WestCAT adds extra commuter buses during BART strike and stresses that it is facing no labor issues

In the run-up last week to a possible BART strike (which has happened) and an AC Transit strike (which hasn’t happened — yet), a Bay Area broadcast outlet erroneously announced on social media that WestCAT, was also facing a strike.
Not so, emphasizes the agency, which issued the following statement:

WestCAT Buses Keep On Keepin’ On

July 1, 2013, Pinole, CA – Despite several unsubstantiated rumors of a possible WestCAT driver strike, which have been circulating since early last week, WestCAT drivers rolled out bright and early this morning as scheduled. In fact, additional transbay service to San Francisco was included with the morning rollout. WestCAT and MV employees woke up early this morning ready, willing and able to add their assistance to the thousands of commuters displaced by the BART work stoppage.

Everyone at WestCAT has been gearing up for the possibility of a BART strike for several weeks now. As confirmation came in, dozens of staff began arriving early at key locations from Hercules to San Francisco to assist displaced commuters, provide directions or just reassurances to those who might be unfamiliar with bus operations.

“A special thank you goes out to the WestCAT drivers, dispatchers and maintenance crew who are doing an incredible job today given the very demanding conditions, which are likely to continue for the duration of the strike,” said WestCAT General Manager, Charles Anderson.

It will not be known for at least a few days the impact the additional riders will have made to WestCAT’s overall ridership, but staff expects that it will be significant.

WestCAT will continue to place frequent updates to its strike contingency plan on the agency’s official website http://www.westcat.org/bart.html for the duration of the BART work stoppage. Customers can also call WestCAT information at 510-724-7993. For access to all of the Bay Area transit contingency plans go online at alert.511.org or call 511 for more trip planning options and travel needs.

WestCAT serves a West County area of just over 20 square miles that includes Pinole and Hercules and the unincorporated areas of Montalvin Manor, Bayview, Tara Hills, Rodeo, Crockett, and Port Costa.


West Contra Costa Science Fair results

The West Contra Costa Science Fair has announced the results of this year’s competition:

The West Contra Costa Science Fair held an Awards Ceremony on Thursday, February 28, in the Knox Performing Arts Center. Dr. Donna Floyd, Interim Vice President of Contra Costa College, told the audience the first WCCSF was held 55 years ago on this site. Dr. Bruce Harter, Superintendent of the West Contra Costa Unified School District and former secondary science teacher, described some of the projects that caught his eye such as the one about texting on a keyboard vs. a flat screen and another on how to shut down WiFi. Dr. Mayra Padilla, Direct of STEM & METAS Program at Contra Costa College encouraged the students to look into the opportunities for high school students at CCC.
A total of 96 awards were presented to 85 students in grades 7 through 12 from eight West Contra Costa Unified schools: Crespi, DeJean, Helms, and Portola Junior High Schools; Mira Vista and Stewart K-8 Schools; as well as El Cerrito and Pinole Valley High Schools.
Of the 152 projects on display in the Gym Annex Room 40 from Monday, February 25, until just after the Awards Ceremony, 90% came from 7th and 8th graders. However, of the 10% that came from the high schools, 93% were winners of first- through fourth-places and special awards while only 51% of the 7th and 8th grade projects won the awards. There were no 9th grade projects.
Of the four categories, 57% of the projects were in Physical Science; 24% were in Biological Science; 16% in Behavioral Science and only 3% in Mathematics.
Portola Junior High students won the most awards with 29 garnered from the 32 projects submitted. Their awards included two 1st places, six 2nd places, eight 3rd places, ten 4th places and three special awards.
Overall there were 6 first-place winners, 14 second-place winners, 23 third-place winners, 42 fourth-place winners and 11 special awards.
The first-place winners also each received a Bio-Rad cash award: seventh-grader Colm Hayden (“Can Redwood Absorb and Release Fog?”) from Portola; seventh-grader Nicole Stokowski (“How Do Differences in Mass Affect Conservation of Angular Momentum?”) from Mira Vista; eighth-grader Jacqueline Rojas (“What Abilities Does Your Brain Have?”) from Helms; eighth-grader Nora Gest (“Which Nuts Have the Most Calories?”) from Portola; tenth-grader Andrew Brodsky (“The Effects of Barrel Size on Projectile Velocity”) from El Cerrito High;and eleventh-grader Sydney Gallion (“Natural Frequency and Length”) from El Cerrito High.
Other special awards included math puzzle books Dennis Claudio presented to the seventh-graders Minahil Khan (“Reverse the Multiplication”) and Paulo Del Rosario (“Switch or Stay?”) both from Crespi; as well as a book on graph theory presented to Mark Ohlmann (“Can You Run Out of Luck?”) from Pinole Valley High, The Hal Magarian Memorial Award went to seventh-grader Julia Walker (“Rosemary’s pH Preference”) from Portola Junior High. The Bill Tobin Award was given to Mark Ohlmann from Pinole Valley High.
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Election notes Richmond / Hercules 2012

Below are some extended excerpts of a short story in tomorrow’s paper:


Election Day yielded a mixed verdict for City Council incumbents in West Contra Costa, as Richmond re-elected both and Hercules showed two of three the door. El Cerrito’s three incumbents faced no opponents; Pinole re-elected both; and San Pablo re-elected two while the third was trailing a challenger for the final spot on the council.

An undetermined number of mail-in ballots remained to be counted Wednesday morning.

With all precincts reporting in Richmond on Wednesday, inumbent Nat Bates was the top vote-getter with 17.9 percent of the vote, followed by incumbent Tom Butt at 15.6 percent and Chevron-supportered challenger Gary Bell at 15.2 percent.

Eduardo Martinez was next at 14.2 percent, and Marilyn Langlois had 11.2 percent. The other six candidates well short of 10 percent.

Bates, Butt and Bell will have a seat on the council beginning in January.

Bell announced his victory on his Facebook page Wednesday morning.

“It looks like we made it happen!” Bell wrote. “Thank you all who supported this campaign.” Bell, 54, a credit union manager, was first elected in 1999, but lost his seat when he came in seventh in 2004. He unsuccessfully ran for mayor in 2006, in the process gaining critics who said his ill-timed run cost Irma Anderson the mayorship and handed it to Gayle McLaughlin.

Bell said in a later Facebook message that he had been feeling ill in recent days and hoped to be on the mend soon.

The tumultuous campaigns came against the backdrop of millions in American Beverage Industry funding against local beverage tax Measure N. The council race was also influenced by more than a million dollars from Chevron Corp., the major donor to independent expenditure committee Moving Forward.

Resident and labor leader Don Gosney, said Measure N, which got just 33 percent of the vote, gave Bell a boost and hampered Martinez.

“Measure N was so unpopular that when Martinez embraced it so fully, those that opposed Measure N also opposed Martinez,” Gosney said.

Resident and Police Commissioner Felix Hunziker said he felt Measure N had little impact in Bell’s victory and the losses of Langlois and Martienz, who both supported the tax.

“Measure N stood on it’s own, it didn’t define the candidates,” Hunziker said.

Chevron’s dollars supported the campaigns of Bates and Bell and challenger Bea Roberson.

At the same time, the campaign spent about $200,000 opposing Langlois and Martinez, including creating websites devoted to undercutting both candidates.

Langlois and Martinez both raised money from mostly small donors and public financing, and their campaigns were boosted by support from the RPA’s vaunted ground game.

The new council will convene in January, beginning a period that some hope will include some cooled relations. Major issues confront the city, including ongoing talks with Chevron over its refinery upgrade plans and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which will build a massive new campus in Richmond over the next few years.

Hunziker said Bell will join Bates and Councilman Corky Booze as a three-person bloc opposed to a slimmed-down progressive majority. Councilman Jim Rogers will become a likely swing vote on the seven-member council.

“The new council may be more inclined to compromise,” Hunziker said. “But it’s hard to say if it will be any more civil.”

In Hercules, Dan Romero, the current mayor, was the only one of three incumbents re-elected, running second behind challenger Sherry McCoy, who had lost to Romero in a special council election in June 2011.

Incumbent Gerard Boulanger was seventh and last, while incumbent William Wilkins was fourth, more than 200 votes behind challenger Bill Kelly as of Wednesday afternoon. Challengers Hector Rubio and Phil Simmons were fifth and sixth.

The three Hercules incumbents have served on the council only since June 2011, when Boulanger and Wilkins were elected to replace two council members whom voters recalled in the wake of the city’s deteriorating financial condition and public ire over the awarding of city contracts to the family of the former city manager. That month, Romero beat McCoy and another candidate for a seat vacated by a third recall target who resigned.

Boulanger had been dogged since that election by revelations that he padded his resume with fictitious achievements such as university degrees and service on a government board in his native France.

Wilkins had been targeted along with the two other incumbents by Councilwoman Myrna de Vera, who faces re-election in 2014. De Vera supported McCoy, Rubio and Simmons while her husband, Manuel de Vera, launched two political action committees to defeat the incumbents and support the couple’s three preferred challengers. In the end, two of the de Veras’ targets got knocked off, but only one of their choices won.

In El Cerrito, Jan Bridges, Mark Friedman and Greg Lyman were automatically re-elected. In Pinole, Mayor Peter Murray and Councilman Roy Swearingen fought off a challenge by Ivette Ricco; and in San Pablo, Kathy Chao Rothberg and Cecilia Valdez, the current mayor, handily won re-election while Leonard McNeil trailed challenger Rich Kinney by 74 votes as of late Wednesday for the third available seat.

Back in Richmond, supporters of the winners were in a joyous mood — and eager to see the RPA’s next move.

“The people have spoken,” said Rev. Andre Shumake. “If the RPA is serious about the issue of obesity, they should immediately launch a comprehensive, citywide effort, stargin with teh use of each recreation center.”

Ritterman remarked Monday that he looked forward to a little uncertainty in his future. “I’ll be unemployed in January for the first time in my life,” he said.

Hunziker noted that the new composition of the council, with progressives McLaughlin, Beckles and Butt opposing Bates, Bell and Corky Booze, could lift an oft-overlooked councilman to a power-wielding swing status.

“Rogers gets to be back on the fence where he likes to be,” Hunziker said.

Rogers has been known to occasionally vote with Bates and Booze. Most contentious matters are usually settled with a 5-2 vote, with a few 4-3 votes, when Rogers shifts.

Resident Don Gosney, a labor leader who has worked with Booze and supports Bell, said: “The results of Tuesday’s election suggest that the people of Richmond are no longer willing to drink the Richmond Progressive Alliance Kool-Aid and accept their candidates or their initiatives point blank.  It’s not that they’re rejecting what the RPA is trying to do, it’s just that they’re unwilling to embrace them without reservations.”

Gosney added: “This new Council will be more balanced where we can expect lively discussions of issues with the goal of trying to convince fellow Council members to vote one way or another as opposed to the votes we’ve been seeing where members of the Council seem to vote along the party lines on every issue.”

Gosney disagreed with Hunziker on whether Measure N was a drag on RPA candidates in the polls: “Representatives from the RPA have publicly advised voters of the need to find a wedge issue to split the voters and this year Measure N was that wedge issue.  Then Chevron gave them a present with their refinery so they had two wedge issues.  These became litmus tests for the candidates and since Measure N was so unpopular here in Richmond, when Eduardo embraced it so fully, those that opposed Measure N also opposed Eduardo.”


Hercules council candidate holding campaign kickoff Saturday

Bill Kelly is starting his campaign for Hercules City Council this weekend, announcing the following event:

Fire District Director Bill Prather is hosting the Kick Off of my run for City Council on Saturday, August 4th from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at his home located at 292 Violet St.
I want to hear what each of you has to say about the direction our home town should be taking in the future.
There will be light refreshments, good company and a chance for me to try to separate each of you from a small amount of your money. This campiagn is going to be run without any big money backers but campaigns do cost money.
I look forward to seeing you and hearing from you.

Host Bill Prather adds that “We may have candidates seeking the position of Director of the Rodeo-Hercules Fire District in attendance and the citizens need to be aware of what has happened to our Fire District these past 3 1/2 years.”


Hercules councilman makes case for selling two city properties

In the following letter, Hercules City Councilman William Wilkins talks about his city’s financial condition and opines about the need to sell the Victoria Crescent and Parcel C properties to residential developers.
Wilkins is a retired supervising real estate agent for the City of Oakland.

Madeline Albright recently stated words to the effect that “Leaders should make decisions based on facts, not on wish making.” The recent actions of Council are a subject of debate regarding the proposed sale of City owned real estate. Here are the facts!

Why must Victoria Crescent and Parcel C be sold now?

When I was elected last June, I joined a Council that inherited a horrendous financial mess (over $314 million dollars of debt) which continues until the present time. This has required that the Council take extraordinary steps to keep us solvent. We are making tough decisions to stop wasteful spending and keep the City solvent.

The reality is, we are at a point where the sale of Victoria Crescent and Parcel C is necessary. There is no other viable way for the City to avoid insolvency.

• Due to ongoing and accumulating obligations, including unpaid debt to Oliver Company for work done on Sycamore North last year, the City owes about $2 million dollars. This debt is secured by a note against Parcel C. This debt is now due and payable.

• As the result of changes at Sycamore North to eliminate the affordable units from the housing mix, the City owes CALHFA a total of $5.3 million dollars. This debt is now due and payable.

• The City also owes about $5 million dollars to AMBAC as settlement of their lawsuit against the City and redevelopment agency this year. This debt is now due and payable, and we will soon be accruing interest on that debt. The debt is secured by notes on Parcel C and Victoria Crescent. This settlement agreement was the only thing that kept the City from having to declare bankruptcy in March of this year, and has kept the City solvent up to this time.

These facts and more information will be reviewed and discussed at the upcoming Town Hall Meeting that Council recently agreed to hold.

CBRE Commercial Brokers were selected to market these two parcels for the City. The properties were offered to all interested parties in the commercial development industry. In addition, Parcel C was offered to Bio Rad for expansion of their facility or as a possible location for a hotel. Bio Rad expressed no interest in the parcel. After four (4) months, all offers were brought before Council for review. Of the nine offers received, there were no offers for commercial development for either parcel. All of the offers were for either multifamily or single family residential development.

Council was disappointed that there were no offers for commercial development, but with the $12.3 million dollars in debts, and accruing interest, the City was left with little choice but to select the best offers, move forward and secure the deals. These deals are not final, and may not close unless the entitlements that are sought by the buyers are achieved. There are no guarantees that the property use changes requested by the buyer will happen, which puts the City at continued financial risk.

In the background of all this is the State of California. With the elimination of Redevelopment Agencies throughout the State, all former redevelopment agency owned-parcels are subject to what is called “clawback” by the State. The “clawback provision,”(Section 34167.5) California Health & Safety Code provides that the state auditor-controller:

“…shall review the activities of redevelopment agencies in the State to determine whether an asset transfer has occurred after January 1, 2011, between the city or county, or city and county that created a redevelopment agency or any other public agency, and the redevelopment agency”.

“If such a transfer did occur and if such asset is not contractually committed to a third party for expenditure or encumbrance, AB 26 provides that, to the extent not prohibited by law, the state audit-controller shall order the available assets to be returned to the successor agency”. The successor agency is required to dispose of real estate assets to pay debt. Assets are to be disposed of “expeditiously and in a manner aimed at maximizing value” ( Section 34177(e). As noted in the West County Times article this week, Hercules has in excess of $314,000,000 in debt and the State has notified all former redevelopment agencies of the clawback.

Unless sufficient funds are secured from the sale of these parcels, Hercules could be looking at the possibility of bankruptcy once again. There is no other viable way for the City to pay the outstanding $12.3 million dollars. We have no reserves and no other sources of funding to pay these debts. I do not believe it is possible to avert bankruptcy without selling these parcels.

If the City becomes insolvent, and goes into bankruptcy, we will not receive grant funding from State, Federal and Regional authorities for the Intermodal Transit Center project or any other project. In a time when we are relying on grant funds to move forward on the ITC, for this reason and many more, the City must remain financially solvent.

These are the facts and for these reasons I believe that the City must sell these parcels now to pay our debts.


West Contra Costa Science Fair award winners

The 55th annual West Contra Costa Science Fair awards ceremony was held Feb. 9 at Contra Costa College in San Pablo.
Of the 186 entrants, 65 middle school and 16 high school students won a total of 88 awards.
The eight West Contra Costa Unified schools participating in the fair were Juan Crespi, Lavonya Dejean, Helms, and Portola Middle Schools, Elizabeth Stewart and Mira Vista K-8 Schools, as well as El Cerrito and Pinole Valley High Schools. There were about 50 judges participating from the Alameda County CA Superior Court, Bayer Pharmaceuticals, Bio-Rad Laboratories, Chevron Corporation, Chevron Oronite, Cisco, Contra Costa College, CSU Northridge, Northwestern University, Synopsys Outreach Foundation, UC Berkeley, UC Extension, USDA Western Regional Research Center, and the West Contra Costa Unified School District. The judges evaluated the projects in the categories of Behavioral, Biological, and Physical Sciences for seventh through twelfth grades.
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Halloween festivities for all ages set in West County

Here is a roundup of Halloween events in West County:

East Bay Waldorf School presents Wanderers’ Way, a seasonal event on Friday that will take children 10 and under and their families on a journey through the decorated grounds of the school at 3800 Clark Road in El Sobrante.

A guide will take visitors (no scary costumes, please) on the pumpkin-lit paths to see storytellers, fanciful creatures, and ethereal music, with small treasures offered along the way to children and refreshments available at the end.

The tour is $5 per person over age 2. Guided groups leave every 10 minutes from 5:30 to 8 p.m. and reservations are required. To reserve a time slot, call 510-223-3570, ext. 2101.

* Children age 4 to 7 can come in costume to the Hercules Halloween Fest from 2 to 4 p.m. Friday at the Teen Center, for a non-scary tour of the haunted house, followed by arts and crafts, activities, games, and more. Admission is $7 (residents) or $21 for a family of four. Proceeds benefit the Hercules Teen Youth Council.

* Weigh of Life is hosting Spooky Fun Raiser at 6 p.m. Friday at the Veterans Hall, 968 23rd St. in Richmond. The evening includes food, a DJ, performance and dancing. Proceeds from the $45 admission benefit Weigh of Life, a program promoting fitness and healthy eating in underserved communities. Details: 510-323-3052.

* San Pablo Recreation will hold its free Haunted House and Pumpkin Patch from 6:30 to
8:30 p.m. Friday at Davis Park, 1665 Folsom Ave. Brave visitors can walk through the Chamber of Doom, and all ages are welcome at the Pumpkin Patch for storytelling, crafts, face painting, and more. Details: 510-215-3204

* The Pinole Youth Foundation presents its Halloween Carnival and Haunted House from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday at Fernandez Park, 595 Tennent Ave. Along with the free costume parade and crafts there will be jumpers, face painting, balloons and carnival games for a fee, with proceeds benefiting youth programs. A mega pass is available for $5.

* Richmond presents its Hauntatorium from 6 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Memorial Auditorium, 403 Civic Center. Admission for those who dare to step inside to find Pumpkin Face is $5. A less-scary matinee version for children 10 and under is 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday.

* An Adult Costume Ball will be held by Richmond PAL at its Hal Holt Gymnasium, 2200 Macdonald Ave., from 7 to 11 p.m. Saturday. The gala evening will feature dancing, appetizers, drinks, games and prizes for best costumes. For tickets call 510-621-1221.

* El Cerrito’s Halloween Carnival and Haunted House is 2:30 to 7 p.m. Oct. 31 at the Community Center, 7007 Moeser Lane. The carnival will have games and prizes for all ages, with ticket sales ending at 6:30 p.m.
The Haunted House (admission $4) has a preschool, lights-on version from 3 to 5 p.m. and the scary, lights-off version from 5:15 to 7 p.m. Affordable food and beverages will be sold.

Canines can get in on the fun at the third annual Dog Parade and Costume Contest at 5 p.m. at Cerrito Vista Park at Moeser Lane and Pomona Avenue. Admission is $5 and there will prizes for entrants and winners.

* Downtown Rhythm and DVC Rock Rhythm and Review headline the Halloween Dance Fundraiser at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Pinole Senior Center, 2500 Charles Ave. Come in costumes or casual/night club attire for an evening includes a cash bar. For tickets send an email to mickeyconnors@sbcglobal.net.

* Come in costume to a Halloween Bike About Town starting at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Solano Avenue Cyclery, 1554 Solano Ave. in Albany. The Recreation Department and Albany Strollers & Rollers will lead an eerie ride around town in the dark and a limited number of front bike lights will be available for free, first come first served. At ride’s end a vote will be held for best bike-theme costume and best costumed family.

* County Supervisor John Gioia invites families to trick or treat at his office, 11780 San Pablo Ave., Suite D in El Cerrito, this week for alternatives to candy and other sugary sweets.
During open hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (closed noon to 1 p.m.) this week, A sample bag will be distributed, one per household, while supplies last. For details contact Luz Gomez at 510-374-3231 or Luz.Gomez@bos.cccounty.us.

* The dental office of Dr. Linh Cao-Chan will hold a Halloween Candy Buy Back from 3:30 to 6 p.m. Nov. 2 at 10110 San Pablo Ave. in El Cerrito. The office will pay $1 per pound of unopened candy “and throw in a goody bag with good stuff for teeth.”

Collected candy will be donated to Operation Gratitude (www.operationgratitude.com) to send to troops overseas, and donations of other care package items are welcome. Details: 510-526-4747.


No West County community column on Sunday — here’s why

My plan on Thursday was to attend the reopening ceremony of the historic Maritime Center in Richmond, then rush back to the office to file a story on the event and write the community column for Sunday’s edition.
That plan came crashing down, when I came crashing down myself, tripping on the sidewalk and injuring a finger pretty badly. Instead of hurrying back to the office, I was hurrying to the emergency clinic at Kaiser Richmond, which, thankfully, was nearby.
This note is just to explain why there won’t be a column on Sunday as I recuperate and to offer my apology to all the readers and contributors who depend on it for their community news. I plan to be back at work next week, typing laboriously with the fingers I can still use.


Here we go again: Ramp closures tonight in Hercules

The westbound Highway 4 connector ramp to westbound Interstate 80 will be closed from 7 p.m. Thursday to 4 a.m. Friday for Caltrans bridge deck repair.

The advised detour is to go from Highway 4 to the eastbound connecter to I-80 and from there take the eastbound Willow Avenue off-ramp, turn right on Willow, then onto the westbound I-80 on-ramp and continue on westbound I-80.

Caltrans will close the two right lanes of eastbound Interstate 80, from the Willow Avenue on-ramp to the Cummings Skyway Overcrossing, from 10 p.m. Thursday to 6 a.m. Friday for work done as part of the Eastbound I-80 HOV Lane Extension Project.

Motorists who want to get from Hercules onto the freeway are advised that the eastbound I-80 Willow Avenue on-ramp will also be closed from 10 p.m. Thursday to 6 a.m. Friday.



Overnight ramp, lane closures by Caltrans in Hercules

Another round of work is planned Wednesday evening by Caltrans that will close the westbound Highway 4 connecter and the eastbound Interstate 80 Willow Avenue on-ramp.
The connector will close from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. for bridge deck repair. Caltrans recommends the following detour: Take the eastbound I-80 Willow Avenue off-ramp. Turn right on Willow Avenue. Turn left onto the westbound I-80 on-ramp and continue on westbound I-80.
The eastbound I-80 Willow Avenue on-ramp will also be closed at 10 p.m. Wednesday to 6 a.m. Thursday.
As part of its eastbound I-80 HOV lane extension project, August 31, Caltrans will close the two right lanes of eastbound Interstate 80 from Highway 4 to the Crockett off-ramp from 10 p.m. Wednesday to 6 a.m. Thursday.