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Outgoing state Sen. Jackie Speier says farewell

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
November 23, 2006

Outgoing state Sen. Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough, has authored some 300 successful bills in her 18 years as a state representative, but her major regret upon leaving office is that she couldn’t do more to reform California’s prison system.

Speier, speaking at a press conference in San Mateo on Wednesday, said she once spent a day and night in Chowchilla’s Valley State Prison for Women. While there, she met a 21-year-old mother of two who had been convicted of three DUIs.

“I asked her whether she had received any programming, and she said she hadn’t. She had been there 18 months and had not received a single day of rehabilitation,” Speier said.

While crime has gone down, prison populations have risen. Roughly 80 percent of women in California’s 33 prisons are incarcerated for minor crimes, but held in medium-security prisons, Speier said.

Meanwhile, guards maintain “extraordinary power” and prisons are hemorrhaging money. She challenged Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to be courageous enough to create a better parole system.

Speier, 56, was born in San Francisco and raised in Burlingame. She worked as a staffer for Congressman Leo Ryan, and was shot five times in November 1978 during a fact-finding mission regarding the Rev. Jim Jones and his People’s Temple human-rights abuses.

Speier served on the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors from 1980 to 1986, when she was elected to the California Assembly. She moved to the state Senate in 1998, and this month lost the Lieutenant Governor’s race to Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi.

During that time, she also suffered two miscarriages, lost her first husband, Steven Sierra, in a car accident and became the first woman to give birth while serving in the California Legislature.

Though she has risen to state politics, Speier’s legacy is still felt widely in San Mateo County, according to Supervisor Jerry Hill.

“Every aspect of our life and our children’s life is better, healthier and safer because of Jackie. She is a giant of integrity and a giant of compassion,” Hill said.

Assemblyman Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, will succeed Speier in representing District 8 and said he plans to continue fighting for some of her key causes, including education and health care, particularly for children.

Speier plans to spend some time as a stay-at-home mom with her two children. In March, she’ll launch her first book, “This Is Not the Life I Ordered,” co-authored with friends Jan Yanehiro, Deborah Collins, Stephens and Michealene Cristini Risley.

Don’t think Speier has given up politics for good, however. When asked whether she would consider running for governor, she paused, and then nodded.

“If the opportunity availed itself, I think I could run this state very well,” she said.

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

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Written by Beth Winegarner

November 23, 2006 at 9:52 PM

Teen’s friends call for Caltrain fence

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
May 3, 2006

Family and friends of a Burlingame teen killed by a train gathered Tuesday to remember him and urge Caltrain to install more fencing and barriers along the rail corridor.

Burlingame Intermediate School student Fatih Kuc, 13, died April 18 after being struck by a train south of the Broadway train station. About 75 people attended Tuesday’s event, organized by the Kurdish-American Cultural Center.

“We want Caltrain to build fences so that we can stop digging graves,” said John Akkaya, president of the cultural center and a Kuc family friend. Fatih’s death was the seventh on the train tracks in 2006, one of three deemed accidental.

Fatih’s uncle, Metin Kuc, remembered the boy as a “wonderful kid” with a passion for soccer and singing Turkish songs. Fatih’s father, Ali, came to America from Turkey 20 years ago and raised the money to bring his wife, son and two daughters here in 1997.

“I don’t know how we’re going to recover from this,” Kuc said. “We want to make sure he’s the last to die on these train tracks.”

Kuc read a letter from Fatih’s sister, Selma, in which she pledged to carry out all the dreams she and her brother had planned when he was alive. “You are my hero,” she wrote.

Mayor Cathy Baylock attended, in part because her son was one of Fatih’s classmates. “It’s devastating,” she said of the death. “So many kids were touched by this [accident], they’re never going to forget it. If there’s any silver lining, this has taught them a lesson.”

Baylock is organizing a meeting May 11 with the Burlingame Traffic Safety Parking Commission to discuss increased safety along the rail corridor, which Caltrain officials have been invited to attend.

Caltrain officials Monday announced a new safety campaign, “Don’t Shortcut Life,” aimed at making sure locals are aware of rail-related dangers, according to spokesman Jonah Weinberg. During the campaign, Caltrain will work with local schools to teach students about train safety, and will work with Peninsula city officials to identify places where pedestrians frequently take shortcuts across the tracks.

“You should always assume a train is coming, even if you can’t see it,” Weinberg said. Because of their weight, it takes most of the rail service’s trains one-fourth to one-half mile to stop completely. “Our engineers do slam on the brakes, but it’s almost wishful thinking.”

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

May 3, 2006 at 1:48 AM

Teen’s friends call for Caltrain fence

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
May 2, 2006

Family and friends of a Burlingame teen killed by a train gathered Tuesday to remember him and urge Caltrain to install more fencing and barriers along the rail corridor.

Burlingame Intermediate School student Fatih Kuc, 13, died April 18 after being struck by a train south of the Broadway train station. About 75 people attended Tuesday’s event, organized by the Kurdish-American Cultural Center.

“We want Caltrain to build fences so that we can stop digging graves,” said John Akkaya, president of the cultural center and a Kuc family friend. Fatih’s death was the seventh on the train tracks in 2006, one of three deemed accidental.

Fatih’s uncle, Metin Kuc, remembered the boy as a “wonderful kid” with a passion for soccer and singing Turkish songs. Fatih’s father, Ali, came to America from Turkey 20 years ago and raised the money to bring his wife, son and two daughters here in 1997.

“I don’t know how we’re going to recover from this,” Kuc said. “We want to make sure he’s the last to die on these train tracks.”

Kuc read a letter from Fatih’s sister, Selma, in which she pledged to carry out all the dreams she and her brother had planned when he was alive. “You are my hero,” she wrote.

Mayor Cathy Baylock attended, in part because her son was one of Fatih’s classmates. “It’s devastating,” she said of the death. “So many kids were touched by this [accident], they’re never going to forget it. If there’s any silver lining, this has taught them a lesson.”

Baylock is organizing a meeting May 11 with the Burlingame Traffic Safety Parking Commission to discuss increased safety along the rail corridor, which Caltrain officials have been invited to attend.

Caltrain officials Monday announced a new safety campaign, “Don’t Shortcut Life,” aimed at making sure locals are aware of rail-related dangers, according to spokesman Jonah Weinberg. During the campaign, Caltrain will work with local schools to teach students about train safety, and will work with Peninsula city officials to identify places where pedestrians frequently take shortcuts across the tracks.

“You should always assume a train is coming, even if you can’t see it,” Weinberg said. Because of their weight, it takes most of the rail service’s trains one-fourth to one-half mile to stop completely. “Our engineers do slam on the brakes, but it’s almost wishful thinking.”

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

May 2, 2006 at 10:30 PM

Posted in Burlingame, Transit

Sword show draws avid collectors

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Beth Winegarner
Daily News Staff Writer
August 22, 2005

Japanese-sword enthusiasts hobnobbed with collectors yesterday in Burlingame, where the annual Token Kai sword show swung into town.

Katana aficionados from across the country gathered at the Marriott hotel throughout the weekend to see vendors’ latest finds and, in many cases, spend several thousand dollars on an authentic samurai weapon.

Lee Geiniman was offering dozens of different blades, including one dating back to the 14th century made by the famous swordsmith O-michi.

An oversized katana in Geiniman’s collection was custom-made for six-foot-eight-inch Saigo Takamori. Takamori was the foundation for the Katsuomoto character, whose soldiers capture Tom Cruise in “The Last Samurai,” according to Geiniman.

Both swords carry a $15,000 price tag.

Geiniman, like many of the collectors at the Token Kai, scours gun and sword shows and flea markets to find unwanted treasures. He recently found a badly rusted blade at a flea market which will cost $3,500 to professionally polish, plus hundreds of dollars to replace the handle and tsuba, or crossguard.

Collecting is risky — sometimes what looks like a diamond in the rough turns out to be a cracked blade.

“Sometimes we only pay a little, and sell them for a lot,” Geiniman said. “Sometimes, we pay a lot and have to sell them for a little.”

Mark Jones started collecting Japanese swords 15 years ago after “catching the bug,” he said. He sells the decorative crossguards, to support his sword-collecting habit; he gets so attached to most of the blades he can’t bear to sell them.

To the Japanese, a sword must be at least 400 years old to be considered “koto,” or old. Swords made between 1600 and 1800 are “shinto,” or new; swords made after 1800 are “shin-shinto” — very new.

Most of the collectors who come to the Burlingame Token Kai each year are Westerners attracted to the history, workmanship and mystique of the weapons, Jones said. At the same time, hobbyists are drawn to all sorts of inscrutable items.

“Some people collect Pez dispensers,” Jones shrugged.

This article originally appeared in the San Mateo Daily News.

Written by Beth Winegarner

August 22, 2005 at 9:17 PM

Posted in Burlingame