Friday, January 29, 2010

Black Cat Brings Bad Economic News to Committee

The Citizen 
You know you're in big trouble when a black cat strolls into the afternoon finance meeting. The ominous scene actually happened Wednesday as the city finance director announced an additional mid-year revenue shortfall of nearly $2 million.

The revised budget numbers puts the city on track for a deficit of $7.3 million with revenues of $67.5 million by the end of the fiscal year this June.

"We can't afford to keep doing this," said Councilman Jim Prola, who also sits on the three-member finance committee. "If you projected out a number of years, we're in trouble unless we increase revenues."

Stephen Cassidy, the man hoping to unseat Mayor Tony Santos in November and a frequent critic of the city's handling of the its finances said, "You're in trouble now and you're in danger of going into bankruptcy by early 2011 because you're running a $7 million structural deficit that you're going to see next year as well," said Cassidy. "The house is on fire, but you're not calling the fire department."

Cassidy reiterated his call for Santos to take a pay cut as an example to city workers to make wage concessions until the budget stabilizes.

Interim Finance Director Perry Carter told the committee Wednesday a continued drop in tax receipts accounted for the newest shortfall that follows revisions in July and November of last year totaling $3 million. The poor economy is continuing to batter the city budget, according to Carter. Sales Tax revenue is projected to account for nearly half of the shortfall. In addition, the first installment of property taxes this fiscal year revealed a $300,000 reduction to $16.1 million, said Carter.

Another sign of the troubled economic times many are experiencing, Utility User Tax revenue is projected to drop $600,000 which "may be attributed to the overall economic stress communities are experiencing throughout Northern California," said Carter. Real Property Transfer Tax receipts are also down which could be a sign of the overall real estate market still struggling in San Leandro.

The $7.3 projected deficit follows a similar $7.6 shortfall last year which together will leave the city with nearly $4 million in reserves next fiscal year down from nearly $20 million just a few years ago. Such a precarious financial situation will likely force the city to make further cuts later this year.

The report also bolstered the belief offered by many including Prola and Santos the city's budget problems lie in poor revenues rather than runaway spending. According to Carter, the budget reflects nearly $2 million less in expenditures primarily from numerous employees accepting "golden handshakes." The estimate, though, also includes the possibility of a furlough once a month for city employees until June. No such program has been approved by the city.

As for the black cat, Santos said he did not know anything about the furry feline who calmly walked under the conference room table for nearly 10 minutes before startling the assistant city manager. There were also no reports of anyone opening an umbrella indoors nor did anyone walk under a ladder.

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Surgery Center For Sale; but not to Sutter?

The Citizen
When it comes to potential buyers for the Eden Township Healthcare District's stake in the San Leandro Surgery Center, the For Sale sign may be coming down when it comes to Sutter Health.

The board went against a recommendation to sell its partnership in the surgery center located near BayFair mall to Sutter for $1.19 million. The essence of the motion first raised by Director Dr. Vin Sawhney sought to separate the transaction from the current dispute with Sutter over San Leandro Hospital, but withdrew his support after comments by boardmembers Dr. Bill West and Carole Rogers along with a San Leandro nurse.

"The only question is, whether in our larger issue with Sutter, this has some negotiating value and that's probably very small, but that's the only other consideration," said West. "We certainly have better use for the cash." West also indicated management at the surgery center told him they were "anxious to have Sutter on board."

Eden Township Healthcare District CEO Dev Mahadevan, who instructed legal counsel to craft a motion that would have little bearing on the District's interest at San Leandro Hospital, said "I don't know if this is a significant issue for negotiation. I think it will be the physicians who will be caught in the middle."

Carol Barazzi, a nurse at San Leandro Hospital, seemed to have swayed the board towards postponing a decision when she expressed her belief Sutter would use the center to further drain profitability from the hospital as many have charged for months. "I can see Sutter dumping a bunch of money into the surgery center and sucking more services out of the hospital," Barazzi said. "I think that's exactly what they would do and that would support their statements that we're losing money hand over fist."

New Board Chair Carole Rogers said a consultant questioned last year why the District would sell a potentially profitable asset to Sutter. Rogers then appeared to mock Sutter by saying, "Why would Sutter buy something that is always losing money?"

Newly-installed District general counsel, Colin Coffey, reminded the board the offer from Sutter could be taken off the table before the board unanimously approved postponing a decision until February at the earliest.

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Ethics Committee Clears Stark of Wrongdoing

The Citizen 
The House Ethics Committee cleared Rep. Pete Stark of allegations he received improper tax breaks on his Maryland home. The report issued today ends speculation on the exact charges Stark was facing while sharply criticizing the independent committee created by the House for its handling of the matter.

Click here to read the statement
Click here to read the report

The 123-page report dismissed allegations first made in a March 2009 article published by Bloomberg News that Stark violated House ethics rules prohibiting gifts or favoritism derived from his position. The committee found Stark did not receive nearly $4,000 in Homestead Tax Credits from ownership of his Maryland home.

According to the report, property owners in Maryland had received a tax break since 1977 when their property tax rose more than 10 percent in a given year. It goes on to say homeowners automatically received the tax break without applying for it until 2007 and says many residents were unaware of the discount. Through tax records, the committee found Stark never received the credit until 2007-2009. It also found he did not seek the tax break and electronically submitted a one-time application to the state this year.

"Maryland did not grant a Homestead Tax Credit to Rep. Stark as result of the application. His tax bill, which was issued in July 2009, reflected that Rep. Stark received no tax credit whatsoever, " the committee concluded, but also took aim at the Office of Congresssional Ethics (OCE)for "an inadequate review, the result of which was to subject Rep. Stark to unfounded criminal allegations."

The Ethics Committee report also criticized the OCE for omitting similar charges levied against four other House members. The OCE dismissed in August investigations against Reps. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.), Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) and Stark, but focused again on the long-time East Bay congressman when it announced Dec. 24 it would direct the invesigation to the House Ethics Committee.

"It is apparent from OCE's work that they treated Rep. Stark inconsisently with the way they treated four other members of Congress with similar situations whose cases were properly dismissed," the report says.

Stark is the second-ranking member of the powerful tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee and has taken a higher profile in recent months attempting to pass health care reform in Congress. Amid a slew of ethics violations against Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), the ranking member of the Ways and Means Committee, some moderate Democrats and Republicans expressed discomfort with the sometimes caustic Stark gaining the gavel of one of the most prestigious and powerful positions in the Capitol.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Q&A with ACMC CEO Wright Lassiter III

The Citizen caught up with the Alameda County Medical Center CEO Wright Lassiter III Tuesday at Holy Names University in Oakland minutes before he addressed its annual meeting. Last year, Sutter Health, agreed to lease San Leandro Hospital to ACMC. The move would have fulfilled the county's plan to move rehabilitation services from the seismically-deficient Fairmont Hospital to San Leandro Hospital. The plan is central to the community's disapproval of closing the hospital's emergency room facilities and the pivot point leading to the current legal dispute between Sutter and the Eden Township Healthcare District over the ownership of San Leandro Hospital. 

Q: What are the plans between the Alameda County Medical Center and San Leandro Hospital right now?
A: Our plan has always been to attempt to manage the community's concern around emergency care with some kind of urgent access facility as well as meet  our needs for acute rehab services.

Could a hybrid plan of multiple hospital services at San Leandro Hospital work? Could ACMC be involved with that?
Well, the hyrbid concept only works if there is funding. [Pauses to greet Alameda County Supervisor Alice Lai-Bitker.] The hybrid concept only works if there is significant subsidy. That concept loses lots of money.

Would ACMC be interested into putting money into a pot for a hybrid hospital with the District, Sutter, the City of San Leandro, ACMC or another entity?
I really can't address that. Our board has not authorized that and as you know, we're the public hospital and we take care of a lot of people who don't have insurance, so we don't have lots of subsidies to provide. I really need to go.

Do you have thoughts on the legal fight between Sutter Health and the District?
No. We're staying completely out of the whole legal debate because that's between Sutter and the hospital district.

Does that slow things down for you?
It does. Oh, it does, because we're not a party until they resolve what direction they will be taking, so we're a bystander until that happens.

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Invoice Casts Doubt on Author of Ratnesar's Letter

Citizen Exclusive! 

The Citizen  
The afternoon before the release of Eden Township Healthcare District boardmember Dr. Rajendra Ratnesar's contentious "Letter to the Community", the District CEO and media relations consultant conferred over a draft appearing to be attributed to a Sutter Health employee and not the then-chair of the board, according to an invoice for services charged to the District.

The invoice lists services rendered on Dec. 7 which references a meeting with Eden Township Healthcare District CEO Dev Mahadevan and the District's media consultant Jonnie Banks regarding a letter attributed to Cassandra Clark, the project communications director for the Eden Hospital reconstruction. The item on the invoice reads: "Mtg w/Dev Mahadevan re: Cassandra's DRAFT letter to the community."

The very next day, Dec. 8, various media outlets received the piece titled, "An Open Letter to the Community: Straight Talk about the Future of our Hospitals" purportedly authored by Ratnesar. The press release initially was sent under the District's letterhead, which Banks said at the time, was a mistake, while another District Director Carole Rogers made it clear through a flurry of emails that the letter was not the opinion of the entire board. State Sen. Ellen Corbett also criticized the letter in her own press release saying Ratnesar was attempting to split the communities of Castro Valley and San Leandro over the issue of the two hospitals.

Ratnesar, in an email Monday afternoon, says he wrote the letter shortly before a trip to Australia and sought the help of Clark to make corrections. "I asked Cassandra Clark to edit the letter and forward the letter after I had approved the correction to Mr Mahadevan to be sent to the community," wrote Ratnesar.

Clark told The Citizen she spent about five minutes on the draft and "changed a few commas here and there." Clark says she has helped Ratnesar with correspondences in the past. She said their friendship goes back two decades and agreed to help "not in the capacity of her job at Eden."

Questions about the invoice were first raised during a Jan. 14 District meeting whose agenda listed only a closed session. During public comment period, Rogers asked about the existence of the Dec. 7 item insinuating Ratnesar's letter may have been written by a Sutter employee. According to the unapproved minutes of the meeting, the subject was "tabled" until Mahadevan, who was absent, returned Jan. 21.

Mahadevan told The Citizen the consulting fee should not have been charged to the District, but instead to Ratnesar. Banks also confirmed the reworking of the invoice to be presented to the board for approval Wednesday night. Clark says she never sought to be compensated for editing Ratnesar's letter and said the "assumption is absolutely false."

Clark has been involved in handling the media inquiries regarding the construction of the rebuilt Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley and has been instrumental in instituting aspects of new social media techniques to cover the rebuild with a blog on the Sutter site. Click here to see an interview with Clark, then Phelps, on a local newscast.

Sutter spokesperson Stacey Wells, though, said, "Cassandra is not a Sutter Health employee but a part-time, temporary employee of Eden Medical Center." The hospital conglomerate has said the same about Ratnesar in the past, who many in the nurses union have long charged with being too cozy with Sutter. In June of last year, Ratnesar suffered a litany of catcalls from members of the audience charging a conflict of interest. Afterwards, Ratnesar said, "In my conscience, I do not believe I have a conflict of interest." At various times, supporters of saving San Leandro Hospital have attempted to stir up action to recall Ratnesar, which never fully materialized.
>>>Ratnesar's Letter Ignites Firestorm of Responses, Dec. 8, 2009.   

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Monday, January 25, 2010

John Roberts Hates You, but Loves AIG and Chevron


The current unemployment rate in California is 12.4 percent, with the nation's rate stubbornly remaining over 10 percent. There are many causes of this crisis, but the chief cause was the collapse of our financial services system in the summer and fall of 2008. Laws regulating these vital industries were torn away in recent decades. Most disastrously, the wall between lending and investment institutions (banks and Wall Street firms), sensibly installed in response to the 1930's Depression, were almost completely eliminated. The successful lobbying and campaign money spent by those institutions brought these destructive changes. Because of this, when stupidly constructed investments collapsed, it took down the entire economy.

The TARP program passed with President Bush's signature and the stimulus program with President Obama's signature. Together they committed to spend $1,487,000,000,000 of Treasury money; this money was given to these institutions which failed us, or to the economic structures they destroyed. Politicians frequently speak about the need for people to live with the consequences of their actions, and that public money should not be spent on those who do not deserve it. These sentiments are remarkably hypocritical, given the wholesale giveaway of incredibly massive amounts of money to those who have literally caused nationwide unemployment, suffering and death.
The most important thing, then, is to know that this monumental, anti-democratic act has taken place, and work to educate each other as the onslaught of corporate political "speech" is used to influence elections as quickly as this June's primary.

The Supreme Court made a decision this week which will give much, much more power to the same destructive people who did the most to cause our current crises, including our devastating State budget deficits. "Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission" is a decision which wipes away laws regulating Federal campaigns going back as far as 1907. The repeal of these campaign regulations will be used to support and elect ideological and corrupt officials who supported disastrous financial policy changes, as well as their philosophical peers not yet in office.

One of the chief laws this decision repeals is one which prevented large institutions from spending their general treasury funds on political campaign actions. Instead, it required large corporations, unions and other institutions to set up separate Political Action Committees, to which sympathetic people could contribute. This week's decision allows corporations which have recently made the largest profits in the history of the world, even after adjusting for inflation, to use their general treasury funds on electoral and issues campaigns.

Keep in mind that even with the PAC and other regulations, corporations have outspent unions on Federal, State and local elections during the last decade by more than 10-to-1. It has been suggested that this week's Supreme Court decision will probably free labor unions and corporations from regulations in the same way, so it would create a level playing field between these supposedly equal powers. People who say this are lying to the public, a fact which is easy to display.

MediaNews' Quick Turn to the Right

Presumably if you live in the Bay Area, you tend to lean to the left of Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Antonin Scalia. But not, the bankrupt MediaNews papers. Today's editorial espouses the views of those far-right jurists by backing the Court's problematic 5-4 decision basically giving the soulless and lifeless corporations a substantial political voice that will likely drown out the the tenor of grassroots organizations along with regular citizens across the country.

Read the MediaNews editorial here and decide if your "hometown" newspaper matches your views and morals.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

RCV May Aid Incumbent Mayor in the Fall

Santos Gets Five Extra Months to Rake in the Dough | 'R' Still Comes Before 'S' | Captain Save-A-Country

Supporters of Ranked Choice Voting from the left-leaning New America Foundation had the ear of both Mayor Tony Santos and Councilman Jim Prola from the beginning. Both gave passionate speeches in favor and seemed relieved by its passing Tuesday night. Santos even had New America's director, Steven Hill, in his hotel room in the nation's capitol as Tuesday night's meeting headed towards two in the morning Eastern time. Santos' arguments seemed desperate at times. Making like a lawyer, he aimed to put doubt in every single dollar amount given by the city staff. At one point, he called them "not factual", but focused on the premise the numbers were incorrect and bound to be cheaper than advertised rather than more expensive. Nevertheless,New America's talking points were clearly evident in the discussion of RCV's benefits, namely the notion the voting system is a boon for democracy by increasing voter turnout and making it cheaper for more citizens to run for office. Lost in the argument which mainly focused on the larger one-time costs of RCV to the city is the fact plurality voting in November would have also decided races with a larger number of voters. Ah, but the city's voters changed the charter in 2000 to 50 percent plus one to decide its leaders. As has been written her before, the impetus for that change was the so-called “Corbett Rule” when the current state senator won the mayor's office in 1994 with far less than a majority in a crowded field of candidates. One long-time watcher of politics in San Leandro said, “They old guard in San Leandro didn't like a woman in the mayor's office,” which leads to one of Santos' main points Tuesday night about the 2000 change to the city's charter. He said 63 percent of San Leandrans had already approved RCV with that vote. The measure, two people involved in that election say, mentions the approval of some form of RCV if it becomes available, but the impetus for the measure was about gaining a majority vote to win office, not RCV which is currently its nascent stages and was barely a blip on election reform in 2000. In December, Councilwoman Diana Souza also scoffed at Santos' argument during a city council meeting last December.


EITHER WAY, YOU GOT TO PAY TO PLAY On the campaign fundraiser side of RCV, the benefits of lower costs for interested candidates might not translate, at least, not this year. The decision of mayoral candidate Stephen Cassidy to back RCV is an interesting look into his campaign's psyche. His Hobson's Choice amounts to, do I save money by running for one election, instead of hopefully two under the runoff system—he is likely the candidate with the least access to campaign donations—or take a minor hit to his oft-quoted talking point of imminent bankruptcy for the city if budget constraint is not instituted. Cassidy made it clear Tuesday he figures his best chance to unseat Santos is to gather momentum to November saying RCV is “best for democracy.” There's one problem in the cost savings of one election over possibly two; it may give Santos five extra months to add to already sizable fundraising advantage. The mayor is having a second fundraiser Jan. 26. Santos has labor, name recognition and the Democratic Party behind him. It may have been in Cassidy's favor to take two shots at Santos rather than an all-or-nothing strategy to slay the incumbent. In the end, the whole single election argument may be moot in 2010. People close to the Santos campaign have told The Citizen, the mayor would have won 50 percent of the vote in a June primary, making a runoff in November unnecessary.


CLOSER THAN IT LOOKED The San Leandro City Council's vote to approve RCV starting this November was far closer than the 5-2 tally would suggest. Since Santos participated in Tuesday's meeting by teleconference from Washington, D.C., the council voted alphabetically by roll call instead of electronically as they normally do. Councilwoman Ursula Reed, who most viewed was the swing vote, sided with RCV after questioning whether the city was gravitating towards a revenue-enhancement measure in June or November. Of Course, Reed comes before Souza, alphabetically. Did Souza switch her vote on RCV after Reed's vote had already clinched its passing? Of all the councilmembers, Souza was the most skeptical about the mechanics of RCV in addition to the addition costs to the city. Nonetheless, After coming out on the minority side of the vote, Vice Mayor Joyce Starosciak looked obviously peeved at the outcome of the vote as she sat in Santos' seat while he was out of town. The loss may not sting Starosciak politically, though. She can always maintain she was against RCV for budgetary reasons when or if the city's budget continues to fall on its face.


PATTING YOURSELF ON THE BACK From the "Just Saying Department." The amount of effort from private citizens to help with relief effort in Haiti by donating money and goods has been extraordinary, but when it comes to corporations a bit of cynicism sometimes creeps in the mind. This week, Sutter Health donated $1.25 million to the effort through Doctors Without Borders and San Leandro's MedShare. Undeniably generous, but one can't help but think the inclusion of the local company medical supply company was a stroke of public relations genius. Santos, who many criticize for being too cozy to Sutter in his public comments, visited the local warehouse and lauded the company has something he was proud to have in his city. Sutter is even sending its chief medical officer for the East Bay to Haiti. The embattled hospital provider could certainly use positive news coverage after being hammered for controversies with attempts to close hospitals in San Francisco and, of course, San Leandro Hospital. Incidentally, one of the arguments against closing the hospital from supporters is the possibility of an epic earthquake on the scale of the 7.0 temblor in Haiti rattling the Hayward Fault....I won't finish this sentence for the sake of jinxing us, but hopefully that is not what it takes to keep San Leandro Hospital open. -S.T.

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Saving Nummi for a Greener Future


One idea that has not been considered regarding Nummi is to create a reverse mortgage and allow people to pre-order cars, ideally plug-ins and or hybrids built at the Fremont plant. For the last two years I’ve been pitching the idea of creating clean energy reverse mortgages (www.cleanenergyrm.org) for investment in alternative energy. Millions every day are loaned to senior citizens in conventional reverse mortgages, why not structure one to speed up clean energy investment and slow down climate change. Currently people over 62 can take out what’s called a reverse mortgage which is borrowing money off the equity in your home. The attraction of the loan is that no payments are due until the home is sold or passed on to relatives or other heirs. Congress with strong bipartisan supports ups the limit every year for the loan where now if a senior has enough equity , they can borrow over $400,000.

In December, Financial Services Chair Barney Frank told the media a reverse mortgage was probably the opposite of a sub-prime loan, a very solid loan for lenders and borrowers. While most of the current tax breaks for clean energy investments have gone to corporations and the “fortunate fifth” of the population a clean energy reverse mortgage could benefit a much larger segment of the population. Some political scientists claim that when programs benefit the most fortunate among us , its called “opportunity hoarding.” It is happening all the time. With the tax rebates available for solar investments in our state big companies especially Honeywell have gotten the lions share of the rebate money. It is likely most of the people who are putting solar panels on their homes are people with substantial means so both the “fortunate fifth” as well as wealthy corporations are getting breaks that few others can easily take advantage. Since over 60 million families have a fair amount of equity in their homes they could qualify for a modest clean energy reverse mortgage if it were available to consumers. When you own a home your equity qualifies you for borrowing money. People take out business loans based on their home equity all the time. In recent years many small businesses were started on home improvement loans before our current recession. Almost everyone realizes this apparently except our elected officials. Reps. Pete Stark, Barbara Lee and Nancy Pelosi have all been unwilling to even discuss clean energy reverse mortgages. Given the severity of climate change we need to use all the tools available in our financial tool box, said one activist in Copenhagen last month. With Nummi , a project to pre-order plugins could possibly help keep the plant open.

I sent a letter to the editor of the Daily Review and they refused to publish it claiming it was not an option. Not that there were so many options out there, anyways. According to Andy Frank, the electric car expert at UC Davis, you need to sell 100,000 cars in a year to make it into the car production mix. Why not a labor/environmentalist project to pre-order plug -ins using a reverse mortgage. Buy now, pay when you sell your home. This would certainly help the auto workers, the car manufacturers, suppliers, the local community, the environment and it would save people money at the pump. The Daily Review nor the brilliant legislators haven’t come up with something that will save the facility, why not be a little move flexible with an attitude to do whatever works? The auto industry itself has a long list of financing options, why not a green one?

Clean energy reverse mortgages are the least our financial sector could do after the bailouts and the bonuses to high-priced bank executives. The taxpayers gave $2 trillion to clean up their investment disaster. The Federal Reserve kicked in another $6-8 trillion. Since our manufacturing corporations have cast their fate overseas, we are now pretty much a finance-based economy where financial innovation is our biggest domestic product. Our biggest export are weapons. Why not a financial innovation that doesn't stick it to consumers? Why not one financial innovation that could help the economy, the employment situation and the environment? The Pharaohs of Finance, with a little prodding by our elected representatives have to for once not ask "what’s in it for me."

Craig Williams is a San Leandro resident.

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

This Just In...KTVU's Big Scoop on Stark


 "KTVU Channel 2 News has learned the modest house in Rep. Stark's East Bay congressional district that he purportedly lives in is in fact owned and occupied by his in-laws."

Just because channel 2 just found out, doesn't mean the entire East Bay has not known this seemingly irrelevalant fact for many years. Instead, it should have read, "KTVU Channel 2 just learned there is a 30-year congressman in the East Bay and his name is Pete Stark."

Randy, Randy, Randy, you're better than this. (Click here to watch the video from KTVU.)

KTVU's Randy Shandobil has been around a long time, so why does he not know what nearly every East Bay politico knows? Stark has not hidden the fact he uses his in-laws address for residency in the district and he isn't skirting any laws, either.

This just in...KTVU Channel 2 has just learned Stark's birth certificate says  his real name is not even Pete, but Fortney!

What is most absurd about this "special report" earlier this week is the veteran TV reporter knocking on neighbor's door in San Lorenzo. Really? Shandobil showed two young adults a photo of Stark while asking if they had ever seen the man in the picture. Of course, they said no. The stunt does more to show the apathy of young voters than it made the point Stark doesn't visit his in-laws enough. Shame on you, Pete. Send a gift basket to your mother-in-law once in awhile.

This just in...KTVU Channel 2 has just learned that 80-year-old Rep. Pete Stark has living in-laws who he never visits.

Shandobil even trots out the irascible former congressman John Burton to add perspective to the story. Burton says it's especially hard for West coast politicians traveling cross country. He should know, since he trekked across the land by covered wagon for so many years.

This just in...KTVU Channel 2 has just learned John Burton is still alive, but did not participate in the Trail of Tears, but may enjoy gambling at Indian casinos near Sacramento.

Then, to bolster what may already be the worst piece of journalism this year (and it's only January), Shandobil gives free advertising to a possibile Republican challenger for his seat or, as he is known, the next guy to win 25 percent of the vote against the mighty Fortney. Luis Garcia says Stark should live in the district he represents. Maybe he should, but voters who overwhelming send Stark back to Washington every two years, don't seem to mind.

This just in...KTVU Channel 2 has just learned congressmen are elected every two years and you just learned channel 2 is clueless.
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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

See You at the Polls in...November

The Citizen 
If San Leandro Councilwoman Diana Souza had used Ranked Choice Voting last night to decide implementing the voting system for San Leandro, she probably would have voted "no" as her first choice, "I suppose" as her second and "yes" as her third.

In the end, the council voted 5-2 to approve the Memorandum of Understanding installing Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) as the method the city  will elect its leaders starting this November. Councilman Bill Stephens and Vice Mayor Joyce Starosciak were the only dissenting votes. Oakland approved RCV Jan. 5 and Berkeley's city manager has said the city will also approve it shortly.

If not for the poor economy, the debate on RCV would have likely breezed through the city council with only Souza voicing displeasure with the particulars of the system. Instead, the higher first-time costs of the Sequoia voting system led Stephens and Starosciak to vote against RCV, although both agreed on its imminent acceptance around the country in the future. "It's not the right time for RCV in San Leandro," said Starosciak, who is running against Santos for mayor this fall. She also called RCV "an excess burden" on the city's budget.

Councilman Jim Prola and Mayor Tony Santos, both early proponents of RCV, made impassioned pleas in support of the plan. Santos reasoned elections costs money no matter what saying, "It's the cost of having good government" and "If it becomes a dollars and cents issue, the city is going to save money."

City Clerk Marian Handa said the costs of RCV in 2010 is estimated to be $181,000--over $50,000 more than two possible elections--but the city would recoup the investment by 2014. The cost of one RCV election after the first year is estimated to be $92,000, according to Handa.

RCV will be one of the most dramatic changes in the way San Leandrans elect their leaders. Under the system, voters choose their first, second and possibly third choices. The new system eliminates the need for a June primary since RCV is designed to deliver a winner with a majority of the votes fulfilling the city's charter.

To achieve this a winner is chosen through successive rounds by dispersing  the votes of the candidate with the least amount of first place votes. Those votes are then transferred by percentage to the remaining candidates until one candidate has a majority of the votes. Since RCV is only used in mayoral and council races, voters will be furnished with two ballots during elections where additional races are contested or ballot measures are decided.

One of the main benefits of RCV, advocates say, is that it allows for larger voter participation and makes running for office more accessible to more people unable to run because of the prohibitive costs involved. Mayoral candidate Stephen Cassidy supports RCV for this reason even though his candidacy may have benefited by the run-off system, which can give a third-party candidate greater influence on the outcome through the "spoiler effect."

"I think making it clear to candidates that there is only one race they have to raise funds, that's one step of several steps to encourage more folks to run for office," said Cassidy.

The certainty of November elections instead of a June primary may now encourage possible candidates taking a wait-and-see approach to surface. There have been rumors of more candidates entering the mayoral race for months, while two incumbents on the city council are currently running unopposed.

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Ranked Choice Voting Primer

A portion of the higher one-time costs associated with Ranked Choice Voting is the need for increased voter education. Here's a video from FairVote.org presenting the benefits and mechanics of RCV, also called Instant Runoff Elections.

If that didn't help, here's a flowchart.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Fate of Ranked Choice Voting is Unsure

The Citizen
Oakland is officially on board. Berkeley is assuring others they will be, too. Tonight, it is San Leandro's turn to approve a new method for residents to vote for elective office, except in this case, it is far from a sure thing.

The San Leandro City Council will decide tonight whether to approve Ranked Choice Voting (RCV). The move will decide whether this year's mayoral and council races will occur with a June primary or a single election in November.

While most of the debate over the voting system where residents are asked to rank their first and second choices to elect a mayor and councilmember has barely focused on its merits, but , instead on its costs to the city's starving coffers.

The city estimates implementing RCV will cost the city $181,000, which is over $50,000 more than the current run-off system. The additional cost runs, according to the city, account primarily for voter education and additional poll workers. In the long run, RCV will costs the city less to hold elections since it entails a single election rather than the possibility of two with run-off elections. The issue for opponents, though, has been the higher initial costs this year amid a struggling city economy.

Last month, the city council deferred a decision on RCV until tonight's meeting. Several councilmembers took a cautious approach by holding off a decision on RCV until after the Oakland City Council approved it earlier this month, which they did, Jan. 5. The City of Berkeley has not officially approved RCV, but San Leandro Mayor Tony Santos confirmed the Berkeley city manager sent a letter expecting its approval.

Much of the impetus on postponing a decision focused on securing ways to lower or defer the initial costs to the city. Santos, though, said little has changed since last month, which leaves the possibility of the council passing RCV this year as a toss-up based on previous statements from the council.

Santos along with Councilmembers Jim Prola and Michael Gregory have indicated strong support for RCV. Vice Mayor Joyce Starosciak and Councilwoman Diana Souza have been vocal opponents on the grounds of cost in addition to Bill Stephens who said last month, "It's an idea whose time is coming but I'm not sure 2010 is quite the time yet."

Councilwoman Ursula Reed may have become the crucial swing vote. In previous council meetings, she appeared to question the benefits of RCV. Reed, though, became an uncertainty after she switched sides and voted against Starosciak's substitute motion last month to block the voting system.

Santos will participate in tonight's council meeting by teleconference. The mayor is in the nation's capitol meeting with members of the administration.

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Monday, January 18, 2010

Stark Having Difficulty Moving Health Care to Left

The Citizen
Despite reports to the contrary, Rep. Pete Stark says the pace of health care reform talks between House and Senate leaders is lagging and believes passage may be straying towards taxing the middle class.

"We're not getting very far," Stark told listeners at a telephone town hall meeting Saturday. Democrats from the House and Senate have been negotiating to mend the two bills passed by each chamber to present to the president as early as the end of this week.

A major concession was made last Thursday on how to pay for health care reform with the Senate's proposal to tax so-called higher end "Cadillac" plans winning over the House's plan to charge a surtax on high-income families. "Unhappily, I hate to say this, the president's staff is largely on the side of the Senate. For some reason, they seem to think the Senate has all the right answers," said Stark.

The congressman said he was worried the excise tax on high-end medical plans opposed by progressives and labor unions could spill over to taxes on the middle class. "I just wish they would drop the whole thing, but I don't know if we can hold out for that," said Stark. He gave no indication whether he would support the final bill, but Stark said some progressives may not support it.

The pending health care reform was squarely on the minds of most callers,  but some questioned Stark on the economy's stagnant pace of creating new jobs. He said the government must continue to invest in infrastructure, schools and law enforcement and noted the stimulus bill passed last year has only stemmed the tide of unemployed Americans. "That's not enough," he said. "The only jobs that I can see we have created are mostly on Wall Street."

With over 4,700 auto workers due to lose their jobs at Fremont-based NUMMI in the spring, Stark said getting the Senate to pass aid for those workers have proven "a daunting task." Stark announced last year, a generous package of government subsidized health care, extended unemployment and training for each employee at the Fremont plant due to be closed by Toyota. Stark gave no timetable for when the Senate is due to make a decision on the House bill.

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Sunday, January 17, 2010

Bay Area Newspaper Apocalypse is Upon Us


The Daily Review, the newspaper once published by Floyd Sparks to do battle with the titans of East Bay journalism, is dead.

The cause of death was not only a poor economy, but a shocking decline in relevance in the East Bay as well as an inability to transform itself amid a changing appetite for news.

News of holding company for MediaNews, the corportation that owns the Daily Review, San Jose Mercury, Oakland Tribune, Contra Costa Times and other small newspapers in the area, filing for bankruptcy comes as little surprise to many in the field. The company announced it was restructuring debt last December. Taking the step towards bankruptcy belies the fact that not all its creditors have faith in MediaNews' chintzy chairman Dean Singleton.

Singleton said Friday newsrooms would not be affected by the bankruptcy since it was the holding company, not MediaNews, filing for financial protection, but it matters little as, in the end, there is little left to cut. The mere mention of Singleton among veteran journalists regularly elicits curse words and sneers for his cost-cutting of newsrooms across the country. The MediaNews papers in the Bay Area have all been consolidated into a leaner product which has led to a precipitous drop in quality of already dubious value.

Here at The Citizen we will watch what happens next for the MediaNews papers in the area with great attention. Readers of this site know our stance; the future of journalism lies with entrepreneurial reporters, not with corporations and this is a good thing. The business model for large newspapers is forever broken. There can never be another Rupert Murdoch, but you can make a very good living covering the local news. It seems not everyone sees the future so clearly.

In December, I spoke to, Jim Knowles, editor of the San Leandro Times, and told him about the coming newspaper apocalypse about to hit the Bay Area. He disagreed with me, but the fall of MediaNews is the beginning, and just the beginning, as the newspapers continue to fall prey to old business models of exlusivity, stories behind paywalls, and reliance of cheap to produce crime stories. The Wall Street Journal reported MediaNews is experimenting with various pay models in some markets. Do it and cease to exist. Nobody pays for news anymore, just as no one will pay for compact disc instead of singles at iTunes.

East Bay Express you're next, then the S.F. Weekly (but for different reasons), and after that the San Leandro Times. Sorry, but you're on life support unless you invest in producing 100 percent of your product online. In newspapers today, there is no corporation "too big to fail," instead you are all "too big to succeed."

When the bloodletting is done, all that will be left is the San Francisco Chronicle, by way of being the last man standing, as well as a loose coalition of hyperlocal sites like The Citizen. Believe me, it's going to be an exciting time.
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While the Crowd Cheers; Hayashi Fumbles Legislation

"Just stop it! Just stop it!" State Treasurer Bill Lockyer famously said to California legislators last year as he declared most of the bills being heard in Sacramento a waste of time and energy.

When The Citizen asked Lockyer in San Lorenzo whether any of that frivolous legislation came from Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi, he said, "I don't know," but the two-term lawmaker up for re-election this year has presented a recent string of bills which do more to garner headlines than make a substantive difference.

Hayashi's latest is a pair of bills aimed at training high school coaches to recognize signs of sports-related injuries, such as concussions. The bill is grounded in a burgeoning health issue brought forth by NFL players who have suffered diabilitating cognitive difficulties since leaving the game. Few can disagree with finding a remedy and that is what Hayashi is exploiting. Hayashi too often aims to play rah-rah behind newsworthy issues like this one, the construction of green buildings, and car repair insurance reforms, but then goes on to offer legislation which adds little to current laws, while providing developers and insurance companies with a sweet deal.

In 2003, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said he was for the children, which is a pretty safe political position. Who exactly is against the children? Hayashi too is noted for using this ploy. She co-wrote an opinion piece for the San Jose Mercury about concussions risks and other injuries young athletes suffer, but said very little about her bills pending in the assembly.

AB 533, which stalled in committee last year, added very little to existing law which says all high school coaches must undergo a two-day training course in first aid and CPR. AB 1647, unveiled this week, is similar to last year's bill, but also adds very little to existing law. The bills, for instance, do nothing to prevent concussions from occurring, but just reduces, if possible, the chances of a second or third incident.

If you do not take steps to stop prevent concussion on the high school playing field by way of improved equipment, then the only choice must be to take steps to change the culture of sports in America. Good luck with that, though, as millions of football fans sat down this weekend to four playoff games with gambling in the millions of dollars riding on players putting their well-being on the line with every crushing tackle.

Hayashi mentions as much in her opinion piece saying, "Our kids believe that they need to be tough and play through the pain when injuries occur, so they're unlikely to tell anyone when they think they have a concussion. We need to help the adults around them become more aware of the problem, and we can do that best by training our coaches." That is unless you believe parents and coaches are the problem in the first place. It's quite difficult for a coach to rest his 17-year-old lefty flamethrower when he's just rendered the competition useless. It's the coach's desire to win resting on those shoulders, along with mom and dad's parental pride.

During Hayashi's past legislative session, it was a bill which would increase the ability of communities to construct green buildings. She painted herself as the defender of the latest chic legislative problem to be solved by politicos--the environment. Like her bill for training about concussion, it is hard to argue against green builidng technologies, but a look at the actuall bill showed something different. While it allowed communities greater use in allowing developers to build green, the bill was clearly composed to aid all types of construction, including, but not limited to green techniques.

Hayashi's car repair bill, which the governor signed into law late last year, may not have been on the radar of popular culture like the previous mentioned bills, but she did trumpet the notion of insurance companies giving customers more information as an undeniable virtue. It's hard to argue against that, except what the bill really did was to return the power of the captive consumer to garages who had a stake in keeping lucrative contracts with insurance companies. In return, the big insurance players also funneled fundraising dollars to Hayashi's campaign.

Protecting the health of young athletes is something we need to examine, along with our society's warrior mentality towards winning at any cost. By the same token, it is not an issue a politician should use for brownie points with a bill clearly adding very few improvements to existing law.

Hayashi comes from the health care sector, instead of wasting legislative and staff time on toothless legislation, she should be taking a far more proactive role in saving San Leandro Hospital. The last thing she said about the facility over six months ago, was that it was her "number one priority." Instead, It looks like she's relegated it, and herself, to benchwarmer.

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Pete, Don't Come-A-Knockin' When Health Care Is Rockin'

The nation may have an agreement on health care reform in the very near future, but Rep. Pete Stark is not part of negotiations between House and Senate Democrats, The Hill reports.

The negotiating team opted to cap the number of lawmakers at six, but the long-time East Bay congressman, who has played an influential role in passing health care reform in the House was left out in the cold. According to The Hill, those not included by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) are taking it in stride, but a quote from Stark and his office is noticeably absent.

Those who did get the golden ticket are Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) and Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller (D-Calif.).

During the second day of negotiations that hope to knit together a bill for the president to sign, moderate Democrats appear to be winning concessions. According to The New York Times, a Senate proposal to enact an excise tax on so-called "Cadillac" health care packages has won over the House's 5.4 percent tax on high-earning Americans.

The inclusion of Stark in any negotiations depending on your view, would have pushed a minority view more ardently or the will of moderates pushed him to the sidelines. Stark, in the past, has favored more liberal plans to reform health care, albeit, short of his constituencies desire for the public option.
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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Parents, Teachers Show Support for Lim After Dismissal


The Citizen
Newton's first law of motion states, said Pamela Lowe, a first grade teacher at Roosevelt Elementary, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. At times, Tuesday night, the laws of nature were turned upside down as parents and teachers criticized the sudden firing of San Leandro School Superintendent Christine Lim.

The San Leandro School Board voted to dismiss Lim in closed session last December and announced their decision Jan. 5 without details of the outcome. Board President Mike Katz announced Tuesday night, the board had voted to relieve Lim, 4-3, with Trustees Morgan Mack-Rose, Diana Prola, Hermy Almonte and Katz voting with the majority. Katz also announced the naming of Cindy Cathey as the interim superintendent.

A group of parents also told the board they intend to file a recall petition with the Alameda County clerk against the four trustees who voted for Lim's removal on the grounds of members violating the Brown Act and irresponsible use of public funds.

The firing of Lim had been rumored for months and became imminent as the makeup of the board was transformed through elections at the end of 2008. Mack-Rose, Almonte and Prola all campaigned on their willingness to deal more aggressively with Lim, whose style, many detractors say, rubbed many in the teachers union the wrong way.

A group of Lim's supporters distributed an email sent in August from a member of the San Leandro Teacher's Association (SLTA) calling on members to tell Mack-Rose and Almonte to "do what they were elected to do, and that was to bring Superintendent Lim's term in San Leandro to an end."

The email was often cited by parents and teachers and critics say points to the lack of transparency the board has exhibited by refusing to discuss the reasons behind Lim's firing, calling it a "personnel issue."

“Is this the reason you came to the board?” parent Hendy Huang asked Mack-Rose and Almonte, “You're suppose to listen to the voters, not the SLTA.” Diane Wang, a teacher in the district says the firing has made teachers cautious about the future with difficult budget decisions on the horizon this year.

“To suddenly fire the superintendent, who may of had an adversarial relationship with the union or even with some of us, has made many of us feel insecure,” said Wang, who later wondered whether some teachers would meet the same fate as Lim saying, "You just want us all to know our place and if you don't get those test scores up, you're next.”

Many were also concerned with the decision within the context of the poor economy, where the school district has been hit harder than most public agencies. “We must have a lot of money if you can send her off on a vacation and also pay to have someone else do the job," said parent Tina Dumas. It is estimated Lim is due to receive nearly half of her $215,000 yearly salary until June.

Many in the teachers union have pointed to what they say is a lack of respect for its members, but even representatives of the executive board have been tight-lipped on reiterating the list of Lim's transgressions. SLTA Boardmember Mark Hamilton said her treatment of the union is their main complaint against Lim, but offered no specifics.

Parent and San Leandro business owner Tim Holmes was one of the few who countered numerous speakers by telling the board Lim's dismissal rests solely on her performance, “During Lim's tenure as superintendent the school district went from cooperation and openness to one which lacks follow through, has limited criticism through secrecy and gives lip service to parental involvement,” said Holmes.

Lim sat at the dais stoically throughout the discussion, barely acknowledging those who thanked her for her work with a slight nod. She addressed the board with a lengthy list of her accomplishments during six years in San Leandro, highlighted by her attention to helping minority students and educators. "It may have not been fast enough. I may have not been good enough," Lim said, "but when I got here, our black and brown kids were not achieving."

The political ramifications regarding the board's decision, other than the specter of a recall campaign, is the  possibility the issue will linger for much of the year as members are challenged why certain cuts are made to the school district's budget in relation to the perceived expenditure Lim's firing adds to their dire fiscal situation. One member, Trustee Pauline Cutter, who voted against firing Lim, is running to replace Bill Stephens on the San Leandro City Council and former member Steven Cassidy is running for mayor.

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The SLTA's Reign of Terror?

San Leandro Teachers Association Executive Boardmember Dan Martin is a high school history teacher, so its seems peculiar his email to members casts himself as San Leandro's Maximilien Robespierre of the French Revolution. In the end, Robespierre did not fare so well.

The correspondence was distributed by supporters of embattled Superintendent Christine Lim.

The email from last August appears to point directly towards a concerted effort by the union to end Lim's reign over the district by even coercing members to tell two school trustees to "do what they were elected to do." Martin also calls the effort to dismiss Lim as an "SLTA initiative."

Using his vacation in Paris as a literary device, Martin relates the struggles of French commoners which led to the overthrow of the king by calling the district office "out of touch."

Here's the text of the email:
Sent: Sunday, August 02, 2009 2:32 PM
Subject: SLTA Action Needed

Hi Everyone,

I'm sending you this email from Paris. I just received the word that the Superintendent's contract is probably going to be extended until 2011 at the School Board meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 4 at 7 p.m. at the San Leandro City Hall UNLESS you take some action today.

Paris seems an appropriate place to ask you to participate in a revolutionary act, circa 1789. Okay, we're 220 years into the future, but some of the dynamics still seem familiar. Like the French monarchy, the regime in power at the district office is out of touch with the reality of those doing the work in our classrooms every day. Resource allocations seem to serve the district office operation more than classroom needs, our students, and our teaching and support staff. Professional respect for our SLTA members mostly appears as window dressing when it serves the Superintendent's interest.

The SLTA Executive Board needs you to immediately email Trustees Morgan Mack-Rose and Hermy Almonte urging them to do what they were elected to do, and that was to bring Superintendent Lim's term in San Leandro to an end. Their personal emails are listed above next to their names.

Also, email Jon Sherr today if you have any ideas or questions about this SLTA initiative, and we hope to see you on Tuesday, Aug. 4 at 7 p.m. at the Board Meeting at City Hall. It's time for a change at the top of the district office operation.

In Solidarity,
Dan Martin for the SLTA Executive Board
Robespierre's is famously attached to the bloody "Reign of Terror" that gripped France after the beginning of the revolution. The problem with the historical allusion is ultimately Robespierre was also killed when his countrymen learned how his excesses ran counter to his nationalistic virtue.

Vive la San Leandro!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Stress, Family Issues Led To Lai-Bitker's Decision

By Steven Tavares
The Citizen 
The melancholy of her first Christmas since the passing of her mother, time missed with family and the pressures of the job convinced Alameda County Supervisor Alice Lai-Bitker to call it quits, she said during her first interview since her surprise announcement last week.

"It's a very hard job," Lai-Bitker said Sunday morning. "I tried to look at the big picture. What is the best for the county? What is best for the people I represent? So, it has been a job that has become more and more difficult."

Lai-Bitker said she had briefly contemplated not seeking re-election of her District 3 seat on several occasions since the passing of her mother in September of last year, but did not seriously arrive at the decision until an extended Christmas vacation to the home of her in-laws. She is married to Steve Bitker, the long-time sports reporter at KCBS.

Time lost with her husband and two young daughters also weighed heavily on Lai-Bitker's mind. "I was also thinking about Steve," she said. "Am I going to have him spend more of these lonely nights for five more years or just one? So, the answer is no, just this one last year."

She says she expects to spend more time with her two daughters, one who recently graduated from U.C. Davis and another who just started college. One specific event she laments missing, because her duties, is not being able to join her husband on drives to Davis for lunches with her daughter, an activity she says cemented a bond between her husband and daughter she intends to join next year.

Most observers believed Lai-Bitker was a shoo-in to win re-election in 2010. Since her announcement last week, numerous names have entertained running for Lai-Bitker's seat, including former supervisor and assemblywoman Wilma Chan, Alameda Mayor Beverly Johnson, former San Leandro Mayor Shelia Young and Lai-Bitker's Chief of Staff Shawn Wilson.

She hopes her replacement is someone who can "carry on my priorities, my projects and my programs." The perfect person for the job, she says, would be Wilson. "Shawn would be a logical choice. He really knows the district and knows the county's business," she says. "I think he is absolutely right to explore if he has enough support. Right now, I need to wait and see and watch a little more. I would love to support him if he can get enough support that he decides to do it."

Such an endorsement, if it occurs, could be a blow to Chan's nascent candidacy. Chan told the Oakland Tribune she would seek her old seat on the Board of Supervisors. Lai-Bitker's solid reputation in the district's Chinatown neighborhood could undercut one of Chan's most supportive areas. It would also contain a certain twist of history. Lai-Bitker was an assistant under Chan as supervisor when appointed to replace her in 2000.

Lai-Bitker, 51, says she is not retiring and believes she can still make a difference outside of the supervisor's chambers. In the meantime, Lai-Bitker and the rest of the board face a daunting year amid possibly excruciating budget cuts to Medicaid, in-home care for seniors and transportation. "The Human and Human  Services are going to take the brunt of the cuts," she says.

A social worker by training, most of Lai-Bitker's accomplishment in her nine years on the board of supervisors center around health issues, including gaining more access to health care for children and combating domestic violence. She also procured a highly competitive federal grant which led to the forming the Family Justice Center.

She also believes saving San Leandro Hospital from closure as an emergency room and acute care facility would count as one of her biggest achievements. The Eden Township Healthcare District and Sutter Health recently became entangled in a legal battle for control of the community hospital. "I don't want to fight Sutter, I just want to fight for the hospital," she said. "There's a difference there."

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Q&A with Supervisor Alice Lai-Bitker

On a foggy Sunday morning in Alameda, Supervisor Alice Lai-Bitker sat down with The Citizen to discuss her recent decision to not run for re-election, her accomplishments and her goals for her final year representing District 3.

Q: Was there a certain point when you said to yourself, 'I'm done. I don't want to do this anymore'?
A: There several times during the past few months, but I didn't really think about it a lot. During the holidays, what we did is go to Steve's [KCBS sports reporter Steve Bitker] parent's house before Christmas. We wanted to try an avoid the Christmas rush, so we were there for five days and you know Steve's parents are older, too, and we were helping them find assisted-living  homes. This was at the heels of me losing my mom. During this holiday I actually took some time off. In the past I worked during the holidays. You know, it was during this time that I did not go into the office and I thought, ten years is enough. It's a very hard job. Very stressful and there are many times you make decisions that you are not happy about. I tried to look at the big picture. What is the best for the county? What is best for the people I represent? So, it has been a job that as become more and more difficult. There are many things that I am proud that I did a lot of great service to the county.

I was thinking about family, you know. My older daughter graduated from U.C. Davis. During that four-year period my husband was able to have lunch with her something like 20 times and I didn't make it one time. My younger daughter left last year. Am I not going to be able to go to lunch with her--this is a luxury, in a sense--but it is something that is a really great bonding relationship between her and my husband. I was also thinking about Steve. Am I going to have him spend more of these lonely nights for five more years or just one? So, the answer is no, just this one last year. I made the decision during the holidays. I know everyone was shocked. In some way, all of my supporters have been so dedicated since day one and then also my staff who worked so hard for me. I was also thinking about mom, my family and myself.

Q: Are you the type who is selfless? Do you take care of everyone else and then yourself last?
A: Yes, people say that. My husband would definitely say that. I think probably it's my nature. It's my training in social work. I think it's my tendency to do that.

Q: Your relationship with your mother is well-known. How did she influence you personally and as supervisor?

A: My mom is a great person. She was very proud of me. She knows it is an important job and it is very demanding and she didn't want to put demands on me like little things; fixing stuff, she would ask the neighbors for help. I feel my mom, at least the past few years, her mission was taking care of me, making sure I'm ok...She is so supportive. She would volunteer for our office. When we had to send mailings, she would do that and during campaign times she would take signs to the neighbors. She knew that I worked very hard and in fact part of my work ethic comes from my parents. What she does to show her love and nurturing is she does all this cooking. She knows that I have no time, so now I don't have that.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

District Uprising Nearly Complete

Just three months ago, the makeup of the Eden Township Healthcare District was a fairly consistent majority of boardmembers comfortable with acquiescing to Sutter Health's plan for San Leandro Hospital to become an acute rehabilitation facility.

The swing vote was Dr. Walter Kran and the District's legal counsel was allegedly orchestrating the board's movements through the chair Dr. Rajendra Ratnesar. At minimum, critics screamed, Ratnesar is drawing a paycheck that eventually leads to Sutter's accounting department.

Fast forward to last Wednesday night and the District's Velvet Revolution led by Directors Carole Rogers and Dr. Vin Sawhney is nearly complete.

As we start a new year, the composition and resolve of the board is vastly different. Rogers is now the chair of the board. Sawhney is new the vice chair and newly appointed Dr. Bill West is secretary. Dr. Harry Dvorsky is far more lucid and the former head of the board, Ratnesar, has had his influence neutralized, while the attorney many on the board believed stifled any aggressive legal action against Sutter is gone.
The only strategy that has stymied Sutter has been the voice of the people. It is a plausible assumption the fervent voice of the community is the sole reason San Leandro Hospital is still open in the middle of January.
The counterclaim against Sutter by the District's interim counsel is a good start, but as one observer of the hospital situation said, going after the unfinished fourth floor is "the low-hanging fruit" within the legal dispute. More legal tussling with Sutter is needed, precisely evidence pointing to Sutter cooking the books at San Leandro Hospital, as critics allege, to show a facility perilessly in the red.

Through the actions of Rogers and Sawhney, the board is now fully equipped stand toe-to-toe with Sutter, yet the battle is nowhere near a stalemate. As they have since the signing of the 2007 Memorandum of Understanding, Sutter still holds all the cards. The important difference now, is the District and its lawyers realize they are down three touchdowns with two minutes left in the game. There is no use for time-wasting running plays when big play passes are sorely needed. The board needs to continue calling for the "Hail Mary" on every play until the hospital is saved. This is the reality the community needs if they are to calibrate the next surge in support for saving the hospital.

To this point, standing pat has not worked for the District and its move towards fighting Sutter in the courts is an unknown quantity in its early stages. The only strategy that has stymied Sutter has been the voice of the people. They have been a civic force and represent the biggest weapon in the hospital's arsenal. It is a plausible assumption the fervent voice of the community is the sole reason San Leandro Hospital is still open in the middle of January 2010. That voice has also transferred itself through every aspect on the new District board and emboldened a few notable boardmembers to have the courage to fight harder. The message now to the community is the same:  you have fought a gallant battle thus far, but you need to fight harder.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Sutter Threatened Litigation Against Hospital Suitor

The Citizen 
Sutter Health sent a letter within the past two weeks to both the Eden Township Healthcare District and Prime Healthcare, the Southern California health provider with interest in operating San Leandro Hospital, threatening litigation if the two sides engage in future negotiations.

In an email Friday requesting an interview with the owner of Prime, Dr. Prem Reddy, a spokesman for the hospital chain confirmed the existence of the letter and denied claims they are interfering with the conflict between Sutter and the District.

The interview was denied, according to Jason La Marca of Prime, because of "the pending litigation between Sutter and the District and recent threats by Sutter to sue Prime Healthcare Services based on claims (albeit baseless) that Prime Healthcare Services is taking affirmative efforts to induce the District to breach its contract with Sutter. Although these claims have no merit."

Bill Gleeson, the vice president of communication for Sutter, also confirmed the letter was sent to the District and Prime, but said it "merely reiterates our legal rights as outlined in the agreements signed by the District board members in 2008. These are legally binding agreements between the District and Sutter Health to build the new Eden hospital.

"This agreement also gives Sutter Health the absolute legal right to purchase San Leandro Hospital and precludes the District from negotiating any agreement with another party once we exercise our right to purchase the hospital, which we have done," Gleeson said.

Sources say the letter was in response to comments made by Boardmember Dr. Vin Sawhney to The Citizen Dec. 21 about the possibility of Prime or another health provider operating the hospital after June 30. "The property is in dispute. Without title to the property, [Sutter] really can't close it," Sawhney said after the firing of the District's legal counsel. "The issue would be they can walk away as of July 1, but that does not mean the hospital is closed." Sawhney then made reference to both Sutter and Prime saying, "It is a disputed lease. They can leave the same as someone else can come in."

The faint presence of Prime has hovered over the issue of San Leandro Hospital since June of last year when its charismatic owner addressed residents at the San Leandro Library. Until that point, Sutter and the county had maintained there was no outside interest in operating what they allege is a money-losing operation.

Also in June, Eden Medical Center CEO George Bischalaney, when pressed by Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley if Sutter would negotiate with Prime, he reluctantly said they would, but subsequently failed to enter into any serious talks during the months that followed.

The Citizen reported in September representatives from Prime approached Sutter about the possibility of leasing San Leandro Hospital. According to the source, the talks went nowhere. It was also reported two weeks later Sutter  flatly refused to enter into any talks with the county and District to operate the facility as a hybrid of numerous hospital services. Sutter's abhorrence of Prime operating San Leandro Hospital as a new facility in Castro Valley is built has been steady and best described by Alameda County Health Services Director Alex Briscoe when he said, "Sutter would rather fall on their sword than have Prime in San Leandro."

A member of the grassroots Coatlition to Save San Leandro says Sutter is using its financial clout to close the hospital against the wishes of the community. "This highly profitable not-for-profit health care system is spending a lot of money on lawyers and public relations to try to gain their preferred outcome," said Doug Jones.

He also sees conflicts arising if Sutter continues to use litigation against possible health care partners in the district, "It is likely Sutter Health will be in partnership with the Eden Township Healthcare District for the next half century," said Jones. "It is hard to imagine this partnership working at all if Sutter follows suing the District by suing a potential provider of care for the District."
>>>Supes Approve Eden EIR; Miley Urges Hospital Owner to Deal, June 10, 2009.
>>>Potential Hospital Buyer Met with Sutter Last Month, Sept. 1, 2009.
>>>Sutter Nixes Hybrid Model with SoCal Health Provider, Sept. 17, 2009.
>>>Lawyer Out; Questions Begin, Dec. 22, 2009.

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Friday, January 8, 2010

Who Wants to be Supervisor?

The Corbett Effect | Meet the Underdog | SLH'S Holy Trinity | Cutter Gets Boost | Snitches Help S.L.
What an eventful first week of 2010. Apparently, a few local politicians made New Year's resolutions to call it quits. Alameda County Supervisor Alice Lai-Bitker announced she would not seek re-election, San Leandro City Council candidate Peggy Combs dropped out of the race to replace Councilman Bill Stephens and the San Leandro School Board made like Donald Trump and told Superintendent Christine Lim, "You're fired!" The most  interesting aspect off Lai-Bitker's surprise announcement is not the decision but where all the political pieces of will fall when candidates for the supervisor's seat fully emerge. The one name that continually pops up in local salons of the East Bay is state Sen. Ellen Corbett. At first glance, the move from the Senate to the supervisor's chambers seems like a demotion, but according to insiders the position offers more money and political stability than the Senate. Many believe it comes down to whether Corbett is looking for long-time gig in Oakland or a state-wide office down the line. But indulge for a minute the enormous political shakeup that would occur in the East Bay if Corbett ran for supervisor. Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi would likely vie for Corbett's senate seat, leaving her seat up for grabs among too many names to list, including some interested in either open seats on the Board of Supervisors. The San Leandro mayor's race may not be immune to the Corbett Effect if Vice Mayor Joyce Starosciak is one of the people looking at a run for the assembly.


MEET THE MAN EVERY POLITICIAN KNOWS If you were a betting man (person?) looking for a long-shot for supervisor with the best chance to pay off, it just may be Lai-Bitker's chief of staff Shawn Wilson, a unknown to most voters, but well-known to nearly every politician in the East Bay. Wilson has not made any announcement about running, but word is he has been working the phones in recent days gauging support to replace his boss on the board of supervisors. It is highly probable he would receive Lai-Bitker's endorsement or it would be unlikely he would proceed without it. In the past, Wilson has endeared himself to many in the East Bay as a successful political consultant. One opponent of Lai-Bitker in 2006 recently credited Wilson as the reason for the supervisor's re-election.


IN THE NAME OF THE CORBETT We have seen in the past month that politicians should be careful criticizing San Leandro Hospital's Holy Trinity of Corbett and Eden boardmembers Carole Rogers and Dr. Vin Sawhney. Mayor Tony Santos has gotten into hot water with supporters of saving the hospital over comments made last month questioning the board's decision to move the fight for the hospital to the courts. The aggressive legal move by the District is a gamble, but here is the reality--none of these moves are being made without the blessing of Corbett. It is well-know the state senator has met often with Rogers and Sawhney in the past and has been a vocal supporter of keeping the facility in operation. Corbett is a lawyer who also chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee and it would behoove her political skills to place her reputation in the hands of two elected health care directors if she was not calling the shots. You make the choice whether Corbett is the (A) Father, (B) Son or (C) Holy Spirit. I will choose A.


COMBS DROPS OUT OF DISTRICT 5 RACE Even before the official campaign filling period has arrived or a certain date for the actual election is known, one city council candidate has dropped out. Peggy Combs announced Monday night she would not be running to replace San Leandro Councilman Bill Stephens, who is termed out. The announcement was buried in a week of many surprises. Combs, according to sources, was overwhelmed by the rigors of early campaigning and fundraising. "Despite my passion for helping to solve problems and bring positive leadership to San Leandro, I've realized that I have to pay attention to other priorities in my life right now," Combs said in a press release. Combs immediately endorsed School Trustee Pauline Cutter from council and will act as honorary chair of her campaign committee. Combs' withdrawal leaves Corina Lopez as Cutter only known competitor for District 5.


SNITCHES HELP CRIME DIP The San Leandro Police Department was able to celebrate a 12 percent decrease in crime in 2009 with 94 officers. How will they do with 88 in 2010 because of budget cuts and retirements? Who knows? There is also no consensus as to why crime in dropping not just in San Leandro but across many big cities across the country. The old maxim that crime rises during poor economic periods is being thrown out the window and being replaced by iffy theories revolving around more unemployed people at home keeping an eye on their neighborhoods. An opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal this weeks says crime in general is a form of social protest. Maybe Wii-wielding young adults are just apathetic to the current economic landscape? San Leandro Police Chief Ian Willis has an interesting theory for his city--San Leandrans are snitches. He did not use that term, but told The Citizen Monday night, residents are far more willing to identify criminals than, say, residents in crime-riddled areas of neighboring Oakland. "We are fortunate that people in San Leandro will I.D. crime," said Willis. "We have a good relationship with the public and that's important." He says, with budget cuts, the department is running at minimum staff and worries about overtaxing officers and staff with overtime in the coming years. In the meantime, keep snitching, San Leandro! - S.T.

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