It's the Bomb 

New bio of eco-radical Judi Bari ignites pals' ire. And BART pays lobbyist $130k, with nary a paper trail.

Berkeley author Kate Coleman knew she was gonna get a lot of shit for her new book, The Secret Wars of Judi Bari: A Car Bomb, the Fight for the Redwoods, and the End of Earth First! People get mighty emotional about the late Earth First heroine. So Coleman wasn't surprised to get a call last week from Feeder to ask about all the nasty things being said about her and her work even before the book's official release. A Web site launched by her critics at ColemanHoax.com dismisses her as a "marginal freelance writer" and a right-wing tool; the new book is labeled a "truckload of lies." Coleman's critics somehow managed to obtain an early review copy, which they dissect in great detail on the site. At the Fort Bragg library where Coleman did her sole public reading to date, she says she was heckled by angry audience members who yelled "Lies!" and videotaped her. "They're about as subtle as a rhino," she scoffs.

Coleman, however, insists she has written a fair book. For readers unfamiliar with Judi Bari, she became an environmental martyr in 1990 when a car bomb secretly planted in her Subaru detonated while she and fellow Earth Firster Darryl Cherney were traveling through Oakland. The FBI and Oakland police initially blamed Bari and Cherney for accidentally bombing themselves, a mistake they later paid $4 million to settle. Bari survived the bombing but died of cancer in 1997. "I think it's a complex, complete portrait of her," Coleman says of her new tome. "It's not a smear."

That's not what Coleman haters say, of course. To them the book is the equivalent of David Brock's right-wing hatchet job a decade ago on Anita Hill. The Secret Wars is coming out on the conservative press Encounter Books, which is headed by Robert Collier, a confederate of notorious right-winger David Horowitz. Earth First organizer Karen Pickett, who was with Bari when she died, says Coleman wants to tarnish not just Bari, but the movement she represented, on behalf of these right-wing benefactors. Even the book's subtitle -- "The End of Earth First!"-- is wrong, she says. Just last week, Bari's former colleague notes, she wrote a press release for the organization about two tree-sitters. "It's clear there's an agenda here," Pickett says, adding that she has much higher hopes for Susan Faludi's long-awaited Bari bio.

Like the subject of her new book, Coleman herself is enigmatic. She boasts a lefty pedigree but has built a writing career around exposing the flaws of lefties, the Black Panthers in particular. Coleman says she originally turned down Collier's offer to do a book, but changed her mind when he was going to try to get someone else to write it. She laughs at the accusation that she's a right-winger, saying that Horowitz won't even talk to her anymore because of a profile she did of him. "They want to blast me as a right-winger and it's just not true," she says, adding, "I think they just can't take anything that's not totally laudatory of Our Lady of the Forest."

Coleman will read from her book on January 26 at Black Oak Books in Berkeley.

Hu Done It?
Over the past three years or so, Bay Area Rapid Transit shelled out $130,000 of your hard-earned fare dollars to Oakland lobbyist and federal investigation subject Lily Hu. And what, exactly, did she do to earn that money? Very little, it would seem from the results of a public records request. In fact, Hu failed to produce a single measly memo documenting her work for the transportation agency.

The lobbyist is currently tangled up in a public corruption probe of state Senate prez Don Perata, her friend and former boss. In November, a federal grand jury subpoenaed BART for financial records and memos related to Perata and his family and associates, including Hu and political consultant Sandra Polka, who has been paid $115,000 by BART to craft and execute a "public education and outreach program" to win support for a seismic bond measure. Exactly what kind of hanky-panky investigators were sniffing for wasn't -- and still isn't -- clear.

Feeder tried to get some insight by asking BART for all financial records and work product related to Hu and Polka's contracts since the beginning of 2001. BART produced 350 pages of documents that included memos written or co-written by Polka, correspondence with her contract supervisor, and an agenda from a meeting she attended. Hu, meanwhile, put absolutely nothing in writing -- except her invoices demanding payment.

BART spokesman Linton Johnson says that the agency "let go" Hu after her last contract expired this past June 30. "The reason was she wasn't performing, essentially," Johnson says. Of course, it took quite a while for BART officials to cut her loose.

In April 2001 Hu first signed a three-month, $15,000 "professional services contract," the type of contract that conveniently doesn't require competitive bidding, to help secure "political and community support" for Phase I of the transit agency's earthquake-retrofit project. At the time, BART was eager to secure support for an exemption to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) in order to speed up the rebuilding process. After the initial contract, BART rehired Hu for six more short-term contracts. Her final six-month contract contained more-explicit duties, some of which would have seemingly required written work, including "preparing a government relations strategy" and developing a database of key community contacts.

To be extra-fair, after receiving the first 350 pages from BART, Feeder asked officials to double-check and make sure there really was nothing in writing from Hu. After the holidays, BART recordkeepers sent back a one-page memo from January 11, 2002 -- not written by Hu, but to her from then-government affairs manager Mitch Stogner. The memo at least indicates that Hu was doing something to earn her keep: Stogner bulleted four points "we could raise" with Oakland City Councilwoman Jane Brunner. It would have made sense for Hu to talk to Brunner about the retrofit project, which would affect the MacArthur and Rockridge BART stations in her council district. (Neither Brunner nor her chief of staff responded to phone calls or an e-mail before deadline.)

It would also have made sense for Hu to lobby her friend, Oakland City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente, the council's most powerful player. He says he doesn't remember Hu ever urging him to support a CEQA exemption, but did remember her talking to him about the recent BART bond measure. Furthermore, De La Fuente said that he didn't know Hu even was working for BART until news stories about the federal investigation broke two months ago.

In any event, Johnson assured Feeder that Hu "did do stuff for us. ... It's not like she didn't do anything." The ultimate bone of contention, Johnson says, was over Hu's inability to produce any of the written materials BART officials asked for. However, Johnson says Hu was "instrumental" in obtaining a CEQA exemption for Phase I of the seismic work. He couldn't say precisely what Hu did to help win it, but it's worth noting that the state lawmaker who carried the BART bill in 2001 and 2002 was none other than the Teflon Don himself.

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