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SF police officer suspended in cover-up case

A San Francisco police officer accused of telling a rookie to lie to cover up a convict’s escape has been suspended for nine months by the Police Commission.

Lionel Sevilla, a 19-year veteran, had his job spared when the commission decided to suspend rather than terminate him, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Sevilla was working as a training officer in 2003 with a rookie when he removed the handcuffs from a suspect who needed to use the bathroom. When the suspect fled, Sevilla told the rookie to lie about it, according to the San Jose Mercury News.

The case had dragged out for over five years within the Police Commission before being ruled upon on Wednesday. Sevilla’s case had come to symbolize all the disciplinary problems within the police department. Sevilla will serve the suspension immediately. Upon his return, he will be placed onto a list of officers whose credibility has been called into question and whose histories must be disclosed to defense attorneys upon testifying in court.

Police Chief George Gascon had offered a six-month suspension earlier this year, only to have it refused by the Police Commission. Gascon then advocated for Sevilla’s dismissal because of the age of the case. Gascon has complained about sparing officers whose credibility has been questioned like Sevilla because the department is then stuck with more highly paid officers who are only fit for desk assignments. There are as many as 50 officers who have damaged credibility.

Sevilla made $108,959.57 in fiscal year 2009-10, according to SF Weekly. After his suspension, he will be taken off of the street and given a desk assignment.

Federal district court announces Walker’s resignation

Chief Judge Vaughn Walker, who’s best known in California and nationwide for overruling California’s Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriage in August, submitted his resignation Wednesday. Walker will step down next February, half a year shy of his maximum term as chief judge, which would have ended in August. A statement by the court notes that Walker plans to work in the private sector and that District Court Judge James Ware will succeed Walker.

According to reporting from Maura Dolan of the Los Angeles Times, Walker’s office has indicated that his decision is unrelated to the controversial and recently concluded Proposition 8 trial.

Dolan refers to Walker as “a Republican appointee considered a conservative with a libertarian bent.”

Prior to the controversial Proposition 8 trial, many in San Francisco’s gay community had characterized Walker, appointed to the court by former President Ronald Reagan, as unfriendly to gay causes. He had been labeled as such largely due to a ruling in a civil case prohibiting unauthorized use of the term “Olympics” by the Gay Olympics.

As a result of Walker’s lead role in the Proposition 8 trial, he is now being labeled by outspoken opponents of same-sex marriage as a judge with a gay agenda, while being hailed by most in the LGBT community as a champion of gay rights. A column in the San Francisco Chronicle this summer identified Walker as gay, a suggestion to which Walker has not responded publicly.

The press release issued by the court’s news service:

SAN FRANCISCO ---- The United States District Court for the Northern District of California announces today that Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker will step down as chief judge effective December 31, 2010.  Also, Chief Judge Walker notified President Obama by letter today that he will leave the court in February 2011.

Chief Judge Walker has been a United States District Judge since February 5, 1990 and has served as chief judge of the court since September 1, 2004.  Before becoming a federal judge, Chief Judge Walker was a litigation partner at the firm now known as Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP.  Upon leaving the federal bench, Chief Judge Walker plans to return to the private sector.

In his letter to the President, Chief Judge Walker said: “Concluding twenty-one years of judicial service, I leave the bench with the highest respect and regard for the federal judiciary, its judges and their staff and the essential role they fulfill in our constitutional system.”

By statute, United States district chief judges are selected based on a combination of age, seniority and experience and may serve in the post for a maximum of seven years. 28 USC § 136. By application of this statute, District Judge James Ware will assume the post of chief judge of the Northern District on January 1, 2011.

Injunction issued against SF gangs

On Thursday KTVU reported that a San Francisco judge granted a preliminary injunction against two gangs in the city’s Visitacion Valley neighborhood.

City Attorney Dennis Herrera requested the injunction, which affects the Down Below and Towerside gangs, accused of terrorizing area residents. Herrera told KTVU that the gangs are responsible for at least 10 murders in the past three years.

The injunction applies to a 0.18-square-mile “safety zone” and prohibits “public nuisance” behavior such as intimidation, drug dealing, graffiti vandalism, openly carrying a gun, loitering, trespassing and other gang-related activities.

For the 41 adults listed as gang members in the Visitacion Valley injunction, violations that are counted as misdemeanors could lead to up to six months in jail.

Herrera has requested other gang-related injunctions against several gangs in the Bayview and Mission districts and the Western Addition.


SF Day of the Dead threatened by city deficit

 The elimination of a grant program by the city has put the annual Day of the Dead celebration in jeopardy. 

The Marigold Project, a Mission District-based non-profit organization that coordinates the annual festival of the altars at Garfield Park, faces a $9,000 deficit in the wake of the grant's cancellation, according to Mission Local. The city Arts Commission cut the Neighborhood Festival Grant that helps support smaller community celebrations to reduce the city deficit. The grant allowed the organization to pay artists to decorate the large altars and cover the cost for dumpsters, portable toilets and cleanup. 

Permits for the event have yet to be approved by the Parks and Recreation Department, as the organization has been asked to cut down the event's footprint, according to the Bay Area Reporter. The event celebrates the dead on Nov. 2 and regularly attracts some 15,000 people.

Marigold is counting on donations from those in the community who don't want to see the event canceled.

"It's a strong cultural touchstone event for the Mission," Marigold board member Kevin Mathieu said. "I think we'll be able to raise money, but we're really counting on community contributions. It's not a tremendously expensive event."

Mathieu estimated it will only cost 60 cents per person if the expected 15,000 people attend.

Teens protest outside retailer over toxic perfume

Teens marched in protest on Tuesday outside Abercrombie & Fitch's Westfield Mall location in downtown San Francisco over allegations that a perfume they sell is harmful to people.

Abercrombie & Fitch's signature perfume "Fierce" has been found to contain toxic ingredients that cause allergies, headaches, wheezing and impacts male sperm count, according to a study by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics found on the Huffington Post.

Members of the San Rafael-based group "Teens Turning Green" campaign organized the protest, creating posters that mock the company's racy ads by having models wear gas masks to symbolize the air being unsafe at their stores, according to KCBS.

The group alleges that Abercrombie & Fitch employees walk around stores spraying the perfume, constantly circulating the scent and its alleged toxic ingredients on unknowing customers and themselves.

The teens decided to march after they sent a letter and video regarding the perfume and its toxicity to company headquarters and got no response.

Protests also occurred in New York and Dallas.

New drunk-driving law cracks down on third-time offenders

On Tuesday the San Francisco Chronicle reported on a new drunk-driving law that allows judges to revoke someone’s driver’s license for up to 10 years if an offender has three or more convictions of driving under the influence within a decade. The measure by Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, will take effect on Jan. 1, 2012.

Hill told the Chronicle that the measure could take 100,000 DUI repeat offenders off the road each year. Hill also said: “Nearly 188,000 DUI convictions were handed down around the state in 2008 with 9,164 of those drivers on their third conviction and 3,200 with four or more DUI offenses.”

The National Highway Traffic Administration reported that there are roughly 1.5 million DUI arrests in California each year, with a third of them repeat offenses. According to the agency, more than 310,000 Californians have three or more DUI convictions.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger told the Chronicle in a statement: “This legislation is an important step toward making California’s roads safer. Those who have multiple DUI convictions should not be on the road threatening lives.”

SF wants to limit toys in unhealthy child fast-food meals

A vote on a proposed ordinance to ban toys in kids' fast-food meals if they are deemed unhealthy was postponed Monday after amendments were made to the measure.

The plan, brought forth by Supervisor Eric Mar, would ban in kids' meals that exceed 600 calories, according to ABC7. 

Parents who frequent fast-food restaurants like McDonald's, Burger King, Taco Bell and others will have to look to healthy alternative sides like fruits, vegetables and milk if their kids want the toys as limits will be placed on calories, fat, salt and sugar, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Many in the fast-food industry have been meeting with city officials behind closed doors to voice their concerns. Opponents are trying to frame this as government regulation going too far.

Mayor Gavin Newsom is opposed to the legislation. Newsom's spokesman Tony Winnicker said the mayor supports kids eating healthier, but "dictating what plastic toys can be put in a box is not the right way to achieve that."

Mar said voluntary efforts by the fast-food industry haven't gone far enough to combat childhood obesity.

Proposed hospital sparks community outrage

 A new hospital proposed in a busy part of San Francisco has residents from surrounding communities up in arms.

The California Pacific Medical Center wants to build a 15-story, 555-bed hospital at the corner of Van Ness Avenue and Geary Boulevard as part of a $2.5 billion project that would alter the purpose of the four other California Pacific Medical center campuses as well. 

At a Planning Commission meeting Thursday afternoon, about 100 residents of the Tenderloin and Cathedral Hill neighborhoods came to voice their opposition, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. The residents said the new hospital could cause major congestion on Van Ness Avenue might not serve the needs of the many low-income people in the area.

The project would include closing the medical center's California campus in Presidio Heights, changing the Pacific campus in Pacific Heights into an outpatient-only facility and replacing St. Luke's Hospital in the Mission District with a much smaller facility.

Residents complained this restructuring will force many people to travel farther for health care.

Since the land is currently designated for residential use, the city would have to re-zone the area to allow the project to take place. According to the Bay Citizen, California Pacific Medical Center wants to modify the zoning in the area so that it won't have to build new homes as would be required to maintain the area's current three-to-one housing to commercial ratio.

Officials said the new hospital would provide a modern, seismically safe facility that could function in the worst disaster. Much of the project would focus on updating the other facilities to meet tougher earthquake standards.

The Planning Commission is not expected to make any decisions regarding zoning in the area for several months until an environmental impact report is completed.

PG&E gas line leaks higher than average

Pacific Gas & Electric has reported gas leaks on lines near large populated areas at a rate nearly six times those of other large pipeline systems across the country.

Federal records indicate PG&E has reported 38 leaks since 2004 along more than 1,000 miles of lines controlled by the utility near environmentally sensitive areas and population centers, according to CBS 5.

The utility has an annual average leak rate of 6.2 per 1,000 miles of line serving "high consequence" areas, which is more than six times the average leak rate for the nation's six other large operators, according to the Los Angeles Times.

PG&E has reported a 40 percent increase of gas leaks while reported gas leaks have fallen 30 percent nationwide in recent years.

The state's other large gas company, Southern California Gas, has a average leak rate of 2.3 per 1,000 miles, close to the national average for large operators.

Records indicate that equipment problems and corrosion are the leading causes of leaks in PG&E's transmission pipelines in high consequence areas. 

PG&E has asked federal regulators to address inconsistent gas leak reporting requirements.


Bay Area roads rank among worst in nation

On Thursday the San Francisco Chronicle via the Associated Press reported on the San Francisco Bay Area’s roads being among the worst in the nation. This information comes from the national report transportation group TRIP. The report came from an analysis of road conditions done in 2008.

Topping the list as the worst in the nation are Silicon Valley roads, with 64 percent considered to be in poor condition. The Concord area was ranked fourth while the San Francisco-Oakland Metropolitan area came in fifth, both with 58 percent of roads in poor condition. All of which are worse than New York, Baltimore and New Orleans.

The report also says that poor Bay Area roads affect cars as well as wallets with drivers paying an upwards of $690 annually in additional repair and maintenance cost. For drivers in San Jose, the tab runs to $756 a year.