Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Aug. 2: Penny Wolin's "Descendants of Light"

Posted By on Wed, Jul 30, 2014 at 1:55 PM


For the last eight years, photographer Penny Wolin has traveled the United States documenting and interviewing other American photographers of Jewish ancestry, chronicling the culture and different artists’ reactions to their heritage. Her previous photo documentary on the subject, The Jews of Wyoming, exhibited solo at the Smithsonian Institution, and now Wolin has a new project that she will be discussing and previewing called Descendants of Light. Wolin examined the works of photographers like Annie Leibovitz and Joel Meyerowitz, and a selection of Wolin’s photos and her new book will be on display when she gives a special arts lecture on Saturday, Aug. 2, at Calabi Gallery, 456 10th St., Santa Rosa. 6pm. Free. 707.781.7070.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Graton Casino Workers Vote to Unionize

Posted By on Wed, Jul 23, 2014 at 1:39 PM


The service union Unite-Here announced yesterday that workers at the Graton Casino had voted to unionize.

About 600 janitors, cooks, waiters and gaming workers will come under the Unite-Here umbrella after a two-day vote in mid-June that saw over 70 percent of affected workers vote in favor of unionization.

The union will now negotiate a collective-bargaining contract with the developer and operator, Station Casinos. The casino is owned by the Graton Federated Tribes, which had an agreement with Unite-Here to let a union vote go forward without interference from management.

The vote was held in a casino meeting room rented by the union.

In a statement, Wei-Ling Huber, President of Unite-Here local 2850 says the tribe has “been committed from day one to operating a casino where workers have the freedom to decide about union representation without interference.”

The Las Vegas-based Station Casinos opened Graton Casino in 2013.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Attack of the $500,000 Tiger Salamander

Posted By on Tue, Jul 22, 2014 at 1:20 PM

Poppy. Quail. Garibaldi. Gold. California has an official symbol for just about everything, and now there's a newcomer to the list: the California state amphibian is the red-legged frog, the frog made famous by Mark Twain's short story “Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.”

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife made the official amphibian proclamation July 15. “By declaring the California red-legged frog the official state amphibian of California, the Legislature and Governor acknowledge the species’ important place in the ecology, culture and history of California. It also broadcasts and reinforces the state’s commitment to protecting its rare resources, which include amphibians.”

It's listed as a threatened species, and almost canceled a fishing derby in Rohnert Park one year. But in the North Bay, there's another threatened amphibian that makes more headlines: the tiger salamander.

This dark, brightly-spotted creature can grow to about eight inches in length and can grow construction costs exponentially. The development community is well aware of this, as is the anti-development community—the poor little salamander is trotted out like a mouse in an elephant pen every time new development with big-box stores is proposed. Sonoma County is aware of this as well, as evidenced in an update about the proposed Moorland community park presented to the board of supervisors in March.

The park recently received a $471,000 state grant, but is seeking at least $1 million more in grant funds, and will need to match all those funds to complete the 4-acre park, officials estimate. Playgrounds, grass, goalposts and picnic tables all cost money, as does the property itself. But the California tiger salamander also costs money. “It is worth noting that the larger parcel has been identified as possible habitat for the California Tiger Salamander,” says the packet submitted to the board, “and it is anticipated that any type of development on that land will require mitigation with an estimated cost of $500,000.”

Looks like the red-legged frog gets the glory, but the tiger salamander gets the last laugh around these parts.

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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Welcome to Gun Country

Posted By on Tue, Jul 8, 2014 at 3:53 PM

Protesters at a rally for Andy Lopez on Oct. 25, 2013. - NICOLAS GRIZZLE
  • Nicolas Grizzle
  • Protesters at a rally for Andy Lopez on Oct. 25, 2013.

What a country we live in: In open-carry states, a mostly white group of chubby second amendment “gundamentalists” have taken to carrying actual assault weapons into retail and fast-food outlets with not much pushback from police, while in California, a 13-year-old Latino kid gets shot and killed by police while openly carrying a toy gun in a semi-rough Santa Rosa neighborhood. Meanwhile, there’s a school shooting practically every week—and thus the battle lines are drawn between arming everybody and, gee, how about some sane gun laws?

Indeed, the Andy Lopez shooting last October has highlighted numerous disconnects in how American society is utterly failing to deal with unpredictable and sometimes foolhardy behavior by teens, within a larger edgy framework of school shootings and in a country that has clearly gone quite nuts over gun rights.

Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch entered the firearms firestorm this week as she took a pass on charging Sonoma sheriff’s deputy Erick Gelhaus with any crime in connection with the fatal 2013 police shooting of Lopez, who was shot by Gelhaus, an Army veteran, while carrying a replica AK47 in broad daylight.

Against a backdrop of lone-nut school shootings by mostly young white men of a certain disposition (angry, weird and relatively well-off), and within the larger national argument over gun rights in open-carry states, the Lopez shooting flatly underscored the limits of gun possession as a means of self-expression—what’s good to go at a Target in Texas is a total no-go in a poor and Latino Santa Rosa neighborhood.

Ravitch’s decision came after months of speculation and angry charges leveled at her office that she was slow-rolling the investigation of the October shooting out of a concern for her June electoral prospects. Yet Ravitch made quick work of her opponents in winning another term as district attorney.

The 52-page public report issued by Ravitch sheds some light into the great lengths she went to investigate the shooting free of political pressure, no small feat in a city that has been on edge for months, with activists vociferously demanding justice for Lopez and criminal charges against Gelhaus.

There’s two rough through-lines animating the Ravitch report: It emphasizes the obvious tragedy of a young man’s death, and signals empathy by repeatedly calling him “Andy,” even as the report essentially lays out an argument that Lopez played a major role in the events that led to his death.

Did Lopez “deserve” to die for disobeying police orders to drop the fake weapon?

Of course not!

But numerous John and Jane Doe witnesses contacted by police and investigators after the shooting corroborated Gelhaus’ version of the incident—in particular, the critical moment where Gelhaus and his partner Michael Schemmel told Lopez, twice, to drop the weapon he was carrying.

Instead of complying with the police order, the report says Lopez inexplicably turned to face the officers, and that as he did so, the barrel of the replica weapon started to rise, as though Lopez was prepared to shoot at the police. Gelhaus said he feared for his life, his training kicked in, and he shot at the teen eight times, hitting him with seven bullets fired over about two seconds.

There were a couple other key junctures, Ravitch argues in the report, where the entire episode could have been defused without bodily injury or death:

One John Doe witness told police he had warned Lopez from his car, moments before the fatal encounter, to drop the weapon because the police were right behind him, in a marked cruiser. Lopez ignored him and continued walking down the street.

The Lopez friend who gave him the replica weapon, John Doe #2, worried that the orange plastic muzzle-tip wasn’t on the gun anymore—and says he warned his friend about it. According to the report, John Doe #2 told a police officer, “he felt responsible for Andy’s death because he allowed Andy to borrow the gun even though the orange tip of the barrel was broken off, making it look real, although he’d told his friend not to take it since it was broken.”

And, the report notes that Lopez’ judgment may have been impaired because of the marijuana he smoked within 90 minutes of getting shot.

But it’s also true that Lopez was simply victimized by a “wrong place, wrong time” set of social constructs now wrenching at the core of American society—in particular, the rise of the angry and armed young man hell-bent on some kind of justice against a world that done him wrong.

One of the investigators hired by Ravitch, William Lewinski, noted in the report, tellingly, that “it is unfortunate that the single largest threat facing police officers today and the highest demand for police training is responding to the threat of an active shooter. Law enforcement may be more aware today than [any] other time in history of the threat from the lone, young man with a gun or a knife.”

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Monday, July 7, 2014

D.A: No charges for Gelhaus

Posted By and on Mon, Jul 7, 2014 at 4:32 PM


At Monday's press conference, Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch compares two toy guns.
  • At Monday's press conference, Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch compares two toy guns.

After months of rumors and bitter controversy around the 2103 Andy Lopez shooting in Santa Rosa, Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch announced Monday that she would not pursue criminal charges against Sonoma sheriff’s deputy Erick Gelhaus. The announcement came against the backdrop of a protest that had already been planned at Ravitch’s office on Tuesday.

With Ravitch’s decision today, that protest is definitely and obviously moving forward, says activist Mary Moore, who is part of the Justice Coalition for Andy Lopez.

Gelhaus shot and killed the teenage Lopez last October in the unincorporated Moorland Avenue area south of Santa Rosa after a very brief encounter with the child, who was shot while carrying a toy assault weapon that had its orange safety tip removed from the muzzle, rendering the toy difficult to distinguish from an actual weapon.

Ravitch, who was was re-elected to her post in June, told reporters at a Monday press conference that Gelhaus made an understandable split-second decision that fateful day. “While it was an absolute tragedy, it was not a criminal act,” Ravitch told reporters at a press conference Monday.

Ravitch told reporters that she personally reviewed the facts of the case and that “the loss of this young life is a loss for us all.”

She said she personally went through the facts of the case that led her to take a pass on charging Gelhaus.

She said the youth was walking with the toy gun, barrel-down, when officers pulled up behind him. The officers, she said, told Lopez twice to drop the gun, and says a witness testimony bore out that claim.

Lopez turned, and as he did, the barrel rose, Ravitch said.

Gelhaus then fired eight shots from his service revolver, seven of which hit Lopez. Gelhaus was placed on restricted duty as Ravitch reviewed the facts of the case.

Naturally, the parents of Andy Lopez were not happy with the outcome today. Nor the Justice Coalition for Andy Lopez, which planned a Roseland meeting for later in the day Monday to figure out what the group’s next move is, beyond the Tuesday protest.

An outraged Moore says she’s not sure what the group’s options are, other than to “yell at the top of our lungs,” or elect better politicians. Or, get the Department of Justice interested in the civil rights of Andy Lopez, she said.

Ravitch’s slow-roll on the decision to charge or not charge Gelhaus raised eyebrows on several occasions.

A few times in recent months, rumors were floated and batted back that a decision from Ravitch was imminent. Lopez activists were eventually convinced she wouldn’t render a decision on Gelhaus until after the June 2 election, which Ravitch won handily.

Yet the District Attorney’s office appears to have jumped its own gun in announcing the Gelhaus decision today.

Moore says the D.A.’s office sent out an email Monday morning that said Ravitch wouldn’t be pressing charges against Gelhaus. Moments later, a second email went out, to the effect of: Forget that last one, it wasn’t supposed to get sent.

But reporters had already leapt to the story. A press conference was scheduled for 2 pm today, and a weary-looking Ravitch released a 52-page public statement explaining her decision. She couldn’t say that the investigation was “extensive and exhaustive” enough times for reporters and note that, “historically, the DA doesn’t release reports this detailed to the public.”

“Obviously we are deeply disappointed,” says Moore, who adds she was surprised that Ravitch made her announcement today, given the Tuesday protest had already been planned.

“Why would she make it so easy for us by putting it out today?” Moore wondered. “When I first heard this, I thought maybe she would indict. They really goofed—and then they drew attention to their goof.”

The City of Santa Rosa issued a statement Monday afternoon calling for calm in the streets: “We hope our community can come together to keep everyone safe, in particular our young people who were so deeply effected.”

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