Monday, October 14, 2019
Advocates for Humboldt County’s homeless population on Monday delivered a letter to the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors asking for a swift response to civil grand jury reports that earlier this summer outlined worsening problems for the county’s homeless.
The county’s Human Rights Commission calls for the board to approve a number of the jury’s recommendations for addressing homelessness. One jury report found that current housing solutions are far behind in solving the problem. Among its recommendations, the jury calls for the county to contribute funding to an existing trust fund for local housing.
Another report reviews the “criminalization” of homeless people in Eureka, due to what the jury calls a “counterproductive” use of law enforcement to address homelessness. In its letter, the commission urges the county to consider encouraging changes in Eureka laws.
“Within the city of Eureka, in particular, ordinances appear to make it impossible for the homeless to exist without violating an ordinance,” states the letter, authored by Commission Chair Jim Glover.
“Since a great portion of the existing homeless population is centered in our biggest city, increased coordination of efforts to diffuse further polarization of our community are highly desirable,” the letter continues.
The two jury reports span dozens of pages. Both were published this summer, part of an annual series of citizen-compiled assessments of county practices. As outlined in the reports, the county has 60 to 90 days to formally respond to jury’s numerous recommendations.
Currently, the county is planning to release its responses around the start of October, spokesperson Sean Quincey said in an email.
“We’re trying to prod them to take a certain set of actions,” Glover said Monday. “We’re hoping they address the reports in a timely manner.”
Nezzie Wade, who sits on the Housing Trust Fund and Homelessness Solutions Committee, echoed the report’s findings that the current levels of funding won’t do the trick. In order to receive larger state grants, the committee will need local support, she said.
“You have to have money in your account to show you can match what (the county) would give you,” Wade said. “With the county’s support, we would have that.”
Incidentally, the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday plan to approve an agreement to provide up to $100,000 in mobile hygiene services to homeless individuals. The agreement is with Affordable Homeless Housing Alternatives, where Wade serves as president.
The housing trust fund committee, meanwhile, will meet on Thursday to discuss potential funding sources.
September 9, 2019
By Shomik Mukherjee
Sunday, October 13, 2019
Blog note: see the grand jury item after the description of the special election.
Santa Clara City Council called a special March 2020 election to fill the remainder of retired Chief Mike Sellers’ term, rather than making an appointment. The winner will have to run again in November. In the interim, Assistant Police Chief Dan Winter will continue to act as chief under the authority of the City Manager. The Council had 30 days to make an appointment.
Both Winter and former candidate for police chief Pat Nikolai have been lobbying for the job.
The discussion surfaced year-old resentments against Council Member Patricia Mahan’s (and former Council Member Patrick Kolstad’s) refusal to vote for an appointment after former Council Member Dominic’s Caserta May 2018 resignation.
“I want to remind everyone that in June 2018, after five hours, two members claimed that none of the candidates were qualified and refused to appoint,” said Council Member Debi Davis. “I refuse to let history repeat itself again, especially when one of the Council Members is still on dais.”
Four fifths of the body’s votes are needed for appointments — in this case six. Because Council Member Karen Hardy was absent, a unanimous vote of the six present was needed to make an appointment.
“I won’t have my actions mis-characterized,” said Mahan. “I never said the candidates were not qualified. I stood on the principle that our Council Members should be elected.”
“We wasted six hours last year,” Council Member Kathy Watanabe said. “There’s still one Council Member who didn’t participate honestly. There are still good candidates. One of them got 49 percent of the vote [in 2016].”
“We can’t go into past history,” said Council Member Raj Chahal. “We need to be civil. It’s not going to help anything to bring up the past.”
Mayor Lisa Gillmor disagreed, saying, “I think we should always use history as a guide.”
Residents Grant McCauley and Mary Grizzle spoke in favor of appointing Assistant Chief Winter.
“You can’t look to the past,” said Grizzle. “Dan Winters has the experience as Assistant Chief. If you think that would give him an advantage, that’s ludicrous… Dan will have to show he can do the job.”
City Denies Grand Jury Charges About CPRA Compliance, Has Significantly Improved Operations
In a response to a scathing June 2019 Grand Jury report (GJ) on Santa Clara’s compliance with the California Public Records Act (CPRA) the City challenged all findings, but has also adopted the recommendations. Watanabe described the report as “making the City look bad.”
The GJ investigated Santa Clara’s CPRA compliance in early 2019 after an investigation of the City’s and Stadium Authority’s contracting practices was rendered “futile” when it couldn’t get the needed records from the City that they requested.
The report charges the City doesn’t respond properly to records requests, doesn’t have a written policy about handling records requests, the City’s recordkeeping is disorganized, and there’s only one person on staff trained to handle records requests.
The City asserts (tinyurl.com/SC-GJ-2019-response) that it complies with legal requirements and has had a written public records policy since June 1999. In the last year Santa Clara also conducted four training sessions on public records.
Further, explained City Manager Deanna Santana, new records management and self-service access systems will come online in the next few months.
Chahal disagreed with the City’s blanket denial, saying, “I acknowledge that staff has done an outstanding job,” he said. “We have made great improvements. [But] we should treat this as an audit report.
“I don’t agree with the response to Finding #3 [recordkeeping],” he continued. “I looked at those requests. They are very specific.”
In business, Chahal said, “if you run a general ledger for a vendor, you can find all the [information].” If the City couldn’t do that, “we do not have good recordkeeping.”
Record Request Numbers Draw Council Ire
Santa Clara receives about 100 records requests monthly, exponentially more than other similar cities in the area, such as Sunnyvale (five) and Mountain View (34) — which don’t operate convention centers, utility companies or stadiums. According to City Manager Santana, 70 percent comes from the 49ers and the media.
One source is attorneys who use public records requests to get information that they would otherwise have to wait until the discovery phase of litigation, explained City Attorney Brian Doyle. Watanabe asked if the City had any recourse.
“There’s nothing we can do but comply,” answered Doyle.
“The Grand Jury didn’t benchmark us with any other city,” said Mayor Gillmor, “and didn’t consider where these requests are coming from.”
Santa Clara was being “targeted” she said, and requests were coming “from the 49ers, the 49ers’ consultants, the 49ers’ media friends. Some of these are just pure harassment… Next year, there’s another election. When there’s an election all the spies from these groups come out to start getting intelligence.”
Council Wants More Outreach for Charter Review, Offers No Resources
Reviewing the current Charter Review Committee’s (CRC) activity, Council Members complained about the low level of public participation and that the committee was, as Davis put it, “centered on opinions and things they shouldn’t be talking about.”
“The committee can’t censor public comments,” said City Clerk Hosam Haggag. “We had comments from several members of the public on ranked choice voting and seven districts. The public is free to suggest.”
The committee is a result of 2018’s approved Measure N asking if residents wanted the City to draft a charter amendment to elect City Council Members, except the Mayor, by district.
Mahan pointed out the committee has scheduled meetings, at times and locations, the Council asked for. “The City Clerk is right,” she continued. “You can’t censor what people can say. I commend you for making sure the public input is open.”
Watanabe followed with, “I, too, have received complaints,” and asked Doyle if the committee chair could legally make motions. “There’s nothing illegal about making a motion,” Doyle replied.
“It’s not what we’re doing but how we’re messaging it,” said Mayor Gillmor. “The message is not connecting. I wasn’t pleased to hear we don’t have a booth at the Art & Wine Festival. It’s just not good enough to throw something online.”
“The charter review committee asked if it had a budget and was told there was no budget,” said CRC Chair Suds Jain. “There was no budget for food, for childcare, for Facebook boosts. I would love to see more publicity.”
“This committee has been a waste of our time,” said former mayoral candidate Anthony Becker. “The court told us what to do.”
If the City wanted to survey City residents, Becker suggested, it should mail out surveys. It could also ask Niantic to “put rare Pokemon in these locations. A lot of people would definitely show up.”
September 9, 2019
The Silicon Valley Voice
By Carolyn Schuk
Blog note: this article references a grand jury investigation. See the highlighted text in two places.
Two years after Santa Clara officials worked to fix a botched public affairs contract, a San José Spotlight investigation found city leaders repeated some of the same errors mere months after vowing not to make those mistakes again.
Public documents show city officials didn’t follow the city’s code, typical timelines and industry best practices when bidding for a lucrative six-figure contract — and doubled the value of the contracts while seeking out bids. Santa Clara ultimately awarded the two new public relations contracts to prominent San Francisco firm Singer Associates Inc.
San José Spotlight spent months reviewing the contracts after the Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury attempted an investigation into the matter, but could not finish because jurors struggled to get information from the city.
The Singer Associates contracts were finalized in Feb. 2018, less than three months after elected leaders agreed to pay PR firm Banner Public Affairs for work done without a fully executed contract, an issue that delayed billing, payments and hampered the city’s ability to manage the consultant’s work.
And work started early again with Singer Associates, according to billing statements.
City leaders also increased the value of the contracts by a combined $100,000 between soliciting proposals and awarding the contracts. Documents obtained by this news organization paint a picture of a rushed process in which potential bidders had just 11 days to respond and only one bid was submitted, rather than the three required by the city’s code. The lone bid from Singer was submitted the day city officials closed the bidding process.
The city’s request for bids, known as a Request for Qualifications, isn’t posted online though that is a best practice in the government procurement sector, multiple experts told San José Spotlight.
“The Santa Clara system just isn’t transparent and open as it should be,” said Professor Christopher Yukins, co-director of the government procurement law program at George Washington University Law School. “I’ve spent a lot of time looking at different procurement systems, different laws, different opportunities and systems really around the world, and this one was just remarkably non-transparent.”
The two contracts didn’t go to the City Council for approval because city rules allow City Manager Deanna Santana to sign off on such contracts not exceeding $100,000 — a longstanding rule. One $100,000 contract was for communications services for the city while the other was for up to $100,000 in services for the Stadium Authority, which is overseen by the city.
Notably, Pete Hillan, a principal with Banner Public Affairs who in 2017 also billed the city for work before a contract was finalized, joined Singer Associates about six months after the firm won the bidding process.
A $100,000 difference
When city officials two years ago discussed starting fresh after the haphazardly executed Banner Public Affairs contracts, Santana told elected officials during a public Nov. 2017 meeting she intended to seek out a new PR firm through a competitive process.
When the request for bids came out, the city sought to award two PR contracts not to exceed $50,000 each, the bidding documents show. But Singer’s contracts awarded later that month ended up being $100,000 each.
Internal routing sheets attached to each contract show a different dollar amount had initially been written in for the contract amount — but was whited out and changed to $100,000. The change was described as a clerical error to the Mercury News last year.
But Santana said in a statement to San José Spotlight that the value of the contracts were increased when “it became clear that the city of Santa Clara’s and Santa Clara Stadium Authority’s communications need was much greater than initially identified,” primarily due to staffing turnover. She added that doubling the value of the contracts after a bidding process began “does not constitute any irregular procurement practices.”
The city in June quietly extended the contracts with Singer that were set to expire earlier this year because officials had not yet used $200,000 worth of PR services between the two contracts. Both contracts will now end in June 2020.
As of Aug. 23, Singer had done $36,897.50 worth of work for the city and $21,361.12 for the Stadium Authority contract. About $141,741 remains to be used on the contracts combined.
The shortened timeline and a single bid
Santa Clara officials opened the bidding process on Jan. 5, 2018 and stopped accepting bids just 11 days later on Jan. 16. Six of those 11 days were business days.
City officials said closing a formal solicitation that quickly wasn’t typical, though there were no rules against it.
“There are no set rules for a notice period, but generally 10 days for informal solicitations and 30 days for formal solicitations,” Simrat Dhadli, Santa Clara’s deputy city clerk, said in an email to San José Spotlight.
Though the city’s code requires three bids in a formal solicitation for contracts exceeding $50,000, a city official said “it’s impossible to guarantee that we can receive a minimum number” for every bid request.
Advertising solicitations to local businesses is a problem for Santa Clara, Mark Giovannetti, the city’s purchasing division manager, told councilmembers this year. “We’re invisible,” he said. “I don’t think they know about us, what we buy, how they can be eligible to be awarded our business.”
In response to questions about the award process and how he learned about the request for bids, Sam Singer, owner of the firm, said in a general statement that his company is often “sought out by government agencies and corporations to assist on issues of importance,” because of its track record.
Work starts without a city signature — again
Adam Alberti, a Singer Associates partner, signed the contracts by the end of January, but city officials waited until Feb. 14 to sign the Stadium Authority contract and Feb. 15 to sign the city one, according to the routing sheets.
But billing statements show Alberti billed the city for 30 minutes for “discussion and strategy re: curfew issues” on Feb. 8, about a week before the city processed the contract, according to documents. The city’s code says that contracts valued at $5,000 or more require written agreements prior to work being performed.
The meeting doesn’t show up on public calendars that certain officials — including the city attorney, city manager and councilmembers — are required to keep to reflect such business meetings. City officials said they don’t know who Alberti may have met with, and suggested it could have been an internal discussion at Singer Associates.
Officials said the city attorney’s office confirmed at the time “there was no risk to the city with the consultant starting the work,” because Singer officials signed the contracts.
But in 2017, when the city grappled with the fallout of the botched Banner Public Affairs contract that wasn’t finalized before work started, City Attorney Brian Doyle told councilmembers he was “really working on” the issue of work starting before contracts are signed, adding “I really don’t like it.”
Both Mayor Lisa Gillmor and Councilmember Teresa O’Neill said last week that they weren’t knowledgeable about the procurement process in the Singer contracts.
“The city manager told us they were going to solicit for communications assistance and she has full authority to solicit bids,” Gillmor said in an interview Friday.
O’Neill said it raises “red flags” for her if the city did not follow best practices or changed the contract value after it was bid. She noted the city has made recent strides to centralize outdated processes and improve procurement practices. “We have invested a whole lot of money to try to hire people to put the right kind of structure in place,” O’Neill said.
Looking for ‘fire’
Hiring Singer for the two wide-ranging public relations contracts doesn’t appear to have been well-known to the public until months after the contracts were signed.
In May 2018, the city leaned on the PR firm, which specializes in crisis management, to deal with the fallout from former Councilmember Dominic Caserta resigning due to sexual harassment allegations from former students, leading some to believe at the time that was why Singer had been hired.
That same week, the city declared victory in a high-profile fight over rent at Levi’s Stadium with the San Francisco 49ers, conducting TV interviews and appearing in local newspapers. But team officials used the announcement to direct attention to the contracts, suggesting something was amiss. Notably, Gillmor and the 49ers have had a publicly contentious relationship for years.
That’s what prompted Anthony Becker, a longtime Santa Claran, to ask the Civil Grand Jury to look into the contracts last year, telling jurors, “where there’s smoke, there must be fire,” he said.
Becker, the city’s current planning commission chair, was running for mayor against Gillmor who easily won re-election.
“I think this is a political spin doctor that they’re using taxpayer dollars for and they’re doing it on separate contracts so it doesn’t have to go through City Council,” Becker said in a recent interview. “They don’t have to vote on it and the public doesn’t have to know about it.”
If that charge were found to be true, it would be in violation of the city’s code. A Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury attempted to investigate the city’s procurement procedures, seeking information about the Singer contracts, along with documents related to Banner Public Affairs. But the Grand Jury ran into months of roadblocks in its investigation, prompting jurors to instead take a closer look at the city’s compliance with the California Public Records Act.
“Due to the City’s non-responsiveness to its CPRA requests after three months, the Grand Jury concluded that its investigation into the City’s procurement process had become futile,” reads an 18-page report released by the Civil Grand Jury in June. “Accordingly, the Grand Jury changed the focus of its investigation to the City’s compliance with the CPRA.”
Santana last week claimed that jurors had cleared the city of wrongdoing when it comes to the Singer contracts during a private meeting, despite the report stating the grand jury couldn’t complete that investigation.
A Santa Clara County Superior Court spokesperson told San José Spotlight those meetings are confidential and declined to respond to Santana’s remarks.
September 9, 2019
San Jose Spotlight
By Janice Bitters
[Los Angeles County] L.A.’s shuttered jails delay response times, take police off the streets, Grand Jury declares
In January 2016, the San Pedro community held a demonstration, dubbed the “no excuses” rally — the shot across the bow in what became a three-year crusade to open the LAPD’s long-closed Harbor Division jail.
The demonstration kicked off a grassroots campaign, with strong support by the police union, to “open our jail,” in the words of the chanting crowd.
Now — at last — the jail is set to open in early next year, after the mayor and Los Angeles City Council agreed to include funding for it in L.A.’s 2019-20 budget. The city’s $10.6 billion budget was approved May 23.
The ongoing community and political pressure was the key factor in the re-opening effort, said Mona Sutton, who heads up the Community-Police Advisory Board for LAPD’s Harbor Division. It involved several appearances at downtown budget hearings by groups of local advocates. Those appearances, Sutton said city and police officials told her, were the primary impetus behind the decision to fund the jail’s reopening.
“We had a long grooming period over those years,” Sutton said.
But behind the scenes, another powerful force was also at work: the Los Angeles County Civil Grand Jury.
Earlier this year, that body undertook an investigation into the LAPD’s five shuttered jails at division stations, as well as the fallout that has resulted from forcing patrol officers to leave the field to transport arrestees to one of three regional facilities for booking.
The report — titled “Arrest & Transfer LAPD: Is Protect & Serve Being Compromised?” — recommended reopening all of the facilities that were closed due to budget constraints. The findings, released quietly in late June, reported that the so-called “Arrest and Transfer” process has had a detrimental effect on both the LAPD and the community.
“The LAPD should reopen each of the community station jails,” the report concluded, “in the interests of improving community response time, officer safety, officer morale and operational efficiency.”
The Grand Jury gave the city and the Police Department until Sept. 30 to submit responses.
The LAPD, first contacted for this story on Aug. 23, did not provide comment on the report or on how the closed jails have affected public safety.
But in a written statement, Alex Comisar, Mayor Eric Garcetti’s press secretary, said public safety is the mayor’s “top priority.” The city, Comisar added, is “carefully reviewing” the report and Garcetti’s is working with other departments on the issue.
Although the findings confirm what police and community advocates say they have known for some time, the weight of the official report may put increased pressure on the city and could move the needle on opening the four shuttered jails that still lack funding.
The 16-page report comes after the civil grand jury, which is mandated to inspect all jails within Los Angeles County and sees itself as a county watchdog, formed an investigative committee to determine if the shuttered jails — Devonshire, Foothill, Harbor, Southwest and Wilshire — were negatively impacting public and officer safety, call response times, and unplanned overtime.
The short answer to all of that was yes.
“The investigation into the Arrest & Transfer practices of the LAPD confirmed many of the concerns regarding community and officer safety,” the report stated. “From multiple interviews with LAPD Community Station staff, we learned that oftentimes there are insufficient numbers of patrol units immediately available to respond to calls.”
Long waits for processing, booking
During the investigation, committee members conducted extensive interviews with LAPD community station staff, who told investigators they want to see the jails reopened, according to the report.
Arrestees in need of non-urgent medical or mental health care, the report found, require longer times to process during booking at one of the three regional facilities — 77th Street, the Metropolitan Detention Center and Van Nuys.
Those added wait times for processing and booking ranged from 10 to 120 minutes, the report said. About 50% of all arrestees required processing through a medical facility — 40% of whom were there on an urgent-care basis.
Rank-and-file officers who were interviewed reported a negative effect on morale due to the cumbersome process and long travel and wait times that took them away from their regular duties.
The jail closures were a culmination of financial cutbacks that began in 2008 with a citywide hiring freeze on civilian employees. That impacted the recruitment of detention officers, who staff the community jails. The freeze lasted the length of the Great Recession and continued through 2013.
LAPD did not have a new class of detention officers graduate from the academy until February 2018, according to the report.
The lack of community jails lengthened call response times, the report found.
In those stations, the report said, Code 2 calls — urgent but non life-threatening — posted an overall 20% higher response time in 2018 compared to 2010.
Code 3 calls — urgent/life-threatening — did not see the same kind of spike, but the average response time for calls that lack classification — termed “non-coded” calls — shot up 60% from 2010 to 2018.
“Our analysis of the data for Code 3 calls for each of the LAPD areas did not highlight any alarming increases,” the report stated. “However, there was a significant increase in the average response time for non-coded calls.”
For the most-impacted stations — Devonshire, Foothill, Harbor, Southwest, Topanga, West Los Angeles and West Valley — Code 2 response times rose from about 17 minutes in 2010 to about 20 minutes by 2017.
Non-coded response times went from between 30 and 40 minutes in 2010 to between 40 and 60 minutes in 2018.
But despite the benefits reopening the jails could bring, the report said, doing so will not be a quick or inexpensive process.
Much, after all, needs to be done.
The 16,000 square-foot Harbor Division jail, for example, was state-of-the-art when it was built — as part of the accompanying police station, on John S. Gibson Boulevard — a decade ago. But the jail never opened.
Before it can reopen in 2020, cell cameras need to be installed, and it needs mechanical repairs to sliding doors and walls.
That work is now underway.
The other jails, though, also need retrofitting and upgrades to reach a business-as-usual operating status. They need staffing as well.
But the Harbor Area jail, at a cost of $9.1 million, was the only one of the five closed jails included in this year’s city budget for reopening.
The Harbor Area community — which includes San Pedro, Wilmington, Harbor City and Harbor Gateway — should see a reversal in what had been increased response times.
Without the jail there, Harbor Area officers had to travel 15 miles to the 77th LAPD Division to book suspects.
The travel time during mid-afternoon hours, the report found was between 30 and 40 minutes, including about 10 minutes for loading and unloading.
Those statistics are among the reasons Harbor Area residents spent the last three years lobbying LAPD captains and Mayor Eric Garcetti to open the jail.
They also had a key ally in the fight: City Councilman Joe Buscaino, the former LAPD officer who represents the Harbor Area. The Grand Jury interviewed him for the report. The panel’s conclusions, he said, were unsurprising.
It was “amazing,” he said in a recent statement, “how accurately this LA County Civil Grand Jury report parallels the sentiment of the Harbor Area residents who demanded the opening of the Harbor Division jail.”
September 7, 2019
Daily Breeze and Los Angeles Daily News
By Donna Littlejohn
[Humboldt County] Once Drowning in Unresolved Reports of Abuse and Neglect, Local Child Welfare Services Department Says It’s Clearing Out Backlogged Cases
Blog note: this article references two grand jury reports.
Humboldt County’s Child Welfare Services is making strides toward addressing what was, until recently, a backlog of nearly 200 open investigations into reports of child abuse and neglect.
This comes after a 2015 Attorney General investigation into Humboldt’s Department of Health and Human Services (CWS is a part of DHHS) as well as the Sheriff’s Office’s handling of reports of child abuse and neglect after receiving complaints that the two agencies “were not always properly receiving, responding to and investigating reports of child abuse and neglect.”
Two Humboldt County Grand Jury reports — one in 2016 and another in 2017— also came about because of “complaints from superintendents of multiple school districts” and found similar results as the AG, that CWS and HCSO “were not adequately providing services to children.”
The nearly 200 cases of backlogged reports of child abuse and neglect grew as CWS officials were working on a past backlog of as many as 293 reports.
But people at the department say that’s changing now, and have numbers to show for it. Some of the actions taken to address the backlog were court-ordered and others included the pairing of social workers in teams of two as well as the hiring of nearly 40 new employees in the past few months, Deputy Director Ivy Breen recently told the Outpost.
Breen figures that the new hires and changes in efficiency within CWS will only help to bring the number of backlogged cases down.
“We have been making pretty significant progress, and we are down to 63 [backlogged cases],” Breen said. “This is hard work and the teaming aspect has more benefits than just being more efficient and it seems to be paying off.”
According to a report from the Center for the Study of Social Policy, Humboldt’s CWS social workers are taking on about 29 to 37 investigations per month each — a rate that is nearly three times the recommended amount. Breen said that caseloads vary from worker based on their experience and the region they are working in. She also said that the new hires will help to distribute the workload more evenly once they are fully trained and on board.
With the hiring of new employees, CWS will have around 90 social workers to take on Humboldt’s higher-than-average child neglect and abuse reports. According to a CSSP report, from March 2018 to Feb 2019 there were a total of 3,217 reports of suspected child abuse or neglect. Breen said that some of the reasons for the high number of incidents here in Humboldt County have to deal with poverty and substance abuse among others.
“A lot of these families that we got involved with have generational trauma,” Breen said. “Their parents may have been involved in the system. But the high allegation rate shows that we have a concerned community that cares and are looking out for our kids.”
CWS has historically dealt with short staffing. Jeri Scardina, also a deputy director for CWS, said the jobs the social workers are taking on is very demanding.
“It’s a high-stress job, obviously, and that is a phenomenon across the country,” Scardina said. “Staff are subjected to a lot of sadness and maybe even some trauma that they see in the families they work with, and that is difficult.”
In Feb. 2018, the AG’s office reached an agreement with DHHS and the Sheriff’s Office that included a number of corrective actions. One of the main actions included measures to address the backlog of 293 investigations within a year. In order for a case to be deemed as “backlogged,” it has to still be open after 40 days. Officials at CWS said there are a number of reasons why a case may stay open past that limit, and some of it has to do with Humboldt County’s size.
“We are a large, rural county and sometimes [social workers] are able to interview one child, but haven’t been able to have a face-to-face interview with a second child,” Breen said. “Or maybe they haven’t been able to interview all of the parents, and so for a variety of reasons investigations may go over the 40 days. This is something we’ve been very focused on for the last year and a half and we’re continuing to monitor that backlog on a frequent and regular basis.”
September 6, 2019
Lost Coast Outpost
By Freddy Brewster
Saturday, October 12, 2019
The Amador Water Agency Board of Directors approved the Agency’s detailed response to the 2018 – 2019 Amador County Civil Grand Jury report at a special board meeting Wednesday. The almost 50-page response addresses in detail the findings and recommendations made by the Grand Jury. While AWA directors and Agency staff disagreed with many of the Grand Jury findings, the Agency has, Quote; “taken steps to amplify transparency and accessibility of complex information”, one of the recommendations of the Grand Jury. According to AWA Board President Paul Molinelli Jr. recent extensive work has gone into reorganizing the Agency’s budget reports and creating a user-friendly Budget-in-Brief brochure that will be mailed to all AWA customers. The Agency has improved the format of its website with the assistance of a website consultant to enhance its use by the public and Board of Directors meeting recordings are now available online. Molinelli added that the Agency’s directors and staff have put in place improved tracking and reporting of capital projects, recently completed additional management training, and are beginning development of a formal water and wastewater facilities Master Plan for the Agency. The AWA full response includes additional documents for further background and is available on the Agency website amadorwater.org and at the Agency office.
September 5, 2019
KVGC Radio for Amador and Calaveras Counties
By KVGC Staff
Proposed year-round shelters in Salinas, Seaside face lawsuit
Blog note: this article references a grand jury report.
Last week, the Monterey County Board of Supervisors approved plans for a proposed 100-bed shelter on East Laurel Drive in Salinas, as well as matching county and Salinas city funding, and began advertising bids for the $6.87 million project expected to be finished by December 2020. At the same time, the county board approved a 10-year, $1-per-year lease with nonprofit Community Human Services for a county-owned modular building on Olympia Avenue in Seaside for use as a shelter for families, women and children starting by next summer at the latest.
The shelter projects are on a tight schedule because they are relying in part on state Homeless Emergency Assistance Program funding that requires at least half the funding be contractually obligated and a contractor in place by the end of this year and all of the funding to be spent by June 30, 2021.
Both moves were approved by the supervisors under consent on Aug. 27 after holding them up for hours to allow attorney Mike Pekin a chance to speak out on the items, though Pekin never showed up. Representing an organization calling itself Residents for Responsible Homeless Shelters, Pekin filed suit against the county on Aug. 14 calling for a court injunction to halt all development of the shelters, alleging “fraudulent misuse of public resources” earmarked for the homeless on the shelter projects and calling for implementation of the 2018 civil grand jury report on homelessness recommendations before the projects go ahead.
County project manager Dave Pratt said the planning process for the proposed East Laurel Drive shelter was on a “bit of a faster track” due to the Homeless Emergency Assistance Program grant application process, which he said required the county to show it could finish the project within the grant timeline. But Pratt said the project bid and construction processes will be standard. Bid opening is set for Oct. 3 and construction is expected to begin by January and be completed by the end of next year, though Pratt said it could take up to 15 months for final completion.
The East Laurel shelter includes construction of a 16,000-square-foot premanufactured building along with related site work, infrastructure, foundations, landscaping and interior improvements, according to a staff report.
The county was awarded $6 million in Homeless Emergency Assistance Program funding for the project, with the rest covered by a $657,000 county match and a $200,000 match from the city.
Meanwhile, Community Human Services was awarded about $1.29 million for capital improvements on the 4,500-square-foot Olympia Avenue building, which is expected to include construction of 10 bedrooms, four bathrooms, two case manager offices, a classroom and dining area, lobby and reception area, meal service area, laundry room, and other upgrades. The shelter is expected to be ready for operations by June next year, or when the improvements are completed, whichever comes first.
The organization also received $300,000 in Homeless Emergency Assistance Program funding for the first year of operations and is responsible for covering all initial operational expenses for the facility, which is estimated to cost $850,000 in 2020-2021. It has indicated it will continue to seek Homeless Emergency Assistance Program and other state and local funding for ongoing operations, as well as support from foundations, corporations, and private donors.
Progress on the shelters comes as the county supervisors and other local officials contemplate a homeless census that suggested the local homeless population decreased by nearly 15% between 2017 and this year. But during last week’s board meeting, both county and Salinas city officials expressed skepticism about the accuracy of the count and noted the drop could cost local jurisdictions about $1 million in state and federal funding tied to the census.
September 5, 2019
By Jim Johnson
Friday, October 11, 2019
Blog note: this article references a grand jury report.
Marin fire officials are making their rounds to the county’s 19 local fire agencies to pitch the case for a countywide wildfire prevention authority, outlining a proposed governance structure and annual funding plan.
“The work that needs to be done to actually make a difference in how fires burn in Marin is significant,” battalion chief Christie Neill told directors of the Stinson Beach Fire Protection District last week. “A coordinated effort is critical.”
The authority would be funded by an 11-cent per square foot parcel tax on property owners that voters likely will see on the March 3 ballot. The measure, estimated to raise around $20 million a year, would help the county prevent and prepare for a firestorm while easing the concerns of insurance providers that have caused homeowner insurance rates to skyrocket. To delegate seats on the authority’s 11-person board of directors, Marin would be split into five zones, with two elected officials representing each zone. West Marin would be represented by two elected officials appointed by the Board of Supervisors.
“I certainly will be pushing for balanced representation for those two West Marin seats,” said Supervisor Dennis Rodoni, who would like to personally hold one seat and give the second seat to someone from one of West Marin’s eight special districts.
The eleventh seat on the board would be shared by districts overseeing fire departments in Inverness, Bolinas, Stinson Beach, Kentfield, Marinwood and Muir Beach on rotating two-year terms. Kentfield would appoint the first representative, followed by Bolinas, Stinson Beach, Inverness, Marinwood and then Muir Beach. The rotation schedule could be modified if all six districts unanimously vote to do so at a public meeting.
County fire chief Jason Weber said Marin officials looked at other successful joint-powers authorities in the county to borrow their best features. A small board with shared seats would force consensus-making, he said.
“There was a lot of back and forth about how to create political balance, so we don’t have a big machine in the room that’s taking over,” he added.
The board chairs from the Stinson Beach and Bolinas Fire Protection Districts, Jim Ritchie and David Kimball, were hesitant to comment on the governance structure before their boards looked at the draft joint exercise-of-powers agreement, which is now circulating.
Still, Mr. Ritchie said he would support virtually any fund that helps with fire protection. “I hope there will be some objective way of deciding on how to spend this money,” he said.
Mr. Kimball said his board plans to encourage the Bolinas community to look at the material and comment publicly at the fire protection district’s September meeting, when directors will vote on a resolution of support.
Once the county’s local fire agencies adopt resolutions supporting the initiative, the county fire department will present the Board of Supervisors with a resolution to place the measure on the March 3 ballot, where it will require a two-thirds vote to pass.
Ms. Neill and Mr. Weber addressed the need for the authority to the boards of the Stinson and Bolinas Fire Protection Districts on Aug. 26, and to the Inverness Public Utility District board on Aug. 28. They painted a bleak picture of Marin’s wildfire prevention efforts to date.
During a hot and dry day, vast sections of West Marin could support flame lengths of over 11 feet, Ms. Neill said. As a result, insurance providers are declining to renew homeowner insurance policies.
According to the California Department of Insurance, insurer-initiated non-renewals across the state increased by 5 percent last year, with more non-renewals in fire-prone areas. Insurance commissioner Ricardo Lara warned governments in a statement last month that an inability to obtain insurance can create a domino effect for the local economy, affecting home sales and property taxes.
“This data should be a wake-up call for state and local policymakers that without action to reduce the risk from extreme wildfires and preserve the insurance market, we could see communities unraveling,” he said.
The insurance fallout has forced many homeowners to resort to the California FAIR Plan, which covers less at a higher cost.
Although insurance companies won’t discuss their strategies, Mr. Weber believes a countywide program can help to at least stabilize rates. “We need to engage those insurance companies, and show them the progress we’re making,” he said. “That was one of the driving factors here: if you have a 2,000-square-foot home and you were to invest $200 a year in this, does that potentially protect you over the long haul from insurance rates going up thousands of dollars?”
The need for coordinated fire prevention efforts was described in the county’s 2005 Community Wildfire Protection Plan and then further laid bare in the 2016 update to the plan, which provided a framework for future collaboration. That document identifies specific actions the county could take for fire protection. Mr. Weber said those efforts will require at least 10 years’ worth of work.
“Everyone is doing the best they can with what they have,” Ms. Neill said. “They are not staffed to deal with the issues, nor with the public demand.”
The need for collaboration was stressed further in 2018, in the “Lessons Learned from North Bay Fire Siege” analysis prepared by the county fire department. “The only thing separating Marin County from their neighbors north was simply an ignition source,” the report found.
The icing on the cake was a Marin civil grand jury report on wildfire preparedness that in April proposed the creation of a joint-powers authority funded by a sales tax. Instead, county supervisors opted for a parcel tax based on square footage after a voter opinion survey found that route was most favorable, with 75 percent support.
The approximately $20 million raised by the tax would go into three buckets. The first bucket would include $12 million for core functions, including a coordinated fire hazard reduction program implementing goat grazing, fuel breaks, pruning and prescriptive burns on top of work already being done. Other programs for wildfire detection, evacuation improvements, education and grants would be funded from this bucket.
The second bucket would include $4 million for a defensible space management program. The authority would hire home inspectors, clear space around public infrastructure and on abandoned properties and offer grants to those who need help maintaining defensible space.
The last bucket reserves $4 million for local prevention efforts. “We’re asking local agencies to identify areas of concern and potential projects and let the [joint-powers authority] come in and develop a prescription,” Mr. Weber said.
The authority would not exceed administrative costs over $2 million, he added: “It really forces that the money goes to work being done, and not salaries and overhead of lots of people.”
September 5, 2019
Point Reyes Light
By Braden Cartwright
[Santa Clara County] Santa Clara leaves police chief decision to voters, disputes scathing grand jury report
Blog note: the grand jury item begins about half way through.
It’s official: Santa Clara will have two police chief elections in 2020 after councilmembers on Wednesday night said they couldn’t agree on who to elect to the newly-vacant position between now and Dec. 2020.
The decision comes after a contentious meeting where elected officials were set to decide what to do about the retirement of longtime Chief Mike Sellers who stepped down Sept. 1, more than a year earlier than expected based on his elected term.
Sellers’ retirement, initially announced in June but made official this month, set off a 30-day process for city leaders to appoint someone to take over the top police post in the city for the next 16 months, saving potential police chief candidates from running twice in a year.
The catch is that councilmembers would need to agree in a four-fifths vote — meaning at least six out of seven of them — to appoint the same person. Elected officials weren’t confident they could agree, particularly after not being able to agree on a replacement for former Councilmember Dominic Caserta last year after he stepped down due to sexual harassment allegations from former students.
“It’s important for us to remember what happened last year because it really wasn’t that long ago,” Councilmember Kathy Watanabe said. “We wasted over six hours because certain members of our council weren’t honest about the process … I don’t want to go through that again, and I don’t want anybody to go through that again.”
A new chief will be elected during the next general election, scheduled for March 3, 2020, but will only serve the rest of Sellers’ original term, which ends in Dec. 2020.
Then police chief candidates will need to run again in the November election to hold onto the position for a four-year term.
“I would have liked to have done anything possible to avoid putting the public through two elections,” Councilmember Teresa O’Neill said. “I just don’t see a way there.”
Already, the position has a couple of contenders for the March primary.
Among them: Current Assistant Chief Dan Winter, who will take on the police chief responsibilities in the interim, and Lieutenant Pat Nikolai, who narrowly lost his bid for the top job in 2016.
Nikolai told this news organization in July he was interested in being appointed to the position but would also run to be elected next year if it came to that.
Assistant Chief Winter told San José Spotlight on Wednesday he was also hoping to be appointed but would be prepared to run for the position next year.
Response to Grand Jury public records report
The police chief position was one of two high-profile issues discussed Wednesday night during the special meeting.
The second big-ticket item was the city’s legally mandated response to a scathing Civil Grand Jury report released in June that alleged that Santa Clara city staff members did not comply with the state’s open records law. The report is called City of Santa Clara: Public Records Access, The Paper Chase.
On Wednesday, lawmakers unequivocally disagreed with every finding the Civil Grand Jury outlined, and they agreed to send a response to the investigative judicial body saying just that.
City Manager Deanna Santana outlined the response at length, disputing the accuracy of parts of the 18-page report released earlier this summer. She added that the findings did not capture the big picture for Santa Clara, which she said has a significantly larger load when it comes to public records requests compared to neighboring cities.
Some city leaders, including Mayor Lisa Gillmor and Councilmember Debi Davis, suggested the large number of public records requests constituted harassment by frequent requesters.
Both Gillmor and Davis called for the list of public record requests to be made public along with the identity of the requesters, what they were asking for and why they wanted the information. That information would be helpful for taxpayers, Gillmor said, because so much city staff time is being spent on gathering that information.
The state law governing the requests, the California Public Records Act, dates back to 1968 and allows people to look at and receive documents created and kept by government agencies, with only a few narrowly-defined exceptions. It outlines strict requirements for how long a government agency has to respond to requests and deliver documents. The law also allows people to remain anonymous while requesting information, making the calls for releasing the identities of frequent requesters difficult, according to City Attorney Brian Doyle.
Santa Clara County’s Civil Grand Jury report concluded that Santa Clara’s public records process is “a time-consuming and difficult chore.” It outlined jurors’ experiences attempting to get specific documents, finding ultimately that the city’s system was, in their view, disorganized and decentralized. The report also noted that response times for such public record requests in the first quarter of 2019 had more than doubled from 2018.
The judicial body laid out specific recommendations for the city, and Santa Clara officials are required to respond to those recommendations within about three months, a deadline that the city was set to hit this month.
Santa Clara officials will send a response to the judicial body disputing all of the findings in the report. In the meantime, city officials say they’re working to enact systems that will digitize public records processes in the future, ideally adding efficiency to the city’s existing processes.
September 5, 2019
San Jose Spotlight
By Janice Bitters
I appreciated the writings of Joe Harrop last Saturday asking the question “Is Red Bluff Adrift?” Citing suggestions from the recent Tehama County Grand Jury report about stimulating economic growth here, he noted ideas for moving our community forward. These included promoting our local and recreational attractions, increasing interest to the downtown Main Street shopping experience, and encouraging occupancy of vacant buildings with new or expanding businesses.
Apparently one economic growth idea has been overlooked, however-through no fault of Joe. Buried in California Tax Code Section 69, it has the potential to give Tehama County a long term financial boost. The “Transfer of Base Year Property Value of Destroyed Properties” provision seems less than glamorous, even counter-productive at first glance. Used wisely, though, it could help tap into some long-term economic benefits for Tehama County through financially stable people now just across our southeast county line.
Here’s why. Butte County is clogged with hordes of house-hunting people from Paradise and other burned communities who have yet to move into permanent homes after the Camp Fire. Tainted water in the burn scar, unreliable power, exorbitant rebuild costs, bureaucratic red tape and now skyrocketing home insurance premiums are all contributing factors.
Butte County allows homeowners ages 55 and older to transfer the original, base year, assessed values of their destroyed homes to similar rebuilt or newly-purchased homes in their county one time only. With Proposition 13 yet in place, this can provide property tax relief for fire survivors by maintaining their tax rates paid before the fire day. Undoubtedly, this intra-country provision is keeping some folks in crowded Butte County until the smoke clears, as it were, and they can obtain permanent places to settle down.
Forward-thinking counties have invited fire survivors from disaster counties to move by adopting this base year value transfer provision, expanding it to an inter-county option and welcoming new residents. These are Alameda, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Tuolumne, Sutter and Ventura counties, as far as I know. Others are hesitant, seeing this as a potential loss of tax revenue.
In my view, some tax revenue from new residents is better than no tax revenue from residents who never arrive. Because the average time between moves for this sector of the population in Tehama County is seven years, newcomers will typically have their tax rates recalculated then.
Meanwhile, they can root into life here, add to the sales tax revenue stream and show their new places to friends and family, who may say “Wow. Not bad.”
I’m from Paradise. My home and everything in it was destroyed by the Camp Fire last November. After living in a 24-foot trailer for the winter, I was driven by lack of housing into Red Bluff, where I’m now renting a home. My plan is to buy a home or build one here because it’s, after all, “not bad.” But I’m also looking at other places in California.
I’ve suggested to the Board of Supervisors here that it adopt Prop. 90, as the listed counties have, which would allow the inter-county transfer of assessed values of destroyed homes. Then disaster survivors could be drawn to Tehama County instead of driven here by necessity. And attracting people would likely bring more of us than pushing us in. How many? Not thousands, probably not hundreds, but perhaps there will be scores, all helping stimulate economic growth as the Grand Jury has requested.
Helping me with research on this, because I’ve asked, have been the offices of Sen. Jim Nielsen and Assemblyman James Gallagher. Both think it’s a good idea, but recognize that the only way to move it forward in this county is through the Tehama County Board of Supervisors.
The Board of Supervisors has thoughtfully added this item to its agenda for Sept. 10. I’m encouraging them to go for it.
September 4, 2019
Red Bluff Daily News
Letter to the editor from Ken Boone, Red Bluff
District, boosters combine for funding
Blog note: this article references a grand jury report.
When Half Moon Bay High School’s Jessica Markbreiter, the beloved certified athletic trainer for the past four years, left the school last week for a position at Sacred Heart Cathedral, the unoccupied position appeared to be in flux.
Due to financial concerns, Cabrillo Unified School District officials were unsure whether the district could continue its funding for the school’s athletic trainer position. Since 2013, the district and the Half Moon Bay Cougar Booster Athletic Corp. shared the cost of the athletic trainer. Faced with the possibility of losing the position altogether, the district decided to commit to the position, and, along with support from Cougar Boosters, is currently searching for a new athletic trainer to monitor its athletes.
Sean McPhetridge, the district superintendent, spoke with his staff and Boosters President Kris Hammerstrom last week to figure out the logistics.
“Thanks to the generosity of the Boosters that raise hundreds of thousands of dollars each year, we’re able to hire that person. And we think that’s best practice,” McPhetridge said.
Prior to the district’s decision, Hammerstrom emphasized the job was critical to the high school, and the Boosters club would look to fund the job itself if necessary. While emergency medical technicians and other professionals could work football games, an athletic trainer provides daily access to high-quality treatment for all sports.
“We consider the certified athletic trainer component vital and the mission critical to the whole of Half Moon Bay High athletics,” Hammerstrom said.
Hammerstrom estimated Markbreiter, the school’s longest tenured certified trainer since 2011, treated 20 to 30 athletes per day, five days a week.
Until the position is filled, the Cougars will work with certified firefighters with current EMT credentials, specifically alumni Zach Perry and Jeff Downing. Booster member Angela Bye will help tape prior to Friday games.
Having a certified trainer has made Cabrillo schools somewhat unusual locally. A San Mateo County grand jury report in early August noted the district was one of three out of six San Mateo County districts to offer an athletic trainer position. The other two are San Mateo Union and Sequoia Union.
Among many other duties, Markbreiter implemented mandatory software-driven concussion baseline testing for every student-athlete for the past two years. The grand jury report ended with a recommendation that by September 2020, football games and full contact practices should be attended by certified athletic trainers.
“We have 26 sports programs at the high school,” Hammerstrom said. “And the athletic trainer supports every one of those programs as best they can every day of the week.”
September 4, 2019
Half Moon Bay Review
By August Howe