Thursday, October 31, 2019
Blog note: this article references two grand jury reports.
Attorneys representing the family of a deceased Orange County inmate said in a press conference Thursday the inmate's death could have been prevented with improved medical care.
Diana Ramirez still mourned the death of the father of her son, Jesus De Leon, more than a year-and-a-half after his passing.
"It still hurts. It has been a little over a year-and-a-half, and it hurts like it just happened yesterday," Ramirez said.
The 38-year-old was an inmate at the Theo Lacy Facility in Orange, serving six months for a probation violation.
Ramirez blamed jail medical staff for her fiance's death.
"We need justice for him because he's not here to speak on what happened," Ramirez said.
In a federal civil rights lawsuit filed against Orange County, jail staff and Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes, attorneys representing the deceased inmate's family said De Leon told jailers he was on Clonidine for his high blood pressure.
Attorney James Gutierrez said Thursday, the medical team at Theo Lacy didn't follow that treatment.
"He kept going back to the infirmary to tell them that he had headaches, and he had all these symptoms of high blood pressure, but they did nothing. They gave him Ibuprofen. In February, they initially started taking his blood pressure," Gutierrez said.
According to Gutierrez, those readings increased excessively each day until De Leon suffered a brain aneurism and brainstem stroke on Feb. 20, 2018.
"He fell face-first, down inside the jail and he was left there for about an hour before somebody found him," Gutierrez said.
The father of three was pronounced dead at the UC Irvine Medical Center one week later.
"It was preventable because they could have provided him with the appropriate medical care checking his blood pressure at the onset," Gutierrez said.
Attorney Herbert Hayden spoke of Orange County grand jury reports on inmate deaths in O.C.
"It's interesting that Orange County grand jury has issued two reports within the last two years highlighting the significant increase in preventable deaths here across the Orange County jail system," Hayden said.
One of those reports released this year titled "The Silent Killer, Hypertension in Orange County's Intake and Release Center," found from January 2016 through May 2018, of 28 custodial deaths, 15 had evidence of prior cardiovascular history.
An Orange County Sheriff's Department spokesperson told Eyewitness News the department does not comment on cases involving ongoing litigation, but forwarded the following June 4, 2019, statement from Sheriff Don Barnes on health care in the O.C. jail system that said in part:
"We disagree with the findings of the Grand Jury's report regarding in-custody deaths of inmates from cardiovascular-related issues and feel it does not accurately portray the level of healthcare provided to inmates in OC Jails.
While OCSD does not provide inmate medical care, we believe the Correctional Health Services staff from the OC Health Care Agency do a great job.
Intake and triage at the jail is not meant to diagnose and prescribe treatments. During the intake process, inmates are triaged by Correctional Health staff for issues that would restrict their ability to receive medical care at the jail if their needs are acute or exceed the services available.
Inmates are not coming to jail for medical treatment, they are coming because they broke the law."
Ramirez said the criminal justice system was still responsible for its inmates.
"Whatever the reason they're here for doesn't mean that they don't need to be taken care of medically," Ramirez said.
The individual defendants in this case filed a motion to dismiss. That matter was scheduled for a hearing Monday, after which the county was expected to file its own answer to the complaint.
September 20, 2019
KABC-TV Eyewitness News
By Jessica De Nova
Blog note: this article references a grand jury report.
About 16,900 Richmond residents live below the poverty line. That’s 15.7% of the city’s population, more than the national average of 13.4% cited by the U.S. Census Bureau, suggesting the city has more than its share of families who are food insecure. Yet food benefits are going unused by eligible people in the current political climate.
“One in every 8 people turn to the Food Bank for emergency and supplemental food each month,” says Kim Castaneda, the development director of the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano.
But even more, hungry families may do without help for fear that accepting aid may jeopardize their residency status. “A major reason is the looming ‘public charge rule’ that could allow federal government to deny green cards to immigrants using forms of public assistance,” says Castenada. The rule must survive legal challenges from California and other states if it is to take effect in mid-October 2019.
September is Hunger Action Month, when people all over America stand together with Feeding America and the nationwide network of food banks to fight hunger. Feeding America is the largest hunger-relief organization in the US, working with 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries and food programs to provide meals to more than 46 million people each year.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), defines food insecurity as the lack of access, at times, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members and limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods. Food insecurity may reflect a household’s need to make trade-offs between important basic needs. While no family should be forced to decide whether to buy groceries or pay rent, or any senior to choose between food and proper healthcare, many families make this demoralizing decision to survive.
While unemployment and the high costs of living have principally contributed to food insecurity, underemployment sometimes leads to strained food budgets in homes. Sometimes, changes in regular situations in families, such as unanticipated car maintenances or calamities such as the Paradise Camp Fires are enough to plunge families into food insecurity.
A report by the 2019 USDA reveals that at some point during the year; 98% of households with low food security were worried they would run out of food before they got money to buy more, 95.9% couldn’t afford to eat balanced meals, 31.7% adults and 2.3% of kids did not eat for a whole day. Some respondents reported eating less than they felt they should, with adults cutting meal sizes or skipping meals for them to feed their children. Reliance on low cost foods to feed children by poor families may counterintuitively increase the prevalence of overweight and obesity-related disorders.
Since federal nutrition programs don’t reach everyone in need, food banks help bridge the gap. The Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano sources food in different ways. It solicits donations of packaged, perishable and nonperishable food from manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers, brokers, food drives, gardens and individuals. It also receives fresh produce from the produce industry in a partnership with the California Association of Food Banks. Government-funded sources and wholesale food purchasing are the other main methods. Available food is then distributed to families and individuals in need through agencies.
Food in Richmond is mainly distributed to qualifying low-income families or individuals under four programs. The Community Produce Program, where individuals receive between 15-20 pounds of free fresh produce twice monthly, the Food Assistance Program where free groceries are distributed once a month, the Food for Children program which gives boxes of free healthy food every month for children aged 4-6 years and the Senior Food Program which donates free groceries twice a month to individuals aged 55 or older. Readers can visit the Food Bank’s website to ascertain their eligibility.
Despite the resolute efforts by different bodies to provide food security, Contra Costa County has a history of extreme under-enrollment in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, (SNAP), known as CalFresh in California. In 2015, a grand jury reported to the County Board of Supervisors that the county failed to receive as much as $54 million in federal funds because only 67,999 of the eligible 116,074 residents took advantage of CalFresh benefits in 2012. The latest national report on SNAP participation rates showed the under-enrollment, revealing that only about 72% of eligible Californians actually used SNAP benefits in 2016.
As early as last year, when rumors about the impending rule first circulated, low-income immigrant families declined to apply for food assistance when approached by the Food Bank’s SNAP outreach workers. Similarly, many parents considered disenrolling their children from a range of public benefits. Staff from the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano heard from naturalized U.S. citizens – who would be unlikely to be targeted by the policy – asking to terminate SNAP benefits for themselves and their citizen children out of fear that it may affect their immigration status, according to observations made in a blog post by Larry Sly, executive director at the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano Counties.
“People are scared to get food because they’ll be identified as undocumented,” Castaneda said.
September 19, 2019
By Ashley Njoroge
Blog note: this article references a grand jury report.
Named in honor of a woman who “worked tirelessly to save the county’s historic records,” a celebration and dedication will be held at the recently renovated Shipley Walters Center for Yolo County Archives and Library Services next week, according to a release.
The community is invited to attend the event, happening from 10 a.m. to noon on Friday, Sept. 27 at 226 Buckeye St. in Woodland.
Guests can expect speaker presentations, a tour of the Archives and refreshments.
In 2018, the Board of Supervisors approved a proposal to name the facility after Walters, who collaborated with former Yolo County Librarian Mary Stephens in the 1980s and 1990s to establish a permanent storage place for a growing collection of significant local memorabilia.
Today, the Archives consists of thousands of documents ranging from official Superior Court and Board of Supervisors records, tax rolls, immigration records, property deeds, school yearbooks, newspapers and more materials dating back to 1850.
“Yolo County has made it a practice to name buildings in honor of difference-makers who have contributed significantly to enhancing the quality of life in Yolo County,” the release states.
Additionally, Walters spent more than 4,300 hours as an Archives volunteer, was a founding member of the Friends of the Yolo County Archives and served on its Executive Board for many years. She has also written extensively about the county’s history.
Renovations began in early December after a Yolo County Grand Jury report found sensitive items were decaying and disintegrating due to a lack of climate control. Roughly $2 million was budgeted for the project.
Upgrades were outlined in the release and include a custom-built HVAC system that meets archival specifications for temperature and humidity, a reconfiguration and replacement of shelving to increase the storage capacity for the collection, new furniture in the Reading Room and staff workspaces, compliance with ADA requirements, and other improvements such as LED lighting, sprinkler systems, flooring and paint.
While work was being done at the site, staff and volunteers were relocated to cubicles in Central Services and handled research requests by phone and email on a limited basis.
Archives staff provide research assistance to county departments as needed and up to 30 minutes of free research for members of the public. Patrons also have free access to ancestry.com and more than 5,000 digital newspapers.
September 19, 2019
By Heather Kemp
[Orange County] Laguna Beach rebuts O.C. grand jury conclusion that it doesn’t have enough public trees
The city of Laguna Beach says an Orange County grand jury report was too generalized in its assertion that Laguna doesn’t have enough public trees.
A letter the City Council authorized Tuesday night addresses several findings in the grand jury report issued earlier this year.
The city says the report did not account for the differences between “master-planned communities with large parkways and organically developed communities that limit the amount and location of street trees due to street size, parkway size or lack thereof and the topography or terrain.”
“The report and conclusions in the grand jury’s report ... do not fully recognize other important factors in the urban forest,” the letter states. “Cities that have significantly different circumstances and conditions are treated with a one-size-fits-all solution that is predicated on the number of street trees per capita.”
The city owns 12 planted street trees for every 100 residents — ranking it 23rd among the 30 Orange County cities that provided information for the report. Mission Viejo led the rankings with 47 trees per 100 residents, and Aliso Viejo was last, with one tree per 100.
The letter, signed by City Manager John Pietig and addressed to Orange County Superior Court Judge Kirk Nakamura, also says the report did not acknowledge the more than 16,000 acres of open space — the “Greenbelt” — surrounding Laguna Beach, which the city says should be factored into any study regarding the urban forest.
The letter acknowledges restrictions on planting public trees in the city’s view preservation and restoration ordinance. “Increasing tree canopies in many areas of the city would be unpopular and would lack support from interested and affected residents,” according to the letter.
“Laguna Beach is working toward increasing street trees in locations that can accommodate them without reducing [Americans with Disabilities Act] access, disrupting view equity or causing tree overcrowding due to density,” the letter adds.
The response also notes the city has allotted funds in its 2019-20 budget to add a full-time arborist.
The report recommended that the City Council develop policies to improve the street tree count, start a public awareness campaign about urban forest benefits and commit to maintaining and inspecting existing trees.
Laguna Beach agreed to the majority of the recommendations. An exception is one that called for the city — either individually or with other cities — to hire or contract an urban forest coordinator. Laguna views that as unwarranted.
September 19, 2019
By Lilly Nguyen
Blog note: this article references grand jury reports.
Despite costing Nevada County more than $1,400 per day to house juveniles, according to a March San Francisco Chronicle investigation, the county’s Juvenile Detention Center has now contracted to detain Lassen County juveniles at a price of just $100 per bed each day.
Nevada County’s juvenile hall has experienced a drop in its use over the past several years. While the shrinking juvenile hall population is a recurring theme across the state — 39 out of 43 county juvenile halls were less than half full last year — counties are taking disparate approaches. Some, like Lassen and El Dorado, have chosen to close down their juvenile hall facilities and contract out to other jurisdictions, to the tune of big savings.
Lassen approved the upcoming Oct. 1 closure of its juvenile hall, citing an anticipated savings of nearly $250,000 for the year. According to county documents, Lassen houses about three minors per day in their detention facility at a cost of $741 per day for each juvenile.
Although Nevada County has considered such an approach, with two recommendations to that end coming down from the Nevada County Civil Grand Jury in the last four years, Chief Probation Officer Michael Ertola said the logistics would be too cost prohibitive to be a real savings option.
Instead, Ertola has chosen to reduce the department’s costs as much as possible and become a hub of housing minors for counties nearby.
Part of that approach is maximizing agreements with neighboring counties while being sensitive to the competitive market that has sprung up to house them. The price to detain minors in other counties hoping to take advantage of this demand can be anywhere from $125 to $200 per day for the same service.
“I think the big message here is that doing this is bringing in money for the county and allowing us to continue providing the programing to our kids that has produced that same success rate over the last decade,” Ertola said.
It also allows local juveniles to stay in the county and increases the chances of family visitation, which would be less likely if they were sent out of county, according to Ertola.
The probation department has been able to reduce its budget by a third in the past two years by not backfilling a dozen positions, which has lowered its cost to detain minors and allowed it to offer the $100 per bed per day service.
The county expects to see an average of three or four minors from Lassen and one from Calaveras each day, bringing the county’s total to about 10 per day. According to Ertola, similar programs in the past have brought in about $250,000 each year.
“We’re not as quick to incarcerate and have moved to more rehabilitative sanctions rather than punitive ones,” Ertola said. “Now it’s about justifying the use of the facility, maximizing the space of the facility and our ability to continue providing programming.”
Ertola said some people have put a negative spin on the decreased population in juvenile hall. However, it’s dropped because successful programs led to booking and intake reductions.
According to the county, the facility’s rehabilitation practices, including programs like anger management and life skills classes, have reduced recidivism and led to a surplus of space.
“Implementation of evidence-based practices by both juvenile hall staff and probation officers has resulted in available capacity to accommodate placements for other county minors,” a county report states. “Statistical evidence shows Nevada County Juvenile Hall practices … are effective in reducing recidivism and negative behavioral incidents.”
September 19, 2019
The Union of Grass Valley
By John Orona
Wednesday, October 23, 2019
We are halfway through wildfire season and, luckily, no major wildfires have occurred in Marin.
However, the most deadly wildfire months still remain, so we can’t relax. Fortunately, the county’s elected officials and fire chiefs understand our vulnerability and have introduced a sensible wildfire preparedness proposal.
Last spring, the Marin County Civil Grand Jury, alarmed by the inevitability of devastating local wildfires, released a report entitled “Wildfire Preparedness: A New Approach.”
The report made recommendations including: Creating a countywide joint powers authority to oversee wildfire preparedness and establishing an independent funding source for the JPA dedicated solely for Marin’s benefit.
Marin’s fire chiefs, officials, and Board of Supervisors are proposing the formation of the Marin Wildfire Prevention Authority and developing a plan to address wildfire preparedness in the county. A draft of the plan will be outlined in presentations throughout the county over the next several months to familiarize the public with the plan and to obtain feedback.
To ensure that the best preparedness measures are implemented, some concerned citizens formed the Marin Citizens for Wildfire Preparedness. CWP examined the plan and found some areas for recommended improvements:
1. Public input. Workshops should be held, so the public can give input.
2. Citizen oversight. To ensure public accountability, the JPA should include a citizens oversight committee with members who are independent of political jurisdictions. The committee should have authority to audit all JPA operations including, but not limited to, all financial activities.
3. Project lists. Of the $21 million that the tax will generate, 60% will be spent on countywide projects addressing vegetation, education and evacuations. The specific projects to be executed with these funds should be listed. The JPA’s governing documents should require that all expenditures will be for the listed projects. This list should be presented at all public meetings to show taxpayers how their taxes will be spent.
4. Criteria for funds. The remaining 40% of the tax money is to be divided into two 20% buckets. The first 20% is designated for defensible space inspections, which may be conducted with local staff. The other 20% is to be used for unique needs of local jurisdictions. To ensure that these funds are used for wildfire protection, the plan should include specific criteria for disbursing the funds. Expenditures of funds should only be permitted through an annual grant application approval process. A review board, with public membership, should be created to approve all distributions.
5. Evacuation. The plan must include a detailed and wide-scale evacuation program. Residents should be informed where to go and how to get there. Provisions must be made for state-of-the-art alert systems and evacuation routes must be kept clear and unimpeded.
6. Limited duration. Any tax measure funding this new agency should be for a limited duration — no more than 20 years. A review of the JPA’s performance should be required every five years to address any necessary changes.
7. Funding. The jurisdictions should more fully explore more funding options including a quarter-cent sales tax in combination with a parcel tax on commercial property. FireWise communities organize and teach citizens how to prepare for wildfires. We strongly support the plan’s inclusion of adequate funding for FireSafe Marin, the organization that promotes and supports FireWise communities.
The CWP believes that the plan, with CWP’s recommendations added, is a good proposal. If you have any questions or suggestions regarding the Plan or our recommendations, please contact CWP at MarinCWP.org. Be sure to attend the workshops in your community that will explain the plan, and add your input.
Finally, consider joining CWP by signing up on the website. There is no cost to join. Our goal is to have members in each of the municipal and fire jurisdictions in Marin to speak up at all district meetings to promote the creation of the Marine Wildfire Prevention Authority.
September 19, 2019
Marin Independent Journal
By Ron Arlas, former mayor of Larkspur and a member of Marin Citizens for Wildlife Preparedness
Blog note: this article references a grand jury investigation.
Santa Clara officials Tuesday night voted to remove the San Francisco 49ers as managers of Levi’s Stadium and to effectively strip the NFL team of its ability to sign contracts or buy items for the stadium.
The 49ers are currently the manager and operator of the stadium and have the ability to sign contracts or buy goods valued at less than $250,000. But that could soon change as city leaders look to get a tighter grasp on the management and spending for contracts or supplies at the $1 billion stadium. Elected officials voted unanimously in two votes to terminate the NFL team as manager of the facility and also to ensure all purchases of any value go through the Stadium Authority board, made up of city councilmembers.
“This is not about stripping and the ability for the 49ers or the management company to sign contracts,” City Manager Deanna Santana told councilmembers. “This is about compliance and accountability and transparency.”
Vice Mayor Patricia Mahan was not present for the votes Tuesday.
It’s unclear what comes next in terms of the city’s decision to terminate the agreement for the 49ers to manage Levi’s Stadium. Officials have promised more information on Wednesday. Meanwhile, city officials clarified that the vote to terminate the NFL team as manager of Levi’s Stadium would apply only to events that are not NFL events or home games for the football team. That vote happened during closed session but was announced when elected officials convened its public meeting.
A spokesperson for the team said the decision to remove the 49ers as the stadium manager was “purely retaliatory,” following a report that the Rolling Stones blamed the city for dysfunction at its recent concert at the stadium.
“We are not surprised that (Santana) has commenced yet another legal battle,” team spokesman Rahul Chandhok said in a statement to San José Spotlight. “She is abdicating her fiduciary duty by destroying a city asset for petty, political vendettas.”
The second vote effectively disallowed the team to sign contracts or purchase items for the stadium, instead mandating the organization to get permission from the Stadium Authority. It’s a complex maneuver: Santana has been delegating her authority to sign for such contracts to the football team. The vote Tuesday was a step toward taking away her power to sign those contracts, meaning she would no longer have the authority to delegate to the 49ers.
The votes come after city officials raised concerns that the 49ers have not been transparent in its procurement procedures and the team did not pay the appropriate hourly rates — known as prevailing wages — to employees of contractors at the stadium, resulting in $85,000 in unpaid wages on a recent contract. The 49ers have since paid those wages to the contractor in question, who is in the process of distributing the money to employees, according to a team spokesperson.
Meanwhile, the NFL team is crying foul, saying the city doesn’t have the authority to take away its power to sign such contracts, even if elected officials change Santana’s authority.
“Undermining (the) Stadium Manager’s ability to obtain goods and services timely and efficiently would constitute a contractual breach, and would seriously destabilize Stadium operations,” states a letter sent from the 49ers to the city on Tuesday.
City Attorney Brian Doyle pushed back on that assertion Tuesday night.
“You’re not saying you can’t spend any money, you’re just saying ‘show me the contract first,'” he said. “You’re not in any way depriving them of their right to sign contracts, they simply have to get your approval ahead of time.”
Santana told councilmembers the change is necessary for transparency purposes.
“In order to restore the public’s trust that public funds are being spent properly, it is recommended that all contracts be presented to the Stadium Authority Board before execution by the Stadium Manager,” the city’s report states. “The Stadium Manager will have to present credible evidence that the proposed procurement meets all legal requirements before contracting with third parties.”
49ers officials on Tuesday urged lawmakers not to pass the new ordinance, telling policymakers the change wouldn’t have the intended outcome and instead would make the stadium less safe and more expensive to maintain.
“Being required to prepare requests for approval, months in advance, for even the most insignificant purchases on SCSA’s behalf, those staff expenses will be charged to SCSA,” Chandhok said. “One could easily imagine that a purchase of $100 of goods from the local retail outlet could cost hundreds, or thousands, of dollars of staff time seeking the Board’s approval for that purchase.”
That argument was somewhat convincing to Councilmember Raj Chahal, who asked if it would be better to allow the 49ers a smaller dollar amount, such as $50,000, for emergencies or other unexpected items the team may need to run events at the stadium.
“I’m just trying to manage it to an extent that this does not become another hindrance,” Chahal told Santana. “I”m not asking to give (the 49ers) the authority, they would come to you to get that amount.”
But Santana and Doyle said they wouldn’t be comfortable with that scenario.
“With proper planning, there’s no reason they couldn’t maintain operations,” Doyle pushed back. “I certainly would not feel comfortable allowing them any authority until they’ve shown a track record that they can procure contracts correctly.”
The meeting Tuesday was a “first reading” of the new ordinance to redistribute power over the stadium contracts. The second reading will happen Oct. 8 and if councilmembers approve the new ordinance, it will become law on Nov. 8.
The 49ers play 10 games at the stadium annually and more than 100 other events happened at Levi’s Stadium during the last fiscal year, from major concerts to smaller affairs, according to a recent financial report. That report, presented Tuesday, outlined profits from non-NFL events at the stadium, which Doyle said fell far short of promises made by the 49ers. The city and team have had an embattled history that includes lawsuits and counter suits, fights over curfews, rent and transparency.
Meanwhile, the news comes as an independent San José Spotlight investigation found that Santa Clara officials violated some rules and best practices while soliciting and executing contracts for public relations services early last year. Officials are also set to respond to San Jose Spotlight’s findings in an informational report to councilmembers Tuesday night.
San José Spotlight’s reporting was spurred by a Santa Clara Civil Grand Jury investigation that was left incomplete regarding a set of wide-ranging communications contracts for both the city and the Stadium Authority. Officials have denied any wrongdoing in the matter.
But this news organization’s investigation found officials posted a bid for proposal online and left it open for 19 fewer days than typical for contracts of its size in the city. Officials also doubled the value of the contracts between asking for bids and signing the agreements with the lone bidder, public relations firm Singer Associates.
Doubling the size of the contracts is not against the city’s written code, but is not a best-practice when it comes to transparency or soliciting the most competitive bids, industry experts told San José Spotlight.
The city also allowed public relations work to start without all signatures in place, despite that being a violation of the city’s code. City leaders said the work posed little risk to the city because the contracts had already been signed by Singer Associates representatives.
September 17, 2019
San Jose Spotlight
By Janice Bitters
Tuesday, October 22, 2019
[San Luis Obispo County] San Luis Obispo Needs To Improve Wildfire Risk Management According Recent Report
A recently released Grand Jury Report included recommendations to the city’s wildfire risk management. San Luis Obispo City Fire Chief Keith Aggson says his department has already taken steps to improve the safety of the city residents and continues to look at ways to improve. The City Council will vote Tuesday at its regular meeting whether to approve or deny the response drafted by Aggson and the City manager.
September 17, 2019
KVEC News Talk
By Scott Taylor
Blog note: this opinion piece references a grand jury report.
An argument could be made that an assault on the First Amendment led to drafting of the proposed amendment to the San Diego City Charter that will come before the San Diego City Council’s Public Safety and Liveable Neighborhoods Committee on September 18, 2019.
A growing number of local individuals and organizations are hoping the Council will move forward to place the charter amendment on the ballot in the near future, allowing city voters to decide whether to establish an independent citizen review commission to investigate complaints of misconduct by San Diego Police Department officers.
Presently, the City’s Community Review Board (CRB) on Police Practices relies on initial review and investigation of any complaints by the Internal Affairs (IA) Unit of the San Diego Police Department as the foundation of the CRB’s review.
Learning how this new initiative for independent police review evolved, given that citizen boards concerned with police practices have existed in San Diego since 1989, is an important step in understanding the content of the proposed charter amendment.
The First Amendment has always troubled Americans.
“Annoyed” might be a better word, for use of the First Amendment is the single most aggravating way that Americans alert everyone to societal or governmental errors and demand redress. Practitioners of free expression are often noisy, chaotic, relentless, and determined to bear condemnation by their fellow citizens or confrontation with police in order to make their point.
When public officials tire of demonstrations or protests, they send law enforcement to put an end to public displays of discontent. It is ironic that the very people sent to disperse demonstrators are the same people entrusted with protecting our exercise of First Amendment rights. The tension expressed as police deal with these opposing imperatives may have been at least partly responsible for energizing citizens concerning the need for independent civilian review of police conduct in San Diego.
Difficulties between police and the community go well beyond the exercise of free expression, of course.
Communities of color have often complained of police conduct that frays their relationship with law enforcement. Those complaints continue. But the coordinated effort that has led to dozens of community organizations supporting a charter amendment to establish independent review of complaints against police seems to have originated in a prolonged protest that took place in San Diego in “a traditional public forum,” a venue almost sacrosanct in First Amendment jurisprudence, a place deserving of maximum protection by those who engage in free expression.
Some Incidents That Gave Rise to Complaints Against Police
In early October 2011, more than 100 tents were pitched in San Diego’s Civic Center Plaza by people who felt America has lost its way. These people were concerned about growing income disparities in our nation that were not dispelled by individual hard work or near-full employment. Participants in the action wanted to call attention to the fact that everyday Americans were being forgotten as they struggled to meet financial obligations of food, rent, and other basic expenses — this, in the Land of Opportunity, the so-called “richest nation on earth.”
The encampment in the plaza followed the example of the “Occupy Wall Street” (OWS) protest that had started September 17, 2011, in Zucotti Park, in New York’s financial district of Wall Street. “We are the 99%,” was the OWS slogan, as they “occupied” the park to point up the massive gap of income and wealth separating everyday Americans from the very rich. The Occupy protest spread to other urban areas across the nation, including San Diego.
As one Occupy San Diego participant put it:
“We Americans are so consumer-oriented, trying to find personal worth in things, trying to find satisfaction in things. It makes people who are at the bottom feel even more that they don’t belong because they don’t have things. But even if you’re not at the bottom, it’s a grind out there and everybody is working too hard. Work in this country has gotten harder. You do more for less. The 40-hour work week is pretty much gone. Pensions are gone. If we’re talking about Occupy, it was like grabbing the back of someone’s shirt and saying, ‘Do you really want to go this way?'”
While Civic Center Plaza is a traditional public forum under First Amendment law, it is bordered by facilities for other functions: The Civic Theatre and City Hall, as well as ticketing windows, Golden Hall, a multi-story office building and a nearby restaurant.
When Occupy San Diego began to inhabit the plaza on October 9, 2011, participants set up tents, organized clean-up crews, served meals, manned information tables, and conducted other activities, operating somewhat like a little city. Some people attended the gathering only during the day, others stayed through the night and some stayed several days. The protest definitely added an unusual use to the plaza. People donated time and resources to keep the occupation going as a continuous demonstration that something was wrong in this country. Although the Occupy movement as a whole was criticized for having no particular resolution in mind, protesters seemed to believe that just making the problem known was a task worth the effort.
Several persons who had participated in Occupy San Diego recalled that San Diego Police Department (SDPD) officers responded aggressively to the encampment. Activists claimed police agitated and harassed participants. They said police used the encroachment ordinance — originally intended to prevent residents from leaving items like sofas or other items on sidewalks — as a pretext to arrest Occupy participants.
Said one participant, “It got to the point that if you put down your backpack, they would arrest you for encroachment.” Many Occupy participants also recalled the arrest of several women who had been sleeping in a tent. They were reportedly arrested and held in a nearby bus, where they were left for hours with no water, no bathroom breaks, and no ventilation. A few were forced to relieve themselves in their bus seats. There were intruders whom Occupy participants felt were purposely sent by unknown authorities to create confrontations and divisions amidst an otherwise orderly gathering.
In the early evening of January 7, 2012, Stephanie Jennings, a woman who had been part of a choir on the plaza, singing protest lyrics to popular tunes, walked up to a group of activists who were entering the plaza peacefully. She noticed that police were setting up yellow tape to create a separation between the Occupy site and theatre-goers. She thought she should get back to the Occupy side of the tape before the barrier was complete. As she headed in that direction, she was pushed from behind. She responded with an irritated “Excuse me!” When she turned her head, she saw a police officer, who immediately shoved her from behind so hard that she fell forward, her neck snapping backward. She would have hit the ground if she had not caught herself. Angrily, she yelled at him, “Fascist!”
“Not my best moment,” Jennings later admitted, but the penalty for that appellation was that the officer called to his colleagues to “Arrest that woman! Arrest that woman!” Quickly, she was besieged by two or three officers who grabbed her and wrestled her roughly, restraining her hands with plastic ties so tight she later had bruises. Charges against her included assaulting an officer and resisting arrest. Her phone was rescued by another participant who later offered testimony in support of Jennings’ contention that she had not assaulted anyone or resisted arrest.
In custody, she suffered a severe migraine and vomited. She explained she was an organ transplant recipient and needed to take her medication at specific intervals. Her pleas were ignored. She was released several hours later, and charges were ultimately dropped, as they were for the vast majority of Occupy participants whom police had ticketed or arrested.
Jennings recalled police presence in response to the Occupy San Diego encampment as “out of this world.” “It was like a war zone,” she said.
“They had rows and rows of cops to scare the hell out of us. They would march in riot gear, stepping closer and closer toward the demonstrators. When all the other daytime activists would leave, that is when they would come in at night swinging batons, beating people, tearing down the tents, grabbing people and arresting them. This happened a few times when they came in full bore.”
Even when the tents were gone, said Jennings, sometime in late 2011, there was an incident of young people in the plaza linking arms and sitting in a circle when police threatened them with arrest if they did not leave. She recalls that someone shouted something at police. Immediately, one of the officers got hold of a youth and dragged him out of the circle. Another officer got out his pepper spray and deliberately sprayed each person in the eyes.
These were among the incidents alleged that eventually led to complaints against police by Occupy San Diego participants. A few incidents even led to lawsuits, which, depending on the facts of a case, can result in expensive settlements from City coffers.
What Happened to Complaints About Police Conduct?
At the time Occupy San Diego participants lodged their complaints against police, between late 2011 through about April 2012, the CRB was only authorized to review Category 1 complaints, not Category 2 complaints.
- Category 1 complaints contain allegations of police conduct that include the use of force, arrest, slurs, discrimination, or criminal conduct.
- Category 2 involves complaints about courtesy, service and procedure.
Several Occupy San Diego complainants eventually discovered that their complaints, even those containing Category 1 allegations, never were seen by the CRB. And even if a complaint had been filed directly with the CRB, it first had to be sent to SDPD’s IA Unit to categorize and investigate. Complainants and witnesses were interviewed by uniformed, armed officers, either their homes or they were asked to come to police offices.
Some of the complainants and witnesses who submitted to interviews said they were warned at the outset of the interview that they could be prosecuted for perjury if anything they said was found to be false. Many Occupy participants were said to have refused to file complaints about police conduct for fear of retribution. Of complaints reviewed by the CRB arising from Occupy San Diego, none is known to have resulted in a negative finding concerning police conduct.
When complainants attended the CRB meetings to bring to the board’s attention their complaints, they found uniformed officers sitting with the board, being asked to comment and consult on matters before the board. The Deputy City Attorney who attended meetings had the conflicting job of representing the SDPD and providing legal advice to the CRB.
These experiences were the beginnings of the idea for a measure that would allow the CRB to operate with greater independence from police.
Problems with the Current CRB?
In November 2016, voters passed by overwhelming support Measure G, which was then adopted by the City Council in December 2016. According to those involved in drafting the proposed charter amendment, Measure G was intended to head off an initiative that was then in the works, namely, a measure for an independent citizens review board. However, Measure G did make some changes to the way the existing board operated.
First, Measure G changed the name of the board from Citizens Review Board on Police Procedures to the Community Review Board on Police Practices. This reflected a new emphasis on review of individual police conduct and department practices by board members from the community. It also gave voice to the notion that anyone, citizen or not, could submit a complaint to the commission. The Citizens Review Board on Police Procedures had functioned solely under the Mayor’s operational oversight. But Measure G expanded oversight authority over the board to the Mayor and City Council.
Measure G also allowed the City Council to codify, and the Mayor to approve, the CRB’s authority to review all police shootings and in-custody deaths. These and other Category 1 cases are now reviewed by the CRB. Once Measure G was codified as an ordinance, the CRB was authorized to conduct “audit reviews” of the less serious Category 2 complaints. On the CRB website, audit reviews are described as authorizing board members to “look at those,” as compared with a full review of Category 1 cases.
But Measure G still requires the SDPD to categorize all cases before they are reviewed or audited by the CRB. This practice was criticized in the San Diego County Grand Jury’s Report filed May 21, 2018, concerning the CRB:
“The CRB does not participate in the categorization of complaints submitted to the SDPD. Consequently, the CRB cannot be certain that it sees all complaints that may be relevant to its advisory responsibilities, and cannot determine whether any have been misclassified. In addition, the SDPD IA uses a tracking system to control the processing of all complaints. The CRB does not have access to this tracking system. To ensure the CRB maintains control of their review process, it needs access to the SDPD IA tracking system.”
Even in Category 1 cases subject to mandatory CRB review, the SDPD IA does the investigation, writes the report and provides the supporting evidence to the CRB. These reports can be “from 10-130 pages,” according Lisa Sorce, who appears on the explanatory video on the CRB website. She describes the CRB review, which is done by a team chosen from among the board members, as follows:
“…you listen to every single interview that was done. You really do need to listen to them, because the IA report does not include everything in the summary. And you can hear things like the tone in someone’s voice, and inflection, and you can tell when they are really upset about something, or whether something is not as important. You look at the photos, any video evidence, and all the other evidence that comes with the case — medical records, jail intake forms, property, evidence.
It depends on the case, but it can be anywhere from 10-30 hours that a team will spend on reviewing the case. Most cases you will review about 5-7 hours before you ever prepare your summary to the board. And then, when preparing your summary, you’re going back and forth with all the information, trying to come to a conclusion you’re comfortable with in presenting to the board. So it is really a very thorough process.”
CRB members are not professional investigators, says Sorce, “so we have not been trained to do investigations.”
“So that is not our role. Our role is simply oversight. If in the course of reviewing an investigation [report], we find something wrong, we can absolutely ask for it. We do not talk to officers, complainants, witnesses. We do not visit the site where the incident occurred. We are encouraged to stay objective and just look at all the information.”
Once the CRB completes its review, its members have limited choices:
(1) They can agree with Internal Affairs findings.
(2) They can agree with IA findings, but add a comment.
(3) They can disagree and add a comment.
The discussions leading to these findings take place in closed session due to the confidential nature of the information to be discussed. The San Diego County Grand Jury Report of May 21, 2018, noted that “Members of the SDPD routinely attend CRB closed sessions to answer questions about the investigations.”
Both the Grand Jury Report and proponents of the new charter amendment criticize allowing police officers to be present during the entirety of CRB closed sessions. “The presence of SDPD officers during closed CRB deliberations compromises the CRB’s independence and has intimidated some of its members,” the Grand Jury Report states. “The Grand Jury finds that the CRB should have the authority to include or exclude persons other than members of the CRB during closed sessions. Otherwise, the CRB’s appearance of being an unbiased and fair citizen review board will continue to be questioned.”
Essential Changes Contained in the Proposed Charter Amendment
The charter amendment that will be presented to the City Council’s Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods Committee on September 18, 2019, is designed to provide a fully independent citizen review commission. In the context of this amendment, the word “independent” has been given full expression.
The charter amendment provides the commission with full power to independently investigate claims of police misconduct.
Critics have said this will swamp the commission with an impossible workload for its volunteer board members, and even overload the capacity of the one or two investigators it might be authorized hire or employ as independent contractors.
But proponents say the commission has the duty to investigate all police shootings and all deaths occurring as a result of police interaction. It is estimated these cases should number no more than about 10 per year. With respect to all other cases, the commission would have discretion about whether to conduct a full investigation. But giving the commission the power to investigate any complaint, say proponents, assures the community that all complaints will be independently evaluated, rather than being screened and categorized first by the police department.
The cost of employing both independent investigators and an independent attorney are estimated by opponents to be prohibitive, somewhere in the neighborhood of $11 million per year. But proponents cite the estimate done by the City’s Independent Budget Analyst, an annual amount “most likely” to be about $1.1 million, which is close to the estimate given by charter amendment proponents.
Under the amendment, the new commission would be formed initially by existing members of the CRB, who would serve until the City Council followed up with an ordinance governing the operation and procedures of the new entity. The commission would also have the authority to review and evaluate the policies and procedures of the SDPD.
Andrea St. Julian, an appellate lawyer who incorporated the concerns of many community sources in drafting the charter amendment, noted –
“When we talked to the community, they said oftentimes it is not a particular officer’s conduct that is at issue, but a policy or procedure the police department has enacted and implemented. So the commission can review these policies and procedures and make recommendations.
If you have a commission that is really able to gather particular information about something that is widely affecting a community, the community can get behind it and influence change through a citizens’ commission. For that reason, we have given the new commission the ability to appoint staff and independent contractors along with policy analysts to support commission work.”
An example, said St. Julian, is use of the so-called “chokehold,” or carotid hold. The commission could hire an expert on the carotid hold and have that expert analyze alternatives or review existing policies governing its use. “So there will be an expert basis for either carrying forward the community’s concern about the use of this carotid hold, or answering that concern another way.”
“One of the criticisms of proposed commission,” said St. Julian, “is that community members who serve on the board don’t have the expertise to comment on what the police do. Supposedly that is why the police department sits in on CRB meetings now. But under the charter amendment, the new commission will have expertise of its own.”
Complaints still will be able to be submitted either to the SDPD or directly to the commission, St. Julian explained. But if they are submitted to the SDPD, they will have to be sent within a short time to the commission. In addition, the commission would have access to the complaint tracking system used by SDPD.
The commission will not have authority to demand changes in SDPD policies, procedures or discipline. But the commission can make findings and determinations, report them to the SDPD, the Mayor and the City Council, and if allowed by law, publish to the community summary information about the types of cases and issues they handle. Officers and complainants, as well as other sensitive information prohibited by law from publication, would not be identified in public information.
Among more than 40 organizations supporting the charter amendment are several local Democratic Clubs; Clairemont Town Council; the Council on American-Islamic Relations; the Earl B. Gilliam Bar Association; the Center for Policy Initiatives; First Unitarian Universalist; Black Men and Women United, San Diego; and the League of Women Voters, San Diego.
Councilmember Monica Montgomery, Jack Schaeffer of the San Diego Police Officers’ Association, and the Mid-City Community Action Network (which presented a video of City Heights youth in support of independent police review) did not respond to requests for interviews from this reporter.
September 17, 2019
OB Rag (Ocean Beach)
By Joni Halpern
A Riverside County civil grand jury report critical of a habitat conservation agency is “factually inaccurate” and wrongly asserts that the county and local cities risk having to spend $1 billion or more to preserve land, according to a formal response to the jury’s findings.
The board of the Western Riverside County Regional Conservation Authority earlier this month approved the response to the grand jury’s report, which was released June 26.
The authority, an alliance of 18 cities and county government, oversees the Western Riverside County Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan, enacted in 2004 with the aim of preserving half a million acres of open space while providing a road map for future growth. The plan protects almost 150 native plant and animal species, including endangered species such as the Stephen’s kangaroo rat.
An annually rotating panel of 19 citizens sworn in by a judge, the grand jury investigates the inner workings of public agencies and suggests ways they can improve. Its report on the authority concluded that the alliance is far behind its goal of preserving half a million acres by 2029.
It could cost $1 billion or more to acquire the remaining acreage, far more than what was first estimated, the grand jury reported.
“This represents a significant financial risk to the County,” the report read.
That’s “grossly inaccurate,” the authority’s response read. “Nothing in the (conservation plan)” or the authority’s founding documents “could be construed as to require … any expenditure of any money from the County or the Cities.”
What’s more, the local cost of acquiring the remaining acreage for the plan is $770 million, not $1 billion, with another $64 million needed for an endowment, the response read.
According to the grand jury, the authority initially thought it would cost $4,000 an acre to buy land, only to see that price rise to $13,000 an acre as property values rose.
The authority challenges that finding.
“(The plan) estimated reserve land would be acquired for $13,100 per acre,” the response read, adding that average land purchase price has been $8,500 an acre and that the average per-acre cost is expected to rise to $13,500.
The grand jury also found that authority board members – the five county supervisors and city council members from the 18 cities in the authority – lack knowledge of how the conservation plan works, which the authority disputes in its response.
The jury reported the authority is responsible for managing and patrolling 400,000 acres of reserve land when the correct figure is 61,580 acres, the response read. The jury makes “broad assumptions” about land damage by off-roaders and the homeless “that are not substantiated,” the response added.
Grand jurors also criticized spending on “costly contracts” for services, including $200,000 a year for two federal lobbyists. Those lobbyists secured more than $25 million in funding for the authority – “a healthy return on investment for taxpayers,” read the response, which added that the authority saves money by contracting some “specialized tasks” to outside parties.
September 17, 2019
The Press Enterprise
By Jeff Horseman
[Santa Clara County] San Jose responds to grand jury report on $3.4B in unfunded pension liabilities
Growing retirement benefits and poor investment returns are at the heart of San Jose’s ballooning pension obligations — which are projected to drain an average of $340 million a year from the general fund over the next decade — according to a Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury investigation the City Council discussed Tuesday.
The council unanimously approved a report that accepted some of the jurors’ findings and recommendations, but disputed others. District 10 Councilmember Johnny Khamis raised the question of merging the city’s two retirement boards — a cost-savings measure recommended by the grand jury. Khamis said running two boards is “expensive” and merging them would “eliminate duplication.” The city agreed to look into merging the two boards.
The city’s Director of Employee Relations and Human Resources and the chairmen of its two pension boards pushed back against some of the grand jury’s recommendations even as they acknowledged the scope of the problem.
“The growth in the city’s unfunded liabilities has many causes, including the financial downturn after 2008,” according to the grand jury report. “But the primary cause is a massive increase in retirement benefits.”
Specifically, the report calls out the cost-of-living adjustments (COLA) many retirees receive as being especially “generous” and recommends the city “examine ways in which the 3% COLA liability can be reduced fairly as many other public entities have done by considering options such as reducing COLAs in exchange for lump sum buyouts.”
Mayor Sam Liccardo on Tuesday expressed surprise at that recommendation, saying it was “odd” for jurors to suggest the city look at re-negotiating cost-of-living increases with employee unions “since the court said that’s illegal.”
The grand jury wanted the city to complete the examination and make it public by June 2020. But staff is recommending the City Council not attempt to reduce cost-of-living adjustments.
“The city disagrees with this recommendation,” according to the staff memo prepared by Director of Employee Relations Jennifer Schembri. “The city is currently in a closed retirement Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with its bargaining units through June 30, 2025… Tier 1 retirement benefits are subject to the terms of the MOA until it expires. This includes the 3% COLA.”
The findings of the grand jury were also disputed by Matt Loesch, chairman of San Jose’s Federated City Employees Retirement board and Vincent Sunzeri, chairman of the city’s Police and Fire Department Retirement board — including its recommendations that the city consider merging the boards and diversifying its membership to include professions outside of finance and investing. But Loesh and Sunzeri took particular exception to the notion that their investments were not performing up to snuff.
“Moving the city of San Jose mature pension plan to a more risk-averse investment portfolio has contributed, in part, to poor investment returns,” the grand jury found.
“The Boards respectfully disagree with this finding,” according to the memo from the chairmen, adding they “have considered the risk/return balance of their portfolios in the context of their benefit payment obligations and cash flow needs, the risk tolerances of the Boards and the city plan sponsor, and all other factors affecting the diversification of their respective portfolios. The systems have not experienced ‘poor investment returns’ relative to their risk/return expectations.”
As originally conceived, the city’s pension funds were meant to be self-funding. Nevertheless, jurors estimate taxpayers will pay almost 80% of more than $4 billion over the next decade because the investment funds won’t raise enough to cover the obligations.
“Based on estimated pension payouts and the mandated annual COLA increases,” according to the grand jury report, “San Jose retirement plans in the next 10 years will need to payout approximately $4.3 billion.”
But according to the grand jury’s calculations, the pension funds will generate less than a billion dollars between 2020 and 2029 — leaving the city to pay for the rest, approximately $3.4 billion from the general fund.
“A basic shortfall results as the city continues to contribute additional funds to cover costs and amortization of the unfunded liabilities,” the grand jury wrote. “These sums are large and… take funding away from other essential and desired services the city otherwise could provide its citizens.”
Schembri acknowledged the truth in the grand jury’s finding that the city’s pension obligations were “an ever increasing burden on the city’s general fund,” saying the city has taken steps to reign in the rising cost of retirement benefits.
San Jose became a poster child for its landmark pension reform efforts after former Mayor Chuck Reed in 2012 authored a controversial measure to trim pensions for new and existing employees. Voters overwhelmingly approved the measure with nearly 70% of the vote. A war with city employees and labor unions ensued, many suing the city in a long drawn-out legal battle.
Though he supported Reed’s pension reform plan as a councilman, Mayor Sam Liccardo quickly settled the litigation with labor unions after taking office by reaching a compromise that curbed future benefits, but did not touch existing retirement plans.
“San Jose is committed to providing its residents and customers with essential services, and has taken several steps to address the high cost of retirement benefits for city employees,” Schembri wrote in a memo. “This includes the Alternative Pension Reform Framework Agreements with the city’s eleven bargaining units, which contained several cost saving measures and protections against further benefit enhancements…”
Schembri also agreed with the grand jury’s recommendation that the city work with the eleven unions representing its employees on other ways to reduce the cost of benefits to the taxpayer. Schembri added that San Jose has also established a working group of stakeholders, set to convene for the first time in October, to examine ways to reduce the cost to the city on an ongoing basis.
“This Working Group has a goal of convening key stakeholders to address the current challenges of the city’s retirement systems in a collaborative and transparent manner, and making recommendations for City Council consideration,” she wrote.
September 16, 2019
San Jose Spotlight; also reprinted in the California Political Review
By Adam F. Hutton