Thursday, June 21, 2018

[Placer County] Grand jury lauds Placer County for work on affordable housing

Placer County is making big strides in providing affordable housing, but more work needs to be done, according to a grand jury report released on Wednesday.
"The county has taken positive steps to address the issue of affordable housing," said the county grand jury, an impartial watchdog group tasked with investigating facets of local government and citizen complaints.
Affordable housing has long been a problem for Placer County, partly due to the high cost of land there.
In 2017, the Placer County Community Development Resource Agency released a business plan that made affordable housing a priority. Plans are currently under way to build affordable units at the DeWitt government center, and the county Board of Supervisors recently hired an outside consultant to provide additional suggestions for dealing with the issue.
While commending the county on those efforts, the grand jury made it clear much more is needed to provide housing that can be obtained at 30-40 percent of a household's monthly income.
One problem the grand jury highlighted was the in-lieu fee that developers can pay the county as an alternative to building affordable housing units. The county uses those funds to pay for another entity to build affordable housing units.
The grand jury noted that the county currently does not have any consistent formula for determining the in-lieu fee developers pay. The result is that developers across Placer County often pay widely varying fees. And nearly $1 million in such fees already collected has not yet been designated for specific affordable housing projects.
The grand jury recommended the county create a consistent formula to keep this from happening in the future, and, when possible, have developers stick to the formula requiring that 10 percent of the units they build be classified as affordable.
To reach this goal, the jury suggested that the county simplify the process developers follow to incorporate affordable housing into their planned units.
The grand jury also recommended that the county provide a map of properties available for affordable housing development, and facilitate forums that focus on local developments and affordable alternatives.
The jury requested a response to these recommendations from various county government officials, including county Executive Officer Todd Leopold and the Placer County Board of Supervisors.
"We'll be taking due time to thoroughly review the recommendations to facilitate the board's response," said Chris Gray-Garcia, the acting director of communications and public affairs for Placer County.
Officials have until Sept. 30 to respond.
June 20, 2018
The Sacramento Bee
By Adesuwa Agbonile

[Santa Cruz County] Grand jury looks at homeless foster youth

SANTA CRUZ COUNTY — The County of Santa Cruz should do more to support its homeless young people, as well as those in foster care and who are about to age out of the foster care system, according to a report released Tuesday by the county’s Grand Jury.
The report focused in particular on homelessness among foster youth.
According to the report, the services available are inadequate to help the 165 homeless children under the age of 18 who are unaccompanied by a parent, and an additional 423 young adults, aged 18–24, who are living homeless in the county.
According to a 2017 report by the National Foster Youth Institute, 20 percent of foster youth in foster care will become “instantly homeless” after reaching the age of 18.
The 2017 County Homeless Census and Survey showed that 98 percent of the 588 unaccompanied minor children are living “without shelter.”
Worse, less than 40 percent receives any type of government assistance, the report shows.
In addition, 40 percent of the homeless unaccompanied children and young adults had a history of foster care.
The news in the report was not all bad.
A $2.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is expected to help Santa Cruz County officials design and implement programs to help homeless young people. The Youth Advisory Board and the Homeless Action Partnership are working together on how best to use that money.
The report touched on Assembly Bill 12, a 2010 law that allows most foster youth to remain in foster care until they are 21.
But young people must opt in to the program, which normally requires the assistance of a social worker.
Another problem pointed out in the grand jury report is that high turnover of social workers – and heavy caseloads – often means that they are unavailable to provide help with AB 12 and other services.
“A change in social workers is particularly detrimental to children on the verge of leaving foster care,” the report stated.
Assembly Bill 403, a 2015 law, ended group homes for foster youth, and instead turned into short-term residential treatment centers.
The goal of this law was to end the “institutionalization of youth.”
But the lack of group homes means that some foster youth are shipped out of the county to find a place to live. The group homes also served as temporary emergency shelter.
"The lack of a group home or shelter dedicated to housing homeless youth is a serious problem requiring an immediate response,” the report stated.
In addition, the Independent Living Resource Center in Santa Cruz is open just three days per week with limited hours. It is the only such drop-in center in the county for young adults.
“At the present time, county services are almost nonexistent for homeless young adults who are not AB 12-eligible," the report stated. "There are no shelters in the county, emergency or longer term, dedicated to housing 18- to 24-year-old homeless youths.
•••
Grand jury recommendations
• The Santa Cruz County Human Services Department should work to make sure foster youth know about the requirements of AB 12.
• The HSD should create an outreach program for homeless minors and young adults.
• The HSD should investigate the reasons behind high turnover rates among social workers.
• The county should create a mid-county drop-in center for homeless young people, in addition to the ones proposed for North and South counties.
• The county should create an emergency shelter for homeless children and young adults.
•••
After a grand jury report is released, the agencies in question typically have up to 90 days to respond. The responses usually contain several agreements and disagreements with the allegations. The agencies are not bound by law to follow the recommendations.
June 20, 2018
Register Pajaronian
By Todd Guild


[Yolo County] County working to preserve history

The Friends of the Yolo County Archives is a local all voluntary nonprofit organization whose members share the Grand Jury and The Davis Enterprise’s passion for our local history.  Our primary mission is to support the Yolo County Archives and promote the preservation and access to local history. As the President of FYCA, I would like to provide some clarification to the recent article entitled “Grand Jury: Decaying archives jeopardize Yolo County history.”
For orientation, Yolo County is one of the few California counties that maintains and funds a county archives.  Most counties either do not have an archives or may maintain historic documents within their records division or within a special collections unit of a library.  We are fortunate that Yolo County, through the work of concerned citizens in the 1980s and beyond, was able to create a formal archives in the combined Library and Archives division.
The Archives, at 226 Buckeye St. in Woodland, is co-located with the County Library system’s central services. The article title of “Decaying archives jeopardize Yolo County history” is sensational and misleading, in that the archives is climate-controlled and the collection is stored in proper, archival quality boxes. While improvements to the facilities and equipment (including investment in a new digital content management system) are most welcome we think it important to stress that the collection is well managed and cared for by the archives staff.
The Yolo County Board of Supervisors has demonstrated their commitment to the archives by allocating funds of over $1.5 million dollars for renovations. According to the county’s Capital Improvement Program for 2018-2019, “The purpose of the project is to upgrade systems at the Central Library and enable appropriate storage and security of the County Archives and Records Center. Approximately 6,300 linear feet of space is needed for storage with projections for growth. This project will renovate the existing built space to meet the archival standards needed to preserve the collection. This would include use of compact shelving, and allowances for growth and retrieval as well as a reception and research/reading area, and digitization program.”
Specific upgrades include:
* Replace old shelving with compact shelving that will increase our storage capacity by 20-30 percent
* New epoxy seal on the cement storage area flooring
* New HVAC system to improve temperature and humidity levels throughout the year
* New LED lighting
* Improvements to the vapor barrier and building eaves to improve building insulation
* Lowering the ceiling in the Reading Room and Work Room
* Upgrades to the bathrooms for ADA
* New furniture for the Work Room and Reading Room.
Preservation and access go hand-in-hand. The article notes that access to the archives is limited to a few hours a week, and although additional staff would undoubtedly help the archives with collections processing, access and public hours, researchers can make appointments in advance and are accommodated at far greater hours than the open hours suggest.
FYCA and the archives also share the desire to make content searchable and available digitally. In fact, FYCA has supported the digitization of historic photographs, maps and documents through the Discover It Yourself grant to the archives. Anyone can now go online to www.yolocountyhistory.com and access over 1,000 items from around Yolo County. Additional investment in a digital asset management system and large format scanning equipment would serve to strengthen and enhance the good work that the staff is already performing.
It is unfortunate that The Enterprise did not reach out to the archives staff for comment regarding the renovations in process prior to publishing the Grand Jury’s report. It is our understanding that County Librarian and Chief Archivist Mark Fink is coordinating a response with the County Administrator’s Office that will address the Grand Jury’s concerns within the next 60 to 90 days.
In the meantime, the Friends of the Yolo County Archives wants to reaffirm its dedication to supporting the archives and our shared local history for generations to come. The Grand Jury’s report rightfully identifies areas for improvement and long-range planning goals but the current efforts of the County Board of Supervisors and the Library and Archives system should also be recognized. For further information on supporting the Yolo County Archives please visit our website at www.friendsyca.org or find us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/FriendsoftheYoloCountyArchives.
June 19, 2018
Davis Enterprise
By Anastasia Panagakos, 2017-18 board president of the friends of the Yolo County Archives 


[Santa Barbara County] Grand jury raises concerns with now-closed Champion Center; Lompoc hospital CEO disputes findings

The Champion Center — a now-closed rehabilitation facility that had been operated by Lompoc Valley Medical Center — lost $10 million in the two and a half years it was open, yet hospital leaders still have not explained to constituents how they plan to repay bond money or how the repayments could affect services offered by the hospital, according to a Santa Barbara County civil grand jury report.
The grand jury's nine-page report, released Monday, outlines several problems that the grand jury discovered from the center’s planning stages through its ultimate closure in July 2017. These included a failure to engage in appropriate market research prior to opening, and a lack of comprehensive risk assessment to examine what could go wrong.
The three recommendations from the grand jury were for the hospital’s board of directors to explain to voters exactly how and why the Champion Center failed, how the hospital plans to repay mortgage bonds related to the center, and how those repayments could affect current services at LVMC.
“The (grand jury) found it disturbing that the Lompoc Valley Medical District leadership interviewed who were involved with the startup process stated that no mistakes were made and they had no need to explain the failure of the Champion Center to its voters,” read a portion of the grand jury report.
The LVMC board of directors has 90 days to formally respond to the grand jury’s findings, but hospital CEO Jim Raggio did not need that long to hit back against the claims.
On Tuesday, LVMC’s top executive said the hospital disputed all of the conclusions reached by the grand jury.
“The recently released grand jury report regarding the closure of the Champion Center, which is owned and operated by Lompoc Valley Medical Center, contained a number of inaccurate statements,” Raggio said. “LVMC disagrees with all of the grand jury’s conclusions. Furthermore, LVMC is perplexed that the grand jury was unaware the three recommendations it made were all completed by LVMC between June 23 and Aug. 1, 2017, a full three months prior to the start of the grand jury investigation.”
Looking back
The grand jury report delves into the background of the Champion Center, which was located in the 300 block of South C Street in a building that had previously housed the old Lompoc Hospital from 1956 through 2010.
In 2009, after no buyers stepped up to purchase the old hospital building, hospital leaders began exploring the idea of converting the building into a rehab facility, according to the report. Those talks began after leaders met with the owner of Addiction Medicine Services, which was operating as a three-step rehab program — combining detox, rehabilitation, and outpatient counseling — connected to a hospital in Hemet.
The Lompoc facility was ultimately named the Champion Center because one of its primary goals was to serve clients from military and/or first-responder backgrounds who were suffering from substance abuse issues linked to post-traumatic stress disorder.
A consultant was hired by LVMC in 2009, after getting board approval, to evaluate the Addiction Medicine Services' program in Hemet and its potential replication in Lompoc, according to the report. That evaluation concluded that the same model could be used as a revenue-booster in Lompoc, but it also warned that the building’s nonconforming seismic condition had to be considered when deciding how to license a chemical detox program.
The Champion Center would have needed to meet seismic requirements to operate under LVMC’s general acute care license, but a freestanding chemical dependency recovery hospital would not have to meet such standards.
After deciding to go the recovery hospital route, LVMC leadership began the process of remodeling the old hospital, determining construction costs and exploring financing.
“According to senior (hospital) district staff, the district did not pursue a cost assessment of seismically upgrading the building,” according to the grand jury report.
LVMC was ultimately able to secure an $18.75 million revenue bond from Cal-Mortgage to cover construction costs, according to the report. The bond did not require voter approval because its repayment is due to come from hospital income and not from voters.
That bond money was issued in 2013 and the building was remodeled soon after. With Addiction Medicine Services leading the recovery program, the Champion Center held a ribbon-cutting in August 2014 and received its license as a freestanding chemical dependency recovery hospital the following month. The first clients entered the program in November 2014.
Road to failure
The grand jury reported that it found no evidence that anyone involved with the Champion Center ever reviewed any other facility besides the one in Hemet.
“The jury also found no evidence that a comprehensive risk assessment was conducted or contracted by the (hospital) district to examine the market for a (freestanding chemical dependency recovery hospital) in Lompoc or the potential risks of pursuing such a project before the decision was made to proceed,” the report noted.
LVMC contracted a separate consulting firm in August 2010 to produce a financial feasibility study, as required by Cal-Mortgage. That study, completed in November 2012, led LVMC to the $18 million construction estimate, which would be financed with the combination of tax-exempt bonds insured through Cal-Mortgage and with hospital reserves.
Raggio said last year that a lot of the expectations for the center were based on that feasibility study.
The grand jury report noted that all of the judgments regarding the potential performance of the Champion Center were problematically based on input from officials with Addiction Medicine Services and LVMC, the two stakeholders in the project.
“(Hospital) district officials confirmed to the jury that no other independent risk assessments were conducted either before or after the district decided to pursue the project,” the report read.
Insurance issues
The grand jury report states that the Champion Center was refused a license from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services in July 2016 because of LVMC’s decision to not seismically retrofit the building.
Further, when the first patients arrived in November 2014, neither Medicare nor other insurance contracts were in place.
It was projected by LVMC officials that it would take about six months to obtain insurance coverage plans, but the grand jury report notes that “the time lost was much greater than expected.”
“Between March 2015 and December 2016, the center worked through many delays securing insurance contracts,” the report states. “For example, the first insurance contract was signed in June 2015, but the center was not loaded onto its system until eight months later. Other insurers had a three-month waiting period before coverage could become effective, in addition to another six-month delay to load the center into their systems.”
By operating the Champion Center for more than 16 months without a full complement of insurance payers, LVMC created continued operational losses, according to the grand jury.
By 2016, according to the grand jury, the Champion Center had an average of 20 to 25 patients at all times, amounting to an occupancy rate of about 40 percent.
“Tricare, a government insurance program for military families, did not become available until September 2016,” the report states. “Medi-Cal did not become available until 2017, just as the (hospital) district closed the center.”
Money woes?
As agreed upon by both Raggio and the grand jury, LVMC was never able to meet its occupancy targets for the Champion Center.
The losses, according to the grand jury, amounted to about $300,000 per month, or about $10 million total over two and a half years.
Staffing, the grand jury reported, was the biggest expense. The center needed specialized counselors and a physician medical director with specialized training in addiction medicine. Ultimately, there were five such medical directors in the center’s less than three years of existence.
“Although the forecast was for a first year loss of $1,900,000 and a second year of $411,000, the actual operating loss for the first fiscal year (2014-15) was $2,400,000 and $3,900,000 each for the second and the third fiscal years,” the grand jury report noted. “In the end, the (hospital) district had invested roughly $21 million ($18.75 million bond and $2 million cash reserves) in the facility, and incurred an additional $10 million in operating losses.”
Raggio said Tuesday that not only is LVMC not in financial turmoil but that it "is in the best financial position in its history.”
Cal Mortgage, which insures the revenue bonds, requires LVMC to maintain minimum financial indicators, according to LVMC. Two of those indicators are Debt Service Coverage Ratio and Days Cash on Hand.
The minimum requirement to be compliant with the bond covenants, according to LVMC, are to maintain a Debt Service Coverage Ratio of no less than 1.25 and to keep Days Cash on Hand from dropping below 30 days.
“As of April 2018, LVMC’s (Debt Service Coverage Ratio) is 7.4, which means the hospital district can cover all of its debt 7.4 times,” hospital spokeswoman Nora Wallace said Tuesday. “LVMC’s Days Cash on Hand as of June 19, 2018, is 121 days. Both indicators far exceed (requirements).”
The debt services on the bonds will cost a little more than $1 million per year through 2042.
End of the line
While acknowledging that the decision to close the Champion Center was inevitable, the grand jury took issue with the way the closure was announced to the public.
“The proposal to close the (Champion) Center was a quiet one,” the grand jury report stated. “No public announcements to explain the closure were ever made and the closure only appeared on the (hospital) district’s agenda of a specially called meeting, which was posted as required.
“The board members and senior district staff who were interviewed did not explain their actions to the public,” it continued. “All senior staff and board members interviewed ... stated that no mistakes were made in the development or operation of the center.”
Wallace, the LVMC spokeswoman, disputed that by pointing to press releases that were sent out to local media after the board decided to close the center.
“No grand jury representative asked CEO Jim Raggio for any communication made to the community about the Champion Center closure,” she said. “Had he been asked, Mr. Raggio would have provided the information."
The Champion Center has sat vacant since its closure in July 2017, except for a small portion used for laundry services. LVMC, according to the grand jury, has offered the building for sale at an appraised value lower than the remaining bond debt and has also considered leasing the building.
“It is uncertain how the center will be used or generate income,” the report states.
Still, the grand jury noted that LVMC leaders “told the jury that they are confident that (LVMC) can repay the remainder of the loan even as it (is) struggling with diminishing reimbursements.”
Going forward
Among the contributing factors listed by the grand jury for the Champion Center’s ultimate failure were:
  • The reliance on only one chemical dependency recovery hospital to validate hospital leaders’ decision to proceed;
  • The failure to engage in appropriate market research to determine the potential number of patients;
  • The lack of a comprehensive risk assessment to examine what could go wrong, instead relying on a feasibility study that based financial projections on the same sole chemical dependency recovery hospital; and
  • The decision not to retrofit seismically, which caused delays for licensing and insurance coverage.
The grand jury’s three recommendations going forward were for the LVMC board to report to its constituents how it plans to repay the revenue bonds; explain how those repayments will affect existing operations; and provide a “clear and detailed explanation” of the failure of the Champion Center.
Wallace noted that the board will comply with the grand jury’s requirement for a response within 90 days.
Raggio announced in January that he plans to retire effective June 30, though he could stay on longer if the board cannot find his replacement before then.
The next regular meeting of the LVMC board of directors is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Thursday, June 28, in the boardroom at the hospital, 1515 E. Ocean Ave.
June 19. 2018
Lompoc Record
By Willis Jacobson


Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Yolo County Grand Jury says pension debts creating a crisis

Pension and retiree health insurance costs for the cities of Davis, West Sacramento, Winters and Woodland are consuming increasing portions of their budgets, putting extreme pressure on other city service priorities.
According to a Yolo County Grand Jury report released today, in Davis, 19 percent of the city’s general fund budget now goes to pensions and retiree health benefits, a share that will rise to approximately 26 percent by 2025. West Sacramento can expect its pension and retiree benefits to increase from 16 percent of its general fund budget this year to approximately 17 percent by 2025. Winters will see that share jump from 12 percent to 16 percent and in Woodland, it will climb from 14 percent to 18 percent.
The projections were based on information provided by each city several months past. The cities and county are now taking actions in hopes of dealing with the crisis.
“Across California, pension payments alone now represent 11 percent of a city’s general fund budget, on average, according to the League of California Cities,” stated Lynn DeLapp, grand jury forewoman pro tem. “The statewide average is expected to rise to 16 percent over the next seven years. Pension payments alone now represent 12 percent of the general fund budget in both Davis and West Sacramento, 11 percent in Winters and 10 percent in Woodland.”
“Historically, elected city councils have been pressured to agree to pension benefit enhancements based on overly optimistic, often inaccurate investment earnings projections,” the report states. “As a result, too many decision makers failed to realize that pension contributions would eventually become a significant burden on cities, counties and other governmental entities, and by extension, taxpayers.”
The grand jury also concluded that city-level financial information regarding pension and retiree health insurance costs and liabilities should be easier for citizens to find and understand. The grand jury is made up of 19 citizens selected by the Yolo County Superior Court. Jurors serve one-year terms that conclude on June 30 each year. In addition to advising the county District Attorney on whether to bring indictments in select criminal cases, the Yolo County Grand Jury also conducts an annual inquiry into the condition and management of public jails and serves as a citizen watchdog over public offices and agencies within the county.
According to the report, Yolo County’s four cities are facing 67 percent to 90 percent increases in pension costs over the next seven years. In dollars, these increases are projected to amount to $8.7 million for Davis, $6.9 million for West Sacramento, $0.4 million for Winters and $6.3 million for Woodland. The projections are taken from CalPERS and city annual financial reports.
The increases are needed for cities to catch up on the revenues they will need to pay pension costs through mid-2025. Currently, Davis has only 64 percent of the funds invested with CalPERS that it will need to cover its pension obligations, and it has been falling behind: Three years ago, the city had 72 percent of the needed funds invested. West Sacramento now has 71 percent, down from 79 percent three years ago. Winters has 76 percent, down from 84 percent. Woodland has 70 percent, down from 63 percent.
Overall, Davis faces $110.1 million in unfunded accrued pension liabilities, CalPERS data and city annual financial reports show. For West Sacramento, the number is $70.3 million. In Winters, it is $4.4 million and in Woodland it is $86.9 million.
Acting several weeks ago, both Woodland and Yolo County started taking action to stabilize long-term pension costs.
In Yolo County’s budget for 2018-19, Yolo County Administrator Patrick Blacklock stated that rapidly rising pension costs, the recent and ongoing In-Home Supportive Services multi-million dollar cost shift from the state and the likelihood of a future recession “... signal the need to exercise fiscal caution as we begin the 2018-19 fiscal year.”
Woodland along with other California cities and counties have been slammed by rising pension costs. In mid-May, Woodland officials elected to pay $2.7 million in order to save $1 million over the next eight years in unfunded pension liabilities to CalPERS.
Nationally, cities and counties reported unfunded liabilities of $1.4 trillion in 2016, which was up $295 billion from the previous year.
The biggest driver of the increases in pension debt from 2015 to 2016 was a shortfall in investment returns coupled with longer life-spans of public sector workers and in some cases earlier retirements.
Unfunded pension debt is considered one of the biggest problems facing California today with some cities looking to voters to help provide the money through tax initiatives, or declaring bankruptcy.
Woodland’s unfunded liability for both safety personnel (which cover police and firefighters) and “miscellaneous” pension plans total $95.4 million. The city’s annual contribution to CalPERS is expected to be $5.9 million for fiscal year 2018-19.
The grand jury reports the picture is even worse for retiree medical insurance, the Grand Jury found. West Sacramento has assets to pay just under half its liability for future retiree medical insurance. Davis has assets to fund only a quarter of its obligation. In Woodland, the figure is 6 percent, while Winters has funded none of its liability.
As pensions and retiree health benefits consume more of a city’s budget, local governments face increased pressure to find other sources of revenue to fund competing priorities, the report emphasizes.
“The most common method of finding new revenue sources for retirement costs is through proposed new city taxes and fees, such as sales tax increases or parcel taxes,” the report states.
The Grand Jury report calls on local governments to be transparent when such taxes and fees are necessary to offset rising pension and retiree benefit costs.
To conduct its analysis, the Grand Jury requested statistics from city finance departments, reviewed city budgets and annual financial reports, studied CalPERS annual valuation reports for public employee pensions, and interviewed city managers. The Grand Jury compiled this information into a set of simple tables.
The Grand Jury made four recommendations to help cities address the looming crisis in pensions and retiree benefit costs:
•Cities should educate residents about impacts of the crisis on other city services, from parks to public safety.
•Cities should create simple statistical graphs that show three-year past and projected pension costs and liabilities, as well as the percentages that these costs represent of total city budgets.
•Cities should investigate and consider alternatives to the existing CalPERS-managed pension systems, such as the alternative hybrid-defined pension option described in the proposed Public Employees’ Pension Reform Action of 2018 (Senate Bill B-32).
•Cities should collaborate to share best practices in analysis and cost containment of pensions and other retiree benefits.
In addition, the Grand Jury highlighted several positive steps that cities have already taken:
•Woodland has negotiated labor contracts in which public employees will contribute more to their retirement.
•Beginning in fiscal year 2013-14, Woodland increased its contributions to fund future retiree health insurance benefits.
•Davis has developed a financial forecasting tool that shows the evolution of the pension costs as a share of city general funds.
•Woodland also uses a pension and retiree health benefits forecasting analysis to educate its elected officials and staff.
June 19, 2018
Daily Democrat
By Jim Smith


[San Diego County] Never mind

City council and school board dismiss survey results


Blog note: this article references a 2016/17 grand jury report.
The San Diego City Council rules committee had a special meeting at city hall Wednesday (June 13) to conduct an initial review of proposals to place measures on the November 6 general election ballot.
Eight proposals were measures seeking to reform school board elections for San Diego Unified School District. People have been calling for this reform for years.
The 2016/17 San Diego County Grand Jury investigated complaints against the current election process. In May 2017 “San Diego Unified School District School Board Elections - Time for a Change” was published.
The grand jury concluded the current election process does not properly serve students or represent San Diego’s diverse communities. It causes undue financial burden on school board candidates and allows too much influence by “unions, business groups and other special-interest organizations.”
The grand jury recommended term limits and sub-district only elections.
Currently each of San Diego Unified’s five sub-districts nominates the top two candidates for their board representative in the primary election, but the entire district (which covers most of the city) chooses the representative for each sub-district in the general election.
In October 2017 the San Diego City Council responded to the grand jury findings and agreed with sub-district elections and term limits.
In January the school board established an Advisory Elections Committee which conducted a stakeholder survey.
Despite 77 percent of the community wanting no more than two four-year term limits and only 12 percent wanting three four-year term limits, the advisory committee recommended to the school board having three four-year term limits.
Despite 60 percent of the community wanting sub-district-only elections the advisory committee recommended not pursuing that change at this time. On May 29 the school board adopted the committee’s recommendations.
During public comments Tamara Hurley told councilmembers, “I want to remind you that board members appointed 15 of 24 members of the advisory committee. Their recommendations are the personal sentiments of the San Diego Unified Board. They are trying to invalidate 1,300 [survey respondents] in favor of their own ideas.”
Former San Diego Unified Board member Mitz Lee says, “Sub-district-only election is a threat to the board status quo. There are three incumbents running for re-election in 2020 so to delay the placing of the sub-district-only election is beneficial to Barrera, Evans and Payne.”
Councilmember Barbara Bry criticized the survey results and said she did not think people had enough information.
“It’s really interesting that the people who designed and implemented the survey are now saying it’s not valid,” education advocate John Stump told councilmembers.
He says, “They had the resources of a two billion dollar organization, a professional facilitator and they established a special survey design committee. Now they are unhappy with the results. So they criticize their own tool!”
Francine Maxwell made the point that the school board votes unanimously on almost everything and said there is puppeteering involved.
The rules committee voted 3-2 to continue the school board’s proposal for three four-year term limits without any change to the election process. It will gain further consideration at their next meeting on July 11. Councilmembers Bry, Ward and Cole voted in favor; Councilmembers Cate and Kersey voted against.
Bret Caslavka of Community Voices for Education spoke for his proposal for two four-year term limits and sub-district only elections: “We’ve been here for 18 months. Why are we still here? Politics, special interests, self-preservation, all at the children’s expense. I ask you to check your moral compass. If you want to tie your name and face to an item that has 12 percent support and to kill something that has 60 percent approval you are not representing your districts.”
It was defeated 2-3, with Councilmembers Cate and Kersey in favor; Bry, Ward and Cole opposed. None of the other six election reform proposals were motioned for a vote.
Despite the city council’s stated agreement with sub-district only elections, the rules committee rejected each measure that would make that happen.
It's unclear whether community leaders will attempt a signature gathering effort to go around the city council. They are encouraging people to ask their city council representative to take up the issue with the full city council.
June 19, 2018
San Diego Reader
By Eric Bartl


[Santa Barbara County] Our View: Tracking down that bad odor

One person’s offensive odor may be another person’s universal perfume. It’s all in the eye of the beholder — or in this case, the nose of the sniffer.
The Santa Barbara County Civil Grand Jury’s latest investigation and concluding report focuses on bad smells in the Santa Maria Valley.
For the uninitiated and newcomers to the area, the Civil Grand Jury is a government watchdog group made up of volunteers that investigates cities, districts and agencies throughout the county.
It needs to be said that such grand jury investigations have done a lot of good in the past, but the one targeting bad odors in and around Santa Maria is a demonstration of mastering the obvious.
Let’s face it, if you expose your nose to the outside air on many days in the Valley, that nose may wrinkle up in disgust. Folks just passing through on Highway 101 have been seen to quickly close their windows while simultaneously holding their noses. Driving up from down the coast, the aromas hit you around Clark Avenue, depending on the wind direction.
Long-time Central Coast residents have experienced Santa Maria’s unique aromas, and understand that it can be a combination of things.
For example, the keen-eyed observer will notice growing fields stretching almost to the horizon, mostly for strawberries but also a lot of broccoli, which has, perhaps, the most unique of odors and is often confused with sewage treatment plant emissions. They smell about the same.
The grand jury report makes that point, and adds other possible sources, including local oil industry operations. Wells can emit whiffs of hydrogen sulfide, which the normal nose may mistakenly interpret as rotten eggs.
We aren’t exactly sure why a grand jury would spend any length of time and effort on this odiferous matter, but there has been an increase in complaints from the public, so in a sense, the group is compelled to investigate.
The panel’s final report did pinpoint a couple of problems. First were the odors themselves, but more importantly was the general lack of official response to the smells. Knowing the grand jury was looking into the problem, the city of Santa Maria created a spot on its website for odor complaints, and the county already has a mechanism in place, via the Air Pollution Control District.
There also has been that quantifiable uptick in the number of complaints, in fact doubling from 2016 to last year. That makes sense when you consider how the Santa Maria Valley is growing. A larger population base equates to more noses to pick up the scents, thus increasing the potential for civic outrage.
But here’s the thing — it can be really tough to find the sources of offensive odors. You may find the area from which the offender is escaping, but there usually are several of the usual suspects to be considered.
The other point worth considering is that, in most cases, even if city or county officials find out where a specific odor is originating, those sources also usually are not breaking any laws or violating city/county regulations.
If you’re still on the warpath about odors, here are some numbers you can call: For pesticides, call the county Agricultural Commissioner’s office at 805-934-6200. If the offender involves dust or petroleum smells, call the Air Pollution Control District at 805-961-8800. For Santa Maria residents, call City Hall at 805-925-0951.
But we can tell you the same thing we would have told the grand jury before it launched its investigation — it’s best just to stay upwind.
June 18, 2018
Santa Maria Times


[Shasta County] Letter to editor: Local government fails community on crime issue

Millions of dollars that should have gone toward jail capacity and recidivism misappropriated and nobody is paying attention and calling for accountability or resignations?
A grand jury report conveniently released on a Friday after the sheriff election?
Repeat offenders on the streets of Redding harassing us and now we learn that our safety was intentionally jeopardized by those we entrusted?
We have a Redding 2.0 crime Facebook site, we're pissed about all the crime but we aren't paying attention and protesting this gross misconduct?
Business as usual, political self-preservation ahead of the needs of our community.
I call for the resignation of every supervisor and the sheriff who not only let this happen but condoned it for several years. They have failed us and it's time for us to hold them accountable and take our community back."
June 18, 2018
Redding Record Searchlight
By Daniel Martin, Round Mountain


Napa County grand jury assesses emergency alerts, says October wildfires were ‘predictable’

Last October’s wildfires were “predictable” and local officials should have done a better job at alerting people about not only evacuations but also the threat of fire, according to a Napa County grand jury report released Friday.
The fires that hit Napa County resulted in 69,247 acres burned, 1,051 structures destroyed or damaged, and seven deaths, the jury said.
Although the jury concedes that none of the fires could have been slowed down or put out, it concluded that reliance on Nixle alerts for emergency notifications was insufficient, the county’s Office of Emergency Services was understaffed, and that proposed disaster action plans from various local agencies are still lacking.
The jury has requested that the Napa County Board of Supervisors and Napa County Executive Officer Minh Tran respond to the report. County officials said Friday they could not respond to the report until the Board has had a chance to review and respond to it.
Board of Supervisors Chair Brad Wagenknecht, who had not had a chance to review the report as of Friday afternoon, said he anticipates being able to learn from it. The Board, he said, has already had several meetings discussing communication issues and other problems encountered during the fires.
Some of those discussions have led to change.
The county previously announced it will be expanding its warning system for emergencies like last year’s wildfires. It is also adding another, wider-reaching cell phone alert option and is installing a disaster warning siren to Napa County Sheriff patrol cars.
In its report, the grand jury recommended the county add the federal Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) to its emergency alert options – something that county officials have already said they would be doing. The IPAWS system provides Amber Alert-style warnings to all cell phones in a given area without signups required.
The jury recommended it because what the county was relying on before – Nixle, a subscription-based alert system that relies on cell towers – has limitations. Not only did Nixle services become “moot” once cell towers and transmission lines were knocked out in the fires, the jury said, only about 20 percent of county residents were signed up for it at the time. The jury also found that Nixle messages were not initially issued in Spanish and, once messages in Spanish were being sent out, the messages were poorly translated, leading to misunderstanding and frustration.
On top of that, the jury said, the many tourists who were in the area for the Safeway Open golf tournament at Silverado Resort & Spa, where fires began to rage the night of Oct. 8, were unlikely to have signed up to get local alerts.
The grand jury also expressed concern over the lack of staffing at OES, noting that the two employees responsible for sending out alerts both lived in areas affected by the fires and had to evacuate their own families before being able to get to the Sheriff’s Office to send any information out.
The first alert from the Napa County Emergency Operations Center (EOC) didn’t come out until 11:31, the jury said, more than 90 minutes after the Atlas Fire had been reported.
In its report, the jury acknowledged the difficulty in getting information out and said “a delay of this magnitude needs to be addressed.”
The City of Napa sent its first Nixle alert out at 11 p.m., the jury said.
In addition to improving its emergency alert system, the jury recommended alerts be sent out when there are official red flag weather warnings. The EOC team should also be alerted to these weather warnings so that they’re prepared to staff the center if there is an emergency.
“Given the dry, ferocious winds, warm temperature, and our natural landscape,” the fires were predictable, the jury said.
The grand jury commended local radio station KVON for providing updates and evacuation information during the fires.
“When the power went out and the public could no longer receive information from TV, the Internet or Nixle,” the jury said, “it was old technology that saved the day.”
 June 16, 2018
Napa Valley Register
By Maria Sestito


[San Joaquin County] San Joaquin Civil Grand Jury seeks improvements for Office of Emergency Services

When the San Joaquin County Civil Grand Jury began investigating the Office of Emergency Services due to concerns about OES’ outreach efforts, they discovered that only one of 10 improvements suggested by the Pasadena-based consulting firm Tetra Tech Inc. in a November 2016 assessment had been implemented.
“To be fair, November 2016 was the beginning of a potential flood period, so OES was busy watching levees and all kinds of things,” said grand jury foreman Ward Downs.
Restructuring their leadership was the only change OES implemented in the past two years, Downs said, while other suggestions such as improving outreach and updating their agreement with the American Red Cross to provide mass care support during natural disasters such as floods known as a memorandum of understanding were left incomplete.
“One of the things we found in talking with people isn’t that mass care would no longer be provided with the Red Cross, it’s that it might be delayed,” Downs said. “The other problem is that the MOU is not up-to-date.”
Shellie Lima, who was appointed director of emergency operations for OES approximately 91⁄2 weeks ago, said she has already learned that the Red Cross can no longer be the county’s sole provider of mass care due to a lack of resources.
“We are actively working on developing a plan that will include all of the resources that the Red Cross would have provided,” Lima said. “A number of grants and things like that are periodically available throughout the year that will help with purchasing things where we find a need.”
Lima plans to hold town hall meetings, workshops and seminars with government agencies, non-profit organizations and members of the public to identify areas that need improvement, she said, although it may be a long process due to the number of people involved.
“We’re going to be grabbing all those folks, putting them in a room and working all those things out,” Lima said. “It could take upwards of a year from start to finish to have something solid, but we know there is a need so it is a priority for us.”
The grand jury also found that OES had spent an average of fewer than 15 hours per month on public outreach, and made suggestions such as working with neighborhood watch groups to develop preparedness education programs in their communities.
“Most of the people the grand jury talked to said outreach needs improvement. One of the things we suggested is that OES can expand their social media presence,” Downs said. “Another thing we suggested is that maps of evacuation centers be included in property tax bills. They could even be posted in parking lots or garages of rental properties.”
Aside from the town hall meetings Lima already plans to hold in the future, OES has already begun to utilize social media to inform county residents about making emergency preparedness plans and making their website easier to navigate and updated with seasonal information.
“It’ll be a one-stop place where people can go and get an idea of what resources are available, such as where to buy sand bags in flood season,” Lima said. “We know it’s going to get really hot this summer, so people can get information where cooling zones are and help with transportation if they need it.”
Although Lima is still new to her job, she said she is already working with her staff to identify other areas that need improvement and implement the necessary changes as quickly as possible.
“From what I have seen, the people who work here have a genuine desire to make sure people are safe,” Lima said. “That’s all they care about, and they are willing to do whatever it takes to make sure people are safe.”
June 16, 2018
Lodi News-Sentinel
By John Bays