AIR names KALW to lead public media transformation

February 1, 2012 § Leave a comment

It’s been a couple days since I learned that public radio station KALW and I are one of the lucky ten teams to be chosen to work on the innovative Localore experiment. The news still hasn’t sunk in completely, but I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to push the envelope on the public media model! Thanks to the Association of Independents in Radio, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, my associate producer Audrey Dilling, and of course, KALW for the support and vote of confidence. You can read the press release here, though do note that the name of the project will change slightly.

RISE: Climate Change and Coastal Communities

October 10, 2011 § Leave a comment

Delta Farmer Steve Mello

For the past year and a half, I’ve had the pleasure of working with Claire Schoen on a three-part radio documentary called “RISE: Climate Change and Coastal Communities.” In the second hour, we discover what keeps families at the water’s edge, despite warnings of sea level rise. Here’s a summary:

“Farmer Steve Mello and real estate developer T. Jack Foster have two things in common: climate change threatens the land they have made their life’s work and neither takes the threat seriously.

Steve Mello farms an island in the Delta. He inherited the farm from his father and intends to pass it on to his son. The Delta is comprised of sunken islands, protected by levees from the surrounding waters. Mello’s land on Tyler Island lies 20 feet below sea level. Without the levees, his farm will become a lake. But levees fail and need frequent repair. And with sea level rise from the Bay and snowpack melt from the rivers threatening to flood the Delta, this task gets steadily harder. Federal officials question whether maintaining Tyler Island’s levees is a wise use of tax dollars, Mello says he is not leaving come hell or high water.

T. Jack Foster Jr. heads a family dynasty. In the 1960s, he and his father created a planned community by diking, draining and filling San Francisco Bay wetlands. Today 30,000 people live in Foster City, which boasts parks, shopping malls and several corporate headquarters. But the fill used to turn wetlands into real estate brought the land just up to the current sea level. Foster City needs to be redesigned to protect it from flooding as the sea level rises, says architect Yumi Lee. Still, T. Jack Jr. isn’t worried. He says the levees surrounding the city can simply be built higher and higher.”

Find out more and listen to all three parts of the documentary, the accompanying audio tours, and the multimedia web stories at the RISE website.

Hooked on seafood

June 23, 2010 § Leave a comment

Images of suffocating, oil-drenched fish continue to pour in from the Gulf Coast, and while it’s easy to be moved to sympathy by the images, there’s a little-spoken irony behind the sentiment: we fully intended to kill these fish anyway.

Humans have a hunger for seafood, and it’s not hard to understand why. Rich in Omega-3 fatty acids and protein, with a relatively low calorie count, fish have gained the reputation of being something of a superfood: lowering heart disease, improving cholesterol levels and even making people smarter. The delicate flavor of fish is almost just an added bonus. To feed that global appetite, U.S. commercial fisheries caught over 8.5 billion pounds of seafood in 2008. That same year, Americans ate 16 pounds of seafood per capita. Both numbers were declines from the year before.

For Gulf Coast locals, those numbers may not improve anytime soon; Louisiana’s fish industry is facing a potential $2.5 billion loss from the BP Deepwater Horizon spill. Still, hungry Americans at large probably won’t feel the loss as acutely as those on the Gulf—the US imports 83 percent of its seafood, surpassing Japan. Because less than 0.4 percent of consumed seafood in the US comes from the Gulf, it’s likely that American menus in general won’t require too much editing.

But before you lift that fork, allow the following question to marinate for a second. Shouldn’t we lament the deaths of sea creatures that we’ve killed intentionally as well?

This doesn’t go to say that BP should be excused from being held responsible for the damage caused to ocean life. Rather, we should use this opportunity to think about our own responsibilities to the sea.

The fact is, we are really good at killing fish, accidental oil spill or not. We’ve gotten so good, in fact, that we’re eating fish faster than they are reproducing. The Monterey Bay Aquarium puts the number at 2.5 times the sustainable level. Three quarters of the world’s fisheries are fully exploited or have completely crashed. Larger, tastier fish such as tuna disappear first since they’re slow to grow and reproduce. But if we significantly migrate our appetites to smaller fish, it would only send waves of shock through a delicate food chain.

You might point to the greed of fishermen to justify such huge captures, but many fishermen will tell you that there’s no one who wants fish populations to survive more than they. After all, a sustainable population means a sustainable income.

So, take the time and discover what kind of seafood is not only safe and affordable to eat, but sustainable. The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch is a great start. Unless we change the way we eat seafood, all the world’s fish may end up in oil—cooking or crude.

Your education, brought to you by…

June 9, 2010 § Leave a comment

It wasn’t too long ago that I was in high school, munching on Pizza Hut, In-N-Out and Kentucky Fried Chicken at lunch next to the Dasani and Coca Cola vending machines while wearing a school t-shirt sporting several local business sponsors.

The mix of education and corporate sponsorship seemed to be a win-win situation—the school district got money that was directed back into education and maintenance of facilities, the students were happy with non-cafeteria food, the cafeteria workers did little to prepare the meals besides handing them out and the sponsors maintained a steady stream of product and advertisement consumers. This was back in 2004, a few years before most of us could foresee the pending economic doom that awaited us.

In the past few years what seemed a relatively controlled partnership based solely on food has evolved into an intense, targeted marketing venture during a time when schools are hurting for money. In San Diego, Rancho Bernardo calculus instructor Tom Farber started selling ads on his exams at $10-30 a pop. The reason? Copies for tests would cost more than $500 per year, and his budget was only $316. The rest of the money would have to come from somewhere.

For a long and unfortunate time that money has come, willfully or grudgingly, out of teacher pocketbooks. California instructors spend an average of $430 a year out of pocket to support their students. Christine Van Ruiter, an East Oakland instructor at the E.C. Reems Academy of Tech and Art, spends more than $2,000 per year of her own money to provide school supplies to her students. It’s safe to say that nobody thinks this practice should ever come to pass, but dedicated teachers like Van Ruiter don’t see sacrificing student education as an option.

It doesn’t look like Bay Area instructors will be catching a break from the state or federal government anytime soon. California’s first application for the Obama Administration’s Race to the Top funding failed to succeed, and it doesn’t look like the state will fare any better in the second round. Furthermore, instructors in the area are struggling for their own survival; the teacher union-school district crisis that is unfolding in Oakland is just one boldfaced example.

So what we have is a difficult situation: school districts are losing money, teachers can’t afford to put their own savings into student education and the state missed its chance at increased education funding. What’s a school district to do?

Some districts have come up with some pretty catchy solutions.

Currently faced with a $2.4 million budget deficit, the Martinez Unified School District is considering giving away naming rights to school buildings and even academic programs, according to Assistant Superintendent Rick Rubino. The district and residents of Martinez will be discussing the types of organizations that will be able to advertise with the schools. The president of the Martinez school board says that she “would not dream of naming a building after a soft drink,” but the frontrunner looks to be major oil refinery Shell.

On the other side of the Bay, the Belmont-Redwood Shores Elementary School District named one of its schools after the Ralston Purina dog food company. (It appears Ralston Middle School’s mascot is still a ram and not a dog.)

Schools are obviously in a tough place right now, but some people think corporate sponsorship is a slippery solution.

Todd DeMitchell, chairman of the education department at the University of New Hampshire, says, “Students become a market in that situation, and they become captive to it if the naming becomes part and parcel of the building, if they see it 6½ hours a day. Kids should be viewed as students and not consumers.”

Boston non-profit Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) is just one of the organizations against such moves by the California school districts. CCFC Associate Director Josh Golin asks, “Does the [Martina Unified School District] really want to tie itself to Shell’s brand? Does the school want to be promoting what is certainly not an uncontroversial company? The thing for schools and educators to consider is that they think it’s free money, and it’s not. It comes at a real cost that undermines education and students’ well-being, and it’s antithetical to the purpose of education.”

As it stands, Shell is likely to win the support of the Martinez School District. As the city’s number one employer, you can safely consider this a company town.

Proposed Open Carry ban has both sides up in arms

June 4, 2010 § Leave a comment

Photo from Bay Area Open Carry,

Back in March, I wrote about Bay Area Open Carry, a loose group of local supporters of the right to carry an unloaded, holstered gun in public. In the past few days, the BAOC Twitter feed has been buzzing in response to the state Assembly’s passage of AB 1934 this past Tuesday.

Now, it’s not often that I connect Disney stories with major themes in legal and political happenings, but the first line from “Peter Pan” comes to mind when I think about the significance that AB 1934 will have on the public’s relationship with guns:

“All of this has happened before, and all of this will happen again.”

AB 1934, the bill that would ban open carry in public, still needs to pass through the state Senate and the governor’s office before it’s enacted into law. However, it’s already been the trigger for a number of vocal and opposing viewpoints around the blogosphere—viewpoints that are rooted in a historical debate that boils down to the question: do guns in the hands of citizens promote or threaten personal and public safety? It’s a question that the United States has been dealing with since the formation of the country, and it’s one that we keep rehashing.

Most recently in 2005, San Francisco banned possessing, selling, distributing, and manufacturing firearms in the city, only to have that ban overturned three years later in 2008. The reversal neatly followed the previous year’s overturning of a similar, 31-year ban in the nation’s capital. And today, all eyes are on Chicago, the last major US city with a sweeping handgun ban. Currently, Supreme Court justices are debating whether the Windy City’s 28-year ban on handguns violates Second Amendment rights. That decision should be made by the end of the month.

Meanwhile, we Californians are having recurring conversations of our own about the practical and constitutional implications of an open carry ban.

In what might be déja vu for the city, a panel that included Emeryville Police Chief Kevin James, UC Berkeley Boalt Law School Professor Frank Zimring, and Sam Paredes, executive director of Gun Owners of California convened in San Francisco last week to discuss AB 1934.

Siding with Paredes is Yih-Chau Chang, press secretary for the Responsible Citizens of California, the non-profit organization developed out of the statewide Open Carry movement. Chang authored an online petition against AB 1934; the petition already has close to 1500 signatures.

Chang, a self-described former gun-control advocate, is confident that a real ban on open carry will not come to pass in California. In fact, he believes that the Supreme Court will ultimately reverse the ban in Chicago, providing judicial reasoning to strike down AB 1934 should it come to fruition. Then, gun control and rights debates would no longer center around vague discussions of practicality and impact—it would all come down to interpretation of the law.

Chang explains in an email that the case in Chicago, McDonald v. Chicago,

“nearly perfectly mirrors the [District of Columbia] case and the likelihood of the US Supreme Court ruling against McDonald in this case is extremely slim. A ruling against McDonald would essentially render their 2008 Heller decision to be invalid.”

Meanwhile, across the table, Dennis Henigan of the Brady Campaign doesn’t think that strong gun control laws will be jeopardized should the court decide in favor of McDonald.

Whatever happens in Chicago, both supporters and opponents of AB 1934 feel like they’re making progress here in California. Both sides will meet again at the Commonwealth Club, which is hosting an Open Carry Debate with AB 1934 author Lori Saldana on June 17 at the Lafayette Veterans Memorial Hall.

A Haitian refugee recommends going back to the basics

May 1, 2010 § Leave a comment

Fofo, Jeffrey and Djenane Pierre

I was driving up and down the hills of San Francisco’s Portola District one sunny afternoon when I started to feel the familiar twinge of anxiety creeping up the back of my neck. Google Maps had failed me, and I was now late for an interview with Djenane St. Pierre and her mother Fofo Pierre, both Haitian dance instructors who I was profiling for a piece to air on today’s Crosscurrents. Luckily, I then recognized a head-phoned figure walking up the street. I rolled down my window and waved at Djenane’s 15-year-old brother Jeffrey, motioning him to join me, and trusting this wild-eyed stranger, he hopped in and guided me to his home.

This is what I consistently found to be the meta-narrative of my profile of the Pierre family. There are two ways of living life: one of them—mine—is full of neuroses and the constant assumption of threat, while the other is marked by trust and intentional freedom from the clock.

It sounds like a cliché dichotomy, but it’s one that Djenane Pierre spoke about at length before and during our interview. She said:

“Here we have all the things that we want to have in Haiti—[Americans] have light everyday, they have heaters, they have this they have that, you have car, you don’t have to fight for the bus. But the people here are not living, they are like robots.”

Djenane’s mother, Fofo Pierre, had her own way of articulating the same point when describing the way she teaches the traditional Haitian dance of Raboday:

“I use a lot of metaphor in songs in Haiti when I teach to make the people understand in a better way what I want them to do. Like I say, ‘Bonjour compadre, goodbye, good morning’–it’s the way I put my feet, like one feet is someone and the other foot is someone else, and they say good morning, goodbye. But people here can’t understand because no one say good morning to anyone on the street!”

And they might have a point, at least for me. I teeter between being trapped by the internet, extremely productive and extremely tired. Public transportation is just another opportunity to catch up on emails. When my dinner partner gets up to use the restroom, I’m catching up on the day’s news. And I’m probably not the only one—it’s not a coincidence that the recent New York Times article, “Hooked on Gadgets, and Paying a Mental Price” is currently the most-read article on the newspaper’s website.

So what can we of urban privilege learn from Fofo, Djenane and Jeffrey Pierre?

At the very least, that there are different ways of being happy, and that the cliché of “stopping and smelling the roses” might actually enrich our lives. Perhaps by reducing the quantity of things that we do, we can start improving the quality of what we experience.

And it starts with simple gestures. Before the interview, Djenane offered me a lunch of mashed cauliflower, beans, rice and spiced Haitian tea—something unexpected given my tardiness. At the end of the interview, she reminded me that her home is always my home.

Perhaps we can work on making San Francisco more of a home for the Pierre’s as well.

To carry or not to carry

March 10, 2010 § Leave a comment

Flickr photo by formatted_dad

It’s a gray Saturday morning at an outdoor mall in Walnut Creek. Elevator music quietly plays from speakers hovering above the manicured walkway. This is Locust Street: clean, safe, lined with upscale retail clothing stores and chain restaurants; a place where you’d be comfortable taking your family.

While a few people casually make their way to brunch dates or weekend sales at the many adjacent department stores, a noticeable crowd of men, women and children is building around the Buckhorn Grill. On the margins of the crowd stands Jerry Jeung: a kind-looking, middle-aged loss-prevention officer from Antioch. Jeung’s eight-year-old son Jarrett hangs off his left side, peering at the group pouring out of the Buckhorn Grill. And hanging off Jeung’s right side is a Glock Model 20 10 mm Auto Pistol.

Many people in the crowd of 75 are looking at Jeung’s weapon. Actually, they’re not so much looking at the firearm; they’re looking for it. Here, a gun is a sign of camaraderie, a symbol of mutual understanding and simpatico politics. As I approach the group, several eyes glance toward my hips. Gun-less, I feel somewhat underdressed and exposed.

It’s easy to understand why the members of this gathering are eager to visually pat me down and identify whether I stand with them or not. This is an unofficial demonstration of Bay Area Open Carry, a loosely affiliated group of locals exercising their second amendment rights to carry an unloaded firearm in public. They’ve been making national news lately with these demonstrations, forcing restaurants and cafes to pick sides on whether they’ll welcome or ban open-carriers in their storefronts. Peet’s and California Pizza Kitchen have taken a stand against the open-carriers, while Starbucks maintains that it’s open for business to both the armed and unarmed.

The political drama surrounding the situation seems a little bit overblown given my experience this morning. While these guys (literally—only men are carrying today) are technically packing heat, “gun-toting” is hyperbolic. This demonstration is about as action-packed as a book reading. Instead of reaching for their guns, these open carriers are reaching for pamphlets; instead of distributing lead, they’re delivering political viewpoints.

No guns are loaded or drawn today. The first and obvious reason is that, frankly, it’s the law. (A gun can’t be drawn unless a life is at stake.) Some open-carriers might also argue that no evil-minded criminal would dare to pull a weapon on a group so readily and rationally armed.

And yet, I can’t remove a third reason from my mind: we’re at a family-friendly restaurant in a suburban shopping mall.

And that seems to be the strange tension about the Open Carry movement: the demonstrations themselves don’t seem to necessarily demonstrate anything. One female supporter who isn’t carrying a gun tells me that the main argument behind the right to carry a firearm is safety: by having a gun on your person, you can defend yourself in a sticky situation. In addition, by having the gun visible, you reduce the potential for crime in your proximity. It would seem that demonstrating the value of carrying a firearm might be better achieved in a more active way: say, walking the streets of a crime-ridden neighborhood rather than lunching at Walnut Creek’s Buckhorn Grill.

Still, it makes sense that pulling a gun should always be a last resort, and that its usefulness hopefully won’t need to be proved.

About a week after the Bay Area Open Carry gathering, Buckhorn Grill management banned guns in their chain of restaurants. Still, the demonstrations—or moral-support gatherings—continue to make noise. Hopefully, that noise won’t include a bang.

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