Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Is it the bike racks you don't like, or the Mexicans who might use them?

A half-dozen angry and seemingly confused neighbors showed up at a Design Review Committee meeting two weeks ago to try to get the city to reject a use permit for a new day worker center on Escuela Ave. After belatedly learning that the Design Review Committee is charged, oddly enough, with design review:
The neighbors complained about a large sign proposed the front of the facility which would list the center's fax number and Web site address. There were other proposals they also didn't like: a bike rack large enough to hold 32 bikes, the lack of a front porch, a lack of parking and a bench that made the area look like a "bus stop."

A Holiday Fund appeal

Things are tough all over.

In Mountain View, the city is again facing $5 million or more in budget cuts, and the day worker center must divide among a hundred or so workers job requests that number in single digits. When one employer wrote a bad check after hiring several workers and declined to make good on it, the director drove all the way to Monterey County to collect. Things have become so bad that day workers are giving up and going back to Mexico and other home countries.

And in Los Altos, the house at 47 View St. appears to have been taken off the market after its list price was knocked down from $27 million to $19.9 million. (The absurdity of this property revealed itself again on Thanksgiving night, when a homeless veteran died in a bus stop just one mile away).

Some of you may need special encouragement to open up your wallets for charity this year, so here it comes:

It is time for NOE readers (and contributors) to support the best thing the local papers do all year -- the Holiday Fund drives through which the Voice and Town Crier fund a combined 22 local charities. The economic downturn is doubly painful for those who rely on these charities, as an increasing number of clients must share fewer resources. Even the Holiday Fund drives themselves have suffered, both at about 60% of last year's total. Please go to the websites now, read the profiles of the charities, and make a donation. For further inspiration, you can look to the example of Bob Schick, who made his dedicated his donation to the Voice fund to the memory of the prune trees in Cuesta Annex.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The tragedy of the commons of the Festival of Lights Parade

In 1968, Garrett Hardin wrote that "the inherent logic of the commons remorselessly generates tragedy," using the example of an unregulated cow pasture to demonstrate how individually rational exploitation of a shared resource tends to the lead to the destruction of that resource.

Kudos then, to the Los Altos Festival of Lights Parade Association for recognizing that the free-for-all claiming of space on downtown sidewalks in advance of the Festival of Lights parade presented a commons problem that would inevitably descend into mayhem without some form of regulation or management.

The Town Crier did an impressive job of publicizing the new rules, and its follow-up report (which seems to be at least temporarily inaccessible online) indicated that people followed them, if somewhat reluctantly.

As much as I would like to congratulate last year's civic clean-up squad for helping spur this development and ensuring that Los Altos no longer looks like an emergency shelter, I am disappointed that I won't get to see Erik Koland tape off all downtown sidewalks using Spanish surnames. Just imagine the reaction that would have elicited.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Los Altos finally Tases a dude

The back of Sgt. Scott McCrossin's trading card hopefully already credits him for hosting the most boring ridealong in the history of journalism, as well for convincing a judge that it was perfectly reasonable of him to pull a guy over for hanging an air freshener from his rearview mirror.

His stats just got even gaudier. On October 30, he became the first Los Altos police officer to use a Taser on a suspect.

By comparison, Mountain View police have had Tasers about twice as long (four-plus years compared to two in Los Altos) and used them 34 times. (I covered the the first nine of those times in one of my favorite stories ever.)

The circumstances of Los Altos getting onto the scoreboard are a little ironic:

Los Altos Police responded to a single-vehicle crash at El Monte Avenue and El Camino Real at approximately 1 p.m. Oct. 30 and observed the driver grow “combative with a Mountain View police officer ...”

You might think that having Tased people 34 times, Mountain View police are pretty set as far as their Tasing needs go. Keep in mind, though, that Mountain View has more than 34 officers, so not all of them have had the pleasure of pumping electricity into a suspect's body. Still, I wonder what happened afterward. Did the MV officer get angry about McCrossin stealing his Tasee? Or did he shed a tear about how much Los Altos police officers are growing up? Maybe share a tip with McCrossin on the best grip to use when electrocuting a suspect?

I of course haven't bothered to try to find out the facts of the case, making it hard to judge from the story what "combative" means, and in turn exactly whether the use of the Taser was appropriate. Detective John Korges told the Town Crier that it was “definitely within policy, and definitely a prudent use of the Taser.” It seems this was good enough for the Town Crier, but a routine departmental investigation is reportedly underway anyway.

More on this, perhaps, after finals.

UPDATE: The Center for Investigative Reporting has been kicking Taser's ass this week, mainly by letting company officials talk. National litigation counsel Michael Brave is quoted in California Lawyer maintaining that "Exercise is far more harmful to you." In this week's Columbia Journalism Review, Taser defends the claims it made to analysts and the SEC that it somehow has a right to review news stories about it before they are published.