10 worst ideas of the week: Aug. 31, 2008

Flight delays expose vulnerabilities in air-traffic control system, ad tries to scare people into not eating hot dogs and construction errors cost residents the use of rec centers.

Dim bulb of the week

Muni operators

What: Two Muni operators were injured when the cable cars they were operating collided at the intersection of California and Drumm streets. The cable cars were traveling in the same direction at the time of the accident.

Why: This crash is the latest in a string of mishaps that have plagued Muni. On Aug. 5, two of the agency’s historic street cars collided on The Embarcadero. In that incident, the operator had been warned roughly one hour earlier about following other vehicles too closely. In July, a cable car derailed on the corner of Powell and Washington streets. Both operators had left the vehicle before the accident, which is against Muni procedure. In June, a light-rail vehicle rear-ended another light-rail vehicle in front of AT&T Park. Muni said the one operator was going about twice the speed limit.

Next: Muni needs to unroll a comprehensive safety program for the drivers of all of its vehicles. Riders on the transit agency put their safety at the hands of these operators every time they board a Muni vehicle, and Muni owes it to everyone to provide safe transit.

Ten worst ideas

More Olympic fakery

1| Orchestra says it mimed performance at Sydney Games.

The details: On the heels of the controversial decision at the Beijing Olympics to replace a young female singer with someone cuter, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra says its performance at the opening ceremony of the 2000 Summer Olympics was entirely prerecorded. On top of that, the stirring rendition credited to the Sydney unit was recorded by the symphony of rival city Melbourne.

Airing vulnerabilities

2| Computer glitch delays flights and exposes security threat.

The details: The Federal Aviation Administration was loading software at one of its two centers that distributes flight plans to planes across the country when a software glitch knocked the system offline. About 600 flights were delayed (a headache for fliers), but the day highlighted the need for new technology for the FAA. In the post-9/11 world in which airline security is a must, relying on two centers for all of the nation’s air travel is absurd.

Goodbye, jobs

3| Zoning plan backfires for light-industrial firms.

The details: A rezoning plan for the eastern South of Market, Mission, Potrero Hill and central waterfront areas was proposed as a way to help protect light-industrial companies from losing their buildings to commercial or housing, which garner more money in rents. If no rezoning had been done, between 4,000 and 5,000 jobs would have been lost, according to an environmental impact report. The Planning Department estimates twice that many jobs could be lost under the protection of the rezoning.

Food fight

4| Hot dog advertisement is misleading.

The details: Maybe you’ve heard about the TV advertisement by now: Kids in a school cafeteria are eating hot dogs and one boy says “I was dumbfounded when doctors told me I have late-stage colon cancer.” Except that boy does not have colon cancer and two other kids in the ad don’t either. This commercial is an attack ad by a pro-vegetarian group looking to scare people into not eating meat. The group says it is a warning that people who eat processed meats have higher odds of getting colon cancer. The ad really sounds like a bunch of baloney.

An F for that deal

5| Prosecutor decides to go easy on former educator.

The details: Former Mills High teacher David Lista cut a deal with Deputy District Attorney Aaron Fitzgerald to plead guilty to two misdemeanors, felony possession of child pornography and felony possession of methamphetamine, which was found in his home. Lista is accused of filming girls in a restroom next to his classroom and under desks at the high school. Lista now faces a mere two years in state prison, restitution of up to $20,000 and a maximum $10,000 fine for each of his two felonies. He will also be forced to register as a sex offender and could be put on probation for four years. But really, that’s all for betraying the trust we all put in teachers?

No fun

6| Construction errors mar recreation centers.

The details: Three recreation centers in The City that were funded by voter-approved bonds suffered significant delays in opening because of construction errors. The Recreation and Park Department, which is in charge of the facilities, and the Department of Public Works, which oversees the construction, pointed fingers at each other and played the blame game. No matter whose fault it is, someone needs to make sure the companies who did the work are held financially accountable for the mistakes.

Where’s the cupcake?

7| Stanford football team has rare Pac-10 opener.

The details: While the result was favorable — the Stanford football team beat Oregon State 36-28 Thursday — opening a season against a conference foe isn’t what major-college programs do. Usually, teams schedule a team from a small conference that they can score at will against and make the alums happy. But in their second year under coach Jim Harbaugh, the Cardinal played a Pac-10 Conference foe in their season opener. It was the third-straight year they have done so, a product of poor scheduling by previous coaches (football schedules are set years in advance).

Truancy costs

8| City to pay overtime to police absentee students.

The details: It’s a good thing that Redwood City police will enforce a little-known ordinance that allows them to cite teens caught skipping school twice in the same year. It is, however, that the city will use overtime pay for some of that enforcement. Although five hours per week seems like a small amount, most school kids could tell you that amount will add up fast.

Threatening Obama

9| Two threats — well, maybe one and a half.

The details: A North Carolina man was formally indicted on a charge that he threatened to shoot Barack Obama, the Democratic nominee for president. The 48-year-old man, who was arrested Aug. 1, was charged with knowingly and willfully threatening to kill, kidnap and inflict bodily harm upon a major candidate for president. There was also the arrest of three men caught with guns, wigs and methamphetamine in Denver who said they were going to shoot Obama. Those three were deemed to not pose a credible threat, however, and will face gun and drug charges instead.

Stealing from customers

10| Citibank found to have taken $14 million from credit card customers.

The details: The bank had a practice between 1992 and 2003 that automatically removed positive balances from customers’ credit card accounts. The company took $14 million from 53,000 customers in the more than 10 years the practice was in place. At least now the company is being forced to pay back the money and tack on interest for those affected. Citibank will also pay $3.5 million in damages and civil penalties to California, which spent three years investigating the questionable practices by the bank.

SINKING SHIP: IPhone users could be prone to hackers, even when their phones are locked, according to a popular technology blog. The phone, which Apple is pushing to help compete in the business arena with the popular BlackBerry phones, can reportedly be hacked easily. Apple said it knows about the problem and a fix is on the way — soon.

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