Alleged Burglars Flee Congregation, Found Fixing Fence

Three cousins pleaded not guilty Monday to burglarizing an apartment above a Redwood City church during services Sunday and fleeing from the congregation when confronted, prosecutors said Tuesday.

Daniel, John and Peter Beskalis, ages 18, 26 and 23, respectively, were arrested when they were found fixing a fence they damaged as they ran, according to the San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office.

They pleaded not guilty to burglary, grand theft, receiving stolen property, brandishing a deadly weapon, battery and vandalism charges, according to prosecutors.

The burglary was discovered at about 12:30 p.m. Sunday when the daughter of the deacon at Coptic Orthodox Church at 401 Hudson St. went upstairs to the apartment she shares with her father above the church and discovered that a laptop, cellphones, jewelry and cash had been stolen.

She came back to the service and told her father, who announced it to the congregation and said everyone should stay while they sorted it out.

But the three Beskalis cousins bolted out of their seats toward the door, prosecutors said. Some church members pursued them but two of the cousins allegedly turned and pointed pocketknives at the parishioners.

The cousins ran out of the church and into the yard of a nearby home, where they damaged a fence. The 74-year-old woman who lives there saw them and stopped them, demanding they fix her fence.

John Beskalis offered her $40 for the fence, but she refused, and handed him a hammer and told them to fix it.

The cousins did as they were told. John and Peter Beskalis were working on fixing the fence when police arrived, with Daniel Beskalis standing nearby.

They were all arrested. Some of the stolen items were found in John Deskalis’s pockets while the rest was found in a bag hidden in the church, prosecutors said.

The three are scheduled to return to court on Sept. 19 for a preliminary hearing.

County Places Child Support Head On Leave During Travel Expense Investigation

Santa Clara County has placed the director of the Department of Child Support Services on paid leave amid allegations he improperly used a credit card to obtain travel and other rewards points to get free services for himself and his staff, a spokeswoman said Tuesday.

The county said that John Vartanian was placed on leave while a probe continues into his travel payment practices, county spokeswoman Gwen Mitchell said.

Deputy County Executive Sylvia Gallegos will take his place in the interim, Mitchell said.

“An investigation has been underway for a while given the allegations that have been made,” Mitchell said. “I don’t expect it to be very, very long.”

Mitchell declined to go into specifics since it was a personnel matter, but said that the query centered on Vartanian allegedly using a credit card to accumulate travel points from county business trips to obtain free travel services for his personal use and for his staff members.

The Department of Child Services, located at 880 Ridder Park Dr. in San Jose, manages court-ordered child support payment cases within the county, according to the department’s website.

Bay Fair Bart Station Reopened After Person Was Struck By Train

The Bay Fair BART station has reopened after a train struck a person on Tuesday night, a BART spokesman said.

A report of a person under a train came in around 8:05 p.m. at the station at 15242 Hesperian Blvd., BART spokesman Jim Allison said.

A southbound train heading toward Fremont struck the person and passengers on the involved train were evacuated, BART police Lt. Tyrone Forte said.

The person “bounced back on the platform” and was transported to
Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley, Allison said.

Allison did not know the person’s condition but the victim “seemed to be in better condition that you would expect,” Allison said.

The station was closed due to the medical emergency but reopened as of 9:30 p.m., according to Allison.

Trains are experiencing residual delays on the Dublin/Pleasanton to Daly City, Fremont to Daly City and Fremont to Richmond lines, he said.

BART police at the scene determined that there was “no indication of criminal activity” associated with the incident, according to Allison.

Supervisor Breed Denounces 49ers For Playing Ray Mcdonald Despite Felony Domestic Violence Charges

San Francisco Supervisor London Breed said that despite being a lifelong San Francisco 49ers fan, she is not a fan of the team’s decision to allow defensive end Ray McDonald to play during an active investigation for felony domestic violence charges.

In a resolution announced Tuesday at the Board of Supervisors meeting, Breed urged both the 49ers and the National Football League to strengthen their policies against domestic violence.

McDonald, 29, was arrested on Aug. 31 and booked into Santa Clara
County Jail on felony domestic violence charges. He was released on bail later that day, San Jose police said.

Breed said that the 49ers allowed him to play in Sunday’s game against the Dallas Cowboys only one week after McDonald’s arrest.

Breed said that while the 49ers no longer play in San Francisco, they continue to bear the city’s name and that their actions reflect on the city.

“It is imperative that professional sports, popular culture, and anyone associated with the name San Francisco stand up against domestic violence,” Breed said.

Tuesday’s resolution denounced the 49ers’ decision to allow McDonald to play on Sept. 7 and urged the 49ers not to repeat the same mistake this coming Sunday.

Breed urged the NFL specifically, and major league sports in general, to take a stronger stance against domestic violence and do more to protect the victims of abuse.

Supervisor Chiu Argues Sex-Selective Abortion Bans Discriminate Against Asian-American Women

San Francisco Supervisor David Chiu announced a resolution to the board of supervisors on Tuesday opposing sex-selective abortion bans, stating that the bans are rooted in the assumption, not evidence, that Asian American communities are exercising sex-selection in favor of males.

Chiu’s resolution comes following the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act introduced by state Assemblywoman Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield, earlier this year. Grove’s bill, which has not been enacted, is one of more than 60 bills aiming to stop sex-selective abortions introduced since 2009 at the state and federal level in the U.S.

Shivana Jorawar, reproductive justice program director at the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum stood with Chiu, and a broad group of women’s rights and civil rights organizations, on Tuesday in opposition of the bans. She said that sex-selective abortion laws are supported by groups and individuals opposed to reproductive rights and legislators who are against abortion.

Jorawar said sex-selective abortions, the practice of attempting to control the sex of one’s offspring in order to achieve a desired sex, is not protecting the life of one gender above the other in the U.S. as a result of increased economic equality and access to education.

She said in Asia, particularly China, where for three decades the government enforced a one-child-per-family policy, preference for males over females was a cultural norm.

However, Jorawar said there is no evidence that Asian-American women are aborting female offspring in the United States more frequently than male offspring.

Chiu said Tuesday sex-selective abortion bans can “lead to the denial of reproductive health care services to women by some medical providers and lead to the further stigmatization of women, particularly Asian
American women.”

Sex-selective abortions are currently banned in eight U.S. states as well as the countries of China, Kosovo, Nepal and Vietnam, according to a report prepared by the International Human Rights Clinic at the University of Chicago Law School, in partnership with the NAPAWF and Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health at the University of California at San Francisco.

The report also states that national data of sex ratios at birth of foreign-born Chinese, Indians and Koreans indicates that these groups have more female babies overall than white Americans, challenging ban supporters who say they are fighting for gender equality.

Protesters Gather Outside Apple Hq As Company Unveils New Iphone

As Apple unveiled the newest version of its popular iPhone at a Cupertino event Tuesday, a group of about 15 to 20 protesters gathered outside calling for Apple to do more to lift wages for Silicon Valley workers.

Organizers with the Service Employees International Union called on technology companies like Apple to recognize the role of all area workers who contribute to the success of their profitable products.

The protesters carried signs pointing out that the iPhone generates over $9 million in revenue per hour for Apple, while area janitors, security guards and landscapers may earn little more than $10 per hour.

They targeted Apple on Tuesday because “there’s no better example of the one-sided success in Silicon Valley that’s leaving working people behind,” SEIU spokesman Alfredo Fletes said.

The SEIU has for years been working to organize security guards at various technology companies, including Apple, Google, Twitter and Uber.

The security guards are contracted by Security Industries Specialists, a Culver City-based company that contracts security services nationwide.

While Fletes acknowledged that SIS provides its employees decent wages, he said that steady hours week-to-week are difficult to come by, and many employees are struggling to pay for basic services.

He said that the union has been unable to determine exactly how many employees working with SIS do not have benefits but estimated that about 50 percent of employees were working part time.

But Fletes said that it has been difficult organizing security workers at Apple and other tech companies, alleging that SIS intimidates its workers to prevent them from unionizing.

Posts on SIS’s website accuse the SEIU of engaging in a deceitful smear campaign against them in a lengthy rebuke of the union, accusing them of harassing employees to get them to join unions.

To bolster its claims, SIS posted documents regarding disgruntled former workers who have spoken out against them, including lengthy text message conversations with supervisors and internal disciplinary documents.

But Fletes said that he understands that technology workers can be exploited as well, pointing out a case filed in federal court in San Jose where top-tier technology talent alleged that large companies like Apple and
Google had agreed not to poach each other employees, therefore keeping wages lower.

Fletes said that the goal of the SEIU demonstrations is to get tech companies to take a greater role in making sure that everyone in Silicon Valley can afford basic necessities.

Lawsuit Alleges Uber Discriminates Against Blind Passengers With Service Dogs

A blind author and the National Federation of the Blind transportation service Uber in federal court in San Francisco on Tuesday, alleging that it discriminates against blind riders with guide dogs.

The lawsuit alleges that some Uber drivers have refused to give rides to blind people with service dogs and that others have mishandled the dogs or harassed their owners.

It asks for an injunction requiring Uber Technologies Inc. to take steps to ensure that its drivers don’t illegally refuse to transport blind people with service dogs.

Uber, based in San Francisco, is a transportation network service that uses a smartphone application to connect passengers with drivers who are willing to give them rides for pay.

The lawsuit was filed by the National Federation of the Blind’s California affiliate and Michael Hingson, a blind author and public speaker who lives in Victorville in San Bernardino County.

It claims the alleged practices violate the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and the state Unruh Civil Rights Act and Disabled Persons Act.

Uber issued a statement saying it had not yet been officially notified of the lawsuit, but noting that its policy is to terminate the use of drivers who refuse to transport service animals.

“The Uber app is built to expand access to transportation options for all, including users with visual impairments and other disabilities,” the statement said.

The lawsuit alleges the plaintiffs are aware of at least 30 instances nationwide in which drivers in the company’s UberX program have refused to transport service animals. It says that in another instance, a driver placed a blind woman’s guide dog in the trunk of his car.

National Federation of the Blind of California President Mary Willows said in a statement, “Our right to independent travel is unjustly jeopardized when Uber drivers refuse to transport or harass blind customers due to the presence of their service animals.”

The lawsuit says the federation and Hingson sought to negotiate with Uber to resolve their claims without a lawsuit, but were unable to do so.

It alleges, “When Uber denies rides to blind riders with service animals, blind individuals experience several harms. They face unexpected delays, they must arrange alternate transportation that is sometimes more costly, and they face the degrading experience of being denied a basic service that is available to all other paying customers.”

16-Year-Old Boy Missing Since Saturday Last Seen In Hayward Hills

Authorities are looking for a 16-year-old boy missing since Saturday afternoon and last seen in the Hayward hills.

Minh Ly left his home in the 25500 block of Clover Road in unincorporated Hayward around 4 p.m. Saturday, Alameda County Sheriff’s Sgt. J.D. Nelson said.

Minh left the residence after he had a disagreement with his father, Nelson said.

He was last seen walking into a wooded area of the Fairview community and has not been seen since.

Minh is described as a teenage boy standing about 5 feet 3 inches tall, weighing around 135 pounds with black hair, brown eyes and braces.

He was last seen wearing a bright teal collared shirt, khaki pants and slippers, according to Nelson.

He does not have a cellphone, Nelson said.

The teen is a student at Moreau Catholic High School.

Authorities are concerned because he does not have any prior history of running away.

Teen Boy Stabbed At Park Upgraded To Serious But Stable Condition

A 16-year-old boy has been upgraded to serious but stable condition after he was stabbed at a west San Jose park on Tuesday afternoon, a police spokeswoman said.

Police were dispatched at 2:56 p.m. to Marijane Hamann Park at
2747 Westfield Ave. near Genevieve Lane about a report of a juvenile male who was stabbed, San Jose police spokeswoman Sgt. Heather Randol said.

The victim was transported to a hospital with wounds that were initially considered to be life-threatening, Randol said.

The suspect or suspects left the area before police could arrive, Randol said.

No additional information was immediately available to release in
the stabbing, she said.

Jury Hears Opening Statements At Murder Retrial Of Driver Involved In Fiery Crash

Jurors began hearing testimony Tuesday afternoon at the murder trial of a Santa Rosa woman who was involved in a fiery crash west of Santa Rosa two years ago that killed a Windsor man in a Triumph convertible.

Heather Howell, 30, was convicted almost exactly a year ago of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and reckless driving, but the jury deadlocked 9-3 on a murder charge.

The Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office decided to retry
Howell for the murder of 56-year-old Jesse Garcia who died in the July 14,
2012 crash on Hall Road.

In her opening statement, Deputy District Attorney Anne Masterson told the jury Howell was chasing her boyfriend Tony Kraus’ motorcycle in her black Acura until she sideswiped a Lexus, lost control of her Acura and rear-ended the 1969 Triumph convertible.

The Triumph overturned, rolled and caught fire, and an autopsy determined Garcia, trapped under the Triumph, did not die from crash injuries but from inhaling soot and smoke, Masterson said.

Howell and Kraus had an argument at Howell’s home, and Howell pursued Kraus after he left on his Harley Davidson motorcycle, Masterson said.

Witnesses will testify that they saw Howell form her hand in the shape of a gun and stick it out the Acura’s window, pump her fist out the window and yell “Hee Haa!” during the pursuit, Masterson said.

Howell had a blood alcohol level of 0.11 percent, and she told responders at the scene she reached into the burning convertible to try to free Garcia, Masterson said. There were no burns on Howell’s arm, Masterson told the jury.

Howell also had used cocaine and marijuana a few hours before the crash, Masterson said.

Paramedics also overheard Howell during a cellphone conversation tell someone, ‘don’t say anything,’ Masterson said. Kraus was seen on the side of the road outside the ambulance also talking on his cellphone, Masterson said.

Howell was convicted of misdemeanor DUI in 2006 and was ordered to take first-offender classes on the dangers of drunken driving, Masterson. The judge in that case informed Howell that if she killed someone in a subsequent DUI crash, she could be charged with murder, Masterson said.

Defense attorney Kristine Burk told the 15 jurors Howell was exhausted the day of the crash because she had spent “virtually every moment” of the previous three days at her mother’s bedside in the intensive care unit of a hospital.

Howell was juggling her time in the hospital with summer classes she was taking, Burk said.

Howell went home to rest on July 14 when her mother’s condition stabilized, and when Kraus left her home, Howell felt emotionally abandoned and followed him in her Acura, Burk said.

Man Is Convicted Of Second-Degree Murder For Killing Woman

An Oakland man was convicted Tuesday of second-degree murder and attempted murder for fatally shooting a 39-year-old woman and wounding her boyfriend in East Oakland last year.

Rasheed Strane, 25, admitted during his trial that he killed
Rebecca Viera and wounded Joseph Johnson by firing multiple shots into Johnson’s car at 72nd and Lacey avenues at about 9:40 p.m. on Aug. 17, 2013.

But Strane said he acted only after Johnson had threatened to shoot him during several phone calls and then drove to the apartment where he was living with Brittney McNary, his girlfriend and the mother of one of his children.

However, prosecutor Melissa Dooher told jurors in her closing argument that they should convict Strane of murder because there wasn’t any imminent danger to him or McNary, alleging that Strane acted impulsively out of a misguided belief that he had to protect McNary.

Strane’s lawyer, Ernie Castillo, in contrast, said Strane should be found not guilty of any charges because the evidence in the case supports his assertion that he acted in self-defense.

Strane also was convicted of a third charge, shooting into an occupied vehicle, but that won’t add his state prison term when he’s sentenced by Alameda County Superior Court Judge Stuart Hing on Oct. 30.

Dooher said she expects Strane to receive a term of at least 65 years to life for his second-degree murder and attempted murder convictions plus the jury’s finding that he personally discharged a firearm and caused Viera’s death.

Although Dooher and Castillo disagreed about whether Strane should be convicted of murder and the other charges, they agreed that the shooting stemmed from a dispute between McNary and LaTanya Evans, who was a friend of Viera’s.

Dooher said the tension between the two women began a few weeks before the shooting when Evans loaned a BB gun that belonged to her boyfriend, Matthew Washington, to Strane so that Strane could use it to commit a robbery.

Washington was in custody at the time on suspicion of writing fraudulent checks, although he was never charged, Dooher said.

Washington was jealous of Strane so Evans wanted to get the BB gun back from Strane because she didn’t want Washington to find out that she had loaned it to Strane, Dooher said.

McNary and Evans planned to fight on the night of Aug. 17, 2013, and Viera, who sided with Evans, wanted to watch the fight, Dooher said.

The prosecutor said Johnson and Viera drove to 72nd and MacArthur avenues to watch the fight but instead Strane “ambushed” them by shooting into Johnson’s car.

But Strane testified that he thought his life was in danger and he opened fire only after Johnson approached him with a weapon that looked like it was a long-barreled gun but later turned out to be a machete.

Strane said he was shooting at Johnson and didn’t know that Viera was in the car with him. Viera’s 5-year-old son was sitting in the back seat of the car when she was shot and watched her die.

Castillo said Tuesday that he’s “disappointed” with the jury’s verdict because he truly believes that Strane acted in self-defense.

Body Found In Parking Lot This Afternoon

A body was found in a parking lot in Berkeley on Tuesday afternoon, a police spokeswoman said.

Officers responded at 1:54 p.m. to a report of an unresponsive male in the parking lot on the northwest corner of Shattuck Avenue and Blake Street, Berkeley police Officer Jennifer Coats said.

The male was pronounced dead at the scene. There were no obvious signs of trauma to the body and it will be up to the Alameda County coroner’s bureau to determine a cause of death in the case, Coats said.

Police remained at the scene as of shortly after 4 p.m. to wait for coroner’s officials to arrive, she said.

Kung Fu Instructor Accused Of Molesting Students Pleads No Contest

A former kung fu instructor arrested on charges of lewd conduct with two female students two years ago pleaded no contest to the charges Monday, prosecutors said Tuesday.

Meng Ricky Wong, 38, pleaded no contest to two counts of lewd acts with a child under 14 years old after prosecutors indicated he would receive a sentence of at most three years in prison. He will have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.

Wong was arrested on March 12, 2012, after two of his students at Tat Wong Kung Fu Academy in San Mateo, 9- and 11-year-old girls, came forward and said Wong had molested them and a warrant was issued for his arrest.

The first victim told investigators that in August 2010 Wong had taken her upstairs and inappropriately touched her breasts and buttocks. The second victim said the same thing happened to her in October 2011.

Wong was employed as an instructor there for more than a decade, from 1999 until 2011. He was released on $100,000 bail shortly after his arrest.

The case stalled for years in the court system, with a jury trial date set six times since April 2013. Wong had faced a maximum sentence of life in prison because there were multiple victims, prosecutors said.

He entered the no contest plea Monday in the courtroom of Judge Jonathan Karesh and his scheduled to be sentenced on Nov. 19, according to prosecutors.

Man Shot And Killed In Backyard Was Single Father Of Four

A man who was shot and killed in Richmond on Monday afternoon was a single father of four whose nephew shot and killed him before turning the gun on himself, police said Tuesday.

Jesus Gil, 45, was found shot dead in the backyard of his home in the 1300 block of Mariposa Street around noon Monday, according to a Contra Costa County coroner’s deputy.

Police said a second man, whose name has not been released but who is Gil’s nephew, was found suffering from at least one gunshot wound and was taken to a hospital in grave condition. He remained in the hospital on life support on Tuesday.

The man appears to have lived with Gil, and was at the victim’s home along with several other family members when an argument broke out, according to police.

Gil, who was a single father following the death of his wife, leaves behind four children, according to Richmond police Capt. Bisa French.

One of the children was at the Mariposa Street home when the shooting occurred, she said.

Police said a motive has not been determined for the shooting but that alcohol may have played a role.

Suspicious Device That Shut Down Hwy 12 Was For Geocaching Game

A prize from a scavenger hunt looked like a possible bomb to highway work crews and prompted the California Highway Patrol to shut down state Highway 12 at Interstate Highway 80 near Fairfield on Tuesday afternoon, a CHP officer said.

A Caltrans work crew working along the highway found a tube affixed with magnets and tape to a streetlight pole at 12:24 p.m., CHP Officer Chris Parker said.

The CHP responded and also could not identify the device. As a precaution, the highway was closed as well as westbound Highway 80 at Red Top Road.

The Napa County sheriff’s bomb squad responded and used water to dislodge it from the light pole, Parker said.

The bomb squad determined that it was a tube affixed to the pole for a Geocaching game — a scavenger hunt-like game where players are directed to a prize or further instructions through GPS coordinates, Parker said.

He was not sure what the tube contained. The roadways reopened by 3 p.m., CHP officials said.

Apartment Fire Sends Two To Hospital With Burns

Two people were hospitalized with burns after escaping a one-alarm fire that badly damaged a San Pablo apartment on Tuesday afternoon, a Contra Costa County Fire Protection District spokesman said.

The blaze was reported around 1:50 p.m. at an apartment in the 230 block of Road 20, Fire Inspector Steve Aubert said.

Firefighters arrived on the scene to find smoke and flames coming from an apartment building’s second-story windows, Aubert said.

He said firefighters got the fire under control around 2:05 p.m. and prevented it from spreading to any neighboring apartments.

Two residents of the apartment were taken to hospitals with burns. No other injuries were reported.

The fire caused an estimated $150,000 in damage and left the two residents displaced, Aubert said.

Fire officials have yet to determine what caused the blaze.

Firefighters Responding To Fire At Women’s Homeless Shelter

Firefighters quickly controlled a small fire at a women’s homeless shelter in San Francisco’s South of Market neighborhood on Tuesday afternoon that started in a clothes dryer, a fire spokeswoman said.

The fire was reported shortly before 2:30 p.m. at 1049 Howard St., fire spokeswoman Mindy Talmadge said.

The “A Woman’s Place” homeless shelter is listed at that address.

Light smoke was showing inside the building when firefighters arrived and the building’s sprinkler system was set off.

The fire started in a clothes dryer in the building’s basement and was quickly controlled, Talmadge said.

Body Pulled From Lake In Golden Gate Park

A body was pulled from a lake in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park on Tuesday morning, police said.

A city employee found the body in Mallard Lake at 9:55 a.m., San Francisco police spokesman Officer Albie Esparza said.

Mallard Lake is along Martin Luther King Jr. Drive in the western end of the park.

Police responded but the investigation will be handled by the medical examiner’s office to determine the person’s cause of death.

The medical examiner’s office did not immediately disclose any details on the case.

Muni Streetcar Involved In Crash With Another Vehicle On Market Street

A San Francisco Municipal Railway historic streetcar was involved in a collision with another vehicle on Market Street on Tuesday afternoon, a Muni spokesman said.

The crash occurred at 1:20 p.m. near Market and Steuart streets and involved an outbound streetcar on the F-Market & Wharves line, Muni spokesman Paul Rose said.

Other streetcars on the line were turning around at the Ferry Building and at Market and 11th streets as a result of the collision, Rose said.

No other information about the crash was immediately available.

Man Gets 18-Year Sentence For 2011 Killing In Antioch

A San Francisco man was sentenced in a Martinez courtroom on Tuesday morning to 18 years and eight months in prison for the fatal shooting of a 24-year-old man in Antioch nearly three years ago.

Damian Bradley, 26, was sentenced after pleading guilty to a charge of voluntary manslaughter with the use of a gun as part of a plea agreement with the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office.

The defendant had initially been charged with murder for the killing of Dimontai Glaspie of Antioch on Oct. 8, 2011.

Bradley was arrested in June 2012 for fatally shooting Glaspie in the 2300 block of Dogwood Way, according to police.

The victim was taken to a hospital where he later succumbed to his injuries.

No family members of either the victim or the defendant attended Tuesday’s court hearing, according to Deputy District Attorney Jill Henderson.

Henderson said two of Bradley’s brothers were recently shot and killed themselves.

The prosecutor said investigators were never able to determine a motive for the killing and that it doesn’t appear to have been gang-related.

Among the evidence of Bradley’s guilt was his DNA found on a baseball cap that fell from the shooter’s head at the scene, Henderson said.

One Teen Injured, One Arrested In Fight At High School

One student was arrested and another suffered a head injury during a fistfight at Vallejo High School on Tuesday morning, police said.

The school at 840 Nebraska St. was briefly placed on lockdown until school officials got control of the situation, police said.

The teen who was arrested was processed Tuesday afternoon and the injured teen was taken to a hospital, a police lieutenant said.

The altercation was “minor in nature,” the lieutenant said.

A Vallejo City Unified School District employee said the students were ordered to stay in their classrooms while authorities responded to the incident.

Proposal Could Require City Officials To Use Car-Sharing Services

San Francisco may soon save millions of dollars by reducing its fleet of city vehicles and adopting a government car-sharing program under legislation introduced Tuesday.

San Francisco Supervisor Mark Farrell introduced a proposal at the Board of Supervisors’ meeting on Tuesday afternoon that would allow the city to reduce its carbon footprint while saving taxpayer money, according to Farrell’s legislative aide Jess Montejano.

The legislation would minimize the city’s fleet of non-essential passenger vehicles and light-duty trucks, which currently consists of 1,454 vehicles, Montejano said.

In San Francisco, the cost-saving benefits of car-sharing have largely been seen by individuals, but in other cities, such as Chicago and Washington D.C., the use of public sector car-sharing has resulted in an increase in efficiency and a decrease in spending for the cities, Montejano said.

He said Chicago implemented car-sharing legislation in 2011 and the benefits are clear, with the city reducing their fleet of non-essential vehicles from 1,000 to 650 and the city accumulating $7 million in savings over 3 years.

He said a large part of the cost savings in San Francisco would initially come from auctioning off infrequently used city vehicles, with the savings going directly into the city’s general fund.

Farrell’s office doesn’t see much potential opposition from the Board of Supervisors or the mayor’s office, but Montejano said this will be a “culture shift” and that the proposal will go against the status quo in terms of the city fleet and could upset some city officials.

Farrell and co-sponsor of the legislation Supervisor John Avalos want to see San Francisco’s fleet of city-owned and leased passenger vehicles and light-duty trucks decrease by 25 percent every three years.

The proposed legislation would require the city administrator’s office to restrict the assignment of underutilized vehicles as well as provide an annual report on its fleet management program along with its annual budget submission to the mayor and Board of Supervisors for review, Farrell said.

The legislation being introduced would authorize the city to enter into agreements with vendors. So far, Farrell’s office has said the lead contenders for the service are those who already provide the service for private companies, including Zipcar, CityCarShare and Car2Go.

Farrell’s legislation also mandates that vehicles used by city officials are equipped with a data system that tracks vehicle usage and mileage, better accounting for use of taxpayer money.

Farrell said the legislation will “hold city departments to a greater level of scrutiny and accountability.”

If the legislation passes, the city would be mandated to have a real-time reservation and tracking system in place by July 2015.