Paying A Dime Per Mile Freeway Tax

I sometimes wonder if the elected and unelected government officials responsible for transportation planning in the San Francisco Bay Area are smoking something exotic at their meetings when they decide to spend taxpayer money on pie-in-the-sky studies. A new proposal is being considered to charge drivers a dime per mile for driving on the freeways to reduce rush hour congestion and pay for future transportation projects. What are they smoking and where can I get some?

The Bay Area is considering a long-range plan to become the first place in the nation to tax drivers for every mile they travel, with an average bill of up to $1,300 per year.

The proposal is a long way from becoming reality. But under the scenario, drivers would likely have to install GPS-like trackers on their cars to tally travel in the nine-county Bay Area, from freeways to neighborhood streets, with only low-income people exempted.

Transportation planners know they would have a tough time selling such a radical plan but argue the goal of the so-called VMT (vehicle miles traveled) tax is to reduce traffic and pollution while raising revenue needed to fill potholes and bolster public transit service.

With my daily commute to my non-writing tech job in Silicon Valley, I would be paying an extra $60 USD per month for the privilege of driving on the freeway under this proposal. Taking the light rail at $70 USD per month would be cheaper, but my commute time would quadrupled to two hours each way since crossing the valley takes forever. As a writer, I could use the four-hour commute time for writing and editing manuscripts. As a rider, I would find it grueling in the morning to be at the light rail station at the crack of dawn and so exhausting that I’ll crash in bed after dinner every night. Before I got my driver license five years ago as a 38-year-old adult, I used to take public transit everywhere and slogged through the four hour grind.

I suspect this proposal will go the same way as the San Francisco proposal for a freeway toll to enter the City from the South Bay that was quickly scrapped after strong protests in 2010. Commuters would take the local streets that parallel the freeway system in most areas to bypass the VMT, increasing their commute time and burdening the surrounding neighborhoods. The only way to get drivers to install a GPS tracker on their car is to make it a registration requirement like car insurance.

Raising the gas tax that haven’t been raised since 1993 would be much more effective and simpler to implement. But, then again, you would have to be smoking something exotic to avoid such an obvious solution.

Bravo’s Silicon Valley Reality Show Is Now Filming

Bravo announced several months ago that it was producing a new TV reality based in Silicon Valley, where the young and the restless contestants hustle for money to form a new startup. The show is now filming in Silicon Valley—if you consider San Francisco to be part of Silicon Valley. Although the heart of Silicon Valley has been moving northward for years, it’s still firmly entrenched in the South Bay (i.e., Mountain View and Palo Alto). San Francisco has become the top designation for new start ups that are squeezed out of Silicon Valley’s overcrowded office market.

But let’s forget about San Francisco and the $17,000 USD a month rental house with a tri-level deck and swimming pool that serves as headquarters for the series. I guess a rental next door to Steve Wozniak in Los Gatos wasn’t available.

The series, which is now being filmed and is scheduled to be broadcast this winter, shows hard-partying youngsters vying to start companies in a frenzy reminiscent of the dot-com peak of 2000. It is a world where everyone seems to think that a good idea can lead to instant success and untold riches, because, after all, it has so many times before. It is a place where you feel like a failure if only one investor offers to finance you, instead of many begging to get in.

Oh, boy. If that wasn’t bad enough, this little gem made me choke.

As the cameras rolled the other day, Ben and Hermione Way, a photogenic brother-and-sister team from England, discussed the $500,000 they got to develop a fitness app. “Four noes and one yes,” Ben said, sadly. “Not exactly people throwing money at us.” He added that he developed the idea for the business while drinking in a bar.

Considering that there are high school students developing their own apps on shoestring budgets, why would anyone give this brother-and-sister team a half-million dollars to develop a fitness app in an overcrowded niche? Developing an app can cost up to $150,000 USD, depending on how complex and feature rich the app is. If you’re going to develop a new app, do it in a niche that haven’t been done to death by other programmers.

I’ll be interested in seeing how these contestants spend the money they raise from investors. The classical mistake for too many Silicon Valley entrepreneurs is to get a fancy building, a sports car or two, top of the line equipment, a masseur and a celebrity chef. The money is flying out of the checking account so fast that they soon realize that they’re running out of cash, have no working product to ship, and no chances of scoring any more investment funds. Once the money is gone, it’s game over.

The worst part is the underlying business plan of doing a startup to develop an idea with the intention of being bought out by Microsoft/Google/Apple for an instant multi-million dollar payout. After the dot com bubble went ka-blooey, that particular pipe dream should have been laid to rest. Not with the young and the restless.

California July 4th Fireworks Gone Bust

San Diego had a spectacular fireworks display that lasted 30 seconds on July 4th, 2012, when the Big Bay Boom show went up in smoke all at once. A computer glitch and/or virus may have caused the ignition of all the fireworks.



The three major firework shows in Silicon Valley were no different with a low cloud cover obscuring the night sky. Depending on where you were in San Jose, Santa Clara and Mountain View, you heard the huge air cannons go boom, fireworks go shrieking into the clouds, and bright lights flashing inside the clouds. A very muted celebration since the holiday fell on Wednesday this year. Surprisingly, at my apartment complex, no one was shooting bottle rockets off the balconies.

Fewer Young People Want To Work In I.T.

When I became a lead QA tester at Accolade/Infogrames/Atari (same company, different owners, multiple identity crisis), I knew I was in a dead end job that would last three years and went back to school to learn computer programming. Although the dot com bubble was over by Fall 2002, I couldn’t get into some classes because there were too many students and too few seats as information technology (I.T.) was still hot. Towards the end in Spring 2007, I couldn’t get into some classes because there were few students and too many seats as health care was much hotter.

I graduated with an associate in science degree in computer programming and made the dean’s honor list for maintaining a 4.0 G.P.A. (a consolation prize for not being able to take assembly language programming in my final semester). Thanks to a $3,000 tax credit during that time, Uncle Sam picked up the tab for my career change. My first job out of school was help desk support, where I made the same amount of money as I did as a lead QA tester except I worked only 40 hours instead of 80 hours per week. This wasn’t what I went to school for, but it was good enough to make a living and a career. All I needed was for all these baby boomers to start retiring so I can have job security for life.

Then the Great Recession came to Silicon Valley in 2008.

After two years of being unemployed, six months of underemployed (working 20 hours a month) and filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, I’m working full time in the I.T. field. The biggest problem I have now is working with all the baby boomers still hanging on to their jobs, complaining about being unable to retire and/or afford the latest tech gadget, and bossing me around because they are more experienced farts than I am. This wasn’t what I imagined job security would be like 10 years ago when I planned my career change.

A recent study states that fewer young people want to work in I.T., which means a shortage of qualified workers for future I.T. jobs. Assuming, of course, the visa cap isn’t lifted to allow Fortune 500 companies to import skilled workers from India and other countries to take those jobs away from American workers. Between young and old workers, both domestic and foreign, this is the generational war that I find myself stuck between.

Perhaps this doesn’t matter. I’m only working in I.T. long enough until I can earn a living as a writer and ebook publisher. My job security should come from what I do as an entrepreneur and not on the current trends in the job market. Or maybe I should go off the grid and become a farmer.

Piranha 3DD Hits Silicon Valley In One Theater

Seriously, only one movie theater in Silicon Valley is showing the instant cult classic movie, “Piranha 3DD,” in limited release today?

That’s probably because this 3D movie is also being released on demand via cable TV and through Facebook for half the price of a regular 3D movie ticket. The big question becomes whether or not to see David Hasselhoff get his due as a phony lifeguard while watching the “water-certified strippers” get eaten by the piranhas on the big screen or the small screen. A tough decision.

If that wasn’t jacked up enough, you need to have a Facebook account to view the age-restricted trailer on the official movie website. You only need to be 13-years-old with parental permission to join Facebook. Since I couldn’t figure out the privacy settings, I no longer have a Facebook account. I doubt there’s another age check to prevent young viewers from seeing the more explicit trailer.


Obsessive Lego Behavior In Silicon Valley

Some of the most obsessive people in Silicon Valley are the toy collectors who stock their cubes with hundreds of Star Trek or Star Wars action figures that cover every square inch of counter space. These people appear normal if they were away from their cubes, often holding important positions within a company. But once they sit down in their cubicles to be surrounded by hundreds of adoring action figures like a messianic cult leader, they are no longer normal people.

One Silicon Valley executive took this obsession too far by slapping fake bar codes on Lego toys to buy them at a steep discount from Target stores to sell on eBay, making $30,000 USD in the last year.

Thomas Langenbach, a vice president at the software company SAP Labs in Palo Alto, crafted fake bar codes and pasted them over the real thing on Lego packages in Target stores, Santa Clara County prosecutors said. The fakes gave Langenbach a steep discount, prosecutors said.

After purchasing the Legos, Langenbach allegedly sold them for a profit on eBay. At least some of the Legos were valuable collectors items featuring “Star Wars” characters, prosecutors said.

Hundreds of unopened Lego boxes were found in Langenbach’s San Carlos home, authorities said.

If this schmuck was any smarter, he would be hustling company equipment out the back door to sell on eBay. Less likely to be caught that way as most Silicon Valley companies are more concern about intellectual property being stolen by their workers.

When I was a lead tester at Accolade/Infogrames/Atari (same company, different owners, multiple identity crisis), an action figure disappeared from the desk of a PR flack. An angry email was sent out to everyone that challenged the thief to steal the red cape that went along with that particular action figure. A few hours later, the red cape was gone. The PR flack went so far as to install motion-controlled cameras inside his cube. The thief was never caught. Naturally, the testers were blamed for this. When the PR department moved down to Southern California, so did the thief as the action figures kept disappearing.

On a related note, the Shaun of The Dead pub set got the 10,000 votes to be considered by Lego (good news), but Lego shot down the proposal because the content wasn’t age appropriate for young children (bad news). Lego obviously doesn’t understand the obsession nature of the adults who buy Legos for their children—and themselves.


Moving The Parkmoor Post Office Around The Corner

Side view of the old U.S.P.S. Parkmoor post office.

When I become serious as a writer in 2006, I opened a P.O. box at the Parkmoor post office at Meridian and Parkmoor Avenues in San Jose, CA. Every six weeks I would drop off a dozen manila envelopes containing my short story manuscripts and picked up more postage for the next round of submissions. With 50 manuscripts in circulation at any given time, this was my regular routine. As email submissions became more common and my short stories were published more frequently over the last few years, I no longer needed an expenisve P.O. box for what little snail mail I was getting.

As the Internet helped me save money on office supplies and postage, these same trends were causing the United States Postal Service to lose money on declining mail volume.

The postal service consolidated mail sorting operations to cut costs last year. The Parkmoor station no longer sorted mail for the 95128 zip code, no longer needed a fleet of mail trucks in the fenced off parking lot, and no longer needed 30,000 square feet. If you have to pick up your mail, you have to go to the Willow Glen post office a few miles down the street on Meridian Avenue. The Moorpark post office recently moved into a 3,000 square feet store front in a little strip mall around the corner.

A billboard went up at the front of the old post office to announce that Savers, a thrift store, was now hiring, the chain link fence around the side parking lot went down, and construction crews start gutting out the inside of the old post office. FoodMaxx also started renovating the inside of their store, and a bigger sign will replace the old one above the entrance outside. Re-opening the side parking lot to the general public will absorb the overflow of motorcyclists when the Harley-Davidson store next door has its summer events.

The new Parkmoor post office has limited parking in front, a walk up mailbox that you can’t drive past to drop off mail, and a narrow hallway for the lobby and P.O. boxes. The retail store is similar to those popping up at the shopping malls, with enough space for a pair of retail associates (i.e., postal clerks) behind the counter and no space in front of the counter for customers. The holiday shipping rush will be pure madness as the lines will snake around the strip mall and into the parking lot.

As the postal service continues to cut cost, customer service continues to get cut as well. If I was looking for a new P.O. box, I would use the postal service website to shop around for the best price—$15 USD to $28 USD for three months for the smallest box—at a post office that wasn’t located inside a sardine can. The new Parkmoor post office would be at the bottom of my list.

A Pauper’s Cemetery At Santa Clara Valley Medical Center

Construction workers at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose discovered 15 pine coffins from a pauper’s cemetery during excavation that halted work on a new medical building in February. The cemetery was established when the county hospital was built in 1875, marked on a 1932 map as a cemetery and unmarked on a 1958 map as a parking lot. An estimated 1,450 coffins might be in the way of another new medical building to be built. The county is taking legal steps to remove the cemetery. If they can’t identify the next of kin, the the remains will be cremated and scattered over the ocean.

I wasn’t surprised that an old pauper’s cemetery was paved over by progress. Paving over the old for the new is de reigueur  in the San Francisco Bay Area.

After I turned 18-years-old in the late 1980’s, I worked in masonry construction with my father in San Francisco since I had nothing better as I was a high school dropout. We had this one job in Chinatown where a backhoe operator digging a trench broke open an old sewer line made from red clay ceramic pipe. We gathered around to see this buried piece of ancient history four feet below street level, standing across from an alley that ran behind a bunch of Chinese stores that smelled worse than an open sewer. My father and the other superintendents discussed the history of using ceramic pipes in sewer construction.

After El Camino Real was re-routed around Santa Clara University, construction crews tore out the roadway that divided the campus in the half. Underneath two feet of asphalt were old railroad tracks. I mentioned this to my father. He told me that a trolley line used to run down the middle of El Camino Road from San Francisco to San Jose before World War II. Prior to the modern freeway system being built after the war, El Camino Real was the only the way to San Francisco.

Sometimes it’s not always the old that gets paved over in the name of progress. After San Carlos Street that ran through San Jose State University was torn out for a grass meridian, the county transit authority had the concrete foundation for a east-west light rail line built down the middle and buried underneath six inches of dirt. Unless money pours from the sky after the Facebook IPO, the half-dozen east-west light rail lines to connect with the existing north-south light rail lines will never be built. We’re still waiting for the BART extension to San Jose to be built a generation later.

Before my father passed away a few weeks ago, I started a new tech job at a different hospital to replace old computers. My work area is located around the corner from the morgue. Whenever the scent of vanilla hangs heavily in the hallway outside, a dead body was delivered to the morgue. These days I see dead people everywhere.

Facebook IPO, Taxes And American Citizenship the choice of being an American citizen or paying significantly less in taxes on a multi-billion-dollar IPO, Facebook co-founder, Eduardo Saverin, renounced his American citizenship to avoid paying millions in taxes and live in Singapore because it doesn’t have a capital gains tax. This particular tax maneuver is similar to Apple stamping “Design in California” on its products while funneling profits through a Neveda corporation to avoid paying corporate taxes to California. Perfectly legal but distasteful.

If you seen “The Social Network,” Saverin provided the funding for the early days of Facebook before being screwed over by the other co-founders because he didn’t read the fine print of the legal paperwork that gave away his ownership in the company. Now that the big payday is around the corner to turn his 4% ownership into a multi-billion-dollar fortune, he’s screwing over the taxpayers in California and the United States by leaving the country. In short, he’s a schmuck.

If you become rich enough to join the 1% club in the United States, you now have the option to become a member of the stateless rich to live wherever in the world without being beholden to any particular community that requires your “hard earned” money for services, infrastructure and schools. Maybe the price for renouncing your American citizenship should be leaving your fortune at the border. If you came into the world penniless, you can leave the country the same way.