Laney Smells a Rat 

Learned rats and promiscuous squirrels; rodent birth control in a biscuit; and when a news-gossip columnist's kid makes news, suddenly it isn't a story.

Oakland's Laney College doesn't need a Terminator to fix things: It needs an Exterminator.

Recent budget cuts at the largest school in the four-campus Peralta Community College District have resulted in fewer custodians and more rats. Lots more rats. Schools of rats, ya could say. Big muthas, too -- Chihuahua-size. College employees and students taking night classes say that once the sun goes down, the varmints take over the quad area where students leave behind morsels.

Kalona Foster, a 25-year-old Richmond resident who attends night classes twice a week, says she's seen as many as fifteen rats at a time scurrying in the quad area where students often eat during the day. "They're free about it," she says. "They're not scared."

One night, she made the mistake of walking by a trash can on her way back from class. "A rat jumped out on me," she recalls with palpable horror.

Laney custodian Gerry Banks says he got quite a scare once while dumping garbage into the campus trash compactor. As he went to toss it in, a rat "jumped right on my shoulder and ran right down my arm." In all his years at Laney, Banks has seen mice and even a few rats before. "This is the worst it's ever got," he says.

Banks, the shop steward for the custodial union, says things started getting out of hand in the early summer. That's when the district -- which slashed nearly $8 million from its budget this year -- let go seven long-term custodial temps, leaving only ten janitors to cover the whole campus. Even though the district hired four sixty-day subs in the past month, that's just not enough manpower for the job: A decade ago, Banks says, there were 28 custodians to sweep up potential rat snacks around the campus.

Mike Baldinelli, the district's risk manager, says the custodians could help fight the rats by emptying the outside garbage cans at night. The cans aren't emptied until the mornings, leaving the critters all night to dine and trash-dash. But Banks once again insists there just aren't enough janitors to do that. Further complicating things, the custodians' union is currently negotiating a new contract with district management, which is refusing to hire any new full-time custodians until a deal is hammered out, Banks says.

District managers this week called in Alameda County's vector control team to advise them on how to eliminate Laney's unwanted visitors. Pest controllers plan to poison the rats' underground burrows and then plug up the holes. In the meantime, nighttime Laneygoers are just gonna have to be brave, especially with daylight savings. -- Will Harper

Squirrels Gone Nuts

It's so typical, though, that Laney gets the rats when its counterpart in tony Alameda is being swarmed by furry cuteness. Veruca Salt had better watch her back, because the nuisance animal at the College of Alameda is none other than the adorable little ground squirrel, whose numbers are said to be growing. The more-precious rodents invaded that Peralta district campus a few years ago, and although the rookie college prez denies they're a problem, those closer to the grounds insist they are. "It's not a new problem," Baldinelli says of the squirrels, "but it's getting progressively worse."

Besides messing with the landscaping, the critters apparently dig holes that pose a tripping hazard to pedestrians, though Baldinelli admits he hasn't yet heard of anyone being injured, much less hiring the People's Lawyer. -- Will Harper

Squirrel Sans Nuts

Now Bill Pitcher is a guy who doesn't get all squirrelly when it comes to potential plague-carriers. Pitcher is vector control chief for Alameda County, and he's quietly developing an ordinance to restrict the feeding of wildlife, as in squirrels. His measure wouldn't prevent people from feeding them per se, he says, but it would threaten punishment for those who feed the critters to the point that they become a nuisance -- Alameda College bench-loiterers, take note.

And if that doesn't fly, there's always squirrel Norplant. That's right, Pitcher and his crew are working on a Department of Agriculture-sponsored study of birth-control methods for the fuzzy-tailed little bastards. The study is entering a testing phase, Pitcher says, in which his crew plans to tempt squirrels at a Berkeley park with little biscuits containing secret ingredients. Ultimately, the vector people hope they can persuade snack concessionaires at parks to sell the biscuits to the lonely souls who feed the squirrels. And if the squirrel-feeders morally object to keeping their furry friends from breeding? Um, actually the county folks weren't planning to tell them they'd be dosing their little buddies with birth control. "That's the sneaky goal," Pitcher says.

One way or another, Pitcher knows he'll inevitably have to face off against the squirrel lobby. "There's a whole group of people out there in the world who rely on these animals for comfort," he says. -- Will Harper

"No Controversy Here"

When Oakley high schooler Lisa McClelland proposed a Caucasian Student Union on her campus earlier this fall, newsies from Lafayette to London took notice. But McClelland was beaten to the punch by two Piedmont High students. On September 16, days before McClelland's proposal made headlines nationwide, sophomore Matt Matier -- son of Chronicle muckraker Phil Matier -- started his own Caucasian Student Union for real, along with a pal.

According to assistant principal Randall Booker, Matier and fellow student Peter Maglaty had petitioned for a club that would, in Booker's words, "explore the history of the white man in America and discuss his wrongdoings ... and consider why the white man gets such a bad name." After getting the required faculty sign-off from social studies teacher Richard Kitchens, Booker interviewed the boys for an hour and gave the club the thumbs-up.

"They said they wanted to create a dialogue," the administrator recalls, "and that's what sold me. `You want to have those discussions on campus?' I told them, `That's fine with me.'"

During lunch the next day, the duo set up a recruiting post alongside other newbie causes. As Booker monitored the event, however, he says he heard foul language coming from their table -- "F-this and S-that," he recalls. Matier's pal, according to fellow students, was wearing a "wife-beater" tank top and a belt buckle emblazoned with the Confederate flag. Booker says he saw one young lady spot the buckle and comment sarcastically, "Oh, nice." At which point the administrator ordered Maglaty to remove it. "This wasn't a disciplinary action," Booker clarifies. "This was an educational moment and we talked about it, and why [the flag] was provocative. He didn't have a problem with it."

Yet the table had already created what Booker describes as a "hostile and intimidating environment." At 6:45 the next morning, Booker says, Matier arrived at his office saying he wanted out of the new club. That afternoon, Booker revoked the club's charter and folded the two-day project. "It had gotten out of hand and become something they didn't want," he says. The founders didn't protest.

Considering the Chronicle's lengthy front-page treatment of Lisa McClelland's proposal, why no story about one that actually got off the ground, created a "hostile" environment, and then folded?

"I have no idea," Papa Matier replies. Later, he phones back to add, "It was a story, but it was over before I knew what it was." In a third phone call minutes later, he clarifies further, "It was a story -- for the school newspaper. And that's where it was handled." (After that, Bottom Feeder had to start screening calls.)

"There's no controversy here," Papa Matier insists, since the club had folded and everyone went on their merry way. "Kids are kids," he adds, "and sometimes they make mistakes, sometimes they cross the line. They didn't mean any harm. When [Matt] realized he was upsetting people, he withdrew."

Fair enough, but what does Matt think? Through a school chum, young Matier declined comment, saying he didn't "want to cause any more trouble."

Good instinct, Matty. As the Chron dutifully reported in a follow-up last week, Lisa McClelland had to transfer to a new school to escape the taunts of her peers. -- Justin Berton


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