2009 Ends With a Whimper 

Disability rights advocates win a big victory, but cities worry that it will further tax their finances. Plus wi-fi on BART.

Okay, breathe. That's it. One more. The fruitcake is metabolizing out of your system as you read this. That awkward sub-mistletoe moment is even now fading from the memory center in your brain. You can start re-gifting whenever you want. It's over. You know most of the news from last week already, 'cause it happened under your roof. But just in case you wondered if something else happened, we're here to deliver. And we'll start with ... transportation!

Berkeley Wins Big for the Disabled

All across California, along thousands of miles of sidewalks and crosswalks, people with disabilities face hazards the perambulating among us can't even imagine. Missing curb cuts for wheelchairs, poles that block sidewalks, you name it. Armed with legions of such complaints, the Berkeley group Disability Rights Advocates filed a lawsuit against the Department of Transportation, seeking to force it to address this issue. And last week, CalTrans agreed that the situation was unacceptable. The department has agreed to spend $1.1 billion over the next thirty years renovating sidewalks and other state-operated public rights-of-way in order to make them accessible to the disabled.

It's a huge victory for Disability Rights Advocates, but not everyone is happy about this. Officials from the League of California Cities watched glumly as the department caved, fearing that their member cities will be next in the dock. As you surely know, cities around California are broke, and officials fear that disabled activists will demand that they spend money they don't have fixing their own sidewalks. League officials had hoped that CalTrans would stand behind the claim that as long as it was compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act, disabled rights activists wouldn't have a claim. Now that CalTrans has settled, city leaders expect that the next round of lawsuits will be aimed at them.

Meanwhile, CalTrans was able to offer another bit of pleasant news. Remember that inadequately repaired eyeball that plunged from the Bay Bridge into rush hour traffic a few months ago? CalTrans is happy to report that it has replaced it ahead of schedule. Which means no more lane closings on the bridge, at least for this particular glitch.

And BART commuters got a little piece of goodwill as well. A coalition of telecoms has fired up wi-fi access in the Transbay Tube. From now on, commuters can pluck away on their laptops, even beneath thousands of gallons of cold, cold water. In addition, BART officials announced that they will be taking steps to ensure that this New Year's Eve will be much more placid than the last one. BART has substantially increased the number of cops patrolling the system and has tweaked the train schedule to keep the trains running smoothly. The point is to keep irate, drunken crowds from having to cram into trains and get on each others' nerves. The context, obviously, is the incident from last year, when BART cop Johannes Mehserle fatally shot Hayward resident Oscar Grant in the back.

Poison in the Bay

The San Pablo Bay, that is. The California Regional Water Quality Control Board is none too happy with ConocoPhillips, which runs an oil refinery in Rodeo. In a series of incidents earlier this year, refinery employees allegedly flushed 7.6 million gallons of untreated wastewater into the bay, killing fish and other critters. Now, the water board is planning to hit ConocoPhillips with a $490,000 fine. The company plans to, well, have a talk with the board.

Dope on the Table

But at least ConocoPhillips isn't growing marijuana! 'Cause that kind of thing can get you into trouble. Last week, Oakland firefighters broke into Chinatown's Kar Mee Fortune Cookie Factory in an effort to put out an electrical blaze that had broken out. Instead of hauling hose past mountains of tasty treats and prophecies, they found 1,000 marijuana plants in various stages of flowering. We got nothin' against potheads, of course, but when their insatiable appetites start messing with our cookie jones, that's where we draw the line. But honestly, aren't the two industries synergistic?

Three Dot Roundup

A federal judge has ordered the operators of Emeryville's Woodfin Suites Hotel to pay $200,000 in wages they illegally withheld from employees. ... Salvador Rodriguez, one of the witnesses who was arrested and later released following the gang-rape of a Richmond teenager, vanished for sixteen days after telling friends he was worried for his life. The day after the press noticed he was missing, he called his mother and said he was fine. ... The Oakland Raiders embarrassed themselves yet again, this time by losing to the basement-dwelling Cleveland Browns, 23-9. This marks the first road game Al Davis didn't bother to personally watch from the stands. Who can blame him? Actually, every single Raiders fan can.

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