Saturday, October 22, 2016

[Marin County] Marin IJ Readers’ Forum for Oct. 22: Marin schools take action against bullying

Bullying and cyberbullying are problems in most middle and high schools. And Marin schools are no exception.
The 2015-16 Marin County Civil Grand Jury (of which I was a member) looked into this problem and issued a report. Our investigation included interviewing school administrators and reviewing student and parent handbooks and school websites.
Overwhelmingly, school officials spoke of the need for more anti-bullying education for students, staff and parents.
You can read the grand jury report and the responses received from county school districts online at
The responses to the grand jury report show that our schools do take bullying seriously. In response to the grand jury recommendations, many have updated their websites and handbooks to make bullying information and reporting procedures easier to find and understand.
Forms for filing complaints are now often online and accessible from the homepage of the schools’ websites.
Schools have reviewed their anti-bullying education programs, updating them and in some cases expanding them.
All of these are positive actions for helping to lessen the bullying problem in our schools.
Using art to get youth and their parents to recognize and speak out against bullying was recently employed in a program sponsored by Novato’s Blue Ribbon Coalition (“Art used to bring awareness to bullying,” IJ, Oct. 16).
What a terrific way to explore bullying situations and appropriate responses in a safe environment.
There are other organizations that work with Marin schools in creative ways to help lessen the bullying and cyberbullying problem. These are important programs that we should continue to support as a community.
October 21, 2016
Marin Independent Journal
Letter to the editor: Mary Dinday, San Rafael

Siskiyou County's Measure G and funding a new jail

If approved by more than 50 percent of Siskiyou County voters on the Nov. 8 ballot, Measure G will authorize a one-quarter of one percent (.25%) increase on sales tax, which is estimated to generate about $1 million annually to help fund a new jail.

Blog note: this article references a 2015-16 grand jury report on the jail.
Proponents of Measure G are asking Siskiyou County voters to pass the measure to support a new jail for the county.
If approved by more than 50 percent of county voters on the Nov. 8 ballot, Measure G will authorize a one-quarter of one percent (.25%) increase on sales tax which is estimated to generate about $1 million annually.
County counsel Brian Morris’s impartial analysis printed in the County of Siskiyou Sample Ballot and Voter Information Pamphlet says the tax will be “...remitted to the county of Siskiyou for general purposes to be placed in the county General Fund and could be used to service the construction loan liability for the construction of the new County jail project, and would expire automatically at the end of the loan term, unless extended by the voters.”
Siskiyou County Sheriff Jon Lopey said Siskiyou County has received an allocation of $27 million from AB900 Phase 1 and II funding awards from the CA Board of State and Community Corrections.
He said that due to rising construction costs that is not enough to cover the proposed 180 bed County jail. The County will need a $9.7 million construction loan to cover the additional costs.
Lopey said in a recent interview that the community would be safer with the new jail. “It’s because we have to release the offenders back into the community,” he said. “It would be nice to keep the habitual non-violent instead of having to release them.”
Andy Fusso from Siskiyou Forward Movement, who wrote the argument against Measure G in the voter’s pamphlet said in an interview, “I’m not opposed to upgrading the jail or replacing it with a jail the right size.” He said he’s not 100% convinced the county needs a jail any bigger than the current one.
More room
Jail Commander, Lieutenant Jeff Huston, said the current county jail doesn't have room for misdemeanors and is just housing felons. He stressed that a felon is released to make room for each new felon. “It’s one for one,” he said.
The current jail has 103 jail beds plus four medical beds. On Lopey’s “Talking Points” jail project fact sheet he handed out at a recent Lake Shastina town hall meeting, it said the jail's average daily population for 2015/16 is 102 and so far in this fiscal year the average number of inmates booked per month is 278.
In the past, according to Huston, sentence terms in county jails were a year or less. After the state of California’s realignment program started in 2011, county jail inmates are getting longer terms. He said they had an inmate with a term of eight years in their facility. Huston did not know the maximum time an offender could receive in a county jail.
The Siskiyou County Grand Jury 2015-2016 report states “The current jail was designed to house people awaiting trial and those serving sentences of less than one year. Due to AB 109 Post-Release Community Supervision (PRCS) policies, which came into effect October 1, 2011, most felons must now be housed in the county jail rather than being sent to state prisons. At the present time, only felons are serving their sentences in the jail; there is no room for lesser offenders.”
The Grand Jury report also states due to overcrowding in the current jail if 50 inmates a year are sent out of the county to other jails, the cost is estimated to be $1,440,000 per year plus transportation costs.
Also in the report it was noted that it was not possible to expand the existing jail upwards or into the parking lot, and the building must be brought up to current code requiring major renovation.
Fusso said, “We’re not going to solve our basic problems simply by warehouseing people for a period of time. If we build a bigger and bigger jail, we’re not effectively reducing crime.” He added, “We have to effectively intervene when someone commits a crime.”
Fusso said, “We solve this problem one person at a time.” He explained that “a better way to solve this problem is to train people and develop people; instead of being criminals, they are becoming productive people in our community.”
Lopey said the biggest issue in favor of the jail is safety for staff and community. He explained that the new jail will allow for classification of inmates, separating dangerous from non-violent, and for better observation of inmates. He said the new jail will have enough beds for females and those with health issues.
Huston said the architects planning the new jail say power expenses will be the same as the current jail. He said water costs might increase, but indicated that can be managed because they have control over how much water inmates use. Lopey said the new jail will be more efficient. Huston said there are no plans to increase staffing for the new jail.
Lopey said the new jail will have more room to initiate rehabilitation programs.
“We're going to expand the programs we have, but it will be cost neutral. We are working very hard to rehabilitate people. The new jail will allow us more space and resources to increase our rehabilitation abilities,” he said. “We want them to be more productive during their time in jail.”
He listed many rehabilitation programs including gardening, education, equine therapy, work projects, work crews, training on chainsaws and other implements, Sheriff's Alternate Work Program (SWAP) crews, contracts with Caltrans, work with Great Northern providing firewood to elderly and disabled, and alternate work programs, and vocational training in the kitchen.
Lopey's “Talking Point” handout states the new jail “will fulfill county needs for 50+ years.”
Special vs. general tax
One of the arguments against the measure is the concern that taxes for a specific purpose – special taxes – require a 2/3 approval margin by voters while a general tax requires only 50 percent plus one vote.
A previous special tax measure to help fund a new jail in Siskiyou County fell short of the required 2/3 approval margin.
Measure G is a general tax measure that county supervisors have said they want to use for a new jail.
In his argument against the measure, Fusso quotes the Howard Jarvis Taxpayer's Association to say, “This proposal is offensive. Tax elections should not be manipulated by promising the voters a specific purpose while not requiring a 2/3 vote needed to pass a “special tax” (that is, a tax for specific purpose).”
In the July 12 minutes of the board of supervisors meeting, it states that Supervisor Michael Kobseff “spoke in opposition to submitting a request for a general tax versus a special tax measure to the voters, sharing concerns that a future Board could over turn the current Board's decision to dedicate tax revenues to the Jail project.”
During a recent phone interview, Kobseff said he raised that concern for the other board members to consider. He said the dynamics are different on this, because the lien will be on a county asset. He believes that will keep future board members committed to paying back the construction loan with the tax revenues.
Kobseff, along with all the other county supervisors, voted in favor of the tax. Kobseff said, “If there were any other options I would have pushed fast and hard. The difficult part is, the county doesn't have the resources to build a new jail on their own. If we don't get this we’re turning back $27 million.”
Another argument against Measure G addresses AB900 authorization of lease-revenue bonds financing for Phase I and II local jail construction funding. Fusso wrote in his argument against in the voter’s pamphlet, “Fancy financing ‘lease-revenue’ bonds for jails and prisons have one state agency paying another state agency premium interest using your tax dollars and pretending that's ‘revenue’ – it’s not!”
Fusso explained, “It’s the state taking our taxes to pay the bond.” He said a no on Measure G stops us from participating in an unethical scheme.”
October 20, 2016
The Siskiyou Daily News
By Liz Pyles

[Monterey County] Pacific Grove comments on two grand jury reports

Blog note: these paragraphs appeared as part of a larger article on city business.
In other developments Wednesday, in response to the recent grand jury report outlining the use of body-worn cameras by Peninsula police departments, new Police Chief Amy Christie gave a presentation showing what the cameras look like, how they work and why they’re important.
The city has been using the cameras as part of a pilot program since July.
Harvey [Ben Harvey, city manager] said once the challenge of finding enough space to store footage and the decision as to which model camera to use is made, he expects the program — which the city has budgeted at $35,000 — to be implemented permanently sometime after the first of the year.
“We’ll be modifying as we go,” said Harvey. “It’s a work in progress.”
Also in response to the civil grand jury report, the city provided follow-up commentary concerning the 220,000 gallons of raw sewage that spilled into Monterey Bay last May. The Monterey Regional Water Pollution Control Agency was ultimately fined $298,958 over the incident, which occurred when untreated domestic waste water spilled during routine maintenance at the control agency’s Fountain Avenue Pump Station at 15th Street and Ocean View Boulevard.
“We feel very confident that we are well equipped to address a similar situation in the future,” said Harvey.
October 20, 2016
Monterey Herald
By Carly Mayberry

Friday, October 21, 2016

Kern County Grand Jury: No way to rig election

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — The Kern County Grand Jury on Thursday made an effort to dispel the notion that the election could be rigged.
Donald Trump has repeatedly warned of a "rigged" election.
The Grand Jury recently met with election officials and said there's no way to rig a vote count in Kern County.
"Every possible scenario that was asked was met with a complete and logical process to prevent fraud," reads a news release from the Grand Jury.
Voting machines aren't connected to the Internet, and voting machines can't be programmed to select a particular candidate because of the names appear in different orders on different ballots.
Signature-matching prevents fraud with mail-in ballots, according to the Grand Jury.
The vote counting process is recorded on video to prevent wrongdoing, and staffers from both political parties are invited to observe the process.
October 20, 2016
Bakersfield Now
By Bakersfield Now staff

Thursday, October 20, 2016

[Alameda County] Oakland City Council delays action on McElhaney flap

A civil grand jury report about ethics breaches has incited a political fight at Oakland City Hall, as council members grapple with whether to discipline one of their colleagues.
The City Council decided Tuesday to postpone action on the report about Council President Lynette Gibson McElhaney, who could face censure for interfering with a town house development planned for the lot next to her home.
The delay angered Councilwoman Desley Brooks, who often butts heads with McElhaney and who has fought ethical battles of her own. The council considered censuring Brooks two years ago in a separate ethics incident, but ultimately backed down.
“Shame on this council,” Brooks said at the meeting. “When I thought you were coming after me, you were all gung ho.”
McElhaney was absent for the discussion Tuesday, but showed up at the end of the council meeting.
The grand jury report released in June found that McElhaney broke city and state ethics rules by obstructing the approval process for the town house project, which now appears to be dead.
The flap started in January 2014, when McElhaney called Oakland’s Planning and Building chief Rachel Flynn to complain about the five-unit town house project. Flynn then visited the lot, decided that the design was subpar, and pressured the property owner to make several modifications — decreasing the height, reducing the number of units from five to four, and directing the views away from McElhaney’s house.
McElhaney’s interventions delayed and ultimately derailed the project, the report said, and the property owner is now offering the lot for sale.
Oakland’s Public Ethics Commission is investigating the claims and expects to conclude its probe by the end of the year. Commission chair Sonya Smith said in a letter to Alameda County Superior Judge Morris Jacobson that the commission has also ramped up its ethics training for city officials.
Councilman Larry Reid said in a letter to the grand jury that the council will wait for the Ethics Commission’s findings before it decides whether to punish McElhaney.
Brooks accused the council of not having the political will to carry out a disciplinary hearing. She argued that McElhaney and her supporters have thwarted the process by not holding meetings of the council’s rules committee, which schedules public hearings.
McElhaney chairs the rules committee, which hasn’t met since Sept. 30 — the day that Brooks seized the public microphone for a 40-minute tirade, ultimately forcing her colleagues to shut the meeting down.
Brooks and her supporters accused the committee’s four members — McElhaney, Reid, Dan Kalb, and Abel Guillen — of staging a “sick-out.”
“The grand jury got it right,” said Noni Session, who is trying to unseat McElhaney in November.
October 18, 2016
SF Gate
By Rachel Swan

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

San Diego Seeks To Strengthen Civilian Oversight Of Police

The San Diego City Council has responded to a county grand jury report finding weaknesses in the Citizens Review Board on Police Practices. Measure G on the November ballot would tweak the board slightly, and open the door to more reforms in the future.
The San Diego City Council on Monday responded to a county grand jury report finding fault with the city's Citizens Review Board on Police Practices, which is also the subject of a referendum on the November ballot.
The May grand jury report found a perception among the officials it interviewed that the board lacks diversity and may be biased in favor of the police. The report recommended offering "modest compensation for board member time and expenses" as a way to foster more diversity.
Board members volunteer significant time when training for a position and when reviewing complaints against the San Diego Police Department.
Council members agreed that compensation for board members could improve the board's diversity, but stopped short of an outright commitment to implementing the policy. They instead called for further analysis of the idea, which they said would make the Citizens Review Board an outlier among the city's various volunteer boards. The council agreed to revisit the proposal within six months.
An earlier version of the council's response to the report, crafted by the offices of the mayor and the independent budget analyst, disagreed that a stipend for board members could help improve diversity. That response was amended at a City Council committee meeting in September.
The grand jury also recommended San Diego consider giving the review board independent legal counsel, instead of having them advised by the City Attorney's Office. The City Attorney's Office also represents the San Diego Police Department, which the grand jury said creates the potential for a conflict of interest.
The City Council disagreed that there had been any incidents of conflicts of interest, and said the City Attorney's Office has internal firewalls to prevent an attorney who represents the police in a lawsuit from also advising the review board. But Councilwoman Marti Emerald said she and her colleagues agreed there were concerns beyond the legal definition of a conflict of interest.
"This City Council suggested that the appearance of a conflict is probably just as damaging to public trust as an actual conflict," she said.
The council has allocated $25,000 in the current budget to provide the Citizens Review Board with outside legal counsel should a conflict of interest arise. The city does not yet have a process by which board members can request using those funds, but says it will work on creating one.
Measure G on San Diego's ballot in November would make slight changes to the review board, renaming it the Community Review Board on Police Practices. It would also place future reforms of the board under the authority of the mayor and City Council.
The measure was initiated by the progressive group Women Occupy San Diego, which sought to give the review board independent legal counsel and subpoena power. The group has since said it was disappointed the City Council did not include those reforms in the measure, but that it would continue to advocate for giving the board more independence and authority.
The city released its annual report on the Citizens Review Board this summer. The report found a disproportionate number of complaints reviewed by the board were made by African Americans.
October 18, 2016
By Andrew Bowen

[Alameda County] Town Business: Oakland Claims Garbage Contracts No Problem

Several years ago Oakland negotiated its biggest, most expensive city contracts. They were for garbage, food waste, and recycling collection and disposal. No sooner did the city sign the contracts than rates shot up for landlords and businesses. The city was widely criticized for locking in expensive, long-term franchises.
The Alameda County Grand Jury conducted an investigation of the city's waste contracts this year and found that Oakland failed to create a competitive bidding environment, did not perform necessary financial analyses to understand how the contracts would harm ratepayers, and rigged the contract competition to favor the incumbent companies, Waste Management and California Waste Solutions. The Grand Jury also found that Oakland improperly engaged in closed-door negotiations with the two companies that ultimately won the contracts, and that all this resulted in Oakland residents and businesses paying higher collection rates and a higher franchise fee than surrounding communities.
So how did the city respond to the Grand Jury report?
Oakland's Department of Public Works claims in their official response to the Grand Jury that they in fact solicited competitive bids, and that the big rate and franchise increases were publicly discussed on multiple occasions, and furthermore that the new rates and fees are higher than other places only because they're new. To sum up Oakland's response, everything is cool, more or less.
October 17, 2016
East Bay Express
By Darwin BondGraham

[Monterey County] Friends of Laguna Seca looks to have won the right to manage track, maybe, probably, it seems

Monterey County Board keeps other two contenders hanging in case things don’t work out

Blog note: this article references a 2015-16 grand jury report on track management.
The non-profit Friends of Laguna Seca is on the way to managing the storied track and bringing it back to fiscal health. Unless, that is, the Monterey County Board of Supervisors decides it wants to go with two other groups vying for management control of the race facility.
Specifically, Friends of Laguna Seca won the right to “negotiate initially” with the county for a concession agreement. The county board would have to approve any agreement that comes out of the negotiations. If things don’t go well in the concession agreement process, then the board can pick up with either of the other two groups that had turned in proposals. Those groups are Chris Pook’s (he who made the Long Beach Grand Prix into a great event) World Automotive Championship of California, and the existing managers, Sports Car Racing Association of the Monterey Peninsula (or SCRAMP, which has been running the track since it was built in 1957). SCRAMP bid in partnership with International Speedway Corp. ISC owns and operates 13 tracks, from Daytona to Watkins Glen.
The decision to change track management came out of a civil grand jury report released last July that said the Monterey County Parks Department and SCRAMP were not managing the facility well. If you wanted to cut SCRAMP some slack, you could point out that the troubles date back to 2008, when a recession hit the country and many businesses took a hit. Nonprofit race tracks were among those suffering the effects.
The Friends of Laguna Seca includes local racer and race car restoration and sales expert Bruce Canepa and motorsports entrepreneur Gordon McCall, who puts on The Quail A Motorsports Gathering, The Quail Motorcycle Gathering and the big kickoff event to car week popularly known as The Jet Party, held at Monterey Airport. We’d be happy with those guys running things. Friends leadership also includes vintage racer Jonathan Feiber, Porsche Club and kart racer Ross Merrill, historic racer, karter and food industry executive Thomas Minnich, racer and realtor Warren “Ned” Spieker Jr. and motorsport executive Lauri Eberhart.
On its website, Friends president Ross Merrill said, “We are committed to managing Laguna Seca with fiscal responsibility and for the benefit of our community.  We’re driven by a passion for motorsports, a dedication to our community, and a desire to transform nearly six decades of renowned racing legacy into a new engine for our local economy. Ultimately, our aim is to restore the raceway’s former glory.”
The Friends proposal includes a 25-year commitment to rebuild the LSRA complex and implement a new business model that will include:
– A $50 million dollar capital improvement plan with $25 million invested in the first five years
– Establishing a profitable mix of events that will use all the assets of the LSRA
– Maximizing sponsorship opportunities and race track rentals
– Developing premium camping areas and an upgraded rifle/pistol range
– Enhancing the end-user experience facility-wide
– Bringing new events and premium programs to increase utilization within current restrictions, taking particular care to respect neighbors on Highway 68.
We wish them all the best and offer them this item of advice to begin with: Don’t be afraid to call it Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca a couple of times, just to keep your naming rights sponsor happy. But they already knew that.
October 15, 2016
By Mark Vaughn

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

[San Joaquin County] Council to consider south Stockton retail proposals

Blog note: this article references a 2015-16 grand jury report on south Stockton.
STOCKTON — The City Council is considering whether or not to approve six-month negotiating windows with two entities proposing to build retail developments on city-owned vacant lots in south Stockton.
A vote on the proposal is scheduled for Tuesday night’s council meeting at City Hall.
The proposals, if they come to fruition, could be a sign of progress in long-struggling south Stockton, which was identified in a civil grand jury report last year as a victim of years of neglect by city government.
STAND Affordable Housing is proposing a mixed-use retail center at 2222 Airport Way and 2224 Airport Way, next to each other on Eighth Street.
A group calling itself 1501 S. Airport Way, LLC wants to develop a retail center on adjacent lots at the namesake address and at 1670 South Union Street. The lots are immediately south of the Rancho San Miguel market, which is owned by the 1501 S. Airport Way Group.
The STAND site is just north of the former New Grand Save Market at Airport Way and Ninth Street.
The city shut down New Grand Save earlier this year, calling it a “cesspool” of illegal activity. A court-appointed receiver most recently has said he is working to bring medical facilities to the former New Grand Save site.
According to a staff report by the city, STAND is proposing a project at 2222-2224 Airport Way that could include commercial/retail space and affordable housing. The report says the project would include a “community anchor” called the “South Stockton Public Market.” It would feature indoor and outdoor kiosks to be used by local merchants.
At the site near Rancho San Miguel, developers are proposing a 20,000 to 40,000 square foot commercial/retail shopping center.
The city’s former redevelopment agency, dissolved in 2012, owns the lots. The city wants to provide exclusive 180-day windows for STAND and 1501 S. Airport Way to negotiate purchase agreements for the properties.
October 15, 2016
Stockton Record
By Roger Phillips

Saturday, October 15, 2016

$1M settlement reached in Santa Cruz County jail death

Blog note: this article references a 2013-14 grand jury report on deaths in the county jail.
SANTA CRUZ >> Santa Cruz County and its corrections medical provider paid $1 million to settle a federal suit filed by survivors of an inmate who committed suicide at the County Jail three years ago.
Amanda Sloan, 30, was found in her cell July 27, 2013, after spending eight months and four days at the County Jail, according to a Santa Cruz Grand Jury report issued May 2014. The report addressed five deaths at the jail from August 2012 to July 2013. Sloan’s was the last of those five deaths studied in the report. Since that time, measures have been taken to “improve inmate safety,” according to the grand jury report.
Jail officials identified improvements before the grand jury report published, Chief Deputy Jeff Marsh said.
“We’ve made significant changes in our safety and security checks, who does the checks and a lot of the processes for how we do them,” he said.
The settlement, reached Oct. 4, came after changes were made at the jail on an ongoing basis, he said.
Those changes include at least hourly digitally recorded checks and 15-minute checks for anyone perceived to be suicidal.
After Sloan was found in her cell, the officer involved in her monitoring resigned, Marsh said. About 350 people are housed at the County Jail. Now, the jail also has cameras covering more areas than monitored when Sloan died. Many of the changes stemmed from Sloan’s death, Marsh said. Others strive to exceed minimum requirements imposed by Title 15, which is the state law that governs corrections.
Sloan’s family filed suit June 30, 2015, claiming her 14th Amendment rights, which protect against state infringements of civil rights to life, liberty or property without due process of law.
The suit claimed Sloan’s civil rights were violated when she presented “volatile behavior” and suicidal tendencies weeks preceding her death, Santa Cruz attorney Diane Vaillancourt said.
Vaillancourt, and attorneys Jonathan Gettleman, Elizabeth Caballero and Eric Nelson represented the plaintiffs’ case.
The settlement awarded $975,000 from the county and $75,000 from the County Jail’s medical provider, Monterey-based California Forensic Medical Group, the largest private source of correctional health care services in California with contracts in 27 counties.
The settlement total includes $402,989 for the plaintiffs’ legal fees.
Court documents do not name the plaintiffs, who are minors.
Santa Cruz County spokesman Jason Hoppin said the county’s portion is covered “primarily by insurance.”
Vaillancourt said she has researched similar cases and found few with settlements larger than this litigation.
Each of Sloan’s three children is promised payments from the settlement periodically before their 18th birthdays.
“Most of it, they’ll get when they’re adults,” Vaillancourt said. “It is paid out over time.”
The suit had one hearing before U.S. District Court Judge Edward Davila in San Jose and a few settlement conferences, Vaillancourt said.
“This case was settled very, very early,” she said.
Sloan was booked into the County Jail in December 2012 on charges of assault with a firearm on a police officer, shooting at an inhabited dwelling, discharging a firearm from a vehicle and reckless driving while evading a peace officer, according to the grand jury report.
“A pretrial detainee, she was still innocent under the law,” Vaillancourt said.
Two weeks before her death, she learned from a visiting friend that “she was losing custody of her children,” according to the grand jury report.
Marsh said that the jail now has a team dedicated to suicide prevention though admits some suicides are difficult to see coming.
“Inmates can do it so many ways,” he said, noting that prevention is a central topic for the agency.
The coroner ruled Sloan’s death suicide by asphyxiation, according to the grand jury report.
Marsh said the Sheriff’s Office recently renewed its contract with California Forensic Medical Group.
“They are the right contractor,” he said. “We’re seeking the highest certification available. Not just what the law requires. It’s the gold standard.”
October 12, 2016
Santa Cruz Sentinel
By Michael Todd