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Friday, September 30, 2011

Foti Most Definitely Not Taliban-like

No matter how you might feel about Ross Foti, the Peninsula anti-abortion activist, he is certainly not Taliban-like. A letter-writer, upset about Foti's persistent picketing in front of Planned Parenthood abortion clinics, recently likened the fellow's tactics to those of the Taliban. Not even close. If anything, Foti's behavior could be tabbed as anti-Taliban because of the very cause he espouses. He is against abortion on demand. He is positively adamant on the subject. He spends a great deal of his time displaying grotesque, enlarged photos of dead fetuses near Planned Parenthood sites. The pictures, intended to dissuade women from undergoing an abortion, are stark, ugly and unsettling. But Foti, in his view, is trying to save lives, not take them. The Taliban, for their part, are more than pleased to take off the heads of offending heretics. Foti does not walk down that road at all. We can debate whether Foti's opinions regarding abortion are valid _ and goodness knows many of us do. But there is no doubt where he stands on the value of human life. A Taliban fellow traveler he most assuredly is not.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Construction Costs Are Rising Fast

Surprise, surprise. Even as California's economy continues to shudder under the weight of the collapse of the housing market and its depressing aftermath, construction costs are heading higher fast. We got a good example of the phenomenon recently when the trustees in the San Mateo Union High School District learned that bids for a number of big projects came in roughly 30 percent more than projected not all that long ago. Why? It turns out that, over the last several years, financially shaky contractors and subcontractors have gone belly-up, leaving only a few stable firms to bid. Those survivors can now afford to seek more lucrative prices for their work because they aren't being undercut by the weak sisters who have been weeded out. In addition, the cost of building materials (concrete, steel, copper, etc.) is rising quickly. Suddenly, the days of routine low-ball bidding wars are over. A tough, new reality has set in.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Postal Service Decline is Accelerating

That didn't take long. Just days after the U.S. Postal Service announced that regional service centers, including one in Burlingame, would be targeted for closure due to extreme fiscal stress nationwide, regular mail delivery in our Peninsula middle-class neighborhood has deteriorated dramatically. Over the last two days, the mail has shown up at at 6:10 p.m. and 6:45 p.m. It would not be a surprise if the mail carrier shows up wearing a miner's helmet, complete with amplified light and a GPS system, by tomorrow night. Mail delivery has never been this tardy in our 44 years living in Burlingame. Will it improve? Lots of luck. If Saturday service was quietly terminated, who would notice? Not this correspondent.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

It's Good to Have Handy Info on Our Debt

As the California/U.S. economy continues to hover between bad and horrific, it's instructional to wake up on a Wednesday morning in balmy Burlingame and discover a free copy of the China Daily lying in the driveway. Every house on our block had one. Wonderful. We can use the fiscal wakeup call. Fortunately, the newspaper is written in English. Still, no matter what language is used, the financial news is not terrific. China (Japan isn't far behind) is a prime holder of U.S. debt. In other words, China is one of our biggest and most important bankers. At least this latest publication is now available so that we can monitor our important mortgage issues more closely. Maybe it's time to burn the credit cards once and for all. Or not.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

They Grow 'Em Big at Serra High

What's in the water at Serra High School? The Padres' freshman football team appears to be one of the largest, in terms of physical size, in school history. Although there is no way to pinpoint where this team stands in that regard going all the way back to the San Mateo Catholic institution's founding early in the 1940s, the 2011 freshman aggregation remains an eye-popping outfit. Of the 68 boys on the roster, which is available online, 17 of them weigh at least 190 pounds. Six-footers abound. A pair of tackles are listed at 6-3 and 6-7 in height and 270 and 250 pounds respectively. These are 14-year-olds. They are just beginning their prep football careers. If you didn't know how young they are, you might conclude this is a varsity unit. It isn't. These kids, barely out of the eighth grade, are mere neophytes. They have played one contest so far; they won it easily. There has been no mention of the cost of the post-game snack. But it must have been substantial.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Times Sign Ready to Go Away Quietly

In Redwood City, there is a movement afoot to find some way to preserve the towering sign at Mel's Bowl on El Camino Real as a developer prepares to demolish the business. The sign, part and parcel of the old bowling alley, has been a Redwood City landmark for about 50 years. The feeling among preservationists is that the sign has some historic value. Maybe. But, perhaps not all that surprisingly, there doesn't appear to be a similar effort to retain the signature sign and its one-time digital clock/temperature indicator at the former San Mateo County Times property on Highway 101. In one way, it's rather sad. In another, well, life goes on. The Times, as a daily newspaper on the Peninsula, has faded away slowly. It is scheduled to lose its individual identity completely as of the morning of Nov. 2 when it is to be totally absorbed into the San Jose Mercury News. Four years ago, the newspaper, which traces its roots all the way back to 1889, abandoned its facilities on South Amphlett Boulevard and moved its editorial office to leased space at the corner of Ninth Avenue and South Claremont Street. The land was then sold. It was just a matter of time until the South Amphlett buildings, first opened in 1964, were razed. Now, the only thing left to tear down is the defunct sign. The clock, so to speak, is ticking.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Neukom's Legacy Deserves a Final Thank-You

The abrupt departure of Bill Neukom as Managing General Partner and CEO of the San Francisco Giants has been disconcerting for followers of that Major League Baseball franchise. And for good reason. Neukom, in his three years as the Giants' top executive, did what no one else in that chair had been able to accomplish since the team moved west from New York in 1958: Win a World Series. That 2010 feat, by itself, has established Neukom's legacy for all time. For those on the Peninsula, Neukom's place in Giants' lore was unique because of his local background. He grew up in San Mateo Park and attended San Mateo High School in the Class of 1959. He was inducted into the Peninsula Sports Hall of Fame in June. Neukom, though the circumstances of his surprising exit remain in question, at least for public consumption, is regarded as something akin to a sporting savior by West Bay baseball fans. His relatively brief tenure with the Giants will not be forgotten anytime soon. We owe him a final thank-you as he heads out the door at China Basin.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

San Mateo Club Wound Up With a PR Disaster

In retrospect, the hubbub surrounding the disruptive and surprising Sept. 10 fireworks display by the Peninsula Golf & Country Club in San Mateo could have been largely avoided (or at least softened a bit) if club authorities had made sure that the surrounding community had ample notice of the event weeks in advance. They made only a very minimal and belated effort, at best. There are plenty of mechanisms to get out the word, including cable-TV, Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, flyers, yes, even newspapers. Municipal officials should have been clued in early on. By doing so, those city folks could have issued alerts as well. The club, on the occasion of its 100th birthday, did not seem to realize what it was heading for one day before the national observance of the tenth anniversary of the terror attacks on the East Coast. Just a modicum of public relations savvy could have saved the club a whole lot of subsequent grief. A check of its own Website showed there was no indication even there of what was about to transpire. It was as though the club, located in the middle of a quiet residential neighborhood, had no notion at all that a sustained fireworks show involves heavy-duty explosions that would rock homes, disturb residents, frighten small children and animals and generally shellshock entire neighborhoods. So, unfortunately, the club missed out on an opportunity to generate goodwill. Instead, its big celebration turned out to be a PR nightmare.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Aragon High to Celebrate 50th Anniversary

Was it really 50 years ago when Aragon High School was christened? Indeed it was. The San Mateo school, the city's third and youngest public high school, began its educational mission in 1961. Since it opened its doors on Alameda de las Pulgas during the Kennedy Administration, an estimated 17,000 young adults have graduated. Aragon is preparing to observe its 50th birthday in October. According to Aragon alum Heidi Bowman, the festivities will commence Oct. 14 when the Dons' football program will host South San Francisco High School; the frosh-soph game will begin at 4:30 p.m. and the varsity tilt is set for 7 p.m. On Oct. 15, there will be tours of the school from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. A light lunch will follow. Later that same night, beginning at 7 p.m. An anniversary gala will be held at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Foster City. You can get more information via e-mail at

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Flying on 9-11 Makes Good Sense

There is every indication that Americans tend to shy away from flying on Sept. 11. That seems to be because of a lingering worry about the East Coast terror attacks of ten years ago on this date. However, if you care to dwell on it for a moment, a rational person might prefer to hop aboard a Boeing 757 and jet from SFO to a destination of choice. Why? Because airport and airline security is exceedingly tight on the anniversary of the horrific 2001 events. It would not be a stretch to state that, if anything, it may be safer to fly on Sept. 11 than on any other day of the year. Where's my ID?

Chatham Road Is Ready to Party

Never let it be said that remembering and respecting a national tragedy has to be all gloom and doom. Far from it. Neighbors, families and friends got together on Sunday afternoon, the well-chronicled tenth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks on the East Coast, to party, palaver and celebrate life on Chatham Road in Burlingame. And that's the way it should be. We can't forget, but we can't allow those who despise our way of life and our people to win by stifling the little things, the really important things, that we all cherish. The boistrous Chatham Road event, complete with full band, dancing in the street, an inflated bounce house, food, adult bevvies and little kids running amuck, filled the bill quite nicely, thank you very much. When in doubt, as they say, keep on rockin'. On Chatham Road, they did so with vigor. Good for them.

No, That Wasn't World War III Breaking Out

Just after 8 p.m. Saturday evening, just hours before 9-11 remembrances were scheduled to commence on the East Coast, all hell broke loose in the area surrounding the Peninsula Golf & Country Club in San Mateo. Residents blissfully unprepared for a very local _ and extremely loud and disruptive _ display of fireworks provided by club officials on the occasion of its 100th birthday were stunned when explosions began to rock their neighborhoods. It was a sustained and unrelenting barrage. Homes and cars were rocked by the nearby explosions, some of them so heavy and loud they almost seemed to be emanating from right next door. Dogs and other frightened animals cowered as the force of the blasts persisted. The bombardment went on for at least 20 minutes. Residual smoke wafted over the proceedings, drifting through residential neighbhorhoods after the pyrotechnic celebration had ceased. Telephone access on the San Mateo Police Department's non-emergency line was jammed. Finally, we got through to a dispatcher who explained what was happening. A call to a club spokeswoman produced an explanation and this proviso: "We sent out notices to the neighbors." Really? No one we talked with in the area eight blocks east of the club knew anything about an impending fireworks show. Unless we missed it, we couldn't find anything about it on the club's Web site. Shellshocked longtime residents said they had never experienced such an intrusive event before. For most of those affected, this one came right out of the blue. Sorry, someone dropped the ball.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

No Need to Fret About Nudists Here

It's hardly a secret that San Francisco families with children are quite prone to leaving that community for the suburbs once the youngsters get close to school age. SF has one of the lowest percentages of kids in the overall population of any big U.S. city. SF is viewed as being anti-child in many different ways. Now there's a new one: Too many naked people out on the street. The phenomenon has gotten so intrusive and unpleasant that there is a move afoot to try to regulate these uncomfortable displays of flesh. Good luck. SF residents are well-known for their independence and contrary behavior. So, hey, parents, come on down to the Peninsula. We've got terrific weather, good schools, wonderful parks, ample parking and friendly neighborhoods _ and very, very few naked guys (and gals) texting away out on El Camino Real. Yes, you can take your tiny nursery school denizen with you over to Starbucks and you won't have to worry about him or her asking you about the sight of those weird, flabby buttocks on the wrinkled geezer sitting in the next chair. See, life in San Mateo County is even better than you thought.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Be Careful What You Wish For

Depending on your point of view, the decision by a Brisbane firm to move out of that North County village to much larger quarters in Visalia is either a wise business move or a betrayal. Brisbane officials, some local politicians and the union which represents the 150 or so workers who are scheduled to lose their jobs here naturally see VMR International's impending departure as the latter. But there's a problem: VMR, which provides about $2 million in annual sales taxes to Brisbane, is doing absolutely nothing wrong or illegal. The company is taking advantage of a state-approved incentive program designed to assist regions with severe unemployment. Opponents believe the shift southeast into the Central Valley is a perversion of the intent of the rules (which are supposed to encourage out-of-state businesses to move to California). Still, it's not unlawful at all. Efforts by key Democrats in Sacramento to change the regulations have come to naught, at least so far. If they are successful, though, they might get more than they bargained for. Enterprises seeking better deals, if they are stymied and frustrated in California, could simply head for greener, and more business-friendly, pastures in places like Nevada and Arizona, or, heaven forbid, Texas. And that's the last thing VMR's Peninsula foes would want to see. So be careful what you wish for.

Here Come the Kids

Here in the suburbs, you see them everywhere: Kids attired in short pants, jerseys, cleats and shin guards. It must be time for youth soccer. And, by far, the biggest outfit promoting and diecting the sport is AYSO, American Youth Soccer Organization. It's been around since the 1970s. It's impact in San Mateo County is huge. With a longtime motto heralding that "Everyone plays," AYSO has an estimated 10,000-12,000 participants on the Peninsula. San Mateo AYSO's Web site proclaims it has more than 2,000. Redwood City has 1,500. San Bruno is close to that figure. Through the decades, the program has expanded its age brackets. Today, pre-schoolers as young as 41/2 are eligible to play. Any attempt to coach these tots is like attempting to herd cats. For most, it's their first taste of athletic competition. We can debate whether it's wise to start the nippers in any organized sport at such a young age at a later date. Suffice it to say, however, not everyone sees the wisdom in such a practice. Still, in an era when obese children are a growing national concern, just about anything that gets them outside and exercising away from the lure of video games and iPads can't be a bad thing.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

PG&E's Bosses Have Little Shame

You have to hand it to the honchos at PG&E. They have little shame. After an exhaustive study by federal authorities, it has been made clear that the utility company was at fault when one of its natural gas pipelines exploded in the San Bruno hills a year ago. The result was eight fatalities, dozens of injuries and dozens of homes destroyed or severely damaged. The explosion/fire was the worst disaster ever experienced by a San Mateo County community. PG&E's bosses, now fully aware that a lack of proper care and maintence along the pipeline in question caused the historic calamity, want their customers (including those in the shattered San Bruno neighborhood, presumably) to foot much of the bill for a complete repair and retrofit regimen for its natural gas delivery system. The early estimate of the cost for such a comprehensive program (which should have been in place all along) is about $2 billion. If ever there were a case to be made for the state Public Utilities Commission to reject a PG&E rate hike request, this is it. The very idea of having the blast victims, along with everyone else, pay their "share" for PG&E's abject failures is unthinkable.