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Why Cry for Wi-Fi? 

Wednesday, Jan 24 2007
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Despite all the recent hoopla, Mayor Gavin Newsom's deal last April with Google and EarthLink to offer free wireless Internet service for rich and poor San Franciscans could be a long time coming. That's because the city's "independent" budget analyst unveiled on Jan. 11 a 50-page feasibility report suggesting that the Board of Supervisors — now split about evenly on the deal — shop around before signing off. Or perhaps, the report went on to suggest, the city should ax the idea altogether and consider spending $10 million to build its own Wi-Fi network and $1.5 million a year to maintain it. Regardless, even if it does happen someday, critics say it could be immediately obsolete.

Back when the deal was struck, the private tech companies said their Wi-Fi system could be up and running inside of a year and wouldn't cost the city a cent. In exchange for holding a four-year renewable contract, they'd offer a connection of 300 kilobits per second for free. A hookup at more than three times that speed could be had for $20 a month. Both speeds are fast enough to offer basic services like e-mail and Web surfing, but the slower one won't work for seamless Voice over IP and video streaming — what many consider the future of Net and mobile applications.

The theory is that Google/EarthLink — driven by profit — would upgrade the system as needed for free. But opponents say it's bait-and-switch, because many will need the faster service just to get work done. They also say that Google and EarthLink's exclusive access to 800,000 San Franciscans is like giving away our wireless birthright cheap. After all, the $10 million cost to build the system is pocket change to them.

Better to leave the entire Wi-Fi system up to the private sector, the reportsuggests. With such a private/public model, the report states, "The City assumes no financial risk. The City does not have to be involved with the marketing, deployment, revenue generation and the around-the-clock customer service required to sustain the network."

Since the Board of Supes is already waiting on another report (from Civitium and Columbia Telecommunications Corporation) on the feasibility of laying a fiber-optic line, the budget analyst suggested incorporating its findings into any decision on a Wi-Fi network. And those findings will likely complicate the Google/EarthLink deal — meaning more hearings ... and more waiting. Hell, by the time the city does get a network up and running, we could be connecting to the Web through chips implanted in our necks.

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Phil Hayworth

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  • Nevada City and the South Yuba River: A gold country getaway

    Nestled in the green pine-covered hills of the Northern Sierra Nevada is the Gold Rush town of Nevada City. Beautiful Victorian houses line the streets, keeping the old-time charm alive, and a vibrant downtown is home to world-class art, theater and music. The nearby South Yuba River State Park is known for its emerald swimming holes during the summer and radiant leaf colors during autumn. These days the gold panning is more for tourists than prospectors, but the gold miner spirit is still in the air.

    South Yuba River State Park and Swimming Holes:
    The park runs along and below 20 miles of the South Yuba River, offering hiking, mountain biking, gold panning and swimming. The Highway 49 bridge swimming hole is seven-miles northwest of Nevada City where Highway 49 crosses the South Yuba River. Parking is readily available and it is a short, steep hike to a stunning swimming hole beneath a footbridge. For the more intrepid, trails extend along the river with access to secluded swim spots. The Bridgeport swimming hole has calm waters and a sandy beach -- good for families and cookouts -- and is located 14 miles northwest of Nevada City. Be sure to write down directions before heading out, GPS may not be available. Most swimming holes on the South Yuba River are best from July to September, while winter and spring can bring dangerous rapids. Always know the current before jumping in!

    Downtown Nevada City
    The welcoming, walkable downtown of Nevada City is laid back, yet full of life. Start your day at the cozy South Pine Cafe (110 S Pine St.) with a lobster benedict or a spicy Jamaican tofu scramble. Then stroll the streets and stop into the shop Kitkitdizzi (423 Broad St.) for handcrafted goods unique to the region, vintage wears and local art “all with California gold rush swagger,” as stated by owners Carrie Hawthorne and Kira Westly. Surrounded by Gold Rush history, modern gold jewelry is made from locally found nuggets and is found at Utopian Stone Custom Jewelers (301 Broad St.). For a coffee shop with Victorian charm try The Curly Wolf (217 Broad St.), an espresso house and music venue with German pastries and light fare. A perfect way to cool down during the hot summer months can be found at Treats (110 York St.) , an artisan ice cream shop with flavors like pear ginger sorbet or vegan chai coconut. Nightlife is aplenty with music halls, alehouses or dive bars like the Mine Shaft Saloon (222 Broad St.).

    The Willo Steakhouse (16898 State Hwy 49, Nevada City)
    Along Highway 49, just west of Nevada City, is The Willo, a classic roadhouse and bar where you’re welcomed by the smell of steak and a dining room full of locals. In 1947 a Quonset hut (a semi-cylindrical building) was purchased from the US Army and transported to its current location, and opened as a bar, which became popular with lumberjacks and miners. The bar was passed down through the decades and a covered structure was added to enlarge the bar and create a dining area. The original Quonset beams are still visible in the bar and current owners Mike Byrne and Nancy Wilson keep the roadhouse tradition going with carefully aged New York steaks and house made ingredients. Pair your steak or fish with a local wine, such as the Rough and Ready Red, or bring your own for a small corkage fee. Check the website for specials, such as rib-eye on Fridays.

    Outside Inn (575 E Broad St.)
    A 16-room motel a short walk from downtown, each room features a unique décor, such as the Paddlers’ Suite or the Wildflower Room. A friendly staff and an office full of information about local trails, swimming and biking gets you started on your outdoor exploration. Amenities include an outdoor shower, a summer swimming pool and picnic tables and barbeques. Don’t miss the free vegetable cart just outside the motel in the mornings.

    Written and photographed by Beth LaBerge for the SF Weekly.

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