Monday, December 31, 2018
Blog note: this article references a 2009 grand jury report on the subject.
This story is a part of The People’s Reporter, a feature where the public can submit questions, readers vote on which questions they want answered and VOSD investigates.
The question from Steven Baratte of Hillcrest: “Why must condominium complexes pay for their own garbage and recycling service when they pay local taxes just like single-family homes?”
And Liz Flynn of University Heights: “Could you remind me again why I don’t pay anything for city trash and recycling services, but my neighbors next-door do? Some old lawsuit?”
Back in 1919, 85 percent of San Diego voters approved the so-called People’s Ordinance which mandated that the city collect trash from homes – and allowed city leaders to levy fees to do it.
The latter part of the ordinance was never implemented, meaning the city must pick up trash at single-family homes without a special fee.
Voters have made some tweaks to the law since 1919. Perhaps the most significant one came three decades ago, when the ordinance was updated to bar free service for new apartments and condos.
Since 1986, the city has collected trash from single-family homes but not apartments, condos, private streets or gated communities. Residents of multi-family units and their landlords have to contract with private companies to handle their trash.
So San Diegans who live in single-family homes get free trash service and those who don’t must pay up.
In 2009, the San Diego County Grand Jury estimated about 304,000 households in the city benefit from the freebie. The Grand Jury urged city voters to change the ordinance and concluded the annual subsidy costs the city more than $50 million annually.
“It is a costly program that the city of San Diego can no longer afford,” according to the report.
Many other groups and advocates, including the San Diego County Taxpayers Association, have also advocated for policy changes over the years.
Yet 100-year-old law remains on the books – and seemingly remains a sacred cow.
Asked at a 2013 mayoral debate whether he’d consider changing the so-called People’s Ordinance, Mayor Kevin Faulconer had a straightforward response: No.
December 31, 2018
Voice of San Diego
By Lisa Halverstadt
Sunday, December 30, 2018
Blog note: this article references a 2009 report by the Butte County Grand Jury warning about local government preparation to deal with the wildfire danger. This is the latest of several media reports throughout the state that have referenced the grand jury report in relation to the Camp fire.
The fate of Paradise was cast long before a windstorm last month fueled the deadliest fire in California history.
The ridge settlement was doomed by its proximity to a crack in the mighty wall of the Sierra Nevada, a deep canyon that bellowed gale-force winds.
It was doomed by its maze of haphazard lanes and dead-end roads that paid no heed to escape.
It remained doomed because for all the preparations community leaders made, they practiced for tamer wildfires that frequently burned to the edge of town and stopped — not a wind-driven ember storm
In the aftermath of the Camp fire — 86 dead, more than 13,900 homes destroyed and Paradise decimated — local and state officials said the tragedy was unforeseen and unavoidable, an "unprecedented" monster of fire.
In truth, the destruction was utterly predictable, and the community's struggles to deal with the fire were the result of lessons forgotten and warnings ignored. The miracle of the tragedy, local officials now concede, is how many people escaped.
A Los Angeles Times investigation found that Paradise ignored repeated warnings of the risk its residents faced, crafted no plan to evacuate the area all at once, entrusted public alerts to a system prone to fire, and did not sound citywide orders to flee even as a hail of fire rained down.
Historical records show the Camp fire was typical of the catastrophic wind-driven fires responsible for California's greatest wildfire losses.
A state fire planning document warned in 2005 that Paradise risked an ember firestorm akin to the one that ripped through Berkeley and Oakland 14 years earlier, killing more than two dozen people and destroying more than 2,000 homes. But Paradise officials framed risk in historical terms: In 50 years, no wildfire had crossed the Feather River.
The roads out of Paradise gridlocked within an hour of the first evacuation order, and began moving again only by a herculean effort of firefighters, police, bureaucrats and politicians who rushed to jammed intersections to try to unsnarl the knot, the benefit of having practiced for small fires.
In another three hours, hundreds of residents were trapped deep within town, cut off by flames. The town communications system was dead, as were cell towers. Police radios were crippled.
People jumped from cars and fled on foot. Hundreds sought refuge in parking lots and commercial buildings never intended to be temporary shelters in a firestorm. The remains of scores of residents were found inside the homes they never left.
The disaster occurred despite the fact that Paradise was proactive about preparing for fire, not just with drills and plans, but advertising its warning system, promoting "pack and go" preparations by residents, and even writing fire precautions into public construction projects. City leaders believed no other California community, except perhaps fire-dogged San Diego, was better prepared.
National transportation planners say the town's destruction should set a new bar for emergency planners in wildfire areas, the way Hurricane Katrina reshaped evacuation planning on the Gulf Coast. But despite vows to create statewide evacuation standards after previous deadly wildfires, California has yet to take action and evacuation planning remains a local responsibility.
The question is more urgent than ever after two wildfire seasons with a staggering death toll: More than 40 killed by fires in wine country, more than 20 dead from the Montecito mudslides.
But experts fear the lessons will go unheeded.
"Memories are very short and people will soon forget how terrible Paradise was," said Michael Robinson, director of the Center for Innovative Transportation Solutions at Old Dominion University, which helps communities plan for evacuations. "Or they'll think, 'It was terrible for Paradise, but it won't happen to me.
An imperfect place
Paradise was built upon a system of volcanic ledges bisected by a fan of deep ravines emptying into the Sacramento Valley.
Developers started with what had been gold mine trails and then apple orchard roads to pave a street system that maximized buildable space the way blood vessels branch into capillaries. There are nearly 100 miles of private roads that dead-end on narrow overlooks and few connector streets.
For more than 38,000 people, access to the outside world came via four roads running south, down finger ridges and through forest canopy. After 2008, a forest road north was paved to provide escape for residents on the upper ridge above Paradise. On the day of the fire, the narrow winding passage jammed and was impassable.
Other historic mining towns in the Sierra Nevada foothills follow similar chaotic, organic layouts.
"The DNA of these towns is such that they're … set up for disaster," said Zeke Lunder, a Chico-based fire specialist and geographer whose company helps private landowners and public agencies conduct prescribed burns and prepare for inevitable wildfires.
The population boom for Paradise came in the 1960s and '70s. Nine out of 10 homes were built before 1990 and most were more than three decades old. Tax assessor records show that only 285 homes were built on the Paradise ridge since new fire codes went into effect in 2008. A Times analysis of assessor records and fire surveys showed those newer structures had a 13% survival rate in the Camp fire, compared with 3% for older homes.
Paradise officials repeatedly told The Times they never envisioned a firestorm reaching the town.
But the 2005 state fire management plan for the ridge, developed in consultation with some of those same Paradise planners, warned that canyon winds posed a "serious threat" to Paradise.
The "greatest risk" was an "east wind" fire, the document said, "the same type of fire that impacted the Oakland Berkeley Hills during the Oct. 20, 1991, firestorm" that killed 25 people.
The plan also warned of "a high potential for large damaging fires and loss of life and property" in the Concow Basin beside Paradise. "Heavy fuel loads, steep terrain, poor access and light flashy fuels create severe fire hazards. The increased population in this area creates a high potential for catastrophic life and property loss."
Subsequent fire plans created by Butte County and Paradise officials in conjunction with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection use much less direct language. Those plans warn only of "extreme" fire, a step below catastrophic. Canyon wind fires are not mentioned at all.
The town's vulnerability to fire was evident in 2008, first by the Humboldt fire that destroyed 87 homes west of Paradise, then a week later by a lightning storm that sparked dozens of fires to the east. Residents trying to flee were caught in massive traffic jams, flames burning on both sides of the road as they sat trapped in their cars. One person died of a heart attack.
The 2008 fires primed the land around Paradise to burn again, Lunder said, leaving both dead timber and open spaces for thick grass. It was as if the gun had been cocked.
A year later, the Butte County grand jury warned that the town faced disastrous consequences if it did not address the capacity limits of its roads. But Butte County supervisors and planners rejected the panel's call for a halt to growth until the evacuation problem was met.
The largest paper in Chico ran an editorial concluding that sufficient evacuation roads could not be built, and that those who chose to live in Paradise needed to be aware of the risk they took and be prepared to leave early.
Five of the grand jurors, interviewed by The Times, said the improvements that were made — paving of the forest road and straightening of another route — were inadequate. They felt they had been ignored.
Among them was Walt Sipher, a Chico resident whose sister followed their parents to Paradise and remained on the ridge after they died. Sipher called his sister the morning of the Camp fire to warn her to leave. She told him she didn't need to — it would be contained.
Judith Sipher was typical of those who perished that day: elderly, infirm with congestive heart failure and ill in bed with the flu. She had a car but seldom drove.
Walt tried driving into Paradise to fetch her, but hit blocked traffic and could not get in. He was summoned weeks later to the old Sears store in Chico to submit a saliva sample for the coroner, who was using DNA to identify the human remains found in his sister's apartment.
"There are a lot of folks on that ridge, and so few escape routes," Sipher said. "The possibility was always on everybody's mind. … You hope it's not going to be that bad, but it was."
Narrowing the main road out
The same month the grand jury released its June 2009 report, Paradise was deep into plans to narrow its main evacuation route, Skyway.
Eight pedestrians had been injured by passing cars in the narrow business district, and heavy traffic gave the strip an "expressway" feel. The engineering firm that designed the project said it would reduce the number of vehicles that could pass through and advised against further "improvements," such as a concrete median, citing the need to remember that the road was a fire evacuation route. More than half the ridge population lived above the strip.
Town recordings show a lone voice of concern at the 2014 council meeting giving final approval to the road narrowing.
"The main thing is fire danger," said Mildred Eselin, 88. "If the council is searching for a way to diminish the population of Paradise, this would be the way to do it."
City Fire Chief David Hawks pointed to Paradise's plan to evacuate neighborhood by neighborhood rather than all at once.
"When everybody tries to evacuate at one time, that's when the bottleneck creates," Hawks said.
Not preparing for the worst
Staggered evacuations have been at the heart of Paradise evacuation plans since 1998. An updated plan approved in March 2015 codified decisions after the 2008 fires to convert Skyway into a one-way route during emergencies, doubling its capacity for evacuations. The town practiced its plan during a 2016 drill, part of regular mock disasters, and warned residents ahead of time so they could detour if need be.
Jim Broshears, the city's emergency management director during the fire and its former longtime fire chief, estimated Paradise's roads could support the combined evacuation of four zones in two hours — less than a fourth of the population. But city officials told The Times they had no idea how long it would take to empty the entire town. They said they never envisioned a need.
"We trained on what was most probable," said town engineer Marc Mattox.
Planning for a firestorm would have been "akin to, 'Is the L.A. Basin in its entirety planned for an earthquake that may devastate the L.A. Basin?'" Hawks said. "I don't think that's realistic.
"Obviously, it's the largest or most devastating fire in California's history," he said. "It didn't get that [way] because it was a normal event."
Traffic simulation software housed at Old Dominion University and required by the Federal Emergency Management Agency for emergency plans around nuclear power plants was used by The Times to analyze Paradise's roads. It showed the entire town would need eight hours for residents to leave under blue sky conditions, and more than five hours if Skyway were immediately converted to one-way traffic out.
Those estimates are without a rain of embers, burning obstacles, exploding propane tanks and heat blasts that melted tires. They do not account for roads that were blocked by falling power poles and abandoned cars the day of the fire or the two hours that it took police to establish one-way traffic on Skyway.
Paradise did not make use of such software. Told of The Times' findings, Mattox said he would have liked to have had that information before Nov. 8. "Every public works planner, every emergency planner across the country should be aware about what those types of models would say for their community," he said.
Broshears, the architect of most of the town's emergency plan, and others acknowledge their plans were built around the sort of slower-moving wildfire Paradise had seen in the past.
"Let's all just be honest," Broshears said. "We didn't have a plan that addressed a fire that would be everywhere. ...We had an evacuation plan built for a wildland fire. We had a hydrogen bomb. ... We were so overmatched."
Failing to prepare for the larger disaster is hardly unique to Paradise, said former FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate.
Flaws in such planning are so common that Fugate describes them as the "deadly sins" of emergency management: Practicing drills that guarantee success; assuming that plans can be scaled up when a massive disaster strikes; relying on government systems to work under pressure; failing to plan how to protect vulnerable populations, such as the elderly; and mistrusting the public, which often leads to not warning the public early enough.
"We plan for what we're capable of, and we hope it isn't any worse," he said.
Walt Scherer, who lost an earlier house to fire in the foothills of Loomis, where he was a city official, moved to Paradise in April and knew there was high fire risk. Again he lost his house.
He said he was stunned when he later heard Paradise's mayor answer a public question about the snarled fire evacuation by stating that enough roads could never be built to evacuate the whole town at once.
"Anybody in their right mind would know that the whole town was a large oak forest, and everybody was at risk," Scherer said. It was a "colossal failure," he added, not to warn residents that the entire community couldn't be evacuated at once. "You've got to recognize the risk."
Firebrands and embers
The Feather River Canyon, where the Camp fire began, was well-known for high winds. The so-called Jarbo Gap winds rocket down the canyon from the northeast every fall, caused by high-pressure air parked over the Great Basin seeking a path through the Sierra Nevada to fill the low-pressure voids on the California coast.
Meteorological records show 36 days since 2003 with gusts of 100 mph or more, and as high as 200 mph. Paradise sat in the path.
The morning the Camp fire ignited, the drying winds had been blowing for a week. According to weather equipment atop the fire station at Jarbo Gap, the probability that a single spark would ignite a fire big enough that fire crews would be needed to put it out was 76%. The station recorded gusts of up to 52 mph hours before the fire.
Rather than spreading as a flame front working its way through the forest, the Camp fire became wind-borne, lofting firebrands and embers that landed like rain. They fell on receptive fuels — trees and brush stressed by several years of drought, thick grass grown during heavy spring rains and now dry. The fuels also contained stands of gray pine, notorious for spouting embers.
The fire grew at a rapid clip — about 4,600 acres an hour, according to a Times analysis of fire maps and satellite imagery. Town and state fire officials called the speed of the fire unprecedented.
But the analysis shows other devastating California fires moved as fast, or faster.
In San Diego, the Cedar fire in 2003 kindled for hours until a Santa Ana wind rolled in at midnight. By 3 a.m., the wind-driven fire had jumped a river and a reservoir and ran nearly 17 miles. In the three-hour run, the fire spread an average of more than 19,600 acres an hour. Fifteen people were killed and more than 2,200 homes destroyed.
The Tubbs fire in 2017 matched the Camp in speed, roaring 12 miles in four hours into Santa Rosa, killing 22 people and eventually destroying more than 5,000 homes.
As the Camp fire blew into Paradise, the same high-pressure, low-pressure gradient set up a Santa Ana wind event that pushed the Woolsey fire into Malibu. Its pace in the first three hours was 21,290 acres an hour.
After the Camp fire was reported at 6:31 a.m., the wind carried embers to nearby Concow, where a mandatory evacuation order was demoted to "warning" status at 7:17 a.m.
Fifteen minutes later, embers were setting houses in Concow on fire and the evacuation order became mandatory. In short order firefighters were trapped with residents who had no time to flee. They deployed their fire shelters. Some people jumped into a lake.
The bodies of at least six people were found outside or inside their cars.
In Paradise, the first order to evacuate part of the city came at 7:57 a.m., and the first report of fire at the edge of town two minutes later. Immediately there were a dozen spot fires in town.
The ember storm hailed on most of the town at once. Within an hour, spot fires were spread halfway across Paradise, congealing into substantial fires in backyards and on houses. They primed Paradise for the big burn hours before the arrival of the main wildfire, creating an urban firestorm that moved horizontally house to house and left trees overhead untouched.
As planned, evacuation orders began zone by zone. Calls, texts and emails were sent via CodeRed, a private service that contracted for the city and county.
But interviews and records released by the city and county show the emergency warning system failed on many levels.
Only a fraction of Paradise residents were signed up for the service — city officials at first estimated there was no better than 30% enrollment, then later told The Times they did not have access to the subscription list.
Many of the emergency alerts failed to go through — CodeRed logs showed initial call failure rates of 40%, climbing to 60% as the fire progressed. Many subscribers told The Times they never received calls.
A large portion of Paradise received no evacuation order before the fire.
Documents released under the state's Public Records Act show that three of Paradise's 14 zones received only warnings — not mandatory orders to leave — the morning of the fire, and no notifications at all were sent to three others. The loss of fiber optic lines and cell towers shut down the warnings entirely — Paradise police abandoned their dispatch center without ever sending a citywide order for other residents to flee.
Most residents said they relied on word of mouth, emergency vehicles driving down their streets with loudspeakers, or the sight of flames.
‘Get people moving now!’
It took only an hour for Paradise to jam so thoroughly that a sheriff's sergeant jumped on the radio, his voice urgent.
"Flames!" he shouted. "Get people moving now!"
The order to open all of Skyway to one-way traffic finally came, but what took 45 minutes during a mock drill required an hour under fire conditions. The road wasn't fully converted to one-way traffic until shortly after 10 a.m. By then, dispatch recordings indicate that Skyway was choked down to Chico, and entire stretches began to be lost to fire.
Broshears said he was surprised by how quickly intersections became a choke point. Traffic backed up on secondary roads so solidly that motorists were trapped on dead-end streets. On one, Edgewood Lane, the bodies of five people were recovered in or just outside their cars. Firefighters were summoned to rescue burn victims at the end of another, after they attempted to flee down a horse trail.
Motorists for the most part did not panic, and stayed in their slowly moving cars as the wind-driven fire shifted around them, requiring detours and double-backs and turning the 16-mile exit into a five-hour escape. By 3 p.m., seven hours into the exodus, Paradise Mayor Jody Jones said, the evacuation was complete.
But at the north end of town, firefighters radioed reports of civilians leaving their cars and running on foot, leaving behind a blockade of abandoned vehicles. Hundreds of residents had to ride out the fire until heavy equipment arrived to bulldoze a path for buses to carry them out.
Lessons from Paradise
In the aftermath, local emergency leaders defended their preparations. The scale of the disaster, they said, would have been much worse had Paradise not repeatedly conducted drills.
"We set the goal on traffic control," said Hawks, the city's fire chief. "We set the bar on evacuations."
Broshears said he wants an intensive study "to account for every decision that was made." He now favors a siren system that could warn everyone at once, and better plans to do what Paradise did by default — shelter people in place when escape is not possible.
Mattox, the town engineer, said he wanted to "dispel the narrative" that people died while trapped on Skyway in traffic. But he said Paradise should grade new emergency routes out of town.
During the early hours of the fire, Mattox stood in the smoke directing traffic on Skyway and watched his own family pass by. He lost his home. He now struggles with the question of whether Paradise failed to heed warnings of a wind-driven fire.
"I don't want to say 'No, we weren't prepared' because we worked so hard," he said. "And what would have been different? I just don't know.
December 30, 2018
Los Angeles Times
By Paige St. John, Joseph Serna, and Rong-Gong Lin
Blog note: this opinion piece references a grand jury report on the wildfire danger.
New Year’s Day marks the time for Marin’s Board of Supervisors, its 11 city councils and the county’s plethora of special purpose districts to set their top priorities for 2019.
It’s a full list that necessarily includes wildland fire prevention, emergency evacuation, mitigating traffic congestion, public employee pension reform, chronic homelessness, raising our shoreline infrastructure to withstand climate change-induced rising seas, and dealing with regional agencies determined to force urbanization on the Bay Area’s small- and medium-sized towns.
Given the images fixed in our minds of the utter destruction of the Butte County town of Paradise and the devastation suffered by our neighbors in Sonoma, Mendocino and Napa counties, wildland fire prevention needs to be 2019’s job one for Marin’s elected officials. Each needs to get more involved and designate wildland fire prevention their personal priority by making 2019 Marin’s “Year of Fire Safety.”
The fatefully titled Marin County Civil Grand Jury report on wildfire danger — “When, Not If” — says it all. Public safety is the fundamental purpose of local government. It’s criminal negligence for public officials to pass the buck. Performing the proper level of fire prevention isn’t cheap but it’s far less expensive that what it’ll cost the people of Paradise to rebuild their community.
The first step should be dramatic. Marin’s Board of Supervisors and Marin’s 11 municipalities need to make defensible space requirements around homes mandatory. State law already gives them authority to act. Now they should bite the bullet and levy fines against noncomplying owners by hiring contractors to trim trees and clear flammable brush, and then if they won’t or can’t afford to pay, lien the affected property if necessary.
Taking this decisive action would be acknowledgement by the county and each city that they “get it” — that the greatest threat to life and property in Marin is wildland fire.
Defensible spaces are the first line of defense. Some of us stick our heads in the sand by saying our wildlands and urban interface neighborhoods are so overgrown that any action is hopeless. Sure, when a firestorm on a windy day gets out of control, all residents can do is immediately evacuate. The reality is that most big fires start small. The key is not letting them become big. Mandating defensible spaces around homes is the foundation for neighborhoods to become as fire safe as possible.
If our elected officials don’t get in gear and make fire safety and emergency evacuation their top priorities, there’s an opportunity to replace them in a year. Three incumbent county supervisors are up for re-election in March 2020 including Southern Marin’s Kate Sears, West Marin’s Dennis Rodoni and the Ross Valley/West San Rafael area’s Katie Rice.
Of the three, only Rice has gotten herself deeply involved in fire-safe issues.
So far, Sears, who represents the Mill Valley, Sausalito, Tam Valley, Strawberry, Belvedere and Tiburon-based 3rd District, has failed to take any leadership role on fire safety even within her vulnerable district. She has nine months before filing for her seat opens to do something of significance to make her district safer. The ideal route for Sears to make herself fire safety-relevant is to introduce an ordinance making a defensible spaces requirement mandatory countywide.
Sears has two options. She can step up to the plate and finally get interested in a topic which is a life-or-death concern for 3rd District residents. If she pursues other priorities, her next election presents a golden opportunity for qualified candidates to challenge the two-term incumbent by making fire safety their No. 1 campaign issue.
Ditto for council members, city managers and water district directors. If they make their best efforts, it’ll be an action they and their constituents will never regret.
December 29, 2018
Marin Independent Journal
By Dick Spotswood
Saturday, December 29, 2018
Blog note: this article references a grand jury report on the homelessness issue.
In 2018, Orange County reckoned with its growing — and increasingly complicated — homeless population.
The year began on a note of confrontation. It’s ending with cooperation in developing and planning strategies to provide housing and other services to homeless people.
From legal action to community engagement, it’s been a delicate balance between getting people off the streets and dealing with public safety concerns.
Lawsuits and settlements
Dating back to the 1990s, there have been lawsuits won and lost over panhandling, homeless encampments and seizure of property.
But no legal action has resulted in the broad impact and heightened expectations as the lawsuit filed Jan. 29 by Elder Law & Disability Rights Center of Santa Ana over plans to shut down tent encampments along the Santa Ana River Trail.
The county and three cities — Anaheim, Costa Mesa and Orange — were named as the defendants.
But in reality, the action — or lack of action — by the county and all 34 of its cities had been challenged. A grand jury report released in May echoed the criticisms.
It took the Catholic Worker lawsuit, along with a tandem suit brought by Legal Aid Society of Orange County, to set a showdown in motion. U.S. District Judge David O. Carter pushed the parties to work together toward a settlement with potentially lasting impact.
From an agreement that initially saw about 700 people offered temporary motel stays by the end of February, there followed numerous court dates and conferences to work out disagreements over issues such as whether the care being offered, especially to people with mental health issues, was appropriate.
Because Santa Ana voluntarily attached itself to the lawsuit, an entrenched homeless encampment at the Civic Center also was cleared in April under Carter’s observation. About 100 people were placed in some type of shelter; another 135 reportedly “declined services.”
Then, in the last few months of the year, came settlements and proposals from other cities to add shelter beds and expand services.
Overshadowed by the riverbed lawsuit: Laguna Beach and the American Civil Liberties Union reached a settlement in a three-year-old class action over accommodations for disabled homeless people at the city’s night shelter. The settlement was approved in November.
All about the money
In March, the Orange County Board of Supervisors approved spending a combined $90 million on permanent housing with support services, perhaps the county’s single largest appropriation to address homelessness.
But it was as much an act of contrition as volition. The money comes from long unspent Mental Health Services Act funds.
A state audit had shown that Orange County — and just about all of California’s counties — had been stockpiling money from Prop. 63, approved by voters in 2004, rather than using it on housing and services for mentally ill people.
County supervisors lay the blame on county staff for misleading them about resources, but news reports in prior years had pointed to at least $186 million cached.
After Judge Carter chastised county officials for not spending available funds, the board of supervisors stepped up in dedicating more spending on homelessness.
Other major money commitments and awards in 2018:
- The county agreed to contribute up to $10 million toward purchasing a site for a long-term 600-bed shelter in Santa Ana to replace the Courtyard emergency shelter that typically operates at its full capacity of 400 beds. Santa Ana committed $3.5 million.
- The county spent $7.5 million for a building on Anita Drive in Orange, part of a $25 million project to create an emergency mental-health and drug-abuse treatment center.
- Federal agencies awarded $2.7 million in housing assistance vouchers to assist homeless military veterans.
- The state granted the Continuum of Care system involving the county, Anaheim and Santa Ana about $15.6 million in Homeless Emergency Aid Program funds.
Passage of the bi-partisan Assembly Bill 448 paved the way for development of the Orange County Housing Finance Trust.
The county will be better positioned in 2019 to leverage hundreds of millions of dollars in government funds to help house indigent people.
The price tag for an estimated 2,700 permanent supportive housing units the county needs: $900 million.
Shelters, housing and outreach
Thousands of Irvine residents who signed petitions and protested at a board of supervisors meeting, along with push back from Huntington Beach and Laguna Niguel, resulted in the county rescinding a vote to create homeless shelters in those cities for up to 400 people.
Still, the year is ending with the county well on its way to adding close to 1,000 shelter beds in the next few months.
- Completion of the Bridges at Kraemer Place transitional shelter in Anaheim this summer brought that facility to its capacity of 200 beds.
- A county contract with WISEPlace women’s shelter in Santa Ana added 60 beds for homeless women who are victims of domestic violence.
- In November, Santa Ana opened The Link emergency shelter with 200 beds in a remarkable 28 days from start to finish.
- Anaheim began operating an interim 200-bed shelter near Angel Stadium in mid-December. It is expected to close in early 2019 with the addition of 325 beds at two other shelters, one across from Bridges at Kraemer and the other by the Salvation Army’s Lewis Street operation.
Under pressure from parents and homeowners, Tustin scrapped plans to open a 50-bed shelter next to an elementary school but chose a former U.S. Army Reserve site as the new location. The promised beds are part of Tustin’s homeless lawsuit settlement.
Other court settlements brought plans for another 50 shelter beds in Costa Mesa, up to 100 in Placentia, and another 200 or so in Buena Park.
The Salvation Army unveiled plans for a $60 million “Center of Hope” in Anaheim. The South Lewis Street campus is expected to open in about two years and offer comprehensive services that include housing, mental health and substance abuse counseling, and job placement.
Outreach and engagement
Orange County United Way’s “United to End Homelessness” campaign aimed to raise awareness and change perceptions about homelessness, with an emphasis on housing chronically homeless people. The community education sessions will continue into 2019.
December 28, 2018
The Orange County Register
By Theresa Walker
Friday, December 28, 2018
Civil Grand Jury report focuses on disaster
Blog note: this piece was part of a larger year-in-review article.
As the year came to a close, the annual grand jury report focused on the firestorms and preparing for the next major disaster.
The multi-part report provides a postmortem on the communication systems, command center structures and levels of emergency preparedness.
The 2017-18 jury made seven specific findings and four written recommendations that require by law an official response later by the county board of supervisors and county administrator.
The recommendations include realigning the county’s Emergency Operations Center with a 24/7 entity such as the Sheriff’s Office and not the county administrator’s office. The jury also calls for updating all county and local city emergency response plans to incorporate “lessons learned from this emergency.”
In the section about animal evacuations and sheltering, the jury found “lacking” a comprehensive animal emergency response plan that identified a lead agency.
Among another seven recommendations to the board of supervisors, the jury urged the supervisors to reconsider or reassign Animal Services to another department and not the Department of Health Services where it currently is placed.
December 26, 2018
The Windsor Times
Complied by Heather Bailey
Editorial was right in saying plan ‘fails to examine how much responsibility employers … have to participate.’
Blog note: this letter-to-the-editor references a grand jury report on the housing crisis.
The Mercury News hit the nail on the head with your editorial “Good and bad in Bay Area plan for housing crisis” (Dec. 19), analyzing the regional CASA Compact for affordable (and overall) housing.
As you stated, the plan “fails to examine how much responsibility employers … have to participate in solving the crisis.” Employers helping to pay for affordable housing, perhaps with a head tax, is a profoundly tough proposition. It wouldn’t make a region popular with many employers.
San Jose has an imbalance of housing to jobs and aims to attract and retain employers. Cities such as Mountain View point to measures in which employers, directly and indirectly, are paying. Still, Silicon Valley might differ from other regions. Some companies are helping, but we’re past a piecemeal approach.
That employers contribute is discussed in the Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury report “Affordable Housing Crisis: Density is Our Destiny,” at scscourt.org.
December 26, 2018
The Mercury News
Letter by Mike Krey, Campbell
Saturday, December 22, 2018
Since its formation five years ago, the San Joaquin County Chapter of the California Civil Grand Jury Association has provided over 120 presentations to local organizations, clubs and associations. These informative sessions, accompanied by a slideshow, handouts and a question-and-answer period, have benefited well over 1,600 county citizens who had an interest in the civil grand jury system.
If you are a member of a community-minded organization interested in learning how the civil grand jury operates, please consider contacting our Outreach Committee to arrange a presentation at one of your meetings.
Our presenters (all former civil grand jurors) will explain the qualifications to serve, the typical weekly obligations during the one-year period of service, how to submit a complaint, the differences between a criminal and civil grand jury, and how the civil grand jury benefits the county.
Each session includes specific examples of how the civil grand jury has made a difference in our communities.
The Superior Court is accepting applications from qualified and motivated citizens to serve on the 2019-20 civil grand jury; a random drawing from applications received will be conducted in June to impanel the new jury, which begins its year of service on July 1. For additional information, go online: www.sjcourts.org/grandjury.
To arrange for a member of the CGJA’s Speaker’s Bureau to visit your organization, please contact outreach chairperson John Britto at 351-1366 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
As Mark Twain once said, “The trouble with the world is not that people know too little; it’s that they know so many things that just aren’t so.” Serving on the civil grand jury is one step closer to learning truth — and making a difference.
December 21, 2018
From John Britto, Stockton
JOHANNESBURG – Rand Communities Water District met for a special board meeting Wednesday at the district office, finally diving deeper into the Grand Jury report.
All board members seemed to be in good spirits, the three new members becoming more comfortable in their roles on the board. At the last meeting, the boardroom was packed with nearly 30 people in it and hardly enough seats for everyone attending, while this meeting had only eight people present.
RCWD ran into its first obstacle while discussing the first recommendation that the Grand Jury made: “The Kern County Auditor should perform a detailed audit into questionable accounting practices within the RCWD.” Secretary Carrie Hoerauf found that the audit could take up to six months to complete, automatically making it impossible for the RCWD to meet the requirement of completing all recommendations within 120 days.
The board is hoping that by having Hoerauf start the audit process early on and working with the auditor to help it find the documents it needs that the grand jury will allow the board to have an extension to finish the audit so RCWD can be compliant.
Many documents from 2016-2018 had been removed, records were found to be sparse and improperly filed, and there was a lack of detailed record keeping for tracking the production and sale of water, according to the grand jury report.
“The grand jury report is not to be taken lightly. We are being accused of mishandling funds, and what we find is what we find, good or bad,” Vice President Ernest Napolis said.
The second item in the recommendations is that RCWD should develop a cohesive working relationship within 60 days of the grand jury report being released. It has been requested that Secretary Hoerauf and Office Manager Debbie Jones be allowed to request access to ACWA’s website, so they can access the workshop and team building portion and set up a Team Building Training Session for some time in January.
Phase 2 of the Arsenic Mitigation Project, which will require a Project Manager, was also discussed as a part of the grand jury report. The main focus was appointing someone from the board to reassure that RCWD does not lose the $3.2 million grant, while it searches for a Project Manager. President Cliff Kennedy was appointed by the board and will be contacting the California Rural Water Association as soon as possible to reassure it does not lose the grant money.
Updated orientation packets were also among the recommendations, which the RCWD has already completed. Orientation packets were handed out during the board meeting to all members. The index of items includes: Form 700, Ethics Training, Special District information, a copy of the complete water code with information on how to access it online, a complete copy of the Brown Act, and Robert’s Rules of Order (a five-page cheat sheet on basic rules).
Random drug testing is going to be implemented to be in compliance with the report, as well as updated job descriptions including salary ranges. This will be the job of the future General Manager. The ad for the new General Manager has been drafted and will be posted soon; however, until a General Manager is hired it has been decided that Napolis will be the primary point of contact for employees who have questions or concerns and Kennedy will serve as a ‘backup’ if necessary.
Company vehicles are already being used instead of personal vehicles, and on the rare occasion that an employee has to use a personal vehicle, a proper receipt and reimbursement system has already been implemented. Employees are also going to start keeping a detailed log for company vehicles for accountability.
This log will also be used to determine whether getting gas in Ridgecrest is the most viable option or employees should be getting it locally in Johannesburg. The gas in Johannesburg is more expensive than Ridgecrest and may be a conflict of interest because Director Ghulam Din has personal financial interest in the gas station. Din recused himself for any voting regarding this matter.
A discussion was held regarding metering at the well and Boosters 1, 2 and 3, and water to individual tanks. Napolis will ride along with Garrison Miles Clair and take photographs to see what is being metered so the board can start the process of maintaining records for all metered water produced and sold.
Handshake deals have already been terminated, including the most notable Northwind deal. Northwind pays one cent per gallon at Well 1 and two cents per gallon at the hydrant. The water is unusable for personal use because of the high arsenic levels that are in the water. Will Liebscher was upset that the contract was not brought to the previous board before being signed by the interim General Manager. The bylaws stipulate contracts to be signed by the Board President and Secretary, though this was a signed agreement and is still in good standing. Liebscher knew about the handshake deal prior to this board meeting.
The board also approved the purchase of a website in order to be transparent and should be set up by the next board meeting. The website should include board minutes and agendas, organizational charts with salaries, and yearly P&L summaries, according to the grand jury report. Another change the office is making, not at the request of the grand jury, will be switching phone/internet contracts in order to save $40 a month, or $480 a year.
RCWD agreed to purchase a backup booster, which will cost it $5,000. It was noted that this was a necessary purchase because if the current booster that it has goes out, it will be without water for an extended period of time.
RCWD has agreed to meet twice a month for the next three months in order to continue making progress towards being in compliance with the grand jury report.
“We gotta do what we gotta do to get this done,” Director Tom Williams said.
The next board meeting will be Jan. 9, 2019, at the Rand Communities Water District Office at 7 p.m.
December 21, 2018
Ridgecrest Daily Independent
By Lauren Jennings
Blog note: this article is the latest that references a grand jury report about the TCEDA. A lot is going on.
The Tuolumne County Economic Development Authority lives to see another day, or at least for two more months after the start of the new year.
At a special meeting Thursday afternoon, the Sonora City Council voted 5-0 to accept the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors offer for an additional 60 days from the current Dec. 31 deadline to decide whether it will remain a partner in the TCEDA.
“A 60-day extension doesn’t mean we’re still committed for another year to the EDA,” said Mayor Jim Garaventa, who called the special meeting a day earlier. “I think drawing more lines in the sand causes more conflict than resolution.”
The council passed a resolution on Dec. 3 asking the board for an additional 90 days from the year-end deadline, or else the city would automatically withdraw from the joint powers agreement with the county that formed the TCEDA in 2008.
Withdrawing from the agreement would effectively dissolve the TCEDA as a legal entity, according to county attorneys.
On Tuesday, the board voted 4-1 to offer the council 60 days after being told an additional month would put more work on county officials while they’re in the midst of the budgeting process for the next fiscal year that begins July 1.
Outgoing District 2 Supervisor Randy Hanvelt dissented from offering the 60 days and said he believes the council “need to be big boys and girls and honor their commitments.” He also scoffed at the city giving the county an ultimatum.
If the council had declined the board’s offer at the special meeting on Thursday, City Administrator Tim Miller and Deputy City Attorney Nubia Goldstein said the city would submit a notice of withdrawal from the TCEDA before the end of the year as directed in the Dec. 3 resolution.
Councilwoman Colette Such asked if there was a way to go back to the negotiating table with the county by standing firm on the request for 90 days, as opposed to immediately beginning the process of withdrawing from the organization.
“While theoretically the county could schedule a special meeting like the city council did, the realistic look at it is we’re at the end of the year where we’re literally running out of time and that’s not necessarily practical,” Goldstein said, adding that there’s no guarantee the board would even call for a special meeting before the end of the year.
The reason the council asked for 90 days was to review the results of independent audits that are being conducted on the TCEDA’s finances and management practices, which are expected to be completed by the end of January.
The audits are the result of a recommendation by both the council and county supervisors in response to the Tuolumne County Civil Grand Jury annual report released in June that found a number of potential concerns related to how the agency was being operated and overseen.
Though most of the TCEDA’s $460,000 annual budget comes from public funds provided by the city and county, the jury reported that the agency lacked the types of standard operating procedures and financial controls that both governments have to follow.
The city’s contribution to the TCEDA’s budget is about $103,000 each year, while the county’s is about $344,000.
A lack of such processes and effective oversight led to some questionable uses of public funds, according to the jury.
In one example, the jury reported that more than half of the organization’s budget intended for entertaining business clients and prospects had been used last year to purchase meals for elected county supervisors, government officials, and TCEDA board members themselves.
The jury also reported that the need for confidentiality on behalf of private companies receiving assistance from the TCEDA made it difficult for the public to hold the agency accountable.
Sonora residents Barbara Dresslar and David Morgan each spoke in favor of the council declining the board’s offer and leaving the agency.
Dresslar said she believed that triggering a reconfiguration of the TCEDA by withdrawing from the agreement would provide both governments a chance for a “fresh start,” especially considering some of the pointed comments that several supervisors directed toward the city at the meeting on Tuesday.
“The comments at the last board meeting indicated they still don’t get that there was fundamental flawed operation of TCEDA for a decade,” she said.
Leaving the TCEDA would allow the city to create an economic development department that had verifiable results and standards for management, Dresslar added.
Morgan said the reason city officials recommended the 90-day extension was to provide enough time for the city and TCEDA board to review the results of the audits and implement any changes that may come out of them.
The estimated completion date for the audits has already been pushed back from end of this month.
There were several other people at the meeting who have a stake in the conversations about the TCEDA but chose not to speak, including outgoing County Administrator Craig Pedro, incoming County Administrator Tracie Riggs, and former District 5 Supervisor Dick Pland.
Pland and Pedro were both founding members of the TCEDA in 2008.
Ken Perkins, of Sonora, was also at the meeting and didn’t speak. He sued the TCEDA in early June after being denied information on assistance the agency has provided to businesses over the years.
Perkins ultimately prevailed in the lawsuit when the TCEDA later released documents in August showing estimates on capital investments, jobs created and average wages from projects the agency has worked on, but none of the information was verifiable because the names of businesses were all redacted.
Councilwoman Connie Williams said she didn’t believe there was much more discussion to be had considering that the board effectively denied the council’s original request for 90 days.
“The bottom line is that we as a council made a decision, and the decision was that we asked for 90 days, which the Board of Supervisors could have very easily given us,” she said.
Williams has said she felt the city was treated like a “stepchild” while she served on the TCEDA Governing Board from 2016 to July of this year. She also has said she raised many of the same concerns as the jury during her tenure, but was effectively shut down by the other TCEDA board members.
Garaventa, who replaced Williams on the TCEDA board, said he “didn’t call a special meeting to say there’s no more discussion.”
Councilman Mark Plummer said he was concerned that the audits ultimately won’t do much to change the organization, but he’s “not quite as pessimistic” as he was in the past because there will be two new county supervisors taking their seats on Jan. 7.
“Seeing the audit reports would be a valuable tool, but we would probably be remiss if we just said out of hand that we’re going to do it and not consider them,” he said.
Mayor Pro-tem Matt Hawkins, who also joined the TCEDA board in July, said he’s had mixed emotions about the issue and believes that “good things” have come out of both Perkins’ lawsuit and the jury’s report.
Hawkins said he read about the comments made by county supervisors on Tuesday and didn’t feel it was the “most positive meeting,” but he believed the council owed it to city residents to take the 60 days as a matter of due diligence.
“Right now, we gotta work on relations with the county,” he said. “We need each other. We’re a county of less than 60,000 people, barely 50,000, and there’s infighting going on.”
Such said she believed the tone from some of the county supervisors at the meeting on Tuesday was “unacceptable, insulting and hostile,” but felt better after attending the TCEDA Governing Board’s meeting Thursday morning.
“It appeared the tone had completely changed,” she said.
Such added that it will be important for the audits to be completed in a timely manner given the shortened time frame, otherwise she believed the city won’t be able to move forward with the county on the partnership.
In an interview after the meeting, Such said she felt that Riggs, Pedro, and District 1 Supervisor Sherri Brennan, who represents the city and some surrounding areas, had set an example and were taking the city’s concerns into account.
Brennan made the initial motion at the meeting on Tuesday to offer the city the 60 days to “reflect and realize the importance of the TCEDA one more time.”
Williams said she believed the Board of Supervisors would have been “much more of a partner” had it given the council the full 90 days.
“I feel like that they felt that we gave them an ultimatum, I feel like they gave us an ultimatum, and that’s not a partnership,” she said.
However, Williams said she was “reluctantly” willing to go along with the rest of the council and accept the shortened time.
Plummer said he believed “reluctantly” was the word that applied to all of the council members.
December 21, 2018
The Union Democrat
By Alex MacLean