Friday, October 30, 2009

Stark back to Sticking it to the Rich

Rep. Pete Stark has publicly stated he would vote for almost any bill that gives over 95 percent of Americans health insurance and now he has one.

The 10-year, $894 billion bill announced yesterday is similar to the Stark-sponsored bill in late July which was pilloried for being too costly. Notably, the new bill retains a 5.4 percent surtax on individuals making more than $500,000 and couples making over a million. The Senate disagreed with such a tax in its previous form. “As we've worked to reduce the overall cost of this bill, I am most proud that we've done so without shifting greater costs to middle and lower income families,” said Stark.

An estimated 36 million Americans would gain health insurance under the plan allowing 96 percent of the nation to be covered by often times costly medical prescriptions and procedures. Speaker Nancy Pelosi yesterday touted a return of the vaunted public option where the government would negotiate prices with insurance companies.

Stark, who is the chairman of the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Health, has been a n ardent supporter of the public option, even though many of his progressive constituents have urged him to support a more comprehensive single-payer plan said, “A strong public health insurance option is a key component to holding down those costs by injecting real competition and accountability into the health care marketplace.

But, in a story picked up nationally by the San Francisco Chronicle's Carolyn Lochhead, the public option would shutout 90 percent of the population.
House and Senate bills limit the option to the smallest businesses and to individuals who cannot get insurance, or whose health care costs exceed 12.5 percent of their income. Even seven years into an overhaul, an estimated 90 percent of Americans, including nearly everyone who has employer-based coverage now, would be shut out of a public option.
Meanwhile, the Washington Post, chose the day after the unveiling of the House's newest health care reform bill to rehash an eight month old story previously published in March by Bloomberg News. The story alleged four members of Congress, including Stark, received a $4,000 tax break in Maryland in violation of House ethics rules. Stark lists his residence in Anne Arundel County, but is registered to vote in California. The state of Maryland enacted strict rules against the homestead tax after 2007.

Despite no official announcement on whether Stark will be stuck with any ethics violations, the Post coincidentally published a story without any relevant new information on a key member of Congress hoping to enact health care reform. It just goes to show you how politically charged every move of this debate has become and how any notable law that arises from this battle will be a minor miracle.
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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

District Replacement to Come Down to Last Minute

HAYWARD, Calif. - Eden Township Healthcare Director Carole Rogers forced the issue Tuesday night for selecting a replacement for Dr. Walter Kran who resigned Sept. 28, it's just the other board members did not follow.

“I think appointing a board member immediately is a priority for us,” Rogers said during the meeting held in Hayward. “We need somebody who will stand up for the community and stand up for San Leandro Hospital.” After reading the questionnaires candidates submitted to the District, she believed a decision could be made Tuesday night.
I'm concerned it will go to the Board of Supervisors and they will appoint their pro-ACMC flunky, said Rogers.
Dr. Harry Dvorsky, who is viewed as the most important vote on action to appoint a new member, immediately disagreed with Rogers and called for further evaluations of the seven applicants to the agreement of the board.

“There are some people who have shown interest and reading their statements is not enough for me to make a determination,” said Board Chair Dr. Rajendra Ratnesar.

Afterwards, Rogers expressed disappointment with the lack of support from other members, especially Dr. Vin Sawhney, who has forged a strong voting bloc against closing the hospital. “Knowing that people are actually dying in the hallways of San Leandro Hospital, I was expecting my fellow board members to come through.”

Dvorsky's intentions may have signaled Sawhney to abandon his colleagues desire to make a quick appointment without the requisite number of votes to pass. Sawhney's suggestion to hold two public hearings whereby candidates will be interviewed for roughly 20 minutes each was later adopted by a 3-1 vote.

“He must have his reasons, he just didn't talk to me about it,” said Rogers. “Maybe he just didn't think he could get a third vote.”

At separate moments, Rogers appeared to be setting the groundwork for what she believes is possible actions by the board to subvert its ability to choose a replacement and allow the Alameda County Board of Supervisors to make the pivotal decision.

One possibility Rogers hopes to stave off is a repeat performance of the Sept. 3 meeting critics say was in violation of the Brown Act which promotes open government. Rogers, who read her criticism of the board's action into the minutes, later said she did so out of concern one of the future special meeting tentatively set for early November will also be cancelled at the last minute.

The District has until Nov. 27 to appoint a replacement or run the risk of the choice becoming the jurisdiction of the Board of Supervisors. Supporters of saving San Leandro Hospital believe such a scenario would elevate a candidate who favors the plan put forth by the Alameda County Medical Center (ACMC). “I'm concerned it will go to the Board of Supervisors and they will appoint their pro-ACMC flunky,” said Rogers.

ACMC hopes to replace rehabilitation beds lost from the seismically-deficient Fairmont Hospital with facilities at San Leandro Hospital. The plan, though, entails closing the hospital's emergency and surgical departments and diverting patients to outlying facilities at Highland Hospital in Oakland, St. Rose in Hayward or Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley.

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Read the same story from San Leandro Times

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Poll That Told Us What We Already Knew

When it comes to government, the best way to get things done is to arrive at new ideas and construct a coalition. Some call it accountability; let's just call it good politics. What is not good policy at the local level is government by way of polling. In fact, the only poll politicians in San Leandro should heed is at the ballot box and proceed with their own ideas and agendas.

What makes the recent $40,000 polling expenditure so baffling aside from its poor monetary value is its lack of any new insight into the minds of San Leandrans. The survey showed the city believes police and fire protection is overwhelmingly important to their daily lives. Mayor Tony Santos said there "weren't too many surprises" in the poll and referenced its similarity to a recent survey two years ago. Councilman Jim Prola acknowledged police and fire are always number one in people's minds and Vice Mayor Joyce Starosciak was only "shocked" with how high the percentage was.

Even during times when the city is cutting excess spending, the tragedy of spending tens of thousands of dollars on a poll that reflects everything the city already expects shows a lack of political courage to puncture standard sacred cows. Too often the city trumpets fear in the name of adding more officer to the police force and opportunistically uses the same strategy when crime rates are low with the same amount of officers.

Is there a local politician or candidate courageous enough to say 88 officers is the perfect number or dare say decrease the figure. There was a perfectly good reason why San Leandro did not receive tax dollars to boost its police department, while Hayward and other locales succeeded--because there is not a crime problem in San Leandro. To further make the point, the city is situated in a horrendous economy littered with high unemployment and close proximity to Oakland, where crime is definitely a defining issue. Could there be another political issue gnawing at San Leandrans? Prola believes so.

"They're angry at Sacramento because they did not take care of the budget, except taking money from where they wanted the money to go," he said. "People want the money to stay in the local communities and when they take the money away, I get angry too as a citizen." Prola and others may be right when they say residents are angry at Sacramento's do-nothing perception, but it is doubtful such derision falls specifically on the results of this survey. Instead, it's politicians offering up the samebogeymen to positive results come election time. The real reason may be years of conditioning. If a priest is talking to you about God. Of course, it's important, but was it really on your mind if the clergyman wasn't standing in front of you?

When the city leaders stop thinking like an industrial city of the past and more like a progressive, high tech, green industrial city it strives to be will the prized young creative class flock to the city, until then uncertainty and well-worn dogma will continue to serve the old-guard's purposes.

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Candidates to Replace Kran Fail to Mention Hospital's Plight

The Citizen
One former member, a two-time candidate, two businessmen, two doctors and a lawyer all hope to place themselves on the ideologically split Eden Township Board of Directors and resolve the future of San Leandro Hospital, yet in applications obtained by The Citizen, none make reference to the facility and one gained the endorsements of those within the power structure of Sutter Health, the operator of both the hospital and Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley.

Seven applicants, announced last Friday, made their intentions known to replace Dr. Walter Kran on the board. Kran abruptly resigned Sept. 28 after citing stress from interests on both sides of the hospital situation. It is not clear whether a replacement will be named Tuesday at the board meeting held the Hayward Area Recreation District Office in Hayward at 5:30 p.m.

One source close to the board's dealings, believe the agenda also posted Friday and tightly controlled by the Board Chairman Dr. Rajendra Ratnesar may limit discussion detailing the procedures of choosing the next board member and forego a decision until next month. Doing so raises the possibility the next board member could be chosen by the Alameda County Board of Supervisors where only two of the five votes are believed to be in support of keeping the hospital and emergency services open. The District bylaws call for a successor within 60 days of the resignation, which arrives Nov. 27.

One possible scenario against such an action would entail one board member calling for a motion to vote on one or more candidates during the regularly scheduled monthly meeting. The name most likely to benefit by such a maneuver is semi-retired orthopedic surgeon Dr. William West. In his sparse application letter, West offers little, but hints at his relationship with two members viewed as sympathetic to San Leandro Hospital by alluding to conversations with Directors Carole Rogers and Dr. Vin Sawhney and important swing-vote Dr. Harry Dvorsky. It is believed West's greatest asset is his familiarity to Dvorsky, whose mental ability to make board decisions has been in question.

"I bring experience seeing the evolution of the facilities which included the development of Eden as a first class general as well as high level trauma hospital, the closure of one hospital (San Leandro Memorial), the construction of what is now San Leandro Hospital and its management by a series of owners," West wrote. "I believe this experience will bring good judgment in the decisions facing the board."

Former board member Dr. Francisco Rico, who lost his seat last year after six years, stated a desire to finish what he started as one of the leading advocates of Sutter's rebuild of Eden. "I was left with the feeling that I had not really finished my work [at the District]," Rico wrote, "that would be to see the new hospital open and to establish psychiatry service to replace the one we are losing."

Adding to the deeply-held suspicion Rico is backed by Sutter Health, he lists the endorsements of Eden CEO George Bischalaney, Chief of Staff Dr. Dave Black and former board member Suzanne Barba.

Among the other candidates, little-known Steven Ree Worley, who runs a medical equipment
company listed the support of Hayward Mayor Michael Sweeney and Councilman Francisco Zermeno.

Others with a eye on replacing Kran include Dr. Norbert Ralph, Businessman John Chin, Attorney Lester Friedman and, as reported last week Dr. Ronald Hull, who indicated in his application a desire to "look at all sides" of an issue given the available information.

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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Lockyer to Legislature: 'Just Stop It!'

California Treasurer Bill Lockyer started his political career on the San Leandro School Board. Thursday he spoke down to the legislature like they were a bunch of fourth graders launching spit balls.

Lockyer thinks lawmakers in Sacramento are wasting time and resources with superfluous legislation for the sake of getting along with others.

"Two-thirds of the bills that come out of the assembly if they never saw the light of day--God bless it," he said before admonishing them, "Just stop it!, Just stop it!" He called most of the bills coming out of Sacramento to be "junk."

The former legislator, attorney general and San Leandro favorite son will discuss how to fix the state budget and legislative process Nov. 6 at the San Lorenzo Community Hall.

In the YouTube video, Lockyer is quite hard on the inability of Democrats to fix the state's woes and downright pessimistic. If raising taxes is out of the question, Democrats will need to be more efficient in spending what they already have, he said. According to Lockyer, Republicans are more predisposed to fiscal responsibility.
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Friday, October 23, 2009

Stark Running from Healthcare bill Passed this Summer

When a constituent of Rep. Pete Stark pushed the congressman to support the House's single-payer plan put forth by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), he said the votes were just not there and the country preferred incremental progress on health care.

Incredulous, the man said, at the time, 77 members of Congress had co-sponsored Conyers' far more progressive bill and asked Stark how many had sponsored his bill (AB 3200). Stark stumbled and admitted he didn't know. The man answered, "eight." The group at the Alameda Democratic Club groaned and a few giggled at the disparity.

Of course, the question becomes are all congressman created equal? Stark's bill was supported by the House leadership, therefore, tacitly favored by the White House at the time. Now, it seems even Stark is bailing on the bill after the chief actuary of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said the plan will severely add to the deficit, a key no-no to any plan according to the president.

The report said the plan would cost $4.8 trillion by 2019, while simply doing nothing would run $4.7 trillion.

"In some respects this analysis is consistent with that of Congressional Budget Office (CBO), but there are also some dramatic departures," Stark said. "It is also incomplete and out-of-date relative to what will ultimately be voted on in the House of Representatives." Stark also took a jab at Republicans, who often reminded Democrats in the minority the analysis from the CBO was gospel.

When Stark says "out-of-date" he likely means AB 3200 is DOA. Instead, Version 2.0, including a new marketing plan to placate disaffected liberals is underway. Earlier, this week Speaker Nancy Pelosi trumpeted a new CBO analysis that will costs $900 billion over 10 years, much closer to what the administration desire and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid boldly said some form of the public option plan could attract the needed 60 votes to avoid a Republican filibuster.
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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Budget Advisory Group May Lack City's Poorest

The Citizen
When mayoral candidate Stephen Cassidy called for a committee of San Leandro residents to help determine possible budget cuts in the near future, he envisioned its composition to be more reflective of the city's population than the plan the city council approved Monday night.

The committee unanimously approved by the San Leandro City Council will consist of 13 members each chosen by a councilmember from each district along representatives from the city's employee and homeowners associations. The need for such a group arose from incidents of public upheaval this past year over budget cuts to the swimming pool at Farrelly Park and funding for school crossing guards.

Cassidy said the advisory committee was "a step in the right direction", but questioned how members will be chosen, "Members of the task force will likely not reflect the diversity of San Leandro, and will be persons handpicked by city officials," he said.

It is not clear how a group absent minorities, low income residents and a growing number of unemployed San Leandrans will be represented on the committee, especially when those groups tend to disproportionately bear the brunt of cuts. Only Councilman Jim Prola has nominated a member from his district.

Perry Carter, the city's acting budget director, said he plans for the committee to meet five times between November and February of next year. In addition, Carter believes one work session will be needed to educate the group on the basic framework of working within the city's general fund.

"I am concerned the task force will serve as no more than a rubber stamp for the approach city hall is taking to the budget crisis – raise taxes, fail to bring spending under control," said Cassidy.

Prola had no qualms with how the advisory committee will be formed and defended the need for business interests to come to terms with the state of the city's budget, "We're going to have hard negotiations with our employer associations," he said, "so they have to understand what kind of situation we're in and it's going to be really tough on them because they're going to have to give up a lot and everybody is, for that matter."

Vice Mayor and mayoral candidate Joyce Starosciak also accepted the makeup of the new advisory committee, although she noted no plan is perfect, "Sure, it could be done better, but by having this balance and an open discussion we will be better along than a year ago."

In May, a chorus of parents and young children howled at the city's plans to temporarily suspend the use of Farrelly pool this summer. Numerous young boys and girls spoke before the council pleading to keep the pool open. At the time, Starosciak--in her first public indication of running for mayor--called for residents to make certain priorities in this wounded economy and voted against the budget proposal.

Regardless of the outcome of the advisory committees recommendations, Starosciak believes getting citizens involved in their local government is beneficial and alluded to a similar group in 2002 where no actual decision was reached, yet they were able to influence future development such as the new senior center, "Their discussion was solid enough that it gave the staff new ideas on how the senior center and other projects could get built," said Starosciak, "I think that's some of the value that comes out of these community committees."

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Two Familiar Names, One Newcomer Vie for Healthcare Seat

The Citizen
has learned at least three medical professionals have submitted their intention to replace former Eden Township Healthcare District Director Dr. Walter Kran, who resigned Sept. 28.

Sources close to the everyday dealings of the District say Dr. Ronald Hull, Dr. William West and Dr. Francisco Rico have filed paperwork to be considered by the board as early as next week.

The three candidates, the sources say, present the board with what may be viewed as a pro-San Leandro Hospital doctor, a middle-0f-the road candidate and a staunch pro-Sutter former board member. It is believed two other unconfirmed applicants let their intentions be known to the District office by the Oct. 16 deadline.

The inclusion of Dr. West, a retired orthopedic surgeon, is seen as a coup for advocates of retaining emergency room services at San Leandro Hospital. Sources contend West, if appointed, could be the elusive third vote able to block any action by Sutter Health to close the facility. West's familiarity with Board member Dr. Harry Dvorsky, who will likely be the deciding vote on whomever replaces Kran on the board, is seen as a likely determining factor in any applicants chances.

Dr. Hull is no stranger to running for a seat on the board, having lost in both 2004 and 2008. The San Leandro podiatrist garnered over 25 percent of the vote in 2004 and dropped to 15 percent last year in finishing fourth. Hull's stance on San Leandro Hospital is a bit murky according to sources, but a 2008 interview in the Castro Valley Forum indicated a desire to keep the hospital in its current configuration.

"The primary challenge I see in the District is doing everything possible to keep San Leandro Hospital open as an acute care hospital," Hull said.

In numerous public comments, Dr. Rico has been an unabashed supporter of moving forward with the rebuild of Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley and calling San Leandro Hospital unprofitable in the past. Rico, an anesthesiologist, was appointed in 2002 to replace a departing board member and lost his seat last year to Sawhney last year. He charged Sawhney with directing patients for medical services outside vendors of which he had financial interests. The allegation of doctors at San Leandro Hospital sending patients to other offices is one contention Sutter makes for the hospital losing upwards of $600,000 a month.

Last week, Rico penned a letter to the editor in both the San Leandro Times and Castro Valley Forum blaming Rogers and others, including state Sen. Ellen Corbett of squandering District dollars on fighting Sutter. "Now, again at Director Rogers' insistence, the board has breached the 2007 agreement by refusing without any justification to sell San Leandro Hospital to Sutter, thus throwing the matter into litigation that will cause the District to waste even more public money," Rico wrote.

The District is slated to hold its monthly board meeting Oct. 27, 5:30 p.m. at the Hayward Area Recreation District office.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

The Liberal Pariah of the East Bay

East Bay voters may overwhelming love Rep. Pete Stark, but his status as the bogeyman of the far left nationally is instructive to those living in the Bay Area live in a different world far from the political spectrum of the rest of the country.

The template used by Beltway journos is well-worn when it comes to possible replacements for embattled Ways and Means Chairman Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY):
  • Good ol' Charlie is one hell of a guy.
  • Stark is a hot-head liberal buffoon and next in line on the seniority list.
  • Combine the two and the insinuation is the House leadership is extremely wary of the cantankerous 77-year-old Stark at the helm of one of Washington's most powerful positions.
Conservative columnist Michael Barone wrote in today's Washington Examiner, "He is a San Francisco Bay Area left liberal, which would seem to be fine with Pelosi, but he is also a party maverick who does not necessarily play team ball and a hothead given to embarrassing outbursts for which he has sometimes felt obliged to apologize."

Barone also noted the Google search "pete stark" and outbursts returns over 4,900 hits (it's actually 5,150 now). What this means in an era of billions of web pages, I don't know?

The influential Washington web site, Politico, reports today a growing sense of reticence among New York Democrats running for re-election next year for fear of being linked to Rangel's alleged ethics violations. To reinforce the perception Rangel is a firm member of Washington's good old boy network, one unidentified lawmakers told the site, "I love Charlie, but this can't go on forever." The Congressional Quarterly last week, also published a similar story.

Other than Stark, the list of possible replacements for Rangel on the committee are Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.), Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.) and Rep. John Lewis (D-GA). Many believe if Stark is passed over, it would be in favor of Lewis under the theory the leadership would placate the Congressional Black Caucus by replacing an influential African-American legislator with another.

For Stark, the elevation to such a prestigious position would be a feather in his cap and a point of political power for the region, but it does provide a sense of reality to the area where it is extremely difficult to locate a conservative Republican and even Stark's constituents want the so-called "San Francisco liberal" to be even more progressive on health care reform than he desires. The rest of the country is not as liberal as the Bay Area and nervousness over replacing Rangel with Stark reveals that reality.

Three's a Crowd; Cassidy Running for Mayor

Stephen Cassidy is in it to win it.

After months of appearances at public meetings and numerous letters to the editor critical of the current mayor's job performance, the former San Leandro school board trustee is the second challenger to Tony Santos in 2010.

Vice Mayor Joyce Starosciak announced her bid in early Aug. 10.

The addition of Cassidy may prove problematic for Santos in a situation where he will need to fight a two-pronged fight against his two challengers. Starosciak is backed by Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi whose camp comes along with a hard-nosed reputation, in addition to the recent hiring of political consultant Larry Tramutola, who is known for unleashing a stinging mailer or two.

Cassidy announced his candidacy Oct. 7 and unveiled an informative web site likely to enlist the same social networking tools many national and statewide campaigns have begun to employ to great success. On his site cassidyforsanleandro.com, visitors can learn about the candidate's positions, sign up for updates and volunteer for the campaign. In comparison, the current web site of Starosciak is quite rudimentary and Santos does not have one.

In announcing his candidacy, Cassidy says he will not draw a salary as mayor until the city's budget ills are cured. The amount the mayor earns is paltry, but the concept has been floated by Cassidy in recent months when he called for the current mayor to do the same while calling for the end of pre-meeting meals the city council enjoyed in the name of saving money.

Cassidy, who is a consumer attorney, is placing his bet for mayor on improving the city's stagnant economy. He believes he can do it without raising taxes, which the mayor and city council have recently been unsuccessful in passing through referendum.

“Unemployment is at record levels. Seniors are not receiving a social security cost of living increase next year. Thousands of residents have lost their retirement nest eggs. The last thing the mayor and city council should be planning is another tax hike,” said Cassidy. He also specifically criticized the city's consideration of increasing the sales tax to 10 percent.

"The city council and mayor have no credibility on this issue," he told The Citizen in September. "They want to tax us out of deficit spending."

The possibility of political fireworks exploding between Cassidy and Santos have not subsided since Cassidy began floating the idea of running against the one-term mayor earlier this year. During a lenghtly interview in May, Santos told The Citizen, "Here's a guy who was on the school board for four years and they had a deficit like we've had a deficit. In fact, he's no longer writing to me because I wrote him a memo saying, 'you couldn't even balance your school budget and you're coming over here and telling us how to balance our budget?'"

In the comments section of the same post, Cassidy wrote, "Unfortunately for San Leandro, Mayor Santos sends insulting and inaccurate email messages to constituents."

The tenor of the their nascent political pugilism seemed to have fallen to the level of normal comity during a finance meeting when Santos lauded Cassidy's plan to form a citizen's committee to allow for more disparate groups in the community to solve the city's budget woes. Yet, during a break, Cassidy said "He praises me in public and puts me down in private."

Blistering email exchanges between the two are notorious to be found in the inboxes of the city political insiders. Whether Santos and Cassidy bloody themselves to Starosciak's benefit remains to be seen, but among the two relatively unknown challengers, Cassidy has done more to introduce himself to San Leandro by way of the sheer volume of his writings, while setting the groundwork for a running a modern Internet-based campaign San Leandro has yet to experience in its political history.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Veto of Hospital Bill Removes a Tool in Saving ER

The Citizen
None of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's vetoes this week had more impact on San Leandro than his decision to returned state Sen. Ellen Corbett's bill designed to give the community more reaction time in the event of closing the city's emergency room. The bill would have also mandated a minimum of three public meetings for residents to discuss such a closure.

“I am extremely disappointed the Governor chose to veto a bill that would have a direct impact on my community and so many others around the state,” Sen. Corbett said in a statement Monday. “I cannot think of any valid reason to be against providing the community more notice.”

Schwarzenegger's veto message, though, makes no mention of the bill's intention to supply notice and foment community involvement. Instead, the governor cited the possibility of understaffed hospital's due to expected high attrition rates. The criticism was denied last month by Corbett at a health care district meeting in Castro Valley.

Schwarzenegger wrote, "Forcing hospitals to keep an emergency room open, especially when they are closing because of financial circumstance, will only jeopardize patient care due to the rapid attrition of medical and nursing staff, as well as suppliers."

The defeat of Corbett's bill is not likely a mortal blow to efforts hoping to keep San Leandro Hospital and its emergency room services operating, but likely removes a strategic tool against Sutter Health and its stated intention to eventually close the money-losing facility. The inclusion of three public meetings within the 120 days of the emergency rooms closing could have been a key part of the legislation within the scope of San Leandro Hospital, where residents have attended in droves with near universal derision against Sutter's plans. Many believe the intensity of the opposition has led to specific defeats against the hospital provider and forced it to change strategy.

“The bill did not force hospitals to do anything but to plan in such a way that they give notice earlier instead of simply leaving town in order to block a replacement provider. In the Bay Are, Sutter Health appears to have the pattern of closing hospitals quickly in order to eliminate competition.”

Corbett has lead the way along with over a dozen Northern California legislators urging Attorney General Jerry Brown to investigate Sutter's alleged pattern of misleading health care districts to their own benefit.

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Governor Credits Hayashi's Important Health Care Bill

Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi capped an impressive string of legislation signed into law Sunday, but few of the 478 bills affixed with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's signature carry more weight in the current health debate than the bill adding protections against patient rescission.

The insurance company tactic of rescission dismantles a premium-paying patient's safety net where their coverage can be terminated at the company's will. Opponents of such action say insurance companies use it as fall back when a patients is diagnosed with an expensive to treat condition under the guise of alleging the patients withheld the condition. The issue of limiting rescission is one of the main components of current health care legislation debated in Washington.

Hayashi's bill allows for a two year window starting from the beginning of coverage where insurance companies cannot block or alter the agreement for any reason. Schwarzenegger made special mention of the bill with a rare signing memo noting the effort put forth by the author and legislature.

"This bill will decrease the likelihood of inappropriate rescissions and more effectively enforce the existing limits on rescission," Schwarzenegger wrote, "This bill also brings health insurance into line with other forms of insurance such as life and disability insurance. These providers are also legally prohibited from rescission of coverage after 24 months"

In total, Hayashi had eight bills signed into law, including one that obligates health insurers to cover emergency mental health care for patients. Hayashi's auto repair bill--unpopular with consumer groups--was also signed by the governor. The new law adds a wrinkle to existing anti-steering laws prohibiting insurance companies from leading customers towards repair shops of their own choice. Hayashi has long contended the bill merely gives consumers more information than they possessed before.

Here's a rundown of Assemblywoman Hayashi's bills signed and vetoed:


AB 65 establishes a self-funded Retired Public Employees Vision Care Program for local agencies contracting with CalPERS for retirement benefits. This bill ensures that retired teachers, professors, public servants and public safety personnel have access to the same vision care benefits as other retirees who worked for the state, counties or CSU system.

AB 73 allows Alameda County and the City of Berkeley to continue to fund domestic violence prevention, intervention, and prosecution efforts with revenues from a fee of up to $2 for marriage licenses and other vital records.

AB 108 This bill prohibits a health care service plan or health insurer from rescinding an individual health care service plan contract or individual health insurance policy for any reason, or from canceling, limiting, or raising the premiums of the plan contract or policy due to any omission, misrepresentation, or inaccuracy in the application form, after 24 months following the
issuance of the plan contract or policy, except as specified.

AB 138 establishes mandatory peer review for all Certified Public Accounting (CPA) firms performing accounting and auditing work. The mandatory peer review ensures that the work of a California CPA conforms to professional standards. The peer review guidelines, oversight, and investigations will be established and implemented by the California Board of Accountancy.

AB 235 specifies that HMOs and other health insurers regulated under the Department of Managed Health Care are obligated to cover emergency mental health care and services. AB 235 provides a definition for “psychiatric emergency medical condition” that will allow health care professionals to provide emergency mental health care until the patient is stable, including admission to a psychiatric unit at a general acute hospital or an acute psychiatric hospital, and that will allow health plans to appropriately process claims for those services

AB 468 permits the Alameda County Transportation Improvement Authority (ACTIA) to adopt a more fiscally responsible retirement vesting schedule that requires employees to complete at least 5 years of service instead of just one day. This change will save the agency money while creating an incentive to retain quality employees.

AB 1200 will enable consumers to make a more informed choice when selecting an auto repair shop under an insurance claim. It authorizes insurers to discuss services available in their claims process, including direct repair programs – an insurer’s network of auto repair shops that can provide claimants with benefits such as warranties on repair work, guaranteed prices, and the anticipated time to repair the damaged vehicle.

AB 1386 resolves a 40-year long dispute over an abandoned Caltrans project for the State Highway Route 238 corridor. AB 1386 will permit Caltrans to rescind the freeway project and sell the excess properties. Funds from the sale of the parcels will be used to support Hayward’s and central Alameda County’s alternative transportation program, including the development of 237 new affordable housing units in the corridor.


AB 120 This bill would have encouraged a peer review body to obtain external peer review, as defined, for the evaluation or investigation of an applicant, privilege holder, or member of the medical staff in specified circumstances.

AB 659 This bill would have, until January 1, 2013, provided that a garment cleaner who received no more than 0.5% of his or her total gross receipts from the sale of tangible personal property during the preceding calendar year is a consumer, not a retailer, of that tangible personal property sold, so the retail sale subject to tax is the sale to the garment cleaner.

AB 1158 This bill would add the characteristic of other land uses, including educational facilities, that provide direct linkages for people traveling to and from primary and secondary education schools, community colleges, and universities, to the list of specified characteristics that a transit village plan may address.

Source: official web site of Mary Hayashi.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Corbett Smarts from Vetoed Bills

Unfortunately, having controversial bills vetoed amid a stack of passed legislation is like the school principal's familiarity with the bad kids over the good ones.

Nine bills authored by state Sen. Ellen Corbett were signed into law in a flurry of activity from Sacramento. Legislation highlighted by Corbett's bill protecting used car buyers from being saddled with previous liens on the automobiles they purchase was signed by Gov. Schwarzenegger Sunday. New laws by Corbett also makes the labeling of prescription drugs more clear as to include the reason the patient is using the particular drug, while another further protects valuable groundwaters in Southern Alameda County from development.

Of the 14 bills under the governor's consideration, it was the five returned bills that were among the most newsworthy the past few months. Politics, long-standing disputes and conflicts with big business interests torpedoed bills that would have banned the sale of e-cigarettes, discontinued the paying of signature-gatherers for possible local and state ballot measures and dealt a slight blow to San Leandro's ability to keep the emergency room at its embattled hospital open.

Schwarzenegger may have been sidestepping the possible legal overlapping of banning e-cigarettes, which are smokeless, nicotine-delivery devices, and regular cigarettes as a whole by the veto. Such a law could be reinvented as the means to challenge other products, such as traditional cigarettes. Critics say the prevalence of different flavors and the appearance of marketing to the young could exasperbate health concerns from ingesting nicotine. The governor says he supports restricting access to those under-18, but also defended the rights of individuals to choose their own poison. "If adults want to purchase and consume these products with an understanding of the associated health risks, they should be able to do so unless and until federal law changes the legal status of these tobacco products."

Along with the the e-cigarette veto, Corbett was also disappointed with the failure of her bill that would have halted the practice of paying signature gatherers to drum up support for various petitions. In a press release, Corbett vowed to continue support for both in the future. Opponents of the bill said its would limit the power of individuals to affect change through referendums. One group labeled it as a ploy by Sacramento to clamp down on voices against their interests. In his veto message, Schwarzenegger said, As I have stated when vetoing similar legislation, prohibitions on per-signature payments will make it more difficult for grassroots organizations to gather the necessary signatures and qualify measures for the ballot."

Most devastatingly to constituents in her district is the veto of SB 196, Corbett's bill to extend the time a hospital provider must give before closing an existing emergency room from 90 to 120 days, has immediate local ramifications. Undoubtedly, aimed at the possible closure of ER services at San Leandro Hospital, the extra month could have provided precious time for supporters of the hospital to coalesce in the event the hospital's operator, Sutter Health, decides to pull the plug.

Here's a list of Sen. Corbett's end-of-session legislation:


SB 95 This bill will enact the California Car Buyers' Protection Act of 2009. The bill would impose certain requirements when a dealer purchases or obtains a vehicle in trade in a retail sale or lease transaction and the vehicle is subject to a prior credit or lease balance, relating to the discharge of the credit or balance.

SB 117 This bill would modify the aforementioned criteria to, instead, provide that a beneficiary shall be eligible for adult day health care services as a Medi-Cal benefit if he or she meets a specified level of care. Under existing law, participation in an adult day health care program requires prior authorization by the State Department of Health Care Services.

SB 133 This bill authorizes the Alameda County Water District, within described areas of its jurisdiction, to establish a permit program, and to take related action, with regard to the construction, operation, decommissioning, abandonment, or destruction of wells, exploratory holes, or other excavations for the purpose of protecting groundwater.

SB 209 (co-authored by Sen. Jane Harman) This bill will instead require the Certified Access Specialist inspection report to remain confidential and would allow disclosure only to the parties to the action, the parties' attorneys, and others necessary to the involved in the evaluation
and settlement of the case, as specified. The bill would also require the report to remain confidential throughout the stay and until the conclusion of the claim, unless there is
a showing of good cause by any party.

SB 273 This bill changes the definition of domestic violence to mean the infliction or threat of physical harm against past or present adult or adolescent intimate partners, to include physical, sexual, and psychological abuse against the partner, that is a part of a pattern of assaultive, coercive, and controlling behaviors directed at achieving compliance from, or control over, that partner. The bill also makes the department's comprehensive shelter-based service grant program subject to specified anti-discrimination provisions.

SB 320 This bill will additionally except from recognition under the act a foreign-country judgment if a court of this state has determined the judgment includes recovery for a claim of defamation unless the court determines that the defamation law applied by a the foreign
court in adjudicating a claim of defamation does not provide provided at least as much protection for freedom of speech and the press as provided by both the United States and California Constitutions.

SB 470 This bill will require that every prescription include a legible, clear notice of the condition or purpose for which the drug is prescribed, and would delete the requirement that a
patient request the inclusion of that information if requested by the patient . The bill would also require that every prescription container be correctly labeled to include that information if so included indicated on the prescription , and would provide a process for inclusion of that information on the label if it is not included on the prescription and is requested by the patient .

SB 510 This bill will also specify new information to be included in the written disclosure statement provided to the payee prior to executing the transfer agreement. This bill will specify circumstances the court must consider before approving the transfer. This bill will provide that every application for approval of a transfer of structured settlement payment rights shall contain specified information and will also specify notice and disclosure requirements that must be complied with prior to any transfer.

SB 556 (authored by the Senate Judiciary Committee) This bill will require the clerk of the court in a small claims court judgment to charge and collect all fees associated with the enforcement of judgments under the Enforcement of Judgments Law.


SB 34 This bill would have provided that it is a misdemeanor for a person to pay or to receive money or any other thing of value based on the number of signatures obtained on a state or local initiative, referendum, or recall petition and would prescribe penalties for doing so . By creating a new crime, the bill would have imposed a state-mandated local program.

SB 196 This bill would have required notice to be provided 120 days prior to the planned
reduction or elimination of the level of emergency medical services, and would have required the notice to also be provided to all employees of the hospital. It would have also required that the hospital provide public notice of, and hold a minimum of 3 public meetings on, the intended change in a manner that is likely to reach a significant number of residents of the community served by the facility.

SB 305 This bill would have defined "most vulnerable Category 2 building" for purposes of the provisions require the Office of the State Architect, within its existing resources, to update the seismic safety inventory of school buildings and related report to more accurately identify building deficiencies in school facilities currently being used for public school purposes.

SB 400 This bill would have deemed any article that can provide inhaled doses of nicotine by delivering a vaporized solution a drug under these provisions. By expanding the definition of an existing crime, this bill would impose a state-mandated local program. The California Constitution requires the state to reimburse local agencies and school districts for certain costs mandated by the state. Statutory provisions establish procedures for making that reimbursement.

SB 641 Among other things, the bill would have required the Board of Governors of the State Bar to charge an annual membership fee to active members of up to $315 for the year 2009. This bill would require the board to fix the annual membership fee for active members for 2010 at a sum not to exceed $315.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

County's Early Agenda still Sets Tone of Debate


EDEN CEO GEORGE BISCHALANEY The mercurial executive has been relatively quiet recently. Most believe he is merely Sutter Health's foot soldier receiving orders from headquarters in Sacramento. At an Alameda County Board of Supervisors meeting in June, he was pressured by Supervisor Nate Miley to negotiate turning over operations of San Leandro Hospital to another health care vendor. Bischalaney reluctantly agreed, but reports in The Citizen say they flat out refused Prime's advances in person and one with a hybrid model in mind. One of the more comedic moments of this entire story occurred at the Sept. 3 Eden Township meeting where residents were shutout of the meeting and Bischalaney reportedly threatened to call the sheriff on the group. QUOTABLE On approving the environmental impact report, he struck an ominous tone. “Any delay is a problem. Candidly, who knows beyond that. I cannot assure you [the rebuild of Eden Hospital] will pull through.”

DR. MILES ADLER Sources say the former chief of staff of Eden Medical Center and San Leandro Hospital was burned by Sutter's stated intention to keep the hospital open if it could turn a profit. Once a backer of Sutter, Adler is now one of the more vociferous voices charging the hospital chain with cooking the books at San Leandro Hospital and facilitating its financial demise. Adler is no friend of the powers at City Hall, either. He called San Leandro Mayor Tony Santos "clueless" over accusations doctors outsource medical procedures to outside vendors. Adler also criticized the absence of some members of the city council during a recent forum on the hospital hosted by state Sen. Ellen Corbett and wondered aloud why five of six members believed the hospital was not an important enough topic to attend the meeting. QUOTABLE "It is very disappointing when one thinks there are five city council people who don't think it's important enough to come to a forum of this nature with their own constituents sitting in the audience."

DAVID KEARS The recently retired director of Alameda County Health Services still casts a long shadow over the possible future of San Leandro Hospital. It is Kears' analysis the county needs an influx of rehabilitation beds to be a fully functioning hospital system. When one of the current such facilities at Farimont Hospital proved too costly to seismically upgrade, the possibility of converting San Leandro Hospital became a tantalizing option. Universally recognized as one of the most knowledgeable people on the subject, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors welcomed the plan absent any other offers to operate what was believed to be a hospital swimming in the red. Critics now question the plan since data supplied by Sutter on the hospital's finances and usage revealed more of a need for its emergency room services than initially believed. Kears has also been critical of San Leandro's lack of a plan for their hospital similar to the takeover by the city of Alameda and their facility which was financed with an annual $300 parcel tax. QUOTABLE "We need a firm commitment, not a we'll explore it or not anything. 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."

ALEX BRISCOE As the current interim director of Alameda County Health Services, the youthful Briscoe quickly changed the tenor of the agency's beliefs after Kears' retirement. Sources say moving rehabilitation services from Fairmont to San Leandro Hospital was conceived under Briscoe's watch. Insiders say he was reluctant to stand by the plan's merits under Kears because of the political ramifications which eventually flared to this day. As acting director, Briscoe's comments at the Alameda County Board of Supervisor meeting in July corroborated the widespread belief Sutter's numbers regarding the usage of the hospital's emergency room was understated and touched off a debate among supporters of saving the hospital that its financial numbers were also faulty. QUOTABLE "Sutter has told us that Prime is a non-starter, period,"

CALIFORNIA NURSES ASSOCIATION In an age, where the attention of the local press is perfunctory, the nurses union has been a catalyst for drumming up community support for saving its member's jobs and a community asset. Always good for a biting quote, representatives for the union have screamed for the resignation of health care directors at meetings, organized chanting picket lines in front of the Board of Supervisors chambers and distributed literature across the city. It is hard to imagine local politicians having enough cache to fight for the hospital without the presence of the union and its members making their voices consistently heard. QUOTABLE "It's been a community effort with health care workers and doctors. Everybody was just sounding the alarm. At first, it wasn't happening. It was just falling on deaf ears, but obvious now the community is in alert mode,” said labor rep Mike Brannan.

The maverick Southern California hospital baron arrived on the scene in June with much fanfare and exited without ever being heard again. His company, Prime Healthcare has gobbled up 13 failing hospitals in the state and claims to have quickly turned around the financial prospects. Prime's business model of funneling patients through its ER concerns many in the industry who feel the state will eventually clamp down on the company. Some believe its penchant for cancelling existing insurance agreements will further cripple the state's failing health system. The addition of Prime to the San Leandro Hospital question, in hindsight, may have given supporters of the hospital valuable ammunition in the following months showing another company wanted to operate the hospital and gave the county pause for backing a plan to move rehab to the hospital when another plan existed. Twice in the past months, Prime has attempted to negotiate with Sutter to a resounding no, but still sends a representative to nearly every public meeting. QUOTABLE “I can turn a failed community hospital into a successful community resource."

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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Sawhney and Rogers Emerge as Defenders of Hospital


DR. RAJENDRA RATNESAR No other member of the Eden Township board has weathered more calls for potential conflict of interest charges than Ratnesar. As an employee of Sutter, he reportedly earns over $100,000 a year while serving as the board's chair. Various groups led by the Calfornia Nurses Association charged Ratnesar with being on the take last June when reports surfaced alleging other members of the board not including Ratnesar faced potential conflict of interests suits. To the uproar of many nurses and doctors, he recently removed member Carole Rogers from a mediation committee for distributing “inappropriate” materials to the mediator. Soft-spoken and slight, Ratnesar does not appear to hold a strong grip over the board's action and shows a tendency to flub simple rules of order during meetings. A recall effort is currently in its infancy to remove Ratnesar, but such a move may not have time to affect the near-term effort to save the hospital. QUOTABLE "There are many members who you could say have a conflict of interest. We all have worked in the medical field."

DEV MAHADEVAN The CEO of the Eden Township District is alleged to be the board's tether to Sutter corporate. Behind the scenes, some contend he is difficult to work with, but keeps a somewhat low profile. During a meeting in August when the board rescinded Sutter's plan to purchase the hospital, the turn of events had a few board members glancing towards Mahadevan for direction. Mahadevan's role may grow larger in coming week's as the board looks to replace Dr. Walter Kran. QUOTABLE In response to a question whether the abruptly cancelled mediation hearing was rescheduled because of Sawhney's protest, Mahadevan said, "you could put it that way."

The new kid on the block, Sawhney is the most forceful voice on the board. He has consistently led the way in blocking various proposals likely to have grease the skids towards the closing of San Leandro Hospital. It was Sawhney's motion in June that killed the county's plan to move rehabilitation facilities from Fairmont to San Leandro Hospital. He followed with leading the way in blocking Sutter's option to purchase the hospital along with forcing the board to seek a second legal opinion (underway) and launching an independent review of the hospital's financial records (not underway). Sawhney is the board's most passionate supporter of saving the hospital. QUOTABLE "We should keep fighting until the last day, even if we go down, we must fight."

CAROL ROGERS, RN Along with Sawhney, no other board member is more trusted by doctors and nurses and likely the community than Rogers. The current nurse at Highland Hospital is the least removed from witnessing the realities of closing a hospital. In recent weeks, her patience with the board's dealings and relationship to Sutter has grown non-existent after Ratnesar removed her from the board's mediation committee with Sutter. The controversial move may have been illegal. Undeterred, Rogers showed up at the site of the meeting anyhow and found it cancelled. More telling, Rogers have been very candid about her dealings with Dr. Walter Kran, telling The Citizen and later a group at Eden Medical Center about conversations with him about the whereabouts of a “secret location” and saying Kran needed to ask Mahadevan whether he would attend the last board meeting. The hearing was eventually cancelled at the last minute. Rogers has said she will not run for another term in 2010. QUOTABLE "I don't think Sutter is going to back down from Eden Hospital. They already have too much invested."

The health of the once noted San Leandro physician is far less than it once was. Dvorsky has uttered very few words in various meetings since May and The Citizen reported widespread concern on the board and local politicians about his mental capacity to make all-important decisions regarding the fate of the hospital. Various sources say he has stated a desire to keep the doors open at San Leandro Hospital, but his voting record shows inconsistency. Many say his wife, who also serves on the Chabot College/Las Positas board is calling the shots, yet Dvorsky's propensity to blurting out indecipherable statements and inability to follow the course of debate during meetings is the 800-pound gorilla at the Eden Healthcare District. One source with knowledge of Sutter's dealings, say Dvorsky was told to vote against the motion halting Sutter's plan to purchase the hospital along with Kran's decision to abstain; turning a 2-2 deadlock into a 3-1 victory for the community. QUOTABLE When a doctor representing physicians read a statement to the board, Dvorsky harshly said, ""What the hell are you trying to say?"

DR. WALTER KRAN In a story known for being supremely unpredictable, Kran's sudden resignation Sept. 28 left mouth's agape. Little is known yet about his departure, but it did follow a string of erratic behavior more similar to a bad espionage thriller than ho-hum healthcare issues. Along with Dvorsky, Kran says very little although he tended to exhibit exaggerated facial expressions which sometimes gave a window into what he was thinking. Although, elected as a bulwark against Sutter, many believe he was in their camp, although possibly half-heartily. Sources say Kran and other members may have been threatened with legal jeopardy by their actions (or inactions) by Sutter. How the board replaces a pivotal vote is likely to be the next front in the battle between the community and Sutter. QUOTABLE Not much. During a vote to block Sutter's purchase option he abstained and said, "I don't have enough information."
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We look at the bureaucrats and policy makers.

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Kran Caught in the Crossfire

The Citizen
Dr. Walter Kran's sudden resignation from the Eden Township Healthcare District was a solution to withdraw from the constant crossfire of pressure from Sutter Health and supporters of keeping San Leandro Hospital open.

Scant pieces of information are known about Kran's mindset when he submitted his resignation Sept. 23--the same day the District hastily cancelled a scheduled board meeting. The District's web site posted a notice for Kran's open seat and lists his resignation effective Sept. 28. District CEO Dev Mahadevan says state law allows for the day the resignation was received as the official date.

Board member Dr. Vin Sawhney said on numerous occasions he as attempted to reach Kran at his home without success. He believes Kran is currently in Cleveland for two weeks.

Both Mahadevan and Sawhney describe their former board member as being stressed by the pressure he was receiving from both sides of the hospital issue, notably Sutter and advocates hoping to keep the hospital open, including the California Nurses Association (CNA). "I think he was stressed out by the pull from both sides," said Sawhney. "I believe it may have been disturbing his personal life."

Mahadevan says Kran was receiving up to 50 calls a day, mostly from citizens urging him to save the hospital. He recalls once instance when Kran sat silent on the phone as a representative from CNA rattled of the reasons why he should vote a certain way. "I think he felt caught pushing for something he didn't believe in," Mahadevan said.

Although many viewed his voting history skewed towards Sutter's favor, eyewitness accounts of his demeanor during meetings indicated his discomfort of being at the receiving end of constant vitriol from public speakers. Sawhney says Kran had voiced displeasure with serving on the board under these conditions as far back as May when the issue gained the attention of a larger audience.

The aftermath of Kran's departure has all the signs of being as rocky as the past few months have been for the Distict. A public notice was posted last Friday for the open position. Mahadevan says he has not received any calls on the vacancy, although in his experience, they tend to express interest at the last moments. He expressed hope the District will be able to attract a diverse group of candidates for the job and joked, "I wouldn't want a bunch of old guys like myself running it all."

One potential name continually discussed is former board member Dr. Francisco Rico. Observers call Rico "Sutter's dream candidate." During his tenure, Rico was a driving force in pushing through the controversial 2007 Memorandum of Understanding, which current member Carole Rogers believes may be legally dubious. In the past month, emails from Rico have surfaced detailing Sutter "talking points" in favor of closing San Leandro Hospital. "There would be those who say he deserves it as the third highest vote-getter," Mahadevan said. "Others would say no, he was already defeated."

If the District is unable to select a replacement for Kran's seat after 60 days, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors would inherit the issue. If they too are unable to come to a decision after 30 days, a special election would determine Kran's interim replacement. With Sutter determined to reach a quick conclusion to the hospital debate, a costly election would be unlikely. In the meantime, Mahadevan says no special meeting is scheduled for this month and the Oct. 28 meeting is also in the air. After numerous recent meetings in San Leandro and Castro Valley, the District is seeking a venue in Hayward.

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Monday, October 5, 2009

Effectiveness of Local Pols has been Hit and Miss


STATE SEN. ELLEN CORBETT The former assemblywowan and mayor of San Leandro is widely regarded as the most high profile politician on this issue and the go-to person powerful enough to counter Sutter's corporate power. Critics will note the absence of any political solution with dollars attached, but Corbett's move along with 13 other local pols to reach out to the attorney general's office is the most significant gambit against
Sutter to date. The AG is currently looking into launching an official investigation into Sutter's alleged pattern of wrongful business dealings at its Northern California hospitals. A bill that would lengthen the time a hospital provider must give notice of closing a hospital from 90 to 120 days currently sits on Gov. Schwarzenegger's desk. In addition, Corbett is the leading proponent of forcing the issue of San Leandro Hospital to a vote under a state health and safety code which says a health care district may not sell assets worth more than half of its holdings without a vote of the people. QUOTABLE "[Sutter] has a tax break because they are suppose to be serving the people who are the most needy. That's why we are starting to ask people what is really happening?"

ASSEMBLYWOMAN MARY HAYASHI The two-term assemblywoman has been notably absent from the issue in recent months. Known as one of the most petulant politicians in the East Bay, Hayashi was active on the issue as earlier this spring, but seemed to lose interest after an odd blow-up with Sen. Corbett in June. Dueling terse press releases highlighted Hayashi's deciding no vote in committee. Hayashi co-sponsored the bill with Corbett raising eyebrows as to why she torpedoed her own piece of legislation. At the time she called it a good bill that needed work. The incident between two Democrats working on the same local issue still confuses many officials around town. Many believe Hayashi is girding up for a Titanic tilt for Corbett's senate seat. Her only public statement on this issue came in June when she sent a representative to play a pre-recorded speech. Her rep told the large gathering at the San Leandro Library the assemblywoman could not attend because of budget crisis in Sacramento, even though Corbett was sitting at the back of the room. QUOTABLE "Saving San Leandro Hospital is my top priority." Watch the video here.

MAYOR TONY SANTOS Aside from the health of potential patients in the community, no one has more at stake by San Leandro Hospital closing than Santos, yet many believe he has shown indifference over the issue. A hearing does not pass without one resident criticizing the mayor's lack of involvemnet. He has repeatedly called the issue out of his control, but says he has been dealing with the problem for over two years—way before anyone else--he will add. Numerous insiders, brand the mayor as being pro-Sutter in his talking points when he says Sutter, as a business, has no obligation to subsidize a money-losing hospital and charging doctors with hastening San Leandro's financial demise by outsourcing procedures and tests to outside vendors. Being seen at the July 1 groundbreaking of Sutter's new hospital in Castro Valley hardened that perception. If the mayor, indeed, tended to lean towards Sutter in the past, the future may be different. Sutter officials were reportedly livid over Santos' comments in The Citizen when he said the hospital would stay open because of pandemic concerns until the end of January 2010. Political wisdom says the longer the hospital's fate is up in the air come the June mayoral primary, the easier opponents will be able to pin the loss of a public asset on him. QUOTABLE "They have private practices and I hope they try to do things for the common good, but many send their patients to facilities other than San Leandro Hospital."

SAN LEANDRO CITY COUNCIL The six-member council has primarily been the punching bag of the Alameda County Board of Supervisors, while offering very little pushback. Supervisors Scott Haggerty and Nate Miley have both viciously excoriated the group for offering, what they contend, is no leadership on the issue. Haggerty even infamously crumpled a letter from the council during a meeting and threw it into a trash can calling it a “piece of crap.” Like Mayor Santos, the majority of the council believe the issue belongs under the jurisdiction of the county, not the city since a majority of the patients at San Leandro Hospital arrive from Oakland and other cities. Councilman Jim Prola has been the loudest voice consistently charging Sutter with medical redlining and saying he does not trust them. Councilman Michael Gregory, whose district the hospital resides in, faces re-election in 2010. Gregory was one of the earliest politicians putting out the clarion call for action to save the hospital when he organized a series of town hall meetings on the subject in May, but has been absent since. Despite certain vulnerability, no candidate has emerged to challenge him next year. The rest of the council has been virtually mute on the hospital with some rarely attending public meetings. The most notable wallflower is Vice Mayor Joyce Starosciak, who will run against Santos next year. Sources say Starosciak's strong support of Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi will dictate her agenda (Hayashi has been quiet on the hospital) with Sutter and the hospital. The Santos/Sutter brouhaha and Hayashi/Starosciak duo may link the mayor's race and the fate of the hospital in an unlikely way. QUOTABLE "[Former Director of the Alameda County Health Services] Dave 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."

SUPERVISOR ALICE LAI-BITKER If one politician is stuck between a proverbial rock and a hard place it's Lai-Bitker. She has consistently juggled the agenda of the county with her conscience to varied results. Many of her proposals have misfired including announcing to great fanfare in June her intention to have the county rescind its offer to the Alameda County Medical Center to move rehabilitation services to San Leandro Hospital as the prospect of another health care vendor briefly arose. Nothing came of the action, when a decisive third vote on the board of supervisors could not be cajoled out of Supervisor Keith Carson. Although her plan to create a hybrid hospital of emergency room services, surgery and rehab facilities at San Leandro Hospital is still kicked around, it is now viewed as the best case scenario if all else fails. Lai-Bitker's bipartisan proposals stem from an aversion to having the county possibly having a shuttered hospital in San Leandro without a tenant if Sutter and the Alameda County Medical Center walk away. There is a school of thought that Lai-Bitker, whose mother passed away last week, will find a second wind in saving the hospital after facing first-hand the real life stakes losing a hospital has on patients and survivors. QUOTABLE "[The Board of Supervisors] came in because there was no other option, so now there is an option,” she said of an offer from a Southern California company to purchase the hospital, “The directors deserve to have the process go through and explore and evaluate whether it's a viable option.”

REP. PETE STARK Where's Pete? The long time practicioner of liberal East Bay politics has certainly been busy on the national stage as he tries to enact universal health care, but without question he's been absent on this health care issue. You can try asking him his thoughts, but you won't get an answer from him or his people. While Fremont's Nummi and its 4,700 autoworkers stood on the chopping block, Stark and others were there, yet an equally distressing situation where over 1,000 people could die annually due to the loss of a key emergency room, the congressmen is silent. Many note that local health care is typically a state issue, but with Federal stimulus dollars floating in the wind, the stated $4-7 million subsidy for San Leandro Hospital is a mere pittance. Cynics will say you cannot obtain Stark's chairmanship on the Ways and Means Health Committee without sizable support from the health care lobby QUOTABLE No comment.
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We look at the players at the Eden Township Healthcare District.

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Saturday, October 3, 2009

Observing and Reporting the SLPD

The Citizen
San Leandro Police Officer Dan Sellers doesn't like the media, I would guess. He is, after all, the local cop alleged to have killed Boo Boo the dog this spring for which he and the city is being sued. I mention this because I met Sellers last night on a DUI stop in the Manor. It wasn't me he pulled over. I had two Budweisers earlier in the night, but that's like drinking water. Instead, I was following friends home who may have been less lucid than I, but this story isn't about them as much as it is about what we will put up with as San Leandrans.

The encounter began when four San Leandro squad cars buzzed through the Manor around 2:30 a.m. Saturday morning. A loud exchange urging the clearly inebriated passenger to leave the driver's seat alerted a resident waking his dog to summon the cops. What this man was doing walking his pooch at the time is another story. A police car sped around me to help his colleague. I pulled my car over a safe distance and watched. When the driver emerged from the car and walked to the sidewalk, I got out and stood on the sidewalk, watching and observing. I said nothing, crossed my arms and stood no more than 20 feet away. Another officer would later approach me and asked what had transpired earlier. Initially, he thought I was the man who called dispatched. I told him the story and he left. I saw him interrupt Sellers as he performed the sobriety test on the woman.

Earlier I saw Sellers behaving tersely with the driver. "Work with me! How many drinks do you think you had? Five?" She uttered less than five and said she had a vodka mixed with an energy drink. "Ah, an alcohol speedball," Sellers said, as if the case was suddenly becoming clear. "I just wanted to go home and be with me daughter," the crying woman said. "Where is your daughter?" he said with a contemptuous tone, "She's at home with my mom."

The field sobriety test was shocking in its implementation. Sellers rattled off the instructions about as fast as the famous commercial with the FedEx speed talker in the 1980s. How a perfectly sober person could understand him would be defy the odds let alone someone with a few drinks. As I talked to the other officer, I could see the driver with arms outstretched on one occasion and standing on one foot at another, all the time with a strange uncomfortably crooked smile. The one you might make when you not sure if someone is serious or not, so you hedge your bets on both emotions.

When Sellers approached me, he told me to I was "free to go." In my case, this phrase became a euphemism for "I won't answer your question" and "Leave." I told the officer, I did not want to leave because I wanted to await the fate of my friends. "You're free to leave." This is where most of us should be concerned about our rights as citizens and the attitude law enforcement in this city has towards fairness and decency.
The four cops exhibited a concerted effort to block anybody from watching what they were doing on this mildly cold early autumn morning. What happened after I left?
"I'm a journalist in this city and I want to observe what is going on because, frankly, I believe you are badgering her," I said. In hindsight, this sentence seems a bit crazy to be addressin towards a police officer. It wasn't until afterwards that I learned Sellers was the officer spotlighted in the local media for allegedly firing his weapon at what the owners say was a canine posing no threat to the officers. I don't think he likes the media much, yet probably doesn't need any more headlines.

"People think we're below human," Sellers told me, "What looked like badgering to you was actually me trying to lighten up the mood." Lighten up the mood? Quickly barking instructions and making cute jokes at a clearly upset and frightened woman who thinks she's going to slammer does not sound helpful, in fact, it's sadistic. Kind of like holding someone hostage and firing your gun at their feet to make them dance for your amusement.

"You're free to go." This is how the officer answered my question to why a person standing in a public space, posing no interference to their work, could not merely observe what they were doing. "You can file a complaint if you want, I'm the only Sellers in the department," he said. Not appreciating the brush-off I said, "I would rather publish a story that thousands could read instead."

When I continued to press the question, Sellers cut me off and asked, "Have you been drinking tonight?" I told him yes, "two beers." He didn't believe me and thought maybe I had more than two." I laughed and rolled my eyes in amazement and asked how he knew that. "I can smell the alcohol on your breath," he said from two feet away. Wow, I thought. I must have been using a string of words featuring the explosive sounding letter "p" as in "Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers." This only illustrated this officers ease in using his authority as a policeman to intimidate a citizen.

"You're free to go." I thought about what this clever phrase really meant. "You're free to go" really means yes we can't stop you from observing, but we don't want you to. In fact, the resident of the home where the stop occurred had earlier came outside to see what was happening in front of his house only to be shooed back indoors.

What was apparent is these four cops exhibited a concerted effort to block anybody from watching what they were doing on this mildly cold autumn morning. What happened after I left? According to the women, Sellers offered the driver a deal. If you're mother answers the phone, she can pick you up. If she doesn't, you're going downtown. At nearly 3 a.m., Mom didn't pick up and she was arrested. The passenger told me later that one of the officers told her, "You're journalist friend isn't going to help your friend tonight."

Turns out he was right, but maybe we can help the rest of you. The Citizen has recently began to focus on the San Leandro Police Department with help from some new writers. With numerous lawsuits filled recently against the city and department, we cannot wait for the local mainstream media to act when they have been obscenely absent with the hospital and crossing guard issues.

Officers are allegedly shooting animals, female cops are being sexually harassed and questions about the fairness of hiring practices are slowly becoming public knowledge. In the short term, City Hall chose to ignore these problems and hired a new police chief from within than enlist a set of fresh eyes.

The behavior of Officer Sellers is hopefully not a symbol of what is eroding the public perception of the police department, but it needs a far more sharper focus than the media or our local politicians have attempted.

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