Beth Winegarner's news articles

San Francisco Bay Area community news

Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

SFPD’s Ugly History with Pepper Spray

leave a comment »

by Beth Winegarner
Nov. 30, 2011

When San Francisco Police came calling in June of 1995, 37-year-old Aaron Williams probably didn’t think it would be his last day on Earth. But as the pet-store-burglary suspect emerged from his house, a dozen officers piled on him. Police pepper-sprayed him, restrained him, and placed him face-down in a police van. Within an hour, he was dead.

That same month, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California issued a sobering report on pepper spray, which had been legalized for police use in October 1992. By May 31, 1995, California law-enforcement officers had used it nearly 16,000 times, roughly 24 times per day. Twenty-six people had died — not including Williams — giving pepper-spray victims a 1-in-600 chance at death.

By October 1995, the San Francisco Police Department had updated its use-of-force policy, which details when and how pepper should be used. However, it appears that SFPD didn’t follow that policy six months later when officers picked up an incoherent Mark Garcia, then pepper-sprayed and hog-tied him. He died the next day, after suffering two massive heart attacks.

Since then, no one has died in SFPD custody following the use of pepper spray, according to Officer Albie Esparza. But with a wave of police pepper-spray attacks on Occupy Wall Street protests in Davis and across the United States, could it happen again?

“Davis was an eye-opener,” said Sean Seamans, a camper at Occupy San Francisco. “As with all ‘non-lethal’ items, as long as you put the ‘non’ in front, it gives you the excuse to use it liberally. And if you have asthma or respiratory issues, it puts lives at risk.”

Pepper spray, sometimes known by its formal name oleoresin capsicum, is a concentrated version of the substances that give spicy peppers their heat. In the human body, these substances release a brain-signaling compound called Substance P. Among other things, Substance P causes the airways to close, triggering uncontrollable coughing and making it difficult to breathe.

“Occupational Health Services, Inc., [a private research facility in Kansas City, Missouri], reported that because [oleoresin capsicum] caused the subject’s breathing passages to swell and constrict, the use of OC on persons with pre-existing respiratory conditions such as asthma could, in rare instances, cause death,” according to the ACLU report.

Local police don’t see it that way. “People do not die from pepper spray itself. There are other, associated factors,” such as alcohol or drug use, as well as the “hog-tie” or hobble restraint, Esparza said. “The pepper spray we use is nothing more than Tabasco sauce in a canister.”

Hmm. According to Tabasco’s website, its spiciest sauce — made of habanero peppers — is a bit more than 7,000 on the Scoville scale, used to measure capsaicin’s potency. Meanwhile, U.S.-grade pepper spray rates somewhere above 2 million on the Scoville scale, according to Scientific American.

While the ACLU report called for better tracking and oversight into police use of pepper spray, other agencies went further. The Ella Baker Center for Human Rights — then based in San Francisco, demanded a moratorium on the practice, in part because of its potential lethality. No police departments took them up on the demand, according to Ella Baker spokesman Abel Habtegeorgis.

“You’re quicker to use things like that because you’re told that this is not lethal, when in all actuality, your haste in using them can prove to be deadly,” Habtegeorgis said. “If police are going to have these weapons that can be deadly, they should use the same precaution they would use for a gun.”

Eight Headwaters Forest demonstrators won a victory over the police use of pepper spray in 2005, when a Humboldt County judge ruled that officers used excessive force in swabbing the stuff into protester’s eyes. However, the precedent only applies within that county, according to Headwaters Forest Defense spokeswoman Karen Pickett.

“It’s way too limited,” Pickett said. Although the Headwaters trial focused on pepper spray’s potential to cause permanent eye damage, some court evidence showed that it can be fatal when people have respiratory problems.

No Occupy Wall Street demonstrators have died after being pepper-sprayed — and SFPD hasn’t used it on local protesters, according to Esparza and Seamans.

During a recent raid, “I had eight officers on me at one time, and pepper spray was threatened,” Seamans said. He keeps goggles and a respirator at hand, just in case.

“Officers don’t like to use force unless we have to,” Esparza said. “But when someone’s given a lawful order, it’s against the law for them not to follow those orders. If you do what the officer tells you, there’s no need for further escalation.”

This article originally appeared in the SF Weekly’s online news column, The Snitch.

Written by Beth Winegarner

November 30, 2011 at 8:20 PM

Outgoing state Sen. Jackie Speier says farewell

leave a comment »

Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
November 23, 2006

Outgoing state Sen. Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough, has authored some 300 successful bills in her 18 years as a state representative, but her major regret upon leaving office is that she couldn’t do more to reform California’s prison system.

Speier, speaking at a press conference in San Mateo on Wednesday, said she once spent a day and night in Chowchilla’s Valley State Prison for Women. While there, she met a 21-year-old mother of two who had been convicted of three DUIs.

“I asked her whether she had received any programming, and she said she hadn’t. She had been there 18 months and had not received a single day of rehabilitation,” Speier said.

While crime has gone down, prison populations have risen. Roughly 80 percent of women in California’s 33 prisons are incarcerated for minor crimes, but held in medium-security prisons, Speier said.

Meanwhile, guards maintain “extraordinary power” and prisons are hemorrhaging money. She challenged Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to be courageous enough to create a better parole system.

Speier, 56, was born in San Francisco and raised in Burlingame. She worked as a staffer for Congressman Leo Ryan, and was shot five times in November 1978 during a fact-finding mission regarding the Rev. Jim Jones and his People’s Temple human-rights abuses.

Speier served on the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors from 1980 to 1986, when she was elected to the California Assembly. She moved to the state Senate in 1998, and this month lost the Lieutenant Governor’s race to Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi.

During that time, she also suffered two miscarriages, lost her first husband, Steven Sierra, in a car accident and became the first woman to give birth while serving in the California Legislature.

Though she has risen to state politics, Speier’s legacy is still felt widely in San Mateo County, according to Supervisor Jerry Hill.

“Every aspect of our life and our children’s life is better, healthier and safer because of Jackie. She is a giant of integrity and a giant of compassion,” Hill said.

Assemblyman Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, will succeed Speier in representing District 8 and said he plans to continue fighting for some of her key causes, including education and health care, particularly for children.

Speier plans to spend some time as a stay-at-home mom with her two children. In March, she’ll launch her first book, “This Is Not the Life I Ordered,” co-authored with friends Jan Yanehiro, Deborah Collins, Stephens and Michealene Cristini Risley.

Don’t think Speier has given up politics for good, however. When asked whether she would consider running for governor, she paused, and then nodded.

“If the opportunity availed itself, I think I could run this state very well,” she said.

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

November 23, 2006 at 9:52 PM

Outgoing state Sen. Jackie Speier says farewell

leave a comment »

Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
November 23, 2006

Outgoing state Sen. Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough, has authored some 300 successful bills in her 18 years as a state representative, but her major regret upon leaving office is that she couldn’t do more to reform California’s prison system.

Speier, speaking at a press conference in San Mateo on Wednesday, said she once spent a day and night in Chowchilla’s Valley State Prison for Women. While there, she met a 21-year-old mother of two who had been convicted of three DUIs.

“I asked her whether she had received any programming, and she said she hadn’t. She had been there 18 months and had not received a single day of rehabilitation,” Speier said.

While crime has gone down, prison populations have risen. Roughly 80 percent of women in California’s 33 prisons are incarcerated for minor crimes, but held in medium-security prisons, Speier said.

Meanwhile, guards maintain “extraordinary power” and prisons are hemorrhaging money. She challenged Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to be courageous enough to create a better parole system.

Speier, 56, was born in San Francisco and raised in Burlingame. She worked as a staffer for Congressman Leo Ryan, and was shot five times in November 1978 during a fact-finding mission regarding the Rev. Jim Jones and his People’s Temple human-rights abuses.

Speier served on the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors from 1980 to 1986, when she was elected to the California Assembly. She moved to the state Senate in 1998, and this month lost the Lieutenant Governor’s race to Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi.

During that time, she also suffered two miscarriages, lost her first husband, Steven Sierra, in a car accident and became the first woman to give birth while serving in the California Legislature.

Though she has risen to state politics, Speier’s legacy is still felt widely in San Mateo County, according to Supervisor Jerry Hill.

“Every aspect of our life and our children’s life is better, healthier and safer because of Jackie. She is a giant of integrity and a giant of compassion,” Hill said.

Assemblyman Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, will succeed Speier in representing District 8 and said he plans to continue fighting for some of her key causes, including education and health care, particularly for children.

Speier plans to spend some time as a stay-at-home mom with her two children. In March, she’ll launch her first book, “This Is Not the Life I Ordered,” co-authored with friends Jan Yanehiro, Deborah Collins, Stephens and Michealene Cristini Risley.

Don’t think Speier has given up politics for good, however. When asked whether she would consider running for governor, she paused, and then nodded.

“If the opportunity availed itself, I think I could run this state very well,” she said.

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

November 23, 2006 at 2:22 AM

Retired justice to investigate charges against coroner

leave a comment »

Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
June 8, 2006

A retired Court of Appeal justice will investigate allegations that San Mateo County Coroner Robert Foucrault allowed and participated in sexual and off-color jokes, teasing and lewd behavior in the Coroner’s Office.

The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to hire retired Justice Zerne Haning to investigate the allegations, which the County Counsel’s Office made public last week. The allegations stem from a complaint made by an anonymous Coroner’s Office employee, who notified the county’s personnel department of the alleged problems last August.

“The report indicated there were some concerns about an atmosphere where sexually charged comments and things of that nature were occurring,” Deputy CountyCounsel Michael Murphy said. “Justice Haning will be doing fact-finding to determine if there is something to those allegations.”

Foucrault, 43, appears to have beaten write-in candidate and Coroner’s Office employee Stacey Nevares in Tuesday’s election for the coroner’s seat, although no count of the write-in votes was available. The county Elections Office has not yet counted some 20,000 absentee and provisional ballots, according to elections officer David Tom. So far, more than 63,000 residents have voted for Foucrault.

Nevares has denied any knowledge of the complaint prior to its public release last week, shortly before the election, but described the atmosphere at the Coroner’s Office as “hostile.”

Investigating the claims was the responsible thing to do, according to Board of Supervisors President Jerry Hill. If Haning finds Foucrault guilty of wrongdoing, the Board of Supervisors will determine what to do next. However, only the voters have the authority to remove Foucrault from office, Murphy said.

The allegations made in the letter and uncovered in a subsequent investigation by Mary Kabakov, director of employee and public services for the county, included frequent sexual banter and innuendo in the Coroner’s Office; teasing about an employee’s sexual orientation; decorations of a sexual nature on a birthday cake; and one incident in which Foucrault is alleged to have “mooned” employees. Kabakov’s investigation, given to county counsel in September, also found that staff had not received proper training in sexual harassment policies, although Foucrault himself received the training in 2000.

Foucrault denied initiating the sexual comments or jokes, according to Kavakov’s report. Foucrault’s attorney, Bill Rapoport, said the complaint should have remained a confidential personnel matter.

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

June 8, 2006 at 9:56 PM

Report says Coroner’s Office has ‘inappropriate’ atmosphere

leave a comment »

Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
June 5, 2006

A county investigation has found “repeated inappropriate behaviors of a sexual nature” over the last six years in the form of off-color jokes and lewd behavior at the San Mateo County Coroner’s Office.

The report was made public shortly before Tuesday’s election, in which county Coroner Robert Foucrault faces a write-in candidate in an attempt to secure his position.

An investigation by Mary Kabakov, director of employee and public services for the county, was launched in response to an anonymous complaint in August last year.

A report was made to the county counsel in September but not made public until last week.

Kabakov’s report stated that employees “engaged in a pattern of sexual behaviors dating back to at least 2000,” including sexual banter, innuendo, decorations of a sexual nature on a birthday cake and teasing about one employee’s sexual orientation.

“The investigation supports that, more likely than not, repeated inappropriate behaviors of a sexual nature did occur that a reasonable person would find offensive,” the report said.

Staff had not taken part in sexual harassment training nor signed county policies, although Foucrault himself received the training in 2000, according to the report.

The report also found it probable that Foucrault, 43, had “mooned” employees in one incident, based on the reports of two employees. Foucrault denied exposing himself, according to the report.

“Foucrault stated that he finds it a challenge to balance how to allow staff to let off steam for working a tough job versus behaviors that may be inappropriate,” the report said, later adding: “He denied initiating comments or sexual jokes and states when he hears or sees something questionable he ‘shuts it down.’”

No legal claims have been filed against Foucrault, who did not return a call seeking comment Sunday. He faces competition in Tuesday’s election from Stacie Lynn Nevares, a Coroner’s Office employee who has qualified as a write-in candidate.

Nevares said Sunday that she knew nothing about the complaint.

Shortly before Kabakov’s report was made public, San Mateo County Supervisor Jerry Hill publicly pulled his endorsement of Foucrault’s campaign.

“There are a number of reasons [why I pulled my endorsement],” Hill said. “I talked to the coroner specifically about why I was withdrawing, and I want to leave it at that.”

Much of the banter allegedly focused on Deputy Coroner Felipe Fernandez, who shares a birthday with Foucrault.

Their 2005 birthday cake was topped with a negligee-clad female statue, which was then placed in full view on Fernandez’s desk, the anonymous tipster told Kabakov.

Employees frequently made jokes questioning Fernandez’s sexual orientation, but some workers claimed Fernandez helped foster the office’s off-color atmosphere, according to interviews in the report. Fernandez could not be reached for comment Sunday.

The alleged activity may predate Foucrault, who took the top coroner’s post after Coroner Adrian “Bud” Moorman died in 2001.

A female investigator, whose name is blacked out in Kabakov’s report, said her blouse was ripped off; when she reported it, Moorman allegedly told her, “Good, you can quit.”

The same employee depicted the atmosphere in the Coroner’s Office as “lighthearted and fun,” and peppered with “sick humor” regarding “difficult cases, death and body parts,” the report states.

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

June 5, 2006 at 9:54 PM

Election over, but campaign wounds linger

leave a comment »

Beth Winegarner
Daily News Staff Writer
November 22, 2005

Wounds inflicted during this month’s Redwood City Council election may take some time to heal.

Fellow Planning Commission members Richard Claire and Hilary Paulson found themselves on opposite sides of the fence after Claire headed a political-action committee that launched hit pieces opposing Paulson in the days before the November election.

Incumbent Diane Howard, a longtime supporter of Paulson’s, is listed as the controlling candidate for the group, known as the Redwood City Citizens for Effective Government.
Paulson and Claire have not spoken since the election.

“I don’t know what I’ll say to him,” Paulson said. “He’s somebody I thought was a friend.”

“Hilary was a friend of mine,” Claire said. “She was. Probably not anymore.”

Howard has apologized privately for the negative campaign, according to Paulson. The council member, who encouraged Paulson to seek a seat on the Planning Commission five years ago, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Both Paulson and newcomer Adrian Brandt lost in the election against incumbents Howard, Jeff Ira, Jim Hartnett and Alicia Aguirre on a platform that included criticism of the City Council’s support for the controversial Marina Shores project.

So far, no one has claimed authorship of the two hit pieces against Paulson and Brandt, which arrived, unsigned, in local mailboxes in early November.

“I had no part of it. But I am the treasurer, so I have to take full responsibility,” Claire said.

They were sent in response to pieces supporting Paulson and Brandt written by the Friends of Redwood City, a political group born of residents” opposition to the Marina Shores project, according to Claire.

The Friends of Redwood City mailer “had a lot of things in it I was really upset about,”
Claire said.

Paulson and others were disturbed by the tone and near-anonymity of the Citizens mailers, which bore only the name of the group.

“Ours were positive, in the sense they didn’t particularly attack anybody and were signed by the people who sent them,” said Friends of Redwood City member Ralph Nobles. “The others were just negative.”

On Nov. 1, the Citizens group received a $5,000 donation from PG&E — the electric company’s only contribution to an active political campaign in San Mateo County. The San Mateo Building Trades Council, Pellarin Enterprises, developer Max Keech and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers also chipped in $500 apiece.

The mailers opposing Paulson and Brandt were mailed days after the donations were made. One flier accused the candidates of ignoring or “bulldozing” those who disagreed with them, while the other claimed Paulson opposed the development of Redwood Shores, and accused her of having no respect for that community.

Paulson agreed that during a Sept. 29 candidates forum she made critical statements about the design for Redwood Shores that were used in the mailer, but said they were taken out of context.

Claire said he was out of town when the Citizens mailers were sent and doesn’t know who created them. Both Ira and Nobles said they did not know who was responsible, and Hartnett and Aguirre could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Locals also took note of PG&E’s donation. Spokesman Paul Moreno said that PG&E regularly contributes to political campaigns, but could not explain why the company was interested in supporting the political-action committee.

This article originally appeared in the San Mateo Daily News.

Written by Beth Winegarner

November 22, 2005 at 9:10 PM

Posted in Politics, Redwood City

No conflict of interest for Grocott

leave a comment »

Beth Winegarner
Daily News Staff Writer
June 15, 2005

San Carlos Vice Mayor Matt Grocott’s stock holdings in Varian Medical do not make him liable for conflict of interest, according to the city’s attorney.

Varian Medical once owned the site near Holly and Industrial roads now being eyed by the Palo Alto Medical Foundation for a new facility in San Carlos. City officials are in ongoing talks with PAMF and will eventually approve or deny the foundation’s development plans.

Last month, Grocott was called to task for not disclosing his stock holdings, including those in Varian, to the City Clerk’s office.

According to the California Fair Political Practices Committee, publicly traded companies must show that they will gain or lose a minimum of $200,000 from an action before their stakeholders face a conflict-of-interest issue.

“It does not appear that Varian Medical has any remaining interest in the property,” Lanzone said. He learned the information from Alan Palter, an attorney for Varian.

Grocott’s stock disclosures became the focus of several media reports and a public discussion among City Council members at a meeting May 9.

The Vice Mayor had submitted a California Form 700 — a statement of economic interests — with San Mateo County when he became a member of the library joint powers authority. He thought that filing was sufficient, because the county has a larger jurisdiction than the city.

On May 13, he disclosed his holdings with San Carlos.

According to his paperwork, Grocott owns more than $10,000 in shares in Cisco Systems, UBS and Varian Medical. His holdings in Altria, Adobe Systems, Clorox, Dell Computer, Dow Chemical, Ingersoll Rand and General Electric are less than $10,000 each, and he owns an unknown number of shares in Chevron Texaco.

He is also a shareholder with his own firm, Grocott Design, and his wife owns more than $10,000 in shares in UBS.

This article originally appeared in the San Mateo Daily News.

Written by Beth Winegarner

June 15, 2005 at 9:23 PM

Posted in Politics, San Carlos

Grocott addresses alleged ethics violations

leave a comment »

Beth Winegarner
Daily News Staff Writer
May 10, 2005

San Carlos Vice Mayor Matt Grocott last night responded to recent allegations questioning his ethics and spoke harshly against City Manager Michael Garvey.

In recent days, local newspapers have reported that Grocott did not report his $10,000 stake in Varian Medical, which once co-owned the site at 301 Industrial Road where the Palo Alto Medical Foundation (PAMF) has proposed building a new hospital. In addition, it has been alleged that Grocott has moved outside San Carlos to an apartment in Woodside.

At last night’s City Council meeting, Grocott said he disclosed those and other holdings when he joined the San Mateo County Library Joint Powers Authority. He believed that he did not need to restate them for the City Council, because the law states that filing a disclosure with an agency that has a larger jurisdiction is sufficient.

“My thinking was that I had covered my bases,” Grocott told the council and public. “If the city attorney wishes me to fill out another form, I am prepared to do that.”

Grocott denied statements made by Garvey that he had said he would obtain a written statement from the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) clearing him of any conflict of interest, or that he would share such a statement with Garvey. Grocott said he had called the FPPC hotline and received verbal confirmation that he was in the clear.

He also denied Garvey’s statement that the conflict-of-interest rumors may have been started by someone involved with the PAMF project, saying he did not think anyone in the organization knew he owned Varian stock.

Grocott then tackled rumors that he has been living outside San Carlos city limits since he and his wife, Dina, separated in November. He stated that he maintains his address at the home he shared with her, and is renting an apartment in town.

Grocott closed his report with strident words for the City Manager. “Michael Garvey is not my boss. I don’t take direction from him.”

Resident Pat Bell said Grocott’s statements did nothing to assuage her suspicions. She told the council it has an obligation to conduct a thorough investigation, saying they are the only agency Grocott will respect.

“If it is the responsibility of council members to avoid the appearance of impropriety, he has violated that,” Bell said. “He won’t answer to Garvey and he won’t answer to the press.”

Clint Miller, a member of Trust & Accountability in San Carlos, however, objected to the attacks on Grocott and accused the City Council of acting divisively. He asked Garvey whether he directed City Clerk Christine Boland to tally any 3-2 votes taken since November in which Grocott had been in the majority. Garvey said that he had, and that she did not find any.

“That your behavior was precipitated on the evidence of an article … strikes me as very odd and unprofessional,” Miller told Garvey. “The council made no effort to talk to Grocott and find out what the truth was. This is a lynch mob.”

Garvey said the tally only took a few minutes, and said he would do what it took to protect the city and its taxpayers.

This article originally appeared in the San Mateo Daily News.

Written by Beth Winegarner

May 10, 2005 at 9:08 PM

Posted in Politics, San Carlos

Artist takes aim at Governor in “Color Me Arnold”

leave a comment »

Beth Winegarner
News Pointer Editor
August 24, 2004

Marin native Conor Buckley didn’t imagine his passion for drawing would lead him to co-create a coloring book based on actor-turned-politician Arnold Schwarzenegger. But the book, also written by Lawrence Gipe, is already selling well online and will hit stores in September.

“Color Me Arnold” is about 70 pages of cartoonish drawings, word-search games, connect-the-dots exercises and other amusing meditations on California’s newest governor. It pokes fun at Schwarzenegger’s movie career, personal history and quotations — many of which come from his campaign and post-election period.

“Larry was a drawing professor of mine at the University of California at Santa Barbara,” Buckley said. “He has a 2- or 3-year-old daughter and he said he saw her coloring in a coloring book right after Arnold got elected, and he said he would enjoy scribbling all over [Arnold’s] face.”

Gipe knew that Buckley’s drawings were often similar to coloring-book art, and suggested working together on a coloring book satirizing Schwarzenegger. Buckley went home and began working on drawings, based on a magazine distributed during the Austrian actor’s gubernatorial campaign.

Buckley came up with about 20 drawings. “We would meet up periodically and look online for quotes, and came up with games and puzzles,” he said. “Once we found the quotes, we saw that the book was basically going to write itself.”

Early in the book, readers are greeted with a connect-the-dots that reveals multiple women hanging from Schwarzenegger’s sides. Later on, he is depicted with a pinwheel of arms, like a Hindu god, nicknamed “The Gropenator” — a reference to allegations that Schwarzenegger groped multiple women without their permission.

The book features quotes such as, “I think that gay marriage should be between a man and a woman,” and, “Keep your ammunition and your gun separate, so if you get emotional, by the time you get your gun from the glove compartment and your ammunition out of your trunk you have a chance to cool down.”

There’s a paper-doll page, where readers can envision dressing Schwarzenegger in a suit, his Conan the Barbarian costume or a ballerina’s tutu. In the “road to Sacramento” maze, the reader must guide him through environmental meetings, press conferences, San Francisco hippies and energy companies.

It took Buckley and Gipe about seven months to develop the book, working in their spare time after work. Gipe’s sister-in-law, who works at a publishing house, showed the book to officials at Manic D Press, which jumped at the chance to publish “Color Me Arnold.”

When asked whether he was a fan of Schwarzenegger before the book, Buckley deadpans, “I think his work in ‘Jingle All the Way’ was breathtaking.” He pauses. “I liked him as a kid in movies like ‘Kindergarten Cop’ and ‘Terminator.’ I don’t have anything against him, particularly.”

Buckley grew up in San Anselmo and graduated from Marin Catholic High School in 1999. From there he went to UCSB, where he earned his degree in art studio. “I’ve always been drawing. I didn’t have a lot else going on when I was young, and when I was in high school, I was in a ska band with friends. We went to punk shows, and that’s where the politics and everything comes in,” he said.

He recently moved from Santa Barbara to Redondo Beach with some friends, and is in a hardcore metal band called the Fierce Urgency of Now, based on a quote from Martin Luther King Jr.

Buckley doesn’t know what his future holds, but he hopes for a career in the art world. “Any kind of illustration would be really fun,” he said. “But no matter what, I’ll keep doing that in my own time. [I could do political cartoons], or if I could make a living publishing stupid books where I make fun of people, that would be great.”

This article originally appeared in the San Rafael/Terra Linda News Pointer.

Written by Beth Winegarner

August 24, 2004 at 6:40 PM

Posted in Politics, San Anselmo

“You didn’t hug Nixon, but you hugged Nelson Rockefeller.”

leave a comment »

Beth Winegarner
News Pointer Editor
July 6, 2004

One could compare lawyer and former legislator William Bagley’s vast and productive career to the stretch of Highway 101, from the Golden Gate Bridge to San Rafael, that is named for him: long, busy and so much a part of daily life that it often goes unnoticed. Or it could be compared to his San Rafael hillside garden, in which he grows 20 different kinds of fruit trees, 30 vines and every kind of vegetable imaginable.

Born in 1928, Bagley was raised in Woodacre in a two-room summer house with no central heating. He recalls that Woodacre first opened its post office in 1925, and his family had P.O. Box number 2.

Bagley attended the University of California at Berkeley, graduating in 1949 and earning his law degree from the university’s Boalt Hall School of Law in 1952. He paid for his undergraduate studies with the $450 he earned each summer.

Bagley’s accomplishments are dizzying. After working for Pacific Gas & Electric fresh out of law school, in 1956 he joined a small San Rafael firm, Gardner, Reid and Elliott. He worked there until 1960, when he successfully campaigned for California Assembly, representing Marin and Sonoma counties for 14 years.

As an assemblyman, Bagley was chair of the Welfare Committee, the Joint Committee on National Tax Policy, the Finance and Insurance Committee, the Statewide Information Policy Committee and the Special Committee on Open Records. The self-described “evangelical moderate” prides himself on pushing freedom-of-information laws.

After leaving the Assembly, Bagley failed a bid for state controller, and then went to Washington, D.C. in 1975, where President Gerald Ford named him the first chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. In 1980 Bagley returned to California, where he joined the law firm of Nossman, Guthner, Knox & Elliott. He later became a senior partner.

Bagley served on the University of California board of regents from 1989 to 2002. His career has earned him numerous accolades, including an award for Most Effective Assemblyman from the Capitol Press Corps, Legislator of the Year by the California Trial Lawyers Association, the Golden Bear Award from the California State Park and Recreation Commission, the Sigma Delta Chi Freedom of Information award, and Alumnus of the Year from the University of California at Berkeley in 2003.

Bagley and his wife, Diana, have two children, Shana and Tracy. He has three children with his former wife, Doris: Lynn, Walter and Bill.

Most recently, Bagley was named to the board of directors for the Marin Communty Foundation. He was appointed to that board by the president of the University of California.

News Pointer: You attended school at the University of California 50 years ago. How has it changed since then?

William Bagley: The institution has changed massively. UC Berkeley was built in 1868, and UCLA was built in the early 1920s. There was an agricultural center in Riverside and a farm in Davis. But no universities, aside from Merced, have been built in the last 20 years. We’re living on our fathers’ investments and taxes.

In 1940, there were 10 million people in California. In 1960, there were 15 million. In those years, we built the state. But Ronald Reagan didn’t govern.

NP: It sounds like you didn’t like Reagan’s style very much.

WB: Ronald Reagan learned to govern after his first two years in office. During the first two years, he wanted to clean the place out. He literally didn’t govern. But then his staff said, “We might need you to run for president,” and that was when he started to govern.

He wanted to get rid of fair housing; he wanted to repeal the Rumford Act. It was assigned to my conference committee, and this is one of the three or four things I’m most proud of: I didn’t convene my conference committee. If I had, Reagan would have repealed it. And a few months later, he thanked me.

Reagan was a decent man. He never wanted to hurt anyone, and he was secure. Nixon was insecure, but Reagan was secure.

NP: Whom have you admired most?

WB: Nelson Rockefeller — he’s the first one that comes to mind. I traveled the state with him in the 1964 campaign when he was running against Barry Goldwater for the presidential nomination. Three to five of us joined him, and had he won the nomination, we would have been on his delegation.

During his campaign, he chartered a plane and we traveled all over, from Siskiyou to San Diego. He was so human, so decent. He didn’t need to do this, but he cared about his country and was going to dedicate himself to us. And he was a big puppy dog. You hugged him. You didn’t hug Nixon, but you hugged Nelson Rockefeller.

NP: Tell me about your early years in Marin.

WB: That was a beautiful part of my life. The streets were literally dirt. I could catch trout or shoot quail. I grew up as a country boy. Back then, there were only three high schools, Tomales, Tamalpais and San Rafael. Novato had 500 people and no high school, and the kids arrived 15 to 20 minutes late every day because they had to milk the cows.

NP: In 1941, you changed your name from “Baglietto” to “Bagley.” Why?

WB: My father changed the name. People used to ask me why I changed it, and I would tell them, “You can say anything you want about me — but not about my deceased father.” It was Baglietto, and in 1941 he shortened it because he got tired of spelling out his name. It was during World War II, when Italians were not that popular.

He wanted his son to be an attorney. My father drove a fish wagon for $5 a week to support his widowed mother; he never went to college. When I was 10 years old, he had business cards printed for me that read, “William T. Bagley: Attorney at Law.” He wanted his son to succeed.

NP: What were your early law jobs like?

WB: I graduated from Boalt Hall in 1952. I was 23 years old. You don’t go into law practice when you’re 23 years old. I could get paid $300 a month by the big firms in San Francisco, or I could make $325 a month at PG&E, and they had rugs on the floor. They tried their own cases, so I ran all over the state trying their cases.

I came here in 1956, and there were two or three law firms in San Rafael, and no lawyers advertised. I tell you, I get stomach contractions when I see those full-page ads for lawyers in the yellow pages.

NP: And then you entered the world of politics.

WB: In 1960, I ran for state Assembly. In those days, the legislation was part-time. You worked 180 days a year in odd years, and did a 30-day session in even years. The beauty of it was, you got to come home. You didn’t go to Sacramento to earn a living.

NP: Do you think the change to a full-time legislature has made a big difference?

WB: Oh, yes. What has hurt Sacramento is term limits, which for the assembly is six years. It takes you four years just to learn who to trust, and to work out what are the arenas in which you want to work.

The other thing is political reform. In 1974, when Jerry Brown was running for governor, He sponsored Prop. 9, which said you can’t pay more than $10 a month on get-togethers for legislators. It ruined collegiality. A group gathering doesn’t happen. The only time they get together is at fundraisers, because those are exempt. We used to have card games on Monday nights in some legislator’s office, but you can’t do that anymore because using the office costs more than $10 a month.

NP: What do you think of our current assemblyman, Joe Nation?

WB: Nation is an exception. He’s one of the brightest people in Sacramento. He has a future. He’s a public person, like I am, and he’s a moderate, which means he wants to govern by consensus and he wants to accommodate people. He’s damn effective.

NP: Do you follow local politics in any way?

WB: I know who is where, to some extent. It has changed massively. In the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s, the courthouse crowd ran the county. You had George Jones as the county clerk, Al Bagsaw as the district attorney and a single judge, Edward I. Butler. In those days [in San Rafael], the Elks Club was on Fifth and B, the courthouse on Fourth and A, and the Albert Building was at Fourth and B. And you would go from one to the other — it was a very small triangle.

These days, it’s a clean county; the government is very clean. I haven’t followed local enclaves, but you have a good group of decent people running the county.

NP: What were some of your accomplishments?

WB: The California legislature in the 1960s and 1970s was called the number one in the country. We were effective. I don’t want to brag, but we carried a lot of good stuff. We added a few tax brackets, I sponsored welfare reform and property tax relief. I was steeped in civil and human rights. Those were good years in California.

NP: You say you don’t want to brag; is there anything you regret not having been able to do?

WB: When we passed tax withholding, there was a year in which you were taxed from April, but you were also taxed from January, so there were about four months of double-taxation. The governor wanted to give it back and the Democrats wanted to spend it all.

It was about a billion dollars, so we gave about half back in the form of a tax credit, and the other half went into capital outlays, including a couple hundred million for schools and a couple hundred million for parks. But I wish I had specified urban parks, because we already have one Yosemite. We need parks in the barrios.

NP: Do you think the freedom of information laws that you championed are still working?

WB: Yes. I make an analogy: people say you can’t legislate morals. That’s absurd; the entire appeal code is an effort to legislate morals. But you can legislate atmosphere.

I make a comparison between freedom-of-information acts and fair-employment acts, which came into law in 1959. It’s been an age of progress since then. You didn’t see black secretaries in the ’40s and ’50s, but once you were encouraged to practice fair employment, it became acceptable. There has been a progression of diversity.

The very fact that you are supposed to have an open meeting and open public records, and for people who never sat on city councils or public bodies, the first thing they’re told is a rundown on public information laws and open meeting laws. Whether they like it or not, they begin to practice it. This creates an atmosphere of openness. Yes, they work.

NP: What did you do after you left the Assembly?

WB: I ran for state controller in 1974 … and I ran out of money. I had the support of every newspaper, but I didn’t have enough money. Had I won, that was an obvious stepping stone to becoming governor. I would have gone that way. When you get that far, you want to climb the ladder. In retrospect, I think I’ve done enough; I’m pleased.

They say that working in politics is like waiting for a streetcar. You have to be on the right street corner, and when the streetcar stops there’s got to be a vacancy, and you’ve got to have your two bits to pay for the ride.

NP: How and why did you return to law?

WB: I went to Washington for about five years. I knew Nixon, I knew Ford. I was appointed as the first chair of the Commodities Future Trading Commission. In 1980 I came back to California and started my current office, which was originally a Los Angeles law firm, Nossman, Guthner, Knox & Elliott, LLP. Jack Knox had been representing West Contra Costa County and was recruited to start a Northern California office.

Three of us opened an office on the Embarcadero. Now we have 150 lawyers, about 40 of those in San Francisco. Our practice was mainly the government arena, although we were never lobbyists. We’ve worked for water rights and utilities administration.

I’m now a counsel to the firm. I can’t really retire — I’ve got too many people who need me for something. But I’m essentially retired, though I still do three to four days a week.

NP: What do you think of the current media?

WB: I enjoy journalism. I enjoy the press corps. I think the Los Angeles Times is a wonderful newspaper. I like the San Francisco Chronicle.

What’s happened to media is the decline of the family-owned paper. I could go up and down the state and find such papers from the Eureka Standard to the San Diego Union — that’re going away. They have all disappeared, virtually all. I don’t know what it’s done nationally, but locally it’s taken the roots out of communities. If you like roots, that’s not good.

NP: You have a freeway named after you, which not many people do. How did that happen?

WB: Years ago, I was a consultant to the senate’s transportation commission. The process is very simple; it involves passing a joint resolution. Without talking to me, the chair put in a resolution. Two of my partners also have freeways named after them, and we joke, just among men, about whose freeway is longest. Well, my freeway is longest.

NP: When did you return to Marin?

WB: We came back in late 1979 and bought a house on the hillside above Glenwood. My house looks out over the bay.

Remember, my name is Baglietto — every Italian has to have a garden, and has to have a fig tree. Name a vegetable and I’m growing it. Every morning between May and October, I have breakfast in my garden. I eat the berries, the apricots, the plums. It’s wonderful, and I get my exercise, too.

NP: You recently joined the board of the Marin Community Foundation; what do you hope to accomplish there?

WB: I don’t have a [feeling] for it yet. It’s a wonderful, worthwhile organization, and has grown tremendously as a foundation. But I think it spreads itself too thin. I think it could have more impact, rather than anyone who’s a brother or sister gets $3.50. That’s a formed opinion of mine — if they want to talk me out of it, let them try.

This article originally appeared in the San Rafael/Terra Linda News Pointer.

Written by Beth Winegarner

July 6, 2004 at 8:49 PM