Driving, Ms. Julia? 

Bari bio ruffles Butterfly wings; Bari pals ruffle bio readings; Landmark victim targets councilman; and Don Perata begs for legal fees.

Feeder loves a good hypocrite story. You know the type: The family values advocate who beats his wife. The homophobic, Bible-thumping politician who is outed as an ass-thumping leather boy. So Feeder got quite a tickle from reading a passing line in Berkeley author Kate Coleman's controversial new book suggesting that tree-hugger Julia Butterfly Hill drives a Lexus SUV. As it turns out, though, Hill doesn't drive a gas-guzzler -- or any car for that matter.

Hill, Feeders may recall, is the pretty young idealist who lived in an old redwood tree called Luna for two years. She isn't the subject of Coleman's book; that honor belongs to Judi Bari, the late Earth First heroine who was debilitated by a car bomb planted by persons unknown. But Hill makes a brief appearance in the epilogue as a representative of Earth First's demise in the post-Judi Bari era. Coleman writes about how older Earth Firsters thought Hill was a sellout, and attributes the Lexus SUV factoid only to the "Earth First grapevine."

When Feeder called Hill's Circle of Life Foundation in Oakland to see what she drove to work, executive director Alissa Hauser responded with a hearty cackle. "She doesn't drive," she laughed. "She doesn't even have a driver's license." Hauser says that Hill gets around mostly on foot or bike.

Coleman says she included the detail as an example of the kind of unflattering things some Earth Firsters said about Hill. Actually, Coleman says she had no idea whether Hill really drove a Lexus SUV. "I did not assert it as fact," she told Feeder. "I apologize if it was taken as a fact."

On the other hand, Coleman has already taken flak for not letting the facts get in the way of a good story. Livid about her Bari portrayal, the Baristas have been waging a countersmear against Coleman, telling anyone who will listen that The Secret Wars of Judi Bari is unfair, poorly researched, and error-ridden (see Bottom Feeder, 1/19).

The author's enemies have followed her to every book reading so far, including one at Black Oak Books in Berkeley last week. Fifty-plus people showed up to either heckle or support, and the tension between the anti- and pro-Coleman crowd was palpable. When Earth First organizer Karen Pickett tried to give a flier to a friend of Coleman's, the pal declined and harumphed, "Move away from me." But overall, Coleman told Feeder afterward, her haters were more polite at the Berkeley appearance than at her other stops. This time, rather than shouting "Lies!," they brought cards with the word "FALSE" on them, which they silently flashed whenever Coleman said something they disagreed with. During the reading, Coleman spotted one card and quipped, "Do you have any that say 'TRUE'?"

Laurie and the Landmark

Real-estate agent and recently elected Berkeley Councilman Laurie Capitelli is scheduled to appear in small-claims court next week after getting swept up in a city landmarking dispute. Homebuyer Dajun "DJ" Yu is suing Capitelli and the property sellers, Howard Coleston and Michael Scharf, for a total of $10,000. Yu alleges that neither Capitelli nor Coleston ever disclosed to him that the fixer-upper they sold him at 2426 Fulton Street had been designated a city landmark, which forced him to spend extra time and money to renovate the place.

Yu says the 19th-century relic was a rundown mess in need of major repairs when he bought it in November 2003. During negotiations, he says, no one mentioned that the cottage had been landmarked six months earlier. Once a property has been designated a city landmark, the Landmarks Preservation Commission must approve any alteration to it. Yu says going through the process delayed his renovation plans by six months and cost him an extra $40,000. The homeowner says he chose to sue in small-claims court, which only handles disputes of up to $5,000, in order to avoid big attorney's fees. "I mainly want them to learn a lesson," he says.

Yu contends that Coleston must have known about the home's landmark status. Commission minutes show that Coleston appeared at a November 4, 2002 meeting to oppose having the property, part of his late father's estate, made a landmark. (A local preservationist -- someone Coleston says he doesn't know -- filed the application.) But Coleston says he never got final word from the city that the house had been landmarked.

As for Capitelli, Yu says he doesn't think the Red Oak Realty partner intentionally misled him. However, he feels Capitelli, who spent several years on the zoning board before being elected to the city council in November, should have known. Capitelli's defense is interesting for what it says about the city's reputation as an unreliable record-keeper. He says that, as a policy, Red Oak doesn't make any representations about the legal status of a property, including whether it's been landmarked. The reason? Too risky, he says. Two different city employees might tell you two totally different things about a property.

Capitelli has a point, judging from Feeder's own experience. When Feeder went to the city's permit center to see the landmark file for 2426 Fulton St., the on-duty planner consulted a very high-tech three-by-five index card, which theoretically should have listed any official city actions involving the property. The planner incorrectly informed Feeder that the only thing in the file would be from a 1979 historic site survey -- there was nothing to indicate the structure had been landmarked just a couple of years ago.

Save the Don

You know you've made it to the big time in politics these days when you have to form a legal defense fund. Bill Clinton had one. Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante has one. Secretary of State Kevin Shelley started one last fall. And now our own beloved state Senator, Don Perata, has one. The Friends of Don Perata Legal Defense Fund was formed on January 13. "I'm surprised he hasn't done it before," says Bob Stern, president of Center for Government Studies, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit think tank. "I imagine he has a lot of legal defense fees."

But having waited until after the New Year, Perata won't have to reveal who has donated to the defense fund until several months from now, when the first public quarterly report is due. The Don is at the center of a public corruption probe by the FBI, which started mailing subpoenas in late October. Perata has hired Sacramento attorney George O'Connell to represent him.

Money raised for the defense fund must be used to pay for legal costs. Won't donors to the fund just be inviting unwanted scrutiny by federal investigators? Not necessarily, Stern says. And by giving to Perata's defense fund they can buy access to the Senate prez just as they do with regular donations.

It is, however, a risky investment. If the feds get an indictment and then a conviction, access to the Don will be limited to the correctional facility's visiting hours.

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