Saturday, April 30, 2011

Solano County grand jury applicants sought

By Reporter Staff
Posted: 04/29/2011 01:21:07 AM PDT

The application deadline is fast approaching for Solano County residents interested in serving as jurors on the 2011-12 civil grand jury.

The civil grand jury, as part of the judicial branch of government, is an arm of the Superior Court. It serves as the county's investigatory body and may examine all aspects of county and city government, special districts, and school districts, to ensure that the best interests of the county's citizens are served.

As part of its function, the grand jury also looks into citizen complaints alleging suspicions of government misconduct or inefficiencies.

Service on the grand jury requires a significant time commitment of a minimum of 10 to 25 hours per week, but also provides citizens with a unique opportunity to contribute to the efficiency of local government.

To be eligible, residents must have lived in the county for one year, be United States citizens, and be 18-years-old or older.

For more information or to apply, contact Florinda Itchon at the Office of the Grand Jury, 435-2575, or visit the county website at The deadline for applications is Monday.

Isleton officials in dark about pot-farm inquiry

Kevin Fagan, Chronicle Staff Writer

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The first day of grand jury hearings investigating the Sacramento County town of Isleton's deal with a company building a medical marijuana farm came and went Wednesday with little to indicate what the probe is all about.

Sources close to the investigation said one area being explored is the possibility that kickback payments were made to city officials in return for allowing Delta Allied Growers to construct a 4,000-square-foot spread of greenhouses on the eastern edge of Isleton. But several who were summoned to a Sacramento courtroom to testify said they were still in the dark about investigators' focus.

Every elected leader and manager in Isleton, a sleepy delta town of 800 about 15 miles north of Antioch, was subpoenaed by Sacramento County District Attorney Jan Scully to testify Wednesday about the pot-farm deal.

The deal, which the Isleton City Council approved in October, allows Delta Allied to build the farm in exchange for annual payments of $25,000 or 3 percent of gross receipts, whichever is more.

The district attorney's office would not comment on the probe or reveal how many subpoenas were issued, but city officials say they went out to at least a dozen people associated with the project. A dozen showed up Wednesday at the Sacramento Superior Courthouse, and three had been called into the grand jury chamber by late afternoon.

"There are all sorts of rumors, and the grand jury is telling everyone not to talk, but the latest is that the chief of police and I took bribes," said City Manager Bruce Pope, who showed up but was not brought into the grand jury chamber.

"Did I take bribes? No," Pope said.

"If I did, I wouldn't be here - I'd be in Bora Bora with my wife and these people could all drop dead," he quipped. "Seriously, we can't tell where this investigation is going, or where it began, so what's driving it is either sheer stupidity or politics."

Irked by the unspecific nature of the probe, Pope said the city brass intended to invoke the Fifth Amendment and refuse to answer questions.

Pope said he had sent all documentation about the pot-farm deal to the district attorney's office. "We offered to make any corrections to the agreement if they could show us what parts violated the law, but they wouldn't tell us," Pope said.

City Councilman Robert Jankovitz also spent much of the day at the courthouse but was not called in.

"All I did here today was burn $20 in gas, $9 in parking, and I had to buy lunch in the courthouse cafeteria," he said. "Not a good day."

The hearings are expected to last through Friday.

E-mail Kevin Fagan at

Calif grand jury probes small-town pot farm plan

Officials in the small California farming town of Isleton faced legal scrutiny Wednesday over their licensing of a medical marijuana growing operation to raise revenue for the struggling city.

The mayor, city manager, police chief and others were subpoenaed by Sacramento County prosecutors to testify before a grand jury.

A letter to the City Council from District Attorney Jan Scully's office said the decision to allow the farm likely breaks state and federal laws. Most officials were expected to plead the Constitution's Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination.

Marijuana is banned by U.S. law but allowed for medical use under a California measure.

"I have never seen anything like how the district attorney is treating us. It's over the top, downright hostile," City Manager Bruce Pope told the San Francisco Chronicle. "We're not going to just take it lying down."

The farm on the edge of the town of 800 people about 40 miles south of Sacramento is set to open this summer. The planned 4,000-square-foot facility would have 14 greenhouses when completed.

Delta Allied Growers agreed in a contract approved in October to pay the city the greater amount of $25,000 a month or 3 percent of gross receipts in exchange for the permit to operate the farm. The city's annual budget is about $1.3 million.

"This is a small-scale, secure, R&D-focused facility operating under a legal permit from the city of Isleton," said Delta Allied spokesman Scott Hawkins.

The city of Oakland last summer approved a similar but larger-scale plan to license four industrial-scale pot-growing operations. That effort was placed on hold after warnings from prosecutors that city officials could face criminal charges and growers would not be immune from a federal crackdown.

Isleton has faced controversy before over other revenue-raising endeavors. The city made as much as $400,000 annually in the 1990s from concealed weapons permits issued by the police chief, the Chronicle reported.

The state eventually shut down the program, and the police chief was fired.

A grand jury probe in 2008 called for the city to disband, claiming it was "in a state of perpetual crisis."

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Sacramento Grand jury grills Isleton leaders about pot farm
Published Thursday, Apr. 28, 2011

Wednesday must have been a bad day to get any city business done in Isleton.

The entire city government spent the day cooling their heels in a Sacramento Superior Court hallway waiting to be called before a county grand jury probing last year's approval of a massive medical marijuana farm in the Delta community.

Most said they had done nothing wrong and would invoke the Fifth Amendment to refuse to answer questions in the probe, which includes allegations of kickbacks and payoffs to officials in exchange for approval of the farm.

They were not in a very pleasant mood.

"My idea is that we should all dress up as witches and go testify, because that's what this is," City Manager Bruce Pope said as he stood with his fellow Isletonians in the courthouse lobby.

"It's unprecedented," Police Chief Rick Sullivan fumed. "They've got the whole city of Isleton here.

"Why didn't they wake people up in their beds and make them all come down?"

The grand jury is expected to seek testimony through at least the end of the week, although what precisely is being asked is unclear because witnesses were told not to reveal anything about the proceedings.

"They admonished me that I can't discuss anything with anybody other than my attorney," said former Mayor Jim Corsaut, who was on the council when the project was approved and appeared for several hours before the panel.

The venture by Delta Allied Growers is being constructed in a failed housing development on the north end of Isleton, an 800-resident hamlet along the Sacramento River that saw the plan as a financial godsend.

Businessman Michael Brubeck, nephew of jazz great Dave Brubeck, is fronting the plan and promised to provide Isleton a minimum of $25,000 a month – and as much as $60,000 a month – in proceeds from the nonprofit medical marijuana farm.

Isleton officials dreamed of being able to expand their one-man Police Department and provide new services that had been unthinkable for a city that has suffered financially for years.

Then District Attorney Jan Scully and the grand jury entered the picture with what appears to be a political corruption probe and an attempt to stop the installation of the pot farm.

The fight has attracted some of the region's best-known lawyers to Isleton's side, including Clyde Blackmon and Christopher Lee. Another prominent legal name, William Portanova, is representing Brubeck.

"The District Attorney's Office has given us a subpoena and we're happy to respond to it in our own legal way," Portanova said. "The intent of this business is to be in full compliance with all laws."

Brubeck, who associates say formerly worked in the mortgage industry, has marketed himself as a consultant for medical marijuana dispensaries.

One business relationship ran into conflict last year, and Brubeck filed a breach of contract suit against the founders of Sacramento's El Camino Wellness Center dispensary. He claimed in the suit that he was owed up to a "20 percent interest in the profits of the company" for 10 hours a week of consulting help to set up the business.

The dispensary founders, Nicolas Street and Sonny Kumar, countersued, alleging that Brubeck had performed little of the work he promised and falsely represented to them that the dispensary could legally operate as a for-profit concern.

California law requires marijuana outlets to organize as nonprofit groups of medical marijuana users.

Street and Kumar said in the countersuit that they severed the consulting relationship after paying Brubeck a total of $28,900 in 2008 and 2009.

They charged that he provided advice that was "largely false, illegal and fraudulent" and that a contract asserting that Brubeck was due "an interest in the profits" was illegal because it would have required the dispensary "to perform a crime" by "profiting from the illegal sale of cannabis."

That case is pending and not related to the probe in Isleton, where officials say they have broken no laws and took no payoffs.

Scully's office has declined to discuss the nature of the probe.

"I'm just not sure where this is going," said Sullivan, the police chief who has 25 years of experience with the California Highway Patrol. "That's what makes it so disheartening. I guess I'm used to being on the other side and always being cooperative and helpful."

Sullivan said the town was being patrolled Wednesday by a reserve officer he was able to hire last Friday using federal grant money. He added that he planned to answer questions before the panel because "I don't have anything to hide."

"I need to maintain my credibility as chief of police and as a police officer," he added. "If anything, I will reiterate to the grand jury that the people who take the Fifth did so because they feel intimidated and scared."

Lee said that as he met with four of his clients at City Hall Tuesday night, the DA investigator who served them all with subpoenas sat in a car outside the building and refused three requests to leave, further intimidating his clients.

"What kind of Mafia wiseguy stuff is this?" Lee asked.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Fire protection a hot topic for Plumas County supervisors

Dan McDonald
Staff Writer

Still smarting from a 2009 – 10 grand jury report that blasts the county for leaving nearly a fifth of its full-time residents without fire protection, the Board of Supervisors held a forum with fire chiefs and concerned citizens last Tuesday.

“We need you to solve this problem,” Charles Plopper, speaking on behalf of the former grand jury, told the board.

The objective is to make sure all 20,007 Plumas County residents fall under the protection of a fire district. More than 4,000 residents do not.

The board voiced its commitment to solve the problem as soon as possible and agreed to put the issue on the agenda, possibly before the end May.

“I’ll keep putting this on the agenda for the next two years if that’s what it takes to get this done,” Supervisor Lori Simpson said.

Some grand jury proposals discussed during the standing-room-only meeting included:

•Formation of new districts.

•Annexation to existing districts.

•Expansion of responsibilities of existing community service districts to include fire protection.

•Contracting with CalFire in adjacent counties for local service.

A proposal that generated the most discussion was the idea of instituting a county fire warden to oversee expanded fire districts.

“The concept is existing fire districts would be responsible for providing fire service for those unprotected areas of the county,” said Larry Walker, president of the Plumas County Special Districts Association. “It would be done by increasing spheres of influence, redeveloping spheres of influence and taking in all those unprotected areas into an existing district.”

One of the proposals to pay for the expanded service is a property-tax exchange between the county and the districts.

Graeagle Fire Chief Ed Ward said the Plumas County Fire Chiefs Association has developed a job description for a potential fire warden.

“The fire warden position would be responsible for coordinating and being a liaison between the fire chiefs and the Board of Supervisors,” Ward said.

“I think now that we have this job description, we do have the funding for that position if it is found to be legal,” Supervisor Robert Meacher said.

County Counsel Craig Settlemire said he would review the job description to ascertain its legality.

Many of the more than 4,000 unprotected property owners aren’t aware they don’t live within a fire district.

That doesn’t mean a fire crew won’t show up for a fire; it just means the property owners are probably going to get a bill for the service.

“Ninety percent of what I do as a fire chief is answering that telephone every time we send out a bill,” Ward said, adding that 46 percent of the calls to which Graeagle Fire responds are outside his district. “The caller says, ‘Why am I getting a bill? I live in Plumas County. I have fire protection.’”

The best way for residents to find out if they live within a fire protection district is to check with the nearest fire station.

However, if the nearest station is run by the U.S. Forest Service, people need to know the USFS’s job is to protect the forests. It is not authorized to fight structure fires.

Likewise, CalFire is not contracted to provide residential fire service in Plumas County.

That doesn’t mean the forest service and CalFire won’t fight a structure fire. But they aren’t required to do it.

Don't damage state's civil grand juries

10:00 PM PDT on Sunday, April 24, 2011


One would think that Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, is intent on destroying the California civil grand jury system. It's hard to argue otherwise with his proposed legislation, AB 622.

Currently, civil grand juries are closed to the press and public. This is so witnessness can give forthright testimony and have no fear of intimidation. According to the California Supreme Court, "it can hardly be disputed that the encouragement of candid testimony and the protection of the witness and their reputations are best achieved when secrecy is maintained."

Dickinson wants to change this.

Initially Dickinson wanted to open all civil grand jury proceedings to the public and press, but to waylay opposition, he amended the bill to limit public sessions to sworn testimony and to allow a presiding judge to authorize closed sessions.

Another AB 622 section would allow a witness to have their attorney present when they testify.


Current law allows a witness to confer with his attorney at any time during the testimony, but only outside the courtroom, since all jury proceedings are confidential.

Lawyers present at interviews would compromise the grand jury's ability to work confidentially.

Quoting from a recent Sacramento Bee editorial slamming Dickinson's legislation: "While grand juries have made some mistakes over the years, there's scant evidence they're running amok.

Any abuses are far outnumbered by successes. And there are already safeguards. They work under the supervision of each county's presiding judge, and they can't impose their recommendations."

The editorial also said: "Far more convincing are district attorneys, some judges and grand juror groups, who say if the bill passes, the juries would become less effective.

They warn that whistleblowers would be scared off, and that witnesses who do appear would be less likely to testify fully and candidly."

Remember, without San Bernardino County's civil grand jury, Bill Postmus would still be a distinguished assessor and former supervisor instead of a convicted felon.

Don't let Assemblyman Dickinson convert our present civil grand jury system into just another worthless proceeding.

stop legislation

The San Bernardino Grand Jurors' Association, an organization of past and present grand jurors, encourages readers to contact their member of the Assembly and put an end to this bit of ridiculous legislation.

Burrel Woodring is president of the San Bernardino County Grand Jurors Association

San Diego Grand jury finds value in supervisors' fund

But report recommends greater transparency in awarding of grants

By Christopher Cadelago

Tuesday, April 26, 2011 at 9:19 p.m.

The fund that lets county supervisors grant public money to community groups is valuable for putting tax dollars to work, but officials could do more to increase transparency and improve the program's image, according to a report released Tuesday by the San Diego County Grand Jury.

The Neighborhood Reinvestment Program has been criticized as a "slush fund" that helps solidify incumbency for the board of supervisors.

The five supervisors say the $1 million each of them dispenses each year helps charities and causes that otherwise would not get money from the county bureaucracy.

"We found there's a lot of valuable programs that probably wouldn't get funded if it weren't for these guys," Grand Jury Foreman Richard Carlson said.

Supervisor Bill Horn, the board chairman, said he was pleased the grand jury recognized that the majority of tax dollars come from unincorporated areas.

"I believe it is important to return those tax dollars to the communities in which they are generated," Horn said. "The grand jury correctly notes that these funds are used for worthy projects such as regional parks, libraries and recreational facilities."

The investigation found that trading grants for political support was not an issue, saying there was no direct evidence of influence buying nor of any member of a supervisor's office suggesting a political favor in exchange for a grant.

However, the report states that over the years some organizations have offered opportunities for political grandstanding to the donating supervisor "and that these actions have cast a shadow over both programs."

The report also noted that numerous awards were given to supervisors by recipients of the funds, and that supervisors were frequently invited to speak to members of the groups.

The report recommended: amending grant applications to include questions on donations made in the past year to campaigns from officers and board members of the applicant organization, publishing the tax identification number of each organization that receives funding, creating an audit trail so donations for tangible items can be physically verified and drafting a self-certification process to ensure recipients are in compliance with IRS regulations.

In September, supervisors unanimously agreed to tighten restrictions for distributing the money and banned themselves from accepting gifts from recipients.

Supervisor Dianne Jacob, who pushed for the changes with colleague Greg Cox, said the report demonstrated that the overhaul went a long way toward cleaning up the program.

"This program has greatly helped communities, but we tightened the program rules further to ensure its original purpose of reinvesting taxpayer money into local neighborhoods for projects that benefit the public," Cox said. "It's good to see that the grand jury has recognized those efforts. We will continue to work to insure the accountability and integrity of the program, while filling vital needs in the community." (619) 293-1334

Hybrid cars may not save San Mateo county money

April 27, 2011, 03:28 AM By Michelle Durand Daily Journal Staff

Buying hybrid vehicles for its motor fleet might help San Mateo County go green but isn’t necessarily saving it any, according to the civil grand jury which is urging the Board of Supervisors to commission a detailed study of the costs.

In a report released yesterday, the San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury concluded that the county might be better off sticking with non-hybrid cars because their savings were overestimated. The jury found there are conventionally powered compact and intermediate sized sedans that meet the “green” standards of the state and Environmental Protection Agency. When coupled with the increased depreciation value of hybrid vehicles, the county may be offsetting any fuel consumption savings from choosing that type, the jury found.

The county began buying hybrids in part based on a 2003 study on the Public Works Fleet Management Division which concluded they would consume less fuel, produce lower emissions and generate “substantial” savings. Specifically, the study by the Controller’s Office held that over the estimated seven-year life span of the hybrid, the county saved $1,764 over a comparable non-hybrid due to fuel and maintenance costs.

Fleet vehicles are replaced at 100,000 miles or seven years of service for small cars and 100,000 or 10 years for larger vehicles, whichever comes first.

Since 2002, the Public Works Department has bought 200 compact sedans — either a Toyota Prius or Honda Civic — and seven Ford Escape SUVs with a hybrid power train.

Since the study, though, the jury said there is substantially more information on hybrids’ trade-in values and depreciation costs compared to traditional vehicles. Some non-hybrids also meet California’s green designation and EPA 35-mpg estimate, such as the Chevrolet Cobalt, Cruze and Malibu; the Honda Civic, Accord and Fit; the Ford Fusion, Focus and Fiesta and the Toyota Camry, Corolla and Yaris.

The 2011 base price of a hybrid Toyota Prius is $7,280 more than a comparable non-hybrid Toyota Corolla and the hybrid Honda Civic costs $5,395 more than the non-hybrid counterpart. Because the county does not pay income taxes, it does not qualify for federal tax credits.

Depreciation values also showed a wide difference, according to the jury’s research. The hybrid depreciation for 2003 models with mileage up to 99,000 range from $3,970 to $4,465 more than a conventional powered vehicle, according to the Kelly Blue Book for January through March of 2011. The 2003 report may have overestimated the trade-in value by 23 percent, the jury found.

The jury, however, did not launch its own detailed and technical study of the operational costs which is what it believes the Board of Supervisors should undertake. Board President Carole Groom could not be reached for comment on whether the Board of Supervisors may agree and commission such a study.

The jury also recommends the county develop a new policy for retiring vehicles based on mileage rather than the 100,000 miles or seven-year maximum currently used.

Grand jury reports carry no legal weight but recipients must respond in writing within 90 days.

The full report is available at

Michelle Durand can be reached by email: or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 102.

Santa Cruz County grand jury puts finishing touches on report

Posted: 04/27/2011 01:30:50 AM PDT

The county civil grand jury finally put the finishing touches on its 2009-10 report Tuesday, nearly 10 months after issuing a report criticizing everything from the troubled Lompico Water District to the county's library system.

The jury released detailed responses from agencies targeted by the 19-member citizen-led body, which issued its findings last summer.

During the jury's investigation into the Lompico district, one staffer was arrested for embezzlement and the district fired its general manager, who was later charged with falsifying documents.

The Lompico Water District's responses to the report largely agree with the jury's findings, including that it explore a merger with the larger San Lorenzo Valley Water District to help meet future water and infrastructure demands.

"I'm very interested in it and I think the majority of the board is very interested in it," said Rick Harrington, president of the Lompico Water District's board. "My opinion is it's the only real long-term solution to provide a sustainable water supply for the canyon."

Harrington said the district has met with SLV water over the past year and met again as recently as April 18.

The Lompico district, which serves about 1,500 residents and was once regarded as among the best in the county, has long been troubled. During one drought year in the early 1990s, the district repeatedly ferried a truck between Lompico and Felton's water supplier, dumping enough water into the system to meet demand. Its rates are among the county's highest.

Harrington, who recently returned to the board to help right the ship, said the district is slowly catching up on its maintenance. It replaced filters that hadn't been changed in 15 years, fixed a back-up pump and repaired redwood storage tanks. It is also keeping up with its bills.

"One difference between now and year ago -- a year ago, the board president was talking to PG&E about, Please don't turn off the electricity,'" Harrington said. "All the bills have been paid on time since June of last year. These things are paid as they come in."

Last year's grand jury report also focused on Watsonville employee disciplinary appeals, a county-run website for those seeking help with drugs and alcohol, the fiscal impact of the marijuana trade, jail inspection reports and more.

But another major focus was the organization of the county's library system, a controversy that persisted long after the report's release. Earlier this month, the board that operates the library system voted to keep all branches open by relying on more volunteer help.

The board and library staff disagreed, in whole or in part, with many of the conclusions reached by the grand jury, everything from the square footage of a new Scotts Valley library to when an agreement for a new Capitola library was signed.

They offered more substantial dissents as well as, including whether the district severely underfunds technology investments.

A new grand jury report will be issued June 30. Citing secrecy rules, Foreperson Gayle Larson did not disclose the topics.

Larson said she hoped the responses meant the agencies investigated were taking the report seriously.

"We like to hope it has some effect," Larson said.

Isleton officials poised to plead the 5th before grand jury

By Sam Stanton

The entire city officialdom of Isleton marched into the Sacramento Superior Court house this morning, summoned before a grand jury probing city plans to allow a massive marijuana farm to be built there.

Council members, the police chief, the city manager, planning officials and others all huddled on the first floor of the courthouse waiting to be summoned before a closed session of the grand jury.

All of them except Police Chief Rick Sullivan are expected to invoke their 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination.

City Manager Bruce Pope said no one has any idea what the grand jury investigation is about, and officials complained that they were being intimidated by Sacramento County District Attorney Jan Scully's office.

Attorney Christopher Lee, who represents four of the people who received subpeonas, said a DA's investigator spent last night sitting outside City Hall while he tried to meet with his clients to discuss legal matters.

The police chief is the only one summoned who plans to answer questions. Sullivan, a 25-year veteran of the CHP, said he as nothing to hide and has done nothing wrong and will answer the panel's questions.

Other city officials also say they have done nothing wrong in connections with their approval of the Delta Allied Growers' plan to start a medical marijuana farm on the north edge of Isleton, a plan that is expected to pump at least $25,000 a month into the coffers of the cash-strapped city.

The grand jury is expected to try to question officials over the next three days, but it appears unlikely that the panel will get many answers.

The marijuana farm is being spearheaded by Michael Brubeck, nephew of jazz great Dave Brubeck, but the DA's office apparently has been having difficulty in locating Brubeck to serve him a subpeona.

City officials were told this morning that they will take an oath when called before the panel. The first witness emerged after about 20 minutes inside the grand jury room and identified himself as the assistant Sacramento County assessor John Solie, but said he could not discuss what transpired inside.

Read more:

Isleton Officials Must Talk Pot Before Sacramento Grand Jury, Judge Says

Published: Tuesday, Apr. 26, 2011 - 12:00 am | Page 2B
Last Modified: Tuesday, Apr. 26, 2011 - 8:41 am

A judge Monday rejected an effort by attorneys for the city of Isleton to stop prosecutors from questioning officials in the tiny Delta town about their arrangement with a private pot-cultivation outfit.

The District Attorney's Office this month subpoenaed current and former Isleton City Council members and other officials to answer questions in front of the Sacramento County grand jury about the city's medicinal marijuana deal with Delta Allied Growers.

Isleton officials have said the agreement could mean hundreds of thousands of dollars in new revenue for the cash-strapped city.

Attorney Clyde Blackmon filed a motion Friday to quash the subpoenas, saying they violated provisions in the Constitution on separation of powers. He said that the investigation would have a "chilling effect" on the ability of the city to conduct its legislative business.

Sacramento Superior Court Judge Raymond M. Cadei denied the motion after a brief hearing.

"It's not unique in this country to compel elected officials to appear in front of a grand jury," Cadei said.

Assistant District Attorney Albert Locher argued against the motion. He said the DA's office is still acting only as an adviser to the grand jury.

"If at some point in the future we're back here with an indictment," Locher said, the issue of prosecuting city officials would then be the topic of "an interesting discussion."

The grand jury's Isleton session is scheduled to begin Wednesday.

Read more:

Monday, April 25, 2011

Grand jury criticizes Riverside County's legal defense contract process

11:13 PM PDT on Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Press-Enterprise

Riverside County supervisors failed to follow their own policies when awarding a new criminal defense contract earlier this year, a newly released grand jury report concludes.

The report, made public this month and set to go before supervisors Tuesday, asserts the board's action circumvented the recommendations of three Northern California public defenders brought on to evaluate competing bids.

As a result, the grand jury is recommending that supervisors construct a bidding process that ensures transparency on future criminal defense contracts.

"Lack of oversight invites potential abuse in the use of county funds," the grand jury states.

When a conflict of interest is declared in a court case, which could occur when there are multiple defendants in a single case, the county public defender must use an outside law firm to provide legal representation to those who cannot pay.

In March 2010, two firms -- Riverside-based Blumenthal Law Office and Criminal Defense Lawyers run by attorneys Steve Harmon and Paul Grech -- bid on the work for western and southwest Riverside County.

But Virginia Blumenthal, the runner-up in that first round of competition, raised accusations of favoritism and collusion after her bid came in $100 higher than that of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

Because of the controversy, supervisors sent the work out for bid again in September with a revamped search committee made up of public defenders from Northern California.

In the second round, Blumenthal came out on top, not only for western and southwest but for all of Riverside County, a contract valued at $8.8 million. Still, that outcome didn't sit well with some supervisors, since the evaluation committee did not conduct face-to-face interviews.

Ultimately, the board opted to split the contract three ways with Blumenthal and Criminal Defense Lawyers taking the western and southwest areas, respectively, and the Law Offices of Barbara Brand retaining its contract for the eastern county.

The three firms negotiated the specifics of the arrangement among themselves.


The grand jury in its report said the Board of Supervisors "completely circumvented" the evaluation committee's work and disregarded the intent of the county's "Bid Review Under Transparent Environment" policy, also known as B.R.U.T.E.

"Non-adherence to the Board of Supervisor's own directives in this situation led competitors to negotiate amongst themselves rather than in the open environment as outlined in B.R.U.T.E.," the grand jury report states.

The grand jury also criticized the lack of outside auditing of a trust account used to pay for services such as outside investigators. The grand jury said annual audits are required but found only five in the past nine years.

Supervisor John Tavaglione, who proposed splitting the contracts, said the bid process was flawed and face-to-face interviews should have been done.

"While we always appreciate the input and review of the grand jury, that doesn't mean they're always right in their assessments or conclusions," Tavaglione said by email Sunday. "In this case, I believe they are wrong."

Supervisor Jeff Stone, who first proposed the transparency policy, said Friday he'll push to add more teeth to the rules as a result of the grand jury report.

"Everybody was held to the same standard," Stone said. "We really watered down the B.R.U.T.E. process."

Supervisors will have 60 days to approve a formal response to the grand jury.

"At this point, we will assess the findings and recommendations and report back to the board and grand jury within the time required by law," county spokesman Ray Smith said.

Reach Duane W. Gang at 951-368-9547 or

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Pot wars: Private land new frontier in California

Robert Townsend, California Watch

Sunday, April 24, 2011

A little-spoken-of war is taking place behind California's fences and property lines: Trespassing marijuana growers are setting booby traps, resorting to violence and vandalism, and spoiling the land by stealing water and spraying dangerous chemicals that leach into streams.

As the federal government focuses on stopping illegal marijuana crops in public parklands and U.S. forests, sheriff's and state drug enforcement officials face the persistent and potentially dangerous problem of pot growers commandeering private land for their crops.

While some land owners fear violence, others face environmental havoc.

Last year, the Mendocino County grand jury found that trespassing growers had clear-cut trees and destroyed vegetation, diverted streams and littered the landscape with animal carcasses, garbage, human waste, herbicides and animal poisons.

The report found toxic compounds used as fertilizer and pesticides were being mixed in dammed streambeds, and "toxins have devastated bird and aquatic life and pose a threat to human habitat."

Anyone who wants physical proof of the potential for violence can visit Lake County Supervisor Rob Brown's office at the courthouse in Lakeport, where Brown keeps a souvenir booby trap on display that he removed from his property. It looks like a giant wooden flyswatter with about 20 to 30 punji sticks - sharpened sticks frequently encountered during the Vietnam War - pressed through it.

Brown found the trap attached to a heavy block and trip wire. It was designed to swing out, the weight of the block adding momentum and force, so that the sharpened sticks would strike the victim's face.

In July 2008, Brown discovered about 1,000 young marijuana plants on his 300-acre property where he grazed a herd of about 80 bison.

Two days after he'd called the sheriff's department about the find, a narcotics team, along with members from the state's Campaign Against Marijuana Planting, assisted in the cleanup. While flying over Brown's property in a helicopter, they discovered many more marijuana gardens planted throughout the area.
7,500 plants on land

Nearly one-third of Brown's land was covered with the crop. The teams eradicated nearly 5,000 plants that day. A couple of days later, Brown discovered 2,500 more. Brown, who also works as a bail bondsman, acted on his instinct to go after whoever planted the illegal crop.

"I actually sat at that grow for three days, off and on, waiting for whoever it was that was going to tend them to come back, so I could catch them," Brown said. "I had my rifle, so I wasn't alone."

After the eradication of the gardens, someone cut the border fences, which allowed some of Brown's bison to escape the property. In two separate incidents, a passing vehicle struck a bison that had wandered out of an opening in the fence and onto the road. As the owner of the bison, Brown was liable for damages to the vehicles involved in the accidents.

"I had to buy two new cars," said Brown, who suspects the vandalism was retribution from the growers for destroying their crop, estimated to be worth $15 million - a conservative number assuming that each plant would yield about one pound of usable drug at an average rate of $2,000 per pound.

Brown has since opened his land to law enforcement for the purposes of training field agents. The officers and deputies come during growing season and use the land to practice tracking techniques and eradication methods. Brown hasn't found evidence of trespassers since he allowed the training operations on his property.

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, more than 10.3 million marijuana plants were eradicated or seized in the United States in 2008 under the agency's Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program. More than 7.5 million plants were seized in California that year.

Lake, Tulare, Shasta, Los Angeles and Mendocino counties were the highest-producing areas of outdoor marijuana cultivation in California in 2009, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. The five counties account for 35 percent of outdoor eradications in the state, officials say.

Despite the eradication efforts, some county law enforcement officials complain that budget cuts are hampering their efforts, just as the illegal grows are burgeoning.

Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman estimates that 30 percent of his department's resources and staffing are dedicated to marijuana issues during the growing months. He said the department would usually only pursue gardens that have 100 plants or more, unless there is a public safety or environmental concern.

Some landowners have attempted to remove the marijuana gardens themselves, an action that is discouraged by law enforcement.
Sonoma County case

Santa Rosa resident and retired teacher Carol Vellutini was tending her 300-acre property in Sonoma County when she noticed an unusual trail leading up the hill. Vellutini, knowing the reputation of the area, was certain of what she would find there.

She and a friend hiked for nearly an hour until they stumbled upon drip lines. Following the lines, they found a grow site. There was a nursery, with many marijuana seedlings growing out of starter cups, and a large adult crop with plants more than 6 feet tall.

Furious, she began yanking the plants. She collected garbage, pesticides and fertilizer that she found at the scene, and plans to bring what she found to the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors to show them.

Vellutini said she has had mixed results with Sonoma County law enforcement. Since she discovered the garden in 2005, sheriff's deputies and Department of Justice agents do annual flyovers and attempt to seize any plants they see.
'I've had it,' landowner says

But Vellutini said she has had no help in permanently removing the growers from her property or removing the garbage and contaminants left behind.

"They fly over every year and pull the plants when they see them," she said. "But they never go in to find the growers, arrest them, make them leave, or prevent them from coming back. Every year they come back, and you have the same trash and pollution and damage. I've had it."

Patrick Foy, a warden with the state Department of Fish and Game, said the agency is concerned about poaching, pollution and habitat destruction. The growers will kill any animals they see, either as food or to prevent them from damaging the crop.

Because water is the No. 1 factor for growers when choosing their sites, chemicals used on illegal grow sites end up in creeks and rivers, Foy said. Habitat destruction is apparent as soon as you walk onto one of the grow sites, he said.
Trees cut away

Trees and brush get cut away to make room for the crop. Foy said poachers often flatten a large section of land, tossing the trees, branches and vegetation on the ground to create a makeshift wall to conceal the grow site.

Roundup and other herbicides are used to kill competing flora. Water diversion denies areas of vital fluids, destroying fish and wildlife habitats. The areas around grow sites become dead zones.

The unregulated marijuana crop is sold to consumers with all the grow-site chemicals included. Landowner Vellutini said she doesn't smoke marijuana but is concerned about the health of people who do.

"They don't know what they're smoking," Vellutini said. "I've seen the stuff that's going on them. That stuff is sprayed with so many herbicides and pesticides. It's awful. And I don't know what effect that's having on a person, but it's got to be something. It's toxic pot."

California Watch, the state's largest investigative reporting team, is part of the independent, nonprofit Center for Investigative Reporting. Visit

This article appeared on page A - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Solano grand jury airs food stamp concerns

Report details potential problems
By Richard Bammer / The Reporter
Posted: 04/23/2011 01:09:54 AM PDT
Updated: 04/23/2011 07:10:07 AM PDT

For the Solano County grand jury, it is something like a small perfect storm at the county Department of Health and Social Services, where, among other benefits, food stamp are doled out.

In a report released Friday, grand jury members noted that a 33 percent increase in the number of people getting food stamps between 2008 and 2010 comes at a time when HSS staffing and management levels have been reduced due to budget cutbacks.

Thus, the increase and "severe" budget cuts, the report noted, "translates into reduced personnel with heavier workloads and less time available" to make sure those applying for the benefits are actually eligible.

While application and verification rules have remained the same over the years, there appears "to be a greater opportunity for a noneligible person to receive ongoing benefits," the report's authors wrote in their summary.

In a second finding, grand jury members noted that income re-verification is done every three months, but state officials are considering a twice-yearly re-verification instead.

The grand jury urged county leaders to tell state officials about "the potential financial risk involved, whether intentional or unintentional, with changing the income re-verification process to six months."

Two attachments to the report indicate sharp rises in the number of county residents seeking food stamp benefits, a sort of commentary on the legacy of the Great Recession.

In the first, county HSS noted 26,275 people in its food stamps data base in 2008. By 2010, the most recent year for which statistics are available, the number had risen to 34,869, a 33 percent increase, and rise from 6 percent to 8 percent, respectively, of the total number of county residents who receive the benefit.

The second attachment indicated that 12,000 people received food stamps in 2003, compared to nearly 35,000 last year, "a three-fold increase" in recipients, the report's authors pointed out.

Those numbers, accompanied by budget cuts, mean heavier workloads for food stamp processors and less time available for each interview, they said.

"These limitations increase the risk of incorrect issuances of the food stamp program," the report's authors wrote.

County HSS offers a wide variety of temporary services to the needy. They include, besides food stamps, Medi-Cal, general assistance, CalWORKS and welfare-to-work.

The full report is available online at

Friday, April 22, 2011

Grand jury: San Diego caregiver program flawed

The Associated Press
Posted: 04/20/2011 08:48:29 AM PDT

SAN DIEGO—A grand jury report says the San Diego County system that provides caregivers for the elderly and disabled is inefficient and open to fraud and abuse.

The county grand jury report released Tuesday says the program known as in-home supportive services lacks oversight. It says the grand jury learned of many incidents where people receiving care were physically or emotionally abused or financially ruined.

The report notes that many of the 22,000 caregivers in the government-mandated program actually are friends or relatives of the 25,000 people receiving care. And family members aren't required to receive county training.

Ellen Schmeding of the county's Aging and Independence Services tells the North County Times that the report provides an opportunity to improve the caregiver program.

Editorial: Protect Grand Jury System

Posted at 12:09 AM on Sunday, Apr. 10, 2011

It was with dismay that I read the April 7 Fresno Bee editorial on proposed legislation to change the civil grand jury system.

Often referred to as the people's "watchdog" over government affairs, the grand jury, composed of 19 citizen volunteers, is the constitutionally mandated body charged with the responsibility of investigating and monitoring local government operations to make them more transparent, efficient and effective.

As a member of the 2003-2004 Fresno County grand jury, I agree with the editorial that eliminating the element of confidentiality can only hamper the effectiveness of grand juries.

It is confidentiality that allows for the candid exchange between grand juries and those that testify before them, and it accords those that appear before grand juries a reassuring layer of protection. Loss of confidentiality would result in fact gathering that is inhibited, sanitized, and worst, incomplete.

Grand juries already function under safeguards. There is a policy and procedures manual. All reports clear three layers of review: the issuing committee, the editing committee, and the whole grand jury. Grand juries operate under the supervision of the presiding judge.

AB 622 will not enhance the grand jury system; it will diminish it.

Robert Gutierrez


Read more:

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

San Diego Grand Jury Critical of County's In-Home Program Lessen Need for Nursing Home Care

SAN DIEGO - San Diego County residents are paying a high price for a state and federally mandated in-home service program that is inefficient and an easy target for abuse and fraud, according to a county grand jury report released Tuesday.

The purposed of the In-Home Supportive Services program is to provide non-medical services -- domestic and personal care services -- to low-income, blind and disabled people so they can remain safely in their homes rather than being placed in a nursing home or similar facility.

According to the grand jury, the program is a good idea in principle, but riddled with flaws in its implementation.

The grand jury said that among the program's problems, county officials are prohibited from making unannounced home visits to check on a participant's continuing need for services or validating that the hours on a caregiver's time card were actually worked.

Other problems include the fact that it is legal for a convicted felon to serve as a caregiver in the program, and only about 20 percent of those receiving IHSS benefits are actually considered severely impaired and unable to care for themselves, according to the grand jury report.

According to the grand jury, efforts to reform the program have been met with little success.

Last year, San Diego County contributed about $53 million of the $300 million total price tag for local residents, with the remainder coming from state and federal coffers.

The cost of the program in California last year was $5.5 billion, and growing at an unsustainable rate, according to the grand jury.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Mendocino County GJ: Animal Control officers needed on the weekends

Ukiah Daily Journal Staff
Updated: 04/17/2011 07:49:49 PM PDT

Services for abandoned or abused animals in the county have diminished, but the Mendocino Grand Jury recently found that county personnel are performing admirably with limited resources.

"The Grand Jury, after reviewing the new structures for Animal Care Services (ACS) and Animal Control (AC), finds that the services provided to citizens and the animals have diminished," the report titled "Won't you please adopt one of us?" and released April 15 states. "(But) the GJ believes the AC and ACS are doing the very best they can with such limited resources, both monetary and staffing."

According to the GJ, AC and ACS became separate entities in February of 2009 "in an effort to provide better field enforcement service to the public."

AC is a division of the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office, and ACS is a division of the Mendocino County Public Health and Human Resources Agency.

The ACS facility is located on Plant Road in Ukiah and is the only county-run animal shelter since the Fort Bragg animal shelter closed on July 31, 2010.

The shelter is responsible for housing "stray, abused and unwanted animals" in the county, and its public hours of operation are limited due to budget constraints.

At the time that the GJ visited the shelter, "it housed 132 cats and 61 dogs (and) was found to be neat and clean."

The shelter also utilizes a CARE-A-VAN, which the GJ describes as a "state-of-the-art" surgery on wheels' that can spay and/or neuter up to 25 pets a days."

Currently, the van travels to remote areas of the county such as Covelo, Laytonville and Point Arena twice a month to provide services.

The van also occasionally provides free services to homeless individuals with animals.

Animal Control operates under the MCSO, which dispatches all calls for service. Priority is given to calls for loose vicious dogs, livestock or dogs on the highway, dogs in livestock or a risk of rabies exposure.

The lowest priority is given to calls about barking dogs or loose dogs not in the highway or around livestock.

Two AC officers work full-time, Monday through Friday, one in Willits and one in Ukiah. Weekend duties are handled by the MCSO.

While the GJ found that both entities are "doing the very best they can with such limited resources," it did recommend that AC adjust its schedule to "provide weekend coverage," and that ACS expands its CARE-A-VAN services to visit outlying areas "more than twice a month."

Read the report online at

Mendocino County GJ report expresses concern over ricochet bullets at Gun Club

Ukiah Daily Journal Staff
Updated: 04/17/2011 12:20:53 AM PDT

Recommends city, county determine who has jurisdiction over the facility

The Ukiah Gun Club (UGC) needs closer supervision and more safety provisions to prevent dangers such as ricocheting bullets, the Mendocino County Grand Jury reported Friday.

According to the report titled: "Ricochet Bullets -- No Problem!" the GJ investigated the Ukiah Rifle and Pistol Club on Vichy Springs Road to determine if there was any "possible danger to the public or liability to public agencies."

The GJ found that metal targets and metal-framed targets are used at the UGC, which leases nearly 97 acres on property that is owned by the city of Ukiah, but which is outside the city limits in Mendocino County.

The GJ describes the UGC as a "private, non-profit organization" that was "grandfathered in" as a non-comforming use in 1982. It has 80 members and is used by law enforcement agencies, including the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office, for training.

The GJ notes that it was denied access to UGC facilities to conduct its investigation.

The GJ report states that "ricochets have been reported and a gunshot wound from a richochet bullet has been reported in the press," and that "a UGC internal newsletter verified that a richochet problem exists."

According to the GJ, the UGC's October 2010 newsletter "addressed the construction of a new pistol range, a second pistol range and re-terracing the shotgun range," and that all three "would be violations of the
lease" the UGC currently has with the city.

The GJ claims that both the county and city "disclaim responsibility as to who has planning/zoning jurisdiction over the property," and both entities "are content with the status quo unless there is a nuisance complaint.

"That is not acceptable since there are real safety issues," the report continues. "There is also concern about the county's failure to regulate this gun range, which potentially creates a liability for the county."

The GJ reports that outdoor gun ranges in other areas have been shut down "because of liability concerns including stray bullets and ricochets."

The GJ recommends that "the city and county resolve the disagreement over planning/zoning jurisdiction," and that the city "designate a department to oversee and enforce provisions of the lease."

The report also recommends that the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors enact ordinances "barring the use of metal targets and metal-framed targets, requiring (the use) of hay bales or sand berms behind targets to alleviate possibility of ricochets, and requiring use of bullets other than metal-jacketed rounds for target practice."

The GJ also recommends that the city or county planning commissions "ensure all buildings modified or built after 1982 be inspected for compliance," and that other issues that may be substantial such as "lead contamination, air quality, traffic and others" were not addressed in this report.

Read the report online at

Editorial: Contracting fiasco can't be repeated by Sacramento county

Published: Sunday, Apr. 17, 2011 - 12:00 am | Page 6E

With some common-sense safeguards, Sacramento County could have avoided having egg on its face and being on the hook for millions in back taxes.

That's the gist of a new Sacramento County grand jury report that confirms articles by The Bee's Robert Lewis on the shocking lack of oversight of a payroll services contract with a company whose top officials are now confessed criminals.

For taxpayers' sake, it is essential that the lessons of this fiasco be learned well, not just in Sacramento but across California, as cash-strapped local governments increasingly trust outside contractors to do important work.

Interim County Executive Steve Szalay says the grand jury's findings and recommendations are "reasonable" and will be used as a guide going forward. "I'm pushing hard for reform," he said in a telephone interview.

This cautionary tale began in 2004, when in a bid to save money, Sacramento County decided to outsource payroll processing for parks and other special districts.

There was a major flaw from the very start, says the grand jury report, released Friday. The county used its typical contracting procedures, though this was a far more complicated and potentially costly item. "Safeguards were available that might have reduced the county's risk, but they were not recognized and put in place," the report's cover letter states.

For instance, the county did not perform credit and lawsuit checks on bidders, or require adequate insurance.

No one, the grand jury says, "identified a fundamental problem, the potential theft of money entrusted to the contractor," or asked, "What is the worst thing that can go wrong?"

The county chose Ingentra HR Services, a small New York firm, over a much larger company with a national reputation. It renewed the contract four times, and the final extension was for longer than should have been allowed without county supervisors' approval, the grand jury found.

Each time, county officials failed to do audits or check for lawsuits or even do quick Internet searches that likely would have raised red flags.

During the entire contract, the county neglected to follow up with the Internal Revenue Service or California tax authorities to make sure that Ingentra actually made the payments. The county didn't know anything was amiss until last May, when the IRS said that it was missing millions of dollars of payroll taxes from the special districts.

There was one sliver of good news for the county in the grand jury report. While it found an appalling lack of curiosity, it found no criminal activity by county employees. Szalay said he was "very pleased" by that, as well he should be.

Still, the other shoe is yet to drop. The county is still waiting to hear from the IRS how much of the remaining $17 million in taxes owed it will have to cough up. Szalay says the county is hoping to spread payments over several years.

Restoring public confidence and trust could take even longer.

Read more:

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Medical Pot Farm Puts Isleton officials on Grand Jury Hot Seat -- Again

By Sam Stanton
Published: Friday, Apr. 15, 2011 - 12:00 am | Page 1A
When word comes in Isleton that officials are the subject of a grand jury probe, it hardly seems shocking.

Seven times since 1995, a grand jury has probed the tiny Delta town's fiscal woes, administrative weaknesses or its police department.

Make that eight.

A flurry of grand jury subpoenas were delivered to city officials at a council meeting Wednesday night, ordering them to appear April 27 for secret testimony before the Sacramento County grand jury.

District Attorney Jan Scully's office would not comment on the probe Thursday.

But, as is common for this town of just more than 800 residents, people are talking.

This latest investigation is aimed at an ambitious medical marijuana growing operation the city approved last September in exchange for promises of monthly payments of at least $25,000.

"There was plenty of concern, but it's a legal business and we treated it as such," said Councilman Robert Jankovitz, who supported the plan and, as a reward, received a subpoena.

"We tried to do everything right and aboveboard in the development agreement," he added. "They were required to do everything in a legal manner; otherwise, according to the agreement, we can shut them down."

The planned pot farm has hardly been a surreptitious effort. The first thing you see entering town from the north is the framework of six "hoop houses" that will be covered in plastic sheeting to create greenhouses.

The greenhouses sit in the middle of a failed housing development of four brightly colored model homes and 14 houses that fell victim to the housing collapse in 2007.

The marijuana operation, a nonprofit called Delta Allied Growers, is leasing the 50- acre parcel with plans to buy it and create a permanent – and legal – pot-growing center.

"There's no cash on premises, no sales happening on premises," said Dan Holland, the company design director who was overseeing construction at the site Thursday.

"The misperception is the weed is going to be flowing on the streets of Isleton, that you can get it and everybody's going to get high. Really, that's not us."

Holland says his company hopes to have plants growing at the site – under strict watch and behind secure fencing – within two to three weeks. Delta Allied has been paying Isleton, which is perpetually broke, $25,000 monthly since October, Holland said.

Once the growing operation begins to generate revenue, he said, Delta Allied will follow through on installing "military-grade" surveillance cameras for the site, as well as the entire town, allowing police to monitor the streets from an office or a squad car.

Isleton's current police force consists of its chief, Rick Sullivan, who also got a subpoena.

Holland said the grand jury probe may delay the nonprofit's progress, and people in town are speculating openly about what's behind the investigation.

Holland and some council members say rumors are rampant that a disgruntled citizen called Scully's office claiming the development deal was tainted by Delta Allied building new homes for someone in power.

Councilwoman Elizabeth Samano said she was handed a subpoena over rumors that investigators believe "that somebody was rubbing somebody's back."

City Manager Bruce Pope said the subpoenas were issued simply because "Jan Scully just got in the writing mood."

Pope said he and the city attorney met with Scully a month ago and offered their full cooperation, but "basically their whole attitude has been nasty."

"We're a city," Pope said. "Everything we do is public, with some small exceptions.

"Nobody built a house for anyone, no one's palms were greased. It may be that the DA doesn't understand land use planning law."

Holland also said the premise of under-the-table payments is nuts. "Nobody in the city's gotten kickbacks, nobody's gotten a car," he said.

City officials plan to meet tonight to discuss the matter, but it seemed to have caused barely a ripple on Main Street, where only a handful of shops and restaurants are hanging on.

"I hear different things from people that live here," said Maria Vasquez, who runs the Hair Loom salon and notes that the marijuana site is "obvious" to anyone driving by.

"Of course, the older people don't want any of that. They just want Isleton to stay the way it is.

Read more:

Isleton pot plans spark scrutiny

ISLETON, CA - The Isleton City Council met in closed session Friday night to discuss a string of subpoenas ordering city leaders to testify before the Sacramento County Grand Jury later this month about the city's approval of a large medical marijuana growing operation.

Councilmembers approved plans by a company named Delta Allied Growers to grow marijuana in several greenhouses being built in the city limits. The company has been paying the city $25,000. Earlier this week, every member of the city council was served with a subpoena to testify, as was the city manager, city attorney, and the chief and sole officer of the Isleton Police Department.

Friday's closed session was scheduled to last 15 minutes, but it ran over an hour. After the session city leaders said the same thing they said before it: they gave a permit to allow a legal business to operate, and they don't see what the big deal is.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Kern County Grand Jury reviews vector control district

Taft, Calif. —

The West Side Mosquito and Vector Control District got a positive review from the Kern County Grand Jury.
In a report issued Monday morning, the grand jury's county service and special districts committee did recommend that the local district consider consolidating with other nearby districts to save money.
The grand jury issued the four-page report following a lengthy interview with District Manager Don Black and it also researched mosquito abatement procedures.
The report said the local district, which has eight permanent employees, is one of three similar districts on the valley floor portion of Kern County and said the district should look at consolidation to save money through economy of scale.
The grand jury also recommended the district use a website to help it provide information.
Here is the entire report from the grand jury:



The County Services and Special Districts Committee (Committee) of the 2010-2011 Kern County Grand Jury inquired into the services provided by the West Side Mosquito and Vector Control District (District) pursuant to California Penal Code §933.5.


The Committee had a lengthy interview with the District Manager at the District office located at 7004 Gas Company Rd., Taft, CA prior to a short tour of the grounds. The Committee researched mosquito abatement procedures.


The transmission of disease occurs in many ways. One means is through insects as in bubonic plague by fleas, Lyme disease by ticks and West Nile virus by mosquitoes; the insects carrying the disease are called vectors. Worldwide, mosquito borne diseases (malaria, dengue. etc.) are the leading cause of death and debilitation. Locally, West Nile virus and Equine Encephalitis (sleeping sickness) are now endemic but controlled. Control generally takes two forms; elimination of breeding habitat and eradication of mosquitoes. The two forms may be combined. No method proves to be 100% effective and overuse of some chemicals has detrimental effects on the environment. Mosquito abatement districts have been formed to provide the specialized services needed to protect citizens. Kern County Environmental Health Services also makes valuable contributions of public information and education.

The District was established as West Side Mosquito Abatement District by the Board of Supervisors Resolution of February 9, 1931, pursuant to Health & Safety Code Section 2240, et seq. The District name changed on March 8, 1991, to West Side Mosquito and Vector Control District.


The mosquito season usually runs from April through October depending on weather factors.

The District has eight permanent abatement employees.

Seasonal employees are hired to work the mosquito season.

The seasonal employees are supervised by full-time employees who are certified in mosquito control by the California Department of Public Health.

The District has I-9 cards on file in the office for all employees.

The current General Manager began employment with the District as an entomologist.

The District is a member of the Mosquito and Vector Control Association of California for their information and training.

The District is headquartered in the former offices of Southern California Gas Co. and contains ample room for education services.

Water sources resulting from oilfield operations present unorthodox abatement issues that the District must and does solve.

Ground rig operations are used to control smaller mosquito sources such as storm drain sumps, catch basins and curb water in residential areas, agricultural sumps, dairy wastewater holding lagoons, etc. The District has a variety of unique, specialized vehicles and equipment.

Some spraying requires multiple applications at 10 to 14 day intervals.

Larger sources are treated by air, hiring helicopter service as necessary.

Treatment of privately owned pools within the District’s budget has increased.

The District has a written policy for purchases and for disposal of District property.

The District Board of Directors (Board) is made up of five directors, one each appointed by the Cities of Maricopa and Taft and three by the Kern County Board of Supervisors. The Board meets on the third Thursday of each month at 7 pm at the district office. District Counsel (County Counsel) is present as needed


The District is one of three contiguous mosquito abatement districts in the valley floor portion of the county.

The District does not have a website.


The principal methods of controlling mosquitoes (Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis (BTI), Altosid, and mosquito fish) harm only the mosquitoes and not beneficial insects. Mosquito fish are often effective in oilfield locations. Oil is used selectively to control mosquito larvae in aquatic breeding sources that have a high organic content where BTI or Altosid would not perform well (e.g. Sewage Treatment Plant effluent) but may harm beneficial insects. Source reduction (of breeding areas) information needs to be easily available to the general public. The facility was clean and orderly. The General Manager was very cordial and cooperative.


To take advantage of the economies of scale, the District should examine consolidation with contiguous districts.

The District should consider establishing a website as a means of disseminating information.

The District should post a copy of this report where it will be available for public review.

Persons wishing to receive an email notification of newly released reports may sign up at
PRIVATE HREF="" MACROBUTTON HtmlResAnchor, click on: Sign up for early releases.
Note: Present and past Kern County Grand Jury Final Reports and Responses can be accessed through the Kern County Library system and the Kern County Grand Jury website: HYPERLINK ""




San Diego County Grand jury raises questions about library school

By Maureen Magee

Monday, April 11, 2011 at 6:36 p.m.

SAN DIEGO — Plans to put a school in the new downtown library has raised questions about student safety and basic operations by the San Diego County Grand Jury, which called on Superintendent Bill Kowba to address problems identified in a report released Monday.

In its “rush to break ground” on the new central library project, civic leaders failed to anticipate “unintended consequences” of putting a school on two floors of the new central library, according to the report.

Among the concerns outlined in the report: how transients and child predators visiting the library would be kept away from students; how the campus would be protected from vandals; a lack of parking spaces (only six are designated for the school and 30 more are available for a monthly fee of $170); and questions over where students will eat lunch.

“I feel like the district should have done more research,” said grand jury Foreman Richard Carlson. “It seems like the district handed over $20 million for this thing to help the library...”

Last April, the San Diego Unified School District approved a 40-year, $20 million lease to take over the sixth and seventh floors of the library that is set to open in July 2013. That investment revived the languishing library project that was desperate for funding. The district has since committed another $10 million to design and outfit the campus that will be run by an undesignated independent charter high school.

San Diego Unified is reviewing the report and will issue a response within 90 days, as required by law.

“We will take a serious and detailed look at the recommendations,” said district spokesman Bernie Rhinerson. “We just got it. It’s too soon provide a response.”

The grand jury has urged Kowba to name the school’s charter operator before any more plans are approved for the project. Once a charter is awarded, the grand jury has recommended that the school leaders write a plan for assuring the safety of up to 400 students. The report also recommends that the district try to determine who would attend the new charter school — existing teenagers living downtown or students who are projected to be living in the city’s urban core by the time the campus opens. (619) 293-1369

Online: To view the report, go to

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Smith finally coughs up cash to Mendocino county

By Linda Williams/TWN Staff Writer
Posted: 04/13/2011 11:42:47 AM PDT

District Attorney David Eyster delivered a check Monday to the county from Kendall Smith, chairwoman of the Mendocino County board of supervisors, to repay excessive travel expenses she claimed in 2005, ending a nearly six-year struggle by the Mendocino County grand jury to force Smith to return the overpayment.

Even though Smith gave Eyster a check made out to the county for $3,087 the amount County Auditor-Controller Meredith Ford agreed Smith was overpaid Smith continues to deny any wrongdoing.

Eyster fulfilled his campaign pledge to look into the matter, resolving a festering issue that had stymied his predecessor Meredith Lintott.

Early in her term Lintott refused to pursue the overpayment because she failed to find sufficient evidence to file criminal charges. She then dropped the matter despite Section 932 of the California Code, which requires a district attorney to recover funds owed a county when directed to do so by the county grand jury. Lintott instead told the grand jury it could sue for the return of the funds in small claims court.

The next several grand juries refused to let the matter drop, filing different requests for intervention with the California Attorney General. The CAG refused to intervene.

Eventually as the campaign for district attorney heated up, Lintott issued a letter telling Ford to withhold the $3,087 from Smith's paycheck. Ford did not think she had the authority to withhold funds from a paycheck without a court order. Ford then requested a legal opinion from County Counsel Jeanine Nadel on whether Lintott's request was valid. Nadel had to recuse herself from the issue, referring it to the Sonoma County counsel for a ruling.

The ruling came back confirming Ford needed some kind of court order to withhold funds.

Lintott then claimed either the grand jury or the county could sue for reimbursement, but would likely lose. She took no further action.

This prompted Anderson Valley Advertiser owner Bruce Anderson to sue Ford and Smith in small claims court for the overpayment on behalf of county taxpayers. In January the small claims court tossed out the case, ruling it had no jurisdiction in the matter.

In January Eyster's office launched an investigation into the issue resulting in this week's final payment.

Tulare County Supervisors set to respond to grand jury findings

April 12, 2011 10:26 AM

As a requirement to the release of an interim report titled “Excessive Mail Cost” by the Tulare County grand jury, the Board of Supervisors today will decide whether to approve and possibly amend, a response to the findings.

The 2010/11 report findings pertain to a single page document that was not time sensitive or private and was delivered to multiple addresses using Federal Express at a cost of $6.88 each when it could have been sent first-class mail for 44 cents or certified mail for an additional $2.80, a staff report in Tuesday’s agenda states.

The grand jury was unable to find any documented policy within the county agencies that defines the most cost-effective method to send mail and recommends that each agency investigates its mail charges on a regular basis to ensure they are meeting their best-practice goals.

Also on the agenda and up for the Board’s consideration:

The submittal of an online grant application for $500,000 by the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department for implementation of an evidence-based project to help stem gang violence in the South County;

Approval of sending a letter of request to the California Citizens Redistricting Commission asking that Tulare County be kept as an undivided district to the fullest extent possible in the state assembly, state senate and federal congressional districts.

The Board is set to meet at 9 a.m. today.

To view the full agenda, visit
To listen in on today’s meeting, visit

Monday, April 11, 2011

Mendocino County: Supervisor Smith pays disputed travel costs

By TIFFANY REVELLE The Daily Journal
Updated: 04/11/2011 06:19:11 PM PDT

Fourth District Supervisor Kendall Smith wrote a check to the county for the $3,087 she was overpaid for travel costs, county officials confirmed Monday.

Three previous grand juries found that Smith claimed reimbursement for business trips between her Fort Bragg home and the county seat in Ukiah from January 2005 to November 2006, when she was renting or staying with friends in Ukiah and not actually traveling.

Mendocino County District Attorney C. David Eyster delivered the check, written by Smith for the exact amount a prior grand jury deemed she was overpaid, to the county Auditor-Controller's Office Friday.

"I'm very glad to have this long, drawn-out affair over with, and I'm sure the taxpayers are, too," Eyster said Monday.

His office launched an investigation of the overpayments two weeks after he took office in January, and closed the case when Eyster received Smith's check with a letter saying the check wasn't an admission of guilt.

"It's no coincidence that the amount on the check is the same as the amount that the grand jury and the Auditor's Office said she needed to pay back," Eyster said.

The amount goes into a "prior year revenue" account that becomes part of the county's general fund, according to Assistant Auditor-Controller Lloyd Weer.

The fund is a "catch-all" where county revenue can go after that fiscal year is closed, he said.

Smith denied she was overpaid for the business travel in her responses to two prior grand jury reports, calling the county's since-changed travel reimbursement policy confusing, and claiming she believed she could claim travel costs based on a "per-diem" calculation.

Smith declined to directly answer questions about whether the amount she paid was for the travel reimbursement, or about why she paid the amount back.

Instead, she said in a written statement to the Daily Journal, "As a matter of principle I was interested in seeing this issue reviewed in court. Earlier this year it was. I gave a comprehensive statement to the court. The judge found no wrongdoing on my part and ruled in my favor. That's what I was looking for. The BOS (Board of Supervisors) travel policy in question was changed more than three years ago, my statement to the court still stands, the issue of the money has been addressed so everyone should be able to move forward now."

Bruce Anderson, publisher of the Anderson Valley Advertiser, filed a taxpayer lawsuit against Smith in small claims court in December to recoup the money for the county's taxpayers.

Mendocino County Superior Court Judge John Behnke heard the case in January, and said he would either issue an opinion that the court doesn't have jurisdiction to order Smith, as an elected official, to repay the amount, or deny Anderson's claim.

"If there is some misuse of public funds, the DA ... is supposed to investigate and exercise their discretion," Behnke said during the Jan. 5 court hearing.

Anderson's claim came after former Mendocino County District Attorney Meredith Lintott refused to prosecute Smith, saying there was no evidence that Smith meant to defraud the county.

The grand jury questioned the travel reimbursements last year, and Lintott ordered Auditor-Controller Meredith Ford to dock Smith's pay for the $3,087, noting that Ford herself calculated Smith owed that amount.

Ford said she calculated the amount at the grand jury's request, and asked for a legal opinion from County Counsel Jeanine Nadel before she would dock Smith's pay. Nadel forwarded the matter to the Sonoma County Counsel's Office, citing a conflict of interest, and that office opined that the payment couldn't be deducted from Smith's payroll checks without a court order.

"This is wonderful news," Anderson said Monday, adding that the $3,087 Smith paid back was likely "only about a third" of what she owes the county for travel reimbursements she claimed but didn't travel.

"If it were you or me, and there was a civil judgment against us, we would be ordered to pay back the amount with interest," he said.

Tiffany Revelle can be reached at, or at 468-3523

Solano County grand jury looking for volunteers

Times-Herald staff report/
Posted: 04/11/2011 01:01:15 AM PDT

The Solano County grand jury is seeking volunteers to serve on the 2011-2012 civil grand jury.

Residents who have lived in the county for one year, are U.S. citizens and are at least 18 may apply.

The civil grand jury is an arm of the Superior Court. Jurors conduct investigations and may examine all aspects of county and city government as well as special and school districts.

As part of its function, the grand jury also looks into citizen complaints alleging suspicion of governmental misconduct or inefficiencies.

Grand jury service requires a minimum of 10 to 25 hours per week.

Those interested can contact Florinda Itchon at (707) 435-2575, or visit to obtain an application online.

Deadline to apply is May 2.

Information on AB622 - a bill to limit confidentiality requirements for (civil) grand juries

San Mateo Civil grand jury gives crime lab high marks

April 08, 2011, 05:15 AM By Michelle Durand Daily Journal Staff Report

The county’s crime lab gets high marks from the civil grand jury which lauds its recent accreditation but recommends developing a way for law enforcement and prosecutors to better track evidence.

The San Mateo County Forensic Laboratory doesn’t provide regular training to local law enforcement agencies on new forensic techniques or have a secure online way for authorities to get and give up-to-date information on the state of cases under investigation, the grand jury concluded in a report released yesterday.

The jury recommends the lab develop both.

At the time of the report’s completion, communication between the lab, law enforcement and the District Attorney’s Office on evidence analyses and turnaround times was done primarily through direct phone calls with Director Alex Karagianes. On occasion, the lack of “robust and updated communication” between the lab and prosecutors has “led to confusion” about processing, trial schedules and analyses delivery dates, the report states.

Between 2007 and 2010, the lab processed an annual average of 12,100 items which are tracked using an internal, lab-access-only information system. The limited access leaves law enforcement agencies and the District Attorney’s Office left to make inquiries by phone during regular business hours.

“It’s always been envisioned to have real-time communication, a way to let clients have access,” Karagianes said.

The software company that sold the lab its system is in the process of developing such a model and said it is expected “soon” although there is not a specific timeline, Karagianes said.

An unknown is if the update will be part of the lab’s current maintenance contract or require purchase. Sheriff Greg Munks is hopeful it will be free because the county serves as a beta site for the company but said he is prepared to pay for the update if necessary.

Currently, the situation is “kind of old school with phone calls and emails,” he said.

However, he and District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said the communication is much improved.

In the past — the “paper world,” as Wagstaffe deemed it — reports would get lost or misplaced and signals got crossed.

“They’ve done an excellent job of correcting that,” he said.

One outstanding feature still needed is being alerted when new reports are generated, he said.

The jury also recommended the lab offer regular or standard training on forensic techniques and crime scene investigation. Karagianes said training is offered but on a more as-needed basis for agencies and individuals rather than on a more formal schedule.

“We tend to rely on our client agencies to tell us when they need it,” Karagianes said.

Another challenge is that each agency has their own needs, he said.

The crime lab serves several jurisdictions in the county and some non-county agencies, provided services including ballistics, toxicology, fingerprint, DNA analyses and crime scene processing.

Last fiscal year, the lab received $4.21 million from the Sheriff’s Office budget and generated another $1.12 million in lab fees.

The lab director is appointed by the sheriff and oversees a staff of 31.5 full-time equivalent positions and qualified interns.

The civil grand jury last looked at the crime lab in 2006 when the recommendations included receiving independent accreditation. The lab met this goal Sept. 11, 2010 from the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors/Laboratory Accreditation Board. The accreditation is valid until 2015.

Previously, grand jury reports were not as glowing as the assessment issued yesterday.

“This report culminates 12 to 15 years of real hard work to overcome the prior deficiencies,” Munks said.

In October 2000, the jury found the former crime lab was seismically unsafe, did not meet health or safety codes and had inadequate plumbing and potentially unsafe electric wiring. The 75-year-old building was also infested with the Stachey-Botris mold which sickened employees. The new LEED-certified lab broke ground the following year.

Civil grand jury reports carry no legal weight but recipients are required to respond in writing within 90 days.

Michelle Durand can be reached by e-mail: or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 102.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Yolo County releases partial grand jury report

Created: 04/02/2011 02:34:09 AM PDT

The Yolo County Grand Jury released part of its 2010-11 report on Friday, awarding high marks to the Yolo County Jail and Juvenile Hall and investigating four other county agencies.

n Jail staff followed proper procedures when confronted by inmate suicides in May and December 2010, the jury ruled.

Both inmates killed themselves through asphyxiation but showed no signs of suicidal tendencies before or during incarceration, according to the report.

Each death triggered a jail-wide lockdown. The location of each death was treated as a crime scene where only clinical responders and Sheriff's management were allowed on-scene. Inmates in the immediate area were tracked, the Sheriff and District Attorney were quickly notified and the County Coroner worked to identify the next of kin as soon as possible, according to the report.

All staff involved recorded their observations and all jail logs were turned in to the California Department of Justice. The department has yet to contact the jail, according to the report.

Officials still struggle with inmate overcrowding and early inmate releases but Yolo County Jail staff is "proactive in determining which inmates are to be released from custody," according to the report.

The report called the building exteriors "clean and well maintained" and commended efforts to reduce electricity costs through solar panels.

n Yolo County Juvenile Hall staff, programs and facilities are "exemplary," according to the report.

Some 97 percent of youths attend classes, including literacy classes and GED testing. One juvenile in the care of the facility was the first in the nation to earn a GED while in detention for immigration issues, according to the report.

Medical care is readily available, with an on-call physician available 24 hours a day. All medical, dental and health evaluations are conducted within 96 hours of incarceration, according to the report.

At the federal level, the facility is also earning a "positive national reputation" because it holds out-of-state juvenile offenders awaiting resolution on immigration issues, according to the report.

n The Woodland Police Department's towing policy is fair and officials have the "best interests of the community and public safety in mind," according to the report. The jury investigated the department after a citizen complaint. Dispatch staff are fair in their choice of towing companies, maintaining a rotating list of companies, according to the report.

n The Yolo County Housing Authority took last year's recommendations and improved resident safety at the Riverbend Senior Manor in West Sacramento, according to the report. Officials now provide training for the facility's emergency pull-cord system, respond to safety complaints with written responses and lock the gates at night.

n Allegations that Yolo County landscaping and maintenance crews were arriving late, clocking out early and lying on their timecards proved false, according to the report.

Employees in the county's Department of General Services are allowed modified schedules, including 10-hour days and four-day weeks. Combined with the fact that these employees often lack computers, meaning they miss email updates on policy, contributed to suspicions between employees, according to the report.

By the end of the investigation employees were all up-to-date on policy and morale had improved, according to the report.

The jury recommended, however, that the county should implement electronic timekeeping to avoid future conflicts and limit the potential for fraud.

The remainder of the reports will be released June 30. The county is currently looking for grand jurors to serve in 2011-12.