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Olivas: Issues edict.

The Fly

Workers' Wrongs

In layoff anticipation terror, some of the more outspoken county workers have circulated a petition criticizing the county's weakness for bureaucracy. One service union steward's unofficial count had it that, as of Thursday, April 22, 130 people had signed the petition, in spite of adversarial pressure from management. But not everyone wanted to sign it, according to one highly placed source. The petition says services for HIV, tobacco control, immunization and children's diseases should be at the top of the county's priority list. Pro-petition public-health workers and union reps complain that not only is their work undervalued, but that management has attempted to crush them when they speak up about it. Guadalupe Olivas, public health overlord, says that, indeed, when she heard about the petition, which is addressed to her, she issued some "guidelines" for union activity. But that wasn't to keep workers down. "The staff themselves were complaining that the union was harassing them," Olivas explains. "It came to my attention that some workers signed it, then went back and attempted to call union stewards to try to get their name off." So she gave directions for workers to follow when rallying union support. "The union is interpreting that as we're harassing them," Olivas says. Obviously this is the classic scenario wherein workers oppress themselves, then pretend management is the culprit.

Guilty Until Proven Innocent

Thanks to the California Innocence Project and a few SCU law students who went beyond the call of duty, John Stoll, a Bakersfield man who was convicted on 17 counts of child molestation in 1984, may soon be free. This Friday, Kern County Superior Court Judge John Kelley will weigh new evidence in Stoll's case, which hinged not on DNA evidence, but on witness testimony. Five of the six witnesses who testified against Stoll in 1984, when they were between the ages of 6 and 9, have now changed their testimony. Four of the five completely recanted their accusations while a fifth now claims he has no memory of Stoll molesting him. The sixth, Stoll's son, still alleges he was molested. The former accusers say their testimony was coerced by law enforcement officials. Stoll's case was one of several mishandled sex-ring cases in Kern County during the mid-1980s. "I got assigned to two cases," recounts SCU student Jonathon Nicol, who interned with the Innocence Project. "I got so absorbed working on John's case that I had to continue [after the internship ended]. The program ended in July, and we stayed on. We couldn't really abandon him."

Bonds: Merc's hero.

Merc ♥ Barry

Looks like nobody bothered to tell Mercury News editors baseball is no longer America's pastime. Since New Year's, the daily has written 213 stories about one of baseball's supposed stars, Barry Bonds, the Giants' muscular left fielder who moved into third place on the all-time home run list two weeks ago. (As of April 28, we were only 118 days into the year.) That was 12 more stories than Ron Gonzales received in the same time period, casting doubt, if only slightly, on the rumor that Merc editors have a deep-seated fetish for the San Jose mayor. The media watchdogs at Grade the News, a project of the Stanford University graduate journalism program, thought so little of the pumped-up Bonds coverage that it criticized the stories in a commentary under the headline "When journalism becomes hero worship." The final straw was putting Bonds on the Merc's front page, above the fold, two days in a row, crossing the threshold "from following the news into promotion," according to John McManus, who wrote the "hero worship" commentary. Not only did the coverage make the daily "diverting rather than entertaining," it also gave prominence to "an arrogant and self-centered athlete" and "contribute[d] to growing public cynicism that news media are run for private profit at public expense." What's peculiar is that even the San Francisco Chronicle didn't run Bonds on the front page when he moved into third place. According to McManus, the Merc is creating a self-fulfilling buzz around Bonds. "The more important Mr. Bonds' long balls can be made to seem," McManus writes, "the more public excitement that can be generated, the more reason to follow the news of his dramatic climb in the record books."

Burrowing Owl: Plowed under.

Plowing Through

Fly was tipped that a vacant lot across Highway 101 (adjacent to San Jose's airport) had been recently plowed. No big deal, no doubt, except that the tipster also mentioned that, in previous years, the lot had been "carefully" plowed around the edges to protect endangered ground squirrels and burrowing owls. What gives? A call to the city's environmental-services division yielded only a reference to the city's planning division, which, Fly was told, employs experts on both burrowing owls and endangered squirrels. A call to the planning division produced more fruitful results: Fly was told the site in question was owned by eBay, which was recently issued permits for building on the site after going through an environmental impact report. Hence, the plowed fields. "The environmental review was completed through an [environmental] report," a city planner told Fly. "That's the highest level of environmental review, indicating that there are negative impacts to the environment [for that site]. The report assesses those impacts and does what it can to mitigate them." Burrowing owls, it appears, will have to burrow elsewhere.

Clearing the Fog

San Jose spokesman Tom Manheim took exception with some of Fly's phrasing last week, saying information attributed to him about a $900-per-day anti-fogging system in the new Civic Center was misleading. The item, titled "Civic Center Cents," said Manheim was "uncertain" how the $900 figure was derived. "There is no $900 for defogging," Manheim says. "That's ridiculous."

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From the April 28-May 4, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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