Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Tax Day Protesters Oppose Sending Israeli Military $8 Million in U.S. Tax Dollars a Day

Community members gathered in downtown Santa Cruz today on Tax Day, April 15, to protest the U.S. government's subsidy of $8 million a day in military aid to Israel.


Tax Day is when federal income tax returns are due in the United States, and demonstrators held signs that indicated what the government should be spending citizens' hard earned dollars on, if the money wasn't wasted on military aid to Israel. They also held signs that read, "Apartheid: Wrong for South Africans, Wrong for Palestinians."

One individual was dressed as a 100 dollar bill, and the group distributed a brochure with information from the organization If Americans Knew.


According to If Americans knew, Israel has been the largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid since 1976, and in the last 20 years economic aid to that country has been slowly phased out in favor of military aid. Israel receives about $3 billion ($8 million a day) directly from the United States in military financing each year, which is about one-fifth of what is allocated for the entire foreign aid budget.

Approximately 25% of the financing received from the U.S. is used by Israel to purchase military equipment directly from Israeli manufacturers. The only country allowed to do this with American aid is Israel, and their arms industry benefits from the subsidy. According to the Congressional Research Service’s report “U.S. Foreign Aid to Israel," between 2001 an 2008 Israel was the, "7th largest arms supplier to the world with sales worth a total of 9.9 billion.”

Friday, March 28, 2014

La Playa Carmel Demonstrations Continue in 2014

The fight for justice for the former La Playa workers has extended into 2014, as monthly labor rallies continue to be held at the Carmel-by-the-Sea area hotel, and the word "fight" is not an overstatement.


The Union has Vowed to Fight for Years if Necessary

Workers have now gone two years without a union contract at La Playa Carmel. In the Fall of 2011 the hotel and restaurant were closed for remodeling and the staff was laid off. This effectively ended the union's representation of the workers there. Over half of the 113 former workers at La Playa had worked there for 20 years or more. They were members of Unite Here Local 483, the labor union that represents hotel, restaurant, and other hospitality workers in the Monterey Bay area, and a union contract had been held at La Playa for the prior 40 years.

After first demanding the workers be rehired, the union asked that the formers workers be guaranteed first right of refusal for any jobs that opened up at the hotel. Only three of the former workers were rehired. Most of the former workers who applied for jobs after the re-modeling was completed were not called back for interviews.

As a result, Unite Here has vowed to protest at the hotel for years to come.


The Hotel Management and Carmel Police Fight Back

One on one, management is cordial to the people who attend the rallies, and they can often be heard explaining to hotel guests that it is the first amendment right of demonstrators to hold rallies there. La Playa's staff continues to surveil the group through the use of sound level meters, however, and the Carmel police continue to be called.

There have been over three dozen protests at the hotel since 2011, and the police have exited their vehicles and officially "visited" the rallies over a dozen times.

One arrest has been made over the course of the two and a half years of La Playa rallies, but the individual who was arrested has said that no evidence that he was breaking any laws was provided by the District Attorney, and the charges were dismissed.


Fresh Faces Fuel the Labor Coalition's Growth

Workers from the Monterey Bay Aquarium have been attending the La Playa rallies for several months now. They have organized themselves at two of the aquarium's facilities, and they are now represented by Unite Here.

Local 483 represents over 1,300 hospitality workers on the Monterey Bay at more than three dozen hotels, restaurants, and golf courses, and Unite Here members from a variety of Monterey County establishments add to the attendance at the La Playa rallies.

Additionally, more than two dozen members of other labor unions have participated, as have 20 elected officials, and official representatives of over 20 local community groups.

Photos are from the rally at La Playa Carmel on February 28, 2014



Hotel guests arrive during a rally

Police officer listening to a noise complaint

Two officers arrived at the rally on February 28

Hotel management with a sound level meter





Friday, March 21, 2014

Student from Santa Cruz Files $5 Million Claim against SJSU after Dormitory Hate Crimes

Donald Williams Jr., a black student at San Jose State University, filed a $5 million claim on March 19 against the institution, which alleges breach of contract, breach of duty, negligence, and violation of the Unruh Act. The claim stems from alleged hate crimes committed against Williams in his SJSU dorm room by three of his housemates in the Fall of 2013. After the incidents became public, large protest rallies were held at the university organized by the SJSU Black Student Union, which demanded change at the university, including protecting its African American studies courses.

In February an independent fact finding report was released that outlined the incidents. The report states that the series of events occurred over the course of the semester, between late August and early October of 2013, and the University became aware of the Victim’s situation on October 13. Williams' parents were visiting their son's accommodations on that date when they observed a Confederate flag in the common area and a racial slur written on a whiteboard. Williams' parents then reported their observations to the Resident Assistants (“RA”) on duty. 

The incidents listed in the report include:

– A student from another suite suggested the possibility of giving the Victim a nickname – “3/5. The Suspects referred to the Victim by this nickname – and a subsequent modification, “Fraction” – for several days in the first two weeks of the semester.

– The Victim, and on occasion his roommate, were barricaded in their bedroom by the placement of a table outside of the bedroom door. The Victim’s roommate called Suspect 4 to request that the table be moved and Suspect 4 moved the table. This incident was repeated 3-4 times.

– Suspect 2 obtained a U-shaped bicycle lock and together with Suspects 3 and 4 placed the lock around the Victim’s neck. The first time this occurred, in the common area of the suite, the incident was described by Suspect 2 to have begun as a joke in response to viewing a similar prank from a television show. In a second incident, Suspects 2, 3 and 4 lured the Victim into Suspect 3’s bedroom and attempted unsuccessfully to place the lock on the Victim’s neck in a forcible manner, resulting in a minor injury to the Victim.

– One (or more) of the Suspects removed the Victim’s shoes from his closet and hid them. On a second occasion, Suspects 1 and 2 removed the Victim’s shoes from his closet in an attempt to lure the Victim into a closet. The door handle on the inside of the closet had been removed and it appeared that the intent was to trap the Victim in the closet.

– Suspects 1 and 2 displayed a Confederate flag in the common area of the Suite. The Victim objected to the display and the flag was taken down. Suspects 1 and 2 displayed the flag again after the Victim returned home for a weekend visit. The flag was observed on display in the common area by the Victim and his parents upon return to the Suite.

– A racial slur was written on a whiteboard posted on a wall in the common area of the Suite. The slur was written while the Victim was away for the weekend, but was observed by the Victim and his parents upon his return to the Suite.

– Suspects 1, 3 and 4 wrote a note of “apology” to the Victim. The note contained a sarcastic reference to Martin Luther King and language that was perceived by the Victim and others as a veiled warning against further complaints by the Victim.

Williams attended high school in Santa Cruz and he never experienced racist behavior like it from others locally, even though he was only, "one of a handful black students at his high school in Santa Cruz," one media report has stated.

In November, the Santa Cruz Chapter of the NAACP released a statement about the hate crimes, which read in part:

"This incident is appalling. Where was the university leadership? It is understandable that SJSU cannot predetermine an admitted student’s "bigotry tendencies"; however, there is a responsibility at a public university that a tone of tolerance be clearly communicated throughout the fabric of the institution. This message should be communicated first by the SJSU President and, more importantly, throughout the campus even into the residential halls. It is obvious that those who committed these atrocities under the disguise of a "prank" against another human being felt embolden and undoubtedly empowered to do so without fear of University or legal consequences."

Williams' claim alleges violations of the Unruh Act. The Unruh Act, enacted in California in 1959, outlaws discrimination based on sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability, medical condition, marital status, and sexual orientation, and it covers all businesses such as hotels, restaurants, theaters, hospitals, beauty shops, housing accommodations, and retail establishments.

Williams was 17 at the time the incidents occurred, and those who taunted him were all over 18. The perpetrators have been identified as three college freshmen from California: Colin Warren, 18, of Woodacre; Joseph Bomgardner, 19, of Clovis; and Logan Beaschler, 18, of Bakersfield.

UC Santa Cruz Students Occupy Hahn Building for 18 Hours

On March 5, students at UC Santa Cruz occupied the Hahn building in an ongoing resistance to the appointment of Janet Napolitano as president of the University of California system. The occupation follows a march to Kerr Hall on February 26, when students attempted to enter the offices of UCSC's Chancellor. Support for UC workers is central to the demands of student demonstrators, and over the course of the recent protests, labor victories have been gained as the university has given into demands by Graduate Student Workers and AFSCME Workers in separate negotiations.

Students arrived at the Hahn building shortly after 3pm

After a short rally at Quarry Plaza on March 5, a large group of students eventually marched into the Hahn student services building at about 3pm, which prompted cashiers to close the Registrar's counter.

At 7:30 pm about 35 students in the front area of the first floor of the building began a discussion about how long to occupy. At that time, two community safety officers and one campus police officer were sitting and eating in a lounge located down the open hallway in the back of the building. They said they would be staying in the building all night for the "safety of the students." 

At 8:30 pm the group decided to stay overnight. Some students left and returned with blankets and other supplies. Other students went on a food run and brought back several pizzas.

Students listed their demands as follows (this is a modified set of the demands students issued around the time of the Blum Center occupation in Berkeley on February 13 of this year): 

1. We demand the resignation or impeachment of Janet Napolitano as UC President
immediately. 

2. We demand that next and all future UC presidents be someone who
∙ a) is elected by students and faculty
∙ b) has an extensive and positive background in education
∙ c) works towards completely eliminating student debt through full subsidization
∙ d) comes from and has worked with communities in California
∙ e) supports all programs/resources that serve underrepresented communities; 

3. The appointment of Napolitano exposes the undemocratic process by which the UC
system makes decisions. In order to address this structural problem we demand a restructuring
of this process which includes:
∙ a) a campus wide election for all future UC regents; this includes having the ability to
nominate, endorse, and campaign for candidates
∙ b) the power to impeach both UC presidents and regents
∙ c) a general democratization of the regents to include true participation by students
and faculty in the central decision making processes of the University. 

The UC Santa Cruz students added that they wanted all UC worker demands to be met.

Quarry Plaza







Marching to the Hahn building







A student from UC Berkeley talks about attending the occupation of the Blum Center at UCB on February 13




Food Supplies



On March 6, students left the Hahn student services building after occupying it for nearly 18 hours. Approximately 30 students decided as a group to leave; all of them were undergraduates. Before exiting the building they cleaned the area they occupied and then sang songs of solidarity and protest.

At 6am that morning, approximately eleven police officers arrived on the scene. All but two of them left, however, as students spent some time deciding how to proceed with the occupation. The earliest public counters in the student services building open at 8am, and though workers arrived and entered the offices, they didn't unlock the doors that open out to the Registrar's counters. Students were never told by the administration to leave, or that they were trespassing, but at 6:30 am a UC administrator informed them that they were in the building at a time when it was not open to the "public".

After some discussions, students decided to leave Hahn on their own terms. As they were leaving, shortly before 9am, they chanted "We'll be back!"

All the group left at the protest location were modest paper signs placed on the restroom doors which re-designated the spaces as gender neutral.

Within minutes of the students' departure, a unionized AFSCME worker arrived to do some light cleaning in the wake of the occupation. When asked if he supported their demonstration, he replied warmly, "Of course I do!"

Student protests against Napolitano, the former head of homeland security who was involved with the deportation of over 1.5 million undocumented Americans, have been widespread across the University of California system. UCSC students protested the appointment of Napolitano during her visit to the Santa Cruz campus on October 18, and they organized their most recent demonstrations in solidarity with students at UC Berkeley, who occupied the Blum Center on February 13.

Following two major victories for workers, labor groups have expressed appreciation for the student demonstrations. On February 27, AFSCME (American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees) Local 3299 announced they had reached what they called a "historic" tentative contract agreement with the University of California. On March 4, Graduate Student Workers at UC Santa Cruz announced that, after two days of discussions, management had given in to all of their demands. They say that there will be no more underpaid undergrad TAs, back pay ($6000 each) for all those who've already been in that position will be paid, there will be a serious reduction in TA workload for poorly planned Arts department classes, and a committee will be established to make recommendations for class-sizes with equal voices for labor and management.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Santa Cruz Eleven Trial Postponed Indefinitely

According to the Santa Cruz Eleven website, the trial for the remaining four defendants has been postponed indefinitely as the prosecution has entered a new motion to disqualify Judge Burdick.


Statement posted on the Santa Cruz Eleven website:

"Today the 4 remaining members of the SC11 were in Department 6 for the continuation of their readiness hearing and were met with a surprising and frustrating twist. The prosecution entered a 170.1 motion to Disqualify Judge Burdick which essentially halts all proceedings while that motion is dealt with. A next date of March 26th was set to revisit things, but as it is trial is unlikely to be any time before June, and may be out as far as next fall. We friends and supporters of the 11 are frustrated and motivated. This is an important time to continue our support, and increase the presence of public opinion saying “enough is enough, drop the charges!” Stay tuned for upcoming events and more information."

The Santa Cruz Eleven comprises eleven individuals who were charged with crimes in association with the 2011 occupation of the vacant bank building located at 75 River Street in Santa Cruz. According to the prosecution, approximately $20,000 in damages were caused to the building as a result of the occupation, and the defendants were being prosecuted to pay for those damages even though none of them were directly responsible for any of it. Arrest warrants were issued and eleven individuals (including this reporter) were charged with three separate felony counts in February of 2012. After dozens of pre-trial hearings, Santa Cruz Judge Paul Burdick dismissed the charges against all but four of those charged by early 2013.

Judge Burdick has questioned the prosecution's need to go forward with the case at least twice during court hearings.

On August 17, 2012, Judge Burdick chastised the prosecution for taking too long to hand over the police video evidence, complaining, "eight months into this case, and we still have not received video?!" Burdick concluded in that hearing, "I'm really unhappy about this Ms. Young. This is inexcusable. ... It's absolutely inexcusable. It's doubtful we're going to proceed."

At that time the prosecution had filed motions to make their first attempt at getting rid of Burdick, which was unsuccessful. One of the defense attorneys called it "judge shopping".

On August 16, 2013 Judge Burdick asked the DA at a hearing if they thought it necessary to go forward with the cases given the profound expense it would cost the people considering the damage amount was only $20,000. The prosecution stated that they were hearing from the "community" that they wanted the trial to continue.

At UCSC Rally, Students Continue to Seek Napolitano's Resignation and Justice for Workers

Students rallied at UC Santa Cruz on February 26 to continue to protest the hiring of Janet Napolitano as president of the University of California system. "We say no to Napolitano, yes to worker demands," organizers stated in an announcement for the event where students also expressed solidarity with UC Service Workers represented by AFSCME 3299, who were planning to strike statewide on March 3-7, and Graduate Students Workers, who still plan to strike on March 5.


"The UC system is run on the backs of workers low wages and student debt while administrators make over $200,000 a year. Taking a stand against Napolitano means confronting the racism and classism that the UC system is founded upon. This foundation will only change with students and workers continuing to say no," the event announcement continued.

The rally began at Quarry Plaza, and students marched in the pouring rain to McHenry Library while loudly singing anti-Napolitano chants. At the library, there was a short mic check to raise awareness about the upcoming AFSCME strike. From there, students marched to Kerr Hall and attempted to enter the offices of Chancellor Blumenthal. Finding one office door locked, and another guarded by an administrator, students briefly discussed the idea of a conducting a sit-in in the hallway, but the group decided to leave the building to save energy for next week's strike.

During the March 3-7 AFSCME strike, service workers planned to picket both entrances of the campus all week beginning early in the morning, but later in the evening of February 26 the union announced it made a historic tentative contract agreement with the university and had canceled the strike.

UCSC Student Academic Workers represented by UAW 2865 still plan to strike on Wednesday, March 5. Additionally, a large student rally is planned for that day.

Quarry Plaza

"No Racism at UC - Fair Worker Contract"

Monday, February 24, 2014

USDA Maintains Classification of Light Brown Apple Moth as Actionable Quarantine Pest

The United States Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) announced on February 7 its decision to maintain the classification of the Light Brown Apple Moth (LBAM, Epiphyas postvittana) as a quarantine-significant pest. The APHIS stated that by maintaining this classification it is, "seeking to minimize the further spread of the moth in the United States and maintain foreign trade markets for our producers." The classification and management of the moth as a pest by the government has been of particular concern to those in California, where large residential areas in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties were sprayed aerially with pesticides in an effort to eradicate the LBAM in 2007.

CDFA map of the portions of the City of Santa Cruz sprayed with pesticides as part of the state's LBAM eradication program in November of 2007

The APHIS claims that if the moth were to be reclassified as a non-actionable pest and APHIS' regulatory program for the LBAM were ended, the related damages to commercial crops would lead to the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in agricultural industry revenue.

The APHIS had been evaluating the possibility of reclassifying the LBAM as a nonactionable, non-quarantine pest following petitions submitted to the Secretary of Agriculture in 2008 and 2009. The federal agency has acknowledged that the majority of commenters throughout the process, "requested that we reclassify LBAM as a non-quarantine pest."

In a summary of comments from the public, the APHIS states, "the majority of commenters expressed concern regarding the impacts on the environment and human and animal health associated with the use of pesticides and chemicals to control LBAM."

"The commenters expressed concern that chemicals used for the control of LBAM had not been tested on humans and that formulations had not been disclosed," the agency added.

Commenters also expressed a wide range of other concerns.

Some feel the LBAM program is focused on eradication, and they question when exactly the moth was introduced to the state of California. One commenter stated that since the LBAM has been established in the United States for many years, "there is no reason to continue regulating it."

The effectiveness of the chemicals used to eradicate the LBAM was questioned by commenters, with some asking why the program has not taken into account non-chemical methods of controlling the LBAM population.

Some expressed concerns regarding the unfair economic effects the quarantine has had on domestic growers. They claim foreign growers benefit because American growers are required to have LBAM-free fields in order to ship their product between states, while foreign growers are required to have only LBAM-free shipments.

Additionally, several commenters expressed concerns that organic and small family farms are being forced to either use pesticides, which renders them non-organic, or shut down their farms entirely.

Background

In March of 2007, the APHIS claimed it confirmed the LBAM was found in Alameda County and then in Santa Cruz and Monterey, and eight Bay Area counties, including the entire City of San Francisco, and also in Los Angeles area counties.

The decision to spray pesticides was made by the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), and residents state-wide fought to stop the process.

Over 60 square miles of residential and agricultural space was sprayed over four nights in Monterey county and two nights in Santa Cruz county in the autumn of 2007. The pesticide sprayed contained E. postvittana attractant sex pheromones as its active ingredient, among other substances that were not revealed to the public. Within days, hundreds of people complained they experienced adverse health effects as a result of the spraying.

As the public outcry across California grew, the CDFA announced it would suspended the LBAM eradication effort due to poor weather. After multiple lawsuits were filed in 2008, judges in Monterey and Santa Cruz county then halted any further spraying until an environmental impact report could be completed. Shortly after that, the governor of California announced the spray program would be suspended until tests on the pesticide's toxicity could be conducted.

In 2010, the CDFA released the Environmental Impact Report for its LBAM eradication program, and the possibility of aerially spraying was still included. The newly released document said that the eradication program was planned to last seven years.

In response to the release of the EIR, Stop the Spray East Bay made the following statement in 2010: “Like the rest of the LBAM program, this EIR is not based on science. Peer-reviewed scientific studies released during the past year confirm that LBAM is a minor pest elsewhere, unlikely to spread here as CDFA has predicted, and easily controlled if necessary by low-impact methods in agriculture. The science supports the conclusion that we do not need this expensive, statewide program of chemical and other treatments in residential neighborhoods."

In March of 2010, shortly after the release of the EIR, the CDFA stated in a notice of determination that its objective is to eradicate LBAM from the entire state of California, releasing an eradication program area map that includes the majority of the state and all of its largest cities and most densely populated urban residential areas.

Light Brown Apple Moth Eradication Area (2010)

Light Brown Apple Moth (Epiphyas postvittana), Photo: Danny Chapman from Oxford, England.