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Archive for the ‘San Mateo’ Category

Family painted as criminally disruptive as hearing begins

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
December 12, 2006

Olaiha Fonua Sr.’s San Mateo home was not only ground zero for loud parties that bothered neighbors, but it also served as a “safe house” for criminal and gang activity, according to opening statements in San Mateo County Superior Court Monday.

Attorney Lance Bayer is representing the City of San Mateo in its effort to evict Fonua and up to 50 others for one year from a house at 107 North Grant St. — a last-ditch effort by the city to curb what police say are ongoing problems at the home. Neither Fonua nor any of the members of his extended family were present in the courtroom as Bayer called witnesses to the stand.

Among those witnesses was San Mateo Police Lt. Alan Parisian, who ran the police department’s street-crimes team in 2004 and has led the city’s effort to gather evidence against the house’s residents.

Parisian described loud parties in front of the house that could be heard up to a block away, and showed photos from MySpace in which members of the household stood in front of the house and made hand signs allegedly associated with the West Side Tongans gang. He also described short-term visits he said were consistent with narcotics sales.

“We’re dealing with a nuisance that stems from the property owner allowing this to be a party house in the worst sense,” Bayer said.

Attorney John Hartford, representing the Fonuas, has consistently declined to comment on the case, as have the Fonuas.

One of Bayer’s witnesses, Tyrone Gadson, described an encounter in February 2004 with a crowd gathered in front of the house in which he was chased down the block and shot in the side.

Two residents of the house, Jared Fonua and John Tonga, were arrested for Gadson’s shooting; Tonga was convicted of attempted murder, while Fonua was acquitted.

“The family feels that it can rule that area of San Mateo,” Gadson said. “I have friends who have been threatened, but I’m the only one who will not let someone push me off the block where I was raised.”

The court trial is expected to continue through Thursday or Friday, and will be decided by San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Beth Freeman rather than a jury.

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

December 12, 2006 at 9:40 PM

Posted in Courts, Crime, San Mateo

City’s case against Fonua family heads to trial

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
December 8, 2006

A court trial begins Monday in the city’s bid to oust a Tongan patriarch and his family from their North Grant Street home after family members were accused of “terrorizing” their neighbors and local police.

The City of San Mateo is seeking an injunction that would displace owner Olaiha Fonua Sr. and up to 50 people affiliated with his household for a year, and would require court approval before Fonua could lease or sell the single-family home at 107 N. Grant St., according to Lance Bayer, the attorney representing the city’s case. The move follows several years of ongoing reports of problems at the house, including large numbers of people living there and recurring problems with noise, trash and obscenities near the house, according to court documents filed by the city.

“The area was being terrorized, and they had neighbors … who wanted something to happen, but couldn’t come forward, out of fear,” according to Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe. Wagstaffe said some members of the family had lengthy rap sheets.

Some residents living near the house said the neighborhood has enjoyed a relative measure of peace since six members of the Fonua family have been arrested in recent years. Some are serving prison sentences for violations ranging from cocaine sales to attempted murder.

“It’s been quiet,” said Margie Perez, who has lived in an apartment across the street from the Fonuas for the past two years. “They stay on the property. They have friends over, but those don’t stay too long.”

Members of the family contacted Thursday declined to comment on the impending trial. Their lawyer, San Francisco-based John Hartford, did not return calls for comment.

When the trial begins Monday, Bayer expects to call a number of witnesses, particularly those from the San Mateo Police Department, who will provide evidence of the Fonuas’ alleged public nuisance activities.

“We expect to present evidence … based on the types of conduct, which involve violent behavior and quality-of-life concerns affecting the neighborhood andthe community,” Bayer said. The trial is expected to continue through the week.

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

December 8, 2006 at 9:35 PM

Posted in Courts, Crime, San Mateo

City to commemorate bridges

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
November 8, 2006

San Mateo — Four 103-year-old train bridges that fostered some of the city’s busiest neighborhoods and withstood two major earthquakes will soon be replaced, prompting questions about how the hard-working structures should be commemorated.

These bridges elevate the Caltrain corridor above East Poplar Avenue, Santa Inez Avenue, Monte Diablo Avenue and Tilton Avenue in San Mateo’s North Central neighborhood. All four have deteriorated with time and regular use — and many are too low to accommodate tall commercial trucks — prompting a $40 million Caltrain plan to replace them between July 2007 and July 2008.

The city’s Public Works Commission will examine three ways to memorialize the bridges in a workshop Wednesday. The options include submitting photos, architectural drawings and a narrative to the National Register of Historic Places and similar organizations; offering artifacts to the California State and Golden Gate Railroad museums; and installing informational plaques or displays at the sites or on structures nearby.

“There’s no architectural beauty to them, but they’re interesting,” said Mitch Postel, head of the San Mateo County Museum, which surveyed the bridges in 1989.

The American Bridge Company of New York built the bridges in 1903, 40 years after the tracks were laid, to keep cars safe from passing trains and connect new residents living on either side of the tracks. Within five years, new neighborhoods near those bridges were bursting with homes, according to Postel.

Although such bridges were common at the time, very few were built in San Francisco or on the Peninsula, Postel said.

Caltrain’s bridge-replacement plan includes raising the tracks and bridges so that trucks could pass underneath them, modifying the roads and constructing retaining walls to protect the embankments. Designs for the project are 20 percent complete, so it’s unclear what the new structures will look like, according to acting Deputy Public Works Director Susanna Chan.

“These bridges are part of the historic fabric,” said Bertha Sanchez, a city planning commissioner who lives in the North Central neighborhood. “Whatever they could do to make them safe while at the same time keeping them historic would be best.”

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

November 8, 2006 at 2:21 AM

Posted in History, San Mateo

Science building air investigated

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
October 6, 2006

SAN MATEO — The College of San Mateo’s brand-new science building has had its ventilation system re-tuned, its interiors washed and its air filtered following a complaint filed by six faculty members who said they developed respiratory problems after moving into the building in July.

Experts upgraded the software controlling the building’s heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system three weeks ago and crews completed an industrial cleaning of the building Thursday, according to facilities director Diane Martinez. Cleaners filtered the building of particulate matter after investigators found dust composed of cellulose in two classrooms, according to Bob Kuykendall of the Denali Group.

“We collected some surface samples, and the preliminary report says the materials are … like paper fibers,” Kuykendall said. “We’re going to take some additional samples from the ceiling tile — we think this is where it came from.”

Cellulose is not harmful to humans, and the fibers were too large to cause respiratory problems, according to Kuykendall.

Both the HVAC recalibration and the industrial cleaning were prompted by faculty requests, according to Barbara Christensen, spokeswoman for the San Mateo County Community College District.

“Some of the issues at CSM appear to be related to the HVAC system in the new building,” Christensen said. “We are doing an industrial cleaning of the building because faculty believe that it had not been cleaned properly.”

The California Occupational Safety and Health Administration is still wrapping up its investigation of the building, according to associate industrial hygienist Paul Guiriba.

“We have tested the air quality, and now we’re waiting for it to come back from the laboratory to see what we have,” Guiriba said. He could not estimate when the report would be complete.

OSHA is also performing a separate investigation at Skyline College, where three faculty members working in the same building said they developed tumors, according Christensen. Representatives with that investigation could not be reached for comment Thursday.

CSM’s $28.3 million, 58,000-square-foot science building, which opened to students in late August, was paid for by the $207 million Measure C construction bond. It replaced the college’s original science headquarters, built in the 1960s.

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

October 6, 2006 at 9:08 PM

City to continue citing day laborers

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
October 2, 2006

SAN MATEO — City officials are reviewing an enforcement strategy that has seen some tickets against day laborers dismissed by juries, but police say the stings have been effective and will continue for now.

Some laborers have successfully fought their tickets after an undercover police officer impersonated a potential employer, according to defense attorney Tanya O’Malley. In one such case, pursued by laborer Ramirez Lopez Sofonias, the ticket was dismissed Aug. 29 by a jury that found such practices constituted entrapment. The city attorney’s office dismissed the ticket of another worker cited in the same sting, according to City Attorney Shawn Mason.

San Mateo’s parking ordinance makes it a crime to park a vehicle in the middle of the street. Many employers who stop to pick up day laborers do not pull over. In order to discourage loitering, police have issued citations and fines since 2003 to laborers who pick up work in this fashion, according to San Mateo Police Department Capt. Mike Callaghy.

“I think they’re all entrapment,” O’Malley said. “I think [the city] knows a lot of these individuals aren’t going to take them to trial — laborers just want to pay the fine, but it’s important to fight it.”

In three other cases, two workers did not want to proceed to a jury trial like Sofonias did, and a third did not turn up for his court date, according to O’Malley.

San Mateo does not plan to appeal those decisions, according to Mason, who said his office continues to examine the claims of other laborers fighting their citations. The city is also re-examining its enforcement strategy.

“We are discussing and meeting to determine if the appropriate enforcement strategy is going forward,” Mason said.

Meanwhile, city police say the sting program is working well to keep laborers off the streets and out of danger, according to Callagy.

“These are clear-cut violations,” Callagy said. “We were seeing people running out into the street to try and get a job, and without our presence, there would probably be a lot more people on the street and a lot more people running into traffic trying to get jobs.”

San Mateo and Samaritan House launched a day-labor center in 2003 shortly before police stepped up enforcement among laborers on the streets. That center currently sees 100 to 200 laborers per day, according to Kitty Lopez, executive director of Samaritan House.

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

October 2, 2006 at 10:15 PM

Groups seize 200 animals from pet store

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
August 29, 2006

The doors remained open at Laurelwood Pets on Tuesday, but there weren’t any pets, after the Peninsula Humane Society and Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals seized 200 animals that were allegedly being kept in unclean and unhealthy conditions.

The animals seized Friday, mostly fish, birds, rodents and rabbits, were allegedly found living in soiled cages, eating from food dishes containing feces and living in fish tanks without enough water, according to PHS/SPCA lead investigator Debi DeNardi. This isn’t the first charge for co-owner Mohammed Olfat, who served 14 days in jail after pleading guilty in March to charges that he mistreated and sold sick cats and dogs.

Olfat, who would not comment on the situation Tuesday, could now face up to 90 days in jail for the latest charges, DeNardi said. His wife, Farzaneh Bique, recently assumed ownership of the pet store and was also cited during Friday’s raid.

Pet owners began calling the PHS/SPCA about Laurelwood Pets in 2003.

“They’d buy a cat and [soon after], it’s dead. He was selling these sick dogs and cats, and people were spending thousands of dollars treating them,” DeNardi said. Olfat was placed on probation and told he could only sell small animals, not dogs or cats.

Employees at neighboring businesses in the Laurelwood Shopping Center, such as Town & Country Cleaners, Jamba Juice and a liquor store, said they were not aware of any wrongdoing at the pet store, but never shopped there. Georgette Sarles, president of the Laurelwood Homeowners Association, said she avoids the store.

“He’s kind of abusive, even to customers,” Sarles said. “He’s not too well-liked.”

The PHS/SPCA, which also provides animal control services for the county under contract, has performed a number of recent animal seizures, including 50 goats at a Portola Valley farm on Saturday, 11 farm animals from Triple Springs Ranch in Half Moon Bay on July 27 and 80 rabbits from a South San Francisco home in June, according to DeNardi.

Those raids are part of a recent return to investigations of animal cruelty, according to PHS/SPCA Director Ken White.

“Before I got here [my predecessor] ordered the organization to move away from cruelty investigations because there was a financial conflict with the county,” White said. “That seemed so amazingly wrong.”

The program is now funded entirely through donations.

Statewide, there is increased interest in the well-being of animals housed in pet stores. This week, the state Senate considered a bill that would create stricter rules about how rodents and other small creatures should be cared for by store employees.

Laurelwood Pets’ animals are doing well, and should be available for adoption in 14 days, according to DeNardi. A court hearing for Olfat and Bique will be set through the San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office.

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

August 29, 2006 at 10:26 PM

Memorial to mark anniversary of family’s grisly murder-suicide

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
August 16, 2006

One year after his close friend Tessa Richards’ murder, one thing still confuses 13-year-old Matthew Girouard: why her father killed her.

To this day, he longs to see her at school, misses her frequent jokes and wishes she were still rollerblading around the neighborhood.

“She was a good person,” Matthew said.

Friday marks the anniversary of the day that Anthony James Richards, 53, telephoned the San Mateo Police Department to report the murders of his daughters, Tessa, 13, Alexa, 17, and his wife, Nicole Marie Richards, 54, before turning a gun on himself. Tonight, friends and family will gather in memory of the Richards family’s lives.

“I wake up and they’re on my minds every day,” said Matthew’s mother, Carrie Girouard, a longtime friend and neighbor of the Richards clan. “It’s still so confusing — nobody will ever know why anybody would do that.”

After smothering his daughters, bludgeoning his wife and stacking their bodies in a backyard freezer behind their Maxine Avenue home, Anthony Richards wrote a note explaining that mounting financial pressures led him to kill his family, according to San Mateo police Capt. Mike Callagy, who led the investigation into their deaths. The event deeply shook neighbors, many of whom knew the Richards clan through church, youth sports and community groups like the Police Activities League.

“This was the ultimate tragic situation — a horrendous byproduct of domestic violence,” Callagy said. “The seemingly perfect family that seemed together on the outside was ripped apart on the inside.”

Their deaths have sent ripples through the community as friends and acquaintances struggled to make sense of the incident and move forward.

Officials at Bayside Middle School created a memorial garden in honor of Tessa, who would have entered eighth grade there this year. The Police Activities League collects donations in her memory that are used to help kids pursue her favorite sports — judo and deep-sea fishing, according to San Mateo police Sgt. Tim Sullivan.

Meanwhile, Alexa Richards’ MySpace page has turned into a virtual memorial, where friends continue to leave comments for the popular teen and swim-team member.

“It hurts alot, but I just try to remember all the good times,” one wrote.

Neighbors have also learned a hard lesson about isolation.

“It’s brought our little neighborhood closer. We’re always checking up on each other now,” Girouard said.

The Richards family memorial takes place tonight at 6:30 p.m. at 361 Belmont Ave. in Redwood City.

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

August 16, 2006 at 10:23 PM

Posted in Crime, San Mateo