DIY and do it right

Local publisher and author Vincent M. Wales has a lot to be proud of these days. Not only did the first book off the presses at his publishing house, DGC Press, win two prizes in last spring’s Northern California Publishers and Authors association awards competition, but also it’s been named a finalist for a national book award.

USA Book News, which offers online book reviews and listings, named One Nation Under God, Wales’ second novel and first to be self-published at DGC Press, a finalist in the general fiction category. The prize went to Amy Tan for Saving Fish from Drowning, published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons. Wales’ book was the only small-press book to be selected as a finalist; other finalist novels included Nick Hornby’s A Long Way Down and The Dream Life of Sukhanov by Olga Grushin.

One Nation Under God is a tale of a dystopian future America in which “theocons” have won power and use it to erode the civil liberties of those who don’t share their right-wing, Christian beliefs. Wales’ book uses a variation on the traditional epistolary format and includes diary entries, Web pages and video transcripts to tell the story of the daughter of the president of the United States, who finds herself questioning both her religious beliefs and her sexual identity.

So, how does it feel to be running with the big dogs of the publishing world? Wales says he loves it; in fact, he’s just reissued his first novel under the DGC imprint.

Trading away state’s rights

It’s one of the vetoes that won’t get much attention, dealing as it does with one of the more obscure corners of public policy. Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill by state Senator Liz Figueroa last week that would have allowed the state Legislature to vet certain provisions of international trade agreements before the governor gives them his blessing.

At issue are rules in trade pacts like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) and the upcoming Andean Free Trade Agreement (AFTA) that can limit the state’s right to purchase goods and services that meet strict labor, environmental and consumer-protection standards. (See “Rough trade” by Cosmo Garvin, SN&R News, March 31.)

The governor is now allowed to commit California to these “procurement rules” of free-trade agreements without any public process and without the approval of the Legislature.

In his veto message, the governor said that “trade agreements are treaties that pre-empt state law.”

But Figueroa said the governor was “misinformed” and that she was “perplexed that he would so willingly put California’s environmental, labor and consumer-protection laws at risk.”

Choose life

It’s been likened to the Death Star, the sprawling East End state office complex that wiped out several blocks of housing and business near Capitol Park and replaced them with barren, lifeless streetscape.

During the state’s planning process for the East End, neighborhood activists and architects begged the state to include housing and retail business in the project to avoid the creation of a vast “5 o’clock desert” in the area after all the state workers went home.

Sacramento may be able to avoid a repeat of the East End on the other side of the Capitol, where the state is in the process of planning the 1.4 million-square-foot West End office complex in the neighborhood of Seventh to Eighth and N through P streets.

Thanks to legislation by local Assemblyman Dave Jones (and signed by the governor last week), the state Department of General Services is authorized to include housing and retail spaces in the project. Earlier, the department had said it was not allowed by state law to consider “mixed use” in its office buildings. The agency still isn’t required to include apartments and shops in the project, but Jones said the right mix could make for a much livelier, safer and environmentally sound neighborhood right in the heart of downtown.

“I think it can make a dramatic difference. If we’re successful in making the West End project better and more livable, it could be a real model for state development elsewhere,” Jones said.