Saturday, January 21, 2017
Blog note: this article references a recent grand jury report.
Dozens of people are set to take to the streets Jan. 28 to visit more than 100 local businesses, aiming to cast light on human trafficking — a hidden problem in Marin.
“There still is widespread belief that it doesn’t happen here, that this county is immune,” said Lynn Bauer, who chairs the Marin County Coalition to End Human Trafficking’s public awareness committee and is a member of its steering committee. “We’re here to say that any place where there’s a highway, a hotel and people with money, there will be trafficking, in particular sex trafficking.”
Members of the coalition and others are on a specific mission — they will be carrying posters to hand out to merchants hoping to increase awareness and promote resources for trafficking victims.
The material must be posted at select businesses and locations in California under a state law passed in 2013, but with no funding available for distribution and enforcement, coalition members are taking it upon themselves to spread the word and to assist businesses and agencies comply with the law.
The coalition, created in 2014 under the Marin County District Attorney’s Office, now has about 50 members dedicated to finding ways to put a stop to the practice that forces, deceives or coerces victims into selling sex.
The Marin County Civil Grand Jury last year encouraged authorities to work together to crack down on the problem that, the grand jury reported, goes largely unrecognized and under-reported in Marin. Sex trafficking most often occurs in San Rafael, Novato and Marin City, according to the grand jury’s report.
The poster campaign is believed to be the most effective tool to create awareness, authorities said.
States with posting requirements similar to California’s Civil Code Section 52.6 have seen an increase in reported crimes and victim rescues, said District Attorney Edward Berberian in a joint statement with Belvedere Police Chief Patricia Seyler, president of the Marin County Police Chiefs and Sheriff’s Association.
Requiring that the National Human Trafficking hotline number be posted in public also plays a key role in arrests, Bauer said.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Rosemary Slote, also a coalition member, said the business owners and managers who receive a visit next week will get all the information they need to help them comply with the law.
“We’ll let people know about what resources are available, how to contact law enforcement, if there’s an issue and how to report it, and just to let businesses know there’s a law that requires them to post this information and to give them the resources to do that,” Slote said.
The coalition is also working with Marin libraries to help train staff to recognize victims. As part of the coalition’s campaign to spread the word, members are also hosting workshops through Feb. 22.
Sessions are planned from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Feb. 1 at the Novato Library, 1720 Novato Blvd.; Feb. 3 at the Marin City Library, 164 Donahue St.; and Feb. 22 in Spanish at the Pickleweed Library, 50 Canal St. in San Rafael.
January 19, 2017
Marin Independent Journal
By Stephanie Weldy
The city council in Napa, California will vote on whether to continue doing business with the embattled red light camera vendor.
Blog note: this article references a 2011 grand jury report.
Officials in Napa, California will decide later today whether to continue doing business with Redflex Traffic Systems, the Australian red light camera vendor embroiled in an ongoing international corruption scandal. Following the city council's lead, Police Chief Steve Potter will argue in favor of the program's continuation, facing off against Mayor Jill Techel, a consistent voice against the program.
Chief Potter's primary argument, supplied in a memo sent to the council in advance of the meeting, is that the red light camera program has created a 59 percent drop in red light related collisions. The chief also mentions that profit from the program is deposited in a police department traffic safety fund, which he has used to buy fourteen handheld radar and laser speed guns for his patrol officers. The editor of the HighwayRobbery.net website fired back with a memo to the city council showing how the city's own data undermines the chief's claims.
"That remarkable figure has been placed in those prominent places to 'sell' you, but I submit that for the following reasons, that figure is entitled to zero weight in your decision making," the memo explained. "[The city] staff's own graph shows that the claimed decrease occurred in 2006 to 2008, which was before the cameras were installed."
One of the primary factors in the accident drop, the second memo explained, was that Napa stopped reporting and responding to minor traffic collisions. This view is bolstered by the findings of the Napa County Grand Jury, which released a report in 2011 slamming the automated ticketing program.
"The data more clearly shows that the incidents of injury accidents have been on a steady decline since 2007 with the highest level of decline occurring between 2007 and 2008 prior to the installation of the automated red light enforcement system," the grand jury concluded.
The grand jury also criticized city officials for making millions from harmless infractions, particularly at Highway 29 and Highway 121. This is the city's most profitable intersection, which doled out 78 percent of its tickets to motorists turning right on red, even though not a single accident had been reported involving a turning car and a pedestrian or other automobile.
In 2015, the city was caught with illegally short yellow times at Jefferson Street and First Street, and the California Department of Transportation ordered longer yellows at Soscol Avenue and Imola Avenue. The increased yellow timing resulted in an immediate drop in the number of violations, which local activists argue is a superior alternative to continuing to use the cameras.
More cities in California have dropped red light cameras than have voted to continue their use. The list of canceled camera programs includes: Belmont, Bell Gardens, Berkeley, Burlingame, Cerritos, Compton, Corona, Costa Mesa, Cupertino, El Cajon, Davis, El Monte, Escondido, Emeryville, Fairfield, Fresno, Fullerton, Gardena, Glendale, Grand Terrace, Hayward, Highland, Indian Wells, Irvine, Laguna Woods, Lancaster, Loma Linda, Los Angeles, Long Beach, Marysville, Maywood, Montclair, Moreno Valley, Oakland, Paramount, Pasadena, Poway, Rancho Cucamonga, Redlands, Redwood City, Rocklin, Roseville, Rowland Heights, San Bernardino, San Carlos, San Diego, San Jose (photo radar), San Juan Capistrano, Santa Fe Springs, Santa Maria, Santa Rosa, South Gate, Stockton, Union City, Vista Upland, Walnut, Whittier, Yuba City and Yucaipa. The city councils of Laguna Niguel and Orange passed ordinances banning cameras in 2011. Residents of Anaheim, Murrieta and Newport Beach voted to ban red light cameras at the ballot box.
Update: The city council voted 4 to 1 not to renew the red light camera program. The contract with Redflex will expire in February.
January 17, 2017
Friday, January 20, 2017
Blog note: this article references a 2014 grand jury report.
The tightrope that Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf is walking in the aftermath of the Ghost Ship warehouse fire became clear when Alameda County sheriff’s deputies raided an abandoned East Oakland storefront where 28 people were living illegally — including a 5-year-old child who was being housed in a closet.
“They had a makeshift bed built for the child on a shelf, next to exposed wiring and debris,” said Sheriff’s Office spokesman Sgt. Ray Kelly. “They had all sorts of nooks and crannies where people were sleeping. Electricity had been rigged up from the outside, and there was open sewage and all sorts of blight.
“It was a recipe for disaster,” Kelly said.
As with the Ghost Ship — where 36 people died Dec. 2 when fire broke out during a non-permitted concert — the storefront on the 6600 block of Bancroft Avenue appears to have gone undetected by Oakland fire and building inspectors, despite being on a busy street.
A disaster like the Ghost Ship blaze would have prompted a crackdown on illegal housing in most cities, but Oakland isn’t like most cities. Schaaf’s celebration of the art-warehouse culture was well-known before the fire, and she’s been careful since Dec. 2 to reassure artists and musicians that they won’t be chased out of town.
Unlike an artists warehouse, no one is going to raise a cry over a raid and evictions at a vacant East Oakland storefront. Most people living there when deputies arrived last week were parolees with suspected ties to the Norteños street gang. They were arrested on suspicion of gun and drug crimes and prostitution, and quickly found new homes in the Santa Rita jail. Building inspectors red-tagged the building.
But the raid does underscore the question of how — or whether — Oakland is looking for possible firetraps.
The Alameda County civil grand jury learned of one glaring issue when looking into the city’s fire inspections in 2014: The database the Fire Department used to identify buildings that needed checking was based on active business licenses — not the county tax assessor’s property reports that list all taxable real estate, and describe the property as being residential, commercial or industrial.
It’s uncertain if using the assessor records would have made a difference in the case of the Bancroft Avenue building, but it does mean that thousands of structures weren’t on the Fire Department’s to-do list.
“They made a major blunder, and put a system in place that will pretty much ensure missing people who want to fly under the radar,” said one source who was involved with the grand jury report, but who wasn’t authorized to speak for the record.
Schaaf’s executive order last week laying out conditions for turning illegal residential spaces into legal ones was notably silent on the question of who would be looking for buildings that lack permits.
You might think the Bancroft Avenue raid would have sounded alarms at City Hall that all was not well, more than a month after Ghost Ship. But despite the extensive media coverage the raid received, Schaaf told us Friday that she hadn’t heard about it until we called.
“We are going to continue the proactive inspection program that I started a year ago and continue to respond to the increased number of complaints that we have received in the wake of the Ghost Ship tragedy,” Schaaf said.
Her spokeswoman, Erica Terry Derryck, later said, “The situation on Bancroft Avenue where alleged gang members were reportedly using a vacant building to shield criminal activity is not at all the same as the circumstances surrounding the (Ghost Ship) fire ... and no one should be led to believe that they are.”
January 15, 2017
San Francisco Chronicle
By Matier & Ross
A Kern County Grand Jury report released Thursday compares the road to Tehachapi Prison like a ride at Disneyland.
The report describes the ride into CCI was like getting onto Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. The grand jury committee recently boarded a bus and began an extremely bumpy ride due to numerous pot holes.
The report went on to say the facility is showing its age. The prison requires extensive maintenance and attention.
In spite of its age, the prison remains a very functional institution. Currently, the prison has been able to conserve water by decreasing its usage by 38%, along with other cost-saving measures.
January 12, 2017
Kern Golden Empire
By Alan Prock
Blog note: this article reports on the Third District Court of Appeal’s ruling on a 2016 law that CGJA opposed.
California’s first-in-the-nation law requiring prosecutors, rather than secret grand juries, to decide whether a police officer who kills someone should be charged with a crime has been struck down by a state appeals court.
The law, supported by defense lawyers and civil rights groups and opposed by prosecutors, took effect in 2016. It followed decisions by closed-door grand juries not to indict officers in the deaths of two unarmed black men, Michael Brown of Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner of Staten Island, N.Y., prompting demands that such decisions be made publicly by elected district attorneys.
But the Third District Court of Appeal in Sacramento said Tuesday that the law interferes with a county grand jury’s authority, established by the California Constitution in 1879, to issue an indictment after receiving evidence of a felony.
“The Legislature does not have the power to enact a statute that limits the constitutional power of a criminal grand jury to indict any adult accused of a criminal offense,” Justice M. Kathleen Butz said in the 3-0 ruling. Otherwise, she said, lawmakers could go further and eliminate a grand jury’s role in all criminal cases.
SFPD is actively working a reported officer-involved shooting and possible standoff situation near the Ingleside neighborhood.
The ruling preserves the long-standing system in California of allowing prosecutors to submit criminal cases to a grand jury for indictment or file charges on their own. The U.S. Constitution, by contrast, requires a grand jury indictment for any federal felony charge unless the defendant waives that right.
El Dorado County District Attorney Vern Pierson, who challenged the law, said Wednesday that the legislation was a product of “antipolice rhetoric sweeping the country ... fueled by some misguided politicians, by special-interest groups and by false news stories.”
Referring to killings by officers, Pierson said, “Occasionally, these very difficult cases need to be investigated by a grand jury because the public is entitled to a comprehensive, professional and transparent investigation into all criminal activity.”
But supporters of the law made the opposite argument — that referring cases to secretive grand juries enables prosecutors to avoid accountability — and the court said they had a point.
Butz, in her ruling, quoted the bill’s author, state Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, who said that the criminal grand jury system “lacks transparency,” and that openness and accountability “are key to establishing and keeping” public trust in the system.
But Butz said legislators could enact laws to make criminal grand juries less secretive. She said they could also adopt a state constitutional amendment and submit it to the voters, although that would appear unlikely, as such amendments require two-thirds majorities in both houses and Mitchell’s bill narrowly won passage in both the Assembly and state Senate.
The court case came from South Lake Tahoe, where a police officer responding to reports of suspected domestic violence at a motel in June 2015 fatally shot a man who was climbing out of a bathroom window, and who proved to be unarmed.
To challenge the state law, Pierson, the district attorney, held onto the case until January 2016, then convened a grand jury and issued subpoenas to officers and others involved in the incident. Before the jury could convene to consider possible charges, a Superior Court judge ruled the subpoenas invalid and dismissed the panel, prompting an appeal that led to Tuesday’s ruling.
The officers or the state attorney general’s office could seek review in the state Supreme Court. David Mastagni, a lawyer for the officers and their police association, said they haven’t decided whether to appeal but were willing to proceed under either SB227, Mitchell’s bill, or the former system.
“We just want to have a fair and open system so the public gets to know what’s going on,” he said.
January 11, 2017
San Francisco Chronicle
By Bob Egelko
Sunday, January 8, 2017
Input follows Alameda County-backed study on options to dissolve it
Blog note: this article references a 2016 grand jury report.
CASTRO VALLEY — An Alameda County-backed study analyzing the often criticized Eden Health District’s operations and management and possible options to dissolve it is getting mixed feedback from the special district’s leaders and East Bay lawmakers.
Eden Health District administrators say the 82-page study by Berkson Associates of Berkeley was unnecessary, since the results vary little from 2013 and 2015 reviews by the county’s Local Agency Formation Commission.
The seven-member county commission is charged with reviewing special districts, including Eden Health District, and overseeing any potential plans to dissolve it and transfer its assets to a another agency or nonprofit.
Eden Health District covers Eden Township, which includes Hayward, San Leandro, San Lorenzo, Ashland, Cherryland, Fairview and Castro Valley.
“Dissolving the district eliminates the option of funding local hospitals and other non-profits from a readily available taxing authority, which is costly and perhaps impossible to re-create,” Eden Health District Chief Executive Officer Dev Mahadevan wrote in a Dec. 14 letter to the commission.
“Liquidating the assets (regardless of whether the district continues or is dissolved) eliminates a perpetual return of more than 10 percent, which could serve the district’s residents in order to improve health,” he said.
Some East Bay leaders disagree and contend the health district has not done enough to financially support struggling St. Rose and San Leandro hospitals; they also are wary of further cuts in federal government funding.
“They talk about an obligation to the community, and I think that the district needs to have some obligation to help continue the viability of those two hospitals,” Alameda County Supervisor Wilma Chan said in an interview Monday.
“I think if the district doesn’t take into account these two hospitals that see more than 65,000 people in their emergency rooms every year, you’re really missing one really, really important asset to what the community needs,” she said.
The report generally found “no evidence of mismanagement that warrants dissolution and discontinuation of services,” but advised the district to track hours and resources allocated to real estate activities and community services.
Local Agency Formation Commission authorized the report amid growing calls by Hayward, San Leandro and county leaders to dissolve or re-examine the health district’s operations after a grand jury report was released in June 2016.
The grand jury criticized the time and money spent on the district’s commercial real estate holdings rather than grants awarded to nonprofit health care service providers.
The health district owns three medical office buildings. It uses some of the rent from them on grants to health service providers; the rest covers the district’s expenses.
San Leandro Mayor Pauline Cutter said she would like to see the district dissolved and its assets distributed to support St. Rose and San Leandro hospitals rather than have the money fund health district employee salaries or its commercial real estate activities.
The district’s $26.4 million budget for the last fiscal year included $7.7 million in operating expenses, including $358,606 for salary and $1.84 million in health care grants, according to an audit.
“I believe they have lost sight of the core mission they were formed for, and this report doesn’t address any of that,” Cutter said in an interview Monday.
“This report had a focus on the regulatory details of the district, but my job as mayor is to see if the needs of my citizens are being met,” she said.
Mahadevan, however, said he is not convinced. The current value of the district’s commercial properties total about $31.3 million, even with an $11.7 million outstanding construction loan on the Dublin Gateway Building.
“By no stretch of the imagination is $20 million going to support both of those hospitals for more than two years at the rate that they’re going. It may not even last two years; it might be 16 months,” he told the district board at its Dec. 21 meeting.
He said he hopes the commission will affirm that the health district is working, but if not, he said the best alternative is for Eden to create a nonprofit and transfer the district’s assets and liabilities to it.
That proposal, crafted by Eden administrators, would allow a 10-member board, including the five current Eden board members, to govern the new nonprofit. The other five would be appointed by the county supervisors or Hayward or San Leandro city councils.
Doing so, however, “isn’t as clean-cut as it appears just in concept,” Eden attorney Colin Coffey told the district board.
A special election would cost about $200,000, and the fees to attorneys and others to create such a nonprofit could be considerable, he said. There also is the issue of the $17.2 million the district owes Sutter Health after losing its San Leandro Hospital ownership legal battle.
Chan, however, said Eden administrators should work more closely with county leaders.
“I also think they have to be a little bit more open, that perhaps some of the ways they’re doing things aren’t correct; any time anyone raises anything instead of putting up a wall. I don’t think that’s the right way to react,” Chan said.
January 6, 2017
East Bay Times
By Darin Moriki
For the first time in recent memory, the San Diego Superior Court may not have enough applicants to draw names for the 2017-18 San Diego County grand jury, officials said Thursday.
The grand jury performs a traditional function as a “watchdog” over government agencies and investigates citizen complaints. Grand jurors do not conduct criminal investigations.
A total of 47 people have applied for the grand jury since November. In a good year, more than 100 people put their names into the blind drawing, court officials said.
“It has been getting harder and harder each year to get people to apply to serve on the grand jury,” said Executive Officer Michael Roddy. “We are having a hard time understanding the public’s lack of interest in the work of this very important group of people.”
Grand jurors are selected via a blind draw from each San Diego County supervisorial district, giving each district equal representation by population.
At this point, the Court does not have enough applicants in Districts 1, 3, or 5.
Applications are now available by calling (619) 450-7272 or in person at Jury Services or jury lounges at courthouses downtown, Vista, Chula Vista and El Cajon.
The 19-member grand jury will work four days a week, about six hours a day, from July 1, 2017, through June 30, 2018.
A small stipend per day, plus mileage and downtown parking are provided.
Applications must be received by Jan. 13.
January 5, 2017
Times of San Diego
By Debbie L. Sklar
Blog note: this article references a 2013 grand jury report on the subject.
SAN BERNARDINO >> Sheriff’s officials have completely replenished “non-lethal” Tasers used by deputies in the field with new devices.
The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department purchased 1,525 X2 Tasers to replace their current supply that has expired since the first purchase six years ago.
“The San Bernardino County order is the first complete replacement of a full deployment of X2s that was previously purchased as one of our earlier adopters of our first dual shot weapon when it was introduced in 2011,” Rick Smith, CEO and co-founder of Taser International, said in a written statement. “They are the first agency to fully replace their entire fleet of X2s after their full useful life.”
\The shelf life for the X2 Taser is rated at five years, according to a Taser International news release.
The use of the non-lethal weapon has come under fire in recent years and became the center of a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union in March 2015.
In the filing, the ACLU is suing the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department to seek a judge’s order to force the law enforcement agency to produce records on its Taser policies and practices.
That case is not expected to be heard until later this summer, but attorneys for the ACLU said they are very optimistic a settlement could be reached in the near future.
Nearly seven months before the filing, a Victorville man, Dante Parker, was stunned approximately 25 times during a confrontation with a deputy in the High Desert.
The 36-year-old died shortly after the encounter. The Riverside County Coroner’s Office ruled his death an accident from PCP intoxication with a noted significant condition of hypertensive cardiovascular disease.
Three years before Parker’s death, deputies used a Taser on Alan Kephart 16 times after a traffic stop in the San Bernardino Mountains.
Kephart died, and the District Attorney’s Office also cleared the department of wrongdoing. However, Kephart’s family was awarded $4.25 million from the county to settle a wrongful death lawsuit.
In its annual report released July 1, 2013, the San Bernardino County grand jury recommended, in response to newspaper articles that year regarding the Taser-related deaths of three men at the hands of sheriff’s deputies, that the Sheriff’s Department enhance deputy training on use of the “non-lethal” weapon.
In its response, the Sheriff’s Department agreed with the grand jury’s recommendation to amend its Taser training manual to include the requirement of greater communication among on-scene officers regarding the number of Taser discharges deployed on a person to avoid multiple, continuous exposures.
It also agreed to stress the importance of alternative methods of subduing individuals at future training sessions.
Under proposed regulations drafted by the state Attorney General’s Office to implement Assembly Bill 953, the Sheriff’s Department would be required to report some detailed information about its Taser use, which it has withheld from the public in the past, according to Adrienna Wong, staff attorney for the Inland Empire office of the ACLU of Southern California.
No added training will be required for the new cache of “non-lethal” Tasers, sheriff’s spokeswoman Jodi Miller said Wednesday.
January 4, 2017
By Doug Saunders
Blog note: this article references a 2012-13 grand jury report.
CrimeBeat Q&A is a weekly feature where police reporter Julie Johnson answers readers’ questions about local crimes and the law.
Can someone please tell me why it is so dark on the streets at night in Santa Rosa? There was an article saying that the city was turning the darkened street lights back on starting in June of 2016, but it’s still dangerously dark from a driving standpoint. Also, dark neighborhoods are a real come-on to thieves.
— Tanya Tatum, Santa Rosa
If a street light isn’t on at night, it’s probably broken, said Jason Nutt, Santa Rosa’s director of Transportation and Public Works.
That wasn’t necessarily the case before last June. Between 2009 and last year, the city darkened thousands of street lights in one of the most visible cost savings programs during the city’s budget crisis.
All told, the city turned off just over 3,500 of 16,000 street lights in the Santa Rosa Junior College, Fountaingrove, Montecito Heights, Rincon Valley and Bennett Valley neighborhoods, as well as in Oakmont and the northwest area. The city also installed timers on about 1,100 street lights to shut them off at midnight and turn them on again from 5:30 a.m. until daybreak. Most street lights have sensors that activate the lights when it gets dark and shut them off when the sky lightens in the morning.
Research on whether dark streets invite crime is mixed. But Santa Rosa’s public works and police departments found no increase in crime in areas where the street lights were turned off, according to the Sonoma County Grand Jury’s 2012-2013 report.
Santa Rosa’s public works department estimated the reductions would halve the annual $800,000 street lighting bill. A final estimate of how much money was saved wasn’t available Tuesday.
The five-year cost savings program has ended, and the city finished gradually reactivating those darkened lights in June, Nutt said.
So why do some streets still seem dark? Although the city is in better financial health, it doesn’t have the staff to ensure every light is working and relies on residents to report street light issues.
“If no one has reported it, we might not know about it,” Nutt said.
January 4, 2017
The Press Democrat
By Julie Johnson
Thursday, January 5, 2017
Do you have a nose for snooping into government affairs?
Mark your calendar for recognition of an institution that normally flies under the radar… Grand Jury Awareness Month coming this spring. And RIGHT NOW the selection process is in full swing for the 2017 Grand Jury (GJ) that will serve from July 2017 to June 2018 investigating complaints filed against local government agencies.
Introductory workshops will take place from Jan. 5 through March 16.
“The strength of the grand jury is gathering 19 citizens with a diversity of skills and looking at the efficiency of county government,” Matt Stone, current Grand Jury foreperson, said. “We have awesome power in a little living space.”
The GJ operates under state law, functioning as an independent body that oversees the legislative and administrative departments of county, city and special district governments, such as local school districts and Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) created districts, like the Palm Drive Health Care District.
It has the power to investigate to ensure their “efficient, honest and fair operation” in service to the citizens of Sonoma County.
Power to Learn
While the Sonoma County GJ has the power to subpoena, take sworn testimony and access law enforcement employee records in search of critical information, it has no criminal prosecutorial authority.
One of its primary benefits is the ability to shine a light on obscure government functions.
Once the investigation is completed, the GJ can forward an accusation* which can expose inefficiencies or dysfunction in local government agencies and lead to corrective action.
“There’s no magic wand or power, but we do have the bully pulpit,” Stone said. “And what better education can you get than looking under the hood and seeing how government works and who the players are?”
Stone served on the 2015-16 grand jury and is one of four jurors retained for continuity into the current fiscal year. He acts foreperson to help guide new jurors through the process until the new jury is seated in July.
“I’m not a tiebreaker or order-giver, but more a cat herder in charge of organizational training and assigning responsibilities,” Stone said of his duties.
Each grand jury is selected by a two-step process: the application, which is reviewed by the county, and then the candidate is interviewed by a Superior Court judge. In June, 19 jurors and at least five alternative will be randomly selected for a one-year term, so the prospective juror pool must be at least 60 people. Time commitment is about 10-20 volunteer hours per week, so the composition is skewed towards older, whiter retirees.
Seeking People of Color
“The effectiveness of the GJ depends entirely on the pool of volunteers who step forward each year to offer their time and expertise to ferret out ‘the next big problem’ and to research the possible fixes,” Stone said.
As the county searches for new jurors, it hopes to broaden the reach and diversity of the body in order to expand both the scope of investigations.
“We have to ask if that’s the right demographic for investigating incidents involving people of color,” Stone said. “If the GJ could broaden it’s economic and demographic reach it could monitor things like vineyard workers’ rights.”
He believes that one way to help broaden the demographics would be for businesses — be they large agri-business, Medtronic, or other big corporations — to make an effort to encourage employees to volunteer and make it easier with paid time off.
“Let them do it for an educational experience,” Stone said. “For one year you feel the burn, but that employee will be a rock star.”
GJ investigations have led to many high profile corrections in recent years.
A 2011 GJ report catalogued mismanagement of the Sonoma County Library system and since then, the recommendations have been gradually implemented.
Likewise the Permit and Resource Management Department (PRMD) received recommendations to hire new management and improve customer service. The GJ also investigated the pension fund issues that led to formation of advisory/review panel, the Sonoma County Law Library was kept from insolvency and almost every recommendation made is being incorporated into countywide housing planning
“We’ve had three reports on the library in the past six years and they followed our recommendations,” Stone said. “Some people complained about the PRMD — there are horror stories — and over time our recommendations have been implemented.”
But there are instances when an investigation does not come to fruition just because of a phone call from the grand jury.
“If the GJ decides some department needs to be looked at and they get that phone call, there is an audible tightening of the sphincter on the other end of the line,” Stone said. “That phone call triggers a conversation when the GJ arrives for meetings and a tour. Then you come back and somebody’s fixing the problem. Things get done before you even report just by showing up.”
Platform for Change
California is one of a few remaining states to maintain a civil grand jury system, with two types of grand juries, civil and criminal. They are separate bodies governed by different rules. Criminal grand juries are rarely used in Sonoma County, because the District Attorney has other alternatives to bring about criminal charges.
“Outside of attaining elected office, I believe being a Grand Juror provides an individual with the most powerful platform for promoting real change and having a real impact on our community,” Stone concluded. “This is a key ‘take away.’”
For juror guidelines or to obtain an application, go to sonoma.courts.ca.gov or send a request with a self-addressed envelope to:
Sonoma County Superior Court
Attn: Court Administration
600 Administration Dr., Santa Rosa, California 95403
For further information call (707) 521-6501
* of misfeasance, malfeasance or nonfeasance
You could make a difference! Join Sonoma County Civil Grand Jurors to learn about serving!
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January 4, 2017
Sonoma County Gazette
By David Abbott
Tuesday, January 3, 2017
Blog note: this article references a 2013-14 grand jury report.
The El Dorado County Board of Supervisors approved a resolution to accept a $57 million loan for construction of a new public safety facility during a special meeting Dec. 28. Offered through a program of the United States Department of Agriculture, the vote allowed the county to take advantage of a lower interest rate that was set to rise by one percentage point Jan. 1. Thus the Dec. 28 vote gave county officials the time to sign off on a volume of loan-related documents before the deadline.
As the next step in the process of building a the new facility to house the county sheriff’s headquarters and related law enforcement functions on property purchased in Diamond Springs, Wednesday’s unanimous vote moves the project forward and secures funding for upcoming stages of design and construction. The project has been in the works for more than two years since a Vanir Management Construction report advised the county not to spend any money trying to upgrade or rehabilitate the current sheriff’s facility on Fair Lane in Placerville.
Quoting an El Dorado County Grand Jury report in 2013-14, the sheriff’s website notes, “The (current) facility does not have adequate space for the number of personnel assigned to the building, that crowding of office furniture results in very poor working conditions, including improper lighting and ergonomic problems, that storage areas containing ammunition and explosives as well as confiscated marijuana do not have adequate ventilation or proper refrigeration, and that officers’ dressing and shower area is too small for the number of personnel using it.”
The loan is guaranteed by the USDA’s rural public safety division and carries a maximum term of 40 years. Loan service is planned at about $2.3 million a year and county officials have repeatedly said they hope to pay it off sooner than the term date.
In a Dec. 20 letter to the Board of Supervisors, Chief Administrative Officer Don Ashton wrote, “While this is likely the most significant long-term investment this county has ever taken, and it will impact the flexibility the board has in identifying funding for other very important mandated and discretionary programs, I encourage the board to approve this recommendation.”
Ashton’s letter, however, included a recognition that the loan amount is about $3 million less than the county had requested and the $2.3 million annual payments are likely to “limit … county General Fund support for other important services and programs.” He named funding for roads, senior and veterans programs as well as aid to rural fire districts, libraries, marijuana enforcement, tree mortality programs and CalPERS increases. Without an “unanticipated increase in revenues,” such programs could suffer in the future, he said.
Ashton further noted that rejecting the USDA loan would not alter the need to find suitable accommodations for the sheriff’s department. Financing the project without the USDA loan would also be considerably more expensive because of higher interest rates and construction costs.
In a separate letter to supervisors, county Auditor-Controller Joe Harn added his voice to Ashton’s.
“I strongly support the CAO’s recommendation to ‘accept’ the USDA loan and ‘lock in’ the 2.375 percent interest rate being offered through Dec. 30, 2016,” Harn wrote. “As I told the Board of Supervisors on July 18, 2014, the construction of a new sheriff’s headquarters is long overdue and much-needed. We must get our sheriff and his staff out of the clearly unacceptable facility in which they now protect and serve the public.”
Harn’s letter, however, continued in a harsher vein.
“I am disappointed that the county is in the position that we must borrow $57 million,” he wrote. “It is my opinion that the government that borrows least governs best. For the past six years our CAO’s office has been dominated by individuals with no roots in our community who were not concerned about the long-term well-being of our county. The county should have been saving for this facility and other capital improvement needs for the last six years. If we would have set aside funds over the past six years for this project we would be borrowing significantly less than $57 million today. Further, I am disappointed that the county did not put this borrowing question to a vote of the people as I requested on July 18, 2014. I am confident that our residents would support this borrowing at the ballot box because our sheriff has a history of being frugal.”
During public comment, local residents Sue Taylor and Lori Parlin challenged the board for not taking the issue directly to the voters and Kris Payne asked supervisors why they had not done so.
County Counsel Mike Ciccozzi explained later that because the deal represented a lease agreement rather than an issuance of revenue bonds, under the state constitution and the county’s Measure A, the board had the authority to take such action and did not require a vote of the people.
Before taking their vote Wednesday, supervisors agonized over the commitment of funds and the “difficult decisions” that loom in the future regarding other programs and services and acknowledged Ashton’s warning, “There is not another viable option.”
“Due to the county’s prior decisions to not set aside money for deferred maintenance and capital improvements,” Ashton’s letter concluded, “all of us are now faced with having to prioritize funding for essential infrastructure needs, both facility and IT needs, rather than expanding discretionary services or even increasing service levels for mandated programs. If we fail to make these difficult decisions, it will simply force more difficult choices in the future.”
Supervisors in turn shared common feelings about the commitment.
“I’ll be more frugal going forward, but we’ve got to do it,” District 2 Supervisor Shiva Frentzen acknowledged.
District 3’s Brian Veerkamp, on teleconference phone from Montana, added, “We started something and we’ve got to follow through with it. It is what it is.”
Sue Novasel, District 5, concluded, “It has to be done and in future we’ll start with the basics that we are (fiscally) conservative …”
Saying he “appreciated the gravity of the action,” Michael Ranalli, District 4, called the decision, “scary, scary … but a no-brainer. The scariness is probably what prevented other boards from taking this decision.”
Outgoing supervisor and board chairman Ron “Mik” Mikulaco voted against the loan proposal in July, saying he was not convinced the county could handle the debt and still provide the level of services and programs residents demand and expect. Acknowledging his earlier concerns, however, he joined his colleagues in the affirmative vote.
“We identified the sheriff’s facility as our first priority,” he said. “It’s been three years of effort. We went through a lot of effort to select a property, then we had to look at how to pay for it. Of all the options the USDA loan was the best. But 40 years to pay it off? I’ll be almost 90 years old,” Mikulaco joked.
Just before the vote, he added, “Six years and two weeks from now, none of us will be here and future boards will have to deal with this.” Moments later, he announced, “Clerk of the Board, the motion carries 5-0.”
January 2, 2017
By Chris Daley
FAIRFIELD — The 2015-16 Solano County grand jury said a regional approach to homelessness is needed, a report that was issued just months ahead of the release of a five-year strategic plan on dealing with the growing problem.
It is an issue that has gained a brighter spotlight as the year aged, including a central place in various election campaigns as well as recent summits on the topic in Suisun City and Vallejo.
The grand jury was critical of the county’s leadership on the issue, and said there is a disconnection between regional and local efforts.
The grand jury report credited Fairfield, Vacaville and Vallejo for its efforts, but also recommended each city assess the cost of homelessness.
In all, the grand jury presented 20 findings – some directed at the county, others at the cities.
The responses were in general agreement on the greater importance of the addressing the issue, but were less agreeable on some of the specifics in the grand jury’s report, particularly with the idea of forming a separate agency to oversee how the problem is addressed.
A 2015 census identified 1,082 people who were homeless in Solano County. The county’s Department of Health and Social Services identified about 9,000 people who were homeless or at risk of being homeless.
“This indicates that we have a significantly larger problem to address,” the grand jury report stated.
The strategic plan is expected to be released in January.
January 1, 2017
Fairfield Daily Republic
By Daily Republic staff
Blog note: this article references a 2015-16 grand jury report.
Sonoma County officials seeking to find ways to reduce the number of people jailed with mental illness have joined a national campaign that will highlight the issue, as well as the cost to taxpayers and communities, in a two-day summit later this month in Sacramento.
The campaign, featuring local leaders from more than 300 counties across the nation, is billed as a new bid to close gaps in health care and criminal justice that advocates say harm those with mental illness.
“We’ve got to provide really good treatment in our criminal justice system and simultaneously we’ve got to advocate for people with mental illness and make sure that health care providers are giving the care they should be,” said Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane, the incoming board chairwoman.
Zane is scheduled to attend the Sacramento summit on Jan. 18 and 19. The campaign, organized by the Council of State Governments Justice Center, will offer local government officials detailed guidance for what can done to keep people with mental illness out of jail.
On average, 40 percent of the people housed in the Sonoma County jail system have some form of acute mental illness that requires medication, according to the 2015-2016 Grand Jury Report.
Federal “parity” laws require insurance companies to cover mental health care to the same degree as physical health care. But Zane said the federal government does a poor job of enforcing those laws.
As a result, residents with mental illness do not get the care, including intensive one-on-one therapy and counseling, that can often keep their conditions from deteriorating to the point where they come in contact with law enforcement.
“The county continues to pay for the failures of a private health care system that does not treat mental illness,” Zane said.
The county is on track to build a $49 million mental health wing for its main jail site in Santa Rosa, with the bulk of the money, $40 million, coming from a state grant that can only be used for corrections projects. Construction is expected to be completed by 2020.
Mendocino County voters, meanwhile, narrowly rejected a tax measure in November that would have funded construction of mental health and drug rehabilitation facilities to reduce the strain on the jail system and provide more specialized treatment for troubled inmates.
Counties across the country face the same dilemma. Each year, some 2 million people with serious mental illness are sent to jail in the United States, a rate that’s up to six times higher than that of the general public, according to the Council of State Governments Justice Center.
When a person with mental illness lands in jail, he or she usually stays there longer than other inmates and often runs a higher risk of returning to jail after released, said Fred Osher, director of health systems and services policy for the justice center.
“It creates an enormous burden on the criminal justice system,” Osher said. Housing people with mental illness in jails does little to improve public safety nor does it improve the patient’s mental health condition, he said.
County officials who participate in the Sacramento summit will be given a road map on how to make improvements in care for their communities. Steps include collecting and reviewing data to better assess the flow in and out of jail for inmates with mental illness; assessing the county’s mental health and substance abuse services; investing in programs that keep mentally ill people out of jail; developing a plan to reduce their numbers in jail and tracking the plan’s progress.
Osher said a majority of jail inmates with mental illness have some form of substance addiction. Because of the lack of behavioral health services in many communities, the legal system often finds itself in a tough position.
“Often times people are reluctant to let go of people with mental health histories — prosecutors, judges are responding to community concern and safety issues,” Osher said.
Zane said the county spends $80 million a year on behavioral health programs. She called on the private sector, including health insurance companies and health care providers, to boost their investment in such care.
“Provide treatment, real treatment,” she said, “because our jails and our homeless population screams that it’s not there.”
December 31, 2016
Santa Rosa Press Democrat
By Martin Espinoza