Archive | Politics

No Debt Crisis in U.S. Now: There’s no immediate debt crisis, Boehner says, agreeing with Obama

By Christi Parsons, Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON — The country isn’t facing an immediate debt crisis, House Speaker John Boehner(R-Ohio) said Sunday, but he argued that Congress and the president must reform entitlements to avert one that lies dead ahead.

“We all know that we have one looming,” Boehner said on ABC’s “This Week”. “And we have one looming because we have entitlement programs that are not sustainable in their current form. They’re going to go bankrupt.”

Boehner expressed agreement with Obama’s statement in an ABC interview the other day that the debt doesn’t present “an immediate crisis.”

But Boehner took issue with Obama’s assertion that it doesn’t make sense to “chase a balanced budget just for the sake of balance.”

The new spending plan from House Republicans would balance the budget in 10 years, a priority Boehner said this morning is important to the economy.

“Balancing the budget will, in fact, help our economy,” Boehner said. “It’ll help create jobs in our country, get our economy going again, and put more people back to work.”

“The fact that the government continues to spend more than a trillion dollars every year that it doesn’t have scares investors, scares businesspeople, makes them less willing to hire people,” he said.

In a wide-ranging interview, Boehner said the House would “review” any gun control measure that came out of the Senate. He restated his opposition to gay marriage, and said that, unlike his fellow Ohio Republican, Sen. Rob Portman, he can’t imagine a situation in which he would change his mind. Portman said this week that his views had evolved since he found out his son is gay.

Dwelling on budget issues, Boehner said he has a good relationship with Obama and trusts him, and that a lack of good relations is not the problem getting in the way of a sweeping deficit-reduction plan.

The challenge is in overcoming big differences, he said.

“When you get down to bottom line,” he said, “if the president believes that we have to have more taxes from the American people, we’re not going to get very far.”

“Washington has responsibility, to our seniors and our near seniors, that we firm up these programs so that they’re there for the long term,” Boehner said.

“Because if we don’t do it, not only will they not get benefits, we will have a debt crisis right around the corner. We have time to solve our problems. But we need to do it now.”

 

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AutoReturn Uses Cloud-Based Technology to Simplify Police Towing Management and Reduce Municipal Costs in Concord, California

AutoReturn, the nation’s leading municipal towing management and logistics company, has announced the successful implementation of the company’s cloud-based technology, ARIES Online, as a stand-alone technology offering to the City of Concord, Calif.

“We are pleased to bring this technology to municipalities around the country who want to be more autonomous in their towing management, but need our technology to help them,” said AutoReturn CEO John Wicker.  “Our solution transforms the way cities and residents think about municipal services, making them more transparent, efficient, and cost effective.”

AutoReturn has three solutions to assist cities with their towing needs:

  1. AutoReturn Full Service, offering a turn-key municipal towing solution
  2. AutoReturn Logistics, which layers logistics support over our technology solution
  3. ARIES Online, which allows municipalities to utilize AutoReturn’s technology and continue to manage all operations internally.


ARIES Online provides municipalities with the technology to optimize the entire towing life cycle, from the dispatch request to storage and the final disposition of the vehicle. This cloud-based technology helps transform municipal towing services and streamline this important city service, resulting in lower costs for municipalities.

By leveraging Android and iPhone smartphone apps, AutoReturn is able to electronically dispatch tow trucks closest to the call, helping reduce costs incurred by the locally owned tow companies and reducing officer wait times, increasing public safety.

“We are pleased to begin using AutoReturn’s cloud technology in Concord to better serve our citizens,” said Concord Police Chief Guy Swanger. “The decision to work with AutoReturn was based on their strong municipal experience and their leading technology that enables the City to simplify a previously complex system,” he said.

AutoReturn is the leader in municipal towing management and logistics solutions, partnering with municipalities and existing local tow operators to help achieve efficiency, superior service, and increased cost recovery. Founded in 2002 as a technology-enabled towing management and logistics company, AutoReturn has revolutionized municipal towing, making sizable investments in technology, repeatable processes, training programs, and other infrastructure. Learn more at http://www.autoreturn.com.

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Republic Urban Development Moves Full Speed Ahead on Millbrae BART Station Transit-Oriented Development

Immediately after being selected by the BART Board of Directors as the exclusive negotiating partner for the Millbrae BART Station development by a 5-2 vote, Republic Urban has committed its team and attention to establish a process with BART and the City of Millbrae that will result in the entitlement of a Transit Oriented Development at the BART station here. The station currently serves Caltrain and BART and will eventually host California High Speed Rail.

“Republic is honored to have the opportunity to develop a project that everyone will be proud of.” said Michael VanEvery, President of Republic’s West Coast Division. “We have the experience, resources and talent to make this project a national model and a great asset to the City of Millbrae and its citizens.”

Republic has already begun its planning process that will include an extensive community engagement program to ensure that the development satisfies the goals of both BART and the Millbrae community. This process will begin with scoping sessions for public input to be incorporated into planning and environmental review.

Republic’s vision for the site is a transit-oriented project that weaves into the city fabric, complements the city’s downtown and creates an attractive gateway. Republic proposes transforming the Millbrae BART station’s surrounding property into a dynamic mix of housing, retail, office and solar energy generation. This mixed-use concept will leverage the local and regional transit connections provide by SamTrans, CalTrain and BART to become an important symbol of 21st Century, regionally focused urban development.

Republic’s master plan takes advantage of the strong existing components of the Millbrae BART station and provides the best use for BART delivering a TOD that will bring riders to the system.  It adds needed housing to the City of Millbrae to assist the City in its struggle to meet ABAG housing requirements.

About Republic

Republic is a privately owned, full-service real estate investment, management and development enterprise with more than 25 years’ experience delivering quality results throughout the United States. Republic has developed award-winning real estate projects ranging from land development to historic adaptive reuse to shopping malls. The company has developed and invested in real property transactions totaling over 17 million square feet with a value in excess of $4 billion.

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U.S. bolsters missile defenses to counter North Korea threat: Hagel

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel speaks at his news conference at the Pentagon in Washington March 15, 2013. REUTERS-Yuri Gripas

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel speaks at his news conference at the Pentagon in Washington March 15, 2013.

 

By Phil Stewart and David Alexander

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced plans on Friday to bolster missile defenses in response to “irresponsible and reckless provocations” by North Korea, which threatened a preventative nuclear strike against the United States last week.

Hagel said the Pentagon would add 14 new anti-missile interceptors at Fort Greely in Alaska – an effective reversal of an early Obama administration decision – and move ahead with the deployment of a second missile-defense radar in Japan.

The Pentagon also left open the possibility of creating a site on the East Coast where the Pentagon could field more interceptors capable of striking down an incoming missile. The 14 additional interceptor deployments would cost nearly $1 billion and must be approved by Congress.

“By taking the steps I outlined today we will strengthen our homeland defense, maintain our commitments to our allies and partners, and make clear to the world that the United States stands firm against aggression,” Hagel told a news conference.

North Korea issued its threat last week to stage a preemptive nuclear attack against the United States as the United Nations readied new sanctions against Pyongyang in response to its February 12 nuclear test.

Experts say North Korea is years away from being able to hit the continental United States with a nuclear weapon, despite having worked for decades to achieve a nuclear capability.

But Hagel said the moves announced by the Pentagon were justified to stay ahead of the threat, underscored by the nuclear test and a December rocket launch that analysts believe was aimed at developing technology for an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).

Hagel also cited North Korea’s display last April of what appeared to be a road-mobile ICBM.

The Pentagon said the United States had informed China, North Korea’s neighbor and closest ally, of its decision to add more interceptors but declined to characterize Beijing’s reaction.

U.S. SAYS SYSTEMS NOT AIMED AT CHINA OR RUSSIA

Officials say its missile defense systems are not designed to counter the large number of ICBMs in arsenals in China or Russia and are focused instead on the threat from North Korea or, potentially, Iran.

Friday’s announcement came with a key caveat – the Pentagon said it would only purchase the extra interceptors if they perform appropriately in tests. The interceptors in question have not hit a target since 2008, a defense official said.

Boeing Co. is the prime contractor of the system. Key Boeing subcontractors include Raytheon Co., which makes the kill vehicle, and Orbital Sciences Corp, which makes the rocket booster.

Admiral James Winnefeld, vice chairman of the U.S. military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, expressed confidence in the missiles and said he believed the steps taken by the United States would make North Korea’s young leader, Kim Jung-un, think twice before acting on bellicose rhetoric.

“We not only intend to put the mechanics in place to deny any potential North Korean objective to launch a missile to the United States, but also to impose costs on them if they do,” he told reporters.

“And we believe that this young lad ought to be deterred by that. And if he’s not, we’ll be ready.”

The addition of another 14 interceptors amounts to a reversal of an Obama administration decision in 2010 to stop expansion of the missile interceptor system at 30 interceptors. The Bush administration had planned to deploy a total of 44.

The United States currently has 26 interceptors deployed at Fort Greely and four at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Congressman Mike Turner, chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces, said the Obama administration had began “to realize the shortcomings of its missile defense strategy.”

“Now that the administration has decided to see clearly, America can get back on the right course,” Howard McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said in a statement, lamenting lost time and resources.

In a sign of fiscal pressures facing the Pentagon, U.S. officials acknowledged they were also forgoing development of a new anti-missile interceptor that would have been deployed in Europe. They said European defense would be unaffected.

Officials said the United States would move forward with congressionally mandated environmental impact studies for alternative sites in the United States for deploying additional ground-based interceptors, if needed.

Winnefeld said locations on the East Coast were being considered but declined to offer details.

“We’re still looking at sites,” he said.

(Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Mohammad Zargham and David Brunnstrom)

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Singer Associates Public Relations in San Francisco Wins National Awards as PR Agency of the Year, Issues Management, Media Relations Awards

Sam Singer of Singer Associates Public Relations San Francisco

Singer Associates public relations and public affairs in San Francisco was awarded national honors this week for its work with the City of San Bruno to gain $70 million in restitution for the city after the PG&E explosion and fire of Sept. 9, 2010. Singer received both the award for best issues management campaign and best media relations campaign at a ceremony in Washington, D.C.

“We are humbled to receive these awards on behalf of our client,” said Sam Singer, president of Singer Associates.  “Our victory was made possible by the work of Mayor Jim Ruane and the City Council of San Bruno, City Manager Connie Jackson, the people of San Bruno, and the law firm of Meyers Nave and its attorneys Steven Meyers and Britt Strottman, and the investment firm of Prager & Co. and its senior advisor Craig Bettencourt,” he said.

PRNews is one of the public relations leading trade publications in New York for professionals in the field of public relations, public affairs, issues management, corporate social responsibility, government relations and non-profit public relations and communications.

Singer’s PRNews awards were won on the heels of the PRWeek Awards in New York City where Singer Associates was selected as the runner up for “Best Public Relations Agency of the Year.” This is the eighth time in 10 years that the agency has been a finalist for this honor, ranking it consistently as one of the nation’s top public relations and public affairs agencies.

Headquartered in San Francisco, Singer Associates is a leading public relations and digital communications agency in California and the western United States specializing in issues management, public affairs, crisis communications,  and litigation, labor relations, healthcare, transportation, commercial and residential real estate, energy, industrial, agricultural, academic and educational and employee communications. Singer agency clients include Chevron, Recology, Stanford Hospitals & Clinics, Transbay Joint Powers Authority, Oracle, The Irvine Co., Golden State Warriors, Gladstone Institutes, City of Oakland, California Pacific Medical Center, Children’s Hospital of Oakland, Calpine, AIMCO, AutoReturn, Sims Metal Management, Airbnb, BART, AC Transit, CalTrain, City of San Bruno, City of Los Angeles,  and others.

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Pistorius Rebutes Murder Charge in Court

By LYDIA POLGREEN and ALAN COWELL From the New York Times

PRETORIA, South Africa — Facing a charge of premeditated murder in the death of his girlfriend, Oscar Pistorius, the double amputee track star and one of the world’s best-known athletes, denied on Tuesday that he had intended to take her life when he opened fire at a closed bathroom door at his home last week, saying he did not know that she was on the other side.

“I fail to understand how I could be charged with murder, let alone premeditated,” he said in an affidavit read to the packed courtroom by his defense lawyer, Barry Roux, “I had no intention to kill my girlfriend.”

His assertion contradicted an earlier accusation from the prosecutor, Gerrie Nel, that Mr. Pistorius committed premeditated murder when he rose from his bed, pulled on artificial legs, walked more than 20 feet from his bedroom and pumped four bullets into the door, three of which struck his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on the other side.

It was the first time that either the prosecution or Mr. Pistorius had publicly provided details of their radically divergent accounts of a killing that has shocked the nation and made news around the world.

The case broke open last Thursday when the police arrived at Mr. Pistorius’s house in a gated community here in Pretoria to find Ms. Steenkamp dead from gunshot wounds.

Developments since then have been all the more dramatic, since Mr. Pistorius had been an emblem of triumph over adversity, his sporting achievement on a world stage blending with the glamour of celebrity at home. Mr. Pistorius, 26, and Ms. Steenkamp, 29, a model and law school graduate, had been depicted as a golden couple.

“We were deeply in love and I could not be happier,” said Mr. Pistorius’s affidavit, read at a bail hearing. “I know she felt the same way.” As it was read out loud, the athlete wept so uncontrollably that the magistrate, Desmond Nair, ordered a brief recess to permit him to regain his composure.

Magistrate Nair adjourned the case until Wednesday without ruling on whether the athlete would be granted bail.

Mr. Pistorius said he and Ms. Steenkamp had gone to bed early on Wednesday night, but in the middle of the night he heard a noise from the bathroom and went to investigate on his stumps, not his artificial legs.

“I am acutely aware of violent crime being committed by intruders entering homes,” he said in the affidavit. “I have received death threats before. I have also been a victim of violence and of burglaries before. For that reason I kept my firearm, a 9 mm Parabellum, underneath my bed when I went to bed at night.”

He was nervous, he said, because the bathroom window did not have burglar bars and contractors who had been working there had left ladders behind.

The room was dark, he said, and he did not realize that Ms. Steenkamp was not in bed. He felt vulnerable and fearful without his prosthetics and opened fire at the door, he said, calling to Ms. Steenkamp to telephone the police.

Only then did he realize that she was not in bed, he said. He put on his artificial legs and tried to kick down the door before breaking it open with a cricket bat to discover Ms. Steenkamp.

He carried her downstairs, he said, and “she died in my arms.”

Earlier, Magistrate Nair said he could not exclude premeditation in the killing, so Mr. Pistorius’s bail application will be much more difficult. But he said he would consider downgrading the charges depending on evidence at subsequent hearings.

Mr. Nel said Ms. Steenkamp, who had just made her debut in a reality television show, had been in a tiny room measuring less than 20 square feet when the shots rang out. “She could not go anywhere,” he said. “It must have been horrific.”

“She locked the door for a purpose. We will get to that purpose,” he said.

But Mr. Roux, a lawyer representing Mr. Pistorius, said the defense would “submit that this is not a murder.” He said there was no evidence that Mr. Pistorius and Ms. Steenkamp had fought and no evidence of a motive. He also challenged the prosecution to produce a witness to corroborate its version of Mr. Pistorius’s actions.

“Scratch the veneer” of the prosecution case, he said, and there is no evidence to support it.

“All we really know is she locked herself behind the toilet door and she was shot,” Mr. Roux said.

Mr. Nel, the prosecutor, however, declared: “If I arm myself, walk a distance and murder a person, that is premeditated. The door is closed. There is no doubt. I walk seven meters and I kill.”

He added: “The motive is, ‘I want to kill.’ That’s it.”

If convicted of premeditated murder, Mr. Pistorius would face a mandatory life sentence, though under South African law he would be eligible for parole in 25 years at the latest. South Africa abolished the death penalty in 1995.

Mr. Pistorius was appearing in court for the second time since Friday. He arrived looking grim-faced, his jaw set. But, as during his earlier appearance, he broke down in tears when the prosecutor said that he had “killed an innocent woman.”

As the court went into a midday recess, Ms. Steenkamp’s private funeral service began in the southern coastal city of Port Elizabeth, her hometown, with six pallbearers carrying a coffin swathed in a white cloth and white flowers as mourners expressed dismay and rage. More than 100 relatives and friends attended the funeral at the Victoria Park crematorium.

“Why? Why my little girl? Why did this happen? Why did he do this?” June Steenkamp, the victim’s mother, told The Times of Johannesburg.

Gavin Venter, a former jockey who worked for the victim’s father, a horse trainer, said on Tuesday: “She was an angel. She was so soft, so innocent. Such a lovely person. It’s just sad that this could happen to somebody so good.”

The killing has stunned a nation that had elevated Mr. Pistorius as an emblem of the ability to overcome acute adversity and a symbol of South Africa’s ability to project its achievements onto the world stage.

Mr. Pistorius was born without fibula bones and both of his legs were amputated below the knee as an infant. But he became a Paralympic champion and the first Paralympic sprinter to compete against able-bodied athletes at the 2012 London Olympics.

But several companies have now withdrawn lucrative sponsorships and his case has played into an emotional debate in South Africa about violence against women.

Members of the Women’s League of the ruling African National Congress protested outside the building, waving placards saying “No Bail for Pistorius,” Reuters reported.

Lydia Polgreen reported from Pretoria, and Alan Cowell from London.

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Closing in on Truth and Justice in the Chevron Ecuador Case: Overwhelming Evidence of Fraud by Plaintiffs Against Chevron: The Global Lawyer

On Jan. 28 Chevron Corporation filed overwhelming new testimonial and documentary evidence of fraud by the Ecuadorian plaintiffs who hold a $19 billion judgment against it–including a declaration by a former judge that the judgment itself was procured through bribery. “Truth and justice are elusive,” ran the headline by Thomson Reuters. With all due respect to my former colleague Alison Frankel, who sets the standard for litigation journalism, this reaction is deeply wrong.

The first time I met the plaintiffs’ lead lawyer, Steven Donziger, I asked him if he was prepared to denounce the lawyers who rigged their cases against Dole Food Company in Nicaragua. Ironically, he answered yes. In refusing to condemn Donziger, many of us are now failing the same test.

Commentators continue to find balance where there is none, with the honorable exception of Roger Parloff. Human rights advocates, excepting Douglas Cassel, have rallied behind the allegations that Chevron is responsible for an environmental calamity in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Distinguished counsel in the U.S., Canada, Brazil, and Argentina are avidly seeking to enforce the Ecuadorian judgment. And most disturbingly, the enforcing courts are listening, with an Argentine court ruling on Jan. 30 that 40 percent of Chevron’s local affiliates’ revenues should be frozen pending enforcement.

Plaintiffs spokesperson Karen Hinton fairly notes: “We have not put forth every argument that we will make in briefs and arguments to jury if there ever is a jury trial.” And indeed, for a journalist to weigh evidence that will be considered by a jury is often inappropriate. But in this case it’s imperative. I aim to show here that the documentary evidence of fraud (nevermind the testimony) is now virtually unanswerable. To pretend otherwise is to encourage irresponsible courts to reward the alleged fraud.

Even before last week’s evidentiary bombshells, adjudicators outside Ecuador who have weighed the evidence have consistently condemned the plaintiffs. Eight U.S. courts have now found a prima facie showing of fraud under the crime fraud exception to privilege. In allowing Donziger to be deposed in November 2010, U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan in New York found “substantial evidence” of misbehavior. The verdict against Chevron came on Valentine’s Day 2011, and three weeks later Kaplan enjoined worldwide enforcement based on “abundant evidence” that due process had been violated. It is vital to note that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in no way questioned this factual finding when it reversed Kaplan in January 2012 after examining New York’s law on recognizing foreign judgments. (Seehere and here.) Finally, a panel of international arbitrators found the fraud allegations persuasive enough to order the Republic of Ecuador, also in January 2012, to take all measures to suspend enforcement.

In 2010 I disagreed with Roger Parloff that the plaintiffs’ suit was crippled, and I queried whether Chevron’s lawyers at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher had “botched the kill step.” The central fraud allegation at the time was that the plaintiffs had ghostwritten the damages recommendation of the main court-appointed expert, which they had for years passed off as independent. Chevron’s evidence on the “Cabrera report” was so strong–the expert was essentially caught on film taking orders–that the plaintiffs eventually admitted this ghostwriting (without admitting to fraud). I was among the first to decry this scandal, and to take seriously the companion allegations of judicial intimidation. But the plaintiffs found new experts, and, when the verdict later came down, they could say it was untainted by Cabrera. I reasoned that Chevron had delivered its knockout punch too soon, and had made a potentially fatal mistake by giving the plaintiffs time to try curing the taint before a final judgment.

My logic was sound. But it seems that I was too kind in assuming that these plaintiffs were capable of taint-free litigation.

After a long windup, the real knockout punch landed last week. Although few noticed except Parloff, Chevron has over the past year amassed serious evidence of ghostwriting in the Ecuadorian judgment itself. Last week Chevron added to that evidence, and a former judge in the case, Alberto Guerra, stepped onto center stage with a firsthand account of the alleged judicial ghostwriting arrangement. Guerra swears that parties routinely paid him (after his own removal from the bench) to ghostwrite orders in their favor for Judge Nicolas Zambrano, and that (after Chevron declined his services) the Ecuadorian plaintiffs paid Guerra to play that role in the Chevron case. Finally, Guerra says that the plaintiffs promised Zambrano a half million dollar bribe to let them ghostwrite the judgment themselves, with a few tweaks by Guerra. At least no one can say that these allegations are curable.

The plaintiffs’ initial response was to deny all, while noting–correctly–that Guerra has been disgraced on multiple counts, and that Chevron is paying him a king’s ransom. Hinton also finds it implausible that Chevron, in all its desperate efforts to discredit the case, never previously disclosed Guerra’s overtures to Chevron.

Personally, I would not expect the bag man to be a boy scout and a philanthropist. But let’s concede for the sake of argument that Guerra’s testimony will be completely discredited by the New York jury that is set to hear Chevron’s claims of fraud and racketeering at a trial before Judge Kaplan starting Oct. 15. And let’s suppose that the jury discounts the egregious Cabrera affair and all the other multifarious allegations that appalled Judge Kaplan and the arbitrators. What is the new documentary evidence of incurable fraud?

Most importantly, Chevron has forensically traced passages on 60 pages of the 188-page final judgment to seven files from Donziger’s hard drive, and one from his associate’s. According to Chevron, these files were not in the court record. This is confirmed by two Chevron experts–one who reviewed the 200,000-page record electronically, and one who reviewed it by hand.

After reviewing most of this evidence in a discovery action, a Maryland federal court concluded on Jan. 25: “Chevron has shown to anyone with common sense that this is a blatant cut and paste exercise.”

The plaintiffs have not shown any pages to the contrary, and they have not produced court-stamped copies of their supposed filings. Plaintiffs’ spokesperson Hinton says, “We believe that those documents were entered into the court record.” However, Chevron says that that plaintiffs have taken no such position in U.S. court, and Hinton was unable to show me otherwise. Instead, she directed me to a July 2011 filing by plaintiffs lawyer Pablo Fajardo in Lago Agrio, where he argued that Chevron must be behind the mysterious alien passages in the judgment. Fajardo reasoned that Chevron knew from my “Botched the Kill Step” column that it needed to discredit the final ruling, and suspiciously began to claim that Zambrano received “secret assistance” on the day after the verdict, before the record could be reviewed. I am flattered that the plaintiffs lawyers are aficionados of my work, and not just overplotted spy fiction.

It seems that the only response plaintiffs can make in court is to grasp at a speculative theory. At a discovery hearing on Dec. 21, a lawyer representing the Ecuadorian parties in New York, Larry Veselka of Smyser Kaplan & Veselka, floated the idea that Chevron itself might have secretly “slipped” Donziger’s files to the judge who handed down the $19 billion verdict. Judge Kaplan was bemused: “So they wrote parts of this decision hammering them as bad as anybody in world history has ever been hammered so that they could then attack it because the judge copied the bad stuff from them. Oh, please, Mr. Veselka. No. If I misunderstood you, please tell me….I have to give you credit for imagination on that, Mr. Veselka. I mean, really.”

Besides adding to its unanswered evidence showing plaintiffs’ fingerprints on the final judgment, Chevron last week produced files from Guerra’s hard drive showing that he ghostwrote for Zambrano nine preliminary judicial orders against Chevron, amounting to about 300 pages, and two non-Chevron judgments, including one shortly before the $19 billion verdict.

In response to the evidence from Guerra’s hard drive, Hinton offers a speculative theory similar to the one mocked by Judge Kaplan. “Is Chevron capable of intentionally placing information on Guerra’s computer?” she asks. “Yes. Do we know that? No. Other unethical and illegal conduct by Chevron during and after the trial would lead me to believe it’s possible.” The plaintiffs’ accusations against Chevron are reviewed in recent press releases (here and here), with links to court filings that discuss them more systematically. To date, none of the plaintiffs’ allegations of illegality by Chevron has been accepted by a U.S. court.

To top it all off, Chevron has produced two deposit slips showing $1000 deposits to Guerra’s bank account, with a signature and national identity number that Chevron attributes to an administrative assistant for the plaintiffs. On Oct. 27, 2009, two days before the first deposit, plaintiffs lawyer Fajardo emailed Donziger: “The puppeteer won’t move his puppet until the audience doesn’t pay him something.” Exactly a month later–on the same day as the second deposit–another plaintiffs’ advocate, Luis Yanza, emailed Donziger: “[T]he budget is higher in relation to the previous months, since we are paying the puppeteer.” Chevron interprets other emails to show that “puppet” and “puppeteer” were code for Zambrano and Guerra.

Hinton denies this, and says “puppeteer” may simply have been a bantering reference to one of the plaintiffs’ consultants. She says that no one “representing the Ecuadorians” made a deposit to Guerra, and that both the signature and ID number on the bank deposit slips are too visually obscure to prove the depositor’s identity. (I find the ID number on one slip quite easy to read. Readers can judge for themselves at the bottom of this image.)

So the documentary evidence seems to show that Guerra received two payments from the plaintiffs at roughly the same time that the plaintiffs chatted about paying a puppeteer; that Guerra ghostwrote nine preliminary orders for Zambrano in the Chevron case; that Guerra had a continuing ghostwriting relationship with Zambrano during the relevant period; and that the plaintiffs’ electronic fingerprints are on nearly a third of Zambrano’s final judgment against Chevron. The only significant point in Guerra’s testimony that’s not directly corroborated is Zambrano’s bribe.

Nor is Chevron done. It is seeking further bank records through its discovery action in Miami. Presumably, it will depose Donziger again before the close of New York discovery on May 31. And if Guerra’s arrangement with Zambrano was as extensive as his testimony suggests, then I suspect that Chevron will put into evidence a very large number of other ghostwritten judgments.

If proven, the relationship between Guerra and Zambrano would not be unique. In its 2010 report on Ecuador, the U.S. State Department stated that judges there are sometimes corrupt, and referred to media accounts on “the susceptibility of the judiciary to bribes for favorable decisions and resolution of legal cases and on judges parceling out cases to outside lawyers, who wrote the judicial sentences and sent them back to the presiding judge for signature.” Back in the day, experts for the plaintiffs presciently warned U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff in Manhattan that he should not ship the case back to Ecuador because of pervasive judicial corruption.

All this might incline a jury to credit ex-judge Guerra’s account of bribery. My point is that the existing documentary evidence, on its own, leads inescapably to the conclusion that the judgment is unenforceable as a result of corruption. Of course each party is entitled to a full legal defense on each legal theory in the New York civil trial (and any possible future criminal proceedings). I am not trying to hang the plaintiffs in advance. I am trying to expose the worthlessness of the judgment that, even now, they are racing to enforce.

The “truth” here is not elusive. On the contrary, we will rarely find a case where the truth may be established more fully. It took the discovery of documentary film outtakes due to an on-camera slip by the plaintiffs; the green light given to Section 1782 discovery as a result (see here and here); the near-complete piercing of Donziger’s privilege; and the extraordinarily high stakes that have justified Chevron’s unprecedented commitment of resources and unwillingness to settle.

In calling “justice” elusive, Alison Frankel is on firmer ground. But even there, I do not fully agree.

Some may resist Chevron’s protestations of victimhood because they believe that corporations are evil. It should be self-evident that seeking corporate accountability from this perspective is little better than racist prosecution. Others inexcusably assume that even if the plaintiffs were overzealous, Chevron must be guilty of the underlying charges, because it seems plausible and because the plaintiffs exaggerate so loudly and often. Frankel makes the more respectable argument that we will simply never know.

Actually, we have a large body of scientific evidence. I condemn Texaco (Chevron’s predecessor) for using the long-disfavored industry practices of dumping toxic sludge into unlined pits and pouring the water used in oil production back into the environment. But it cannot simply be presumed that massive contamination spread and led to massive health consequences. I believe that litigation is a horrendous context for scientific sampling, and I hope that the U.N. Environmental Programme’s alternative factfinding model in Nigeria is emulated. But the fact is that even the plaintiffs’ samples show no significant groundwater contamination except below the pits.

After wading into the scientific evidence on both sides–see here and here–I previously concluded that, setting aside the legal defenses, a factfinder in a trial conducted under the rule of law might find Chevron liable for a soil cleanup with a maximum plausible price tag of $1 billion. Douglas Cassel later reached a similar conclusion.

So, no, we will never know the outcome of a just trial on the billion-dollar claim of environmental devastation that passes the straight-face test. I agree with Frankel that this is a great shame. But we do know that the next $18 billion of the judgment is unjust to Chevron–and that wrong can be righted.

By far the greatest injustice is that the indigenous residents of the Ecuadorian Amazon suffer serious health and social problems. But we do not have the evidence to pin much blame for this on Chevron. And we should not forget the responsibility of Ecuador, which has operated the oil project at issue since 1990 and was the majority owner for most of the period when Texaco was the operator. What’s more, Ecuador collected so much in taxes that, when Chevron won an arbitration for diverted oil revenues, the award needed to be reduced from about $700 million to $100 million. Ecuador chose to spend precious little of its oil windfall on social services in the Amazon region. Sadly, this injustice is not amenable to litigation, except at the far frontiers of economic and social rights.

The likely truth of Chevron’s core allegations should now be evident to anyone who studies the evidence without ideological blinders–including the attorneys and judges. If the enforcing lawyers no longer believe in good faith that the judgment is pure, then they should withdraw from the case. That includes Patton Boggs, which is not implicated in any fraud (discounting Chevron’s most aggressive theories), but certainly finds itself in an awkward position. The litigation funder that brought Patton Boggs into the case, Burford Capital, has not only sold its interest, but accused the plaintiffs of defrauding them. Patton Boggs might wish to ponder what its lead lawyer on the case, James Tyrrell Jr., told me in December 2010: “I’m certainly not here to join in any fraudulent effort….My mission is to see that a judgment on the merits, warranting international respect, is entered in Ecuador, and, if we win, to enforce it.”

My most fervent hope is that Ecuador’s National Court of Justice reclaims its nation’s dignity by overturning this disgraceful and doomed judgment in the pending appeal. If it does, the enforcement actions will go away. If it does not, I optimistically believe that the enforcement actions will be dismissed, because they are now too shameful for even the most renegade court to approve.

Come what may, I expect Chevron to seek revenge on the plaintiffs’ team in the New York fraud trial, and to demand in arbitration that Ecuador cover its record legal bills. It would be fitting if Chevron donated such a recovery to environmental and health projects in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Chevron is closing in on truth and, in a very partial way, closing in on justice.

Clarification: With regard to bank slips that Chevron contends support its accusations of bribery, plaintiffs spokesperson Karen Hinton clarifies that she doesn’t contest that a national ID number is distinctly visible on the documents. Rather, Hinton told us she was referring to an account number that is partly redacted.

By Michael D. Goldhaber

The Litigation Daily

 

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Mayor Lee Announces New Videos to Celebrate San Francisco Companies & Innovators

Mayor Edwin M. Lee today launched the San Francisco is Where the World Changes Campaign with a six minute video celebrating the San Francisco-based companies and innovators and promoting San Francisco as the ideal place for doing business for potential companies and entrepreneurs and for workforce and investment.


“It is important that we celebrate and publicize the people and companies that make San Francisco the Innovation Capital of the World,” said Mayor Lee. “These great San Franciscans and their companies are continuing San Francisco’s history of changing the world. From our immigrants who built the railways, to the hippie culture that spawned a generation of social change to the products and ideas these innovation companies are currently growing, San Francisco is and will continue to be the place to come to create the next thing.”
The campaign kicks off with today’s six minute short film and two 60 second commercials highlighting some of San Francisco’s innovative companies and entrepreneurs. The cast of the film includes:


·      Ron Conway, Chairman, sf.citi

·        Craig Dalton, Co-Founder, DODOcase

·        Jack Dorsey, Founder/CEO, Square

·        Art Gensler, CEO/Founder, Gensler

·        Heather Hiles, Founder/CEO, Pathbrite

·        Lynn Jurich, Co-CEO, Sunrun

·        Regis B. Kelly, Ph.D., Director, California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences (QB3)

·        David Lee, Founder/Managing Partner, SV Angel

·        Laura Weidman Powers, Founding Executive Director, Code2040

·        Kevin Yeaman, CEO, Dolby

“Cities, states and even countries round the world are competing to be centers of innovation but thankfully, largely because of Mayor Lee’s enthusiastic support, San Francisco is in the lead,” said QB3 Director Dr. Regis Kelly. “In his Where the World Changes campaign, the Mayor is encouraging innovators in diverse fields ranging from social media, to biotechnology, to design, to see themselves as members of a single, creative San Francisco based, community. I feel honored to participate.”

“San Francisco brings innovation, entrepreneurship, collaboration and vision together in a way that I have not experienced anywhere else,” said Sunrun co-CEO Lynn Jurich. “Where the World Changes highlights this unique environment, a setting that has helped Sunrun thrive.”

Distribution of the videos will include the running of the thirty second spots in local taxi cabs and on SFGTV, as well as distribution through our partners in local and international trade offices. This coincides with the launch of www.wheretheworldchanges.com <http://www.wheretheworldchanges.com> , a website inviting people to learn more about moving or starting their businesses in San Francisco.

About the Where the World Changes Campaign
The Where the World Changes Campaign is a partnership between the Office of Economic and Workforce Development, San Francisco Center for Economic Development and San Francisco Travel designed to promote San Francisco as an ideal location to start and grow a business.  With financial contributions from Alexandria Real Estate Equities and in kind services from Automattic/Modern Legend/Vreeland Productions, this campaign serves to capture a collective understanding of what makes San Francisco such an incredible place to start and grow a business, to hold a conference, to shoot a film, to live and play, to raise a family and to just enjoy a visit.

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On Scene with Bill Wilson: Inaugurations

I didn’t realize until I sat down to write this article how my inaugural memories are in perfect alignment this year. It is 100th anniversary of the inaugural of the President with the same last name, the 40th anniversary of my first attendance at a Presidential Inaugural and the 20th anniversary of my participation in an Inaugural parade.  


Woodrow Wilson becomes President on March 4, 1913
Copyright Underwood & Underwood, NY


The only reason I purchased this photo is that President Woodrow Wilson and I share the same last name, but as far as I know there is no blood relation. What I find most interesting about this photo is the lack of visible women. This was the last inaugural before women got the right to vote in 1917.

President Nixon takes the oath for a second time with his family in attendance.
Copyright Bill Wilson


In April of 1972 I started a job on Capitol Hill working as a clerical assistant for a Democratic Senator. There wasn’t much demand for tickets to see the inaugural in person, but for me it was an opportunity I didn’t want to pass up.  This inaugural was held on the east side of the Capitol, where traditionally it had been held until Ronald Reagan decided it should be held on the west side of the Capitol with its view of the National Mall.  

President and Mrs. Carter become the first and only couple to walk the entire route of the Inaugural parade in 1977.
Copyright Bill Wilson


When I saw the inaugural parade of Richard Nixon in 1973 I never guessed that one day I would be a participant in one. In 1977 I couldn’t get tickets to the swearing-in so I found a vantage point in front of the Department of Labor Building were I witnessed Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter walking down Constitution Avenue (in the blocks before it joins Pennsylvania Avenue)  and felt the electricity of the crowd as people realized they were walking.


 

The NAMES Project contingent lining up for the Inaugural parade of William Jefferson Clinton January 20, 1993. Bill Wilson (left) Elizabeth Glazer (right).  Photo from the collection of Bill Wilson

The NAMES Project contingent was one of the last contingents to march in the 1993 Inaugural parade. It made for a very long day. Among the marchers with our contingent were Elizabeth Glazer and Bob Hattoy, the two HIV positive individuals who addressed the 1993 Democratic National Convention and Mary Fisher, the HIV positive individual who had addressed the 1993 Republican National Convention. Some of us carried panels with the names of people who had died of AIDS and some people carried banners with quotes from Bill Clinton’s campaign speeches.


The President and Mrs. Clinton, The Vice President and Mrs. Gore and their friends in the Presidential reviewing stand as The NAMES Project contingent passes. Photo from the collection of Bill Wilson

The parade went off with military precision and pace. The sun was setting as we stepped off and people were leaving to get warm and ready for the night’s festivities. You could see people in the buildings as you passed and hear people as the clapped and yelled encouragement. It wasn’t long before we made the turn from 15th Street onto Pennsylvania Avenue which was lit by television lights so it was as light as day.  We were in front of the President.  I was marching on the side closest to the Reviewing stand, carrying a panel I had made for Dan Bradley who had headed the Legal Services Corp. and worked with Mrs. Clinton. I swear that as I looked up the President pointed to me and mouthed the words, “I knew him.” I nodded and responded with a thumbs up. I wasn’t sure that I hadn’t imagined the whole thing. So after we continued to 17th Street I said to the person on the other end of the banner, “Did the President just acknowledge us or was it my imagination?” She assured me he had pointed to us. I have to admit that I still was skeptical. I probably would have remained so except that in the article Taylor Branch wrote for “Life” magazine about the Inauguration was the following quote, “…a sudden hush announced the approach of the Aids Quilt. The Clintons and Gores looked somberly to the floor at first, uncertain how to fit mortal desperation into the festivity. But as the Aids marchers waved buoyantly, they responded with smiles and raised thumbs. Paired marchers carried banners honoring selected AIDS victims: Max Robinson, Brad Davis, Congressman Stewart McKinney, Ryan White. ‘He was head of the Legal Services Corporation’ said the President, pointing to a banner for Dan Bradley.”


President Clinton looking at NAMES Project panels on World Aids Day December 1, 1993 before a speech at Georgetown University  Copyright White House Photo


The panel I made for Dan Bradley was sewn together with other panels that were carried in the Inaugural Parade and made into several 12 x12 sections. One of those sections was displayed as President Clinton spoke at Georgetown University on World AIDS Day December 1, 1993

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Mayor Lee Proposes Citywide Ban On Extra-Lethal Hollow Point Ammunition & New Notifications


Hollow-Point Ammunition Designed for Law Enforcement, Already Illegal to Purchase in San Francisco, Would Be Illegal to Possess Under New Laws; Announces School Safety Training for SFPD Officers

Today Mayor Edwin M. Lee joined by Supervisor Malia Cohen and Police Chief Greg Suhr announced proposed new laws to make it illegal for civilians in San Francisco to possess certain types of particularly dangerous hollow point ammunition, bullets specifically designed for use by law enforcement, but commercially available for legal purchase. Mayor Lee also announced a proposed ordinance to require automatic notification to police when a person in San Francisco purchases 500 rounds or more of any type of ammunition in one transaction.

The proposed new San Francisco laws will complement anticipated State and Federal gun control legislative efforts. Mayor Lee strongly supports U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein’s efforts to restrict weapons of war on America’s streets and will support legislative proposals on gun control anticipated in 2013 at the state level.

“The tragic mass-murder in Connecticut broke the heart of the nation, and now is the moment to take aggressive action against the most egregious types of hollow-point ammunition,” said Mayor Lee. “These bullets do not belong in the hands of civilians, and we want to make possession of them illegal. We also need to create an early warning system to alert us when individuals make a massive purchase of ammunition, because we must do everything we possibly can to prevent another tragedy. I strongly support Federal and State efforts to enhance gun control laws, but in the meantime, we’re doing what we can locally to get the most offensive types of ammunition off of our streets.”

“All of us wept with the parents and families of Newtown Connecticut last week,” said Supervisor Malia Cohen. “But the legislation and police efforts we announced today are about much more than the tragic incident that occurred last week, it is also about the senseless violence that is occurring in our neighborhoods here in San Francisco. As a City we must use every legislative and executive power available to us to continue to address the causes and impacts of senseless gun violence occurring in our neighborhoods, and I believe that these two pieces of legislation are a strong step forward in this effort.”

The San Francisco Police Department, under the leadership of Chief Suhr, also announced plans to train all new Academy recruits in the tactics of school safety. Every current officer in the department will undergo retraining in similar tactical skills. Chief Suhr also announced another gun buyback event after the success of this weekend’s event.

“The reduction of violent crime in San Francisco remains our #1 priority,” said Police Chief Greg Suhr. “Obviously, our work with children demonstrates our commitment to keep San Francisco safe for them. We appreciate the efforts of our elected officials, particularly Senator Feinstein and Mayor Lee for their work in banning assault weapons and high capacity magazines that have no place in today’s civilized society.”

“At San Francisco General Hospital, the City’s only trauma center, we treated 381 gunshot victims in 2007 and 182 last year,” said Dr. Andre Campbell, a surgeon at San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center.  “While this is a significant drop, I would submit to you that one is too many.”

The City recently defeated the National Rifle Association’s motion for a preliminary injunction to stop San Francisco from enforcing its laws requiring safe storage of handguns in the home and prohibiting the sale of hollow-point ammunition.  The district court found that municipal safe-storage laws and bans against the purchase of “enhanced-lethality ammunition” did not violate the Second Amendment and therefore remained valid. These new proposed laws against possession hinge on the same legal concept that certain kinds of ammunition, manufactured and marketed for law enforcement, do not belong in the hands of the public.

Earlier this week, more than 750 mayors from across the country, led by the Mayors Against Illegal Guns coalition, sent a letter to the President and Congress calling for comprehensive gun control reform, including three specific strategies: requiring every gun buyer to pass a criminal background check, getting high capacity rifles and ammunition magazines off our streets, and making gun trafficking a federal crime. Mayor Lee was a signatory on that letter. 

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Mayor Lee Launches “Peace At Home” Campaign To End Domestic Violence

Public Awareness Campaign Launches During Holidays, City Increases Services for Domestic Violence Victim

Today Mayor Edwin M. Lee joined by Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, District Attorney George Gascón, the San Francisco Department on the Status of Women and anti-domestic violence advocates launched San Francisco’s “Peace at Home” campaign to raise awareness about domestic violence.

“With this concerted effort to get the word out about domestic violence hotlines and services, we are striving to create peace in every San Francisco home, making sure we reach our immigrant communities,” said Mayor Lee. “After ten years of reforms and partnership with community agencies, San Francisco has finally had a year without a single case of domestic violence homicide. Now, more than ever, we need to continue this important work.”

“I’m pleased that my colleagues on the Board of Supervisors have expressed support for $750,000 in additional funding for legal services for immigrants who are victims of this crime, additional public outreach, and expanded policy work to advance our citywide effort to end domestic violence,” said Board President Chiu.

“Domestic violence is a serious and dangerous crime that knows no economic, racial, sexual or ethnic boundaries,” said District Attorney Gascón. “San Francisco is certainly not an exception. Over the last two years my office has seen a 98 percent increase in domestic violence cases. We want people in the community to know that domestic violence will not be tolerated and we are working together to stop the cycle of violence.”

The “Peace at Home” campaign is the first in a year-long series of actions to heighten public awareness about services for victims of domestic violence. In January, the campaign continues through ads in English, Spanish, and Chinese in high-traffic MUNI and walking routes throughout San Francisco. The ads feature a diverse array of women and with a message that “Domestic Violence is a crime, and no one deserves to be abused. You have options. San Francisco Responds 24 Hours A Day.”

Anti-domestic violence advocates also unfurled a flag and artwork of images, words, and symbols from the 24 anti-domestic violence agencies funded by the City. Printed cards bearing the artwork and hotline numbers in multiple languages will be distributed to schools, libraries and recreation centers.

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Stanford’s Hoover Pavilion Gets a Beautiful Rennovation and Update

After more than half a century, the rooftop of the Hoover Pavilion is once again graced with a finial, an architectural ornament akin to the cherry on a sundae. On a cold and overcast morning in late November, a crane hoisted the 500-pound aluminum sculpture more than 105 feet off the ground. It was then lowered onto a kind of pedestal — a cube-shaped concrete stack, sheathed in copper, that sits atop the Hoover Pavilion’s tower — and bolted into place by construction workers.

The undertaking capped a 14-month, $50-million renovation of the Art Deco building, which stands at the corner of Quarry and Palo roads on the Stanford campus. The Hoover Pavilion will house several community physicians, a medical pharmacy, the Stanford Neurology Clinic, Stanford Internal Medicine, Stanford Family Medicine, the Stanford Center for Integrative Medicine, the Stanford Coordinated Care Clinic, the main branch of the Stanford Health Library and a café.

“This was Palo Alto’s skyscraper in 1931,” said Laura Jones, PhD, director of heritage services and university archeologist at Stanford, referring to the year the building first opened. She stood in the parking lot watching the crane, her hands stuffed into the pockets of a brown leather jacket. “It’s such a great building,” she said. “I think it’s pretty exciting that it’s been revitalized and will be reopening soon. People will have a chance to see how fabulous it is.”

The edifice, which has a 105-foot-tall tower and 50-foot-tall wings, had become dilapidated over the decades. Before renovation work began last year, the façade was faded and dirty, with air-conditioning units protruding from windows. Now the roughly 82,000-square-foot building has been restored to its former glory on the outside and refurbished to accommodate modern medicine on the inside. (Those AC units are gone, too, thanks to the installation of centralized heating and cooling.)

The building is scheduled to reopen Dec. 17. Originally constructed as the Palo Alto Hospital, the building was designed in the style of a ziggurat — a terraced pyramid built by Babylonians and other denizens of ancient Mesopotamia. Its south and east wing, which was added in 1939, are each four stories and connect to a five-story tower, atop of which sits a sixth-story penthouse. The ziggurat form can be seen in many Art Deco skyscrapers and large structures constructed in the early 20th century.

An iron finial once stood atop the tower of this old hospital: The adornment consisted of a spherical object, resembling a cross between a gyroscope and an armillary sundial, on a pole supported by a four-prong base. But then the finial was removed, possibly for use as scrap metal during World War II. Nobody knows for sure.

In any case, the new finial is an exact replica, except that it is made of aluminum. “Fortunately, on this project we had significant documentation to show what it originally looked like,” said Erin Ouborg, a designer and materials conservation specialist at Page & Turnbull, the architectural firm in charge of restoring the building’s historic façade. “We had the original construction drawings with all the details.”

“It’s an interesting building without the finial,” Jones added. “But with the finial, it’s just superb.”

The original, decorative terra-cotta paneling that covers portions of the building’s facade was in remarkably good shape, said Rachel DeGuzman, a senior project manager at Stanford Hospital & Clinics who oversaw the renovation project. The same couldn’t be said of the steel-reinforced concrete making up the building’s floors; decades of remodeling had left a motley array of boreholes in many of the slabs, and they needed extensive patching, she said.

Some repair work also was needed to decorative relief panels in the façade, and hundreds of repairs had to be made to the exterior walls, Ouborg said. In addition, the clay tiles on the sloping roof of the tower were replaced. Original Art Deco grillwork and other embellishments, such as a rectangular metal angel above the entrance to what is now the health library, remain intact.

But the interior of the building has been largely reconfigured to support the clinics that will be there. The building appears to be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places and the California Register of Historical Resources, according to Architectural Resources Group Inc., a San Francisco-based firm. The Hoover Pavilion renovation is part of the Stanford University Medical Center Renewal Project.

 

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The Supreme Court and Gay Marriage: Fearing Fear Itself

It’s an understatement to say that there’s some apprehension among many gays and lesbians about the Supreme Court’s decision to take up the Prop 8 case. Forget what you’ve heard from gay leaders: They’re showing a unified front, particularly because it was Chad Griffin, now the president of the largest group, the Human Rights Campaign, who spearheaded the challenge to Prop 8 as co-founder of the American Foundation for Equal Rights. Gay leaders aired their public disagreements about the case back in 2009, when it was first launched, sometimes bitterly. The case has gone great, and that has melted away much of the tension. Still, though on the record they’re all on the same page now, and no one wants to cross the biggest and most influential gay group, privately the fear is palpable.

Legal experts expected that the court would hear a challenge to the rulings that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional, and most LGBT activists have been relatively comfortable that they’ll prevail on that case. However, few legal experts thought that the court would hear the Prop 8 case. The Ninth Circuit Court had narrowed the ruling to apply solely to California, giving the Supreme Court a perfect out to leave the issue of whether marriage is a constitutional right or not to another day, when there would be more acceptance of marriage equality and the court wouldn’t be getting too far out front. But the court defied the experts yet again.

Is the fear warranted? That’s a tricky question and depends on what it is you’re afraid of. Is it quite possible that the court will hand down a sweeping decision upholding marriage bans in over 30 other states, ruling that marriage is not a fundamental right for gays? Absolutely, and if that’s what you’re afraid of, then be very afraid. Such a ruling could have a broad and enduring impact.

From everything I’ve read, it seems more likely that the Supreme Court would hand down a sweeping decision in that direction than in the other direction: throwing out marriage bans across the country. Many experts seem to think that the court will do something more restrained: affirming the Ninth Circuit’s ruling, which would make it apply only to California, a state that had granted marriage rights to gays and lesbians and then took them away at the ballot. Alternatively, there’s the issue of standing, which the Supreme Court is taking up again. Do the Prop 8 proponents even have legal standing to challenge Judge Walker’s ruling that Prop 8 is unconstitutional, given that the attorney general and the governor didn’t file a challenge? If the Supreme Court thinks not, then the case goes back to Walker’s ruling and would not apply beyond California.

But none of us has any idea why the Supreme Court took up this case. It only takes four justices to decide to take a case. Did the four most conservative justices believe they could get Justice Kennedy’s swing vote? Or did the four liberal-leaning justices decide to take it up, thinking they’d in fact get Kennedy? Or did all nine justices believe they needed to take up the case for various reasons? We don’t know, and the legal experts have been wrong on this issue and many others, so don’t put much stock in speculation.

But I’m not afraid of the Supreme Court, and I am completely prepared for the worst possible outcome while hoping for the best. The court can’t hold us back, nor can it stop a movement, even if it becomes an ugly impediment. Public opinion is shifting rapidly, and the movement for LGBT equality has come very far in such a short period of time. Few imagined it would happen so fast, and if there’s a chance it may take longer by taking some risks that could bring full equality, I’m all ready for that. The alternative is to do nothing and continue without rights, perhaps indefinitely. Our current president supports full equality, and a previous great president, FDR, once wisely told Americans that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” That and the latest polling showing that Americans are with us should be enough for us to boldly move forward.

(From Michelangelo Signorili, via the Huffington Post)

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AutoReturn of San Francisco Wins New Contract with Kansas City to Start Municipal Towing Program

Kansas City, MO.– After a nationwide procurement search and selection process, Kansas City selected AutoReturn, the nation’s leading municipal towing management and logistics company, to oversee the city’s towing operations and handle, track, and report on towed vehicles.  Kansas City selected AutoReturn for its unique municipal towing management and logistics program.

Kansas City’s choice of AutoReturn highlights the city’s dedication to transforming its municipal towing services and streamlining city operations. The contract represents a prime example of public and private entities coming together to share best practices to simplify government services.

“We believe our solution fundamentally transforms the way cities and residents think about municipal services,” said AutoReturn CEO John Wicker. “We have been working closely with city officials and the police department in Kansas City to provide superior service and make the sometimes unfortunate experience of towing a lot easier for everyone.”

AutoReturn’s Municipal Towing Management Addresses Safety Logistics Issues

“AutoReturn’s software, people and processes have already addressed some of Kansas City’s most difficult public issues related to towing,” said Gary Majors, manager of Kansas City’s regulated industries division.  “By shortening the time it takes for equipment to reach a tow scene, the city reduces officer wait times, decreases traffic congestion, and limits the chance of secondary accidents, saving money and increasing safety.”  The average response time from dispatch to arrival since going live in October, 2012 has been reduced measurably to approximately 11 minutes.

Additionally, said Lesly Forsberg, Manager of Kansas City’s Tow Services Division, “AutoReturn’s model has relieved Kansas City of the day-to-day management of towing operators and tow requests from the Police Department, allowing city staff and police to focus their time on different important public safety issues.”

AutoReturn Technology Benefits Small, Local, Women and Minority-owned Tow Companies

By leveraging Android applications, AutoReturn is able to electronically dispatch tow trucks closest to the call, helping reduce costs incurred by the small, local, women and minority-owned tow companies.  Timothy Marshall, owner of Recovery Tow Service, Inc., said, “AutoReturn technology runs on our existing smart phones, streamlining our business.  Their fair and transparent process provides me the tools to exceed service level expectations.”

AutoReturn currently manages municipal towing and logistics operations in Baltimore County, Maryland, San Francisco, San Diego and, now, Kansas City, Missouri.

The company was founded a decade ago in San Francisco and continues to grow its business nationally. AutoReturn has been praised by cities and municipalities for bringing transparency and efficiency to what the notoriously disorganized business of municipal towing.  AutoReturn uses a proprietary computerized system and software that allows the company to efficiently tow vehicles, reducing time and manpower of police departments and municipal staff while at the same time creating fast and efficient service in returning cars to owners. AutoReturn is expected to continue to grow as other municipalities, police departments, city and regional government review the advances that AutoReturn has made to the industry.

About AutoReturn

AutoReturn is the leader in municipal towing management and logistics solutions, partnering with municipalities and existing local tow operators to help achieve efficiency, superior service, and increased cost recovery. Founded in 2002 as a technology-enabled towing management and logistics company, AutoReturn has revolutionized municipal towing, making sizable investments in technology, repeatable processes, training programs and other infrastructure. Learn more at http://www.autoreturn.com.

 

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California Center for Sustainable Energy Roadshow Guides Californians to Home Energy Savings

Center for Sustainable Energy’s mobile Energy Center travels around California.

 

The California Center for Sustainable Energy (CCSE) wrapped up the Energy Upgrade California Roadshow on Sunday, Nov. 18 in Cupertino, California, the eleventh stop on the energy education tour. The program, Energy Upgrade California, took energy education for homeowners on the road with the Energy Upgrade California Roadshow, a statewide mobile exhibit on energy efficiency. The roadshow started in San Diego on Nov. 1 and ended in Cupertino last Sunday reaching hundreds of homeowners throughout the state.

The Roadshow spent the last two weeks of November traveling the state to educate homeowners on the Energy Upgrade California program, how to increase home efficiency, provide energy cost savings and improve home comfort.

The roadshow made eleven stops in nine cities including Woodland Hills, Pacific Palisades, Lompoc, Santa Barbara, Sacramento, San Francisco, Antioch, Oakland and Cupertino. The stops included local farmers markets, community workshops and UC Santa Barbara. In the Bay Area, the Roadshow stopped at the Greenbuild Global Conference in San Francisco, a Contra Costa Homeowner Workshop at the Antioch Community Center, Oakland Tech High School and Sears at the Vallco Shopping Center in Cupertino.

Energy Upgrade California provides a “whole house” approach that focuses on a house as a system and looks at how various elements affect energy use. The program presents residents with an array of improvements to increase home health, comfort and safety while saving money on their utility bills.

The program educates homeowners on basic improvements to increase home efficiency and provides eligible homeowners a chance to sign up for an assessment, the first step towards improving their home and receiving rebates. Rebates range from $1,000 to $4,000 depending on the energy savings achieved.

Eligible California homeowners can sign up for a home assessment by visiting the Energy Upgrade California website at EnergyUpgradeCA.org and typing in their county name or zip code.

About Energy Upgrade California

Energy Upgrade California™ is a program of the California Public Utilities Commission and California Energy Commission to reduce residential energy use, curb greenhouse gas emissions and create more comfortable and healthy homes. For more information on Energy Upgrade California, visit www.energyupgradeca.org.

About Energy Upgrade California Roadshow

The Energy Upgrade California Roadshow is a mobile exhibit in a trailer designed to inform and inspire Californians to learn about and install energy-saving improvements in their homes. The Energy Upgrade California Roadshow is funded in part by the Department of Energy in support of the goals of its Better Buildings Neighborhood Program. It was built by CCSE, an independent nonprofit organization that accelerates the adoption of clean and efficient energy solutions, based in San Diego.

About the California Center for Sustainable Energy

The California Center for Sustainable Energy (CCSE) is an independent, nonprofit organization that accelerates the adoption of clean and efficient energy solutions via consumer education, market facilitation and policy innovation. For more information and workshop listings, visit www.energycenter.org or call (866) 733-6374.

 

 

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Airbnb Study Finds Online Travel Service Has Positive Effects on San Francisco Economy, Neighborhoods

Airbnb, the world’s leading marketplace for booking, discovering, and listing unique spaces around the world, today released a study that highlights Airbnb’s impact on local economies.

The study was conducted by HR&A Advisors, an industry-leading real estate and economic development consulting firm, and demonstrates that Airbnb provides a major economic boost both to its users and the neighborhoods and cities where they visit and live.  HR&A conducts sophisticated economic impact analyses for a wide variety of industries and clients, and cities around the United States come to HR&A for guidance on fostering strong and sustainable local economies and attracting new sources of economic activity.  Drawing on this expertise, HR&A developed a customized approach to quantify the unique impacts of the new kinds of tourism that Airbnb brings to San Francisco.

The study found that people who rent their homes on Airbnb use the income they earn to stay afloat in difficult economic times. Additionally, the study determined that travelers who use Airbnb enjoy longer stays, spend more money in the cities they visit, and bring income to less-touristed neighborhoods.

“Airbnb represents a new form of travel,” says Airbnb CEO and co-founder Brian Chesky. “This study shows that Airbnb is having a huge positive impact – not just on the lives of our guests and hosts, but also on the local neighborhoods they visit and live in.”

The economic impact study underscores the significant benefits that Airbnb, a pioneer of the new sharing economy, has on cities and their residents. Some highlights from the study’s findings:

- From April 2011 to May 2012, guests and hosts utilizing Airbnb have contributed $56 million in total spending to San Francisco’s economy, $43.1 million of which supported local businesses throughout the city’s diverse neighborhoods.

- 90% of Airbnb hosts rent the homes they live in to visitors on an occasional basis, and nearly half the income they make is spent on living expenses (rent/mortgage, utilities, and other bills).

- Airbnb guests stay an average of 5.5 days and spend $1,045 during their stay on food, shopping and transportation, compared to hotel guests who stay an average of 3.5 days and spend $840.

- 72% of Airbnb properties in San Francisco are located outside the central hotel corridor. More than 90% of Airbnb guests visiting San Francisco prefer to stay in neighborhoods that are “off the beaten track.” Over 60% of Airbnb guest-spending occurs in the neighborhoods in which the guests stay.

Founded in August of 2008 and based in San Francisco, Calif., Airbnb is a trusted community marketplace for people to list, discover, and book unique accommodations around the world – online or from a mobile phone.  Whether an apartment for a night, a castle for a week, or a villa for a month, Airbnb connects people to unique travel experiences at any price point, in more than 30,000 cities and 192 countries.  And with world-class customer service and a growing community of users, Airbnb is the easiest way for people to monetize their extra space and showcase it to an audience of millions.

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President Obama, John Boehner begin year-end duel on taxes

Washington (CNN) — Flush with re-election vigor, President Barack Obama on Friday will provide his first public comments on the upcoming negotiations with Congress on how to deal with pending tax hikes and spending cuts that create the so-called fiscal cliff facing the economy at the end of the year.

Obama and House Speaker John Boehner are positioned as the lead negotiators in a showdown between Democrats and Republicans over the issue identified by voters as a top priority: reducing the chronic federal deficits and debt considered a threat to economic prosperity and national security.

Boehner, R-Ohio, has signaled a willingness to deal but also maintained hardline GOP opposition to any tax increase. He will speak to reporters two hours before Obama delivers his statement on the economy Friday afternoon at the White House.

His hand was weakened by the election results Tuesday that returned Obama to the White House, broadened the Democratic majority in the Senate and slightly narrowed the Republican majority in the House.

Retiring GOP Rep. Steve LaTourette of Ohio told CNN that a poll commissioned by centrist Republicans showed that voters wanted Congress to fix the nation’s fiscal problems rather than cling to political orthodoxy.

“They didn’t send the same bunch back to town in this election because they love what they’re doing,” LaTourette said. “They sent him back because they don’t trust either side, but they do expect them to get this thing done.”

While the result was another split Congress like the current session that has become a symbol of legislative dysfunction, both sides have signaled a possible new openness to an agreement that was unreachable in the past two years.

In the final days of the campaign, Vice President Joe Biden referred to private talks with members of Congress on the pending fiscal impacts of expiring tax cuts and mandatory budget cuts. This week, Boehner called on Obama to work with him to complete a comprehensive deficit reduction agreement — the “grand bargain” that eluded them last year.

LaTourette said both Boehner and Obama were held back from a deal back then because of pressure from their respective bases — Republicans who signed a pledge against any new taxes stopped Boehner, while liberal defenders of entitlement programs halted Obama.

“The ‘no tax pledge’ people in the Republican Party yanked Boehner back and the ‘don’t you dare touch the middle class’ entitlement people in the president’s party pulled him back, and as a result those talks collapsed,” LaTourette said.

Boehner made clear this week that a comprehensive agreement won’t happen by the end of the year in the lame-duck session of Congress. He proposed that the two sides use that time to set up a framework for substantive negotiations when the new Congress comes in next year while taking short-term steps to avoid the fiscal cliff.

Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, a top Democrat in the chamber, said such a timetable could work.

“We have a chance in the lame duck to at least start the process, and I think there’s a chance to rally bipartisan support,” he said. “These are basic issues we can work out, and the president is in a position to do that.”

The fiscal cliff comprises two main elements. Tax cuts from the administration of President George W. Bush will expire on December 31, triggering a return to higher Clinton-era rates for everyone.

In addition, $1.2 trillion in mandatory across-the-board budget cuts — known in legislative parlance as the sequester — will take effect next year unless Congress finds a way to offset that amount in the federal budget.

Another looming issue will be the need to again increase the nation’s debt ceiling sometime in the spring, creating the potential for more political brinksmanship that contributed to last year’s first-ever downgrade of the U.S. credit rating.

Both sides agree the best outcome would be a broad deal addressing the overall need for deficit reduction, including reforms to the tax system and entitlement programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

However, they remain far apart on exactly how to forge such an agreement.

Obama campaigned on having wealthy Americans contribute more to deficit reduction efforts, and administration officials say the president will veto any package that extends the Bush tax cuts for income over $250,000.

“I’ve already signed a trillion dollars’ worth of spending cuts. I intend to do more, but if we’re serious about the deficit, we also have to ask the wealthiest Americans to go back to the rates that they paid when Bill Clinton was in office,” Obama said last week on the campaign trail.

In an e-mailed statement, Obama campaign policy director James Kvaal said the president wants “a balanced plan that cuts the deficit by $4 trillion with $2.50 worth of spending cuts for every dollar in revenue and reduces spending on Medicare, Medicaid and other entitlements.”

Boehner and Republicans oppose raising taxes on anyone, and instead back a broad reform of the tax system that would lower rates further for everyone while eliminating some deductions and loopholes.

While Boehner said this week that his side was open to increasing revenue from such reforms, he made clear that such increases should come from resulting economic growth instead of higher tax rates.

In essence, Boehner proposed the kind of tax reform championed by failed Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney, whose plan was criticized by Obama and many economists for being unrealistic in assuming that the combination of closed loopholes and economic growth would equal the lost revenue of tax cuts.

Obama’s victory gives him new leverage in the budget battles after Republicans forced the president and Democrats into prolonged and sometimes bitter showdowns in the last two years, including threats of government shutdowns and default.

One top Democrat with close ties to leaders on Capitol Hill and the White House said that the imminent expiration of the Bush tax cuts means Obama “doesn’t have to do anything and everyone’s taxes go up,” which is a GOP nightmare.

Such an increase would affect personal income tax, the estate tax, dividends and capital gains taxes.

In addition, some officials are hinting the feared sequester cuts don’t have to be implemented right away in the new year, giving at least a few months for a deal to be worked out.

By Tom Cohen, CNN. CNN’s Jessica Yellin and Allison Brennan contributed to this report.

 

 

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Victory for San Bruno, S.F., Ratepayer Advocates Over CPUC, PG&E Scheme to Impose Unilateral Mediation in San Bruno Blast Settlement

Former Sen. George Mitchell his law firm DLA Piper have offered to back out as mediators in talks to determine the fines Pacific Gas & Electric Co. should pay for the deadly San Bruno pipeline blast, the San Francisco Chronicle reported today.

“Sen. Mitchell and his law firm DLA Piper did the right thing by telling the California Public Utilities Commission that he wouldn’t mediate settlement discussions in the San Bruno explosion and fire without all the parties agreeing. We are very pleased and looking forward getting back to direct negotiations with PG&E,” said San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane.

“We hope this decision sends an important message to the CPUC and PG&E. They must immediately return to the negotiation table and offer a real settlement to atone for the safety laws they violated and the people and community they have devastated.

“We thank the City of County of San Francisco, the Division of Ratepayer Advocates, and TURN for standing with us to fight and stand up for fairness and to ensure justice is done in San Bruno and statewide.  We also thank Assemblyman Jerry Hill and the citizens of San Bruno for standing firm and challenging the CPUC and PG&E actions.

“The unilateral announcement this past week by the CPUC that it had selected a mediator without consulting any of the parties is consistent with the cozy and unholy relationship between the CPUC and PG&E.  This action was symbolic of the broken, dysfunctional and dishonest relationship between PG&E and the CPUC, the agency that is supposed to be the watchdog and protector of the public’s interest.

“We call into question the integrity of the entire CPUC process that has occurred over the past two years since our community was ripped apart by the negligent and systematic safety failures of PG&E and the inability of the CPUC to independently protect and represent the interests of the residents of San Bruno and the people of California.

“We look forward to returning to the settlement negotiations to represent the interests of the citizens of San Bruno, the memory of those whose lives were taken by PG&E’s negligence, their families and friends, and equally important, every other city, town and community in the State of California so we can help others prevent what happened to us,” Mayor Ruane concluded.

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Francis Xavier “F.X.” Crowley For San Francisco District 7 Supervisor

Editorial: Sentinel Endorses Francis Xavier Crowley for District 7 Supervisor

There is only one candidate that truly represents the west of Twin Peaks neighborhoods and that is F.X. Crowley. We give Crowley our strongest endorsement as the best candidate to succeed outgoing Supervisor Sean Elsbernd and represent District 7.

Crowley is the right leader to represent the District and to ensure public safety by adding more police and fighting crime in our neighborhoods as well as being a voice of fiscal responsibility on the Board of Supervisors.  Having grown up in the District, there is no better candidate to represent D7 than F.X. Crowley.

Crowley is a native San Franciscan who was born and grew up in the District in Miraloma Park–and graduated from St. Ignatius College Preparatory (SI) in 1977. He is a longtime Stagehands union leader who has won the respect of the business community and a highly regarded civic leader, having served as the President of the Public Utilities Commission and a Port Commissioner with distinction.  He fought to rebuild and protect Hetch Hetchy on the PUC and was a strong leader for growth and fiscal responsibility as a member of the Port Commission.

Crowley has won the endorsement of Sen. Diane Feinstein; Lt. Gov. and former Mayor Gavin Newsom; San Francisco Police Officers Association; San Francisco Firefighters; Sen. Leland Yee; Assembly Speaker Pro Temp Fiona Ma; Former Mayor and Police Chief Frank Jordan, Retired Judge and former Senator Quentin Kopp; Planning Commissioner Mike Antonini; Justice Harry W. Low; Thomas “Tippy” Mazzucco, President, San Francisco Police Commission; Diarmuid Philpott, President, United Irish Societies, and retired SFPD Deputy Chief; Joe Russoniello, former United States Attorney; and Kevin Ryan, former United States Attorney.

And he has our endorsement as well.

Crowley’s leadership is in sharp contrast to the other candidates in the race, one of them being Mike Garcia, a retired Louisiana options trader who until recently was a registered Libertarian who expressed his desire to legalize drugs.  Garcia is clearly out of step with the voters of the District who favor strong enforcement of drug laws to prevent home break-ins; and Norman Yee, a left-wing/ Progressive member of the school board and advocate of legalizing prostitution, has demonstrated that he is out of touch with voters. Lastly, there is candidate Joel Engardio, who has at least been honest in admitting he is a carpetbagger who only moved into the district over a year ago to run for this seat.

There is only once choice for District 7 voters and that is district native Francis Xavier Crowley.

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DLA Piper, Sen. Mitchell Tainted by PG&E San Bruno Case: Recusal is the Only Path to Integrity for Law Firm, California Public Utilities Commission

George Mitchell: Reputation at Stake

Editorial

This week’s unilateral announcement by the California Public Utilities Commission to select DLA Piper—a global law firm that has represented the company headed by the current CPUC President Michael Peevy and worked to defend utility companies in major litigation—has sent shock waves throughout California’s legal community, elected leaders, the public and the media.

The fact that none of the parties at the negotiating table–with the exception of the ‘defendant’ in the case, Pacific Gas & Electric Co.–knew of or agreed to mediation nor was a party to the selection of the mediator, has raised ethical and legal questions that stun even the most passive observers in this monumental national public safety case.

The most fundamental basis of mediation is the agreement by all parties that it is necessary, closely followed by the mutual agreement of an unbiased and neutral mediator.  That very principal has been broken in every conceivable fashion by the California Public Utilities Commission and admitted as such to the Associated Press when CPUC Commissioner Mike Florio said in an interview he felt the move to inform PG&E first about the selection of DLA Piper had not been well thought out: “I think we handled this rather poorly. Announcing it before people were brought into it was not a good idea,” Florio said.

In our opinion, it’s beyond not being a ‘good idea,’ it breaks the very foundation of mediation and ruins the integrity of the CPUC process and DLA Piper’s participation.

If DLA Piper and Senator George Mitchell hope to retain any integrity and their reputations in the legal community, they must immediately resign this assignment now they have become aware of the unethical and potentially illegal manner in which they were selected.  We urge them to resign even before the CPUC leadership has the opportunity to rescind their appointment. It is not only the honorable thing to do, but it is the only thing that will preserve their reputation and demonstrate that they are not simply stooges for the utility industry and CPUC President Michael Peevy.

We commend San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera for standing up and demonstrating his leadership in joining the challenge to demand the CPUC decision to unilaterally appoint DLA Piper and Sen. George Mitchell as mediators when they have conflicts not only with their representation of utility companies, but directly with the interests of San Francisco itself.

As always, San Bruno must win praise for being a leader in its attempt to protect public safety and its citizens in opposing this dubious appointment.  And The Utility Reform Network and the California Division of Ratepayers Advocates should be justly proud that they stood up and truly represented the ratepayers in calling attention to this disgraceful appointment of the clearly conflicted DLA Piper and Sen. Mitchell.

We hope for the sake of Sen. George Mitchell and DLA Piper that they resign now that they know their appointment was tainted, their position conflicted, and their very reputation is at stake.

Their integrity is in their hands and their decision.

 

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San Francisco City Attorney Blasts CPUC, PG&E Over DLA Piper Law Firm Selection in San Bruno Blast: Will DLA Piper Recuse Itself?

DLA Piper Law Firm Conflict in CPUC PG&E Case

More Bad News for DLA Piper: Conflict is raised by SF City Attorney. DLA Piper is adverse to S.F. in litigation, claims several utilities among its clients. CPUC Has Refused Comment on Conflict, Call for DLA to Recuse Firm

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera today expressed serious concerns about the California Public Utilities Commission’s unilateral appointment of former U.S. Senator George Mitchell and DLA Piper to mediate a settlement of enforcement actions against Pacific Gas and Electric Company over the deadly September 2010 explosion of its natural gas pipeline in San Bruno, Calif.

Mitchell currently serves as chairman emeritus of DLA Piper LLC, an international law firm that represents multiple parties currently involved in separate litigation against the City and County of San Francisco. The firm’s utility sector clients include Southern California Edison and Exxon Mobil.

“I have the highest regard for U.S. Sen. George Mitchell, and I greatly admire him for a distinguished public service career that includes major diplomatic achievements in Northern Ireland and the Middle East,” said Herrera. “But the legitimacy of an enforcement action involving one of the deadliest gas pipeline catastrophes in California history must be beyond reproach. What’s at stake in these proceedings is the safety of millions of Californians, and they deserve a process untainted by the appearance of utility industry bias. I don’t doubt Sen. Mitchell’s integrity or good intentions.”

Herrera continued “But the fact is, he leads a law firm that is both adverse to San Francisco in litigation, and that represents major gas utilities involved in cases before the CPUC. Moreover, the commission’s decision to unilaterally appoint a mediator raises larger questions about why the CPUC elected to appoint an outside mediator in the first place. It’s possible that mediation could prove helpful. But it is far more important that CPUC live up to its obligations as an industry regulator that protects the public interest.”

Herrera has been sharply critical of the CPUC following revelations from an independent review panel’s 2011 investigation into the San Bruno tragedy, which concluded that the commission’s “culture serves as an impediment to effective regulation,” and which went on to fault state regulators who “did not have the resources to monitor PG&E’s performance in pipeline integrity management adequately or the organizational focus that would have elevated concerns about PG&E’s performance in a meaningful way.” In July 2011, Herrera initiated steps to sue the CPUC along with federal regulators for failing to reasonably enforce federal gas pipeline safety standards as required by the U.S. Pipeline Safety Act. Herrera later elected to omit CPUC as a defendant after the commission showed signs of progress.

DLA Piper LLC contacted Herrera’s office last Friday, before the CPUC announced its appointment of Mitchell to serve as mediator, to inform city lawyers about litigation and other matters in which DLA Piper is currently adverse to the City and County of San Francisco. Those cases include litigation involving hotel chains and airlines.

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San Bruno, Ratepayer Advocates Challenge California Public Utilities Commission, PG&E: Demand CPUC Rescind Appointment of Sen. George Mitchell in Blockbuster PG&E Announcement

A blistering attack by the City of San Bruno, ratepayer advocates and Assemblyman Jerry Hill called into question the California Public Utility’s appointment of Sen. George Mitchell and his law firm DLA Piper as mediators in the PG&E explosion and fire settlement.

Mayor Jim Ruane of San Bruno, Thomas J. Long, Legal Director of consumer advocacy group The Utility Reform Network (TURN), and Karen Paull, Acting Legal Counsel, The Division of Ratepayer Advocates (DRA) all stood in front of the CPUC this morning and lambasted the “unholy and cozy alliance” between regulator CPUC and the regulated Pacific Gas & Electric Co.

The City of San Bruno and consumer advocates signed a letter demanding the CPUC rescind the appointment of Sen. Mitchell immediately because the CPUC  went behind their backs in appointing the mediator to oversee the talks and presented evidence that CPUC and PG&E had ex-parte contact in making the decision. The groups objected to the choice of mediator and said they should have been consulted before regulator CPUC appointed the mediator.

The California Public Utilities Commission had announced Monday that it had appointed former U.S. Senator George Mitchell to serve as mediator in the talks.

San Bruno City Manager Connie Jackson and attorneys with San Francisco and the consumer groups said the CPUC had notified PG&E before it appointed Mr. Mitchell, but didn’t notify San Bruno, San Francisco, or ratepayer advocates and officials.

“The unilateral announcement by the CPUC Monday that it had selected a mediator without consulting any of the parties at the negotiating table is consistent with the cozy and unholy relationship between the CPUC and PG&E.  This action is symbolic of the broken, dysfunctional and dishonest relationship between PG&E and the CPUC, the agency that is supposed to be the watchdog and protector of the public’s interest,” said Mayor Ruane of San Bruno.

“San Bruno is rightly concerned that the DLA Piper law firm has previously represented utilities–and that the firm was selected unilaterally by the CPUC and PG&E without the participation of any other party, which goes against the fundamental principles of mediation,” said Mayor Ruane at the press conference today.

“It also is of deep concern to us that DLA Piper has a lengthy list of corporate clients, including Southern California Edison, which the current chairman of the CPUC, Michael Peevey, once headed, according to news media reports about the appointment.

“In order for any mediation to succeed, the mediator will have to assure all the parties to our satisfaction that they have no conflicts, that they can be an unbiased mediator, and that the process will be open, transparent and fair,” Mayor Ruane said.

He continued: “We find that there is too much of a coincidence that one week before the announcement of DLA Piper as mediator, we were told that “a mediator with gravitas” is necessary to settle the negotiations, and now, with the unilateral start of mediation, that PG&E shareholders are paying for the mediation. This leads us, we rightly believe, to the conclusion that the CPUC and PG&E have had improper ex-parte contact as part of this process.

“We state unequivocally for the record that no fine or settlement with PG&E will ever be legitimate or credible without the participation of the City of San Bruno.

“We call into question the integrity of the entire CPUC process that has occurred over the past two years since our community was ripped apart by the negligent and systematic safety failures of PG&E and the inability of the CPUC to independently protect and represent the interests of the residents of San Bruno and the people of California.

“The healing process has physical manifestations in the reconstruction of our Crestmoor neighborhood. However, the scars and horrors of the explosion and fire remain. The City committed to its citizens that it would be an active and relentless participant in all of the investigations that followed.

“We remain at the table to represent the interests of the citizens of San Bruno, the memory of those whose lives were taken by PG&E’s negligence, their families and friends, and equally important, every other city, town and community in the State of California so we can help others prevent what happened to us,” Mayor Ruane concluded.

Mayor Ruane and the consumer advocate attorneys said Sen. Mitchell’s previous work for Southern California Edison, a utility where CPUC Chairman Michael Peevey was formerly an executive, made them question whether he would be impartial.

PG&E and CPUC investigators said Friday that they had started fresh talks to settle the investigators’ allegations that the utility violated numerous state and federal safety rules prior to the fatal 2010 pipeline explosion in San Bruno.

The CPUC had been holding public hearings following three investigations investigators completed after a section of the utility’s gas pipeline in San Bruno ruptured on Sept. 9, 2010, igniting a giant fireball that killed eight people and injured 58. The fire destroyed 38 homes and damaged 70 others. The neighborhood where the blast occurred hasn’t been fully rebuilt, although some houses have been rebuilt.

Both federal and state investigators blamed PG&E for the blast and found that defects in the utility’s aging pipeline and inadequate pipeline safety management contributed to the pipe’s rupture.

A CPUC judge suspended those hearings last week, after state investigators, who are employed by the CPUC, asked to stop the hearings to allow time for a fresh round of talks with PG&E.

Members of the CPUC have said they plan to order fines and possibly other penalties against PG&E over the San Bruno disaster.

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Obama to Come to Final Bay Area Fundraiser for 2012 Campaign

President Barack Obama will return to the Bay Area on Oct. 8 for his sixth fundraising visit in the last year.

A concert and rally — for which the musical guests are yet to be announced — will be held at San Francisco’s Bill Graham Civic Auditorium on Grove Street in the city’s Civic Center.

Tickets for the 7:30 p.m. event are selling at $100 for “Muni;” $250 for “Cable Car;” $1,000 for “Ferry,” which includes preferred seating; and $2,500 for “Bay,” which includes premium seating.

The $7,500 “Golden State” package gets you premium seating plus a photo opportunity with the president. And then you can pay an additional $2,500 for each guest you want in the photo with you.

It wasn’t clear Thursday whether this will be his only event in the Bay Area. He usually does one big rally-type event and several smaller, more exclusive and expensive events during the same visit. He’ll be in Los Angeles on Oct. 7.

Obama’s most recent visit, in July, included fundraisers in Oakland and Piedmont.

(From the Mercury News)

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Communications Workers of America in California Question CWA Union Leadership Over Failure to Sign Contract with AT&T

 

There is growing dissent among California Communications Workers of America against their union leaders’ intransigence and failure to approve a new contract with AT&T.

While every single CWA District and Local in the United States, with the exception of Connecticut and California, has signed a new contract deal with pay increases and generous health care benefits, California AT&T workers are starting to strike back at their own union and demand settlement.

Just this week, more than 20,000 AT&T workers in California, Nevada and Connecticut started two-day strikes Tuesday to protest what the union called harassment by the company. But a number of union members opposed the two day strike and question their union leadership’s action, which cost them two days of pay.

The phone company is negotiating new contracts with the Communications Workers of America. The company is restricting standard bargaining-support activities such as wearing union stickers and buttons, said Libby Sayre, president of the CWA district covering California and Nevada.

The contracts expired in April, and negotiations have been going on since February.

Dallas-based AT&T Inc. is the country’s largest employer of unionized workers. About 140,000 of its 256,000 employees are union members.

California AT&T workers are quietly saying they don’t care about the ‘sticker issue’ raised by CWA District 9 President Libby Sayre and are pushing back at union leadership and demanding an immediate conclusion to contract negotiations with AT&T.

“We are at odds with our own union leadership, not with AT&T,” one worker, requesting anonymity, said.  “The deal that was accepted by AT&T workers in other states is a good one and we want it here, too.”

The growing dissent by CWA workers against their leadership was visible in northern California this week as a number of members protested the two day strike and instead held signs protesting against CWA’s leadership, holding signs that read: “Our Union Has Us Striking Over a Stupid Sticker!” and “We Just Lost 2 Days Pay: Thanks CWA.”

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MAYOR LEE AND SUPERVISOR COHEN UNVEIL PUBLIC SAFETY INITIATIVE TO ADDRESS VIOLENCE IN SOUTHEAST SECTOR

Today Mayor Edwin M. Lee joined Supervisor Malia Cohen, Police Chief Greg Suhr, the City Administrator’s Office, community and religious leaders and service providers to announce a public safety initiative to address a recent increase in homicides in the City’s Southeast neighborhoods. The initiative, Interrupt, Predict and Organize (IPO), includes short, mid and long term strategies to reduce violence.

“We need to immediately interrupt the violence in order to keep our youth and our communities safe, and so that we can continue to work on longer term solutions to end violence in our neighborhoods,” said Mayor Lee.
“Building strong, safe neighborhoods and creating opportunities for our City’s residents are among my highest priorities, and we must take action in the short term while building partnerships for the long term to see results and keep San Francisco one of the safest cities in the nation.”

Several meetings with law enforcement, community-based agencies, youth serving organizations and clergy have been conducted over the past several weeks to develop an initiative with broad community support and partnership. Law enforcement and the City Administrator’s Office will help implement the IPO strategy engaging City agencies, social service providers, and the community to organize for longer term results.

“The recent violence that has happened in our Southeastern neighborhoods, particularly in Visitacion Valley is unacceptable,” said Supervisor Malia Cohen. “The public safety issues in these communities are not exclusive to Visitacion Valley or even District 10, rather they are citywide challenges that need a citywide approach and solution. I am committed to working with the Mayor, the Police Chief and all of our community partners to develop new strategies that build on past successes and recognize that the nature of violence in our neighborhoods is changing.”

In the first six months of 2012, there were 38 homicides compared to 28 during the same period in 2011. The IPO strategy was developed in response to the Mayor’s directive to law enforcement agencies to reassess standard practices to address the recent rise in violent crime.

“Using proven strategies and best technology, such as our Crime Data Warehouse that stores web-based real-time information, we can rapidly deploy resources to areas where crimes are most likely to occur,” said SFPD Chief Greg Suhr. “These tools and techniques will help us interrupt the violence in our neighborhoods to the fullest extent possible as quickly as possible. Sooner cannot come soon enough for all parties concerned.”

“San Francisco’s Adult Probation Department is working collaboratively with our criminal justice and public health partners to create short and long term effective interventions to provide offenders with meaningful opportunities to change their lives,” said Wendy Still, Chief Adult Probation Officer. “We are working with public safety and community based organizations to create a continuum of employment, education, and housing and mental health services that will enable individuals to break free from violence and long term criminal behavior, disrupting the intergenerational cycle of crime.”

The new IPO plan will:

Interrupt gun violence immediately with targeted interventions, such as employing an improved San Francisco Police Department Zone Strategy, expanding Gang Enforcement Interventions and Fugitive Recovery, enhancing Violence Response Teams and offering better Gun Buy Back programs.

The SFPD will attempt topredict where crime is most likely to occur in hopes of preventing criminal activity using technology and intelligence before it can happen. The Department’s new web-based Crime Data Warehouse will be used to contribute to this “Predictive Policing” strategy by mapping current crime in real time. In the very near future, the Department will map crime, include historical crime data, and use predictive policing software to predict where crimes are most likely to occur. Los Angeles and Santa Cruz have implemented such software and have seen a double-digit drop in crime as a result.

The crucial third component, organizing, will be undertaken by a broad spectrum of community based agencies, churches, social service providers and youth serving organizations coordinated by the City Administrator’s Office, focusing on increasing employment opportunities throughout the year as an interruption or alternative for youth and community; focused intervention on at-risk youth; offering direct one-on-one services to identified youth in specific neighborhoods in response to violence; involving clergy and community leaders; expanding apprenticeship programs; and increasing case management slots in high-risk neighborhoods.

“Our communities need a comprehensive and sustained community revitalization plan,” said Eric McDonnell, Executive Vice President of United Way of the Bay Area. “I am honored to partner with Mayor Lee and community partners across sectors, including residents, to help develop and implement a plan.”

“After several dialogues with the Mayor, this initiative is an important first step in working with San Francisco’s faith-based communities and involving them in the City’s solution to violence,” said Reverend Dr. Joseph Bryant, Jr, Pastor of Calvary Hill Community Church. “I am excited to stand with the Mayor and be part of the leadership focused on public safety not just in my neighborhood but for the entire City of San Francisco.”


 

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