Friday, February 16, 2018

Friday's Briefing: High Court Orders Paint Companies to Clean Up Lead in Oakland and Other Cities; Perfumes and Fragrances Cause as Much Smog as Autos

by Robert Gammon
Fri, Feb 16, 2018 at 10:18 AM

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Stories you shouldn't miss for Feb. 16, 2018:

1. The California Supreme Court ordered paint companies to clean up lead in houses in Oakland and other cities, reports Bob Egelko of the San Francisco Chronicle. The decision, however, only applies to structures built before 1951, which is when paint companies stopped advertising lead-based paint. Paint companies have estimated that the clean-up will cost $400 million - and they want California taxpayers to pay for it through a bond measure they're pushing this year. The paint companies said they will also appeal the California decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

2. Perfumes, shampoos, moisturizers, and colognes produce just as much smog-causing emissions as cars and trucks, reports Peter Fimrite of the San Francisco Chronicle, citing new research from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and UC Davis. The volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, from fragrances "react with sunlight and produce ozone or particulate matter, the building blocks of smog, which can damage people's lungs."

3. A federal judge has ordered the Trump administration to implement Obama-era energy-efficiency rules designed to combat climate change, reports Bob Egelko of the San Francisco Chronicle. U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria ruled that Trump's energy secretary, Rick Perry, illegally blocked the efficiency rules on air conditioners, building heaters, and other appliances. The Trump administration is expected to appeal the decision.

4. U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., voted for President Trump's controversial border wall as part of an immigration package in the Senate that also would have established protections for Dreamers - young undocumented people who came to this country as children, reports Sarah D. Wire of the LA Times$. California's other Democratic senator, Kamala Harris, voted against the proposal, saying Trump's proposed wall on the U.S. border with Mexico is "a waste of taxpayer money." The Senate was unable this week to reach a deal on immigration and Dreamers.

5. Climatologists predict there's at least a 40 percent chance that California's dry weather pattern will persist for the next three months, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. If true, it all but guarantees that this winter will be among driest ever.

6. The beloved Mariposa redwood grove in Yosemite National Park is scheduled to reopen on June 15, after a three-year, $40 million restoration project, reports Paul Rogers of the Mercury News$. The popular attraction features "roughly 550 giant sequoia trees, some of which are among the largest trees in the world, reaching 285 feet tall and 2,000 years old."

7. And Donald Trump had an affair in 2006 with former Playboy Playmate of the Year Karen McDougal - less than two years after marrying his current wife, Melania Knauss, and just months after their son, Barron, was born, reports Ronan Farrow of The New Yorker. Before the 2016 presidential election, the owners of the Trump-friendly tabloid, the National Enquirer, paid McDougal $140,000 for her story and then buried it.

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Thursday, February 15, 2018

Big Oil Has Pumped $170 Million into California Campaigns Since 2001

by Dan Bacher
Thu, Feb 15, 2018 at 11:17 AM

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The Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), the most powerful corporate lobbying group in California, and its members have contributed $170 million to California political campaigns since 2001, according to a new data analysis from the Berkeley-based, nonpartisan watchdog MapLight.

WSPA is the trade association for oil industry interests in the western states of Arizona, California, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington. WSPA members include multinational oil corporations such as Chevron, ExxonMobil, BP, Valero, and the Plains All American Pipeline Company, the corporation responsible for the Refugio Beach Oil Spill of 2017.

WSPA and its members have contributed more than $112 million to ballot measure campaigns, $8 million to state candidates, and $50 million to other California political action committees and party committees, according to the MapLight analysis of data from the California Secretary of State.

"Chevron tops the list of political donors from WSPA's membership, contributing $89 million overall since 2001, the first year in which online data is available," Maplight reported. "Aera Energy has contributed the second most at roughly $40 million, and Valero is third at $13 million.

The report documents all of the California legislators who have received campaign contributions from the oil industry since 2001.
State Sen. Jean Fuller, the Kern County Republican from Senate District 16 who has served as the Legislature's most fervent advocate for Big Oil, received the most oil industry contributions of any legislator: $88,890.

Sen. Cathleen Galgiani, a Democrat from Senate District 5, received the second largest amount of oil industry contributions, $83,350.

Assemlymember Rudy Salas Jr., a Democrat from Assembly District 32, received the third largest amount of Big Oil money: $79,850.

The top ten recipients of WSPA member money in the California Legislature are listed below:

(1) Jean Fuller, Republican, Senate District 16, $88,890

(2) Cathleen Galgiani, Senate District 5, Democrat $83,350

(3) Rudy Salas Jr., Assembly District 32, Democrat, $79,850

(4) Raul Bocanega, Assembly District 39, Democrat, $76,300

(5) Adam C. Gray, Assembly District 21, Democrat, $72,600

(6) Jim Cooper, Assembly District 9, Democrat, $71,650

(7) Sebastian M. Ridley-Thomas, Assembly District 54, Democrat, $70,800

(8) Chad Mays, Assembly District 42, Republican, $63,700

(9) Mike Gipson, Assembly District 64, Democrat, $62,650

(10) James L. Frazier Jr., Assembly District 11, Democrat, $58,176

While the amount of money legislators have received from WSPA members is alarming, they pale in comparison to the $9.8 million from oil companies, gas companies, and utilities that self-styled "climate leader" Gov. Jerry Brown has received since he ran for his third term as governor, according to Consumer Watchdog.

In addition to pouring millions into campaigns, WSPA "augments its political influence with a massive lobbying presence in Sacramento," topping the list of lobbyist spending in California in the third quarter of 2017, according to Maplight.

Big Oil dominated three out of the four top spots of expenditures by all lobbying organizations in 2017, according to documents from the California Secretary of State's Office.

Outspending all of its competition, Chevron placed first with $8.2 million, and the WSPA placed second $6.2 million. Tesoro Refining and Marketing Company finished fourth with $3.2 million.

That's a total of $17.6 million dumped into lobbying by the three top oil industry lobbying organizations alone. That figure exceeds the $14.6 million expended by all 16 oil lobby organizations in 2016.
Big Oil has become so powerful in California, in spite of the state's "green" image, that every bill except one opposed by the oil industry has failed to make it out of the legislature over the past three years.

Thursday's Briefing: Florida Mass Killer Is a White Supremacist; Berkeley Slashes Cannabis Tax in Half

by Robert Gammon
Thu, Feb 15, 2018 at 10:34 AM

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Stories you shouldn't miss for Feb. 15, 2018

1. The 19-year-old who killed at least 17 students at a Florida high school on Wednesday is a member of a white supremacist group, the Associated Press reports. The AP also reports that Nikolas Cruz legally purchased the AR-15 assault rifle that he used in the mass killing, under Florida's weak gun laws, even though he exhibited signs of mental illness. BuzzFeed News reports that Cruz posted on social media that "I'm going to be a professional school shooter."

2. The Berkeley City Council voted 7-0 to cut the city's cannabis tax in half, slashing it from 10 percent to 5 percent, reports Kimberly Veklerov of the San Francisco Chronicle. The council's move will lower costs for marijuana users and is designed to give Berkeley's dispensaries a market advantage. The vote could put pressure on Oakland to lower its 10-percent city tax on weed.

3. Assemblymember Rob Bonta, D-Alameda, has introduced legislation in Sacramento that would give tenants around the state just cause protections, reports Melody Gutierrez of the San Francisco Chronicle$. Bonta's plan, co-sponsored by state Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, would ban California landlords from evicting tenants for no reason.

4. Bonta also put forward legislation that would ban employers in California from firing workers who ingest cannabis for medical reasons, reports Brooks Edward Staggs of The Cannifornian. "To be discriminated against by your employer because of the type of medicine you use is both inhumane and wrong," Bonta said.

5. A plan to build 760 units of housing at the Alameda Marina is moving forward, reports Peter Hegarty of the East Bay Times$. Some Island residents, however, want the property to remain a working marina.

6. Tackle football would be banned for children until they reach high school age in California under legislation being considered in the state Capitol, the Sacramento Bee$ reports. Proponents of Pop Warner football are vowing to fight the proposal, despite the strong evidence that the sport causes brain trauma.

7. A federal appeals court ruled that President Trump's latest travel ban is unconstitutional because it unlawfully targets predominantly Muslim countries, the Associated Press reports. "In a 9-4 vote, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond said it examined statements made by Trump and other administration officials, as well as the ban itself, and concluded that it is 'unconstitutionally tainted with animus toward Islam.'"

8. And President Trump reiterated that he will veto any immigration measure concerning Dreamers - young undocumented immigrants who came to this country as children - that does not include billions in dollars of funding for his controversial wall on the Mexico border, The New York Times$ reports.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

No-Bid $300,000 Contract for Oakland's Department of Violence Prevention Consultant Put on Hold

by Darwin BondGraham
Wed, Feb 14, 2018 at 11:30 AM

Lynette Gibson McElhaney.
  • Lynette Gibson McElhaney.
At yesterday's Oakland City Council Life Enrichment Committee meeting, councilmembers decided not to approve a $300,000 no-bid contract to hire an outside consultant tasked with helping set up the new department of violence prevention. Instead, the proposed contract is being held in committee for a vote at a future date.

But Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney, who chairs the committee, expressed concerns about the slow pace at which the new department is being established by the city, as well as decisions made by the mayor and city administrator to appoint interim leadership instead of a new department head.

Several community activists also voiced frustration with Mayor Libby Schaaf and the city administration, who they accused of dragging their feet on getting the new department up and running.

"The [department of violence prevention] was passed in July 2017. Why is it taking so long," said Audrey Cornish at yesterday's meeting. Her son Torian Hughes was murdered in 2016 in West Oakland.

The new department was proposed last year by Gibson McElhaney, Council President Larry Reid, and Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan. Other councilmembers expressed skepticism about setting up what they said would be just another bureaucracy, however. Debate over whether to establish the agency was highly divisive, but in the the end the council decided a new department could elevate non-police solutions to community violence within the budget process and overall city policy.

But the recently proposed consulting contract raised questions about when and how city councilmembers can guide the work of the administration. Under Oakland's charter, councilmembers can't direct city staff. But the resolution to approve hiring the consultant talks about providing guidance to the administration in setting up the new department. The consultant would report directly to Gibson McElhaney and Reid, not the city administrator.

Councilmembers Dan Kalb and Annie Campbell Washington said at yesterday's hearing they might support hiring the consultant, but that they are concerned about the contract.

"The part I have questions about is having this person report, in terms of a formal sense, what this says, report directly, in terms of a formal sense, to the city councilmembers," Kalb said. He said the department and its consultants should report to the city administrator.

"It does not sound usual at all with what we would do to set up a department, which would report to the city administrator," Campbell Washington added during yesterday's meeting.

Campbell Washington also questioned where the $300,000 would come from in the city budget. And she questioned the no-bid nature of the contract, saying it sounds like someone has already been selected for the work.

Gibson McElhaney acknowledged earlier this week that one name that's been floated for the work is David Muhammad, the former chief probation officer of Alameda County. Muhammad resigned from the post in 2012 after allegations of sexual assault.

Gibson McElhaney said the contract wasn't being voted on, but rather would stay in committee.

She said that the community activists who pushed for establishment of the new department have felt "silenced" and ignored since last year, and they want more transparency from the city administration in terms of how the department is being launched. The consultant would help provide this transparency and inform the city administration about community concerns, she said.

Wednesday' Briefing: Attorney Says Video Footage Doesn't Substantiate BART Killing; The Drought is Back and People Aren't Conserving Water

by Robert Gammon
Wed, Feb 14, 2018 at 10:24 AM

John Burris.
  • John Burris.

Stories you shouldn't miss for Feb. 14, 2018:

1. Oakland attorney John Burris said body-camera video conflicts with BART police's claim that that an officer was justified in fatally shooting a man at the West Oakland station last month, reports Angela Ruggiero of the East Bay Times$. Burris is representing the family of Sahleem Tindle, who was killed by BART police on Jan. 3. Burris and Tindle's family, who are calling for criminal charges against BART officer Joseph Mateu, watched the video at the headquarters of Oakland police, which is investigating the shooting. Burris said the video shows Mateu shooting Tindle in the back and that there's no evidence that Tindle had a gun - as BART police have claimed.

2. California appears to be heading back into a drought, but state residents are failing to conserve water, reports Paul Rogers of the Mercury News$. The Sierra snowpack is at just 22 percent of normal, but California residents are not saving water like they did during the most recent drought.

3. Student leadership at California High School in San Ramon have banned the playing of the national anthem during student rallies, saying unplayed portions of the song are racist, the school's student newspaper reports (h/t East Bay Times$). The school, like many others in the Bay Area, has been struck recently by racist graffiti.

4. The Berkeley City Council voted unanimously last night to make Berkeley a sanctuary city for cannabis, reports Annie Ma of the San Francisco Chronicle. The move, believed to be the first of its kind in the nation, bars Berkeley police and any other city employee from aiding anti-marijuana efforts by the federal government.

5. BART's plan to target fare jumpers is on hold because the transit agency has yet to deploy functioning handheld ticket and Clipper card readers and handheld machines that can issue tickets to fare cheats, reports Jill Tucker of the San Francisco Chronicle.

6. And anti-abortion groups are gaming Google's search engine to trick young women seeking abortions into going to clinics that try to convince them not to have them, reports Ethan Barron of the Bay Area News Group$.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Civil Rights Attorney Accuses Alameda Sheriff of Retaliation After Female Client Is Arrested and Jailed for Six Days Following Press Conference

by Darwin BondGraham
Tue, Feb 13, 2018 at 4:45 PM

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A lawsuit alleging abuse of pregnant women inside Alameda County’s Santa Rita Jail has taken a surprising turn after one of the plaintiffs in the case was arrested two weeks ago in Hayward.

The sheriff’s department insists that Christina Zepeda was arrested and jailed for five days as a result of a routine investigation.

But Zepeda and her attorney, Yolanda Huang, claim that the arrest was in retaliation for Zepeda’s outspoken participation in the civil rights case against the sheriff.

Last August, Zepeda was incarcerated in Santa Rita Jail following a felony burglary conviction. Zepeda, who has multiple prior felony convictions, was pregnant at the time. She believes that her treatment by sheriff’s deputies and jail medical staff was so negligent that it resulted in a miscarriage.

After being released from the jail, Zepeda joined five other women and filed suit against the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office. Several other female inmates have since joined the lawsuit. According to the complaint, which was filed on Jan. 4 in federal court, medical staff and deputies have pressured incarcerated women to submit to abortions, pregnant women are made to endure cold cells and unsanitary conditions, and the jail’s food isn’t nutritious enough.

The sheriff’s department has adamantly denied these allegations. Last month, sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Ray Kelly said the department would vigorously defend itself rather than have its reputation damaged by "false claims."

The case is in its earliest stages, however, and the federal judge overseeing it, James Donato, has yet to rule on any of the allegations made by the women.

But on Jan. 31, Zepeda was arrested a few hours after she participated in a press conference about the lawsuit outside Alameda County’s administration building in Oakland. At the press conference, Zepeda spoke to multiple news reporters about the conditions inside the jail and a petition her attorneys filed with the court earlier that day. Immediately after, she traveled with a friend, Robert Maddox, to visit with Oakland resident Christopher Plascensia.

A few hours later, Zepeda, Maddox, and Plascensia drove to a friend’s apartment in Hayward. After dropping Plascensia off at the apartment, Zepeda and Maddox drove about half a mile to pick up food, they said in sworn statements. They were stopped, however, by two sheriff’s detectives who searched their car and arrested them for alleged probation violations. The detectives said they recovered a .45-caliber loaded pistol magazine and an electronic scale in the vehicle that had drug residue on it.

Both detectives said in sworn statements that they were unaware of Zepeda’s participation in the pregnant inmate lawsuit before they initiated they stopped her. Instead, the detectives said they targeted Zepeda based on intelligence they obtained from confidential informants. Detective Shaun Corey declined to identify the confidential informants, saying it would jeopardize ongoing investigations.

In documents filed with the court earlier this week, the sheriff’s department depicts Zepeda as a repeat drug offender with gang ties who has had frequent contact with law enforcement. Corey said in a statement that he "obtained information that Ms. Zepeda was involved in the street-level sale of narcotics such as methamphetamine" and that there were also firearms in the apartment that Zepeda had visited.

The detective also justified stopping Zepeda and Maddox because they were both on probation and subject to court-mandated searches for any reason at any time. And the detective said the vehicle didn’t have a front license plate.

While Zepeda and Maddox were being arrested, several other sheriff’s deputies went back to the apartment where Plascensia had been dropped off and conducted a search while detaining several people. According to the sheriff’s office, they recovered two firearms along with “suspected heroin and drug paraphernalia” from the apartment.

Huang believes that the timing of Zepeda’s arrest is more than just a coincidence. She wrote in a court brief yesterday that the missing license plate was a pretense to stop and arrest her client, and that the entire incident, including Zepeda’s subsequent detention in the jail for five days was "retaliatory."

According to Huang, the vehicle had temporary dealer’s plates and a permit taped in the front windshield, making it legal to operate. Furthermore, Zepeda and Maddox denied having the pistol magazine or scale in the car and said they didn’t witness the sheriff’s deputies recovering anything during the search. They also weren’t charged with any crimes related to the magazine and scale, according to a review of court documents.

But Zepeda was subsequently taken to Santa Rita Jail and locked up for six days without being charged with a crime. Huang wrote in a court brief that Zepeda's detention was illegal because exceeded the lawfully allowed amount of time a person can be held before seeing a judge.

Four days after Zepeda’s arrest, Huang wrote to Judge Donato requesting emergency help for what she described as "flagrant harassment, intimidation, stalking, and unlawful arrest and imprisonment," of her client. Donato ordered the sheriff and county to respond to the allegations, but he didn’t intervene or say whether the allegations had any merit.

Sheriff’s deputies at the jail and a probation officer countered in other filings made with the court, however, that the detention was legal because they didn’t intend to file charges. Instead, they sought to file a revocation petition against Zepeda for violating her probation.

But according to the sworn statement of Alameda County Probation Officer Justin Eaglin, the revocation petition was lost in the county’s internal mail system for several days. Because it wasn’t received on time, the superior court was unable to process the petition and set a hearing before a judge within the three-day limit allowed under state law. Zepeda was therefore released on Feb. 5. The sheriff’s department says it followed standard policy with respect to Zepeda’s detention and release, and that she wasn’t treated differently than any other inmate.

A clerk at the Dublin courthouse confirmed Eaglin’s statement, saying in a declaration filed with the court that the probation revocation petition against Zepeda didn’t arrive until Feb. 6.

Attorneys for the sheriff and county insist the entire incident had nothing to do with the jail lawsuit. They concluded in a brief to the court that "the fact that Ms. Zepeda’s most recent arrest occurred on the same day that she participated in a ‘press conference’ related to this lawsuit is merely a coincidence."


Tuesday's Briefing: Berkeley May Become Sanctuary City for Cannabis; OPD Rookie Valedictorian Arrested for DUI

by Robert Gammon
Tue, Feb 13, 2018 at 9:35 AM

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Stories you shouldn't miss for Feb. 13, 2018:

1. Berkeley would become a sanctuary city for cannabis under a proposal scheduled for a vote tonight by the city council, reports Annie Ma of the San Francisco Chronicle$. The proposal, which is believed to be the first of its kind in the nation, would make it illegal for Berkeley police or any other city employee to help federal anti-marijuana efforts.

2. A rookie Oakland police officer who was the valedictorian of his academy class was arrested for drunken driving early Monday on Interstate 580 in Oakland near the Park Boulevard exit, reports Kimberly Veklerov of the San Francisco Chronicle. "Officer Isaac Goins, 25, completed the 175th basic academy in January 2017 at the top of the 24-person class."

3. The state Water Resources Control Board is poised to make it a crime to waste water in California, the Orange County Register$ reports (h/t Rough & Tumble). The proposal, which the board is scheduled to vote on next week, would establish $500 fines for people who over water their lawns, wash down sidewalks and driveways, and wash their cars without a shutoff valve, among other wasteful practices.

4. A homeless man died in a blaze at a sprawling encampment in the 2600 block of Northgate Avenue of Oakland early Monday, the East Bay Times$ reports. "The fire gutted a makeshift shack and burned other debris in the area. The homeless encampment is underneath a freeway overpass and near BART tracks."

5. And home prices in the Bay Area continued to soar in January, with the median home price in the region reaching $880,000, reports Roland Li of the San Francisco Business Times$. The price hikes are caused by the lack of homes available on the market.

$ = news stories may require payment to read.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Oakland Councilors Reid and McElhaney Propose No-Bid Contract to Hire a Consultant to Set Up Department of Violence Prevention

The council also is considering hiring David Muhammad for the violence prevention position, even though he was forced out of his county job for alleged sexual assault and harassment.

by Darwin BondGraham
Mon, Feb 12, 2018 at 12:11 PM

Lynette Gibson McElhaney.
  • Lynette Gibson McElhaney.

Frustrated with the pace at which the new department of violence prevention is being established, Oakland City Council President Larry Reid and Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney want the city to issue a $300,000 no-bid contract to hire an outside consultant who can speed the process up.

The consultant would report directly to Reid and Gibson McElhaney, not the city administrator and mayor.

The proposed setup raises questions about whether it violates the city's separation of powers law. Department heads, under city law, report to the city administrator. In addition, city law forbids councilmembers from directing the work of city staff.

Also, one name that's been mentioned repeatedly for the no-bid contract is David Muhammad, a criminal justice reformer who previously worked at the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Before that, Muhammad was Alameda County's chief probation officer, but he resigned from the position in 2012 following sexual assault and harassment allegations. A female deputy probation officer alleged that Muhammad sexually assaulted her in a car in the San Leandro Marina parking lot. She also alleged Muhammad told her she should allow his brother to have sex with her.

Muhammad was never criminally charged in the matter, but the incident ended his public-sector career. An impartial third party working for the county concluded the allegations were "not substantiated," but the county later settled a civil lawsuit for $100,000.

Gibson McElhaney described Muhammad as a pioneer and expert in the field of criminal justice reform and violence reduction. But she said others will be considered for the contract, if the council approves it, and there will be a selection process that occurs through the council's Life Enrichment Committee, which Gibson McElhaney chairs.

"Members of the community coalition have expressed frustration with what they perceive to be an administrative delay in implementation," Gibson McElhaney explained in an email. She continued that a hearing this Tuesday regarding the proposed contract will provide "an opportunity to openly speak to the issue and keep both the council and administration alerted to their efforts and their expectations."

The council established the department of violence prevention last July after several months of intense, and at times divisive, debate. Supporters of the new department, Gibson McElhaney, Reid, and Rebecca Kaplan, argued it's necessary to elevate violence prevention strategies by creating a new department and hiring a director who reports directly to the city administrator and mayor.

At several council meetings, activists showed up to support the department's creation. Many of them were Black and and had lost immediate family members to gun violence. Gibson McElhaney's own family has been impacted by gun violence. Two years ago, 17-year-old Torian Hughes, who she considered her grandson, was killed in West Oakland.

But other councilmembers have criticized the idea for the new department.

"We have plenty of departments," Councilmember Noel Gallo said at a council meeting last June. Gallo said there weren't any new strategies being proposed, and that instead, a new layer of bureaucracy was being created.

“They brought you out to tell us your stories, to cry in front of us, and to show us your pain, but they never talked about substantively what this department was going to do," Councilmember Desley Brooks told members of the public who supported establishing the new department at meeting last Summer.

Brooks said the public was being sold a fake "bill of goods."

Opponents of the new department pointed to Oakland's existing Measure Z violence prevention programs, which are housed in the department of human services. They're funded with millions of special tax revenues each year and include crisis response teams, life coaching, and education and economic self-sufficiency programs.

Councilmembers Brooks, Gallo, and Annie Campbell Washington sought to set up a blue ribbon commission to study violence reduction efforts that have worked in other cities before establishing an entire new department, but while the blue ribbon commission was approved last summer along with the new department, the requirement that it complete its work before the department of violence prevention is set up was voted down.


Town Business: Oakland Police 911 Comms Center Is Still Understaff and Still Doesn't Answer Calls in Time

by Darwin BondGraham
Mon, Feb 12, 2018 at 10:49 AM

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Police call center:
The Oakland Police Department's 911 dispatch center suffers from understaffing and fails to answer calls in a timely manner, according to a recent audit.

The state mandatory standard for answering 911 calls is 10 seconds, but OPD takes up 27 seconds to answer calls to its 10-digit emergency number (510-777-3211) or to receive calls to 911 made from land-line phones.

Calling 911 from a cellphone takes much longer because the city of Oakland's technology hasn't been upgraded yet to receive emergency calls. Instead, cellphone calls are routed to the California Highway Patrol in Vallejo where they're then routed back to Oakland's call center. This process can take as long as three minutes.

The result is that between 9 and 13 percent of callers seeking help from the police actually hang up before anyone answers. Others experience a delay when they're seeking police assistance.

A report about the issue is scheduled to be heard at this week's council Public Safety Committee meeting. However, the audit, which was completed last November, used data from 2014 and 2015. It's not clear why more recent information was used. It also refers to OPD staffing information that is four years old. Nevertheless, the police and city administrator didn't object to the findings.

One cause of the problem is understaffing of dispatchers in OPD's call center.  The audit describes OPD's communications division as suffering from "persistent understaffing resulting from high staff turnover, long lead times in filling open positions, continuous on the job training, and uncompetitive compensation packages."

OPD's communications division is budgeted to have 83 total staff, including 63 dispatchers. But approximately 20 of these positions are unfilled, or the employees are out on long-term leave, according to current budget records and the city auditor's report.

OPD is currently trying to fix it's 911 system so that emergency calls from cellphones route straight to Oakland's call center. This upgrade is anticipated to be finished at the end of 2018, but it requires hiring as many as 14 more dispatchers.

Sequestering the soda tax: Councilmembers Annie Campbell Washington and Rebecca Kaplan don't want a repeat of last year's controversial fight over the city's new soda tax revenues, so they're proposing to create a separate fund inside the city's general fund to account for every penny.

Last April, several councilmembers angrily accused Mayor Libby Schaaf of misappropriating the soda tax money in her proposed budget. Schaaf said her spending plan was in line with the tax measure's spirit of paying for educational and health programs. But the council didn't agree and the money was quickly taken out of the budget.

The soda tax was approved by 61 percent of voters in November 2016. Because it's a general tax, it didn't require a two-thirds majority to pass. But that also means the money is deposited straight into the city's general fund where it can be spend on anything.

To keep their promise to voters that it will only be spent on health programs, the drafters of the ballot measure creating the tax also included an oversight board. But that board has been slow to get up and running.

Campbell Washington and Kaplan wrote in a letter to their fellow councilmembers earlier this month that the new fund will help ensure that the city doesn't spend any of the revenue before the soda tax oversight board makes its recommendations.

Monday's Briefing: Bay Area Residents Want Lots More Housing; CHP Helped Neo-Nazis Against Anti-Fascists

Plus, ex-Black Panther Elaine Brown, who won big judgment against Oakland, has previous dustups that the jury never heard.

by Robert Gammon
Mon, Feb 12, 2018 at 10:19 AM

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Stories you shouldn't miss for Feb. 12, 2018:

1. Bay Area residents want lots more housing to be built in the region but not if it makes their commutes worse, reports Marisa Kendall of the Bay Area News Group$, citing a new poll commissioned by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group. A supermajority of residents - 64 percent - said they favor "building significant quantities of new housing" in the region. But only 30 percent said they would support it if it "brought more people onto local roads and transit systems, making their commutes worse."

2. California Highway Patrol officers worked secretly with Neo-Nazis in efforts to target members of anti-fascist groups last year in Sacramento, reports Sam Levin of the Guardian, citing newly disclosed court documents. CHP officers also worked with Neo-Nazis to try to identify "anti-racists." The evidence was revealed in the assault case involving Berkeley radical leftist teacher Yvette Felarca.

3. Ex-Black Panther Elaine Brown, who won $4.3 million in judgments against the city of Oakland and Councilmember Desley Brooks after Brooks assaulted her at a restaurant, had at least two previous dustups that a judge would not allow the jury to hear, the San Francisco Chronicle$ reports. In 2013, Brown claimed she was knocked down by a valet at the Waterfront Hotel in Jack London Square, but witnesses said she was the aggressor. In addition, while drunk, Brown drove her car off the road in 2014, and police said she was combative after being arrested. The judge in the Brooks case, however, said revealing Brown's past would have been prejudicial.

4. State lawmakers are hoping to revive redevelopment in order to finance the construction of affordable housing once Gov. Jerry Brown is out of office, reports Liam Dillon of the LA Times$. Brown killed redevelopment in 2011, greatly reducing the amount of funds for affordable housing in the state. But the three leading candidates to replace Brown - Gavin Newsom, Antonio Villaraigosa, and John Chiang - support reviving it.

5. And California wildlife officials are considering a crackdown on nutria - a large rodent that reproduces rapidly, destroys habitat, and could ruin the state's vital levees, reports Kurtis Alexander of the San Francisco Chronicle$. Officials thought the non-native species had been eradicated from the state in the 1970s, but it has recently proliferated.

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