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April 2009

Whole Energy Fuels Owes City but Moves Ahead


The California Environmental Protection Agency Office of Legal Affairs has informed me that Whole Energy Fuels (WEF) has received the sum of $111,600 to fund the recently shut-down trenching operation on the grounds of the Calera Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant. But staff members of the California Air Resources Board (CARB) who are managing the funds that WEF has received clarified that announcement. WEF has received 20 percent of the CARB grant it was awarded specifically for reaching its first “milestone,” one of four such milestones. Milestone 1 receives 20 percent of the grant money, milestone 2 gets 40 percent, milestone 3 earns 30 percent, and milestone 4 the wins the final 10 percent of the publicly funded grant.

Milestone 1 required that WEF complete its plans, permits, land leases, and various other agency approvals, which to CARB staff’s satisfaction WEF has done. The recent stop-work order has no effect on the money WEF has received so far and it is not necessary for WEF to reimburse the taxpayers. Milestone 2 requires that WEF have a completed plant that is functional but not operational, meaning that the plant can produce fuel but still requires fine-tuning. Milestone 3 requires a fully operational plant producing the proper grade of fuel continually. Milestone 4 requires all final reports and sign-off notices from various agencies that provide permits and guidance. 

A large part of WEF reaching milestone 1 was the environmental work the City of Pacifica did for WEF applications. To date, WEF has not repaid the City of Pacifica for that work, which totals $75,000, according to City Manager Steve Rhodes. Of the $111,600 WEF has received so far, it has used none of that sum to date to pay back the City of Pacifica. As of this writing, WEF has not replied to a question about whether WEF has a timetable or milestone of its own to repay Pacifica the $75,000 it owes.

The Enforcement Unit of the California Coastal Commission (CCC) has confirmed that WEF started the trenching without having satisfied the requirements of its Coastal Development Permit (CDP). Correspondence between WEF and the CCC staff explaining their actions has taken place, but copies are not yet being made available. The CCC is not pulling WEF's CDP but is working closely with WEF as it tries to complete the permit process.

WEF is still moving forward with the biodiesel refinery; neither the CCC nor the City of Pacifica are refusing WEF its permits or the opportunity to build the biodiesel facility regardless of WEF's admitted mistakes. But staff members overseeing the CARB grant say that funds for the remainder of the milestones will run out on June 30, 2009 and then will not be available. This means that WEF may not receive any further funds from the citizens of California, unless, of course, WEF can get through the permit process, build a functional plant, and show that it can produce fuel before June 30, 2009. 

Bay Area Early Detection Network Coordinator Job Opening

The Bay Area Early Detection Network (BAEDN) seeks a coordinator. For the right candidate, the position is a rare opportunity to revolutionize invasive-plant management in the Bay Area and beyond. BAEDN is a collaborative partnership of regional land managers and invasive-species experts that serves the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area. BAEDN coordinates Early Detection and Rapid Response to infestations of invasive plants, proactively dealing with new outbreaks before they can grow into large and costly environmental threats. This “stitch-in-time” approach prevents environmental and economic damage caused by these invaders; educates citizens on natural resource stewardship; and reduces the need for planning and resources required to control large, established invasive-plant populations. The coordinator will lead development and implementation of BAEDN, with input and direction from BAEDN's Steering Committee. The position is largely office-based, with some site visits and outdoor training expected. Office work may involve extended periods of sitting and using a computer, mouse, and telephone. Work location is flexible, and travel throughout the nine-county Bay Area is expected and will be reimbursed. The coordinator will be hired on a contract basis at a billing rate of $23 to $30 per hour, depending on experience. Alternative work schedules will be considered. For more information, email

April Vargas Named Region 4 Democratic Volunteer of the Year

Montara resident April Vargas was named Democratic Volunteer of the Year from Region 4 during the State Democratic Party Convention held in Sacramento from April 24-26. Region 4 includes San Mateo and San Francisco counties. Vargas is a small-business owner, community organizer, and former elected official who serves as controller of the San Mateo County Democratic Central Committee. She was Congressional District 12 coordinator of Obama for America during the 2008 primary and general elections, and was an elected Obama delegate to the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver.

"We congratulate April as the recipient of this award and and thank her for her exceptional service to our local Democratic Party," said San Mateo County Democratic Party Chair David Burruto. "Her outstanding leadership, effective community organizing skills, and dedication to the values of the Democratic Party make her a role model for Democratic activists everywhere. We are fortunate that she calls San Mateo County home."

[press release]

Ian Butler: A Good Habitat Spoiled

Ian butler

I love golf.  The brightly colored balls, the sweet smell of cotton candy wafting through the air, the satisfaction of dropping a putt into the mouth of a giant clown. Of course that’s miniature golf; the full-size version is another story.

I played that only once, and since I did so as a lefty borrowing right-handed clubs, saved some time by rounding up my scorecard to infinity. But I understand that a lot of people using the correct-handed clubs find it quite enjoyable, and would never wish to impose upon their recreational choices – unless those choices happen to threaten an endangered species or two.

For instance, if they enjoyed clubbing baby seals with nine irons, or using golf balls made from panda testicles, I would strongly encourage they take up a new hobby. In the case of Sharp Park Golf Course, it was built on the habitat of the red-legged frog and the San Francisco garter snake, back when nature was still considered to be an eyesore and in need of mowing. This forced the critters to move to the nearest remaining habitat: Pescadero marsh. Unfortunately, animals are poor map-readers, and most got lost en route, causing the stragglers to be protected by the federal government.

It all began when famous golf architect Alister MacKenzie, inspired by the success of the Ocean Shore Railroad, decided to emulate its winning formula by building a golf course on a coastal sand dune. After several delays, the course finally opened on April Fool’s Day in 1932, ushering in the park’s “golden era,” which lasted six whole years, until a storm washed away seven holes, ushering in the park’s “underwater era,” which lasts to this day.

In an attempt to salvage what was left, a berm was illegally built in the 1980s to keep the water back. Unfortunately, it kept the water back in the wrong direction, causing the course to flood all the way to the clubhouse. Because the protected frogs laid eggs in the ensuing lake, the course was forced to leave it, and instead supplied golfers with specially designed floating clubs, putting snorkels, and amphibious golf carts. As a result, the course has had to be subsidized by taxpayer money every year, but that’s okay because it’s San Francisco taxpayers. Suckers.

Now an organization called the “Center for Biological Diversity,” representing a narrow special-interest group known as “life on Earth,” hopes to turn the troubled course into an endangered-species habitat. San Francisco Supervisor Russ Mirkarimi has introduced legislation to consider the idea*. This has led to a contentious debate, which so far the golfers have been winning handily, since the snakes and frogs have proven incapable of even the most rudimentary language. Therefore I will humbly attempt to speak on their behalf, assuming they are history buffs capable of reading a financial spreadsheet.

Golfers: The golf course was created by Alister MacKenzie, a famous architect, in the 30s.
Snakes and Frogs: Oh yeah? We were created by God, an omniscient being, in the Permian era.

Golfers: Restoring Sharp Park would lead to more mosquitoes and West Nile Virus.
Frogs: Our extinction would allow mosquitoes to run rampant over the earth, leaving death and destruction in their evil wake. Although they are quite delicious.

Golfers: Sharp Park is on track to make a profit this year.
Snakes and Frogs: Only if you ignore the huge subsidy it receives from the San Francisco general fund, and a $250,000 repair of the berm. With that kind of math, even GM could look profitable.

Golfers: If it weren’t for the berm, there would be no habitat for the endangered species.
Snakes and Frogs: We’ve been here for millions of years. The berm wasn’t even invented until the Neolithic Revolution, about 10,000 years ago. We can manage without it.

Golfers: We can reconstruct MacKenzie’s historic original design.
Snakes and frogs: The one that was partially below sea level and lost seven holes to the sea after six years? And that was before global warming kicked in. You might as well reconstruct Atlantis.

Golfers: We like animals, and would never want to hurt them.
Snakes and Frogs: It’s not that you’re malicious, it’s that you’re golfing on what used to be our habitat. Have you ever tried to breed on a golf course? It can be a real buzz kill when the sprinklers come on.

Golfers: Some of us have been golfing there for 20 years and we’ve never seen a San Francisco garter snake.
Snakes: Our numbers are in the tens. We rarely even see ourselves anymore.

As you can see, the little critters do have a point. But don’t despair. It is possible that the area can be restored as habitat, while still keeping a smaller nine-hole golf course. Or better yet, miniature golf.

Ian Butler is host of Laugh Locally on PCT26. You can reach him at Learn more at RESTORE SHARP PARK

*Mikarimi's other legislation is for San Francisco to run pot dispensaries, so it’s possible that he plans to grow weed at Sharp Park.

Our Fiscal Crisis: What Happens After the Election?


If Measure D is defeated on May 19, Pacifica will have serious fiscal problems.
If Measure D passes on May 19, Pacifica will still have serious fiscal problems.

The quandary posed by this situation calls for some sort of plan of action for the morning after the election. Employee pension costs are growing by the day and we have no ready funds to pay them. The usual mechanism of issuing bonds and selling them to put this debt on the long-term balance sheet has been closed off, at least for now, by the collapse of the municipal bond market. Even if the bonds were issued and sold, it is still a growing debt that appears unsustainable.

There are other budget problems, too, and that’s what this article is about: What can we do? It’s important to realize that after passions have been expended and the people's voice has been heard and registered in an election, civic life will go on. And what will happen on the morning after?

My proposal is for the formation and appointment of a citizens' financial advisory committee, (or task force, if you prefer) to examine thoroughly the city budget in all its departments.

 A. The committee would be, say, 7 to 11 people.

 B. Its members would be instructed to come to the table with no preconceived notions or hidden agendas.

 C. A vital part of the committee’s expertise would be financial experts drawn from the community, preferably with experience in public budgets, who would be able to cut to the chase, asking questions of staff that get to the core issues.

 D. NO consultant would be hired to advise the committee.

If the call went out for such experts, I would think some might come forward. Many heavyweights, in various disciplines, live in Pacifica—residing in hiding. They might be inclined to help.

The committee should be free to issue a report and recommendations on the city budget, recommending changes that may be surprising and/or uncomfortable.

The time is past for business as usual. We are in crisis, win or lose.