Sunday, May 21, 2006

All the news that's fit to reprint

The Mercury News must really be hurting for local content. A day after running a story from the Palo Alto Daily News about a sex assault on Del Medio Avenue in Mountain View , the paper played up the story by running it word for word the exact same story again.

The only difference you can tell on the Web is that the editors decided after running the story twice they ought to give a byline to Luke Stangel (a Daily News reporter who apparently works for a no-longer-existent company called Knight Ridder). The real reason is that they either forgot or neglected to run the suspect sketch on Thursday, despite it being the main point of the story.

(Lacking a scanner, I have to ask you guys to trust me on this one).

A longer and slightly different account appeared in the Voice.

Friday, May 19, 2006

"There is a special place in hell for all of them."

Karen Meredith over at Gold Star Mother Speaks Out meets Richard Perle at a memorial for dead soldiers and confirms the man has no soul.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Good news, everyone!

The results are in, and everything is swell in Mountain View. A city-sponsored survey (cost: $25,000) shows that 96.5% of residents are either "somewhat satisfied" or "very satisfied."

Some other highlights from the report (available on-line here):
  • People in households earning less than $20,000 a year are, on average, less satisfied than everyone else.
  • Men feel safer walking at night than women do. Men also make up 52.5% of the city's population, plus or minus 4.5%.
  • 26% of residents do not know where Cuesta Park Annex is.
  • 63% of residents, counting the "probably yes" crowd, support a half-cent sales tax to bring BART-to-San-Jose. I wonder if they realize it won't be coming through Mountain View.

One interesting part of the report documents the distribution of household incomes (page 73). Assuming the numbers are statistically significant (please feel free to check my math) and the number of people who decline to report are evenly distributed, it appears that Mountain View's middle class has shrunk since the 2000 census. The number of households earning under $40k appears to be about the same. There are substantially fewer people in the next few income brackets, while the number of people earning above $120k has increased quite a bit.

It would be nice to think that all those middle class people simply got rich, but I have a feeling they just got priced out of the housing market and moved to Tracy.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Suck it, Will

Less than 24 hours after Will Evans (of the Center for Investigative Reporting fame) and I were complaining that nobody had ever leaked us any kind of classified information, I get an envelope slipped under the door at the office, containing a confidential NASA engineering analysis of the costs of demolishing Hangar One.

(See what you get for telling me not to write a "Know your Daily News reporters" post).

The case against Measure A

Mercury News columnist Scott Herhold lays out the most intelligent argument I've seen against Measure A, a nominally general tax for on the county's June ballot.

Anybody who has questions about the tax ought to the column, as well as this article in the San Jose Metro. They both make the argument against the tax that opponents should be making -- it is a dishonest attempt to build an expensive and inefficient BART extension to downtown San Jose that may ultimately be bad for transit riders.

At the same time, even Herhold's column does a much job of making the case for it than any of those silly voice-over commercials you see during the A's games -- it may be the only way to build what could be an important piece of infrastructure for a developing area of the county.

It would be nice to see both sides put those arguments out there and see what the public thinks. Instead, the they are spending all their energy making straw-man arguments and attacking each others' credibility.

This is the first tax election I've covered, and I have to say I am extremely disappointed in the way the process works.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Unemployment in Los Altos

I'm sure I already have bad karma just for thinking there might be a joke worth making about this topic, the subject of the cover story in this week's Town Crier.

Have fun waiting in line with the rest of the poor people

Organizers of what is believed to be the largest political demonstration in the city's history do some shameless but probably well-deserved self-patting of their respective backs after successfuly pulling off a huge march and rally for immigrant rights.

Oscar Garcia, whose rousing speech punctuated the event, jubilantly compared the rally to the Holiday Tree lighting ceremony. Maria Marroquin, director of the Day Worker Center, promised the movement would futilely attempt to make change at the ballot box, saying, "Today, we march. Tomorrow, we vote."

Good luck with that.

Who's afraid of Aaron Katz?

Everybody, it turns out. The Saratoga lawyer has already made more than a quarter-mil suing hospital and school districts on behalf of disenfranchised absentee landlords throughout California. Now Foothill-De Anza looks like it will be his next target as he seeks to prove either that bond measures and parcel taxes are somehow fundamentally different than other elections, or, barring that, get paid a lot of money just to shut up about it.

Maybe Katz really is a money-grubber who specializes in holding public agencies hostage. Maybe the income from all his rental properties is just not enough pay for his crusade, and that he actually needed the $200k from El Camino to keep fighting for his rights elsewhere. Who knows.

Even the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, named for the man behind Prop. 13 and perhaps the most famous crank in California history, says the law is against Katz. But the settlement with the hospital district doesn't diminish the potential ramifications of his argument. Even if he were to win only one of his cases, he could force a huge change in tax law.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

One step at a time

"The Los Altos City Council early today agreed to allow gay teens to walk through the city's downtown."

This actually is a bigger deal than you might think, considering the council once passed a law targeted at keeping Latinos from standing on the sidewalk and little kids from selling lemonade.

UPDATE: Lauren McSherry points out that Los Altos Hills has its own anti-lemonade ordinance, one that has not been repealed or cost the city a $60,000 settlement.


As in ten million dollars. That's how much concert promoter Live Nation is paying the city of Mountain View to settle a racketeering lawsuit over accounting practices at Shoreline Amphitheatre.

Details of the settlement came out after Tuesday night's council meeting. In addition to the lump sum, the two sides are signing a new lease that pays the city $1.8 million in annual base rent. The city also expects to get up to $1.3 million from its insurance company, since Clear Channel's original lawsuit (which does not look like it was such a good idea right now) revolved around safety issues.

The settlement money will go in part to cover the costs of the case. The city spent more than $4 million on this over the last three years, an incredible amount compared to other agencies who have fought with Clear Channel. The cost was mainly in legal fees ($3.1 million and counting), but it also included things like $200,000 in copying charges, which gives you a pretty good idea of the scale of the case.

As for what happens with the other $5-$6 million (which appears to be the back rent the city was claiming minus any damages or fees) now might be a good time to jump in with those hare-brained schemes you've been cooking up. My guess: the city spends it on something entirely reasonable and boring, like covering health benefits for retired city employees.

Now it's on to the next big story at Shoreline: why do people think it's cool to wear one band's t-shirt to another band's concert? I wouldn't wear a Red Sox shirt to watch the A's play the Mariners, why are you wearing a Bon Jovi t-shirt to a Journey concert? (Yes, I go to Journey concerts).

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Thank you for trying to save my life. Here are some flowers.

I want you to imagine for a second that Carl's Jr. has hired Jerry Bruckheimer to make a commercial? Here's the script.

Jun Munakata, sitting at the drive-thru window, sees a car slam into a tree across the street, and then catch on fire. As the clerk calls 911, Munakata sprints across El Camino Real and yanks the man from his car moments before it explodes.

The driver has a different version of events -- he says he was not drinking and exited the car under his own power -- but he says he's grateful for Munakata's help. In any case, it was hard not to think of Kitty Genovese when I heard about all the people who stood around watching and doing nothing.

Asshole sells out

And I don't mean that in a bad way... Saratoga lawyer Aaron Katz has dropped his crusade on behalf of the rights of absentee landlords, taking $200,000 of El Camino Hospital's money and running to sue someone else instead. The gist of his argument is that elections for parcel taxes and bond measures are inherently unconstitutional because they allow residents rather than property owners to vote on issues that affect property.

If you thought that dispute had been settled by centuries' worth of advances in the field of voting rights, you're not alone. Nor are you right, judging from Superior Court Judge Kevin McKenney's refusal to throw the case out and risk being overturned on appeal. Katz still has cases pending against Mountain View-Whisman and two other school districts. In his e-mail quoted at the end of the Voice article linked above, he appears to threaten a suit against Foothill-De Anza.

The two sides aren't saying how they arrived at $200,000 in this case. Clearly, Katz's suit was costing the hospital an order of magnitude more than that. However, since he represents himself, it's difficult to figure his legal bills, or his tax liability, were anywhere close to this high. All I can say is that I hope one day somebody offers me $200,000 just to leave them alone.

The old new thing

SGI, the company that has donated millions of dollars to local non-profits, announced that it had filed for bankruptcy Monday. CEO Dennis McKenna told the Mercury News that the filing wouldn't change anything at the company, which would continue to operate business as usual.

Uh oh.

I sense there's some kind of Jurassic Park-related joke here, you know, something about recreating an extinct species from fossilized DNA and then Jeff Goldblum almost getting eaten.

Cam's revenge

After a hate-crime attack against him and his Jewish roomate last fall, Cam Matthews and his family have turned into activists.

The case has echoes of the beating of Angel Santuario, who was pummeled outside a gay bar by three out-of-town construction workers who were putting in the new track at Los Altos High School. Santuario is straight. Matthews is a goy. From the Merc story yesterday:
"Everybody in the community is a potential hate-crime victim,'' Tracy Matthews, 57, told the crowd. "Even if you are not part of a recognized target group, you're not safe. Our son Cameron is not Jewish, but that didn't protect him from an anti-Semitic attack. We have to make it clear that we do not tolerate hate crimes against anyone.''

The two incidents demonstrate the logic behind hate crime legislation: Theoretically, Cam (and his roommate) and Angel were not the only intended victims. The attackers were also seeking, in one way or another, to intimidate every member of a given class of people. Whether or not Cam and Angel are members of that class is almost beside the point.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

But where will us journalists live?

As new residents are moving into the new (pick one) efficiency studios/single-room-occupancy/subsidized housing project at San Antonio Place, the Mountain View City Council is prepared to eliminate the city's affordable housing tax.

The timing probably could have been better for Vice Mayor Greg Perry's proposal, which would eliminate a fee charged to developers (3% of the total sales price of the project) and direct most of it (2 of those 3 percentage points) to an existing fund for park development. Tuesday night, the council will also discuss what to do with millions of dollars currently in the affordable housing fund.

Perry's argument is that the the city's so-called Below Market Rate program gives a huge subsidy to relatively few people without increasing the overall supply of housing. He appears to have the four votes he needs for his proposal, but will face strong opposition from other council members and housing advocates, who say BMR or "inclusionary zoning" is an important way to guarantee that at least a few low-wage workers will always have a place in the community. One, after hearing about Perry's proposal, said only, "That's awful."

The fighting Dorosti brothers

Good thing Cyrus Dorosti is graduating -- he might not have enough working fingers left for any more national championship rings.

Cy's Cal team upset favored BYU at Stanford yesterday, clinching their third consecutive USA Rugby title and bringing Cy's collegiate career to a glorious and merciful end while his body is still sort of intact.

Here's a recent article in the Daily Cal, headlined, "Cyrus the Great," detailing the Dorostis legendarily high tolerance for pain and suffering. My favorite part is how he went through his first two years on the team without telling the coach that he had been observing Ramadan and going without food or water. The top knuckles on his hands are all bent from snapped tendons, he wears ankle braces every time he plays anything, and his shoulder is messed up so badly that he couldn't even raise his arms over his head at the closing whistle Saturday.

Meanwhile, Cy's older brother Arcia is travelling with his Mission teammates to South Carolina in two weeks to play for the somewhat less prestigious and more alcohol-based USA Rugby Championship at the Division III level. In contrast with Cal, the Mission team has no coach (the program guide actually lists the coach as "uncoachable") and is sponsored by Fred's Place of Mountain View, "The last neighborhood bar where everybody knows your shame." That of course doesn't stop Arcia from taking it very seriously.

A great line by sports writer Vytas Mazeika in today's Daily News, which features the Mission team in an article that liberally quotes the older Dorosti: "The only thing that may match the intensity of the tournament is the drinking that follows it."

Having seen these guys drink, I figure it must be one hell of a tournament.

UPDATE: Mission won their semifinal match with a team from Toledo, Ohio today in South Carolina, on a missed point-blank kick as Arcia prayed and time expired. After they recover from their hangovers, they will travel to San Diego June 3 to play for the Division III national championship against a team from Boston.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Citizen Neal?

The army needs Pat Neal a lot more than it needs $8,000 right now. Unfortunately, there are too few people like him in the military to realize that, and barring further complications,* Pat could be coming home from Fort Benning this month after refusing to sign away his right to an improperly offered $8,000 signing bonus. In the process, he will be walking away from a commission as a second lieutenant and what would likely have been an accomplished career as an infantry officer.

Apparently, military recruiters were offering the signing bonuses despite a section of U.S. code apparently prohibits the army from paying signing bonuses to officers. The day before OCS graduation this last Thursday, the Army circulated a memo to the 115 officer candidates who had made it through the months of training, an official notification that they would not receive their promised bonuses. Their signature was a condition of graduation. 114 of the officer candidates signed it. Pat called his lawyer. Four days later, he is in a work detail, awaiting some resolution that will most likely lead to a voiding of his contract and a one-way trip home.

It is unclear whether the army ever intended to pay the bonuses at all, or, whether recruiters continued to offer bonuses once they knew they could not do so -- I haven't been able to reach anybody at the local recruiting offices yet. Many of the officer candidates who were promised a signing bonus may have passed up college loan repayments in doing so. In any case, the Army is about to lose a great man, and the local chapter of the Los Altos Water Polo Alumni Association is about to get one back.

(Apologies to any Los Charros patrons whom I disturbed Friday night by yelling about this).





Thursday, May 04, 2006

Town Crier: Parade idea is totally gay

Tortured logic in the award-winning editorial pages of this week's Town Crier argues that a planned gay pride parade is unnecessarily divisive for a community that already has an annual Homecoming parade to bring it together (except for the private school kids).

Still smarting from criticism over its decision to proclaim a ban on all offensive proclamations, most notably those regarding the extent to which high school students should be embarrassed about their sexuality, the Los Altos City Council is now under pressure to approve a June parade proposal. According to the Mercury, offers of support have poured in from all over, further embarrassing a city (and an anonymous editorial writer) that already had much to be ashamed of.

I'm not sure how the vote will go, but the Mormon mayor credited with orchestrating the rejection and subsequent prohibition of gay pride proclamations said that Los Altos is so tolerant that it doesn't need a parade.

Said Ron Packard:
The citizens of Los Altos are highly educated and already extremely tolerant and respectful of others, regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation.
Of course, we still hate gays and Mexicans, and people who celebrate Halloween.

Wagner sentencing delayed again

Apparently, judges are allowed to take a vacation from time to time. As a result, Gregory Wagner gets to spend a few more weeks of his life bumping into the parents of the children he molested.

Wagner's lawyer James Blackman has since apologized for referring to those children, now adults, as "so-called victims" after a pre-sentencing hearing in March. Of course, it was the kind of non-apology apology that people give when they are trying to maintain a bargaining position that precludes from actually saying they're sorry, or, if they are, they're only sorry that people are taking what they said the wrong way.

The sentencing hearing has already been delayed several times. The new date is June 9th, which Wagner had not wanted because it happens to be his daughter's birthday. You have to feel bad for the guy's children, and it's understandable not to want your daughter's birthday to always be the day her father was sent to jail for molesting children. Given the lack of influence a confessed criminal has over his sentencing date, this is just another of the many, many good reasons not to molest children in the first place.

Hangar One food fight

Very amusingly immature debate going on over at the Merc's Web site, where they're taking a poll on what people want done with Hangar One. "Save it" has a commanding lead right now, perhaps in part because of an e-mail going around to the Save Hangar One Committee imploring people to vote.

Scott Herhold, writing on behalf of the preservationists, compares the hangar to Ellis Island and likens the other side to the Taliban.

Patty Fisher, declaring herself "de facto torch bearer for the Hangar One demolition squad," seems to call Herhold predictable and boring, labels the Hangar a monstrosity and says ideas for preserving it are "mere fantasies."

Fun stuff, though I still think Mike Cassidy had the best column of the week. It was about time somebody called out the Black Eyed Peas ("What you gon' do with all that breast, all that breast inside that shirt") for their ridiculous lack of effort to write intelligent lyrics. Plus, Cassidy had the good sense to quote an expert in terrible writing and acting uncool.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Classing up Shoreline

Clear Channel spin-off LiveNation has made some improvements to Shoreline Amphitheatre (including knocking the price of beers down from $6 to $5) in anticipation of bringing in more acts this year after a number of pretty subpar seasons.

One of the charges in the City of Mountain View's lawsuit is that Clear Channel subsidiary Bill Graham Presents threatened to divert shows to other amphitheatres if it didn't get permission to sell the naming rights to the venue. This seems to fit in well with other local landlords' experience with BGP. San Francisco's Warfield is suing the company for selling naming rights it didn't own, making good on a threat to "fuck that place up" in order to punish the owners for not renewing the company's lease. In Concord, BGP announced that a new lease agreement that included the naming rights of the Concord Pavilion would lead directly to more shows, (none more important The Boss).

BGP/LiveNation is obivously going to direct shows to places where it's most profitable for them, but diverting shows in order to hold public agencies hostage is a serious matter. The company says that most of the fluctuation in the number of concerts is simply reflective of the status of the concert industry nationwide. Unfortunately, as the two sides near a settlement, any evidence (or lack thereof) of intentional wrongdoing at the amphitheater is likely to remain confidential. The city has made no indication as to what they're going to do with the money.

One interesting feature of the concert schedule (which is not complete yet) is none of the shows sponsored by Clear Channel-owned radio stations (KMEL, KUFX) appear to be on the schedule. According to the city's original audit, the company was holding these so-called four-wall shows without authorization and then sending all the revenue to the station so that it did not have to report it or pay a percentage of it to the city. This means more driving for the dozens of us who are vaguely interested in seeing the remnants of the Greg Kihn band perform live again this year.

Can we find some way to blame this on St. Francis?

Los Altos High students are rediscovering the joys of white collar drugs, with a little help from their parents. There are a few things I don't like about the article -- not a single kid is interviewed, it doesn't mention private schools where the problem is surely worse, the football coach quit because his assistant coach was fired for badmouthing players and then failing to apologize -- but, in my experience as a coach there, the gist of the story is dead-on, particularly the assessment that parents of sophomores and juniors are covering for their kids.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Scooped by an ad

At least we can be proud of the separation between advertising and editorial.

Last week's Voice broke the story that the Navy had taken the official position that it intended to tear down Hangar One. Unfortunately for those of us who have some modicum of pride in our newsgathering abilities, this story was broken not in the news section but in a legal notice. That's right, an advertisement.

The public has been waiting for this story for nearly a year, but no one noticed the ad until members of the Save Hangar One Committee got wind of it. Steve Williams reprinted the text of the ad on his blog Moffett Users, and the Daily News published a story today that the Merc also carried. (I was going to post on this earlier but had my fingers crossed that the competition was not on the same listservers).

This is the first time in my career (or probably anyone else's) that I have ever lost out on a story to a paid advertisement. It is probably a good time to be quitting the profession.