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News: Legal Speedbump -- Bari verdict is a rare victory for civil rights.
News: WIC's Nixes -- Organic-minded moms flustered by voucher restrictions.
Happening People: Ryan, David and Nathaniel Klute.
The city of Eugene has settled a lawsuit by victims of a June 1, 1997 incident in which police doused non-violent tree sitters with pepper spray, according to a plaintiff.
Tree sitter Jim Flynn says the city agreed this week to pay $30,000 to the three plaintiffs, train command officers in properly handling non-violent civil disobedience and political demonstrations, and issue a statement that the June 1st incident caused the city to reconsider and rewrite its pepper spray policy.
"We're happy the city finally conceded some responsibility for June 1st, but we thought the final settlement was weak," Flynn says.
One third of the $30,000 will go to pay to the plaintiffs' attorneys, Flynn says. The training provision and statement provisions of the settlement are "meaningless" because the city may determine how it trains officers and can claim it has already slightly changed its pepper spray policy, he says. The city doesn't admit any wrongdoing in the settlement, Flynn says.
Labor activist and artist Trim Bissell is gone and he will be missed. He was one of our treasures, one of Eugene's enigmatic yet influential individuals who manage to step up out of the daily grind and live their lives with conviction and integrity. The Register-Guard did a decent little piece on Bissell on the bottom of Section D June 18, noting at the end that sales of his artwork will help cover his uninsured medical expenses. Looking down from his cloud, Bissell is probably laughing at what it takes to get his story covered. We hear former R-G reporter Kimber Williams wanted to profile Bissell to support the medical fund-raising, but R-G management canned the story because Bissell was involved in fighting the R-G's union-busting activities. Others will carry on, Trim, and we won't forget you.
A key vote on the West Eugene Parkway is happening this week that could, hopefully, mothball the WEP. But even if the City Council nixes the WEP amendments, this idiotic project could lie dormant and then years from now rise again from the west Eugene swamps like some radioactive mutant. It's been a frustrating process to watch with county boards and commissions and Springfield officials shrugging off an active role despite the fact that WEP will delay or kill many regionally important road projects. If Eugene Councilor Scott Meisner is indeed the swing vote on this issue, let's hope he exercises his common sense by voting "no" on the WEP.
Last week in Slant we noted that Westwood Unfinished Furniture now has sustainably grown outdoor furniture. We didn't expect that from a conventional store. We probably should have mentioned that Westwood is not the first. Jack Bates at Down to Earth reminds us his store has carried the same furniture for the past three years. Did we miss anyone else?
SLANT includes short opinion pieces and rumor-chasing notes compiled by the EW staff. Heard any good rumors lately? Contact Ted Taylor at 484-0519, email@example.com
Plaintiffs initially proposed a settlement of $250,000, a memorial plaque at the Broadway and Charnelton site and a ban on using pepper spray against non-violent protesters. "We felt like they toyed with us with the policy changes and never really intended to do anything," Flynn says.
Flynn says he and the other plaintiffs, Josh Laughlin and Brett Cole, found the legal process bewildering. "We were totally inexperienced," he says. Flynn says they decided to settle because they lacked the resources for a long legal fight with an uncertain outcome.
Five years ago, Eugene police used dozens of cans of pepper spray against tree sitters and protesters opposed to cutting down some of downtown's largest trees for a parking garage. Police in a fire truck rescue bucket cut Flynn's pants to his crotch to expose more flesh, allowing the spray to burn his genitals and anus. Officers punched Flynn in the arms and ribs over and over, twisted his feet and yanked his head back by the hair, all while he hung 40 ft. up in a tree, according to court documents and videotapes.
"We're pretty positive the city finally admitted something and it's over," Flynn says. Despite the lack of a pepper spray policy change, Flynn says the city is now far less likely to use the spray against non-violent demonstrators. "I think it [June 1st] already did change things. I don't think the settlement changed things." - Alan Pittman
Spiraling retirement and health care costs for public employees are eating away big chunks of the city budget, former Eugene City Manager Jim Johnson warned the mayor and council in a departing memo.
In the last five years, PERS (Public Employee Retirement System) costs increased $5 million. If the increase hadn't happened, "that money would have paid for somewhere around 80 to 90 new employees to deliver more quality or quantity of city services," Johnson wrote in the April 11 memo.
Over the same five years, rising health costs took $2 million out of the city budget. In five years, PERS costs for the city increased at an average of 12 percent per year and health cost increases averaged 8 percent per year. At the time, inflation was increasing at only 2 to 3 percent per year.
There's no easy solution to controlling PERS and health costs, according to Johnson. He suggested contracting out city jobs, an early retirement program for city employees, and continuing legal action against costly state PERS policies.
With such rising personnel costs, Johnson predicted that city revenues will not keep pace with expenses. Johnson said he was "not very hopeful" that taxpayers will vote for additional taxes. To address the shortfall, Johnson suggested:
Ç Diversifying the city's income base to include alternatives such as a sales tax, gross receipts tax, and business licensing fees.
Ç Cutting the city budget by eliminating some service areas rather than across-the-board cuts.
Ç Prioritizing spending to protect the public's huge investment in city buildings, streets and infrastructure.
Ç Annexing the unincorporated areas of River road and Santa Clara so residents there pay there fair share for city services.
Ç Encouraging the construction or renovation of buildings to increase the city's tax base and revenues.
Ç Using urban renewal money to buy and clean up and consolidate parcels of underused industrial and commercial lands for resale to the private sector.
Ç Creating new special taxing districts to circumvent Measures 47/50 restrictions. (The region could vote for a metropolitan services district to create after school activities for youth, for example.)
Johnson warned that staff should be "very diligent" to avoid cost overruns in replacing the region's criminal justice computer system. "You don't want it to become a state DMV computer fiasco."
Johnson was named city manager in 1998 after city unions and executive managers pushed the City Council to fire then manager Vicki Elmer. Ironically, Johnson now complains that the mayor and council listen too much to unions. Some elected officials "listen more to union officials than to managers of the city," Johnson said, adding, "the problem is one of believing what you're being told simply because the information comes from a union official rather than a city manager." - Alan Pittman
Local environmentalists were in Washington, D.C., last week lobbying to protect national forests from both the White House and the U.S. Forest Service.
Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth testified before the House Resources Committee June 12 about the environmental "process predicament" that restricts logging on national forests.
"Today's hearing is a set-up for the Bush administration to cook up a 'solution' to the problem that will undoubtedly be a timber industry 'wish list' to weaken our environmental safeguards," says Doug Heiken of Oregon Natural Resources Council in a press release. "The bottom line is that the Bush administration is doing industry's bidding by attacking environmental safeguards to make it easier for the timber industry to destroy our public land legacy."
Jasmine Minbashian of the Northwest Old-Growth Campaign agrees, saying, "The real problem is that the Forest Service continues to propose destructive projects in sensitive areas like roadless areas, old-growth and watersheds that supply clean drinking water. The real solution is to stop logging in these sensitive areas and begin to restore the damage from logging excesses of the past. Restoration is something that everyone can get behind, so it won't get bogged down in analysis."
"Environmental review shines a bright light on the dark truth of forest destruction, species extinction, and impaired water quality," says James Johnston of Cascadia Wildlands Project. "The Bush administration wants to pull the wool over the eyes of the public and ignore the serious consequences of forest destruction."
The timber industry currently has suits pending to remove both the spotted owl and marbled murrelet from the threatened species list, and to get rid of requirements to survey and protect wildlife on federal forests.
This week (June 19) as EW goes to press, the Eugene City Council is holding a work session and may vote on amendments to the West Eugene Parkway (WEP). If the vote is delayed, it will likely be rescheduled for Monday, July 8. The council vote is seen as a key decision, but not the final decision on the future of the $88 million highway.
The battle over WEP is being waged on several fronts. Last month Eugene and Springfield land use and transportation advocates went over local officials' heads and voiced their concerns at the May 14 Oregon Transportation Commission (OTC) meeting in Salem.
"The County Commission has being shuffling transportation dollars around to try to free up money to build the WEP without adequate opportunities for public input, to the detriment of the Eugene/Springfield region's acknowledged Transportation System Plan," says Rob Handy in his most recent e-mailed "WEP Gazette" updates.
Handy says citizens characterized the current process as one that resembled "back-room deals," and that it was "convoluted."
OTC member Stuart Foster reportedly expressed concern about the Lane County process. Out of that meeting OTC decided more local dollars must be included in funding reconstruction of the I-5/Beltline interchange.
"The decisions (on WEP) should be made on sound analysis of the costs and benefits of different projects, not on politics," says Handy. "Moreover, decisions on how to use the money should be made in plain view — not in back rooms — with ample opportunities for the public to not only have their three-minute say but to protect their interests in how their money is spent."
On another front, a coalition of concerned citizens is initiating a study of an alternative approach to west Eugene land use and transportation challenges. The firm of Crandall Arambula of Portland has been retained to sketch out alternatives. On June 10, the Eugene Planning Commission, which voted earlier against the WEP amendments, heard a brief presentation of what is involved and how local governments can help this exploration move forward.
"WEP is ultimately a federal decision," says Handy. "The advisory vote initiated a process to determine whether the highway might pass federal and state muster." - Ted Taylor
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Bari verdict is a rare victory for civil rights.
BY ORNA IZAKSON
Last month while Earth First! activists in Oakland, Calif., were waiting to hear if a 10-person jury agreed that the FBI and Oakland Police Department violated the civil rights of two activists, the federal Justice Department quietly made investigating all activists much easier.
In the 1970s, a congressional commission reigned in the FBI counter-intelligence program, or COINTELPRO. The commission found that the agency for decades used dirty tricks to disrupt and discredit effective activist groups such as the Black Panther Party, the American Indian Movement and others. The FBI's efforts included suborning murder of activist leaders, breaking into activists' homes without warrants, writing false letters to spread dissent within organizations, and scaring people away from efforts to make political changes. In the wake of those revelations, the commission, led by Sen. Frank Church, created new guidelines to check what had become a political police force.
But in the past few weeks, those checks were taken away.
"They rewrote (the guidelines) by giving essentially giving carte blanche to the FBI to investigate people in their homes, groups, churches and their mosques without even the faintest pretext to believe that they're engaged in any kind of illegal activity," explains San Francisco-based attorney Ben Rosenfeld. "So they've just licensed political espionage at home."
Many activists believe COINTELPRO activities, officially ended by the Church Commission, never really stopped. And one of the clearest examples many point to is the case before the jury as the new guidelines went into place: Judi Bari vs. FBI and Oakland Police Department.
In May 1990, Bari and Darryl Cherney were driving through Oakland en route to Santa Cruz where they expected to recruit activists to spend the summer protecting ancient redwood forests in Northern California. Instead, a nail-studded pipe bomb exploded in Bari's Subaru, ripping a hole through the driver's seat and up through her body, and sending shrapnel to the front passenger seat where Cherney rode. The only arrests ever made in the case, and the only people ever investigated as the perpetrators, were Bari and Cherney.
The lawsuit alleged that the two law-enforcement agencies violated their constitutional rights by falsely arresting them, illegally searching their homes, and smearing them in the media to stymie their successful organizing efforts to protect the ancient redwoods.
Although Judge Claudia Wilken didn't allow the jury to hear any background information on COINTELPRO, and even in the wake of Sept. 11, the jurors nevertheless found that law enforcement officers rushed to judgment and violated some of the most cherished of American freedoms, and required the two agencies to pay $4.4 million to Cherney and the estate of Bari, who died of cancer in 1997.
"This lawsuit was filed on behalf of all targets of COINTELPRO," Cherney says. Despite the program's long history, only a tiny handful fought to bring the agency before a jury in pursuit of redress. "Of the tens of thousands of people who had their lives ruined by the FBI, there had never been a definitive lawsuit that embodied a true attack on COINTELPRO the way our lawsuit did."
Dennis Cunningham, who led attorneys including Rosenfeld on behalf of the activists, called the decision "a legal victory of historic proportions."
"This verdict is a referendum against the FBI's gross interference with people's right to dissent at a time when Attorney General Ashcroft, FBI Director Mueller and the Bush administration are arrogating huge power to themselves and the FBI to spy on legitimate groups and organizers and infringe on Constitutional rights of the public," he says.
But how big a hole this verdict punches in what remains of a covert FBI counter-intelligence program is "the $64,000 question," Rosenfeld says. "I guess it just has to do with how brazen the new reich is in this country."
"They're not supposed to just tolerate First Amendment expression," he adds, "they're supposed to champion it. They took an oath to uphold the Constitution and some of the people who they're working so hard to oppress are people who may hold the best solutions to all the modern problems that we confront."
Are activists any safer now in the wake of the landmark case? The simple answer is probably no, but they do have some new tools with which to fight similar circumstances.
Lauren Regan, a Eugene attorney who represents many activists here including Earth First!ers, says the case will provide an important legal precedent in the future "for activists and others who are suppressed or illegally investigated by the federal government."
She also says the case may sharpen the public's sympathy for other activists who have been the FBI's targets, such as Leonard Peltier, an American Indian Movement activist who remains in prison.
"When you look around the nation at … any of the other huge cases that have haunted political activists since the '50s … you realize those people may really be telling the truth, and that the government and the FBI really do lie to the taxpayers and the citizens," she says. "In this particular case they were caught, and the justice system treated them accordingly."
Cherney calls the victory "a speed bump on Attorney General John Ashcroft's road to trashing the civil rights of all Americans," but notes that slowing an assault isn't the same as halting it. "We're losing our rights every day" under the Bush administration, he says. "So it's not so much that we are safer as that we have created a light at the end of this dark tunnel of political suppression."
"Environmentalists and civil rights activists are the true guardians of national security," Cherney concludes." It's the FBI who is the threat to our national security. What constitutes our national security but the very earth we live on and the very rights we cherish in the United States Constitution? And those are the very things that the FBI is attacking."
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Organic-minded moms flustered by voucher restrictions.
BY NICOLE HILL
Organic and locally grown foods are more common in Oregon today, but remain out of reach for low-income women who rely on WIC (Women, Infants and Children).
Mothers holding together the threads of subsistence living qualify for the state and federal WIC program, but WIC was even better when moms could get organic bulk cheeses or local organic milk.
WIC provides women with unborn or young children with vouchers each month to buy certain brands of milk, cheese, eggs, cereals and other protein- and calcium-based foods. Organics were no longer an option when, in 1997, women were restricted to buying certain cheaper name brand foods because of a tighter budget in the WIC program.
"There have been women who have gone off the program because they couldn't buy organic," Says Connie Sullivan, program director at the local WIC office. "We hear from many mothers who want to buy organics."
The demand for real foods that haven't been chemically enhanced and modified for maximum production has increased in recent years. And some mothers are wondering if there isn't sound logic behind that, especially during critical times of pregnancy. An analysis by the Environmental Working Group (www.ewg.org) found that, "Some of the foods most craved by pregnant women, such as meat and dairy products, may give their babies an extra dose of toxic pollutants."
Many of the grains and grasses fed to cows in the dairy industry are grown with pesticides, which accumulate in fatty animal tissues. Milk, yogurt and cheeses are then more susceptible to carrying certain levels of pesticide contamination. According to the study, pesticide byproducts and POP's (persistent organic pollutants) were found in 155 different types of foods most eaten by pregnant women, including conventional brands of milk and cheese. Not to mention small doses of hormones and antibiotics women often take in by eating more dairy products.
Other countries such as Canada have federal restrictions on bovine growth hormones (BGH) or trade restrictions on the use of antibiotics in meat and dairy products. BGH is a genetically engineered version of a growth hormone extracted from cow pituitary glands, increasing milk output by as much as 20 to 30 percent. Canada rejected the hormone after scientific studies revealed rats absorbed the hormone into their bloodstream, developing antibodies and lesions and weakening their immune systems. However, in the U.S. the FDA dismissed safety concerns and Monsanto started pumping out BGH in 1993. Many dairy farmers have since abandoned BGH saying the hormone is not cost-effective.
"Unfortunately there is no reliable means of determining what the effects of some conventional foods are," says Debra Huls, state WIC director. "We are not allowed to take this into consideration — the USDA has not said anything about growth hormones."
Huls says with more low-income women in Oregon needing WIC assistance, expensive organic brands, except for peanut butter and dry beans, had to be cut from the budget. And pesticides and hormones used in production can't be considered in WIC's decision-making about the nutritional content of certain brands unless the USDA says so. "We look at nutritional content and availability to determine whether the food is appropriate."
Jeanine Malito, co-manager of the Grower's Market, agrees that it's difficult to consider buying organic when Oregon is experiencing such a time of scarcity, "For many, it's a question of getting food at all. I think being able to purchase organics through WIC would be viewed as superfluous." Malito was on the WIC program during her pregnancy, and while she was thankful for the help, she says mothers can get things like whole grain organic cereals for a much better price than brands under WIC. Some mothers even end up shopping at stores which cater specifically to WIC clients, charging top dollar for certain brands. "But the bigger issue here is how we allocate our state resources," she adds.
Being on assistance of any kind is often humbling enough for women, but being reduced to purchasing certain brands which are deemed appropriate by the state, goes a step further. "It's as if they are reinforcing that poor people don't deserve organic food," she says, adding, "I never would have bought that garbage if I weren't on WIC."
There is good news, however. Mothers can get organic produce through the Farmer's Market if they are part of WIC's special supplemental nutritional program.
Eugene's WIC office reports that a significant number of Lane County women have asked that WIC loosen restrictions on brands. But elsewhere in the state it may not be an issue. "We survey participants each year and we haven't had a significant number of requests for organic foods, but if we did we would consider it," says Huls.
Because "about half of all the infant formula used in the U.S. is purchased for poor women through WIC," according to a Washington Post article, it would be appropriate to say certain food companies are making good money off WIC and wouldn't want to lose the business. However, Huls says WIC does not consider brand names in choosing which foods can be bought with WIC coupons. She emphasizes that availability and nutritional content are the only criteria.
Allowing low-income pregnant women greater access to locally grown whole foods will not be in the hands of WIC officials until the USDA considers certain POPs in conventional food production a health threat, and, adds Malito, "until organic foods become more mainstream." Or until more women demand clean food as a right rather than a privilege.
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Ryan, David and Nathaniel Klute
After 11 years at Eugene's Metropol Bakery, San Fernando Valley native David Klute injured his arm in 1991 and enrolled at LCC as a dislocated worker. "I got involved in community service," he says. "I started volunteering at the Arc of Lane County." The Arc's respite program provides after-school, vacation, and summer day care for developmentally disabled children and young adults, freeing parents to maintain regular work schedules. "I've been employed there since June of '94," he relates. "I also work in the life skills classroom at Spencer Butte Middle School." In 1996, Klute asked his sons Ryan and Nathaniel whether they would like to volunteer at the Arc. "I said, 'Sure,'" says 15-year-old Nathaniel. "Ever since then they've asked if I would come back — I think I make a difference." The Klute brothers are now part-time paid staff in the respite program, working with teams of volunteers. "High school kids get involved for their public service requirements," says 19-year-old Ryan, a student in the EMT program at LCC. "I'm going to Portland State next year. I want to work at helping people — I attribute that to working at the Arc."
… Paul Neevel
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