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Archive for the ‘San Carlos’ Category

Solving crime with a skeleton police force

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
February 16, 2008

SAN CARLOS — When it comes to solving crimes, this sleepy Peninsula city knows a thing or two about getting more done with less.

San Carlos spends less on police services per capita than similar cities in San Mateo County and has fewer officers to go around, but its ability to find and arrest suspects hasn’t suffered. In 2005, local police cleared 55 percent of its 31 violent crimes, 21 percent of its 105 burglaries and 11.7 percent of its 419 larcenies, according to U.S. Department of Justice numbers from 2005.

Cities such as Burlingame, Belmont and Foster City spent more money on police services and employed more officers, but didn’t match San Carlos’ clearance rate — which refers to any time investigators arrest a suspect or issue an arrest warrant, according to San Carlos police Chief Greg Rothaus.

So what’s San Carlos’ secret to success? Officers spend 40 percent or more of their time out on patrol, Rothaus said.

“We’ve gained in efficiency from our dispatch merger with Menlo Park, and we’ve been using non-sworn personnel to handle some functions, including crime-scene processing,” Rothaus said. That gives the city’s 39 to 42 officers time to respond to the calls they get from the public and patrol the streets.

Knowing the community is key to solving crimes, according to Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe.

“If the citizenry feels comfortable talking, that gives officers avenues of travel,” Wagstaffe said. Sufficient staffing is also key.

“We’re down to 42 officers, whereas five to 10 years ago, we had 48 to 50,” Burlingame Police Department Cmdr. Mike Matteucci said.

Burlingame, which spends more on police and has more officers per capita than San Carlos, had similar success solving violent crimes in 2005 — 48 percent of 68 such crimes — but solved 9.7 percent of its 28 robberies and 3.4 percent of its 697 larcenies, according to the DOJ.

Policing Burlingame is complicated by the fact that it can have up to 5,000 additional residents in local hotels, and throngs of shoppers are drawn to the city’s downtown area, according to Matteucci.

This story originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

February 16, 2008 at 8:26 PM

Posted in Crime, San Carlos

Police arrest four on suspicion of prostitution in sting

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
February 14, 2008

SAN CARLOS — Police have arrested four women at local hotels on prostitution charges and are planning future stings to root out women who are offering sexual services for money.

San Carlos saw a rise in prostitution about six months ago when local police cracked down on sex workers in neighboring cities such as Redwood City, said police Chief Greg Rothaus. The suspects are typically women who advertise their services online and arrange to meet clients in hotels, police said.

Within that period of six months, San Carlos police have arrested La-Tisha Evans, 22, of Phoenix, Ariz., along with three other women who had prostitution-related arrest warrants from other Bay Area cities: Rebecca Howlett, 30, of Los Angeles; Janis Burkhardt, 29, of Hollywood; and Blossom Smith, 23, of Daly City, said San Carlos Police Sgt. Mark Robbins.

“They’re not visible on street corners anymore,” San Carlos police Cmdr. Rich Cinfio said. “We periodically check Craigslist to see if they’re listing San Carlos as a location and we check motels to see if there’s any specific activity.”

As part of its current crackdown, the police department is planning a decoy sting — though they couldn’t say when — in which undercover officers will meet with sex workers in the hopes of making further arrests, Cinfio said.

Such arrests can uncover a multitude of criminal activity, including narcotics, violence against the sex worker, or suspects who have warrants or who are on probation, Robbins said.

In Redwood City, keeping tabs on such activity is an ongoing priority, said Capt. Chris Cesena.

“It’s part of our everyday job — we average anywhere from two to four arrests per month,” typically at hotels along El Camino Real, Cesena said.

It’s unclear what impact, if any, the activity has on hotel business.

“Guests may feel there’s too much traffic [to the rooms], or there’s something going on in the room,” said a manager at the Homestead Studio Suites in San Carlos, who asked to remain anonymous. “I just tell them I’m going to call the cops, and they usually leave.”

Cesena points out that prostitution is less an epidemic and more of a constant enforcement issue. But modern technology doesn’t help, Robbins said.

“There’s a lot of stuff our society has created that helps them, from prepaid cell phones to Craigslist and UPS stores,” Robbins said. “It’s easier for people to become anonymous and still maintain contact.”

This story originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

February 14, 2008 at 8:19 PM

Posted in Crime, San Carlos

Grand jury critiques district

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
December 20, 2007

The high school district serving students between Belmont and Woodside violated its open-enrollment policies when it allowed nearly 2,300 students to matriculate at Carlmont High School last fall — in excessof the school’s 2,100-student capacity — according to the San Mateo County civil grand jury.

Rather than redistribute the additional students to other high schools in the Sequoia High School District, some of which are under capacity, the district spent $350,000 to hire three new teachers and one new administrator to handle the overload at the Belmont campus, according to a report from the grand jury released Wednesday.

“Everyone, including the principal, feels that Carlmont is overbooked,” district Superintendent Pat Gemma said.

Carlmont’s reputation as a good school, coupled with its proximity to San Carlos’ booming population of families with kids, has contributed to the school’s popularity, said Emily Sarver, president of the Carlmont Parent Teacher Student Association.

“Parents want their child to go to a local high school, and it’s closer than Sequoia High School,” Sarver said. “Kids want to go to the same school as their friends from middle school.”

Through open enrollment, the Sequoia High School District allows students to attend any of its four schools. In 2007-08, 200 to 250 students enrolled from outside Carlmont’s boundaries, which encompass San Carlos and Belmont.

While district leaders say they do not regret their decision to let Carlmont fill up, they are taking steps to bring the high school’s population down to 2,100 within a few years.

“I disagree that we’re not following our policy,” trustee Olivia Martinez said. “Carlmont is handling the number of students just fine.”

A new school-bond measure on the February 2008 ballot would raise money for more classroom space at Carlmont and a new charter high school in East Palo Alto, where many of Carlmont’s students live, according to Martinez.

In addition, other high schools — particularly Sequoia High School — are promoting their programs in order to draw the interest of potential students. Next year, Carlmont will only let in 80 students from outside the school’s boundaries.

“That way, in two to three years the school will be down to its established capacity,” Gemma said.

The grand jury recommended that the district re-examine its open-enrollment practices and make sure its policies are followed. However, such recommendations are not enforced, according to grand jury foreman Gerald Yaffee.

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

December 20, 2007 at 10:27 PM

Traffic-bound sea lion could be ill

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
December 12, 2007

A wayward juvenile sea lion who likely clambered out of a slough near San Carlos Airport and wandered into one of the city’s busiest intersections Tuesday may have been suffering from toxic-algae poisoning, an increasingly common problem among Bay Area marine life.

The pup made its way to Old County Road near Brittan Avenue before a keen-eyed local called the San Carlos Police Department at approximately 8:15 a.m. Police closed the intersection for 15 minutes while officers corralled the confused 100-pound critter in a kennel normally used for the department’s police dog, Cmdr. Rich Cinfio said.

“It was confused and frightened,” said Cinfio, who helped capture the sea lion. “It was feeling frisky, let’s put it that way — but with some coaxing, we got it into the kennel.”

Scientists at Sausalito’s Marine Mammal Center will give the sea lion a complete checkup sometime in the next 24 to 48 hours, said Jim Oswald, spokesman for the center. One of the things they’ll look for is whether the animal may be suffering from domoic acid poisoning, which can happen when sea animals ingest toxic red algae.

It’s too soon to tell, Oswald said, whether the sea lion in San Carlos was suffering from algae poisoning.

The Marine Mammal Center has been studying the effects of domoic acid in marine animals, particularly sea lions, since 1998, Oswald said. Red algae, when ingested by many mammals, acts as a neurotoxin that can cause acute or chronic health problems, including confusion, disorientation and even seizures.

“Sometimes you’ll see a sea lion on the beach, just shaking all over,” Oswald said. He encouraged locals to contact the center anytime they see a marine animal in distress.

The Marine Mammal Center rescues 50 to 60 sea lions per year in the Bay Area that turn out to be sick from domoic acid, Oswald said.

Despite the increases, Tuesday’s sea lion encounter was San Carlos’ first, Assistant City Manager Brian Moura said.

“After the salmon that swam up Pulgas Creek a few years ago, and this, we might be able to start our own Marine World,” Moura said.

This story originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

December 12, 2007 at 10:17 PM

Posted in animals, San Carlos

Local company rolls out new electric wheels

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
October 12, 2007

Tucked away in a warehouse on Industrial Road is the Peninsula’s newest electric-car showroom, where customers can test-drive and buy scooters, sedans and trucks made by Zap.

Local and regional leaders turned out Thursday to check out the pint-size, electric-powered vehicles, which retail for $10,000 to $12,000 and reach speeds of 45 miles per hour. In the next two to three years, Zap hopes to roll out faster, freeway-legal cars, including a family car, an SUV and a sports car co-designed by Lotus, called the Alias.

Zap isn’t the first electric-car company to land in San Carlos. Tesla Motors, whose high-end all-electric sports car is expected to enter production next year, opened its headquarters here in 2006.

“These companies know San Carlos is a good location, and friendly to green business and technology,” Assemblymember Ira Ruskin, D-Redwood City, said.

In recent months, San Carlos has helped its residents score discounts on solar panels for their homes and has seen the creation of San Carlos Green, a community task force devoted to environmentally friendly practices. Allied Waste, whose facility is in San Carlos, retrofitted its fleet of 225 garbage trucks to run on biodiesel rather than petroleum-based fuel.

“Everyone is looking for ways to green their business,” said Sheryl Pomerenk, president of the San Carlos Chamber of Commerce.

In addition, many are looking for ways to green their cities. Belmont leaders announced this week that they will seek an incentive program for residents who buy low-emission vehicles. Ruskin sponsored a bill this year that would offer rebates to car buyers who choose cleaner models and force those who buy high-emissions vehicles a surcharge — and hopes to return with the bill in 2008.

While all the good green-vehicle tech is good for the environment, it may also be good for San Carlos’ eastern side, which is slowly transforming from an industrial-only zone into one that offers everything from winemaking at Domenico Cellars to medical care when Palo Alto Medical Foundation builds its hospital later this decade. Some in the city would like to see Industrial Road become a “green” destination.

“The opening of this showroom highlights opportunities in San Carlos,” said Mayor Tom Davids. “We’ve expressed interest in bringing green business here, and as word gets out, I hope we will become a real focus point.”

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

October 12, 2007 at 10:44 PM

Posted in environment, San Carlos

Peninsula man fights seizure of antique one-armed bandits

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
August 13, 2007

The owner of a company that rents antique slot machines for parties and fundraisers will seek an injunction to retrieve more than 60 machines that were confiscated by the Department of Justice this month.

Stephen Squires has until Sept. 1 to file his appeal before the machines are destroyed, according to Marty Horan, special agent in charge of the Department of Justice’s division of gambling control.

The devices were seized from locations in San Carlos, San Mateo and South San Francisco on Aug. 2.

The California penal code forbids any use of slot machines, even by collectors who are using them in their own homes, according to Horan.

As long as those machines remain off-limits, 4S Casino Party Suppliers, located at 1449 Bayport Ave., is losing “tens and tens and tens of thousands of dollars,” Squires said.

Last month’s raid wasn’t the first time state officials confiscated machines from the business. The Department of Justice confiscated 10 of Squires’ machines in October 2006 after undercover agents went to an event where his slots were being used, and witnessed “people playing the machines in an illegal gambling fashion to earn credits or tokens for raffle prizes,” Horan said.

However, the 10 machines seized were not the 10 used at the event. A petition from attorney Richard Keyes in Redwood City, who represented Squiresin the case, allowed Squires to successfully regain his machines.

At that time, Squires was warned that if he continued to rent out the machines for events, the Department of Justice would confiscate all of them, according to Horan.

Keyes would not say whether Squires has retained his services a second time.

Squires doesn’t believe that what he’s doing — renting the machines to events at which people get free tokens to play — is against the law.

“Gambling means you wager something of value to win something of value,” he said. “Here, people are getting tokens for free, and maybe they get three matches and win a coffee mug.”

The San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office declined to file charges at the Department of Justice’s request in 2006, according to Horan. The department will spend the next 30 days gathering information to send to the DA’s office a second time.

Whether or not the District Attorney files charges, Squires’s slot machines would be destroyed after Sept. 1 unless he receives an injunction, according to Horan.

This story originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

August 13, 2007 at 10:02 PM

San Carlos vice mayor’s Tinseltown ride

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Beth Winegarner
San Francisco Examiner
May 1, 2007

Vice Mayor Brad Lewis had almost as many adventures producing Pixar’s new movie, “Ratatouille,” as the film’s four-legged star does in his journey from sewer-dwelling rat to French chef.

Now, after more than five years perfecting the ingredients for Pixar’s next film, Lewis is offering a sneak preview of “Ratatouille” at Pixar Studios in Emeryville on June 9. Proceeds will benefit the San Carlos Education Foundation, the San Carlos Parks and Recreation Foundation and the Riekes Center for Human Advancement. The event offers locals — who know Lewis through his work on the City Council, the Parks and Recreation Commission and with youth soccer — a peek into his moviemaking world.

Lewis clocked plenty of hours in the Pixar office, overseeing every detail on “Ratatouille,” which opens June 29. His production team also traveled to Paris to tour famous restaurants and sample the rat’s-eye view of the city (complete with tours of sewers and underground limestone caves). Lewis even interned for three days with Thomas Keller at The French Laundry in Yountville to give the film authenticity.

“People underestimate how difficult these films are to write — to come up with a 90-minute piece of entertainment that appeals to all ages. And when it works really well, it seems simple,” Lewis said.

Lewis, a San Mateo native, got his start as an actor, singer and dancer who pioneered computer-graphic segments for the Merv Griffin Show, ESPN and MTV. He also spent a year working as a dancing monster on “Sesame Street” before eventually taking a job at PDI/Dreamworks in the late 1980s, where he produced “Antz” in 1998.

Despite his star appeal, Lewis is best known in San Carlos for his contributions to the community.

“He and his wife, Regina, are such civic-minded people, and they care so much forSan Carlos,” said April Carlson, director of the San Carlos Education Foundation, which raises money to support San Carlos School District programs, including physical education and music.

Parks and Recreation Director Barry Weiss is thankful that some of the funds will go toward the city’s newly minted parks foundation.

“Brad is a real quality family man,” Weiss said. “He sees the greater good, and this is one way he can help.”

“Ratatouille” is Pixar’s ninth film. It follows on the successes of 2006’s “Cars” and 2005’s “The Incredibles,” which won an Oscar for Best Animated Feature and earned director Brad Bird, who also directed “Ratatouille,” a nomination for best screenplay.

This story originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

May 1, 2007 at 11:36 PM

Posted in San Carlos

Man attempts to sandbag ‘foreclosure tsunami’

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
March 14, 2007

One local businessman is kicking off an effort to rescue locals from losing their homes to foreclosure.

Walter Moeller, a San Carlos resident and businessman, took action after seeing the number of foreclosure warnings rise nearly 400 percent. Statewide, notices of default — those stern letters people receive from their mortgage lenders when they stop making their mortgage payments — rose 37 percent between the third and fourth quarters of 2006, according to DataQuick, and continue to rise, Moeller said.

In response, Moeller founded the Home Preservation Institute, whose mission is to identify homeowners who are behind on their payments and recruit local nonprofit organizations, grant funds and other resources to keep people from losing their homes.

In cases in which people can’t recover, the institute will make sure those homes wind up in the hands of nonprofits so that they can be renovated and sold to low- and moderate-income locals.

“I think many buyers were misled, and they went in with a half-percent of interest, and they’re shocked when it goes up,” Moeller said. “Now, the market has slowed down and the value of the home is less than what their loans are. People are under water.”

The increase in foreclosure rates is something local agencies, such as the Housing Leadership Council, are monitoring, according to Director Chris Mohr. People buying entry-level homes, or homes on the edge of their income level, are at the highest risk.

“Their ability to make the monthly payments may be conditioned on a low introductory rate and their ability to refinance later,” Mohr said. “That works well when the market is trending upward, but if appreciation falls it may be more than the household can afford.”

One problem may be that borrowers often see mortgage brokers as the badguy once they become unable to meet their payments. To that end, lenders are beginning to reach out more to homeowners and attempt to resolve payment problems before foreclosure happens, according to Dustin Hobbs, spokesman for the California Mortgage Bankers Association.

Despite those efforts, borrowers refuse to respond 60 percent of the time, according to Hobbs. Not only does that hurt homeowners, but it leaves lenders stuck with properties — not their area of expertise.

“We have lenders who say, ‘Let’s talk, let’s work something out.’ They’ve got an interest in making sure the borrower stays in the home,” Hobbs said. “No one wins in a foreclosure situation.”

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

March 14, 2007 at 10:41 PM

Posted in Housing, San Carlos

Town still reeling from Katrina

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
January 26, 2007

Residents, city officials and police in San Carlos’ adopted town of Pass Christian, Miss., are still living and working out of portable trailers 17 months after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast city, according to members of a recent local delegation.

To date, San Carlos officials, service organizations and schools have sent more than $125,000 in aid to the Gulf Coast city, as well as gifts and volunteers, but the need for help continues, officials said.

“What I saw was the need to rebuild — churches, civic buildings, schools, roadways and infrastructure. Their sewer lines are still above ground,” said San Carlos City Councilman Matt Grocott, who returned Tuesday night from a long weekend in Pass Christian. The Interstate 90 bridge is still out,and Wal-Mart, once a major source of tax revenue for the city, won’t return until it’s back, he said.

Cleanup alone took nearly 14 months. In the process, more than 1.5 million cubic yards — two football fields stacked 150 feet high — of debris was hauled away, said Pass Christian Alderman Lou Rizzardi, who hosted Grocott’s visit. Before Katrina, the city had 6,800 residents. Now, it has roughly 2,500.

In the months after Katrina, donations and unskilled volunteers poured into the city to help with cleanup. Now, what Pass Christian needs are skilled workers — people who can install sheetrock, electricity and ventilation systems — so that new buildings can be made to code, Grocott said.

Donations of money and gift cards, such as the Home Depot cards that helped residents purchase water heaters, are also helpful, according to Sheryl Pomerenk, chairwoman of the San Carlos Chamber of Commerce.

Back at home, the Peninsula Humane Society/SPCA recently found a home for the last of 66 pets it took in shortly after Katrina left thousands of animals stranded, according to director Ken White. Of those, only two were euthanized because they were too sick to survive — the rest were reunited with families or placed in new homes.

Garnering aid for hurricane victims a year and a half later is an ongoing challenge.

“In the American psyche, we don’t have a lot of attention span,” Rizzardi said.

However, Rizzardi added that it’s heartening for cities like San Carlos to adopt Pass Christian. “It’s good to know that folks will be willing to make the long-term commitment, because it will take years for us to come back.”

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

January 26, 2007 at 10:09 PM

Posted in San Carlos

Local firm designs electric car

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
June 12, 2006

Martin Eberhard is tired of having to choose between a car that’s fun and fast and one that’s easy on the environment. So he’s designing his own.

Eberhard is the CEO of San Carlos-based Tesla Motors, which has spent the past three years developing the first all-electric sports car. If everything goes according to plan, Tesla’s first models could hit the streets next summer.

His design is, in part, a reaction to the predominance of Priuses and other hybrids that still rely on petroleum — not to mention the reputation all-electric cars have for being slow and for running out of juice too quickly.

“I’m an electrical engineer. I know what an electric motor can do if you design it right. There’s no reason they have to be wimpy,” Eberhard said.

Eberhard is no stranger to technological innovation. He founded NuvoMedia, creator of the Rocket eBook, and made a healthy chunk of change when Gemstar/TV Guide International bought the company in 2000. Much of Tesla’s $60 million in venture capital comes from techie sources, including PayPal co-founder Elon Musk and Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin.

“It’s very clear to me that I’m not the only one who is interested in a car that’s fun and beautiful and environmentally friendly,” Eberhard said.

He hasn’t set a sticker price yet, but promises it will be neither outrageously expensive nor remarkably cheap.

Eberhard’s timing couldn’t be better. While Bay Area commuters watch in frustration as gas prices continue to rise, filmmaker Chris Paine is releasing a documentary called “Who Killed the Electric Car?” which documents GM’s recall of its immensely popular — and all-electric — EV1.

Meanwhile, officials from Redwood City-based CalCars recently returned from Washington, D.C., where they showed Congress how to force the Prius and other hybrid cars to operate in all-electric mode. Since 2002, CalCars has been selling kits that allow hybrid owners to “hack” their cars, according to spokesman John Davi.

“A plug-in hybrid is a nice mix,” Davi said. “It’s cheaper, cleaner and based on domestic energy sources, and it’s enough to power your commute.”

Although CalCars officials are happy to teach people how to change the settings on their hybrids, they are fighting to force car companies to make that option available in the showroom.

“Our whole goal is to get auto makers to sell these. We don’t want to sell conversions forever,” Devi said.

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

June 12, 2006 at 9:57 PM

Posted in San Carlos