In the News in San Francisco: 2007

"An informed citizenry is the only true repository of the public will."

                                                                                                                          - Thomas Jefferson


Birds being released after oil spill

Oil-spill Survivors Released After Cleanup

After a week of rest and rehabilitation, the first survivors of the Cosco Busan oil spill were about to be set free.

When volunteer Chris Giorni gently lifted a greater scaup out of the box and set it down in the shallow water, the first of the survivors splashed, then spread its wings and soared over the cove. A crowd on the beach cheered.

There was finally some good news, eight days after a wayward ship spilled 58,000 gallons of oil that killed more than a thousand birds and soiled the bay and Pacific Coast beaches from Point Reyes to Montara. Thirty-eight birds - the symbolic first of more than 888 that were rescued from the oil-soaked waters and survived over the last week - swam off, fluttering and flapping, into the Pacific Ocean .

There were Eared Grebes, Horned Grebes, Western Grebes and Clark's Grebes. A few Lesser Scaups and one Common Murre.

Over the next few weeks, wildlife experts hope to release more of the 888 birds that have survived the gooey bunker oil.

Addassi said this spot - about 25 miles from the bay - was chosen for the release because the beach hadn't been marred by oil and the cove fit into the right ecological niche.

"These guys are real troupers," said Giorni.

When the last bird had been released Friday, we all stood in our soaking shoes and watched. They swam off together, splashing and diving as if nothing had ever happened.

For the birds, it must have been like waking up from a bizarre dream. For the humans, it was a hard-earned victory.

To volunteer for beach clean-up, go to

        To report sightings of oiled wildlife, call (415) 701-2311.
Original story from San Jose Mercury News, November 17, 2007 no longer available on the web.


Knowledge is Power in San Francisco


One of the most persistent problems in education has been the achievement gap between the "have" and "have nots" in public schools.

At a KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) school, you'll see hands in the air and students paying close attention. There are high expectations, strict discipline and long hours.

Based in San Francisco, KIPP is a nationwide network of 57 charter schools. KIPP stands for "knowledge is power." They've opened six schools in the Bay Area in the last five years. Most go from 5th to 8th grade, and they are all free public schools, open to any family. KIPP's goal is to attract low-income students from poorly performing schools.

"We go to our local schools and we ask them for lists of their lowest performing, hardest to reach kids," says KIPP Principal Jason Singer.

"We are now the highest performing public middle school in San Francisco," says Lydia Glassie, the school's founding principal.

"If a family decides that the school isn't a good fit because the day is too long or because the academics are too intense or the discipline is too strict, we absolutely support that because we believe in choice," says Principal Glassie.

But for students who stayed, the rewards have been tremendous.

"Every 8th grader was accepted into a college prep high school, including schools like St. Ignatius and Lowell, Lick, Wilmerding," says Principal Glassie.

KIPP schools get the same amount of money for each student as other public schools. However, KIPP does constant fundraising for all the extras they provide.

Test results now show it's paying off, but the kids already knew it. As one student told us... "We work really hard and we're number one."

KIPP schools are getting accolades all over the country.


To find out about the national KIPP program, visit
See full story from ABC News, October 11, 2007


Bike Riders in San Francisco
Bike Sharing May Have Future in San Francisco
See bike sharing blog:

San Francisco is one push of the pedal closer to offering residents and visitors a bike-sharing program in an effort to ease traffic congestion and to promote health through exercise.

More than a dozen European cities have government-sponsored programs in which bikes are provided for people to share. Last month, Paris started the most ambitious program yet, providing more than 10,000 bikes at 750 stations and expecting that the program will be double in size by year's end.

Now, hilly San Francisco is gearing up for a program of its own. A proposed city contract with Clear Channel Outdoor Inc. that gives the company advertising rights on transit shelters also would require the company to set up a bike-sharing program if the city opts for one. The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote on the contract this month.

The cost to use such a program would be free or nominal, San Francisco leaders say, pointing to the Paris project as a possible model.

More than 100,000 Parisians have bought a one-year pass since the program started in July, and city officials report that the bikes have been taken on nearly 4 million trips.

See full story from SF Chronicle, 3 October, 2007


North Beach Voted One of the Top 10 Neighborhoods in the Country

On Tuesday the American Planning Association proclaimed North one of 10 Great Neighborhoods in America. The planners praise the physical character of the place - Columbus Avenue slicing past Washington Square below the spires of SS Peter and Paul Church, for instance - as well as the community activism that has helped to preserve the local retail scene.

Once a largely Italian enclave focused on the fisheries and docks of the bay, North Beach today is known equally well for such cultural landmarks as City Lights Bookstore.

Physically, North Beach hasn't changed much from 1940, when the Works Progress Administration's guide to San Francisco described Columbus Avenue as a "where stucco-framed commercial buildings with their awnings and signboards string in long rows." It portrayed the eastern residential streets as "endless blocks of weathered frame flats, staggered - steplike - one above another."

Murio's Cafe
See full story from SF Chronicle, 3 October, 2007


Tree Frog at the San Francisco Zoo
Bringing Frogs Back to the San Francisco Zoo

The San Francisco Zoo has about 600 new residents, but most people will never see them. Pacific chorus frogs keep a very low profile. However, for the first time since the 1930s, they're once again living in the western part of the city.

The reintroduction wasn't easy.

"The frogs weren't going to come on their own," said John Aikin, director of conservation at the zoo.

These particular amphibians were taken earlier this year from an industrial area 9 miles away on the east side of Potrero Hill. Zoo employees collected the eggs and tadpoles, also known as pollywogs, and raised them in tanks until they were big enough to settle into their permanent home in an algae-studded habitat the staff has put together.

"The idea was to create a wetland with native species," Aikin said.

See full story from SF Chronicle, September 27, 2007


Peregrine Falcon flying near the Bay Bridge in San Francisco

A falcon chick hatched from an egg rescued from the San Francisco side of the Bay Bridge took flight into the wild.

The 42-day-old peregrine, dubbed ''Little G,'' spent her first hour of freedom Saturday perched on the side of a building in Santa Cruz where she was released by theat the Santa Cruz Predatory Bird Research Group.

Little G was raised by researchers who took her egg from her parents' precarious nest under the bridge. Ornithologists said any chicks hatched on the bridge would have faced almost certain death from a car collision or a fall into San Francisco Bay.

The parents, two San Francisco peregrines known as George and Gracie, soon relocated to a safer perch on a city skyscraper and laid another egg.

more photos by Glenn Nevill found at:

Peregrine Falcon chick
Original story from on June 5, 2007 no longer available on the web.



Coit Tower - Its History, Its Future

Coit Tower is San Francisco's number one city-owned tourist attraction. It was built on Telegraph Hill in 1933 with money donated by local philanthropist Lillie Coit.

Visitors ride the elevator to the top to take in spectacular views of the city and its surrounds. But it's what's on the ground floor that fascinates San Francisco native Stepehen Worsley. Stephen Worsley, Coit Preservationist: "It's a time capsule of October 1934." These murals were painted as part of the federal government's program to hire unemployed artists during the great depression. Worsley believes the Diego-Rivera inspired works are being disrespected by what he calls the crass commercialism surrounding them. He's filed papers to try to get the tower listed on the national register of historic sites. He would like to see the tourist store in there totally removed.

That's not likely to happen, but the concessionaire's lease is up and the Rec. & Park Department, which agrees the souvenirs sold here are a little tacky, is now negotiating with a new team to take over.

The group, Coit Tower Partners, has bold plans that go well beyond just remodeling the store. According to documents filed with the city, the project would include a mobile kitchen in the parking lot, a coffee cart near the lawn, tables and chairs for an outdoor cafe, and a photo station.

Coit Tower


See full story from

KGO News, 2 April 2007


Ross Mirkarimi, San Francisco Supervisor
SF Supervisors Vote to Ban Plastic Bags in San Francisco Stores

San Francisco's Board of Supervisors voted 10-1 to make the city the first in the nation to prohibit petroleum-based plastic checkout bags in large markets and pharmacies.

Supervisors approved legislation sponsored by Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi that would mandate the use of biodegradable plastic bags or recyclable paper bags. The legislation would take effect in about six months for some 50 large markets in San Francisco and would apply in about 12 months to large drugstore chains such as Walgreen's and Rite-Aid.

"Hopefully, other cities and states will follow suit," said Mirkarimi.

Aside from the petroleum required to manufacture them, plastic bags are blamed for gumming up recycling machines, taking up space in landfills and killing or sickening marine mammals.

See full story from SF Chronicle, March 27, 2007


Duboce Triangle Areea


Original Story from from News Forge: The Online Newspaper for Linux and Open Source, 8 March 2007 no longer available on the web.


Tree Tracking in San Francisco

In urban San Francisco, the public works department and nonprofit organizations work together to preserve and expand tree life as part of that city's efforts to create sustainability . The city today unveiled a new Web portal and open source application that will help those agencies, and the general public, keep tabs on a growing urban forest.

Citizens and sponsoring agencies in San Francisco have to apply for a planting permit to install new trees in common areas and on roadsides in residential areas, and for a removal permit to take out any tree, living or dead. This permitting system helps the public works' Bureau of Urban Forestry (BUF) keep track of how many trees exist, what kind they are, and who is responsible for caring for them. To make things more complicated, a private nonprofit agency called Friends of the Urban Forest (FUF) is also planting urban trees and maintaining them, as well as helping residents obtain tree permits.


Business Council on Climate Change Formed to Combat Global Warming

Global Warming

Google Inc., Gap Inc., Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and other firms pledged Thursday to cut their greenhouse gas emissions and help make the Bay Area a leader in combating global warming.

More than two dozen companies joined the Business Council on Climate Change, a coalition of Bay Area businesses that promise to report and reduce carbon emissions, share the best green practices and advocate for policies to address global warming.

"If the environment fails, markets fail. As contributors to the problem, companies have a responsibility to act," said Gavin Power of the United Nations Global Compact, which seeks to promote corporate responsibility.

The BC3 coalition was launched at San Francisco City Hall on March 1 st at an event aimed at encouraging more businesses to join. The initiative is being organized by the Bay Area Council, city of San Francisco and UN Global Compact, which plans to promote the business-led initiative as a model for other cities and businesses worldwide.

Mountain View-based Google is committed to helping combat global warming, said Robyn Beavers, who heads its corporate environmental programs.

The Internet search leader offers employees a free shuttle service on buses that run on biodiesel, is working to boost its energy efficiency and serves locally grown, organic food at its company cafes. The firm is also installing more than 9,200 solar panels that could provide as much as 30 percent of electricity at its famed headquarters, Beavers said.

"Everything we've done makes business sense," Beavers said. "There are great ways to be a better environmental player and be a better company."

See full story from SF Chronicle, March 1, 2007


Lighthouse on Alcatraz Island

Beacons of Light to Be Preserved


Because these romantic icons of the sea have been replaced by high-tech buoys, shipboard computers and global positioning satellites, the Coast Guard no longer needs them and is giving them to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

National Park Service officials are working out a deal to take over the lighthouses at Point Montara, Point Bonita, Point Diablo, Lime Point and Alcatraz. The goal is to have them refurbished within a few years so the public can visit them.

The lighthouse at Point Bonita has stood for 153 years atop a windswept rock that juts into the sea from the westernmost point of the Marin Headlands.

Restoring the lighthouses so they are safe enough for visitors will take a lot of time -- and a lot of money. For example, repairing the bridge at Point Bonita will cost about $1.2 million, Batlan said.

The lighthouse at Alcatraz also could be opened to the public, but it too needs a lot of work.

The Coast Guard will continue to maintain the beacons and foghorns, but everything else will be the park's responsibility.

There's still the question of how the agency will pay for it all. Although the $2.4 billion budget President Bush has proposed for the National Park Service includes $23.9 million for the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, it doesn't include any money to restore or staff the lighthouses.

See full story from SF Chronicle, February 22, 2007


Ray Bandar 

Treasury of Bones and a Treasure of a Man


He calls his home the “Bone Palace” and it’s fitting. He is known as “Bones Bandar” and he reigns over this palace which is a true spectacle to behold.

Ray Bandar still roams the beaches of Northern California searching for the carcasses of marine mammals as he has done for decades. This is how he ended up being the subject of a movie in this weekend's San Francisco Ocean Film Festival.

"He's the old world," said Beth Cataldo, whose 30-minute film, "Ray Bandar: A Life with Skulls," will be shown at the festival on Sunday. "He's very unique."

Cataldo became familiar with Bandar's handiwork months before she met him. As a volunteer with Sausalito's Marine Mammal Center, she was spending a lot of time on Ocean Beach -- and stumbling upon the headless carcasses of seals and sea lions. When she went to the "Skulls" exhibit at the California Academy of Sciences in December 2003, she found the clues she needed: Most of the pieces came from Bandar.

A native San Franciscan who grew up in the Richmond District, Bandar began acquiring specimens in junior high. "Reptile Ray," as he was known, now has more than 7,000 skulls, including at least 2,600 from California marine mammals.

His own discoveries -- sanctioned by state and federal permits -- are supplemented by what he's gotten from local zoos, museums, taxidermists, roadkill, and trips to Australia, Africa and Mexico. Many of the objects appeared in his classroom during his 32 years at Fremont High in Oakland, teaching biology, human anatomy and physiology.

In his house, much of the animal world is represented, and everything is meticulously recorded and arranged. Bandar doesn't own anything as common as a cell phone, television or computer, but anyone who wants to see Malayan sun bears, Tibetan antelopes or four species of wallaby has come to the right place.

"I'm a collector," said Bandar, in colossal understatement.

When people see him on the beach sawing through sea lion hides, they sometimes think he's homeless or deranged. The accompanying odors don't help.

"Most of the stuff I do is smelly stuff," said Bandar, who relies on bacterial macerations, maggots and beetles to help him strip the flesh from the skulls.

In Cataldo's film, Alkmene, Ray’s wife, says, "I have a very weak sense of smell. It's how the marriage has survived."


See full story from SF Chronicle, January 20, 2007


Presidio Quail Down to Dangerously Low Numbers

California Quail in the Presidio

In 2000 the Board of Supervisors named the California Quail the official bird of San Francisco.

A mere 20 years ago, the state bird of California, Callipepla californica, was bountiful in the Presidio.

Quail habitats were decimated by an aggressive campaign to purge the parks of homeless people. This involved cutting back the deep underbrush where quail like to hide out. In addition, the preservation of tall, stoic trees such as cypress, pine, and eucalyptus has meant an increase in habitats for quail predators like hawks and ravens, which prefer to spot prey from a heightened roost. As these factors conspired, numbers continued to drop.

Alan Hopkins started an education-and-restoration campaign called "Save the Quail" in the '90s. His hope was that the more people were aware of the quail and the small things they could do to save them, like preserving certain plants in their yards and keeping their cats indoors, the more it would benefit the birds and the parks.

"Brush rabbits, wrentits, Western screech owls, and the California quail" are the common wildlife listed off by Josiah Clark, a San Francisco native who spent his childhood scrambling around the Presidio with his binoculars. Since the former US Army base was decommissioned and opened to the public, the wrentit and screech owl have disappeared, and the quail are flying the coop too, despite the protective national-park status of the city's largest natural area.

The decimation of local quail is a phenomenon not exclusive to the Presidio. The population in Golden Gate Park has also dropped to just few birds.


See full story from San Francisco Bay Guardian, week of January 11-28, 2007.


Free Wireless for San Francisco Inches Forward

The plan to blanket San Francisco with free wireless Internet access moved a step closer to reality on January 5th, when the city signed a contract with EarthLink and Google to install and operate the system.

The agreement puts into print an initiative that has generated worldwide attention for both its ambition and for Google's celebrity.

"This agreement to bring free universal wireless Internet access to San Francisco is a critical step in bridging the digital divide that separates too many communities from the enormous benefits of technology," Mayor Newsom said in a statement. "Ubiquitous Wi-Fi will change how residents access education, social services and economic opportunities."

As part of the agreement, EarthLink will set up a test before deploying its Wi-Fi citywide shortly after the deal is approved by the supervisors. The entire network is expected to take less than a year to complete.

See full story from SF Chronicle, January 6, 2007


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