Sunday, June 30, 2019

[Napa County] Upgrades in Calistoga's water quality in time for Napa County Jury report

The latest Napa County Grand Jury report, released June 14, concludes that the county’s tap water is safe to drink.
But while the investigation found the water meets state and federal quality standards, the water generally has odor, taste and color issues.
As a result, the Jury wants Calistoga and other municipalities to pay more attention to complaints about water quality. These recommendations include creating more uniform complaint procedures, as well as public communications protocols to inform consumers about all aspects of water quality.
With regard to those issues, Calistoga is ahead of the game. For the past few years, the city has been working on upgrading its water system, and improving communication with residents about water quality, said Acting Public Works Director Derek Rayner.
During 2017, 10 complaints were registered in Calistoga related to water taste, odor and color.
In 2018 there were 12, mainly due to work on the replacement of the Feige Water tank. So far this year, the city has received fewer complaints, Raynor said, and in fact, the public works department recently received a compliment from a resident of Rancho De Calistoga on the quality of the water. Residents of the mobile home park have been vocal critics of the water in the past.
The city’s new state-of-the-art Feige Water Storage Tank has been operational since December. The tank’s technology includes a computer system that monitors, among other things, how much chlorine is in the water. It also includes mixers and a THM (trihalomethanes) removal system, both of which serve to reduce bacteria levels. It also has an automated chlorination system.
The city has also been regularly flushing fire hydrants and notifying the public that when this occurs water color and odor may temporarily change.
“Our staff follows up with each customer complaint and visits the site to test chlorine residuals at the service or customer supply line. If low, we will flush the service line or if there continues to be taste and odor issues staff will flush the physical large water supply main in the street near the complaint location to remove any quality issues,” Raynor said. “This typically resolves the complaints. Staff encourages customers to call us back if it continues. With each complaint staff fills out a complaint form that gets reported to the State Water Resource Control Board Division of Drinking Water on a regular basis.”
The city also recently installed a new automated flush system onto fire hydrants, with declorination tablets and timers that will open the hydrants in the middle of the night and flush out the line, Raynor said. This happens a couple of times a week.
“As a result we’ve seen some really good results on chlorine residuals,” he said.
Calistoga gets 30–40 percent of its water from Kimball Reservoir and the rest from the state water project that pulls water out of the delta, pumps the water up to Cordelia and from there to all the cities in the surrounding area including Napa. That water goes through the Jamison Canyon Water Treatment Plant.
The city has also hired a team of water quality experts to provide an engineering study on future, long range water quality improvements, mainly on the Napa water supply side, and that report is just being wrapped up.
The county report has asked cities to respond to the county on how they are dealing with the issue within 90 days.
June 25, 2019
Napa Vallet Register
By Cynthia Sweeney

[Alameda County] Tuesday Morning News Roundup

An Alameda County grand jury issued a report Monday strongly criticizing the county Board of Supervisors for the way it handled the approval process of sweeping changes to the sheriff's controversial "Urban Shield" law enforcement training program. 
The grand jury said in its annual report that the board's "mismanagement of the review process" caused the group that distributes federal grant money for emergency training programs to shift nearly $5 million in U.S. Department of Homeland Security funds away from Alameda County. 
The sheriff's office started Urban Shield in 2007 because it believed the terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001, showed law enforcement agencies weren't well prepared for such attacks. 
But critics, including the Stop Urban Shield Coalition, have alleged that the training program is militaristic, racist and xenophobic, and has a negative impact on communities of color and immigrants. 
June 25, 2019
By Bay City News Service

[Alameda County] BART Board Chief: Local Government Needs to Step Up

Responds to Report on Fare Evasion

SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS Radio) -- BART Board of Directors President Bevan Dufty responded Tuesday to an Alameda County civil grand jury report which painted the transit agency's fare-evasion problem as far worse than BART has acknowledged.
In a KCBS Radio interview, Dufty said cities and counties served by the BART system bear some responsibility for dealing with the social ills that have beset the system. "They need to stand up and provide us some resources," said Dufty.
The grand jury report described a spike in violent crime on the BART system, finding reported incidents had more than doubled between 2014 and 2018.
And the report portrayed the fare-evasion problem, which has drawn significant attention from BART officials, with numbers larger than those BART has been providing. BART has estimated that 5% of riders skip the fare gates, while the grand jury report cited information from a senior manager who put the number at 15%.
Dufty, a former San Francisco supervisor and  homeless czar, drew a connection between the fare-evasion and crime issues on the BART system and the region's explosion in homelessness. He challenged local officials to do more. "You've got to get people shelter, you've got to put them in a navigation center," said Dufty.
June 25, 2019
KCBS Radio News

[Alameda County] Violent crime on BART more than doubles in four years

Violent crime on BART more than doubled since 2014, driven in part by a fare-evasion epidemic that is three times worse than the agency’s official estimates, according to a new grand jury report.
The report released Monday by the Alameda County Civil Grand Jury found the number of robberies on the transit system increased by 128%, from 153 in 2014 to 349 last year. Aggravated assaults soared by 83%, from 71 to 130 over the same time period.
Robberies and aggravated assaults combined jumped nearly 16% from 2017 to 2018 alone, according to the report, with robberies spiking 20% and aggravated assaults rising 7%.
The numbers give credence to rider complaints about the lack of security and safety in the system, which have caused BART’s approval ratings to tank. Over the past three years, ridership has dropped by 8%, from a 2016 peak of 129 million to 118 million projected this year. Officials expect the numbers to plummet to 116 million next year as more people shift to Uber and Lyft.
“BART is at the center of the Bay Area’s transportation upheaval,” the grand jury report concluded. It noted that the sprawling transit system has become a laboratory of societal failures, sheltering homeless people and transients and providing easy portals for scofflaws.
Many transit officials link the rising crime rate to rampant fare-beating on the rail lines, which according to the report is significantly higher than BART previously stated. A senior manager at the transit agency told the grand jury that about 15% of riders do not pay their fares — or 17.7 million passengers out of 118 million. BART officials estimate that about 5% of riders evade fares.
Assuming the average fare is $4.50, the agency could lose nearly $80 million annually to cheaters. Previously, top BART officials pegged their losses at $15 to $25 million.
BART General Manager Grace Crunican wrote in a letter to the grand jury Monday, obtained by The Chronicle on Tuesday, that 15% was not accurate.
“BART has never estimated its fare evasion rate as l5%,” Crunican wrote. “Although fare evasion is challenging for transit operators to measure, prior BART analysis has estimated our fare evasion at around $15 million to $25 million annually, which translates to about a 5% rate.”
“A lot of these crimes are people getting their phones snatched by juveniles who sneak into the system, and then ride the train to San Francisco or Oakland, where they can disappear really quickly,” said Officer Keith Garcia, president of BART’s police union. “Usually there’s a team of two or three or four, so when people fight to keep their property, the people stealing have backup.”
His solution: assign officers to patrol every station and put 6-foot railings around the paid areas.
“The bottom line is we need to secure the system,” Garcia said.
The new fare-evasion figures startled board President Bevan Dufty, who said he shared the grand jury’s concerns.
“I want to get the forensics on where this is coming from,” Dufty said. “When you look from $15 million to $80 million, those are different magnitudes.”
Director Debora Allen was dismayed but not surprised by the numbers. For two years, she has pressed the agency to explain its methodology for determining how many don’t pay.
“This is a crisis,” she said.
Pressure began mounting on BART after an 18-year-old woman was fatally stabbed on the MacArthur Station platform last year. She was among three homicide victims during a particularly violent year for the rail system — no one was killed in BART in 2017. There have been no homicides this year on BART property.
Stung by public criticism and news headlines, BART started an emergency patrol plan last summer, requiring police to work mandatory overtime for three weeks after the slaying of Nia Wilson. The agency has also begun a five-year plan to hire 94 officers, or 19 a year. Last year, the board approved a new union contract with a 16% pay raise, which helped attract new candidates to the short-staffed department.
Despite the recent mayhem and growing rider apprehension, BART also had some good news over the four-year time period: Property crime dipped. Auto burglaries decreased by 32% in BART station parking lots — from 522 in 2014 to 354 last year. Theft, which represents the bulk of nonviolent property crimes, essentially flatlined. In 2014, BART passengers reported 2,597 thefts of phones, wallets, laptops, bicycles and other valuables. Last year, that number hovered at 2,590.
Still, the statistics illuminate the problems of a transit agency that is struggling to restore trust from commuters and taxpayers.
“A growing and far-flung urban population in need of transport to work, home, shopping and socializing has many modes from which to choose,” the grand jury report said. “Rising dissatisfaction with crime on BART, fare evasion, and the perception of dirty train cars and stations threatens to marginalize the agency amid the other choices available to riders.”
It recommended the agency accelerate the hiring of patrol officers to make riders feel safer and continue its crackdown on cheats.
June 25, 2019
San Francisco Chronicle
By Rachel Swan

Napa County Grand Jury investigates St. Helena water quality

The Napa County Grand Jury wants St. Helena and other municipalities to pay more attention to complaints about water quality.
A grand jury report issued June 14 concluded that water from all of Napa County’s municipalities is safe to drink and well within state and federal quality standards. But safety notwithstanding, the Grand Jury recommended that cities place a higher priority on customer complaints about taste, odor and color.
St. Helena’s Louis Stralla Water Treatment Plant was not among the facilities the Grand Jury toured, but members did interview water and public works officials in each jurisdiction, including St. Helena.
According to the report, the city received an average of 30-40 complaints per year in 2017 and 2018, mostly involving taste and odor. The Public Works Department issued press releases in 2017 and 2018 acknowledging the complaints and describing how the city was addressing them.
The grand jury noted that although Public Works staff followed up personally on “many, if not most” of the complaints, a summary of complaints is not supplied to senior Public Works staff or city management or included in the annual water quality report provided to customers.
The grand jury recommended cities advise citizens of known and anticipated taste-and-odor and color issues. It recommended cities publish taste-and-odor and color quality measures and results as part of their annual reports.
Local jurisdictions should evaluate water treatment upgrades to turn out more aesthetically pleasing water, the grand jury recommended. But it also acknowledged the money challenge.
“While more might be done to make the water consistently taste better, such improvements come at significant cost,” the report said. “County residents, especially upvalley, already pay high rates for safe drinking water and wastewater.”
A household in Calistoga or St. Helena might pay more than double the cost for water and wastewater as a household in the city of Napa, American Canyon or Yountville, or $1,000 to $1,500 more annually, the report said.
Each city in the county manages its own water supply and charges rates to a relatively small population base. That’s a legacy of a rural history of city-by-city self-funding and self-management, the report said.
Potential solutions the grand jury wants explored include sharing water treatment resources among jurisdictions and perhaps even creating a countywide water provider. The Local Agency Formation Commission of Napa County plans to do such a study that could result in recommendations by February.
The St. Helena City Council has 90 days to respond to the report.
June 25, 2019
Napa Valley Register, St. Helena Star
By Star staff

[San Mateo County] from the Daily Journal archives (June 25, 2014): Grand jury: Inmate fund generally good: Medical charges deposited in wrong place

Blog note: back five years on grand jury history. The press remembers.
Money collected from county jail inmates for commissary purchases and telephone calls is generally well-managed and spent but withholdings for medical and dental visits have been deposited in the wrong fund, according to the civil grand jury.
The jury issued a report Tuesday on the inmate welfare trust fund which was generally positive but noted that the county could better outline where that revenue is spent and consider participating in a pilot program allowing the money to cover re-entry assistance.
The jury also found that the $3 charged inmates for requested medical and dental appointments are being placed in the welfare fund rather than the county general fund as mandated by the state penal code. For fiscal year 2013-14, that total was $13,352.
Sheriff Greg Munks said he was unaware of that code and is now waiting to learn if anyone in the office knew. Munks said a fix might just be a matter of setting aside that money in the future but he questions once it goes into the general fund does it go to the Health System or elsewhere and can it be appropriated back to the Sheriff’s Office.
The Sheriff’s Office uses the fund to buy recreation items like televisions and stand-alone computers, operate the library system and provide a variety of inmate services like education, drug and alcohol treatment and accounting.
The grand jury concluded the county could better delineate how the fund money is spent to ensure it isn’t used on services not allowed by the penal code which limits it to inmates and not released individuals. Eleven counties participate in a pilot program allowing inmate welfare funds to be spent on re-entry needs but San Mateo County is not among them.
Munks said the county spends $200,000 from the sheriff’s general fund on a Service League contract to provide those needs so joining the pilot wouldn’t offer much advantage.
Last month, Munks gave the Board of Supervisors an annual report on the fund which showed that inmates spent more than $1.9 million the previous fiscal year which is part of an ongoing spending decline.
Grand jury reports carry no legal weight but recipients must respond in writing within 90 days.
June 25, 2019
The Daily Journal
By Michelle Durand

[Alameda County] Violent crime soars on BART, fare evasion costs $25M a year: grand jury report

OAKLAND, Calif. (KTVU) - With the stabbing death of 18-year-old Nia Wilson last summer at the MacArthur BART station in Oakland, the public’s attention – and now, the Alameda County Grand Jury - is laser focused on the beleaguered agency.
The grand jury’s 2018-2019  findings, out this week, shows that Wilson's homicide and the other two men killed that same week in 2018 – while the most violent and high-profile – fall into a larger pattern of violence.
In fact, the grand jury found that violent crime on BART, including robberies and aggravated assaults, increased by 115 percent over the last five years. At the same time, the grand jury found that BART lost 8 percent of its ridership since its 2016 peak, even as the Bay Area population grew and several new stations were added to the system.
Fewer passengers means less revenue for BART, which is counting on about 6 percent of its operating expenses to be covered by fares in FY 2020, compared to 74 percent five years ago. Between lower fare revenue and expected increases in operating expenses, BART anticipates facing an operating budget deficit this year and over the next few years.
BART board president Debora Allen said she hopes her colleagues will deal with these challenges.
"That's why I ran for office," Allen said. "The board has to put these quality-of-life issues first. We don't need to spend money developing real estate or working on art projects. It doesn't have to be like this. It's clearly not getting any better, it's getting worse. We're at a point now, where it's almost like the Wild Wild West on BART."
The grand jury identified four reasons that seem to discourage ridership: Homeless riders who camp out on platforms and trains, dirty trains, and people who evade fares (15 percent of riders, or 17.7 million annually, don’t pay fares totaling about $25 million a year).
Allen said that she found nothing new in the juror's findings, other than the high number of fare evasions. She said she doesn't believe they are as high as the  jurors found, but even if fare evasion hovered at 6 percent, or 10 percent, she said, the loss would be anywhere from $30 million to $60 million.
The fourth finding dealt with crime, and riders' perceptions of how safe the trains really are. And the data shows that in fact, the fears that many have is indeed the reality.
In 2018, there were three homicides, a 128 percent increase in robberies from the prior year and an 83 percent increase in aggravated assault. In all, violent crimes increased 115 percent from 2017 to 2018, according to BART crime data.
Kartika Widijah of Lafayette is well aware of these trends. She won't take BART anymore and instead, drives to work.
"BART, sometimes it's not safe anymore," she said, shaking her head. "After 8 o'clock? No, no, no." 
Anne Chambers of Moraga agreed. "People are shooting up in stations," she said, referring to rampant drug use at BART. "It doesn't feel like there's any police presence in the stations." 
But Jessica O'Dea of Martinez stood by BART, which she called an "essential option."
"It's not always perfect," she acknowledged. "But I appreciate having it." 
Jurors noted that a bright spot this year was the introduction of 775 clean new cars to replace the existing ones that have been in use since 1972. And while violent crime went up, property crimes went down by 5 percent in general; auto theft went down by 32 percent.
And jurors also  noted that BART hasn't sat idly by. The agency has worked hard to try to quell its safety and homelessness problems by launching social service referral programs, adding more patrol officers and introducing a phone app, BART Watch, so that riders can report and document crime in real time, as a few examples. 
But the jurors said they felt that BART needs to do more.
Specifically, the jurors said the agency needs to: Speed up hiring more patrol officers, crack down harder on fare evaders and improve its process for handling the collection of fines, expand initiatives to respond more quickly to bio-hazard complaints in the trains, continue partnering with social service agencies to serve the homeless and advocate for more regional solutions and be more transparent of BART policies and decisions. 
To conduct its findings, the grand jury examined BART public documents, including consultant reports, attended or viewed BART board meetings and agendas, toured the BART operations center in Oakland and interviewed BART senior executives. But the grand jury said it was difficult finding many relevant documents. Many board-related documents are saved as images, the jurors found, so the public cannot search for terms within written reports such as agendas, attachments, presentations, and minutes.
Finally, the jurors said BART’s board needs to work faster to react to problems. 
“To win riders back,” the jurors wrote, “the board must convince the public that BART is once again clean and safe to ride and that a rigorous effort to stop crime, including fare evasion, is in progress. Furthermore, BART must do this while facing serious competition from industry disrupters like Uber and Lyft.” 
Allen agrees: "We have been too slow." 
June 25, 2019
KTVU San Francisco
By Lisa Fernandez

[Santa Cruz County] Report finds Santa Cruz Public Libraries patrons' privacy is at risk

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. - Santa Cruz Public Libraries (SCPL) patrons' privacy could be at risk, according to a new Grand Jury report.
The Santa Cruz County Grand Jury released a report Monday that outlines an investigation into SCPL's use of third-party data analytics.
The Grand Jury claims that SCPL needs to do a better job of informing library-goers of how their personal data is being used and give them more opportunity to consent to use of their personal data. This concerns Soquel resident Nancie Martinez who uses some online resources at the library.
“I think it should be kept private, if I’m just checking books out or whatever, it shouldn’t be anyone else’s information,” Martinez told KION.
Despite the library website listing privacy policies of the various third party vendors they use, the grand jury says it’s “inaccurate and incomplete”. The grand jury’s main concern revolves around the data analytics software called Gale Analytics on Demand that allows libraries to collect information on demographics and library activity of patrons. 
SCPL’s Director Susan Nemitz told KION that the library did use the software for a few experimental projects, but discontinued use after some employees expressed concerns.
The library collects information from borrowers like names, mailing addresses, birth dates, phone numbers and drivers license or ID information.
An Aptos Branch Library goer told KION with all the technology these days, privacy concerns are a think of the past.
“The public data at the library–my name, address, phone number–that’s just information that i have for my bank, my credit cards, and unless we can secure our privacy with those institutions, which we know hasn’t worked, I don’t see the point of privacy whatsoever.”
In a statement to KION, Library Director Susan Nemitz said “the library never gives out public information or sells it. We make contracts with private vendors and in those contracts, they cannot use that data or sell that data."
The grand jury is recommending that SCPL add to their privacy policy, implement a system for managing patron consent and review contracts for all third party digital services. They also think the libraries should offer workshops to patrons explaining how their use their information.
SCPL updated their privacy policy earlier this month, but they now plan to take concerns addressed in the report to a library advisory committee to work through the issues.
June 24, 2019
By Elisha Machado

[Nevada County] The cost for housing juveniles in Nevada County has skyrocketed; Chief probation officer wants reform

Blog note: this article references 2016 and 2018 grand jury reports in the last paragraph.
In the ’90s, Nevada County’s Carl F. Bryan II Juvenile Hall program was expected to expand its inmate population.
The opposite happened, frequently leaving the facility mostly empty. As a result, the cost for housing juveniles in Nevada County has increased 199.42% since 2011, according to an April report by the San Francisco Chronicle, noting spending on county juveniles reached $511,000 per person annually.
Nevada County Chief Probation Officer Michael Ertola said he is not content with the situation, and has been working to change it. The probation officer has been trying to mitigate costs, shifting the focus to rehabilitation, and ultimately hopes to change the program, converting it to a youth center with a small portion used for detentions.
Ertola will suggest reforms at today’s county Board of Supervisors meeting.
The county has reduced its juvenile hall budget from $3.36 million in 2017-18 to $2.3 million in 2019-20, said Ertola. The chief probation officer plans to cut his budget further to almost $2 million by 2021.
“Through staffing reductions, in two years we’ve been able to reduce the budget by 33 percent,” he said, housing a maximum of 20 juveniles during that time who stay on average less than a month.
Most of the costs are consumed by operating the facility, as educating students who choose to participate at the county’s Sugarloaf Mountain Juvenile Hall Program costs about $190,000 per year, said Superintendent of Nevada County Schools Superintendent Scott Lay. Most of that money — which all comes from the state — goes to paying staff, he said.
Lay, like Ertola, wants to keep juveniles from the area around Nevada County — and supports reforming the hall into a community center — rather than sending them to neighboring Placer County.
Ertola said he previously considered closing the facility and transferring juveniles from the area to Placer County, but it didn’t solve their issue of costs.
Between leasing beds, having a transportation officer on-call and purchasing a vehicle, the estimated costs of transferring the county’s youth amounts to “$450,000 per year,” he said.
District 1 Supervisor Heidi Hall also did not endorse transferring juveniles to an outside county.
“I support having us do something more cost efficient with the juvenile facility, while also protecting our kids,” she wrote in an email to The Union. “I look forward to the presentation we will get on Tuesday, and what is likely to be a helpful discussion.”
Eight-year teacher for the Sugarloaf Mountain Juvenile Hall Program, Dennis Desmond hopes to focus on rehabilitation but also keep at least a portion of the facility for detaining. He believes if the county rids itself of the juvenile hall, it won’t have an enforcement mechanism for ensuring teenagers reform, thereby graduating from the program and getting jobs.
In addition to cutting costs and creating a community center, Ertola wants state funding to target kindergarten through fifth graders who have problems with truancy, altogether preventing juveniles from cycling through the criminal justice system.
“The earlier you can provide services to people, the better the chance you have of changing their direction,” he said, adding “the state dollars spent now are saving dollars generations from now.”
For those committing crimes in their teens, Ertola wants more emphasis on community service programs and treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy, moral recognition therapy and aggression replacement therapy, he said.
Ertola endorsed the county’s use of a pretrial risk assessment tool, which tries to ensure people aren’t locked up before they are convicted of a crime as long as they don’t pose a threat to the community.
“Ninety-eight percent of our kids who are released with a court date show up to court and don’t pick up a new law offense,” said Ertola.
Although Ertola did not consider it an issue in the county, pretrial risk assessment tools have been considered racially biased by justice organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union. A 2016 ProPublica report found them to discriminate against black people.
Amid these changes, Ertola and other public officials will continue trying to search for reforms that lower the budget while still supporting struggling juveniles.
If the budget issue was easy to resolve, it would have already happened, said Lay.
In 2007, California State Senate Bill 81 afforded counties more responsibility for housing juveniles, only requiring state facilities to process them for serious crimes like “murder, robbery and certain sex offenses,” according to the state’s Legislative Analysts’s Office. To compensate, the state gave counties $180 million annually. The legislation also provided $100 million to construct or renovate juvenile facilities.
Consequently, in 2017 counties supervised 87% of the youth under supervision due to criminal activity, according to the state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office. That’s a 35% increase since 1996.
As of late, however, the detained population has dropped significantly. About 4,100 youth are held in juvenile halls and camps on average across California, which is about two-thirds less than in 1999, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
In Nevada County, juvenile hall was built to hold up to 60 youth when it opened in 2002. Over the past year, the hall averages five youth per day, said Ertola.
In 2016 and again in 2018, the Nevada County Grand Jury recommended closing the juvenile hall due to the excessive costs of operating an under-used facility, per previous reporting by The Union.
June 24, 2019
The Union of Grass Valley
By Sam Corey

[Marin County] Marin grand jury: Special districts still too murky

A new report by the Marin County Civil Grand Jury calls on county officials to publicize details about Marin’s many small government agencies so taxpayers have the ability to hold them accountable.
Countywide, there are more than 130 so-called special districts, which are public agencies that deliver services including water, recreation, sanitation, policing and firefighting to specified geographic areas.
Information about those districts — including basic details, such as what they are called, whom they serve and how to contact them — is often difficult to find, says the report, which was released Thursday.
“Operational details about them are uncertain and obscure,” it says.
The Marin County Civil Grand Jury routinely reports on special districts, often urging county officials to facilitate greater transparency from the agencies. It has repeatedly pressed for a comprehensive list of all Marin districts accessible through the county’s website.
But according to the latest report, a complete inventory has yet to be published, despite the Board of Supervisors agreeing to create one in response to a 2014 grand jury recommendation.
“Without a full list,” the grand jury says, “it is difficult to determine how many special districts exist and how much taxpayer money is expended by them.”
State law requires public agencies when they are formed to file information with the state secretary and the clerk of the county where they operate. That information includes the name and mailing address for each agency, in addition to the names of directors. When any changes are made, agencies are required to notify the state and county within 10 days.
But the roster of public agencies maintained by the Marin County clerk’s office shows that many districts don’t routinely file change notices. Information about some districts hasn’t been updated since the 1960s.
Shelly Scott, the county clerk, said she does her part by refreshing the roster when Marin’s agencies file notices with her office. But she’s not responsible for ensuring the information about each agency is current, or that each district is on the list.
“I don’t keep track of all the agencies,” she said. “They’re required to report to me.”
The grand jury report asks the county Board of Supervisors to create an accurate and complete public agencies directory before the end of the year and identify county staff responsible for updating it.
It recommends including in that database the names of board members for each special district and how much they are paid. It also suggest providing information such as the purpose, total budget and source of funds for each district.
The recommendations are aimed at promoting “transparency and accountability,” the report says.
That information is crucial for watchdog groups like the Coalition of Sensible Taxpayers, said Paul Premo, a board member for the organization.
It can be tough in some cases, he said, to track down details about many districts — especially financial figures, including how much directors and administrators are being paid. When the public doesn’t have easy access to that information, the agencies are able to “fly under the radar,” he said.
Transparency, Premo said, allows Marin residents to “monitor and perhaps challenge the efficiency of these governments.”
June 24, 2019
Marin Independent Journal
By Matthew Pera

Saturday, June 29, 2019

[Alameda County] Grand jury criticizes supes' handling of Urban Shield changes

ALAMEDA COUNTY, Calif. (BCN) - An Alameda County grand jury issued a report on Monday strongly criticizing the county Board of Supervisors for the way it handled the approval process of sweeping changes to the sheriff's controversial "Urban Shield" law enforcement training program.
The grand jury said in its annual report that the board's "mismanagement of the review process" caused the group that distributes federal grant money for emergency training programs to shift nearly $5 
million in U.S. Department of Homeland Security funds away from Alameda County.
The panel said the result is "the loss of essential regional emergency preparedness training, leaving county residents less safe."
The sheriff's office started Urban Shield in 2007 because it believed the terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001, showed law enforcement agencies weren't well prepared for such attacks.
More than 100 agencies and thousands of people, including some from foreign countries, participated in past training programs, which were held each September.
But critics, including the Stop Urban Shield Coalition, have alleged that the training program is militaristic, racist and xenophobic, and has a negative impact on communities of color and immigrants.
A 4-1 Board of Supervisors majority agreed with many of the critics' complaints at a meeting in March 2018, when it voted to allow the exercise to continue in its old format for one final time last September but called for its format in 2019 and future years to focus more on training for natural disasters and less on terrorism and weapons vendors.
The board's March 2018 vote also called for forming an ad hoc committee on Urban Shield to offer a new vision and strategic approach for emergency management in the county.
But the grand jury report said, "The Board of Supervisors failed to provide clear and complete guidelines to the ad hoc committee, particularly in regard to making recommendations that are consistent with grant guidelines."
The panel said the sheriff's office repeatedly warned the committee that its recommendations for changing Urban Shield were inconsistent with the grant guidelines of the Bay Area Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI), which require the teaching of skills to fight terrorism, including SWAT training.
The grand jury also said "almost all the appointed committee members held pre-established and intractable opinions about Urban Shield, making objective analysis difficult to impossible."
In addition, the panel alleged that the Board of Supervisors accepted the committee's recommendations "without the benefit of meaningful county staff review and county administrative officer approval."
The grand jury said, "Alameda County thus lost millions in federal funds, critical to the continued training of our first responders in increasingly volatile times."
In votes at meetings on Feb. 27 and March 12, supervisors approved most of the committee's 63 recommendations for changing Urban Shield.
Among those are eliminating military-type SWAT teams and competition from the annual training exercises, eliminating its weapons expo and vendor show component, getting rid of the "Urban Shield" label and evaluating law enforcement participants' compliance with their departments' use-of-force policies.
In response to the board's actions, UASI's board, comprised of representatives from 12 Northern California counties, voted on March 14 to shift the nearly $5 million in federal funding away from Alameda County.
June 24, 2019
KTVU San Francisco
By Jeff Shuttleworth

Inyo County Grand Jury studies Sheriff’s department high turnover rate

The Inyo County Grand Jury on Friday released an interim report focusing on the high turnover at Inyo County Sheriff’s Department to other local law enforcement agencies.
The report and any future responses will be available on the Inyo Superior Court website or by request at both the Bishop and Independence Courthouses.
June 24, 2019
Sierra Wave Media
By News Staff

[Alameda County] Grand jury: Elected officials caused ‘lasting damage’ to Alameda

Report finds Oddie, Vella tried to sway hiring of union-backed candidate as fire chief

ALAMEDA — A scathing grand jury report issued Monday takes two City Council members to task, finding that they tried to use their political influence to get a union-backed candidate hired as fire chief.
However, the Alameda County civil grand jury determined it would not take steps to get Jim Oddie and Malia Vella removed from office because of the high threshold that would be needed to effectively usurp the will of voters. The report found that Oddie and Vella violated the Alameda city charter by improperly attempting to influence former City Manager Jill Keimach as she was picking a fire chief.
The elected officials cost the city more than $1 million in investigation and legal fees, eroded morale among city employees and “damaged public trust in government at a time when such trust is so important,” the grand jury wrote. The grand jury did not name Oddie and Vella, though it was clearly referencing them based on previous reports by this news organization and others.
“The grand jury’s investigation revealed a pattern of conduct by two council members that, taken together, amounted to inappropriate interference in the fire chief hiring process and resulted in lasting damage to the city,” the grand jury wrote in its 2018-19 final report.
The Alameda city charter puts all hiring decisions for key personnel in the hands of the city manager. Council interference is prohibited and can be grounds for removal from office. The grand jury, however, found that the conduct of Oddie and Vella did not rise to filing an “accusation,” a legal charge that would start the process to remove them from office for willful or corrupt misconduct.
Vella and Oddie reportedly wanted Keimach to pick Domenick Weaver — the candidate favored by the firefighters union — as head of the $33 million fire department. Instead, Keimach tapped Edmond Rodriguez, then chief of the Salinas Fire Department, saying he was more qualified.
“I am pleased that the grand jury has concluded its deliberations and happy that the jury determined that no further ‘accusation’ proceedings are warranted,” Oddie said. “As the Alameda City Council will be formally responding to the grand jury’s report in the coming weeks, it is premature and inappropriate for me to provide any additional comments at this time. I look forward to putting this behind us and continuing to focus on the important work of serving the Alameda community.”
Keimach was so concerned about the pressure she was under while searching for a fire chief that she secretly audio-recorded a 55-minute meeting with Oddie and Vella in August 2017, the grand jury noted.
“While the council members were careful not to make any direct threats, their message was clear,” according to the jury, which listened to the recording. “They supported the labor-backed candidate and pressed the city manager on that point. They appeared to be doing the labor leader’s bidding, although they claimed the meeting was their idea.”
In a October 2017 letter to the council, sent the day before announcing that Rodriguez was her pick for chief, Keimach said she was subjected to “unseemly” and “intense and unrelenting” pressure to go with the candidate that the union wanted hired. Keimach also said her job evaluation was continually postponed, a delay that she said made it appear as if a positive evaluation hinged on who she would end up selecting as fire chief. Keimach’s letter did not name Vella or Oddie.
“Today another independent review of events put into motion in 2017 by former City Manager Jill Keimach show again that her allegations against me were baseless,” Vella said in an email on Monday. “Even after the Alameda County Civil Grand Jury listened to Ms. Keimach’s surreptitious recording of my meeting with her, they declined to make any recommendations to take action against me. … Finally, the (grand jury’s) search for the truth falls short since they never even subpoenaed testimony from many people whose actions are cited in the report, including union officials.”
In May 2018, Keimach quit her job under a $900,000-plus settlement with the city after it emerged she had recorded the council members. She was initially placed on paid administrative leave as a result of the fallout from her allegations. The Alameda County District Attorney’s Office later cleared Keimach of wrongdoing in recording the tape.
Along with Keimach, four other top officials left city employment within about a year after what the grand jury called the “fiasco” surrounding the fire chief’s hiring. Among them were Janet Kern, the city attorney, and Jennifer Ott, an assistant city manager. A consultant brought in by the city to help with Keimach’s performance review also quit before completing the work, the grand jury noted.
“It is quite telling that an outside consultant with years of city management experience terminated his contract with the city, foregoing full payment for his future services, because he did not want to participate in an unethical misuse of the performance review process,” the grand jury report said.
The grand jury report noted that Oddie sent a letter to Keimach to recommend the union-favored candidate on city letterhead and signed it in an official capacity as a councilman, describing that as “a direct and very public violation” of the city charter. The grand jury also criticized Oddie and Vella for taking part in a closed-session council meeting in which the council reviewed and edited a report from an independent investigator brought in by the city following Keimach’s accusations before the report became public.
Among the recommendations from the grand jury are that the Alameda City Council adopt a policy stating that council members who knowingly violate ethical codes cannot seek reimbursement for related legal fees. The grand jury also called for the creation of a handbook outlining a code of conduct for council members. As part of its investigation, the grand jury heard testimony from current and former Alameda city staff, elected officials and statewide governance experts. It also reviewed City Council agendas, minutes and meeting videos, as well as emails and other documents.
June 24, 2019
The Mercury News
By Peter Hegarty

[Alameda County] Despite complaints, grand jury report finds ‘no significant issues’ at Santa Rita Jail

Woman gave birth alone after screaming for hours, another dies alone in early hours of morning after release

DUBLIN — An Alameda County civil grand jury investigation that began after news of a woman who gave birth alone in a jail cell screaming for hours, and an inmate who died shortly after being released, concluded that there were “no significant issues” with the Santa Rita Jail.
The grand jury’s report, released Monday, investigated the interworkings of the county’s Santa Rita Jail located in Dublin, including inmate intake, release and grievances filed. The jury concluded that no major issues were identified, and overall found the established procedures were thorough “with an emphasis on the safety of inmates and staff.”
The grand jury began its investigation into the jail after “troubling incidents” reported in 2018. As reported by this news organization, an inmate gave birth alone inside an isolated cell in July 2017 at Santa Rita, screaming for hours for help and with nothing to wrap her baby in but her own jail jumpsuit. The woman, Candace Steel, filed a federal lawsuit against the county last year, which is pending.
The report noted that if women inmates say they are pregnant during booking into the jail, they are given priority during the intake process, without having to take a pregnancy test. The intake process can take between six to eight hours, depending on the inmate’s condition, cooperation and health needs, the report said.
According to the report, pregnant inmates are given prenatal vitamins and given about 600 more calories per day in their diet. They are also offered a denim jacket and allowed to sleep in a lower bunk. Women can also wear an orange armband to clearly indicate they are pregnant.
Deputies are trained to alert medical staff when an inmate complains about pregnancy-related complications, including cramping, the grand jury report says.
“Deputies are required to defer to medical providers regarding pregnant inmates and are never supposed to downgrade medical decisions,” according to the grand jury report.
But the report begs the question: Why didn’t that happen during Steele’s pregnancy or hours of childbirth?
The report noted that jail staff were “unable to comment on the circumstances of the inmate who gave birth in an isolation cell in 2017 due to pending litigation.” No further explanation or comment is given in the report.
At the time the lawsuit was filed in 2018, Steel’s attorney, Yolanda Huang said: “What kind of inhumanity runs that jail?”
Huang, who said Monday she had not yet seen the report, said it should have focused on issues such as in-custody deaths and the prosecution of sheriff’s deputies.
Also last year, former inmate Jessica St. Louis, 26, died just hours after being released from Santa Rita July 28, 2018, around 1:30 a.m. She was on her way to the BART station, which is two miles away from the jail, and was found dead in the station parking lot of a suspected drug overdose. While the grand jury reported noted the death, it did not elaborate or make any recommendations regarding the incident.
Grand jury forewoman Melanie Sweeney-Griffith and grand jury law and justice committee chairman Raymond Souza did not respond to requests for further explanation on the report.
The grand jury report found that in general, there is “no predetermined time frame for those being released.” Those who have completed their sentence in jail are released after 8 a.m. the day of their release.
The report noted that inmates who are released too late to make transit connections, such as BART, are allowed to stay in the lobby overnight if they do not have a ride.
St. Louis’ death sparked outrage among advocacy groups and State Sen. Nancy Skinner, who introduced legislation calling for changes to inmate release times.
Skinner also called for a comprehensive audit of the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office earlier this year, joining in with other advocates, in light of the recent controversies.
Santa Rita Jail is soon to be the only jail in the county, after the sheriff’s office announced it was closing its other jail this summer, Glenn E. Dyer detention facility in Oakland to save money.
Santa Rita Jail is one of the largest jails in the nation, with the capacity to hold 3,489 inmates, booking about 60 to 100 per day. On the day it was inspected in 2018 by the grand jury, it held 2,115 inmates. The breakdown in 2018 was mostly male inmates, 89 percent, while 11 percent were female.
The jail’s 2019 budget was around $129 million, with 502 staff members; 63 percent (more than 300 people) are sworn officers. The sheriff’s office as a whole has a budget of $443 million per year.
The report found that in the jail’s intake, transfer and release department, a total of 34 percent of its sworn officers positions are filled with mandatory overtime.
“This reflects Santa Rita’s reliance throughout the jail on overtime to cover absences due to leaves, staff on loan and vacant positions,” the report says.
Santa Rita books about 60 to 100 people per day, 35 percent of whom are taken in as inmates while the remainder are cited and released.
June 24, 2019
East Bay Times
By Angela Ruggiero

[Orange County] Grand Jury: Should Orange County auditor-controller be strictly an accountant – or also a watchdog?

A grand jury report says OC supervisors' 2018 decision to strip Eric Woolery's office of the internal audit function hasn't saved money or improved results.

An Orange County Grand Jury report is asking the Board of Supervisors to justify its choice to run the county’s internal audit function differently than every other county in the state.
For decades, the elected auditor-controller served as a check on county finances by overseeing spending and investigating policies and controls. To regain the trust of the public and Wall Street after the county’s devastating 1994 bankruptcy, supervisors separated the accounting and internal audit functions.
In 2015, Auditor-Controller Eric Woolery resumed handling both jobs. But on the heels of his 2018 reelection, Woolery was stripped by the supervisors of the internal audit responsibility.
The county has until Sept. 30 to respond to the report, which was issued June 18.
In an emailed statement Monday, Woolery said he appreciates the grand jury’s efforts and plans to work with county officials on the response.
“I believe the report illuminates some key changes that would be in the best interest of the county; if the board chooses to make those changes I will support them,” he said.
Through a spokeswoman, Supervisor Lisa Bartlett, the board chairwoman, declined on Monday to comment on the grand jury findings.
In other counties, internal auditing is one of multiple duties the auditor-controller’s office manages. The office also provides accounting services, handles employee payroll and payments to vendors, and calculates property taxes owed and disburses those tax payments.
In 2015, with the newly elected Woolery on board, supervisors gave his office back the task of monitoring – and sometimes questioning – internal spending decisions. But Woolery ran into criticism for styling himself as a watchdog, investigating supervisors’ use of constituent mailers during election season, and in a few cases withholding payment of expenses he thought might be improper, the grand jury report said.
About a year ago, supervisors again voted to separate internal auditing from Woolery’s office and hire someone else for that job. They also cut the auditor-controller’s budget by $1 million, with “no reasons given and no discussion,” the report said.
In the 2019-20 budget – which supervisors are set to vote on Tuesday – Woolery is expected to get $16.57 million to run his office, slightly less than he got in 2015-16; the internal audit office will receive $2.29 million, a bit less than its budget five years ago.
By contrast, the auditor-controller’s 2018-19 budget, when internal auditing was included, was $19.74 million, several hundred thousand dollars more than the total the two offices will receive next fiscal year.
The grand jury probe “could find no noticeable improvements in efficiency or effectiveness” in running the two functions separately, nor any evidence that the auditor-controller’s office had been inefficient or incompetent, the report said.
The report asks that the county look again at the impact of separating the internal audit function from the auditor-controller, consider restoring the money stripped from Woolery’s budget in 2018, and publicly explain the justification for being the state’s only county with a separate internal audit division.
One other grand jury recommendation may prove the most challenging: supervisors and Woolery “should discuss and resolve differing opinions in a constructive and professional manner, without airing disagreements in a public forum.”
June 24, 2019
The Orange County Register
By Alicia Robinson