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Political Climate with Mark Simon: Caltrain power struggle may derail progress

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SamTrans buses may not have names as memorable as Prancer and Vixen, but they will be picking up passengers on Christmas Day. On Tuesday, December 25, SamTrans will operate on a standard Sunday schedule. Schedules for specific routes can be found here. Service on Christmas Eve will operate on the standard schedule. The administrative offices of the San Mateo County Transit District, which manages Caltrain and SamTrans, will be closed on Christmas Day. Customer Service will still be available from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and can be reached at 1-800-660-4287.

You had to look quickly or you would have missed the notice of a special, closed session meeting on this month’s Caltrain agenda. The significance of the short-lived notice is that there is a struggle going on at Caltrain over how the agency is managed and by whom.

And that’s a shame. Of the transit systems on the Peninsula, Caltrain has been the most effective and most efficiently run.

For decades, the Caltrain board was a model of regional cooperation and there were numerous instances when a representative from one of the three counties on the Peninsula would put their parochial interests aside in favor of what might have been the greater good for the entire Caltrain system. None of which seems to matter to people who can’t seem to leave well enough alone.

It was too good to last, I suppose, but there is no question representatives of San Francisco and Santa Clara counties are determined to assert their own interests, particularly as San Francisco and San Jose scurry to build huge infrastructure projects of which Caltrain is a central part.

They will say they are doing this under the name of restructuring Caltrain’s governance, and that they want Caltrain to be an independent agency. Putting aside how impractical – and expensive – such an independent agency would be, what they really object to is that Caltrain is managed independently from them, and they can’t stand that thought, something that was made very clear in a recent posting by one board member on the Friends of Caltrain Facebook page.

Of course, San Francisco’s track record of running transportation keeps getting worse. The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority hasn’t especially covered itself in glory, either, whether it’s running bus and light rail or delivering the massive BART-to-San Jose project on time and on budget. So, certainly, let’s give them more authority over a transit system that is widely considered successful.

In the interests of full disclosure, I worked for Caltrain for more than decade, the last two years for Caltrain Executive Director Jim Hartnett, who also is a friend of mine and whose integrity and sense of fairness are beyond question. I have not talked to him about this column, but, most assuredly, my views are a direct result of serving Caltrain.

Anyway, back to the special session, which was described as a performance review of Hartnett. The Caltrain board actually has no “performance review” authority over Hartnett. Hartnett works for the San Mateo County Transit District, which is one of three partner agencies that own Caltrain, the other two being the City and County of San Francisco and VTA.

Since 1992, when the Caltrain partnership was formed, SamTrans has been the managing partner. That means the general manager of SamTrans also is the executive director of Caltrain (and also runs SamTrans and the San Mateo County Transportation Authority – three jobs in one, managing five separate budgets and three separate boards of directors. The job is not for the faint of heart). The SamTrans board hires the general manager, and, in so doing, hires the executive director of Caltrain. The SamTrans board does the general manager’s performance review and it includes his performance as executive director of Caltrain and the TA.

When Mike Scanlon left the agency and Hartnett was hired to replace him in 2016, San Francisco representatives, in particular, were upset they didn’t get to make the decision. It’s an objection that didn’t come up when Scanlon was hired, or any of his predecessors. Only once Hartnett was hired have some board members tried to insert themselves into his performance evaluation and raised the specter of governance, which, again, is a code word for putting Caltrain in the hands of San Francisco and Santa Clara County.

They don’t care whether the agency is being well-run. They care that they don’t get to run it.

And, it should be noted, the management of Caltrain by SamTrans is an astonishing bargain.

SamTrans employees who work on Caltrain – either full-time or part-time – are billed to Caltrain, but at a rate that comes nowhere close to the amount of actual work being done.

Consider Hartnett as a prime example. He is paid an annual “stipend” of $85,000 for serving as executive director of Caltrain. That amounts to 16 percent of his total compensation. I can absolutely guarantee you that Hartnett spends more than 16 percent of his time on Caltrain. If you add the stipend to his base salary, it still represents only 22 percent. It’s the same for most of the executives at SamTrans who work on the Caltrain system.

In fact, SamTrans has been carrying Caltrain for years.

Aside from screwing up a well-run agency that is moving forward with revolutionary plans to electrify, this behind-the-scenes maneuvering is likely to torpedo any effort to pass a three-county sales tax and finally bring home the Caltrain holy grail – a permanent, dedicated and reliable source of revenue.

As recent polling showed, the tax measure is on the cusp of defeat. That can change for the better. Or, if the Caltrain board continues to wallow in parochial self-interests, it can get worse.

Contact Mark Simon at

*The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Climate Online.

Redwood City selects district map after turbulent process

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After a controversial six-month process, the Redwood City Council adopted a map that will change how residents elect councilmembers.

And this time, the council’s decision hasn’t led to a protest.

Under the threat of legal action, Redwood City is transitioning from an at-large election system, where residents vote for all seven council members, to a district-based election system, where they vote only for council candidates running in their district. Hundreds of California jurisdictions have been forced to make this transition under the legal claim that at-large systems violate the California Voting Rights Act of 2002 by discriminating against minorities and minority candidates.

But the process to divide the city into seven districts has been divisive on the council and in the community. After its seventh public hearing on the issue on Monday, City Council approved by a 6-1 vote a revised version of district map 13h crafted by the city’s demographer. City staff says the map complies with federal and state laws and best addresses community concerns.

The decision came down to three maps: 13h, 21f and 13g, all of which included two minority-majority districts, which is in the spirit of the Voting Rights Act. A majority of councilmembers expressed support for maps 13h and 21f, as they allowed Redwood Shores, where community members have historically felt lacking of a voice at City Hall, to have its own independent district. Six councilmember voted in favor of 13h, with only Councilmember Alicia Aguirre, who preferred 21f, voting no.

Councilmember Diana Reddy expressed opposition to having Redwood Shores as an independent district, wanting it to be combined with Bair Island.

“Bair Island has a very large Asian population,” Reddy said. “Combining Bair Island with Redwood Shores empowers the Asian community and separating them promotes isolation in my opinion.”

That opinion wasn’t shared by a large contingent of Redwood Shores community members who advocated for their own district. Councilmember Borgens said she would have supported combining Redwood Shores and Bair Island if it made Redwood Shores residents feel included at City Hall. But in her discussions with residents, she said it became apparent an independent district was the most inclusive approach (story continues below map).

“I will not support 13g because it doesn’t do what you are requesting loudly and clearly,” she said.

Mayor Ian Bain said 13H did the best job out of the three considered maps in keeping the neighborhood associations together. City staff said 13h also reflected resident feedback by “retaining the Centennial neighborhood together as part of an overall district, maintaining the Downtown neighborhood as part of an overall district, connecting the East Bayshore neighborhood with the Friendly Acres neighborhood, and connecting the Bair Island neighborhood with the Downtown neighborhood.”

Districts 1, 3, 4, and 7 from that map will begin voting in the new district election system in 2020. The remaining districts will join district elections in 2022, although by then the map will be redrawn to reflect the 2020 Census.

In an effort to avoid future controversy, a citizen’s advisory group is being considered to help develop the next map, Vice Mayor Diane Howard said.

“Considering what little time we had and the importance of making sure the whole community had a voice, I’m glad we did it this way this particular time, and I think we all learned a lot,” Howard said.

A second reading of the ordinance is scheduled for May 20, which is 10 days before the deadline for the city to transition to district elections.

For more details, go to

Historic downtown Redwood City walking tour set for Saturday

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Local residents plan to take a walk back in time this weekend in honor of National Historic Preservation Month.

The annual Redwood City historic downtown walking tour, which occurs in conjunction with National Historic Preservation Month, is set to take place Saturday, May 18, starting at 10:30 a.m. in front of the recently-moved Lathrop House at 701 Hamilton St.

Sponsored by the Historic Resources Advisory Committee (HRAC), the tour will last about one hour and 30 minutes, taking participants “to where Wyatt Earp occasionally came for a drink, where a Wells Fargo Express Office operated in 1875, Redwood City’s first new car showroom salon and auto repair garage, the finest theater on the peninsula in 1896, the former homes of prominent pioneer citizens and much more,” organizers said.

At Monday’s meeting, the City Council is set to present a National Historic Preservation Month proclamation.

This month offers residents several fun opportunities to learn their city’s history. This coming Tuesday, Wednesday and on Thursday, May 30, up to 600 local students are expected to go on Historic Downtown Student Tours. And on Monday, May 27, beginning at 10 a.m., community members are invited to join the Union Cemetery Historic Site Tour.

If you can’t make any of the events, there’s another option. Year-round, everyone can take the self-guided “Path of History” walk downtown. Download the walking tour brochure here.

To learn more about the above mentioned events, click here and here.

Photo credit: City of Redwood City

Congratulations to the 2019 Climate Best Award winners

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Last night we celebrated the best of Redwood City at the Climate Best Awards. As you may know by now, the Climate Best Awards is an opportunity to recognize and highlight the people, organizations and businesses who make Redwood City a special place to live and work.

We had a stand out year – over 2,150 people voted and 146 Redwood City businesses were represented.

The Awards took place at Angelicas, and you could feel the sense of community among the crowd as everyone got the chance to mingle, enjoy music, food and drinks.

Redwood City Mayor Ian Bain gave opening remarks to the crowd, “This group right here, represents the best of the best that Redwood City has to offer. I am proud of each and every single one of you. I have patronized all of your businesses. It really is an honor to be nominated and to those of you who win, it’s a huge honor to say you your business is a Climate Best winner”.

This year the Climate Best Awards featured a non-profit partner, The Redwood City Education Foundation.

The event raised $2,500 for the Education Foundation and incoming Executive Director Jason Galisatus expressed his gratitude to Climate Magazine and the Best Award attendees last night.

Climate Magazine Publisher, Adam Alberti, expressed his appreciation for the businesses in the room who he said,“invest both their money, labor and passion into making redwood City the Center of all that is happening on the Peninsula.”

The winners were announced live last night and we’re excited to share them with you!

Best Date Spot: Angelicas

Best Coffee Shop: Cafe La Tartine

Best for Late Night Eats: Tacos El Grullense

Best Dining with Kids: Canyon Inn

Best Pizza: Vesta

Best for Watching the Big Game: The Patty Shack

Best Happy Hour: Milagros

Best Beer List: Gourmet Haus Staudt

Best Wine List: Cru

Best Craft Cocktails: Blacksmith

Best Dive Bar: Sodini’s

Best Live Entertainment: Club Fox

Best Spot to be Outdoors: Courthouse Square

Best Place to Take In History: San Mateo County Museum

Best Family Entertainment: Summer Concerts in the Park

Best Clothing Boutique: Pickled

Best Sporting Goods & Equipment: Redwood  Trading Post

Best Home Decor: Home Goods

Best Florist: Redwood City Florist

Best Real Estate Agent: Vicky Constantini

Best Real Estate Services: Sequoia Realty Services

Best Dentist: Dr. Tim Choy

Best Dental Practice: Redwood City Dental

Best Medical Practice: Kaiser Permanente

Best Salon: Spruce

Best Barber: Redwood Barber Co.

Best Spa: Llumier Wellness

Best Mani Pedi: Bamboo Nail Spa

Best Gym: Obstacourse Fitness

Best Trainer: Keith Kern

Best Fitness Studio: Peacebank Yoga

North Fair Oaks community to celebrate new mural this Sunday

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The new, gorgeous large mural on Middlefield Road and 2nd Avenue in North Fair Oaks is set to be celebrated at a ribbon-cutting event on Sunday from 2-5 p.m.

Artist Jose Castro, 27, a resident of North Fair Oaks, created the mural as a reflection of history, culture and diversity in the neighborhood, according to San Mateo County Supervisor Warren Slocum, who is hosting the ribbon-cutting along with the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office.

“This mural is more than just a wall with paint. It’s an inspiration and brings life to our people in North Fair Oaks who deal with current and future changes,” Castro said in a statement.

Sunday’s celebration will feature folkorica dancers, mariachi, free hot dogs and a taco truck. Castro will attend along with his muralist mentor Arthur Koch and other county officials.

Slocum praised the new mural for bringing the community together, as many residents and youth participated in its creation, including the actual painting.

This is North Fair Oaks’ second major mural project since 2016. Slocum lauded efforts within his District 4 on numerous public art and beautification projects in recent years.

“The work of art celebrates everything that is unique and special about this community and will enrich the lives of residents and visitors to North Fair Oaks for many years to come,” the supervisor said.

We now know what our neighbors pay in state taxes, thanks to CALmatters

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Want to know what the Atherton residents pay on average in state taxes?

Not surprisingly, it’s quite a bit. Given that those living within the 94027 zipcode make on average $1.7 million in income, they on average contribute more than any other residential zipcode in California to the state’s coffers, according to a study by CALmatters that used data from the state’s Franchise Tax Board.

“The state’s Franchise Tax Board breaks down personal income tax collections and total tax liability by ZIP code,” according to KQED’s report on the study. “For the 2018 filing year, CALmatters took one step further: We’ve figured out, for each of those areas, what the typical tax filer made and paid.”

Silicon Valley cities and towns ranked high on the list in state income tax contributions. The Los Altos zipcode of 94023 came in second on the list with a $1.64 million average income, translating into $183,080 in state taxes. Another Los Altos zipcode, 94022, came in 18th with a $693,436 average income ($63,233 on average per taxpayer).

Palo Alto came in sixth ($1,039,991, $111,415), and five San Francisco zipcodes made the top 25.

A list of the top 25 contributors, bottom 25 contributors and a navigable map of zipcodes can be accessed at KQED here.

Here are figures for Redwood City and neighboring communities:

94063 (Redwood City): $82,000 average income, $4,532 average tax liability

94062 (Redwood City): $388,275 average income, $38,168 average tax liability

94061 (Redwood City): $132,135 average income, $8,465 average tax liability

94070 (San Carlos): $233,062 average income, $17,923 average tax liability

94025 (Menlo Park): $392,266 average income, $38,374 average tax liability

94002 (Belmont): $180,632 average income, $12,677 average tax liability

94404 (San Mateo): $160,853 average income, $10,740 average tax liability

94402 (San Mateo): $214,212 average income, $17,075 average tax liability

94403 (San Mateo): $199,167 average income, $21,611 average tax liability

94010 (Burlingame): $358,106 average income, $34,038 average tax liability

94019 (Half Moon Bay): $140,977 average income, $9,589 average tax liability

94019 (Portola Valley): $693,436 average income, $70,083 average tax liability

94305 (Stanford): $173,214 average income, $13,817 average tax liability

Inch by inch, Lathrop House Moves to its New Home

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Redwood City’s landmark Lathrop House has a new downtown address, but it will take a while before the mansion built by one of San Mateo County’s founding fathers fully settles in at 701 Hamilton St.

Crews last week had begun lifting and moving the stately home from its longtime site at 627 Hamilton St. toward the sidewalk in preparation for the final push Sunday morning from one side of Marshall Street to the other. At the end of a day of easy-does-it incremental progress, Lathrop House was poised next to the opposite sidewalk, ready for more precision maneuvering Monday, before finally being lowered and secured on its new foundation.

“I did actually see it move five inches,” said 88-year-old Helen Cocco, president of the Redwood City Heritage Association, which manages Lathrop House as a museum. She’d been standing on the sidewalk since early morning watching the slow-motion action. “It was so exciting. I tell you, it was magic.”

In what appears a win-win for San Mateo County and for the cause of local history, Lathrop House’s new home is a parking lot behind the county history museum, which will develop exhibit space and provide staffing. Once the newly prominent, two-story house is ready to receive visitors, it will be open more hours and will have an upstairs Redwood City history gallery, according to Mitch Postel, president of the San Mateo County Historical Association.  Eventually, if a planned carriage house can be built alongside Lathrop House, visitors would be able to see those two attractions and the museum with a single admission.

Built in 1856 for Benjamin Lathrop, San Mateo County’s first clerk-recorder, the mansion initially stood where the Fox Theatre is today but was relocated to the back of the property to make room for a grammar school. The house was moved a second time in 1905, to 627 Hamilton St., where it was somewhat hidden between county offices and drew only about 10 or 15 visitors day on the three days a week that it was open.

Like a wallflower thrust into the spotlight, the Steamboat Gothic beauty stopped traffic Sunday in more ways than one. Fenced in to allow the movers safely to position cribbing and steel traveling beams under the dark gray, wood-sided house, Lathrop House hung suspended five feet above the pavement, spectacular and delicate as an elaborate, 90-ton wedding cake,  festooned with white gingerbread and a front porch.

The house was supported on blocks of wooden cribbing.  Two hydraulic pushers moved six roller beams measuring as long as 80 feet, which carried the house forward at the rate of three to four feet an hour. From above, the house looked like it was creeping along on enormous orange railroad tracks. Crews used a laser level to ensure that all the beams were in the same plane crossing the street, according to the county’s inspector on the job, Brent Hipsher.

Sam Garcia, the project manager for the move, said the house needed to be high enough to clear an obstacle that could not be removed, a PG&E electrical box, which contains traffic signal controls.

“We had to pick the structure up above that,” Hipsher said. “… Otherwise it would have been a lot lower to the ground.”

Initially, planners of the move had considered putting Lathrop House on a trailer and transporting it down Hamilton Street, but opted for the course least likely to damage the historic structure – inch-by-inch sideways steps across Marshall Street.

“We could do it faster,” Garcia said, “but we were trying to do it as safe as possible.”

Truebeck Construction of Redwood City was the contractor and brought in Montgomery Contractors, Inc., which specializes in house-moving, according to Garcia. Altogether, Lathrop House will be about 200 feet down the road from its old location.

On Monday, crews will begin positioning the 10-room, 3,393-square-foot treasure over its new, seismically-sound foundation, which needs to cure until Thursday. The house has to be lowered into place perfectly, with all corners and anchor bolts matching, Garcia added.

Once Lathrop House is positioned at its new address, it will need to be tented for termites, get utilities connected and other work, and Postel says it’s too soon to predict how soon it will be open for visitors. Tours and visits ceased last June in preparation for the move. All antique furnishings and objects were removed and stored in containers, and windows and walls that might be strained or damaged during the move were taped.

Cocco said Lathrop House has been a boarding house in the 1940s but when the heritage association took control in the 1970s, it was “rejuvenated” to bring it back as close as possible to the way it was when Mr. Lathrop built it. The association maintains the inside, and the county, which owns the building, is responsible for the outside. Moving Lathrop House will cost about $1.5 million, which includes the new foundation.

With the house gone, the entire block where it was located, including the former First American Title Insurance Co., will be redeveloped with a new county office building.

Garcia said he enjoyed working with Cocco and other history enthusiasts and hopes Lathrop House will attract more visitors in its more visible location.  “At the end of the day, we want people to get to know the Lathrop House,” he said.

Redwood City council renews pilot program for autonomous robot deliveries

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Redwood City seeks to continue robot deliveries

Redwood City’s council last week approved renewing a pilot program for up to 24 months allowing permitted operators to offer autonomous robots for deliveries in the city.

Two previous pilot projects since early 2017 had Starship Technologies, Inc. operating Personal Delivery Devices on city sidewalks between businesses and homes in partnership with Door Dash and Post Mates. During the trial periods, Starship was making 30 to 40 deliveries per day using 12 robots. The city received just five complaints during both pilot programs, and staff says the electric-powered robots likely had a positive impact on traffic and the environment.

Last year, Starship, a London-based company that has tested their PDDs in over 100 cities, ceased operations to redefine its business, to explore a new service and operations hub in Redwood City and to prep for its Redwood City relaunch by conducting “an extensive driving and mapping campaign,” according to the city.

The new pilot program will allow up to three permits for providers of Personal Delivery Devices, and Starship will be among the permit holders, the city said.

Starship has a lot planned for Redwood City. Local residents will see upgraded robot that can carry up to three bags of groceries, weighs up to 80 pounds and can deliver up to four miles with a maximum speed of four miles per hour, city documents state. During transit, the device is locked and secured and can only be opened using the customer’s mobile app.

Starship is planning to roll out a grocery delivery program in partnership with Dehoff’s Key Market in the Roosevelt Neighborhood and other local restaurants to service the Central, Palm Park, Roosevelt, and Woodside Plaza neighborhoods, according to city staff.

The company is also eyeing a partnership with Redwood City Library on a book delivery program that would have three to eight robots delivering from the Downtown Library to seniors and other physically challenged residents, a program “which would be one of the first in the world,” the city said.

City staff believes this delivery system allows “for some restaurants and businesses to serve a greater number of customers, supporting business activity and customer convenience.”

Local Mother’s Day Activities

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Mother’s Day is right around the corner (it’s this Sunday, May 12th if you’ve forgotten). If you need some inspiration for what you should do to celebrate this year, scroll through our list to see what fun Mother’s Day events we’ve found in the area.

Mother’s Day Mommy & Me Magical Unicorn Breakfast

If you have young kids, Celebrate Mother’s Day with a delicious breakfast prepared by Andersen Bakery and a rainbow of sweet treats. Kids can enjoy an art project with Young Art Lessons and pose with Mom for keepsake photos along with a featured magical surprise.

  • When: Saturday, May 11th from 8:30am – 10:00am
  • Where: Hillsdale Shopping Center 60 East 31st Avenue, San Mateo, CA
  • Price: $14.99 per person

For more information, click here.

“Almost” Mother’s Day Kids Concert

Have at blast at the “Almost” Mother’s Day Concert. Families will enjoy a fun kids concert with Redwood City native and kindie rocker, Andy Z and the Andyland Band, an inflatable playland, and can also create a Mother’s Day Gift in the craft area.

  • When: Saturday, May 11th from 11:00am – 1:00pm
  • Where: Courthouse Square 2200 Broadway Street Redwood City, California 94063
  • Price: Free

For more information, click here.

Celebrate Mother’s Day with Painting Classes and Mimosas

Looking for a shared experience where you can bond? Bottle & Bottega is offering Mother’s Day weekend painting and wine classes at their Redwood City studio. They provide all of the art supplies, including paint, paintbrushes, canvases, and aprons, so you can enjoy yourself with the onsite wine bar.

  • When: Saturday, May 11th at 6pm or Sunday May 12th at 2pm
  • Where: Bottle & Bottega Redwood City
  • Price: $40

For more information, click here.


Spend Mother’s Day at Shoreline Lake in Mountain View

Give Mom a great Mother’s Day spent outdoors. The whole family can spend the day at Shoreline Lake and enjoy the water in a sailboat, windsurfer, kayak, canoe, rowboat, or stand up paddleboard. Or get a bike (single and tandem) to explore around the Lake. The Boathouse & American Bistro at Shoreline Lake in Mountain View will also be expanding their brunch menu and custom picnic/watercraft combos.

  • When: Sunday, May 12th, Brunch is from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. and Dinner is from 5 p.m.- 10 p.m.
  • Where: Shoreline Lake, 3160 N Shoreline Blvd., Mountain View, CA
  • Price: Varies

For more information, click here.

Radioactive materials removed from San Carlos home identified

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The low-level radioactive materials discovered in the San Carlos home of a scientist who recently died have been safely removed and identified.

The materials found in the property in the 1000 block of Cedar Street, near Burton Park, on Thursday, May 2 prompted authorities to close the park and a nearby youth center. The materials were contained by a county hazmat crew and removed the following morning by state officials for safe disposal.

“Initial survey data indicates that the radioactive materials consisted mostly of Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material (NORM) such as uranium ore samples, a radium clock and other materials with thorium,” according to the city of San Carlos.

County health officials performed two additional sweeps of the home and didn’t find any other radioactive sources. A private firm will head to the property to clean up any household hazardous waste and materials, but there are no threats to the public at the property, the city reported.

Authorities learned about the radioactive materials after receiving a call from the family of Ronald Seefred, who died on Jan. 1 at age 82. Seefred retired in 2003 after 40 years at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in Menlo Park, where he co-authored six radiation physics articles, among other accomplishments. The radioactive materials were found in containers at his house.

Ephrime Mekuria, associate health physicist for the California Department of Public Health, stated that a final list of radioactive materials will be developed for a report. The City of San Carlos said it will make the report available on its website once it is received.

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