Thursday, February 18, 2010

Witness to Police Misconduct Speaks to ACLU

Forum on Privacy Rights Discusses Attack on Busby Fundraiser Last June


Copyright © 2010 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

PHOTOS, top to bottom: Chris Carlino (wearing a scarf she also wore on June 26, 2009), Mike Marrinan, Beth Givens, Lorraine Wrightman, David Blair-Loy, and Max Oglethorpe (right) receiving a Bill of Rights Award from San Diego ACLU board member David Higgins

“I’ve been agonizing over how to relate to you what happened,” said Christine “Chris” Carlino at the annual meeting of the San Diego chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) February 18. “It was one of the most frightening experiences of my life.” She was there to talk about being a victim of a lone sheriff’s deputy, Marshall Abbott, and his raid on the home of a Lesbian couple in Encinitas last June 26 while they were hosting a fundraiser for Democratic Congressional candidate Francine Busby. The incident was widely reported in the local media when it happened, but Carlino — a surprise guest at the ACLU event at the San Diego County Bar Association -— had a chilling personal story to tell about how it went down. Mike Marrinan, an attorney representing the homeowners and others at the event in their lawsuit against the county, also spoke.

An attorney, Carlino said she and her husband got to know the hosts of the fundraiser, Shari Barman and Jane Stratton, when she did legal work for them. Carlino recalled the June 26 fundraiser as “a very low-keyed event” that was already winding down when Deputy Abbott arrived at 9:30, a half-hour after the event had been scheduled to end. “Most of the guests had left,” Carlino recalled. “The caterers were cleaning up, Busby’s staff was packing and nothing was happening that would indicate the police would show up. I was talking to Shari and someone came over and said there was a police officer looking for one of the homeowners. I thought maybe it was a parking issue. I saw this very large, young sheriff’s deputy coming from the left side of the house. I thought maybe he had walked all the way around and come in the back way.”

The incident reportedly began when Abbott asked Barman for her name — which she gave him — and her date of birth. According to attorney Marrinan, Barman bristled at having to give her date of birth because “she had just turned 60 and was uncomfortable with that.” Then, Marrinan said, Abbott told Barman that she had to tell him her date of birth, and if she didn’t, he would arrest her. “He not only arrested her, he grabbed her arm and twisted it as he slammed her down to the ground,” Marrinan explained. “Jane, her partner, came up and saw that Shari was on the ground. She explained that Shari had had shoulder surgery two months before and he should be careful, and he took his arm and knocked Jane, who’s in her 50’s, up against the wall without saying a word. Then he started backing up, while people were coming over and asking him what he was doing, and pepper-spraying the crowd.”

Carlino said she approached Berman just as Abbott was grabbing her arm and pushing her to the floor. “I couldn’t figure out what was going on,” Carlino said. “I thought I would identify myself as an attorney. I was scared, but I felt I had to go to Shari’s defense, so I started walking to their location. He got up and turned towards me, and I think I was the first person he pepper-sprayed. My eyes were burning, as if I’d just held them to an open flame, and since I’d never been pepper-sprayed before I was scared to death. I was worried that I’d be blinded for life. While I was on the ground, I was hearing pandemonium and I couldn’t tell what was going on because I couldn’t see. A woman came over and asked if she could help. She walked me into the bathroom and I started splashing cold water on my face. By the time I came out of the bathroom, Shari had been handcuffed and taken to a police car. … Deputy Abbott said he only pepper-sprayed people who posed a threat to him,” Carlino said.

The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, which handles police services for the city of Encinitas, said later that Deputy Abbott had gone to the house in the first place in response to a noise complaint. According to Marrinan, Francine Busby had spoken at the event for about half an hour — between 8 and 8:30 p.m. — and had used a small public-address system. While she was speaking, Marrinan said, a neighbor heckled her, making “rude, loud and profaine” comments not only about Busby but about the sexual orientation of the party’s hosts. Marrinan said that since the incident happened, he and others representing people at the fundraiser have been trying to find out whether the person who heckled Busby’s speech was the same as the person who called the noise complaint to 911, but they haven’t got a definitive answer either way.

“We all need to appreciate the amount of courage it takes for someone like Chris to come out and speak about what happened that night,” Marrinan said. “I think we underestimate the amount of courage it takes for somebody who’s been abused by the police actually to do something about it. I do civil rights cases, mostly police misconduct cases, and so few people are aware of the fear that people have when they challenge the police, when they bring a lawsuit against them — including the fear of retaliation, which does happen. Inevitably, there’s an effort to trash the plaintiff: ‘Maybe we can find they’ve done something wrong. Maybe we can say there were drugs in the house, they’d been drinking or they resisted arrest. But by God, we’re going to see if we can’t find something negative about them.’ That happens every time, and that’s happened in this case.”

According to Marrinan — who said his version of what happened has been pieced together from interviews with people who were there — Deputy Abbott responded to a single noise complaint called in a full hour before he arrived. “He walked up a long driveway and through a doorway,” Marrinan said. “The door was open because people were leaving the event, and without a concern for the Fourth Amendment he just walked through the door. According to witnesses, he seemed to be a man on a mission.” Marrinan said there were “six or seven Constitutional violations” committed by Deputy Abbott that night — and the first was going through that doorway.

“You can’t enter a house without a warrant, consent of the occupants, or an emergency,” Marrinan explained. “Then there’s the question of his asking Shari for her date of birth. He wanted to have that so he could write up a citation if he had to come back a second time. But you shouldn’t be arrested just because you don’t give your date of birth. Even if you are arrested, unreasonable force is not allowed” — and Marrinan is arguing that it was unreasonable force for a 29-year-old ex-Marine who’d been a sheriff’s deputy for three years to grab and squeeze the arm of a much shorter 60-year-old woman and take her down. In the most dramatic part of his presentation, Marrinan displayed a poster-sized enlargement of a photo of Barman’s right arm after the incident. The photo showed a forearm that was a virtually solid mass of bruises.

Marrinan also held up another enlarged photo from the event, a group shot taken by one of the attendees with a cell phone. This showed the table at which Busby’s campaign workers were collecting money, which Marrinan said had been set up “20 to 30 feet” inside the house from the doorway. “Deputy Abbott claims that there was this big uproar and he was really afraid of these people,” Marrinan said. But, he pointed out, that photo shows a second deputy who arrived on the scene after Abbott did and “isn’t treating this as any sort of emergency. My ‘read’ on him is he’s looking at Abbott and thinking, ‘What did you get yourself into?’”

Asked about the reports in the news media that there had been two noise calls from neighbors that night, Marrinan said that was a typical example of the disinformation law enforcement agencies routinely put out when one of their people is accused of abusive conduct. “The ‘second call’ is an example of the stuff that comes out of law enforcement that is totally false, and they have now admitted it,” Marrinan said. “When incidents like this happen, we get law enforcement officials giving reports to the media that are totally false.”

In the aftermath, Shari Barman was held for three to four hours at a sheriff’s substation in Encinitas, then taken to a facility in Vista and held there overnight. She was released at 11 a.m. and given three citations, on which the San Diego County district attorney’s office eventually declined to prosecute. Deputy Abbott was completely exonerated by the sheriff’s department’s internal investigation, and the district attorney declined to prosecute him for misconduct. According to Marrinan, he’s still working the job and doing regular patrols as if nothing untoward had happened on June 26.

Marrinan said he can’t be sure whether Abbott was a rogue officer or whether the sheriff’s department is doing a lousy job of training its deputies in the constitutional limits on their ability to act — but he left the impression that he thinks it’s a system-wide problem. “A lot of cops in our community think that when they get a noise complaint, they can just walk into a house without a warrant, consent or an emergency.” (An example of an emergency, he added, would be if the police heard two people screaming at each other and sounds associated with physical abuse; then they could invoke the emergency exception and enter immediately because that would be probable cause for domestic violence.) “It’s pretty scary that [local law enforcement personnel] have so little respect for the Constitution,” Marrinan said. “It’s important that we remain vigilant about law enforcement.”

Keeping Your Life Secure

In addition to the dramatic presentations by Carlino and Marrinan, the ACLU annual meeting also featured a more down-to-earth program by Beth Givens, director of the San Diego-based Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. She briefly introduced her assistant, Lorraine Wrightman, and mentioned a series of precautions to protect your personal information and guard against both harassment by marketers and identity theft. The recommendations, which she made available as a written handout and can also be obtained on her group’s Web site,, include pretty basic ones like how to get on the National Do Not Call Registry list to cut down unwanted calls from telemarketers (you call 1-[888] 382-1222 or do it online at but also some counterintuitive recommendations for which she offered logical explanations despite the contrary conventional wisdom.

One of those was a surprise: don’t use debit cards. Her handout recommends that if your bank gives you a debit card, send it back and say you want a simple ATM card instead. According to Givens, credit cards are actually more secure than debit cards because debit cards can give unauthorized users a direct pipeline into your bank account. “There’s the risk of losing all the money in your account,” she said. Though banks are supposed to replace any money you lose due to unauthorized withdrawals or purchases with debit cards, Givens said that they frequently take months to “investigate” such claims — during which time you’re out whatever money was stolen from you — and sometimes they deny them altogether. “We heard of a man whose ex-fiancée took his debit cards and cleaned him out,” Givens said. “His bank, Wells Fargo, said, ‘You should have been more careful,’ and refused to reimburse him. He lost over $100,000.”

Another was to avoid using the common search engines — Google, Yahoo and MSN (Microsoft). “Search engines save quite a lot of information, including your IP address — the unique identifier of your computer — and many also save the content of your searches as well,” Givens explained. “Yahoo, Google and Microsoft all have different retention policies for how long they keep your information, but it can be up to several months.” The search engine she recommended, especially for human rights activists concerned about information being leaked to the authorities they’re investigating, is StartPage (, a Netherlands-based company whose home page bills it as “the world’s most private search engine.”

Though Givens lamented that, largely due to corporate pressure, the U.S. doesn’t have a broad-based, government-enforced privacy policy like the European Union and Canada do, she also listed a surprising number of options for people to opt out of having their personal information ending up in corporate databases. In addition to the Do Not Call Registry, there’s another toll-free number, 1-[888] 567-8688, to keep from getting unsolicited credit card offers — a basic protection against identity theft because people are sometimes victimized by scammers who answer one of those credit card ads and take out a card in your name. You typically don’t know that your identity has been stolen until that person has racked up so much in uncollectible debt that the credit card company starts coming after you for it.

Givens also gave two mailing addresses to avoid other unwanted information: the Direct Marketing Association Mail Preference Service, P. O. Box 643, Carmel, NY 10512 and Abacus, P. O. Box 1478, Broomfield, CO 80038. For a $1 fee the Mail Preference Service will put your name on a list instructing their members not to send you junk mail, and Abacus will take your name off the database for sending catalogs. These services are also accessible online; you can download the Mail Preference Service form at, or register for the service directly via the Web at Abacus can be reached via e-mail at — your e-mail should include your full name (including middle initial) and current address (along with your previous address if you moved in the last six months). Abacus’s Web site is

While Givens said a better alternative would be “opt-in” rather than “opt-out” — to keep your name from getting on these databases unless you specifically asked for it to be there — she said that until that happens you should “take advantage of all these opt-out opportunities to send a message” to both politicians and businesspeople that Americans are concerned about privacy and do not want unsolicited sales pitches clogging up their mailboxes or phone lines. She said the Do Not Call Registry got started in the first place because so many people complained to Congressmembers and state legislators, they got the message that something had to be done to stop unwanted telemarketing calls — though she said the list didn’t go far enough because you still can’t stop charity, survey or political calls.

Givens said that under no circumstances should you carry anything with your Social Security number on your person — it’s too easy to steal — and you should question whenever anyone asks you for it. She also said that you should routinely exercise your right under federal law to request your own credit report once a year. “There are three credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — and we urge people to request a report from one of them every four months,” Givens said. “If you’re trying to rent an apartment or get a job, then get them all at once because landlords and employers check them routinely. We think it’s wrong for employers to use credit checks to determine whether you’re suitable for a job, and we tried to stop that but we failed.” She also recommends that people — especially senior citizens who aren’t going to be moving or looking for work any time soon — use their opportunity under state law to freeze their credit records so no one can look them up. The Web links are and

The ACLU’s Legal Agenda

In addition to the guest speakers, the February 18 ACLU meeting also heard a rapid-fire presentation from its own staff legal director, David Blair-Loy, who explained that the local chapter closed 28 cases in 2009 and has 28 additional cases still pending. Using attorneys from a variety of sources — grant funding, loan-outs from private firms and the ACLU’s own donations — Blair-Loy boasted that the chapter handles “an increasingly diverse legal docket, including free speech, immigrants’ rights, youth rights and the poor. We are litigating cutting-edge issues involving trademarks and free speech.” The case Blair-Loy was referring to involved a motorcycle gang under threat from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), which was “summarily confiscating their jackets and insignia because individuals in that group had been accused — not convicted — of certain crimes.” Blair-Loy raised the grim spectre that if the government wins that case, their next step could be to seize everything with the ACLU’s own logo if any ACLU members also engage in civil disobedience.

“We represented a Marine Corps private who was charged with breaking an order not to speak to the media on unclassified matters,” Blair-Loy said. “We continue to fight for disclosure of information on federal surveillance of the Muslim community in San Diego. We just settled a case against the Fallbrook Union High School District, and the Ramona high-school district recently apologized for prohibiting student Natalie Jones from giving a classroom presentation on Harvey Milk. We also have an ongoing legal battle with Southwestern College, which — surprisingly for a college which is supposed to celebrate the free exchange of ideas — recently declared its entire campus a non-public forum.”

Blair-Loy also discussed the San Diego ACLU’s involvement in immigrant rights, including a high-profile case involving a native of Somalia who fled torture in his own country, came here, sought political asylum — and was immediately put in federal detention, where he’s been held for 18 months so far without any hearing at all. “We also were involved in a case about the right of mentally ill immigrant detainees to a competency hearing before they’re deported and/or appointment of a guardian to protect their interests,” Blair-Loy said. “We were instrumental in denouncing the federal government’s summary deportation of three high school students who were rounded up at the Old Town Trolley Center. We were able to prevail on the government to give them humanitarian parole back into the U.S. to be reunited with their families and pursue their rights in immigration court.”

Other issues the ACLU is pursuing, Blair-Loy said, include protecting the rights of high school students to go off campus to obtain confidential medical services; challenging an Imperial city police officer who Tasered a 16-year-old in his backyard; filing an amicus curiae brief in a case claiming that it’s a violation of due process for the courts to pay defense counsel in death-penalty cases a flat fee; and a suit against the city of San Diego challenging the police department’s practice of raiding homeless people’s encampments while the homeless people themselves are being served lunch or accessing services, confiscating their shopping carts and dumping all their belongings willy-nilly into dumpsters. Blair-Loy noted that the city of Fresno recently paid a $2.5 million settlement in a similar case but “San Diego took the wrong message” from that history.

The ACLU also elected its new board of directors for the year and gave out two “Bill of Rights Awards” to local civil-liberties activists. One, Marilyn Adams, wasn’t there to receive her award; but the other, 18-year-old Max Oglethorpe, was. A student at San Dieguito High School who plans to enter college this fall, Oglethorpe won the award for preparing Web-based maps of all the prisons, lockups, detention camps and other secure facilities in San Diego County so the families of prisoners can log onto the Internet and find their incarcerated relatives. He’s also pursuing other programs to help prisoners’ families.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Should San Diego Keep Strong-Mayor Government?

Common Cause Debates the Issue, Upcoming Ballot Measure


Copyright © 2010 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

PHOTOS, top to bottom: Adrian Kwiatkowski, Jeannie Brown, Simon Mayeski, John Hartley, John Falchi

Virtually no one in San Diego is currently aware that on June 8 the city’s voters will be deciding not only on whether to make the city’s five-year experiment with a strong-mayor system of government permanent but to strengthen the mayor’s power still further. Why so few people knew about this, what can be done to get the word out and whether passing the ballot measure would be a good idea were the topics discussed by the San Diego chapter of Common Cause Saturday morning, February 13, at the City Heights library. Though no official speakers for or against were announced, the meeting turned into a debate of sorts, with lobbyist and political consultant Adrian Kwiatkowski fervently defending the strong-mayor system and John Gordon — Kwiatkowski’s colleague on the city’s 2007 Charter Review Committee — and former City Councilmember John Hartley strongly against it.

“This is an important issue for San Diego, but it’s not getting the media attention it deserves,” San Diego Common Cause chapter president Jeannie Brown said at the start of the meeting. “I don’t want San Diego to go through what Toledo, Ohio went through — switching back and forth from a city-manager form of government to a strong-mayor form four times in 10 years. Toledo’s people found that what was most important was not the type of government but the safeguards in place to make sure the people are aware of decisions before they happen. We need to have more transparency and openness to the legislative actions of city government.” Much of the debate around the table centered around whether the strong-mayor government increases or decreases accountability and transparency.

Simon Mayeski, local community activist who monitors the San Diego Ethics Commission as a volunteer for Common Cause, kicked off the discussion with a review of the history of the strong-mayor system in San Diego. It began in 2004, when a group of people largely affiliated with San Diego’s downtown business establishment qualified Proposition F on the ballot and passed it by a narrow margin, 51 to 49 percent. In the same election, he recalled, “Dick Murphy was re-elected mayor over Ron Roberts and Donna Frye” — after Frye’s apparent victory as a write-in candidate was nullified by the local courts. The strong-mayor measure passed at an uncertain time in the city’s history in which City Hall was wracked by scandals, Mayeski recalled.

“Three City Councilmembers were indicted and one of them died before the case could come to trial,” Mayeski said. “”The city couldn’t borrow money because of exaggerated financial statements and an understatement of its pension debt. Mayor Murphy resigned and was replaced in November 2005 in a special election. Donna Frye lost again, this time to the current mayor, Jerry Sanders.” Mayeski stressed that San Diego’s entire experiment with strong-mayor has taken place against a context of intense financial stress.” Much of the blame may be placed today on the national and financial crisis, but San Diego was bleeding even before that,” he reminded his audience. “There have been several rounds of layoffs of city workers. The Ethics Commission is down from two investigators to one, and has the pension situation changed all that much? We can get financing from the capital markets again, but a lot of other changes haven’t occurred.”

Though Mayeski briefly speculated on how the city’s recent history might have been different had Frye won either of her mayoral races — “She might have taken the city into bankruptcy, threatened to do so or raised taxes” — he stressed that in considering whether strong-mayor is good for San Diego, “Don’t focus on the personalities, individuals or policies, but on the process. A lot of people were talking in 1996 about the closed-door meetings that allowed the pension to go wild, but with strong-mayor a lot of things can be moved behind closed doors from open City Council meetings to the mayor making decisions in private with his advisors.”

The reason is the essential difference between a strong-mayor government and the city-manager form San Diego had before that. Before 2005, the mayor sat as the chair of the City Council and had one of nine votes on it. The Council collectively hired a city manager to administer the city on their behalf. The mayor essentially functioned like the chair of the board of directors of a private corporation. Strong-mayor changed that; though the mayor no longer sits on the City Council, he or she is responsible for running the city day-to-day. In order to help with that, the mayor gets to appoint a chief operations officer (COO) who doesn’t have to be confirmed by the City Council and is responsible only to the mayor.

One of the arguments used to pass the strong-mayor system in the first place was the idea that people would have more influence if the power over the city’s day-to-day operations were given to an elected official rather than a City Council appointee. Kwiatkowski made that point fervently at the Common Cause meeting: “Before 2004 every one of you didn’t get to elect the chief executive of the city, and now you do. There are people here in favor of having the voters lose that power. Why would you think that would empower the people?”

One answer came from a young man who, like Kwiatkowski, arrived at the meeting late: Keith Cory, a staff member for Councilmember Donna Frye. Cory said that his boss actually had an easier time getting meetings with the city manager and the manager’s staff than they’ve had with the mayor and his staff since strong-mayor went into effect. “The City Councilmembers can’t call the mayor into their offices, the way they could with the city manager,” Cory said. “With the city manager, we had discretion to tell him what to do. Now with the mayor or his designees, the response is spotty at best.”

A quirk of the ballot measure to be voted on June 8 is that there is no way voters can choose to keep the status quo. If it passes, San Diego will end up with the charter changed to what one person at the meeting jokingly called a “stronger-mayor” form of government. Not only will the measure make strong-mayor permanent, it will add a ninth seat to the City Council and raise the threshold for overriding the mayor’s veto of a Council law or decision from five Councilmembers to six. The additional Council seat will cost the cash-strapped city between $1 million and $1.5 million a year — and the measure doesn’t identify a funding source. Mayeski suggested that each current Councilmember

According to Kwiatkowski, the package deal was approved by 65 percent of the vote in June 2008, when strong-mayor went on the ballot again and the voters approved a ballot measure setting up this year’s vote. Other people at the meeting questioned the timing both of the 2008 vote and of this year’s, suggesting that the businesspeople and developers allegedly behind the strong-mayor system deliberately picked historically low-turnout elections to improve the chances for getting the measures passed. One person said that in June 2008 “the air had been sucked out” of the electoral process by the hotly contested Presidential primary in California four months earlier, and thus turnout plummeted in the June election.

Though the strong-mayor government is the only major change in San Diego’s city charter that has actually been made in the last five years, it hasn’t been for lack of trying. In 2007 the city authorized a Charter Review Committee, which both Kwiatkowski and John Gordon served on, but according to Gordon it quickly became polarized. “The City Council selected seven members and the mayor selected six, but one City Council appointee threw their vote to the mayor and so it made a lot of decisions by a 7-6 vote,” Gordon said. Gordon started out his experience on the Charter Review Committee sympathetic to strong-mayor — “virtually all major U.S. cities with over 1 million population” had it, he said — “but there were still issues regarding the access to information on the part of the City Council.”

According to Gordon, one of the problems with strong-mayor as San Diego first experienced it in 2005 was that Councilmembers literally had no source for information about the city’s finances other than the mayor’s office. The mayor prepared a city budget and handed it to the Council, whose members heard as much or as little about the numbers as the mayor and his staff chose to tell them. One change that was made in 2007 created an independent budget analyst, which is supposed to advise the Council on the budget and give them a perspective different from the mayor’s — but Gordon said that this analyst is still dependent on the mayor’s office for the numbers he or she crunches. According to Gordon, his faction on the Charter Review Committee tried to solve this problem by making the city auditor an elected official instead of a mayoral appointee — but that was one of the many ideas they had that was voted down 7-6.

Like Gordon, former Councilmember Hartley began the debate favoring a strong mayor in principle — but got discouraged at the way strong-mayor’s supporters seemed determined to make the mayor as unaccountable to the rest of government as possible. “I feel neighborhoods should be empowered,” Hartley said — a theme at the heart of his thinking throughout his political career. “The more people participate on the neighborhood level, the more people are involved. For years, San Diego has been a leader in neighborhood policing. Every library has neighborhood participation and outreach. Look at the Park and Recreation Department’s facilities. My son has a great job in Washington and my grandson gets soccer, karate and private schools, but we have a lot of people who live below the poverty line, and if we cut back city services, the affluent will still have these opportunities, but the poor will not.”

Hartley’s argument against strong-mayor is that a mayor elected citywide and beholden to the people who give him or her the money needed to run a citywide campaign is actually less accountable than a city manager appointed by eight Councilmembers, each elected from a district in which campaign costs are lower and candidates can use grass-roots volunteers and activists instead of big money. “I’d rather have a strong City Council that’s accountable to the neighborhoods than a strong mayor who may or may not be,” Hartley said. “A strong mayor elected with big money hurts neighborhoods. Even if we had a progressive mayor, I’d much rather have power diffused through the neighborhoods that are accountable to the people.”

“This idea that neighborhoods are at a disadvantage [under strong-mayor] is hysteria,” Kwiatkowski replied. “The City Council’s power has not dropped one iota. The only power the City Council lost was the power to pick the executive. Under the city-manager system you had nine different officials pulling in nine different directions. You had City Councilmembers giving directives to city staff — which was a violation of the City Charter, but they were doing it anyway. The City Council still controls the purse strings and can check on what the mayor is doing. Fifty-three of America’s 100 largest cities have strong-mayor forms of government. San Diego outgrew the city-manager form of government.”

Much of the frustration that swept the room February 13 came from the sense that while the strong-mayor government has been strongly pushed and is about to come up for its third vote, other ideas that could help the city have been ignored. “What if this is defeated in June?” said community activist John Falchi. “Then there’s an opportunity to go to something new. There are other cities with a great deal more civic participation than San Diego, and which are better at keeping the City Councilmembers on course. One of the concerns is with the mayor’s appointment of the COO. We should learn from other cities about how they’re keeping them in line. Even though we elect the mayor, we have less power than we think we have. The powers that be citywide and the media have a lot more power citywide than they do at the neighborhoods.”

Another person at the meeting commented on the vast array of neighborhood organizations in San Diego — community planning groups, business associations and improvement districts, town councils — each credentialed by the city to serve an advisory function. “A lot of neighborhood groups are concerned that the mayor and City Council are trying to restrict the authority of the planning committees,” one woman said. “There were three or four different issues on our list, and to me it looked like the mayor’s office, which is in charge of land use, is no longer interested in the input of the planning groups. Just as Councilmember Frye’s representative had complained that it’s harder to get the mayor’s staff people to visit the Councilmembers’ offices and discuss issues with them than it was with the city manager, so this activist said the mayor’s staff people don’t attend planning committee meetings anywhere nearly as consistently as the city manager’s people did.

“Originally, I wanted strong-mayor, but now I don’t want to call the mayor when I’m upset, and the City Councilmembers are too timid,” said another woman, Margie. “I like Jerry Sanders, but I’m not too comfortable with who might get in later. I’d like to have another mayor get in there before I decide [whether strong-mayor should be permanent]. The City Councilmembers have not stepped up with the authority they should have.”

John Falchi pointed to another problem: the almost total lack of serious local government coverage in San Diego’s mainstream media. “We need a lot of changes in the media in San Diego,” he said. “A lot of smaller organizations are using the Internet, and there are a lot of small radio stations and projects like Zenger’s. We need to pay attention to these new media opportunities and ways to support them.”

“If we came together to look at potential safeguards, we could have the best of both worlds,” said Jeannie Brown. “The media are crucial to getting the word out. We pay attention to what’s going on in government, but most people on our block don’t.”

“There have been some people who have worked on this matter differently from the official sources,” Falchi said. “Other cities in other places have accomplished some good things. I’m sitting on a grant proposal and looking for groups who are doing these things and getting ideas for how to accomplish things differently. There was a whole conference last year here in San Diego on how to increase public participation, and we should have a different form of involvement than what we have now.”

Humanists Memorialize Giordano Bruno

Pioneering Astronomer, Philosopher Burned at the Stake 410 Years Ago Today


Copyright © 2010 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

PHOTOS top to bottom: Jim Zimmerman at the San Diego Humanist Fellowship; the statue of Giordano Bruno at the site where he died

February 17, 2010 marks the 410th anniversary of the execution of pioneering astronomer, philosopher and religious scholar Giordano Bruno at the hands of the Holy Inquisition of the Roman Catholic Church. The San Diego Humanist Fellowship marked the anniversary at their meeting Sunday, February 14 at the San Diego Public Library downtown with a short presentation on Bruno. They had planned to present a guest speaker, but the person cancelled at the last minute, so Humanist Fellowship board member Jim Zimmerman delivered the presentation and discussed not only Bruno but the overall history of the heliocentric theory — the idea that the planets revolve around the sun, not the earth — and how dramatically the church’s attitude towards it changed from the time of Copernicus and Nicholas of Cusa to that of Bruno and Galileo.

Though the German-Polish monk Nicholas Copernicus is generally identified today as the founder of heliocentrism, Zimmerman said, he was preceded by a number of ancient thinkers from Greece (notably Democritus and Lucretius) as well as at least one Renaissance scholar, 15th century philosopher and theologian Nicholas of Cusa. Copernicus published his book, De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium, just before his death in 1543 — and, according to Zimmerman, “he was very apologetic and said, ‘Everybody knows the earth stands still, but if the sun were the center of the universe, everything would be simpler.’ He dedicated the book to the reigning Pope at the time, Paul III, and the Pope accepted it.”

According to Zimmerman, at the time of Copernicus the Catholic hierarchy didn’t regard cosmological issues as that big a deal. That changed, however, with the rise of Martin Luther and his challenge to the church, later called the Reformation. The Roman Catholic church launched a Counter-Reformation which not only hardened the church’s teachings into dogma — with death the penalty for dissent — but also made Aristotle’s view of the universe, with the earth as the center, part of the church’s official “truth.” Bruno, born in 1548 — two years after Luther died — became a Dominican monk at age 17 and soon found himself in a hotbed of controversy, traveling throughout Europe and stirring up both support and opposition with his unusual views.

In addition to defending the Arian heresy — a 4th century minority Christian belief that Jesus was not the literal son of God — Bruno set himself apart from other monks in various ways. “He was stationed in Geneva — the hotbed of John Calvin’s Protestantism — and dressed in ordinary clothes, not monk’s robes,” Zimmerman said. “He published a book called The Signs of the Times and a book on memory called Circe’s Song. He went to England and knew Philip Sidney [described in his Wikipedia entry as ‘a poet and a fiercely militant Protestant’] and John Dee [alchemist, diviner and friend of many influential leaders in Queen Elizabeth’s court]. Bruno went to Oxford to lecture and got into more controversy. He wrote a lot of sarcastic works that weren’t respectful of the orthodox church. He was later accused of becoming a Calvinist, which he denied, but for a Catholic monk to go to Geneva at all at the time was a bit like an American going to Moscow at the height of the McCarthy era.”

After Bruno’s travels to Switzerland and England, “he then went to Germany and got into trouble there,” Zimmerman explained. “He had to leave one university. He was excommunicated by the Lutherans. He published a book on magic, signs, symbols and ideas. He went to Venice as a candidate for the professor’s chair but lost to Galileo, supported himself as a private tutor and was eventually put into the hands of the Inquisition.” According to Zimmerman, most of the charges against Bruno that led to his incarceration in the Vatican for seven years and then to his execution in 1600 were theological in nature — they accused him of denying the Trinity, Jesus’s divinity and Mary’s virginity — but also included in the bill of particulars against him was “postulating plural worlds and an immense universe.” While Nicholas of Cusa had come up with the idea of an infinite universe a century earlier, Zimmerman said, “Bruno became identified with it at a time the church was taking this speculation very seriously.” Bruno not only said there were an immense number of additional planets orbiting other stars but that each one was inhabited and each population had their own Savior.

Unlike Galileo, who publicly recanted his belief in heliocentrism and ended up under house arrest rather than executed — at least partly, Zimmerman said, because he had rich, powerful and influential friends that lobbied to save his life — Bruno was convicted by the Inquisition and burned at the stake in the Campo dei Fiori in Rome in 1600. Three years later, the church put all Bruno’s writings on the Index Librium Prohibitorum, its list of forbidden books. Bruno was largely forgotten until the 19th century, when growing interest in him as a scientific pioneer led to his rediscovery. A statue of him was erected on the spot where he had been burned 250 years earlier.

“I don’t think Bruno was what we would call a scientist,” Zimmerman said. “He didn’t do experiments or observations on his own. He simply read the existing literature and analyzed it differently. Bruno had the misfortune to die 10 years before the invention of the telescope, which Galileo pointed at the stars and made some important observations that confirmed the heliocentric theory.” Asked if Bruno and Galileo had ever met, Zimmerman said that — despite that one instance when they were both up for a professorship in Venice and Galileo got the job over Bruno — there was no evidence that they had.

Friday, February 05, 2010


by Leo E. Laurence

Copyright © 2010 by Leo E. Laurence for San Diego News Service

With the paranoid fears of the federal Department of Homeland Security requiring anyone entering the U.S. from Tijuana to show an American passport, Mexico is now also requiring a passport to enter the country by land, sea or air.

“Due to the regulations established by the U.S., and due to the reinforced security in North America, persons from America or Canada must now have a passport or a passport card to enter Mexico,” said Alberto Diaz, press attaché of the Consulate General of Mexico in San Diego, in an interview with San Diego News Service.

But don't expect long lines to suddenly appear for traffic going southbound into Mexico, similar to what you will experience on your return into the fearful United States.

“This will not have much (practical) impact,” explained Diaz. “I don't anticipate that will be the case.

“They will not be changing the (usual) procedures for entering Baja California from San Diego,” Diaz added.

But “there could be check-points (anywhere) as needed,” he cau-tioned, and “producing passports will be required” at that time.

As when massive, security regulations were added to American life after 9/11, “this will also provide (the Mexican) government with more information about Americans or Canadians who enter Mexico,” Diaz said.

Visiting longer than 7-days

Anyone entering Mexico from the United States or Canada will now be required, and produce on demand, a passport or passport card for a brief visit.

“Anyone who wants to stay longer than seven days in Mexico needs to obtain a permit and pay a fee of around $20. They are available at the Mexican Port of Entry or at different banks,” Diaz explained.

Except when Mexican law enforcement or military establish check-points in Tijuana or at other locations in Baja California, there will be no significant changes of procedures for southbound traffic as a result of the new Mexican laws on passports.

Contact reporter Leo E. Laurence at (619) 757-4909 or

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

For the Record …

Zenger’s has received word from San Diego Democratic Club and San Diego LGBT Pride board member Bob Leyh that we misprinted the name of former Pride development director Ken St. Pierre as Ken St. Jacques in the February-March 2010 issue. Leyh also informs us that he was not treasurer of the San Diego Democratic Club during the time that Stephen Whitburn was its president.

Also, Chad Hardy, producer of the “Men on a Mission” calendars featuring young Mormon men in sensual poses, has disputed the characterization of him as “openly Gay” by Zenger’s associate editor Leo E. Laurence in the February-March 2010 cover story about the calendars. “I have never stated this,” Hardy e-mailed Laurence. “I do not live an openly Gay lifestyle.”

Zenger’s regrets the errors.

Queer Democrats Clash Over 79th Assembly District Race

Incumbent Councilmember Hueso, Challenger Quiñones Both Rated “Acceptable”


Copyright © 2010 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

PHOTOS, top to bottom: Ben Hueso, Pearl Quiñones, Kevin Beiser, Katherine Nakamura, Patrick Finucane, Jim Morrison

When the predominantly Queer San Diego Democratic Club at its January 28 regular meeting debated whom to endorse in the 79th Assembly District primary — San Diego City Council president Ben Hueso or Sweetwater Union High School District board member Pearl Quiñones — there was little to choose between them based on the issues. Quiñones scored 100 percent on the club’s issues questionnaire and Hueso got 98.7 percent only because the club’s vice-president for political action, Alex Sachs, docked him for firmly supporting marriage equality and therefore declining to back legal recognition for same-sex couples outside of marriage.

Instead, the debate turned mostly on personalities and political styles. Hueso’s supporters pointed to his experience as a Councilmember, his name recognition and ability to raise money for a general-election campaign, the number of endorsements of elected officials he’d attracted and his willingness to stand up for marriage equality against the formidable opposition of the local Roman Catholic church. Quiñones’ backers saw her as an insurgent candidate in the tradition of City Councilmember Donna Frye and Assemblymember Lori Saldaña, one able to stir the passions of the grass roots and also someone more likely to take risks for progressive issues once in office.

The club was originally supposed to debate the issue at a November meeting, but Hueso was unable to attend due to a death in his family, so club members voted in November to delay the endorsement until January. After extensive discussion and debate, the club failed to endorse either candidate and instead agreed to rate both “acceptable” — an option under its rules when members feel more than one candidate is supportable but neither is clearly superior. But even that vote, usually an act of conciliation at the end of a long and sometimes bitter debate, itself became charged with emotion after Jess Durfee, former club president and current chair of the San Diego County Democratic Party, demanded separate votes on the “acceptable” ratings for Hueso and Quiñones.

The discussion of the race began with presentations by both candidates. Hueso’s combined a defense of his work on San Diego’s financial problems with ideas on how he would handle similar issues as a state legislator. “We’ve had an issue with the city, trying to restore our credit rating,” Hueso said. “I’m running to make quality education accessible and affordable. I’m also working on a local jobs initiative. We are putting together bonds on a water-use project. We have to spend local money locally and employ San Diegans instead of people from Arizona and Nevada.” Hueso also recounted how he voted to put the city of San Diego on record as supporting the legal right to same-sex marriage “even though the bishop of my diocese held Masses in my district to pressure me to vote against it.”

“I am your local grass-roots candidate,” said Quiñones. “I believe education is the strongest power to open doors of opportunity, and the best equalizer. Everyone has the right to an affordable public education.” She said that since 2000, when she first ran for the Sweetwater board, it has started the largest capital-improvement program in the district and all its new buildings are certified as environmentally “green.” “We have the lowest dropout rate in the state and have passed a balanced budget every year since 2000 without laying off teachers,” she said. “Last year we were hit with an $11 million budget shortfall, and next year we will have to cut $22 million. How can we continue to provide a quality education for our children with all these budget cuts?”

When the club debated the race, Hueso had the benefit of celebrity endorsements from openly Queer politicians, including State Senator Christine Kehoe — who became the first “out” Queer ever elected to public office in San Diego County when she won the District 3 City Council seat in 1993 — as well as her two successors in that office, Toni Atkins and current Councilmember Todd Gloria. Kehoe and Atkins sent letters of support and Gloria appeared personally to speak for Hueso. But Quiñones had a celebrity endorser of her own — Assemblymember Lori Saldaña, who ran a grass-roots campaign for her own Assembly seat in 2004, beat two better-funded primary opponents and won.

“As chair of the Assembly’s Women’s Caucus, we need Pearl,” Saldaña said. “Pearl is a progressive. Pearl’s heart is in the right place.” Saldaña said one reason she was supporting Quiñones is that Latina women in office tend to be more progressive than Latino men. “The moderate Latino caucus holds up votes time and time again,” Saldaña explained. “The women are the progressives right now, and we need more of them.”

“I’m here acknowledging the choice between two good candidates, and I know something about that,” said Gloria — referring to his own 2008 City Council race against former San Diego Democratic Club president Stephen Whitburn. “I have seen Ben close up, and he is always with us. Ben is a progressive Democrat on housing and environmental issues. In a city with a strong-mayor form of government, we have kept there from being cuts in police and fire services and we have kept every library open.”

The debate over the race split the club’s former presidents — Andrea Villa spoke for Quiñones while Durfee endorsed Hueso — and also the two openly Queer people who have actually chaired the San Diego County Democratic Central Committee. Former chair Maureen Steiner praised Quiñones’ willingness to endorse Mary Salas, the outgoing Assemblymember she and Hueso are running to replace, for State Senate even though Salas isn’t supporting her. (Hueso said he is also supporting Salas.) Durfee said the club “must” endorse Hueso, partly because he expects Hueso to win the nomination anyway (“you can look at the numbers and the fundraising”) and partly because “we’ve never supported him yet — and he’s always supported us.”

The Hueso-Quiñones race not only took the club two ballots but impinged on the next election up for consideration, the District B seat on the San Diego Unified School District board. Incumbent Katherine Nakamura and challenger Kevin Beiser had to sit patiently at the table in front of the room while procedural debates over the Hueso-Quiñones endorsement swirled around them. On the first ballot, Hueso got 41 votes and Quiñones 34 to seven for no endorsement. On the second ballot, on which Quiñones wasn’t considered (as the second-place finisher she was dropped), Hueso got 38 votes to 31 for no endorsement. Eventually both candidates were rated “acceptable,” with Hueso winning that designation by 50 votes to seven against and 10 abstentions, while Quiñones’ “acceptable” rating passed with 47 votes to one against and seven abstentions.

The Nakamura-Beiser race was a much easier one for the club. Though the club had supported Nakamura in the past, it went for challenger Beiser by 65 votes to one for Nakamura and 10 for no endorsement. The key issue appeared to be whether the school district’s construction projects should be covered by Project Labor Agreements (PLA’s). PLA’s are under major attack from Republicans and libertarians who regard them as giveaways to organized labor — and Nakamura shocked her audience when she said, “I am vehemently not in support of PLA’s,” and added that they had been foisted onto the district by a new board majority elected two years after her.

“I wholeheartedly support PLA’s,” Beiser said. “They set up guidelines for contractors who want to build our schools that we need to pay workers a fair wage, offer benefits including health care, and hire workers from San Diego. Katherine and I have a difference. I think it’s so important to hire local workers and keep San Diego’s money in San Diego.” The two also battled over teacher layoffs, with Beiser saying that Nakamura had “voted to fire 900 teachers two years ago,” while Nakamura said no teachers had been fired — they had simply been sent layoff notices until the state legislature restored the school district’s funds, whereupon the teachers were brought back.

The club also considered an endorsement in City Council District 2, currently held by Republican Kevin Faulconer. Democrats Patrick Finucane and Jim Morrison appeared before the club and talked about the city’s general problems as well as one specific to their district: the proliferation of loud, noisy bars in Pacific Beach. Any hope Morrison might have had for winning the club’s support was dashed when, after the candidates had finished presenting themselves and had left the room so the club could debate the race, political action vice-president Alex Sachs read the answers to the club’s questionnaire on which Morrison had disagreed with the club’s positions.

According to Sachs, Morrison had said he did not support lifting the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and allowing Queers to serve openly in the U.S. military “because they might get hurt” (later he quoted Morrison as saying “they might get injured,” which led one club member to wonder what Morrison thinks the military is for). Morrison also said on his questionnaire that Medi-Cal funding for abortions should be used “sparingly” and it would be “too costly” for women to serve on military submarines alongside men. Finucane won the endorsement with 63 votes to four for Morrison and 11 for no endorsement.

In addition to the endorsement debates, the club also heard presentations from Gayl Jaaskelainen on how to apply for the California Redistricting Commission, which will draw new districts for the state legislature after the 2010 census; and from former president Jeri Dilno about the current status of the Pride organization and events. Dilno announced that former Pride board president Philip Princetta and the two other members who approved Princetta’s controversial (and since returned) $5,000 stipend have resigned. Before they quit, Princetta and the other members appointed Suanne Pauley, Debra McEntee and Joe Mayer to form a five-member Pride board, and that group in turn added Judy Schein, Chris Shaw, Jeri Dilno, Andrea Villa, Bob Leyh and Larry Ramey to fill out the board. (Pride’s bylaws state that the board can have any number of members between four and 20.)

“My first statement is don’t believe everything you read in the papers,” Dilno joked about Pride. She commented wryly that the San Diego Democratic Club is not “taking over” Pride — despite the presence of two former club presidents, herself and Villa, on the new Pride board, along with current club development vice-president Leyh — and expressed confidence that the 2010 Pride events will take place on schedule (the celebration is scheduled for July 17-18) and be “a good Pride.” Dilno refused to comment on whether the new board will rehire executive director Ron deHarte — whose January 5 firing by the Princetta-led board led to a community controversy over Pride and its future — or the two other Pride staff members, Ken St. Pierre and Jeff Rolando, who quit in support of him.

Finally, the club re-elected the full slate of officers from 2009 to continue in 2010. They are: Larry Baza, president; Alex Sachs, vice-president for political action; Jeri Dilno, executive vice-president; Bob Leyh, vice-president for development; Brad Jacobsen, secretary; and John Gordon, treasurer.