Sunday, March 27, 2011

Napa County Grand jury proves its worth with findings about red-light camera

They each work about 30 hours a week. They have one computer to share and an office with some file cabinets and a kitchenette.

At a salary of $30 per person, per month (plus mileage), the 19-member Napa County grand jury is the best value you will find in local government today — a fact the 2010-11 assemblage has further proven with its report this week targeting Napa’s overpriced red-light cameras, which have missed their intended mark of improving safety.

The grand jury’s diligent research and presentation (available in full at brings the program’s deficiencies into stark relief, specifically the problems associated with the red-light camera at the intersection of highways 29 and 121.

The cameras were installed to improve safety, but this intersection’s camera instead flashes most frequently on right-turn violations that pose little to no safety risk.

An astounding 3,251 of the 4,143 tickets issued in the jury’s studied 15-month window at this intersection were for right-turn violations.

The grand jury takes particular issue with the inconsistency of the right turn’s yellow light in that time frame.

Caltrans, which has jurisdiction on the intersection, did not use approach times to set the interval for the yellow as required by California Vehicle Code, the jury found.

The yellow light interval has been adjusted from

3.2 seconds to 3.8 to its current, yet unofficial,

5.4 seconds, according to the jury’s report.

“How are drivers expected to comply with the law when the experts responsible for the traffic signal timing and enforcement must incrementally make adjustments to ‘get it right’?” the report asks.

As such, the grand jury is calling for refunds to all those who received right-turn tickets at that intersection while the yellow light did not meet California Vehicle Code for Automated Red Light Enforcement Intersections. That’s about 1,000 tickets or nearly $500,000 in fines.

Of course, the city — again, as the jury diligently details — received nowhere near that much in actual revenue after red-light vendor RedFlex, the state, the county and the court system got their shares of the pie.

The base fine for a violation has remained $100 for the last five years, but additional penalties and fees have steadily increased that sum to total a minimum of $475.

While the number of injury accidents in Napa has decreased from 1,154 in 2007 to just 606 in 2010, most of that improved safety occurred before the red-light cameras were installed in 2009, according to the report.

Only one right-on-red accident was reported in the five years prior to red-light camera installation at the intersection of Highway 29/121, the report states. None were reported since the camera was installed.

But that hardly justifies the $3.2 million in right-turn violations at the intersection assessed in that span of 15 months.

The city’s contract with RedFlex states that right-turn citations must be issued in order to guarantee “cost neutrality,” which is essentially a guarantee that the ARLE system will generate enough money to pay for itself.

Even still, the grand jury is calling for a moratorium on all camera-generated right-turn citations at the 29/121 intersection “until legal requirements for yellow light intervals are firmly established and in place.”

The jury’s findings and its recommendations are required reading for anyone interested in debating the red-light cameras’ merits ahead of the city’s potential contract extension with RedFlex this summer.

If its first report is any indication, this year’s grand jury is invested and concerned with improving the daily lives of Napa residents.

The red-light camera report and its recommendations are very citizen-friendly, even to the point of raising concern over contracting with companies outside Napa County and fees paid by Napa residents heading outside the area.

“It may be the most impactful report we do,” said jury forewoman Judith Bernat. “Because these cameras have impacted so many members of our community.”

Traditionally, the Napa County grand jury has released its yearlong findings at the end of its term. This year, in the hope of drawing more attention to each issue it addresses, it is releasing each topic separately.

While we won’t know what else the grand jury has been working on until it releases those findings, its first effort and its potential implications build great anticipation for those future reports and reflect the hard work and vigor put in by this group of concerned citizens.

Logan Jenkins: San Diego county Grand jury misses Tri-City jugular

By Logan Jenkins

Sunday, March 27, 2011 at 6 a.m.

A brick — the Less Than Grand Jury award — to the county grand jury for another review of North County’s Theater of the Absurd Hospital District.

This isn’t the grand jury’s first trip into Tri-City’s emergency room. A couple of years ago, it recommended an independent review of Tri-City’s governance. Tri-City’s response? Nope.

In its new report released Thursday, the grand jury asserts that an unidentified board member — that’s Kathleen Sterling — is the source of the board’s dysfunction but there’s no legal way to get rid of her short of a felony conviction (she’s been charged with bribery) or a recall.

The grand jury recommends three things: A “plan of action” to educate voters about the board, the hiring of a consultant to train new board members, and the development of a strategic plan for the future.

Let’s get real. Tri-City needs creative crisis intervention. The danger is that Sterling may do others or herself harm.

Here’s an idea: Invite her to write a report on the hospital’s management on the condition she resign. Promise her that an independent attorney will study it.

Someone needs to reach out and make a deal.

(760) 752-6756.

Placer County Grand Jury issues report to PCWA

AUBURN -- The Placer County Water Agency has received a report entitled Supplying Water to Placer County from the Placer County Grand Jury, which was reviewed with the PCWA Board of Directors at their Thursday (March 3) meeting. General Manager David Breninger said the February 17 report follows several meetings between PCWA staff and the Grand Jury over the past several months.

The report notes that PCWA: “is an efficient, lean organization”, is “central to the continued growth of Placer County” and that “[g]iven the number of potentially significant impactive issues facing PCWA . . ., increased focus and preparation needs to be placed on the future.”
The report concludes “The Grand Jury was impressed regarding the quality and dedication of PCWA management. There was a consistent enthusiasm shown for the job they were performing and for fulfilling the needs of their customers. With few exceptions, the organization is focused on serving the current customer with safe, reliable, affordable water.”

Breninger said PCWA staff and Grand Jurors met again on March 1 to discuss the report with focus on four recommendations made by the Grand Jury.

Recommendations include: establish an ongoing process to prioritize and rank proposed projects that will be funded from the additional revenue expected by the sale of power from the Agency’s Middle Fork Hydroelectric Project; increase staffing in the PCWA Strategic Affairs Department; a formalized succession plan for key staff and management positions; and a plan to update or create process and procedure documentation. A response to the recommendations will be returned to the Grand Jury by May 17.

The next regular meeting of the PCWA Board of Directors will be held at 2 p.m. on Thursday, Mar. 3, at the PCWA Business Center, 144 Ferguson Road, in Auburn.

Information on PCWA board meetings may be obtained through the Clerk to the Board at (530) 823-4850 or (800) 464-0030.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Solano County Assessor's Office undergoes review by grand jury

By Melissa Murphy / The Reporter
Posted: 03/24/2011 01:04:15 AM PDT

The Solano County grand jury has issued its first report for the current fiscal term.

The grand jury reviewed the Solano County Assessor's Office and the processing of assessing declining property values. The full report is available online at

The assessor's office is responsible for maintaining a roster of assessed property values in the county which has to be updated annually.

"Budget constraints and decreased property tax revenues due to declining property values resulted in the assessor's office use of technology to assure equitable property tax assessments," the grand jury said.

According to staff, approximate revenue to the county's general fund for 2010 is $75.2 million, down from $78.1 million in 2009 and $86.6 million in 2008.

Property values will increase again and when that happens, the Assessor's office will require adequate staffing and technology to handle the projected increase in Assessment Review Requests and Assessment Appeals, according to the grand jury.

Therefore, the grand jury recommends that when the property values begin to rise, adequate staffing and technology should be added to handle the increase.

The grand jury added that it commends the assessor's office for its utilization of technology resulting in savings to the county of an estimated $1 million annually. Computer software automatically monitors all property values in the county so that the
county can continue to meet legal requirements and save money.

In order for the grand jury to come to this conclusion, it interviewed staff of the Solano County Assessor's Office, reviewed its website and reviewed applicable laws -- Propositions 13 and 8.

Court looking for Stanislaus grand jury hopefuls

The Stanislaus County Superior Court is looking for qualified residents to serve on the 2011-2012 civil grand jury.

Court officials said the primary function of the grand jury is to act as a public "watchdog" by investigating and issuing reports about local government agencies that include county and city government, special districts and school districts.

Grand jurors must meet the same qualifications as a trial juror, and the term for a grand juror is one year — July 1 to June 30.

Grand jurors must be available at least 20 hours per month.

David France served as foreman for the past two grand juries; he said he learned a lot about local government.

"This is an excellent way to give back to the community, meet new and interesting people and perform a valuable service," France said in a news release. "I heartily recommend this experience for those looking to take on a project that will benefit the entire county."

The deadline for applications to serve on the grand jury is May 2. Qualified applicants will be interviewed by presiding Judge Ricardo Córdova, Judge Loretta Begen, and Court Executive Officer Michael Tozzi.

From those interviewed, Córdova will select 30 finalists. Then, a 19-member grand jury panel with four alternates will be selected in open court by a random selection process on July 1.

Anyone interested in serving on the grand jury can call the grand jury office at 558-7766 or go to and download an application.

Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at or 578-2394.

Read more:

REGION: San Diego Grand jury asks for better emergency system on Coaster trains

The San Diego County grand jury released a report Wednesday that chastises the North County Transit District for lacking certain safety equipment, such as an emergency intercom system, on its Coaster commuter trains.

The report says the trains have "no posted instructions or obvious means of contacting the conductor in the event of an emergency" and says similar-sized trains in other areas are equipped with emergency intercom systems that allow quick notification.

On Wednesday afternoon, the transit district issued a response saying the Coaster meets all federal safety requirements. A law that took effect April 1, 2008, requires all passenger cars purchased after that date to include an emergency intercom, but the transit district hasn't bought any new Coaster cars since 2003.

NCTD plans to have a new wireless intercom system installed in all cars by Dec. 31, according to the district's response.

The statement didn't address a call by the grand jury to "accelerate the installation of an emergency notification system."

The 19-member grand jury is appointed by the San Diego Superior Court and can investigate any aspect of local government, but does not have subpoena powers.

The Coaster, which opened in 1995, carries the equivalent of about 2,250 round-trip passengers a day along a 62-mile route that stretches from Oceanside to San Diego.

In its report, the grand jury also praised the commuter rail line, saying, "Grand Jury members riding the Coaster daily commend the NCTD for maintaining clean and comfortable Coaster cars" and for having "professional and courteous" conductors.

In the course of its investigation, the grand jury informed the district of its concerns. The report referred to communications between the panel and NCTD.

Since then, NCTD has posted notices on board the Coaster and updated its rider guides to say: "In case of emergency, notify the conductor immediately." New brochures and posters designed to inform riders of the Coaster's safety features are to be installed on May 1.

The report said the district previously had an incorrect statement on its Web site indicating that "an emergency intercom is located on the lower level of each Coaster near the rest-room." The statement has since been removed.

The report also rejects a statement by the district that, in the event of an emergency, passengers can simply dial 911 on their mobile phones and notify authorities, who could board the train at the next stop.

"Cell phone service along the route is inconsistent, and there is a chance the calling passenger may not be aware of the train's location on the route," the report stated.

Read the report

Call staff writer Paul Sisson at 760-901-4087.

Marin needs a permanent emergency homeless shelter

Marin Independent Journal Editorial
Posted: 03/20/2011 03:00:00 AM PDT

WHEN THE WEATHER turns wet and cold, there are many in Marin — a county known for its affluence and high-priced real estate — who have no place to go for shelter.

This winter, makeshift emergency shelters that have rotated among local churches and synagogues and Homeward Bound's Mill Street shelter have helped out. But the number of people who are homeless outnumber the available beds. We must do more.

"As many as 20 people are turned away each night. It is unknown where they go," says the report by the 2010-12 Marin County civil grand jury.

Once again, a Marin County grand jury has turned the spotlight on this long-standing problem.

This year's civil grand jury has called on the county to establish a permanent emergency homeless shelter. Grand jurors in 2009 also urged the county to take this overdue action.

The latest report, "Shelter the Homeless: A Hole in the Safety Net," points to a growing need for emergency shelter beds for families.

The county has fallen short of meeting the goals of its own 10-year plan to end local homelessness, the report says. The county's goal to have an emergency shelter in place "no later than 2009" has been supplanted by other strategies, which have left too many people without a dry, warm and safe place to spend the night.

County money instead has been invested in what supervisors consider a higher priority, the Housing First program that provides homeless with temporary apartments and help and counseling toward turning their lives around.

The program fills an important need, but the number of people it helps is far fewer than those who are being turned away from emergency winter shelters.

"The county commitment to fund an expanded permanent emergency shelter is effectively a dead letter," the grand jury concluded.

We have to agree with that assessment.

The county's plan amounts to hoping that local churches and synagogues continue their shelter programs, even though those were supposed to be stopgap programs until the county found a site for a winter shelter.

County officials are now talking about using part of its Health and Wellness Campus as a temporary winter shelter for up to 20 women per night, which should make more room for men at the church shelters.

Finding a site for a permanent winter shelter has been more difficult than the county expected.

Participating churches and synagogues have done another tremendous job again this year, but is it right to ask them to fulfill county government's responsibility on an ongoing basis?

So where do the homeless who are turned away at the shelters, or don't even bother to try to get in, go? They sleep in cars, on the street, in jail, under freeway overpasses and under plastic tarps hidden in the brush of Marin's open spaces.

Sometimes they wind up in hospital emergency rooms — and some have been found dead on the streets and hills of Marin.

The grand jury, an independent group of 19 civic watchdogs, says the county needs a permanent winter emergency shelter and officials should make it a higher priority for its money and political energy.

The report says there clearly is "the need for strong leadership, cooperation and collaboration among the governments within Marin to implement a permanent emergency shelter program."

That needed change in priorities may be prompted by a new state law, SB 2, that require municipalities to zone potential sites for local shelters.

But the grand jury correctly points out the providing emergency shelter is "an issue of humanity."

We agree.

For the second time in three years, a panel of local citizens has looked into Marin's response to the needs of the homeless and has found it lacking. This year's grand jury repeats the 2009 report's call for leadership and action. Grand jurors also urge that the county and cities work together to have a winter shelter open and ready by next winter.

Another grand jury has reminded local officials that an important local need is not being met. It is time for the county, our cities and the Marin Community Foundation's Buck Trust to make the opening of a permanent winter homeless shelter a top priority. This time, the grand jury's call for action needs to be heard and heeded.

The Santa Barbara County Civil Grand Jury: In the loop, for safety

The Santa Barbara County Civil Grand Jury’s most recent report couldn’t possibly have been more timely.

The panel has spent months investigating the county’s emergency alert system, more commonly known as “reverse 9-1-1,” a process that allows officials to notify citizens of potential and impending emergencies.

The heart of the panel’s recommendations is that local media be included in the alert protocol, so those media outlets can, in turn, keep readers, listeners and viewers up to date on whatever event caused the alert.

The report came out about the time the 9.0 earthquake devastated Japan, an event that underlines the importance of regular citizens being kept in the information loop.

Quakes aren’t the only disasters that hound Californians. Tsunamis, wildfires, mudslides — you name it, we’ve got it.

Being part of the reverse 9-1-1 network has proven lifesaving potential, and everyone needs to sign on. County officials

recommend more county residents register their cell phone numbers, thus increasing the system’s overall efficiency.

Good advice, and well worth the few minutes it takes to get your key contact numbers added to the alert system. It’s the kind of thing that can, and does save lives.

Santa Barbara County Detention Facilities Get Grand Jury Seal of Approval

By Giana Magnoli, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @magnoli

Demographics at the Santa Barbara County Jail continue to evolve. More than 80 percent of inmates are pre-trial suspects and nearly 80 percent are felony suspects — both big increases from 10 years ago.

Demographics at the Santa Barbara County Jail continue to evolve. More than 80 percent of inmates are pre-trial suspects and nearly 80 percent are felony suspects — both big increases from 10 years ago. (Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk file photo)

Despite fewer resources and more inmates, new report credits Sheriff's Department advances

Santa Barbara County’s detention facilities are getting by with fewer resources but the county Grand Jury reported that facilities are still well-managed.

The overcrowding in all Sheriff’s Department facilities wasn’t examined with great detail as in years past, but it’s still a problem, according to a report the Grand Jury released last week. Click here for a copy of the Grand Jury’s report.

The county’s attempt to pay for its share of a new Santa Maria jail through a half-cent sales tax was shot down by voters last November. It’s unclear if the county will be able to come up with the money needed to receive $56 million in state matching funds. Since the failure of Measure S, there hasn’t been any formal discussion of alternatives.

A 2005 New Jail Planning Study catalogued funding alternatives and found most of them lacking for a project of this magnitude. Among the ideas dismissed, primarily because they wouldn’t cover ongoing operating costs or couldn’t be implemented quickly enough, were pay-as-you-go, a savings account, general obligation bonds, certificates of participation, sale of county property and oil development. The last option — a sales tax — was called “the most viable and timely option.”

The Main Jail, 4436 Calle Real, has released 18,000 inmates early since 1999 because of overcrowding, Sheriff Bill Brown told the Santa Barbara City Council last year. A thousand of those early releases were rearrested in the time they should have still been in custody, he said.

The inmate population has changed over the years, too. Currently, 81 percent of the inmates are pre-trial suspects and 78 percent are felony suspects — both large increases from 2000. It costs about $26,000 to house an inmate for a year.

Sheriff’s Department facilities include the Main Jail, the Medium Security Facility, the Santa Maria Branch Jail and small holding stations throughout the county.

Recidivism rates are around 70 percent — meaning 70 percent of inmates will commit new crimes — but the Sheriff’s Treatment Program for drug and alcohol abuse has cut that in half for its graduates. For 12 years, Supervisor Chuck McClain has overseen the counseling, programming and separate housing blocks for the men and women who either volunteer or are court-mandated to participate in the program.

Grand Jury reports from the past few years call the Probation Department’s juvenile facilities the most praiseworthy, especially Los Prietos Boys Camp & Academy. The condition and management is “superior,” the Grand Jury noted, and the increasing number of high school diplomas given out to the camp’s Los Robles High School students is admirable.

Boys sent to the camp off Paradise Road are serving four- to six-month sentences and follow a demanding schedule of class, vocational training, work, meals, exercise, community service and counseling from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. The high school is operated by the county Education Office and is located within the camp’s fences.

Most of the boys are at least a year behind on school credits and graduation rates have risen to a steady 20 per year from about four, in part because more computers are available for the students, Fred Razo, juvenile court and community schools administrator for the county Education Office, has told Noozhawk.

The Probation Department also manages Santa Barbara’s Juvenile Hall, which is now used for booking and holding people for court appearances, and the Susan J Gionfriddo Juvenile Justice Center in Santa Maria.

— Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Editorial: Time to Get Involved in Mendocino County

Ukiah Daily Journal Staff
Updated: 03/15/2011 10:24:30 AM PDT

Citizens of Mendocino County have two wonderful opportunities before them to get involved in their community and help shape the future and quality of local government.

There are opportunities now to serve on either the Mendocino County Grand Jury, or on a Citizens Advisory Committee to shape redistricting in our county.

The Mendocino County Grand jury regroups annually in June, bringing together 19 citizens to take a close look at how local government agencies are working - or not. The grand jury looks at specific complaints from citizens about problems they perceive in public offices but also makes a routine study of local institutions, from school districts, to juvenile hall to the board of supervisors to water districts.

The grand jury is not a criminal grand jury like those put together in order to prosecute a case. It is, instead, a civic body intended as this county's watchdog over government and people in power. It does a great deal of good and can be a rewarding year long experience for anyone who has a certain amount of time they can devote to this important task.

The CAC for redistricting is a once-a-decade event that follows the U.S. Census.

Once the 2010 Census population numbers for Mendocino County are official - expected that the end of this month - the county must look at its political dividing lines - the supervisor district lines in this case - and see if they need changing.

To do that the county will appoint 10 people, two from each of the current five supervisor districts, to the CAC. These folks will not only look to see how population growth or reduction in various areas of the county may require supervisor boundaries to be changed, but they can also look at making wholesale changes to how we draw our supervisor districts. For instance, the districts now generally follow a north-south line, which could be changed to an east-west orientation, giving all districts a piece of inland territory and a piece of coastal territory rather than the all-inland or all-coastal makeup of all but the 5th District.

This group will meet through the spring and will make recommendations to the Board of Supervisors for summer passage.

Both of these jobs are well worth doing and we hope that people who are serious about committing time and energy - and willing to leave their personal agendas at home - will step forward.

To apply for the grand jury: go to Applications are also available at the Mendocino County Superior Courthouse, 100 N. State St., Room 303, in Ukiah, or by calling the grand jury at 463-4320.

To apply for the CAC contact your own supervisor or go to

Editorial: Shasta County Grand jury offers chance to be watchdog

In a world where government is often indecipherably complex and alienatingly distant from the average citizen — especially in the rural north state — it is refreshing to see examples of genuine self-government in action.

The Shasta County grand jury, which is holding an open house this afternoon to recruit and inform potential members for the coming year, is one body that serves as a reminder of who is in charge — namely, the people.

An investigative body tasked with inspecting local jails but beyond that able to watchdog local government as it sees fit, the civil grand jury is not a panel of experts and attorneys. It comprises 19 citizens whose primary qualification — beyond being 18, of "ordinary intelligence" and "sound judgment," and not a convicted felon — is caring enough to devote themselves to the job.

The work involved might lead some to wonder whether anyone of sound judgment would in fact volunteer for the grand jury. The commitment is intense, with potential jurors warned that they'll spend 10 to 20 hours a week on the grand jury's business. And that's not for the week or two that most jurors spend on a court trial. Instead, the term is a full fiscal year – from July to the following June. Realistically, it's difficult for anyone with a full-time job, children to care for, and a lawn to keep mowed.

But those who've been able to make the time rarely complain about the hours being wasted. Instead, they repeat that it was profoundly educational, as well as a chance to draw public attention to quietly festering problems in government and make a real difference.

For anyone who thinks that sounds like a fine way to pass a year, today's open house is an opportunity to learn more from former grand jurors and the Superior Court officials who oversee the program — and a chance to embark on a noble public service.

If you're going

The open house for potential volunteers for the 2010-11 Shasta County grand jury is at 5:30 p.m. today in the community room at the Redding library, 1100 Parkview Avenue. For more information, visit

County grand jury service could be just right for you

Have you ever wanted to be an investigative reporter? Do you suspect funny business, creative budgeting, government wastefulness or inefficiencies?

Do you believe it is a citizen’s responsibility to watchdog our elected and appointed officials? Would you have the courage to recommend positive change?

Mimi Kalland and Maryellen Simkins of Los Osos recommend serving on the grand jury and applying by March 30.

Kalland served from 2006 to 2007 and said, “It was an amazing experience to have 18 people of disparate backgrounds and disciplines meet, investigate and agree. There’s something empowering about 18 people recommending solutions about government operations.”

After serving with Kalland, Simkins applied to stay through 2008 as forewoman tasked to design the training program for the new jurists.

“You learn all about the county departments and how they work — or don’t work and should work.”

Each panel decides together what they will investigate and what to report. Twelve to 20 reports are filed. Reports are made public, and departments respond defensively or acknowledge and pledge to honor the recommendations.

“When we investigated a complaint about voter machines, it was an election year and we thoroughly investigated all phases. Our report praised (county Clerk-Recorder) Julie Rodewald’s genius,” Simkins said.

Any citizen can send in complaints or suggestions for the grand jury to consider.

Once the 18 jurists plus 18 alternates are interviewed, selected and impaneled by the presiding judge, they begin training for $15 a day and mileage learning their subpoena powers and responsibilities during their July 1 through June 30 service.

“It starts with mornings two times a week. Later in the process, it takes more time for the group to investigate complaints or a department that hasn’t been reviewed recently. Then it takes time to agree and time to write final reports,” Simkins said.

“It’s a unique group,” Kalland said. “Everyone starts from scratch to learn, and each has their own talents to offer — 18 people cooperating. One rule is we have to work together, at least in pairs, even making phone calls.”

Both women were awed visiting county jails wearing bulletproof vests. Each was converted and is now passionate that the county needs to invest in a new women’s jail.

Kalland appreciated their impact on countywide planning departments to review their historical building procedures after investigating a rejected development plan for Paso Robles’ Farmers Alliance building.

Simkins is pleased they reported recommendations for handling bullying in schools.

Do you have the right stuff to ask the tough questions? Applications are due March 30 for 2011-12.

Applicants should have open minds, basic computer skills, dedicated time to serve and enjoy working with new friends. Contact 788-7062 or

Contact Judy Salamacha at or 801-1422.

Read more:

Thursday, March 17, 2011

It's time to think about serving on the grand jury of Humboldt County

Allan Edwards/For the Times-Standard
Posted: 03/17/2011 01:30:32 AM PDT

In his inaugural speech of January 20, 1961, President Kennedy admonished all of us to stand willing to serve our country. In that same address he also said some equally important words: “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

Liberty is not easy to keep alive, nor is it convenient to maintain. It demands personal sacrifice. Our Founding Fathers knew this, maintaining that we need a participatory citizenry, one that works actively for the well-being of our nation as well as our individual communities in order for liberty to thrive. But how can ordinary citizens be active participants in the maintenance of liberty and democratic governance?

One of the institutions the founders established was citizen participation in the oversight of those who govern -- the Grand Jury. It is a time-honored, prestigious and very necessary part of the judicial branch of government, and every county in California affords its citizens the opportunity to serve their communities by applying for possible selection to become a member of the County Grand Jury. Each year that opportunity to step up and serve the community comes up, and that time is now.

As former grand jury foreman Matt Morehouse states, “Service as a Grand Juror is at times frustrating, difficult and maddening,but it is at all times personally enriching and rewarding.” True, the work is sometimes demanding, sometimes tedious, but it is never boring. The rewards, however, are many. Most important is serving the demands of democracy. But on a personal level, hear some more comments from former jurors:

”As a former member of the Grand Jury in this county, I would like to state that the experience is one that I had looked forward to for many years. As an officer in county administration in two other counties, I was not eligible for the Grand Jury. When I was chosen for the Grand Jury in Humboldt County, the experience was even more than I had expected, leaving me with a sense of accomplishment and a desire to serve again another year. It is heady stuff, this work, and I can only urge that if one is interested in offering services to the community, this is a fantastic way to do so.” -- Phil Minor.

”Two direct benefits come to mind when I consider my service on the Grand Jury. First, the educational value is immeasurable. Like most laypeople, I didn't know much about how our local government worked. The second benefit is the formation of many good and fast friendships. When you spend that much time together, two or three days a week for an entire year, you naturally discover the strengths and weaknesses in one another and learn to work together as a team. I would serve again in a heartbeat and encourage anyone with the ability and the time to do so.” -- Keath North

If you would like to serve our county, the Humboldt County Chapter of the California Grand Juror's Association urges you to apply for service. Remember those famous statements telling us that if good men and women remain silent, do nothing, fail to contribute to the maintenance of our cherished way of life and liberty, then those not so good will fill the void. Please consider applying. You may do so directly by sending a letter of interest to: Jury Services Office, 825 Fifth St. Eureka, CA 95501

To learn more about service on the Humboldt County Grand Jury, you can call 476-2475 or visit the Grand Jury's website at

Allan Edwards is a former member of the Humboldt County Grand Jury.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Grand jury urges county of Marin to create permanent emergency shelter

By Richard Halstead
Marin Independent Journal

Posted: 03/14/2011 05:52:48 PM PDT

A Marin civil grand jury called Marin County's policies that have resulted in the lack of a permanent emergency homeless shelter "misguided and misplaced."

There are hundreds of homeless families and individuals who need a shelter, yet the county has no plans to create one, according to the grand jury report released Monday.

Responding to the report, Larry Meredith, director of Marin County Department of Health and Human Services, said, "There are many points of disagreement, including some of the facts."

Meredith said the county has doubled its investment in providing emergency shelter to the homeless over the past three years from $578,000 to $1.25 million. He acknowledged, however, that most of the money went to support existing programs, which are insufficient to meet the current needs.

Neither Supervisor Susan Adams nor Steve Kinsey, who serve on the county's Homelessness Policy Steering Committee, could be reached for comment on the report. Kinsey was on his way to Washington D.C. on county business.

One of the report's major findings is that families and children represent the fastest-growing segment of the homeless population in Marin. A federally mandated count of the homeless conducted in 2009 identified 1,147 people as unsheltered in Marin, meaning they reside in a place not meant for human habitation, such as a car, park, sidewalk, open space or on the street.

Of that unsheltered group, the grand jury reportsthere were 111 families and 169 children under the age of 15. Another 1,241 children were identified as being at imminent risk of homelessness.
The grand jury report noted that short-term emergency housing exists for only 14 homeless families, at the Family Emergency Center in San Rafael operated by the nonprofit Homeward Bound. For unsheltered individuals, just 40 permitted beds are available year round, at the Mill Street Center in San Rafael, also operated by Homeward Bound.

During the past three winters much of the slack has been taken up by a group of local churches and synagogues that have allowed the homeless to sleep in their facilities on a rotating basis. The Rotating Emergency Shelter Team (REST) program can provide shelter for a maximum of 20 women and 45 men each night. Participants must be drug free. The program, however, turns away as many as 20 people a night during the four months that it operates.

The grand jury stated that even though several REST sponsors consistently state they do not intend to serve indefinitely, the county has no contingency plan to replace the faith-based program.

The grand jury noted that in 2006 a so-called "Visionary Committee," consisting of two county supervisors, directors of local nonprofits and others, drafted a 10-year plan to end homelessness in Marin. This plan identified the creation of a permanent emergency shelter that would accept all comers without conditions as its top priority, to be in place no later than 2009.

The grand jury recounted, however, how money once intended for an emergency shelter has been routed elsewhere. For example, in 2009 the county gave $150,000 earmarked for an emergency shelter to Homeward Bound, which needed money to pay for Americans with Disabilities Act improvements to its facilities.

During the current fiscal year, the county awarded another $550,000 to keep Homeward Bound's Mill Street Center operational and allocated $200,000 to Housing First, a new program that will move chronically homeless individuals into permanent supportive housing.

Meredith said, "We wanted a more balanced approach between the front-end temporary shelter and the longer-term both prevention and remediation of homelessness. This is based on the federal strategy."

The grand jury acknowledged the potential for Housing First, because the county estimates approximately 10 to 15 percent of homeless individuals use a disproportionate amount of social and police services. But it noted that only 12 individuals will participate in Housing First initially and only incrementally more in successive years.

"Housing First and permanent emergency shelter should not be an 'either/or' proposition," the report stated.

The grand jury noted that in addition to a lack of funding, finding a site for a permanent emergency shelter has also been a major roadblock. For example, when the county considered the defunct honor farm detention facility near McInnis Park as a potential site, the landlord would not enter into a lease. When the county approached San Rafael about using a commercial space, it was again rebuffed. This year, churches in Terra Linda and Ross were forced to drop out of the REST program after neighbors complained.

The grand jury noted that a new state law took effect in 2008 that requires cities and counties to identify potential sites where new emergency shelters can be located without discretionary review. To date, however, only Larkspur and Ross have complied with the law.

Contact Richard Halstead via e-mail at

As water agency prepares for financial windfall, Placer County grand jury expresses planning concerns

Panel praises water provider for lean, efficient organization
By Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer

A grand jury report is recommending the Placer County Water Agency plan more for the future, including how to spend the tens of millions of dollars in profits it may be earning annually from the Middle Fork Project.

The agency is working toward assuming control over the Middle Fork Project’s series of revenue-generating reservoirs and power plants in 2013.

But a report recently issued by the Placer County grand jury, is expressing concern over how the Water Agency will use its share of what could turn out to be as much as $20 million a year in total net revenues just more than a decade after the 2013 relicensing date.

The report notes that the agency board of directors recently approved a resolution indicating what types of projects could be funded by the expected additional revenue from the sale of power from the Middle Fork Project.

The list includes water rights protection, supply development, conservation, recycling, groundwater management, replacing aging infrastructure and development of extensions to serve existing neighborhoods.

“This is an excellent start but the list is so broad it provides little guidance to PCWA staff,” the grand jury said.

The grand jury said that interviews with management and leaders of organizations dealing with the agency indicate that the water provider – one of the largest special districts in the county – is an “efficient, lean organization” with a stable work force.

While it didn’t delve into pay to employees, the agency has recently started posting salaries on its Web site. The top pay level, for example, for the agency’s Director of Strategic Affairs Einar Maisch is between $177,500 annually. For Director of Technical Services Brian Martin $157,081 and Director of Financial Services Joe Parker $145,211. General Manager Dave Breninger’s annual pay is set by the board at $216,172.

Wally Reemelin, president of the League of Placer County Taxpayers, said that the grand jury is on the right track by recommending more specific planning by the Water Agency for Middle Fork Project revenues.

“There will be a lot of money so plans need to be formulated,” Reemelin said.

On the grand jury’s conclusion that the agency is a “lean” organization, Reemelin said that water rates could be lower. Reemelin added that Breninger’s salary seems to be “a bit high for what he’s doing.”

“The governor only gets $179,000 a year and he has more responsibility,” Reemelin said.

The report stated that Placer County’s population increased 14 percent between 2004 and 2009, while revenues, expenses and capital assets with the Water Agency increased by 30 percent, 54 percent and 95 percent respectively – and staff increased by only 7 percent.

Breninger said that the grand jury input is always welcome.

“We’re always pleased to have the grand jury take a look and we’re diligently looking at responses now,” Breninger said. “I think they’re helping us to look several more horizons ahead. We’re in a position for great opportunities many local governments don’t have.”

Recommendations by the grand jury include:

n Establishing an ongoing process to prioritize and rank proposed projects that will be funded from the additional revenue expected from the sale of Middle Fork Project power

n Increase staff within the agency’s strategic affairs division to provide backup and continuity for key positions and ensure all issues are getting the required attention

n Develop formalized plan to develop internal candidates and outside sources for key staff and management positions

The report said that the workforce has been stable, with most of the management having worked together as a team for several years.

“However its workforce is aging, with most of management being eligible to retire now,” the grand jury said. It’s recommending a better succession plan for replacing key positions within the agency, particularly Maisch’s and Breninger’s.

For the agency’s eight top executive and management positions, the grand jury found an average age of 57 and average length of service of 24 years.

Breninger told board members that grand jurors and staff met March 1 to discuss the report again, with a focus on its recommendations. A response to the recommendations is due with the grand jury by May 17

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Solano County needs Grand Jury members

Times-Herald staff report
Posted: 03/09/2011 01:01:43 AM PST

FAIRFIELD -- The Solano County Superior Court is looking for citizens to serve on the Civil Grand Jury, with potential to serve a subsequent Grand Jury term, court officials have announced.
To be eligible, residents must be 18 or older, have lived in the county at least one year and be U.S. citizens. The deadline to apply is May 2.

As the county's investigative body, the Civil Grand Jury may examine all aspects of local government in an effort to ensure that residents' interests are being served. The Grand Jury also looks into citizen complaints alleging suspicions of governmental misconduct or inefficiencies.

Grand Jury service requires a time commitment of at least 10 to 25 hours per week.

Residents interested in applying may call Florinda Itchon at the Office of the Grand Jury at (707) 435-2575 or visit the court's website at to obtain an application.

Imperial County Qualified applicants encouraged to apply to serve on Civil Grand Jury


Imperial Valley Press

12:34 AM PST, March 8, 2011

Applications are being accepted for those wanting to serve on the upcoming 2011-2012 Imperial County Civil Grand Jury, Jury Commissioner Kristine Kussman announced.

The 19-member body would serve from July 1 through June 30, 2012, and be made up of committees who regularly meet on average of three hours per month.

The meetings are scheduled on a bi-weekly basis in the evenings and the stipend is $15 per day plus mileage.

The Jury Department must receive complete applications by April 15. Superior Court judges will be reviewing qualified candidates for the random drawing scheduled for June 22 at 4 p.m.

Applications can be downloaded from the Imperial County Superior Court’s Web site at or requested by telephone at 760-482-2256. The applications can also be picked up in person at the Court’s Jury Commissioner’s Office located at the Jury Commissioner’s Office at the courthouses in El Centro, Calexico, Brawley or Winterhaven.

Candidates must be U.S. citizens, at least 18 years of age with a solid knowledge of English. The candidates also have lived in the U.S. since July 1, 2010 and pass a criminal background check.

The county’s Civil Grand Jury is impaneled to act as a component of the court, as authorized by the State Constitution, “to be a voice of the people and conscience of the community,” Kussman said.

Staff Writer Silvio J. Panta can be reached at 760-337-3442 or at

Santa Barbara Civil Grand Jury releases compensation survey

The Santa Barbara County Civil Ground Jury on Monday released the results of a survey of public employee salaries and total compensation.
The survey reports total compensation paid to senior executives and elected officials for 72 government entities throughout the county.

Among the findings:

The County Board of Supervisors earn $84,200 annually. The Santa Barbara City Council earns $39,729 annually, plus $7,116 for a car allowance. The mayor earns $49,661 and a $10,296 car allowance.

Santa Barbara Police Chief Cam Sanchez earns $207,860 in total compensation; the general manager of the Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District earns $154,987.

Santa Barbara City Administrator Jim Armstrong earns $245,062 in total compensation.

The survey, which is based on 2009 data, is already widely available publicly.

The report includes information on elected officials, managers of county government and cities, along with special districts and school districts throughout the county.

The survey breaks down the compensation into salaries, bonuses, and the value of annual benefits.

“Although compensation paid to public officials in California is part of the public record, it is fair to say few citizens know what these amounts are,” said Kathryn McKee, jury foreperson.

Public employee salaries and benefits has been at the center of debate locally and nationally, as politicians argue over the cause of the continuing decline of the economy.

Joe Armendariz, executive director of the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers’ Association, and a member of the Carpinteria City Council, said he was not surprised by the numbers.

“Most of the public employees I know are fine people, who do good, and important work for the particular jurisdiction that employs them,” Armendariz said. “Contrary to the hyperbole emanating from the defenders of the status quo, the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association is not interested in demonizing our public employees or calling into question their value or their worth.”

Armendariz said, however, that according to the state's Employment Development Department, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, public employees particularly at the federal, and state level, earn far more than their private sector equivalents.

“Once you factor in the value of their retirement, and health care benefits, (it is) substantially more, in some cases 500 percent more,” Armendariz said.

The survey can be found at

Mendocino County Grand jurors needed for 2011-12 term

Ukiah Daily Journal Staff
Updated: 03/08/2011 11:59:50 PM PST

Jurors are needed to serve on the Mendocino County civil grand jury for the coming yearlong term, the Mendocino County Superior Court has announced.

"All qualified citizens interested in serving on the 2011-12 Mendocino County grand jury are invited to submit their applications to the Superior Court for consideration," said Judge Cindee F. Mayfield, chairwoman of the Grand Jury Recruitment/Selection Committee, in a prepared statement.

Applications are due by May 13, with the yearlong term to begin July 1.

The 19-member civil grand jury investigates the operations of the county, city and district governments, and is empowered to provide civil oversight of local government departments and agencies and respond to citizens' complaints.

To qualify, a prospective juror must be a United States citizen, fluent in written and spoken English, at least 18 years old and a Mendocino County resident for at least a year, according to the Superior Court.

Grand jurors may not serve on any other government board or commission, hold public office or be involved in an election campaign during their term.

Before nominations, each qualified applicant is interviewed by a Superior Court judge and undergoes background investigations by the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office.

The hours are flexible because the grand jury sets its own agenda and schedules its own meetings, and because small committees do much of the work, according to the Superior Court. Training is provided.

More information and applications are available online at Applications are also available at the Mendocino County Superior Courthouse, 100 N. State St., Room 303, in Ukiah, or by calling the grand jury at 463-4320.

For more information, call Sally Nevarez at 463-4662.