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Going to Bat

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By Bill Shilstone

San Mateo County Superior Court Judge John. L. (“Jack”) Grandsaert called the courtroom to order with some unusual introductory remarks to the defendants:

“The discipline that you showed during your military training and service is what convinces me that you can successfully complete your probation and treatment in this court. Veterans deserve different treatment. They have already sacrificed part of their lives for the benefit of the rest of us.”

Any of the county’s 29,000 military veterans who find themselves in trouble with the law should hope to end up in Judge Grandsaert’s Redwood City courtroom. Instead of facing fines or a jail term that will build on feelings of rejection and anger that often plague veterans, he or she will find an authority figure who talks to them like a favorite uncle and offers a helping hand.

Grandsaert and the team he put together to establish the Veterans Treatment Court are dedicated to helping the veteran complete probation and get treatment. Convictions may be expunged. Fines may be reduced or excused. Perhaps most important, the veteran may get the feeling that the system can be accepting and assisting instead of accusing and adversarial.

At a recent hearing, Grandsaert had a twinkle in his eye, not a glare, as he engaged nine veterans, in turn, in friendly, personally directed conversation.

“How is the rock climbing going? I know it’s therapeutic for you.”

“You made all your appointments; good for you. We’ll see what we can do about your restitution problem.”

Eight of the nine received the same treatment: a smile, a handshake, congratulations on a positive report, a gift certificate for coffee and a “See you in a month” sendoff. Courtroom spectators applauded each one. One no-show and one report of a probation violation were the only negatives.

Grandsaert, who was raised in Redwood City, was appointed to the Superior Court bench in 2004 and started the veterans’ court six years ago. He’d read about similar programs and had an affinity with the military, having served 10 years in the Army Reserve and a son, Patrick, making a career in the Air Force. “It seemed unfortunate that we couldn’t help a veteran by taking into account that military service is where problems originate,” Grandsaert said. “To me it’s an easy sell.”

Easy sell maybe, but with no budget for judges and staff for an extra court, it took Grandsaert a year and a half to get the Veterans Treatment Court going. He started gathering people he knew would be receptive, either veterans themselves or with veterans in their families. He convened meetings with representatives from offices of the Veterans Administration, district attorney, private defender, probation, and county behavioral health and recovery – all players on today’s  VTC team. They took on the assignment pro bono, on top of their regular jobs.

It’s the team working together, plus a willing veteran, that is responsible for the program’s success, said Danielle Barringer, a deputy probation officer assigned to the court, with a son in the Army.  “We figure out what is best for each and every veteran, we support them, watch them fail, pick them up again and watch them succeed.”

Milton Mooney, a recent graduate, and Tim Healy, one of his mentors, are typical of the defendants. Proudly showing off the certificates of achievement on the wall of his cozy Menlo Park apartment, Mooney told of turning to drugs and alcohol in Vietnam to mask painful memories from his two-year Army tour. He himself suffered a serious head injury in a Jeep crash. When he left the service, “My family didn’t want anything to do with me because of the drugs and alcohol.” He bought a car and began a cross-country journey “stopping in every state to get high” and leaving behind a string of driving-under-the influence arrests.

After almost 40 years of homelessness, Mooney was referred to the Palo Alto VA’s Homeless Veterans Rehabilitation Program at the Menlo Park campus. As long as a veteran is committed to reform and is crime free, he or she has a bed for six months and transition to the VA’s many rehabilitation programs.

Mooney didn’t quite make it. Another DUI put him in county jail in Redwood City for three months. VA clinical psychologist Matthew Stimmel came to the rescue and got Mooney into Grandsaert’s court. After 29 months of rehabilitation, Mooney, 65, was able to say to the celebrants at his graduation in November, “I’ve finally become a law-abiding senior citizen.”

“Counselors helped me get to where I am: DUI convictions gone from my record, a car, money in the bank, a job, housing (federally subsidized),” Mooney said. “I’ve never been there before. I want people to know it’s a blessing to be a vet, that we’re not bad people, and that vets court is God’s gift for giving us a second chance.” Mooney is now the newest mentor in Grandsaert’s court, someone who can “put an arm around the shoulder and say he knows the feeling,” said David Grillo, manager of the VA’s treatment liaison with the court.

Healy was a Navy airman from 1986 to 1990, and his story echoes Mooney’s.  “Alcohol is part of the culture in the military,” Healy said. “I graduated to bigger and better things and became a crystal meth addict. That led to losing jobs and being ostracized by family. I was an angry drug dealer. I pulled guns on people who owed me money. I was ugly.” Healy ended up in HVRP in 2010 and now works for the VA as an outreach specialist and is the lead mentor in the veterans’ court. Honored (with Grandsaert) in 2016 as co-Veteran of the Year, Healy’s personal turning point came when a psychologist told him, “If you change the way you think, you’ll change your life.  You create what happens.”

“I think what happens to many veterans who get in trouble,” he continued, “is that the adrenaline is suddenly gone. The military puts you in charge of life-and-death equipment, then you get out and go to work stocking shelves at Safeway. That was me. I’ve seen many veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan who just get bored. That leads to trouble.”

The success rate for the 175 veterans who have gone to the court is 100 percent, defined as connection with housing or treatment, Grillo said. From the court standpoint, the success rate is almost as good. “I’d say about two percent have problems after completing the program,” Grandsaert said. Nationwide, the rate of recidivism (another offense within three years) is 45 percent for misdemeanors and 60 percent for felonies.

“I also measure success by all the wonderful stories I hear,” Grandsaert said. He told of a man with a serious gambling addiction who was cured by his assignment to community service with the Warrior Canine Connection program, in which veterans train dogs to become service animals. “`Man’s best friend’ can be therapeutic for somebody down on their self-image who has trouble dealing with people,” he said.

Defendants eligible for assignment to the Veterans Treatment Court must have prior or current membership in the military and a diagnosis of trauma, substance abuse or other mental health issues that stem from military service. He or she must be eligible for VA benefits and for probation and not charged with serious violence. The VTC has handled cases of bank robbery, assault, and many DUI’s, Grandsaert said.

David Rice, a VTC mentor and assistant director of the Office for Military-Affiliated Communities at Stanford University, helps manage education benefits, connecting the 150 veterans on campus and facilitating needed social rehabilitation.

In both his mentoring and Stanford roles, Rice tried to ease the same kind of “culture shock” he experienced when he left the Army as a captain in 1997 after 11 years and went to work in graphic design. “My supervisors were afraid I was after their jobs,” he said. “In the Army, I knew my fellow soldiers had my back. It’s not like that in business.” Rice went to work at the VA as an addiction therapist and volunteered for the treatment court mentor program. He believes the program is successful, in part, because Grandsaert “talks to the veterans like they mean something.”

Grandsaert sums up the court’s benefits in the conclusion of his introductory courtroom admonition to the defendants: “If you are honest with me and the people who are trying to help you, and you give it your best effort, you will get through this, and good things will begin to happen for you once again.”


Redwood City Toys’R’Us spared from nationwide store closures

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Redwood City Toys'R'Us spared after company announces nationwide closures

The Toys’R’Us and Babies’R’Us store at 202 Walnut St. in Redwood City is not among the list of about 150 stores the company plans to close across the nation as it reorganizes in order to emerge from bankruptcy. The list includes 24 store closures in California alone.

On Wednesday, the financially struggling retailer, which is shedding about one-fifth of its U.S. locations, announced discounts of up to 30 percent at the stores that are closing. Those stores are expected to close in April.

The store closures are part of a restructuring plan that aims to make the company a viable contender in the rapidly evolving retail landscape.

Trailblazing Admiral instructs sea cadets in leadership

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A retired U.S. Navy rear admiral who navigated around restrictions women once faced in the military urged Sea Cadets gathered Saturday in Redwood City to create their own opportunities, offering advice from her own life about how to transform setbacks into success.

Speaking Feb. 3 during an annual inspection ceremony for the city’s unique U.S. Naval Sea Cadet unit, Rear Admiral Bonnie Potter, who is a physician, described her disappointment in 1975 when she came on active duty as a lieutenant and was told that she could not go to sea. She’d wanted to follow the path of her father, who had served the country in World War II.

“I thought, if I can’t go to sea, what else can I do?” she told the young people, their families and friends during the U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps Band of the West Division’s inspection ceremony and performance. The event was held at American Legion Post 105, one of the sponsors for the nation’s first and only Sea Cadet band.

Potter described how she focused on becoming the best she could be in her Naval assignments, which included a tour as Chief of Medicine/Residency Program Director at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, and as Director of Medical Services for the USNS Comfort during Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm. In 1997, she was promoted to rear admiral, becoming the first female physician in the military to be selected to for “flag” rank.

Potter, who received her second star in 1999, retired in 2003 and is active with the Navy League.

Among the keys to success, she told the cadets, is to look for opportunities and not to allow the possibility of failure to hold them back.  People who aren’t necessarily “born leaders” can still be great leaders but need to continually assess their own strengths and weaknesses.

“It’s not a destination,” Potter said.  “It’s a journey. I still work on being a leader.”

Demonstrating how times have changed, two female cadets – Samantha Wen and Jenna Ghaddar – were pinned as chief petty officers, a rank achieved by only about two percent of all cadets.  Both are Aragon High School students.

The 48-member Band of the West is a unit of the U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps, a national youth program which develops skills in leadership, musicianship, basic seamanship, courage, self-reliance and discipline. Sea Cadets have opportunities to attend trainings conducted nationwide, which are supported by the U.S. military, in career fields such as cyberwarfare, STEM, aviation, medicine, law, engineering and more.

The band, which was commissioned in 2013, has steadily grown and does about 20 performances a year for veterans, military personnel and their families. During Saturday’s ceremony, the band paid musical tribute to Band Officer John Evans, who died in January.

Redwood City port director announces retirement

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Mike Giari, executive director of the Port of Redwood City, recently announced that he will be retiring effective May 1, or when his successor is in place.

Giari first joined the Port of Redwood City in 1988 as a manager of trade development and has been the executive director since May 1995.

“Mike has been instrumental in helping the Port grow and sustain that growth,” Port Commissioner Richard Dodge said in a statement. “Tonnage across the Port docks has more than tripled since Mike assumed his position in 1995 and the Port has attracted new businesses that benefit Silicon Valley.”

Giari is a past president of the Bay Planning Coalition and the California Association of Port Authorities (CAPA). He was also the past chairman of the Redwood City-San Mateo County Chamber of Commerce where he has been an active member for nearly 25 years.

He is a Redwood City resident and is married with three adult children.

How a New York Times best-selling series came to rely on local fan

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How a New York Times best-selling series came to rely on local teen

A Miss California contestant representing Redwood City recently recounted a fascinating story about how she became a consultant for The New York Times’ best-selling children’s books series, The Kingdom Keepers.

On Friday, a blog post published on the Miss California website details how, at age 11, Brooke Muschott became a big fan of the Kingdom Keepers series, reading the books so many times that she managed to notice inconsistencies in the stories. Throughout her summer between her sophomore and junior years in high school, Muschott marked every inconsistency in the series with Post-it notes and then pointed them out to the series’ author Ridley Pearson during a book signing event at Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park.

“…I took my books to be signed, post-its and all,” Muschott said. “And when Ridley asked me what the sea of pink and blue tabs sticking out the sides of his books was about, I told him they were inconsistencies.”

In what Muschott calls the “plot twist of all plot twist,” Pearson was not offended, but instead asked her to read an unreleased book from the series and search for inconsistencies in the story.

That encounter was a life-changer for Muschott, who “went from average high school student to continuity editor, and then a researcher, brainstormer, events and social media assistant on a New York Times bestselling series.”

Ridley even wrote her into the 7th book as a character, she said. At 19, she was a co-writer for one of the books.

Muschott went on to major into creative writing at Pepperdine University, where she studied abroad in Buenos Aires and Shanghai and interned at Shanghai Disney Imagineering. She currently works as an editorial and research associate at Ampersand and has her sights set on the Miss California competition, which will take place in June and is a prelim to the Miss America competition.

Photo credit: Hart Photography/posted to the

Redwood City Library to host college-bound Q &A

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Residents invited to Downtown Library to weigh in on transportation fixes

Here’s an opportunity for high school juniors and their parents to gain valuable insights on getting into college.

The Redwood City Downtown Library has scheduled a Q&A session on Feb. 15 at 5 p.m. with longtime college advisor Alice Kleeman to discuss everything you need to know about getting into college.

Kleeman was the college advisor at Menlo-Atherton High School for 20 years before retiring.

The event is open to all high school juniors and is sponsored by the Friends of the Redwood City Library, located at 1044 Middlefield Road.

For more information, contact Dyan de Jager at 650-780-5762

JetBlue Airways chairman to speak at Fox Theater

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JetBlue Airways chairman Joel Peterson is scheduled to discuss the 10 laws of trust at the Fox Theater in Redwood City on Feb. 8.

The free event, part of the Stanford Speaker Series, will run from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the theater at 2209 Broadway St.

Peterson is the founding partner of Peterson Partners, a Salt Lake City-based investment management firm. He currently teaches courses in real estate investment, entrepreneurship and leadership at Stanford University.

The speaker series is part of the ongoing relationship between Redwood City and the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

Register here for the event.

Redwood City man killed in Pescadero crash

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Redwood City man killed in Pescadero crash

A Redwood City man killed in a car crash in Pescadero has been identified as 49-year-old Jose Alredo Peters.

The California Highway Patrol received reports of a crash in the area of Pescadero Road east of Stage Road about 6:30 a.m. Tuesday. Peters’ body was found in a field near the vehicle he had apparently been driving: a Mercedes Benz that was found on its roof, CHP officials said.

Peters apparently crashed sometime during the night when he lost control on a curve while driving at a high rate of speed, CHP said. The car crashed into a ditch and he was ejected from his vehicle.

He was not wearing his seatbelt and drugs or alcohol may have played a role in the crash, according to CHP.

Bay City News contributed to this report

Redwood City event ideal for Valentine’s gifts

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If you’re going to shop for a Valentine’s gift, you might as well do it with chocolate and champagne.

On Feb. 2, local artists will feature photography, jewelry, fiber art, painting and more –all good options as Valentine’s gifts – at H’art Squared at the Veterans Memorial Senior Center, 1455 Madison Ave. in Redwood City.

The “Champagne and Chocolate Soiree,” presented by Art on the Square, will run from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Tickets are $20 and will help send the Kainos Dance Team to the 2018 National Championships in Seattle. The dance team is scheduled to perform at H’art Squared at 7 p.m.

For tickets or more information visit here.

Street safety improvements set for Taft Community School

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Funds approved for street improvements near Taft Community School

The streets near Taft Community School at 903 10th Ave. are slated to receive pedestrian safety and stormwater treatment improvements with help from a $250,000 grant from the San Mateo City and County Association of Governments.

On Monday, Redwood City’s council approved combining the grant with funds contributed by the Stanford Redwood City project to accomplish $650,000 worth of pedestrian safety and bio-retention projects adjacent to Taft Community School and KIPP Excelencia Community Prep School in Redwood City.

The grant will help fund bulbouts at each corner of 5th Avenue and Page Street with five bio-retention areas; bulbouts at each corner of 8th Avenue and Page Street; four high-visibility crosswalks at 10th Avenue and Page Street; a crosswalk beacon system at 10th Avenue and Bay Road; and a new high-visibility crosswalk and beacon system at 8th Avenue and Bay Road.

Educational signage will be placed near the intersection of 5th Avenue and Page Street explaining the project benefits (stormwater treatment and pedestrian safety), according to city documents.

The installations will “will improve water quality through increased stormwater treatment and increase pedestrian safety for children walking to and from school,” the city says.

The city will maintain the new street amenities and hopes to launch the design phase for the project this year, with construction expected in 2019.

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