News & Notes 

Free radio smackdown; heads rolling in Hayward; double whammy for Sheila Jordan; and something's ticking at Bay Street Emeryville.

Off again, on again: Last Wednesday morning, US marshals descended on a warehouse at Telegraph Avenue and 55th Street in a phalanx of vehicles -- including a cherry picker, which they used to pluck an antenna off the roof, thus silencing 104.1 FM, Berkeley Liberation Radio.

The 38-watt pirate station had been broadcasting local public-affairs talk and music since 1999, occupying the same frequency that was once home to Free Radio Berkeley. (That micropower station officially met its demise in 1998, when founder Stephen Dunifer lost a lengthy court battle with the Federal Communications Commission, which went after him for broadcasting without a license.)

Patrick Miller, who runs a furniture refurbishing business in the same warehouse, witnessed a dozen to fifteen marshals in navy blue uniforms dismantling the station. "What got me was the amount of police they sent just to take down a little station," he says. "They thought it was funny to shut down free speech. They were laughing."

Captain Fred, a spokesman for the rebel station who goes by his air name, says Liberation Radio received a notice from the FCC in February ordering it to cease its illegal broadcasts. The station's lawyer responded and has not heard anything since.

"We're mad as hell," fumes Fred, who views the shutdown as a First Amendment violation. The feds took all of the station's equipment, including its transmitter, power supply, mixing boards, and stereo equipment, not bothering with the scratched-up vinyl and tapes. "They left some documents. Basically they had arrest warrants for the equipment," he says. "The equipment was violating FCC regulations and the equipment had to be arrested."

Federal agents at the scene declined to speak to 7 Days, and calls to the US marshals' office in San Francisco went unreturned.

Captain Fred says the station would apply for an FCC license -- if only it could get one. The way the laws are written, low-power FM stations must be at least three clicks (0.6 kHz) away from full-power stations on the dial. In the media-saturated Bay Area, that means there just isn't any room for them. You'd have to move out to the boonies to do it legally. (The frequency separation, Fred says, is unnecessary in any case, since microstations rarely interfere with the big fish.)

So what's a rebel station to do? Why, get back on the air as soon as possible, of course. That, at least, is Liberation Radio's intention. -- Melissa Hung

The Queen is a goner: A capacity crowd cheered last Tuesday as the Hayward Unified School Board announced it was dissolving its contract with embattled Superintendent Dr. Joan Kowal (see cover story "Wayward Unified," December 4). The decision, on the heels of a report revealing that the district was $3.3 million in the red, seemed like the ultimate clincher after eight tumultuous months in which parents, teachers, and other community members assailed Kowal's administration for flagrant overspending and mismanagement.

They accused Kowal's administration of spending hundreds of thousands on cell-phone bills, catering, and swank retreats, and of withholding information about the true state of district finances. Shortly after being placed on administrative leave in September, the district's executive director of business support Arthur Kratka released an eye-popping statement claiming that the schools were in such dire fiscal straits that they warranted a county takeover and a state audit.

How much will Hayward Unified pay to get rid of the superintendent? Neither district spokeswoman Kim Hammond nor school board president Paul Frumkin were returning phone calls. But Kowal's contract stipulates eighteen months' severance if she's fired without cause -- that's $262,500.

Kathy Crummey, president of the Hayward Education Association, says Kowal's departure has everyone at the union feeling relieved. Her goal now is to work with interim superintendent Jay Totter to protect the classroom from the state's threatened budget cuts -- the district could lose another four to seven million clams next year. But there's really nothing left to cut from the classroom, notes Crummey: "Teachers are operating under bottom-level expenditures as it is."

The hundreds of activist parents who lobbied for Kowal's ouster are still demanding details on the district's finances and the fate of Kowal's posse, a cadre of top administrators she brought from her previous post in Florida. "We have to rebuild, and gain an administration that the community can trust and support," says Jeff Cook, who leads parent group Hayward Education Community Alliance. "We're not going away yet." -- Kara Platoni

Oh, give me a home: The school superintendent's wasn't the only head to roll in Hayward recently. The city has fired Gordon Campbell, manager of its two public golf courses. Officials with the Hayward Area Recreation and Park District were too coy to say why, but something dark and scary must be afoot, since their press release said, "the district attorney's office may be investigating certain golf course matters." Ooh, tasty.

Whatever Campbell is in trouble for, you can bet it's worse than taking one too many mulligans. But perhaps the most tantalizing detail is that his new mailing address, according to the Tribune, is in Pahrump, Nevada.

Could it be? Could Hayward's bogeying bogeyman have decided to cool his jets in the nation's libertarian paradise while the Man figures out how to come down on him? Pahrump, an unincorporated sea of trailer parks in the Nevada desert, has long been the retirement destination of antigovernment freaks and militiamenschen from across the country. These stalwart patriots have created a wonderland free of property taxes, zoning regulations, cops, and politicians. What could Campbell be up to in the land of milk and Milton Friedman? A few theories:

The Art Bell connection: Celebrated radio host and conspiracy theorist Art Bell has broadcast his early morning show from his Pahrump trailer for years, steadily accumulating an underground reputation for UFO sightings, Area 51 lore, and black helicopter horror stories. If Campbell has a story of sinister Hayward bureaucrats setting him up to further their New World Order, Bell's just the kind of guy to take up his standard. Who knows? Campbell just might coax the old man out of his second retirement.

Hookers, hookers, hookers!: Las Vegas is one of the few Nevada cities that don't allow brothels, but Pahrump's numerous cathouses are just a short drive away. Many a randy roulette-spinner has hopped in the ole love wagon and cruised up to trailer heaven for a quickie. "If you see a limo on the highway between Vegas and Pahrump," says Pahrump Valley Times managing editor Henry Brean, "you know where it's headed." So perhaps Campbell is finding solace from his woes in the arms of one of Pahrump's lovely ladies. And a hefty tip will yield a bigger payoff than you'll ever get from Hayward's sullen caddies.

The Armageddon angle: One of Pahrump's finest attributes is undoubtedly its proximity to both the Nevada Test Site and Yucca Mountain, the fed's proposed nuclear waste dump. Many an old-time Pahrumper will regale you with entertaining "downwinder" stories of lost hair, leukemia, thyroid cancer -- all that '50s kitsch. Maybe Campbell has chosen Pahrump for the perspective; once you've meditated upon the end of the world, a few clubhouse shenanigans don't seem all that bad.

The Hemlock Solution: According to the federal Centers for Disease Control, rural Nevada leads the nation in suicides per capita. Apparently that has something to do with the profound isolation; Nye County, where Pahrump is located, has 30,000 residents on an impressive 11.6 million acres. Maybe Campbell has come to Snuff Central to take the easy way out.

Don't do it, Mr. Campbell! For the love of God, it's only a game! -- Chris Thompson

Raking it in: Understandably, the local news media devoted plenty of ink this past week to Alameda County Superintendent of Education Sheila Jordan's $60,000 raise. Hey, it was a good story with intriguing subplots: Four years ago, in fact, Jordan got elected after promising to slash her salary, a promise she kept -- until now. And the board member who cast the deciding vote to boost Jordan's pay, Jacki Fox Ruby, was elected earlier this year with the generous support of, you guessed it, Sheila Jordan.

But another curious subplot went without mention: Jordan's quiet court victory over her arch rival, ex-board member Jerome Wiggins (whom Fox Ruby defeated in March). During the campaign, Jordan financed a hit piece that portrayed Wiggins as prone to losing his temper and brandishing menacing gardening tools. This, of course, made Wiggins lose his temper and brandish a menacing lawyer. He sued Jordan and Larry Cooperman, her hubby and political confidante, for libel. In spite of an old Daily Cal news story to the contrary, Wiggins contended he'd never been arrested for slugging a former rent board candidate and chasing another off his lawn waving a rake.

But by filing a libel case, Wiggins dug himself into a legal grave. As a public figure, he'd have to prove actual malice on the part of the respondents, says Cooperman's attorney Dan Siegel, who moonlights as an Oakland school board member. "I don't think that Wiggins or his attorneys knew what they were getting into when they brought the case," Siegel opines. "I mean, not only would he have to prove that the statements that Jordan and Cooperman made about him were false, but he'd also have to prove ... Cooperman and Jordan knew they were false and said it anyway."

Siegel gave Superior Court Judge John Kraetzer police reports and other documents backing up the allegations in the hit piece. The judge must have been impressed: He not only threw out the suit, but ordered Wiggins to immediately fork over $7,700 to cover Siegel's fees and costs.

Yep, it's been a pretty good week for Ms. Sheila. So what to do with all that extra compensation? She shouldn't need it for attorney fees, in any case; Jordan plans to make Wiggins pay her lawyers, too. -- Will Harper

The Grinch who stole free parking: As if Bay Street Emeryville hasn't had enough problems. First there was that Ohlone shellmound business; then the opening of the massive retail complex was delayed until November, cutting dangerously close to the holiday shopping season. Now there's the Sign. (Roll horror-movie soundtrack.)

The Sign sits at the entrance to the new development's parking garage. It reads "Grand Opening Special, $1 parking, flat rate." The Sign raises two questions in shoppers' minds: 1) If this is "special," what's normal? (Answer: $1 for two hours plus $1 for each half-hour thereafter; $12 per day; $1 validated parking for AMC moviegoers only.) And 2) Why the hell should I pay for parking when I'm here to spend my unemployment check, and no other East Bay mall makes me pay to park? (Answer: Good question.)

The Sign also raises a question for employees, who get a special monthly parking rate of $60 (nonreserved) or $75 (reserved): Why the hell should I pay to park at my low-wage job?

Oakland's Mica Scott, a self-proclaimed "shopping nut" who says she's pursued her passion just about everywhere, was surprised to see the Sign. "Especially at a mall. I've never heard of it," she says. Scott has a theory: Bay Street is pretty high-end. Maybe the paid parking is intended to exclude those who can't afford the stores. "You're not going to see a lot of teenagers hanging out -- all the riffraff," she says.

It's more than just riffraff doing the bellyaching, though. Old Navy employees say customers and workers alike have been grumbling. Same deal at Talbots and the Body Shop. "We hear about it, a lot," says a Body Shop greeter.

Oh c'mon, says DeeDee Taft, spin-mistress for Bay Street developer Madison Marquette. "People love to complain about paying for anything, especially parking, but this is a city; it's not suburban," she says. "When you go to Embarcadero Center you pay $8.25 per hour. We have to charge a fee, but it's a nominal one."

Yet over at Williams-Sonoma, a high-end kitchen retailer whose customers wouldn't be expected to gripe over a few extra bucks ... um, guess what? They're griping, too. Employees get an earful every day, says store manager Natalie Wortham. "People feel stingy complaining about one dollar, but they see 'Grand Opening Special' and ask how much it's going to be," she says. "We tell them, and then they think it's outrageous."

"They" includes Carolyn Baird, an Oakland mom awaiting a transaction at Pottery Barn Kids. "The dollar doesn't really bother me, it's the principle," she says, adding that she hates shopping and considers paid parking a deterrent. "If they want our business, well, there's a lot of competition. You don't pay when you go to Walnut Creek; IKEA's not charging to park."

And don't think people aren't aware of the free parking right next door. One shopper told 7 Days he plans to park at IKEA next time around, and a store manager who didn't give her name admits she already snags a spot at nearby Powell Street Plaza (Trader Joe's, Circuit City) and walks to her job. "That's how I get my morning exercise," she says.

Madison Marquette, Taft says, is trying to encourage people to use alternative transportation -- the free Emeryville-Go-Round shuttle stops both at BART and Bay Street. She also notes that Emeryville is planning another pedestrian footbridge to get people over the railroad tracks.

Great, but let's face it: People are cheap, and such conveniences merely make it easier for employees and customers to poach free parking from competing retail centers.

Oh, and if you figure on scoring free parking in one of the scarce spots along the Bay Street promenade, you'd better hurry. Santa's bag this year will be bulging with spanking new meters for those spaces. -- Michael Mechanic

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