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or, better yet, give him a job."
(Brock Keeling, SFist)

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Mayor Gavin Newsom + Twitter = Very Bad Idea

Our (cough!) beloved Mayor, Gavin Newsom uses Twitter as a way of public relations with the public. He posts announcements of fundraisers he will attend and other self promoting things, such as his recent posting of being on Larry King Live.

But let's ask ourselves the question, is Newsom's use of Twitter such a good idea or a really bad PR stunt that has gone horribly wrong?

BART did bad PR for their "hall of shame" photo gallery
If you recall from one of my postings on January 2, 2009, BART decided to open a Facebook page and invited people to post photographs of bad passengers in the act. Unfortunately, it came at a really bad time, when the local blog sites like SFist caught on to the story just one day after the shooting of Oscar Grant by a BART Police officer. I personally felt that having a government agency legitimize the posting of "bad" passengers in the act is absolutely inappropriate, and especially just after a police shooting, it's in really bad taste to sanction something like this.

Just one day after the negative remarks made by commentators on SFist, Gothamist (New York's version of SFist), my reaction, and websites that already posts snapshots (BARTrage), BART decided to take the photo album down. BART doesn't like negative publicity, so it did the right thing to stop the already bad PR bleeding from the shooting incident.

Newsom loves to block people on Twitter who challenge him
Gavin Newsom using Twitter is in really bad taste. While he is not involved in a high profile incident like how BART was, he should really consider quitting the Twitter stuff and let his press secretary do the work for him the old fashioned way.

The SFGate's "City Insider" reported that some of Newsom's critics are being blocked from his Twitter, and while only five have been blocked, it shows that Newsom is afraid of some criticism from the public. It should be noted that the "City Insider" entry states that only five people have been blocked from the Mayor's twitter for what his campaign representative calls "terms of service" violations, however it was not a Twitter TOS violation. So what is Newsom's list of self proclaimed "terms of service" violations? When people challenge his authority or policies? (Get your press secretary to answer this question in my comments box).

People known to have been banned:
  • League of Young Voters: Newsom or his "crew" decided to ban them, even though this group only wanted to question Newsom's " legitimate policy issues related to his agenda" (Quote from Jonah Horowitz in the City Insider story).
  • Steven T. Jones of the SF Bay Guardian questioned Newsom on Twitter asking "Why do you think Twitter is a good communication medium for you?" and instead of receiving a reply, got banned from Newsom's Twitter. Jones questioned the the Mayor's authority to do this through his public relations person and that person accused Jones of being an "internet troll."
I don't understand why Newsom blocking/banning certain people from his Twitter is even appropriate. The League of Young Voters asked legitimate questions about some of his policies, and I think that Gavin doesn't want to answer them because he's afraid of a good challenge.

Also, blocking Steven Jones is a really terrible idea. He asked the question that I think was absolutely appropriate and not made for "internet trolls." Having the press secretary of a major city government call you a "troll" for any reason, is just absolutely absurd, stupid, and really inappropriate. Plus, you never block the press. NEVER. They tell the stories to the public.

Here are some things to think about:
  1. First of all, Gavin Newsom using Twitter is a poor use of public relations.
  2. Posting on Twitter is a risky thing anyway (security wise), it's like putting a GPS device in your coat and everyone knows where you are at all times.
  3. He represents a major city government. Whatever he says, basically goes, or can be misused or misinterpreted by the public.
  4. By blocking Twitter users from his blog while using the service during his working hours on the TAXPAYER'S MONEY, he is promoting government sponsored censorship; which is absolutely inappropriate morally and ethically.
  5. If he uses Twitter during the hours that he is paid by the taxpayers, is that considered public record under San Francisco's "Sunshine Ordinance?" Does this include any of replies back to Twitter members and commands on Twitter to block individuals?
In conclusion
Newsom should get out of Twitter NOW. He is opening up a can of worms and they are slowly sneaking away. Blocking the media and legitimate organizations asking the tough questions is absolutely inappropriate for a head of a major city.

Hey Newsom, it's time to stop running away from the hard questions and start taking them head-on. You want to call yourself a Mayor, prove it; otherwise, you will be as unpopular as Ron Dellums.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Snuggies over a Missing Child? What Great Prioritization SF Chronicle

Today, I won't be going after Muni, or Gavin Newsom's wild west government. This morning, I'm going to tell you about how the San Francisco Chronicle's editors are starting to lose their own priorities.

A briefing on SFGate
SFGate is the San Francisco Chronicle's online newspaper, which brings in thousands of visitors a day to their website for the latest news. One of the "Gate's" popular features is the comment section that comes with every article posted online for people to write about their opinions and ask questions to the general public about the issue at hand.

SFGate always features their main storyline on the top left section of their website, usually the main headline would feature a photograph with a link below the photo for the story. They typically include it as one of the top three headlines to the left of the photograph too.

The "Snuggie" story...
On Sunday, March 29, 2009, SFGate featured a story about the "Snuggie," in which a reviewer on Good Morning America a while back calls literally an airplane blanket with sleeves. In San Francisco, the the Gate/Chronicle staff writer tagged along with a bunch of pub crawlers wearing the blue snuggies.

But then... a comment popped out as the top (now second) most popular comment for the story.

User "louanne" states at 7AM in the morning on Sunday:
  • "So the girl kidnapped in Tracy gets no news coverage, but this overpriced hospital gown does? Did the Chronicle lay off all of the San Francisco crime beat reporters? I would think that after laying off your fashion editor that stories like this would never show up again. I was so wrong."
MAJOR UPDATE (3/30/09 3:58PM)
The Chronicle CENSORED (removed) the comment posting from user "louanne" in regards to the "snuggie" story. I guess the Gate doesn't like some criticism in their breakfast today.

24 hours later... the missing girl story
The SFGate reacts 24 hours after publishing the "snuggie" story and very Sunday night (8PM), publishes their article about the eight year old girl from Tracy that goes missing. We soon learn the truth about how badly the San Francisco Chronicle screwed-up on their priorities.

The story reports that the child went missing on Friday evening, and the Chronicle publishes the article over 48 hours since the child went reported missing. The Chronicle had a lot of time to publish an article online, including posting it on SATURDAY, but decides to post the SNUGGIE pub crawl story on Sunday as their HEADLINE STORY!?!?!?!

The top comment from the missing girl story from user "naiad" states:
  • "Missing since Friday and is "breaking news" on Sunday night?! Guess the "Snuggie Pub Crawl" was a bigger headline. Way to prioritize, Chron."
This brief comment alone had 315 "thumbs up" and the second most popular comment only has 190 "thumbs up." That shows you how upset the Chronicle/SFgate readers are.

Akit's Opinion
The Chronicle really screwed-up big time. I'm no major news reporter or editor, but even I know that a kidnapping or missing child story takes major priority over some "snuggie" pub crawl or some fashion headline story.

If the Chronicle can't get their publishing priorities straight, it's time to start terminating the incompetent people and look for smart ones who can truly manage a newspaper and their online version.

The Chronicle should apologize to the missing child's family and the paper should pay for a full-page advertisement for the missing child. Not a half-page, or a little square. But a full-page in the main section of the Chronicle showing photos of the kid with a clear description. If need be, ask the FBI for the information to publish in TUESDAY'S NEWSPAPER.

If you know where this child is, or have any information, please contact:
Tracy Police Department: (209) 831-6847
For urgent tips to the Tracy Police Department: (209) 831-4550.
Tips are also welcomed at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children: (800) 843-5678.

The Chronicle states about how to identify her:
"Sandra is Latina, 4 feet tall and weighs 45 pounds. She has brown hair and brown eyes. She was last seen wearing a pink Hello Kitty T-shirt and black leggings."

Sunday, March 29, 2009

SF Muni should sell three fastpasses and a college fastpass

The local press keeps pressing the word about Muni; there is the real possibility of a fare hike, and we already know that the start of the new fiscal year (July 1st) will be the $55 adult Muni fast pass.

Even Tom Nolan, who is the head of the board of directors of the SFMTA won't be that surprised if the fast pass rate goes even higher than $55. That's not good news around here.

I think SFMTA/Muni should start thinking creatively about their adult fast passes.

Our current fast pass provides adults:
  1. Unlimited rides on all Muni vehicles: buses (regular, limited, and express), metro, historic trolleys, and Cable Cars.
  2. Unlimited rides for BART service within San Francisco (between Embarcadero and Balboa Park).
  3. Reduced fare for "special event" service (CultureBus and Candlestick).
  4. 3-day grace period after the end of the month.

I propose Muni should create three different passes with three different price ranges. AC Transit has two different "31 day" passes which covers local (East Bay) and transbay (local service and transbay service). Muni should complicate their pass structure a little bit more:

The "basic" pass is offered at a lower price. It allows:
  1. Unlimited rides on regular and limited bus lines, metro, and historic streetcar.
  2. No BART service, no express service (the 9X doesn't count either), and no cable cars.
  3. No discount for "special event service."
  4. No 3-day grace period.
The "regular" pass is offered at the (new) $55 price. Basically, it is the same rules and policies as the regular adult pass offered today. The upgrades from the "basic" pass are noted in GREEN:
  1. Unlimited rides on all Muni vehicles: buses (regular, limited, and express), metro, historic trolleys, and Cable Cars.
  2. Unlimited rides for BART service within San Francisco (between Embarcadero and Balboa Park).
  3. Reduced fare for "special event" service (CultureBus and Candlestick).
  4. 3-day grace period after the end of the month.
The "premium" pass is offered at a higher price. The premium upgrades from the "regular" pass are noted in RED.
  1. Unlimited rides on all Muni vehicles: buses (regular, limited, and express), metro, historic trolleys, and Cable Cars.
  2. Unlimited rides for BART service within San Francisco (between Embarcadero and Balboa Park) and INCLUDES Daly City station access (perfect for SFSU students).
  3. Pass gives full fare credit for all "special event" service (flash and go).
  4. 3-day grace period after the end of the month.

If Muni wants to argue "it will cost more to print and produce!" Then why not offer the most expensive and least expensive passes to be for Translink card users only? Translink technicians just fix the programming to sell the three passes and the Muni operators won't have confusion on which is the basic, regular, and premium pass. Plus, people won't bicker at BART agents at Daly City because their Translink card is the only way to gain access to that entry/exit point.

If Muni wants to argue that Daly City residents will abuse the premium pass to save on BART rides to commute to downtown (they do have a huge parking lot), then restrict the "premium" pass sales to local SF residents. Translink knows what city you live in when you register, so it will be easy to regulate it.

And I don't understand why Muni doesn't allow more local universities and colleges participate in a "class pass" program. The only university I know in the city that does this is USF.

Cal Berkeley offers a pass for their students:
  • Students are automatically given a "Class Pass" every semester, which is charged through their campus tuition/fees at $58.50 per month and provides unlimited access to all AC Transit services, including transbay.
So how does Cal get such a heck of a good deal for the students? It's because they have some risk behind it. Since the pass is a mandatory feature for every student, Cal must use statistics to show that a percentage of the student population drives to campus. Assuming that a student driver never uses their transit pass during the semester, it's like wasting money on a service you never use, like giving free money to the transit agency. So while it looks like a cool incentive for students to take the bus, the population who drives to campus actually are just making up for the discount price.

For example:
--Regular Muni pass is $50/month.
--Mandatory class pass is $30/month (student fee paid to university).
--Assume a student population with 50% driving to campus everyday and 50% taking the bus to campus.
--In the end, the value of a class pass when using the money from the non-public transit users, makes each pass worth $60 a month. It looks attractive to students that they are getting a 50% discount, but Muni makes a profit. If Muni wants to make more money, they just have to raise it, but make it lower than $50.
--But if the driver population drops and more are taking transit, the pass price goes higher to compensate.

Friday, March 27, 2009

SF's Red Light Cameras - They should install countdown clocks

San Francisco's red light cameras are infamous for catching drivers driving through a red light, and are installed at some of the most notorious and riskiest intersections in the entire city.

But have you ever thought, maybe the city is getting too dependent on this as a cash cow, when the primary purpose is to educate people to not drive against the red. Other than the insane $400+ minimum fine established, the fear of driving through an intersection with one of those cameras is more a local government fear tactic to rattle your nerves, even if you drove through a green light.

If safety is supposed to be the number one priority by preventing t-bone accidents and other red light running incidents, and making money on violators should be a lower priority. I think the city can do more to stop red light runners while retaining the red light cameras to catch the scofflaws.

The problem that is being noted down in many news reports is the red light cameras have increased the number of rear-end crashes (article 1 and article 2) because people are slamming their brakes when they are close to an intersection and the yellow light has just activated, fearing the camera will go off even if they go through the yellow.

To clarify the law in California, driving through a yellow light is legal. A yellow light is to warn motorists that the light will change to red shortly. But those red light cameras scare the crap out of people, so slamming their brakes on an approaching yellow is OK for them, but bad news for their rear bumper.

What does a crosswalk signal do to help drivers?
In San Francisco, we were one of the first to introduce the countdown crosswalk signal. This countdown timer replaced the simple flashing red hand and white color pedestrian figure with a more complex system that will countdown during the flashing red hand of when the signal will turn into a solid red hand. This program itself is a success story for San Francisco's pedestrians, but also has been used as an improvised traffic signal warning system for drivers.

On the simple intersections with nothing complex (i.e. protected turn signals), the countdown clock tells drivers that in XX amount of seconds, the signal will change to yellow and red. Drivers, including myself, use this to make a quick guess if I am able to go through the intersection or should hit my brake early to slow down so I don't run the red light. So actually, this de facto countdown clock prevents red light running. Even Muni operators do this too.

For the red light camera intersections with countdown clock pedestrian signals, this is also a great benefit. It works well in intersections with cameras, such as the westbound direction of Geary at Park Presidio Blvd. where the countdown clock is right on the money with the signals. Many drivers obey the countdown timer, and when it gets close, they hit their brakes early like everyone else.

Unfortunately there are red light camera intersections in the city where there is NO pedestrian signal, or the countdown timer is not synced with the intersection's road signal. One very bad intersection is at 19th Avenue and Sloat Blvd. where the crosswalk timers are not synced to the road signals. If you were going southbound on 19th avenue and obeyed the crosswalk timer and hit your brakes, the drivers behind you would be honking their horns at you because even if the timer says "zero" the road signal is still GREEN.

Even I screwed up once on southbound 19th Avenue at Sloat when I obeyed the crosswalk timer, slowed down, realized it was still green and it shortly turned yellow, and hit my brakes hard, causing my tires to screech and smoke. The smell of burning rubber is terrible!

The need for countdown clocks at red light cameras
So going back to the idea of priority one to prevent accidents (instead of being a cash cow), I feel the city should invest in real countdown clocks at red light camera intersections. Here's my reasons:
  • Experienced drivers have a natural sense based on their speed and timing if they can cross an intersection legally and safely.
  • Since current red light cameras scare the crap out of people and they slam their brakes at the first sign of a yellow light, a countdown clock will tell drivers that if they are approaching an intersection and if there's not a lot of time left, they should start slowing down and prepare to stop. It's basically a way to calm people down and give them confidence.
  • People can't always 100% rely on the pedestrian countdown signals.
  • By reducing the number of tickets issued, our courts can reduce the extreme workloads and long waits to see a judge. One Bay Area city is so bad that they have huge lines for people who can only do walk-ins, and why???? Red light cameras.
If the city invests in this, they will prevent accidents, injuries, and deaths due to red light running and people slamming their brakes to prevent red light running.

If the city decides that money is more important than a dead body at the coroner's office because someone slammed their brakes too hard and the car behind them wrecks their vehicle and kills the driver (forgot to buckle-up?), the city government should get surgery to remove their black (greedy) money fueled hearts and put in a compassionate one.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

McDonald's sold me an EXPIRED Fruit and Walnut Salad

If you eat at McDonald's and order the "Fruit and Walnut Salad," I highly suggest you should read the expiration date on the packaging before you leave the restaurant.

I was at the Stonestown (20th and Winston, San Francisco) location today and I ordered the salad with a breakfast sandwich. When I arrived at work, I was going to put the salad into the refrigerator and I noticed something brown with the apples and grapes. Nearly half of the apples and all the grapes were rotting.

So I flip the package and look at the front cover. It said to consume the item by "March 09" in which I feel the item is EXPIRED, like 17 DAYS EXPIRED. I think the restaurant folks thought the item expired on the last day of the month.

Well well well employees, why not FLIP THE DAMN PACKAGE OVER AND LOOK AT THE ROTTEN FRUIT before selling it?

Unfortunately, it was too late to return the item, I took it to-go and drove the item to work and my shift was about to start.

I gave a call to the national customer service center at McDonald's and told them to add an expiration year to their packaging. Since McDonald's mass packages the Fruit and Walnut Salad (they used to have each restaurant do it by hand), I think it would be easy for them to add the digits: "2009."

So look out folks when you buy that product, if you buy it this year and it says "09," you better have purchased that sometime before the 9th of that month. My advice, get the freshest fruit salad by buying it between the 1st of the month and the 9th of the month so those folks don't screw up that badly.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Translink on BART? They claim they are ready in June

Interesting... very interesting. After a mob of people from our Facebook group went out just yesterday (Sunday) to conduct a test run of the Translink card on San Francisco Muni vehicles and stations, the local media releases word that BART will be on the Translink program in early June.

The MTC reports that BART should have their software updgrades to the gates installed by May 5th and will conduct approximately 30 days of testing (as claimed by BART PR man Lynton Johnson). BART claims they will have approximately 1,000 people from their EZ Rider pool in their "slow rollout."

If BART is ready to go within 30 days, this means that it should be ready for public use in very early June of this year! Translink cardholders rejoice! We now have a new option to get around the Bay Area, and now we can truly connect Muni, AC Transit, Golden Gate Transit (w/service that goes to El Cerrito Del Norte BART), and BART as one big program.

But there are some interesting and curious questions to ask BART and Translink:
  1. Will BART ticket machines be capable to add e-cash on Translink cards?
  2. Will BART in-person ticket vendors have Translink add funds machines so us Commuter Check folks can claim our checks without visiting the AC Transit ticket office?
  3. Will BART be using a separate e-cash "purse" since they offer a 6.25 percent discount for the "high value" tickets they regularly sell now?
  4. If Muni passholders use BART, say from Balboa Park (SF) to North Berkeley, will the pass be allowed and only be charged the segment from West Oakland (first non-SF stop) to North Berkeley? Or will passengers have to get off at Embarcadero to tag-off, and re-enter the system to save money?
  5. Will BART issue the e-transfers for the discount rides for the other Translink connected agencies? AC Transit for 25 cent discount, VTA bus (via Fremont station) for unknown discount, Muni for 25 cent discount to/from, and free ride on Muni (28, 28L, and 54) to/from Daly City?
  6. The article in the Chronicle is not too clear. Will BART have full-rollout of Translink after 30 (or so) days after the test run on May 5th?
  7. Why are you still selling EZ Rider cards when Translink will take-over this process?

Next up???? Caltrain??? Rumor has it they will be doing a tag-on/tag-off system where if you tag your card at the station, you are charged the maximum fare. Once you exit the system, you tag-off to be charged the appropriate amount depending on the zones you traveled. They may also be considering an "unfortunate incident" option where if your train is delayed (especially due to the number of suicides and accidents), you can tag-off at the same station you tagged-in and get a full refund.

Lastly: SF Appeal published an article about the Translink group trip on Muni! Thanks to writer and photographer Matt Baume and editor Eve Batey!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Translink on SF Muni - The Mob Tests the System (and it works!)

As you have read through my previous posting at Akit's Complaint Department, I mentioned that a mob of Translink cardholders were going to test out their green colored RFID fare cards on San Francisco Muni in order to creep the crap out of the bus drivers, station agents, and fare inspectors.

Due to the high winds and cold weather (but no rain!), eight people came out to give Translink one heck of a trial run, or make it better known as a torture test.

Here's all the routes we took:
  1. Starting at Ferry Building, took the F-Market to the California Cable Car stop.
  2. Transferred to the 21-Hayes.
  3. Exited the next stop and boarded the next outbound train at Embarcadero.
  4. Exited at Powell Street (hoping to mess with a fare inspector), and transferred to the 5-Fulton.
  5. Exited in the Tenderloin and walked to Geary Boulevard to transfer to the 38-Geary.
  6. Exited the sardine packed 38-Geary at Van Ness to transfer to the 49-Van Ness/Mission.
  7. Exited at Market street and boarded the next outbound train at Van Ness station.
  8. Exited at Castro station and had a nice lunch at Orphan Andy's.
And the BLT sandwich at Orphan Andy's was delicious!

Unfortunately we were hoping to find a fare inspector, but was not lucky this time. Actually, I rode the metro back to Civic Center to catch BART and a fare inspector was waiting at the escalator. I flashed my card at the guy, and was waived through.

We did not receive any curious questions by onlookers, and the bus drivers didn't mind that several people tagged their card in less than 10 seconds. The only person who I felt was asking themselves: "what the hell?" was the station agent at Van Ness Station.

Want to view the Translink party photos? See below:

Here's the video I spent a good hour editing and putting together (it looks great in high quality!) and that video is also posted on the top of this blog entry:

I've been told we will expect some local media coverage from SF Appeal soon.

Dang, that was one fun few hours! You see Muni and Translink? The program is fully ready for roll-out now! Not next year, not six months, it's time to get the ball rolling and the photos and video are proof! Now, what will Muni's PR guy, Judson True, say now?

Friday, March 20, 2009

What needs to be fixed: 2009 PGA President's Cup at Harding Park

On October 6-11, 2009: the PGA will host the President's Cup at the Harding Golf Course located at Lake Merced in San Francisco.

The last major PGA event turned out to be a real hassle, and I hope the city learns some lessons to save us the pain in the back that many of my fellow colleagues at SF State University, who works and lives next door to the event experienced.

Let me recap the problems from the last PGA event at Harding Park:
  1. Sunset Blvd. became a parking lot, where two lanes on each direction was used to park on the entire length of the road (Sloat to Judah). This caused a massive delay for Muni's 29-Sunset, which is already notorious for being slow... well, one of my friends recalled that during the first day, she waited 90 minutes for a bus to get her to college.
  2. The PGA failed to advertise in the SF State University's "Golden Gate [X]Press about how the PGA event will affect the entire campus as there are over 25,000 full-time students everyday.
  3. The City of San Francisco had lacking information of road closures, and procedures when traffic gets worse.
  4. The City of San Francisco wasted money repaving John Muir Drive when it really did not need it.
  5. Local radio personalities questioned the purpose of having rocks lined all around Lake Merced. While the intention was to prevent people from parking their cars on the pathways, it's unintentional consequence the radio folks said is that some punks could roll one of those rocks into the street and cause a serious accident. It never did happen, but there's still that possibility when the roads surrounding the lake varies from 35MPH to 45MPH.
  6. Citizens questioned the need to "beautify" the surrounding of the lake, then realized the money they spent could have kept the public restrooms in the city parks clean and open for the public.

Here are things the city can do to fix the problems:
  1. Advertise in the neighborhood newspapers, including the Golden Gate [X]Press.
  2. Don't make Sunset Blvd. a parking lot. That's a major thoroughfare for the Richmond and Sunset district residents. If you do it on Great Highway, that's even worse.
  3. The city should spend their money wisely to patch-up the grass and keep it ready for a major event.
  4. If parking lots will be used, it should come with a heavy tax to discourage parking, and to take the damn bus for crying out loud.
  5. Muni should provide more vehicles, at the PGA's expense.
  6. Encourage spectators to stay out of the SFSU parking lot. Once you tick-off the student, faculty, and staff population, don't expect some happy words from the management.
Now, go play some damn golf! I'll be yelling out "Tiger sucks!" and blowing an airhorn outside the fence.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Doing the right thing - Public Defender Jeff Adachi refuses to cut budget

Jeff Adachi is our city's elected Public Defender and the news reports are showing that his office is refusing to cut the budget as per Mayor Gavin Newsom's request. In fact, Adachi wants an extra $1.7 million to add to his budget. By not adding funding, he is personally being the public defender for the city's Community Justice Center, a Newsom waste of tax dollars, and Adachi is doing it because his 93 lawyers are busy with their cases they handle.

Some are arguing that Adachi should resign because he needs money for his program, instead of cutting his budget. But while Adachi may be going against popular opinion in the world of city politics, I have to agree with P.D. Adachi on his move to give the finger to Gavin Newsom.

I'm going to give my view based on being an educated person and my basic knowledge of the constitution, a.k.a. the highest law of the land:

The constitution gives anyone accused of a crime the LEGAL right to a lawyer. Unfortunately, if one cannot afford a lawyer, the government is supposed to provide a lawyer at no charge to the accused. It is a basic fundamental right of this country that everyone has the right to a defense in court, and that's the need for Public Defenders, the people who help defend and protect the unfortunate people who cannot afford a private lawyer.

Jeff Adachi's office cannot take a budget cut. His office has reached a critical point where his 93 lawyers are busy with cases every single day and he has to personally defend people with "quality of life" accusations in court, then his office is working frantically at what their budget can afford.

If Newsom gets his way and Adachi cuts his budget, that means that the public defender system in our city will go haywire. In order for Adachi's office to make-up for the huge backlog of accused criminals, Adachi will have to pay for private lawyers to do the job, thereby costing more than having a public defender staff person working on the case.

Plus, we must understand that with the economy going down and unemployment going up, more people will commit crimes to get money, or the necessities they need. And when this happens, this impacts the public defenders with more cases, and the need for no cuts and possibly more money to run.

Please remember, the public defender's office has a LEGAL responsibility under the constitution to provide legal service to those who cannot afford. There may be a day when you may be accused of a crime and cannot afford a lawyer, and a Public Defender will defend and represent you in court.

With all due respects, I believe Jeff Adachi's defiance shows that Newsom cannot rule this city with his greasy slicked-back hair and should start using his brain power a little bit more, and worry less about being the next governor. Adachi should eventually consider being the mayor of our fine city.

If you did not get a chance to watch one of Adachi's popular documentaries, buy "The Slanted Screen" on DVD, and see his newest work about Jack Soo at the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Save Money: Costco (Xbox Live Renewal) and SF Giants Tickets, but not Virgin Megastore

In this economy, every dollar counts. Some like to call it "stretching the dollar" but in reality, if you literally stretched that dollar, you'd tear it and the bank will shake their head and ask why did you rip that bill.

What can you really find these days that are a huge savings? Let's take a look at two places you can go to save some dough, and one place that you should just avoid.

Costco: As pictured, my Xbox 360 Live "Gold" membership was about to expire and I didn't notice until I walked around that they were selling the 12 month renewal cards for $10 less than at normal retail at other places like Best Buy. The renewal card at Costco is $39.99, while other places sell them for $49.99.

Costco.com used to be the only place that would sell the discounted renewal cards; now they are available at the warehouses!!! Right now, Costco.com is selling the renewal cards for the same price, the only catch is you still have to pay for shipping.

Interesting fact: Typically if you buy video games, the prices stay the same wherever you go, but Costco can shave at least $5 off the bill. Even the video game console packages sold at Costco is like getting an extra controller and a couple of games for free.

San Francisco Giants Tickets: Sports games tickets are so damn expensive... I've heard that plenty of times. It's so easy these days to buy them online or at your nearest ticket outlet retailer, but when you see how much you paid for that ticket, the surcharges makes you want to vomit.

The big secret is to spend a couple of dollars for Muni and an hour of your time to visit AT&T Park's Giants Dugout store and buy your ballgame tickets at their office in the back of the store. You buy them at face value and pay nothing extra. If you are in the ballpark for a game and buy a future ticket at the advance ticket window, there's no surcharge, but may charge a one-time 50 cent fee; plus, go there if you want to upgrade to a better seat.

Say a ticket on the upper deck costs $20, AT&T Park's ticket office sells them for $20; but head online and pay a 17% surcharge and an extra fee for will call or print-at-home, or buy them at an official ticket outlet (any other Giants Dugout store) and pay the 17% surcharge.

I bought four tickets for the season for $159 at the ballpark's dugout store ticket office, but if I bought them all online or at a different ticket outlet, I would spend an EXTRA $27.03.

One place to stay away from is the Virgin Megastore. While they claim that "everything is up to 40% off" it's really just a laughing joke. I was there yesterday and "40% off" was only on the magazines. DVDs were only 25% off, and any accessories such as iPod speakers was a measly 15%. But you need to read the price tags very carefully. They had new copies of the film "Milk" on their shelves and the sticker price was $25.99, but even with the discount price, you might as well spend your money at Costco where you can get it slightly cheaper.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Muni fare hike to $2? Kiss my butt SFMTA (33% hike)

This is just absolutely stupid. A report from the "City Insider" (SFGate/Chron) reports that Muni fares could go up if the city's budget gets far worse.

Right now, the city's deficit is at $129 million dollars, and the mayor feels that raising Muni fares is the last resort to fixing this insane crisis.

If the SFMTA decides to raise the fares for Muni, this would be effective September 1st:
  • Adults: $1.50 (old) to $2.00 (new)
  • Youth/Senior/Disabled: $0.50 to $0.75
Muni is already raising prices of Muni passes as a way to raise more money, but is raising the general cash fare price a good idea?

Personally, I don't think it is even a smart idea. Raising the fare is sticking it to the customer to pay for more service while quality is still going down the toilet. Take a look at this report from the Golden Gate [X]Press (SFSU) talking about the terrible service on the M-Ocean View, a main trunk line connection for thousands of SFSU students. One-car trains don't work when you pass by a major university.

Surely Muni can find other creative ways to cut some of the pointless crap of their service instead of making us go through a painful colonic:
  1. Kill off the CultureBus program. Sure, you are running two buses a day now, but how many people ride the bus with the insane $7 fare? Not many. That's at least a million dollar savings.
  2. Start laying off at least 50% of your fare inspectors. Then start hiring "bouncers" with no ticket issuing authority and a low wage with no benefits (college students are perfect) to accompany a ticket writing person. Basically a "team" would consist of one ticket issuing officer, and one or two wage donkeys/enforcers.
  3. Fire the drivers with the worst service records. If the driver was involved in an incident where the city had to settle for more than their salary, that's enough grounds to get fired. Employees with too many legitimate complaints spend more taxpayer money on hearings, people making reports, etc. than a good employee with no complaints.
  4. Just fire Muni's PR team. They are just blabber mouths covering their butts every time something goes wrong. Remember Maggie Lynch and KPIX investigator Anna Warner? Maggie said and walked away from the interview: "What is this, 60 Minutes?"
Lastly, Muni broke a promise to their citizens. In my posting in 2007, the Chronicle wrote about Muni's wish list and proposed some new ideas (with my opinions). One of them was a fare hike, but promised to keep it 5% every two years.

So let me get this right... 5% added to $1.50 regular Muni fare is $1.57 (make it $1.60 to keep the pennies out of the fare boxes). They now want to make it $2.00 a ride? You said 5%, not 33% you ASSHOLES!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

San Francisco's 311 works 80% of the time

San Francisco's "311" program was created by the local city government as a one stop place for citizens to call 311 for information and to report issues. The "one stop" concept is used in many places, and when it runs well, becomes a very successful way to conduct business. A perfect example is SFSU's "OneStop" Student Services center where students can see the registrar, financial aid, bursar, and get their campus ID in one central area.

From my own personal experience from calling the 311 service line, I feel they are able to resolve about 80% of the questions and problems I call them about.

Here is a list of the successfully resolved and answers found in an appropriate amount of time:
  • Reporting potholes and they are patched-up within 3 days, in some cases, 24 hours! If you tell them it's a really bad pothole or a major Muni bus line keeps hitting it, they get on it quick.
  • Answering general Muni questions, like "when is the first bus of the day for X line?"
  • Removing a broken "Yield to Pedestrians" sign after the wind literally made it lean into the streets, and my car's mirror hit it, nearly making it fall off (I didn't sue).
  • A small rock slide happened near the Cliff House, and it was cleaned-up the next day. But nobody reported it for two weeks until I did.
  • Some cab driver flicked me off after cutting me off on Geary. The person on the phone was very pleasant to take the report.
So basically, when I ask very general questions or report problems, they get resolved or answered in a very quick fashion. While this is a short list, I've reported multiple potholes and other broken stuff, which accounts to about 80% of my calls.

Now, here is the list of problems that usually don't get resolved, provided inaccurate information, being hassled for more information (beyond common sense), and other similar issues:
  • OutsideLands festival road closure information. One person transferred me to 511 without question, and I called 311 again to ask the question and was placed on hold for ten minutes. They claimed all the park roads were "open," when I knew that one nearby my home was closed. Their source of info: A poorly written SFMTA website advisory.
  • Answering more complex Muni questions, like the nearest bus line to the (criminal) Hall of Justice building. It would take them a few minutes to find out, when the old "6-SF-MUNI" phone number (pre 311) would get you that answer in mere seconds.
  • The city forgot to put the sticker on a street sign stating that street cleaning comes the 1st and 3rd week of Friday. I reported it over two months ago and it has not been resolved.
  • Reporting potholes that may be under the jurisdiction of a different agency (such as Caltrans), but may be within the city limits. Sometimes they take the report, sometimes they don't even give you the phone number of the right person to call.
  • Refusing to take a citizen's complaint about the Tour de California closing down Great Highway over 90 minutes before the bikers were to even enter the city.
  • When the southbound Upper Great Highway had to be shut-down due to a storm, the city forgot to switch the signal at G.H. & Lincoln to 4-way stop (flashing red). Try telling that to the lady on the phone who asked why the signal cycle needs to be changed... I had to give a very detailed explanation of why it needs to be flashing red (by running the signals on a regular cycle, drivers heading southbound might think that the Upper Great Highway is open, and will zoom through the green and hit the security barrier that closes the road... a.k.a. LAWSUIT!). If 311 simply reported that the signals need to be on 4-way stop due to a road closure, the report goes to the traffic signal folks at DPT, and they know why in a snap. Before 311, I would call the traffic signal folks at DPT directly, and I told them very briefly of the situation and mentioning the road closure, and they said: "we got it!"
  • Do you really have to ask how big the pothole is? The question of it being safe for a bicycle or motorcycle to drive over it is a simple enough question to determine priority.
  • Reporting roadkill. They ask: "Is it smaller or bigger than a pigeon?" I would answer: "Does a skunk count as smaller?" (It sounds funny, but it's not a joke).
So this material covers about 20% of the issues that don't get resolved/answered or provides inaccurate information. It looks longer, but covers very specific incidents.

In summary, San Francisco 311's call center can answer/resolve the basic stuff, but when it comes to more complex stuff, they don't do well under the pressure and provides inaccurate answers, reports it improperly, and just simply shrugs it off their shoulder.

One note of improvement they do now, if you report something, they check their database for any similar reports before filing your request into the system. If something similar pops up, they tell you about it and confirm if it is the same problem. I could tell them a specific address or intersection, and whatever search program they use can narrow it down, even if it is off by a couple of address numbers or a block away.

Lastly, this may sound a little bit odd, but when I encounter a problem and I don't call 311 in say... a week, I find out that nobody has reported it while dozens to thousands of drivers pass by the problem area and sometimes on a daily basis. Just like that small rock slide, it was there for two weeks until I called it in.

I personally believe our city will be a better place if we simply report the deficiencies of our city as often as we can so they can be repaired in a timely manner (I don't mean snitching to the police every single time a driver doesn't use their turn signals). When people report problems and they get fixed: the better the reputation of 311, other city agencies, and the citizens will have a boost of morale!

When you experience issues with 311, post a comment or e-mail me at: complaints (at) akit [dot] org. I'll post it here at Akit's Complaint Department, where local officials do read my blog and either take action or post anonymous commments.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Translink Cardholders - Card user party on SF Muni 3/22!

OK Translink fans and cardholders, it's time to have a "tag the card" party!

Since I did not follow through with my proposal on SFist, Jameth is getting a mob to join the fun for Sunday, March 22, 2009 starting at the Ferry Building at 1:00PM and we will ride the buses, trolleys, and metro to and back from the Castro district. Hopping on one bus to tag the card, hopping on the trolley for another tag, and riding the metro for another ride.

From my knowledge (and please correct me if I am wrong), this will be a big test for the Translink program when a swarm of cardholders will be tagging cards in just a couple of minutes, unlike seeing one come at some random hour.

So... who is ready to make history, and make the drivers, station agents, and fare inspectors go nuts?

And since SFMTA/Muni, Translink, and the MTC reads my blog, maybe this is the perfect time for you to think of sending represenatatives to join in the fun and get the user's take of how the program is working. As for the media, why not get this event on the news?

Remember, good publicity means the success of the program, so you Muni folks better make sure all the card readers are functional, wiped clean of graffiti and crud, and your employees are trained in the program.

Register for the event:
Facebook event (Facebook membership required)

How to get a Translink card for FREE:
Translink/Muni info site

Story about the party on SFist:
Click here

Disclaimer: This party is not endorced by any governmental agency, including SFMTA/Muni, Translink, MTC, etc.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Akit is not happy: OutsideLands Releases 2009 Concert Dates (August 28-30)

Word from the local blogs (City Insider & SF Citizen) is the OutsideLands festival will hold their 2009 event from August 28-30, which means another three days of hell for the entire city.

So... will the city experience once again the agony of the following:
  1. Loud noise heard for miles?
  2. Sardine packed Muni buses and trains?
  3. Missing Muni buses?
  4. Trashing of the park, even though they claim to be a "green" event?
  5. Limos and Luxury Towncars illegally trying to sell you a ride for an insane price?
  6. Failure to notify city residents of park road closures and delays?
  7. Drunk people vomiting all over the street?
  8. Overselling the concert?
  9. People knocking over temporary fences before a stampede breaks out?
  10. $100K to $200K in irrigation damage in the park?
  11. Idiots at San Francisco 311 who can't give you accurate answers?
  12. Calling your local police station for information, but telling you that they don't know either? (Yeah, just wait until an ambulance is trying to rescue you, but can't get through because the city, once again, screws-up information).
  13. And the list goes on and on...
My old postings to read:
My investigation into lack of street closure info and getting support.
A huge conglomerate of complaints from random citizens.
And the post-event report.

The city claims they will get 1.5 million dollars for leasing the land to OutsideLands to destroy, cause havoc, and sure piss-off the surrounding neighborhoods. It's not 1.5 million per day, it's 1.5 million for THREE DAYS.

And I'm going to bet that the city will spend more than 1.5 million dollars in that three days doing what they do best:
  1. Police overtime
  2. Muni overtime
  3. Meter maid overtime
  4. SF Park Service overtime
  5. Sunset Scavenger extra pickups
  6. Gasoline costs for cop cars, buses, and other city vehicles.
  7. Maintenance costs for the vehicles above.
  8. City Supervisors and their staff working extra hours answering complaint calls and e-mails.
  9. Fixing destroyed park fixtures, irrigation lines, patches of grass.
  10. Lawsuits brought forth by residents.
  11. 311 needing extra people to handle the extreme number of phone calls and complaints.
And lastly, why host an event on a FRIDAY? Do they understand that Muni is already operating at capacity during regular commutes, and just adding a hundred thousand people to the mix will put the system in a wreck? If they want to win support, you don't piss off the weekday commuters trying to get home on the outbound lines that goes next to and even several blocks away from the event site (this includes, but not limited to N-Judah, 5-Fulton, 29-Sunset, 31-Balboa, 71-Haight/Noriega, any peak express buses heading west, etc.).

The concert company should start thinking about leasing as many tour buses, school buses, and literally any bus they can get their hands on to transport people to/from the event site to major transit hubs, like Daly City BART, downtown, local ferry terminals, etc. And maybe they could also lease some local ferry boats to transport those folks home across the bay after a late night concert. If they want to recover the costs, do what Bay to Breakers does, charge them for a special pass that gives them the privilege to ride the vehicles.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Does San Francisco Need a Special Election?

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors is considering to raise taxes in order to fix the budget shortfall the city suffering through (like $576 million). But in order to pass some real serious taxes, the Board of Supervisors chose to have a special election. Eight wanted the special election, while the other three did not.

So the resolution passed, but Newsom did not like the idea. As expected, he vetoed the Board of Supervisor's resolution, but this news report shows that the Board have enough votes to override the Mayor's veto and therefore the "special election" will happen on June 2, 2009.

Although the news report mentions that there is nothing yet on the ballot, rumor has it that the sales tax will go up 0.05%. This sounds a little bit disturbing, and just another incentive to head off to a different county when buying a big ticket item (car, mega size TV, etc.).

Here's my view about the pros and cons of holding a special election:

  • If voters pass more taxes, this can help the budget shortfall.
Sorry, it's the only pro I can think of.

Cons and doubts:
  • How much will it cost to hold this election? How many millions?
  • If the voters decide to reject all tax hike proposals, the Board of Supervisors better start having a low profile, because I smell a recall!
  • How much more in taxes will we be paying to the city?
  • Can passing new taxes cause more harm than good? Example: Business may close down and move to a county with lower tax rates.
  • Once the economy goes back up, will the tax rates go back down to today's rates?
Just something to think about folks!

Best Buy In-Store Pickup Terrible & Men's Wearhouse Takes Forever

I like the idea of shopping to find a bargain or a treasure. But also when you really need something, and you are trying to save money (due to the bad economy) the customer always comes first.

There's a couple of places in the S.F. Bay Area I like to call... just terrible customer service for failure to address issues, and complete tasks in a timely manner:

Best Buy (Colma, California): As you may know, you can now buy your items from Best Buy online and if it is in stock at your local store, they will retrieve it and have it ready for quick pickup. As a penny pincher, my preferred airline offers bonus miles if I shop online, so I did the in-store pickup process.

I purchased a small 4-port USB hub for about $16 on sale, and after finding that my local store had it available, paid for it online and waited for a confirmation e-mail that they retrieved the item. I made the purchase at 7:40PM and Best Buy tells you that it takes approximately 45 minutes to retrieve the item. 9PM came by and the store was closing, and I received no confirmation.

So the next morning, I woke-up and noticed no confirmation e-mail that the product was ready for pick-up or was unavailable. The store opened at 10AM, and I tried calling the store at 10:30AM to ask what the heck was going on. After attempting THREE TIMES on the automated system to speak to an employee with no success, and I had to drive down to the store. At 12:00 Noon, I informed an employee and they started looking around, and told me the item was not there.

I demanded a manager because it was very poor customer service where you are expecting a confirmation e-mail if the item is available or not within their 45 minute average time, but was now OVER THREE HOURS (7:40PM to 9PM closing, & 10AM opening to 12 Noon) without an e-mail.

I even informed him that last year, I did the same in-store pickup process at that location for a brand new Xbox 360, one video game, Xbox remote control, and a Xbox live membership card, and the store decided to e-mail me back that ALL THE ITEMS WERE UNAVAILABLE. What are the damn odds of that happening? It was like the employees didn't give a shit.

And what does the manager tell me? They had a person doing the online stuff and failed to meet their goal to retrieve the item in a timely manner (Akit's interpretation: your employees are fucking lazy and slow). So the manager asks for my paperwork and tried looking again and finds the item. But since they informed Best Buy online that the item was not available, they hassled for five minutes on the cash register to fix the problem and charges me the correct price. I then had to call Best Buy customer service on the phone to cancel my online order so I did not get accidentally charged on my credit card.

The lesson: With the economy going downhill, a store's customer base must be treated with appropriate respect, therefore meeting the customer's and corporate's expectations of customer service, and this helps keep loyal customers to shop at your place. Best Buy says the average time from the time you order online to when the item is ready for pickup is 45 minutes. But when the store is open for three hours since posting my online order and I'm forced to spend my gasoline to drive to the store to demand answers because employees don't also feel like answering the telephone after three attempts, you just lose the trust and confidence of customers to shop at your business.

Men's Wearhouse (Colma, California): Right now they are offering a "buy one, get one free" sale on their suits, but I was not there to get a new suit, I just needed my existing suit re-tailored since I did my suit tailoring at that location.

It wasn't until they chalked my suit up and told me when it will be ready for pickup. They said about 25 days (nearly a MONTH). What a joke. They claim that they are heavily backlogged with tailored coats and slacks. Then why not hire a temporary tailor or send it off to a location with less demand to do the job? I don't have this kind of time to stall around.

I even asked them about getting a new sport coat I bought someplace else, tailored. They said they give priority to customers who bought items from their store, but was willing to do the job on my new sport coat. They told me that it would take an additional two weeks, WITH NO GUARANTEE DATE of completion because it can be delayed further due to their "priority" system. This literally means that my new coat would be waiting to be tailored for OVER A MONTH or LONGER WITH NO PROMISES.

Lastly, one of their promises posted online that promises to give free pressing of your clothing at any location in the nation, and claims it is "perfect when you're on the road." Well, truth be told, I asked for one of my slacks I bought there to be pressed, and they gave me a claim ticket to pick it up in 48 hours. That's what you call quality service? If they claim it is perfect when you are travelling, 48 hours is too damn long to wait.