Not-so-favorite son: Later this month, Michael Dellums, son of ex-Congressman Ron Dellums, comes up for his sixth parole hearing at Soledad State Prison. Way back in 1979, when the younger Dellums was just 22, an Alameda County jury convicted him of second-degree murder for shooting someone over a $20 bag of weed. Judge Harold Rove gave him eighteen years to life.
Dellums, now 46, is a forgotten man. His parole hearings and inevitable denials from the state parole board used to at least warrant a "From Staff Reports" item in the Tribune. Not so for his last hearing a year ago. As for the old man, he seems to have all but written off his delinquent kid. In the dedication page from his memoir, Lying with the Lions, Papa Dellums acknowledges all his kids except for Michael, who was born during the divorce proceedings that ended his first marriage.
Ron Dellums always walked on water in the eyes of his constituents, who liked to call him the "conscience of the Congress." The legislator certainly could wax eloquent about the need for society to confront the epidemic of drugs and violence in the black community and the intertwined social justice issues. But when it came to his own pot-smokin', gat-totin' son, Dellums has chosen to forget rather than confront.
In a 1988 Q&A with Express interviewer Ken Kelley, Ron Dellums was lamenting the lack of options available to young black men who then choose a life of crime and end up in the slammer. Kelley asked, "Your son by your first marriage is in jail for armed robbery and murder. Do you feel that you could have done something different, as a parent, to have prevented his troubles?" Dellums tersely replied, "You're in an area that I don't want to get into. And I did not raise him. ... I don't want to deal with that."
Michael Dellums, meanwhile, has continued to get in trouble behind bars. In 1995, the parole board refused to grant his release, citing his lengthy disciplinary record, reportedly the result of his refusing to work. Three years later, the board again turned him down, citing bad behavior, and sent him back for a minimum of three more years. Bill Sessa, a spokesman for the state Board of Prison Terms, says it's unusual for the board to issue two consecutive three-year denials as it did for the younger Dellums. Sessa didn't know the details of the case, but says the board's previous denials indicate "they're concerned about this guy."
This upcoming hearing might be young Dellums' best chance yet to win his freedom. At his most recent parole board hearing last March, the board sent him back to Soledad only for one more year, suggesting that his attitude has improved. But should the board vote to release him now, that wouldn't necessarily put him back on the streets. After all, he's a convicted murderer and Gray Davis, a Democrat just like Dellums' old man, doesn't like letting murderers go free. According to Sessa, the governor has reversed the parole board's votes to release convicted murderers in 164 of 168 cases over the past four years. And Ron is unlikely to put in a call in his kid's behalf. -- Will Harper
They'll never learn: For a public institution, the University of California is awfully coy about how it spends its money. That's what the San Jose Mercury News and the Coalition of University Employees found out when they were recently forced to sue the UC Regents and demand that the panel divulge how its $1 billion venture capital investment portfolio was doing.
Last year, the Merc sued CalPERS -- the state employee pension fund and largest venture capital investor in the world -- and successfully forced fund managers to reveal what everyone had heretofore thought was public information. Now, UC officials have decided to dig in and refuse to tell the public what private ventures they're investing in and how much they're getting in return.
According to UC spokesman Trey Davis, the information is so potentially valuable that if UC were to reveal how much profit it's making, and in which investments, rivals of its corporate partners rivals could use the information to undercut the partners' business. If the investments went south as a result, that would mean less money for cyclotrons and professors and other good stuff. "This is private equity that we're invited to invest in, and we had to sign confidentiality agreements to get into the deals," he says.
Funny, that's just what CalPERS lawyers said last year -- but a judge didn't buy it. According to attorney Carl Olson, who represents the Coalition of University Employees, UC's argument is all smoke and mirrors, and an Alameda County Superior Court judge will soon toss it out of his courtroom. "CalPERS made a series of Chicken Little arguments about how the sky would fall if they had to disclose the rate of return of their partners," Olson says. "The judge ruled against them, they had to disclose, and guess what? The sky didn't fall."
Now that CUE and the Merc have case law on their side, odds are that the regents will be forced to divulge how they're spending $1 billion of the public's money. -- Chris Thompson
Do as we do, not as we say: When the city of Emeryville settled a lawsuit brought by Oakland-based Disability Rights Advocates in 2001, agreeing to improve city sidewalks for disabled people by updating curb cuts and removing sidewalk barriers, it was hailed as an important victory for the disabled. "The city of Emeryville is to be commended for its willingness to provide a level of sidewalk access that remains out of reach for people with disabilities in countless municipalities," Larry Paradis, DRA's then-director, said at the time. "We hope that other cities will recognize the urgency of this issue and follow Emeryville's lead."
But the city had no intention of setting a precedent of barrier-free access to sidewalks called for under the Americans with Disabilities Act. After DRA filed a similar lawsuit against Sacramento, Emeryville joined Alameda, Albany, and a long list of other cities in submitting friend-of-the-court briefs in support of the state capital. It filed one brief in 2001, when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the ADA applied to sidewalks, and again last year, after Sacto appealed its case to the US Supreme Court -- a case currently up for review.
Given the city's small size, says City Attorney Michael Biddle, it's been relatively easy for Emeryville to comply with its own settlement -- at a cost so far of about $1.5 million. But, he says, "Emeryville also recognizes that the effect of this decision has broad-ranging implications." For cities the size of Sacramento, the cost of the regulations can be excessive, he adds. Although Sacto has agreed to fix its curb cuts, "there aren't any statutory requirements [under the ADA] that say you need to go from curb to curb to fix all sidewalks as well."
Melissa Kasnitz, DRA staff attorney, says many of the cities who filed briefs in Sacto's behalf didn't know what they were getting themselves into, but adds that Emeryville should have known better. "Emeryville is well-educated on this issue," she says, "but they chose to sign on anyway."
In response to the city's action, Berkeley's Center for Independent Living and another advocacy group scheduled a march and candlelight vigil at Emeryville City Hall to coincide with Tuesday's city council meeting. Jan Garrett, executive director of the center, says the organizations have been urging local cities to withdraw from the brief, but have had little success communicating with Emeryville. After being told the mayor was too busy to speak with her, Garrett says the groups decided to take action.
But both Biddle and Emeryville Mayor Ken Bukowski say they would have been happy to discuss the issue with the organizers. Bukowski said Garrett's claim that he was too busy to speak with her group was "nonsense."
Garrett, nevertheless, says there are already concerns about sidewalk access at Emeryville's new Bay Street retail complex, which she said demonstrates the city's continued lack of concern for the issue. She cites light poles that make the sidewalks too narrow for wheelchairs to pass, inaccessible curb cuts, and crosswalk buttons placed out of reach of a person in a wheelchair.
Biddle, who says he sympathizes with the concerns of the disabled, counters that the new construction at Bay Street is well within current regulations. -- Helene Blatter