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Living in San Carlos December 17, 2015

The White Oaks Neighborhood Watch Bulletin: 12-16-2015

by Chuck Gillooley

The White Oaks Neighborhood Watch

Thanks to a relentless and dedicated group of residents, the White Oaks neighborhood now has probably the most efficient and organized Neighborhood Watch groups in all of San Carlos. Several years ago, they took the initiative to reach out to local law enforcement and work closely together to create what is now the prototype for neighborhood watch groups throughout San Carlos. The White Oaks group acts not only as a tremendously valuable set of eyes and ears for local law enforcement, but also as a very effective liaison between the local community and our first responders. You need to look no further than the ever-popular ice cream social, which has been hosted by the White Oaks Neighborhood Watch for the past several years on National Night Out, to see how effective this has become.

There’s probably not a single resident who has put in more sweat equity to create this organization and keep it running smoothly than White Oaks neighbor Ken Castle. It’s mostly due to Ken’s dogged perseverance over the past few years that the Neighborhood Watch has evolved from just an idea to the well-oiled organization that it is today.

On top of all of his other Watch duties (and life and work), Ken takes the time to pen a very informative Neighborhood Watch Bulletin, which he distributes via email. To help ensure that these valuable bulletins are seen by residents who may not be on his distribution list, I will now be re-posting Ken’s updates on the White Oaks Blog as soon as they become available. Thanks Ken, for all that you do to keep our neighborhood safer!

Here is the White Oaks Neighborhood Watch Bulletin from December 16, 2015 in its entirety:


Dec. 16, 2015

In this bulletin:

Prowlers, Burglaries Raise Concerns
Beware of Porch Pirates During Holidays
City Plan for “Traffic Calming” on St. Francis Includes Speed Humps


If you’re planning a major home renovation project, such as adding rooms, a second floor or a new roof, you should be aware that you and your contractor may be targeted by thieves who comb the neighborhood looking for tools to swipe.  The San Carlos Bureau of the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office says there is an uptick of burglaries involving unoccupied homes under construction, not only here but throughout the Bay Area. Of course, we all know that renovations in White Oaks, including replacement homes, constitute a major activity here.

Sheriff’s deputies and police recently made arrests involving a crew of thieves operating out of the Bayview District of San Francisco.  The arrests stemmed from a recent construction site burglary on Colton Avenue, here in White Oaks, during which a neighbor on nearby Park Avenue observed a suspicious truck and called in a description to police.  Deputies combed the neighborhood and also retrieved surveillance video of the suspects, along with a partial license plate of the vehicle.

According to Sgt. Steve Pettit of the San Carlos Patrol Bureau, the truck owner was identified and a watch was set up in San Mateo County.  It wasn’t long before the crew was back in the area, and this time they were busted at a site in Belmont.  Their truck contained various stolen goods, and taken into custody was a 57-year-old woman, who had served prison time and was currently on parole, and her daughter who was helping her with the heists.

Sgt. Pettit said the work site burglaries, contrary to other types of home break-ins, usually occur in the wee hours of the morning between 1 a.m. and 4 a.m.  The would-be thieves often case the area during the day to identify objects of value, which can be power tools such as saws and drills, portable generators, and other materials.  Since most of these items have no serial numbers, they are usually untraceable and are often fenced through large flea markets such as those in Oakland and San Jose, he said. Contractors have installed fencing with padlocked gates, along with portable video surveillance cameras, but have still been getting ripped off.

In contrast to construction site burglaries, the conventional break-ins are usually during the day, when the perpetrators look for homes that are unoccupied.  One of the favorite strategies is for the burglars to drive around, sizing up prospective targets, and then drop off one individual to ring doorbells.  If there is no answer, the thief gains entry through a back door or window, spends three to five minutes in the home collecting jewelry and other small valuables, and then sends a cell phone text message to the driver for a pick-up.  Usually, these crooks are not trying to steal large objects such as big-screen TVs or other electronics, which take more time and would likely raise suspicion among neighbors.  Also, they tend not to be armed with guns or knives, so if they are caught there are no additional charges for carrying weapons.

Just last week, on Dec. 9, a homeowner on the 200 block of Alberta, also here in White Oaks, called police when he saw a man lurking in his back yard around lunch time.  He ran after the suspect but lost him, and the prowler also managed to elude deputies who conducted an extensive search of the neighborhood, going door to door. One witness reported seeing an older model gold van with a white front end drive away quickly before officers arrived.

Sgt. Pettit notes there are two things that contribute to the environment for these burglaries:
(1) suspects who are caught and prosecuted rarely spend much time in jail and are soon back out on the street, and (2) neighbors often see something strange but fail to call police.


With the holiday season underway, thieves are just waiting for the opportunity to snatch that Keurig Coffee Maker, notebook PC or any other large box that is left at your front door.  They routinely follow delivery trucks from FedEx, UPS and other companies, and when they see something sizeable dropped off, they scoop it up as soon as the truck is gone.  Even though some of the delivery firms have mounted video cameras in the back of their vehicles to track followers, and even though law enforcement agencies have done stakeouts, the thieves seem to elude capture.

Keep in mind  that once a package is left at your home, if the shipping company delivers the package the way you paid for it, you have no recourse against the vendor or the delivery firm if it is stolen; the loss is on you.  Sometimes homeowners don’t know a package a missing until days or weeks after it was shipped.  Recently, surveillance videos of porch pirates have been all over the TV news, and what’s apparent is that women are often the culprits.

Here are some ways to avoid these rip-offs:

Send large parcels to your workplace or office instead of your home.
Specify to the vendor when ordering that it should be delivered on a day when you are home, such as Saturday.
If you have the package shipped through the U.S. Postal Service, you can designate delivery to your local Post Office to hold it for you to pick up.
If the package is being sent via FedEx or UPS, get a tracking number so that you can follow its progress on-line.
If you are not likely to be home, have your package delivered to a neighbor or friend and require the delivery company to get a signature from someone there.
Install a video surveillance or doorbell-triggered camera to capture any suspicious activity on your porch and in front of your house.
Use alternative services such as firms that will deliver at a specified time, or lockers provided by companies such as 7-Eleven and Swapbox (a San Francisco based start-up).  Amazon is also introducing lockers and has just installed a large package collection center for students at UC Berkeley.


The City of San Carlos is well aware of resident complaints about vehicles speeding along St. Francis Way, which becomes a major thoroughfare during commute hours.  Parents escorting their children to school, or people out for a jog or dog-walking, are among those who have voiced concern about the extent and pace of traffic.

So, the Transportation and Circulation Commission, which is appointed by the City Council, is on the verge of launching a series of “Traffic Calming” improvements on St. Francis between El Camino and Alameda de las Pulgas.  While the phrase sounds like something out of a mental health prescription, the city intends to implement temporary structures to see if they are successful in getting motorists to slow down.  Strangely enough, to the concern of some residents and commissioners, adding more stop signs is NOT one of the proposed solutions.

Here are the measures that are on tap for implementation:

On St. Francis at Walnut Street, install two intersection curb “bulb-outs” on the eastern corners with a “surface mounted delineator” and 50 feet of red curb to prohibit parking.
On the stretch of St. Francis between Elm Street and Chestnut Street, install two surface-mounted Speed Humps.  These would be temporary, gradually-sloped structures that are not as damaging or jarring as more traditional speed bumps.
At Cedar Street, a major route for children walking to White Oaks Elementary School, the city would hire a flagman and share the cost with the school district.
At Park Avenue and St. Francis, there would be temporary medians on St. Francis at both sides of Park, with what is called a “delineator.”
At Emerald Avenue intersection, there would be a traffic circle or mini-roundabout with delineators.

There were concerns expressed by several residents at the Oct. 20 meeting of the Commission, among them:

Speed bumps may be effective for non-resident traffic, but White Oaks residents may simply choose to avoid them – and the frequent punishment on the suspension systems of their vehicles – by driving alternative routes.  I share that view.  I will avoid those bumps by taking a different route to El Camino, and if others follow suit then this will simply move the traffic problem from St. Francis to other — and formerly quieter — streets.  In other words, our problem may now be YOUR problem if you thought you were off the beaten path.
St. Francis, as we all know, is a major avenue for emergency vehicles such as fire engines and ambulances.  Some people worried that the bumps, island and bulb-outs could impede the progress of first responders.
Red painted parking restriction areas could create inconveniences for some homeowners by prohibiting them and their guests from parking in front of their homes.
The City estimates that permanent solutions to the St. Francis traffic issue may cost on the order of $500,000.

The Commission ultimately voted to proceed with the temporary solutions and to constantly evaluate their effectiveness with before and after traffic studies.  Although the intent was to have these facilities installed by the end of this year, some commissioners suggested that the city wait until after the holidays.

Note: If you would like to read the city’s Traffic Calming Study and staff report, including the photos and graphics showing the various structures and their intended locations, you can download the PDF files on-line from the city website by clicking on this link:

That’s it for now folks. Stay alert, report suspicious activity and have a nice holiday! – Ken Castle


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