The Reading Rack

Published: Sunday, Feb. 19, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 3E

'Never in My Wildest Dreams'

Belva Davis, with Vicki Haddock; PoliPointPress, 2010

The first chapter of "Not in My Wildest Dreams," the autobiography by veteran Bay Area TV reporter Belva Davis, recounts her experience covering the 1964 Republican Convention at the Cow Palace in San Francisco. It is riveting.

Working for an Oakland radio station at the time, Davis and her black colleague managed to snag two spectator passes that entitled them to seats in the nosebleed section where they set about "relaying to our black listeners all the news that white reporters might deem insignificant."

This was the year the Republican Party split largely over the issue of civil rights, when Goldwater conservatives wrested power away from Rockefeller moderates.

On Day Two of the convention, a raucous crowd shouted down Nelson Rockefeller when he tried to condemn zealots such as the Klan and John Birchers. While delegates on the floor were kept in check, Goldwater fanatics in the stands, Davis writes, "went off the leash."

Davis has a vivid recounting of the tense scene. The fanatics spotted Davis and her colleague and started yelling, "What the hell are you niggers doing in here?"

As the crowd grew more menacing, they began packing their gear to leave, but the crowd followed. "Niggers, get out of here, boy … You too, nigger bitch … Go on, get out … I'm gonna kill your ass."

Hooligans pelted them with garbage as they made their way down from the upper seats. "A glass bottle whizzed within an inch of my head. I heard it whack against the concrete and shatter." On the verge of tears, Davis recalled her colleague, struggling to maintain his dignity, muttered, "If you start to cry I will break your legs."

They made it out of the Cow Palace that night, shaken but unscathed.

Three years later Davis was hired at San Francisco CBS affiliate KPIX, the first black female TV news reporter on the West Coast, no small achievement for an African American born to a 15-year-old laundress in Louisiana during the depths of the Depression.

I first met Belva Davis in the early 1980s when she and I both worked for San Francisco's KRON-TV. I knew nothing of her early struggles until I read this book.

In a career that has lasted 50 years, she covered the student riots at Berkeley and San Francisco State, the rise and fall of the Black Panther Party, the Patricia Hearst kidnapping, the murder of San Francisco mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk, and much more.

Belva Davis, who is 80 years old, is still on Bay Area television, where she anchors a weekly public affairs program. The title "Never in My Wildest Dreams" nicely sums up her remarkable and improbable career – an inspiring read.

– Ginger Rutland

'Ear to the Ground: News From the Community and Natural World'

Bay Nature, Aleta George; January-March 2012.

In the 1860s, newspaper editor Will Green of the Colusa Sun proposed a bypass system that would mimic the Sacramento River's natural floodplain. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers eventually developed the 59,000- acre, three-mile-wide, 40-mile-long Yolo Bypass to convey floodwaters around Sacramento and other Valley communities.

That brilliant system remains with us today.

The Yolo Bypass supports agriculture and managed habitat for waterfowl. In wet years, it also provides vital shallow-water habitat for 15 native fish species, including spring-run and winter-run chinook salmon, Sacramento splittail, steelhead trout as well as game fish, such as white sturgeon and striped bass. Naturally, the bypass provides better rearing and migration habitat for juvenile fish than the Sacramento River channel, which is relatively narrow, with steep rock- reinforced banks and little shallow habitat.

Aleta George's article in Bay Nature highlights new efforts to enhance Northern California's native fish populations through expansion of the December-to-March seasonal shallow-water habitat in the Yolo Bypass floodplain.

Researchers working with rice farmer John Brennan and the Resource Renewal Institute are starting with a 5-acre test plot at Knaggs Ranch along the Sacramento River, just north of I-5, 10 minutes northeast of Woodland and 20 minutes from downtown Sacramento.

The idea is to flood the winter-dormant rice field to mimic the natural river floodplain and then truck in juvenile chinook salmon.

Next year, that will expand to a 10-acre area.

As George notes, "The ultimate goal is to provide up to 10,000 acres of winter floodplain habitat for chinook salmon and other native fish."

The hope, according to Huey Johnson of the Resource Renewal Institute, is that this will be "a turning point for salmon recovery." The Knaggs Ranch experiment, combining agricultural and floodplain values, is something to watch.

– Pia Lopez

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