Thursday, March 27, 2014

Berkeley to Fight Big Oil Plans to Ship Crude by Rail Through Town

By  Doug Oakley
Staff Writer, Bay Area News Group

BERKELEY -- The City Council is poised to fight plans by big oil companies to ship millions of gallons of highly flammable Bakken crude oil by rail through the city after a unanimous vote Tuesday night. 

The council voted 9-0 to pass a resolution directing the city attorney to join anticipated lawsuits over the plans to transport oil from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota and Canada through the area to refineries in the Bay Area and Southern California. The resolution also says the city will formally oppose any permits or environmental impact reports filed with local agencies where oil refineries plan to expand or begin oil shipments by rail. 

The resolution mentions a July explosion in Lac-M├ęgantic, Quebec, where 47 people were killed when a train carrying the same kind of oil derailed and crashed. Other derailments and explosions have occurred in the past year in Alabama and North Dakota. 

Most pressing for Berkeley is a Phillips 66 plan to send trains carrying 1.8 million to 2.1 million gallons of Bakken crude to its Santa Maria refinery in Nipomo. According to a draft environmental impact report for San Luis Obispo County, which could approve or deny an expansion of the refinery's rail shipments of crude, the trains would either come from the north, passing through Sacramento and the East Bay, or from the south. 

Berkeley City Manager Christine Daniel said Berkeley's fire chief, planning manager and city attorney already are working on a plan to fight the proposed rail shipments through Berkeley. 

"The planning director has already taken a look at the comments in the draft environmental impact report for San Luis Obispo and there are a number of familiar agencies there we can partner with," Daniel said. 

Echoing comments heard in public testimony, council member Max Anderson said the threat of an explosion of 2 million gallons of oil in Berkeley is too large to ignore. 

"The movement of this volatile oil through our community represents a threat we can't quite comprehend at this moment," Anderson said. "We're talking about rendering a large swath of our community uninhabitable and toxic in terms of future generations. What we are doing today is a small effort but it can grow." 

Phillips 66 Santa Maria Refinery spokesman Dean Acosta said Tuesday the company's "top priority" is transportation safety. The company began modernizing its crude rail fleet in 2012 as a "proactive precautionary measure to safely capture the opportunities of the rapidly changing energy landscape," he said. 

"Phillips 66 has one of the most modern crude rail fleets in the industry, consisting of railcars that exceed current regulatory safety requirements," Acosta added. 

In any case, Acosta said, Union Pacific Railroad will make the final determination of which route the cars would take. 

Union Pacific spokesman Aaron Hunt said a decision on which way the shipments to the Nipomo refinery would go would be "made at a later date." He said the company currently does not move any crude oil through the Bay Area. 

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Fired Director Refuses to Leave Office that Runs Berkeley's KPFA Radio Station

By Doug Oakley
Staff Writer, Bay Area News Group

BERKELEY -- The fired head of the foundation that runs the city's iconic KPFA radio station and four other stations around the country is refusing to go and is living in her office with her mother and supporters. 

Air mattresses line the hallways of the Pacifica Foundation Radio headquarters in Berkeley where former Executive Director Summer Reese cut a lock and re-entered the building March 17 after being fired four days earlier by a majority of the 22 member national board. 
Summer Reese, seated, gets a kiss from her mother Geneva Reese  in the Pacifica Foundation Radio offices in Berkeley. Summer Reese was refusing to leave the office after the board of directors fired her. (Doug Oakley)

"We have no idea what's going on over there," said board chair Margy Wilkinson from the KPFA offices which are next door to the Pacifica Foundation offices on Martin Luther King Jr. Way, adding that she has not been let inside since Reese cut the lock. "They've been sleeping there 24-7 as far as I know." 

Reese' mother, Geneva Reese, of Richmond, said she was there to support her daughter, "hold down the fort and keep out the enemies." 

Police arrived on the scene Monday after Wilkinson said a Reese supporter began yelling at her on the sidewalk in front of the two offices. Wilkinson said she noticed employees bringing documents out to a mobile shredding service and began to ask questions. No injuries or arrests were reported. 

Summer Reese, 40, said it was routine shredding, and in any case, all records are available on computer drives in the office. 

Reese was a little over a month into her three-year, $105,000 a year contract when she was fired and given no reason, she said. Wilkinson declined to say why Reese was fired, saying it was a personnel matter. 

The fight over who runs the organization has not affected operations at KPFA or other stations around the country, officials on both sides of the disagreement say. 

Wilkinson said the Pacifica board has chosen a successor to Reese and will make an announcement in the next couple of days. In the meantime, the board is considering legal action to get Reese out of the office. 

Reese, who oversaw a $13 million budget, said she will not go because the decision, supported by a bare majority of board members, was made at an unannounced meeting and is therefore void and illegal. She said the organization needs her because its books are in disarray, it's financial situation precarious. 

"I care about this organization and they want to destroy it," Reese said. "I have a fiduciary duty to stay around and it will fall apart if I am not here." 

Reese was the Pacifica interim executive director for 18 months before she signed a three-year contract Jan. 31. 

Reese said the board's displeasure with her may have started in August when she had to lay off 19 employees, or two thirds of the staff at WBAI in New York. 

Reach Doug Oakley at 925-234-1699. Follow him on Twitter at

Saturday, March 22, 2014

New Anita Hill Film Revisits Landmark Sexual Harassment Saga

By Doug Oakley
Staff Writer
Bay Area News Group

You don't see too many "I Believe You, Anita" bumper stickers anymore, but a new documentary film brings back and spins forward the nationally televised sexual harassment drama 22 years ago that pitted a young Oklahoma woman in a teal suit against a U.S. Supreme Court nominee. 

"Anita Hill, Speaking Truth to Power" makes a legacy argument for Hill as a torchbearer for gender equality as it returns to the 1991 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in which Hill, then a professor at the Oklahoma School of Law, details allegations of graphic sexual harassment from nominee Clarence Thomas who was later confirmed to the high court by a vote of 52-48. It also shows what Hill has done to continue making her story relevant a generation later. 

The film was written, directed and produced by San Francisco native and 1972 Cal graduate Freida Mock, whose documentaries have produced one Academy Award and five nominations. 

For those who followed the saga of a young unflinching lawyer who recalled sexual talk in the workplace from Thomas, the first third of the film will be a rerun that's not particularly bombshell dropping. 

Mock said the information is presented that way for a target audience of "people who weren't even born yet." Butshe conceded the reality is that those who actually go to see it in theaters will be women over age 50. 

Making the film 22 years later allowed her to bring clarity from time and hindsight, she said. She started filming in 2010 after a mutual friend connected the two at Hill's request, she said. It debuted at the Sundance Film Festival last year. 

"There are just so many facts lost in the accusations and the intensity of that brilliant exchange where they really attacked her as a character witness," Mock said. "I also thought it was a good time to take a look at sexual harassment after 22 years. The issues she raised then continue to be raised now and need to be addressed, especially in the military and on college campuses." 

It was in the 1980s that Thomas was Hill's boss at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, when Hill said the harassment took place. 

The film tells the story from Hill's view, showing how 14 men on the Senate Judiciary Committee turned her testimony around so that she was defending her own credibility, and how Thomas then accused Hill of racism; both are black. Jane Mayer, a staff writer at "The New Yorker" who co-wrote a book about the hearings with Jill Abramson, executive editor of The New York Times, calls Thomas' use of race a brilliant political move that was orchestrated by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. 

"At that point the whole story line changed," Mayer says in the film. "It was now the racial victimization of Clarence Thomas," who during the hearing vehemently denied the allegations and called Hill's testimony a "high tech lynching." 

Mock said she did not try to interview Thomas because of his reputation for not granting interviews and because "this is really her story." 

The last two-thirds of the film are more interesting for those familiar with the 1991 saga in that they show what Hill has done with her life afterward. 

Hill went back to Oklahoma to her job as a faculty member at the Oklahoma School of Law. She received all kinds of threats: death, violence, sexual. Republican lawmakers in her home state tried to get her fired, but she was tenured, so then they went after her boss. They even tried to close the school. She eventually moved to Massachusetts, where she is a professor at Brandeis University and has written two books, one about the hearing and one in 2012 called "Reimagining Equality, Stories of Race, Gender and Finding Home." 

Mock said the movie is a story about "transformation" because Hill "rose to being a spokesperson on gender equality." 

In the film, Hill said when she returned to Norman, Okla., after the hearing, she realized her life would never be the same. She had to continue what she started. 

"The pressure to keep me quiet would have been so great (in Oklahoma) that I would not have been able to do what I am doing," Hill says in the film. "If I am not public, there will be a sense of victory they will have over me. Either I was going to be inside, hiding, or I was going to go out and deal with it, and I chose the latter." 

The film shows her speaking in public at various events, with closeups of rapt young women hearing her story. At the end of the film, during a commencement address to the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, Hill tells young graduates that when they go out in the world, "honesty, dignity and courage is what will be remembered." 

Reach Doug Oakley at 925-234-1699. Follow him on Twitter at

Berkeley Voters Hot on Soda Tax, Cool on Other Taxes

By Doug Oakley
Staff Writer
Bay Area News Group

BERKELEY -- Some taxes are good, and some are bad. 

That's the sentiment of residents here who were surveyed recently about raising taxes on property and vacant buildings as well as soda and sweetened beverages. 

The poll was taken to guide the City Council on what kind of measures to put on the November ballot. 

In the survey of 503 voters conducted March 5-9, 66 percent said they would support a tax of 1 cent per ounce on sugar-sweetened beverages, while 28 percent said they would not, and 6 percent were undecided. The money would go into the city's general fund. The measure would need 50 percent of the vote to pass. 

When voters were asked the same question but with the money dedicated to obesity and diabetes prevention programs, 64 percent would vote for it. In that case it would be classified as a special tax, which needs 66 percent of the vote to pass. 

Berkeley Councilman Laurie Capitelli, a strong backer of a soda tax, said he was pleased with the results, but he added it may not be strong enough given the soda industry's deep pockets for lobbying against such a measure. 

"Most of us who are looking to move this forward have no illusions about the fact that the soda industry is going to come in with millions of dollars and campaign against it, and that's what happened in Richmond in 2012," Capitelli said. "I'd like to see Berkeley become the first city in the nation to take this on. Liquid sugar is toxic." 

Richmond voters defeated that tax. 

Berkeley voters are also in favor of taxing commercial landlords who own retail space that has been vacant for at least two years as a way to motivate them to rent the facilities to small businesses. 

Fifty-four percent said they would support a $1 per square foot tax on vacant retail space, just above the 50 percent needed to pass it. 

Capitelli, who is a retired real estate agent, said there are a lot of longtime building owners who have low property taxes and are waiting around for high-paying retail tenants that are just not going to materialize, especially with competition from the Internet. 

"The rate has gone down, and property owners have not shifted with it," Capitelli said. "For whatever reason, maybe just a lack of motivation, these people are not renting their space. They are either asking too much or have visions of a tenant who doesn't exist anymore." 

Capitelli said it doesn't help when the city of Berkeley has so many restrictions on what kind of retail businesses can go where and that it can take six to eight months to get approval to open. 

Fifty percent of voters said they would enact a $1 per square foot tax on landlords with four units or more if they have a unit vacant for at least a year. 

Also in the poll, voters would reject increases in property taxes for parks, playgrounds and a swimming pool, with none of the questions asked getting the necessary 66 percent to pass. 

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Tensions Rise in Baseball vs. Soccer Feud at Oakland High Schools

By Doug Oakley
Staff Writer
OAKLAND -- All they want is some grass to play soccer on, something more forgiving than the hard asphalt parking lot they use now. 

And when the newly arrived immigrants and refugees at Oakland International High School look at the huge expanse of fenced-off grass behind their school used exclusively by the Oakland Technical High School baseball team, they can't help but wonder, why can't we use that? 

Seizing the situation as an opportunity to learn about democracy, politics and bureaucracy, and backed by Principal Carmelita Reyes, students at the school have started lobbying the school district for their own field. They have created a website and video, , and started a petition on . They also plan to address the school board.
Students at Oakland International High School practice soccer on an asphalt parking lot behind their school.

The students from Yemen, Afghanistan, Colombia and other far flung places understand that 60 soccer players in cleats will destroy a baseball outfield and that baseball player parents paid for the field out of their own pockets. 

But it also doesn't seem fair that they have to play on asphalt while baseball players from another school get to use their school grounds, almost exclusively, for their own sport. 

"It feels like we don't belong here, like it's not our school," said Omar Benitez, who came from Colombia and who plays on the Soccer Without Borders Team in a parking lot at the school. "Everybody at the school wants a soccer field. I've seen my friends get hurt here. It's really sad." 

The baseball field on their school grounds was built in 2008 by civic-minded parents who saw an abandoned field at a closed school that was perfect for a baseball field for Oakland Tech. They got approval to do it with their own money, $400,000 of it, and made it happen. They created a nonprofit called Field of Dreams and now raise $10,000 to $15,000 a year to maintain the field. 

But at the same time the field opened, the school district decided to reopen the school site for newly arrived immigrants and refugees. 
Students from Oakland Technical High School practice on their baseball field behind Oakland International High School.

Since Oakland International opened, the soccer team at the school has been able to use the baseball field when the baseball team was not using it. But growing tensions this year over damage to the grass relegated them to an asphalt parking lot at the school. 

"Because the Oakland International students look out the window and see that field every day, they feel it's theirs, which is not the case," said Oakland Tech varsity baseball coach Bryan Bassette. "It seems very opportunistic on their end to wait for it to be built and then stake a claim to it." 

Bassette said the soccer program at Oakland International High caused about $20,000 worth of damage this fall. They had nothing to offer to pay for the damage and did not offer to help during volunteer work days. 

But Ben Gucciardi, Oakland program director for Soccer without Borders, who runs the soccer program at Oakland International High school with 60 boys and 20 girls, sees the situation differently. 

"We respect what the fathers of the baseball players did for their kids, they did something great, but they are only doing it for their kids," Gucciardi said. "You look on one side of the fence and it's all baseball players and you look on the other and its newcomer students on blacktop." 

Why have things gotten so bad between the two groups? Part of it has to do with the fact that the school district allowed a quasi-private organization to build on school property, to the exclusion of others. 

"We're also just tired of being treated badly," Gucciardi said. "We've thought we had permission to play on the field, then all of a sudden we have baseball coaches yelling at us. It's a group of Oakland Tech baseball parents that run it, but it shouldn't be to the exclusion of Oakland International." 

Philip Williams, president of Oakland Field of Dreams, said the situation has gotten worse this year because the baseball infield had to be fixed, and that meant not using it for a while. 

Both sides have been waiting for the school district to step in with some money or either put in artificial turf on the baseball field so both sides can use it or put in turf on the asphalt the soccer players now use, or both. 

"We have an under-resourced school district, and those folks at Oakland International have been impacted and they have been irritated, and I don't think it's baseball's fault," Williams said. "They have been using the field and damaging it, and the field has been fixed by volunteers from Oakland Tech." 

School district spokesman Troy Flint said the district is considering a plan to install artificial turf on the baseball outfield and on the parking lot where the soccer program now practices, so the soccer team can use both spaces. Cost should not be an issue, he said, but added that the plan is not a done deal. 

"There is some sensitivity to the needs of those who made contributions to baseball," Flint said. "We really appreciate those contributions, but we want to benefit the greatest number of students possible. Right now we have a baseball-only facility. We want to find a way that benefits multiple schools and multiple sports." 

In the meantime, Reyes can't help but empathize with her students. 

"When the field was being built I did say 'Hey, it doesn't make sense to build a baseball field in the back of our school. Can we build a multiple-use field?'" she said. "But because it was baseball parents doing it, it became baseball. We need a space at our school, so therein lies the conundrum." 

Reyes said she has heard about the district's tentative plan to put in artificial turf, but she's not going to be convinced until it happens. 

"I'm encouraged," Reyes said. "This is good, but it's not done until I see the bulldozers out there." 

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Monday, March 10, 2014

Huge Response to City's Squirrel, Gopher Plan

By Doug Oakley
Staff Writer
Bay Area News Group

Berkeley City Council members and other city officials received 81,864 emails protesting a plan to trap and kill ground squirrels and Western Pocket Gophers at Cesar Chavez Park after a February news story on the program that ran in the Oakland Tribune, city officials said. 

The emails were all in the form of a single, identical form letter, city spokesman Matthai Chakko said. 

City Councilman Kriss Worthington said most of the emails came from members and supporters of San Rafael-based In Defense of Animals, an animal rights and rescue organization. 

"It's pretty amazing," Worthington said. "It's the most emails we've gotten on any single issue in the last year, or perhaps ever. I'm happy when I get 20 emails on something." 

Chakko said the plan to kill the animals was aired at three public meetings before the City Council getting an information report on it last month "and to my knowledge not one person spoke during public comment at any of the meetings." 

Worthington has introduced an item for the March 25 City Council meeting asking the city to revisit the topic and provide more specific information, especially the plight of burrowing owls that nest below ground at the park. 

"That's one component of the issue that was never addressed," Worthington said. 

Reach Doug Oakley at 925-234-1699 or follow him on Twitter at