Thursday, June 30, 2011

(Mendocino) Grand jury: More should be done to collect from people getting public defenders

By Keely Brazil The Daily Journal
Updated: 06/29/2011 11:59:41 PM PDT

Following the recent arrest of 19 persons charged in a single incident, the Mendocino County grand jury looked at how these kinds of cases affect the offices of both the Public Defender and Alternate Defender, where many of the county's defendants turn for legal representation.

They found that the new county DA is likely saving money by charging defendants in the same case separately. They also want the public defenders to do more to collect from people they represent for free.

If a defendant is found by the court to be indigent, he or she is eligible to receive public defender services. When appointed by the court, the Public Defenders Office must provide legal representation for any person charged with felonies or misdemeanors and unable to afford a private attorney.

The Public Defenders Office also represents minors in delinquency proceedings, petitioners for the restoration of rights, applications for pardon, alleged sexually violent predators or mentally disordered sex offenders, hearings to determine mental competency, conservatorship proceedings, and various post trial or probation proceedings.

In cases where the Public Defenders Office declares a conflict of interest (it is already representing one client in a multi-client case), the Alternate Defender Office is appointed by the court to act as a second public defender. A conflict of interest can occur when multiple defendants participate in a single crime and are charged as co-defendants. In many cases it is in the best interest of a defendant to testify against co-defendants, in exchange for a reduced sentence and that means only one person in a group of co-defendants will be assigned an attorney from the Public Defenders Office.

When the Public Defenders Office and Alternate Defenders Office both have one client in a multi-defendant case, they declare a conflict of interest and then a private attorney may be called from the Conflicts Attorney List. "Conflict" attorneys are private attorneys who agree to a set hourly fee paid by the taxpayers to represent indigent clients.

According to the grand jury, since January of this year - or the beginning of the term of newly elected District Attorney David Eyster - in cases which have multiple defendants, Eyster has been charging each defendant separately (not as a group of co-defendants like in the case of 19 defendants). The grand jury found that doing so is economically prudent as it keeps conflicts to a minimum and allows the public defenders and alternate defenders to handle more cases and the county to revert less often to private for-fee attorneys.

The report states, "In the case of multiple defendants, each defendant has individual representation; taxpayers subsidize defendants' legal costs. Because incidents of crime have increased in our community, these legal costs have risen over recent years. Charging defendants separately may save the County money; as fewer defendants will need the private conflict' attorneys."

The grand jury also encourages the Public Defenders Office and Alternate Defenders Office to do more to collect reimbursement from defendants able to pay attorney's fees. In light of the fact that the Court can order an indigent defendant to pay a service fee at the end of the case, or bill a defendant deemed ineligible for public defender services, the grand jury recommends that the Public Defenders Office and Alternate Defenders Office develop a procedure to regularly request County reimbursement for legal services at the end of a case.

Tulare County supervisors agree marijuana is a growing problem

June 29, 2011 6:00 AM

On Tuesday, the Tulare County Board of Supervisors upheld 14 grand jury findings on illegal marijuana grows in the county, and the growing problem they pose.

The grand jury, a citizens’ body with governmental watchdog functions that presents recommendations for local government problems, opted to investigate the illegal farming, harvesting, and distribution of marijuana for several reasons, including a report by the Director of the Office of National Control Policy stating that a majority of marijuana exported to other U.S. states originates from the Central Valley.

Among some of the findings the Board agreed to Tuesday were the following:

- At any given time there are over 100 known illegal marijuana gardens in Tulare County.

- The Sheriff’s Department indicated that an increase in border security after 9/11 prompted cartels to grow the drug in the U.S. rather than importing it through the borders, resulting in an increase in gardens and plants in the county.

- In 2010, the 227,000 marijuana plants removed in the county had an estimated street value of over $900 million.

The report, titled “Marijuana Gardens — A Growing Problem” concluded that marijuana is Tulare County’s number one cash crop and that there is an immediate need to eliminate the illegal activity.

In November of 2009, as a preventive measure in case the federal government changed its stance and deemed marijuana as having legitimate medicinal value, the Board adopted an ordinance that restricts how many plants can be grown in unincorporated communities, only for medicinal purposes in industrial zones, and enclosed within four walls and a roof.

Those who don’t comply with the ordinance are subject to code compliance.

According to First District Supervisor Allen Ishida the number of marijuana grows in his district, which includes the communities of Lindsay and Poplar, have been curtailed substantially due to code compliance and because growers are learning they are targets of thieves who are after their harvest.

The Board voted Tuesday to modify its response to Finding 13, which states, “The County of Tulare receives a negligible amount of money from the federal government to help combat this growing problem.”

The Board clarified that it preferred the term “adequate” over “negligible.”

Third District Supervisor Phil Cox said he found it necessary to recite the facts of what the Board has accomplished with lobbying efforts in Washington D.C. and that the federal government has also assisted the county with additional people from the Department of Interior, federal dollars, resources, and agencies, but still not adequate to meet Tulare County’s needs.

Contact Denise Madrid at 784-5000, Ext. 1047 or

(Santa Clara) Grand jury criticizes East Side Union school district for lax financial controls

By Sharon Noguchi
Posted: 06/28/2011 06:11:13 PM PDT
Updated: 06/29/2011 02:43:26 PM PDT

The East Side Union High School District has dragged its heels in putting its financial house in order, the Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury found.

In a concise report issued this month, the jury criticized the 25,000-student district for not completely complying with state recommendations to tighten fiscal controls, particularly those over construction contracts.

"We felt that 18 months was an awful long time to correct some of the issues," jury forewoman Helene Popenhager of San Martin said.

Those issues had been highlighted in a January 2010 state audit that found East Side awarded multiple no-bid contracts, rehired ex-employees without requiring conflict-of-interest statements and lacked sufficient documentation to judge allegations of wrongdoing.

School officials seemed taken aback by the grand jury report. "I don't think we were slow in responding," board President Lan Nguyen said. "We've been very serious." He pointed out that the board hired an internal auditor to look at finances and controls.
Superintendent Dan Moser said that the grand jury report is not accurate. "It's based on information from February," he said, pointing out that the district has made progress since then. "The district responded to all the concerns."

But five of 21 recommendations requested by the state remain outstanding, according to Nimrat Johal of the Santa Clara County Office of Education. The office, which had requested the state audit, oversees the district's compliance with the recommendations.

"The district has been definitely trying," she said, but, "at this point, a satisfactory response has not been provided."
Among the missing items are conflict-of-interest statements, policies requiring that services worth more than $5,000 be put out to bid and assurances that when the district contracts for work, it pays only that contractor and not third parties instead.
For 10 years, East Side has been criticized in periodic state audits for weak controls on spending.

The 2010 audit, by the state's Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team, had been triggered by anonymous allegations of wrongdoing at the district. That same audit cleared former Superintendent Bob Nuñez of fraud and illegal practices. Nuñez resigned from the district in October 2009.

In the wake of the state audit, which cost $47,800, East Side was supposed to have tightened its fiscal controls.

The district has complied with most of the state's recommendations. Among those was ensuring that it was spending money from voter-approved bonds for permissible uses, getting contract extensions and purchase orders approved by the board, and setting policies on the superintendent's vacation.

The board has until September to submit a response to the grand jury.

Contact Sharon Noguchi at 408-271-3775

Solano grand jury urges court, juvenile hall to reduce costs with video link

By Tony Burchyns / Times-Herald
Posted: 06/28/2011 07:38:41 AM PDT

FAIRFIELD -- Video arraignments for youthful offenders could help the county save money, a grand jury report released Monday finds.
About 2,400 Solano County youths require transportation between juvenile hall and local courts every year, requiring money for two vans and three designated officers, the report says. Other counties, meanwhile, conduct juvenile detention hearings from their detention facilities via video to reduce transportation needs.

Solano County, however, does not.

Chief Probation Officer Isabelle Voit said more research is required before the county could consider the idea. Voit added that other counties have experimented with video communication equipment for court hearings, but abandoned the idea after youth counselors expressed a preference for a more personal courtroom atmosphere.

Meanwhile, county officials are in talks with the Superior Court system, the district attorney's office and private attorneys about making video arraignments part of the forthcoming new adult jail facility in Fairfield. Construction on the $89 million project is expected to begin next year.

"One concern is having the right video communication equipment to safeguard the system," Solano County Supervisor Linda Seifert said.

It's unclear if the possible use of video equipment in the new jail would have any bearing on the decision to add it to the Juvenile Detention Facility, Voit said.

Solano County Probation Department officials could not provide

annual transportation costs Monday.
The Solano County Grand Jury, however, found, "The need to transport wards from the facility to the justice centers in Fairfield and Vallejo continues to be a concern for the safety and security of wards."

The grand jury did not elaborate.

The juvenile hall complex is at 740 Beck Ave., Fairfield. Its average population is between 75 and 80 youths. When it opened in recent years, it replaced a previous facility that included juvenile courtrooms, therefore avoiding the transportation issue, Solano County Supervisor Barbara Kondylis said.

"It's been discussed for several years," Kondylis said. But she added the county probably lacks funds to conduct a thorough study of the problem.

The grand jury also said the county should develop a plan "that allows the optimum utilization of space and personnel" to avoid delays when placing wards into rehabilitative programs. One short-term program with a waiting list is called New Foundations, which focuses on family reunification and drug abuse issues.

"The county needs to utilize all its facilities and other resources available to maximize efficiency in its efforts to help the youth in its custody," the report concludes.

Contact staff writer Tony Burchyns at or (707) 553-6831.

At a glance:

Juvenile hall numbers, as of March 2011:

* Ward population: 79

* Capacity: 118

* Length of stay: As long as two years

* Ratio of male to female wards: About 7 to 3

* Staffing level: 58

* Cost per day to house a ward: $230

* Recidivism rate: 30 percent

Shasta County Grand Jury report addresses jail to swimming pool

By Dylan Darling, Ryan Sabalow

Monday, June 27, 2011

This year's Shasta County Grand Jury found that guards at the Shasta County jail were putting inmates out in the cold, questioned whether the Anderson Police Department had enough training to properly screen recruits and alleged that a problem-prone community service district had showed favoritism in hiring a manager.

Other reports examined the use of state prison inmates who have been convicted of violent crimes as firefighters and financial problems at the Burney Water District.

Here are the report's key findings from the jury's latest report, released Monday.

Chilly inmates

The grand jury received a complaint from an inmate who said that in December 2010 and January this year guards at the Shasta County jail forced inmates to stand outside in near freezing temperatures in short-sleeved shirts for almost two hours while their cells were searched.

The jurors recommended the prisoners be moved to other areas of the jail during pod searches or, if required to stand outside, inmates need proper clothing or some other way to keep warm.

The jurors reviewed daily temperature records and found that on two days inmates indeed had been forced to stand out in 37 and 36 degrees temperatures.

In the first search, around 21 inmates were required to stand outside in the jail's rec yard from 10:30 p.m. to 12:40 a.m., said Shasta County sheriff's Capt. Don Van Buskirk, the jails' commander. During the other search, a group of inmates was told to stand outside the booking area from 3:41 to 5 p.m., he said.

"Inmates are not provided with adequate protection from the cold during the inmate housing unit searches that occur in winter," the jurors found.

Van Buskirk said his office doesn't rebut the facts of the report, but he doesn't believe the inmates were mistreated.

"It was cool, but not unreasonably cold," he said.

He noted that none of the inmates had filed a complaint with his guards or reported a claim for damages, a precursor to a lawsuit.

However, San Francisco prisoners rights attorney Charles Carbone said the inmates would have a case should they choose to sue.

He notes that courts have ruled inmates at Pelican Bay State Prison in Crescent City had their Eighth Amendment rights violated when they were required to sit outside in cages in cold weather.

The Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution forbids cruel and unusual punishment of prisoners.

Anderson Police Background checks questioned

The grand jury in its routine discussion with local law enforcement agencies found that the Anderson Police Department doesn't have a Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) certified background investigator, a finding a police department spokesman denied Monday.

POST is a state commission established in 1959 to set hiring and training standards for local law enforcement agencies.

The findings come after former Officer Bryan Benson, 26, was accused last year of raping a woman he was taking to jail. His trial is pending, and he's pleaded not guilty to the charges.

On Monday, a judge threw out a motion by Benson's attorney to drop the charges against him. His partner, Matthew Goodwin, who wasn't charged, also was fired from the department after an internal investigation.

The jurors, who made no mention of Benson and Goodwin in their report, recommended the department follow the lead of every other law enforcement agency in the north state and use the state's inexpensive services to train someone to check recruits' backgrounds.

His department already does that, Anderson Capt. Robert Kirvin said Monday.

He said Anderson police Sgt. Steve Blunk is POST certified and performed the background check on Benson. However, Kirvin said he performed the background check on Goodwin.

Kirvin said he isn't a POST certified background check investigator, but he and all others in his department follow all POST standards.

Acting Police Chief Shawn Watts will draft a rebuttal in response to the jury's findings, Kirvin said.

Yet Dugan Barr, the Redding attorney representing the Millville woman who accused Benson of raping her, said the jury's findings "would certainly help to explain what happened" to his client.

Last week, Barr sued the department in federal court seeking $10 million in damages.

"It seems to me there are some obvious training and procedure issues in that department," Barr said.

Mountain Gate board showed favoritism in GM hire

The Mountain Gate Community Services District board appeared to show favoritism when it lowered its employment standards and hired the former board chairman last December to be its general manager, the grand jury concluded.

On Dec. 9, 2010 the board hired Jeff Cole, who had served on the board for nearly 10 months in 2009. In hiring Cole for the $5,250-per month general manager post the board went against the advice of general managers from three other north state water districts, according to the grand jury.

"The current Mountain Gate general manager was rated eighth in the list of (eight) applicants by those managers," the grand jury wrote.

The grand jury recommended that the board create a policies manual outlining proper use of the district's credit card and setting a limit on lodging reimbursement rates. It also recommended board members be trained on the Brown Act and government ethics every two years.

Cole said Monday the district changed the general manager's job description to bring the district in line with general manager guidelines crafted by the Association of California Water Agencies Joint Powers Insurance Authority, which provides insurance coverage for water districts.

"I don't think that was changing the job description for favoritism," he said.

At least one of the board members disagrees.

Joan Anderson, who the Shasta County Board of Supervisors appointed to the district board in January 2010, said Monday it appears the board did show favoritism when it made the changes. She said the board made the changes before she became a member.

The board's other members — Greg Peterson, Cary Park, David Shelby and Chairman Gary Gunter — did not return phone calls left Monday.

The grand jury also investigated possible violations of state public meeting laws and possible misuse of the district's credit card. It recommended that all five board members complete a public meeting law training every two years and create a manual that details who may use the district's credit card and for what purpose.

Inmates with violent histories manning fire lines

The grand jury made no recommendations but found there are indeed inmates with violent criminal pasts being placed at a local fire camp.

The jury's findings come after a monthslong Record Searchlight investigation that found at any given time at least one in five of the 4,000-plus inmates at the state's camps have violent criminal histories.

The newspaper's finding directly contradicted claims by state prison officials who repeatedly denied that violent inmates are placed at the camps and that only "carefully-screened," nonviolent, low-risk inmates are allowed inside the state's 41 minimum-security conservation camps, including a handful in the north state.

The grand jury found that there are some inmates at Sugar Pine Conservation Camp in Bella Vista "that have been convicted of violent crimes."

"However, they have become eligible for assignment to Sugar Pine by having their classification reduced to a 'minimum-security' level," the jurors wrote. "This is accomplished by time served, good behavior and further recommendations from the Department of Corrections."

After the Record Searchlight story ran in April, state Sen. Doug LaMalfa announced he would hold bipartisan hearings on the matter.

His spokesman said Monday his office is trying to set up a mid-July hearing, but a firm date hasn't been set.

No laws broken, but financial problems at Burney pool

The grand jury found that while the Burney Water District needed to get its funding in order when it comes to the local pool, it didn't break any laws.

The grand jury received a complaint from someone who alleged the district was using water and sewer services paid by district rate payers to balance the community swimming pool fund.

The complaint alleged the move violated Proposition 218, a 1996 law that required voter approval for any changes in assessments and property-related fees.

The jury found no evidence that a proposed increase from $1 to $5 in fees at the pool had been implemented without voter approval (since the board didn't officially move ahead with an oversight committee's recommendation). However, the jurors found several other problems with the district's budgeting, which led to net operating loss for at least three years.

The jurors said the district needs to eliminate its operating losses and be able to handle unanticipated future expenses, and should "carefully monitor operations to bring the district into a break-even position."

Other findings

The jurors also looked into a number of other items. Their findings included: The Redding City Council didn't overstep its authority in putting two controversial measures on the ballot; Redding planners should do more to ensure that wastewater from properties didn't run off onto neighbors' lands; the Shasta County Coroner's Office needs new gurneys; there were no problems with the county's auditor, juvenile hall, DUI checkpoints, or the county's law enforcement firearms shooting simulator.

Watsonville blasted in grand jury report: City manager calls investigation 'biased'

Posted: 06/27/2011 09:10:00 PM PDT
Updated: 06/29/2011 05:35:32 PM PDT

WATSONVILLE — Watsonville Fire Chief Mark Bisbee expected the department's new aerial ladder fire truck to roll into town early Tuesday — not quite in time to escape criticism from the Santa Cruz County Grand Jury.

In its annual report, scheduled for official release Wednesday, the civil grand jury takes the city to task over the purchase of the used fire truck, a process the panel said is illustrative of a lack of transparency and professionalism in city dealings.

Watsonville City Manager Carlos Palacios said he was reviewing its findings and was “looking forward to preparing a full response,” but he characterized the report as “very biased and inaccurate.”

Doug Horton, the grand jury's foreperson pro tempore, declined to comment in advance of the official release. The report was leaked to media Monday.

The 76-page document, the product of months of research by the 19-member panel, also examines regional transportation issues, the County Jail and the Pajaro Valley Unified School District's process for picking an insurance vendor.

The jury investigated several aspects of city affairs, including the fire truck purchase, a building permit, land-use conflicts around the Watsonville Municipal Airport, redevelopment and the Manabe-Ow business park project.

In the section of the 2011 report titled “City of Watsonville: Fastest Growing City Looking for Leadership and a Fire Truck”, the jury said the five issues illustrated “a laxity of process and controls” within city government.

The report commends Watsonville for operating with less than half the budget of the city of Santa Cruz and says the city “justifiably prides itself for the level of services they provide on a very low budget.”

But the report concludes that “the Watsonville City Manager should implement processes to ensure transparency, completeness and accuracy of the information provided to the City Council, City Commissions and the public.”

In bringing the Manabe-Ow business plan to elected officials for a vote, staff didn't provide a full accounting of either the cost or identify a funding source, according to the report. The project will need an estimated $31 million for infrastructure, and in December, two months after a City Council vote to approve the project, the staff asked its state representatives for help in getting redevelopment law changed so those funds could be tapped.

Palacios said the issues were hashed out in a public process that included an advisory committee as well as at the Planning Commission and City Council.

“The infrastructure needs and the need for a subsidy was discussed numerous times over multiple years,” he said.

In other findings, the report recommended the city:

Report redevelopment projects, revenue, expenses and bond obligations online for public review. Investigators say they were unable to evaluate the effectiveness of the redevelopment agency due to the lack of information. Palacios pointed to several projects. “We constructed a new library, new courts. We helped bring Cabrillo College to downtown Watsonville, constructed two parking garages,” he said. “We are creating a climate that allows and encourages economic development.
Train personnel to ensure financial transactions and contracts are handled properly. The recommendation stems from the fire truck purchase. The city gave a broker $225,000 from a federal grant to buy an aerial truck in 2008, but then changed its mind after what Bisbee said was a superior vehicle became available from the same broker for the same price. The city has been waiting three years for delivery of the KME aerial ladder truck due to the complexity of a three-way deal that included two Southern California cities. Meanwhile the broker held onto the cash. The fire chief conceded there were “lessons to be learned,” but maintains the community is getting a good deal that will be worth the wait.
Fully disclose and discuss issues surrounding development near the Watsonville Municipal Airport to avoid costly litigation. Lawsuits brought by the Watsonville Pilots Association and other groups have cost the city more than $1 million.
Check with environmental health before issuing building permits. In 2007, a permit was issued to Jalisco's Restaurant to build an outdoor patio. The site, once home to a plant that turned coal and oil into gas to light and heat Watsonville homes and business, was contaminated with hazardous materials in the early 1900s, and the soil is not supposed to be disturbed. During the grand jury study, the issue was referred to the state Department of Toxic Substances Control, which found the construction was unlikely to have caused any harm. Marcela Tavantzis, interim community development director, said the city is not required to check for contamination, that it's the property owner's responsibility to bring such matters to the city's attention. But, she said, the city could establish a policy, thought it add costs to the permit process.


The Santa Cruz County Grand Jury also examined other agencies and issued findings and recommendations.

Regional transportation

The Regional Transportation Commission should write transportation sections of general plans for cities and counties since A lack of integrated planning has resulted in ‘deplorable traffic congestion.'

Property taxes

Tax Collector's Office should establish policies for obtaining a waiver for fines on delinquent taxes and communicate them broadly to ensure fairness and transparency.

Pajaro Valley Unified school district

School district should develop process to increase vendor competition for insurance services and improve comprehensive accounting of costs.

County Corrections

Reducing recidivism should be primary goal and a cost-benefit analysis should be conducted to ensure money is well spent in era of declining revenue.

SOURCE: Grand Jury report


WHAT: 2011 Santa Cruz County Grand Jury Report

WHO: Jurors Janice Hewitt, Kris Desmond, Marc Los Huertos, Doug Horton, Alex Clancy, Jay Leite, Carl Galewski, Greg Fyvie, Jim Kerr, Rich Simms, Cheri Hrapoff, Steve Johnson, Patricia Goslin, Erik Zinn, Bob Blanchfield, William Gutzwiller, Gayle Larson, Dolores McCabe and Amber McMeans

WHEN: Release is set for Wednesday

WHERE: See Grand Jury report

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

(Sacramento) Grand jury criticizes California town over pot farm

By Leidhra Johnson

SACRAMENTO | Tue Jun 28, 2011 5:04pm EDT

(Reuters) - Officials in a northern California town who approved a plan to create a medical marijuana farm have drawn a rebuke from a grand jury that accused them of ignoring federal law.

The Sacramento County grand jury report points to the conflict between federal and state law in California, where possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana for medical purposes is legal.

The grand jury report carries only recommendations, not criminal penalties, and prosecutors have not filed any charges relating to the project.

Cannabis is considered an illegal narcotic under U.S. law, and federal authorities have raided pot dispensaries and greenhouses in California and other states in a crackdown aimed at supposed medical marijuana suppliers engaged in large-scale drug trafficking.

The cash-strapped municipality of Isleton, a town of 850 people less than 40 miles from Sacramento, was promised $600,000 in annual revenue from a company that was developing the pot farm, according to the county grand jury report, which was released on Monday.

Isleton officials planned to use the money to upgrade their two-person police department and maintain security over the marijuana operation, which would measure more than a football field and potentially employ 50 people, the report said.

The report said the project, which would have supplied pot to medical marijuana dispensaries in southern California, was approved by Isleton on the "promise of money and jobs."

"They forgot the old saying, 'If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,'" the report states.

Isleton is not the first California city to approve a marijuana growing operation. Oakland last year gave the green light to a medical marijuana pot farm, but later pulled back from the project due to the threat of federal prosecution.

The grand jury report said Delta Allied Growers, the company behind the proposal, has "reportedly buried more than 1,000 marijuana plants and apparently abandoned the project."

Isleton city manager Bruce Pope, who helped shepherd the project through its city council approval in November, told Reuters on Tuesday the project remains up in the air now that Delta Allied has suspended operations.

"If it comes down that they can't do this without being indicted, then I imagine they'll close the shop," he said.

The Sacramento district attorney sent a letter to Isleton officials raising questions about the legality of the project, and U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner also warned in writing that the project would violate federal law.

A spokeswoman for Sacramento District Attorney Jan Scully declined to comment.

Pope said the grand jury report was "fair," but he faulted prosecutor for their handling of the matter.

"I think the district attorney was over the top in this, she acted like she was dealing with the Mafia, like she wasn't dealing with a fellow government agency," he said.

California voters approved medical marijuana in a 1996 initiative. Fifteen states and the District of Columbia allow medical marijuana.

(Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis: Editing by Dan Whitcomb)

A pot paradox or bud bingo? (Mendocino) Grand jury urges dispensary law

Ukiah Daily Journal Staff
Posted: 06/28/2011 11:00:00 PM PDT

A pot paradox or bud bingo?

Grand jury urges dispensary law

The Daily Journal

The Mendocino County grand jury has issued a report which calls for the county to enact an ordinance regulating medical marijuana dispensaries in the county.

"Given the fact that Mendocino County has gained worldwide attention for the apparent ideal conditions for the production of marijuana," the grand jury report states, it would be smart for the county to try to control the over-the-counter sales of medical marijuana here. It would also, the jurors point out, help raise needed county revenue.

"Without the presence of an ordinance, the legality of existing MMJDs in Mendocino County is uncertain," the report adds.

"Across the State of California, county MMJD ordinances vary in degree, and range from outright prohibition of dispensaries, to legally-worded complex rules that include in their ordinances who, where, and how dispensaries can be established or maintained," the report finds.

Since the county doesn't have such an ordinance, the county Treasurer-Tax Collector is unable to accurately state how many MMJDs or medical marijuana collective business licenses have been issued.

The Board of Supervisors had been looking at a dispensary ordinance in committee in 2009 but work on it stopped and a draft ordinance was never considered.

No one knows how many dispensaries are now in operation in the county, the report states, although two dispensaries have recently been established in Mendocino Township.

"These dispensaries are located within 1,000 feet of areas frequented by school-aged children in the town," says the grand jury.

Meanwhile, the grand jury added, "the Sheriff publicly stated that 30 percent of his staff's time is devoted to marijuana issues."

The grand jury, citing an ordinance in San Jose, notes that a gross receipt tax of 7 percent (the San Jose model) on medical marijuana dispensaries would bring in much-needed revenue for county law enforcement.

Without a dispensary ordinance, the grand jury concluded:

any number of dispensaries can be established anywhere in the county with merely the acquisition of a business license,

there is no enforcement/abatement actions of existing public nuisance codes under Mendocino County Ordinance 9.31 against establishing or operating MMJD,

the needs of neighbors and communities to be protected from public safety impacts of MMJDs is not met

there are no grounds for denial by the county, of a MMJD except the limitations imposed by the business license process.

The grand jury recommended that the county pass such an ordinance and that besides collecting fees, it include provisions for mobile dispensaries, public and neighborhood safety concerns, food safety for food-based marijuana products, and be clear on the patient/caregiver relationship.

The grand jury also believes that not all members of the Board of Supervisors are qualified to address this issue.

"The grand jury believes that this issue is a far-reaching topic worthy of serious and immediate attention by the BOS. In order to avoid any appearance of conflict of interest, the grand jury feels that members of the BOS, who may have in the past, or may be currently involved in the production of MMJ, recuse themselves from any vote on this matter," the report ends.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Grand jury appalled at Oakland building inspectors

Chip Johnson

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

If the annual report of the Alameda County grand jury is an accurate account of the operations inside the city of Oakland's Building Services Division, the logical next step must be a criminal investigation.

The division of Oakland's Community and Economic Development Agency is responsible for reviewing plans for new construction and renovation, inspecting the city's housing stock and enforcing the city's blight and nuisance laws.

When a property owner ignores cleanup orders, Building Services can hire a contractor to do the work and place a lien on the property for the cost.

But the grand jury report released Monday outlined a pattern of arbitrary and excessive fees, fines and abusive actions by building supervisors and inspectors that so "appalled" the panel, it recommended the city revoke the agency's law enforcement authority.

In one case, city inspectors tagged an Oakland property with a blight order for what turned out to be children's toys in the yard. The city moved forward with the cleanup, demolished a garage legally converted to a recreation area two decades earlier, and charged the owner $18,000, the report said.

The city's appeals process, if you could actually call it that, operated more like a scam than a legitimate administrative function where property owners' claims were heard by objective parties. Property owners reported being denied on first appeal, often with the code enforcement officer who issued the citation acting as the hearing officer.

The appeals often surpassed the cost of the fine, effectively discouraging many property owners from pursuing an otherwise legitimate claim, the report said.

Even when residents didn't appeal and did agree to sign a compliance plan to correct the problems, the agency added a 14.75 percent fee for records management and technology enhancement. Yet, when the grand jury issued a subpoena for records, the city could not locate all of them, the report said.

One of the more troubling findings was confirmation of a 10-year interest-only loan made by a debris removal contractor to a Building Services manager. The same contractor was awarded "a disproportionately large number of contracts" for debris removal and abatement work, the report said.

The loan was reported to the Fair Political Practices Commission, which is required by law, two years later. The city's Building Services manager "at one time listed her address at a property owned by the contractor," the report said.

Inside the city's Building Services offices, the contractor had free rein, and on more than one occasion submitted the low bid for a contract and then issued a change-order to increase its value. "These change orders inflated the price of the contracts, increasing the cost of the lowest-winning bid," the report concluded.

Another egregious practice, identified previously in a 1999 grand jury report, was still in use until recently.

In its review of property records from 2007 to 2010, the grand jury found "prospective liens" city officials used to issue "warnings" to property owners.

Not only did the practice encumber a property and make it more difficult for an owner to secure funds to comply with city orders, the fines appeared arbitrary and punitive. The report found no correlation between fine amounts and cleanup costs.

Oakland city officials could not be reached for comment.

"There is a perception by property owners that the fees are simply a way for the city to generate funds for the city without regard for the residents' due process," the report said.

And there were no residents more outraged than Michelle Cassens and her husband, Gwillym Martin, West Oakland residents whose home was condemned by city building inspectors in 2009.

In August 2010, Cassens sent letters to 2,000 people she'd identified who found themselves in similar predicaments with the Oakland city agency. She included a copy of an Alameda County grand jury complaint form and encouraged people to sound off.

"Apparently they did, in droves," Cassens said in a phone interview Monday. "I feel like this is a beginning for the victims."

Grand jury report

To see the Alameda County grand jury report that includes findings on the city of Oakland's alleged building-inspection abuses, go to

Chip Johnson's column appears in the Chronicle on Tuesday and Friday. E-mail him at

Isleton pot farm plan blasted by grand jury

Carolyn Jones, Chronicle Staff Writer

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

ISLETON, SACRAMENTO COUNTY -- Officials in a hamlet on the Sacramento River succumbed to the lure of easy money when they signed off on a plan to turn an abandoned housing development into a large marijuana farm, a grand jury said Monday.

In a blistering report, the Sacramento County grand jury said officials in Isleton had paid too little attention to the law when they approved a plan to build six greenhouses where marijuana would have been grown for medical use.

"They forgot the old saying, 'If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,' " wrote Donald Prange Sr., the grand jury's foreman.

"The city ... pushed a project that is perched on the blurry edge of marijuana law," Prange wrote. "It did so, not because of any desire to test the limits of the law, but because of the promise of money and jobs."

The saga began in July 2010 when a marijuana collective called Delta Allied Growers approached the city with plans to build a 4,000-square-foot pot farm.

The operation would have been devoted primarily to marijuana research and development, said the group's spokesman, Scott Hawkins. The marijuana grown there would have been distributed at medical dispensaries in Southern California, he said.

The greenhouses would have been built on the outskirts of the town of 800 people, on the site of an abandoned housing development.

Officials in the cash-strapped town saw the plan as a great opportunity to turn a failed development into a profitable enterprise, City Manager Bruce Pope said.

Taxes and fees from the farm would have brought in as much as $850,000 a year, more than doubling Isleton's general fund, he said.

In addition, Delta Allied Growers would have bought Isleton's Police Department new computers and security cameras.

The City Council approved the project and the collective started installing greenhouses, a security fence and generators, and storing plants in the abandoned model homes.

"Then the D.A. showed up," Pope said. "She just lit into me, saying, 'You have approved a project that violates state and federal law.' It was crazy."

According to the grand jury, the project was in clear violation of federal law, which bans growing, distributing or possessing marijuana. State law is less clearly defined because of Proposition 215, the medical marijuana law that voters passed in 1996.

In May, U.S. Attorney Ben Wagner sent warning letters to Isleton and other jurisdictions about the federal law.

The project is now dead, and Isleton and its officials are out more than $200,000 in legal fees and lost wages incurred while complying with subpoenas to testify before the grand jury, Pope said.

"If they think we did something wrong, why didn't they just tell us so we could correct it?" he said. "This is not a rich town. We don't have time or money to waste on this kind of thing."

The grand jury was not sympathetic. The City Council should have read the law more carefully before committing to the project, the panel said.

The city has until Sept. 21 to respond.

E-mail Carolyn Jones at

Santa Cruz Grand Jury’s report critical of city

Posted: Friday, Jun 24th, 2011

A scathing review of how Watsonville’s City Hall functions will lead off the 2010-11 Santa Cruz County Grand Jury report when it is released Wednesday during a press conference on the Santa Cruz County courthouse steps in Santa Cruz.

The report will cover the findings of five investigations by the Grand Jury. The first is titled “City of Watsonville: Fastest Growing City Looking for Leadership and a Fire Truck.” Other investigations are titled “Back to the Future: Regional Gridlock and Local Planning Paralysis,” “Delinquent Property Tax Penalty Cancellations: A Day Late and a Dollar Short,” “Pajaro Valley Unified School District Insurance Vendor Selection: Are There Options?” and “Santa Cruz County Correctional Facilities: Are They Effectively Utilized and What Are the Options?”

According to sources who asked not to be named, the investigation regarding Watsonville focuses on what the Grand Jury refers to as a lack of transparency and accountability to the public by city staff. The Grand Jury questions why Watsonville has not received a firetruck it paid $225,000 for in 2008, and has kept the City Council and residents in the dark about the delays and issues surrounding the truck. The report also supposedly chastises the city for spending too much on litigation, questions the city’s use of Redevelopment Agency funds and more.

The final report will cover both the Grand Jury’s findings and its recommendations. The press conference is scheduled for 11 a.m. The report is to be available online at

The Santa Cruz County Grand jury is a group of 19 volunteers who investigate local government on behalf of the county’s citizens, looking for ways in which the governing agencies might operate more effectively and efficiently.

Candidates are drawn randomly from the same pool from which regular trial jurors are selected, and the subsequent Grand Jury serves for a year, investigating citizen complaints and other topics of interest. This year’s jury began service July 1, 2010, and ends its service on July 1 when the 2011-12 Grand Jury is sworn in.

This year’s members were Janice Hewitt, Kris Desmond, Marc Los Huertos, Doug Horton, Alex Clancy, Jay Leite, Carl Galewski, Greg Fyvie, Jim Kerr, Rich Simms, Cheri Hrapoff, Steve Johnson, Patricia Goslin, Erik Zinn, Bob Blanchfield, William Gutzwiller, Gayle Larson, Dolores McCabe and Amber McMeans.

SLO Grand jury mulls Atascadero police chief resignation

After investigating odd circumstances, it concludes city should be more transparent about personnel decisions

By Tonya Strickland |

After investigating the city of Atascadero’s refusal to explain why its former police chief was paid $126,000 when he resigned earlier this year, a civil grand jury Thursday concluded that city officials should review and revise the way they announce personnel decisions to the public.

In a report titled “What was the deal between the city of Atascadero and the former chief of police?” the grand jury found no illegal activity. But it questioned whether former police chief James Mulhall’s case was a true resignation or a “disguised termination for cause.”

Mulhall unexpectedly resigned Jan. 7 to “spend more time with his family,” according to a statement from the city at the time. But about two weeks later, in response to a public information request, the city released a termination agreement that it had signed with Mulhall.

The city should have released that agreement with the initial statement about Mulhall’s family, the grand jury found.

Additionally, under the terms of Mulhall’s employment agreement, if he had truly resigned, he would have been paid only for his accrued unused benefits, the report found. He would not have been entitled to a settlement payment.

Instead, he was paid $126,000. According to his termination agreement, Mulhall promised not to sue the city in exchange for that money. The city also promised it would not pursue its right to fire him with cause.

Neither Mulhall nor city officials would disclose more information at the time.

Contacted Thursday for a response to the grand jury report, City Manager Wade McKinney said, “Hindsight is always great. How we balance transparency with the employees’ rights — we look at that each time, and we could do it better.”

In its report, the grand jury noted that the city’s lack of transparency at the time exposed it to criticism.

Grand jury members interviewed city staff and the City Council, reviewed employee agreements and other documents and consulted with the county attorney, among other actions, in preparing their report.

According to the report, Mulhall and McKinney began resignation talks “sometime in late 2010.”

The city initially offered a settlement payment of $106,000 in exchange for the mutual termination agreement, according to the grand jury report. The sum equaled six months’ salary and benefits. His base annual salary for fiscal year 2010 was about $132,800.

The eventual $126,000 settlement included an approximate cash-out value of Mulhall’s unused paid administrative and vacation leave.

The reasons behind Mulhall’s departure are still not known publicly.

Besides recommending that the city revise its process by which personnel decisions are disclosed to the public, the grand jury encouraged the city to review the possible risk of not conducting annual evaluations called for by employment agreements.

Mulhall was entitled to a written summary of his performance, but, the grand jury found, there was only one written review, conducted at the end of 2009.

Civil grand jury reports are not legally binding and only act to inform the public and government of the issues they highlight.

Read the Report

Read more:

Monday, June 27, 2011

(San Mateo) Grand jury tackles municipal finance

Posted: Monday, June 27, 2011 10:46 am

From staff reports

The San Mateo County civil grand jury Monday called on the county and its cities to make more information available about their finances and to help citizens understand the complexities of government revenues and expenditures.

The grand jury found that some cities do a better job than others in guiding citizens through the maze.

Half Moon Bay was praised for having a policy that requires 30 percent of annual operational expenses be held in reserve. The report notes that the city exceeded reserve recommendations every year since 2007, and that its revenues exceeded expenditures the last two years of the recession, not including internal transfers and one-time payments. Further, it is current on retiree health care payments and other obligations.

"Based on these indicators, one could conclude that Half Moon Bay was fiscally healthy," the report states.

However, the situation is more complicated than studied parameters suggest, according to the report. General Obligation Bonds purchased to cover the cost of the Beachwood settlement helped to offset a projected deficit in 2010-2011 and the city provided a waiver to its own policy requiring 30 percent be held in reserve.

"In summary, the data collected by the grand jury was accurate as it related to a limited defined set of data at a specific point in time," the report concluded, with respect to Half Moon Bay. "However, the data did not and could not tell the entire story."

The report went on to note the city includes a wealth of financial information on its Web site so that "interested citizens capable of understanding it" can understand the full financial picture.

To see the report, visit

Marin grand jury: get ready to help yourself in a disaster

By Nels Johnson
Marin Independent Journal
Posted: 06/26/2011 05:04:00 PM PDT

Marin residents will be on their own in the first day or two after a natural disaster because most county public safety workers don't live here and won't be able to offer immediate help, the Marin County Civil Grand Jury warned.

In the final report of its term, the grand jury reminded Marin residents that only 33 percent of first responders are on duty at any one time, and that "70 percent to 80 percent of first responders live outside of Marin, some as far away as Kern, Butte, Sutter and Nevada counties."

It's a wake-up call for newcomers, but old news for long-time residents who have been told repeatedly by disaster preparedness officials over the years that people must be prepared to go it alone for 72 hours after a natural disaster such as a big earthquake that could paralyze the region at any moment.

The 2011 jury underscored the problem with a detailed chart showing that 90 percent of Novato paramedics and firefighters live outside the county. The live-outside-Marin figures include 82 percent for San Rafael, 75 percent for the Marin County Fire Department, 68 percent for Mill Valley and 64 percent for Southern Marin fire.

Only 9 percent of both San Rafael and Novato police live in Marin, while 19 percent of sheriff's staff live in the county, which has some of the highest housing costs in the state.

The median price last month of a home in Marin — including condominiums — was $640,000, compared with $372,000 for the entire Bay Area, according to DataQuick of San Diego.

"Although some Bay Area cities place a residency requirement on first responders" as permitted by law, "Marin cities do not," the jury noted. At least one local official commented that limiting job applicants to county residents would severely narrow the pool of qualified applicants.

"Flexible work schedules, in which extended on-duty periods are followed by three and four day off-duty periods, make it feasible for personnel to live some distance from Marin," the jury reported.

The panel gave a special salute to Mill Valley, which it called a model of disaster preparedness thanks to thoughtful officials and an engaged populace who have woven a multi-layered safety net that is ready for fire, quake or other calamity.

"Mill Valley is engaging the whole community in disaster preparedness," the jury said, training more than 870 residents in Community Emergency Readiness Training (CERT), dividing neighborhoods into "blocks" with local "captains," and mapping out evacuation routes. The community disaster readiness program involving residents, educators, safety personnel and City Hall includes fire drills, first aid and related instruction, and school training for children in the classroom. The jury also noted that Tiburon and San Rafael have excelled in disaster preparedness.

"This is a blueprint which could be emulated countywide," the jury said of Mill Valley's plan. "However, it takes leadership and political will to make this happen."

The jury's report outlines the various programs propelling disaster preparedness in Marin, including Get Ready Marin, CERT training, the Disaster and Citizens Corps Council, Marin Interagency Disaster Coalition, Marin Search and Rescue volunteers, the Marin Medical Corps and the county Office of Emergency Services. It concluded, however, "there is insufficient interagency collaboration."

The jury, noting leadership of the county Office of Emergency Services has changed three times in the past year, said the office operation falls short, with rotating leaders, training and related inefficiencies. A "stabilized leadership role" is needed, along with an electronic database to track training of county managers and staff, and the Board of Supervisors and Sheriff Robert Doyle should review the operation to ensure preparedness is a priority, the jury concluded.

Sheriff Robert Doyle and Susan Adams, president of the Board of Supervisors, were not immediately available for comment on the jury report, but both will submit formal responses to the panel from their agencies.

(Calaveras County) Grand jury report: Service cuts too steep

Calaveras panel recommends restoration of some staff

Dana M. Nichols
By Dana M. Nichols
Record Staff Writer
June 27, 2011 12:00 AM

SAN ANDREAS - Calaveras County's 2010-11 grand jury issued a final report Thursday calling for increased staffing in several government agencies.

In particular, the grand jury found that operations at the Calaveras County Jail, the Calaveras County Animal Shelter and the Angels Camp Police Department are all negatively affected by staffing cuts that happened over the past few years.

In the case of the jail and the animal shelter, the report notes plans are under way to build new, larger facilities. The grand jury report urges the relevant officials to proceed with that construction and restore staffing levels in all three agencies to better serve the public.

The report also investigated a number of other county government departments. Recommendations from those investigations include that the county government should make full use of accounting software it purchased years ago, and that the Auditor-Controller's Office needs to hire employees capable of doing audits in house to avoid the cost of hiring consultants.

The grand jury also investigated the disparities in public school district funding between the northern and southern parts of the county.

One finding: While Calaveras Unified, on the north side of the county, has only $4,985 per student per year, the three districts serving communities along Highway 4 have between $6,791 and $9,305 per year per student.

The grand jury recommended that the three districts along Highway 4 consider consolidation to reduce administrative staff and cut costs.

To see the full report, go to the county's website at

Contact reporter Dana M. Nichols at (209) 607-1361 or Visit his blog at

Sanitary District Responds to (Marin) Grand Jury Report

A day after the Marin County Civil Grand Jury issued its third report in five years about the Ross Valley Sanitary District (RVSD), the district fired back with a press release addressing what it called "false and/or out of context information to the ratepayers of RVSD."

In its summary, the initial grand jury report released on June 21 called into question RSVD's cooperation with the Central Marin Sanitation Agency (CMSA), characterized the district's use of litigation as extensive while calling its business practices "outside the norm."

The report called for RVSD to work with CMSA on a study of the pros and cons of consolidation of Central Marin sewer districts, use mediation rather than litigation for dispute resolution, and adopt a zero tolerance for spills of any size.

In the RVSD response, the agency addresses each of the jury's findings, in particular providing justification for four lawsuits, two of which RVSD was named as a defendant.

With regards to the agency's relationship with CMSA, the district claims that it is the fault of the CMSA whose commissioners "repeatedly shun, exclude, isolate, and verbally abuse RVSD representatives...".

The RSVD said in their release that the agency's zero tolerance for spills of any size is and has been their number one concern. They also countered that they continue to study the pros and cons of consolidation.

(Sacramento County) Grand jury report blasts Isleton marijuana project

June 27, 2011

By Sam Stanton

Even after Sacramento District Attorney Jan Scully made it clear she was investigating the planned medical marijuana farm in Isleton last February, operators of the project quietly brought in more than 1,000 marijuana plants and began growing them inside the garages of three vacant homes on the property, a new grand jury report states.

But when federal authorities warned the city and project planners that they could face prosecution, a worker from Delta Allied Growers supposedly used a backhoe to bury the plants 10 to 15 feet underground on the site and all work stopped.

These are among the findings of a Sacramento County grand jury report released today that is sharply critical of Isleton city government and the would-be marijuana growers.

The 12-page report concludes that Isleton officials were blinded by the offer of $25,000 in monthly payments from the growers, and that they bent some laws and procedures to approve a 15,000 square foot farm without delay.

"The city allowed the community to be pushed into a project that is perched on the blurry edge of marijuana law without properly questioning the situation," a cover letter to the report from grand jury foreman Donald Prange Jr. reads. "It did so, not because of any desire to test the limits of the law, but because of the promise of money and jobs."

The report questions the actions of City Manager Bruce Pope and Police Chief Rick Sullivan, whose department was promised a sophisticated security system for the town by the growers.

"Neither one seemed to worry about the legal status of the project under federal law," the report states.

And it singles out City Attorney Dave Larsen, who was paid by the marijuana growers $100 an hour over his city-paid rate to "help expedite the procedural aspects of the application" for the farm.

That arrangement "suggests an improper financial interest in the project," the report states.

Pope said this morning that he needed more time to study the report before commenting on it, but he added that he is not convinced there ever were marijuana plants at the site.

Pope said he heard rumors early on that plants were being grown there and went out and inspected each of the empty homes and garages on the site, then went back out and did so again after he heard the grand jury had been told plants were on the site.

"One of our agreements was that there would be no plants brought to that property until the growing facilities and the internal security and external security with cameras and computers and all the support equipment was operational," he said. "We never got to that point, so there never should have been any plants out there.

"If it turns out there were that's something I'm not going to be pleased about."

Delta Allied officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment today.

No criminal charges have been filed in connection with the probe of the project, and the grand jury made it clear that the investigation by Scully's office may not be over.

The grand jury, which summoned the entire city government for secret testimony in April, offered immunity to all witnesses except for Larsen and Michael Brubeck, the owner of Delta Allied Growers.

Isleton, a Delta town of about 840 residents with perpetual money woes, was first approached by Brubeck in July 2010.

"The city manager responded with alacrity, setting up a timeline that would bring the project to the council for approval by early September," the report states, adding that Delta was not a legal entity at the time and was not incorporated as a non-profit until after the council approved the plan.

The project was to be built on the northern edge of town in a city block where 18 new homes had been built just before the housing bust. The homes were empty, and Brubeck's workers envisioned constructing a series of grow houses behind secure fencing to grow the marijuana.

The business plan called for the plants to be sold to dispensaries in Southern California operating under the state's medical marijuana law.

No one bothered to seek advice on the legality of the project from either federal officials or Scully's office, the report found, adding that Brubeck's operation promised to pay the city as much as $600,000 in just the first year of operation.

But there were problems from the outset.

The company agreed to pay $120,000 in fees. One check from Delta for $25,000 bounced, the report said, but it was later honored.

The source of the company's funding is still unclear. One employee told the grand jury that a company in China had invested $1.3 million in Delta.

The company began paying Isleton $25,000 a month last fall as Delta began work at the site, and by April six grow houses were being constructed.

Scully's office notified the city in February that it had serious questions about the legality of the project, but Isleton officials rejected her concerns.

Despite Scully's questions, Delta Allied workers brought in more than 1,000 immature marijuana plants and placed them inside the garages of three model homes on the site, the report states.

"Garden hoses provided irrigation and generators provided power for fans and lights inside the garages," the report states. "The lights were on and fans were running day and night.

"One witness testified no lights were visible because there were no windows in the garages."

Workers continued to cultivate the plants until early May, when U.S. Attorney Ben Wagner sent a letter to the growers and city officials warning them that the project violated federal law, according to the report.

"According to testimony from the construction manager of DGA, the owner told him to bury the plants," the report says. "The witness testified that the plants were buried 10 to 15 feet underground without verification by any city official."

The site was abandoned after Wagner's letter. Last week, only three of the partially constructed grow houses remained, and large piles of dirt could be seen on the western edge of the property.

Pope said those piles had been on the site previously and were not related to the marijuana operation. He added that his visits to the site showed no evidence of marijuana being buried there.

Read more:

(Shasta County) Grand jury: Inmates left in cold, Anderson PD background checks questioned, violent inmates fight fires

By Dylan Darling, Ryan Sabalow
Posted June 27, 2011 at 11:42 a.m., updated June 27, 2011 at 12:12 p.m.

The Shasta County Grand Jury released its 2010/11 report today. The county’s 17-member panel of volunteer jurors is a watchdog group charged with keeping an eye on whether local government agencies are acting in the public’s interest. Here are the key findings from this year’s report:

Chilly inmates

The grand jury received a complaint from an inmate who said that in December 2010 and January this year guards at the Shasta County Jail forced inmates to stand outside in near freezing temperatures in short-sleeved shirts for almost two hours in an outside recreation yard while their cells were searched.

The jurors reviewed daily temperature records and found that on two days inmates indeed had been forced to stand out in 37 and 36 degrees temperatures.

“Inmates are not provided with adequate protection from the cold during the inmate housing unit searches that occur in winter,” the jurors found.

The jurors recommended the prisoners be moved to other areas of the jail during pod searches or, if required to stand outside, inmates need proper clothing or some other way to keep warm.

Background checks questioned at Anderson Police Department

The grand jury in its routine discussion with local law enforcement agencies found that the Anderson Police Department doesn’t have a Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) certified background investigator, a finding a police department spokesman denied today.

POST is a state commission established in 1959 to set a minimum selection and training standards for local law enforcement agencies.

The findings come after former Officer Bryan Benson, 26, was accused last year of raping a woman he was taking to jail. His trial is pending, and he’s pleaded not guilty to the charges. His partner Matthew Goodwin, who wasn’t charged, was fired from the department after an internal investigation.

The jurors, who made no mention of Benson and Goodwin in their report, recommended the department follow the lead of every other law enforcement agency in the north state and use the state’s inexpensive services to check recruits’ backgrounds.

Capt. Robert Kirvin said today that his department already does. He said Anderson Sgt. Steve Blunk is POST certified and performed the background check on Benson. However, Kirvin said he performed the background check on Goodwin.

Kirvin isn’t a POST certified background investigator, he said.

Interim Police Chief Shawn Watts will draft a rebuttal in response to the jury’s findings, Kirvin said.

Violent inmates are manning the fire lines

The grand jury found that there are indeed inmates with violent criminal histories being placed at at least one local fire camp.

The jury’s findings come after a months-long Record Searchlight investigation that found at any given time at least one in five of the 4,000-plus inmates at the state’s camps have violent criminal histories.

The newspaper’s finding directly contradicted claims by state prison officials who repeatedly denied that violent inmates are placed at the camps and that only “carefully-screened,” non-violent, low-risk inmates are allowed inside the state’s 41 minimum-security conservation camps, including a handful in the north state.

The grand jury found that there are some inmates at Sugar Pine Conservation Camp in Bella Vista "that have been convicted of violent crimes.”

“However, they have become eligible for assignment to Sugar Pine by having their classification reduced to a ‘minimum-security’ level,” the jurors wrote. “This is accomplished by time served, good behavior and further recommendations from the Department of Corrections.”

Mountain Gate board showed favoritism in GM hire

The Mountain Gate Community Services District board showed favoritism when it lowered its employment standards and hired the former board chairman last December to be its general manager, the grand jury concluded.

The board hired Jeff Cole, who served on the board from Feb. 24, 2009, to Dec. 11, 2009, on Dec. 9, 2010 to the $5,250-per month general manager post. In doing so it went against the advice of three general managers from other north state water districts, according to the grand jury.

“The board sent eight of the applications it had received for the general manager position to the managers of three water districts to review and rank those applications,” the grand jury wrote. “The current Mountain Gate general manager was rated eighth in the list of applicants by those managers.”

No laws broken, but finances questioned in Burney pool funding

The grand jury found that while the Burney Water District needed to get its funding sources in order when it comes to the local pool, it didn’t break any laws.

The grand jury received a complaint from someone who alleged the district was using water and sewer services paid by district rate payers to balance the community swimming pool fund.

The complaint alleged the move violated Proposition 218, a 1996 law that required voter approval for any changes in assessments and property-related fees.

The jury found no evidence that a proposed increase from $1 to $5 in fees at the pool was made without voter approval (since the board didn’t officially move ahead with an oversight committee’s recommendation). However, the jurors found several other problems with the district’s budgeting, which led to net operating loss for at least three years.

The jurors said the district needs to eliminate its operating losses and be able to handle unanticipated future expenses, and should “carefully monitor operations to bring the district into a break-even position.”

(Alameda County) Grand jury takes Peralta leaders to task again

By Matt Krupnick
Contra Costa Times
Posted: 06/27/2011 02:40:25 PM PDT
Updated: 06/27/2011 06:24:55 PM PDT

Peralta Community College District trustees made years of sloppy investment decisions that have cost taxpayers millions, an Alameda County grand jury said Monday.

In its annual report, the civil investigative panel said elected board members -- nearly all of whom remain in office -- in 2005 began essentially rubber-stamping ill-advised recommendations by former Chancellor Elihu Harris and other administrators.

The risky decisions -- trumpeted by the district at the time as bold and innovative -- unnecessarily boosted the cost of Peralta's retirement benefits to more than $750 million, the jury said.

"The board's decisions were not as conservative as is fiscally appropriate for trustees of public funds," jurors wrote. "The board had a duty to make conservative financial decisions regardless of the appeal of the market."

Jurors also noted the district has, in the past year, begun fixing its massive financial problems, which had drawn warnings from accreditors, credit-rating agencies and the state. Peralta leaders this year brought in consultants and new administrators to help untangle the complicated dealings, and district officials are negotiating contracts that would require employees to help pay for the debt.

The report confirms the district is improving, said Wise Allen, who has been Peralta's interim chancellor since Harris -- a former Oakland mayor and state legislator -- was ousted by the board last year following a Bay Area News Group investigation of his leadership.

"We welcome the report," Allen said. "We think it's a positive report."

But jurors were anything but positive about the roles played by Harris, former budget chief Tom Smith and trustees. Board members simply accepted the "exotic, high-risk" investments advised by Harris and Smith, the jury wrote, and then failed to keep a close eye on the funds.

"The board and district suffered by following the ineffective leadership of the previous chancellor whom the board had appointed," jurors wrote.

Board President William Riley, the longest-serving trustee, did not respond to phone messages left at his home and mobile phones. A spokeswoman for the state community college chancellor also did not respond to phone and email messages.

Trustees should not be blamed for Harris' failures, Allen said.

"The trustees are laypeople," he said. "If you give them bad information, you're going to get bad decisions."

Matt Krupnick covers higher education. Contact him at 510-208-6488. Follow him at

Armed volunteers clean up garbage, toxins left by marijuana growers

June 24, 2011 | Robert Townsend

Paul Trouette briefs a cleanup crew before entering an area where illegal pot growers have left garbage, toxics.Robert Townsend/California WatchPaul Trouette (right) briefs a cleanup crew before entering an area where illegal marijuana growers have left garbage and toxic items.

Early on a recent Saturday morning, two men wearing camouflage fatigues parked a pickup truck deep in the Mendocino County backwoods. They checked their gear. Industrial trash bags, weapons, water, food and first aid in place, they were ready to descend the hillside. A quick radio check-in to their team leader, and they were off.

The illegal campsites were more than 1,000 feet below. The steep grade of the mountainside, along with loose dirt and rocks sliding underfoot, forced them to slow down. Occasionally, they lowered their gear to a point below and slid downhill. After an hour, they made it to the campsite.

“Might as well get started and get it done,” said one of the men, Ken, who asked that only his first name be used to protect his safety.

The men were there to reclaim an area of Mendocino woodlands polluted by a large marijuana garden split into two locations. It wasn’t an easy task. They worked through heat, poison oak and biting insects. They also worked through the knowledge that angry armed growers might return.

A garbage-strewn illegal campsite in Mendocino County, before cleanup.Robert Townsend/California WatchGarbage is strewn around an illegal campsite in Mendocino County before cleanup.

Ken and his colleagues worked methodically, taking inventory of everything as they went. The group cleaned up 20 sleeping bags, poison containers, propane tanks, a BB rifle and ammunition, 9 mm ammunition, a crossbow, foodstuffs, cooking utensils, and other camping necessities. Then came the oddities: a solar panel stolen from a nearby cabin that was hooked up to a battery charger, a toy car, a handmade flute carved in a phallic shape and even a novelty trophy fish that sings when you activate it.

Last weekend, the sun was reaching its zenith as they continued to sweat through the labor. After several hours, they sat and had a quick lunch, talking only a little. With the trash bundled and secured in an area accessible to a waiting helicopter, they began the slow ascent to where they left the pickup. It took two hours to make it back up the hill.

The next morning went smoothly. The teams hiked back into the two campsites and awaited the helicopter. It took the helicopter about 45 minutes and four trips to remove the garbage from the mountain to a truck parked in a safe location.

Treacherous mountainsides, dust in their lungs and ticks aside, everyone in the group was smiling.

They had taken inventory of everything they found. Garbage, irrigation lines and camp supplies were gathered together and bundled into industrial contractor bags or cargo nets. The operation removed five contractor bags from the site, each carrying 125 to 150 pounds of trash. They also removed more than 850 pounds of irrigation tubing and pipes. After the last load, the truck took the garbage and items to be properly disposed of, recycled or donated.

A container of strychnine, a strong poison, was found at one site.

The unusual cleanup was organized by the Northern California Wildlands Reclamation Coalition, a group of Mendocino County residents who have banded together to repair the wreckage inflicted by illegal marijuana farms and return the area’s forests to their natural state. With the approval of local law enforcement, they remove the plastics, batteries, poisons, piping, tubing, garbage, and other environmental hazards and eyesores – attempting to leave the woodlands as pristine as possible.

The environmental damage done by pot growers has been severe. A recent Mendocino County grand jury report described how growers have poisoned waterways and trampled native landscapes.

Paul Trouette, a Mendocino County Fish and Game commissioner and coffee shop owner in Willits, established the group last year – inspired by an idea that has been growing since 2003.

As president of the nonprofit Mendocino County Blacktail Association, Trouette and his friends had grown increasingly concerned about the harm being done to local wildlife in and around these grow sites. They also were worried about the dangers of hunters who could easily stumble upon armed growers or life-threatening booby traps.

On grow sites and camps, cleanup crews find pesticides and other poisons intended for rodents and deer. With many illegal gardens having hundreds of marijuana plants, the amount of spilled poison has had a dramatic and cascading impact on wildlife and the ecosystem. A rat or deer eats the poison, gets sick, slows down and becomes easy prey to hawks and other predators. The predatory animal then dies and is eaten by scavenging animals, such as coyotes, foxes or vultures, which absorb the poison as well.

The Wildlands Reclamation Coalition successfully completed its first cleanup operation June 12, months after the group started planning and securing funding and law enforcement support for the project. The team is made up of military veterans, former police officers, hunters, bankers, laborers and salesmen. They are all locals who share the belief that large-scale illegal growing practices are a danger to people and the environment.

The team assembles after the cleanup operation.Robert Townsend/California WatchThe team assembles after the cleanup operation.

Every team member carries a gun: pistols, shotguns or AR-15 semi-automatic rifles. Arming themselves is a necessity – they might encounter armed growers, wild boars or black bears, they said.

After an area is deemed safe and no longer active, the cleanup crew will get to work.

“I was proud to be involved with these men, as they all acted professionally and with safety as their No. 1 priority,” said Charles Raasch, a team member and ex-law enforcement officer.

Raasch said he was motivated to become part of the team because he is an avid outdoorsman who has a love for the area and its beauty.

“These beautiful wildlife habitats were taken over by criminals who care nothing for the mess they make or the damage they do to the surrounding ecosystem. The stories I hear from these individuals, of family hunting trips ruined … added to the motivation to help clean up,” he said.

Raasch was unaware of how extensive an impact marijuana grow sites have on an area. Like others, he knew about law enforcement raids that made it into the news.

“But what we don’t read about is the aftermath,” Raasch said. “I knew nothing of this, and like most citizens, I assumed the law enforcement agency involved … would do something to clean this up. To my surprise, they do not. No one does.”

Trouette was able to secure $10,000 from the Mendocino County district attorney’s office and $5,000 from the Fish and Game Commission. The success of this last operation will help to determine whether further funding will be provided.

“This was done professionally and quickly,” Trouette said. “I have a feeling that we will receive more grants from the Fish and Game Commission because this is definitely related to wildlife enhancement and preservation.”

Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman has been supportive of the group’s efforts.

“He was very cooperative and helpful in getting one of our radios linked to the sheriff’s dispatch in case an emergency occurred,” Trouette said. “He trusts us.”

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Grand Jury probe critical of Gridley energy project

Posted: 06/25/2011 12:14:49 AM PDT

GRIDLEY — A Grand Jury report concluded many mistakes were made in management of the Gridley Project, a 17-year effort to convert rice straw to fuel.

Public money was used, record keeping was "slipshod," audits were not timely and the project led to bad feelings among community members, the report states.

While many things have changed recently, including the proposed project losing funding and a new city manager, the Grand Jury recommends better record keeping, ethics and Brown Act training, an audit of conflict-of-interest decisions and improvements with dealing with the public.

The report was released Friday. City officials have 90 days to respond.

The investigation looked at an alternative fuel project (the Gridley Project) that had been under development.

Twenty-five interviews were conducted and thousands of documents were requested and reviewed. Some documents were never received, despite public records requests.

City Administrator Rob Hickey said the missing paperwork noted in the report was from before he took over the job in 2008.

One point in the report is that former City Councilman Tom Sanford was hired as the Energy Commissioner a week after he resigned from the City Council. There were no documents available to show there was a search to fill the position, the Grand Jury report states.

The position, paid through the city's Utility Fund, had existed previously, but no one had ever been paid to do the job, the report states. Pay and reimbursement was more than $500,000 over nine years.

The report states that Sanford was also paid more than $400,000 over nine years through the grant funds of the Gridley Project.

Sanford said none of his earnings came from city funding. "I'm not sure if the Grand Jury understood."

Sanford said contention on the City Council began when Dave Garner and Owen Stiles were elected. They did not understand the history of the project, nor how much it could benefit residents, he said.

The new councilmen "went out of their way to suggest the city of Gridley was paying for this rice research when it was all paid out of contracts," Sanford said, contracts "all approved in open meetings with proper notice, all subject to federal audits."

Questions were also raised about property purchased for the energy plant. The city paid $679,000 in 2008, but two months earlier the property had been appraised for $442,000, the Grand Jury report stated. There are also questions about how that property is zoned, and that it is outside of the city limits, as well as that none of the grants approved the purchase.

Further muddying this issue, the real estate agent who handled the transaction represented both the buyer and the seller, the report states. While not illegal, the Grand Jury said it didn't show diligence by the city to get the best price. Hickey said the land is now part of a solar installation project, which will help the city comply with rules for renewable energy.

Members of the grand jury also attended council meetings and reported that there were several times when both citizens and councilors were disrespectful to others.

Several other concerns were explored in the report.

Staff writer Heather Hacking can be reached at 896-7758 or

Grand Jury report focuses on five Butte County departments

By RYAN OLSON -- Staff Writer
Posted: 06/24/2011 06:41:29 PM PDT

OROVILLE — The new report from the Butte County Grand Jury focused on five Butte County departments or agencies.

The 2010-11 report was released and published online after a brief hearing Friday at the Butte County Superior Court. The report includes sections for five county agencies, the city of Gridley, a police task force and a special district. There was also a review of ethics training at 24 special districts.

According to the report, the Grand Jury evaluated some agencies based on recent events, such as the opening of the new Chico substation of the Butte County Mosquito and Vector Control District. Media coverage and resident comments prompted a review of the Butte County Library.

Other agencies — the jail and juvenile hall — were evaluated because the law requires annual reviews.

Overall, the panel didn't appear to find significant faults with most of the agencies. In some cases, it called for some minor improvements — such as installing a security fence in the parking lot of the Butte Interagency Narcotics Task Force, South office.

The jury noted the heavy use of the county's libraries and called for the county to improve building maintenance and to evaluate the hours of operation.

In juvenile hall, the jury called for the continuation of the Boys and Girls Club program and to seek contingency funding for the program in case of state cutbacks.

For the jail, the panel found that the women's facility needs maintenance, including an malfunctioning ventilation system that hasn't been resolved over several years. The jury also called for plans to reinstate the GED and educational programs after noting the GED program is currently limited to independent study and the kitchen program is the only vocational offering.

County department and agency heads have 60 days to respond to the reports, while other governmental bodies have 90 days.

The report was the culmination of work for the 18 county residents who served on the Grand Jury over the past year. During Friday's hearing, presiding Judge Steven Howell thanked the outgoing panel and released them from their service.

Margaret Worley, the outgoing forewoman, noted there was some lively discussion and effort by her colleagues.

"We just really came together and it was a wonderful experience," Worley said.

She also thanked the court for providing an office and the library for the jury to use. Worley noted it is the first year that the Grand Jury had a permanent place to meet and keep its research.

The public portion of Friday's hearing concluded with the seating of next year's Grand Jury. A court employee drew the names of the 19 community members to serve as the jury. Another 10 names were drawn as alternates, in case a juror is unable to finish the year's service.

Last year, two people had to leave the jury early, and a third juror, Jim Fisher, died.

Solano County grand jury admonishes Dixon veterans hall officials

By Kimberly K. Fu / The Reporter
Posted: 06/24/2011 01:04:25 AM PDT

A Solano County grand jury report released Thursday confirmed what county officials and involved parties have already acknowledged -- that issues exist regarding the Dixon Veterans Memorial Hall Building.

Operations and management problems are many, jurors said in the report, emphasizing that "the lack of acceptable accounting practices leaves the financial operation of the Dixon Veterans Memorial Building in question and results in potential liability to the county. Additionally, the lack of clearly defined management accountability and duties has led to confusion about the Dixon Veterans Building Association's operations."

Acquired by the county in 2008, the veterans hall at 1305 North First St. opened in late 2009. It is occupied by the Dixon Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8151, Dixon American Legion Post 208 and the Dixon American Legion Auxiliary, all of which form the Dixon Veterans Building Association (DVBA).

According to its report, the grand jury could not determine clear lines of authority, management responsibility or accountability regarding the building. Also, jurors found that financial records were inadequate and failed to track income, expense or payroll.

The grand jury recommends that the DVBA "use commonly accepted accounting methods to establish a financial tracking system."

Financial responsibility for the building has not been established, the report stated, and it is unclear how much each organization owes for shared bills.

Jurors recommend that county officials require the association "to clearly define which entity is responsible for paying what portion of bills incurred by the Dixon Veterans Building Association."

The report also revealed that management authority, duties and responsibilities are not clearly stated.

Jurors recommend that county officials require the association "to clearly define management responsibilities, duties and scope of authority."

Referencing the recent county auditor-controller's report, the grand jury added that county officials need to ensure that the association works with the auditor-controller and other agencies "to meet acceptable accounting methods and controls."

In closing, the grand jury admonished the association.

"Solano County provides the building for the benefit of veterans; it is an asset to the community," said jurors in the report. "It is incumbent upon the veterans' organizations to resolve internal issues to properly operate the building and to adhere to written agreements."

San Francisco Civil Grand Jury slams shipyard development project

06.23.11 - 6:05 pm | Sarah Phelan |

“The Civil Grand Jury concludes that the Hunter’s Point Shipyard redevelopment project will require more communication, more transparency, and more commitment from the City in order to achieve its goals of providing housing, jobs and economic development, tax revenue and open spaces to San Francisco and its residents, particularly those residing in the surrounding neighborhoods.”

So reads the conclusion of the Civil Grand Jury’s 2010-2011 report, which is titled, “Hunters Point Shipyard: a shifting landscape." The report makes six findings and seven recommendation that city departments and the Board will have to respond to within the next 60-90 days. And some of these recommendations reflect problems the Guardian unearthed and highlighted during in its coverage of the development.

The jury found that the San Francisco Department of Public Health (SFDPH) is not in compliance with its pledge to the California Department of Public Health to keep residents informed of developments at the Hunters Point Shipyard. As the report’s authors note, the SFDPH’s website “is not regularly updated.”

The jury also found that the City has placed itself in a potentially compromising situation with developer Lennar where in essence, “the wolf is paying the shepherd to guard the flock.”

The jury further noted that by having developer Lennar reimburse the city for monitoring expenses associated with the shipyard project, SFDPH has created a situation that “could raise doubt in the public’s mind about its commitment to proactively and impartially enforce environmental health regulations even when it might adversely impact Lennar.”

Public trust in the SFPDH has been further jeopardized by its failure to update its website in a timely manner, and its apparent reluctance to comment publicly on the best method to deal with the clean-up of Parcel E-2, which is the site of a former dump and deemed one of the most polluted parcels of land on the shipyard.

The jury found that the above concerns were “further reinforced by the recent release of email messages that purportedly showed inappropriate communications between senior officials at the SFDPH and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Lennar."

The jury found that with the exception of Parcel A, the City has no legal control over the remaining shipyard property. “Consequently, in a technical sense, the City has no authority over matters dealing with deadlines and deliverables for environmental clean-up. However, the City does in fact have some standing in these matters via the 2004 conveyance agreement between the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency (SFRA) and the Navy. The agreement stipulates that the Navy will work collaboratively with the SFRA and share information about cleanup work."

Last but not least, the jury found the previous efforts by the City to implement workforce policies at city-funded construction projects such as the shipyard have “largely proved ineffective” as they only require contractors to make good-faith efforts, but that earlier this year, a new local hire ordinance was implemented with stricter requirements and mandates.

Based on these findings, the jury recommended that SFDPH needs to update its shipyard project website on a weekly or monthly basis, immediately stop accepting money from Lennar to pay for monitors at the shipyard and cover the costs from its own resources, rigorously enforce conflict of interest guidelines governing deals between its officials and the companies they are monitoring, and conduct its own environmental assessment of the issue of capping Parcel E-2 and make its findings available to the public for comment.

The jury also recommended that because the Navy still owns the majority of the shipyard land and therefore the city has no direct control over deadlines and deliverables, it is critical that the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and SFDPH be “particularly vigilant in monitoring clean-up activities at the shipyard.”

The jury further recommended that the City and the SFRA should have “contingency plans in place” for continuing Redevelopment-related projects, including the shipyard, “in the event State redevelopment plans are cut or eliminated.”

Last but not least, the jury recommended that to ensure that promised job creation goals for the shipyard are realized, “the City should ensure that the Office of Labor Standards Enforcement has sufficient resources to allow it to effectively enforce the provisions of the new workforce laws.”

According to the conditions of the Civil Grand Jury’s report, for each finding the responding parties must report if the recommendation has been implemented or not, whether it requires further analysis, or was not implemented because it is either unwarranted or not reasonable.

So, expect to see some fireworks in the coming weeks, given that the Mayor’s Office, the Board, the Office of Economic and Workforce Development, SFDPH, the Office of Labor Standards Enforcement, the Redevelopment Agency and the BAAQMD have been named as the responding parties in this report...