Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Tuesday’s Briefing: Flash Floods Now Threaten Paradise; GOP on the Verge of Losing Another Calif. House Seat

by Robert Gammon
Tue, Nov 20, 2018 at 10:06 AM

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Stories you shouldn’t miss for Nov. 20, 2018:

1. The area torched by the massive Camp Fire is under a flash flood watch due to storms that are expected to begin hitting the region tonight, reports Tony Bizjak of the Sacramento Bee$. The flash flood watch is in effect from Wednesday through Friday, although more storms are forecast for next week. The town of Paradise and other  burned areas are especially vulnerable to flooding and mudslides. “Cal Fire and weather service officials said the soil just below the surface gets packed by intense wildfire heat and can become impermeable to water, causing an almost instant wash off of debris, ash, and loose dirt during extremely heavy rainstorms.”

2. The death toll from the Camp Fire now stands at 79, and hundreds of people are still reported missing, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. “The Camp Fire is now the fourth-deadliest natural disaster in California’s recorded history, behind the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire, in which more 3,000 people died; a 1933 earthquake in Long Beach; and a 1938 flood in Los Angeles.”

3. California Republicans are on the verge of losing yet another House seat — the seventh overall — which could hand Democrats a 40-seat swing in the Nov. 6 election. In the San Joaquin Valley, GOP Rep. David Valadao's lead over Democratic challenger T.J. Cox has shrunk to 968 votes, and Cox is expected to close that gap in the next few days, the LA Times$ reports. If Cox wins, the GOP will have lost half its House seats in the state.

4. A federal judge in San Francisco has blocked President Trump’s order to deny asylum to immigrants who cross the southern border illegally, the Washington Post$ reports. U.S. District Judge Jon S. Tigar said Trump cannot change laws governing asylum for immigrants on his own. “Whatever the scope of the President’s authority, he may not rewrite the immigration laws to impose a condition that Congress has expressly forbidden,” Tigar wrote. The Trump administration is expected to appeal the ruling.

5. And House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi is in jeopardy of not garnering enough votes to regain her speakership in January, CNN reports. A small group of moderate Democrats, mostly men, is attempting block Pelosi’s campaign for speaker — despite the fact that she just led the party to a sweeping victory in the House.

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Monday, November 19, 2018

Monday’s Briefing: Camp Fire, 77 Dead, 993 Missing; Smoke to Clear Tuesday Night Due to Rain and Wind

by Robert Gammon
Mon, Nov 19, 2018 at 10:09 AM

CALFIRE
  • CalFire
Stories you shouldn’t miss for Nov. 19, 2018:

1. The death toll from the tragic Camp fire rose to 77 over the weekend, and there are still 993 people reported missing in the massive wildfire that obliterated the town of Paradise, the Sacramento Bee$ reports. California’s most destructive and deadly fire destroyed 15,000 structures total, including more than 11,700 homes, and tens of thousands of people are now homeless. Firefighters reported this morning that the 151,000-acre blaze is 66 percent contained.

2. The sickening smoke and poor air quality that has enveloped the Bay Area and much of Northern California since the Camp fire ignited on March 8 is expected to finally clear on Tuesday night because of an incoming rainstorm with strong winds, reports Ashley McBride of SF Gate reports. The storm is expected to drop 1-2 inches of rain on the region, and may extinguish what is left of the big wildfire.

3. PG&E officials were planning to cut power before the Camp fire ignited because of high winds and bone-dry conditions, but then changed their minds, the LA Times$ reports. Since the fire, the utility has reported that two of its power lines suffered problems just before the blaze broke out, reports Matthias Gafni of the Bay Area News Group$. Fire officials are investigating whether there were two origin points for the wildfire.

4. President Trump was mocked relentlessly on Twitter for his head-scratching remark while visiting the Paradise area on Saturday that California should copy Finland and start “raking” forest floors in order to reduce the risk of wildfires, the Bay Area News Group$ reports. Trump claimed that the president of Finland told him that, but the Finnish president said he had no idea what Trump was talking about — and that Finland does not “rake” it forests.

5. ICYMI: East Bay Assemblymember Tony Thurmond won the state superintendent of public instruction contest, defeating charter school advocate Marshall Tuck. Thurmond declared victory on Saturday, and Tuck conceded the race.

6. ICYMI: Democrat Rebecca Bauer-Kahan has unseated GOP incumbent Catherine Baker in the East Bay's 16th Assembly District contest. Baker’s defeat means the Bay Area no longer has any Republican representatives in the state Legislature.

7. And Sunday, Nov. 18, was the 40th anniversary of the Jonestown massacre, in which an Oakland religious cult had moved to Jonestown, Guyana, and 900 people died in a murder-suicide.

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Friday, November 16, 2018

Updated: Tony Thurmond Wins State Schools Chief Contest

Thurmond declared victory and Marshall Tuck conceded.

by Robert Gammon
Fri, Nov 16, 2018 at 5:56 PM

Tony Thurmond.
  • Tony Thurmond.

East Bay Assemblymember Tony Thurmond has defeated charter school advocate Marshall Tuck in the state superintendent of public instruction contest. As of this evening, Thurmond led 50.8 percent to 49.2 percent.

We're calling this race because Thurmond's 150,000-plus vote lead is insurmountable. According to the California Secretary of State's Office, there are about 2 million ballots left to count statewide, but nearly half those ballots — 46.67 percent — are in counties that Thurmond won by comfortable margins.

Thurmond's victory was due in large part to his strong support in the Bay Area. He won all nine counties in the region by substantial margins. He also won handily in the most populous county in the state: Los Angeles. LA County also has the most outstanding votes to count: 422,600, according to the Secretary of State.

Thurmond also won in Mendocino, Humboldt, Lake, Yolo, Santa Cruz, and Monterey counties.

Update 11:45 a.m., Nov. 17, 2018:
Tony Thurmond just tweeted:

"I want to thank the voters of CA for electing me to serve the 6 million students of CA. I intend to be a champion of public schools & a Superintendent for all CA students. I want to thank Marshall Tuck for his gracious call to congratulate me & wish me well. Time to get to work!"

Further Evidence Emerges that the Oakland Police Under-Reported Use of Force Incidents

by Darwin BondGraham
Fri, Nov 16, 2018 at 5:37 PM

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For the past several years, the Oakland Police Department has claimed that police officers are using substantially less force while making arrests. Supporting this assertion, OPD has published statistics showing a dramatic drop in the number of incidents in which an officer reported using any type of force, including drawing their guns on suspects. Between 2012 and 2017, officers reported a 75 percent decline in use of force.

But two months ago, a federal court-appointed independent monitor for the police department revealed that some use of force incidents weren't being reported by officers.

And in a brief filed today in federal court, two East Bay civil rights attorneys, Jim Chanin and John Burris, say that a new but unpublished analysis by monitor Robert Warshaw reveals that in the past year, OPD has been under-reporting its use of force cases.

It appears that OPD has experienced a decline in use of force instances, but that drop is not as dramatic as the department has claimed.

In an accompanying report to the federal judge overseeing the department, Oakland's city attorney and police largely concur that officers have recently been under-reporting use of force incidents.

According to Chanin and Burris, the under-reporting seems due in part to confusion within the department about whether or not drawing a gun on a person and holding it in a "low ready" position, but still with the barrel pointed at their lower extremities, actually constitutes a use of force.

Officers are required to report any incident in which they draw their gun and point it at someone as a "Level 4" use of force. Level 4 also includes striking a person with hands and feet, pressure holds, grabbing hair, and other weaponless attacks.

But the department's general order regarding use of force, a 34-page document, states on page 6 that if the gun is held in the "low ready" position, meaning at a 45-degree angle or less, it's not a use of force, and officers don't have to report it as such.

However, on page 24 of the same document, the "low ready" position is further defined as any situation in which an officer's gun "is pointed at a 45-degree angle or less and not at a person." [Bold in original.]

In other words, if an officer draws their gun and points it at a 45-degree angle toward the person's legs or feet, it constitutes a use of force. Until recently, many cops either weren't aware of this, or treated the rule as a loophole and didn't file a report.

In 2012, OPD officers reported 1,246 Level 4 use of force incidents. By 2017, this had dropped to 317. The largest decline was in Level 4 incidents, including pointing firearms at people and striking with hands and feet or using holds.
  • In 2012, OPD officers reported 1,246 Level 4 use of force incidents. By 2017, this had dropped to 317. The largest decline was in Level 4 incidents, including pointing firearms at people and striking with hands and feet or using holds.

Warshaw wrote in a report two months ago that other types of use of force incidents are also not being properly reported by police officers. The monitoring team reviewed 29 cases and found six in which officers didn't properly record when and how they used force.

Since then, the monitoring team expanded their review to over 100 recent cases, according to the brief filed by Chanin and Burris. The team ultimately selected 38 for close examination because they involved charges of assault on an officer or obstructing and resisting arrest, and were therefore highly likely to have involved some type of use of force by the officers who carried out the arrest. Even so, none of these 38 cases had an accompanying use of force report that was completed by officers and their supervisors.

In 14 of these 38 cases, officers did, in fact, use some kind of force without reporting it, according to Warshaw's report, as described by Chanin and Burris.

Six of these incidents involved officers pointing firearms at people, while the other eight involved strikes and holds and other kinds of uses of force.

The monitoring team confirmed the officers' failure to report using force by reviewing body camera videos of the incidents.

The Oakland Police Department appears to agree that its use of force statistics have been under-reported recently.

In an accompanying brief also filed today in federal court, City Attorney Barbara Parker wrote that OPD's Office of Inspector General has been auditing the use of force reporting policies and practices, and that the OIG shares the same concerns "that the data and information gathered for the audit may reflect an under reporting of Level 4 uses of force, particularly with respect to the pointing of a firearm at a suspect."

In response, Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick recently issued a directive that any pointing of a firearm at a person, even at their lower extremities, constitutes a use of force that must be reported.

Following a recent training on this updated policy, OPD officers have begun to report a "marked increase" in uses of force due to pointing their guns at people, the city attorney wrote.

Oakland's city attorney wrote that while this underreporting is "concerning", the problem was identified by the department's inspector general, "reflecting the ability of the Department to self-audit and take corrective action."

Chanin and Burris represent the plaintiffs in a lawsuit that placed OPD under the oversight of a federal judge 15 years ago and led to a comprehensive reform program known as the Negotiated Settlement Agreement. Among other things, the NSA requires OPD to accurately report when and how officers use force.

Jim Oddie Reelected to Alameda City Council

by Robert Gammon
Fri, Nov 16, 2018 at 5:01 PM

Jim Oddie.
  • Jim Oddie.

Incumbent Jim Oddie has been reelected to the Alameda City Council. Oddie finished third in the council race, behind John Knox White and Tony Daysog, but he was able to remain on the council by virtue of the fact that Councilmember Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft defeated incumbent Trish Spencer in the mayor's race. Oddie will take Ashcraft's seat on the council under Alameda election rules.

Oddie's reelection means that pro-housing, pro-tenant progressives will hold a 4-1 supermajority on the Alameda council. The election turned out to be a sweeping defeat for anti-housing advocates and pro-landlord groups.

Oddie's reelection also came despite the fact that he was involved in a scandal last year with then-City Manager Jill Keimach over the hiring of a new fire chief. Keimach alleged that Oddie interfered in the election process. But Keimach ultimately was ousted from her job after it was disclosed that she had secretly taped a conversation with Oddie and Councilmember Malia Vella without their consent.

Here are the results as of 5 p.m., Nov. 16, 2018 of the Alameda Council election:

John Knox White: 25.92%*
Tony Daysog: 22.75%*
Jim Oddie (I): 19.26%*
Robert Matz: 18.25%
Stewart Chen: 13.5%

Democrat Rebecca Bauer-Kahan Wins the East Bay Assembly District 16 Race

Bauer-Kahan's victory over GOP incumbent Catherine Baker means the Bay Area now has no Republican representatives in the state Legislature.

by Robert Gammon
Fri, Nov 16, 2018 at 4:54 PM

Rebecca Bauer-Kahan.
  • Rebecca Bauer-Kahan.

In a stunning victory, Democrat Rebecca Bauer-Kahan has unseated GOP incumbent Catherine Baker in the East Bay's 16th Assembly District contest. Baker's defeat means the Bay Area no longer has any Republican representatives in the state Legislature.

A victory for Bauer-Kahan had been considered a longshot, because Baker is a moderate Republican and had won the endorsements of the region's daily newspapers. But Bauer-Kahan, a progressive, benefited from the Democratic blue wave this election cycle — and from strong voter turnout in the East Bay.

As of Nov. 16, voter turnout in Alameda County was 63.27 percent, and in Contra Costa County, it was 62.21 percent.

The sprawling 16th District runs from Lafayette and Orinda to Livermore.

Bauer-Kahan also benefited from the surge this year in mail-in ballots. On Election Night, she was trailing Baker, but eventually passed her thanks to the huge number of voters who cast mail-in ballots.

In Alameda County, mail-in-ballot voters outnumbered election-day voters by more than 3-1:
Mail-in ballots: 76.8 percent
Election Day votes: 23.2 percent

As of Nov. 16, Bauer-Kahan was leading Baker by about 2,500 votes, 50.6 percent to 49.4 percent.

In an email to supporters, Baker conceded the race. "I want to share with you that I have just called my opponent, Rebecca Bauer-Kahan, to congratulate her on winning election to the State Assembly for District 16, and to wish her success. While there remain many ballots to count, the outcome is not expected to change."   

Demnlus Johnson and Eduardo Martinez Win Richmond Council Seats

by Robert Gammon
Fri, Nov 16, 2018 at 2:20 PM

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Political newcomer Demnlus Johnson and incumbent Eduardo Martinez have won election to the Richmond City Council. According to a new update this afternoon from Contra Costa County elections officials, Johnson and Martinez have extended their leads over the other competitors in the race. Johnson has 12.02 percent of the vote and Martinez has 11.36 percent.

The race for the third available seat on the council is still too close to call. Former Councilmember Vinay Pimplé has 10.25 percent, followed by ex-Councilmember Nathaniel “Nat” Bates at 10.12 and newcomer Cesar Zepeda, also at 10.12 percent.

Incumbent Ada Recinos is next at 9.39 percent, followed by former Councilmember Jim Rogers at 8.82 percent/ 

Close Election Contests That We're Still Watching

by Robert Gammon
Fri, Nov 16, 2018 at 2:11 PM

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Below are the close election contests that we're still watching. If a local race is not on this list, it means we've already called a winner in that contest.

Please go here for our complete results of the Nov. 6 races that we tracked this year.

Updated 2:10 p.m., Nov. 16, 2018.

Local
Richmond City Council (vote 3)
Demnlus Johnson: 12.02%*
Eduardo Martinez (I): 11.36%*
Vinay Pimplé: 10.25%
Nathaniel “Nat” Bates: 10.12%
Cesar Zepeda: 10.12%
Ada Recinos (I): 9.39%
Jim Rogers: 8.82%

* = winner.

Friday’s Briefing: NorCal Has Worst Air in the World; Hundreds Still Missing as Death Toll Climbs

by Robert Gammon
Fri, Nov 16, 2018 at 10:09 AM

NASA
  • NASA
Stories you shouldn’t miss for Nov. 16, 2018:

1. Northern California has the worst air quality in the world because of stifling smoke from the horrific Camp fire, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Air quality in the region is ranging from unhealthy to very unhealthy to hazardous. Public health officials continue to urge people stay indoors, and most schools and colleges are closed today. Conditions could improve a bit tomorrow, but pollution officials say air quality is expected remain poor until at least Tuesday.

2. Hundreds of people are still missing in the wake of the Camp fire, as the death toll from the massive blaze increased to 63, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Last night, Butte County officials reported that 631 people were still missing, although many people on that list may be alive and not know that their family members and friends are looking for them. The disastrous fire left 26,000 people homeless, creating a huge humanitarian crisis.

3. State regulators may decide to bail out PG&E, which will likely face financial ruin if found liable for the deadliest and most destructive fire in California history, Bloomberg News reports. Michael Picker, head of California’s Public Utilities Commission said he “can’t imagine allowing PG&E Corp., the state’s largest utility, to go into bankruptcy as it faces billions of dollars in potential liability from deadly wildfires.” Picker’s comments sent PG&E’s stock shares soaring.

4. Democrats are on the verge of winning a complete sweep of Orange County, which was once a Republican stronghold and was long known as “Reagan Country.” The Associated Press reports that Democratic challenger Katie Porter has unseated GOP Congresswoman Mimi Walter and that if Democrat Gil Cisneros hangs on to his narrow lead over Republican Ed Royce, then Orange County will have no GOP representation in Congress.

5. And Oakland’s first housing tower in 10 years is on track to be completed next summer, reports Emily Hoeven of the San Francisco Business Times$. The 34-story, 254-unit tower located at 1640 Broadway will be the tallest residential high-rise in Oakland when it opens in July 2019.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Thursday’s Briefing: Camp Fire Smoke Closes Bay Area Colleges; Fire Survivors Living in Tents at Walmart Parking Lot

by Robert Gammon
Thu, Nov 15, 2018 at 10:13 AM

NASA
  • NASA
Stories you shouldn’t miss for Nov. 15, 2018:

1. As toxic smoke from the horrific Camp fire continues to blanket the Bay Area, many colleges and universities have decided to shut down until after Thanksgiving, reports Gwendolyn Wu of the San Francisco Chronicle$. Officials say the air quality in the region is hovering between "unhealthy" and "very unhealthy." Cal State East Bay, San Francisco State, and San Jose State are all closed because of the pollution, although most K-12 schools in the region remain open.

2. Some survivors of the Camp fire, which obliterated the town of Paradise, leaving 26,000 people homeless, have set up camp at a Walmart parking lot in Chico, the Bay Area News Group$ reports. ‘“It’s one of the worst disasters that I’ve seen in my career, hands down,’ said Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Brock Long at a news conference Wednesday in Chico. FEMA officials, he said, will help local officials ‘navigate a very long and complex recovery.’”

3. PG&E may go belly up if it’s found responsible for the Camp fire, which has killed 56 people and destroyed 10,321 buildings — making it the deadliest and most destructive blaze in state history, the LA Times$ reports. PG&E warned investors that it’s viability is in question, as the company’s stock prices continue to plunge.

4. The city of Oakland’s financial risk from the tragic Ghost Fire in 2016 could be huge because of a state Supreme Court decision that will allow victims’ families to sue the city for liability, reports Bob Egelko of the San Francisco Chronicle. The high court refused to hear Oakland’s appeal of a lower court ruling against the city.

5. Tenants of mold- and rodent-infested apartments in Oakland’s Fruitvale district have won a $2 million settlement from the buildings’ landlords, reports Ali Tadayon of the East Bay Times$.

6. Twenty-nine women have sued Alameda County Sheriff Greg Ahern since 2014, alleging civil rights violations, medical malpractice, and emotional distress at the county’s jail facilities, KTVU reports.

7. BART is seriously moving forward with plans to build a second transbay tube, connecting the East and West sides of the bay, reports Lauren Hernandez of the San Francisco Chronicle$. The new tube, which could be completed by 2028, could also allow BART to run 24-hour service.

8. California has a massive budget surplus of $15 billion this fiscal year, the AP reports, citing a new report from the state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office. “‘It is difficult to overstate how good the budget's condition is today,’ said Mac Taylor, an appointee of the Legislature who wrote the analysis. ‘By historical standards, this surplus is extraordinary.’”

9. In a setback for victims of sexual assault and harassment, Trump’s Education Secretary Betsy DeVos will soon release new regulations for colleges, universities, and K-12 schools that significantly bolster the rights of the accused, the Washington Post$ reports.

10. And an Oakland police officer saved the life of a premature newborn who was found not breathing after his homeless mother gave birth in her car, the East Bay Times$ reports.

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