Wednesday, October 25, 2017
[Sonoma County] Stations of the Luxe: 2005 Grand Jury report recommended a new fire station for Fountaingrove. Now what?
An 2005 independent audit of municipal fire services in Sonoma County concluded that the Santa Rosa Fire Department’s facilities “have not kept up with the city’s growth in recent years,” as it recommended that the city take up the recommendations of a 2004 Sonoma County Grand Jury report that highlighted a number of SRFD shortfalls in service, response times and deployment of resources.
The audit and final report was prepared Economic & Planning Systems Inc., for the Sonoma Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) and released in August 2005. The final report audited all fire districts within Sonoma County and had this to say about the SRFD:
“Inadequate facilities, aging equipment, and insufficient funding have made it difficult for the department to maintain a high level of service in recent years. These challenges were reflected in the findings of the 2004 Sonoma County Grand Jury. Development impact fees and a new sales tax, a portion of which will be dedicated to fire protection, will help fund necessary improvements, allowing the department to better meet current and future demand.”
(The sales tax was supported by Santa Rosa voters in 2004 when they approved Measure O, which set out to fund fire, police and anti-gang efforts in Santa Rosa and protect those budgets from the whims of politics or economic downturns.)
So, how did the numerous Grand Jury recommendations—build more stations, buy more equipment, upgrade systems to improve response times, etc.—play out over the following decade?
Santa Rosa Fire Chief Anthony Gossner says about half the recommendations were implemented by the time of the Tubbs fire. “We haven’t gotten it all done,” Gossner said during a recent interview at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds.
He quickly added that given the scope of the North Bay fires catastrophe, “even if we had, 50 [new] stations wouldn’t have made a difference.”
And one of the recommendations that was implemented turned out to be kind of a bust: The Grand Jury called for the construction of a new firehouse in the Fountaingrove part of town. As long-time Santa Rosa Bohemian readers have recently pointed out, that area had been the subject of intense local debate at the turn of the century over the wisdom of developing luxe homes in a fire-sensitive area.
Those concerns were, however, drowned out by developers and their local enablers in the political and media class who championed the emergence of a new Santa Rosa enclave—complete with its own brand-new fire station.
Then it all burned up.
October 24, 2017
By Tom Gogola
Blog note: this letter references several grand jury reports.
Sheriff Tom Allman’s latest tax increase request, Measure B, states in the Voter Information Pamphlet “Everyone agrees that people suffering from mental illness or drug addiction need treatment.” This may be true, but forcing individuals to enter treatment against their will and cooperation and confining these individuals in a locked facility is an entirely different matter. Given Mendocino County’s poor track record in delivering this specialized care and the County’s past failures in operating a Psychiatric Health Facility, sober consideration by the voting public is required.
The Sheriff has stated publicly many times that he sees individuals with mental illness as “the No. 1 one public safety concern in the County.” Following the devastating Redwood Complex Fire and the tragic loss of life from this historical event, reasonable people can disagree with this statement. The challenges of climate change and preparing and equipping our local first-responders to confront these ominous threats to our environment and personal safety, feels significantly more urgent.
The history of mental health services within the County, particularly the management of inpatient locked facilities, is a history of conflict, turf wars between agencies and the people who manage these individual departments. The lack of communication and coordination between these departments has also been a prevalent and disappointing reality. These observations have been well documented in numerous Grand Jury reports over the last 20 plus years. The last Psychiatric Health Facility ( the infamous PHF or “Puff Unit” ) closed in November of 2000, as a result of the County’s failure to provide the required medical staff for the unit. Lawsuits or the threat of them hastened the collapse. This failure of Mendocino County to attract and retain credentialed mental health professionals is an existing and on-going obstacle that has not been solved. The most current Grand Jury report confirms this ongoing crisis of qualified new-hires within the Health and Human Services Agency, which for the last several years, has resorted to requesting waivers from state-mandated staffing levels and credential requirements.
Building a new, tax-payer funded $30 million Psychiatric Health Facility will not change the reality of inadequate mental health professionals willing to work in Mendocino County. Buildings don’t heal people. Trained, qualified professional practitioners are what is needed. The County already spends tens of millions of dollars as part of the annual County Mental Health Budget on programs with titles such as Adult System Care, Medication Support Services, Wellness and Recovery Center, Assisted Outpatient Treatment, Mental Health Child and Family Services, Family Wraparound, New Beginnings Campus, Crisis Intervention, and on and on….
In December 2015, Dr. Marvin Trotter, one of the most respected physicians in Mendocino County, testified before the Board of Supervisors that the solution to mental health disorders is not more 5150 admissions, but professional outpatient therapy, medication, effective case management and housing. Locking people up who are experiencing acute psychiatric crisis is by definition, a failure of the system. Constructing a new building for the confinement of these individuals will be a monument to this failure.
What will produce real change is greater accountability and performance within the existing mental health programs. A Mental Health Czar needs to be appointed by the Board of Supervisors to mandate and enforce this change. Tax payers must demand this before another $38 million dollars in needless taxes are taken away from our local economy, giving the average hard working, productive citizen nothing in return. Vote NO on Measure B.
October 23, 2017
Ukiah Daily Journal
By David Roderick, Hopland
San Diego Unified is exploring a 2018 ballot initiative to boost school revenue. Meanwhile, members of the San Diego City Council are encouraging the public to put forward another measure that would shake up the board in charge of that revenue.
A recent grand jury report recommends the San Diego Unified School Board operate more like City Council. Trustees would be elected by their neighborhoods instead of in at-large elections. They would also face term limits and have more colleagues on the board.
In voting on their response to the grand jury, Council President Myrtle Cole and members Chris Cate and Mark Kersey encouraged citizens to present a ballot initiative to their rules committee in January proposing the changes. Barbara Bry said she would like the school district to bring forward a proposal.
“I would love to have that discussion and debate when that time comes,” Cate said. “I wish we could do it now but we tried that before and it didn’t work out, so now the opportunity to move forward is through the public.”
Cate and the other Republicans on council issued a memo in March calling for a ballot initiative. Though the city charter governs school board elections, the council is unclear on whether it has the legal authority to make changes to how trustees are elected, because district and city boundaries don’t match up.
“I think we need to move beyond partisan politics, which I think is what’s driving this right now, and really have a broader community conversation about this,” said School Board President Richard Barrera, who has served about a decade on the board.
The memo from Republicans proposes changes similar to those in voter-approved Measure K, which was backed by labor and opposed by Republicans including Cate. While the rule changes improved odds for Democrats in city elections, they could hurt Democrats on the school board.
At Monday’s meeting, however, Democratic council members David Alvarez and Georgette Gomez said they believe term limits are a good route to take. They stopped short of recommending the city direct changes in school board elections.
Republicans Scott Sherman and Lorie Zapf said they'd prefer the city take swift action on the matter.
“In whatever way we need to get to it, we need to get to it,” Zapf said. “(The trustees are) often a rubber stamp because they don’t have the staff to go over all these issues and they’re representing way too many people. And frankly, Mr. Barrera, the only Latino, is a labor leader who probably spends more time in the halls lobbying here at City Hall than he does on behalf of the kids that he is supposed to be representing.”
Barrera said he and Board Trustee Sharon Whitehurst-Payne, who lost the local primary but won the citywide runoff last year, are planning a process whereby community members can weigh in on the matter.
At the city council meeting, LaShae Collins, who ran against Whitehurst-Payne and is a staffer for Democratic Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, read a note from the lawmaker. In it, Weber says she’ll seek school board election changes through state channels if locals don’t act.
October 19, 2017
By Megan Burks
[San Diego County] San Diego's apple pie community makes controversial move to reject firefighting resources
Blog note: this article references grand jury reports on the subject.
JULIAN, Calif. (KGTV) - The fire district in San Diego's sweetest tourist destination is rejecting a request to join the County Fire Authority, which some say is a potentially life-threatening decision.
Despite repeated recommendations from high-ranking county officials, the tiny apple pie-loving community of Julian has decided to rely on its all-volunteer firefighting crew to respond to any and all emergency medical calls and structure fires within the town.
As Northern California battles its deadliest wildfire season yet, there's been close examination of San Diego County's overall fire and emergency preparedness. Combined, the Cedar Fire of 2003 and Witch Fire of 2007 claimed 17 lives and burned more than 3,000 homes. In 2008, a San Diego County Grand Jury released a report citing major gaps in the county’s preparedness. Organized firefighting in unincorporated parts of the county was described as "fractured". Following release of the report, the San Diego County Fire Authority was created to unify fire operations throughout fire districts around the county.
After the Cocos Fire ripped through Escondido and San Marcos in 2014, another San Diego County Grand Jury report was released. It cited that major strides had been made in recent fire operations, but there was still more work to be done. The grand jury recommended that 13 independent backcountry fire districts be consolidated into the San Diego County Fire Authority. The Julian-Cuyamaca Fire Protection District is one of those districts.
To this day, those 13 districts have not consolidated with San Diego County Fire Authority, but many have agreements for mutual aid. The Julian-Cuyamaca Fire Protection District is different from the others. It's the only all-volunteer backcountry department that's rejecting the county’s offer and choosing to continue acting independently. Per Jack Shelver with the Julian Fire Board, there are only 12 volunteer firefighters who are actively working full-time. In a community that's ripe with apples and tourists, that's worrisome to certain individuals.
"It could mean the difference between life and death," says San Diego County Supervisor Dianne Jacob. Jacob has fought for the consolidation of rural fire departments, like Julian's. "I'm very worried about the people in Julian and also those who owns property. [I'm worried] that they may be taking a step backward," she tells us.
The Julian-Cuyamaca Fire Protection District has been testing a temporary contract with the county, where it receives $60,000 a year in funding and a fire engine with advanced life-support capabilities. The fire board recently voted to discontinue that and remain entirely independent from the county, meaning it'll lose all that funding and additional resources. Shelver was the only board member who voted against maintaining independence. "I felt the county could offer a better level of protection to the community," he tells us.
"We will get by just fine without the San Diego County Fire Authority," says Julian resident and retired firefighter Bill Everett. He's one of the members of a prominent and vocal group of Julian residents who've been fighting for the Julian-Cuyamaca Fire Protection District to maintain local control and independence. He and several others are skeptical as to whether the county would provide appropriate aid in situations that are dire to the community. Community member Pat Landis adds, "We don't want to lose our fire district to people coming in from the outside that don't know the geography and don't know the people." Everett also says it's often forgotten that the Julian-Cuyamaca Fire Protection District is only responsible for calls within the town. Cal-Fire has jurisdiction over fighting wildfires on the land surrounding the Julian. Landis and Everett say the people of Julian will be able to raise the funding to support its fire district's independence.
Supervisor Jacob and San Diego County Fire Authority Chief Tony Mecham tell us that they respect Julian's decision, but don't agree with it.
Julian loses the additional funding and resources on January 1st. Supervisor Jacob says Julian still has time to reconsider the offer to join the county.
Landis says the Julian community is working on a summer ballot measure to raise its annual fire tax from $50 a year to $200 a year. Chief Mecham says that still won't be enough money to compensate for the loss of the county's assistance.
October 19, 2017
ABC 10 News
By Jennifer Kastner
Mendocino Coast Recreation and Parks report: fully disagree
The county did not agree with a single point the jury made about the Mendocino Coast Recreation and Parks District. To most of the points, the county responded that it has no authority over the district. It also explained that it is not concerned with the district’s long-term finances, even though the district has taken loans in past years at about $50,000 a year, which was deemed a small percentage of annual revenue. The county noted that these loans could be seen as an advance on property tax revenue that the district is entitled to.
The recommendation by the jury to complete annual audits of the district on time has consistently been completed, according to the county’s response.
For this report, the grand jury also requested that the Mendocino County District Attorney, Dave Eyster, respond.
Eyster replied there was no legal substance to the jury’s accusal of “misfeasance” from the District’s board and that the jury’s suggestion that the board make all financial transactions public sounded simply like common sense.
“Given the information provided, this recommendation seems to be nothing more than sound business advice,” Eyster wrote.
Eyster also said there was not any grounds for a finding of criminal misconduct by any board member. He concluded by saying that any discontent with the Parks and Rec board could be resolved by more public participation or by taking advantage of local elections.
Code Enforcement report: mostly disagree
The county responded that Code Enforcement is not merely “reactive,” as the grand jury said, and argued against a stated “lack of staff,” saying the department is, in fact, fully staffed. The county agreed, however, that turnover in the department has contributed to inconsistency. The county also spoke against a reported lack of transparency in not publishing Code Enforcement complaints or activity online, saying those can be obtained through a public records request. Regarding the amount of discretion wielded by Code Enforcement officers when asserting fines, the county said it created an ordinance in January setting standards for non-discretionary penalties and a hearing process to address violations.
On the issue of mold in the building, the county replied that any mold that is spotted is immediately referred to the Executive Office, which carries out proper state and federal procedure.
This is Part 2 in an analysis of Mendocino County’s responses to the 2017 grand jury reports. Initially meant for the Tuesday, Oct. 10, edition, this article was delayed due to immediate coverage of the Mendocino Lake Complex Fire. Part 1 was published in the Sunday, Oct. 8 edition.
October 18, 2017
Ukiah Daily Journal
By Ashley Tressel
Wednesday, October 18, 2017
Blog note: this article references several grand jury reports. While the article is political, we include it to demonstrate how people may use grand jury reports to support their political views.
It started with the swearing in of a Democratic-majority City Council.
Then came the loss of the Chargers to Los Angeles.
Next, a failed special election effort to secure an early win for SoccerCity plan for the Qualcomm Stadium site. The Democrats pushed it to the fall of 2018, when the odds of success are lessened due to a higher voter turnout.
Then, the admission by one of his allies, Republican Councilman Chris Cate, that he leaked a confidential document about said proposal—which constitutes a misdemeanor offense—and is punishable by the possible loss of his seat.
And, the topper—the hepatitis A outbreak that has generated national and even international headlines, plus two state-of-emergency declarations.
One declaration is because the outbreak itself has yet to abate. And the other is because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention can no longer meet California’s hepatitis A vaccine demands.
Despite constant protestations to the contrary, there is no sense suggesting that our civic leaders knew nothing.
Several grand jury reports warned of such an outbreak starting over a decade ago.
Since 2000 there were four Grand Jury reports warning of “the risks posed by human waste on city streets and a shortage of toilets available for use by the city’s growing homeless population.”
So, let’s start with some simple questions about a glaring lack of common sense.
Didn’t the mayor ever walk his city? The smell of urine and feces on sidewalks, in the bushes—and, the homeless sleeping in the doorways of businesses—has been overwhelming for years.
Didn’t he ever stroll outside his office? Take a little lunchtime walk around City Hall?
Didn’t he ever visit Ocean Beach, Hillcrest, Southeast San Diego, the environs around Balboa Park, the East Village, Clairemont and City Heights? Or listen to the neighborhood and business complaints about the homeless and unsanitary conditions?
Those walks alone would have compelled the “too little, too late” responses now in evidence—vaccinations, power washing sidewalks, hand washing stations, public notices, tent cities—much sooner.
It is basic “health and safety” sanitation. Why did the city neglect or minimize this essential maintenance? And why didn’t the mayor inform the people of San Diego as soon as he knew there was a hepatitis problem in the city?
Also, why was the public the last to be informed? City officials, employees, first responders, vendors, and others were notified of the outbreak long before the public. Why?
Concerns about an outbreak didn’t just start in the summer of 2017. They started long before the first cases were diagnosed in November 2016.
What so preoccupied the mayor that the hepatitis scourge went unaddressed?
Too busy with negotiations to keep (or lose) the Chargers? A convention center expansion (in limbo)? The insider track for Soccer City? A push for a June 2017 special election with a price tag of $500,000 (which failed)?
Surely, none of these issues—all of which either failed or are on life support—ranks in importance to the “health and safety” mandates of the city charter.
Think about it: The latest hepatitis A numbers—18 dead and nearly 500 infected—in San Diego.
And the CDC predicts the scourge could last years.
Fear not. Even though “the percentage of human feces in the San Diego River and seven tributaries quadrupled in 2017 as compared to the previous year, while the total volume of waste was estimated to have increased 15 fold,” the city is not convinced the homeless encampments are to blame. Or that they need to test the water more frequently.
Rather, they contend, it is the rains, leaky pipes, and not the homeless and/or illicit drug users that pollute the river bed.
At least Councilwoman Lori Zapf sounded that alarm. In July, she alerted county health officials that “four cases of hepatitis A including one death have been linked to the San Diego River Valley.” She, of rare common sense, walked the river and led a long overdue clean up effort.
The county has already spent $3 million on the outbreak. The city’s financial costs are still being tallied.
Taxpayers will surely be on the hook in a number of mass tort case lawsuits as the outbreak continues.
An online petition is already asking the state Attorney General to investigate Faulconer’s actions—or lack thereof—for “criminal negligence.”
Finally, why, as the March of Voices coalition suggested, “didn’t the city sanction and support, the designated mass emergency shelter at Qualcomm Stadium—as done for the tens of thousands of victims of wildfire in 2007?”
Instead, they waited. Why?
Ironically, one news outlet dubbed this Faulconer’s “Katrina” moment.
In this very bad year, Faulconer is no longer the Republican rising star headed for statewide office.
October 16, 2017
Times of San Diego
By Colleen O’Connor
[Napa, Sonoma, and Butte counties] 3 counties hit by wildfires warned long ago about staffing, infrastructure
Oct. 14--Long before infernos hit Wine Country and other parts of Northern California this week, grand juries in three affected counties raised concerns about poorly maintained roads that could impede access to rural areas hit by disaster, difficulties recruiting and training volunteer firefighters and budget deficits that were "depleting" fire department reserves.
It's unclear whether these deficiencies, seen in Napa, Sonoma and Butte counties, impacted initial local responses to the deadly wildfires that are projected to cost billions of dollars. Some experts say the flames spread by unrelenting winds, low humidity and years of drought-parched vegetation were impossible to prepare for or predict under any circumstances.
"We're fighting two forces of nature: fire and wind," said Michael McLaughlin, California director for the Western Fire Chiefs Association. "And when they work in tandem, there's not much as humans we're able to do to curb that."
In Sonoma County, a 2013 civil grand jury report that examined the county's disaster readiness found that many rural roads were in disrepair after years of neglect and underfunding, with some "deteriorated to a crisis condition." Impassable roads, the report noted, "can hamper emergency response, evacuation, medical care, and fire response efforts."
"If you have dangerous roads or bridges, there are all kinds of concerns," said Michele Steinberg, wildfire division manager for the National Fire Protection Association. "Can we get in? Can the people trying to leave get out at the same time? And can the firefighters themselves leave when they're done dealing with the fires?"
The report said Sonoma County would need to spend $920 million on street maintenance over the next decade. To address the poor condition of roads, the Board of Supervisors adopted a plan in 2014 designed to improve more than half of the county's roadways within a decade, focusing first on heavily trafficked thoroughfares, but recent county reports show much work still needs to be done.
Whether the crumbling rural roadways affected emergency vehicles trying to reach fires in the area is not known. Local officials were unable to respond immediately to requests for comment.
Meanwhile, the Napa County Fire Department, which is responsible for combatting blazes in unincorporated communities and some towns, has faced long-standing challenges with its firefighting program.
As in many rural fire departments, most of the staff in Napa County are volunteers. The agency, which oversees nine volunteer companies and five full-time paid stations, is run by the state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
As one Cal Fire official noted in a 2012 report: "Napa County cannot survive" without volunteer firefighters, who are cost-effective and often first at the scene in rural areas.
Two years ago, the Napa County civil grand jury found that training and certifying volunteer firefighters was an "ongoing struggle," since classes were sparse and offered at inconvenient times for people with full-time jobs.
Recruiting and training volunteer firefighters is a problem nationwide, as the ranks have experienced a long-term decline. When veteran volunteers retire, it has become harder to replace them -- particularly since their responsibilities have grown.
"In the old days, you taught people how to put water on a fire, the basics of how to attack a home or structure fire. But now a huge percentage of calls to the fire department have nothing to do with fires," Steinberg said. "The job also calls for paramedic-type work, hazmat response -- which is very complex -- fire-prevention education in the community and in schools."
While many departments have problems staffing volunteer fire programs, the Napa County grand jury also uncovered shortcomings particular to the local agency.
In 2015, the grand jury said an advisory committee set up to review concerns about the Fire Department was meeting irregularly and not publicly posting many of its agendas. At the time, county officials and committee members pledged to fix the issues.
The same year, the grand jury pointed out that volunteer firefighters who worked "cover assignments" -- in which they did a shift alongside Cal Fire crews -- were not being promptly paid by the county for their hours. It took from three to nine months for volunteers to be reimbursed, the investigation found, and required multiple steps.
When the grand jury recommended that firefighters be paid within 30 days, county officials rejected the suggestion, saying the state was responsible for compensation.
Napa County Fire Department officials were unable to respond immediately to requests for comment from The Chronicle on the issues, and what has been done to address them.
To the north, in Butte County, where fires this week had scorched nearly 15,000 acres as of Friday, local officials were warned just months ago that a budget shortfall of roughly $3 million was having serious impacts on fire operations.
Butte County -- whose Fire Department is the largest in the state north of Sacramento and also uses a mix of Cal Fire and volunteer crews -- has faced a "depletion of reserves to meet the increasing costs of basic fire protection," according to a grand jury report released this year.
Residents and fire personnel told grand jury members they feared budget issues could result in longer response times, increased reliance on volunteers, and a lack of resources to train volunteers.
At two Butte County fire stations, investigators on the local grand jury also found "notable structural and utility deficiencies," including high levels of bacteria, nitrates and sediment in the water. At one station, the amount of coliform bacteria made it impossible to use the water for drinking, personal hygiene, laundry or cooking, the grand jury said.
At the time the report was issued, Butte County's contract with Cal Fire was close to expiring, and the county was deciding how to move forward.
Butte County officials were unable to immediately respond to a request for comment from The Chronicle about the issues.
October 13, 2017
Kimberly Veklerov and Joaquin Palomino, San Francisco Chronicle staff writers
Last year, the Stanislaus County civil grand jury issued a report on the Stanislaus County Library that concluded, “The Stanislaus County Library is a real gem.” It went on to say the library operates 13 branches and all are open at least five days a week and in most cases six.
Funding for the county library is dependent on a small tax that must be voter-reapproved on a regular basis. Failure to receive voter approval would result in cuts of over 85 percent of library services. The grand jury commended the library for providing high-quality, professional services to an ever-changing county and for its variety of programs and services.
The grand jury also commended the library for its transparency and communication with the public. The library website and printed materials provide detailed calendars of events and activities and information on programs and services.
October 13, 2017
Letter to the editor by Ken Adair, Modesto
Blog note: this article references a grand jury report on the task force.
Another in a series of public meetings on the Mayor’s Task Force on Youth Safety went awry on Oct. 9 after a string of community members criticized the city of Santa Maria’s attempts at addressing recent spikes in violence in the city.
The intent of the meeting, held in the Abel Maldonado Community Youth Center, was to share and workshop the city’s nearly finished plan for reducing youth violence, according to Assistant City Manager Jason Stilwell, who presented the city’s lengthy list of findings and goals. Stilwell said he then hoped community members would help the city cut some of its 107 action items, while prioritizing others.
Stilwell said that since the task force’s beginning in February, the group met with community members and service providers at various meetings, forums, and workshops to discuss potential ways to make Santa Maria a safer place for families to live. Although the task force draft plan listed only four strategy goals—prevention, enforcement, intervention, and re-entry—that would help Santa Maria youths, it included more than 100 actual ways those goals could be reached.
Prevention methods could include improved access to mental health care or sports as an alternative to violence, according to the draft, while easier GED programs, tattoo removal services, and community support are listed as possible re-entry methods.
“We want to get some of your input on what some of the narrow goals might be that we would want to focus on given the mission and vision and the 107 things we heard,” Stilwell said. “We want to hear your thoughts on that.”
Still, many attendees said the city should have included more public and youth input in the planning process, and condemned the task force for failing to be culturally proficient.
Brenda Garcia pointed out that again, the task force failed to provide an English-to-Spanish translation service at the meeting. A bilingual member from the task force then stood and began translating comments, more than 25 minutes into the meeting.
“That’s one problem with the engagement,” Garcia said. “If she’s here as a monolingual Spanish speaking parent, even if it’s just one person among the, I don’t know, maybe 50 of us that are here, I would say that one parent is important to solving youth problems. And if she hears the message in the language she needs, she’s going to go out there and spread it and make a difference.”
Garcia went on to say that Santa Maria includes a large demographic of Spanish speakers. She said that language is only the first step to becoming a culturally proficient task force.
Peter Flores, director of student services at Santa Maria High School and founder of One Community Action, said cultural competence should be a priority moving forward. Flores suggested in an interview with the Sun that the task force recruit community members and youths to represent the at-risk demographics of Santa Maria. He said every member of the task force represents a service or organization rather than the community as a whole.
“There are things that systematically need to be addressed,” Flores said. “But we want it to be successful. And that’s why we’re showing up.”
Several attendees also addressed the lack of youth involvement. While a few younger locals were at the meeting, only one, Vanessa Cantu, spoke out. Cantu said the two youth representatives assigned to the task force aren’t enough, and that before helpful adults suggested the idea of youth representatives, she had asked task force members if teens could be more involved.
“I came to ask for youth to have a seat at the table and they totally dismissed me,” Cantu said. “They took it more like my opinions weren’t as valid as the adults’ were.”
Cantu said the city should be more welcoming to the underrepresented, at-risk youth it’s trying to serve. Cantu eventually stormed out of the meeting early after another attendee mumbled, “Jesus Christ,” when someone asked if transgender and gay youths would be protected through the city’s plan.
After two hours of public comment that largely echoed the findings of Santa Barbara County’s recent grand jury report on the task force, Assistant City Manager Stilwell announced there was no more allotted time for editing the presented plan.
He said a steering committee will take and focus the public’s input. He said individuals could sign up to help implement the plan, and that the task force is hoping to go over the goals at another public meeting on Oct. 23. If the task force adopts the plan, it will move on to the Santa Maria City Council.
“We want to focus, going forward, on having the work that’s identified in the plan and being inclusive and having you all help us,” Stilwell said.
October 11, 2017
Santa Maria Sun
By Kasey Bubnash
Blog note: this article references a 2013 grand jury report on the subject.
California Governor Jerry Brown has effectively killed efforts by Orange County supervisors to take control of the board of CalOptima, the county’s $3.4 billion health plan for low income and elderly residents.
Last Wednesday, Brown signed Senate Bill 4, which was introduced by State Sen. Tony Mendoza of Artesia and enshrines the existing make-up of the CalOptima board in state law, effectively blocking local attempts to restructure the board.
The bill, which takes effect immediately, is a rebuke of an attempt by county supervisors this summer to assert control over the board by restructuring it to include all five supervisors, instead of the two who currently serve.
Supervisors Andrew Do and Michelle Steel argued the changes would increase local representation on the board.
Do’s effort to remake the board was reportedly fueled by his anger after the current CalOptima board refused to name him chairman in March.
CalOptima’s board had already been restructured twice since 2011, when then-supervisor Janet Nguyen and a lobbyist for the Hospital Association of Southern California remade the board enhancing the influence of the medical industry. Nguyen is now a Republican state senator.
A scathing county grand jury report in 2013 – called “CalOptima Burns While a Majority of Supervisors Fiddle” – blamed Nguyen’s actions for a disruptive environment that resulted in the departure of sixteen top executives. CalOptima spent much of 2012 and 2013 with vacancies in key positions.
The transition from the former board to a highly inexperienced one also occurred just as federal Affordable Care Act was taking effect and the agency was preparing for a major increase in members.
Later, a major federal audit in 2014 found widespread and systemic performance issues in the agency’s OneCare program, and ordered an immediate halt in enrollment of elderly patients into the program. Those sanctions were lifted in February 2015 and state auditors said they were impressed with the improvements made.
During her term on the board, Nguyen raised more than $100,000 from the medical industry, according to her campaign reports, and Do, who followed her as supervisor, raised a similar amount.
Do, a former top aide to Nguyen who has since had a serious falling out with the state senator, and Supervisor Lisa Bartlett restructured the board again in 2016, replacing a number of board members but maintaining a strong presence for the medical industry.
The Mendoza bill was sponsored by the Orange County Taxpayers Association and had the support of the medical industry, including the Orange County Medical Association and several local hospital chains, like St. Joseph Hoag Health, Tenent Healthcare and MemorialCare Health System.
OC Taxpayers Association president Carolyn Cavecche wrote, in a July opinion piece for the Orange County Register, that the latest attempt to restructure the CalOptima board was “political posturing that is risking the stability of this complex organization.”
Do called Cavecche’s statements “beyond ignorant” and also questioned the motives of the medical industry in sponsoring Mendoza’s bill.
“Now they are seeking to consolidate their power on the CalOptima Board by proposing legislation in Sacramento to take away local control,” Do told the Orange County Register in July.
October 11, 2017
Voice of OC
By Thy Vo
Mendocino County has responded to last year’s grand jury reports on several county departments and policies, including elections, Family and Children Services and Code Enforcement. The following explains how the Board of Supervisors responded to each analysis — whether it agreed or disagreed with the grand jury’s reviews — and how it considered the jury’s recommendations.
ELECTION REPORT: FULLY AGREE
The board agreed with the grand jury that delayed election results is frustrating and that more resources should be dedicated to speeding up the process.
The Registrar of Voters already tries to hire more poll workers for each election and provides voter instructions with every ballot, according to the response. The board will discuss purchasing newer equipment for elections in the next six months, which it has previously stated a desire to do. However, it decided that changing the current ballot procedures, recommended by the jury, would not help.
FORMULA BUSINESS REPORT: MOSTLY DISAGREE
The board did not agree with the grand jury that Mendocino County demonstrates an anti-business attitude. It also refuted the jury’s points that its formula business regulations are not being implemented fairly or consistently, that its rules discourage business permit seekers from applying, that zoning regulations add exorbitant time and cost to applications and that the In-N-Out Burger causes neighborhood concerns that could have been avoided.
The board stated there is no formal record of neighborhood concerns about In-N-Out and that the comments about its business regulations seemed more like opinion instead of fact.
Supervisor John McCowen restated that point Tuesday, encouraging this year’s grand jury (for 2017-18) to be more discerning between the two when writing its reports.
“In the current year reports, there were comments that did not appear to be supported by evidence and the record, but appeared to be more in the nature of personal opinions, some of them somewhat inflammatory,” he said. “And to include those kinds of statements without the evidence that supports them actually tends to undercut the credibility of the grand jury.”
The board rejected the jury’s recommendations to include a community character design review for all business development, which would no doubt add more time and cost to the review process — contradicting the jury’s own point that too many regulations exist already — and to eliminate “by right” business permits in favor of discretionary use permits, which was determined to be unwarranted.
FAMILY AND CHILDRENS SERVICES REPORT: SOMEWHAT DISAGREE
The jury correctly reported that Mendocino County is not meeting state staffing requirements with too few employees. The Health and Human Services Agency is submitting a waiver request for 2018. However, the board did not agree that past turnover rates would continue under new leadership or that disparity of pay between Mendocino and neighboring counties has made recruitment “nearly impossible,” the board stating that a few social workers have recently been hired.
The board admitted that Mendocino County does have a higher rate than the state for removal of children from their families, but stated that the reasons listed by the jury — “drug culture, high unemployment, lack of housing, and the lack of teenage drug treatment programs” — are not solely responsible.
The board said that the recommendation to offer competitive salaries needs looking into, pointing to budget constraints.
HHSA Director Tammy Moss Chandler argued this response Tuesday, saying that the department returned more than $30 million to the state and federal government in the five years before she became director, due to coming in under the social services budget.
However, Supervisor Georgeanne Croskey clarified that the board meant budget constraints to mean the county’s overall budget, as it is obligated to maintain equity for employees across all departments.
Part 2 of Mendocino County’s responses to the grand jury reports will appear in the Tuesday, Oct. 10 edition.
October 7, 2017
Ukiah Daily Journal
By Ashley Tressel
Saturday, October 7, 2017
The Amador County Board of Supervisors have issued their official response to the 2016-2017 Civil Grand Jury Report, and forcefully rejected almost all of the report’s conclusions and suggested correction directed at the county Health and Human Services (HSS) Department and its contracting procedures.
The Grand Jury Report, issued back in June, took a highly critical look at the way the HSS department awarded contracts for public health services, such as drug counseling. Of particular focus were contracts that had been previously awarded to the Amador Tuolumne Community Action Agency (ATCAA) that were instead awarded to a new organization, Nexus Youth and Family Services.
The supervisor’s response, which is required by law, disagreed with almost all the finding and recommendations from the Grand Jury Report, including that HHS “cherry picked” contracts at the request of Nexus, that HHS altered the selection criteria to favor Nexus, and that county employees worked to undermine ATCAA. The response letter also took issue several times with the Grand Jury’s contention that ATCAA’s status as a sole source provider, i.e. the only organization to bid on certain contracts, was something to be honored and preserved by Amador County, rather stating that introducing competition into the contracting process would lead to improved performance and reduced cost. Likewise, the Board of Supervisors rejected almost all of the Grand Jury’s recommendations, such as sending a notice out 60 days before a request for proposals is issued by the county, revise protest procedures in the bidding process, and the creation of additional conflict of interest training for county staff. The response letter did say that the county would implement the recommendations for a formal three-year review process of the contract process and that refreshing training for county employees over conflicts of interest would be provided.
The response also briefly discussed the tree mortality issue, where the Grand Jury Report was very positive in evaluating the county’s response, and the supervisors agreed with that positive assessment. .
October 6, 2017
By Craig Baracco
Blog note: this article references a 2016 grand jury report.
SAN FRANCISCO, CA — The San Francisco District Attorney's Office said today that no criminal charges will be filed against police officers in three shootings, two of them fatal and one dating back to 2014.
The decisions issued today in three officer-involved shootings go some way toward clearing a backlog of police shooting investigations in the district attorney's office.
According to a 2016 civil grand jury report, the reports can take an average of 20 months to complete.
Prior to today, the last decision in an officer-involved shooting investigation came in April of this year in the Feb. 26, 2015, Mission District shooting of Amilcar Perez-Lopez, 21, a Guatemalan man armed with a knife. No charges were filed in that case, which sparked ongoing protests and a lawsuit by the family.
A number of other investigations into fatal police shootings remain unresolved, including the controversial shootings of Mario Woods in 2015 and Jose Luis Gongora and Jessica Williams in 2016. In all, the district attorney's office appears to have 10 investigations still open into fatal police shootings that occurred between 2014 and this year, with the oldest being that of O'Shaine Evans, who was shot on Oct. 7, 2014.
The investigations resolved today include the fatal shooting of Nicholas McWherter, who shot a San Francisco police officer before himself being gunned down by police near Stern Grove on Oct. 14, 2016.
McWherter, a 26-year-old Pacifica resident, first fired at officers near a Big 5 Sporting Goods store on Sloat Boulevard after they responded to a report of a mentally disturbed person, hitting Officer Kevin Downs in the head and causing serious injury, according to police.
He was shot later in the evening by Officers Nathan Chew and Paul Dominguez near Stern Grove after he allegedly fired at them, and died two days later at San Francisco General Hospital.
Ballistics analysis showed McWherter used the same gun in both shooting incidents, and an investigation found he had a history of increasing mental health issues, the report said.
On Sept. 15, 2016, the Pacifica Police Department had issued a written warning to patrol officers about McWherter about his potential for violent behavior and mental health issues.
"All available evidence supports the conclusion that Officers Dominguez and Chew acted in self-defense and in defense of others when they fired their weapons at McWherter," the report said. "Under California law, the officers were justified in using deadly force because they faced an imminent danger to themselves and to others."
The oldest shooting investigation cleared today involves the death on Sept. 25, 2014, of Giovany Contreras-Sandoval in the Financial District. Contreras-Sandoval, a Richmond resident, was shot following a pursuit from the East Bay prompted by a report of a carjacking.
After a crash at California and Battery streets, civilian witnesses told officers that Contreras-Sandoval had a gun and had fired at least one shot before police arrived, according to the report.
When officers approached the vehicle, Contreras-Sandoval refused to put down his gun and instead raised it toward both a group of officers and of civilians in the area, the report said. The officers fired in self-defense, the report concludes.
The district attorney's office also issued a decision today in a non-injury shooting that occurred on May 21 of this year after officers responded to a report of an armed robbery at a home in the 2100 block of Quesada Avenue.
When officers encountered three robbery suspects leaving the house, one of the suspects fired at least five rounds at them.
One officer, Officer Dack Thompson, fired a single shot at the suspect, but no one was injured in the gunfire, the report notes. The district attorney's office found Thompson acted in self-defense and defense of others.
The investigations were conducted by the district attorney's office's Independent Investigations Bureau. The Police Department also investigates police shootings and conducts administrative investigations once the district attorney's office completes its criminal review.
Police have fatally shot two people this year, Nicholas Flusche, 26, on May 3 and Damian Murray, 46, on Sept. 24. In addition, officers shot and injured Sean Moore on Jan. 6, but Moore survived his injuries and ultimately saw all charges dropped against him in connection with that case.
Information on investigations into officer-involved shootings completed by the district attorney's office can be found on the DA's website.
October 5, 2017
San Francisco Patch
By California Patch Staff
Blog note: this editorial references a grand jury report.
The Zone 7 Water Agency became the first state water contractor to approve a financial commitment for the California WaterFix, which includes the controversial twin tunnels. The 5 to 2 decision was made at the September 20 meeting with no public comment. Board members Jim McGrail and Angela Ramirez Holmes were opposed.
Zone 7 will spend up to $250,000 to cover costs for the California WaterFix starting on January 1, 2018 and continuing until the first bonds are issued.
The vote by Zone 7 took place after one major agricultural water contractor voted against taking part, raising concerns that the project may never move forward. Now, a second agricultural contractor has questioned the estimated cost of the project. Lawsuits have been filed challenging the environmental review.
The $250,000 would be better spent working on diversifying Zone 7's water portfolio, including storage, desalination and reverse osmosis. Zone 7, instead, chose to continue to rely on the state for 80% of its water with a project that may never materialize.
Two years ago, a grand jury report stated that the agency needed to be more transparent in its decision making, including televising meetings. Zone 7 meetings are now aired on a local cable channel. Last month, Board President John Greci proposed dropping coverage of meetings.
Supporting the twin tunnels, a decision not in the public's best interest, demonstrates the need for television coverage now more than ever.
October 5, 2017
[San Francisco City and County] In SF, investigations of officer-involved shootings abound; delays do too
Blog note: this article references a grand jury report.
San Francisco police officers got the call at 11:35 p.m. on Saturday — there was a domestic disturbance, possibly a weapon. They arrived at the Russian Hill apartment to hear Damian Murray threatening his wife and two children with a gun. For three hours, crisis negotiators worked to calm Murray. And then, in quick succession, a gunshot fired from within the apartment, officers broke down the door and one of four shots hit Murray. He died in the hospital later that night.
The officer-involved shooting triggered five investigations, but if the past is an indicator, it will take at least 22 months to complete any of them — a time frame a San Francisco Civil Grand Jury called “unacceptable.” The 2016 Department of Justice report agreed, noting that only one officer-involved shooting case had been closed from the period between 2013 and 2015.
“It is unacceptable for officer-involved shootings to remain open for years,” the report stated and recommended the department establish a process that would result in “timely, transparent and factual outcomes for officer-involved shooting incidents.”
That, however, has yet to happen.
“In terms of best practices, the reality is that there’s a lot of concerns,” said Max Szabo, a spokesperson for the District Attorney’s office, which handles one of the five investigations. The others include two at the SFPD — one by Internal Affairs and the other by the Homicide Detail — a fourth by the Department of Police Accountability and a fifth by the Medical Examiner’s Office.
In a response to the Civil Grand Jury’s report, the Police Commission wrote that the suggested timelines of specific investigation-related events — 30, 60 and 90 days — were unrealistic given the complexity of the laws and statutes governing investigations. The commission, however, thanked members of the Civil Grand Jury “for their efforts to improve the timeliness and transparency of OIS investigations.”
John Crew, an ACLU attorney and former head of the Northern California Police Practices Project, said the SFPD unfairly hides behind laws and statutes, and that the problem is not legal, but cultural.
“They say there’s state confidentiality laws,” Crew said referring to the delays. “Well, Los Angeles is in the same state.”
And, as it turns out, Los Angeles finishes its investigations considerably faster — a fact that could bode well for San Francisco, since Police Chief Bill Scott, who took over the SFPD in January, comes from that culture.
Officer involved Shootings — one in San Francisco and one in Los Angeles
Take the investigations that followed the police shooting of Luis Demetrio Gongora Pat in San Francisco and Cesar Frias in Los Angeles.
A homeless 45-year-old unemployed restaurant worker from Yucatan, Gongora was shot and killed by police officers on April 7, 2016. The officers said Gongora “charged” at them with a knife, while six eyewitnesses disagreed. Despite numerous calls for expediency and nationwide attention, 18 months later, the various investigations are still underway.
The day before Gongora was shot in San Francisco, Los Angeles officers shot and killed Cesar Frias, a 20-year-old mentally disturbed man. The shooting immediately prompted three investigations, including inquiries by the LAPD’s Force Investigation Division, the Office of the Inspector General and the L.A. County District Attorney’s Justice System Integrity Division shooting team.
Twelve months later, the L.A. Board of Police Commissioners prepared and adjudicated a detailed report on the incident and published it on their website.
It contained a detailed 20-page summary of the standoff, which lasted seven hours and ended when Frias ran toward the team of SWAT officers clutching a pair of scissors.
The timeline of this investigation aligns with the LAPD’s other investigations into officer-involved shootings from 2016. Captain Patricia Sandoval, a commanding officer in media relations for the LAPD, said that their investigations take a year at most.
Merrick Bobb, president and co-executive director of the Police Assessment Resource Center, has been involved with the LAPD since the Justice Department stepped in after the Rodney King riots in 1992. Since then, he says, the LAPD’s relationship to officer-involved shootings has improved substantially. When it comes to transparency, he said, “LA’s one of the best.”
San Francisco police officers say that their investigations take a long time because of the number of overlapping investigations.
“Each investigation is on its own timeline,” says Captain Paul Yep, who oversees the station patrolling the Russian Hill area where Sunday’s shooting occurred. “There’s a lot of protocol and variations.”
For his part, Crew believes the culture of lack of openness and accountability isn’t entirely SFPD’s fault. “If no one’s making them do it, if the Police Commission and Board of Supervisors aren’t making them do it, if press and public aren’t making them do it … ”
“They should still do it, but the culture exists because there hasn’t been political will to force them to change.”
October 4, 2017
By Susie Neilson