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COVID-19 concerns prompt suspension of jury trials

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San Mateo County DA issues price gouging alert due to coronavirus outbreak

The San Mateo County Superior Court is suspending jury trials due to COVID-19 public health concerns.

The court has extended the time period for the holding of a criminal trial by 30 days, but only for cases in which the statutory deadline would otherwise expire from Dec. 14 through Jan. 13.

All civil jury trials are suspended through Jan. 8, while all civil court trials are suspended through Dec. 31 except for unlawful detainer court trials.

The suspension doesn’t apply to family law or juvenile cases, according to the Court.

Both the Redwood City and South San Francisco Clerk’s Offices will be closed to the public effective Monday. However, the Redwood City Clerk’s Office will process emergency ex parte, domestic violence and all temporary restraining order petitions, and civil ex partes.

For more information, go here.

County offering residents free ‘Headspace’ resources amid pandemic

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In a move aimed at helping local residents manage pandemic-related stress, San Mateo County Behavioral Health and Recovery Services and Headspace are collaborating to provide free self-care resources.

Now through August 2021, San Mateo County residents can sign up to receive free access to Headspace’s meditations, sleep sounds and movement exercises, all of which are intended to help people care for their minds.

According to Headspace on its website, its array of offerings “can help residents weather this storm… Because in times like these, a little support goes a long way.”

Any community members needing additional support during these unprecedented times can contact San Mateo County Behavioral Health and Recovery Services by dialing 711 or (800) 686-0101/TDD: (800) 943-2833 or by clicking here.

To sign up to use Headspace’s array of resources, click here.

Photo credit: Pexels

PG&E to inpsect 3.8 miles of natural gas pipeline in San Carlos

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PG&E will perform a weeklong inspection on a 3.8-mile stretch of a natural gas transmission line in San Carlos — from Commercial Street to its end point off Edgewood Road — starting Monday, Nov. 30.

The work involves sending an advanced inspection device, called a “smart pig,” into the pipeline, the city said. The smart pig is equipped with sensors to allow engineers to analyze the interior of the pipeline and its associated components and to make repairs where needed.

It’s part of ongoing safety work on the pipeline, called Line 147, in partnership with the city. The work may cause noise and people in the area may smell gas as natural gas is safely vented from the pipeline, city officials said. No interruptions to gas service in the area are expected.

“During this project, customers and people in the area may see PG&E and contractor trucks and other heavy equipment on Commercial Street, where the ‘smart pig’ device will be inserted into the line,” the city said. “Along Brittan Avenue, PG&E trucks and crews will be parked at various points along the line monitoring progress.”

The work may cause noise and people in the area may smell gas as natural gas is safely vented from the pipeline, city officials said.

Over the course of our work, people in the area may smell gas and hear a loud, steady noise as we safely vent natural gas from the pipeline.

Anyone with questions about the smell of gas or project can call the 24-hour helpline at 1-800-743-5000.

Photo credit: City of San Pablo

Pastor leads Redwood City Downtown Business Group

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God moves in a mysterious way, so the poet William Cowper wrote, and then along comes a story like this one to illustrate.

At the beginning of the year, David Shearin, lead pastor and executive director of Redwood City-based Street Life Ministries, became president of the Downtown Business Group. Shearin initially joined the board to make connections for the ministry and to serve as a liaison in dealing with homeless-related problems, together with the police. But when the DBG’s president moved away late last year, the pastor to the homeless was elevated as his replacement.

Though his office is at a church across town, Shearin relies on the business group’s energetic Executive Director Regina Van Brunt for being downtown almost daily, advocating for business owners and being a go-between with them and the city.

“It’s hard for an owner to be at the City Council meetings and voice their opinion because their whole life is wrapped up in the business. And she’s that voice,” Shearin says.

His own role as president is to be a sounding board and give direction and ideas. Van Brunt has been an advocate for restaurateurs dealing with coronavirus-related restrictions in getting more outdoor space. But she also lets them know if they are violating rules, which might bring back tighter controls.

“We are doing everything we can do keep the businesses open,” Shearin says. “I think the part that’s really hard is watching a lot of the businesses just struggle so much.”

He credits local residents for buying takeout when restaurants were closed and taking advantage of the option to eat outdoors when it became available.

And about those “mysterious ways?”

Street Life Ministries, which serves free meals to homeless people five nights a week, has seen a huge drop off in food formerly received via corporate cafeterias. Shearin came up with an idea to purchase meals from downtown restaurants at a substantial discount and launched a fundraiser. About a half dozen restaurants – ones equipped to prepare large to-go trays –are partnering with Street Life in providing the meals. The goal was to raise $20,000 —but almost $50,000 has come in. Shearin says two restaurant owners have said they’ll be able to keep an employee working “by us buying food from them.” Lordy!

Stanford fellow’s controversial tweet draws renewed peer criticism

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Following a Nov. 15 tweet from Dr. Scott Atlas—a Trump administration coronavirus task force member on leave from his role at Stanford University as a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution—the university seemed to distance itself from him.

In the controversial tweet, which linked to news of Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s announcement of new coronavirus restrictions, Dr. Atlas posted, “The only way this stops is if people rise up. You get what you accept.”

The tweet was not only called “shocking” by Gov. Whitmer, who was the target of an alleged, foiled October kidnapping plot related to her pandemic orders, but also drew criticism from Dr. Atlas’ own Stanford colleagues.

In a Nov. 16 statement, Stanford said that Dr. Atlas’ views are “inconsistent with the university’s approach in response to the pandemic” and that his statements “reflect his personal views, not those of the Hoover Institution or the university.”

“Stanford’s position on managing the pandemic in our community is clear.  We support using masks, social distancing, and conducting surveillance and diagnostic testing. We also believe in the importance of strictly following the guidance of local and state health authorities,” the university also said in the statement.

In a follow up tweet, Dr. Atlas contended that he was “never talking at all about violence” and that he would never “endorse or incite violence.”

Dr. Atlas’ recent tweet is not the first time his Stanford colleagues have been prompted to speak out against him. After an Aug. 31 report by the Washington Post that he embraced a controversial herd immunity strategy to combat the pandemic, Dr. Atlas drew intense criticism from his peers.

In a Sept. 9 letter following the news report, a Stanford faculty collective stated that “many of [Dr. Atlas’] opinions and statements run counter to established science and, by doing so, undermine public-health authorities and the credible science that guides effective public health policy.”

Another letter dated Sept. 23—signed by a larger group of 105 doctors, scientists and health experts—claimed Dr. Atlas had threatened legal action against them, but reaffirmed their previously stated convictions.

Dr. Atlas has denied recommending herd immunity as an option to the task force or the president, per a report in The Stanford Daily. However, he has repeatedly upheld the strategy as one of the best ways to “eradicate the threat of the virus” in Hoover Institution virtual policy briefings, in an April op-ed in The Hill and in his remarks in May to a U.S. Senate committee.

Photo credit: Hoover Institute 

Cinemark reopens San Mateo County movie theaters

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Cinemark Theatres reopened four movie theaters in San Mateo County today, including locations in Redwood City, San Mateo, Daly City and San Bruno.

The reopening follows the county’s move on Monday to a less-restrictive tier in the state’s COVID-19 reopening plan. The move from the purple, or “widespread” tier, to the “red,” or substantial tier, means some activities can move indoors, with modifications, including restaurants, gyms and movie theaters.

Movie theaters are allowed to open at 25 maximum capacity or up to 100 people, whichever is fewer.

Masks are required, while movie theaters are undergoing more frequent cleaning and disinfecting of high-touch areas.

Burglars strike homes in San Mateo, Belmont

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San Mateo police are investigating a rash of home burglaries in their city and Belmont Friday night.

A home in the 4000 block of Wooster Drive and another on the 4000 block of Highview Drive in the west side of the city were targeted at around 9:15 p.m. Friday night, police said.

While alarms and security cameras prompted a swift police response, the suspects, who gained entry to the homes from the back yard, escaped before their arrival, police said.

“We later learned the suspects burglarize additional homes in Belmont during the same time period,” police said.

Anyone with surveillance or any information is encouraged to call San Mateo Police Dispatch at (650) 522-7700. Anonymous tips can be submitted to http://tinyurl.com/SMPDTips or by calling (650) 522-7676.

Aging water main pipe breaks near Belmont City Hall

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A water main break near Belmont City Hall early Monday caused some flooding to the immediate area and impacted water service to some customers for several hours.

The break occurred under Raltson Avenue at about 3 a.m., causing some flooding in the City Hall parking lot and nearby playground. The Mid-Peninsula Water District arrived on scene to begin repairs within 30 minutes, the city said. Crews reportedly needed to repair an aging broken cast iron water main pipe.

Water service was restored to affected customers as of 1:30 p.m. Monday, the city said.

22-year-old man killed in solo crash on SR-92 at El Camino Real

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Good Samaritan fatally struck on 101 in San Mateo while assisting at crash scene

Authorities are investigating what caused a solo crash that killed a 22-year-old man on State Route 92 at El Camino Real early Saturday.

The CHP responded to the solo vehicle crash involving a 2017 Acura at about 1 a.m. They learned the sedan had left the south road edge of SR-92 eastbound. The vehicle traveled off of a dirt embankment before overturning and colliding into the top of a concrete wall that divides northbound from southbound SR-82, also called El Camino Real, according to the CHP.

Both directions of SR-82 were closed during the investigation and cleanup, with the northbound lanes reopened at about 2:40 a.m. and the southbound lanes reopened just before 4 a.m., the CHP said.

The identity of the victim has been been released pending notification of next of kin, CHP said.

It is not known yet if drugs and/or alcohol were a factor  in the collision. Any witnesses are encouraged to contact Officer H. Clayton at the Redwood City CHP office. (650) 369-6261.

Facing deficits, Redwood City proposes increases to police budget, salaries for top officials

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Redwood City launches process to review 9 downtown projects at once

As Redwood City grapples with projected budget deficits due to the COVID-19 pandemic and amid communitywide calls for police reform, the city is proposing pay raises for top officials and an increase to its police budget. Meanwhile, the budget proposed for 2020-2021 reduces overall spending on parks, recreation and community services.

At tonight’s meeting, the Redwood City council is set to review a budget proposal to solve a $10.1 million deficit next fiscal year that increases the police budget by $2.3 million, from about $46.6 million to $48.9 million, while cutting its overall funding of parks, recreation and community services by $520,000, from about $19.5 million to just under $19 million. The budget for police patrols is increased by $1.3 million, from $28.3 million to $29.6 million.

See the full proposed budget here.

Meanwhile, the city council tonight is also set to review a proposal to increase the annual salaries of City Manager Melissa Stevenson Diaz and City Attorney Veronica Ramirez, who make $295,008 and $251,604, respectively. The pay raises were delayed from 2019, the city said. In late March, the proposed pay raises for the top city officials were shelved amid uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and to better enable the public’s ability to chime in on the matter. With that uncertainty ongoing, the proposal is back on the council agenda, but with adjustments. Due to COVID-19, according to city documents, both the city manager and city attorney requested to forgo their 3-percent merit increase from 2019, as granted by an ad hoc committee that reviews their performance annually. Also, they agreed to forgo a planned 1-percent internal equity adjustment. The ad hoc committee recommends instead that both positions receive a 3 percent cost of living adjustment for 2019.

Some in the community have questioned pay raises for top officials in city government at a time when many in the community are suffering amid the shelter-in-place order. Redwood City businesses thriving before the shelter-in-place order are now struggling, as evidenced in projections for sales tax revenues to the city, which are the second largest contributor of revenue to the city budget behind property taxes. Sales tax revenue is forecast to drop by 5 percent next fiscal year compared with 2019-2020, and to decrease by another 1.3 percent in 2021-22 before ticking back up again. However, the city warned that it cannot fully predict how local businesses will rebound from the recession, with COVID-19  social distancing protocols expected as well as probable changes in consumer behavior.

“…Auto sales are among the top 10 sources of sales tax paid to the city and dealerships currently are permitted to repair cars, sell auto supplies, and only sell vehicles online or by phone,” the city said in documents. “Restaurant activity also contributes significantly to the city’s sales tax base, and restaurant sales are expected to plummet due to requirements to provide food only for take-out or delivery.”

Those impacts were partly offset by large retailers deemed essential during the shelter-in-place period, online retailers headquartered in the city and also online retailers complying with new legislation related to the South Dakota vs. Wayfair case, the city said.

Tax revenue from hotels and similar businesses, called transient occupancy tax, is expected to decrease by 31.3 percent compared to the 2019-2020 fiscal year, and the utility users’ tax revenue is projected to decrease by 5.4 percent over the same period.

The unexpected recession also came in the middle of city efforts to deal with significantly rising pension costs. The annual CalPERS payment is projected at $43 million in 10 years, or $12.8 million more than next fiscal year’s payment of $30.2 million.

Redwood City’s proposed budget for next fiscal year includes $292.9 million in revenues and $292.6 million in expenditures, with a general fund of $148.3 million. Police and fire department salaries account for $67.5 million, or 66.8 percent of all salaries, wages and benefits in the general fund, the city said.

The City Council meets tonight at 7 p.m. on Zoom. To view the agenda and to find out how to join the meeting, go here.

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