Small businesses have been leaking out of El Cerrito Plaza at an alarming rate. The barbershops, cobblers, and bookstores that once adorned the aging mini-mall have fallen by the wayside, causing the El Cerrito City Council demand some accountability. They called the owner to task, ordering a representative to appear before the council last week. Abe Pacetti , who manages El Cerrito Plaza for its owner, Regency Centers, listened as several merchants took the podium and delivered tales of unreturned phone calls, rents that had doubled or tripled, and leases that disappeared into vapor. But, in the end, the city attorney said, there was nothing that the council could do--it's a private development, and developers are allowed to set their own rents and terms. "You're now a corporate citizen of El Cerrito," said a discouraged Mayor Larry Damon. "These are our businesses. I hope you can be a good citizen to El Cerrito."· · ·
Is it another bump in the road for online grocer Webvan, or a smart way to put money in the bank? The Foster City-based e-tailing giant, which maintains its Bay Area distribution center in East Oakland, has begun selling off some of its assets in an attempt to scrounge up badly needed cash. Items on the auction block last week included several refrigerated vans and the contents of a $1.3 million industrial kitchen that was never used. (In addition to selling groceries, beauty products, books, movies, toys, and electronics, Webvan had originally planned to offer cooked meals, but the idea never really caught on with customers.) The company is also trying to rent out space in its North Bergen, New Jersey distribution facility, one of several $35 million warehouses that Webvan built and then either never opened or else promptly closed after disappointing sales figures showed the company was losing money in all but one of its markets. Webvan has lost a total of $829.7 million over the last two years, and the price of its stock has stayed well under twenty cents per share for the last several months. Can selling off some supersized ovens and freezers help turn back the tide of Webvan's financial losses? Can't hurt.· · ·
Those wacky Trotskyists with the Coalition to Defend Affirmation Action and Integration and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary (BAMN) just love to lose elections. Why else would they keep running? You may recall that BAMN stalwarts Tania Kappner , Mark Airgood , and Yvette Felarca , tired of undermining UC Berkeley affirmative action groups, took jobs as teachers in the Oakland Unified School District, and for the last two years have plagued the teachers union (known as the Oakland Education Association) with the same divisive mischief they honed so finely on campus. The three sectarians volunteered to be site representatives for their respective schools, which gave them seats on the union's Representative Council, one of the bodies that sets union policy. Once there, they subjected their fellow teachers to tiresome tirades about standing up for the workers, and they called for the passage of ultraradical resolutions that had nothing to do with the bread-and-butter concerns of teachers. When they weren't so engaged, they were also running for positions on the school board and the union's executive board, relentlessly smearing their opponents along the way.
During the executive board elections in April, Airgood made it into a runoff, but Kappner lost rather handily once again. Undiscouraged, Kappner ran for yet another position, as a delegate to the state council of the OEA's parent organization, the California Teachers Association. On May 18, the votes were tallied, and Kappner and Airgood lost again. Let's summarize: over the last sixteen months, Kappner has run for the Oakland school board, the presidency of the OEA, a seat on the executive board, a seat on the CTA state council, an alternate seat on the state council, and another seat on the state council via one of the CTA's regional "service centers." And she lost every single time. That's a record of zero for six--but since the revolution's just around the corner, who's counting?· · ·
Every profession has its insider lingo, the kind you can spout as some unlucky foil looks on with a dumbfounded air. So it goes without saying that Caltrans, master of California's roadways, would also have a little language all their own. Since many of us go through our lives driving down highways and freeways and never knowing what an "elephant track" or "jersey barrier" is, here's the time to learn and potentially amaze your fellow passengers during those slow stretches on the I-5! From the Caltrans District 4 Web site: Elephant tracks are those fat dotted lines that indicate a lane will soon turn into an exit. A gore point is that painted triangle that separates an exit lane from the right lane. And a jersey barrier? The boring old concrete barriers in the middle of the freeway. Hmm... no wonder Caltrans needs the fancy monikers. Without them, concrete barriers and white paint seem rather dull....· · ·
Oakland residents have long been clamoring for smaller schools where students can get more personalized attention , and last year with the help of ACORN (the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) they got it. In the fall the district opened a pilot small school, dubbed the ACORN Woodland Elementary School, to be run by a governing board that included parents, teachers, and ACORN members as well as school officials. Woodland was the first new school to open in Oakland in thirty years, and it has a student body of fewer than three hundred students.
At the end of this school year, the Woodland community got quite a shock when seven of the school's thirteen teachers received the district's infamous "March 15" letters telling them that they would not be returning to work next year. School-district officials say that in many ways the letters are a formality, one that mostly affects new teachers. "It's a standard for temporary teachers and probationary teachers in their first year that we send letters saying they may be released at the end of the year," clarifies district spokesman Ken Epstein . "That means we can if we want to release them and we're not required to have a cause, but that doesn't mean they'll all be released." Woodland was an unusual case, he says, because "it's a brand-new school and they're all brand-new teachers."
Nevertheless, staff and parents were incensed that such momentous decisions had been made without consulting the governing board, and last Wednesday about 120 parents and school supporters turned out to protest the district's decision. On the day of the protest, José Martinez , the district's assistant superintendent in charge of small schools, rescinded the dismissal of four of the teachers and has agreed to consider parent evaluations in deciding whether or not to keep the other three. He also agreed to ACORN's suggestion that in the future, the district use a more community-centered approach in deciding which teachers to let go. "Nobody wants bad teachers there, so if people really feel like they're not doing a good job, by all means they should go," says ACORN head organizer Tara Polansky . But from now on, the school community wants to be asked first. · · ·
Say it ain't so, Ken! First Oakland Raiders coach John Gruden takes a bust for drinking and driving; now Kenny "the Snake" Stabler , who done us proud against the Vikings in the 1977 Super Bowl, has been popped in Florida for driving under the influence, as well as for illegal possession of prescription drugs. This is Stabler's second DUI bust. Memo to Jerry Rice : if you're coming across the bay, stick to erotic massage.· · ·
Think George Bush v.2's energy plan is a real loser? Wanna stick it to the utilities that are profiting from your power woes? There may be something you can do. A new e-mail letter circling the Internet invites you to protest the President's energy policies by "rolling your own blackout" on June 21--which happens to be the first day of the high-demand summer season--from 7:00 to 10:00 p.m. If people around the globe spend those three hours sans electricity, maybe, say organizers, the Bush administration will get the idea that consumers are getting fed up with rocketing prices, an uncertain power supply, and Bush's focus on producing fossil fuels instead of encouraging conservation and the development of alternative energy sources. "Unplug whatever you can unplug in your house," the letter urges. "Light a candle to the sungod, kiss and tell, make love, tell ghost stories, do something instead of watching television, have fun in the dark." In fact, in anticipation of what is no doubt going to be a fractious hot season throughout the state of California, we at 7 Days have our own idea for a spooky story you can tell during those blackout hours. It begins, "It was a dark and stormy summer..."
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