Friday, August 31, 2018
The Yolo County Archives and Records Center in Woodland will undergo a major renovation starting this fall and into mid-2019.
Located at 226 Buckeye St., the antiquated structure houses historic documents and memorabilia and is part of the county’s library system. The building and maintenance of artifacts came in for criticism earlier this year by the Yolo County Grand Jury.
In July, however, county supervisors allocated $1.999 million to begin an upgrade of the metal-walled structure.
According to county spokeswoman Beth Gabor, the renovations will necessitate the historic Archival Collection and the items stored in the Records Center to be moved off-site and stored in secured, climate controlled facilities. As such, public access at the location will be suspended beginning Oct. 1, until the anticipated project completion date of May 1, 2019.
The Archives will continue to make researcher appointments, as space allows, Gabor noted. The times available will be Tuesdays, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Thursdays from noon to 4 p.m., through Sept. 27. Thereafter, Archives staff will handle research requests by phone and email on a more limited basis. The public will continue to have access to digital resources and digitized materials online at yolocountylibrary.org on the Yolo County Archives page.
In July, Director of General Services for Yolo County Kevin Yarris told supervisors that many alternatives were looked at when deciding what to do with the facility.
“The most cost-effective decision was to keep it where it was and to increase the climate control systems in there as well as do some building improvements to keep moisture out,” Yarris said. There are three phases the building must go through for the project, including renovation of the archives, security improvements and renovation of staff areas and making sure the structure meets compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act, with ADA and security improvements and renovations to the staff areas.
The project gained momentum in June when the grand jury reported the historical records housed in the aged structure “are decaying and disintegrating in an inadequately temperature- and humidity-controlled building.”
The grand jury report recommended supervisors approve funding this fiscal year for a “large-scale modern scanner and digital asset management system that would allow documents to be digitized and stored online where they would be safe from further environmental damage, including fire and flooding, and easier for the public to search, view and copy.”
The recommendations came at nearly the same time the county started seeking nominations for naming the Library and Archives Building.
Judy Wohlfrom, forewoman for the grand jury, reported most of the work was centered around meeting the goals of the Yolo County Library Facilities Master Plan 2018-2035, prepared last year.
That plan, Wohlfrom stated, recommends mitigating environmental problems at the current Yolo County Archives and Records Center, including repairs to the HVAC system. The plan also recommends finding permanent new quarters for the Archives by 2035 and increasing staff size to provide for expanded public access.
“The Archives contains thousands of documents, including official records of the Board of Supervisors, the County Clerk/Recorder, Superior Court, and the Board of Education, as well as tax rolls, naturalization and immigration records, and property deeds,” the grand jury report noted. “It also contains diverse subject collections concerning schools, towns, churches, businesses, and cemeteries as well as maps, photographs, yearbooks, community and family collections and newspapers.”
Archives staff provide research assistance to county departments as needed and up to 30 minutes of free research for members of the public. Patrons also have free access to ancestry.com and more than 5,000 digital newspapers.
“The Archives and Records Center is a county treasure,” stated Wohlfrom. “Our investigation found significant problems that should be addressed to ensure this irreplaceable resource remains available for future generations.”
The grand jury’s report, “Improving the Yolo County Libraries and Archives,” identified several other issues impacting local libraries, including use of libraries by homeless, indigent and mentally ill individuals for non-library purposes such as bathing and napping.
August 31, 2018
By Democrat staff
Thursday, August 30, 2018
Blog note: this editorial references two grand jury reports.
Marin schools’ heightened awareness about student athletes and concussions is heartening and common sense.
The health and safety of youngsters involved in prep sports must be the highest priority.
Professional sports have reached that conclusion, after a legacy in which players have suffered the long-term effects of concussions, sometimes undetected, sometimes dating back to their high school or college playing days — and all too often shrugged off under the pressure of getting back on the field, or the court.
We’ve learned that there can be grave consequences to an injury that might once have been discounted as “getting your bell rung.”
Growing awareness, on and off the playing field, has led many parents to steer their children away from playing football.
Participation in prep football continues to decline across the county, a trend that has been seen nationwide.
To better address safety concerns, across Marin schools have adopted and are conducting a strict and standardized concussion protocol for prep football players.
That protocol not only follows the national focus on concussions in sports, but also two Marin County Civil Grand Jury reports on local prep programs and the precautions they have taken or need to take in response to the serious problem.
The grand jury’s work has helped keep a public spotlight on this serious issue.
The Marin County Office of Education has taken a leadership role, starting Concussion Smart Marin, a program that is promoting awareness and collecting data on aspects of head injuries. Working with Marin medical professionals, the program has also created a standardized protocol for team physicians and nurses to follow before an athlete is allowed to return to action.
Growing awareness and scientific studies have linked concussions and repeated head traumas to a degenerative brain disease — chronic traumatic encephalopathy. The evidence has been clear enough to mandate action.
Local programs, from pre-teen programs to prep teams, are building on steps that have already been taken.
Terra Linda and San Rafael high school players wear headband sensors aimed at helping prevent concussions.
Teams are investing in equipping players with helmets that have topped safety tests and, perhaps most importantly, players are being trained to block and tackle without leading with their helmets and by avoiding blows to their heads.
Many of these measures would have been unheard of a decade ago.
The local program is the product of partnerships not only involving Marin County Athletic League schools, but Kaiser and Marin General hospitals and the Larkspur-based Schurig Brain Injury Recovery. The Marin Athletic Foundation also has been involved, helping with outreach.
That local focus began in 2010 and involved collecting data on head injuries and tracking players’ school work afterward.
The more data collected and the deeper it can go, the better-equipped scientists and coaches will be in promoting safer play.
Concussion Safe Marin is one such step and Marin is fortunate that local medical experts, coaches and educators have joined forces to promote the short- and long-term health of Marin’s student athletes.
August 29, 2018
Marin Independent Journal
Blog note: this article, like the one just posted, references the June 2018 grand jury report that criticized the Tuolumne County Economic Development Authority’s management practices.
Apple computers, 3D printers and digital fabrication tools at the now-shuttered InnovationLab in Sonora will soon be replaced by electronic ankle monitors, breathalyzers and group-therapy sessions.
The Tuolumne County Probation Department’s Alternatives to Detention Center, which houses the intensive day reporting program, is planned to move from a leased property off Highway 49 to the lab’s former space on the third floor of the mostly vacant, county-owned former Tuolumne General Hospital building at 101 Hospital Road in Sonora.
The county pays $4,450 a month to lease the Highway 49 property.
“We’ll save on rent and move them into a building that the county already owns,” said Deputy County Administrator Daniel Richardson, who oversees facilities, “which follows the direction given by our Board of Supervisors when we were developing the budget to try and avoid renting office spaces if at all possible.”
All of the InnovationLab’s former tenants who were renting office space have moved out of the building, Richardson confirmed on Monday, though he wasn’t sure exactly when the last one left.
The lab opened in August 2014 as a project of the Tuolumne County Economic Development Authority, with the goal of providing a space and tools to foster innovation and entrepreneurship.
After being unable to attract enough paying members in the first couple of years, the TCEDA began renting low-cost office space at the lab to businesses, individuals, nonprofit groups and government agencies.
Some of the lab’s tenants included the trail design and planning firm Contour Logic, The Water School in conjunction with Columbia College, and HealthLitNow, a nonprofit organization run by TCEDA Board Member Barry Hillman.
Larry Cope, executive director of the TCEDA, announced in July that the lab would close by Aug. 15 after the county asked for the space back as a way to cut down on the cost of leasing offices elsewhere.
The TCEDA was being charged $6,000 a year by the county to rent the space in the former TGH building.
The county rents 35 properties for more than a dozen departments — including the public defender, sheriff, public health, behavioral health, and social services — at a total cost of about $76,000 per month and $913,000 per year.
Moving the Alternatives to Detention Center to the former hospital building will reduce the county’s rental costs by more than $54,000 a year.
“We’re always looking for ways to save the taxpayers’ money,” Richardson said. “This was one of those situations where the service and timing came together, and we’re able to provide the service at a less expensive cost.”
Richardson said the county’s decision to take back the former InnovationLab space was not influenced by recent controversies surrounding the TCEDA, including an ongoing lawsuit over public records and a report by the Tuolumne County Civil Grand Jury that criticized the agency’s management and oversight.
The Alternatives to Detention Center will move into the new space after the TCEDA Governing Board approves the disbursement of the InnovationLab equipment left in the building, much of which was purchased through grants from private organizations.
An inventory of the InnovationLab’s equipment provided by the County Counsel’s Office through a California Public Records Act request showed the total cost of the equipment was about $32,000.
About $22,000 worth of equipment was purchased with a grant awarded in April 2014 by the Sonora Area Foundation to the Economic Prosperity Council of Tuolumne County, the TCEDA’s nonprofit fundraising arm.
Items purchased with money from the grant included three Dell computers, three Apple iMacs, a tabletop CNC machine, two Canon digital camcorders and power tools for an ill-fated “maker space” at the lab.
The Sierra Pacific Foundation, a charitable organization founded by the family that owns timber-industry giant Sierra Pacific Industries, donated $7,500 that paid for the lab to purchase two 3D printers, several laser printers, a laptop and touchscreen tablet, among other items.
At a special meeting earlier this month, the TCEDA board approved a disposal plan for the equipment that gave local schools first priority. Cope said he would return to the board at a future meeting for approval on who gets what.
Richardson said they’ve already notified the landlord of the building that houses the Alternatives to Detention Center about the impending move, though he didn’t know exactly when that will occur.
He doesn’t expect the move to cost the county additional money because the space won’t require much work to get prepared for the new tenant and probation crews and in-house facilities management will help with the move.
Signage in front of the building for the InnovationLab will also eventually be replaced with signs for the Alternatives to Detention Center.
The center opened in January 2012 in response to the state prison realignment under Assembly Bill 109, or AB 109, which shifted the burden of supervising certain released prisoners from state parole to county probation departments.
BI Incorporated, a subsidiary of the private-prison company the GEO Group, was contracted by the county to run a more intensive program at the Alternatives to Detention Center for higher risk offenders than those who were previously supervised by the probation department prior to AB 109.
Part of the program involves checking in at the center on a daily basis to undergo alcohol and drug testing, treatment classes and group therapy, among other requirements.
Richardson said he doesn’t anticipate resistance to moving the center to where the InnovationLab was formerly located, because it’s surrounded by similar services such as the Behavioral Health Department, Enrichment Center and visitation center.
It also will be more than a mile closer to the Probation Department building at 465 S. Washington St.
August 28, 2018
The Union Democrat
By Alex MacLean
Blog note: this article references a June 2018 grand jury report that criticized the agency’s management practices.
The Tuolumne County Economic Development Authority Governing Board and Larry Cope, the agency’s executive director, retreated to a private meeting room away from public view shortly after 5 p.m. on Tuesday.
Nearly three hours later, the group emerged together and announced there was no action taken during the closed meeting to discuss an ongoing lawsuit over public records and conduct a performance evaluation of Cope for the second time this year.
California law allows local government bodies to discuss certain confidential matters in closed sessions, such as personnel, litigation, and property or labor negotiations.
However, any action or vote taken during a closed session must be announced to the public either orally or in writing after the fact.
County Supervisor and TCEDA Board Chairman John Gray emerged from the closed meeting at about 7:45 p.m. Tuesday and announced to the two people remaining that there was nothing to report.
State law also prohibits anyone who was part of the closed session from publicly disclosing any confidential information they received, so the board members couldn’t discuss what they had talked about over the course of the two hours.
Cope declined to comment on the performance evaluation, his second by the board this year following an annual evaluation in March.
Three people gave public comments prior to the board going into the closed session.
John Flynn, of Sonora, accused the board of committing felonies and asked whether Cope would receive a “kickback” if he got fired.
County Supervisor John Gray, who serves as chairman of the TCEDA board, responded that he couldn’t answer that kind of question.
The agency and its board have come under fire since the release of a report by the Tuolumne County Civil Grand Jury in June that was critical of the agency’s management practices, recordkeeping, and oversight.
Among the findings were that Cope had been allowed to approve his own expense reports, claimed work time while in England for more than a month last year, and bought meals for elected officials and board members with money from the TCEDA’s budget that’s meant for entertaining clients.
Carol Doud, of Sonora, said she has attended many TCEDA meetings and never observed any violations of the state’s public meetings law, corruption, or scandals.
Ken Perkins, of Sonora, offered a way for the board to resolve the lawsuit he filed against Cope and the TCEDA in early June for withholding records he requested regarding businesses that the agency has helped over the years.
The TCEDA released heavily redacted documents on Aug. 17 in an effort to satisfy Perkins’ requests, though he’s rejected a settlement offer because he says the redactions prevent him from verifying the information was accurate.
Perkins asked the board on Tuesday to consider revealing the names of completed projects that were redacted in the documents released on Aug. 17.
One of the spreadsheets listed 84 completed projects said to have totaled $179 million in capital investment and created 1,548 jobs since the TCEDA was established in 2008 through a joint-powers agreement between the county and City of Sonora.
Projects were grouped by industry type, such as health care, agriculture and tourism, but all of the names were blacked out and no dates were provided.
The spreadsheet was not a complete record of the all projects the TCEDA has worked on over the years, which Cope has said does not exist.
“There’s no way to verify whether the spreadsheets made available to the public are accurate,” Perkins said. “There’s got to be a way to verify whether the information provided in a Public Records Act request is accurate.”
August 28, 2018
The Union Democrat
By Alex MacLean
In response to a 2017-18 Grand Jury report
RIVERSIDE, Calif.- - Riverside County supervisors signed off today on the county's official response to a grand jury report that identified shortcomings in how the Department of Veterans' Services handles customers' needs, acknowledging that there's room for improvement.
``I think we can all agree there's a need for an increase in staffing as much as we can,'' Supervisor V. Manuel Perez said before the 5-0 vote in favor of the county's acknowledgment. ``I commend our veterans services officers for their outstanding results for veterans and their families. Veterans remain a high priority for myself and my colleagues.''
At the end of the 2017-18 fiscal year, the 19-member civil grand jury issued recommendations to the Board of Supervisors based on findings that the jurors made during an investigation of departmental operations.
The Executive Office and other agencies reviewed the jury's submission and produced answers that the board scrutinized.
One of the jury's foremost concerns pertained to staffing. According to the report, the Department of Veterans' Services consists of a director, assistant director, three senior service officers, five representatives, an executive assistant and five office assistants who are assigned to seven reception centers countywide.
Jurors found the number of personnel inadequate to properly handle the needs of veterans seeking assistance. The panel noted that the county's veteran population is nearly 130,000, and between July 2016 and February 2018, the department received 36,966 client visits, responded to 60,511 phone calls and answered 23,803 emails.
Jurors recommended that the board come up with funding for additional staff.
According to the Executive Office, the Department of Human Resources is now recruiting for two new veterans' representatives positions to take up the slack and enhance operations at field offices.
The grand jury also cited the need for Department of Veterans' Services offices in Indio, Hemet and Riverside to set aside walk-in hours on Fridays; the branches are currently closed on Fridays except for caseload management activity.
Several residents who sought assistance between Monday and Thursday told the jury that they had to wait up to three hours before they were served. Jurors said employees' hours could be staggered to accommodate walk-ins on Fridays.
The county replied that it was untenable to set aside time for walk-ins on Fridays because employees are immersed in completing ``claims work and returning phone calls and emails'' on the final business day of the week. However, officials left open the possibility that after additional staff are added to the department, Friday mornings may be open for appointment-only visits at the Riverside office. The earliest that might happen is August 2019, according to the county.
The jury lastly expressed the need for modifications to the handicap ramp at the Department of Veterans' Services main office in Riverside, which lacked handrails in accordance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.
According to the Economic Development Agency, the modification recommendation was implemented, and the ramp was brought up to ADA standards in July.
August 28, 2018
By City News Service
LAKE COUNTY>> In light of the Pawnee, Ranch and River fires, Lake County officials and administrators appealed to presiding Judge Andrew Blum and were granted a 30 day extension on response deadlines to the Grand Jury’s 2018 Final Report.
The function of the Grand Jury, comprised of county citizens, is to examine county and city government and special districts to ensure their duties are being lawfully carried out. The Grand Jury reviewed and evaluated procedures, methods and systems used by local governmental entities to determine whether more efficient and/or economical programs may be employed. This year’s Grand Jury filed their final report on June 20.
According to information made available to the Record-Bee by county administration, the new deadlines for responses to the Grand Jury’s findings and recommendations are Thursday, Oct. 18 for the Board of Supervisors and Tuesday, Sept. 18 for other county officials.
In a letter dated Aug. 3 addressed to Blum, County Administrative Officer Carol Huchingson wrote that the county’s resources had been stretched in a variety of directions and as a consequence, numerous significant priorities would be delayed.
Huchingson added that since many county offices and the Lakeport Branch of the Superior Court itself was closed the week of June 30 due to mandatory evacuations, and since the closure of county offices likewise hindered staff’s ability to gather information related to the county’s departmental and the Board of Supervisors’ Civil Grand Jury Report responses, in the interest of productively furthering the public discourse on the issues raised by the Grand Jury, and “in light of significant and ongoing circumstances” county officials requested the court consider extending responses by one week, a request which was granted by the court through Court Executive Officer Krista LeVier.
The City of Clearlake recently approved their responses. Other cities and county entities will follow suit.
Huchingson said The County of Lake will appropriately and transparently respond to the Grand Jury’s report as is standard practice.
“Our responses will be made public in a timely manner, that is, prior to the deadline for the Board’s response (October 18). We want to provide well considered, appropriate responses,” said Huchingson, noting in the county’s request for additional time that disaster response and recovery responsibilities would further challenge the county’s ability to prioritize the responses over the coming weeks.
August 28, 2018
By Ariel Carmona, Jr.
Blog note: this article references a grand jury report.
CLEARLAKE >> The Highlands Senior Service Center in Clearlake was incorporated in 1983. For 35 years, HSSC Inc has provided help to senior citizens in the Clearlake community. Clearlake City Council Member and Highlands Senior Service Center Executive Director Joyce Overton said that from information assistance to food programs like Meals on Wheels, “Highlands has made its purpose to allow senior citizens in our community to age in place, to enjoy their waning years in the comfort of their own homes, to ensure that they have access to a healthy meal, information vital to their survival, access to exercise programs and education opportunities, and a safe environment to meet and interact with their peer group — just a small example of the services we provide.”
The center’s volunteer Meals on Wheels drivers serve Lower Lake, Clearlake Park and the City of Clearlake, Overton said, “bringing human contact to the housebound as well as a hot meal. Our drivers are our ‘eyes and ears,’ keeping an eye on the most vulnerable of our neighbors, reporting back to us any incidence of unsafe living conditions, physical and mental illnesses, and senior abuse, so that we can report it to the proper authorities. Our services are vital to the aging population in our area.”
According to Overton, the center helps non-seniors as well. “A goodly percentage of calls and visits to the Center are from people who are under the age of 60 seeking information on food resources, legal services, housing information and clothing sources, to name just a handful of issues. Highlands Senior Service Center is here for the whole community.”
In recent years, the Highlands Senior Service Center has added another dimension to its services: that of an emergency evacuation center.
“During the last several years,” said Overton, “from floods to the Forks and Wye Fires to the ravages of the Valley, Rocky, Sulphur and Clayton Fires, Highlands Senior Service Center staff have manned the Evacuation Centers that were established in the Community Center Building, housing, feeding and providing comfort and care to people who sometimes had lost everything.”
Despite these circumstances, Overton said, the center is dealing with a significantly reduced budget in 2018. “We supported the community during these dark times, and, outside of a few of our valued community organizations and treasured individuals, we received no disaster-related financial help in return,” she said. “Now, after being there for the community for all of these years and through all of these events, Highlands Senior Service Center is turning to the community to help us continue to provide this heroic assistance.”
Overton said that the center’s grant funding had been cut by $35,000 from the past year. “After so many years of austerity measures and government gutting of safety nets and social programs, this cut has come as quite a blow,” Overton said.
According to Overton, the center has cut its roster of employees down to just four, with one full-time kitchen manager and three part-time employees. Overton said that the center depends on a variety of sources for its funding, and that the significant loss this year was due to an evaluation by the Area Agency on Aging of Lake & Mendocino Counties. The funding cut, based on information provided by Overton and an AAA representative, was the result of a finding that the Highlands Senior Service Center was serving a lower number of meals than in previous years, despite still having served more than 37,000 meals last year and earning a Health Department grade of 100 percent according to a recent review by the Civil Grand Jury.
Dena Eddings, Program Coordinator for the AAA, said: “Our funds are distributed throughout our contracted senior centers using a funding allocation formula approved by the Area Agency on Aging Governing Board which utilizes a rolling 36 month average of the meals served in each of the corresponding service areas.”
The accuracy of this funding allocation formula, and the resultant cut in funding for the Highlands Senior Service Center, is not disputed by Overton, who said that she thought the AAA “felt bad” for having to cut the center’s funding.
Nevertheless, Overton felt that a re-evaluation from the AAA would show a dramatic increase in the Highlands Senior Service Center’s meal numbers. Such an increase would be due at least in part to the center’s secondary function as an emergency center. At the height of the Mendocino Complex Fire, Overton said, “we were serving up to 400 people here.”
The center does have funding from other sources—like the Redbud Healthcare District, to name one major contributor—but Overton said that the center is “faced with the very real possibility of having to shorten the hours we are available to the public, reduce the services that the most vulnerable of our neighbors rely on, and cut our staffing, the very people who make all the services and assistance possible.”
August 27, 2018
By Staff Reports
Wednesday, August 29, 2018
[Los Angeles County] Police Response to Grand Jury Recommendations for its Citizen Complaint Process Under Review
The Pasadena City Council is scheduled to decide if it will approve the Pasadena Police Department’s responses to Los Angeles County Civil Grand Jury recommendations to change the Department’s citizen complaint process.
The Los Angeles County Civil Grand Jury recently investigated 12 police departments in the County of Los Angeles – including Pasadena’s – and looked at how citizen complaints and internal affairs investigations are conducted.
The Civil Grand Jury report made seven recommendations to the Pasadena Police Department. The police department’s response, presented during a previous meeting of the City Council’s Public Safety Committee, is to implement five of them immediately, and take two others under consideration and review.
In an Agenda Report for Monday’s meeting, Interim Pasadena Chief of Police John Perez listed the Civil Grand Jury’s recommendations and the Pasadena Police Department’s proposed responses, to be finalized by the City Council.
On the recommendation to implement “clear signage indicating the location of complaint forms in multiple languages reflective of the community served by the police department,” the City agrees with the recommendation and has already created and posted signage in English and Spanish in the front lobby of the police department.
On the recommendation to “develop the ability for complaints to be made online,” the City agrees with this recommendation but disagrees with the Grand Jury report factual findings which indicated online forms were not available.
Perez said complaint forms were available online at the time of the Grand Jury investigation; he said the City does agree that the forms could be labeled differently and made easier to access online. The City has re-labeled the forms as Compliment/Complaint Forms which should now be easier for complainants to locate online.
On the recommendation to “remove warnings that may intimidate or discourage persons from making a complaint,” the City agrees with this recommendation and is in the process of removing the language and printing new forms. Perez said this has been completed as of August 6.
On the recommendation to “take steps to be in compliance with the legal requirement to provide written notification to the complaining party of the disposition of the complaint within 30 days,” the City agrees with this recommendation and will track all written notification to complainants in a tracking software system known as lA Pro. This has already been implemented, Perez said.
On the recommendation to “accept and log all citizen complaints regardless of their initial assessment of the seriousness of the allegations,” the City will take this recommendation under consideration and this effort will require more time to identify a completion date.
On the recommendation to “promote detailed and on-going education and training in all aspects of the citizen complaint process,” the City agrees with this recommendation and will implement education and training to the public and department employees about the complaint process.
On the recommendation to “consider developing an appeal process to be initiated when a complainant is dissatisfied with the result of an investigation or disposition,” the City will take this under consideration and review and will make a determination no later than December 2018, Perez said.
At the City Council meeting on Monday, the Council is expected to finalize the responses and authorize Mayor Terry Tornek to transmit them to the presiding judge of the Los Angeles County Superior Court.
The City has until October 1 to submit the responses to the court.
August 27, 2018
From staff reports
The Orange County Board of Supervisors and Sheriff’s Department have finally responded to the OC Grand Jury’s June 20 report on potential safety hazards at the Emergency Operations Center (EOC), located atop Loma Ridge. Unsurprisingly, both response letters say basically the same thing: thank you for your report but the EOC is fine as it is.
To recap, the Grand Jury–following in the footsteps of three previous panels–reported a number of troubling findings on the EOC, which is designed to coordinate the county’s response to a wide variety of emergency situations (click here for my previous story on the report). The Grand Jury said the access road was a bit too narrow and windy for its tastes; there was so much overgrown brush around the road and the center that it posed a fire hazard (the EOC was nearly destroyed in the first hours of the 2007 Santiago fire, which also marked the first time the EOC actually became operational); and it looked like a lot of shelves within the EOC itself weren’t properly secured to prevent damage in an earthquake.
These are pretty damning findings, but the county and Sheriff’s Department (abbreviated to OCSD in the two responses) say not to worry because, according to them, everything’s mostly fine at the EOC. Though the county did say admit that, yeah, the EOC access road isn’t that great.
“The safety of the emergency personnel who are critical to addressing major county-wide emergencies are of utmost priority for the Board; therefore, it will work with OCSD to ensure the road is accessible to those who need to be there,” states the Board of Supervisors’ response to the Grand Jury report. While the county says it “has not received any reports of safety issues with the road,” it did tell the Grand Jury that it would study the idea of making the access road wider.
As for all that brush around the EOC, the Sheriff says any concern is poppycock because it’s already getting cleared twice a year.
“The Sheriff’s Department currently contracts with a private contractor for weed abatement,” states the OCSD response to the report. “The scope of the current contract is to clear brush 15 feet along both sides of the access road to ensure the access road remains clear. Additionally the scope includes brush clearing for 100 feet around the EOC facility and 50 feet around the helicopter pad.
According to the Sheriff’s Department response, such clearing took place in April and December 2017. The Sheriff’s Department also took great issue with the notion that its EOC cabinets aren’t properly locked down. In fact, the sheriff says the Grand Jury just didn’t look hard enough at the cabinets when they inspected the facility.
“From the vantage point that is shown in the photo included in the report, ‘Can the Emergency Operations Center Survive a Catastrophic Event?’ the earthquake strapping is not visible,” states the Sheriff’s Department response (the photo is above). “The Grand Jury members did not request a ladder to validate that the bookcases were strapped… Please note that the strapping has been painted to match the walls of the facility. Additionally, the entire Emergency Operations Center has recently undergone facility enhancements which have included the re-inspection for proper earthquake securing of office furniture and equipment.”
So everything’s good, right? The EOC is a veritable Rock of Gibraltar that stands ready in the event of any emergency?
Sure, says the county, though it also admitted in its response that it might move the EOC to a better place: “[T]he County has initiated a study of whether or not to relocate the EOC to a new location within the County where access is not restricted due to poor road conditions.”
The Board of Supervisors will vote on approving its response to the Grand Jury report at its Aug. 28 meeting.
August 27, 2018
By Anthony Pignataro
The City Council [Tracy] unanimously approved a new ordinance Tuesday prohibiting elected and appointed representatives from benefiting from city contracts.
City Attorney Tom Watson briefed the council on just what is included in the law. When it goes into effect, Tracy Municipal Code 2.04.050 will apply to any elected leaders, people who are appointed to city commissions, the city manager and the city attorney. It will also apply to any of those people’s immediate family members, which was defined as spouse, partner or adult children who live in their home.
Those listed in the ordinance will not be able to financially benefit from any city contract or subcontract. City Council members must recuse themselves from votes on memorandums of understanding with unions or organizations contracting with the city.
The law does not forbid elected or appointed officials from holding volunteer positions within local groups or service organizations.
Watson said the ordinance was a direct response to a county civil grand jury finding released in March that stated that the city’s lack of an ethics policy had “resulted in conflict, mistrust, and allegations of misconduct.” The grand jury recommended adopting a policy that covered elected and appointed positions by Oct. 31.
Mayor Robert Rickman and other council members thanked Watson for his work to craft the new law.
The City Council also approved creating an ad hoc subcommittee, Mayor Pro Tem Veronica Vargas and Councilwoman Nancy Young, to flesh out a full ethics policy.
Young protested the characterization that discussion of ethics guidelines came about as a response to recent events, saying she had been calling for years for the adoption of ethics guidelines.
She also asked why Watson he had not set up a workshop for the full council to discuss ethics instead of recommending a smaller subcommittee. Watson said he would be able to craft the policy more efficiently with just two council members.
“There’s no legal impediment,” he responded. “There’s simply the divisive nature of the council as it sits here today and coming up with specific language.”
The ordinance governing city contracts will be given a second reading at the next City Council meeting and, if approved, will go into effect 30 days later.
Watson will work with Vargas and Young on a full ethics policy in the coming weeks.
August 27, 2018
Press staff report
Monday, August 27, 2018
I would like to say how much I admire and respect the members of the 2017-2018 Sutter County grand jury and their commitment to remain diligent, honest and ethical in their positions and responsibilities to the citizens they have sworn to represent and protect from official misconduct.
I sincerely hope that all of their efforts this past year will eventually be presented for public review the way it was originally submitted. Am I the only one who finds it to be a huge conflict of interest that people who are included in these investigations are allowed a two-day heads up to read, edit the findings, and change the outcome of the report? What are we supposed to think when the grand jury members are resigning and are forbidden to speak about what the findings were. Why even bother with a 2018-2019 grand jury? Is that where the local government is heading.
Refusing to release the edited version of the final report is the only hope the public has of ever knowing the unedited truth.
August 24, 2018
By Tina Bechtel, Marysville
Sunday, August 26, 2018
Blog note: this opinion piece references a recent grand jury report.
It has been a tumultuous past few months as the homelessness crisis in Orange County erupted before our eyes. The Santa Ana Riverbed closure in January was followed by the subsequent filing of two federal civil rights lawsuits against the county. Amidst the chaos, U.S. District Court Judge David O. Carter appealed for the multiple stakeholders, including the county and 34 cities to work together and come to a pragmatic solution to ameliorate the homeless condition in the region.
Orange County leaders in government, business and nonprofits looked at the situation and asked openly: Can we truly solve the homelessness epidemic in our communities permanently?
In a word, yes, homelessness in our neighborhoods can finally be eradicated.
Our cities and the county have crafted a solution that helps those most in need while restoring the confidence of our residents who simply want to enjoy their public spaces and parks without the feeling of insecurity or angst.
The answer rests in the development of 2,700 units of permanent supportive housing as part of a comprehensive system of care that delivers wrap-around services to homeless individuals.
The mission is straightforward … find permanent supportive housing for the roughly 4,700 people living without shelter and suffering from poverty, lack of affordable housing, mental illness and addiction.
Homelessness in Orange County costs $300 million per year, according to a 2017 study. Providing permanent supportive housing for chronically homeless individuals would actually save over $40 million per year.
What we deeply understand is that homelessness cannot be solved on the street. The only lasting method to solve homelessness is to embrace a housing first approach, as the state has done with the $2 billion No Place Like Home funding initiative.
To that end, community leaders endorsed a Board of Supervisors/ACC-OC proposal to create an Orange County Housing Finance Trust, which would be the monetary leveraging tool necessary to finance the development of the 2,700 permanent supportive housing units.
Assembly Bill 448 provides the legislative tool to form the trust. Specifically, the language creates a funding platform to harness public and private dollars toward a forecast target of $900 million needed to facilitate development.
The legislation, authored by Assemblymembers Tom Daly and Sharon Quirk-Silva, has garnered the support of Republicans and Democrats in the county and has bi-partisan support in the Capitol.
Utilizing permanent supportive housing can create an ecosystem of coordinated offerings and deliver healthcare, mental health services, addiction programs and workforce development opportunities for inhabitants.
State funds are at stake, attached to measures such as November’s Senate Bill 3, the $4 billion Veteran’s and Affordable Housing Bond Act, as well as tax credits and other financial resources.
Further, the recent Orange County grand jury summation on the topic of homelessness declares in no uncertain terms: “The County and cities establish a regional body empowered to develop and implement a comprehensive business plan for siting and funding Permanent Supportive Housing development.”
And that entity is the Orange County Housing Finance Trust.
As county leaders implement this solution, we embrace the opportunity to put our differences aside and share in the common goal of mitigating homelessness.
Reminding us of the challenges and opportunities ahead, we can look back and recall the words of another time, which held so much promise built on indefatigable energy and dedication of purpose.
“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win. ” President John F. Kennedy — Sept. 12, 1962
August 25, 2018
The Orange County Register
By Heather Stratman
Torrance removed two warnings on its police complaint form – that threatened the complainant with legal action for making a false report – after a county grand jury investigation concluded they were intimidating.
It was one of several changes to the police complaint process municipal officials said were made after receiving recommendations from the grand jury.
The findings were outlined in a grand jury report titled “Policing the Police” that investigated how the public could make complaints against police officers in a dozen county cities, including Inglewood and Culver City in addition to Torrance.
“Transparency of (a) police department’s internal operations starts with an effective citizen complaint process,” the report found. “The 2017-2018 Los Angeles County Civil Grand Jury observed in the course of its investigation that effective community relations and public trust can be earned through an open and accessible complaint process.”
The grand jury found that Torrance was one of only two police departments among those it reviewed that warned complainants that filing a false claim against a police officer is a misdemeanor.
The panel also found Torrance was the only city it studied that indicated a police officer may bring a civil action against a complainant who falsely accuses a police officer of misconduct, criminal conduct or incompetence.
“The complaint form and process should not in any way intimidate or discourage potential complainants,” the report said. “Admonitions/warnings on complaint forms that may intimidate or discourage persons from completing complaints should not be used.
“Some individuals may be reluctant to file a complaint for fear of reprisal from the officer or officers they are complaining against or the police department itself,” the grand jury report added.
The grand jury also said that the Torrance warning regarding the civil suit that could be filed if a false report is submitted was found to be unconstitutional in 1999 because of its “chilling effect” and the court ruling has been upheld on several occasions since then. The ACLU observed the law was the only one of its kind in the nation to give police officers a special right to sue complainants, the jury said.
In a four-page letter written earlier this month to Superior Court Presiding Judge Daniel J. Buckley, City Manager LeRoy Jackson said the city had complied with the grand jury’s recommendation and “removed such warnings from its complaint forms and related materials.”
However, Jackson rejected the grand jury’s request to initiate an appeal process if the complainant is dissatisfied with the disposition of an investigation.
The grand jury also said that only three police departments in the county have any sort of civilian oversight.
Torrance did indicate it would comply with most recommendations made by the grand jury though, including:
- Improving the availability of complaint forms to the public by making them available in multiple locations with clear signage indicating where they specifically can be found. The city indicated the forms previously only available at the Police Department can now be found in the City Clerk’s Office and City Hall lobby as well.
- Providing the complainant a copy of their own statement at the time a complaint is filed. Torrance was one of four cities surveyed that were not in compliance with that policy, which the state penal code requires.
Five of the police departments surveyed – Torrance was not one of them – did not use complaints to identify potential problems, which the grand jury concluded was the entire point of an effective complaint system.
“A key purpose for receiving and investigating complaints is to identify law enforcement personnel that frequently or habitually engage in inappropriate behavior,” the report said. “Even if the results of investigations are inconclusive, tracking complaints can provide an ‘early warning’ system to identify and take corrective actions to improve employee conduct.”
August 24, 2018
By Nick Green
Saturday, August 25, 2018
Board must approve official district response next month
The Menlo Park Fire Protection District board this week agreed with the district chief's suggestion to reject eight findings and three recommendations in a recent San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury report critical of the district, and also rejected a fourth recommendation from the report.
In doing so, it also agreed with the chief that the district should implement a number of recommended actions from the grand jury report, including developing a strategic plan and preparing an updated fire station location and land acquisition plan.
"We respectfully disagree" with some of the report's conclusions, Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman said, "and we agree with far more than we disagree with."
Perhaps the most heartfelt arguments made against the grand jury report came when the fire board had already moved on to another item at its Aug. 21 meeting.
"It seems like we're defending ourselves instead of being allowed to celebrate the fact that we've done a good job," said Schapelhouman after cataloging how the district has hired 30 new employees, finished two new fire stations, bought multiple properties and put many new emergency response vehicles into service in the past four years.
"What most people would want to achieve in 30 years, we've just achieved in four," he said.
One of the report's main criticisms is that the district is doing all those things without a strategic plan to guide it, as much of the area it serves -- Menlo Park, East Palo Alto, Atherton and adjoining county areas -- rapidly grows.
"Yes," Schapelhouman said, "we don't have a strategic plan, but we'll get there."
Board member Peter Carpenter said he disagreed with the title of the report, "Menlo Park Fire Protection District: Ready for Growth?"
"It's unreasonable to say we should plan for growth over which we have no control," Carpenter said.
The board rejected more than 40 percent of the report's conclusions: four of 10 recommended actions and eight of 19 findings.
Fire board member Virginia Chang Kiraly was not at the meeting.
The district has until Oct. 10 to respond to the report. If the district disagrees with any of the report's findings, or plans not to follow certain recommendations, it must explain why. The 2018-19 grand jury will review the district's responses.
Schapelhouman said he will return to the board with a draft of the responses for review and approval on Sept. 18.
The fire district must respond to each of the report's recommended actions with one of four options:
• Implement the recommended action with a timetable.
• Report how the recommended action has already been implemented.
• Further study a recommended action for up to six months before deciding whether to implement it.
• Explain why the recommended action "is not warranted or reasonable" and won't be implemented.
The board members unanimously agreed with all the chief's recommendations, but also asked Schapelhouman to reject one more recommended action regarding impact fees on new development.
That recommendation said if the district determines it necessary to charge impact fees on development "to fund District operations in future years," it should provide the jurisdictions the district serves enough information to convince them to implement those fees by the end of 2019.
"This (recommendation) assumes we have impact fees because we need the money," Carpenter said. "It's not true that we don't have the money," he said.
"Impact fees are trying to get developers to pay their own way," he said. "I don't think we should use the taxpayers' money to pay for Facebook."
The board also disagreed with the report's recommendation that it talk to officials in the jurisdictions it covers "to evaluate if impact fees on new development are necessary to adequately fund district operations in future years." The grand jury stipulated that this recommendation was to be implemented by the end of this year.
The board and chief also disagreed with a finding that because the district does not have "a strategic plan, associated financial analysis, and land acquisition plan," it "was unable to persuade" the jurisdictions it covers "to adopt impact fees on new residential and commercial developments."
Carpenter instead blamed Atherton City Manager George Rodericks and Menlo Park City Manager Alex McIntyre for derailing the fire district's attempts to impose impact fees. "These two individuals colluded to say we're not going to let the fire district do this," he said.
The law governing impact fees says they must be imposed by the jurisdictions the fire district serves and passed back to the district. The district gave up negotiating to get Menlo Park, Atherton, East Palo Alto and San Mateo County to adopt the fees after officials in the four jurisdictions started asking for more information about the district's need for the money.
Instead, the district has been negotiating directly with developers for payments, a practice the grand jury faulted.
Atherton home purchase
The chief and board disagreed with two findings concerning a report by consulting firm Citygate, approved by the fire board in February 2017. One finding said the Citygate report recommended the district look for a new location for its Atherton fire station before making a final decision on the location of the Atherton and North Fair Oaks stations.
Board members did not discuss the finding, but on page 13 the Citygate report says exactly what the grand jury finding says: "Before making final site decisions on Stations #3 (Atherton) and #5 (North Fair Oaks), Citygate recommends the District try to find an acceptable parcel to move Station #3."
The district also rejected the finding that "notwithstanding the Citygate recommendation" to move the station, the district purchased a home next door to the station "reportedly to eventually expand the station."
Instead of searching for a new site, months after approving the Citygate report the district bought a home next to the Atherton station for $4.6 million.
Carpenter said the Citygate report assumed "that we would never be able to expand Station 3." He said the district has made a conscious choice not to buy property that isn't on the market "as it will drive up the price."
"What we've done instead is said we'll be opportunistic," he said.
The Atherton property was listed for sale, and the district paid $300,000 over the asking price. The district's recent property purchase on Valparaiso Avenue in West Menlo Park was not listed and the district paid more than $1 million over what Zillow had estimated the property was worth. The district's realtor argued Zillow was wrong about the property value.
The acre of property the district recently purchased from St. Patrick's Seminary for $6.6 million was also not on the market.
Three other findings and a recommendation the district rejected have to do with payments made by Facebook to the district. The grand jury report says by soliciting or accepting donations from a business "subject to inspection and regulation" by district employees, the fire district "has created the possible appearance of favorable treatment or disparate application of rules or laws."
"This is a totally fallacious assumption," said Schapelhouman. "These are not donations."
The district's attorney, Tim Cremin, agreed. "Factually, they are not donations," he said. "The word donation is not in the agreement" the district reached with Facebook, he said.
So far, according to the district, Facebook has paid the fire district $689,250 in negotiated development or impact fees. Those fees are in addition to $746,000 in building permit, plan check and inspection fees paid by Facebook. Facebook also has an agreement to pay additional impact fees to the fire district with future development.
Facebook is also paying the district's full cost for a fire inspector and half the cost for a plan checker for at least two years. In return the agreement promises the fire district will provide inspections within 24 hours of request (including during off hours and days), one-week turnaround of minor tenant improvement plans and three-week turnaround of other plans.
The grand jury recommendation that the district should adopt a policy "not to pursue or accept donations from any private entity over which it exercises any official powers, such as building or plan inspection, or enforcement of any law or regulation" by the end of 2018 was also opposed by the board and the chief.
Schapelhouman told the board earlier in the meeting that the district is continuing to negotiate with Facebook and may "embed" a fire district employee to do emergency planning on the Facebook campus.
The final two findings and recommendation the district rejected concern accreditation. One says the district has not "progressed beyond the first phase of the accreditation process since 2011."
Fire board President Chuck Bernstein said he agreed with the statement, but he did not get any support from other board members.
"We have made progress, but we have not progressed beyond the first phase," he said.
The second finding says the district's "management and governance structure has not demonstrated the ability to balance ongoing emergency response responsibilities with administrative and planning functions" and that has proved an impediment "to completing a strategic plan and achieving accreditation."
"I adamantly disagree with this statement," Carpenter said. "We do it every day, we do it every month."
The district is currently working on an accreditation plan, but the board and chief disagreed with the recommendation that the district commit to completing the Commission on Fire Accreditation International accreditation process by the end of 2019, saying the process would take longer than that.
The grand jury actions that the district and Schapelhouman agreed with are:
• Develop a strategic plan that conforms to the standards set by the Center for Public Safety Excellence by June 30, 2019.
• Prepare an updated fire station location and land acquisition plan encompassing the entire district by June 30, 2019.
• Ensure its administrative functions operate effectively regardless of competing short-term priorities caused by emergency response operations, including the establishment of an ongoing management process to track progress and results of agency goals and objectives relating to general organizational and operational programs by June 30, 2019.
• Review the consultant recommendations relative to the location of the Atherton fire station and re-examine the basis for purchasing the Atherton property by June 30, 2019.
• Once accredited, annually budget sufficient funds to cover all costs associated with maintaining accreditation, including staff resources, training, and consultant services. Add maintenance of accreditation to the fire chief’s annual performance evaluation. All by June 30, 2020.
• Expand the district's website to include a description of special districts in general and the Menlo Park Fire Protection District in particular by June 30, 2019.
August 24, 2018
By Barbara Wood