Friday, November 30, 2012

Vets Home Mostly Unoccupied

Posted By on Fri, Nov 30, 2012 at 10:20 AM

A building at 2149 West Hearn is unoccupied
  • A building at 2149 West Hearn is unoccupied

As storms rage across Sonoma County, a shelter for homeless veterans that celebrated its grand opening in June remains empty.

Hearn Avenue Veteran Housing was given a Certificate of Occupancy on June 26, meaning that on that date, the duplex located on West Hearn was physically ready for vets to move in. Earlier that month, on June 8, Community Housing Sonoma County and Vietnam Veterans of California celebrated the project's completion with a grand opening that showed off the new facility, which by then even had furniture in place.

Five months later, no one lives in one of the homes, located at 2149 West Hearn.

"We're befuddled by it," says John Morgan, the project manager who contracted with Community Housing Sonoma County (CHSC) to remodel the structure under dispute, which will contain 20-30 beds. The nonprofit housing organization owns the property, while Vietnam Veterans of California (VVC) is slated to run it. Originally the two had intended to co-own the property, but in 2011, VVC backed away from ownership, opting to pay CHSC a yearly formality lease of $10.

“The property was rehabilitated and we turned it over to them at the end of June,” says Paula Cook, director of CHSC. “It was their job to take care of occupancy at the end of June.”

The project received $2.86 million in loans from a variety of affordable housing sources—HCD and HOME among them—according to documents from a September 2011 city council meeting.

According to Marc Deal with VVC, those loans went into building the home, but money to actually run it has been less forthcoming. Deal says bureaucratic crawl at the federal level has kept the home from opening its doors.

Deal says the California organization wrote a grant request to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Grant and Per Diem fund in 2008.

The project was slated to receive a yearly operational budget of $226,000 from the federal agency, but half those funds were reallocated last January, to $113,000, he says. Currently, VVC is again in negotiations with the VA for a yearly operational budget of over $400,000.

Deal says that the ratio of beds—and funding that would come with those beds—to staff needed to run the permanent housing isn’t financially viable to the VVC at $113,000. A smaller house on site with 15 transitional beds is currently occupied, he says. No one is currently being paid to operate the larger shelter, he says, but the VVC has paid roughly $12,000 to keep the non-operational housing ready for vets since its opening in utility and tax assessment costs. Grants from the VA are the only source of funding to run the shelter, he says.

"The tragedy is that these guys are still outside, and it's cold," Deal, a vet, says.

The VA has so far not returned emails and calls seeking confirmation and comment.

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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Nov. 30-Dec. 16: The Ratcatcher at the Imaginists Theater

Posted By on Thu, Nov 29, 2012 at 12:47 PM

Claire McCaffrey, Taylor Diffenderfer and Emile Rosewater as the children
  • Eric Monrad
  • Claire McCaffrey, Taylor Diffenderfer and Emile Rosewater as the children

The Ratcatcher, playing through December 16 at the Imaginists Theater is a rollicking, slyly critical musical ride through the mysterious, ancient tale of the Pied Piper. As a refresher, the Pied Piper is the story of a man who arrives in the town of Hamlin, announcing that he can take care of a rat infestation for a small fee. The town council agrees and the man begins to play his flute. The rats follow him straight to the river where they drown. When the Pied Piper returns to the town for his pay, the Mayor refuses to pay him. The piper leaves the town, threatening to wreak revenge. When he returns sometime later, he again plays the flute, this time to devastating results, leading 130 children to either a mountain or a river (where they drown like the rats) depending on the version told.

Eliot Fintushel, Brent Lindsay and Layla Musslewhite as the Town Council
  • Eric Monrad
  • Eliot Fintushel, Brent Lindsay and Layla Musslewhite as the Town Council

Taking the Piper as inspiration, the Imaginists have created an entirely new and original production, made all the more interesting by a collaboration with The Crux, the North Bay band fronted by Josh Windmiller. The Hamlin town council, a dictatorial party of three, is obsessed with all things pancakes and cheese. “This is cheese country!” they declare during one of their many meetings, where committees decide the fate of the “artisan pancake breakfast” and the annual Pied Piper play. I couldn’t help but think of Santa Rosa’s obsession with all things wine country, and how that image and tourist-driven identity sometimes comes at the expense of true art and innovation. At one point, “The Ratcatcher” (played by Windmiller) asks for directions to City Hall and one of the kids points him in the direction of the real Santa Rosa City Hall (just down the street from the Imaginists Theater), describing it was a “weird-looking building.” The play carries this second layer of meaning throughout. Is it parable, or is it reality? In the end, it doesn’t matter. What comes out of the play is a sense of art’s possibility, as well as the price paid when art isn’t honored, or is shut down for the sake of “appearances.”

“It is 100 years since our children left,” begins the original tale. And in this updated version, what stays behind is the subtle warning. If a community doesn't support art, performance, experimentation and creative thinking, then the children will leave for places where they can find those essential components of life, and most of the time, they won’t come back.

The Crux’s pirate cabaret mood melds perfectly with the play's subversive, playful energy. It lends an atmosphere that is at once joyous, somber and slightly sinister. Musical theater can be a bit over the top, and cringe-inducing, but The Ratcatcher never veers into this territory. The themes are too real, too important and the music too engaging to fall into embarrassment.

Joshua James Jackson, Annie Crilley, Kalei Yamanoha, Josh Windmiller, Travis Hendrix
  • Eric Monrad
  • Joshua James Jackson, Annie Crilley, Kalei Yamanoha, Josh Windmiller, Travis Hendrix

The cast is rambunctious and well-suited for their roles. Brent Lindsay, executive director of the Imaginists, is a dynamic force as the drunken mayor of Hamlin. Layla Musselwhite, as the “Councilperson” is fabulous as a false sophisticate. Eliot Fintushel as the bald-headed, sinister Attorney is at his best when doing physical comedy or on stage singing "The Attorney's Waltz." For example, when the Councilperson sings her frisky cabaret song, it’s great fun watching the Mayor and the Attorney doing sexy leg-kicks and hip gyrations in their gray business suits.

The songs, written mainly by Josh Windmiller, are eminently listenable. Dogs Made of Rust (The Mayor’s Ballad), from the second act, sounds like a lost Leonard Cohen b-side. It’s a beautiful, heart-wrenching wallop of a song, as is “The Gate (What the Children Remember),” the only song written by Crux member Annie Cilley. The band is in the midst of an Indie Go Go campaign to fund an album of songs from the play.

All in all, this is a fantastic production, of the type rarely seen in Sonoma County, and not to be missed.

The Imaginists are located at 461 Sebastopol Avenue, Santa Rosa. 707.528.7554.

The Ratcatcher performance dates:

November 29 | 30
December 1 | 2 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16

Performances at 8 p.m. Sunday performances at 5 p.m.

Tickets are...
$15 Under 25 & 62+
$18 Adults

November 29 (tonight) is "pay what you can" nights (tickets sold at door only)

Buy tickets online here:

As the Imaginists say, "Come support the integration of the musical and theatrical arts in the North Bay, and have a hell of a time doing it!"

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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Extended Play: An interview with Medea Benjamin, Code Pink cofounder and author of Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control

Posted By on Wed, Nov 21, 2012 at 11:46 AM

It was at a Nov. 18 news conference in Bangkok, that President Ogama told Egyptian and Turkish leaders, in regards to the blow up in Gaza, "Let’s understand what the precipitating event here was that’s causing the current crisis, and that was an ever-escalating number of missiles. They were landing not just in Israeli territory, but in areas that are populated. And there’s no country on Earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders." The statement seems more than ironic in light of the fact that U.S. drones have been "raining" deadly missiles down on combatants and civilians alike in Pakistan, in an area that bordering Afghanistan. Between 2004-2012, between 474 and 881 Pakistani civilians (including 176 children) have been killed by the controversial drone attacks. This week, the Bohemian's news story features Barbara Briggs-Letson, a Sebastopol resident recently returned from a Code Pink delegation to Pakistan. The trip was led by Code Pink cofounder Medea Benjamin, a long-time anti-war activist who's been trying to get the word out about drone warfare in a country with which we are not at war. Here's our complete interview with Medea Benjamin.

Are the actual numbers of innocent civilians killed by drones actually higher than what has been admitted by the Obama Administration?

Oh, totally. What we’ve been told by the Obama administration is that there are a handful of people that have been killed. Or, at the most, we were told by the ambassador in Pakistan that it’s in the low digits—and that is just not true. Even the most conservative estimates are in the hundreds. The one that’s considered to be the most reliable is the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, and the numbers are in the thousands. There’s a big question about what actually is an innocent person, given the definition of what is a militant by the administration being any male of military age that lives in the strike zone. For Pakistan, they say somewhere between 500-900 for civilians. For total people killed, 2500-3500, so the question really is, who’s a civilian and who’s a militant, but there’s no question that the numbers given out by the administration are just not true. They’re ridiculously low.

And military age in Pakistan is what exactly?

It doesn’t make any sense. It’s basically somebody who has facial hair on them. In that part of the world, it’s not like there’s a draft. People can sometimes barely even tell you their ages.

Now that Obama has been re-elected, what’s the next step when it comes to drone warfare?

First, we have to do massive education. That’s why it’s so important for people like Barbara Briggs-Letson, to be out there. She can reach into the faith-based community, to students and the 34 people who went on the trip are all doing that. The education and writing campaign that turns around the numbers. The fact that the majority of Americans think that drone strikes are okay means that we have a lot of work to do.

Another thing, is building up the protests, which are really blossoming now. A year ago, there was barely anything, except for a few up by Creech Air Force Base and in upstate New York, but now they’re happening all over. They’re happening on a weekly basis in San Diego, where General Atomics is located. They’re happening at the CIA headquarters in Virginia. They’re happening in Fort Benning, Georgia. In Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico. In Whiteman Air Force Base outside of Saint Louis.

These are all places where drones are constructed, or where people are trained to fly them?

Or they’re actually being piloted from there. So the upstate New York group is a broad coalition of people from places like Buffalo and Albany. They’ve organized because Hancock Air Force Base is in their community and is flying drones in Afghanistan and, they think, Pakistan. So it’s not only the training, it’s the actual pressing of the kill button.

That seems so far away.

That’s what’s happening at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada where many of us have protested. Code Pink people. Veterans for Peace. Catholic Workers. People at that base are killing people thousands of miles away. They’re doing it from the comfort of an air-conditioned room, in a comfortable chair, and going home to their families at the end of the day.

It sounds like there is a huge disconnect in terms of the American consciousness about drones. It seems almost like science fiction, even though it’s very real and people are dying. We have such a set concept of what ‘warfare’ is, but this seems like a whole new form of ‘warfare’ that we almost can’t wrap our minds around.

That’s right. It’s really hard to imagine what would appear to be like a video game with consoles, PlayStations and joysticks. It’s a new form of warfare where one side doesn’t put their lives at risk at all. The question being asked by everyone from folks in the United Nations to faith-based communities, they’re saying, if we’re so removed from the human consequences of these actions how can this generation of fighters really value the right to life?

What about the idea that there is a ‘surgical precision’ to the drone strikes?

That’s false. These are much more precise weapons than those they’ve had in the past, but they’re not surgically precise. There all kinds of issues related to them including, what information are the pilots given as to whom is on the kill list? Who is being attacked? A lot of the time, it’s faulty information. They think they’re trying to get the person they’ve put on the kill-list because they’re a high value target related to Al Qaeda, and it turns out they’ve killed a bunch of poor Pakistanis that had nothing to do with the target.

So one instance is faulty information and the issues about the collateral damage. I hate to use that term. So many people who have been killed in are in the homes of the person that’s been targeted. So the wife, or the kids, and then they also have follow-up strikes, where they send in another drone, another missile after the first one, that kills rescuers and humanitarian aid workers who try to rescue the people. There have been drones that have hit funerals because they figure that if they killed someone from Al Qaeda or the Taliban, then the people at the funeral are going to be part of that as well. These are all things that can be considered, in the case of killing humanitarian aid workers, war crimes, and in the other cases, certainly violating basic rules of war. And there’s all kind of other issues that come up around how precise these actually are. There’s the shrapnel and debris that goes flying after these drones strikes. There’s all kinds of ways that you could say that we’re being sold a bill of goods about precision weapons which really leave a lot of death and destruction in their wake to innocent people.

I hope Barbara talked about the question of how this is terrorizing whole populations. There are 800,000 people that live in Wazharistan and with these drones, sometimes 24 hours a day non-stop over their heads, how they live in a constant state of fear. The people we met with talked to us about the tremendous state of depression that people are in, trying to self-medicate with anti-depressants, suicide happening and how it really has changed the life of the community. They said to us, “You’re waging a war on terror by terrorizing our population.”

In a country that we’re not actually at war with.

That’s right. And that’s really paying the price for the spillover of our war with Afghanistan.

Is there anything else that you want the American public to know regarding the use of drones?

I mainly wanted to say how amazed I was at this delegation. The 32 people who had signed up to go to a very dangerous part of the world, knowing that they were putting their own lives at risk. And then getting two warnings from the US embassy while we were there, saying you shouldn’t go, the Taliban is going to try to kill you, we have credible information saying you’re going to be attacked. All but one decided to go on the caravan anyway. It was pretty remarkable, and somebody like Barbara, who’s from a very comfortable family and lifestyle and has no reason to be putting herself in harm’s way like that, to choose to do that out of a sense of conviction, and a sense of purpose, and a sense of valuing all lives, is quite remarkable. I was just in awe looking around at these delegates; At their commitment to showing the positive face of the American people, to being the citizen ambassadors, to showing that we so disagree with our government’s policies that we’re going to put our lives at risk to come and tell you that. It was very profound.

I guess about the drones themselves, I’ve been studying the proliferation of these drones and it’s really shocking to see that know 76 countries have some kind of drones and not just countries, but non-state entities have drones, like Hezbollah, that just flew drones to Israel. We’re setting this horrible example of going anywhere we want, killing anyone we want on the basis of secret information, and somehow thinking that this is not going to blowback, and that other countries are not going to do the same thing is crazy. That’s why it’s so important to get people aware of this. I think it’s hard for people to think of President Obama, whom many of them like and think of as a constitutional lawyer and a Nobel Peace Prize winner, to think well, he wouldn’t be doing something like this. The more they learn about it, the more shocked and horrified they are. We have to really build up this heartfelt opposition that’s going to be able to be effective in getting more allies in Congress. Right now there have only been 26 Congress people that signed onto a letter calling for transparency and accountability regarding these drones, but we need a lot more than that.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Cheeseburger Food Porn

Posted By on Tue, Nov 20, 2012 at 3:16 PM


It’s time to come clean: I have been looking at porn on my work computer. But it was for a project I was working on, I swear. Don’t judge me. You know you’ve done the same thing. You’re a little bored, so maybe you check your personal email. A friend sent a link. You look over your shoulder with those shifty eyes and make sure headphones are plugged in and sound at a low volume for double protection. One click and you’re listening to Patrick Warburton (Putty from “Seinfeld,” Kronk from “The Emperor’s New Groove”) elicit descriptions of sinful, naughty, sloppy cheeseburgers.

It’s so good, but it’s so, so bad. Almost every single sandwich in the Cheese and Burger Society has bacon. Some have two patties in one bun. One is topped with a fried egg, onion rings and ham in addition to cheddar and beef. Warburton calls it “a one way ticket to Yummyville,” then ask seductively, “Wanna ride shotgun?”

The aptly named Bohemian is, of course, our official preference. A burger with Gouda, fried proscuitto, wilted spinach, sliced turkey and pesto mayo on oat bread. They’re not all great, though. The Crabby Louie cheeseburger has krab meat, avocado, caramelized onion mayo and Monterey jack. That sounds like something from a “Saw” film. “EAT IT OR SHE DIES!!!!!!” “Do I REALLY have to?”

There are 40 burgers in all, the “inaugural 30” plus 10 named after cities. I’d like to think Warburton adlibbed much of the descriptions, because some are just so… weird. Kudos to the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, who launched the site this year as part of its Cheese and Burger Society campaign, highlighting Wisconsin cheese. Though everyone knows California and Wisconsin don’t see eye to eye when it comes to dairy products, we all know who has a better football team. And baseball team. And weather. And, well, the list goes on. But when it comes to marketing cheese, Wisconsin, I tip my hat to you.

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Thursday, November 8, 2012

Is Raley's Going the Way of Walmart?: Grocery Strike Goes Into Day Four

Posted By on Thu, Nov 8, 2012 at 3:51 PM

Kelly Fernandez, Olga Arvin and Joe Colosi hold down the picket line at Raleys on Fulton Road in Santa Rosa.
  • Becky Fernandez, Olga Arvin and Joe Colosi hold down the picket line at Raley's on Fulton Road in Santa Rosa.

Raley's workers across Sonoma County and Northern California continue to strike after thousands of workers walked off the job on the morning of Sunday, November 4. The action follows a breakdown in negotiations between leaders of UFCW-8 Golden State and UFCW Local 5 and company labor negotiators. Raley's, Nob HIll and Bel Air stores in Northern and Central California have been affected in a dispute affecting approximately 7,000 union members.

Bob Tiernan, the current Raley's-Nob HIll Labor Relations Director, is the former chair of the Oregon Republican Party. The UFCW accuses Tiernan of being a "carpetbagger" who has "sold a formerly decent company a bill of goods."

This is the first time in the 77-year-history of the Raley's-Nob Hill grocery chain that workers have walked out. Nearly all employees of the Rohnert Park store are on strike, with "temporary" workers taking their spots at one of the chain's oldest stores. Meat counter workers represented by the UFCW are on strike at the Santa Rosa, Windsor and Petaluma stores.

Joe Colosi is a retired Raley's meat department worker. He worked for the company for 18 years. He says that they are not striking for more money, but to maintain current benefits for both retired and current employees. Raley's has proposed switching a company plan in which the store would take over the management of health and welfare benefits. In addition, the company says they can "no longer afford" to provide health coverage to retirees once they qualify for Medicare.

"Our fathers started to build the company, we built the company as the baby-boomer generation, which is when they did the most growth," says Colosi.

Raley's has more than $3 billion in annual sales.

The company looks to be taking cues from Walmart, a multi-billion dollar company that pays its low-level workers an average of $8-$9 dollars an hour, forcing some of them to file welfare to get medical benefits, says Colosi. This past October, Walmart workers in 12 states actually went on strike for the first time in the company's history.

"Raley's says the reason they need the money is to cut their expenses so they can compete," says Colosi. "But they're in a high-end grocery business. They cater to a different clientele."

Mike Teel, President and CEO of Raley's (and the grandson of founder Tom Raley) posted an open letter to customers on their website, in which he writes that Raley's has been "impacted significantly by the recession and the continued expansion of other stores selling groceries."

"Unfortunately, most of these stores are non-union, with lower operating costs that have made it harder for Raley's, Bel Air and Nob Hill Foods to remain competitive. As a result, our market share has suffered a significant decline. In an effort to stabilize and put us back on a growth path, we have focused on two critical areas: reducing our operating costs and improving the value we deliver our customers."

Strikers say the company has more than enough profit to keep benefits as they stand. They've been handing out fliers with a photo of the Teel Family yacht, "The Ozark Lady," taken at Bay Ship in Alameda; Colosi says the yacht costs the family millions with maintenance.

Becky Fernandez is 57 years old and has worked in the Raley's meat department for 13 years. She says that if the cuts to benefits go through she won't be able to retire next year as planned.

"I was planning on retiring next June. If they do the takeways I cannot retire until I'm 62," says Fernandez. "I've worked a long time to get where I'm at now and it's very scary."

Colosi accuses the company of taking advantage of a bad economy, as well as listening to "union-busting" attorneys that see this as a good time to break down the union.

"90% of this business is goodwill," he adds, explaining how times have changed since Tom Raley, who was beloved by many employees, was in charge. "Once you lose the goodwill, it's not going to work for you too well. They've done a lot of good things, but this is the worst thing I've ever seen happen in my history with Raley's."


Note: This post has been corrected to reflect a mixup between "sales" and "profits" in a quote from Colosi.

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Press Democrat Ownership Includes Sandy Weill, Norma Person, Jean Schulz, More

Posted By on Thu, Nov 8, 2012 at 1:36 PM

As reported in this week's news story, the Press Democrat is being sold to a local group of investors, including lobbyist Darius Anderson and former congressman Doug Bosco.

The sale of the Press Democrat was completed today, with additional investors in the 115-year-old paper, though not a sale price or each individual's percentage of ownership, announced just now.

They include:

Norma Person, whose late husband, Evert Person, sold the Press Democrat to the New York Times in 1985. She lives in Santa Rosa.

Sandy Weill, former Citigroup CEO with an active role in repealing the Glass-Steagall act and donor to the Green Music Center. He lives on Sonoma Mountain.

Jean Schulz, widow of Peanuts creator Charles Schulz. She lives in Santa Rosa.

Gary Nelson, founder of Nelson staffing. He lives in Sonoma.

Bill Jasper, CEO and president of Dolby Sound from 1983 to 2009. He lives in Sonoma.

Les Vadasz, founding member of Intel Corporation. He lives in Sonoma.

The makeup of the Press Democrat's ownership is getting very, very interesting. The involvement of Norma Person is welcome, surely—when owned by the Persons, the Press Democrat had a decidedly local feel. But expect plenty of noise to be made about Sandy Weill, whose $12 million donation to the Green Music Center was not without considerable scrutiny, even in the pages of the Press Democrat itself. A reliable source once related that Weill wasn't pleased with the Press Democrat for the criticism his history on Wall Street was garnering. You know what they say: if you can't beat 'em, buy 'em.

Best of luck to our many friends over at the Press Democrat as this sale goes through. Often, change of ownership is a reason to cut staff and restructure benefits, and we truly hope that this isn't going to be the case for the newspaper's employees. More importantly, we hope that what ownership spokesman and former San Francisco Chronicle publisher Stephen Falk says is true: that this new ownership won't meddle in the objective reporting of the newsroom.

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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Farmed Salmon Worth Another Look

Posted By on Tue, Nov 6, 2012 at 2:21 PM

Salmon with pear vinegar cream by John Ash
  • Salmon with pear vinegar cream by John Ash

There are two opinions on farmed salmon. One says that salmon is salmon and it’s good for you no matter where it’s from. The other says farmed salmon is horrible for your body and the environment no matter where it’s from. Whereas though the latter school of thought may have once been the case, in the past few years there have been dramatic changes made in the way salmon is being farmed; it now takes another level of investigation to determine what really is the wave of the future.

John Ash
  • John Ash

Chef John Ash has been involved with the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program since it launched in 1999. The organization is regarded as the most stringent guide of what’s sustainable in terms of fishing and what’s safe for the human body in terms of minerals and pollutants. Currently, farmed salmon is on the “Avoid” list because of environmental concerns from the process and the amount of fish it takes to feed the salmon. The current standard, according to the Seafood Watch, is three pounds of feeder fish for every pound of farmed salmon harvested. It doesn’t take a math whiz to figure out that isn’t sustainable, and that’s one of the main reasons the program does not endorse the practice. But if the wild population of salmon continues to be the only source that’s used for food, even with the best regulations on fisheries it is estimated there will be none left by the end of this generation.

“I’m an old guy,” says Ash at a demonstration this morning for a new company offering sustainably-farmed salmon. “I’ve seen the ups and downs of farmed salmon.” He even took a tour in 1981 of a salmon farm in Norway, but it was less than inspiring. “It was like conventional chicken farming,” he says. “You could literally walk across the water on the backs of the salmon.” This created the need for extensive antibiotics and still resulted in low-quality fish. Fast forward thirty years, and companies are still trying to figure out how to sustainably farm the world’s favorite fish, but things are getting significantly better.

Japanese style roasted salmon by John Ash
  • Japanese style roasted salmon by John Ash

For example, Verlasso, the company he was endorsing and which supplied the fish for a cooking demonstration to about 30 students, media members and fish buyers at the SRJC Culinary Café, has found a way to control the ratio of feeder fish to 1:1 by supplementing omega 3-rich sardines, anchovies and herring with omega 3-rich yeast borne from algae. Coloring of the flesh comes not from dyes or chemical agents fed to the fish, but from beta carotene harvested from another type of algae, “which is what makes flamingoes pink,” says Verlasso Director Allyson Fish (yes, that’s her real name). The resulting mixture is pressed into pellets and fed to the salmon. As for Ash’s first farm experience, Verlasso is among a new breed of companies expanding the size of their ocean-based pens, giving the fish enough room to keep them from getting sick en masse.

Jennifer Bushman
  • Jennifer Bushman

Despite the slew of feel-good facts about any company, and no matter how environmentally friendly the farms are, the bottom line boils down to taste. Will chefs and consumers buy this? Does it taste better than what’s available now? With endorsements from Ash and chef Jennifer Bushman, who also spoke on behalf of Verlasso this morning, the tide may be turning on the farmed salmon debate. It tastes good, with a fat percentage closer to wild salmon than any other farmed Atlantic salmon (which is by far the most popular farmed salmon species). Ash said, “I don’t think you could tell the difference,” between Verlasso and wild Atlantic salmon. One caveat to this argument, however, is there may not be a chance to tell the difference. Wild Atlantic salmon are all but extinct due to overfishing. Pacific salmon is a different species, therefore will have a different flavor to begin with, farmed or wild.

But no matter how tasty farmed salmon is, wild salmon will always be preferred by top chefs. David Holman, executive chef with the Charlie Palmer restaurant group in Reno, said he has to keep salmon on the menu year-round due to customer demand, but chooses to offer wild salmon when in season. He says customers are always informed of the origin of their fish.

SRJC culinary students taste the lecture
  • SRJC culinary students taste the lecture

Holman cited showcasing local ingredients and seasonal bounty as reasons, but it’s no coincidence that wild salmon does taste better. As a former fishmonger, I have never had anything from a farm that tastes as good as wild salmon. Consumers know this, too. Wild salmon, even at $25 per pound, was nearly impossible to keep in stock when we could get it. Farmed salmon, despite being from a sustainable farm similar to Verlasso, sat neglected in the corner of the case even though it was half the price.

Jodie Lau, of Sonoma County supermarket chain G&G, was on hand with other executives from the market. All seemed impressed with the fish and the company, and Lau said she hoped the market could look into ways to begin carrying the fish year-round. If offered at $10.99 per pound retail, it would be comparable in price to other farmed salmon of lesser quality.

Verlasso is trying to break the stigma of farmed salmon not just for profit, but for the future of the world’s fish supply, says Allyson Fish. The company is working with Seafood Watch in hopes it will become the first farmed salmon to earn a “recommended buy” from the organization. It’s one of six aquaculture companies, the only one producing salmon, vying for this certification. By shooting for the top, this opens the door for other groups like the Marine Stewardship Council to look at farmed fish in a different light, and hopefully help change public perception through education.

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Saturday, November 3, 2012

John Sawyer and the Republican Party "Preference"

Posted By on Sat, Nov 3, 2012 at 8:14 AM

Last week on KSRO's 'The Drive,' Steve Jaxon hosted a lively debate between John Sawyer and Susan Gorin, both candidates for Sonoma County First District Supervisor. You can listen to the full debate below, which covers a lot of ground on candidates' histories, key votes on Santa Rosa City Council and positions on pension reform.

Note a particularly testy exchange at about 27:03, after Sawyer opts not to support Prop. 30 because of his distrust of Gov. Brown:

Gorin: "Well, maybe that's why you're recommended by the Republicans and I'm endorsed by the Democrats."

Sawyer: "Well I'm not recommended by... you make it sound like I'm endorsed by them, and I know that your campaign has made a point of making me sound like a Republican, and it's a very interesting... another scare tactic on the part of your campaign to try to make people think that I'm not a Democrat. I think that's just..."

Gorin: "Hey—they're handing out voter cards!"

Sawyer: "You know what? I can't control the Republican party."

Who's right? A quick check over at the Republican Party of Sonoma County's website finds that indeed, John Sawyer is recommended by the party in their list of endorsements, but because he is not a registered Republican, falls under a technical exemption from the specific word "endorsement":


So in a sense, both candidates are correct—note Sawyer starts to say he isn't recommended by the Republican party, but cuts himself off. Sawyer is, in fact, recommended by the Republican Party, along with endorsements of Mitt Romney, Dan Roberts, and, in the Santa Rosa City Council race, Don Taylor.

In all likelihood, Sawyer must be aware that being a Republican is the kiss of death in Sonoma County politics, and that candidates who'd clearly be Republican in other counties simply call themselves "conservative Democrats" here in order to survive at the ballot box. On a related note, those campaigning for Sawyer evidently know the tried-and-true Republican technique of taking an accusation leveled against themselves and throwing it right back at their opponent, no matter how unwarranted. Here's the latest anti-Gorin mailer out by the "Sonoma Jobs Action League," an IE largely funded by the Sonoma County Alliance:


If you ask me, that looks a hell of a lot like the work by Steve Rustad, the political cartoonist for the Argus-Courier who was suspended by the newspaper for the breach of ethics in anonymously illustrating hit-piece mailers in support of David Rabbitt in 2010. (Rustad and the Argus-Courier parted ways in June of this year, so he's free to design political mailers again.)

But... "masquerading as a Democrat"? Really?

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Thursday, November 1, 2012

Press Democrat Sold to... Doug Bosco?!

Posted By on Thu, Nov 1, 2012 at 12:52 PM


As reported this morning, the Press Democrat has been sold by Florida-based interim owners Halifax Media Acquisitions to a group of local investors, including lobbyist and developer Darius Anderson and former North Coast Congressman Doug Bosco.

The company, Sonoma Media Investments LLC, also bought the Sonoma Index-Tribune earlier this year.

According to the report:

Other key players in the purchase group include Steven Falk, former president and publisher of the San Francisco Chronicle and chief executive of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and Bill Hooper, president of Anderson's development firm, Kenwood Investments, and a former executive with Clear Channel Outdoor, the billboard advertising company.

Darius Anderson has a long history as a high-powered lobbyist for companies like PG&E, Station Casinos, Pfizer, Microsoft and Catellus, and has worked for Clint Eastwood and been a fundraiser for Gray Davis. In 2010, Anderson was fined half a million dollars in a corruption probe. He currently wants to build a $30 million boutique hotel off the Sonoma plaza.

Doug Bosco is another beast entirely, and could wield the type of political influence over the Press Democrat that many of its newsroom writers may not like. With ties to the Savings & Loan scandal and, as a congressman, implicated in the check-bouncing scandal, Bosco is a behind-the-scenes powerbroker with deep interests in gravel mining, timber and development. His close friend, Eric Koenigshofer, is the attorney for the redwood-clearcutting Preservation Ranch project in northwestern Sonoma County, and appears to have Fifth District Supervisor Efren Carrillo in his back pocket. Anderson, in fact, interned for Bosco in the mid-'80s, and another one of the "Bosco Boys" (yes, they have a cutesy name) is Robert Bone, responsible for the infamous race-mongering 2010 campaign mailer against Pam Torliatt.

Think we're going to get fair and balanced coverage out of this ownership?

Halifax hasn't been great to the Press Democrat, and all they've really done for the paper is put it up for sale to help recoup their purchase from the New York Times of 15 other news properties, all located in the southeast United States. Earlier last month, they imposed a gag order on the editorial board in endorsing candidates for elected office, but otherwise, they've kept the newsroom intact.

Let me be clear: I think local ownership of the daily paper of record is a good thing. But in his role as a self-styled political kingmaker, it's hard to imagine Bosco keeping his business interests away from the newsroom he now owns. You don't buy a newspaper in 2012 to get rich. You buy a newspaper in 2012 to gain influence. Remember that when you read the Press Democrat from now on.

UPDATE: An editorial source at the Press Democrat requesting anonymity tells us that we're rushing to judgement here, and that maintaining business and journalistic independence for the paper is the very, very clear intention from everyone involved. The source also tells us that this point will be much clearer in the coming weeks.

We certainly hope so.

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