Saturday, October 2, 2021

Sutter supervisors respond to [Sutter County] grand jury on fire department, Gray Avenue property

 Oct. 1—The Sutter County Board of Supervisors filed responses last week to the findings of the 2020/21 Grand Jury related to Sutter County Fire and Emergency Services and the Gray Avenue property.

The Grand Jury made five recommendations regarding the Sutter County Fire and Emergency Services. The grand jury recommended the board direct staff to identify a sufficient permanent funding source of funding for each fire jurisdiction in the county that maintains pace with rising population, increased number of structures, equipment costs, optimal manning, salaries comparable to neighboring counties, and workers' compensation insurance costs before the end of fiscal year 2022/23.

Supervisors said the recommendation had not been implemented yet but will be by the 2022/23 timeframe. Staff estimate funding sources will be identified by June 2022. The county has established a Fire Services Ad Hoc Committee to address the financial situation within the fire department and research possible solutions including an increase to the existing special fire tax, a new property-based tax assessment to cover all areas covered by Sutter County Fire and a possible sales tax measure. Sutter Fire received a FEMA SAFER grant for additional staff and will reapply in 2022.

The second recommendation was for the board to immediately find or create alternate revenue streams such as recouping costs from motor vehicle accidents involving commercial and reckless or impaired drivers. In their response, supervisors said the recommendation will be implemented by Dec. 1. Sutter County Fire presented an ordinance to the board to address cost recovery from motor vehicle accidents. The ordinance will not have a direct financial impact on the public as the fees are already paid by auto insurance policies of those involved in at-fault accidents.

The grand jury recommended that the board start a planned campaign to educate the public on the need to increase the amount and scope of the special fire tax to include the reset of the county and to include a cost-of-living adjustment for the next open election cycle. The board said this recommendation will be implemented by April 2022. Once it is confirmed what action will be taken to secure needed funds, county staff will schedule town hall meetings to discuss the financial situation of the department.

Fourth, the grand jury recommended that the county administrative officer (CAO) develop and institute a viable capital improvement plan for firefighting equipment in Sutter County before the end of fiscal year 2022/23. Supervisors said this has already commenced with the adoption of the recent 2021/22 budget and will be completed by the end fiscal year 2022/23. Funding issues for the fire department need to be resolved before any capital improvement plan can be viable, according to the board's responses.

Finally, jurors recommended the board of supervisors direct staff to work with the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) for consolidating all county service areas (CSAs) and fire protection districts into one that is run by one paid fire chief by the end of fiscal year 2022/23. The board said this has not been implemented but a related municipal services review process of CSAs F,C and D has begun. The review is being done to prepare for the Sutter Pointe Phase One Response Plan.

Gray Avenue property

The grand jury provided four recommendations about the former Kmart location at 850 Gray Ave., Yuba City, that has been vacant for the last seven years. The county plan is to consolidate and house the Health and Human Services Department personnel and equipment onto this property.

It was recommended that the board of supervisors oversee the CAO to create a policy that provides guidance and procedures for efficient leasing, purchasing, management and disposal of property to be completed in 120 days.

"This recommendation will not be implemented," supervisors said in response. "It may be beneficial to adopt a policy regarding leasing, but subjecting transactions to a 120-day limitation may not be realistic as every transaction is different."

The second recommendation from the grand jury was completed as the purchase of the building is complete. Third, jurors recommended the CAO work through the Department of Development Services to complete the renovation of the facility and relocation of HHS by the summer of 2025. The supervisors said this will not be implemented. The response said the cost of building materials and labor has made construction under the current plan cost prohibitive. County staff is working to revise the design and layout of space to incorporate post-pandemic work environments.

"The timeline suggested by the grand jury may not be feasible given current construction conditions," the supervisors' response read.

Finally, the grand jury recommended supervisors request the CAO provide semi-annual reports on financing, expenditures, renovation and relocation progress beginning six months after the close of escrow. The board of supervisors said the recommendation will be implemented and that bi-annual reports will be provided to supervisors beginning this December.

To access the full grand jury report and responses, visit suttercourts.com.

Appeal-Democrat
David Wilson
October 1, 2021

[Orange County] The saga continues: Irvine reconsidering plan for controversial Great Park

Blog note: This story refers to several grand jury reports on this project (scroll down)

In the beginning, the Great Park in Irvine was envisioned as the second-coming of New York’s iconic Central Park.

Bogged down for years with accusations of cronyism and improper management, the park hasn’t lived up to its original billing. Now, the city of Irvine is considering an update of its master plan of the park.

Located at the site of the former Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, the park today has a large sports complex, a soccer stadium, an amphitheater, a skating rink and a large orange balloon.

“Really, when we think about the Great Park, it’s a big sports facility, which is great,” Irvine Vice Mayor Tammy Kim said Tuesday during a City Council meeting. “I know that there’s residents here and I know myself, really want to see the ‘park,’ in Great Park.”

City staff will spend the next two months seeking the public’s input on future plans for the park.

Joel Belding, deputy director of planning and development, said during a presentation to the council that staff intend to consider residents’ comments and then devise a roadmap on how to move forward with the planning of the park in January, with a presentation to the council for consideration.

Outreach is expected to include in-person meetings at the Great Park, virtual meetings, meetings with homeowners’ associations, recorded videos and interactive online tools for people to contribute to the design process of the park.

Staff will also look for public opinion on two major projects in the park, a long-awaited botanical garden and the future of the FivePoint Amphitheatre, which is currently considered temporary. The city posted on Twitter earlier this week that there have been a spike in noise complaints tied to two concerts at the amphitheater. The city said it’s working to rectify the issue with the help of Live Nation, the operator of the venue.

During the meeting, the council began moving forward on a few projects in the Great Park, including the botanical garden.

“But I believe this council, all of us here, we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create something beautiful and awe-inspiring that can be appreciated now and for future generations,” Kim said. “I want to use that opportunity to build a world-class garden where people from all over the world and all over this country will want to visit.”

Following comments from community members in favor of the garden, the council provided direction for city staff to find a location for the project.

“I hope that today’s meeting leads to a final site designation and path to construction of the long-promised and much-desired, world-class botanical garden,” said Teena Spindler, president of the nonprofit Great Park Garden Coalition. “As you know, the garden has been in the plan since the very beginning in the original master plan, and has been confirmed through public outreach surveys over the years.”

Mayor Farrah Khan suggested that the garden could go in the park’s planned Cultural Terrace, a 236-acre portion of the park. On Tuesday, the council approved a contract with the IBI Group, an architectural service company, to help with the development of the terrace.

Also at the meeting, the council considered whether UCI Health could be a sponsor of the Great Park. Under the proposal, the organization would pay the city about $5.7 million for a 10-year agreement. Ultimately, the council decided to reconsider the item at a later meeting after several members expressed concerns about the proposed sponsorship.

Councilman Anthony Kuo was concerned that the exclusivity part of the sponsorship would inhibit the city from entering into agreements with other healthcare groups. Kim agreed with Kuo and suggested that the deal didn’t bring in enough money for the city, considering it’s in a big media market.

“We look at this and we think, ‘Oh, it’s a lot of money,’ but it actually isn’t compared to what they’re getting,” Kim said.

The public voted to turn the military base into the then-named Orange County Great Park in 2002. The city had big plans for the park, but they never came to fruition.

In 2013, Irvine hired Hagen, Streiff, Newton & Oshiro (HSNO) to conduct an investigation into why more than $250 million was spent to develop 88 acres of the 1,300-acre Great Park.

For years, the Great Park was mired in controversy, with residents claiming it hadn’t remotely met expectations as the so-called Central Park of the West.

Three grand jury reports were produced regarding the park in 2006, 2010 and 2015. The first investigation criticized city officials for a lack of transparency, while the second questioned the financial structure of the project. The third concluded that “from the outset, the project was poorly managed and did not follow conventional principles,” and “there seemingly was no effective oversight over invoices, contract compliance or quality control.”

HSNO conducted an initial audit for $240,000, then withdrew it in 2015 and replaced it with a second audit. Costs climbed to $1.7 million. HSNO’s final report concluded that the project was embroiled in financial mismanagement, leading to the waste of tens of millions of dollars between 2005 and 2012. Findings included that former Mayor Larry Agran, then chairman of the Great Park Corp., misled the public, beginning in 2006 with an understatement of the cost of the park. Agran currently sits on the City Council.

The saga continued in 2020, when HSNO surrendered its accounting license after a legal battle with a state oversight agency that claimed the firm “failed to comply with professional standards, engaged in numerous acts of negligence, and disseminated false and misleading information.”

Most recently, homeowners in the Great Park neighborhoods have expressed disapproval of special-assessment taxes they have to pay toward the development of the Great Park. In July, the City Council decided to drop “Orange County” from the original name of the park.

Los Angeles Times
BY BEN BRAZILSTAFF WRITER
SEPTEMBER 29, 2021

SFMTA responds to [San Francisco] civil grand jury report on Van Ness Improvement Project

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- San Francisco's Government Audit and Oversight committee met on Thursday to discuss a Civil Grand Jury report on the Van Ness Improvement Project.

The project from Mission Street to Lombard Street will create San Francisco's first bus rapid transit system with dedicated bus lanes, improvements to boarding, and technology to keep buses moving. It will also replace a 100-year-old water main and sewer. Many say it's taking too long and creating a mess on Van Ness.

The meeting was a chance for the SFMTA to respond to the Civil Grand Jury's June report. It found the project was over budget and over time. Bus Rapid Transit passenger service on Van Ness is slated to begin in early 2022, three years later than originally promised at the start of construction.

"It's a mess."

Why is the Van Ness Improvement Project taking so long? That's the question a new San Francisco Civil Grand Jury report answers.

Business owners like Farzin Kaveh of Audio Symphony have been impacted by the construction for years.

Delays and cost overruns caught the attention of San Francisco's 19 person Civil Grand Jury. In June, it found that the cost of the project had increased to $346 million dollars, 23% over budget.

The city has said the delays were driven by unexpected findings under the surface of Van Ness, but the Jury found that the SFMTA could have lessened delays and cost overruns had it done more prior to the start of construction.

At a Government Audit and Oversight Committee meeting on Thursday, Supervisor Rafael Mandelman acknowledged what the delays have really cost the city.

"Frankly, it's a project that I think has undermined confidence in city government," said Mandelman.

The SFMTA is now responding to the Civil Grand Jury's findings.

"Improving project delivery is something that is really important to us. We know that we're not where we need to be," said Tom Maguire, SFMTA Director of Streets Division.

Walsh Construction is the prime contractor for the project.

The Van Ness Improvement Project, which spans approximately two miles of Van Ness Avenue, has become too much for some San Francisco businesses.

"It's up to us to hold Walsh accountable and we have some techniques for doing that. Walsh is supposed to be a partner and some of the issues that were called out by the Civil Grand Jury are instances where we weren't really feeling that partnership," said Maguire.

Simone Manganelli is a member of 2020-2021 San Francisco Civil Grand Jury.

"Yes, we understand that the contractor bears some of the responsibility for some of the problems that were happening but the MTA's MO should be the buck stops here," said Manganelli.

The conversation about the project's shortcomings will continue next week, but Supervisor Mandelman made a motion for it to be in closed session.

Manganelli said he understands disputes and contract modifications might make that necessary.

However, as a civil grand juror and a San Franciscan I really hope that the closed session discussion is summarized for us in an open session or in some public document."

Walsh Construction did not comment at Thursday's hearing. ABC7 News I-TEAM reporter Melanie Woodrow reached out to them and did not hear back.

ABC News
By Melanie Woodrow
October 1, 2021

Thursday, September 30, 2021

[Orange County] Irvine Great Park Development Going Back to Drawing Board After Seven Years

 Blog note: This article refers to a 2014 Orange County grand jury report

After years of little to no progress at Irvine’s Great Park, city council members are trying to jumpstart development and are slated to examine major shifts in the park’s planning and the community’s involvement.

On Tuesday night, the council is set to start drawing up a new master plan, approve millions in contracts for examining the park’s Cultural Terrace and change how the public is informed about the project.

The discussion comes after years of questioning from Great Park residents and a Voice of OC series last year that outlined how many residents didn’t know where their tax dollars were going.

Homeowners surrounding the park pay an additional Mello-Roos tax on their property that pays for the demolition of the former Marine Corps Air Station El Toro the park sits on and builds infrastructure for new park construction.

Those tax dollars are sent to the city, who then gives the money to FivePoint Holdings, the developer partnered with the city to create the park and the houses surrounding it.

FivePoint then uses the tax money to build infrastructure in the Great Park and the neighborhoods surrounding it.

But homeowners say they weren’t told that money was going toward park projects, and that they thought it was going toward local schools, roads and other projects impacting their immediate neighborhood.

Over the past two years, development at the Park has largely stalled out, as Orange County’s largest civic construction project was put on hold.

FivePoint also refused to show up to give progress reports to the council in May 2020, triggering a unanimous call by the council last year that they show up and explain their work.

FivePoint never did show up.

Three months later, the developer donated masks to the city, which then gave the company a commendation expressing their, “deepest appreciation to our community partner.”

But over the past few months, the city council has started ramping up park efforts again, and are considering a major overhaul of how the Great Park will be managed going forward.

The largest item on the council’s next agenda is getting the ball rolling on designing a new Great Park master plan, the project’s third design since its inception.

The promised amenities at the park have fluctuated wildly over the years.

In the initial plan, there were plans for a man made canyon, lake, outlet for the National Archives and more —  all promised under a park budget that was sitting at just over $400 million according to a 2014 Orange County grand jury report. 

Nearly 20 years later, the park’s largest attractions are a hot air balloon, 24 soccer fields, 24 tennis courts, 10 baseball diamonds, an ice skating facility and an outdoor art complex.

The canyon and lake have been taken off the table, and there are no current plans for the National Archives.

The city is currently able to put out over $1 billion in bonded debt paid for by the Great Park neighborhoods tax, with no upper cap or price estimate fixed on the park’s development.

According to the city staff report, the city is launching several public outreach programs including town halls and online engagement forms for input on the new master plan.

But there were few concrete details mapped out in the staff report, which can be viewed here.

Council members are also slated to consider a new design contract for $7.2 million to review a section of the park known as the Cultural Terrace.

While the terrace was one of the earliest ideas for the park, construction has never been able to move forward there. Most of the area’s 236 acres is still held by the Navy, who maintain a well system running under that portion of the Park.

Instead of waiting for the Navy to close down the site, the city council is now considering repurposing the existing buildings, hiring contractor IBI Group for Architecture and Engineering Services to look at the issue.

According to city staff, as long as the Navy can access the well system and the city completes the necessary environmental remediation on the old hangars, they’re good to go for new tenants.

The council is also expected to discuss new tax disclosures for those who buy homes near the park, making it clear their additional Mello-Roos taxes go directly to funding capital projects at the park and not the areas immediately surrounding their homes.

The issue was originally set to be addressed at a council meeting last month, but got delayed when earlier discussions ran into the late hours of the night.

The council begins their discussions on the Great Park at 2:00, with their regular council meeting at 4:00. Both meetings can be viewed here.

Voice  of OC
BY NOAH BIESIADA
September 24, 2021

[San Mateo County] Racial and Identity Profiling Act

Blog note: This article refers to a San Mateo County grand jury report

One of the city’s long-term goals to address public safety involves requesting traffic stop data from law enforcement agencies as required by California’s Racial and Identity Profiling Act of 2015.

Under the law, officers have to report data on every traffic stop and “capture the officer’s initial perception of the people stopped.” The law intends to build transparency and examine whether a department is profiling certain demographics and stopping them more frequently. All county law enforcement agencies must collect stop data starting Jan. 1, 2022, and submit it to the California Department of Justice annually beginning April 1, 2023.

On July 27, 2021, the San Mateo County civil grand jury released a report and made recommendations to all 17 of the county’s law enforcement agencies. The report, “Building Greater Trust Between the Community & Law Enforcement Via the Racial and Identity Profiling Act,” recommends that all local agencies start reporting data as soon as possible and “begin evaluating the collected data to identify possible signs of biased policing.” The grand jury also recommended that, starting in the second quarter of 2022, each agency should provide reports on RIPA data and how it is being used to address potential identity biases.

Even though Half Moon Bay does not have its own law enforcement agency, the city is required to respond to the report within 90 days, and the City Council is expected to draft a letter on Oct. 5.

Half Moon Bay Review
By August Howell
September 19, 2021

Supervisors, Cordelia Fire respond to [Solano County] grand jury on wildfires

 FAIRFIELD — Rural fire districts in Solano County need an immediate and urgent infusion of operational funding in order to better respond to the kind of devastating wildfires the county has experienced in recent years.

That was a foundational conclusion reached by the Solano County civil ground jury that investigated the risk to county residents from wildfires.

While the report acknowledges the efforts the county is making – such as rural district consolidation – the grand jury equally made it clear that more needs to be done immediately.

he grand jury report states Solano County should “immediately make resources available to the (fire districts) to deal with the new wildfire environment.”

n its response to the grand jury report, the Cordelia Fire Protection District noted its full agreement to the three findings and corresponding recommendations made by the grand jury.

It supplemented that with specific areas of improvement that included a single county fire district for the unincorporated area, a single computer-aided dispatch system for the cities and the unincorporated area and “immediate and urgent short-term funding to address the gaps in personnel, equipment and resources sufficient to address needs in 2021-22.”

A unified dispatch and communications system is something the county has been working on for a number of years.

The Board of Supervisors, on Tuesday, discussed its response to the grand jury report, noting essentially the longer-term efforts that are needed.

“The county’s responses to the grand jury’s findings and recommendations reflect the county’s continuing commitment to address the threat from wildfires and the actions being taken or which are under consideration,” the letter to presiding Superior Court Judge Donna Stashyn states. “This includes working with the fire districts to explore opportunities for reorganization and coordination of resources and opportunities for increasing durable, ongoing revenue sources.”

The county’s response noted that under Penal Code Sections 933 and 933.05, the Solano County Board of Supervisors was responding to the recommendations and findings contained in the 2020-21 grand jury report titled, “Wildfires on the Horizon Solano Homes at Risk! Findings and Recommendations.”

And while Supervisors Jim Spering and John Vasquez are on record supporting the need for a countywide funding source for rural fire protection needs, what that funding source will be and for how much has not been determined.

Vasquez said in a phone interview Thursday that a sales tax or parcel tax increase are still possibilities, and if a sales tax, something in the area of what was raised for the libraries – a one-eighth of a cent bump – might be the target.

However, both supervisors have said that they need to know what the full picture of needs is before deciding how much funding is needed, and therefore what kind of funding is needed.

“One of the things we have to look at is where we would put (fire stations) if there weren’t any (district) boundaries,” Vasquez said.

That was part of the thinking behind the county buying the old Fall School site on Rockville Road.

While the $550,000 purchased preserved the current Cordelia station operations, the site also works for a newer, modernized fire station for wildfire response in the future.

“There is sufficient space available on the site for expanded fire operations should resources become available and a long-term plan for use of the property is developed,” the county response letter states.

It further notes the challenges the fire districts face as cited in a report funded through the Local Agency Formation Commission, including a shrinking tax base.

“In response to these circumstances and combined with increasing patterns of severe drought and rapid spread of fires from rural areas into urban communities, the Board of Supervisors and county staff have been actively exploring options for wildfire prevention and improving responsiveness to wildfire events in rural areas of the county,” the letter states.

That includes searching for grants to supplement the funding.

The Cordelia district letter, signed by Fire Chief Dave Carpenter, notes the value of grant money but stated it takes time to get those grants.

“The county received a grant to prepare a Hazard Mitigation Plan . . . . The completed plan increases opportunities to pursue other grant opportunities for equipment, facilities and short-term staffing. The county is in line currently for grants to facilitate establishment and coordination of fire safe councils to increase resident communications and planning for evacuations and evacuation routes and creation of defensible spaces,” the county response states.

“Current grant opportunities total (more than $1.27 million) and the county is actively preparing to apply for additional grant opportunities as they become available,” the county letter states.

The county also received $1.9 million from the state for “fire monitoring and emergency notification equipment such as sirens, monitoring cameras, more defensible cell tower spaces and better cellular coverage to rural customers,” the letter states.

It also notes funding for weed abatement needs in fire-risk areas.

The grand jury also requested comments from the Local Agency Formation Commission and the fire districts. The county response does include LAFCO actions, but no formal response nor any response from other districts besides Cordelia had been filed as of Thursday.

• The grand jury report on wildfire risk and the responses from the county and the Cordelia fire district can be found at https://solano.courts.ca.gov/divisions/grand-jury/reports/.

Fairfield Daily Republic
By Todd R. Hansen
September 19, 2021

San Joaquin County tells COVID-19 grand jury it won't restructure health services department

San Joaquin County public health officer Dr. Maggie Park speaks at a news conference at the Stribley Community Center in Stockton to give an update on the COVID-19 pandemic on Sept. 2, 2021.

San Joaquin County has rejected a grand jury's conclusion that the structuring of the county's health services department hindered the public health officer's ability to respond effectively to the COVID-19 pandemic.

County departments did not effectively work together or share information in responding to the pandemic, a grand jury found in July. On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors approved the county's official response to the grand jury in a 5-0 consent vote.

Grand jury: Health department structure hindered COVID-19 information sharing

One issue the grand jury report highlighted was that San Joaquin County's public health officer was prevented from disseminating information to the public and to county departments.

That's because the public health director, to whom the public health officer reports, "was hesitant to share pertinent information," the grand jury report said.

The public health officer should not report to the public health director to begin with, the report said.

In most counties in California, the public health officer and the public health director both report to the head of the health department, the report said. Sometimes, the director of public health is subordinate to the public health officer, it said.

What's more, the public health officer is usually the ultimate authority in a public health emergency.

"Requiring the Public Health Officer to report directly to the Director of Public Health Services impeded the Public Health Officer’s ability to fulfill the statutory requirements of responding to the Public Health Emergency," the grand jury report said.

Grand jury:County’s COVID-19 response was not effective, delayed ability to reduce spread

The public health director's hesitance to share information meant that the public health officer was hindered in communicating with the public, despite being the face of the pandemic response, the report said.

San Joaquin County's public health officer is Dr. Maggie Park. Its public health director is Zienna Blackwell-Rodriquez.

Park could not be immediately reached for comment.

County says health officer has received full support of directors

In an official response to the grand jury, the county disagreed with the conclusion that the structuring of the Public Health Services department hindered the public health officer's communication about the pandemic.

"The county believes the health officer has received the full support of both the Health Care Services Director and the Director of Public Health," the response said.

“I think the grand jury report kind of (suggested) that because Dr. Park didn’t report to me, she didn’t have access to myself or the resources, and that’s not true,” Greg Diederich, the director of health care services, said.

"Dr. Park reporting through Zienna I don’t think was an inhibitor at all as far as resources or access. I literally talk to Dr. Park several times a day,” he said. If anything got in the way of the department's work, it was the need to social distance and work from home, Diederich said.

The county declined to implement the grand jury's recommendation that it place Park's role directly under Diederich instead of reporting to Blackwell-Rodriquez. In that scenario, both Park and Blackwell-Rodriquez would report to Diederich.

“I have 25% vacancy in public health. Do you want me to stop what we’re doing to ameliorate the spread of COVID, to address a response plan?" Diederich said.

Obviously once the emergency’s over, we need to do a hotwash on the part of the county. There are lessons learned, there are opportunities for improvement,” he said.

In its response, the county also agreed with several of the grand jury's findings.

One conclusion it agreed with is that there is no clear policy for how disaster service workers are deployed to emergency departments. The county said it would write a new policy.

The county will also train medical, public health, and emergency services staff on the application of its emergency operations plan and test the plan's effectiveness regularly, the response said.

Record.net
Aaron Leathley
September 15, 2021


Tuesday, September 21, 2021

[San Joaquin County] Now Manteca City Council must prepare their answer to the jury that really counts - the voters

PERSPECTIVE

Blog note: This perspective by the editor refers to a San Joaquin Grand Jury report

There were five adults on the dais in the Manteca council chambers Tuesday morning.

Anyone who is a student of modern-day, post 1980 recall city politics knew the moment was ripe for a three-ring circus that had the potential to deteriorate into a verbal slugfest with “gotcha” players on one side and thundering self-righteous indignation on the other.

And perhaps it was the 10 a.m. start time, but the room – physical and virtual – was clear of frustrated citizens eager to put their two cents in about the “Miranda Lutzow Era” at city hall.

Even though Mayor Ben Cantu made it clear he had to swallow a bitter pill to set aside some issues he had with it, the council meeting was done in 17 minutes.

Given it was the official council response to the San Joaquin County Grand Jury handing down its verdict in the form of stinging observations complete with recommendations it viewed as wise for Manteca to pursue in regards to the most contentious period at city hall since the 1990s, it came across as a genuine mea culpa moment.

The carefully crafted 10-page response by City Attorney Dave Nefouse after Interim City Manager Mike Harden oversaw a citywide collection of thoughts struck the right balance between being specific yet vague. It has a hat-in-hand read to it and left the clear impression the city was dealing with its faults real and perceived.

The Grand Jury made 30 plus points. The majority of the responses fell into the categories of the city agreeing with the Grand Jury, indicating they have already implemented some recommendations, agreeing with recommendations yet to be implemented, and partially agreeing with criticisms of the citizens’ panel that serves as a government watchdog.

In three instances the responses indicate the city disagrees with points the Grand Jury made, indicated three conclusions from observations were not warranted, and clearly states another three recommendations won’t be implemented.

And on the most tempting “bait” for council members of opposing thoughts to snap at — the statement the council failed to essentially follow prudent practices in recruiting a city manager that the Grand Jury concluded “caused community-wide turmoil while they struggled to learn the job” — no one bit.

Ok, so the mayor did confess he was thinking about taking a nibble.

Cantu alluded to how he wanted to respond after he saw it and how his 92-year-old grandmother reacted after reading newspaper headlines after the Grand Jury report was made public and.

He clearly took exception to the word “turmoil” being used by the Grand Jury.

From Cantu’s perspective — as he made clear with one of his shortest council meeting soliloquies on record — it wasn’t turmoil that happened per se but the reaction to change at top levels of city management that he firmly believes was long overdue. Those are changes he has been adamant for years were needed in order to move Manteca forward to provide services and amenities worthy of a city of 89,000 that is on pace to surpass 110,000 residents by the end of the decade.

Councilman Dave Breitenbucher could easily have held up the original report and the city’s response to proclaim to the world he was “right” by being the lone voice of opposition for nearly two years. But he wisely refrained from using the dais as a stop on a personal redemption tour as others past and present have been known to do.

Gary Singh and Nuño took the pragmatic path a tad farther than Breitenbucher by adding this was an opportunity for the council and city to learn from its mistakes and move on. They, unlike Cantu, refrained from adding an “asterisk” to their votes on embracing what are now the city’s official responses.

Charlie Halford who got a seat at the table by campaigning heavily on the points the Grand Jury made almost a year before the citizens panel came to the same conclusions, had virtually no role in what unfolded. To his credit he opted not to ride the raging stallion called Self Righteousness.

How things went down Tuesday morning was just what Manteca needed. Whether it will last is an open question but every one of the five council members clearly put the welfare and future of the city above their own egos.

It means Toby Wells can start the task of managing the city on Thursday without his five bosses that can only legally act as one engaged in scorched earth politics.

It also provides a matrix offered by an outside group — the Grand Jury, that isn’t a paid consultant making sure they don’t lose their seat on the Manteca gravy train — to measure the city’s success at addressing internal procedures. They represent boundaries and legal considerations  that are critical in allowing 400 plus workers on the municipal payroll conduct the public’s business in the most productive and efficient manner possible.

The only thing missing from the motion on Tuesday was a council request for a monthly status report on how the items are being resolved or implemented that were noted in the Grand Jury response as works in progress.

Perhaps there might be council consensus at the next meeting to do just that to prove the mea culpa was authentic and that they want to provide the public with complete transparency and accountability.

As hard as it may have been for them to check their egos at the door Tuesday morning, the real work is just starting.

Regardless of how each one perceived the last three years as being one where things were coming off track, finally getting on track, or somewhere in between, they now have to make their case to the jury that really counts — Manteca voters.

This will require staff — based on clear cut directions the council provides on policy level matters and the ranking of goals— being able to deliver visible signs of “little things” being addressed such as illegal truck parking to “big ticket” items getting underway such as real and lasting congestion relief for the Main Street corridor whether it is through the flawless synchronization of traffic Sunday’s or having four lanes of traffic.

The sentiment Cantu expressed about “garbage still being picked up” and so forth to soften the word “turmoil” the Grand Jury used to describe its take on the status of Manteca municipal government is not an acceptable standard for a city that — along with neighboring Tracy — is the fastest growing city in a political subdivision called California that, if it were to stand alone, ranks as the fifth largest economy in the world.

Manteca/Ripon Bulletin
DENNIS WYATT, Editor
September 15, 2021

Monday, September 20, 2021

Activist groups ask California attorney general to investigate Riverside County Sheriff's Department

Blog note; This article refers to a 2018-2019 Riverside County Grand Jury report toward end of article.

Three advocacy groups have called on California Attorney General Rob Bonta to investigate the Riverside County Sheriff's Department for its policing practices, deaths in custody and what they say is a refusal to comply with court orders.

A letter outlining the grievances, and addressed to the office of the attorney general, was released to the public Thursday by the three groups: the ACLU Foundation of Southern California, Starting Over Inc., and Riverside All of Us or None.

The letter questions the department's use-of-force practices, claiming the sheriff's department uses deadly force with a frequency seen only in counties with much larger populations, like Los Angeles.

They also claimed that the department has a high rate of deaths in the course of making arrests, citing statistics reported to the California Department of Justice.

However, the groups did not give a detailed breakdown of how they calculated their figures, making them difficult to verify.

"We have lost loved ones to unbelievable violence at the hands of sheriff’s deputies," the letter reads, “and have seen our community members suffer from undeniably inhumane jail conditions."

The Office of Attorney General said it had received the letter and was reviewing it.

The sheriff's department did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Desert Sun.

The same three groups filed federal complaints against the sheriff's department in July, alleging it misappropriated CARES Act funds meant to be used on specific COVID-19 pandemic expenses.

Thursday's letter was cosigned by about 20 other groups, including the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, IE Coalition for Youth Justice, the Riverside Coalition for Police Accountability, and the Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity.

ACLU SoCal Senior Policy Advocate and Organizer Luis Nolasco said the request was submitted on behalf of those who have died in the sheriff's department's custody and their families.

"It is our hope that an investigation will lead to accountability for an agency that has gone unchecked for far too long," Nolasco said.

The complaint asks the attorney general to investigate not only the department's use of force but also the way in which jail overcrowding, a persistent problem in the county, put those incarcerated at high risk of contracting COVID-19. Two inmates died of the virus last year, according to the department's reports, but the groups claim that number could be higher.

The Prison Law Office sued the department last year on the grounds that it was not adhering to a consent decree, established in 2015, after it was found the department was not providing inmates with adequate health care during the pandemic. The suit resulted in a court order for the department to make public its plan for addressing the pandemic behind bars.

The complaint made public Thursday further alleges that the department has repeatedly ignored the county's  Civil Grand Jury reports related to jail conditions and other issues. 

Accordingly, the group is asking the attorney general to investigate deaths in custody to determine their cause, as scant information is often provided about these.

Bonta has shown a willingness to investigate law enforcement agencies since being appointed attorney general in March. Soon after assuming the office, Bonta announced in May that the Department of Justice would investigate the Vallejo Police Department regarding the killing of 22-year-old San Francisco resident Sean Monterrosa.

In July, Bonta announced that the California DOJ was opening field offices across the state to investigate police shootings that kill unarmed civilians. The new offices, as well as Bonta’s directive that law enforcement agencies must inform his office whenever such a shooting occurs, were a result of a new law passed by the California Legislature, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Palm Springs Desert Sun
Christopher Damien and Tom Coulter
September 17, 2021

 

[Sacramento County] Northern California Making Plans To Vaccinate Young Children

Blog note: This article refers to a Sacramento County Grand Jury report

With word that Pfizer may be looking at getting authorization for the COVID vaccine in 5 to 11 year olds next month, Northern California is already getting plans in place to vaccinate young children.

A Sacramento County Grand Jury is recommending Covid-19 Vaccinations for students, teachers and staff. The Sacramento City Unified School District may require vaccinations for those ages 12 and older. The recommendation is calling on more than 260,000 children and thousands of staff to be mandated to have a COVID-19 vaccine as a prerequisite for in-person attendance of classes or school activities. Kim Pedersen, spokesperson for Sacramento Superior Court, emphasized to ABC10 that this isn't a mandate but more of a recommendation to Sacramento County school districts.

“The spread of the Delta variant has caused many schools to rethink their re-opening plans,” Grand Jury Foreperson Deanna Hanson wrote in a press release. “Children ages twelve and under are among our most vulnerable because they are not eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine at this time. The Grand Jury seeks to protect them.”

iHeart Media
By Sasha Margulies
Sep 17, 2021