Guardian wins $15 million, Express not affected

Top East Bay news stories for the week of March 3-9

A San Francisco jury ruled last week that the SF Weekly and its parent company must pay the San Francisco Bay Guardian as much as $15.6 million in damages to compensate for years of illegal below-cost pricing designed to drive the locally owned paper out of business.

The twelve-member jury ruled unanimously on most issues. The Guardian intends to return to court within the next few weeks seeking an injunction barring its main competitor from continued below-cost sales. Village Voice Media, the parent company of the SF Weekly, said in a statement that it will appeal.

The ruling will have no impact on the East Bay Express. Contrary to what has been reported by other news outlets, this paper was not a party to the lawsuit. Rather, the Guardian’s lawsuit named “East Bay Express Publishing LP,” a holding company controlled by Village Voice Media, this paper’s former owner.

The current owners of the Express, a handful of investors led by Stephen Buel, longtime editor of the paper, and Hal Brody, former owner of The Pitch in Kansas City, purchased the assets of the paper last May and have no relationship with Village Voice Media. In recognition of that, Village Voice Media agreed to indemnify this newspaper from any damages in the lawsuit.

During the five-week trial, the Guardian’s lawyers presented evidence that Village Voice Media lost tens of millions of dollars in the Bay Area since 1996. By subsidizing below-cost ad pricing at the Weekly — and also here at the Express, which VVM purchased in 2001 — the national chain forced the Guardian to cut its own rates for advertising. Lawyers and witnesses for the Guardian blamed that rate-cutting for the losses the paper sustained in most of the years since 2001. Lawyers and witnesses for VVM countered with evidence demonstrating that the market for newspaper advertising has worsened since 2001, when recession, the 9/11 attack, and the rise of the Internet began eating away at newspaper profits.

Council adopts Dellums’ cops plan

After a two-week delay, the Oakland City Council unanimously approved Mayor Ron Dellums’ ambitious $7.7 million plan to bring the city’s police force up to its authorized strength of 803 officers by year’s end. The mayor plans to run four police academies this year, the most in recent memory. The council, however, tweaked the mayor’s plan by taking $500,000 out of the police advertising budget and earmarking it for police recruit signing bonuses.

Spraying for Money or Moths?

That’s the question being raised after the Chronicle discovered that the maker of the pesticide CheckMate is a wealthy agribusinessman and generous supporter of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and other state officials. Stewart Resnick of Los Angeles owns several nut and citrus tracks in California, and is the world’s largest producer of almonds. But a spokesman for the governor told the Chron that Resnick’s political donations — nearly $150K in recent years — have no bearing on the governor’s support for aerial spraying.

The US Department of Agriculture and the California Department of Food and Agriculture have stated that the recent arrival of the invasive Light Brown Apple Moth poses a threat to the state’s $32 billion agricultural industry, and that aerial pesticide spraying is necessary to stop its spread. But some question whether the spraying would be effective, is even necessary, or what effect it would have on humans. Though CheckMate is one of four pesticides being considering for spraying over the Bay Area, it was used last fall over Monterey and Santa Cruz counties, where residents reported asthma attacks, burning eyes, sore throats, and other allergy-like symptoms.

Chang to retire from public office

Henry Chang Jr. is not running for re-election as an at-large Oakland city councilman. The competition to replace him includes crime-prevention advocate Charles Pine, attorney Clinton Killian, and AC Transit Board Member Rebecca Kaplan. The Berkeley Daily Planet reported that Kerry Hamill, a longtime Oakland school board member and former chief of staff for state Senate boss Don Perata, also plans to run for Chang’s seat.

Three dot round-up

The herbal supplement company Airborne agreed last week to pay $23.3 million to those who bought their product believing that it boosts the immune system and fights colds. The class-action lawsuit was brought about by several groups, including the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest, for false advertising. … Would-be challenger Joe Canciamilla has decided to end his bid to replace State Senator Tom Torlakson of Antioch, in essence handing the Democratic nomination to Assemblyman Mark DeSaulnier. … The Trib reported that State highway officials would like to install metering lights along I-80 between Hercules and the Bay Bridge, but officials in Contra Costa County oppose the effort. … And finally, how is it that the Oakland A’s lead the world in back injuries? Are the post-game spreads that heavy to lift? Whatever the cause, the Athletics could keep a lineup of chiropractors in clover. Last week, star third baseman Eric Chavez was disabled indefinitely due to damaged discs. 

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