Thursday, May 6, 2021

[Monterey County] Civil grand jury targets Monterey bike-path project

MONTEREY — An award-winning project along North Fremont Street in Monterey has come under fire by the Monterey County Civil Grand Jury, which has dubbed the project “a bike path to nowhere” in the report’s title.

The report’s key complaint is that the city failed to adequately inform the public of design changes relating to a bicycle path incorporated into the overall upgrades of North Fremont Street between Casa Verde Way and Canyon Del Rey, as well as not finishing the project’s vision when funding became scarce.

“The report by the Monterey Civil Grand Jury has been received by the city and we are preparing the required responses,” said Monterey City Manager Hans Uslar in an email Tuesday. “This award-winning project was completed below budget and followed a thorough public process, which kept stakeholders such as businesses and neighborhoods well informed. We are grateful that the report highlights these facts.

“We are looking forward to responding to the findings in order to help the civil grand jury to gain further insights into the success of this project,” Uslar said.

Indeed, Caltrans awarded the city with its “Excellence in Transportation” award last year for “providing safe, sustainable, integrated and sustainable transportation,” the state agency said in a statement.

The project, called the North Fremont Bicycle and Pedestrian Improvement Project, was launched in 2014 with the idea of connecting the North Fremont bike path with the $31 million Fort Ord Regional Trail and Greenway, a 30-mile loop for walkers and bicyclists that is funded by a combination of state and local funding through the Transportation Agency for Monterey County.

As the North Fremont project design moved along, at some point the city of Monterey changed the bike path design from one where bicyclists share the street with traffic to one where bicyclists are physically protected from traffic. The grand jury believes the city should have better communicated that change with the public.

But as far back as 2017 and then again in 2018, the Monterey Herald reported on these design changes as well as the fact that budget overruns, which happen frequently in public works projects, resulted in the bike path not connecting to Canyon del Rey and instead stopped at Casanova Avenue.

The city is just waiting on a funding source to finish the connection, the grand jury report stated.

There are four types of bike paths recognized by Caltrans. The original design called for a Class 2 bike lane, which is the one where a  line is painted on the side of a street. But as the project moved forward the city decided to construct barriers between bicyclists and cars and run the lane between the traffic lanes.

That change drew criticism from some members of the public as voiced through letters to the editor in the Herald. Letters to the editor would indicate the public was aware of and involved in the process. The city held several meetings with neighborhood groups and others updating them on the design, including changes. The report even acknowledged that fact.

“The City of Monterey is to be commended for a comprehensive effort to communicate with local stakeholders, including the business community, neighborhood associations, and nearby residents domiciled near North Fremont throughout the planning and construction project,” the report reads.

The Herald reached out to the Monterey County Council’s Office requesting comment but a call was not immediately returned Tuesday.

The report also aimed at a May 2018 resolution to start construction, “but its language did not include anything stating the fact of that the City had changed the plan for construction of Class 4 bike lanes,” according to the report.

However, even as far back as September 2017, the Herald reported that “the plan itself includes the implementation of Class 4 bike lanes in the median of North Fremont Street and is intended to make the intersections between Casa Verde Way and Canyon Del Rey Boulevard both pedestrian-friendly and Americans with Disabilities Act compliant.”

Then again on May 3, 2018, the same month the report said the city failed to notify the broader population of the design change, the Herald reported that the “project, which will include the implementation of Class IV bike lanes in the median of North Fremont Street …”

The report, however, maintained that for there to be adequate communication with the public, designs should go before the city’s Architectural Review Committee so the public would have an opportunity to observe the process before coming before the City Council.

Finally, the report criticized the bike path portion of the project for only being “the tip of the iceberg,” because the project also included other badly needed infrastructure improvements, such as replacing storm drains, pedestrian crosswalks and improved stoplights.

Those improvements were also reported in the Herald in 2018.

At the end of the report, the findings included both compliments and criticisms of the way the project was communicated to the public and recommends:

For all city projects that contain design elements, the city should hold public hearings before the Architectural Review Committee. This process should begin by Aug. 1,

On future city projects, the governing body of record should approve revised resolutions to document changes to a project. This process should begin by Aug. 1.

The city should begin holding public hearings before the Architectural Review Committee for their input on the Gap Project design. This should begin by Aug. 1,

The city should create a maintenance plan addressing routine and long-term maintenance, as recommended by Caltrans.

Monterey Herald
By DENNIS L. TAYLOR
May 4, 2021

Monday, May 3, 2021

San Jose [Santa Clara County] RV Dwellers Fear Displacement

 As county leaders push plans to revitalize the barren Santa Clara County Fairgrounds, dozens of RV dwellers could soon be pushed out.

Blog note: this article refers to a Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury  report.

Tenant Pam Eisenbarth said staff from the nonprofit running the RV park, Fairgrounds Management Corporation, told her and husband Joe Rodriguez in December 2019 that the park would soon close. The corporation was preparing for its devitalization of the fairgrounds, a multi-year plan that didn't include the RV park.

Eisenbarth said about 32 RVs took up the two-lot park as the pandemic began, but now about 20 remain.

"They've been trying to redo this place for what? Ten years, even more," Rodriguez said. "It looks like they might actually do it this time. But a lot of us aren't going to have anywhere to go, except for the streets with the other RVs."

RVs parked on the side of the road have drawn ire from nearby businesses and neighborhoods who describe them as blight.

A Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury reported the RV park earned about half a million dollars in revenue in 2018, as opposed to the annual fair which reported making just over $13,000 the same year. Despite being more profitable than the annual fair, an email obtained by San José Spotlight revealed Fairgrounds Management Corporation CEO Abe Andrade spoke with at least three management staff about closing the park.

County leaders for years have struggled to figure out the future of the underutilized Santa Clara County fairgrounds. Lawmakers approved a plan in 2019 to explore new uses including a venue for USA Cricket, a county park and a San Jose Earthquakes Soccer Academy. Homeless housing was not on the list, despite a petition from advocates, because officials believe the area is already densely housed.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the mostly vacant 158-acre site on Tully Road was used for a temporary medical facility then a shelter for homeless residents at risk of getting sick. Most recently, it served as a mass COVID-19 vaccination site.

Talk of shutting down the two-acre RV park comes as no surprise to longtime renters of the fairground parking spaces. They say Andrade continues trying to push them out.

"He'll drop off notices on the doorstep, they blow away, then he gets mad when people don't see them," said resident Teresa Estrella. "People who don't know their rights, (Andrade) can bully them into leaving."

Some fear those who speak little English could be more easily coerced or intimidated into leaving.

Tenants Steve and June, who withheld their last names for fear of retribution, said management closed the nearby public waste site over a year ago to create an untenable environment so some tenants have no choice but to leave.

Andrade confirmed plans to close the RV park dating back to before the pandemic.

"What is getting lost here is that the RV park, as a short term stay facility with a 30-day limit, has never been intended for people to stay long periods," Andrade said. "I have no idea when it will close now given the variables of the development proposals and the pandemic."

The uncertainty leaves families like Rodriguez and Eisenbarth anxious about the future — especially as a statewide rent moratorium expires on June 30.

Sitting at their table on Sunday—the kitchen, living room and bedroom all just a few steps away—the couple looked out the windshield to see fencing surrounding them.

"That wasn't there until COVID," Eisenbarth said. "Then they put the green covering and now we can't see what's going on out there. It feels like they're closing in on us."

One by one as RVs left over the past year, the fencing closed in on vacant areas. Eisenbarth and Ramirez said management told them to move their RV to the back lot.

Fairgrounds Management Corporation Board Chair Ty Greaves said the nonprofit is in conversations with businesses to redevelop the fairgrounds, but nothing has been finalized. COVID-19 slowed down talks with sports and entertainment venues concerned over how long gatherings will continue to be limited in size.

"We've been in lockdown, people have been terrorized for a year. Will they ever come back and be in a public venue in numbers that would justify investments of significant amounts of money?" Greaves said. "But we have commitment, we have people who are passionately interested in fulfilling the vision, and we push in that direction."

In the latest attempt to revitalize the fairgrounds, Santa Clara County supervisors in January approved a plan to build go-kart racing tracks, a virtual reality arcade, zip lining and other outdoor activities to be developed on the land the RV park currently occupies.

But as the pandemic drags on, no date is set for work to start. Andrade said projects are still in development.

"I'm not so much worried about myself as I am for all the families who will have no other place to go," Estrella said. "They have little kids. If they're tearing this place down there needs to be somewhere for these people to stay."

San Jose Spotlight, News Partner
By Vincente Veras
Friday, April 30, 2021

Friday, April 30, 2021

Removing Mayor Dominic Foppoli through [Sonoma County] civil grand jury a long shot for Windsor

As a campaign to recall Windsor Mayor Dominic Foppoli gets haltingly underway and law enforcement investigations proceed out of the public eye, town officials and Sonoma County political observers determined to oust the defiant mayor have looked to a rarely used civil grand jury proceeding for relief.

The Windsor Town Council — minus Foppoli, who did not attend the April 21 meeting — directed the town’s attorneys to research the proceeding and if possible, draft a letter asking the California Attorney General’s office to request a grand jury investigation.

Such local bodies have been used to charge and seek removal of public officials accused of official misconduct.

However, legal experts say the nature of the allegations against Foppoli make for an uphill and unlikely battle for any such grand jury investigation. Even if there was a route forward, the process — which can involve both a secret grand jury and public trial jury — is not much faster than a recall election, experts say.

“I don’t want anybody to think that is something that could happen in a few weeks and lo and behold there’s an accusation” from a civil grand jury, said Karen Jahr, a past president and current official of the California Grand Jurors’ Association.

The scandal that has enveloped Foppoli is still less than a month old, but after briefly appearing to direct an unprecedented April 14 special town council meeting, the mayor has retreated from public eye and issued few public statements about his intentions. The scandal has widened since four women came forward April 8 in the San Francisco Chronicle to publicly accuse Foppoli of sexual assault and abuse. Three other women have now alleged abuse and assault by Foppoli, including Windsor Councilwoman Esther Lemus.

Foppoli is under a criminal investigation led by the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office and including the state Attorney General’s Office. The timeline for that process is undefined, said Misti Wood, the Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman. It “takes as long as it takes,” she said, declining to comment on the case’s status.

Outside of a felony conviction, the other main way to remove an elected official from office in California is through voter recall, a slow-moving and costly process that could run the town anywhere between $50,000 and $84,000, according to officials.

A vote to recall Foppoli may come as late as next spring, according to recall organizers.

Foppoli, meanwhile, has proclaimed his innocence and said he would “step back” from his regular duties as mayor. But he retains his directly elected seat and powers over the conduct of town business.

The consideration now being given to the grand jury option reflects just how determined Foppoli’s many critics are to see his ouster — and also how difficult it is achieve when an elected official won’t step down.

Grand jury proceeding

Buried in state law, Government Code section 3060 outlines the process in which a civil grand jury can be employed to investigate an elected official and initiate a court proceeding to remove them from office. Eligible offenses include “willful or corrupt misconduct in office.” The procedure applies to officials at the county and city levels.

Every county in California has a standing civil grand jury. The bodies conduct their proceedings in secret and have wide latitude to conduct civil investigations. When the juries investigate wrongdoing by public officials, the standard of evidence is lower than what would be needed for a criminal conviction. The procedure is “neither criminal nor civil,” Jahr said.

“There aren’t any criminal penalties,” she said. “A conviction does not result in a sentence of going to jail or a fine. The only result is the person is removed from office.”

The process is rarely used. Jahr estimated there is less than one case a year.

One recent example comes from Contra Costa County, where the assessor was accused of sexual harassment and other misconduct by a number of his female employees. The Contra Costa Board of Supervisors asked a grand jury to investigate, and in June 2019 the jury accused the auditor of misconduct, resulting in a trial for his removal from office, according to the East Bay Times.

But a hung jury led the judge to declare a mistrial, and in February 2021, the Contra Costa District Attorney’s Office announced it would not retry the case. The assessor, Gus Kramer, remains in office.

If the Sonoma County Grand Jury investigated and decided there was sufficient evidence of misconduct by Foppoli, the jurors could call in writing for his removal from office. The case would then be prosecuted in open court in a jury trial that would consider the merits of the grand jury’s stance. Foppoli would have the right to legal representation.

It was unclear whether there is any recent precedent in Sonoma County. Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch has recused her office from the investigation. The Board of Supervisors has little oversight authority over elected officials in an incorporated community like Windsor and is not pursuing a grand jury investigation, Sonoma County Counsel Robert Pittman wrote in an email on Tuesday.

Many California counties have never seen a civil grand jury seek to remove an elected official, William Larsen, a retired San Mateo and Santa Clara prosecutor who used to teach seminar classes on the procedure said.

“Most district attorneys and deputy district attorneys don’t have a clue of what the process is,” he said.

There’s a bigger hurdle in Foppoli’s case, one that may be insurmountable, Larsen said. So far, the public allegations against Foppoli, even those made by Lemus, do not involve sexual assault while Foppoli in the course of conducting his mayoral duties.

“It has nothing to do with the carrying out of his office,” Larsen said. “It certainly has to do with his character but that’s irrelevant to the law.” Larsen believed the bar for what counted as misconduct “in office” was high.

The California Grand Jury Association also saw little precedent. “We are unaware of any accusations that has involved misconduct unrelated to the defendant’s official duties,” Jahr said.

Windsor’s attorney on Foppoli matters is Joan Cassman. Her research on the grand jury option remains ongoing and she declined to comment while that work was in progress.

Push to change law

Even as the embattled Windsor Town Council grapples with paths to remove Foppoli from office, some are calling for changes to state law or municipal code for similar situations in the future.

At the April 21 meeting, Lemus, a deputy county prosecutor, asked the council to look into new policies and procedures for investigating misconduct allegations against elected officials. She also asked for an initiative to “promote healing and the rebuilding of trust with the community.”

As an example, she pointed towards community healing events in Santa Rosa following the 2013 death of 13-year-old Andy Lopez, who was shot and killed by a Sonoma County sheriff’s deputy.

The council supported Lemus’s proposals.

In an email, Fudge said she’s asked state Sen. Mike McGuire, whose district includes Windsor, to consider changes to state law as well.

“It’s pretty clear” that any bill the lawmaker might consider to attempt to remove Foppoli from office would be unconstitutional, McGuire said in a statement Wednesday night.

“That said, we don’t want to leave any stones unturned,” he said. “We continue to do our due diligence and have run the request by a State Legislative Lawyer and we’re awaiting guidance.” Like others, he reiterated his call for the mayor to resign.

Press-Democrat
By Andrew Graham
April 28, 2021


Saturday, April 24, 2021

[Solano County] Grand jury impressed by Solano Elections Office during Covid times

FAIRFIELD — Despite a series of missteps in election materials and ballot addressing – not all the fault of the Registrar of Voters Office – the 2020-21 Solano County grand jury was generous in its praise of the Elections Office.

“This year’s (state) requirement that ballots be mailed to all voters did not present a challenge for the (Registrar of Voters),” the grand jury report released Wednesday stated.

“The civil grand jury members were impressed with the integrity and attention to detail that the ROV personnel displayed. The ROV staff demonstrated high regard for transparency, the individual’s right to vote, and the accuracy of the process,” the report stated.

John Gardner, the assistant registrar of voters, said there were a lot of grand jury members who participated in watching the election process.

“It was good to see the grand jury felt we were successful with the election, and we were able to overcome a lot of challenges,” Gardner said.

He also found most of the comments and suggestions by the grand jury to be reasonable.

The grand jury issued four findings, each with a recommendation. The Registrar of Voters Office has yet to file a formal response.

Volunteer Richard Vance inserts ballots into the ballot box at a drive-by voting location on Union Avenue, in downtown Fairfield, Monday, Nov. 2, 2020. (Robinson Kuntz/Daily Republic file)

The first of those findings addresses the upcoming redistricting of political boundaries, which requires mapping. The report states only one member of the Elections Office staff “has mapping experience.” The grand jury recommends hiring another experienced staffer.

Gardner said the grand jury is correct about staffing. He said the county is looking to hire a person with the necessary skills, but that person is likely to land in the Information Technology office, with the intent of using the employee to help with the mapping needs.

He said other county employees with related skills also will likely be used during redistricting.

The grand jury also recommends that the county “coordinate with the California Secretary of State to ensure state Voter Information Guides are delivered before the county mails ballots to voters,” a recommendation resulting from a finding that some voters cast ballots prior to receiving those guides.

The third finding noted that the Elections Office was “reluctant to terminate the employment of underperforming temporary workers with concerns that the time-consuming hiring process might result in not having sufficient staff to handle the workload.”

The grand jury recommends the office work with the county Department of Human Resources “to streamline the process of hiring temporary ROV workers.”

Gardner said it was less an issue of underperforming as it was to place the individuals to do the tasks they were best suited to accomplish. Finding individuals with the correct skills, he said, was made more difficult by Covid-19.

The final grand jury recommendation is for Solano County to work with other counties to “encourage” the state to join the Electronic Registration Information Center.

The center, often referred to as ERIC, is a nonprofit that assists counties in “improving the accuracy of voter rolls,” the grand jury report states.

The organization further states as a goal to “increase access to voter registration for all eligible citizens.” The nonprofit was formed in 2012 with the guidance of The Pew Charitable Trusts. It is governed and managed by member states.

Gardner said he thinks it is a good idea for the state to join ERIC because it would create an intra-state check for voters who move from one state to another. However, it would only be effective, he said, if California’s neighboring states, and other common states where people move, such as Texas, are part of the system, too.

Among the issues the Elections Office faced were printing errors that affected voter guides in Dixon, Benicia and Vallejo.

Some Dixon residents also claimed the county sent ballots for a water district issue to residents who did not live in the district, but the county said the addresses match up with the boundaries provided.

There were also ballots for certain City Council districts that were sent to Vacaville residents who live outside those districts.

The Elections Office confirmed there were issues that had to be resolved.

“A total of 58 voters received the incorrect ballot in November. Of the 58 voters, 22 of them possibly voted with the incorrect ballot for the Vacaville City Council District 3 contest; however, the contest was decided by a margin of 507 votes,” a staff report to the Board of Supervisors stated.

The problems prompted the Registrar of Voters Office to tighten its procedures and its checks and balances as it prepares for the redistricting requirements this fall. That work is well underway.

Solano County Daily Republic
By Todd R. Hansen
April 15, 2021

One [San Diego] Councilman Wants To Trash The People's Ordinance

City Councilman Sean Elo-Rivera wants to axe a century-old city ordinance that allows free trash pickup for many single-family homeowners.

Blog note: This article refers to several San Diego County Grand Jury reports.

City Councilman Sean Elo-Rivera wants to axe a century-old city ordinance that allows free trash pickup for many single-family homeowners while the city and renters pick up the tab.

Elo-Rivera, who chairs the City Council's environment committee, said at a Voice of San Diego member event Wednesday that he plans to have the committee take up the issue later this year and consider a ballot measure among other options to nix the law.

"We want to talk about this later this year and I'm serious, this needs to go," said Elo-Rivera, who represents communities including City Heights and Talmadge. "We're gonna to try to make that happen."

A potential ballot measure and even a committee hearing on the topic would mark a significant shift for a policy that has survived countless calls from advocates, the San Diego County Grand Jury and others to repeal it because it shortchanges the city out of a charge that citizens elsewhere pay and creates inequities between renters and single-family homeowners – and even among single-family homeowners who pay and those who don't.

The so-called People's Ordinance hearkens back to 1919, when 85 percent of voters supported a measure mandating that the city collect trash from homes and allowed city leaders to levy fees for it. The city never implemented the latter charges, which meant the city must pick up trash at single-family homes without a special fee. In the mid-1980s, the ordinance was updated to bar free service for new apartments in condos.

That's meant San Diegans who live in single-family homes generally get free trash service and those who don't pay for trash service. It's also meant the city doesn't have funds other municipalities count on to pay for things like public safety and infrastructure.

The city's independent budget analyst wrote in a memo last year that providing trash collection to single-family homes costs the city $36.3 million a year – and that was before a costly new organics recycling law set to take effect in January that's projected to add millions more to the cost.

Earlier this year, the Council's environment committee approved a work plan calling for a review of "the racial and socioeconomic disparities the ordinance leads to and options for amending the ordinance, to include a possible 2022 ballot measure."

The work plan suggested the review would occur by this September.

The progressive-leaning Center on Policy Initiatives is among the groups that have for years railed against the People's Ordinance.

 At Wednesday's VOSD event, Executive Director Kyra Greene argued the city should make changes to pull in revenues that support its needs. She also said the ordinance offers the city an opportunity to weigh whether its policies are equitable.

"The trash ordinance (…) is a prime example of providing a tax cut or fee cut to people who are the most advantaged in the system," Greene said. "I mean, I know it's hard to be a homeowner in this region. It's tough. It's expensive, but if you have the ability to do that, to be the people also not having to pay a fee that folks who live in apartments do pay as part of their rent is an example of a city that hasn't thought about equity in its approaches."

Elo-Rivera agreed.

"That's 35 or $40 million every year that we are subsidizing for folks who are much better positioned to absorb that cost than those who don't," Elo-Rivera said. "It's wild, and there's neighborhoods where you can, you know, you walk down the street and you see a nice single-family home next to an apartment building. And you say, 'Which one of those families gets free trash pickup?' It's not the one who needs it."

But City Councilman Chris Cate, a Republican who also serves on the environment committee, said Wednesday he would "probably not" support a repeal of the People's Ordinance, underscoring the resistance any repeal movement is likely to face from folks like Cate who are naturally resistant to tax or fee hikes.

Former Mayor Kevin Faulconer avoided the issue even after allies at the San Diego County Taxpayers Association, where Cate once worked, voted in 2016 to recommend removing or amending the People's Ordinance.

Mayor Todd Gloria, a Democrat, has often spoken of the city's structural budget issues but has thus far not specified whether he would support a repeal of the People's Ordinance.

When the city was facing devastating budget deficits earlier this year as a result of COVID-19 closures, interim COO Jay Goldstone said during a virtual meeting of the National Albondigas Political Society that the People's Ordinance was among the issues on the table as the city looked at its budget challenges. He noted that other cities he'd worked for charged all residents for trash pick-up.

City spokeswoman Nicole Darling later clarified that Goldstone's response was "made to provide a more long-term picture" rather than a proposal for the 2022 budget process.

Elo-Rivera said Thursday he is prepared to start a fight he believes is necessary to help address structural budget gaps.

"Three separate county grand juries have said it must go, but the city has yet to take action," Elo-Rivera wrote in a statement. "I would be negligent in my duties as the environment committee chair to not investigate alternatives to what has resulted in a drain on the city's general fund, an unfair refuse collection system and an obstacle to achieving our waste diversion and recycling goals."

Patch.com
By Lisa Halverstadt, the Voice of San Diego
April 22, 2021

Voice of San Diego is a nonprofit news organization supported by our members. We reveal why things are the way they are and expose facts that people in power might not want out there and explain complex local public policy issues so you can be engaged and make good decisions. Sign up for our newsletters at voiceofsandiego.org/newsletters/.

 

 


Saturday, April 17, 2021

SURVEY: County of Humboldt Wants to Know How Satisfied You Are With Its Services

Blog note: This article refers to a Humboldt grand jury report that recommended that a survey be conducted, so it shows that the county did agree with the recommendation and implemented it.

The County of Humboldt has made it easier for citizens to air their grievances with its various departments. The county administrative office released a new survey yesterday that allows members of the public to rate their level of satisfaction with each department, ranging from “very satisfied” to “very dissatisfied.”

Humboldt County Administrative Office spokesperson Manny Machado told the Outpost that the county issued the online questionnaire in accordance with a grand jury report recommendation made in August of last year.

“It’s nice to hear that great feedback on great service that employees are providing, but maybe there’s some input that causes each department to improve,” Machado said. “The county is open to ideas that the community has.”

In the report, the grand jury states that members of the public frequently misdirect complaints to the Humboldt Board of Supervisors Office or to the civil grand jury due to the lack of a proper complaint system provided by the county.

“The Humboldt County Civil Grand Jury often receives complaints from members of the community regarding various public entities,” the report reads. “The grievances range from hand scrawled grumbling about the county government to thoroughly documented typed appeals specifically targeting a particular department. In some cases, the complaints are about concerns the Civil Grand Jury cannot investigate. In others an investigation is launched. Not all investigations yield enough information to write and publish a report. In all cases, the process of vetting, investigating, reporting, and publishing takes a long time. A response to a complaint received by the Civil Grand Jury may take a year, or more. ”

The new county survey is designed to offer a faster, simpler way for community members to voice their complaints. In addition to the rating system, the survey also provides a text box for comments and suggestions and an option for citizens to request a telephone or email response to their feedback from a member of that department.

“A typical standard for any complaint process is that the complaint should be addressed at the lowest level possible,” the grand jury wrote. “Many issues can be resolved by a phone call, an email, or with a simple feedback procedure with the specific public agency involved. Launching an official Civil Grand Jury investigation is similar to calling your member of congress to complain about a malfunctioning traffic light.”

The grand jury report also recommends that each department be required to provide Humboldt County Supervisors with annual survey reports to better improve county services.

“Such a policy assures taxpayers that the department welcomes feedback, provides ever improving service to the community, and will better inform a more cost-effective government,” the report states.

The Outpost reached out to the Humboldt County Supervisors Office for comment but did not receive a response.

Lost Coast Outpost
John Ross Ferrara
April 14, 2021

Monday, April 5, 2021

Training Humboldt County’s civil grand jury

Humboldt County Grand Jury Association | Former grand jurors advocating for our citizens

On March 8, 2021 the Humboldt County Civil Grand Jury was empaneled and will serve a term ending on June 30, 2022. Typically, the empanelment would have occurred around July 1, 2020 and lasted for one fiscal year, but this has been a unique and challenging time. The Humboldt County Grand Jury Association (HCGJA) commends the county citizens who have agreed to serve, hopes they have an effective and rewarding term, and offers to them our ongoing assistance. One way in which the statewide California Grand Jury Association (CGJA) and its county chapters support local grand juries is through programs that provide in-depth training.

I served on the Humboldt County Civil Grand Jury from 2016-2018. Toward the end of my first year on the grand jury, members of the California Grand Jury Association (CGJA) asked if I would be interested in becoming a trainer. I applied to the CGJA Training Committee, was accepted, and began my work as a grand jury trainer in 2017. These volunteers consist of individuals with grand jury experience and some who have served as grand jury legal counsels. We provide legally required training to newly empaneled grand juries throughout the state.

When offered in person, the CGJA training takes two full days; when done via Zoom it’s done in three morning sessions. The training covers those topics needed to assist jurors in being as productive and effective as possible. Many aspects of the training also provide other benefits that can prove helpful in everyday life after the grand jury term has ended. To provide just a brief summary, the topics are as follows:

  • Grand Jury Overview: Covers the mission and functions of the grand jury, a typical grand jury year, how the jury is organized and some important grand jury concepts such as confidentiality, independence and ethics.
  • Grand Jury Law and Legal Topics: Includes the grand jury’s “watchdog” function and what the law says a grand jury must, may and cannot do; discusses the jury’s legal advisors and specific laws related to local governments.
  • Local Governments: Lays out all the entities a grand jury can investigate such as county and city officials and departments, special districts and joint powers agencies (fire, water, lighting, waste management, etc.), and school districts, among others.
  • Grand Jury Investigations: Provides information on how to be a “detective”, including selecting topics, and planning and conducting an investigation.
  • Grand Jury Interviews: Focuses on an important part of the investigation process, including who to interview, and how to prepare for and conduct an effective interview.
  • Grand Jury Reports: Offers an overview of producing reports, including types of reports, report content, and the writing process. Since reports are the grand jury’s only means of communicating with the public, CGJA also offers separate workshops specifically devoted to this topic.
  • Grand Jury Collegiality: Explains the nature of collegiality, how it applies to grand juries in terms of being a collaborative body, and offers ground rules on how to achieve the best outcome.

In some counties, including Humboldt, members of the local chapter also offer an orientation training to the incoming jurors. Although the California Penal Code lays out certain requirements for grand juries, each county also has its own unique grand jury structure and processes. This 2-1/2 hour orientation training focuses specifically on the individual county including the grand jury’s relationship to the court and county, its specific rules of procedure, meetings and attendance, and an annual timeline of activities.

The training received by grand jurors, as well as the experience and knowledge gained through the term of service, lead to contributions that make important positive changes that benefit the citizens of the county. A wealth of information is available on our website at www.cgja.org in terms of who we are, what we do, and the resources we offer to grand juries and the public.

Eureka Times-Standard
By BERNADETTE CHEYNE on behalf of the Humboldt County Grand Jurors' Association
April 4, 2021

Thursday, April 1, 2021

[Humboldt] County has empaneled its civil grand jury

Humboldt County Grand Jurors’ Association | Former grand jurors advocating for our citizens

Congratulations are finally in order. Humboldt County has a new civil grand jury! Twenty-two members of our community have come forward and agreed to serve during this most challenging time. The Humboldt County Superior Court has randomly selected 19 of these citizens and sworn them in to serve on the civil grand jury for the next 16 months. The remaining three citizens have been identified as alternates, and are anxiously waiting their turn to serve if needed.

The empanelment ceremony occurred on March 8 in a massive Zoom ceremony with Judge Gregory Elvine-Kreis presiding. Several outgoing members of the previous grand jury were able to zoom in so the judge could express appreciation for their recent service. Members of the Humboldt County Civil Grand Jurors’ Association were also present to offer their support and encouragement. The new jurors onscreen all raised their right hands and took the oath of office which was far from in unison, but still moving.

Members of the new civil grand jury provide a good cross section of our community and will be led by Foreperson Jim Glover. The 19 names of the jury members are available for you to review on the county website: (https://humboldtgov. org/511/Civil-Grand-Jury-Members). The Humboldt County Chapter of the statewide California Grand Jury Association will provide all members extensive training on civil grand jury law and functions beginning March 23 and again on April 21 and 22.

We can expect the new civil grand jury to begin reading citizens’ complaints and selecting investigation topics within the next few months. Of course, due to the confidentiality of the civil grand jury, we will not know what they are investigating until they release their final reports. You can expect these to begin showing up early next year.

We owe these 22 citizens many thanks for their willingness to serve us; not just serve us for a year, but for the next 16 months. Since the pandemic has delayed the usual July-June term of office, this jury will serve until June 2022. They will be working at least 20 hours a week, interviewing, researching, discussing, and fact checking their findings. This effort will take them away from family, community, and some of the free time they may have had. All of this effort is being performed to help improve our county and city government functions in the hope that our quality of life will likewise improve.

If by chance you meet one of these jurors, feel free to thank them for their commitment to serve all of us. Tell them that you appreciate their commitment, and encourage them to give it their all. 

Eureka Times Standard
Wayne Ventuleth authored this column on behalf of the Humboldt County Grand Jurors’ Association
March 25, 2021

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Opinion: [Santa Clara County] VTA clearly needs new model of governance

 Three separate civil grand juries over the last 17 years have focused on the Valley Transportation Authority’s performance and governance. Their conclusions: VTA underperformed its peers in 2004 and continued to do so in 2009.

The most recent report of 2019 states that “performance has continued to deteriorate over the last decade, relative to both its own historical performance and that of its peers.” The Grand Jury concluded that reversing this trend requires structural change to VTA’s Board of Directors.

The composition of the VTA Board, currently city council members and county supervisors, is defined in state law, so any change requires action in Sacramento. Fortunately, Assemblymember Marc Berman has introduced AB 1091 to do just that.

Many fine, well-meaning council members and supervisors have come and gone from the VTA board over the agency’s 26-year history. The problem is that as local elected officials, their time and attention are pulled many ways. Continuity is also a problem: Half of the board members turned over at the start of this year. And many board members don’t have the necessary background to provide the high-quality oversight that VTA deserves. Past board members often report that their experience was like drinking from a fire hose and that they barely got their arms around these complicated, multi-billion dollar transportation issues as they reached the end of their service on the board, usually after just two years.

As council members who have served on the boards of various regional public agencies, we understand. VTA faces myriad complex issues, even more difficult than those confronting other regional agencies and transit systems around the United States and the globe.

Fixing VTA will require a board of individuals who are able to focus their full time and attention on it and who bring expertise to the table, residents with “expertise, experience, or knowledge relative to transportation, infrastructure or project management, accounting or finance, and executive management” as proposed in AB 1091. The legislation also proposes to maintain geographic representation across the county, giving city and county elected officials the ability to appoint board members.

Effective transportation is a competitive cornerstone for Silicon Valley, and many other metro areas have built effective transit and congestion management systems while we have fallen behind. Given three Grand Jury reports over 17 years and continued declining performance, it is clear that we urgently need a new model for VTA governance.

VTA requires a focused, experienced Board of Directors that can effectively negotiate for and deliver critical and fair funding for projects across our region. We all are living with the results of Santa Clara County being short-changed in the allocation of transportation dollars that don’t reflect Silicon Valley’s economic impacts and population

The VTA Board must be willing to re-examine the organization from top to bottom.  We know that acknowledging VTA’s shortcomings and embracing change can be difficult, but we hope that the current board and our other representatives in Sacramento will recognize that change must begin at the top and join us in supporting AB 1091.

San Jose Mercury News
Teresa O’Neill is a former Santa Clara City councilwoman who served as chair of the VTA Board. John McAlister is a former Mountain View mayor who served on the VTA Board and chaired its Ad Hoc Board Enhancement Committee. Rod Sinks is a former Cupertino mayor who served as first chair of the VTA SR85 Policy Advisory Board.
March26, 2021

 

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

[Marin County] Town Of Corte Madera: Firearm Safety Collaborative

 On March 10, 2021, the Marin County District Attorney's Office issued a press release addressing the 2020 Marin County Civil Grand Jury report on firearm safety. District Attorney Lori Frugoli has launched a multidisciplinary collaborative to promote firearm safety in Marin that is focused on encouraging and promoting responsible gun ownership, gun dealer responsibility, and the enforcement of firearm prohibitions. The Town of Corte Madera also takes firearm safety seriously and responded to the same Grand Jury report by committing to performing public outreach services to all its residents regarding the need for safe handling and storage of firearms. The Town of Corte Madera has coordinated with the Central Marin Police Authority to provide outreach to the community regarding the procedure by which residents may obtain free gun locks and safety kits, or turn in unwanted weapons/ammunition. Detailed information regarding Central Marin Police Authority's free gun lock program can be found on their website or directly by clicking here:  https://www.centralmarinpolice.org/145/Safe-Storage-of-Firearms---Gun-Locks For those residents interested in surrendering a firearm or disposing of ammunition, please contact the Central Marin Police Authority at 415-927-5150, and they will arrange for an officer to pick up the weapon and/or ammunition.

Patch Larkspur-Corte Madera
Press Release from the Town of Corte Madera
March 16, 2021