News & Notes 

The spooks are out in Berkeley; the clubs are gone in Concord; the air is no cleaner in Richmond; and the mail is dirty everywhere.

Squashing the opposition: If only trick-or-treaters could vote, Halloween would be the perfect advertising opportunity for Berkeley moderates. Not that the candidates weren't trying. In what is almost certainly the most hallowed candy-gathering neighborhood in town -- Russell Street between College and Claremont avenues -- homeowners go all-out with the decorations, and hundreds of costumed children drag their parents from house to house.

It's therefore no coincidence that you'll find more political yard signs on these particular blocks than you will Harry Potter outfits. The vast majority of the signs tout incumbent Mayor Shirley Dean and Gordon Wozniak, the district's moderate council candidate. Amid one particularly impressive display of pumpkin-carving prowess on the 2900 block was an ornate "Vote Woz" jack-o'-lantern. "Does Wozniak live here?" asked 7 Days, clad as a burglar, with a Carnaval bird and small pumpkin in tow. "No," said the squash artist, gesturing toward a graying wizard, "but he's sitting right there."

In the very next driveway, a row of four jack-o'-lanterns spelling out DEAN sat on a table with some campaign literature. And three houses further, past a house featuring a twelve-foot-tall, man-eating Venus flytrap, was perhaps the neighborhood's spookiest display, a foggy burial ground with a soundtrack of haunting chants, and realistic human remains clawing their way out of the dank earth. It was impossible to know whether those skeletons were intended to be the remains of Dean rival Tom Bates or Woz opponents Alex Katz and Anne Wagley. All the headstones were missing. -- Michael Mechanic

They don't wear plaid in Quentin: Back in January, when the pro shop at the Diablo Creek Golf Course was looted by a team of midnight burglars, owner Joe Fernandez could only marvel at their club selection. "They knew exactly what they were going for," he says, noting the thieves escaped with $38,000 worth of high-end sticks. "They took the best of the best."

Fernandez wasn't the only pro shop owner handicapped by thieves last year. Last week, three Concord residents were arrested at their homes and charged with thirty such robberies. Their crime spree, authorities believe, spanned country clubs and shops across seven Northern California counties, plus a few in Nevada. In all, say the coppers, the Concord Three stole $300,000 to $500,000 worth of clubs, which they fenced on eBay and other swap sites.

"They're just your average suburban white guys," says Captain Rick Armstrong, a spokesman with the Placer County sheriff's department, which led the investigation. "We don't think they worked at golf shops, but we do think they played golf. They had to. They knew which ones were the expensive clubs."

Armstrong says a pro shop can make for an easy heist. A single high-end golf club, a Calloway driver for instance, can retail for $500 a pop. A fencer can sell it online for eighty cents on the dollar. (Stolen diamonds fetch about two dimes on the dollar.) And golf courses make easy targets: They're often undersecured and located in suburban areas, far from the local police cruiser's neighborhood route. Even so, Armstrong adds, the accused Concord bandits pulled off a few smash 'n' grabs at strip-mall golf retailers. "They were brazen," he says.

Fernandez says he recently outfitted his shop with an extra gate, infrared video surveillance, and silent sensors under the carpet. Now there's a man dedicated to saving the woods. -- Justin Berton

Green smoke screen: Amid much fanfare, AC Transit officials and local pols swarmed the transportation district's Richmond yard last week to unveil the Bay Area's first hydrogen fueling station, which extracts hydrogen from water on-site using electricity. Though only meant for prototype vehicles, it was hailed by the local media as the sort of facility to which -- a few years down the road -- you might bring your very own zero-emission, hydrogen-fuel-cell SUV for a fill-up. Before long, the officials predicted, such stations would be ubiquitous.

That's really not the greatest news. Sure, converting hydrogen to electricity in a fuel cell is the cleanest possible way to power a car, with water being the only by-product. But whether this fuel is truly clean depends on where it comes from. Distributed electrolysis, the method being pushed in this case, is among the dirtiest ways of getting it. It requires electricity from the grid, of which half comes from incinerating coal.

A study released in March 2000 by Canada's Pembina Institute for Appropriate Development (Pembina.org) found that using electrolysis to make hydrogen for "zero-emission" vehicles results in nearly as much greenhouse gas per mile (96 percent) as you'd get with a good ol' internal combustion engine. The most environmentally sound way to procure hydrogen, the study found, is to strip it directly from natural gas, a process called "reformation." Of course Tasios Melis, a biochemist at UC Berkeley, has patented a way to get hydrogen from algae without any pollution whatsoever, but it'll be at least a decade before you can fill 'er up with swamp gas. -- Michael Mechanic

Read before you sign: Whatever the results, Berkeley tongues will still be a-waggin' about one of the enduring mysteries of this election cycle: Who wrote the dirty District 7 diatribe? The letter in question was a fundraising plea from an entity calling itself "Berkeley Pro Israel" to voters it referred to as "Friends of Israel," urging them to contribute to the campaign of Micki Weinberg, a Cal student running for city council in the district. The anonymous author accuses incumbent Kriss Worthington of "siding with anti-Jewish and anti-Israel forces," and suggests that the councilman is indirectly responsible for vandalism at the campus Hillel student headquarters, attacks on Jewish students, a proliferation of swastikas around town, and for fostering an "environment of hate." At least one of its four erstwhile signatories, Cal Hebrew Studies professor Robert Alter, now claims he never gave permission to have his name attached to it.

Last we checked, Worthington was too busy reciting the names of the dead on Holocaust Remembrance Day to organize an army of Cossacks, but Paul Warner, one of the signatories and a leader of the North Berkeley Temple Beth El, still supports the language. Warner maintains that Worthington's call to dismiss the charges against pro-Palestinian student activists who occupied Wheeler Hall last spring was an unacceptable provocation. "When anti-Israel resolutions are considered by the council, it encourages anti-Jewish actions," Warner says.

But Warner claims he took no part in the writing. "I don't know who composed the letter," he says. "I got a call from some person in some campaign. They asked me would I review a letter on Mr. Worthington's position, and I said yes."

So the question remains: Whose poison pen drips in the gutters of Southside? Suspicions among Berkeley insiders run in favor of two people, both of who happen to be involved with Weinberg's campaign. Candidate number one: David Shiver, a longtime fixture in moderate electoral campaigns who was tainted by the infamous "Hangergate" scandal of 1986. On that fateful election day, Berkeley voters woke up to pluck from their doorknobs the traditional slate cards that the progressive Berkeley Citizens Action printed each season, listing candidates endorsed by East Bay congressman and messianic figure Ron Dellums. But this time, they got a counterfeit, complete with Dellums' forged signature, endorsing the moderate candidates. The address on the phony cards belonged to Shiver, who has been working on the Weinberg campaign for the last two months. But he swears he don't know nothin' about birthin' no broadsides. "I've never seen the letter, and I don't know who wrote that," he says.

Candidate number two: Avi Rosenfeld, who has been working with Weinberg for the better part of a year. In May, they cofounded the Berkeley Task Force Fighting Hate Crimes, a noble organization that lasted just long enough to give mayor Shirley Dean an antihate award before apparently disbanding.

That same month, Rosenfeld raised a surprisingly effective stink on the eve of the progressive mayoral convention. Claiming that Jewish law prohibits him from sitting in big rooms and listening to speeches on the Sabbath, Rosenfeld threatened to hold a press conference outside the convention and denounce the organizers for discriminating against Jews. His tantrum provoked a brief bout of hand-wringing from the progressives, but the convention went off as planned. Rosenfeld did not respond to our queries, so we couldn't put the question to him by press time. -- Chris Thompson

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