1. Prison hospital built ahead of schedule, under budget
The details: A $136 million, five-story hospital at San Quentin State Prison is opening — four months earlier than scheduled and $10 million under budget. The quick change is in response to a 2006 order from a federal judge to transform California’s oldest prison after national experts found the 5,000-inmate prison so appallingly dirty and outdated that they felt “San Quentin should be viewed as needing to start from the beginning.”
Now, do better
2. City homicides drop 53 percent from previous year
The details: Murders in The City became a problem in 2008, when critics were counting down to when the total might reach 100. San Francisco came close, hitting 98 — a year after having 97 homicides. So at a year-end news conference, Mayor Gavin Newsom praised Police Department efforts that he says helped cut The City’s homicide total by 53 percent as of Tuesday (45 killings). Always wanting to do better, Newsom issued a challenge for new police Chief George Gascón for 2010 — improve on that number.
3. DeRosa brings flexibility to Giants’ lineup
The details: When Barry Bonds was around, the Giants had players that fit only at one position, which handcuffed the manager’s ability to juggle his lineup. With the big bopper gone, general manager Brian Sabean is trying to add pieces that fit anywhere on the diamond. The signing of Mark DeRosa to a two-year, $12 million contract gives manager Bruce Bochy the type of player who can play third base one day, left field another and second base on yet another. DeRosa can also hit anywhere in the lineup. Those traits allow Sabean to still be on the lookout for more pieces.
4. More film projects coming to SF
The details: While “Trauma,” an NBC television series filming in San Francisco, looks unlikely to continue, three more episodes will still be shot in January. An NBC pilot called “Facing Kate” is also set to film in The City in January, as is a Clint Eastwood movie, while a Philip Kaufman film about Ernest Hemingway is set to shoot here some time next year. All of this means jobs and an influx of dollars for San Francisco, as well as valuable screen time to help lure in tourists.
5. Cracking down on placard abuse
The details: Blue disability placards are supposed to be a help to those who can’t walk long distances, but some folks are fraudulently using them just to get prime parking spaces. Drivers caught illegally using disabled parking placards will face stiffer penalties after a state law took effect Friday that allows local agencies to hike fees for the misuse. Assembly Bill 144 was authored by Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco. Between September 2007 and September 2008, 1,234 false placards were confiscated in The City, Ma said.
6. Retailers see slight bump in spending
The details: While consumers kept a tight grip on their wallets, spending was up before Christmas. Retail sales rose 3.6 percent from Nov. 1 to Dec. 24, after experiencing a 3.2 percent decline in the same period a year ago. That should be a good indicator for company financial profiles, which could see a slight bump in profit margins. Stores also kept fewer items in stock.
7. Vernon Davis among 49ers selected to Pro Bowl
The details: In Mike Singletary’s first game as interim 49ers coach last year, he sent tight end Vernon Davis to the locker room before the game ended as a disciplinary act. That sent a message to the super-talented former first-round draft pick, who had thus far underachieved in his brief NFL career. Davis took it as a signal to change his attitude and become a more focused player. It worked, as Davis was named to the NFC Pro Bowl team, along with 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis and punter Andy Lee. Two Raiders — punter Shane Lechler and cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha — were named to the AFC Pro Bowl team.
8. Delta offering travel vouchers to Flight 253 passengers
The details: Certainly, the safe landing was the best result for passengers of the Detroit-destined flight which a suspected terrorist unsuccessfully tried to blow up. Delta has also announced that they’re offering travel credits to those on that frightening Christmas Day flight.
$270 million weekend
9. ‘Avatar’ and ‘Sherlock Holmes’ top highest-grossing film weekend ever
The details: The heroic 10-foot blue aliens of “Avatar” brought about $75.6 million into box-offices for a second consecutive weekend while Robert Downey Jr. opened with $62.4 million as the flashiest “Sherlock Holmes” ever. These blockbusters led the 2009 Christmas weekend to the highest movie grosses of all time, with solid help from “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel” ($48.9 million) and Meryl Streep’s “It’s Complicated” ($22.1 million).
10. Judges required to order jurors not to use electronic devices
The details: A new rule in Michigan requires judges to prohibit jurors from using cell phones, BlackBerries, iPhones or any other electronic devices while in trial or deliberations. “The accused has a right to confront the accuser, and you can’t cross-examine Wikipedia on the stand,” says Douglas Keene, an Austin, Texas, jury consultant, in Time magazine. It might be OK to tell your Facebook friends that you’re running late in court, but it’s an entirely different matter to Google background on witnesses while they’re testifying.
Bright light of the week: Dick Clark
What: Like Baby New Year, Dick Clark keeps coming back to Times Square with his youthful looks and rock ’n’ roll enthusiasm — this time to usher in 2010.
Why: “America’s oldest teenager” turned 80 in November, and despite a stroke in 2004, was on hand to help us all celebrate as the silver ball dropped — his 38th year doing so.