Court of Public Opinion: God Bless America. House Protected by Guardian Angels. Welcome to Paradise.
Contrary to the feel-good signs welcoming visitors to the Cooks' two-story home in the bedroom community and Delta playland of Discovery Bay, their neighbors don't view the residence as a paradise. The evidence is right there on the Contra Costa Sheriff's Department's Web site.
Last January, the sheriff's department, responding to criticism from Discovery Bay's Community Services District board, mailed a survey to every household asking residents to cite their policing concerns. Three months later, the results were posted on the department's Web site. And while the responses didn't include complainants' names, it did include revealing in some cases, potentially incriminating details about their neighbors.
"Wild parties at 1942 Windward Pt. mostly underaged kids parked and walking up and down the street drinking beer," one respondent wrote about the Cook residence.
"You have parents who allow parties where underage children are drinking and they know it," another wrote. "Why even make the effort to come out to Windward Pt. to the Cook resident [sic]. Arrest the parents!"
Sitting at his kitchen table on a hot Friday afternoon in late August, Donald Cook was shocked to learn that his neighbors had implicated him in criminal behavior. "I would consider this libelous and an invasion of privacy," he said. "I'm shocked that this is posted on a public Web site."
Part of his surprise may be because the sheriff's department never explicitly stated that the survey responses would be posted online. But spokesman Jimmy Lee said no one voiced any concerns about the posting: "This was in the interest of transparency ... that we weren't making the stuff up."
The more pressing question is whether the Cooks' neighbors were. Donald's wife Linda admits her son has held parties when the couple were away, but stressed that she didn't condone drug use or underage drinking. In fact, she said she and her husband called the police to break up the last party held at their home after a group of underage kids showed up. "The gossip in this town is something else," she said.
Only about three of the 52 pages of survey responses included information that pointed to a particular residence or resident, and the complaints varied from loud motorcycles and parties to theft and vandalism. "Tim and Darrel have stolen from our families, our kids, and our homes," one person wrote.
"We have a big problem on our street w/ loud noisy parties, bikes @ 1839 Dune Point Way," another lamented. We've had vandals and car theft. I don't like being yelled at or having to make excuses about my complaints."
Justin Beeman, a 28-year-old mechanic who lives at that address, didn't deny that he and his friends ride their motorcycles up and down the street, much to the annoyance of his neighbors. "Everyone here is stuck up," he said. However, he denied being linked to vandals and car thieves and said he might take action against the sheriff's department.
But Beeman and the Cooks may have no recourse because California's Civil Code protects the government from libel, according to Jim Wheaton, senior counsel and cofounder of Oakland's First Amendment Project. "They have no legal claim to a reasonable expectation of privacy that no one will complain about them to law enforcement," Wheaton said in an e-mail.
The sheriff's department should have an ethical responsibility, even if it isn't legally liable, says Lauren Weinstein of the People for Internet Responsibility: "I know if I was taking a survey and I had no reason to believe it would go public, I'd be fairly annoyed," he said. "And 'annoyed' is the polite term." Kathleen Richards
The Neverending Cody's Saga: On July 9, writers, readers, and nostalgia junkies crowded the Telegraph Avenue branch of Cody's Books. They squirted a few tears and remembered appearances by their favorite authors, or that copy of Augie March that changed their lives forever. And Cody's owner Andy Ross walked everyone through a tearful eulogy, marking the end of an era. All along, he kept mum on a fairly significant secret: He was in talks to sell the company altogether.
Last week, the news broke that Yohan, a Japanese retail, wholesale, and book publishing firm, had acquired Cody's, shocking everyone who thought the story of the East Bay's most famous independent bookstore had run its course. Ross will stay on as president of the new American subsidiary, and hopes to expand Yohan's trans-Pacific book distribution operation. "We're hoping to get involved in import and export," he says. "Yohan is the largest importer of English-language books in Japan, and we can work together on that."
The most immediate effect of the sale will be a new infusion of capital to pay off the old company's debt. Closing the Telegraph store, it turns out, barely dented Cody's financial problems. Walk through the Fourth Street branch, for example, and you'll see shelves barely stocked with books; the literature section is dismayingly thin. According to Ross, the company had so much outstanding debt that many publishers had suspended its credit line, and he couldn't stock his store. "There's a lot of books that we don't have," he says. "Everyone at the store feels terrible. We've been on hold with publishers, because we just didn't have operating capital to pay our bills on time."
With this new deal, Ross has bought a few more years of life for the two remaining stores. If the new plan to distribute English-language books to Japanese stores works out, he just might guarantee an indefinite stay of execution. But one thing is clear: Waiting for good times to return to retail bookselling just wasn't working. "It's really hard to make money now," he says. "It's not just independent bookstores, it's everybody in retail. Retail is soft. Retail is soft because people don't have money in their pockets, it's soft because of the Internet, and it's soft because there are too many bookstores, too many shopping centers. ... We can't survive waiting for people to walk in the door." Chris Thompson
Puppy Dog Tales: It's one of those stories that's almost too much, that makes you think maybe you're reading a parody of a newspaper, not your local paper of record. But hark, there it was on A-1 of last Tuesday's Chronicle: "Thieves Steal Young Cancer Patient's Pup."
The victim: an eight-year-old boy in the midst of cancer treatments. The dog: a fifteen-week-old of indeterminate gender, name of Chemo. Said puppy was stolen from the family car in UCSF's parking garage, and who would do such a terrible thing? Then again, who would create such a dog in the first place? Chemo, the article states, is a Chihuahua/Doberman mix.
Now those of us who frequent the Water Cooler know basic biology, and there's just no way you're gonna get a dog the size of a burrito grande to mate with the breed best known for chasing Magnum PI and assorted bad guys back in the '70s, when Dobermans were the attack dog du jour. The body mechanics just don't add up. Try not to think about it too much.
Sure, sure. Artificial insemination hope the Chihuahua wasn't the mother. In any case, out of curiosity, we searched for some other, um, less-than-natural breeds for sale. Turns out they even have cute names. Among other mixes, one breeder's Web site offers St. Berdoodles (St. Bernard-poodles) and Bich-Poos (bichon frise-poodles). Key question: Same poodle? A golden retriever-toy poodle mix is a Petite Goldendoodle. Put together an Italian greyhound and a pug, you get a Puggit. As for the Wolamute, an Alaskan malamute/timber wolf mix: Do not let this animal within a dogsled's length of your children. There are countless other fun breeds, but space is limited, so we'll conclude with the "Basschshund," a basset/dachshund mix, because, although it's not necessarily an unnatural match, that's one courtship ritual definitely worth the price of admission.
Chemo was safely returned two days later. Michael Mechanic
The Midas Touch: Ed DeSilva is sitting on a gold mine. Well, a mine, anyway. But the prominent Dublin roadbuilder stands to make tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars if voters approve the bond measure Governor Schwarzenegger and top Democrats have put on the November ballot. Proposition 1B would raise $11.3 billion through state bond sales to fix and expand California's roadways.
In April, we wrote about how such an initiative would provide the financial incentives DeSilva needs to open the largest rock mine in the Bay Area, a massive, noisy operation that conservationists agree will destroy the sanctity of the East Bay Regional Park District's crown jewels the Sunol and Ohlone Regional Wilderness areas ("We're Outta Here," feature, 4/12).
DeSilva owns the mining rights to a privately held, pristine ridge abutting these areas, and plans to dynamite and rip 125 million tons of rock from it. "This deposit will be the deposit for the San Francisco Bay region," he told the Express earlier this year. The big losers from the incessant noise, road clearing, and truck traffic will be the parks' fifty thousand annual visitors, the golden eagles whose prime habitat is located there, and the East Bay's sole herd of tule elk. Experts say the mine will destroy the herd and bring on the eagles' demise.
DeSilva's close pal, state Senate President Don Perata, has long batted for him on this issue Perata spearheaded the drive to get 1B on the ballot. The tit-for-tat, however, became clear only more recently: Earlier this year, we've learned, DeSilva cut a whopping $100,000 check to Californians to Improve Traffic Now, a new committee associated with the state senator. In fact, no individual has given more money to the committee than Citizen DeSilva.
Thanks, Don. Nice doing business with you yet again. Robert Gammon
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