Saturday, October 31, 2009

Caltrans Still Adjusting Repairs to Bay Bridge - about to Stress Test

Caltrans engineers have been 'custom-fitting and fine-tuning' adjustments to repairs of the Bay Bridge today, said a spokesperson.

Stress testing is about to begin anytime now, she said, in a press conference just given and streamed live on

But the spokesperson refused to give any target time for the opening of the bridge or to make any commitment to it being open for Monday morning.

Safety is the priority, she said.

'This is a really unique situation and things are being customized,' she said.

Designs to the repair involving an eyebar and the fitting of four steel rods has been evolving, with adjustments made as the work is done, she said. Asked why the eyebar, that has a repaired crack in it following planned maintenance on Labour Day Weekend, is not being replaced but shored up back in place, she said that would be too difficult.

The crack had not been affected by the accident of the eyebar and two of the steel rods crashing down during the Tuesday evening commute as a result of vibration, she said.

Stress testing is expected to take about three hours, and will be followed by anti-vibration dampeners being installed, and then extensive inspections by outside agencies.

These are the Federal Highway Administration, the Seismic Peer Review Board and independent inspectors.

'Once that bridge is deemed safe, that's when we can open the bridge,' she said. In the interim, BART are running a limited overnight service to 14 of their stations.

For further info: sign up for official BART news updates, follow a BART RSS feed or follow @SFBART to keep up with the latest.

pics show the fog lifting off the bridge at midday, and a Coastguard helicopter making a more unusual flypast under rather than over it.

Grant Washburn on Calling the Mavericks 2009/2010 Contest

With the opening of the official Waiting Period for the Mavericks Surf Contest, the question that now hangs in the salt-sprayed air is: when will 'The Call' be made?

'The Call' that will have 24 of the world's greatest big-wave surfers and 15 Alternates rushing at 24 hours notice to a beach just off Pillar Point at Half Moon Bay, with an expected 40,000 surfing fans in their wake.

While millions more will prepare to be glued to webcams on computers, or TVs, or dash to the San Francisco Giants' baseball park in San Francisco, to watch one of the world's most thrilling and dangerous big-wave surfing contests.

That vital decision must be made between tomorrow, 1 November, and 31 March, 2010, now that the opening ceremony for the 2009/2010 contest Waiting Period has been held - see previous blog.

The responsibility for deciding when there is a momentous enough swell rolling in from the Pacific Ocean, rests with the surfers. None are more qualified to judge than veteran Mavericks surfer and San Francisco resident, Grant Washburn, who has been surfing the spot for 20 years.

'Hopefully, this will be a good season. All winters aren't created equal,' said Grant at the celebration party at the Oceano Hotel yesterday after the ceremony.

Grant has been surfing there for 20 years and has made a record of what the waves were like on every day of those 20 years. He is also a three-times contest finalist and documentary filmmaker who has coedited a book: 'Inside Maverick's: Portrait of a Monster Wave'.

The 'stats', never mind the surfing, are breathtaking. Of those 20 years, three have been exceptional, three or four have been 'horrible', and most have been in-between, he said.

'People don't appreciate how difficult it is to get a good day.' In one good year, he said, there might only be 30 good days, so when it comes to calling the contest, the surfers are at the mercy of the ocean.

Which is why the last - and shorter - season petered away without a contest. But this season is starting with a rosy aspect. He remembered good El Nino years in 1997 and 1998, and the long-range forecast gives a chance of that happening again.

Given the prospect of El Nino rooting for the contest this season, how are the surfers going to know when to make that magical call? If they paddle out at the first huge swell, will they bypass a chance of more tumultuous waves later?

If they wait, will they end up chasing elusive waves with a look-back at what might have been?

It's less likely, in fact not very likely, that the surfers will make 'The Call' when the waves are too small, but they might, said Grant surprisingly, 'pick a day when they are too big!'

The standard of surfing has risen over the last ten to 15 years with younger surfers 'really pushing the sport,' said Grant - pictured here with Colin Dwyer 'one of the newest hard-chargers!'

Pause the interview while two young girls came up for an autograph! Autographs were a feature on the beach (pic below)

So what are 'small' waves and 'big' waves?

For Mavericks, a 40 ft face is smallish, 'a little disappointing', he said. But a 'perfectly clean' 50 ft -plus wave, one swelling with a smooth surface, no ruffles, in nice weather....he is dreaming of the perfect wave.

Over his 20 years of documenting the waves, he would estimate there have been two perfect days. About once a decade, he said, breaking it down.

Then there are the 60-footers. In his estimation, too big for the most part. Grant, in his early forties, doesn't relish such towering waves, but considers that 'right now the guys would probably go for it!'

A jaw-dropping prospect.

In the interim, what do they do while they wait to make 'The Call'?

Some will stay in California, while others will be across the world, South Africa, Brazil, Hawaii. One surfer yesterday was about to leave for Australia - pic shows Ryan Seelbach, Alex Martins, Chris Bertish

Sponsorship money plays a role in how they live out the next few months, said Grant. They have to figure out how to budget their money, take into account the cost of following swelling seas around the world and leave enough to get back to the Pacific Coast in a hurry.

Pack into that travel fatigue, the tight time schedule - 'you can barely do it from Cape Town' - plus frustrations of lost boards by airlines, and some are surmounting challenges before they even set sight on a wave.

As the party began last night, though, in the warm air with fire-pits and a marquee, a gently-lapping ocean in the background, there was the excitement of another Mavericks season underway.

pics by Chris Flowers

Mayor Gavin Newsom Quits Race for Governor

The surprise news to hit San Franciscans yesterday afternoon was the announcement that Mayor Gavin Newsom is no longer to run for governor of California.

He cited family reasons and the need to concentrate on running the city.

NBC11 quoted from the press release issued by his campaign:

'"I have found it impossible to commit the time required to complete this effort the way it needs to - and should be - done," Newsom said. He said he regretted being unable to continue, but the decision was in the best interests of his wife, young daughter and the city of San Francisco,' reported NBC11 on their website.

Journalist Heather Knight in the San Francisco Chronicle wrote:

'Plagued by low poll numbers and anemic fundraising, and with a newborn daughter at home, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom dropped out of the governor's race on Friday.'

Mayor Newsom had only recently been endorsed by former President Bill Clinton and had been campaigning with him in Los Angeles.

Bay Bridge Closure Continues Over Weekend - BART Trains Run Overnight

Shrouded in fog this morning, the Bay Bridge is to remain closed for the weekend and it is uncertain whether it will open on Monday morning.

In a press conference yesterday afternoon, Caltrans spokesman, Bart Ney, said they needed to prevent the new rods that have been put in place from rubbing against each other and causing metal fatigue.

Metal fatigue from vibration was the cause of the accident during the Tuesday evening commute when two steel eyebars and a crossbar weighing thousands of pounds came crashing down.

Engineers first need to carefully 'back out' the new rods, said Bart Ney. 'We're grinding the areas where there is potential for steel on steel connections. We want them to be very smooth.'

But it would be slow work to prevent the rods being 'nicked', otherwise work on installing the four new rods would have to start over again, he said. After that, they will stress test the rods and 'complete enhancements to minimise movement' of the rod system.

He emphasized that 'safety is the priority.'

Caltrans will be giving another press update this morning, and full coverage is on

In the interim, BART had another record-shattering day on Thursday, beating Wednesday's new record. They carried 442,000 riders, 260,600 of those travelling between San Francisco and the East Bay.

BART have also extended their service to run overnight to 14 designated stations, something they originally said they would not do due to maintenance needs. They ran trains last night and will do so tonight over Saturday and into Sunday morning.

However, they are not so far planning to run an overnight service over Sunday into Monday morning.

Tonight is Halloween, and there are expected to be more travellers to the city. It is also the night when the clocks move back one hour, ending Daylight Saving Time at 2 am.

For further info: sign up for official BART news updates, follow a BART RSS feed or follow @SFBART to keep up with the latest.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Opening of 2009/2010 Mavericks Surf Contest Waiting Period

In perfect weather on a small, sandy beach at Half Moon Bay, the opening ceremony of the 2009/2010 Maverick's Surf Contest Waiting Period took place this afternoon.

From across the world, many of the world's greatest big-wave surfers gathered for the ceremony that included a blessing and paddle out into the bay for a time of reflection.

On a calm, sparkling ocean, the surfers formed a circle and ended their reflections with a ceremonial splashing.

Most of the 24 specially invited contestants and 15 alternates were there. And about 100 other people joined in the celebrations on Mavericks Beach.

The surfers lined up against their surf boards to be introduced by Frank Quirate, Mavericks photographer. But first, tribute was paid to former Contest Director and Mavericks pioneer, Jeff Clark.

'He's in our hearts and in our minds,' said Frank. Everyone looked forward to a day when Jeff would be back on the beach, he said.

Legendary surfer and doctor, Dorian 'Doc' Paskowitz then spoke a specially-written blessing over the surfers.

'I don't have the right to walk the same ground as these gods of surfing. They've ridden waves I can only dream of,' said Doc before the ceremony.

During the ceremony, four of the surfers spoke briefly.

'These are the best of the best,' said Peter Mel from Santa Cruz, paying tribute to the calibre of his fellow surfers as men. During their time of reflection, he said, they would be honouring 'fallen comrades' including Mark Foo, a young Hawaiian who died there in 1994, and Californian surfers Jay Moriarty and Peter Davi.

Reigning champion Greg Long of San Clemente said, 'It is always an honour to be here.' Many of the surfers, he said, were guys he 'idolized' from a young age. 'I see it more as a brotherhood, a bond so special you won't see it anywhere else in the world.'

Surfing, he added, is 'such a special gift.' Greg won his title in January 2008, there being no contest last season due to lack of a Pacific swell.

Hat-trick winner, Darryl 'Flea' Virostko, of Santa Cruz, said it was 17 or 18 years ago when he began to surf, and 'Man! It was the best feeling in the world!'

Flea recalled 'getting beat and nearly facing death,' but going straight back out there. It's like life, he said. 'Life throws weird things at you.'

Other speakers were Anthony Tashnick, a 2005 champion, and Head Judge Gary Linden.

One notable surfer missing today was Grant 'Twiggy' Baker from South Africa who, Gary said, was back at home waiting for a bigger swell!

With the contest season officially opening on November 1, all that remains is to wait for the Pacific Ocean to produce a massive enough swell between now and March 31, 2010. The decision to call the contest, giving surfers only 24 hours to get there, will be made by the surfers themselves, one of several changes made in the running of the contest from previous seasons.

In honour of Jeff, said Katherine Clark, Jeff's former wife and Mavericks Matriarch, the surfers decided not to replace him with another Contest Director but voted to manage the competition themselves. One decision they made in the summer was to continue with an elimination-style contest rather than change to another format, she said.

Peter Mel is one of the most experienced surfers at Mavericks, described as one most deserving of winning though the championship has eluded him. What did he think of his chances this year?

He laughed off his Mavericks bio. 'Who's deserving! It's got to be that guy for the day,' he said. 'I've been here since the beginning, yes. I'd like to think that I surf the place pretty well, but on the day of the competition it has eluded me. I think for me it's still about surfing the place, it's not necessarily about the prize.'

He continued, 'I have been able to put my life on the line every year and I have had a lot more enjoyment than trauma.'

On such a beautiful day, the dangers were invisible. But it is one of the most dangerous surfing areas in the world, notorious for its enormous swells, currents, rocks and chill waters, dangers that the surfers always have at the back of their minds.

'We all know it. We don't like to talk about it,' said Peter. When Mark Foo died, there had been worse wipeouts, he said.

For today, though, they were there to concentrate on celebrating the opening of what will hopefully become the seventh Mavericks contest to be held, and to enjoy a private party afterwards at the nearby Oceano Hotel.

video link:
more interviews to follow in next blogs

pics by Chris Flowers show the line-up for the introduction and blessing; the surfers' private time of reflection; paddle out; Doc meeting Jamie Stirling of Hawaii with Katherine Clark; Greg Long, Darryl 'Flea' Virostko, Anthony Tashnick, Peter Mel; brothers Rusty and Greg Long

California's Next 50 Years of Transportation

A mileage fee on road travel is 'probably the path we're headed towards,' said a transport expert yesterday, speaking at a conference addressing the transport needs of California over the next 50 years.

But Steve Heminger, Executive Director of MTC - Metropolitan Transportation Commission - admitted that responses to that idea were 'almost radioactive!'

A mileage fee 'has a lot to do with the issue of privacy,' he said, ie the government tracking where motorists go. 'I think it's a very significant hurdle.'

The sort of news that taxpayers beleaguered by the credit crunch don't want. Nor to hear that the state will need about $250 billion dollars over the next 50 years for transport, and expects to get only 25 per cent of that based on current revenues.

The conference, titled 'The Next 50 Years Addressing California's Mobility in a Time of Financial Challenge - Fixing Mass Transit!' took place yesterday afternoon at the Commonwealth Club of California, in San Francisco.

The harbinger of financial doom was Norma Ortega, Interim Chief Financial Officer of Caltrans, who outlined predicted spending against a backdrop of shrinking revenues. The credit crunch had caused a decline in taxes, especially sales taxes, and had affected State budget spending, she said.

Just to maintain the current system will cost $5 to $6 billion, and if maintenance is not kept up to date, major repairs further down the line will cost 'six times as much,' she said.

The conference, despite its title, focussed on the philosophy of transport and not specifics. With an audience of about 50 people and a representative also on the panel from the Federal government, questions and discussion were about principles.

And, as Steve Heminger said, 'if we don't know what to buy, how can we talk about figures?' Ideas, he said, 'usually come from a wish list of projects that get dusted off' when funding appears to be available. The problem with public acceptance for anything, he said, whether for bridges, schools or transport, is that the 'public is skeptical because they don't know what they are going to get.'

One of the key questions, he said, is if something new is built, will the public use it? Traffic congestion is usually the 'number one' problem, and, in his view, gas/petrol tax and toll charges today are 'relatively cheap' still. The toll on the Bay Bridge when it opened in the 1930s in today's currency would be 20 bucks, and gas tax today is 'much cheaper' than it was in the 1950s.

If the price of gas stays below $4, ridership of public transport is unlikely to increase, he said, unless more residential and mixed-use accommodation is built near stations.

Baby boomers, like himself, came in for a hit. The public will only get the transportation they're willing to pay for, and the problem with baby boomers? 'My generation are happy to live off the current system.'

He quoted Prsident Obama, quoting himself from 'The Good Book': 'It's not too late for us to set aside childish things.'

In other words, a refusal to look the financial implications in the eye and grasp the nettle, will either lead to a deteriorating transport system or, with borrowed money, impose a severe burden
on the next generation.

'We will continue to postpone and evade that responsibility at our peril,' he warned.

US government representative, Therese McMillan, Deputy Director of USDOT - US Department of Transportation's Federal Transit Administration - said that funding had been 'dramatically coloured by the recent recession.'

The government, especially where projects run into millions and billions of dollars, are expecting 50 per cent of non-Federal dollars 'to be added to the picture,' and are now examining the viability of both building and maintenance costs.

At question time, the first question not surprisingly was whether funding had affected the Bay Bridge. Norma Ortega said she didn't think funding was a factor. Mr Heminger agreed, and said the eastern span was 'showing it's age,' and further commented that 'without political interference' the new part of the bridge would be open today.

Funding wise, the Bay Area has $200 billion for a 25-year plan, but they could spend it all on maintenance without new projects. 'We have aging pains and growing pains and we can't afford to simply address the one,' he said.

Both he and Ms Ortega supported private funding partnerships, but Mr Heminger said this was of limited value as 'no-one from Goldman Sachs' would want to pay for a backlog!

Other 'tools in the toolbox' included tolls, freight charges, 'fast lane' passes, congestion fees, increasing bicycle and pedestrian paths, and for motorists to pay for their insurance at the gas pump. Ferries had some role, but Mr Heminger relegated them to a romantic past, dismissing a proposal made a few years ago for a ferry to bring travellers up to San Francisco from Half Moon Bay on the Pacific Ocean!

He also referred to high-speed rail as having something of a romantic image, and being less of a solution than assumed.

Ms McMillan pointed out that major projects often lasted for decades, and with population changes, the need was to have some flexibility to reduce obsolescence.

Environmental issues, the panel agreed, were another factor to be taken into consideration.

A second conference on identifying funding resources will be held in spring 2010.

For info on Commonwealth Club events including free podcasts:

pic: Moderator, Dr Asha Weinstein Agrawal, Director of MTI's - Mineta Transportation Institute - National Transportation Finance Center; Norma Ortega; Steve Heminger; Therese McMillan

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Bay Bridge to Remain Closed for Friday Morning Commute

The Bay Bridge is to remain closed for the Friday morning commute tomorrow, Caltrans have said in a press conference early this evening.

The bridge closed on Tuesday evening when two steel rods and a crossbar crashed onto the upper deck

of the bridge, striking cars but fortunately causing no serious injuries.

Dale Bonner, Secretary of California's Business, Transportation and Housing Agency, said it was possible the bridge would open later on Friday but it would depend on the repair work being finished and the right weather conditions to

produce a sufficient means of testing the new fittings.

The work is scheduled to finish by 10 am Friday, and then to need a minimum three-hour testing period by outside experts as well as the Caltrans - State of California • Department of Transportation - engineers who have designed the repair. The Federal Highway Administration and the Seismic Peer Review Board have been involved in the design stage and will be in the testing.

The accident was caused by vibration on the bridge that led to metal fatigue in one of a group of four eyebars from a total 1,680 eyebars. The bar came loose, bringing down the second bar and the crossbar with it. Caltrans say that high winds probably contributed.

Because of this, engineers will be waiting for windy conditions in which to test the bridge.

The eyebar had had a crack in it, which had been discovered incidentally during maintenance inspections on another part of the bridge over Labor Day Weekend. That crack had been repaired - it was the cause of delayed reopening of the bridge - and this accident was not related to the crack, said Mr Bonner.

The crack had not widened.

'We're not today anywhere near anything close to a catastrophic failure. What we are doing is moving quickly to nip a very small problem in the bud to keep a small problem small,' he said.

The repair involved replacing all four eyebars as a precaution, making sure the rods were 'centered' so unable to vibrate and cause metal fatigue, putting in additional high-strength steel rods and strengthening welds and bolts.

Journalists at the conference pressed him on several points. Why, asked one, had this happened when vibration was not new to the bridge?

'I don't want anyone to think that the structure itself (is at risk), (or that) there's been any change in the condition of the bridge,' he replied.

Another said commuters were worried that '5,000 tons of steel did fall down.' Some people would say that was catastrohic, the reporter added, and if the bridge couldn't withstand wind, how would it cope in an earthquake?

'I was confident then and confident now that the bridge itself is safe,' Mr Bonner replied. The problem with the design of the repair is that the Bay Bridge is a 73-year-old structure with an obsolete design. They had to have engineers 'go to the drawing board to make a design that will work.'

Journalists had been talking to critics of the design of the bridge. Were Caltrans listening to their critics and were they open to criticism?

Yes, said Mr Bonner, but they were 'not aware of anyone who has suggested a better design.'

Caltrans, said another reporter, were aware two weeks ago of movement with the eyebar fixture. Why had they not closed the bridge earlier?

'Hindsight is 20/20,' said Mr Bonner.

Will the repair pose a risk?

Mr Bonner admitted they could 'never be absolutely certain,' which is why from now on there will be continual inspections.

To repeated questions about the timing of the opening, Mr Bonner reiterated that experts will be given as much time as they needed to complete thorough stress testing.

The press coference was held in Oakland and after which journalists and TV crews were escorted onto the bridge by the CHP - California Highway Patrol - for examination, photos and filming.

A full viewing of the conference has been posted by KRON4:

For further updated info from Caltrans:

And for travel info from BART:

BART say they are not running trains overnight as they need the time to maintain their trains, especially with the extra workloads.

pics show the silent span over the bayside of San Francisco, and police officers guarding the on-ramps to the bridge.

Bay Bridge Closure Brings Record Numbers of BART Travellers

While the Bay Bridge is closed for emergency repairs, BART - Bay Area Rapid Transit - are celebrating a record-breaking bonanza.

A record 437,200 people crammed onto BART trains yesterday producing the highest ridership day in the 37-year history of the service. Compared to an average Wednesday, the trains carried 90,800 more people, representing an extra 26 per cent.

The Bay Bridge closed on Tuesday evening after metal fatigue caused by vibration caused an eyebar to break loose and bring another eyebar and a crossbar down with it. The accident happened at about 5,30 pm, steel hitting cars but without causing serious injury to commuters.

On the route covered directly by the Bay Bridge linking the East Bay and San Francisco, BART had 253,400 riders, an above-average 87,500 or 53 per cent.

And this morning up to 10 am, BART are reporting a 60 per cent rise to an approximate total of 88,000 passengers.

By 4 pm this afternoon, travellers were already queuing at Montgomery Station in the financial heart of the city above the Embarcadero - pictured above.

BART have achieved their record numbers in part by running longer trains and also extra transbay trains. Their service appears to be appreciated by passengers.

'It hasn't been bad. I like it, I can rest,' said Marie, who normally travels by car from Pittsburgh.

Walter, who usually drives in from Berkeley, had likewise found the train service good and had got to work at his normal time of 9 am. The difficulty, he said, had been finding a parking spot near the BART station - something that has affected thousands of commuters - and the inconvenience of having to walk six or seven blocks once he had arrived in the city.

'This is the first day I did it,' said Tracy of her BART commute from Oakland. 'The morning was fine and this seems to be okay.' She usually travels into the city in a car pool and returns by bus.

Another Oakland commuter, Eileen, - pictured - said, 'It's taken me twice as long.' Instead of 30 mins it had taken her 1 hour and 10 mins to get to work. But the problem wasn't BART, it was the MUNI train that she needed to transfer to that took a slow, meandering route to her place of work south of the city, she said.

'BART's pretty good,' she opined. 'I would take it every day if it wasn't for MUNI!'

The previous ridership record was 405,400 in September 2008 when there were two sporting events in the city, the Raiders vs. Broncos and Giants vs. Arizona.

The next highest numbers are 395,300 in September of this year when the Bay Bridge had a planned closure on Labor Day for maintenance inspections; 394,370 in June 2008 for Spare the Air Day; and 391,900 on the day of the controversial Olympic Torch Relay, and the Giants played San Diego.

Mavericks 2009/2010 Surfers To Call Contest

For the first time ever, the 24 elite big-wave surfers in the Mavericks 2009/2010 contest will make the call on when the waves are high enough for the competition to go ahead.

And with El Niño conditions forecast, surfers are expecting some stupendous thrills.

'This season we’re embarking on a new chapter, as the Mavericks competitors will choose the day,' said Mavericks CEO Keir J. Beadling today. 'Once potentially contestable conditions are identified, ‘the 24’ will vote and determine whether to pull the trigger. If they say ‘go,’ we go, and that’s exactly the way it should be at Mavericks.'

The Mavericks Surf Contest invites 24 of the world's top big-wave surfers to compete at just 24 hours notice between November 1, 2009 and March 31, 2010. The contest, held at Half Moon Bay less than an hour from San Franicisco, is dependent on Mother Nature providing a giant Pacific swell at what is considered to be one of the most dangerous surfing spots in the world.

When to call the contest had become a point of acrimony with former Contest Director and legendary pioneer of Mavericks, Jeff Clark, ousted earlier this year by the board. There have been years when the contest was not called.

With increased sponsorship this year from Sony Ericsson, the previous contest window of January 1 to March 31 has been extended by opening this Sunday, November 1. Contestants will be looking for the 'perfect ride on waves reaching heights of 30 to 40 feet or more,' said Mavericks in their press release.

Official Surf Forecaster Mark Sponsler of is optimistic that the competition will go ahead. 'The El Niño season, which has already begun, should bring a higher number of storms moving from the International Dateline into the Gulf of Alaska than in years previous.

'Those storms should have the potential to push larger and more consistent surf down the Pacific Coast into California,' he said, bringing with them 'several good opportunities' for the contest.

Veteran contest competitor, Kenny “Skindog” Collins, - pictured - commented, 'This Mavericks Contest combined with this season’s El Niño is going to be historic!'

The elite 24 are: Matt Ambrose, Ben Andrews, Grant Baker, Ion Banner, Chris Bertish, Carlos Burle, Kenny Collins, Shane Desmond, Nathan Fletcher, Brock Little, Greg Long, Josh Loya, Peter Mel, Shawn Rhodes, Ryan Seelbach, Evan Slater, Tyler Smith, Jamie Sterling, Anthony Tashnick, Darryl Virostko, Grant Washburn, Dave Wassell, Tim West, Zach Wormhoudt.

Also named are the 15 alternates, in order of priority: Alex Martins, Danilo Couto, Mark Healey, Tyler Fox, Rusty Long, Nic Lamb, Jamie Mitchell, Mike Gerhardt, Russell Smith, Kealii Mamala, Garrett McNamara, Andrew Marr, Lawton Smith, John Whittle, Colin Dwyer.

They will face frigid waters, dangerous currents, jagged rocks and the ever-present threat of the great white shark at what is known as 'the wave beyond.'

A record Prize Purse of $150,000 has been rolled over from last season when the contest was not held, donated by benefactors Moose Guen and Jane Sutherland of MVision, and Barracuda Networks. The Champion will take home $50,000, defending 2008 Champion being Greg Long of San Clemente, who as Champion will be defending his title in a sponsored Jim Beam Jersey.

Fans will be able to purchase a limited edition Contest label, and the company are donating $5,000 to Save the Waves, an environmental coalition that seeks to preserve surf spots around the world.

An extra award of $5,000 for the 'Gnarliest Drop' will be given to the surfer who exhibits the most impressive drop-in of the day.

During the competion, organizers will be working closely with Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary (GFNMS), to protect the wildlife and the habitats of the part of Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary where the contest takes place, to protect breeding and migrating seabirds and marine mammals.

To reduce the numbers of thousands of people who would flock to the small bay area, and to make the contest accessible to millions more who would not be able to travel there, Mavericks have launched an even more ambitious webcast programme than in 2008 when millions watched live webcast footage.

This season the contest will be be webcast live over the Internet in partnership with Facebook and Ustream, and will be televised live by FLO TV, the San Francisco Giants will host the event at their AT & T Park on the jumbotron, and Jim Beam will host a number of smaller webcast viewing parties at West Coast bars and restaurants - venues to be announced.

For more info, including bio on the surfers, and to sign up to receive a cell phone text message alert as soon as the Contest green light is given (text “MAVERICKS” to 81595):

pics from Mavericks website

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Mayor Newsom at Groundbreaking Ceremony for San Francisco General Hospital

Mayor Gavin Newsom led a groundbreaking ceremony at the San Francisco General Hospital today to launch the building of a new, earthquake-proofed hospital.

The hospital, to be built alongside the current one, is expected to cost $887.4 million and be completed in 2015 - pictured above in a computer-generated image

Other officials there today on the main lawn of the campus on Potrero Avenue included city Supervisors, Dr Mitch Katz, Director of the Department of Public Health, Sue Currin, CEO of SFGH, Sue Carlisle, Associate Dean, and representatives of the Department of Public Works, contractors, and the non-profit SFGH Foundation.

The General Hospital is the city's only trauma center and without a new building to meet seismic codes would have to close in 2013. In an earthquake, the base of the new build will be able to move 30 inches in any direction.

The hospital will have nine stories, seven above ground and two below, 284 beds, 32 more than it currently has, and will cover 448,000 sq ft.

It is also hoping to be a 'green' hospital and achieve the Gold level of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification.

Current inpatient, outpatient and emergency services will not be affected by the build, say the Department of Public Health.

Within San Francisco, the hospital takes almost 30 per cent of ambulances, provides 20 per cent of inpatient care, serves 100,000 patients every year, has the only Psychiatric Emergency Room and the largest psychiatric inpatient care facility.

San Franciscans voted for the rebuild with a record 84 per cent approval for Proposition A in last November's elections. Financing is through general obligation bonds. The San Francisco Foundation will raise charitable funding for hospital furniture, supplies and equipment, and art work will be selected by the San Francisco Arts Commission.

For more info and to keep up-to-date on the rebuild:

Monday, October 19, 2009

Waterfall at Van Ness Muni Station

A waterfall cascaded down the steps of the Van Ness Muni station this afternoon, causing the closure of the station over the evening commute.

This pic is from the youtube video that was posted and that is receiving thousands of hits.

Torrential rain hit the city again this afternoon. Officially, at 5 pm rainfall was recorded at 0.03 inches, but certainly at Mission Bay it was much more than that.

Visibility was nil for quite some minutes as clouds burst, and as the rainstorm gradually moved south, lighter rain continued in its wake.

NBC11 showed youtube videos of flooding in San Francisco and other cities and towns in the Bay Area. The flooding was exacerbated, they reported, by the storm of last Tuesday from which the ground was still wet.

Last week's record-breaking storm set one-day record rainfalls for October of 2.48 inches in downtown San Francisco, and 2.64 inches at the airport, as well as causing damage.

Earthquake Victim of 1989 Loma Prieta Quake Remembers

To Lucy, a survivor of the 1989 Loma Prieta quake, the most surreal part was in the aftermath.

She lived, and still does, in the Marina - pictured above, though she didn't want to be pictured - in the most damaged part of San Francisco. It was the haste with which people vacated their homes in the days following the 6.9 quake that spooked her.

'People were throwing things out of the windows....I saw people actually throwing their clothes into a truck. It was freaky, kind of scary!' she said.

I spoke to her as the city's Big Rumble commemoration of the quake's 20th anniversary was coming to an end - see previous blogs. It took just 16 seconds for the quake to travel from near the Loma Prieta Mountain in the Santa Cruz mountains to the Presidio, which is adjacent to the Marina.

It struck at a few minutes past 5 pm on October 17, at 5:04:37 pm precisely, and when the shaking around the city had ended, Lucy, who worked as a sales rep for a company, suddenly found herself having to walk the few miles home.

When she arrived at her apartment, in the middle of a three-storied building on Beach
Road, her house was still standing. The door to her apartment was buckled and inside there was

'I lost all my dishes and lamps, anything ceramic,' she said.

On the ground floor, the wastewater line had cracked, splitting the floor in half. As it was repaired, workers packed hay around the new pipe to allow it to move in the next quake.

The Marina was a disaster area, and the next day she went around and 'took photos all day,' though she is not sure where that treasure trove of historical pics are. She thinks they are in storage somewhere.

Amazingly, despite the damage all around, her house was green tagged by building inspectors as 'ok to enter and occupy.' FEMA came to inspect the damage in her apartment and, Lucy remembered with a smile, the inspectors had to break down the door because they couldn't squeeze through. The effort was worth it, though, because they gave her $1,500 in total for her losses, except for her TV which was not covered.

However, her fellow tenants were far from reassured, either by the green tagging or the end of the quake. They bolted to families nearby and left Lucy as sole occupier. Lucy, who had moved from LA in 1986, didn't have anywhere else to go. Surveying the empty property, her mind filled with thoughts of 'who can I talk to?' and 'where can I go?'

She was rescued by an older couple who were neighbours. They befriended her and turned into lifelong friends. Today Lucy still visits the husband, now a widower, who has just celebrated his 90th birthday.

Another girl, too, turned to the same neighbours for help. She wanted permission to climb over their back fence so that she could sneak into the back of her house, which had been red tagged as unsafe to enter, to retrieve her jewellery and artwork. That, too, was the start of another friendship and she continues to keep in touch with Lucy and the husband, even though she no longer lives in California.

'It's funny how one thing brings people together and you stay together,' she said.

Her property lost electricity, as did thousands of others, and was one of the last to have power restored. She recalls power coming back just before Thanksgiving. In the interim, the city supplied mobile shower units in a nearby street.

'I put on my bathrobe and slippers and just walked out there! Everybody did it!' she said.

The disaster wasn't without other humorous moments either. One afternoon she slipped out from work early to go home, only to be televised by a CNN crew filming in the area.

'Everybody was laughing at me,' she said. 'The company were really good. They said, "don't you have to go and see your customers in Seattle!"' She did!

The Red Cross pitched in with accommodation for displaced residents. Funded by them, Lucy stayed two nights in a local hostel. She remembered the hostel charging $35 instead of the regular $80, and was struck by the fact that some fellow guests were millionaires who took advantage of Red Cross funding.

Meals and beds were provided, too, by The Marina Middle School. 'It was a crazy time!' she said.

Growing up in LA and accustomed to ground tremblings, Lucy didn't have the same measure of panic as many of those around her. She didn't flee the Marina, and today continues to live there. But the quake did bring about some changes in lifestyle.

In the immediate aftermath, she bought only plastic mugs and plates, and in the longterm, earthquake preparedness has became a part of her life. She never leaves her apartment on foot without wearing sensible shoes in case she has to walk back again, and in her car is a bag packed with warm clothes and good footwear.

But the great paradox is that the LA earthquake-experienced girl now trembles in her sensible shoes far more than she did in 1989.

'I don't think people get it,' she said. 'I'm more scared now than I was in 1989 because we haven't had anything to speak of. I think the pressure's building up. Then you hear there's this big one in Samoa, and in Indonesia,' she trailed off.

An ominous warning is posted on The Big Rumble website:

'......the Loma Prieta — which the U.S. Geological Survey has indicated was merely 6% as intense as the 1906 earthquake — will pale in comparison to the far more serious quake that will inevitably strike in the future.

'The Hayward Fault has not had a major earthquake since 1868, before the East Bay was densely populated, and both the Hayward and the San Andreas are due for major quakes.'

Though in part Lucy dismisses the experts' views. 'Back then - 1989 - they said we could have a major earthquake in 30 years, it's now been 20,' she said. And then this week she heard on MSNBC another expert reiterating the current consensus that there will be a major quake in the next 30 years from now.

'I think these people don't know what they're talking about,' she said, fearing that the next big one is on its way much sooner than expected.

'It's been too quiet!' she said.
  • Tracking down all retrofit projects carried out in the city since 1989 would be a 'Herculean effort', say The Big Rumble, so that a complete catalogue has proven elusive. But there is still much info available on a community mapping project conceived by structural engineer David Bonowitz and sponsored by the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute (EERI) in Oakland

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Big Rumble - 1989 Earthquake 20th Anniversary - Preparedness & Monument

Building Inspector Ed Greene recalls the surreal sight of concrete road barriers, each weighing thousands of pounds, 'bouncing like basketballs' in the 1989 Loma Prieta Quake.

And 'asphalt was like the waves on the ocean,' he said.

A baseball fan, Ed was in the parking lot at the San Francisco Giants' former Candlestick Park, arriving for the World Series game with the Oakland Raiders, when the quake struck. Over the next two days, there was no power. His brother was in the Marina, which was the most devastated area, and the family were unable to get in touch with him.

'What it brings to mind, is that it was quiet. There was no television. It was like a return to yesteryear, all the present-day amenities were gone. Like time was standing still,' he reminisced.

Today marks the 20th Anniversary of the 1989 Loma Prieta quake, the last great quake to devastate the city since the Great Quake of 1906. And since Tuesday of this week, the Big Rumble has been the city's response to both remember the past and prepare for the future.

A major training drill organized by the San Francisco Fire Department's voluntary Neighbourhood Emergency Response Team has been held at the Marina Gre
en and three other sites in the city - see previous blogs.

When - as people say, not 'if' - a major quake hits San Francisco again, it will be all hands on deck, mechanical as well as human.

The bomb squad with their search robots equipped with cameras will be there, as will building inspectors responsible for preventing further injury and death from dangerous buildings. There, too, will be dogs to help comfort traumatized victims and rescuers.

Today at the Marina, Ed was manning the mobile command center for the San Francisco Department for Building Inspection. The van a direct result of lessons learned in the Loma Prieta quake.

It comes equipped with emergency radios and telephones, fax machine and internet access. It also provides sleeping accommodation, a lounge and meeting area, and kitchen facility. Staff will be able to live there on shifts and host emergency meetings.

The radios are judged to be particularly crucial. 'They've learnt a lot from the 1989 earthquake. There were no communications in terms of phones,' he said.

The task of Ed and his colleagues will be to categorize the state of buildings and prevent people from entering those that are in a dangerous state. Tucked in drawers in the command center are already items of emergency clothing, the red jackets and hard hats, supplies of caution tape, to mark off buildings quickly before barricades can be set up, and placards that designate the status of a building: red for Unsafe, yellow for Restricted Use, and green for Inspected and 'ok to enter and occupy.'

The Marina was the worst affected area in 1989, but it has gone through a lot of retrofitting. Damage in the next quake might be more spread across the city, said Ed. Probably about 95 per cent of buildings in the Unreinforced Masonry Buildings - UMB - programme have been retrofitted.

Police Officer John Barcojo is a member of the bomb squad. 'We will help in any way we can, with traffic control, evacuations and assist in rescues,' he said.

'These robots here, they've got cameras on them and could be used for searching. 'We will send them into a building where the structural integrity is compromised,' he said.

The bomb squad could also be used in policing evacuated areas. During the Loma Prieta quake there were a lot of looters, said Officer Barcojo. If there was to be another evacuation of the Marina, the homes would be untended. 'Believe it or not, there are some people who would like to take an advantage of a situation like that.'

He was a boy of about 13 years when the Loma Prieta quake struck. Then, he was living on the solid rock of Mount Davidson. 'I remember watching it on TV. We lost power for two days,' he said.

He recalled seeing the fires around the city on TV. Of his home, he added, 'I think some plates fell.' But being a young lad, he said, 'I guess it didn't impact me. Now, I think what would happen if your home burnt down!'

How prepared does he think the city is?

'I personally feel that the city is very well prepared. We train pretty regularly, and we have a lot of specialized units for things like this.'

But for those involved in the rescue work, they will see unpleasant sights, said Lynn Jacklevich, a member of the NERT Advisory Board. Which is why dogs will have an important role. They will be able to provide companionship, to help traumatized rescuers off-load their stress. They will also provide a welcome distraction and comfort to children.

Lynn was at the Marina with Smitty, her 11-year-old half-Sharpei, half combined Labrador and Retriever. She moved to San Francisco from Wisconsin - 'they don't have earthquakes there!' - and has been active in NERT for the last 14 years.

One of the aspect's of NERT is helping to prepare for the care of pets in an earthquake. They have learnt from the Hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans that people would prefer to risk their lives rather than abandon their pets, she said.

Animals will tend to be nervous after an earthquake. Apart from care of victims' pets, NERT volunteers themselves who are busy with rescue work will need to find other volunteers to help look after their pets, as the animals will not be able to accompany them to the emergency stations.

San Francisco's Animal Care and Control have been very proactive in trying to plan ahead for this, too, said Lynn.

Also at the Marina was a stall offering Earthquake Potato Chips and emergency whistles, and an historical fire engine and displays of the 1906 Great Quake. Manning a stall for the SFFD's Fire Museum and the SFPD's Police Museum was Inspector Liane Corrales.

The police and fire departments, together with the Sheriff's and Emergency Medical Services - EMS - Departments are working on a project to raise funds for a new museum and memorial to their work and those who have lost their lives. The project is titled the Guardians of the City - GOTC - Museum and Memorial.

The week's events of The Big Rumble closed with a commemorative ceremony at the Marina Green to mark the 20th anniversary of the Loma Prieta quake. At the ceremony, a fundraising campaign was launched for the Marina Earthquake Monument.

This will be a memorial of the quake and a tribute to the SFFD. It will be a contemporary sculpture incorporating part of the tower monitor of the 55-year-old fireboat,

Phoenix, and will be set on the seawall.

Loma Prieta 20th Anniversary - Earthquake Preparedness

Blood-stained earthquake survivors of the next Great Quake to rumble in San Francisco have been laid on the green at the Marina today. Others have been pulled by practicing hands from beneath mounds of rubble.

Today marks the 20th Anniversary of the 1989 Loma Prieta quake, the last great quake to devastate the city since the Great Quake of 1906. And since Tuesday of this week, the Big Rumble

has been the city's response to both remember the past and prepare for the future.

The Big One, that scientists say is coming in the next 30 years.

Today at the Marina, the worst damaged area in 1989 as it was built on landfill, and at three other sites in the city, the voluntary organization Neighbourhood Emergency Response Team - NERT - held their annual drill. NERT is a voluntary wing of the San Francisco Fire Department.

'We act as the eyes and ears of the fire department,' said Edie Schaffer, Coordinator Chair of the NERT Advisory Board.

In an earthquake, NERT volunteers are responsible for finding victims, assessing injuries and damage and reporting to and manning stations, run in the same way that the fire department run their Incident Command System - ICS. From the stations, they will directly contact the Battalion Chief at his or her Emergency Department Coordination Center.

For the drill, members of emergency and key city services combined forces to train volunteers and educate the public.

Programme Coordinator Erica Arteseros, a Lieutenant in the San Francisco Fire Department, said, 'We are practicing response skills for putting out small fires, completing searches, triaging injured patients and most importantly, how to do this as an organized team.

A short while later, her colleague, firefighter John Caba, balanced on a plank laid over the squashed 'body' of a mannequin. 'I represent thousands and thousands of pounds,' he said to the volunteers clustered around him in hard hats and emergency response jackets.

Chunk of wood by chunk of wood, John instructed them to 'build a box' to raise one end of the plank and eventually lift the weight off the trapped person. In a real earthquake, they could use rubble, jacks, items from a grocery store.

'This is not a race, with any kind of rescue. Move deliberately,' he said, instructing the rescuers to communicate verbally with each other as they worked. Eventually, the person was pulled clear with their head, neck and shoulders supported.

Afterwards, John said, 'In an earthquake situation people are going to help people, strangers are going to help strangers.

'We can't prepare for everything, in a disaster I think we are going to be overwhelmed and that's why I think it's important to have a programme like this.'

Fires will be a major hazard in the next quake. 'You need over 250 fire engines to put out all the fires,' he said.

How many have they got? 'About 40', he replied.

'It's all up to chance,' he continued. Buildings are made now so that they are earthquake resistant - and the city has had a huge retrofitting programme - but can you, he said, control the shattering of glass, for example?

'You can only do so much, are you going to encase your house in bubblewrap?!'

Behind him, as he prepared for his next group, there were anguished cries from Nora. 'Help! I'm over here!' she called out to the search and rescue team. Nora, beautifully injured on her arm - pictured above - is one of the make-up team who prepared the victims spread out over the grass.

'Being a neighbourhood coordinator is one of the hardest jobs in NERT,' said Edie Schaffer.

'Because we're a voluntary organization, one of the most imortant things to do is to be prepared for a disaster. We have a tendency as human beings to put our head in the sand. The wonderful thing about NERT is that it encourages us to take care of ourselves as we know our First Responders are going to be overwhelmed.'

Another of the main goals of NERT and The Big Rumble is to get people to prepare their homes.

'NERT teaches us to look at our homes with earthquake eyes so that we can fix things that might hurt us in an earthquake - for example, pictures or chemicals - . The more we can learn to fix these things, the safer we will be and the quicker we will recover,' said Edie.

How effective has the Big Rumble has been?

Lt Erica Arteseros said, 'It has gotten a lot of attention but even with all of that I still meet people every day who don't know they can get free training through the fire service.'


For all the info you need on training to help in the next Great Quake and how to prepare yourself and your home:
......cont in next blog......

Friday, October 16, 2009

President Obama's Visit Met with Protests Over Range of Issues

President Obama's San Francisco visit sparked responses ranging from those willing to pay $30,000 a couple to meet him at a VIP dinner - see previous blogs - to a placarding protestor who called him an 'Obamination'.

In between, were the protestors and campaigners squeezed into the end of Union Square opposite the Westin St Francis Hotel who hoped to catch his eye on a range of issues.

Greenpeace placards and banners were probably second in profusion to those on healthcare.

'We are all here today to make sure that President Obama keeps up with his campaign promises of strong climate action,' said Courtney, an environmental science student - pictured second from right

Local Greenpeace organizer, Lauren, said the day coincided with 'Blog Action Day,' a day when bloggers around the world were drawing attention to environmental issues.

Small businesses found a voice in David and Heather, co-owners of a company who make Obama Jack-in-the-boxes - 'the company is us!' - who illustrated their point in costume.

Another poster asking, 'What happens when small businesses like mine can't pay skyrocketing taxes + fees?'

Political thespians, Billionaires for Wealthcare, were in their pin-stripes, feathered boas and hats.

'We thank the little people for shying away from desiring real healthcare reform,' said Janine, pictured below left, with Ingrid.

Bystanders, many of them tourists, were on the streets opposite watching the event and the quintessential cable cars made a careful ascent and descent between the protestors and the hotel.

'This is our first day here and we didn't know this was happening,' said Alan, on holiday with his wife from Scotland. News of the President's arrival had eventually reached them and they had gone to the square in the slim hope of a glimpse of him. However, their expectations of seeing him were realistically low.

'I'm fairly neutral said Rupert, also from Scotland. 'I think he's a welcome change from Bush. I think Bush made a bit of a mess of the war, but then we're complicit, we're British.

'How he's going to fix it, I don't know. Good luck to him!'