Thursday, January 31, 2019
Blog note: this article references a 1906 (not a typo) grand jury report on the poor farm.
Two young Lucas Valley residents have launched a campaign to raise the visibility of a forgotten graveyard where many of Marin’s poor were buried from 1880 to 1955.
There are currently no elaborate headstones or signs to indicate that the site, in Lucas Valley near Marin County Juvenile Hall, is the final resting place for more than 287 people. The only grave markers are some concrete blocks with brass tags attached, each bearing a different number.
Many of the people buried there were residents of a poor farm that Marin County operated next to the site — together with an attendant hospital for the indigent — from 1880 to 1963. But anyone whose body went unclaimed after dying in Marin or whose family lacked the money for a more auspicious interment might have ended up buried there.
Burials with causes of death recorded between Feb. 11, 1924 and Nov. 11, 1924 included one stillborn baby, three drownings, a gunshot suicide and a death whose cause is listed simply as “alcoholism.”
Georgia Lee, 17, and Mitchell Tanaka, 18, neighbors who have known each other since middle school, made a short documentary on the graveyard.
“We didn’t want to just stop there,” said Tanaka, now a student at Chapman University.
Lee said, “So now Mitchell and I are using our documentary to really push for the marking of the graveyard.”
Lee and Tanaka have posted a petition on Change.org calling for some kind of signage to denote the graveyard. So far, more than 4,100 people have signed the petition. Lee met with Supervisor Damon Connolly last week to discuss the feasibility of their request. She said Connolly is supportive of the idea but wants to consult with residents in the area to make sure there are no objections.
It was Tanaka who came up with the idea of doing a mini documentary on the poor farm graveyard. He first learned about it last year when taking a Halloween walk in the area sponsored by the Marin County Open Space District.
“It was a presentation that was half spooky Halloween stuff and half actual facts about the surrounding area,” he said.
Tanaka said the idea of a “poor farm” was a foreign concept to him at the time.
Lee said, “This whole thing was a huge learning experience for both of us.”
Marilyn Geary, an oral historian for the Anne T. Kent California Room at the Marin County Free Library, said poor farms were sort of the 19th century alternative to homelessness.
“It was a place where people could go when they ran out of money and they needed support,” said Geary, one of the few to write about Marin’s poor farm since it closed.
The poor farm was a working dairy farm where residents produced much of their own food. According to a March 9, 1893 article in the Marin Journal, about 30 of the farm’s 100 acres were in cultivation. An abundance of apples and prunes were raised in a small orchard as well as “quite a quantity of vegetables.”
The article went on to say, “The inmates have all the fresh bread and butter they want three times a day. They have meat in some form twice a day.”
It was common for articles written then to refer to poor farm residents as “inmates,” although they were free to come and go as they pleased, and some did occasionally leave and return.
Geary said it was typical for about 100 people to live at the poor farm at any one time but the facility had the capacity to accommodate up to 135 people. The farm included two buildings designated as “pest houses” for patients with contagious diseases and their families.
The hospital, which was in a separate building close to the farm, was only for the poor. Patients with money went to Ross General Hospital or Cottage Hospital. The Poor Farm hospital employed 24 nurses and could accommodate up to 40 patients. Some patients suffered from mental illness and others had incurable disease such as tuberculosis.
Geary said she became interested in the poor farm because of the contrast it provides to the way society cares for the poor and homeless today.
“How in the past there was a concerted effort to take care of people; that is what drew me to it,” Geary said. “I wish we could do something more like that today.”
Local news stories written when the poor farm was in operation, however, indicate that the disdain that some harbor for the poor today existed then as well.
The Feb. 1, 1906 edition of the Marin Journal included a story on a grand jury report on Marin’s poor farm and the county’s indigent poor.
According to the story, “The committee finds the Poor Farm in as good condition as can be expected, but recommends painting and other necessary improvements.”
The story includes a list of 30 indigent individuals receiving monthly county stipends ranging from $4 to $15. The story reported that the grand jury found all the subjects worthy but recommended that a Mrs. DeWolf of Tiburon and her daughter “be removed to the Poor Farm as the daughter is a sight and frightens people.”
Lee and Tanaka made their documentary on the graveyard when they were both studying film at the Marin School of the Arts.
The documentary notes that among those buried at the poor farm graveyard was Miran Buddy Thompson, who was executed in the gas chamber at San Quentin State Prison on Dec. 3, 1948 after he and five other inmates tried to break out of Alcatraz Prison.
The failed escape attempt, later dubbed the Battle of Alcatraz, lasted almost two days and resulted in the deaths of three convicts and two corrections officers. Another 13 corrections officers were wounded.
Thompson was serving life plus 99 years for kidnapping and the murder of a police detective in Amarillo, Texas. Prior to the Battle of Alcatraz, Thompson — who also conducted armed robberies in four states — had broken out of jail successfully eight times.
The poor farm burned down in 1911 but was rebuilt. It was finally closed in 1963 because the county was unwilling to spend the money to strengthen the buildings to withstand an earthquake.
Lee and Tanaka are getting some support in their bid for recognition of the graveyard from Ron Marinoff, who has lived in Lucas Valley since 1963.
“For the first 30 years I lived here, I had no clue there was anything there,” Marinoff said.
He said after he discovered the graveyard a number of years ago he talked with county officials about the possibility putting a split-rail fence around the site.
“Nobody seemed concerned or interested,” Marinoff said. “And they still weren’t until this young lady decided to do her project. She’s the spark plug, an amazing young person.”
January 22, 2019
Marin Independent Journal
By Richard Halstead
[Shasta County] New mobile mental health service dispatched to help people who are at the breaking point
Blog note: this article references a 2016 grand jury report.
Shasta County’s first mental health office on wheels dedicated to helping people in crisis started making the rounds in greater Redding on Jan.1.
The unit is taking urgent mental health care to people who are at the breaking point, whether they’re at home, at a business or on the street.
The mobile service is being run by the Hill Country Health and Wellness Center nonprofit, under a contract with the Shasta County Health and Human Services Agency.
The mobile service aims to help prevent unnecessary visits to hospital emergency rooms or unneeded calls to 911 or to the police.
“We’ve been told by law enforcement that a lot of the calls that they get are mental health-related,” said Paige Greene, deputy branch director of Adult Services for the Shasta County Health and Human Services agency. “This is an opportunity to call the mobile crisis unit and have them come out and see if there’s an urgent condition and see what they can do to manage that,” Greene said.
Police end up handling many such calls, even though they are not typically the best solution for people during a mental health crisis episode.
Just over 30 percent of last year's calls for service to Redding police in connection with mental health-related cases resulted in arrest, or 256 total arrests out of 781 cases, according to the department.
Hill Country's mobile mental health office on wheels is dispatched to help people in crisis, whether they're at home, at a business or on the street. (Photo: Hill Country Health and Wellness Center, Redding)
In addition, many non-emergency mental health-related cases ended up being treated in Redding’s two hospital emergency rooms last year.
“There are still a high number of calls to 911 and of people walking into emergency rooms to get help for mental health issues who don’t necessarily need to be hospitalized,” said Tammy Allen, behavior health director with Hill Country.
“They don’t know exactly what they want to do, they just know they need help,” Allen said.
That need led to Hill Country opening its walk-in urgent mental health care clinic in downtown Redding at 1401 Gold St. two years ago.
The walk-in center is staffed with mental health providers who help people deal with a range of critical issues, from suicide prevention to family counseling for Carr Fire-traumatized children.
The clinic is open 365 days a year.
The Care Center reported 550 unique encounters in its first year and is poised to double those totals for its second year, said Jo Campbell, a Hill Country behavioral health consultant.
Campbell said that in the past, “If somebody called and said, ‘my 17-year-old son is actively suicidal,’ we’d say ‘bring him to the care center.’”
With their mobile health service up and running, she said, “now, we could send mobile crisis out to the home, if that would seem better for the situation.”
The mobile crisis team will only be dispatched to a site after law enforcement officers have deemed the situation to be safe, Campbell said.
The crisis team fashioned their mobile office inside a sleek, converted 25-foot recreational vehicle. The vehicle is equipped with a couch, bathroom and television and is staffed by a therapist and a case manager.
Also on board is a peer specialist — someone who has overcome a mental health challenge themselves and been trained to help others who are now in a crisis situation.
Beyond Redding, the mobile crisis service can, in some cases, respond to calls from Shasta Lake and Anderson, Hill Country said.
While it now operates 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays, the mobile service eventually aims to operate seven days a week and extend its service hours into the evening, said Campbell.
The mobile team anticipates responding to “at least two to three calls a day,” said Paige Greene, deputy branch director of Adult Services at HHSA.
Capacity for the service will eventually reach five to 10 calls a day, officials said.
It’s taken a while for the Mobile Crisis Outreach Team to get off the ground.
Securing funding took some time.
A 2016 Shasta County grand jury report said the county should consider a mobile crisis unit that could be dispatched to wherever a person is in need.
At that time, Shasta County applied for, but was not awarded, state funding that would’ve covered the cost.
Grant money from Shasta County’s Whole Person Care Pilot Project is now paying for the service, said Shasta County's Greene. That grant provides $483,588 per year and will end on Dec. 31, 2020, according to the state.
Call the Mobile Crisis Outreach Team at 530-238-7133. Call Hill Country’s walk-in urgent mental health care clinic at 530-691-4446.
January 22, 2019
Redding Record Searchlight
By Michele Chandler
Blog note: this time of year, many media sources publish brief notices soliciting grand juror applicants for the upcoming year. Most are brief. We don’t publish them. We do, however, publish those which we think might interest other counties in their recruitment efforts. This is one. Blog editor's choice.
If you are the type to dodge jury service, today’s column is not for you. If you are the type that looks forward to it, read on.
Kern County needs jurors, and not just ordinary jurors. The county needs grand ones — citizens willing to serve for not a week or two but a full year or two.
The Kern County grand jury is looking for two dozen fair-minded citizens, perhaps more, eager to evaluate the efficiency of local governmental agencies and institutions (prisons, jails, schools, police departments, service districts, and so on). Sometimes alleged criminality within those institutions as well.
The most noteworthy of the grand jury's recent criminal indictments was that of two former Kern County sheriff's deputies who conspired to sell the drugs they'd stolen from the Sheriff's evidence storage unit. Logan August and Derrick Penney pleaded guilty to numerous felonies last September.
Dramatic stuff to be sure. But most of the work up on the sixth floor of Kern County Superior Court is more mundane — and civil rather than criminal. But it's also independently investigatorial in nature — there's no prosecutor in the room presenting evidence. It takes a special sort of person to want to wade in.
"I wanted to give back to the community," grand juror Dwayne Ardis, a 66-year-old retired pipeline company automation tech, told me Tuesday. "After working my entire career I didn't want to sit home. I wanted to keep my mind sharp."
That's a recurring theme among jurors.
"I just wanted to give back," said Charlynn McCarthy, the 69-year-old grand jury forewoman. McCarthy, retired from the retail and hospitality industry, has served multiple terms on the grand jury, as did her late husband, Mike McCarthy. Even Charlynn's then-80-something mother, Alice Allard, served a term in 2008.
"There's not a better way to serve the county than this," Enrique "Henry" Vicuna, a 63-year-old retired parole officer and multiple-term grand juror, told me.
Here's the thing, though. "The grand jury," Vicuna said, "needs new blood."
That's not a stunning revelation. Grand jurors must be at least 18 years old, U.S. citizens and residents of Kern County for at least one year, but not just anyone can afford to put in four six-hour days (8 a.m. til 2 p.m.) a week, year-round minus a few holiday weeks, for the equivalent of $6 a hour.
Retirees with reasonably secure retirement incomes are the candidates best equipped to take on that sort of obligation, so grand jury members tend to skew on the older side. One member is in her 30s, but this is a decidedly Perry Como-era crowd.
Consequently, grand juries tend to lack the perspective of a fuller age spectrum.
But what the Kern County grand jury might lack in diversity it makes up for in sober, contemplative dedication.
The process is competitive, but, said McCarthy, "we never have a big enough pool" of candidates.
Open recruitment for the 2019-20 grand jury, underway now, runs through March 29. Then, for those who've passed muster with the court's presiding judge, comes April 8 overview training, a classroom experience that lays out just what the prospective candidates are getting themselves into.
On June 6, a "first drawing," or lottery, narrows down the field, and the final drawing is June 20. Grand jury training is July 8-9.
Need to know more? Take the advice I was given Tuesday after I asked my first few basic questions: Find it on the website — www.kerncounty.com/grandjury.
McCarthy didn't keep making that suggestion simply out of impatience or irritation: Much of what the grand jury does is necessarily shrouded in semi-secrecy for the integrity of the investigations and the protection of whistle-blowers. Out a source and, in addition to putting his job and perhaps his life in danger, you'll dissuade others from coming forward later. And that's how a grand jury works, much of the time: People who see issues of concern come forward with tips, and the grand jury, usually unannounced, investigates.
Sound like something that might interest you? Check out the website for more information.
January 16, 2019
The Bakersfield Californian
By Robert Price
Naloxone used to save people from overdose and officers from exposure
Blog note: this article references a grand jury report.
With the opioid epidemic in full swing, local police departments are equipping officers with Naloxone, a medication that can reverse the effects of a drug overdose — and an incident in San Bruno last month illustrated that such a move can be life saving.
On the night of Dec. 25, San Bruno police responded to an overdose call on San Bruno Avenue, where they found a 20-year-old woman unconscious and not breathing. One officer performed CPR and the woman regain consciousness briefly, but soon stopped breathing again.
It was learned that the woman had attempted suicide by injecting fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine. The officer prepared and administered a department-issued dose of Naloxone. The woman regained consciousness and was transported to a hospital.
Naxolone is nontoxic, it’s administered by way of a nasal spray and it can quickly restore normal respiration to a person whose breathing has slowed or stopped because of an overdose on heroin or prescription opioid medications such as fentanyl, according to a press release.
The San Bruno Police Department along with the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office were among the first departments in the county to train and equip all sworn officers with a brand of Naxolone called Narcan.
“It’s been very effective and in all applications that I’m aware of it’s brought the [overdose victim] back to a point where medics can transport them,” said San Bruno police Lt. Ryan Johansen, who could personally think of at least four cases of department-issued Naloxone saving someone from drug overdose since all officers began carrying the medication about five months ago.
All Sheriff’s Office deputies were trained to administer the drug and have been equipped with it for about as long.
“It’s been a vital tool that we’ve used in the county and it worked each of the times that we’ve needed to use it,” said Sheriff’s Office Detective Rosemerry Blankswade. “It’s very effective for reversing the effects of a fatal dose of fentanyl or opiates as a whole.”
Blankswade said she her colleagues have used Narcan numerous times in the past few months and she witnessed one such incident in San Carlos.
“It saved this woman’s life and she was a repeat dug user. They used it to revive her after she had stopped breathing,” Blankswade said.
Medical responders have been equipped with Naxolone for some time, but part of the reason why there has been a push to also have police officers carry the medication is because they are sometimes the first to respond to overdose calls, particularly in rural areas. Time is of the essence for such calls as an opioid overdose can lead to severe brain damage and death within minutes.
Exposure to potent drugs like fentanyl through skin contact or breathing airborne particles can also be lethal to first responders. A lethal dose of fentanyl may be as low as 2 to 3 milligrams — less than three grains of salt, according to information from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration provided by the San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury in its June report on the use of the Naxolone.
Every city in San Mateo County has or is in the process of purchasing Naxolone and training its officers to use it. That was the recommendation in the civil jury report, which included responses from every city in the county. Nearly all of those cities pledged to have their officers equipped and prepared to use Naxolone by the end of 2018.
That report concluded that purchasing the medication and training officers would require minimal time and funding. It appears training an officer typically takes just one hour or so and many departments estimated the cost of such a program at about $50,000.
“Training is pretty straightforward,” Blankswade said. “[Narcan] is just a spray up the nasal cavity and it takes effect quickly.”
Blankswade and Johansen also both said they’ve seen a rise in fentanyl and opioid use as well as an increase in overdoses in San Bruno and across the county of late.
According to the report, more than 42,000 Americans died of opioid overdose in 2016. That year, more than 1,900 people died in California and 19 people died in San Mateo County.
“The opioid epidemic is not somebody else’s problem,” the report states.
January 17, 2019
San Mateo Daily Journal
By Zachary Clark
Contra Costa County physicians are dispensing prescriptions for Suboxone — which studies show reduces fatal overdoses — to homeless drug users.
Blog note: this article references a grand jury report.
David Morris and his wife, Kathryn Millard, live in a homeless encampment in Antioch. Both are addicted to heroin. Morris first started shooting up to cope with flashbacks from the Vietnam War. He still has nightmares, and some nights his wife hears him crying in his sleep. The pair has been in and out of treatment for decades.
“I don’t want to be hooked on drugs. I don’t want to go back to prison and lose my wife,” said Morris, who served time in prison for selling drugs to pay for his addiction. “It’s hard when you’re around other people who are using. You can get numb to it.”
But for over a month now, Morris hasn’t used heroin.
He credits his brief sobriety to Suboxone, the brand name for the anti-addiction medication buprenorphine. It blocks powerful cravings and excruciating withdrawal symptoms. Most importantly for Morris, he was able to access Suboxone without ever having to step inside a doctor’s office. A street medicine team run by Contra Costa County dropped by the encampment where he was staying and offered him a prescription on the spot. “It was like they were sent from God or something,” Morris said. “I’m not using because of it.”
The Contra Costa County street medicine team is among a growing number of efforts to bring Suboxone to people wherever they are. The approach also means abstinence is not required for users to access these prescriptions.
In California and around the country, an influx of federal funding targeted for such “medication-assisted treatment” has spurred the growth of these programs. They’re run by street teams, out of emergency rooms and even in jails.
Studies conducted since the national opioid epidemic started claiming record numbers of lives show people who take buprenorphine and other similar medications are less likely to die from overdoses and more likely to stay in treatment. But access to these medications has been limited. Doctors require at least eight hours of special training to prescribe buprenorphine, and in Contra Costa County, where Morris was fortunate enough to land a prescription, only about 3 percent of providers are licensed to write them, a figure roughly 2 percentage points below the national average. In fact, a county civil grand jury last May concluded that there were not enough treatment options of any kind available for opioid addiction.
“There is a need for on-demand treatment, but delays in access to medical care result in missed opportunities to reduce harm, aid recovery, and prevent overdose deaths,” the report read.
Contra Costa County’s street medicine team is attempting to fill some of those gaps, said Dr. Joseph Mega, who heads the team, along with the county’s overall Health Care for the Homeless program. Mega previously referred homeless people looking to quit heroin to the county’s treatment group. But homeless people often have trouble keeping appointments, and many never turned up. So early last year, when a patient on the streets told him he was looking to quit, Mega decided to prescribe Suboxone on the spot. Mega and his team have been bringing the prescriptions directly to people living on the streets ever since.
“If you create multiple barriers to accessing something, they’re just going to say, ‘Forget it, I can’t do this,’” Mega said. “This is an opportunity to do something today, as opposed to passing the buck to someone else, or asking the patient to do something else.”
Once users receive prescriptions, they can pick up their medicine at any local pharmacy. Mega’s street medicine team has prescribed Suboxone to 58 people on the streets in the past year. The program has a nearly 45 percent retention rate — defined as the percentage of patients who went on to receive at least three prescriptions.
Last May, Mega developed a program in the emergency department at Contra Costa Regional Medical Center in Martinez for medical staff to start patients in withdrawal on Suboxone. The program is modeled after a similar effort at Highland Hospital in Oakland, one of the first of its kind in the country. Mega also hosts webinars to educate physicians about this medication.
“We’ve been trained in medical school for a long time that opioid withdrawal is not dangerous in the sense that it won’t kill people,” Mega said. “But what happens after the withdrawal can be dangerous.”
The physiological effects of withdrawal are agonizing and compel some patients to leave the emergency room to find more heroin before they’re discharged, he said. So many people have died from opioid overdoses that by 2017, there was a decline in overall life expectancy. “People are dying in America at very high rates,” Mega said. “So, we need to offer people treatment at any point where they contact our medical system.”
The influx of federal funding has created the opportunity to do that. California is on track to spend close to $15 million in federal funds by 2020 through a program to expand access to medication-assisted addiction treatment for emergency departments and hospitals, and over $6.5 million to bring it to drug courts and even to jails, where the practice is much less common.
In fact, only about 30 jails or prisons across the country widely offer Suboxone or methadone, according to U.S. Justice Department data. Yet research shows the consequences of not providing such treatment can be especially deadly. One 2018 study showed that people in custody are 40 times more likely than the general population to overdose after they’re released.
“People come into jail, quit cold turkey, and their cravings are increasing because they are addicted and their brain chemistry has changed,” said Jessica Hamilton, lead physician for Contra Costa County’s Detention Health Services. “When they are released, people often go back to the similar amount they were using and die.”
In 2016, Hamilton persuaded Contra Costa County jail officials to offer buprenorphine doses to people in custody. At first, she said, jail staff were worried that inmates would sell the medication, a fairly common practice known as diversion.
“They’ve been fighting fentanyl in jails, and fighting people bringing drugs into their facilities,” Hamilton recalled. “They thought, ‘Why are we offering these drugs?’ It took a lot of education.”
Now, the county’s adult detention centers are among the few jails nationwide that offer buprenorphine for inmates. Between 50 to 60 inmates take the medication on any given day in the county, Hamilton said. (Alameda County jails do not offer buprenorphine to inmates.)
Scott Allyn, who’s been in and out of jail for drug-related crimes for the last 10 years, was offered such treatment while incarcerated at the West County Detention Center in Richmond in 2017. Now out of custody, he still takes a dose of Suboxone every other day. “My cravings for heroin are gone,” Allyn said. “I couldn’t do it by myself. I needed help.”
For former inmates like Allyn, however, accessing prescriptions after release from jail can be difficult. Suboxone can cost up to $500 a month, putting it out of reach for many people without insurance.
“When someone’s in jail, their health care is guaranteed, but oftentimes people lose their insurance coverage while they’re in jail,” Hamilton said. “Not only are you trying to get your life back on track, but you’re figuring out how you’re going to pay for and handle chronic medical issues.”
There are also other barriers unique to this class of medication. Insurance companies, for example, can cap how long patients can receive coverage for the treatment and how many doses they can take. It can also be difficult to find a clinician to prescribe it.
“A lot of buprenorphine providers are not accepting new patients. They’ve reached their limits,” said Barbara Andraka-Christou, an addiction policy researcher at the University of Central Florida, referring to the federal restrictions on the number of patients each doctor licensed to prescribe these medications can serve. Others, she said, “don’t want that type of patient in their office.”
Dr. Alex Stalcup, medical director of the New Leaf Treatment Center in El Cerrito, said he spends at least one full day a week arguing with insurance companies on behalf of patients desperate to access Suboxone. One of his patients recently had a seizure and needed to be hospitalized after going into withdrawal when an insurance company declined to cover his buprenorphine prescription.
“What am I supposed to tell my patients? Die more slowly, be a little more sick?” Stalcup said. “We’re at a point in medical history where we have a clearly life-saving medication that people can’t get.”
David Morris, who lives at the Antioch homeless encampment and got help from Dr. Mega more than a month ago, still takes daily doses of Suboxone. But his wife, Kathryn Millard, shoots heroin every day. Millard said she had been going to a methadone treatment clinic that required daily attendance, but just showing up became too difficult for her. She hopes to get a prescription just like her husband’s from Dr. Mega’s street medicine team soon.
“I’m using again, until I can get Suboxone,” Millard said. “Heroin is something I don’t want to do, but it’ll help me make it through the next two weeks. It’s kind of messed up here right now.”
The pair is optimistic. “If she can get on Suboxone, she can pick it up at Rite Aid every two weeks,” Morris chimed in. “It’s just temporary. When she gets on Suboxone, she won’t use heroin.”
January 15, 2019
East Bay Express
By Holly McDede
[Kern County] Worth Noting: Grand jury recommends Maricopa city councilmembers show up to meetings to get paid
A Kern County grand jury thinks that the members of the Maricopa City Council actually need to show up to their meetings in order to receive their monthly stipends.
In a report released Monday, the City and Joint Powers Committee of the grand jury recommended the Maricopa City Council change its municipal code to state that attendance at council meetings should be mandatory in order for council members to receive their $50 monthly stipend.
The committee found that council meetings are canceled if there is insufficient business requiring council action.
The report said that the committee received several emails from Maricopa announcing that the council meeting had been canceled due to a lack of business.
According to the report, Maricopa held council meetings on June 26, July 24, Aug. 14 and Sept. 11. The report does not make it clear if the city held meetings outside of those dates, but the city is supposed to hold meetings on the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month from January through October and the second Tuesday of November and December.
Most cities post meeting dates and minutes from the meetings on their website to make it easy for citizens to keep track of what the council is up to.
But the committee found that Maricopa had not updated its website since 2013.
January 14, 2019
The Bakersfield Californian
Blog note: this article references a grand jury report.
The shops are beginning to come alive on a Monday morning as Yamina Inzunza arrives at a coffee shop popular with college students in Riverside, Calif. Inzunza, 23, orders a smoothie filled with healthy ingredients and settles into a couch in the book-lined seating area to talk about the bumpy road that led her from foster care to community college and youth leader.
She is friendly and energetic, with a busy schedule consisting of college, a part-time job as a bartender, various leadership posts advocating for youth in foster care, and artistic pursuits that include writing, music, and dance.
“My life wasn’t butterflies,” said Inzunza, who first entered the foster system when she was 5. “It was hard. It was difficult. It took me so long to get here.”
She’s well aware that youth formerly in care face formidable obstacles in their educational path. Studies show that foster youth are the most likely to drop out of school and least likely to graduate high school, much less attend and graduate from college. In California, about 50 percent of foster students graduated from high school in the 2016-17 school year, compared to about 83 percent for all other students, according to the state Department of Education.
However, years of advocacy have resulted in better understanding of the needs of California’s foster students, translating into more funds that target gaps. School districts now report yearly on how funds earmarked for youth in care are spent, a relatively new requirement that advocates believe will further improve educational outcomes for these students. California, which has the largest group of foster youth in the country, often creates the mold for other states with its legislation and programs for foster youth.
“What started in California over 20 to 25 years ago is now starting to spread,” said Jim Mickelson, a child welfare social worker for more than 40 years and founder of ACE Scholars Services for foster youth at California State University, San Marcos.
A comprehensive list of Foster Youth Education Rights developed by the California Foster Youth Education Task Force details the state and federal laws protecting and aiding the estimated 55,000 foster students (2016-17 school year, the latest year of available statistics) enrolled K-12 in California public schools.
These laws are designed to address unique problems these youth encounter, such as frequent school changes and the need to designate an employee in each county to help college-bound foster students fill out college applications and financial aid forms.
Youth in system help shape laws
Notably, voices of current or former youth in care are usually included in the legislative process through their involvement in organizations such as California Youth Connection, where Inzunza received leadership training.
“The only people who are going to speak up for us is us,” said Xavier Mountain, 26, who is pursuing his master’s degree in social work at the University of Southern California. Mountain, who was first placed in foster care when he was 2, has served in several leadership positions and is currently working as a youth advocate for John Burton Advocates for Youth. His drive for academic success is one he wants to promote among youth in care. He plans to apply to law school, partly because he wants to help his younger brother, who was involved with gangs and is currently in prison.
One in four foster youth become incarcerated within two years of aging out of care and up to 43 percent of California prison inmates have spent time in foster care. Youth in foster care are at high risk of being unemployed or homeless within a few years of aging out of care.
These statistics show that, despite all the gains, challenges in meeting the educational needs of California youth in care remain. Educational funds aren’t always distributed as intended, a testament to the difficulties of a state widely spread over urban and rural areas. There are more than 1,000 school districts, more than 80 of them in Los Angeles County alone.
Programs aimed at helping high school students in care vary district by district. And while the state helps fund numerous support programs for current or former youth in care attending community colleges, such earmarked funding doesn’t exist for four-year public institutions.
Nevertheless, foster youth advocates point to limited success stories as evidence of progress.
The “Gallery of Graduates” on a wall at ACE Scholars offices in San Marcos is the only proof Mickelson needs to know his program has been working. The wall displays 61 large framed photographs of graduates of the program since it launched in 2008. He anticipates having 74 on the wall by May 2019.
“I know, in the grand realm of numbers, that doesn’t seem like a lot,” Mickelson said. “But we worked with each one of those students for four to six years and we saw a transformation in each one of them.”
It’s the sort of transformation advocates know can multiply with the right resources and the right people to steer support programs for foster youth.
More foster students in California than ever are getting assistance in pursuing their college dreams, with more than 30,000 community college students and 4,400 students at state universities identifying as current or former foster youth, according to a new report by John Burton Advocates.
Nationally, only about 4 percent of such youth graduate from college by the time they’re 26, compared to 36 percent of the general population. This is the most cited statistic nationally, though studies showing the college graduation rate among foster youth can say it’s 1 to 11 percent. Such a wide variance exemplifies a major problem in identifying solutions. Differences in methodology, sample population, how each state calculates high school graduation rates, etc., make it difficult to compare programs from different states or even within a state.
This has highlighted the need for better data-gathering among the different government agencies involved in helping California youth in foster care, an effort now under way.
Support programs are a patchwork
Since 2015, $32 million in new state funding has been allocated to help foster youth pursue higher education, according to the report by John Burton Advocates. Those monies fund scholarships and support programs for current or former youth in care at community colleges. The San Francisco-based nonprofit manages California College Pathways, a collaboration between private and public entities designed to promote educational opportunities for foster youth.
At Riverside City College, foster youth specialist Jeremy Johnson has seen first-hand the effects of such partnerships. The college has a Guardian Scholars program that has grown from about 20 students in 2015 to about 150 this year. The program, one of many such programs at colleges and universities nationwide, is locally funded by the Anthony and Jeanne Pritzker Family Foundation and institutional funds. The program is designed to be a one-stop support center offering everything from mentorship to career counseling to amenities such as a computer lab and lounge with all the comforts of home, where students can relax on a couch, sip coffee or tea, and eat instant soups and other snacks.
“We want to make sure that students know, ‘Hey, college is something you can do and is realistic,’” Johnson said. “… We really help them along throughout their whole college career.”
Guardian Scholars are among a patchwork of support programs for foster students designed to replicate the role of a parent or guardian as closely as possible to guide students throughout high school and college. But when the parent role has been divided among so many different agencies, programs and people, every stage is fraught with the potential for that student to discontinue schooling.
In California, only 50.8 percent of youth in foster care graduated from high school in 2017, while 28.8 percent dropped out, according to the state Department of Education. The remaining students may still be pursuing a GED or other alternative schooling, or are taking longer to complete high school. This graduation rate is about the same as the national average, though the rate varies state by state. For example, in Washington the 2017 graduation rate among foster youth was 43 percent and in Texas it was 58 percent. Many advocates say foster students need more support and, most importantly, encouragement, earlier in their educational journey.
State funding sometimes spent elsewhere
To address concerns about inequities, the state Education Department began using a new funding formula that gives districts more local control over funding decisions and allocates extra funds for students classified as low income, English-learners and in care. The Local Control Funding Formula, first implemented in the 2013-14 school year, was to ensure that these students — the neediest, most at risk — would receive the support they need.
This hasn’t always been the case. Analyses by at least three different groups following the money trail in various school districts have shown some missteps.
For example, one audit found that Los Angeles Unified School District spent the bulk of its second-year funds of $145 million hiring back staff it had lost during recession cutbacks. These expenditures failed to address student inequities, according to the audit headed by researchers at University of California, Berkeley.
An audit by another group found that well-intentioned expenditures at some districts, such as bathroom remodels and new security, weren’t addressing the academic needs of the target population. Also, officials at one district decided to spend funds on students who they deemed would most benefit: the top 10 percent of students who they figured were most likely to go to college, said the report by The Local Control Funding Formula Research Collaborative, which has headquarters at the Stanford Graduate School of Education.
In Los Angeles County, a civil grand jury investigating 10 districts within the county found earlier this year that the “funding formula fails fosters.” The method of funding underrepresents the needs of foster students, who in Los Angeles County are often part of the other two most at-risk group of students, low-income and English-learners, the report said. Additionally, only five of the 10 districts surveyed had substantial programs specifically for youth in foster care.
The report was the third in recent years issued by Los Angeles County grand juries addressing the dire needs of the approximately 28,000 foster youth in the county. Last year’s report indicated the need for rapid improvement, noting that otherwise these youth are “doomed to a life of poverty and homelessness.”
Students in race against time, money
Indeed, the challenges for foster youth in Los Angeles County are magnified by the area’s high cost of living.
At age 30, Rosemary Tong is still trying to complete community college while working about 60 hours a week. She has enrolled in community college or vocational school numerous times since she graduated from high school at 18. She was dependent on public transportation until three years ago. Living in one of the most expensive cities in the country has forced her to drop out midway through semesters so she could supplement her income by cleaning houses in order to pay rent or buy food.
Tong has used food and book vouchers offered by the Guardian Scholars program at Santa Monica College, but feels the program needs more counselors for more individualized assistance. Legislation signed by former California Gov. Jerry Brown recently extends the eligibility age of certain state scholarships to former foster youth from 22 to 26 but she has aged out of that form of assistance.
“I’ve just been kind of taking it one step at a time, taking one class at a time,” Tong said. “My ultimate dream goal is, I don’t know if it’s going to happen, like even school I couldn’t imagine, but I want to have my own business.”
Tong, who is aiming for a business entrepreneurship degree, envisions one day running a “healing center” that offers classes and resources for foster youth and others suffering from trauma. Her story illustrates the difficulties faced by foster youth whose determination to succeed in college is stymied by having to tend to basic needs such as housing and food.
If anything, California’s new school funding formula has put the needs of youth in care in the spotlight. Further, school districts are now required to file detailed written reports about how it spends the funds and how it serves disadvantaged students. The reports are available online.
In advocating for foster youth, Inzunza stresses the need for educators to find ways to offer one-on-one mentoring, which is actually the direction increasingly taken by most successful support programs for foster youth. Inzunza believes that individualized approach is key to connecting with foster youth.
“I can live on $5 for two weeks, eating rice, beans and carrots. I’ve done it many times. Money means nothing to me. All my life I’ve felt that people just saw me as money,” Inzunza said, her eyes tearing up. “In the foster care system, everyone treats you as though we’re all the same, but we’re not. We’re people and each one of us is an individual.”
This article first appeared at Youth Today. This yearlong reporting project is made possible in part by The New York Foundling, which works with underserved children, families and adults with developmental disabilities. Throughout this project, Youth Today will maintain editorial independence.
January 14, 2019
By Minerva Canto
Blog note: this article references a grand jury report.
Officials have completed the first major expansion of the Shasta County Jail since 1993, adding an additional 102 beds.
Sheriff Tom Bosenko said he was happy with the jail remodeling but cautioned it doesn't solve the county's problem of jail overcrowding and early releases.
"It is a big deal. It's the first major expansion of jail bed space since 1993," Bosenko said. "It is not a solution for out jail bed shortage, but it is a step in the right direction."
The extra beds increase the jail capacity from 381 beds to 483.
Bosenko said the county still needs a new county jail to address the long-term needs of housing inmates.
The jail processes 20 to 60 inmate bookings every day, creating the possibility of quickly filling up the available beds.
"These beds could end up getting filled right away," Bosenko said.
The $1.6 million project was paid for from the county general fund, he said. The increase in inmate beds was achieved through remodeling existing space at the jail, rather than expanding the size of the jail.
A new courthouse planned for downtown Redding could result in more jail space when it is completed, Bosenko said.
The jail could expand into the space currently used for two courtrooms adjacent to the jail. Moving into the courtroom space could provide enough room for an additional 64 to 100 beds, he said.
A 13-page report issued this past summer by the Shasta County Grand Jury said there was a "critical" need for more inmate beds at the Shasta County Jail.
"The greatest challenge to jail funding is that Shasta County revenues have not kept pace with the rise in operational jail costs," the grand jury report says.
In its report titled "Shasta County Jail: Funding and Capacity, A Public Safety Crisis Deepens," the grand jury called on the Shasta County Supervisors to determine how many additional jail beds are needed, both now and in the future.
It also recommended supervisors identify operational jail funding to match the jail capacity need, and to adopt a plan for both short-term and long-term needs, as well as funding sources, for the operational costs associated with any expansion.
In its summary, the grand jury report said the chronic shortage of jail beds was "significantly exacerbated" with the passage of Assembly Bill 109 in 2011, Proposition 47 in 2014 and Proposition 57 in 2016.
The report also said the percentage of funds that Shasta County is contributing from the general fund to the jail is at a 10-year low. As of last year, the general fund contributed 56 percent of the jail's budget, in contrast to 79 percent in 2011.
It says this is partly due to AB 109 funds replacing historical funding sources for the jail.
According to the summary, county officials and administrators are unsure how current jail operations will be funded over the next several fiscal years.
In a May update to a jail facilities needs assessment, it says the need for inmate beds has risen over the last five years due to AB 109 legislation.
January 11, 2019
Redding Record Searchlight
By Damon Arthur
Rand Communities Water District continues to make progress toward being compliant with Kern County Grand Jury recommendations.
During the Jan. 9 regular board meeting, RCWD provided a major update on the condition of financial records, giving a chart comparison between the condition of the financial records from Sep. 12, 2018, when the grand jury was investigating the water district, and the condition of the financial records as of Jan. 3, 2019.
In the Sep. 12 reports, specifically for cash financial records, it was noted that there were no cash logs, no recording system of how cash is received and deposited, no petty cash file or log. There was also a problem with checks not matching up, leading to the improper disbursements of funds.
As of Jan. 3, there is a cash log that is being updated daily, cash receipts that are deposited and recorded daily, a petty cash file was created and a receipt system has been established. Checks are now accurate and petty cash is being reimbursed properly.
During the Sep. 12 report for records in general, it was noted that there was a lack of a filing system for the fiscal year 2017-18, very few documents from 2017-18 fiscal year, no real practice of filing information, and a small number of files with original invoices. There were also a large number of documents that were left unfiled, including open main and unmailed documents.
As of Jan. 3, files have been set up for the 2017-18 and 2018-19 fiscal year and there is now a formal practice in place for storing confidential items. There are still few documents from 2017-18 as well as invoices from before September 2018. All mail that is opened is being processed regularly and unmailed documents have been sent out. All documents that were not filed have been filed and properly stored.
Also during the meeting, the board discussed the posted General Manager ad, legal counsel (awaiting contact from county counsel), and monthly reports. The RCWD website is approximately 75 percent ready and should be completed within the next week or so as to be compliant with the grand jury recommendation.
President Cliff Kennedy has made contact with all entities for the possible grant funds, except the Bureau of Land Management (which has been impacted by the government shutdown) and will give a report when possible. An internal audit was completed and reports show that financial records and business documents are in good order in the office, though there still needs to be an external audit preformed.
RCWD also contacted the grand jury for clarification on three items discussed during the December special board meeting. The grand jury clarified that all board members must be bonded, waived the 60-day time frame to complete a team-building workshop, and clarified information on an outside audit.
The board has also updated the revised bylaws and were distributed to board members. The revised version began on March 14, 2018. A copy of the water code was also distributed to board members. A copy of this can be found on the California legislative information website, under California Law, Water Code, Division 12.
There has been some contention of whether the water code or bylaws prevails, as some board members believe that the bylaws stand before the water code, and others believe that the water code is above the bylaws. Secretary Carrie Hoerauf will compile and present a side-by-side comparison of both of the documents to present during the next meeting. The board will decide whether to seek out a legal opinion on this matter.
The next RCWD meeting will happen Jan. 23 at 7 p.m. in the Rand Communities Water District Office.
January 11, 2019
Ridgecrest Daily Independent
By Lauren Jenkins
Wednesday, January 30, 2019
Blog note: this article references a grand jury report.
After a discussion that went on for several hours, the Georgetown Divide Public Utility District board voted to freeze water rates for up to a year and directed staff to look into the cost of doing a forensic audit with the goal of reducing rates.
A subject that touched on multiple topics and complaints at Tuesday’s meeting, General Manager Steve Palmer began by discussing the road the district took in raising rates and why freezing rates would be a bad idea.
One of those steps included holding nine public meetings related to conducting a new cost of service study — a process deemed necessary to ensure sufficient operating revenue as well as funds to replace the district’s aging infrastructure, 60 percent of which is at least 40 years old.
A second consideration pertained to new legal requirements that made the last cost of service study, conducted in 2008, obsolete. Palmer also noted the 2016/2017 report by the El Dorado County Grand Jury which criticized the district, saying its low rates were contributing to multiple problems including insufficient revenue to either operate efficiently or fund needed capital improvements.
A third factor Palmer discussed is the need for additional revenue to meet new mandates from the state.
GDPUD had planned to raise rates by 5 percent for treated water and 10 percent for irrigation water this year. Projecting forward, a rate freeze would reduce revenues by $210,000 in 2019 and $2.2 million over the next five years if the rate freeze is kept in place.
Assessing the long-term impact of not raising rates sufficiently, Palmer said it would cut into reserves, reduce the amount of money needed to operate and maintain the water system and comply with state mandates, increase the chance of having to consolidate with another system, raise the possibility of receivership for the district and invite further grand jury scrutiny.
Rick Gillespie, who head’s GDPUD’s finance committee, also commented on the proposed rate freeze, saying that Palmer gave the same presentation to his committee and they voted 2-1 not to freeze rates with the deciding factor being the projected decline in revenue against the rising cost of replacing the district’s aging infrastructure.
Board members also weighed in, with newly elected Director Cindy Garcia saying the community responded to the recent rate increases by voting out two board members who supported the increases. She, along with the other newly elected board member Director Mike Saunders, advocated for freezing rates and looking at what the district can do to lower its rates.
Others on the board took the opposing view with board President Dane Wadle worrying about not having enough revenue to operate with if rates are frozen. There are political consequences for kicking the can down the road, he said, noting that putting off tough decisions just puts a bigger burden on future board members.
Agreeing with Wadle was Director Dave Halpin who suggested it would be useful to have the finance committee analyze the impact on revenue if rates are reduced.
Infrastructure and lawsuits
With part of the reason for the rate increases due to the need to maintain and replace the district’s aging infrastructure, Operations Manager Darrell Creeks was asked about its condition. Noting that everything in the system is old and held together “with duct tape and bailing wire,” Creeks advised on the value of having a capital improvement plan and money to put it into effect.
Complicating the issue further is a lawsuit against GDPUD that challenges the cost of service study. Brought by the Georgetown Divide Taxpayers Association, district Counsel Barbara Brenner said a hearing date is scheduled for mid-April to argue the case. If the court rules the rates are deemed invalid, Brenner said the district would have to go back to its old rates until the issue is resolved.
Because of uncertainty surrounding the lawsuit, Halpin advised deferring action on the suggested rate freeze until April. Agreeing with Halpin was Director Dave Souza who said trying to change things in the middle of a lawsuit is a bad idea, calling it “a red flag to a grand jury.” Souza went on to say that while the rate study was honest and legal, the lawsuit would help answer a lot of questions.
However members of the audience objected, saying the court’s decision could be appealed, drawing out the issue for years.
Steve Proe, a frequent critic of the district, then weighed in asserting that the public didn’t have faith in the numbers used in the cost of service study and if rates go up too much, people will use less irrigation water which will increase the risk of Georgetown becoming another Paradise. He maintained a forensic audit would answer questions as to the reliability of the numbers used in the study.
Audience members also questioned how the assets in the community were valued since that figured into estimates of how much additional revenue was needed to replace them. Palmer said he and Creeks, who has worked at the district for 25 years, were the ones who listed and valued the district’s assets.
With Garcia maintaining that a freeze would give temporary relief to all water users, the board ultimately voted to freeze rates for up to a year. They also directed Palmer and the finance committee to determine the time and cost needed to do a forensic audit and to bring back recommendations for possible rate adjustments.
Voting for that motion were Halpin, Souza, Saunders and Garcia. Voting no was Wadle.
In other actions, Palmer announced that the CABY project was complete. The staff continue to work on a loan application to the state. The money will be used to replace GDPUD’s aging water meters. A public workshop on zone fees is scheduled for Jan. 16. Palmer also said he wants to hire a public outreach consultant to help with newsletters and other media outlets. In addition, he noted the district website has been updated, making it easier to access information.
Creeks went on to report that Stumpy Meadows is 80 percent full.
Consulting Engineer George Sanders reported on December activity at the soon-to-be completed new water treatment plant at Auburn Lake Trails. He noted that more electrical work is being done in the filter building and fire sprinklers are being installed. Workers are also installing an electrical system for the sludge drying beds. Exterior lighting has been installed on site and access roads paved.
To date the district has received $8.6 million of its $10 million loan from the state with the plant expected to be operational by March.
The board also voted to close out five assessment districts and Saunders was selected to be the district’s nominee to serve on the El Dorado County Local Agency Formation Commission.
January 11, 2019