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Thousands Celebrate At San Francisco’s Pride Parade

By Lee Romney, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

SAN FRANCISCO — Members of the gay-straight alliance at Napa High School, Carley Solberg and her friends long dreamed of this moment, when acceptance would feel a little more real.

When they could hope to marry just like their straight friends, with full benefits.

And on Sunday, the recent graduates celebrated with a throng of tens of thousands of others at San Francisco’s 45th annual Pride Parade.

Gay and straight, tourists and beaming Bay Area natives, festooned in flags, a handful of them nude (but not many), joined for the annual celebration made all the more special by Friday’s historic U.S. Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage.

Two of Solberg’s friends, in rainbow attire, shimmied up a sign post for a better view of the Market Street procession. Solberg, 17, meanwhile, recalled her amazement Friday morning when dozens of texts flowed in from friends and family saying “congrats.”

“They told me they were happy for me, and I told them I was happy for them — because everyone is connected to this political change,” she said.

That sense of inclusiveness permeated the mood Sunday.

“Straight but not Narrow,” one man had inked on his bare back. Lila Harper, 3, of Lafayette clutched a rainbow flag, a doll and a stuffed animal. Pinned to her striped sweater was a button: “I (heart) my lesbian AUNT.”

That would be her great-aunt on her dad’s side, who lives in Washington. Lila’s mother and aunt — Erin Harper, 36, and Alexandra Harper, 28 — are married to twins whose aunt is the woman referred to.

It was Friday’s ruling that prompted them to gather up Lila, 16-month-old Cade and 10-month-old Annabel and head to San Francisco.

“This is a piece of history, a moment in time,” said Erin Harper, who works as a county child advocate investigating abuse. “We wanted our kids to know they were part of it.”

“To be in the place that started it all,” she added, referring to the city’s status as a pioneer in gay rights, “it gives me pride.”

“I’m not gay, but my dog is,” joked 37-year-old Emily McCullough of San Francisco, as Delilah Danger, donning red sunglasses and a rainbow feather boa, posed for photos in a crate on the back of her compact Honda 250 motorbike.

“I cried when I saw the White House” lighted up in rainbow colors, she said. “I can’t believe that our government did something so radically right.”

International travelers also got in on the action. Martin Egset-Linneke, 41, from Norway, guided his son and daughter, ages 11 and 8, through the crowd in their rainbow capes.

The family was planning on heading to Muir Woods on Sunday, but 11-year-old Tobias wanted to stay. When asked why, he pondered for a moment, then said in a high, clear voice: “For freedom. Plus, I think it was fun.”

The Pride Festival & Parade was long ago planned for this weekend, and although same-sex marriage was already legal in California, Friday’s court ruling declaring that gays and lesbians have a constitutional right to marry brought added jubilation and gratitude.

Marchers in state Sen. Mark Leno’s parade contingent drew howls of approval with red signs declaring, “I Do.” And some members of PFLAG — formerly known as Parents, Friends and Family of Lesbians and Gays — carried signs that said simply, “We won.”

Melissa and Rachel Stiner, 44 and 45 respectively, proudly displayed their license plate, MRSNMRS, before revving their motorcycle to join the Dykes on Bikes contingent, which traditionally leads the parade down Market Street.

“We didn’t realize it was going to come this soon,” said Melissa Stiner, saying her response has been “happiness, complete and utter awe.”

The couple described themselves as “very married” as they flashed their rings. They live in the Contra Costa County town of Pinole and work in the relatively conservative community of Blackhawk, near Danville.

“I feel a little more comfortable in society,” Stiner said of the ruling, noting that strangers approached them while they were brunching in Richmond on Saturday to congratulate them.

Former Mayor Gavin Newsom should “run for president,” said Rachel Stiner, a spin instructor. As San Francisco mayor in 2004, Newsom pushed the city to become the first municipality in the nation to issue marriage licenses to gay couples.

“He’s forward-thinking,” she said. “He gave us the push we needed.”

In the years since, she said, Blackhawk has shown the couple “acceptance of who we are as a people” that is “overwhelming.”

Newsom got props from plenty of people here Sunday. “Thank You Gavin,” read one pink sign festooned with a heart and carried by a marcher in the procession.
Soldberg also said her appreciation ran deep. “I’m never leaving California,” she said.

As Lisa Cormier, 50, of Vallejo prepared her red Suzuki motorcycle for the parade, she reflected on what has been both “a particularly special week” and “a long time coming.”

Cormier and her wife, 55-year-old Violet Decker (her matching motorcycle is, yes, violet), first publicly declared their commitment in a domestic partnership ceremony in Nevada in 2005. Then, in 2008, after the state court legalized same-sex marriage and before Proposition 8 temporarily brought the marriages to a halt, they wed in Napa.

(c)2015 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: People celebrate gay pride at the Chicago Pride Parade on Sunday, June 28, 2015. The 46th Annual Chicago Pride event is held just days after the U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the right for same-sex marriage. (Michael Tercha/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

North California Water-Bottling Plant’s Critics Consider the Source

By Lee Romney, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

MOUNT SHASTA, Calif. — Siskiyou County officials were effusive in 2013 when Crystal Geyser’s chief executive announced outside an idled bottling plant here that it would soon be churning out sparkling water, teas and flavored beverages.

A onetime logging haven, this northern county had long been burdened by high unemployment, and the company’s purchase of the plant just outside the town limits would bring jobs.

But this is not the old Mount Shasta. A steady influx of outdoors enthusiasts, spiritual seekers and urban retirees has arrived in recent decades, drawn to the beauty and power of the 14,180-foot mountain that looms to the east.

The glacier-studded stratovolcano is the source of much of California’s water. Snowmelt percolates through fractured rock to burst forth in clear cold springs below before making its way to Shasta Lake, which holds about 40 percent of the federal Central Valley Project’s stored supply.

To many who learned of the “politician-studded” event from the local paper, it didn’t sit right that they’d had no say.

The plant faces no cap on what it can pump. Its deep production well is surrounded by homes that rely on shallower ones, some of which, residents maintain, were compromised when Coca-Cola’s water bottling operation — and Dannon’s before that — was pumping.

Residents raised questions about noise, truck traffic and the environmental hazards of plastic bottles. Mostly, they believed the mountain’s resource was better shared by all, not exported for profit.

County and city officials say they have no legal authority to require an environmental impact report because the site was zoned for heavy industry when it was a lumber mill, and water bottling is a prior and permitted use.

Crystal Geyser representatives say they “share everyone’s concerns for the future and have a vested interest in helping to preserve a safe and sustainable environment.”

But opposition has intensified in the fourth year of record-breaking drought that has shrunk the snowpack and strained the city’s water system.

It comes as protests target commercial bottling operations elsewhere. Though the industry uses a relatively tiny proportion of California’s water, the controversies have raised questions about local groundwater management in a state where regulation has been notoriously weak.

“We have never said the plant shouldn’t open,” said Bruce Hillman, 66, who with fellow resident Roslyn McCoy, 54, formed WATER — We Advocate Thorough Environmental Review. “We are saying we need to know what the effects will be so we can mitigate them.”

Dannon turned the former mill site into a water bottling plant in 2001. Though concerned citizens helped kill a proposal for a massive Nestle facility in nearby McCloud, the mood was dark when Coca-Cola packed up in 2010 and shed 42 jobs.

“From the second that we were aware that they were going to be shutting down operations, we were trying to figure out ways to replace that lost employment,” said Tonya Dowse, executive director of the county’s Economic Development Council.

Crystal Geyser, a California-based subsidiary of Japan’s Otsuka Holdings, shares “the same values we do as a community,” Dowse said, and is “a quality fit for us because of the resource availability.”

Many here who agree remember the mill, which “used more water, had more trucks and made more noise than any of the bottling facilities,” said Greg Plucker, the county’s community development director.

“This is one of the best things that’s happened in this town in a long time,” said Ross Porterfield, an insurance agent and former city councilman. “We’re looking for environmentally friendly business, and this is one.”

Others are deeply worried.

After reading about the ribbon-cutting, Hillman and McCoy joined forces to push for a public evaluation of the project, poring over the California Environmental Quality Act.

Raven Stevens, the community liaison for the Gateway Neighborhood Assocation, which abuts the plant, launched a study to monitor groundwater levels in residents’ wells so any adverse effect from the plant would become apparent.

Members of the Winnemem Wintu tribe, whose origin story begins at Panther Spring on the mountain’s flank, also joined the fight.

“I understand the county wants to bring in business,” said Luisa Navejas, 69, who serves with her husband, Mark Miyoshi, 64, as a keeper of the tribe’s sacred sites. “But you have to think about your future generations.”

The drought has worsened public anxiety.

Panther Spring ran dry the last two years for the first time in tribal memory. The Mt. Shasta Ski Park, which draws crucial winter tourism, could not open. Output at Cold Springs, which feeds the city municipal system, dropped to record lows, forcing backup wells to run overtime last summer. Residents, who will soon get water meters, are being asked to sacrifice.

North of here, Joyce and Chester Kyle have also felt the drought’s sting: A rancher renting their pasture hauled his cows away after the county water master shut off access to the Kyles’ supply.

“Everybody’s suffering, not just the people in the lower half of the state,” said Joyce Kyle, 77. “Letting Crystal Geyser come in and draw down groundwater, it’s not right.”

Plucker said he understands that residents want a say, but the county’s “hands are tied” unless the company seeks some kind of discretionary permit. Meanwhile, a city effort to launch an environmental impact report on the plant evaporated after a grant that it was linked to fell through.

“We’re trying to make the best of a situation where we lost our legal leverage,” said City Councilman Jeffrey Collings, who supports the plant but would like to see it fully vetted.

The plant will first bottle sparkling water, later adding teas and flavored drinks, a Crystal Geyser representative said in written responses to questions. With one production line at capacity, it will draw an average of 115,000 gallons per day, less than 1 percent of Big Springs’ output. A second production line will eventually boost that to 217,000 gallons per day.

Designed to meet top green building standards, the plant will rinse its plastic bottles with air, not water, and use a type of plastic softener that does not break down into phthalates, which have been shown to cause health problems, the company said.

It is slated to open later this year with 25 to 35 workers but will employ 60 with the first line at full capacity. Some will transfer in from other Crystal Geyser plants that are expected to close.

The plant will draw on Big Springs, which tumbles forth in a city park. The waters first journey for decades through complex cracks and lava tubes that are believed to connect to other springs.

Crystal Geyser’s own monitoring of Big Springs Creek over the last year has found little change despite the drought, and experts retained by the company have confirmed “the sustainability of the water source,” the representative said.

A new state law that calls for local regulation of groundwater basins in the coming years will not compel action here. State water officials call it not a basin but a “source area” of low priority.

But much about the watershed remains unknown. A regional plan for water management prepared in 2013 by local governments and advocacy groups said that the springs’ ability to resist to drought remained an open question due to “poorly understood geology” and was “sorely in need of additional study.”

“Our concerns are huge,” said Curtis Knight, executive director of the nonprofit California Trout, which aims to restore the state’s wild fish and waters. His message to Crystal Geyser: “If you say there’s not going to be an impact, then you need to prove it. And if you have an impact, you’re gong to have to mitigate.”

The problem, he said, is there may not be a way to compel the company to do so.

On a recent day, residents converged on Big Springs to fill reusable jugs with drinking water.

“We see the water tables dropping all over the place,” said John Hawk, 77, a retired librarian. “If you pull that resource out, you’ll see the impact on all of us. The wells will have to be dug deeper.”

His concern is echoed elsewhere. Nestle Waters North America has come under fire for pumping from the San Bernardino National Forest on a decades-old permit, bottling from a declining aquifer near Cabazon, and tapping into Sacramento’s municipal water supply. Starbucks, facing criticism for operating a water bottling plant in Merced, said May 7 it would shift production of Ethos Water to Pennsylvania.

Chris Hogan, spokesman for the Virginia-based International Bottled Water Assn., said dislike of the industry is driven by emotion, not fact. Industry research shows that it takes 1.32 liters of water to produce a liter of bottled water, a low ratio in the beverage industry. In California, he said, bottlers use just .02 percent of the state water supply. (Crystal Geyser said it uses just .00016 percent.)

Ellen Hanak, director of the Water Policy Center at the Public Policy Institute of California, agreed that reaction to the industry can seem disproportionate to its impact. Bottlers are no different than other commercial users, she said, and Crystal Geyser’s maximum annual use estimates equal less than what it would take to irrigate 50 acres of alfalfa.

Rather than “arbitrarily deciding that one particular use … is not good,” she suggested, “it would be better to put in place a groundwater management plan, because who’s to say that the combined uses aren’t causing a problem?”

Indeed, while the new groundwater law does not require plans for low-priority areas, it “encourages and authorizes” local jurisdictions to make them.

Siskiyou County Supervisor Ed Valenzuela said further study of the aquifer might just prove the “silver lining” of the bitter controversy. Then, he said, “there could be an estimate of what can be reasonably taken away.”

(c)2015 Los Angeles Times, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Mount Shasta activist Raven Stevens lowers a sensor into a neighborhood well on April 16, 2015 in Mount Shasta, Calif. The data from this and scores of private wells will help her determine how much Crystal Geyser Water Company’s future pumping lowers the level of surrounding water table. (Don Bartletti/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Lawmakers Ask San Francisco Archbishop Not To Attend Anti-Gay Marriage Rally

By Lee Romney, Los Angeles Times

SAN FRANCISCO — San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone has made no secret of his stance on same-sex marriage.

As chair of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops subcommittee for the promotion and defense of marriage, he backed an amendment to the U.S. Constitution earlier this year that would ban such unions.

And shortly before the U.S. Supreme Court declined to uphold California’s same-sex marriage ban last year, Cordileone predicted that the action would result in “a bitterly polarized country divided on the marriage issue for years if not generations to come.”

Now, as federal courts in state after state deem such bans unconstitutional — most recently, in Wisconsin last week — Cordileone has become a player in the very debate over polarization.

In a letter Tuesday, 80 lawmakers and faith and community leaders — among them Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee — called on Cordileone to cancel his planned appearance at a National Organization for Marriage march and rally in Washington, D.C., on June 19.

If he attends as scheduled, they noted, he will be “marching and sharing the podium” with individuals who “have repeatedly denigrated lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.”

The letter then quotes other event participants who have likened homosexuality to incest and bestiality.

By standing alongside those participants and organizers, “you appear to be endorsing their troubling words and deeds, which directly contradict the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ pastoral teaching that ‘God does not love someone any less simply because he or she is homosexual. God’s love is always and everywhere offered to those who are open to receiving it,’ ” they wrote.

In addition to Newsom and Lee, signatories include state Assemblymen Tom Ammiano and Rich Gordon; state Sen. Mark Leno; and dozens of civil rights, gay rights and faith leaders from the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, San Diego and elsewhere.

“Many people of faith who have different opinions on the question of civil marriage for same-sex couples have come together in respectful dialogue and discernment to discuss those differences,” the letter states. “We ask that you will reconsider your participation and join us in seeking to promote reconciliation rather than division and hatred.”

Both the letter and an online petition that calls on Cordileone to cancel his appearance and had amassed nearly 20,000 signatures by Wednesday afternoon referenced the compassionate approach Pope Francis has taken toward homosexuality.

“We appreciate the many statements from Catholic leaders defending the human dignity of all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, especially the recent words of Pope Francis: ‘If someone is gay, who searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?’ ” the letter said.

The archdiocese did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday afternoon.

The 2012 selection of Cordileone as San Francisco’s archbishop was dubbed the “Bombshell by the Bay” because he had been a key backer of Proposition 8, the same-sex marriage ban.

The son of a commercial fisherman who is fluent in Spanish and Italian, he is known as a charming and brilliant defender of the faith and is a deep believer in a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

But many gay and lesbian Catholics worried that they would be marginalized after Cordileone’s arrival. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times shortly before he assumed his lead post here, he said gays and lesbians who are in sexual relationships of any kind should not receive the sacrament of Holy Communion, the central ritual of Catholic life.

“If we misuse the gift of sexuality, we’re going to suffer the consequences,” he said, “and I firmly believe we are suffering the consequences.”

Mandi Wright/Detroit Free Press/MCT

‘Shrimp Boy’ Pleads Not Guilty In Sweep That Ensnared California Lawmaker

By Lee Romney, Los Angeles Times

SAN FRANCISCO — Chinatown figure Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow pleaded not guilty Tuesday in federal court here in connection with a sweeping corruption probe that also ensnared state Sen. Leland Yee.

Chow, who heads a Chinatown organization called the Chee Kung Tong, was charged with eight counts of money laundering, one count of conspiracy to sell stolen liquor and one count of trafficking in illegal cigarettes.

Federal prosecutors say Chow, a felon with a criminal history that includes racketeering, is running a front for organized crime. His backers, who have sported bright red “Free Shrimp Boy” T-shirts, claim he is a civic activist who has reformed his ways.

Chow recently added Bay Area trial attorney J. Tony Serra to his team.

Serra wears threadbare suits, has a legendary theatrical courtroom style and is a self-proclaimed “tax protester” who recently served time in federal prison for tax evasion. He has lashed out at prosecutors, calling the case classic “entrapment” and a collection of crimes “fabricated” by the FBI with taxpayer money.

The 1989 motion picture “True Believer,” starring James Woods, was based on Serra and his success in winning the acquittal of a Chinatown man charged with murder.

Serra has been asserting his client’s innocence on camera and has pledged to take the case to trial, and was recently asked by San Francisco Chronicle columnists Phil Matier and Andrew Ross about Serra’s conspicuously missing teeth.

His reply: They were knocked out when he was a boxer at Stanford University and his replacements broke a while back when he “took a bite into a piece of rabbit.”

So why not get new ones?

“I haven’t had time, but to tell you the truth, part of me feels that getting new teeth conflicts with my self-image as a natural man,” Serra said. “Besides, it always helps when a lawyer is visually distinct. People will say, ‘That Tony Serra may not have all his teeth, but you really ought to hear what he has to say.’ ”

The federal case involves more than two dozen defendants, among them Yee’s political fundraiser, Keith Jackson, who also worked as a consultant to the Chee Kung Tong.

Several, including Yee, have already pleaded not guilty. Yee (D-San Francisco) who has been suspended with pay, faces multiple counts of defrauding citizens of his honest services by allegedly soliciting and taking campaign contributions in exchange for political favors. He is also charged with conspiring to traffic in guns without a license.

Justin Brockie/ Flickr