Judge orders release of documents in failed CalPERS real estate investment

Maureen Nandini Mitra, SF Public Press — Sep 15 2010 - 5:13pm

A judge has ordered the California Public Employees' Retirement System to release key documents related to a failed $100 million real estate investment in East Palo Alto. San Francisco Superior Court Judge Charlotte Wollard wrote in her ruling in the lawsuit by the First Amendment Coalition that public interest in the documents "far outweighs any asserted interest in non-disclosure'' given the amount of public money lost.

Is it ‘smart growth’ to build in the San Francisco Bay? Updates from the field

Maureen Nandini Mitra, SF Public Press — Sep 13 2010 - 5:45pm

The Bay Area needs more homes for its growing population, but does it make sense to house 30,000 people on unstable land, in earthquake country, that’s also at high risk of inundation by rising sea waters? A massive development proposal on the fringes of the San Francisco Bay, in one of the last potentially developable areas in the region, is raising questions about the definition of smart growth. [The Public Press is developing an in-depth report for the fall print edition and the website. We are raising funds on the journalism micro-funding site Spot.us to pay for the reporting and photography on the story.]

Utopianism behind them, co-ops seek new strength helping low-wage workers

Mineko Brand, SF Public Press — Sep 9 2010 - 11:00am

Worker-owned cooperatives are growing as an alternative business model that puts the people who do the work in control. And they are getting a lot more organized than in the recent past, turning local networks into regional and national organizations. With the Bay Area still grappling with high unemployment rates and a weak economy, co-op advocates say they have a solution that is gaining momentum. Membership in the United States Federation of Worker Cooperatives has grown 25 percent a year for the past two years, said Melissa Hoover, executive director of the San Francisco-based group.

Boxer: Nation needs more green jobs

Alison Hawkes, SF Public Press/Way Out West — Sep 1 2010 - 3:07pm

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., has come out swinging on environmental causes, linking the nation’s longer term economic prospects to growth in the green energy industry. She railed against corporations for sending jobs overseas, vowing to eliminate their tax breaks and reward those who build an environmentally benign economy at home. She is running a high-profile race against GOP opponent Carly Fiorina.

Berkeley scientists’ next green energy alternative: stomach bug to biofuel

Ambika Kandasamy, SF Public Press — Aug 31 2010 - 10:43am

A team of local biotech researchers may have found a way to avoid using essential food crops for fuel by genetically modifying harmless strains of a bacteria most people associate with human food poisoning. The result is an extremely expensive fuel — hardly competitive with fossil fuels at $25 per gallon — but marks the beginning of a new look at green energy.

In second week of school, nearly 50 district staff still without jobs

Rosemary Macaulay, SF Public Press — Aug 25 2010 - 3:01pm

Even as classes began last week for San Francisco’s 55,000 public school students, nearly 50 teachers and other staff remained out of a job as the school district struggled to find openings to rehire them after a summer of budget cutting. Previously laid-off staff continued to get recall notices, with the most recent rehires announced Thursday. The majority of recalls were made in the last month. Still, eight teachers and 40 paraprofessionals remained laid off.

Ask an environmentalist: Driving vs. flying? Clothes compost? Wind-powered Safeway? Ozone anxiety?

Jon Mooallem, SF Public Press — Aug 24 2010 - 5:40pm

Which has a bigger carbon footprint, flying or driving from SF to LA? Can I compost my old clothing? Can a Safeway really be wind-powered? What’s the deal with the ozone layer? Writer Jon Mooallem digs into quandaries both weighty and lightheaded.

Arts groups make the case for greater slice of public funds

Gianmaria Franchini, SF Public Press — Aug 21 2010 - 5:39pm

Nonprofit art organizations are big business in San Francisco, employing 28,000 people and providing tens of millions in state and local revenues. And they want politicians to pay attention. “There is nothing more important we can do than advancing art in America,” said Randy Cohen, vice president of local arts advancement at Americans for the Arts. He said the arts have a large impact on job creation and state and local government revenue.

Green hip-hop group pruned by budget cuts

Ambika Kandasamy, SF Public Press — Aug 20 2010 - 2:50pm

A local organization that promotes environmental consciousness through hip-hop culture is going on hiatus this fall after losing major funding from the city of San Francisco. Grind for the Grind hosted its first — and final — “eco-music festival” of the year in Oakland last weekend. The event, FreshFest, brought local hip-hop musicians, artists and sustainable food producers together for a day of solar-powered live jamming, healthy eats and green-themed crafts. After losing its San Francisco grant, the festival was free to move from Yerba Buena Gardens, where it had been for two years, to Oakland’s Mosswood Park. But there still wasn’t enough money to put on the usual four summer festivals.

Test results of city sludge don’t satisfy critics

Alison Hawkes, SF Public Press/Way Out West — Aug 18 2010 - 1:58pm

When activists dumped processed sewage compost on the steps of San Francisco City Hall in March, the stunt was meant to draw national attention toward a supposed hypocrisy afoot in the greenest city in America. The city immediately stopped the giveaway of sewage sludge, a mixture of treated sewage and yard wastes, and ordered a series of expensive tests to prove its safety. The Public Utilities Commission said the compost was no worse than commercial fertilizers. But opponents say the fight is far from over.

San Francisco left seeks to channel spirit of ’75

Mineko Brand, SF Public Press — Aug 17 2010 - 4:34pm

It could have been the plot of a science fiction novel, or perhaps “Rip Van Winkle.” Thirty-five years after its first meeting, the Community Congress awakens in 2010 to find its city and the world transformed — and perhaps a new reason for being. Many things in San Francisco have changed since the first such gathering in 1975. The first Community Congress was held that June and is credited for several major political changes to the city, including rent control and district elections.

Environmental groups concerned about Treasure Island traffic

Victoria Schlesinger, SF Public Press/Way Out West — Aug 16 2010 - 5:54pm

After a string of environmental groups and Treasure Island redevelopment critics requested more time to analyze the San Francisco project’s complex and lengthy draft environmental impact review last week, the Planning Commission granted them an additional two weeks. The public now has until Sept. 10 to submit written comments about the 2,000-plus-page report, first released in mid-July, which discusses environmental concerns ranging from transportation and greenhouse gas emissions to accommodating sea level rise and girding for earthquakes.

Run down? Pay up — a list of San Francisco blighted properties

Angela Hart, SF Public Press — Aug 16 2010 - 3:49pm

More than half a year after the Department of Building Inspection launched an ambitious effort to catalog unused and blighted properties in the city — a process that ultimately could bring in millions of dollars in property and transfer taxes and developer fees — the effort has been hobbled by layoffs in the department.

The Board of Supervisors passed an anti-blight law unanimously in November 2009. It requires property owners whose buildings are vacant or abandoned to register them with the city and fix up their dilapidated exteriors. The law is intended to reduce crime, clean up neighborhood blight and stimulate economic and social activity.

Google and the question of ‘evil’: former allies question hometown company’s motives

Kevin Hume, SF Public Press — Aug 16 2010 - 3:09pm

Google, the Silicon Valley startup that quickly dominated the global search engine business, gained credibility early on with users by invoking its informal motto: “Don’t be evil.” But consumer groups last week turned the slogan against the company, saying the economics of the digital world have obscured its moral compass. Earlier last week, Google united with Verizon to bring before the Federal Communications Commission a list of proposals that consumer groups said seemed to water down the principle of network neutrality — the concept that all Internet traffic should be handled equally, regardless of who provides it or how much they can pay.

Prop. 8 backers file appeal, want stay against weddings left in place

Kristine Magnuson, SF Public Press — Aug 13 2010 - 4:21pm

Backers of Proposition 8 have filed an appeal to keep a stay in force to prevent gay marriages from resuming. Federal Judge Vaughn Walker earlier ruled the measure unconstitutional and has placed a stay on same-sex marriages that is set to expire on Wednesday. Late Thursday backers of the measure filed their appeal with the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Judge says same-sex marriages can resume on Aug. 18

Kristine Magnuson, SF Public Press — Aug 12 2010 - 1:16pm

A federal judge ruled Thursday that same-sex couples will be able to marry on Aug. 18 at 5 p.m. The ruling could be reversed if opponents of gay marriage appeal the decision to the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. The decision will lift the stay that last week he placed on his own judgement that a statewide ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional. On Thursday morning scores of people gathered on the front steps of San Francisco City Hall to mark the occasion, with some same-sex couples hoping to get married on the spot if the stay were lifted immediately. There were also supporters of Proposition 8, the initiative that ended gay marriage in 2008. (READ THE RULING BY JUDGE VAUGHN R. WALKER — PDF)

‘Socially responsible outsourcing’ takes tech jobs to developing world

Ambika Kandasamy, SF Public Press — Aug 12 2010 - 11:41am
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A local nonprofit group is making a name for itself in the tech world by providing U.S.-based companies with low-priced online labor in developing countries. While thousands of for-profit companies have been offshoring tech jobs for years, San Francisco-based Samasource says it wants to turn online work into a tool to alleviate poverty.

Book Review: Journalist spins riveting tale of murder and intrigue along the California coast

Leslie Guevarra, Special to SF Public Press — Aug 11 2010 - 1:37pm

Colm MacCay, the anti-hero of Paul McHugh's novel "Deadlines" (Lost Coast Press, $16.95), is a besotted, arrogant and wildly insecure newspaper columnist beyond his prime, who swaggers and staggers onto a story of abused personal and private trust and wants to make it his own. Unraveling a seaside murder before the competition scoops him could resuscitate MacCay’s faltering career -- and, of course, bring a measure of justice to the victims.

Getting schooled in post-racial America

Rachel Swan, SF Public Press — Aug 10 2010 - 3:47pm

Any artist who promises to end racism in about an hour will earn his fair share of cynics. Comedian W. Kamau Bell was well aware of that when he launched his solo comedy show, “The W. Kamau Bell Curve,” in fall 2007.

Solar waste recycling: can the industry stay green?

Erica Gies, SF Public Press — Aug 9 2010 - 12:11pm

Solar modules contain some of the same potentially dangerous materials as electronics, including silicon tetrachloride, cadmium, selenium and sulfur hexafluoride, a potent greenhouse gas. So as solar moves from the fringe to the mainstream, insiders and watchdog groups are beginning to talk about producer responsibility and recycling in an attempt to sidestep the pitfalls of electronic waste and retain the industry’s green credibility.