The shit show's extended run

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The SFPUC has been giving away compost made of human waste for years, but recently stopped due to health concerns

By Brady Welch

You really can’t make this shit up, people. Since we last reported on the shit show which had gone cross-bay all the way to Alice Waters’ backyard, further accusations have been lobbed, acid press releases have issued forth, and now there’s even a "legal complaint" against, get this, the UK’s Guardian newspaper.

Francesca Vietor, executive director of the Chez Panisse Foundation and vice president at the center of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, the agency at the center of this mess, has filed contested a story in the Guardian," with that paper including the line "This article is the subject of a legal complaint made by Fransesca Vietor" at the top of its article online. What seems to be at issue is a line that states that the SFPUC’s giveaway “was overseen” by Vietor. While that’s exactly the claim that the Organic Consumers Association has made on its website and in press releases, its probably more accurate to say she was a member of the board that oversees the agency that oversees the program.

In an April 1 statement by the Chez Panisse Foundation (issued the day of the OCA’s original but sparsely attended protest), the organization claimed that, “Ms. Vietor has never promoted the SFPUC program. In fact, as soon as [the OCA] brought the program to her attention, Ms. Vietor asked the staff of the SFPUC to do three things,” which the statement lists as putting the program on hold, conducting additional testing, and issuing a public call for alternative solutions. The first has been put into effect (a fact curiously absent from today’s belated San Francisco Chronicle story on the subject), but as far as we can tell, the last two are still waiting to happen.

Nevertheless, while we’re willing to grant Vietor the benefit of the doubt regarding her initial ignorance about the giveaway program (and then successfully suspending it), what’s still troubling is that it was an outside advocacy group that had to bring the program to her attention in the first place. She’s the vice president of the SFPUC after all, and the compost giveaways were a very public campaign.

It’s one thing if Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffet claims he didn’t know Fruit of the Loom, a Berkshire-owned company, was using, say, endangered albino chimpanzee pelts in its trademark tighty-whities (which we’re not saying, so put down that lawsuit, Warren). But it’s quite another when the VP of the SFPUC board of commissioners (and executive director of the Chez Panisse foundation, as well as former director of the SF Department of the Environment) didn’t know about her agency’s program to greenwash sewage sludge and give it to the city’s gardeners. We’re not saying Vietor lied. We’re just suggesting that maybe she should have read her company emails. Or at least picked up the newspaper.

The Chez Panisse Foundation, for their part, has asked for a public apology for what they take to be the slanderous charges of the Organic Consumers Association. But if we know the OCA, and we’ve talked to them many times on the phone, this is unlikely to happen.

As far as we’re concerned, the most important thing in the matter is that the program be suspended—something which the OCA, the Center for Food Safety, and apparently, Vietor herself, all sought, and succeeded in doing. The second most important thing is putting all the issues and stakeholders out in the open, which if nothing else, our continued reporting of the story has attempted to do. And while this shit is beginning to get a little bit old, and perhaps less odorous, the Guardian will continue to keep you posted.