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The San Francisco Chronicle
Apr 06, 2005 - 01:00 AM

by John Wildermuth,Carla Marinucci, Patricia Yollin

Rowdy protests greet governor at S.F. fund-raiser

Noisy demonstrators armed with signs and outrage once again greeted an increasingly beleaguered Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger -- this time at San Francisco's Ritz-Carlton Hotel -- when he arrived for a Tuesday evening fund-raiser.

Some people came alone, others with groups. Neophyte protesters mixed with veteran activists. Tourists on cable cars waved and snapped pictures, motorists honked, and the music ranged from "Born in the U.S.A." to "I Left My Heart in San Francisco."

A few thousand boisterous protesters eventually materialized, with the rowdy crowd resembling a union rally in front of one of the city's poshest hotels.

Inside, about 100 people paid $1,000 each to attend the fund-raiser sponsored by Citizens to Save California, with some contributing thousands more for pictures and a pre-dinner reception with the governor.

The group has pledged to raise $13 million to put a number of initiatives on the ballot, including measures to limit pensions for public employees, require merit pay for teachers, make it easier to trim state spending and change the way political boundaries are drawn.

Protester Juanita Yee, 40, of Brisbane, showed up to denounce the governor for failing to support public education in the ways he had promised.

"I can't afford private school," said Yee, who has four kids. "It's not an option with a stay-at-home mom and a father who's a union plumber."

Santa Clara fire Capt. Bill Stone had never attended a protest before, but was spurred to do so Tuesday by proposed benefit cuts for public safety employees.

"Firefighters will step up when it's an issue that affects people like teachers," said Stone, who arrived with seven other firefighters from Local 1171 in Santa Clara.

The crowd was largely middle-aged, equipped with signs such as "Grope-n-ator, keep your hands off our retirement" and "Nurses heal, Arnold wheels and deals."

A concession worker at SBC Park went directly from the San Francisco Giants home opener to the protest at the Nob Hill hotel. "The issues hit close to home for everybody," said the worker, Richard Abrahams, 49.

Donors were booed and taunted as they entered the hotel from Pine Street, while the governor slipped in a California Street entrance.

Protesters surged onto Pine Street a little after 6 p.m., forcing police to shut down the block between Grant Avenue and California Street. Meanwhile, demonstrators 40-deep lined a block of California Street and repeatedly chanted, "Recall Arnold."

John Bilicska, 46, an unemployed North Beach resident who used to work at UC Irvine, said, "The governor's calling the people who do the work the special interests, while the businesses that are shipping our jobs overseas are just great. I don't trust him. He's a typical Republican politician."

Some protesters circulated petitions calling for cheaper prescription drugs, a carbuyer's bill of rights and an initiative to regulate PG&E statewide.

Code Pink, a group founded by women to protest the war in Iraq, also showed up -- and not the same way as the other protesters.

Instead, they rented a $325-a-night room in the hotel, donned pink wigs and hung an anti-Schwarzenegger banner out a window before hotel security intervened.

Sandra Lowe of the California Teachers Association, who also is a school board member in Sonoma, said, "I'm shocked at the number of people who've come, particularly from the North Bay. It's a beautiful day in the Bay Area, and to fight traffic to come down here -- that's a real commitment."

Doug Bates, 54, a music teacher in the Sonoma Unified School District, was one of those protesters.

"Eventually these cuts will trickle down to the students, and they might eliminate music programs in the schools," Bates said.

The protest wasn't expected to hurt the attendance or the fund-raising because much of the money already had been paid or pledged.

"Our supporters understand that the people outside protesting don't represent the majority of Californians,'' said Joanne Monaco, a spokeswoman for Citizens to Save California.

Schwarzenegger has headlined fund-raisers for the group in Sacramento, Los Angeles, Irvine and San Jose, with one scheduled for San Diego later this month. The efforts have raised million for the initiative drive.

He has deemed the measures a much-needed reform package to get California back on its financial feet, and is expected to call a special election that would put the initiatives on the ballot in November.

The protest organizers weren't content to limit their efforts to the hotel on Tuesday. The California Nurses Association drove a mobile anti-Schwarzenegger billboard to opening day at SBC Park and had an airplane flying over the city with a banner saying: "Arnold: California is not for sale."

"We're going to have a blast,'' said Rose Ann DeMoro, executive director of the nurses group. "We've been protesting at 38 of the governor's fund-raisers since November, and we expect this to be the most significant."

Earlier on Tuesday, protesters also took their complaints to the governor's biggest financial backers. Demonstrators showed up outside the Gap store on Post Street in midafternoon to protest the $225,000 that company founder Don Fisher and his family have given to Schwarzenegger and his committees.

About 25 demonstrators showed up and called for a boycott of the clothing chain. The group, California Consumers United, consisted of college students and consumer activists.

Although modest, the protest at the Gap -- which has its headquarters in San Francisco -- signals a more aggressive and broader approach to protesting the governor's policies.

"I shop at the Gap, and Donald Fisher's support helps Arnold, so I want to send a message that we'd really like him to get behind students instead," said Erin Garvey, a 29-year-old law student at the University of San Francisco. "It makes sense that if you're so reliant on students as consumers, you should listen to their needs."

Protester Owen Stephens, 26, a sociology student at San Francisco City College, said the word-of-mouth effort particularly appeals to young people concerned with budget cuts to education.

"The governator likes to accuse people of being special interests," he said. "Are students special interests? Every purchase that I make here goes to more money for Arnold."

Republican Party officials -- and the governor's staff -- kept away from Tuesday's Ritz-Carlton protest. Rob Stutzman, the governor's spokesman, tried to downplay the anti-Schwarzenegger crowds, telling reporters at a Sacramento briefing that those complaining about the governor's agenda were little more than paid shills.

"It's obvious when you go to San Francisco, you're going to get large protests when you're doing something controversial,'' he said "So we're not at all surprised that there will be a large turnout tonight of protesters, many of which are paid, union protesters punching the clock.

"Attributing significance to a large protest crowd in San Francisco -- I think you have to be careful about that. San Francisco is a built-in protest on virtually anything."

Union organizers denied that workers were getting paid to show up at the protest, and Stutzman declined to offer any evidence of payments from the unions.

In a telephone interview with The Chronicle, Stutzman complained that the protesters represented special interest groups anxious to hold on to budget-busting agreements they made with former Democratic Gov. Gray Davis and the Democrat-controlled Legislature.

"In order to reform the state, you bet there has to be a rollback of the sweetheart deals they accumulated," Stutzman said.

The special interest label Schwarzenegger has pinned on his opponents has infuriated nurses, teachers and other public employees.

"It's a sign of (Schwarzenegger's) autocratic nature,'' said DeMoro of the nurses' union. "Everyone who has a contrary opinion is suddenly a special interest.''

The crowd out in front of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel shows how the governor miscalculated, she added.

"He's going after people like teachers, nurses, police and firefighters, people who have deep roots in their local communities,'' DeMoro said. "We didn't even do a mailing to get people here. We just talked to our members, and had them call their families and friends.''
Chronicle staff writer Joe Garofoli contributed to this report.

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