Wednesday, October 26, 2016
Blog note: this is an interesting article in that it draws on a 2013 grand jury report to support a 2016 ballot initiative. Grand juries in any one year sometimes have a longer life.
In 2012, San Mateo County voters approved Measure A, which temporarily raised the sales tax by a half cent and was set to expire in 2023. This year, Measure K asks voters to extend the tax for an additional 20 years until 2043 — a pill that some county residents are finding difficult to swallow.
Measure K’s supporters argue it funds essential county services like literacy programs and helps ease the housing crisis that will take decades for the county to fix. Critics worry about the timing and need for Measure K. Some say it’s premature to triple the duration of a tax just three years into its implementation, and ask whether the extra revenue is needed at all, given the relatively robust state of the county’s finances.
Initially expected to raise around $60 million a year in tax revenue, Measure A has actually raised around $80 million annually thus far. Each year, the county’s Board of Supervisors has allocated Measure A funding to programs for community services, housing and homelessness support, public safety, parks, veterans and health care services, and youth and education programs.
Total spending from Measure A funds has increased each year, from around $24 million in 2013-2014 to around $44 million in 2015-2016, according to the county manager’s office. This year, Measure A appropriations are expected to jump to around $178.3 million, according to the county’s approved recommended budget. Less than 11 percent of that is budgeted for affordable housing development contracts.
The bulk of the funds have gone to projects on the bay side of the Peninsula, said county Supervisor Don Horsley, whose district includes the Coastside. He’s quick to note that Measure A funds have also gone to initiatives on the coast like Seton Medical Center Coastside, the Big Lift educational program, medical clinic service at Puente in Pescadero, and affordable housing projects like MidPen Housing in Pacifica and loans for farm labor housing on the South Coast.
Big-ticket items include Seton Medical Center in Daly City, which received around $24.5 million for seismic upgrades. Technology and network infrastructure work cost an additional $15 million. MidPen Housing received $3.69 million.
Measure K opponents are concerned about postponing the tax’s expiration date by two decades. “The current Measure A was a temporary tax to get over some difficult times,” said Thomas Weissmiller, treasurer for the Committee to Stop Measure K. “Now we basically have three years of execution, and they want to extend it another 20 years. The question is, ‘Why now?’”
Weissmiller also questions whether the county needed the tax revenue in the first place, pointing to a 2013 civil grand jury report that found that the Board of Supervisors did not account for all the revenues it anticipated in its fiscal budget. The report criticized the board for not including in its budget the funds generated when educational reserve augmentation funds from local taxes exceed school funding requirements, referred to as excess ERAF.
“This has allowed the county to claim in recent years that it has a structural deficit. However, when all revenues, including something called ‘excess ERAF’ are counted, the county has not had an actual deficit since at least 2003,” the grand jury report said. “The county had a surplus of $26 million in fiscal year 2012 and its net assets have increased every year for each of the last 10 fiscal years. The Board did not publicize the true condition of its finances as of the time tax Measures T, U, X, and A were voted on in 2012,” the report said.
The Board of Supervisors issued a detailed response to the grand jury’s findings. “All things considered,” the response said, “even with the inclusion of 100 percent of excess ERAF, county officials could not have predicted anything better than a structurally balanced budget over the next five years.”
Recent financial reports indicate that the county is on more solid financial footing. The county’s approved recommended budget for financial year 2016-2017 lists its general fund reserves at $170.1 million.
And the county controller’s 2015 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report indicated that total property assessment roll value was $12.6 billion greater than it was the prior year, increasing the local property tax revenue to $1.77 billion.
“Since property tax revenues are the county’s largest source of general fund revenues, the health of the local real estate market and associated changes in property assessed values are key indicators of the county’s financial outlook,” the report said. “The FY 2015-16 property assessment values in the county are at a historic high.”
The county controller’s office has not yet released the report for the year ending June 30. It expects to release it sometime in November after the election, according to the county’s assistant controller Shirley Tourel.
For some, the county’s financial reserves and property tax revenue belie the need for Measure A and its proposed extension on the ballot. “(When Measure A was passed), we were in dire straits and needed increased revenue, and that turned out not to be true,” said Montara resident John Oehlert, a Stanford biostatistician who has lived on the Coastside for 30 years.
“That was very troublesome,” he said. “If they had counted all the money they had, they never would have gotten Measure A’s approval from the people.”
Both Weissmiller and Oehlert expressed doubts about the effectiveness of the Measure A Oversight Committee, which reviews an annual audit of the Measure A sales tax, and recommends “appropriate metrics to assess the impact of Measure A funds and prepares an annual report,” according to the website of the county manager’s office. The oversight committee’s 10 uncompensated members are appointed by the Board of Supervisors, and are required to meet a minimum of twice a year. The committee last met in January, and its next meeting is scheduled for December, according to Deputy County Manager for Performance Management Reyna Farrales. A meeting scheduled for September was canceled.
“I don’t think the board should be appointing people to oversee them,” said Oehlert. “There needs to be some separation, some daylight between them.”
At the heart of the concerns of the “Committee to Stop Measure K, Why Now?” is the question of why it’s necessary to prolong taxes to solve future problems they don’t consider guaranteed.
“The funds in the (Measure A) sales tax go to a general fund, so it’s not specifically identified, and these funds won’t be available until 2024,” said Weissmiller. “If they do have a plan to fix the affordable housing crisis using Measure A funds, they can re-allocate accordingly.”
Proponents of Measure K say the problem of affordable housing isn’t that simple and will take years to solve. “We didn’t get into this problem overnight. It took decades of neglect, of not providing housing for anyone at any level, and as a consequence you’re not going to dig your way out of this overnight,” said Horsley. “If our county is going to make long-term commitments, we have to make sure we have a way to meet those commitments.”
Horsley disagreed with the characterization that Measure A funds go into the county’s general fund, pointing to the county manager’s website, which contains a breakdown of all Measure A spending.
As for Measure K, the bill’s text designates the tax as being “for general fund purposes.” On the Coastside, Horsley said Measure K funds could go to improvements for the Green Valley Trail Project south of the Devil’s Slide tunnels and the Naomi Patridge Trail along Highway 1 in Half Moon Bay. Patridge, a former mayor of Half Moon Bay, is listed as being a member of the Measure A oversight committee with a term that expires in 2017.
Horsley also mentioned The Big Lift literacy program at Cabrillo Unified School District, and Seton Coastside’s emergency room as future Coastside recipients of Measure K funds, if it passes.
Proponents of Measure K point to the county’s need for affordable housing as a prime reason for the tax. However, Horsley said the board would not reallocate Measure A or K funds in the future to focus more on affordable housing, since much of the funding is committed to other projects like paratransit service Redi-Wheels, Big Lift, and support for the Parks Department. The board would commit between $10 and 15 million in Measure K funds annually for building or buying affordable housing projects in the county, Horsley said. He said annual Measure K allocations to affordable housing projects would not increase to more than that amount, due to the fact that funds are committed to other projects.
“We’re not going to cut other priorities for affordable housing,” said Horsley, “but we can and have dedicated between $10 and 15 million for affordable housing.”
Although the 2016-2017 budget is not yet finalized, the county’s recommended budget includes $178.3 million in Measure A spending. Of that, $19.3 million, or just under 11 percent, has been allocated to affordable housing development contracts, according to the county’s Department of Housing. MidPen Housing received $3.69 million for development of 265 units in four communities in South San Francisco, Moss Beach, Redwood City and East Palo Alto, according to MidPen’s president Matt Franklin.
As Election Day approaches, Measure K’s supporters have raised the bulk of campaign contributions. The committee “Yes on K, Neighbors for Affordability and Quality of Life with Major Funding by Seton Medical Center and MidPen Housing Corp.” reported total contributions of more than $900,000 through Oct. 20, according to the county elections website. Of that, Seton Medical Center donated $550,000, according to a spokesperson, and MidPen Housing Corp. donated nearly $103,000 in total contributions, according to Franklin. Other major donations include $100,000 from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, $50,000 from Facebook, and $25,000 from the Sobrato Organization.
The committee to stop the tax has not raised the $2,000 threshold required to file with the county elections office, said Weissmiller.
October 25, 2016
Half Moon Basy Review
By Kaitlyn Bartley
Contained in the crowded Humboldt County Nov. 8, 2016 ballot are county Measures Q and R. These two local county measures respectively propose that the Board of Supervisors consolidate by ordinance the offices of the auditor-controller and the treasurer-tax collector in order to establish a new county entity known as the Department of Finance. (Measure Q.) They also propose that the Board of Supervisors create an elective office for the newly created Department of Finance (Measure R).
The 2015-2016 Humboldt County Civil Grand Jury (HCCGJ) produced an extensively researched report entitled,”Best Practices In Purchasing/Procurement”. This report provides facts, insights, and arguments directly concerning these two ballot measures. This report can be accessed at the grand jury’s website: http://www.humboldtgov.org/DocumentCenter/View/55512.
In this report, the HCCGJ states: “The Humboldt County Civil Grand Jury supports the recommendation of the CAO’s Mid-Year Budget Review to consolidate the Auditor-Controller and Treasurer-Tax Collector offices and remove Revenue Recovery from the County Administrative Office.”
The grand jury further states: “The Humboldt County Civil Grand Jury recommends the establishment of a consolidated Finance Department, headed by an appointed Director of Finance.”
Reasons for the grand jury’s recommendation of an appointed rather than elected position can be found in the “DISCUSSION” portion of the report.
I would recommend that concerned citizens of Humboldt County read this report to avail themselves of researched and verified information regarding these two measures. In full disclosure, I was a proud member of the 2015-2016 HCCGJ.
October 25, 2016
Eureka Times Standard
Letter to the editor by Timothy Hafner, Eureka
Blog note: this article references a grand-jury-directed audit regarding financial arrangements between the 49ers and the City of Santa Clara.
The San Francisco 49ers said their home game against the Buccaneers was 100 percent sold out, but video taken at Levi's Stadium shows nearly half the seats were empty.
As fan enthusiasm wanes for the losing team, concern grows in Santa Clara, which counts on attendance as a major revenue source.
The dismal season is causing some of 49ers fans to stay away.
Empty seats aren't good for morale and they certainly alarm Santa Clara's mayor because of the money at stake.
The home town of Levi's Stadium gets about $8.9 million a season from a 10 percent surcharge on ticket sales.
It also collects a $5 parking fee for each vehicle plus 35 cents earmarked for senior and youth programs.
The tickets have already been sold, but if the team continues to lose so could Santa Clara. "How many will default on their tickets? We've seen a large amount that have defaulted already. How many will continue to default if the team is not managed properly and they're not being successful out on the field," Santa Clara Mayor Lisa Gillmor said.
We asked the Niners for some key financial figures Monday, but they declined saying they don't disclose them.
However, to give you one example, ABC7 found numbers for two games earlier this month.
Just over 12,000 vehicles parked at Levi's Stadium for the game against the Cowboys generated $60,000 for Santa Clara. The number dropped to 9,000 vehicles against the Cardinals and revenue fell about $14,000.
Santa Clara's acting city manager says he's not too concerned. "Yeah, there's lesser people, lesser purchases and the sales tax is less. Yes, percentage wise, we don't believe it's going to be a big impact," acting city manager Rajeev Batra said.
The Niners have asked Santa Clara for a rent break. A grand jury directed audit is underway to look at the team's revenue stream and what Santa Clara does with it.
A big concern for the majority of the city council is that the city's general fund might be touched. "We are crying wolf right now that general fund monies may be used for the stadium. We have to clear that up first, and that's what we're doing," Gillmor said.
October 20, 2016
By David Louie
District Attorney Todd Riebe said that his office has completed its investigation into the 2008 Health and Human Services Building amended lease and had reviewed all evidence compiled by the Grand Jury. The District Attorney’s investigation has uncovered no evidence of criminal misconduct by any Amador County employee or elected official in connection with the HHS Building amended lease in 2008.
The 2015-2016 Amador County Civil Grand Jury had requested the District Attorney’s Office to investigate whether violations of the Brown Act had occurred regarding the March 4, 2008 approval of the HHS Building lease amendment. The Grand Jury’s report suggested both specified and unspecified acts of criminal misconduct that may have been committed by Amador County employees and/or individual members of the Board of Supervisors. Due to these references, the District Attorney’s review expanded beyond the Brown Act inquiry to include the existence of any alleged criminal misconduct committed by any Amador County employees and/or the BOS, which may be presented by the evidence.
The District Attorney’s Office conducted a comprehensive investigation that encompassed the review of thousands of pages of evidence submitted by the Grand Jury, interview transcripts, interviews with county employees, consultation with subject matter experts within the California Attorney General’s Office, consultation with state prosecution experts in ethics and public integrity, and review of California statutory law and applicable case law.
Alleged Brown Act violations were also investigated. Violation of Government Code section 54950 et seq., otherwise known as the Brown Act, must be brought within one year from the date of violation. Prosecutions brought after one year are barred by the statute of limitations and there is no exception. Any alleged violation of the Brown Act committed by the BOS would have had to have been filed on or before March 4, 2009. As no criminal complaint was filed prior to that date, there is no actionable prosecution for any alleged violations of the Brown Act in reference to the HHS Building lease amendment. Although moot, Riebe said the evidence reveals a possible violation of the Brown Act.
In reference to allegations of bribery, misappropriation of public funds, kickbacks, rebates and/or conflicts of interest, Riebe said, “Ethically, before a prosecutor may file criminal charges, they must believe that there exists sufficient evidence to prove each element of each offense to a unanimous jury beyond a reasonable doubt. Criminal allegations of misconduct that fall short of that standard have no place in a courtroom.” Based upon his investigation and review of the evidence, Riebe determined that there was no evidence to support the filing of criminal charges for bribery (Penal Code sections, 68 and 165 and Welfare and Institutions Code section 14107.2), misappropriation of public funds (Penal Code section 424), conflicts of interest (Government Code section 1090(a)), kickbacks and rebates (Welfare and Institutions Code section 14107.2), or any other criminal statute. In summary, Riebe stated that “[T]here is no evidence that any Amador County employee or elected official connected with the amended HHS Building lease personally profited, engaged in self-dealing, or otherwise wrongfully gained a financial advantage for themselves or someone else, as would be required to justify the filing of criminal charges.”
“It is no secret that I have publicly endorsed District 4 Supervisor Louis Boitano in his re-election bid,” Riebe added. “I have not let my support for Supervisor Boitano influence my opinion in any way in regard to our investigation and review of the evidence. However, given my support of Boitano, I can understand how some people may question my objectivity. I have advised the 2016-2017 Grand Jury that they have the option of referring their evidence to the Attorney General’s Office for an independent analysis if they choose to do so. If referred, I will cooperate fully with the Attorney General in any review that they may conduct.” Riebe is currently working with the Grand Jury in referring their evidence to appropriate State agencies for review and determination of whether any civil law violations occurred in connection with the 2008 HHS Building lease.
October 26, 2016
Amador Ledger Dispatch
Via press release
Saturday, October 22, 2016
Bullying and cyberbullying are problems in most middle and high schools. And Marin schools are no exception.
The 2015-16 Marin County Civil Grand Jury (of which I was a member) looked into this problem and issued a report. Our investigation included interviewing school administrators and reviewing student and parent handbooks and school websites.
Overwhelmingly, school officials spoke of the need for more anti-bullying education for students, staff and parents.
You can read the grand jury report and the responses received from county school districts online at marincounty.org.
The responses to the grand jury report show that our schools do take bullying seriously. In response to the grand jury recommendations, many have updated their websites and handbooks to make bullying information and reporting procedures easier to find and understand.
Forms for filing complaints are now often online and accessible from the homepage of the schools’ websites.
Schools have reviewed their anti-bullying education programs, updating them and in some cases expanding them.
All of these are positive actions for helping to lessen the bullying problem in our schools.
Using art to get youth and their parents to recognize and speak out against bullying was recently employed in a program sponsored by Novato’s Blue Ribbon Coalition (“Art used to bring awareness to bullying,” IJ, Oct. 16).
What a terrific way to explore bullying situations and appropriate responses in a safe environment.
There are other organizations that work with Marin schools in creative ways to help lessen the bullying and cyberbullying problem. These are important programs that we should continue to support as a community.
October 21, 2016
Marin Independent Journal
Letter to the editor: Mary Dinday, San Rafael
If approved by more than 50 percent of Siskiyou County voters on the Nov. 8 ballot, Measure G will authorize a one-quarter of one percent (.25%) increase on sales tax, which is estimated to generate about $1 million annually to help fund a new jail.
Blog note: this article references a 2015-16 grand jury report on the jail.
Proponents of Measure G are asking Siskiyou County voters to pass the measure to support a new jail for the county.
If approved by more than 50 percent of county voters on the Nov. 8 ballot, Measure G will authorize a one-quarter of one percent (.25%) increase on sales tax which is estimated to generate about $1 million annually.
County counsel Brian Morris’s impartial analysis printed in the County of Siskiyou Sample Ballot and Voter Information Pamphlet says the tax will be “...remitted to the county of Siskiyou for general purposes to be placed in the county General Fund and could be used to service the construction loan liability for the construction of the new County jail project, and would expire automatically at the end of the loan term, unless extended by the voters.”
Siskiyou County Sheriff Jon Lopey said Siskiyou County has received an allocation of $27 million from AB900 Phase 1 and II funding awards from the CA Board of State and Community Corrections.
He said that due to rising construction costs that is not enough to cover the proposed 180 bed County jail. The County will need a $9.7 million construction loan to cover the additional costs.
Lopey said in a recent interview that the community would be safer with the new jail. “It’s because we have to release the offenders back into the community,” he said. “It would be nice to keep the habitual non-violent instead of having to release them.”
Andy Fusso from Siskiyou Forward Movement, who wrote the argument against Measure G in the voter’s pamphlet said in an interview, “I’m not opposed to upgrading the jail or replacing it with a jail the right size.” He said he’s not 100% convinced the county needs a jail any bigger than the current one.
Jail Commander, Lieutenant Jeff Huston, said the current county jail doesn't have room for misdemeanors and is just housing felons. He stressed that a felon is released to make room for each new felon. “It’s one for one,” he said.
The current jail has 103 jail beds plus four medical beds. On Lopey’s “Talking Points” jail project fact sheet he handed out at a recent Lake Shastina town hall meeting, it said the jail's average daily population for 2015/16 is 102 and so far in this fiscal year the average number of inmates booked per month is 278.
In the past, according to Huston, sentence terms in county jails were a year or less. After the state of California’s realignment program started in 2011, county jail inmates are getting longer terms. He said they had an inmate with a term of eight years in their facility. Huston did not know the maximum time an offender could receive in a county jail.
The Siskiyou County Grand Jury 2015-2016 report states “The current jail was designed to house people awaiting trial and those serving sentences of less than one year. Due to AB 109 Post-Release Community Supervision (PRCS) policies, which came into effect October 1, 2011, most felons must now be housed in the county jail rather than being sent to state prisons. At the present time, only felons are serving their sentences in the jail; there is no room for lesser offenders.”
The Grand Jury report also states due to overcrowding in the current jail if 50 inmates a year are sent out of the county to other jails, the cost is estimated to be $1,440,000 per year plus transportation costs.
Also in the report it was noted that it was not possible to expand the existing jail upwards or into the parking lot, and the building must be brought up to current code requiring major renovation.
Fusso said, “We’re not going to solve our basic problems simply by warehouseing people for a period of time. If we build a bigger and bigger jail, we’re not effectively reducing crime.” He added, “We have to effectively intervene when someone commits a crime.”
Fusso said, “We solve this problem one person at a time.” He explained that “a better way to solve this problem is to train people and develop people; instead of being criminals, they are becoming productive people in our community.”
Lopey said the biggest issue in favor of the jail is safety for staff and community. He explained that the new jail will allow for classification of inmates, separating dangerous from non-violent, and for better observation of inmates. He said the new jail will have enough beds for females and those with health issues.
Huston said the architects planning the new jail say power expenses will be the same as the current jail. He said water costs might increase, but indicated that can be managed because they have control over how much water inmates use. Lopey said the new jail will be more efficient. Huston said there are no plans to increase staffing for the new jail.
Lopey said the new jail will have more room to initiate rehabilitation programs.
“We're going to expand the programs we have, but it will be cost neutral. We are working very hard to rehabilitate people. The new jail will allow us more space and resources to increase our rehabilitation abilities,” he said. “We want them to be more productive during their time in jail.”
He listed many rehabilitation programs including gardening, education, equine therapy, work projects, work crews, training on chainsaws and other implements, Sheriff's Alternate Work Program (SWAP) crews, contracts with Caltrans, work with Great Northern providing firewood to elderly and disabled, and alternate work programs, and vocational training in the kitchen.
Lopey's “Talking Point” handout states the new jail “will fulfill county needs for 50+ years.”
Special vs. general tax
One of the arguments against the measure is the concern that taxes for a specific purpose – special taxes – require a 2/3 approval margin by voters while a general tax requires only 50 percent plus one vote.
A previous special tax measure to help fund a new jail in Siskiyou County fell short of the required 2/3 approval margin.
Measure G is a general tax measure that county supervisors have said they want to use for a new jail.
In his argument against the measure, Fusso quotes the Howard Jarvis Taxpayer's Association to say, “This proposal is offensive. Tax elections should not be manipulated by promising the voters a specific purpose while not requiring a 2/3 vote needed to pass a “special tax” (that is, a tax for specific purpose).”
In the July 12 minutes of the board of supervisors meeting, it states that Supervisor Michael Kobseff “spoke in opposition to submitting a request for a general tax versus a special tax measure to the voters, sharing concerns that a future Board could over turn the current Board's decision to dedicate tax revenues to the Jail project.”
During a recent phone interview, Kobseff said he raised that concern for the other board members to consider. He said the dynamics are different on this, because the lien will be on a county asset. He believes that will keep future board members committed to paying back the construction loan with the tax revenues.
Kobseff, along with all the other county supervisors, voted in favor of the tax. Kobseff said, “If there were any other options I would have pushed fast and hard. The difficult part is, the county doesn't have the resources to build a new jail on their own. If we don't get this we’re turning back $27 million.”
Another argument against Measure G addresses AB900 authorization of lease-revenue bonds financing for Phase I and II local jail construction funding. Fusso wrote in his argument against in the voter’s pamphlet, “Fancy financing ‘lease-revenue’ bonds for jails and prisons have one state agency paying another state agency premium interest using your tax dollars and pretending that's ‘revenue’ – it’s not!”
Fusso explained, “It’s the state taking our taxes to pay the bond.” He said a no on Measure G stops us from participating in an unethical scheme.”
October 20, 2016
The Siskiyou Daily News
By Liz Pyles
Blog note: these paragraphs appeared as part of a larger article on city business.
In other developments Wednesday, in response to the recent grand jury report outlining the use of body-worn cameras by Peninsula police departments, new Police Chief Amy Christie gave a presentation showing what the cameras look like, how they work and why they’re important.
The city has been using the cameras as part of a pilot program since July.
Harvey [Ben Harvey, city manager] said once the challenge of finding enough space to store footage and the decision as to which model camera to use is made, he expects the program — which the city has budgeted at $35,000 — to be implemented permanently sometime after the first of the year.
“We’ll be modifying as we go,” said Harvey. “It’s a work in progress.”
Also in response to the civil grand jury report, the city provided follow-up commentary concerning the 220,000 gallons of raw sewage that spilled into Monterey Bay last May. The Monterey Regional Water Pollution Control Agency was ultimately fined $298,958 over the incident, which occurred when untreated domestic waste water spilled during routine maintenance at the control agency’s Fountain Avenue Pump Station at 15th Street and Ocean View Boulevard.
“We feel very confident that we are well equipped to address a similar situation in the future,” said Harvey.
October 20, 2016
By Carly Mayberry
Friday, October 21, 2016
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — The Kern County Grand Jury on Thursday made an effort to dispel the notion that the election could be rigged.
Donald Trump has repeatedly warned of a "rigged" election.
The Grand Jury recently met with election officials and said there's no way to rig a vote count in Kern County.
"Every possible scenario that was asked was met with a complete and logical process to prevent fraud," reads a news release from the Grand Jury.
Voting machines aren't connected to the Internet, and voting machines can't be programmed to select a particular candidate because of the names appear in different orders on different ballots.
Signature-matching prevents fraud with mail-in ballots, according to the Grand Jury.
The vote counting process is recorded on video to prevent wrongdoing, and staffers from both political parties are invited to observe the process.
October 20, 2016
By Bakersfield Now staff
Thursday, October 20, 2016
A civil grand jury report about ethics breaches has incited a political fight at Oakland City Hall, as council members grapple with whether to discipline one of their colleagues.
The City Council decided Tuesday to postpone action on the report about Council President Lynette Gibson McElhaney, who could face censure for interfering with a town house development planned for the lot next to her home.
The delay angered Councilwoman Desley Brooks, who often butts heads with McElhaney and who has fought ethical battles of her own. The council considered censuring Brooks two years ago in a separate ethics incident, but ultimately backed down.
“Shame on this council,” Brooks said at the meeting. “When I thought you were coming after me, you were all gung ho.”
McElhaney was absent for the discussion Tuesday, but showed up at the end of the council meeting.
The grand jury report released in June found that McElhaney broke city and state ethics rules by obstructing the approval process for the town house project, which now appears to be dead.
The flap started in January 2014, when McElhaney called Oakland’s Planning and Building chief Rachel Flynn to complain about the five-unit town house project. Flynn then visited the lot, decided that the design was subpar, and pressured the property owner to make several modifications — decreasing the height, reducing the number of units from five to four, and directing the views away from McElhaney’s house.
McElhaney’s interventions delayed and ultimately derailed the project, the report said, and the property owner is now offering the lot for sale.
Oakland’s Public Ethics Commission is investigating the claims and expects to conclude its probe by the end of the year. Commission chair Sonya Smith said in a letter to Alameda County Superior Judge Morris Jacobson that the commission has also ramped up its ethics training for city officials.
Councilman Larry Reid said in a letter to the grand jury that the council will wait for the Ethics Commission’s findings before it decides whether to punish McElhaney.
Brooks accused the council of not having the political will to carry out a disciplinary hearing. She argued that McElhaney and her supporters have thwarted the process by not holding meetings of the council’s rules committee, which schedules public hearings.
McElhaney chairs the rules committee, which hasn’t met since Sept. 30 — the day that Brooks seized the public microphone for a 40-minute tirade, ultimately forcing her colleagues to shut the meeting down.
Brooks and her supporters accused the committee’s four members — McElhaney, Reid, Dan Kalb, and Abel Guillen — of staging a “sick-out.”
“The grand jury got it right,” said Noni Session, who is trying to unseat McElhaney in November.
October 18, 2016
By Rachel Swan
Wednesday, October 19, 2016
The San Diego City Council has responded to a county grand jury report finding weaknesses in the Citizens Review Board on Police Practices. Measure G on the November ballot would tweak the board slightly, and open the door to more reforms in the future.
The San Diego City Council on Monday responded to a county grand jury report finding fault with the city's Citizens Review Board on Police Practices, which is also the subject of a referendum on the November ballot.
The May grand jury report found a perception among the officials it interviewed that the board lacks diversity and may be biased in favor of the police. The report recommended offering "modest compensation for board member time and expenses" as a way to foster more diversity.
Board members volunteer significant time when training for a position and when reviewing complaints against the San Diego Police Department.
Council members agreed that compensation for board members could improve the board's diversity, but stopped short of an outright commitment to implementing the policy. They instead called for further analysis of the idea, which they said would make the Citizens Review Board an outlier among the city's various volunteer boards. The council agreed to revisit the proposal within six months.
An earlier version of the council's response to the report, crafted by the offices of the mayor and the independent budget analyst, disagreed that a stipend for board members could help improve diversity. That response was amended at a City Council committee meeting in September.
The grand jury also recommended San Diego consider giving the review board independent legal counsel, instead of having them advised by the City Attorney's Office. The City Attorney's Office also represents the San Diego Police Department, which the grand jury said creates the potential for a conflict of interest.
The City Council disagreed that there had been any incidents of conflicts of interest, and said the City Attorney's Office has internal firewalls to prevent an attorney who represents the police in a lawsuit from also advising the review board. But Councilwoman Marti Emerald said she and her colleagues agreed there were concerns beyond the legal definition of a conflict of interest.
"This City Council suggested that the appearance of a conflict is probably just as damaging to public trust as an actual conflict," she said.
The council has allocated $25,000 in the current budget to provide the Citizens Review Board with outside legal counsel should a conflict of interest arise. The city does not yet have a process by which board members can request using those funds, but says it will work on creating one.
Measure G on San Diego's ballot in November would make slight changes to the review board, renaming it the Community Review Board on Police Practices. It would also place future reforms of the board under the authority of the mayor and City Council.
The measure was initiated by the progressive group Women Occupy San Diego, which sought to give the review board independent legal counsel and subpoena power. The group has since said it was disappointed the City Council did not include those reforms in the measure, but that it would continue to advocate for giving the board more independence and authority.
The city released its annual report on the Citizens Review Board this summer. The report found a disproportionate number of complaints reviewed by the board were made by African Americans.
October 18, 2016
By Andrew Bowen
Several years ago Oakland negotiated its biggest, most expensive city contracts. They were for garbage, food waste, and recycling collection and disposal. No sooner did the city sign the contracts than rates shot up for landlords and businesses. The city was widely criticized for locking in expensive, long-term franchises.
The Alameda County Grand Jury conducted an investigation of the city's waste contracts this year and found that Oakland failed to create a competitive bidding environment, did not perform necessary financial analyses to understand how the contracts would harm ratepayers, and rigged the contract competition to favor the incumbent companies, Waste Management and California Waste Solutions. The Grand Jury also found that Oakland improperly engaged in closed-door negotiations with the two companies that ultimately won the contracts, and that all this resulted in Oakland residents and businesses paying higher collection rates and a higher franchise fee than surrounding communities.
So how did the city respond to the Grand Jury report?
Oakland's Department of Public Works claims in their official response to the Grand Jury that they in fact solicited competitive bids, and that the big rate and franchise increases were publicly discussed on multiple occasions, and furthermore that the new rates and fees are higher than other places only because they're new. To sum up Oakland's response, everything is cool, more or less.
October 17, 2016
East Bay Express
By Darwin BondGraham
[Monterey County] Friends of Laguna Seca looks to have won the right to manage track, maybe, probably, it seems
Monterey County Board keeps other two contenders hanging in case things don’t work out
Blog note: this article references a 2015-16 grand jury report on track management.
The non-profit Friends of Laguna Seca is on the way to managing the storied track and bringing it back to fiscal health. Unless, that is, the Monterey County Board of Supervisors decides it wants to go with two other groups vying for management control of the race facility.
Specifically, Friends of Laguna Seca won the right to “negotiate initially” with the county for a concession agreement. The county board would have to approve any agreement that comes out of the negotiations. If things don’t go well in the concession agreement process, then the board can pick up with either of the other two groups that had turned in proposals. Those groups are Chris Pook’s (he who made the Long Beach Grand Prix into a great event) World Automotive Championship of California, and the existing managers, Sports Car Racing Association of the Monterey Peninsula (or SCRAMP, which has been running the track since it was built in 1957). SCRAMP bid in partnership with International Speedway Corp. ISC owns and operates 13 tracks, from Daytona to Watkins Glen.
The decision to change track management came out of a civil grand jury report released last July that said the Monterey County Parks Department and SCRAMP were not managing the facility well. If you wanted to cut SCRAMP some slack, you could point out that the troubles date back to 2008, when a recession hit the country and many businesses took a hit. Nonprofit race tracks were among those suffering the effects.
The Friends of Laguna Seca includes local racer and race car restoration and sales expert Bruce Canepa and motorsports entrepreneur Gordon McCall, who puts on The Quail A Motorsports Gathering, The Quail Motorcycle Gathering and the big kickoff event to car week popularly known as The Jet Party, held at Monterey Airport. We’d be happy with those guys running things. Friends leadership also includes vintage racer Jonathan Feiber, Porsche Club and kart racer Ross Merrill, historic racer, karter and food industry executive Thomas Minnich, racer and realtor Warren “Ned” Spieker Jr. and motorsport executive Lauri Eberhart.
On its website, Friends president Ross Merrill said, “We are committed to managing Laguna Seca with fiscal responsibility and for the benefit of our community. We’re driven by a passion for motorsports, a dedication to our community, and a desire to transform nearly six decades of renowned racing legacy into a new engine for our local economy. Ultimately, our aim is to restore the raceway’s former glory.”
The Friends proposal includes a 25-year commitment to rebuild the LSRA complex and implement a new business model that will include:
– A $50 million dollar capital improvement plan with $25 million invested in the first five years
– Establishing a profitable mix of events that will use all the assets of the LSRA
– Maximizing sponsorship opportunities and race track rentals
– Developing premium camping areas and an upgraded rifle/pistol range
– Enhancing the end-user experience facility-wide
– Bringing new events and premium programs to increase utilization within current restrictions, taking particular care to respect neighbors on Highway 68.
We wish them all the best and offer them this item of advice to begin with: Don’t be afraid to call it Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca a couple of times, just to keep your naming rights sponsor happy. But they already knew that.
October 15, 2016
By Mark Vaughn
Tuesday, October 18, 2016
Blog note: this article references a 2015-16 grand jury report on south Stockton.
STOCKTON — The City Council is considering whether or not to approve six-month negotiating windows with two entities proposing to build retail developments on city-owned vacant lots in south Stockton.
A vote on the proposal is scheduled for Tuesday night’s council meeting at City Hall.
The proposals, if they come to fruition, could be a sign of progress in long-struggling south Stockton, which was identified in a civil grand jury report last year as a victim of years of neglect by city government.
STAND Affordable Housing is proposing a mixed-use retail center at 2222 Airport Way and 2224 Airport Way, next to each other on Eighth Street.
A group calling itself 1501 S. Airport Way, LLC wants to develop a retail center on adjacent lots at the namesake address and at 1670 South Union Street. The lots are immediately south of the Rancho San Miguel market, which is owned by the 1501 S. Airport Way Group.
The STAND site is just north of the former New Grand Save Market at Airport Way and Ninth Street.
The city shut down New Grand Save earlier this year, calling it a “cesspool” of illegal activity. A court-appointed receiver most recently has said he is working to bring medical facilities to the former New Grand Save site.
According to a staff report by the city, STAND is proposing a project at 2222-2224 Airport Way that could include commercial/retail space and affordable housing. The report says the project would include a “community anchor” called the “South Stockton Public Market.” It would feature indoor and outdoor kiosks to be used by local merchants.
At the site near Rancho San Miguel, developers are proposing a 20,000 to 40,000 square foot commercial/retail shopping center.
The city’s former redevelopment agency, dissolved in 2012, owns the lots. The city wants to provide exclusive 180-day windows for STAND and 1501 S. Airport Way to negotiate purchase agreements for the properties.
October 15, 2016
By Roger Phillips
Saturday, October 15, 2016
Blog note: this article references a 2013-14 grand jury report on deaths in the county jail.
SANTA CRUZ >> Santa Cruz County and its corrections medical provider paid $1 million to settle a federal suit filed by survivors of an inmate who committed suicide at the County Jail three years ago.
Amanda Sloan, 30, was found in her cell July 27, 2013, after spending eight months and four days at the County Jail, according to a Santa Cruz Grand Jury report issued May 2014. The report addressed five deaths at the jail from August 2012 to July 2013. Sloan’s was the last of those five deaths studied in the report. Since that time, measures have been taken to “improve inmate safety,” according to the grand jury report.
Jail officials identified improvements before the grand jury report published, Chief Deputy Jeff Marsh said.
“We’ve made significant changes in our safety and security checks, who does the checks and a lot of the processes for how we do them,” he said.
The settlement, reached Oct. 4, came after changes were made at the jail on an ongoing basis, he said.
Those changes include at least hourly digitally recorded checks and 15-minute checks for anyone perceived to be suicidal.
After Sloan was found in her cell, the officer involved in her monitoring resigned, Marsh said. About 350 people are housed at the County Jail. Now, the jail also has cameras covering more areas than monitored when Sloan died. Many of the changes stemmed from Sloan’s death, Marsh said. Others strive to exceed minimum requirements imposed by Title 15, which is the state law that governs corrections.
Sloan’s family filed suit June 30, 2015, claiming her 14th Amendment rights, which protect against state infringements of civil rights to life, liberty or property without due process of law.
The suit claimed Sloan’s civil rights were violated when she presented “volatile behavior” and suicidal tendencies weeks preceding her death, Santa Cruz attorney Diane Vaillancourt said.
Vaillancourt, and attorneys Jonathan Gettleman, Elizabeth Caballero and Eric Nelson represented the plaintiffs’ case.
The settlement awarded $975,000 from the county and $75,000 from the County Jail’s medical provider, Monterey-based California Forensic Medical Group, the largest private source of correctional health care services in California with contracts in 27 counties.
The settlement total includes $402,989 for the plaintiffs’ legal fees.
Court documents do not name the plaintiffs, who are minors.
Santa Cruz County spokesman Jason Hoppin said the county’s portion is covered “primarily by insurance.”
Vaillancourt said she has researched similar cases and found few with settlements larger than this litigation.
Each of Sloan’s three children is promised payments from the settlement periodically before their 18th birthdays.
“Most of it, they’ll get when they’re adults,” Vaillancourt said. “It is paid out over time.”
The suit had one hearing before U.S. District Court Judge Edward Davila in San Jose and a few settlement conferences, Vaillancourt said.
“This case was settled very, very early,” she said.
Sloan was booked into the County Jail in December 2012 on charges of assault with a firearm on a police officer, shooting at an inhabited dwelling, discharging a firearm from a vehicle and reckless driving while evading a peace officer, according to the grand jury report.
“A pretrial detainee, she was still innocent under the law,” Vaillancourt said.
Two weeks before her death, she learned from a visiting friend that “she was losing custody of her children,” according to the grand jury report.
Marsh said that the jail now has a team dedicated to suicide prevention though admits some suicides are difficult to see coming.
“Inmates can do it so many ways,” he said, noting that prevention is a central topic for the agency.
The coroner ruled Sloan’s death suicide by asphyxiation, according to the grand jury report.
Marsh said the Sheriff’s Office recently renewed its contract with California Forensic Medical Group.
“They are the right contractor,” he said. “We’re seeking the highest certification available. Not just what the law requires. It’s the gold standard.”
October 12, 2016
Santa Cruz Sentinel
By Michael Todd
Friday, October 14, 2016
Local cities reject Grand Jury recommendations
The 2015–2016 San Diego County Grand Jury Report on Citizen Oversight Boards of Police Behavior issued on May 25 recommended that seven cities establish citizen review boards or consider establishing regional boards. Jurors suggested that one board could oversee complaints in Escondido, Oceanside, and Carlsbad; another could serve El Cajon and La Mesa; and a third could combine Coronado and Chula Vista with the existing National City board.
The report began with the statement that jurors “investigated several citizen complaints regarding police officer behavior in local jurisdictions and found there are differing methods for handling citizen complaints.” The report acknowledged that local jurisdictions met “California requirements for reviewing complaints” and stated “there are two models” for boards: the City of San Diego Citizens’ Review Board and the County of San Diego Citizens’ Law Enforcement Review Board.
The report recommended that the city and county “provide limited compensation for board member time and involvement” and that the city “provide independent legal counsel” to the board. “Interviewed officials expressed dissatisfaction with the legal services provided by the office of the city attorney [the board’s legal counsel]. The city attorney also defends the police department, creating a potential conflict of interest,” the report stated.
People interviewed by the jury included members of both boards, San Diego councilmembers, and police chiefs. On April 11, Escondido police chief Craig Carter spoke to jurors for approximately 90 minutes. “The questions centered on policies and procedures,” he said on September 20. Carter, president of the San Diego County Police Chiefs and Sheriffs Association, also spoke to jurors about the Peace Officer Bill of Rights and community outreach.
On July 19, the county board of supervisors approved chief administrative officer Helen Robbins-Meyer’s response to the report that maintained “modest compensation” would “encourage greater community involvement and increase board diversity.” Robbins-Meyer countered that the county pays for travel expenses. “It does not appear that additional compensation is needed to increase board diversity and community involvement.”
The county’s review board established in 1990 investigates complaints against sheriff’s deputies and probation officers. The board “handles about 125 to150 cases each year,” county spokesperson Tammy Glenn said on September 21.
The 23 cases on the September 13 agenda included a man’s complaint that a deputy “allegedly did not take the complainant’s grievance/complaint, saying there were no forms.” The board found the deputy’s action justified because the deputy “verbally accepted his complaint by offering to have a sergeant come to the station and meet with him concerning this matter.”
Another complainant alleged that a deputy “repeatedly failed to respond to numerous grievances pertaining to separate housing of transgender inmates and their lack of programs.” Documentation included grievances filed between July 3–8, 2015. The board sustained the complaint.
While tracking responses, I asked city officials about the number of complaints. Jurors made no recommendation about National City (population 61,060 according to the 2010 census). The National City Community and Police Relations Commission was established in October 2003. According to May 19 minutes, commissioners unanimously supported police-department findings in three cases. A fourth case was withdrawn.
In Coronado (population 24,812), the city council on July 19 approved mayor Casey Tanaka’s letter that said the police department received an “84 percent positive rating” in a 2014 National Research Center survey of residents. Tanaka pointed out that jurors didn’t specify the locations where citizens complained. The grand jury had not responded at press time to the Reader’s phone messages about the number of complaints and locations.
Coronado police chief Jon Froomin said September 19 that there were five complaints in 2014, nine in 2015, and six so far in 2016. “Cities handle [complaints] differently. I play it fairly safe” when classifying an incident as a formal complaint. Grievances include the person who complained about being arrested. That person received a letter that said, “You were never arrested. You were detained and let go.”
Another complaint was from a driver who said, “I think it’s unfair that the officer gave me a parking ticket.” Asked why this was unfair, the driver referred to other cars that weren’t ticketed.
In a September 19 interview, La Mesa (population 60,089) police chief Walt Vasquez elaborated on his statements at the July 26 council meeting. The council rejected formation of a board after Vasquez spoke about the city’s low complaint total and methods of communication ranging from Coffee with a Cop events to social media.
In the interview, Vasquez said five complaints were filed in 2015. The 2016 year-to-date total was two complaints. At community forums, Vasquez said the most common concerns “are traffic-related, speeding and the volume of cars, and transients.”
The one police-related concern raised by residents was Vasquez’s response to the question, “Can you put a police officer at the intersection [on a longterm basis]?” “I can’t do that,” he said.
Social media includes the police department’s Facebook page, and Vasquez said his phone number and an email link are on department web page. “People can email directly or call with a concern, question, or complaint — or if they have a compliment, there’s a form [on the page] to commend an officer or civilian employee.”
The San Diego County Grand Jury extended the City of San Diego’s (population 1,394,928) response deadline to October 28, mayor Kevin Faulconer’s press secretary Jen Lebron said on August 3. The review required for the response and the city’s August legislative recess prompted the extension, she explained.
San Diego’s board was established in 1988, and, Lebron said there were 63 Category 1 complaints in 2015 — issues pertaining to an “arrest, criminal conduct, discrimination, force, and use of ethnic/racial slurs.” There were also 87 Category 2 complaints, which pertain “to conduct, courtesy, procedure, and service.”
In Carlsbad (population 113,453), 12 citizen complaints were filed in 2015, communications manager Kristina Ray said in an August 5 email. A public records request yielded an August 3 letter rejecting formation of a board. That recommendation was also rejected by city councils in El Cajon on August 9 and Oceanside on August 10, and in Escondido city manager Graham Mitchell’s August 16 letter.
October 12, 2016
San Diego Reader
By Liz Swain