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Koret Foundation Criticized for Sexism in Lawsuit Against Susan Koret

Koret Foundation Should Apologize for Statements Against Immigrant and Domestic Workers

Partner of the San Francisco law firm Greene, Radovsky, Maloney, Share & Hennigh

Partner of the San Francisco law firm Greene, Radovsky, Maloney, Share & Hennigh

 

Anita Friedman, JFCS

Anita Friedman, JFCS

 

San Francisco—A diverse group of immigrant, domestic worker, labor and Jewish advocates demanded the Koret Foundation apologize for and withdraw negative comments directed against Susan Koret, the widow of Koret Foundation founder Joseph Koret, who sued for the Foundation for misdirecting and misusing monies from her husband’s fortune that were meant for the poor.

“The comments by the Koret Foundation and its spokesperson denigrate not only Ms. Koret, but they demean people of color, women, and those workers who tirelessly give their lives to improving the lives of others,” said Alysabeth Alexander.

At issue was a statement by official Koret Foundation spokesman Nathan Ballard who told the media, in response to Ms. Koret’s lawsuit, that “Susan was a housekeeper to Joe Koret and his first wife, Stephanie, and was only married to him for a brief period.” Mr. Ballard is also the spokesman for the Golden State Warriors NBA basketball team.

The group said Ballard’s “denigration of Susan Koret’s background as a housekeeper in an attempt to discredit her is both sexist and classist and should have no place in the public discourse in San Francisco. His statement and language is purposely designed to demean and denigrate women, immigrants, and domestic workers and is unacceptable under any circumstance.”

The group also wrote the Foundation in its letter, saying “While we cannot speak to Ms. Koret’s service on your Board of Directors, we can say that some of the Koret Foundation’s contributions to conservative, right-wing causes that were highlighted in recent news articles are anathema to those of us who work every day to lift up low-wage workers, immigrants, women, and communities of color.”

The letter was sent to the entire Koret Foundation board, including real estate investor Tad Taube; Richard L. Greene of Greene Radovsky Maloney Share & Hennigh; Anita Friedman, the executive director of director of Jewish Family and Children’s Services in San Francisco; Richard Atkinson, former president of the University of California; Michael J. Boskin, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution; and Abraham D. Sofaer, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution.

The Koret Board is expected to attend  the opening next week in Warsaw, Poland, of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews. There may be protests in Warsaw against the Koret Foundation because of  the alleged misdirection of Koret funds to the museum by Taube and the Koret Board and their alleged discrimination against Mrs. Koret.

The full text of the letter is below:

 

Open Letter to the Koret Foundation Board of Directors

October 17, 2014

It is with great concern we write to you regarding comments made by your spokesperson, Nathan Ballard, in the San Francisco Chronicle on October 8th about Susan Koret.

“Susan was a housekeeper to Joe Koret and his first wife, Stephanie, and was only married to him for a brief period. Susan is an incompetent director who lacks even a basic understanding of the foundation and its operations.”

Mr. Ballard’s denigration of Susan Koret’s background as a housekeeper in an attempt to discredit her is both sexist and classist and should have no place in the public discourse in San Francisco. His statement and language is purposely designed to demean and denigrate women, immigrants, and domestic workers and is unacceptable under any circumstance.

From reports, we understand that Susan Koret is an immigrant from Korea who began her career as a housekeeper. While we can’t speak to her personal experience or to the legal dispute at the Koret Foundation, we know that the contributions of millions of immigrant women–a great many of whom are domestic workers–should never be slighted.

Domestic workers care for our children, our parents, our elderly, and our communities. Many of us in San Francisco have fought to get the importance of domestic work recognized, so that the workers can enjoy many of the same right that the rest of us take for granted. With a significant legislative victory this year in Sacramento, now is not the time to go backwards.

We know that millions of immigrant women work tirelessly to improve the lives of their families and communities. This experience provides a critical perspective that is often-times missing when important decisions are made.

While we cannot speak to Ms. Koret’s service on your Board of Directors, we can say that some of the Koret Foundation’s contributions to conservative, right-wing causes that were highlighted in recent news articles are anathema to those of us who work every day to lift up low-wage workers, immigrants, women, and communities of color.

We demand that the Board of Directors and Nathan Ballard immediately apologize for and withdraw the negative comments directed against Ms. Koret that demean all people of color, women, and those workers who tirelessly give their lives to improving the lives of others.

Sincerely,

National Domestic Worker Alliance

Alysabeth Alexander, Vice-President of Politics, SEIU Local 1021*

Juanita Flores, Co-Director, Mujeres Unidas y Activas

Katie Joaquin, Campaign Director, CA Domestic Workers Coalition

Hene Kelly, Jewish Labor Committee*

Andrea Lee, Co-Director, Mujeres Unidas y Activas

Shaw San Liu, Tenant and Workers Organizing Center, Chinese Progressive Association*

Kay Vasilyeva, Former Board Member, SF Women’s Political Committee*

*organization listed for identification purposes only — does not imply organizational endorsement

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Koret Foundation Sued by Widow Who Claims Board Members Uses Charity as “Personal Piggy Bank”

Jewish  Family and Children's Services

Anita Friedman Jewish Family and Children’s Services

President of Koret Foundation

Tad Taube, President of Koret Foundation

Partner of the San Francisco law firm Greene, Radovsky, Maloney, Share & Hennigh

Richard L. Greene, Partner of the San Francisco law firm Greene, Radovsky, Maloney, Share & Hennigh

Board Member and Silicon Valley Real Estate Investor Tad Taube, San Francisco Attorney Richard L. Greene, JFCS Director Anita Friedman, Other Board Members Shun the Poor, Bay Area, Jewish Causes—in Favor of Spending Foundation Resources on Conservative and Pet Projects at Half-Billion Dollar Charity

 

San Francisco—The Jewish community from San Francisco to Poland was rocked this week when the widow of Koret Foundation founder Joseph Koret filed a lawsuit against the Koret Foundation and its Board of Directors for conflicts of interest and self-dealing.  The lawsuit says the Koret Board is illegally funding pet projects that include right-wing conservative causes in the United States to wrongly spending $10 million to the Museum of the History of Polish Jews.

The lawsuit said the wrongdoing is being orchestrated by Koret Foundation President Tad Taube, a native of Poland and well-known right wing conservative Republican.  The suit also lays blame on Taube’s personal attorney and Board member Richard L. Greene of Greene Radovsky Maloney Share & Hennigh LLP and Anita Friedman, the executive director of director of Jewish Family and Children’s Services in San Francisco as well as board member Richard Atkinson, former president of the University of California; board member Michael J. Boskin, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution; and board member Abraham D. Sofaer, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution.

The suit filed October 7, 2014 in San Francisco Superior Court by Mrs. Koret alleges that under Taube’s direction the board has ignored the priorities established by her late husband to help the poor and assist Jewish causes in the Bay Area and Israel.

Instead, her suit claims, the Koret board is using foundation funds to promote programs closely affiliated with individual board members and is purposely confusing the public by putting signage that prominently features Taube’s name alongside the Koret Foundation name on buildings and grants for which the Koret Foundation is the principal funder.

“Defendants’ duty of loyalty to the Foundation has been corrupted by these directors’ close affiliations with many of the Foundation’s recent grants, resulting in tens of millions of dollars distributed due to self-interest,” according to the lawsuit.

The suit demands the removal of the Koret board members and calls for their replacement with the appointment of an independent board with a majority of Jewish directors.

“Taube says publicly that giving to the poor is “a bottomless pit.” Instead he has led the Koret Foundation by focusing its giving to organizations identified with him, creating a corporate culture of directors who rubber stamp his decisions as long as their favored organizations are also supported.  “In elevating their own and affiliated interests while ostensibly making decisions for the Koret Foundation, defendants are breaching duties of loyalty that require them to serve faithfully the interests of the Koret Foundation” the lawsuit claims.

“Alleviating suffering and misfortune were my husband’s top priorities,” said Mrs. Koret. “Joe and Stephanie’s money shouldn’t be used for Tad Taube’s pet projects in Poland or to help conservative economic and policy think tanks–not when so many in the Bay Area go to bed hungry every night and Jewish causes need support.”

Supporting her lawsuit is Joe and Stephanie Koret’s closest surviving family member, nephew Merv Brown of Walnut Creek, who worked with the Korets for decades.  He said about the suit:

“With all respect to Mr. Taube, if he wants to spend money on Poland, he should use his own money–not my uncle’s and my aunt’s–to assist his homeland. I am proud to stand with Susan Koret to support and endorse the directions and wishes of my family that their fortune be spent as Uncle Joe wished: to help the poor and Jews in Israel and the Bay Area.”

The San Jose Mercury News reported that: “Mrs. Koret is doing a favor for the entire Bay Area community with her lawsuit,” said longtime friend Julie Goodman. “She has a lot of courage. No one else has had the guts to take on Mr. Taube, who has used his power, plus his and the Koret Foundation’s money, to bully a lot of people and organizations into subservience.”

Mrs. Koret’s lawsuit alleges that others, including “philanthropic civic leaders and former and current staff members will support Mrs. Koret in her efforts to restore the Koret Foundation’s purpose and dignity free of the control of Mr. Taube.”

The lawsuit claims that, at Taube’s direction, the Koret Foundation has donated approximately $9 million to the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw, a pet project of Taube, who was born in Poland.  “

While the Polish Museum commemorates significant Jewish history, the diversion of Koret funds to Poland is not in keeping with my husband’s charitable mission…and in effect drains funds that could benefit the needy in communities in the Bay Area and Israel,” the lawsuit states.

Sam Singer of Singer Associates, Inc., who is acting as a spokesman for Mrs. Koret in the lawsuit, said the lawsuit will attempt to claw back the $9 million in money from Taube that was given to the Museum of the History of Polish Jews and return it to the Koret Foundation. The Museum of the History of Polish Jews is scheduled to open Oct. 28 in Warsaw. The Museum is reported facing financial difficulties, according to Polish media reports.

Mrs. Koret noted her husband was a native of Odessa, Russia, who immigrated to America, struggled growing up poor in the U.S., and then struck it rich later in life in clothing and real estate. He was deeply committed to humanitarian causes such as alleviating hunger,  and would “be deeply angered and offended by Tad Taube and the board’s strong support of conservative  causes and grants that divert money needed for the local community and Jewish causes.”

The lawsuit asks the court to prevent the spending down of the Foundation’s assets by Taube and the board members with whom he has surrounded himself and allow the appointment of a new, independent board to carry out its mission and save the Foundation.

Mrs. Koret was named a lifetime director and chairwoman of the Foundation prior to her husband’s death in 1982. She was entrusted by her late husband to carry out the family legacy of caring for the poor and supporting Jewish and community causes through the Koret Foundation, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also recites that the board has rejected a series of Asian and African-American candidates for board membership, including their rejection last month of former Mayor Willie Brown as president of the Foundation.

Mrs. Koret said she has been marginalized as Taube, a Silicon Valley real estate investor, and his hand-picked supporters on the board steer donations toward causes in which they have affiliations.

Mrs. Koret said she filed the suit as a last resort after her efforts to diversify the board, get independent legal advice, confirm the perpetual nature of the Foundation and redirect funds back to her late husband’s mission were rebuffed.  She fears the Koret Foundation is facing destruction of its mission and eventual collapse unless changes are made.

She said in the last 12 months, Taube has undertaken three major real estate transactions:  the sale of the Foundation’s largest real estate asset; marketing of another Foundation property; and refinancing a significant loan on a third Foundation property. The collective value of the real estate involved in these transactions is several hundred million dollars, according to the lawsuit.

“Over Mrs. Koret’s objections, defendants approved engaging a broker associated with defendant Taube’s real estate businesses to sell, market and refinance the Foundation’s properties and split its commission with Taube Investments, without disclosing the percentage commission split.  This conduct violates state and federal law and is breach of fiduciary duty,” the lawsuit states.

The Foundation’s general counsel and Taube attorney Richard L. Greene, over Mrs. Koret’s objection, failed to advise that an independent appraisal or broker was needed to market the Foundation property and refinance the loan, even though the same broker associated with Taube’s businesses was engaged for both these real estate transactions, according to the suit.

“Greene’s conduct … may expose the Foundation to claims of self-dealing, is contrary to California professional rules for attorneys in avoiding conflicts of interest, and causes economic injury to the Foundation,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit alleges that Taube is a shameless self-promoter who has personally selected board members to rubber stamp his decisions in exchange for support of their own pet projects. Additionally, the suit says Taube established his own foundation, called Taube Philanthropies, but uses money and staff from the Koret Foundation to pay for and enhance joint projects of Taube Philanthropies and the Koret Foundation.   A review of the Koret Foundation’s public filings shows reported annual salaries and compensation of officers exceeded $1.9 million in 2011, while Taube Philanthropies showed no such expenses for the same period, according to the lawsuit.

Mrs. Koret’s lawsuit charges that out of the $64 million gifted by the Koret Foundation between 2010 and 2012, nearly 60 percent was spent on causes outside the stated mission of her husband, the late Joseph Koret.

The lawsuit claims conflicts of interest, self-dealing, and breaches of duty abound on the board:

  • The Koret Foundation’s Executive Director Jeffrey Farber provides no independent management, reaps a large salary and perks at the Foundation, has little involvement in grant-making and does only what Taube asks him to do.  Farber is also a member of the Taube Philanthropies board, creating a serious conflict of loyalty and duty.   His wife works for Koret Board member Anita Friedman at Jewish Family and Children’s Services, yet another conflict.

Koret Board Member Anita Friedman, director of Jewish Family and Children’s Services, JFCS, sits on the Taube Philanthropies board as a director. Friedman makes up to $380,000 per year as executive director of JFCS, which is a major recipient of Koret funds. During September’s Koret Foundation meeting, she oversaw and participated in a vote granting $1.2 million to the Shalom Hartman Institute, where she also sits on the board.

While JFCS and Shalom Hartman are worthwhile causes, Friedman has failed to recuse herself in any discussions of massive grants to entities where she is on the board or employed. Friedman sees no conflict in directing millions in additional funds to entities where she has other interests and has no inclination to resign her JFCS position. Friedman has voted against every initiative by Mrs. Koret over the past two years seeking to bring independence, balance and transparency to the Koret board.

  • Michael J. Boskin is a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, which has received millions from the Koret Foundation over the years. Earlier this month, the board approved another $280,000 grant to the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research where Boskin is also a Senior Fellow and former director. Since 1992, Koret has approved grants totaling $4.5 million to support SIEPR, and millions to Hoover through Stanford.

 

  • Abraham Sofaer is another interlocking director on the board of Taube Philanthropies, and is also a Senior Fellow Emeritus at the Hoover Institution, based at Stanford University.  From 2010-2012, the Koret Foundation’s funding to Hoover and Stanford of nearly $4 million was about equal to its total support of all social welfare causes in the Bay Area combined.

 

In the lawsuit, Taube, a member of the Board of Overseers and the Executive Committee of the Hoover Institution, is alleged to have misused Foundation money to pay consultants to write editorials opposing Obama administration policies and to attend trips in support of Hoover.

The lawsuit also alleges that Taube:

  • Reduced funds targeted for Koret Foundation grantees and increased funds to organizations that are his personal favorites.

 

  • Used Koret funds to pay millions of dollars to entities affiliated with him or his close associates to manage the Foundation’s real estate holdings.

 

  • Without board approval, commissioned and installed a life-size mural depicting himself and now hung inside the Koret Foundation’s new headquarters in San Francisco at a cost to the Foundation of $80,000.

 

  • Paid more than $75,000 in Foundation money for promotional materials about himself, including booklets and newspaper advertisements.

 

  • Subsidized the operating costs of Taube Philanthropies by using Koret staff and resources for joint grant projects, and used Koret Foundation resources for travel, marketing and personal expenses.

 

  • Terminated a $35,000 contract of an independent publisher of a book about the life of Joseph and Stephanie Koret, the founder’s first wife. Taube was reportedly angry that the book was not about him or his contributions.

 

  • Along with counsel and board member Richard L. Greene, discriminated against and ridiculed Mrs. Koret and prevented her from speaking with Foundation staff.

Mrs. Koret in her lawsuit pledges to maintain the priorities of her husband by broadening the Koret board to include community leaders while maintaining a majority of Jewish directors.  She is committed to maintaining support for the anchor institutions in the Bay Area that Koret has supported over many years and to prevent any continued diversion of funds to out of mission organization and countries.

 

Jewish  Family and Children's Services

SUED: Anita Friedman, Jewish Family and Children’s Services

Partner of the San Francisco law firm Greene, Radovsky, Maloney, Share & Hennigh

SUED: Richard L. Greene, Partner of the San Francisco law firm Greene, Radovsky, Maloney, Share & Hennigh

President of Koret Foundation

SUED: Tad Taube, President of Koret Foundation

 

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LatinSF Initiative Launched

San Francisco Expands International Efforts to Create Greater Economic Ties with New Initiative to Strengthen Relationship between Latin America & United States; First Partnership Started with Mexico-Based Technology Acceleration Program

 Mayor Edwin M. Lee today officially launched the LatinSF economic development initiative at Silicon Valley Day in Mexico City as part of his official trade mission to Latin America. Modeled after the groundbreaking China-San Francisco economic development initiative ChinaSF, LatinSF is a new economic development initiative to promote business and trade between San Francisco and Latin America by attracting Latin American companies to San Francisco and helping San Francisco firms expand in the Latin American markets. The new initiative will support and boost San Francisco’s economy by creating a comprehensive international business recruitment, expansion and retention strategy.

“We can never take our economic recovery and expansion for granted and LatinSF is another way in which we are diversifying our economy, attracting new companies and jobs to our City and creating opportunities for San Francisco-based businesses around the world,” said Mayor Lee. “San Francisco has much to offer companies from Latin America, including a highly educated workforce, access to the largest venture capital community in the United States, and international connectivity to China, Asia and beyond. With the launch of LatinSF and the continued success of ChinaSF, San Francisco has secured its reputation as a global gateway.”

LatinSF will promote San Francisco as the center for Latin American entrepreneurs who wish to tackle the U.S. and global markets. Similarly, there are many opportunities in the technology, life sciences, cleantech and professional services sectors for San Francisco companies seeking to expand in the dynamic Latin American market.

“Following the success of ChinaSF, the San Francisco Center for Economic Development is proud to once again partner with the City of San Francisco to run the new LatinSF initiative,” said San Francisco Center for Economic Development (SFCED) Executive Director Dennis Conaghan. “The demand for assistance for Latin American companies has been steadily growing, and we believe that the timing is perfect to reach out to the region. San Francisco has a global brand as a city that welcomes innovative entrepreneurs and we look forward to extending that welcome to Latin American companies.”

Mayor Lee’s two-day visit to Mexico City is his first official trade mission to Latin America. The visit underscores the importance of the relationship between San Francisco, Mexico and the rest of Latin America. While in Mexico, the Mayor is meeting with government and business leaders to promote San Francisco as a center for innovation and entrepreneurship. The visit focuses on attracting Mexican companies to San Francisco, expanding bilateral economic cooperation and developing key partnerships to strengthen the business relationship between San Francisco and Mexico.

During the visit, Mayor Lee solidified the first LatinSF partnership with Startup Mexico, a government-backed entrepreneurial campus and incubation/acceleration program for Latin American technology firms, to ensure a steady flow of companies from the region to San Francisco.

“LatinSF is an excellent partner for Startup Mexico and we are looking forward to working with them to assist Latin American technology companies to access the amazing opportunities that San Francisco has to offer innovative entrepreneurs,” said Startup Mexico Director Marcus Dantus.

As well as a business attraction and retention efforts, LatinSF will support the growing Latin American technology eco-system in San Francisco by partnering with organizations such as the Latino Startup Alliance, the Chile-California Council and BayBrazil, a networking organization with more than 4,000 local members.

“We are very excited about partnering with LatinSF on events and incoming trade missions,” said Bay Brazil Director Margarise Correa. “Brazilians have a great interest in the San Francisco market, and LatinSF is well placed to capitalize on that.”

Many Latin American technology companies have already established offices in San Francisco, including Globant, an Argentinian company that recently became the first Latin American software company to launch a public offering on the NYSE. The company employs more than 100 people in San Francisco. Over the past three years, government trade offices from Mexico, Brazil and Colombia have all opened in San Francisco.

LatinSF has already garnered support for its efforts and counts the Mita Institute and Tech Accelerator (MITA), a business accelerator, venture fund and tech forum dedicated to building the innovation economy in Mexico, and AeroMexico among its early sponsors.

“We are excited to partner with LatinSF to build deeper synergies between the innovation economies of San Francisco and Mexico,” said MITA General Partner and Fund Manager Robin Reyes. “We believe San Francisco offers a singular ecosystem of needed mentorship, capital and business development opportunities to Mexico’s growing number of tech companies. As a dominant connector in linking these two regions, we are proud to be a supporter of LatinSF.”

About LatinSF

LatinSF is a dynamic new economic development initiative that will promote business and trade between San Francisco and the Latin American region. Created as a public-private partnership between the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development (OEWD) and the San Francisco Center for Economic Development (SFCED), the goal of LatinSF is to create a welcome environment for established Latin American companies to expand and startups to locate in San Francisco.  LatinSF will also support San Francisco-based companies that are seeking to expand their businesses in the Latin American region. For more information, go to: sfced.org/latinsf.

About Silicon Valley Day

Silicon Valley Day is an event organized by San Francisco technology companies to promote innovation, entrepreneurship and the Silicon Valley culture in Latin America. The event has been held twice in Sao Paolo, Brazil with attendances of almost 800 people. The event includes panels featuring San Francisco and Mexico based founders and executives who will share their business experiences. The Silicon Valley Day 2014 event is made ​​possible by Zendesk, Prezi, possible and 99designs. For more information, go to: siliconvalleyday.com.mx.

 

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Ro Khanna Campaign Silent Following Homophobic Rant by Republican Supporter Ernie Konnyu: Editorial

 

Ro Khanna Campaign Silent

Ro Khanna Campaign Silent

Congressional candidate Ro Khanna should  immediately take action and publically denounce the support of homophobic former Congressman Ernie Konnyu, Khanna’s highest-profile Republican endorser.

Konnyu, a one-term Silicon Valley Congressman who was voted out of office following a sexual harassment scandal, made news last week for orchestrating Tea Party support for Khanna, who is hoping to unseat longtime U.S. Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose.

But this week Konnyu took his right-wing vitriol a step further, using Facebook to publically attack the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce PAC for supporting openly gay Campbell Mayor Evan Low in his State Assembly race against former Saratoga mayor Chuck Page.

Konnyu waged his attack last Friday on a Facebook comment by former Chamber CEO Jim Cunneen, calling it “sick” that the Chamber PAC would support “a liberal so left that he wants to change the law to allow blood donations by gays. This, even though the current law forbids it since such blood has a risk of transferring the deadly AIDS virus. Yes! Gay pride is worth more with Evan Low than our citizens’ lives.”

Despite Cunneen’s efforts to prevent Konnyu from doing more damage by “counting to 10 before posting on Facebook,” Konnyu instead redirected his attack on Cunneen. “I am wiser, more experienced, and a lot older than you,” he said.

The San Jose Inside blog broke the story Wednesday but so far we’ve heard nothing from the Khanna campaign. By contrast, following last week’s news about the Tea Party’s support, Khanna’s campaign immediately responded with a “with friends like these…” shake of the head.

Konnyu is becoming a tremendous liability for Khanna, and we’re shocked that Khanna hasn’t denounced Konnyu’s misguided statements and support.

Let’s face it; Khanna doesn’t have a shot at defeating Honda, a seven-term incumbent with a proven track record of fighting for civil rights and same-sex equality.  However, that’s no excuse not to stand up and speak out against this kind of discrimination and homophobia – in his district and on his endorsement list.

 

 

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Splunk Technology Co. To Occupy 270 Brannan St.–Groundbreaking Draws Mayor Lee, SKS Partners, Mitsui Fudosan America

001 (1) 

Mayor Ed Lee today joined SKS Partners, Mitsui Fudosan America and more than 50 dignitaries at a ceremony today to officially break ground on 270 Brannan St. – the new 213,000 gross sq. ft. office building located in the heart of San Francisco’s SOMA neighborhood.  The space is already 100 percent leased to machine data player Splunk, which has another leased office building within the block of the new development.

“Our City’s South of Market neighborhood is going through an exciting renaissance, transforming an underutilized warehouse district into a growing, modern mixed-use area with office space, housing and small businesses,” said Mayor Lee. “I am thrilled to break ground on the 270 Brannan St. office building with SKS Partners and Mitsui Fudosan America who are committed to working with the community to ensure this neighborhood thrives economically yet maintains its historic presence.”

The building is being developed as a joint venture between San Francisco’s SKS Partners and Mitsui Fudosan America. The building was designed by prominent local architect, Peter Pfau, and Charles Pankow Builders is the general contractor.

Splunk, the big data technology company, will occupy the building when it opens in Dec. 2015.

“270 Brannan is the realization of the City’s 2008 Eastern Neighborhoods plan, creating a new office building for the growing economy that respects the historical context of the South Beach neighborhood,” said Dan Kingsley and Paul Stein, the Managing Partners at SKS.

City planners have praised the design of 270 Brannan St. for incorporating the character and history of the neighborhood while meeting the needs of its tenants.

The building will include a 5,000 sq. ft. internal atrium which will connect the building’s five-story front section and seven-story rear section. The building is targeting LEED Platinum Certification by the US Green Building Council and has many environmentally-friendly features such as roof-top solar panels.  It also includes spaces for 52 bikes along with adjacent showers and lockers in its basement. Automobile parking is limited to 12 spots in the building’s underground garage.

The building’s design will feature a pattern of alternating aluminum curtain wall windows and terracotta cladding on its Brannan Street façade, consistent with the surrounding South End Historic District. The rear façade, which fronts on DeBoom Street, will feature terracotta cladding on the lower floors with a floor-to-ceiling glass curtain wall on the top two floors.

“This groundbreaking is happening during a truly important time for environmental responsibility, both locally and globally. We are making real and lasting investments to improve our city, while protecting our environment and creating new jobs,” said Yukio Yoshida, President of Mitsui Fudosan America. “This building is believed to be one of the first to feature more bike parking spaces than car parking stalls in the history of San Francisco real estate developments and that, in and of itself, is a huge indication that we are opening a new chapter in San Francisco’s history of progress.”

The new 270 Brannan St. is scheduled to open in December 2015.

For more information, visit www.270brannan.com

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These Two Charts Show How The Priorities Of US Companies Have Gotten Screwed Up

If you’re looking for answers as to what has gone wrong in the U.S. economy–why so many people are unemployed, why so many Americans barely make enough to live on, why “the 1%” just keeps getting richer–here are two charts for you.

1) Corporate profit margins just hit an all-time high. Companies are making more per dollar of sales than they ever have before. (And some people are still saying that companies are suffering from “too much regulation” and “too many taxes.” Maybe little companies are, but big ones certainly aren’t).

 

 

2) Wages as a percent of the economy are at an all-time low. This is closely related to the chart above. One reason companies are so profitable is that they’re paying employees less than they ever have before.

 

 

What’s wrong with this picture?

What’s wrong is that an obsession with a very narrow view of “shareholder value” has led companies to put “maximizing current earnings growth” ahead of another critical priority in a healthy economy:

  • The happiness and well-being of employees.

What those who obsess exclusively about profits forget is that one company’s wages (costs) are other companies’ revenues.

If American companies were willing to trade off some of their current earnings growth to make investments in wage increases and hiring, American workers would have more money to spend. And as American workers spent more money, the economy would begin to grow more quickly again. And the growing economy would help the companies begin to grow more quickly again. And so on.

But, instead, U.S. companies have become obsessed with generating near-term profits at the expense of paying their employees more, making capital investments, and investing in future growth.

This may help make their shareholders temporarily richer.

But it doesn’t make the economy healthier.

And, ultimately, as with any ecosystem that gets out of whack, it’s bad for the whole ecosystem.

Our current system and philosophy is creating a country of a few million overlords and 300+ million serfs.

That’s not what has made America a great country. It’s also not what most people think America is supposed to be about.

So, with American companies earning record-high profits and paying record-low wages–and the economy continuing to sputter–we might want to rethink our priorities.

From Henry Blodget, Business Insideer

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The Gorilla Foundation Announces New Focus, Key Hires and Important Organizational Changes

KoKo gorilla

Koko gorilla

San Francisco–The Gorilla Foundation announced a series of important changes today, including anticipated new management positions, potential new Board members and a certain new focus, all designed to strengthen one of the world’s leading organizations for great ape understanding, care and conservation. “We have come to a crossroads in our Foundation’s history, and we have recognized the need to do more for the cause of the great apes through building global empathy for their preservation and care”

These improvements, made after an extensive internal review with the help of the Foundation’s Scientific Advisory Board, Governing Board and outside consultants, seek to balance the vital goals of caring for and protecting the gorillas (Koko and Ndume) while refocusing and reinvigorating the organization’s core mission of learning about gorillas through direct communication, and applying that knowledge to advance great ape conservation and prevent their extinction through education, compassionate care and empathy worldwide.

“We have come to a crossroads in our Foundation’s history, and we have recognized the need to do more for the cause of the great apes through building global empathy for their preservation and care,” said Dr. Penny Patterson, the lead researcher behind the Foundation’s groundbreaking “Project Koko,” which is to date the longest running interspecies communication project in history and the only one involving gorillas.

“Koko and her family have taught us so much over many decades and now, more than ever, we feel it is incumbent on this organization to share what we’ve learned with people across the globe, as a way to help put an end to poaching and build compassion for enhancing the care of gorillas and other great apes everywhere,” she said.

The Gorilla Foundation was founded in 1976 by Dr. Patterson, Ron Cohn and philanthropist Barbara Hiller to expand the groundbreaking and unique work of “Project Koko,” the first-ever project to study the linguistic capabilities of gorillas through sign language. Today, after decades of research and learning, Koko is able to use more than 1,000 signs, understands as many words of spoken English, and demonstrates the amazing ability to communicate her thoughts and express her feelings through sign language.

With the goal of protecting and honoring this legacy for generations to come, the Foundation’s leadership today announced, in addition to organizational changes, a series of goals and programs that are designed to make better use of what Koko and her family have taught us over the years. These include:

RESEARCH:

1. Gorilla Emotional Awareness Study (GEARS) will provide an analysis of Koko’s awareness of her emotions (introspection) and the emotions of others (empathy), in research made possible by her unique communication abilities.

2. Digital Data Archival of Project Koko for Future Crowd-Sourced Research will involve a partnership with a major university to digitize and preserve four decades of unique Gorilla Foundation data and archive it in a form that will facilitate analysis and collaboration.

EDUCATION:

3. Koko Signing App will allow the public to learn to sign with Koko and to understand her in videos designed to advance the public’s knowledge about gorillas and learn about their need for compassionate conservation.

4. Project Koko Interactive Database will be made available to scientific colleagues and great ape facilities so that they can make use of our direct experience and data, gained through years of communicating with gorillas.

CONSERVATION:

5. Publication of new book (with video), Michael’s Dream, about the remarkable life of Koko’s gorilla friend Michael, who, on several occasions, communicated (in sign language) his memory of witnessing his gorilla mother being killed by poachers in Africa. This was documented on video.

6. Wide Distribution of Koko’s Kitten & Michael’s Dream Books and Educational Curricula throughout Africa, to strengthen compassionate conservation values and support the preservation of endangered gorillas In their homelands. This builds on our successful distribution of Koko’s Kitten (and curriculum) to over 100,000 students in Cameroon.

CARE AND WELLNESS:

7. Enhancement of Koko & Ndume’s facilities to enrich their lives, expand their options for exploration and privacy, and create capacity for a larger gorilla family.

8. Gorilla Interspecies Communication Work/Play-Station will provide the gorillas with the use of interactive computer technology (including “tough tablets”) to allow them to have fun, express their preferences and have more control over their environment.

ORGANIZATIONAL INFRASTRUCTURE:

9. Expanding the Foundation’s Board of Directors to include more experts in our highly specialized field, as well as strategically selected business, finance and fundraising experts.

10. Developing a new executive team for leadership, fundraising and building strategic alliances.

These changes are being made as part of a focused process with three primary goals: 1) to ensure the care and protection of Koko and Ndume now and into the future and 2) to better apply the lessons learned by the Foundation to protect and enhance the lives of gorillas and other great apes worldwide, and 3) to allow our enlightening dialogues with Koko, Ndume and other gorillas to continue.

The Foundation’s leadership is tremendously appreciative of the contributions of its Board of Directors, Advisory Board, and its many consultants and colleagues, who were integral to the development of this new vision.

For more information about the Gorilla Foundation, visit www.koko.org.

 

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Oakland Mayor’s Race: Candidate Bryan Parker is Focus Of Unfair Domestic Violence Attacks

Bryan Parker, Candidate for Oakland Mayor, Faces Unfair DV Attacks

Bryan Parker, Candidate for Oakland Mayor, Faces Unfair Domestic Violence Attacks

Bryan Parker, the man I’m backing in the Oakland Mayor’s Race, is the focus of an unfair and hidden attack, writes Oakland blogger Zennie Abraham in his Zennie62.com blog. The rest of his post from yesterday is a fascinating overview of the silent attacks in political campaigns in Oakland, and in general.  We publish the column here for our readers:

For months, there’s been a whisper campaign brewing among Oakland insiders about the problems and issues of most all of the candidates. One of the most insidious rumor campaigns is about Bryan Parker. With 20 candidates now in the race for Oakland Mayor (not including Charlie The Dog) it was only a matter of time before the attacks started.

Soon after those whispers started, I received an anonymous package with two unverified, but authentic looking police reports filed against Parker a decade ago that describe two separate domestic issues between him and two different women, one in 2003 and one in 2006.

I have reached out to both of these women for comment and noticed that one is actually a volunteer on his campaign. I have chosen not to identify the women involved until at least I have the chance to discuss it with them.

As for the allegations in these reports, they show heated arguments between Parker and the women involved. They paint a less-than pretty picture and allege such things as harsh words and the brandishing of a hand gun used for intimidation purposes.

Bryan and I have talked about this issue before.

I reached out to Parker and he provided me with the statement that appears here (Bryan Parker Statement On Smear Campaign), saying he, too, had also received these police reports anonymously several months ago when someone left them in his fiancé’s mail box (which, if you think about it, is a form of harassment and intimidation).

 

Although Bryan was not surprised these incidents had come forward given the competitive mayoral campaign, he also had no awareness that these reports existed until now.
This made me curious as to the source of the information.

Considering the timing, all logic would suggest it was an operative of Mayor Jean Quan who was distributing these reports in an attempt to eliminate potential competition. Parker was one of the first candidates to announce and has remained a formidable frontrunner, although the field has recently grown widely.

Whether or not Quan’s campaign is behind this (and I’m told that it is, so Mayor Quan’s going to have to stop texting and driving and talking) there’s no doubt that the distribution of these reports are tactics being used by an opposing campaign.

For me, the question becomes should this be an issue?

These police reports were taken at the request of the women involved. No follow up investigation or reports exist about whether Parker was ever personally contacted by police about these allegations.

More important, no charges were ever filed against him because it appears the facts of both cases did not merit further investigation or action.

If all that is true – and these reports do in fact document heated disagreements between Parker and past partners – should they matter in this Mayor’s race?

As so often the case in politics, opponents are prone to cast broad and damaging allegations supported by little proof. Those of us who cover politics are accustomed to smear campaigns.

Character does matter and while it seems that Parker may have had some anger issues as a young man, but by all accounts there is just no semblance of that by anyone who has worked or dealt with him currently, including his fiancé Kamala Peart. (Kamala Peart Statement On Smear Campaign)

When reached for comment, Peart told me that she and Parker have shared the ups and downs expected of long-term relationships, saying: “While Bryan is not perfect, I know he is a man of kindness and compassion who has never been in trouble with the law or otherwise. I am proud to know that I am marrying a man who cared enough about his own self-improvement to seek counseling and work on his spirituality so that he could learn how to be the best man and partner he can be. I would never expose my children to a person who was anything other than kind and loving.”

I also spoke to some of my friends in law enforcement. They said that that they take and such reports seriously – if they had any merit, they would have followed up on them with urgency. The fact that they did not can only mean that officers found the allegations to be less than credible.

As I considered my pick for Oakland’s next mayor, I’ve weighed all of the issues against my own experience as Economic Advisor to Oakland Mayor Elihu Harris, and President Of The Super Bowl XXXIX Bidding Committee, including character, vision and, more important, a candidate’s ability to lead. Bryan Parker is still my top contender, and in rank choice fashion followed by Oakland Councilmember Libby Schaaf and Joe Tuman, 1, 2, and 3.

Not only does this latest incident demonstrate personal growth in Bryan, but it also shows integrity – here’s a candidate who is not shying away from his past and who is using personal experience to become a better person and leader in the future.

Meanwhile, Mayor Quan still has to talk about the active lawsuit filed against her by Donna White, who asserts that an “entourage” representing Oakland Mayor Jean Quan blocked Ms. White from sitting in an area that’s normally designated for the disabled.

Stay tuned.

By Zennie Abraham of Zennie62.com, an Oakland political blogger and opinion leader.

 

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Editorial: Good Riddance to George Lucas Vanity Museum: Chicago Be Careful What you Pray For

 

Alfred E. Neuman artwork is part of George Lucas 'art collection."

Alfred E. Neuman artwork is part of George Lucas “art collection.”

 

It was great to read the San Francisco Chronicle today and see two of its leading writers, Chuck Nevius and John King, both essentially say “Hasta la Vista, Baby!” to the vanity museum that Star Wars filmmaker George Lucas wanted to build in San Francisco’s Presidio.

The real story isn’t that Chicago “won” the Lucas Cultural Arts Museum, but rather that San Francisco was victorious in rejecting a poorly-designed monstrosity that would have housed the personal collection of George Lucas’ kitschy art collection.  Chicago has “won” Lucas’ oversized ego, his childish behavior, his grumpy development team, and his collection of art that would be best exhibited in a suburban mall.

All we can say is: Thank goodness for the leadership of the Presidio Trust which turned down this monument to Lucas’ bad taste.

The Presidio park is a jewel and is enjoying nearly 20 years of success by doing the right thing and planning properly for this National Landmark and Bay Area treasure.  The cheap and cheesy museum proposed by Lucas didn’t belong on a bluff overlooking the Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge and the Pacific Ocean.  We should all thank The Presidio Trust for acting in the best interest of the public and not in the interest of a vein Hollywood millionaire and rejecting what Chicago has all-too-quickly accepted.

Bravo Presidio Trust. Good luck Chicago.

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Recology Wins Resounding Victory Over False Claims by Disgruntled Ex-Employee

San Francisco, Calif. – A San Francisco jury today cleared Recology, San Francisco’s recycling and resource recovery provider, of all 154 allegations of filing false claims to the State of California in a lawsuit filed by a disgruntled former employee that claimed the company mischarged the State of California’s recycling redemption program.

The same jury returned a verdict against the recycling company on one of the five separate allegations of filing a false claim to the City and County of San Francisco. This verdict, if it stands, claims the company wrongly benefited in the amount of $1,366,933. Recology disagrees with this finding and will appeal.

“We are thankful for the jury’s determination that cleared Recology of 158 of the 159 allegations of false claims,” said Sam Singer, a spokesman for Recology. “This is a resounding victory for our company and its employee-owners.”

“Unfortunately, the complicated nature of this case has resulted in one finding against the company,” he added.  “We will be appealing the one verdict, as the facts simply do not support it.”

Recology is an industry leader in recycling and resource recovery programs and has helped San Francisco become the greenest city in North America, diverting 80 percent of its waste away from landfill. Recology programs have been replicated throughout the country and serve as a national model for resource recovery initiatives.

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CPUC PG&E Chicanery? California Commission Sudden Halt into PG&E Gas Pipeline Safety Raises Serious Questions, San Bruno Says

San Francisco, Calif. – The City of San Bruno today criticized a decision by the California Public Utilities Commission to halt its investigation into thousands of missing Pacific Gas & Electric Co. pipeline strength test records – a sudden and shocking reversal that’s prompted concerns of a possible backroom deal brokered between PG&E and the state agency tasked with regulating it.

 

The CPUC’s Safety Enforcement Division this week quietly halted its inquiry into the safety of 435 miles of gas pipelines across California after PG&E refused to turn the information over to regulators— causing speculation that PG&E may have applied outside pressure to compel the regulatory agency to end its investigation.

 

San Bruno officials are now calling upon the CPUC to immediately re-open the investigation to force PG&E to produce accurate strength test records for 23,761 segments of pipe covering more than 435 miles – records that PG&E explicitly told the CPUC it would produce by 2013.

 

State and federal investigators identified PG&E’s faulty recordkeeping as a leading cause of the fatal 2010 pipeline explosion and fire in San Bruno that killed eight, injured 66 and destroyed 38 homes.

 

“PG&E continues to play a lethal game with the lives of the public. We are deeply concerned by their persistent failure and unwillingness to produce accurate pipeline records, without which we cannot know whether our communities remain at risk for the same devastating and fatal explosion that we experienced in San Bruno,” said San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane. “Yet even more troubling is the CPUC’s decision to not pursue an investigation of these missing records even after preparing a motion to do so.”

 

“We question the CPUC’s sudden decision this week and are concerned it may be the result of inappropriate pressure applied by PG&E at the expense, once again, of public safety,” Ruane said.

 

The CPUC’s latest inquiry came about as part of the ongoing penalty proceeding to determine how much PG&E will be forced to pay for its gross negligence that caused the fatal explosion and fire in San Bruno. The CPUC’s administrative law judges are now considering penalties and fines against PG&E of up to $2.45 billion.

 

Yet, following unsuccessful attempts to obtain missing strength test records for more than 435 miles of pipeline directly from PG&E, the CPUC’s safety and enforcement division submitted a motion on May 30 to re-open the penalty proceeding’s record for the sole purpose of forcing PG&E to produce the documents.

 

San Bruno strongly supported the CPUC’s motion and its inquiry of the missing records, which city officials say are critical to instilling the public’s confidence in the safety of PG&E’s embattled pipeline system. San Bruno filed its own motion officially supporting the safety enforcement division’s request to obtain the missing records.

 

City officials are now questioning the division’s sudden decision to withdraw the motion and suspend the inquiry – a decision the city can only speculate as resulting from outside attempts by PG&E and its proxies to influence the CPUC’s actions.

 

“We are concerned that this decision is just further evidence of the cozy relationships that continue to jeopardize the CPUC’s ability to objectively regulate PG&E,” Ruane said.

 

San Bruno officials say this latest incident further underscores the need for an Independent Monitor, who would serve as a vigilant third-party watchdog over both PG&E and the CPUC.

 

“Only an independent monitor – free of the CPUC’s conflicts of interest and cozy relationships with PG&E that have jeopardized pipeline safety – can help guarantee that PG&E maintains good records and ensure that the CPUC provides the adequate and consistent oversight needed to keep our communities safe so that what happened in San Bruno never happens again,” Ruane said.

 

Ironically, PG&E has been spending millions of dollars on advertising its new “culture of safety,” with advertisements that stress the utility’s gas pipeline safety improvements since the San Bruno explosion and fire.  Yet, Ruane said, the utility can’t back up their advertising with proof that what they are telling the public is true.

 

Also this week, PG&E revealed that the U.S. Federal Prosecutor’s office expects to file additional legal actions against the utility for its gross negligence in the San Bruno case.  In April, the federal government charged PG&E with 12 felony violations of federal safety laws.

 

Is there a dirty deal between CPUC Michael Peevey and PG&E Executives?

Is there a dirty deal between CPUC Michael Peevey and PG&E Executives?

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New Technologies to Stop Texting and Driving

Despite the dangers, we just can’t seem to keep ourselves from texting and driving. For those having a difficult time putting down their phones to pay attention to the road, new technologies may provide an answer.

There are already applications to keep us from texting or answering calls while driving. Apps like Textecution, tXtBlocker, and AT&T DriveMode all block calls and messaging features while the phone is in motion. Some apps include additional features for parents (or employers) to be notified of particular activities.

It’s interesting to note that many of the hands-free applications do not actually reduce the amount of distraction, and in some cases end up being equally, if not more, distracting to the driver. This has increased the call for mobile devices to be put down completely while driving.

There are some shortcomings, however. Applications that automatically turn on when detecting speeds higher than 10 mph can be limiting usage for passengers in the car. Similarly, drivers can easily bypass the application by simply clicking the passenger option.

For the most part, keeping people from texting and driving is an awareness issue. Campaigns like It Can Wait and the Safe Texting Campaign are aimed at educating drivers, in particular young drivers, about the dangers of being distracted.

We’re likely to continue to see an increase in these as we become more and more intertwined with our mobile devices.

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Mayor Lee Announces Doubling Of City’s First Time Home Buyer Down Payment Home Loan Assistance Program

City’s Housing Trust Fund Grows Homeownership Opportunities for San Francisco Residents

Mayor Edwin M. Lee today announced the doubling of loan amounts for San Francisco’s Down Payment Assistance Loan Program (DALP), a homeownership program that provides financial assistance to low- to moderate-income first time home buyers, by offering a deferred-payment loan that requires no repayment for 40 years or at the re-sale of the unit. Starting this week, individual loans of up to $200,000 will be available to qualified buyers.

“The expansion of the DALP program proves the immediate and tangible impact of the Housing Trust Fund to assist the City’s first time home buyers and provide homeownership opportunities for San Francisco residents,” said Mayor Lee. “This down payment assistance program has assisted many working families in our City and will continue to support our diverse workforce that is so critical to our economy.”

Originally created through the passage of Proposition A in 1996, the program has traditionally provided loans of up to $100,000 for down payment assistance. However, given the high cost of homes in today’s market, a higher loan amount is need to enable low to moderate income borrowers to keep up with market conditions, especially families. Increased DALP amounts will enable San Francisco low to moderate income, first time homebuyers to better compete in today’s housing market, where the current median sales price is in excess of $800,000.

Through the passage of the Housing Trust Fund, the DALP will have available funds of $2 million this year, which will enable the larger downpayment amount to be available for individual down payment loans. The Housing Trust Fund will also provide an additional $1 million for the First Responders Program this year. Altogether, during the first five years following the passage of the Housing Trust Fund, through loans provided through the DALP and the First Responders Program, San Francisco will be able to help at least 100 households buy their first home.

The Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development (MOHCD) offers qualified buyers a number of programs that can assist first time homebuyers. In addition to the DALP, the BMR – DALP Downpayment Assistance Program (CalHome) aids first time home buyers purchasing a Below Market Rate unit. To date, MOHCD’s homeownership assistance programs have helped almost 3,000 families to buy a home. More than 600 DALP loans have been made, and since this program’s launch in 2013, MOHCD has funded four First Responder loans totaling nearly $500,000, with six other loans in process to close in 2014.

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Ecuador Plaintiffs, Steven Donziger, Committed Fraud against Chevron in Ecuador Case

Berlinger and Donziger

Joe Berlinger’s (left) Film “Crude,” paid for by Ecuador Plaintiff Attorney Steven Donziger, ultimately led to a crushing victory for Chevron Corporation in the Ecuador Case

Chevron Corporation won a major victory today when a New York federal judge ruled that the case against the oil company in Ecuador was procured by fraud.

U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan in New York found that lead plaintiff attorney Steven Donziger used bribery, coercion, fraud and other illegal means to create a fraudulent case against Chevron in Ecuador.

Donziger, whose fraudulent lawsuit was supported by environmental organizations such as AmazonWatch in San Francisco, Rainforest Action Network, Earthrights International, and other alleged environmental groups, might have gotten away with the crime if it were not for the sloppy work of Hollywood movie director Joe Berlinger.

Berlinger, who was paid by the plaintiffs to produce a film that lambasted Chevron for alleged pollution in Ecuador, ultimately and ironically, became Chevron’s savior.

Berlinger’s movie “Crude” produced evidence that led Chevron to its important court victory today in New York.

In making his ruling, Judge Kaplan  said Donziger and the Ecuador plaintiffs used “corrupt means” to secure a multi-billion-dollar pollution judgment against Chevron Corp in Ecuador, giving a major setback for attorneys hoping to collect on the award.

Kaplan said he found “clear and convincing evidence” that attorney Steven Donziger’s legal team bribed an Ecuadorean judge to issue an $18 billion judgment against the oil company in 2011.

The villagers had said Texaco, later acquired by Chevron, contaminated an oil field in northeastern Ecuador between 1964 and 1992.  Ecuador’s high court cut the judgment to $9.5 billion last year.

Kaplan’s decision bars Donziger and environmental groups like AmazonWatch and public relations agent Karen Hinton from enforcing the Ecuadorean ruling in the United States. It may also give Chevron legal ammunition in other countries where the plaintiffs could try to go after Chevron’s assets.

At a six-week trial last year, Chevron accused Donziger of fraud and racketeering and said Texaco cleaned up the site, known as Lago Agrio, before handing it over to a state-controlled entity.

Below is the full text of U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan’s opening judgement today against Steven Donziger and the Ecuador plaintiffs:

“Steven Donziger, a New York City lawyer, led a group of American and Ecuadorian lawyers who brought an action in Ecuador (the “Lago Agrio” case) in the names of 47 plaintiffs (the“Lago Agrio Plaintiffs” or “LAPs”), on behalf of thousands of indigenous peoples of the Orienté region of Ecuador, against Chevron Corporation (“Chevron”).

They claimed that Chevron was responsible for extensive environmental damage caused by oil activities of Texaco, Inc. (“Texaco”), that ended more than twenty years ago and long before Chevron acquired Texaco’s stock.

After years of pressuring Chevron to settle by a variety of both legitimate and illegitimate means, Donziger and his clients obtained a multibillion dollar judgment (the“Judgment”) in the Ecuadorian courts and now seek to enforce it around the world.

Chevron then brought this action, contending among other things that the Judgment was procured by fraud.  Following a full trial, it now seeks equitable relief against Donziger and the two of his Ecuadorian clients who defended this case in order to prevent any of them from profiting from the alleged fraud or from seeking to enforce the Judgment in the United States.

This case is extraordinary. The facts are many and sometimes complex. They include things that normally come only out of Hollywood – coded emails among Donziger and his colleagues describing their private interactions with and machinations directed at judges and a court appointed expert, their payments to a supposedly neutral expert out of a secret account, a lawyer who invited a film crew to innumerable private strategy meetings and even to ex parte meetings with judges, an Ecuadorian judge who claims to have written the multibillion dollar decision but who was so inexperienced and uncomfortable with civil cases that he had someone else (a former judge who had been removed from the bench) draft some civil decisions for him, an 18-year old typist who supposedly did Internet research in American, English, and French law for the same judge, who knew only Spanish, and much more. The evidence is voluminous.

The transnational elements of the case make it sensitive and challenging. Nevertheless, the Court has had the benefit of a lengthy trial. It has heard 31 witnesses in person and considered deposition and/or other sworn or, in one instance, stipulated testimony of 37 others. It has considered thousands of exhibits. It has made its findings, which of necessity are lengthy and detailed.

Upon consideration of all of the evidence, including the credibility of the witnesses– though several of the most important declined to testify – the Court finds that Donziger began his involvement in this controversy with a desire to improve conditions in the area in which his Ecuadorian clients live. To be sure, he sought also to do well for himself while doing good for others, but there was nothing wrong with that. In the end, however, he and the Ecuadorian lawyers he led corrupted the Lago Agrio case.

They submitted fraudulent evidence. They coerced one judge, first to use a court-appointed, supposedly impartial, “global expert” to make an overall damages assessment and, then, to appoint to that important role a man whom Donziger hand-picked and paid to “totally play ball” with the LAPs.

They then paid a Colorado consulting firm secretly to write all or most of the global expert’s report, falsely presented the report as the work of the court-appointed and supposedly impartial expert, and told half-truths or worse to U.S. courts in attempts to prevent exposure of that and other wrongdoing. Ultimately, the LAP team wrote the Lago Agrio court’s Judgment themselves and promised $500,000 to the Ecuadorian judge to rule in their favor and sign their judgment. If ever there were a case warranting equitable relief with respect to a judgment procured by fraud, this is it.

The defendants seek to avoid responsibility for their actions by emphasizing that the Lago Agrio case took place in Ecuador and by invoking the principle of comity. But that warrants no different conclusion.

Comity and respect for other nations are important. But comity does not command blind acquiescence in injustice, least of all acquiescence within the bounds of our own nation.

Courts of equity long have granted relief against fraudulent judgments entered in other states and, though less frequently, other countries. Moreover, the United States has important interests here. The misconduct at issue was planned, supervised, financed and executed in important (but not all) respects by Americans in the United States in order to extract money from a U.S. victim.

That said, considerations of comity and the avoidance of any misunderstanding have shaped the relief sought here. Chevron no longer seeks, and this Court does not grant, an injunction barring enforcement of the Lago Agrio Judgment anywhere in the world.

What this Court does do is to prevent Donziger and the two LAP Representatives, who are subject to this Court’s personal jurisdiction, from profiting in any way from the egregious fraud that occurred here. That is quite a different matter. Indeed, the LAP Representatives’ lawyer recently conceded before the Second Circuit that the defendants “would not have a problem” with “the alternative relief that [Chevron] would be seeking, such as enjoining the person who paid the bribe from benefitting from it,” assuming that the judge was bribed.

Defendants thus have acknowledged the propriety of equitable relief to prevent individuals subject to the Court’s jurisdiction from benefitting from misdeeds for which they are responsible. And while the Court does enjoin enforcement of the Judgment by these defendants in the United States, that limited injunction raises no issues of comity or international relations. It is the prerogative of American courts to determine whether foreign judgments may be no different conclusion.

Comity and respect for other nations are important. But comity does not command blind acquiescence in injustice, least of all acquiescence within the bounds of our own nation.

Courts of equity long have granted relief against fraudulent judgments entered in other states and, though less frequently, other countries. Moreover, the United States has important interests here.  The misconduct at issue was planned, supervised, financed and executed in important (but not all) respects by Americans in the United States in order to extract money from a U.S. victim.

That said, considerations of comity and the avoidance of any misunderstanding have shaped the relief sought here. Chevron no longer seeks, and this Court does not grant, an injunction barring enforcement of the Lago Agrio Judgment anywhere in the world.

What this Court does do is to prevent Donziger and the two LAP Representatives, who are subject to this Court’s personal jurisdiction, from profiting in any way from the egregious fraud that occurred here. That is quite a different matter. Indeed, the LAP Representatives’ lawyer recently conceded before the Second Circuit that the defendants “would not have a problem” with “the alternative relief that [Chevron] would be seeking, such as enjoining the person who paid the bribe from benefitting from it,” assuming that the judge was bribed.1

Defendants thus have acknowledged the propriety of equitable relief to prevent individuals subject to the Court’s jurisdiction from benefitting from misdeeds for which they are responsible. And while the Court does enjoin enforcement of the Judgment by these defendants in the United States, that limited injunction raises no issues of comity or international relations. It is the prerogative of American courts to determine whether foreign judgments may be laws of any nation that aspires to the rule of law, including Ecuador – and they knew it. Indeed, one Ecuadorian legal team member, in a moment of panicky candor, admitted that if documents exposing just part of what they had done were to come to light, “apart from destroying the proceeding, all of us, your attorneys, might go to jail.”2

It is time to face the facts.”

Link to the judgement: http://tinyurl.com/o8p6gve

 

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San Bruno Online Petition Calls for CPUC to Hold PG&E Accountable for Gas Explosion

The City of San Bruno launched an online petition drive last week that seeks the public’s participation in calling on the California Public Utilities Commission to hold Pacific Gas & Electric Company and its shareholders accountable for the fatal Sept. 9, 2010 pipeline explosion in San Bruno and to demand that a penalty levied against PG&E is invested in a safety improvement program to prevent future tragedies in other California communities.

More than three years after the explosion, the CPUC’s administrative law judges are expected to issue their recommended penalty in the coming weeks, after which the CPUC’s five-member commission will ultimately determine how much PG&E will be forced to pay for the fatal explosion that federal and state investigators determined was entirely preventable and did not have to happen.

San Bruno’s petition – which already has more than 6,900 signatures – is available at: www.gaspipelinesafety.org, a website established by the City of San Bruno to petition the CPUC through the free, online petition platform Change.org.  City officials said they started the website and petition after members of the public asked how they could voice support for a penalty and fine to force PG&E shareholders to fund repairs to its aging and deadly pipeline infrastructure.

Federal investigators found that PG&E’s years of neglected safety repairs resulted in the 2010 explosion that killed eight, injured 66 and destroyed scores of homes in San Bruno. Now, the City of San Carlos is facing a similar problem with PG&E over similar faulty data for a gas pipeline. PG&E estimates that it doesn’t know the safety status of nearly 20 percent of its thousands of miles of gas pipelines in California.

“The public is outraged by PG&E’s decades of neglect and misallocation of resources that resulted in eight people losing their lives,” said San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane. “Citizens and cities throughout California are at the same risk of what happened in San Bruno. Now is the time to take action and this petition gives the public that ability.”

“Citizens throughout California often ask me and other city leaders what they can do to support San Bruno and change our broken public utility system,” Ruane said. “We started this online petition to provide the public an outlet for those concerns, and we encourage everyone to join myself and the members of the San Bruno City Council in signing to support a safe gas pipeline system here and in communities everywhere.”

The petition calls on the CPUC to levy the recommended $2.45 Billion penalty and fine against PG&E shareholders – not ratepayers – for the San Bruno explosion, requiring that shareholders  invest in needed repairs to guarantee the safety of PG&E’s aging pipeline infrastructure.

In addition, the petition to the CPUC’s Executive Director asks the CPUC to assign an Independent Monitor to serve as a statewide safety watchdog. The Independent Monitor would protect public safety at the risk of future negligence by PG&E and weak oversight by the politically appointed CPUC commissioners with close ties to utilities.

Last, the petition implores the CPUC to change the way regulators do business and end regulators’ cozy relationships and the conflicts of interest with utility companies. Federal investigators identified these troubling relationships as contributing factors to the disaster in San Bruno.

Every time a member of the public signs the petition, an e-mail will be automatically sent to CPUC Executive Director Paul Clanon, Gov. Jerry Brown and PG&E CEO Tony Earley – sending a direct message that the public is watching and holding them accountable.

“Members of the public, especially those who have been personally affected by PG&E’s gross negligence here and across the state, are invested in this process, and they are paying attention,” Ruane said. “We hope this petition sends the message to not only the CPUC but also to the Governor of California and to the CEO of PG&E that the public is concerned, and that we are watching to make sure public safety is a priority.”

City officials say the public outreach campaign and petition drive at gaspipelinesafety.org is also designed to inform the public about why the ongoing penalty process against PG&E is, more than three years after the explosion, still relevant and important to the safety of communities statewide. Federal investigators determined the explosion to be result of faulty pipeline construction, bad record-keeping and decades of neglected pipeline safety improvements that continue to threaten the safety of communities across California.

PG&E executives recently admitted to serious record-keeping errors and were sanctioned by the CPUC for failing to inform regulators of these problems on a pipeline in San Carlos, Calif. – problems a PG&E engineer likened to “another San Bruno situation” in an internal e-mail to company officials.

It is projected that PG&E will need to spend nearly $10 billion in the coming years to test and replace its gas lines because PG&E historically failed to track and maintain those lines.  City officials say the proposed $2.45 billion penalty and fine is important and necessary because PG&E will be forced to spend it on these very improvements.

More importantly, the penalty is structured such that shareholders – not ratepayers – will be forced to cover these costs, saving ratepayers from shouldering about 20 percent of PG&E’s total capital needs.

“This decision before the CPUC has lasting implications about the safety of our aging pipeline infrastructure,” Ruane said. “We implore members of the public to learn more and support our drive to change a flawed system so that what happened in San Bruno is never permitted to happen again, anywhere.”

Visit www.gaspipelinesafety.org to sign the petition or get more information.

 

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Transbay Transit Center Completes Excavation of More Than 600,000 Cubic Yards of Soil

Today, the Transbay Joint Powers Authority (TJPA) reached a significant project milestone – completing excavation for the Transbay Transit Center.

“This brings us another step closer to the opening of the ‘Grand Central Station of the West,’ said Maria Ayerdi-Kaplan, Executive Director of the Transbay Joint Powers Authority. “The Transbay Project has revitalized San Francisco’s South of Market neighborhood and will continue to generate economic growth throughout the region. Construction of the new Transbay Transit Center will strengthen the Bay Area’s position as a national leader in sustainable, transit-oriented development.”

Today’s milestone marks the end of an excavation process which removed 640,000 cubic yards of soil from a work site that spans four city blocks and is among the largest excavations in the City’s history.  The excavation for the Transit Center is the equivalent of 120 Olympic size swimming pools or has enough room to stack 50,400 Mini Coopers.  The TJPA recycled much of the excavated soil or sold it for reuse on other construction projects while bay mud or soil with high clay content went to clean landfills.

With the soil removed, crews are free to continue laying the five-foot thick layer of cement that will serve as the foundation for the future Transbay Transit Center.  The foundation, the pouring for which began in September, will ultimately require 60,000 cubic yards of concrete.  Once the foundation is complete, the TJPA will begin erecting the structural steel for the Transit Center.

“After more than three years of hard work below grade, we are excited to bring this building to life as the steel framework emerges from the excavation,” said Executive Director Ayerdi-Kaplan.

The Transbay Transit Center, located between Beale, Mission, Second, and Howard Streets, is a revolutionary transportation facility.  When the Transit Center opens in late 2017, it will connect eight Bay Area counties and is designed to accommodate 11 transit systems, including Caltrain and future intercity rail.  The emerging South of Market neighborhood, focused on the new Transit Center, will become the new heart of downtown San Francisco.  To learn more about the Transbay Project, please visit our website at www.TransbayCenter.org

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PG&E Attempt to Improperly Influence California PUC Should Result in Penalty, City of San Bruno Demands in Legal Filing

Jack Hagan, CPUC Safety HeadElizaveta Malashenko

Jack Hagan and Elizaveta Malashenko of the CPUC Safety Enforcement Division made allegedly illegal deal with PG&E

San Bruno, Calif. – An attempt by Pacific Gas & Electric Company to broker what appears to be a secret deal with a California Public Utilities Commission staffer should result in significant penalties and fines for the utility company and the creation of an independent monitor to ensure transparency and accountability of the CPUC, San Bruno demanded in a legal filing with the CPUC today.

The apparent backroom deal, revealed in a report by Jaxon Van Derbecken San Francisco Chronicle newspaper, detailed how PG&E hoped to quietly pay  a $375,000 fine to avoid paying a proposed $2.5 billion in penalties and fines for the 2010 San Bruno explosion and fire that killed eight, injured 66, destroyed 38 homes and left a giant hole in the center of the city.

In a legal motion filed with the CPUC on Friday, San Bruno officials demanded that PG&E face a significant fine for violating CPUC rules when, in December, it paid a $375,000 fine imposed by the CPUC’s safety enforcement division – and then quietly asked that the fine count against the multi-billion-dollar penalty it faces for violations stemming from the San Bruno pipeline disaster.

It was revealed that no parties involved in the more than three-year San Bruno penalty proceeding were made aware of PG&E’s secret payment. Instead, the CPUC withdrew the fine and refunded the $375,000 payment amid concerns that PG&E had attempted to broker a backroom deal that could have triggered a form of regulatory double jeopardy, preventing the CPUC’s administrative law judges from levying a sufficient future penalty.

“Instead of being transparent and forthcoming, PG&E appears to have consciously elected to conceal an ill-fated attempt to quietly settle for the fatal and tragic pipeline disaster in San Bruno,” said San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane. “We believe PG&E should be fined and reprimanded for trying to undermine the ongoing penalty investigation and possibly jeopardizing more than three years of work to ensure that what happened in San Bruno never happens again, anywhere.”

“This attempt to circumvent the legal and public process also raises troubling questions about the CPUC safety division and its staffer who attempted to conceal this backroom deal,” representatives for the city added. “This action is just the latest attempt by the PG&E and some members of the CPUC safety division to hide from public view the unholy alliance and power PG&E has with our State’s regulatory agency.  That is why San Bruno demands an independent monitor to ensure the CPUC is operating properly and transparently.”

The $375,000 fine was originally levied in December by the CPUC’s safety enforcement division in response to a 2012 audit, which concluded that for more than four decades PG&E lacked the proper procedures to monitor its gas-transmission pipelines. Reliable reports indicate that CPUC safety division deputy director Elizaveta Malashenko, who made this deal with PG&E, has a longstanding personal relationship with PG&E outside of her CPUC job.

Because the infraction related directly to the ongoing San Bruno-related penalty proceeding, it should have been handled as part of that process. Instead, it was handled and paid separately, without notification to any parties and in violation of CPUC’s own procedures.

San Bruno officials say they suspect that a backroom deal, involving illegal ex-parte communications between PG&E and the CPUC, played a role in this mishap. Attorneys for San Bruno have filed a public records request to determine whether PG&E officials spoke directly with CPUC leadership to arrange for the fine that PG&E paid – and later tried using to reduce their overall penalty.

In December, the CPUC fined PG&E $14 million for failing to disclose faulty pipeline records in San Carlos to both the CPUC, the public and the City of San Carlos for nearly a year, creating a possibly dangerous public safety issue that one of its own engineers likened to possibly “another San Bruno situation” in an internal email to PG&E executives.

San Bruno officials say this latest attempt to undercut its obligation to the public further underscores the need for an Independent Pipeline Safety Monitor to serve as a vigilant third-party watchdog over both PG&E and its regulator, the CPUC.

“The Commission lacks the resources to effectively comprehend and oversee PG&E’s compliance,” said the city’s filling. “An Independent Monitor would partner with and provide additional resources to the Commission in order to have more robust regulatory oversight necessary to protect the safety of the public.”

The San Bruno filing came on the same day as the announcement that CPUC Commissioner Mark Farron will be resigning from the Commission to concentrate on beating prostate cancer.

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San Francisco Christmas Eve Day Toy Drive for Children at Handlery Hotel by Firefighters is a Success

 

San Francisco Firefighters Union Local 798 held a successful toy drive to make sure no child went without a toy in San Francisco this Christmas, thanks to Jon Handlery and his family’s landmark San Francisco hotel.

 

Dressed as Santa Claus, San Francisco Firefighter Bob Cuff and costumed characters accompanied by off-duty firefighters were in front of the Handlery Union Square Hotel, 351 Geary (between Powell and Mason), San Francisco from 9 a.m. to midnight on Christmas Eve day.

 

Beloved hotel owner Jon Handlery and Handlery hotel staff served as “Santa’s Helpers” and assisted with the collection of thousands of toys for needy San Francisco kids.

 

The Handlery Hotel has raised $3,500 and donated two barrels of toys to the drive this year to ensure no kid were without a Holiday present.

 

Firefighters Union Local 798 asked people to bring unwrapped toys which were collected in front of the Handlery Hotel. Everyone who brought a toy got free pictures with Santa and many children brought their lists of Christmas wishes to Santa in person.

 

An additional toy drive was held just next door to the hotel at Lefty O’Doul’s bar and pub, a property which is also owned by the Handlery family.

 

SF Firefighters Local 798 Toy Program

 

The Local 798 San Francisco Firefighters Toy Program is celebrating its 64th year of providing toys to San Francisco children in need during the holidays.  The San Francisco Firefighter’s Toy Program is San Francisco’s largest and the nation’s oldest program of its kind.  Since 1949 it has evolved from a few firefighters repairing broken toys and bikes for 15 families to, in 2012, 300 firefighters and friends volunteering their time to distribute over 200,000 toys to more than 40,000 disadvantaged children.

 

Besides helping individual families in need, the Toy Program serves many community organizations, including shelters for abused women and children, inner-city schools, children’s cancer wards, and pediatric AIDS units.

 

The Toy Program is made possible through public donations and the efforts and contributions of Local 798 members.

 

Firefighters Union Local 798 wishes to thank Jon Handlery & the staff of the Handlery Union Square hotel for welcoming the Toy Program at their property.

 

 

The Handlery Union Square Hotel

 

Located at Union Square, the Handlery Union Square Hotel offers the perfect San Francisco lodging for vacationers and business travelers.  As a fourth generation family-owned hotel, the Handlery has created great experiences for guests by offering personal service, beautifully appointed rooms, and a warm atmosphere.  Ideally located right next to the world famous Powell Street cable car line, the Handlery Union Square Hotel is a beloved San Francisco institution.

 

 

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Canvasback Missions Takes a Major Step in the Fight Against Diabetes in the Marshall Islands

By Alexander Hirata

Canvasback Missions has spent years working to reverse the diabetes epidemic in the Marshall Islands. They’ve brought specialty medical care to the islands for over 30 years, and have run the Diabetes Wellness Center on Majuro since 2006. Now, Canvasback is working to reverse the epidemic of diabetes in the Marshall Islands by preventing the onset of the disease before it begins.

 

Made possible by a generous grant from the World Diabetes Foundation, Canvasback is working with Antonia Demas, Ph.D., and Marshall Islands health officials to bring health education into the classroom. Dr. Demas has visited the Marshall Islands twice so far, traveling last with Canvasback co-founder Jacque Spence and employee Jaylene Chung to implement trials of the new food education curriculum in the public schools on Majuro and Ebeye in October. The team trained instructors how to teach from the curriculum, which involves special hands-on activities to engage children and make food education fun.

 

Dr. Antonia Demas studied education, nutrition, and anthropology at Cornell University. She has developed food-based curricula for schools for over 40 years, successfully implementing her “Food is Elementary” program in over 3,000 schools. Demas is also the founder and president of the New York-based Food Studies Institute, a not-for-profit created to improve children’s health through food education.

 

One of Demas’ key beliefs is that the food we eat directly affects our health. Processed foods have replaced natural ones, and chemical preservatives are now a regular part of our diets. Demas believes that children are the ideal group to teach food literacy to: they don’t have established diets that are difficult to change; they are open to new ideas, especially if taught using sensory (taste, touch, and visual) methods; and healthy habits now would prevent illnesses later.

 

Canvasback is proud to work with Demas, because both know that food education is essential to reverse diabetes in the Marshall Islands. It is cost-efficient, slipping into the existing educational system, yet its effects will last for a lifetime. And once established, local schools and teachers will be in full control of the program. The most difficult part of the program won’t be getting kids interested in healthy eating–it will be waiting years to see how well it pays off.

 

To learn more about the work of Canvasback Missions, contact them at: 940 Adams St., Suite R, Benicia, Calif. 94510. Phone: 800-793-7245 or email them at info@canvasback.org

 

 

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California PUC to Consider Historic Fine Against PG&E and Orrick Herrington Law Firm Attorney in Faulty Gas Line Case

Joseph M. Malkin

PG&E and its Orrick Herrington Attorney are Facing Historic Fines and Legal Sanctions for Misleading the California Public Utilities Commission

The California Public Utilities Commission will vote on historic sanctions and a fine of up to $17 million against the Pacific Gas & Electric Corp. Thursday, Dec. 19 for failing to disclose faulty pipeline records in San Carlos to both the CPUC, the public and the City of San Carlos for nearly a year, creating a possibly dangerous public safety issue that one of its own engineers likened to possibly “another San Bruno situation” in an internal email to PG&E executives.

PG&E and its attorney Joseph M. Malkin of Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP law firm are facing a fine of up to $17 million for violating CPUC rules and discreetly filing an “errata” – the legal term for a minor correction – on the status of two pipelines, located in San Carlos and Millbrae, nearly a year after a gas leak unexpectedly revealed faulty records for those pipelines.

Pipelines listed as “seamless,” as in the case of the line that ruptured in San Bruno, were in fact a 1929 vintage welded and reconditioned gas pipe with a strength test less than records showed. The legal correction was made quietly on the afternoon of July 3, 2013, a day before the CPUC took off for the July Fourth holiday, disclosing the fact that PG&E had relied on faulty records to determine the specifications for those pipelines to handle gas at high pressure.

The Commission will make this decision three weeks after PG&E CEO and Chairman Tony Earley made a special presentation before the CPUC in an attempt to convince commissioners and the public of the company’s renewed commitment to safety. Earley was met with a skeptical commission, which challenged PG&E’s credibility in the face of mounting recordkeeping errors and threats to public safety. “We find ourselves here today with a public that doesn’t believe you and in many respects doesn’t believe us,” Commissioner Mike Florio said to Earley at the hearing.

City of San Bruno officials have agreed with the proposed fine against PG&E and are calling on the CPUC to uphold proposed sanctions against PG&E for deliberately covering up the facts after it used faulty records to determine that two Bay Area pipelines could safely operate – a decision demonstrating the continued problem with PG&E record keeping practices. Bad record keeping was one of the causes of the 2010 PG&E disaster in San Bruno and continues to threaten public safety.

Calling the July 3 PG&E filing a “brazen and calculated act of damage control,” San Bruno attorneys say PG&E’s legal maneuver illustrates PG&E’s ongoing attempts to cover its tracks as it continues to use natural gas pipelines at inappropriate operating pressures, without accurate records and with the same flawed materials that caused a tragic explosion and fire in San Bruno that killed eight, destroyed 38 homes and damaged scores more.

City officials were shocked to discover that, after gross negligence and bad recordkeeping by PG&E resulted in the fatal tragedy in San Bruno, PG&E paid its legal team to perpetuate their deception at the risk of public safety. They are now calling on the CPUC to issue sanctions and send the strong message that such behavior will not be tolerated. Officials question how many communities must endure tragedy before PG&E and our state utility regulators wake up and put safety first.

Faulty recordkeeping was found to be a major contributor to the explosion and fire in San Bruno after federal and state investigators found that PG&E had maintained bad or nonexistent pipeline safety records for much of its 1,000+ miles of urban natural gas transmission lines. As a result, state regulators required PG&E to lower pressure on its other Peninsula gas pipelines until safety records could be verified.

In 2011, PG&E declared that the pipeline construction records were accurate for both Line 101, which runs from Milpitas to San Francisco, and Line 147, which runs in the San Carlos area. Based on PG&E’s representations, the CPUC allowed PG&E to increase the pressure back to pre-explosion levels.

In reality, PG&E’s pipelines were not rated to operate at higher pressure, as revealed after an October 2012 corrosion-related leak in San Carlos revealed seams in the pipeline previously not thought to exist. Yet, it took nine months for the company to admit – by way of the subtle “errata” filing — that the records it had relied on to make that determination were faulty.

At previous CPUC hearings, regulators pressed PG&E over the “profoundly troubling” oversight, which occurred despite “the expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars for record review and validation.” PG&E now faces fines of up to $17 million, on top of a possible $2.25 billion penalty and fine stemming from the fatal 2010 explosion and fire in San Bruno.

San Bruno officials say this is just the latest example of PG&E expending millions on top attorneys – more than $120 million by PG&E’s own admission – to subvert the truth and put profits over people.

 

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Coke executives meet in days to decide if they should condemn Russia’s anti-gay crackdown.

Coca-Cola executives are just days away from deciding whether or not to speak out against Russia’s brutal new anti-gay laws – and we need to show them the potential brand damage at stake if they stay silent.

Coke is a major sponsor of next year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. The Olympics should be about celebrating all that is good in humanity. But instead,the Sochi Olympics risks being known for hatred and homophobia, due to a draconian new Russian anti-gay law that criminalizes even coming out of the closet.

So far, Coke has remained silent on Russia’s LGBT crackdown – that’s why we’re joining with All Out to show Coke how many people want the company to speak out against this law. If we succeed, we can set off an earthshaking domino effect that pushes other international sponsors to follow.

This is the best shot we have at creating a billion-dollar problem for Russia that can ultimately push it to overturn its horrific anti-gay laws.

Tell Coca-Cola executives meeting this week to condemn Russia’s anti-gay laws and call for their repeal.

Russia’s anti-gay law forbids anyone from “promoting non-traditional sexual relations’. In practice, this means anyone can be arrested and jailed for something as simple as coming out, wearing a rainbow pin, or demonstrating in public.

Mega-corporations like Coca-Cola have invested millions in sponsoring the Olympics and billions in their operations in Russia. In effect, Coca-Cola and others are bankrolling the Sochi Olympics. This gives them huge influence on the thinking of the International Olympic Committee and the Russian government.

It’s easy to think we can’t influence what’s happening in an authoritarian regime like President Vladimir Putin’s Russia. But Putin craves legitimacy and glory. If we can get the companies that are paying for his personal public relations exercise to step up and criticize this vicious anti-gay law, then Putin’s Olympic games are in trouble.

As a community, we’ve shown what can be achieved when we work together for LGBT rights. We’ve fought against transphobia in newspapers like the Daily Mail. Together, we persuaded Pepsi to fight against Uganda’s anti-gay law, and we ran a huge campaign to thank Starbucks for supporting marriage equality. We’re defending the most basic of all human rights: the right to life, the right to live free of unfair arrest, and the right to be yourself.

Tell Coca-Cola to support Russian LGBT people and condemn the brutal anti-gay law.

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San Bruno Demands Accurate PG&E Pipeline Records and Active CPUC Oversight

 San Bruno City leaders today called on the Pacific Gas & Electric Company and the California Public Utilities Commission to provide accurate pipeline safety records, enhanced emergency response protocols and vigilant State oversight following revelations of persistent safety threats to PG&E’s pipeline 147 in San Carlos, just 14 miles south of the deadly 2010 PG&E pipeline explosion in San Bruno.

At a hearing hosted by Sen. Jerry Hill and a California Senate subcommittee on Gas and Electric Infrastructure Safety on Monday, leaders from the cities of San Bruno and San Carlos said they were deeply troubled to discover that PG&E had once again used faulty records to falsely determine the San Carlos pipeline safe. Even worse, that it took 11 months for PG&E to alert San Carlos officials of possible threats to the defective pipe. Federal and state investigators identified faulty recordkeeping as the leading cause of the Sept. 9, 2010 pipeline explosion in San Bruno that killed 8, destroyed 38 homes and damaged scores more.

Of equal concern was the lack of oversight provided by the CPUC, the regulatory agency that is supposed to act as a watchdog for public safety, which also failed to notify city leaders, city staff, and the public of the potential for “sitting on another San Bruno situation,” according to PG&E’s own engineer.

“We call on PG&E and the CPUC to remedy these persistent threats to the safety of our communities,” said San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane. “We ask that PG&E and the CPUC communicate with local governments in a manner that is honest, timely and transparent so that city and county leaders are not left in the dark after a threat is discovered beneath our communities and our citizens.”

City leaders asked for the help of Sen. Hill and state leaders by establishing an Office of Local Government Liaison, which would coordinate emergency response plans with a community’s first responders and force utilities like PG&E to operate with transparency and integrity with regard to their facilities.

Ruane said state intervention was necessary to end the faulty recordkeeping by PG&E and the lack of transparency by PG&E and the CPUC, which continues to put the lives of all 740,000 county residents at risk.

“Each of the 20 cities in San Mateo and their citizens deserve to know about threats to their safety from PG&E and the CPUC,” Ruane said. “This is not just a matter of common sense but mandatory of a company that enjoys a legal monopoly and of the regulatory agency, the CPUC, whose very job is to protect the public, its interest and its safety.”

San Bruno is asking the following going-forward commitments from PG&E and the CPUC:

  • That PG&E notify cities, counties and the CPUC within 24 hours should it detect any immediate threats to public safety or any discrepancies in its records.
  • That PG&E staff a dedicated, 24/7, employee to its Dispatch and Control Room, trained to communicate with emergency responders and city officials in the event of an emergency.
  • That PG&E provide better public awareness and outreach programs to local governments so that emergency responders are aware of important pipeline information and know what to do in an emergency.
  • That PG&E work with local cities to establish a regular, productive and open 2 way communication to address important safety issues in each community.

San Bruno is seeking an Independent Monitor to ensure that PG&E follows its own safety plan in the face of possible lax enforcement by politically appointed CPUC Commissioners with close ties to utilities.  San Bruno also reminded the committee that the City is seeking maximum penalties and fines from the CPUC against PG&E for its gross negligence in the San Bruno Explosion and Fire – a decision that is expected to be made within coming months.

“San Bruno will continue to hold PG&E accountable for its past actions and to advocate for changes and active oversight by the CPUC,” Ruane said. “We are committed to ensuring that legacy of our City becomes an opportunity to prevent another deadly explosion from happening again, in San Carlos or in any community in our state.”

 

 

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Where Even the Middle Class Can’t Afford to Live Any More

FROM THEATLANTICCITIES.COM

High-cost cities tend to have higher median incomes, which leads to the simple heuristic that, sure, it’s costlier to live in San Francisco than in Akron, but the people who pay bills there make enough money that they can afford it.

In reality, yes, the median household income in metropolitan San Francisco is higher than it is in Akron (by about $30,000). But that smaller income will buy you much, much more in Ohio. To be more specific, if you make the median income in Akron – a good proxy for a spot in the local middle class – 86 percent of the homes on the market there this month are likely within your budget.

If you’re middle-class in San Francisco, on the other hand, that figure is just 14 percent. Your money will buy you no more than 1,000 square feet on average. That property likely isn’t located where you’d like to live. And the options available to you on the market are even fewer than they were just a year ago, according to data crunched by Trulia. To frame this another way, the median income in metro San Francisco is about 60 percent higher than it is in Akron. But the median for-sale housing price per square foot today is about 700 percent higher.

The gulf between those two numbers means that the most expensive U.S. cities aren’t just unaffordable for the average American middle-class family; they’re unaffordable to the relatively well-off middle class by local standards, too.

To use an even more extreme example, the median income in metropolitan New York is about $56,000 (including families in the surrounding suburbs). If someone making that much money wanted to buy a home on the market this October in Manhattan, the most expensive home they could afford would cost about $274,000. A mere 2.5 percent of for-sale housing that’s available in Manhattan now costs that little. Oh – and those properties are averaging 500 square feet.

Trulia ran these numbers based on the assumption that a family shouldn’t spend more than 31 percent of its pre-tax income on housing (and that it must pay local property taxes and insurance). This data also assumes that a family makes a 20 percent down payment on a home – a daunting feat even on a six-figure income in somewhere like Los Angeles or New York.

In San Francisco, a household making $78,840 a year can top out buying a home worth about $409,000. 24 percent of the homes for sale in the area were below that threshold last October. Now it’s just 14 percent. In fact, in every one of those 10 metros, a smaller share of homes are considered affordable now to the middle class than last year.

Affordability is effectively declining as home prices are rising (and at a much faster rate than median incomes). Within the most expensive metros, the most affordable housing is also located in the areas that require some of the longest commutes. In metro New York, for instance, the Bronx and Nassau County are home to the bulk of the most affordable housing in the region.

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CPUC Should Fine PG&E, Orrick Law Firm Millions for Gas Pipeline Safety Cover-Up Says City of San Bruno

CPUC Should Sanction and Fine PG&E and its law firm Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe and Attorney Joseph M. Malkin in Public Gas Line Safety Cover-up

San Francisco, Calif. – City of San Bruno officials this week called on the California Public Utilities Commission to sanction Pacific Gas & Electric’s legal team for deliberately covering up for PG&E after it used faulty records to determine that two Bay Area pipelines could safely operate – a decision demonstrating the continued problem with PG&E record keeping practices. Bad record keeping was one of the causes of the 2010 PG&E disaster in San Bruno and continues to threaten public safety.

In a filing late Sept. 26 with the CPUC in response to an order to “Show Cause Why It Should Not Be Sanctioned,” San Bruno asked that PG&E’s legal team, including top attorney Joseph M. Malkin of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, be sanctioned for discreetly filing an “errata” – the legal term for a minor correction – on the status of two pipelines, located in San Carlos and Millbrae, nine months after a gas leaked revealed those pipelines. The legal correction was made quietly on the afternoon of on July 3, 2013, a day before the CPUC took off for the July Fourth holiday, as a strategy to hide the fact that PG&E had relied on faulty records to determine the specifications for those pipelines to handle gas at high pressure.

Calling the July 3 filing by Malkin a “brazen and calculated act of damage control,” San Bruno attorneys say PG&E’s latest legal maneuver illustrates PG&E’s ongoing attempts to cover its tracks as it continues to use natural gas pipelines at inappropriate operating pressures, without accurate records and with the same flawed materials that caused a tragic explosion and fire in San Bruno that killed eight, destroyed 38 homes and damaged scores more.

“Gross negligence and bad recordkeeping by PG&E resulted in a fatal tragedy in our community, and now we’re discovering that PG&E is paying its legal team to perpetuate their deception at the risk of public safety,” said San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane. “PG&E and its lawyers continue to play Russian roulette with people’s lives, and we are calling on the CPUC to issue sanctions and send the strong message that this behavior will not be tolerated. How many communities must endure tragedy before PG&E and our state utility regulators wake up and put safety first?”

Faulty recordkeeping was found to be a major contributor to the explosion and fire in San Bruno after federal and state investigators found that PG&E had maintained bad or nonexistent pipeline safety records for much of its 1,000+ miles of urban natural gas transmission lines. As a result, state regulators required PG&E to lower pressure on its other Peninsula gas pipelines until safety records could be verified.

In 2011, PG&E declared that the pipeline construction records were accurate for both Line 101, which runs from Milpitas to San Francisco, and Line 147, which runs in the San Carlos area. Based on PG&E’s representations, the CPUC allowed PG&E to increase the pressure back to pre-explosion levels.

In reality, PG&E’s pipelines were not rated to operate at higher pressure, as revealed after an October 2012 corrosion-related leak in San Carlos revealed seams in the pipeline previously not thought to exist. Yet, it took nine months for company attorneys to admit – by way of the subtle errata filing — that the records it had relied on to make that determination were faulty.

At a Sept. 6 hearing at the CPUC, state regulators pressed PG&E attorney Joseph Malkin over the “profoundly troubling” oversight, which occurred despite “the expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars for record review and validation.” PG&E now faces fines of up to $250,000 for its mistake, on top of a possible $2.25 billion penalty and fine stemming from the fatal 2010 explosion and fire in San Bruno.

San Bruno officials say this is just the latest example of PG&E expending millions on top attorneys – more than $120 million by PG&E’s own admission – to subvert the truth and put profits over people.

At the Sept. 6 hearing, the PG&E legal team was selectively unresponsive to questions posed by the CPUC’s administrative law judges, invoking “attorney-client privilege,” which allowed them to dodge tough questions. Attorneys for San Bruno are asking that the CPUC conclude that PG&E waived its attorney-client privilege.

“Enough is enough. San Bruno will not sit by and watch PG&E willingly take advantage of public trust any longer,” Ruane said. “Three years after tragedy struck our community, we will continue to serve as a vigilant watch dog for public safety so that what happened in our community never happens again anywhere.”

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Bakery that Refused to Make a Cake for a Same-Sex Couple Closes its Doors

The Oregon bakery that is the target of a discrimination complaint for refusing to make a wedding cake for a lesbian couple’s wedding, has closed its doors.

Sweet Cakes by Melissa in Gresham, Ore., closed its storefront Saturday, after owners Aaron and Melissa Klein said they would operate their business out of their home.

Sweet Cakes owner Aaron Klein

 

 

“This will be our last weekend at the shop we are moving our business to an in home bakery. I will post our new number soon. Email will stay the same,” read a post on the bakery’s Facebook page.

The Kleins are at the center of a complaint filed with the OregonDepartment of Justice last month citing an alleged possible violation of the state’s human rights ordinance that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation andgender identity in places of public accommodation.

The complaint, filed by Rachel Cryer and Laurel Bowman, stated that Aaron Klein called them “abominations unto the Lord,” and said their money wasn’t equal.

Klein said he sells cakes to customers of all sexual orientations, but draws the line, however, at wedding cakes for same-sex couples.

The Sweet Cakes websitereinforces the Klein’s belief in marriage as between one man and one woman, and a sign posted on the door of their now closed bakery read, “The fight is not over.”

The Klein’s say their religious freedom is being violated.

The 2007 Oregon law provides an exemption for religious organizations and parochial schools but does not allow private business owners to discriminate based on sexual orientation.

If state investigators find substantial evidence of discrimination, the complaint could lead to a settlement or proceedings before an administrative law judge.

The amount of the damages that could be awarded isn’t capped and depends on the circumstances of each case, said bureau spokesman Charlie Burr.

Last week, a Portland bar owner was ordered to pay about $400,000to a group of transgender patrons he banned from his establishment last year, a violation of the same human rights law the Kleins are accused of violating.

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