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No treasure buried here
Curtis Park on top of toxic wasteland

Originally published in the Express on 04.05.10

Illustration: Daniel Curran

The proposal to bury 250,000 cubic yards of toxic soil, in an effort to cut costs in the embattled Curtis Park Village project, is a disturbing development in the Petrovich Development Company’s plan to convert the old Union Pacific railyard into the mixed-use community composed of residential and commercial properties that has been under debate for more than five years. Ranked as the largest property development company in the Sacramento region the past two years, Petrovich has developed 30 projects totaling 4 million square feet in 11 years.

A festering cesspool of toxic matter has plagued the site of the former Union Pacific railyard behind City College for decades. Activities conducted at the Union Pacific railroad maintenance facility included sandblasting, painting, machining, welding, dismantling and reassembly of trains and rail cars — activities that left toxic materials in the soil.

Citing a changing market and increased cleanup costs, Petrovich proposes to bury the soil, an amount so large it will need a 7-acre hole 20 feet deep to contain it. According to the Department of Toxic Substances Control, the toxics in the chasm will be topped with a plastic geomembrane material used for capping buried toxic materials, then covered with 2 feet of clean soil.

Considering the neighboring community of Curtis Park —with some homes over 100 years old — the proposed decision to cover toxic soil, under a park no less, with a cap that has an estimated shelf life of 30 years is not only an irresponsible direction for the land, but it begs the question: Has careful and thoughtful study been completed to determine the safety of such a measure?

Geomembranes are typically designed not to be load bearing, according to a 1997 study conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency. However, Petrovich proposes to bury the remaining contaminated soil under the community’s planned 7-acre park.

Loads applied to geomembranes may have large effects on the properties of the liner, according to that same EPA report. The effect of recurring loads, like the construction of a playground, can adversely affect the integrity of the liner material, which could potentially expose people to health risks.

Unknown are the potential risks to those who would play, live or work near the park should this plastic membrane fail. With the health and well-being of the community at stake, the primary contaminant being lead, which interferes with the development of the nervous system and is especially toxic to children, causing potentially permanent learning and behavior disorders, this is unacceptable.

Contamination in the soil consists primarily of lead, arsenic, and polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons, and cleanup activities have been ongoing since August 2003. According to the DTSC, the cleanups are slated to continue through 2010.

If Petrovich’s plan is approved by the city, those who live and work in the Curtis Park Village development should be able to have confidence that their community is free from environmental toxins. The EPA indicated additional analysis of the reliability of these type of liners use needed to be conducted, it would be wise for Petrovich to conduct an investigation of his own — whatever the cost.

Power, corruption and lies: the myth of ethical politics

November 23, 2009
by Lovelle Harris | Staff Writer

Originally published in the Express on 11.23.09

The exploration of ethics in politics is one that has occurred for just about as long as man has contemplated his very existence. From Plato’s exploration of ethics and justice in “Republic” several millennia ago, to today’s current political climate in which a call for political campaign reform is gaining ground, mankind continues to grapple with this idea of ethics in politics. With political scandals and individual corruption in both local and national government agencies, there is little evidence to suggest or support that there is such a thing as ethical politics.

One need only read newspapers, blogs and other media to see the evidence of the perversion of Plato’s political ideal in both the national and local sphere of government. From California Rep. Randall “Duke” Cunningham’s 2005 federal conviction for accepting at least $2.5 million in bribes, mail fraud, wire fraud and tax evasion, to the 2007 investigation of what the Los Angeles Times called Karl Rove’s “improper political influence over government decision-making,” it appears that as long as politicians go unchecked by the public and the media, so will corruption.

According to a 2006 Gallup Poll, 50 percent of Americans consider most members of Congress to be corrupt. The most pervasive reason for this staggering negative opinion is due to the ethical implications of campaign finance, the idea that “the money changing hands gives special interest groups undue influence in the halls of government.”

Money and politics don’t mix and when elected officials knowingly take contributions from groups who expect, and more often than not receive, some kind of political favor in return, it goes against the ideals of government by the people for the people.

While many abhor the current state of politics in this country, many Americans seem resigned to the fact that this problem persists. According to an October 2000 Gallup Poll, only 28 percent of Americans were optimistic that our elected officials could succeed in reducing the power of special interests in the nation’s capital.

It’s difficult to find anyone who believes that the government behaves in an ethical and honest manner. In “Republic,” Plato argues that philosophers should be our rulers as they know what is good and they do not want to rule.

According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Plato believed that the “problem with existing cities is correspondingly twofold. They are ruled by people who are ignorant of what is good, and they suffer from strife among citizens all of whom want to rule.”

Any philosophers out there who want to run for political office? I’m willing to give them a shot at it since many of those who are currently in power have yet to prove they are truly working for the constituents who elected them and not the special interest groups looking to affect policy for their own financial gain.

Race for governor begins to take shape

November 9, 2009
by Lovelle Harris | Staff Writer

Originally published in the Express on 11.09.09

Of the many contenders vying for the chance to be California’s next governor, Attorney General Jerry Brown and former eBay CEO Meg Whitman appear to be the early front runners in the race leading up to the June 2010 primaries.

According to the latest Field Poll released Oct. 8, Brown had a sizable lead over his then Democratic challenger, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, as well as all three of the lesser-known Republican candidates, which include Whitman, former representative Tom Campbell and Steve Poizner, the state’s current insurance commissioner. Newsom, who garnered the support of former President Bill Clinton, dropped out of the race Oct. 30.

Facing a chronic budget problem, Brown seems best equipped to lead the state out of its woeful financial straits. During his first stint as governor from 1975-83, California produced 25 percent of the nation’s new jobs, reduced taxes and built a significant state surplus according to his Web site. During his tenure as Oakland mayor, his programs and policies, like the 10K Downtown Housing Program, which created urban housing for 10,000 Oakland residents, successfully reversed years of social neglect.

While the battle for the GOP nomination has been waging for months, according to the Field Poll, about half of Republicans have yet to make a decision as to which of the three candidates they will support in the 2010 election. For those who have made a decision, that same poll gives a slight edge to Whitman with 22 percent of the vote, compared to 20 percent for Campbell and 9 percent for Poizner.

This indecisiveness on the part of the GOP could have serious repercussions when the primary elections roll around since, at this point, the polls suggest that all three Republican candidates would lose to Brown.

Whitman’s campaign hinges on the slogan “A New California” and a plan that boasts a three-pronged approach to solve the state’s budget crisis; create new jobs in the private sector, cut government spending by at least $15 billion and fix education by expanding charter schools and giving parents, principals and teachers more control over school policies, programs and curriculum.

While Whitman’s plan appears to have substance it is her voting record that is severely lacking in material. Because the eBay billionaire has rarely voted in the past — it’s not clear whether she has ever even bothered to registered to vote — her gubernatorial bid could be in serious jeopardy.

With Brown’s experience and Whitman’s conservative platform, both appear poised to convince their respective constituents that they can the take the state out of fiscal disarray and into financial harmony.

With Brown leading Whitman, Campbell and Poizner by significant margins ranging from 21 to 25 points, the people’s demand for responsible government and Whitman’s questionable voting habits, California’s next governor is likely to be someone who’s had the job before – Jerry Brown.

Are textbooks worth the price?
City College student doesn’t think so

by Lovelle R. Harris | Staff Writer

Originally published in the Express on 09.14.09

A college education is priceless – but the rising cost of textbooks is not one I am willing to pay.

Don’t get me wrong – I love books. From the way they smell to the way they sit obediently in my lap and transport me to another place, time or state of mind. What I don’t love, however, is the ridiculously high price of textbooks.

In my journey as a college student at City College I’ve been subject to the book publishers’ money-making machine for years, forking over my hard-earned cash for expensive one-use books.

While there are options like book buy-back programs offered at the City College bookstore, these only allow students to recoup a fraction of the cost of our books.

Full-time students spent nearly 60 percent of their budget on textbooks in the 2007 – 2008 academic year, according to an audit report on the affordability of college textbooks released by the state of California in August 2008.

According to another report on the cost of textbooks in postsecondary education released by the United States Government Accountability Office in June 2005, the price of college textbooks has risen at twice the rate of inflation for the last two decades.

Fortunately, there is a reprieve for City College students in the form of online book rental services and the City College library reserves.

Chegg.com, for instance, promises a discount ranging from 65 to 80 percent of the purchase price to rent textbooks, and many instructors reserve copies of their required texts for students to use on-site in the library.

The next time that my coursework requires that I purchase one of those expensive textbooks, you can bet that I’ll be checking out the book reserve and Chegg.com instead.

Although I would love to add a first edition of Jack Kerouac’s 1957 “On the Road” to my collection, I’ll gladly take a loaner of “Mathematical Ideas” from a book rental site at a 50 percent of the $134.67 list price set by its publisher.

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