Tuesday, December 11, 2018
Blog note: this article references a grand jury report.
OAKLAND — At least 75 teachers at Oakland High School are planning a walkout Monday to protest an impasse in contract negotiations, according an organizer.
There are “rumblings” that teachers from other schools may join the walkout, Oakland Unified School District spokesman John Sasaki said Saturday.
In an email to teachers Saturday morning, the district warned calling in sick or taking a personal leave en masse is “an illegal labor action” and “teachers who call in sick under these circumstances will potentially be subject to disciplinary action and loss of pay.”
Oakland High English teacher Miles Murray, one of the organizers of the walkout, said the email has emboldened 75 of the school’s 90 teachers who have indicated they will participate.
“I got a flurry of responses from teachers saying, ‘good, that means they care,’ and that they’re definitely still in,” said Murray.
Murray said the walkout is not sanctioned by the district’s teachers’ union, the Oakland Education Association (OEA), which is currently negotiating a new contract with the district. Teachers have been working without a contract since July 2017.
“They’re probably going to get in legal trouble for it,” said Murray of the OEA. “The union has been escalating and encouraging teachers to participate in a number of different legal actions, but teachers at my school didn’t feel they were escalating fast enough, considering the insulting offers from the district.”
OEA President Keith Brown did not immediately return a request for comment Saturday afternoon.
Oakland Unified is facing a budget crisis and is expected to make deep cuts next year in order to cut $60 million from its budget by the 2020-21 fiscal year. Those cuts are likely to include the closing and consolidating of several schools.
The board has been criticized by the state and an Alameda County civil grand jury for failing to make difficult political decisions. If the district fails to follow through with its deficit-cutting plans, they could risk a state takeover.
Murray says while the district claims it can’t afford to pay teachers a living wage and cut down on class sizes, it has also increased spending on vendors, consultants and administration.
“We have the lowest pay in the Bay and the highest percentage of…money funneled from classrooms and teachers to outside consultants to the growing charter school movement,” Murray said.
While the walkout may affect students, Murray said teachers want to draw attention to issues like classroom size that affect the quality of students’ education every day.
“If teachers can’t afford to live in the city where they work…that affects quality of education,” Murray said. “It’s a short-term, one-day crisis to draw attention to this ongoing crisis.”
Sasaki said the district heard about the walkout a few days ago and has arranged for substitutes to fill in for teachers who participate.
Murray said the district has “scrambled” to find adequate substitutes teachers on a regular basis and questioned whether the district can supply enough substitute teachers.
“That’s not accurate. Instruction will continue as usual,” Sasaki said.
Teachers will convene in front of the school starting at 7:30 a.m. and march downtown, where they will hold a rally at city hall, said Murray.
“We’re working hard to find an agreement between the two sides that makes both sides happy,” said Sasaki.
December 8, 2018
The Mercury News
By Thy Vo
The Napa County civil grand jury exists to act as a watchdog for the public, but its demographic makeup doesn’t much resemble the public it serves.
The state requires county courts to track grand jury demographics and encourages them to conduct outreach in such a way that attracts candidates who “reflect a representative cross-section of the community,” according to the California Rules of Court.
And while the Napa County Superior Court appears to have seen modest improvement from a recent campaign to publish Spanish language materials, 14 of the 19 grand jurors sworn into service last July were white. Twelve were male and no jurors were younger than 55 years old, according to the grand jury’s website.
The California Grand Jurors’ Association, an organization of grand jurors statewide, says it does not track demographics and has no way to know whether Napa is typical. Statistics on grand juries elsewhere indicate that Napa Valley isn’t the only county with representation issues.
Grand jury applicants in Solano County last year also skewed male, white and older. The same was true for grand juries in larger counties such as Sacramento or Los Angeles.
Two current Napa grand jury members say they don’t think the demographic makeup of the grand jury affects its work. Part of the problem in attracting volunteers or ideas from a representative cross-section of the public, jurors say, is that serving on a grand jury is a significant time investment for $15 per-meeting stipends. And few people really understand what a grand jury is, let alone how they can submit complaints to jurors.
“I think that’s always a concern, that the makeup of a grand jury affects what it wants to look into,” said Yolanda Woods, who noticed her first day that she was the grand jury’s lone Latina. She also noticed “there’s so little representation from a female point of view.”
Woods stressed that her experience on the grand jury has been a positive one and she may even consider applying again.
Two American Indian or Alaska Native jurors were sworn on to the grand jury in July and two others declined to state their ethnicity.
Not a single juror was less than 55 years old and 12 of the 19 jurors were male.
A couple of the original jurors have since left the grand jury, so the current demographics may have slightly changed. Two alternate jurors younger than 55 years old have since joined the group, said grand jury foreperson Kort van Bronkhorst.
By contrast, 2017 census estimates show that half of Napa Valley is male and half is white. Another third of the population is Hispanic or Latino, nearly one in ten is Asian, one percent is American Indian or Alaska Native, and two percent is black or African-American. Census data doesn’t show how age breaks down for residents between 18 and 65 years old.
Eleven of the 19 jurors originally sworn into service were retired. It can be hard for people with families or full-time jobs to commit to something as time-consuming as the grand jury, jurors say.
Van Bronkhorst, who is in his second year of grand jury service, says this year’s grand jury is more geographically representative of Napa Valley. He’s unsure whether any jurors live in American Canyon, but says more Upvalley residents now participate.
He pointed to topics the grand jury addressed last year and said they affect everyone, regardless of race. Such topics include climate change, emergency alerts during the fires and housing for farmworkers.
“There may be topics that are not brought up just because there aren’t certain demographics in the group, but it doesn’t mean that we are choosing not to address those topics,” Van Bronkhorst said.
What is a grand jury?
Civil grand juries are written into the state constitution and have the authority to investigate county offices, corporations and other matters deemed important to residents. People tend to confuse grand juries with the juries that oversee criminal cases, which are randomly selected from a pool of voters.
The Napa County Superior Court reviews applications, conducts interviews and narrows down the pool to 30 people, then conducts a random draw. The first 19 picked make it to the jury and the other 11 applicants become alternates.
The demographics of the grand jury, which is randomly selected, depend on who’s applying, Van Bronkhorst said.
Last year, 59 people applied. More than three quarters of applicants were white, 60 percent were male and 20 percent were younger than 55 years old.
Grand jury member Woods said applicants who are not highly educated or business owners, for example, may be too intimidated to join. Woods, who is an immigrant herself, said that could especially be true for immigrants, who may not be as aware of community resources, speak a different language or have different values.
People don’t seem to know that the grand jury considers citizen complaints when deciding what issues to take on, she said. Residents can be heard even if they don’t want to volunteer.
“If the grand jury is not demographically representative, their concerns could still be looked at,” she said.
Complaints are confidential and available online in both English and Spanish.
How the jury is selected
The grand jury serves from July to June of the following year and accepts online applications on a rolling basis. Applicants must meet a certain set of qualifications, as prescribed by state law.
The application asks prospective jurors whether they have ever sued a public agency, whether they have lived in the county for a year, whether they have ever worked for a public agency and more.
The court and Napa County Chapter of the California Grand Jurors’ Association take the lead on outreach for potential grand jurors, said Connie Brennan, who works for the court and oversees grand jury matters.
The recruitment period runs from March to April. The court places bilingual informational announcements in Napa Recycling & Waste Services bills, city of Napa water bills, Upper Valley Waste Disposal bills and newspaper advertisements. It also sends a press release to news media.
Brennan’s goal next time around is to place an announcement that targets the southern end of the valley.
Charles Koch, head of the Napa chapter of the state grand juror’s association, said the group has tried to find a more representative group of jurors by doing more canvassing and reaching out to Hispanic community leaders and members.
They’ve started holding forums that give speakers a platform to discuss community issues. The hope is that the Napa association will have a chance to preach its cause to a group of community-oriented people, he said.
“It’s always been an issue to diversify more,” he said. “We’re trying to balance the face ... of the grand jury with the face of the population in Napa County.”
The grand jury has attracted applications from varying numbers of people of color over the years, but only one Hispanic or Latino applicant applied in both 2016 and 2017.
Bob Fleshman, court executive officer of the Napa County Superior Court, noted that the Spanish language announcement was only created two years ago. In 2018, there were five Hispanic or Latino applicants.
It’s too soon to tell whether this could be a trend. But Woods of the grand jury hopes that more Latinos in the Napa Valley will participate in the future.
“It’s important to encourage other Latinos,” she said. “They need to know that this is a place where they can be heard.”
December 8, 2018
Napa Valley Register
By Courtney Teague
I read the Kern County Grand Jury’s report on the Rand Communities Water District, and I have to say the district needs to get its act together.
As I read through the findings and recommendations, one question still remains in my mind. Has the district ever conducted a cost-of-service study?
With such a study, the water district can find out the cost of providing water service to its customers.
I went to the Indian Wells Valley Water District website, and I read the rate study that was released in October.
The report stated, “The purpose of a cost-of-service allocation is to determine the cost of providing water service so that the proposed rate structure is aligned with those costs. This study employed well-established industry practices for these types of studies as recognized by the American Water Works Association and other accepted industry practices.”
This is what RCWD needs to do. It needs to find out the cost of not only pumping water, it also needs to find out the cost of treatment, and it needs to project capital-improvement costs to replace aging infrastructure.
As I understand it, by law, since RCWD is a public agency, it can only charge what it costs to provide the service. I hope RCWD can comply with the Grand Jury’s recommendations and avoid possible receivership.
It also needs a website.
December 8, 2018
Ridgecrest Daily Independent
By John V. Clani
Saturday, December 8, 2018
Blog note: this article references a grand jury report.
MONTEREY COUNTY — A group of local school board members and superintendents took part in a professional development training course that took at least a year to complete. But, Wendy Root Askew said completing the program just goes with the territory of running for elected office.
Root Askew, who is the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District trustee for Area 1, was one of 21 participants to complete the California School Boards Association Masters in Governance program.
“I think it’s just a part of performing my job at the highest level that I can,” Root Askew said. “People put their trust in me to ask the good questions, to make difficult decisions and to put the needs of our students above all else.”
Root Askew said board members have a shared responsibility to continue learning and growing with professional development. Others that completed the training course were Salinas Union High School District Superintendent Dan Burns and board member Evamarie Martinez. Monterey County Office of Education board member Judy Pennycook and regional county delegate Janet Wohlgemuth also got a certificate.
Troy Flint, communications director for California School Boards Association, said the statewide organization represents almost every school district and county office of education in the state. He said the cornerstone of the training program is the Masters in Governance certificate.
“The purpose is to provide ongoing learning for board trustees so that they can become better governance practitioners and more skilled in developing policy. And creating an environment where students can thrive.” Flint said.
The program is set up for board members to master the roles and responsibilities along with understanding the need to build and support an effective governance structure that helps produce better outcomes for students.
In order to receive the Masters in Governance certificate, candidates must complete 35 hours of intensive training broken up into five components: the foundation of effective governance, policy and judicial review, emphasizing school finances, human resources and community relations, and advocacy.
Since its inception in 1998, more than 3,000 board members and superintendents have participated in the certification program.
Flint said the program is also good for veteran board members who need to catch up with new policies or something like the Local Control and Accountability Plan. He said the training program keeps the same five components but the material within them is constantly being refined.
“That whole element of a board member’s responsibility is different than when they joined,” Flint said. “Even for people who are veterans, there’s a lot to learn.”
Kari Yeater, superintendent at North Monterey County Unified School District, said she was recommended to take the Masters in Governance training course. Yeater and three board members, Adrian Ayala, Lillian Mulvey and Martha Chavarria, all committed to taking the courses and completing them.
Yeater said it was a great opportunity to not only have her own board members complete and participate in the course and activities, but they got to network with other local board members and superintendents too.
“Who quite frankly have some of the same challenges and we had a lot of great opportunities to share,” Yeater said.
Monterey Peninsula Unified is the second largest school district in the county and Root Askew said there’s research showing high performing school boards can have an impact on student success.
“The value of this training, the value of ongoing professional development, I would hope that voters see that as something that they value in determining who they bring in to lead their school districts and organizations,” Root Askew said.
According to latest Monterey County civil grand jury final report, “the state sets education law and policy, while county Offices of Education provide support and financial oversight of school districts. It is local school boards, however, who govern their school districts and are ultimately responsible for student achievement and district performance.”
The report states effective local school board leadership is the result of training, good governance practices and an informed electorate. It also states all school board members should receive regular training updates on school board governance, school budgets and financial management, state law, education policy and current educational practices.
Root Askew said the responsibility of managing a district that serves 10,000 students across five cities with an annual operating budget of $120 million is significant. She said the Masters in Governance program provides a solid foundation to serve effectively as a trustee, while always remaining focused to prepare students for success beyond the classroom.
“I don’t take any of that lightly. I take that very seriously and I just want to the best that I can be and serve my community the best that I can,” Root Askew said. “This is just another tool in my toolbox that allows me to do that.”
Root Askew added it’s really important for school board members to take advantage of opportunities to continue learning and learn how to perform their job at the highest level.
Flint said the training truly helps the districts, especially if there are multiple school board members who are engaged.
“But even if you only have one or two members, if they bring some of that learning back and you use it to kind of shape the direction of the board, there’s a real benefit,” Flint said.
December 7, 2018
Monterey County Herald
By Juan Reyes
Miss — The “Best Tasting Water in California” has gone sour.
A Kern County Grand Jury has given Rand Communities Water District, which oversees water services for the eastern Kern desert communities of Randsburg, Johannesburg and Red Mountain 120 days to correct severe inadequacies in its business practices or it will be placed in receivership through the State Water Resources Control Board.
The grand jury's report cited levels of arsenic in the water that occasionally rose above state requirements. Additionally, leaks due to poor maintenance and infrastructure aging resulted in a 43 percent water loss equaling $24,224 in lost revenue, the report found.
Long-term exposure to arsenic in drinking water can cause cancer and skin lesions, according to the World Health Organization.
Before residents suffer, the Rand Communities Water District needs to clean up its act. The Kern County Grand Jury deserves credit for rooting this one out.
December 6, 2018
The Bakersfield Californian
Attorney files for communication evidence in withheld report
The Sutter County District Attorney’s Office is seeking court rejection of an attorney’s subpoena on the county counsel for information connected to the unpublished 2017-18 Sutter County Grand Jury report.
A court appearance Wednesday to decide on the motion was continued to Dec. 19.
Private defense attorney Jesse Santana served the subpoena for production of evidence on Sutter County Counsel Jean Jordan Nov. 8, requesting she attend the Wednesday hearing and supply 56 items, including “any and all” emails, voicemails, text messages or writing to and from Jordan and District Attorney Amanda Hopper pertaining to the grand jury report, court documents show.
The report prepared by the 2017-18 grand jury was withheld from publication, though advanced copies went to some offices. The 17 grand jurors resigned in protest in June, stating they were “prevented from fulfilling our duty as watchdog for Sutter County,” in a letter to Superior Court Judges Brian Aronson and Sarah Heckman.
In October, Santana filed a petition with the Appellate Court, requesting Judge David Ashby conduct a private review of the report and provide Santana with any “Brady” material – which refers to the 1963 Brady v. Maryland court case which established that prosecutors must turn over to defense teams all evidence that may exonerate the defendant.
In the petition, Santana wrote that he believes the report contains information that would exonerate or provide evidence that would cast doubt on the criminal charges against his client, Danelle Stylos. She is the former Sutter County Development Services director who was arrested in March 2017 on suspicion of perjury, voter fraud, petty theft and filing false information on a concealed carry permit.
In August, Ashby denied Santana’s two motions seeking the unpublished report. The state Attorney General’s Office recommended that the Third Appellate District Court of Appeal reject the petition.
On Nov. 20, the District Attorney’s Office submitted a motion to quash the subpoena served on Jordan on the grounds that it “lacks good cause, plausible justification, specificity and violated legitimate governmental interest.” It argued that any information contained in the report was absolutely privileged with disclosure prohibited by state statute. It also called the subpoena an “unreasonable search of a private party’s phone without justification.”
“This is the defendant’s third attempt to access information which may be contained in the report. The defendant has been denied access to the report from the Sutter County Superior Court as well as the Court of Appeals,” the District Attorney’s Office motion reads. “The defendant now seeks to access information contained in the report through the backdoor under the guise of an (subpoena duces tecum) regarding communication to and from Ms. Jordan and DA Hopper.”
Santana submitted an opposition to the motion to quash on Nov. 26 arguing that the information he seeks is relevant and includes Brady evidence.
Jordan declined to comment on pending litigation. Deputy District Attorney Adam McBride and Santana did not respond to a request for comment.
December 6, 2018
By Rachel Rosenbaum
EDITOR: We want to thank the press of Sonoma County for their support of the Sonoma County Civil Grand Jury. The recent plea to the citizens of Sonoma County to apply for service with the Grand Jury met with “astounding” success. It was a hasty campaign, waged in November, and only through the press; over two dozen Sonoma County publications helped by printing letters or flyers. We are grateful.
December 6, 2018
Sonoma West Times & News
By Peter Andrews, President, Sonoma County Grand Jury Association
[Monterey County] Proposal for MPC trustee leadership training draws criticism as new members join board.
Blog note: this article references a grand jury report recommendation with respect to school board member training.
Shortly after the election of two new trustees to the Monterey Peninsula College board on Nov. 6, Trustee Loren Steck thought it would be a good idea to promote board member training to understand the complexities of good governance. He was inspired in part by a 2018 Monterey County Civil Grand Jury report recommending K-12 school board members receive more specialized training to quell district troubles.
“Our college has a lot of problems and we need effective trustees,” Steck says.
He made the recommendation to the MPC Board of Trustees on Nov. 28 – two weeks before trustees-elect Yuri Anderson and Natalia Molina are to be sworn in – requiring that all trustees complete training through the Excellence in Trusteeship program by the Community College League before they are eligible to serve as chair or vice chair of the board. He thought it was an “innocuous” proposal, something meant to help the college long-term.
Instead, criticism was sharp and swift. “Jim Crow laws” was one comparison made to the board that day, by MPC political science and ethnic studies instructor David Serena, referring to the “separate but equal” standard meant to segregate black people. Serena says he found it “suspicious” the proposal came as two women of color were about to join the board. (Anderson is biracial, African American and Caucasian, and Molina is the first Latina elected to the board since the college was founded in 1947.)
“The timing of it doesn’t have the best optics,” Molina agrees. “Here Yuri and I are the first women of color to serve on the board, and the people of our districts voted us in. They didn’t say, you can’t serve as an officer until you complete this training.”
She calls the proposal the “antithesis of the spirit of diversity and inclusion, which is why our leadership and our unique background is so needed.” She points out no other local colleges have a similar requirement for board members to serve in board leadership roles.
The Community College League training program can take up to two years to complete, with most participants taking about a year, according to Carmen Sandoval, the League’s director of education services and leadership development. It includes eight areas of study, including college accreditation, student success, ethics and the Brown Act. It costs $295, paid for by the college.
During the Nov. 28 board meeting, Anderson said the proposal seemed “heavy-handed and patriarchal.” Political science instructor and MPC Teachers Association President Lauren Blanchard called it “undemocratic,” saying it supplants the will of the voters.
Trustee Rick Johnson said he could not support the proposal as written, but thought a suggestion by Anderson to change the wording to “enrolled in training” instead of “completed” was acceptable. The board agreed to look at the wording and bring it back to a future meeting, as early as Dec. 12. The December meeting is traditionally when the board votes in its new chair and vice chair for the coming year.
December 6, 2008
Monterey County Weekly
By Pam Marino
Group would allow Santa Clara County cities to negotiate with each other and the county on housing obligations
Blog note: this article references a grand jury report.
By a unanimous vote, the Palo Alto City Council approved a resolution that authorizes the city to work with the Cities Association of Santa Clara County to form new housing "subregions" at its Dec. 3, 2018 meeting. Weekly file photo.
Palo Alto signaled its support this week for joining other cities in Santa Clara County in forming a new "subregion" to collectively tackle the regional housing challenge.
Once formed, the subregion would allow local governments to redistribute the housing allocations that each receives annually under the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) process. Palo Alto, like many other cities in the county, has consistently fallen short of its RHNA target, a trend that was highlighted in a Santa Clara County Grand Jury report in June.
The creation of "subregions" is one of the grand jury's recommendations for boosting the county's housing stock. Under the system it proposals, cities where land is particularly expensive — including Palo Alto — would be able to transfer some of their obligations to lower-cost communities. The grand jury also recommended that the shift in allocations would be accompanied by financial contributions from high- to low-cost cities, money that would go toward "improving streets, schools, safety, public transportation and other services," according to the report.
"Sub-regions offer promise of encouraging more BMR (below-market-rate) housing," the report states. "A sub-region gives cities more control and flexibility to meet their RHNA housing goals by sharing the burden with adjacent cities."
The concept isn't new. Subregions already exist in three Northern California counties: San Mateo, Napa and Solano. In each case, every city in the county participated in the subregion, according to a report from the Department of Planning and Community Environment. And in recent years, with the housing shortage intensifying, local officials throughout Santa Clara County have been considering following suit. Since the grand jury report has come out, the Cities Association of Santa Clara County has been surveying cities to see whether they would like to join such a group.
The resolution that the City Council approved on Monday by a unanimous vote does not specify which cities would be in the subregion and does not lay out the rules for how the shift in allocations would be negotiated. Rather, by expressing the city's support, the council endorsed a process in which the Cities Association would create the allocation process for each participating city for the next RHNA cycle in 2020.
The resolution also authorizes incoming City Manager Ed Shikada to work with the Cities Association to form the subregion, which includes developing a work plan, a budget and a schedule of actions "leading to the countywide, self-administration of the housing needs allocation process."
The council approved the resolution on Monday night on its consent calendar, without any dissent or debate. At a prior hearing in September, the council pushed back against some of the grand jury's recommendations but generally agreed that a subregion is an idea worth exploring further.
Councilman Tom DuBois and Councilman Greg Scharff both voiced their support for creating a subregion, which Scharff said would give cities a forum to both talk about allocations and to share best practices for creating housing.
"I think it's really important for the region to be able to speak with one voice when they wish to," Scharff said. "I think it also provides a great opportunity for discussions between cities."
December 5, 2018
Palo Alto Online
By Gennady Sheyner, Palo Alto Weekly
This is a link to a video with court personnel with respect to grand juror recruitment for 2019-20. https://fox40.com/2018/12/05/sacramento-county-grand-jury-how-does-it-work/
December 5, 2018
Friday, December 7, 2018
[Kern County] ‘Best Tasting Water in California' has arsenic problem, Grand Jury finds, and that's just the beginning
A Kern County Grand Jury has given a water district on the eastern edge of the county 120 days to correct severe inadequacies in its business practices or it will be placed in receivership through the State Water Resources Control Board.
From leaks, to handshake deals, to members of the Board of Directors displaying a “lack of knowledge” of the responsibilities of their positions, the Grand Jury found a litany of problems with the Rand Communities Water District, which oversees water services for Randsburg, Johannesburg and Red Mountain, three former mining towns south of Ridgecrest that still attract occasional hikers and gold miners.
The three towns have a combined population of less than 400 according to the 2010 census, and are listed as ghost towns on some websites.
Although the district won the “Best Tasting Water in California” award in 2017 from the California Rural Water Association, it has fallen on hard times.
Multiple members of the community alleged to the grand jury that the water district engaged in cronyism, nepotism and inept business practices. The allegations initiated the grand jury’s investigation.
Members of the grand jury visited Randsburg on three separate occasions to interview residents, business owners, board members and employees of the water district among others.
The grand jury’s findings did not paint a pretty picture of the water district.
Of 13 miles of pipeline surveyed, leaks due to poor maintenance and aging resulted in 43 percent water loss equating to $24,224 in lost revenue, the report said.
The report stated that levels of arsenic in the water occasionally rose above state requirements.
Long-term exposure to arsenic in drinking water can cause cancer and skin lesions according to the World Health Organization.
A state grant of $3.2 million has been available for four years for the water district to modernize its system and fix the arsenic problem, but board members were unaware of the grant’s existence.
The state water board has been holding the money for use in the Rand Communities, the report said, waiting to be contacted by a member of the water district.
“Board members displayed a lack of knowledge about RCWD operations and the financial requirements necessary to conduct business on a day to day basis,” the report said.
One board member went so far as to “proudly” inform the grand jury, “I don’t have a meter and never receive a water bill because I take water from friends and neighbors.”
Board members also granted performance bonuses, arbitrary salary increases and offered benefit packages to employees without reviewing financial records, the report said.
Numerous other instances of improper business practices were noted in the report.
If the water district is placed in receivership, the State Water Resources Control Board could take control and force the district to make changes.
A representative of the water district said the Board of Directors would discuss the report at a meeting next week.
December 5, 2018
The Bakersfield Californian
By Sam Morgen
The residents of Randsburg, Red Mountain and Johannesburg forwarded a citizen’s complaint to Kern County’s Grand Jury, accusing RCWD of cronyism, nepotism and inept business practices – and the Grand Jury agreed.
After allegations were posted on social media and complaints were made to Kern County in late August about stolen water meters, a computer and thousands of dollars, the Grand Jury started investigating the claims.
Debbie Jones, who is now the RCWD office manager, is one of the residents that filed a complaint with Kern County Controller’s office.
The Grand Jury conducted a thorough investigation over three visits and published its findings in an 11-page report released on Tuesday.
The document titled “Award Winning Water Right Down the ‘Proverbial’ Drain,” details years of money mismanagement, poor business practices, and missing documents.
In March 2018, a commissioned water consultant was hired to review the overall operation efficiency of the District. The Grand Jury interviewed with the consultant, who abruptly quit after a couple of weeks, saying he “found the District to be a circus” and that, “he wanted no part of it.”
The financing and accounting section of the report showed a continuous decline in revenue from 2016-2018 and that the RDWD has relied on grants to stay solvent.
During this time, board members did not review the District’s financial records and approved performance bonuses and benefit packages to employees, adding to the deficit.
This section of the document also points out that no one on the board has inquired about a $3.2 million grant that was made available to them, money what was supposed to go towards repairs for the system’s deteriorating infrastructure.
From 2016-2018, the Grand Jury found that there were documents that had been removed, and that records were sparse and improperly filed.
Jones confirmed this in August when she was temporary office help, before she was officially hired. “All the paper records for everything in 2017 are gone,” Jones said. Employee records were also missing from this time.
Out of the records that the RDWD did have, the Grand Jury found that there were duplicates and that scanned documents did not match check registers and invoices.
During one of the board meetings, a member boasted to the committee and said, “I don’t have a meter and never receive a water bill because I take water from friends and neighbors”. The Grand Jury found and confirmed that billing records support this claim.
Another issue that the Grand Jury noted was that the prior General Manager would routinely partake in “handshake deals” for outside water sales. These sales have no outside records and there is no way to track the revenue or water sold during these transactions.
The RCWD was found to be in violation of the Brown Act, because board members were conducting business outside of public board meetings. There was another incident in October, where the board members did not give 24 hours notice before holding a meeting.
“The issues will be addressed and fixed during the next board meeting,” Jones said. The next board meeting will be held on Dec. 12.
The RCWD must develop a working relationship within the next 60 days, must respond to the presiding judge of the case within 90 days, and meet all recommendations listed in the report within 120 days.
Should RCWD not meet the requirements, they will be placed in receivership through the State Water Resources Control Board.
December 5, 2018
Ridgecrest Daily Independent
By Lauren Jennings
Blog note: this article references a grand jury report.
PACIFIC GROVE — A hotel might take the place of the beleaguered American Tin Cannery Outlets in Pacific Grove after all.
Comstock, a residential and commercial development company with properties in both Southern and Northern California, has expressed potential plans to build a hotel on the site at 125 Ocean View Blvd.
While the developer has not officially submitted project plans to the city yet, it is taking steps forward with a hotel project in mind, according to Pacific Grove City Manager Ben Harvey.
“The city has been meeting with a potential applicant for the site,” said Harvey, noting the applicant’s name was Comstock Development and that any deal was very preliminary at this point. “They have been doing their due diligence to make sure that this is worth pursuing.”
Harvey continued, “At this point we don’t have an application for a project yet.”
That’s while Mike Zimmerman, president of Cannery Row Company, the owner of the property, said at this point a long-term lease with the company had not been signed.
“Until they clear the due diligence period, there isn’t anything,” said Zimmerman. “At this point, it’s kind of like kicking tires.”
David Stoldt, general manager of the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District confirmed meeting with Comstock when the development company was seeking verification of the Tin Cannery’s water allocation.
“We affirmed that we would review the project under special circumstances, which means the approach to design and building would incorporate water-saving features that would allow us to approve the project based on the onsite credits we have,” said Stoldt, who also noted that the District would review the proposal if it shows the quantity of water is less than or equal to the available onsite credit.
“Then later, we would review the actual result once the project is complete to ensure compliance,” he added.
In February 2017 the permit for the previously proposed Project Bella expired.
Then in September of this year, a Monterey County civil grand jury report investigating why the 160-room hotel development failed to become a reality and found the project cost the city $100,000 in unpaid reimbursement fees.
Now, Harvey said he’s hopeful that this developer might have the right project in mind.
“While we’re very excited about the prospect we don’t have an application in process yet,” said Harvey. “We’re hopeful that an application will come forward. We’re impressed with what we’ve leaned about Comstock and their potential vision for the site as a hotel but it’s very preliminary at this point.”
December 3, 2018
Monterey County Herald
By Carly Mayberry
Tuesday, December 4, 2018
[Butte County] Rebuild Paradise? Since 1999, 13 large wildfires burned in the footprint of the Camp Fire
The town’s topography, climate and history leaves it vulnerable
Blog note: this article is one of many published throughout the state about the recent Camp Fire and the 2009 Butte County Grand Jury’s warning about government's response to such fires.
Chris Folkman deals in catastrophic risk. As a disaster analyst, he builds models that simulate wildfires. So as he watched the horrific headlines of the Camp Fire unfold last month, he began researching and creating a map of the region’s fire history.
What he found left him speechless. Since 1999, 13 large wildfires had burned within the footprint of the Camp Fire’s 153,000-acre scar.
The history of fire in this dry, blustery region of Northern California has added emphasis to a difficult question raised by the destruction of last month’s historic blaze: Should Paradise be rebuilt?
Repeat natural disasters haven’t stopped human habitation in the past. Despite the deadly October 2017 Tubbs Fire in Sonoma County, whose footprint almost mimics the 1964 Hanley Fire, rebuilding efforts are underway in Santa Rosa. New Orleans resurfaced after Hurricane Katrina. And so on.
But whether we should live in such disaster-prone areas is the billion-dollar question — or $7.5 billion to $10 billion question, if you consider Folkman’s estimates on insured losses so far from the Camp Fire. The blaze that decimated the Gold Country town of Paradise killed at least 88 people and destroyed more than 14,000 homes and businesses, both records for California.
“I think there needs to be a frank conversation about rebuilding and fire resilience,” said Folkman, a disaster analyst with RMS. “The good news is there are measures to be taken to make a house less susceptible to a wildfire. In the end, we have to face the fact that the climate is changing and a lot of houses are built in dangerous areas.”
Stay or go?
For a decade, Cindy Hoover has feared the Jarbo Gap winds. Ever since she plopped her fish in a mason jar and sat in gridlock as she tried to evacuate Paradise during the 2008 Humboldt Fire — which started east of Chico and eventually destroyed 87 homes — Hoover would pack her bags and have her keys, water and dog leash sitting on the counter when the winds started whistling.
“For 10 years I tortured myself with anticipation of what had just happened on Nov. 8,” said Hoover, who escaped the Camp Fire with her husband. “I escaped effortlessly only because I was ready, I always watched the weather, the wind and slept with my windows open smelling for the smell of burning vegetation.”
The couple lost their house, and she’s not sure she will return after 45 years.
“I want to live in Paradise. It’s my home but I cannot live in a community that Paradise has become,” Hoover said. “This fire wasn’t a case of protecting homes, it didn’t have a chance.”
Casey Taylor does not share Hoover’s doubts. As a Paradise native, she can’t imagine living anywhere else than where her three-bedroom home built in the 1970s once stood. The executive director of Achieve Charter School already has contacted her insurance company and is receiving temporary housing help.
“I know our town leaders personally and they were committed to revitalizing Paradise before the fire, and even more now, to bring it back better than ever,” she said.
Cal Fire historical data shows that 42 fires larger than 300 acres have burned within the Camp Fire footprint since 1914. By sheer luck, the town of Paradise had largely been spared widespread destruction despite a century of close calls.
The Camp Fire was the eighth blaze Linda Luck has had to flee in California, including two others in Paradise, but it hasn’t scared her away. Her Grinding Rock Way home, built of cinder block and a tile roof, is damaged but still standing.
“Would I go back? Yes,” Luck said. “My husband built that house.”
She’s heard from neighbors who won’t be joining her; at one meeting, only seven of 60 residents said they’d return to Paradise.
“I’m hearing that from a lot of my friends. It terrorized them,” she said.
Sixty percent of new homes built in California, Washington and Oregon since 1990 have been developed in what’s known as the Wildland Urban Interface, according to Headwaters Economics, a Montana-based group that created the Community Planning Assistance for Wildfire program. Folkman said that includes intermix — where vegetation and houses intermingle, such as in Paradise, and interface, where a concentration of houses abuts a forest or chaparral.
“The interface is really susceptible to very large losses because there tends to be a big cluster of houses,” Folkman said. “At the same time, it’s an extremely desirable place to live … it’s picturesque.”
Kelly Pohl, a Headwaters researcher, said Folkman’s map provides important information for communities that have been hit repeatedly by fire. Planners should consider that when asking whether there are certain areas people should not live.
“These recent disasters are really begging that question, and the answer probably is yes. There’s probably areas not safe in relation to wildfires,” Pohl said, referring to the historical map of fires in the Paradise area. “I think that’s all really important information for communities to look at when deciding where to allow homes.”
That being said, such communities can be rebuilt much more safely and resistant to fire by designing subdivisions with good escape routes, fuel breaks and fire-resistant materials and design features, she said. A Headwaters study released Tuesday found negligible cost differences in adding wildfire-resistant materials and design features to homes.
Such measures are all the more critical as climate change extends fire seasons and brings less rain and drier vegetation. Burned acres per wildfire has doubled since the 1990s, and the fire season in the West averages 84 days longer than the 1970s, according to Headwaters.
The debate over whether it is safe to rebuild is not a new one for Butte County.
Over the summer of 2008, the Humboldt, Lightning and other fires burned about 100,000 acres in the Paradise region, more than 400 homes were lost or damaged and two people died. It could have been much worse, and it prompted the Butte County civil grand jury to issue a report.
“By some miracle, the Humboldt Fire incident did not cross the West Branch of the Feather River,” the jury reported. “Had this occurred, property damage could have been huge and thousands of lives could have been threatened in Paradise and the Upper Ridge.”
The panel recommended a moratorium on home building in fire-prone areas and specifically cited the general plan’s forecasting of 3,400 additional units, or about 15,000 people, in “foothill fire-prone areas,” including a 330-house development, which would have placed the homes on the canyon rim.
But in September 2009, the Butte County Board of Supervisors replied to the grand jury’s recommendation, calling it “not reasonable.” The supervisors noted building code improvements and fire prevention requirements for new housing.
Such land-use questions are being asked across the country and particularly in California, Oregon and Washington, where 84 percent of the wildland urban interface is undeveloped, according to Headwaters.
Butte County supervisor Doug Teeter — who lost his Paradise home to the Camp Fire, along with the homes of his mother and sister — wasn’t on the board when it rebuffed the grand jury report but said his community is safe to rebuild.
“Absolutely, it’s a ridge. I feel it’s defendable and the reconstruction will be to modern building standards,” Teeter said, adding the historical fire map is misleading as many of the fires listed burned in uninhabited areas. “When Paradise gets rebuilt, it’s going to have different standards. It’s got to have that.”
Paradise Mayor Jody Jones, who also lost her home, said Paradise has grown responsibly, mostly rural residential homes on large lots, not large subdivisions.
“They didn’t abandon New Orleans after Katrina, they’re not abandoning Hawaii although there’s a volcano going off, they’re not abandoning San Francisco despite the earthquake dangers,” she said. “Anywhere you go, there’s some risk of a natural disaster.
“We’re not going to abandon our town.”
December 2, 2008
The Mercury News (also published in the Chico Enterprise-Record)
By Matthias Gafni
Napa County proposes to pay up to $80,000 to cover legal costs for Assessor John Tuteur’s defense against charges brought up by the 2017-18 Napa County Grand Jury.
The Attorney General’s office failed to find sufficient evidence to prosecute “willful or corrupt misconduct” charges that could have removed Tuteur from office. Napa County Superior Court on Nov. 14 dismissed the case.
“It is in the county’s interest to defend its employees acting in good faith in the course and scope of their employment against claims that cannot stand up in court,” a county report said.
Napa County could reimburse Tuteur for “reasonable legal defense costs against allegations that are within the scope of his employment and in his capacity as Assessor-Recorder-County Clerk.”
The Napa County Board of Supervisors will consider the matter when it meets at 9 a.m. Tuesday at the county administration center, 1195 Third St. The proposal is on the consent calendar, which is reserved for routine items that might be passed without discussion.
“I undertook the initial defense against the unfounded accusation with the understanding that when exonerated, I would be eligible for reimbursement from the county,” Tuteur said on Friday.
Tuteur hired Barth & Daley LLP to defend himself in the grand jury case. To date, the expenses are $66,917. The $80,000 maximum would cover this bill and remaining expenses that arise, a county report said.
One possible source of further expenses could be an appeal filed by the grand jury in the First District Court of Appeal to avoid releasing investigative materials related to the Tuteur charges. The court dismissed this case on Nov. 27, the county report said.
Another could be the grand jury’s order for a civil suit against Tuteur for failure to pay back taxes, an allegation that was also part of the dismissed ”willful or corrupt misconduct” case. That order is being reviewed by the Attorney General’s Office and state Board of Equalization, a county report said.
The grand jury in the “willful or corrupt misconduct” case made four charges against Tuteur.
One charge arose from a 2008 Assessor’s Office error on how much tax Tuteur should pay for property that included a cell tower lease. The office discovered the error in 2016. The grand jury said Tuteur failed to pay $20,000 in back property taxes.
Tuteur’s defense said the Assessor’s Office chief appraiser finished resolving the complicated matter this year after consulting with the state Board of Equalization. Tuteur owes $1,453 in back taxes and has begun making payments.
Three other charges involved how Tuteur administers the state’s Williamson Act locally. Napa County is among the California counties that choose to offer tax breaks for agricultural land if the owner agrees to keep the land in agriculture for at least 10 years.
December 2, 2018
Napa Valley Register
By Barry Eberling