Everyday heroes

Deep Throat, meet The Enforcer: He has been kicked out of the county jail, trash-talked by the attorney general’s office and attacked by a prison warden.

All mere occupational hazards for investigative reporter Stephen James—a regular SN&R contributor—who wakes up every morning asking himself, “How can I take it to the man today?”

For example, when the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation refused to provide James with some basic information about parolees, James got a lawyer to work pro bono and sued.

He won his case (without the financial backing of any newspaper) and became the first reporter in the state to win a court case enforcing the provisions of Proposition 59, the new open-government law passed by voters in 2004.

This week, James netted a Beacon Award from the California First Amendment Coalition. The group also is honoring Mark Felt, a.k.a. Deep Throat, at the group’s Open Government Assembly on October 14 and 15 at California State University, Fullerton. Well done, Steve. You’re in good company.

Bee … honest: This is what happens when you mess with Walter Coats. You get picketed.

Coats said he, with his nephew Francisco Ruiz, delivered papers for The Sacramento Bee for exactly three weeks and four days. Sometimes, they would do three routes—or about 270 papers—in one morning.

Now, here’s a thing about the Bee and its parent McClatchy Co.: They pride themselves on getting papers to subscribers on time and on their doorsteps.

So, it doesn’t quite make sense to piss carriers off.

But on Coats’ first payday, he said, he received nothing. He needed to buy gas in order to continue driving the routes. He said he was told four different times that he would get paid, but then no check.

So, Coats and his nephew quit, and last week he made a sign and stood in front of the Beehive, on the corner of 21st and Q streets, during the morning commute. That’s where Bites found him, standing there as Bee employees walked by, crossing 21st Street from the parking lot to the building.

But Coats received little sympathy from the paper’s word-pushers. On one side of his sign, he’d written “The Bee is a joke.” On the other, “Sac, Bee lies to there workers.”

“You could’ve used a spell-check on your sign,” one flip Bee worker quipped.

About an hour-and-a-half into Coats’ protest, a manager came from Bee headquarters and gave the man his check. Well, actually the check was to nephew Ruiz—the Bee’s vice president of public affairs, Steve Weiss, denied that Coats ever worked for the Bee. Whoever’s name was on the check, Weiss said, “We pay all of our contractors in full and in a timely manner.”

Mr. Natural: Given the choice, Bites might—might—occasionally resist mini Oreos in favor of something healthier. But by the fluorescent lights of the nearest vending machine, Bites sees nothing but plastic packages full of fat, sugar and salt. That’s the same selection students see on campuses throughout California.

One local businessman would rather they look in and see mini natural-foods co-ops. Allen Gunderson used to be a substitute teacher and noticed that his students, if they ate at all, ate a lot of junk food. “If you give them real food,” he said, “it solves behavioral problems.”

When his family moved from Los Angeles to Elk Grove, Gunderson found the New College of California’s green Master of Business Administration in sustainable enterprise. Gunderson was one of the very first students in the program.

Conventional thinking, he said, was that you can’t do green business without sacrificing profit. “We all came in thinking it must be possible.”

Gunderson didn’t finish his degree, but he did found EcoSnacks, a company that wants to fill vending machines with snacks “made without artificial ingredients, preservatives, or flavorings by socially and environmentally responsible companies.” The company’s mission: “help to change the snacking habits of the American public.”

Gunderson said he plans to bid this summer for a chance to fill machines in the Elk Grove and Sacramento City Unified School districts. Sacramento district representative Maria Lopez is interested, but until he gets a bite, EcoSnacks is still what Gunderson called a “concept in progress.”