Smartphone Theft Bill Fails to Pass Senate (Update)

Update, 2:34 p.m.: State Senator Mark Leno discusses the vote with SF Weekly.

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A bill requiring tech companies to install mandatory kill-switches in smartphones and tablets -- which would disable the devices if they are stolen -- fell two votes shy of passing in the Senate today.

State Senator Mark Leno and District Attorney George Gascon say they may try resurrecting the bill later. Smartphone theft doubled nationwide in the past year, which lends credence to Leno and Gascon's claim that it's a global epidemic.

See also: Smartphone theft is a multi-billion dollar industry.

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Prop. 13: No Easy Tweaks, No Matter How Well They Poll

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Second thoughts?
It's remarkable how giddy this state's more left-leaning voters -- and that'd be most of us -- get whenever even the most tepid announcement is made about rejiggering Proposition 13. 

The 1975 ballot initiative, which froze property tax rates at that year's level and only reassesses them upon sale or transfer of a structure, is a prime example of the law of unintended consequences. The state's school system was eviscerated and our roads have been left to fend for themselves. Students can't read well enough to decipher signs warning of crater-sized potholes. It's not a good look here in the Golden State. 

But, in yet another Waiting for Godot moment, those hoping to do away with the iniquitous law were pleased by a recent poll showing major support for tweaking Prop. 13. The vast majority of respondents would favor reassessing business properties upon sale or transfer akin to residential properties. 

There's a problem here, however. It's damn near impossible to keep track of this if the business involved doesn't want you to. And, oftentimes, they don't. 

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Muni Instructs Employees How to Contact Whistle-Blower Program Following SF Weekly Story on Muni Whistle-Blower

Categories: Government
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The current edition of SF Weekly tells the tale of LaVonda Atkinson, the cost engineer for the Central Subway project who blew the whistle on "unprofessional, unethical and inaccurate" accounting practices.

"Your article," she told us, "is gonna get me fired."

Well, not so fast.

This morning Muni HR director Donald Ellison sent an e-mail to "All Staff." Its subject line: "Whistleblower Program."

Ellison's e-mail was brief: "Please see the attached memo for more information regarding the Office of the Controller's Whistleblower program."

Our message for Ellison hasn't been returned, but sources within Muni say this is no coincidence -- and it's a positive sign that Atkinson's next career move may be of her choosing after all.

See Also: How the Central Subway project buries millions in a deep, dark place


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Being "Willfully Annoying" Remains Legal in San Francisco. Sigh.

Categories: Government
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The law is not always pretty
San Francisco is, in its way, the sieve atop life's drain. Every manner of desperate person seems to come through here while their life swirls downward; the city is, all too often, a way station for oblivion. 

And so, the news broke this week that Bad Elmo is, once again, roaming our streets and annoying our denizens. Dan "Adam" Sandler is a puzzling man who dons a red, fuzzy outfit and fulminates against the Jews. His resume includes running a porn site in Cambodia titled "Welcome to the Rape Camp" that led to his deportation from that nation. Later he was found guilty of attempting to extort $2 million from the Girl Scouts. 

And yet, here he is, back in our fair city and fund-raising, so to speak. 

Perhaps they come here -- and not burgs like Grand Rapids, Mich. -- because we're so much more welcoming. After all, that Midwestern town only this month rescinded a 38-year-old law stating "no person shall willfully annoy another person."

A law on the books like that would have reduced San Francisco to a penal colony. 


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"Handshake Deal": Ed Reiskin, Muni, Fight Losing Battle With Dictionary

Categories: Government, Media
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Blake Ritterman
Coach No. 8706 cruises through Wyoming on Oct. 17, weeks before the contract for it to be built is signed
For years, it turns out Muni officials were fighting a losing battle with Merriam-Webster with regards to the term "on time." Through a series of Kafkaesque tweaks deviating significantly from any sense of time, space, transit, or reality, the agency devised a malleable definition of timeliness that allowed it to, for a decade, inflate its performance by up to 25 percent.

This worked out well for Muni. It did not work out so well for its riders. That's how applying semantic solutions to real problems tends to go. 

And so, today, Muni boss Ed Reiskin took to the pages of the Examiner to claim it's just not so that the transit agency has been engaging in "handshake deals" -- and, whatever it did, it did it for your benefit. 

This is, once again, a semantic dodge -- and a dubious one at that. Your humble narrator in January wrote an SF Weekly cover story exposing that Muni and the bus manufacturer New Flyer came to some manner of agreement for 50 hybrid buses worth $38.3 million to be manufactured, transported to the Bay Area, and squirreled away in clandestine locations. This was done without the Board of Supervisors approving a contract or -- most importantly -- approving the expense. It was, per Muni, understood that 100 percent of the risks of this undertaking were assumed by the manufacturer. And, when we requested, repeatedly, for the paperwork underpinning this deal, we were told there wasn't any -- and there was no "deal." 

But, per Reiskin, characterizing this as a handshake agreement "simply is not true."  


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Waterfront War: Scott Wiener's "Impartial" Resolution Shunted to Committee

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Developers' future conundrum?
esterday, SF Weekly reported
that a trove of e-mails and text messages reveal Supervisor Scott Wiener's resolution calling for additional analysis of the "Waterfront Height Limit Right-to-Vote Act" was proposed and initially drafted by foes of the measure, who were then deployed by Wiener to lobby his colleagues on behalf of his resolution. 

"Colleagues, I know you know: It has become a bit of a thing here in City Hall," Wiener moments ago told his fellow supes prior to a vote that never came. "The proponents of the ballot measure have been advocating intensely this resolution not be adopted. I have to say, I find it odd that anyone, whether you're supporting or opposing a ballot measure, would object to the public receiving more information about that ballot measure." 

Knowing he could not receive the requisite unanimous vote to advance this resolution, Wiener withdrew it. The legislation was shunted to Rules Committee for a possible March 20 meeting. Wiener had hoped to send it to the Land Use Committee -- which he chairs -- but that motion was defeated, 7-4. The supes voted 8-3 to move the item to Rules. 



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Muni Hearing: Supes Address Allegations Made in SF Weekly Cover Story

Categories: Government
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Blake Ritterman
Coach No. 8706 cruises through Wyoming on Oct. 17, weeks before the contract for it to be built is signed
Last month, SF Weekly revealed a bizarre, handshake agreement between Muni and bus manufacturer New Flyer to construct and deliver 50 hybrids to the Bay Area before the Board of Supervisors signed off on the deal. 

As a result, an internal Muni competition between hybrid drives crafted by BAE or Allison was nixed. All 50 buses were outfitted with BAE components -- the same systems already within Muni's notoriously underperforming hybrid fleet.

Today, Muni transit director John Haley addressed these matters at a hearing called by Supervisor David Campos. In essence, Muni's position was, A. Yeah, we did that, and; B. It's okay. 

Statements made by Campos and Supervisor David Chiu could be essentially boiled down to "it's not okay." 

This came despite a cheery Muni PowerPoint attempting to make the case just how okay everything is


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San Francisco Uses Valentine's Day to Draw Attention to Sexual Abuse Against Women

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via V-Day
This Valentine's Day, San Francisco is hosting a seemingly a-typical Cupid event, yet one that's probably more compelling than any Hallmark bouquet you might get.

For the second year in a row, city leaders will welcome "One Billion Rising for Justice Day," a global campaign spanning 207 countries that raises awareness of domestic and sexual abuse against women. One Billion Rising began in 2013 in response to the alarming statistic that one in three women throughout the world will experience sexual or domestic abuse in their lives. The campaign invites survivors of abuse and their allies to join in solidarity to fight against the oppression and humiliation inflicted upon victims.

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SantaCon: Busted "SF Santa" Says He's Going to Court

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Busted by the man
December's annual "SantaCon" gathering of red-suited inebriates leaving remnants of yesterday's egg nog throughout town has, for better or worse, become a city tradition. 

City workers aren't exactly thrilled to deal with the lumps of worse-than-coal left behind. You'd think large amounts of water would be welcome. But, on Dec. 14, that wasn't the case. A purported organizer of the Santa Saturnalia at Duboce Park -- "SF Santa" --  was cited for littering while attempting to unload a pickup truck-load of snow onto the grass. 

"Mrs. Claus" was cited for holding an event in the park without a permit. 

Justice, if not milk and cookies, awaits both via the legal system. "SF Santa" claims his day in court comes Jan. 27 

SF Weekly's letter to Santa received a response, which is more than most folks can say about missives to St. Nick. But he didn't leave anything under our tree: 


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Home Collapse: House "Remodeled" From 854-Square-Feet to 5,139-Square-Feet Crumbles

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Andrew J. Nilsen
In the midst of sextupling the size of a home at 125 Crown Terrace, it collapsed Monday -- angering opponents who predicted such an end.
Neighbors have, for years, argued that the definition of the term "remodel" was being stretched to the breaking point by a Twin Peaks home at 125 Crown Terrace: a "remodel" from 854-square-feet to 5,139-square-feet. 

It turns more was being strained than credulity and semantics.

At around 10:40 p.m. on Monday, portions of the "major alteration" job collapsed and tumbled down a steep hill from Crown Terrace onto Graystone Terrace below.  

This occurred on a temperate and dry evening. 

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Jim Herd
The aftermath
The home -- owned by influential developer and former Building Inspection Commission President Mel Murphy, now a Port Commissioner -- was the subject of a December 2012 SF Weekly cover story. That article examined the loopholes city builders use to essentially demolish small, affordable residences and "remodel" them into monster homes for huge profits. 

Following countless legal missives, conferences, and hearings before the Planning Commission and Board of Appeals, the city determined that this sextupling of a structure was a code-conforming "remodel," and not a "demolition." Demolishing affordable family housing is essentially verboten in this city. But a "major alteration" into a massive structure in no way resembling its former iteration is, demonstrably, permitted.  

"Well, it's a demolition now!" cracked attorney Stephen Williams, who represented several of Murphy's neighbors in a protracted legal battle. "This is exactly what we said was going to happen." 

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