Friday, November 24, 2017

Two male suspects killed in collision after Orange County sheriff's deputies gave chase

Blog note: This article refers to a Los Angeles Civil Grand Jury Report on the same subject.

Two male suspects were killed Thursday afternoon when a pursuit involving Orange County sheriff's deputies ended in a collision at Imperial Highway and Big Sky Lane in Anaheim, authorities said.
Deputies responded about 12:40 p.m. to a report of suspicious activity in the 19000 block of Ridgeview Road in Villa Park, said Jaimee Blashaw, a spokeswoman for the Sheriff's Department.

The deputies made contact with the suspects, who fled in a gray Ford Focus, Blashaw and Anaheim Police Sgt. Daron Wyatt said.

During the four-minute pursuit, one of the suspects threw out a pillowcase that contained laptops and jewelry, Blashaw said.

As the suspects' vehicle headed north on Imperial Highway, it crossed into the southbound lanes and collided head-on with a Kia SUV, Wyatt said.

The driver of the Ford was pronounced dead at the scene. A male in the rear passenger seat was taken to a hospital, where he died. A female in the front passenger seat suffered non-life-threatening injuries.

Wyatt said the female driver of the Kia was taken to a hospital with minor injuries.

The names and ages of the suspects were not given.

No deputies were injured, Blashaw said.

The danger of police pursuits has received renewed attention in recent years. The Los Angeles County civil grand jury in recent months released a report emphasizing the importance of training for law enforcement in reducing the likelihood of crashes during pursuits.

A Times data analysis showed that 1 in 10 car chases initiated by the Los Angeles Police Department from 2006 to 2014 resulted in injuries to bystanders.
Times staff writer James Queally contributed to this report.

November 23, 2017
By Corina Knoll
Los Angeles Times

Monday, November 13, 2017

San Diego leaders rejected [the Grand Jury] calls for higher volume of restrooms downtown, but built one for $2 million

Blog note: This article refers to a San Diego County Grand Jury Report on the same topic.

The City of San Diego helped install an aesthetically pleasing structure on its signature waterfront in 2014, designed by an artist to invoke “Jonathan Livingston Seagull,” the popular 1970 novella about a seagull who wanted to be special.

Its function? A restroom.

Its cost? Two million dollars.

It was welcomed at the time as a sophisticated new addition to San Diego’s “front porch” for tourists and others arriving by bay. But now that a hepatitis A outbreak has killed 20 people and sickened more than 500 others, some are questioning whether the region’s priority should have been more downtown restrooms — not more stylish ones.

The liver infection is spread because of unsanitary conditions, particularly among San Diego’s growing homeless population, which lacks access to proper facilities. The crisis has brought new scrutiny on years of grand jury reports that called for a significant increase in the number of restrooms downtown.

Officials cited cost in rejecting the recommendations, even as they planned and executed the “North Embarcadero Visionary Plan” that included the seagull-themed lavatory.

“The city should be beautiful and welcome tourism to boost our economy with the money that it brings, but at what expense?” said homeless advocate Anne Rios of the San Diego-based nonprofit Think Dignity. “I think our city places emphasis on those who have as opposed to those who have not.”

A special joint government authority was formed to oversee the waterfront project in 2007. Mayor Kevin Faulconer, then a city councilman who represented downtown, chaired the authority.

“Mayor Faulconer is proud to have supported this transformative project to restore public spaces and recreation space along the waterfront,” spokesman Craig Gustafson said by email. “The exterior of the restroom facility also doubled as a public arts project meant to be showcased on San Diego’s waterfront. The fact that this project included a much-needed public restroom is a good thing.”

Gustafson said the mayor recognizes the city needs more downtown restrooms and pointed to efforts this fall to provide public restrooms as the hepatitis A crisis boiled over and became national news.

The fancy restroom facility that opened in 2014 stands next to Broadway Pier. It has a title, “Birds’ Words,” according to the San Diego Unified Port District, which helped pay for the bathroom. The 816-square-foot stand-alone building was designed by Los Angeles artist Pae White.

White said the North Embarcadero Visionary Plan originally called for more traditional structures and a separate work of public art. She said she suggested integrating art into the design of the planned structures, as opposed to creating a free-standing sculpture.

“During one of the early meetings I got a sense that elements such as the bathroom or pavilions were going to be a bit non-descript and so I asked if I could intervene,” White said by email. “The art budget funds were used to put these ‘enhancements’ in place. So in many ways, the art budget is responsible for aestheticizing the existing plan.”

White won a $125,000 contract in 2011 to provide designs and consulting for the project, according to port records. The project took longer than anticipated and the port repeatedly extended White’s contract, increasing its value to $291,350.

In 2015, the project won an Urban Design Honor Award and a Divine Detail Award from the American Institutes of Architects, San Diego; was named an Outstanding Urban/Land Development Project in the State of California from the American Society of Civil Engineers, Region 9, and received a Project Achievement Award from the Construction Management Association of America.

Warning signs

The city was warned repeatedly as far back as 2000 that human waste on city streets was a problem that threatened public health, and that there was a shortage of 24-hour public restrooms available to the city’s growing homeless population downtown.

In 2005, city officials shot down a grand jury recommendation calling for more toilets to address the shortage. City officials said the facilities could cost up to $250,000 each to buy and install, plus another $65,000 per year to maintain, and the city did not have “the resources to execute a project of this magnitude.”

Based on those cost estimates, the $2 million spent on the seagull-themed restroom could have paid for four such facilities and operated them for 16 years.

Between 2010 and the peak of the hepatitis outbreak, the city closed more 24-hour restrooms than it opened downtown. As the health crisis peaked this fall, more resources were made available.

“We have taken action to expand restroom opportunities as we work through this public health emergency,” city spokeswoman Katie Keach said. “We are monitoring usage of the public restrooms daily and will determine the long-term approach based on various factors, including public health needs.”

The Port District operates 17 public restrooms on San Diego’s waterfront, according to information provided by the district. Of those, at least six are open 24 hours a day.

“Birds’ Words” is one of three new public restrooms built on a half-mile stretch of the Port District’s waterfront property between 2012 and 2015, port spokeswoman Brianne Page said.

One of them — a 24-hour stand-alone public restroom building the Port District constructed at Ruocco Park in 2012 — cost $378,991.

The $2-million waterfront restroom cost about five times as much as the bathroom in Ruocco Park.

Page said it’s important to understand that the Ruocco Park restroom was part of a very different project.

“The restroom at Ruocco Park features a modern, minimalist design to go with the minimalist theme of the park,” Page said.

The North Embarcadero bathroom — as well as all the project’s structures — “were designed to be inspirational, interactive and functional art.”

The waterfront restroom was open from 6 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. until San Diego County declared the hepatitis A outbreak a local public health emergency in September, Page said. It is now open 24/7.

“Birds’ Words” is among the improvements constructed in the first phase of a waterfront upgrade known as the North Embarcadero Visionary Plan. The restroom building’s seagull-themed design extends to adjacent structures constructed as part of the redevelopment project, including a visitor center and cafe, to create a unified work of public art,” she said.

The city and the San Diego Unified Port District split the estimated $28.6-million cost of constructing the North Embarcadero Visionary Plan’s first phase.

Page said the Port had identified the need for a public restroom to be included in the project, and “design and public art were considered just as important as functionality.”

“Pae White’s artwork is as aesthetically pleasing as it is functional and embodies the port’s dedication to world-class experiences that are accessible by all,” Page said by email.

A 2011 draft resolution by the City of San Diego’s Redevelopment Agency shows officials planning the waterfront project were aware of the sanitation issues.

The resolution said the restroom would bring “enhanced cleanliness and desirability of the area, including reduced use of public areas for toileting needs for the direct advantage of property in and adjacent to the Columbia neighborhood.”

November 13, 2017
San Diego Union Tribune
By Morgan Cook

Sunday, November 5, 2017

[Shasta County] Redding to grand jury: pension deadlines 'not reasonable'

Redding and the Shasta County Grand Jury are going another round on the city’s pension liabilities.
The City Council on Tuesday night could sign off on a letter from Mayor Brent Weaver to the grand jury, firmly rejecting its recommendations for Redding to get its pension funding in order.
The grand jury recommended, among other things, the city by Oct. 31 look for ways to increase contributions to the California Public Employees’ Retirement System over the next 12 years with minimal loss of key services and look for ways to increase revenues or reduce other expenditures.
The city’s unfunded CalPERS liability was about $207 million at the end of June 2015, according to the grand jury.
The jury also recommended a Dec. 31 deadline to create a five-year plan to increase pension funding for public safety and other employees.
But those timelines are “not reasonable,” Weaver said in the letter.
The city has sent a letter to the grand jury on its pensions report once before.
The city’s first response, penned in August, said the recommendations required “further analysis” and noted the city’s own work to address the problem.
But the grand jury found that lacking. The letter of the law, Foreperson Johnni Hansen wrote to the city, required the city to include a timeline for that analysis, which it didn’t.
“Due to the concerns issued by the grand jury the city’s response will now state that the recommendations will not be implemented due to the time frames required,” City Manager Barry Tippin said in a report the council.
Redding isn’t letting its pension woes go unaddressed, though. Both responses to the grand jury mention Redding is looking at prepaying unfunded liabilities and using a trust fund to stabilize rates and refinance debt, among other options.
Tippin is under council orders to either come up with or start implementing a plan to deal with the city’s finances, including unfunded liabilities, by next year as part of an update to Redding’s 10-year financial plan.
Labor negotiators are also asking employee unions to help with pension costs, updating the city’s development fees and will ask voters next year to pass a tax on commercial cannabis business. 
The city earlier this year began requiring top brass to kick in more toward their supplemental retirement plan. 
November 5, 2017
Redding Record Searchlight
By Sean Longoria

[Tuolumne County] Tuolumne supes to consider awarding $39 million contract to build new jail

Blog note: this article references grand jury reports on the county jail.
A Fresno-based construction company is at the top of the list for a $39 million contract to build a 63,000-square-foot jail in Sonora.
The Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors will consider awarding the contract to Harris Construction Co. Inc., which submitted the lowest of three bids. The public meeting is scheduled for 9 a.m. Tuesday on the fourth floor of the County Administration Center at 2 S. Green St. in Sonora.
Construction is slated to begin in March and be completed in 2019 if the contract is approved by board as well as the state of California, which is covering $33 million of the construction costs.
County officials are calling the new jail the J.H. “Jack” Dambacher Detention Center after former Tuolumne County Sheriff John Henry “Jack” Dambacher, who served from 1922 to 1946.
The 230-bed jail would replace the 147-bed facility at 175 Yaney Ave. that was constructed in the 1960s. The old jail has been frequently criticized in annual reports by the Tuolumne County Civil Grand Jury as outdated and unsafe for both inmates and staff.
Bernards Bros. Inc., based in San Fernando, and Broward Builders Inc., based in Woodland, submitted the other two bids at about $42 million and $40 million, respectively.
According to county documents, Harris Construction Co. Inc. was determined to be the lowest responsible and responsive bidder after each bid was reviewed by the County Counsel’s Office and Moss Construction Management.
The total cost of the project is estimated at $48 million.
Additional costs beyond the $39 million for construction include: $2.5 million for unforeseen contingencies; $1.7 million for architectural services; $1.4 million for construction management; $832,000 for insurance; $775,000 for specialty equipment; $607,000 for testing and inspection; $500,000 for furnishings; $301,000 for electrical services; and $294,000 in water and sewer connection fees from Tuolumne Utilities District.
While the state provided two grants for $33 million, the additional $15 million is planned to be covered by the county mostly through taking on debt.
The board is also scheduled to consider a tentative financing plan for the jail as well as other projects related to the Law and Justice Center and county’s technology infrastructure at Tuesday’s meeting, but no information on the proposed plan was available as of Friday afternoon.
Building a new jail is part of a larger plan for a Law and Justice Center off Old Wards Ferry in Sonora proposed since the early 1990s that includes the recently completed $20 million Mother Lode Regional Juvenile Detention Facility and $2 million Tuolumne Transit Center.
A $65 million new courthouse is also planned for the center and would be entirely funded by the state, but it’s currently on hold due to a lack of money in the state budget for court construction.
November 3, 2017
The Union Democrat
By Alex MacLean

Saturday, November 4, 2017

[Lake County] County Grand Jury honored by state association

LAKE COUNTY >> The California Grand Jury Association presented the Best Grand Jury Reporting Award to the 2015-2016 Lake County Grand Jury for its report entitled “Role of the Office of Emergency Services in County Disaster Preparedness”. The award is given annually for excellence in reporting and the recipient is chosen from Final Reports submitted from the 58 California counties in the state.
The award was announced at the 36th CGJA Annual Conference on October 29-30. Traditionally, the competition for this honor is considerable throughout the state.
The award reads: “the 2017 Best Grand Jury Report Award [is] for reporting on the disorganized coordination of emergency services in the midst of one of the largest disasters in California. The report described the complexity of the situation and the critical nature of the various county agencies’ responses to the devastation fires suffered by Lake County in 2015, underscoring the importance of disaster preparedness before a catastrophic event takes place. The Excellence in Reporting Award program recognizes grand jury reports that bring to the public’s attention matters of vital importance and thereby lead to positive changes within their communities.”
Lake County’s report was chosen before the recent fires in Sonoma and Napa counties, though it turned out to be rather prescient, and generated substantial inquiries from representatives of those counties on the processes, procedures and references used in the writing of the document.
The report was an example of how the grand juries can help effect change in their counties. County agencies, such as the Disaster Council having regular meetings, and the Office of Emergency Services reorganizing to be more proactive and visible in Lake County, are making changes as highlighted in the report’s findings and recommendations.
The Grand Jury is always looking for representatives to serve. As long as you are over the age of 18 and a county resident you are eligible to apply.
Applications can be found on the Lake County website under the Grand Jury, or by contacting the Superior Court.
November 2, 2017
By Staff Reports

[Alameda County] Supervisors Respond to Grand Jury on Donations

The Alameda County Board of Supervisors has replied to the Alameda County Civil Grand Jury’s comments about supervisors’ use of discretionary funds, which they give on a regular basis to non-profit entities.
Supervisors sent the Grand Jury a letter Oct. 24, responding to the Grand Jury’s June 1 report. Civil Grand Jury comments are intended to be helpful to government by suggesting better procedures, or pointing out what jurors consider defects. All of the jurors are lay citizens, and have an advisor from the District Attorney’s office.
The civil Grand Jury does not make any allegations of criminal behavior.
The donations under discussion come from savings that supervisors realize by not hiring staff up to their maximum budget allowance, and on business expenses. The program is called the Fiscal Management Rewards Plan (FMRP). All county departments have these funds as a reward for their in-house cost-cutting actions.
Each supervisor donates the money to a number of non-profits in his or her district, making his/her own judgments about the merits of each recipient.
In the Valley, records from the Grand Jury for approximately a two-year period in 2014 and 2015 show that Supervisor Scott Haggerty, who lives in Dublin, and represents that city, Livermore, and Fremont, gave large donations to some non-profits. He was a benefactor for Las Positas 4-H Camp at $50,000. He gave $31,000 to the Livermore Valley Joint Unified School District, $25,000 each to the Taylor Family Foundation and the Dublin Gael Boosters Club, $20,000 to the Livermore Rodeo Foundation, and $10.000 to the Fremont Symphony Orchestra.
Supervisor Nate Miley, whose district includes Pleasanton, Castro Valley, unincorporated urban areas near Hayward, and part of Oakland, donated $98,000 to Hill Communications over two years to support violence prevention education. He gave $50,000 to the capital campaign of AXIS Health Center and a donation to Tri-Valley Senior Support.
Supervisors don’t spend all of their FMRP savings in one year. The total for five supervisors for a carryover from a previous year in 2016-17 was $9.7 million.
Haggerty listed $796,000 in carryover money, and Miley showed $283,000 remaining in his 2016-17 fund.
A criticism in the Grand Jury report related to the fact that supervisors have large accumulated amounts that can be donated to non-profits without any competitive process.
Further, there sometimes are no written contracts, and little, if any, oversight about how the non-profits use the donations. This falls short of good governance, says the Grand Jury.
The supervisors reply that the allocation process is not a failure of good governance. The FMRP is used as a grant program, without specifically contracting for services. Often the money is used as bridge funding to continue ongoing work, or fill in gaps, or to be used for special projects.
However, supervisors agree with the Grand Jury in this respect: “The process for awarding funds can benefit from increased accountability measures to ensure the funds are used for appropriate public purposes.”
The Grand Jury also states that the county’s Manual on Accounting Procedures and Policies (MAPP) requires the FMRP dollars to meet the same standards as other county expenditures on donations over $3000.
The board agrees MAPP says that all expenditures must meet the same standards, but the board also comments that a county policy grants exceptions to supervisors concerning procurement policy.
November 2, 2017
Livermore Independent
By Ron McNicoli

[Shasta County] Redding Resident Receives Prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award from the California Grand Jurors’ Association

Seaside, Calif., October 30, 2017. Marsha Caranci, Redding, has received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the California Grand Jurors’ Association (CGJA). The award was presented to Caranci on October 30 at CGJA’s 36th annual conference held in Seaside in Monterey County.
The award honors exceptional and important work performed over an extended period to further the goals and purposes of the civil grand jury system in California and of the association. CGJA’s most prestigious award, it has only been given seven previous times since its creation in 1995.
Caranci’s most significant contribution is in managing and orchestrating the annual training of more than one thousand grand jurors in counties throughout the state. She has led this effort since 2011, resulting in an increasingly effective training program each year heralded by courts, grand jurors and counties. Her other contributions to CGJA permeate throughout the entire association.
Caranci served on the Shasta County Grand Jury for two terms, 2001-02 and 2002-03 (the latter as foreperson). She is very involved in the Shasta County Grand Jurors’ Association (serving in in many capacities).
The California Grand Jurors’ Association is a statewide nonprofit organization of former grand jurors with the mission “to promote, preserve and support the grand jury system through training, education and outreach.”

Caranci is obviously pleased with the award she has just opened and received.

Press release, California Grand Jurors’ Association
Contact Jim Ragan at

[Marin County] Tiburon Resident Receives Prestigious Service Award from the California Grand Jurors’ Association

Seaside, Calif., October 29, 2017. Karin Hern, Tiburon, has received the Angelo Rolando Service Award from the California Grand Jurors’ Association (CGJA). This award, made annually for outstanding long-time service to the association at the state and local levels, was announced at the association's 36th annual conference in Seaside.
Hern served multiple terms on the Marin County Grand Jury and was foreperson in 2006-07. She is a past president of the Marin County Chapter of CGJA and served on its board for several years. Hern was a member of the CGJA Board of Directors for eight years and continues to serve on numerous committees. She has long been a part of the CGJA team that trains more than one thousand grand jurors throughout the state every year.
The California Grand Jurors’ Association is a statewide nonprofit organization of former grand jurors with the mission “to promote, preserve and support the grand jury system through training, education and outreach.”

Hern, holding her award, thanks the association for this honor.

Press release, California Grand Jurors’ Association
Contact Jim Ragan at

[Alameda County] East Bay Express Receives Best Media Reporting Award for Civil Grand Jury Coverage

Seaside, Calif., October 29, 2017. The California Grand Jurors’ Association has granted the Grand Jury Media Coverage Award to the East Bay Express, of the Oakland-Berkeley area, for its coverage of Alameda County Grand Jury reports over the past year.
In 2016, the East Bay Express clearly analyzed grand jury reports and regularly informed the public of their relevance to current government issues. The news outlet reported on the grand jury’s comprehensive investigation finding that a councilmember had a conflict of interest and used her elected position to influence an administrative decision by city staff. They covered the report’s finding regarding the email policy of the city of Berkeley as it pertains to the public’s right to know. In addition, the East Bay Express brought to light findings about expensive Oakland city waste contracts.
The annual Grand Jury Media Coverage Award program recognizes individuals and media that have created positive changes in their communities by increasing awareness of the California Grand Jury system. The award was presented on October 29 at the association’s 36th annual conference held in Seaside. Janet Clark (president) and Mike Henn of the Alameda County chapter of the association accepted the award for the East Bay Express.
The California Grand Jurors’ Association is a statewide nonprofit organization of former grand jurors with the mission “to promote, preserve and support the grand jury system through training, education and outreach.”

From left to right, Mike Henn and Janet Clark accepting the award from Barbara Sommer, chair of the association's Excellence in Reporting Subcommittee

Press release, California Grand Jurors’ Association
Contact Jim Ragan at

Lake County Grand Jury Receives Excellence in Reporting Award for “Role of the Office of Emergency Services in County Disaster Preparedness”

Seaside, Calif., October 29, 2017. The California Grand Jurors’ Association has granted the Grand Jury Reporting Award to the 2015-16 Lake County Grand Jury for its report “Role of the Office of Emergency Services in County Disaster Preparedness.”
The report described the critical nature of the various county agencies’ responses to the devastating fires suffered by Lake County in 2015, underscoring the importance of disaster preparedness.
A 2014 Strategic Plan for the Office of Emergency Services prepared by its manager identified areas of weakness in the county disaster preparedness agencies along with specific steps to remedy them. While some steps were in progress to address certain areas (for example, starting to update the Emergency Operations Plan, holding training sessions) most remained incomplete by the time of the Valley Fire fourteen months later.
The grand jury found deficiencies in organization, supervision and implementation among the agencies investigated. It also found that, because of the deficiencies brought to light during the Valley Fire, county efforts are underway to see that they do not reoccur.
The annual Grand Jury Reporting Award recognizes a grand jury report that is of high quality, has a positive impact on the community and increases awareness of the California grand jury system. The award was presented on October 29 at the association’s 36th annual conference held in Seaside. 2015-16 Lake County Grand Jury members Kathryn Schmid, Rosemary Dontje, and Phillip Myers accepted the award on behalf of the entire grand jury.
The California Grand Jurors’ Association is a statewide nonprofit organization of former grand jurors with the mission “to promote, preserve and support the grand jury system through training, education and outreach.”

From left to right, Phillip Myers, Rosemary Dontje, and Kathryn Schmid accepting the award from Barbara Sommer, chair of the association's Excellence in Reporting Subcommittee

Press release, California Grand Jurors' Association
Contact Jim Ragan at  

Thursday, November 2, 2017

[Monterey County] Negotiations under way for four Monterey County-operated utility systems; Cal Am, Monterey One Water vying for control

Blog note: this article references a 2013-14 grand jury report.
Monterey County >> Looking to unload the four utility systems it operates, Monterey County has entered negotiations with California American Water or Monterey One Water to sell or transfer them, but without notifying customers about the potential deal.
County management analyst Lynette Redman confirmed Tuesday that the county Board of Supervisors had directed county officials to “move forward” with negotiations to sell or transfer the Chualar, Boronda and San Jerardo sewer systems, and the San Jerardo water system. Redman said Cal Am and Monterey One Water were chosen from a pool of three respondents to begin negotiations after a combined request for qualification was issued for all four utility services a year ago. California Utilities Service had also expressed interest. Redman did not disclose whether the interested parties would negotiate for all or just some of the four utility services, nor any of the prospective terms of a sale or transfer.
“The county would essentially like to get out of the (utilities) business,” Redman said. “We believe the utilities would be better served by an entity with utility experience.”
However, Redman said none of the customers currently served by the four utility services have been notified about the potential sale or transfer, and they would only be notified if and when negotiations are concluded. In all, the four utility services serve about 1,610 connections.
Cal Am spokeswoman Catherine Stedman confirmed the company is interested in all four systems, explaining that Cal Am is a “growing company and there are many communities interested in our service.” Stedman pointed out Cal Am already provides water service to Chualar.
Monterey One Water general manager Paul Sciuto also confirmed the public agency’s interest. He said the county asked if agency officials would be interested in responding to the request for qualifications. Sciuto said agency officials “thought being a good partner to the county, as well as lending our expertise to the community would be the right thing to do.”
Chualar’s sewer system, which serves about 170 connections with an annual budget of about $94,000 in the largely Latino community, has struggled financially for years as its rates don’t bring in enough revenue to meet the system demand. County supervisors agreed in March to forgive more than $1.166 million in county general fund loans for major repairs conducted between 2012 and 2014.
The supervisors also approved a rate increase proposal, the system’s first in 14 years, aimed at raising adequate revenue for operations, capital improvements and reserves. The proposed rate increase must be approved through a special assessment process, which allows for customers to file protests and to deny the rate increase if a majority of parcel owners in the district do so. If the rate increase is rejected the system would require either additional general fund loans or subsidies, or some other funding source to cover operations and maintenance.
According to a staff report, the proposed rate increase would “likely make (the system) more attractive to potential bidders.”
The 2013-14 county civil grand jury recommended the 50-year-old Chualar sewer system, including holding ponds near the Salinas River, be replaced as soon as possible and that a $4 million sewage treatment plant be built to handle system demand and provide farm field irrigation supply.
Redman said Pajaro, which serves about 1.013 connections with an annual budget of about $900,000, Boronda, with 360 connections and a $150,000 annual budget, and San Jerardo, with 67 connections and an $80,000 annual budget, are all operating with rates that cover costs.
However, the county did provide funding for a temporary water filtration system for low-income farmworker collective of San Jerardo after water contamination fouled its wells after the Alisal Water Company failed to address the issue, as well as upfront funding for a new water system.
October 31, 2017
Monterey Herald
By Jim Johnson

[Santa Barbara County] Santa Barbara Realtors Sue City over Property Inspections

Say Zoning Information Reports (ZIRs) Violate 4th Amendment

Blog note: this article references a 2014-15 grand jury report on ZIRs.
Santa Barbara Realtors sued City Hall this week over a controversial ordinance that mandates detailed inspection reports of residential properties prior to every sale. The lawsuit spearheaded by the Santa Barbara Association of Realtors (SBAOR) and filed by the powerful Pacific Legal Foundation law firm out of Sacramento argues the inspections impinge on homeowners’ constitutional rights by violating the Fourth Amendment, which protects people from unlawful government searches.
SBAOR president David Kim said his organization finally deadlocked with the city after eight years of negotiations over its Zoning Information Report (ZIR) requirement. “We both came to an impasse, which led SBAOR to pursue other avenues of making the city understand the draconian nature of this ordinance,” he said. Kim and his fellow realtors argue ZIRs are not only burdensome and expensive at $475 a pop and required no later than five days after entering a sales contract, often in the middle of escrow but also woefully outdated. Santa Barbara, they note, is only one of 20 cities in the state to require them.
Kim pointed to a 2014-2015 Santa Barbara County Grand Jury report that examined repeated complaints over ZIRs. Originally adopted in 1974, the ordinance was designed as a “health and safety” check on the proliferation of unpermitted rental units in garages and rooms split from downtown Victorian homes. Since then, the ZIRs have evolved to include meticulous appraisals by the city’s Community Development Department (CDD) of minor building codes and zoning laws e.g., fence lines, window placements, and so on. Violations must be remedied by the current owner, frequently at great cost, before a sale is allowed.
The intent of the ordinance is laudable, the grand jury said, but its real-world application is highly problematic. ZIRs are often inaccurate, incomplete, and inconsistent, the jury heard from multiple witnesses. Files were lost in office moves, and a large number of discrepancies occurred during the 15-year tenure of one particular employee. “Many homeowners and real estate agents provided evidence that although one ZIR is deemed clear, the next ZIR on the same property may cite violations,” the grand jury stated. This puts blameless owners on the hook for the costs to fix violations committed by a previous owner. “The CDD is unapologetic about this,” the report states, even when unfavorable ZIRs kill sales.
The grand jury concluded that while ZIRs once had an important role to play in preserving neighborhoods from overcrowding, “time has caught up with them and they no longer hold the relevance they once had.” Moreover, it stated, “The past-mistakes-must-be-corrected attitude [of the CDD] is unprofessional and unfair to the innocent people simply trying to sell their homes.” The report highlighted multiple instances of owners digging up old blueprints and aerial photos to prove their cases. “The onus should be on the city to prove that a violation exists, and not on the seller to prove that one does not exist.” It also described nightmare scenarios of would-be sellers being forced to pay tens of thousands of dollars to rebuild decks or move outbuildings.
Kim elaborated that the state’s robust Real Estate Transfer Disclosure Statement law renders ZIRs moot, and he said the lawsuit is not meant to do away with home inspections altogether during the buying/selling process. “This case is limited to an invasive and expensive inspection requirement by the city that is unrelated to any health or safety issues and is performed by government inspectors with no specialized knowledge,” he said. (On its website, the city states that a ZIR inspector is “neither a building inspector nor a licensed surveyor.”) “We want to emphasize that we encourage buyers and sellers to obtain independent inspections on the property as part of their due diligence.”
Meriem Hubbard, the Realtors’ attorney, said the Pacific Legal Foundation previously put pressure on City Hall to suspend ZIRs. As a concession, the city now allows homeowners to opt out of new inspections. But, said Hubbard, the final ZIRs then include a large disclaimer from staff that the city cannot confirm any violations exist due to limited access to the site. “This is very coercive,” she said. If true health and safety concerns exist, Hubbard concluded, “They can get a warrant and look around.”
Hubbard said she recently received a letter from City Manager Paul Casey affirming Santa Barbara’s ZIRs would not be discontinued. Casey and City Attorney Ariel Calonne said they had not read Hubbard’s lawsuit and so could not comment.
October 26, 2017
Santa Barbara Independent
By Tyler Hayden

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

[Sonoma County] Stations of the Luxe: 2005 Grand Jury report recommended a new fire station for Fountaingrove. Now what?

An 2005 independent audit of municipal fire services in Sonoma County concluded that the Santa Rosa Fire Department’s facilities “have not kept up with the city’s growth in recent years,” as it recommended that the city take up the recommendations of a 2004 Sonoma County Grand Jury report that highlighted a number of SRFD shortfalls in service, response times and deployment of resources.
The audit and final report was prepared Economic & Planning Systems Inc., for the Sonoma Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) and released in August 2005. The final report audited all fire districts within Sonoma County and had this to say about the SRFD:
“Inadequate facilities, aging equipment, and insufficient funding have made it difficult for the department to maintain a high level of service in recent years. These challenges were reflected in the findings of the 2004 Sonoma County Grand Jury. Development impact fees and a new sales tax, a portion of which will be dedicated to fire protection, will help fund necessary improvements, allowing the department to better meet current and future demand.”
(The sales tax was supported by Santa Rosa voters in 2004 when they approved Measure O, which set out to fund fire, police and anti-gang efforts in Santa Rosa and protect those budgets from the whims of politics or economic downturns.)
So, how did the numerous Grand Jury recommendations—build more stations, buy more equipment, upgrade systems to improve response times, etc.—play out over the following decade?
Santa Rosa Fire Chief Anthony Gossner says about half the recommendations were implemented by the time of the Tubbs fire. “We haven’t gotten it all done,” Gossner said during a recent interview at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds.
He quickly added that given the scope of the North Bay fires catastrophe, “even if we had, 50 [new] stations wouldn’t have made a difference.”
And one of the recommendations that was implemented turned out to be kind of a bust: The Grand Jury called for the construction of a new firehouse in the Fountaingrove part of town. As long-time Santa Rosa Bohemian readers have recently pointed out, that area had been the subject of intense local debate at the turn of the century over the wisdom of developing luxe homes in a fire-sensitive area.
Those concerns were, however, drowned out by developers and their local enablers in the political and media class who championed the emergence of a new Santa Rosa enclave—complete with its own brand-new fire station.
Then it all burned up.
October 24, 2017
By Tom Gogola

[Mendocino County] Letter to the Editor: No on Measure B

Blog note: this letter references several grand jury reports.
Sheriff Tom Allman’s latest tax increase request, Measure B, states in the Voter Information Pamphlet “Everyone agrees that people suffering from mental illness or drug addiction need treatment.” This may be true, but forcing individuals to enter treatment against their will and cooperation and confining these individuals in a locked facility is an entirely different matter. Given Mendocino County’s poor track record in delivering this specialized care and the County’s past failures in operating a Psychiatric Health Facility, sober consideration by the voting public is required.
The Sheriff has stated publicly many times that he sees individuals with mental illness as “the No. 1 one public safety concern in the County.” Following the devastating Redwood Complex Fire and the tragic loss of life from this historical event, reasonable people can disagree with this statement. The challenges of climate change and preparing and equipping our local first-responders to confront these ominous threats to our environment and personal safety, feels significantly more urgent.
The history of mental health services within the County, particularly the management of inpatient locked facilities, is a history of conflict, turf wars between agencies and the people who manage these individual departments. The lack of communication and coordination between these departments has also been a prevalent and disappointing reality. These observations have been well documented in numerous Grand Jury reports over the last 20 plus years. The last Psychiatric Health Facility ( the infamous PHF or “Puff Unit” ) closed in November of 2000, as a result of the County’s failure to provide the required medical staff for the unit. Lawsuits or the threat of them hastened the collapse. This failure of Mendocino County to attract and retain credentialed mental health professionals is an existing and on-going obstacle that has not been solved. The most current Grand Jury report confirms this ongoing crisis of qualified new-hires within the Health and Human Services Agency, which for the last several years, has resorted to requesting waivers from state-mandated staffing levels and credential requirements.
Building a new, tax-payer funded $30 million Psychiatric Health Facility will not change the reality of inadequate mental health professionals willing to work in Mendocino County. Buildings don’t heal people. Trained, qualified professional practitioners are what is needed. The County already spends tens of millions of dollars as part of the annual County Mental Health Budget on programs with titles such as Adult System Care, Medication Support Services, Wellness and Recovery Center, Assisted Outpatient Treatment, Mental Health Child and Family Services, Family Wraparound, New Beginnings Campus, Crisis Intervention, and on and on….
In December 2015, Dr. Marvin Trotter, one of the most respected physicians in Mendocino County, testified before the Board of Supervisors that the solution to mental health disorders is not more 5150 admissions, but professional outpatient therapy, medication, effective case management and housing. Locking people up who are experiencing acute psychiatric crisis is by definition, a failure of the system. Constructing a new building for the confinement of these individuals will be a monument to this failure.
What will produce real change is greater accountability and performance within the existing mental health programs. A Mental Health Czar needs to be appointed by the Board of Supervisors to mandate and enforce this change. Tax payers must demand this before another $38 million dollars in needless taxes are taken away from our local economy, giving the average hard working, productive citizen nothing in return. Vote NO on Measure B.
October 23, 2017
Ukiah Daily Journal
By David Roderick, Hopland

[San Diego County] Council Members Ask San Diegans To Pick Up School Board Election Hot Potato

San Diego Unified is exploring a 2018 ballot initiative to boost school revenue. Meanwhile, members of the San Diego City Council are encouraging the public to put forward another measure that would shake up the board in charge of that revenue.
A recent grand jury report recommends the San Diego Unified School Board operate more like City Council. Trustees would be elected by their neighborhoods instead of in at-large elections. They would also face term limits and have more colleagues on the board.
In voting on their response to the grand jury, Council President Myrtle Cole and members Chris Cate and Mark Kersey encouraged citizens to present a ballot initiative to their rules committee in January proposing the changes. Barbara Bry said she would like the school district to bring forward a proposal.
“I would love to have that discussion and debate when that time comes,” Cate said. “I wish we could do it now but we tried that before and it didn’t work out, so now the opportunity to move forward is through the public.”
Cate and the other Republicans on council issued a memo in March calling for a ballot initiative. Though the city charter governs school board elections, the council is unclear on whether it has the legal authority to make changes to how trustees are elected, because district and city boundaries don’t match up.
“I think we need to move beyond partisan politics, which I think is what’s driving this right now, and really have a broader community conversation about this,” said School Board President Richard Barrera, who has served about a decade on the board.
The memo from Republicans proposes changes similar to those in voter-approved Measure K, which was backed by labor and opposed by Republicans including Cate. While the rule changes improved odds for Democrats in city elections, they could hurt Democrats on the school board.
At Monday’s meeting, however, Democratic council members David Alvarez and Georgette Gomez said they believe term limits are a good route to take. They stopped short of recommending the city direct changes in school board elections.
Republicans Scott Sherman and Lorie Zapf said they'd prefer the city take swift action on the matter.
“In whatever way we need to get to it, we need to get to it,” Zapf said. “(The trustees are) often a rubber stamp because they don’t have the staff to go over all these issues and they’re representing way too many people. And frankly, Mr. Barrera, the only Latino, is a labor leader who probably spends more time in the halls lobbying here at City Hall than he does on behalf of the kids that he is supposed to be representing.”
Barrera said he and Board Trustee Sharon Whitehurst-Payne, who lost the local primary but won the citywide runoff last year, are planning a process whereby community members can weigh in on the matter.
At the city council meeting, LaShae Collins, who ran against Whitehurst-Payne and is a staffer for Democratic Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, read a note from the lawmaker. In it, Weber says she’ll seek school board election changes through state channels if locals don’t act.
October 19, 2017
By Megan Burks

[San Diego County] San Diego's apple pie community makes controversial move to reject firefighting resources

Blog note: this article references grand jury reports on the subject.
JULIAN, Calif. (KGTV) - The fire district in San Diego's sweetest tourist destination is rejecting a request to join the County Fire Authority, which some say is a potentially life-threatening decision.
Despite repeated recommendations from high-ranking county officials, the tiny apple pie-loving community of Julian has decided to rely on its all-volunteer firefighting crew to respond to any and all emergency medical calls and structure fires within the town.
As Northern California battles its deadliest wildfire season yet, there's been close examination of San Diego County's overall fire and emergency preparedness. Combined, the Cedar Fire of 2003 and Witch Fire of 2007 claimed 17 lives and burned more than 3,000 homes. In 2008, a San Diego County Grand Jury released a report citing major gaps in the county’s preparedness. Organized firefighting in unincorporated parts of the county was described as "fractured". Following release of the report, the San Diego County Fire Authority was created to unify fire operations throughout fire districts around the county.
After the Cocos Fire ripped through Escondido and San Marcos in 2014, another San Diego County Grand Jury report was released. It cited that major strides had been made in recent fire operations, but there was still more work to be done. The grand jury recommended that 13 independent backcountry fire districts be consolidated into the San Diego County Fire Authority. The Julian-Cuyamaca Fire Protection District is one of those districts.
To this day, those 13 districts have not consolidated with San Diego County Fire Authority, but many have agreements for mutual aid. The Julian-Cuyamaca Fire Protection District is different from the others. It's the only all-volunteer backcountry department that's rejecting the county’s offer and choosing to continue acting independently. Per Jack Shelver with the Julian Fire Board, there are only 12 volunteer firefighters who are actively working full-time. In a community that's ripe with apples and tourists, that's worrisome to certain individuals.
"It could mean the difference between life and death," says San Diego County Supervisor Dianne Jacob. Jacob has fought for the consolidation of rural fire departments, like Julian's. "I'm very worried about the people in Julian and also those who owns property. [I'm worried] that they may be taking a step backward," she tells us.
The Julian-Cuyamaca Fire Protection District has been testing a temporary contract with the county, where it receives $60,000 a year in funding and a fire engine with advanced life-support capabilities. The fire board recently voted to discontinue that and remain entirely independent from the county, meaning it'll lose all that funding and additional resources. Shelver was the only board member who voted against maintaining independence. "I felt the county could offer a better level of protection to the community," he tells us.
"We will get by just fine without the San Diego County Fire Authority," says Julian resident and retired firefighter Bill Everett. He's one of the members of a prominent and vocal group of Julian residents who've been fighting for the Julian-Cuyamaca Fire Protection District to maintain local control and independence. He and several others are skeptical as to whether the county would provide appropriate aid in situations that are dire to the community. Community member Pat Landis adds, "We don't want to lose our fire district to people coming in from the outside that don't know the geography and don't know the people." Everett also says it's often forgotten that the Julian-Cuyamaca Fire Protection District is only responsible for calls within the town. Cal-Fire has jurisdiction over fighting wildfires on the land surrounding the Julian. Landis and Everett say the people of Julian will be able to raise the funding to support its fire district's independence.
Supervisor Jacob and San Diego County Fire Authority Chief Tony Mecham tell us that they respect Julian's decision, but don't agree with it.
Julian loses the additional funding and resources on January 1st. Supervisor Jacob says Julian still has time to reconsider the offer to join the county.
Landis says the Julian community is working on a summer ballot measure to raise its annual fire tax from $50 a year to $200 a year. Chief Mecham says that still won't be enough money to compensate for the loss of the county's assistance.
October 19, 2017
ABC 10 News
By Jennifer Kastner

Mendocino County responds to grand jury reports (Part 2)

Mendocino Coast Recreation and Parks report: fully disagree
The county did not agree with a single point the jury made about the Mendocino Coast Recreation and Parks District. To most of the points, the county responded that it has no authority over the district. It also explained that it is not concerned with the district’s long-term finances, even though the district has taken loans in past years at about $50,000 a year, which was deemed a small percentage of annual revenue. The county noted that these loans could be seen as an advance on property tax revenue that the district is entitled to.
The recommendation by the jury to complete annual audits of the district on time has consistently been completed, according to the county’s response.
For this report, the grand jury also requested that the Mendocino County District Attorney, Dave Eyster, respond.
Eyster replied there was no legal substance to the jury’s accusal of “misfeasance” from the District’s board and that the jury’s suggestion that the board make all financial transactions public sounded simply like common sense.
“Given the information provided, this recommendation seems to be nothing more than sound business advice,” Eyster wrote.
Eyster also said there was not any grounds for a finding of criminal misconduct by any board member. He concluded by saying that any discontent with the Parks and Rec board could be resolved by more public participation or by taking advantage of local elections.
Code Enforcement report: mostly disagree
The county responded that Code Enforcement is not merely “reactive,” as the grand jury said, and argued against a stated “lack of staff,” saying the department is, in fact, fully staffed. The county agreed, however, that turnover in the department has contributed to inconsistency. The county also spoke against a reported lack of transparency in not publishing Code Enforcement complaints or activity online, saying those can be obtained through a public records request. Regarding the amount of discretion wielded by Code Enforcement officers when asserting fines, the county said it created an ordinance in January setting standards for non-discretionary penalties and a hearing process to address violations.
On the issue of mold in the building, the county replied that any mold that is spotted is immediately referred to the Executive Office, which carries out proper state and federal procedure.
This is Part 2 in an analysis of Mendocino County’s responses to the 2017 grand jury reports. Initially meant for the Tuesday, Oct. 10, edition, this article was delayed due to immediate coverage of the Mendocino Lake Complex Fire. Part 1 was published in the Sunday, Oct. 8 edition.
October 18, 2017
Ukiah Daily Journal
By Ashley Tressel

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

[San Diego County] Opinion: SoccerCity and Hep A Giving Mayor Faulconer a Really Bad Year

Blog note: this article references several grand jury reports. While the article is political, we include it to demonstrate how people may use grand jury reports to support their political views.
It started with the swearing in of a Democratic-majority City Council.
Then came the loss of the Chargers to Los Angeles.
Next, a failed special election effort to secure an early win for SoccerCity plan for the Qualcomm Stadium site. The Democrats pushed it to the fall of 2018, when the odds of success are lessened due to a higher voter turnout.
Then, the admission by one of his allies, Republican Councilman Chris Cate, that he leaked a confidential document about said proposal—which constitutes a misdemeanor offense—and is punishable by the possible loss of his seat.
And, the topper—the hepatitis A outbreak that has generated national and even international headlines, plus two state-of-emergency declarations.
One declaration is because the outbreak itself has yet to abate. And the other is because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention can no longer meet California’s hepatitis A vaccine demands.
Despite constant protestations to the contrary, there is no sense suggesting that our civic leaders knew nothing.
Several grand jury reports warned of such an outbreak starting over a decade ago.
Since 2000 there were four Grand Jury reports warning of “the risks posed by human waste on city streets and a shortage of toilets available for use by the city’s growing homeless population.”
So, let’s start with some simple questions about a glaring lack of common sense.
Didn’t the mayor ever walk his city? The smell of urine and feces on sidewalks, in the bushes—and, the homeless sleeping in the doorways of businesses—has been overwhelming for years.
Didn’t he ever stroll outside his office? Take a little lunchtime walk around City Hall?
Didn’t he ever visit Ocean Beach, Hillcrest, Southeast San Diego, the environs around Balboa Park, the East Village, Clairemont and City Heights? Or listen to the neighborhood and business complaints about the homeless and unsanitary conditions?
Those walks alone would have compelled the “too little, too late” responses now in evidence—vaccinations, power washing sidewalks, hand washing stations, public notices, tent cities—much sooner.
It is basic “health and safety” sanitation. Why did the city neglect or minimize this essential maintenance? And why didn’t the mayor inform the people of San Diego as soon as he knew there was a hepatitis problem in the city?
Also, why was the public the last to be informed? City officials, employees, first responders, vendors, and others were notified of the outbreak long before the public. Why?
Concerns about an outbreak didn’t just start in the summer of 2017. They started long before the first cases were diagnosed in November 2016.
What so preoccupied the mayor that the hepatitis scourge went unaddressed?
Too busy with negotiations to keep (or lose) the Chargers? A convention center expansion (in limbo)? The insider track for Soccer City? A push for a June 2017 special election with a price tag of $500,000 (which failed)?
Surely, none of these issues—all of which either failed or are on life support—ranks in importance to the “health and safety” mandates of the city charter.
Think about it: The latest hepatitis A numbers—18 dead and nearly 500 infected—in San Diego.
And the CDC predicts the scourge could last years.
Fear not. Even though “the percentage of human feces in the San Diego River and seven tributaries quadrupled in 2017 as compared to the previous year, while the total volume of waste was estimated to have increased 15 fold,” the city is not convinced the homeless encampments are to blame. Or that they need to test the water more frequently.
Rather, they contend, it is the rains, leaky pipes, and not the homeless and/or illicit drug users that pollute the river bed.
At least Councilwoman Lori Zapf sounded that alarm. In July, she alerted county health officials that “four cases of hepatitis A including one death have been linked to the San Diego River Valley.”  She, of rare common sense, walked the river and led a long overdue clean up effort.
The county has already spent $3 million on the outbreak. The city’s financial costs are still being tallied.
Taxpayers will surely be on the hook in a number of mass tort case lawsuits as the outbreak continues.
An online petition is already asking the state Attorney General to investigate Faulconer’s actions—or lack thereof—for “criminal negligence.”
Finally, why, as the March of Voices coalition suggested, “didn’t the city sanction and support, the designated mass emergency shelter at Qualcomm Stadium—as done for the tens of thousands of victims of wildfire in 2007?”
Instead, they waited. Why?
Ironically, one news outlet dubbed this Faulconer’s “Katrina” moment.
In this very bad year, Faulconer is no longer the Republican rising star headed for statewide office.
October 16, 2017
Times of San Diego
By Colleen O’Connor