Yelp Does the Right Thing 

The controversial web site agrees to allow business owners to respond to negative or false reviews — without buying ads.

After loads of complaints by business owners, Yelp has finally decided to let them respond to reviews of their businesses on its web site. As the Express previously reported, many business owners were upset that they were essentially being held hostage by negative reviews — whether true or false — by Yelp, whose sales reps told them that they could move or remove the reviews only if they advertised. In some cases, business owners said Yelp removed positive reviews when they refused to buy ads. Until now, the only options business owners had was to pay what Yelp sales reps demanded or privately message the reviewers to get them to reconsider.

But then last week, Yelp told its active users in an e-mail that it will allow business owners to post replies to reviews as long as they sign up for a free business owner's account. Yelp plans to activate the feature in a week or two. Yelp also was apparently thinking about charging for the feature. In a "Yelp Client Feedback" survey sent in an e-mail April 3, the popular and controversial web site asked business owners how they felt on the subject of "allow owner/manager to publicly comment on reviews." The options were "don't want it," "don't care either way," "nice to have, but not important," "want it, but would not pay extra," or "would pay extra for this." No doubt they got an earful from angry business owners.

Reporter Helps Crack Tracy Murder

Jennifer Wadsworth, a reporter for the Tracy Press and former East Bay Express intern, helped solve the murder case of eight-year-old Sandra Cantu. An interview by Wadsworth with murder suspect Melissa Huckaby reportedly helped convince homicide investigators to turn their attention to the Sunday school teacher. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Wadsworth's interview exposed inconsistencies between what Huckaby told her and what she told police. Wadsworth's story prompted police to then reinterview Huckaby, and arrest her for murdering Cantu. Huckaby also could be charged with molesting the young girl.

The importance of Wadsworth's gumshoe reporting should not be taken for granted — and we're not just saying that because she interned at the Express in spring 2008. Police, you see, may never have targeted Huckaby. The reason is that men commit the vast majority of child abductions and killings, and so investigators were looking at male suspects. In fact, police even questioned Cantu's own father and Huckaby's 77-year-old grandfather, who is the church pastor. Huckaby, who just doesn't fit the profile of a child murderer, apparently was not the prime suspect, and may never have been if it weren't for the 22-year-old Wadsworth.

Wadsworth focused on Huckaby after hearing last week from sources that Cantu's dead body had been stuffed into a suitcase belonging to Huckaby's family. So Wadsworth called Huckaby, who said that her suitcase had been stolen the same day as Cantu disappeared, strangely adding that the suitcase was waterproof. The eight-year-old's body was found in the suitcase after it was dumped into an irrigation pond. After Wadsworth posted a story of her interview with Huckaby on the Tracy Press' web site last Friday, TV reporters called Huckaby, too. She then spoke of allegedly finding a note after Cantu disappeared, claiming it must have been from the killer. Later that night, police booked the Sunday school teacher on murder charges.

Possible New Oakland Mayoral Candidate

Oakland City Councilwoman Jean Quan may be emerging as the leading challenger to ex-state Senator Don Perata's bid to become the city's next mayor. Quan's support likely will come from a coalition of progressives, labor activists, and environmentalists against the more moderate Perata, who likely will be backed predominantly by the business community. That may help explain why the Montclair area councilwoman has been pushing hard the last few months to raise taxes to fix the city's budget problems and to help maintain parks — as opposed to asking Oakland's powerful unions for concessions.

Three-Dot Roundup

Speaking of taxes, the City of Oakland is considering taxing medical pot — the only question is by how much. Some medical pot dispensers say too high a tax will force them to pass the costs along to patients. ... BART wants to raise fares and cut service, but apparently is not willing to demand concessions from its unions. ... An appellate court has green-lighted a suit against the College of Alameda brought by two students who were punished for praying on campus. ... A state panel has approved a new ferry terminal for Berkeley to be built just south of the Berkeley Pier. ... The City of Berkeley has won a court fight with U-Haul truck rental on San Pablo Avenue. ... Vermont joined Iowa as being more progressive than California when it legalized gay marriage. ... A high-ranking Obama official is trying to keep secret more torture memos by UC Berkeley law professor John Yoo. ... And ex-Oakland City Manager Robert Bobb, who is now running the Detroit public schools, is proposing to close 23 schools there and lay off 600 teachers.

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