Saturday, September 12, 2015

Dick Spotswood: Power play over control of Bay Area’s regional governance

Dick Spotswood writes a twice-weekly column on local politics for the Marin Independent Journal. (IJ photo/Robert Tong) 

The Bay Area is in the midst of an audacious bureaucratic power play that, if successful, will change the face of the region. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission is making its long-predicted move to gut the Association of Bay Area Governments, converting itself into the Bay Area’s de facto regional government.
A vote is expected soon enabling MTC to assume ABAG’s planning and housing allocation function. That would make ABAG’s financial model untenable. ABAG, long the high-density housing bogey man, has surprisingly morphed into a bottom-up operation respecting concerns of municipalities.
That’s due, in part, to two Marin council members, Novato’s Pat Eklund and San Anselmo’s Doug Kelly, who’ve taken an aggressive role reforming ABAG. It’s aided by ABAG new deputy executive director Brad Paul — a Greenbrae resident — who honors the long-touted but often-ignored policy that regional agencies push their high-density, transit-first housing agendas only when local communities concur.
See the full article in the Marin IJ HERE
See the Marin Coalition Lunch Program with Pat Ecklund and Steve Kinsey Debate HERE

Is Silicon Valley in Another Bubble . . . and What Could Burst It?

Is Silicon Valley in Another Bubble . . . and What Could Burst It?

With the tech industry awash in cash and 100 “unicorn” start-ups now valued at $1 billion or more, Silicon Valley can’t escape the question. Nick Bilton reports.

One Thursday morning in early June, the ballroom of the Rosewood Sand Hill hotel, in Menlo Park, was closed for a private presentation. The grand banquet hall appeared worthy of the sprawling resort’s five-star designation: ornate chandeliers hung from the ceiling; silk panels with a silver stenciled design covered the walls. Behind a stage in the 2,800-square-foot room, a large sign bore the name of Andreessen Horowitz, one of Silicon Valley’s most revered venture-capital firms.
As breakfast and coffee were offered, the company’s partners mingled with the men and women who endow their $1.5 billion fund. The investors were dressed invariably in business casual, with the top button of their dress shirts noticeably undone. (A mere handful of men stood out in a suit and tie.) Off in the distance, you could make out the faint purr of Bentleys and Teslas ferrying along Sand Hill Road, depositing the Valley’s other top V.C.’s at their respective offices—Greylock Partners, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, and Sequoia Capital, to name just a few—for another day of meetings with founders, reviewing the decks of new start-ups, and searching for the next can’t-miss company.
After some chitchat (Mitt Romney had addressed the group the previous night) Scott Kupor, a managing partner, took the stage to tell the assembled investors what was going on with their money. A16z, as the firm is commonly known in the Valley, had invested hundreds of millions of dollars in some of the industry’s biggest companies—Instagram, Facebook, Box, Twitter, and Oculus VR—along with a number of upstarts, such as Instacart, a grocery-delivery business that had been recently valued at about $2 billion. After the guests found their seats, Kupor began moving through a series of slides depicting the past and present of the tech sector, using data that would help inform the firm’s investments in the future. Each set of numbers had been meticulously researched and culled from sources that included Capital IQ, Bloomberg, and the National Venture Capital Association.
Yet the presentation, which adhered to a16z’s gray-and-deep-orange palette, seemed to have an ulterior motive. Kupor, his hair neatly parted, was eager to assuage any worry about the existence of a tech bubble. While he conceded that there were some eerie similarities with the infamous dot-com bubble of 1999—such as the preponderance of so-called unicorns, or tech start-ups valued at $1 billion and upward—Kupor confidently buoyed his audience with slides that read, “It’s different this time,” and charts highlighting the decrease in tech I.P.O.’s, the metric that eventually pierced the froth in March of 2000. Back then, a company went public almost every single day; now it was down to about once per week. This time around, he noted, the money was flowing backward. Rather than entering a company’s coffers in the public markets, it was making its way to start-ups in late-stage investments. There was little, he suggested, to worry about.
See the full article in Vanity Fair HERE

Friday, September 11, 2015

Can a renters group sue an East Bay city for cutting 270 units out of a project?

Can a renters group sue an East Bay city for cutting 270 units out of a project?

The San Francisco Bay Area Renters Federation, a pro-density tenants group, is moving to sue the East Bay city of Lafayette after it supported replacing a plan for 315 apartments with one for 44 single-family homes.

Activists from the group, known as SFBARF, said that the downsizing of the project, the Homes at Deer Hill by developer O'Brien Homes, is another example of suburban communities blocking housing and contributing to an imbalance in supply and demand that has exacerbated housing costs throughout the region.

Sonja Trauss, the founder of the San Francisco Bay Area Renters Federation

“We feel it's especially egregious,” said Brian Hanlon, an organizer with SFBARF, which has launched a website called Sue the Suburbs. It says it may pursue legal action against other cities as well.

SFBARF is arguing that Lafayette's move is illegal under the state's 1982 Housing Accountability Act, which says that projects that fit within existing zoning cannot be reduced unless the city finds a “specific adverse impact on public health or safety." Lafayette approved the 44-unit plan in August and has a second and final reading of the project scheduled on Sept. 14. SFBARF would have 90 days to file a suit, so its deadline would be around Dec. 13.

San Francisco Magazine first reported the potential lawsuit.

There is a precedent for using the Housing Accountability Act to win approval for projects. Land use attorney Andrew Junius of Junius & Rose, who is advising SFBARF, notes that the San Francisco Board of Appeals ruled in favor of a 12-unit development at 1050 Valencia St. in the Mission based on the act.

The group has to find plaintiffs before filing a lawsuit, likely potential renters that wanted to live in a larger project. Hanlon said he was talking to the United Educators Association for Affordable Housing Inc., which includes teachers in the Bay Area seeking affordable housing options, as a potential partner.

Sonja Trauss, a former private school math teacher, founded SFBARF in the spring of 2014 after she saw numerous examples of opposition to new housing. Trauss, a Philadelphia native who lives in West Oakland and was priced out of San Francisco, believes that new market-rate housing will help alleviate the supply crunch – even if she can’t personally afford any of it.

The organization's goal is provide a voice for renters around the region, whom she feels have historically been marginalized in the planning process, which is typically dominated by local residents who oppose new housing. “I want them to feel that they are on the wrong side of history,” said Trauss. The group writes letters to public officials, attends public hearings and holds informative panels on housing. Last week, about a dozen of members of SFBARF spoke in support of 75 Howard, a 120-unit waterfront project that was approved by the Planning Commission.

Trauss is establishing a non-profit affiliate to SFBARF called the California Renters Legal Advocacy and Education Fund (CARLA-EF), which would file the Lafayette lawsuit. Since the Housing Accountability Act is a statewide law, it could lead to more legal action throughout the Bay Area and in other areas including Southern California.

SFBARF will need more money. The group has previously raised money from Jeremy Stoppelman, the CEO of Yelp and the San Francisco Moderates. Trauss estimates the cost of litigation to be $500,000 over three years. She is planning to raise $250,000 as soon as possible, and has a commitment of $50,000 from a tech source that she declined to identify. She also plans to apply to the incubator Y Combinator's nonprofit program, which awards $100,000.

The group has gained national media coverage as the Bay Area's housing market becomes more expensive, including stories in the Washington Post, Vox andVice. Its Twitter account has grown to 1,800 followers, up from around 200 in January.

Critics have called the group a “shill” for developers, but the group is composed of a core group of 10 to 15 volunteers and has a 400-member Google Group. Trauss is the only full-time, paid member of the group and occasionally hires help on a contract basis.

Lafayette city officials strongly disagree with SFBARF's approach. "I don’t really get it," said Brandt Andersson, the mayor of Lafayette. "We need more housing. The way they’re going about it is wrong."

He notes that SFBARF first got involved in the planning process days before the City Council vote and four years after the process had started, and the group immediately threatened to sue them.

He notes that the city didn't reject the denser plan, and began processing the larger application in 2011. But there was negative feedback from residents and city officials to the denser plan, and developer O'Brien Homes proposed the smaller project after discussion with city officials. Since the city didn't reject the larger plan, Andersson said a lawsuit had "no legal basis." O’Brien Homes didn't immediately return requests for comment.

Andersson said that the site's higher density of 15 homes per acre dates back to the Contra Costa County zoning when the land was unincorporated. After the city passed a General Plan and 2012 Downtown Specific Plan, it decided that denser housing should be closer to the downtown and BART station, which would give more residents access to retail and public housing. "If you’re doing multifamily housing, you should do it downtown," said Andersson. "It’s closer to transit. It’ll be more affordable."

The O'Brien Homes site, at Deer Hill and Pleasant Hill Roads, is about 1.6 miles from the BART station and is surrounded by single-family homes.

Andersson is critical of SFBARF's last-minute involvement and lack of knowledge of the city's downtown plan. "That’s just not the way planning has been done here for the past 50 years," said Andersson.

He also notes that Lafayette is building more housing. The city has around 370 units in its pipeline over the next eight years, after only growing to 23,893 people in 2010 from the 23,501 in 1990.

Andersson said that SFBARF's legal challenge ignores the city's efforts to support denser housing in more appropriate areas. "They have a position. There are no nuances there," he said.

But SFBARF is undaunted and said that the fact that O'Brien Homes took four years to gain approvals is a sign of how dysfunctional the planning process is in the Bay Area, with most cities failing their regional allocations for housing.

"Almost every Bay Area municipality is out of compliance. The net effect of that is Latino grandmothers get evicted in the Mission," said Hanlon. "Lafayette is the beginning. Lafayette is not the end."

I've been everywhere Man (Australian Version)

Well, I was humpin' my bluey on the dusty Oodnadatta road,
When along came a semi with a high and canvas-covered load.
(Spoken) "If you're goin' to Oodnadatta, mate, um, with me you can ride."
So I climbed in the cabin and I settled down inside.
He asked me if I'd seen a road with so much dust and sand, I said
"Listen, mate, I've travelled ev'ry road in this here land."

Cos I've been everywhere, man,
I've been everywhere, man.
'Cross the deserts bare, man;
I've breathed the mountain air, man.
Of travel I've had my share, man.
I've been ev'rywhere.

Been to:
Tullamore, Seymour, Lismore, Mooloolaba,
Nambour, Maroochydore, Kilmore, Murwillumbah,
Birdsville, Emmaville, Wallaville, Cunnamulla,
Condamine, Strathpine, Proserpine, Ulladulla,
Darwin, Gin Gin, Deniliquin, Muckadilla,
Wallumbilla, Boggabilla, Kumbarilla,
I'm a killer.

(Spoken) "Yeah but listen here, mate, have you been to..."

I've been to Moree, Taree, Jerilderie, Bambaroo,
Toowoomba, Gunnedah, Caringbah, Woolloomooloo,
Dalveen, Tamborine, Engadine, Jindabyne,
Lithgow, Casino, Brigalow and Narromine,
Megalong, Wyong, Tuggerawong, Wangarella,
Morella, Augathella, Brindabella, I'm the feller.

(Spoken) "Yeah, I know that, but have you been to..."

I've been to Wollongong, Geelong, Kurrajong, Mullumbimby,
Mittagong, Molong, Grong Grong, Goondiwindi,
Yarra Yarra, Boroondara, Wallangarra, Turramurra,
Boggabri, Gundagai, Narrabri, Tibooburra,
Gulgong, Adelong, Billabong, Cabramatta,
Parramatta, Wangaratta*, Coolangatta, what's it matter?

(Spoken) "Yeah, look that's fine, but how about..."

I've been to Ettalong, Dandenong, Woodenbong, Ballarat,
Canberra, Milperra, Unanderra, Captain's Flat,
Cloncurry, River Murray, Kurri Kurri, Girraween,
Terrigal, Fingal, Stockinbingal, Collaroy and Narrabeen,
Bendigo, Dorrigo, Bangalow, Indooroopilly,
Kirribilli, Yeerongpilly, Wollondilly, don't be silly.

I've been here, there, ev'rywhere, I've been ev'rywhere.

(Spoken) "Okay, mate, you've been ev'ry place except one, and ya don't need my help t'get there."
(Sound of door slamming and truck driving off.)

1000 gallons of Toxic Paint spill onto Grady Ranch on 9/10!

This paint tote holds 330 gallons of paint.

1320 gallons of paint spills onto Grady Ranch on 9/10.  That is four tote loads of 330 gallons each. The spill is in the environmentally sensitive Miller Creek watershed above the proposed Grady Ranch project at 3000 Lucas Valley Road  They are cleaning it up quickly to minimize damage.

1,500 Gallons of Paint Spilled, Lucas Valley Road in Marin County Closed

CHP Marin
A big rig overturned on Lucas Valley Road in Marin County spilling 14,000 gallons of paint on Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015.
Lucas Valley Road was closed Thursday morning in both directions east of Big Rock after a big rig overturned and spilled an estimated 1,500 gallons of yellow paint onto watershed property, authorities said.
That estimate was downgraded from the original 14,000 gallons that was originally reported by the Marin County Sheriff.
That's because while California Highway Patrol Officer Andrew Barclay said 14,000 gallons of paint were on the truck, it appears as though only 1,500 gallons spilled. He is also unsure just how much went into a nearby creek, which is on George Lucas property.

A big rig overturned on Lucas Valley Road in Marin County spilling 14,000 gallons of yellow paint on Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015.
Photo credit: NBC Bay Area chopper
In a statement, the CHP said that 28-year-old Hugo Zavala-Berrera of Mendota was driving a 2008 freightliner truck and towing a trailer with eight 250 gallon containers of paint. He was trying to negotiate a tight, right turn on the road, west of West Gate Drive, when his trailer slipped, giving way to some paint containers falling into the ravine below.
The NBC Bay Area chopper flew overhead showing the overturned rig, as well as the yellow paint splattered all over rocks and a creek bed.
Representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Marin County Sheriff’s Office, Marin County Fire Department, Skywalker Fire Department, and Marin County Roads responded to the scene and began the recovery and cleanup of the hazardous materials.  The trucking company, JL Freight Line LLC out of Fresno, asked Bayview Environmental Services to clean up.
The California Highway Patrol said there were no injuries, only a "big mess" to clean up.
The road was expected to reopen at 10 p.m. on Thursday. But then decided that crews should come back Friday to finish the job.

Inside San Francisco’s Newest Rentals, Bunkbeds For $1,800 A Month

Inside San Francisco’s Newest Rentals, Bunkbeds For $1,800 A Month

Mark-Kelly_BIO-HEADMark Kelly
Mark Kelly joined KPIX 5 as a reporter in August 2013. In 2014, ...
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SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) – Can’t afford an apartment in San Francisco? So-called “co-creative housing” is offering a bunkbed and lots of company.
But is it legal? KPIX 5 wasn’t invited in. The only way to check it out was undercover.
Heidi’s moving into her new digs. KPIX 5 asked her to go into a building in the heart of San Francisco’s Mission District undercover to get an unbiased taste of a new kind of rental: It’s a bunkbed that she’s sharing with a stranger in a house with 30 other people.
The Victorian on South Van Ness Avenue doesn’t have a marquee, or any kind of sign. But it’s a hostel, advertised on Airbnb.
Heidi had to answer a questionnaire and do a Skype interview. She finally made the cut and paid $1,800 to be part of a community called Vinyasa HomesProject for a month.
“It’s decorated nicely, looks clean,” she said.
Other pluses: a communal kitchen, well stocked. And three bathrooms per floor, though Heidi found them not always spotless.
“You still have those typical roommate issues but times that times 30, because there’s 30 people sharing a house,” Heidi said.
The minuses: Small bedrooms.
“So the four-person bunk room is pretty tight. I mean its small, the bunk beds are backed up to each other,” Heidi said.
Even her two-person bunk room she says was tight. “It’s not like I would sit in my room and hang out. There’s a bunk bed and a desk, you know? And it’s small,” Heidi said.
Heidi told us most of the residents are in their 20s, from out of town, many from out of the country.
“I think it is just one of those, I need to get to the city and this is going to be the first stop. And then I’ll find something else,” she said.
The tenants seemed happy. But is it legal? Chief housing inspector Rosemary Bosque said bedrooms have to be 170 square feet to accommodate four adults.
Bosque says her inspectors can’t go in to measure unless there’s a complaint from inside. And so far there hasn’t been. “Whenever we do an inspection, it’s a consensual inspection,” she said.
As for using the building for what appears to be a hostel? “That is really a policy matter that I would leave then to the board and to the Planning Department,” she said.
“We do have a complaint, an active complaint on that property which we are investigating,” said Scott Sanchez with the Planning Department.
But he told KPIX 5 it’s not that simple, because the bunk beds are advertised on Airbnb with a 30-night minimum stay, so they don’t fall under the city’s short term rental ordinance.
KPIX 5 asked Sanchez, “So more than 30 days makes it residential?”
His answer, “Typically yes.”
KPIX 5: “Doesn’t that sort of just fly in the face of our goal in San Francisco now, which is we have a dwindling housing supply we need to fix that?”
Sanchez: “So you are pointing out an issue that may need to be addressed further, but at this point the codes don’t address that.”
Legal or not, Heidi on the whole gives Vinyasa homes a thumbs up. “Personally for me it’s not really my cup of tea. But I could see how for other people who like that style of living that it would work,” she said.
KPIX 5 tried to talk to Vinyasa homes, it turns out they run several hostels in the Bay Area. They had no comment. Neither did the landlord that owns the building. He is making tens of thousands of dollars a month renting it out.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Testimony to the Regional Water Quality Control Board about Prosperity Cleaners Toxic Waste Site. Sept 9, 2015

Five concerned citizens from Marinwood ask for immediate remediation measures at Prosperity Cleaners Toxic Waste site.  No remediation has been done since 2011 according to public records.  The Regional Water Quality Control Board has allowed the discharger to test instead of treat the source contamination. Now the toxic plume has extended under the 101 Freeway in Marinwood and extends 4/10 of a mile East.  The toxic problem is huge yet the board executive Bruce Wolff will not order immediate remediation.  There has been no remediation since August 2011

Monday, September 7, 2015

ATTENTION! Action Item and Two Presentations on Toxic WASTE at Prosperity Cleaners Hot Spot.

Clean Up the Toxic Waste Now!

PCE/Soil Vapor health effects.
·         ATTENTION Casa Marinwood Residents!  As you know the Toxic Waste/Soil Vapors at the Prosperity Cleaners site may threaten surrounding neighborhood.  Elevated Soil Vapor has been detected at the property line of Marinwood Plaza, just 100 feet from Casa Marinwood.  There has been NO TREATMENT of the known TOXIC WASTE HOT SPOT since 2011 while testing continues.  The TOXIC waste now has spread approximately .4 miles  to the EAST onto Silveira Ranch yet
·         no testing has been done inside Casa Marinwood 
·         The dangerous health effects of toxic soil vapors are known. 
Come join us for a brief presentation:
#1. Tuesday, September 8th at 7:30 PM
Marinwood Community Services District meeting:
775 Miller Creek Road, Marinwood, CA
#2 Wed. Sept 9th at 9:00 AM
California Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB):
1515 Clay Street, Suite 1400, Oakland, CA 

Visit the Toxic Waste Page HERE

The latest published Geotracker documents about the 
Prosperity Cleaners site HERE

Posts on about Toxic Waste 

Petition to clean up the Toxic Waste HERE

Documentary about Love Canal, the struggle that defined a new era in environmental protection against toxic waste (and politics) 
Love Canal "activism success" 

Is Capitalism not Climate Change to Blame?

Naomi Klein, author of "This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate," and attendee of Heartland's Sixth Climate Conference.
Naomi Klein, author of “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate,” and attendee of Heartland’s Sixth Climate Conference.
The Heartland Institute and “Heartlanders” are mentioned on at least 30 pages in Klein’s best-selling 2014 book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate (see the index). Excerpts from her interview with me appear on page 42 and elsewhere. Plainly, that interview and her attendance at the 2011 International Conference on Climate Change had a big influence on this book.
In fact, an early draft of the first one-third of the book appeared as the cover article in The Nation in 2011 shortly after the conference. No other think tank or advocacy group on the right is mentioned in This Changes Everything nearly as often as Heartland is; The Heritage Foundation is mentioned once, American Enterprise Institute twice, Cato Institute just six times, for example. Google searches and anecdotal reports show Klein also mentions me and Heartland frequently in her public presentations.
Klein probably views us as her most influential opponent in the debate because, like her, we are utterly sincere and see past the science debate to the motivation of the principal players. She doesn’t accuse us of being a front for oil or coal companies. She knows we believe the left’s interest in global warming is tactical, a pretense for calling for more government control over the economy. She agrees with us that this is a powerful tactic, one she believes socialists on the left aren’t pursuing with enough vigor.
So we often are on Klein’s mind. She uses us as a foil or a straw horse sometimes, but more often as a worthy opponent in the debate over the future of the world.
Klein often expresses her fear that her side has been co-opted by special-interest groups – ethanol producers, wind and solar companies, liberal foundations – the same way our side was at risk of being co-opted by fossil fuel companies. For both our sides, being co-opted means endorsing “technofixes” and programs that foist onto taxpayers and ratepayers the cost of a transition to expensive and unreliable renewable fuels, i.e., fascism. On this issue, socialists and libertarians unite in opposing a “third way.”
Ironically and importantly, the left’s attacks on ExxonMobil and other oil companies saved us from being co-opted by the oil industry and other corporate interests. In 2007, ExxonMobil said it would continue funding us only if we agreed to admit that man-made global warming “may” be causing a climate crisis. Had I said yes to that, the debate today would be much different. Instead, we started running ads in The Wall Street Journal and elsewhere with the headline “Global Warming Is Not a Crisis.”
Similarly, Renaissance Reinsurance (RenRe), a major Heartland donor, RenRe was comfortable with our position on climate change so long as their support wasn’t public knowledge. Our contacts with the company were at least as skeptical about man-made climate change as anyone at Heartland. In 2012, following the Fakegate incident that revealed their funding, they said they would continue to fund us only if we publicly retracted and reversed our position on the underlying science of climate change. I said “take a walk,” and they did.
As near as I can tell, nothing similar has occurred on the left. Klein is highly critical of some of the largest environmental groups and liberal foundations for using the global warming issue to steer the debate to cap and trade, subsidies to renewable energy companies, and giving money to third-world dictators to shut them up, rather than abolishing capitalism and reaching for socialism. There isn’t much money out there, apparently, to support Klein-style radicalism, though it sells lots of books.
So the left, in the climate debate, is co-opted by crony capitalists and liberal philanthropists. The right pretty much is similarly co-opted by crony capitalists and conservative philanthropists — except for Heartland, Competitive Enterprise Institute, a few other worthy and principled allies. Heartland’s efforts validated questioning the “scientific consensus,” something we realized early on was necessary to stopping the march toward cap and trade, carbon taxes, or worse. It fundamentally changed the debate, turned public opinion, and stopped the global warming movement dead in its tracks.
Klein’s understanding of climate science is superficial at best and thinly sourced in this book. That’s her greatest vulnerability: She “believes” in global warming without having looked under the hood. It’s hard to blame her for that: She has clearly spent thousands of hours researching and writing on the policy and political aspects of the issue, interviewing everyone from the left to the far left with an opinion (or financial interest) in the issue. It’s hard to find time to also master the science aspects. But as a result, her ideological fervor and confirmation bias blind her to the possibility that she is wrong.
Are we similarly blinded? I don’t think so, because the financial rewards to us of “admitting” man-made global warming “may” be a crisis are enormous. We had a strong financial incentive to truly look under the hood and decide which side we should be on.
More than ANY other think tank or advocacy group in the debate on either the right or the left, we’ve studied the science. Ask yourself: where is the Environmental Defense Fund’s or Greenpeace’s equivalent of Climate Change Reconsidered? They don’t exist. Because they don’t care enough about the science, because at the end of the day, the science doesn’t matter to them. It doesn’t affect their tactic of using global warming as a scare tactic to raise money and advance a left-wing agenda. As Klein writes, “it’s not about carbon, it’s about capitalism.”
We do care about the science. We do ask ourselves, constantly, if the science is on our side.You don’t assemble an international team of climate scientists and publish four thick volumes of pure science on an issue if you think the science doesn’t matter.
Klein’s greatest strength is recognizing that nothing less than the abolition of capitalism will achieve the drastic reductions in emissions her side is calling for… and she’s willing to say it out loud. I love that about her. The leaders of the environmental movement, who pretend this isn’t about ideology and that “stopping” climate change would be costless, hate her for revealing this.