Monday, June 30, 2014

(Santa Clara County) Civil Grand Jury: Foster Care Center Still Unsafe

June 30, 2014
By Jennifer Wadsworth

The intake center for children entering foster care in Santa Clara County remains unsafe, even after two years of scathing reports calling for change, according to a new audit.
The Civil Grand Jury—the citizen-led watchdog of local government—focused on the Receiving, Assessment and Intake Center as part of its 2013-14 work plan.
Jurors say a lack of security allowed seven children to run away from the center in March. Fencing around the playground allows people to look in from the outside, compromising children’s privacy. Staffers couldn’t supply records showing how many counselors were CPR certified. And the building, a basement at the MediPlex facility on a seedy stretch of East Santa Clara Street in San Jose, lacks wheelchair accessibility.
“Wheelchair access/egress is very questionable,” the report states. “Even though we have been assured that the facility meets ADA requirements, it appears to the commission that in an emergency it would be very difficult to leave the center in a safe fashion.”
In addition to the litany of serious safety issues, jurors found that the Social Services Administration (SSA)—the agency in charge of the center—appears to be dismissing or hiding concerns raised during monthly stakeholder meetings. During meetings jurors attended last fall, stakeholders repeatedly talked about their fears over the site’s safety, but none of those comments were included in the meeting minutes compiled by the SSA.
“These continuing concerns include the high level of crime in the area, the need for a deputy sheriff onsite 24/7 and the concern about the staff having to ‘hunker down’ in a fire-rated hall with a disabled child while waiting to be rescued,” jurors wrote. But those were all left out of the meeting minutes.
A deputy sheriff staffs the place just 35 hours a week. The rest of the time, an unarmed security guard stands watch. That lapse in armed security is a pretty big deal for a facility that often sees desperate parents trying to get their kid back from forced placement.
The county moved its intake center from a 132-bed group home in suburban San Jose to the downtown basement in 2012 as part of a broader philosophical shift in the foster care field. Experts went from favoring institutional group homes to small, home-like settings and, ideally, placement with the child’s immediate family.
As an intake center, the new facility is unlicensed to care for children longer than 24 hours. But past audits have shown that kids stay at the shelter up to a month, in rare cases, and a few or more days “on a distressingly routine basis,” to quote a 2013 report by Superior Court’s juvenile justice commission.
SSA officials say they plan to phase out the center and move to a permanent site within the next few years. Jurors recommended making the move as soon as possible, to pluck children out of a neighborhood known for gang activity, drug use, prostitution and homelessness.
“The grand jury believes that the safety and security of children who pass through the [center] must be improved,” the report says. “Every child must feel protected until an alternative placement can be found.”
Jennifer Wadsworth is a staff writer for San Jose Inside and Metro Newspaper. Email tips to or follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.

RIVERSIDE COUNTY: Released inmates need more halfway houses, grand jury finds

Almost 700 offenders under county supervision are homeless, according to a report.

June 29, 2014
The Press Enterprise
By Jeff Horseman

Almost 700 criminal offenders overseen by Riverside County are homeless and there’s not enough transitional housing for newly released jail inmates who need special help as they re-enter society, a civil grand jury has found.
Those observations were part of a recently issued jury report that examined the effects of public safety realignment on county law enforcement. Enacted by California’s Legislature in 2011 to ease crowding in state prisons, realignment shifted responsibility for certain low-level offenders from the state to counties.
The move means offenders convicted of some lesser offenses serve time in county jails instead of state prisons. And many parolees who used to be supervised by state parole agents are now the responsibility of county probation departments.
Riverside County’s five jails filled up after realignment started, forcing the early release of thousands of inmates each year. The county receives money from the state to cover the realignment costs, but officials have said it’s not enough.
The jury, a court-appointed panel of citizens tasked with probing the inner workings of local government, found a dearth of transitional housing and services for inmates on supervised release who have mental, physical and other challenges and need help leading a non-criminal life.
While the state parole department has a network of halfway houses for parolees with nowhere to go, there’s nothing like that for county-supervised offenders, the jury found, adding that 682 county-supervised offenders were homeless as of Dec. 31.
Emergency housing is offered at five locations in the city of Riverside and southwest county, but nothing is available in desert communities, the jury found.
“Emergency housing is available for up to 30 days, but due to a lack of long term transitional housing, the emergency stays have been extended multiple times for several offenders,” the report read. “As of the date of this report, Probation had 15 supervised individuals in emergency housing.”
The county Board of Supervisors last year enacted new zoning for halfway houses. They are allowed by permit in certain commercial and industrial zones but can’t be near places where children gather.
In a statement, the Sheriff’s Department said it received the report and “will formally respond to each of the points raised, and will certainly take steps in addressing those appropriate and actionable items or issues contained therein.”
Public agencies have 90 days to officially respond to grand jury reports.
The jury said probation officials should oversee the creation of more halfway houses. And jurors had other suggestions for improving the county’s response to realignment.
For instance, the jury recommended the sheriff’s and probation departments do a better job relaying information to local police departments and other counties about newly released jail inmates covered by realignment.
“Testimony indicated released offenders frequently travel from city to city and from county to county once they are released from jail,” the report read. “Further testimony indicated that ‘data sharing is inadequate between Probation and the municipal police departments as well as between contiguous counties.’”
“Inconsistent data sharing prevents cities and other entities impacted by (realignment) to ascertain what programs and processes are successful and which ones are not successful,” the jury reported.
Contact the writer: 951-368-9547 or

(Placer County) Grand jury: More water for Newcastle Elementary

Report faults ‘inaction,’ but officials say issues being addressed
By: Eyragon Eidam, Staff Writer

The Placer County Grand Jury has issued its findings on the fire safety situation at Newcastle Elementary School: The school’s fire hydrant system needs more water capacity.

The report, released as part of a larger packet of findings on multiple issues, describes the problem as less of a student safety concern for students and more of an issue of saving structures and the surrounding area from a potential fire.

The report faults “inaction” on the part of Newcastle Elementary School District in terms of addressing the fire danger to the school, but school and fire officials said the effort to comply with safety requirements has been ongoing and responsive.

The grand jury is a county agency that investigates various operations and departments within county government and Placer County at large, and it issues an annual report with findings and recommendations. This year’s report was made public Thursday.

Kathleen Daugherty, superintendent of the Newcastle School District, said Friday that she had not had an opportunity to review the document, but said she would be issuing the requested response to the grand jury.

Daugherty confirmed the ongoing addition of higher-flow fire hydrants on the campus as well as the upcoming delivery of a 15,000-gallon water storage tank to assist any firefighting efforts the school could face.

“A couple of things happened that made us to redo our plans,” Daugherty said.

The school is currently being outfitted with water hookups to allow better access for firefighters, as well as to boost water delivery capability, according to the school official.

“The students were never at risk here,” Daugherty said.

Mitch Higgins, chief of the Penryn Fire Protection District, said efforts to bring the school into compliance with fire standards had been going well since the district learned of the fire department’s concerns.

“They’re going by what was agreed upon between the school and fire department,” Higgins said.

The district has also approved a contract to remove excess vegetation from the perimeter of school property, according to Higgins.

Bill Monahan, a fourth-generation Newcastle resident and neighbor to the elementary school, the responsiveness of the district left something to be desired when it came to addressing community safety concerns.

“There have been problems for years,” Monahan said.

He said the issues of emergency access and water supply went unrecognized by officials until recently.

“It’s not a safe situation,” Monahan said. “It’s a nightmare traffic-wise, water-wise and brush-wise.”

Both school and fire officials said they’re confident the upgrades to the site will not only be done before the start of the school year, but will be sufficient enough to address any future emergencies that should arise.

As it stands, the project will be in accordance with the recommendations of the grand jury, according to fire and school officials.

The grand jury is requiring responses from the Newcastle Elementary School District Board of Directors, Daugherty and Placer County Office of Education Superintendent Gayle Garbolino-Mojica.

Grand Jury again urges Orange County to create an ethics panel

June 29, 2014
Los Angeles Times
By Adolfo Flores

When a grand jury described Orange County as a "hotbed of corruption" and called for the creation of an ethics commission, county supervisors dismissed the jury's work as unfair, inaccurate and sensational.
When the grand jury followed up with a second report that took county officials to task for being more concerned with "covering up problems" than solving them, supervisors took action — by voting against a $20,000 increase to the grand jury's budget.
Now the grand jury is back, and its message remains the same: It's past time for California's third-largest county to form an ethics commission to investigate wrongdoing.
In a report released last week, the grand jury called on county supervisors to put the matter before voters in the next general election.
"Ethics, campaign and lobbyist reporting oversight and enforcement in Orange County is deficient in a number of areas," the report concluded. "An ethics body in Orange County would not be bureaucratic, unnecessary, irresponsible, or wasteful, as asserted by the Board of Supervisors."
This time, the county's leadership is leaning in the direction of reform. Supervisors are pushing for legislation that would allow the state's Fair Political Practices Commission to investigate and enforce campaign finance laws in the county.
But whether that would leave room for an ethics commission is unclear.
Under legislation sponsored by Sen. Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana), Orange County would become the second county in California to let the FPPC enforce its existing finance law. San Bernardino County contracted with the state watchdog agency last year.
The grand jury, though, took issue with the county potentially contracting with the FPPC, saying it was concerned that the county's finance law, one of the toughest in the state, would be invalidated because it's far stricter than the state law.
Additionally, the FPPC would be limited to civil, not criminal, enforcement, the grand jury noted. It also expressed concern that the state agency's independence from local officials could be compromised because its budget would be under the control of county supervisors.
Supervisor Shawn Nelson said the grand jury's concerns are off target since Correa's legislation contains language that would require the state agency to enforce Orange County's existing finance law. Nelson said he was also put off by the estimated $500,000-a-year price tag of funding an ethics commission.
Nelson especially took issue with the grand jury's fear that the FPPC would be under the Board of Supervisors' thumb.
"The idea that Orange County supervisors would try and control a body up in Northern California appointed by Jerry Brown is ridiculous," Nelson said. "How the hell would I control the FPPC?"
Nelson said he doesn't disagree with the grand jury's concerns but doesn't believe creating an ethics commission would fulfill the county's need for stricter oversight. Contracting with the FPPC and continuing to use the district attorney's office as a tool for criminal prosecution would be a better alternative, he said.
Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer said he is not opposed to creating an ethics board, especially if it focuses on conduct and training elected officials.
"It's long overdue in Orange County," Spitzer said. "Most elected officials don't know the basic rules about conflict of interest in campaign contributions; they're really in the dark, and that's unfortunate and it's just ripe for people to get in trouble."
Although he is pushing for the county to contract with the FPPC, Spitzer said he would also support the creation of an ethics commission.
"You have to keep a close eye on elected officials' behavior," Spitzer said.
An ethics commission is absolutely needed, said Jennifer Muir, a spokeswoman for the Orange County Employees Assn.
"Anything is better than what we currently have now, which is a free-for-all," Muir said.
In its report, the grand jury described a lack of coordination between county agencies responsible for ethics and reporting enforcement.
"The grand jury raised some really good points about connecting the dots," Muir said. "There has been a long history in Orange County of frankly pay-to-play practices."
The grand jury said if supervisors don't move forward with an ethics commission, they should at least establish an office of ethics and compliance charged with receiving complaints, monitoring and investigating possible ethics, law and policy violations.
Daily Pilot reporter Jill Cowan contributed to this report.