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"KPFA Protector’s" Supporter & Multi-Millionaire Property Owner

by repost
KPFA "Protectors" supporter Matthew Hallinan has now supported the removal of District Attorney Chesin Boudin saying that it is "It’s grow-up time in America."
"KPFA Protector’s" Supporter & Multi-Millionaire Property Owner Matthew Hallinan Owner Address the issues

It’s grow-up time in America. We cannot allow our progressive values to become one-sided dogmas that are unable to solve real-world problems.
Most San Franciscans still want a more just and egalitarian America. But they also want a political leadership that can deal with real world complexities that doesn’t substitute political rhetoric for concrete, workable policies.

Regarding “S.F.’s biggest failure” (Insight, June 12) and “Downtown S.F. on the brink: It’s worse than it looks” (Front Page, June 12): The Chronicle is to be congratulated for the two fine articles. The downtown piece was particularly illuminating, explaining how the pandemic triggered a set of interrelated problems that seriously threaten San Francisco’s economic recovery.

As a lifelong progressive, I could not help but think about the issues raised and the new political headwinds blowing in the city. I don’t think the outcomes of our recent recalls represented a rejection of progressive values. Most San Franciscans still want a more just and egalitarian America. But they also want a political leadership that can deal with real world complexities that doesn’t substitute political rhetoric for concrete, workable policies.

Progressives can’t get to where we want to go if we don’t learn how to govern, how to better manage this big, complex and multidimensional system we are part of. Efforts to address homelessness, for instance, are not served by hands-off policies that drive working families out of our city and that undermine the tourism that funds so many social of our programs.

It’s grow-up time in America. We cannot allow our progressive values to become one-sided dogmas that are unable to solve real-world problems.

Matthew Hallinan, Berkeley

KPFA Protector's Supporter Matthew Hallinan Building Owner's Negligence Caused Fatal Apartment Fire
Hallinan's family owns about 200 apartments in five buildings in downtown San Francisco. His approach is rare but not unheard of, said Janan New, executive director of the San Francisco Apartment Association.

Matthew Hallinan Building Owner's Negligennce Caused Fatal Apartment Fire

The jury found that Bally Hallinan was negligent and that its negligence was a substantial factor in causing the decedent’s death. It also found that the decedent was negligent, but that her conduct was not a substantial factor in causing her death. The jury determined that Aurora Belo’s damages totaled $3 million, including $1.5 million for past non-economic loss and $1.5 million for future non-economic loss.

Shane Hallinan,

Matthew Hallinan,

Michael Anthony Caudillo,

Bally Hallinan Family LLC,

Bally Hallinan Properties,

Bally Hallinan Family Limited Partnership

Building owner’s negligence caused fatal apartment fire: daughter



San Francisco County

Superior Court of San Francisco County, San Francisco

Injury Type(s):
other-death; other-unconsciousness; pulmonary/respiratory-smoke inhalation
Case Type:
Wrongful Death; Premises Liability – Apartment, Tenant’s Injury, Negligent Assembly or Installation

Case Name:
Aurora Belo and Maria Lourdes Ramona S. Belo v. Bally Hallinan Properties; BallyHallinan Properties; BallyHallinan Family LLC; BallyHallinan Family Limited Partnership, a partnership; Shane Hallinan, individually, and as a partner of Bally Hallinan Properties, BallyHallinan Properties, BallyHallinan Family LLC, and BallyHallinan Family Limited Partnership; Matthew Hallinan, individually, and as a partner of Bally Hallinan Properties, BallyHallinan Properties, BallyHallinan Family LLC, and BallyHallinan Family Limited Partnership; Michael Anthony Caudillo; and Does 1-100, and each of them,No. CGC16552777

May 7, 2018

Aurora Belo ,

Estate of Maria Lourdes Ramona S. Belo (Female, 55 Years)

Plaintiff Attorney(s):
Conor M. Kelly; Walkup, Melodia, Kelly & Schoenberger; San Francisco, CA, for Aurora Belo, Estate of Maria Lourdes Ramona S. Belo ■ Andje M. Medina; Altair Law LLP; San Francisco, CA, for Aurora Belo, Estate of Maria Lourdes Ramona S. Belo

Plaintiff Expert(s):
John Loud; P.E., C.F.E.I.; Electrical; Menlo Park, CA called by: Conor M. Kelly, Andje M. Medina ■ Robert Griswold; C.R.E., C.P.M.; Property Management; San Diego, CA called by: Conor M. Kelly, Andje M. Medina

Shane Hallinan,

Matthew Hallinan,

Michael Anthony Caudillo,

Bally Hallinan Family LLC,

Bally Hallinan Properties,

Bally Hallinan Family Limited Partnership

Defense Attorney(s):
David S. Webster; Wood, Smith, Henning & Berman LLP; Concord, CA, for Shane Hallinan, Matthew Hallinan, Michael Anthony Caudillo, Bally Hallinan Family LLC, Bally Hallinan Properties, Bally Hallinan Family Limited Partnership ■ Sarah E. Fama; Wood, Smith, Henning & Berman LLP; Concord, CA, for Shane Hallinan, Matthew Hallinan, Michael Anthony Caudillo, Bally Hallinan Family LLC, Bally Hallinan Properties, Bally Hallinan Family Limited Partnership

Defendant Expert(s):
Brian Vandal; Electrical; San Jose, CA called by: David S. Webster, Sarah E. Fama ■ Bryan Spitulski; Fire Safety/Protection; Modesto, CA called by: David S. Webster, Sarah E. Fama ■ Daniel Bornstein; Property Management; San Francisco, CA called by: David S. Webster, Sarah E. Fama ■ Steven Reed; Cause & Origin;Boise, ID called by: David S. Webster, Sarah E. Fama

On the night of June 29, 2014, plaintiff’s decedent Maria Lourdes Ramona S. Belo, known as “Lorraine Belo,” 55, a former hotel concierge, was home at her 300-square-foot studio apartment, in a 40-unit building at 627 Taylor St., in San Francisco, when a fire started in her hallway closet and quickly spread to her living space, causing her front door to be engulfed in flames. It is unknown whether she was awake or asleep when the fire started. The San Francisco Fire Department responded to the apartment building and found Belo on her kitchen floor, right beneath a window that served as an access point to her fire escape. Belo was unconscious from smoke inhalation. She died several days later. The decedent’s daughter, Aurora Belo, sued a family run corporation that owned the building and rented the apartment to her mother, Bally Hallinan Family LLC, which was doing business as Bally Hallinan Properties, formerly known as Bally Hallinan Family Limited Partnership, and erroneously sued as Bally Hallinan Properties. Michael Caudillo, Matthew Hallinan and Shane Hallinan were also initially named as defendants in the complaint, but they were dismissed prior to trial. Plaintiff’s counsel contended that Bally Hallinan had owned the subject building since the 1930s and that the fire started because of a negligently installed electrical outlet in the decedent’s closet. Counsel argued that the outlet had been added to the electrical system approximately 10 to 20 years before the fire and that this type of electrical addition required a permit and should have been performed by a qualified electrician. However, no permit was obtained for the installation and Bally Hallinan had no records showing who installed the outlet. The plaintiff’s experts testified that the subject electrical outlet was ungrounded — meaning that there was no ground wire that would trip the circuit breaker in the event of an electrical short — and that it was installed in a careless manner with loose, resistive wiring. The experts also opined that the faulty wiring caused the electrical outlet to overheat and start the fire. Plaintiff’s counsel noted that the fire department’s arson investigator determined that the fire was electrical in nature. Defense counsel denied the fire was electrical. Based on photographs of the outlet, the defense’s experts opined that it was grounded. They also opined that the fire damage in and around the outlet suggested that it was attacked externally by fire, rather than being the source of the fire. The defense experts did not put forth an alternative fire cause, but defense counsel questioned the mental condition of the decedent throughout trial and suggested that she had intentionally started the fire herself. Defense counsel contended that the decedent was a hoarder and that she contributed to her own death as a result of her hoarding. Counsel also presented evidence that the common area fire equipment was inspected and approved by the San Francisco Fire Department days before the fire and that the department inferred that a unit smoke detector was installed by Bally Hallinan. In addition, defense counsel presented photographs taken immediately after the fire, which showed numerous large boxes throughout the small studio apartment, and noted that the fire department described the subject closet as having personal possessions stacked waste high. Plaintiff’s counsel countered that Bally Hallinan’s employees had been in the decedent’s unit numerous times, but never concluded that it was a fire hazard. Counsel also presented witnesses who testified that the apartment always had a clear path of travel from the living area to the front door and kitchen, where the decedent was found. However, defense counsel contended that Bally Hallinan never entered or inspected the closet before the fire.

Lorraine Belo suffered severe smoke inhalation and was rendered unconscious. She was transported to a hospital, where she remained for nine days before dying from complications associated with smoke inhalation. Plaintiff’s counsel elicited undisputed testimony that it takes only a few seconds for someone to be overcome by smoke in a fire. The decedent’s daughter, Aurora Belo, who was 29 years old at the time of her mother’s death, sought recovery of $5 million in non-economic damages for the loss of her mother’s love, companionship, comfort, care, assistance, protection, affection, society, and moral support. Since Aurora Belo was financially independent from her mother, she did not make a claim for economic damages. Defense counsel strongly disputed the Aurora Belo’s damages, arguing that she was not entitled to any damages for the loss of her mother. Defense counsel contended that Aurora Belo and her mother had a complex history. The decedent was a single mother at the time of Aurora Belo’s birth and that when Aurora Belo was around 2 years old, the decedent decided to send her daughter to the Philippines, where Aurora Belo could live with, and be financially supported by, her grandparents while the decedent stayed in the United States. Over the next 17 years, Aurora Belo lived primarily in the Philippines and saw her mother only every few years. During that time, Aurora Belo stayed in communication with her mother by phone and they wrote each other letters. When Aurora Belo turned 18, she came to San Francisco to live with and be closer to her mother. The two lived together in a one-bedroom apartment for almost two years before Aurora Belo, then 20 years old, decided to move out on her own for the first time in her life. She moved into an apartment in San Francisco with roommates, but she and her mother continued to have a strong relationship. In 2011, Aurora Belo and the decedent had a falling out because Aurora Belo began dating a younger man, whom the decedent viewed as unstable and not committed, and Aurora Belo relocated with him to Arizona. During the two years before the decedent passed away, Aurora Belo did not speak to her mother on the phone or exchange written communication with her, so she basically had little contact with her mother. Defense counsel also presented evidence that, approximately one year before her death, the decedent had requested a change to her lease, which prohibited all family members, including Aurora Belo, from coming to the decedent’s apartment or contacting her. Defense counsel argued that Aurora Belo was estranged from her mother and other local family members, so Aurora Belo had not lost any relationship with the decedent. During closing arguments, defense counsel argued that Aurora Belo had not suffered any damages and asked the jury to return a defense verdict. Counsel also argued that if the question of damages was reached, than no money should be awarded. In response to the complex family history, plaintiff’s counsel contended that the decedent and her daughter never stopped loving one another. Counsel pointed out that Aurora Belo and her mother had been separated previously and that they always came back together. Counsel also contended that even during the two-year period when they did not talk, Aurora Belo and the decedent loved each other and would check-in on the wellbeing of the other through various family members. Plaintiff’s counsel further argued that Aurora Belo and the decedent’s relationship would have mended once Aurora Belo and her boyfriend became engaged, which occurred after the decedent’s passing.
The jury found that Bally Hallinan was negligent and that its negligence was a substantial factor in causing the decedent’s death. It also found that the decedent was negligent, but that her conduct was not a substantial factor in causing her death. The jury determined that Aurora Belo’s damages totaled $3 million, including $1.5 million for past non-economic loss and $1.5 million for future non-economic loss.
Aurora Belo: $1,500,000 Wrongful Death: Past Loss Of Society Companionship; $1,500,000 Wrongful Death: Future Loss Of Society Companionship
Trial Information:
Garrett L. Wong

$250,000 (at mandatory settlement conference on day of trial)

$150,000 (at mandatory settlement conference on day of trial)

Trial Length:
12 days

Trial Deliberations:
1 days

Jury Vote:
12-0 (negligence of Bally Hallinan); 11-1 (damages and no causation as to the decedent); 10-2 (causation as to Bally Hallinan); 9-3 (negligence of the decedent)

Jury Composition:
7 male/ 5 female

Post Trial:
Defense counsel moved for a new trial and for judgment notwithstanding the verdict. The motions were both denied. The plaintiff obtained a judgment in excess of her C.C.P. § 998 offer, and will recover prejudgment interest on the entire verdict and post-offer expert fees.

Editor’s Comment:
This report is based on information that was provided by plaintiffs’ and defense counsel.

Why his tenants praise the 'lord / For decades, Matthew Hallinan has developed a reputation for (relatively) low rents and active involvement

Heather Boerner
Special to The Chronicle
Nov. 26, 2006


Tina Warren is amazed at all she gets for $2,000 a month in rent: a penthouse-level apartment on Sutter Street in downtown San Francisco, two bedrooms, roof access and utilities covered.

Before she moved in, she set her own price, offering $2,000 to landlord Matthew Hallinan, from whom she'd already been renting for 14 years. When he accepted, she got to select her own carpet and remove all the wallpaper put up by the former tenant. What's priceless is the fact that the 100-year-old building is immaculately maintained and that there's a friendly feel to the building for herself, her husband and two daughters.

"It definitely feels like home," said Warren, an illustrator who's lived in the building since 1989. "It's safe, my children are safe here. And (building manager) Terri Price is like a mother to me."

Similar apartments in San Francisco would rent for $2,288, according to Real Facts, a Novato company that tracks rental rates around the country. Those statistics are for the third quarter of the year, ending in August, and don't account for the higher demand that's increasing rents now.

Indeed, Hallinan is a tenant's dream: a landlord who is actively involved in the health of his building, who attends annual Christmas parties, keeps rents low, responds to complaints promptly, and pays union employees higher wages and health benefits. And he's committed to not raising rents during this boom time.

"When I took over the buildings, I thought about, 'What would I be willing to pay for this space?' " said Hallinan, a former tenants rights organizer. "What's fair?"

Hallinan's family owns about 200 apartments in five buildings in downtown San Francisco. His approach is rare but not unheard of, said Janan New, executive director of the San Francisco Apartment Association. A minority of the members of her organization see it as their "social obligation" to keep rents low. "Especially in a very liberal city like San Francisco, there are people who purposefully keep their rents low," she said.

"It's a small percentage. It's an unusual approach and business model, but not unheard of. Most property owners are entrepreneurial. They are in the business to make a profit."

The current rental market is certainly good for landlords' bottom line. David Gruber, president of the San Francisco Rent Board, said rents and interest in apartments around San Francisco are "intergalactic" right now. He estimates that rents have increased 10 to 15 percent in the past year.

"In the last six months, it's gone from apartments being on the market for four weeks to now, 50 percent of my rentals are by word of mouth," he said. "I don't have to advertise. People hear about something and they contact me."

In that environment, Gruber said, most landlords -- and especially landlords of rent-controlled buildings -- increase their income as much as possible with each vacancy.

Under San Francisco's rent control, owners of buildings constructed before 1979 must limit their rent increases to 60 percent of the rise in the consumer price index. For the year that ends in February, that's an increase of 1.7 percent. But when a tenant leaves, landlords can increase the rent as much as the market will bear. After the tenant moves in, landlords are again limited to increases of 60 percent of the consumer price index rise.

"The philosophy in a rent-controlled city is that the main release valve is when someone voluntarily vacates," he said. "That resets the rent control, so you need to take advantage of those moments. Philosophically, I tell Matthew that if your (buildings) are full, your rents are too low. You should always have something testing the market."

But Hallinan, who is in the enviable position of owning his buildings outright, doesn't have to test the market. And he still makes a profit. It's not simply that he believes that keeping rents low helps build communities -- although that's part of it. Hallinan also believes that he can make as much money as Gruber and the majority of landlords over the long haul by keeping rents consistently low.

How? Keeping rents low keeps tenants happy. Happy tenants report problems in the building, work with him to get out tenants who are selling drugs, for instance, and are less likely to sue, which increases insurance costs. When the dot-com bubble burst, there was a 20 percent vacancy rate in downtown San Francisco -- but in Hallinan's buildings, occupancy was virtually unchanged.

"It started off very idealistic," he recalled, chuckling. "But little by little I had to face certain realities. When you really get to know this business and you've been in it a while, you begin to understand what your costs really are -- and they aren't just the immediate costs on a month-to-month or a yearly basis.

"You have to ask yourself: Do tenants take care of their units and public space? Do they give a damn? Do they tell you when there's water leaking, when they see a problem? So when you look at it from that point of view, you realize that the attitude of the tenants is an extremely important part of your business."

Last year, BallyHallinan Properties -- the family company Hallinan manages -- brought in more than $1 million. Hallinan recently raised rents on vacant studios to $850 to $1,000 a month. Studios account for the majority of his apartments.

According to Real Facts, the average studio rent in San Francisco is $1,473. Hallinan splits that income like this: Sixty percent goes back into the building in the form of wages, benefits, maintenance and other expenses. Forty percent is profit, split between himself and his famously progressive family, which includes former San Francisco District Attorney Terrence Hallinan, his brother. His father, attorney Vincent Hallinan, ran for president under the Henry Wallace Progressive Party banner.

That's the inverse of how most landlords allocate their income, said Gruber, who manages Gruber and Gruber Properties in San Francisco. Landlords who charge market rent allocate about 60 percent of their income for profit. The other 40 percent goes to expenses.

Hallinan is in a unique position, however, said Gruber. He owns his buildings, and doesn't have to pay a mortgage.

"It's allowed (Hallinan) to not have to be constantly under the gun in getting the top rents," he said. "He doesn't have to demand every last source of income. And it also allows him to negotiate and help out some tenants who might not otherwise be able to stay."

Hallinan inherited the buildings from his mother, Vivian Hallinan. Vincent Hallinan bought their first apartment building after winning a large court settlement for a client.

While Vincent Hallinan was filing lawsuits, brawling and going to prison, once for reporting only a fifth of his income to the IRS and once for refusing to hand over labor unionist Harry Bridges during the McCarthy era, Vivian Hallinan was buying buildings sent into foreclosure by the Depression. "They were essentially empty buildings," recalled Matthew Hallinan. The apartments are the foundation of the family's fortune.

Ironically, Matthew Hallinan never wanted to run the family business. None of the brothers did. An anthropologist by training, Hallinan jokes that "being wealthy allowed me to be a professional revolutionary, and being a professional revolutionary forced me to become a capitalist, because I had burned all my bridges." He went from being a tenant organizer in New York City to being the handyman of the buildings and then the manager. He's been running the buildings for 25 years.

"The thing is, Matthew's approach is not nutty," Gruber explained. "What he has is the ability to make a conscious decision not to gouge the public. He feels that regardless of the market, if he can get 10 to 15 percent more (on vacant apartments), he doesn't have to double or triple rents, as the market might allow."

Behind the Coup at KPFA
January 27, 2011 by Save KPFA
by Matthew Hallinan

In early November, the Executive Director of Pacifica, Arlene Englehardt, seized all power at KPFA, firing the talented hosts of the station’s most popular locally produced program, and replacing it with one of her own choosing. She acted without consulting the Interim General Manager of the station or the Local Station Board (LSB). She didn’t ask to meet with the staff of the station or with the union that represents them. In her rush to fire the hosts of The Morning Show, she violated the terms of the union contract, trampled on KPFA’s democratic system of local control, and created wide discontent and disillusionment among the listeners.

Why would she do this? Why would she take such extraordinary measures and act in such an autocratic fashion? She said it was all about finances. The station was in a cash flow crisis and needed to make drastic cuts. She said had no choice but to do this.

Was there no other choice? A few months earlier, KPFA’s local management, working with the unionized staff, had produced a budget proposal that showed the books could be balanced without making programmatic cuts. This budget was approved by the local station board and forwarded to Pacifica. It involved a number of proposals for reducing the one-way flow of funds to Pacifica – which now absorbs 24% of listener contributions to KPFA. Pacifica made a choice at that point – it rejected that budget without even discussing it with the local KPFA folks.

Then there is the issue of choosing which programs to cut. If finances were the only consideration, why would Pacifica choose to cut the program that raises the most money during the station’s fund drives? Again, Pacifica made a choice – and it was a choice they did not want to discuss.

In December, Ms. Englehardt went before the Berkeley City Council to oppose a resolution that was being considered by the Council. The resolution called on the Pacifica Executive Director to negotiate with the CWA union about the firing process and to enter into mediation with those in the station and on the LSB who are unhappy about the changes she instituted. Ms. Englehardt stated before the Council that Pacifica was opposed to both negotiations and mediation. In other words, Pacifica refuses to sit down and talk with the local folks who disagree with its decisions. Ms. Englehardt says she had no choice: but yet she refuses to listen to any options proposed by others.

Is it really all about money? Ms. Englehardt assures us that the firing of Brian Edwards-Tiekert and Aimee Allison was not a political maneuver, but was based entirely on financial considerations. The SaveKPFA majority on the local station board took her at her word, and called on listeners to pledge the necessary funds to finance the return of the show. Within a short period, the listeners produced $60,000 in pledges – sufficient to cover the costs of the show for the rest of the year. Ms. Englehardt refused to consider that proposal. That is another choice she made.

However, Ms Englehardt is not in this all alone. Anyone who is closely involved with the politics of KPFA knows there is a circle of vocal support for Ms Englehardt’s choices and for Pacifica’s power grab. Indeed, Richard Phelps, a member of the ‘Independent’ faction on KPFA’s local station board, responded to SaveKPFA’s effort to raise pledges by filing a lawsuit against those on the board that supported the pledge campaign. The lawsuit is absurd and will be thrown out. However, it costs the SaveKPFA local station board members money for legal defense and requires an expenditure of time and effort. It is a blatant attempt to intimidate and harass those who are resisting Pacifica’s take over and working to bring the Morning Show back.

Why would Phelps and the other ‘Independents’ on the board support Pacifica’s seizure of power and its dismantling of our democratic system of local governance? Turn the question around. Why would Pacifica want to come in and take over KPFA? The sad truth is that the ‘Independents’ are not ‘supporting’ Pacifica – the ‘Independents’ are Pacifica. They are part of a coalition that currently holds a majority of seats on the Pacifica National Board (PNB). KPFA is not being taken over by some distant, impersonal, Pacifica bureaucracy. It is being taken over by a narrow, authoritarian-minded coalition of individuals and groups who have taken over the PNB. The so-called ‘Independents’ are an integral part of that coalition.

This coalition gained a majority on the PNB about two years ago. Before then, the PNB did not meddle in the affairs of the local stations. Until this coalition took control of the PNB, our local ‘Independents’ had touted the powers of local station boards, championing their rights to make policy and to decide programming issues. They railed against ‘top-down, corporate models of governance’ and talked of ‘community control’ of the station. That was before they realized they were not going to get a majority of the seats on KPFA’s LSB. Sadly, however, their allies throughout the Pacifica system took over other local station boards, and as a result, they were able to get control over the PNB.

Once power had shifted at Pacifica, the ‘Independents’ realized that their best chance for controlling the station was through the PNB, not the LSB. And these folks were quick to jump on the new train. Indeed, our local ‘Independents’ had an epiphany. They now decided that local station boards should have no power: they are simply ‘standing committees’ of the PNB and can be over-ruled on every issue by Pacifica.

However, taking over Pacifica and taking over KPFA is not exactly the same thing. The ‘Independents’ knew that the KPFA community would not relinquish all its rights without a fight. That’s why they started with a coup – a blow. And Arlene Engelhardt’s seizure of power was indeed a real coup. The firing of Brian Edwards-Tiekert was purely political. These folks began their power grab by seeking to get rid of the most forceful opponent they had among the paid staff. They followed this up with an attempt to reverse the results of the staff elections in which SaveKPFA had won a close victory. Court action was necessary to prevent Pacifica from succeeding in this.

They are now attempting to reverse SaveKPFA’s majority on the LSB. There is an effort underway to remove Dan Siegel, one of our strongest voices. Dan, it should be noted, received the highest number of listener votes in the 2008 LSB election. Claiming that his informal advisory relationship to Mayor Jean Quan amounts to an appointment to a political office, the PNB voted last week, without any due process – indeed, without even contacting Dan – to remove him from his seat on the board. Once again, we will be forced to go to court to keep them from reversing the will of the voters.

There is too much at stake here to allow these people to succeed. They would turn the station into a forum for only one narrow slice of the left spectrum. They have taken the formal reins of power and are currently mobilizing all their forces to consolidate their hold over the station. This could spell the death of KPFA as a voice of Northern and Central California’s diverse progressive community. However, we the listeners and supporters of KPFA in the Bay Area, Central Valley and beyond are a force to be reckoned with. We are not about to allow the station we have built and made part of lives to be stolen away.

Matthew Hallinan is a member of KPFA’s local station board.

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New: The Crisis at KPFA Redux & Matthew Hallinan

By Tracy Rosenberg
Thursday August 26, 2010 - 10:36:00 AM

This is a response to an essay by Matthew Hallinan called "The Crisis at KPFA

I know that Save KPFA is worried about KPFA's future. So am I. The difference is how we express those concerns. Matthew is focused like a laser on certain things: the vast Pacifica bureaucracy, and the costs of elections and board meetings. I agree these things should be looked at. It may be that you don't need 8 employees to maintain 5 radio licenses and serve 110 affiliate stations. Certainly the 2% or so of the budget that goes to board election and meeting expenses shouldn't escape scrutiny.

But what about the other 98%? Does that play no role in the problem?

Math will tell us that a 15% decline in listener revenues cannot be addressed with a 2% solution.

What is disheartening in Matthew's essay is the disingenous attacks on anyone trying to examine the other 98% as "out of control" and "out to threaten the professional staff".

As an incumbent board member, I was just trying to balance the budget.


Matthew knows this perfectly well. In 2008 and 2009, the Concerned Listeners - Save KPFA majority on the board presented and passed budgets for KPFA that called for massive staff reductions. $300,000 in 2008 and $425,000 in 2009.

They knew, as surely as the Independents for Community Radio board minority did, that layoffs were unavoidable given the decline in listener donations.

But the layoffs were never made. Not until the spring of 2010, after the board majority turned over and the manager changed.

Not until one million dollars, the entire cash reserve in KPFA's bank accounts, had been spent. Leaving not one red cent for a rainy day reserve in the middle of an economic collapse.

How wildly irresponsible can a board of directors be?

I don't know if it was carelessness, lack of understanding of math, or a loyalty to some of the professional staff that overwhelmed Save KPFA's common sense. But it was appalling.

For Matthew to spend any time at all detailing comparatively trivial nonsense is stunning. Where is the awareness of the catastrophe they caused?

Does Save KPFA not understand the reason KPFA must be saved is their own actions as a board majority?

A Sadder Little Narrative

To indulge Matthew a bit on his pet peeves:

KPFA's Unpaid Staff Organization is 20 years old. It predates the board election process by more than a decade. It was forged in the people of color strikes that occurred at KPFA when movement struggles demanded their place at the table of what had been a largely white, elitist, academic institution. UPSO's purpose was to send representation to programming decision-making and to institute a grievance procedure for the large unpaid workforce.

I realize Matthew may not know this, but ICR-affiliated staff representative on the board, Renee Yang Geesler, who won the "extra" staff seat last year, is a CWA member and a paid staffer at KPFA.

An UPSO would have been a big help when Nadra Foster was summarily banned and then beaten up by the Berkeley Police Department in an incident that shamed progressives everywhere in 2008.

On the other two issues, I can only say Matthew is entitled to his opinion, but his opinion was over-ruled both times on firm legal grounds.

Noelle Hanrahan, Executive Director of Prision Radio, was entitled to complete the last six months of her board term, despite the outcome of union arbitration proceedings in her favor.

And former board members whose terms expired on December 5, 2009 were not allowed to remove a board colleague on that day. They were not legally able to take any actions on behalf of a board of directors they were no longer on.

I agree that such behavior is ugly and unpleasant. I wish Concerned Listeners - Save KPFA would not engage in it.

Where We Are Taking KPFA

Leaving aside the petty little battle waged by Concerned Listeners - Save KPFA to avoid losing their majority status in December of 2009:

Matthew expresses high dudgeon at the 2010 managerial change. But in addition to the million dollars that left the building, another problem emerged in early 2010.

That problem was a large sum of money, $375,000, that was supposed to be in one of KPFA's bank accounts, but wasn't there according to auditor Helin Donovan LLC.

Where was it? Why had Pacifica been told the money was in the bank when it wasn't there?

It turned out the uncashed check had been sitting in a KPFA desk drawer since October of 2008. It was now expired. Oops!

What was the board to do? Hold someone accountable? Not according to Matthew Hallinan. But yes, according to me and others who now held the majority on the board. That is the responsibility of a nonprofit board of directors. Money has to be where it is reported to be. Otherwise the board is asleep at the wheel. ICR does not intend for KPFA to go the way of the Vanguard Foundation.

I realize Matthew and most of the rest of the Concerned Listeners crew were not around during the 2002 to 2006 period when KPFA had an active program council and no program director. So he's afraid of what he doesn't understand.

But in fact, the Program Council on the whole did a great job: adding the excellent Voices of the Middle East and North Africa in 2002, when Arab-Americans were suffering terrible indignities and injustices after 9-11, Guns and Butter, which is one of KPFA's top moneymakers and has been for years, APEX Express - the Asian-Pacific Affairs Show, Pushing Limits, a disability rights program, Education Today with Kitty Kelly Epstein, Full Circle, the training program hour, Rock en Rebelion, the best rock and roll Latin liberation show around, The Women's Magazine and more. Programs that have only added to the richness of KPFA and that reflect vibrant communities here in Northern California.

Isn't that what we want?

Matthew is terribly concerned about the "fringes" of popular opinion. Does he forget that Lew Hill was a World War II pacifist who went to jail rather then fight in "The Good War". Now that was an opinion shared only by other "crazies" in 1945.

He founded this place particularly and specifically to broadcast wildly unpopular perspectives that could never get on the air anywhere else.

It was a vision so exciting and so radical that it survived for 60 years in spite of itself.

Despite an eternal lack of money, despite relying largely on volunteers and an overworked and underpaid staff.

Because that is what community radio is.

So lets stop all the nonsense, get the expenses in line with the revenues, find the "crazy" voices of today that will be the luminaries of the future, and get on with doing what Pacifica Radio does.

The world needs it.

Tracy Rosenberg is the Executive Director of Media Alliance, blogs on media policy at the Huffington Post, and is a member of the Pacifica Foundation Board of Directors and the Media and Democracy Coalition Board of Directors. .
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