Sep 262007
Port of Oakland closes

By William Brand, Francine Brevetti and Erik N. Nelson, STAFF WRITERS

The entire Port of Oakland shipping operation shut down Tuesday as longshoremen walked out to mark the death of one of their comrades in an apparent container loading accident aboard a German freighter. The work stoppage — which was instituted by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, not by the port — idled hundreds of port workers and truck drivers, and was expected to end this morning.The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating the accident that killed Reginald Ross, 39, of San Francisco.The Alameda County Coroner’s Bureau said Ross was apparently struck by a shipping container as he worked aboard the CMS Stuttgart Express, a Hapag-Lloyd container ship.No one witnessed the accident, which happened about 4:30 p.m. Monday, the coroner’s office said. Workers at the port, however, said the man was lashing the crossbars on a containerload together and one of the crossbars struck him in the chest. The report could not immediately be confirmed. Coroners’ deputies had to use a cargo lift to remove the body from the ship, a deputy said.”In more than seven years, this is the first time I’m aware of a fatal injury accident of a longshore worker,’” said port spokeswoman Marilyn Sandifur.She said the port would review findings by safety investigators and work with shippers and the union to determine “what steps need to be taken to ensure that an incident like this never happens again.”A longshoremen’s union spokesman said the stand-down was not an official union act.”This is often the response to a terrible death like this, members standing down for a period of grieving and mourning,” said Craig Merrilees, communications director for Local 10, International Longshore and Warehouse Union.”It’s a terrible tragedy in a very, very dangerous occupation that requires continuous vigilance and an aggressive approach to safety and protection measures at all times,” Merrilees said.

John Showalter of the ILWU said work was stopped throughout the port immediately after the accident. The reasons are self-evident, he said — to allow a time to mourn and to inspect the equipment to determine whether faulty equipment caused the death.

Merrilees said he had “no way of knowing” when the dockworkers would return to work, but said he believed they’d probably be back this morning.

Bob McCoom, director of the International Maritime Center, a service center for seafarers, said he understands the work stoppage. “It’s a solidarity thing,” he said.

The port was quiet Tuesday. Every terminal was locked up, and only a handful of trucks could be seen; none had containers on them. Many customs and security offices were also closed.

A line of containers, without cabs, lined the street outside the 7th Street terminal near Berth 40.

At American President Lines, spokesman Mike Zampa said work was stopped: “Our gates are closed and that means trucks cannot come in … to deliver or pick up containers.”

Over at Linares Brother Transportation, truckers who had shown up early to haul away containers found there was no work to do.

“Twenty-five drivers are sitting here in the office,” said dispatcher Orlando Escalante, adding that the port is the trucking company’s main hub. “We’re basically stuck. We’re not making anything. Everybody is losing money — everybody.”

The 759-acre Port of Oakland complex was visited by nearly 2,000 cargo ships in 2006. The port is the fourth-largest container port in the United States, trailing Los Angeles, Long Beach and New York. Oakland handles 99 percent of the containerized goods moving through Northern California.

“This definitely will have an impact,” said the port’s Sandifur. She said an average of three to five ships a day call on the Port of Oakland. “On an annual basis, we handle about 1.4 million containers,” she said.

 Posted by at 9:05 am
Sep 242007

Toigo Foundation aims to help minorities forging business careers

By Francine Brevetti, STAFF WRITER

Bay Area Newsgroup

When Les Hollis and M. Nancy Brutus, both young African Americans, were seeking careers in finance and beginning their MBA studies, they each knew they desperately needed what the ivied halls of Columbia University did not offer them — a network.They found an important web of connections through an Oakland-based organization, Toigo Foundation.

Women in finance have fought for decades to break through the old boys’ network that has held the purse strings of American capitalism and entrepreneurship. Toigo Foundation, begun 18 years ago, is doing the same for minority masters of business administration candidates.

This year the Toigo (pronounced TWEE-go) Foundation has launched an online tool,, providing career counseling to pre-MBAs and undergraduates focused on a career in finance. This complements its main site

Toigo Foundation offers a yearly $5,000 grant to minority students entering business schools for an advanced degree. The president of the organization, Nancy Sims, said she believes the grants are actually less important than the human support the foundation provides.

The organization has strong ties to major financial services firms which provide the mentoring and networking support to students who have been chosen as fellows, she said. The organization also offers career counseling, continuing education and leadership training.

Sims said the founders, Robert and Susan Toigo, were educators in finance and investment. They were inspired to educate talented people from the same urban environments they guided their clients to invest in. They understood minority students in finance were the very people who knew those markets best because they lived in them.

The Hollises, both from New Jersey, met at Columbia University at their first Toigo Foundation get-together as new MBA students. They both had careers in finance before but returning to school to obtain their advanced degrees. Now they own and operate investment management firm Bivium Capital Partners in San Francisco.

“I needed the network desperately,” Brutus said. “I was an accountant and didn’t know a lot about finance. I didn’t know how to get where I want to go. The first thing the Toigo Foundation did was to set me up with a mentor who shepherded me as I went along.”

Her relationship with her mentor at Oppenheimer eventually led to an internship and a job.

Hollis and Brutus are now on the Toigo Foundation board and committed to its mission of developing talented people, said Les Hollis.

“Toigo is really the go-to place if you’re looking for talented minority candidates,” he said.

Gabriela Snyder, Associate Director of Admissions at the Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania, called the foundation “an outstanding resource for minority professionals.”

Wharton has 102 alumni whose costs for an MBA education have been mitigated by Toigo fellowships, she reported.

Over the years the Toigo population has changed.

“After 18 years we are now starting to see our alumni reaching entrepreneurship. But we don’t fund people as entrepreneurs because we want them to get the technical skills and analysis of working in the industry before they reach that stage,” Sims said.

The foundation is now seeing alumni happy to work in local communities directly out of college rather than first going to Wall Street to work for a large financial institution.

“We are placing our alumni in communities where they can turn them around,” said Sims.

 Posted by at 9:08 am
Sep 182007

By Francine Brevetti, STAFF WRITER
The Oakland Tribune

Whole Foods Market

Interior modeled after German food halls

When the first shoppers walk into Oakland’s new Whole Foods outlet next week, Anthony Gilmore hopes they see Berlin, instead.Gilmore, the president of Whole Foods’ Northern California region, studied food halls in several countries and said he modeled the Oakland outlet after the Galeries Lafayette market in Berlin.

“We wanted to design a food hall, not just a grocery store,” he said. “We see Oakland as a rich, progressive food culture and so we are presenting it with an international food market.”

The grocery, which opens Sept. 26 at 230 Bay Place, on 27th and Harrison streets near Lake Merritt, is the first Whole Foods outlet to open in Oakland.

Architect Ken Lowney of Lowney Architects said customers will enter the store through the produce area and be drawn into the various attractions of the market by the flow that the architects have designed.

The store is designed like a huge arena, where perishables and fresh produce are presented in the center and packaged goods line the perimeter.

Customers also will find several seating areas, with menus for dining inside the structure and a self-service area with prepared food and outdoor seating.

“You can get in and out fast for any meal,” Gilmore said.

The grocery is located in a converted building. The structure dates back to 1890, when it was a power station supporting public transit.

Later, the building was revamped under two different owners, and most recently housed a Cadillac dealership.

The current retail site is

50,000 square feet, but the architects demolished much of the original building. They also erected a new entrance — adding stairs and elevators — at the south end of the building, which leads from the street to the 200-space parking area on top of the grocery store.

Passer-by Rachawn Johnsonsaid she was certainly looking forward to the opening of the store, but was concerned about the parking and traffic surrounding the building, which in her experience, is extremely heavy in the morning.

“We studied the parking situation and found that there was just not much we could do about that,” Lowney said.

The market will support 200 to 225 jobs. Anyone interested in applying should come to the store, Gilmore said.

Cashiers are already in training. Job seekers also can visit for more information.

Whole Foods is expanding nationally and in the Bay Area. The Austin, Texas, firm also is building much larger layouts than previously. The 600,000-square-foot Cupertino store, which opened in August, is Whole Foods’ largest outlet in the western United States.

Whole Foods also plans outlets in Albany, Berkeley, Dublin, Emeryville, Fremont and Lafayette, Gilmore said.

 Posted by at 3:23 pm
Sep 182007

Gazzali’s Market

Mike al Gazzali, right, confers with sister Amani as they tend to the operation of their family-owned supermarket in Oakland.

By Francine Brevetti, STAFF WRITER
The Oakland Tribune
It’s been said it takes a village to raise a child. It may take the same to keep a business afloat.When Gazzali’s Market opened in East Oakland with high hopes and promises of city funding, then almost floundered, a number of agencies stepped up to help put the family market back on its feet. Groups offering aid included Pacific Gas & Electric, energy consulting company KEMA, numerous vendors and the office of City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente.Almost four years ago, Gazzali’s owner Abdo Saleh Algazzali rented the space in Eastmont Town Center that had been vacated by Albertsons 10 years previously. His dream was to open a grocery store that he, his wife and their seven children would run. Algazzali occupied the vacant Albertsons with the understanding that the city of Oakland would lend the Yemeni family some money to help get them started.Two months before Gazzali’s Market opened in March 2004, Abdo Algazzali died. The eight remaining Algazzalis opened the store nonetheless. But the city’s funding did not come through.Inexperienced in finance, the family faced enormousuncertainty.”We were all younger and didn’t have the credit history to get loans,” said the family’s oldest daughter, Amani Algazzali. “We thought we still had our dad to get loans for us. So when we lost him we were really struggling and had no one to turn to.”De La Fuente would not explain why the original loan fell through, but was later successful in securing a small loan for the family business.Not getting that initial infusion from the city really hurt, said Mike Algazzali, the oldest child. The business had trouble paying its rent and PG&E bills, he said.Further, since the property had been vacant for 10 years, the family merchants found it difficult to generate customers.”PG&E sent the truck down here three times to shut us down,” Amani Algazzali said. “But they never turned the power off because we always came up with a check, even if just for $1,000, just enough so that they would keep us on.”

Gazzali’s Market

Mike al Gazzali, left, and his mother Fatima talk about some of the difficulties they’ve encountered.

After months of struggle, the family contacted De La Fuente’s office.

“I said, ‘Either help us or we’re going to close it down.’ So Ignacio went to see what kind of ways he could get us some help,” Mike Algazzali said.

Some of that help came from PG&E, which visited the market to determine ways to make it more energy efficient and therefore cheaper to operate. Gazzali’s opened with the same lighting fixtures and refrigeration equipment Albertsons left behind a decade before.

When Ron Dillen, PG&E account representative for the East Bay, started working with the Algazzalis to audit their energy efficiency, he noted the market had inappropriate lighting — “1970s technology,” he said.

“And we had to repair the gaskets around the refrigeration because it was all leaking,” Dillen said, referring to the rubber insulation that lines the doors of grocery store refrigerators.

He scouted out vendors in the community to work with PG&E’s incentive program and help offset the cost of new equipment and new lighting for the market.

PG&E also elicited the cooperation of KEMA, an international consultancy firm with an office in Oakland. Under its Business Energy Services Team program, KEMA paid an incentive of $24,000 to contractors to complete modernization work that would have cost the family more than $32,000.

The family made up the difference in cost. The KEMA funding came from ratepayers, was channeled through the Public Utilities Commission and then back to PG&E, which used the money to hire KEMA.

The family intended to change the lighting when they first opened, Mike Algazzali said, but they had so many other expenses that it did not seem a priority at the time.

The energy-efficient lighting and refrigeration lowered the market’s monthly utility bill to an average of $10,000 from about $14,000.

As soon as the new lights were installed, mother Fatima Algazzali was heard to comment how much more beautiful and green the produce looked.

Even though the family-owned enterprise is not yet prosperous, customers are starting to support the business. Amani Algazzali thinks people are beginning to realize the market is run by a family, rather than a corporate big-box conglomerate. She gives some of the credit to her mother, whose huge smile is a charmer.

“She has good customer service,” the family hated it a hated my story they call me up to me hated itis it they can look like they were struggling as it was some you are she said. “All the customers call her mom.”

 Posted by at 10:56 am
Sep 102007

LightHouse Industries in West Oakland

By Francine Brevetti, STAFF WRITER
Inside Bay Area

Disabled workers keep troops in tissue

With all the sad stories of corrupt contractors supplying our troops in Iraq, here is a cheery one that will warm the cockles of your — well, some place.The LightHouse for the Blind and Visually impaired based in San Francisco has a workshop in West Oakland — LightHouse Industries — where a recently activated and mammoth machine spews out 61,000 packets of toilet paper an hour for our servicemen and women.The business also has contracts with the Federal Emergency Management Administration, pitching in when disasters require back up, and commercial enterprises, as well.Each of these tiny packets — consisting of three sheets pleated several times and folded into a brown-paper wrapper measuring 1-by-11/2inches and stamped with the LightHouse logo — goes with every service member’s ready-to-eat meal.One packet apiece hardly seems adequate for the rigors of battle.Skip Foster, the plant manager, said our fighting men and women want more, and they hoard the packets.

The paper is packaged courtesy of LightHouse Industries’ new $800,000 computerized apparatus, an assembly that slices sheets of paper into strips. To get it started, two or three men, each of them partially or completely visually impaired, hover over the machine and guide the continuous sheet of paper through with their hands.

Once the toilet paper — a product of S and S Specialty Systems, a Wisconsin company — is whirring, the strips are automatically fed into a glass-encased panel. Here, rolling spools extrude the paper until it is folded, refolded, packaged and spat out into a carton. If the machine belches and mangles the paper for any reason, the blind Tamara Thiesen sorts through the product, distinguishing by feel the acceptable from the faulty.

Of the eight employees, four are legally blind and one lacks vision in one eye. Sighted personnel must always be on hand to supervise or operate other machinery, such as the forklift, Foster said.

The visually impaired employees have been trained to handle this process. The new machine replaces one they worked with for 18 years, which lacked the safety features of the current one. The old machine, with all its projecting angles and exposed moving parts, still stands by the new one. Yet, Foster said, only a couple of work-related injuries occurred in all those years. The new machine significantly increases production.

“They both run at the same speed,” Foster said, “but the new machine is more consistent and produces a neater pack.”

Foster’s assistant, Mike Irish, is optimistic that the workshop will now be able to fulfill many more contracts, which will mean more profit for the workshop and more bonuses for the employees.

The workshop also provides tissue packets to the prison system in Texas, Irish said. “We are sending our tissue packets down to San Angelo, Texas, and they distribute them from there to their correctional facilities,” he said. “They find their inmates like to use the (toilet paper) rolls to plug up the toilets. They can’t do that very well with our packets.”

Director of Operations George Clark said the Department of Defense has increased its demand during the two Iraqi engagements, as did FEMA during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

“During the first Iraq war and in the early days of the second, we put on two shifts so there were 15 people online,” Clark said. “During Katrina, we had to increase our production to 20 million packets in two months.”

When Rita followed close behind, demand jumped to 42 million packets, Foster said. The workshop has averaged 90 million packets a year for the last three years, but the plant manager predicts this year will approach 45 million, since the plant is not anticipating the disasters that boosted earlier production.

“But it can change on a moment’s notice,” Foster said.

Watching the paper slip through the rollers, spools and widgets, it’s not hard to imagine all the bottoms and noses that are going to be wiped clean thanks to a warehouse in West Oakland.

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 Posted by at 10:03 am
Sep 072007
Port of Oakland aerial view
Protest targets terminal at Port of Oakland
By Francine Brevetti, STAFF WRITER
Inside Bay Area
Members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union said late Thursday they will not cross a picket line set up at the Port of Oakland by another union.Members of Operating Engineers Local 3 set up the picket at Berth 67 at the Howard Terminal on Market Street after learning that a nonunion worker had gone to work at Valley Power Systems in San Leandro.Members of the longshore union said they would honor the picket in sympathy with their fellow union.The ILWU said its members would not enter the berth where the action is taking place.

“Usually these actions are very localized,” said ILWU spokesman Craig Merrilees, assuring that the whole port would not be shut down.

Officials of the Port of Oakland could not be reached for comment late Thursday.

The operating engineers, which represent heavy equipment operators, have been on strike for nine weeks in a contract dispute, business agent Chris Snyder said.

But the discovery of nonunion presence at a work site triggered the latest job action.

The union also has been picketing at the Port of Santa Cruz and at various job sites in San Francisco where its members work on generators, Snyder said.

 Posted by at 7:43 pm
Sep 072007

vessel in Port of Oakland
Port of Oakland awaits outcome of Earthjustices case in federal court
By Francine Brevetti, STAFF WRITER
Inside Bay Area
Very much like a spectator at a boxing match, the Port of Oakland is watching as an environmental group and the Environmental Protection Agency duke it out over how to regulate emissions from oceangoing vessels, specifically the biggest ones that foul the air as they sail into our harbors.On Wednesday, Oakland-based Earthjustice sued the EPA in Federal District Court in Washington, D.C., alleging the agency has missed its deadline to set emissions standards for ship engines that spew exhaust into communities surrounding Oakland, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Houston, Seattle and other cities.Earthjustice, a nonprofit law firm representing environmental advocacy groups, said the EPA has failed to regulate noxious emissions from oceangoing vessels. Earthjustice filed the suit on behalf of Friends of the Earth.

Whats at stake here is the lives of thousands of people around the country who will continue to inhale diesel exhaust from large ships, said Teri Shore, clean vessel campaign director at Friends of the Earth in San Francisco.

Meanwhile, Port of Oakland spokesman Robert Bernardo said officials there abide by rules set by other bodies.

The port has to follow whatever standards are set out before us, whether at local, state or federal levels, he said. Of course, we can exceed those limits, but we have to be realistic about the needs and demands of our tenants.

The port last month released an emissions inventory showing that 80 percent of diesel particulates, or soot, comes from the large container ships. Big rigs account for 6 percent of the emissions and harbor craft such as tug boats and miscellaneous cargo-handling equipment contribute the rest, the inventory said.

Earthjustice Attorney Sarah Burt said the EPA set regulations for smaller craft three years ago and pledged to issue regulations for the very largest carriers by April.

We gave them notice 60 days ago when it was clear the agency had not yet issued them, she said.

The EPA said it has been busy elsewhere trying to establish worldwide maritime emissions standards by negotiating with the International Maritime Organization.

The EPAs recent proposal to the International Maritime Organization would deliver cleaner air to all Americans and reduce pollution at nations ports domestically and internationally, the EPA said in a statement.

The statement said the agency expects to issue proposed rules for reducing emissions at domestic ports, but did not say when.

Shore countered that the EPA is using its negotiations with the maritime organization as an excuse and is putting domestic issues on the back burner while it negotiates with foreign partners.

We cant wait any longer, Shore said.

Further, Shore said, the EPAs standards should be higher than those the rest of the world would ultimately agree upon. She said the maritime organization consists primarily of countries whose shipping standards are far below those in the United States.

The California Air Resources Board has tried to impose its own emissions standards on ships in the states ports. But a federal court ruled the state board had overstepped its authority in doing so without the EPAs approval.

Very large ships operate on bunker fuel, particularly noxious, but particularly cheap, which makes it attractive to ship operators.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact Francine Brevetti at or 510-208-6416.

 Posted by at 7:40 pm
Sep 072007

art & Soul, Oakland September 1, 2007

ART & SOUL, Oakland September 1, 2007

By Francine Brevetti, STAFF WRITER
Inside Bay Area
For those rising to street level from BART or a parking lot, the immediate impact of the Art & Soul Festival fell upon the nose and throat. The smell of barbecue was intoxicating and the smoke from searing meat permeated the entryway to the seventh annual festivities of crafts, art and food and music on its opening day. But once through the ticket gates, celebrants were entertained by another sensory pleasure — the throbbing, hip-wiggling music of Latin and jazz performers.At noon, just after the festival had opened and the sun was high and scorching, participants were willing to sit cross-legged on the ground without shade to listen to Blanca Sandoval. The voluptuous singer-songwriter belted out her lyrics in Spanish and English while accompanying herself an electric guitar supported by a five-man backup.Michelle Martin, her two children, her mother and her nephew had driven from San Jose for the day.”We come to all the jazz festivals,” she said. As she balanced a paper plate holding corn on the cob, Martin said she and her family were prepared for the closure of the Bay Bridge long ahead of time.

»VIDEO: Check out video from the festival Saturday in downtown Oakland

Paul Bates of the City’s Parks and Recreation Department said he felt most people had already prepared themselves for transportation alternatives. Bates was supervising the inflating of various inflatable entertainments for children, such as slides, castles and a museum of horrors.

“Traditionally, Sunday and Monday are the biggest days. But even with this crowd, I think it’s going to be bigger,” said Bates. He was referring to the 30-some individuals enjoying the music of Bill Ortiz and his trumpet at the City Hall Plaza stage. At noon, they still had room for many more.

Headliner Lucinda Williams will perform today, and other performers’s schedules can be found at

More than 100 retailers, artists and craftspeople, small-business owners of every stripe, displayed their wares — or at least their promotional material — in white tents that lined the streets around City Center and Frank Ogawa Plaza.

Just as not all participants were local, neither were all of the merchants. Jackie Scott, for instance, came from Tacoma, Wash., to displayher handmade dolls and the artwork of her sister Consuella. Scott’s dolls wear a variety of African costumes and dreadlocks and can be found at

Throughout the event, two young women commandeered Segways bearing the logo of Comcast, one of the festival’s sponsors.

Nonprofits were out in force. Chabot Space & Science Center; the EcoMetro Guide, a publisher of coupons for local environmentally friendly businesses; and Cova Music Charter School, which is preparing to open soon, were performing outreach with the community.

There is something about the atmosphere of music and food that relaxes the muscles and brightens the face. Even the normally shy, one could see, had let their hearts shine out for an afternoon. Maybe the magicians and face-painters also helped.

Buki the clown was twisting balloons into a unicorn for little Anna.Buki said Anna had told her that she had 2,225 unicorns back home in her bedroom.

Meanwhile, a lady in a sleeveless white sundress and red Japanese parasol did not allow her black hiking boots to inhibit her loping gait and her joie de vivre.

Admission is $10 for adults, $5 for ages 13-18 and free for those under 12.

Contact writer Francine Brevetti at 510-208-6416 or

 Posted by at 7:15 pm