Doggin' the PTA 

In a blow to parent and student groups, CoCo County targets school food sales; Plus, Phil Angelides has, uh, issues, and Senator Boxer pens a sex scene.

Once upon a time, teacher, parent, or student groups that wanted to raise money for their activities could, say, have a bake sale or throw a party and sell yummy junk food like pizza or hot dogs. But folks at the West Contra Costa Unified School District are finding out the good old days are gone, thanks to a competing mess of food safety and health regulations.

Just ask Susan Berrington, principal of Grant Elementary in Richmond. Grant is one of the most rundown and poor schools in a habitually broke school district, which is, by the way, asking voters to approve a $400 million bond measure next week. During the summer, someone stole Grant's annual supply of toilet paper. This year the school didn't get any crayons, Berrington says. "Even getting [writing] paper is an issue," she sighs.

One way Berrington wants to raise money to pay for things like field trips and school assemblies is to sell food. Since June, the principal has had a nacho-making machine, which was donated to the school, sitting in her office unplugged. That's because she's been told she needs a permit from the county health department before parents or faculty can start selling food. "I'm not gonna cross the line and do something that's illegal. I don't want to get busted," she says.

Last week county health inspector Joe Doser visited Berrington to go over what kind of permits she'd have to get. Doser has made about two dozen such school-site visits in West County since classes kicked off in September. He says the health department started getting complaints of rogue food sales at West County schools a couple of years ago. Many of the offenders were PTA members trying to raise money for their activities. Health officials got concerned about potential foodborne illness when they began hearing reports about, for instance, a geography teacher who sold pizza slices in his classroom, and others who sold goodies from their cars.

So who tattled? Certain principals and district administrators, Doser says. They didn't like that the food pushers were selling things like pizza and hot dogs during school hours "in direct competition with" the school lunch program, thereby threatening federal lunch subsidies. The snitches also groused that some of the junk food being sold didn't comply with federal nutrition guidelines. Things finally came to a head earlier this year when the health department cited Richmond's Cesar Chavez Elementary for food-safety violations after ignoring repeated warnings, Doser says. In May, district executives sent a bulletin to principals warning them not to allow parent or student groups to sell food without a permit.

West Contra Costa Unified school trustee Charles Ramsey says that in the past the district could allow food fund-raisers with a wink, but times have changed. "In this day and age of litigation, you have to be careful," he reasons. Ramsey says the permit requirements have put a damper on things. For instance, the dad's club at Ellerhorst Elementary in Pinole has had to reconsider plans for its annual spaghetti feed.

It also looks as if Principal Berrington will have to leave her nacho maker unplugged for the foreseeable future. After inspecting Grant Elementary's kitchen, Doser informed Berrington that parents and faculty can get a permit to sell prepackaged ice cream, but the sink is too outdated to properly wash and sanitize the nacho machine, which would have to be dismantled and reassembled in the process. If Measure J passes next week, Berrington could conceivably get that state-of-the art dishwasher she needs. But that could take years, and, as Doser points out, a new state law restricting the sale of junk food like nachos at public schools will have gone into effect.

Doser may be the food police, but he isn't without sympathy -- the inspector is well aware that PTAs and school groups rely on junk food and baked sweets for their fund-raisers. "No one is going to go to a celery sale," he says.

Standing Up for Direct Mail

What do you call a man who likes to be photographed hugging and touching young children? That's right -- a politician. And this special election season's huggy-touchy politico is Phil Angelides, the state treasurer running for governor. By deadline, Feeder already had received three pieces of campaign mail from Angelides -- two more are apparently in the works -- all with photos of the treasurer within smooching distance of young pupils. Why do politicians so love to be pictured with tomorrow's leaders and felons? After all, these minors don't vote or pay taxes. All you grownups running for office who love kids so much should try this: Go to a matinee showing of Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. Alone. Wearing a trenchcoat. The parents will just love you.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, Angelides' campaign mail. Not one of these mailers mentions that he wants to be the Democratic Party's nominee for governor. That's because Angelides is paying for them from his "issues" PAC, Standing Up for California, which seems to be interested mostly in the issues of what a great guy Angelides is and what an asshole Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is. One glossy mailer's cover reads, "State Treasurer Phil Angelides urges you to stand up for our children and our schools and fight back against the Governor's cuts to education." The pieces urge "no" votes on all of the Ahnuld-backed state props.

Angelides campaign spokesdude Dan Newman says two million mailers are going out statewide, although the mail program "is focused on the Bay Area." The Bay Area, eh? Muy interesante. There are a lot of Democrats in the Bay Area who will be voting in next June's primary. Could it be Angelides is getting an early start on wooing the party's liberal base? To that, Newman evasively replies, "I think he wants to do everything possible to defeat the governor's special election initiatives."

Boxer's Love Scene

Senator Barbara Boxer will be at Cody's Books on Telegraph this Sunday evening to flog her new novel -- yes, novel -- titled A Time to Run. Berkeley is a fitting setting for the reading since the main character, Senator Ellen Fischer (a thinly-veiled Boxer alter ego), has political roots here, having gone to Cal in the '70s. Now, Feeder isn't usually one for fiction, but he's managed to digest the first couple of chapters of the book and it's actually not that bad, so far.

It starts out a little clunky but quickly picks up the pace, introducing a right-wing journalist, Greg Hunter, who also happens to be the senator's former lover. Greg makes a suspicious surprise visit to Fischer's office to hand her medical records showing that the conservative top-court nominee (a law prof at Boalt Hall!) physically abused her own daughter -- information that could obviously spell doom for the nomination if made public. Unbeknownst to Fischer, the documents are fakes.

But Boxer could have used a little help spicing up the sex scenes. Here's an excerpt: "She felt his competent hands undressing her, and they fell together through the darkness onto his bed." Competent? Job applicants and middle managers are competent; lovers' hands are ... well, something hotter, one would hope. The PG-rated scene continues this way: "Greg's naked body was long and elegant, his embrace enveloped her utterly, and they meshed with ease and grace. He smelled good too, faintly and astringently of aftershave." Astringently? The dictionary defines "astringent" as "able or tending to shrink body tissues." Let's just hope Greg's hands were competent enough not to have accidentally gotten some of that astringent aftershave on his lovemaker.

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