Sunday, September 30, 2018

[Alameda County] Two years later: Who is still taking free Oracle Arena tickets?

Blog note: this article references a grand jury report on the subject.
OAKLAND — Nearly two years after this news organization’s investigation into East Bay politicians hoarding free tickets to marquee events at the Oakland Coliseum and Oracle Arena, a review of recent records shows high ticket use among elected officials and their staffs — and sloppy reporting about it — continues.
The city, county and the joint powers authority which operates the publicly-owned arena and stadium each get a suite with 16 seats at the two venues, under agreements with the teams. Officials who use those tickets must fill out forms required by the state Fair Political Practices Commission stating who got the tickets and the public purpose for attending, such as to inspect the facility’s operations, or rewarding community volunteers and students.
Over the past year, three members of the Coliseum authority took free tickets to nearly every event at the Oakland coliseum and arena, and some top county officials including Administrator Susan Muranishi and Supervisor Keith Carson failed to document who used them.
An Oakland Council member took tickets to Warriors playoff games, reporting on the FPPC forms filed with the city that he was inspecting the arena, but told this news organization he gave the tickets to his kids.
And in May, several Oakland employees took free tickets to a Taylor Swift concert at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, even though the stadium is out of their jurisdiction.
Such behavior continues despite ongoing investigations of the ticket policy by the Oakland Ethics Commission and a scathing Alameda County Grand Jury report released in June which said county officials used the freebies to expensive games and concerts as a “perk.”
The grand jury report also found that the tickets, if not used by the officials themselves, were often distributed to the same staffers over and over again — usually as a job performance reward — while other employees were shut out.
“A big part of the problem is that the ticket policy is corrupt and invites corrupt behavior,” said Stephen Shefler, a retired chief deputy U.S. Attorney for Northern California and former member of the Oakland Ethics Commission. “It is an open invitation to abuse.”
This news organization’s October 2016 investigation showed officials over three seasons claimed more than 7,000 tickets worth millions of dollars to Golden State Warriors’ games, often going themselves or giving them away to politically connected individuals. Since the 2016 investigation, the use of high-priced tickets, particularly to Warriors games, decreased but did not stop.
A review of Golden State Warriors playoff games and high-priced concerts in 2017 and 2018 found:
  • Oakland councilmembers Lynette Gibson McElhaney, Dan Kalb and Annie Campbell Washington each took two tickets for themselves and family members to see Michelle Obama speak at Oracle in March. The VIP tickets worth $1,000 included a photo-op with the former First Lady. Four other tickets went to council aides.
  • Top county officials continue not to list ticket recipients, a problem identified in the grand jury report. Muranishi gobbled up tickets to nine 2018 Warrior playoff games, listing most as simply taken by the “county administrator’s office” without names. Supervisor Keith Carson did the same for eight Obama tickets. Neither official replied to a request for comment.
  • Coliseum authority records show that three members of its board — former Oakland City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente, Chris Dobbins, and Yui Hay Lee — attended each Warriors home playoff game this year, and took dozens of A’s and Raiders tickets. Each said on forms they were investigating the “efficiencies of operations” at Oracle Arena in their official capacity.
  • Relatives still receive tickets. Records show Supervisor Scott Haggerty gave four Lionel Richie concert tickets to his wife, Rhonda. His form listed the face value of $400 per ticket. Chris Miley, son of Supervisor Nate Miley, took four tickets to see a Fall Out Boy concert. Four Bruno Mars tickets went from Carson to his wife, Maria with a public purpose of promoting attendance at area events.
In one unusual case, city officials took 28 free tickets valued at $115 each to the May 11 Taylor Swift concert in Santa Clara. Councilwoman Campbell Washington reported taking six tickets for herself and family, while Mayor Libby Schaaf gave tickets to city Director of Housing Security Darin Ranelletti. Others allocated to the offices of Schaaf, Gibson McElhaney, Kalb and Rebecca Kaplan went to council aides or staff. Kalb also gave two tickets to a school and Kaplan issued four to a community activist. Supervisor Carson accepted eight tickets, saying they went to staff but did not identify individuals.
Santa Clara City Manager Deanna Santana said the stadium authority that operates Levi’s Stadium does not provide free tickets to leaders of that city for sporting events and concerts. A government ethics expert said the Taylor Swift tickets should be considered differently than the ones Oakland and Alameda County receive for coliseum and arena events. According to obtained emails, the tickets came to the county and City Hall by way of the concert promoter, who gave them to the company which operates the Coliseum property.
“By accepting gifts from vendors the question arises, are they acting in the public interest or their own interest,” said Hana Callahan, of Santa Clara University Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. “It creating an appearance if impropriety.” It also appears questionable because Levi’s Stadium “is not in their jurisdiction,” she added.
Shefler was highly critical of using the free tickets to the concert. “It is obvious that Council(member) Washington went to see Taylor Swift for the purpose of enjoying the concert,” and not in an official capacity required under the city’s ticket policy, he said. Campbell Washington and Carson did not respond to inquiries about the Swift show.
The city’s ethics commission currently has open investigations into city leaders’ previous use of Oracle and Coliseum tickets. Two of them involving Schaaf and Gibson McElhaney are complete, but on Sept. 11, the commission declined to approve commission staff findings that the pair did not violate ethics laws, mainly because the city’s ticket policy is so broad that it is difficult to enforce. The commission plans to take up the issue again at a meeting next week.
Gibson McElhaney attended 73 events worth $320,000 at the Coliseum complex between January 2015 and September 2016, according to commission records. Schaaf personally took 18 sets of tickets valued at $54,000.
Next month, the City Council could consider changes to the ticket policy proposed by the ethics commission in a report last year. In the report, the commission accused city leaders of having a “cavalier attitude” about the tickets and encouraged them to give them away to community groups, students and nonprofits.
Most council members have stopped or slowed the taking of Warrior playoff tickets. Over the past two years, when the team won back-to-back NBA championships, Schaaf, Campbell Washington and Gibson McElhaney each attended one playoff game. More often than in previous years, council members gave tickets to community members, schools or nonprofits. Schaaf’s office helped raised $25,000 to nonprofits by auctioning off 2018 playoff tickets.
The only other council member listed as taking playoff tickets was Noel Gallo. Online forms show he took two tickets to 12 games, each time listing the reason as evaluating “the ability of a facility, its operator, or a local sports team to attract business and contribute to the local economy.” On Wednesday, Gallo said he did not go to any of the games. His children did, he said.
“Next year I’m not going to take any tickets,” he said. “All the paperwork … I don’t have time for that.”
Councilman Abel Guillen has stopped taking or giving out tickets all together “until we reform the current policy,” he said. From 2014-2016, Guillen gave at least 23 tickets to people who worked for his campaigns or donated to them. He also gave two tickets worth $1,400 to then-Assemblyman Tony Thurmond, who did not report the gift on his state ethics form until contacted by this news agency.
Councilman Larry Reid topped the 2016 list of ticket takers, claiming 356 which he said he gave to family and residents. Records show Gibson McElhaney took 163 tickets, making her second on the city’s list behind Reid. But over the past year, there are zero ticket forms signed by Reid, who as a member of the joint powers authority, has access to both the city suite and the joint powers authority suite.
The issue will soon be moot: the Warriors leave for San Francisco in 2019, the Raiders are moving to Las Vegas, and the A’s plan to build a privately-financed stadium. Still, Kaplan wants to abolish the practice.
“I am advocating to end (it),” Kaplan said. “We could use the money to meet vital public needs instead.”
September 29, 2018
The Reporter
By David Debolt and Thomas Peele

Saturday, September 29, 2018

[Sacramento County] CSD officials respond to grand jury report

Fire dept. scrutinized for school inspections

The Cosumnes Community Services District (CSD) board on Sept. 19 responded to a Sacramento Grand Jury report that scrutinized the CSD fire staff’s practices.
Last year, it was revealed that the fire marshal’s staff did not inspect schools in Elk Grove and Galt for three years.
“This is a very high concern,” the grand jury’s report stated this June. “Schoolchildren are at risk because of the lack of inspections and placed at further risk if the safety violations are not corrected.”
Cosumnes Fire Chief Mike McLaughlin told the Citizen after the report’s June publication that inspections have been completed at every school in the Elk Grove and Galt school districts.
He noted that the grand jury’s report is outdated since the grand jury finished their investigation in January.  
As requested by the grand jury, the CSD board had to respond to them by late September.  
They approved the fire administration’s responses to the grand jury’s recommendations to improve their inspection practices and record-keeping.
“We addressed the problem and now we’re current on all inspections at the schools?” CSD Director Gil Albiani asked McLaughlin who then told him that was correct.
McLaughlin told them that his staff adopted a new software program this July that helps them keep track of fire inspections.
“When the time comes to do inspections, the system will tell us where our priorities are, instead of having to do guesswork,” CSD Director Rod Brewer said.
McLaughlin said that schools have been responsive in correcting their fire code violations.
The fire chief noted that his staff has the challenge of enforcing the fire codes of the cities of Elk Grove and Galt as well as Sacramento County in their large district. He mentioned there is an idea that the CSD could enforce a new fire code that covers their entire district.
“It’s a no-brainer to do that,” Brewer replied. “Many new businesses are not aware of the changes in the fire code or what is the main code.”
September 28, 2018
Elk Grove Citizen
By Cameron Macdonald

[Santa Clara County] Editorial: Elect Quintero, Bejarano and Mueller to Alum Rock board

Oust Tran, Herrera before they do further damage to the East San Jose district

Blog note: this editorial references a June 2018 grand jury report recommending board member resignations.
If Alum Rock Union School District board trustees Khanh Tran and Esau Herrera had an ounce of integrity they would have resigned from the board months ago. It’s imperative that voters oust them before they do further damage to the East San Jose district that serves some 10,000 students.
Eight people, including Tran and Herrera, are running for three board seats. We recommend incumbent Andres Quintero and challengers Ernesto Bejarano and Ray Mueller.
The incumbents have got to go. Tran, Herrera and board member Dolores Marquez, who is unfortunately not up for re-election this year, make up the “Alum Rock Three,” creating a majority on the board that has been dysfunctional to a level rarely seen in California.
The Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury in June recommended that the trio resign from the board for “failing to meet its governance standards and fiduciary responsibility.” In March, Santa Clara County Superintendent of Schools Mary Ann Dewan took the extraordinary step of exercising veto power over the district. It’s a rarely used step that is reserved for school districts at risk of insolvency or collapse. The district is also facing a state audit to dive into the district’s ledgers and contracts, and determine the extent of its financial problems.
Tran has been the worst. He can’t even attend board meetings. A judge in August granted respected Alum Rock district Superintendent Hilaria Bauer a restraining order against him for verbal harassment. This newspaper reported that people familiar with the situation said Tran allegedly berated Bauer during a closed session board meeting, threatening to “kick your ass,” and at one point mentioning a firing squad.
At the heart of the board majority’s problems is the district’s financial dealings with Del Terra Real Estate, the Southern California firm that has managed Alum Rock’s building projects. Bauer questioned Del Terra’s performance, leading to a scathing audit that found Del Terra had lined its own pockets at the expense of the district.
So now to the candidates best qualified to serve: Quintero, who teaches political science at Evergreen Valley College, has been a voice of reason amid the chaos. A native of East San Jose, he is president of the Latino Leadership Alliance, which works to make sure the Latino community has a voice on issues. He would bring credibility to the district for his efforts to increase transparency and follow accepted best practices that should be standard procedure for board members.
Bejarano is a Santa Clara County social work supervisor with a wealth of experience in building positive relationships between families and government agencies. He is a past commissioner of the Santa Clara County Human Relations Commission and served on the San Jose Parks and Recreation Commission from 2015-17. His chief focus would be on getting the district’s finances in order and upgrading students’ educational experience.
Mueller has been an outspoken critic of the district’s financial dealings during the five years he has served as chair of the Citizens Bond Oversight Committee. He points to fixing the district’s “toxic board culture” as his primary goal and embraces the rich diversity of Alum Rock’s neighborhoods.
Any of the other three contenders — Bruce Huynh, Linda Chavez and Brenda Zendejas — would be an improvement over Tran and Herrera. But Quintero, Bejarano and Mueller stand the best chance of restoring the Alum Rock Union District to a more stable footing. We recommend them to voters on Nov. 6.
September 28, 2018
The Mercury News
By Mercury News Editorial Board

[Los Angeles County] Animal advocacy group alleges LB mayor hid comments on Facebook

Mayor’s chief of staff says office does not hide social-media comments.

A group of self-identified animal advocates submitted a citizen-complaint letter to the Los Angeles County Civil Grand Jury last week alleging that Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia hid critical comments on his public-figure and official Facebook pages.
According to the 146-page letter, the group is asking the civil grand jury to investigate if Garcia “attempted to place unconstitutional restrictions on members of the public as to their First Amendment rights to free speech and to petition their government for a redress of grievances.”
The document claims that 56 comments were hidden from public view, and it contains various screenshots of the alleged hidden messages. The letter also alleges that the blocked comments suppressed criticism of Garcia before the City’s primary elections for mayor and city council on April 10.
In an email to the Signal Tribune Sept. 26, Mark Taylor, Garcia’s chief of staff, wrote that “the mayor’s office does not delete comments or block users.”
He added that an “internal policy” for the City is in a draft form and will be completed in the near future.
“The finalized internal policy for City departments will address ‘hiding’ comments, which does not delete comments but limits views,” the statement reads. “The mayor’s office is not hiding comments and is looking forward to the development of this policy.”
The comments in question concern two images posted on the mayor’s official and public-figure Facebook pages on April 4.
The images are bar-graph charts detailing the number of live impounds and animal-euthanasia cases citywide from 2005 to 2017. Both of the posts display information from Long Beach Animal Care Services.
On the mayor’s official Facebook page, the post reads, “In 2013, the number of animals euthanized at our animal shelter was more than 4,000. Last year, there were 1,065.”
The mayor’s office also states in the post that the decrease in euthanasia cases is only the beginning and that more work needs to be done.
“As part of our requested audit, we are launching a new visioning process for the shelter and are putting together a task force to help create this vision,” the statement reads.
In the comment section of the post, some residents congratulated the decreases in animal deaths per the statistics shown. Others criticized the City’s handling of the animal shelters, stating concerns they had in the way in which the shelters were administered.
The letter claims that comments criticizing the City’s methods were hidden from public view.
Kristie Mamelli, a No Kill Long Beach advocacy group supporter, is one of the four individuals who signed the letter sent to the civil grand jury. Others included Tracy Smith, Leslie Shapiro and Jeanne Morales.
During a phone interview with the Signal Tribune on Sept. 25, Mamelli said that the aforementioned comments in question have since then been unhidden and users who are not “Facebook friends” with those who wrote the alleged comments can now view them in the posts from April.
She added that a similar letter concerning the alleged hidden social-media comments was sent to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office (DA) in August.
The DA has since stated that they “couldn’t make a determination one way or the other” about the claims made in the initial letter, according to Mamelli.
She also claimed that the posts were made unhidden once news spread that a letter requesting an investigation into the matter was sent to the DA.
Nathan Winograd, No Kill Law and Advocacy Center national director, drafted a similar complaint letter to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office Public Integrity Division on Aug. 6.
In a phone interview with the Signal Tribune Sept. 27, he said that public integrity division officials took a “very narrow” reading of the complaint letter.
“According to the DA, they will only investigate matters in which a criminal statute is violated that could lead to jail time,” Winograd said. “The federal law that we believe the mayor broke– 42 U.S. Code Section 1983– only provides for civil remedies.”
Winograd added that the DA officials told them that they were not taking a stance on the matter and recommended the animal advocates pursue the claim civically.
He suggested that Long Beach residents should make the claim with the civil grand jury.
Winograd added that he gave permission for concerned Long Beach residents to use the draft of the letter that was sent to the DA, but he was not involved in the drafting process.
In Taylor’s email Wednesday, he wrote that the City abides by its social-media terms of service (TOS) guidelines found at the bottom of its website.
The social-media TOS states that the City reserves the right to remove, without notice, any comments or submissions that it deems to be inappropriate or offensive.
The guidelines state comments that contain defamatory statements, slander, spam, advertisements, profanity and other criteria may fall under the TOS.
During Tuesday’s phone interview with the Signal Tribune, Mamelli said that the alleged hidden comments remained on the topic of the original Facebook post.
“[The comments] were on topic and not negative toward him,” she said. “It just made him look bad.”
Mamelli told the Signal Tribune that the civil grand jury had not yet provided a follow up to the investigation-request letter by Tuesday.
Mary Hearn, Los Angeles Superior Court public information officer, wrote in an email to the Signal Tribune Tuesday that the work of the civil grand jury is confidential.
“The court cannot comment on any materials that may have been sent to the civil grand jury, nor can we comment on what they may be investigating,” Hearn said.
Winograd said the civil grand jury may choose not to take action on the letter.
“If the grand jury decides it does not want to investigate, then the next step is to retain an attorney and file a lawsuit for declaratory injunctive relief,” Winograd said.
September 28, 2018
Signal Tribune
By Sebastian Echeverry

Friday, September 28, 2018

[Nevada County] Nevada County sheriff wants body cameras in use by new year

Blog note: this article references a 2016 grand jury report recommending the use of body cameras.
The Nevada County Sheriff's Office expects to have its deputies using body cameras by next year, an about-face from Sheriff Keith Royal's original decision to forego the technology.
A $123,000 grant announced Thursday will fund the cameras' start-up costs. It'll take about three months to create policy for them, research what cameras they want and put them out to bid. Royal said he'd like them in place by the time he leaves office in January.
"We're very pleased we got the grant," Royal said. "It's going to help us do our jobs better. It's going to help us with prosecutions."
Three Animal Control officers have used the cameras over the past few weeks as part of a pilot program.
It's unknown how many bodycams the Sheriff's Office will receive or how many officers will wear them. Those answers will develop over the next few months, the sheriff said.
"We also want to expand this for use in the jail," he added.
The Sheriff's Office applied for the grant in May and learned Wednesday it had won the funds.
Bringing bodycams to the office is a change for Royal, who'd previously opposed using them. The Civil Grand Jury in 2016 recommended his office use them, though Royal at the time called them cost prohibitive and unnecessary.
"It was going to be onerous," Royal said. "We're now in a position to move forward."
On Thursday Royal said the technology has advanced quickly since 2016. Additionally, concerns over legislation dealing with the cameras has since been resolved.
The grant will cover the initial costs. The Sheriff's Office budget, which includes other grants, can absorb annual costs.
Acceptance of the grant now proceeds to the Board of Supervisors. Royal said he'd like the board to vote on the grant within weeks.
September 27, 2018
The Union of Grass Valley
By Alan Riquelme

[Amador County] Amador Supes Approve Response to Grand Jury Report

The Amador Board of Supervisors approved its response to the Grand Jury report, and discussed, but took no action on the issue of homelessness in the county. In two separate hearings on Tuesday, the Board voted to approve its official response to the civil grand jury report released in June, which offered criticism of the county’s child protective services or CPS and maintenance of roads and other infrastructure. With regard to the CPS findings, the county does acknowledge some communication problems between foster families, but disputes the Grand Jury finding that not enough home visits were conducted by the county, and rejected some specific changes in CPS policy regarding communication with foster families. On the issue of roads and infrastructure, the board agreed that the lack of sufficient funding existed, but rejected the Grand Jury’s suggestions to either raise or save more money, such as selling county-owned property, consolidating county offices such as the district attorney’s office, and charging usage fees for agencies such as ACRA and the UC Cooperative extension. The Board also received a report from the county’s homeless task force, which consists of both government officials and various nonprofits and private citizens, on the extent of the homeless population in the county, current efforts addressing the population and possible future action. However, when supervisor Frank Axe made a motion to declare a homeless shelter emergency in the county as suggested by the report, the motion died from lack of a second from the other board members, and the board took no further action on the issue.  
September 26, 2018
KVGC Radio – Voice of the Gold Country

Thursday, September 27, 2018

[San Diego County] San Diego boosting transparency of marketing deals in response to grand jury

San Diego is boosting the transparency and conflict-of-interest policies of its corporate marketing program, which city officials say has generated $27 million since 1999.
The changes are in response to a county grand jury report that said it’s impossible to evaluate the program because of poor record-keeping and a failure to distinguish actual revenue from other contributions by businesses, such as providing equipment.
For example, the city doesn’t receive any revenue from its highest-profile partnership, a deal with Toyota to provide lifeguard trucks to the city at no charge.
But city officials say the agreement has an estimated $1 million annual value because it eliminates the need to buy and service lifeguard vehicles.
The revised policy will distinguish between partnerships that generate actual revenue and deals that have an estimated value based on contributions that save money or help promote the city.
City officials will also begin calculating the “net benefit” of deals where the city receives money but also incurs costs.
And the new policy expands the definition of a marketing partnership to include all kinds of deals like licensing agreements and promotional campaigns.
The revisions also add a requirement that businesses proposing partnerships identify potential conflicts of interest, which is standard practice for other city contracts.
The new policy, which was endorsed last week by the City Council’s budget committee, will be presented to the full council for final approval this fall. The council must also approve a response to the grand jury report, which was released in June.
Launched nearly two decades ago, San Diego’s corporate partnership program has been called a model for generating revenue from marketing opportunities most cities don’t realize they have.
In addition to Toyota, the city’s ongoing partnerships include snack vendor Canteen, California Coast Credit Union, Discover Bike, Sharp HealthCare, Cardiac Science and Service Line Warranties.
The city also made a deal connected to the U.S. Open returning to Torrey Pines municipal golf course in 2021.
Turfstar is providing San Diego $7.5 million in cash and other contributions over 12 years, in exchange for the city agreeing to exclusively lease all mowers and other golf maintenance equipment from Turfstar.
Previous city partnerships have included deals with Sprint, Rainbow Vending, Car2Go and Zipcar.
September 26, 2018
The San Diego Union-Tribune
By David Garrick

[Trinity County] Board responds to grand jury report

Trinity County supervisors disagreed last week over whether they agree with findings in the 2017/18 Trinity County grand jury report evaluating other county responses and resulting actions taken over the past three years of grand jury investigations and recommendations.
The 2017/18 Continuity Report was the single report issued by the grand jury this year that was reduced from what was formerly 19 members down to 11 and ultimately only 10 who consistently participated. Board responses were required on two of the grand jury’s findings: that the county policy for responding to grand jury reports does not match relevant penal codes; and that not all department heads and elected officials understand the role of the grand jury and how it fulfills its duties.
The board’s 4-1 response disagreed wholly with both findings. However, it agreed to implement grand jury recommendations for next year by updating wording in the county policy to clarify that its intent is the same as what’s written in the penal code; and agreed that the County Administrative Officer or County Counsel should meet with newly elected or appointed officials and department heads to help them understand the role of the grand jury.
Sup. Bobbi Chadwick cast the “no” vote, arguing it isn’t possible to disagree with the findings, but agree to implement the recommendations.
“I agree with the grand jury. Our policy is old and should be updated, and I think training for newly elected officials would be very beneficial,” she said, adding she believes board responses “need to have a better understanding and embrace the grand jury to implement their recommendations. They’re not against us. They are for us and we need to stop seeing them as an adversary.”
Sup. John Fenley argued “it is up to each supervisor to train ourselves. I agree we do need to know what the grand jury is, but it is my responsibility to train myself and figure it out. I feel that for every supervisor here.”
“I would throw in that the grand jury also needs to train and know what the grand jury role is. I would have no problem with that at all. Do we need to write that into our response here?” said Sup. Keith Groves.
Sup. Terry Mines said that in drafting the board’s response, he questioned several department heads who indicated they do understand the grand jury’s role, and that grand jurors do receive training, “but I also thought regarding training for officials, how could that hurt?”
Chadwick agreed training “is a benefit to all officials. It doesn’t do any harm for people to review, especially now that the grand jury feels it is being ignored. The more training there is, the stronger we’ll be.”
September 26, 2018
The Trinity Journal
By Sally Morris

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

[Marin County] Letter to the editor: Wireless cell service calls for collaboration

Blog note: this letter references the civil grand jury.
My highest praise to the Marin IJ editorial board for stepping into the 5G wireless conversation and offering not just a voice of reason, but a reminder of how good government works.
The way the process has been managed thus far, it is not a matter of if the civil grand jury will issue a report describing everything government could have done better — with more transparency and increased public engagement — but when.
Any new technology that forces changes to countywide wireless facilities ordinances untouched for 20 years will present challenges. Some towns and cities are reacting as if their backs are against a wall, expressing a need to respond urgently to FCC imposed “shot clocks.” Let’s not forget, Verizon and the Marin General Services Authority signed a lease agreement for the placement of small-cells on streetlights in July 2017 and had been talking about this possibility since late 2016.
The situation calls for countywide collaboration, as suggested, but which government entity can play that unifying role? The county remains focused on the delayed implementation of its enterprise business software. The other logical candidate, the Marin Telecommunications Agency, didn’t mention any of this until their June 2018 meeting and recently hired a new executive officer with no relevant telecom experience to work half-time on cable TV mandates.
Whoever is chosen to lead, the “team” should be balanced by a public advisory group with a real voice at the table.
September 25, 2018
Marin Independent Journal
By Bruce Vogen, San Anselmo

[Del Norte County] Local fair district responds to grand jury report

A grand jury analysis of the Del Norte County Fairgrounds, Recreation and Parks Special District sheds light on how the local district works with the state-appointed board that operates the fairgrounds.
The 2017–18 Del Norte County Grand Jury also made several recommendations, including encouraging the local special district to resubmit a lease agreement with the State of California to a new governor following the November 2018 election. This lease agreement would transfer possession, control and management of the fairgrounds from the 41st District Agricultural Association to the Del Norte County Fairgrounds, Recreation and Parks Special District.
The 41st District Agricultural Association, whose members are appointed by the governor, operate under a memorandum of understanding for the Del Norte County Fairgrounds, Recreation and Parks Special District to transfer a portion of a 0.25 percent sales tax revenue to the 41st District to fund operation of the fairgrounds. The grand jury encouraged the local board and state board to continue following their MOU.
“More detailed information should be provided by the 41st State Board as to the purpose of the Del Norte County taxpayer funds and how they will be spent,” the report reads. “The local board should place more explicit restrictions on the use of the funds to ensure Del Norte County taxpayer funds are not being used in improper ways on State of California property.”
In a Sept. 13 response to the grand jury, Doug Wakefield, chair of the local fair board, stated that the MOU is being followed correctly and that the special district has provided copies of the state board’s finances to the public before each board meeting.
“The district’s number one priority is and has always been to make sure that the taxpayer funds are not being used improperly by the 41st (District Agricultural Association),” Wakefield writes.
Seats on the Del Norte County Fairgrounds, Recreation and Parks Special Districts occupied by Wakefield, Steven Westbrook and Sabina Renner are up for election. The three incumbents are being challenged by Crescent City resident Linda Sutter.
The State of California’s 41st District Agricultural Association has maintained, funded and operated the fairgrounds for 92 years. The 41st Agricultural District board members are appointed by the governor. However when the state eliminated about $200,000 in funding to the Del Norte County Fairgrounds in 2011 and the facility faced potential closure, several avenues were explored, including the creation of the Del Norte County Fairgrounds, Recreation and Parks District, which would operate locally. The special district would be funded via a 0.25 percent sales tax, which voters approved when Measure F passed in November 2014.
The sales tax, which started April 1, 2015, generates about $54,000 per month. Thirty percent of that funding is set aside in a reserve to keep the fair operating beyond 2022 when the sales tax is set to expire.
According to the grand jury report, since between April 1, 2015, and Feb. 28, 2018, the county has received $1,897,826.73 in sales tax revenue. The county transferred $1.281 million to the local fair board. The local fair board has $359,882.66 in reserve and has spent or transferred $921,920.81, according to the grand jury report.
In an interview with the Triplicate, Wakefield said the local board is tasked with providing funding to the 41st District Agricultural Association. Both boards meet jointly, however the 41st District Agricultural Association operates under a different set of guidelines in that sharing financial information must be approved by state attorneys, Wakefield said.
Wakefield responded to a finding in the grand jury analysis, stating that limited information was provided regarding specific spending elements and restrictions on the use of transferred funds. In Wakefield’s letter, the local board disagreed with that finding, however it noted that information could be made more easily accessible to the public.
The fair board’s letter also notes that it has appointed two board members to serve on a financial committee, which has met once a month every month with the exception of July and August. The finance committee will resume meetings in September, Wakefield writes.
“I can tell you that as a board we are aware of where all the money goes,” he told the Triplicate on Monday. “We don’t have limited information regarding specific spending elements, and the reason that there is limited information regarding specific spending elements is because that would have to be done by the 41st District.”
According to Wakefield, the 41st District Agricultural Association and the local fair board had hoped to gain more local control of the fairgrounds when Measure F passed. He said the state attorney general drafted the lease agreement between the local board and the state; however, the governor decided not to sign the lease agreement.
The fair board had a few opportunities to lease out portions of the facility, something that would have offered a steady income stream to the struggling fairgrounds, Wakefield said.
“What we wanted was the ability to sign leases and things of that nature,” he said. “We thought we had every reason to believe that would happen until we found out that wasn’t going to happen. Once we found that out, then we did the best thing we could do, which was just fund the 41st (district) and have them still be the controlling board.”
In his response to the grand jury report, Wakefield states that the local fair board will discuss re-submitting the lease agreement to a new governor with the 41st District Agricultural Association in about six months. Wakefield told the Triplicate that a new governor will have a lot of new appointments to make and could potentially create a new board to run the 41st District Agricultural Association.
Even though a reserve fund has been created to continue to fund the fairgrounds after the sales tax sunsets, Wakefield said the local fair board and 41st District Agricultural Association needs to “get a lot of stuff done.” He noted that board members are trying to find other income streams that will increase revenue and are working to cut expenses, however since the sales tax was implemented the 41st District has also had to make long-overdue repairs to several buildings at the fairgrounds.
Since the fairgrounds began receiving additional revenue, new roofs have been added to the Floral Building and the office. A culvert near the Tri Counties Bank Arena was replaced, which alleviated flooding issues and the livestock building received a new coat of paint, Wakefield said.
“One of our next biggest projects is where the concessions booths are,” he said. “Those have to come out because we can’t afford to make them meet fire codes and health codes any more — they’re just too old and rotten and not built right. Our plan right now is to take those out and put in pedestals so that it’ll be like the 4th of July.”
Wakefield said the fairgrounds will focus more on food trucks and food trailers rather than an actual building for concessions.
Four of the fairgrounds’ horse barns also need new roofs, he said.
“The fairgrounds knew it was running out of money since 2011, and so even when they got their money it was never really enough,” Wakefield said. “It was just enough to make it work, and the only reason we made it work at all is we had Randy Hatfield, who was manager, plumber, electrician, mower operator. He found everything used or free, and there’s still lots of donated stuff and money that comes in that way.”
In its analysis, the Del Norte County Grand Jury encouraged the local fair board to make a greater effort to publicize and reach out to the community. This includes increasing the posting locations for meeting agendas, using the electronic sign near the highway as well as its website.
According to Wakefield’s response, the district has created and will maintain a book of approved minutes from its meetings and make that available to the public at the fair office. A book of the local fair district’s financial records, including the budget, funding transfers, payments and other records will also be available to the public at the fair office, according to Wakefield’s response.
The grand jury also stated that the public may wish to explore re-submitting the question of a sales tax on the ballot.
Wakefield wrote that he didn’t have a response since this was not a recommendation for action by the local fair district.
September 25, 2018
Del Norte Triplicate
By Jessica Cejnar

[Nevada County] George Boardman: Isn’t it time for the Sheriff’s Office to start using body cameras?

Blog note: this opinion piece references a grand jury report.
Residents of Nevada County say they want more transparency from public agencies, but the willingness of these bodies to shine more light on their activities has been mixed at best.
The Board of Supervisors and the Grass Valley and Nevada City councils provide more information and access than most people probably want, but then there's the Nevada Irrigation District and the Nevada County Fair Board.
Law enforcement is under more pressure than anybody to be transparent about its activities, and the Grass Valley and Truckee police departments have responded by outfitting their officers with body cameras.
But the largest law enforcement agency in the county — the Sheriff's Office — has resisted following suit. Isn't it about time the department becomes more transparent about its activities in an era when "trust us" doesn't work anymore?
That's a topic worth discussing Thursday when sheriff candidates Captain Shannon Moon and Lieutenant Bill Smethers square off at the Rood Center in a candidate forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters. Festivities begin at 7 p.m.
Moon supports the idea of body cameras, giving the technology a positive spin on her campaign web page: "Equipping our deputies with body worn cameras will protect the officers, the public, and the trust and communication that make a community thrive.
"Residents overwhelmingly appreciate the services our Sheriff's Office provides: Open communication and emerging technologies will help show the community the good work our deputies do every day."
That's a reiteration of the position she took at a candidates forum in March. Smethers questioned then where he would get the money to purchase the cameras, and doesn't address the issue on his campaign web page, but does pledge to "incorporate and expand the use of technology."
Smethers has the endorsement of retiring Sheriff Keith Royal, who rejected the idea of body cameras two years ago when the county Civil Grand Jury decided cameras should be used by deputies, and that the Board of Supervisors should appropriate funds. Royal cited the cost involved in equipping his deputies with body cameras, the lack of state guidelines for storing of videos captured by the cameras, and the general absence of complaints about his deputies' behavior.
"We feel it prudent to wait for state guidelines, and analyze the experience of similar law enforcement agencies regarding the benefits and drawbacks associated with the use of body cameras before we make this a budget priority," Royal wrote in a letter responding to the grand jury report.
Royal made his comments at a meeting of the supervisors, which then voted 4-1 to reject the grand jury recommendation. The only no vote was cast by Supervisor Richard Anderson, whose district includes Truckee.
Anderson said Truckee's police have seen reduced investigation time and cut their risk of litigation since they began using body cameras. "This is one way to remove that distrust," he said. "I do support a transition to body cameras at some time."
Enough law enforcement agencies have been using body cameras long enough to suggest Truckee's experience is not unique. "Prior to 2014, there were probably only a dozen departments using cameras," said Michael White, a professor of criminology and criminal justice at Arizona State University. "Now we're talking nine or ten thousand agencies, just over half of the departments in the United States."
White, who is a consultant to the U.S. Justice Department's Body-Worn Camera and Implementation Program, said the technology changes behavior. He cited numerous randomized controlled studies that show a substantial or statistically significant reduction in use of force following the introduction of body cameras.
"Cameras really do change the dynamic," said Rick Smith, CEO of Axon Enterprise, which invented the Taser and is the leading supplier of body cameras to law enforcement agencies. "Cops are a little more careful. I've had cops tell me it's like an angel on their shoulder."
The research into citizen complaints is even more definitive: Cameras clearly reduce the number of complaints from the public, including suspects who exaggerate the amount of force police use to make an arrest, and the growing number of combative prisoners.
Los Angeles police are coming around to the idea that cameras can benefit them, according to Craig Lally, president of Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union that represents the city's rank and file. Los Angeles was the first major police force to introduce cameras in 2013.
"It's been a game changer," Lally said. "We get a lot of false complaints against police officers for various reasons. Some of them are excessive force. Some of them are what we call mouth beefs — that the officer swore at a person."
Cameras have also reduced instances of "testi-lying" — officers lying under oath. "(Cameras have) given us a fuller picture of the police interactions at the time and the witness interactions at the time," said Brendon Wood, the top public defender in Alameda County. "In the past, police have shaded evidence to comport with the narrative they want to portray. They can't do it when it's on video."
The evidence is clear: While they aren't a cure-all, body cameras increase police accountability and transparency, and engender more public trust in our law enforcement agencies. In an era when every cell phone-carrying citizen can be his own documentary producer, cameras give law enforcement the opportunity to better present their side of any controversy.
Isn't time for the Sheriff's Office to get with the program?
September 23, 2018
The Union
By George Boardman

Sunday, September 23, 2018

[Napa County] Flooding solutions sought for south Napa's Milton Road community

Blog note: this article references a 2015-16 grand jury report.
New flood protection strategies could shield 135 homes along Milton Road from levee-punishing storm surges and predicted sea level rise, but they come with a price.
Focusing on planning and preparation could cost $3.5 million. Building flood walls could cost $38 million to $79 million, according to a report done for the Napa River Reclamation District and Napa County Flood Control and Water Conservation District.
Residents of the small Edgerly Island and Ingersoll Tract community along the Napa River must weigh embarking on a multiyear journey of seeking grants and likely contributing from their own pockets.
“This is only a study,” Milton Road resident Devra Dallman said.
“It’s only a beginning. No decisions have been made.”
Her husband Mark Dallman observed that flood control projects in the city of Napa took several decades to achieve.
Richard Thomasser of the Flood Control District said the small community faces flood threats about every 10 years. The problem comes during windy storm surges when the tide is high.
Predicted sea level rise is a longer-range issue. Thomasser said a rise of three feet by the end of the century would change flooding threats along Milton Road from a 10-year inconvenience to a daily struggle.
Resident Jay Gardner said some people might wonder why anyone wants to live in a place that seems to be so susceptible to flooding. But Edgerly Island hasn’t flooded since 1983, he said. The Ingersoll Tract has had some flooding since then.
“It’s actually a great place to live. And we all love it,” he said.
The Flood Control District Board of Directors on Tuesday accepted the study done by ESA consultants. The Napa River Reclamation District, which serves the Milton Road community, is to consider accepting the study on Oct. 4.
In addition, the Napa River Reclamation District is holding a community meeting on the study at 9 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 22 at the Edgerly Island Volunteer Fire Station, 1598 Milton Rd.
Milton Road runs through the remote south county, with the Napa River to the east and wetlands to the west. Homes on Edgerly Island and the Ingersoll Tract stretch along the road for about one and a half miles, forming a linear community.
A levee stands in backyards between homes and docks in the Napa River. Homeowners own the levee section on their land, leading to a patchwork maintenance approach that concerned the 2015-16 grand jury.
This levee is a testament to individuality rather than uniformity. One section might be topped by a gazebo, another by ivy, another by bare dirt. Only a single section has to fail to cause a flood.
“The homes on Milton Road are no longer the fishing shacks of yesteryear,” Devra Dallman said. “There are Milton Road homes valued at over a million dollars each and there are properties valued at over $2 million. But we are only as strong as the weakest link.”
More might be at stake than keeping a remote community high-and-dry. The grand jury was concerned that Napa County taxpayers could end up paying for damages if a catastrophic flood took place.
Thomasser said improving the levee to engineering standards is infeasible, given it would have to be several feet wider and would extend into the river. That led to the search for other solutions.
ESA suggested three possibilities to avoid a repeat of floods in such years as 1983, plus close calls during other big rain years.
The $79.3 million option creates a steel sheet flood wall along the Napa River at an initial height of 12.5 feet, with the potential to raise it to 15.5 feet to adapt to sea level rise. Flood walls would also be built along levees to the west that protect state-owned wetlands and a Flood Control District dredge disposal area.
The $38.3 million option is similar, but would create a 12.5-foot-high vinyl sheet pile flood wall that could not easily be raised to adapt to sea level rise. The levees to the west would be strengthened.
Both of these recommendations would hinge on the Napa River Reclamation District securing right-of-way easements from the homeowners.
Finally, the $3.5 million option focuses not on flood walls, but community preparedness and planning. Homeowners could elevate their homes. A part-time levee coordinator would help homeowners with levee maintenance. Sewer and water systems would be protected from floods.
What role the Flood Control District might play in helping the Milton Road community with the flood improvement steps remains to be seen. The district and Napa River Reclamation District split the $150,000 cost for the ESA study.
Napa County Board of Supervisors Chairman Brad Wagenknecht said the partnership can continue, but the Napa River Reclamation District will have to pay for part of the projects.
“If the community is working to try to take care of this, we will be there as a partner,” Wagenknecht said. “If the community says, ‘Thanks for that report’ and walks away, that’s not a partnership.”
September 22, 2018
Napa Valley Register
By Barry Eberling

[Santa Clara County] Palo Alto resists Grand Jury recommendations on housing

City Council agrees to explore RHNA sub-regions but takes issue with most Grand Jury recommendations on producing more housing

Despite general recognition of the housing crisis, Palo Alto's elected officials took a skeptical stance last week toward a new Santa Clara County Grand Jury Report that criticized jurisdictions throughout the county for failing to adopt policies that encourage affordable housing.
The council last week signed off on a letter penned by interim Planning Director Jonathan Lait that takes issue with many of the report's findings and recommendations. These include the Grand Jury's findings that the county's employers have created a vibrant economy that resulted in an "inflated housing market"; that mass-transit stations create opportunities for below-market-rate housing; and that cities aren't using density-bonus programs aggressively enough in encouraging affordable housing near transit hubs.
In a response letter that several housing advocates had described as "anemic," Palo Alto asserts that transit zones alone may not be a sufficient catalyst to create opportunities for below-market-rate housing, which requires an alignment of "zoning, property values, construction costs and other land use policies."
The response comes at a time when the City Council is trying — and failing — to meet its goal of producing 300 housing units annually. So far, it has only approved one major multi-family development this year, with a total of 57 units geared toward employees. It is also facing the prospect of losing 75 residential units as part of a plan to convert President Hotel into a hotel.
Despite the acknowledged housing shortage, the city disputed in its response the Grand Jury's finding that developers are "less willing to consider below-market-rate developments in cities with the county's highest real estate values because these developments cannot meet their target return on investment." Palo Alto has no evidence to support this finding, the city states in its response.
"While return on investment is a key factor for any developer, there may be other considerations that make housing development less attractive," the response states, noting that office development generates a higher return rate and that "housing policy decisions" may have as much influence as costs on a developer's decision to locate housing in a particular jurisdiction.
The Grand Jury did make one suggestion that the city immediately embraced: the idea that cities should form a "sub-region" to tackle the housing crisis and meet their collective obligations under the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA). During its Sept. 10 discussion of the Grand Jury report, several council members said they would like to explore working with other cities on accomplishing housing goals.
Councilman Tom DuBois said the "sub-region" approach seems to work well in San Mateo County, which already has a system in place. Councilman Greg Scharff, who has represented the city on the Association of Bay Area Governments board, also praised this approach, noting that it will give the cities and the county a forum for exchanging ideas and collaborating.
In its official response, however, the city is less than gung-ho about the types of collaborations proposed by the Grand Jury. One of the report's recommendations calls for the formation of a RHNA sub-region, including "one or more low-cost cities with one or more high-cost cities" by the end of 2021. In such a sub-region, the Grand Jury report stated, cities would "strike their own alliances depending on mutual needs." It would, for example, allow high-cost cities that build less affordable housing to offer funding for transportation and infrastructure to nearby low-cost cities, who would build more such housing.
Palo Alto's response says this recommendation will not be implemented because it's "not reasonable." Palo Alto, the response states, "cannot accept a recommendation on another jurisdiction's behalf." In addition, Palo Alto's response states, below-market-rate housing "should not be directed to low-cost cities as implied with this recommendation."
"Housing affordability are acute problems in high-cost cities and the city supports equitable distribution throughout the region," the response states.
The council voted 8-1 on Sept. 10 to approve the response. Councilman Adrian Fine, the sole dissenter, agreed with several members of the public, who argued that the response is too feeble and disagreeable. Mark Mollineaux, an advocate for more housing, said he found the council's response to the "sub-region" question laughable, given the city's recent history of now building adequate housing. The city, he said, is basically saying: We don't think it's fair that we only build in low-cost areas. Everyone should do their share.
"That's a fantastic point," Mollineaux said. "The problem is: Palo Alto isn't. You've failed in doing your share. You're saying we shouldn't compensate them because we should do our part but you're not doing your part."
Kelsey Banes, a psychologist at Palo Alto VA, said she is "very disappointed" in her city's response, which reads like the city is really shirking its responsibility for creating and responding to the housing crisis. She also argued that NIMBYism is real that is a "natural human response to new things coming in and change happening."
"I'd suggest that instead of reacting by looking for ways to disagree with this report, staff and the council look for ways to take responsibility for mistakes that had been made that led to this crisis and look for ways we can build more affordable housing and more housing in general to provide for the people who live and work here," Banes said.
Fine agreed and said the response is "anemic" and amounts to "wallpapering over the report." He pointed to Grand Jury data showing Palo Alto far behind other cities in housing productions.
"It came across like we don't treat the problem seriously," Fine said.
But some of his colleagues took issue with the Grand Jury's tone, particularly when it talks about "NIMBY (not in my backyard) mindset" that hinders housing production and recommends that Santa Clara County lead a "unified communication campaign that aims to convert NIMBYs into YIMBYs." Councilwoman Karen Holman encouraged the Grand Jury to move away from using these terms.
"They are both used from my experience to describe extreme views and extreme perspectives, and I think they are absolutely detrimental to having a helpful conversation," Holman said.
September 21, 2018
Palo Alto Online
By Gennady Sheyner