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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Berms Still Appear Possible on Caltrain Route

As residents and property owners in San Mateo and Burlingame cast their eyes on a Caltrain plan to electrify its Peninsula route, with considerable financial help from monies earmarked for high-speed rail, there is a certain sense of guarded relief prevailing right now. One reason is that there is now serious pressure being exerted to maintain the commute rail right-of-way as a two-track setup, for the most part. That would seem to satisfy many critics who fear that a four-track system to handle both Caltrain and high-speed rail, and an attendant viaduct, would devastate portions of the Peninsula. The so-called "blended" approach for the two systems, sharing two tracks, seemingly would alleviate those worries. But will that be the eventual reality? Maybe not. If you take a good look at towns like San Mateo and Burlingame, it becomes obvious that an electrified, two-track Caltrain corridor, shared with high-speed trains, would require grade separations (underpasses and berms) at many key points. For instance, from the San Mateo Caltrain depot south to Ninth Avenue there are four rail crossings. And, from the Broadway Burlingame depot south to Peninsula Avenue there are six more such crossings. Something will have to give. Keeping all of this trackage at current grade level seems to be highly unlikely. The obvious solution would be berms, similar to what exists now in Belmont and San Carlos. They aren't pretty but they're effective. The huge Hillsdale underpass is another type of option. Construction engineers are being tasked with dealing with the alternatives right now. Their recommendations probably won't be entirely satisfactory..

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A High School District Joins the Revolution

Not long ago, the San Francisco Examiner touted the SF city public schools' decision to purchase a huge supply of personal computers for its students. The thrust of the piece was that this move was something of a landmark. Really? PC's are so yesterday. The name of the game today is wireless. Just look at all of the young people sporting iPads and the like. They are remotely hooked up to wifi. It's natural for them. That's why the San Mateo Union High School District is out in front. Its trustees recently decided to spend $500,000 annually for 10 years to create a complete, all-embracing wifi system for the entire district, every classroom, every gymnasium, every cafeteria, every property. When the setup is up and running, it's expected that, for the most part, PC's will be obsolete. The wifi revolution makes sense in the academic realm for sure. Teachers and students can communicate seamlessly any time of the day or night with their portable devices. Textbooks, presumably, can be imported into the machines as well. Those 75-pound backpack burdens should become ancient history. The benefits are many and obvious.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

A Big Night in a Small County Town

The California state high school basketball tournament is a massive undertaking. It involves five enrollment-based divisions for both boys and girls. Virtually all of the Golden State's 1,700 or so public and private schools have a shot at being involved. Beginning this week, only about 275 of the best remained. Playoffs in the northern and southern halves of the state commenced Wednesday night. It's a big deal, especially for small schools and small towns. Witness Half Moon Bay. The hometown team hosted Calaveras High School from the Gold Country in the Sierra Nevada foothills. More than 1,000 rabid Half Moon Bay fans jammed the renovated high school gymnasium for the NorCal first-round Division IV tussle. It was just the third time in school history that such an event was hosted there on the hillside campus. The sterling sound system was in fine fettle. Music throbbed. Pre-game introductions featured a darkened gym, a roving spotlight and a creative PA announcer. The Cougar cheerleaders did their thing. At halftime, there was even a pint-sized break-dancer going through his manic paces on the sidelines. The ballgame itself was something of a letdown, unless you enjoy a royal pasting. Coach Rich Forslund's boys routed the visitors from Mark Twain terrritory, 67-29. There was a running clock through much of the final period. It was Half Moon Bay's first victory in state tournament action in school history. The Coastside rooters loved it. Calaveras fans, not so much. The Cougars move on to a Saturday night engagement with top-seeded and heavily-favored Salesian in Richmond. A reversal of Wednesday's euphoria could be in order for Half Moon Bay. That's the nature of the tournament. Regardless, the experience is quite a ride.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Checking in on the Cricket

It didn't last long but it made its presence felt in downtown Burlingame more than 40 years ago. The Cricket, a bar featuring nude female employees, operated under rather heavy scrutiny until perplexed civic authorities found a way to shut the joint down. It had a brief lifespan, less than a year. The dive was a focus for the curious on Burlingame Avenue during a moment in Peninsula history when such prurient diversions were not unknown. Four miles south in San Mateo, in fact, a larger version, Easy Street, was in full swing. Unclothed female dancers writhed for customers until San Mateo officials put the final clamps on it. The Cricket's existence came up last weekend during a gathering at the Burlingame Public Library. The occasion was a trivia contest, part of a meeting of the Burlingame Historical Society. Most in attendance could not recall the little bar. But one man, a former Burlingame police officer, certainly did. As he put it, "We checked up on the place every hour." No sense missing a "performance."