Sunday, July 24, 2016

[Santa Barbara County] Supervisors opt to repair, not replace, Coroner’s Office

Santa Barbara County’s Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a plan Tuesday to make repairs to its aging inmate-built Coroner’s Office in lieu of replacing the facility, as recommended in a recent grand jury report.
The report, which called the facility inadequate in many respects, said the ventilation in the autopsy room was “deficient,” and noted that there is no transition room for staff to remove protective clothing and clean up.
Despite the concerns, the county’s Director of General Services Matthew Pontes recommended repair work estimated at $145,000, which could last up to 20 years. The repair work includes upgrades to the heating, ventilating and air-conditioning system, known as HVAC.
“Repairs to the facilities are not significant enough to require replacement of the facility,” Pontes said. “The upgraded HVAC system will address the concerns noted by the grand jury, and a new facility is not warranted or reasonable.”
Fourth District Supervisor Peter Adam disagreed.
“This facility is clearly at the long end of its life, and we’re going to have to replace it at some point,” Adam said. “Can we put a Band-Aid or a cast on it and do that right now with the ventilation system? Yes, but you know, if anybody has toured the facility, they know that if the termites stop holding hands, it’s gonna fall down.”
Adam also called the county’s own response to the grand jury “boilerplate language,” referencing staff’s indication that replacing the facility isn’t warranted or reasonable.
“I don’t think the grand jury or the public should think that we’re just blowing this off,” he said. “Everybody up here knows that needs to be done.”
Adam said the county should find money to prioritize the facility’s replacement.
Meanwhile, 2nd District Supervisor Janet Wolf asked Pontes to work on a plan with the Sheriff’s Office to set up a temporary room, within the project’s overall budget, that could be used as a transition room, as that wasn’t addressed in $145,000 worth of repairs.
The grand jury noted that because there is no transition room, staff have to remove protective clothing and clean up outside the building in the open.
Pontes noted that the repair work is estimated to last 90 days and added that work on the ventilation system could start this month.
Approximately 120 autopsies are performed each year at the facility on victims of homicides, infants and adults under 55, according to the grand jury.
The inmate-built facility was constructed in 1987 after the board identified an emergency need to build a Coroner’s Office, according to the grand jury. A year later the facility was put into operation.
July 12, 2016
Lompoc Record
By Kenny Lindberg

Saturday, July 23, 2016

[San Bernardino County] As child welfare agency scrutiny heightens, supervisors will review report

Valles calls for director to step down; Lovingood rebukes 'grandstanding'

First District Supervisor Robert Lovingood says he and fellow board members will "collectively" go through the grand jury's annual report that recently raised concerns about San Bernardino County's child welfare agency.
Supervisors will use that report, released July 1, as a springboard to identify any deficiencies within the county's Department of Children and Family Services, a review not unlike how the board has handled other inquiries or issues, Lovingood said.
"Any claims of problems with any program brought forward has the board's — collectively my four peers — full attention," he told the Daily Press, "and we will go through the review process and address any shortcomings that we find."
After a year-long investigation, the grand jury found Children and Family Services was significantly under-staffed and appeared to be disconnected from law enforcement assigned to investigate crimes involving children.
The 19-member citizen panel's findings come just two weeks after the state Department of Justice announced it was investigating the agency and reviewing its "compliance with California laws intended to ensure the safety and well-being of children, including children in the dependency system."
Those investigations only add to recent scrutiny for the agency which had earlier come under sharp criticism in a series of Fox 11 news reports with anonymous former county social workers who claimed the agency has been negligent to evidence of abuse and even engaged in a systemic cover-up that led to foster children's deaths.
The department had conducted its own investigations into cases detailed in Fox 11's reports well before they aired and implemented several measures to enhance children safety, it said in response.
On Tuesday, Children and Family Services Director Marlene Hagen said the department "remained committed to the well-being of our children and will implement any suggestions that we think might lead to better outcomes for children and families in San Bernardino."
Hagen has said she welcomed the grand jury's findings and the state probe, but the challenger to Lovingood's seat in November has called for Hagen to step down or be fired.
Angela Valles, finance director for Victor Valley Wastewater Reclamation Authority and a former Victorville City Councilwoman, suggested the grand jury's findings confirmed "the gross negligence and inept leadership going on at CFS."
"Our children depend on us to protect them from harm. In many cases the County has done just the opposite," she said in a statement. "It starts at the top. Children and Family Services Director Marlene Hagen must resign or be terminated right away."
Asked to respond to Valles' call, Hagen didn't address it directly Tuesday, but described the steps the agency has taken to bolster operations during her nearly year-and-a-half tenure.
"During the 17 months that I have been (director), there has been a 26-percent increase in the number of social workers serving our children and families," she said in a statement to the Daily Press. "Also during this brief time, I have instituted new training programs, an after-hours investigation unit to eliminate the need for on-call staff, and an improved risk assessment tool to evaluate potential child abuse ..."
Those measures, she said, have given "our social workers more of the tools necessary to protect our children."
Late last week, Valles also shifted attention to Lovingood, saying the situation had revealed that he lacked the qualities of "a true leader."
"Robert Lovingood has turned his back on this County scandal, offering no hope to our county's abused children," she said. "I intend to change that if elected County Supervisor."
Yet Lovingood rebuked Valles' "grandstanding" in the wake of the grand jury report, dismissing her comments as "a knee-jerk reaction to try to grab a headline."
"This is a common pattern," he said.
July 12, 2016
Daily Press
By Shea Johnson

Santa Barbara County Responds to Grand Jury Lake Cachuma Report

There's a new reality for Lake Cachuma. The Santa Barbara County Civil Grand Jury reports the lake's water levels are at an all time low of 14% capacity. But, while the lake levels reach new lows, there is still a constant demand for its water supply.
"We are almost out they are expecting to make it to October but that will be problematic if it doesn't rain until that," says Peter Adam, Chair of the Santa Barbara Board of Supervisors. "The problem is of course the use has expanded in the south coast but the lake has gotten smaller," he says.
The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors met in Santa Maria on Tuesday to discuss what to do next. In 2020 The United States Bureau of Reclamation and the Santa Barbara County Water Agency that provides water service from the Cachuma Lake Project will expire.
"The board of supervisors acting as the board of directors for the water agency gave us authority to move forward and directed us to move forward to start the process for the new contracts," says Tom Fayram, Deputy Public Works Director of Santa Barbara.
He says the contracts with the several agencies who use water from the lake can take a few years to draw up. It's something that would effect agencies like the Santa Ynez River Conservation District. "We provide water on an annual basis from the Cachuma Project to our domestic and agricultural customers," says Chris Dahlostrom, General Manager for the agency.
Dahlostrom says the agency uses four water supplies, the lake is one. "Being as low as it is it does create a situation where we have to use our suppliers more readily than what we would in the past," he says.
Officials say they hope this years rainfall will help bring the levels back up.
July 12, 2016
By Amanda Valdes