7 Days  

Parks and Bureaucracy, how can we thwart you?; don't celebrate yet, Mr. Bey; and a drunk-though-intelligent platypus bamboozles the national media.

Long-distance runaround: On a Sunday morning a few weeks ago, runners gathering in Oakland's Joaquin Miller Park at the start of the annual Woodminster Cross Country Run wandered around aimlessly, looking for someone to pay. Hundreds had shown up early, just as they have every Father's Day for the past 38 years, but a booth accepting registration fees was nowhere to be found. For the first time in the race's history, the Parks and Recreation Department, acting on stiff orders from its notoriously stubborn executive director, Harry Edwards, had dusted off an arcane city ordinance and denied the organizer's request to accept cash payments in a city park.

"We collect 70 percent of our reg fees on race day," says race promoter Gareth Fong. "So all of that money? Gone."

As with many noncompetitive races, Woodminster's proceeds go to charity. Fong says many runners sent him a check the next day, but in the end, the two groups that would have benefited most -- the Boy Scouts of America, and a homeless shelter in Alameda -- didn't get their annual $1,000 donation. "If we can't make the money at the gate," he says, "we're not able to donate as much as we'd like."

Fong isn't the only event organizer to be snubbed by Edwards recently, nor is he the only one to complain about the director's iron fist. According to one parks employee, promoters for the American Lung Association cancelled a run-walk earlier this year after they learned about the no-cash rule, as did a group planning a run around Lake Merritt to raise money for college-bound students. Len Goldman, a local promoter who's been putting on races for the past two decades, says he feels dumbfounded by Edwards' inflexibility. "Where before they used to work with organizations," Goldman says, "now they're pulling a hard line, and aren't willing to compromise. It's ridiculous." By contrast, Goldman notes that he recently set up a good-cause race in San Leandro. "Not a single problem," he reports. "The city welcomed us."

Jim Ryugo, a parks manager under Edwards -- the director wasn't returning his phone calls -- reasoned that the department, in these lean economic times, is trying to limit the number of permits where the city doesn't generate revenue. "It's a tough one for the city," he acknowledges. "There was a time when all-out garage sales were taking place in parks, and the city was left to do the maintenance: picking up the litter, cleaning bathrooms. And the city wasn't generating any money."

But that doesn't explain why races like the venerable Woodminster are suddenly being turned down: Only Edwards knows the reason for that. As for Fong, he's determined to make his case with the director for next year's race. Last week, he went to the department to begin the process as early as possible, in hopes of gaining approval. "They said they don't consider permit requests a year in advance," Fong says. "I have to come back next month. They told me they accept requests eleven months in advance." -- Justin Berton

Bey gets lucky, or not: The US Supreme Court dealt the city of Oakland a spitball last week, when it threw out the California statute that made it possible to prosecute Black Muslim leader Yusuf Bey on 27 felony counts of rape and lewd conduct with a minor. For the past eleven months, Bey has been the subject of an investigation on charges that two decades ago, he raped and degraded a number of young girls who were either under his foster care or working at his Your Black Muslim Bakery chain. Oakland police investigators secured DNA evidence they claim pegs Bey as the father of several children born while the mothers were underage, and it seemed Bey was destined to die in prison. Now Tom Orloff, Alameda County's district attorney, has publicly declared that the man might walk away free and clear.

In 1993, the state passed a law eliminating statutes of limitation for people accused of molesting children. But last week the top court struck down the retroactive portions, such that the amended law only applies to crimes committed since 1993. Since the vast majority of Bey's alleged crimes occurred in the 1980s, they once again fall well outside the statute of limitations, and the prosecutors are out of luck. When Bey's alleged victims met with prosecutors last week for an explanation of the ruling, Orloff told the Trib: "From a preliminary review, it appears as if the prosecutions against Yusuf Bey and [former high school basketball coach] Mike Phelps are barred by this new case."

But Bey may not want to celebrate quite yet. While most of his alleged victims claim they were raped back in the '80s, there was one exception. According to a report compiled by Oakland police officer Jim Saleda, one of the woman claims Bey raped, slapped, and sodomized her, and forced her to drink his urine in August 1994. Since the law took effect that January, this alleged victim might still have a viable case. According to prosecutor Teresa Ortega, the DA's office will make a final decision about Bey's case on July 7. Lorna Brown, Bey's attorney, refused to talk to us. But it looks as if her client could face some hard time after all. -- Chris Thompson

Yeah, but your music still sucks: Not since some brilliant guy named his band Free Beer has the rock 'n' roll world been so shaken to its very core. Yes, friends, the verity of the rock band Unverified out of Albuquerque, New Mexico, has finally been verified: It's a hoax.

It all began with our cover story about CMJ, a recording industry trade rag that publishes the playlists of thousands of college and independent radio stations ("The Monster That Ate College Radio," February 26). The company was caught replacing obscure releases on its client stations' playlists with Certain Damage, CMJ's own sampler, on which record labels pay a premium for space. Berkeley station KALX was one of CMJ's most vocal critics, having seen several of its DJs' picks usurped by the unpopular samplers.

After our story hit, CMJ changed its policy, opting to simply print the word "unverified" when a station submitted an album title its system hadn't heard of. Problem solved.

But thence appeared a previously unknown Albuquerque band called Unverified, whose ship had seemingly come in. Columnists for myriad newspapers jumped on the funny story about a little band whose name was suddenly on the playlists of college stations nationwide. As the Express put it: "[CMJ] began printing 'unverified' in those slots instead. Which, of course, was music to the ears of a New Mexico-based Ramones wanna-be band called Unverified."

Scotty Unverified, also known as Scott Warmuth, seemed shocked and pleased that his li'l Ramones tribute band was suddenly getting the attention it deserved. It hadn't hurt, of course, that he'd sent out copious press releases detailing his band's good luck. Even the embattled CMJ got excited, contacting the band and including one of its two songs on the May 5 Certain Damage comp.

But the band was a fake, the result, Warmuth now says, of an "art project" to see how far the media could be manipulated. CMJ wasn't the only publication to buy the scam: The Albuquerque Tribune wrote an entire feature about the fictitious band.

In fact, Warmuth wrote so many press releases about his band, sending responses from one journalist to another in his attempts to bait them to write about it, that something smelled fishy. Something also sounded fishy: Unverified was just about the worst band ever to lay down a four-track recording (we likened them to the work of "drunk-though-intelligent platypuses"). A Web search of the band early on yielded absolutely no mention of it other than on Scotty's site: Either they'd never played a gig, or the whole thing was a hoax.

In fact, when music columnist Planet Clair (yours truly) challenged the legitimacy of several laudatory e-mails posted on Scotty's site and questioned whether a publicity-generating hoax was afoot, the Express received an indignant letter to the editor: Clair, Warmuth wrote, had felt "free to question the content of our characters, and that we do not appreciate."

Perhaps she should have questioned the entire existence of the band. "Only one reporter asked me the right question," Scotty sniffs in another of his media-baiting e-mails, "and it was, 'Can you prove your band existed before CMJ used "Unverified?'"

Though fooling "gullible" reporters into thinking you have a band really isn't that hard, Warmuth's art project was still one of the better recent low-budget pranks on the self-righteous world of indie-rock journalism. We hope you get an A. -- Katy St. Clair

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