Sunday, July 30, 2017
It’s an annual dance — each year the Plumas County Grand Jury issues its report and each year the Board of Supervisors responds. But this year the two appear to be more out of sync than usual. That’s because the grand jury members don’t think that the supervisors take them seriously and devoted a good portion of their report addressing that accusation. This year’s 2016-17 grand jury report detailed the board’s lack of response to the 2015-16 report in a section aptly titled “Board of Supervisors Needs to Take Grand Jury Seriously.”
In remarks in this issue of the newspaper Grand Jury Foreperson John Lullo states, “There is a tendency (on the part of the supervisors) to delay and placate so that the whole process is undermined.” Lullo and the grand jury also take issue with the phrase “it is expected” that the supervisors often use to preface their intended actions. “Use of the term ‘it is expected’ is not a commitment,” Lullo writes.
The report alludes to two supervisors that the grand jury met with to discuss this issue, but did not disclose which two. But during a Board of Supervisors’ meeting earlier this month, when the supervisors were discussing the report’s release, Supervisor Lori Simpson said that she and Sherrie Thrall were the two mentioned, and that they both took issue with the grand jury’s characterization of what occurred during that meeting. Simpson sought advice from County Counsel Craig Settlemire about what could and couldn’t be revealed because of the confidential nature of grand jury proceedings. The supervisors must respond to the grand jury report in writing within 90 days.
In addition to chiding the board for a lack of response, the grand jury wants the supervisors to address a challenged probation department, the lack of a CAO, and the county’s outdated job descriptions and organizational chart.
“This year as in previous years, an important fact came to light. The County is in need of a Chief Administrative Officer (CAO),” Lullo wrote in a cover letter on behalf of the grand jury to Superior Court Judge Janet Hilde, who presides over the jury. “This job has been vacant for five years. By the Board of Supervisors failing to fill the position of CAO, they have by default assumed the responsibility of managing county operations. This is not the normal or established purpose of the BOS. Their role is to set policy and authorize spending. The result is inefficiency and discord among department heads. Refer to the Probation report contained herein.”
As has often been cited in this space, we at Feather Publishing couldn’t agree more with the grand jury’s assessment that the county is in dire need of a CAO.
Past grand jury reports have had two common themes — the need for a CAO and the need for a new jail. This year the latter was refreshingly a non-issue. “Due largely to the efforts of Greg Hagwood and his staff, the long hoped for $25 million grant was awarded,” the letter to Hilde stated, and a new jail is in the planning phase.
Another bright spot in the report was the grand jury’s assessment of the Peninsula Fire District in the Almanor Basin. “The Grand Jury found that the Peninsula Fire District is effectively providing quality service to its customers and employees who make up the Fire District,” the report reads.
The full report is included in this issue of the newspaper. It is relatively brief compared to past reports and makes for an interesting read, as will no doubt the supervisors’ response this fall. Let’s hope that the board responds constructively to the report, and that the two entities don’t simply end this dance by stepping on each other’s toes.
July 28, 2017
Plumas County News
Blog note: this letter references a 2013 grand jury report.
The headline read, “Chico government can’t be trusted with tax increase.” The letter implied current city management is deceitful in its handling of city finances. Nothing could be further from the truth. If the letter writer attended monthly Finance Committee meetings, any accusation of supposed mishandling of taxpayer monies could be explained. I know, I attend those meetings.
Since our new management staff (Mark Orme, city manager, Chris Constantin, assistant city manager, Scott Dowell, administrative services director, and Barbara Martin, deputy director-finance) took office many positive changes in financial reporting have taken place. Detailed financial reports are presented at both the committee meeting and at City Council meetings. Those reports are published online for all to see and pick apart if the public chooses. I cannot recall the letter writer coming forward with a question, comment, or criticism this entire year.
Most of the letter seemed focused on past majority driven ultra-liberal councils (2004-2012) and the old management team that was either unwilling or incapable of controlling their spending. Things have changed dramatically. All it took was one conservative council member and the Grand Jury report of May 2013 to shed light on the mismanagement of taxpayers’ money.
I have no misgivings in suggesting that the city raise sale tax by one-quarter of 1 percent (7.25 percent to 7.50 percent) equaling $4-$4.5 million annually. I will gladly pay that extra 12 cents on a $50 purchase if that meant we could repair/replace our hazardous city streets in this century.
July 27, 2017
Letter from Stephanie L. Taber, Chico
Marin residents experience the high cost of housing in many ways, including financial strain, heavy traffic, problems associated with homeless people and the likelihood that the next generation will leave the county, according to a recent report by the Marin County Civil Grand Jury.
The report, titled “Overcoming Barriers to Housing Affordability” and issued in April, suggested that the county’s high land costs, difficult permitting process and widespread public opposition to development create barriers to low-income housing. It recommended hiring a regional housing coordinator position that would operate throughout the county to coordinate funding sources and developers, identify underutilized properties and create jurisdiction-specific plans. A countywide civic mediation program, it added, could facilitate community dialogue around controversial projects.
Last month, the Board of Supervisors issued a response to the report, accepting some key findings and recommendations but disagreeing with others. The board agreed that vocal opposition to the construction of new housing can deter developers, but it took issue with the finding that the cost of land and development makes low-income affordable housing unfeasible and that active planning for such housing is not taking place. The board rejected the suggestion of a regional housing coordinator position.
“I really appreciate the grand jury looking into the issue of housing affordability and elevating the difficulties so we can focus on them and discuss solutions and also what we already might be doing in some cases,” Supervisor Dennis Rodoni said.
The jury described five underlying problems plaguing housing affordability. Among them were community resistance to new development, the high cost of land and construction due to low-density zoning laws, an inefficient planning process that slows projects and discordant approaches to affordable housing in Marin’s towns and cities.
The jury—which reviewed local and federal laws and regulations, studied county demographics and financial reports and interviewed advocacy groups and county department managers and planning staff during its investigation—illustrated common reactions to civic projects.
“What if a proposed project is upsetting: a high-density housing project (that will add to traffic), a homeless shelter (that will bring in undesirable people), a flood detention basin (that might cause local flooding), or a low-income housing development (that will decrease property values)?” the report implored.
The director of the county’s Community Development Agency, Brian Crawford, said fears like those can distract from the goals at hand.
“When decisions about affordable housing become more localized, opposition tends to build around why a development proposal is not a good fit for a particular community,” he wrote in an email. “One of the important roles of our staff is to keep the focus on real issues and to ensure the county follows our local land use regulations as well as the state Housing Accountability Act.”
That 1982 act protects housing development efforts by requiring a specific set of findings that make it difficult for local governments to reduce the density of a project for subjective reasons like neighborhood character, aesthetics or other difficult-to-measure—and impossible to challenge—criteria.
The grand jury found that developers routinely report that they do not try to build housing in Marin because of burdensome local regulatory requirements and citizen complaints.
Wendi Kallins, who is on the steering committee of Coalition for Livable Marin, agreed. She said the idea that “we don’t have room for anybody” has got to go if the county wishes to attract good affordable housing projects. “We need developers who are sensitive to the community and to the environment, and for that, there has to be openness to building more housing,” she said.
According to Mr. Crawford, it’s difficult for the county to attract affordable housing proposals “in part due to the reputation we’ve developed and in part because we have a hard time competing against more urbanized jurisdictions that have passed bond measures creating significant amounts of funding to subsidize affordable housing.”
In their response to the report, supervisors adopted a series of recommendations proposed by the jury, many of which detail procedures already in place. First, each planning department will continue offering opportunities for developers to speak, early in the process, with relevant staffers to discuss impacts of proposed developments and potential solutions to problems. The Community Development Agency will continue developing a proactive community outreach strategy with accessible language that alerts communities before starting a formal planning process for any project that might be controversial.
In addition, the county committed to fast-tracking low-income housing projects through planning and permitting processes.
But supervisors pushed back on the jury’s findings that the costs of land and development make it too expensive to build low-income affordable housing in Marin and that there is no active planning for the creation of such housing. The board acknowledged that land values and developments are impediments, but suggested that subsidies can offer a solution, pointing to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund in Marin, which has $6 million in funds for new affordable housing projects. Concerning the planning process, the board pointed to the Countywide Plan, which serves at a blueprint for meeting housing needs at all income levels.
The county has also begun working on a suite of affordable housing policy options in 2015, aimed at moving “the pendulum toward creating more housing options for lower-income folks,” Mr. Crawford said. These include $1 million set aside to support the creation of family rental housing, an effort to acquire existing rental housing for permanent affordable housing, a landlord incentives program through the Marin Housing Authority and a new ordinance that addresses landlords rejecting prospective tenants that rely on Section 8 housing vouchers.
Mr. Crawford said the board will take up additional measures to improve the effectiveness of existing affordable housing regulations in early August.
Lastly, the board rejected the jury’s finding that responsibility for housing in Marin is fragmented and that there is little coordination among county agencies, cities and towns. A regional housing coordinator position is unnecessary, supervisors argued, as these services are already provided by staff and because state law gives municipalities and the unincorporated area of the county responsibility for reviewing and making decisions within their individual boundaries.
“[Perhaps] the board did not have the funding for this position,” Ms. Kallins remarked. “I think there does need to be more coordination—the piecemeal approach is not really addressing the problem.”
The jury made two other recommendations directed not at the county’s supervisors, but at its school and utility districts. The report asked each school district to investigate the feasibility of building teacher and staff workforce housing on their land and suggested that each utility district waive hook-up fees for low-income housing projects and accessory dwelling units.
The Light has not acquired all the responses from those districts, but both Bolinas-Stinson Union and Lagunitas School Districts were hailed by the grand jury for recognizing that the cost of housing in Marin is an impediment to recruiting and retaining qualified staff. They both cited Senate Bill 1413, which paved the way for schools to establish and implement affordable workforce housing, and said research is underway to determine how to best approach a situation that requires land, financing and property management.
Additionally, the Bolinas Community Public Utility District replied that though the recommendation to waive hook-up fees does not apply to Bolinas because of its moratorium on new water and sewer service connections, there are instances where existing water connections are transferred between properties. In such instances, the district charges the property owner the time and materials costs of moving the water meter, costs that range from the mid-hundreds to the thousands of dollars. In order to support the creation of affordable housing, the district said it could modify its policies to waive these costs for affordable units.
BCPUD also said it is pursuing two other initiatives to reduce the need for septic upgrades and replacements, which can be significant barriers to building housing: the “Todd Drainage Plan” on the Mesa, which helps lower the wet-season water table and improve septic system performance, and supporting the Bolinas Community Land Trust’s efforts to get the county to waive required upgrades to well-functioning septic systems for affordable accessory dwelling units.
Though Inverness Public Utility District has not yet submitted a response, it does not require hook-up fees for these second units.
July 27, 2017
Point Reyes Light
By Anna Guth
The San Luis Obispo County Jail lacks oversight in ensuring the well-being of jail inmates, both the Sheriff’s Office and County Health Agency said Tuesday in agreeing with most of a recent Grand Jury report. They will address the jail’s medical management structure in a report by year-end.
But the jail will continue to hold “at-risk” inmates inside glass sobering cells for observation if necessary until they discuss alternatives with state regulators next month, the Sheriff’s Office said. That’s despite the grand jury finding that the practice violates state standards, which say the cells can only hold inmates who are a danger because of their inebriation.
One local non-intoxicated inmate suffering from mental illness died in a sobering cell in January.
In June, San Luis Obispo County’s civil Grand Jury found a “complex medical management structure” at the jail, namely a disconnect between correctional deputies and health staff due to medical confidentiality requirements.
There is “no single official at the County Jail level that has true oversight and responsibility over all aspects of an inmate’s well-being,” the Grand Jury said. Other jurisdictions overcome that hurdle by contracting correctional health services to an outside provider, allowing custodial “direct responsibility” over the inmate, the report found.
The Grand Jury recommended the Sheriff’s Office and Health Agency jointly review jail policies and management structure and present a public report by the end of the year. Its recommendations are non-binding.
We conducted a review of (inmate Andrew Holland’s death) and realized that there are some things we need to change.
The release of the Grand Jury report followed three deaths in the jail over a seven-month period, including that of Andrew Holland, who died in January of an embolism after spending 46 hours strapped to a restraint chair inside a sobering cell.
As of Tuesday, use of the restraint chair has been “permanently eliminated,” the Sheriff’s Office said in a statement. The practice had been suspended following Holland’s death. Even though other counties use the chairs, the statement reads, “the Sheriff’s Office will no longer take the chance of using a system of restraint that could cause or contribute to a serious medical issue or death.”
Both agencies reported Tuesday that their joint review is underway.
Regarding Holland’s death, “We conducted a review of the bad patient outcome and realized that there are some things we need to change,” said Health Agency Director Jeff Hamm. He declined to provide specifics. “So far, I think we’ve made significant changes.”
On July 11, the agencies entered into a memo of understanding establishing three committees with correctional and health staff reviewing policy, operations and quality management, according to the Sheriff’s Office. Each committee meets at least once a month.
IN-CUSTODY DEATHS, 2012-17
The following people died while in custody of the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office since January 2012.
- Jan. 5, 2012: Kevin Lee Strahl, 53. Cause: Hepatic failure, liver fatty change
- Nov. 12, 2012: Joseph Morillo, 43. Cause: Cardiac arrest due to thickening of heart muscle and morbid obesity
- Jan. 27, 2014: Rudy Silva. Died in hospital care. Cause: Acute hypoxic respiratory failure, septic shock, Influenza A and Staphylococcus Aureus Bacteremia
- March 12, 2014: Josey Richard Meche, 28. Cause: Cardiac dysrhythmia with acute methamphetamine toxicity
- May 30, 2014: Timothy Richard Jancowicz, 29. Cause: Respiratory arrest due to heroin toxicity
- Jan. 11, 2015: David Thomas Osborn Sr., 63, Cause: Acute myocardial infarction, Atherosclerotic coronary artery disease, hyperglycemia
- March 24, 2015: Sean Michael Alexander, 33. Cause: Microscopic encephalitis, marked pulmonary edema
- Sept. 20, 2016: Jordan Benjamin Turner, 36. Cause: Suicide with razor blade
- July 16, 2016: Nicole Honait Luxor, 62. Died in hospital care. Cause: Complications from gallbladder cancer
- Jan. 22, 2017: Andrew Chaylon Holland, 36. Intrapulmonary embolism
- April 13, 2017: Kevin Lee McLaughlin, 60. Cardiac arrest
Note: Unless otherwise stated, place of death was San Luis Obispo County Jail.
July 25, 2017
By Matt Fountain
A call by the grand jury to sharpen the congestion-busting vision for local roads received a polite, mixed response from the Napa Valley Transportation Authority.
The grand jury in June issued a report on the Authority’s 25-year Vision 2040 transportation plan. The NVTA Board of Directors last week agreed with some grand jury points and disagreed with others.
“Vision 2040 was developed over a two-year period at a cost in excess of $250,000,” the grand jury said. “However, the grand jury found that this time and expense did not result in an actionable plan to measure and solve traffic congestion.”
The NVTA Board of Directors wrestled with this and other judgments at Wednesday’s meeting.
“We believe there is a lack of understanding what the agency does and doesn’t do,” Yountville Mayor and NVTA Board Member John Dunbar said.
The NVTA is a joint powers authority among Napa County and its five cities. It oversees state and federal money for local projects, does regional transportation planning and manages the Vine bus system.
Vision 2040 looks at Napa County’s transportation future. Among other things, the 2015 document explores how $1.1 billion in expected funds over 25 years could be spent on new highway and road projects, road maintenance and mass transit.
NVTA Executive Director Kate Miller developed the theme that the grand jury seemingly has some misconceptions about the NVTA’s roles and responsibilities. She suggested that these misunderstandings spilled over into the grand jury’s perceptions of Vision 2040.
The grand jury characterized Vision 2040 as being a traffic management plan that falls short. Miller said Vision 2040 is rather a long-range vision document done with Metropolitan Transportation Commission guidelines in mind.
American Canyon City Councilman and NVTA Board Member Mark Joseph went further than the NVTA’s official responses in embracing the grand jury’s overarching themes.
“I believe the core concern of the grand jury is correct,” Joseph said. “The Vision 2040 doesn’t have a plan that says we’re going to address traffic congestion in the county.”
The NVTA is required to respond to the grand jury’s report on Vision 2040. The Board of Directors and Miller issued separate-but-related letters that discussed the report’s various findings and recommendations.
“A majority of interviewees view the Vision 2040 report’s proposed highway improvement list, bike lanes and new buses as insufficient to solve Napa County’s traffic congestion problems,” the grand jury report said.
The NVTA Board of Directors and Miller neither agreed nor disagreed with this finding. Miller called it an opinion, adding that Vision 2040 is a road map to address many transportation challenges not limited to congestion.
The grand jury found that Vision 2040 has no way to measure annual traffic congestion relief. In contrast, it said, the Sonoma County counterpart plan has such goals as reducing peak period travel time per trip by 10 percent by 2040.
It called on the NVTA to set goals and timelines with measurable results and make annual progress reports to the public starting next January.
Miller agreed that Vision 2040 lacks quantifiable measurements and performance targets. Setting such goals should be done when the NVTA develops the next countywide transportation plan beginning in 2018-19, she wrote. The next plan is to be adopted in 2020.
By July 2018, the NVTA should seek new, dependable funding ideas to ease congestion, the grand jury report said.
Miller said the agency is aggressively seeking money. For example, the recent gas tax increase by the state will provide almost $1 billion annually in competitive grants and the NVTA anticipates receiving significant new funding.
The grand jury wants the NVTA by January to create a plan promoting Napa County as an ideal test market for companies investing in transportation technology and market research and development. It pointed to driverless shuttles being used at the Bishop Ranch business park in San Ramon.
Miller has reservations. The NVTA doesn’t have the money to encourage private sector partnerships with government on commercial technology projects, she wrote.
Nor is Napa County necessarily an ideal test market for companies investing in transportation technology, given it has lower densities than places such as San Francisco and San Jose, she wrote.
Still, the agency will monitor agencies around the country to understand new technologies. It will reach out to and partner with technology companies as grants for such technologies become available, she wrote.
The NVTA praised the citizens who sat on the 2016-17 grand jury and served as watchdogs.
“I do think we have a perspective of the public, since the grand jury is the public,” American Canyon Mayor and NVTA Board member Leon Garcia said.
A grand jury recommendation remains to be addressed—that the Napa County Board of Supervisors form a traffic congestion task force including traffic, economic, housing and employment experts. The Board of Supervisors has yet to take up the matter.
July 25, 2017
Napa Valley Register
By Barry Eberling
“We are going to continue to have these challenges until we can provide more housing for people, because that really is our No. 1 deterrent,” said Board of Supervisors chairwoman Shirlee Zane.
The report also highlighted what it characterized as a training challenge for prospective employees. Full-fledged Environmental Health and Safety staff are required to be certified as a Registered Environmental Health Specialist, which requires at least a bachelor’s degree, 30 undergraduate units in the hard sciences and a set of specific courses, as well as 200 to 600 hours in a state-recognized program plus an exam.
Sonoma State University does not have a curriculum that leads directly to the required certification, the report says. So the grand jury recommended the county work with the university’s Environmental Studies chair to develop one.
Creating that curriculum may be easier said than done, according to SSU professor Laura Watt, the Environmental Studies department chair.
“The reality of curriculum development at SSU is that it’s tied pretty closely with the expertise of the tenure-track faculty in that department — and we have no one on staff with (Environmental) Health and Safety expertise,” Watt said in an email. “And tenure-track hires are still very few and far between on our campus. So I do not see it being possible to develop the kind of certificate that seems to be called for in the near future.”
Additionally, the state requirements for environmental health specialists are geared more toward people who studied natural sciences rather than environmental studies, according to SSU professor Jeff Baldwin, chair of the Geography and Global Studies department, which is merging with Environmental Studies.
And several universities in the state already offer programs that prepare students for environmental health specialist certifications, Baldwin said.
“In my opinion, SSU has scant resources available to develop a certification program which would duplicate these already (extant) efforts elsewhere,” he wrote in an email.
California does have schools with approved programs that get students ready to take the environmental health specialist exam, Sosko said. But those colleges are located either in Southern California or the Central Valley, she said.
That’s why Sosko is among a group of environmental health officials working with California State University, East Bay to set up a similar program there. An internship requirement would be included in the program, she said.
July 24, 2017
The Press Democrat
By J.D. Morris
SANTA CRUZ >> A recent Santa Cruz County Grand Jury report cites the rise of discarded syringes and assesses the mission of the Syringe Services Program, alleging a lack of transparency between the group and the public, according to the report.
The Syringe Access Program is a group of volunteers who formed in 1989 to curb the spread of HIV and hepatitis C who offered a needle-exchange program in a building on Pacific Avenue, where counseling, treatment and free condoms were offered, according to the report.
The advisory group is a collective of city and county employes who hold meetings that are not public, according to the report.
The group’s policies and procedures provide that a client upon initial visit will receive up to 15 syringes, according to the report.
“Community members continue to voice their concern regarding illegally disposed syringes and the county’s apparent inability to implement an effective collection program,” according to the report. The report calls for the group to invite members of the public to participate rather than city and county employees alone.
“There is no combined syringe cleanup effort between local agencies to protect the public,” according to the report.
Save Our Shores, a group of educators, biologists, community builders and ocean advocates who formed a nonprofit that cleans up needles on the beaches and waterways, continues to find about two syringes per cleanup at Cowell Beach, San Lorenzo River levee, Seabright Beach and Lighthouse Park, group spokesman Ryan Kallabis said.
“We regularly find sharps or parts of sharps,” Kallabis said. “It’s pretty consistent. Those are our hotspot areas.”
Save Our Shores considers the syringes a certain public hazard, “especially during the rainy season,” Kallabis said.
“They’re very small and they blend in,” Kallabis said. “They’re not only on in the beaches. They’re washing down through our tributaries and rivers.”
Many of the syringes found in Santa Cruz have orange caps, which make them more visible, Kallabis said.
“People run into them all the time,” Kallabis said. “They can be whole, discarded pieces, broken needle parts. We don’t always find them intact.”
Kallabis said Save Our Shores takes no position on the critique of the Syringe Services Program.
“We care for about 85 beaches over the year,” Kallabis said.
July 22, 2017
Santa Cruz Sentinel
By Michael Todd
I read the Kern County Grand Jury report on the Kern County Library as well as the story in the July 19 Daily Independent.
The report did not mince words, which is a good thing, but I question the process.
The report stated the Health, Education, and Social Services Committee inspected the KCL main branch and office at 701 Truxtun Avenue Feb. 20, 2017 in Bakersfield.
The committee met and interviewed the interim library Director, the library business manager and library staff.
The report also stated the committee also reviewed past Grand Jury reports, the internet and the KCL website for information.
This is all well and good, but you really cannot judge the performance of 24 branches of the library system based on a visit to one branch.
There was no mention of the Friends of the Library’s efforts to support their respective branches. For example, the Friends of the Ridgecrest Branch hold book sales and other fundraisers to purchase books and other library materials.
During my newspaper career, I covered many events at the local branch.
The grand jury made some very good recommendations.
The first is the Kern County Board of Supervisors should seriously consider options for the library’s management, such as modifying and updating the job description of the Director of Libraries, and the minimum qualifications required to manage a modern library system.
Here is MY suggestion for the library’s management. I suggest a joint-powers authority made up of the county and the incorporated cities.
Where I live, we have the Pinellas Public Library Cooperative, which serves Pinellas County residents in member cities and the unincorporated county. The cooperative office provides coordination of activities and funding as well as marketing services for its member libraries.
This cooperative has its own governing board made up of representatives of member cities, the county and other members. It also has its own staff headed up by an executive director. The board meets once a month, and the meetings are open to the public.
Having a structure such as this would be a good way to implement the grand jury’s other recommendations.
The Board of Supervisors really needs to look at this approach.
July 22, 2017
Taft Midway Driller
By John V. Ciani
Apple Valley Unified School District Police deposited nearly $54,000 worth of vehicle release fees into the district’s general fund in the last two fiscal years, according to the district’s attorney, fees which the San Bernardino County Grand Jury found no legal basis for in a recent investigation.
But the amount seems slight compared to what the owners of 727 vehicles ordered towed by AVUSD-PD between 2014 and 2016 might have paid in towing and storage fees, which went exclusively to Big Apple Automotive.
Big Apple Automotive, which is owned by former Apple Valley Town Councilman Jack F. Collingsworth, was identified by AVUSD attorney Margaret Chidester as the sole towing company the district used up until December, after the Grand Jury began its investigation. The district now rotates between three tow service vendors, she said.
The San Bernardino Unified School District Police Department, four times the size of AVUSD-PD, towed 272 vehicles in the same three-year period, while Hesperia Unified School District police did not tow any, according to the Grand Jury report, which was released June 30.
Moreover, the Grand Jury said AVUSD-PD did not have the authority to issue many of the 3,000 citations that it reviewed, the majority of which “were for non-hazardous moving vehicle code violations,” such as expired registration or driver’s license.
Instead, AVUSD has operated without a signed memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, the Grand Jury found. Currently, AVUSD Superintendent Thomas Hoegerman and Chief of Police Cesar Molina “are in the process of preparing a draft MOU with the Sheriff’s Office to clarify respective responsibilities and support for the other agency,” Chidester said, which Hoegerman will recommend for AVUSD Board approval next month.
Finally, AVUSD-PD’s log of tows does not match that of Big Apple Auto, with the district claiming 510 tows that Big Apple Automotive could not explain, according to the Grand Jury report.
For each tow, AVUSD-PD required a Vehicle Release Fee — which the district’s Board of Trustees voted in May 2015 to increase from $95 to $120 — to be paid by the driver before retrieving their vehicle, the Grand Jury report said.
“The Vehicle Code used (by AVUSD-PD) to justify the increase does not permit a school district to charge a Vehicle Release Fee because a school police department is not a ‘city, county, or city and county, or a state agency’ but is a Special District,” the report states. “The Grand Jury was unable to establish any legal basis for charging such a fee by the AVUSD-PD.”
Chidester said funds collected for vehicle release are deposited into the district’s general fund, labeled “Miscellaneous Income.”
During the July 1, 2015 to June 30, 2016 fiscal year, AVUSD-PD deposited $23,150.00 in vehicle release fees; during the 2016-17 fiscal year, it deposited $30,840.00. Chidester said she would provide the amount of fees the district collected in fiscal years 2013-14 and 2014-15 next week.
But the Grand Jury called for the district to refund wrongly towed vehicle owners not only for vehicle release fees, but also for any towing and storage fees paid if they were denied the opportunity to request a tow hearing. Based on typical towing and storage charges and fees, the amount of refunds could be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Additionally, an unknown number of vehicles were lien sold by Big Apple Auto for fees accrued, the report said. The Grand Jury recommended that “restitution” be provided to these vehicle owners.
The district has not yet announced anything in terms of possible reimbursement.
But the Grand Jury’s investigation was not the only one that took place in the AVUSD-PD recently.
One “complaint” led to a district investigation into AVUSD-PD’s citation correction practices, Chidester said.
According to an anonymous source, a former AVUSD-PD dispatcher would change the citations written out by officers, which would be against AVUSD-PD policy if done without proper permission. According to Chidester, no criminal activity was found and no personnel were found out of compliance as a result of the investigation.
Another complaint about the AVUSD-PD led the district to hire The Titan Group to conduct an investigation last year, the report from which “is not yet final,” Chidester said. An investigator with Titan told the Daily Press they could not comment on any investigation or even confirm its existence without the permission of their clients.
Chidester said she could not offer further comment on the investigation due to “certain legal limitations on disclosure of citizen complaints against police officers.”
“We are in the process of working through these now with respect to the referenced complaint,” Chidester said, adding that more information could likely be provided next week.
The AVUSD-PD has a chief, five regular officers, six part-time reserve officers, one dispatch supervisor, one dispatcher and two part-time clerical staff, the Grand Jury said.
To be hired by AVUSD, officers must have — among other things — a Basic Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Certificate, proving they’ve completed the minimum of 12 months of probation, according to Chidester.
The district hires only Level 1 Reserve Officers according to the legislature established for reserve peace officers, Chidester said, Level 1 being those who “may work alone and perform the same duties as full-time regular officers.”
The officers receive training three times a year from the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department and orientation upon being hired, “during which a veteran officer in the department will work with the new officer.” They also participate in biweekly briefings led by Chief Molina, she said.
“The District Human Resources Department manages all aspects of the screening, interviewing, and selection process for AVUSD-PD officers,” Chidester said. “Those who meet the minimum qualifications are interviewed by a panel of approximately four District administrators, typically including Chief of Police Cesar Molina, Superintendent Hoegerman, the Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources, and a school principal.”
Molina, who answers directly to AVUSD Superintendent Hoegerman, joined the school district police as a reserve officer in 2003, Chidester said. He began serving as a school police officer in 2004 and became Chief in December, 2014.
Without speculating whether district employees may have violated sections of the Penal Code and could be charged with crimes, the Grand Jury recommended that “The appropriate state agency opens an investigation into this matter which is beyond the jurisdiction of the Grand Jury.”
When the report was released, Chidester said the district “voluntarily responded to all requests for documents and testimony” and “has already begun to examine school police practices and to make improvements in procedures.”
She said the Board of Trustees needs to consider the report. Their next regularly scheduled meeting is set for Aug. 3. AVUSD has 90 days from the June 30 release of the Grand Jury report to provide a formal response.
July 21, 2017
By Charity Lindsey
Blog note: this article references a grand jury report of about 10 years ago recommending changes in how county supervisors are paid. Grand jury reports can have long-lasting results.
Weeks after Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke pleaded with the board of supervisors to grant pay increases to attract and retain deputies, all but one county supervisor quietly accepted automatic pay increases.
Supervisor Lloyd Pareira was the only county supervisor to decline the bump in pay as of Friday, the county auditor-controller confirmed.
“I’m a newly elected supervisor, and I’m really still learning the job. I just didn’t think a raise was warranted yet,” Pareira said. “The county has a lot of things we’re trying to catch up on. That’s more important than me.”
Pareira came to office in January, along with two other new supervisors, Rodrigo Espinoza and Lee Lor, who both took the raises after a little more than six months in office.
Warnke has asked the board for three years in a row to take action and beef up deputies’ salaries and benefit package while his office struggles with low staffing and years of record-high violence. Though the Deputy Sheriff’s Association has negotiated increases for deputies, their base pay remains lower than many Valley counterparts.
The supervisors’ pay increased July 10 to about $103,000 annually, up about 1.36 percent, said Mike North, county spokesman. Warnke spoke in public comment on June 20 pleading for higher wages for his deputies. Sgt. Kevin Blake, who also sits on the Merced City Council, made the same request during a July 11 board meeting.
Supervisors do not vote on their own pay. Instead, their pay is linked to judges’ pay. The system was established in 2007 through an ordinance after the Merced County grand jury suggested changes in how supervisors were paid.
The grand jury in its report said the supervisors’ pay should be higher to attract more quality candidates and to provide equal opportunity for potential candidates who could not afford to quit their jobs to take on the position.
The board at that time was made up of Supervisor John Pedrozo, Supervisor Kathleen M. Crookham, Supervisor Mike Nelson, Supervisor Deidre Kelsey and Supervisor Jerry O’Banion.
Warnke said supervisors use the ordinance as an excuse for being overpaid.
“The bottom line is they voted to give themselves the alignment with superior court judges that way they didn’t have to vote to give themselves raises,” he said. “That’s their excuse. They say, ‘we have nothing to do with our own raises because they’re done automatically.’ They voted for that resolution to come into place, so they can vote to decline (the raises.)”
July 21, 2017
By Brianna Calix
Saturday, July 29, 2017
Orange County deputies placed on leave in death of Danny Pham, who shared a jail cell with a suspected double-murderer
Blog note: this article states that the Sheriff’s Department failed to implement recommendations by the last six grand jury reports, which uncovered the need to upgrade antiquated and ineffective jail surveillance systems.
Five Orange County Sheriff’s deputies are on paid leave following the killing of a convicted car thief who shared a jail cell with an accused double-murderer.
The Orange County District Attorney’s Office as well as the sheriff’s department are conducting separate investigations into the July 3 death of 27-year-old Danny Pham, who was serving a 180-day sentence for car theft.
Investigators from both agencies are looking into, among other things, suspicions that deputies did not check Pham’s cell in a timely manner, the Register has learned.
Pham’s family in Westminster also wants to know why he was placed with Marvin Magallanes, an Anaheim man who confessed in May to killing two transients and whose mental capacity was questioned by a judge. Pham did not have a history of criminal violence in Orange County.
The district attorney’s office is conducting a criminal homicide investigation, while the sheriff is looking at whether deputies followed internal procedures. Both agencies declined comment on Friday.
The placement of Pham with Magallanes could violate jail protocol. Jail officials classify inmates into various housing locations depending on their past confinement history, current charges, criminal sophistication, and a host of other indicators, according to the sheriff’s website. The purpose of the classification system is to minimize the risks to staff and inmates.
Pham was found dead in his cell by a jailer making a food delivery. He died with less than a week left on his sentence, his attorney said. Authorities have not released the cause of death or said if Magallanes is a suspect.
Pham’s death came less than a week after the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California blasted Orange County’s five jails for excessive violence, harsh treatment of mentally ill prisoners and unhealthy living conditions.
The ACLU specifically criticized jail deputies for not routinely conducting mandatory “floor checks,” in which deputies walk the floor to see inmates.
Interviews with former inmates revealed that surveillance camera blind spots resulted in poor supervision of certain prisoners and allowed jail violence to go unnoticed and unchecked, according to the ACLU report.
“Formerly incarcerated individuals disclosed that deputies seldom conduct floor checks, which exacerbates already poor supervision of certain units due to housing configuration and inadequate cameras.”
The group called for Sheriff Sandra Hutchens to step down. Hutchens, the same day as the ACLU’s scathing report, announced her retirement in 2018. She said her decision had nothing to do with the ACLU’s criticism, and downplayed the report as one-sided and flawed.
The report, based on a two-year investigation by the ACLU included interviews and reports from 120 recent O.C. inmates and others. It established a pattern of “denial and indifference” among county jailers.
The report notes that despite years of complaints of violence and poor conditions in the Orange County jail system, Hutchens and the county Board of Supervisors have “turned a blind eye to this abuse and misconduct,” and no deputy has ever been formally charged in an incident of prisoner abuse by jail personnel.
In addition, the report said inmate-on-inmate violence within the jails increased between 2010 and 2014. There were 524 assaults in 2010, compared with 772 in 2014, the report states.
The Sheriff’s Department has also failed to implement recommendations by the last six grand jury reports, which uncovered the need to upgrade antiquated and ineffective jail surveillance systems, according to the report.
“Although a viable upgrade plan with committed funding and approval for implementation was established, sufficient progress has not been made,” says the report. “This is evidenced by the three escapees from the Central Men’s Jail in January 2016.”
In 2014, after six years of investigation, the U.S. Department of Justice wrote a letter to the sheriff’s department criticizing use of force, crowded conditions, supervision practices, medical care, and mental health care within Orange County jails.
The federal investigation, which remains open, was prompted by the death of John Derek Chamberlain, a 41-year-old Mission Viejo man who was fatally beaten in 2006 by inmates in Orange County jail who wrongfully thought he was a child molester.
A lawsuit later alleged that a deputy didn’t respond to the fight while he watched television, and the suit resulted in a $600,000 county payment to Chamberlain’s family. A grand jury report later concluded that lax oversight by jailers contributed to Chamberlain’s death.
July 21, 2017
The Orange County Register
By Tony Saavedra
[San Bernardino County] Apple Valley tow company scrutinized by grand jury owned by former councilman
APPLE VALLEY >> The Apple Valley Unified School District has identified the tow company whose track record was scrutinized by the San Bernardino County Grand Jury in a recent report.
Big Apple Automotive, which has two locations in Apple Valley and one in Victorville, is owned by former Apple Valley Town Councilman Jack Collingsworth. Collingsworth served one term on the Council, from 1988 through 1992. Until recently, the company was the sole towing service employed by Apple Valley Unified.
From 2014 through 2016, Big Apple Automotive towed 727 vehicles for AVUSD police — two and a half times more than the San Bernardino City Unified School District and four times more than Fontana Unified School District.
Apple Valley Unified educates 14,370 students, according to the California Department of Education, compared, to the 53,152 educated by San Bernardino City Unified and 38,014 educated by Fontana Unified.
Some of the traffic stops resulting in the tows happened either outside the jurisdiction of the AVUSD Police Department or within its jurisdiction after hours, the grand jury concluded.
What happened to almost one third of the cars towed by Big Apple Automotive on behalf of the school district is a mystery. Big Apple Automotive could not account for roughly 30 percent, or 510 of the towed vehicles, when asked by the grand jury to produce records.
An unknown number of the vehicles were lien sold by the company for fees and towing charges accrued, and only drivers of bank-owned vehicles still being financed received notices of their right to a hearing to determine the legality of the impound, according to the grand jury’s annual report released June 30.
Collingsworth did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
AVUSD personnel were out on summer break and unavailable for comment when the grand jury released its report. District offices reopened Monday.
School district attorney Margaret Chidester wrote in an email Tuesday that she will request direction from the school board at its Aug. 3 meeting on preparing a response to the grand jury’s findings.
Why AVUSD police had so many vehicles towed, why Big Apple Automotive could not account for a majority of the seized vehicles and why some drivers of impounded vehicles were not provided notice of their right to a tow hearing still isn’t clear.
Answers to those questions may or may not be addressed in the school district’s response to the grand jury’s findings and recommendations. The school district has 90 days from the time of the release of the grand jury report on June 30 to respond.
According to district spokeswoman Kristin Hernandez, AVUSD Police Chief Cesar Molina began his career with the school district as a reserve officer in 2003. He became a school police officer in 2004, then chief of police in December 2014. Molina referred requests for comment to Hernandez.
The grand jury also determined that as the number of vehicles towed by AVUSD police steadily increased from 2014 through 2016, police interaction with students declined. In addition, in May 2015, the school board approved an increase of vehicle release fees for vehicles towed by district police from $95 to $120, which the grand jury said was illegal.
State law only allows for a city, county or state agency to authorize vehicle release fee increases, according to the grand jury, noting the AVUSD Police Department is a special district.
According to Chidester, the school district is in discussions with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department on the possibility of entering into a contract defining the jurisdiction of AVUSD police and that of the Sheriff’s Department.
“The district remains committed to ensuring the safety of students and personnel and in compliance with applicable laws,” Chidester wrote in her email.
July 20, 2017
San Bernardino County Sun
By Beau Yarbrough and Joe Nelson
B&G may partner with MUSD
Could the Manteca-Lathrop Boys and Girls Club be coming to Weston Ranch?
According to a report by the San Joaquin County Grand Jury – which investigated the after-school program at Weston Ranch High School that was operated by the Stockton Kids Club – the Manteca Unified School District has begun discussions with the Manteca-Lathrop Boys and Girls Club to see about partnering to fill the need of providing an after-school program to students in the South Stockton community that were left without options when the district terminated its memorandum of understanding with the organization caught up in a scandal involving former Stockton Mayor Anthony Silva.
On Tuesday, the Manteca Unified Board of Education accepted the findings and the recommendations of the report, and when asked about interest from organizations capable of providing the services recommended by the grand jury, Superintendent Jason Messer noted that they were looking for an independent entity “like the Manteca-Lathrop Boys and Girls Club” which the district has worked with in the past.
And based on the investigation conducted by the grand jury surrounding the Stockton Kids Club, things were anything but smooth when it came to the program.
Some of the issues that were discovered during the investigation included:
• A delay in the start of the program because of confusion with the background check of an employee.
• A conflict between MUSD and the Stockton Kids Club over a partial payment for days in which no after school services were provided.
• A lack of submission of monthly program attendance reports as required by the MOU between the two entities.
• A lack of daily homework assistance which was a condition of the MOU.
• Inconsistent supervision of the snack and supper program at the school, which led to the program itself being suspended and students themselves left without access.
And while the report doesn’t specifically mention Silva by name, one of the issues of concern, it said, in addition to meeting contractual obligations was the focus that came as a result of the felony charged filed against him for embezzlement and money laundering. It also noted that either party had the ability to terminate the contract given 30-day’s notice, which was presented to the organization on March 3. The district formally terminated its relationship with the Stockton Kids Club one month later on April 3.
Ever since, the report stated, students have been without.
“Weston Ranch is an isolated community lacking organized activities for many high school students,” the report read. “It is common knowledge that idle youth can seek to alleviate their boredom with poor choices. Community leaders and stakeholders are working to develop programs to address these problems, however, the next school-year is imminent and no after-school program is in place.
“It is imperative that community leaders move quickly to provide services for youth in this area.”
If the Manteca-Lathrop Boys and Girls Club does come in, it will be the third after-school program for Weston Ranch since the school opened. In addition to the Stockton Kids Club, Give Every Child a Chance initially provided tutoring for students and an after-school alternative, but chose not to submit a bid to continue providing the service after what the report states as a “conflict with some members of the school board.”
Former Manteca Unified School Board Trustees Sam Fant and Ashley Drain were both mentioned in a separate scathing Grand Jury report detailing their involvement with after-school programs in Weston Ranch – including Give Every Child a Chance – and issues that arose from their involvement. Based off of information that was provided to the Grand Jury from GECAC, Drain Athletics – which was run by Justin Drain – was also paid $12,750 as part of an MOU between his organization and GECAC. Ultimately the well-respected tutoring program determined that it was not cost-effective to continue to serve that community.
July 20, 2017
By Jason Campbell
A new report from San Francisco's civil grand jury lists several problems with the way the sheriff's department is handling transgender inmates.
However, the sheriff's office says that there are many inaccuracies in the study, entitled "The Educational Parity In Custody (EPIC) Report: Ensuring Equality of Women's Education In the SF Jail System."
Among other things, the grand jury members – which included Rae Raucci, a trans woman – say that trans women are being denied educational opportunities provided to other female inmates, and that trans inmates are referred to as "gender non-conforming."
But the sheriff's department says those statements aren't true.
The department, headed by Sheriff Vicki Hennessy, has been developing a groundbreaking policy, first proposed by former Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, that could allow at least some trans female inmates to be housed with cisgender female inmates in County Jail #2.
In May 2016, most transgender, gender variant, and intersex inmates were moved from a special housing unit located inside County Jail #4, a men's facility, to a Jail #2 unit known as A-Pod.
There are usually from three to eight TGI inmates in A-Pod, which is a separate unit within the male re-entry pod. The inmates are being housed there until structural improvements that the Prison Rape Elimination Act requires "can be made in female housing units to ensure shower privacy," Eileen Hirst, the sheriff's chief of staff, said in response to the Bay Area Reporter's emailed questions about the grand jury report.
The report, which was issued in June, says that inmates in A-Pod are "unable to access female education programs."
However, Hirst said, "Transwomen in A-Pod are eligible to participate in, and regularly attend, programs with ciswomen."
Among several examples Hirst pointed to, she said, "Transwomen who do not have high school diplomas or GEDs are eligible to enroll in Five Keys schools and programs," which are college classes made available "through a partnership between Five Keys and City College of San Francisco."
The grand jury's report refers to A-Pod as a "Gender Non-Conforming" pod and says, "The construct of a 'Gender Non-Conforming' pod for transgender women in a male jail facility is problematic at best," since the term suggests "that anyone in such a pod is there because they don't conform to their 'actual' gender."
However, Hirst said, "The sheriff's department does not use the term 'gender non-conforming.' It is an archaic, out-moded term." Instead, the agency uses the acronym TGI, and Hirst said, "A-Pod is commonly referred to as the 're-entry pod.'"
The report also lists some recommendations and findings that the sheriff's department finds problematic.
"By August 2018, the SF Sheriff's Department should move all transgender women to appropriately female housing in the SF jail system," the report recommends.
Hirst said that Hennessy "is implementing a policy by which TGI prisoners are provided an opportunity to state their housing preference, in addition to their preferred pronoun, name, and gender identity of the deputy who may search them."
She added, "Gender identity is not binary. Thus, the assumption that all transgender women prefer to be housed with ciswomen and all transgender men prefer to be housed with cismen is incorrect." (Sheriff's officials have said that trans male inmates are infrequent.)
The grand jury stated that one of its findings was that "The sheriff's department lacks proper classification directives to classify transgender females as a part of the female population of the SF jail facilities."
The panel recommends that "By July 2018, the sheriff's department should rewrite the SF jail classification directives to classify transgender females [as] part of the female population in the SF jail facilities."
Grand jury members even said how the directives should look: "Transgender females are a part of the female population, and shall be accommodated and treated as such. Transgender males are a part of the male population, and shall be accommodated and treated as such."
But Hirst said, "Such a policy would be inconsistent with PREA, and would not give prisoners the opportunity to state their preference regarding housing."
The grand jury report also criticizes the Deputy Sheriffs' Association, saying that the deputies' union is "unduly" influencing what's happening.
Eugene Cerbone, a gay man who is the group's president, has expressed concerns about changes to the way trans inmates are housed.
In 2015, he told the B.A.R. that he doesn't consider people who have not had surgery to be transgender.
"Transgender is you have the surgery," he said at the time. "What I know of someone who's actually transgendered [sic] is they've had the complete change."
Hirst said this week that Hennessy "is committed to implementing a TGI policy consistent with PREA and is making steady progress toward that goal."
Asked in an email about the grand jury report, Cerbone said, "I am not sure how the Deputy Sheriffs' Association has unduly influenced the department in denying trans women the ability to be housed with cis women when the law already prohibits it."
Trans inmate disagrees with report
The grand jury report includes excerpts from the B.A.R.'s coverage of the sheriff's trans housing policies, which included comments from Laitya Pryor, 48, who's in jail after pleading guilty to second-degree commercial burglary.
Pryor is being held in administrative segregation in County Jail #4, the men's jail, despite several requests to move to Jail #2 with other trans inmates. She said she's being housed separately because she was falsely accused of "assaultive" behavior.
Despite her desire to move, Pryor said in an interview last week that she doesn't think trans women should be kept with ciswomen unless they've had "an actual sex change."
She cited the possibility of ciswomen being overpowered in physical altercations, among other reasons.
"I know I have more strength than a [cis]woman," said Pryor, who hadn't yet seen the grand jury's report.
She said she's faced mistreatment by a neighboring inmates and staff, among other problems.
The inmate in the cell next to hers yelled that she is a "fucking faggot ass bitch," said Pryor, who expects to be released in August. She said that a deputy who'd clearly overheard the slur told her, "That's not my business" and didn't take any actions against the other inmate.
Pryor also said that another deputy recently called her "Sir," and when she corrected him, he said "Oh, dude, fuck you."
Asked about Pryor's allegations, Hirst said, "Although Ms. Pryor did not report her complaint to us, we consider her statement to you sufficient to look into the matter. If corrective action is warranted, it will be taken."
Along with the portion devoted to trans inmates, the grand jury report also includes several other statements that Hirst corrected.
"Approximately one day of a deputy's six-month initial training is spent focused on the specific skills needed for a deputy whose duty is inside the jail," the report says. "The vast majority of the time in a deputy's initial training is focused on the job responsibilities of a police person whose duty is on the street."
Hirst responded, "This statement is not accurate."
Among other things, she said, "Deputy sheriffs must pass a six-month POST (California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training) academy. They then must pass a four-week POST-certified jail operations course, called CORE, which includes training in direct supervision of prisoners, gender awareness training, and crisis intervention training."
July 20, 2017
The Bay Area Reporter
By Seth Hemmelgarn