Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Placer County Grand jury report: Raceway too loud

Improvements to All America Speedway not approved by county
By Michelle Carl Press Tribune Editor

Even with the windows closed Apryl Bloom has the crank the volume up on her TV just to drown out the sounds of the All American Speedway.

Bloom and other residents have been subjected to excessive noise from the Roseville racetrack after track expansions allowed for NASCAR-sanctioned races, according to a Placer County grand jury report.

The report, which was released Feb. 1, also reveals that improvements made in 2007 were never approved by the county.

The jury alleges the modifications were made so the racetrack could qualify for NASCAR-sanctioned events under the guise of “safety and maintenance improvements.”

The speedway, located on the county-owned Placer County Fairgrounds, hosts Pro Stock, Modifieds, Street Stock and Bomber races every Saturday night March through October.

“We would love to entertain in the summer or just enjoy our backyard, but we know that during the racing season that is just not possible,” said Bloom, who lives on Ironwood Circle, around a mile away from the racetrack.

Bloom said she could hear noise from the track since she moved into the home in 1996.

“A few years ago, it got exponentially louder to where we couldn’t enjoy our backyard because we could actually hear the announcer and the cars going around the track and backfiring,” she said.

Bloom contacted the City of Roseville, which received a total 26 written complaints from nearby residents about excessive noise coming from the PA system and the racing vehicles.

The City of Roseville does not have jurisdiction to enforce noise complaints on the county-owned property.

The grand jury report also knocks the Placer County Board of Supervisors for not investigating the failure to obtain proper permits.

The county was notified in a letter dated Dec. 13, 2006 of repairs and upgrades, but this was after significant work was in progress, according to the report. The jury reports that no permits were ever issued for the improvements, which included extending the racetrack 70 feet and widening another portion by 30 feet.

The Speedway announced its agreement to allow NASCAR races on Dec. 5, 2006.

The jury says increased speed from these events has contributed to excessive noise, air pollution and decreased property values.

Placer County Fair CEO Joan Bartosik said in a statement that the board is working to address concerns. Bartosik said many sound complaints have already been alleviated.

“In 2008, and again in 2010, we had a sound study performed at the Speedway and complaints have been significantly reduced due to additional sound restrictive walls and new policies put in place,” she said. “In fact there were no complaints at the end of the season following our biggest race.”

Jim Durfee, director of Placer County Facility Services, said the county is working on a response to the report, which is due May 1.

“Our approach is to try to come to a conclusion on the grand jury’s recommendations in a way that protects the county’s interest, protects the public interest certainly, and still works with the fair to help maintain what’s probably a pretty important part of their overall operation,” he said.

The grand jury report also found that the agreement between the Placer County Fair Association and the county expired at the end of 2007. The report says the association has “refused” to sign the new agreement, which would give the county increased oversight over fairgrounds and Speedway operations.

The grand jury recommends the speedway be examined by building inspectors and engineers to ensure the improvements are up to code.

Michelle Carl can be reached at

San Francisco Grand Jury OpEd

By Ken Maley


For decades San Franciscans concerned and interested in the workings — and malfunctions — of city government have turned to the Guardian for insights and possible solutions. Guardian readers have developed a reputation for being community activists, and to those activist-minded readers, I encourage you to apply to serve on the San Francisco civil grand jury.

Few citizens understand that the California Constitution requires all counties to impanel a civil grand jury each year. The San Francisco grand jury has researched and issued many important findings — most recently, pertinent reports on the enormous, and growing, city employee retirement obligations threatening to consume our city's general fund and possibly bankrupt the city in the next five years if not resolved.

Each year the San Francisco Superior Court accepts applications from citizens who want to serve on the jury. Thirty screened applicants are selected, and from those 30, 19 are impaneled as that year's civil grand jury. Jurors serve for a one-year term, from June to July.

The full jury discusses various issues of interest, selects issues that gain 12 of the 19 votes, spends a year investigating, then writes and releases reports. The panel can investigate any function of city government — contracts, corruption, spending, tax policy .. the mandate is very broad. And the jury has tremendous power, including the ability to subpoena records and force city officials to testify. No pertinent information may be withheld once the judge approves the request.

But the dilemma confounding the court is the lack of qualified applicants. In 2009, the number of applicants was so low we were nearly unable to impanel a jury at all. What a disgrace, in activist San Francisco.

I find it so disheartening that in a city renowned for community interest and participation in almost every aspect of government activity, we have such a small number of citizens willing to make the time to serve.

So I appeal to Guardian readers to direct your interest in the workings of our city government, to consider putting your knowledge and commitment to better city governance by serving on the San Francisco civil grand jury.

Your contribution of time and energy as a juror will be well spent and personally rewarding.

To learn more about the civil grand jury, how you can do your civic duty and apply, go to, click on agencies, scroll down to civil grand jury. Applications are due by April 15 for the 2011-12 jury.

Ken Maley was a member of the 2008-09 civil grand jury and is media committee chair of the San Francisco Civil Grand Jury Association.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

California courthouses running Humboldt-made grand jury video

Donna Tam/The Times-Standard
Posted: 02/21/2011 01:27:12 AM PST

Jurors throughout the state of California are getting a glimpse of the Humboldt County Courthouse through a new grand jury recruitment video being played in at least 10 counties.

A small new juror applicant pool prompted California Grand Jury Association President and former Humboldt County grand jury foreman Keath North to write a script for a new grand jury video.

”It started with our concern for dwindling public awareness of the grand jury system,” North said.

The recruitment period for new jurors is from February to May, and the local grand jury has received 12 new applicants for the 2012-2013 year. North said the jury aims to have a range of 30 or so applicants in order to have a diverse pool of applicants for the 19-seat jury.

The video, which was filmed, directed and edited by Access Humboldt, featured local current and former grand jurors on site at the courthouse. It is already playing in 10 county courthouses and North said there have been requests from more counties.

According to the California Grand Jury Association, the state constitution requires each county to impanel a civil grand jury every year to investigate and report upon the conduct of local government. The civil grand jury looks into citizen complains and is authorized to investigate county and city governments, elected officials, special districts, jails, service districts and nonprofit agencies that receive public funding.

At the end of the fiscal year, the civil grand jury submits a final report to the superior court and the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors.

In Humboldt, the grand jury has investigated various citizen complaints, including the county budget management, law enforcement procedures and the handling of high-profile cases such as Martin Cotton's 2007 death while in the county jail and the internal review of the now-defunct Blue Lake Police Department.

McKinleyville High School teacher Allan Edwards, a former juror, said the grand jury has also looked into fraud related to the establishment of an online charter school and the building of the Bayshore Mall on unstable ground. The grand jury report resulted in the developer making the structure earthquake ready.

”This is the kind of stuff the grand jury looks at -- the waste of public money,” Edwards said. “The oversight committees don't have the power of subpoena. The system is there.”

Edwards, who played a judge in the informational video, served on the grand jury from 2004 to 2006. He said he joined after he retired, but he was called back to work. He plans to apply to serve when he retires again.

Grand jurors serve for one year at a time and must commit up to two days a week. North said it is a big commitment but a rewarding one.

”It's a vehicle where an average citizen can not only have input in the local government but also learn a whole lot about how it all works,” North said.

For more information or to view the video, visit

Donna Tam can be reached at 441-0532 or

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Tehama County Grand Jury foreman dies

By TANG LOR -DN Staff Writer
Updated: 02/15/2011 11:23:19 AM PST

The foreman of the Tehama County Grand Jury died Feb. 4, but the cause of his death has not been made public yet.

Tehama County Deputy Coroner Chris Sharpe confirmed the sheriff's office had investigated the death of Robert Dean Wilkerson, but could not provide further detail, as he was not the investigator on the case. The investigating deputy was out of the office Monday.

On Thursday, the county's website was changed to reflect that Foreman Pro Tem Richard James Sol had taken over as the foreman of the Grand Jury.

A call to Judge John Garaventa, the judge overseeing the Grand Jury, regarding filling the vacant position was not returned by Monday evening.

Wilkerson, 58, was arrested on suspicion of DUI and hit and run Feb. 3, according to the California Highway Patrol.

Wilkerson struck a small tree and three mailboxes on Lucknow Avenue, just north of Weeks Court.

He then ran into a power pole, shearing the pole in half. He fled the scene, and his car was later found disabled in a dirt area on Kaer Avenue.

No injuries were reported in the incident, only property damage.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Placer County Grand jury: Put brakes on noise at Roseville racetrack

ROSEVILLE, CA - A Placer County grand jury report said the Placer County Fair Association needs to put the brakes on noise coming from the All American Speedway.

Since the 1950's race car drivers and racing fans have enjoyed races at the track.

Neighbors claim they simply endured noise wafting from the track to their homes.

"I live about a mile-and-a-half north and east of the track," Mike Kassis said. "It's a raceway with loud engine noises and squealing tires. When a race is in progress, we also (hear) a very loud announcer making calls and music."

The latest Placer County grand jury looked into the problem when neighbors lodged several complaints following upgrades and repairs at the track in 2007.

The report states, "County officials testified that no permits or environmental impact students/reports were obtained by the Fair Association for the Speedway expansion project."

The work included upgrades to sound walls and safety fences and the track was lengthened by 70 feet on one end and widened by 30 feet at another location.

Jurors found "changes at the Speedway have increased noise, air and storm run-off pollution as well as parking and traffic congestion."

Kassis and his neighbors maintain the construction work has decreased the value of their homes.

"The grand jury report notes two things," Kassis said. "They haven't really addressed the noise at the race track for public health and safety. On top of that, they made what they considered to be safety and health improvements when they were really improving the track to make it larger and capable of handling NASCAR (sanctioned races)."

Parents worry about the effect of the noise on children attending Bradford Woodbridge Fundamental Elementary School next door to the track.

"Sometimes there are events at the school and the kids are coming to school when they're racing," Ruth Garcia said.

The grand jury report states the repair project has enabled race cars to go faster and increased the noise factor.

It recommends that the speedway be "examined by county building inspectors ... so that all portions of the Speedway are brought up to current county and state codes, regulations and noise ordinances."

The report added the Fair Assocation should obtain the proper permits and an environmental impact report.

Fair Association officials declined comment on the grand jury report pointing out that the fair board will meet next week to begin formulating a response, which is due by April 1.

That's good news for Kassis.

"We need to find a solution to this problem," Kassis said. "One that not only works fro the community but for the raceway as well."

By Karen Massie

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

San Joaquin County Civil Grand jury applications open

by TP staff Tracy Press
Feb 09, 2011

San Joaquin County Superior Court is looking for citizens to serve a one year term on the 2011-2012 San Joaquin County Civil Grand Jury.

The grand jury is made up of 19 men and women randomly selected from applicants nominated by judges of the superior court.

The panel looks into and investigates civil matters, including acting as a watchdog for government and public agencies within San Joaquin County. Past juries have inquired into community colleges, school districts, jail operations, redevelopment agencies and the housing authority.

A grand juror must be at least 18 years old, a citizen of the United States and have lived in San Joaquin County for at least one year. Applicants should possess English language skills and not be serving as a trial juror or elected official.

Qualified applicants may be interviewed by a superior court judge as well as having a background check performed by the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s office and law enforcement agencies.

Applications are available by calling 468-2827 or by visiting the superior court clerk’s office at the Tracy Branch Courthouse at 475 East 10th St. Applications are also available online at

The deadline for submitting an application is March 14.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Tulare County Grand Jury critical of Health and Human Services Agency's mailing costs

The Tulare County Grand Jury had good news and bad news in reports released this week that investigated county agencies:

> The Grand Jury said there are no signs of voting fraud involving the county's absentee voting.

> But in a separate report, the Grand Jury was critical of the county Health and Humans Services Agency for spending too much to mail letters.

The Grand Jury, a volunteer group of residents that aims to constructively investigate local government, released two reports to the Times-Delta on Monday.

Both the Elections Office and HHSA have 90 days to issue formal responses to the Grand Jury report.

An investigation by the group found that several single-page documents, which were not time-sensitive, were sent to multiple recipients by HHSA via FedEx at a cost of $6.88 each.

"This document could have been sent first-class mail for 44 cents or [by] certified mail for an additional $2.80," according to a summary of the 2010-11 county Grand Jury Final Report released Monday.

The two-page summary states the investigation was launched as a result of claims of excessive mailing costs in HHSA, which has a mailing allowance of more than $1.2 million in its current budget.

Grand Jury officials didn't indicate how many letters or packages might have been sent by over-priced methods or the total costs involved.

"Although there was no evidence of widespread abuse of the system, the Grand Jury was able to substantiate the complaint and found the possibility exists for abuses," the report states.

It goes on to say HHSA has no formal policy on using cost-effective methods for sending mail and recommended one be developed, along with the agency periodically reviewing mail charges.

"In these times of tight budgets, all avenues of cutting costs must be followed," the report states.
Second report

The investigation into absentee ballots stemmed from reports of voter fraud in two nearby counties over the past few years, though the report didn't identify those counties or detail what happened.

The Grand Jury reports it launched an investigation last year of absentee ballots — those mailed in by voters -†and whether rules were being followed at voting precincts.

Grand Jury members also looked at digital lists of voter names, addresses and phone numbers, paying particular attention to multiple voters listed at the same addresses and questionable addresses.

The members also went to polling sites Nov. 2 to observe the general election, and also observed the signature verification for absentee ballots after Election Day.

Among their findings:

> Precinct workers are satisfied with the voting system in place, and stated they weren't intimidated or aware of any suspicious happenings while they worked.

> Voters don't have to speak English.

> Costly touch-screen voting machines were hardly used in lieu of paper ballots, and poll workers said they were told not to encourage use of the machines.

> There is no national program in place to determine if a person votes in more than one state.

> During their training, precinct workers were told they don't have to ask voters for identification unless their names are "flagged" by the California Secretary of State's Office.

> Absentee voters whose ballots have questionable or had no signatures aren't notified until after the elections, so their votes aren't counted.

The report also states reasons mail-in ballots have been challenged in recent years. Those include signatures on ballots not matching those in county voter records, lack of signatures, returned ballots, deceased voters and issues over the voters' addresses.

The highest number of challenged absentee ballots in the county since 2004 was 845, during the 2004 general election. The lowest was 527 in that year's primary election.

Grand Jury members found no signs of tampering with mail-in ballots, though they did conclude they are vulnerable.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Volunteers sought to serve on civil grand jury in Santa Clara County

Mercury news staff
Posted: 02/07/2011 05:15:58 PM PST
Updated: 02/07/2011 05:22:35 PM PST

Santa Clara County Superior Court is looking for volunteers to serve on a year-long civil grand jury, presiding Judge Richard J. Loftus announced Monday.

The civil grand jury serves as the county's investigating body and may examine the operations of city and county government, special districts and school districts. It also has the authority to inspect adult and juvenile detention facilities.

Applicants must be residents of the county, U.S. citizens and 18 years of age or older.

Serving on the civil grand jury requires a time commitment of 20-25 hours per week for the one-year term, which runs from June 23 of this year to June 30, 2012.

Anyone interested in applying should contact Gloria Chacón at the Office of the Civil Grand Jury at 408-882-2722 or visit the Web site at to obtain an application on line.

The deadline to get applications in is March 7.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Kern County Grand Jury delves into local charter schools

The Grade | Friday, Feb 04 2011 11:56 AM

The Kern County Grand Jury has taken up the task of dissecting local charter schools. On Tuesday, they released their findings.

There's nothing really new in the report that hasn't been documented in The Californian already. It did make one recommendation:

"New applications for charter schools in Kern County should be scrutinized with the best interests of all students as a priority."

Charter schools, and petitions for them, have gotten attention in recent months and years. A Grand Jury committee interviewed members of the Grimmway Foundation, the Kern County Superintendent of Schools, the Arvin School District superintendent, the principal of the California Virtual Academy, Cecil Avenue Math and Science Academy and Nueva Vista Language Academy, Paramount-Bard Academy in Delano, the Pine Mountain Learning Center, Ridgecrest Charter School and Valley Oaks Charter.

Read Reports & Responses here

BCSD to grand jury: 'recommendations will not be implemented'

Here's something that we missed a while back, but that deserves a quick mention:

The Bakersfield City School District responded to a Kern County grand jury investigation of school site councils in the district. BCSDin a response essentially said the campus governing boards inform the public of meetings, train all participants and operate under legal requirements.

The grand jury in June took a look at the councils, recommended that staff members be better trained, communicate more with teachers and parents and be more careful about spending money.

The investigation was sparked by articles in The Californian that looked at the school governing bodies' new (as of last school year), high-level decision-making duties.

BCSD decided in February it could no longer fund vice principals, counselors and librarians as it tried to close a $5.5 million budget gap. Instead the district gave site councils -- composed of a principal, teachers, other staff, parents and students -- authority to fund those jobs or not using their campus-specific state and federal funding.

The grand jury committee attended council meetings at five BCSD elementary schools, and found that agendas were posted improperly or not at all, jury members perceived the principal was running the meeting instead of being an adviser as specified by the California Department of Education, communication lacked among members lacked, no minutes or records of decisions were kept

The district had 90 days to respond (today was the deadline), and in July, it did.

BCSD contends first that the grand jury does not have the authority to investigate school site councils.

“… it is the District’s view that the Grand Jury has no authority to investigate matters that extend beyond the procedural operations of the District.”

And the district wrote that councils operate independently from the district “pursuant to state and federal law.”

“Although the District does have the responsibility to ensure that SSCs are established, it does not govern the operations of the SSCs.”

As for the 10 grand jury recommendations to the district for the councils — which include posting agendas on an information board outside of campus, be more aware of expenditures, and for principals to not chair meetings — BCSD said they would not be implemented.

“The recommendation will not be implemented because it is not warranted,” reads the response to most of the suggestions.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Contra Costa Superior Court seeks civil grand jury applicants

By Paul Burgarino
Contra Costa Times
Posted: 02/03/2011 06:23:25 PM PST
Updated: 02/03/2011 06:23:26 PM PST

The Contra Costa County Superior Court is seeking volunteers for civil grand jury service.

The 19-member panel monitors, reviews and reports on city and county governments, school districts and special districts.

Volunteers who are chosen will serve a one-year term from July 2011 to June 2012.

"Grand juries are the citizen watchdogs of civic functions," grand jury forewoman Linda Chew said in a news release.

Grand jurors must be a U.S. citizen, at least 18 years old and a county resident for at least one year prior to selection. They cannot hold any elected position within the county, must be in good health and have reliable transportation to Martinez and able to devote at least 20 hours per week to service.

Jurors receive a stipend for attending full jury and committee meetings and are reimbursed for travel. Martinez parking permits are provided.

Applications are due April 15.

For more information, call 925-957-5638 or visit