Blackhawked 

Wild turkeys invade tony suburb and pampered pets gobble the poop. Jive turkeys exploit new rules that allow them to double-dip on dollars.

Even gated communities face challenges. Take the super-chichi Contra Costa County enclave of Blackhawk, where houses typically sell for no less than $1 million. Lazier locals have been putting out their trash too early and then leaving the receptacles out too long, according to the newsletter of the homeowners' association, the Blackhawk Bulletin. Tsk-tsk; shameful indeed. Then there are those golfers who speed along the streets above the fifteen-mile-per-hour golf-cart speed limit, or try to jam three people into a two-person cart. The homeowners' association is warning residents that they'll be penalized a few strokes, or maybe get a traffic ticket, if they're caught breaking cart driving rules. But perhaps the most pesky problem in Blackhawk is the wild life. No, not the wild parties -- the wild turkeys.

"They're prolific," says Mark Goldberg, Blackhawk's community manager. "It's not unusual to see a hundred of them on a hillside." In fact, wild turkeys are causing more traffic troubles than wild golf-cart drivers. Goldberg says he personally has found himself in wild-turkey gridlock as he waited for twenty or thirty of them to cross the street. That's not residents' main complaint, though. There's also the turkey poop. There's apparently so much of it that the legitimate pets of Blackhawk -- you know, AKC-registered bichons frises and the like -- have gotten sick from drinking water contaminated with turkey waste.

Blackhawk leaders say they have been trying for years to figure out a way to legally get rid of the turkeys. The hitch is that the birds are protected under state law. There's a short hunting season, but hunting is prohibited near residential areas. Troublesome turkeys can't even be trapped and relocated, or trapped and killed with a permit, as is permitted with animals such as gray squirrels, elk, beavers, bears, and wild pigs. The Blackhawk Homeowners' Association, which represents five thousand residents, recently wrote to local elected officials and state lawmakers asking for help. Bottom Feeder, always eager to ingratiate himself with the more fortunate members of the East Bay community, gladly informed Goldberg that help was already on its way in the form of proposed state legislation.

SB 1153, authored by state Senator Wesley Chesbro (D-Arcata), is being pushed by another exclusive constituency -- California winemakers. One vintner from Sebastopol claims that turkeys have gobbled up 20 percent of his grape crop, costing him $25,000 in losses. A spokesperson for Chesbro says that the bill, which has already passed the state Senate, would allow Blackhawk officials to get a so-called depredation permit from the Department of Fish and Game to get rid of the turkeys as long as they can show the birds are causing property damage.

The $20 Minute

From wild turkeys to jive turkeys, i.e. Bay Area politicians and bureaucrats who have managed to redefine the meaning of moonlighting. The Merriam-Webster's Dictionary definition of moonlighting is "to hold a second job in addition to a regular one." Usually that second job is in a totally different place than the first. Not so with the nineteen-member Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), the regional body that divvies up state and federal transpo-dollars to local Bay Area agencies, which quietly gave itself a $100-per-meeting raise last month for what is arguably very little extra work.

The commission also acts as a legally separate entity called the Bay Area Toll Authority (BATA), which was formed in 1997 to administer money collected from the area's seven state-owned toll bridges. BATA meets for a few minutes before the regular MTC meeting. The March 24 BATA board meeting lasted a whole five minutes.

(By the by, the MTC is made up of reps from various local government agencies. The East Bay delegation comprises Richmond Mayor Irma Anderson, Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty, Contra Costa Supervisor Mark DeSaulnier, and San Leandro Mayor Sheila Young.) The enabling legislation for Regional Measure 2, the ballot item approved by voters in March that raises bridge tolls by a dollar, stuck in a provision allowing BATA commissioners to pay themselves more dough on top of the $100 per diem they already get for showing up to MTC meetings. So the board did just that. That means that this week the nineteen BATA board members will get $100 each for the few minutes they meet before the regular MTC meeting. Then they'll get another $100 for being at the MTC meeting, which starts right after the BATA meeting adjourns.

Supervisor DeSaulnier reasons that he and his colleagues deserve more money because BATA has become a huge responsibility, with the board now overseeing billions of dollars in spending. Still, he concedes it might've been more "intellectually honest" to raise the pay to $200 a day instead of boosting the meeting-rate. "It does seem odd to me too," he says.

The Last Picture Show?

The saga of Berkeley's Fine Arts Cinema has taken an unexpected plot twist: the arthouse may not be reopening after all. At least not as originally planned. The venerable single-screen theater at the corner of Haste and Shattuck was razed to make way for developer Patrick Kennedy's hundred-apartment mixed-use building. A couple of years ago when the project was only a concept, Kennedy promised to refashion the ground floor of his building as the new 250-seat home for the Fine Arts Cinema. But with construction now winding down, Kennedy says Fine Arts chief Keith Arnold has told him that he's "not going to proceed" with the venture. Arnold couldn't be reached for comment. Kennedy says he has kept his side of the bargain and already completed the shell for the theater. "We've done everything we committed to do to provide a new space for the Fine Arts Theater," he says. Should the deal with Arnold totally fall through, Kennedy said he'd have to find another theater operator or a retail tenant. The latter seems more likely in this age of giant multimega movieplexes.

Kennedy was quick to point out that he got no special treatment from the city for promising to build the filmhouse. That's a sore point for Kennedy after his much-maligned performance in delivering his end of the deal with the Gaia Building. Density-averse Berkeley politicos let him add extra stories to the Gaia Building for promising to set aside the ground-floor space for cultural uses such as a theater group. Nearly three years later, its ground floor is still empty too.

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