Friday, April 30, 2010

When a Conflict of Interest Claim Fails

The Citizen

SUTTER vs THE DISTRICTReeling in debt and forced to file bankruptcy in 2007, Valley Health System, the local healthcare district representing two Inland Empire hospitals was in dire need of help, by most accounts, struggling with barely over two week's worth of operating cash on hand. Its two underperforming hospitals, Hemet Valley Medical Center and Menifee Valley Medical Center, were being courted by the Physicians for Healthy Hospitals, a 132-person doctor's group led by local physician Dr. Kali Chaudhuri, but a rapidly growing Southern California hospital chain with an affinity for gobbling up facilities from the scrap heap of bankruptcy was lurking.

Dr. Prem Reddy's Prime Healthcare, the same group who attempted a bid for San Leandro Hospital last summer, had the two facilities in his sights so much that he purchased a small portion of the district's debt to become a creditor. When a bankrcuptcy judge approved the sale to the physicians group in October for $162 million, Prime was the only creditor to vote against the deal. Prime charges they were being shutout from making an offer and labeled District's proposed sale to the doctor's group an insider deal. In December, 87 percent of resident approved the sale of the district's assets to Physicians for Healthy Hospitals, but Prime charged three members of the district's board of having conflicts of interest in making the deal with Chaudhuri and the doctor's group.

The issue may have a direct impact to the Eden Township Healthcare District's allegation that two members of the board were employed by Sutter Health along with the CEO of Eden Medical Center, when they signed the infamous 2007 agreements that now put the future of San Leandro Hospital in doubt.

The interesting role-reversal in the Riverside case highlights just how difficult proving a conflict of interest may be for the Eden Township District. U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Peter Carroll, who approved the sale to the physicians group, ruled against Prime's conflict of interest allegation April 8. In court documents, Prime charged three members of the healthcare district, known as Valley Health Systems, with being employed by a facility with ties to Chaudhuri or having a spouse who did. Carroll dismissed all of Prime's claims, including the conflict of interest claims.

In the Eden Township Healthcare District countersuit against Sutter, current board member Dr. Rajendra Ratnesar, former member Dr. Francisco Rico and Eden Medical Center CEO George Bischalaney were alleged to have had financial ties to the negotiation and implementation of the 2007 Memoradum of Understanding which Sutter agreed to rebuild Eden Medical Center and allow San Leandro Hospital two years to turn a profit. At the time of the agreements, Bischalaney also served as the CEO of the Eden Township Healthcare District. In a response to the District's allegations, Sutter denied any conflict of interest and said Bischalaney had recused himself from the negotiations.

A Hayward attorney, who chose not be named, said the main difference between the two cases may favor the Eden Township Healthcare District. Without speculating to its outcome, the attorney said it may be less difficult for the District's lawyers to prove a conflict since Sutter readily admits two of three people in the lawsuit served on the negotiating team rather than the more specious claim by Prime that the healthcare boardmembers in Riverside conducted business with the doctor's group in a surreptitious manner. Eden Township Board Chair Carole Rogers has publicly said numerous times the conflicts of interest claims against the three can be proven merely by a quick look at the W-2 forms, but it will take more than showing a pay stub from Sutter to sway a judge.

In the Riverside case, the judge dismissed Prime's allegations against the three board members calling them "remote and speculative," despite apparent ties to Chaudhuri. The courts decision, instead, was based on the direct ties between the doctor's group and the agreement made with Valley Health Systems. In all three instances, the judge ruled against any violation of the state's conflict of interest code 1090 since none of the members were employees or investors of Chaudhuri's investor group.

The ruling could put a damper on the validity of the District's claim against Sutter. One Valley Health System board member Dr. William Cherry was found to not have a conflict with the deal despite working for a medical group of which Chaudhuri owned 38 percent and was chairman. According to court papers, six of the initial investors in Physicians for Healthy Hospitals came from this medical group. Another, Dr. Vinay Rao, described as an "at will" employee, worked for Hemet Surgery of which Chaudhuri was an investor. And board member Madeleine Dreier, who is married to a former chief of staff of one of the two hospitals the doctor's group stands to purchase, although the judge ruled his appointment to the position occured five years before their marriage. Nevertheless, the judge failed to view the petitioner's claims reached the legal threshold of conflict of interest. One county official told The Citizen, it is going to be difficult for the District to prove any wrongdoing when Rico and Ratnesar can simply say they were acting in the best interest of the District at the time.

Rogers dismissed the Prime case in Riverside has bearing on their current legal battle with Sutter and an attorney for the District declined to comment on the whether the decision could be used as precedent against the District's case.

Prime Healthcare owns 13 hospitals in the state, primarily in the Southern California. Its business model of canceling existing insurance and employee contracts along with funneling more patients through the emergency room is controversial among health care officials. Purchasing hospitals out of bankruptcy is nothing new for Prime. A majority of its acquisitions have been underperforming hospitals.

A recent turnaround of a facility in Redding last year brought Shasta Regional Medical Center from bankruptcy to $38 million in revenue in one year, but the miraculous comeback did not come without problems. The area's other hospital was inundated with patients after insurance companies spurned by Prime's business model urged their customers to visit nearby Mercy Hospital instead, causing it to be overrun and later cited for health violations after the steep increase in volume.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

BayTrail Bridge Named After Lockyer

In 1987, Bill Lockyer, then a state senator from San Leandro, envisioned a 500-mile bike trail ringing the Bay Area. Two years later the plan was approved. As the popular trail nears the 300-mile mark, local politicians are looking to honor Lockyer for his contribution to preserve the regions scenic landscape.

A segment of the BayTrail in the form of a bridge overlooking a slough between San Leandro and the Oakland Airport will be named after State Treasurer Lockyer in a dedication ceremony May 7, 11:30 a.m.

One of the local leaders who pushed for the long-rumored naming of the bridge for Lockyer has been San Leandro Mayor Tony Santos, who lobbied for it during separate city council meeting earlier this year. Santos said the honor was first suggested to him by former Assemblyman Johan Klehs.There is currently no marker along the trail commemorating its primary author.

"Lockyer, in the opinion of everyone--including myself--is responsible for the BayTrail," said Santos. "He's worked on the idea for over 20 years and should be recognized for his work."

Lockyer, who is up for re-election this year and likely to win a second term, is arguably the most prominent politician in San Leandro history. He started his career on the San Leandro school board before moving on to the assembly, state senate before becoming state attorney general and treasurer.
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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Insurance Companies Bend to House Dems Letter


CONGRESSRescission has long symbolized the unscrupulous actions by health insurance companies. Eliminating the act of canceling medical insurance to customers once they became sick was also one of the defining features of last month's historic health care reform legislations, but doing away with the scourge of recission is still months away despite the reforms.

In a letter from seven leading congressional Democrats, including Rep. Pete Stark, some of the largest insurance companies were asked to voluntarily stop rescinding health insurance months before the Nov. 1 starting date written into the legislation.

WellPoint, Inc., one of the insurers mentioned in yesterday's letter acquiesced to the congress members demands and said it will not participate in rescission past May 1. Kaiser Permanete, Assurant, UnitedHealth Group, Humana, Blue Cross and Blue Shield and Aetna were the other insurance companies to have received the letter.

WellPoint's move puts its competitors in an unenviable position of following their lead or risk further pressure from congress. "The race is on,” said Stark. “WellPoint took the first step, now it's up to the other insurance companies to show they're serious about making health reform work. They need to end rescissions, and put in place a system where every proposed cancellation is reviewed by an independent third party."

At the state level, last year Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi's bill into law banning the practice of recission by insurance companies after two years.
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Monday, April 26, 2010

Hayward Moves to Fortify Rights of Mobile Home Owners

The Citizen

HAYWARDMobile home parks are like "little cities," Hayward City Attorney Michael Lawson said last week when the city disclosed several proposals to strengthen the community's access to the unique form of affordable housing.

"They have their own mayor and resolve disputes among themselves," said Lawson. This sort of autonomy within the city limits, though, often times calls for city hall to be the arbitrator. A clear majority of the Hayward City Council appear to be siding with residents by voicing a strong populist position during a work session on the subject last Tuesday.

Lawson presented the council with a proposal to secure the city's nine mobile home communities and their common seniors-only provisions. Currently five of the nine have rules calling for one occupant to be 55 or older. A plan to increase the number of parks with the provision along with setting aside the number of spaces for, at least, 80 percent seniors, was overwhemingly favored by the council. The plan was included in the city's list of 2010 priorities.

Local park owners balked at the proposal saying they only learned of the city's plan a month ago, but accepted the city's proposed task force comprised of residents and park owners to hash out future problems. If approved, the  committee will produce a report in the next six months.

"Doesn't it benefit everybody and a win-win situation when you review every angle of the legislation and make a decision?" said Don Urie, one of the owners of Spanish Ranch I. "I don't think that can be done when we've only had a couple of weeks."

Doug Johnson of the Western Manufactured Home Community Association urged the council to listen to the concerns of park owners. "I don't think it's more regulation or strengthening regulations in the city of Hayward, I think we need a fairer mobile home regulation," he said.

The council, though, was more interested protecting access to the park as a vehicle for affordable housing to its residents, many of whom are seniors on fixed incomes. Hayward's nine mobile home parks house 5,000 residents. Throughout the state, a trend by park owners to maximize profits by converting mobile home parks to other forms of housing above the reach of low-income residents has gained steam. Johnson told the council the trend does not appear in Hayward, but exists state-wide due to increased regulations by municipalities that have forced park owners to find other ways to pad their bottom line.

"Park owners have been successful in court," said Councilman Kevin Dowling. "They have been successful in Sacramento, unfortunately, and I think the community's are going to continue to have these issued raised and be under constant threat to losing their affordability." Dowling, who is running for Alameda County supervisor, also objected to tying rent increases to the Consumer Price Index (CPI). Seniors on a fixed income receive increases to their monthly Social Security checks also tied to the CPI, he said. "Any increase would go straight to their rent," said Dowling.

Councilman Bill Quirk was clear to park owners which constituents the council was siding. "I can assure you that this council is going to listen very carefully to the residents. You need to listen to the residents as you go through this. My guess is, if the residents say no, we don't agree with x, y and z, I would be very surprised if the council said, well, we'll do it anyway. I don't think that's going to happen,"said Quirk.

Others aspects of the city attorney's presentation included park-wide water submetering tied to a decrease in rents since mobile home residents typically use less water because of smaller households and a lack of landscaping and vacancy decontrol where park owners can raise rents when tenants move and better communication between park owners and tenant regarding capital improvements to the area. Hayward Mayor Michael Sweeney said he has not heard the issue of submetering at the forefront of any conversation among mobile home residents, but he along with every councilmember viewed vacancy decontrol as a non-starter.

Councilman Barabara Halliday also questioned why park owners were are not required to have insurance in common areas, like swimming pools. The city is  only seeking to assure a level of coverage is available to residents, said Lawson, who speculated it may be a way for outright owners of parks to increase bottom without having insurance with total replacement cost.

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Friday, April 23, 2010

Sutter Denies District's Conflict of Interest Allegations

The Citizen 

SUTTER vs THE DISTRICTSutter Health denies the chief executive officer of Eden Medical Center participated in negotiations with the Eden Township Healthcare District in 2008 while serving in the same capacity with the government body, according to court papers filed Wednesday in Alameda County Superior Court.

The Sacramento-based health care provider denies Eden Medical Center CEO George Bischalaney participated in the negotiation and execution of the deal at the center of the dispute over the fate of San Leandro Hopsital, and specifically says he recused himself from the discussion. The filing includes a signed affidavit by Bischalaney. Sutter operates both San Leandro Hospital and Eden Medical Center.

The court documents are the response to the District's counterclaim filed March 10 against Sutter maintaining two members of the previous board, along with Bischalaney, had a conflict of interest under state law due to negotiations of the 2008 Memoradum of Understanding while concurrently serving both the District and employment with Sutter.

Sutter also denies the District's claim current Director Dr. Rajendra Ratnesar and former Director Dr. Francisco Rico maintained a conflict of interest in brokering the 2008 agreements. The District alleged in their countersuit Ratnesar held the position of medical officer at Eden while Rico received "substantial income" from a doctor's group contracted to Eden Medical Center.

The filing charges the District is not in compliance with its own mission to enhance health care opportunities in the region saying they have not "properly conducted itself in the interest of public health" and describe the events surrounding the hours after the District approved moving forward with their counterclaim in mid-February.

Sutter alleges Director Dr. Harry Dvorsky's request to change his vote against additional legal action was silenced by Board Chair Carole Rogers. The letter from Dvorsky to the board, first reported in The Citizen March 17, was delivered to District CEO Dev Mahadevan within the day of the board approving, 2-1, the filing of a counterclaim against Sutter hoping to void the 2008 agreements on the grounds of conflicts of interest.

Mahadevan passed Dvorsky's intention to change his vote to "no" to Rogers and asked for a re-vote. Mahadevan said Rogers "immediately refused the request," according to court papers. Last month, Rogers told The Citizen the District's lawyers had communicated to Dvorsky no action could be made until the item was placed on the agenda and that the counterclaim had already been filed in Superior Court. Sutter says Rogers refusal to allow the re-vote led to current stand-off.

Sutter also alleges Rogers only moved to void the 2008 agreements after an arbitrator ruled in Sutter's favor regarding the legality of its right to initiate its purchase option for San Leandro Hosptial. "After finding that it had no defense to the Sutter's exercise of its option to void the 2008 agreements, and had no right to damages from Sutter, Carole Rogers decided to attempt to void the 2008 agreements."

The issue of conflict of interest among certain board members continues to highlight both legal arguments. Sutter alleges Rogers and Director Dr. Vin Sawhney were informed of their current conflict of interest blocking their inclusion in any negotiating group before initiating the counterclaim. In addition, Sutter alleges former District counsel Craig Cannizzo informed Rogers and Sawhney of conflict in June 2009. At the time, both had raised the beginnings of significant doubt over Sutter's plans to close San Leandro Hospital and successfully voted against Sutter's plan to close the hospital.

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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Reed's Rant: Like Wow, Ok

These are very tense times for the San Leandro City Council. It might be difficult to see by the slight sneers and pointed, but passive aggressive remarks, if you only watch this group in action. The atmosphere in Hayward is vastly different, yet they still have their disagreements. The difference? Hayward doesn't have a councilmember running against a sitting mayor and San Leandro does.

The council is now clearly split between Mayor Tony Santos and Vice Mayor Joyce Starosciak and the difference of opinion between councilmembers is spilling over into the city's business whether it's Ranked Choice Voting, AC Transit's Bus Rapid Transit proposal or contentious discourse between members and the mayor.

This fighting is apparently too much for one councilwoman. Ursula Reed ended Monday's meeting with a message for the council: "stop the fighting," or, "can't we all just get along?" or, "Don't criticize me, I'm just a volunteer," or, "It's the fault of those pesky blogger(s)!" For all we know, her speech was about all of the above? Read it here:

It was interesting because you're sitting in a room campaigning and talking about political things, it seems to me whenever there is an election season, it brings out the best and sometimes the worst in people. From a volunteer standpoint, being a volunteer pretty much all my life, I feel like working as a city council member is a public service. It's not necessarily a place where we get all kind of money and get all kind of recognition. I think that in the public service of being a city council member we also get darts thrown at us a lot and get talked about and peeled apart. We put ourselves out there just for that but because we do that we are here to serve the community and the public. I guess, I'm a little unnerved right now. I've been reading blogs and things that are very disturbing. Just the communication that is going back and forth and it's only April. The election is in November. I'm feeling like, wow, ok, this is quite early for all of this to be happening. My hope is that throught all of this that we focus on public service to the community and try to stay focus throughout this election year.
Immediately after Reed's rant, Santos said, "That is an excellent comment" and detailed a late evening phone call he received last week in which the caller described critical words directed at the mayor. "There is no reason for that type of thing occurring," said Santos. "We may have disagreements from time to time, but that is what the democratic process is all about."

The funny thing about the speech and Santos' comments is Reed was likely criticizing the mayor's comments in The Citizen, but Santos apparently did not make the connection and then quickly ran with the message to criticize the person who had made comments about Santos. That person, incidentally, was sitting in the audience watching the entire spectacle.
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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Lai-Bitker Urges District to Explore Back Up Plan

The Citizen 

SUTTER vs THE DISTRICTAlameda County Supervisor Alice Lai-Bitker issued a stern rebuke Wednesday to the Directors of the Eden Township Healthcare District, saying they have failed to develop a contingency plan in the event they lose their lawsuit against Sutter Health.

"I'm not here to argue about the details of the [hybrid model]," said Lai-Bitker. "The fact that I am here at this late stage troubles me enough and I'm even more troubled by this board's total reliance on winning this case to the exclusion of developing a contingency plan in case you do not win in court. This will be very detrimental to the community and defeats our goal of saving the hospital. In fact, it will likely result in the loss of the hospital." 

Lai-Bitker later asked the board for a five-year commitment to help fund a plan--commonly named the "hybrid model"--to house both acute rehabilitation and emergency room services at San Leandro Hospital. The Alameda County Health Services Agency estimates any plan will need a subsidy between $6-9 million to be viable. Lai-Bitker told the board such a plan is "mutli-jurisdictional" and would use a dollar figure from the District as a "starting point" to attract the support of the county's own agency, Sutter Health, Kaiser Permanente and possibly the taxpayers of San Leandro.

She also holds the belief the board's recent large expenditures for attorney's fees and the hiring of a public relations firm at a cost of $10,000 per month is money spent unwisely. Lai-Bitker said doing so at the expense of not planning a secondary option "seems a little reckless to me."

"I firmly believe that spending this money on subsidizing this facility is a far better way of spending the District's money than using it to pay attorney's fees," said Lai-Bitker.

Eden Township Chair Carole Rogers said the issue was "all in Sutter's hands, at this point" and told the Lai-Bitker she would place the hybrid proposal under consideration along with other plans the District may later explore.

The letter sent by Lai-Bitker to the District March 15 was the second time she had asked the board to consider a subsidy for San Leandro Hospital. Lai-Bitker said Wednesday her initial correspondence to the board in July 2009 did not elicit a response. Rumors of the current letter had circulated  since late last month along with discussion Lai-Bitker was attempting to sort out financing for the hybrid model among different entities along with an effort to reach a firm dollar figure in the event voters in San Leandro might be asked to approve a tax to help fund the hospital.

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The Myth of the Hybrid Model

The Citizen

SUTTER vs THE DISTRICTThe hybrid model is often mentioned as the best way to save San Leandro Hospital's emergency room. The idea has been around for nearly a year. Many take credit for its creation. Many new to the situation saddle up to advantages: a plan that puts nearly every segment of medical services under one roof, which seemingly placates every stakeholder's position and sorts out the rearranging of the county's rehabilitation services throughout the region due to the cost and timing of state-mandated seismic retrofitting of hospitals. The apparent win-win situation has one major problem: Nobody has ever come close to loosening the purse-strings.

The Alameda County Health Care Services Agency has long maintained an annual subsidy between $6-9 million is needed to institute the hybrid model at San Leandro Hospital. Alex Briscoe, the director of the county department, has told The Citizen on many occasions during the last six months, any plan must also include a long-term commitment close to 10 years. San Leandro Mayor Tony Santos, Eden Township Healthcare District Director Dr. Rajendra Ratnesar have taken credit for the plan, but have never brought financing to the table. Alameda County Supervisor Alice Lai-Bitker has also taken credit for creating the hybrid plan, but she too, has never attached a dollar figure anywhere close to the minimum $6 million per year.
Some believe Sutter has never had any intention to negotiate and will not start now
Lai-Bitker, who is not running for re-election this year, will ask the Eden Township District Board of Directors tonight for a contribution to the hybrid proposal. District Chair Carole Rogers says the board did not seek Lai-Bitker's proposal. A letter to the board last month asked for the District's consideration and referenced a similar letter sent last July.

Talk of the hybrid model first gained wide attention during three heavily attended public meetings that month. Following a rousing presentation days before to the board by Prime Health owner Dr. Prem Reddy, who asserted his Southern California hospital provider could operate the hospital, Lai-Bitker told the board she would ask the Board of Supervisors to rescind their offer to convert the hospital to a acute rehab-only facility since the hospital now had a viable suitor. The announcement elicited a joyous response from many members of the audience and annointed Lai-Bitker the savior of San Leandro Hospital, but the proposal went nowhere. Sutter Health, who reportedly loathed having an operator like Prime in the neighborhood, made it known they would not cooperate with any sort of hybrid model. Subsequently, Lai-Bitker could only muster support from Supervisor Nate Miley. The issue of rescinding their offer to the county never had a third vote on the five-person board and was never discussed.

Despite periodic flare-ups, the viability of the hyrbid model, namely the presence of dollars associated with it, has never changed since last summer, yet the list of supporters continue to rise. Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi is said to support the hybrid. Supervisor candidate Wilma Chan supports it. The list includes Hayward Councilman Bill Quirk, Santos' opponents for mayor this November and most of the candidates for supervisor.

The rabid support for the hybrid plan has become the most politically expedient position that paints an open-minded stance towards the situation, while allowing them to grandstand for the voter's admiration. Whatever the  plan's positives, it is basically a proposal made of straw.

For the hybrid to function as a potpourri of medical services, including the crucial inclusion of an emergency room, it must also be a hybrid of donors. Last fall, there were reports the Eden Township District, Sutter and the Alameda County Medical Center, who would operate San Leandro Hospital as an acute rehab facility if Sutter obtains the deed to the hospital, were approached on the subject of a three-way deal to subsidized the hybrid model. Sources say Sutter had no inclination towards entering such an arrangement and the others were highly skeptical. Any future deal in the short-term was scuttled when Sutter sued the District last October demanding it recognize its right to purchase the hospital. That case is still very much at the center of where both sides stand regarding any sort of cooperation and led to the District filing a counter-claim last month.

Many sources close to both the county and the District say the only possible way for the hybrid to work is if Sutter leaves the hospital situation entirely. But, they also say that is very unlikely, while some believe Sutter has never had any intention to negotiate and will not start now. Whatever the hybrid's positives, it's a deal nobody other than politicians seem to be interested in.

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The $1.6 Million Mistake

The Citizen

The San Leandro Unified School District shed light on the city's worst kept secret Monday evening. Details of a $1.6 million accounting error were announced that could mean further cuts to their budget for the 2011-12 fiscal year, which is slated to begin discussion in the next few months.

Interim Superintendent Cindy Cathey told the school board's finance committee all figures were checked on a budget program the district utilizes but, "for whatever reasons, which are somewhat unexplainable, we skipped that cell," said Cathey.

The budget for the upcoming 2010-11 fiscal year is unaffected, said Cathey, but excruciating budget cuts for the year after will begin shortly. The school board voted in February to make $2.7 million in cuts for next year.

Much of the school district's funding comes from Sacramento, which in itself is struggling to make ends meet. San Leandro School Board Trustee President Mike Katz and fellow trustee Paulne Cutter have said in emails, widely circulated, that part of the budget problem arises from uncertainty in the state capitol. Cathey echoed that sentiment Monday saying, "I'm not making any excuses at all, but these are really different financial times for us and things are changing as they will still change."

Cathey, who was appointed by the school board in January to replace the fired Christine Lim on an interim basis, said the school district will implement  new guidelines to prevent another clerical error in the future, including an item-by-item review along with specific evidence backing each figure. "That should be a protection so an error of this nature won't happen again," said Cathey.

During the meeting, School Trustee Morgan Mack-Rose answered critics who have said the board has shown a pattern of obfuscation regarding the firing of Lim and the current budget snafu saying Monday was the first meeting convened since the county notified the school district of the error March 28. She also said the school board has also yet to meet since the the problem arose. "We can't discuss things that are not agendized," said Mack-Rose, "and we can't talk amongst ourselves." The school board held special meetings April 1 and 13. Board member are not allowed to discuss items up for consideration, but likely do not include approving whether a budget error occurred or not.

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Ranked Choice Voting Is A-Go...No, Seriously!

The Citizen

SAN LEANDROThe economic argument against Ranked Choice Voting, oddly, became the very same reason the city ordinance implementing the election system for next November was approved, 5-2. Vice Mayor Joyce Starosciak and Councilwoman Diana Souza voted against the ordinance.

Although RCV was previously approved by the city council in January and allow the city to enter an agreement to share the initial costs of the system with Oakland and Berkeley, the ordinance actually delivering it became an internecine battle between segments of the council.

With Councilman Michael Gregory on vacation in Japan last month, the ordinance was deadlocked and failed, 3-3, with Starosciak and Councilman Bill Stephens continuing their opposition because of the city's current budget situation. Souza, who has never been enamored with RCV, switched her vote from her January yes vote to no, setting up a situation where opponents of RCV on economic grounds now faced a situation where a possible February 2011 runoff could have cost the city for more than the startup costs of RCV.

San Leandro Mayor Tony Santos quickly called for reconsideration of the vote for Monday night using powers entitled to the mayor in the city's charter. In the time between last month's failure to pass the ordinance, once seen as merely a procedural certainty, one council member had a change of heart.

"I was against RCV because of the financial impact," said Stephens when announcing he was voting in favor of the ordinance, but said the cost associated with suspending the city's participation would be too high.

Without passage, the city would have been on the hook for its part of RCV, whether they participated or not, according to Councilman Jim Prola. "Once it was passed, I believed we really had an obligation to go forward with it," said Prola. "As it turned out, the costs would have been significant." According to the city clerk, a stand-alone runoff election early next year would have been costs prohibitive; running close to $200,000.

San Leandrans will be asked to ranked their preferences for mayoral and council candidates instead of registering a single vote. The aim of RCV is to find a consensus winner by transferring the first-place votes of the last-place candidate proportionately among those remaining until one candidate gains a majority of the votes. The method eliminates the need for a separate run-off election in the event a candidate does not garner a majority, as is done in the primary system. Proponents of RCV also say it allows for greater voter participation and lowers the financial playing field for candidates since it eliminates the possibility of campaigning for two elections.

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Crossings Housing Project Near Collapse?

The Citizen

SAN LEANDROThe three parties partnered with the city of San Leandro to build the mixed use, transit-orient San Leandro Crossings housing development are delaying plans to build the initial $110 million phase of the project.

City Manager Stephen Hollister said Monday night all sides partnered with the housing development to be located directly behind the San Leandro BART station had voiced concern over uncertainties in the current housing market along with the state entity involved with the project missing a deadline to procure grant funds.

"The City has been working diligently with all parties--Westlake, BRIDGE and Housing and Community Development--and will continue to do so," Hollister said in a statement read to the council. "We are hopeful that we can proceed with the project in such a manner that will satifsy HCD requirements and the needs of the developers and the City."

According to sources familiar with the deal, the HCD had recently demanded a guarantee for their $10 million investment for the first phase of low-income housing units. Westlake assured the HCD only a portion of the $10 million would be guaranteed in the first year of construction. Westlake, according to sources, also sought changes to parking at the development, opting for surface parking over the previously planned parking garage. Westlake also indicated a desire to lower the development's building standards from that of condominiums to rental.

The city and BRIDGE was asked to cover the remaining portion of HCD's investment, but the council apparently balked at such a deal, according to sources and, late last week, BRIDGE threatened to pull out of the entire project because of the uncertainty over the HCD's delays in receiving grant funds and their subsequent proposal that hoped to defray their risk.

"BRIDGE was unable to conitnue without the assurance that the HCD documents would be executed in time to meet the requirements of their lenders and the tax credit deadline," said Hollister. Afterwards Hollister said he was "optimistic" the project will eventually move forward despite the delay, although he said, "We're disappointed with the delay, but I can say everyone is now working towards getting this done."

The San Leandro Crossing development is prime part of the city's transit-oriented strategy hoping to transform its downtown area to a more walkable experience featuring dining, shopping and recreation options. Phase 1 of the two-year old Crossings project, located on the open patch of land behind the BART station, includes a mix of 300 multi-family market rate rentals and affordable housing built to condo standards. The plan also called for a multi-story parking garage to replace those lost to riders of BART.

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Monday, April 19, 2010

Stark's Dem Opponent for Congress at Tea Party

The Citizen

CONGRESSYou would think the last place for a Democrat to be asking for votes would have been last week's Tea Party in Pleasanton, but not for the candidate challenging Rep. Pete Stark this June.

Instead of vying for the votes of the staunchly liberal East Bay conclave and its long-time progressive representative, Democratic primary candidate Justin Jelincic is hoping to attract conservative Democrats he believes have long been marginalized.

"What Pete is doing is wrong and he doesn't serve any of the people at this rally," said campaign volunteer Jerry Jennaro who along with Jelincic's brother manned the only Democratic booth at the Pleasanton Tea Party rally. The table drew sparse visitors throughout the rally, but many who walked past Jelincic's banner calling for "Stark change" seemed to agree with the sentiment. When a Pleasanton resident  learned I often covered Stark, he said, "Oh, I feel sorry for you."

Jelincic's brother, Jim, who is a dead ringer for the candidate except for a dash of salt in his dark brown hair, says supporters of the Tea Party movement are natural constituency for his brother. "What the Tea Party represents is part of his values," said Jim Jelincic. "He wants to be more of a [John F.] Kennedy Democrat who can be a part more conservative."

Jelincic's web site is tailored to many of the Tea Party's core beliefs of less government intervention, lower taxes and a desire to clear the politics slate back to the idealism of the nation's founding, but also caters to Democrats. "We can fire Pete without firing the party," states Jelincic.

The site also readily states Jelincic's religious views as part of his political ideology on the belief the Bible contains wisdom useful in public discourse. Such open discussion of politics and religion runs counter to his Democratic primary opponent who is known as the highest-ranking Atheist in government.

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Accounting Error Will Cause Additional Cuts for Schools

The Citizen

SAN LEANDROAfter approving $2.7 million in cuts to San Leandro Unified School District's budget for the upcoming fiscal year, the city's School Board of Trustees learned March 29, an accounting error will cause further cuts for the 2011-12 budget.

According to San Leandro School Board Trustee Pauline Cutter the error could run as high as $1.2 million. Others say the shortfall may be nearly double. The board's finance committtee will discuss the matter at a meeting tonight.

The clerical mistake will not affect the upcoming fiscal budget which forced the school board to trim $2.7 million by increasing class sizes, cutting 25 percent of the athletics budget, along with various staff cuts. The new shortfall, though, will affect the 2011-12 budget, which the board will begin to grapple this June.

The school district was notified on the accounting error March 28 by the county when it was discovered faulty figures regarding the Average Daily Attendance (ADA) mistakenly treated as a one-time reduction, according to Cutter. ADA is primarily used by the state to calculate how much revenue a school district will garner per student. According to a March 23 report, the district projected receiving $6,493 per student at 94.88 percent ADA for the 2011-12 budget. The shortfall arose when the information given to the county accounted for full ADA, leaving 5.12 percent unaccounted.

The school board learned of the problem March 29, one day after the county notified the school district. The lack of transparency regarding such a large accounting error has caused some consternation around City Hall. San Leandro Mayor Tony Santos told The Citizen he questioned School Board President Mike Katz on why the information had still not been made public while the city has conducted numerous finance and council meetings to reveal the extent of their own budget woes to the public.

This is not the first time, the school board has engaged in slowly reporting unfavorable news to its constituents. In December of last year, the board voted in closed session to fire Superintendent Christine Lim. The dismissal had been rumored for months and ultimately caused a cascading effect of detractors including parents and a minority of teachers and staff. The school board did not announce the Lim firing until Jan. 5 and did not report the outcome of the vote until a week later. Critics of the firing say the board violated the Brown Act by not announcing the decision after the closed session in mid-December, an assertion board members deny and, instead, pin the delay on employee privacy associated with a personnel issue. The superintendent is technically the school board's lone employee.

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Thursday, April 15, 2010

We Know What You're Up To

The Citizen

At least three journalists, citizen bloggers, including this reporter, were asked to leave today's gathering of Tea Party supporters in Pleasanton because of fears by organizers coverage of the event would paint the group in a poor light.

An official representing the Pleasanton Tea Party, who not give her name (in fact, nobody from the group would provide their name), said media credentials were needed to ask questions of the fairly large gathering of over 2,000 attendees gathered from the afternoon rally featuring U.S. Senate candidate Carly Fiorina. Badges labeled "Staff" were needed to interview patrons at an event publicized as free to the public, they said. Reporters from KTVU, the Contra Costa Times and a man with a video camera emblazoned with conservative radio host Michael Savage's logo were seen without visible credentials.

The mistrust of anything media is detailed on the groups web site under a section titled "Frequented Asked Questions" where the question is posed, "Is this legal? Will I be thrown in jail for doing this--I have never done anything like this before?"

When I posed a question to a man from Pleasanton asking why he believed so many here felt disaffected by the current adminsitration, the gentleman ran off of litany of grievances, but the interview was halted by a volunteer for the organizing group. "You can't be asking questions," he said. "You need a pass." When I told him who I was he stopped me and said, "We know what you're up to."

After inquiring why someone would need to be screened to attend an event advertised as open to all or why credentials were needed to pose questions to people who chose to speak freely I was told, "We don't know who you are. You could take what they say, turn it around and make them look foolish." Once the word censorship was used, the event worker said she had ejected people for using the same word or calling the group "communists."

At this point, I was not specifically told to leave, just to not interview people. Back inside the event, canopy-covered booths belonging to several Republican candidates including Fiorina and California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman ringed the audience. When questioned about the Pleasanton Tea Party group escorting out journalists, a volunteer for Fiorina  frowned and said "It's a free country." A gentlemen handing out campaign literature and bumper stickers for the Whitman campaign had no comment, but said he was instructed to pass any press inquiries to a campaign spokesperson.

Sarah Pompei, a spokesperson for the Whitman campaign, distanced herself from the volunteers at the Pleasanton Tea Party event saying they were not part of the campaign and later said she was not aware of the gathering, although, the event was billed as one of the biggest Tax Day Tea Party events in the state.

Pompei, who is featured on a video shot by the San Francisco Chronicle telling reporters invited to interview Whitman only to learn they could not ask questions, would not elaborate on her statement volunteers passing out materials with the offical Meg2010 logo were not affiliated with the campaign. At one point, Pompei asked what Steve Poizner, Whitman's fellow Republican gubernatorial candidate for the party's nomination would do about reporters being ejected from the event. Poizner had no presence at the event.

Aside from roars of derision anytime House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's name was uttered, the crowd was passionate, yet sedate lounging in beach chairs and carrying clever signs mocking most things Democrat. One sign sat unattended that read, "I'm Republican because we can't all be on welfare," while "Obama is a Socialist" was quite common. A few dressed in revolutionary-era garb, while many waved American flags of all sizes.

Outside the festivities, a small group of protesters made up primarily of people in wheelchairs hoping to close tax loopholes to fund social services were sequestered across the road in a location labeled the "Free Speech Area." An older gentlemen, who declined to state his name said part of the group had been moved from a spot down the road and mocked the Tea Partiers, joking, "We're a real dangerous group, huh?" Pleasanton resident Carole Smith said, "We're not against what they're doing inside there, but they want all these services and don't want to pay the taxes."

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Pleasanton Tea Party Slideshow

A report tonight from KTVU's Randy Shandobil says Pleasanton Tea Party organizers did not allow signs critical towards President Obama. As you can see on this slideshow, two photos feature the president. Numerous signs, although typically less intrusive, carried the phrase, "Obama is a Socialist.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Santos Loses Support of Former Police Chiefs

Does He Need It, Though? | Santos/Starosciak: Not BFFs | Making It Easier To Run | May Rules The Day | Independent-In-Name-Only
To the dismay of San Leandro Mayor Tony Santos, two former police chiefs hosted a fundraiser Tuesday for his opponent Vice Mayor Joyce Starosciak. (For full disclosure, the owner of the local business hosting the event is a relative.) The loss of support from Bob Maginnis and Joe Kitchen reveals a chink in the mayor's armor. Former police department heads should have been a gimme for Santos and a coup for Starosciak, but the chief who replaced Kitchens and preceded the current boss, Ian Willis, is about as radioactive as they come. The disgraced Dale Attarian is the endorsement nobody wants and few know why. Through deft public relations and a totally silent local media, Attarian left the department last year under the cloud of a tumultuous sexual harassment scandal that has already cost the city over $400,000 and likely more when the case's main complaints are settled with the last of seven female police officers. The complaints allege the department under Attarian fostered an anti-female bias and failed to promote any women to the rank of sergeant. Court documents allege, among other things, Attarian said women were not cut out to be police officers and looked the other way as other male officers ostracized the seven women within an atmosphere of sexual innuendo and pornographic materials in plain view. The allegations are so outrageous that it begs the question why a female candidate for mayor would even welcome the endorsement of law enforcement.


SILENCE OF THE CANDIDATES The scene was a bit uncomfortable last month after the San Leandro city council chambers emptied with only Santos, Starosciak and Councilman Jim Prola chatting with a few community members at the upraised dais. Santos had been perturbed by comments made by Starosciak during the meeting when she briefly noted her support of the police and fire departments. The comments were made without any context to previous agenda item, but clearly alluded to controversial budget cuts on the table regarding both public safety institutions. "Doesn't she know people talk? People tell me everything she says around town," the mayor clearly said as to allow Starosciak to hear him. The passive aggressive tone of the scene is indicative of the slow brewing rivalry between the two city leaders. They reportedly do not speak much and Santos has made no secret he was peeved when Starosciak announced her candidacy saying it would interfere with city business and harmony within the council. The recent circus surrounding RCV has its roots in the simmering turf war. Starosciak supporter Councilwoman Diana Souza inexplicably halted the passage of the RCV ordinance against the wishes of the mayor and a past majority of the council. The next major proxy battle on the council between Santos and Starosciak may take place next month when a new vice mayor could be appointed.


FORGET RCV, LET ANYONE RUN One of the main talking points in favor of RCV is that it lowers the need for candidates to run for office without spending an arm and a leg. RCV ensures only one election rather than the possibility of two with the runoff system, but there's another way--allow voters to elect councilmembers city-wide without the need of living within the district. Within, the past month, six potential candidates for the council, have been thwarted in running this year because they later learned they do not reside in either Souza's District 3 or Councilman Michael Gregory's District 1. Souza does not have a challenger, while David Anderson recently announced he was running against Gregory. San Leandro currently elects councilmembers by district but with the votes of the entire city. If the entire city votes, why not open each district to challengers from throughout the city?


WON'T BACK DOWN Hayward Councilwoman Anna May is many things. She is one of the few conservative-leaning public servants in the area and one of the more refreshingly assertive councilmembers in the either Hayward or San Leandro. May is leaving the council chambers in June to pursue a seat on the city's school board, which may account for her unwavering stand last week against funding non-profit organizations who reside outside of Hayward. The council was presented with a preliminary list of 25 organizations vying for $400,000 in community development block grants (CDBG). Six of the 25 non-profits did not reside in Hayward, nor did they maintain a delivery system in the city, which irked May. "I cannot support exporting dollars outside the city limits," said May, who said she acquiesced towards softening her stance last year, but would not budge this time around maintaining operations outside of the city do not pay taxes and fees to the city. CDBG dollars come from the city's general fund. "The question is whether they are helping people in Hayward," Councilman Bill Quirk shot back before asking May, "Maybe we can change your mind?" to which May smiled wryly and defiantly shook her head no.


HAVING NO MONEY IS LIKE...BEING POOR Plucking an apt analogy out of thin air is quite difficult, but there was no excuse for San Leandro Councilman Bill Stephens being flummoxed Monday night while searching for one regarding these difficult economic times. When presented with the ineviable budget choices facing the city and potential cash flow problems in the near future, Stephens, with a background in finance, understood the fiduciary aspect of the city's dilemma. "You have to make payroll," said Stephens. "You have to pay your bills." He then paused and said, "I'm trying to think of an analogy of where you're living day-to-day, in this case, you're livng month-to-month." Uhhh....look at the lady at the bus stop across the street on East 14th. How about an analogy relating to the millions of Americans out-of-work, poor and sick struggling everyday to keep it all together. There's nothing like watching a conservative blindly miss the wide-spread plight of others.-S.T.

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Budget Talks Center on City's Cash Flow Dilemma

The Citizen

SAN LEANDROHere's the deal: move forward with a proposed budget that further depletes the city's general fund or hope for winning the lottery in November. The San Leandro City Council Monday night recommended to the city's finance department to proceed with the former, but not without ominous signs the city may encounter serious cash flow problems in the next year either way.

The revamped budget proposal hopes to reinstate 10 full-time equivalent jobs for six months, along with an addition six months of funding for ladder truck services. The original proposal sought only to finance the ladder company for the first six months of the next fiscal year and pinned its hopes for funding the remainder of the year on a likely tax revenue measure on ballot this November. The option favored by the council will lower the city's general fund balance to $1.1 million, if passed sometime in June and may not stave off layoffs without additional revenues.

A second proposal, which Councilwoman Ursula Reed called the "rose-colored glasses" option formulated the budget under the assumption a tax revenue enhancement, possibly in the form of a quarter percent sales tax, would add $2 million to the general fund. Mayor Tony Santos and Councilman Jim Prola favored the proposal, which other members concluded was too much of a risk. If the yet-to-be-proposed tax measure does not pass, the city's general fund balance would drop to a paltry $677,000, which Finance Director Perry Carter said presented the city with potential cash flow problems.

"I'm very nervous about that," said Carter when asked by Reed if the city could function with such low cash reserves.

According to Carter, the city's $5 million emergency reserves are a hedge against unforeseen disaster such as fire and earthquakes, but also serves as working capital for the uneven flow of revenue and expenditures throughout the year. "As we get closer to this number, we have to be careful of what steps we take," said Carter.

The city still has a ways to go until the final budget is approved. Santos will present the details of the crisis confronting the city tonight at the San Leandro Library at 7 p.m., but much of the proposal is still in a very much preliminary mode. "There's a lot of ifs," said City Manager Stephen Hollister. Areas such as the number of employees accepting the city's early retirement offer, attrition, an uncertain local economy and possible mid-year layoffs still leave the council with  tough decisions in the next two months, according to Hollister.

The finance department's original proposal nearly closed a estimated $7 million shortfall, which included cutting over 9 FTEs in the police department and 5 sworn officers. The nearly balanced budget only accounted for funding a half-year of the ladder company employing 9 firefighters. The hit to public safety caused some consternation among councilmembers who cited surveys showing San Leandrans overwhelmingly favored maintaining current levels of police and fire, along with a few hoping to earn brownie points during an election year. According to the budget report, the passage of a tax revenue measure would fund the ladder truck for an entire year, but add just one sworn police officer to the mix.

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Monday, April 12, 2010

Chan Adds Lai-Bitker's Blessing


SUPERVISOR - DIST 3Earlier today, outgoing Alameda County Supervisor Alice Lai-Bitker officially endorsed Wilma Chan to replace her on the board. Lai-Bitker's office released this statement:
I have decided to endorse Wilma Chan to succeed me as Alameda County Supervisor for District Three. I am pleased that Wilma has agreed to continue my initiatives, such as universal Mental Health access for students in San Lorenzo, Health Services at San Leandro High School, my workforce initiative for assisting immigrants to return to their health care professional careers and a Youth Center for Chinatown. I think Wilma has the experience and commitment to achieving success on the issues that are important to my district.
Chan held the seat from 1994-1999 before election to the state assembly. She appointed Lai-Bitker, then a little-known member of her staff, as her replacement on the board in 2000.

Lai-Bitker announced last December she would not seek re-election this year citing stress and a desire to spend more time with her family. Lai-Bitker previously endorsed Alameda Councilwoman Lena Tam for the seat before she dropped out of the race last month.

Chan is facing Alameda Mayor Beverly Johnson and Oakland businessman Harold Lowe in the June 8 primary.
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You've Got Mail From Nadia Lockyer


After a long days work, I came home to the usual boring junk in the mail; bills, advertisements, bills, greeting card, Proposition 16 literature and a GIANT envelope from the Nadia Lockyer campaign.

Wowza! Someone’s got some cash to spend. Move over Mary Hayashi, Nadia Lockyer is on her way!

To date, I am not sure the exact amount of money Mrs. Lockyer has raised; it’s not that I’m too lazy to look it up, I think sharing the number doesn’t matter. Why? Because if I said the number it would only turn into an argument that she can raise how much she wants; neglecting the other candidates. Someone will then argue, she’s the popular one and I’ll end it there with, “Why the hell is this a popularity contest, because your candidate has a famous last name?”

This envelope contained a letter opening with “Dear Neighbor” and went on to talk about her announcement for county supervisor and that she’s going to tell me more about who she is. First off, Mrs. Lockyer, you’re not my neighbor. As your material points out, you live on Oakes Drive in Hayward…the nice part of Hayward, the part that’s hidden from the problems you think you’ll fix. Perhaps you were referring to your campaign headquarters on A Street. Question: Why does a candidate for county supervisor have a campaign headquarters, let alone, need one?

Nadia goes on to talk about the three other candidates who are looking for a job because of term limits; I think I need to do research.

Hayward City Councilman Kevin Dowling has served on the council since 1998. In fact, Hayward City Councilman Olden Henson has been serving since 1994. Mr. Dowling has served the City of Hayward for 12 years and thinks he’s ready to serve at the county level; that’s admirable, not because of “term limits.” According to an email response from the Hayward city clerk, there are no term limits on councilmember’s; so, Mrs. Lockyer’s literature is not completely true about Mr. Dowling, one of three other choices.

As for the other two candidates, well, I think they probably fall under the same category. Liz Figueroa is on the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board (appointed by Don Perata); perhaps Mrs. Lockyer is playing cheap in saying she can no longer run for Senate or Assembly. BUT, Mrs. Figueroa only served two terms in the assembly, so there’s hope there.

Perhaps Mrs. Lockyer is referring to Mrs. Figueroa as one of the many California politicians that jumps from office to office. Politicians like Jerry Brown, Art Torres…or…Bill Lockyer. (And for fun and not bitterness, let me speculate that Mary Hayashi will soon become one of those lifers we’re stuck with.)

Next, Nadia talks about how people ask her if she’s married to Bill Lockyer. She tells them yes, her husband is the “California State Treasurer.” They were married in 2003, had a kid in 2003 and are both committed to serving and improving their community. Oh, and she’s running with her own ideas in mind, not Bill’s, not Art’s, not Mary’s. A former Santa Ana (Orange County) School Board member that studied law in Los Angeles is somehow more qualified to serve this county then a veteran (and passionate) councilman, or a former State Senator/Assembly Member or Mayor. Yet, so many will think she’s ready, and that her name doesn’t hurt her, nor do her friends that stand in-front and on the side of her.

We’re left to believe in her “proven track record of delivering government services to those most in need.” However, I question her track record since she’s never been elected to public office, outside of a school board in Orange County. She is not a regular Jane, as her campaign tries to spin it; complete with a play room for children at campaign headquarters. She is married to a powerful man, a former Attorney General, now Treasurer with a war chest bigger than many out there. Jerry Brown calls her a “county manager” in his endorsement; is county manager a loose term these days? Mary Hayashi says she’s a “great new voice for our community.” Mary knows a thing or two about being new to a community; she moved to Castro Valley (or is she in Hayward, or Sacramento five days a week) not so long ago. Mary also talks about Nadia being an adult caregiver; I admire that a lot, but it seems to really exploit the care she gave. And Hayward City Councilman Bill Quirk, supporting an outside and not a fellow member of the council to probably gain powerful support, calls her a “county manager” as well. He says she’s a “new voice for improving education, bringing jobs to the community and preventing violence.”

Then there is a one-page glossy print of three photographs; one of Nadia and her husband, California State Treasurer Bill Lockyer, one of their son and one of her with her son. Now, I will not go on about her family, however, I will point out that good money must have been spent for us to know that she has a picture-perfect family. We’re also left to believe that she believes “county government can do more for children and families,” more than, I guess city, state or federal government, “especially in these tough economic times.” One could probably argue if she knows how hard times are for families, living up on Oakes Drive.

And just in case you want to show you support for Mrs. Lockyer and believe in her “track record of delivering government services efficiently while saving taxpayers money” (still waiting on more details of that statement), she’s graciously included a big red and black campaign sign for you to stick in your window. The sign is to “help remind others to vote.” If that’s the case, I’ll just remind them of the election in June, and let them pick the candidate they think is best for the district and county.

All that said…Nadia sure has a lot to live up to.

Nicholas Terry is a resident of Hayward and a former Alameda County Consumer Affairs Commissioner and Hayward Citizens Advisory Commissioner.

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Friday, April 9, 2010

The Gang That Couldn't Vote Straight

The Citizen 

SAN LEANDROMayor Tony Santos likes to study the demeanor of his councilmembers for visible cracks in their poker faces. There was no indication Councilwoman Diana Souza was angling Monday night to vote against an ordinance finalizing Ranking Choice Voting for the coming November election. The look on his colleagues face was surprise, then a expression of, "Now what?"

Souza voted with the majority last month approving the voting system that, among other things, eliminates the need for a costly runoff election. That tally was 5-2 with Vice Mayor Joyce Starosciak and Councilman Bill Stephens against it. Souza said her change of conscience came from constituents who voiced displeasure tinkering with the manner residents elected their officials. She has never been enamored with RCV, anyway, speculating it would confuse and disenfranchise voters and doubted its cost-savings and saying last year, "Why don't we go back to the way it was before?" which was a winner-takes-all setup. More surprising than her vote Monday against was her vote for it last month when a protest vote would have been more appropriate. It still would have passed with a vote to spare.

No matter what your opinion of RCV, the decision to proceed had already been made with last month's action. The memoradum of understanding had been signed with the city's of Oakland and Berkeley putting San Leandro on the hook for their share of the system's startup costs, no matter what. The election date had been changed to Nov. 2. By the city's charter, there is no way to go back to a June primary raising the possibility of a runoff election being pushed to early next year. San Leandro City Clerk Marian Handa estimates a stand-alone runoff as early as February 2011 would be costly, possibly $200,000.

This runs counter to the debate's core issue--saving money. Souza's vote stands to cost the city up to $300,000 when the intenton was to lower the  city's costs, not substantially increase it. It's kind of like installing energy efficient solar panels on your house hoping to save money in the long run, only to have the panels crash through the roof damaging the house and demolishing your brand new 50-inch flat screen on the way down.

Sutter Health Posts $700 million Profit

Sutter Health, the operator of San Leandro Hospital and Eden Medical Center, posted net earnings of $697 million in 2009.

The healthcare provider's net income surged from a reported $187 million in 2008, according to Sutter. "The market recovery in 2009, combined with our prudent investment strategies, resulted in a sizable gain from investments," the President and CEO of Sutter Pat Fry said on the company's web site.

Sutter also reported an investment of $667 million in community benefits, primarily to cover the costs of health care to uninsured and indigent patients throughout its network of Northern California hospitals. More than half of the outlay came from unpaid costs from Medi-Cal, while $108 million came in the form of traditional charity care, according to the financial statement. (Read it here.)

Sutter and some Alameda County officials peg the low census of insured patients at San Leandro Hospital as one of the factors debilitating the hospital's ability to be profitable. Sutter could announce the fate of San Leandro Hospital as early as next week.

Critics of Sutter allege the closing of an hospital in San Leandro at the same time as the $300 million reconstruction of Eden proceeds has overtones of "medical redlining" since residents in Castro Valley and the surrounding Dublin/Pleasanton corridor draw more affluent, "paying" customers rather the low-income patients drawn from San Leandro and Oakland.

Supporters of keeping the hospital and its emergency room in operation have also criticized Sutter for not subsidizing San Leandro Hospital with profits from elsewhere in its system. Last year, Sutter transferred $88 million from its profitable operations in Marin County before its lease expired and without the knowledge of the local healthcare district. The action caught the attention of its Assemblyman Jared Huffman, who joined state Sen. Ellen Corbett and others in asking the state attorney general's office to investigate  Sutter's business practices. 
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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Corbett's Hospital Bill Moves to Health Committee


SAN LEANDROState Sen. Ellen Corbett is again using the power of the Legislature like the Sword of Damocles over the head of Sutter Health as employees of San Leandro Hospital and the community await word of its possible closure.

The bill, SB 1240, aims to protect the market value of a healthcare district's assets and require them to remain within the district. Specifically, the legislation which was referred today to the Senate Health Committee, is a response to critics who say Sutter has devalued the purchase price of San Leandro Hospital to virtually nothing through accounting tricks and and credits from improvements to its infrastructure. The bill would also make it law for operators to undergo an annual fiscal audit, a procedure local pols including Corbett and the Eden Township Healthcare District have unsuccessfully called for Sutter to perform.

“Health care districts are formed when citizens take the extraordinary step to assess themselves in order to create a community hospital,” Corbett said today in a statement from her office. “I have seen first hand how hard a community will fight to save its hospital and how difficult that fight can be.”

The last time Corbett put forth legislation pertaining to San Leandro Hospital was last summer when her bill was torpedoed by fellow lawmaker Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi, who abstained from making the decisive vote to carry the bill out of committee. Hayashi was a co-author of the bill and infamously fought a very public war of press releases criticizing each other. SB 196 dealt with lengthening the time frame hospital providers must give healthcare districts of their intention to close an emergency room from 90 to 120 days.

At the time, Hayashi said the bill did nothing to avert the closure of the emergency room at San Leandro Hospital. In a press release from July 1, 2009, she said legislation, likely to become law as late as January 2010, would be "months after Sutter Health Network plans to shut the emergency room down."

In hindsight, the closing of the emergency room at San Leandro Hospital has steadily rested on the critical list, unchanged for much of the nine months. With the possibility Sutter could announce the closing of San Leandro Hospital as early as next week, time is again of the essence.

In other hospital news, the District will hold a special meeting Monday, April 12 Tuesday, April 13, 5:30 p.m. at the HARD District Office in Hayward. The negotiating team of Dr. Harry Dvorsky, Dr. Vin Sawhney and Dr. Rajendra Rantesar will meet in closed session. There has been no indication Sutter will make any announcement this week on the fate of the hospital, although rumors are swirling the decision could be made as early as next week. Any announcement by Sutter would likely give the District notice of their intention to close San Leandro Hospital after 90 days.
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Wither Ranked Choice Voting?

The Citizen

SAN LEANDROCouncilwoman Diana Souza's vote against the implementation of Ranked Choiuce Voting could cost San Leandro hundreds of thousands of dollars in election costs, according to city officials.

The surprising turn of events Monday night threw a monkey wrench into the city's plan to institute Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) for this November's election. The council approved the voting system last January by a vote of 5-2, but Souza, who has been apprehensive of RCV in the past, switched her vote to no. Councilman Michael Gregory was on vacation in Japan and did not vote. The resulting deadlocked vote puts RCV's in doubt even though the city has already entered an agreement with the city's of Oakland and Berkeley to split the  system's startup costs.

"The deal is signed, sealed and delivered," said San Leandro Mayor Tony Santos, who along with Councilman Jim Prola have led the push to use RCV as a way of increasing voter participation, lower election costs and encourage others to enter the political arena.

Santos says staging a traditional plurality election in November and a possible runoff as early as February 2011 could cost the city $300,000. "It's just common sense that you would not do this with the city's finances like they are," Santos said. City Clerk Marian Handa said a stand-alone runoff could be costly at under $200,000.

In January, it was reported the one-time costs of RCV in the first year is $180,000, and reduced to $92,000 in subsequent years. At the time, Handa said the city would recoup its investment by 2014.

According to a report in the Daily Review, Souza said she decided to vote against the RCV ordinance after speaking with consituents who believed the voting system is confusing, while she doubted its cost savings. Souza, who is up for re-election this year, said she swayed by the audience the night of the January vote, which she said was stacked with "special interests" in favor of RCV. During the Jan. 19 discussion, a vast majority of the speakers were from the League of Women Voters, the liberal-leaning New America Foundation and mayoral candidate Stephen Cassidy and his supporters.

Santos disputed Souza's claim of an upswelling of doubt in the community saying, "I'm the mayor. I get more contacts than anyone on the council and since our decision, I have not had one contact tell me we took the wrong action."

Despite RCV's setback, the ordinance is still likely to pass when it is reconsidered at a council meeting April 19. Santos used authority located in a little-used sections of the city's charter to suspend the council's action setting up a revisting of the discussion that has raged since last year.

Section 305(h) of the city charter says, "the mayor shall: possess the authority to suspend implementation of any action taken by the Council by filing with the City Clerk, within three days after such Council action, a notice of suspension thereof. Such suspension shall constitute a motion for reconsideration of the action taken, to be voted upon by the Council at its next regular meeting.”

In many ways, the internecine feud over RCV has been an early mayoral proxy battle between Santos and Vice Mayor Joyce Starosciak, who has long opposed changing the manner San Leandrans elected their leading based on the one-time increased costs of implementation during a time of budget uncertainty. Souza, who typically votes with Starosciak on most matters, has in the past been critical of the mechanical aspects of RCV, often wondering whether some voters will be disenfranchised once their choice is eliminated and absorbed to other candidates.

In December, Souza had concerns over the city taking on higher expenditures at the expense of other services. "Facing the kind of budget situation we have today, if we pass IRV, we are going to have to cut something else," Souza said in December. Santos declined to say whether Souza's vote was political only saying, "This is between her and Joyce."
The CiTiZEN FILE on...Ranked Choice Voting.
>>>Voting System has All Sides Torn, Dec. 5, 2009.
>>>Council Votes to Push RCV Decision to January, Dec. 8, 2009.
>>>See You at the Polls...in November, Jan. 20, 2010.

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Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Opponents Use Kid Gloves on Lockyer

The Citizen

SUPERVISOR - DIST 2Union City Mayor Mark Green asked the audience, "Does anyone have the Duke-Butler score?" The scrappy underdogs from Butler eventually fell short Monday night, but the Cinderella story of the small Midwestern school staying close to the privileged program at Duke may offer inspiration to the three candidates hoping to outlast Nadia Lockyer's financial and political muscle, although they may need more offensive punch than what was exhibited Monday night.

Lockyer, Green, former state Sen. Liz Figueroa and Hayward Councilman Kevin Dowling all attempted to carve out their sections of the district's electorate at a forum of candidates for a seat on the Alameda County Board of Supervisors hosted by the League of Women Voters, but  most sides played nice for the vast majority of the hour-long event at Hayward's City Hall.
Only once did a candidate rebut another's comments. In a response to a question regarding youth violence in the district, the bassy baritone-voiced Green ridiculed Lockyer's idea to add more after-school activities saying it is "a huge misreading of the problem" and called for increased coordination between cities and the county. "It would be nice to say everything is going to be solved by having after school activities, but you can't say it's just going to be one single magic wand to solve any problem," said Green

Just days after a superior court judge ruled against Figueroa using the title "job developer" as her ballot designation, the veteran lawmaker touted her plan to create more jobs in the region's stagnant economy by developing the now-shuttered NUMMI plant in Fremont. "The number one issue facing the district and the county is economic development and jobs," said Figueroa, who believes green jobs could be created by reconfiguring the former auto plant to mimic the redevelopment around the Fruitvale BART station in Oakland. "What a wonderful opportunity to once again put the energy back into this county," she said.

Hayward Councilman Kevin Dowling, who enjoyed a home-field advantage at city hall, added his work in the city over the past 11 years Hayward has created smart growth in the downtown area, including affordable housing, retail and a new city hall. Dowling said his participation at the city level and work on the staff of Supervisor Alice Lai-Bitker's office makes him  candidate "who can hit the ground running. The affable Green said the county needs to stay on top of the region's assessed property values to "get more money into the till" and believes the county needs to pay more attention to the southern areas of the district. He joked, when talking to residents in Northern Fremont, they ask, "Are you lost?"

Figueroa twice made reference to her experience saying part of the budget problems at the local and state level stems from a lack of a "continuity of experience." Later in the program, Lockyer shot back saying she was the only candidate with experience at the county level and on several occasions, Lockyer's solutions to problems such as youth violence, housing and non-profits called for gathering the opinions of the local intelligentsia.

When asked about the relationship between the county and non-profits she said, "I will create a leadership team consisting of stakeholders and people who are working with families in each city that will be my go-to," said Lockyer. "They will ensure to all of you that I am kept inform and be the gurus I will go to on how to solve things."

In what is becoming a major theme in her message Lockyer again emphasized her role as a mother Monday night saying, "No matter what title I have, first and foremost, I am a mother." She echoed the same message last Thursday during remarks at the opening of her campaign headquarters in Hayward.

If her opponents are focusing on jobs and the local economy, then Lockyer's strategy is to focus on her strengths in social services as the director of the county's Family Justice Center for support among the district's voters. "We have learned you will never deal with community violence until we deal with family violence," she said and added she would emphasize steering individuals recently released from incarceration to county services. She noted many of those criminalized are also victims of violence at one point in their lives.

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Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Ballad of Sutter and Prime

Sutter Health CEO Pat Fry and Prime Healthcare Owner Dr. Prem Reddy


This is a tale of two pizza parlors. One was located downtown, the other uptown, and both were own by Mr. Sutter. He took ownership of the establishments from a certain Mr. Eden and promised the old man to run it for the next 20 years because that was Mr. Eden's wish. Except, there was a little problem. The law of the land was such that when a customer walked into any pizza parlor and claimed to be hungry and without any means to pay for the pizza, the customer had the right to be fed--for free.

Well, as luck would have it, the uptown store was doing really well. Uptown customers were mostly well-off, and almost all of them paid for their oven-baked juicy slices. Not so in the downtown store. A good half of the customes there were poor, and Mr. Sutter grumbled a lot watching them gorge on his good pizza for nothing. Since Mr. Sutter considered himself a savvy businessman he decided in no less than two years time to put kibosh to having this good-for-nothing lumpenproletariat sucking up his profits.

Complications ensued. The people rose up at the first whiff Mr. Sutter was about to put an end to the free-for-all arrangement. Mr. Eden so gracefully kept them up for many, many, many years and were not going to take it sitting down. They soon stirred up all kinds of doo-doo about Mr. Sutter and his not-so-charitable ways, drawing attention of the local and state government. And if that wasn't enough, one sunny day Mr. Prime, from out of town, heard the news and showed up at Mr. Eden's door.

"I'll buy the store from you," he said. "I don't mind all those non-paying customers."

Mr. Sutter would have none of it. "So long as I live," he stated ominously to his wife, "there will be no competing pizza parlor in this town!" He then turned to his spouse and said, "You hear me, wife? Not a single one! And that's final. I'll just close that stupid downtown store and that's it."

Mrs. Sutter begged to disagree: "Mr. Sutter, listen, sell it to Mr. Prime. Look, you can't really close that store. It's too much hassle. But most importantly, if you do close it all those hungry non-payers will simply drive eight miles uptown and crowd our beautiful uptown store anyway. No difference. Get it?" She was actually quite upset with her obstinate husband.

"They will?" quite perplexed Mr. Sutter asked. "No, duh," replied Mrs. Sutter, "Let Mr. Prime lose his shirt in that downtown dump," Mrs. Sutter continued with her thought. "You know, Mrs. Sutter, that's actually not such a bad idea. I mean, I thought of donating that stupid storefront to the city so they could open an ice cream parlor there, but then..."

"You still end up with all the hungry non-payers going uptown to eat our good juicy oven-baked pizza."
"For free," added Mr. Sutter. There seemed to be a quiver of brilliant white light shining in the far corner of that dark brain of his. "Exactly."

Well, folks this story has no ending yet. Mr. Sutter is still in the process of laboriously sorting through his existential dilemma because he actually really hates Mr. Prime. Too many what-ifs, you know. What if his math is wrong and Mr. Prime will cut into his business with better pizza. Imagine that! Or something else! Like, I don't know what? Something! That's where we leave him. Sitting on the fence, counting his money and his days before something shakes loose. He has no idea what. Something.

Friday, April 2, 2010

There's Something About Nadia

The Citizen

In front of a crowd, Nadia Lockyer appears uncomfortable. She shifts. Her eyes dart with some unknown worry. The further she steps to the right of center stage, the more her anxiety seems to subside. That was the observation as she opened her campaign headquarters Thursday night in Hayward. But that's only half of the story.

The well-funded candidate hoping to replace the retiring Gail Steele on the Alameda County Board of Supervisors spares no expense. Boxes of slick black and red lawn signs sit at the front of the rather large A Street office. The real estate is honestly more befitting of a campaign for U.S. Senate than the board of supervisors. The spread laid out for supporters is a typical selection of party platters along local pols gulping down glasses of white wine. Lockyer's campaign has vastly outraised and outspent her three rivals for the seat so much that one of her opponents, Hayward Councilman Kevin Dowling said in jest, she's singlehandedly boosting the local economy by hiring so many high-priced consultants.

Yet, on the surface, there is very little known about Lockyer's opinions on the issues confronting the county. Her website only offers a quick bio, while other candidates in both open races for the board list reviving the local economy with jobs and health care, in addition, to boosting funding for education as part of their vision. Frankly, the political answer is she doesn't have to talk about the issues when she has the Lockyer name, powerful financial and political contacts and a pretty face. Here, though, is the intriguing part of Nadia Lockyer, when the spotlight is not blaring like klieglights in her eyes a different candidate shows up. The dynamic is not if we're looking at an empty pants suit, but possibly a candidate some will wistfully look back and remember the first time Nadia Lockyer ran for office and what she later became.

Lockyer is hard to peg. She has a quite charisma. She's thin yet strong. Has focused, but kind round eyes and flashes a sometimes uncertain toothy half-grin. As opposed to her opponent, former state Sen. Liz Figueroa, who tends to flash a coy smile that make men gush, Lockyer pulls an uncanny ability to connect with women. Standing in the crowded campaign office, it's clear women of every age and color simply adore Lockyer. It's really no different than the generation-busting cadre of female supporters of Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, who while shouting encouragement at rally's in Oakland two years ago, were really shouting for the advancement of women in general. Older women view her as their successful younger sister and young women look at her as the person they want to be. Lockyer's female supporters were, for the most part, uninterested in snacking on the policy details, they just wanted to shake her hand, embrace her or, as one person did, merely said goodbye and blew a kiss. The exuberant group at one point had Lockyer holed up in the doorway of a storage area for nearly 30 minutes.

On the whole, Lockyer's nervousness in the spotlight could point to a disenchantment with the standard operating procedures of politics. Her luster shines far less when she is asked to play the role of politician than performing the duties of being a politician. When Bill's "friends" show up the party changes from a hipsters paradise to old dudes breaking out card tables, sipping on Highballs and telling old war stories from their days in Sacramento.

When the former chairman of the California Democratic Party Art Torres stood in front of the throng, he along with Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi sucked the genuine air out of the room. The slicked silver-haired Torres performed a standard cocktail hour schtick replete with references to his once-black pate while explaining why Lockyer was the candidate for the job. The scene bore more in common with the opening remarks at a meeting of the Loyal Order of the Moose than the introduction of a possibly tranformative local politician. Hayashi made note of the dignitaries in attendance and said she was the person who urged the former Assembly Speaker Karen Bass to run along the current Speaker John Perez. Of course, the implication was we should thank her for her personnel decision as if she was the plucky baseball scout in wool overcoat and fedora who discovered a young Willie Mays playing stick ball in rural Alabama. I think Bill found her first.

So, maybe Lockyer doesn't need the name or the backing in the Democratic Party that is attached to her famous surname. It sure doesn't hurt, but once she plays by her own rules, there's no tempering the enthusiasm she generates. She says her campaign is about families. It's for the mom's. As the event wound down, volunteers gathered up the leftovers and straightened up the kids room in the center office. Nadia was gone, but Bill stayed around to help clean up. If that isn't a sign of the times-they-are-a-changin', I don't know what is.

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