Geary BRT plan seeks feedback
The San Francisco County Transportation Authority will hold two scoping meetings to get feedback on a proposed Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system for Geary Boulevard.

The first meeting will be held at Self Help for the Elderly Jackie Chan Activity Center, located at 408 22nd Avenue, on Thursday, Dec. 4, from 6 - 8 p.m. The second meeting will be held at the Tenderloin Community School, located at 627 Turk St, on Saturday, Dec. 6, from 10: a.m. to noon.

The Transportation Authority, in conjunction with the SF Municipal Transportation Agency, is getting ready to initiate the Geary Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Environmental Impact Statement and Environmental Impact Report.

The scoping meetings will offer the public an opportunity to provide input on the project alternatives and environmental impacts to be analyzed in the coming months.

The plan calls for bus-only lanes and transit signal priority, in addition to pedestrian improvements.

For more information about the Geary BRT or the upcoming workshops, or to make a comment about the proposed plans before the mid-December deadline, go to the Web site at www.GearyBRT.org.

Free diabetes screenings
Uninsured Richmond District residents can get a free blood sugar screening at the SF Free Clinic, located at 4900 California St., Mondays through Fridays, from 10 to 11 a.m. Those going for a screening should not eat anything after midnight the night before. Only water is allowed.

For more information, call (415) 750-9894.

Panthers win city title
The Presidio Middle School Panthers softball team won the City championship by defeating the Francisco Rams by a single run.

The Panthers won 5-4 on Lucy Nguyen's hit, a clutch triple, which pushed Panthers Mari Kawano and Lefan Chi across the plate for the winning runs in the sixth inning.

"What a thrilling victory for our girls," said Panther coach Judy Adami. "This was a real nail-biter."

Francisco grabbed an early two run lead, but Presidio responded with a run in the second inning on a triple by Christine Yee, driving in Joy van Hasselt, and two more runs in the third when Lefan Chi smacked a two-run homer in the second inning.

Presidio also got some good pitching from Majenta Strongheart, who struck out 13 Rams. She also avenged an earlier loss at the bats of Francisco when her control went awry. The Oct. 17 victory at Lang Field gave the Panthers its second consecutive city championship. They are the only two titles the school has ever won.

Historic Presidio Gate gets grant
Three areas of the Presidio will be upgraded and improved, thanks to a grant from the S.H. Cowell Foundation.

The $80,000 grant will enable the Presidio Trust to rehabilitate the historic Lombard Gate; plant a new flower grove near the gate; and replace an aging playground with an open meadow and picnic area. Work is expected to start by spring and be completed by August 2009.

"Thanks to the Cowell Foundation, we'll be able to make a series of improvements that will give visitors and residents new ways to enjoy the park," said Ann Ostrander, residential program manager for the Trust.

The light globes that sit atop the Lombard Gate's sandstone columns will be replaced with replicas of the original 1930s-era fixtures, which were larger and more ornate than those seen today. In addition, the gate's historic stone and iron work will be repaired.

A large fuchsia dell will be planted just inside the gate, along the Presidio Promenade Trail near Letterman Drive. This location was once the site of ornamental plantings associated with the long-lost Givens Photo Studio.

Today, the area is home to a commemorative display of ceramic tiles laid in honor of the staff of the former Letterman Hospital. More than 300 flowers will be planted, providing an attractive rest stop along a popular pedestrian path to the Main Post.

Additionally, an outdated play area in the Presidio Terrace neighborhood will be revitalized.

An old playground structure will be removed and the hilltop transformed into an open meadow with picnic tables and benches with views of San Francisco Bay.

Holiday collection drive for City's needy pets
As the holidays approach, animal lovers and pet owners can participate in the Animal Wishes and Dreams campaign, a collection drive benefitting dogs and cats at Pets Unlimited Adoption Center.

The program, sponsored by At Home Pet Sitting San Francisco, urges the public to donate items, such as unopened pet food, new or gently-used treat dispensers, toys, blankets, scratching posts, pet beds, collars and other items, to animals in need.

Richmond District resident Mary McCarthy is the proprietor of At Home Pet Sitting.

Any items that the adoption center is unable to use will be redistributed to Vet SOS, a program that provides free veterinary care for the companion animals of homeless San Franciscans, and to Pets Are Wonderful Support, a program that provides support to the pets of HIV and AIDS patients.

To check on the possible pickup of donations or if you have a business that would like to get involved, e-mail McCarthy at MMcCarthy@AtHomePetSittingSF.com. For more information about the Pets Unlimited Adoption Center, visit the Web site at petsunlimited.org/help/ give.

Local firefighters collect toys for kids
While the financial forecast seems bleak this holiday season, San Francisco firefighters are trying to round up as many toys as possible to brighten the spirits of boys and girls who might otherwise have little.

Capt. John Hanley, president of San Francisco Firefighters Union Local 798, which oversees the annual toy collection program, said firefighters have been collecting toys for more than 50 years.

Hanley praised the generosity of San Franciscans.

"People are good about donating. In fact, they are excellent," he said. But Hanley is worried that with the advent of the Wall Street crisis there will not be enough donations to meet the demand.

According to Charity Navigator, the nation's largest and most-utilized evaluator of charities, Americans continue to give.

According to official philanthropic reports, donations last year increased by one percent across the nation.

Richmond District and surrounding neighborhood Fire stations, including Station 10, at 655 Presidio Ave., Station 14, at 551 26th Ave., and Station 31, at 441 12th Ave., are receiving donations and accepting applications from needy families to receive toys.

Based upon last year's needs, Hanley estimates the number of families applying for toys will increase.

"We are anticipating a 20 percent increase above the amount from last year," he said.

"Last year we collected enough toys to give to 10,000 families in the City," Hanley said. "No one is denied."

Donations of money and toys are graciously accepted at any fire station in the City right up to Christmas eve. Donations to the toy collection program are accepted all year-long.

For more information, contact the SF Firefighters Toy Program at (415) 777-0440.

- Jonathan Farrell

Russian school features one-of-a-kind curriculum
The Russian-American International School is the only elementary school in California that offers a Russian and English language curriculum, with a choice of Spanish or Mandarin as after-school programs.

Recently, the Russian community came together to provide new Russian textbooks and workbooks. Donations were made by the Russian World Fund, Lubov Vinokurova and Khalit Aysin (The Consulate General of the Russian Federation, San Francisco), and Galina Artamonova (Congress of Russian Americans, San Francisco).

The school, located at 1250 Quintara St., offers K-5th grade classes. The curriculum stresses critical thinking and there is a strong math element.

Proficiency in the Russian language is not a requirement for admission.

For more information, go to the Web site at www.RussianAmericanSchool.org, call (415) 665-5467 or e-mail Info@Rus sianAmericanSchool.org.

Discounts offered for local shoppers
Independent Laurel Village retailers Standard 5 & 10 Ace and Books Inc. are among the participants in a unique holiday cross-promotion this season featuring indie hardware stores and indie bookstores in San Francisco. Participating merchants will display a poster touting the benefits of shopping at a locally-owned store; the poster will also have tear-off coupons good for a special discount at the neighboring store.

Shoppers at Standard 5&10 Ace can take a coupon to Books Inc. and, with the purchase of two books, earn a 30 percent discount on the second title. Similarly, a coupon from Books Inc. earns the same 30 percent discount at Standard 5 & 10 on the second piece of merchandise when two items are purchased.

The promotion, which runs through the end of the year, was organized in part by San Francisco Locally Owned Merchant's Association (SFLOMA). The association's goal is to educate and inform residents of and visitors to San Francisco of the positive economic impact on the community and the value to the individual of shopping at independent retailers.

An economic study published in October 2004 proved that independent retailers provide substantial benefits to the local economy: for every $100 spent by a consumer, locally owned independent businesses give back $68 to their local economy.

National chains return only $43 to the same local economy. "This promotion is one more way to educate consumers that it makes sense to shop locally, to support San Francisco's economy." said Jeff Leopold, partner of Standard 5&10 at Laurel Village and a founding member of SFLOMA.

Toolkit for becoming US citizen
To help individuals prepare for the recently redesigned naturalization exam from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the San Francisco Public Library has launched an online U.S. Citizenship Toolkit at www.sfpl.org/citizenship.

The online resources - available in English, Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin and Russian -provide an overview about the benefits of becoming a U.S. citizen, a guide to naturalization requirements, practice materials for the exam, and information about how to access immigration forms or schedule USCIS appointments.

School festival supports labs
Pouring rain did not dampen the spirits of students, teachers, parents and others from having a good time at Zion Lutheran Church's annual fall carnival.

Activities included an indoor bounce house, nail painting and fake tattoos, a jail in which friends and teachers had to serve some hard time, and a goldfish game that sent multiple kids home with more than 10 fish each.

At the Escape from Alcatraz jail, a child could serve his/her friend, teacher, or willing parent with an arrest warrant (two tickets) and see them literally put behind bars for five minutes. Little pink warrant slips were served to people all over the school's campus.

In addition to the carnival games, there was a silent auction, a "tapioca tea" stand, put on by the fourth grade. Proceeds from the November 1st carnival will go towards the creation of a mobile computer lab. The lab will allow for further integration of technology into Zion's classrooms.