Ah, Xmas. The time when nog is hoisted, the Messiah's birth is considered, and dead and mutilated seabirds wash up on the beaches of the Oyster Bay Regional Shoreline. That's what happened on December 23, when horrified hikers discovered some sixty gulls, cormorants, and pelicans bleeding or dead. State Fish and Game officials immediately started digging into who could have committed this deed, and they discovered that employees from the Oakland International Airport were responsible. Seems the birds took a liking to the still waters around the airport runways, and anyone who's followed the career of Danville's Chesley Sullenberger knows what can happen when birds linger near tarmacs. Airport officials tried spooking the critters with rips of scary noise, but the birds stayed put. So with sleighbells ringing in their ears, they opened up with some double-aught and sent them to that Great Roost in the Sky. State officials determined that the airport employees were within their rights to get funky with the flintlocks. And so ended the year that began with Oscar Grant.
BART Survives the Grant Anniversary
Speaking of Oscar Grant, the BART system has been casting nets far and wide to find a replacement for police chief Gary Gee, who fell on his sword after the fatal cop killing last New Year's Eve. And the winner is ... retired Berkeley top cop Dash Butler, who retired with a sweeter pension that you'll ever see, but still needs something to do with his free time. This caps a host of measures taken to preserve public safety in the run-up to this year's end-of-year party; BART pumped up the police patrols, rescheduled the BART trains to avoid drunken crowds packing into trains and stations, and deployed helpful civilian BART employees to be pleasant and answer any questions slurred their way around midnight. Grant's family even issued a public plea not to start any shit in the name of their deceased relative. It seems to have worked, as no major disorders erupted when 2009 expired.
Oakland's Open for Business Again
New Year's Day also ended the week when Oakland's city government shut down entirely in a desperate effort to save money and cope with its $80 million budget deficit. Yes, every single city employee, from the guys who fix your potholes to the guys who maintain the city's parks, was forced to take the week off without pay. Only the cops, firefighters, and meter maids were still on duty. Even Oakland's libraries were shuttered, prompting one local citizen to utter the following immortal quote in the presence of a Chronicle reporter: "Well, this kind of crumbles the deck."
And Oakland's not the only government that has to spread the pain around. Starting on January 1, the Alameda County Social Services Agency began the process of cutting off General Assistance — the cash it dispenses to the poorest of the single, male poor — in a bid to whittle away at its own $11 million deficit. Advocates for the underclass used numerous tactics to delay this move, but they've run out of options. Now, if you're under 64 and deemed mentally and physically capable of doing something in return for a paycheck, you've got three months to find a gig before the spigot runs dry.
Dellums Gets Truckers a Reprieve
Speaking of the unemployed, guess who's not? Some 1,200 truckers who own their own rigs, but couldn't attach diesel fuel filters on their vehicles, that's who. Back in 2007, the state legislature passed a law requiring freight haulers to outfit their machines with emission-reducing equipment by the end of 2009, and gave them $22 million to help them along. The major trucking companies found the money, but thousands of owner-operators around California complained that the disbursement program was confused and dysfunctional, and that they would be unfairly banned from the gates of the Oakland port come January 1. But Ron Dellums saved the day and cut a deal with the truckers and the state. The truckers now have a two-week reprieve to work while they apply for $11 million in state grants to retrofit their rigs. So hey, Mr. Dellums did something right. In fact, the Oakland Tribune reported that he "pulled off a New Year's miracle."
Three Dot Roundup
Chevron has endeared itself to everyone once more by deciding not to contest the federal government's claim that it cheated the American public out of $46 million. Officials with the Justice Department accused the oil leviathan of underreporting that amount in royalties from natural gas it extracted on public lands. ... Down in Fresno, a French company has signed a letter of intent to build one or two nuclear power plants. Neither the company nor the Fresno Nuclear Energy Group seemed perturbed by the fact that California law prohibits the construction of new nuke plants until the federal government has in place a program to permanently dispose of the spent fuel. ... The S&P Home Price Index reports that Bay Area homes actually rose 1.2 percent in value between September and October. ... And the national media has gotten hip to the East Bay Express' report that Berkeley High may cancel AP science labs to fund remedial education. The tech press, such as Wired, TechDirt, and prominent biology blogger P.Z. Myers, is outraged. The right-wing tabloid press, such as the Examiner chain and Town Hall, is smug now that Berkeley has lived down to their expectations. Either way, more heat is gathering under the school board to put this embarrassment behind it.