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The cop wanted her car keys. Kelli Peters handed them over. They were outside Plaza Vista School in Irvine, where she had watched her daughter go from kindergarten to fifth grade, where any minute now the girl would be getting out of class to look for her. Now she watched as her ruin seemed to unfold before her. Watched as the cop emerged from her car holding a Ziploc bag of marijuana, 17 grams worth, plus a ceramic pot pipe, plus two smaller EZY Dose Pill Pouch baggies, one with 11 Percocet pills, another with 29 Vicodin.

It was enough to send her to jail, and more than enough to destroy her name. Her legs buckled and she was on her knees, shaking violently and sobbing and insisting the drugs were not hers. The cop, a year veteran, had found drugs on many people, in many settings. When caught, they always lied. Peters had been doing what she always did on a Wednesday afternoon, trying to stay on top of a hundred small emergencies.

She was 49, with short blond hair and a slightly bohemian air. As the volunteer director of the Afterschool Classroom Enrichment program at Plaza Vista, she was a constant presence on campus, whirling down the halls in flip-flops and bright sundresses, a peace-sign pendant hanging from her neck.

If she had time between tasks, she might slip into the cartooning class to watch her year-old daughter, Sydnie, as she drew. Her daughter had been her excuse to quit a high-pressure job in the mortgage industry peddling loans, which she had come to associate with the burn of acid reflux.

No matter how frenetic the pace became at school, the worst day was better than that , and often afternoons ended with a rush of kids throwing their arms around her. At 5 feet tall, she watched many of them outgrow her. Peters had spent her childhood in horse country at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains. She tossed pizzas, turned a wrench in a skate shop, flew to Hawaii on impulse and stayed for two years. She mixed mai tais at a Newport Beach rib joint.

She waited tables at a rock-n-roll-themed pasta house. A married lawyer — one of the regulars — grew infatuated with her and showed up at her house one night. He went away, but a sense of vulnerability lingered. In her mids she married Bill, a towering, soft-spoken blues musician and restaurateur who made her feel calm.

She spent years trying to get pregnant, and when it happened her priorities narrowed. In Irvine, she found a master-planned city where bars and liquor stores, pawnshops and homeless shelters had been methodically purged, where neighborhoods were regulated by noise ordinances, lawn-length requirements and mailbox-uniformity rules.

It was 66 square miles, with big fake lakes, 54 parks, , people, and 62, trees. Anxiety about crime was poured into the very curve of the streets and the layout of the parks, all conceived on drawing boards to deter lawbreaking. For all that outsiders mocked Irvine as a place of sterile uniformity, she had become comfortable in its embrace.

The muted beige strip malls teemed with tutoring centers. If neighboring Newport Beach had more conspicuous flourishes of wealth, like mega-yachts and ocean-cliff mansions, the status competition in Irvine — where so many of the big houses looked pretty much alike — centered on education. Plaza Vista was a year-round public school in a coveted neighborhood, and after six years she knew the layout as well as her own kitchen.

Become a Los Angeles Times subscriber today to support stories like this one. Start getting full access to our signature journalism for just 99 cents for the first four weeks.

Around campus, she was the mom everyone knew. She had a natural rapport with children. The school had given her a desk at the front office, which provided an up-close view of countless parental melodramas. The moms who wanted the 7th-grade math teacher fired because their kids got Bs. Or the mom who demanded a network of giant umbrellas and awnings to shield her kids from the playground sun.

That afternoon — Feb. She was in the multi-purpose room, leading a cluster of tiny martial artists through their warm-up exercises, when a school administrator came in to find her. A policeman was at the front desk, asking for her by name.

She ran down the hall, seized by panic. She thought it must be about her husband, who was now working as a traveling wine salesman. On a normal shift, Shaver could expect to handle barking-dog calls, noisy-neighbor calls, shoplifters and car burglaries, maybe a car wreck or two. He was a sniper on the Irvine Police SWAT team, armed with cutting-edge equipment that was the envy of other departments, but had never needed to pull the trigger.

He had been seven hours into an unmemorable shift when, at 1: I was, I just had to go over to the school and, uh, I was, I saw a car driving very erratically. The caller said he had seen drugs in the car. He knew the name of the driver — Kelli. He knew the type of car — a PT Cruiser.

People were drifting in and out of the school with their kids, watching, as the policeman led Peters into the parking lot. His patrol car was blocking her PT Cruiser. He put them on his hood, and she begged him to put them somewhere else. Her daughter might see. He peered into her pupils and checked her pulse. He made her touch her nose. He made her walk and turn. He made her close her eyes, tilt her head up and count silently to She passed all the tests.

Shaver could have arrested Peters. Possessing pot on school grounds was a misdemeanor. Possessing narcotics like Vicodin and Percocet without a prescription was a felony. She could do time. Instead, he kept asking questions. He was patient and alert to detail, qualities ingrained in a sharpshooter trained to lie atop a building for hours, studying a window through a rifle scope. He interviewed school administrators, who confirmed what Peters had said.

She had arrived at the school office around This meant the caller, who claimed to have just seen her at 1: Shaver asked Peters if he could search her apartment. She drove her PT Cruiser to her apartment about a block away, while Shaver and another officer followed. Reporter Christopher Goffard joined us via Facebook Live to answer your questions about how he reported this story.

They had lived here since moving to Irvine, more than a decade back. They had found themselves consistently outbid in their attempt to buy a home. Money had been tight since she quit her job. In affluent Irvine, your relation to the real estate you inhabited was one of the invisible class lines. She watched as Shaver searched the kitchen cabinets, the bedrooms, the drawers, the couches, the patio.

He found nothing to link her to the drugs in her car. By now, the case had lost its open-and-shut feel. People typically hid their drugs in the glove box, or under the car seat.

Peters was convinced she would be spending the night in jail. But after he had finished searching the apartment, Shaver told her that he was not going to take her in. The forensics team would be coming with the long Q-tips to take cheek swabs from her and her daughter, to take their prints and to scour the Cruiser for evidence.

This article appeared in print and online on August 28, Get full access to our signature journalism for just 99 cents for the first four weeks. The lawyers lived in a big house with a three-car garage and a Mediterranean clay-tile roof, on a block of flawless lawns and facades of repeating peach.

The couple had three young children, a cat named Emerald and a closetful of board games. On their nightstand were photos of their wedding in Sonoma wine country. Kent and Jill Easter were in their 30s, and wore their elite educations on their license plates: Experts in corporate and securities law, they had met at a Palo Alto law firm.

She had quit her practice to become a stay-at-home mom in Irvine, and by appearance her daily routine was unexceptional: The story Kelli Peters told police about them, in February , was a strange one. She was scared, and her voice kept cracking. A year earlier, the Easters had campaigned unsuccessfully to oust her from the school where she ran the after-school program.

The ordeal had shaken her, but she thought it was over. Now, after a phone tip led police to a stash of drugs in her car, she thought of the Easters. A tennis class had just ended on the playground behind the main administrative building, and Peters — volunteer director of the Afterschool Classroom Enrichment program, called ACE — had the task of rounding up the kids.

She would lead them into the building through the back door and hand them off to parents waiting on the sidewalk in front of the school. The man who ran the tennis class had found him and walked him to the front desk. Easter was not OK.

Holt Uncensored: Patricia Holt on Books and the Publishing Revolution

She mixed mai tais at a Newport Beach rib joint. She waited tables at a rock-n-roll-themed pasta house. A married lawyer — one of the regulars — grew infatuated with her and showed up at her house one night.

He went away, but a sense of vulnerability lingered. In her mids she married Bill, a towering, soft-spoken blues musician and restaurateur who made her feel calm. She spent years trying to get pregnant, and when it happened her priorities narrowed. In Irvine, she found a master-planned city where bars and liquor stores, pawnshops and homeless shelters had been methodically purged, where neighborhoods were regulated by noise ordinances, lawn-length requirements and mailbox-uniformity rules.

It was 66 square miles, with big fake lakes, 54 parks, , people, and 62, trees. Anxiety about crime was poured into the very curve of the streets and the layout of the parks, all conceived on drawing boards to deter lawbreaking. For all that outsiders mocked Irvine as a place of sterile uniformity, she had become comfortable in its embrace.

The muted beige strip malls teemed with tutoring centers. If neighboring Newport Beach had more conspicuous flourishes of wealth, like mega-yachts and ocean-cliff mansions, the status competition in Irvine — where so many of the big houses looked pretty much alike — centered on education.

Plaza Vista was a year-round public school in a coveted neighborhood, and after six years she knew the layout as well as her own kitchen. Become a Los Angeles Times subscriber today to support stories like this one.

Start getting full access to our signature journalism for just 99 cents for the first four weeks. Around campus, she was the mom everyone knew. She had a natural rapport with children. The school had given her a desk at the front office, which provided an up-close view of countless parental melodramas.

The moms who wanted the 7th-grade math teacher fired because their kids got Bs. Or the mom who demanded a network of giant umbrellas and awnings to shield her kids from the playground sun.

That afternoon — Feb. She was in the multi-purpose room, leading a cluster of tiny martial artists through their warm-up exercises, when a school administrator came in to find her. A policeman was at the front desk, asking for her by name. She ran down the hall, seized by panic.

She thought it must be about her husband, who was now working as a traveling wine salesman. On a normal shift, Shaver could expect to handle barking-dog calls, noisy-neighbor calls, shoplifters and car burglaries, maybe a car wreck or two. He was a sniper on the Irvine Police SWAT team, armed with cutting-edge equipment that was the envy of other departments, but had never needed to pull the trigger.

He had been seven hours into an unmemorable shift when, at 1: I was, I just had to go over to the school and, uh, I was, I saw a car driving very erratically. The caller said he had seen drugs in the car. He knew the name of the driver — Kelli.

He knew the type of car — a PT Cruiser. People were drifting in and out of the school with their kids, watching, as the policeman led Peters into the parking lot. His patrol car was blocking her PT Cruiser. He put them on his hood, and she begged him to put them somewhere else.

Her daughter might see. He peered into her pupils and checked her pulse. He made her touch her nose. He made her walk and turn. He made her close her eyes, tilt her head up and count silently to She passed all the tests. Shaver could have arrested Peters. Possessing pot on school grounds was a misdemeanor.

Possessing narcotics like Vicodin and Percocet without a prescription was a felony. She could do time. Instead, he kept asking questions. He was patient and alert to detail, qualities ingrained in a sharpshooter trained to lie atop a building for hours, studying a window through a rifle scope.

He interviewed school administrators, who confirmed what Peters had said. She had arrived at the school office around This meant the caller, who claimed to have just seen her at 1: Shaver asked Peters if he could search her apartment. She drove her PT Cruiser to her apartment about a block away, while Shaver and another officer followed.

Reporter Christopher Goffard joined us via Facebook Live to answer your questions about how he reported this story. They had lived here since moving to Irvine, more than a decade back. They had found themselves consistently outbid in their attempt to buy a home. Money had been tight since she quit her job. In affluent Irvine, your relation to the real estate you inhabited was one of the invisible class lines. She watched as Shaver searched the kitchen cabinets, the bedrooms, the drawers, the couches, the patio.

He found nothing to link her to the drugs in her car. By now, the case had lost its open-and-shut feel. People typically hid their drugs in the glove box, or under the car seat. Peters was convinced she would be spending the night in jail. But after he had finished searching the apartment, Shaver told her that he was not going to take her in. The forensics team would be coming with the long Q-tips to take cheek swabs from her and her daughter, to take their prints and to scour the Cruiser for evidence.

This article appeared in print and online on August 28, Get full access to our signature journalism for just 99 cents for the first four weeks. The lawyers lived in a big house with a three-car garage and a Mediterranean clay-tile roof, on a block of flawless lawns and facades of repeating peach.

The couple had three young children, a cat named Emerald and a closetful of board games. On their nightstand were photos of their wedding in Sonoma wine country. Kent and Jill Easter were in their 30s, and wore their elite educations on their license plates: Experts in corporate and securities law, they had met at a Palo Alto law firm. She had quit her practice to become a stay-at-home mom in Irvine, and by appearance her daily routine was unexceptional: The story Kelli Peters told police about them, in February , was a strange one.

She was scared, and her voice kept cracking. A year earlier, the Easters had campaigned unsuccessfully to oust her from the school where she ran the after-school program. The ordeal had shaken her, but she thought it was over. Now, after a phone tip led police to a stash of drugs in her car, she thought of the Easters.

A tennis class had just ended on the playground behind the main administrative building, and Peters — volunteer director of the Afterschool Classroom Enrichment program, called ACE — had the task of rounding up the kids.

She would lead them into the building through the back door and hand them off to parents waiting on the sidewalk in front of the school. The man who ran the tennis class had found him and walked him to the front desk. Easter was not OK. The conversation made Peters uncomfortable, and she wanted to end it. It was always the same weird smile.

She wanted Peters gone. He is receiving good grades and has earned many awards this year. He is not mentally or physically slow by any standard. It seemed to boil down to a single word, misheard as an insult. She knew him as a quiet kid, smart, prone to daydream, a participant in the school arts program that she had worked hard to keep alive. He would race up to her, proud of his drawings. Peters did not know. School principal Heather Phillips talked to Jill Easter by phone, the week after the incident.

Phillips had learned that Easter was approaching parents on campus to rail against Peters. This could be construed as harassment, the principal told Easter. The school had a rule about civility. Peters, who had volunteered for years without controversy, was badly shaken.

She worried how the attention might affect the school. The court threw it out. The Easters dropped the suit. As a result of their complaints, the school required a head count before children were released from the after-school program. And the Easters got a refund on their ACE tuition. Otherwise, the power couple lost.

The school stood by its longtime volunteer, and in early she was elected president of the PTA. Mark Andreozzi as genuinely scared. Alerted by a mysterious caller, police had searched her car in the school parking lot on Feb.

Peters told police something she recalled Jill Easter saying during their original confrontation: The drugs had appeared nearly a year to the day since that incident — the third Wednesday of February — and Peters did not think the timing was coincidental. Still, she could not be positive the Easters were behind the drugs in her car.

She told police there was another possibility — a year-old dad who lived across the street from the school and had a reputation for bizarre behavior. Police knew him well.

They had responded to complaints about him wandering onto campus without permission, ranting at school staff, heckling the crossing guard, and videotaping the crosswalk as kids moved through it. At least once, he showed up in a Batman costume, masked and caped, to pick up his son. He made parents nervous; Peters had felt sorry for him. Maybe he had studied them, and knew that drug possession would disqualify her from her position. Cops have an informal phrase for such people, who do not quite meet the requirements of a , the code for an involuntary psychiatric hold.

Andreozzi was a former highway patrolman who had worked narcotics for years. He wore plain clothes, a beard and a half-Mohawk. As the lead detective on the case, he had been given carte blanche.

He checked her record. He asked about her at the school. Andreozzi played the call that had summoned police to the school on Feb. The caller claimed to have a daughter at Plaza Vista, but the school had nobody by that name. Andreozzi listened to the call again and again.

He noticed that the caller stuttered nervously, and volunteered more information than a typical caller did, as if following a script. They traced the call. It had been placed from a wall-mounted phone in the ground-floor business office at the Island Hotel, an elegant high-rise resort in Newport Beach. Matt McLaughlin went to the hotel basement to study surveillance footage.

On the screen, people moved in and out of the lobby. He was looking for the PTA rival, a 5-foot-8 Asian man in his early 40s.

There was no sign of him. There was, however, a tall, lanky figure he did not recognize — a man in a dark suit who walked calmly toward the business center just before the call.

The lot had a code-activated gate, but was easy to infiltrate for anyone patient enough to follow another car in. Every time Kelli Peters talked to police, she had a powerful guilty feeling. She was sure they would discover every bad and semi-bad thing she had ever done. Like how she had once hurled her company-issued smartphone out her car window, on the day she quit the mortgage business in disgust.

Peters found a therapist. How police had not arrested her but still might, any day. Nobody gets out of that. It occurred to Peters that her own therapist might not believe her. She wondered how many other people, even her friends, harbored doubts. They had worked quietly for weeks, watching the Easters, learning their habits, and now the detectives were prepared to move.

Early on the morning of March 4, , a small army of Irvine police — nearly two dozen — gathered at the station to rehearse the plan. Andreozzi and his team had debated how to get Kent Easter to talk. They had to get him alone, away from his colleagues. They would be foolish to underestimate his intelligence.

But they thought that a man accustomed to winning with his brain might be undone by his faith in its powers. So they would come on gently, playing dumb. Easter had just pulled into the garage, into his reserved parking spot, when Andreozzi climbed out of his car and hailed him, and was joined moments later by another plainclothesman. Their questions were vague: Was he aware of anything that had happened recently at Plaza Vista elementary? At first Easter seemed happy to talk.

He had a problem last year, he said. His son had been locked out of the school, and a school volunteer had berated him for being slow. He and his wife had filed complaints, but then moved on.

They mentioned the name Kelli Peters. As the questions grew more pointed, Andreozzi watched Easter cross his arms. He no longer seemed happy to see the detectives. I work in criminal investigations. All I do is follow people around. Was there any reason he would have been out in the small hours of the morning? Easter now looked very nervous, and when he was nervous he did what the caller had done.

He began to stutter. But we can follow the dots from one to the next to the next. Knowing what I just told you, is there anything that you would like to add to your statement to me, whether retracting or adding anything to your statement? The search warrant crackled as Andreozzi pulled it out of his back pocket. They were in a miniature plastic baggie. This article appeared in print and online on August 29, She bounced a basketball in the driveway with her 3-year-old daughter as Irvine police moved methodically through her house, snapping photos and jotting notes.

Inside, detectives found what seemed the well-appointed home of ordinary suburban parents. A garage cluttered with exercise equipment. It had just come out. She smiled glamorously from the back cover, with styled blond hair and arresting blue eyes. Like its author, the female protagonist was a Berkeley-educated lawyer who had found work at a Bay Area firm.

While Jill Easter waited unhappily for police to complete their search, a second team of Irvine cops had converged on a target a few miles away. It was March 4, For the search, they relied on Paul Jensen, a personal injury lawyer who also served as an unpaid special master for the courts. He would take what looked relevant and leave the rest. That morning, when Jensen showed up at the Irvine Police Department for the operational briefing, he counted a throng of cops — maybe 15 or 20 — and thought it seemed like overkill.

They were ready for Pablo Escobar. Why are you here? What gives you the right? This is Newport Beach, not Irvine! Only after a cop threatened someone with arrest did things quiet down. Neither of the Easters was arrested that day. Detectives believed their contents might clinch the case. But the phones were soon locked up inside the chambers of an Orange County judge, where they would languish as legal arguments raged.

It was complicated enough to bring a case against two attorneys, even more so when they were married to each other. Detectives were sitting in an unmarked car, waiting to approach the Easter house, when the firefighter came strolling up the block and spotted them.

He took off, holding a phone to his ear. Police stopped the firefighter as he pulled away in his pickup. His name was Glen Gomez. He drove an engine for a Los Angeles Fire Department station house, 50 miles north. They arranged trysts, swapped explicit photos and traded exuberantly pornographic texts, court records would show. They were tight-lipped with details, but told him that he was in the middle of something very serious, something that could hurt both his family and his career.

On March 23, nearly three weeks after the warrants were served, he agreed. He wanted to show he had nothing to hide, and seemed to have a second motive: He met her in a park down the block from her house. She brought her two youngest children.

She told them her male friend was the park ranger. She told them to go play. There was a playground with a sandbox, swings, slide and seesaw.

As investigators listened in, Gomez, who had been given a loose script, told her cops had been asking him questions.

He wanted to know what it was all about. He said he thought they should keep their distance, for a while. Easter accused him of abandoning her.

She continued to scold him. Her tone was growing angrier and angrier. This is the moment, this is when I needed someone and you turned your back on me! And I will not survive this! She detailed the affair in a letter to the dance studio where his wife worked, Gomez told police. Police insisted that Peters keep quiet even about the little she did know.

Anything she said could derail the investigation. If word got back to the Easters, they might find some way to stop it cold. Months went by, and they were nowhere close to making arrests. Jill Easter had hired Paul Meyer, an Orange County defense lawyer so formidable that judges turned to him when they were in trouble. Kent Easter had enlisted Thomas Bienert Jr. So far, however, defense arguments had thwarted police from examining whatever incriminating messages the phones might contain.

Sitting in a windowless office, Jensen, the volunteer special master, combed through 20, emails on the BlackBerry, weeding out the thousands that seemed to fall under attorney-client and attorney work-product privilege. What he was not qualified to do, he told the judge, was to screen the phones for spousal privilege, and with this chore still undone in late October — more than eight months after the crime — he insisted he was done with the case.

He had a practice to run. To their chagrin, the most anticipated ones — the 15 predawn texts — had been erased before the phones were seized. At the Irvine Police Department, the frustration was climbing. The prosecutor, Deputy Dist.

Lynda Fernandez, seemed stuck in a holding pattern as the court weighed whether to release more evidence. His firm named him an equity partner, cutting him into a share of the profits. For Kelli Peters, it was a time of self-consciousness and dread.

In the mornings, she searched her car carefully for drugs. At Plaza Vista elementary, where she still had a desk in the front office, people were always bringing her cakes and telling her she was in their prayers. Now and then she saw Jill Easter arrive, looking rushed, to pick up her son.

Peters felt a chill and looked away. Her daughter, Sydnie, who turned 11 that year, refused to sleep alone, fearing she would be abducted. At recess, Peters would find her sitting alone or wandering the yard, talking to herself. Peters bought her a sketchbook to carry at school, and her daughter hid behind it, drawing superheroes and ponies.

Peters asked other moms to please encourage their kids to play with her, but this made her daughter feel pitied, and eventually she was begging to leave the school. Anxiety pervaded every hour. When Peters came home, she hurried to her door, afraid someone might be hiding in the hallway. Her husband would return from work to find her crying.

Peters slept fitfully, haunted by dreams in which Jill Easter was slashing her throat. In her waking hours she found her hands pulling her scarf protectively around her neck. She discovered a bald spot on her scalp. She got off Facebook. She snapped when people forgot to lock the doors. At the big artificial lake where she took her dogs, and where she had watched generations of Canada geese grow up, she now feared to walk alone. She made sure friends were with her, one on each side.

Her famously safe, master-planned city now seemed alive with hidden menace. It made her grateful to live in an apartment, with one door in and out. Often, her family would catch Kelli Peters talking to herself.

She would be in the kitchen reliving her encounter with police at the school, pleading, explaining. Please put the drugs away, she would mutter. Kidnap a well-heeled target and hide out in Panama to await a wired ransom. She drains his bank account. She sets him up for a visa violation. She makes an anonymous call to cops. As they close in, he leaps to his death.

These were not the themes emphasized in marketing the book, as police learned when they discovered her online promotional page, which instead touted the seductions of lawbreaking:. This article appeared in print and online on August 31, The Orange County D.

Christopher Duff, a career prosecutor in his early 40s, joined the team in the spring of Duff was struck by how thoroughly the Irvine police had investigated a crime in which the victim had suffered no physical harm.

They had put 20 detectives on the case against Kent and Jill Easter at one time or another, and the lead investigator had spent six months on it exclusively. Duff considered the possibilities.

In so many places, he thought, it would have gone differently. If the attempted frame-up had happened in one of the gang neighborhoods of Los Angeles where he used to prosecute shootings, rather than in a rich, placid city in Orange County To predators, however, he was an advancing monster with a ferocious glare, slasher teeth and a unique ability to spit.

Doris and Richard realized that gates and cages and fences and barn doors would never be enough. Juanita and Zipper on a tree limb. Zipper was killed by a mountain lion a week later. Llamas are known for their distinct personalities. For along with this bucolic scene, another, darker truth emerged: Balancing the realities of nature with the idealism of good intentions had now become a way of life for Richard and Doris.

And so it was in Dogtown and later in Point Reyes Station, where they moved up the coast about 10 miles, in , that Richard became that walking contradiction of idealist, realist and passionate dissenter.

And this, when you see him act it out in pranks, stunts, alerts and pop quizzes, you gotta believe. He had ideas, he invented, he petitioned. He studied, learned, asked questions and offered pragmatic ideas, always with a smile and good humor. For some years, Richard had this Great Idea to do more than send personal checks and other contributions to charities he believed in.

Instead, he wanted to give money to children in nearby schools and let them decide what to do with it. At first he asked teachers to set up a curriculum in which students could learn about philanthropy. Given crowded class schedules and strained budgets, the very educators who loved the prospect regretfully turned Richard down. It took six more years of research before he tried again, without success. Then in , Richard took a different tack.

He approached the West Marin Fund, a local foundation with established relationships on the nonprofit scene. WMF solicited volunteers from the faculties of several unified school districts in West Marin. In turn, teachers and administrators found space in the curriculum, adjusted appropriate classes and worked out time schedules with extra credit built in. Does that seem like too little money divvied up by too many groups? They see firsthand how smart budgeting assists every dollar to improve the quality of life for local people and the local environment.

And they learn something else: Who can forget how that feels? As Richard hoped, generations of students are growing up enjoying philanthropy as a personal commitment, thanks to his Giving Through Youth program, and they pass their excitement on. He thought it would be a perfect site for affordable senior housing, and for the most part, everyone agreed with him.

Plus he had a Great Idea. Kirschman agreed to advance them the capital to proceed on a larger portion of the acreage, and he would keep only a single family lot for his project. His plan was to build a senior citizens residence which could house ten people in five private living spaces, sharing a communal kitchen and dining area. But did you spot the one word that could throw a wrench in the works? In these locations, residents dine and socialize together in a communal public space and retire to private living spaces.

Just as Richard envisioned. Could a real estate developer be that benevolent? So he got the roofs redesigned, and he made them pointy. But the delays continued. Richard blew a gasket.

I will not pretend that someone else designed this building! He withdrew the proposal and effectively walked away from his dream.

But being Richard, soon he came up with … another dream! As the two approached it, Richard said to Dr. In any case, the now legendary medical clinic in downtown Point Reyes was born on that very day. In a complicated series of property separations and exchanges that kept big developers at bay, Richard was able to sell portions of his land to local nonprofits while donating to Dr.

Decades later, in a letter to the Point Reyes Light, Dr. Perhaps there is no greater example of government bureaucracy running amuck than the year Richard Kirschman served on the Marin County Grand Jury. First, did you know there are two ways that people accused of a crime go to trial? The usual way is through a preliminary hearing.

The accused is represented by an attorney, hears the evidence against him and can respond. A judge then decides if the case warrants a full trial. The lesser known way is through a Grand Jury. This is a group of about 20 citizens who meet in secret with the District Attorney, who explains to them how the law works in each case and why the accused has been charged. When Richard was selected as a member of the Marin County Grand Jury in , he went into it thinking what an honor it was to serve on a judicial body that acts as a needed check against overzealous prosecutors.

He understood the importance of secrecy to keep the name of an accused person out of the news. Too often, innocent people were tried and judged in the media before a trial even began.

Halfway through his term, though, Richard came out fuming. Due process disappeared because the accused was not allowed to attend Grand Jury meetings, let alone be represented by an attorney or hear and respond to evidence presented.

The facts told the story: While indictments from the Grand Jury accounted for 10 percent of the felonies charged in Marin County, 96 percent of those were against San Quentin inmates. Of those, percent went to trial via the Grand Jury process. Richard had no hope of winning this suit — it was unprecedented, it was radical, it was incendiary — but he believed it would trigger a critical conversation among the public at large. It turns out he was about 40 years ahead of his time.

Today, because of more publicized cases, documentaries and social media, Americans are increasingly concerned about Grand Jury members rubber-stamping prosecutorial charges. Thanks to the emergence of groups like Black Lives Matter, the public is also becoming as suspicious of racial bias in the Grand Jury system as Richard was in Why is it that the United States and Liberia are the only countries remaining that retain grand juries?

Well, maybe not always. I think when Richard gets passionate about doing something to change a social ill, we should all listen. And when he does use humor, in publications ranging from the Point Reyes Light to the Wall Street Journal , San Francisco Chronicle and magazines like Mother Jones, the whole world lights up with possibility.

Richard Kirschman is not one of those people. Here are a few examples:. How do they do it? That is, how do rickshaw drivers do the back-breaking work of peddling tourists around on soft not paved roads?

All day, every day, and then, when a hill approaches, they have to get out and pull the rickshaw, with you and the kids and the luggage sitting there, adding weight. And they charge you the equivalent of U. On the other hand, I bet the next thought might be: If this is the way rickshaw drivers make a living in India, who am I to question it? Rickshaws have functioned this way for many generations. Well, a lone Great Idea Guy like Richard Kirschman has always had this acute curiosity about how things work, and how they might work better.

That is, the wheels of rickshaws run on a single gear. Elsewhere in the world, he knew, bicycle riders use multiple gears to make pedaling easier. Could the same principle be applied to rickshaws in India? It took a while he went home, he made designs, he wrote letters, he built a model, he came back, he met with experts; he went home, etc. More time elapsed he redesigned, he petitioned, he wrote more letters, he came back; he made appointments, etc.

Time passed, enthusiasm built up … and time passed. Richard built a prototype that was praised by everyone who saw it, but again, time passed. Letters and emails of support kept arriving, but the project stalled, and there, after several decades, it remains. One unforgettable moment deserves recognition: Here were three elders, two whose castes would normally not allow them to socialize, on their knees next to a rickshaw excitedly discussing something that even today could trigger a huge change in their world.

So Richard came away — well, disappointed, but also inspired. The experience had taken him to places in India he would not have visited before, and for that he would be forever grateful. You probably know that the Boy Scouts of America finally lifted its ban on members who are gay. And just this year, girls are being allowed to join as well. It can be challenged by a number of means — social media, lawsuits, protests — but with his bent for irony and tongue-in-cheek humor, Richard had another idea.

Scouts learn about life by fulfilling activity requirements that earn them merit badges, which they sew onto uniforms and sashes. The badge was adopted and has become available through the Freedom from Religion Foundation. Richard himself proved eloquent on the subject of separating church and state when he created a Free Thought Fellowship in his name at Mesa Refuge, the long-running residency for writers in Point Reyes.

He launched the fellowship in with these stirring words:. This fellowship is intended to both recognize and support the work of individuals dedicated to the separation of Church and State, atheism and agnosticism. Putting dogs through this humiliation was the only way, they believed, to heal that wound. Many still believe it. But when his own dog had to wear the collar, Richard had a Great Idea.

With no credentials as a chemist or veterinarian, Richard plunged to the task: He was a dog owner; he had a brain. How hard could it be? Well, it took five years of mixing, testing, patenting, trademarking and obtaining FDA approval, but in the end, Richard created a soothing yet bitter cream called Dogpatch that really did change the world, at least as far his dog was concerned.

West Marin vets and pet store owners loved Dogpatch. They stocked it and sold it and swore by it. Richard and Doris traveled the state and hand-sold the product at dog shows and veterinary conferences where pet-supply distributors, kennels, trainers and groomers embraced it as the answer to Victorian-collar tyranny.

But traveling that much to sell one product proved costly and exhausting. Then, too, the prospect of national distribution proved impossible for a single-item, single-owner company. Even after Richard sold his company to a zealous sales agent, Dogpatch — never part of a recognizable group of products — eventually disappeared from the market. Too bad for dogs across the world! But again, to Richard, the experience was worth it. Dogpatch proved that a different answer to an old problem, especially one that comes from somebody out in left field, will work if you put your mind to it.

I still have a tube, 20 years after expiration date, and after one lick, my dog ran the other way. For a long time Richard thought about that. He lives in Point Reyes Station, the foggiest region in America , it turns out. Trees thrive during droughts because the morning fog is so dense and seepy they get to drink from it in their own very sippy-cup way. So Richard pondered the idea of smaller systems that individuals could build on their own. Using a special polyethylene netting he imported from Britain, along with inexpensive household items poles, pipes, buckets , he created a small, easily managed device that resembles a see-through sheet strung up between goalposts.

He attached a drip-collecting gutter on the bottom of the net, and as long as the fog rolled in, this early prototype worked. Eventually, the drought ended and the ground fog lifted just enough on his test area before he could try it out in larger fields. Today the DIY fog catcher awaits the next drought for further testing, and as usual, Richard is optimistic. Like them, Richard believes there are subtler ways to protest with dignity. As a ham operator and electronics officer in the Navy, Richard had worked for years with tiny bits of wire and porcelain called resistors.

Electricians use them to slow resist! I like to picture Richard holding up this wiry item for the first time and thinking, HEY!

How effective this little guy would be as a political pin for those in the know. An admirer of grassroots movements that have grown quietly and stealthily from the subtlest of beginnings, Richard purchased batches of the inexpensive things and learned how to cut them and bend them and stick them into cloth like the little gems they are.

Word got out and people started wearing them oh, so tastefully — and noticeably — on jackets and shirts and scarves and all manner of clothing. Then Richard kept experimenting and … voila! And in West Marin, land of thoughtful progressives, everyone knows what it stands for: It is not a book about some dead religion.

It is very much alive. It profoundly affects the way people treat each other, who they let their daughters date, who their sons marry, where they live, what laws they pass, and who they vote for. So it offends him when people quote the Bible to support narrow-minded ideas of morality. How to change things? Confronting these issues one biblical quote at a time would never solve the problem.

Richard knew that most of us have never read the Old Testament, yet many are influenced by those who quote the same, far-right-supporting Bible stories over and over again. Enter the delightfully profane and eye-catching PG Bible, which Richard self-published in You want a scandal-ridden quote to stir people up, some words from God that rip the lid off hypocrisy and tell the truth at last?

Few people are going to crawl through the Bible looking for ancient fire-and-brimstone horrors nobody believes anymore. That way, we can all learn how the Bible contradicts itself and is often bloodier, more racist and even stupider than a Quentin Tarantino movie.

In those days I was on the lookout for self-published gems outside the New York book trade. True, not many of the , people who came West made money from the Gold Rush. But they all believed that anything was possible when they got to California. This idea, that breaking away from institutions in the East can make people more personally creative and adventurous in the West, seemed to thrive from one generation to the next, especially in the Bay Area.

The legendary Whole Earth Catalog started out as a self-published list of tools, for example. Hundreds of author-produced books, including my favorite, A History of Doorknobs in the United States , followed that same path: The inspiration to self-publish, which so rarely occurred to writers in New York, very often felt like the only way to go, miles away, in Berkeley or San Francisco. Richard had experienced traditional success in when Doubleday published his New York on the House , a guidebook listing free exhibits and events.

But just as connections to the mainstream often fade as authors leave the hub of publishing in New York, so does that anything-is-possible belief flow more mightily from within. Tourists planning to visit a foreign country often dread the idea of learning a new language.

As a result, many travelers feel like failures before Day One of their trip. Designed as a half-sized paperback you could fit in your back pocket, the book provided rows and rows of Spanish words spelled as follows:.

Before Computers Era, one glance at these words, which you already knew in English , turned feelings of dread into surprise and delight. Once you got used to the idea that, say, a word like supervisor meant the same, spelled the same and sounded the same in both languages, the effect was empowering. Richard enlisted the expertise of editor and writer and future wife Doris Ober to give the book some authority and class with a bright and colorful cover and inspiring one page only!

The two began work on Italian, French and German editions but stopped when they hit a snag. Book distributors in those pre-Internet days tended to lock self-publishers out. Richard tried selling to travel agents and tourist guides instead, and he practically gave the book away to ESL English as a Second Language and Spanish-language teachers.

Today, as conditions worsen for immigrant families at Mexican-American borders, a book like this can be the first sign of hope. All my life, I have heard variations of that kind of energy — this book can change the world — from self-publishers all over the West. What matters is feeling that light bulb the old kind go off in his head and deciding to do something about it — to engage in society for its own sake, to get out there with your Great Idea and see it through; to stay involved, to never be passive, to find the gate and get it opened.

Thousands of Words today is better understood as a prototype, one of the reasons so many in West Marin admire Kirschman. He has created quite a number of projects out of thin air, gave them a physical reality and explored their potential in both the business and the nonprofit world. Many have taken off and become a success, as we will see. But equally inspiring is the way Richard has gone about exploring the world through the lens of every good idea.

Outrage has played a part, maybe the best part. So has ingenuity, skepticism, wonder, irony, love, despair — and some truly whacko ideas. A modern-day Gold Rush has been mining its way through the hills of West Marin, thanks to the oddball brilliance of one very smart iconoclast named Richard Kirschman. A lot of money raised … without investment? Kirschman introduced the coin in when he asked retailers and restaurant owners to include it in the change they gave to customers.

The coin is so stunning that most people asked about it, as they do today. Three bucks seems like a paltry amount, but Kirschman notes that 2. Etched into the brass are long-admired symbols of West Marin — the famous Point Reyes lighthouse, tule elk, California poppy, osprey, sand dollar, dairy cow, and more of the sightings one discovers along the famous rolling California hills. From the beginning, Kirschman and his wife, editor Doris Ober, rarely kept an exact running count of the total donated.

Too many coins were in circulation at any one time, and they wanted to keep administration simple anyway. But this year, as a new member joins the board, Kirschman, 85, realized this astounding fact: Kirschman and Ober never really promoted the project to retailers in the ten communities. He gets out his notepad to show what he means: They are, rather, an agreed-upon currency that brings together ten coastal communities whose merchants want to help local non-profits.

So if you find one of these coins in your change after paying a grocery store or restaurant in, say, Stinson Beach or Point Reyes or Tomales Bay, you can: Richard Kirschman displays the coin at the annual West Marin Weekend parade. Kirschman got the idea in the s when he realized that nonprofit groups in West Marin were seeking donations from a very small population.

At the same time, the more than two and a half million tourists coming through West Marin each year represented an untapped bounty of cash. They loved exploring famous natural landscapes along Highway 1, from Muir Woods through the Point Reyes National Seashore to Tomales Bay, and they spent a lot of money doing it.

Nevertheless, he was intrigued by the way tourism stimulated the local economy. So he created a nonprofit technically a c 3, which took six months of state forms to fill out and regulations to pass and a Board of Directors to create , now known as the Coastal Marin Fund. And when he contacted wildlife artist Hanson, he wanted the look and feel of the coins to be so classy and timeless that visitors and residents would want to keep them forever. It took another six months of going from store to store, restaurant to restaurant and service to service across the wide expanse of West Marin.

The box of coins. But wait, says the person who nearly failed algebra but now insists there must be a straightforward answer: If we all believe in each other, the value of free-enterprise in a democracy is not to make the 1 percent of the population rich. There are no deadlines, applications for grants, judging committees or other bureaucratic procedures Richard hates bureaucracy standing in the way of good causes receiving money.

This too is simple: You can ask somebody local to do it, or the CMF. The irony of the project is that Kirschman sees himself as a skeptic and a realist and an atheist and a doubter.

I met Kirschman years ago when he wrote two self-published books that stand today as a testament to the keen observer in all of us. Yet none of them comes close.

Now I think, gee , what a family: Going back a half-century, one discovers that their mother became friends with Eleanor Roosevelt in the early days of the United Nations. These are the kind of offbeat facts that I hope will explain so much about an offbeat iconoclast who really does change his world, one idea at a time.

Recent decisions by a conservative Methodist bishop are causing an uproar among the many followers of Glide Memorial Methodist Church in San Francisco. Has the bishop never set foot in the place? A feeling of happy chaos pervades so that everyone will feel welcome, but look more closely: A strong organizational structure of some plus free programs confront life-and-death issues every day.

These programs succeed where others do not because Glide has carved out a unique identity in one of the worst slums in America. The police prepared to advance in force that very night. The Panthers brought in sand bags, plywood to cover windows and enough ammunition to withstand a full-scale SWAT attack. So things escalated pretty fast, and it was a very scary time anyway. Lethal firefights between police and Black Panthers were breaking out in other cities, Oakland especially.

He had worked with the SFPD before — sometimes even against them — and was able to set up a meeting that afternoon. The chief conferred with several captains and surprised the delegation by agreeing. As is so often true today, the fundamental issue was trust. Williams then made the following announcement: The chief looked stunned. Hundreds of poor people willing to stand between outraged combatants with loaded guns? Cecil himself had no illusions. If a bomb had really been planted and exploded in the night, many of them would be killed.

It was a brilliant move in its Gandhian way. The chief again agreed to postpone, this time aware of potential consequences. One by one, volunteers arrived at the Panther office. Then dozens, then hundreds. Still more people came; the police would have needed a tank to wedge through.

The volunteers stood packed together that way all night. Even in the wee hours when a siren screamed by, no one panicked, even the Panthers. It turned out to be a fire engine. The next night, the volunteers returned, and the next. That peace would be temporary. This was one of the many times that Cecil Williams interceded in a crisis. He has been successful, people believe, because Glide is both a church and a community force.

I am committed to unconditional love, which means I respect the reality of others. In a world where African Americans are more likely than whites to be profiled as violent, and more likely to be killed, my focus is the preservation of life. That legacy has continued with all the pastors who followed. This sounds like the old Skid Road barter: Come in and have some soup, says the Christian church to the lost and homeless.

But before you go, embrace Jesus Christ as your savior. God is not a punitive god, according to Glide — nor a judgmental god, not a shaming god. One of the largest donors, financier Warren Buffett, describes his long involvement with Glide here. Rich philanthropists get to do it, too. They seem to be running things from behind the scenes, she believes.

Glide as it happens is one of two United Methodist Churches in the city serving African American populations and pastored by African American lead ministers. The other, Jones Memorial, is located a dozen blocks away in the Western Addition. These are people America once dismissed as the dregs of society. Transformation really can happen when people feel deeply, authentically, unconditionally loved.

Instead, it appears her approach is to eviscerate Glide, one of the most successful churches in the Methodist domain, and return to the s conservatism that nearly killed it in the first place. Most of the quotes and several photos in this post are taken from that book. It happened after book publishers in the United States and England signed a consent decree in the mids that released English-language reprint rights to competitive bidding among different houses throughout the world.

The consent decree was created to level the playing field by weakening the dominance of London- and New York-based houses. I was traveling through Australia and New Zealand at the same time, reporting for Publishers Weekly on the effect of the consent decree.

This was a wondrous, in-between period for any reporter in ANZ because remnants of UK colonialism were in the midst of fading away — though too slowly for some. But a new belief in home-based institutions had begun to take over. In book publishing, it was hoped, the consent decree would also help to diminish the particular colonialist notion that ANZ authors had to be published abroad before they were taken seriously at home. So Penguin interviews figured mightily in my travels. Now, though, a belief spread among other houses, from Harper Australia and Random New Zealand to the independent Angus and Robertson, that the consent decree would break up that Penguin advantage.

Thus Peter Mayer, whom I had admired from afar but met only once in person, had his work cut out for him. Penguin had hit a low point for the first time since its founding in , so who knew if this was the right time for its new CEO to fly 10, miles and visit the hinterlands?

Wherever I went in either country, people would say that Peter Mayer was either a city behind or a city ahead of me, and it always seemed that his visits had a profound effect on everyone who met him.

For example, if I interviewed staff members in a Penguin office before Peter Mayer came through, answers to my questions usually took a noncommittal direction — daily accounts and predictable data were trotted out to show titles selling briskly and markets responding nicely, and so forth.

Few risked an opinion about the consent decree or, really, about anything. However, after Peter Mayer had been there, it felt like everybody from warehouse handlers to managing directors came rushing out with eyes shining to meet me excitedly and blurt out things like this:. Here, look at this advance title list: Peter also liked to rummage around bookstores asking questions of everybody: I should mention that everybody on the sales side knew how to do these basic things.

They did not need the boss from London to instruct them on their job. The difference was that Peter made it all fun again, made the risks of returns and bad reviews worth it and, again and again shared that vision he knew we all had, that working with books at any level was a privilege, a kind of art in itself.

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