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Friday, October 30, 2009

SF: U.S. PROSECUTORS CHARGED 17 WITH PASSPORT OR VISA FRAUD IN PAST SIX MONTHS

Federal prosecutors in San Francisco announced today they filed passport or visa fraud charges against 17 Bay Area and Northern California residents in the past six months.

U.S. Attorney Joseph Russoniello said, "The charges are part of the zero-tolerance policy towards imposters who try to obtain or use authentic American passports and entry visas."

The 13 men and four women were charged between April and September with either making a false statement on a passport application or providing fraudulent identification documents.

Ten have pleaded guilty or been convicted in federal court and eight of those were sentenced to one or two years of probation.

Another convicted defendant, Bruce Marshall, 35, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White of San Francisco Tour on Aug. 27 to nine months in jail.

Marshall pleaded guilty to falsely altering his own passport to contain the name Francois Delacroix. He admitted living under that identity and working as a computer programmer for IBM Corp. and eBAy Inc. in San Jose under that name for several years.

The 10th convicted defendant, Amir Rashidifar of San Jose, is awaiting sentencing in federal court in San Jose after having pleaded guilty to applying for a passport with a counterfeit birth certificate.

Another defendant, Christina Chavez of Walnut Creek, was accused of applying for a passport with another person's birth certificate, but was allowed to enter a pretrial diversion program.

Three other defendants are awaiting trials and three are fugitives.

One of the fugitives, Wandell Santana, 33, of San Bruno, is allegedly a Brazilian citizen who previously overstayed a tourist visa and then was deported in 2002 for trying to re-enter the United States without a valid visa, according to prosecution documents.

He was charged in April with applying for a passport at a San Bruno post office last year by using a birth certificate in the name of another man who was born in Puerto Rico.

Santana was granted bail on a $25,000 bond by U.S. Magistrate Wayne Brazil of Oakland, but when he failed to show up for a hearing in San Francisco in May, another magistrate issued a no-bail arrest warrant.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

San Fran's Next Museum May Feature a Fire-Shooting Tree


Just in San Francisco would a house with a tree that shoots fire be measured a future museum site. That is, if saw player extraordinaire and former hotelier Bob Pritikin has his way. According to a statement in the San Francisco Chronicle, Pritikin, who often throws lavish fundraisers at his residence-sort of an adult's fun house with kitschy memorabilia strewn throughout-is hoping to "pay the bills, make a nice contribution to the community and have some daytime visitors" by transforming his mansion into a museum. He originally suggested the less-than-humble "Only in San Francisco" name for the prospective museum site, though his hopes were dashed after learning that the city's Convention & Visitors Bureau already owns said URL.

The visiting groups would be quite small, limited to 20 people per day, six days a week, says the Chronicle. Pritikin's idea, if realized, would place his home in the esteemed, eccentric company of one of the Bay Area's other homes-turned-tourist attractions, the Winchester Mystery House. This isn't Pritikin's first hubris-driven campaign on behalf of his home, having previously lobbied for it to have it turned into San Francisco's mayoral residence in 2004. That plan predictably never took off, and handsome politico Gavin Newsom is dwelling elsewhere these days.

Don't expect a day at the hypothetical Pritikin Museum to come cheap, despite it being decidedly less distinguished than the de Young, MoMA, Academy of Sciences, and basically every one of San Francisco's other noted museum destinations. Its owner plans to charge "$49 a pop for a docent-guided tour, a magic show, and a Mexican lunch," with highlights including a three-foot tall Transamerica building look-alike constructed from condom boxes, and a mural depicting a famous topless dancer riding a zebra.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Tourist turnaround

Up factors helped increase Hawaii's entire major tourist markets for the first time in 19 months; however, industry watchers say that September's strong finish might not continue.

An increase in arrivals from the U.S. West for the fifth following month, as well as holiday and convention traffic, contributed to the 7.2 percent increase in overall visitor arrivals, which rose to 494,376 in September, according to preliminary statistics unrestricted yesterday by the Hawaii Tourism Authority. Results contrasted with the year-ago 19.5 percent decline in arrivals experienced by the visitor industry after the financial markets collapsed.

Although Canada was flat, Hawaii saw strong September arrivals from all other major markets, including the U.S. West, U.S. East and Japan, the HTA said. Growth from Hawaii's major markets helped counteract a drop in traffic from cruise passengers and all other markets, the agency reported.

"The last time all four major markets were positive in monthly arrivals was February 2008," said Daniel K. Nahoopii of HTA's tourism research division.

Increased traffic from marketing targets like Los Angeles; San Francisco; Portland, Ore.; and Seattle grew U.S. West arrivals by 10.1 percent, said Mike McCartney, the HTA's president and chief executive officer.

"There's no question in my mind that the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau campaigns in Los Angeles and other West Coast cities were very effective," said Jack Richards, president of California-based Pleasant Holidays LLC, Hawaii's largest travel wholesaler.

Hawaii also benefited from Mexico's continued problems with drug cartels and the H1N1 swine flu, Richards said.

Likewise, aggressive marketing in Japan and the "Silver Week" national holidays increased arrivals in that market by 16.7 percent to 110,634, McCartney said.

U.S. East arrivals grew 6.9 percent, the first increase from this region since February 2008, as conventions like the American Dental Association Convention helped increase business travel by 140.6 percent over last September, he said.

"From our perspective out of the last 90 days, we've seen a steady increase in travel to Hawaii," Richards said.

While the gain in arrivals was good news for Hawaii last month, October arrivals are projected to flatten and November's could worsen, said state Tourism Liaison Marsha Wienert.

"It was an anomaly," Wienert said. "All of the positives were in place in September."

Hawaii's visitor industry benefited from increased arrivals, which muted spending losses, she said.

"That helps immensely overall, but it's not a long-term strategy," she said. "Our destination was never built on pure volume."

September's visitor expenditures were $737.1 million, a drop of $22.7 million, or 3 percent, compared with the prior year. However, there were wider declines in per-person-per-day spending, Nahoopii said.

Per-person-per-day expenditures from Japan fell 12.9 percent, while the U.S. West dropped 12.6 percent; Canada, 6.5 percent; and the U.S. East, 6.1 percent, he said.

"In an effort to remain competitive in the short term, Hawaii's visitor industry was forced to re-evaluate and reposition its product offerings, which often resulted in the reduction of rates," McCartney said.

Still, Star wood Hotels & Resorts saw a few of its Waikiki hotels beat last September's revenue per available room, said Keith Vieira, senior vice president of operations for Starwood Hotels and Resorts in Hawaii and French Polynesia.

"It was a decent September and October, but we don't think it's a trend yet," Vieira said. "Starwood saw some rebounding in Waikiki, but it hasn't made its way to the neighbor islands."

Without major citywide conventions on the horizon, it is doubtful that September's increases will continue, Vieira said.

"We still have plenty of availability for the holidays," he said.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Family travel: Get a free cruise when you book an Adventures by Disney vacation

Adventures by Disney is giving away a three-night Disney Cruise to the Bahamas when you buy a vacation on select Adventures by Disney trips to Europe, China, Australia, Costa Rica and the American Southwest. There are 19 itineraries to choose from including "Southwest Splendors in the Grand Canyon," "Safari to South Africa," "Path to Pura Vida" in Costa Rica and "Taming the Last Frontier" in Alaska.

I consideration I'd look into some trips close to home as a way of keeping the cost down, but even Adventures by Disney trips in Northern California had starting costs of $3,279 for adults and $2,949 for children for a weeklong trip to Lake Tahoe, Yosemite and San Francisco. The trip includes accommodations, many meals and VIP touches that Disney vacations are known for. When I looked for prices on 3-night Disney Cruises to the Bahamas, I saw rates starting at $1,464 per person for a Deluxe Oceanview Stateroom departing Jan. 7, 2010. I found a range of dates to choose from in both the Adventure trip and the Disney Cruise to the Bahamas vacation.

Monday, October 26, 2009

SOM Beijing's Sustainable City Center


Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM) were recently award the agreement to create a stunning new Central Business District in Beijing. The project will integrate into the existing downtown urban district and will improve transportation infrastructure while introducing energy-efficient buildings green public space. The plan also provides a framework for new sustainable growth that would result in eliminating 215,000 tons of CO2 per year, which is the equivalent of planting 14 million adult trees.


SOM is fine known for its architecture and urban plan projects, and is also responsible for San Francisco's Treasure Island Redevelopment Plan as well as the plan for Jumiera Gardens in Dubai. Their plan for Beijing's new CBD calls for the creation of three new areas - the Cultural, Chaoyang, and the Gateway Districts, which will be anchored around new parks and green boulevards. The CBD will comprise a network of smaller, more walk able city blocks to encourage pedestrian travel and time spent in the expansive downtown parks system. Additionally, all of the streets will be built to accommodate safe bicycle travel.

A new streetcar system has been proposed to link all of the new areas with existing districts and popular destinations, providing commuters with easy access to high speed rail service. Updated transportation infrastructure will also include express commuter rail service between the Beijing Capital International Airport, the CBD, and high speed rail service to Beijing South Station.

SOM's redevelopment plan also defines strategies for growth and expansion. They have created a framework for new infrastructure and high performance buildings that will enable the city to grow in a more sustainable manner. If implemented, the plan could reduce energy consumption within the district by 50%, reduce water consumption by 48%, reduce landfill waste by 80%, and result in a 50% reduction in carbon emissions.


SOM's exciting new plan combines many of the necessary elements of a sustainable city - transportation, open space, pedestrian and bike friendly streets, and energy-efficient buildings. The Beijing CBD Administration Committee has stated that the plan would "enable China's capital city to grow as a global center for commerce, yet be a green and ecological setting for healthy life."

Friday, October 23, 2009

Go Ahead And Daydream About 5 Nights In Hawaii For $499

Whenever we're stressed and have to go to our happy place, we picture the beaches of Hawaii. But now, probably thanks to how hard the recession has hit tourism to the islands, everyone has a chance to actually go there, thanks to Travelzoo's $499-for-five-Hawaiian-nights package.

The deal includes round-trip airfare to Honolulu, where you'll be greeted with a lovely-smelling lei and thus the right to brag that you got "lei'd" in Hawaii, like tourists do for days after their arrival. Your accommodations will be at the Castle Ocean Resort Hotel Waikiki. And if you want to upgrade to an ocean-view pad, the hotel gives you the option for $25 and up per person.

The "Hawaii Your Way" package is good for select dates in November to January. The price will change depending on your departing city, like if you leave from San Francisco it'll cost $559, New York's JFK will cost $829 and Pittsburgh will be $839. You'll get the best prices if you book a midweek departure. Try to avoid holiday dates, which will be more expensive. Whichever you choose, you must book the package by October 30.

We got some weird error messages when we tried booking this deal online, so we suggest calling Apple Vacations at 800-517-2000. Just mention "Travelzoo" to score the special price. You'll be in a happy place in no time.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Armstrong to return to revamped Tour of California in 2010

Seven-time Tour de France victor Lance Armstrong force compete in the 2010 Tour of California, which will boast a new route and new dates to avoid the West Coast's wet winter weather.

Sixteen host communities were announced on Thursday morning via an exchange on the Twitter micro-blogging site that included California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Armstrong and three-time Tour of California champion Levi Leipheimer.

Leipheimer will be joining Armstrong in the newly formed Team RadioShack.

The race will be held from May 16-23, so riders can expect balmy weather, a marked change from the wet, chilly conditions that prevailed for much of this year's race in February.

For the first time the event will begin with a road stage, from Nevada City, California, to the state capital of Sacramento.

It will pass through Davis, Santa Rosa, San Francisco, Santa Cruz, San Jose, Modesto, Visalia, Bakersfield, Pasadena, Big Bear Lake, Los Angeles and end in the Los Angeles suburb of Thousand Oaks, home of title sponsor Amgen.

Stage seven will be the individual time trial in downtown Los Angeles next to the Staples Center arena - home of the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team.

"For the 2010 Sanfrancisco Tour of California we had the unique opportunity to move our race to a part of the year when we are almost guaranteed great weather in California," said Andrew Messick, president of AEG Sports.

"This timing will help us to better showcase the beautiful features the state of California has to offer, while allowing us to travel to parts of the state that just weren't feasible in previous years."

Organizers said the use of Twitter to announce the schedule was a first for an event of this stature.

Twitter was much in evidence in the 2009 edition of the race, as Armstrong mobilized his army of followers on the networking site to be on the lookout for his stolen time trial bike, which was eventually turned in to police in Sacramento.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

China, air/8 nights, from $888

The Real Deal: Round-trip airfare on Air China; four nights at the Beijing Joy City Hotel & Apartment in Beijing, two nights at the Xian Jianguo Hotel in Xi'an, and two nights at the Shanghai Crowne Plaza Hotel in Shanghai; transfers and ground transportation; 13 meals; flights within China (also on Air China); and private sightseeing tours and entrance fees, from $888 per person - plus about $286 in taxes.

When: Jan. 8, 15, 22, 29, Feb. 12, 19, 26, 2010; add $200 for March 5, 12, 19, 26; add $400 for April 2, 9, 16, 23, 30, May 7, 14, 21, 28, June 4, July 9, 16, 23, 30; add $700 for June 11, 18, 25, July 2; additional dates in 2010 available.

Gateways: San Francisco; add $300 for New York City.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

If San Francisco can do it

Recology, the California-based trash company that takes over Ashland Sanitary and Recycling last week, has a program in San Francisco that takes food scraps from homes and restaurants and turns them into dung.

Recology official inform Ashland City Council members on Oct. 6 that they force listen to the desires of the community and could adopt expanded composting and recycling programs here if they are cost-effective and feasible.

San Franciscans have been able to have their food scraps - even meat and bones - taken away for composting for years. Yard trimmings also go into the nutrient-rich compost that is used by vineyards and farms.

Starting Wednesday, composting in San Francisco will become mandatory as the city pushes toward its goal of diverting 75 percent of material from landfills. The city hopes to achieve zero net waste by 2020.

The law is believed to be the first mandatory composting law in the country, according to the food service industry news service Nation's Restaurant News.

Businesses and residents there must sort food scraps and yard trimmings into a green garbage can. Regular recyclables such as paper go into a blue can, while remaining garbage goes into a black can.

Bread, dairy products, meat and bones, greasy pizza boxes, waxy paper milk and juice cartons, vegetables, fruits, leftovers scraped off restaurant customers' plates and tree branches less than 6 inches in diameter are among the items that San Francisco can toss in their green garbage cans for composting.

The slogan used to help people understand what can go in the composting can is "Anything that used to be alive."

Ashland Sanitary and Recycling already has a composting program, but it is less far-reaching than the one in San Francisco.

Ashland Sanitary and Recycling - which will continue to operate under that name - has a composting program in which businesses that serve food can put uncooked vegetable and fruit trimmings, paper coffee filters, coffee grounds, tea bags and floral clippings in 35-gallon garbage cans. Meat, cooked food and post-consumer material, such as scrapings off customers' plates, are not allowed.

The monthly fee for a 35-gallon garbage can to hold compostable material is $5.65. That fee includes weekly pick-up. If a restaurant got rid of the same material in a regular garbage can, the fee would be $16.61 per month, according to Ashland Sanitary and Recycling.More than 30 local businesses and organizations take part in the commercial compost program, including restaurants, coffee shops, schools, bed and breakfast inns, Ashland Food Cooperative and Mountain Meadows retirement community.

Yard trimmings and the commercial food scraps are used to make Oakleaf Compost, which is sold at the Valley View Transfer Station at 3000 Valley View Road outside Ashland. A 60-pound bag of the compost costs $4.

Ashland Sanitary and Recycling Waste Reduction Educator Risa Buck said it's still too early to tell what new services the company could provide now that it's owned by Recology.
But Buck said she does think that many restaurants would like to be able to compost more material. Many homeowners may also be interested in a composting service with curbside pick-up, she said.

Steve DiFabion, the new general manager at Ashland Sanitary and Recycling, said composting programs that can handle meat scraps and other material are much more difficult and expensive than the type of "clean green" composting program here that takes pre-consumer food material and yard trimmings.

DiFabion said a facility to handle diverse compostable material would cost about $6 million to $6.5 million. He's not aware of anyone in Oregon who has a permit to build such a facility, although one company believes it's close to getting a conditional permit, DiFabion said.
If such a facility were built, possibly in northern Oregon, he said Recology would have to figure out the costs of transporting material to the site.

Building a facility would likely cause concerns among neighbors about odors and pests, he said.
DiFabion recently began working for Recology after previously working for Allied Waste in the Seattle area. Western Washington has one facility that can handle a large range of compostable material, he said.

The Seattle area has a very active food waste program that can take material such as bones. It serves residents as well as businesses, he said."There's a huge demand. It's rapidly approaching the point where there is more material than processing capacity," DiFabion said. "It's not unusual to have only one or two sites in a state."

Although Ashland Sanitary and Recycling doesn't offer residential food scrap pick-up, it does frequently hold free composting classes on Saturdays at its recycling center on Water Street near Van Ness Avenue. Call 482-1471 for information.

North Mountain Park will have a worm composting class from 7 to 8 p.m. on Wednesday. The cost is $5. Dress warmly. Call 488-6606 for more information.North Mountain Park Stewardship Coordinator Linda Chesney said she believes there is demand out there for a residential food scrap and composting program. The park has on-site compost bins to take vegetation trimmings and food scraps, but only from the park itself.People sometimes call park staff to ask if they can put their food scraps in the compost bins, Chesney said.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

All aboard for San Francisco Trolley Dances

Combine urban landscapes, live dance artists and dedicated performance " Tour guides," and you get Trolley Dances, a series of outdoor site specific works to which the audience is escorted aboard a transit car. Far from any double-decker sightseeing bus or Duck Tour, Trolley Dances offer a sensory ride through the dance community with a celebratory spirit.

The concept of Trolley Dances was born in San Diego by Jean Isaacs, Artistic Director of the San Diego Dance Theater, to honor the bi-cultural nature of a city on the border. This year, during the last weekend in September and the first weekend in October, the 11th Annual San Diego Trolley Dances took place at sites along the Trolley line south of downtown San Diego to the San Ysidro border crossing between California and Tijuana.

Inspired by Isaac's Trolley Dances, Bay Area choreographer Kim Epifano brought the tradition to northern California six years ago, showcasing San Francisco's diverse dance community.

This weekend, audiences can climb aboard the J-Church Muni Metro at Mission Dolores Park to experience San Francisco Trolley Dances, winding through many parts of the city. For a $2 fare, riders will be escorted to performances by Deborah Slater Dance Theater, Deep Waters Dance Theater, SF Merionettes Sychronized Swim Club, Epiphany Productions Sonic Dance Theater, Kathleen Hermesdorf, and Rosamaria Garcia and Jorge Rodolfo De Hoyos. Tours begin at the statue of Miguel Hidalgo in the middle of Mission Dolores Park starting at 11:00am, and leave every 45 minutes until 2:45pm. San Francisco's Trolley Dances will be performed Oct. 17 and 18.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Best Guided City Travel Walks

Guided walks in London, Rome, Paris, Dublin, New York, and San Francisco are now available on ever more popular Ipods, but a live tour can present a much richer experience. Or so says Paul Bennett, owner of the highly acclaimed Context Tours, who maintains that "there's no substitute for the impromptu interaction with a knowledgeable and personable guide-best of all, one with a Ph.D. in the topic! Socrates had it right. When you can ask questions and engage in a real dialogue, learning happens."

On a guided walking tour, travelers are not only listening, but also seeing, hearing, and feeling. Most guides are constantly researching and thinking of clever ways to explain historical background and current happenings in a city. If a new building is going up, they know about it. If a place has just been renovated, they will tell you why and how. Unlike the voice on the Ipod, live guides live right in the city and know the enchanting alleys and shortcuts. After