Friday, March 31, 2006
Wednesday's article on the Pentagon's efforts to undercut the EPA's warnings about the dangers of TCE has major ramifications for Mountain View. The chemical solvent has been found seeping into homes at Orion Park, along Whisman Road, and at Whisman Station. The Navy and private companies that put it there are spending hundreds of millions of dollars, by one official's estimate, to remove it. So far they've been fairly successful, despite occasionally getting caught spewing the stuff into the air or shipping it off to an Indian reservation. But, according to the Times, they have had even more success attacking the EPA's health warnings than they have had cleaning it up.
Ironically, the same day the first story came out (follow-ups the next day told the stories of a particularly troubled community in Texas and the problems of San Gabriel Valley), the paper's management issued a memo to the staff urging them to cut back on their story lengths.
1) People only care about their own children.
2) Rich parents generally get their way.
The closure of decrepit Bullis Purissima in 2003 appeared to be an exception to rule #2. But now Los Altos Hills officials, clearly still bitter about that decision, are poised to form the town's own elementary school district and send their children to high school in Palo Alto. According to the Voice:
They hope to unify Los Altos Hills kids at one elementary school instead of dividing them between Los Altos and Palo Alto.
This is a frightening proposition, given the carnage that ensued the last time the children of Los Altos Hills all got together.
I can hardly wait for the inevitable proposal to change the name of the town to Palo Alto Hills, or maybe something like The Heights. At least they'll get rid of those silly protest cows.
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
"We're no longer the city of Mountain View. We're now the city of Castro, so we're no longer involved."
-- City manager Kevin Duggan, to a reporter, about Clear Channel's insistence that it has no connection to the lawsuit over Shoreline Amphitheatre.
In other news, the council backed a cafe or other retailer for the downtown train depot, agreed to spend $680,000 putting solar panels on the new downtown parking garage, and voted to keep Tim Foley as the operator at Cuesta Tennis Center. A good time was had by all.
Then there are leads like this one, from yesterday's paper:
"Maybe it's best for Mountain View to see higher density housing developments. Or maybe it's not."Maybe.
Chime in with your own favorites (N.B.: Jabs at other papers also welcome).
Monday, March 27, 2006
If parents notice that an older MOSS or MOTOS is asking for their child's A/S/L for OLL, they better have a serious F2F with the kid ASAP.
Translation: Members of the same sex and members of opposite sex are using the Internet to seek out childrens' age, sex and location for online love, and parents should speak with their kids face-to-face right now to prevent them from becoming victims.
Five bucks says my parents start saying "MOTOS" around their kids friends and thinking they're cool, but only if the story appears in print tomorrow.
According to the police report, the suspect was wearing "black 'Ben Davis' style pants." So, you know, look out for those.
He was also bilingual.
(Update: Apparently, Ben Davis is a brand of pants popular among people cooler than me, so much so that several school districts have banned them).
No, what's important is that the company spun off its entertainment division in December, and presumably the liability for the Shoreline suit, and it's "messy" logic to think otherwise.
In other news, the Daily joined the party today, with its customary Monday council preview story. The Merc put the story online later. I know I shouldn't kick these guys when they're down, and the Knight Ridder byline that used to upset me is now just sad, but I think we should be able to expect the two papers to do a better job covering of a story of this magnitude instead of relying on the tired formula of cribbing from the staff report and calling one council member for comments.
Sunday, March 26, 2006
I've lived alongside Adobe Creek for 26 years and never once had the poor decision-making skills needed to try to float down it in a raft, until today. Given that there is a lack of literature available on how to do this, I thought I would share some advice:
- Make sure you have caps for all of the valves in your raft. Barring that, have an extra sock handy.
- Even though the bushes have no blackberries this time of year, they still have thorns. Wear a rainjacket and long pants, and don't cry if your raft pops. (Thanks to Arcia Dorosti, a pioneer in this field, for notifying us of that one ahead of time). You will also want to bring a paddle in order to deflect thorns.
- Do not attempt to ride in a 210-pound-capacity raft along with a 235-pound Mormon, even if you did win the raft at Grad Nite eight years ago.
- Put in towards the downstream end of Shoup Park rather than at Redwood Grove, unless you don't mind the the embarrassment of getting stuck on a dam in front of dozens of little kids who will warn you about the big scary dog downstream (urban myth by the way: parents have warned of a "big scary dog" downstream from the park for years, but I've never met anyone who has seen one there).
- Shower twice. Once for the poison oak and another time for the raw sewage . The order is up to you.
- Always ride headfirst.
- And, most importantly, never admit what a failure the idea was. If you can not ignore that fact, at least try to hide it from your grandmother.
A: Mountain View High School, which sells an unlimited number of parking permits to its students at the cost of printing the things. Los Altos isn't much different, charging students $20 for permits. The lots themselves cost more than that to maintain, even if you don't count the cost of building them.
I haven't done any GIS maps yet to prove it statistically (volunteers welcome), but it appears that our local high schools are giving away valuable public land to a select group of students: those whose parents can afford for them to drive. I suspect this is more visible at LAHS, which so far has been unwilling to hand over certain information that would shed light on this. The records from MVHS show at least half a dozen students who have parking permits at Mountain View despite living within half a mile of the school. Some live only a quarter mile away.
I'm not suggesting those students should be restricted from buying parking permits. It just seems something is wrong with the system when they do. Yet the school doesn't see it that way, and defends its policy of subsidizing driving while doing next to nothing for students who walk, bike or take the bus. From a recent Voice story:
"We don't have any control over that," said Superintendent Rich Fischer, who explained at a recent community meeting that schools are powerless when it comes to changing student driving habits.Good thing he wasn't president during the Civil War, or we might still have slavery.
Saturday, March 25, 2006
In a phone message Friday, attorney James Wagstaffe said:
"In our view that report contains matters protected by a protective order from the court and attorney's eyes only limitations. We will be asking the court for enforcement of that order and return of that document and limitation of all on-line things."
Sweet, maybe somebody will read this blog.
Friday, March 24, 2006
Mountain View officials say they have identified more than $80 million worth of hidden revenues at Shoreline Amphitheatre, quadrupling the amount previously alleged and raising the city's claimed damages to $15.6 million.
In a blistering report issued late Thursday afternoon, city finance director Bob Locke said venue operator Clear Channel "went to incredible lengths to divert, mischaracterize and then conceal revenues." He also accused the company of interfering with and stonewalling the city's efforts to conduct audits.
Wagner is facing 27 years and 4 months in county pound-me-in-the-ass prison, but for the last three months has been free to do just about whatever he has wanted. A former troop member, whose brother was the first to step forward, read a statement about the anguish his family and friends have suffered as a result of Wagner's continued freedom. Northway responded by prohibiting Wagner, who said nothing and would not look at his former scout, from going within 100 yards of any school.
Wagner's sentencing hearing will take place May 12. A second scout leader, Los Altos Hills resident Antonio Graham, also appeared in court today. His sentencing, for molesting three girls in the Palo Alto Fire Explorers program and videotaping it, is set for May 26.
Reporters from both KCBS and the Los Altos Town Crier covered the hearing. KCBS is currently airing its story (available in print here), and podcasting its report later today.
Thursday, March 23, 2006
Like any good sequel, this one is bigger and better.
Auditors now say they have identified $80+ million in hidden revenues, and say the company needs to pay $15.6 million to make amends. The bulk of the increase came from two sources -- unreported receipts from shows at the HP Pavilion and the 1998 sale of the Ampitheatre lease to SFX (later purchased by Clear Channel).
Under terms of the lease, the city is entitled to 6.75 percent of gross receipts at Shoreline. If the company wanted to promote shows at concert venues within a 35-mile radius of the Amphitheatre, it would have to pay Mountain View a similar share of its receipts from those shows.
The auditors spent nearly half a million dollars on the investigation. The update alone involved combing through SEC filings, concert industry data and 40 boxes of documents that the city obtained during the discovery phase of its lawsuit, which is set to begin April 10.
The staff report, prepared by city finance director Bob Locke, blasts the company but also lays a lot of the blame at the feet of an unnamed city auditor, saying the auditor's ethical breaches helped the company hide the fact that it was underreporting its revenue.
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
This means that not only did the rather silly resolution, which can easily be reversed by a future council, earn the town the moniker of Bigotville, USA (scroll down and check out the shirts), but it also conformed to the state's open meeting law.
Congratulations, Los Altos City Council. You're not criminals (so far as we know).
The LAHS Gay Straight Alliance has come a long way since its beginnings in the fall of 1997, when its only media coverage consisted of a scolding by the formerly award-winning student newspaper.
The group had announced its first meeting by posting graphic fliers throughout the halls, which of course were then defaced with even more graphic slurs. Without naming names (or accepting my sister's accusation that I used to be homophobic), let's just say there was a lot of giggling about the recorded interview of the student who founded the group proudly (and loudly) ticking all types of sex that he had experienced with other boys.
Monday, March 20, 2006
But Wagner, three months after pleading no contest to nine counts of child molestation against three scouts, is out on bail, shopping at downtown supermarkets and picking up his children at school.
His sentencing hearing was supposed to take place March 24, but will likely be delayed according to deputy district attorney Kim Connors, who recently inherited the case. That means Wagner, who had planned a one-way trip out of town at the time of his arrest, will spend at least a few more weeks bumping into the families of his victims while he ponders the prospect of 20 years in prison.
Yes, Town Crier, thanks for all the good news. Now how about you talk about what kind of effect this has had on the members of Troop 31 and start demanding public and private apologies from the Boy Scouts?
“I had never heard of the Superdome. I didn’t know anything about it. But I had a feeling that this was going to more difficult than any of us had anticipated.”
Along the way, his car came across a woman who was lying in the middle of the road. They stopped the vehicle and got out to see if she was still alive. That’s when the shooting started.
The group threw the woman in the back of the truck. She died soon after. Before they made it into the dome, throngs of people swarmed the vehicle, hoping for food or water. Adults thrust babies in front of their windshield, hoping to get their attention. But none of that could prepare them for what awaited them inside.
For more than an hour Monday night, Nelson shared the horrifying stories of what he saw inside the Superdome. The event, organized by the alumni of Leadership Mountain View and supported by city hall, drew an audience of more than 60 local residents to the Mountain View High School Theater.
Nelson insisted several times that the rapes and shootings reported and later retracted by many papers did in fact happen, as well as the well-publicized shootings at federal aircraft. He told a story of delivering a baby while standing in sewage, wrestling with a psychotic who had been off his meds for four days, watching rescue workers throw up from the stench as they administered insulin to diabetics.
One particularly devastating story revolved around a group of 30 nursing home patients that were dropped off at the Superdome as his team was leaving. He met up with them again soon after, at the airport morgue. When he discovered that some of them were still alive, he approached the nurse, who told him, “These people have been sent here to die.”
Nelson spent two days straight treating patients in 90-second intervals, in the lobby of the Superdome. Monday, he said, was the first time he’s been able to discuss what he saw without breaking down into tears.
“I’m still searching for words to describe what I saw,” he said. “It was, from my perspective, every bit as spiritual as it was physical. I truly believe I was standing at the front door of hell.”
Thursday, March 16, 2006
The paper spent three pages on an article written by and about a group of classic car collectors who hang out in the bookstore, up until recently owned by the publisher, downstairs from the paper. (This is roughly the equivalent of me writing a story about my own water polo team and submitting it myself. Actually, come to think of it, I've done that several times).
I have to say, as steaming mad as I was about that, the full-page children's coloring contest cheered me up. You gotta love the Town Crier. Child molesters are walking around free, the city is dumping sewage into the creek, coke and heroin use is spreading among high school students, and the news is a full-page coloring contest.
That is how a paper makes money.
For some reason, Neely to this day believes I reminded him that he had said he was interested in issues of class. This week, the LATC quotes him as saying, "I hope to keep talking about poverty and race."
I know I haven't been at every minute of every council meeting, but I don't know if I've ever heard him talk about it, besides in conversations with me about how he wants to talk about it more. The implication here is not that Matt Neely is a liar.
Rather, I think we ought to demand slightly more action from people before we allow them to claim the mantle of environmentalism. Corporations, for example oil and car companies, spend millions advertising their environmental credentials to people who'll never question them -- a little trick called "greenwashing." Why shouldn't politicians?
Interestingly enough, when it was time Nick Galiotto's turn to get fellated in the press, he said the same thing about making energy efficiency a goal.
(By the way, just because I respect someone, doesn't mean I don't hold a deep and abiding grudge for that person telling me I have no integrity because I wouldn't snitch on my friends, and then later orchestrating the CENSORSHIP OF MY HIGH SCHOOL NEWSPAPER. It doesn't necessarily mean that I do hold a grudge, it just doesn't mean that I don't.)
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
Just kidding. Maybe next week.
LATC went slumming this week, taking their two newly-hired staff writers and sic'ing them on Mountain View stories left and right. At the very least, the stories are generally newsworthy. it's nice to see people in this city finally admitting that our neighbor to the northeast is far more interesting (unless, like me, you're talking about high school water polo).
Not all the links are up yet, here's a partial list, interspersed with some obligatory snide comments.
Open space group makes some progress in fight to preserve Cuesta Annex in MV
A fairly complete misinterpretation of recent events at the city level, but good grades for effort.
Wired over WiFi
Probably could have jumped on this one sooner.
MV chamber director leaving with business on upward swing
Nothing to say here. Nothing bad at least. Everyone loves Carol Olson, even if she is a business lobbyist.
Perhaps the most hilarious feature of the coverage of this case is the blogosphere's fascination with Judge James Ware and a pretty terrible idea he had a few years back, which involved making up a tragic story about a dead brother while awaiting appointment to the Ninth Circuit. Apparently, all that is required for a blog to claim an exclusive is a link to an eight-year-old story.
Gary Pruitt, CEO of McClatchy, made history yesterday by becoming the first person ever to declare that San Jose is not sprawling enough. So, after buying 32 papers, the company that makes its money selling papers in rural areas getting overrun by development is selling off 12, including Nemesis of Evil nemeses the Mercury News and the Palo Alto Daily.
Far be it from me to add to the incredible amount of coverage about this maneuver -- as Lou Alexander, a former Mercury ad man blogging on Grade the News, put it: "It is like all of the journalists in the world have suddenly had to confront their mortality and have felt compelled to write about it."
I will say, though, that those concerned that the new owner might be noted paper-destroyer ANG should take heart. Where else but ANG do you find a story like this one my predecessor Grace Rauh wrote for the Fremont Argus last year.
(Why is that so many of my co-workers have gone on to bigger and better things, so to speak?)
Sunday, March 12, 2006
Realizing that a second BART-to-San-Jose tax was unlikely to pass, this association of corporate lobbyists is gambling $2.5 million on a half-cent sales tax that the county can use for whatever the hell it wants. The measure only requires 50% approval, not the two-thirds of a specific tax, and has the added benefit of helping the poor, sick and elderly. But for BART to get built, the tax doesn't just need to pass, the supervisors also need to vote to give $70 million or so to the VTA every year.
The leadership group spent $2m campaigning for 2000 Measure A, outspending their opponents by at something like a 9-1 rate (one reason most people aren't familiar with the drawbacks to the BART plan). That tax passed, but didn't bring in enough revenue for the VTA to build the projects it had promised. I wonder what the leadership group will do if this tax doesn't pass, and they're sitting around having spent $4.5m of their members' money with nothing to show for it.
I wouldn't want to be Carl Guardino if that happened.
Friday, March 10, 2006
Speaking of the Google Playboy interview, I've gotta say that this reporter should be kicking himself for blowing his one chance to expense a copy of Playboy to the Washington Post.
Thursday, March 09, 2006
The answer? Free advertising from the Town Crier, as only the Town Crier can do. (I'm assuming that Geers is buying some paid advertisements with them, although I'm not sure whether anyone spends that kind of money on something they saw advertised in a newspaper).
Unfortunately, most of the time, $15.5 million isn't all that unreasonable for 7 acres in the hills. Just not these 7 acres, which, in addition to being located on a fairly steep hill, are cursed with the legacy of Toni Casey and Pinewood, not to mention the ghost of the Rudolph tree.
(Pretty amusing that both the Voice and the Merc ran the same basic photo, not to mention the same angle on the story. Great minds think alike, I suppose, but then again so do simple ones.)
Tough times over on the south side of El Camino, losing both the Pumpkin Patch and Matt Neely at the same time. Maybe they can go meditate in Cuesta Park Annex before we stuff it wall-to-wall with soccer fields.
Matt Neely's decision to take a job in Italy means we're running out of time to take our revenge on both him and Rich Fischer. (Neely is the "Los Altos teacher" mentioned in this story from eight years ago -- I'll try to get the photo uploaded soon).
Here's the Merc's version.
Wednesday, March 08, 2006
Yes, this is off-topic, but one rule of the news business is that readers love babies (also animals, especially baby animals.)
This is also what we do on slow news days.
(I thought I put together one hell of a convincing argument about an unnoticed trend in what was jokingly called "downtown" Williamstown, by the way, but I got a C+ on the project.)
Five years later, I am still a nerd, but Shoup is something of a celebrity in planning circles. He has published a book called "The High Cost of Free Parking," and today was the keynote speaker at a forum held by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group. Planners and council members from all over the Bay Area were there. Shoup tore them all a new one, saying their work in the field was "astrology" and "sorcery" falsely masquerading as expertise. Put simply, his argument is that demand for a free good is always infinite, so no such formula can ever be accurate.
More details on this topic at some other, less boring time. But man was I proud of myself.
Damn wetlands. Oh sure, they're great for flood control and water purification and habitat for endangered birds and rodents and all that. But what about when you're trying to keep an artificial lake from drying up?
Never fear (all you windsurfer/blog-readers), the city has $3 million with your name on it. (link to come later this week).
I learned an important lesson in writing this story, which was originally supposed to run last week. Simply put: "Don't read the New Yorker within 24 hours of your deadline." Apparently, not everyone thinks the feeding habits of the American avocet make for an interesting lead.
The study session on the city's cable television contract with Comcast merits at least a passing attempt to explain it. The city is worried that nearly a $1 million in franchise fees ($603k for cable and $320k for cell phone service) could be in jeopardy given recent court decisions and changes in the telecom industry. But federal rules allow the city simply to extend its contract rather than go through a renegotiation if the following three conditions are met:
1) Not enough people have complained about the cable service.
2) The city isn't trying to squeeze any additional benefits from the cable operator.
3) A renegotiation would benefit the cable company.
That's not exactly how it's worded, but it's pretty much the gist of it.
This is maybe too esoteric for anyone to care about, but one question is what happens to KMVT in four years when Comcast manages to get out of the contract and people are all watching television over Google. I guess it will be a problem for another reporter.
Sunday, March 05, 2006
It's official. Google is taking over. In addition to Slater, the company is renting space at Theuerkauf Elementary, a million square feet at Moffett Field, and is in talks to enter into a long-term lease with the city at the Charleston East hotel site. This is not to mention to the space on the city light poles for its wireless network. Really the only public space left for it to expand it to is the Centennial Plaza train station building. Not sure what they would do with it, but it certainly wouldn't be the first time the company bailed a local government agency out of past mistakes.
I don't understand why Google can't just put all those kids to work. How much thinking does it take to be an Adwords temp anyway?
Saturday, March 04, 2006
The press has had a field day with this story. Judging from the multiple articles and editorials in both the Voice and the Daily (here's an earlier one), it would seem to be the biggest story in the city right now, at least as far as government is concerned. Just one little problem, while I've received 50 letters about the Sports Page not being able to get an entertainment permit, I haven't seen a single one about this topic.
In the words of another reporter, "It doesn't mean nobody cares. It means nobody crazy cares."
Even so, it makes me wonder if Don Letcher (a.k.a. "the guy with the house") is okay. I haven't seen him around for weeks.
I would also like to take this opportunity to respond to some of the criticisms of the earlier incarnation of this blog on GTN's message board.
First of all, I don't have a degree in journalism, so the people who've said that I should get my money back for it are wrong.
Secondly, I make no apologies for wearing a paper bag over my head to a Los Altos city council meeting when I was 19 years old, though I would like to clear up a few misconceptions. The bag did not say "Silently Protesting." It said "Los Altos Resident." Additionally, the police chief did not say "You have a right to be here." She said that I had to take off the bag or leave. I asked her to show me the city bylaw that prohibited me from wearing a paper over my head, at which point she backed off. I also did not say "The big one." I said, "You know why I'm here."
These are the kinds of mistakes reporters make when they don't bother to interview the man with the bag on his head.
Third, with the exception of those who insist on pretending that global warming does not exist, all are welcome to comment here. Whether or not you think we should care is another matter, but if you are not being paid by ExxonMobil, Citigroup or Michael Crichton, there really is no logical reason to argue that there's no such thing as global warming.
Friday, March 03, 2006
This should be an interesting trial, if it ever makes it that far. The story left a lot of the details out, including a staring contest in court on Tuesday (I think I lost).
I'm not arguing to include more gruesome details in these kinds of stories, by the way, but one day somebody should explain to me what the phrase "family newspaper" means.
I missed the opportunity to comment on a few things while the blog was on hiatus. Two of the most notable were Matt Neely's discussion "Chinese fire drills" and "soldiers who haven't died yet" at a council meeting and the nearly 50 letters from patrons of the Sports Page, once again proving that the bureaucratic process isn't so boring once it threatens your beer.