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Drakes Bay Oyster Co: Judge Slams Majority Opinion, Calls it a “Hand Waving” decision

INVERNESS, CALIF. — Owners of the Drakes Bay Oyster Company today said they strongly disagree with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal’s decision to eject the historic oyster farm, and that attorneys for Drakes Bay are now reviewing all options before announcing the farm’s plans moving forward.

The Ninth Circuit’s three-judge panel ruled 2 to 1 today against the oyster operation, with Justice Paul J. Watford writing a dissenting opinion in support of the oyster farm. In the dissent, Watford wrote that Drakes Bay should have prevailed on its claim that Secretary Salazar’s decision was, “arbitrary, capricious or otherwise not in accordance with law.” Watford also stated that the majority opinion consisted of “hand waving” containing “nothing of any substance”, and that the injunction should have been granted (see pg. 47 from the Ninth Circuit decision).

The well-loved oyster farm asked the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to prohibit the Federal Government from ejecting Drakes Bay from its property, destroying its business and taking away the jobs of its 30 employees before the case was even fully litigated.

“As community farmers and environmentalists, we continue to hold firmly in our belief that we have taken the appropriate measures to protect and preserve the waters of Drakes Estero and the wildlife that calls the National Seashore home,” said Kevin Lunny, owner of Drakes Bay.

For years, Drakes Bay has been fighting against false science and unsupported accusations from the Interior Department and the National Park Service in their attempts to close down the farm.  In a decision made last November, then-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar refused to issue a permit to allow Drakes Bay to continue farming upon the expiration of its 40-year-lease. The lease allowed the farm to operate on public land within the Point Reyes National Seashore, which was created decades after the oyster farm’s inception.

Drakes Bay asserts that the Ninth Circuit panel failed to consider several critical issues in their decision. Drakes Bay alleges that Salazar illegally determined that the Estero’s “potential wilderness” designation prevailed over Congress’ more recent direction, which authorized the renewal of the farm’s permit due to the fact that Salazar’s decision relied heavily on scientific misconduct and false science.

“The Ninth Circuit’s decision to deny this injunction is a step backwards not only for Drakes Bay, but also for Marin County, proponents of sustainable agriculture and farmers around the country. Our attorneys are now reviewing all of our options before we announce our plans moving forward.” Lunny said.

About Drakes Bay Oyster Company

Oyster farming in Drakes Estero, located in Point Reyes, Marin County, has been part of the region’s history for nearly 100 years. The Lunnys, a fourth-generation ranching family, purchased Drakes Bay in 2004 to revive a historical part of the local community and ensure the continued environmental health of Drakes Estero.  Drakes Bay currently employs nearly 30 community members, and farms sustainably in Drakes Estero, producing approximately one-third of all oysters in California. The Lunny family works hard to participate in keeping the agricultural economic system in West Marin alive. Drakes Bay actively participates in the creation of a more sustainable food model that restores, conserves, and maintains the productivity of the local landscapes and the health of its inhabitants. For more information, please visit www.drakesbayoyster.com.

 

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America’s Cup Race Jury Decision Makes Oracle Team USA Underdog in Most Contested America’s Cup in History

 

Oracle Team USA Now Is The Underdog in Most Heated America's Cup in History

 

An international jury has levied the harshest penalties in the 162-year history of the America’s Cup, docking defending champion Oracle Team USA two points in the finals against Emirates Team Zealand and expelling a key sailor.

The penalties announced against the syndicate Tuesday are for illegally modifying prototype boats in warmup regattas last year and earlier this year.

Oracle Team USA must win 11 races to retain the silver trophy. Team New Zealand must still win nine races in the series, which starts Saturday on San Francisco Bay.

Dirk de Ridder, who trims the wing sail, is barred from sailing in the regatta, and two shore crew members also have been expelled. Grinder Matt Mitchell has been barred from the first four races.

Oracle Team USA also was fined $250,000.

“The rules infractions involved only a few of our 130 team members, and were done without the knowledge of either our team’s management or the skippers who were driving the boats,” said team CEO Russell Coutts in a statement. “While we disagree with the unprecedented penalties imposed by the Jury, we have no choice but to make the necessary changes to personnel on our race boat and do our best to use the next four days for the new team to practice and get ready for the start of the 34th America’s Cup.”

The scenario creates the most hotly contested America’s Cup race in the storied history of the sport, clearly placing the Oracle Team USA as the underdog in the series against Emirates Team Zealand.  Despite the stupidity of Team USA members for participating in the boat weighting affair, the hard lesson learned has created a more than healthy rivalry with the Kiwi team.

The Kiwi team and the New Zealand media may have overplayed their hand and protested too much, creating an animosity with the American team.  American’s fight best when they are down, and they are assuredly down now, having lost three members of their team and two match points.

The New Zealander team has been together for four years and now the Oracle Team USA has only been selected and together for four days.  That’s quite a contrast, and, combined with the jury’s penalties, puts them in a fight, win or die position.  And, it also adds excitement and a new angle to what has been, up until now, a rather lackluster sporting event in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Hand it to Larry Ellison. Even when his team screws up, they make the best and most exciting things out of it.

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America’s Cup: Is Emirates New Zealand Team Celebrating America’s Cup Jury Decision Too Soon?

America’s Cup: Jury Rigged?

The level of glee by the Emirates New Zealand  team and news media over foibles of Oracle Team USA has taken such a decidedly nasty turn that members of the International Jury have delayed their decision over what penalties, if any, should be given to defending America’s Cup champion team in the “weighting scandal.”

Clearly, Oracle Team USA made a serious mistake. Who in Hell puts weights on a ship to make it go faster? And, who in Hell does it in “pre-season” matches when it doesn’t matter in scoring America’s Cup races?

It was a stupid move by someone/s on Team USA, but it shouldn’t impact the most sought after silver trophy in the World, The America’s Cup.

But the New Zealand team, and the media down-under, have gone “John Bull Mad” over the alleged scandal and created such an ugly scene they have brought disrepute on themselves as much as Team USA. It’s embarrassing to read the ‘homer” news copy from the Kiwis.

The N.Z. media’s fawning stories about the “cheating scandal” and how it has harmed the sport are hogwash.  The America’s Cup is always controversial and the Kiwi’s namby-pamby media patter has made the entire sport look amateurish, low-class and soft.

The jury should make its decision and it should be fair and square–something that has not been so far with leaks from the Jury and other questionable allegations making their way into the media.

The Jury’s pending decision should not be delayed any longer and the decision must be commensurate with the alleged wrong doing: if no harm and no impact was had on the America’s Cup race itself, why should any of the sailors or Team USA be penalized? Really?

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Did PG&E CEO Tony Earley Lie to Bloomberg News on Bankruptcy Statement on CPUC San Bruno Fine?

 

Did PG&E CEO and Chairman Tony Earley Knowingly Mislead Bloomberg News and Wall Street?

 

Pacific Gas & Electric Company CEO Tony Earley’s statement to Bloomberg News this week has landed the utility executive between a rock and hard place.

The City of San Bruno today criticized statements by the top executive of Pacific Gas & Electric Company who told Bloomberg News on Tuesday that a proposed penalty and fine by the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) for the deadly 2010 PG&E gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno could force the utility into bankruptcy – statements that contradict the sworn legal testimony of PG&E’s own finance expert.

PG&E Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Tony Earley told Bloomberg in a news interview the proposed $2.25 billion penalty and fine for the Sept. 9, 2010 explosion in San Bruno that killed eight, destroyed 38 homes and damaged the community could not be funded with equity alone. He told the news service the penalty would require PG&E shareholders to sell billions in additional stock and, if shares failed to sell, could land PG&E in bankruptcy.

San Bruno city officials said these comments contradict the findings of multiple experts, including PG&E’s own paid finance consultant.

“Mr. Earley’s comments are inconsistent with the company’s own sworn testimony made before the CPUC on March 5 this year,” said San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane. “PG&E’s own expert said the company has the financial capability to withstand a penalty of this magnitude. We are deeply concerned that these comments could mislead the market, shareholders, and the public, and we hope these were not made in a deliberate attempt to influence the outcome of the ongoing penalty process.”

Earlier this year, PG&E’s paid expert, Eric O. Fornell of Wells Fargo Securities, said during a penalty proceeding under oath that it was “doable” for PG&E to issue equity or raise enough capital to cover a $2 billion penalty. His statements followed a separate, impartial report by Overland Consulting, independently commissioned by the CPUC in 2012, which similarly found that PG&E would be able to afford a $2.25 billion penalty without hurting its creditworthiness.

Meanwhile, PG&E stock prices remain strong. PG&E Corp.’s second-quarter earnings rose 39 percent as the utility reported stronger revenue and lower charges related to its natural-gas pipeline efforts, among other items.

The company’s solid financial footing and multiple expert findings are partly what guided the $2.25 billion recommendation of the CPUC’s safety division, which issued its revised penalty proposal in July. The proposed $2.25 billion penalty would fund ongoing safety improvements and include a $300 million fine to PG&E shareholders, which is not tax deductible and would be paid directly to the State of California’s general fund. In addition, the proposal also curtails PG&E’s ability to deduct “credits” for safety repairs made since the 2010 explosion and fire – a provision San Bruno has advocated strongly for.

San Bruno officials said they support elements of the CPUC’s proposed penalty, but given the scope and magnitude of PG&E’s misconduct, they are pushing for a penalty of $3.8 billion, which would amount to $2.45 billion in after-tax dollars. This penalty would also fund ongoing safety improvements and give no credits for past expenses. San Bruno based its recommendation on the Overland report, which determined that PG&E could bear a maximum financial consequence of $2.45 billion and remain solvent.

San Bruno said it will also continue pushing the CPUC to direct PG&E to adopt and fund a series of remedial measures that will ensure systemic regulatory change in the future. These include $5 million per year for a “California Pipeline Safety Trust,” an Independent Monitor to make sure PG&E follows its own safety plan in the face of possible lax enforcement and the installation of lifesaving Automated Shutoff Valves.

The CPUC’s five-member commission is expected to issue its final recommendation in coming months.

“As we approach the three-year anniversary of this devastating tragedy, we remain firm in our belief that the only way to prevent future accidents is by penalizing PG&E to the maximum,” Mayor Ruane said. “The independent experts – even PG&E’s – have agreed that PG&E is financially able to weather a penalty of this magnitude—and then some. We are now looking to the CPUC to do the right thing and penalize PG&E in order to send a strong message that public safety cannot be compromised by the bottom line.”

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Study: Single-payer healthcare system would save billions

Expanding the nation’s Medicare program to cover people of all ages would save the government billions of dollars, according to a new study released Wednesday.

The study found that a single-payer health care system based on the principles of legislation by Rep. John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.), the Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act, would save the federal government about $592 billion in one year.

That’s more than enough to pay for comprehensive benefits for all Americans at a lower cost to the public, according to Physicians for a National Health Program, which circulated the study. The extra money would go to paying down the national debt.

The savings would come from slashing administrative waste and negotiating drug prices.

The study was conducted by Gerald Friedman, a professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

“Paradoxically, by expanding Medicare to everyone we’d end up saving billions of dollars annually,” Friedman said. “We’d be safeguarding Medicare’s fiscal integrity while enhancing the nation’s health for the long term.”

The study comes as Republicans in Congress are pulling out all the stops to repeal President Obama’s health care overhaul. Tea Party Republicans have in recent weeks vowed to oppose any measures to keep the government running after the current funding bill runs out on Sept. 30 if it also means funding ObamaCare.

Republicans have generally opposed the idea of a single-payer health care system in the past.

 

By Lara Seligman, The Hill

 

 


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Prince William and Kate’s Royal Baby Boy is Third in Line to British Throne

Prince William’s wife Kate gave birth to a boy on Monday, the couple’s first child and the third in line to the British throne, heralding celebrations in London and messages of goodwill from across the world.

“We could not be happier,” Prince William said in a brief statement, after he witnessed the birth of his son at 4:24 p.m. (11:24 a.m. ET), an event that sparked an international media frenzy and the illumination of London landmarks in blue.

His office said Kate and the baby, weighing 8 lbs 6 oz (3.8 kg) and to be publicly named at a later date, were both doing well and would stay in hospital overnight.

Prince William phoned his grandmother the queen to give her the news, and also contacted his father Prince Charles and brother Prince Harry, all of whom were said to be delighted. The addition to the family is third in line to the throne after Prince Charles and William.

It might take some time for the name to emerge however. The announcement of William’s name took more than a week, but bookmakers make George the favorite, followed by James.

As the birth of the queen’s third great-grandchild was announced, a loud cheer went up from the well-wishers and media gathered outside St. Mary’s Hospital in west London, where William was also born to the late Princess Diana in 1982.

“It is an incredibly special moment for William and Catherine and we are so thrilled for them on the birth of their baby boy,” said Prince Charles, the heir to the throne.

Within minutes, messages of congratulations began flooding in, while crowds gathered outside the queen’s London residence Buckingham Palace where an official notice was placed on a gold-colored easel at the main gates.

U.S. President Barack Obama was one of the first world leaders to welcome the birth.

“Michelle and I are so pleased to congratulate The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on the joyous occasion of the birth of their first child,” he said. “We wish them all the happiness and blessings parenthood brings.”

The royal couple, officially known as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, had arrived at the hospital shortly before 6 a.m. and entered through a back door to avoid massed ranks of British and international media camped outside the main entrance.

Kate and William, both aged 31, met when they were students at St. Andrews University and were married in April 2011 in a spectacular wedding broadcast around the world.

FRENZY

The royal birth has provoked a similar frenzy, with media keeping up a deluge of speculative reports for days beforehand and particularly throughout Monday.

“Right across the country and indeed right across the Commonwealth people will be celebrating and wishing the royal couple well,” Prime Minister David Cameron told waiting reporters in Downing Street.

“It is an important moment in the life of our nation but I suppose above all it’s a wonderful moment for a warm and loving couple who got a brand new baby boy.”

Outside Buckingham Palace, there was a party atmosphere with well-wishers laying flowers and teddy bears, singing “God Save the Queen” and “Happy Birthday”, and children waving flags.

“The build up to the birth has been so big I’m just happy it’s finally come. I’m pleased it’s a boy, you always want a boy really,” said Alice Durrans, who rushed from a nearby restaurant after hearing the news.

Deborah Beeson, a banker from the United States, was ecstatic.

“It’s wonderful. I got chills. I cried,” she said. “You know America loves Kate. She’s just beautiful, she has dignity.”

There will be a 41-gun salute at London’s Hyde Park and 62 rounds fired at the Tower of London on Tuesday to herald news of the birth.

The baby arrives at a time when the royal family is riding a wave of popularity. An Ipsos Mori poll last week showed 77 percent of Britons were in favor of remaining a monarchy over a republic, close to its best-ever level of support.

DARK DAYS

The dark days for the House of Windsor after the death of William’s mother Princess Diana in 1997, which led to public anger at the royals, have been replaced with outpourings of support for William and Kate’s wedding and the Diamond Jubilee for the queen last summer.

“It’s been a remarkable few years for our royal family,” Cameron said.

The couple, who have been living in a cottage in north Wales where William is based as a Royal Air Force helicopter pilot, will eventually take up residence with their baby at Apartment 1A at London’s Kensington Palace when a 1 million pound refurbishment is completed later this year.

The palace was also William’s childhood home.

The young royal couple have become global stars after some 2 billion people tuned in to watch their glittering marriage ceremony in 2011, while Kate is seen as a fashion icon.

(Additional reporting by Belinda Goldsmith, Sarah Young, Limei Hoang and Mark Anderson; Editing by Angus MacSwan, Michael Roddy and Eric Beech)

 

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Centerplate and Teamsters Reach Agreement for Employees at AT&T Park, Other SF Venues: New Pressure on Local 2 UNITE HERE to Bargain in Good Faith

San Francisco—Centerplate, one of the largest hospitality and concession companies in North America, and San Francisco’s Teamsters Local 853 recently announced the ratification of a collective bargaining agreement for 200 retail and food service employees working at AT&T Park, Candlestick, and the Cow Palace. The agreement, which extends through March 31, 2016, includes an immediate wage increase, a signing bonus and excellent health and welfare benefits.

The announcement comes as Local 2 Unite Here refuses to respond to Centerplate’s proposals for a wage increase and bonus for food service workers at AT&T Park and Candlestick. Rather than negotiating a fair deal with Centerplate, Local 2′s Union boss, Mike Casey, has stated for months he will not agree to Centerplate’s economic proposal while at the same time refusing to provide a counter proposal.

“Centerplate would like to thank the Teamsters for working with us to achieve a deal for our employees and provide our team with the wages and benefits they deserve,” said Sam Singer, spokesperson for Centerplate. “It is bizarre to us that we can come to terms with the Teamsters in a matter of hours for an agreement that provides for improved wages, while Local 2 continues to focus on irrelevant issues. We invite Local 2 to return to the table with a renewed sense of urgency to accept our proposal that immediately puts money in the pockets of our employees—their members,” said Singer.

The agreement reached between Centerplate and the Teamsters took a total of 6 hours and includes the following terms:

1)      An immediate $1.50 per hour increase and a minimum of a $.40 per hour increase in years 2 and 3 of the contract for Food Service workers;

2)      A $500 signing bonus for Food Service workers who worked at least 40 events last year;

3)      An immediate $1.40 per hour increase and a $.30 per hour increase for years 2 and 3 of the contract for Merchandise workers;

4)      A $100 signing bonus for Merchandise workers who worked at least 40 events last year; and

5)      A $5,000 increase in pension contributions per year, raising Centerplate’s annual pension contribution to $20,000 per year.

Last month, Local 2 union leaders walked out on contract negotiations with Centerplate and a Federal Mediator, once again failing to make an economic counter proposal, thereby denying, for the time being, Centerplate’s employees at AT&T Park and Candlestick the economic benefits that would flow from a new contract.

“We hope this sends a clear message to Unite Here’s labor boss, Mike Casey, that it’s possible that we can reach a fair and reasonable deal, but that doing so requires both parties to focus on the best outcome for Centerplate’s employees, not on third parties,” said Singer. “These past few months, Mike Casey has spent almost as much time picketing and demonstrating as he has sitting at the negotiation table where a fair deal awaits Centerplate employees. Ultimately, it’s the employees who are paying the price. Centerplate’s deal with the Teamsters demonstrates again that we are willing to deliver bonuses, salary increases, and the health and welfare security that our employees deserve,” said Singer.

Under Union boss Casey, Local 2 continues to make non-economic demands outside of the concessionaire’s control and has threatened years of potential labor strife and demonstrations. In May, Local 2 was sued by Centerplate for attempting to illegally force the San Francisco Giants into signing a “successor addendum” that would bind the baseball team, and any future concessionaire at AT&T Park, to the same terms Local 2 negotiates with Centerplate. This action is illegal under federal labor law, Centerplate officials said, because the foodservice employees at AT&T Park are employed by Centerplate and not the San Francisco Giants, who are being unfairly dragged into a fight that is not theirs to have.

As a seasonal, part-time labor force, Centerplate’s employees currently earn the highest wages in the nation, making an average of approximately $15 to $20 per hour. These part-time employees also receive some of the best benefits, with fully paid healthcare individually and for their families. Most of these workers do not work enough hours to qualify for health benefits under Obamacare, but Centerplate has provided it to them all along.

To ensure seamless exceptional service for fans, Centerplate has made an offer than includes:

  • A ratification bonus of approximately 4.5 percent—$500—for those who worked more than 40 games in 2012;
  • A 1.7 percent annual wage increase on top of what already is the best compensation package in the industry;
  • Increased contribution of 9.2 percent to the Unite Here benefit plans; and
  • Employer paid health care for employees and their families.

For months, Centerplate has been in negotiations over a new contract. Local 2 delayed requesting negotiations for nearly two years and, even after it first offered to bargain, Local 2 dragged its feet and delayed negotiations. Throughout this time, Centerplate has been encouraging Local 2 to move quickly to find a solution.

“Nothing is more important to Centerplate than our employee partners and the customer service experience we provide guests. Local 2’s actions and demands are an attack on our guests and the community groups we partner with at AT&T Park and Candlestick. It is time for Local 2 to come back to the table and focus on a realistic agreement,” Singer said.

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Major Victory for Drakes Bay Oyster Co. as Marin Court Allows Farm to Remain Open Until Federal Lawsuit is Resolved

Amy Trainer, Environmental Action Committee of West Marin executive director, discredited by false statements against Drakes Bay Oyster Co. Court makes favorable  judgement for DBOC

A Marin County Superior Court Judge put two orders by the California Coastal Commission on the back burner that would have forced the historic Drakes Bay Oyster Company (DBOC) to shut down prior to the resolution of a pending federal lawsuit.

“We are pleased that the court stayed the restoration order, recognizing that it was inappropriate for the Commission to act while the federal permit is still  under review by the Court,” said DBOC owner, Kevin Lunny.  “We are  troubled, however, that the Commission continues to misrepresent the oyster farm operations to the public and the Court. We are confident that theirmisrepresentations will be revealed for what they are—completely unfounded and contradictory with their own reports—when the hearing on the merits occurs,” he said.

In February 2013, the Commission issued a Cease and Desist Order and Restoration Order against Drakes Bay, alleging that the historic farm was not complying with required standards and was harming harbor seals, eelgrass and the environment of Drakes Estero. These allegations were  repeatedly proven to be false by the Nation’s top scientists and the Commission’s own reports.

A special Commission Trip Report, prepared in 2007, directly contradicts the two major claims the Commission has made in court. The Commission argued that the oyster farm harms harbor seals because “there are boats cruising around near harbor seals”, but its report admits that “servicing the oyster bags located several hundred yards away from the haul-out sites probably would not result in disturbance to the seals.”  The Commission also argued that DBOC is “expanding” operations, but its own report admitted that the historical production cap was 700,000 pounds/year, a recommended level of production which DBOC has not violated.

Even the Commission’s own vice-chair, Steve Kinsey, has called the Commission’s treatment of DBOC “morally disturbing.” Kinsey stated that the Commission has “repeated the same disproven assertions that the operation was harming harbor seals and eelgrass” and “chosen to portray the Lunnys as irresponsible operators to aid and abet the Park Service’s myopic interest in terminating the lease.”

“With the support of our employees, thousands of environmentalists, community members and elected leaders around the nation, we will continue to fight and remain confident and hopeful that we will be successful in the next stages of our legal battle,” Lunny stated.

Recently,  Amy Trainer, Director of the Environmental Action Committee of West Marin, has been  exposed in a series of false statements against Drakes Bay Oyster Co.  Trainer has issued a series of false news releases and made statements regarding  the scientific evidence about the benefits of oyster farming.  She and the Environmental Action Committee of West Marin, were also behind the false statements that the DBOC was being funded by the conservative Koch brothers.  It has been proven there was no tie or link between the Koch brothers and DBOC and Trainer and her environmental group have been discredited.

About Drakes Bay Oyster Company

Oyster farming in Drakes Estero, located in Point Reyes, MarinCounty, has been part of the region’s history for nearly 100 years. The Lunnys, a fourth-generation Point Reyesranching family, purchased Drakes Bay Oyster Company in 2004 to revive a historical part of the local community and ensure the continued environmental health of Drakes Estero.  DrakesBaycurrently employs nearly 30 community members, and farms sustainably in Drakes Estero, producing approximately one-third of all oysters in California. The Lunny family works hard to participate in keeping the agricultural economic system in West Marin alive. DrakesBayactively participates in the creation of a more sustainable food model that restores, conserves, and maintains the productivity of the local landscapes and the health of its inhabitants. For more information, please visit www.drakesbayoyster.com.

 

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San Bruno Commends Improved CPUC Recommendation to Punish PG&E, Demands Even Tougher Remedies from Regulators

San Francisco—The City of San Bruno today commended the latest legal filing by the California Public Utilities Commission’s safety division and called the improved penalty and fine proposal of $2.25 billion against Pacific Gas & Electric Company “a step in the right direction” to punish the utility for its gross negligence that caused the Sept. 9, 2010 San Bruno explosion and fire.

 

San Bruno officials have long demanded that PG&E pay the maximum for the tragic explosion and fire that took eight lives, destroyed 38 homes, and damaged scores more.  The City today said it will continue its push for additional remedies, including lifesaving fully automated safety shutoff valves and an independent safety monitor to serve as a watch dog for the completion of required system safety improvements.

 

San Bruno is also asking that the CPUC mandate that PG&E fund a Pipeline Safety Trust in California, an independent group that would advocate for pipeline safety and would serve as a legacy to the tragic explosion.  San Bruno has until Aug. 1 to file its formal response to the CPUC.

 

“The latest penalty proposal is a long-awaited step in the right direction for public safety, and we commend the attorneys within the CPUC’s safety division for exhibiting the courage to significantly strengthen the division’s previous, and inadequate, penalty recommendation,” said San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane. “While we wholeheartedly support the tougher penalty and fine, the City of San Bruno will continue to fight for additional and ongoing safeguards to protect the public and help us ensure that what happened in San Bruno never happens again, anywhere.”

 

The City cautioned that it just received the CPUC safety division filing this morning and needs to review it thoroughly before fully commenting on the revised proposal.

 

The CPUC’s revised $2.25 billion penalty and fine proposal replaces the CPUC’s original — and now discredited — recommendation announced with much hype by Jack Hagan, director of the CPUC’s safety division, in May but which was soon revealed to be 100 percent tax-deductible and littered with credits and perks to benefit PG&E, amounting in a net penalty of almost nothing for the utility.

 

Not one of the CPUC safety division’s senior attorneys agreed to sign the original penalty recommendation, calling it “unlawful” and “contrary to what our team had worked to accomplish in the last two and a half years.” Those attorneys were reassigned off the investigation as a result of their protest.

 

The shocking internal turmoil at the CPUC led San Bruno to call for an investigation by the California Attorney General and the State Legislature and, ultimately, forced the recusal of the CPUC’s chief counsel and the lead attorney on the case, Frank Lindh, a former PG&E attorney.

 

The formerly reassigned attorneys returned to the investigation and last week they requested to withdraw the old filing and “correct certain inaccuracies,” characterizing the events as “unorthodox.”

 

The amended filing not only imposes a tough penalty of about $2.25 billion that will fund ongoing safety improvements but it also incorporates a $300 million fine to PG&E shareholders, which is not tax deductible and would be diverted into the State of California’s general fund. In addition, the proposal also curtails PG&E’s ability to deduct “credits” for safety repairs made since the 2010 explosion and fire – a provision San Bruno has advocated strongly for in the past.

 

And while city officials say they generally support the monetary component of the CPUC’s revised proposal, given the widespread dysfunction at the CPUC, they will continue to push for PG&E to adopt and fund a series of remedial measures to ensure systemic regulatory change in the future. These include funding for a California Pipeline Safety Trust advocacy organization, an Independent Monitor to make sure PG&E follows its own safety plan in the face of possible lax enforcement, and the installation of lifesaving fully Automatic Shutoff Valves.   The City also opposes the proposed $435 million credit to PG&E shareholders which effectively reduces the  penalty against PG&E to $1.815 billion.

 

“While we continue to applaud those CPUC attorneys who displayed exceptional courage in their effort to uphold justice for the people and victims of San Bruno, we believe the level of chaos and disarray at the CPUC is proof that additional, going-forward remedies are needed, specifically an Independent Monitor to oversee the CPUC’s activities and correct the overly cozy relationship with the CPUC,” Ruane said. “We will continue to fight for additional safeguards so that, as the legacy of the City’s involvement in this process, we can feel confident that the state’s regulatory and public utility systems are changed for the better.”

 

 

Contact: Connie Jackson, City Manager

Phone: (650) 616-7056

Sam Singer, Singer Associates

Office: (415) 227-9700

 

 

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America’s Cup sponsor Louis Vuitton wants a refund

One of the most prestigious and longest running sponsors of the America’s Cup wants some of its money back.

Louis Vuitton, the posh French retailer that has been a primary financial backer of the competition, wants $3 million refunded because so few teams have entered.

Louis Vuitton’s initial sponsorship was for $10 million, according to an America’s Cup source. Its contract was based on at least eight teams taking part in the Louis Vuitton Cup, a round-robin playoff to determine which team will ultimately sail against Oracle Team USA in the America’s Cup championship.

There are three teams entered in the Louis Vuitton Cup: Italy’s Luna Rossa, Sweden’s Artemis Racing and Emirates Team New Zealand.

Since the 1980s, there have been anywhere from 7 to 13 teams taking part in the competition. Several potential challengers — from Korea, France, Australia, Spain and Italy — pulled out of the America’s Cup, many citing the financial burden of competing at sailing’s highest level.

Louis Vuitton can get a $1 million rebate for each team less than six that participate, the Cup source said. That would mean the company is entitled to get $3 million back.

Should any of the remaining teams pull out of the competition — which they have hinted they might do — Louis Vuitton would be entitled to even more money back.

A spokesman for the America’s Cup, which began this week and runs until September, said that Louis Vuitton’s actions were “a very old story.”

Due to a dispute with the regatta director of the America’s Cup, the Italian team has boycotted sailing. That lead to a bizarre scenario July 7 in which Emirates Team New Zealand sailed the race course alone in San Francisco Bay to formally win the first of several matches in the Louis Vuitton Cup.

Bruno Trouble, a former America’s Cup sailor for France who is Louis Vuitton’s ambassador to the America’s Cup, told the New Zealand Herald he is “very upset” that the opening day of the event was overshadowed by Luna Rossa’s no-show. Louis Vuitton will continue to support the regatta financially, but at a reduced rate, the newspaper reported.

“We have a deal,” Trouble said. “We are committed to this event, we are not happy, but we are committed.”

Louis Vuitton has been a Cup sponsor for 30 years. Prior to its sponsorship of the Challenger Series, the teams who took part in the pre-races had to divide the cost of the event themselves.

Louis Vuitton briefly dropped its sponsorship of the Cup in 2007, saying that commercialism had overtaken the competition. Then in 2010, after Oracle Racing won the America’s Cup, Louis Vuitton renewed its sponsorship of the Cup.

“There’s nothing new here,” said America’s Cup spokesman Tim Jeffery.

A Louis Vuitton spokesman was not immediately available for comment. But a Louis Vuitton representative told a New Zealand newspaper that the company was “not happy” with the Louis Vuitton Cup so far.

From the San Francisco Business Times

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America’s Cup Shocker in San Francisco: Louis Vuitton Wants its Money Back for Race Sponsorship

One of the most prestigious and longest running sponsors of the America’s Cup wants some of its money back, according to the San Francisco Business Times.

Louis Vuitton, the posh French retailer that has been a primary financial backer of the competition, wants $3 million refunded because so few teams have entered.

Louis Vuitton’s initial sponsorship was for $10 million, according to an America’s Cup source. Its contract was based on at least eight teams taking part in the Louis Vuitton Cup, a round-robin playoff to determine which team will ultimately sail against Oracle Team USA in the America’s Cup championship.

There are three teams entered in the Louis Vuitton Cup: Italy’s Luna Rossa, Sweden’s Artemis Racing and Emirates Team New Zealand.

Since the 1980s, there have been anywhere from 7 to 13 teams taking part in the competition. Several potential challengers — from Korea, France, Australia, Spain and Italy — pulled out of the America’s Cup, many citing the financial burden of competing at sailing’s highest level.

Louis Vuitton can get a $1 million rebate for each team less than six that participate, the Cup source said. That would mean the company is entitled to get $3 million back.

Should any of the remaining teams pull out of the competition — which they have hinted they might do — Louis Vuitton would be entitled to even more money back.

A spokesman for the America’s Cup, which began this week and runs until September, was not immediately available for comment.

A Louis Vuitton spokesman was not immediately available for comment. But a Louis Vuitton representative told a New Zealand newspaper that the company was “not happy” with the Louis Vuitton Cup so far.

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Audubon Society Accused of Fraudulent Land Grab By Ranchers: How Audubon Society Used “White Out” To Change Boundries

MAYACAMAS MOUNTAINS, Calif. — A group of California families are accusing the National Audubon Society of whiting out parts of maps to swindle them out of their best land. This is property that in some cases has been in the families’ hands since the 1920s.

The Cervieres brothers, immigrants from France, came to California in 1895. By 1924 they had money to buy beautiful plots of land high up in the Mayacamas Mountains, towering over Sonoma wine country in northern California.

They wanted a place of retreat and refuge for what they hoped would someday be a large and extended family of Cervieres. Their descendants became five families who bought even more land in the Pine Flat area of these mountains.

And they did form a tradition across the decades of enjoying almost every major family occasion, summers and holidays in this mountain paradise. They built five homes they collectively dubbed “the ranch.”

“The ranch was like the lifeblood, the glue that held the family together,” said Lea Raynal, now one of the extended family’s matriarchs.

But a fire swept through in 2004 and burned down three of the houses.

“Torched this whole thing,” Lea’s son Mike Raynal said, looking up at a bare chimney that’s all that’s left of one home.  “We lost everything.”

Family members felt horrible but fanned hope by deciding to rebuild as quickly as possible.

Another Blow

Then came another devastating blow from a surprising source. A neighbor had bequeathed thousands of acres next door to the National Audubon Society, best known for its love of birds and conservation.

To rebuild, the families would need to upgrade the roads leading across Audubon land to accommodate their heavy construction equipment.

But after decades of everyone sharing these roads, Audubon said no and then hit the families with yet another bombshell: It said it had proof their very best acres, the flat ones where their houses had been, were actually Audubon land.

“It was like being hit in the stomach, the wind knocked out of you,” Lea recalled.

Audubon representatives showed the family survey maps that appeared to bolster Audubon’s claim, maps that years later family members would find had parts whited out by Audubon.

According to the family’s lawyer Peter Prows, the reps gave them an ultimatum:  “We’re not going to let you rebuild your homes unless you agree to the boundary as we’re claiming it to be on our drawings.”

Mike’s brother, Phil Raynal, said that would have pushed family members’ new houses “approximately 300 yards up the hill, way up in an upper meadow – virtually impossible to build on.”

“This is the only flat area,” he said, pointing to the area around him where their houses had been.

Prows said Audubon then informed the families, “If you don’t agree, we’re going to go out and build a fence on that line, and if you try to interfere, we’re going to call the police.”

Legal Battle Begins

In court documents later, Audubon insisted it believed its claim that it truly owned the best acres of its next-door neighbors.

And since it was legally bound to preserve the wilderness acres bequeathed it, the company said it couldn’t just hand those acres back to the families if it really owned them.

Audubon said it held meetings and bent over backwards to work out a deal with the families.

But here’s what Phil heard from an Audubon representative at one of those meetings: “This property has never, ever been yours. Get over it.”

“That haunts me. I tell you what, that haunts me every day,” he said.

Phil and his family accuse Audubon of simply coveting their land.

“It really bothers me that they’d come up here and try to take something that’s ours,” Phil’s young son Ryan said.

So the families decided to fight, with Mike and Phil Raynal leading the way. They threw themselves into a years-long effort to prove the ancient boundaries were correct and their land was indeed theirs, not Audubon’s.

A Costly Fight

Their efforts cost them and their families hundreds of thousands of dollars across several years, and much more than just money but “thousands and thousands and countless hours,” Phil said, shaking his head.

The brothers for years cut their way through rugged brush to find the original surveyors’ landmarks, facing rattlesnakes, ticks, poison ivy, and exhaustion.

They both already had full-time jobs. This fight became another one. Mike’s daughter Danielle feels it cost her her father.

“I’ve lost a father pretty much,” she said. “Me and my dad were very close, and it’s been hard. We’ve all drifted apart.”

Some family members were not only spending every spare hour fighting to prove Audubon wrong. But while all this was working its way through the legal system, the families couldn’t rebuild and were cut off from their piece of paradise and all those family gatherings like they’d had for decades.

“You have family reunions. You’re always having holidays,” Danielle remembered as she recalled how the five families would spend months of each year together on the ranch.

“And then it’s just an abrupt stop,” she said.

“Everybody getting together. It was just absolutely amazing,” Danielle’s mother Carin Raynal recalled. “And this whole debacle has just torn all of it apart.”

Another family member, Bruce Young, testified in a sworn declaration.

“There’s no doubt in my mind whatsoever that the emotional stress and aggravation to which Audubon subjected me is the cause and underlying reason for the three strokes I have suffered and survived,” he said.

‘White Out’ Gate

Then another stunning surprise in 2010 after years of legal wrangling: Audubon caved and said it would accept the original property lines and let the families use the roads unimpeded.

“They completely capitulated,” Prows stated.

No one outside of Audubon knows why this capitulation, but one more shock was ahead. In 2012, the families’ lawyers discovered with a subpoena that at the start of all this, Audubon had held back from family members some of the surveying maps it had commissioned.

They had also altered the maps they presented to prove Audubon’s claim.

“Audubon had actually doctored the drawings that it showed to our clients,” Prows said. “It took white out, and we have emails from Audubon’s very top people talking about putting white-out on the maps – removing the lines that its surveyors had put on the maps that Audubon didn’t like, showing that the boundary really was in the right place all along.”

This screamed lies and coverup to the families.

“We actually call it ‘White Out Gate’ now,” Phil said.

He still gets mad thinking of those thousands of hours he and Mike spent researching, gathering documents, combing through the thick brush on their land.

“Really what sunk in was all those years – seven, eight years of hard work when they knew from day one this was never their property. Ever! They knew it,” Phil fumed.

“I couldn’t believe anybody would do that,” Mike Raynal said. “I wouldn’t do that to another human being, period.”

A Bid for Restitution

Now the families are suing for fraud. Audubon admitted in court documents it didn’t give them all the surveyor’s maps but said that was because not all were relevant. It said it did white out lines on the maps but only lines it said were extraneous.

Audubon calls this lawsuit frivolous, demanding the families pay its legal bills.

Family members refuse to give an inch because all these years of legal war have certainly cost them.

“It’s affected everybody mentally, physically, emotionally,” Carin Raynal said.

When CBN News asked repeatedly for an interview or written comments, Audubon suggested researching the court documents and would only give the following mission statement:

“Audubon is fully committed to its mission as a non-profit organization dedicated to faithful care of the earth. We believe that every person on earth is a steward of land, air, water and wildlife. We believe that safeguarding America’s great natural heritage builds a better world for future generations, preserves our shared quality of life, and fosters a healthier environment for all of us.”

Lea Raynal summed up her family’s feelings about Audubon: “They came in and stirred up all this mess, and we’re left with nothing.”

From a CBN News Report

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Gay Marriage Financial Check List

After celebrating the Supreme Court’s historic rulings on gay marriage last week, it’s time for same-sex married couples to sit down and go over their finances.

That’s because legally married same-sex couples are now entitled to the same federal benefits as their straight counterparts. Married gay couples can file joint federal income taxes for the first time, and as spouses they won’t have to pay inheritance taxes when one partner dies.

But the decision still leaves a lot of unanswered questions. What do couples who move to states that don’t recognize gay marriage do? Can they file taxes jointly? (Thirteen states — California, Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington — and the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriage.)

It could take a few months before there are clear answers, says Lisa Siegel, a senior wealth planner at Wells Fargo Private Bank. The Internal Revenue Service says that it is reviewing the Supreme Court decisions, and will offer “revised guidance in the near future.”

But gay married couples can take action now by checking in with an adviser. Advisers may not have all the answers yet, but they can set out a plan and begin to get familiar with your circumstances, says Siegel.

FIND GOOD HELP

Before you start making financial plans, make sure the lawyer or accountant you hire has experience working with same-sex couples. “Ask them; it’s very important,” Siegel says.

Look for financial planners who have received the accredited domestic partnership adviser designation, or ADPA. You can search for planners with an ADPA designation here:http://apne.ws/12HkbAo.

Lambda Legal, a legal nonprofit that fights for equal rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, can refer you to lawyers if you call its help desk. Go to www.lambdalegal.org/helpfor the phone numbers.

Pride Planners, an organization of financial professionals that helps gay and lesbian people, has a search function on its websites to find financial planners and accountants in most states around the country. Go to PridePlanners.com to conduct a search.

CALL A TAX ACCOUNTANT

Married couples who filed separate federal income taxes in the past couple of years may be entitled to a refund, says Elda Di Re, a partner in Ernst & Young’s personal financial services group.

Ask a tax accountant to amend your past returns to determine if you would have gotten a refund if you had filed jointly. The IRS allows taxpayers to amend income taxes from the past three years.

Filing jointly is not always beneficial. Couples in which one person earns much more than the other could see a refund. But if both people have high incomes, they will probably pay more taxes than if they filed separately, says Mark Luscombe, an analyst at tax software and services company CCH.

It’s still unclear if the IRS will be giving out refunds, but experts expect the agency to allow couples to amend their returns. So ask your accountant to run the numbers now, or amend the returns yourself on any tax software you may have used.

Widowed individuals who were in same-sex marriages and paid inheritance taxes may be able to get money back, says Luscombe.

REVIEW YOUR BENEFICIARY DESIGNATIONS

Check with your employer and see who the beneficiary is on your 401(k) plan. 401(k) account holders should know that their spouse will automatically inherit the account, unless the spouse signs a waiver. So if couples want to make other arrangements, it needs to be outlined clearly in the beneficiary form and, if necessary, a waiver needs to be in place from the spouse, says Alexander Popovich, a wealth adviser at JP Morgan Private Bank.

You should also check to see if your spouse is a beneficiary on your life insurance and any other retirement accounts, such as an individual retirement account, says Alexander Popovich, a wealth adviser at JP Morgan Private Bank.

RE-EXAMINE REAL ESTATE DEEDS

Some married gay couples may have left spouses out of real estate deeds to avoid a gift tax, says Popovich. Same-sex married couples no longer have to pay gift taxes after the ruling. If you want to add a spouse to a real estate deed, speak to a lawyer.

REVISIT YOUR WILL

Now that married gay spouses don’t have to pay federal estate taxes on anything they inherit after a spouse’s death, married couples should review their will, says John Olivieri, a partner at law firm White & Case.

CHECK HEALTH BENEFITS

If your employer didn’t allow your spouse on your health insurance, it should now, says Frank Fantozzi, founder of Planned Financial Services. Find out whose benefits are cheaper, or which employer offers more coverage, and decide if you want a change.

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CPUC Filing by City of San Bruno Calls for PG&E to Pay Maximum Penalty without Credits for San Bruno Blast and Fire

San Francisco—The City of San Bruno filed legal arguments this week calling for the California Public Utilities Commission to levy the maximum penalty against the Pacific Gas & Electric Co. without granting it hundreds of millions in past repair credits for its gross negligence that caused the explosion of PG&E’s line 132 in San Bruno on Sept. 9, 2010.

San Bruno’s motion filed late Monday calls on the CPUC to strike the vague “credit” concept altogether from the CPUC safety division’s so-called penalty proposal of $2.25 billion – which has been revealed to provide significant tax benefit rewards in addition to huge credits to PG&E – and to prohibit PG&E from deducting an ill-defined list of safety improvements made to date since the 2010 explosion and fire.

“These credits would let PG&E off the hook for more than 50 years of  systematic safety failures that caused the 2010 explosion and fire, which took the lives of eight citizens of our city, destroyed 38 homes, and left a hole in the heart of San Bruno,” said Mayor Jim Ruane. “We ask that this ill-defined provision be struck completely from the penalty recommendation so that PG&E can be held accountable for this tragic disaster and justice for the victims of San Bruno can finally be served.”

The concept of allowing PG&E to deduct for past safety repairs made since the 2010 explosion and fire surfaced first in the so-called penalty recommendation of Jack Hagan, director of the CPUC’s safety division.  That recommendation is now mired in controversy after it was revealed to be 100 percent tax-deductible and littered with credits and perks to benefit PG&E, amounting in a net penalty of almost nothing for PG&E.

Senior attorneys on the CPUC’s safety division refused to sign the proposal – calling it “unlawful” and “contrary to what our team had worked to accomplish in the last two and a half years” – and, bowing to political pressure, the lead attorney on the case, Frank Lindh, a former PG&E attorney, has since recused himself entirely from the investigation.

San Bruno city officials contend that allowing PG&E to reduce its penalty by amounts already spent on safety improvements since 2010 will result in a calculation that is an “untested, unaudited, unverified back of the envelope calculation of alleged PG&E shareholder expense,” according to San Bruno’s filing with the CPUC.

“To award PG&E a massive, and in San Bruno’s view, undeserved ‘credit’ against the significant fines, penalties and remedies warranted by PG&E’s decades of irresponsible and deadly mismanagement in this manner does not comport with due process or offer the residents of San Bruno any measure of justice,” the filing states.

San Bruno has instead called for PG&E to be penalized a total of $3.8 billion – or $2.45 billion in after-tax dollars – the maximum financial consequences that the CPUC safety division experts determined it can bear without giving PG&E the benefit of significant state and federal tax breaks and no credits for past expenses.

San Bruno has also demanded that the CPUC direct PG&E to adopt and fund a series of remedial measures to ensure systemic regulatory change in the future. These include funding  for a California Pipeline Safety Trust advocacy organization, an Independent Monitor to make sure PG&E follows its own safety plan in the face of possible lax enforcement, and the installation of lifesaving fully Automatic Shutoff Valves.

“The concept of granting so-called credits for safety improvements that PG&E should have been making for the past 50 years is a slap in the face to the residents of San Bruno and the citizens of California who place trust in our public utility system to keep our gas lines functioning safely,” Ruane said. “We ask that the CPUC do the right thing by eliminating this onerous credit concept and by penalizing PG&E so that we can ensure this tragedy never happens again, anywhere.”

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BART Strike Update: Former BART Director Michael Bernick Calls for Parties to Continue Negotiations, Not Strike

Oakland–Former BART Director Michael Bernick today called for BART management and unions to continue negotiations, if no agreement is reached by 12:00 a.m. July 1, according to a news release just issued by the transit district and its communications agency Singer Associates Public Relations and Public Affairs.

 “In 1991, 1994 and 2009 the parties continued negotiating past the strike deadline, and a settlement was reached without a strike. The same process at least should be tried this time,” said Bernick, who formerly served as  a director of the BART transit system.

The former director noted that the collective bargaining process by which the parties negotiate with the threat of a Bay Area transit strike needs to be changed by the state legislature. The same dynamics of negotiations to the end and threat of a transit strike have occurred in each of the negotiations over the past three decades. The current process is a disservice to Bay Area residents, and over the past negotiations has not resulted in better settlements for the BART workers.

Regarding the structure of a settlement,  Bernick noted that Governor Brown has set a structure for pension contributions that should guide BART negotiations.

Bernick also urged other politicians to stay out of the process. “The BART Board is a responsible body and should be given the authority to handle the negotiations.”

Bernick was elected to the board of directors of the Bay Area Rapid Transit rail system in 1988 and soon began to note the lack of land development linked to rail. With UC Berkeley Professor Robert Cervero, he established a research center at UC-Berkeley focused on the link of land use and transit, and together they published a series of articles leading to their 1996 book, Transit Villages in the 21st Century.  The book helped to develop and popularize the transit village concept.

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San Francisco’s Unique Character Crumbling as Wealthy Techies Take Over

From AlterNet

America’s favorite city is being Googlized, stripped of artists, minorities, and the non-rich.

It’s not just the 22 construction cranes dotting the San Francisco skyline and 5,000 pricey condos and apartments under construction. Nor is it the fleet of private buses ferrying 14,000 tech workers to Silicon Valley, or the explosion of restaurants and boutiques, or rents doubling, or the spike in evictions, or home sales now averaging $1 million.

What’s happening to San Francisco goes beyond the accelerating gentrification in multicultural districts like the Mission or Mayor Ed Lee minimizing affordable housing woes. The city that’s been a magnet for free spirits and immigrants and working-class people for decades seems to be losing its famous heart. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that its heart is being replaced by a software update.

The best encapsulation of this sea change, which is driven by a booming tech sector that’s generated 13,000 jobs since early 2012, might be this blog from former San Francisco Bay Guardian editor Tim Redmond, who begged the techie beneficiaries to stop treating the city he loves like a “rich kid’s playground.”

“When a 1990s tech-startup guy who admits he was part of the last generation of gentrification is now so fed up with the new arrival of high-paid techies that he’s ready to leave, it’s pretty serious,” he wrote in a piece titled, “The Mission ‘douchebags.’” He ended, “I know, I’m an old fart who is not rich and never will be… But if you’re lucky enough to be rich in your 20s, show some respect.”

All economic booms bring dislocations, but what San Francisco is undergoing seems deeper because unlike past decades, when hippies arrived in the 1960s and gays came a decade later, locals were not displaced. That distinction has also been noted by longtime San Francisco Chronicle columnist Carl Nolte and by author Rebecca Solnit, another longtime resident, who recently wrote, “The problem is that we understand Silicon Valley’s values all too well, and a lot of us don’t like them.”

Today’s construction cranes and skyrocketing housing costs are merely the most visible signs of a city in transition. There are two ways to look at that boom—from the vantage of the tech elite like Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, who brought the America’s Cup yacht race here but made it so expensive that almost no one can compete, or from the ground up where more of the city’s more pedestrian classes are feeling pressured by the boom.

Websites tracking apartments have declared, “You’re Never Moving Again,” noting that rents in desirable neighborhoods have doubled in less than two years and keep going up. Home prices are not far behind, jumping 35 percent since last year, one-and-one-half times the rate of the region. Downtown parking spaces are selling for $80,000.

Contrary to the breezy headlines, people are moving in and out. But in the latter case it’s not because they want to. Evictions have hit a 12-year high, in part because investors are using loopholes in otherwise strong tenant laws to buy apartment buildings and convert them to private homes. The business model, the San Francisco Tenants Union said, is targeting rental buildings with long-term tenants—as that makes them cheaper—and evicting everyone for resale as condos, tenancies-in-common or new mansions.

Meanwhile, hundreds more longtime residents have been put on notice for possible eviction. The Tenants Union says that the Mission, Haight-Ashbury, North Beach and Inner Richmond neighborhoods are the hardest hit, with upward of 100 households a month losing their longterm housing through a mix of evictions and paid buyouts, most of which aren’t recorded in city hall statistics.

The newly vulnerable are the outside-the-box and working-class people who always have given this city its character, but like San Francisco’s vanishing African Americans, seem destined for one-way tickets out of town.

“I am a 62-year-old senior living with AIDS. After living in the heart of the Castro district in SF for four decades and in my apartment for over 18 years, I am going through the eviction process brought on by the new owners (real estate speculators) through the use of the Ellis Act and through no fault of my own,” wrote Jeremy on his website.

The Ellis Act is a state law that allows rental apartment owners to evict tenants to go “out of business.” Other longtime city residents feel they are not far behind Jeremy.

“Our building is being painted and we are terrified that our landlord will sell the building to someone who will convert it into condos and evict us all! If I am forced out of my place, I will have to leave SF because I have absolutely been priced out as an arts administrator, non-profit worker, and fundraiser for LGBTQ artists,” Elizabeth wrote on TenantsTogether.org, adding she mistakenly thought she was protected by rent control.

These dislocations are the tip of an iceberg of even more startling negative social metrics. Homelessness in the entire Bay Area is up 20 percent since 2011. Food stamp use is at a 10-year high. Latinos are the hardest hit, the S.F. Examiner reports, in the city and to the south in Silicon Valley where’s there’s an educated but struggling tech underclass. Meanwhile, in San Francisco, alcohol-related emergency room visits are up 50 percent compared to five years ago, although it’s mostly people age 45 to 64, not yuppies.

“San Francisco used to be an eclectic city, filled with working-class folks, people of color, lots of artists, and families,” wroteMaria Zamudio, an organizer for Causa Justa, a low-income advocacy group. “But that’s changed dramatically. The black population has dismally plummeted, to 6.3 percent, according to the most recent census. Families of color are streaming out, expensive condos and sky-high rentals are shooting up, and the unique mix that once was the city and made it such a diverse and culturally rich place to live and thrive is changing.”

Zamudio’s comments were in an op-ed in an alternative weekly newpaper urging San Francisco City Hall to take back some of the subsidies given to developers during the Great Recession. Her argument underscores a larger reality about the latest development spree: that it’s been wholeheartedly encouraged by City Hall and business lobbies, despite the city’s rancorous and often ludicrous local politics.

Paving Over Tony Bennett’s Heart

San Francisco’s low-income advocates are well-organized, but most have not focused on development with the persistence of downtown’s business elite and the mayor’s office. The current building boom has been on architects’ drawing boards and in city planning documents for years. Progressive urban non-profits like SPUR have steadily worked to revise city codes to channel development into the neediest zones, but the biggest projects away from downtown have yet to break ground.

SPUR correctly says that nothing in San Francisco development circles is supposed to be fast-tracked. But even their magazine, the Urbanist, becomes breathless when reporting on the scope and speed of the current boom. It’s as if the San Andreas fault exploded from pent-up pressures and released a tsunami of projects flooding the city—starting in desirable areas.

“Twenty-two tower cranes dot the city,” the Urbanist reported. “By year’s end, there will be 26. Many of these cranes are for public projects rather than private development, yet these numbers are staggering by historic standards. Local union halls’ out-of-work lists are empty, and some unions are even calling in workers from other parts of the country.”

The public projects are transit hubs, hospital remodels and new university campuses. But those are not what’s driving longtime San Franciscans from their homes. It’s skyrocketing rents and property values. The new cafes with hand-picked coffee beans from around the world, or new bars with European beers on tap and $20 desserts, are following the infusion of new wealth.

“Halfway into 2012, more than 4,200 new residential units were under construction in San Francisco,” the Urbanist reported. Today, that number tops 5,000. “This is 20 times the number of units that were added in 2011… An additional 32,120 new residential units have been approved by the Planning Department, and applications for another 6,940 units have been filed.”

SPUR notes that historically “spikes in permitting activity are echoed by spikes in new construction three-to-five years later.” That means the city will be entering a growing development cycle that will change its face and continue for years, although, as SPUR notes, not every proposal will be built and at some point the factors driving today’s development surge will expire.

But for now the boom is back and is driven by an exploding technology sector. Many of the world’s top firms have campuses 20 miles to the south. Downtown San Francisco is now home for companies including Twitter, Square, Pinterest, Yelp, Airbnb and others.

The city had 44,429 tech jobs as of the third quarter of 2012, the most recent figures from City Hall. The sector has grown by 50 percent since Mayor Ed Lee took office in 2011 and has an annual job growth rate of 20 percent. These kinds of job figures are seen throughout the Bay Area, but one big difference is lots of people who work in Silicon Valley want to live in San Francisco. As a result, Google, Yahoo, Apple, eBay, Genetech and Facebook all have fleets of buses taking 14,000 people to and from the city.

Silicon Valley is a patchwork of upscale surburbs—not where most young techies want to live. They want San Francisco’s hipper urban neighborhoods, which has often been where artists, writers, musicians, immigrants and other outsiders living paycheck-to-paycheck have lived. That’s caused a cultural clash, because, beyond the jump in housing costs, today’s tech world has strong libertarian and solipsistic streaks. Its droves flocking to the city are often blissfully unaware of their impact outside their ranks.

That’s the bottom line in former Guardian editor Tim Redmonds’ plea to wake up and stop stepping on the vibrant but fragile cultures that came before them. Redmond was taken to task by readers for editorials saying, “Dear newly arrived tech population — with privilege comes responsibility.” But his complaints are not unique. Rebecca Solnit also notes that the Valley’s tech elite are not known for their charitable ways, saying, “Medici in their machinations, they are not Medici-style patrons.”

Yet apparently, this is the demographic that Mayor Lee and the business community wants. The mayor was unaware of a city rent board report putting evictions at a 12-year high, until questioned by a reporter. He recently said he didn’t think the city had an affordable housing crisis, because SF has strong pro-tenant laws. The Board of Supervisors recently restricted the number of tenancy-in-common units that can be converted into condos. That initiative removed an incentive for one corner of the real estate speculator market, and was seen as a victory by low-income advocates. But it’s not the only property play out there.

What’s clear is that the scale of change in the city—the building boom, its dislocations and cultural consequences—is larger than any of the planning efforts and counter measures by local government and activists. Perhaps the most optimistic comment about all this came from a recently arrived New Yorker who works in computer graphics. San Francisco seemed destined to remain hipper than lower Manhattan, he said, where the financial sector has driven almost everyone else away.

Indeed, many San Franciscans are determined to stay put. In the Mission, bar-hopping hipsters and liberal supervisors are trying to save the ‘Tamale Lady,’ who sells snacks after midnight—apparently violating city codes. But others, like Jeremy, the four-decade Castro resident with AIDS facing eviction after 18 years in a rent-controlled apartment, stopped updating his website. He has to watch his health before preparing for a Ellis Act court date, he said in an e-mail.

It may be that the affordable housing of the future is in the city’s outlying blighted corners or in 300-square-foot micro units in trendy neighborhoods, which have also been seen in New York. But San Francisco is undeniably being colonized by a new generation of tech workers, and longtime residents who aren’t part of that workaholic world are seeing their homes and lifestyles imperiled. And there’s little they feel they can do to stop that demise.

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San Bruno Demands Release of All CPUC Records in PG&E Explosion Penalty Phase Case

San Bruno officials today demanded the release of key internal California Public Utility Commission documents relating to the CPUC’s penalty decision-making process in the PG&E San Bruno explosion case following the San Francisco Chronicle’s disclosure of internal emails suggesting illegal interference by CPUC Commissioners.

San Bruno also demanded that the CPUC identify the individuals, or “fairies” as the CPUC safety division director Jack Hagan has called them, who supplied the information used to come to a decision on a recommended — and now controversial – failure by the CPUC to fine PG&E for the Sept. 9, 2010 PG&E explosion that killed eight San Bruno residents, destroyed 38 homes and tore a hole in the center of the city.

The City has called for the information to be provided to San Bruno by close of business tomorrow, June 26 or the city will take further legal action.

Further, the City said it demanded correspondence among CPUC Commissioner Mike Florio, Executive Director Paul Clanon, and Administrative Law Judges Mark Wetzel and Amy Yip-Kikugawa.  The city believes this correspondence “will show impropriety between senior management and the administrative law adjudicatory process.  This clearly raises serious questions of objectivity and fairness.  Under the law and basic tenets of transparency in government, San Bruno has a right to receive this email chain immediately.  If the CPUC makes a false claim of privilege in order to save face, San Bruno will file a writ of mandate demanding that the documents be produced,” the demand to the CPUC states.

“The latest revelations add to a long list of possible illegal activity at the CPUC,” said San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane. “The integrity of the CPUC is at stake–as is the safety of every Californian. We are calling for full transparency of all communications so that we can feel confident that the CPUC is not in the pocket of the very utility company it has been tasked to regulate.”

San Bruno recently called for an investigation by the California Attorney General and the State Legislature into the re-assignment of top CPUC safety division attorneys handling the PG&E investigation who refused to sign Hagan’s $2.25 billion penalty recommendation. Two weeks ago, all were reassigned by Frank Lindh, head of the PUC’s legal team and a former legal counsel for PG&E, after raising concerns over what one of them called Hagan’s “unlawful” proposal that was “contrary to what our team had worked to accomplish in the last two and a half years.”

The new revelations in today’s leaked emails, obtained by the San Francisco Chronicle, reveal Hagan not only threatened and intimidated CPUC attorneys – Hagan is known to carry a concealed gun and a knife into the state agency’s San Francisco office – but that he also credited anonymous individuals he called “fairies” as having supplied him with the terms of his recommendation favorable to PG&E.

San Bruno officials have said the revelations demonstrate that even highly regarded career professionals within the CPUC are fed up with the cozy relationships and conflicts of interest between the CPUC’s leadership and PG&E.

“The CPUC attorneys who refused to buckle to Hagan and his “fairies” should be considered public heroes for their refusal to follow Hagan’s orders,” said Ruane.

According to the leaked e-mails, two of the reassigned attorneys questioned Hagan about the list of PG&E expenses he had wanted to include as deductions in his $2.25 billion recommendation. When asked who had compiled the list, Hagan had responded: “Some fairies… I don’t have to tell you. Just include the items or else.”

San Bruno officials are now demanding to know the identity of the “fairies” as a matter of public interest, saying those sources suggest possible ex-parte contact and could pose an illegal interference in the case.

“We demand to know who the “fairies” are, their identifies, and any telephone, email, or other records that shed light on who really directed Hagan’s recommendation not to fine PG&E,” Ruane said.

Other attorneys within the PUC seem to share San Bruno’s concerns, revealing in emails that they believe Hagan may be operating with PG&E’s interest in mind – without any concern for the victims of San Bruno demanding justice. One PUC attorney, Travis Foss wrote in an email to Lindh that Hagan “is taking a position that is antithetical to the public interest, and directly beneficial to PG&E.”

San Bruno officials are demanding that the CPUC not destroy any documents or e-mails – which would violate state law – and instead make all records public immediately.

“The City of San Bruno is seeking justice for PG&E’s decades of mismanagement and yet the CPUC’s top staff and PG&E continue to play Russian roulette with the lives of Californians,” Ruane said. “We ask for full transparency so that some semblance of integrity can be restored in this process.”

 

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Top CPUC Attorney Calls upon Attorney General Kamala Harris to Investigate Charges Against Him of Unethical Action in PG&E San Bruno Explosion Case

This evening there is a growing firestorm in the California Public Utilities Commission legal department as attorneys are openly questioning the ethical behavior of the CPUC’s General Counsel Frank Lindh in removing attorneys from the penalty phase against PG&E for its gross negligence in the San Bruno explosion and fire.

The top public safety division attorneys quit the case this past week after spending nearly three years of their careers attempting to bring Pacific Gas & Electric Co. to justice for the death and destruction caused by its failure to maintain its pipeline in the center of the City of San Bruno.

The safety division attorneys rebelled and had refused to put their names to a CPUC document because they told the CPUC General Counsel Frank Lindh of its illegality.  Insiders say the overwhelming majority of attorneys in the CPUC are now lining up against Lindh and in support of their colleagues.  They are privately raising issues of conflict of interest between CPUC President Michael Peevey, PG&E and Frank Lindh, who formerly was a PG&E employee prior to joining the CPUC.

A number of news stories by the San Francisco Chronicle’s Jaxon Van Derbeken, NBC 11 investigative reporters Tony Kovaleski and Liz Wagner, Mercury News Reporter Joshua Melvin and editorials in the Merc News and Sacramento Bee have shed light on CPUC conflicts and now the State agency appears to be spinning out of control.

Last night a special investigative report by NBC 11 reporters Kovaleski and Wagner showed CPUC President Peevey at a PG&E employee union event honoring him for his ‘leadership in safety’ which raises questions about conflict of interest as well as video footage that shows his possibly illegal ex-parte contact with CPUC safety division director Jack Hagen.

There is a growing revolt and more news and action is expected this week from attorneys inside the CPUC as well as parties in the case against PG&E, which includes its own Division of Ratepayer Advocates,  consumer advocate TURN, the City and County of San Francisco’s City Attorney Dennis Herrera, and the City of San Bruno, which has called upon attorney General Kamala Harris—followed by the same call from Lindh—to investigate the CPUC immediately.

The conflict has broken out into an open dispute this week when Lindh found he was talking to an unfriendly forum—his own staff—when he gave the keynote speech Monday at a legal conference his agency is hosting, according to a report first published by The Recorder reporters Max Taves and Cheryl Miller yesterday and picked up today in the American Bar Association Journal and Law.Com.

Attendees from around the country watched as top in-house CPUC lawyer Frank Lindh was heckled during his speech about staff attorneys at a “hypothetical” utility regulator who lacked judgment and loyalty, the Recorder reports.

Specifically, his speech discussed what duty of loyalty is owed by a staff lawyer who strongly disagrees with a client’s legally permissible position on a rate-setting proposal.

“My solution in this circumstance would be to ask for a reassignment, but also to take steps to make sure I am not leaving my client in the lurch by withdrawing at the last minute,” said Lindh. “In the end, it all comes back to loyalty.

Under the canons of ethics, I simply cannot be disloyal to my client, even in the circumstance where I disagree strongly with my client’s wishes.”

His comments at the National Conference of Regulatory Attorneys conference in San Francisco were apparently relevant to the recent reported reassignment of an entire team of CPUC lawyers. They were responsible for handling litigation over Pacific Gas and Electric Co.’s culpability in a 2010 natural gas explosion and fire that killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes.

The four-lawyer team had taken a position that supported the city of San Bruno’s call for more than $2 billion in fines to be imposed on the gas company, and the city asked earlier this month for the state attorney general and lawmakers to look into the lawyers’ reassignment.

In a Friday interview, Lindh also said the AG should investigate—to set the record straight—and said he “begged the attorneys to stay on the case,” the Bay Area News Group reported in an article published by the San Mateo County Times.

They withdrew from the case,” Lindh said, “and they left me with the obligation to fill in behind them.”

However, in an email to Lindh leaked to the newspaper that was also sent Friday, assistant CPUC general counsel Harvey Morris said the team had not sought reassignment. He said they had refused to sign a brief they believed to be unethical, apparently over concerns that it made unlawful recommendations about the penalties that should be assessed against the gas company in the San Bruno case, according to the Bay Area News Group article and other media reports.

Because you did nothing to resolve our ethical concerns, one attorney asked to be taken off the case, and then you claimed that all of us asked to be reassigned,” Morris wrote.

Frank Lindh, CPUC General Counsel Accused of Conflicts with PG&E, calls upon California Attorney General to Investigate Him, CPUC Actions

 

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Bank of America Lied to Homeowners and Rewarded Foreclosures, Former Employees Say

Pauline Kiel, ProPublica

Bank of America employees regularly lied to homeowners seeking loan modifications, denied their applications for made-up reasons, and were rewarded for sending homeowners to foreclosure, according to sworn statements by former bank employees.

The employee statements were filed late last week in federal court in Boston as part of a multi-state class action suit brought on behalf of homeowners who sought to avoid foreclosure through the government’s Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) but say they had their cases botched by Bank of America.

In a statement, a Bank of America spokesman said that each of the former employees’ statements is “rife with factual inaccuracies” and that the bank will respond more fully in court next month. He said that Bank of America had modified more loans than any other bank and continues to “demonstrate our commitment to assisting customers who are at risk of foreclosure.”

Six of the former employees worked for the bank, while one worked for a contractor. They range from former managers to front-line employees, and all dealt with homeowners seeking to avoid foreclosure through the government’s program.

When the Obama administration launched HAMP in 2009, Bank of America was by far the largest mortgage servicer in the program. It had twice as many loans eligible as the next largest bank. The former employees say that, in response to this crush of struggling homeowners, the bank often misled them and denied applications for bogus reasons.

Sometimes, homeowners were simply denied en masse in a procedure called a “blitz,” said William Wilson, Jr., who worked as an underwriter and manager from 2010 until 2012. As part of the modification applications, homeowners were required to send in documents with their financial information. About twice a month, Wilson said, the bank ordered that all files with documentation 60 or more days old simply be denied. “During a blitz, a single team would decline between 600 and 1,500 modification files at a time,” he said in the sworn declaration. To justify the denials, employees produced fictitious reasons, for instance saying the homeowner had not sent in the required documents, when in actuality, they had.

Such mass denials may have occurred at other mortgage servicers. Chris Wyatt, a former employee of Goldman Sachs subsidiary Litton Loan Servicing, told ProPublica in 2012 that the company periodically conducted “denial sweeps” to reduce the backlog of homeowners. A spokesman for Goldman Sachs said at the time that the company disagreed with Wyatt’s account but offered no specifics.

Five of the former Bank of America employees stated that they were encouraged to mislead customers. “We were told to lie to customers and claim that Bank of America had not received documents it had requested,” said Simone Gordon, who worked at the bank from 2007 until early 2012 as a senior collector. “We were told that admitting that the Bank received documents ‘would open a can of worms,’” she said, since the bank was required to underwrite applications within 30 days of receiving documents and didn’t have adequate staff. Wilson said each underwriter commonly had 400 outstanding applications awaiting review.

Anxious homeowners calling in for an update on their application were frequently told that their applications were “under review” when, in fact, nothing had been done in months, or the application had already been denied, four former employees said.

Employees were rewarded for denying applications and referring customers to foreclosure, according to the statements. Gordon said collectors “who placed ten or more accounts into foreclosure in a given month received a $500 bonus.” Other rewards included gift cards to retail stores or restaurants, said Gordon and Theresa Terrelonge, who worked as a collector from 2009 until 2010.

This is certainly not the first time the bank has faced such allegations. In 2010, Arizona and Nevada sued Bank of America for mishandling modification applications. Last year, Bank of America settled a lawsuit brought by a former employee of a bank contractor who accused the bank of mishandling HAMP applications.

The bank has also settled two major actions by the federal government related to its foreclosure practices. In early 2012, 49 state attorneys general and the federal government crafted a settlement that, among other things, provided cash payments to Bank of America borrowers who had lost their home to foreclosure. Authorities recently began mailing out those checks of about $1,480 for each homeowner. Earlier this year, federal bank regulators arrived at a settlement that also resulted in payments to affected borrowers, though most received $500 or less.

The law suit with the explosive new declarations from former employees is a consolidation of 29 separate suits against the bank from across the country and is seeking class action certification. It covers homeowners who received a trial modification, made all of their required payments, but who did not get a timely answer from the bank on whether they’d receive a permanent modification. Under HAMP, the trial period was supposed to last three months, but frequently dragged on for much longer, particularly during the height of the foreclosure crisis in 2009 and 2010.

ProPublica began detailing the failures of HAMP from the start of the program in 2009. HAMP turned out to be a perfect storm created by banks that refused to adequately fund their mortgage servicing operations and lax government oversight.

Bank of America was far slower to modify loans than other servicers, as other analyses we’ve cited have shown. A study last year found that about 800,000 homeowners would have qualified for HAMP if Bank of America and the other largest servicers had done an adequate job of handling homeowner applications.

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Elizabeth Warren: SEC ‘Actively Reviewing’ Big Bank Settlement Policy

The new head of the Securities and Exchange Commission told Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) Monday that she is reviewing whether her enforcement division has been too lax on Wall Street by allowing banks to settle enforcement actions without going to trial.

“I am actively reviewing the scope of the Commission’s neither-admit-nor-deny settlement policy with the leadership of the Division of Enforcement to determine what, if any, changes may be warranted and whether the SEC is making full appropriate use of its leverage in the settlement process,” Mary Jo White told Warren in the letter, provided to HuffPost.

The letter is in response to questions Warren raised in May letters to the SEC, , Attorney General Eric Holder and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke.

“Have you conducted any internal research or analysis on trade-offs to the public between settling an enforcement action without admission of guilt and going forward with litigation as necessary to obtain such admission and, if so, can you provide that analysis to my office?” Warren asked on May 14.

Earlier this year, Warren embarrassed bank regulators by pressing them during a Senate hearing whether any had taken a bank to trial. A video of the senator’s vigorous questioning went viral online. Many of the regulators struggled for answers, pledging to get back to Warren with more information. (White had not yet been appointed SEC chairwoman.)

“There are district attorneys and United States attorneys out there every day squeezing ordinary citizens on sometimes very thin grounds and taking them to trial in order to make an example, as they put it. I’m really concerned that ‘too big to fail’ has become ‘too big for trial,’” Warren said at the hearing.

From the Huffington Post

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California Center for Sustainable Energy Rolls Out Plug in Vehicle Presentation in San Francisco

San Francisco residents learned about recent advancements in the electric vehicle revolution sweeping across California this week at a presentation by California Center for Sustainable Energy.  The event featured presentations and an owner panel discussion on plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) as well as test-drives of some of the newest models for 2013.

“The Future is Electric: Plug In and Get There” was sponsored by the California Center for Sustainable Energy, SF Environment and San Francisco Clean Cities Coalition.

California is the nation’s largest PEV market with roughly 35 percent of the U.S. total. During the fourth quarter 2012, sales of PEVs in California reached a record-setting 2.5 percent of all new cars purchased or leased in the state.

During the workshop, Colin Santulli a CCSE transportation program manager outlined the financial and environmental benefits of PEV ownership and the currently available incentives. CCSE administers the statewide Clean Vehicle Rebate Project, a program of the California Air Resources Board. Since 2010, CCSE has issued more than $42 million in vehicle incentives and helped to educate Californians on the availability and benefits of zero-emission vehicles.

“By making the switch to cleaner, more efficient plug-in electric vehicles, individuals can reduce their use of petroleum and help create cleaner air for all of us,” Santulli said. “This workshop was a great opportunity for people to learn about the first-hand experiences of their neighbors who already own PEVs.”

Representatives from Pacific Gas & Electric and ICF International gave presentations aimed at consumers considering making the switch to a PEV. After the presentations, a PEV fair on Fulton Street included vehicle displays and test-drives and exhibit booths featuring PEV technologies, car-sharing and alternative transportation. Cars available included the Chevy Volt, Nissan Leaf, BMW ActiveE and Ford Focus.

The California Center for Sustainable Energy (CCSE) is an independent, nonprofit organization that accelerates the adoption of clean and efficient energy solutions including administration of the statewide Clean Vehicle Rebate Project for the California Air Resources Board. For more information and workshop listings, visit www.energycenter.org or call 858-244-1177.

 

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Santa Clara Supervisor Candidate Teresa Alvarado Lobbied for PG&E—Now Advocates Reform, but in the Past She Lobbied for 37% Energy Rate Hikes

Currently promoting herself as ‘the candidate for reform,’ District 2 Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors candidate Teresa Alvarado was once a lobbyist for Pacific Gas & Electric Co., where her job was to defend residential and commercial utility price increases of up to 37 percent for Bay Area residents, records show.

Today, Alvarado likes to position her role at PG&E as an advocate for solar energy, but records show she was also a government relations lobbyist for the monopoly utility. One of her jobs was to advocate for rate hikes and urge consumers to reduce energy consumption to decrease utility bills.

Just months before PG&E would announce that it was declaring bankruptcy, records from the Los Altos City Council meeting of Feb. 27, 2001, note that “Teresa Alvarado, Public Affairs Representative from Pacific Gas and Electric, provided the Council with a history of deregulation in the industry and identified one of the major reasons for the electric and gas shortages and increased costs as supply and demand, noting that energy demands have grown faster than anticipated. She distributed and summarized a pamphlet entitled “An Important Energy-Saving Message from Pacific Gas and Electric Company” as well as an outline of her comments, as well as an outline of her comments, dated February 27, 2001, which were incorporated into the record.”

The Los Altos Town Crier newspaper reported that when Alvarado was a lobbyist for PG&E, PG&E had a program called “Riding out Summer 2001,” where she explained rate increases PG&E sought from the State of California.  At that time, the California Public Utilities Commission set new electric rates which increased small commercial users’ bills an average of 37 percent. Residential customers saw an average increase of 7 to 37 percent depending on usage.

“This is not a pleasant discussion,” said Teresa Alvarado, PG&E representative told the The Los Altos Town Crier in its May 23, 2001 edition. “We have a crisis this summer and you can make a difference by reducing 10 percent of your energy use.”

These days, Alvarado, a candidate for Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors District 2 in a run-off election with Cindy Chavez, to succeed disgraced former Santa Clara County District 2 Supervisor George Shirakawa Jr., is running to reform county government that she said allowed Shirakawa’s secretive ways to thrive, while Chavez is running on her accomplishments as a two-term San Jose City councilwoman.

One of Alvarado’s first direct mail pieces to voters in District 2 says one of her platforms to move half the Supervisor’s meetings from the daytime until after 6 p.m. “when community members can attend—not just paid lobbyists.”

Alvarado’s mailer positions her as “The Reformer We Need.”  Whether she is a reformer or a lobbyist cloaking herself in reformer’s clothing remains to be seen.

 

The Many Faces of Theresa Alvarado

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Rock Health to Move to Mission Bay

New Rock Health Lease Provides Space for New Innovative Digital Health Startup Companies & Highlights Mission Bay as Growing Center for Digital Health

Today Mayor Edwin M. Lee and Rock Health CEO Halle Tecco announced that digital health leader Rock Health will move their headquarters to Mission Bay in 2013. Rock Health supports entrepreneurs working at the intersection of healthcare and technology through a startup accelerator, public events, and open-source research.  Rock Health chose Mission Bay for its proximity to both the startup hub in South of Market (SoMa) and the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).

“Rock Health’s move to Mission Bay comes at a critical time as San Francisco implements national health care reform and is striving to give residents more choices for healthier lifestyles,” said Mayor Lee. “We are partnering with innovative companies such as Rock Health to disrupt the way we do business and, at the same time, improve the health care industry. Rock Health’s new proximity to UCSF doctors, entrepreneurs and scientists at our small startups, pharmaceutical companies and investors will accelerate advances in the life science, healthcare and technology industries here in San Francisco.”

“Rock Health is committed to engaging with the brightest minds in healthcare to further innovation. Our choice of Mission Bay and new partnership with Alexandria reaffirms this commitment, and will enable us to support not just our portfolio companies but also the broader startup ecosystem,” said Rock Health Founder and Chief Executive Officer Halle Tecco. “This move will enhance our ability to collaborate with groundbreaking researchers, clinicians, and corporate partners in our industry.”

Rock Health will establish an open and creative space designed to bring together Rock Health’s network of investors, startup founders, and healthcare professionals, who are working together to make meaningful change in health through scalable, innovative, and groundbreaking technology. Rock Health will begin its fifth accelerator program, comprised of 11 startups, on June 10th. These companies, which deliver everything from intelligent software to wearable sensors to smartphone-enabled personal diagnostics, were selected out of a competitive applicant pool from across the country.  Companies were selected based on their potential to provide disruptive and transformative solutions to the nation’s most pressing healthcare challenges.

Rock Health’s move from their current location at 615 Grant Avenue to Mission Bay follows on the UCSF announcement in May 2013 of the creation of a state-of-the-art Center for Digital Health Innovation.

The City’s Mission Bay development covers 303 acres of land between the San Francisco Bay and Interstate 280. The 35-year plan for Mission Bay includes 6,000 total residential units (1,700 of which are affordable units) and 1 million square feet are allocated for the two hospitals. Mission Bay currently includes more than 1.7 million square feet of commercial office and lab space as well as 3,455 housing units already available or in use with more units of retail and office space coming out of construction soon. Anchoring institutions include University of California San Francisco (UCSF), California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences (QB3), California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), Gladstone Institutes and the Veterans Administration. There are 130 life science companies which are located or announced moves to San Francisco, 57 of which are in Mission Bay.

The building where Rock Health will locate, 455 South Mission Bay Boulevard, is owned and operated by Alexandria Real Estate Equities, Inc.

“For years, Mission Bay has been at the forefront of life science innovation,” said Alexandria Real Estate Equities Chairman, Chief Executive Officer and Founder Joel S. Marcus. “Now, with Rock Health’s announcement that it will establish its global headquarters in Mission Bay, immediately proximate to UCSF and its new Center for Digital Health Innovation, this world-class ecosystem has emerged at the leading edge of the digital health revolution, as well. The intersection of life science and digital health is the wave of the future, and Mission Bay is poised to be at its epicenter.”

Mayor Lee last month announced a new biotech incubator at 953 Indiana Street in San Francisco’s Central Waterfront area called QB3@953 to advance QB3’s work to support life science companies and create jobs in California by providing two key elements of success for startups: efficiency and networking.

About Rock Health

Rock Health is powering the future of the digital health ecosystem, bringing together the brightest minds in health and technology to build better solutions. Rock Health supports digital health entrepreneurs through a startup accelerator, public events, and open-source research. Through their accelerator program, Rock Health provides crucial funding, mentorship and operational support to selected high-potential, early stage start-ups, nurturing the next generation of the digital health ecosystem to develop transformative tools that can be swiftly adopted by the marketplace to revolutionize health.  Founded in 2010, Rock Health is funded by top health, technology, venture capital and consumer product companies, and is backed by a wide network of mentors, advisors and partners, including leading hospitals.  Rock Health partners include Aberdare Ventures, Accel Partners, Alexandria Real Estate Equities, Boehringer Ingelheim, Fenwick & West, GE, Genentech, Harvard Medical School, Kaiser Permanente, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Mayo Clinic, Mohr Davidow Ventures, Montreux Equity Partners, NEA, Ogilvy Public Relations, Qualcomm Life, Quest Diagnostics, Silicon Valley Bank, UnitedHealth Group, and UCSF.  For more information, go to: www.rockhealth.com.

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Pentagon Has No Idea What 108,000 Contractors Are Doing

The number of contractors working in Afghanistan now vastly outnumbers American troops stationed there, according to a Congressional Research Service report. CRS, along with the Government Accountability Office, also determined that the Pentagon is unable to properly document the work these contractors are doing. And the information DOD is receiving is often unreliable and inaccurate.

According to CRS, there are now 108,000 private workers in Afghanistan, a workforce that dwarfs the 65,700 American troops still stationed there. That means there are 1.6 contractors for every American soldier in Afghanistan. This is an increase from last month, when The Fiscal Timesreported that there were 1.4 contractors per American soldier.

Given the size of the private forces, it’s not surprising that CRS found that in recent years, the Defense Department spent more than any other agency to support contractor work.

“Over the last six fiscal years, DOD obligations for contracts performed in the Iraq and Afghanistan areas of operation were approximately $160 billion and exceeded total contract obligations of any other U.S. federal agency,” CRS found.

The CRS report comes in the wake of a recent GAO report that the United States spent $195 billion for contractor services in 2010, or twice what it spent on contractors in 2001, before the start of the war in Afghanistan.

The increase in the contractors to troop ration is yet another indication that although the vast majority of troops are leaving Afghanistan, a private army will remain in the country for years.

But the CRS and GAO reports did more than simply document how much was being spent on contractors. They also explored contractor oversight and DOD’s ability to track contractor work.

Taken together, they amount to yet another indictment of how the Pentagon deals with private workers. CRS found that the Pentagon lacked the ability to document the work each contractor is performing. It also found even when the government has information on contractors, it’s often inaccurate and doesn’t reflect the actual work being done. This leaves the Pentagon unable to determine if the hundreds of billions it’s spending are leading to effective results.

GAO found a number of faults with DOD’s contracting process, beginning with their inability to account for work being done in each branch. It attributes this problem to one that has hamstrung the Pentagon’s financial auditing process: Different branches of the military use different systems to track contractor work.

“DOD components used various methods and data sources, including their inventories of contracted services, to estimate contractor [full-time equivalents] for budget submissions, but GAO’s analysis found that the contractor [full-time equivalents] estimates have significant limitations and do not accurately reflect the number of contractors providing services to DOD.”

Each report found that the inability to track contractor work makes it nearly impossible for DOD to budget in an effective way. But they also made clear that failures to properly monitor contractors ultimately hurt readiness on the battlefield.

“Given current concerns over the reliability of contracting data, the information in the central database may not be sufficiently reliable for decision making at the strategic level. This lack of data makes it difficult to determine to what extent the billions of dollars spent … have contributed to achieving the mission,” CRS found.

DAVID FRANCIS, The Fiscal Times

 

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City of San Bruno Calls for $3.85 Billion Penalty Against PG&E for San Bruno Blast and Fire

The City of San Bruno today filed its legal arguments today with the California Public Utilities Commission to levy the maximum financial pre-tax fine and penalty of $3.85 billion against Pacific Gas & Electric Co. for its gross negligence that caused the largest natural gas disaster in U.S. history on Sept. 9, 2010.

San Bruno’s filing is in response to the CPUC safety division’s proposed penalty of $2.25 billion, which was announced with much fanfare in May, but has since been revealed to provide huge credits and significant tax benefit rewards to PG&E.

This week all the CPUC safety division attorneys refused to sign the CPUC’s $2.25 billion penalty recommendation of Jack Hagan, director of the CPUC’s safety division, and all have resigned in protest over what one of them called Hagen’s “unlawful” proposal that was “contrary to what our team had worked to accomplish in the last two and a half years.”

PG&E should be forced to pay the maximum for its systematic safety failures that caused the 2010 explosion and fire, which took the lives of eight citizens of our city, injured countless more, destroyed 38 homes, and left a hole in the heart of San Bruno,” said Mayor Jim Ruane.

“We challenge the CPUC to not let PG&E off the hook for this devastating and entirely avoidable man-made disaster,” Ruane said. “The state and the nation are watching whether the CPUC, the agency tasked with protecting public safety, is capable of carrying out its duty.”

Given the scope and magnitude of PG&E’s misconduct, San Bruno is calling on PG&E to absorb the maximum financial consequences that the CPUC safety division experts determined it can bear.  To avoid giving PG&E the benefit of significant state and federal tax breaks, San Bruno’s legal filing calls for PG&E to be penalized $2.45 billion in after-tax dollars – a total of $3.8 billion –with no credits for past expenses.

San Bruno also demanded the CPUC direct PG&E to adopt and fund a series of remedial measures to ensure systemic regulatory change in the future. These include $5 million per year for a “California Pipeline Safety Trust,” and an Independent Monitor to make sure PG&E follows its own safety plan in the face of possible lax enforcement, and the installation of lifesaving Automated Shutoff Valves.

This week’s filing comes on the heels of significant turmoil at the CPUC after the resignation of the CPUC’s safety division attorneys who worked on the case since the beginning of the CPUC process, leaving no CPUC legal experts with detailed knowledge of the case during the final penalty phase against PG&E.

Ruane said the resignations of the CPUC’s safety division attorneys underscore the Commission’s ongoing illegal and unethical actions.  He called for an immediate investigation by the California Attorney General and the State Legislature to restore transparency and fairness.

Robert Cagen, one of the attorneys who resigned, told the media that he could not continue working on the San Bruno penalty briefs after  concluding that the CPUC safety division’s  recommendations were unlawful and contrary to what his team had worked to accomplish in the last two and a half years.

Unlike a traditional “fine,” which is not tax deductible and is to be paid to the State of California, the CPUC’s so-called penalty is  100 percent tax-deductible and would be reduced to $1.3 billion after taxes, meaning state taxpayers will lose–not gain–tax revenues as a result. PG&E would also be allowed to reduce its penalty by amounts already spent to date on safety improvements since 2010, resulting in the overall penalty falling by another $900 million.

Ruane said if the CPUC’s five-member commission adopts the CPUC recommendation, PG&E would literally walk away from this man-made disaster without consequence.

“Nearly three years after this devastating tragedy, the only way to prevent future tragedies is by penalizing PG&E to the maximum,” Ruane said. “Unfortunately, the only way to ensure PG&E will finally take public safety seriously is by jeopardizing their bottom line.”

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