News & Notes 

What if we built a democracy and nobody showed up?; El Cerrito's tax fiasco; so long, 2C-T-7; and Oaktown wants its money back.

Gimme shelter: When the city of Oakland approved an ordinance a year ago permitting Adshel -- a division of media megapower Clear Channel Communications -- to install 256 bus shelters (read: advertising delivery systems) throughout the city, the idea was that citizens would help choose the locations by providing their input at community meetings. But while Adshel, AC Transit, and various interest groups have been busy generating wish lists based on their own priorities, the bus riders themselves have been missing their chance to speak up.

Consider the August 20 meeting for District 6, Central East Oakland, where a paltry six shelters are currently scheduled for installation. While meeting times and locations for all districts were announced in the Tribune, the number of citizen attendees totaled a whopping ... zero. Present were Moses Mayne Jr. (apparently the first councilmember to attend his district's meeting), his staff, people connected to the bus shelter project, and someone running for public office.

Clear Channel, America's biggest radio conglomerate, owns more than 730,000 outdoor advertising displays in 33 countries. Its Adshel subsidiary plans to have forty shelters built in Oakland by year's end, and expects the entire project to take eighteen months. The company makes no secret that its primary concern is the visibility of its shelters in high-traffic areas -- in other words, advertising revenues. But given that the city has an interest in keeping its good citizens out of the rain, Adshel has agreed to alter its shelter-location list based on public input.

"This has to be a dynamic, evolving process," says Richard Grasso, Clear Channel's VP of business development. Since people will come forward once they see the first shelters installed, he says, the list will never be finalized until the last shelter is put in place. And public turnout has been better in some of the other districts, where as many as thirty residents attended the meetings.

Still, the fact that no one showed up in District 6, where many people rely on buses, highlights certain concerns that were present from the start. "Some of the councilmembers wanted to have citizen input before, but the contract didn't allow for that," says Mayne. "Now we're going to have to wait for complaints."

AC Transit planner Robert del Rosario expects the project to succeed regardless. "The bus riders' union is attending meetings and getting the word out and playing an active role to make sure the shelters go in the right locations," he says. "And Adshel is fairly flexible at this point."

The final meeting, for District 2 (Chinatown-Grand Lake), is set for September 25 at 7 p.m., Barnett Hall, 3534 Lakeshore Avenue.

Takin' care of business: Looking for a job where you can dole out illicit favors to friends? Why not work for El Cerrito, where you do so and then cover your tracks with incomplete and unmanageable records that are simply too much trouble to decipher?

In February, an internal audit of the city's financial services division revealed that previous staffers had been granting certain businesses unauthorized exemptions from the business-license tax. The yearly cost -- an estimated $40,000 at least -- may sound like peanuts until you consider that El Cerrito is tiny and such favoritism has existed for quite some time: For up to a decade, while some businesses have dutifully stoked the city's savings account, others were told they didn't have to pay. Of perhaps bigger concern is that continued efforts to determine the nature of these exemptions -- the who, why, and exactly how much -- have revealed little.

"There's no reason to believe there was any hint of illegality or impropriety," says Brian Foster, the financial services manager who conducted the audit. Foster believes the exemptions were offered only to independent contractors doing business with the city and that the sums involved aren't sufficient to imply payoffs. "Everything I have heard leads me to believe that the staff was acting in the best interest of the city," he says.

Still, the findings were of concern to city watchdogs and councilmembers Gina Brusatori and Kathleen Perka, who asked the council to send the matter to the CoCo County Grand Jury for an independent review. Other members stalled the proposal for five months and then rejected it in July, with one member, Mark Friedman, reportedly calling the investigation a "witch hunt."

"They said they were going to clean things up, and now they're acting like the previous administration," complains Steven Magyary of the El Cerrito Citizens Alliance, who has asked the city to let him examine the data himself, but has not been satisfied with the information provided.

The city argues that it's doing its best. "We can't create something that doesn't exist," says Foster. "Where the records existed we made them available."

City leaders must decide how to move forward. On September 23, they're set to decide whether or not to officially authorize future exemptions. Meanwhile, the council is working on an amnesty program that would allow previously exempted businesses to resume paying the tax without facing penalties.

Yet without a complete understanding of what actually happened, it may be difficult for El Cerrito to avoid repeating its mistakes. The city, in this case, seems to be affirming that a policy of imprecise record-keeping may be its best defense in the face of future mishaps.

I want a new drug: When we last caught up with 2C-T-7, the designer drug invented by Lafayette chemist and counterculture icon Alexander Shulgin, the chemical was enjoying a flirty popularity on the national rave scene, despite having been linked to three deaths within the last two years (see cover story "2C-T-7's Bad Trip," May 1). The drug's relatively low public profile has made it hard to determine exactly how many trips, good or bad, 2C-T-7 has inspired. At this point, it's unlikely to be correctly identified by police, emergency-room personnel, or even users themselves -- dealers have been known to pass it off as Ecstasy or mescaline. But 2C-T-7 certainly created a buzz among the chemically curious, due in part, no doubt, to its ambiguous legal status. Although widely considered an analogue of already-illegal drugs, 2C-T-7 has so far stayed off the federal government's list of prohibited substances.

Not for long: In July, the US Drug Enforcement Administration announced plans for an "emergency scheduling" of 2C-T-7, which guaranteed that the drug would remain legal for at least thirty days to give the public a chance to comment. But that clock ran out last week, and any day now 2C-T-7 could join the ranks of Schedule I drugs -- the agency's most forbidden class of narcotics, which include cocaine, heroin, and, inexplicably, marijuana.

According to the DEA, 2C-T-7 belongs in such an elevated class because it has no therapeutic value, has a high potential for abuse, and is chemically similar to two other Shulgin Schedule I inventions: 2C-B and DOM (better known by their street names Nexus and STP). The DEA even cited passages from Shulgin's own book, Phenethylamines I Have Known and Loved, comparing 2C-T-7's hallucinatory effects to those of 2C-B and mescaline as proof that the drug is an analogue of known illegal substances.

But though the DEA has filed its paperwork, 2C-T-7 still has its defenders. After the agency's announcement, attorney Richard Glen Boire of the Davis-based Center for Cognitive Liberty & Ethics issued a written challenge based on both practical and free-speech arguments. Boire objects to the fact that the DEA cited user comments posted on Web sites as proof that the drug is being abused; Internet posts, he writes, are protected under the First Amendment, and besides, discussion of an unscheduled compound hardly constitutes "abuse" of that drug. Boire then throws down his biggest free speech gauntlet: "The placement of 2C-T-7 in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act is not simply an effort to control a person's behavior," he argues. "It is an effort aimed directly at prohibiting a person from thinking in a particular manner and is thus an act of cognitive censorship, an action even more offensive to First Amendment principles than the censorship of speech." Will DEA bigwigs consider Boire's claim, which after all could be applied to nearly any illegal recreational drug? More likely, they'll just figure he was stoned when he wrote the letter.

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