In case you were wondering: Saatchi & Saatchi S got a San Francisco Green Business award, too.

Similarly, Newsom wished to paint himself as America's environmental mayor without throwing his weight behind policies that could make a difference.

Cities can actually change humanity's energy consumption, a notion Michael Bloomberg has embraced by promising to build a million new apartments in already-dense New York to reduce East Coast sprawl. A proportional equivalent in smaller San Francisco would mean adding merely 50,000 new apartments. And to be honest, such a local measure would have an imperceptible effect on climate change. But concrete environmental steps — to be distinguished from electric sports car photo ops and green business awards — become significant when looked at the old-fashioned way: Do they improve the world we see, smell, and taste? Bay Area urban infill could save a few thousand acres of Valley oak from Central Valley sprawl.

On a similar note, stopping the incautious dumping of mislabeled hazardous waste by the likes of Sims Metal Management wouldn't save the polar bears. But it could theoretically prevent another Love Canal–type disaster, a distinction muddied by the company's official San Francisco Green Business award.


In other news: Told ya! In a July 29 column, I warned readers that an advertisement run by a major bank in the San Francisco Chronicle seemed intended to lure mom-and-pop investors into possible financial disaster. A Nov. 9 bankruptcy filing, and a follow-up Securities and Exchange Commission filing on Nov. 11, suggest my warning was valid.

On Sunday, July 12, Advanta Corp., once a top supplier of credit cards to small businesses, ran an advertisement in the Chronicle's business section that announced, "You can now earn: 1 year — 11.00 percent."

Fast forward to the present: As foretold in SF "Financial Nostradamus" Weekly, investors now seem doomed to receive pennies on the dollar.

It was possible to see this train wreck in the making — with the help of retired bank examiner Richard Newsom — because Advanta's balance sheet suggested the floundering company was giving investors faulty information on the prospectus for the Chronicle-advertised notes, glossing over the company's precarious condition.

Now, investors holding the $138 million notes outstanding must get in line with creditors grubbing for the $100 million in cash the bank has left. Last week, however, Advanta released financial documents stating that the $100 million will be used to meet "ongoing operations as they come due during the Chapter 11 case, including payment of employee salaries and benefits in the ordinary course of business."

This suggests that the money will not be used to pay back investors who responded to the Chronicle ad. An Advanta spokesman told me a plan to repay the investors "has not yet been formulated."

I asked whether the company was being criminally investigated for offering investments it's ill-prepared to pay back. The company declined to give a direct answer.

"There is not, nor has there ever been, a Ponzi scheme," the spokesman wrote in an e-mailed statement. "The company believes it is in full compliance with all regulatory rules and regulations."

For William Black, a federal regulator during the savings and loan crisis and now professor of economics and law at the University of Missouri–Kansas City, Advanta's doomed Chronicle offer highlights flaws in the financial regulatory system. Advanta "knew they were in desperate trouble," he said. "They knew they couldn't have sold it to sophisticated investors. So they sold it to people who are vulnerable to this kind of offer."

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