It's a plot so nefarious, so deadly, you might think it the work of Natasha and Boris, but the latest scheme to kill squirrels isn't the work of cartoon villains but rather of the city of Santa Monica. City officials plan to rid Palisades Park of ground squirrels by poisoning the furry rodents that they suspect may carry deadly diseases, including bubonic plague.

The impetus for the squirrel extermination came last April when Los Angeles County officials told the city it had to suppress the growing number of ground squirrels that live along the bluffs. That led the city to set 15 poison-bait stations around the park, which overlooks Pacific Coast Highway.

That plan is sparking protests from residents who accuse officials of “killing everything in sight just to sanitize the city,” in the words of Edward Muzika, a self-described animal-rights advocate. Muzika insists that the city overlooked more-humane options, including putting “birth-control stuff in their feed” or “relocating the squirrels to a refuge” where they could live out the natural course of their lives, safe from natural predators such as cats and coyotes. But it's not just the squirrels Muzika is worried about; he says the current plan also poses a health hazard to humans, since the squirrels' carcasses won't be picked up.

This isn't the first time squirrels have divided the city. Seven years ago, city officials touched off waves of protest after dead squirrels began showing up in the park. City officials promise that won't happen again, because the poison bait is located near the squirrels' homes. “They'll just go back to burrows and die there,” said one official.-Sandra Hernandez

A Killing Time

The killer of community-radio activist Michael Taylor was condemned by a jury to death last week in Los Angeles Superior Court, putting an ironic twist on the death of a man who abhorred the idea of state-sponsored murder.

Last month Andrew Lancaster was found guilty of orchestrating the 1996 kidnapping and murder of Taylor. Lancaster's two accomplices – Jornay Rodriguez and Shawn Alexander – described the evening in question as a depraved tableau in which Lancaster played the torturer, at one point splashing Liquid Plumr in Taylor's face as a means of getting him to reveal the whereabouts of radio equipment. Lancaster, 26, was a onetime partner with Taylor in his effort to start a “free speech” micro-radio station in South-Central L.A.

“It's a total slap in the face to what Michael stood for to execute [Lancaster],” said Karen Pomer, a friend of Taylor's. She said the slain journalist believed the death penalty to be racist and immoral. In 1995, the duo helped found the L.A. Coalition To Stop the Execution of Mumia Abu Jamal – a reporter convicted of killing a Philadelphia police officer. Jamal's case became a lightning rod for worldwide opposition to the death penalty.

During the penalty phase, jurors heard of Lancaster's troubled past, including his abusive childhood and mental-health problems that date back to 1979, when as a 7-year-old he was committed for having an antisocial-personality disorder.

In 1992, he was back in trouble again, this time accused of committing a home-invasion robbery.

After a two-year stint in a California prison, Lancaster was released. It was then, back in early 1996, that he met Michael Taylor. The two planned to bring politically charged, community-oriented radio to L.A.'s African-American community. The dream was short-lived. Taylor is now deceased, and Lancaster is headed for death row.-David Cogan

What's In A Name?

The sudden closing of The Outlook, Santa Monica's 123-year-old newspaper, this spring by the Copley Newspapers chain created considerable anger in the Bay City. The finger pointing, it appears, is far from over.

On May 28, David Ganezer, a local attorney, announced he was initiating an effort to bring a daily paper back to Santa Monica under the name The New Outlook. That plan apparently angered the newspaper chain, which this week won a preliminary injunction barring Ganezer's company from using the name.

Copley's attorneys entreated the court that all they asked for was that the owners of the upstart paper “pick their own name.” Copley Newspapers, which owns the Daily Breeze, still publishes a slim four-page advertiser in Santa Monica called The Outlook Classified.

Now Ganezer is raising the stakes, accusing the Los Angeles Times of being “the real force behind” the lawsuit, in an effort to keep competitors out of Santa Monica.

According to court documents, Ganezer said Copley “was warned by the Los Angeles Times that it would never have paid for The Outlook subscriber list, except that Copley said they would put The Outlook out of business.” Ganezer suggested the L.A. Times threatened to sue Copley if the chain did not take action against The New Outlook.

Ganezer attempted to purchase The Outlook's assets, including the name, from Copley back in March for $1.5 million, until he learned that the Times had bought the most valuable asset – the newspaper's subscription list.

In court papers, Ganezer claimed that the “true role of the Los Angeles Times in this litigation” would be revealed during the discovery process.

But federal District Court Judge Carlos Moreno sided with Copley.

For its part, the newspaper chain responded by stating that Ganezer's conspiracy theory “utterly lacks foundation in fact.”

Despite the setback, Ganezer intends to publish a sample edition of Santa Monica's new daily newspaper – with a different name – on August 12. Back in May, he announced that he would inaugurate the paper if he were able to persuade 7,500 residents to sign up for one-year subscriptions at $120 apiece.-David Cogan

LA Weekly