Saturday, February 16, 2019
[Tuolumne County] Tuolumne County supervisors to ask Sonora City Council for more time on TCEDA decision
Blog note: this article continues the journalist's dogged following of a 2018 grand jury report and responses about TCEDA – the results still to be determined.
It appears the Sonora City Council could get more time to decide on the city’s future participation in the Tuolumne County Economic Development Authority.
Both the council and Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors will hold public meetings on Tuesday and consider a second extension to the deadline for a decision because audits of the TCEDA’s finances and management practices are taking longer to complete than anticipated.
The board will meet at 9 a.m. on Tuesday to consider asking the council for additional time to complete the audits, followed by the council meeting at 5 p.m. that same day to consider either granting an extension or providing notice to withdraw from the TCEDA.
In December, the council requested a 90-day extension to the typical Jan. 1 deadline for providing notice of withdrawal from the authority. The board agreed to extend the deadline by 60 days to March 1, but now it wants to ask the city for more time.
The city or county are typically required to give notice of withdrawal from the authority before Jan. 1 each year under a joint powers agreement between both governments that formed the TCEDA in 2008.
Some city residents have urged the council to withdraw from the TCEDA following the release of a report by the Tuolumne County Civil Grand Jury in June that stated the authority lacked the public accountability, oversight and financial controls typical of most taxpayer-funded agencies.
As a result of the jury’s findings, the TCEDA Governing Board agreed in September to pay the firm MGO $41,000 to conduct independent audits of the authority’s finances and management practices.
The TCEDA would effectively cease to exist as a legal entity if either the city or county withdraws from the agreement.
Council members have expressed a desire to review the completed audits before making a decision on the city’s participation, which led to them requesting an extension to the Jan. 1 deadline mandated by the joint powers agreement.
Both of the audits were expected to be completed by sometime in February, but now the financial audit isn’t expected until the end of the month and the management audit until mid-March.
One of the reasons the board declined to give the council the full 90-day extension it asked for was due to concerns from county staff that the timing would conflict with the process of preparing the budget for the next fiscal year that begins on July 1.
The TCEDA’s annual $460,000 operating budget is funded almost entirely by both governments, with the city’s portion covering about $103,000. Some authority’s detractors say the city could put the money to better use by creating its own economic development program.
Unlike in December, one of the options that county supervisors will consider on Tuesday is providing notice the city of the county’s intention to withdraw from the authority.
A memo to the board from the County Counsel’s Office stated that much of the TCEDA Executive Director Larry Cope’s time since July has been occupied by the audits and fulfilling 17 requests for public records, as opposed to economic development.
The memo stated the board held its annual planning workshop from Jan. 23 to 25 at Rush Creek Lodge near Yosemite National Park, where it directed county staff to prepare an item for the board on whether it wants to remain in the partnership or create its own program for economic development.
The board meets in the supervisors’ chambers on the fourth floor of the County Administration Center at 2 S. Green St. in Sonora, while the council meets on second floor of City Hall at 94 N. Washington St.
February 14, 2019
The Union Democrat
By Alex MacLean
Blog note: this article references a Santa Barbara County Grand Jury report of a few years ago recommending that the City of Guadalupe dissolve. Here is a journalist in one county asking why a proposal in an adjacent county might work in her county.
The small city of Guadalupe is just steps away from the San Luis Obispo County line — a five-minute walk gets you to the heart of downtown — yet brand-new homes there easily cost $100,000 to $200,000 less than similar models in SLO County.
Prices in the Pasadera development range from $350,000 to $480,000 — without the homeowners association fees that can add hundreds of dollars to monthly housing costs.
“It’s probably the cheapest housing on the entire coast of California,” said former San Luis Obispo City Councilman Andrew Carter, who served as city manager of Guadalupe from 2013 until 2016.
Housing in northern Santa Barbara County has traditionally been much less expensive than residential real estate in neighboring San Luis Obispo County. Santa Maria, in particular, experienced a huge housing boom over the past 30 to 40 years — so much so that many San Luis Obispo residents have pointed to the city as an example of the type of growth to be avoided.
Guadalupe, though, hasn’t seen much in the way of residential development — until now.
Pasadera is approved for 802 homes, plus a school and small commercial center. So far, 120 homes have been built, with dozens more under construction. Another 80 per year will be added until the project is complete.
The new housing is expected to boost the population of the small, largely Latino farming community from the current 7,300 to around 11,000, and generate enough new tax revenue to bring economic stability to a city that would have gone broke a few years ago if voters hadn’t passed new taxes.
An oasis of affordability
Emma Reynoso was one of the first to buy in Pasadera; she has a two-story home with three bedrooms and an office. The cost: $378,000.
Reynoso and her husband moved from Hollister, where housing prices are much higher. Sadly, her husband died six weeks after the couple moved to Guadalupe, and she’s now considering moving back to Hollister, even though she loves her home in Guadalupe.
“It’s like being on vacation,” she said.
Pasadera homes are in the typical modern California mission style — earth tones with tile roofs, some with balconies, shuttered windows and double garages.
There are no golf courses, swimming pools or day spas, but there are views of sand dunes, the beach is five miles away, and the prices are right. That’s not been lost on house hunters priced out of the SLO County market.
Scott McKenzie, who works in the Pasadera sales office, estimates that 15 to 20 percent of buyers work in San Luis Obispo County, commuting to jobs at the California Men’s Colony, Cal Poly, even as far away as Atascadero.
From an urban planning standpoint, that’s not ideal.
Commuting puts more cars on the road, increasing gridlock and degrading air quality. And because commuters spend more time on the road, that leaves less time to spend with family, to get involved in community events, to walk the dog or work out at the gym.
Why not SLO?
But could a project like Pasadera ever take shape anywhere in San Luis Obispo County?
Craig Smith, the developer of Pasadera, is doubtful.
Land cost is one big reason; he bought 200 acres of Guadalupe farmland approximately 15 years ago, when costs were relatively low, and held on until the timing was right.
Also, water isn’t an issue there like it is elsewhere; the project has access to state water and well water.
The land is flat, which makes it easier to build.
And Smith encountered minimal resistance — no NIMBYS sought to block the project.
“Guadalupe has been very agreeable and enthusiastic about the project,” said Smith. “They want to see it succeed. It’s bringing new life into the community.”
Andrew Hackleman, executive director of the Home Builders Association of the Central Coast, isn’t completely ruling out a Pasadera-type project in San Luis Obispo County, but because land costs and fees are are higher here, it would be much more difficult.
The time it takes to get a project approved is another hurdle.
“Timing is everything, right? If they could get through the process in a year instead of six years ... that’s going to make a big difference in what they can sell (homes) for,” he said.
While the small city once had a reputation for crime and corruption, that’s long past.
Today, Guadalupe consistently rates as one of the safest communities in the state in various quality-of-life rankings.
But it’s taken some big financial hits. It once had a thriving restaurant row anchored by the Far Western steak house — a landmark dining house that drew fans from around the Central Coast, much like Jocko’s in Nipomo, the Hitching Post in Casmalia and F. McClintock’s in Shell Beach — but the Far Western closed its Guadalupe restaurant years ago and relocated to Orcutt.
Now, the main tourist attraction in town is the Dunes Center, a museum that houses, among other things, a display of artifacts from the set of Cecil B. DeMille’s “Ten Commandments,” which was filmed in the Guadalupe Dunes.
Otherwise, the town is dominated by small, mom-and-pop restaurants and stores, independent grocers, storefront churches — and shuttered buildings.
A lack of sales tax revenue has been tough on the city; so much so that a few years ago the Santa Barbara County civil grand jury recommended the city dissolve.
Voters came to the rescue by passing three different tax and fee measures, though a 2018 grand jury report says the city has made only limited progress.
City officials are banking on Pasadera to turn that around.
“This development is a lifesaver for Guadalupe,” said Mayor Ariston Julian. Each Pasadera home will, on average, generate around $600 per year in property taxes for the city, he said. By contrast, older homes in a development called Treasure Park bring in only $27 per year.
The commercial sector is looking up as well. The mayor rattles off the names of five small businesses that recently opened, and as the population grows — 10,000 is the magic number — that’s expected to attract national chains.
City officials don’t foresee a Target or Walmart, but they hope there will be enough commercial growth to keep residents from doing most of their shopping in nearby Santa Maria.
For longtime residents like Jose Prado, who lives in Pasadera with his wife and young daughter, what’s happening is a welcome change.
“This will be a different Guadalupe,” he predicted.
February 14, 2019
San Luis Obispo Tribune
By Stephanie Finucane
Blog note: the Daily Press supports a grand jury investigation.
We were delighted to see the San Bernardino County Grand Jury schedule a public hearing at Silverado High School on Tuesday night to get input from students, parents and others about school safety in the High Desert.
If you want to find out what’s going on in any organization, there’s no better strategy than to seek input from those who are part of it. In this case, students, parents and teachers know the score.
We’ve been disturbed by the number of bullying complaints the Daily Press newsroom has received from students and parents over the past few years, as well as the apparent ho-hum attitude of many school officials about these complaints.
One of the latest complaints came Sunday from a local man who said he had to file a police report and now was seeking legal representation after his 11-year-old daughter was “jumped” by five boys at her school. He said despite many talks with school authorities and reports to school police, the bullying and harassment had continued and even escalated.
There have been far too many fights and lockdowns of campuses, as reported in the Daily Press over the past few years. And it seems the region has seen more threats of school shootings than one would reasonably expect. At least a couple of those threats resulted in the arrest of students.
We’ll be interested to see what the Grand Jury thinks and recommends after Tuesday night’s public hearing, but we’re happy that the panel decided it was time to investigate.
February 14, 2019
By The Daily Press Editorial Board
VICTORVILLE — Preventing intruders from entering schools was the focus of discussion at the San Bernardino County Civil Grand Jury’s meeting on school safety Tuesday evening.
Grand Jury Foreman Pro Tem Clentis Flournoy said the purpose of the meeting, held at Silverado High School’s Performing Arts Center, was to solicit “thoughts and concerns on how to improve the safety of your students while they are at school.”
Grand Jury member John Groff told the audience their comments, written anonymously on cards turned over the Grand Jury, might lead to programs that promote school safety.
In addition to nine of the 19 Grand Jury members, just three members of the public showed up at the meeting.
Adelanto’s Mayor Pro Tem, Stevevonna Evans, was there with her two sons. One son, Cameren, is a freshman at Silverado.
Evans suggested a barrier such as the guard shack that stood at Silverado’s front gate when she attended the high school in the early 2000′s might increase safety for the students.
A woman who spoke but chose not to identify herself said she was concerned that schools weren’t communicating their safety plans with those who might be most affected.
“How do we get our schools prepared and share that with parents so they are comfortable that number one, my kids are safe, and I know to go there and pick them up and not become a problem, but become part of the solution?” she asked.
Victorville Sheriff’s Captain Rick Bessinger said “the chaos that ensues” an active shooter incident is a major problem for officers.
As deputies arrive on the scene, Bessinger said, “you’ve got hundred of parents, and maybe, depending on the school, just as many kids all coming out onto the campus, and we’re trying to find out who the good guys and bad guys are. That’s a recipe for disaster,” he said.
The California Department of Education requires every school to have a comprehensive safety plan, including an assessment of school crime, child abuse reporting procedures and anti-bullying policies.
The plan also must include earthquake emergency procedures and a school building disaster plan. The disaster plan may include drills and procedures for such scenarios as a bomb threat, fire, active intruder, and lockdowns but aren’t mandated other than for an earthquake.
Victor Valley Union High School District spokesman Kris Reilly confirmed the California Schools Boards Association only recommends lockdown procedures, but education code does not require them.
VVUHSD has conducted several active shooter practice scenarios, he said.
According to VVUHSD Risk Manager Kathleen Hardy, her district follows education code protocols concerning safety plans “very carefully.” Such mandates require having a safety plan for each individual school that must be written and developed by a school site council who consulted with a law enforcement representative.
The plans must be evaluated and amended as needed at least once a year and sent to the school district office, said Hardy.
A woman who identified herself only as a retired manager with the County’s Office of Emergency Services said she was concerned that Hesperia Unified School District, where her grandchildren attend school, isn’t ready to deal with a violent situation.
She said the district’s safety plans were essentially “stamped,” staff were unclear on their roles in a possible incident, and drills are not being practiced.
Hesperia Unified School District did not immediately respond to a Daily Press request for comment Wednesday.
Juror Melinda Ferguson told the audience at the beginning of the meeting that members could not “share the extent of the investigation that precipitated this meeting.” Grand Jury proceedings and investigations are confidential until reports are issued.
Foreman Jim Moore said he was unaware of another instance in which the Grand Jury held a similar public meeting to hear from residents, according to a previous Daily Press story.
According to the County website, the Civil Grand Jury is the only local, independent “watchdog” investigative body with the power to delve into and report on local governments, which includes special districts such as schools. Its 19 citizens are volunteers who serve a one-year term.
There have been at least 417 incidents of gunfire on school grounds nationwide since 2013, according to Everytown for Gun Safety, a non-profit advocacy group.
This year, there have been at least 12 incidents so far that have resulted in 3 deaths.
A 17-year-old high school senior was shot and killed in a Northern California elementary school parking lot in the most recent incident in the state.
February 13, 2019
By Martin Estacio
Blog note: this article references a 2011 grand jury report on the use of Tasers.
Chinedu Valentine Okobi, the 36-year-old son of Nigerian immigrants, was unarmed when he was stopped by a San Mateo County sheriff’s deputy in Millbrae on Oct. 3.
Okobi, who grew up in San Francisco, had been walking in the 1300 block of El Camino Real at about 1 p.m. that day. The interaction between Okobi and the deputy quickly turned violent and as more deputies arrived, at least one deployed a Taser stun gun. Okobi died from his injuries.
Aside from that, everything about what happened to Okobi is disputed. The sheriff’s office said in a statement that the deputy had been responding to reports that Okobi was “running in and out of traffic” and that he had immediately assaulted the deputy. Okobi was taken to a hospital, where he died, according to the sheriff’s office.
But Okobi’s sister, Ebele Okobi, who has seen videos of the encounter, publicly accused the sheriff’s office of lying. According to her, Chinedu Okobi was calmly walking down the street when a deputy sped alongside him, shouted at him and told him he needs to question him. Chinedu Okobi said something inaudible in the video and then walked to an intersection, looked for traffic, and crossed the street, according to his sister.
The deputy then called for backup, according to Ebele Okobi. He sped across the street and cut off Chinedu Okobi as another patrol car arrived. Chinedu Okobi dropped his bags and put his arms in the air. The deputies grabbed him, ripped off his jacket as he asked, “What’s wrong? What did I do?” according to his sister. Then one deputy used his Taser as Chinedu Okobi cried out in pain.
At one point, Chinedu Okobi tried to get up, but a deputy hit him with a baton, and they shocked him again, his sister wrote. He tried to run again, and they chased him, used pepper spray and shocked him again.
Ebele Okobi said that Sgt. David Weidner can be heard on the video saying, “Stay on top of him,” repeatedly, then someone shouted, “I see blood!” After that, Chinedu Okobi lies lifeless on the sidewalk.
The videos have not been publicly released. But Ebele Okobi, Facebook’s public policy director for Africa, published her account on Facebook, where it was widely shared and became national news.
San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe hired an independent expert to assist with his investigation into the incident and committed to publicly releasing the videos once the investigation is complete.
The county Board of Supervisors has called a public hearing on Tasers, scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday at the Hall of Justice at 400 County Center in Redwood City.
Okobi’s death was the third of four involving law enforcement and a Taser in San Mateo County in 2018. The previous two were in Redwood City and Daly City. In a news conference in October, the Okobi family’s attorney, Oakland civil rights attorney John Burris, called for a moratorium on Taser use in the county.
In December, a second person was killed by police in Redwood City, Kyle Hart, a teacher at Frank S. Greene Middle School in Palo Alto who was threatening to kill himself. Redwood City police officers also used a Taser on Hart before they shot him.
Four deaths by law enforcement officers is highly unusual in San Mateo County, which has a population smaller than San Francisco. According to Bay City News archives as well as databases maintained by the Guardian and the Washington Post, there were three deaths by police shootings in the county in 2017 and none in either 2015 or 2016.
There had not been a Taser-related death in the county since 2005, when Pacifica police officers Tased Gregory Saulsbury Jr. while he was already handcuffed, according to a Reuters database of deaths involving Tasers.
Each of the four deaths in 2018 involved mental illness. Hart had reportedly already attempted suicide before officers arrived. Okobi had a history of mental illness, according to his family.
Ramzi Saad, who was killed in a struggle with Redwood City police officers on Aug. 13, suffered from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, according to the district attorney’s office. Warren Ragudo, who died after he was Tased by Daly City police officers on Jan. 16, had a history of mental illness and drug addiction.
Law enforcement agencies have struggled in recent years with how to respond to people suffering from mental health crises without resorting to lethal force.
As the county Board of Supervisors called for a hearing on Tasers at a December meeting, Supervisor Don Horsley, who was the county’s sheriff from 1993 to 2007 and whose son is now a sheriff’s deputy, said that the county has taken steps in recent years to avoid fatal law enforcement encounters with people suffering mental illness, including countywide crisis intervention training, hiring specially trained ambulance drivers, and adding new services.
“Having been in law enforcement for 35 years, most of the cases that I ran into people had some mental health crisis,” Horsley said. “Maybe these public hearings will give us some ideas about something else that we can do to avoid tragedies in the future.”
But civil rights advocates, including with the American Civil Liberties Union, have pointed out that Tasers are often incorrectly perceived as non-lethal weapons.
Tasers are distributed with seven pages of instructions and safety warnings, including that “some individuals may be particularly susceptible to the effects of [conducted energy weapon] use” like people suffering from “excited delirium, profound agitation, severe exhaustion, drug intoxication or chronic drug abuse, and/or over-exertion from physical struggle.” In these cases, Taser use “may cause or contribute to sudden death,” the manufacturer warns.
Alan Schlosser, an attorney with the ACLU of Northern California, called the warnings “chilling,” adding, “In my view is clearly an attempt by Taser to shift a liability from the company to the city.”
“In many people’s minds, Tasers are non-lethal weapons,” Schlosser said. “They’re much more dangerous than pepper spray and batons.”
In the past two years, officers in Redwood City have deployed Tasers 28 times, in Daly City 21 times and the sheriff’s office has used Tasers seven times. In most of those incidents, the suspect was not armed.
Aside from the four deaths, no one suffered serious injuries in the other deployments in the county over those two years, according to documents obtained from the three agencies through a public records request.
Some Tasers are more dangerous than others. In 2014, Taser International, the company that produces Tasers and is now known as Axon, stopped selling the X26 model and recommended that agencies switch to using its X26P model, writing to the agencies that the X26P was “far superior in terms of safety features.”
Most of the Tasers that San Mateo County sheriff’s deputies are using are still the outdated X26 model. David Silberman, the chief deputy county counsel, said that the sheriff’s office has 225 X26 Tasers and about 100 X26P. He would not say which model of Taser the deputies who killed Chinedu Okobi were carrying, citing the ongoing district attorney’s office investigation.
Redwood City ordered 125 X2 Tasers in November, the first time the Police Department had replaced its Tasers since 2010, before the X2 was introduced and when the X26 was the most popular model of Taser, according to invoices for Taser purchases obtained through a public records request. The department did not respond to questions about whether it was aware of the higher safety risks of the X26 model.
Brothers Rick and Tom Smith founded Air Taser Inc. in 1993 to develop a new electroshock weapon that would not be classified as a firearm. Previous electroshock weapons had used gunpowder as a propellant. Taser introduced its first product, the Air Taser Model 34000, the following year.
In 1998, the company changed its name to Taser International and in 1999, it introduced a handgun-shaped Taser. The X26 model was first introduced in 2003. Within four years, it was used by 11,000 law enforcement agencies worldwide, according to Taser’s website.
Tasers work by discharging two electrical probes attached to wires and propelled via compressed air. The probes embed in skin and clothing, delivering a powerful electric charge that causes muscles to tightly contract, incapacitating the suspect.
The devices also can be used in “drive stun” mode, meaning that the probes are not fired and the weapon is used in close proximity. In drive stun mode, the purpose of a Taser is not to incapacitate a suspect but to gain compliance through pain.
While Tasers quickly became a standard law enforcement tool, they have remained controversial. In San Francisco, fierce opposition kept the city’s Police Commission from allowing officers to use Tasers until last year, despite pleas from the department for a decade.
Activists argued that Tasers were potentially lethal and used much more frequently than guns, not simply a substitute for deadly force.
In San Mateo County, Tasers were in use by all but two law enforcement agencies by 2011, when the county’s civil grand jury examined Taser use and policy countywide. Only East Palo Alto and Menlo Park did not use Tasers. (Menlo Park equipped officers with Tasers starting in 2013.)
The civil grand jury found that almost all of the agencies using Tasers in San Mateo County had policies that were drafted by Lexipol, a private for-profit company that provides ready-made police policies.
Only the sheriff’s office had an independent policy, which differed from the Lexipol policies by having a series of recommended steps to escalate force. The sheriff’s office’s policy had changed in 2010 to make Tasers a more serious use of force — recommending using flashlights or specialty impact munitions before Tasers. Only carotid holds — similar to a chokehold without closing the windpipe — or deadly force were considered more serious.
Lexipol policies, on the other hand, let officers choose from a variety of force options based on the officer’s judgment. The grand jury recommended that the sheriff’s office adopt the Lexipol policy instead.
The sheriff’s office did eventually implement a Lexipol-based policy, but retained much of the language from its old policy, including the recommended steps in use of force.
However, the sheriff’s office did incorporate Lexipol-drafted language stating that “nothing in this policy requires an officer to retreat or be exposed to possible physical injury before applying reasonable force.”
In reviewing the policy for the ACLU, Schlosser said that he found that aspect of the policy antithetical to employing de-escalation techniques, which would direct officers to create space and establish communication.
“Language like this comes, to me, from the 19th Century,” Schlosser said. “Don’t retreat, hold your ground.”
The events leading to the death of Warren Ragudo, a 34-year-old Daly City man, have also been disputed, particularly the extent that Ragudo struggled and whether he was handcuffed by the time the officers used a Taser.
A letter from Wagstaffe, the county district attorney, says that officers had only handcuffed one of Ragudo’s arms before using a Taser and reports that Ragudo’s father confirmed this in an interview. But a lawsuit later filed by the family alleges that Ragudo had already been restrained by the time he was Tased.
According to Wagstaffe’s letter, Ragudo’s sister first called 911 at about 11:20 p.m. on Jan. 16, 2018, and said that her brother was “on drugs,” “tripping out” and “freaking out.”
She said that Ragudo was trying to jump out of a window and was being restrained by his father and uncle. While heading to the home at 964 Brunswick St., the officers were warned that Ragudo was on parole, was a drug user, and had a history of resisting police officers.
The family’s lawsuit states that they had hoped the officers would place him on a psychiatric hold.
Ragudo’s father and uncle were still holding him down on the second floor of the house when the officers arrived. Officers Corey Shoopman and Nicholas McCarthy tried to control Ragudo.
Shoopman grabbed his left arm and McCarthy put his knee between Ragudo’s shoulder blades. Ragudo continued kicking and twisting, and Officer Bruce Perdomo tried to grab his legs, Wagstaffe wrote in his letter.
According to the family’s lawsuit, Ragudo never kicked or swung his arms at the officers and Shoopman and McCarthy got him into handcuffs. But Wagstaffe’s letter said that Ragudo nearly kicked Perdomo in the face and while Shoopman handcuffed Ragudo’s left wrist, McCarthy lost control of Ragudo’s right arm. Perdomo then Tased him using the drive stun mode in his lower back, trying to gain his compliance through pain.
After the Taser deployment, Ragudo stopped struggling. At first he was still breathing, according to Wagstaffe’s letter, but as Sgt. Sean Begley arrived with restraints, he put his hand on Ragudo’s chest and did not feel movement. The officers attempted to revive him but he was pronounced dead a short time later.
The family’s lawsuit alleges that Ragudo, who was pinned facedown, was already having trouble breathing and was growing quiet before he was Tased.
In addition to the allegations of wrongful death and assault, the lawsuit filed by Ragudo’s family alleges that Daly City police Chief Patrick Hensley failed to adequately draft policy and train officers on how to deal with people suffering from a mental health crisis.
And while the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office policies expressly forbid deputies from using a Taser on someone in handcuffs, Daly City’s policies do not, so even if Ragudo was handcuffed deputies would have been permitted to Tase him, so long as they perceived the force to be reasonable.
A new police transparency law, Senate Bill 1421, took effect in California this year and requires the disclosure of internal investigatory files in cases where officers’ use of force leads to serious injury or death. But Daly City would not release the officers’ personnel files regarding Ragudo, citing the pending litigation against the city.
Kyle Hart had already cut his throat and wrists by the time police arrived on Dec. 10. His wife had just given birth to their second child three days earlier and the family had moved into a modest two-bedroom house in Redwood City with a large yard and a white picket fence in April.
Hart, 33, taught social studies and English and Frank S. Greene Jr. Middle School in Palo Alto, where he was well-liked by colleagues, students and their families.
His wife, Kristin Hart, called 911 at 8:47 a.m. and said that Hart was trying to kill himself. Redwood City police officers arrived at the home at 450 Lincoln Ave. and found Kristin Hart outside covered in blood. She directed them to the backyard, where Kyle Hart was holding a butcher knife and bleeding from his self-inflicted wounds.
The officers, who the department says were trained in crisis intervention techniques, tried to get him to drop the knife but instead, he
started running towards the officers, according to a Redwood City police news release.
One officer used a Taser in an attempt to subdue him, but it didn’t work, and another officer, a 20-year veteran of the department who has not been identified, shot him.
Hart was taken to a hospital but died. His young family has had an outpouring of support and raised nearly $250,000 through a GoFundMe page. The district attorney’s office is still investigating the case.
Even Hart’s exact cause of death remains undetermined, whether it was a result of the gunshot or his self-inflicted wounds. Nor is it clear why the Taser was ineffective.
It’s also not clear exactly how the previous person killed in an encounter with Redwood City police officers last year died. Police used a Taser on Ramzi Saad twice, but, according to the district attorney’s office, he continued fighting officers, two of whom climbed on top of him and held him face-down on the ground as he struggled.
Saad, 55, suffered from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. He lived at 523 Lanyard Drive with his 83-year-old mother, whom he allegedly pushed over before neighbors called police on Aug. 13.
Earlier that day, Saad had been in a “bad mood,” his mother told police, and had not taken his medication. His mother urged him to take it, but he refused, and at about 7 p.m., he grabbed his prescription bottles and walked out of the house.
Saad went to a neighbor’s house, and told him, “my mother is dead and they’re killing us,” according to the district attorney’s office. The neighbor knew that Saad suffered from mental health problems and tried to calm him down. He walked with Saad back to his own house, where his mother was outside.
Saad was shouting incoherently, then walked back into the house, put his medicine down, and said that he was never going to take his medicine again.
The neighbor started walking home, but Saad followed, so the neighbor turned around and brought him back again. When they got back, Saad, still agitated, pushed over his mother, causing her to hit her head. The neighbor called 911.
Redwood City police Officer Oscar Poveda was the first to arrive, and saw Saad, who is over 6 feet tall and weighed 273 pounds, angry and yelling at a group of people. Saad’s mother was still on the ground and some of the onlookers were yelling that Saad had pushed her. Poveda asked Saad what was going on and Saad responded, “they’re trying to kill me,” according to the district attorney’s office.
Poveda tried to calm Saad down by using crisis intervention techniques, according to the district attorney’s office, lowering his tone and asking Saad to sit down. Saad at first seemed to calm down, and said he wanted to go to the hospital, but suddenly Saad said, “You wanna pull out your gun and shoot me, don’t you?”
As Saad grew more agitated, Poveda pulled his Taser and hid it behind his back. He requested medical aid for Saad’s mother and told his sergeant that he intended to place Saad on a mental health hold.
Saad got up and swung at Poveda without warning, according to the district attorney’s office. Poveda deployed his Taser, and Saad fell to the ground on his stomach. Poveda told Saad to put his hands behind his back, then activated his Taser again, its probes still stuck in Saad. Saad picked up a piece of fruit that had fallen from a nearby tree and threw it at Poveda.
Poveda replaced his Taser cartridge and deployed it again. But the district attorney’s office found it was unclear if the probes struck Saad this time. Saad grabbed a brick off the ground, and Poveda tried to activate the Taser again.
Poveda felt a shock and dropped the Taser. Saad rolled onto his back and kicked at Poveda. After a struggle, Poveda was able to get Saad back onto his stomach and handcuff him. Officers Daniel Di Bona, Brian Simmons and Matthew Cydzik then arrived and Poveda, exhausted, walked away.
Di Bona grabbed Saad’s legs and put his weight on them. Cydzik put a knee between Saad’s shoulder blades, but did not use his full body weight, according to the district attorney’s office. Simmons got on top of Saad’s midsection and tried to hold Saad’s handcuffed arms steady. Saad then stopped fighting. Soon, he stopped breathing.
The district attorney’s office reviewed Saad’s death and on Nov. 1 declined to charge the four officers.
“Officer Poveda initially made use of the [crisis intervention technique] training in an effort to diffuse the situation, but the decedent’s aggressive conduct, including approaching and punching at the officer, motivated the use of the Taser, which is considered a non-lethal weapon,” Wagstaffe wrote in a letter to Redwood City police Chief Dan Mulholland. “Tragically, Mr. Saad went into cardiac arrest and died. This unfortunate result was not intended by the officers, nor could they have foreseen such a tragic outcome from the use of non-lethal force.”
Chinedu Valentine Okobi was born the day before Valentine’s Day in 1982. He was the youngest of five children born to two Nigerian immigrants in San Francisco. After he died, his sister wrote on Facebook, “he had irresistibly chubby cheeks when he was a baby, which was unfortunate because he clearly found the resulting cheek pinching entirely beneath his dignity.”
Okobi once had a promising future. He graduated with a degree in business administration in 2003 from Morehouse College in Atlanta, the historically black college where Martin Luther King Jr., Spike Lee and Samuel L. Jackson attended.
He had a daughter, whom his family said he was devoted to. But while he was studying to enter graduate school, he started having struggles with mental health.
“We struggled for years to get him the right diagnosis and medications, and we were so proud of him for creating a good and kind life despite his struggles with mental health,” his sister Ebele Okobi wrote.
Okobi’s death was surprising for many reasons. As the third death involving Tasers in San Mateo County last year, it was unprecedented. As the brother to a high-ranking Facebook employee with a broad platform, Okobi’s death drew more attention than many others under similar circumstances would.
The sheriff’s office’s use of Tasers has been infrequent in recent years, with only one incident in 2017 and six in 2018, including on Okobi.
None of the deputies involved in the Okobi incident had been sued for excessive force allegations previously, though the sheriff’s office paid about $2.5 million in civil rights claims between 2015 and 2017, according to public records.
That total was mainly due to a $2.15 million settlement for Richard Earl May, who was bitten by a police dog while helping a friend look for her cat in a construction site in Half Moon Bay.
Still, the sheriff’s office has been slow to adapt to the latest technology, including its Tasers, which it has been upgrading to the newer, safer, models.
In response to a public records request, the sheriff’s office was unable to find any purchase invoices prior to 2018, so the rate that it has been upgrading is unclear. The sheriff’s office will also be getting body cameras for the first time in June.
Because the sheriff’s office does not currently have body cameras, the video of Okobi’s death, which Wagstaffe has committed to releasing once his investigation is complete, is a piecemeal collection of dash camera footage from patrol cars, bystander cellphone videos and surveillance video.
As scrutiny mounted, Wagstaffe hired an independent expert to assist his office with the criminal investigation into Okobi’s death.
The consultant, Jeffrey Martin, is a former San Jose police sergeant who spent 26 years with the department. He earned a law degree in 2007 and has worked as a private consultant on training and internal affairs investigations since 2009. From 2009-2013, he also worked as a contractor for Lexipol, the company that authors policies for each law enforcement agency in San Mateo County.
Regardless of the outcome of Wagstaffe’s investigation, Okobi’s family will likely file a civil suit against the county. And the issues his death raises, whether Tasers are a safe and effective law enforcement tool and how police can best respond to people with mental illness, will rage on.
February 11, 2019
San Francisco Examiner; also published by SFGate
By Scott Morris, Bay News Service
[Placer County] Roseville’s first downtown affordable housing complex opened this month. Two more are on the way
Blog note: this article references a 2018 grand jury report on affordable housing in the county.
Roseville held a grand opening for its first downtown affordable housing complex this month, with construction on two more housing developments geared toward low-income residents in the affluent city set to begin later this year.
Residents began moving into Lohse Apartments, a $24 million four-story apartment complex with 58 units in downtown Roseville, in November.
To apply for the apartments, candidates must earn between 30 and 60 percent of Placer County’s median income for their household size – for example, a family of four would need to earn between about $20,800 and $41,600 to qualify, The Bee previously reported. Those individuals were then selected via lottery, and passed credit and background checks.
“Affordable housing such as the development behind me serves members of the local workforce like those ... usually making between $25,000 to $40,000 a year,” said Roseville housing manager Danielle Foster in a video posted by the city Feb. 4.
Those on fixed incomes, such as senior citizens or individuals with disabilities, also benefit from low-income housing in Roseville, she said in the video.
Also coming are two additional affordable housing buildings in Roseville’s Old Town neighborhood, just one block from each other.
Main Street Plaza Apartments, at the intersection of Washington Boulevard and Main Street, will include 65 units, according to the city, about half of which will be for veterans and other individuals with special needs, according to Placer County. The project will cost about $32 million.
The apartments will replace the condemned Roseville Hotel, demolished last year by Los Angeles-based Meta Housing Corp., which owns the property and is developing the affordable housing complex.
Junction Crossing, also on Washington Boulevard between Church and Pacific streets, is a planned $15.8 million, 80-unit apartment building set to begin construction this year. The building’s developer, Sacramento-based St. Anton Communities, is still finalizing the project’s financing.
The new developments come as Roseville continues to work toward addressing the lack of affordable housing in the city. The median household income in Roseville was about $80,400 in 2017 according to U.S. Census Bureau data, about 20 percent higher than in the Sacramento region.
Despite that, Foster said, a significant population of residents work in entry-level positions, or low-wage service and manufacturing jobs, and they need to be housed.
“Affordable housing development in the downtown provides an opportunity for the workforce to live locally while also providing foot traffic to the businesses in the area,” Foster said in the city video.
In 1989, Roseville created a general plan goal that 10 percent of all new housing be affordable units for households with very low to median income levels. Since then, the policy has produced 2,867 affordable housing units, according to the city.
Rising rents in Sacramento city and county have drawn attention, and surrounding counties in the region also feel the affordable housing squeeze.
A Placer County grand jury report last year found that while the county has “taken positive steps to address the issue of affordable housing,” it was falling short of the needed affordable housing stock.
In particular, the report noted the practice of charging developers inconsistent in-lieu fees to avoid building affordable units within their projects. Such fees received by the county are intended to fund affordable housing units, but the report said nearly $1 million collected had not been allocated for any specific housing development.
According to a 2018 California Department of Finance, Placer County was the second fastest growing county in the state based on percentage in 2017.
Editor’s note: This story and headline were updated Feb. 11 to correct that the Lohse Apartments complex is the first affordable housing project in downtown Roseville, not the first citywide.
February 11, 2019
The Sacramento Bee
By Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks
[Sacramento County] Finding Isleton: Small city on the Delta has a ragtag plan for rebirth with music and pot
Blog note: this article references a 2008 grand jury report.
A few days before the city’s planned Asian New Year festival, rain was in the forecast and Isleton Chamber of Commerce secretary Jean Yokotobi needed to ask Chuck Hasz a familiar question.
“Can we use your trailer to pick up the stage?” she asked outside the Main Street property Hasz owns. “Second question — can we borrow your tent for the stage?”
Hasz reluctantly obliged. Since he bought the apartment building with retail space 12 years ago, Hasz quickly earned a reputation as a kind of local fixer. Now, he said, “I would do anything for anyone in town.”
Ragtag efforts like these to help the tiny 845-person town continue after years of financial mismanagement and economic decline are nothing new.
But over the last few months, a group of Isleton business owners and city officials — some of whom are new transplants to the river city — have begun a small but steady campaign to turn the town around.
Saturday’s Asian New Year’s festival, complete with taiko drummers and a lion dance, was just the start of growing series of events the city intends to hold to bring more tourists into the historic Delta city from both the Bay Area and the Central Valley.
A Delta Dad Festival will fill the void of Isleton’s previous claim-to-fame, the Isleton Crawdad Festival. (That festival still draws out-of-towners into Isleton each year, who haven’t yet heard that the festival left the city years before.) Local businesses hope an additional festival in September, focused on blues music, will bring in another couple of thousand people.
Two new bar and restaurants have opened in town in the last year and a half, bringing a new lively energy on weekends. Three marijuana businesses, including a dispensary, a grow house and a manufacturing warehouse, are opening on the west edge of Main Street by April.
Long-abandoned homes near Main Street are now filled, and a developer plans to build 10 more. For the first time in years, the city has debt repayment plans and is paying the bills. The Chamber of Commerce plans on running an ambitious $1 million GoFundMe campaign to go toward the planned blues festival and the city.
Isleton is “charming,” said chamber President Sue Tipp. “It’s got structure.”
Now, she and others have to convince the region — and its residents — that it can live up to its potential.
GETTING THE WORD OUT
On a recent Tuesday afternoon, Isleton business owners and city officials gathered for lunch at the city’s most recent new restaurant, a pizzeria that opened in December called The Joint — the owner is helping open the marijuana dispensary across street, hence the name.
Their goal was simple: How would they transform their city from one plagued by massive debt and empty storefronts to one that would return Isleton to a state fit for its old moniker, “The Little Paris of the Delta”?
If anyone in Sacramento knows of Isleton, it’s likely because of the Crawdad Festival. The crustacean-themed festival each Father’s Day at its peak would flood its Main Street with 200,000 guests.
About a decade ago the festival went under, and the naming rights were sold. Attempts to restart a similar celebration have come up short. Still, the city remains proud of the event that put it on the map.
“If I walk down the street and ask 20 people, ‘Hey do you know where Isleton is?’ I get blank stares,” George Rehrmann, a demolition contractor who lives in Danville, told his fellow lunch attendees.
“Is there any way to get the word out?” he pleaded.
Isleton’s most recently appointed city manager, Charles Bergson, doesn’t sugarcoat the realities. Bergson, who came out of retirement after having worked in cities including Williams, Malibu and Compton to pick up the part-time city government work, said Isleton’s problems are about as bad as they can get for a city of its size.
“The city took 20, 30 years digging itself into holes, and now the basic thing is stabilizing city hall and keeping it that way,” he said.
Since 2004, city officials have been recalled, have resigned or have simply decided the task of volunteering their time to run a failing city for free wasn’t worth the heartache and stopped running. Turnover was frequent and turbulent — the City Council regularly took illegal votes when failing to meet a quorum.
The city failed to collect taxes from designated assessments, Bergson said. Corners were cut, and debts were quickly accumulating. After dissolving the local police department, the city failed for years to pay its full $202,000 contract with the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department.
Financial and governance issues were so severe that the Sacramento County grand jury released its 2008 report early to “call attention” to the plague of problems.
“The investigation encountered reactions ranging from indifference to — in some cases — outright hostility. When the grand jury questioned the indifference, we were presented with a troubling response. A ‘business as usual for Isleton’ reaction was given,” the report read. “Many citizens, elected officials, and city employees seemed to be saying ‘So what? Nothing is going to change.’ ”
The biggest challenge is paying back about $1 million in abused redevelopment agency money — taxes collected by the city in areas to fund economic improvements that frequently went toward paying city employees and other city needs — to the county.
“It’s like they took their college education money and started buying beer and potato chips,” he said.
Combined with a high-interest rate payments for a “terrible” $2 million bond issue the city took out about seven years ago, as well as debts to the Sheriff’s Department and the levee reclamation district, the city has about $1.4 million in debt to pay back.
It’s a massive amount given the size of the city, Bergson said, but he’s quick to stress the city has negotiated repayment plans for all its creditors. He estimates the city will collect $1.5 million in taxes this year and will spend $1.1 million for its budget.
Isleton has eight years to pay off the $350,000 it owes the Sheriff’s Department, but over the last few years residents have complained about the lackluster presence and slow response time of sheriff’s deputies.
“We’re getting multiple complaints that they call and they’re not dispatching anybody, or telling us, ‘We can’t send anyone out unless somebody’s dying,’” City Councilwoman Elizabeth Samano previously told The Bee.
For now, Bergson is working on securing a new $300,000-400,000 contract with the much closer Rio Vista Police Department, though he expects delays given recent allegations of abuse of power and use of force within the department.
A WANT TO ‘STRIVE AND THRIVE’
Iva Walton is trying to shift Isleton’s “business as usual” attitude.
Walton knows she doesn’t look like the stereotypical Isletonian. “I’m a big ol’ dyke,” she said. She has tattoos and wears gauges in her ears. Still, she’s always had a soft spot for the city since her days riding her motorcycle up from Oakland in the late 1980s, where she lived, up along the Delta.
She had dreamed of opening a craft beer room for years, and one afternoon while out on a boat in the Delta, her then-girlfriend said she wanted to move to the quiet river town.
When they realized 35 Main Street was for sale, they knew it would be the perfect home — it had long been her favorite building, and the price was affordable.
“Three years ago last week” they bought the building, she said. “Actually, we drove up to Sacramento, got married then came back down and signed the paperwork.”
In July 2017, she opened up Mei Wah Beer Room, restoring the former Chinese gambling hall and opium den to its extravagant glory. The bar, painted auspicious red and decorated with vintage Chinese-style furniture and memorabilia, has become a local hotspot on the weekends, along with The Joint, owned by Jeremy Petrell.
“Boy, those two have brought a lot to this town,” said Isleton resident Thomas Lee, sitting on a bench along Main Street enjoying the good weather near a recently refurbished Chinese gazebo. “On any given Saturday or Sunday,” he said, Mei Wah, “that place is jamming.”
Walton said that by and large, she has been welcomed by the city and its residents, despite her Bay Area roots. “As long as you treat the people right, it’s been nothing been giving.”
The attitude may be paying off. After having only lived in town about three years, she was elected to the City Council in November, with more votes than any other candidate: 118, or about 22 percent of the vote.
“We’re going to strive and thrive,” Walton said. “I was the first wave to spark some life in it, and there are many waves to come.”
LOCALS ARE SKEPTICAL
Not everyone is as convinced of the recent headway, particularly longtime residents like Jay Silva, the third generation in his family to live in Isleton.
He said he enjoyed the day’s Asian New Year festivities but said new businesses coming in from residents who live out of town don’t fully understand the culture of Isleton. “It’s a sleeping community,” he said, for workers to avoid high prices in cities where they commute to.
Founded in 1874, Isleton quickly became home to hundreds of Chinese laborers and then, after the United States passed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, increasingly Japanese laborers and then, during World War II after those residents were taken to internment camps, Filipino and Mexican workers.
In particular, Isleton was home to several asparagus canneries, employing many in the town and being a boon for the city. Long before the Crawdad Festival, the city had the Isleton Asparagus Festival.
Though most of the town’s commercial area burned down in 1926, the facades of the storefronts built to replace the old structures paid homage to its Asian roots, with Chinese characters adorning many of the buildings.
Silva is quick to share his own take on the town’s unique history. “My father used to polish shoes during the cannery season” along Main Street, he said. That’s how busy it used to get. “Are you every going to get that back? No.”
Though he enjoys new establishments such as Mei Wah and The Joint taking root alongside longtime stalwarts such as Peter’s Steakhouse and The Hair Loom salon, Silva said “I don’t care for marijuana” coming into town.
Cindy Burnett, an Oakland resident, recently secured city permits to open her medical marijuana manufacturing business Timeless Palliative Care Collective, encouraged by cheap real estate and a low 2 percent sales tax.
“We were going to open in Alameda County to start the business, but it’s crazy there,” she said. “I didn’t even know what Isleton was, but it was a steal and starting the licensing process a year ago, it was the first (city) that’s displayed leadership and a commitment” to their success.
Bergson said the 2 percent city sales tax, which is lower than other major cities in Northern California such as Oakland or Sacramento, is strategic, an attempt to boost desperately needed revenue. “The council wanted businesses to thrive, and we didn’t want to overburden them,” he said.
Silva said the town’s been burned before by non-Isleton residents making big promises.
“They come from a fast-paced life,” Silva said. “When these people talk, they’re talking because they’re only here for the moment.
“I’ve seen them come and I’ve seen them go.”
‘A SENSE OF PLACE’
Among the antique stores and gift shops, only a handful of businesses were open along Main Street on a recent Tuesday — The Joint, a laundromat, a convenience store. About half of all storefronts are shuttered, boarded up with paper covering the windows.
Silence is the city’s main soundtrack. Traffic is so rare that one could easily walk the pavement without fear of being hit by a car. At one point, Yokotobi stopped to take a photo of a dog bathing in the sun in the middle of the street.
Isleton knows what it is, Bergson said. “Isleton has a sense of place.”
Change is slow, just like the pace of the city. At Saturday’s Asian New Year’s festival, a tent ended up being a good idea. Crowds were slim, scared off perhaps by the threat of rain. As it began to drizzle, Tipp couldn’t hide her disappointment, as she stepped into Mai Wah to escape the rain and eat lunch.
“Isleton festival flops” would be the headline of the day, joked Eric Chiu, who manages the tiny home village of Park Delta Bay in Isleton.
Despite the disappointing showing, Mei Wah was bustling with locals and visitors. Brian Meitzenheimer and Melina Tovar had driven into town from Vallejo to grab food at Yes My Sweet BBQ & Catering and see the festivities.
They had never heard of the town before being invited, Tovar said, but sitting inside Mei Wah, Meitzenheimer said he was eager to enjoy more of the beers on tap.
Isleton may be small, but it boasts a history and charm that beats their hometown. They said they plan to return.
“There’s only so much you can do in Vallejo,” Tovar said.
February 10, 2019
The Sacramento Bee
By Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks