Wednesday, February 3, 2016

[Santa Clara County] Civil Grand Jury Investigates Stadium Authority for Levi’s Stadium, Site of Super Bowl 50

Blog note: this article references a grand jury investigation looking into the City of Santa Clara’s Stadium Authority.
Julio Fuentes lost his cool during the holiday break. While other city officials were off for vacation, and fewer still went through the motions at work in the closing days of 2015, the city manager of Santa Clara threw a tantrum.
He cleaned off his desk and stripped his office’s walls of photos, according to sources at City Hall, and a paper shredder’s gears could be heard in the long corridor that bisects the municipal headquarter’s east wing. These were not the actions of a man getting a jump on his spring cleaning as much as an outburst by the city’s highest paid employee. He was letting his colleagues know that he’d had it.
In October, the City Council authorized a pay increase for the city attorney, but not for Fuentes, who in the months prior had quietly handed out 5-percent merit pay increases to the city clerk and police chief without the council’s knowledge. Instead of getting a raise, the city manager of nearly three years was granted the indignity of a stipend, a one-time 5-percent boost to his $290,000 annual salary.
Fuentes refused it outright, and has since declined interview requests until after Super Bowl 50. He also mysteriously disappeared from his office for two days last week in the all-important lead up to the big game, which is being held at Levi’s Stadium. A request to take a view of Fuentes’ office was denied by his executive assistant, who noted such a sneak peek is “not how we do things.”
Two weeks after the meltdown—which elicited chortles at City Hall over the unrequited, hold-me-back chest puffing—Santa Clara Mayor Jamie Matthews admitted he’d heard about the city manager’s unusual office purge.
“I don’t know what that’s about,” the mayor said, adding that he hopes Fuentes decides to stick around.
Other elected in Santa Clara seem less sanguine.
Fuentes, and by extension other top city staff, are suspected of withholding and/or obfuscating information related to the operations of Levi’s Stadium, the two-year home of the San Francisco 49ers. The city manager, in response, is apparently fed up and feeling underappreciated for his efforts, but that isn’t the story he’s selling.
Fuentes has explained his housecleaning by informing colleagues he simply wants to “stay nimble.”
That’s one possibility. Another reason could be the civil grand jury investigation that has been quietly looking into the city’s Stadium Authority—tasked with overseeing all operations at Levi’s Stadium—for the last three months.
Play Past the Whistle
The Big Game is just the beginning.
When the million or so visitors to the Bay Area return home and attention shifts away from pursuits involving genetically engineered cyborgs in shoulder pads—and several kickers—giving each other brain damage, the vision for what Santa Clara intends to become will take shape. Football, in fact, is just one piece of Santa Clara’s bid to become the “Capital of Silicon Valley,” if there is such a thing. It’s a title neighboring San Jose—the Bay Area’s largest city and the seat of Northern California’s biggest county—introduced in the 1980s as a marketing slogan. 
The rivalry dates back to 1777, when San Jose was established as a pueblo and Santa Clara became home to a mission. Both remained tiny villages of less than a thousand inhabitants until the Gold Rush, when San Jose became the bigger city, and for a short time, California’s capitol. By the early 1950s, San Jose had 100,000 residents and doubled its population in the decade that followed. Santa Clara was a little more than a tenth the size.
The sprawl San Jose cultivated in the 1960s, as it annexed neighboring towns and cities, took a catastrophic turn in 1978, when Proposition 13 capped property taxes. The city’s past emphasis on housing over jobs has steadily diminished the level of core services in San Jose, and startups and established industrial giants favored the Peninsula and San Francisco, despite San Jose’s aggressive wooing of technology companies.
Meanwhile, Santa Clara has remained lean and independent.
The Mission City has its own electric power utility, bypassing the PG&E monopoly and giving residents and some businesses energy bills as much as 40 percent lower than in San Jose. Companies like Intel, Nvidia, Cisco, Oracle, Ericsson and a host of others have scooped up office space in Santa Clara over the years, building a job base that more than doubles the city’s total population Monday through Friday. And, despite being just four miles wide, it’s home to a highly regarded regional university and a shiny new NFL stadium.
Santa Clara scores high marks in every category except the two that make a city livable: residential capacity and a downtown retail district. This will change very soon, and the winners will be measured not in wins and losses but in millions and billions.
Next door to Levi’s Stadium, Related Companies has announced plans to create a $6.5 billion, 239-acre “entertainment destination” district that will be roughly six times the size of Santana Row, the Mediterranean-influenced mixed-use development that creeps right up to the border of Santa Clara’s southern boundary. An environmental impact report is currently making the rounds, after stalling in part because the project requires a 40-acre concrete “podium” to first be built over the city’s old municipal landfill. That aspect of the project alone is expected to cost $800 million.
Surrounding Levi’s Stadium, a collection of 10 properties up for sale, which include Great America theme park’s 116 acres, as well as a Hilton, a Hyatt, the Techmart Center office building and the property under Irvine Company’s Gateway Project office campus, will go up for sale later this year. The city must sell off the land as required by the state’s mandate to purge all properties obtained through now-defunct redevelopment agencies.
Suitors include Related and the Newport Beach-based Irvine Company. It would stand to reason Irvine owner Donald Bren would want to avoid paying rent on the very office property his buildings sit. The developer’s many other Santa Clara projects include a Whole Foods Market, 1,800 neighboring residential units and a 400-unit project by the city’s Caltrain station.
For a sense of how many big projects are taking place in Santa Clara, this is the same city that rejoiced in 2014 over getting a Target.
“We were very excited when we got our first Target,” Mayor Jamie Matthews said. “Practically, key to the city time.”
The celebration, however, may be short-lived as residents realize their gains could come at a cost.
Irvine Company has an exceptionally close working relationship with the 49ers, and recent efforts by the team to displace a youth soccer league from a parcel adjacent to Levi’s Stadium are apparently part of a much larger plan. City Hall insiders discreetly admit that Great America, which has been in operation since 1976, could be demolished in the very near future to make way for a mix of high-density housing and office space.
In a governance committee meeting near the end of 2015, City Manager Fuentes acknowledged, “Whether you want to believe it or not, we’re becoming a big city.”
February 3, 2016
San Jose Inside
By Josh Koehn

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

[Orange County] New details emerge from O.C. jail break; sheriff 'extremely troubled'

Blog note: this article references six separate grand jury reports from 2008 to 2014 that called on the Sheriff’s Department to improve antiquated surveillance systems in county jails.
Orange County Sheriff’s officials said Tuesday that they were “extremely troubled” that it took at least 16 hours for deputies to realize three inmates had escaped last week, as new details emerged about the lengths the trio went to break out of the high-security lockup in Santa Ana.
With the inmates now at large for five days, the jail has come under intense scrutiny for several policies that some believe may have made the escape easier.
Jail personnel conduct only two physical head counts of inmates per day, one at 5 a.m., the other at 8 p.m. Investigators believe the three men vanished after the 5 a.m. check, and the escape was not discovered until late Friday night.
Lt. Jeff Hallock, a department spokesman, said at a news conference Tuesday that “immediate steps have been taken” to improve the inspection process but would not provide any specifics.
Court documents made public Tuesday offered the most detailed description of the escape scheme yet, suggesting that more than 17 hours may have elapsed before evidence of the jail break was discovered.
Jail staff first realized something was wrong around 8 p.m. Friday during a nightly count of inmates that came up three short, according to the arrest warrants filed late Monday. The warrants make no mention of a jailhouse brawl that sheriff's officials have said delayed completion of the bed check until about 9 p.m.
After identifying the missing men as Jonathan Tieu, Bac Duong and Hossein Nayeri, deputies checked the inmates’ schedules to make sure they hadn't been in court that day or been left behind in a visitor area. They also checked whether the inmates were in classes offered at the jail.
With no leads, deputies performed a second head count, confirming what many of them probably were dreading — the three men weren’t merely missing, they might have escaped.
At 8:45 p.m., deputies launched a physical search of the entire facility. Seven inmates claimed they saw Tieu, Duong and Nayeri during the jail’s 5 a.m. head count but did not see them the rest of the day.
As teams swept every cell, bunk bed and dorm, other deputies scoured the building's roof and plumbing tunnels, finding makeshift ropes, cut-apart gates and sawed-open vents. Slowly, investigators were able to trace the trio’s path from Module F, the fourth-floor dormitory where they were housed, to a rope of knotted bed sheets they used to descend from the roof.
Sheriff's Department officials have said the escape probably began with the inmates cutting through a metal screen in their fourth-floor cell. This gave them access to a plumbing tunnel, but according to the warrant, deputies discovered that the tunnel would quickly lead the escapees to a ventilation shaft.
A deputy who had been searching the plumbing tunnel said he found the shaft's security bars had been cut away. About two feet below the shaft's entrance was a white bed sheet tied into a sling, with another sheet tied to more security bars, according to the affidavit.
“This was used as a way for the inmates to pull themselves up into the vent,” one deputy wrote.
Once inside the shaft, the escapees had to remove multiple “ventilation louvers,” or shutters, before they reached a trap door leading to the outer edge of the roof, according to the reports.
That area is outside a security gate that keeps inmates in a recreation area. Hallock said the fact that inmates typically use the roof for recreation purposes is “one of many design flaws” of the nearly 50-year-old jail.
The reports in the warrants say the escapees “sawed” through some of the security bars but make no mention of any tools they may have used or from where they may have gotten them.
Once atop the jail, the inmates cut barbed wire from the rooftop's edge and used the bed sheets to rappel to the ground, deputies wrote.
About 10:30 p.m., investigators found two pairs of jail-issued sandals and a paper bag containing more rope that the trio presumably left on the roof before making their way to freedom.
Since the escape, the Sheriff’s Department has conducted a “roof-to-basement” check of the entire jail, Hallock said.
 “The preliminary investigation into the escape has caused the sheriff concern as to some of the jail inmate count practices and how they were conducted,” he added. “The sheriff is extremely troubled by the time it took the staff to determine the three inmates housed in a maximum security jail were unaccounted for.”
The Orange County Grand Jury has called on the Sheriff’s Department to improve antiquated surveillance systems in county jails six separate times, from 2008 to 2014. An $11-million plan to revamp those outdated camera setups was not launched until last year.
It remains unclear whether Module F is equipped with cameras. In a report published in 2014, an Orange County Grand Jury said surveillance equipment in the county’s adult and juvenile facilities were extremely outdated, with some deputies left to review videotapes.
“After touring all jail facilities, the grand jury surveyed the video systems at each jail, which range from severely outdated VHS tape technology, to touch screen operations. Each jail has a different system,” the report read. “This grand jury again found that all jails were lacking adequate video monitoring equipment to protect both the inmates and the staff. Recommendations by the previous six grand jury reports have not changed this fact.”
While Men’s Central Jail was not among those equipped with a VHS system, the facility’s camera setup did allow for several blind spots, according to a member of the grand jury who requested anonymity because grand jury members are not allowed to speak publicly about their findings. The grand jury member wondered aloud if increased surveillance could have done anything to prevent the escape.
“This has been a problem that has been building for some years and now, boom, here we are,” the grand jury member said. “Had the responses been taken seriously and the funds allocated in the past, we wouldn’t be here.”
The Sheriff’s Department launched a project to upgrade its camera system at all county jail facilities last year, with an approved budget of nearly $11 million, the reports show. Between 1,500 and 2,000 cameras are to be installed as part of the plan.
Hallock said the upgrade process was ongoing at all jails but declined to elaborate.
Questions about the surveillance systems were among several raised Tuesday, as local leaders continued to try to understand how the three men managed to get through several layers of metal, steel and rebar undetected.
“We were all scratching our heads,” said County Supervisor Todd Spitzer, who announced a $200,000 reward Tuesday for information leading to the capture of the fugitives. “How on Earth did this happen?”
Spitzer said he was particularly concerned about delays of Nayeri’s trial date.
The 37-year-old was arrested in 2013 and charged as part of a plot to kidnap and torture a wealthy marijuana dispensary owner in hopes of forcing him to surrender $1 million. Nayeri and his accomplices allegedly burned the man with a blowtorch and severed his penis, then left him to die in the Mojave Desert, court records show.
Hallock would not say whether the men’s pending trial dates helped motivate the escape, but all three were due in court to answer charges that could carry life sentences within the next two months. Nayeri was scheduled to face a pretrial hearing Feb. 2, 10 days after the escape. Duong was slated for a pretrial hearing on an attempted murder charge Feb. 8, and Tieu was to be retried in a 2011 gangland murder the following month.
During the news briefing, Hallock defended the sheriff’s policy of holding inmates awaiting trial for violent crimes in the dormitory-style housing. Corrections experts have said the three men should have been detained in individual holding cells.
Hallock, however, said at least half the men held in Module F are violent offenders.
“Each of the three inmates were housed appropriately in a maximum security jail,” he said.
January 26, 2016
Los Angeles Times
By Jeremiah Dobruck, Richard Winton, and James Quelly