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Werden the smooth-talker

By Aaron Kinney
Wednesday, December 16th, 2009 at 3:12 pm in Foster City, San Mateo County

We meant to get this into the print version of the Insider, but there wasn’t room.

So here, belatedly, are some notes from the Dec. 3 meeting of the Foster City Planning Commission, during which the commission voted to recommend that the City Council certify a final environmental impact report for Gilead Sciences’ campus expansion and approve a development agreement with the biopharmaceutical company.

Two neighbors of Gilead Sciences expressed over the “significant and unavoidable” noise that will accompany the renovation of Gilead’s campus. The women live across Mariner’s Island Boulevard from Gilead, just over the San Mateo-Foster City border. They were worried that their lives will be disrupted by the construction, which is scheduled to last 10 years, and their property values will be depressed.

Charlie Bronitsky, appearing as a planning commissioner for the last time before being introduced Dec. 7 as a new member of the City Council, sympathized with the women’s concerns and assured them that, as the project moves forward, city officials will do what they can to keep construction noise in check.

Commissioner Ollie Pattum didn’t say much, other than to note that all construction projects create noise. C’est la vie. Commissioner Bob Werden engaged the women, but he may have made matters worse.

“You moved next to a commercial area,” Werden admonished the women, who vociferously objected to that and other points Werden made while addressing them.

“Property in Foster City is worth millions of dollars,” he later added. “We can’t afford not to build there.”

One of the women, Gail Benson, said the following week that, although she moved into her condo 9 years ago, the buildings have been there for 30 years, meaning the Mariners Reef condo complex predates Gilead, which formed in 1987.

Benson told the Planning Commission she has nothing to against Gilead, but she would “like them a lot more if they were 100 miles away.”

Benson’s friend, Diane Gyuricza, told the commission she took exception to the “statement of overriding considerations” it signed off on. The statement expresses, in essence, that the project is worth doing despite its negative impacts on the city in terms of traffic congestion and noise pollution.

“I’m really offended by that term,” she said.

Commissioners Ron Cox and Noemi Avram had to recuse themselves from the Gilead discussion due to conflicts, so the final vote was 3-0 in favor of the various Gilead recommendations.

Cox didn’t return a phone call inquiring about what his conflict is. Avram, an architect, responded to an e-mail, indicating she recently did an interior residential remodel for the president of Gilead, John Gilligan.

There’s another Gilead meeting tomorrow. Here’s the Gilead page on the city’s Web site.

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The fightin’ twelfth!

By Aaron Kinney
Wednesday, November 18th, 2009 at 11:20 am in Burlingame, Jackie Speier, San Mateo County

Rep. Jackie Speier appeared on “The Colbert Report” last night in the latest installment of the “Better Know a District” series.

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Better Know a District – California’s 12th – Jackie Speier
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor U.S. Speedskating

Burlingame’s Museum of Pez Memorabilia (currently embroiled in a copyright infringement lawsuit with Pez) even got a shoutout.

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Bay Area Heart Gallery

By Aaron Kinney
Tuesday, November 10th, 2009 at 3:17 pm in San Mateo, San Mateo County

The Times ran a story Monday on the Bay Area Heart Gallery, a photo exhibit that highlights the importance of families taking in foster children.

A photo of two foster kids mentioned in the story — sisters Ann, 17, and Daniece, 12 — was originally intended to accompany the article. The photo, courtesy of Madeleine Tilin Photography, didn’t make the cut, but it’s so good we had to show it to you, and we’ve reproduced it above. The sisters live with San Mateo resident Margie Chop, a registered nurse.

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Eshoo, Speier on House passage of health care bill

By Aaron Kinney
Monday, November 9th, 2009 at 5:45 pm in Anna Eshoo, Barack Obama, Democratic Party, Health care, Jackie Speier, San Mateo County

The Peninsula’s two representatives in the House, Anna Eshoo and Jackie Speier, issued statements following House’s passage of Saturday of a health care reform bill.

These are Eshoo’s prepared remarks on the House floor before the vote:

“Madame Speaker, I come to the floor today to cast one of the most important votes of my congressional career — a vote in support of H.R. 3962, the Affordable Health Care for America Act.

We are on the threshold of history that has been almost a century in the making.

The promise of America as a land of equality and opportunity that embraces and cares for all of its citizens is but an empty promise without the guarantee of health care and the freedom from financial devastation resulting from illness.

For so many of us, this long battle has had a singular, courageous champion who has fought like a lion for the sick, the elderly, the left behind and the left out. Our great achievement today will also be our greatest memorial to our friend, mentor and inspiration, Senator Edward Kennedy.

Like Senator Kennedy, many of us wondered — as the decades marched by — whether our efforts for comprehensive healthcare reform would ever be successful.

His unwavering commitment to decent health care for all Americans has paved the way for the bill before us today. It is on the shoulders of this giant that we stand and I pledge my vote as a tribute to the late senator.

At the heart of this legislation is one simple, indisputable idea: Everyone deserves health insurance they can afford.

Our system is broken. In a nation where health is a daily value and where health care is the finest in the world, I hear daily from constituents who cannot afford to take care of themselves or their families, who are driven out of the system by skyrocketing premiums, who live under the threat of a shuttered business or a bankrupted household, or who simply have to roll the dice and hope they will get better — or not too much worse.

Perhaps most tragically, our current system turns its back on those most in need — those with a pre-existing condition. Health insurance is meaningless if it’s only available to the healthy.

H.R. 3926 will cover 96 percent of all Americans.

It prohibits discrimination based on pre-existing conditions.

It eliminates lifetime caps — immediately.

It includes a nonprofit public insurance option designed to increase competition and lower prices.

It provides affordability credits to lower-income Americans to help them pay for coverage.

It modernizes and strengthens Medicare, ensuring the program’s continued solvency and eliminating the prescription ‘donut-hole.’

And, very importantly, it is budget neutral.

When I return to my constituents in California, I’ll be proud to tell them that with this bill:

— Employer-based health coverage will improve for 461,000 men, women and children who live in my district

— 84,000 households in my district will receive affordability credits to help them pay for coverage they otherwise couldn’t afford

— 9,500 of the seniors in my district will no longer fall victim to the prescription drug ‘donut-hole’

— 17,100 small businesses in my district will be able to obtain affordable health care coverage

— And that 15,400 people will qualify for tax credits that will help reduce their health insurance costs.

I’m also proud that I joined with Senator Kennedy to author an amendment to H.R. 3962, to create an FDA pathway for the approval of biosimilar drugs.

Biotechnology is a complex and emerging field that can harness the power to cure cancer, AIDS, and diabetes, and prevent the onset of deadly and debilitating diseases such as Alzheimer’s, heart disease, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis and arthritis.

My amendment will save the government $6 billion over the next ten years while continuing to foster innovation and new advancements.

After President Obama signs this bill, millions of Americans who today have no health insurance will have it. Patients who are now denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition will no longer be shut out of the system. Millions more seniors will be able to afford their medications, and the average American family will pay less for their health coverage.

Most importantly, we will be keeping our promise to the American people that they will have affordable health insurance which they cannot lose or have taken away from them if they become ill.

I look forward to passing this landmark piece of legislation and seeing it signed into law by the president.”

Speier’s office issued the following statement following the vote:

“Today, the House of Representatives stood up to the fear-mongering and misinformation and passed a historic health care reform bill that has been sixty years in the making. This issue is a big part of why my constituents sent me to Washington and I am proud to have been able to cast a vote to address our nation’s health care disparities and expand access for all Americans.

This is not a decision that was made in haste. No issue has been studied, scrutinized and debated more than health care reform. Like every time in our nation’s history when sweeping changes are proposed — whether it be Social Security, Medicare, civil rights, women’s suffrage or the creation of the Veterans Administration — emotions have run high in this debate and there has been no shortage of opinions on every side.

This bill was the result of compromises between many different points of view and was subject to the most exhaustive and transparent review process of any bill in our nation’s history. Literally hundreds of hours of bipartisan committee meetings were devoted to it and the final text was posted online more than three days prior to a vote being taken.

I commend Speaker Pelosi and everyone involved in the drafting of this legislation and look forward, in the weeks and months ahead, to making sure that the bill we eventually send to the president truly makes quality, affordable health care available to all Americans and eliminates unfair insurance company practices like denying coverage for those with pre-existing conditions and dropping customers when they fall ill.”

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Madoff’s “North Pole”

By Aaron Kinney
Tuesday, October 20th, 2009 at 5:42 pm in Burlingame, Crime, Foster City, Joe Cotchett

An amended complaint filed by Burlingame-based law firm Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy against Bernie Madoff and his alleged co-conspirators in a massive Ponzi scheme contains some salacious new details about the professional atmosphere Madoff cultivated in the early years of BMIS, including allegations of drug use and prostitution:

Behind the Facade, Madoff and BMIS Had A Dark Side

83. Behind this facade was a different side of Madoff and BMIS. Starting in 1975, Madoff began sending a long-time employee and office messenger to obtain drugs for himself and the company who worked with another individual who became a supplier to BMIS. These two men were described as
street tough men from Harlem “who were not to be messed with.” Their job was to get drugs and bring them to the office for use at BMIS. The employees in the office were well known and everyone knew, including some special investors. Drug use in the office was described as rampant and likened the office to the “North Pole” in reference to the cocaine use. Eventually the main employee supplier was fired for his drug abuse when cocaine and other undisclosed drugs were found in his desk in 2003. Madoff worried that it might bring in drug prosecutors who might uncover the big scam.

84. In regards to the diversion-filled office environment, employees described the wild office parties sans spouses. There were topless entertainers wearing only “G-string” underwear serving as waitresses, and a culture of sexual deviance existed in the office. The employees had late night affairs in exciting places – such as their boss’ sofa “with whomever they could find.” Employees described it as a wild, fast-talking, drug-using office culture.

85. Madoff also maintained a list of his favorite attractive female masseuses in his personal telephone book. Madoff’s affinity for escorts, masseuses, and attractive female employees was well known in the office culture, and certain feeders were allowed to participate in the conduct. A significant amount of the money stolen from investors went towards these lavish indulgences as well as other expenses for his employees, family and favorite feeders.

Among the other potential revelations in the complaint, which runs to nearly 300 pages, is that Madoff may have begun his Ponzi scheme as early as the the 1960s, not the 1990s, as he has claimed.

One of the victims of Madoff’s scheme who is being represented by Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy is a retired Foster City teacher.

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Speier holds forum with Filipino community

By Aaron Kinney
Friday, October 16th, 2009 at 5:36 pm in Democratic Party, Jackie Speier, South San Francisco

Rep. Jackie Speier will hold a forum with Filipino community members Saturday morning in South San Francisco. The event will run from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in the Joseph A. Fernekes Recreation Building at 781 Tennis Drive (inside Orange Park).
Speier will talk about recent legislation and events in Washington, and the Red Cross will provide an update on relief efforts in the Philippines.
On Wednesday, the House passed a Speier-authored resolution expressing its sympathies for residents of the Philippines in the aftermath of recent typhoons.
“The historical and cultural links between the Philippines and the United States run deeper than any flood waters,” Speier said in her speech on the House floor. “I urge my colleagues to support House Resolution 800 to show our friends, the good people of the Philippines, that — as they stood with us in World War II — the American people stand with them at this, their time of greatest need.”

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By Aaron Kinney
Tuesday, September 29th, 2009 at 2:07 pm in Agriculture, Burlingame, Foster City, Redwood City, San Mateo County, Woodside

Here’s eight photos from last week that didn’t make it into the paper, all taken by Times staff photographer John Green. Above and below, Foster City Mayor John Kiramis ships out for Southern California on Wednesday aboard his 50-foot power boat from Sausalito Shipyard & Marina. He’s resigning from the City Council and moving to Lancaster, in Los Angeles County, to help care for his ailing mother-in-law.

Nuffie Calbreath takes in the festivities with her dog Bella at Saturday’s Burlingame Pet Parade. Hundreds of pets and their owners turned out for the sixth-annual event.

Owners and their pets stroll down Broadway during the parade.

A cluster of grapes on the vine at Thomas Fogarty Winery in Woodside. The wine grape harvest has begun at Fogarty and other San Mateo County vineyards.

Elizabeth Enriques (right) picks grapes on Thursday at Thomas Fogarty.

Members of Mexico Vivo perform at the Redwood City Salsa Festival on Saturday.

Sigmund Jacobson, of San Leandro, tries some salsa at the festival.

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Speier lauds student loan bill

By Aaron Kinney
Thursday, September 17th, 2009 at 5:08 pm in Democratic Party, Education, Jackie Speier, San Mateo County

Rep. Jackie Speier released a statement today praising the House’s passage of the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act, which would overhaul the process by which student loans are issued.

“This legislation will make it possible for more Americans to go to college, for more graduates to leave college without crippling student loan debts, and for families to better plan for their children’s future,” Speier said.

According to Speier’s office, the billl “expands access to financial aid programs, saves tax dollars by eliminating costly guarantees to private lenders, increases the amount of Pell Grants and provides real-world career training through new partnerships between universities, community colleges, businesses and job training programs.”

“President Obama challenged us in his State of the Union address to make America the leader in the number of college graduates by 2020,” Speier’s statement continued. “This bill not only does that but allows students to borrow money at a dependable rate so that they are not overburdened by debt when they graduate. On top of it all, taxpayers save billions of dollars that were previously paid to private lenders in guarantees for unpaid loans. …

“Our entire nation benefits every time someone formerly unable to attend college is given the chance. This bill expands access to higher education by lowering interest rates on subsidized, need-based federal student loans, expanding the popular Perkins loan program to every U.S. college campus and creating a shorter and simpler federal financial aid form to make applying for financial aid easier.”

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Speier, Eshoo, Yee remarks on death of Sen. Ted Kennedy

By Aaron Kinney
Thursday, August 27th, 2009 at 11:28 am in Anna Eshoo, Democratic Party, Jackie Speier, Leland Yee, San Mateo County

Statement from Rep. Jackie Speier’s office:

“The passing of Senator Kennedy is a loss for his family, our nation and the political process itself. Born to a family of power and privilege, Senator Kennedy never stopped working for the least of society. He wore his passion on his sleeve and never cared about the politically expedient route or whom he might upset if the cause he was championing was what was best for Americans. My thoughts and prayers are with his family, in particular my colleague Congressman Patrick Kennedy. I’ll say an extra prayer tonight for the future health of decorum and cooperation at every level of the political process. While no one was more true to his progressive roots, Ted Kennedy was able to forge coalitions and work with his opponents better than any lawmaker in our history. All of us in public life should remember what Senator Kennedy taught us: There is no weakness in working with those with whom we disagree and no virtue in refusing to listen to opposing points of view. His courage is an inspiration to me and his wisdom and leadership will be sorely missed.”

Rep. Anna Eshoo:

“The nation lost a great patriot and I lost a dear friend. Senator Kennedy inspired me to serve in public office, and his wise counsel and steadfast support has sustained me throughout my public and personal life.

“His courage through tragedy and record of legislative accomplishments is unsurpassed in modern American history. I join my constituents and people around the world in remembering him and praying for his beloved family.”

State Sen. Leland Yee:

“Like many Americans who share his principles and as someone who benefited from his efforts, I feel a deep personal sadness at the passing of Senator Ted Kennedy. We have lost one of our greatest champions for universal health care, civil rights and education. We have lost a fierce warrior and an iconic voice for immigrants, women, the disabled and working families. He was the moral standard for generations of lawmakers, and his influence went far beyond Massachusetts, the halls of Congress, and even the borders of our nation. For decades, Ted Kennedy, like his brothers, ‘saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it.’ It will take all of us to carry forward the torch that Senator Kennedy so proudly and courageously held for so many years. As we continue the work, the cause, the hope and the dream, his legacy lives forever. My thoughts go out to the Kennedy family and to all Americans on our common loss.”

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Speier photos

By Aaron Kinney
Tuesday, August 25th, 2009 at 11:21 am in Democratic Party, Health care, Jackie Speier, San Carlos, San Mateo, San Mateo County

Here are some photos of Rep. Jackie Speier’s recent meetings with constituents that didn’t make it into the paper. Above, Mario Pellegrin, of Montara, questions Speier about health care reform Sunday at a town hall meeting held outside at Farallone View Elemenatary School in Montara. (Jim Stevens/Bay Area News Group)

Speier at the Hot Harvest Nights farmers market Thursday in San Carlos. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)

From left to right, Gail Sredanovic, of Menlo Park, Ruth Robertson, of Los Altos, and Jane Emery, of San Jose, all from the Raging Grannies, sing in support of health care reform at Hot Harvest Nights. (Nhat V. Meyer)

Howard Weisberg, of San Mateo, holds up his sign in support of health care reform while waiting for Speier at Hot Harvest Nights. (Nhat V. Meyer)

Sophia Dew, 9, left, talks with Speier on Wednesday at the San Mateo County Fair. (John Green/Bay Area News Group)

Speier signs an autograph book for San Francisco resident Leo Pribble at the fair. (John Green)

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