FREE SPEECH FOR EVERYONE?: Hercules Councilwoman Myrna de Vera and her supporters cast her as a champion of the First Amendment and transparency in government.

At a July 24 meeting, de Vera rebuked Mayor Dan Romero for silencing a resident several meetings earlier; Romero apologized. De Vera then recited the First Amendment and the oath of office, adding, "We have to uphold and defend the Constitution. ... We can't move on to the business of the city if we don't have the foundation, which is letting the community have freedom of speech." (Watch a video clip of de Vera's comments at ContraCostaTimes.com.)

But at least one resident, Kent Von Aspern, does not appear to fit under de Vera's First Amendment tent. Emails obtained by this newspaper show de Vera complaining about a Von Aspern blog to a Pinole official, who took the matter to the Hercules resident's employer and apparently secured a promise that the blogs would cease.

Von Aspern is a professional associate at HDR Engineering, according to LinkedIn; HDR holds an approximately $800,000 contract for the preliminary design of improvements to the joint Pinole-Hercules sewage treatment plant.

De Vera's husband, Manuel de Vera, had taken offense at a June 15 blog by Von Aspern on Hercules Patch defending former Hercules Mayor Joanne Ward.

"Joanne and Councilmember de Vera have only one thing in common: They are both women," Von Aspern wrote in part. "Joanne never ran a dirty campaign in her life, never spoke about anyone behind their backs."

An hour later, Manuel de Vera blogged back: "Are you saying that Myrna has run dirty campaigns? That Myrna spoke behind anyone's back?"

Von Aspern's blog is pasted in a June 21 email from Pinole City Engineer Dean Allison to HDR official Craig Olson, obtained by this newspaper under a public records request.

"I spoke with the VP for HDR about Kent's postings on the Patch," Allison emailed de Vera on July 3. "I was told that discussions were made and we should not be seeing any future postings."

That prognosis was premature.

"Kent Von Aspern is blogging again," De Vera wrote in a July 17 email to Allison that included several recent Von Aspern posts. "He is attacking Glenn Abraham and mentioning me, too." Abraham is an outspoken de Vera supporter.

"This is not good," Allison replied about an hour later. "There was more from his [sic] as well."

De Vera said Friday she does not know what Allison did about Von Aspern's blogs.

"I did not ask Dean to silence him (Von Aspern)," de Vera said. "I just informed him that this HDR employee was blogging."

Von Aspern, reached by phone late Thursday, declined to comment. Allison and Olson did not return calls Friday.

There have been no more blogs from Von Aspern on Hercules Patch since July.

Cleaning up on soda tax: The 22nd annual California Coastal Cleanup along the Richmond Shoreline at Marina Bay on Sept. 15 may have drawn its largest volunteer turnout ever, with more than 800 people coming out to pick up trash from the shore.

No word on how many in the large crowd were political operatives in the battle over Measure N, a penny-per-ounce tax on businesses that sell sugar-sweetened beverages.

But they were there. With estimates of how much money will ultimately be funneled into the community on the November ballot measure ranging up to $1 million, the sugar tax permeates practically everything.

The Eye spotted pro and con fliers on cars all over the marina, and organizers also reported that anti-tax operatives asked whether they could participate in the cleanup. They were told they could but couldn't campaign.

The city is roiled in the fight over the municipal tax, which could become the first of its kind in the nation. The Washington, D.C.-based American Beverage Association has funneled money into the Community Coalition Against Beverage Taxes, a local political committee.

Meanwhile, the volunteers cleared hundreds of pounds of trash from the shoreline. The cleanup event was sponsored by county Supervisor John Gioia, The Watershed Project, and the city of Richmond.

The Eye didn't spot any political fliers on the ground or in the water.

SPEAKING OF SODA: While the debate rages on about the health effects of soda for humans, there seems to be no question about what it does to rodents.

The Eye received a phone call from an elderly reader last week offering a suggestion for eliminating mice that might be carrying harmful viruses.

Let them drink Coke, the 84-year-old woman suggested.

Putting out a bowl of Coca-Cola for mice to drink was how people would get rid of them when she was a kid, she said. The mice would peacefully pass away because they couldn't burp.

The Eye did a little research and found that it is possible to kill rodents using Coca-Cola or other carbonated beverages because mice have little to no gag reflex and cannot burp or vomit.

The amount it would take to kill a mouse depends on its size, age, health and digestive system.

Soda-ing mice to death, however, is not considered humane because it takes a long time for them to die from the buildup of intestinal gas.

Staff writers Tom Lochner, Robert Rogers and Paul Burgarino contributed to this report.