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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Let's Call Them What They Are: Evictions

There is an off-putting tendency in today's media to describe the removal of illegal encampments established by imitators of the Occupy Wall Street movement as "raids" by law enforcement authorities. Sorry, it won't wash. These are evictions, pure and simple. The squatters aren't following the rules. In doing so, they are setting themselves up for mandatory, and sometimes forcible, expulsion from the premises in question. If police have to move in and take down tents and other temporary shelters, so be it. But they aren't raids. They are evictions. It would be accurate to describe them as such.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Congress Presses to Whack Fast-Train Funds

Conservative Republicans in Congress are continuing efforts to derail funds for California's planned high-speed rail network. At issue, according to today's Los Angeles Times, is $3.3 billion in current federal allocations already ticketed for the Golden State. The aim of the GOP representatives is to either kill off the money altogether or have it shifted to the Amtrak corridor on the East Coast. The latter option would be a fallback position to lure aboard members of the Senate who may be wavering on the California project which has escalated in cost three-fold to about $100 billion since voters approved Proposition 1A in November 2008. That measure authorizes the state to utilize just under $10 billion in matching funds; about $3 billion of that total, along with the federal $3.3 billion, would be used to get the high-speed train plan up and running with an initial phase, now set for the Central Valley. Conservative congressmen (and congresswomen) are highly dubious of the project and want it ended now before it can even start next year. Their view is that it's a guaranteed financial sinkhole. While the House may well vote to de-fund the California construction, the Senate would be much more of a challenge for the naysayers. Furthermore, President Obama, whether oblivious to the dire fiscal implications or simply hell-bent on forging ahead with fast-train work no matter how outrageously expensive it would be, remains a strong advocate of high-speed rail.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Be Thankful for Those Who Foot the Bills

During this traditional period of gratitude, let us pause for a moment to consider the weary San Mateo County taxpayer. Yes, he, or she, is worthy of praise on any number of fronts. The dedicated taxpayer, presumably a loyal citizen of the U.S., foots the bills for all of the public services provided by any and all layers of government. The unappreciated taxpayer does so regardless of who gets those services, whether the individuals are in this great nation legally or illegally, and how many needy children they may have. The taxpayer is hit from a variety of voracious sources: Federal, state and local. The typical employed middle-class homeowner along the Peninsula is faced with paying out nearly 50 cents of every earned dollar to some form of taxing entity. That's a lot. And, typically, the taxpayer pungles up the dough without a grotesque amount of kicking and screaming. For that, we should all be thankful. Because without that dedicated taxpayer and his legions of cooperative peers, much of society would halt in its tracks. Happy Thanksgiving, by the way.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Joe Simitian Could Do Us a Big Favor

State Sen. Joe Simitian will be wrapping up his career in Sacramento in 2012. The legislator who represents a portion of San Mateo County is being termed out of office. As a parting gift to his constituents, and to everyone in California, he might want to consider doing the brave and correct thing. He ought to defy his Democratic Party overlords and tell the truth about high-speed rail and what that project means for the financial future of the state. So far, Simitian, a seemingly bright fellow, has been unable to absorb the full fiscal impact of what awaits the state if HSR plans proceed as planned. There have been plenty of dire warnings, not the least of which came from the fast-train folks themselves earlier this month when it was predicted that a San Francisco to Anaheim high-speed line would cost close to $100 billion (and that doesn't include lines to Sacramento and San Diego which had been promised originally). That's nearly triple what the HSR gurus had estimated prior to a 2008 state election that provided close to $10 billion in high-speed bond seed money. Not only that, a steady stream of unbiased experts have come forward to sound the alarm bell about high-speed construction costs and, in the end, onerous operating deficits. Simitian knows all of this. In spite of that, he has balked at coming out against the plan. He continues to lean toward favoring it and touts a "blended" rail arrangement along the Peninsula. In that scenario, high-speed trains, for the most part, would use Caltrain's tracks in order to minimize the impact of HSR through Santa Clara and San Mateo counties. But even that doesn't wash. Fast-train officials offer that such an arrangement would be only temporary until they could find the cash to build separate tracks for their system. Why doesn't Simitian take the bold step and oppose HSR altogether. Maybe it's because he's got his eyes on a seat on the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors. Yep, it looks like more of the same.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Burlingame's Dilemma is a Microcosm of California

It would not be a stretch to point out that what happened in Burlingame Tuesday night was a microcosm of what bedevils the cash-strapped state of California. For nearly two hours, the City Council pondered the conundrum of finding fair and reasonable ways to cut its retirement costs, particularly its huge unfunded retiree health care guarantees. It was an illuminating session, held in a basement meeting room in the community's Main Library. In fact, at times, it resembled a contract negotiating session as public employee union members (all of them non-safety types) went back and forth with city officials, including City Manager Jim Nantell, who has been sounding the alarm about retiree benefits for more than a decade. For Burlingame, it turns out that there are as many retirees receiving guaranteed health care benefits as there are current workers. The unfunded liability for those perks is approaching $80 million and rising, according to Nantell. Councilman Jerry Deal noted that the city's annual operating revenues are about $41 million, roughly the same as they were a decade ago. The disconnect between what's owed public employees in the future and annual revenues is at the core of Burlingame's long-term fiscal problem which has been made worse by the ongoing economic downturn. And that's one of the main reasons the town's workers are balking at any agreements that would trim back those lucrative retirement benefits. If all of this sounds familiar, it should. The state is facing the same thing, only on a grand and highly disturbing scale.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Media's Selective Treatment Is Telling

As the Occupy Wall Street movement continues in fits and starts, revelations of its habits and behavior are slowly coming to light. It's not pretty. Reports of deaths, rapes, drug overdoses, assaults, destruction, intimidation and a general climate of lawlessness and disregard for the rights of others are becoming routine. But, always, there is a media emphasis on "the bigger picture," "the overall perspective," the notion that, somehow, the cause is terrific and it's just a few outliers who are causing problems. Perhaps. But consider this: If this outrageous body of work was the MO of last year's Tea Party participants, can you imagine the mainstream media outcry? Can you picture the absolute condemnation of that citizen political effort? There would have been no hesitation, no free pass whatsoever. It would have been a cascade of negative press right from the get-go. That's the nature of the info beast today. We're all used to it by now. But it is instructive nonetheless.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Little-Big Game Remains an Iconic Event

With the weather cooperating, the 84th version of the Little-Big Game between neighbors Burlingame and San Mateo high schools was a smashing success. The capacity crowd at San Mateo, well-behaved and attentive, numbered well over 4,500 enthusiastic souls. There was food, music, hoopla and, yes, even some prep football. Burlingame won, 33-28, by stifling a last-ditch Bearcat push which ended inside the Panthers' 10-yard-line as time ran out. But, as is typically the case, the game was almost incidental. It's really the community atmosphere that matters most. It becomes a throwback event, something right out of the 1920s when the rivalry began during the administration of Calvin Coolidge. You almost expect Andy Hardy to be in attendance. But cellphones and iPads have a distinct way of altering one's perspective. All that said, it would be fair to say that, unlike the ever-changing nature of California suburbia generally, the Little-Big Game seems certain to endure as one of the Peninsula's truly iconic diversions. And that, for sure, is a very good thing.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Grim Result for San Bruno Public Schools

Tuesday's election tally provided some very bad news for advocates of public education in San Bruno. A rather modest $40 million bond measure failed miserably at the polls. It didn't come close to generating the necessary 55 percent approval from voters. In fact, it barely secured a plurality. It was the worst showing by a San Mateo County public school district in a 55 percent bond election ever. The result does not bode well for anyone envisioning a possible parcel tax for the San Bruno Park Elementary School District in the future. Why did Measure O lose so badly? A combination of San Bruno's traditional anti-tax posture, a terrible economy and a concerted effort against the bond by determined foes, including some former city/school officials, turned the tide. In some ways, Measure O's crushing loss was a vote of no-confidence in the current district administration and board of trustees. For those officials, there is a lot of work to be done to restore confidence in the district's operations. Measure O left little doubt about that.

Monday, November 7, 2011

One Tiny Ray of PG&E Sunshine Is Emerging

It's very tough to find anything good about last year's massive natural gas explosion and fire in the San Bruno hills. A neighborhood was devastated. Eight people died, dozens were injured and more than three dozen homes were destroyed. The incident has left a lasting effect on the area. However, in the horrific aftermath of the tragedy, the worst disaster in San Mateo County history, there has been at least one positive result: PG&E, under enormous pressure, has proceeded on a comprehensive examination of its natural gas pipeline delivery system. And, not surprisingly, flaws are being found on a regular basis. The same pipeline that burst in San Bruno has been shown to have even more problems. Last weekend's pipe rupture in the Redwood City/Woodside region not far from Canada College and Interstate 280 was just the latest example. The line was being tested at the time and it failed. It would be fair to state that, without the San Bruno calamity, PG&E would not be going through this painstaking examination. That's small comfort for all of those families affected by the 2010 disaster.

Friday, November 4, 2011

It's Time to Occupy the Kardashians

As a mixed bag of purported activists calling themselves "Occupy Oakland" continues to squat in that benighted city's downtown business district, these folks are wearing out their welcome. Fast. Even the dysfunctional mayor, Jean Quan, seems to be getting religion lately. It is her latest view (which changes on a daily basis) that the Occupiers need to go. Where, precisely, is another matter. So is when. She's open to ideas. We may have the answer for her and others who are fed up with the vandalism, destruction, health hazards, harassment and general mayhem caused by the protesting crowds: Occupy the Kardashians. If there is a symbol of perverted capitalism run wild and out of control, it is this vapid collection of reality-TV show oddballs. They have become celebrities for no apparent reason whatsover. Perhaps it's because they simply say they are celebrities. One of them, after all, went so far as to have her ample buttocks X-rayed to prove they were not enhanced by artificial means. Fabulous. No wonder rational people roll their eyes in abject frustration at the very mention of the name "Kardashian." It has become a synonym for "pointless" and "absurd." The Occupiers could do us all a big favor by shifting their attention to something that really does need cleansing. Are you listening, Mayor Quan? Probably not.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Nostalgia Runs Rampant at Two Events

Somehow, the San Mateo County Times, nee San Mateo Times, survives after 122 years. In spite of a dismal climate for newspapers in general across this great land, the Peninsula's daily paid newspaper manages to hang in there, albeit in a somewhat abbreviated form. In its latest incarnation, it is included as part of the Mercury-News, with a separate masthead but common pages throughout. At least that's the plan as of Nov. 2. To celebrate the history of the newspaper _ and to commemorate the razing of its former headquarters on South Amphlett Boulevard in San Mateo earlier this year _ two separate reunions were held Tuesday night, one at The Broadway tavern in downtown Redwood City and the other at the restaurant bar at the El Rancho Inn in Millbrae. The former involved veterans of the San Mateo Times; the latter welcomed folks who worked, or still work, at the San Mateo County Times. Many of the editors attended one, or both, of the festive events. These included the likes of Michelle Carter, Terry Robertson, Alan Quale, Bob Rudy, Jack Russell, Terry Winckler, Jennifer Aquino and a gaggle of others. Tall tales and nostalgia were the order of the evening. Good times.