Thursday, May 31, 2012

California bill allows grand jury for financial crimes

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California's attorney general could convene a statewide grand jury to investigate financial crimes that cross county lines under bills approved in the state Assembly and Senate.

The legislation unanimously passed Wednesday is part of a package of consumer-protection bills that Attorney General Kamala Harris pursued in response to the mortgage crisis.

Sen. Loni Hancock, a Berkeley Democrat, says a statewide grand jury is needed when mortgage fraud crosses jurisdictions and involves multiple victims.

Bankers oppose other parts of Harris' package, but have not taken positions on SB1474 and AB1763.

Another bill approved Wednesday, AB1950 by Democratic Assemblyman Mike Davis of Los Angeles, extends the statute of limitations for prosecuting mortgage fraud from one year to three years.

The bills now go to the other house.

(MARIN) Grand jury urges Marin supervisors to provide for a county morgue

By Nels Johnson - Marin Independent Journal

Marin County officials should provide for a county morgue when they remodel the Marin Commons building as a public safety facility, or provide space for a morgue at the Hall of Justice when the sheriff's department moves to the Commons, according to the civil grand jury.

The jury weighed in on the morgue issue in its latest report, saying that until space is found for a permanent morgue, the county should have all autopsies performed at the Napa County Morgue, which now is used by Marin for homicide and suspicious death cases.

In a process the panel called "inconvenient and inefficient," autopsies are rotated among three local funeral homes, where 115 exams took place last year at a cost of $110,000 despite minimal security and conditions that are sometimes "less than desirable."

The jury noted that grand juries in 2001 and 2009 urged establishment of a morgue, but little was done. A $1.75 million county fund to set up a forensic facility and morgue in a San Rafael building was used instead as part of the payment for the Commons building at 1600 Los Gamos Road in San Rafael.

"It has been 12 years since the first recommendation was made and Marin County still has no morgue facility," the jury noted. "The Marin County Civil Grand Jury must ask: 'Why?'"

The jury called a county plan to designate and equip one local funeral home as an autopsy site a Band-Aid approach and noted officials hope to contract with one local funeral home this summer after reviewing bids.

The jury reported that conducting all autopsies at Napa's morgue would cost $225,000, but the "benefits of the safety, security and cleanliness from using the Napa County autopsy suite far outweigh the additional cost."

Because building a new morgue would be too expensive, either the Marin Commons building or the space being vacated at Civic Center when the sheriff moves to the Commons would be "ideal locations to put a county morgue," the jury concluded.

"The civil grand jury believes the Marin County Board of Supervisors should approve retrofitting a Marin County-owned space for a morgue in either the Marin Commons building or the Civic Center. In the interim, the civil grand jury recommends using the Napa County Morgue for all autopsies."

County Administrator Matthew Hymel, attending a training session Wednesday, and Sgt. Keith Boyd, who manages coroner operations for Sheriff-Coroner Robert Doyle, were not immediately available for comment on the jury report, but Doyle said he doesn't think the proposal makes financial sense.

"In a perfect world it would be nice," he said. "It would probably cost a couple million dollars," far more than contracting with Napa for the work, the sheriff-coroner added.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

(San Diego) ENCINITAS: Grand jury faults storm drain strategy

By CHRIS NICHOLS - North County Times

The San Diego County Grand Jury on Tuesday urged the city of Encinitas to create a comprehensive plan to improve storm drains in flood-prone Leucadia.

"Leucadia's existing storm water infrastructure is inadequate to handle the chronic rainwater flooding along Highway 101," the jury said in a press release announcing its latest report.

Leucadia is a beach community located in the city's northwest, west of Interstate 5.

Low-lying spots along Orpheus Avenue are prone to flooding, and have led at least one resident to call the area "Orpheus lake" when the rain falls.

Citizens on county grand juries serve as watchdogs of city and county government. They conduct investigations and issue reports to which agencies are required to respond.

The jury recommended a project to relieve runoff that collects at Roadside Park, Leucadia's lowest point. That would require drilling a drainage outlet west through a bluff allowing water to empty onto the beach, the jury said.

The jury also suggested the formation of a special tax district to fund Leucadia drainage projects.

Reached by phone on Tuesday, Encinitas Mayor Jerome Stocks said the city would issue an official response in coming weeks.

But he balked at the idea that Encinitas should embark on a big fix, given the city's limited resources and relatively little rain. He added that the city has made smaller, adequate fixes in Leucadia.

"The city has definitely made incremental storm drain improvements and they have been effective, without question," the mayor said.

Stocks said crews have installed new storm drain pumps with grinders to prevent debris from clogging city pipes. The city has also required that new development include underground tanks to collect storm drain runoff.

"Is it the ultimate, end-all, be-all storm drain solution? Probably not. But the city has a limited amount of money and a truly limited amount of rain," the mayor said.

He added that the city received no flooding-related property damage reports after the last several heavy rain storms.

Stacey Siebert, who calls the area where she lives on Orpheus Avenue "Orpheus lake" when it rains, said Tuesday that a new gutter along the avenue improved drainage about two years ago, but seems to have stopped working.

"I don't really think it's all that (bad)," added Siebert, a sales clerk at a pottery shop in Encinitas.

"I think if they just took a snake and cleaned the drain out, like you do at home, that would solve it," Siebert added with a laugh.

Doug Coomes, owner of the Palm Company not far from Orpheus Park in Leucadia, said dealing with flood water "is part of life out here."

"If they (city officials) want to spend more money, spend it on parks. There aren't enough parks for kids in the city," Coomes said.

The grand jury's complete report on Leucadia's storm drains can be found at:

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Ventura County taxpayers paying twice for sheriff's academy, grand jury says

By Jean Cowden Moore - Ventura County Star

Taxpayers are being charged twice for a sheriff's academy paid for with community college bond funds, the Ventura County Grand Jury said Friday.

Voters agreed to pay for the academy when they approved Measure S in 2002. That measure provided funding for the Ventura County Community College District to build the sheriff's academy and a fire academy next door, as well as other buildings on its three campuses.

Now, taxpayers are paying for the sheriff's academy again because the Ventura County Sheriff's Office is leasing the building from the district for $124,488 a year, the grand jury says in its report.

The reason, according to the grand jury, is that the sheriff's office and college district couldn't agree on how to staff the academy — whether the instructors would be sheriff's deputies or college instructors. Originally, the sheriff's office had agreed to pay the district $1 a year to lease the building. The office also agreed to provide instructors and furniture.

"The sheriff wanted it staffed the way it had traditionally been staffed — with deputies," said David Gale, foreman of the grand jury. "Because they couldn't agree, it seems the taxpayers are paying for it, and that doesn't seem right."

But Sheriff Geoff Dean said the two agencies had settled the instruction issue. The college district's decision was financial, he said.

"I would like to see a reversal of the fees we're now paying," Dean said.

In a letter responding to the report Thursday, James Meznek, chancellor of the district, challenged some of the grand jury's findings, saying that the lease did not have to be approved by voters.

In its report, the grand jury also recommends the district and sheriff's office revert to their original agreement, so the sheriff pays only $1 a year in rent. The fire academy next door uses college instructors and pays little or no rent, Gale said.

"It would be nice if they could get together and approve a curriculum and not double charge the citizens of Ventura County," he said.

The two agencies now have 90 days to respond to the grand jury report.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

(San Diego) Grand jury suggests suspending Rock Church's permit

Traffic problems raise issue of land use for building approved only as a school - by Aaron Burgin, U-T San Diego

The Rock Church in Liberty Station has a well-documented parking and traffic problem on Sundays, as thousands of parishioners flood the area to attend worship, grinding traffic to a halt on several streets in its vicinity.

The traffic issues are at the center of numerous complaints and a multi-million dollar class-action lawsuit against Liberty Station’s developer, Corky McMillin Companies.

Now, the San Diego County Grand Jury is calling for the city to suspend the church’s permit, review it and determine if the church actually fits the plan that governs development in the area.

In a five-page report, the 19-member civil courts panel that reviews local government issues details the finding of its investigation into how the church was granted a permit in its current location, the site of the old Technical Training Center at Service School Command San Diego.

The plan that governs development on the grounds of the old Naval Training Center calls for an educational complex where the church is located. The city granted the church and its companion K-12 Academy a permit in 2005.

“The Grand Jury believes the city issued a (permit) to a church in an educational zone in violation of these planning documents,” according to the grand jury’s news release.

The church, founded by Rev. Miles McPherson, a former Chargers defensive back, relocated from its previous Serra Mesa location to Liberty Station in 2007. Since the move, the church’s attendance has grown from 9,000 to 12,000 congregants who attend one of five church services on Sunday.

The school has over 400 students.

The traffic has become so bad that police determined that Truxtun Road, a main street in the Liberty Station community, should be closed to vehicular traffic on Sundays. Neighbors, shoppers and visitors to the community’s recreation areas have complained that the traffic makes it impossible to move around when Truxtun Road is closed.

Church officials in the past said they have worked to address concerns, including by increasing the number of traffic controllers and by posting “No Rock Church Parking” on certain residential streets. They have also placed security staff and and a tow truck in one of the lots to make sure that churchgoers park in the assigned areas.

The church also contends that the permit only limited traffic on weekdays, not the weekend.

Church officials said they would comment later today on the report. The Watchdog has also called the city for comment and will post when it arrives.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Santa Barbara Civil Grand Jury finds problems with how jail staff handled 2011 suicide


The Santa Barbara Civil Grand Jury found that jail staff could have done a better job to prevent the suicide of a 29-year-old man who died in 2011, in a report released on Thursday.

The inmate was found in his bunk with a plastic bag over his head, with his left foot on the floor and his arm hanging over the bed. He was lying on his back facing the front of the cell and his head behind an alcove wall.

Although jail staff checked on the inmate, who was in an isolation cell throughout the day, the civil grand jury determined that staff did not do enough to make sure the man was breathing or that they could see his head to even make that determination.

When the deputy noticed that the man had a clear plastic bag over his head he quickly entered the cell. Staff hands out meals in plastic bags and the bags are also distributed for trash pickup.

A deputy also found a piece of vinyl fabric wrapped around the dead man’s mouth and tied together at the back of his head.

The inmate apparently tore the cloth from his mattress.

The grand jury determined that there was no accountability for who is given a trash bag and how it is picked up.

Video cameras in the hallways also were not filming the day of the man’s death so the grand jury could not see if deputies attempted to communicate with the man before he died.

The grand jury recommended that the jail do a better job to track the distribution of plastic bags; that there be an attempt to immediately wake an inmate if a deputy cannot tell if he is breathing; that inmates’ heads are always in plain view and not hidden behind walls; that the jail include 24/7 video monitoring; and that mental health staff review inmates’ history and background to determine if there is a need for a suicide intervention.

From 2009 through 2011 14 people had attempted suicide. The only death was in July of 2011.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

(Santa Barbara) Supervisors move forward with county homeless services merger


With the number of homeless people in Santa Barbara County steadily increasing, greater efforts are being made to aid this segment of the community.

On May 15, the homeless issue came before the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors once again. Due to a sluggish economy, a weak job market, and the effects of California Legislature A.B. 109 (legislation to address prison overcrowding), homeless-related problems have made a recurring appearance before the board.

A 2011 Santa Barbara County Grand Jury report on recidivism of the homeless, mentally ill, and indigent noted that there’s no county entity to coordinate public and private resources needed to aid the homeless community.

According to a plan recently brought forward by 3rd District Supervisor Doreen Farr, homeless services groups Bringing Our Community Home, Common Ground of Santa Barbara, and the county’s homeless advisory committees have helped come up with a new model that will consolidate homeless services and provide solutions to the issues listed in the jury report.

The supervisors unanimously voted to conceptually approve the merger and asked staff to come back to the board with a plan to implement the county’s role in the new collaborative structure for the 2012-2013 fiscal year.

A letter issued by the board stated that diminishing resources make communication among private, nonprofit, and government sectors more important than ever in the face of increased homelessness.

Current services contain isolated government-, nonprofit-, business-, and community-based programs that don’t utilize collaboration, the supervisors said in the letter.

“Communication has been weak,” said Mike Foley, director of Casa Esperanza Homeless Shelter and co-director of Bringing Our Community Home.

According to the letter, the new model will establish an infrastructure that allows for policy-making, coordination, implementation, and an evaluation of services. The model includes a council that will create policy and establish long- and short-term goals, while a coordination committee will establish priorities and address policy needs.

At the center of this new model is the county-coined “air traffic controller” position, referencing a person who will collaborate with the coordinating committee, interface with the community, and reach out to treatment and shelter providers.

These consolidation efforts would contribute to Bringing Our Community Home’s Ten-Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness, and reports show that it would also save the county a lot of money.

The county’s mentally ill and homeless recidivism cost analysis report stated that by setting a goal to reduce homelessness by 5 percent or by providing housing for 300 individuals, the county could save approximately $3 million per year.

Foley said that with the political will and funds in place, efforts to reduce homelessness should be even more successful.

This new consolidation plan will be sent to homeless services organizations in Santa Maria, Goleta, and Lompoc for review, with the first meeting of the collaborative committee expected to take place in 30 days.

“We are very excited to be moving forward,” Foley said.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

(San Diego) Grand jury: Bullying common on police review board

Written by Kristina Davis - U-T San Diego

The county grand jury investigating San Diego’s police citizen review board uncovered an atmosphere rife with “prejudice, fear and intimidation,” and determined that bullying and a lack of decorum impairs the board’s ability to be a true watchdog on police practices, according to a report released Tuesday.

The nine-page report cites a number of factors that contribute to the ineffectiveness of the board, including a “weak” central leadership, the strong influence of police internal affairs investigators and a prejudiced appointment process for board members.

Jay Goldstone, the city’s chief operating officer, said in a statement that the city is open to feedback and suggestions about ways to increase effectiveness. He said the Citizens’ Review Board on Police Practices is already addressing some of the concerns, including holding a meeting about decorum and re-opening the pool of prospective members to recruit diverse candidates.

“The CRB is a competent, hard working board with many diverse voices providing impartial oversight of investigations and responses to citizens’ complaints against officers,” Goldstone said.

Police Chief Bill Lansdowne said he supports the board and how the mayor’s office runs the program.

The board’s 23 volunteer civilians review citizens’ complaints against the San Diego Police Department. The mayor appoints new board members but only after the current board recommends them, allowing prejudice and personal bias into the process, the grand jury report says.

The board, established in 1988, typically reviews investigative reports already completed by the Police Department’s internal affairs unit and ultimately agrees or disagrees with the findings. The board is not authorized to conduct its own investigations nor does it have direct access to people making complaints, witnesses or officers involved in the cases.

The report depicts a confrontational working environment where intimidation, threats, yelling and cursing are routine.

Past and present board members who were interviewed for the report told the grand jury that internal affairs investigators would argue, lecture and sometimes bully board members leaning toward dissenting on cases. One person told the grand jury that if a member continued to disagree, that person was then branded as anti-police.

The report also found that internal affairs personnel are routinely allowed to attend closed session meetings in which the board’s findings are debated and rendered.

This practice may have started as early as 1993, when the board recommended allowing internal affairs investigators into a meeting to familiarize themselves with the process, according to a memo uncovered by the grand jury. It is now customary, the report states.

While the legality of allowing nonmembers in closed sessions may be argued, the report says the state Attorney General’s Office takes the position it generally should not happen.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

(Kern) Grand Jury Slams Lebec Water Board—Twice

The Mountain Enterprise

LEBEC, CA (Monday, May 21, 2012 at 10:30 a.m.)—A second report this morning, the third in a series regarding the Lebec County Water District, has been released by a special committee of the Kern County Grand Jury.

The report is extremely critical of the current members of the LCWD board. Sample statements: "The Committee finds the lack of forward progress by the District Board and lack of concern for the District’s customers problematic. The Board’s primary focus does not appear to be running the District in the best manner possible for the public that the Board serves." and "...The District’s Board of Directors is fraught with self-serving members...."

The grand jury recommends that "Board members who consistently fail to comply with the District’s policies and/or their own responsibilities as members of the Board, should either obtain formal training on those matters and conduct themselves accordingly, or resign from the Board."

LEBEC, CA (Monday, May 21, 2012 at 9 a.m.)—In a carefully worded and detailed account issued this morning, a Kern County Grand Jury special committee has called the controversial actions of two former members of the Lebec County Water District Board of Directors' part of "a self-created emergency" to expedite installation of a 12" line without following legal procedure.

The report speaks of a "false statement" used to justify action requested by developers, but which skirted around required county and state inspections, ignored the district's own procedure manual and defied California's Ralph M. Brown Act. It also notes that a member of the current board, married to one of the former board members who acted outside the law and outside district procedure, should recuse herself in matters related to the district's adoption of the 12" line.

So far, board member Millie Karr has refused to recuse herself and has pushed to accelerate the new board's adoption of the 12" line.

The report also warns that homes in Chimney Canyon may be at risk if a fire being fought near the Holiday Inn Express Hotel —using water from the 12" line—were to deprive firefighters of sufficient water to also protect the homes above the hotel site.

Monday, May 21, 2012

(Santa Barbara/San Luis Obispo) State prison inmates add to SB, SLO county jail problems

By Brian Bullock - Staff Writer - Santa Maria Times

County jails on the Central Coast are overcrowded, understaffed and insufficient for the inmate population forced into them by Assembly Bill 109, according to reports from both the Santa Barbara County Probation Department and the San Luis Obispo County Grand Jury.

State legislators and Gov. Jerry Brown signed AB 109 into law in 2011 in response to direction from the U.S. Supreme Court to reduce over-crowding in the state’s 33 prisons. The legislation designed to reduce inmate populations in state prisons has forced more offenders into county jails which is exacerbating problems in those facilities.

“AB 109, or public safety realignment, brings the most significant changes in state corrections and the criminal justice system in over 30 years,” Santa Barbara County Chief Probation Officer Beverly Taylor told the county Board of Supervisors last week. The first six months has resulted in a considerable increase in work load due to this shift in responsibility, requiring a change as to how business is done.”

Taylor said the changes range from simple forms to overhauling the courts sentencing structure. Impacts of those changes will ultimately affect the courts, the Sheriff’s Office, Probation Department, and both the District Attorney’s and Public Defenders offices.

Lt. Charles Powell, in Santa Barbara, said the influx of AB 109 inmates has the Sheriff’s Department scrambling to provide both housing and services. He said the county had projected an overall increase of 125 inmates as a result of AB 109, which kicked in Oct. 1 last year. It is now housing 189 additional inmates, 50 percent more than originally anticipated.

“Our average daily population in the jail is increasing dramatically and we’re really struggling with how to deal with that type of population,” Powell said.

SLO overcrowded too

Similarly, the San Luis Obispo County Jail, which the State Board of Corrections says can hold 518 inmates, had 660 on Oct. 31 following the transfer of AB 109 inmates.

The women’s jail is inadequate for the numbers of inmates it’s seeing, too. When there are more than 40 inmates, some women are forced to sleep on mattresses on the floor, the grand jury report said.

The report concluded that “overcrowding at the jail is a continuing observable fact, particularly for women inmates. Staff and inmates agreed that the inmate population is increasing at the jail due to the state realignment mandate.”

Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said AB 109 has added to problems of an already overcrowded county jail. He said the jail’s average daily population is 938 inmates in a jail with a capacity rated for 788.

Brown said the jail is operating at 119 percent of capacity, when it should be at 88 percent.

“Our jail remains significantly inadequate for our own county population, let alone for the additional inmates whose responsibility we have now taken on as a result of AB 109,” Brown said, adding the incoming inmates have forced the early release of other inmates.

So far this year the county has released 266 offenders early, compared to 220 at this time last year. He said many AB 109 inmates cannot be released early, so the incoming inmates are forcing the early release of many offenders into electronic monitoring programs.

Brown said the department is rapidly running out of inmates who would be considered for early release.

Santa Barbara County has seen a 70 percent increase in the number of inmates on electronic monitoring programs. Among them are 15 AB 109 inmates.

Powell said the courts, along with the Probation and Sheriff’s departments, are working on thinning the jail population with alternative sentencing.

The San Luis Obispo County Grand Jury also concluded that “costs and workload for inmate services are increasing, particularly in the area of medical and mental care.”

Hiring a slow process

Providing some of those services in Santa Barbara County has been exacerbated by a delay in hiring additional custody officers and contracting with local agencies for drug and alcohol services.

Hiring additional custody deputies has also proven to be a challenge for the Sheriff’s Department, according to Brown. Because of the exhaustive hiring procedures, which include a battery of tests, background checks and a 10-week academy, many deputies aren’t ready to go to work for six months to a year after beginning the process.

Brown said he doesn’t expect the jail’s staffing level to get much better. During the recent process of trying to hire 23 new custody deputies, 15 others have left the department either through retirements or other job opportunities.

The county has received more than 50 applications from state correctional officers who were laid off because of AB 109. But Brown said doing background checks on these officers, who may have worked at several different facilities, is slow at best.

The Santa Maria jail hasn’t been much help in relieving inmate overcrowding. And Brown said he doesn’t expect the department to get any additional funding in the county’s 2012-13 budget to keep the jail open any more than the part-time hours it currently keeps. With just 20 beds the Sheriff called full-time beds, it wouldn’t thin the inmate population enough to make a big difference.

Support programs hard to find

The county’s effort to get some low level offenders — non-serious, non-violent, non-sex offenders which Taylor called NX3s — out of jail and into treatment programs has also been slow.

Taylor said the county has contracted with the Good Samaritan Shelter for services in Lompoc and Santa Maria, but added that finding other programs has been difficult because they either don’t meet county standards or are already at capacity.

San Luis Obispo County faces an additional problem with patients from Atascadero State Hospital being transferred to the jail. The grand jury report found that two-thirds of the inmates are on prescription medication, which increases the workload for jail personnel.

Taylor said while the courts haven’t yet felt the impact of AB 109, they are working with corrections and law enforcement by moving to sentences that feature both incarceration — in shorter lengths — and supervised release programs.

Ultimately the success or failure of public safety realignment rests with money from Sacramento.

“The assurance we have is the governor’s commitment to the funding and it is included in the proposal that he’s putting on the ballot for this fall,” said Chandra Wallar, Santa Barbara County chief executive officer.

Supervisors to consider operating Grizzly Creek park; county to inspect, submit (Humboldt county) grand jury responses

Megan Hansen/The Times-Standard
Posted: 05/20/2012 02:15:34 AM PDT
Grizzly Creek Redwoods State Park might be saved from closure if the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors votes Tuesday to enter into an operating agreement with the state.

The county's public works department has developed a plan to operate the park for a year, starting next week, in partnership with the California Department of Parks and Recreation and the Save the Redwoods League. The park comprises 459 acres of land along State Route 36 between Fortuna and Bridgeville.

According to a staff report, the Save the Redwoods League would provide the funding for the county to operate the park and its campground. The county already operates the Van Duzen County Park, which is adjacent to Grizzly Creek. The report states the goal is to make taking on the management of the state park a cost-neutral endeavor.

Public works is proposing the county charge a $25-a-day camping fee and a $5 day-use fee. It's estimated the cost of running the park will run about $95,000 for one year. Staff have estimated the park could generate about $55,000 to $65,000 in revenue. The Save the Redwoods League would bridge the gap.

In addition to discussing park management, the supervisors will review and possibly modify responses from county departments to the 2011-2012 grand jury report. The jury made recommendations in regard to water sampling techniques, building improvements to public safety departments and problems with the former community development services department. The various county departments have replied to these responses in written form, as mandated by the jury.

During the afternoon session, the supervisors will hold a continued public hearing on the proposed formation of the Humboldt County Tourism Business Improvement District.

In March, the supervisors passed a resolution declaring their intent to form such a district. The district would collect a 2 percent tax from hotel and lodging businesses. The tax would be charged to a customer's bill for each night spent in a local hotel, and the funds would be used to promote tourism in the county.

The activities of the proposed district would be conducted by the Humboldt Lodging Alliance -- a special interest group aimed at creating a unified voice for hoteliers, innkeepers and property managers.

In addition to conducting a public hearing, the supervisors will receive an update from the county administrative officer on the development of an ordinance aimed at outlining the proper uses of county property as it relates to protests and assemblies.

The board directed the CAO in January to work with the city of Eureka, law enforcement officials, members of the Occupy Movement, the Humboldt County Human Rights Commission and historical users of the courthouse in developing regulations.

For the complete board of supervisors meeting agenda and supporting documents, go online to

Sunday, May 20, 2012

(San Luis Obispo) Grand jury says water rate ideas snubbed - Current jurors examined the fate of past jury suggestions with mixed results

By Bob Cuddy - The Tribune

Public water providers throughout San Luis Obispo County largely rejected recommendations from a previous county civil grand jury regarding rate structures, billing and water conservation, the current grand jury said.

“The grand jury encountered total rejection of the idea that cities and districts, which base sewage fees on water usage, should inform users of that practice,” the current grand jury wrote.

“A recommendation that individual apartment water usage should also be metered was also rejected across the board,” it added in a chapter called “rate setting as a water conservation tool.”

In all, 17 of 31 recommendations on water usage were rejected out of hand and eight more are yet to be implemented.

Conversely, 16 of 24 recommendations made by the previous grand jury to improve restaurant inspections have been implemented, the current grand jury said.

The information was contained in an analysis by current grand jurors seeking to find out how much weight their institution carries with those it investigates as part of its efforts to improve local government.

The current grand jury released the analysis last week under a headline that said “Responding to the Grand Jury: Some Agencies Implement Recommendations Effectively, Others Obfuscate and Delay.”

The 2010-2011 grand jury issued 10 reports, which called for 83 responses to recommendations made by the previous grand jury to seven agencies.

Of the 83, 34 have been implemented and 16 have yet to be implemented.

Thirty-three were rejected by the agencies being scrutinized.

The county Environmental Health Agency made substantial changes to its food inspection system, following the recommendations of the previous grand jury. Those included revised inspection forms.

The grand jury said restaurants still need to post inspection notices in prominent places, and the county should make its inspection website more user friendly.

The grand jury also looked at recommendations made by the previous grand jury to the city of Atascadero regarding its police chief; emergency medical helicopters; the South County Sanitation District; e-called for 83 responses to recommendations made by the previous grand jury to seven agencies.

Of the 83, 34 have been implemented and 16 have yet to be implemented.

Thirty-three were rejected by the agencies being scrutinized.

The county Environmental Health Agency made substantial changes to its food inspection system, following the recommendations of the previous grand jury. Those included revised inspection forms.

The grand jury said restaurants still need to post inspection notices in prominent places, and the county should make its inspection website more user friendly.

The grand jury also looked at recommendations made by the previous grand jury to the city of Atascadero regarding its police chief; emergency medical helicopters; the South County Sanitation District; e-government at the county; and the Paso Robles Bearcats.

The report can be found on the county website.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

(Kern) County Supes respond to Grand Jury report

By Stephanie Forshee - Daily Independent

The Kern County Board of Supervisors (BOS) responded this week to a Grand Jury report filed in February.

The Administration and Audit Committee received two written complaints and numerous verbal questions and comments from citizens regarding activities and expenses incurred by members of the BOS - regarding questionable discretionary fund carryover, travel expenses, transportation and safety.

With the exception of four items, the BOS said that the Grand Jury’s findings are substantially correct.

The BOS disagreed on a statement regarding the FY 2009-2010, which read: “Oversight exercised over the SDF [Supervisors’ Discretionary Funds] is lax or non-existent’ is inaccurate.” The BOS argued that “expenditure of the SDF is in compliance with all County policies and procedures related to accounting or procurement processes.”

While the Grand Jury stated the opposite, the BOS stands that the Grand Jury was provided a detailed listing of expenditures from the SDF. The report was also corrected on two factual errors such as the location of the BOS’ official meeting place and that the Second District Supervisor does not currently maintain an office in Tehachapi.

In its response to the recommendations, the BOS replied: “The first recommendation is to appropriate 50 percent of each Supervisor’s discretionary fund allocation as a contingency fund and the remaining 50 percent be allocated to the Supervisor who would then submit a written request stipulating the purpose, cost and estimated date of completion for a project to the Board for approval, and to institute an annual formal review of long term programs/project identified by the Supervisors. For budgeting purposes, appropriating the Supervisors’ allocations in any percentage to either a contingency fund or a budget unit achieves the same result as the status quo, restricting funds for the Supervisors’ projects. Funds that are not used in any given year roll over in the General Fund carryover balance and still require Board approval during the budget process to appropriate for the next fiscal year.

“In complying with all County policies and procedures, many of the expenditures from the discretionary funds are presented to the Board for approval with notification of the funding source. The remaining expenditures are accomplished through established and audited interdepartmental charging procedures. The Supervisors’ allocations and potential projects are reviewed frequently as priorities change and allocations are redirected. The County has provided information on these projects upon request and will consider preparing an annual recap.”

The BOS also stated that it is in the process of developing a policy for “office bases” - Supervisors’ remote office locations.

In response to concern over mileage accrued for committee members and that some accrue more than others, the BOS explained how the Chairman assigns supervisors to committees: “The incumbent supervisor should be reappointed unless that supervisor provides notification to the chairman that his/her option for reappointment will not be exercised...In the event that the incumbent supervisor has relinquished his/her right to reappointment, the most senior supervisor requesting to serve on the committee, commission or board should be appointed...Should the chairman choose to deviate from the recommended procedure provided...a majority vote of the Board is required to confirm the appointment.”

Friday, May 18, 2012

(San Diego) Grand jury says county should adopt uniform fee guidelines for schools

By GARY WARTH - North County Times

The San Diego County grand jury is recommending, in a report released Thursday, that all area school districts follow uniform regulations and training guidelines to ensure that no illegal fees are charged to students.

The report comes more than a year after a lawsuit against the state was settled, with California officials vowing that schools should do more to prevent students from being charged for activities and equipment that should be free.

According to the grand jury's findings, school districts throughout the county have a clear understanding of what should be included in a free education, but part-time coaches and volunteers sometimes remain uncertain about the rules regarding when fees can be charged and what should be free.

"In this report, there isn't anything really out of line," foreman John Lewis said Thursday. "We're just asking for continuity and streamlining throughout the county."

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the state in 2010 accusing California of letting public schools charge fees for activities and materials in violation of the state constitution, which mandates a free public education.

The ACLU cited cases of schools charging for athletic and cheerleading uniforms, summer school programs, transcripts and other items or activities that should be free.

In an agreement to the lawsuit, the state said officials must do more to make sure schools aren't charging students for "educational activities," and legislators must define exactly what that term means.

The ACLU lawsuit named Temecula Valley Unified in Riverside County as an example of a school district charging fees for activities that should be free. An ACLU report released in 2010 also named the Vista Unified and San Dieguito Union districts in San Diego County as examples of districts that violated the law.

The San Dieguito district was accused of charging students to take advanced placement tests to receive college credit for high-level courses, and the Vista district was accused of charging transportation fees to high school students who participate in extracurricular sports.

Lewis said the grand jury investigation included interviews with officials from Carlsbad Unified, but he did not recall if other North County districts were contacted.

"Overall, all teachers and administrators understand what needs to be done, but sometimes people slip through the cracks," Lewis said.

Problems occur because schools often have a high turnover in their parent volunteers and part-time coaches, and the new people often do not understand the rules, he said.

San Diego County Superintendent of Schools Randolph Ward has 90 days from Thursday to respond to the jury's recommendation to develop and administer countywide uniform regulations and training guidelines regarding fee structures. Lewis said the superintendent can agree or disagree with the recommendation; the grand jury has no enforcement power.

Copies of grand jury reports can be found at the grand jury website,

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Marin grand jury supportive of San Rafael's red-light cameras

By Jessica Bernstein-Wax (Marin Independent Journal)

San Rafael's red-light cameras have increased traffic safety and motorist awareness downtown, according to the Marin County civil grand jury.

In a report released this week titled "Red Light Cameras: Big Money, Big Brother or Big Safety?," the grand jury found the number of traffic accidents decreased at northbound Irwin Street at Third Street and on westbound Third at Irwin, where the cameras are mounted, and that criticism of the cameras is largely unfounded.

"The Marin County Civil Grand Jury concludes that red-light cameras constitute a viable safety option for the reduction of red-light intersection accidents, but only when they are used in conjunction with creative city planning, constant reviews of traffic flow and continued use of other innovative traffic distribution options," the report said.

It cited San Rafael police statistics indicating that accidents decreased 12 percent in the program's first fiscal year of operation at the intersections with cameras. In addition, the grand jury said pedestrians, bicyclists and dog walkers interviewed for the report "almost universally perceived that red-light cameras at dangerous intersections provide a significant increase in safety for themselves" and their animals.

The report also discounted critics' arguments that right-turn violations should carry a lesser penalty and that cities are aggressively ticketing motorists simply to boost their revenues, among other allegations.

"A national economic analysis showed that red-light cameras saved society $39,000 to $50,000 annually at each intersection where they were installed," the report said. "That number may not be monumental but neither is it trivial — especially to those drivers and pedestrians not injured as a result of adequate enforcement."
Grand jury foreman and Novato resident Michael Chernock noted that, when issuing citations, San Rafael calculates violators' speed based on 85 percent of their actual speed.

"They've gone out of their way to make this thing as clean as it can be," Chernock said.

San Rafael City Manager Nancy Mackle said city officials wouldn't comment on the report outside of the formal response process.

In January the San Rafael Police Department reported that the cameras were used to issue 3,075 citations from Jan. 1 through Dec. 15, 2011. In 2010 that number was 4,188 for the entire calendar year.

Arizona-based Redflex Traffic Systems Inc. set up the system for free and charges the city a monthly fee of $5,900 per intersection approach. However, if the program doesn't draw enough revenue on tickets to cover those costs in a given month, Redflex rolls over the deficit to the next pay period, the police department said.

Red-light cameras around the state and country have garnered criticism on a range of issues. In California, critics have focused on the price of tickets, which cost violators about $450 apiece in San Rafael, with about $140 going to the city; the large number of motorists cited for "rolling" right turns, which many consider less dangerous than other red-light violations; the questionable reliability of evidence from a camera rather than a police officer; and that private companies benefit financially from citations.

San Rafael's five-year contract allows for up to 10 cameras, and Mayor Gary Phillips said earlier this year that the council will be discussing whether to expand the program in coming months. City officials said the item may come before the council as soon as July.

"We have the two (cameras) so we should have some sense of effectiveness and receptivity so we can make a decision as to whether that's the right number and maybe it's none, maybe it's 10," Phillips said Wednesday, noting that he hadn't reviewed the grand jury report yet.

Gary Kauffman, a San Rafael attorney who has represented a number of clients in red-light camera cases including retired KGO Radio and ABC7 personality Dr. Dean Edell, said the report fails to address "the basic unfairness in denying a person the right to confront their accusers in these photo red light cases.

"A Phoenix, Arizona corporation called Redflex just gives a police officer who did not witness anything a video and digital photos of a person driving through an intersection, and he testifies that he thinks they show a violation," Kauffman said in an email. "The average person does not know that this evidence is objectionable and should not be used against them at their trial."

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

(Contra Costa County) Knightsen, Byron school districts draw grand jury's attention

By Rowena Coetsee - Contra Costa Times

In a recent countywide report on school boards' compensation, Knightsen and Byron stood out for reasons that district officials say could be misunderstood.

The school districts were among 18 that the 2011-12 Contra Costa County grand jury examined in its analysis of what school members received in stipends, health benefits and other perquisites the previous year. The report also included the county Office of Education and the Contra Costa Community College District.

Byron Union School District was mentioned in the grand jury report for the $8,067 it spent on board members' travel and training last year -- the highest by far of any school district. It does not, however, pay any other compensation.

Knightsen School District, meanwhile, doesn't pay its five board members for attending meetings and the $9,326 it spent on them overall in 2010-11 was the least among all districts. But Knightsen is the county's second smallest district with an average daily attendance of 477 students last year, which means that its board compensation amounted to $19.55 per student.

Calculated that way, the per-capita expense places the K-8 district squarely at the top of the list; Walnut Creek School District ranks a distant second with its board compensation equating to $10.66 per student.

"It makes Knightsen look like we spend a lot of money on our board," Superintendent Theresa Estrada said.
By comparison, the collective compensation of Mt. Diablo Unified's school board members works out to $2.86 per student -- but the district is also the largest in the county with an average daily attendance of 32,293.

Grand jury foreman Lloyd Bell says he and his colleagues broke out the data this way simply to provide another basis for comparison.
If one looks only at total board compensation, "West Contra Costa (Unified) would look way out of proportion," he said of the $86,502 that district spent on its trustees.

Bell reiterated the report's summary, which notes that the grand jury's intention wasn't to criticize or condone any district but merely to let the public know how much its elected school officials are receiving.

"We weren't trying to present the data to highlight any one thing, but ... so that a comparison could be made and discussion could start from there," he said.

School districts were a logical focus given that the previous grand jury had examined city councils' compensation, Bell added.
Nonetheless, government agency watchdogs might question the expense considering that Knightsen School District is deficit spending, has eliminated music instruction, and hasn't given teachers or classified employees raises this year or last.

Moreover, the number of people on the payroll has remained the same since 2008-09 and it's not going to change in the coming fiscal year, said Business Manager Teresa Sidrian.

"We're pretty tight -- we've just been hanging on," she said.

The district's board-related expenses last year were limited to health benefits, which only two of its five trustees receive: Dorothy Walter had vision and dental coverage that cost $941, and Franklin Dell's medical and dental premiums totaled $8,385.

Walter did not respond to requests for comment.

Dell, however, said he accepted the insurance when he joined the school board eight years ago so he could take advantage of a board policy allowing him to add his wife to the plan. She pays the district $600 per month for the coverage, according to district officials.
Dell believes that the additional health insurance he has through Medicare is adequate for his needs, so he says he'd be perfectly happy to opt out of the school district's insurance plan as long as his wife can find an alternative safety net.

Serving on the school board was never about the money, he added.

"I didn't join it to get benefits," Dell said. "I got voted in not realizing there were any benefits other than the kids. I didn't expect anything."

In Byron, the $8,067 it spent on board members' travel and training last year, was $2,762 more than the next highest district, the much-larger Liberty Union High School District. The report noted that the board average was $2,601 for such expenses.

Although it doesn't compensate them for attending meetings or offer health, retirement and life insurance benefits, all five board Byron board members attended a California School Boards Association training conference in San Francisco in December 2010 on the agency's dime.

One trustee also received additional CSBA training at a cost of $1,600.

By contrast, the board has incurred $341.93 to date this year in the training-and-travel category, said Bev Nicolaisen, assistant to the superintendent.

Byron School board President Elaine Landro doesn't have a problem with the report, but also noted that she and fellow trustees already follow the grand jury's recommendation to confirm that their travel and training costs are necessary.

In fact, they do this before incurring these expenses, Landro said, adding that newcomers to the board need to know the basics of administering a school district that such conferences provide.

The grand jury report also advised districts, Byron and Knightsen included, to conduct an annual public review of everything they spend on school board members and discuss whether changes are warranted.

In addition, the grand jury concluded that as part of this discussion Knightsen and the seven other districts that provide health care benefits should decide whether these costs are justified.

Monday, May 14, 2012

(Santa Barbara) Grand Jury must investigate LHCDC

Carol Benham/Common Sense and Candor | Posted: Sunday, May 13, 2012 12:00 am

After more than 16 months of researching Lompoc Housing and Community Development Corp. —its missing audits, its deteriorating, unsanitary housing for low-income residents and its failure to abide by regulations governing the use of public funds —I’ve come to the conclusion that only the Santa Barbara County Grand Jury can thoroughly investigate the many questions that remain unanswered.

The city of Lompoc, the County of Santa Barbara, and even the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development —the source for millions of dollars of federal funds LHCDC received —have something at stake if a comprehensive investigation is undertaken into why the oversight and monitoring of this public benefit nonprofit was so faulty. You could say they each have skin in the game.

It will take an entity with the authority and power of subpoena to force facts out of the shadows LHCDC has been allowed to operate in for far too long. It will take the power of subpoena to penetrate the protective shield still preventing a serious inspection of its financial records, and investigate the reasons it was permitted to fail to comply with regulations and contractual obligations for so long. It will take the power of subpoena, and the independence of the Grand Jury, to obtain the testimony of current and former city and county employees, elected officials and LHCDC Board of Directors to uncover the truth.

There is much that needs to be uncovered:

n Why did the nonprofit continue to receive funds after it failed to submit required annual audits? Was it lax oversight, incompetence, or was pressure applied to ignore the missing audits?

n Why did the city approve a loan to refinance an LHCDC low-income housing property in 2005 that allowed LHCDC to pull out $500,000 in cash for its own use when it was two years behind in audits at the time, a fact a city councilwoman noted for the record when she voted no?

n Why did the county approve a refinancing of a low-income housing property in 2008 that had failed to achieve its mandatory affordability certification required by law because LHCDC failed to provide the necessary data? Were county supervisors informed the housing property was noncompliant with federal regulations before they were asked to allow LHCDC to take $472,000 from the refinancing? If not, why not? Was it lax oversight, incompetence or was pressure applied to ignore the noncompliance?

n Why did the city and county allow LHCDC to stop complying with mandatory requirements to provide annual data on its rental rolls and tenant income eligibility for rent-restricted housing? Was it lax oversight or was there pressure to look the other way?

n Why did the city allow LHCDC to ignore repeated requests to improve conditions at its low-income housing properties that were observed during city inspections? Why were funds intended to remove blight allowed to create blight?

n Did LHCDC’s Board of Directors fail their fiduciary responsibility to oversee the use of public funds by the organization and monitor the performance of LHCDC staff? Did they know conditions at some properties were in violation of state building, health and safety codes? Did they know tenants complained of having no heat, no working oven, inoperable smoke detectors, mold, sewage problems and other unhealthy and unsanitary conditions?

n Did a county employee inappropriately mix her dual positions as assistant to the 4th District Supervisor and as president and vice president of LHCDC Board of Directors for many years? There is documented evidence that the employee conducted LHCDC business on county property, during workday hours, while using her county title. Did the mixing of roles contribute to the failure to enforce compliance with regulations by county staff?

All these questions, and many more, need answers. Accountability for using public funds designated for a community purpose — to provide decent housing for low-income residents, shelter the homeless, reduce blight and expand economic opportunities — is not a trivial matter. Nor is it a matter of politics, or personalities or campaigns.

Our community has been ill-served by LHCDC and by those who looked the other way when regulations and requirements and missing audits were ignored. We’re still being ill-served by those who seek to sweep LHCDC and issues of oversight and accountability under the rug.

For our community’s sake, we need the members of the Grand Jury to provide the independence, perseverance and authority to unravel the facts of this tangled, convoluted mess that is still shrouded in too much secrecy. It could happen again if we don’t seek accountability and answers in our own back yard.

Lompoc resident Carol Benham is a former reporter and news editor for the Lompoc Record and the Santa Maria Times. She can be reached at

Friday, May 11, 2012

Thousand Oaks City Council decreases impound fees

Report by Ventura County grand jury leads to change

By Kyle Jorrey

Individuals who’ve had their cars impounded in Thousand Oaks in the past three years for driving without a license or driving on a suspended license are entitled to an $80 refund, the City Council decided Tuesday.

In response to a report by the Ventura County grand jury, the council voted 4-0 to decrease its non-DUI vehicle release charge from $300 to $220, removing an $80 administrative fee that went to support the Smart Start youth driving program offered by the California Highway Patrol and the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office. The report found that the administrative fee Thousand Oaks was charging to support Smart Start and other traffic safety programs in the city was not allowed under the state vehicle code. Thousand Oaks is the only city in the county to collect such a fee.

The council also agreed to provide a refund to anyone who was charged the fee since it was instituted on July 1, 2009.

“As soon as it was pointed out that it was inaccurate to do, we changed it to $220,” TOPD Cmdr. Randy Pentis told the council.

Those who have been charged the fee will receive a letter offering a refund, he said. The city owes about $40,000 in refunds, Pentis said.

The grand jury is made up of county residents and is responsible for investigating the various departments and special districts of the county and city government. In a report that came out in March titled “Vehicle Impound Fees in Ventura County,” the grand jury found that Thousand Oaks had the highest non-DUI vehicle release fee in the county. The average fee for the county is $137, according to the report.

“While (Smart Start) is an excellent program, the law doesn’t allow them to charge a fee for that item,” said David Gale, grand jury foreman. “Cities can’t charge for anything that’s not related to the release of the vehicle.”

The Smart Start fee was intended to provide the program with help in preventing future and new drivers from having their driver’s licenses suspended or revoked.
Gale commended the City of Thousand Oaks for acting swiftly to remove the fee and for agreeing to issue refunds, an action not requested by the grand jury.

"I think (the city) is to be commended,” he said. “They didn’t realize what they were doing was against the law. Now they realize it and they’re making the correction, so good for them.”
Gale added that Thousand Oaks officials were cooperative throughout the course of the grand jury’s investigation, which lasted several months.

“They . . . answered all our questions,” said the foreman.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Trinity grand jury wants answers in timely manner

Posted: Wednesday, May 9, 2012 6:15 am
By Sally Morris The Trinity Journal
In a report just released entitled “Over Due Under Done” the Trinity County grand jury is seeking more complete and more timely responses from county department heads, the Board of Supervisors and other entities when they’ve been subject to grand jury investigations.

The report notes that California penal code clearly states what the content of responses is to be and sets forth the time limits: 60 days from the report filing date for departments/agencies and 90 days for governing bodies. Once all responses are received, they are compiled into a final report for publication and made available to the public.

A standing continuity committee of the 2011-12 grand jury found that of 20 responses required in the past year, 11 were done in a timely manner and two of those were asked to be resubmitted. Of the remainder, two responses were more than 90 days late; two were 280 days past due and five have not been received at all.

The grand jury attributes the violation to the absence of a tracking system between the primary entities involved in the process, including Court Services, the Board of Supervisors chairman and the County Administrative Officer.

Its recommendation is to identify and correct the reasons reports are not being responded to within the mandated time frame, claiming the lack of compliance impedes the grand jury process.

The grand jury also found that copies of responses are not being provided to the grand jury at the same time they are provided to the Superior Court as required by county policy.

In conclusion, the grand jury recommends that Court Services, the Board of Supervisors chairman and the CAO work in conjunction to create an interconnected tracking system that will facilitate the timeframe requirements being met. All three are required to submit responses to the latest report.

The Board of Supervisors last week appointed Sup. Judy Pflueger to draft the board’s response. She commented that the report is lacking in specifics and it will be difficult for the board to respond to insufficient information that requires further analysis.

Fire board considers (San Mateo) grand jury report

Posted: Thursday, May 10, 2012 10:49 am
by Mark Noack

Like night and day, board members for the Coastside Fire Protection District offer starkly different interpretations of a damning San Mateo County civil grand jury report released last month.

At a special meeting this evening, Coastside fire board directors will discuss how to respond to the report and its conclusions admonishing the district to end consideration of dumping CalFire. The state fire agency has managed local fire services since a contract was adopted in 2008.

The question of whether CalFire has saved money and improved service levels goes to the heart of a long-simmering and often bitter debate within the district leadership. A three-man board majority began pushing in December to investigate how to return the district to a stand-alone department.

Board member Gary Riddell is adamant that service levels have deteriorated while costs have risen under CalFire. He dismisses the grand jury report, which reached the opposite conclusion, saying it wasn’t put together by firefighting professionals and didn’t include data he delivered to them. The only thing the report got right was “the page numbers,” he said.

“The reality is we got ripped off, ripped off for years,” he said. “This report is more muddying the water than it is truth, and no one knows right now what the truth is.”

The grand jury report largely praised CalFire for meeting and exceeding response time, staff training and productivity while lowering costs. The report chastised the fire board for making accusations against CalFire that were “unfounded, outdated or of relatively minor significance.”

Another skeptic of CalFire, board president Doug Mackintosh, also disagreed with the conclusions of the report, but said he respected its intent. He agreed that CalFire generated cost savings for the district, but he said other factors should be considered.

“There are things under the surface that are not necessarily aired that are important for the decisions,” he said. “The concept we have to work with is what’s best for the coast and what’s best for the people who live here.”

Board members Gary Burke and Ginny McShane voted against hiring a consultant team. At the last board meeting, the pair tried to delay hiring consultants charged with considering a stand-alone department until the board had time to consider the grand jury report. Both are on record supporting CalFire as the least expensive, most appropriate management choice for the coast.

The board’s consultants are expected to report back on operational and cost issues as early as later this month. CalFire exercised an option in the contract that guarantees service through June of 2013, but officials are planning for a possible pullout from Coastside stations after that.

The district turned to Calfire about five years ago after a series of lawsuits and defections left low morale and other problems at Coastside stations.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

(Sacramento) Twin Rivers Unified's legal tab nearly $1 million for 4 months; union seeks audit

By Melody Gutierrez
Last Modified: Wednesday, May. 9, 2012 - 7:42 am

Outside legal counsel for Twin Rivers Unified billed the north area school district nearly $1 million in the past four months, prompting renewed calls by its teachers union for an audit.

"We've been keeping a running tab and it's well over $8 million since July 1, 2008," when the district was created, said John Ennis, the Twin Rivers teachers union president. "This is just ridiculous."

By comparison, the larger Sacramento City Unified spent $956,000 on legal fees in eight months between July 1, 2011, and March 31, 2012.

Timothy M. Cary & Associates billed the district $289,635 for April; $277,155 for March; $233,219 in February, and $120,535 in January. On Tuesday evening, the board argued over whether to ratify payments already made to the firm in March and April. The board deadlocked 3-3 on whether to pull the approval from the agenda. Without a majority, the payments were not pulled off the agenda and thus will be paid.

Timothy Cary did not respond to a call for comment.

Twin Rivers Unified spokeswoman Trinette Marquis declined to comment for this story. Instead, she issued a statement on behalf of the district that said monthly billings from Cary's firm "represent invoices for work done on multiple cases covering multiple months and are not for work done only in that month."

Twin Rivers Unified would not provide a copy of Cary's contract for this story. It asked The Bee to submit a Public Records Act request for the document.

Marquis' statement also said the legal billings include work Cary's firm contracted out to other firms or specialized legal services. For example, Cary's firm hired former FBI agent James Maddock to conduct an internal review of the Twin Rivers police force.

"It looks like it all goes to him (Cary), but it's not," said trustee Michelle Rivas. "The legal fees are winding down. I don't think people fully appreciate how difficult it is to merge school districts."

The past seven months have been especially difficult for Twin Rivers Unified as the district faced public scrutiny about its police department and broader questions about who ultimately is responsible for actions under investigations.

The Sacramento Police Department is conducting an outside review at the request of the school district, while the Sacramento County District Attorney's Office, the FBI and the state attorney general's office are looking into allegations of corruption, theft of district resources and mishandling of property.

The Sacramento County grand jury is also investigating for a second year in a row.

Meanwhile, in the midst of the investigations, all but one of the district's seven school board seats are being contested in the June 5 election. This is the first board race since the inaugural group of trustees of the new district took office in 2008.

Tuesday's board meeting will be the last board meeting leading up to the election after trustees voted to cancel the May 22 meeting. Board president Roger Westrup cited an extensive list of end of the year activities for canceling the meeting. The board voted 4-2 to cancel the May meeting, with Alecia Eugene Chasten and Cortez Quinn voting against.

The board previously voted to cancel the April 24 board meeting.

Ennis said it's irresponsible for trustees to consider canceling two of the past three school board meetings when there is so much turmoil in the district.

The union leader said clearly there is plenty of work to do, given that the board packet for Tuesday's meeting was more than 600 pages. "They listed reasons for canceling the meeting, but why don't they be honest?" Ennis said. "There is a board campaign and they are worried about the grand jury report."

Ennis addressed the board about the district's legal bills, something he's done regularly over the past year.

Trustee Cortez Quinn, who is endorsed by the teachers union, said he is also concerned about Cary's billings.

"We pay Mr. Cary a lot of money, and I don't know if his services are worth what we've paid him," said Quinn, who is the lone current school board member not running with a slate of mostly incumbents.

Cary's firm was responsible for an unusual and vague resolution pulled from last month's consent agenda that would have endorsed legal actions taken – or not taken – by top leaders in the Twin Rivers Unified School District, as well as by Cary's firm.

The resolution left many questioning its intent as well as how the district's outside legal firm so easily placed the item on the consent agenda without any board members reviewing it first.

Resolution 316 set to "affirm and ratify actions taken, or deliberately not taken, by the superintendent, cabinet, staff, and/or general counsel regarding issues affecting Twin Rivers Unified School District."

Read more here:

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

(San Joaquin County) Harassment report surfaces against mayor

By Zachary K. Johnson - -

LATHROP - The Lathrop City Council voted to call in a civil grand jury to follow up on an investigation into allegations that the mayor harassed a city employee.

With a 4-0 vote, the council passed a resolution to direct the city attorney to send a complaint to the grand jury for further investigation and consideration of possible action, including removing Mayor J. "Chaka" Santos from office.

Santos recused himself from the vote, but he joined the audience and took to the lectern with other speakers during public comment. He said he welcomed the probe from the grand jury to both clear his name and to keep a positive light shining on Lathrop.

"If you decide to do so, let the grand jury decide," he said.

A city-commissioned investigation into harassment allegations found that Santos paid too much personal attention to an unidentified female employee, made inappropriate comments to her and, on one occasion, held onto her hand for too long after pretending to lick some rubber bands she had been holding.

Santos is not accused of touching the woman or trying to put his arm around her, but he gave her periodic "fist bumps," sometimes called her "baby," used "weird voices" and said he would take her to Sacramento with him when he became governor, according to the report.

Santos told the investigator said he was joking about becoming governor and had no knowledge of the rubber-band incident, according to the report. The investigator, attorney Margaret Kotzebue, questions the credibility of Santos, noting in her report that "he is simply not credible as a witness due to his nonresponsive answers to my questions, inconsistent statements and failure to recall essential events."

The resolution that passed Monday raised the possibility of removing Santos from office. This is not an authority the civil grand jury has, but it could make a recommendation to the District Attorney's Office, Lathrop City Attorney Salvador Navarete said.

It seemed fishy that the allegations came out during an election year, said Dan Doyle, one of the speakers at the lectern at the Monday meeting. "This all sounds like a witch hunt to me."

Santos was elected to a two-year term as mayor in 2010. After the report was released, Santos told The Record it was "politically motivated." He said that Lathrop City Councilman Sonny Dhaliwal wanted to become mayor and noted it was an election year.

"Dhaliwal isn't being accused. Don't try and create a distraction from the issue," former City Councilman Steve Dresser said.

The four sitting council members made brief statements before casting their votes. "We are doing our job to protect our employees and to protect taxpayers," Dhaliwal said. He also confirmed he was running for mayor.

After the vote, Santos took his seat back and reclaimed the gavel to continue the rest of the meeting.

During a lull, he congratulated Dhaliwal on his candidacy and extended his hand.

"Let's shake hands," Santos said. "We're going to have fun."

Monday, May 7, 2012

Fire Board Meeting - Keep CAL FIRE

Letter posted by Marshall Ketchum
Sun, May 6


Prior to CAL FIRE's arrival, fire departments on the Coastside were an expensive mess, resulting in over $1.2M in lawsuit settlements and legal fees, as well as high turnover and poor morale.

A 2006 Grand Jury recommended contracting with an outside agency such as CAL FIRE as one of the few viable options for fixing the departments.

Coastside taxpayers are currently enjoying savings estimated at over $1M per year with CAL FIRE, compared to trying to staff and run a department themselves.

Mike Alifano, Doug Mackintosh, and Gary Riddell have committed to spend over $100k in consulting and legal fees in an attempt to remove CAL FIRE and bring back the 'local control' that failed us so badly in the past.

Many feel Mike Alifano, Doug Mackintosh, and Gary Riddell recently abused the Brown Act, holding closed meetings under the guise of labor negotiations.

Mike Alifano, Doug Mackintosh, and Gary Riddell refuse to listen to constituants or the recent Grand Jury report that said "The Grand Jury could not find any substantive issues that justified terminating the CAL FIRE contract."

On April 25, even after the Grand Jury report, Mike Alifano, Doug Mackintosh, and Gary Riddell voted against extending CAL FIRE's contract past June 30, 2012, even though they had no other options.

Please plan to attend the Fire Board Meeting 6:30pm Wednesday May 9. The board will be discussing the recent Grand Jury findings that said "The Grand Jury could not find any substantive issues that justified terminating the CAL FIRE contract." You will have the opportunity to tell the Fire Board what you think, and will meet plenty of like-minded individuals concerned with the direction the majority of the Board trying to take us.

(San Diego) Grand jury suggests school foundation audits

Written by Aaron Burgin

11:32 a.m., May 7, 2012

San Diego schools need to keep better tabs on the parent-based foundations that raise money for them, the San Diego County Grand Jury says in a new report.

Fundraising foundations have proliferated during the economic downturn as a way for parents and benefactors to raise money for their ailing schools.

The grand jury recommends that the San Diego Unified School District review and audit schools at least once per school year for compliance.

The four-page report from the grand jury, a panel of citizens that monitors local governments, is based on one school foundation in the district that did not have its nonprofit paperwork in order. The report does not identify the school.

Schools activist Sally Smith told The Watchdog that she filed the complaint that led to the grand jury report, and it was about Creative Performing Media Arts Middle School’s foundation.

At the time she filed the complaint, Smith said the foundation called itself a nonprofit on its website even though it had yet to receive federal 501(c)(3) nonprofit status.

Principal Scott Thomason said that when the grand jury approached the school and foundation last year, officials believed it was registered as a nonprofit. They discovered, however, that a previous board never completed the process.

Once they discovered this, Thomason said, the group took down any reference on its website to being a nonprofit and hired an attorney to assist with the registration process.

“The grand jury actually did us a favor by pointing out paperwork is not in order,” Thomason said. “We immediately began getting things in line so that we are totally aboveboard.”

The district declined to issue a response for this story, saying it will wait until its official response is released, around Aug. 1.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

(Contra Costa County) Report: Antioch animal shelter controls costs better than county but lacks in services

By Paul Burgarino - Contra Costa Times -

Antioch has not kept up with the county when it comes to programs and services provided at local animal shelters and must find ways to add volunteers and provide lower spay and neuter fees, according to a recently released grand jury report.

Although Antioch appears to be doing better at controlling costs than its county counterpart, the Contra Costa grand jury last month said the city's shelter has substantially less space and services for each animal, and fewer people providing for their care.

The percentages of animals adopted, transferred out and euthanized in both shelters are similar, according to the report.

Antioch officials say the grand jury was correct in acknowledging the shelter's shortcomings but misses the mark as far as its criticisms.

"I would argue that we've done a great job with the resources that we have, and the report reinforces it. We are meeting the needs of the city," Antioch police Chief Allan Cantando said. "Our percentages are in the ballpark of the county at a third of the cost. We have relatively similar results for much cheaper."

Antioch voters decided in 1978 to create a separate animal shelter, with the intention of providing better services. Its shelter opened in 1991 and has not been upgraded, though the city's population has increased by 60 percent to almost 104,000.

Antioch's animal services ran on a budget of near $744,000 in the 2010-11 fiscal year, compared with the county's $11.6 million program.
The annual cost per animal was $250.30 in Antioch and $750.41 for the county.

Glenn Howell, the county's animal service director, said the report's calculations in showing the cost per animal is flawed because some cases are more expensive than others. He added that the county shelter strives for a high level of service and medical care.

According to the report, spay and neuter fees at the Antioch shelter are two to four times higher than the county rates, suggesting the city should seek quotes for low-cost services from other local vets. Antioch officials say they have done this, but veterinarians as business owners have balked at the prospects of losing money.

The county has tried to keep fees as low as possible to encourage owners to get the procedure and reduce pet overpopulation, Howell said.

According to the report, the Antioch shelter does not have enough volunteers to adequately care for the number of animals it processes. It has an animal-to-volunteer ratio of 23.6 to 1, while the county's ratio is 3.13 to 1.

The East Contra Costa city laid off its volunteer coordinator in 2010, leaving fewer resources to recruit, train and supervise volunteers, the report said. Antioch needs more volunteers so animals can get time out of kennels for socialization and playtime, which is part of their humane treatment, the report said.

Cantando said the shelter is working to build its volunteer corps back up, though limited funding makes it tough. He argues that Antioch should be entitled to the property tax its citizens pay to the county that winds up funding the county shelter, which would go a long way in helping address its staffing shortage.

About 40 percent of the county animal shelter's budget is funded by county general fund money, Howell said.
The Antioch shelter holds animals an average of 19 days, compared with the county's seven days, which the report suggests is due to its limited staff.

Antioch shelter supervisor Monika Helgemo, however, said the shelter holds the animals longer to give them a better chance of being adopted. The shelter has also tried to be more active through social media and adoption events to help animals find homes, she said.

The report says that both Antioch and the county create an advisory council of stakeholders to oversee costs related to animal care and to look for cheaper services.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Solano County grand jury: Coroner's Office files lack security

BY KIMBERLY K. FU/ KFU@THEREPORTER.COM Posted: 05/04/2012 01:05:03 AM PDT Security measures are lacking at the Solano County Coroner's Office, but it's nothing that a new system can't fix, according to a 2011-12 county grand jury report released Thursday.

A September visit to the Fairfield site apparently revealed no exterior alarm system and insufficient interior security.

According to the report, evidence, case reports and more may be compromised as a result.

Those case reports are kept in a locked office accessible only to two employees via a door key lock, grand jurors said, adding that the documents are stored in plastic storage containers.

"The report filing system was organized; however, the grand jury was concerned with the storage containers in use," the report states. "Fire or water could damage or destroy these extremely sensitive, irreplaceable and historical documents."

To remedy the situation, grand jurors recommend installing a "state-of-the-art alarm system so that the Sheriff's Office dispatch center is alerted of any intrusion." Also suggested is replacing the manual locks on the office door with a card key system, "which would add additional security and accountability for access into sensitive areas."

As for the storage woes, officials want the plastic containers dumped in favor of a fire-and-flood-resistant system.

In other matters, the report requested annual updates of the Coroner Procedural Manual, which was last updated in March 2004. The eight-year-old manual, grand jurors said, does not contain current operating procedures and job specifications.

The report's final recommendation was for the sheriff to "instruct staff on correct procedures for funding consultant services and include clear and precise instructions on funding additional professional consultant services in the Coroner's Procedural Manual."

Follow Staff Writer Kimberly K. Fu at

(Stanislaus County) Smith: No grand jury appeals

by Nick Rappley - Patterson Irrigator - Councilwoman Annette Smith announced at the regular council meeting Tuesday, May 1, that she would not pursue any further legal action against Stanislaus County or its civil grand jury. “Although the county has acknowledged my right to take further legal action against them, I am not going to do so, because in the end, only the lawyers win, and it distracts from all the other important issues we face in these challenging economic times,” Smith said in a prepared statement near the end of the meeting. U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence J. O’Neill ruled April 11 to dismiss a civil rights lawsuit that Smith filed against Stanislaus County in an attempt to revise the findings of a grand jury report that called for Smith’s dismissal. O’Neill’s nine-page ruling left no room for an amendment, which means Smith could only appeal to a higher court or take it to the state court system. Smith argued that the grand jury was an entity of the county, while O’Neill said the county was not liable, because the grand jury was an arm of the Stanislaus County Superior Court, which is affiliated with a state agency. Stanislaus County Counsel Jack Doering said last week that the county’s legal representative in the matter, Sacramento-based Porter Scott, sent a letter to Smith, her lawyer and the city of Patterson offering to give up any attempts to recoup attorney fees incurred because of the lawsuit if Smith would drop the suit and promise not to appeal. At the time, Doering called the suit a waste of taxpayer money. The grand jury’s report released in late June recommended that Smith resign or be recalled. It stated she failed to recuse herself from a vote regarding developer John Ramos’ legal fees while she had a financial relationship with him. It also stated that Ramos had written off expenses for Smith in the past. In addition, it criticized Smith for allegedly confronting a resident in a supermarket parking lot and using abusive language. The report stated further that she pressured city staff members to fire former Community Development Director Rod Simpson. The report also called for former Mayor Becky Campo to pay back money she received as mayor, because she allegedly lived outside city limits, and stated that the city should file a complaint with the California State Bar to chastise former City Attorney George Logan for alleged improprieties, such as failing to be in the room when the council voted to reimburse Ramos for $27,000 in legal fees. The grand jury called for Ramos to return that money to the city, as well. During her statement Tuesday night, Smith pulled no punches in expressing her disdain for the grand jury and its practices. “I firmly stand by my position that something has to be done when a group of people with no specialized training, but empowered by the government, can attack and malign your character with unregulated power based on unsubstantiated or erroneous evidence,” she read from her statement. On a related note, the California Fair Political Practices Commission sent a letter dated April 18 indicating that it had rejected a complaint filed by community activist Jeff Lustgarten in response to Smith’s participation in votes related to her legal fees. The commission enforces the provisions of the Political Reform Act, a state law that governs ethics of elected officials and their staffs in state and local government. Smith said at a special council meeting last week that the political squabbling in Patterson was out of hand and needed to stop.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

(San Diego County) Grand jury takes on newsrack blight

U-T San Diego - written by Matt Clark - The city, the port and the Metropolitan Transit System have failed to crack down on unsightly newsracks, a San Diego County Grand Jury report has concluded. Authorities have also failed to enforce permitting rules, the report says. “The city is missing out on thousands of dollars in permit fees, and the appearance of the racks tarnishes San Diego’s image as ‘America’s Finest City,’” said the grand jury, a civil watchdog group. The report was released last week, and The Watchdog gave officials time to respond to the allegations. But city officials did not return requests for comment sent Thursday and Monday. The grand jury recommends creating or improving databases for tracking permits, displaying a permit sticker on each news rack and enhancing enforcement of newsrack ordinances. The grand jury reviewed the permit status and condition of 555 newsracks downtown, in North Park and in La Jolla. The review found 41 percent of the newsracks on city property were not permitted, missing out on $15 each per year. The grand jury estimated this cost the city about $23,000 annually. According to the report, the city issued permits for at least 144 newsracks that weren’t on its property. Fifty-nine of the racks were in other cities and 85 were on other agencies’ property within the city limits. Many of the racks have condition problems that are prohibited under the city’s newsrack ordinance, according to the report. Nearly a third of the racks reviewed downtown had graffiti or stickers on them, and others were rusty, had broken windows, had trash inside or were chained to city light poles or signposts. “A lot of them are used as storage facilities for homeless people,” grand jury Foreman Jim Lewis said. “A lot of stickers have been placed on these things, and even if they had publications in them, you wouldn’t be able to see what they were.” Neither the Port of San Diego nor the Metropolitan Transit System have an ordinance regulating newsracks. Both agencies are considering adopting one, the report said. None of the names of the publications reviewed were included in the report. Photos of some newsracks included in the report did not allow for identifying the name of the publication. None of them appeared to be U-T San Diego newsracks. Lewis said the grand jury stayed away from naming any publications in the report because it wasn’t intended to focus on the publications. He couldn’t provide an opinion on which publications did the best in maintaining the condition of their newsracks. “That wasn’t part of the focus on our investigation,” Lewis said. “Because we only did a representative sample, it’s hard to focus on any particular publication.” U-T San Diego Consumer Distribution Manager Pete Savoie said the paper obtains permits for hundreds of racks on city property as required under the ordinance, which the paper worked with the city to draft and adopt. Savoie said the city occasionally notifies him of condition problems. A U-T San Diego employee cleans up the rack and takes a picture that is sent back to the city, he said. “It’s not us,” Savoie said. “I have an employee and (another manager) has two employees to go out and check the racks and when they see them, get them cleaned up.”

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

(San Mateo County) Report urges emergency repairs for Pescadero flooding

Half Moon Bay Review - by Mark Noack - Pescadero residents for years have pleaded for something to be done to solve the town’s annual flooding problem, but a logjam of government agencies has continued to stall any action, according to a new San Mateo County Grand Jury report released Tuesday. The report examined 25 years of worsening conditions along Butano Creek, which typically overflows during the winter months onto Pescadero Creek Road. In recent years the flooding has meant the town’s main road is unusable for days, cutting off access for tourist traffic and emergency vehicles. The current conditions are “unsafe and unacceptable”, the report concluded. As a solution, the grand jury recommended immediate action to clear excess silt and vegetation along the creek bed, which should let the river flow more quickly out to sea. Taking this action might not be simple, the report acknowledges, because a hodgepodge of state and federal agencies maintain oversight of the coastal watershed. Moving through the full gauntlet of agencies could take three years or more. But the grand jury could find no instance when the county had applied for any permits to repair the problem. To speed things up, the report recommends the county declare the flooding to be an emergency, which would allow repairs to be done immediately. The litany of permits would still be necessary, but could be obtained retroactively. The grand jury report singled out the California State Parks department for being particularly unhelpful in its investigation. Two State Parks officials had declined to appear before the grand jury. State Parks is currently embroiled in litigation over its management of the Pescadero Marsh, which some allege is the root problem that has caused the flooding to worsen in recent years.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

(Orange County) Grand Jury: Wean Special Districts From Tax Dollars

Voice of OC - by Tracy Wood - Orange County’s 16 water and sewer districts should be consolidated into no more than six regional districts, and the majority of the county’s 27 special districts should wean themselves from a total of $183 million in taxpayer dollars they receive each year, according to the first report from the 2011-2012 Orange County grand jury. Instead of taking 11 percent of all property taxes paid in Orange County, most districts should finance themselves through the fees they charge for services, according to the report, titled "Let There Be Light: Dragging Special Districts From the Shadows." “No logical reason exists for these agencies to continue to use tax dollars to finance themselves,” the report concludes. The report is the latest in a long line of reports and reviews going back at least 40 years that criticize the system of special districts and call for reforms. Government agencies are required to respond, generally in 60 to 90 days, depending on the agency. The report goes on to state that most of the 27 special districts have outlived their original purposes and could be absorbed by the cities they serve or combined with other districts. Water and sewer districts should be consolidated into no more than six regional districts, and water agencies operated by Anaheim, Fullerton and Santa Ana should consider consolidating with other agencies, the report recommends. Cash and unrestricted reserves of the 27 special districts total at least $866 million and are “available to the governing boards to spend as they please,” according to the grand jury. “Local citizens are not openly informed of this wealth when agencies ask for fee increases, special assessments, or bond measures," the report states. “Most of the special districts do not appear to have specific criteria for amassing these reserves, nor do they have published long-range plans for their constructive use.” According to the report, the Irvine Ranch Water District has the largest unrestricted reserve: $225,431,000. The report observes that some districts didn’t show how property tax revenue was spent and urged the Orange County Board of Supervisors to require tax bills sent to taxpayers to clearly show what their property taxes are funding. “The taxpayer deserves to know where the taxes are being allocated,” the report asserts. “Costa Mesa Sanitary District, South Coast Water District, Trabuco Canyon Water District, and Yorba Linda Water District have nearly $35,000,000 allocated to them by the Auditor-Controller, but do not show this revenue in the budgets,” the report states. “Some budget notes suggest that tax revenue was not included because of the uncertainty of the State financial condition,” the report notes. But, it adds, "the actual receipt of that tax allocation is not documented.“ The grand jury proposed that special districts be subjected to an independent performance audit at least every three years. The report states that of the 27 special districts, only three currently receive no property tax support: Mesa Consolidated Water District in Costa Mesa; Serrano Water District, which serves Villa Park and parts of Orange; and the Municipal Water District of Orange County, which wholesales water to 28 agencies that serve most of Orange County. Special districts largely are unknown to the public but have their own, often elected, boards of directors, serve specific areas and provide a special service, like water delivery to homes and businesses. Directors often collect up to $200 per meeting, and the districts have paid staffs. The system began more than 100 years ago as a way to provide needed services to isolated rural areas. In Orange County, the two oldest special districts are the Buena Park and the Placentia library districts, created “by the vote of less than 100 voters in 1919,” the report states. They were formed to supply a source for books for people in the isolated communities. “Today these cities have populations of over 84,000 and 52,000 respectively,” the grand jury noted, saying it was time for the cities to assume the work. The grand jury recommended that the only districts to get support from county taxpayers should be the Orange County Cemetery District, which maintains county-owned cemeteries, and the Vector Control District, which runs programs to prevent the spread of West Nile Virus and other diseases carried by insects and rodents.