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Social Justice
Napa city resolution declares systemic racism a public health crisis

A new proclamation supported by the Napa City Council declares the legacy of racism and discrimination to be a threat not only to civil rights, but to the public health of minorities.

Approved in a unanimous council vote Tuesday night, the resolution labels systemic racism and discrimination as a “public health crisis” depriving people of color and other minorities of an equal shot at health, housing and public safety, as well as education and employment – all factors that backers called contributing factors to lifespan and quality of life.

Following more than three dozen statements of support by email and telephone – and the endorsement of California’s public health director – all five Napa council members voted in support of the declaration, which begins a process for seeking community and staff guidance focusing on identifying systemic racism in city employment, training, development and housing programs.

City Manager Steve Potter announced the city will begin a mandatory, multi-year training program for workers covering racial equality, implicit bias, cultural awareness, LGBTQ rights and gender identity. Potter, who previously served as Napa’s police chief, promised to update the council on the progress of equality efforts semi-annually.

“I think a lot of people would like to think that racism doesn’t exist in Napa,” said Councilmember Mary Luros, an attorney who recalled her past pro bono work for Legal Aid and described encountering 1950s housing covenants barring non-whites from buying Napa homes.

“Having heard all those people talk, it’s clearly evident that this is an issue for us. … People of color face vast disparities in terms of job opportunities, health care, education, safe housing and food security due to their ethnicity or skin color.”

The declaration is the confluence of the two trends that have dominated debate in Napa and across the country in 2020 – the toll of a coronavirus pandemic that has claimed more than 196,000 American lives since March, and the wave of protests against racial injustice that arose after the death of George Floyd, a Black man, during an arrest by Minneapolis police in May.

Members of the People’s Collective for Change, which organized a series of downtown anti-racism protests starting less than a week after Floyd’s death, entered talks with Napa Police Chief Robert Plummer over the summer to discuss reforms of use-of-force policy and other policing issues.

In August, Plummer offered a slate of recommendations for Napa Police that included quarterly training in defensive tactics, better record keeping of use-of-force cases, cultural awareness training, and a community advisory committee to review police policies.

The city’s Rainbow Action Network has been pushing for a public health declaration since July and has worked with city officials on the language, said Anne Sutkowi-Hemstreet, Community Programs Manager for First 5 Napa, which created the network to work for justice and inclusion for LGBTQ residents.

Napa’s public health declaration gained strong backing from California’s public health director Dr. Karen Smith, who served in the same role in Napa County before her promotion to state office in 2015. During a videoconference with council members, she described the barriers to equal opportunity less as the result of open bigotry by individuals and more as the by-product of policies that shortchange the disadvantaged.

“Systemic racism does not mean systems filled with racist people,” said Smith, who continues to live in Napa. “It means policies and ways of doing business that systematically and disproportionately limit people’s opportunities based on their race or ethnicity. … Unfortunately, we have policies and practices that disproportionately limit the opportunities of some members of our society more than others.”

Smith cited disproportionately high levels of poverty for Napa’s minority communities in a 2019 study by the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society – while 39% of city residents are Latinx and less than 1% are Black, they accounted for 55% and 28%, respectively, of Napa’s families who live below the standard for self-sufficiency. The coronavirus pandemic has made such inequities even starker, she argued, pointing to a Latinx community that has accounted for more than half of Napa County’s reported COVID-19 infections.

The failure to cope with discriminatory policies of the past has set minority residents behind the curve on the social determinants that improve the chance at good health, according to Smith, including access to education, employment, safe housing and high-quality food.

While the long-term effects of Napa’s declaration of inequality as a public health threat remain to be seen, Councilmember Scott Sedgley praised the gesture as a reminder of the need for vigilance in protecting the most vulnerable.

“I’m a product of the ‘60s, and looking back at what we went through with the riots and the Free Speech Movement and Vietnam and all those things, you get into this false sense of security that as a society, we’ve moved ahead, we’ve advanced, we’re better than that,” Sedgley said. “Personally, it could be that I got complacent, that I needed a kick in the pants. This is a continuing education moment: ‘Hey, we live in our bubbles in the community and we have to see beyond that.’”

“Not everybody starts at the same point on the track,” he continued. “Those that are starting a little bit behind, we as a civilized society need to help them catch up and have the same opportunity.”

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Aviation history
A piece of military aircraft history sits in St. Helena, just waiting to put on a show

ST. HELENA — To Mike Nieman, the smell of his large Pratt & Whitney “Wasp Major” radial aircraft engine running is “the smell of victory.”

“That smell is of a working engine that made this country free,” said the St. Helena mechanic and owner of two large aircraft engines as well as Nieman’s Motorcycle Rentals, with his wife Jodie. Nieman said the Pratt & Whitney R-4360 is “a powerful piece of history that is here for people to look at and to hear run. Once you hear it run, feel the rumbling of the earth, the power of 28 pistons putting out 4,300 horsepower is just unbelievable.”


Pratt & Whitney developed the R-4360 near the end of World War II – the last and largest radial aircraft engine ever built — to power the Convair B-36, designated “Peacemaker,” a large transcontinental strategic bomber. The Convair B-36 was built in Fort Worth, Texas and was designed to carry a 10,000-pound hydrogen bomb from bases in the eastern United States to Moscow and back without refueling.

The U.S. Army Air Corps used it to maintain the peace during the Cold War in the 1950s. The plane was powered by six of these piston-driven engines – three on each wing – with an additional four jet engines, two on each wing. It was in service from 1949 to 1959. More than 400 aircraft were built, but nearly all were scrapped and only four remain in aircraft museums. None are airworthy.

Nieman found his R-4360 on eBay. It was located in a little museum in Sisters, Oregon, near Bend. “A friend of mine, John Montelli, and I drove all the way up there and we picked up this beautiful engine from a collector who couldn’t keep it anymore. He broke his back in an airplane accident,” Nieman said.

In 1959, the engine was going to be rebuilt by a shop in Los Angeles; instead they sold it to the collector, who was retired from the U.S. Air Force. “He was an engine collector and this is a prize jewel for any aircraft engine collector,” Nieman said. Eventually, it ended up in Oregon, where it joined a second R-4360, but that one was in pieces.

The aircraft engine cost $10,000. That was nearly a decade ago and it took Nieman two years to locate the parts and get the engine running again. “I needed to find a propeller for it. Finally, I got one from a war museum in Tampa Bay, Florida, which cost me $3,500.”

Starting the engine

Nieman has spent his adult life working on cars, engines and motorcycles, but aircraft engines were a bit different. He went on the internet to find information about the engines, sought out repair manuals and even found “an older gentleman who worked at Travis Air Force Base, who actually came here to help me learn how to start it,” Nieman said. It’s not like starting a regular engine, since there’s a two-stage supercharger on it. “If you give it too much gas, you’re going to foul the spark plugs,” Nieman said.

“The flight engineers on the airplane would never let the pilots start it because if they fouled the 56 spark plugs – two per cylinder – it would take a day and a half of maintenance to get it all back, ready to go again,” Nieman said. And, if the spark plugs are fouled, you can overprime it and blow a piston through the block when the air chamber is filled with fuel.

“Starting them is real tricky,” Nieman said in an understatement. He posted a video of starting the engine on YouTube some seven years ago.

Nieman’s R-4360 is not the only one running. “A friend of mine has one running in a downtown in New Jersey at a gas station,” and another friend, Steve Phillips, has one in Petaluma that he starts once a year, during an event where he shows off his farm implements.

With Phillips, the two traded information and help. “When I was putting it together, I could call Steve and ask him questions about ignition vibrators and stuff that I had no clue about. That was the fun part of it. I’ve worked on cars all of my life. Being able to work on airplane engines has really helped me mentally keep going with the mechanics,” he said.

Long checklist

Nieman estimates he has started the R-4360 about 20 times – he charges $200 each time he starts it – he has a long checklist to go through and the customers read the checklist while he does the work. “They flip a coin to see who can start it. I actually let them take the controls, so they can set the throttle and feel the power when they start it up.”

To get one of the aircraft engines started is exciting, and once it’s going, it’s loud and people are thrilled.

“Not one person has wanted their money back,” he said. “Everyone in town has seen it run, one time or another,” although he won’t start either of his aircraft engines again until the COVID-19 coronavirus has ended, when it is safe for people to gather together.

He admits he’s just a caretaker for the engine. “We have to keep the history of this engine going, so young people can come and see this staff, see it run. It’s a great attraction for St. Helena, I hope everyone enjoys it.”

And, when he’s done with the aircraft engine, “Won’t everyone be surprised to see the faces of those in the St. Helena Historical Society when I donate it?” he said.

Are you going to do that? Nieman’s response: “We’ll see.”

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Trump contradicts health experts

WASHINGTON — Openly contradicting the government’s top health experts, President Donald Trump predicted on Wednesday that a safe and effective vaccine against the coronavirus could be ready as early as next month and in mass distribution soon after, undermining the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and calling him “confused” in projecting a longer time frame.

Trump also disagreed with Dr. Robert Redfield about the effectiveness of protective masks — which the president recommends but almost never wears — and said he’d telephoned Redfield to tell him so.

Earlier in the day, the CDC sent all 50 states a “playbook” for distribution of a vaccine to all Americans free of cost when one is proven safe and effective — which is not yet the case. Redfield told a congressional hearing that health care workers, first responders and others at high risk would get the vaccine first, perhaps in January or even late this year, but it was unlikely to be available more broadly, again assuming approval, before late spring or summer.

Redfield, masked at times in a Senate hearing room, spoke emphatically of the importance of everyone wearing protective masks to stop the pandemic, which has killed almost 200,000 Americans.

“I might even go so far as to say that this face mask is more guaranteed to protect me against COVID than when I take a COVID vaccine.”

Trump, who has strongly recommended all year that restaurants, stores and cities in general “reopen,” mentioned on Tuesday that waiters struggle with their face coverings and do not like them.

CDC sent a planning document on Wednesday to U.S. states, territories and some big cities. Adding to logistical complications, vaccines likely will have to be given in two doses spaced weeks apart and will have to be refrigerated.

Redfield said states are not ready to deal with the demand for such a distribution and some $6 billion in new funding would be needed to get the nation prepared.

Earlier Wednesday, Trump parachuted into the coronavirus aid debate, upbraiding his Republican allies for proposing too small of a relief package and encouraging both parties to go for a bigger one that would include his priority of $1,200 stimulus checks for most Americans.

But his top GOP allies — who worked for weeks with the White House to construct the very aid package Trump criticized — shrugged off the president’s mid-morning tweet.

All the key players in the entrenched impasse over a COVID-19 rescue package instead focused their energies on finger-pointing and gamesmanship, even as political nervousness was on the rise among Democrats frustrated by a stalemate in which their party shares the blame. There remained no sign that talks between the White House and congressional Democrats would restart.

The smaller bill from Senate Republicans that Trump criticized did not include $300 billion for a second round of Trump-endorsed stimulus checks, which the White House said is a top priority.

Meanwhile, a drug company said Wednesday that partial results from a study testing an antibody drug give hints that it may help keep mild to moderately ill COVID-19 patients from needing to be hospitalized. Eli Lilly’s results have not yet been published or reviewed by independent scientists.

The drug missed the study’s main goal of reducing the amount of virus patients had after 11 days, except at the middle of three doses being tested. However, most study participants, even those given a placebo treatment, cleared the virus by then, so that time point now seems too late to judge that potential benefit, the company said.

Other tests suggest the drug was reducing virus sooner, and the results are an encouraging “proof of principle” as this and other studies continue, Lilly said.

The entire vaccine enterprise faces continued public skepticism. Only about half of Americans said they’d get vaccinated in an Associated Press-NORC poll taken in May. Since then, questions have only mounted about whether the government is trying to rush treatments and vaccines to help Trump’s reelection chances.

Redfield said that the “scientific integrity” of his agency’s reports “has not been compromised and it will not be compromised under my watch.” He also rejected questions about whether the CDC’s timeline for states to be ready for a vaccine by Nov. 1 was politically motivated.

“The worst thing that could happen is if we have a vaccine delivered and we’re still not ready to distribute,” Redfield told Senate lawmakers. “There was absolutely no political thinking about it.”

Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, the committee’s top Democrat, said political interference from HHS had damaged public trust in the government’s health information.

“The Trump administration needs to leave the science to the scientists immediately,” Murray said.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said while campaigning that he trusts what scientists say about a potential vaccine — but not Trump.

Biden has said he would take a vaccine “tomorrow” if it were available but he would want to “see what the scientists said” first.

Artists, promoters unite to battle live music crisis in Napa and Bay Area

In the wake of cancellations this year of BottleRock and shows at Blue Note Napa and the Uptown Theatre, artists, club owners, promoters and music executives are calling on the government to help save the live music scene in the Bay Area and beyond.

The Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir, Blue Note Records’ Don Was, Another Planet Entertainment’s Allen Scott and Blue Note Napa’s Ken Tesler are among the music industry professionals who joined Congressman Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, during an online press conference on Tuesday in support of two bills that would help a nationwide live music scene that has been decimated by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Everyone knows that music feeds our soul,” said Thompson, whose district includes Napa. “Especially in these tough times, music is a way for us to feel connected across distance and a way for us to build bridges between divides.

“I am going to do everything I can to get these bills passed and signed into law.”

The two bipartisan proposals introduced to Congress are the Restart Act and the Save Our Stages Act, both of which advocates see as crucial measures to battle this crisis that could result in dire consequences for the entire music industry.

“You can’t have a music business without the live music industry,” Was said.

Was’s business is to sell records, but he knows just how hard it is to do that without getting the artists out on tour. That’s especially true for newer acts who are working to establish fan bases as well as support from radio.

Established artists like Weir — a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer with the Bay Area’s own Grateful Dead and a current member of touring juggernaut Dead & Company — rely on the live music industry as well. But Weir isn’t thinking so much about himself — or other multimillionaire artists — when it comes to passing these bills.

“I’ve done well,” said Weir, making the understatement of the press conference. “I have something of a cushion to fall back on.”

Other people, he points out, desperately need the income associated with live music scene. He’s talking about roadies, ticket takers, ushers, etc. They are the ones who really need — in Grateful Dead speak — “a miracle” from Congress.

“We need help from the government,” said Weir, noting that this is a cause that everyone can get behind. “I’d like to point out here that music crosses party lines.

“Everybody needs music.”

And these two bills would help ensure that there will be venues for music still around once the COVID-19 restrictions end.

The Restart Act would establish a new loan program for performing arts venues and other businesses that have hit hard by the pandemic, Thompson said.

“This bill would give these venues the capital and the flexibility needed as they move toward recovery,” he said.

The terms of the loan include that it not last more than seven years and there would be no payment on the principal for the first two years of the loan. The amount of loan cannot be greater than 45 percent of the organization’s 2019 gross receipts — up to $12 million. This is for organizations that do not have more than 5,000 full-time employees.

The Save Our Stages Act looks to authorize the Small Business Administration (SBA) to make grants to live venue operators, producers, promoters and talent representatives to help offset the economic hardships caused from COVID-19. It would allow for an initial grant of up to $12 million to an eligible party as well as a supplemental grant for up to 50 percent of the initial grant.

These bills would not only have a big impact on supporting the music industry — but the overall economy as well. Organizers of this press conference noted that the live events and entertainment industry contributes more than $877 billion into the economy, accounting for roughly 4.5 percent of the gross domestic product.

It’s not just musicians and promoters who count on the money brought in from live performances. It’s also all the business — like restaurants, hotels and transportation — that benefit from people going out to see a show. The ripple effect is huge, with organizers of this press conference saying that for every “$1 spent on a ticket at a small music venue, $12 are spent in the local economy on related services.”

“It spiderwebs out to thousands and thousands of people,” said Scott, who is the head of concerts and festivals at Another Planet Entertainment.

Another Planet produces Outside Lands as well as concerts at Napa’s Oxbow Commons, the Fox Theatre in Oakland, Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco, Greek Theatre in Berkeley and many other venues. All told, the Berkeley-based company puts on about 1,000 live events per year. But all of that has been hold since March, when the mandate came down to close venues due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Another Planet spearheaded this press conference with Blue Note Napa, another popular venue that has been shuttered now for six months with no end in sight.

“The arts are essential,” says Ken Tesler, managing director of Blue Note Napa and JaM Cellars Ballroom at the Napa Valley Opera House. “And jobs are essential. Our workers have been some of the hardest hit in this pandemic. A place for a community to gather and serve each other is essential — whether it is locals night to hang with friends after work or fundraisers for firemen.

“And the local economy is essential — and we are at its heart in downtown Napa. So, I am, therefore, committed to raising awareness to both the Save Our Stages act and the Restart act, bills that can really be the difference makers, not just for my business, but for businesses like it across the country.”

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