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Archive for the ‘Redwood City’ Category

Beef could soon return to lunch menu

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by Beth Winegarner
Staff Writer
February 11, 2008

Schools could find out as soon as today whether beef is allowed back on student lunch menus following a national scare in which beef from cows linked to mad-cow disease could have entered the food supply.

The California Department of Education recommended Jan. 30 that schools avoid using all beef products from the Westland Meat Company after investigators from the U.S. Department ofAgriculture found that employees in a Westland slaughterhouse mistreated so-called “downer” cows, which are too sick to walk.

Although the USDA had no evidence that the cows — thought to be a potential source of mad cow disease — had entered the food supply, it and the CDE recommended the hold until investigators could rule out any contamination, said Phyllis Bramson-Paul, director of the nutrition services division of the CDE. “We should know a lot more [today].”

San Mateo County Office of Education leaders said they had no way of knowing how many local districts heeded the hold, but many districts individually removed all beef off menus, even products that didn’t come from Westland.

“Our nutrition director went through our products and found eight [packages] from Westland’s distributors,” said Joan Rosas, spokeswoman for the San Mateo-Foster City School District. “But she decided to put no beef on the menu until she heard clearance from the government.”

The Redwood City School District also removed all beef from school menus, substituting ground chicken for ground beef and making other lunchtime substitutions, said Raul Parungao, chief business official for the district.

Linda Carrozzi, director of nutrition services for the South San Francisco Unified School District, rejiggered menus in ways such as offering cheese pizza instead of pepperoni.

“Even though the word is Westland only, we like to make sure our kids are safe,” Parungao said.

By contrast, the San Francisco Unified School District kept beef on menus because its supplier, Preferred Meal Systems, knew for certain that its products did not come from Westland, said Dana Woldow, co-chair of the district’s nutrition and physical activity committee.

Although USDA investigators will release Westland findings today at the earliest, a Friday news conference offered some signs of hope.

“To date, there is no evidence to substantiate the allegations that downer cattle entered the food supply,” said Kenneth Peterson, assistant administrator in the Office of Field Operations at the USDA, at a news conference last Friday.

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

February 11, 2008 at 5:10 PM

OSHA fines company where 18-year-old employee fell into sulfuric acid

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
February 7, 2008

REDWOOD CITY — The circuit-board company where an 18-year-old employee drowned in a vat of sulfuric acid in September did not have adequate protection around its chemical vats, one of 17 health and safety violations, according to a report released Wednesday.

Fernando Gonzalez, 18, died at after slumping head-first into a vat containing sulfuric acid. His death kicked off a California Department of Occupational Safety and Health investigation, which found that the company did not install covers or guardrails on several chemical vats used in circuit-board production, according to a report from OSHA investigator Michael Frye.

The report also found that Coastal Circuits’ vats of sulfuric acid were 24 to 32 inches tall, far below the 36-inch state requirement. Gonzalez was not wearing safety glasses, a respirator or a smock when he died, although those items were available at the factory, Frye said.

Coastal Circuits has fixed eight of the violations and will remedy the remainder immediately, company spokesman Sam Singer said. The firm has until Feb. 18 to correct the problems and pay $3,800 in fines.

The company, where several of Gonzalez’s family members work, “is still emotionally scarred by Fernando’s death,” Singer said.

But the violations do not explain exactly what led Gonzalez to plunge into the vat before he drowned, OSHA spokeswoman Kate McGuire said. Redwood City police Sgt. Chris Cesena said he was working alone in the factory at the time he died.

“No one knows what really happened — we can only imagine,” McGuire said.

At the time of his death, police speculated that Gonzalez was overcome by fumes and passed out. No foul play was suspected, and police are no longer investigating the case, Cesena said.

“Measurements … indicated no concentrations of airborne contaminants that would have been high enough to cause a person to lose consciousness or become disoriented,” Frye said.

Other employees reported that there were times when ammonia fumes were irritating, the report said. However, high ammonia levels probably would have forced Gonzalez to leave the work area, Frye said.

The San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office is still investigating the incident to determine whether it will file any criminal or civil charges against Coastal Circuits, Assistant District Attorney Karen Guidotti said.

This story originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

February 7, 2008 at 8:32 PM

Cameras raise students’ eyebrows, ire

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
February 5, 2008

REDWOOD CITY — Students weren’t smiling when they found out they were on camera.

Woodside High School was the school district’s first foray into campuswide surveillance cameras, but it received failing remarks by students, who claimed they were not informed of the installations and feared they were being policed.

The school installed 15 cameras last summer, said Ed LaVigne, the Woodside High School District’s chief business official. The cameras monitor student and staff parking lots, sports fields and other areas of campus. Superintendent Pat Gemma said they are meant to keep students in line as well as track unwanted visitors on campus.

Principals at all five district schools — Woodside, Sequoia, Carlmont, Menlo-Atherton and Redwood — have been clamoring for cameras, LaVigne said. But when Gemma discussed the cameras with Woodside students recently, he learned that some resented being monitored — and the fact that they didn’t get a heads-up before the cameras were installed.

“The students would have liked to have known about this ahead of time, and we’ll make sure that happens [at other schools],” Gemma said. He also reassured them that the cameras are “to detect and deter [activity], not to catch and punish.”

Neither Gemma nor Woodside High Principal David Riley, who took over as interim head three weeks ago, knew how communication between the district and Woodside students broke down. Parents and administrators in the school were notified long before the cameras went in, said Brian Murphy, president of the Woodside Parent Teacher Student Association.

Riley plans to meet with teachers next week and push for an article in the high school’s newspaper to make sure students are aware they’re on camera.

“Our leadership knew this was coming, and it’s possible students were told,” Riley said. “We have announcements on the [public announcement] system every day and students still say they don’t know about things. Even if they heard it, they’ll hear it again.”

Despite student fears, no specific incident or rash of crimes at Woodside made it the first choice for cameras, LaVigne said. “It was just happenstance.”

“They’re there to memorialize any significant incidents or identify persons of interest,” said San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Mark Alcantara. “The fact a camera is there is a deterrent; it makes sure students will be on their best behavior.”

Cameras have successfully reduced vandalism and bullying on about a dozen district school buses, where they have also been installed, LaVigne said. They will be added to the Carlmont, Sequoia, Menlo-Atherton and Redwood high school campuses by the end of the summer at a cost of almost $80,000 per campus.

This story originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

February 5, 2008 at 8:36 PM

Tanker crash caused traffic mayhem, headaches

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
January 31, 2008

REDWOOD CITY — The region’s commuters fought tooth and nail to get home Tuesday following the tanker crash that closed U.S. Highway 101 in both directions during rush hour.

For most, the commute home from Sunnyvale or Mountain View that normally takes an hour stretched to nearly three hours as they inched along the highway, dodged around the crash site and hunted for alternative ways home.

Intel employee Elizabeth Mason left San Jose to pick up her kids at 4:35 p.m., and it took her more than 90 minutes to get to the Woodside Road exit. By then the day care center was closed, and it took several phone calls to find someone who wouldn’t also get stuck in traffic trying to pick up the children.

Those who left work later in the evening didn’t fare much better.

Ted Prodromou left his job at Google at 7 p.m. and was snared in northbound traffic. After exiting Highway 101 at Woodside Road, he inched up El Camino Real and got back on the freeway in San Mateo.

“I got home at 9:30, exhausted and with a headache,” Prodromou said. “I kept rolling down my windows to get fresh air, but the air smelled so bad [like chemicals].”

Chris Neil, a division vice president for Maxim Integrated products in Sunnyvale, left work at 7:45 p.m., and knew something was wrong when he hit traffic a half-hour later.

“I could see the sign up ahead telling everyone to get off the road at Woodside,” Neil said. He trekked up to Interstate Highway 280, but it still took him 2½ hours to make it home to San Francisco.

Throughout the night, the California Highway Patrol worked with local police to control the mayhem. By 6:45 p.m., police were running out of emergency flares — used to close onramps and offramps — and were asking for cones, according to the CHP incident log. A number of cars broke down by the side of the highway, according to those reports.

“One poor guy ran out of gas, and was pushing his car,” Mason said.

This story originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

January 31, 2008 at 8:44 PM

Redwood City teen found dead on tracks

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
January 9, 2008

REDWOOD CITY — A local teenager with a history of running away from home was found dead on the Caltrain tracks just north of Whipple Avenue on Monday night.

The victim was identified as 17-year-old Jose Luis Flores by San Mateo County Coroner Robert Foucrault. Flores is the first to die on the rail corridor in 2008.

There were eight deaths — including six suicides and two accidental deaths — on Caltrain tracks in 2007, SamTrans spokesman Jonah Weinberg said.

The San Mateo County Transit District first became aware of Flores’ death approximately 8:15 p.m. Monday night when a train conductor noticed what he thought might be human remains on the tracks, Weinberg said.

“Upon examination, it looked like he might have been hit by a train that went through there at 7:25 p.m.,” Weinberg said. Three other trains passed through the area between the time Flores was most likely struck and the discovery of his body, he said.

The tracks were closed in both directions until 10:30 p.m. to allow coroner’s officials and transit police to collect Flores’ remains and gather evidence, Weinberg said. The cause of death is under investigation.

Family members last saw Flores at their Rolison Road home at approximately 6:20 p.m. Monday, said his cousin, Monica Ibarra.

“He was having problems, since his brother [Ignacio] left to Iraq for the war.” Ibarra said, “Jose has been worried.”

Flores’ disappearance Monday evening was not his first. The teen was reported missing July 23, 2007, and was found safe four days later, on July 27, according to reports from the Redwood City Police Department.

In a prior disappearance — precipitated by Ignacio’s deployment to Iraq, family members said — Flores was later found at Moffett Field in San Jose. He hadalso threatened to kill himself in the past, said Redwood City Sgt. Steve Blanc.

At the time, Blanc told media outlets that Flores had been diagnosed as psychotic, was not taking his medication and might have been using illegal drugs to self-medicate.

Ibarra described Flores as “just like any other teenager,” and said her family was not ready to talk about the death.

Little is known about Flores’ school history. He was a special-education student at Kennedy Middle School in Redwood City, and he attended Menlo-Atherton High School for a time, said Pat Gemma, superintendent in the Sequoia High School District. However, district officials did not know which school he was attending at the time of his death.

Flores’ body was found not far from where another teen, 19-year-old Jose Alvarez, of Hayward, was killed while crossing the Caltrain tracks on April 6, 2006.

This story originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

January 9, 2008 at 8:48 PM

Marina housing project OK’d

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
December 19, 2007

A scaled-down version of one of the most controversial projects in city history won unanimous support from city leaders, but groundbreaking could be a year or more away.

Peninsula Park, the project formerly known as Marina Shores Village — the high-rise residential project overturned by voters in 2004 — includes a plan to build 796 townhouses, 10,000 square feet of retail space and a 200-room hotel on Peninsula Marina, near Pete’s Harbor.

The Redwood City Council on Monday unanimously approved an environmental study of the project’s potential impacts, zoning changes that would allow residences to be built on the site and an agreement with developer Glenborough-Pauls that would ensure that the company provides its fair share for roadway and school improvements and builds 40 affordable units within the site.

“We’re pleased we’ve gotten as far as we have, but we have a long ways to go,” said Glenborough-Pauls partner Paul Powers. Now, Powers must obtain federal and state permits to build on Peninsula Marina, which is a federal and state waterway. The permit-securing process could take another year, said Redwood City planner Blake Lyon.

If all those permits go through, construction could begin in 2009 and build-out could take 10 to 15 years, depending on the housing market, Lyon said.

The Friends of Redwood City, the resident group that fostered the referendum against Marina Shores Village, criticized the project’s plan in 2004 for 1,930 residential units in 17 towers up to 240 feet tall. Leaders of the group say Peninsula Park is a better plan, but maintain that it’s still too far from public transit.

“It’s a step in the right direction, but we shouldn’t have housing in an isolated spot like that,” said resident Ralph Nobles.

Powers sees the project as an opportunity to bring more housing closer to the 52,000 jobs in Redwood City. Right now, 43,000 of those are held by people who live outside the area, he said.

“The jobs/housing imbalance is a real problem on the Peninsula, and we will reduce vehicle-miles traveled and carbon dioxide dramatically if we place housing in close proximity to existing jobs,” Powers said.

As Peninsula Park is built, the first preference for home sales will be given to buyers who live within four miles of the marina and who agree to commute via public transit four days a week or who have no commute, Powers said. The developers will also provide a shuttle to the downtown Redwood City Caltrain station.

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

December 19, 2007 at 10:22 PM

Rogue removed from Redwood City Port

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
November 29, 2007

A shipping facility at the Port of Redwood City once operated by a scofflaw hazardous-waste handler is being taken over by another firm with a clean track record in Northern California.

Clean Harbors, a Massachusetts-based waste handler, is taking charge at the port and at an East Palo Alto facility, both of which were operated by Romic Environmental Solutions. Romic shut down last summer after the California Department of Toxic Substances Control found it had violated numerous waste-storage laws and caused serious injury to an employee at its East Palo Alto facility.

The Redwood City facility is one of two hazardous-waste rail-transfer sites in California. Clean Harbors is seeking unrestricted permits from the DTSC to continue transferring fuels at the site.

Until this year, Romic was using the 1-acre port facility to take in fuel waste from its 14-acre East Palo Alto storage facility and ship it by railway to industrial companies in the Bay Area that use it to fuel cement production, said Patti Barni, acting chief of enforcement for DTSC’s Northern California operations. Clean Harbors hopes to ship fuel from its San Jose plant to those same customers, spokesman Bill Geary said.

“Our track record is good, which is not to say there haven’t been violations along the way,” Geary said. “We are the largest company in North America handling hazardous waste … and we acquire, upgrade substantially and in some cases may close facilities.”

Clean Harbors has operated sites in California for roughly five years. The firm has violated DTSC rules related to shipping documents at a site in Los Angeles in 2004, but does not have any violations in Northern California, Barni said.

In addition to problems at its East Palo Alto waste-storage site, Romic also violated DTSC rules at its Redwood City facility, including accepting waste shipments in unauthorized trucks, sending waste without proper documentation, and not repairing or reporting a storage tank that had cracks and gaps in its outer layer, Barni said.

Because of Romic’s violations, the DTSC placed restrictions on Romic in May, saying that waste containers larger than 85 gallons can’t be stored on the East Palo Alto site, and that no more than 60,550 gallons of waste fuel can be kept at the port.

For now, Clean Harbors must operate under those restrictions. The DTSC is taking public comment on the company’s permit application through Tuesday, DTSC spokeswoman Carol Northrup said.

“This site is next to the Bay, so it’s even more critical that they keep [their permits and inspections] up to date,” Northrup said.

Clean Harbors by the numbers

» Founded: 1980

» Headquarters: Norwell, Mass.

» Waste-management facilities: 49

» Customers: 45,000

» Fortune 500 customers: 325

» Number of states where it operates: 36, plus Canada, Mexico and Puerto Rico

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

November 29, 2007 at 10:30 PM