Edie G-Lush

City Life | 28 June 2008

Childcare costs soar, house prices plunge, and the rich get sued by Mr Riches

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Life in America’s prisons is famously tough, but at least it allows one inmate, Jonathan Lee Riches, plenty of time to spend filing lawsuits. In his latest legal complaint, Riches — who happens to be a resident of Williamsburg federal correctional institution in West Virginia — has turned his sights on legendary San Francisco-based venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, and is attempting to sue him for $43 million. The complaint, in its entirety, reads: ‘Khosla’s fund invests in prison buildings. I’m suffering from no medical treatment. This is a conspiracy. Bhutto was killed on my birthday. I can’t see outside, this is unconstitutional. I seek $43 million.’ One worries that perhaps the ailment for which Riches feels he needs treatment is some sort of writer’s block, since the wording of his latest suit is far simpler than the one he lodged against another Bay Area resident, the former San Francisco Giants outfielder and home-run record- breaker Barry Bonds. In that one, Riches created an entertaining conspiracy theory alleging that Bonds had joined the Colombian revolutionary guerrilla group FARC, used Hank Aaron’s bat to crack the Liberty Bell, bought steroids from the commissioner of Major League Baseball for $22,000 at the insalubrious-sounding Steak-n-Shake on Interstate 70, bench-pressed Riches against his will, and left threatening messages for Riches on his iPhone. Riches asked for a more modest $42 million in the Bonds lawsuit. Unsurprisingly, all of his lawsuits, including the latest one against Khosla, have been dismissed — and Riches has been ordered to pay more than $3,100 in fees associated with Khosla’s case as well as nine others he filed at around the same time.

Meanwhile, south of San Francisco in the heart of Silicon Valley at Mountain View, where Google has its headquarters, all is not entirely well among those Googlers old enough to have children. The internet company famous for its ad-revenue-driven search engine and online mapping decided last year that its corporate childcare arrangements at a disused local school weren’t quite up to scratch. It set about planning a new scheme, and three months ago it presented plans to the local architecture board for a 46,500 sq ft mini-me Googleplex in nearby Palo Alto. The site is across the street from another new 18,500 sq ft Google daycare facility already under construction. The space per child is very generous — between 186 and 231 sq ft per child versus a legally advised 35-50 sq ft per child. Perhaps understandably, the cost of Googlecare is rising, and the rate of increase is raising eyebrows among Google employees. According to Valleywag, Silicon Valley’s ‘tech gossip rag’, the cost is rising by nearly 70 per cent. Should you be unlucky enough to have two kids in the daycare facility your monthly outgoings would be between $3,420 and $4,780, far above the local going rate and equivalent to hiring a nanny instead. Google’s head of human resources is rumoured to be balking at these prices to the extent of pulling his own children out of the scheme. So much for the company’s logo, ‘Don’t be evil’. Still, not all is lost. If Google is worried about its weekly press clippings, it can always garner hope from Republican presidential candidate John McCain’s admission that he’s using the company’s search engine to research his vice-presidential candidates.

Last week Mayor Gavin Newsom presided over San Francisco’s first legal same-sex marriage. The occasion was apparently quite poignant for Newsom: while officiating at the wedding ceremony of two women, one with advanced breast cancer, Newsom (whose mother died of the disease) was choking back tears, he told the LA Times. Four years ago, Newsom was considered a maverick for allowing same-sex marriages in San Francisco before they were legal in the rest of California. They became legal across California this month, but their long-term status is still in question: in November, the state will vote in a referendum on a state constitutional amendment that would ban them again. Local fashion house Wilkes Bashford is not waiting for the vote, however, but cashing in on the trend. Its windows are home to two gay couples tastefully featured on top of wedding cakes. In the all-male display, one partner wears a $6,000 Brioni tuxedo, the other a $4,000 Belvest tux. In the gender-balancing adjacent window, two women are featured, one in a black Roberto Cavalli skirt tuxedo at $3,655, the other in a $1,900 Catherine Regehr white dress.

Mayor Newsom himself will be tying the knot soon too — though he’s not at risk of having his marriage outlawed by a constitutional amendment. Perhaps his impending nuptials to actress Jennifer Siebel and the hope of offspring are behind another proposal this colourful politician is floating: his plan to give every child born in San Francisco $250 to invest. The city is a notoriously difficult place to raise children. With poor state schools and prohibitively expensive housing, many couples move out of the city once they start a family. According to the SF Gate website the ‘baby bank’ plan will cost the city a mere $1.5 million, and the invested money will become available to the children once they’re 18, as long as they have graduated from high school and are participating in some sort of public service. Newsom may well want to honeymoon in Britain and make inquiries into Gordon Brown’s Child Trust Fund scheme, unveiled in 2003, which sounds remarkably like Newsom’s own plan: it gives parents of children born in the UK a £250 voucher to be invested (plus top-ups) until the child is 18.

It is unclear whether parents of newborn children will be able to invest their progeny’s nest-eggs in Bay Area real estate. This does not currently look like a safe bet, but will perhaps bottom out soon. According to DataQuick Information Systems, the number of Bay Area homes sold in May fell to a 20-year low — a statistic achieved in eight of the past nine months. The median sale price was $517,000, down 21.7 per cent from a year ago. Marin County — a sought-after rural area north of the city and home to the likes of George Lucas and Sean Penn — saw the only price rise, up 5.8 per cent to $899,000, despite having the biggest drop in sales volume at 37 per cent. Young families escaping the city won’t be moving next door to George any time soon.