The Digging Has Begun!

I hate handshake shots. I never shoot them. It’s “staged news”–usually presented with the staging element invisible to the viewer which only makes me hate them more.

Think of a photo that might be captioned “The President shares an quiet moment with the First Lady” and you get one idea. And then see the wide angle version of the same shot with fifty press photographers forming a wall of cameras and flashes just inches from the President’s and First Lady’s faces and you get the idea of what I am talking about.

Next thing you know a generation of reporters have been conditioned by the easy pickings and live almost entirely off of such staged news events. Add in your sensational fires and crimes and, bingo, that’s what passes for news at most television news stations and newspapers. It’s no wonder viewers and readers are abandoning these “traditional” outlets like fleas from a drowning dog. They still serve a need, of course–it is just that the need they serve isn’t our need.

But this morning a friend came by on the way to the Caltrans tunnel opening event and invited me along–and so I went.

And I had fun. Congressman Lantos gave an excellent speech contrasting today, the anniversary of the completion of the drafting of the Constitution, with the tunnel, a smaller example of the People working their will. Supervisor Rich Gordon and State Senator Leland Yee also gave very nice talks. So good were all three that I regretted not bringing my video camera. Sorry.

And then the photo op. Videographers and photographers can be terribly uninventive. If you are running an event and want to control the coverage, all you have to do it offer a good visual, the photo opportunity, and *that* will be the image they run, the clip they makes the airwaves.

In this case the organizers were planning to have a image of Lennie Roberts–the citizen-leader of the movement to substitute the tunnel for the “bypass” (read: four-lane highway through Montara into Moss Beach)–working the controls of the digging machine to make the first scratch into the mountain to begin the tunnel. Now look at the coverage on the television and local papers and we’ll compare notes about how many used that image–and ponder the independence of the press.

But it was good to see Roberts getting credit, and April Vargas was there who also deserves our applause (along with many others).

For me, the digging of the tunnel marks a more important moment in our coastal history. It was the tunnel that galvanized the citizens of our community and led to the formation and strengthening of local political groups. Wavecrest then added fuel to that fire, dividing the coast into “developers” and no-growthers” even more.

The digging of the tunnel has begun. Wavecrest is about to change ownership to POST. Two great victories for activists along the coast. But now the great challenges are gone. The challenges that brought people together have been overcome. What now?

See a gallery of photographs from the event in our Photo Gallery.

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Photos by Darin Boville

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Meet the Candidates: Midcoast Community Council

The area often called the “Midcoast” (everything north of Half Moon Bay and south of Devil’s Slide) is one of the few unincorporated areas in San Mateo County. You can imagine how exciting it must be for the County Board of Supervisors to have to deal with us on a regular basis–how our micro-local concerns must seem to them when they are used to dealing with grander things.

Thus the Midcoast Community Council. That’s “MCC” for short. It was established in 1991 as a sort of local representation of the County. The Board of Supervisors had a way to learn more about what was going on on the coast and local residents had a way of being heard by the powers-that-be. Hurray.

But it has been tough times of late for the MCC. Small children, barely able to talk, can count how many members of the public attend the meetings. MCTV, the “community” access channel can skip televising a session or two and not a complaint is heard. The apathy extends to the Council members themselves–published reports earlier this summer noted that one member hadn’t attended a meeting in over a year–the remaining members suspect that she may have moved out of the area.

I’m not making this up, really.

But this year the MCC’s prospects are looking up. There’s a contested election–five candidates for three open seats.

To help the public get to know the candidates I offered to shoot a short introductory video of each. I set out a few basic rules, offered to shoot anywhere on the coast they wished, and gave them five minutes of screen time. The rest was up to them.

Pay attention to this race if you favor democracy here on the midcoast.


Deborah Lardie

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Howard Lieberman

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Neil Merrilees

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Bob Ptacek

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Leonard Woren

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Videos by Darin Boville

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First Approximation: Spending Per Student

Anyone who has lived in different places in the United States has no doubt noticed that spending on schools varies widely from place to place.

When I moved to San Mateo County three years ago I paid attention to this issue as it was a factor in choosing where to live–and what houses we could afford.

The following chart shows how we in the Cabrillo Unified School District rank in terms of spending per student compared to our peers in the rest of San Mateo County. I didn’t show it here but I did compile the data for the past five years to see if Cabrillo’s ranking had changed over time–it has remained in essentially the same place over that time period.

O.K., so we are at the bottom of the chart compared to other county districts. Fair enough. But we are still well off compared to schools in other states, right? This is California, after all, one of the nation’s wealthiest states, so well off we could, if we wanted to, form our own, separate country…

As the chart shows, California is well below average in per student spending (but, heck, we beat Louisiana–that’s something, isn’t it?). These are based upon 2004 numbers.

Now here comes the really sad, depressing part. The more mathematically inclined of you might think, “Gee, I wonder how the ranking would change if we adjusted for cost-of-living?” That is to say, in some places in the country things cost less than in other places (obviously, right?). So a dollar spent on education in the Bay Area might not actually “buy” as much education, so to speak, as a dollar spent in Ohio, where things (most everything!) are cheaper.

You know how this is going to turn out even without peeking at the next chart. Just look at the states in the chart above to see who ranks below California. Louisiana, Texas, Iowa…Every one of those states is significantly (dare I say dramatically) cheaper to live in. Those states will move up on the list when you adjust for their dollar’s buying power. States with a high cost-of-living (like you-know-who) will drop on the list to account for the weak comparative value of a dollar spent in that state.

Here’s the obvious result:

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Data provided by Education Data Partnership. Cost of living indices provided by Money Magazine. The crude methodology is my own invention.

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Welcome, Catherine!

Well, summer break has finally drawn to a close and I get my life back (a little). With the school year brings new classes, new clothes–and a new principal at Farallone View. Catherine Werdel is the new principal, replacing Suzanne Michelony (who in turn, replaced Mike Bachicha the year before).

Want to get a head start on getting to know Catherine? Click on one of our video formats buttons (below) for a three-minute introduction.

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Video by Darin Boville

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Road Closed: Some Sunny Day

It was only a year ago–it seems like it was ages ago…

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Video by Darin Boville

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Road Closed: Caltrans at Work

Barry Parr (of Coastsider) and I went up on the Slide (again!) in 2006 to investigate what Caltrans was doing up there. (There had been rumors about Caltrans only pretending to work–more of the “punish the coast” theory–and some citizens were strongly urging Caltrans to open one lane during the work with the idea that they could move their gear to one side during rush hour commute times and only close the Slide during the slower hours.)

What we found was a beehive of activity and a large crane that clearly couldn’t be moved out of the way.

That aside, we found it an interesting look a major construction site–something we don’t get to do every day–hosted by Caltrans geologist Grant Wilcox. And did I mention the views?

Road Closed, a series of videos looking back at the Devil’s Slide closure of 2006, will appear every Monday and Thursday from today until Thursday, August 2nd. This, the fifth installment of the series, appeared last year in Coastsider.

Choose your video format (see key, at left):

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Video by Darin Boville

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Road Closed: And Local Businesses?

I guess I assumed that I was making a video about how hard it was to be in business on the coast during the Devil’s Slide closure. And, to be sure, I found a lot of that among business owners–everything from stoic resignation to bitter frustration.

But I also found, to my surprise, that some businesses were doing well. Some very well, though they were careful to avoid gloating. It seems residents who used to shop over the hill were now shopping locally. And some locals were changing their lifestyles and needed new gear and support.

Road Closed, a series of videos looking back at the Devil’s Slide closure of 2006, will appear every Monday and Thursday from today until August 2nd. This, the fourth installment of the series, first appeared in Coastsider.

Choose your video format (see key, at left):

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Video by Darin Boville

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Road Closed: Caltrans’ Plan

So what is the plan? That’s what all of us on the coast wanted to know last Spring. Given the facts that Grant Wilcox laid out in his presentation the idea of a bridge was out. A “quick fix” was out. What, then?

How about pinning the fast moving landslide at the surface to the slower moving landslide underneath? Uh, OK!

In this third installment of Road Closed Caltrans representatives lay out their plan for a temporary fix of the slide with all fingers crossed that it will last until the Tunnel opens.

Road Closed, a series of videos looking back at the Devil’s Slide closure of 2006, will appear every Monday and Thursday from today until August 2nd.

Choose your video format (see key, at left):

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Video by Darin Boville

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Road Closed: Geologist Explains the Slide

When I first moved here three years ago I heard all of the stories abut the closure of Devil’s Slide in 1995. But I didn’t really understand what was happening in terms of what was causing the Slide to move. As far as I know there had never been a proper explanation made to the public about the geologic issues.

That changed shortly after the 2006 closure when Grant Wilcox, the geologist with Caltrans assigned to lead a geologic team at the Slide, came to the coast. His unexpected presentation at a Midcoast Community Council meeting offered an outstanding layman’s education on the technical issues involved in getting the Slide open.

Before this video was published on Coastsider there were all sorts of demands by frustrated coastsiders, wondering why a bridge could not be built, wondering why a permanent solution could not be found, wondering out loud that maybe Caltrans wanted the Slide to stay out to teach us a lesson in return for frustrating their plans to build a highway behind Montara into Moss Beach.

After this video was published all of that talk evaporated. People now had the information they needed. The questions didn’t stop–but the questions got a lot better.

So here, once again, is Grant Wilcox explaining the geology of Devil’s Slide.

This is the second installment of the Road Closed, a series of videos looking back at the Devil’s Slide closure of 2006. “Road Closed” will appear every Monday and Thursday from today until August 2nd.

Choose your video format (see key, at left):

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Video by Darin Boville

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Neil Merrilees: Here in the middle

The politics of the coast are polarized around the issue of development and tend to get even more polarized as we near election time.

Are you for or against? Is the League for Coastside Protection a star chamber for the Montara Mafia or the only and last true hope to prevent the Malibuization of our neighborhoods? Is Coastside Community First a front for greedy developers intent on destroying all that is good and noble or a magnet for people and ideas concerned about creating a better future for ourselves and for our children?

There’s not a lot of middle ground here, folks.

And then there is Neil. In February of this year Neil filmed this first installment of his video column, Right Here In the Middle. In it he tries to make the case for a bit of new thinking–watch and let us know what you think.

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Video by Darin Boville.

First published on Coastsider

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