Saturday, March 28, 2015
Supervisor Steve Kinsey can learn from this little clip. Special tax breaks for affordable housing, mass transit and special favors for special interests hurt the "little people" the most. No, Steve, these are not "investments". They are giveaways to political insiders that the community must pay for.
Friday, March 27, 2015
Kinsey: "One possibility, he said, is pursuing a homeless facility on San Rafael’s St. Vincent’s tract."
By Nels Johnson, Marin Independent Journal
Civic Center officials, reflecting on the job of governing Marin County, say they want to nurture a dynamic, creative county workforce, focus on Marin’s environmental heritage, maintain fiscal discipline while proceeding with civic improvements, and work on key issues ranging from climate change to homelessness and social inequity.
County supervisors, convening off site and off camera Tuesday with a handful of administrators for an unusual retreat at the Throckmorton Fire Station to discuss “major trends, organizational business plan and potential focus areas,” agreed informally that the board’s collegial nature is a ticket for success.
“Even when we do disagree, there are no grudges,” Supervisor Damon Connolly said of the board’s five progressive Democrats. “We live to fight another day,” added Connolly, the board’s newest member, who most notably cast a dissenting vote on payments from what he calls the county board’s community “slush fund.”
This week’s session was lead by County Administrator Matthew Hymel, who was joined by two top aides and personnel chief Joanne Peterson. Hymel said it was important “to make sure we’re on the same page going forward ... make sure we’re adopting the best way possible.” In short, he added, “we’re a good team, but how can we get better?”
Although county coffers are filling as property tax revenues rise 5.8 percent, or about 1.8 percent more than expected, expenses are escalating as well, with costs including replacing the Civic Center roof, a job that could range anywhere from $8 million to $20 million. “Should we issue a bond to meet some of these needs?” Hymel wondered. He also noted a need to plug staffing gaps, including county communications activities where “we need to do a better job ... with social media.”
Other expenses include worker’s compensation, which hit an estimated $8.7 million this year, or $2.7 million more than expected, “primarily because of public safety” claims, Hymel said. Retired safety employees generate most costs in light of state law allowing them to claim compensation for ailments years after they leave the workforce. Twenty-three sheriff’s deputies are now on disability leave allowing them to collect full benefits while taking up to a year off.
“Under the rules we have, we are doing the best we can,” Hymel said.
Supervisors raised a number of pressing issues, including homelessness. “We got to do more,” Supervisor Steve Kinsey said, calling for a “meaningful discussion” during county budget deliberations.
One possibility, he said, is pursuing a homeless facility on San Rafael’s St. Vincent’s tract. San Rafael area Supervisor Connolly later said he was “open to all” proposals.
Connolly reported “really making progress” on Marinwood Plaza, with “a number of bidders potentially coming forward” to buy the entire site. He called for a “stronger relationship with our schools” but offered no specifics, and said department heads need to focus on how to execute and “how to succeed” rather than merely “share information” at their weekly meetings.nt
Kinsey raised a shopping list of issues, saying the county needs to push for “equal justice for all,” figure out how “we can really value diversity and build it into our business,” consider how to transform Marin City into a better community, review the budget for curbing pension liability and take action to speed permit approvals.
Supervisor Judy Arnold said shepherding the SMART train program is a key issue, but added preservation of Marin’s rural heritage looms large as well, with critics of housing along the freeway threatening Marin’s fundamental eastern “corridor” development philosophy. “Do we want to see more development in Nicasio?” she asked with an inflection indicating the answer was no way. Connolly said did not think the county housing debate would lead to rural development. “This board isn’t for a moment thinking about abandoning A-60 zoning,” added Supervisor Katie Rice.
“Potholes,” Arnold said at another point. “We really have to stay on top of that,” she added. ”Our roads are in really bad shape.”
Rice urged a “realistic look at what our resources are” and develop creative ways to get things done without depleting the budget. She called attention to the county’s prescription drug abuse epidemic and added she will “stay focused ... on the Ross Valley flood control.”
Officials expressed support for social equity, with several noting a “strong start” ballot issue campaign is in the works to fund preschool, healthy and child-care programs. All seemed to agree the county workforce needs more training, recognition and opportunities for advancement while developing a “creative problem-solving culture.”
“It’s good to understand where your colleagues are coming from,” Hymel noted. “There are so many areas of common interest” he observed. ”Some boards don’t have that.”
And yet despite consensus, change doesn’t come easily, Kinsey noted, citing a lack of “throughput” on a county pledge to speed permit processing. “Why is it so hard ... to change?” he asked.
Thursday, March 26, 2015
Tuesday, March 24, 2015
Marinwood Plaza, Toxic Waste and Cancer
Marinwood Plaza at 100 Marinwood Ave, San Rafael, CA has been the site of a toxic waste hotspot for at least a decade (maybe much further back). It is alleged that it was a dumping spot of PCE from the Prosperity Cleaners. Instead of promptly ordering a cleanup, authorities allowed the toxic plume to spread. During this time, Marin County Supervisor, Susan Adams with ambitions for US Congress worked furiously to get a housing development on this site. Several candidates were identified but for various reasons withdrew. Could it have been because of the toxic waste liability?
The owner of the property let the property fall into disrepair. Tenants moved away and it attracted vandalism, illegal dumping and graffiti. Some speculate that during this time additional "bandit" dumping of toxic waste may have occurred. A cancer "hotspot" emerged at Casa Marinwood, across the street. Part of Casa Marinwood is located down gradient towards Miller Creek watershed as is clear in the first video. In addition to PCE, unhealthy amounts of Benzene, a class one carcinogen was found at the Savemore convenience store.
Despite claims by former Supervisor Susan Adams in her 2013 Marin Voice column that the Toxic Plume had be remediated , the toxic plumb remained in the ground despite modest efforts to show that clean up was occuring.
On February 12, 2014, the RWQCB issued an immediate order for toxic waste cleanup but Marinwood Plaza LLC objected. Their attorney, reminded the commissioners that "powerful people" were watching, referring to Congressperson Marc Levine and Supervisor Adams who had called regulators on the eve of the hearing.
The original staff member who presented on February 12, 2014 suddenly was retired after this hearing and a new team was assigned to the case. It appears that Marinwood Plaza LLC is still delaying the cleanup for financial reasons. The community and Ms. Silveira, representative of the Silveira dairy ranch are still waiting for an earnest clean up to begin.
Only the experts from the Regional Water Quality Control Board stand between the Cleanup and the Toxic Waste from causing further harm to the community. We pray they do their job well.
BY HAMISH MCKENZIE
ON DECEMBER 17, 2013
ON DECEMBER 17, 2013
If you’re ever looking for evidence of Chinese startups being able to innovate at the same pace as their US counterparts – apart from, you know, the country’s recent successful soft moon landing – you could do worse than check out Face++, a Beijing-based facial recognition company that appears to making a push for attention in the West.
By the same token, if you’re ever looking for evidence that the future is going to be freaky, you could do worse than check out Face++.
The startup – co-founded by a PhD candidate on leave from Columbia University, a former Microsoft engineer, and someone from Beijing’s Tsinghua University – analyzes 83 points on the human face to help it detect, analyze, and search distinguishing features, emotions, and people you creepily took a photo of in a bar.
It offers free APIs, so developers can embed the face recognition technology into their apps and websites. In one early application of the tech, a Chinese university professor used to Face++ in his research on depression, which included monitoring changes in patients’ facial expressions over time. The tech, for instance, can measure how wide a smile is.
Face++ is also being used by one of China’s leading dating sites, Jiayuan, in the sort of application that would likely never fly in the US. The gist is that you can upload to the site a photo of someone you think is beautiful, and then Jiayuan will try to find a potential date who has a similar face. If you are the type to seek replicas of the partner who just dumped you, then you might find this useful. If you are the type, however, to find such objectification morally objectionable and shallow, you should never visit China.
More prosaically, the startup envisages the technology being used for identity verification, and in fact it already offers and Android app that will let you unlock your smartphone with just your pretty face. But the company apparently also wants to be “the Google of face search,” a vision that would entail letting you take a photo of someone and then hitting “search” to find out who they are. Given that discrete wearable tech such as Google Glass and smartwatches are going to be more common in the years ahead, I think you can quietly start freaking out now. Or at least scrub all your embarassing photos from the Internet.
Face++, of course, is not the only startup playing in this space, but it does appear to be a leading player from China, where it found investment from Kaifu Lee’s Innovation Works and Lenovo. In the US, it competes with Kairos, Cube26, and Snapizzi, among others. So far, the most significant exit for a facial recognition company to date is Face.com, which in 2012 was acquired by Facebook for about $60 million.
I’ve argued at length in my ebook “Beta China,” (which you can buy here or read online here), that China is entering a new generation of innovation, especially in mobile tech. Face++ is just another example of that emergent phenomenon.
And, just for the hell of it, below is a video of that moon landing, just to remind you that shit is getting real in China.