Friday, September 30, 2011

Patterson councilwoman takes aim at grand jury

Leader says lawsuit a means for overhauling the system
By Patty Guerra

Patterson City Councilwoman Annette Smith has sued Stanislaus County over a harsh civil grand jury report issued earlier this year. The highly unusual move is aimed, she said, at an overhaul of the local grand jury system.

"It was the most demeaning experience of my life," she said of her testimony in November before the grand jury. She said grand jurors made it clear they were targeting her. "They were insulting, they were biased, they were predetermined."

She filed the lawsuit Tuesday in federal court in Sacramento.
Patterson City Councilwoman Annette Smith has sued Stanislaus County over a harsh civil grand jury report issued earlier this year. The highly unusual move is aimed, she said, at an overhaul of the local grand jury system.

Patterson grand jury complaint

In the report issued in June, grand jurors recommended that Smith should lose her seat for failing to disclose a financial relationship with a developer and voting to give him $27,000 without justification, among other alleged offenses. The report also said then-Mayor Becky Campo moved out of town during her term and Campo, Smith and Councilman Dominic Farinha illegally ousted then-City Manager Cleve Morris.

The city responded last week with a blistering letter to Presiding Judge Ricardo Córdova.

In the response, written by interim City Attorney Thomas Hallinan, the city flatly rejected most of the grand jury's findings. The call for Smith to resign or face a potential recall election, the response says, "is the most outrageous and inappropriate recommendation our city attorney has seen in 17 years of reviewing grand jury reports. To engage in political advocacy is completely and utterly contrary to the charge of the grand jury."

Córdova said he could not comment on pending litigation. Stanislaus County Superior Court Executive Officer Mike Tozzi said the lawsuit is a first in his 27 years with the courts.

"It's very unusual," agreed Mi-chael Vitiello, a law professor at the University of the Pacific's McGeorge School of Law. Grand jurors themselves are offered partial immunity from litigation.

"There are lots of criticisms of civil grand juries," he said. "But these are a bunch of citizens trying to do good. … It should not be too easy to sue them."

Question of oversight

Smith's lawsuit, he said, "sounds like a heavy-handed approach."

Vitiello said the county can respond to the claim, and then a federal judge will decide if the case has merit.

"As a local matter, you have a real risk there," he said. "What you don't want to have happen is for the grand jury to be intimidated."

Smith said the grand jury needs more oversight to make sure members are abiding by the rules.

"Nobody was watching this group," she said. "Not the county counsel, that I could see. Certainly not the presiding judge."

But that's not Córdova's role, Tozzi said. He doesn't get involved until the grand jury issues its report. He reads it and can comment on it or suggest changes if he finds omissions.

"They might make an accusation about something, and there's nothing substantiated," Tozzi said. "The presiding judge might say, 'You didn't have any findings. You might want to soften your wording.'

"But he is not a part of the investigation. And that's important, since the grand jury is considered an independent body, and the county is among the entities it could investigate."

Stanislaus County Counsel John Doering said Wednesday he hadn't seen a copy of the lawsuit. Once the county is served, he said his office will determine how to proceed.

Although he doesn't recall any local lawsuits over a grand jury report, "It's not too terribly surprising. There was a lot of animosity about that report."

Denis France, foreman of the grand jury for the past two years, also said he hadn't seen the claim.

Smith is seeking "injunctive relief prohibiting any further abuses of authority," as well as publication of testimony transcripts and a revised report. She also is suing for unspecified damages.

"Legally, I'm entitled to respond," she said. "Most people write them a letter and say, 'Oh, you're wrong.' I'm unique. This is my response. This is broken, and I would like to see it fixed."

Bee staff writer Patty Guerra can be reached at or (209) 578-2343.

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Oakland plans to stop use of liens for blight

Matthai Kuruvila, Chronicle Staff Writer

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Oakland -- Oakland plans to stop its controversial practice of placing prospective liens on properties that the city's building inspectors deem as blighted, a decision that comes three months after a civil grand jury criticized the city for its code enforcement practices.

City officials placed liens on properties for tens of thousands of dollars early in the code-enforcement process - before owners had a chance to respond or appeal, instead of as a last resort.

The Alameda County grand jury report in July criticized Oakland's practice of citing owners of homes and other property for blight, finding among other things that the city had treated many people unfairly and in one case illegally confiscated and threw out all the belongings in a home. On Monday night, the city formally responded to the grand jury report, conceding that the city had overstepped its authority.

The liens had frustrated many property owners because the liens encumbered properties and made financing nearly impossible, blocking the ability for many homeowners to fix problems for which they were being cited. Among other things, liens can make it difficult to get a loan on the property. The grand jury had urged the city to stop the practice in 1999.

City Administrator Deanna Santana conceded that prospective liens may have had the wrong effect.

"Prospective liens in high amounts may have had an unintended, intimidating and punitive effect on property owners," Santana wrote in a letter to the grand jury.

Santana also said the city will do a better job in notifying property owners when there is a code violation. Many property owners discovered the city had filed a blight complaint only after a lien was already placed on their homes, according to the grand jury report.

Santana said the city will "improve its outreach," partly through better technology that is expected to be working in 18 months.

Michelle Cassens, a West Oakland property owner who has led the fight against the city's building services department ever since her home was condemned in 2009, said the city's response is inadequate.

"The inability to contact a property owner is more a fact of ignorance than technology," Cassens said.

Another problem found by the grand jury was that the city used excessive fees and fines against property owners.

In one case, the city cited a house for "trash and debris, blight," resulting in fees and fines of $18,000 and the demolition of a recreation area that had been approved more than 20 years earlier. The blight turned out to be children's toys in a yard, according to the grand jury.

Santana said in her letter that the city will produce an evaluation of its fees and compare them with other cities by the end of the year.

E-mail Matthai Kuruvila at

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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Woodbridge Sanitary District responds to grand jury report

Posted: Wednesday, September 28, 2011 12:00 am | Updated: 6:01 am, Wed Sep 28, 2011.

By Ross Farrow/News-Sentinel Staff Writer

The Woodbridge Sanitary District has filed a response with San Joaquin County Superior Court regarding a laundry list of allegations the grand jury reported in June.

The district’s response, signed by board President Doug Colucci, says that the board and staff have addressed some of the allegations and continue to work on others.

Among the responses:

The district operated properly in issuing a $1,260 check to an employee for 36 hours the grand jury maintains he did not work. The district maintains the employee worked those hours installing two pumps at the headworks of the sewer plant off Benedict Drive.
The district banned use of district tools and equipment by employees and board members for personal use. The grand jury reported that General Manager Luis Ching frequently allowed employees to use district property for personal use off-site.
District officials and their auditor will review credit cards and warrants for the past year for any suspicious charges. The grand jury report alleges that there were multiple gasoline charges on the same day, and hundreds to several thousand dollars of tool purchases monthly.
The board adopted performance standards for the general manager at the grand jury’s recommendation. Jurors said there were no such standards.
District officials did not find any information to support allegations that improper revisions were made on water quality readings to the State Water Resources Control Board.

Other allegations include hiring employees’ relatives at a higher salary than other employees, lack of employee training, lack of board policies and procedures, and little board oversight of employees.

Colucci said that he, Ching and attorney Mia Brown compiled the grand jury response. Board member Glenda Wall said the response was prepared without the entire board being able to review the response, but Colucci said the board may comment on the response at the next sanitary district board meeting on Oct. 12.

Contact reporter Ross Farrow at

Monday, September 26, 2011

Marin civic groups cash in on unusual county program

By Nels Johnson
Marin Independent Journal
Posted: 09/24/2011 04:00:00 PM PDT

Spending by Marin County supervisors who dipped into a "discretionary" account totaled $364,000 last fiscal year as board members doled out cash to a variety of charities, civic groups and pet projects.

The account, unique among counties in the Bay Area, survived budget cuts that chopped $20 million from services and required 15 layoffs last fiscal year, although spending was pared by the board, which in previous years had tapped the program for roughly $500,000.

In what one grand jury criticized as "political patronage," county supervisors set aside funding to hand out as they please for charitable and civic projects. The spending is unanimously approved each month, but rarely if ever discussed publicly, along with several dozen other matters in a routine "consent calendar" of business. Each supervisor is given discretion to spend the money as he or she pleases.

Budget records indicate that dozens of community groups cashed in last year, ranging from the Marin Community Food Bank and the Ross Valley School District to Senior Access and the Tomales Community Services District.

Board president Susan Adams, in a departure from her tradition as the board's most frugal member, was the big spender, logging a $116,000 expense. Hal Brown, absent for half the fiscal year recuperating from cancer treatments, spent the least at $43,600. Other totals: Steve Kinsey, $79,000; Judy Arnold, $71,000, and the late Charles McGlashan, $53,400.

County Administrator Matthew Hymel said there is nothing amiss with the program. "The funds really are for small, one-time community projects in the districts, and we have all the providers confirm they use the funds for said purposes," Hymel said, noting the funding has been reduced from $110,000 per supervisor in recent years.

In a deal worked out behind closed doors, supervisors decided to provide more discretionary money to those with aides who work slightly less than full time. Adams gets the equivalent of 1.8 aides and an $85,000 discretionary fund; Brown gets the equivalent of 1.9 aides and a $75,000 fund, and the other three supervisors each retain two full-time aides and $65,000 to dole out as they please. Funds not spent roll over in individual accounts year after year.

Most board members did not respond to a request for comment, but Adams said the funding promoted vital community endeavors.

"The funds help provide flexible matches for many important community projects," she said, calling it a "community services grant program, not a 'discretionary account,' which implies we personally write the checks without public process."

Adams added that "every dollar that is allocated comes before the Board of Supervisors for approval in an open public process before allocations are made." Anyone who reviews spending account details available from the county administrator can "see the public good that is provided," she said.

Adams' supervisorial foe last year, former Assemblywoman Kerry Mazzoni, called the account a political "slush fund," and the 2001 Marin County Civil Grand Jury said the program curried political favor. "Alliances are created and favors curried by reason of such payments," the jury concluded.

Individual grants last year included allocations of $10,000 each by Adams to Marin Builders Association Home and Garden Show, Community Institute for Psychotherapy, Friends of San Rafael/San Pedro Road Median, and Marinwood Community Services District ($9,660). Arnold gave $10,000 to the Novato Youth Center, and Kinsey gave $10,000 to the Tomales Village Community Services District.

Although many smaller grants were made, allocations of $2,000 or more included:

• Adams: Meals of Marin, $6,000; Marinwood Farmers Market, $3,609; Dixie School District, $3,000; Catholic Charities CYO, $5,000; Enriching Lives Through Music, $5,000; Sun Valley PTO, $3,000; Las Gallinas Lions Club, $2,175; Rotary Valley Inc., $2,500; Marin Community Food Bank, $4,611; Strategic Energy Innovations, $6,000; Venetia Valley School PTA, $5,000; Community Action Marin, $3,000; Environmental Education Council of Marin, $2,500; Boys and Girls Club of Marin and Sonoma, $5,000; Healthy Marin Partnership, $2,000; and Santa Venetia community survey, $7,000.

• Brown: Ross Valley School District, $7,500; Marin Link, $2,000; Sleepy Hollow Homes Association, $2,500; Meals of Marin, $2,000; Davidson Middle School, $2,000; Oak Manor Homes Association, $3,000; Marin Services for Women, $2,000; and Lomita Park Neighborhood Association, $3,000.

• McGlashan: Senior Access, $5,000; Performing Stars of Marin, $5,000; Marin Theater Co., $2,000; Center for Volunteer and Nonprofit Leadership, $2,500; Sausalito Film Festival, $2,750; College of Marin, $2,500; Tiburon Pensinula Foundation, $2,500; Bridge the Gap College Prep, $3,000, and Boys and Girls Clubs of Marin and Sonoma, $7,500.

• Kinsey: Slide Ranch, $2,500; Community Action Marin, $3,500; Corte Madera Community Foundation, $2,500; Bolinas Community Center, $2,500; Novato Youth Center, $5,000; Community Action Marin/Bolinas Children's Center, $2,500; Marin Organic, $4,000; Go Next Generation, $2,500; Marin County School Volunteers, $2,000; San Rafael Community Services, $3,900; San Geronimo Valley Community Center, $7,000; KWMR Radio, $3,200; Marin Education Fund, $2,000; Boys and Girls Clubs of Marin and Sonoma, $2,500; Dance Palace Community Center, $2,500; Marin Foster Parent Association ,$5,000; Home Base/Far West Fest, $2,500, and Shoreline Acres Preschool, $2,500.

• Arnold: Center for Volunteer and Nonprofit Leadership, $2,500; Community Action Marin, $2,000; College of Marin, $2,500; Novato Youth Football and Cheer, $3,000; Museum of the American Indian, $5,000; Friends of the Novato Libraries, $4,000; Zan Media, $2,000; San Marin and Novato high schools, $4,000; Novato Chamber of Commerce, $2,500, and Novato Foundation for Public Education, $5,000.

In addition to other small grants, Arnold and Brown reported $250 each to the Marin Independent Journal's Newspapers in Education program.

Contact Nels Johnson via email at

Monday, September 19, 2011

(Patterson) City Council set to take up Grand Jury response

by PI Staff
Sep 16, 2011

The Patterson City Council next week will discuss and approve a legally required response to a county Civil Grand Jury report that accused current and former council members and staff of wrongdoing.

The discussion will take place at the council's regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday, Sept. 20.

The Grand Jury report, released in late June, outlines a yearlong probe into city matters and calls for the ouster of Councilwoman Annette Smith and returned money from former Mayor Becky Campo and developer John Ramos. The state requires a response from the city — but not from the individuals implicated — by Sept. 27.

The 60-page report calls for the resignation or recall of Smith, accusing her of failing to recuse herself from a vote regarding Ramos’ legal fees while she had a financial relationship with him and accuses her of mistreating members of the public.

It demands that Campo return money from her time as mayor because she lived in a home outside of city limits during part of her tenure.

The report also chastises the council as a whole for providing a $27,000 “gift of public funds” to local developer John Ramos for legal fees he incurred while he sought to block the Del Puerto Health Center from moving to the Keystone Pacific Business Park in western Patterson. The grand jury calls for Ramos to return that money to the city.

Furthermore, it calls for the city to file a complaint with the State Bar of California against former City Attorney George Logan for various alleged offenses, including a failure to be in the room at the time that the council opted to return the money to Ramos.

The report accuses Councilman Dominic Farinha of open-meeting violations, but does not recommend any punishment.

Tuesday's meeting will take place at 7 p.m. in the Patterson City Council Chambers, 1 Plaza.

Read more: Patterson Irrigator - City Council set to take up Grand Jury response

Council members slam (Santa Clara County) Civil Grand Jury reports

by Daniel DeBolt
Mountain View Voice Staff

City Council members felt that three grand jury reports critical of the city's practices were not worthy of much discussion Tuesday night, and several members had some harsh comments.

"It's been clear that not a lot of research has taken place," said council member Margaret Abe-Koga of the Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury reports, having been questioned for another investigation into the county's Local Agency Formation Commission, of which she is a board member. "These reports are frankly unfounded in terms of facts."

The council focused its brief discussion on one of the reports, titled "Rehiring of Pensioners: Good Business, Bad Policy, or Both?" which focused on the common practice of re-hiring city employees who are also allowed by state law to draw on their retirement pensions if only working half-time or less than six months out of a year.

Two other reports focused on consolidating fire departments and emergency dispatch services in the county.

The council approved responses to the reports written by city staff, voting 6-1. Abe-Koga was opposed, saying she wanted responses from the city that were more strongly worded in disagreement with the reports findings, particularly one that said the city's early retirement age of 55 was leading to higher rates of retirees returning to work, which the city said it was in "partial agreement" with. Council member Tom Means said that finding in the report made sense.

By law, the city must state whether it agrees or disagrees with points made in the report. "Frankly, to me, this seems like an exercise. I have no interest in spending any further time on this," said Council member Ronit Bryant before motioning to approve pre-written responses to the reports, adding that they didn't "define the truth in absolute terms."

In a staff report, it was revealed that the city has 27 retired employees on the payroll among its 600 or so employees, 11 from other cities.

City staff members say retirees are hired only when necessary, on a temporary basis to finish a project or investigation, do seasonal work or fill a position until a replacement can be found. The Grand Jury report admits that "there are situations that warrant re-hiring pensioners and often it make good business sense." The pensioners do not require benefits and work for an hourly rate, saving the city money. The problem is "one of public perception," said Mayor Jac Siegel.

Council member Laura Macias was the only one to support less use of retirees. "There are so many people looking for jobs," Macias said. "If there are jobs available, maybe we should give someone who hasn't had that job a shot."

The Civil Grand Jury report says potential problems with re-hiring retirees is that retirees can "block change" in the workplace, make it difficult for new hires to establish authority and create the appearance that a favor was made to the retiree. The report also states that hiring managers expect more retirees to be hired in the future because of their cost-effectiveness.

The Civil Grand Jury found that county-wide, there are 404 retirees employed by cities and the county, out of 26,000 total employees. In Mountain View, 4.6 percent of city employees are retirees, while the average county-wide is 1.55 percent.

In one case, in Santa Clara, a retiree was found to have held a position for six years. Helene Popenhager, 2010 foreperson of the Civil Grand Jury, said she didn't "recall anything strange" about Mountain View's practices.

(Fresno) City Leaders Respond to Grand Jury Report

by Dennis Hart

The City of Fresno officially responded Thursday to a grand jury report that was critical of the independent police auditor position.

City Councilman Larry Westerlund summed up the status of the police auditor position saying it's been suspended because their is "no funding for it right now."

The city says it has temporarily cut off funding for the auditor because of budget problems, but hopes to bring it back.

This after the Grand Jury's report months ago that said the city should either increase the auditor's power or stop funding the position.

The report also said the auditor needed to be able to subpoena and to conduct his own investigations.

The city's official response, approved by the council Thursday, disagrees with that saying it's more appropriate for the district attorney - not the auditor - to conduct investigations into police actions.

The DA, however, has stopped doing that because of money problems.

Meanwhile, the man who held the police auditor position, Eddie Aubrey, left the city to pursue other jobs.

(Ventura County) Grand Jury Questions How California County Tracks School Bus Crashes

Written by Michelle Fisher
Friday, 16 September 2011 00:00

When the Ventura County, Calif., Grand Jury issued a report this week asking the county Office of Education to start keeping records on school bus accidents, local school districts scoffed at the suggestion.

Conejo Valley, Moorpark and Simi Valley school officials disagree because the California Highway Patrol (CHP) already maintains safety records and statistics on student transportation. They said that it would be wasteful to have another agency charged with overseeing bus safety.

However, the grand jury found that no agency is responsible for tracking school bus accidents in any of the 21 local districts and recommended the Office of Education assume this task.

Conejo Valley Superintendent Jeff Baarstad argued that another report would only burden the county with “a bunch of data.”

“We’ve been downsizing, especially the people who collect data. More bureaucracy isn’t going to make kids any safer,” he told the Thousand Oaks Acorn.

More than 16,000 students ride the school bus in Ventura County. During the 2009–2010 school year, there were 41 school bus–related accidents and four student bus riders were injured.

Baarstad confirmed that, in addition to the CHP’s records, school districts are required to send an annual report to the California Department of Education with the number of students who ride buses and how many miles those buses are driven in the given year.

Yet David Gale, the grand jury foreman, contended that critical safety information was missing from the CHP reports. Even though the CHP tracks school bus crashes, he said officers do not know what district the bus is from and whether the accident occurred during a regular trip to school, a field trip or a sporting event. Gale said this information is important because it could help identify problems and improve bus safety.

Ken Prosser, associate superintendent of fiscal and administrative services at the county Office of Education, said his office does not have the authority to require districts to submit accident data with details like buses’ destinations.

“Information is a good thing because it helps people make informed decisions,” Prosser said. “If there is duplicate effort, there is duplicate cost.”

In its report, the grand jury also issued a recommendation for each school district to post its school bus safety statistics on its website.

All 21 school districts must submit their responses by the end of this month. After that, the grand jury will review the responses, post them online and ask for public comment. The Ventura County Board of Education will ultimately decide whether or not to act on the grand jury’s recommendation.

(Amador) County issues grand jury response

By Matthew Hedger

The Amador County Board of Supervisors has issued a response to the findings and recommendations contained in the 2010-11 grand jury report.

Of the 18 findings and five recommendations listed by the grand jury, county leaders agreed with the jurors thirteen times, partially agreed thrice, disagreed with two of their findings, and implemented three of the recommendations.

In the area of Health and Human Services, the board agreed with jury members who said full-service partnerships and independent agencies are essential for the operation of both the health and social service departments, and that both close cooperation and communication between health, social services, the food stamp program and independent agencies are necessary for maximizing available moneys.

The board only partially agreed that a decrease in Mental Health Services Act funding should reduce core services in the health services area, with responsibilities shifting and combining among staff, resulting in a reduction of administrative costs.

A response penned by Health and Human Services head Kristen Bengyel noted that, as day-to-day work increases, necessary functions and follow-up must continue and will impact services if staffing is reduced.

“The solution lies in finding that midpoint between service provision and administration demands and maintaining it for the most efficient use of staff and timely provision of services,” wrote Bengyel.

Supervisors also agreed that some job descriptions in HHS have been blended to include a variety of duties, that both departments pursue every appropriate source of revenue and utilize every possible allocation to the last penny, and that, due to the uncertainty of both federal and state budgets, planning for future needs is made more difficult.

The board also agreed that Amador County’s “minimal allocation” status for MHSA funding based on population is less significant than for other, more-populated counties, and that the anticipated needs for an increased homeless population are unknown at this time.

A recommendation by the grand jury to consider a regional program for researching and applying for grant funding with other rural counties has been implemented, according to the official response, but recommendations to update the county’s website to reflect departmental changes and one to revise the terms of the lease of the HHS building were not.

Over at the Amador County Detention Facility, the board agreed with findings that the philosophy of Sheriff Martin Ryan’s administration is to treat inmates with dignity and to provide a safe and secure environment, although, because of overcrowding, the safety and security of staff, inmates and visitors are at risk.

Supervisors also agreed that antiquated jailhouse monitoring equipment has made it increasingly difficult to find repair personnel, that there is no longer a Community Work Crew because of staffing shortages, that booking fees reimbursed by the state do not adequately offset costs, that the sheriff’s office has continued to pursue funding for a new jail facility, and that morale of the staff is better due to the efforts to continue to try to move forward with that effort.

The board disagreed with a finding that deputies are forced to work in the jail to make up for understaffing, causing fewer deputies to be assigned to patrol duties, and that criteria used in a program to determine whether non-violent felons should be released from jail early is not being implemented successfully because the ACSO is unable to track persons once they are released from custody.

The response, written by Undersheriff Jim Wegner, said the ACSO has not and does not use deputies from patrol to supplement jail staffing needs, and that it is not the responsibility of the jail personnel to monitor inmates who have been released from custody.

Supervisors partially disagreed with a finding that classes for inmates are currently being held in the library and in hallways, with some activities no longer available because of staffing constraints.

“The Amador County jail began to annually exceed its maximum rated bed capacity in 2003,” wrote Wegner. “Due to the fact that space for today’s required programming was not factored into the original 1984 jail design, inmate programs are being provided in the halls and library as well as in the visiting area …”

The response goes on to note that regardless of space and/or staffing issues, the personnel at the Amador County Jail meet and exceed the state-mandated standards, none of which have been eliminated due to staffing constraints.

The ACSO will continue to work on the two recommendations issued in its direction by the grand jury: It will continue to pursue funding for a new jail facility and will petition the state to reimburse the total amount of booking fees due to be repaid by the state.

County rejects (Napa County) grand jury’s Lake Berryessa reports

JAMES NOONAN | Posted: Wednesday, September 14, 2011 10:01 pm

Two districts providing water and sewer service to residents at Lake Berryessa are flatly rejecting the Napa County grand jury’s assertion that the district’s are being managed illegally.

The official response comes more than two months after the grand jury released a pair of reports —one for the Napa Berryessa Resort Improvement District (NBRID), the other for the Lake Berryessa Resort Improvement District (LBRID) — challenging the legality of the Board of Supervisors’ role in managing the districts.

The supervisors — who take on the title of district director when conducting business relevant to Berryessa — should have held an election to allow district residents to serve on the board or acted simply as county supervisors managing a dependent district, the grand jury states.

Failure to do so means that the district’s resolutions, meetings and actions can face legal challenge, the jury adds.

In their response Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors — acting as district directors — defended their role in managing the two lakeside districts. The board called the crux of the grand jury’s position a “misstatement of both law and fact.”

The grand jury’s position, the response states, is based on a section of California’s Public Resource Code that describes the makeup of a citizen-based board of directors.

In issuing their findings, the grand jury overlooked the preceding sections that say a citizen-based board of directors will be formed only at the discretion of a county’s board of supervisors, the response states.

In forming the two Berryessa districts back in the 1960s, Napa’s Board of Supervisors didn’t exercise that discretion, and have still yet to do so. As such, the current form of governance is legal, according to the districts’ responses.

While brushing off many of the grand jury’s findings and recommendations, members of the district boards noted that the grand jury’s reports had already taken a toll on operations at the lake.

Director Diane Dillon said she had heard of at least one district resident who is now refusing to pay their water bill, claiming that the Board of Directors lacks legal authority to charge for service.

“It’s really unfortunate the way this process works,” Dillon said, noting that the jury has circulated its report and the district has now issued a response, but that the two sides will likely never come together to resolve the issue in the eyes of residents.

Adding to her frustration is the fact that differences in the districts’ and grand jury’s respective positions boil down to a basic reading of the state’s Public Resource Code, which Dillon said clearly supports the districts’ position.

“It wasn’t clear for me, from the grand jury’s report, that they even looked at the law,” she said.

Some residents of the lake’s southern shore — which is served by the NBRID — also seemed unhappy with the depth of the grand jury’s report.

“I was very disappointed with the grand jury’s report,” said Tracy Renee, vice chair of the six-member “transition committee” that will help oversee NBRID’s move to an independent community service district. “I just didn’t feel it was researched correctly.”

Stu Williams, chair of the transition committee, said that he felt that the grand jury failed to talk to the citizen leadership at NBRID, and if they had, might have formed different opinions of the county’s involvement.

“To the best of my knowledge, no one from the grand jury contacted the residents’ committee or the transition committee,” Williams said.

Under state law, public agencies are required to respond to grand jury findings.

Read more:

Changes in store for Oakland's blight inspection program

By Cecily Burt
Oakland Tribune
Posted: 09/12/2011 03:38:59 PM PDT
Updated: 09/13/2011 05:46:54 AM PDT

Oakland's blight inspection program and contracting procedures will have stricter controls to correct several serious deficiencies reported by the 2010-11 Alameda County grand jury, according to the city's formal response.

Overzealous building code inspectors, excessive fees and fines, and a reliance on liens as a use of force will soon be a thing of the past, according to City Administrator Deanna Santana's formal response to the report. The report is expected to be presented Tuesday to the Community and Economic Development Committee, which is over the Building Services department.

The city plans to transform its code enforcement program from one that is complaint-driven to one that proactively targets real blight and preserves neighborhoods. To accomplish that goal, building inspectors now are refocusing their blight enforcement efforts on large substandard multifamily housing and foreclosed and blighted homes, said Margaretta Lin, deputy city administrator who helped craft the city's response.

Lenders will be presented with a list of blighted properties, along with fees and fines that multiply every day they are not paid, she said. Those fines and fees will have to be paid up front so they are not passed along as tax liens to buyers of foreclosed homes, Lin said.

Within 18 months, the city will implement a centralized case management system accessible to inspectors and property owners.

The department will also develop an
appeals process and a new operations manual to make sure inspectors apply code management in a consistent manner.

To help with that, the city has signed a contract with an outside consulting firm that will evaluate best practices in other cities, and recommend alternatives to using liens to put pressure on property owners to clean up blight.

"We are making changes to be more responsive to community needs and issues," Lin said. "We definitely plan to be more customer-friendly and transparent, and more accountable."

Dale Marshall, the grand jury forewoman, said she was pleased with the city's response regarding the new database and the change from a complaint-driven system to one that responds to priority blight and neglect. However, she said next year's panel would continue to "keep an eye on" the department.

"From my point of view, it's a failure of leadership," Marshall said.

"If a leader sets out clear policies and works well with staff, then each of these appalling behaviors could be corrected. ... These inspectors were left to their own devices."

As far as the appearance of favoritism in awarding contracts, another area cited by the grand jury, the city said in its formal response that it had already changed its internal controls to increase the number of inspectors required to review and approve low bid awards. Contractor payments also must be reviewed by two additional staff members, and change orders are limited to 31 percent of the original bid. Anything above that amount must be rebid.

Lin said that the new procedures have increased the number of new contractors in the bidding pool.

The grand jury reported that blight abatement contracts were awarded disproportionately to one contractor. That contractor, Arthur Young, was previously related by marriage to Building Services manager Antoinette Renwick. According to records provided by the city of Oakland, from January 2007 through June 30, 2011, Young's company was paid $2,211,472 for 752 jobs.

The two closest competitors, C & C Construction and De Silva Enterprises, won far fewer bids. With few exceptions, those jobs were not the most lucrative. C&C won 232 contracts worth $384,707, and De Silva won 250 contracts worth $372,412.

The grand jury also noted that Young had given Renwick a 10-year, interest-only personal loan that she failed to report for two years. Renwick resigned in October and is no longer with the city. Young said that he and Renwick's sister have been divorced for more than 20 years, and he was able to win bids because he works hard and knows what he's doing. He said he bid on jobs "just like everyone else" and was not aware of receiving any type of special treatment or favoritism.

He is also bitter that he was not allowed to tell his side of the story to the grand jury before its report was published.

"I've been in business 27, 28 years. I started out with a pickup truck and I built it up," he said. "Everybody is saying that people are giving me something, but that is not true. They are saying it's favoritism, but look at my track record."

Contact Cecily Burt at 510-208-6441. Follow her at

Tulare Responds to Grand Jury Report

Written by PublicCEO
September 13, 2011

The Tulare Board of Supervisors didn't have to agree with every recommendation and finding of the Grand Jury, and they aren't going to. But most are being taken under advisement, and the County will be acting to improve services and restructure some financial practices, and review a variety of policies.

At the top of the list, the Supervisors will likely reexamine how office space is allocated and negotiated, as well as how much space is actually necessary. Also, the county's governments must decide how to continue its short-rail transit programs. If the programs are going to continue, then funding must be diversified.

The Grand Jury Report also suggested reviewing school crossings and consolidating certain departments.

From the Visalia Times Delta:

Tulare County supervisors will recommend consolidating office space used by county agencies and seek alternative funding if they want to try to preserve short-term rail lines and improved traffic markers around a rural school. These are some of the responses they have to recommendations made by the Tulare County Grand Jury in a series of reports issued earlier this year.

Guest View: Rebuttal to letter regarding (Tehama County) Grand Jury

Richard Sol
Updated: 09/13/2011 07:51:04 AM PDT

I am writing a rebuttal to the Aug. 31 letter written in the Daily News from Pat Massie Johnston. I support people and their rights to their opinions, but if they associate my name with those opinions, please get the facts right. I will not address the specific contents of the letter, but will address the incorrect or misquoted statements.

Mr. Wilkerson, the deceased Grand Jury Foreperson and I spent many hours reviewing all of the complaints brought before the Grand Jury. He never shared any concerns over a fraudulent election or cover-up. After his death I recused myself, since I am the next door neighbor of Mr. Nielsen, (as is proper protocol) of any involvement with the investigation, but the final report reflected the findings and the facts, and the Grand Jury should be commended for its effort.

While Judge Garaventa did appoint me as foreperson, I was the Pro-Tem, which was the logical and proper move. Being the next door neighbor of Jim Nielsen has nothing to do with the appointment. As for the "low rent mobile" statement, perhaps Ms. Johnston should tour the area and see his house, mine and the surrounding homes before summarizing the physicality of the area.

The letters which were passed to me after Mr. Wilkerson's death were copies of correspondence that he was in the process of making at the time of his death. He kept no secret files, nor did he keep any information from the Grand Jury, as was implied. I coordinated with the secretary St. Elizabeth Hospital Sports Medicine Program
of the Grand Jury to make sure that we responded to those complaints. Furthermore, I published all of the citizens' complaints in the Final Report. The only ones not published would be those determined not to meet the criteria for further action on the part of the Grand Jury.

County Counsel provided legal support to the Grand Jury. They reviewed those matters and cases brought before them by the various Grand Jury Committees. They would advise us on cases that were turned over to the District Attorney's Office for criminal action or on those cases that lacked merit or were matters out of the scope of the Grand Jury.

In the case regarding Mr. Nielsen, County Council provided the specific California law which was used in the summary of the investigation which sited "a residence is a domicile and a domicile is a residence." After its thorough review, the Grand Jury report concluded there was "no merit" to the claims made regarding Mr. Nielsen.

Lastly, as a good citizen, I took my job seriously as Grand Jury Foreman. I felt it was my civic duty to do the best job possible. During the turnover from the outgoing 2010-1011 Grand Jury to the incoming 2011-2012 a statement was made to the incoming members that, in fact, a County Grand Jury has no jurisdiction over state employees and cannot investigate a state employee. The statement was not made by Judge Garaventa and was quoted out of context.


Richard Sol lives in Gerber.

Tulare County responds to Grand Jury report

Tulare County supervisors will recommend consolidating office space used by county agencies and seek alternative funding if they want to try to preserve short-term rail lines and improved traffic markers around a rural school. These are some of the responses they have to recommendations made by the Tulare County Grand Jury in a series of reports issued earlier this year.

On Tuesday, the board is expected to approve formal responses to some of the Grand Jury's reports on the following topics:

ª The Tulare County Association of Government's proposal to use $3 million in money raised through the Measure R sales tax to preserve the East Side Rail Line.

ª A review of the county Resource Management Agency's practices.

ª The safety of roadways and intersections near rural schools in the county.

ª Possible financial waste by the county leasing office and storage space.

ª A look at Tulare County jails and detention facilities.

The Grand Jury reviews the activities of county and city agencies, along with special districts, based on suggestions or requests for investigations from the public. Its members — all volunteers — also can initiate the reviews.

Those agencies reviewed can formally respond to the findings and recommendations of the Grand Jury. Here are some of the county's responses:

ª The Grand Jury suggested that some high-yield crops raised by county jail inmates be traded for other high-yield crops raised by jail farming programs in other counties. County officials said that they haven't found similar programs with which to trade. Still, the supervisors say they'll review the matter.

ª Tulare County should negotiate more favorable leases on office space and consolidate agencies to use less office space and reduce costs.

The county already negotiates lease prices based on the median price for comparable properties, the supervisors respond.

In addition, they state that they have a long-term goal to consolidate and they've set guidelines that agencies receiving county general fund money should be in county-owned buildings.

If a decision is made to preserve short-rail lines, the Tulare County Association of Governments and its members agencies should obtain funding other than Measure R dollars to purchase and repair those lines, the Grand Jury suggested.

Representatives from the county and TCAG are working with the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, rail companies, shippers, and federal and state government agencies to seek such funding, the supervisors respond.

ª The supervisors will not follow the Grand Jury's recommendation to separate the county's code compliance division from its zoning and building inspection division.

"The RMA [Resource Management Agency] maintains and continues to recommend that a separate code compliance division is not practical due to current economic conditions," according to the board's response.

Board members also will not follow the Grand Jury's suggestion to form an independent task force with the county chief administrative officer to monitor RMA's performance. A task force isn't warranted, they say, because RMA's director provides regular updates on his department's performance.

ª School crossings where "SLOW SCHOOL CROSSING" painted on the pavement and crosswalk lines are fading and hard to see by drivers will be repainted within the next six months.

RMA also will review unmarked crossings to see if pavement markers should be added and check around rural schools to determine if school pedestrian signs are missing.

Our view: Grand Jury should investigate (Monterey County) Youth Center

The escape of eight young inmates this week — all known gang members — raises a host of questions about how Monterey County incarcerates dangerous youth.

Any argument about the real threat they pose would seem weak in light of the 10 bodies loaded into body bags on Salinas streets from gang shootings this year alone.

By the Probation Department's own acknowledgement, many in the Monterey County Youth Center are housed for violent crimes. Yet the gang members escaped by throwing a chair through a window — hardly a secure-sounding facility.

The Probation Department plans an internal investigation to answer the question, "How could this have happened?"

Not to sound flip, it happened by youth throwing a chair through a window. The question that should be asked is: "What do we need to do to ensure the safety of the public?"

An internal investigation is indeed in order, but we suggest the magnitude — both in the number of escapees and their violent gang affiliations — requires nothing short of a county Grand Jury investigation.

As of this printing, police and sheriff deputies have not apprehended the youth. Potentially there are eight more young triggermen at large ready to spray Salinas streets with bullets for little more than bragging rights.

Perhaps it's time to re-examine the threat level these youth represent.

The city of Salinas has sought the advice of experts at the Naval Postgraduate School on anti-insurgency techniques it uses to battle terrorists. That speaks volumes.

Should an investigation — internally, by the Grand Jury, or any other outside agency — disclose that security levels at the Youth Center are far too lax for the young but dangerous inmates held there, we urge the county to act swiftly to protect the community while these offenders are winding their way through the juvenile criminal justice system.

Officials defend (San Francisco) Central Subway

With the Central Subway under attack just as it nears the federal funding finish line, city officials and business leaders launched a counteroffensive Wednesday, praising the project and attacking its critics.

In a press conference at the project's headquarters on Howard Street, Ed Reiskin, executive director of the Municipal Transportation Agency, and project manager John Funghi were joined by Jim Lazarus, senior vice president of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, and David Nadelman, president of the Union Square Business Improvement District.

Reiskin and Funghi defended the Central Subway against its critics, including the San Francisco Civil Grand Jury. Most of the criticism, which has been rekindled by the mayor's race, is the same old stuff being rehashed.

"The questions addressed in the (Grand Jury) report have been asked repeatedly," Funghi said. "It's good to ask, but they've been answered. It's time to move on."

Lazarus lambasted the project's opponents for "politicizing" the project "just because of a mayor's race."

The $1.6 billion project is counting on winning a $942 million full-funding grant agreement from the Federal Transit Administration. MTA officials, who believe they're on track to get the agreement, will submit their final application next week and could hear late this year or early next year if they get the funding guarantee.

Reiskin noted that the project was just awarded $20 million in federal New Starts money, a pot of competitive funding that's hard to snag. He said the project has survived several levels of federal review and that the Central Subway "came through the process as one of the nation's top projects."

Critics have said the project has poor connections to BART and other Muni Metro lines, has already swelled in cost and is so short in length that it isn't worth the price.

But city officials say it will serve the densest and most transit-dependent part of the city, replacing the slow-moving 30-Stockton bus line with a light-rail subway that will connect Chinatown with downtown, South of Market and (incorporating the T-Third line) run out Third Street to Visitacion Valley.

- Michael Cabanatuan

Polling data: Appointed Mayor Ed Lee is maintaining a commanding lead in his bid to be elected to a full term, securing 31 percent of first-choice votes with none of the other serious contenders earning more than 8 percent in the first round, according to a recent poll conducted for his campaign.

The poll by Benenson Strategy Group shows Lee winning after an unspecified number of rounds under the city's ranked-choice voting system, securing 51 percent of the vote while his closest competitors are still below 15 percent.

In that scenario, the three closest runners-up were state Sen. Leland Yee finishing at 14 percent, City Attorney Dennis Herrera at 13 percent and Public Defender Jeff Adachi with 12 percent.

The poll covered 700 likely voters and was conducted Aug. 15-17 - after Lee was blistered for a week by some rivals for abandoning his pledge not to run and for his ties to former Mayor Willie Brown and Chinatown powerbroker Rose Pak.

"They all combined their fire on Mayor Lee at the same time, but they're all just shooting blanks," said Tony Winnicker, Lee's campaign spokesman.

The poll by Joel Benenson, who was President Obama's lead pollster during the 2008 presidential campaign, found that 46 percent of respondents think San Francisco is going in the right direction, with 37 percent saying the city is on the wrong track.

The Benenson poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.

Other polling around the same time has shown Lee with a similar lead.

- John Coté

Read more:

El Dorado Hills Fire Department disputes grand jury's budget criticism

By Carlos Alcalá
Published: Thursday, Sep. 8, 2011 - 12:00 am | Page 3B

The El Dorado Hills Fire District issued its response Wednesday to June's El Dorado grand jury report, challenging the idea that its employees were too highly paid for a low volume of fire calls.

The district's response – by administrators, board and the firefighters' association – disagrees with some of the grand jury's findings, but mostly points out ways in which the district has already done what the investigative body suggested.

"Almost 90 percent of those changes had occurred in the department before their report was released," said Dave Roberts, El Dorado Hills fire chief.

The district worked to bring salaries and benefits into line, and has eliminated unnecessary job categories mentioned by the grand jury, according to the response.

For example, the district's most recent contract "has modified the education incentive pay and changed it from a percentage of salary to a flat stipend," the response says.

The response also charges that data used by the grand jury for comparisons with other fire departments were inaccurate, relying on surveys instead of documents like bargaining agreements.

"We actually went out and got the hard facts," Roberts said.

The revisions show the district in a better light.

Roberts did not dispute the idea that the district needed a leaner budget.

"We knew we had to save some money," he said.

He did take issue with two assertions in the June report, including a finding that the district hadn't met its budget.

The grand jury report's first sentence reads: "A County official advised the Grand Jury that the El Dorado Halls Fire Department (EDHFD) was overspending its budget despite receiving a disproportionate amount of property tax revenue."

"The District has not overspent its budget in any year," countered the district in its response.

At times, it budgeted expenditures above the level of revenue, but that was planned spending, Roberts said.

"That's what we've been saving for," Roberts said.

The fire district is in a unique situation as a special district, which gives it revenue rates not enjoyed by other agencies in El Dorado County, something the grand jury suggested might be remedied.

"The Proposition 13 tax revenue allocation to EDHFD needs to be re-evaluated," the grand jury recommended.

The district disagrees.

"Our tax rate is something we're going to protect as long as we possibly can," Roberts said.

Steve Baker, last year's grand jury foreman, could not be reached Wednesday.

Read more:

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

City staff rejects (Yolo County) grand jury's findings on response billing

Dino Gay
• Mon, Sep 05, 2011

In typical fashion for this outgoing city manager and his staff, they won't admit to any faults in doing the people's business – in this case they reject the following findings of the Yolo County Grand Jury investigation into the City of Woodland's emergency response billing program:

• City Ordinance No. 1506 deprives“responsible” parties of their due process rights, as the billing process does not provide proper notice or a formal method of contesting findings of responsibility.
• “Responsible” parties are treated inequitably, depending upon their insurance coverage.
• Billings are linked to insurance policy language.
• City Ordinance No. 1506 is a form of double taxation for Woodland property taxpayers.
• Record-keeping by both FRUSA and WFD is inadequate and is not auditable.
• The time it takes WFD personnel to gather and submit pertinent data does not make economic sense given the important public safety demands on their time.

City staff admits in the report that the contract for the program has not met its financial goals. The report also states, "While staff continues to support response billing, members of the City Council have expressed some concerns regarding whether or not the program should continue. In recognition of these concerns, the City Attorney has drafted an ordinance for introduction on September 6 that would repeal Sections 9-12 and 9-13 of the Municipal Code related to user fees for emergency services." Funny how these city council concerns can be polled with no regard to the Brown Act... but that maneuver is also typical of this staff.

San Joaquin County can’t afford new morgue

Posted: Tuesday, September 6, 2011 12:00 am | Updated: 7:07 am, Tue Sep 6, 2011.

By Ross Farrow/News-Sentinel Staff Writer | 0 comments

San Joaquin County Sheriff Steve Moore said he agrees with the grand jury that a new morgue is needed, but there isn’t enough money in the county budget to build one.

The San Joaquin County Grand Jury determined in a report released in June that the morgue is small and outdated for a county with more than 640,000 residents. Built in the 1930s and converted into a morgue in the mid-1980s, the building can fit 23 bodies and six more in temporary storage, according to the grand jury.

“The (sheriff’s office) agrees with the grand jury’s recommendation to build a new facility,” Moore said in his official response to the jury. “A request for a new morgue was submitted via this year’s budget process for an estimated $35 million for construction. Unfortunately, the current budget situation precludes that from happening.”

Moore also talked with Stanislaus County about operating a joint morgue in Ripon, which is just north of the Stanislaus County line, but the project fell through because of the economy.

The Board of Supervisors officially approved Moore’s response last week.

Moore reported that the sheriff’s office has replaced an awning over the front door to the morgue because it had dry rot. The staff also relocated jars with a substance called formalin, which the grand jury described as carcinogenic and a hazard for people who work at or visit the morgue.

The formalin jars were moved from the autopsy suite to the columbarium, Moore wrote. Due to Occupational Health standards, the morgue staff now wears badges detecting formalin twice a year, with the results sent to the hospital to determine whether exposure levels are acceptable.

The last analysis, received by the sheriff’s office on July 25, showed that the formalin exposure was within safe levels, Moore reported.

Contact reporter Ross Farrow at

Diaz: San Francisco plans a subway to ... somewhere

For years, San Francisco's plans to build a 1.7-mile subway from South of Market to Chinatown have glided forward with an air of inevitability, even as the route changed, cost projections soared, ridership estimates shrank and the dream of eventually extending the line to Fisherman's Wharf evaporated into pure fantasy.

The question that just about anyone in power in San Francisco prefers to avoid - is this still a good idea? - is about to become a prominent issue in the mayor's race.

Until now, only candidate Tony Hall, a former supervisor who has remained on the margins as the field of 11's Last Angry Man, has spoken out forcefully against the Central Subway.

The dynamics of the issue - and perhaps the mayor's race - change dramatically with City Attorney Dennis Herrera's conclusion that a recent civil grand jury report is right: The city needs to hit the pause button on a project that could rival Boston's "Big Dig" as an example of government waste.

Herrera's criticisms are significant in that he, as most of the city's establishment, has supported the project as it moved through the planning and design process for the past eight years.

"The plan that is on the boards now ... has ceased to be a prudent investment," mayoral candidate Herrera said in an interview Thursday. He planned to punctuate his opposition in a news release this week.

What changed his mind? Herrera cited the grand jury's report of the escalating cost - from $650 million in 2003 to $1.6 billion today - and the prospect that the city would be on the hook for any further cost overruns. He said the promise of a subway that would blend seamlessly with Muni and BART has been altered, partly due to engineering complications, into what the grand jury noted was an alignment that would serve Chinatown but leave passengers three football fields away from connections to transit on Market Street. He also noted that operation and maintenance of the 1.7-mile subway is projected to cost cash-strapped Muni $15 million a year.

Another top-tier candidate for mayor, Public Defender Jeff Adachi, last week expressed skepticism about the subway plan in the wake of the grand jury report.

"It seems like knowing what we know now ... this would be a bad deal for the city," Adachi said, suggesting the grand jury has raised "enough flags" to merit city hearings before asking for a federal funding commitment.

Actually, if the Central Subway becomes a major issue in the mayor's race - as Herrera's and Adachi's comments suggest it will - this train still could be stopped in its tracks. While San Francisco has spent about $180 million in planning and design - and is currently relocating utility lines at Union Square in anticipation of the tunnels - this project is not happening without the federal government's agreement to cover its share of nearly $1 billion. The city is scheduled to submit its application for a full-funding agreement from the Federal Transportation Administration this month, which would be followed by 60 days of congressional review.

The election of a mayor who campaigned against the Central Subway would almost certainly give Congress, especially the Republican-controlled House, all the reason it needed to halt federal support.

Ed Reiskin, the city's new transportation chief, suggested it would be a huge mistake to retreat from "an investment for the generations" when San Francisco was on the brink of securing federal funds for the bulk of construction costs. He expressed confidence that the $1.6 billion price tag was conservative, with little or no chance that the city would be socked with overrun costs.

"We have to build the capacity for the future," Reiskin said. "If downtown San Francisco becomes pure gridlock, then San Francisco doesn't work."

While Herrera maintained that his concerns were substantive - about leadership and sound public policy - the politics of the issue also offer delicious opportunity to draw votes from the left and right. A vigorous debate about the Central Subway inevitably would lead to a focus on interim Mayor Ed Lee's relationship with ex-Mayor Willie Brown and Chinatown powerbroker Rose Pak, two chief proponents of the project, and their allies who have enjoyed a slice of the contracts to date. It also would put Lee in the position of defending a potential boondoggle, undercutting his attempt to portray himself as a fiscal hawk. An added bonus to Herrera: It casts one clear policy distinction from state Sen. Leland Yee, a rival for the progressive voter bloc.

With Herrera and Adachi stepping forward in opposition, the Central Subway could become a defining issue in a campaign of 11 serious contenders that, to date, has mostly rested on platitudes and "me toos."

This is a civic debate that is overdue and necessary.
Central Subway: Visionary investment or big boondoggle?


construction cost:

-- 2003: $650 million

-- Today: $1.6 billion

Who pays?

-- Federal government: $983 million

-- State government: $471 million

-- City: $123 million*


-- 1.7 miles

Projected completion

-- 2019

*City is responsible for any cost overruns.

John Diaz is The Chronicle's editorial page editor. E-mail: Follow him on Twitter: @johndiazchron.

Read more:

City responds to (Mendocino County) grand jury report on redevelopment agency agencies

Ukiah Daily Journal Staff
Updated: 09/07/2011 12:00:03 AM PDT

City manager prepared to defend every person's salary'

The Daily Journal

The City of Ukiah prepared a response to a Mendocino County Grand Jury's report on local redevelopment agencies and will present it during the Ukiah City Council meeting tonight.

The cities of Ukiah, Willits and Fort Bragg and the county have redevelopment agencies, and in a finding not identified as specific to the Ukiah Redevelopment Agency, the grand jury notes that "employee salaries are paid with redevelopment agency funds disproportionate to the time spent on redevelopment agency business. More than one redevelopment agency employees' salary and benefits are paid 100 percent with redevelopment agency funds, even though they do not perform 100 percent redevelopment agency business."

The Ukiah Redevelopment Agency pays 100 percent of the salary of the city's project and grant administrator, Guy Mills, as well as 50 percent of City Manager Jane Chambers' and 80 percent of Assistant City Manager Sage Sangiacomo's.

"We are prepared to defend every person's salary," said Chambers when asked about the report, explaining that Mills' work on the Ukiah Skate Park and Anton Stadium renovation (neither project uses redevelopment funding) applies as redevelopment-related because "I consider those developments for the community."

In its official response, the city notes that it has "implemented a project/program code system that is utilized to track staff hours on redevelopment activities."

The grand jury also recommended that the Ukiah Redevelopment Agency and other local agencies "establish citizen advisory committees to allow for greater public input and oversight."

The grand jury describes those committees as groups that: collaborate "with the agencies throughout every step of the redevelopment process, from identifying a project area to construction and project completion," and "ensure that projects reflect community needs and priorities, and keep other community members informed about the progress of the project."

In its response, the city states that the Ukiah Redevelopment Agency "has and will continue to utilize both formally appointed committees and other groups of community members for public input, and in some cases oversight, to ensure that the projects/programs of the agency reflect the community needs and priorities."

The grand jury also recommended that the redevelopment agencies "partner with their local Code Enforcement Agency to compel owners of blighted properties to comply with Health and Safety Codes," and that "cities and counties develop alternative revenue streams to replace anticipated redevelopment agency revenue losses."

The city responds that the Ukiah Redevelopment Agency "has and will continue to work closely with code enforcement staff in the (city's) Planning and Community Development Department, Fire Department and Police Department," and that it will "continue to evaluate expenditure reduction measures and alternate revenue streams."

The grand jury reported that this year, the Ukiah Redevelopment Agency will pay the state $2.1 million of tax increment. The agency's anticipated revenue for 2010/11 was $808,288, with $640,401 for salaries and $66,247 for operations and maintenance.

Some past and present Ukiah Redevelopment Agency projects include: the Alex Rorabaugh Gymnasium and Activity Center; Redwood Business Park infrastructure; Orchard Avenue Bridge; 322 units of affordable housing (between 1990 and 2007) and the Downtown Beautification Project.

The city will present the report during tonight's Ukiah Redevelopment Agency meeting, which will follow the City Council meeting beginning at 6 p.m. in the council chambers at 300 Seminary Avenue.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Editorial: Support Mendocino County Grand Jury Recommendation

Ukiah Daily Journal Staff
Updated: 09/05/2011 07:15:26 PM PDT

We appreciate Supervisor John McCowen's willingness to continue on his own to pursue an ordinance regulating medical marijuana dispensaries in the county now that none of the other supervisors either can or will help out. (Dan Hamburg was right to step aside since his daughter is looking to open a dispensary).

McCowen has an ordinance ready and waiting for comment. It was drawn up more than a year ago but shelved. The 2010-11 Mendocino County Grand Jury cited it in its own call for an ordinance and we think it is a fine starting place.

In fact we like that proposed ordinance as it is written with some recommended changes:

The age for marijuana dispensary employees ought to be raised from 18 to 21.

No one convicted of any felony - not just a "violent felony" as written in the ordinance - ought to be able to own or operate a marijuana dispensary.

We would add that anyone ever convicted of illegal marijuana cultivation should be barred from owning or operating a dispensary.

We would not allow the use of marijuana on the premises of any dispensary.

We would add a provision to the section in which dispensary owners must outline their energy sources for indoor marijuana cultivation to require that they also identify a legal and appropriate source of water for that cultivation.

We don't find in the ordinance as written provision for the sale of edible marijuana products. We believe that those products and their sale should be subject to whatever food safety and health rules are required for any business that cooks, creates or packages food products.

Finally, we believe marijuana dispensaries should be outlawed on any main business street of any town in the county where there is but one primary commercial avenue. Commercial zones in some small towns are very limited and we believe the main drag in the small towns in our county are not a good fit for dispensaries, where other small businesses are depending on tourism and where entire populations of people, including children, shop and hang out.

Like many other aspects of marijuana regulation, this county can lead the way into the future by creating an ordinance now that should satisfy both the medical marijuana sellers and the community at large. We think with some simple changes, the ordinance already on the table can be quickly enacted.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

McCowen sets Sept. 9 for (Mendocino County) medical marijuana dispensary meeting

Ukiah Daily Journal Staff
Updated: 09/01/2011 11:59:44 PM PDT

Mendocino County 2nd District Supervisor John McCowen on Thursday announced he will hold a meeting in September to begin crafting an ordinance to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries in the county.

McCowen and 5th District Supervisor Dan Hamburg were appointed in July to draft the regulations. Hamburg stepped down last month after announcing that his daughter is looking to open a dispensary, citing a desire to avoid a conflict of interest. The committee was disbanded when none of the three remaining county supervisors stepped up to take Hamburg's place.

"The board then gave approval for me to work independently with the community to develop draft dispensary regulations for the full board to consider," McCowen wrote in a Thursday statement.

He continued, "My intention is to work with the community to draft a model ordinance that balances the needs of patients and their caregivers to have safe access to medical marijuana, and the needs of residents and the community to be protected from public health, safety and nuisance impacts. A model ordinance can also help bridge the gap between rural and urban counties and discourage black market diversion and harmful environmental impacts."

The meeting is scheduled from 2 to 4 p.m. Sept. 9 in Conference Room C at the Mendocino County Administration Center, 501 Low Gap Road in Ukiah. McCowen stated it will be the first of several such meetings to be held at locations throughout the county.

The meeting's purpose is "to gather input on the range of issues that the public would like to see in a dispensary ordinance," according to McCowen.

The Mendocino County civil grand jury noted in its report this year that all an entrepreneur needs to open a medical marijuana dispensary is a business license.
Ten dispensaries exist in Mendocino County, and law enforcement officials stated previously that few, if any, complaints have been lodged.

McCowen writes, "The lack of problems has caused some to question the need for regulation. But others have expressed concern about the locations and conditions under which dispensaries may operate. Still others, including some within the medical marijuana community, see regulation as a way to provide greater legitimacy and stability."

Anyone who wishes to speak at the September meeting will be asked to fill out a speaker request form and to limit "initial comments" to three minutes per speaker to allow all other speakers a chance to speak. A roundtable discussion may follow if time allows after initial comments, according to McCowen's statement.

Written comments of any length may also be submitted. Formal minutes will not be kept, but a volunteer will take notes to be distributed to anyone who requests a copy.