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Sunday, June 17, 2007

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Monday, April 23, 2007

SFO to open three international gates

Tara Ramroop The Examiner

South San Francisco, Calif. - In yet another sign of recovering times for San Francisco International Airport, three gates in the International Terminal, which have been closed since the terminal opened in 2000, are set to open this fall.

This means more revenue for the airport and some additional space for a number of airlines, including JetBlue, Aer Lingus, Southwest, and, most likely, Virgin America, that are expanding or adding service to SFO this year.

Of the International Terminal’s 24 gates, these three, located in Boarding Area A, were the only ones that were out of commission, airport spokesman Mike McCarron said. Airport officials hope to have the gates up and running by October, when the $3.6 million project is expected to wrap up, according to McCarron.

This year, the airport demolished the former Boarding Area A, at a cost of $5.3 million, in anticipation of the gate-opening project. This leftover structure was blocking the new gates, but, given the fiscal outlook, officials had previously postponed even the demolition of the project.

The International Terminal, which opened in late 2000 to great fanfare, can accommodate up to 5,000 arriving passengers per hour, according to airport figures. But the travel downturn following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, left it emptier than expected and forced the airport to put off other large projects and make budget cuts.

However, airport figures compiled recently forecast a brighter picture, with an estimated 13 percent growth in passenger load estimated for 2008.

Officials are dusting off other projects and plans, which include remodeling domestic Terminal 2 — the former international terminal.

“We didn’t have the passenger loads to do these projects, but it looks like we can now,” McCarron said.

McCarron said the airport collects a $66 per-use fee when airlines use the SFO-owned passenger boarding bridges to funnel passengers in and out of planes. In addition, the airport collects landing fees that amount to approximately $15 per airplane passenger.

Traveler Dianne Jenson, heading from San Francisco to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport last week, said that adding gates seemed like a logical choice for a major airport.

“It may even make [travelers’] lives easier, that would be nice,” Jenson said.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Earth Day 2007

Patricia Yollin, San Francisco Chronicle

A few months ago, Taylor Francis went to Nashville. It wasn't for the music.

Taylor, a 15-year-old from Menlo Park, is one of 1,000 "climate change messengers" around the country. Trained in Tennessee by Al Gore, they are taking up where his Oscar-winning documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth," left off, giving slide-show presentations about what global warming is doing to us and how we can fight back.

They are popping up everywhere -- in churches, synagogues, Rotary Clubs, ski lodges, design firms, museums, senior centers -- and California, with 111 trainees, leads the pack.

They include Wal-Mart employees, a winemaker from Carmel, actress Cameron Diaz, biologists, housewives, a circus juggler, football player Dhani Jones of the Philadelphia Eagles, a beauty queen, Silicon Valley venture capitalist John Doerr and teenagers such as Taylor, one of the three youngest trainees.

"I think that the climate crisis is going to be the defining issue of our generation because it defines the world we live in and every element of the way that we live," Taylor recently told about 400 students and teachers at Hillsborough's Crystal Springs Uplands School, where he is a freshman. "But this is also an issue we can define, because what we do every day can contribute to the solution."

Roaming the stage of the school theater for 35 minutes, he showed 167 slides and spoke with depth and eloquence -- without a note in his hand. He talked about glaciers, hurricanes and droughts, and threw in the Sierra snowpack, too. When he finished, he got a standing ovation from the 350 students -- grades 6 through 12 -- and their teachers.

"There was much greater interest than usual," said theater manager John Hauer. "Being one of them is a huge part of connecting with the audience. This is a nerdy scientific topic."

Seeing "An Inconvenient Truth" was a "life-changing experience," Taylor said.

"Global warming had been just another distant problem," he said. "It didn't seem super-urgent. The movie was a catalyst."

When Gore was asked what he'd do next after the film's premiere in May, he came up with the idea of training messengers to spread the word about the climate crisis. More than 10,000 people applied.

"They found us -- we didn't have a chance to look for them," said Jenny Clad, executive director of Gore's nonprofit, the Climate Project. "We were overwhelmed and awestruck. People are on fire."

Those who were chosen arrived from 50 states and at least 16 countries. They paid their own transportation and lodging, and sometimes used vacation time, for three days of intensive training by the Climate Project, which covered meals and the cost of materials. The first session was in September; the sixth and final one was earlier this month. Trainings also took place in Australia and the United Kingdom, and are planned for Spain, India and China.

Clad said diversity helped determine who was picked. "We wanted to have the people out there looking like America," she said. "We wanted grandmothers giving presentations to their garden clubs."

When Diane Demee-Benoit left for Nashville on New Year's Day, she wasn't sure what she'd encounter. "I wondered, 'Will there be all these green people with stringy hair and no deodorant?' " recalled the 48-year-old ecosystem biologist, who lives in Corte Madera. "But I met a mortgage broker from Michigan and an interior decorator from Texas."

The messengers share a sense of mission that borders, at times, on obsession.

"You have to keep doing homework," said Demee-Benoit, as she packed up her kit after a presentation at Oakland's Chabot Space & Science Center in late March. "It becomes all-consuming. I'm learning more and more. It really sucks you in -- you realize the amount of misinformation that's out there."

This afternoon, in a live Internet broadcast for Earth Day, Gore will address all 1,000 Climate Project participants. Each of them must do 10 presentations during the year. Carey Stanton, senior director for education and integrated marketing at the National Wildlife Federation, estimated that at least 5,000 have been given so far.

So why shouldn't people just rent "An Inconvenient Truth," if they haven't seen it already, and save everybody a lot of time and trouble?

"It's a totally different experience interacting with a person and with your peers. I think of the movie as a launching pad," said Stanton, whose organization helped train the messengers.

Demee-Benoit said there is also the issue of Gore himself.

"On the one hand, he being the messenger has brought attention to the subject. But some people think it's a political agenda rather than a scientific agenda. A mortgage broker talking about this is going to have a different effect. They're going to speak to their own kind in language that resonates with them."

Stanton said the presentations change as new reports on global warming surface and as the Climate Project provides regular updates. Many trainees also have formed Internet support groups so they can trade information and sustain the camaraderie they enjoyed in Nashville.

"It's been a wonderful online community," said Ellie Cohen, executive director of Petaluma's PRBO Conservation Science, founded as the Point Reyes Bird Observatory. She said the West Coast network of trainees has at least 148 members.

The San Anselmo resident went to Nashville to share what she's discovering about the impact of climate change on wildlife. She also wanted to learn about the expertise of the other trainees. There was another reason as well.

"With the scope and scale of the impending disaster, if we continue business as usual, what will our children say? They'll say, 'You knew this was happening, and you didn't do anything about it,' " said Cohen, 50.

The messengers encounter all kinds of questions, depending on their audience, and tailor the talks to what they know best.

Rafael Reyes, 39, gave a presentation in Spanish at a community center in Redwood City.

"They were primarily Latina mothers," said the San Mateo resident, who works for San Francisco nonprofit As You Sow and is a national director of the Sierra Club. "One woman asked, 'How about using the dryer less and hanging clothes?' Another woman asked about cleaning supplies. They were trying to move toward less manufactured products."

Oakland real estate agent Paul Valva, 48, said Bay Area audiences are focused on solutions, not evidence.

"By far, the most common question is, 'What can we do as an individual?' In this area, it's a lot less about, 'How can you prove to me that global warming exists?' "

Inevitably, the messengers talk about carbon offsets, driving less, purchasing hybrids and biodiesel vehicles, turning off appliances and lights, walking and taking public transit, recycling and buying locally grown foods. After Taylor Francis returned from Nashville, he and his father installed 60 fluorescent lightbulbs in their home.

If people mention Gore's higher-than-average energy consumption in his Nashville mansion, messengers are likely to say that he and his wife, Tipper, also use the house as an office and have equipped it with green power.

"It's kind of insignificant in terms of the work he's doing," said Michael Lin, a 26-year-old trainee who lives in San Francisco and teaches a course on green design at Stanford University.

Some questions are hard to anticipate. Valva recalled one: "Is there any evidence that other planets are heating up? This would support some people's theory that the sun is actually getting hotter."

At Demee-Benoit's talk to science teachers at Chabot, three people persisted in challenging what she was saying. "I think temperature goes up, and then carbon dioxide goes up," one said. "The science doesn't really add up," said another. "Global warming is cyclical," insisted the third.

It turned out they were infiltrators -- youth organizers from the Lyndon LaRouche movement. The followers of the controversial political activist, a perennial presidential candidate, have been showing up at presentations around the country.

"It tells us our work is cut out for us," Demee-Benoit said.

Although Stanton, of the National Wildlife Federation, emphasized that the trainees make it clear "the debate is over" about whether global warming is real and what its effects are, Cohen said, "You still have to convince people. There are still people who say, 'Is it really human-caused?' That's the point of contention."

Taylor Francis has given nine slide shows so far, some aimed at young people and others at adults.

"Fourth-graders asked a lot of questions about spaceships -- and I hadn't talked about that at all," he said during a phone interview. "Since then, I've had to do some research."

Taylor, whose birthday is in late March, was 14 when he was trained in Nashville.

"He's like Johnny Carson," Stanton said. "It's like, 'How old are you, really?' "

After the presentation Thursday at his Hillsborough school, there was plenty that students wanted to know: Does America need to adhere to the Kyoto Protocol and, if so, will it threaten our economy? What about the batteries that hybrids use? Won't emissions in China and India be higher than ours as they get more industrialized? When will ozone-creation technologies be financially available? Should the United States switch to nuclear power? What about ethanol?

Afterward, the reviews were good.

"He talked about California," said Eric Allen, an 18-year-old junior from San Jose. "And he brought up skiing. He really did a good job of bringing it close to home."

Saturday, April 14, 2007

The tax man cometh

The Examiner Apr 14, 2007

SAN FRANCISCO - Tuesday is the deadline to file federal and state income taxes, the Internal Revenue Service said in a reminder release this week. Those who owe money but cannot afford to pay it in a lump sum may apply for a deadline extension or an installment arrangement, or may pay by credit card, the agency said.

More information is available at www.irs.gov.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

No more ‘paper or plastic?’

Joshua Sabatini, The Examiner

SAN FRANCISCO - San Francisco continued to ride the “green wave” Tuesday by becoming the first city in the nation to ban plastic checkout bags from large grocery and pharmacy chains.

Opposed by grocers, legislation banning the plastic bags was widely supported by the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, blaming the petroleum-based bags for littering city streets, harming wildlife, gumming up recycling machines and eating up fossil fuels.

The City’s estimated 54 large grocery chains will have to switch to recyclable paper, compostable plastic bags or durable reusable bags within about six months and large pharmacy chains, such as Walgreens and Rite-Aid, within a year.

Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi drafted the legislation after he and other city officials accused the large grocery store chains of failing to live up to an agreement to reduce the use of the bags by 10 million last year. The agreement was struck with the stipulation that The City would not pursue a 17-cent tax per plastic bag.

The California Grocers Association maintain the agreement was successful in cutting the usage of plastic bags by 7.6 million in 2006, but city officials claim that number is unreliable.

The ban would help move The City closer to its goal of diverting 75 percent of all waste produced from its landfills by 2010, said Jared Blumenfeld, head of the Environment Department.

“After 10 years of plastic bag recycling in The City, we have a 1 percent recycling rate. So it’s a 99 percent failure of the bags,” Blumenfeld said.

It is estimated that San Francisco’s 54 large grocery stores account for 100 million to 150 million plastic checkout bags a year, according to city officials, and that 430,000 gallons of oil is used in the production of 100 million plastic bags.

“We still don’t think that it’s the most effective way of dealing with the environmental issue,” California Grocers Association spokesman Dave Heylen said.

Instead, the grocers association advocates continuing efforts to recycle and reuse plastic bags. Heylen also said the plastic bags are “the most economical from a retail standpoint,” costing a “couple of pennies” each while the compostable plastic bags would cost anywhere between 6 and 10 cents each.

Supervisor Ed Jew, the only naysayer in the 10-1 vote, agreed the ban would hamper recycling efforts.

“We still have about 95,000 small businesses in San Francisco that will continue to use plastic bags, as well as the city and county of San Francisco,” Jew said.

The Board of Supervisors is expected to give final approval to the legislation at its next meeting on April 10.

Shoppers critical of prohibition

On a windy day when loose plastic, paper and garments were noticeable, many shoppers said they understood the desired environmental effect in the ban but that the plastic bags provided a convenience otherwise unfulfilled by the cumbersome and geometric paper bags.

“When you’re running around with plastic bags, you can put a ton on your hand. You can’t do that with paper,” said Mark Quessey, a design student popping out of the Walgreens at Broadway and Polk streets.

“It’s politicians trying to make themselves sound important; it’s just a gimmick,” Quessey said.

The ban only affects The City’s largest chain supermarkets — 54 in all — and pharmacy chains such as Walgreens, leaving plastic bags with smaller businesses, such as corner grocers.

Others lamented the loss of plastic bags for around-the-house duties such as garbage or, ahem, dog duty.

Matt Campbell, who drives to the Safeway in the Marina from the Presidio, said he used the bags around his house for just such reasons.

When asked about compostable bags, Campbell along with shoppers, questioned what they were made of and how similar they were to plastic.

H.O. Salimi said that while his wife would miss the plastic bags for household uses, it was a good idea to cut down on the amount of plastic that is out there.

Shopping at the Whole Foods at Franklin and California streets three times a week, he said he noticed the omnipresence of plastic bags when they would be tucked into each other for support.

Devian McEvoy, walking up the hill from the Marina Safeway with two plastic bags in hand, called the ban “pointless” because paper pollutes, too, and the board was “just asking for perfection.”— David Smith

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Cingular Wireless to refund $18.5 million to unhappy customers


- Cingular Wireless will refund $18.5 million to thousands of former California customers who were penalized for canceling their mobile phone service because they had trouble making and receiving calls.

The settlement announced Thursday with the California Public Utilities Commission ends a lengthy battle revolving around Cingular's treatment of dissatisfied subscribers from January 2000 through April 2002.

About 115,000 unhappy customers who left Cingular during that time will receive average refund checks of $160 to cover the fees that they were charged for prematurely ending their contracts. The refunds include interest.

Cingular expects to issue the refunds within 60 days, spokeswoman Lauren Garner said. An unknown number of other former customers who paid early termination fees to outside vendors who sold Cingular service will have to file claims that are reviewed by an independent claims administrator.

Besides spelling out the size of the refunds, the truce upholds a $12.1 million fine that state regulators imposed on Cingular in September 2003. At that time, the regulators had ordered Cingular to issue refunds without specifying an amount.

Regulators lashed out at Cingular after concluding the carrier didn't give its subscribers an adequate chance to change their minds about a service that was frequently swamped with more calling traffic than it could handle. The traffic on Cingular's mobile network nearly doubled to 3 million subscribers during that period, straining the system until the company completed extensive upgrades.

Cingular, recently renamed AT&T Mobility, had been unsuccessfully fighting in court to overturn California's regulatory ruling. The company had filed an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court shortly before deciding to settle.

"While we have a strong case for appeal, it is time to move forward," Cingular said in a statement. "Cingular's business practices have changed significantly since the period in question, and the company is now the industry leader in customer-friendly initiatives."

Among other things, Cingular said it now offers all customers up to 30 days to return their phones and drop their service without penalty.

That option wasn't available in California during 2000, 2001 and the first part of 2002, according to state regulators.

Back then, Cingular insisted on penalizing exasperated customers even though its management knew congestion problems were causing many calls to be blocked or dropped, according to company testimony cited in the case.