Monday, May 30, 2016

[Shasta County] Grand jury report criticizes Shasta LAFCO

The most recent Shasta County report grand jury report slams the operations of LAFCO over past failures to meet deadlines and poorly managed staffing.
The report, subtitled No Laughing Matter, recognizes the Local Agency Formation Commission as an independent watchdog agency that overlooks city and special district boundaries. But the report also said difficulties with past officers in the agency have led to lawsuits and complaints filed with the California Labor Board.
The last several years have been tumultuous for the agency, with a change in its staffing roster, a marathon blitz to complete mandatory studies and a lack of oversight for its staff.
From 2001 to 2012 the agency did not complete any of its mandatory reviews of special districts or municipal services in the county. The reviews require updating every five years for each entity, which includes sewer, water and fire districts.
LAFCO staff raced to complete about 50 reviews and finished early last year, summarized the report.
Completing the special district reviews depleted the LAFCO budget, requiring the agency to reduce staff and business hours.
The grand jury report said this reduction in hours shows the agency "is not fulfilling its purposes and programs. This is evidenced by frustrations voiced by City of Anderson staff in dealing with Shasta LAFCO during its recent land annexation" and the grand jury also ran into delays when it requested documents.
Current Executive Office George Williamson, who took the position earlier this year as a consultant, said many of the issues raised in the report are in the process of being addressed by the agency and its staff.
Observations and recommendations from the grand jury report will be considered and the report will be addressed at a regular meeting on Thursday.
Other recommendations from the report include a review of the executive officer's performance and a revision of the budget to bring back staffing levels so the agency can resume normal businesses hours.
Also, the agency could establish a fee to charge for review updates. The agency could also revise its fee schedule, which has not been updated since 2013, according to the report.
In April commissioners with LAFCO approved a fiscal budget that projects a remaining balance of $24,000 in the next two fiscal years. That money is expected to go back into its services.
"Shasta LAFCO appreciates the role of the grand jury in reviewing and making recommendations on local government matters, including the operations of this agency," said Williamson in an email.
May 29, 2015
Redding Record Searchlight
By Nathan Solis

[Santa Barbara County] New police station? Grand jury deems LPD headquarters inadequate

Over the past several months, Lompoc Police Chief Pat Walsh has said his department needs a new station.
Last week, a third-party observer reinforced that opinion. 
A report released Tuesday by the 2015-16 Santa Barbara County grand jury stated that the Lompoc police station, located at Civic Center Plaza, has “exceeded its planned operational capacity” and recommended that the City Council explore upgrading or replacing the 29-year-old facility.
Walsh, whose department has already collaborated with an architect, said Thursday that he and the LPD are in the early conceptual stages of what he hopes will ultimately lead to the construction of a new police headquarters "10 to 15 years down the road."
That notion is very much up in the air, however, according to a written statement from the LPD regarding the grand jury's findings.
"The possibility of a new police station sometime in the next 10 to 15 years has been discussed on a conceptual level, but at this point there are no set plans to build a new facility," it read.
Still, Walsh noted that a workgroup has been formed to look at the merits of renovating the current facility versus constructing a completely new complex.
Because the current building’s footprint isn’t large enough to meet the department’s needs through renovation, he said, he favors an all-new facility.
Walsh presented conceptual bubble diagrams, which are essentially early blueprints, for a new police station at a Public Safety Commission meeting on Sept. 30, 2015.
Those plans called for a three-story facility that would include a 38-by-78-foot mobile command and SWAT garage, a 36-by-40-foot Emergency Operations Center command room, a 35-by-30 foot evidence processing room and significantly more storage and office space.
The designs also included second-floor men’s and women’s locker rooms, a fitness center and conference rooms.
Among the possible locations mentioned was land near City Hall that is currently occupied by the building that formerly housed the since-closed city pool.
Due to the early nature of the conceptual designs — they haven’t yet been presented to the City Council — Walsh acknowledged that cost estimates could vary wildly. Depending on if the city decides to renovate the current building or go with the new construction, the project could cost anywhere from $8 million to $24 million in today’s dollars, he said.
A new facility with the amenities featured in those early plans would likely solve many of the problems pointed out in the grand jury report.
The primary issue cited by the grand jury was a lack of space, as evidenced by several closets being converted into offices and dispatcher workstations being so close that conversations can be heard over multiple phone lines.
Additionally, the report noted a lack of storage space in the LPD’s evidence room.
“All of these issues need to be promptly addressed by the Lompoc City Council, who should begin planning to update (and/or) replace this structure,” it concluded.
The LPD responded to those specific concerns in the statement released Friday.
"Our Police Department building is nearly 30 years old, and was built to accommodate our staff and needs at that time," it read. "We have grown as a department to meet the needs of our community, and are committed to finding solutions to meet any challenges we run into regarding space. We are actively evaluating our current facilities and needs."
Walsh said he is working with city staff to make sure funding is secured before moving forward with any plans to upgrade.
Lack of finances was a major part of the Lompoc City Council’s decision in March to vote down construction of a new station for the Lompoc Fire Department.
“The way I think is that if you’re going to run a police department or a fire department, you have to plan for the future,” Walsh said, specifically referring to acquiring funding for a new station. “You can’t just think about what you need for today. So I’m just trying to plan futuristically (in case) things change in the city, economically, in the next 20 years.”
May 28, 2016
Santa Maria Times
By Willis Jacobson

[Santa Barbara County] Keeping up with our needs

The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors majority voted to keep the North County Jail on track — just in the nick of time.
Not long after that board vote, the grand jury released a report on poor conditions at the main jail in Goleta and other institutional facilities in North County. More about that in a moment.
The necessity for a decision on the North County Jail project was that the bidding process for the job involved three general contractors, and all of them came in much higher than the county engineer’s estimate.
The over-run came to nearly $15 million, boosting the overall cost of construction to $110.8 million. The California Board of State Corrections had previously agreed to provide 90 percent of the funding estimated for the project, with a top amount set at $80 million. The state board has refused to pay for the cost over-run.
Thus, the Board of Supervisors faced some tough decisions, and in the end decided to give county staff the task of scrounging up $14.75 million extra, taking $12.2 million from the slow-moving project’s operational budget, and another $2 million from the Sheriff’s Transition and Re-entry complex, which the board had previously rejected.
We’re not construction or fiscal experts, but as taxpayers it seems that if policy makers had moved more expeditiously on the North County Jail project, perhaps the cost over-run issue could have been avoided.
It’s not as though county officials, including board members, were unaware that the county has some deep-rooted and long-running jail problems, which the recent grand jury report made abundantly clear — again.
The main jail in Goleta has been chronically overcrowded for many years, to such an extent that courts have ordered the early release of prisoners so the jail population could get somewhere close to its original, intended inmate capacity.
There also is the long-standing issue of people arrested in North County having to be transported to the Goleta facility, wasting taxpayer money and the hours police officers must spend driving, instead of policing in their communities.
The main focus of the grand jury investigation was crowded conditions at the main jail, which sometimes forces inmates to sleep in plastic tubs on the floor. That may have a visceral appeal to the get-tough-on-criminals crowd, but it ignores one of the basic concepts in the U.S. Constitution barring cruel and unusual punishment of prisoners.
The jury report also targeted court and holding facilities problems in Lompoc, and the County Coroner’s Office for a lack of proper ventilation in the autopsy room, which makes working there intolerable at times.
These are all infrastructure problems that should be, and should have been addressed on a continuing basis. We understand the county and all governments have been through significant funding issues in recent years, but basic infrastructure cannot be ignored.
One bright note in the grand jury report was its praise of the new Santa Maria police station, saying the local City Council and police chief have shown “fiscal responsibility in the funding and use of the facility.”
All of which suggests maybe county government and the Board of Supervisors consider borrowing a page from the city of Santa Maria’s operational playbook, take a few well-placed hints on fiscal responsibility and the commitment to keep up with the times.
That may seem an apples-and-oranges comparison, but it is our experience that if a certain policy works at one level, it could very well work at an even higher level.
May 28, 2015
Santa Maria Times