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Diablo's Week in Review March 7-14 2009

Molestation charges reinstated against Lafayette vocal coach, feds implicate Pleasanton man in $40 million Ponzi scheme, Sully to earn big bucks for story, and the A's ballpark search continues.

Popular Lafayette vocal coach once again charged with fondling students: A judge Friday reinstated molestation charges against James Toland, 64. The one-time music teacher at Acalanes, Campolindo, and Miramonte high schools had been charged with fondling three teen boys during private lessons at his home, but a judge in November dismissed 10 molestation counts after hearing the boys testify and deciding there was insufficient evidence. A second judge on Friday disagreed with the first judge’s ruling, and reinstated nine of the 10 molestation counts. 

Feds say Pleasanton man involved in $40 million Ponzi scheme: The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission alleges that Kenneth Kenitzer, 66, of Pleasanton, and a 29-year-old associate, Anthony Vassallo, of Folsom, defrauded as many as 150 investors Vassallo met through church. News reports suggest both men are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. SEC court filings say Vassallo told investors that he had computer software that allowed him to buy and sell stock options with little risk. Meanwhile, Kenitzer, a 30-year Pleasanton resident, allegedly posted false trading results and distributed phony investment reports.

Hundreds of California High students skip school Friday, spooked by bomb threat rumors: This week’s mass killing at a high school in Germany may have fed fears that students were going to set bombs at San Ramon’s California High school. Police and school officials heard rumors of such an attack earlier in the week, investigated, found no credible threat, and assured parents in e-mails sent Thursday. Still, up to 700 students stayed home; the 2,700-student school usually has about 70 students absent.

Authorities investigate mental illness in Clayton post office slaying: Contra Costa county prosecutors acknowledged that they are looking into whether a man’s history of mental illness played a role in his seemingly random and fatal attack on a 73-year-old man in the Clayton post office on March 1. Shannon Moore, 37, of Concord, may have become frustrated because he couldn’t cash in old postage stamps. That’s when he attacked grandfather and local businessman Raymond Casso, who had stopped by to pick up his mail.

Sully’s story nets big book advance: No matter how hard he says he tries, Danville hero pilot Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger can’t get away from the media circus. A few days after appearing at the Vanity Fair post-Oscar party and at President Obama’s speech to Congress, Sullenberger announced he wanted to take a break from making cross-country appearances and giving interviews. This week comes the big news that William Morrow will pay up to $3 million for two books about how his life experiences led to him being able to safely land his jet on the Hudson River.

Oakland A's say "no" to Oakland: The saga continues of the A's search for a new home. After the team's plans to build a new ballpark in Fremont fell apart last month, San Jose began pitching woo, and owner Lew Wolff reportedly met with business and city leaders there. This week, Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums wrote an letter to baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, urging him to work to keep the A's in Oakland. But Wolff said the team has "exhausted" its efforts to find a new ballpark site in Oakland and is not interested in "covering old ground again."

Teachers rally againist pink slips: Hundreds of public school teachers from Alameda and Contra Costa counties gathered in Walnut Creek's Civic Park Wednesday to protest the 26,000 pink slips that were expected to be handed out to teachers statewide Friday.  "Pink Friday" was the deadilne for school districts to issue lay-off notices in the face of up to $11 billion in state cuts to education. 

Comcast brings more 1,000 jobs to Livermore: Some good news on the East Bay jobs front comes from Comcast, which is consolidating several of its regional offices into one large campus in North Livermore. City leaders see the media conglomerate’s new office and call center on Triad Drive, close to restaurants and Costco and other shops, as a boon to the local economy.

Walnut Creek store vacancies ups, rents down: Business in the East Bay suburbs’ retail hub may get worse before it gets better, including more storefront vacancies. But in a state of the downtown speech, a commercial real estate broker said Walnut Creek’s downtown would bottom out first, before other downtowns, and then begin to recover sometime in 2010.

Contra Costa Times owner at risk of bankrcuptcy? MediaNews Group, which owns the Times, Tri-Valley Herald, Oakland Tribune, and San Jose Mercury News, is “seen to be at risk of bankruptcy,” the New York Times says. Moody’s Investors Service has listed MediaNews as one of the 283 companies most likely to default on its debts. Meanwhile, the San Francisco Chronicle may have avoided imminent death after winning tentative agreements from its employee union to less vacation time, longer workweeks and more flexible for management to layoff workers without regard to seniority.

Chef Cat Cora and wife both pregnant with boys: Cora, the one-time exective chef at Lafayette’s Postino and now the star of Food Network’s Iron Chef America, is pregnant with a son. So is her wife, Jennifer Cora. Cat, 41, says she is due three months after Jennifer, 37, and that both had the same sperm donor. The two already are parents of two young boys.

Coin toss ends council members’ bickering over parking space: The most momentous challenge facing Oakland was resolved Tuesday. We’re not talking about crime, budget deficits, BART shooting riots, or a struggling economy. We’re talking about which council member, Desley Brooks or Jean Quan, should get a desired spot next to City Hall. The dispute generated claims by Brooks that the issue was about "the principle" and seniority, as well as a written opinion from the city attorney and reams of e-mails complaining that city leaders were wasting time on this issue. Oh, Brooks won the coin toss.

Former Cal professor, now Obama advisor, says “it’s not the Depression”: Christina Romer, former UC Berkeley economist and chairwoman of President’s Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors, said recent economic blows pale “in comparison to what” America experienced in the 1930s. Romer, a widely respected scholar on the Depression, was speaking at the Brookings Institution. She said the public should give the administration’s measures time to work but said that another bank rescue is not out of the question in the future.

Tire slashing rampage in Pleasanton: Someone armed with a knife and with a very bad attitude roamed through a northeastern part of Pleasanton last week and slashed the tires of more than two dozen cars. The vandal struck in the early morning hours of Friday, March 6, with police receiving 27 reports of cars being damaged on 13 different streets and cul-de-sacs in a neighborhood near the end of Stoneridge Drive.

California salmon fishing season shut down again: After seeing dismal numbers of spawning adults in the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers this fall, a federal panel has banned commercial fishing of Chinook salmon in California and Oregon for the 2009 season. This would be the second year in a row that commercial fishing has been banned along our coast. Last year’s closure cost 2,200 people jobs and at least $250 million. If you still want to eat salmon, the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Program says that Alaska salmon is a good alternative.

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