in January. Spokesman Mike Healy says word went out to at least 75 community groups, business ones as well as religious organizations. Healy insists they will reflect Oakland, and adds that the campaign got more than six hundred applications. "So somebody heard about it," he deadpans.
Creating the task forces was just one of Dellums' promises; he also promised a new era of open government. Ironically, experts agree that his task forces probably are not subject to the state's open meeting laws.
BDP vs. ADL
The Berkeley Daily (sic) Planet, published twice weekly, reads like most community rags obsessed with civic minutiae. The one way the paper manages to stand out is with its wild opinion and letters pages, where readers rant and rave about controversies ranging from the local to the far-flung. Now its owner and editor, Becky O'Malley, is in hot water with local Jewish leaders after running what they allege is an anti-Semitic commentary by Iranian student Kurosh Arianpour.
The incendiary article, "Zionist Crimes in Lebanon," ran in the August 8 issue of the Planet. Here's an excerpt: "[O]ne can ask why Jews had a problem with Egyptians, with Jesus, with Europeans, and in modern times with Germans? The answer, among other things, is their racist attitude that they are the 'Chosen People.' Because of this attitude, they do wrong to other people to the point that others turn against them, namely, become anti-Semite if you will."
A letter signed by many local rabbis and other Jewish leaders blasted O'Malley for her "decision to provide a platform for this bigotry." The peeved parties also complained that she refused to meet with them. Last week, O'Malley wrote an editorial that she ran alongside the fiery letter. In it, she stated that she'd never refused a meeting, and suggested she was "being set up." She insisted that she'd be happy to meet with the angry mob under one unusual condition: that they turn the event into an "open public meeting" held at, perhaps, the 3,500-seat Berkeley Community Theater.
What, is she afraid of being assassinated? Newspaper editors often meet with offended readers without inviting the whole city. Jonathan Bernstein, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, says that in seventeen years in his line of work, he's met with dozens of editors and editorial boards, and no one has ever demanded a public meeting. "I really believe this is being done by Becky because she is just trying to distract us from the real issue, which is that she made a mistake allowing her paper to be used as a public platform for hatred," Bernstein says.
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