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April 2010

Pacifica Eagle Eye Busts Spellcheckers (CORRECTED)

Mar Kaden, one of our favorite Pacifica eagle eyes, is alarmed that people over-rely on computer spellcheckers and no longer know when to use the right word. Spellchecker software may spell random words correctly, but it can't think logically and contextually to suggest the appropriate word in a sentence. Mar submits these fine examples of spellchecker idiocy: a flyer at Oceana Market advertising childcare services "Sundays threw Thursdays" and Bay Area News Group technology columnist Larry Magid writing about "mobs...screaming racial epitaphs."

Traffic Update: Train Track Work @ San Bruno

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Construction begins Monday, May 3 on a rainwater control project in San Bruno, the first step in a grade separation project that will result in dramatic safety improvements at a key series of intersections in that community between Pacifica and San Francisco International Airport. Caltrain will build a new underground box culvert to divert water away from the area during construction and help reduce flooding in the neighborhood east of the railroad tracks. Most of the work will take place during the day, although some will be done at night, after normal train operations have ended. Neighbors will hear noise from heavy construction equipment. At times during the project, First Avenue between Pine Street and San Mateo Avenue will be restricted to local traffic or one-way traffic. The $165 million grade separation project will kick off in the fall with construction of “shoo-fly” temporary tracks that will take trains around construction. The grade separation project will elevate Caltrain tracks above San Bruno, San Mateo, and Angus avenues. A new elevated train station between San Bruno and San Mateo avenues will replace the existing station. The project also includes three pedestrian underpasses, one at Euclid Avenue and Walnut Street, one at the new station, and another near Sylvan Avenue. Some 191 parking spaces and a “kiss and ride” lot will serve the station at the former San Bruno Lumber site. The project will improve safety and reduce traffic congestion in the area and enhance the entrance to the city. As part of the project, Angus Avenue, which currently makes a sharp turn at the tracks, will be straightened. Lighting under the bridges and pedestrian underpasses, variable finishes on the surface of the concrete, and drought-resistant plants are included in the project. Improvements to Posy Park on the east side of the tracks at San Mateo Avenue include a water feature, decorative street furniture, and colored, textured paving. For more information about the project, click http://www.caltrain.com/project_san_bruno_grade_separation.html or call Caltrain Office of Public Affairs at 650-508-7726 or email sbgradesep@caltrain.com.




Opinion: Fido, Puss 'n Boots & the US Constitution

BY PETER HAMMAR, SPECIAL TO RIPTIDE

The U.S. Supreme Court recently exonerated the perpetrators of deplorable and despicable animal cruelty videos, finding for free speech as guaranteed in the 1st Amendment, while not granting "person-status" rights to animals to protect them. The prosecution's animal-protection motives were admirable, but its tactics were not, possibly endangering our freedoms as people. Here's why:

The U.S. Constitution and particularly the 14th Amendment clearly state what a "person" is. Recently, the Supreme Court granted legal "person status" to corporations, clearly not what the framers intended. Does a corporation vote? No; only its human officers can. Can we arrest a corporation? No; again, only its human officers. Can we legally draft a corporation, put it in a uniform, and send it off to die for its country? Hardly.

Just as rich individuals using various loopholes can donate virtually unlimited amounts to political action committees, corporations of all sizes can now legally spend billions instead of millions on their favorite candidates and issues, from U.S. president to city dog catcher. That's especially bad for California, with its cash-and-carry proposition and political system, further worsening this state's already sick decision-making process.

Alas, constitutionally, the same logic opposing the court's granting rights to corporations applies to animals. While completely failing us with their "corporate rights" vote, the Supremes did get their animal decision right according to the U.S. Constitution, which is unfortunate for Fido, Puss 'n Boots, and Flicka, but unavoidable using that argument.

We must remain absolutely bound by that document or we will fall into political and social disarray, Weimar Republic-style. Woe unto those who use Constitutional amendments to address specific issues. We've seen enough of that from right-wing reactionaries over the decades, from the disastrous 18th Amendment (the Volstead Act) banning all alcohol to recent attempts to pass amendments banning flag burning and all abortion.

State constitutions are especially messy. Most state documents are huge, their bloated verbiage poorly attempting to address in the minutest detail every aspect of life in that state. The U.S. Constitution fits in your back pocket. It's small for a reason and it ought to stay that way.

Legislatures, not courts and constitutions, need to continue to address animal cruelty, a matter of collective societal and personal conscience, propriety, and common sense. We should take successive waves of legislation through the court system, but always, in the end, the Constitution as it's now written must serve as the final arbiter. And it just did.

We have better ways of protecting animals than granting them "equal justice" as "persons" in a misinterpretation of the Constitution. Worse: That would open a can of legal worms adding to the damage this Bush Jr. Supreme Court  has just done to the American political process. Massive corporate political donations represent a far greater risk to society than video depictions of cruelty to animals. If we also make Fido a "person" with "rights," how will we ever reverse the newfound "person" status of Exxon, British Petroleum, and other huge corporations, even in a future Supreme Court with a more rational majority? The Constitution makes very clear that a "person" must be a member of our species, Homo sapiens, in part, by what the document doesn't mention, and with good reason: animals and corporations!

I'm a dog and cat lover, but -- sorry, Fido and Puss 'n Boots -- despite our finest instincts, there really are times when human beings come first to protect themselves and when the U.S. Constitution also comes first to do that job.





Northern California's New "Underwater Parks"

NEW MARINE PROTECTED AREAS SAFEGUARD NORTHERN CALIFORNIA COAST
“Underwater parks” will boost the region’s environmental and economic health
California’s underwater state park system has expanded to include north central coast hot spots such as Point Reyes Headlands, Bodega Head, the Farallon Islands, and Fitzgerald Marine Reserve. The science-based marine protected area network, which extends from Point Arena to Pigeon Point, is designed to restore sea life and protect habitat while leaving almost 90 percent of the coast open for fishing. The north central coast network, approved last August by the Fish and Game Commission, creates 21 marine protected areas, three marine management areas, and six special closures. Eighty-six square miles (11 percent) of state waters have been designated as fully protected marine reserves.
 
This marks the latest step in a five-stage process to implement the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA), which requires the state to develop a system of marine protected areas down the entire 1,100-mile coastline. California is the first state in the country to propose such a comprehensive plan to manage its marine resources. The MLPA planning process is well under way in the far north and south coasts, with statewide implementation expected by 2011. “We need a healthy ocean for a healthy economy and environment, but our coastal waters face threats that require visionary action,” said Karen Garrison of Natural Resources Defense Council. “The Marine Life Protection Act allows us to create a legacy of healthy, resilient oceans for our kids and grandkids.”   
 
The plan received support from diverse interests, including marine scientists. Several new studies released at February’s American Association for the Advancement of Sciences Conference confirmed the effectiveness of marine reserves, citing success stories from the Channel Islands and Great Barrier Reef to show that ocean habitat protection benefits both fish and fishermen.
“This new research confirms what a lot of us suspected all along; well-designed networks of marine protected areas can be more than the sum of its parts" said Dr. Lance Morgan of Marine Conservation Biology Institute. “The efforts by local stakeholders to design this marine protected area network will pay off in the long run with a healthier coastal ecosystem.”

The new marine protected areas will be monitored by scientists as part of the most comprehensive study ever done of California’s coastal ocean. Researchers are in the water now collecting baseline information, and will combine new and historical data to track the results of the new protections. “A decade ago we had a vision to create the nation’s first statewide network of marine protected areas here in California,” said Samantha Murray of Ocean Conservancy. “These new protections extend our stewardship of California’s land to its sea.” For more information, including scientific background and maps of the new north central coast MLPA network, visit CAL OCEANS. A full list of the new MLPAs can be found at FISH AND GAME.
 
 


S.F. Chronicle Circulation Drops 22 Percent

http://sanfrancisco.bizjournals.com/sanfrancisco/stories/2010/04/26/daily14.html

S.F. Chronicle circulation drops 22 percent
San Francisco Business Times
Monday, April 26, 2010, 1:34pm PDT  |  Modified: Monday, April 26, 2010, 2:02pm

Weekday circulation at the San Francisco Chronicle dropped more than 22 percent in the last year to 241,330, according to figures released Monday by the Audit Bureau of Circulation. Also in the Bay Area, combined circulation for the San Jose Mercury News, Contra Costa Times and Oakland Tribune - all owned by MediaNews Group Inc. - fell 5.4 percent during the week to 516,701. Overall, weekly circulation at the top 25 U.S. dailies dropped 8.7 for the year ending March 31. Among other big dailies, the New York Times slipped 8.5 percent in weekday circulation, while The Wall Street Journal grew 0.5 percent to 2.09 million subscribers.


Quick, Camouflage the Quarry & Don Tinfoil Hats!

Emma Woollacott | Mon 26th Apr 2010, 03:05 am tg daily: science blog

They say strangers are just friends you haven't met yet—but it's not a view Stephen Hawking shares. In a new documentary series for the Discovery channel, he suggests that we should be avoiding making contact with aliens at all costs. Life, he suggests, is likely to be widespread in the universe, though the odds are that most of it will take the form of microbes or simple animals. But if there is more developed life, we should be careful. "One piece of advice that Professor Hawking doesn't mind sharing is the less-popular notion that it might be better if we kept our location a secret rather than being so anxious to make contact," says Discovery. "Reaching out to the stars with our messages of curiosity and peace may only make it easier for an advanced alien mining operation to stake a claim on Earth. First contact would be a much better proposition if we can wait until we are on more equal terms." Hawking compares making contact with alien species with Native Americans' first contact with Christopher Columbus - which didn't turn out brilliantly for the Native Americans. "I imagine they might exist in massive ships... having used up all the resources from the planet below," Professor Hawking says. "Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads looking to conquer and colonise whatever planets they could reach. If so, it makes sense for them to exploit each new planet for materials to build more spaceships so they could move on." Professor Hawking suggests that one massive source of energy available to advanced alien civilizations would be the ability to tap and concentrate the radiant energy of stars with an array of planet-size collectors. You can see a clip of some of the alien conceptions from Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking: http://dsc.discovery.com/videos/stephen-hawking-aliens/.

(forwarded by Mark Stechbart as a public service)


All Small Claims Courts Moving to Redwood City

The unprecedented, deepening, and ongoing reductions in state court funding has necessitated the reduction of more than 20 percent of the court’s workforce. As a result of those reductions, effective May 3, 2010, the Small Claims Divisions at 500 County Center in Redwood City, 800 N. Humboldt in San Mateo, and 1050 Mission Road in South San Francisco will be consolidated with the Civil Division and relocated to the Hall of Justice in Redwood City. This office will accept all small claims filing for San Mateo County. The court is committed to maintaining high levels of service and efficiency; this consolidation enables the court to better manage filings, balance workload, and shift some staff into other divisions in need of additional staff like traffic, which has experienced a significant increase in filings due to cities’ implementation of photo red-light programs. No court staff will lose their jobs as a result of this consolidation. Consolidating the Small Claims Division is just one of a number of initiatives that the court has implemented to address the statewide budget cuts over the past several years. Presiding Judge Stephen M. Hall says, “Our court administration and judiciary have been planning for these budget challenges and have been implementing changes since 2007, when the budget situation began to worsen. In addition to reducing our staff by 20 percent, we have raised fees where permissible under the law, increased internal efficiencies while improving services, and reduced spending in order to absorb these ongoing budget cuts.” While all administrative and clerical tasks will be performed in the Hall of Justice, small claims cases will continue to be assigned to one of three courthouses for trial, based on jurisdictional boundaries. (from press release)


 


TransLink Card for Most Trains, Buses & Ferries

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TransLink is set and ready to be used on Caltrain as a fare payment method. Customers are invited to come onboard with the card that allows them to pay fares on multiple transit systems. TransLink cards and value can be purchased from retailers, including most Walgreens stores, as well as at the two Caltrain ticket offices in San Francisco and San Jose, and at the Caltrain administrative offices at 1250 San Carlos Ave., San Carlos. The TransLink card costs $5 or is free if you sign up for Autoload when ordering your card through the TransLink website. Caltrain customers can add Monthly passes and 8-ride tickets to their cards, as well as cash, which can be used on Caltrain and four other Bay Area transit systems: Muni, BART, Golden Gate Transit and Ferry, and AC Transit. As part of a regional effort, Caltrain will be moving from paper passes to TransLink, gradually eliminating paper Monthly passes and 8-ride tickets by the end of January 2011. TransLink can be used with transit benefit programs, such as Commuter Check and WageWorks. Transit benefit vouchers can be used to purchase both passes and cash value to be added to your TransLink card. To use the card, customers simply touch or “tag” their TransLink cards to the card readers at stations before they board the train and “tag off” at the readers when they reach their destination. For more information about TransLink, please visit http://www.translink.org/ or call 1.877.878.8883.



Pacifica's Unfunded Pension Liability Grows

BY LIONEL EMDE, RIPTIDE CORRESPONDENT
 
Pacifica City Council's meeting April 26 featured a stunning shoveling of a growing problem onto the long-term debt of the city. The staff report on issuance of pension obligation bonds reads:"At this time, the City carries an unfunded (pension) liability of $17.7 million which is payable over the next 20 years."
 
But under the "Fiscal Impact" section, the actual amount floated in the bond issue is $20.5 million, which staff says will "fund $19.95 million of Unfunded Actuarial Accrued Liability ... for the City’s three defined-benefit (retirement) plans." That is a 16 percent increase since the city first tried issuing these bonds in 2008. There is no explanation in the city’s staff report as to where we are going, financially speaking, in the long term. That the city’s long-term unfunded pension obligation is growing at an apparent rate of 16 percent in less than two years is unexplained. For more history on the first unsuccessful attempt to sell bonds to cover unfunded liabilities: RIPTIDE COVERAGE

Tough Negotiation
At Monday's meeting, the closed-session labor negotiation involved all 10 bargaining groups representing the city’s labor force. At issue was the city’s rapid financial decline and tough choices facing city employees. Eight of 10 city bargaining units have refused to renegotiate the current contract, according to city staff.
 
Pay cuts and give-backs won’t be easy to swallow because many city employees received raises as negotiated in their contracts this year. The consent calendar of the February 8, 2010 council meeting contained salary information of major importance. Wastewater treatment plant workers received a 2 percent increase in compensation; management and police, 3 percent; police management, 3.23 percent; department directors, 3 to 6.1 percent; miscellaneous, 3 percent; and one employee got a 37.58 percent raise!
 
Freeze in Pay and Benefits?
A recent report by the "Financing City Services Task Force" spelled out how much is needed to reduce payroll to a sustainable level. The report contends that freezing city salaries and city contribution to retirement benefits would save $8.5 million over the next five years.
 
Also in play is the public mood about water, sewer, and garbage rate increases. How much more will Pacifica taxpayers, increasingly stressed financially, be expected to sustain in new taxes and fees? Hundreds of Pacificans are in danger of losing their homes or have already lost their homes. RealtyTrac, a firm that collects and sells foreclosure data, reports that Pacifica has almost 300 homes either in the first stages of default, scheduled for auction on the courthouse steps, or repossessed by the bank. Is our city government aware and concerned about the increasing financial pressure on the public?

Event Horizon: Black Hole in Rockaway

Event-Horizon

Jim Alex reports: "Bank of America is the proud new owner of the Horizons building. After the bankruptcy was tossed out, the bank took the property back for $1,543,307.47. Lots of people lost money on this deal. Five more loans just got wiped out when the first loan foreclosed. On a happier note, it looks like the UPS store is coming to the Clock Tower Building in Rockaway." (Document below indicates Horizon property reverts to Bank of America.)

Sale Date/Time:         04/22/2010 12:30 pm         Property Address:         Vacant Land, 270 Rockaway Beach Ave.

Pacifica, CA 94044-
Sale Status:         Reverted                 
Opening Bid:         $1,543,307.47                 
Final Sale Amount:         $1,543,307.47                 
Postponement Reason:         Bankruptcy                 
TS Number:         53410         Sale Location:         At the Marshall Street entrance to the Hall of Justice and Records, 400 County Center, Redwood City, CA
APN:         022-024-230-9 and 022-024-240-8                 
RSVP Number:         178340

The Grinch Who Stole Earth Day

THIEVES RIP OFF OCEANA SCHOOL SOLAR PANELS

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Photo courtesy of Pacifica Police Department. If you have information about this crime, please call the police non-emergency number 650-738-7314 or use the police department's anonymous tip line called Silent Witness Hotline at 650-359-4444 or use the online form on the city Web site (click Departments + Police + Reports and Records): CITY OF PACIFICA


Hold Your Horses: Highway 1 Widening EIR Stalls

BY TODD BRAY, RIPTIDE CORRESPONDENT

It appears the long-awaited environmental impact report (EIR) for the Calera Creek Parkway Project (widening Highway 1 from Fassler to Reina Del Mar) is on hold. Following up on an on-air comment from Wavelength host Ian Butler about the scoping comment period being extended indefinitely, this reporter asked San Mateo County Transportation Authority (SMCTA) and Pacifica City Manager Steve Rhodes about the delay. SMCTA has not yet responded, but Rhodes confirmed the EIR is on hold until SMCTA receives further input from city leaders. This is not the first time the EIR has stalled. Several years ago after an earlier scoping hearing, the EIR was put on hold and eventually cancelled when the state rebuked the city for claiming it had the right to be lead agency. At that time, SMCTA took the reins. The March 3 scoping hearing, which was broadly criticized for not providing preliminary information, was the culmination of that work.