San Francisco Bay Area Thursday Morning News

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SF: Mayor, Police Talk to Mission Merchants About Safety Plans For Super Bowl

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and the city's police and fire chiefs walked down Mission Street Wednesday to assure merchants that the neighborhood would be safe in the event of a 49ers victory in the Super Bowl on Sunday.

Lee, sporting a bright red jacket and 49ers hat, joined police Chief Greg Suhr and Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White to discuss the city's plans for the big game on Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens in New Orleans.

The Mission District in particular bore the brunt of the raucous revelry after the San Francisco Giants won the World Series last October, with many storefronts damaged or vandalized with graffiti.

Lee said fans should celebrate if the 49ers win, but "make sure we do it respectfully." He said, "We need everyone to watch out for each other."

One business owner told the mayor she was thinking of boarding up her windows in advance of the game, but Lee said he hoped that would not be necessary.

Suhr said in the event of a Super Bowl victory, police will have an increased presence in the neighborhood, as well as other potential hot spots like North Beach, the Marina District and Haight Street.

"We're going to have people everywhere to make sure it doesn't get too crazy anywhere," he said.

He warned potential rowdy fans, "Know that if you're acting out, somebody's videotaping you with their cellphone and they're going to send it to us."

Suhr said police are also working with Recology and the city's Department of Public Works to make sure trash bins are cleared on Sunday since full trash cans ended up providing fuel for street fires that popped up around the city during the World Series celebration.

He told fans, "Have a blast, but be the class city that we are for our class team ... act like we've been there before because we have."

Mayor Lee also Wednesday declared "Red and Gold" week in San Francisco and encouraged fans and local businesses to wear red and gold or show any signs of support at their homes or businesses for the 49ers.

Lee has placed the 49ers flag off of the balcony at City Hall since the start of the playoffs and ordered City Hall, the Ferry Building and other landmarks around the city to be lit in red and gold in honor of the team.

Regional: GG Bridge District Testing All-Electronic Tolling System

The Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District began two months of testing its all-electronic tolling system Wednesday morning.

The system, which will take effect in March, will eliminate 28 toll collectors and save the district $16.8 million over eight years, district officials said.

Cash will still be accepted at the bridge for the next 60 days.

The electronic system will give motorists the option of paying tolls by the existing FasTrak, three Pay-By-Plate options and an in-person cash payment network at locations yet to be established.

The cash payment network system will be tested later in February.

The three Pay-By-Plate options include a license plate account, a one-time payment and a toll invoice.

The license plate account may be opened, funded and maintained with a credit card, cash, check or money order.

When the account is opened with a credit card, a "pay-as-you go" toll is charged to the credit card only when you cross the bridge.

When the license plate account is opened with cash, check or money order, the account must maintain a balance equivalent to a single toll.

You may add up to five license plates per account.

One-time payments for motorists who make infrequent trips across the bridge or for out-of-state residents may be made by phone using a credit card, or in person with cash at cash payment locations yet to be established, or in person using cash, check, money order or credit card at the Bay Area FasTrak Service Center in San Francisco.

Under the toll invoice option, a bill for the toll is mailed to the registered owner of the vehicle that crossed the bridge.

Payments may be made on line or by phone with a credit card, by mail using a check, money order or credit card number, in person with cash at the cash payment locations and in person with cash, check, money order or credit card at the Bay Area FasTrak Customer Service Center in San Francisco.

The iconic span will be the first toll bridge in the state to switch from manual to electronic toll collections, District spokeswoman Mary Currie said.

"Everything went just as we expected," Currie said about the system test Wednesday morning.

"We didn't expect any glitches. We'll be testing the hardware and software for the next 60 days," she said.

The tentative date for the all-electronic tolling to begin is March 27, Currie said. 

SF: Local Leaders Call on Community to Push for Efforts to Reduce Gun Violence

National and local leaders spoke out Wednesday in San Francisco about efforts to move forward on the discussion to prevent gun violence at the city, state and federal level.

The meeting held Wednesday afternoon at the Omega Boys Club at 1060 Tennessee St. included House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Francisco/San Mateo, Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and police Chief Greg Suhr.

The panel addressed guns and violence issues and concerns raised by audience members who were from local community organizations, faith groups, schools and health groups.

"It is necessary for us to act," Pelosi said, heading off the discussion about gun violence in cities across America. Speier and Thompson sit on a Democratic congressional gun violence task force that has held hearings in the past month to come up with recommendations based on testimonies from different groups invested in gun control issues.

Speier noted that handling the growing rate of gun violence is "our collective problem."

She mentioned the 680 guns collected last weekend in San Mateo County at a gun buyback program she sponsored.

Lee alluded to similar buyback programs in the works within San Francisco.

"We have to erase the attitude that violence can resolve something," Lee said.

At the city level, Lee said whenever he is told about a youth who is killed by a gun he "pictures who that youth was and who she or he could have become."

He called on the community to take gun violence personally and not leave it up to politicians or law enforcement to solve the problem.

Chief Suhr mentioned the set of recommendations Obama proposed earlier this month and said we need to support the president in pushing forward efforts to combat violence.

Thompson has been holding a series of town hall meetings in his district in Sonoma County this past month which he said is a key component in coming up with a "comprehensive solution to this very serious problem."

He cited 30-plus gun-related deaths occurring daily in the U.S. as a staggering statistic that needs to be cut back.

"We have a responsibility to come together and work together," he said.

At Wednesday's meeting he was candid about owning guns and being a hunter -- he said when he heard about the Newtown, Conn., school shooting that left 20 children dead while he was duck hunting in Yolo County.

"I also believe strongly in the Second Amendment," he said. "We can address this in an responsible way and respect the right to own firearms."

SJ: Judge Ups Bail to $1 Million for 'Sweetheart Swindler' who Owes $3 Million to Scam Victims

A Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Wednesday raised the bail for an alleged female scam artist to $1 million after hearing about more than $3 million in court judgments numerous victims won from her since 2007.

Judge Kenneth Shapero increased the bail for Samantha Pham, 30, from the previous $350,000, saying that "the safety of the community is at risk" in light of the alleged frauds described Wednesday by the prosecution.

Pham, whom prosecutors dub "the sweetheart swindler," is charged with ripping off a smitten elderly Campbell man of more than $273,000 in 2009 while asking him to call her "honey" and referring to him as her fiance to others.

The defendant, dressed in yellow and green prison garb, shook her head as she left the courtroom following the bail proceeding at the Hall of Justice in San Jose.

Deputy District Attorney Cherie Bourland told the judge Wednesday that Pham used $50,000 of the Campbell man's money to settle a 2009 fraud case in Las Vegas, where Pham allegedly wrote $50,000 in bad checks at the Planet Hollywood casino.

Bourland presented the judge with information on more than $3 million won in civil court by people, mostly elderly, who claimed Pham defrauded them in Sacramento County since 2007.

"(Pham) is a threat to the community, particularly to the elders," Bourland told the judge while arguing for higher bail.

"It kills these elders," Bourland said.

"We need to protect them from this predator."

In most cases, Pham would lure senior victims to refinance their homes at low interest rates, then convince them to invest their money into her company or loan it to her and never give their funds back, Bourland said.

In one case from 2007, a judge in Sacramento awarded $2.7 million to an elderly woman from Citrus Heights, Calif., who lost money to a company owned by Pham called Fremont Investments and Loans that later closed down.

Another case involved Donald Wilson, a 75-year-old Sacramento man who won a $310,000 judgment against Pham after she wired $260,000 to a real estate investment company that later dissolved, Bourland said.

Other cases included loans from real estate deals that Pham allegedly did not repay, such as $150,000 lost by two elderly married couples, Bourland said.

Two other men complained of being bilked out of money from Pham, including one who purchased a BMW car for her and lost $40,000 in cash after meeting Pham on the dating site match.com, Bourland said.

Pham allegedly used up to 10 shell companies to "scam victims and launder money," Bourland said.

Richmond: Chevron Hit With Nearly $1 Million in State Fines for "Serious, Willful" Worker Safety Violations

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health has fined Chevron nearly $1 million for worker safety violations related to a massive Aug. 6, 2012, fire at the company's Richmond refinery.

The $963,200 in fines are in the form of 25 citations issued against the oil giant, which a Chevron spokesman said the company plans to appeal.

"Ensuring worker safety is the employer's responsibility," said Christine Baker, director of the Department of Industrial Relations, which oversees Cal/OSHA.

"Refineries must take the steps needed to prevent incidents like the August Chevron fire," she said.

"Failure to do so can pose great dangers to workers, surrounding communities and the environment."

The proposed fines are the maximum allowed under state law and the highest fines levied in Cal/OSHA's history, according to division representatives.

Cal/OSHA officials said the hefty fines are for 25 safety violations that occurred before, during and after a pipe in the Richmond refinery's crude oil unit ruptured and began leaking.

That leaked sparked an explosion and fire that endangered workers and caused 15,000 people to seek medical treatment after inhaling emissions from the fire.

"The fines fit the violations," said Peter Melton, a Cal/OSHA spokesman.

According to Cal/OSHA, "Chevron did not follow the recommendations of its own inspectors and metallurgical scientists to replace the corroded pipe that ultimately ruptured and caused the fire.

"Those recommendations dated back to 2002."

In addition, Chevron failed to test pipe thickness in areas of the crude oil unit that were known to be vulnerable to corrosion due to the high temperature and high sulfur content of the crude oil sent through the pipes, according to division officials.

Once the pipe leaked on Aug. 6, 2012, refinery managers didn't follow Chevron's own emergency shutdown procedures but instead kept the equipment running and told workers to remove the leaking pipe's insulation.

Managers also ordered on-site contractors to erect scaffolding near the leaky pipe and let workers into the area without the proper protective gear, according to Cal/OSHA.

Oakland: Prosecution and Defense Disagree About Reason for Fatal Shooting

A prosecutor and a defense attorney agreed Wednesday that Michael Peau fatally shot his friend Roberto Guzman outside Guzman's home in West Oakland in September 2011 but disagreed about the reason he did so.

Prosecutor Luis Marin told jurors in his opening statement in Peau's trial that Peau fired 11 shots at Guzman, 22, because he felt that Guzman had "disrespected" him in an argument three days before Guzman was killed in the 3200 block of Hannah Street at about 11:55 a.m. on Sept. 24, 2011.

Marin said Peau, 23, should be convicted of murder, saying, "The evidence proves the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt."

But Peau's attorney, David Bryden, said Peau shot Guzman only because he believed Guzman would seriously injure him or kill him when Guzman grabbed a screwdriver, which he described as "a large stabbing instrument" and "charged" at Peau.

Bryden said at the end of the case he will ask jurors to find Peau not guilty because he believes the prosecution will be unable to prove that Peau intended kill Guzman.

Marin said Guzman lived with his girlfriend and her family at their house on Hannah Street and had been friends with Peau but became upset with Peau because of a transaction in which his girlfriend's father bought a car from Peau.

Marin said Peau offered to sell the father a used car for $100 and assured him that there weren't any problems with it.

However, the prosecutor said that when the father went to the Department of Motor Vehicles to register the car officials told him it had been stolen at gunpoint and turned the car over to Oakland police.

Afterward, Guzman told Peau, "I don't want to see you again" and told him not to come around anymore at the house where he lived with his girlfriend's family, Marin said.

The prosecutor said Peau "didn't appreciate the way Mr. Guzman had talked to him so he decided to have the last word" by firing a 9 mm semi-automatic handgun at Guzman, striking him 10 times.

But Bryden alleged that Guzman was the one who was the most upset about the situation and created the confrontation that resulted in his own death.

The defense lawyer said that on Sept. 24, 2011, Peau approached Guzman as he was working on his car because "he wanted to work something out" but Guzman charged at him.

Bryden said Peau will testify in his own defense later in the trial.

SF: Man Sues Boy Scouts of America, Former Scoutmaster for Alleged Sexual Abuse

 A man who said he was molested for years by his Boy Scout troop leader in Vacaville in the late 1970s and 1980s sued the Boy Scouts of America Wednesday for their alleged failure to report the abuse.

Attorneys filed the suit in Solano County Superior Court Wednesday on behalf of Mark Dietrich, 49, a U.S. Coast Guard veteran who alleges that Vacaville Troop 180 Scoutmaster Gary Hatfield sexually abused him for four years starting when he was 14 years old and that troop leaders and national BSA officials learned of the abuse and covered it up.

The suit names as defendants the BSA, Hatfield and the local Scouting council overseeing Troop 180, as well as unnamed individuals and groups that "joined in and conspired with the other wrongdoers."

"Mark Dietrich is the perfect example, and yet another example, of what happens when an institution puts its reputation and its concern for its reputation before the protection of children entrusted to its care," Dietrich's attorney Irwin Zalkin said at a news conference in San Francisco Wednesday.

Dietrich was 14 years old and had spent two years in a local Scout troop when he decided to approach Hatfield about joining Troop 180, which was known for organizing fun activities for its members, Zalkin said.

During his first meeting with Hatfield at the man's Vacaville trailer home, Hatfield allegedly began grooming Dietrich, coaxing the teen into stripping naked to prepare him for a supposed survival situation in the woods, according to the attorney.

Zalkin said that encounter was only the beginning of four years of "aggressive sexual abuse."

In addition, the attorney said, at least one other troop leader and even members of the national BSA organization were aware that Hatfield "was a known perpetrator" against boys, yet chose not to report his crimes and allowed him to continue to abuse multiple boys.

Zalkin said that at least three other victims of Hatfield's sexual abuse have been identified.

"We believe the evidence in this case is going to show that that knowledge went all the way to the top," he said.

Dietrich said Wednesday that he struggled for years with feelings of shame before coming forward to file a criminal complaint against Hatfield in 1992.

Then in his late 20s, Dietrich was told that the statute of limitations to prosecute Hatfield had expired.

According to Zalkin, police contacted Dietrich as a witness in 1997 in another criminal sex abuse case against Hatfield.

His civil claim filed Wednesday was possible in part due to the Servicemembers' Civil Relief Act -- a federal law that makes the statute of limitations for his claims inoperable during his 25 years of military service.

The knowledge that there are other scouts who have suffered sexual abuse at the hands of troop leaders was a large part of what spurred Dietrich to come forward publicly and to demand accountability for what happened to him.

"My message is that you are not alone -- this is not your fault," he said.

"It's okay to talk about it and you have nothing to be ashamed of."

He said the release late last year of some 20,000 pages of BSA documents related to alleged instances of sexual abuse by more than 1,200 perpetrators within the organization also prompted him to take action.

BSA Public Relations Director Deron Smith said in a statement that while the organization can't comment on active litigation, "the abuse of anyone, especially a child, is intolerable and we extend our deepest sympathies to anyone who may be a victim of this type of behavior.

The Boy Scouts of America takes the protection of youth very seriously, which is why we have continuously enhanced our multi-tiered policies and procedures."

San Mateo Co.: More Cuts on the Horizon for County Trial Courts

Ongoing state budget cuts to trial courts are to blame for San Mateo County having to cut as many as 25 positions and close five courtrooms in its South San Francisco and San Mateo branches, the Superior Court of San Mateo County announced Wednesday.

The reductions include the elimination of five court commissioner positions, as many as 21 staff positions, the closure of five courtrooms and suspending the majority of court services in the South San Francisco and San Mateo branches, according to Court Executive Officer John Fitton.

Should trial court funding not be restored the elimination of the court commissioners could happen in July and the remaining workforce reductions are slated for September.

The latest round of cuts is just another blow to an already tightened trial court budget in San Mateo County.

The county has so far reduced its workforce by more than 30 percent and made several reductions in many areas including clerk hours, traffic and small claims, family court and complex litigation court in Redwood City.

"This is unprecedented, and we've been saying this since 2008 and it continues to get worse," Fitton said.

Trial courts throughout the state have suffered state budget cuts of more than $1 billion over the past five years.

Courts throughout the state are being forced to severely cut costs, in some cases shut down entire courthouses, not just courtrooms.

Presiding Judge Robert D. Foiles said it is "extremely disappointing" that the governor's January budget fails to restore vital funding to the trial courts.

SF Bay Area Thursday Morning Weather Forecast

Sunny skies are likely in the Bay Area this morning. Highs are likely to be in the lower 60s, with northern winds up to 10 mph. Clear skies are likely this evening.

Lows are expected to be in the upper 40s, with northern winds up to 10 mph. Sunny skies are likely Friday.

Highs are expected to be in the lower 60s, with northeast winds around 10 mph.

 

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