Friday, June 30, 2006
I can't wait until they electrify the line. Not only will they be able to increase service, but then the only reason for fares to go up will be because someone made a secret deal with a union.
Thursday, June 29, 2006
After all that plotting*, the best I could do is print this photo on a blog, of the Mountain View marquee artfully rearranged by my friends circa February 1998. I apologize if any of you were expecting something that would justify the furor this photo caused. (Readers of the Talon will remember that "Neely" temporarily became a verb roughly meaning "to act in an manner lacking integrity)."
I suppose the one lesson to be learned from this is that being right in the eyes of the law is less important than you might think.
Speaking of fellatio, a co-worker called my farewell column "a bj to all your sources."
Tuesday, June 27, 2006
"[Assembly Speaker] Fabian [Nunez] and I were joking," Assembly member Lloyd Levine, D-Van Nuys, told the Sacramento Bee, "Everybody's getting rich on this but us ... We're just trying to do the right thing."The joke, I guess, is that politicians are getting rich signing away cities' rights to regulate cable and video services, their jurisdiction over the public right of way, and the future of public access television. (The Bee points out the unsurprising coincidence that Nunez, the bill's sponsor, has received heavy contributions from the telephone companies pushing for it). Now the cable companies, previously allied with the cities against the bill, are defecting in exchange for the ability to renege on their existing agreements.
If I owned a telephone company and this bill passed, I would immediately flood one city with 20 different project proposals, including two or three totally outlandish ones. After the city inevitably failed to make a ruling on all of them within the 45-day period, I would trash all but the most profitable, which I would be free to build without any public oversight.
Fat chance. Here's what's news:
1) The city filed suit Tuesday against auditor Daoro, Zydel & Holland and a host of others, seeking in excess of $5 million in damages for the firm's secret deal with Bill Graham Presents. The city is arguing that this deal compromised the auditors' independence, helped conceal revenues that should have been reported, amounting to fraud, malpractice, and lots of other bad words. (link to new article coming soon)
2) Live Nation's final settlement with the city, for $10 million plus a $1.8 million annual lease payment, far exceeded an original offer from Clear Channel that came in a letter sent last December. That proposal, quickly dismissed by the city, was for $3.6 million and a maximum of $1.35 million a year, based on the number of shows.
3) In my neutral, unbiased role, I managed to obtain two items the city produced to commemorate the case, a "Don't mess with Mountain View" tee shirt and a piece of lucite thanking "all those who made possible a sweet and important victory." What I don't understand is why, after a $10 million settlement, they don't at least make the plaques out of real quartz.
Monday, June 26, 2006
The conventional wisdom is that the cause of all of this is heat and low winds. And while those are both pretty crucial, the main ingredient in smog is car exhaust, meaning the main culprits are drivers.
By the way, since VTA does not seem to have enough fare inspectors to cover the light rail system, today isn't exactly the last day to ride transit for three, just the last day to do so ethically. This makes for an interesting ethical question -- is it better to ride transit without paying than it is to drive?
Sunday, June 25, 2006
Saturday, June 24, 2006
Three weeks ago, the company spilled 4,000 gallons of chemicals into nearby wetlands, drawing attention to its dismal safety record at a time that the state is deciding whether to grant it a permit to expand. Residents who believe Romic is a cause of East Palo Alto's disproportionately high asthma rates are using the incident to publicize their case and press the state to deny the permit.
Romic is what land use folks call a "noxious use," meaning it's the kind of place people pay extra in order to live far away from it and the kind of place that you are far more likely to find in poor communities.
A column by Don Kazak in Wednesday's Palo Alto Weekly issue even implies (perhaps unintentionally) that pollution from Romic is a serious concern only now that East Palo Alto started to gentrify, an argument that seems to keep with the Weekly's new policy of only writing positive stories about East Palo Alto.
But this is a positive story about East Palo Alto. It's a negative story about the rest of us, and our out-of-sight, out-of-mind attitude towards environmental problems that we foist on poor communities. The toxic waste flowing into Romic comes from the same Silicon Valley companies that we venerate for giving us nifty products, well-paying jobs, and (in some cases, at least) success in the stock market. Romic is not to blame for creating toxic waste, only for doing a shoddy job taking care of it.
In the afterword to the tenth anniversary edition of Out of the Channel, his book on the Exxon Valdez spill, John Keeble criticizes the outrage that temporarily consumed the public before we all got behind the first Gulf War. His words still bear repeating:
"In what does a company such as Exxon find the faith to perpetuate its half-truths and outright lies? The answer, perhaps, is in the reluctance of much of the American population to penetrate the loop of power, its preference for living in a fog, and its willing acceptance of almost anything in return for the opportunity to keep its gas tanks topped off. We are Exxon.
"The American consumer, as we have allowed ourselves to be called, is a dangerous influence -- dangerous in the sense that our insatiable appetite for raw materials causes continuous and often destructive change in the world. We seem unable to attend to the affects of our habits. ... We insist upon action only fleetingly, and only when faced with calamity. Then, as the incident in Prince William Sound would suggest, the nation flagellates itselfs itself, the press and broadcast news feed our frenzy with half-assimiliated information, and we fasten on symbols in order to allay our disturbing sense of ignorance and guilt."
Best of luck to YUCA and others in East Palo Alto speaking up for the rights of the community. But even if Romic disappears, the demand for its services will still exist. Nothing excuses what has happened at the plant over the last several decades, but it's time to stop pretending that we are not all in some way responsible for its existence.
In today's story, featuring a classic non-denial denial from Gonzales ("there was no alteration of public documents," he says), prosecutor Julius Finkelstein says the indictment's message "is that public officials cannot use their public office to secure benefits, either for themselves or for third parties or for political supporters.'"
Really? Not to parrot a Republican talking point here, but isn't that that what public officials do?Leaving aside that Gonzales repeatedly lied about the deal to the public and his colleagues, is procuring a contract for the Teamsters much different than Anna Eshoo's effort to procure Navy funding to restore Hangar One for the enjoyment of a bunch of Navy veterans?
In any case, kudos to the Merc for their coverage. The paper has had so many reporters on the story (14 on one article posted on the Web site site), you'd think anarchists were planning to march in downtown Palo Alto or somebody had found a finger in a bowl of chili. Not that I blame them. According to lore, when Mountain View's mayor was on trial for misconduct (with seemingly far less serious charges), a full 50 percent of the Voice staff spent days in the courtroom simply waiting for the verdict.
In the Mario Ambra case, by the way, the prosecution dropped three of its four charges, focusing only on one charge, misconduct in violation of the city charter, that was grounds to remove Mayor Ambra from the council. I wouldn't be surprised to see the same thing happen here.
That is where I thought Gary Richards was going with his article in yesterday's paper. But the only person he found that cared about the impacts of smog was an asthmatic herself. Today, the paper followed up with a happy story about little girls in matching pink bikinis splashing in a fountain. Isn't smog fun?
Friday, June 23, 2006
Thursday, June 22, 2006
VTA and Caltrain (and BART) will offer free rides again tomorrow for the second straight day. If you are like me and drove today, do your part and bike, walk or take transit tomorrow. Everyone will understand if you are unreasonably sweaty.
Nothing recent, of course, except the confession, some child porn and an asshole lawyer.
Defense attorney James Blackman noted none of the charges Wagner was sentenced for are recent.
"There is nothing current about the case,'' he said, "but a very harsh sentence in 2006.''
Wednesday, June 21, 2006
Why then does he still want to run for Mountain View City Council as the homeless candidate, when he has never, at least technically, lived in the city?
Irked over Nick Galiotto's description of pot clubs as crime centers and Police Chief Scott Vermeer's decision to invite DEA agents to a city council study session, Lohse kept coming to council meetings long after the city rejected Jonathan Lustig's proposal to open a dispensary. Lohse even played back Galiotto's comments on microcassette during a public hearing.
Lohse continues to maintain that the city's policy on medical marijuana remains unclear and appears to prohibit caretakers like him from meeting with more than one patient at a time. Over time, he has gradually become more and more interested in Mountain View politics, and decided to register to vote here. In order to better make the case that he lives in Mountain View, he also receives his mail at the downtown post office and lists his DMV address as 500 Castro Street, which happens to be City Hall.
The filing period for council candidates doesn't start until July 17, so the city attorney and city clerk have a few weeks to decide whether to let him run. I hope they do, if only because it will spice up the campaign to have a candidate who -- in an essay about his dealings with the city -- includes a chapter entitled, "Other People With Whom I Have a Bone To Pick."
Sunday, June 18, 2006
Big talk for a paper that ran a front-page story in the same issue with the headline, "Mayfield Mall site plan may be up for discussion later in month." This could be a very good sign, but juding from the total of three non-wire stories in the entire news section on Friday, it's just wishful thinking.
"The reporter we're looking for must know how to work a beat and develop sources, turn over in-depth stories with context and make deadline. If your idea of reporting is cataloguing the minutes of a council meeting, then please do not apply."
In an open letter printed in several local papers, El Camino Hospital Chair Edward Bough asserts the hospital's commitment to public accountability, saying,
"The truth is that the El Camino Hospital Board of Directors conducts business in accordance with the Brown Act and the Public Records Act. In fact, we surpass all requirements for disclosure, providing transparency beyond what is mandated."Nevermind the fact that the hospital has gone to court to keep secret some of the same documents it is now patting itself on the back for releasing.
Friday, June 16, 2006
Thursday, June 15, 2006
For one reason or another, Google has always been great at playing the press, rarely giving interviews (excluding of course, to nudie magazines) and advising company employees not to talk to reporters. I have always thought their secrecy has the effect of making them look they are hiding something. But, judging from the once-a-week fellatings Google gets from the Mercury News (here's today's article on the company's decision to purchase SGI's carcass), the policy works quite well.
Since we're on the topic, here are my two favorite exchanges with Google employees.
1) To a friend from college who was at the time working at Google
Me: I was surprised you were willing to have dinner after I told you I worked for a newspaper.
Google Employee: You're not going to fuck me over, are you?
2) To Minnie Ingersoll, unofficial community relations spokesperson for the WiFi project
Me: My name is Jon Wiener. I'm a reporter with the Mountain View Voice. We met at a City Council meeting. I'd like to interview you about (blah blah blah)...
Google Employee: You know if we got married, my name would be Minnie Wiener?
Wednesday, June 14, 2006
Congratulations again to the Grewals and all the others who had the strength and persistence to put Gregory Wagner behind bars, as well as those reporters at the Town Crier who have repeatedly fought to keep the issue front and center. I just don't know if this is the kind of good news that Town Crier readers have come to expect.
This morning, on the other side of the tracks, Slater Elementary is holding its last day of class. Much like Bullis parents, Slater parents have organized well and argued forcefully and emotionally against the decision. Mountain View residents are even readying a charter school petition, although they say they would have done so even if the board had not closed Slater. The essential difference between the two situations is that while one group of parents lives in one of the richest communities in the country, the other lives near a Superfund site. Guess which one got its way.
As a sidenote, I can't help but feeling like the reopening of Bullis somehow makes me less cool. Yes, I know many of you will say that's impossible. After all, I live with my parents, wear a bandanna and maintain a local news blog (ostensibly) about Mountain View and Los Altos. But consider the bitter, "I've-forgotten-more-about-this-town-than-you-will-ever-know" sort of pride that some graduates of old Mountain View High School have when they talk about their alma mater. We are all going to miss out on the chance to be like them.
Saturday, June 10, 2006
The Honorable Mountain View City Council,
I am writing to you about a problem that has occurred many times in California, and recently has happened to my friends and I in Mountain View. The problem is police brutality.
In mid February 2005, after 8 p.m., my friends, Mariana XXXXX, Frank XXXXX, and I were walking to Frank’s house down El Camino Real. We were stopped by two police officers. The reason, as we were told, was because we “fit the description” of suspects they were looking for. We were not told the extent of the crime these “suspects” committed, but we were immediately asked, “Where are you hiding the drugs?” My friends and I were dumbfounded and shocked. We looked at each other in disbelief. The officers yelled at us not to look at each other. We knew immediately that we were going to be some of the many victims of police harassment, but we had no idea it was going to escalate to police brutality.
We told them we were not carrying drugs, nor were we under this influence of them. They looked quite frustrated and responded, “We’re going to ask you one more time, and you better give us the right answer. Where are the drugs?!” We repeated to them that we did not have any drugs. They just chuckled.
This is the moment when Mariana asked the officers, “Why are you messing with us? We were just walking home. This is bullshit!” The officers then grabbed her by the arm and threw her to the ground and cuffed her. Now, she did raise her voice with an attitude, but it was under the anger of the harassment we were enduring. These police officers were not women, but full-grown men, and XXXXX is only about 5’1” and 105 pounds.
Frank and I both yelled, “Hey, what did you do that for?! You didn’t have to do that!” That is when I was grabbed and cuffed. After I was cuffed, Frank was tackled to the ground and cuffed. While he was on the ground, he said, “Look at how little those girls are compared to you! You guys are punks and should pick on someone your own size!” This is the moment when Frank was punched and kicked by both officers a few times. Mariana and I were yelling at them to stop, and they eventually did.
After all of this, the officers told us that they had to use force because we were “resisting arrest,” but we were not formally arrested and our rights were never read to us. At this time all three of us were minors, and, if we were arrested, our parents should have been called, but they were not. We all just got dropped off at home. The next day Mariana and I found out from Frank (he was the last to be dropped off) that he was pepper-sprayed in the eyes before he was dropped off on the sidewalk a block from his house.
We were left with minor injuries: a sore arm for me, a scraped arm and elbow for Mariana, and small bruises, scratches on the face from pavement, and irritated eyes for Frank. We were also left with a distrust of police, who are supposed to protect civilians and the community.
All three of us told our parents, but their responses were to do nothing, either out of fear of the police or fear no one would believe us. Unfortunately, we never caught the names or badge numbers of the officers. This fact still haunts us today, the fact that we never thought to look at the badges and we cannot bring these particular officers to justice. I am not asking you to go on a manhunt for these vicious police officers. I know it would be virtually impossible to catch them because we failed to obtain their names and badge numbers. But I am asking you to realize that these kinds of situations are not only happening in big cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco. It has happened in your city, and it probably still is because these officers are more than likely still on patrol. I am also asking you to be strict with those officers who have done this and have been caught. Bring them to justice and help bring peace to their victims. Thank you very much for your time.
Friday, June 09, 2006
"It's important not only that justice be done, but that it be seen to be done," said Judge Diane Northway, as parents of former troop members looked on.
Northway said Wagner deserved harsh treatment because he had abused a position of authority to abuse his victims Northway also credited David Grewal and his family for speaking articulately about the impact of Wagner's crimes. Grewal was the first of Wagner's victims to step forward -- two others also filed charges in this case -- and he helped police nab Wagner with a pretext call. Grewal said he was motivated by those who helped put an end to the Boston Archdiocese's coverup of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.
(Northway also complimented Grewal on his recent wedding, which, as one of his friends observed, means that is now a matter of California law that he married the right woman).
Kevin Richlin, a detective with the D.A.'s office who specializes in computer forensics, testified in uncomfortable detail about the password-protected child pornography on Wagner's computer. The files had been accessed as recently as April 9 of last year and deleted as late as Aug. 22, which district attorney Kim Connors used effectively to cast doubt on defense attorney James Blackman's argument that Wagner's behavior was a thing of the past.
Blackman, who also argued that the abuse "was mutual and voluntary" and may have had nothing to do with the victim's depression, got some deservedly cold stares from the families of troop members as he left the courtroom. I wish him luck in being able to either sleep at night or look at himself in the mirror.
By statute, Wagner will be eligible for parole halfway through the sentence.
Santa Clara County Hall of Justice
190 W. Hedding (see directions)
Department 40, Judge Diane Northway
Fresh off the stunning defeat of Measure A, a business-backed half-cent sales tax for the county that the agency was implicitly counting on to fund projects it had (over)promised voters in 2000, the VTA is going ahead with plans for BART-to-San-Jose and other projects as if the tax had passed.
"They're mad," said Mountain Vice Mayor Greg Perry, the guy who gets picked last for the team whenever the VTA board gets together for barbecues.
Tonight, at a meeting of a five-member task force in Mountain View City Hall, the usual parade of critics from all over the county requested the agency consider a contingency plan, just in case $80 million a year in new revenues do not magically appear.
County Supervisor Liz Kniss -- who warned before the election that the misguided BART project would survive a Measure A defeat but county social services wouldn't -- said VTA is legally obligated to deliver all of the projects it promised in 2000, including BART to San Jose and Santa Clara. This presents a bit of a problem, because:
a) VTA is billions of dollars short of the money it needs to do this.
b) Many of the details of the BART plan are ridiculous.
Aside from being built on custom-gauge rail with custom-built cars that drive up costs and slow down construction and repairs, the plans for the BART extension will require an incredibly expensive tunnel under downtown San Jose. That portion of the line will cost so much and carry so few riders that the agency has had to exclude it from its application for federal funding. At the same time, the agency is building the line from the southern end first, meaning that -- in the event levelheadedness ever makes a comeback on the VTA board -- building a shorter, more efficient line will still not be possible.
Ironically, the failure of the only transit tax I've ever voted against won't stop the reason I voted against it, but will eliminate county social services that I support. For all of you who are in the same boat, I suppose now would be a good time for us to open our wallets for charity.
Thursday, June 08, 2006
"Fuck 'em," said a certain outgoing Mountain View-Los Altos high school district superintendent, who added some other more relevant things that were way less interesting.
The Town Council had given the Los Altos elementary school district board until this week to agree to a compromise proposal that would have given control of at least part of the Bullis site to Bullis Charter School. The final version of the redistricting resolution maintains the boundaries that send some Hills kids to Gunn High School and others to Los Altos High School -- LAHS supporters had attacked the earlier plan to send all kids to Gunn as racist.
The plan requires special legislation and is sure to face a court challenge. If it goes through, the two local elementary school districts (Los Altos and Palo Alto Unified) will lose a fair amount of property tax revenue, but, by pretty much any standard, they are likely to continue to do just fine. Ultimately, the people likely hurt worst by redistricting will be Los Altos Hills kids themselves, who are now going to grow up in even more of a bubble than they already do.
Despite regular editorials and guest columns complaining about the gayness of the parade, editor Bruce Barton still had to lobby publisher/Republican activist Paul Nyberg to get any coverage of the event in the paper. Luckily, Nyberg's worst fears about the parade turned out not to be true. According to the story:
"Festivities were peaceful and free of the flamboyant costumes that have marked other gay parades."
Hopefully we can all go back to concentrating on unifying the community via the annual festival of lights parades, which features characters from Alice and Wonderland and all sorts of other children's stories, or perhaps the LAHS Homecoming parade, in which those high schoolers not in tuxes often march half-naked or in drag.
An extra prize to anyone who guesses the amount of resources (counting the value of the volunteer work) spent designing the new one.
Sunday, June 04, 2006
"In the city council's face," said MVLA superintendent Rich Fischer, one of many public officials to march or ride in the parade.
The supportive crowd, much like the partygoers in the first episode of the Boondocks, clapped politely, which made the police presence seem a little ridiculous. The only opposition I noticed along the route was a man oblivious to irony who held a sign that read, "Parading our differences does not unite us." Not clear whether he thought his sign was accomplishing that. Of course, this man was not alone. After all, Christian pet-owning high school athletes already have three parades to unite them.
Speaking of Christians: Big points for Foothills Congregational Church, which had dozens of members marching together in the parade to support the LAHS Gay-Straight Alliance. Poor performance, meanwhile, by the folks holding the sign reading "Homosexuality is Sin." According to the Palo Alto Daily, the man drove all the way down from Placerville to protest the parade.
I guess it's better for them to be trying to ruin parades instead of military funerals, but if they're such good Christians, shouldn't they have been in church?
(UPDATE: The Mercury and the Chronicle have both posted stories about the event on their Web sites. Funny how the Chronicle only covers Santa Clara County when there is a story about gay pride.)
In this case, it's Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, who accepted free ringside boxing seats from the Nevada Athletic Commission at the same time the agency was lobbying him against federal regulation of Nevada's second-dirtiest industry.
As a sidenote, I might as well take this opportunity to point out that Council member Mike Kasperzak was spotted "seeing how the parking [was] handled" at the Jimmy Buffett concert on April 25, rather than attending that night's city council meeting.
I mean, if you can't point that stuff out on a blog, what's the point of having one?
That's right, both of you.
I have just returned from the Eastern Seaboard, where I celebrated Andy's graduation from Brown (which, as I learned, is an Ivy League school) and battled with the twin evils of sobriety and celibacy. I apologize for the lack of posting recently, but promise to make up for it in the coming weeks, particularly after quitting my job.
In the meantime, chew on these two articles from the New York Times,
The first details the military's plans to dismiss the murders of dozens of innocent Iraqi civilians (and the subsequent cover-up) as the work of a few bad apples in the Marine Corps. An article in the very same issue describes the acquittal (on most charges) of a soldier who admitted to using a dog to torture prisoners at Abu Ghraib, saying he was only acting within the guidelines established by military commaders.
Makes you long for the days before people stopped thinking "I was just following orders" was not an excuse for committing war crimes.