Smart restroom elevates experience of public toilet

Smart restroom elevates experience of public toilet

A smart toilet in St. Helena includes a table to change a baby. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

A smart restroom doesn’t do everything for you, but there are a lot of automatic features.

It’s amazing what can amuse, entertain and provide conversation for three women who have been using bathrooms for 50, 60 and 70 some years.

This was the first time any of us had used a smart bathroom, which in large part explained our fascination with the contraption.

St. Helena’s $183,600 bathrooms (there are two side by side) were installed in summer 2020. The New Zealand company that makes it calls it The Exeloo Jupiter Platinum Twin Toilet.

It was definitely one of the best public restrooms I have been in. No smell. Plenty of room. Except for the graffiti on the walls it was clean. This has to with the self-cleaning mechanism that is triggered after 30 flushes.

Each of the two is unisex and handicap accessible.

With a push of the button the doors slid open and a soothing voice welcomed me.

It flushes automatically after someone washes their hands or the doors are opened.

To prevent people from doing things other than what a bathroom is designed for the doors open after 10 minutes. If you don’t leave, the police will be summoned. Remember, it’s a smart restroom.

But it wasn’t smart enough to put down the toilet seat in between users.

Multi-Page Survey By Census Bureau A Time-Consuming Endeavor

Multi-Page Survey By Census Bureau A Time-Consuming Endeavor

For someone who likes to use U.S. Census Bureau data in stories, it’s amazing how reluctant I was to answer the American Community Survey.

I finally logged online to the survey. Wow, it was so dang long. I don’t have that kind of time during a workday and didn’t want to spend my off time sitting at my desk doing what would feel like work.

Questions on the American Community Survey for the U.S. Census Bureau. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

I didn’t realize the U.S. Census Bureau would be so persistent. I was notified by mail and email to fill out the electronic form.

Then the 48-page survey arrived in the mail. It sat on my desk for a couple days before a postcard came reminding me of the necessity to respond.

I finally realized these people were serious and unrelenting. If I didn’t fill out the form, I could expect a Census worker to contact me. I didn’t want that. That could take even more time and surely was never going to be convenient.

Before filling out the form I did a little research.

The Census Bureau website says, “If your address was selected for the American Community Survey, you are legally obligated to answer all the questions, as accurately as you can.”

I also found out every year the Census Bureau randomly contacts more than 3.5 million households to participate in the American Community Survey.

I decided I could fill out the paper document while watching the Giants. The survey will be in the mail this week.

I had to answer questions about me and mom because we are considered a household. Some were about our respective incomes, our health insurance, the house, taxes, insurance. Other questions were about education, ethnicity, where we were born, kids, and so much more.

“Answers are collected to create up-to-date statistics used by many federal, state, tribal, and local leaders. Some American Community Survey questions have been asked in the decennial census since it first began in 1790,” according to the Census.

If I didn’t answer the questions, I faced a possible fine of $100. If I gave false answers, the fine goes $500. While not a ton of money, it was a bit of an incentive. More important, though, I know that the data collected is important for the powers that be to make decisions.

Appreciating creativity of online videos

Appreciating creativity of online videos

Watching videos (aka reels) online can be far more entertaining than anything on TV. I access them through Instagram or Facebook, but they are on TikTok, YouTube, and other sites.

For me, it’s a way to pass time when I’m “stuck” someplace like at an airport or doctor’s office. It’s also how I wind down at night when I don’t want to read or sleep.

Careful what you wear to the airport, someone might think it is a bit comical and post a photo of you online without you knowing. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Of course it’s the dog videos I enjoy the most. If you don’t know Layla the Boxer, well, you are missing out. Such creativity.

Iampoliticsgirl is great for those who have a political bent that is similar to mine. But it’s everyone else who ought to hear what Leigh McGowan has to say. This month she won a Webby Award; pretty much the highest award one gets for internet content.

I didn’t become a fan of “dad jokes” until I stumbled across Dock Tok. I’m sure it was noticing right away that these were shot at Lake Tahoe that grabbed my attention. Logan Lisle is the mastermind behind these shorts. His brothers take turns being part of his fun.

One that I came across recently that makes me laugh is Laura from HR. It reminds me of all of the incompetence at an office.

Jimmy on Relationships is designed as a dose of relationship help for men, but I think anyone can get something from him. Watch it while you’re on the couch—therapy for free.

Then there are the people who have spent time to post iconic clips from popular TV shows. Those are great trips down memory lane.

The way people spliced parts of Miley Cryrus’ Flowers video were captivating. Earlier this month I came across Diane Keaton dancing to the song, even though she posted it on Instagram in January.

All of those video/reel creators are doing so for free or are trying to make a buck somehow off what they post. All that is good.

What I worry about are videos that make fun of people without their knowledge. Well, they might have known video was being taken, but didn’t necessarily know where it ended up.

If a photo or video was taken at a public place, it’s usually fair game. When it’s often not legal, is if someone is making money off the image without your consent. Seeing all these reels makes me realize wherever I go and whatever I do someone could be recording me or taking a photo. Oh, well, not much I can do about it when we are all essentially walking around with a camera in our pockets.

Watch reels; there are some really good ones out there.

State, federal lawmakers want to put kibosh on junk fees

State, federal lawmakers want to put kibosh on junk fees

The listed price for a concert ticket, hotel room, internet, airline seat and so many other items is seldom what someone actually ends up paying. The final bill is often much higher because fees that are often hidden.

California and federal lawmakers want to stop the practice of what they call “junk fees”.

State Senate Bill 478 would eliminate many of these mandatory fees through truth in advertising.

“Time after time even in my own world as I’m online making reservations or buying products I see hidden fees. The price you get upfront is people trying to lure you to buy their product or service, but by the time you check out the price is different,” state Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, said.

Dodd introduced the legislation this year with state Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Oakland.

“Hopefully, the advertised price will be what people pay,” Dodd said of what the bill will do for consumers.

The Consumer Federation of California, a nonprofit advocacy group for consumer rights, on March 6 unveiled a six-bill package targeting specific industries that attach junk fees to rental housing, small business financing, electric vehicles, event tickets, lodging, and car rentals.

“A number of industry sectors have convenience fees. They ought to be disclosed,” CFC Executive Director Robert Herrell said after the press conference.

He sees this bundle of legislation and SB 478 complementing each other.

Lawmakers are contemplating making resort fees at hotels illegal.(Image: Kathryn Reed)

Government intervention

Also interested in the California legislation is state Attorney General Rob Bonta, who is advocating for the passage of SB 478.

“Transparency and full disclosure in pricing are crucial for fair competition and consumer protection,” Bonta said during a press conference. “Unfortunately, from car rental and hotel fees to concert ticket service charges, these hidden costs have been normalized in the purchasing process. Today’s legislation seeks to hold businesses accountable for their deceptive and misleading practices at the expense of the financial security of millions of Californians.”

The state law complements what is being talked about at the federal level with the Junk Fee Prevention Act.

It is of such importance to President Bident that he spoke about it at the annual State of the Union speech in February.

“We’ll ban surprise resort fees that hotels tack on to your bill. These fees can cost you up to $90 a night at hotels that aren’t even resorts,” Biden said in his national address. “We’ll make cable internet and cell phone companies stop charging you up to $200 or more when you decide to switch to another provider.”

Some of the other junk fees being targeted include charges applied by rental car companies, on airport parking, restaurant service fees, food-delivery charges, and the automobile industry.

United Airlines heeded the call for change with the elimination of its hidden fee for parents wanting to book seats with their children

Momentum has been gaining to put the kibosh on junk fees at the federal level since last fall.

The Federal Trade Commission in October said it was going to begin exploring regulations that would curtail or stop the practice of junk fees.

In a statement FTC Chair Lina Khan said, “No one has ever felt that a ‘convenience fee’ was convenient. Companies should compete to provide the best quality at the best price, not to see who can squeeze the most added expenses out of consumers.”

Slow to react

             Advocacy groups with members that would inevitably be impacted by at least some of the proposed legislation are on the sidelines for now.

The California Travel Association, a membership organization that lobbies for the industry, met at the end of February with SB 478 on the agenda.

After the meeting, Emellia Zamani, director of government affairs, said, “CalTravel still doesn’t have enough information to take a position on SB 478. I think we’ll know more as the bill gets closer to its first policy committee hearing this spring.”

The California Hotel & Lodging Association doesn’t believe the bill would affect a large number of its members.

“Resort fees no longer are common practice, with only about 7 percent of California hotels currently using them. These, typically, are properties that have far more available amenities than other lodging facilities,” Pete Hillan, spokesman for CHLA, said.

He did not provide a list of those properties.

According to research firm IBIS World, there are 4,998 hotels and motels in the state. Seven percent of that figure is about 350.

Hillan contends,The small number of California hotels that have resort fees fully disclose to guests the charges up front.”

When it comes to SB 478, Hillan said CHLA has not taken a position.

The Golden Gate Restaurant Association also has not taken a stance on SB 478.

“What we have always advised our members is if you are going to include a service charge, you need to make it clear on the menu,” Amy Cleary, director of public policy and media relations for the GGRA, said. 

Note: A version of this story first appeared in the North Bay Business Journal.

Walking for Water event proves how easy we have it

Walking for Water event proves how easy we have it

I’m not cut out for living without indoor plumbing.

This isn’t a new discovery.

Nor is it new that I would not do well if I had to carry water from the source to my home. I got an extremely small taste of what this might be like on April 15 during the 15th annual Walk4Water event in Chico that is put on by Bridging the Gap.

A participant in the April 15 water walk uses a yolk to carry his jugs. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

The nonprofit raises money to bring drinking water to places in need. It has provided 55,000 Africans clean water, sanitation, and hygiene training.

The tiny taste of hauling came via having the bucket I brought that was then filled with ater from Big Chico Creek. (The walk was in Lower Bidwell Park.)

From seeing the ground marked with splotches of water it was clear not everyone was going to arrive with a full bucket. If our loads really mattered, would we be more careful? Probably.

We didn’t even have to walk the whole 1.5 miles with the water.

My right arm has had issues for decades. Carrying anything in my right, stronger, dominant hand causes pain mostly in the elbow area. That’s why horseshoes isn’t fun for me and bowling usually is via my left arm. So, mostly I carried my bucket with my left hand. But it’s weaker. So then I hung the bucket of water on my right forearm, but that was a less steady endeavor. Back to the left arm it went.

I didn’t complain. Really, what was there to complain about? This was all my choice to participate.

All ages walk with water buckets during the April 15 fundraiser in Chico. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

I know I have it easy with all the modern conveniences of the 21st century. I also know I take for granted that I have potable water in my home.

As we (me, mom and Priscilla) walked, volunteers walked in the opposite direction carrying informational signs that said things like: “3 hours a day is the average time spent collecting water by women and children.”

Would I suck it up, endure the pain to provide water for my family? Of course. But one can only do so much. Maybe it would take me more trips or longer than three hours.

When my family lived in Stanley, N.D., in 1962 (before I was born) mom had to walk about four block every other day with two 5-gallon buckets to retrieve potable water. This was because what came out of the faucet had so much alkaline that it was impossible to drink or cook with it.

In the winter her hands froze to the handles.

I didn’t know any of this until we started talking about doing the walk.

Several informative stations were along the route. One had us try four types of water—tap, well, cheap bottled water, high-end bottled water. Mom and I liked the tap the best. I thought I could taste minerals in it. It tasted real. The others tasted bland for lack of a better description.

It was certainly an educational morning.

Struggling to reposition hands on steering wheel to improve safety

Struggling to reposition hands on steering wheel to improve safety

I’ve been driving wrong for a very long time.

What I learned in driver’s ed in high school many moons ago is no longer accurate. It took my mom going to a senior driving class for both of us to be re-educated.

Learning to reposition hands while driving. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

No longer are we supposed to hold the steering wheel at 10 and 2. Instead, the recommendation is for hands to be at 4 and 8.

“This is the preferred method of steering. Two and 10 o’clock is not recommended because it can be dangerous in vehicles with smaller steering wheels and equipped with air bags,” according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

That’s exactly what mom was taught, and then shared with me.

I tried it. Wow, did it ever feel awkward. At first it didn’t seem like I had the same control at 4 and 8 as I do at 10 and 2. I said I just couldn’t change what has been ingrained in me since I first got my license at age 16. But I’m still trying. I can’t argue with the logic behind this new hand positioning. I figure if mom can change, and she’s been driving a lot longer than me, then I can change.

With the NHTSA and the CHP (there was an officer at mom’s class) and others are saying 4 and 8 are the way to go, well, I better just get used to it.

Also part of mom’s class was an aggressive driver assessment. My score today would not have been what it was in my 20s or even probably my 30s. I got the best—“cool customer”—you are polite and don’t take the actions of other discourteous drivers personally.

The only “bad” thing I do often is brake suddenly to punish a tailgater.

No agency can save historic Tahoe residences

No agency can save historic Tahoe residences

The boathouse and pier on the right are slated to be removed by the owner to open up the view of the shoreline. (Image: Nick Exline)

Wrecking balls are eviscerating Tahoe’s history one property at a time.

One reason this can happen is because the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency is the final decision-maker for land use issues in the basin. Another is no regulations mandate privately owned historical structures in the Lake Tahoe Basin be preserved. Plus, many people want new instead of old.

Two parcels in Tahoma illustrate the conflicting desires to preserve what exists vs. private property rights and the rules of today.

“For privately owned parcels like this there is nothing in the county or TRPA codes that precludes development,” land use planner Nick Exline said. He is representing Bob Buccola who owns the two historic parcels. “Part of problem with historic buildings is that none of them meets current building code.”

Already torn down were a 2,383-square-foot home built in 1932 and a detached garage. What should be completed later this year is about a 4,200-square-foot house on the same lot at 8305 Meeks Bay Ave.

This house built in 1930 in Tahoma is proposed to be demolished. (Image: Nick Exline)

One thing that concerns residents in this El Dorado County neighborhood is what they call the piecemeal approach to permitting. They believe structures on both parcels that Buccola wants to tear down and rebuild should have been heard at the same time.

However, TRPA can only make decisions on what is presented, not what might be.

Buccola withdrew the application for 8307 Meeks Bay Ave., and now is requesting a property line adjustment to increase that parcel so it could accommodate a larger structure. TRPA expects a decision on the lot line this spring.

Buccola doesn’t deny he intends to tear down the 1,634-square-foot structure built in 1930 at 8307 and replace it with a more than 13,000-square-foot house that will have nine bedrooms. He said the space is needed to accommodate his growing family.

The Meeks Bay Vista Property Owners Association wrote a 31-page letter to the TRPA hearing’s officer outlining all the reasons why its more than 100 members believed the demolition should have been denied.

Considering TRPA has never denied a demolition permit, according to principal planner Jen Self, that request fell on deaf ears.

Bill Magrath, secretary of the HOA, said the group ”is a voluntary membership group—for the betterment of our neighborhood.” He was one of the signees of the letter.

That letter quotes from a 1947 deed recorded with El Dorado County that was also submitted in full with the HOA protest.

In part the deed says, “That the premises shall be used and occupied only for private residential purposes.” “… no mercantile business of any kind or nature shall be carried on, on any of said lots or portions thereof, nor shall any hotels, rooming houses, or places of amusement be conducted thereon.”

The deed also says, “No person of African or Mongolian descent, or any person other than of the Caucasian race shall use or occupy, except when employed as domestic help by the owner or occupant, said premises or any part thereof.” (That language is worthy of another story about racism in the basin.)

Using the properties as a vacation rental, according the HOA, violates the deed. Buccola has a VHR permit through the county for both parcels. According to the county, to remain valid the permit will need to be updated with the current house configurations.

The HOA letter offered an olive branch of sorts, “If the applicant were to agree as a condition of a TRPA permit to record a deed restriction that the proposed expanded buildings on 8305 and 8307 will never be rented as a short-term rental and will only be used by the owner without paying guests, much of the neighborhood concern would dissipate—although concerns about traffic and parking on the right-of-way would remain.”

Buccola said he would be “surprised” if the houses were rented for than 30 days in a given year. But nothing legally prevents him from changing his mind.

A new house is under construction after this 1932 era building was demolished. (Image: Nick Exline)

When it comes to defining what is historical, all structures 50 years and older in the basin go through a basic review.

While TRPA has deemed both Meeks Bay Avenue residences historical, preservation by its definition is to have pictures taken, and a historic resources inventory and evaluation report created. TRPA’s Code of Ordinances says it must present its historical findings to the state, be it California or Nevada.

But in many ways this is a waste of time, at least in California.

“The Office of Historic Preservation has no jurisdiction over any private property,” Julianne Polanco, state historic preservation officer, said. “decisions about changing or demolishing private property rest with the agencies that have jurisdiction over the property.”

Even though El Dorado defers land use issues in the basin to TRPA, Melanie Shasha, senior planner with the county, said, “TRPA sends reports, sometimes just the assessors records, sometimes an archaeologist report, to SHPO to see if they are ‘eligible for designation’. TRPA does not request comments from any other agencies such as the Lake Tahoe Historic Society. SHPO comments are the only document used to determine if a site is ‘eligible for designation’. ‘Eligible for designation’ means they can be noted as a historic resource.”

So, the county, like TRPA, is also under the misconception the state is an overseer of historic private property.

The historic report done by a third party noted “the cultural landscape appears eligible for listing on the National Register.”

Polanco at the state was asked if that designation would have mattered. “No” was the simple answer. “Whether a property is listed or not doesn’t change our authority.”

Not everything is straightforward when it comes to what happens with the demolished building.

“When we initially developed the historic resource recovery plan we suggested a ‘Craigslist’ approach where community members could stop by and pick up any of the deconstructed items for use in their projects. Ms. Self informed (my colleague) Molly (Armanino) and I that this was not possible because TRPA could not track how the historical items were re-used and that the re-use would not be from a recognized entity,” Exline said.

When asked about such requirements, TRPA spokesman Jeff Cowen said, “No one on our staff is aware of any such restrictions.”

Buccola, the property owner, believes he is doing more than required. He said he spent $30,000 to have the architect redesign the 8305 house to preserve iconic boulders, worked with his contractor to have nearly 100-year-old windows and other items repurposed in other projects, and is getting rid of a pier and boathouse that he could have left standing. He also said he paid extra money to ensure the quality of the photos of the historic buildings are such that they should last for a couple centuries.

Note: This story first appeared in the Tahoe Mountain News.

Becoming a regular at the automatic car wash

Becoming a regular at the automatic car wash

High-powered blowers at the end of the car wash eliminate the need for much towel action. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

My car has already been washed twice and it’s not even 2 months old. For those who saw the Jeep in its later years, you would probably think I didn’t know what a car wash was. It got to where I could probably count on one hand the number of times it was washed in a year.

Truth is, the Jeep got washed fairly regularly at the get-go. I cared about the undercarriage being clean with all the gunk from the roads in Tahoe. I waxed her every year. She got vacuumed regularly. The soft vinyl top got special treatment. So did the interior.

And, then, well, she became a Tahoe mobile—dings, exterior black that faded to gray, paint on the hood that started to looked cracked. She became my vehicle to haul wood. The back seat soon was always out.

I cared about the Jeep. But, well, it didn’t always show.

Being a soft top it was not allowed to go through a car wash, so it was usually the do it yourself places I would go.

Getting car washes in Todos Santos, Mexico, were the best (and no, Jill, not just because of Ernesto!). It’s that the people doing the handwashing were so meticulous. The Jeep looked its best—in and out—after a washing in Baja. Unfortunately, it didn’t last long because I lived on a dirt road—and so many of the roads in town are dirt.

When I bought the new ride (I’ve never named a vehicle, but on Bluetooth it’s known as the Kae Mobile) the salesperson suggested I get a monthly car wash plan. This was after I asked how I was ever going to keep a black vehicle clean. And I have leather seats. And my mom sets a high bar for a clean car and she is my main passenger.

All of this responsibility and pressure!

So, I went through Surf Thru Express Car Wash after the red dirt of Paradise had covered her when I was up there giving a massage. I was disappointed I still had to dry a few places. Car wash personnel don’t do anything to the interior. There are vacuums and they give you a special wipe for the interior.

I mentioned to my mom where I went. Come to find out she goes to the same place, averaging about once a month. We contemplated sharing a monthly plan, but figured we were better off doing our own thing.

I went to the car wash for a second time on a Sunday. Oh, it was so sparkly clean. I drove it in the rain two days later. The following day I was headed out of town. I didn’t want to show up with a brand new car and have it be dirty, but I had to because it was raining when I left. Because it got dirty driving to Santa Rosa and back it’s going to have a third wash this week. I guess the monthly plan is going to pay for itself—and I don’t even live on a dirt road.

Yes, I care about all this water being used. Fortunately, the car wash place reclaims the water and many locations are powered by solar. My plan allows me use these car washes wherever one is located. So maybe with my new found desire to have a clean car my prerequisite for a road trip will be whether there is Surf Thru Express Car Wash.

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