Sunday, June 16, 2019
[Santa Barbara County] Train Deaths in Santa Barbara County Clustered on 2 Stretches of South Coast, Grand Jury Finds
Twenty people were struck and killed by trains in Santa Barbara County between 2015 and 2018, with 18 of the deaths occuring along two stretches of South Coast railroad track, according to a new grand jury report.
The sheriff’s Coroner’s Bureau determined 11 of the deaths were suicides and nine were accidental, according to the report, which also found that 12 of the 20 victims were homeless people.
The report states that a “vast majority of fatalities” occurred in two specific areas of the 109-mile corridor through the county: between Ortega Hill in Summerland and Milpas Street in Santa Barbara, and between Patterson Avenue and Glen Annie Road in Goleta.
Union Pacific owns all the track, which Amtrak leases for passenger trains that pass through 12 times a day. Union Pacific runs an average of two freight trains through the county daily.
Ninety percent of the fatalities occurred between the hours of 11 a.m. and 7 p.m., and almost all of them involved Amtrak trains, according to the report, which was released Thursday.
The number of deaths in Santa Barbara County was higher than neighboring counties overall and on a per-capita basis.
“Over the four-year period, the county had one railroad-related death per 22,000 inhabitants, Ventura County had one per 46,000 inhabitants, San Luis Obispo County had one per 57,000 inhabitants, and Kern County had one per 69,000 inhabitants,” the report states.
The high number of homeless encampments along South Coast train tracks presents a problem, the grand jury concluded.
“A reduction in pedestrian trespassing deaths, including suicides and transient/homeless deaths, can best be secured by restricting access to and providing additional security,” the report says.
The grand jury investigation found that homeless encampments are common in areas where right-of-way fencing has deteriorated and bushes and trees have grown to provide natural shelter.
“Areas where brush has been cleared and trees properly managed have very few encampments,” the report notes.
The grand jury report makes several recommendations to reduce fatalities, and responses are required from the cities of Goleta and Santa Barbara, the county, the Sheriff’s Department and the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments.
The agencies are encouraged to work with Union Pacific on implementing the recommendations, which include mending existing fences and erecting new ones; removing overgrown foliage in the right-of-way area; improving security patrols by negotiating memoranda of understanding with local law enforcement; increasing surveillance by installing video cameras to monitor pedestrian trespassing and transient/homeless encampments; and stakeholder collaboration with regular meetings.
Click here to read the full Santa Barbara County Grand Jury report on Railway Fatalities.
June 15, 2019
Noozhawk Santa Barbara
By Joshua Molina
Friday, June 14, 2019
Special report released in March called for changes at Lampson Field airport.
LAKEPORT — The Lake County Board of Supervisors this week responded to a special report by the Lake County Civil Grand Jury and denied the grand jury’s request for money to cover over-budget expenditures.
The grand jury’s special report, entitled “How can we safely land?” was submitted March 14 in advance of the jury’s upcoming full 2018-2019 report. The report pertained exclusively to the Lampson Field Airport—Lake County’s only operating public airport—and identified areas of concern with the facility, also noting an opportunity for the county to apply for federal grant money to perform needed improvements.
A civil grand jury is made up of local residents, and is tasked with investigating the operations of the local government under which it operates, and making recommendations as to how those governments can improve. This work is referred to by the State of California as a “watchdog” function.
In Lake County, recent reports from the grand jury have been met with sharp criticism from the board of supervisors.
In 2018, District 5 Supervisor Rob Brown called the 2017-2018 grand jury report “nonsense.” On Tuesday, Brown referred to the recent special report’s title as “idiotic,” and claimed the grand jury is “taking credit for the sun coming up” by making recommendations about the Lampson Field Airport.
County Administrative Officer Carol Huchingson and supervisors Moke Simon and Bruno Sabatier joined Brown in jabbing the report’s title. “It essentially implies that it’s not safe to land at Lampson Field,” Huchingson said.
“We all get affected by the negative remarks that are put out there,” said Sabatier.
In legally required written responses to the grand jury report, the board of supervisors disagreed with every recommendation made by the grand jury. Lake County Public Works Director Scott De Leon, who also responded, disagreed with most of the jury’s findings.
The board of supervisors also denied the grand jury’s request for $5,000 in contingency funds to make up for over-budget per diem and travel costs incurred by the jury members. The entity’s total budget is roughly $65,000 annually.
In an interview with this newspaper, civil grand jury foreman Mark Rothrock suggested he was not surprised by the county’s reaction to the report.
“I understand their response,” Rothrock said. “Whether they liked it or not, I think (the report) brought attention to the airport.”
Asked whether he agreed with the county about the title of the report, Rothrock said he believed the title had had no negative effect, but had contributed toward raising awareness of the airport’s needs.
“It’s been out for a couple of months,” Rothrock said of the report, “and nobody has called us” with concerns about the title. “I’m glad it came out the way it did and I haven’t heard anything negative from the public at all,” he added.
Regarding the denial of the grand jury’s request for $5,000 to cover additional expenses incurred in the past fiscal year, Rothrock remarked that most of that money would have been used to print the final report. He noted that costs had been higher this year because much of the work done by the grand jury was “far-flung,” making travel costs rise.
June 13, 2019
Lake County Record-Bee
By Aidan Freeman
As with most reports that emanate from the Monterey County Civil Grand Jury, the one the panel dropped June 10 regarding the county’s development and somewhat disastrous implementation of an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system is an exercise in blame.
But hell, so is this column: Witness my clever use of the word disastrous above.
Or witness the subhead the grand jury used: Costly Lessons from a Decade-Long Systems Enhancement Effort.
The county first began discussing an upgraded business processes system in 2007, and after several years of planning, implemented the first version of the system in 2009-2010, and an updated version in 2018.
It was about that time that County Supervisor Luis Alejo, who hadn’t been on the board during the planning phase or the implementation, but by 2018 had been there long enough to know which end is up, had some questions. Like, for example, why the cost of a financial management and software system initially estimated at $4.3 million had swelled to $27 million and counting. In the end, the grand jury reported the system had cost $37 million, approved by the Board of Supervisors, and $3.6 million on legal and consulting fees and staff time allocated to the project but not budgeted for it. As the grand jury put it, the implementations were “inefficient and unnecessarily costly,” thanks to a number of things. The implementation suffered from inconsistent management, with the project manager’s seat changing five times in less than three years. When the first version was implemented, a lack of documentation on some payroll practices resulted in employees being paid incorrectly.
And then there’s this jaw-dropper: “senior county management” (who aren’t identified in the grand jury report, but I’m pretty sure they’re referring to the county Auditor-Controller’s Office, which was in charge of the implementation) “knowingly” launched the first payroll system with overtime calculations that didn’t match contractual bargaining unit agreements. To put it in plainer language than the report, someone in charge knew the information was wrong, they used it anyway and it resulted in lawsuits, grievances, fines and financial penalties.
During the first 11 months after the payroll system launched in 2010, about 25 percent of the county’s bargaining unit employees – 1,383 in all – received paychecks that were different than prior to the implementation. The Deputy Sheriffs’ Association filed grievances against the county, as did the SEIU.
Total cost of the fees, fines and penalties resulting from those successful grievances: $378,000.
County Supervisor Jane Parker testified before the grand jury, the only supervisor who’s been on the board since the ERP project was conceived and implemented. She hasn’t read the full report yet, but her chief of staff, Kristi Markey, has; she conveyed to Parker her sense that the grand jury looked deeply into all of the issues that contributed to the problems.
“My hope is that through the report we can manage not to have this set of circumstances happen again,” Parker says.
The report doesn’t let the Board of Supervisors off the hook. Under its recommendations, when the county implements its next ERP system (in two to four years, yikes, because that’s how long this kind of software lasts) the grand jury says the supes need to hold senior county management more accountable for keeping them updated, and needs to assign ownership of the implementation to the County Administrative Officer.
Agencies and elected officials normally issue a response to a grand jury report some time after the initial report drops. Elected officials such as the auditor have 60 days to respond, while the county has 90 days.
County auditor/controller Rupa Shah, the elected official responsible for, among other things, providing budget control and financial services to the county, declined to comment because she is still reviewing the report. Her eventual written response will probably be worth the wait.
June 13, 2019
Monterey County Weekly
By Mary Duan
The Santa Barbara County Civil Grand Jury received a request to investigate railroad deaths.
During a four year period from 2015 to 2018, twenty railroad related fatal accidents occurred along the 109-mile Santa Barbara County railroad corridor. The jury found the vast majority of railroad fatalities occurred in two relatively small stretches of track from Ortega Hill to Milpas Street in the City of Santa Barbara and from Patterson Ave to Glen Annie Road in Goleta.
Ninety-five percent of fatalities were a result from pedestrian trespassing on the right-of-way owned by Union Pacific Railroad and operated by both Union Pacific Railroad and Amtrak.
The Jury identified the high rates of "suicide by train" and deaths of homeless/transient persons as significant. The Jury focused efforts on these high fatality zones and developed six recommendations that could enhance railroad safety in Santa Barbara County.
June 13, 2019
Santa Barbara Edhat
Source: Santa Barbara County Grand Jury
Thursday, June 13, 2019
[Orange County] Grand Huntington Beach landfill outrage spurs school officials to address health concerns
Dust from cleanup of a landfill rouse concerns for students at nearby Edison High School
Blog note: this article references a 2012 grand jury report. Some grand jury reports have long shelf lives.
Chastised by parents upset with fumes from a toxic landfill cleanup wafting across the intersection to Huntington Beach’s Edison High School, Superintendent Clint Harwick said after Tuesday’s board meeting that he’ll pursue on-campus air monitoring and consider shutting down summer activities at the school.
The response comes five days after outrage at a meeting attended by 300 neighbors resulted in work at the Ascon landfill being halted indefinitely by the state Department of Toxic Substances Control, which is overseeing the cleanup. The agency said work at the former oil-field waste dump would not continue until new steps were taken to control dust and fumes leaving the site.
But even with work stopped, neighbors have complained of ongoing chemical odors.
And while the toxic substances agency has reported just three minor instances of excessive dust or toxins from 648 tests this year, parents speaking at Tuesday’s Huntington Beach Union High School board meeting repeatedly cited student headaches, breathing issues, nausea and other illnesses that coincided with the start of the cleanup in Februrary.
Parents presented a list of requests to the school board, including air purifiers for every classroom, on-campus air monitoring and no summer school or summer athletics at the school.
“We’ll definitely look into that,” Harwick said afterward of shutting down summer activities. Summer school is scheduled to begin Tuesday.
“We have a short period of time to look at information to make that decision,” he said
District spokeswoman Cheryl McKenzie said Wednesday that Harwick had been in meetings that day to discuss bringing independent contractors on campus to monitor the air and help determine if there’s cause to shut down summer activities.
Historical health worries
The landfill, located a half mile from the ocean at the intersection of Magnolia Street and Hamilton Avenue, was privately operated from 1938 to 1984. A 2012 county grand jury report noted that toxic substances in the dump included chromic acid, sulfuric acid, aluminum slag, fuel oils and styrene.
Signs on the fence surrounding the 38-acre site warn of lead, arsenic and nickel.
Several preliminary cleanups — and attempted cleanups — have taken place over the years as officials have tried to minimize the long-term environmental and health hazards at the site. The final cleanup plan, which will remove part of the toxic waste and seal the remainder in the center of the site, was approved in 2015 and is scheduled for completion next year.
Health concerns have cropped up in the community periodically, but several studies have failed to connect the toxic site with illnesses in the area.
The 2012 grand jury discussed the issue with county public health officers.
“They basically summarized the results of their investigations as statistically negative with regard to a link between the dump and reported neighborhood illnesses,” the grand jury report said. It then noted, “Clearly, statistical reports have not quieted the fears of some residents who continue to believe there is a link between health issues and the dump site.”
Tuesday’s school board testimony underlined that sentiment. Mariya Sheldon’s discussion of the health of her daughter, an Edison student, over the past five months was one of many anecdotal examples.
“She has come home numerous times due to unbearable migraines, unexplained and unresolved sinus issues, dizziness, stomach aches and nausea,” Sheldon said. “Our new culprit is unexplained joint pain, swelling and bruising. Numerous blood tests have found no cause to these symptoms. I believe I have an explanation: the unsafe and careless remediation efforts at Ascon.”
Meanwhile, some neighbors have pointed to specific incidents of cancer in the area and expressed worries that the landfill is responsible.
USC medical professor Thomas Mack in 2011 examined the incidence of childhood stem-cell cancer in the area. Of the 85 instances in the county over a 20-year period, there were no instances in north Huntington Beach while eight occurred in the southern half of the city, where the landfill is located. But none of those eight were within a half mile of the dump and the numbers were within the margin of variation due to chance, he found.
In 2006, UC Irvine medical researchers Hoda Anton-Culver and Thomas Taylor examined statewide cancer data to compare the areas adjacent to the landfill to that of the general population.
“We did not find any excess risk of cancers, given the best estimates of the size, ages, gender and race/ethnic mix of the community, and time of observation,” Taylor said via email Tuesday.
Failure to communicate
Two school board members on Tuesday said they’d been unaware of the parents’ concerns and complained that the city of Huntington Beach had left the school district out of the loop about developments related to the landfill.
“I don’t doubt the furor over us not knowing about this, but the city hasn’t been helpful,” said trustee Susan Henry.
But parents upset with the lack of communication by the district weren’t buying that excuse, noting longstanding issues at the landfill and recent calls from concerned parents to Edison High School.
“We’re upset that no steps were taken were taken to protect our students,” said Ceeson Baker, who’s son attends the school. “You have an obligation to protect our children.”
Assistant Superintendent Owen Crosby said he spoke with the toxic substances agency Monday, and that the district would now be getting regular updates from both the agency and the city.
In an email, Huntington Beach Mayor Erik Peterson did not directly respond to school trustees’ criticism but did say that all involved agencies needed to communicate better with the public.
Meanwhile, some neighbors and parents are wondering why citizen outrage has been necessary to win recent pledges of action by the toxic substances agency and school district.
“I don’t know why the burden of this is falling on the community,” parent Tara Barton told the school board Tuesday.
June 12, 2019
The Orange County Register
By Martin Wisckol
[San Diego County] Grand Jury Report Finds County Foster Care Staff Overworked, Allegations of Abuse
A grand jury report released Wednesday found multiple gaps in institutional safety and training in the Child Welfare Services division of San Diego County’s Health and Human Services Agency.
The grand jury reviewed the workloads of social workers in the CWS division, as well as how CWS workers are trained to provide support and care to foster children and parents. The panel also looked into the effects of the state’s Continuum of Care Reform Act, which required regional foster care systems to increase support for foster families and improve outcomes for foster youth.
The grand jury found that most social workers are overworked and often spend as much or more time on administrative work than interacting with foster children and families, resulting in poor communication and coordination. CWS staff and foster parents also lack the proper training to offer trauma-informed care or support for victims of human trafficking, according to the report.
The grand jury launched the study after the San Diego Union-Tribune reported last July on a lawsuit alleging multiple instances of abuse of foster children over a seven-year period.
Through interviews with county officials and a review of current CWS practices, the grand jury received reports that nearly one-third of foster children were abused in some way in their foster homes. In addition, roughly 20% of all calls to the county’s child abuse hotline were from foster youth.
“Even though foster families have 12 hours of initial training including an orientation and eight hours of continuing education/year, the grand jury believes increased training in trauma and parent education will decrease maltreatment in (the Resource Family Approval program) and kinship care,” the report says.
The grand jury issued nearly 10 recommendations to the county to improve the foster care system and ensure the safety of foster youth, including an annual study of abuse and mistreatment and a dedicated oversight board to investigate cases of abuse in foster homes.
Currently, cases of abuse in the county’s foster youth system are handled by a group of protective service workers and records clerks. Those workers coordinate with local law enforcement to investigate abuse and mistreatment allegations.
The panel also recommended that the county study both current workloads for its social workers and overall turnover rates to improve recruitment and retention efforts. The study should also focus on how to increase interaction between social workers, foster youth and their foster families, according to the grand jury.’
June 12, 2019
Times of San Diego
By Debbie L. Sklar
Blog note: another follow-up article on a 2018 grand jury report.
The Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors did not make a decision on Tuesday about hiring an economic development director.
All five elected supervisors gathered at 2 p.m. in the board’s chambers and took public comments before going into a private closed session to interview finalists for the job.
They returned from the closed session later Tuesday for an open public meeting about fire protection services, but announced there was no action taken earlier with regard to the economic development director position.
California law allows governing bodies to exclude the public from meetings under certain circumstances, such as personnel matters, property sale negotiations and pending lawsuits.
The law also requires them to publicly report any action taken in a closed session that affects the employment status of a public employee.
County Counsel Sarah Carrillo, the board’s chief legal advisor, said she couldn’t confirm when a final decision about the position would be announced.
County Counsel Sarah Carrillo, the board’s chief legal advisor, said she couldn’t confirm when a final decision about the position would be announced.
Martin Blake, a 40-year county resident who lives in Columbia, addressed the board before it went into closed session and asked whether the new director’s contract would include a clause about oversight.
Blake referenced reports that Larry Cope, former chief executive officer of the Tuolumne County Economic Development Authority, operated with little oversight in the 10 years he worked for the agency.
“Even the president of the United States has to face voters once every four years,” Blake said.
The TCEDA was a joint powers authority formed by the county in partnership with the City of Sonora, which made it a separate entity from both governments legally speaking.
Oversight of the TCEDA was provided by a governing board that consisted of two county supervisors, two city council members, and three private individuals from the business community.
A Grand Jury report released in June last year stated the TCEDA’s structure as a joint powers authority allowed it to operate with different policies than the city and county, which contributed to the concerns about oversight and accountability.
Carrillo said the contract for the new position will use the standard template for county employees that includes specific provisions regarding oversight, including performance evaluations conducted by the Board of Supervisors at least once a year.
Although the board will select the person to appoint, Carrillo noted that the county administrator will manage the day-to-day operations of the new director.
“So there will be significant oversight,” she said.
There were five candidates who applied for the position and met the minimum qualifications, but one dropped out of the running before being interviewed.
Local business leaders and county officials were scheduled to interview the final four candidates on Monday and recommend the top two for the board to consider.
County Administrator Tracie Riggs said in an interview last week that one of the applicants who met the minimum qualifications was a local person.
The board created the new permanent position in May after unsuccessfully attempting to find someone who would do the job on a temporary basis for up to three months.
The annual base salary for the position will start at $99,382 per year and top out at $121,306, which doesn’t include health or retirement benefits.
There hasn’t been a dedicated program for economic development in the county since Cope left as the head of the TCEDA in March.
Cope’s contract was terminated after the board and city unanimously voted to shut down the TCEDA on Feb. 19 in the face of public pressure that stemmed from the findings of last year’s Grand Jury report.
Prior to leaving, Cope was receiving an annual base salary of $163,625. He was initially hired at $93,594 per year in 2009.
Cope began working last week as economic development director for the city of Hawarden, located in a rural part of northwest Iowa along the border with South Dakota.
Cope will be paid an annual salary of $65,000, Hawarden City Administrator Mike DeBruin said in an email.
Cope will not receive any benefits beyond what’s offered to all other employees of the city, which includes vacation time, sick leave and holiday pay.
Hawarden city employees do not receive any allowances for cars, cell phones, Internet, or other perks, DeBruin said.
While working for the TCEDA, Cope was receiving — on top of his base salary — $500 per month for use of his personal vehicle and $200 per month for cell phone and Internet service.
DeBruin said city of Hawarden employees also don’t receive severance packages, though Cope’s contract with the TCEDA entitled him to six months of his salary if it was terminated prematurely.
Cope received more than $120,000 upon leaving the TCEDA, which included $81,816 in severance pay and just shy of $40,000 for unused vacation time.
The city of Hawarden looked at 23 candidates for the economic development director and selected Cope because of his background and experience in the field, DeBruin said.
“We wanted a person who was knowledgeable and well versed in economic development,” DeBruin said. “We are hopeful that Mr. Cope will be able to assist our businesses with retention, to assist our downtown with innovative ideas to make business owners flourish in our downtown, add business to our industrial park, and to create programs for new housing in our community.”
DeBruin declined to comment on whether anything about Cope’s tenure in Tuolumne County came up during the interview process, nor give his personal thoughts on the matter.
DeBruin said he read news articles about the situation with the TCEDA and spoke with people in Tuolumne County and Sonora who had “many great things to say about Mr. Cope and their experience with him there.”
“I have not read anything in the articles about Mr. Cope doing anything illegal. The one resounding thing I did read from the Grand Jury report was the lack of oversight,” DeBruin said. “I believe we can provide the oversight necessary and work with Mr. Cope to bring positive results to Hawarden.”
June 11, 2019
The Union Democrat
By Alex MacLean
[Santa Barbara County] Grand Jury Investigation Finds Continuing Contraband Problem at Santa Barbara Main Jail
Report recommends more specific training for officers to conduct pat-downs, purchasing full body scanners to screen inmates and visitors
A Santa Barbara County Grand Jury investigation determined contraband in the Main Jail has remained a problem for the Sheriff’s Department for more than a decade and has led to inmate overdoses over the years, according to the group's report released this week.
The investigation was conducted to determine how well the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office (SBSO) prevents contraband from entering the Main Jail facility at 4436 Calle Real near Santa Barbara.
Contraband includes cell phones, money, cigarette lighters, matches, tobacco, drugs and alcohol, and weapons such as knives and guns.
The Grand Jury was prompted to investigate contraband “in large part by its belief that many arrestees who enter or re-enter the jail are addicted to drugs and/or alcohol. This disturbing situation creates a built-in, captive marketplace for persons who are more than willing for a variety of motives to serve the drug addictive needs of many in the jail population,” according to the report.
A Main Jail inmate died from a heroin overdose in November 2009, presumably from drugs he got inside the facility since he was booked into jail two weeks before he died, according to the report.
“Although there does not appear to have been a drug overdose death in custody since then, the continued introduction and presence of dangerous substances in the Jail, despite ongoing preventative efforts to control it, poses a constant risk of a fatal repetition,” the Grand Jury concluded.
Two non-fatal drug overdoses were reported in January 2019, and both inmates were hospitalized for multiple days. One inmate had ingested LSD and ecstasy, and the other had taken prescription medications phenobarbital and Klonopin, a potentially fatal mixture, the report said.
According to SBSO data, there were 214 drug related incidents in 2018 in which controlled dangerous substances or alcohol were found in the Main Jail or attempted to be brought into the Main Jail.
In August 2018, $15,000 to $20,000 worth of heroin, methamphetamines and prescription medications were found on an inmate’s person.
“While there are many possible reasons for the contraband we are seeing, it is most likely connected to the epidemic national opioid addiction problem, as well as the on-going local methamphetamine problem,” sheriff's spokeswoman Kelly Hoover said.
Contraband is found on inmates’ persons where it cannot be easily detected, around the jail facility’s perimeter, and mailed to inmates. Most contraband has been found through unannounced cell searches, odor detection, information provided by other inmates, and screening mail items sent to inmates, according to the report.
The Grand Jury previously investigated the contraband issue in 2009 and in response to that report, the Sheriff's Department conducted hundreds of inmate and cell searches.
Yet a decade later, the the contraband problem has remained the same, according to the 2019 report.
To address the large volume of contraband items found in the Main Jail, the Grand Jury report recommends that officers be trained to pat-down arrestees more effectively at jail intake, and that the department purchase another drug detection dog and full body scanners to screen incoming inmates and visitors.
The Main Jail currently does not have any full body scanners and there is one drug sniffing dog, Krypto, who is used periodically at the Main Jail to detect contraband, the Grand Jury found.
SBSO has 60 days to respond to the report and its recommendations.
The Sheriff’s Office is still studying the recommendations from the Grand Jury and will submit a formal response to the Presiding Judge of the Santa Barbara Superior Court by Aug. 6, Hoover said.
Hoover said contraband is an issue for many correctional facilities, and said inmates will continue to “thwart” SBSO’s efforts to detect drugs coming into the Main Jail.
The investigation consisted of multiple interviews with senior Sheriff’s Department custody officials who monitor the daily efforts to prevent contraband from entering the jail facilities, and a review of SBSO statistics.
The Grand Jury also released a report this week on its investigation into the death of a Main Jail inmate who suffered from multiple chronic medical conditions and died at Cottage Hospital in March 2018.
The inmate died from natural causes and no further action was required, the report determined.
June 11, 2019
By Maura Fox
Sonora, CA — The Tuolumne County Grand Jury continues to release more sections of its 2019 report.
We reported earlier that the group was highly critical of the oversight of the Tuolumne County Economic Development Authority, and later addressed safety and staffing concerns at the Tuolumne County Jail.
The latest sections deal with the Tuolumne County Juvenile Hall and the Groveland Community Services District. Related to the juvenile detention center, it argues that the facility is saving the county money in the long term by reducing youth recidivism from 49-percent to 19-percent. It also praises the the investment of the local volunteer community.
Regarding the Groveland Community Services District, it found the district is financially stressed, there is not enough staffing, the high cost of fire and park services is not sustainable, wastewater issues are not being properly addressed, and representatives have been confrontational with ratepayers. It also voices concerns about the ability of the General Manager to serve in the lead role, while he also still represents various other water districts.
June 11, 2019
By B.J. Hansen
Blog note: this article references a grand jury report.
PACIFIC GROVE — An application to construct a hotel and commercial space in the troubled American Tin Cannery building was submitted Friday to the city of Pacific Grove.
Debra Geiler, the head of entitlements for EI Segundo-based Comstock Properties, confirmed Friday that her company has filed an application and is in the initial stages of a development plan after striking a lease agreement with the Cannery Row Co., the owners of the building at 125 Ocean View Blvd.
Geiler said they worked with Ted Balestreri, chief executive of Cannery Row Co., for the past eight or nine months to hammer out a long-term lease agreement. Comstock determined that the site was underutilized and ideal for investment.
The Tin Cannery is currently home to roughly 20 small retail shops, far from its capacity.
Mike Zimmerman, chief operations officer for Cannery Row Co., said there is no better place in Pacific Grove to put in a hotel.
“This is going to be great for Pacific Grove,” Zimmerman said. “It will give PG one of the finest hotels in Northern California and provide great financial benefits for the city of Pacific Grove for years to come.”
Geiler said having a new hotel at the location will contribute to the Cannery Row community and help create an important entryway and identity for Pacific Grove. There will be opportunities to partner with the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Hopkins Marine Station to incorporate the “Monterey Peninsula charm,” she said.
“The design will incorporate the existing building,” Geiler said. “The plan will also have 20,000 square feet of retail, very similar to the San Francisco Ferry Building.”
The project is in its infancy and will take roughly nine to 12 months to finish the designs, answer questions from planning staff and the public meeting process to be completed, Geiler said, adding that the company has been in “lockstep” with the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District and has confirmed that it has more than enough entitlements for the project.
“All told it will likely be 18 months before there’s any activity on the actual building,” she said.
An earlier 160-room hotel project dubbed “Project Bella” came apart at the seams after launching in 2015 by developers Domaine Hospitality Partners. In February 2017 the permit for that project expired leaving the city of Pacific Grove in the lurch for more than $100,000 worth of expenses only partially recovered from the developers, according to a Civil Grand Jury report issued in July of last year.
Up to the point of failure, the project had cost nearly $250,000 plus the cost of a $31,000 investigation. Domaine Hospitality reimbursed the city roughly $180,000 of that.
Pacific Grove was the subject of severe criticism in the Grand Jury report, accusing it of moving ahead “without proper due diligence,” the report read.
June 10, 2019
By Dennis L. Taylor
The Mother Lode Regional Juvenile Detention Facility received a glowing review from the 2018-19 Tuolumne County Civil Grand Jury in a new report.
The jury didn’t have anything negative to say about $20 million facility that started housing incarcerated youth in April 2017. According to the 10-page report, recidivism among young offenders in the county has dropped from 49 percent to 19 percent since the hall opened.
Much has been said about the cost of building the facility and ongoing operations that amount to about $1.5 million a year, but the jury determined that the benefits are worth it and could save the county money down the line.
Calaveras, Amador and Mariposa counties signed agreements with the county to pay for housing their juvenile offenders, though the revenue generated does not offset the cost.
“(The facility) was built with the understanding that it was not constructed to make money,” the report stated, echoing statements that other county officials have made about it. “Tuolumne County felt that keeping our youth in county was the ‘right thing to do’ and it was a commitment to our youth.”
The facility was constructed to house up to 30 youth, but there are currently only enough staff for about half that amount.
County probation officers, who handle juvenile incarceration, previously would have to drive three to six hours to take young offenders to facilities outside of the county.
County probation officers, who handle juvenile incarceration, previously would have to drive three to six hours to take young offenders to facilities outside of the county.
There were 92 bookings at the facility over the past year, according to the report, which included seven from Calaveras County, three from Amador County and two from Mariposa County.
The average length of stay is 51 days, and average daily population is slightly over eight, the report stated. The highest population over the past year at one time was 14, while the lowest was five.
More juvenile facilities in the state are underfilled due to a drop in juvenile crime and programs aimed at diverting youth from incarceration, which the jury believed could provide opportunity to house more out-of-county juveniles and get more revenue to offset costs.
There are also no detained juveniles being placed in foster care, which the jury said is also a reduced expense.
The jury also heaped praise on the staff and volunteers at the facility for running programs aimed at helping detainees get back on the right track.
The facility’s staff consists of a superintendent, 11 juvenile correctional officers, two probation aides and a half-time behavioral health clinician.
“They are extremely focused on rehabilitating youth and returning them to their families,” the jury stated, adding that the facility is also “extremely clean and well kept.”
Among the volunteers are 19 trained mentors from the group Hidden Treasures who meet with detainees individually each week, 35 who have provided special meals during weekly religious services, and three volunteers who have provided culinary lessons,
There’s also a guitarist who gives weekly lessons, a cosmetologist who gives monthly haircuts, a local artist who donates time and supplies, two approved adult mentors who provide weekly recreational activities, a local dentist and orthodontist who have each donated their time to treat severe dental issues, and five volunteers who make individual quilts for each detainee to have in their room and keep upon their release.
Ten local restaurants also donate special weekly meals for the youth at the facility on Sundays. The local Christian Motorcycle Association has also donated multiple holiday meals.
Linda Downey, chief probation officer of Tuolumne County, said the youth in the facility also become more engaged with the programs when they see the commitment from the staff and community.
“Our county absolutely made the right decision to move forward to build the facility,” Downey said in response to an email seeking comment on the report. “The (facility) is a reflection of Tuolumne County’s investment and commitment to our youth.”
June 10, 2019
The Union Democrat
By Alex MacLean
[Tuolumne County] Grand jury investigates Groveland Community Services District for third year in a row
Groveland Community Services District has “ongoing odor issues” around its sewage pump stations due to a lack of resources for regular maintenance and flushing, according to one of the findings from the Tuolumne County Civil Grand Jury’s latest report.
The jury released the 17-page document on the county’s website late last week that details its third investigation of the district in the past three consecutive years. It is releasing reports on agencies it investigated by sections this year as opposed to all at one time.
In addition to smelly sewer-system infrastructure, the jury reported that the district is financially stressed and won’t be able to sustain its fire and park services. Also, the agency hired consultants last year for work that was part of the general manager’s responsibilities and has a history of confrontational and intimidating interactions with ratepayers.
Pete Kampa, general manager of GCSD, and Janice Kwiatkowski, president of the district’s Board of Directors, worked together to draft legally required responses to the jury’s findings that will be reviewed at a public meeting Tuesday morning.
Kampa refuted some of the jury’s findings in an interview with The Union Democrat on Monday, though he acknowledged that the district is financially stressed.
“The statement we don’t have enough people to keep odors under control is not a correct statement,” he said. “Preventative maintenance is happening at industry standard in the wastewater collection system.”
The district provides water to about 3,500 rate payers, sewer to about 1,500, contracts with Cal Fire to staff its fire station, and maintains Mary Laveroni Park off Highway 120 in downtown Groveland.
In the report, the jury cited the district’s 2018-19 budget that stated there’s not enough manpower “to perform standard maintenance” because GCSD staff was “always responding to crisis.”
There are five field workers and no supervisor between both the water and wastewater systems, with one of them constantly tied up reading meters.
A staffing shortage was also discussed in the previous grand jury’s report, to which GCSD responded that the jury “is simply not qualified to understand the intricacies of the operation and maintenance of a water and wastewater system.”
Kampa said the district wouldn’t be able to put enough people on the streets to regularly clean its 15 lift stations that pump sewage to its wastewater treatment plant off Ferretti Road, in part due to the design of the system itself.
Ideally, the plant would be located where more of the system could be fed by gravity as opposed to pumps, according to Kampa. The district is working to update its master plan that was last updated in 2001.
“One of the things we’re going to have the engineering firm evaluate is if there are options that are cost effective to deal with any operational issues related to the lift stations and treatment plant,” Kampa said.
The jury also investigated concerns from citizens regarding Kampa’s work outside the district and use of subconsultants while working as a contractor.
Kampa previously served as part-time general manager under a contract that paid him $110 an hour not exceed $115,000 every six months. However, the board hired him as a full-time permanent employee in May with an annual base salary of $150,000, plus health and retirement benefits.
While working as a contractor, the jury reported that Kampa used subconsultants that were paid out of GCSD’s budget for human resources and public relations work that were part of his duties.
The jury cited Kampa’s former contract that stated any subconsultants performing work that overlaps with his own duties should be paid for out of his own pocket. According to the report, the overlapping work performed by the two subconsultants amounted to nearly $37,000 total.
In the proposed responses to the jury, the district stated it agrees with the finding that consultants were used for such work, but that there was nothing illegal or wrong about it.
“The responsibilities of the general manager are everything related to the district, from the services to the finances to handling personnel matters and everything else,” Kampa said in the interview on Monday. It is normal and customary to have either staff who fulfills many of those requirements.”
The jury also looked into concerns about Kampa’s work outside of the district, which previously included contracts as a part-time manager for four other small utilities and community services districts.
Kampa said he has resigned from all other districts since being hired by GCSD full time except for Saddle Creek Community Services District, which he said doesn’t take up much of his time due to it remaining largely undeveloped.
However, the jury did commend the district on a number things it’s accomplished over the past year — which included training staff, converting paper documents into electronic files and repairing flood damage to Mary Laveroni Park.
There’s a small and vocal group of residents in the district who attend board meetings and steadfastly scrutinize the management, which the jury stated can become counterproductive and exacerbate a “caustic atmosphere” when its only focused on being critical.
A history of acrimony between the district and vocal members of the community has also led to confrontational and intimidating interactions with ratepayers, including one in which a GCSD representative admitted to getting into an altercation with a ratepayer on district property.
One of the jury’s recommendations was to develop a clear reporting structure for handling complaints to help improve public trust.
The district’s draft response to the recommendation stated that it isn’t necessary to make any changes to the current process for complaints from the public, which are handled through the general manager and at public board meetings.
June 10, 2019
The Union Democrat
By Alex MacLean
Applications must be received by June 28.
From wildfire prevention and the aftermath of emergencies to absenteeism in public schools to economic development, there is no shortage of issues facing Lake County today. Civic participation in coming up with solutions today will impact our county for years to come and will influence the lives of future generations.
In recent months there have also been renewed efforts toward marketing the county to tourists, strengthening retail and business influences and offerings through tourism, and improving infrastructure and broadband connectivity, among a myriad of other long-term goals.
The Lake County Superior Court is seeking residents willing to serve as jurors and alternates on the 2019-2020 Lake County Civil Grand Jury. We can think of no more important responsibility than serving as the public’s “watchdog” by investigating and reporting upon the affairs of our local government. We urge residents to consider serving on the 19-person grand jury which plays such a vital role in responding to citizens’ complaints, researching issues of importance to every Lake County resident and investigating the operations of and allegations of wrongdoing by public officials and government employees.
While some members of the board of supervisors and county administration have expressed dissatisfaction with previous grand juries and their methodologies and/or conclusions, as we have stated in the past, we believe that the grand jury report is a useful independent assessment of important topics such as public services and emergency operations.
The term of service runs from July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2020 and may require jury members to commit to 10 to 20 hours of work per week, which would consist of attending various committee and general meetings, and working to create a final comprehensive report to be presented to our elected and appointed officials that would highlight topics of public concern and propose solutions to those subjects.
Last year for example, the grand jury’s report focused on poor student attendance and what that costs Lake County public schools. This resulted in strong recommendations from educators to improve attendance, with the grand jury recommending that superintendents of the public school districts be required to regularly publish school attendance figures, including the value of lost revenue due to absenteeism.
The previous year’s grand jury report found that the board of supervisors and the county’s water resources department had neglected to try to collect a $55,900 debt owed to the county for over five years which was tied to a 2010 incident in which a crane fell off a barge into Clear Lake during stormy conditions.
Most recently, the 2018-2019 Lake County Civil Grand Jury issued an interim report detailing important concerns regarding Lampson Field Airport—located within the unincorporated Lake County area off Highland Springs Road, near Highway 29 between Kelseyville and Lakeport. The members of the civil grand jury toured the airport facilities and began an inquiry into Lampson Field Airport’s operations in order to enhance the public’s knowledge of its vital importance to and financial impact on the county. They concluded that airport management has experienced resistance from the county in its efforts to upgrade the facility, and that therefore progress has been slow in coming. The grand jury also found that Lampson Field’s master plan is now six years overdue for an update (it was last updated in 1993), and argued that the board of supervisors should work more closely with the management staff of the public works department to promote the much-needed repairs and upgrades of the facility.
To serve on the civil grand jury, one must be a U.S. citizen aged 18 or older who speaks English, is a resident of California and has lived in Lake County for at least one year prior to selection. Applicants cannot currently hold an elected office or have any felony convictions. Applications may be obtained by visiting www.lakecourts.ca.gov or by mailing a letter with a self-stamped envelope addressed to the Grand Jury Coordinator at 255 N. Forbes 4th Floor, Lakeport, CA 95453. Further information may be obtained by calling the Grand Jury Coordinator at 263-2374. ext. 2282. Applications must be received by June 28.
It is easy to complain about the problems facing our county. Here’s an opportunity for residents to partake in the solutions. We urge qualified residents to apply.
June 10, 2019
Lake County Record-Bee
By the Editorial Board
Tuesday, June 11, 2019
[Sacramento County] ‘Worked to the bone’: Proposed cuts to Sacramento CPS, adult services may strain agency
Blog note: this article references a 2008 grand jury report. A rare Sacramento Bee article on the Sacramento County Grand Jury.
As Sacramento County prepares next year’s budget, some question major cuts being proposed to the county agency charged with assisting at-risk adults and abused, neglected and exploited children and families.
As part of the county staff-recommended budget for 2019-20, 55 unfilled jobs in the Department of Child, Family and Adult Services would be removed, including 27 full-time social workers. The proposal comes as the agency continues its years-long struggle to address regular turnover, a notable vacancy rate and large caseloads.
DCFAS Director Michelle Callejas said in a statement that despite the cuts, Child Protective Services and Seniors and Adult Services will “absolutely persevere.”
“The department has an amazing workforce that is dedicated and committed to addressing the safety and well-being of children, families and vulnerable adults,” Callejas said in a statement.
But department employees worry that the cuts are a sign that already large caseloads are set to grow, said Ted Somera, executive director of the union for Sacramento County’s social workers.
“The social workers I did hear from, they’re tired of being worked to the bone,” Somera said.
Sacramento County has not been aggressive enough to recruit and fill open jobs budgeted in previous years, Somera said, losing out to other employers in the region because they offered a job promising “more money and less stress.”
Last year, social workers in the emergency response division had an average of 16 new referrals per month, according to county spokeswoman Brenda Bongiorno — down from the 19 per month average in 2016, but still higher than the Child Welfare League of America‘s recommendation of no more than 12 active reports per month.
A 2008 Sacramento Bee investigation found widespread deficiencies in the Sacramento County CPS agency, leading to a scathing grand jury report and a county audit that found that at least four children died in the department’s care after chronic failings — including low morale, high turnover, high absenteeism and poorly managed caseload increases.
“For many years they were being demonized in the media for kids dying on their watch,” Somera said. “How is this going to make it better?”
Social worker staffing levels have increased in the last five years: The department in January 2019 was about 16 percent larger than it was in 2015.
But the agency still struggles with turnover — in the last year and a half, about 78 full-time social workers were hired, and about 46 have left. The current vacancy rate at CPS is 7.6 percent.
The department also still faces a high unavailability rate of about 40 percent, during which time social workers are unavailable to investigate cases because of training, vacation, court hearings, meetings and sick leave. In 2015, the unavailability rate was 50 percent.
The largest new expense proposed in the staff recommended budget for next year is $21.7 million in improvements to Sacramento County jails. A lawsuit against the county last year alleged “inhumane” solitary confinement conditions.
“I appreciate what the Sheriff’s Department is doing, but come on, enough is enough. Why is it that the indigent and poor families have to suffer as a result of the budget?” Somera said.
The proposed cuts to the Child, Family and Adult Services Department budget would save the county about $6.56 million.
None of the proposed cuts would include layoffs. The department currently has 1,142 full-time positions, according to Callejas.
After budget hearings, the department plans to conduct an assessment to “identify additional efficiencies (and) determine if existing resources need to be reallocated in order to continue serving our community effectively,” Callejas said in a statement.
The Sacramento County Board of Supervisors will begin reviewing the recommended budget in hearings Tuesday.
June 10, 2019
The Sacramento Bee
By Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks