Saturday, August 31, 2019


Over the next few days, we’re going to be posting the 2018-2019 Humboldt County Civil Grand Jury reports. They are easy to read and informative.
This is a press release from the Humboldt County Civil Grand Jury:
This is the third report from the 2018-2019 Humboldt County Civil Grand Jury. The report examines mental health care provided in the Humboldt County Correctional Facility, and is titled:
The Last Resort
The Humboldt County Civil Grand Jury’s investigation concerned the delivery of mental health care by the Humboldt County Correctional Facility (HCCF) in light of five decisions made by the United States Supreme Court and California legislators and voters. The Lanterman-Petris-Short Act, enacted in the early 1970s, resulted in an increase in the number of mentally ill people who are placed in jail because there is nowhere else for them to go. The Supreme Court’s Brown v. Plata decision meant that as California’s prisons emptied, the county jails’ populations grew. Many of the health care issues which had been the State’s responsibility now became the county’s. Assembly Bill 109, Proposition 47, and Proposition 57 have resulted in even more problems. The HCCF is now housing more “experienced” inmates for longer periods of time. The new inmates tend to be older with more mental health problems; the new type of inmate has created a different environment in the facility, with racial issues being more prevalent and with violence increasing.
Our in-depth study found the Department of Health and Human Services mental health staff working in the jail is not able to provide an adequate standard of care due to the number of inmates staff is expected to treat, in a facility that is not equipped for mental health services, and with inadequate staffing and funding. Those who work in the correctional facility are dedicated to doing the best they can to serve their patients, but they are hindered by the conditions under which they must work. These factors not only affect the jail population and its staff, but also the community as a whole.
July 16, 2019
Redheaded Blackbelt
By Oliver Cory

Alameda County Grand Jury calls out supervisors

It's good to see one branch of government doing its job.
The Alameda County Grand Jury issued its annual report last month and ripped multiple government agencies for decisions, meddling and mismanagement.
It cited three members of the county Board of Supervisors (Keith Carson, Richard Valle and Wilma Chan) for voting to end the Urban Shield anti-terrorist training program that involved many jurisdictions over 12 counties. The three supervisors kowtowed to a small and vocal group of anti-law-enforcement activists who wanted the training modified to disaster preparedness.
It was paid for with a federal homeland security grant so that grant was withdrawn because the supervisors' motion did not allow the county to meet the terms of the grant. This was known before the vote, but the three went ahead and pleased the activists -- and left county and Bay Area residents less safe because of it.
There's a reason that the military drills all the time to prepare in case they are called into battle. It's no different for law enforcement, particularly when confronted with events that are outside of their normal experience.
The Grand Jury also appropriately took the Oakland Unified School District to task for its continued mismanagement of the finances. The report says the district spends less than the average amount on students compared to statewide averages while spending way more on administrators, central office staff, contractors and consultants. It also cites major problems with construction management and oversight.
Last year, the board halted nine building projects after cost overruns soared more than $160 million, according to the report. Before settling its teachers' strike last year, the district faced projected deficits of $9 million (midyear cuts reduced that number), $6.4 million in the current fiscal year and $15 million in 2020-21.
The expense of settling the teachers' strike with healthy raises exacerbated the shortfalls in the out-years.
The district has needed a top-to-bottom overhaul for decades, but it has suffered from poor board and senior staff leadership. It receives about 125% of the statewide average per student revenue so the money is there. It's how it's being spent that's at the core, as the Grand Jury pointed out for the second year in a row.
Perhaps, in Oakland's case, the best solution for students would be a state takeover that can establish fiscal discipline and truly put students first.
July 15, 2019
Pleasanton Weekly

[Humboldt County] Grand jury flags Humboldt County’s ‘poor cash handling’ policies, ‘improper’ accounting practices

Report finds county funds could be open to misuse

For its final yearly report, the Humboldt County Civil Grand Jury released today its own examination of an independent review of the county’s auditor-controller office, finding issues with the office’s staffing levels and the county’s financial accountability.
The jury found a lack of “adequate” documentation and adherence to state standards, as well as a shortage in various levels of training within several departments. If the county doesn’t get up to par in certain areas of accountability, its money could be in danger of financial misuse, the jury found.
“There is a high risk of fraud in a number of county departments due to their poor cash handling policies and procedures, improper accounting, and a lack of accountability,” the jury wrote.
It additionally found issues between the Human Resources department’s level of cooperation with the auditor-controller’s office. Payroll is handled through Human Resources, but the grand jury says the auditor still “lacks the data” to properly assess payroll disbursement methods.
The jury recommended the county direct the auditor-controller to assess payroll methods in the Human Resources office before Oct. 1.
Karen Paz-Dominguez, the county’s elected auditor-controller, has publicly spoken about issues between her office and Human Resources. She praised the report to the Times-Standard today ahead of releasing her formal responses to the jury’s findings.
he grand jury’s decision to assess her office at all stemmed from Paz-Dominguez’s public comments at a Board of Supervisors meeting in 2017, where she raised alarm about the office’s practices. At the time, Paz-Dominguez was a staff member in the auditor’s office.
Her comments triggered independent audits of the office by several outside consultants. The grand jury laid out assessments of the consultants’ findings while offering its own recommendations in the published report.
County spokesperson Sean Quincey noted that numerous independent investigations now have found no cases of fraud or misuse of public funds within the county.
“For several months now the entire county has been working closely with the Auditor and several professional leadership and accounting consultants on many of the process-related practices detailed in today’s Grand Jury report,” Quincey wrote in an email.
“We believe many of these changes are positive and will provide for increased transparency,” he continued. “However, what has been stated in prior investigative reports delivered to the Board in open session remains true: it is vital that all departments work well together to achieve real results.”
Quincey went on to point out that “organization-wide changes” should be made with care, given the area’s population size and the county government’s large number of employees.
The grand jury’s report marks its final published set of findings for 2019. The jury’s other assessments released in recent weeks include an assessment of the county’s homelessness problem and an examination of mental health care for inmates at the Humboldt County jail.
Several county officials will now have the opportunity to respond to the jury’s findings, upon the jury’s own request.
July 15, 2019
Eureka Times-Standard
By Shomik Mukherjee

[Monterey County] Grand Jury finds alerts "inadequate" during Camp Fire

The city of Monterey is countering a grand jury report critical of a program that funds neighborhood improvement projects, asserting that the jury is confused about the semantics of the word “citywide.”
City Manager Hans Uslar said Friday that the city’s response to the jury report is still being crafted ahead of an August deadline, but that it will point out a discrepancy in the language used by the Monterey County civil grand jury in its report  “A Review of the City of Monterey’s Neighborhood Improvement Program.”
At issue is a city initiative launched in 1985 called the Neighborhood Improvement Program. In 1988 voters approved Measure B, which is now incorporated into the Monterey City Charter, a document akin to a municipality’s constitution.
Under Measure B, at least 16% of the transient occupancy tax charged to hotel visitors is to be set aside for improvements to the residential neighborhoods of Monterey, At present that amount exceeds $4 million.
There are 10 individual neighborhoods named under the program plus one earmarked as “Citywide.” Over the 10 years ending in 2018, the Citywide category received 30.8% of the neighborhood improvement budget. During the same timespan, the next highest was the neighborhood of New Monterey with 15.7%, then Monterey Vista with 11%. The rest of the neighborhoods were all under 7% of the budget.
The grand jury claims that “Citywide” is not a neighborhood and consequently should be funded by the city’s general fund, not the Neighborhood Improvement Program budget.
“The grand jury is saying citywide projects are not allowed, they are overlooking that the charter allows communitywide projects, funded by (the Neighborhood Improvement Program),” Uslar said. “I honestly think the grand jury confused ‘citywide’ with ‘communitywide.’
The report indicated that the information the jury used was obtained from the Neighborhood Improvement Policies and Procedures Manual, interviews conducted by the grand jury, review of the city’s public documents, documents provided by the city, members of the neighborhood program’s committee and Monterey residents.
While the jury found the neighborhood program as having a positive effect in Monterey, the investigation was launched by a resident’s complaint.
“The (Neighborhood Improvement Program) has accomplished many beneficial projects in the years since it was established and is generally seen in a positive light by the residents of the city of Monterey,” the report states. “This investigation began as a result of a citizen’s concern that the (Neighborhood Improvement Program) wasn’t adequately serving the neighborhoods.”
The jury raised other concerns, albeit minor ones, while also complimenting the city by stating that Monterey followed the original intention of the voters with Measure B.
The report also found that:
• The city or the program committee “failed to diligently review and update the Policies and Procedures Manual to currently reflect changes within the operations and structure of the program.”
• The city or the program committee failed to provide adequate public notices for publicly held committee meetings.
The grand jury breaks down the two definitions this way: Communitywide projects benefit the residents within the neighborhoods. Citywide projects benefit the residents of the entire city.
“We’ll just switch from citywide to communitywide,” Uslar said.
July 15, 2019
Monterey Herald
By Dennis L. Taylor

[Humboldt County] Civil Grand Jury releases report on 'The Mis-Fortunes of Humboldt County'

HUMBOLDT COUNTY, Calif. — The fifth and final report from the 2018-2019 Humboldt County Civil Grand Jury (HCCGJ) was released Monday. It is called, "The Mis-Fortunes of Humboldt County."
The report examines the steps Humboldt County government has taken to address independent consultants’ audit, review and recommendations pertaining to the Auditor-Controller’s office.
The report addresses public allegations from 2017, that the Auditor-Controller’s staff was reportedly not functioning in a manner that could provide for the responsible management of funds and accounting needs of Humboldt County.
As a result of those allegations, the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors hired independent consultants to conduct an audit and review of the management of the Auditor-Controller’s office.
The HCCGJ reviewed the consultants’ reports, and the findings and recommendations they contained. They then investigated the steps that Humboldt County government has taken to address the recommendations in the independent consultants’ reports.
According to the report, the HCCGJ determined that there are many areas where recommendations in the audits have not been fully implemented, for various reasons.
For example, the HCCGJ found the Auditor-Controller’s Office has reportedly encountered a lack of cooperation from county staff in its efforts to carry out its legal responsibilities. They reported learning that proper training is lacking in many county departments regarding the government accounting requirements related to the responsibilities of their offices.
"An even greater concern is the opportunity for fraud in a number of county departments due to their poor cash handling policies and procedures, improper accounting and lack of accountability," HCCGJ Foreperson Joseph Kravitz said in a press release.
North Coast News reached out to Deputy County Administrative Officer Sean Quincey for response to the Grand Jury report. His full response is listed below.
We thank the Grand Jury for its work. We do, however, disagree with much of the tone of much of the report. There have been very serious allegations launched at the county regarding its finances over the last 18 months, and we have responded swiftly with numerous independent investigations performed by trained professionals, accountants and outside auditors into those claims. We are glad to report that NONE of these investigations have turned up any cases of fraud or misuse of public funds. The county takes very seriously its responsibility to safeguard public funds, and it is irresponsible of others to repeatedly accuse individuals and employees of misdeeds without proof.
For several months now the entire county has been working closely with the Auditor and several professional leadership and accounting consultants on many of the process-related practices detailed in the Grand Jury report. We believe many of these recommended changes are positive and will provide for increased transparency. And the county has invested heavily in the Auditor’s Office to ensure their staff and leadership are up to the task of taking on these changes and fulfilling their role in the organization. However, what has been stated in prior investigative reports delivered to the Board in open session remains true: we can continue to throw money at this problem, but it is going to take all departments, including the Auditor’s Office, committing to work together if we want to achieve real results.
In an organization that is made up of more than 2,200 employees and provides services to more than 130,000 residents we need to take care that any organization-wide changes we implement do not have any unintended consequences. These changes need to be done with care, collaboration, and consistency in order to provide for continued operations for both the organization and the clients whom we serve. The county is committed to solving problems and working together to achieve these goals.
Below are some of the investments we have made into the Auditor-Controller’s Office since 2017:
Adding 2.0 full-time employees to the Auditor-Controller’s Office over the last two fiscal years
$20,000 to improve technology (wiring) in the Auditor-Controller’s Office
Provided funding for out-of-county training of the entire Auditor-Controller staff
$15,700 for leadership and team development training for Auditor-Controller Office
Allocated $51,000 for new office furniture for Auditor-Controller’s Office
$9,500 for new computers and training for Auditor-Controller’s office
$25,000 for physically moving Payroll staff to HR and purchasing new equipment
$35,655 to conduct a Management & Operations Study
$20,000 for Craig Goodman, CPA to perform an assessment of the county’s accounting and budget practices
$68,000 for Robert Sesnon, CPA (IT and accounting specialist) to assist with the chart of accounts project
July 15, 2019
By Nazy Javid, Lisa Librenjak

[Alameda County] Oakland parents push back against plan to close school

They say Kaiser’s culture of acceptance and inclusiveness can’t be easily replicated

Blog note: this article references a grand jury report.
OAKLAND — Although it won’t happen for another year, students at Kaiser Elementary in the Hiller Highlands neighborhood are fretting over the fate of their beloved school, which could close after the upcoming school year.
“All the teachers are really nice and fun, and I like all my friends here,” said Grace Johnson, who attended kindergarten there and starts first grade in the fall.
For decades, Kaiser has built a reputation for being an inclusive, small school, where students know just about all of their classmates, and bullying is rare. It’s also known for having a culture of acceptance of LGBTQ students and staff, said Grace’s mother, Alicia Johnson. Families from all over the city enroll their kids in the school; 268 students attended last year, and the building has a 283-student capacity.
But as the Oakland Unified School District heeds the demands of the Alameda County civil grand jury and state overseers to close and consolidate schools in the wake of a more than 30 percent enrollment drop from 54,000 to around 37,000 students over the past 15 years and a multi-million dollar budget crisis, district officials are eyeing Kaiser as one of the the next to close. The school board will vote in September on a plan for 2020 to merge Kaiser with Sankofa Academy, a larger campus about four miles away on 61st Street and Shattuck Avenue that’s built for 336 students but only had 187 enrolled last year.
Though the district has pitched the merger as an opportunity to offer more students a higher-quality education, parents of Kaiser students are pushing back, and are even considering suing the district to stop the move. Many of them sought out a school like Kaiser after their children were bullied elsewhere, or struggled in a larger classroom environment. They fear their children will be subject to the same experiences if the schools combine.
“My daughter has thrived here. My son, who is a complicated lad, has done great here as well, and it’s just such a beautiful, warm, welcoming community that you really become a part of,” said Steve Young, whose son is going into third grade and daughter was just promoted from Kaiser.
Young said it isn’t the curriculum that makes Kaiser such a welcoming place, it’s the school’s unique culture.
Alicia Johnson, said her son Mickey was “subject to all this chaos” at a charter school she had enrolled him in; his teacher quit four days into the semester. But at Kaiser, her family immediately felt at home, she said. Mickey’s teachers helped him acclimate to the new school, and he quickly made friends.
“We just thought this is where we want to raise our children,” Johnson said. “My son adjusted right away, and felt so much love in the first week here at Kaiser.”
School board member Jody London, whose district encompasses Kaiser and Sankofa, said the intention of the merger is to reduce the overhead of operating two campuses so that more money could be spent on the students themselves. She said the students, faculty and other staff who want to go to the new school will be able to. The merger doesn’t pose a threat to teachers’ jobs at either school, she said.
London said she believes parents’ fear of the merger stems from a natural fear of change, and that the new school could also foster the type of environment that Kaiser did.
“I understand there are a lot of families at Kaiser who believe their child has special needs, which can be accommodated in a school with more kids,” London said in an interview.
Families who don’t want their children in Sankofa can opt to enroll at other schools.
The potential merger of Kaiser and Sankofa is part of the second phase of closures, consolidations and expansions under the district’s “Blueprint for Quality Schools” plan to right-size the district. The first phase included the strongly contested closure of Roots International Academy, a middle school in East Oakland. That first phase also included merging Alliance Academy and Elmhurst Community Prep School as well as Futures Elementary School and Community United Elementary School.
Plans for the second phase has not been completed, but the district also is considering some kind of merger involving Manzanita SEED, Oakland SOL, Manzanita Community School and Fruitvale Elementary. District spokesman John Sasaki said the district is not considering merging all four into one.
Johnson says she wishes “it could be true, that you could just pick the campus and go,” but doesn’t think it is likely. If the merger goes through, she plans to enroll her kids at Mills College Children’s School, a private alternative school at the Mills College campus in the hills.
Clarence Hunt, whose son is going into second grade, is also considering putting his son in a private school if Kaiser is to close, though he said he thinks a lawsuit would keep it open.
If Kaiser is to close, the district has not yet determined what will happen with the property. London said she thinks the site would be a good location for teacher housing, “given the residential nature of the neighborhood.”
The Kaiser parents speculate the property would be sold or leased to a charter if the school were to be shut down.
July 15, 2019
The Mercury News
By Ali Tadayon

[Humboldt County] Report finds ‘opportunity for fraud’ over county handling of cash, accounting

The following is a press release from the Humboldt County Civil Grand Jury:
This is the fifth and final report from the 2018-2019 Humboldt County Civil Grand Jury (Civil Grand Jury). The report examines the steps Humboldt County government has taken to address independent consultants’ audit, review and recommendations pertaining to the Auditor-Controller’s office, and is titled:
The Mis-Fortunes of Humboldt County
In 2017 public allegations arose that the Auditor-Controller’s staff was not functioning in a manner that could provide for the responsible management of funds and accounting needs of Humboldt County. As a result of these allegations, the Board of Supervisors hired independent consultants to conduct an audit and review of the management of the Auditor-Controller’s office.
The Humboldt County Civil Grand Jury reviewed the consultants’ reports and the findings and recommendations they contained. We then investigated the steps Humboldt County government has taken to address the recommendations in the independent consultants’ reports.
We determined there are many areas where recommendations in the audits have not been fully implemented, for various reasons. For example, the Civil Grand Jury found the Auditor-Controller’s Office has encountered a lack of cooperation from county staff in its efforts to carry out its legal responsibilities. We learned proper training is lacking in many county departments regarding the government accounting requirements related to the responsibilities of their offices. An even greater concern is the opportunity for fraud in a number of county departments due to their poor cash handling policies and procedures, improper accounting, and lack of accountability.
July 15, 2019
Eureka Times-Standard
By Ruth Schneider

Friday, August 30, 2019

[Santa Clara County] SamTrans and Caltrain should improve schedule coordination, grand jury says

SamTrans and Caltrain, whose management is housed in the same building in San Carlos, can do a better job of coordinating schedules to reduce wait times for riders transferring between buses and trains, the county civil grand jury said in a report yesterday.
The civil grand jury, a group of citizens empaneled by the Superior Court to investigate government operations, said that reducing wait times would make SamTrans and Caltrain more appealing to commuters.
The grand jury analyzed the schedules of all “Caltrain Connection” and El Camino Real bus routes with Caltrain schedules during commute hours. This analysis showed that 26% of the morning commute bus-to-train connections require a wait time to the next train after arrival of the buses at the stations of 16 to 30 minutes and 20% require a wait time in excess of 30 minutes.
Put another way, only 35% of SamTrans’ “Caltrain Connection” buses arrive 5 to 15 minutes before the next train is scheduled to depart. That means 65% of people on the Caltrain Connection buses have to wait longer than 15 minutes for the train.
Reducing wait times might get people out of their cars, the civil grand jury argues. The grand jury’s report notes that 71% of commuters drive alone in their cars, another 14% drive with another person. However, the report says that only 3% of commuters use SamTrans buses.
Responding to the report, Caltrain/SamTrans spokesman Dan Lieberman said the bus system links commuters to more than just Caltrain. Also in the mix are BART, VTA, San Francisco Muni, AC Transit at Hillsdale Mall in San Mateo, and the Dumbarton Express in Palo Alto.
But he said SamTrans is conducting a study to find ways to improve bus connections with other transit agencies.
“Ultimately, the (Comprehensive Operational Analysis) will tell us how passengers transfer between routes, between SamTrans and Caltrain, and between SamTrans and BART, so that we can begin to frame and prioritize the route scheduling and transfer points in the system,” Lieberman said. “Where possible, the COA will also look at non-traditional mobility service models as ways to facilitate first/last mile connectivity to regional systems.”
July 15, 2019
Palo Alto Daily Post
By the Daily Post staff

Humboldt County Civil Grand Jury Looks at ADA Compliance

Yesterday, we started posting the 2018-2019 Humboldt County Civil Grand Jury reports. They are easy to read and informative. Yesterday’s report was on housing the homeless.
The below report is their look at the ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act) compliance by the county of Humboldt:
This is the second report from the 2018-2019 Humboldt County Civil Grand Jury.  The report examines Humboldt County’s compliance with a Consent Decree resulting from the Department of Justice’s litigation against the County for ADA violations, and is titled:
Here We Go Again
In 2008 Humboldt County entered into a settlement agreement with the US Department of Justice (DOJ) which required the County to bring identified facilities, programs, and services into compliance with Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) within three years. This settlement agreement resolved litigation filed by the DOJ claiming over fifty County facilities were noncompliant with the ADA.
The County failed to meet all the deadlines in the 2008 settlement agreement. In 2016, the DOJ again filed suit, alleging “[i]n the eleven years since the ADA violations were specifically identified to the County, including and following the three-year term of the settlement agreement, Humboldt County has failed to take remedial actions required for it to comply with the ADA.”  Litigation ended when the County entered another settlement agreement, the Consent Decree, on September 7, 2016.  The Consent Decree requires the County to remediate over 50 barriers for people with disabilities, including facilities and curb ramps.  The DOJ’s press release stated that the US had entered over 220 settlement agreements with localities to ensure compliance with the ADA; of these, Humboldt County was “one of the rare public entities that did not take the remedial actions required by a PCA agreement to comply with the ADA.”
In light of the DOJ’s focus on Humboldt County’s non-compliance with the 2008 settlement agreement, the Humboldt County Civil Grand Jury elected to investigate the progress of the County’s efforts to meet the terms of the Consent Decree.  As the County approaches the final deadline in the Consent Decree to remediate the remaining facilities and curb ramps, it seems unlikely that work will be completed on time. Many earlier deadlines have been missed and a number of projects are still out for bid.
July 15, 2019
Redheaded Blackbelt
By Oliver Cory

2018-19 Yolo County Grand Jury Final Report

(From Press Release) —The purpose of the Yolo County Grand Jury is to act as a citizen watchdog to review and investigate complaints about local government, and to report its findings and recommendations to Yolo County residents.
On June 28th, the 2018-19 Yolo County Grand Jury released its final report. The report contains five investigative reports and the annual impact analysis titled, “Did the 2017-18 Grand Jury Improve Local Government?” The analysis looks at county and local government responses to six investigative reports published by the Grand Jury last year. The 2018-19 reports contain 48 findings and 27 recommendations. They include:
The Grand Jury received complaints that the City of West Sacramento (City) was inappropriately moving toward bringing Reclamation Districts 537 and 900 under City governance as subsidiaries. There are concerns that flood protection funds may be misallocated by the City. The reclamation districts are opposed to coming under City jurisdiction.
The December 2017 Yolo Local Agency Formation Commission (YLAFCo) Draft Report made two recommendations. One was the subsidiary option and the other was to allow the reclamation districts to consolidate.
For unknown reasons, the consolidation option was removed before the 2018 YLAFCo Final report was published. In spite of YLAFCo’s recommendation, RD 537 and RD 900 submitted proposal applications in December 2018 to consolidate. The YLAFCo recommendations and the proposal applications were the focus of this investigation.
“The Grand Jury found there was a lack of communication and proactive collaboration among the agencies involved (RD 537, RD 900, City, and YLAFCo) over the vital topic of West Sacramento flood protection,” said Geoffrey Engel, foreperson of the 2018-19 Grand Jury.
YLAFCo may have failed to do a thorough examination of costs, exposure of the City’s General Fund, and the solvency of the West Sacramento Area Flood Protection Agency (WSAFCA), before the Final Report was reduced to one unique option. By its own admission, YLAFCo knew this path was risky yet did so in contrast to its own previously stated positions.
Grand Jury recommendations include ensuring that all reclamation district websites are transparent and highlight the work performed, initiating regular meetings between the reclamation districts and the City, increasing the size of the WSAFCA Board, changing YLAFCo’s policy to include independent, third-party examinations of controversial topics, and publishing the next YLAFCo Maintenance Service Review and Sphere of Influence Report for RD 537 and 900 earlier than scheduled to ensure that decisions are not detrimental to the citizens of West Sacramento. The Grand Jury also recommends the formation of a countywide flood committee or working group so that all flood issues are highlighted for communities of the county.
The Grand Jury received complaints regarding the health and well-being of unaccompanied alien children detained by the ORR at the Yolo County Juvenile Detention Facility (JDF).
Unaccompanied alien children are assessed by the ORR and placed in facilities based on legal requirements in order to provide a safe and least restrictive setting. Placement could be in a shelter facility, foster care, group home, staff-secure or secure care facility, residential treatment facility, or other special needs facility.
The JDF is one of two secure care facilities in the United States. The other is in Virginia. The JDF houses ORR youths who are assessed by the ORR as being a danger to themselves or others, or who have been charged with a criminal offense. The JDF has found many of the unaccompanied alien children to be inaccurately assessed by ORR, and has released youths or transferred them to a less restrictive facility, whenever appropriate.
The Grand Jury found that the reasons ORR gives for referring youth for placement at the JDF are sometimes inappropriate, many ORR youths lack criminal or gang affiliation yet are housed at JDF with those who do, JDF procedures do not mandate a behavioral therapist consistently in the pods nor at use-of-force reviews, the ORR program is financially important to the county yet there are risks for potential litigation, and the uncertainty about length of stay and future placement creates stress for ORR youth.
Recommendations include ensuring the Notices of Placement include immigration status and the steps youth need to take for release from the JDF, allowing ORR youth who are not charged with criminal offenses to have private unrecorded phone calls, conducting activities outside whenever possible, having the Board of Supervisors study the controversial use of pepper spray, mandating attendance of behavioral therapists at use-of-force reviews, having the Board convene an independent interdisciplinary group to ensure ORR youths’ privacy, considering posting Probation Department policies and procedures on the County website, and considering using an empty pod for transitional adult detainees thus enabling JDF to continue with ORR and the funding it provides.
The Grand Jury identified that flood control projects in the West Sacramento area did not receive the requested federal funding for levee improvement projects. The missed funding opportunities were significant.
California has large-scale flood management plans, but it is the responsibility of each community to secure funding for flood protection. The West Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency (WSAFCA), comprised of the City of West Sacramento and Reclamation Districts 537 and 900, attempted to obtain funding for its flood protection projects.
WSAFCA failed to secure funding in the last two budget cycles. The Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency (SAFCA) received its entire requested amount. When urban centers, such as Sacramento, strengthen their flood defenses, the flood risk could be transferred to neighboring unimproved levees, such as those in West Sacramento.
The Grand Jury developed three recommendations. The City of West Sacramento and WSAFCA should immediately establish open lines of communication with supporting regional, state and federal partners. They should maintain relationships with consultants and lobbyists who have expertise in flood protection. Finally, given the flood risk in our county, the Board of Supervisors should lead the creation or reactivation of a county-wide flood protection collaboration group.
The Grand Jury decided to look at this charter school’s educational strategy and its future challenges. Sci-Tech opened in 2010 in the former Grafton Elementary School site in Knights Landing. Sci-Tech uses science and technology to connect teachers, students, and parents to the educational task, and to reach out to the broader community. Charter schools have the flexibility to fashion a unique curriculum and draw students from a wide area.
Sci-Tech has a strong governance committee and an involved parent organization. The school uses effective communication systems to connect with families and integrate an educational plan for its students. Sci-Tech connects older students with younger students to promote social confidence.
Sci-Tech faces issues related to enrollment, and its location in a floodplain, which makes additional construction cost prohibitive. However, its innovative approach to education and attention to relationships makes it a unique model worthy of replication.
The Grand Jury initiated an investigatory report on the newly-implemented Drug Medi-Cal Organized Delivery System (DMC-ODS).
On July 1, 2018, the Yolo County Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA) implemented a change in the treatment of Substance Use Disorders (SUD). Yolo County is taking part in the DMC-ODS pilot program under California’s Medicaid Section 1115 waiver in 2015. DMC-ODS includes 10 essential benefits mandated by the Affordable Care Act (aka Obama Care) which were limited under the Drug Medi-Cal Standard Program.
The DMC-ODS significantly improves care by covering a previously ignored population, especially adult men. Those interviewed by the Grand Jury agreed that this program was a transformative step in SUD treatment.
Yolo County and HHSA should be commended for participating in this pilot program to improve the care of its citizens.
The Grand Jury recommends HHSA assign a full-time staff person to support and assist current and future providers of DMC-ODS, and HHSA should identify more service providers so residents need not travel out of the county.
July 14, 2019
The Davis Vanguard
By Vanguard Administrator

[Lake County Board of Supervisors may award Lampson Field airport pavement project contract

The $1M project is funded by a federal grant

Blog note: this article references a grand jury report.
LAKEPORT — A contract for the rehabilitation of the Lampson Field Airport runway may be awarded Tuesday by the Lake County Board of Supervisors.
With an offer at just over $1 million, Salt Lake City, Utah company Maxwell Asphalt, Inc. was the lowest bidder for the project, which will be funded completely through a federal airport improvement program. Maxwell Asphalt’s bid comes just $1,000 below the project’s engineer estimate.
If awarded the contract, Maxwell Asphalt will be required to complete the work within 60 days of receiving notice to proceed.
Lake County Public Works Director Scott De Leon writes that “the scope of the project is to make minor repairs to the existing asphalt, induing crack repairs, place a slurry seal for pavement preservation over the runway and taxiway, and apply new pavement stripes and markings.”
The project could be one in a series of improvements to the Lampson Field Airport—Lake County’s only general aviation airport—which were mentioned in a Lake County Civil Grand Jury interim report released March 14 that recommended improvements be made and grant funds be applied for by the County of Lake regarding the airport.
The county opened bids for the project on March 28, and Maxwell Asphalt was the only bidder.
The federal airport improvement grant program through which the project is being funded provides grant monies to airports like Lampson which are listed in a federal registry called the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems. Over the next five years, this plan predicts that Lampson Field will have $2,216,312 in grant-eligible improvement projects.
July 13, 2019
Lake County Record Bee
By Aidan Freeman

Sutter County Fire Department in ‘dire straits’

Service area ‘dangerously understaffed and alarmingly underfunded’

Short staffing, rising workers compensation costs and broken-down engines are nothing new for the Sutter County Fire Department.
Fire Chief John Shalowitz first spoke about it with the Appeal-Democrat last summer. And last month, the Sutter County Grand Jury echoed those concerns in its annual report, calling the service area “dangerously understaffed and alarmingly underfunded.”
“One of the main things is that this report is a clear picture of, as stated, the dire straits the department is in,” Shalowitz said Wednesday. “We’re just continuing down that road.”
While the department recently reapplied for the federal Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant in hopes of funding six firefighters, that’s just a short-term fix. The grand jury recommended supervisors reassess the service area’s revenue stream and special fire tax by the end of the year. Other recommendations included the county forgiving the remaining balance of a loan to construct a fire station.
Grand jury members highlighted the fact that Sutter County Fire Department, County Service Area F (CSA-F) – a 254-square-mile unincorporated area located just north and south of Yuba City – is facing dire challenges due to shortfalls in revenue and staffing, in addition to aging and failing emergency vehicles.
The service area has been the subject of past grand jury reports over concerns of staffing, renovations and installation of safety equipment. The CSA-F was formed in 1996 when the Live Oak Fire Department, Oswald-Tudor Fire Department and the Sutter Fire Department were consolidated. 
The grand jury found that a special fire tax for the district – one of three primary funding sources – was established in 1997 without an inflation index, resulting in the current situation where annual expenditures are surpassing recurring revenue. The average household pays an average of $40 a year.
Because of a lack of funding, staff levels have been compromised, resulting in safety risks for fire personnel and citizens, and volunteers are becoming harder and harder to find.
Firefighter injuries have also resulted in significant increases in workers compensation claims over recent years – costs in 2015 were $64,347 compared to the last fiscal year’s estimate of $275,171, or an increase of 328 percent. Shalowitz said Wednesday that those costs are projected to jump even higher for the 2019-20 fiscal year: up to $478,000 from $65,000 — more than a 600 percent increase.
“Nobody could recover from that,” he said. 
The department is still looking for grants to cover equipment costs, and it’s currently working on selling an engine so it can buy a refurbished one that will cost about 50 percent less of what normal engines cost. Shalowitz is always on the lookout for grants, as well, but those aren’t guaranteed and don’t cover long-term staffing costs. He hopes to work with a consultant to do a fee study and figure out what type of tax measure would best address the department’s needs. It will need to be a fast-moving process because of the early election next year, and the department will host a series of town hall meetings to answer questions. 
And he expects people won’t be happy about an increase in property and/or fire service taxes. But being already so far below industry standards and barely able to level the budget each year means Shalowitz isn’t sure what the alternatives are.
“There are a lot of things we’re entertaining to show the public we’re trying to do everything we can to be fiscally responsible, but in the same breath, we’re past that now,” he said. “I have to put it back to the public in some way to say, ‘what level of service do you want? What are you willing to pay for?”
January 12, 2019
By Rachel Rosenbaum

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Madera County DA Opens Investigation into Grand Jury Concerns Following City Probe

MADERA – Madera County District Attorney Sally Moreno has opened an investigation into the Madera County Grand Jury’s allegation of malfeasance and/or misfeasance on the part of former city administrators and former and present Madera City Council members.
At this time Moreno would not say whether the investigation will be civil or criminal but the statute of limitations on a felony complaint is three years and a misdemeanor is one year.
“While it appears the previous council was behaving less than ethically, it was ordinary citizens who have gotten things back on track. That’s how things are supposed to work; newly elected members have made significant changes and new staffs are in place that appears to have a better grasp of their legal and ethical obligations”, Moreno said in a press release.
Responses on Facebook seem to support the DA’s decision to pursue further investigation into the work the Grand Jury has already revealed.  Heidi Foley, a former dispatcher for the Madera Police Department posted, “Well this should be interesting.”
The Grand Jury report, released late last month, was quite vague on what actual wrongdoing or transgressions were committed by city officials. However, the report indicated that the city was less than cooperative in providing public records that were requested by the Grand Jury.
Moreno added, “The Grand Jury is correct that malfeasance and/or misfeasance cannot and should not go unpunished. As your District Attorney, I have opened an investigation into the allegations in the Grand Jury report. I will oversee this investigation to its conclusion, and if charges can ethically be prosecuted by this office, they will be.”
Moreno was unsure how long this investigation would take but was sure t more than like would not be concluded any time soon. “Appearances can be deceiving. Also, where there’s smoke there’s fire. Stand by to see which this is.”
Madera Mayor Andy Medellin, a target of concern from Madera land developer Mike Pistoresi and Khalid Chaudhry of Ripon, told BVN this after learning of the investigations, “There is nothing to hide. I will fully cooperate with any investigation.”
July 12, 2019
Big Valley News
By BVN Newsroom

[San Mateo County] Grand jury says entire county at risk of wildfire

A San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury report released on July 9 warns residents of urban areas not to be complacent about wildfires since high winds can drive swarms of embers long distances and ignite vulnerable structures.
The report citing the threat to city residents comes as towns in the so-called urban/wildland interface, such as Portola Valley and Woodside, are trying desperately to find ways to prevent fires as well as prepare an effective response if they do occur.
The Grand Jury identified about 35 percent of land in the county as a place where a wildfire could start. But, there is no guarantee that the flames won't move on from there to more populated urban areas, the report said.
"High winds moving through gaps in the coastal range could expand the perimeter of a fire quickly, making it a countywide threat to lives and property," the report said.
While fire suppression activities confine most fires to two acres or less, certain wind conditions could render a fire in a rural area unmanageable and cause it to spread rapidly across a much larger area, according to the report.
The Crystal Springs reservoirs, San Andreas Lake and Interstate 280 could act as a firebreak and "slow the eastward progress of a fire towards San Francisco Bay."
However, the report noted, wind-driven fires have produced embers that have jumped rivers and reservoirs in the past.
Jonathan Cox, division chief for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection's San Mateo-Santa Cruz Unit, told The Almanac that he agrees with the report's conclusions and pointed to the Coffey Fire in Santa Rosa in 2017 that destroyed more than 5,000 structures in an urban residential area as an example.
"Any of these fires that are burning under high-wind conditions can throw embers miles ahead of themselves," Cox said. "If that hits a wood shake roof or a wood deck it can have an effect the same way as a structure in the wildland would."
One large fire can trigger dozens of small fires miles away, Cox said.
The report also called for educating the public countywide about evacuation routes, noting that "all emergency notification systems can be compromised during a conflagration, which makes advanced public knowledge of alternative evacuation routes crucial for public safety."
That information could be included as an enclosure that could be published by local fire agencies and sent to homeowners with their property tax or utility bills, the report suggested.
So far, four communities in the county, including Portola Valley, Woodside, La Honda, and Palomar Park, containing less than 2% of the county's population, publish information sheets about escape routes.
Jeff Norris, coordinator for the San Mateo County Office of Emergency Services, cautioned that residents need to have several ways to escape in mind and should get information about the direction the fire is moving so they can to decide the best way to evacuate.
Norris recommended that residents subscribe to San Mateo County Alert, a reverse 911 system that sends a text, email or voice mail message that gives early warning information about fires, road closures, hazardous materials releases and other incidents.
San Mateo County Alert has 100,000 subscribers out of a total county population of 760,000, he said.
Norris agrees with the Grand Jury's opinion that emergency alert systems aren't foolproof, saying that the need for flexibility is the only constant.
"If you think you're in danger, don't wait pack up and move to a different area," he said in an interview with The Almanac.
The county has a mutual aid arrangement between fire protection agencies that enables them to pool their resources; however, multiple fires could strain their ability to respond, according to the report.
To counter the problem, the Grand Jury recommended obtaining funds from the California Office of Emergency Services to place fire engines in high-risk wildfire areas areas during periods of high fire danger.
"Cal Fire can move resources in anticipation of fire danger," Cox said. "It can staff additional equipment and bring in additional resources.”
July 12, 2019
The Almanac
By Rick Radin

[Ventura County] Farm Bureau questions need for more pesticide test sites

Blog note: this article reports on the questioning of a grand jury report.
Ventura County is rooted in agriculture. Many residents say the farms and ranches that stretch across the county are the reason they love the area so much.
The downside of living near farmland is the ever-present concern over the use of pesticides. Though its a necessary part of farming and is regulated for safety, according to industry experts, some residents have concerns about the health effects of the chemicals.
In a recently released report, the Ventura County grand jury suggested that more monitoring sites be built to test the air quality around areas using pesticides and to ensure the safety of kids who go to day care or schools near farm fields.
However, the Farm Bureau of Ventura County, which represents and supports the local agricultural community, said adding more monitoring sites isn’t a wise way to use limited resources because pesticide drift has not occurred in nearly two decades.
The grand jury’s concern stemmed from there being only one test site—at Rio Mesa High School, which monitors pesticide use throughout most of Oxnard.
“The area of the square miles is such a large amount, just one (test site) didn’t seem adequate,” said Kay Diamond, the grand jury’s foreperson.
Although this is worrisome to some, there are only eight testing sites in California.
Ed Williams, Ventura County agricultural commissioner, said states determine where the test sites should be built by analyzing what pesticides are being used and where, as well as if there is potential for the air quality to be affected.
Williams also said the site is at Rio Mesa because that’s the area where pesticides are used most in Ventura County.
Despite its suggestion for more testing sites, the grand jury reported that the agricultural commission has been effective at reducing pesticide, herbicide and fumigant exposure over the course of the past year and is following protocols to keep the public safe.
While the jury, which serves as a watchdog by investigating and reporting on the affairs of local government, has no enforcement power, it can compel a response from public agencies, making it public.
John Krist, CEO of the farm bureau, said one site should be sufficient because pesticide concentrations are well below the threshold of concern.
“The jury’s recommendation that more sites should be established is not supported by any of the facts the report cites and would not represent a wise use of the county agricultural commissioner’s scarce resources,” Krist said.
Although it is unlikely more test sites will be built anytime soon, Williams said, the commission is reviewing the report and will make a decision after talking with the California Department of Pesticide Regulation in Sacramento, which ultimately has the power to say whether another site should be built.
“I’m sure it would give people more comfort, but I’m not sure if it’s necessary yet,” Williams said.
July 12, 2019
Simi Valley Acorn
By Krista Abrahamsen