Even with the cloud of San Bruno and way-too-cozy PG&E e-mails hanging over it, the California Public Utilities Commission made sure Michael Peevey’s final meeting as president had a happy ending — in fact, the agency pretty much staged it.
In a memo leading up to Thursday’s meeting, media director Terrie Prosper instructed staffers to reserve 30 seats at the front of the agency’s hall on Van Ness Avenue for those coming to praise Peevey’s 12 years at the helm.
“It was unbelievable,” said Mindy Spatt, spokeswoman for The Utility Reform Network consumer group.
All was captured by a film crew brought in by Peevey’s daughter to commemorate the meeting as a Christmas gift to her father.
Political reaction here in the Bay Area to President Obama’s normalization of U.S.-Cuban relations was predictably positive, with Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates proclaiming himself “ecstatic” and businessman-lobbyist-Cuban tour group organizer Darius Anderson likening it to Richard Nixon’s trip to China.
Former San Francisco talk radio host Bernie Ward, who has spent the past seven years in federal prison for distributing child pornography online, was quietly freed Friday.
A former Roman Catholic priest, Ward was KGO radio’s late-night Lion of the Left’’ and Sunday morning host of “God Talk” when he was indicted by a federal grand jury in September 2007 for sending pornographic images of children to a dominatrix he met online.
“I will tear up knowing I will be home for Christmas and that this is my last Thanksgiving as a prisoner,” he said in a blog post from Lompoc Federal Correctional Facility last month.
Ward also admitted “to a terrible mistake” and acknowledged the “embarrassment and humiliation the public nature of my crime” caused to family and friends.
“It was that brokenness, and refusal to recognize it, which created an environment where poor choices ... stupid choices ... bad judgment ... runaway ego ... criminal behavior ... were allowed to grow, fester and flourish,” he wrote.
Federal probation officials in San Francisco overseeing his case declined to comment but, according to terms of his 2007 sentencing, he will be on supervised probation for life and required to register as a sex offender.
Posted: December 21, 2014, 1:00 pm
Time to take a look at our fair city.
If you throw culture and economics into the mix, you find the city is more than diverse — it’s tribal.
San Francisco is divided into dozens of neighborhoods and hundreds of groups, each with their own identity.
[...] Palou in the Bayview is not that far from Third and Howard, but it is totally different, racially, socially and in every other way.
The Castro Street folks and the Folsom Street types, the people who live in the past, like the hippies with gray ponytails, and the people who live in the present, like the surfers at Ocean Beach.
There is a tribe in the Marina — “where the women are all young and beautiful and the men look like Gavin Newsom,” as one friend put it — and another on Valencia Street, hip and a bit scruffier.
In the Latino Mission there are Mexicans and Central Americans, which are divided into subgroups with their own accents:
Chinese are a majority in the Asian community, but there are also Vietnamese, Filipinos, Japanese, Koreans.
Into this mix came the techies in waves — Like many before us, we went west in pursuit of a Gold Rush, a modern-day one fueled by the Internet,’’ wrote Mikkel Svane, a Dane who co-founded Zendesk.
Look up “San Francisco Groups” on Facebook and there you will see the tribes: there are Excelsior, Mission, Richmond, Cole Valley and Sunset interest groups, among others.
Even a site for members interested in Chinese lion dancers (1,967 members) and folks who went to a San Francisco Catholic school with 6,537 members of that tribe.
Gentrification — essentially a sea change in the fabric of San Francisco — is the biggest ongoing story in the city.
Posted: December 21, 2014, 1:00 pm
Bill Kortum, a longtime Sonoma County environmental activist, died early Saturday in Petaluma after battling prostate cancer for more than three years.
In 1972, he worked to pass Proposition 20, a measure that established the California Coastal Commission, the agency that regulates land and water use along the state’s coastline.
Mr. Kortum also helped establish an open space district in Sonoma County and worked to create Sonoma County Conservation Action, an organization that aims to educate the public on environmental issues.
Soft-spoken but tenacious, “Bill was like a big, strong redwood tree — bending with the wind but never breaking, and always looking far ahead,” Cardo said.
A veterinarian by trade, Mr. Kortum grew up on a poultry farm outside Petaluma, where he and his wife, Lucy, — the strategist to her husband’s idealism — later raised their own three children and where they lived together until his death, said their daughter, Julie Groves.
Groves said they were inspired by that country’s open access to coastal land and came back worried that California’s would be blocked from the public.
“Wilderness is still rare in this country and marine wilderness is rarer,” Mr. Kortum wrote in a 2011 Chronicle opinion piece urging the preservation of Drakes Estero.
In Mr. Kortum’s later years, he fought for voter approval on the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit, a train that will connect the two counties.
Cardo said he was developing strategies for that project, which is still ongoing, until his last breath and that someday she hopes to see the ranch turned into a park with her friend’s name on it.
Posted: December 21, 2014, 3:16 am
The city’s mayor-elect, Libby Schaaf — given the barracuda nickname by a colleague — had been at a City Council meeting until 2:30 a.m. She was in the midst of hiring a dozen staffers and a city administrator, and drawing up a transition plan for her first few months in office.
She was also scheduled to volunteer at her children’s school and meet with residents and police about recent protests.
“People like her are Oakland’s secret sauce,” Schaaf said, referring to “Tina Tamale” Ramos, a third-generation Oakland tamale maker who just opened her first restaurant.
Schaaf’s relentless enthusiasm for all things Oakland — from small-business owners like Ramos to its financial stability to the fate of its sports teams — has fueled Schaaf’s career since she entered Oakland’s public arena 20 years ago, and it helped her defeat incumbent Mayor Jean Quan by a landslide in November.
[...] for all her cheering of Oakland’s strengths, its quirkiness and its potential, she has the will of a defensive lineman, observers said.
Schaaf, who has represented the Oakland hills on the City Council the past four years, is often associated with the city’s burgeoning business community.
Business leaders loved her for it, and were major donors to her mayoral campaign.
After graduating from law school, she helped organize school volunteers for the Marcus Foster Institute, an educational nonprofit in Oakland, and eventually got into politics.
Having young kids has been perfect training for city government, she once told a reporter.
Schaaf’s management experience comes from a two-year stint as public affairs chief for the Port of Oakland.
[...] she brought in millions in public funding for the city, but also — more important, for a politician — learned how to handle the media and understand public opinion, observers said.
Campaign contributions, permit information and budget data are all things that should be easily available online, she said.
Code for America, a nonprofit group that assists government agencies with tech issues, is working on the project now, she said.
Schaaf points to cities like Los Angeles and New York, which have seen dramatic decreases in violent crime, and plans to bring their crime-fighting ideas to Oakland, she said.
The city has seen almost daily demonstrations in the aftermath of the Ferguson, Mo., grand jury report, and many of those protests have devolved after nightfall into vandalism, arson, looting and fighting after nightfall.
[...] some in Oakland say Schaaf’s biggest challenge will be balancing the development boom with the needs of longtime residents, so lower-income people are not forced out and the city retains some of the affordability and quirky, unpretentious and scrappy character that residents say they love.
Community activist Naomi Schiff, who works with housing and historic preservation groups, said Schaaf needs to break away from the entrenched interests of the political establishment.
Housing for middle- and low-income families should be a priority, she said, along with saving Oakland’s historic buildings.
[...] Schaaf has been outstanding on that front, said Esperanza Tervalon-Daumont, director of Oakland Rising, a nonprofit group that promotes the political interests of flatlands residents.
Since she’s been involved with Oakland government, Schaaf has been a strong advocate for policies that benefit low-income residents, immigrants and people of color, Tervalon-Daumont said.
Posted: December 21, 2014, 2:18 am
King tides, a winter phenomenon that usually lasts up to three days, bring unusually high tides along the coast and bay front, said Drew Peterson, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Monterey.
The National Weather Service has already issued a coastal flood advisory to take effect Sunday morning, he said.
The swell, combined with the king tides, will create “extremely hazardous conditions on local beaches,” according to the statement, with a high tide “predicted to reach almost seven feet.”
The Coast Guard called for marinas, vessel owners and people living along the water to prepare for possible flooding.
“We strongly urge the public to exercise extreme caution when visiting local beaches during the winter months,” Coast Guard Capt. Greg Stump said in the statement.
Low-lying areas along the bay and along the coast, such as walkways, piers and parking lots along the Embarcadero, can expect to see some seawater, said Peterson of the NWS.
Posted: December 21, 2014, 1:21 am
Powell, the third-busiest station in the system, sees a lively mixture of tourists, shoppers, vagrants and street musicians.
Like BART’s other three stations beneath San Francisco’s Market Street, Powell is also a Muni Metro subway station, which adds to its hectic nature.
Unlike Embarcadero and Montgomery stations, which are thick with office workers during commute hours, or Civic Center, bulging with bureaucrats working government schedules, Powell stays busy all day.
Many of those are for what BART calls “quality of life” crimes — like public urination, vagrancy and disturbing the peace.
BART says police are enforcing a building code requirement to keep station access clear, but homeless advocates say they’re illegally rousting homeless people.
With the mall, the BART station, parking lots, an AC Transit bus hub and roads connecting them all, Bay Fair sits in the midst of concrete suburbia.
A wall of thick, tall iron bars stands guard around the entrance to the station, giving it a somewhat intimidating look.
Signs warning against loitering, begging, soliciting and open containers are tagged with graffiti.
Crime statistics show that Bay Fair has a high number of robberies and thefts.
The station sports an unusual design with a small entry plaza, a compact street-level concourse with a marble mural and a glass ceiling and long stairways and escalators to the subterranean train platforms.
BART police recorded two violent crimes at Glen Park in the 10-month periods in 2013 and 2014, including a rape in 2013, a robbery in 2014 and an assault or battery each year.
There’s a steady flow of passengers on and off trains, which sit at the station for several minutes while drivers get out of one end of the train and walk to the other.
Posted: December 21, 2014, 1:08 am
Inside the Tenderloin church, Laurie Ferreira was pounding last-minute instructions into her army of 200 volunteers, packed into a meeting room crammed with toys.
Make sure none of the donated goodies have any kind of sticker saying “for needy children” or anything else that might make the kids feel bad about themselves.
“I just picked out two giant Nerf projectile ... whatever,” said Ferreira, 60, a drill sergeant in a pink shirt and powder-blue vest.
There were no violins hidden in the vast array of dolls, games, action figures, basketballs and books collected from Glide congregants, as well as from patrons of the Lefty O’Doul’s sports bar a few blocks uphill.
Glide’s giveaway has become one of the Bay Area’s best-known holiday traditions, stretching back more than 30 years.
Zynga.org, a nonprofit organization started by the computer gaming company in SoMa, helped fund this year’s drive and sent a squad of volunteers to help staff it.
[...] the city’s recent changes, its booming wealth and soaring rents, have also boosted the number of families seeking free toys, toys they would otherwise struggle to buy.
“The need is growing,” said Janice Mirikitani, founding president of the Glide Foundation and wife of its longtime former pastor, the Rev. Cecil Williams.
“The cost of rent is so high these days,” Payne said as her son, Jamel Baker, thumped a tiny arm on the play set’s cardboard box.
A few blocks deeper into the Tenderloin, St. Anthony’s was holding its own charitable tradition Saturday, converting a lane of Golden Gate Avenue into a drive-through donation center.
The organization — which provides food, clothing and health care to the poor — is trying to collect 500 hams it can serve on Christmas Day.
“A fresh pair of socks is a wonderful thing to give to someone who’s homeless,” said Karl Robillard, St. Anthony’s communications manager, as volunteers sorted bags of donations into three big blue bins at the curb.
Posted: December 20, 2014, 11:30 pm
Carpenter’s career cut short by cancer
Carlos Urrutia Felix, a union carpenter for more than 30 years in Contra Costa County, had a perilous job, navigating high-rise scaffolding to install metal siding and drywall.
[...] the thing that brought him to the ground was something he never saw coming: kidney cancer.
A year ago, the father with a son in college studying screenwriting and another at home with high-functioning autism, underwent surgery that removed the cancer.
Felix, 56, was able to use his union medical savings fund to pay all but $7,000 of his hospital bills.
When his health worsened this year, he was removed from the unemployment rolls and given disability payments of $2,200 a month.
[...] Felix remembered participating in charity drives that his carpenters’ union ran for the homeless.
The monies raised went to an organization called Shelter Inc. He swallowed his pride and called them.
Posted: December 20, 2014, 11:27 pm
St. Helena Hospital has agreed to pay $2.25 million to settle government claims that it performed unnecessary cardiac operations and overcharged Medicare, conduct that was revealed by a whistle-blowing hospital employee.
The lawsuit accused the hospital of charging Medicare for medically unnecessary angioplasty operations, which clear blocked coronary arteries, between January 2008 and July 2011.
The suit also said the hospital needlessly admitted angioplasty patients for resident care rather than treating them as outpatients, at lower cost.
Under a federal law allowing private citizens to go to court on behalf of the United States, Carroll will receive $450,000 of the settlement and the rest will go to the government.
In a statement, the hospital said it had cooperated fully with the federal investigation and noted that the settlement does not include any admission of wrongdoing.
Posted: December 20, 2014, 10:24 pm
A San Francisco sheriff’s deputy was out on bail Saturday after being take into custody for allegedly choking a hospital patient and then arresting the man for trying to assault him with his cane, authorities said.
Michael Lewelling, 33, was arrested Friday and charged with perjury, filing a false police report, filing a false instrument and assault under the color of authority — all felonies — as well as misdemeanor battery for the Nov. 3 attack at San Francisco General Hospital, according to the district attorney’s office.
Prosecutors said the victim had been sleeping in a chair in the emergency room’s waiting area about 5 a.m., and that the video showed Lewelling approaching the man, engaging him in conversation as he woke up.
When the victim tried to walk away with the help of his cane, the video showed, Lewelling grabbed the back of his collar, shoving him back into the seat and knocking his cane away, the district attorney’s office said.
The Sheriff’s Department said an arrest warrant for Lewelling was issued after six weeks of investigation by the department’s criminal investigation unit.
“The San Francisco Sheriff’s Department places paramount value in maintaining the public trust bestowed upon peace officers,” the department said in a statement.
Posted: December 20, 2014, 10:21 pm
In 2012, part of the hill collapsed, sending several colossal boulders down the northern slope of Telegraph Hill and into the parking lot of the condominium building at its base.
“This is a unique area — it was an undocumented quarry in the 1800s, and they would blast the hillside indiscriminately,” said Rinaldi Wibowo, the project manager at Public Works overseeing the work.
The work took on extra urgency last week, when two separate rock slides occurred — one inside the project site and another near the project area — from the recent rains.
No one was injured, but San Francisco Public Works spokeswoman Rachel Gordon said the first slide sent more than a ton of rocks onto Chestnut Street below.
“We know at some point the (stabilization work) has to be expanded to other areas, but these are the resources we have at this point,” she said, adding that the city focused on portions of Telegraph Hill where the worse slides have occurred in the past.
In recent weeks, crews from GeoStablization International, or GSI, which the city hired to do the dangerous work, have been “scaling” the steep cliff — workers rappel down to chip any loose chunks of rock and vegetation from the hillside.
The resulting crashing rocks, which can be heard for blocks around, are stopped at the bottom by chicken wire and bales of hay.
The cost of the project is being split between Public Works, the Recreation and Park Department and the Department of Building Inspection.
“I want to be out here to reinforce the need to take care of this,” he said, adding that the 2012 rock slide — which crushed a car but caused no injuries — was “very scary for residents” in the adjacent condominium complex.
Posted: December 20, 2014, 9:38 pm
To visit Burritt Tavern at the Mystic Hotel, you enter from the sidewalk and head upstairs one level.
[...] when this structure opened, the front door was located in the well-defined bay on what now is the second floor — until Stockton Street was flattened to connect with the Stockton Tunnel.
By the time that passage was opened with fanfare by Mayor James Rolph on Dec. 29, 1914, building owners had turned 417 Stockton’s basement into a makeshift “ground” floor, an adaptation that is easy to miss until it is pointed out, and then you see it every time.
Posted: December 20, 2014, 9:35 pm
On what is one of its busiest travel days, San Francisco International Airport reported scattered delays of up to an hour Saturday.
The airport has had some delays — mostly arriving flights — of about 30 to 60 minutes, said Joe Walsh, a spokesman for the airport.
Due to a low cloud ceiling, SFO is on a ground delay program — when flights cannot arrive and depart as frequently as under ideal conditions — that will last until 11 p.m. Saturday, Walsh said.
Posted: December 20, 2014, 6:45 pm
The wet weather moving through the Bay Area on Friday evening caused headaches for air travelers out of San Francisco International Airport, with officials reporting major delays and cancellations.
Flights in and out of the SFO were delayed up to two hours, said duty manager Dan D’Innocenti, and more than 100 flights had been canceled as of 6 p.m.
D’Innocenti said travelers should call their airline to check on their flights.
Kale Williams is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: email@example.com Twitter: @sfkale
Posted: December 20, 2014, 3:10 am
A person was fatally struck on the Caltrain tracks in Mountain View on Friday evening, authorities said.
The person, who was not identified, was struck by northbound train No. 381 around 6 p.m., according to a Caltrain spokeswoman.
Southbound trains were turning around at the Mountain View Station and a bus bridge was set up to cover the gap in service.
Caltrain officials told commuters to expect delays.
Kale Williams is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @sfkale
Posted: December 20, 2014, 2:57 am