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Monday, October 31, 2011

Almost $100 Billion for High-Speed Rail

The Associated Press is reporting that the latest estimate of construction costs for a proposed high-speed rail system in California is close to $100 billion. The projection is part of a California High-Speed Rail Authority study scheduled for official release Tuesday. The huge new figure is based on inflation-adjusted dollars and a 20-year build-out. When the state's voters approved Proposition 1A three years ago, which authorized almost $10 million in bonds for work on HSR, the cost estimate was a much more modest $43 billion.

Good Heavens, It Pays to Be Left-Handed

It's that time of year, if you are a follower of Major League Baseball. Teams are in the process of firming up their 2012 rosters. That means they are shelling out massive wads of cash. The Giants, of course, are right there with the rest. But they are shackled by a fiscal albatross. Barry Zito, a left-handed starter, is still under contract for next season. He will be paid close to $20 million for his services. Unfortunately, his skills have been fading dramatically. In 2011, he faced just 107 major league hitters. If he duplicates that workload next year, his payout would be about $187,000 per batter. At roughly 10 pitches per guy, that's $18,700 per offering. Maybe it's time to Occupy Barry Zito.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Pay for It and Now Leave It Alone

You have to wonder sometimes about the ability of private contractors working on public projects to see the big picture. The other day, a labor crew replacing damaged portions of sidewalks in a Burlingame neighborhood finished a small concrete patch and headed off to the next section on a street near Rollins Road. A teenager emerged from the house behind the sidewalk and proceeded to start scrawling something, friendly initials perhaps, in the wet concrete. Time out. A workman saw the deed, walked over to her and warned, "You can't do that. You're defacing public property. You can be cited for that." The chastened kid, unprepared for the verbal blast, backed off. Her effort was then smoothed over. But wait. The sidewalk repair job in front of her home was being paid for, in part, by her parents. That's the way it works now in many Peninsula cities, including Burlingame. The idea that the youngster was somehow out of bounds by tweaking the fresh concrete is absurd. Technically, it is city property but it's now being partially maintained by the homeowners (the repair fee is shared 50-50). So get a grip, folks. Relax. Try to maintain some perspective.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Why Not Invite the Occupiers to Your House?

Worried about the treatment some of the imitation Occupy Wall Street protesters are receiving from their friendly, neighborhood police operatives? Fretting that the fuzz lack a proper amount of empathy and restraint in the pursuit of law and order for the greater society? Here's your answer: Invite the rag-tag mob to demonstrate and camp out for weeks on end in front of your own house. Sure, it only makes sense. If you feel that the anti-capitalist activists are misunderstood by the ham-handed authorities and are being manhandled by the cops, provide them with a safe harbor on your personal property, whether it's in the city or the suburbs. Think about it: You could have hundreds, if not thousands, of people of all stripes blocking traffic on your block; you could watch with great satisfaction as the legions of the grossly unhappy lay waste to your frontyard and, perhaps, your backyard as well, as they set up makeshift living enclosures. As the fabled "Seinfeld" quasi-lawyer Jackie Chiles might have put it, "It's a case of urination, defecation and fornication _ it's an abomination." And you could be the proud owner and enabler of all of the above. Absolutely fabulous. Just what the Leninist doctor ordered. So, all of you bleeding hearts out there, take matters into your own tender hands. Invite the fetid folks on down. Nourish them. Comfort them. Encourage them. Give them loads of TLC. Welcome them all to your Thanksgiving dinner. Let 'em squat. An endless supply of double-ply Charmin wouldn't be a bad idea as well.

Another Reminder of a Shifting Reality

So who needs an alarm clock? We've got regular earthquakes instead. Yep, another small one (reportedly, a 3.6 on the Richter Scale) hit the Peninsula and the Bay Area shortly after 5:30 a.m. Thursday. What makes bedtime temblors interesting is that they tend to be felt with some emphasis. After all, there you are gently lying between the sheets when, suddenly, it's rock and roll time. Or maybe it's just a simple rough bang and bump. Whatever the effect of the shaker, it's an attention-getter. You tend to notice. More than anything else, it's a reminder that earthquake insurance is a good idea, unless the equity in your property has disappeared due to the Great Recession, or, as some of us like to say, the Great Depression Lite. Now where did I put that supply of emergency batteries?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Boooo! Halloween Is Scarier Than Ever

By all accounts, Halloween isn't just scary, it's potentially deadly. If you pay attention to media reports, parents have every reason to be positively paranoid about the day, and evening, before All Saints Day. They should fear all manner of awful consequences if their precious offspring are permitted to actually walk about their neighborhoods, knock on front doors and ask for a treat. God only knows what will happen to them out there. Every house, after all, is probably inhabited by a latent pedophile or a distant relative of Jack the Ripper or The Zodiac Killer. The threats, according to vivid reports all over cable-TV, the Internet and other sources, are almost too many to mention. The bottom line is always the same: Keep your delicate kid on a very short leash on Halloween. And, by all means, make sure he or she is dressed appropriately, that is, politically correctly. Gender-neutral, non-bullying, racially attractive, you get the idea. The last thing you want is a slobbering zombie with terrible breath, bad hair and a speech impediment who resembles Barack or Michelle Obama. Now that is simply out of bounds, and maybe grounds for an official complain with the Halloween police. You can't be too careful. Maybe Lindsay Lohan or Charlie Sheen costumes would be OK. On second thought, maybe not. How about Bernie Madoff? Ah, yes. Now there's a no-brainer. This guy is doing time in the Big House for scamming clients out of billions of dollars. He is loathed by more people than Michael Savage. If Madoff isn't frightening, who is? Boooo!

Monday, October 24, 2011

You Just Can't Please Everyone

So far, it appears that Burlingame's new Safeway supermarket is, well, super. It's gotten rave reviews, most of them because the big store is a vast improvement over the previous grocery outlet on the same site at the corner of El Camino Real and Howard Avenue. But, earlier today, your tireless Peninsula correspondent was wandering down one of the long aisles in search of organic salami _ OK, there's no such thing but it sure sounds trendy _ when a guy one row over blurted, "Geez, this store is too big." Too big? What do you want? A gas station mini-mart? If anything, the establishment could use a bit more Chinese food at the deli counter. Yeah, more chow mein and crispy garlic shrimp. That's the ticket.

Friday, October 21, 2011

But Do You Need a Supermarket Club Card?

You have to hand it to the marketing expertise of certain Libyan retailers. As of Friday, a nondescript storefront in a shopping center in Misrata has been displaying Moammar Gadhafi's corpse. The cadaver has been reclining in a freezer. It has been available for public viewing. In other words, shoppers at this particular Misrata venue have been able to stock up on Pepsi, Pop Tarts, Cheerios and Ding Dongs while taking a quick glance at the frozen visage of the one-time dictator who was shot and killed earlier in the week. Wonderful. There's nothing quite like checking out bargains over on aisle 5 with a dead celebrity nearby nestled there in a walk-in fridge. Talk about "Since we're neighbors, let's be friends." Fortunately, there are no reports that customers need to flash a club card to take a gander at the ex-el presidente. Still, the sight of Gadhafi's lifeless body would seem to be something of a turnoff if you were seeking out the best deal on a three-pound beef brisket. Fortunately, we don't foresee Mollie Stone's or Safeway imitating this particular promotion anytime soon. The ad would be off-putting for sure: "Buy a twin-pack of mayo and ogle the body of Gadhafi, half-off, one-time only. No coupon needed." The mind reels.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Occupy Hillsborough? Highly Doubful

As the Occupy Wall Street movement, scattered and amorphous though it may be, seems to pick up steam, with enthusiastic help from the eager media and some left-leaning politicians, it appears highly unlikely that the protesting persons will venture very far from their favored urban capitals of finance. New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, et al are magnets for the dispossessed, the chronically unhappy and the outright radical. It's a mixed bag out there in the makeshift tent cities that are popping up like daisies after a spring rain. But don't expect these rag-tag folks to wander into places like Atherton or Hillsborough. It would be just too much trouble. For one thing, the authorities wouldn't tolerate it. Can you imagine several hundred Occupiers protesting loudly in front of the mega-homes of the Peninsula's captains of industry and banking? Squish a geranium or two and the plastic handcuffs would come out faster than you can blurt, "Trust fund babies are the Devil's spawn." Trespass on a carefully manicured driveway and you could kiss your socialist tush goodbye. Block the path of a BMW or Mercedes for more than a moment and you might find yourself posing as a novel, upscale hood ornament. The activists know their place. And it's most definitely not in suburbia.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Step Lightly After Geese Leave Their Marks

They're back. And they're bolder and more intrusive than ever. We're talking about Canadian geese. They make an unfortunate habit of touching down _ and staying for awhile _ in several San Mateo County communities. It wouldn't be so bad if they weren't so unneighborly and, frankly, filthy. Look at the San Mateo High School softball/baseball fields for some samples of their annoying behavior. A couple hundred of the creatures were wandering about that landscape where children and teens play games early on Monday afternoon. The birds, however, could care less. They ate and pooped to their avian hearts' delight. The vast expanse of grass became one mammoth toilet for the critters. Their fecal residue was everywhere, just waiting for young athletes to slip, slide and step in the noxious stuff. If you happen to spot a school custodian with a shotgun (not likely), you'll know why.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Scott Feldman Is Set to Face the Cardinals

Scott Feldman, a Burlingame High School and College of San Mateo alum, is set to pitch in his first World Series which commences Wednesday. Feldman and his Texas Rangers will face off against the St. Louis Cardinals of the National League. Feldman, a seven-year Major League Baseball veteran, has had an injury-plagued career. He returned to the Texas roster late this past summer after another extended period of rehabilitation due to surgery, in time to prepare to pitch in relief against Detroit in the American League Championship Series. He threw 52/3 innings, allowing just one hit and no runs. The Rangers won all three games. Feldman, if he sees action vs. the Cardinals as anticipated, would become the first Burlingame High grad to pitch in the World Series. He was not on the Rangers' active roster in 2010 when they played the San Francisco Giants in the World Series. Texas lost in six games.

Beware of Safeway Complex' Parking/Traffic

Safeway's newest Peninsula supermarket has opened for business in downtown Burlingame. The store itself _ pleasant, large, airy and filled to the brim with an array of products and amenities you would expect _ is already a shopper's mecca. Located at the busy corner of Howard Avenue and El Camino Real, the venue, a sort of attractive strip mall situated on a corner, has been lauded by any number of customers, city officials and others. And rightly so. The place is terrific. However, two sets of adjacent stores and eating establishments along Primrose Road, including a popular Five Guys burger outlet, have yet to debut. Free parking in the Safeway complex (not to mention easy access) is going to be a challenge once these new offerings come on line soon, particularly during the lunch hour. Maybe the goal of the town's authorities is to force lots of visitors to park in metered slots nearby. The city could use the revenue, of course. But, after 14 long, frustrating years of planning arguments and contentious meetings which have culminated in the market's official Oct. 14 opening, you might have assumed that traffic/parking congestion would have been resolved. Safeway, in fact, was forced to provide rooftop parking as one way to alleviate the anticipated crush of cars. But it does appear that, with the addition of the nearby businesses on the same property, a big-time mess could be on the immediate horizon. We'll see.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Does Size Really Matter?

For San Mateo County taxpayers, it's a fair question to ask: Does size really matter when it comes to education bond measures? The County Community College District is seeking $564 million in new bonding capacity, on top of an existing $675 million. If Measure H is approved by at least 55 percent of the county electorate Nov. 8, the total would be in excess of $1.2 billion. With interest, the actual obligation would be in the neighborhood of $2 billion. Those figures are far and away the largest in county history for a public school district, regardless of the academic level. The district also recently passed a parcel tax, the only such levy for a two-year college entity in the state. Obviously, county taxpayers have been exceedingly generous. But will their fiscal goodwill continue this time around, especially when the grim economy persists? We will know very soon.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

TV's "Pan Am" Is Not Panning Out

It is with some sadness that we must note that "Pan Am," the new ABC-TV series, is now on an unofficial critics' death watch. Its ratings have plunged as its audience has dwindled over the last several weeks since its rather awkward debut last month. For those of us who well recall Pan American World Airways' regal presence at San Francisco International Airport during its glory days at the start of the jet age , the television series has been a distinct disappointment. Too bad. Pan Am's gaudy story _ it was the world's premier international carrier for decades _ is woven into the fabric of the nation's air transportation history. The TV effort has been a jumbled and confusing mess thus far. It hasn't come close to doing justice to the former worldwide airline's legacy. Unfortunately, unless things changed mighty soon, we will be better off without it. Nonetheless, love those uniforms.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Academic Ballgame Has Changed

Just to be clear: Nothing stays the same. Trying to maintain the status quo is usually a wasted enterprise. San Mateo County's school-age demographics brings home that point very well. The area is no longer a homogenous, middle-class enclave. In 2009-10, according to statistics provided by the state, 35 percent of all Peninsula public school students in kindergarten-through-grade 12 qualified for free or reduced-price luncheons and/or other special services because they are considered to be economically disadvantaged, illiterate in English or hampered in some other significant way. In the state as a whole, the situation is even more stark. The comparable Golden State figure is a stunning 55 percent. As for youngsters who are not fluent in English, 25 percent of the county student body falls into that category. Statewide, it's the same. In California public school kindergartens, the figure is 40 percent. Which means two out of every five kindergartners enters public school without adequate, or any, English skills. In all cases, 85 percent of the pupils who are learning English are of Hispanic descent. The Peninsula/California ballgame has definitely changed. And there is no going back. It's not 1961 anymore. It's food for thought.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Illegal Immigrant Pupils Gain a Perk

The dysfunctional California Fun House just got more bizarre. Governor Jerry Brown recently signed a bill providing the state's illegal immigrant students with taxpayer-funded grants and fee waivers at the state's four-year universities and junior colleges beginning in 2013. They also are allowed in-state tuition, heavily subsized by taxpayers, if they attended a California high school. U.S. citizens who live outside the state don't get that benefit. As for the grants and fee waivers, those monies come from a finite budget item. In other words, cash doled out to illegals, no matter how emotional and moving their personal stories may be, is money that some worthy pupils who are in California legally will be denied. There is only so much dough to go around. It's not a bottomless trough. This is happening when the state's middle class, the legal middle class, is hurting badly. It's a terribly unfair slap in the face of families which have paid their taxes for decades and now have to watch in frustration and shock as young people in the state illegally (for whatever reason) get treated as though they were legal residents. One estimate indicates that up to 40,000 illegal students may apply for grants and fee waivers. The projected cost ranges from $14.5 million to $40 million at a time when California's fiscal condition is grim at best. Can you say "utterly outrageous?"

Friday, October 7, 2011

Obama's Ouster Would Serve HSR Foes

It's been an instructive phenomenon to watch. Traditionally left-leaning folks along the Peninsula are becoming increasingly unhappy with President Obama because of his strong support for high-speed rail. Liberals who are fighting the high-speed train in California, primarily for environmental and esthetic reasons, are conflicted because their president is a staunch defender of the increasingly dubious program. What to do? As they argue against the plan, which has been panned by a number of highly-respected analysts who have concluded that it would be a financial disaster for the state, they fully understand that they are fighting with a White House they helped to elect in 2008. That was the same election that brought us Proposition 1A which provided just under $10 billion in state bond seed money for the high-speed rail system. Today, estimates of a full build-out of that effort run from about five times that amount to well over 15 times. And the projections continue to escalate. Federal money is key. Without huge infusions of cash from the federal till, the high-speed setup will go nowhere. For the anti-HSR people, Obama and his minions are vital fiscal enablers. So, if logic is any guide, it would be in their best interests if Obama were ousted from office in November 2012. They are relying on conservative Republicans, especially in the House, to thwart moves to fund HSR. Suddenly, pols on the right are the new best friends of the recently-re-branded "progressives." Ironies abound. It's a real conundrum for them.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

One Teen's Anti-GQ Fashion Statement

There can be little doubt that the San Francisco Giants have had an impact on the fashion world. Quirky relief pitcher Brian Wilson's eye-popping attire at this year's ESPYs apparently has hit home for at least one 14-year-old. The young man, a relative who lives in Orange County, recently announced that he will be attending an eighth-grade dance while sporting a tuxedo body suit, the same sort of rig Wilson wore during the TV sports awards ceremony. This begs a big question: Will the ladies happily flock like lemmings to the creative teenager or will they avoid him like a bad case of hives? Pray for the former. We'd hate to have him lose his novel GQ perspective.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Where's the Urgency in South SF?

Over the last year or so, South San Francisco has become ground zero for gang violence in the northern portion of San Mateo County. In December of 2010, three individuals were slain in one bloody incident. It was the worst single case of multiple-murder in the town's history. A 14-year-old boy was gunned down in September. The community is on edge. Police and politicians are scrambling to address the problem. You might think the upcoming election would produce a spate of fresh faces eager to run for office in light of what's been transpiring there. You would be wrong. In the race for two seats on the city council, incumbents Richard Garbarino and Kevin Mullin are being challenged by just one man, Johnny "Midnight" Rankins, who lists himself as a "retired arborist/entertainer." That's the extent of the political "surge" in South San Francisco. Maybe the citizenry there is satisfied with the job being done by its elected officials. Or, perhaps, residents simply feel powerless to do anything about what's bedeviling the place. Still, it is surprising that there hasn't been a groundswell of outrage that translates into viable candidates for public office.