- Errors in enrollment estimates reduced the district revenue by $3.9 million.
- Failure to reduce teacher overstaffing to match actual enrollment cost another $3.2 million.
- The board used the self-insurance fund to help the district stay afloat, underfunding it by $30 million.
- Skyrocketing pension and special education mandate costs.
Saturday, June 30, 2018
[Alameda County] Oakland school district has too many schools, 'no accountability' and 'lack of trust:' grand jury
OAKLAND, Calif. - Oakland Unified School District faced a multi-million dollar deficit this year and nevertheless “lost control of spending” and repeatedly ignored calls to consolidate schools, the Alameda County civil grand jury found in its annual report released on Tuesday.
During its nine-month investigation, the jurors found that the OUSD’s school openings are “emblematic of system-wide failures” that include excessive hiring and program spending as well as operating nearly double the number of schools that can be financially justified.
There is “no accountability” and a “lack of trust,” the jurors wrote, which is why there is also such high teacher and administration turnover. Grand jurors said they “were struck by the animosity between the public and the board and the superintendent,” where members of the public “generally did not believe the numbers.” Finance officers also testified to the jurors that they were instructed to withhold “bad news” from the board and other decision makers, the report states.
This is at least the third time the grand jury has criticized OUSD. But this report is the first time that the issue of operating too many schools was the primary of focus of the investigation.
In response, OUSD Board President Aimee Eng issued this statement: “It is an important document that we take seriously. Our first step is to review the report to understand issues and recommendations that the jury has identified in OUSD. As we remain committed to achieving fiscal vitality and stability, it is critical that we receive outside analysis and feedback such as this report and the recently completed Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team report to better inform our work. We hope the information shared by the grand jury will help guide us on our way towards a sustainable future in which all Oakland’s students receive a high quality education.”
Particularly telling to the jurors was the fact that despite facing a $15-million budget deficit during the middle of the year, the district allowed two new schools to open, the School of Languages and Rudsdale High School. One school serves 53 students. The other serves 125.
While the efforts to address students with niche needs at specialty schools is laudable, jurors found, it is also an expensive endeavor. Opening a school can cost as much as $1 million to pay for all the staff, and reopening a vacated site also requires construction costs to bring the buildings up to code.
“The school board abandoned the district’s established budgeting process by approving them without proper funding and without a plan to ensure they would be sustainable,” the grand jury wrote. “The decision put further strain on an already overstretched budget, which, among other things, meant taking money from other underfunded schools and inching the district closer to insolvency.”
Aside from the too-many-schools issue, jurors found other problems, too. Those include:
The context of all this is that the district has been shrinking, losing state dollars that come with enrollment. Currently, OUSD has 36,900 students, down from a high of 54,000 a decade ago, and operates 87 schools making the average school size 412. To compare, Fremont Unified School District has a student population of 35,000 and operates only 42 schools. Its average school size is double that of Oakland. San Jose Unified School District operates 41 schools with a student population just over 30,000, making its average school size 731 students.
Then there is the matter of what the district has in the bank. At the onset of the year, OUSD budgeted $763 million for expenses, which was $15 million more than it had available. In December 2017, trustees voted to cut $9 million, although the grand jury noted that not all these cuts were made because of prior contractual obligations which ended up “further exacerbating the district’s financial woes.”
As for why the district has suffered this fate?
Jurors put most of the blame on “management and governing problems” as the chief reasons why OUSD has been on average between $20 million and $30 million in debt for the last 15 years, and “may help to explain why one in five Oakland public schools scores in the bottom 5 percent statewide in math and English language arts proficiency.”
In fact, experts testified that seven in 10 African-American students read below grade average. Since 2014, about 48 percent of the students failed to meet the lowest level of English language and literacy achievement levels. In 2016, only 1/3 of high school seniors were prepared to go to college, experts told the jurors.
Jurors noted that the new superintendent, Kyla Johnson Trammell, the fifth in nine years, found herself mired in this situation when taking the post and immediately promised to address these problems and make the changes needed.
"The grand jury was impressed by her and her willingness to address tough issues," said grand jury forewoman Jane Sullwold. "The jury was most concerned about the difficulties in implementing those choices. Especially resistance from the community, labor groups and the board of education. We are encouraged by the statement from Ms. Eng that the board intends to look closely at our recommendations."
Jurors recommended eight suggestions to help her achieve that goal. Some of their advice included being more transparent with the public, sharing campuses between district-run and charter schools and not hiring any new staff or instituting any new programs until there is money in the budget to fund them.
June 27, 2018
KTVU Fox News
By Lisa Fernandez
Manteca needs to use volunteers; Lathrop fails to address illegal commercial truck parking issues
Manteca Mayor Steve DeBrum and Manteca Police Chief Jodie Estarziau are open to a San Joaquin County Grand Jury report recommendation the city explore the possibility of enlisting volunteers to step up its code enforcement effort to battle blight.
But they are at a loss about a statement in the findings released Tuesday that says the “City of Manteca declined a site visit” since city leaders said Grand Jury representatives sat down with three officials including Mayor DeBrum and that all of their inquiries were answered.
The Grand Jury report also calls for Manteca to “restore the code enforcement officer position.” The city has never had more than two budgeted code enforcement positions. Those are currently filled by Scott Cunningham, the code enforcement supervisor, and Lane Allen who serves as a code enforcement officer. Chief Estarziau noted the City Council in the budget approved for the fiscal year starting July 1 has provided funding for the hiring of a part-time office aide to help with code enforcement paperwork to free up time for the code enforcement officers to handle more cases.
The Grand Jury also thought Lathrop and Ripon could step up their game when it comes to code enforcement. It also lauds Stockton and Lodi for instituting “innovative programs” to fight blight through code enforcement.
“The city needs to explore all avenues,” DeBrum said when it comes to delivering municipal services.
He noted in the past — and currently — the city has effectively used the services of the Manteca Police Department’s Seniors Helping Area Residents and Police (SHARP) volunteers to help address blight and code enforcement issues.
The city’s anti-graffiti effort that has received praise from other jurisdictions has been handled almost exclusively by SHARP volunteers since the early 1990s. The SHARP volunteers also are credited with overseeing the abandoned shopping cart retrieval program. In 2017, the 70-plus member volunteer unit was credited with identifying and coordinating the subsequent removal of 101 stolen, abandoned, or disabled vehicles from city streets.
A decade ago SHARP was enlisted to address a property maintenance issue that was routinely being ignored, triggered dozens of complaints a week, and even had several residents fighting citations to the point as asking for jury trials. The issue involved residents who keep their city-issued yard waste, garbage and recycling carts in view of the street all week long in violation of the city ordinance that allows them to be placed along the street the day before and requires them to be removed by no later than the next day.
SHARP spent a month canvassing the city a day behind solid waste collections placing warning notices on carts they were left out as well as leaving information on city rules and alerting residents that code enforcement officers would follow up in subsequent weeks with written citations.
Within two months, complaints about carts left out in front of homes after the allowed time dropped to almost none.
The report notes Manteca — by direction of the City Council — is complaint driven when it comes to code enforcement and accepts anonymous complaints.
The Grand Jury recommends the city restore a code enforcement position that never existed and suggest Manteca to consider using volunteers to increase code enforcement compliance which they already do.
DeBrum and Estarziau both noted they were open to exploring additional ways volunteers could assist with code enforcement providing they were non-confrontational. Both lauded contributions the SHARP unit has made over the years addressing blight and other code enforcement issues as well as their efforts to assist police in other ways.
Grand Jury’s issue with Lathrop centers around truck parking, staff levels
The Grand Jury made four findings regarding Lathrop.
Lathrop has taken limited code enforcement toward the illegal parking of commercial truck and failed to resolve the problem for approximately six years, allowing blight and public safety issues to remain.
Lathrop has a vacant budgeted position for a code enforcement officer that city officials are not filling at this time. This has exacerbated the illegal truck parking issue.
The city has not consistently hired qualified code enforcement officers. This contributes to the lack of reliable code enforcement.
Lathrop has no consistent appeals process such as in place in Manteca that could be used to resolve the truck parking issue, causing the issue to persist.
The Grand Jury recommends the issues be resolved by taking consistent enforcement action on the illegal parking of commercial trucks, advertising and filling the vacant position while adhering strictly to the job description guidelines, and developing and implementing a consistent appeals process that can be used to resolve enforcement disputes.
The report notes Lathrop’s code enforcement effort is complaint driven and accepts anonymous complaints as well.
They noted the code enforcement supervisor is the only dedicated personnel in Lathrop dealing with various issues and that person only works 30 hours a week.
The report indicated citizen complaints brought various code enforcement issues to the attention of the Grand Jury. The report also noted that “city administrators claim that enforcement of the illegal truck parking issue would create a financial hardship for the truck drivers and property owners involved.”
Ripon code enforcement handled by worker with a number of other duties
The Grand Jury noted Ripon uses a community service officer to handle code enforcement that is complaint driven and accepts anonymous complaints. There is an appeal process in place to resolve contested non-compliance disputes.
The CSO position with the Ripon Police devotes 25 percent of her time to code enforcement. The rest is split between animal control, part-time communication dispatch and other duties as assigned.
The Grand Jury lauds Lodi for its code enforcement for starting to use senior volunteers to place door hanger violations at all residences reported to be in violation. Lodi Police say that has resulted in a voluntary compliance of 62 percent.
Lodi has only one code enforcement officer that the Grand Jury notes also handles complaints about homeless trespassing on private property.
Manteca has two full-time Community Resource Officers dedicated to homeless issues including illegal camping on private property. They also see to the removal of 5 to 15 illegal homeless encampments a week.
Stockton Police has a code enforcement department of 44 full-time employees, two-thirds the number of sworn officers that Manteca has in place. Of the 44 Stockton employees, 26 are certified code enforcement officers.
Based on population to equal Stockton’s staffing level, Manteca would need to have seven code enforcement officers
Stockton, the Grand Jury notes, provides enforcement of unsecured and vacant properties, dangerous buildings, and illegal dumping.
The code enforcement process is complaint drive and also proactive. Neither Manteca, Lathrop or Ripon are proactive.
The department uses a neighborhood blitz team approach involved police, code enforcements and other agencies much like the City of Manteca did a dozen years ago to address major issues in the Southside Park neighborhood and the second floor efficiency apartments in downtown Manteca.
The Stockton code enforcement has also obtained a grant to start enforcing waterway-related issues such as blight and abandoned boats.
June 27, 2018
By Dennis Wyatt
TULARE COUNTY – Homelessness faces a lot of different fronts. Some of the homeless cannot afford a home, some are struggling with addiction and other simply choose to participate in the lifestyle. But when it comes to the public there is a need to make sure the homeless are well taken care of. It is not unprecedented for outbreaks of illness to occur among homeless communities, and potentially affect those who work or live nearby.
The Tulare County grand jury, focusing on agency efforts, issued their findings and conclusion on homelessness services in Tulare County two week ago. Overall they concluded, “The health and sanitation of the homeless could benefit from improved communication, cooperation, and coordination within the various support agencies.
“Transportation, health care, access to facilities, housing services, and assistance with applications for documentation and financial support could help lift people out of homelessness.”
One of their four findings noted that access to services is often complicated or unobtainable due to a lack of necessary identification or documentation. The finding was similar to the grand jury’s first finding, that housing assistance required documentation, such as tax returns for income verification. The problem that comes up is when homeless do not have the required paperwork to verify their taxes or income.
Tulare County District 3 Board Supervisor, Amy Shuklian sits on the Homeless Task Force says there are efforts to streamline some of the processes that connect the homeless to services like making Project Homeless Connect (PHC) more robust.
PHC offers those experiencing, or at risk of experiencing, homelessness a broad range of needed services and basic necessities at one-day, one-stop events. Homeless community members can receive haircuts, hot meals, clothing, health and dental care, mental health care, legal services, veterans’ and social service benefits, and much more—at no cost.
Typically offered in January, Shuklian says there have been talks to offering mini PHC services at certain points throughout the year. She said people can get identification cards and be linked to the services the grand jury concludes homeless need to be lifted out of homelessness.
Another finding made by the grand jury was a lack of accessibility of transportation passes to the homeless community. Shuklian says transportation has come up with the Homeless Task Force but only so far as it relates to their housing and potentially their jobs. She said when they consider housing they also consider proximity to their work because they do not want to place someone too far and make them a commuter. Their potential for success is much higher if they live near where they work.
While the Homeless Task Force is already trying to find ways to reduce and accommodate the county’s homeless population the grand jury published some of their own recommendations.
In all they recommended various agencies helping homeless in the county increase their direct outreach, reduce barriers for homeless obtaining housing, find possible funding sources for portable shower services and investigate transportation accessibility to services and resources.
Health and Human Services (HHS) is making their effort to help as well. Recently they have flown the position of Homeless Initiatives Program Coordinator. HHS is anticipating on hiring the position in the next few weeks according to their public information officer Tammie Wyker-Adkins.
The coordinator's job will be to coordinate, implement, and organize countywide and agency-wide homeless initiatives. Provides coordination and oversight of services for residents within Tulare County dealing with homelessness and manages County homeless programs by evaluating and monitoring their compliance with established policies and grant requirements.
June 27, 2018
By Paul Myers
Blog note: this opinion piece references a grand jury investigation and report.
An honorary degree in civics can begin on a bike ride through Eureka as I discovered while witnessing two Eureka police vehicles with two officers handcuffing a small, bewildered, overweight child in front of his homeless shelter without a parent, advocate or shelter staff member present. This child’s unforgettable stare called out, “Look what they’re doing to me.” Ongoing incidents like these are symptomatic of numerous crises being inadequately addressed. In response to this incident, Eureka’s former police chief and Eureka Police Department veteran Murl Harpham wrote, “We have had multiple contacts with this young man since he was 10 years old … he was attempting suicide and was out of control.”
In a city where residents dedicate many hours to Neighborhood Watch and attend City Council meetings demanding more enforcement and penalties against crime, addiction and destitution, few are aware that tender-aged children already severely distressed by abuse, poverty, and homelessness are being repeatedly traumatized by public “arrests,” handcuffing, and incarceration. In fact, Humboldt County’s Trends Report reveals local rates of child abuse and youth unemployment over twice state averages, coinciding with high rates of addiction, homelessness, despair, desperation and suicide. Until preventative and compassionate policies recommended by professionals are prioritized over punitive responses, tens of millions of dollars spent expanding juvenile hall and the county jail may soon require further costly expansions.
Harpham found my concerns to be “unfounded” and I filed a complaint with the Citizen’s Law Enforcement Liaison Committee, (formed in lieu of “citizen review boards” that are common where community policing is evolving into paramilitary forces with armored vehicles, automatic weapons, SWAT teams, drones, street cams, extra-judicial property seizures, warrantless surveillance and “wilding” officers. Yet most policing remains unchanged: traffic violations, destitution, mental illness, addiction, domestic violence, petty crime and “out of control” children).
After the CLELC and Humboldt County Human Rights Commission both declined to recommend policy changes, I submitted a complaint to the Humboldt County grand jury and waited seven weeks before I was notified that my complaint was received, a delay reflecting broader community efforts in concealing a regional failure to cope with children in crisis. The grand jury investigation was further delayed by elected and agency officials’ failure to respond to its inquiries, in violation of California Penal Code 933(c) and 933.05; no enforcement action was taken. The grand jury issued recommendations in a 2013-14 report titled, “How Do We Treat Children In Crisis?”
A recent Department of Justice investigation into mishandled cases of child abuse was also delayed many months by Humboldt County’s legal battle against DOJ subpoenas. The settlement reached between Humboldt County and the DOJ was presented as a Power Point at Eureka’s Adorni Center on April 27, moderated by state Sen. Mike McGuire and sponsored by First Five of Humboldt County. Unfortunately, county supervisors were not present to hear from a tearful local mother describing how her special needs child was traumatized from being handcuffed and isolated by police. Apparently, the settlement excluded the following common-sense reforms recommended by professionals and the grand jury:
1) Non-uniformed first responders with police involvement only if necessary. (Communities with Mobile Response Teams of two professionals available 24/7 can resolve most issues involving distressed children, homelessness, mental health and addiction, reducing costs of incarceration while freeing police for quicker responses to serious crimes).
2) Mandatory critical intervention training for law enforcement in handling young children.
For over a generation, unprecedented and underreported divestments in America’s human resources have produced a growing cycle of human fallout and punitive responses. For example, access to the fundamental emancipation services that I required decades ago as a homeless 15-year-old (free college, university, healthcare, food stamps, emancipation counseling, transportation, job training and job placement, wage subsidies, and single room occupancy housing) are greatly diminished or effectively eliminated. Altogether, these essential resources cost a fraction of today’s alternative of mass incarceration: $45,000/year per inmate, plus costs of crime, addiction, courts, attorneys, lost productivity, destitution, mental health wards and school shootings.
Until local officials start listening to professionals, voters can demand an end to blatant government collusion in systemic housing fraud and collapse, each time forcing thousands of local residents into foreclosure, bankruptcy, and broken homes, a nationwide catastrophe since 2008, culminating in the worst economic decline since the Great Depression. Will the supervisors elected last June replace two recently disgraced planning commissioners with more members from the development/realty/insurance industries, or a professional housing advocate willing to demand balanced housing inventories for all classes of Humboldt County’s families?
June 26, 2018
Eureka Times Standard
By George Clark, Eureka
Only 4.2 percent of 10,000 pieces of evidence feared missing from the evidence locker of the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office turned out to be lost, a new grand jury report says.
Subtitled, “Missing or Messy,” the follow-up report by the 2017-18 grand jury suggests the worst fears of a whistleblower were not realized and disarray in the evidence locker is being rectified.
“There was virtually no missing evidence,” said Ward Downs, grand jury spokesman. “There was mislaid evidence.”
The report is not a complete vindication of Sheriff Steve Moore. It states that 420 pieces of evidence for 271 cases are missing. The items include weapons, drugs and money.
But, “No missing pieces of evidence have impacted past or current cases,” the report notes.
Of the 420 missing items, only 23 were possibly important pieces of evidence, Downs said.
Not bad for 40 years of storage, Sheriff Steve Moore said.
“For this few things to be left to be located I think is pretty darned good,” the sheriff said.
Research into several unaccounted-for weapons is ongoing, Moore said, adding a couple cases date to the 1990s. Notes suggest most were destroyed or returned to owners.
Records show three cases of missing money, each under $100, he said.
The drugs were sent to the state Department of Justice for testing, but records do not document their disposition. As is often the case, they may not have been returned, Moore said.
“We’re very grateful that the grand jury did a complete and thorough investigation,” Moore said. “We have tried to be as transparent down to the last I’s and T’s and periods to be able to show everything is in place. There were no 10,000 items missing.”
The issue became public in 2016 when a vendor who supplied software to catalog evidence went public with concerns that massive amounts of evidence were unaccounted for, possible compromising criminal prosecutions.
In response, Sheriff’s employees plowed through 110,000 items stored in the evidence warehouse, a large building on the jail grounds. They located around 2,000 pieces of mislaid evidence. A records audit found 7,000 instances of evidence wrongly catalogued.
Problems included years of accumulation amid understaffing, inadequate supervision and “multiple inventory systems covering over 40 years,” the grand jury’s report said.
Whistleblower Brian Germann of Linden-based Wayne Enterprises said the grand jury thoroughly addressed the management and policy issues behind the problem.
But Germann criticized the county for not bringing in an independent consultant to ensure an impartial inventory.
“The public really won’t know because they allowed the Sheriff’s Department to audit and inventory their own evidence rooms,” Germann said. “Even if there were real problems in there we’re not going to know about it.”
The grand jury disagreed, noting the sheriff has staffed up the evidence locker, intensified training and created a training manual.
The report adds the sheriff is implementing all grand jury recommendations.
Says the report: “Public confidence in the proper handling and disposition of evidence should be restored.”
June 26, 2018
By Michael Fitzgerald
Placer County Grand Jury members spend 40 to 50 hours a month for 12months working on the panel.
They aren’t doing it for fun or for extra spending money.
Members are investigating complex, serious and controversial issues related to county and local governmental bodies, special districts and school districts.
For their efforts, they receive just a small stipend for attending meetings and mileage reimbursement.
This year’s grand jury work culminated June 20 with a 113-page 2017-2018 Final Report, which includes findings and recommendations on 14 investigations. Those investigations range from the county’s affordable housing problem, school emergency preparedness to jails and holding facilities (all five venues looked at were found to be clean, well-maintained and secure).
Serving on the jury is a thankless and mostly anonymous job.
Due to its nature, the usually 19-member grand jury can only talk about their investigation and findings to each other. They can’t share information with their family, friends or work peers. Their work leading up to the final report is confidential; each juror is sworn to secrecy.
So being on this panel is not glamorous at all.
But serving on the grand jury benefits all Placer County residents. That’s because the panel is a watchdog of city and county agencies, local government and our schools. Occasionally, the district attorney asks the grand jury to determine whether there is enough evidence to indict someone in a criminal investigation.
In the words of Lincoln resident Denny Valentine, a former foreperson: “The grand jury reviews claims of fraud and abuse by government and agencies within Placer County and the grand jury reviews local practices and procedures for improving efficiencies.”
The grand jury is part of the county judicial system as authorized by the California Constitution. Although advised by the court, it is not accountable to elected officials or government employees, according to Placer County Superior Court grand jury coordinator and court executive assistant Rosalinda Cruz.
“The county grand jury plays a definite role in assuring that government is accountable to the public it serves,” said Jim Datzman, a Lincoln resident who served on the Placer County Grand Jury. “I will always appreciate the experience associated with this unique form of community service.”
This year’s grand jury was comprised of four Roseville residents, five Granite Bay residents, three Rocklin residents, five Auburn residents and one Lincoln resident.
The 2018-19 Placer County Grand Jury begins in a few days. The term is from July 1 through June 30, 2019.
“This past year, the number of applicants applying was down by 25 percent,” Cruz said. “With this past grand jury, however, the number of those who requested to carry over another year has doubled. For the most part, everyone who has served really enjoys the work they accomplished.”
If you’ve ever considered what it would be like to serve on the grand jury and help your community, it’s not too early to start thinking about next year’s panel.
As a relatively new Placer County resident, Datzman wanted to know how his new county differed from his former county of residence.
“Service on the county grand jury is a great form of education concerning government operations at all levels, including county government, school districts, municipalities and special districts,” Datzman said. “A year of service will definitely make you a better-educated resident.”
Valentine shared similar sentiments.
“It’s somewhat of a civic responsibility and very rewarding to better understand the functioning of our local government,” Valentine said.
Eligible candidates fill out a questionnaire in the spring and are interviewed by the grand jury’s advising judge and, if available, the grand jury foreperson.
Applicants must be United States citizens 18 years old or older, live in Placer County for at least one year immediately prior to serving, be computer-literate and have command of the English language.
For more information about serving on the grand jury, call 916-408-6186 or go online to placer.courts.ca.gov.
June 26, 2018
Lincoln News Messenger
Friday, June 29, 2018
A new Santa Barbara County Grand jury is blasting the expensive failure of a publically funded substance abuse treatment facility on the Central Coast.
The Santa Barbara County Grand Jury says it was a well intentioned effort to help people with substance abuse issues. But, in a new report the jury says a series of mistakes and miscalculations by the Lompoc Valley Medical Center District wasted millions of taxpayer dollars.
The District decided to repurpose its old hospital closed for seismic safety reasons as a standalone treatment facility. It got a nearly $19 million dollar state bond to remodel and upgrade the building.
The Champion Center opened in 2014, but at the time didn’t have contracts to provide services to Medicare patients or those covered by insurance. The Grand Jury says it missed occupancy targets to be viable, and was losing hundreds of thousands of dollars a month.
The report says the facility closed in 2017, two and a half years after it opened, losing ten million dollars during its history.
In addition, the district is obligated to repay the bond money, which at the current rate is a million dollars a year through 2042.
June 26, 2018
By Lance Orozco
Judge rules statue of limitations had expired
Blog note: this article mentions a 2012 grand jury report. Some grand jury reports in any one year can affect outcomes many years in the future.
A citizen’s lawsuit filed late last year against a series of pension benefit increases enacted by the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors in 2002 and 2003 was set aside last week by Superior Court Judge Rene Chouteau as “time barred” for missing the statute of limitations.
The suit filed by retired attorney George Luke of Larkfield accuses an earlier board of county supervisors with a conflict of interest for enriching their own pensions, violating certain public law requirements and not completing an independent audit.
Judge Chouteau’s actions last week did not address any of Luke’s original complaints, some of which county lawyers had admitted were partially in error in the past.
The past county officials admission of errors were made in response to a 2012 county civil Grand Jury report.
Although Luke waited 15 years to file his complaint, he argues there was no “adequate or speedy remedy” available to him because the county’s original actions were never made public or disclosed until a later internal investigation by a Board of Supervisors subcommittee in 2011.
Those subcommittee members, supervisors Shirley Zane and David Rabbitt, called Luke’s case “without merit and a waste of taxpayer’s money” at the time he filed the action in September 2017.
The county’s pension plan covers almost 9,000 current and retired employees. The fund has a current value of $2.3 billion, but is estimated to be underfunded by $831 million in current and future payout obligations.
Luke and others have pointed to the previous board’s actions in 2002 as causing a large increase to the county’s unfunded pension debt. In 2000 that amount was $10.8 million, but the debt grew to $449 million by 2014, based on the county’s own analysis.
Recent boards of supervisors have exacted a series of reforms to reduce future bond debts, but those don’t curtail pensions already granted to retirees.
An Independent Citizen Advisory Committee in 2015 found that $269 million could have been saved over the previous 10 years if the 2002 increases had not been awarded.
Ken Churchill, founder of the group New Sonoma County and a member of the Sonoma County Taxpayers Association, attended last week’s court sessions.
“As a result of this ruling (by Chouteau), taxpayers over the next few decades will have a couple of billion dollars diverted from services to these illegally enhanced pensions and the embezzlement of our tax dollars will continue,” he said.
Luke’s case can be appealed to a state appellate court but attorneys on the case said a decision to appeal has not been made as yet.
June 26, 2018
Sonoma West Times & News
By Rollie Atkinson
[Alameda County] Grand jury finds lack of accurate documentation of sewage spills at Oakland's Lake Temescal
OAKLAND, Calif. - The Alameda County civil grand jury released its annual report on Tuesday, with jurors finding fault with the amount of raw sewage flowing into a popular lake, how the city and park district handle communicating the spills to the public and the lack of accurate paperwork used to document the toxic problem.
Oakland's Department of Public Works Director Jason Mitchell, who had heard of the report but did not read it during a previously scheduled sewage meeting before members of city council, had no response. He has 90 days in which to do so. Public Works maintains the pipes that break and flow into Lake Temescal, which is on East Bay Regional Park District property. In general though, Mitchell and his team have made two presentations at City Hall indicating that all is well within the sewer department and the city is complying with all laws and procedures.
Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan attended the meeting where Public Works officials were tasked with answering questions about sewage spills and accuracy of reporting those spills. She told KTVU: "I’m very concerned about this and I don’t think the administration adequately answered the questions. They keep trying to say everything is fine. But both the water quality control board and now the grand jury have said it is not fine. The tone of the administration is ignoring the magnitude of the problem."
In April, 2 Investigates reported that Oakland had 730 percent more sewage spills in last fiscal year than the previous one, totaling roughly 250,000 gallons of sewage that spilled throughout the Bay Area's fourth largest city.
In the last five years, 2 Investigates found that at least 60,000 of sewage has spilled into the lake, which up until 2014, had been used heavily during the summer months by families, camps and locals of all ages. Since then, the lake has been mostly closed during the summer because of what the park district has described as toxic algae blooms. But as the grand jury pointed out, sewage spewing into the lake from 100-year-old clay pipes has not been adequately communicated to the public and is also likely part of the regular lake closures.
But the number of sewage gallons that 2 Investigates found through public documents might also be off.
The numbers in the grand jury report were higher. The report noted hat on two occasions in 2017, "overflow estimates by field inspectors of more than 50,000 gallons were reduced below the 50,000-gallon threshold in the final report at the sole discretion of a crew supervisor who was not on site during the overflow."
As a result, the report noted, "Public Works reported there were no sanitary sewer overflows exceeding 50,000 gallons during 2017’s rainy season, so that additional state reports and testing were not required."
The grand jury "finds this somewhat surprising given the record rainfall, the age of the sewer system, and because it is difficult, perhaps impossible, to determine exactly when sewage overflows begin, making underestimates more likely. The lack of mathematical precision in the process leads to significant differences of opinion between onsite and supervisory personnel as to the volume of a given overflow. "
This, in turn, makes it possible for "important sewer system failures to be underreported to the State Water Quality Board," the grand jury found. It also makes it impossible for Public Works "to make consistently sound decisions regarding what remedial priority to assign to a given overflow," the report states.
In addition, the grand jury took issue with the supervision over the private contractors who sample water, do lab analysis and occasional emergency work on the city's pipes.
"Monitoring the work of these private contractors is not done thoroughly," jurors found. "Contractors are simply not responsible for any reporting functions ... Therefore, when work is done by a private contractor, it is not well-documented. Without good records for reviewing what has been done, future problems may be hard to troubleshoot."
In conclusion, the grand jury wrote that its panel believes the situation can one day be properly managed if the park district and the city figure out a better communication system, alert the public via cell phone or robocall about sewage spills and employ an independent manager to ensure accuracy, while also protecting the environment from large sewage overflows.
On that topic, Mitchell, of the Public Works Department, did tell the council on Tuesday that it has hired a consultant to spend the next six months determining "best practices" to address at least some, if not all, of these issues. The cost of the consultant was not brought up at the meeting. The work should be done by December.
June 26, 2018
KTVU Fox News
By Lisa Fernandez
Cites 2005 warning of ‘disaster waiting to happen’
When the firestorms engulfed large swaths of Sonoma County last October, it was said the size and ferocity of the natural disaster was beyond prediction or a perfect emergency response plan.
Maybe so, maybe not.
In 2005, the Sonoma County Civil Grand Jury issued a report titled, “A Disaster Waiting to Happen.” The report warned that the county and other local governments’ Standardized Emergency Management System (SEMS) was “seriously out of date,” lacking multi-agency coordination, adequate training and a sincere commitment by top-level managers. The jury said the SEMS was based only on past experiences with “street disturbances and Russian River floods.”
Now comes the newest annual Grand Jury Report, released last week, which is primarily focused on the 2017 wildfires. The 2017-2018 Final Report “sees many parallels between the analyses and predictions of 2005 and the current issues in Sonoma County.”
At the same time, the civil jury panel applauded local first responders for their “finest hour,” where early, decisive decisions were made that “saved thousands of lives” and performed “a miracle where no emergency personnel were lost.”
A Firestorm Postmortem
The multi-part report provides a postmortem on the communication systems, command center structures and levels of emergency preparedness. It also provides a detailed examination of evacuation and sheltering efforts of companion animals and horses. A third section looks at the internal reforms made before and after the wildfires at the county’s Permit and Resource Management Department (PRMD), also called Permit Sonoma.
The annual report is dedicated to “all who suffered loss during the firestorm and to all who worked so hard to bring them to safety.”
“This has been an unusual and daunting year,” said jury foreperson Regina Nellor. “Faced with the October firestorm, we opted to look at what worked and what didn’t work during this overwhelming emergency.”
Past year’s Grand Jury reports focused on school truancy rates, library governance, local government pension debts, county road conditions and smaller reports incited by individual citizen complaints. This year’s report, like so much of the past eight months of public life was fixated on the October 2017 wildfires.
The 2017-2018 jury made seven specific findings and four written recommendations that require by law an official response later by the county board of supervisors and county administrator.
The recommendations include realigning the county’s Emergency Operations Center with a 24/7 entity such as the Sheriff’s Office and not the county administrator’s office. The jury also calls for updating all county and local city emergency response plans to incorporate “lessons learned from this emergency.”
Much of this work is already under way, following a series of internal reports and investigations commissioned by the county administrator’s office and others. The current grand jury found in hindsight that official responses by emergency officials to the 2005 report were lacking. The jurists warn current officials to do better.
The 2005 report referenced the recent “9/11” terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, noting local emergency response officials had not taken the warning to review and update their SEMS at the time.
In the section about animal evacuations and sheltering, the jury found “lacking” a comprehensive animal emergency response plan that identified a lead agency. It found a lack of an alternative power source or adequate communications systems at the county’s main Animal Services facility and it cautioned the county that a lack of formal agreements with various non-governmental organizations involved in animal recovery might limit or negate future FEMA reimbursements.
Among another seven recommendations to the board of supervisors, the jury urged the supervisors to reconsider or reassign Animal Services to another department and not the Department of Health Services where it currently is placed.
Jails inspection also reported
California state law requires local civil grand juries to issue a public report each year. Required components include a physical survey of local jail and criminal detention facilities and the physical condition of other government facilities. Also, the grand jury reviews any law officer involved fatal incident. This year’s jury reviewed a single fatal incident with no comments and found the detention facilities “in good condition and well managed.”
The “clean bill” for the county jail conflicts with a recent civil court settlement for $1.7 million by former inmates against the county for “jail yard counseling” where jail personnel were found to practice unacceptable discipline measures, as admitted by current Sheriff Rob Giordano. However, that case refers back to a 2015 incident and Giordano said staffing changes and training corrections have been made since then.
Last Wednesday, presiding judge Gary Naylor accepted the 2017-2018 annual report and released the 15 citizen jurors of their annual duty. The judge then led a swearing in ceremony for 19 members of the 2018-2019 Civil Grand Jury.
Grand Jury membership is open to any county resident and registered voter.
June 26, 2018
The Windsor Times
By Rollie Atkinson
After the Tracy City Council in 2017 rejected a policy that would require council members to recuse themselves from voting on issues where they or a family member would benefit from the decision, the San Joaquin County Civil Grand Jury began investigating the city’s ethics policy.
“The whole Idea of having an ethics policy is so that you have something to follow so there are no questions about conflicts of interest of things like that,” grand jury foreman Ward Downs said. “We believe everyone should follow it. Not just elected officials, but city management and staff as well.”
Although the grand jury’s investigation showed that the conflict of interest complaints against the Tracy City Council were unfounded as the council member in question did self-recuse, Downs said the grand jury looked into the ethics policies of cities such as Lodi and recommended changes when necessary.
“We interviewed a lot of people,” Downs said. “We found that Lodi officials did recuse themselves when necessary.”
The City of Lodi’s ethics policies apply to all city staff and elected officials as required by the Fair Political Practices Act, city manager Steve Schwabauer said, but only city council members and some commission members are required to attend training sessions under the current policy.
“The city attorney and I are both authorized ethics trainers and perform training for our council and commissions on the ethics policies that govern city service,” Schwabauer said.
Lodi city attorney Janice Magdich said the ethics training covers areas such as conflict of interest, financial disclosures, gift and travel restrictions and more, and is held in the late fall every two years.
“Steve and I have been conducting in-person ethics training for the Council, Planning Commission, and other city boards and commissions since 2006,” Magdich said.
Schwabauer said that he verbally instructed management staff to attend the last two training sessions, and already has plans to update the city’s ethics policies as recommended by the grand jury in the near future.
“Although it has been my oral policy I see the public value in having the written policy and am glad to reduce it to a formal written policy and will do so before our next training session this fall,” Schwabauer said.
June 26, 2018
By John Bays
YOLO COUNTY (CBS130 — An immigrant youth detention facility in Yolo County is under scrutiny after a grand jury report revealed some major problems.
The center is not for children who were separated from their parents, but rather for undocumented and unaccompanied teens considered to be a danger to themselves or others.
Now, the county could close it down for good.
The Yolo County Board of Supervisors plans to tackle the fate of a federal contract that houses immigrant minors.
“What we should be doing is what’s best for the kids,” said Yolo County Supervisor Jim Provenza, “I fear for what would happen to the kids who are there now if we would abruptly terminate our participation in the program.”
It’s a program that’s been in place since 2008. Yolo County is paid $2.9 million a year by the federal government to oversee 24 unaccompanied and undocumented minors at any given time.
But, that money isn’t outweighing the problems. According to a grand jury report, there were at least ten assaults of detention officers by teens in 2017 as well as one escape. The crimes are potential felonies and the report claims only one of them was reported to the Yolo County District Attorney’s Office.
The grand jury investigation also revealed that immigrant teens who are “…prosecuted for felonies committed at the juvenile detention facility, might become wards of Yolo County, increasing the financial burden to the county.”
Provenza said, “Those are things that happen when you don’t have enough staff to deal with the population that you have.”
Provenza says the chief probation officer blames the problems on understaffing. To fix the issues, he applied for an additional $2.2 million in federal funding to double the number of detention officers and clinicians in the facility. Provenza says the funds were granted.
“It’s stepping up to address the problems.”
Or potentially risking a facility shut down that Provenza worries couldn’t come at a worse time. The only other detention center of its kind in the U.S. is in Virginia, which is now being sued for allegations of abuse against undocumented teens.
“The question in my mind is if we were to shut down, where would they go? Would they be sent somewhere with even worse conditions?” asked Provenza.
The Yolo County Board of Supervisors will vote on whether or to approve the additional funding from the federal government on Tuesday. The outcome of that vote could play a large role in the fate of the detention facility.
June 25, 2018
13 CBS Sacramento
By Angela Greenwood
SANTA ANA, Ca. (June 25, 2018) – The care and custody of inmates is one of the top priorities of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD). OCSD operates one of the largest jail systems in the nation while processing more than 50,000 bookings each year and housing more than 6,000 inmates each day. The staff of our jails, both OCSD and healthcare personnel, go to great lengths to ensure the complex health needs of each inmate entrusted to us are met.
Today, the Orange County Grand Jury released a report regarding deaths in Orange County jails. We agree with the Grand Jury’s statement that “inmate healthcare is an essential and critical function that jails must provide under challenging circumstances.” An initial review of the report suggests that some of the Grand Jury’s recommendations fail to take into account the security requirements of a custody facility that do not conform with procedures that may be common in other medical settings. A jail is not a hospital. Individuals brought to the Orange County jail have been arrested on suspicion of criminal activity. It’s imperative for the safety of other inmates and staff that appropriate security precautions are closely adhered to.
Additionally, the report does not adequately take into account the high-risk health conditions often seen in inmates entering our jail. Since AB 109 took effect in October 2011, county jails have seen an increase in inmates with chronic health problems. This transfer of long-term inmates to the local jail population has placed increased demand on our jail health system.
The role of illicit drugs cannot be overlooked when examining this issue. We have seen an increase in efforts to smuggle drugs, like fentanyl, into the jails system. Since AB 109 took effect in 2011, there has been a substantial increase in drugs and drug contraband inside the jails. From 2008-2011, there were an average of 57 reports per year of drugs in jail. From 2012-2017, that number ballooned to an average of 468 reports per year, with 2017 hitting an all-time high of 738 reports. Multiple measures have been put in place by the Orange County Jail to combat this increase, including additional screening procedures and the introduction of K9s with drug-sniffing capabilities.
“Each death is tragic, but the long term health consequences of drug abuse are difficult to remedy with even the best medical care,” said Sheriff Sandra Hutchens. “The lesson from this report is that efforts to combat drug addiction, drug trafficking and the root causes of drug dependency must continue.”
OCSD contracts with the Orange County Health Care Agency’s Correctional Health Services division to provide medical care to inmates in custody. This contract is a partnership and the Sheriff has worked diligently to maintain a strong working relationship with Correctional Health Services. OCSD, in collaboration with our healthcare partners, will review the findings and recommendations of the Grand Jury’s report, and will respond to the applicable recommendations within 60 days as required by penal code.
June 25, 2018
New Santa Ana
Sheriff Department News Release
In light of a debate between the Orange County Fire Authority and Sheriff’s Department over which should be the lead agency on search-and-rescue calls, a grand jury report released Friday called on the county to create a permanent “air operations safety council.”
The report also called on the two agencies to work together, with the sheriff’s department being the lead response agency to wilderness or remote off-road search-and-rescue calls, and the OCFA taking the lead on urban search-and-rescue calls.
Officials from both agencies issued a response insisting that they “are working collaboratively to provide a dual-agency response to search-and-rescue calls.”
The OCFA and sheriff’s department have occasionally found themselves at loggerheads over the past year over search-and-rescue events, with both at times dispatching helicopters to scenes and arguments erupting among the responders over which is the lead agency.
The grand jury report found that such “duplication of effort” has led to “potential safety risks, as both agencies often act independently and without coordination to execute (search-and-rescues).” The two agencies also often don’t communicate properly with each other at scenes, leading to helicopters operating in dangerously close proximity.
“Safety and other concerns become magnified when multiple county and city agency helicopters operate in the narrow altitude corridor between 600 and 1,200 feet,” according to the report. “Public safety demands that this situation — competition versus collaboration — be immediately rectified.”
The report chiefly recommends that the Board of Supervisors create “an ongoing regional council in collaboration with all city and county public agency air units, such as an Orange County air operations safety council, tasked with addressing these issues.”
It also recommends that OCFA and the sheriff’s department adhere to a Board of Supervisors resolution identifying the sheriff’s department as the lead agency on wilderness rescue calls. The report also suggests the sheriff’s department consider relocating its Air Unit to the OCFA facility at Fullerton Airport, “where the county’s public agency aviation units can leverage each other’s resources, reduce operating costs and forge improved collaborative working relationships.” The grand jury also suggested that OCFA paramedics consider operating jointly with the sheriff’s department helicopter units.
“Ultimately, the county’s public agency aviation units should evaluate the potential benefits of centralizing into one aviation support organization led by an experienced aviator-manager, in order to maximize safety and effectiveness and reduce unnecessary costs,” the report states.
The OCFA and sheriff’s department issued a joint statement in response to the report, insisting the agencies are working together.
“Since formal mediation was completed in December 2017, both agencies have been meeting regularly, without mediation or intermediaries, and are close to an agreement that addresses the majority of the recommendations made in the grand jury report,” according to the agencies.
OCFA Chief Brian Fennessy said his agency is “committed to continuing our collaboration with our partners at the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. We share the same mission, which is to provide the very best service to the people of Orange County.”
Sheriff Sandra Hutches echoed those comments.
“I’m encouraged by our recent conversations, and have no doubt that the safety of our community will be enhanced with continued teamwork,” she said. “Air operations are increasingly becoming a necessary tool to address both natural and man-made public safety threats.”
The agencies plan to issue a formal response to the report within 60 days.
June 22, 2018
By Contributing Editor