For months now, Applied Energy Services (AES) has embarrassed itself with an inept PR campaign for the energy plant it wants to build in the economically depressed Bayview-Hunters Point area. The Arlington, Virginia-based company, performing here as the local-sounding San Francisco Energy Company, has been desperate to create the illusion that the energy plant enjoys community support.
AES was at it again this month: A community group on the energy company's payroll — Aboriginal Blackman Unlimited (ABU) — presented a pro-power plant petition to the Board of Supervisors containing an astonishing 7,000 signatures from Bayview-Hunters Point residents. In a cover letter, ABU President James Richards urges the board to approve a lease for AES's power plant if it “can be built and operated safely.” ABU has received $35,000 from San Francisco Energy for its job training programs.
But there are questions about the petition: The inch-and-a-half document is suspect, charges the Innes Avenue Coalition, a community organization opposing the plant. Whole pages of the petition appear to have been filled out in the same block-letter handwriting. The petition is dated April 7 and the cover letter April 17, meaning a remarkable 25 percent of Bayview's 28,000 residents signed it in just 10 days. Scrutinizing a page chosen at random, the coalition's attorneys say they were “unable to locate in the San Francisco telephone directory [any] of the alleged twenty-five signatories for whom both a name and address were given.”
Richards says the signatures are those of people who wanted to work, and acknowledges that “there may be some irregularities” in the petition. Are all 7,000 signatures valid? “I'm not going to say,” he responds. Additionally, Richards' cover letter for the petition characterizes people and organizations ABU has clashed with as either “newcomers” or “enemies of our community.” (The phone number listed on the ABU letterhead is now disconnected.)
AES says it will try to hire 50 percent of the construction work force from Bayview-Hunters Point and 25 San Franciscans permanently. But in NIMBY San Francisco, where development is always suspect, AES feels compelled to engage in a little sleight of hand. And with its deep pockets, AES isn't overly concerned with how much money it has to spend.
In addition to employing local flacks Solem & Associates for media relations and government lobbying, AES has donated money to several Bayview organizations and community leaders. The most vocal of these has been ABU, which says it provides hands-on training in areas like pipe fitting, welding and boilermaking, all of which would be useful in the AES plant's construction. Richards says ABU's approach — training people in trades before ground is broken at the plant — will ensure that Bayview residents get a fair share of the available construction jobs.
But ABU has also served as de facto press critic for the energy company. On May 4, following a series of critical stories and editorials in the San Francisco Bay Guardian about the witches' brew of AES money and local community leadership (“The Hunters Point Hustle,” April 19), ABU staged a protest outside the newspaper. About 40 Bayview residents piled off a tour bus at the Guardian office, many carrying hand-lettered signs touting issues of pride, respect and fairness. (In what appears to be a trend, about two-thirds of the signs were in the same handwriting.)
Richards led his group in a 25-minute standoff with the Guardian's Tim Redmond, in which the parties mostly argued past each other. The demo ended after Redmond agreed to meet with Richards to review the Guardian editorial for possible error.
AES also conjured its way into People's Earth Day, the local, grassroots celebration held in the Bayview Opera House. As if by magic, AES appeared under the auspices of ABU rather than as SF Energy. Kishi Animashaun of Greenpeace was dismayed to discover the company manning a large booth there, “giving out toys to the kids [and] free popcorn.” The company also distributed gimme caps, which said “SF Energy Equals More Jobs, Less Pollution, Local Spending.”
But the AES show isn't all smoke and mirrors. It has offered $25,000 in matching funds for the fund-raising effort at the neighborhood's 21st Century Academy school library. Also, it has helped fund a senior center, which will provide long-term care for Bayview's older African Americans. AES's total charitable package is “about $13 million” over 30 years, AES spokesman Robert Morgan says.
There are other AES expenditures: It has paid longtime Bayview-area businessman/activist Charlie Walker for occasional public-relations work, giving him about $2,000 in cash to organize a demonstration at a January 24 Port Commission hearing on the plant. The bused-in protesters, some gathered from streets in the Tenderloin, got $10 each and made headlines after they commandeered a bus to aid their quest to find a liquor store (SF Weekly, “Power company admits to paying residents for support,” 2/1/95).
Asked whether he is still receiving AES money, Walker offers a lecture about race and class and says he will bill the inquiring reporter if the conversation continues for more than five minutes. Dragged back to the subject, Walker says he still occasionally gets a consulting fee from AES.
“I jack 'em off whenever they dick get hard,” opines the self-styled “Mayor of Hunters Point.