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Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Rise of New Investigative Reporting

Back in November the New York Times had an interesting article, the focus was on a San Diego blog--Voice of San Diego.

Writes the New York Times:
"Over the last two years, some of this city’s darkest secrets have been dragged into the light — city officials with conflicts of interest and hidden pay raises, affordable housing that was not affordable, misleading crime statistics.

Investigations ensued. The chiefs of two redevelopment agencies were forced out. One of them faces criminal charges. Yet the main revelations came not from any of San Diego’s television and radio stations or its dominant newspaper, The San Diego Union-Tribune, but from a handful of young journalists at a nonprofit Web site run out of a converted military base far from downtown’s glass towers — a site that did not exist four years ago."
Indeed in this country we have seen a trend of local newspapers going out of business, struggling financially, cutting their staffs, etc. The result has been that there are fewer and fewer investigative reports from mainstream newspapers. This has led to a huge hole in local coverage, a hole filled now by the rise of "a new kind of Web-based news operation" which is now forcing the local papers to follow the stories that they uncover.

Sound familiar?

The New York Times reports that similar operations have cropped up in New Haven, the Twin Cities, Seattle, St. Louis, and Chicago. In fact, there are many more in big and small towns.

Where this movement perhaps differs from the Vanguard is that it is being led by professional journalists rather than citizen journalism posted by unpaid amateurs.
The fledgling movement has reached a sufficient critical mass, its founders think, so they plan to form an association, angling for national advertising and foundation grants that they could not compete for singly. And hardly a week goes by without a call from journalists around the country seeking advice about starting their own online news outlets.

“Voice is doing really significant work, driving the agenda on redevelopment and some other areas, putting local politicians and businesses on the hot seat,” said Dean Nelson, director of the journalism program at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego. “I have them come into my classes, and I introduce them as, ‘This is the future of journalism.’ ”
All around the country, newspapers are struggling to survive. We learned recently that the owners of some of the largest papers in the country the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune are declaring bankruptcy. Locally reporters are being laid off because of struggling times.

The death of newspapers does not have to come, what needs to happen is that newspapers change the way they operate.
"That is a subject of hot debate among people who closely follow the newspaper industry. Publishing online means operating at half the cost of a comparable printed paper, but online advertising is not robust enough to sustain a newsroom.

And so financially, VoiceofSan Diego and its peers mimic public broadcasting, not newspapers. They are nonprofit corporations supported by foundations, wealthy donors, audience contributions and a little advertising."
This is a model that the Vanguard is likely to follow in the coming year.
But some experts question whether a large part of the news business can survive on what is essentially charity, and whether it is wise to lean too heavily on the whims of a few moneyed benefactors.

“These are some of the big questions about the future of the business,” said Robert H. Giles, curator of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. Nonprofit news online “has to be explored and experimented with, but it has to overcome the hurdle of proving it can support a big news staff. Even the most well-funded of these sites are a far cry in resources from a city newspaper.”

The people who run the local news sites see themselves as one future among many, and they have a complex relationship with traditional media. The say that the deterioration of those media has created an opening for new sources of news, as well as a surplus of unemployed journalists for them to hire.

“No one here welcomes the decline of newspapers,” said Andrew Donohue, one of two executive editors at VoiceofSanDiego. “We can’t be the main news source for this city, not for the foreseeable future. We only have 11 people.”
I think what we will see are more of these kinds of operations. The question is whether these kinds of entities are providing the kind of coverage that people seek.

It is worth reading the full New York Times article from November.

From a local level, one of the things the Vanguard has done in the last year has been to move to more investigative and more watch dog reporting. The local newspaper offers people a better guide to community events, but the Vanguard has the luxury of being able to focus on a single story or two a day and going much further in depth than the local paper. Thus the Vanguard was able to delve deeply into the operations of a Tahir Ahad where the local paper never really covered the story.

Investigative reporting is an issue that many local papers have gone away from. The result is that most stories scratch the surface and rely heavily on official sources. The EPA story from earlier this week represents an interesting case in point. The local activists are concerned about developments on the Superfund Site which will house the new Target. The EPA writes a letter laying out their position that the site does not pose a health risk. However, the local group is skeptical of these claims. The Vanguard actually reports the issue first and takes the side of the local group. The Enterprise reports the next day but takes the side of the EPA. That will likely be the last article you see on this subject by the Enterprise, meanwhile the Vanguard has already written a follow up.

But there is more going on in this story, and probably as soon as next week, we will have further information as the Vanguard continues to dig to get to the bottom of what is going on while the Enterprise has long since moved on and declared there is nothing to see. Perhaps the Vanguard will find something out that changes the course of the story, perhaps it won't. But the fact that the Vanguard keeps looking beyond the official word sets it apart from the rest.

Recently the New York Times had a Q&A with a numbers of their reporters and editors on their internet site. So I asked a question of Walt Bogdanich assistant editor at the New York Times Investigative desk (must be nice to work for a large paper).
In 2008, Mr. Bogdanich won the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting for the series "A Toxic Pipeline," which tracked how dangerous and poisonous pharmaceutical ingredients from China have flowed into the global market. In 2005, Mr. Bogdanich won the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting for his series "Death on the Tracks," which examined the safety record of the United States railroad industry. And in 1988, he won the Pulitzer Prize for Specialized Reporting, for his articles in The Wall Street Journal on substandard medical laboratories.
So I ask how local papers can continue investigative reporting given their limited budgets.
"There seems to be a vicious circle now in the media. Primarily that investigative reporting is not funded in all but a few papers because of the loss of revenue and profit that newspapers have brought in. But in part that is due to the declining dedication and quality of the product. How can local newspapers re-commit themselves to investigative reporting?"
Unfortunately his response missed the point:
"Yes, many newspapers have less money to spend on investigative reporting. But it is also true that investigative reporting costs less today than 20 years ago because of the Internet. Case in point: while sitting at our desks in New York, reporters were able to analyze the types of pharmaceutical ingredients that Chinese chemical companies were selling on the open market. Having a great cash flow is not a prerequisite for investigative reporting. It helps, of course. But remember, back in the days when newspapers were flush with cash, most of them did very little of it."
The point is that local newspapers are not doing investigative reporting. It may be cheaper than it used to be, but newspapers are cutting back staff.

The future of local newspapers in part will depend on their ability to figure out a way to restructure in a different economic environment. They will need to find a way to make money and provide a service that people want.

The Vanguard on a good day probably has about a quarter of the readers that the Enterprise gets on a daily basis. (The Enterprise itself only gains access into roughly one-third of the households in the city of Davis with its regular circulation.) There is a niche here to be exploited. The Vanguard has been able to do this with hardly any money used to promote itself. There is obviously a yearning in the populace for more than the bare bones news coverage that most local papers offer while at the same time the local papers provide vital information on an array of topics that the Vanguard could never even hope to try to cover.

The bottom line here is that newspapers are going to have to change if they want to survive. So far they seem reluctant to do so.

---David M. Greenwald reporting

Friday, December 26, 2008

A look at Deep Throat, Investigative Reporting, and the Role of Deep Throat in Watergate

Given that it is the day after Christmas, I thought we would talk about something a little different from what we usual talk about. As a fan of and a recent practitioner of investigative reporting, the story of Deep Throat and Woodward and Bernstein has been intriguing to me. Woodward and Bernstein's investigative reporting during Watergate started a new era and inspired young journalists in hopes of becoming the next muckraking reporter.

The past week marked the passing of Mark Felt at the age of 95. Mark Felt in 2005 revealed that he was in fact the mysterious Deep Throat, Bob Woodward's deep background source in the early Watergate stories. Much controversy surrounds the actions of Deep Throat, even to this day. To many who considered Watergate an appalling abuse of power and a true threat to the very fabric of democracy, Mark Felt is a hero and a whistle blower who put the country first. Others consider him disloyal for leaking at best secret information available to him at his position as the No.2 man in the FBI.

To make matters more ambiguous, he was an unapologetic supporter of Hoover and Hoover's FBI policies. He helped implement COINTELPRO. He was unabashed about spying on Vietnam protesters, suspected communists, civil rights leaders, etc.

This summer, by happenstance I happened to read Woodward and Bernstein's "All the President's Men," intrigued I followed it up reading Woodward's account of Mark Felt, "The Secret Man," and just for good measure, I read Stanley Kutler's account of Watergate, "The Wars of Watergate," a book some historians consider a definitive account of the controversy.

From reading Woodward and Bernstein it is clear that Mark Felt was always conflicted. On the one hand, appalled at the conduct of the Nixon administration including Nixon himself, he felt obliged to leak information in a roundabout way to the public through Bob Woodward whom describes their original meeting several years prior somewhat as a matter of happenstance.

On the other hand, he was paranoid of being discovered but also conflicted as to whether or not he should leak the information. Events after Watergate as described in "Secret Man" indicate that he and Woodward had a falling out. Felt took considerable heat just as a suspected "Deep Throat" one of many. One thing that remains questionable is whether Felt himself ever made the decision in 2005 to reveal himself. Woodward in "Secret Man" describes a meeting with Felt late in Felt's life. Felt does not even remember Woodward. It is not even clear that Felt remembers Watergate or his role in Watergate fully. Woodward alludes to perhaps John O'Connor pushing Mark Felt to come out in order to push a book he does with Mark Felt.

A Washington Post book reviews describes the resulting book, "A G-Man's Life":
"A G-Man's Life also adds little because it's an odd publishing venture, evidently assembled under trying circumstances: The man whose revelations were supposed to drive the book was unable to recall anything about the revelations he was contracted to reveal. The resulting book is hardly more than an abridgement, lifted word for word, from Felt's 1979 memoir, The FBI Pyramid, in which he stoutly denied being Deep Throat, supplemented by extracts from an unpublished manuscript written with his son sometime after 1983 in which Felt provided more material on his early days in the FBI and, in O'Connor's words, "edged closer to his Deep Throat identity."

Added to the mix, according to O'Connor, are some of Felt's FBI memos and some interviews conducted by Felt's family, his caretaker and O'Connor from early 2002 to late 2005, but Woodward's accounts of his meetings with Felt during that same period establish that Felt could remember next to nothing about his past by then. The new book also contains an introduction and conclusion by O'Connor and a speculative aside (inserted into the Watergate chapter) in which O'Connor guesses at Felt's motives for helping Woodward uncover the Nixon White House's cover-up of its role in the burglary.

Felt's own portions of the book, derived almost entirely from his 1979 memoir and his 1980s reminiscences, have not been adjusted to reflect his "edging" toward admitting that he was Woodward's source, let alone his 2005 admission that "I'm the guy they used to call Deep Throat." O'Connor appears to have been scrupulous in ensuring that the words in the Felt sections are actually by Felt, but this makes for some perplexing narration.

You will read Felt musing, "People will debate for a long time whether I did the right thing by helping Woodward" just after Felt has said that his contact with Woodward was limited to "one occasion during the Watergate investigation" -- a statement itself contradicted a few pages later when Felt adds, "I met with Woodward over the next few months, again only confirming or not confirming information he already had collected from other sources." This is as close as this book (in the sections that are supposed to be Felt's) comes to discussing his role as Deep Throat, and it is impossible to tell exactly which words he wrote himself or when he wrote them."
One thing that becomes clear reading all of these books in concert with each other is that popular lore probably overstates the role that Mark Felt and also Woodward and Bernstein played in Watergate.

I argue in fact, the role was overblown by the popularity of the movie, "All The President's Men" starring Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford.

Mark Felt revealed information to Woodward and Bernstein, but it was first of all the tip of the iceberg. Obviously the information was coming from the FBI who was doing much of the original investigation. It was a rare event when Woodward and Bernstein knew more than the FBI, in fact, there was a scene in the movie where Bernstein was meeting with his source from the FBI, and they noted this. He even made reference to everyone believing that the FBI was tipping off the Washington Post.

Moreover, on the eve of the 1972 election, though the Washington Post had kept the story alive to some extent, it was view by the public who knew about it as a partisan scandal. Many simply believed this was the McGovern campaign's grasp at straws. A poll revealed less than half the public even had heard of Watergate.

The key turning points came not from anything the Washington Post did, indeed the election pretty much marked the end of their influence as a leading publication on Watergate, but rather turned to the Congressional Watergate hearings. The key were figures such as Southern Democratic Senator Sam Ervin who headed up the Senate Select Committee on Watergate.

A key moment came during the confirmation hearings for Pat Gray who had been acting FBI Director following Hoover's death and was nominated to become Hoover's full time successor. But during hearings Gray inadvertently revealed the extent to which White House Council John Dean had involvement in what appeared to be a containment policy.

As Kutler wrote:
"The creation in early February (1973) of the Senate Select Committee investigating the 1972 campaign had caused barely a ripple of public attention... But as John Dean's "containment" policy disintegrated against the backdrop of revelations unveiled in the Gray hearings, "Watergate" rapidly became a meaningful--and loaded--political term that spread across the nation, raising far-reaching political concerns."
Within a month, the President's top men would have to resign from the scandal. While Gray's testimony was not the death knell, it was a game changer to use current parlance. Prior to March of 1973, Watergate was still a largely unknown and considered partisan scandal. After that, it became increasingly clear how much of a role the White House played in the cover up. The impetus was not Deep Throat, but the Senate Select Committee investigations and the carelessness of people like Patrick Gray.

As we all know now, the key in any scandal is not what you do, but whether or not you try to cover it up. Had Nixon simply revealed in 1972 their role in Watergate, or even in December of January of 1973, he probably would have survived. But the Nixon White House feared not so much the Watergate break in, but their pattern of corruption, use of slush funds, the extent to which they wielded their political power to try to disgrace their enemies. Their use of these tactics to bring down more formidable challengers in 1972 such as Ed Muskie and insure someone like George McGovern, a good man clearly far to the left of most of the population would get nominated.

In the end, I would argue that Mark Felt is more an intriguing footnote on history than the man who brought down Nixon. It is perhaps true, that without the Washington Post to keep the scandal alive in the minds of Washington insiders, that these later events could not have unfolded, but nothing that the Washington Post revealed was unknown by the FBI.

---David M. Greenwald reporting

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Happy Holidays

The Vanguard will return with a new article tomorrow. Have a good and safe holiday.

Happy Hanukkah all.

---David M. Greenwald reporting

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

WHITEWASHED: Davis Enterprise Downplays TCP Story at Target Site

On Monday, the Vanguard ran an article reporting on a new discovery of TCP, at a level well over the reporting limit. The local group, Frontier Fertilizer Superfund Oversight Group (FFSOG) is concerned enough that they want to see additional testing.

Now the Enterprise runs a story with the same facts available to them that the Vanguard has, however, they completely bury the concerns of FFSOG and its president, longtime community activist Pam Nieberg, and place complete faith in the EPA and its spokesperson Bonnie Arthur.

The headline itself displays the full bias of the article: "Toxics won't impede Target: New contaminant deemed low-risk."

Claire St. John of the Enterprise writes:
The discovery of the pesticide isn't surprising. It was first detected at the Superfund cleanup site west of where the new Target will be built. TCP was first discovered in 1983, after the Environmental Protection Agency began cleaning up a site where the former Frontier Fertilizer company dumped pesticides in unlined pits along Second Street.

'It's not a new discovery of contamination,' said Bonnie Arthur, project supervisor for the EPA's Superfund Division. 'It's a slightly different area than what we've seen before. It's a little bit further to the east. It's not unexpected in terms of what we know about how this chemical moves around in the subsurface.'


'We'll probably have to install some additional monitoring wells just to investigate it further,' Arthur said. 'But it's not something that's a showstopper to us in terms of the Target development.'

'We have an enforceable agreement with them, so if we had to, we'd drill through their slab,' Arthur said. 'We've done it before. We're not going to ignore it, but we don't think there's any health risk. Nobody's drinking the water.'"
FFSOG and Pam Nieberg Disagree with Arthur here

In a letter to EPA Project Manager Bonnie Arthur, Pam Nieberg wrote:
"I am concerned that Target is planning to move ahead with construction prior to further evaluation of the extent of the TCP contamination. I expressed these concerns to the FFSOG Board and community members in attendance and they believe that further sampling should occur to determine the extent and source of the TCP contamination prior to further construction at the Target site."
She continued:
"You stated in your November 24th response that EPA can require Target to investigate the TCP contamination if you determine at a later date that the plume does not come from the Frontier site. However, once the foundation and parking lot are built, sampling will be much more difficult if not impossible in the case of the store concrete slab. Moreover, if the TCP originated from the source area, it changes the nature and scope of the Frontier site clean up and investigation. Specifically, this detection may indicate that the contamination has moved further that previously thought thus requiring reassessment of the pump and treat system and the extent of the groundwater contamination. Therefore, in addition to assessing the extent of the contamination, it is also essential to ascertain its source to the extent possible."
She concludes:
"The issue is not just whether or not Target mitigates for possible TCP intrusion into the store as is currently planned. It is an issue of determining the extent and probable source of the TCP contamination, possible health impacts in the neighborhood and how to remediate if necessary. This is to request that the EPA take immediate action to further investigate the source, extent and movement of the TCP in the groundwater in the vicinity of the planned Target store and adjacent homes. Time of the essence as Target plans to move ahead very soon to build the store foundation."
People may not be drinking the water, but it may be getting into the neighborhood.

Enterprise Sides with the Bush EPA

One of the common practices of journalism is to place heavy emphasis and a large amount of weight on the testimony of experts and official sources. However, in general, when there are conflicting points of view, you present a more balanced picture. It is one thing for a blog such as the Vanguard to take one side of the story, it is another for the newspaper.

The question comes down to the credibility of the source, and recent events suggest that maybe a representative from the EPA, even a civil servant such as Bonnie Arthur, might want to have a much higher degree of skepticism that Clair St. John and the Enterprise exhibited.

Indeed in 2002, the same Bonnie Arthur was involved in a case in Nevada and acknowledged changes in the Bush administration's policies over the previous Clinton administration's policies.
"Bonnie Arthur, EPA project manager, said her agency is overseeing the state effort but Nevada is the lead enforcement regulator at the mine.

In the waning months of the Clinton administration, the agency announced it was considering the Superfund listing after determining the mine posed a significant threat to residents' drinking water.

Under President Bush, the push is to let states oversee cleanups as much as possible, Arthur said.

But if the state fails to follow through on site investigations and cleanup, the EPA would consider pursuing a Superfund listing or federal enforcement order, she said.

"We're trying to make sure the state follows through out there," Arthur said. "The political reality is we have to give the state a chance.""
It took six years, but finally in July 2008, the EPA ordered the owner of that mine to finish their study.

As we learned this week, that's not the only change that the Bush administration has done with regards to environmental regulation.

Citizens' groups had to take the administration and the EPA to court in order to enforce parts of the clean air act--and they won.
"Citizens' groups succeeded in closing a gaping air pollution loophole with a win in federal court today.

The groups, represented by the public interest law firm Earthjustice, were fighting a regulation adopted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that has allowed refineries, chemical plants, and other industrial facilities to ignore pollution limits whenever equipment malfunctions, and whenever they start up or shut down operations. During these periods, toxic emissions can skyrocket, severely degrading air quality. And some facilities evade clean air protections by claiming that they are in startup, shutdown, or malfunction mode during much of their operating time."
The article posted on Yubanet continues:
The plaintiffs in the case were Environmental Integrity Project along with Sierra Club, Louisiana Environmental Action Network, Coalition for a Safe Environment, and Friends of Hudson -- groups in affected communities in the Gulf Coast, southern California, and upstate New York.
And the defendants, the people on the bad side of this environmental issue, you guessed it the EPA under the Bush Administration's leadership. The same EPA that the Enterprise is placing its entire stock in.
"For more than a decade polluters have relied on this loophole at the expense of neighboring communities," said Earthjustice attorney Jim Pew. "Today's victory is a big win for the people in these communities, who can now breathe easier."

Excess emissions occur routinely at industrial facilities throughout the country, according to a comprehensive report by the Environmental Integrity Project titled "Gaming the System: How the Off-the-Books Industrial Upset Emissions Cheat the Public Out of Clear Air."

"Under this notorious EPA exemption, industrial facilities have been allowed to operate like a fleet of junk cars parked in neighborhoods while spewing blue smoke, misfiring, backfiring, stalling, and chugging," said Marti Sinclair, Chair of Sierra Club's Clean Air Team. "This court ruling provides a ray of hope for those neighborhood who have been rendered helpless as dark angry clouds of uncontrolled toxic pollution have rolled over their homes from poorly maintained and poorly operated facilities."
Here's a telling quote from Sierra Club Senior Attorney David Bookbinder:
"This is just the latest example of a court striking down yet another attempt by the Bush EPA to gut the Clean Air Act. It's a good thing that inauguration is right around the corner, because we're beginning to lose track of the number of such decisions."
Local activists are thinking the exact same thing. There is a reason why Target wants to pour that slab on January 5, it is just over two weeks before the Obama administration takes over. The new head of the EPA will be Lisa Jackson who has a reputation pushing and enforcing environmental regulations.

This week, California's Senator Barbara Boxer sent a very pointed letter to the US Attorney General Michael Mukasey dated December 22, 2008, castigating Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen Johnson charging that "he has run amok and will waste taxpayer dollars in his most recent action to avoid controlling global warming pollution in Clean Air Act permits."

Senator Boxer said:
"This illegal document issued by Stephen Johnson makes it clear that he has become a renegade Administrator. He defies the clear language of our environmental laws and acts without legal authority. Mr. Johnson's latest action is intended to make the job of combating global warming more difficult and will add to the millions of taxpayer dollars he has wasted in defending his illegal decisions. The Attorney General has an obligation to intervene when the actions of the Administration are so clearly outside the law."
These are just two examples from this week that show the pattern over the last eight years that the EPA has taken steps to intentionally avoid implementing and enforcing existing US environmental law.

However, when it comes to a local issue in the city of Davis that may well affect the existing residents in that neighborhood and perhaps the workers and customers of a new Target store, the Enterprise swallows the line of the Bush administration EPA hook, line, and sinker.

Ms. Arthur may indeed be a civil servant, but she as she admitted in 2002, is operating under the orders of the Bush Administration. She may say it does not pose a threat, but the research that FFSOG contradicts her assessment.

Unfortunately it seems that the remedy here is going to have to be a legal remedy. Someone, probably FFSOG itself, needs to sue Target getting a court order to stop the laying off the slab until testing can be done or at the very least until the Obama Administration comes in with new orders.

The EPA may be right, but until someone does a test to figure out exactly what is down there right now, should we not err on the side of caution? What is a month or two in the process of building Target? They are scheduled to open the store in October, it certainly can be done in far less time than nine months. Let us just be sure before we make unalterable decisions.

And to the Davis Enterprise, I have seen biased reporting in the past from this paper, this may be the most egregious example. Any inkling that the local group objected to the EPA's decision was buried well off the front page and the headline itself belied the newspaper's slant. This type of reporting does not serve our community well.

---David M. Greenwald reporting

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

2008 Vanguard City Council Scorecard

Here is the Vanguard's 2008 City Council Scorecard. For the first time, the Vanguard has gone through 20 of the most important votes of the year and rated each council member on the basis of how they voted.

(click on top right to view full document)
Davis City Council Scorecard


No one got a perfect score this year. Councilmembers Sue Greenwald and Lamar Heystek both got a 95% score however, their only blemish was voting to put the charter on the ballot. The Vanguard ended up coming out against the charter based on its overly broad construction that allowed the potential for too much power by the council down the line.

The most interesting development of the year dovetails the article that ran two weeks ago, Power Shift on the Council: Souza Emerges As Power Center, where we see Councilmember Stephen Souza clearly emerge as the middle ground on the council with an even 50% voter rating. Indeed this is only the tip of the iceberg.

On 15 of the 17 non-unanimous votes, Souza votes for the winning side. The only two exceptions were both abstentions. Both were pivotal abstentions. The first, he and Don Saylor abstained on LAFCO allowing for the motion to exclude a number of properties from LAFCO to pass by a very unusual 2-1-2 vote. Later, his abstention on the issue of the Ogrydziak re-design of a B street property meant that the project would be denied for a year, a decision that earned a strong rebuke from his colleague and often-ally Mayor Pro Tem Don Saylor.

Councilmember Souza's shift on the council came rather suddenly as evidenced by this voting chart. Up until September, Councilmember Souza voted for the Vanguard's preferred position just three times, and two of those occasions that was part of a unanimous vote. In his last eight votes, all since September 1, he voted with the Vanguard 7 of 9 times, one of those was a key abstention on the Ogrydziak property, which may as well have been a vote with the Vanguard. The only exception was casting the deciding vote to go ahead with the value engineering consultant on the water issue while at the same time pushing the council to look for alternative solutions to the water issue.

On the far end of the spectrum, both Mayor Asmundson and Mayor Pro Tem Saylor scored a 25% and a 21% respectively. Three of those votes came on unanimous votes. Mayor Asmundson joined her colleagues in 4-1 votes against Saylor on the issue of the New Harmony CEQA which referred staff to examine the health issue more and on Lewis Properties which authorized an equal EIR. Mayor Pro Tem Saylor's lone non-unanimous vote with the Vanguard came in his opposition to the Charter City Proposal.

The scorecard however, shows that the council has shifted. The Vanguard was on the winning side of 11 of the 20 votes. In the last eight votes, the Vanguard was on the winning side of seven of them. There has been a very strong shift toward the middle for the council and that has clearly been led by Councilmember Souza.


Part of the tricky aspect of grading the council is that a large percentage of their votes come on non-controversial issues. Thus to some degree, these scorecards understate the amount of agreement between the Vanguard and members of the council on the general agenda.

However, we were primarily interested in how councilmembers voted on the big issues facing Davis. We did not select out unanimous votes completely however. We chose three on big issues: political sign ordinance, woodburning, and the Grande Property. Each of these have either been a long time coming in the case of the first and the last, or an issue that will end up being a hotly debated issue down the line in the case of woodburning.

For the most part, we did not select intermediary votes on issues. Thus in general, we graded on the final vote rather than substitute votes. This helps increase for instance Councilmember Stephen Souza's score because he sought out compromises that were not completely the preferred position of the Vanguard, but were far better than the alternative.

Finally, abstentions were counted as though they were absent, no vote either way taken out of the total. So Mayor Pro Tem's votes were averaged out of 19 and Councilmember Souza's out of 18.

---David M. Greenwald reporting

Monday, December 22, 2008

New Contaminant Found at Target Superfund Site

Target Cuts Deal with EPA to Proceed with Project on January 5, 2009

The Vanguard has learned that a group that monitors the Superfund site at the new Target location has discovered potentially a new source of contamination. This source was discovered at testing wells on the Target site.

According to the group, Frontier Fertilizer Superfund Oversight Group (FFSOG), EPA and Target have known that Trichloropropane (TCP) was detected in a sample taken just northeast of where the store would be. TCP is listed by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (part of the World Health Organization) as "probably carcinogenic to humans." While TCP has been detected before at the Frontier Fertilizer site, this location is outside the current treatment area.

The level at which TCP was found was approximately 3000 times the level at which it would trigger action.

According to the group:
"The general movement of the groundwater is generally northeast from the detection site: toward existing homes. The EPA needs to determine whether this contamination is part of the current plume or a new source of contamination on the Target site. In order for that determination to be made, more sampling at different locations within the store footprint must be done, requiring a halt to construction until the testing is complete."
Those who remember the Target campaign will recall of one of the concerns about the 2nd street location had to do with its proximity to the Target site. During the course of the campaign, controversy arose when the Yes on Measure K campaign purported that the EPA was in support of building a Target at this location.

According to FFSOG's website:
From 1972 until 1983, Frontier Fertilizer personnel dumped residual pesticides from drums and tanker trucks onto the ground and into unlined pits on the property. These pesticides leaked into the groundwater and now form a contaminated plume lying between 30 and 130 feet below ground surface and reaching over 800 feet north of the original disposal basin. Soil on the site in the vicinity of the disposal basin is also highly contaminated.
The public became aware of the site in 1983 when a dog fell into a pit on the property and died from pesticide poisoning.
In 1994, the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) placed the Frontier Fertilizer site on the National Priorities List (NPL) and declared it a Federal Superfund Site. Since 1994, EPA has studied the site and repaired, upgraded and expanded an existing contaminant monitoring and removal system put in place by the State. EPA is currently in the process of developing and implementing a final remedy for treatment of the groundwater and soil contamination.
Target has to move several of EPA's monitoring wells that are located under what will be the footprint for the store.

According to the President of FFSOG, Pam Nieberg:
"The wells that were to be replaced were important wells that were monitoring just beyond the eastern extent of the groundwater plume of contamination. They were there to tell us if the plume was still moving in that direction--not being adequately contained by the pump and treat system extraction system."
There has been considerable discussion between members of FFSOG, the EPA, and Target as to whether Target needs to do more sampling to determine where the TCP is coming from.

Target is arguing that they need to stick to their schedule which has them pouring a slab for the store January 5. The TCP they believe is a fluke as it has not been detected in other samplings. They do not have the funding to do more sampling.

Other members of the group however argue that sampling is imperative and they do not buy that Target lacks funding for sampling.

According to Ms. Nieberg:
"One issue was that if it came from the source area and was part of the plume that EPA has been cleaning up, then it would be EPA's job to investigate it and capture it in the P and T system. However, if it was not from the source area, it was a new contaminant site on Target's property and Target would have to investigate it and clean it up. Also, if it was from the source area, which is southeast of the Target footprint, then that would indicate that there might be a plume or finger of contamination running under the Target footprint. "
The issue here was that if there was a plume of TCP under the footprint, because TCP is volatile, it could enter the building through the cement slab and pose a risk to workers in the store. Target proposed engineering controls. A layer of gravel covered by a membrane vapor barrier under the slab. Piping would run from the gravel layer up through the walls of the store and vent to the outside.

EPA management and attorneys met with Target representatives and reached an agreement to allow Target to move ahead but they would have to institute the engineering controls.

However, members of FFSOG strongly argued that sampling should be done prior to the pouring of the slab to determine the extent of the problem.

In a letter to EPA Project Manager Bonnie Arthur, Pam Nieberg wrote:
"I am concerned that Target is planning to move ahead with construction prior to further evaluation of the extent of the TCP contamination. I expressed these concerns to the FFSOG Board and community members in attendance and they believe that further sampling should occur to determine the extent and source of the TCP contamination prior to further construction at the Target site."
She continued:
"You stated in your November 24th response that EPA can require Target to investigate the TCP contamination if you determine at a later date that the plume does not come from the Frontier site. However, once the foundation and parking lot are built, sampling will be much more difficult if not impossible in the case of the store concrete slab. Moreover, if the TCP originated from the source area, it changes the nature and scope of the Frontier site clean up and investigation. Specifically, this detection may indicate that the contamination has moved further that previously thought thus requiring reassessment of the pump and treat system and the extent of the groundwater contamination. Therefore, in addition to assessing the extent of the contamination, it is also essential to ascertain its source to the extent possible."
She concludes:
"The issue is not just whether or not Target mitigates for possible TCP intrusion into the store as is currently planned. It is an issue of determining the extent and probable source of the TCP contamination, possible health impacts in the neighborhood and how to remediate if necessary. This is to request that the EPA take immediate action to further investigate the source, extent and movement of the TCP in the groundwater in the vicinity of the planned Target store and adjacent homes. Time of the essence as Target plans to move ahead very soon to build the store foundation."
This is a very concerning situation as the EPA for whatever reason has decided to strike a deal with Target rather than require simple testing to determine the extent of the problem. The question arises, as Target proposes to build on a Superfund cleanup site, how much of a health threat if any, this poses to workers and customers of a new Target.

At this point, this is not a question of preventing Target from going into this location, it is now a question of mitigating whatever environmental and health impacts this choice of sites has. Target won ballot confirmation based on the notion that this would be a new and green Target. They pointed to the fact that this would be the first LEED-certified building. And yet, they seem wholly unconcerned about possible health and environmental impacts are now faced by the community based on decisions made by previous stewards of this property.

Some will argue that if the EPA has little problem with Target going forward neither should we. My concern is of course, the EPA under the Bush administration does not have a stellar record and has consistently sided with industry and commercial interests over environmental protection. As such, it would be interesting to see what a new EPA under an Obama administration would bring. It seems suspicious that the the date certain for beginning the project is January 5 just two weeks and a day before Obama officially and formally becomes President.

As the extent of this health problem is unknown at this time, Davis should demand answers BEFORE work goes forward. If there are no health threats, then Target can by all means, proceed as planned. Why not take the extra time to be sure? Unless of course they know something that we do not.

---David M. Greenwald reporting

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Dispute with UC Lingers; Senator Calls For Mediated Settlement

In July, roughly 8,500 University of California (UC) service workers went out on strike in protest of poverty wages. At this point there is no agreement between the workers and the UC Regents. Now, a mediated settlement has been presented to the UC administration. Senator Leland Yee, who joined workers represented by the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME 3299) on the picket lines in July, is calling on the University to accept this new proposal.

Last month, the University asked Art Pulaski, Executive Secretary Treasurer of the California Labor Federation, to mediate the collective bargaining between AFSCME 3299 and the UC. He has since put forward a series of recommendations to settle the dispute.

The UC workers have argued that these wages are forcing them to live in near poverty conditions. Despite the economic downturn, the university has the resources to bring these workers up to a living wage and lift them out of poverty. As the Vanguard reported last summer, much of the funding for these workers comes from the privately funded UC hospital system which has ample money to absorb a pay increase. Eighty percent of service worker salaries are not paid by state funds, but are paid under the UC hospital budget or are self-funded.

From last summer:
"At issue are poverty wages as low as $10 per hour. Many work 2-3 jobs and qualify for public assistance to meet their families’ basic needs. UC wages have fallen dramatically behind other hospitals and California’s community colleges where workers are paid family-sustaining wages that are on average of 25% higher. In addition, when workers have stood up for better lives for their families and better working conditions, the University has retaliated by violating labor laws.

96% of service workers are eligible for at least one of the following forms of public assistance: food stamps, WIC, public housing subsidies and subsidized child care, creating a potential burden for CA taxpayers. Increasing wages would not only help lift workers out of poverty, but could positively impact CA and the low- and moderate-income areas where UC workers live as they contribute more to their local economy."
The University of California was able to pay its new president Mark Yudof $800,000, nearly doubling the salary of his predecessor. UC executives have consistently received double digit pay increases and bonuses on already exorbitant salaries. In addition, Regents have significantly increased student fees each year, making the state’s higher education system unaffordable for many students.

In a letter to President Yudof, Senator Yee wrote:
“In light of the University’s commitment to increasing executive compensation, it is an embarrassment that service workers are largely ignored by the UC administration. I strongly urge the University to immediately accept the mediated settlement. Mr. Pulaski has put forward a middle ground proposal that should be accepted by both parties.”
The mediated settlement proposal includes across the board increases of 5%, 3%, 3+1%, 3+1% for four years; year for year service credit steps; and a minimum rate of $14.50/hour by the end of the four year contract term.
“It is unconscionable what the UC administration has done to these workers and their families. The wages of UC service workers are dramatically behind other hospitals and California’s community colleges, where workers average twenty-five percent more for the same work. UC hospitals made over $371 million in profits last year, yet they refuse to provide the workers a fair wage. While UC executives live high on the hog, workers, students, and patients are left in the cold.”
According to the state-appointed, independent fact finder Carol Vendrillo, these low wages are a matter of priorities and not a lack of resources. She noted:
“UC has demonstrated the ability to increase compensation when it fits with certain priorities without any demonstrable link to a state funding source. It is time for UC to take a broader view of its priorities by honoring the important contribution that service workers make to the UC community and compensating them with wages that are in line with the competitive market rate.”
As the holiday season rolls around and people struggle to afford to buy their holiday gifts, it is important to remember those who are trying to get by on just $10 an hour from a system that still rolls in billions and pays its top executives high six-figure salaries.

---David M. Greenwald reporting

Word to the Wise: Local Heroes In Our Own Community

By E.A. Roberts

On December 4, 2008, I had the privilege of attending the eighth annual Heroes Award Luncheon, put on by the Yolo County Chapter of the American Red Cross. My youngest daughter Lara Musser was one among the group of heroes being honored. For the holiday season, I thought I would describe this life affirming event, that was so uplifting and restored my faith in human courage and sacrifice. When necessary, ordinary citizens will do whatever it takes to save the life of another.

Because I know my daughter’s circumstance so well, I will begin with her remarkable story first. While Lara was a genetics major at UCD this past year, she was employed as a supervisor of the UCD Intramural Sports Program in the Department of Campus Recreation. One of the reasons she was selected was because of her extensive knowledge in CPR and first aid. Lara actually trains and certifies lifeguards in CPR at the various pools throughout the city of Davis.

One evening some months ago, she was assigned to oversee multiple intramural volleyball games right next to Toomey Field. If anyone was injured, she was on staff to provide first aid. Someone came running towards her, screaming that a man was down in the next field over. Lara immediately inquired as to the severity of the situation. When she heard the explanation, she immediately called University Police Department dispatch. She was assured the ambulance was on its way.

Lara ran towards the victim. He was a UCD student, down on the ground after having been hit in the chest with a soccer ball. This poor young fellow was in the middle of some sort of seizure. He had been turned on his side to make sure he would not bite his tongue or obstruct his airway. Lara monitored the victim closely until the seizure was over. However, things turned bad in an instant. The unfortunate guy suddenly went limp, and stopped breathing. Lara felt for a pulse, but none was there.

Right away Lara’s extensive training kicked in, and she began administering CPR flawlessly. Because all activity on the field had stopped, and a large group of onlookers had gathered, another volleyball participant trained in CPR spotted the crisis. Laura Rombach had no hesitation in scooting across the field fast, to give my daughter immediate assistance. Without skipping a beat, Ms. Rombach took over giving breaths to the victim, while my daughter continued the vital compressions to keep the blood flowing within the victim’s body. Neither Lara nor Laura had ever met before that night.

The pair were relieved to hear the sirens of the fire engine and ambulance as they arrived on the scene some 4 minutes later. UCD firefighters Paul Fullerton, Scott Wilkes, Jonathan Poganski, Louis Cherko, Kristin Hunter, and AMR responders Robert Caulk, Amir Shariat, Nels Joslin all sprang into action. As luck would have it, three of the firefighters were student interns. Their supervisor, Captain Fullerton, allowed them the freedom to perform what they were trained to do, while carefully observing. He knew it was necessary to give them the opportunity in the field to practice what they had been taught.

My daughter continued with the compressions for continuity’s sake, as the victim was intubated. Effort was made to use a defibrillator to shock the victim’s heart back into beating once again. The only problem was, no steady pulse could be found. The victim was loaded into the ambulance with one of the AMR responders having taken over compressions from Lara. To my daughter’s chagrin, there was yet another attempt to shock the victim while in the ambulance, to no avail.

When Lara came home that night, she was distraught, not knowing whether the victim had lived or died. She had kept it together professionally while performing CPR, but the highly charged incident took its toll that night. Lara got very little sleep, and had difficulty concentrating in class the next day. She couldn’t stop thinking about the welfare of the victim. She was to later find out he miraculously survived, much to her relief.

We learned afterward at the luncheon itself how dire things had been. It had taken surgery at the hospital to restore the victim’s heartbeat, and a surgical team that refused to give up on someone so young. I had the honor of speaking with the victim at the Heroes Award Luncheon, and profusely thanked him for surviving! I explained how hard it would have been on my daughter had he not lived to tell his tale!

Lara’s supervisors did an immediate debriefing after the incident to determine what happened - what went right, what went wrong, could anything have been done better. The one thing that stuck out in Lara’s mind was how important her extensive training in CPR had been. She worried that had she not been so proficient in this technique, things may not have gone so well. Lara could not emphasize enough how vital repeated and regular practice in CPR is to ensure competence.

It also became clear it took a village to save this young man. Had my daughter not been there to lend him expert assistance, had Laura Rombach not rushed over to lend aid, if the UCD firefighters and AMR responders had not arrived as soon as they did to accomplish what they were trained to do, had the surgeons not fought doggedly for this man’s life, the victim would not have survived. It took every single person involved giving it their utter best to save him.

* * *

Here are the stories of the other local heroes, as I remember them:

Sergeant Andrew Hill of the California Highway Patrol was informed about a motorcyclist driving at speeds of up to 140 miles per hour. Eventually setting up a roadblock with a fellow officer, the two parked both their cars face-to-face across from each other, and waited. When the out of control motorcyclist approached and saw the obstruction up ahead, he slowed down at first, then made the stupid decision to speed up. The idiot futilely attempted to slip in between the slight gap formed by the parked automobiles, but didn’t make it. Instead, he hit one of the CHP policemen, subsequently careening down a bank into a ditch. Sgt. Hill gave first aid to his downed fellow officer, calling backup for help. After assistance arrived, he gave aid to the injured motorcyclist. According to Sgt. Andrew Hill, he was just doing his job. Sgt. Hill’s fellow officer survived the incident, and is back on the job, hoping one day to go back out on patrol.

Shala Shores was an animal control officer, and seven months pregnant. She was finishing up a long shift, heading back to her base in Woodland. As she drove through the streets of West Sacramento, someone came running out and flagged her down. Shala was asked if she knew CPR, because a customer in a nearby store was suffering a heart attack. Not one second did Shala hesitate, but got out of her truck and sped toward the downed victim - as fast as a late term pregnant lady can run! Ms. Shores was able to administer CPR to the victim effectively, and would do the whole thing over again in a heartbeat if called upon.

Student John Scott was just sitting in his house, minding his own business, when he smelled smoke. Running outside to see what was transpiring, he noticed his neighbor’s house on fire, flames shooting up over the back fence. Without hesitation, John jumped the six foot barrier, and nearly landed in the middle of the blaze. The entire side of his neighbor’s house was on fire. Worried that someone was still inside the house, he banged on doors, to make sure everyone was out. Grabbing a fire hose, John made every effort to douse the flames. By the time firefighters arrived, he was relieved for their assistance. So inspired was he by watching the firefighters and ambulance responders leap into action, John has now set his course on becoming a member of their profession. He is already taking courses to start down his chosen path!

Marsha Taylor is one of those unsung heroes, who quietly volunteers her time to facilitate blood donation. She readies the equipment necessary for its collection. Despite her great fear of needles, she donates her blood platelets regularly. Without this sort of dedication, blood drives would not be as effective and successful as they are within Yolo county.

Dane Gallagher and Stuart Zane are two Woodland teens, who just happened to be in the right place at the right time. A young 14 year old girl was home alone, taking a shower. She heard two men break in, and quietly telephoned her mother and father via cell phone. Fortunately the girl’s dad rushed home in time, and arrived soon enough to chase off the burglars. As the two criminals ran away, the father gave chase, in hot pursuit. He was joined in his efforts by Dane and Stuart. Being much younger and faster than the infuriated father, the teen boys hunted down the two cowardly thieves, and held them until law enforcement arrived.

Ward and Nathan Trueblood are father and son, both having been involved in the medical field. Ward Trueblood is a retired surgeon, while his son Nathan is a member of the ski patrol. The two were driving along one day in a car, heading out into the beautiful countryside, when they spotted a bicyclist dumped on the ground, laying unconscious. The two stopped to render assistance. From the large vertical scar on the victim’s chest, Ward’s surgical experience led him to believe the male victim had suffered a heart attack. The medically trained pair immediately and successfully administered CPR, and said they would stop and render aid again in a second!
Willie Nelson is a UPS truck driver, who has been trained to keep a constant vigil on the road. He spotted a curious orange glow in the distance, while driving one dark evening on his usual rounds. As he approached the radiant light, he suddenly realized he was looking at an automobile on fire, with the occupant still inside. He quickly pulled over to the side of the road, leapt from his truck with fire extinguisher in hand. Attempting to put out the inferno, Willie’s extinguisher ran out of chemicals. By this time a big rig trucker had stopped to lend assistance. The two quickly came up with a plan. Willie dragged the victim from the burning car, while the big rig trucker threw dirt on the fire. Shortly thereafter the car exploded in a fountain of flame. Willie modestly shrugged his shoulders when relating the event after the fact. His hope was if this were to ever happen to him, someone would stop to help in the same way he had.

Art and Augie Harris are brothers, who were walking by a burning house. From the noises coming from within, it was clear small kids were still inside. Without hesitation, both ran inside the blazing house, and saved four children, running back to save the family cat. The incident was covered on local television, with the parents expressing deep gratitude to the brothers for saving their children. The mom and dad knew had it not been for Art and Augie, a tragedy of the severest magnitude could have unfolded. The family’s things were replaceable, whereas the children were not.

I went away from this awards ceremony having my faith in humankind restored. As grim as the current news is, everyday heroes carry on quietly, without fanfare, or any expectation of reward. They carry out their heroic acts because it is the right thing to do, even if it inconveniences them or puts them at risk. For some, it is something they do on their job on a daily basis. For others, it is something they feel called on to do because they are a member of the human race. Either way, they are heroes in the truest sense of the word and we are all forever grateful to them.

Lesson to be learned: Don’t ever doubt that decent people exist, and will lend a hand when things look bleakest. They will do so even at risk to themselves, expecting nothing in return, other than the sincere wish to make things better - to save a life. Oftentimes it will take multiple good Samaritans working together every step of the way to effect a positive outcome. Never underestimate the value of a single contribution for the greater good.

Elaine Roberts Musser is an attorney who concentrates her efforts on elder law and aging issues, especially in regard to consumer affairs. If you have a comment or particular question or topic you would like to see addressed in this column, please make your observations at the end of this article in the comment section.