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Students kept home because of flu

A reader brought to my attention the fact that last week, the county health department reported that six students at one Fremont school tested positive for the flu. The health department’s daily H1N1 flu update mentions the Fremont incident on page 1, under “New Information,” and at the top of page 4.

I asked the district’s spokeswoman, Nicole Steward, about this. She said that it was actually five students, not six, from Irvington High and that they tested positive for the regular seasonal flu. However, the district kept eight other students (a total of 13) home as a precaution because these other students had been in contact with the ones that exhibited the flu symptoms. About four of the students who had no symptoms tried to return to class early last week, but the school refused to let them back until they had been cleared.

All the students were cleared to return to school today, Steward said.

The person who brought this to my attention expressed concern that the public was not made aware of the potential H1N1 outbreak, saying that parents of kids with asthma, diabetes or other health conditions would want to know.

Steward said the district did not send out a schoolwide notice to parents about what happened because no one’s tested positive for the H1N1 virus.

Sherri Willis, spokeswoman for the county’s public health department, would not comment specifically on the Fremont case, but said that generally speaking, individuals who are past the infectious stage are allowed to return to school or work.

She also warned against public over-reaction to news that a cluster of students from one school are ill.

“We’re careful to wait until the results (are in) because even if it is a cluster, it’s not necessarily swine flu,” she said.

She added that the county has seen few schools with a cluster of potential H1N1 cases.

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Yee in the race

Ohlone College Trustee Garrett Yee has entered the race to succeed Assemblyman Alberto Torrico.

He and Fremont Councilmember Bob Wieckowski are the only two declared candidates. Milpitas Mayor Bob Livengood is still considering a run and Washington Hospital Trustee Jacob Eapen hasn’t been calling me back this week about his potential candidacy.

I’ll have short story about Yee next week. The election isn’t until June 8, 2010.

Wieckowski and Yee, who is an Army reservist, would appear to be the two favorites given their backers, their name recognition and the fact that they are from Fremont, which constitutes about half the district.

They even both went to Kennedy High School. Take that, Mission.

Yee said he would be an advocate for higher education and said he had a pro-environment record that rivaled Wiekowski’s. He also said he’s always been in sync with the Democrats when it comes to key issues even though he was a Republican in 2003 and switched from Decline to State to Democrat in 2007.

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Dutra v. Torrico Round 3

John Dutra says he likes Alberto Torrico, and he’s certainly donated to his his successor’s Assembly campaigns, but they sure seem to have trouble agreeing on local races.

Two years ago in Newark, Dutra, and his building industry buddies, backed Al Huezo; while Torrico, and his union buddies, backed Sharlene Saria-Mansfield. Huezo won.

Same thing last year in Fremont’s council race. Dutra backed Sue Chan, Torrico backed his aide Trisha Tahmasbi. Chan won.

Now with the Assembly. Dutra will support Yee. Wieckowski, who shares a legal office with Torrico, will have the incumbent’s support.

Who will Fremont’s council endorse? Harrison and Wasserman have already endorsed Wieckowski. Best guess is  Natarajan also goes for Wieckowski, while Chan endorses Yee.

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Pension news

 May 8 (Bloomberg) — The California Public Employees’ Retirement System, the largest U.S. public pension, said investment markets are not likely to recover enough to avert the need to ask taxpayers for more money.

The $179 billion pension fund, which has lost more than 25 percent of its value since the start of its fiscal year in July, has said that if losses remain above that at this year’s end, it may have to ask the state and local governments to increase how much they contribute for employee retirement benefits by 4 percent or more. The increases would go into effect in July 2010 for the state and 2011 for local agencies

“While there are still two months left in the fiscal year, a significant market turnaround does not appear to be imminent,” Ron Seeling, the fund’s chief actuary, said in a report to be delivered to the board next week. “Such a decline will have a significant impact on the funded status of plans at Calpers and on the contribution rates that employers will have to pay in the future.”

The investment losses suffered by California’s pension fund, and others across the country, may place further burdens on states and local governments that are already seeing their tax revenue plunge because of the worsening economy. Public agencies in California currently pay on average about 13 percent of their payroll each year into Calpers.

Calpers reached a record high of $260 billion in October 2007. It dropped to $164 billion last January before heading back up.

‘Smoothing’ Policy

The pension fund has in place a policy of smoothing out its investment gains and losses over a 15-year period when calculating how much governments must pay. That smoothing policy would have led to a decrease in rates for many local governments, even with a 5.1 percent loss recorded for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2008.

The losses for the current fiscal year are so severe, Seeling said, that the smoothing won’t be enough to offset an increase. He’s proposed a plan to spread any potential increase over three years.

Calpers officials said other things affect a boost in government contributions, such as an increase in the number of employees and pay increases

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Unions oppose BART to Oakland Airport extension

And they seem to have a point, so I’m posting this press release. The current AirBART works great and only costs $3. Why mess with a good thing?

Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, representing the 900 front line workers for the Bay Area Transit system (BART), support any development in Bay Area transit that improves service, increases safety, lowers cost for riders and saves money for the BART system. The proposed Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line to the Oakland Airport appears to do just that.

BART’s proposed Oakland Airport Connector will do just the oppositie: it will go just three miles, have no intervening stops and cost BART riders at least $12 roundtrip on top of the price of their BART ticket. The original cost of this project was estimated at $130 million. It has now skyrocketed to the current estimate of $538 million. Who knows where it will stop?

We don’t think this is the way to go. At a time when BART is considering fare increases and service cuts to the existing system, it is fiscally irresponsible to commit to a half-billion-dollar projectd to save two minutes. According to TransForm, the Bus Rapid Transit line could be put in place for as little as $40 million and cost riders nothing.  We believe this is a critical contribution towards the long-term sustainabilit of BART’s finances.

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Union City plant sued

Union International Food Co., the spice manufacturing and packaging plant whose black and white pepper products have been linked to 60 salmonella cases in California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington, is being sued by a So Cal man.

David Navarrette, of San Pedro, is suing the Union City plant for negligence and claims in the lawsuit that the company did not fulfill its “duty to take reasonable measures” to protect consumers. Specifically, the company failed to monitor adequately the safety and sanitary conditions of its premises and to follow federal guidelines, among other allegations cited in the suit.

The company has recalled many of its spices, sauces and oils. More info can be found on the state’s health department Web site.

To view the lawsuit, click here.

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Lew Wolff reflects on Fremont

To read the entire interview, click here.

To read about Fremont, scorll down. He doesn’t have kind things to say about blogs.

Blez: Before we get into what’s next for the A’s ballpark search, back up and tell me about what happened with Fremont. The last time we met and did an interview, I know you were pretty frustrated with the whole process because I could see it on your face. You seemed pretty perturbed with what had been going on.

Wolff: I’ll be happy to give you the details but they’re a little complicated. Basically my frustration was not with the city council. It wasn’t with Fremont. It was more with two different groups, which I’ll explain in a minute, Continue Reading

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Cho’s Nixonian momment

Last year former councilman Steve Cho lost his bid for mayor. On Tuesday, he lost his bid for water board.

Split last week between the Republican Cho and the active Democrat Paul Sethy, the board went with a compromise candidate: Glenn Reynolds. He was everyone’s second choice last week. Now he’s on the board. Lucky him, I think.

On the bright side for Cho, he was named Man of the Year by the Ohlone College Foundation. And, Nixon moved on to better things after losing the presidency in 1960 and the governor’s race in ’62. Of course, he ended up where he belonged: New Jersey.