The Grid

Triple A Double-Take
The state attorney general has taken a first step toward blocking a pollution case settlement that S.F. District Attorney Terence Hallinan is on the verge of signing. The deal, criticized as too favorable to the polluter, would end a prosecution launched in 1987 by Hallinan's predecessor, former DA Arlo Smith (see "Where Crime Pays," Oct. 23).

According to knowledgeable sources, Theodora Berger, the AG's top environmental lawyer, called Hallinan's office to say she wanted to review the DA's settlement. Of concern to Senior Assistant Attorney General Berger is the likelihood that the deal releases the polluter, Triple A Machine Shop Inc., from state liability for cleaning up after the company.

Whether that shot across Hallinan's bow leads to a further confrontation between local and state prosecutors remains to be seen. But the frank talk points up the stakes in S.F.'s case -- for the city and the state.

Triple A Machine Shop ran the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard under a lease from the Navy for 11 years until 1987. During the period, Triple A illegally dumped the byproducts of its ship cleaning and repair operation -- oil, PCBs, asbestos, and sandblast grit laden with heavy metals. In 1989, the 493-acre shipyard, which juts into the bay north of Candlestick Park, was named a Superfund site.

Today, the property is slowly reverting to city control as a phased environmental cleanup runs its course. Estimated to cost up to $300 million, the work is being funded by the Navy (read: U.S. taxpayers). Nobody, as yet, has forced Triple A, or its insurance carriers, to cover its share of the costs.

The DA's case against the company seeks civil penalties -- perhaps as high as $25 million -- and cleanup costs for each day Triple A violated state hazardous materials disposal laws. (The company was convicted of five felonies in a 1992 S.F. criminal trial for dumping the hazardous materials on the shipyard grounds in the first place. But it wound up paying a meager $115,000 in criminal fines.)

Hallinan defends the settlement of the DA's civil suit against Triple A -- brokered by a private mediator, but still under wraps -- on his belief that the cleanup is a federal responsibility. And, the DA adds, forgoing the settlement to try to exact a heavy civil penalty against Triple A isn't worth the time and effort, and the risk associated with taking the case to trial.

But critics contend the DA should have thrust the case before a civil judge, who could have simply taken the criminal conviction and used it as the basis for imposing a serious fine. By going private, they say, the DA will likely get a much lower dollar figure, while passing a case to the feds that he could have nailed himself. Whether the federal government ever goes after Triple A is an open question. Last week, a Navy spokesman said the service was days from a decision on whether or not to refer the matter to the U.S. Justice Department.

Judging Hallinan's handling of the Triple A case will have to await a public disclosure of the settlement -- unless all the critiques send the DA back to the negotiating table or to trial.

Acid Scribe of Juvenile Hall
The pathologies in S.F.'s juvenile justice system are well-known. Bitter adults spend too much time skewering each other rather than rehabilitating youth. It's only natural then that the system would give birth to an unhinged underground newsletter. Called the Roy A. Token Underground Newsletter, the self-proclaimed "rag" is produced by the pseudonymous team of Token and Editor and Publisher Flammonde B. Simple. The two-to-four-page sheet states in its inaugural issue, "The rag, like its namesake, Roy A. Token, is dedicated to exposing Fascists, racists and other louts perpetrating crimes like false child saving." But name-calling seems Simple's primary avocation, especially when it's aimed at advocates of community-based alternatives to detention.

One (white) children's advocate becomes a "racist goblin." A (black) nonprofit activist becomes a "house slave" and "the predator-looking rude girl with the big greasy forehead."

Explaining himself in the first issue, Simple says, "My father was either [turn-of-the-century poet] Edwin A. Robinson or Langston Hughes, depending on whose gene is more dominant." He adds, "I was a truculent street urchin who was fortunate enough to be educated in parochial schools and a respected liberal arts university."

The odds-on favorite to fill the Joe Klein role in this anonymous literary drama is a fellow named Micheal (that's right, "e-a", not "a-e") H. Fuller, the director of the Juvenile Justice Commission from 1989 to 1994 and a failed applicant this year for the job of chief probation officer. He is a graduate of UC Berkeley.

Called at his Richmond home, Fuller denied being Simple, saying only that he was a loyal reader of the new publication. But besides employing rhetorical flourishes suspiciously similar to those of Simple -- and sharing Simple's critiques of juvenile justice -- Fuller went a step further to ensure there'd be little doubt about Simple's true identity.

"You of course know the derivation of Flammonde B. Simple," Fuller taunted. He explained that Flammonde refers to a poem written by the aforementioned poet, Edwin A. Robinson, while Simple is a character in Langston Hughes' novels. "The character in Flammonde makes everyone look foolish by how he approaches them," Fuller said. "He is a mysterious character, with a nebulous history, and who is probably undesirable."

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