Wednesday, July 29, 2009

How much for a Hospital? Sutter could pay nothing for SLH

By Steven Tavares
The Citizen
The price Sutter Health could conceivable pay the Eden Township Healthcare District for San Leandro Hospital is zero, according to the Alameda County Health Services.

Acting Director of Alameda County Health Services (ACHS) Alex Briscoe says their legal counsel believes, according to the agreement signed by the district health care board and Sutter in 2008 the hospital has effectively been "paid" for.

According to the signed memorandum of understanding, the purchase price for San Leandro Hospital would be equal to the current net book price minus total cash losses incurred at the hospital and capital expenditures not included in the rent. "To keep the hospital open, the district in 2008 gave away quite a bit to Sutter," said Briscoe, "For all intents and purposes--legally-- the hospital is in the hands of Sutter."

Sutter's announcement Tuesday to exercise its option to purchase San Leandro Hospital came as no surprise to ACHS. Briscos says it has always been their belief Sutter had no desire to allow a competitor to operate San Leandro Hopsital less than six miles away from its planned $300 million reconstruction of Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley, which broke ground earlier this month.

The announcement, nevertheless, was unexpected to many in the community who believed Sutter would soon transfer the option to buy the hospital to the Alameda County Medical Center. Sources say Sutter notified members of the Eden Township Healthcare Board of their intention to purchase in a letter Monday and the issue was discussed in a closed door session of the Alameda County Medical Center Board of Director Tuesday evening.

A spokesperson for Sutter says the letter asks the board to respond by Aug. 10. In a separate letter obtained by The Citizen, Sutter says escrow on the purchase is expected to close on or before Sept. 1. and concludes saying "We look forward to working with the District to consummate this purchase."

Advocates for saving San Leandro Hospital are already focusing their effort to block the purchase by Sutter. In addition to joining the lawsuit filed by the California Nurses Association that challenges the validity of the Eden Medical Center environment impact report, opponents could challenge the legitimacy of the 2008 agreement between the district and Sutter. According to Briscoe, legal counsel for ACHS says its success is unlikely. In addition, there is question as to whether Sutter violated the terms of the 2008 agreement which called for plans to develop the now-vacant fourth floor of San Leandro Hospital to acute care services. Briscoe says Sutter has to begin work or merely put forth a working time table.

In terms of the entire picture, little has changed in the scope of the controversial hospital situation. Stacey Wells, a spokesperson for Sutter, said "No final decision on the hospital's closure has been made. We are doing our due diligence to find the best solution."

"It remains unclear what the next step will be," said Briscoe, "The future remains in doubt, but you can surmise from Sutter's action that they do not plan to run the hospital as a private operation facility."

An aide for Alameda County Board of Supervisors President Alice Lai-Bitker believes all options are still on table at this point, "It appears that if ACMC is still talking to Sutter then a hybrid option still can be worked out," said Shawn Wilson. In additon, the purchase of the hospital by Sutter also brings the county's original plan to relocate acute care services from the seismically-deficient Fairmont Hospital to San Leandro back to the forefront, Said Briscoe, "We think it is in the best interest of the communities in the long run to have acute rehab at San Leandro Hospital."

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Sutter Exercises its Right to Purchase San Leandro Hospital

By Steven Tavares
The Citizen
Sutter Health is exercising its right to purchase San Leandro Hospital, according to several sources. The move further complicates the possible survival of the hospital and caught many local politicians flat-footed and unaware of Sutter's plans. The end of the hospital could come as early as Sept. 30.

A spokesperson for Sutter Health could not be reached early Tuesday evening. News of Sutter's surprising move before the Alameda County Medical Center (ACMC) board at 5 p.m. reached San Leandro Mayor Tony Santos shortly after five, while an aid to Supervisor Alice Lai-Bitker learned of the plan from a cell phone call of one of the attendees. A spokesman for the California Nurses Association was also unaware up to 9 p.m. Tuesday night.

Sources told The Citizen an announcement regarding SLH would take place on July 28 at Highland Hospital. One source was under the assumption that Sutter would be making an announcement regarding its intention to transfer their right to purchase to ACMC, but late Monday, they had received no confirmation. The Citizen was told by two separate Sutter spokespeople no announcement would be made the next day. One spokesperson acknowledged that such anannouncement would likely occur before the Eden Township Board of Directors. There is no indication to why Sutter seemed to surreptitiously evade widespread public view of its intentions for the controversy hospital plan.

According to a memorandum dated May 9 from then-Director of Health Services David Kears to the Alameda County Board of Supervisors, he lays out a few possible scenarios of which could occur. (Click here to read the entire memo.)
Sutter under its lease agreement can close SLH. Eden Township Health Care District (District) owns the property and it can transfer the property to another entity only if Sutter agrees to transfer its right of ownership to that entity. Under consideration has been the option for Sutter Health, the District, and the County of Alameda (County)/ACMC to enter into an agreement whereby:

(a) Sutter Assigns the Option to Purchase SLH to the County/ACMC and the District waives certain provisions of their lease agreement with Sutter to allow the transfer of property to the County/ACMC; Should the District elect not to transfer SLH to the County/ACMC the other option by which the County/ACMC could acquire SLH is:
According to Shawn Wilson, the chief of staff for Alameda County Board of Supervisors President Alice Lai-Bitker, this is the option they believed would eventually become the "hybrid model" for SLH, which would retain surgical departments, the emergency room and add acute rehab to the top two floors. Instead, Sutter is choosing plan B, below.
(b) Sutter Exercises its Option to Purchase SLH with its intent for SLH to close no later than September 30,2009, and the District transfers SLH to Sutter (or its affiliate) effective on or before September 30,2009 as prescribed in their existing agreement. Sutter enters into a long-term lease agreement with the County/ACMC based on the conditions set forth by all parties. Lease agreement is as close to a transfer of title as is reasonably possible.

The Pros of option (a) are: that it is an agreement of all key parties (SutterlEden, District, and County/ACMC); it is doable within the resources of all parties; it allows ACMC the possibility to directly negotiate the purchase of SLH and finance its conversion to a Regional Acute Rehab hospital without the assistance of the County; and allows for the continuation and expansion of FACH Acute Rehab Program. The Cons are that it precludes consideration of any other option to retain SLH as an acute medical surgical hospital with a fully operated emergency department.

The Pros of option (b) are: allows for the County to secure SLH in order to relocate and expand ACMC operations of FACH acute rehab program, and thus continue to address a critical acute hospital need in the County; and, it is consistent with the timeline set by Sutter to close SLH and expedite the conversion of SLH into an ACMC operated Acute Rehab Hospital. The Cons are: leaves a residue of discord among the three parties not conducive to building back the confidence and support of the residents impacted by the closure of SLH and, it precludes any immediate possibility of ACMC acquiring SLH as an asset through its own ability to finance the conversion of SLH into a acute rehab hospital (by acquiring SLH outright, ACMC can then use SLH as security against the loan needed for the conversion).
The memo refers to "residue of discord" if plan B is allowed to revert the process back to SLH becoming an acute rehab center. This may have been the reason Sutter did not allow opponents of their plans time to mobilize. Wilson calls this the "worst-possible scenario" and wondered whether Sutter's offering price might be paltry.

In a sense, this complicated, sometimes convoluted hospital saga may have come full circle by resetting the scenario where acute rehab services of which Kears says is essential to the health of the hospital system is back in play, while Sutter may have just left the building.

Monday, July 27, 2009

A Prime example of Health Care havoc

If you view a hospital system as a symbiotic relationship, then a foreign entity has the capability to throw order into disarray. Depending on your outlook, the hospital group hoping to purchase San Leandro Hospital--Prime Healthcare--is causing patients in the city of Redding quite a headache.

When Prime Healthcare purchased Shasta Regional Medical Center last year, it became the 13th acquisition in the burgeoning California hospital chains growing empire led by Dr. Prem Reddy. Prime claims a successful record of squeezing profitability from once-struggling hospitals with a combination of cancelling existing insurance deals and funneling patients through its emergency room. But, what is happening in Redding, could very well occur in Alameda County if the topsy-turvy hospital saga goes Prime's way.

Shasta Regional's main competitor--Mercy Medical Center--has been accused by state and federal health services agencies of violating anti-dumping patient laws which obligates a hospital to care for any patient until they are deemed in stable condition or transferred to another hospital. In the meantime, medical insurance companies went to war with Shasta Regional and retaliated for Prime dissolving their existing contracts. The insurance companies notified members of the community Shasta Regional would be labeled "outside of network provider" and urged them to visit Mercy, instead.

Mercy now claims the massive influx of patients is overrunning its capacity to provide quality health care. The hospital was recently given 10 days to improve care.

As the current controversy in San Leandro continues to take bizarre twists and turns, many residents routinely question the lack of attention given to Prime's splashy offer last June to run the hospital. Local officials say, despite Reddy's rousing speech to save the hospital, the company has not made a detailed, formal proposal, while many believe no takers will be closely looked at until the Sutter Health makes a move.

Speaking to reporters after last week's Alameda County Board of Supervisor's meeting, former Director of Health Services David Kears said he believed Prime "carries too much baggage", while their business model could bankrupt the state's health care system. There is little doubt that controversy seems to run in tandem everywhere Reddy and Prime sets foot. It has occurred in San Diego, Los Angeles County, in continued litigious battles with Kaiser Permanente, and numerous insurance companies and now in Redding. Time will tell if the ultimately solution for San Leandro Hospital is Prime, for now, officials say they are off the radar.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Crime rate drops 18% during first six months

San Leandro has posted an 18 percent drop in crime through the first six months of this year. The numbers mimic a pleasantly surprising trend across many U.S. cities who have reported a drop in crime despite the long-held belief offenses rise during hard economic times.

"We're all scratching our heads a bit on this," said Lt. Cmdr. Pete Ballew of the San Leandro criminal investigation division.

According to the San Leandro Police Department incidents of robbery have dropped 46 percent from the same time last year. Burglary is down 30 percent. "I'm proud of our police department," said San Leandro Mayor Tony Santos, "When the economy tails off usually you have a rise in crime--especially robbery--but this has not been the case. I hope it stays that way."

Crime Totals Comparison between
first six months of 2008 and 2009
  • Murder 0%
  • Rape 22%
  • Robbery -46%
  • Aggravated Assault -14%
  • Simple Assault -1%
  • Burglary -30%
  • Larceny -14%
  • Auto Theft -16%
  • Arson -25%
Ballew believes one reason is more people are at home longer periods of time due to higher rates of unemployment, more job hunters settling for part-time work and higher numbers of people working from home than ever before. He also believes the proliferation of cell phones allows law enforcement access to real-time information they did not have even five years ago.
"I would be remiss if I didn't tell you our cops are doing a good job," Ballew said, "There's an informal network of criminals who know if you commit crimes in San Leandro, you'll get caught."

Santos used the opportunity to argue the need to keep the police force fully staffed in the future despite recent grabs for the city's coffers by Sacramento. "We need to make sure the [police] department is staffed properly so that we can keep these crime rates where they are," he said.

Critics of crime figures generated by law enforcement charge they are often times under reported or misstated to enhance the prestige of the department or score political brownie points for superiors, but similar statistics have been reported in some of the nation's largest cities including New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and across the Bay in San Francisco.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Lai-Bitker asks Health District for $2 million to keep ER open

By Steven Tavares
The Citizen
Alameda County Board of Supervisors President Alice Lai-Bitker, in a letter to the Eden Township Healthcare District, has asked for $2 million to keep the emergency room at San Leandro Hospital open until June of next year, The Citizen has learned.

The letter, sent yesterday to members of the five-member board, may be yet another shift in strategy to keep the hospital open after Sutter Health announced it would cease services at the facility Sept. 30.

Lai-Bitker's Chief of Staff Shawn Wilson said the short-term goal is to keep emergency room services open while local officials can secure a long-term deal.

A week ago, Lai-Bitker appeared to favor a "hybrid model" of rehab, surgical and ER services at San Leandro Hospital. The Interim Director of the Alameda County Health Services Alex Briscoe indicated such a plan would need between $3.5 million to $7 million annually to run and could possibly entail subsidies from Sutter Health, the Eden Township Healthcare District, Alameda County and the city of San Leandro, yet two of those entities are unlikely to contribute to such a plan.

San Leandro Mayor Tony Santos said, "There is no way we can participate in spending any money on the ER." Earlier in the day, Santos received sobering news the state plans to borrow redevelopment and specific tax dollars from municipalities to balance its budget.

"I don't know if he's the only person who believes this," said Wilson, "but I don't think he should close a chapter before it starts. This is a crucial time for keeping the hospital open."

At Monday's city council meeting, Santos also said Sutter officials have told him they will not contribute to a hybrid model at San Leandro Hospital, but confirmed the Township Board indicated to him a willingness to make a partial contribution to the hospital cause.

Wilson believes the onus is on the board to help monetarily saying, "The Eden health care board is the entity that put us in this position."

Santos reiterated what is becoming a common refrain at city hall that the hospital problem is a county issue and not solely San Leandro's, in addition to calling for a district-wide ballot measure next year. He also told council members Monday night the hospital, at this time, likely has no possible suitors. "There really are not any hospital groups coming forward with the idea of taking over for Sutter," he said.

Despite local political infighting and a tenuous economy, Wilson believes there is still hope for a solution, "There's options," he said, "Even with the situation within in the state, I don't want people to think nothing can be done."

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Impact of State's budget deal quickly reaches San Leandro

By Steven Tavares
The Citizen
Sacramento's decision to bridge a $26 billion shortfall on the backs of already struggling municipalities is already causing a tsunami of financial upheaval a day after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the state Legislature called for a short term loan from cities of over $4 billion.

"My worst fears have been realized," said San Leandro Mayor Tony Santos.

According to Santos the city will lose up to $1.2 million in gas tax funds used largely for the upkeep of roads, up to $3.5 million in money for redevelopment and a portion of San Leandro's property taxes. According to the tentative budget plan, the transfer of funds will be viewed as a short term loan to be repaid when the health of the state economy improves

"Local governments unfortunately have to be partners in pain," said Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, who was part of the so-called Big Five who negotiated the budget deal, "There is no way to close a $26 billion deficit through cuts alone."

The San Leandro City Council recently approved in June a fiscal budget balanced primarily with reserves largely unavailable past this year. "We may need to make Draconian cuts to our budget and it has nothing to do with the city," said Santos, "It's the state."

During a scheduled finance meeting Tuesday morning, committee members floated the idea of declaring a fiscal state of emergency, but later dismissed it, according to Santos. The city of Los Angeles tinkered with the idea last month, but it is unclear whether San Leandro's current financial predicament is as dire as other local governments in the state.

In just the past year, San Leandro's financial health has plummeted along with the state and national economy. A five-year projection commissioned in 2006 predicted revenues of $82 million for this fiscal year. As it currently stands, the city is looking at revenues of just $72 million for 2009-10.

With the budget solution comes a new round of belt tightening at city hall. The loss of gas tax funds may facilitate reducing repairs of the city's roads, which Vice Mayor Joyce Starosciak last night called the "worst in Alameda County." In addition, the finance committee discussed instituting a hiring freeze, although the mayor and city manager's office is severely understaffed according to Santos.

San Leandro residents may also incur higher parking fees along with the possibility of hiking the costs of parking violations, said Santos, but added "We certainly don't want lose to parking downtown and possibly lose tenants in this economic downturn."

One way the city hopes to maintain financial stability is through a potential parcel tax measure on next years ballot. Santos said results of a city commissioned polling of residents are due by the end of August and include a question relating to the possibility of a hospital tax to fund any one of many proposals to keep San Leandro Hospital open.

Read more about California's budget deal:
California Begins Deciphering State's New Budget Deal, The New York Times
State leaders have tentative plan to fix budget, San Francisco Chronicle
Another tricky budget devised by California, Dan Walters, Sacramento Bee.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Only one daily news outlet covering San Leandro

Starting today, only one local news outlet is covering the city of San Leandro on a daily basis. The Daily Review's long time scribe Karen Holzmeister ended 36 years of journalism last Friday and according to its editor Kim Santos the paper will divvy up the city among its current roster of reporters.

A hiring freeze, Santos said in an email, will preclude the rapidly shrinking Bay Area newspaper to add staff in the near term. What this means for consumers of the news and those concerned with the transparency of government is that only The Citizen, a web site only two months old, is the only outlet covering San Leandro everyday.

At a time, when San Leandro could be losing a hospital under surreptitious means and a budget situation at all levels of government foundering, the people of this city need someone to keep City Hall honest along with our elected officials in Sacramento and Washington. The media theory behind The Citizen views the supposed "death" of print journalism as a positive allowing for independent news gathering that builds in an organic way to provide the news unobstructed by outside interests.

The product of news from the bottom up, rather than currently from the top to bottom with large media corporations running the show, serves the interests of the common citizen more efficiently and roots out corruption more thoroughly. Malfeasance, in general, probably does not reside in San Leandro, but if it did, independent media like The Citizen is far more likely to shine its light on it than the big boys drowning in debt.

Questions over Stark's $3500 Health Care Fundraiser


If you have a couple grand lying around and have an eye on influencing health care reform come on down to Johnny's Half Shell tomorrow night. I hear their Chesapeake Bouillabaisse is to die for.

For the most part Rep. Pete Stark has played politics the past 37 years above the line of impropriety. Although, there was that scandal of him frolicking in a pool once aired on 20/20 years ago, but nobody seems to remember it, but me.

That Stark is entertaining bigwigs in the health care industry is disheartening at any time, but somewhat suspicious at a time when the Congressman is helping to reshape health care, in addition, to having such a high profile in its decision-making.

A few things. Does Stark really need to stake his reputation on a $3,500 per plate fundraiser for re-election when he basically erects a few signs on Mission Boulevard and Jackson Street and instantly garners 80 percent of the vote every two years?

Who is running things in Stark's office, anyway. The National Journal (click here to view the invitation), who first broke this story last week, could not get a statement from the Congressman and nor did they respond to The Citizen. It's no secret the Obama Administration was targeting late August to fly the latest incarnation of health care reform to Capitol Hill, so why didn't Stark's people see the end of July as being a bad time to hobnob with organizations with immense stakes in any possible legislation becoming law?

This event should be cancelled immediately. This is not the sort of story opponents of universal health care need to hear. It reeks of special interests shenanigans and does absolutely nothing to save and improve the health of millions of Americans currently without health care. Something, amidst countless stories about its costs, many fail to remember.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Corbett Tussles with SoCal Assemblyman over Payday Loan Bill

Sometimes being a state senator is like working retail. Hold on. Most of the time it isn't, but when an assemblyman from Artesia gets huffy, the only thing to do is dust off those people skills, speak in hushed tones and maybe call security.

That is somewhat what state Sen. Ellen Corbett, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, had to do Tuesday when Assemblyman Tony Mendoza (D-Arstesia) turned sour at her decision to shelve his controversial payday lending bill. (Watch the video below)

Mendoza, miffed that Corbett did not allow discussion of his bill (AB 377) became further incensed when she placed the agenda item at the conclusion of the hearing. Before the sergeant at arms could urge Mendoza to leave the chambers, the two-term assemblyman told Corbett, "You're moving me around like a toy, like if I'm going to be at your disposition any time you want -- I don't want to play those games."

The proposed bill would have allowing predatory payday lenders to increase the amount cashed from $300 to $500 in addition to giving borrowers until the end of the next business day to rescind the deal. These lenders are known to charge over 400 percent interest. The bill sailed through the Assembly and was supported by local Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi. The Senate Banking Committee also passed the bill, which prompted a scathing editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle that asked, "Why on earth would Mendoza want to saddle this state's most cash-strapped citizens with more debt?"

The answer: Mendoza is a large beneficiary of the payday loan industry.

House Dems Introduce Health Care Reform Bill

WAKE UP, PETE! Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi ID-Calif.) along with Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.), Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) announce universal health care legislation that would tax those making over $1 million up to 5.4 percent. The East Bay's Pete Stark, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Health Committee has asserted his influence on the drafting of the bill, yet one wonders if clandestine members of the health care industry switched his dose of Lipitor with a sleeping pill.

Read the story here.

Fmr. Health Director Skewers Leaders of San Leandro

By Steven Tavares
The Citizen
Retirement has a way of loosening lips. The former Director of Alameda County Health Services David Kears volleyed a barrage of pointed remarks at local politicians and specifically urged San Leandro to lead the way to save its hospital.

The acting director Alex Briscoe was barely half way through his presentation to the Board of Supervisors when Kears launched into the first of two spirited monologues overshadowing his younger replacement.

At one point, Kears leveled a thinly-veiled challenge to the leaders of San Leandro to fund San Leandro Hospital with a parcel tax similar to one enacted by the city of Alameda, "It is courage and it's commitment that will save this hospital," he said. But the phrase "parcel tax" has become a dirty word in San Leandro and will likely become profane in the current economy.

San Leandro Councilman Jim Prola called the likelihood of passing such a measure to be "extremely difficult". Prola responded similarly two months ago when Board Supervisors Scott Haggerty and Nate Miley chided the city for not proposing such a tax on its residents and believes, as he does now, that ownership of the problem is being skirted by the county, but Kears sees it differently.

"We need a firm commitment, not a we'll explore it or not anything," Kears said sternly, "Go to the city council. Ask to take an action--make a decision. Go to the district. Have the district look at their resources. Put real money on the table. Take actions that result in actually saving hospitals as oppose to shifting responsibility onto someone else."

"Kears is trying to shift responsibility on to us," said Prola, "I believe it's the county's responsibility not just San Leandro's because only a third of our residents use the hospital."

Kears twice alluded to the city of San Leandro and Eden Township Board of Directors decisions in 2004 not to offer a parcel tax measure as a lost opportunity and Supervisor Nate Miley oddly emphasized San Leandro's decision not to ask the health care district to enact a tax plan that same year.

To make matters clear, Kears reminded the board that the genesis of the county's proposal began when no other options were available. "We never came in with the intent to close San Leandro Hospital," he said, "We came in to save it from being a shelter or simply being abandoned." He added the district and city have the power to change fate of San Leandro Hospital or pursue steps to gain authority back from Sutter.

The San Leandro Times reported last week the city's intention to commission a polling of its residents to determine the feasibility of a parcel tax sometime next year, but one source says the wording of the question has yet to be composed. Two recent parcel tax measures--one initiated by the school board and another last November to add law enforcement--both failed to garner two-thirds to pass.

This article has been corrected since it was posted

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

No Hospital Action, 'Hybrid' Model Gains Steam


By Steven Tavares
The Citizen
People buy hybrid cars supposedly to save the environment. A growing group of politicians are beginning to believe a "hybrid model" might save San Leandro Hospital.

The plan would render the hospital a downsized potpourri of services including a functioning emergency room and two floors of acute rehabilitation beds in addition to medical, surgical and intensive care units.

The president of the Alameda County Board of Supervisors Alice Lai-Bitker enthusiastically supported the proposal as did San Leandro Councilman Jim Prola. The hybrid model was first broached last month by the Eden Township Healthcare District along with San Leandro Mayor Tony Santos with little fanfare but has since gained steam.

The county, though, dampened the mood when Alex Briscoe, the acting director of Alameda County Health Services (ACHS), informed the board an analysis of the hybrid model showed costs ranging between $3.5 million to $7 million per year. When questioned how San Leandro Hospital would obtain such subsidies, Briscoe offered as candidates, the city of San Leandro, the healthcare district and Sutter Health without clarifying why each entity would have an distinct interest in doing so.

Briscoe also called Sutter's accounting that San Leandro Hospital loses at least $300,000 a month to be "legitimate." The admission created a stir with many speakers in light of a recent reassessment by the county of Sutter's claim that 80 percent of patients to the facility's emergency room could be serviced with urgent care. The real figure according to Briscoe is 59 percent, which he said is typical for a community hospital of its size and comparable to Highland Hospital in Oakland (53 percent) and St. Rose in Hayward (56 percent).

The former director of ACHS David Kears attributed the error to Sutter extrapolating a few months over a year which skewed the data. Lai-Bitker expressed frustration over the development to which Briscoe said, "I think we let you down."

"I just don't trust the Alameda County Medical Center," said Prola, "They are too eager to accept Sutter's figures which all our doctors and nurses tell us are wrong."

Kears, who retired last week, can't get away from the hospital scrum and appeared agitated by the perceived absence of leadership on the issue. "People will advocate for the city and the district, other sources or legislation to keep the hospital open," said Kears, "But there has been no evidence that they will put the money on the table."

While reiterating the county's proposal to shift needed acute rehab services to San Leandro Hospital, Kears also summed up the county's dilemma in the most stark terms heard thus far in a public hearing. "We thought at the beginning that it would be a win-win--we're not there--but win-lose is still better than lose-lose," he said, "That is the most likely prospect if we pull away from this proposal."

LiveTweet from Board of Supes Meeting: twitter.com/eastbaycitizen

Enabled by local governement; Sutter holds the cards

Saving San Leandro Hospital is the battle most politicians here would rather fight with cardboard swords and paper hats than with guns-a-blazing leadership. It's an odd duck of an issue where everyone, including the constituency, is firmly on one side. Numerous hearing and hundreds of speakers have voiced vociferous support without a single voice of disapproval. That we sit on the cusp of losing some or all of our hospital only shows how one powerful corporation can severely overshadow the will of the people and how we need to take it back.

The fact remains Sutter Healthcare holds all the cards and seemingly no amount of quick-witted legislation from state Sen. Ellen Corbett or Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi will save it. Supervisor Alice Lai-Bitker never really had the votes to do much and the local city officials--the mayor of San Leandro and city council--can only sit idle until fate comes calling.

We must remember Sutter did not wrest control of Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley and San Leandro Hospital by force. Instead, they easily cajoled an all-too-eager group of hospital directors to cede the control originally bestowed upon them by the voters.

Nearly every current politician in office since Sutter first floated plans in 2004 to close San Leandro Hospital claim innocence in their inactivity to save the hospital until the proverbial bottom of the ninth. In researching a feature for The Citizen due in a few weeks, a few of the most angry speakers at these public hearings are the same people who spoke of Sutter in glowing terms just five years ago.

In clinical terms, what our leaders did was enable Sutter to slowly devour public oversight of both hospitals. Not only was Sutter allowed to circumvent the provisions of Measure A, which they lauded in 1997 as a civic panacea which eventually led to purchase of Eden Hospital, they also made a mockery of representative government. The elected board of five members became 11, including five appointed by Sutter in addition to the CEO of Eden Medical Center George Bishalaney. Destpite the clamor by the residents of San Leandro, Sutter has lowered its head, plugged its ears and charged forward unmolested. In their wake they have done more than manipulate democracy, but have completely undermined it with mind-blowing efficiency.

Today, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors will respond to citizen concerns from last month's Eden Township hearings and listen to more recommendations for a solution to the hospital. Haven't we already made it clear what we want? Here's the cruel reality: every part of our state government, from the budget mess in Sacramento to the local level with this issue, is hamstrung; paralyzed to function in one way or the other. The politicians who say they want to keep the hospital open are truly genuine, but none have the political will or the opportunity to administer a cure. The game has been deftly stacked in Sutter's favor. Nothing happens until they make a move; whenever they choose to make it and how. This is why Corbett and Hayashi's bill to allow the county move time to maneuver is ridiculous. If passed, the bill would not be in effect until the beginning of next year. Giving Sutter that much time to act beforehand is like telling your enemies the time and date of your military invasion.

If you listen closely to Hayashi and Lai-Bitker, the new consensus may be to devise a plan that allows the county to lease the emergency room. This is called cutting your losses. This is where we are presently. In medical terms, our politicians are amputating the hospital's arms and legs to save as much as they can. If you are of the belief, like many in the nurse's union, that keeping some part of the hospital open, no matter who runs it, equals success, then this is the strategy for you. For them, this is also about staving off the unemployment line. Yet this gambit only "saves" the hospital for now, but still gives the public a net deficit in local health care and this is not why over 500 residents packed the library last month.

This issue is about life and death to many in this community. It is also about the viability of San Leandro. As the city hopes to grow, how can it justify to future taxpayers and businesses that it is a forward-thinking municipality when it can't even hold on to it's only hospital? The voters have been bamboozled for nearly 12 years by Sutter, the Eden Township Board of Directors and our local politicians. The question is can the con continue for a few more months and reach its conclusion or will the people restore the order of government with themselves perched atop the plain of Corporate America? Politicians generally respond to two things: lawsuits and the threat of withholding your vote come election time. We need to start doing both of these.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Health Reform may Strengthen Stark Law

Rep. Pete Stark made his money in banking, but his three decades in Congress have been highlighted by work in health care legislation. According to a piece at Time.com, the Stark Law, part of the liberal congressman's legacy in lawmaking is getting renewed attention on Capitol Hill as Congress looks for ways to pay for universal health care.

The Stark Law, actually three pieces of legislation, made the practice of doctors referring patients to institutions of which they had a financial interest illegal. Critics of the practice say doctors have a interest in recommending sometimes costly procedures for their own financial benefit. Many doctors disagree saying the law is an intrusion by the government into the care of patients.

Within the 850-page draft of Congress' health care reform bill, according to the story, is a passage that would close the last remaining loophole in the Stark Law and save tax dollars--the ability of doctor-owned specialty hospitals to benefit from their own referrals.
The House bill would address this issue by closing a loophole that has allowed doctors to send patients to hospitals they had a stake in, so long as that hospital served a rural population, or the stake was in a "whole hospital," not just a wing or department; the Congressional Budget Office predicts closing this loophole would mean fewer overall procedures, saving $1 billion in Medicare costs over ten years.
Read the story here.

Washington Monthly also describes how President Obama's plan to computerize health records may not save taxpayer dollars, but waste them. The article details the trouble with proprietary software versus the use of open-share applications. Stark introduced a bill last year that would have created a low-cost IT system whose code is open for all to tweak and presumably improve upon. It was defeated, the article believes, by lobbyist of deep-pocketed software companies.

Read the story here.

Timeshare Forerunner to Redevelop Downtown

San Leandro is returning to an old stand-by according to the Daily Review. Innisfree Companies, which developed the business park that primarily houses TriNet, is in line to transform the blighted former Albertson's building on East 14th Street along with seven other parcels into a hub of urban living.

The once future home of Grocery Outlet and the unfortunately spurned site of Trader Joe's is slated to become temporary parking before being developed as another proposed destination in the city's "transit-oriented" plan for the downtown. The previous developer removed itself from the project due to the poor economy.

Innisfree of Sausalito, Calif. in its earlier days was one of the early purveyors of the nascent timeshare industry of the late 60's. Presumably, attracting new businesses and condo owners will not include a free trip to Las Vegas for the trouble of watching a video while snacking on coffee and stale cookies.

Read the article here.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Hayashi Covets Corbett's Senate Seat

Many with knowledge of the political landscape believe Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi is gearing up for a run at state Sen. Ellen Corbett's seat in 2010, but question whether a bloody battle for the state Senate is wise with the fate of San Leandro Hospital as its backdrop.

Most conversations recently regarding Hayashi typically involve an exaggerated scratching of the head. For instance, why did she co-author a bill with Corbett if she planned to let it die in committee?

The confusion in Sacramento from her office last week on a simple hearings schedule and a war of words over who's better shepherding the saving of San Leandro Hospital seem silly and contrived. It's all one big head scratcher if you leave out one important piece of information--Hayashi wants Corbett's seat.

In recent weeks, Hayashi and Corbett have manufactured situations hoping to pin the possible demise of San Leandro Hospital on the other. The hot-button issue has the potential to carry into 2010 and will likely be the top issue in many local race from the two state race, the mayoral election in San Leandro and Councilman Michael Gregory's seat on the city council. Gregory's district includes the San Leandro Hospital campus.

"This is not the issue to be fighting over," said Charles Gilchrist, a long-time political consultant in the area, "There will be other issues."

One of the reasons for ramping up her campaign against Corbett are a few lessons gleaned from former Assemblywoman Wilma Chan's ill-fated run for Don Perata's Senate seat in 2008. The prevailing theory is the two year layoff became a liability. The downtime hampered Chan's fundraising ability and removed her from the public radar--two things Hayashi would hope to avoid against the first-term state Senator.

Typically the odd year before an election cycle features this sort of contentiousness. Vice Mayor Joyce Starosciak has already began to define distinctions between herself and Mayor Santos while other possible challengers have ramped up criticism in hopes of defeating the long-time pol. What appears different in the possible senate battle is Hayashi's willingness to use a quality of life issue like the loss of the city's only hospital for political points.

Meanwhile, the issue also has potential challengers to Hayashi's assembly seat salivating to take shots of their own. "She's not a good politician,"a possible challenger brazenly told The Citizen, "She's not a good public servant."

Monday, July 6, 2009

Poltical Potshots: Corbett Outflanks Hayashi

The threat of closing rehabilitation services at Fairmont Hospital because of California's 2013 deadline to seismically retrofit state's health care centers was a major talking point in the county's cap. Showering money on Fairmont is not feasible, the county says, and utilizing San Leandro Hospital's facility, itself with a uncertain future, is a deal that was said to be the best possible at the time, but maybe it is no longer.

This is all been highlighted by some extraordinary political dueling that seems currently in State Senator Ellen Corbett's favor. Rewind a few days ago and the former mayor of San Leandro took quite a shot from Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi when she failed to approve her own co-sponsored bill with Corbett in committee. Hayashi had a competing bill in the works and somewhat humiliated Corbett as the vote fell one vote shy of moving to the full Assembly.

Both Corbett and Hayashi seem to be in a battle of political tit-for-tat while vying to be the savior of San Leandro Hospital. Corbett's announcement last Thursday, though, may be a game changer forcing all sides of the political and corporate structure to rethink their plans moving forward.

If Hayashi was able to thwart Corbett's bill to give San Leandro more time to find a solution for saving San Leandro Hospital, the favor was returned just as Sacramento headed to an early holiday weekend. The offices of both Corbett and Hayashi then engaged in dueling press releases criticizing each others commitment to San Leandro Hospital. "I am dismayed and saddened that Senator Corbett would rather send out a press release attacking my commitment to the residents of San Leandro instead of working with me to strengthen her bill," Hayashi said in the statement.

Not to be outdone, Corbett announced Thursday, she attained a waiver from the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development allowing Fairmont Hospital to set a deadline to file its plans to retrofit the facility until at least 2013, effectively trumping the bill authored by Hayashi that would have performed nearly the same function. In hindsight, Corbett had signaled the possibility of rendering the state-mandated deadline moot nearly a month ago.

The Citizen reported June 10 that Eden Township Director Carole Rogers mentioned during one of the board's hospital hearings that Corbett intimated the state would be far less rigid in holding the state's medical facilities to the 2013 deadline to seismically retrofit. According to Rogers, Corbett had told her less than half of the state's facilities have not filed any plans to retrofit.

It is now unclear what, if anything, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors will act upon July 14 when they meet for a regular session in Oakland. Board President Alice Lai-Bitker had stated she would urge for the board to rescind the county's offer regarding Fairmont on the grounds that new options may have surfaced, but Corbett's bombshell blows the county's rhetoric of quickly closing rehab services on the assumption retrofitting was not economically feasible in the short term out of the water.

Unfortunately, the entity in control of this entire situation is not a government agency, but Sutter Health. They won't talk and probably wisely so until all the dust settles and a clear path for their interests is seen there isn't much for them to do but play wait-and-see.

Stark supports Health Care Czar who made millions from Industry

Rep. Pete Stark believes President Obama's new health care czar, who received over $6 million in compensation from many in the health care industry she is now entrusted to reform, was an excellent choice, according to the Congressional Quarterly.

According to financial disclosure reports filed by the Director of the White House Office of Health Reform Nancy-Ann DeParle, who was named in March, she received $2.3 million from health care corporations in the months preceding her hiring. The report also states DeParle earned over $6 million since 2001.

Stark, whose profile has risen of late as Washington gears up for a fight over health care reform later this summer, told the web site he supports the naming of Nancy-Ann DeParle . “I understand the president asked Ms. DeParle to take this job because of her extraordinaryqualifications and experience in and outside of government, and I think she is an excellent choice,” said House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee Chairman Pete Stark.

Voters in Stark's liberal East Bay enclave may be concerned over their congressman's statement pertaining to DeParle's past employment and lightly painting it as "business as usual" in Washington. "She demonstrated her independence time and again by supporting strong recommendations against the interests of companies she was advising at the time," Stark said. “It’s hard to find a health care expert or member of Congress that hasn’t taken any money from a health interest, and I’ve never believed that should automatically disqualify a person’s experience. The President is lucky to have her on his team.”

An article on MSNBC.com says DeParle made her name as a go-to person helping health care corporations defend themselves against Federal investigations. As Director of the White House Office of Health Reform, DeParle will "pushing for the administration's plans for changing health care and the ways Americans pay for it — changes in which her former companies have a great deal at stake." A disclosure in the report notes DeParle has divested herself of all conflict of interests in regards to her past ties to the health care industry.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Nate Thornton Is Still Fighting The Good War

Out of work and without much hope for the future, Nate Thornton was handed a leaflet in San Francisco that would eventually send him halfway across the world to fight a war which history would call the opening act to World War II. A life of heartache and struggle was the price he paid. At 94, he's still fighting the Good War.
Hayward's Nate Thornton, 94, a veteran of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade which fought in the Spanish Civil War in 1937-38, holds a photo of himself using the leftist salute, "No pasaran!" on a flight to Cuba.

By Steven Tavares

The Citizen
He lay sitting upright in his well-worn, brown recliner. Hunched forward as the cushion cups his body.

Nate Thornton turns his head and stares at the intricate wood carvings fashioned with skill, layered in lacquer.

The images formed out of ordinary oak hark to a distant past when ideological vigor and economic disparity ruled the minds of every American.

A silhouette of a rifle-wielding soldier hang on the wall to the right of him, the purple, gold and red Republican flag of Spain is pinned by its four corners to left of him.

Seventy-one years ago, Thornton and 2,800 Americans joined the Abraham Lincoln Brigade made famous by Ernest Hemingway and marched to fight fascism in a foreign land, yet from his Hayward home--not far from the campus of Cal State East Bay--he still lives the unsuccessful foray into the Iberian Peninsula in his mind and sees histories tentacles wrapping around the United States today.

The Spanish civil war was the product a democratically-elected government being brought to its knees by General Francisco Franco and the Spanish military. Some historians argue the conflict was a proxy war between Soviet communists and fascist nations in Germany and Italy.

For men like Thornton and his father, harsh economic times held over from the Great Depression had a weakening effect on their morale, while stoking feelings of ideology.

“It was perceived by people at the time that this is where we can take a stand against fascism and in retrospect to those who fought in World War II this was the dress rehearsal—this was the first battle—and we lost it,” said CSUEB professor of history Dr. Henry Reichman.

At 94 years old, the feeling that the atrocities of World War II could have been averted by simply defeating Franco still irritates Thornton to this day.

“I was a disappointed person,” said Thornton, “I was disappointed in how things turned out. Spain had been defeated and the United States hadn't helped at all and just a year or so after that we had to go fight Germany anyway. So, it was a mess.”

The late winter of 1937 was still bare of employment in the Bay Area. Men still worked sparingly. Others who could find work did it sparingly and with meager earnings.

At 22, Thornton was part of the cadre of unlucky job seekers.

“There hadn't been much chance for me to find a job,” said Thornton, “I'd find an odd job once in the while on the waterfront in San Francisco, but it was just for a day or two and then you're off and back where you started from.”

His father was in the same dire financial straits and with a coal miner's strike broken up by a group of scab worker still sour in the elder Thornton's mouth, the situation was ripe for change.
Thornton's father was 42. Still sprite, yet the world had made him weary. Father and son walked down a street in San Francisco. Nate saw a man passing leaflets on the street corner ahead. They reached the man in no time.
What they told us sounded so damn good, so much better than what we had that I was completely sold
The leaflets offered a chance at redemption—a new antidote to cure the social ills that had plagued downtrodden men like Nate and his father. The leaflets urged them to attend a meeting of the Communist party.

Wizen and fatherly, Nate's father displayed some consternation. The inexperienced Nate had seen enough of what capitalism could do and urged his father to merely attend. The scene was a grown-up version of a boy pleading his dad to buy him a new red wagon.

They would attend after all. The party leaders rhetoric was too much for the Thornton's to ignore and together joined the party.

“What they told us sounded so damn good, so much better than what we had that I was completely sold,” remembers Thornton.

Ideology or not, the communist party in the United States was seeking strength in numbers.

“It was indicative of the attitudes of the American communist party at the time. These weren't communist organizations in the sense that they took volunteers of any political persuasion,” said Reichman, “As long as you wanted to fight fascism in Spain. This was the front line.”

A party leader named Archie Brown would be the impetus for getting the Thornton's to join the Lincoln Brigade.

Thornton believes the enlisting of father and son to the Lincoln Brigades to be the only such case.
A group of six would commence to travel by bus from San Francisco to New York City. From there they would sail to France before trekking over the Pyrenees Mountains into Northeastern Spain onto the small town of Albacete.

This was done at the party's behest without help from the U.S. government, which was still a staunchly isolationist nation on the eve of World War II.

“They never expressed any intimidation to us, but they never encouraged us, either,” said Thornton.

The U.S. customs, though, stamped their passport, “not valid for travel to Spain”, necessitating the detour through France, which Reichman says was also tenuous because of that country's stated neutrality during the Spanish civil war.
'I had it pretty nice in Madrid. I had a young woman who would make up my bed for me so I could sleep nicely. That was all she did, though,' said Thornton with a sly smile.
Once in Albacete, the collection of foreign troops numbering nearly 35,000 organized. Many like Thornton sported suits compliments of the communists party, but were nearly broke.
In Albacete, he would volunteer to work in the kitchen, but became disinterested when he ranked only as a subordinate.

Thornton had experience as a cook three years earlier earning $30 per month working in the Civilian Conservation Corps. He would send his father $25 of his wages to save for him.

“I wanted to be the big guy, but I was the third cook. I got tired of taking orders from the chef,” said Thornton.

After a month, a call for men willing to be drivers went out and Thornton and his father jumped at the opportunity.

Like Hemingway during World War I, Thornton drove an ambulance carting away the wounded and the dead from the Spanish battlefields.

Inexperience was something soldiers like Thornton needed to overcome and arrived only through trial and error.

On Thornton's first day behind the wheel of the ambulance, he wisely brought someone familiar with the terrain and battle field of Brunete, a small town outside the capital, Madrid.

The road was uneven and better suited for horse-drawn carts. The sight of an automobile was a curiosity in Spain at the time.

The guide sternly told Thornton to stop the ambulance.

“Stop here and wait awhile,” said the guide.

Without hesitation, without a clue to its meaning, he brought the vehicle to a stop.

They waited.

In the distance, over a 100 yards or so, Thornton and the guide saw a shell explode up the road.
The guide said, “Ok, now we can go.”

The battle at Brunete was harrowing for the Lincoln Brigade and the Republican Spanish loyalists. A rout ensued as Franco's army bolted the defenses, killing masses of soldiers and coming up on a triage tent hidden in a creek.

“Driving back with a load of wounded and our people were being routed and they were fleeing and running, trying to get away from that creek. We had our first aid unit in a creek.

“We were driving along and some guy jumped on the running board of my ambulance and plopped over in front of me, so I couldn't see to drive. I stopped the ambulance and poked him, motioned for him to move so I could see. He fell off. I guess he was dead. Made it as far as my ambulance. I'm sure he died there in Brunete,” said Thornton.

Thornton had not seen or heard of his father's whereabouts for months. He would later learn his father worked maintaining tires and trucks during the viciously frigid Battle of Teruel.

In the meantime, Thornton spent some down time in Madrid. The respite was welcomed and Spaniards loyal to the Republic showed great appreciation for foreign soldiers like Thornton.

“I had it pretty nice in Madrid. I had a young woman who would make up my bed for me so I could sleep nicely. That was all she did, though,” said Thornton with a sly smile.

In Madrid he would dine of the local specialties, including bacalhau, a dried codfish popular in the Iberian peninsula. He believes that many of the locals went without some basic food supplies to help the Lincoln Brigade.

Thornton says locals would routinely salute them fist flashing towards the sky, chanting, “No pasaran!”, a leftist slogan meaning, “thou shall not pass.”
...The capitalists are going to have to go to work with a pick and shovel like the rest of us...The system is breaking down.
By August of 1938, the war had turned decidedly against the Republican army. A fear that Franco's army would brutally crackdown on any captured foreign soldiers permeated before it was decided to send them home.

Thornton would reverse the itinerary in which he traveled to Spain. From Albacete, through the Pyrenees, save a brief stay on the French coast due to a strike of port workers, across the Atlantic to New York and by land to San Francisco.

Thornton would quickly marry and decided against volunteering for the U.S. Army.

“I had been fighting before for 20 months, I felt I did may share,” he said.

Thornton exhibits contempt at the U.S. government's treatment of Lincoln Brigade members upon returning home.

“They didn't make friend with us,” he said, “First thing they did was to label us 'premature anti-fascists'.”

Thornton slowly repeats it for effect. “Premature anti-fascists.”

“It was okay to be anti-fascists,” he mocks, “but don't be premature. We had to wait for the United States to tell us when we could be anti-fascists.”

Like many during the Red Scare of the 1950's, Thornton, because of his ties to the communist party felt the reverberations of irrational hysteria in America.

Thornton was a carpenter by trade. He had just purchased the house on the foothills of Hayward in 1954. Working in the garage as he would any other weekend, his work was upset by the two parked cars across the narrow one-lane street.

He looked up from his work as the men dressed in ordinary suits flashed FBI badges from their coat pockets.

With political upheaval rumbling throughout the nation and a background certainly unwelcome in popular company, he became concerned.

Both men began asking him questions. How did he feel about certain stories in the news? What was he doing at work on the docks? What was his political views?

“I told them right there, I'm not answering your questions,” remembers Thornton.

The men left, but not without Thornton worrying for months when the other shoe would drop. It never did.

He believes he became the victim of untimely lay offs when his “radical” views became known to supervisors.

“Oh, I couldn't keep my damn mouth shut. I would say bad things about our government—things I didn't like that was going on,” said Thornton.

It wasn't until Thornton became an “A book” carrying member of the Longshoreman's union in Oakland that employment finally became stable.

Thornton's streak of activism would continue with support for the United Farm Workers Union, protests of the Army base at Fort Benning in Georgia and trips in support of Cuba.

At 94, Thornton's vigor has slowed, but his tenacity is still evident when he speaks of the future of the struggle.

“I think we're on the verge of fascism right now. I think Bush and McCain are just like this,” he says raising his thumb and forefinger together, “Don't let them kid you.”

“I see the Democrats and Republicans. They are two parts of the same party and the capitalists have set them up. When the capitalists can use the Democrats for their advantage, they use them, when the people don't go for the Democrats, they go to the Republicans—back and forth.”

The cause in Spain may have been unsuccessful, yet Thornton still firmly believes in its potential to this day.

“I know that socialism is going to be the '-ism' of the future,” he says, “I don't know when it will happen, not in my time, I'm sure of that. Once this thing is all done, the capitalists are going to have to go to work with a pick and shovel like the rest of us. That's what they don't like. That's what they don't want. The system is breaking down.”

Thursday, July 2, 2009

San Lorenzo Continues Medical Marijuana Dialogue

By Steven Tavares
The Citizen
SAN LORENZO, Calif. - As far as wide-spread acceptance for medical marijuana goes the nation has entered in a new era of, at least, listening to its benefits. You could say the alternative healing industry hampered by the stigma of illicit drug use and violent crime is growing up after years of hiding in the dark alley of social acceptance.

About 40 San Lorenzo residents resumed a burgeoning dialogue started last April regarding the unincorporated area's questions about medical marijuana dispensaries. Earlier attempts catering to often chronically ill patients have failed often ending in raids by the Drug Enforcement Administration. Last year, one such dispensary, We Are Hemp, located at the end of East Lewelling Boulevard was shut down only to reopen in January of this year.

At a similar town hall-type meeting attended by the entire Alameda County Board of Supervisors highlighted the sleepy bedroom community's reticence about such collectives. Thursday night's meeting was more cordial while featuring a panel of five advocates for medical marijuana.

A large part of the problem advocates of medical marijuana dispensaries face is a deep seated aversion to anything remotely connected to the drug. "The best way to tackle a problem is to communicate it in a respectful way," said Becky DeKeuster, a commissioner on the City of Berkeley's Medical Cannabis Board. James Anthony, another panelist and attorney urged for a end to the stigma of marijuana in the community, "We want to take the shame out of it. Take it out of the doctor's office to the collective and show that there is nothing to fear from it."

The perception of dispensaries being meeting grounds for crime and attractions for abusers of the drug to score more products for their own pleasure is false according to Dr. Amanda Reiman who is a lecturer at U.C. Berkeley and authored a research paper on the subject.

The typical medical marijuana patients are whites males just under the age of 40. According to her work studying a collective in Berkeley, almost 75 percent of customers have existing health care coverage while 70 percent suffer from some type of chronic disease and 80 percent attended some college. Most insurance companies do not cover such services. Reiman believes dispensaries fill in a need in the community for health care services, some of which are attained at a small cost or, in some cases, free of charge. Regardless of possible demand in the community, there are many quality of life questions and fears of dispensaries making San Lorenzo less attractive to businesses hoping to move to its long stagnant downtown.

Wulf Bieschke, the president of the San Lorenzo Village Homes Association, while not entirely against the notion of medical marijuana as an alternative avenue of healing for some people, believes the millions already spent on attracting businesses to the area surrounding Hesperian Boulevard and Paseo Grande will be even harder within the current depressed economy, "Business will not open next to a medical marijuana dispensary," he told the panel.

DeKeuster said her experience with the Berkeley Patients Group dispensary located on San Pablo Avenue has shown the collective can easily coexist and thrive with other business while creating much desired foot traffic. She also said storefronts can be designed in a inconspicuous manner.

A constant theme throughout was the need for dispensaries to develop rigorous self-regulation with a nod towards helping patients in the community instead of allowing dispensaries in the area geared solely to profits. Matt Kumon, a civil rights litigator familiar with keeping clients within the bounds of the law, takes a more pragmatic and conservative approach to dispensaries where all sides can work together in harmony, "I'm tired of the division between local government, law enforcement and patients," he said, "We need to get everyone on board."

The Alameda County Sheriffs Department seems to be willing to work with all sides. Lt. Kelly Miles, an investigator for the county, says the sheriff supports the ordinance, but also says "medical marijuana tends to attract certain types of crimes."

One public speaker found the entire conversation exasperating and believes the community is pass the entire "Medical Marijuana is Good 101" phase of the conversation and needs to move forward to regulating the business and helping people. "I can get marijuana and crack on any street corner," Susan Beck of Cherryland said, "But I can't get fresh vegetables but once week at the Farmer's Market."

Medical Marijuana Dispensaries Will Stymie Economic Growth

By Wulf Bieschke
There is no easy way to resolve the conflicts between medical needs and illegal activity, or to avoid the fact that we are dealing with an illegal drug. While some members of the community may support medical marijuana, individual neighborhoods do not want the facility in their backyards.

That being said, When the county counsel drafts this new ordinance, the San Lorenzo Village Homes Association has drafted some minimum standards for these cooperatives, that we strongly suggest be included into this new ordinance.
  1. Hours of operation are to be 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
  2. No sale of marijuana were to take place outside the building
  3. Security should be provided by a member of the Alameda County Sheriffs Department (paid for by the clinic). This would help prevent or eliminate crimes at the facility and perhaps armed robbery of individuals in the immediate neighborhood
  4. Location should be in proximity to medical facilities, pharmacies, or related services.
  5. They must not be located in any facilities near a school or in any area where children are likely to travel, recreate, or otherwise spend any significant time.
  6. These cooperative should in no way be allowed to operate in redevelopment areas, where considerable tax dollars, county staff and consultant time have been invested.
  7. Members of a Cooperative or collaborative shall not be allowed to grow marijuana in residential neighborhoods.
  8. The Alameda County Sheriffs Department shall lead agency in the enforcement of this ordinance.
I especially would like to make the case for standard number six.

These cooperative should in no way be allowed to operate in commercial corridors and industrial areas, where considerable redevelopment tax dollars, county staff and consultant time have been invested.

For many years San Lorenzo has been waiting for the redevelopment of the downtown area. Past and current county board members along with other volunteers from the community have spent countless hours in meetings working with highly compensated consultants and county staff, shaping and forming specific and economic plans. Out of these meetings we were able to established our downtown as a redevelopment area and have set aside millions of our tax dollars for a new streetscape to entice businesses to come to San Lorenzo. The county has also hired a full time person to help in economic development and to help search for viable businesses.

In fact according to county budget records, since its inception in 2001 The Eden Redevelopment Project (San Lorenzo Sub Area) has spent $2,494,816.00 in administration costs, $464,990.00 in ERAF transfers to the state $130,507.00 in debt servicing and $542,481.00 in bond debt, and yet the only ones that have seen a return on all this hard work has been the county and state and we still have an empty lot where Mervyn's once stood.

Over the years, business brokers and a developer have told us that certain businesses would not consider San Lorenzo as a place of doing business. Our area does not meet a certain criteria. Traffic flow and freeway access where just a few. And now because of the stigma of pot and the ancillary crime associated with these dispensaries and the threat of police raids, only gives these businesses another reason not to come to San Lorenzo.

I urge that the supervisors take this into consideration when giving direction to county counsel.
Yes it has been said that these cooperatives would bring in large amounts of tax revenue. And we all know that those revenues would go into the general fund and be used for services through out the county. But our communities would still use a part of our property tax dollars to entice businesses that won’t come. And we would still have to deal with the problems associated with these cooperatives. So what is the answer?

If one accepts the argument that marijuana is a beneficial pharmaceutical, it is logical that the cooperatives might seek a location near where patients with serious illnesses are likely to be; if medical marijuana were legal, it would have additional regulations much like any other pharmacy.

So I suggest, that part of the Fairmont Medical Facility be sold to these cooperatives, If marijuana is truly of medical benefit then it should be sold in a medical environment overseen by County Health and enforced by the Alameda County Sheriffs Department.

Wulf Bieschke is President of the San Lorenzo Village Homes Association and long-time resident of San Lorenzo.


Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Hayashi No Vote Smothers Corbett's Bill

The battle to save San Leandro Hospital is only getting stranger by the day. As political peculiarities go it's hard to top Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi voting against her own co-sponsored bill in committee.

The hospital saga has thus far featured calls of behind-the-scenes crookedness by Sutter Health. Not to mention, a hospital district board conspicously stripped of the power to decide an agenda item they spent three nights being lambasted by the public. In addition to a board president who mysteriously abstains from voting on the grounds of a conflict of interest in response to people accusing him of a conflict of interest. Are you following me?

SB 196, which was passed by the State Senate and authored by State Sen. Ellen Corbett, would have given local leaders more time to solve the hospital mess by increasing the time a hospital provider would give the state notice of their intention to close an emergency room.

Hayashi's bill in the Assembly--AB 1427--proposes to put any sale of a hospital in the hands of the voters. While the bill has longer and deeper aspirations, it does not solve the immediate problem facing the city--saving the hospital's ER. As we head into July, time is definitely of the essence.

An article on the Contra Costa Times blog section focuses on Hayashi propensity for making enemies recently and, indeed, her behavior has been odd. It's also uncommon for Corbett to attack a cohort in Sacramento. In a press release shot out earlier this afternoon from Corbett's office she said, “Citizens deserve an opportunity to come together to fight to keep their local emergency room and hospital open. I will continue to do everything I can to keep San Leandro Hospital open and get this important bill passed.”

It is noticeable that she uses a quote from the California Nurses Association to stick Hayashi saying, "I find it shocking that Assemblywoman Hayashi would stall this critical piece of legislation, after she has publicly stated her support for keeping San Leandro Hospital open."

The question now becomes what is Hayashi really doing here? Her behavior, without being seen in these parts, has reeked of political opportunism. Is she really down for the fight like say, Corbett, Alameda County Supervisor Alice Lai-Bitker and San Leandro City Councilmen Michael Gregory and Jim Prola or just in it to fake it?

During the last hospital hearing June 15, Hayashi sent her District Director Christopher Parman to say we're with you and played a Big Brother type video of the assemblywoman saying the same thing. It is also notable at that same meeting Parman announced Hayashi's bill would be expedited in the Assembly. To this date it has not.

This is not the first time Hayashi has failed to cooperate with a bill designed to rescue a hospital from closure. On June 8, The Citizen reported Hayashi did not vote on a similar bill last year that gives the attorney general power to block the sale of a hospital from a non-profit to a for-profit entity. Ironically, that bill was intended to forestall the sale of Paradise Valley Hospital near San Diego to Prime Healthcare Services, the same hospital provider hoping to take over San Leandro Hospital.