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March 2012

Opinion: Pacifica—One Expensive Place to Live

By Lionel Emde, Riptide Correspondent

Venturing outside of our insular community, I happened upon the neighboring community of San Bruno, where city staff actually provides information to city council that (gasp!) is in context. What is that? It is knowing what other communities charge for basic services, for example.
So in perusing the San Bruno City Council agenda packet for March 13, 2012, I happened upon some interesting charts.

Pacifica, as illustrated on the chart Monthly Single Family Residential Sewer Rate Survey, Feb. 2012, pays the third-highest sewer rates in two counties (San Mateo and San Francisco).

With the current 11.14 percent increase proposed by the City of Pacifica, and an unknown increase that will be apparent next year, we could well vault into the number two spot.
In water rates, Pacifica is only fifth-highest in three counties (San Mateo, San Francisco, and Santa Clara). We're going to have to try harder in that category.
And then there are the garbage collection rates: Pacifica has the second-highest residential collection rates in San Mateo County, and has the highest commercial garbage collection rates. The lie being propagated is that because we have less commercial collection, we pay more. In fact, we subsidize garbage collection south of Devil's Slide, where residents of Montara, El Granada, and Moss Beach pay half as much as we do for garbage collection from the same company, trucks, and employees.
Maybe our opaque style of governance should change?

Snowy Plovers and a Ravenous Gull @ Linda Mar Beach

The three Snowy Plover photos (top) represent three individuals. These birds should be departing from Linda Mar Beach any day now to head off to the beaches where they nest. On one of them, you can see that the wing coverts are very badly worn, with not much more than the feathers' central shaft remaining. That's what happens when you live on a sandy beach with blowing sand.

The bottom two photos show a Western Gull choking down an Ochre Sea Star. This particular food item is more popular with Glaucous-winged Gulls, with some individuals seeming to specialize on the sea stars, but Western Gulls also eat them occasionally.

Paul Donahue

Bald Eagles Back in San Mateo County: First Since 1915

By Lisa Krieger, SAN JOSE MERCURY, March 24: A pair of bald eagles is nesting on the San Francisco Peninsula for the first time in nearly a century, a milestone for the once-endangered symbol of strength and grandeur.


Sequoia Audubon volunteers are on hand Saturdays and Sundays along Lower Crystal Springs to help visitors see the eagles. WHEN: 9 a.m. to noon, Saturdays and Sundays, through nesting, hatching, and fledging (at least through early June). Rain cancels. WHERE: From 280, take Black Mountain Road west toward Crystal Springs watershed and golf course. Turn left on Skyline Drive toward Crystal Springs Dam and Sawyer Camp Trail. Drive about 1.5 miles south until you see a gravel pullout at the first sight of the lake, right before the Kiewit Construction gate. Park on the gravel shoulder.

Shakshuka: Low-Carb Israeli Delicacy

Shakshuka (eggs poached in spicy tomato sauce). Adapted from Saveur and further modified for the labor-saving cuisine of Chef Juan Mayburrito, with apologies to the nation of Israel. This dish is easy, delicious, nutritious, and low in carbohydrates. Feeds a small army.

1/4 cup olive oil
Chopped chiles or sriracha chile sauce, to taste
1 onion, chopped (fresh or dehydrated)
5 garlic cloves, crushed, sliced (or pureed fresh garlic)
1 teaspoon of ground cumin
1 tablespoon of paprika
28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes, undrained
Salt, to taste (kosher sea salt from the Dead Sea…kidding)
6 eggs
1/2 cup of crumbled feta cheese
1 tablespoon of parsley

Heat olive oil in a big frying pan or skillet over medium-high heat. Add chiles and onions. Cook and stir for 6 minutes. Add garlic, cumin, salt, and paprika. Cook and stir for 2 minutes. Add tomatoes and their liquid. Reduce heat to medium, simmer, and stir until mixture thickens, about 15 minutes. Crack eggs and distribute evenly across the top. Cover the pan and cook until the egg yolks are set, about 5 minutes. Using a spoon, baste the egg whites with sauce and without breaking the yolks. Sprinkle with feta cheese and parsley. Serve hot as a side dish or dip with pita bread.

Senator Leland Yee's Bill to Stop Employers Asking for Your Social Media Username and Password

California Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco/San Mateo) will introduce legislation to stop employers from formally requesting or demanding employees or job applicants provide their social media usernames and passwords.
The bill comes after a growing number of businesses and public agencies around the country are asking job seekers and workers for their Facebook and Twitter account information and passwords.
“It is completely unacceptable for an employer to invade someone’s personal social media accounts,” said Yee. “Not only is it entirely unnecessary, it is an invasion of privacy and unrelated to one’s work performance or abilities.”
“These outlets are often for the purpose of individuals to share private information with their closest friends and family,” said Yee. “Family photos and non-work social calendars have no bearing on a person’s ability to do their job and therefore employers have no right to demand to review it.”
Rather than formally requesting passwords and usernames, some employers have demanded applicants and employees to sit down with managers to review their social media content or fully print out their social media pages. Yee says his bill will also prohibit this practice.
IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law professor Lori Andrews, who specializes in Internet privacy, told the Associated Press that these practices, even when given voluntarily, should not be allowed.

Opinion: AB 506 May Be Pacifica's Salvation

By Todd McCune Bray, Riptide Correspondent

After Vallejo's bankruptcy in 2008, the State of California passed Assembly Bill 506, which allows a municipality to restructure its debts with creditors and renegotiate employee contracts without declaring bankruptcy, thereby saving its bond ratings from the consequences of a formal Chapter 9 bankruptcy.

The City of Pacifica has taken the first step necessary for this by declaring a fiscal emergency. Whether intentional or not, our city can now aggressively bring down the cost of senior staff, department heads, fire and police, and potentially restructure its debts with creditors, including fines like the one agreed to in the recent $50 million settlement with the water board.

As of now, AB 506 seems to me like the best option for our city. Correct me if I am wrong, but of all those financial task force options, none of them included a reference to the restructuring AB 506 would afford our community.

Opinion: Is It Time for the City of Pacifica to Start Thinking About the Unthinkable—Bankruptcy?

By Todd McCune Bray, Riptide Correspondent

A declaration of bankruptcy by the City of Pacifica may not be a bad thing. I'm researching what it might mean for our town (procedurally) to go through a Chapter 9  bankruptcy (with the blessings of the Tribune), but given our current financial circumstances, choosing a Chapter 9 bankruptcy may be a really smart thing to do. While there are issues of resident and business flight, in this economy that is doubtful. The most interesting aspects of a Chapter 9 bankruptcy are court-appointed time to restructure debt and commitments to things like our pension liabilities, coupled with the protection of the federal government against seizure of city-owned assets from creditors.


Opinion: Comments Impact Hwy. 1 Widening

By Bill Collins, Riptide Correspondent

The proposed widening of Highway 1 generated so much controversy in Pacifica and environs that the project’s environmental impact report (EIR) is delayed while 213 public comments are being considered. That moves release of the EIR from June to October. As the transportation staff says, this downgrades the Calera project from "green" for "on time" to yellow for "delayed."

Will alternatives suggested by the public be evaluated, studied, and given an estimated cost so the most cost-effective option(s) can be known? Before more than $50 million in sales tax (not gas tax) revenue is spent on a controversial, costly, and unsustainable “solution,” all the options must be considered and compared.

These suggestions may not all be effective, but we’ll never know until they’re studied. They came from citizens who participated in several public meetings:

1. Facilitate car-pooling. Most cars have just one occupant.
2. Add a flex lane in the middle, northbound in the morning, southbound in the afternoon.
3. Time intersection lights to reduce stops. There are no backups where Highway 1 is two lanes and without stoplights.
4. Adjust school schedules. This is a schoolday problem only.
5. Provide vans for schoolchildren (without parents driving their own kids).
6. School(s) could coordinate parents driving other nearby kids to and from school.
7. Study putting an underpass at the intersection to obviate the stoplights.
8. Institute more frequent and better bus service with benches and shelters at each stop. You shouldn’t have to use a car to get around in Pacifica.
9. Provide vans to major commuter destinations.
10. Limit turns onto Highway 1 to allow north/south traffic to flow with fewer stops during peak commute times.
11. Meter the flow of traffic entering Highway 1.

Some of these options may be effective in conjunction with others. Even if the highway were widened, car-pooling makes sense. But the transportation bureaucrats have already decided which option they prefer. (Clue: It's the one that allows them to let big contracts to the road builders.) They've stubbornly refused to study the alternatives, ignoring the public's suggestions and declaring our only options to be “widen or nothing.” While some people may not be able to envision other modes of getting around, most aren’t so easily misled. 

Those who don’t or can’t drive deserve better transportation. They also pay the sales tax that funds the Transportation Authority, whose staff is eager to fund the widening. We have a two-tier transportation “system.”

Each of the alternatives is probably less costly and less harmful to neighborhoods and the environment, and offer sustainable traffic relief sooner than the widening (slated for completion in 2016, but probably even later now).  Sustainable because the TA staff admits that someday even the wider Highway 1 would become congested. Then what—another round of widening? Remember when Highway 1 was just two lanes? 

We'll never know what's the most cost-effective use of tax monies until all the options get equal study, so they can be compared. Why hasn’t that happened? Why do those who purport to care about traffic congestion advocate only the widening, which offers no traffic relief for another five years, at best?

Widening highways is a 1960s fix widely discredited for its many limitations. You shouldn't need a car to get around in Pacifica, but that's how almost all of us get around, for lack of alternatives. That'll change as Pacificans demand more options to get around.

Hill/TURN: Stop PG&E from Gouging Consumers


PG&E’s proposal saddles ratepayers with almost all of the $5 billion price tag spread out over a fifty-year period. If the Commission lets PG&E have its way, the utility stands to make a $1.5 billion profit thanks to a Commission policy, formulated after the utility emerged from bankruptcy a decade ago, that granted it a generous return on its capital investments.

For each $1 in pipe the company places in the ground, ratepayers would pay more than $3.50.  Not only would customers pay back the investment principal and the debt service, but they’d also pay the 11.35 percent annual shareholder profit, and the taxes on that profit.

“PG&E customers pay their gas utility bill each month assuming they’re getting a safe, well-managed service.  They shouldn’t have to pay PG&E fifty years of higher utility bills for service they should have been receiving all along,” Hill said.

Mark Toney, executive director of TURN, said PG&E wants the CPUC to ignore the San Bruno explosion and approve massive rate hikes without holding PG&E accountable for its past failures.  “San Bruno was a result of years of pipeline neglect by PG&E, neglect that is the major driver of the expenditures PG&E now says it needs.  The CPUC must disallow rate hikes to cover PG&E’s previous mistakes,“ Toney said.
Contact: (Hill) Aurelio Rojas 916-319-2019/916-747-3199 cell; Nate Solov 916-768-1378 cell; (TURN) Mindy Spatt, 415-929-8876, ext. 306/415-359-3856 cell

Background: Even though the amount customers pay PG&E to maintain its gas lines has increased 50% since 2005, the San Bruno disaster uncovered a host of costly problems in PG&E’s system, including hundreds of miles of pipelines that had not been adequately tested, pipelines that need to be replaced, missing and inaccurate pipeline records, bad welds on pipe installation, and use of junk pipe.

The Commission will act as the judge in this case between ratepayers and PG&E to answer the question: should ratepayers now have to pay more money to fix a system they thought they’d been paying for all along?

The National Transportation Safety Board accused PG&E of having “exploited weaknesses” in government pipeline regulations “to the detriment of public safety.”  A Commission investigation, released last week, found that “PG&E’s recordkeeping was in a mess and had been for years.”

The Commission’s Independent Review Panel found that “while the company (PG&E) has multiple stated goals, top management appears to be focused on financial performance.”

TURN will outline an alternate plan, one which is fair to ratepayers and requires PG&E to correct any failures stemming from poor record-keeping, inadequate testing, shoddy maintenance or under-spending on its own dime.

In addition, TURN is calling on the Commission to stop PG&E from reaping huge profits from overdue pipeline repairs.

Nate Solov
Office of Assemblymember Jerry Hill

Alandrome: Pacifica Palindromist Ponders Pumas

Anna and Otto's new palindrome-themed restaurant Bib may serve a new palindromic menu item inspired by California Fish and Game Commission president Dan Richards' recent hunting trip to Idaho, where he bagged a mountain lion, which is a protected species in California: “Taco cat”—stuffed with “Ragu o’cougar” sautéed in “lion oil”  ("Senile felines" on request).

Alan Wald