Sunday, February 28, 2010

Will She or Won't She?

Corbett Has Until Mar. 12 to Throw East Bay Politics in Disarray | It's Not Raining Men in Corbett's Office | Cherry Festival Canceled, Nooo! | There's a Pill for That
As far as stakeouts go, slogging through a two-hour panel discussion on higher education with Ellen Corbett and Loni Hancock was hardly investigative journalism. I did attempt to look like a college student, though, dined on some Panda Express and climbed Cal State East Bay's insane ruins of steep stairs. I was there to confront Corbett over rumors that continue to rise from sweet-nothings into eardrum-piercing shouts that she is leaning toward a run for supervisor. Will she or won't she?  To find the  answer I had to weave around multiple staff members as the senator left the university commons (Just a side note: why does Corbett have just a single male staffer and why is he the photographer?). A windy drizzle started to fall as Corbett and her staff negotiated the stairs to her car. I saddled up to Corbett and asked if  she told a local councilmember she was "seriously" contemplating a run at supervisor. Corbett, normally kind and genial, seized up, lowered her head and hissed, "no comment." The odd demeanor of the senator and the appearance of us walking down steep stairs, would make you think we were walking out of a federal grand jury investigation (presumably about her lone male staff who gets paid tax dollars to post  photos of the senator's events on Facebook) rather than asking a simple question about her political future. Assuredly, it was hardly a "gotcha" inquiry. Afterwards, Corbett called to apologize, but there was nothing to be sorry for, it's just politics and speculation whether she will run for a second-term in the state senate or to replace Supervisor Alice Lai-Bitker will be known by Mar. 12, at the latest.


'IT'S TOUGH TO BE A STUDENT' BITCH SESSION The disastrous shape of the state university system is beyond comprehension and its problems are only exasperated by the current budget crunch. Corbett, Hancock and a panel of local students from around the Bay Area discussed the matter Tuesday night at Cal State East Bay. The discussion was preceded by a painfully boring webcast by Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, which is basically attempting to fix a problem by asking the person who caused the problem to find a solution. It is always Sacramento's fault, according to legislators who, themselves" are Sacramento. Both Corbett and Hancock lobbied for a change to California's cumbersome two-thirds rule to pass a budget or raise taxes. As for the issues hampering students these days, I can vouch for their consternation. It was less than two years ago, that I sat waiting for months to receive my financial aid check from the CSUEB Finance Aid Office. It wasn't their problem. There were only four employees covering over 10,000 requests. This was before the most "severe" of the governor's budget cuts to CSU system came down. I was nearly in the ninth of thirteen weeks of  instruction when I finally received aid and many feel lucky they can even acquire aid of any kind these days. When you're a college student, struggling along with Top Ramen and Diet Coke in your belly, it's hard enough working part-time and carrying a full load of courses without worrying about your bank account, too.


REMEMBER WHEN I SAID 'SHE'LL CUT YOU'? There is no truth to the rumor Nicholas Terry, the former assembly candidate for the 18th district, took the advice of his former client Mr. T and abruptly dropped his challenge to Assemlywoman Mary Hayashi. "Don't be foo', Mary ain't cool!" Terry had built a short-term cache of visibility in the local media with his rough-edged comments criticizing Hayashi for being in the pockets of lobbyists along with his former career as a Hollywood agent, but the Castro Valley native who said he was ready to tirelessly campaign at the grassroots-level ended his run before it even got started. A source told The Citizen, Hayashi's Distirct Director Chris Parman said they learned Terry had registered as an American Independent and the assemblywoman planned to hit the candidate hard with the information. Terry, whose short campaign eschewed the two-party system said the registration snafu was a mistake says the Secretary of State's office said could not be remedied before November. The American Independent Party is not the same as being an "independent" candidate and features staunchly far-right policy positions against abortion and gay marriage. Terry said he is pro-choice and supports gay marriage, but the mistake and the likelihood Hayashi would hammer him on the issue apparently proved too much, which he alluded to by charging her with "dirty politics" in his farewell.


WHERE WILL I GET A PLASTIC FIREMEN HAT? Through San Leandro Mayor Tony Santos' crisp 30-minute State of the City last week, there were a few light chuckles, but it was notable that the only audible sound during the whole speech, was a loud gasp from a woman in the front row. Was it the $7.3 million deficit? News 30 more city employees could be laid-off this July? No. The freightening sucking of air was for the cancellation of the San Leandro Cherry Festival this year. Vice Mayor Joyce Starosicak said the city knew last year, after the 100th anniversary of the festival, there would not be a 101st in the near future because of a worsening city budget. My favorite memory from last year's festival was a teenage boy, who was performing a dance routine, suddenly fell off the stage, landed on his feet, ran back on stage and continued dancing. Now, that should be a metaphor for the city, except without a medley of Shakira songs in the background.


DISSOCIATIVE DISORDER Here's another odd situation with San Leandro School Board President Mike Katz and his apparent split personality. In a post last week, Katz reported Alameda County supervisor candidate Wilma Chan and Nicholas Terry were some of the dignitaries at Monday's State of the City. He did not "report", however, others gathering at City Hall, including two previous city managers.....and School Board President Mike Katz, himself. Mayoral candidate Stephen Cassidy was not in attendance, but Katz, also on the committee to elect Cassidy for Mayor, videotaped the entire speech for him. It is still unclear whether Katz the Politician is a different person than Katz the Journalist, but I can report the guy last Monday night has a far more luxurious coif than the one at school board meetings. Hello Paul Mitchell! - S.T.

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Friday, February 26, 2010

Ethics Panel Tells Stark, Not So Fast

CONGRESSThe nonpartisan ethics panel that served up charges last December against Rep. Pete Stark for allegedly receiving a $4,000 tax break on his Maryland home says the House ethics panel did not pursue the central issue of the case--whether the long-time congressman actually applied for the credit. The ethics committee cleared Stark of wrongdoing Jan. 28.

"What did Rep. Stark submit to Maryland authorities regarding eligibibility for the Homestead Tax Credit, both before and after news accounts questioning credits claimed by Members of Congress?" the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) asked Thursday in a four-page response to the House Ethics Committee's scathing remarks against their referral of Stark's case.

According to the OCE, the question is central and was not answered by the ethics inquiry. Instead, they say, the ethics committee focused on whether Stark actually received the tax credit, which he did not, according to the ethics committee's January report. "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."

However, the OCE says the committee failed to investigate whether he "willfully" sought the credit. The OCE asserts under Maryland law, it is a misdemeanor to provide "false answers to a property interrogatory." The reports questions whether Stark came clean only after a Bloomberg News account in March of last year claimed Stark listed his Maryland home as his primary residence.

One of the more critical points of the House ethics committee's rebuke of the Stark investigation last month was the charge Stark was unreasonably singled out while similar cases were dismissed. The OCE says three of the four members did not apply for tax credit, while a fourth did not certify they had voted in Maryland, which they assert Stark did; making him "unique among this group."

The re-emergence of Stark's year-long struggle with ethics charges came a day before the same House Ethics Committee charged House Ways and Means Committee Chair Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) with improperly receiving two trips to the Caribbean. Rangel also has additional ethics charges pending regarding tax breaks on rent-controlled apartments in Harlem and property in the Dominican Republic.

The ethics charges against two highest-ranking members of the Ways and Means Committee have been a subject of consternation among congressional Democrats who favor the chummy Rangel over the more rambunctious liberal champion from the East Bay. Speaker Nancy Pelosi told ABC News, Rangel's violations were "not good." Few believe the raspy-voiced lawmaker will be deposed in favor of Stark on the presitigious tax-making committee.
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Sutter and Doctors Groups Prosper

SAN LEANDRO HOSPITALWhen it comes to framing the San Leandro Hospital situation as a populist issue--pitting regular folks at odds with a billion dollar corporations--cobbling doctors with nurses and residents against Sutter has always been uncomfortable. Kind of like feeling sorry for Lehman Brothers because they weren't big enough to be saved by the Treasury. It's the well-off hobnobbing with the common man in a fight against The Man.

A study reported in the health policy magazine, Health Affairs, says profligate insurance companies are not only to blame for the nation's need for health reform, but hospital providers and doctor's groups are also profitting from the situation.

Hospital fees rose over 10 percent from 1999-2005, according to the study as more facilities were consolidated among fewer corporations. The report, in addition, to stories in BusinessWeek and the Wall Street Journal, singles out Sutter Health, the provider which runs 24 hospitals in the state, including Eden Medical Center and San Leandro Hospital, and Catholic Healthcare West, which operates 39. Both are able to leverage higher rates from insurance companies because of their size. It also says Sutter negotiates with five hospitals within the U.C. system.

Conversely, Southern California hospital provider, Prime Health, is widely known and vilified for gobbling up bankrupt hospitals in new markets, quickly canceling existing contracts with insurance companies and renegotiating for steeper fees. With the District's recent legal moves this week, the possibility of Prime re-entering the discussion about San Leandro Hospital is increased and may emerge as a possible endgame. Sort of like replacing a philandering husband with Tiger Woods.

According to BusinessWeek, a ploy to stifle supply at hospitals increased higher fees for hospitals. Sutter's $300 million rebuild of Eden Medical Center features a notable reduction in beds than the original despite a need for a larger number of rooms in Alameda County. The report fleshes out what this means to provider's bottom line.
Hospital-bed capacity declined and the physician workforce failed to grow enough to cover demand, a tightening that also enhanced provider market power, according to the report. State regulations also limited the ability of insurance companies to restrict customers’ access to doctors and hospitals.
To combat the rise of fewer, more powerful health providers, especially in Northern California, the report says many prominent doctors began to form medical groups starting in the mid-1990s. They now, according to the report, command "double-digit" fees further straining the system.

Many critics of the Eden Township Heatlhcare District's attempts to fight Sutter over, among other things, the alleged unprofitability of San Leandro Hospital, say the facility loses unknown amounts of revenue from doctor's groups who allegedly "outsource" procedures and diagnostic tests to clinics outside of the hospital. Former Eden Medical Center Chief of Staff Dr. Miles Adler and current Eden Township Healthcare District Director Dr. Vin Sawhney have both been accused of this action by supporters of Sutter.

While the community focuses on saving lives by keeping San Leandro Hospital open, others may be more keen on saving dollars and cents.
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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Eden District Edging Towards Voiding Disputed MOU

The Citizen
THE DISTRICT v. SUTTEROne sentence, albeit--quite a long one at that--has signaled the Eden Township Healthcare District is taking its most ambitious step towards crowding out Sutter Health's claim to San Leandro Hospital and possibly keeping its emergency room intact.

"The Eden Township Healthcare District Board voted to initiate litigation to challenge the validity of the 2008 agreements with Sutter Health as a result of a conflict of interest analysis performed by a highly qualified, independent legal expert on local government conflict of interest law," said the one-page press release.

District Directors Dr. Harry Dvorsky and Carole Rogers voted to approve the board's newest strategy, with Dr. Rajendra Ratnesar posting the lone opposition. Boardmembers Dr. Bill West and Dr. Vin Sawhney recused themselves from the discussion again because of potential conflicts of interest as did Ratnesar. Eden Township Healthcare District CEO Dev Mahadevan said the lack of quorum which also arose last week allowed one recused member to rejoin the voting bloc after drawing blind lots, which chose Ratnesar. During the Feb. 17 meeting, District lawyer Colin Coffey referred to the arrangement known as the "rule of necessity" as only pertaining to the potential sale of the San Leandro Surgery Center to Sutter, but Mahadevan said Thursday the current roster of voters will steer the board from hereon regarding the hospital situation and the District.

The move is the District's latest offensive attempting to poke holes in the 2008 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) at the heart of the over year-long fight to save San Leandro Hospital. The MOU stipulated San Leandro Hospital had two years to improve its disputed monthly losses of $600,000 a month. Critics say Sutter has used a collection of bookkeeping schemes to divert assets away from the hospital to allow the Alameda County Medical Center to convert the hospital to a much-needed acute rehabilitation facility without emergency room services. The agreement also gave Sutter an option to purchase the hospital, which they invoked last September and subsequently has led to the current legal wrangling between the Sacramento-based health provider and the District.

The legal chess move the District is attempting hopes to nullify the MOU by proving the group that negotiated the agreement posed similar conflicts of interest as the current board with compensation derived from their positions at Sutter. In 2008 the board consisted of Rogers, Dvorsky, Ratnesar and former members Dr. Walter Kran and Dr. Francisco Rico. Both Ratnesar and Rico both earned paychecks from Sutter, as they do now.

Very little is known on the specifics of the District's legal maneuverings, but a source connected with the county say there is a belief the District's argument Sutter was in breach of contract of the MOU when they failed to remodel the vacant fourth floor at San Leandro Hospital does not meet the legal threshold to void the contract. It is likely, said the source, the District will lose its Mar. 8 arbitration case, making the current burgeoning legal question regarding a conflict of interest a strong hedge against such a scenario.

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Assembly to Anthem: 'Have You No Shame?'; Do You?

The total media coverage of Tuesday's "grilling" of Anthem Blue Cross executives during an Assembly Health Committee hearing consisted of Assemblyman and Chair Dave Jones and Assemblyman Hector De La Torre lobbing gratuitously scathing sound bites at Anthem President Leslie Margolin. What was actually on display was a civics lesson in how lobbyists control your elected officials. 

Here's some statistics to look over: 
  • 10 of the 18 assemblymembers on the health committee received campaign contributions from Anthem Blue Cross in 2009, according to the secretary of state's office.
  • Those 10 members received $70,950 last year.
  • One member received $28,000 alone from the insurance carrier to combat a bid by opponents to recall him last year.
  • Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi, who was not present at the meeting, received $3,900 from Anthem Blue Cross in 2009 along with $5,000 that was given to the Economic Development Alliance, a PAC which is closely associated with her.
  • Also, state Sen. Ellen Corbett received $1,000 and nearby state Sen. Alberto Torrico netted $6,500 for his campaign for attorney general.
The actually hearing, though, was far less combative than every news account portrayed it to be. Below is a rundown of quotes from the hearing. You can actually match the tenor of each remark with how much an assemblymember gained in campaign contributions.

Assemblyman Anthony Adams (R) $28,000
The Southern California Republican stared down a recall effort last year by anti-tax groups with a hefty $25,000 from Anthem to specifically fight off such a scenario, said he gave the company the benefit of the doubt over their assertion they seek to achieve modest profits between 2.5-5 percent and twisted the line of questioning towards the legislature's budget woes before saying they were "doing good work."

"It's interesting to hear a member talk about insolvency as if the state isn't on the brink of insolvency itself. I would be remiss to point fingers when we don't have our own house in order." 

LOBBYING'S NATIONAL 'ANTHEM'                              
Members of the Assembly Health Committee who received contributions from Anthem Blue Cross in 2009

Anthony Adams (for recall) $25,000, $3,000
Marty Block $6,900
Connie Conway $4,100
Kevin de Leon $1,000
Bill Emmerson (Senate) $3,950
Ted Gaines $4,500
Isadore Hall III $7,800
Mary Hayashi $3,900
Mary Salas $2,800
Audra Strickland (SOS) $3,000

Assemblyman Ted Gaines (R) $4,100
"I don't see a big problem making a profit. I thought it was the American Way?"

Assemblywoman Mary Salas (D) $2,800
She sided with a line in Anthem's testimony regarding insurance companies interest in supporting health care reform when she said lobbyist in Sacramento and Washington, D.C. were "thwarting reform."

Assemblyman Bill Emmerson (R) $3,950
Emmerson's entire haul was given to his campaign for Senate this year. He oddly changed the subject by asking Anthem executives about a program for needy families of which they seemed to know nothing about saying, "I want to thank you for your support in helping areas with rural families."

Assemblyman Hector De La Torre (D) $0
"Do you feel that we need to pass a law to make you treat your customers decently; to act humanely in the way you interact with them so you don't give them a 39 percent increase with less than a month's notice?"

Assemblyman Dave Jones (D) $0
"Have you no shame?"
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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Santos Describes Gloom, Few Solutions


The Citizen 
Good Times, Bad Times, you know I had my share;
When my woman left home for a brown eyed man,
Well, I still don't seem to care. --Led Zeppelin

STATE OF THE CITYSan Leandro Mayor Tony Santos had very little optimism to report during Monday's State of the City address, in fact, similar to Supervisor Alice Lai-Bitker's ominous speech last month, residents are being told to cover their eyes and hope the worst has passed.

"We are all on this ship together and it is imperative that we work together to keep San Leandro on a steady course toward recovery," Santos said.

On occasion, Santos struck a us against Sacramento tone as he criticized "borrowing" of local receipts to cure the state's woeful budget crisis. The state grabbed $1.8 million in receipts along with a disputed $5.1 million in redevelopment dollars, said Santos. These sobering numbers are worsened by an expected $7.3 million deficit this year along with sales tax revenues down over $5 million over the past year, according to Santos.

The mayor, who is up for re-election this November, says the city may put forth a ballot measure to increase revenues. Such a plan, has been seen as likely over the past few months and was mentioned prominently during debate over the passing of Ranked Choice Voting.

"It is quite possible that the City Council and I will need to go to the voters before this year is out and ask for help to increase city revenues," said Santos.

He also said he realizes many voters will find it difficult to support an additional burden to their already strapped budgets saying, "We know we may have a daunting task ahead of us–to convince the voters of this town to help us raise taxes during this fiscal crisis."

Santos said the city will have to make deeper cuts in programs, services and city staff this year and may eliminate another 30 jobs by July 1. "Unfortunately, we are not going to be able to meet your expectations until we get some new revenues and the economy turns around," said Santos.

The mayor also described a few of the positives in the city, including the beginning of construction of Kaiser Permanente in the city and what many believe was San Leandro's biggest success story last year, the partnership with surroinding cities in the East Bay Green Corridor movement that hopes to attract green energy companies to the area. The city will also attempt to cut emissions by 25 percent by 2020, he said. Construction in San Leandro is also up, according to Santos, who said 11 projects have poured over $127 million in investments into San Leandro, but many of those were funded during more stable economic times.

Vice Mayor Joyce Starosciak, who is running for mayor, called Santos' speech "on mark," regarding the state of the city, but said images of visible construction around town are deceiving. Starosciak noted in November that the city was in "decay" to which the mayor gave a nearly 10 minute-long speech during a city council meeting to respond.

"We have a lot of construction going on and that looks like advancement, but the downside of what we have is that operations are in decline. It impacts the day-to-day feeling in the city. It's the graffiti cleaned up slower and libraries closed longer than they are open," said Starosciak.

She also believes residents will be more in-tuned with near-certain cuts to popular programs and further reductions in city services. "There is going to be some difficult decisions to be made," she said.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Rumors of Corbett's Interest in Supervisor Heat Up

Citizen Exclusive! 
The Citizen 
BOARD OF SUPERVISORSSources including a local city councilman tell The Citizen state Sen. Ellen Corbett is seriously considering a run to replace Alice Lai-Bitker on the Alameda County Board of Supervisors.

In addition, Corbett will meet Wednesday with Alameda Councilwoman Lena Tam, according to a source close to the situation. Tam recently announced she would run for supervisor and was endorsed by Lai-Bitker over former assemblywoman and predecessor Wilma Chan. Former San Leandro Mayor Shelia Young and Alameda Mayor Beverly Johnson are also in the race to represent District 3.

After a panel discussion on higher education with college students at Cal State East Bay Tuesday night, Corbett gave a terse "no comment" to the rumor that has recently become more widespread among local pols.

In a phone conversation with Corbett, she said many have spoken to her about making the move to the supervisor's chambers, but she has not made a decision. The deadline for candidates to declare their intentions to run for the June primary is Mar. 12.

A move by Corbett to replace Lai-Bitker, who announced last month she would not seek re-election, would jumble a slew of local races with a number of politicians scurrying for position (Read here about the "Corbett Effect.") Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi, for one, would likely forego running for re-election and move to replace Corbett in the Senate.

Some have questioned Hayashi's fundraising push during the last six months since she has no viable opponent as an indication she is looking at higher political aspirations. Beyond that, there are too many permutations to mull regarding the assembly seat possibly now up-for-grabs along with its effects  on local city council races.

While a seat on the Board of Supervisors may appear to be a step down from the state Senate, the move to Oakland is actually more lucrative than the senate and, without the presence of term limits, far more politically stable.

Many of the sources who spoke of Corbett's interest in the supervisor's job, though, also said they were surprised of her interest believing she had aspirations for state-wide office, possibly as secretary of state or attorney general. Corbett currently chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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Mayor Santos' State of the City Speech

SAN LEANDROIt is once again a privilege to present to you a report on the state of the City. Every year my aim is to give you good news; to paint a pleasant picture of San Leandro and the progress we are making as a community. I have to say, as this recession drags on, it is getting harder and harder to bring you good news. I promise I will touch on some positives today, but I must deliver the unpleasant message first.

This has been a challenging year, to say the least. The nation’s economic downturn, which began nearly three years ago, has had a devastating impact on the City’s General Fund which, as you know, is our source of funding for nearly all of our basic services – police, fire, libraries, parks, recreation programs, etc.

We entered Fiscal Year 2008-2009 as the first year of a 3-year workout plan with a $4.4 million budget deficit. We were able to balance our budget thanks to reserves we set aside for just such an economic crisis. However, as 2009 progressed, the picture got even worse. July saw us begin FY 09-10 with a $2.9 million deficit. Again we turned to reserves, but those funds are sinking to a critically low level now and we just cannot rely on them further. Unfortunately, due to a deeper decline in revenues than any of us expected, the deficit has grown to $7 million. With our reserves nearly depleted, we are left with no other choice than to make deeper cuts.

Once again, the State turned to local governments to balance its budget. The good news is that the $1.8 million the State “borrowed” from our general fund revenues this year is coming back to us in the manner of a “loan,” and you just about have to be a Wall Street Financier to figure out how that works.

But the bad news is that the State is taking $5.1 million from our Redevelopment fund. That means fewer and fewer opportunities for us to do community enhancement projects or business development partnerships.

These hits to our budget, along with the dramatic decline in sales tax, property tax and utility user tax revenues, mean we have to make deeper and deeper cuts in our programs and services.

Your browser may not support display of this image. Our sales tax revenues alone are down more than $5 million over the past three years with no sign that it will improve soon.

Real property transfer taxes are down $4 million from their peak just 3 years ago and the Utility Users Tax, which you as voters just ratified for us in 2008, is down $1 million.

The only way we could manage this severe fiscal crisis has been to make significant cuts to programs and services and, sadly, jobs. Police and Fire made 5% cuts to their budgets and all other departments cut their budgets by 15%, and we are looking at even deeper cuts when the new fiscal year begins in July. Over the past 12 months, we have eliminated 61 fulltime-equivalent positions in the City; that represents 12% of our workforce, which is staggering.

For example, this year’s cuts have included six police officer positions, which means the Chief has had to eliminate two School Resource Officer positions, one Downtown Bicycle Patrol officer, an Investigator in Property Crimes, a motorcycle Officer for traffic enforcement, and one Officer in the Tactical Unit who is assigned to special enforcement.

The cuts in personnel have hurt services provided by all departments. We have fewer librarians and less help at the reference desks. Plus, we are buying fewer books, periodicals, movies and music CDs for library patrons to enjoy.

We have had to cut funding for Veteran’s Day activities, the Arts Council, Flag Day, and other community events. Yes, even the Cherry Festival will not be happening this year.

Monday, February 22, 2010

A Prescription for Special Interests to Wreak Havoc

THE LEGISLATUREWho knew the California Board of Pharmacy could so bedeviling? In the span of a few days both local legislators have separately attacked the body for being cozy with big business lobbyists.

According to the Sacramento Bee, Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi criticized the state-appointed board for sponsoring a bill making it easier for large pharmacies to administer flu shots to adults. Allowing for greater access to flu shots appear acceptable, but Hayashi and members of the California Association of Registered Nurses told the paper, they fear the legislation could drown out independent pharmacies who cannot afford entering into expensive contracts with physicians against larger drugstores who can afford the expenditure. In response, Hayashi submitted a bill that would require the board of pharmacy to obtain approval before sponsoring legislation.

The Los Angeles Times, reported this weekend, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed an executive from CVS/Pharmacy to the board of pharmacy the day before they reversed an earlier decision to back Sen. Ellen Corbett's bill calling for larger fonts on prescription bottles and providing translations of advice for the use of the medications. According to the report, the executive cast the deciding vote against the changes which drug retailers opposed.

In both instances, the appearance of lobbying dollars emanating from retailers like Walgreens, RiteAid and CVS/Pharmacy to the governors's coffers and point to corporate leaning by industry lobblyists in Sacramento. The role of the California Retailers Association lies central to both cases. The organization has contributed over $400,000 to Schwarzenegger since 2005, according to the LA Times.
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The Plot to Kill Medical Marijuana in Hayward

The Citizen 
HAYWARD CITY HALLRewind back to Hayward's stunning door slam last week on medical marijuana. There may have been more politics going on then first meets the eye.

After the council gave its approval to the city staff to look into the feasibility of medical marijuana dispensaries in Hayward on three occasions, six members of the council, including Mayor Michael Sweeney, became mum on the subject. Only Councilman Bill Quirk spoke in favor of allowing staff to delve into its effects on the city.

So, what happened? Sources close to the situation say pressure came from top city leaders to snuff out any further discussion of dispensaries. Comment from the mayor's office was not returned as of Monday morning.

In his remarks, last Tuesday night, Quirk went as far to criticize the mayor for stifling progress on medical marijuana last year when the council debated making dispensaries a priority.

"When that policy came out, we again had a vote and we said let's go ahead with that," said Quirk. "The mayor, of course, was opposed and he said let's have a work session on this and we'll discuss it in more detail. That never happened. We asked staff to do it. It never happened. The city manager said, well, we'll just approve it as part of out priorities for next year. I said that would be fine and I expected that there wouldn't be the sort of venomous attack on this without ever doing the studies."

Afterwards, Quirk told The Citizen, he disapproved of the pattern of obfuscation exhibited by the city staff. "What happened tonight was extremely unusually," said Quirk. "We have never had to have a second vote on priorities. Staff kept on working on this until they got the answer they wanted. I don't think that was appropriate."

But, politics being a contact sport, Quirk took no offense from what he beleives are highly capable employees, only the strategy to end the debate on dispensaries for at least another year. "I disagree with the tactic, but we have a great city manager. I wouldn't want to trade this staff for any other staff. We have a great police chief, great police officers, but this is a time when I don't think they played fair."

Quirk said the presence of a litany of police officers protesting the dispensaries, along with the surprising appearance of Hayward Police Officers Assocation snuffed out medical marijuana's chanes. The inclusion of a city labor union taking a stand on a policy issue is rare and likely signaled medical marijuana's demise Tuesday night. "It's unusual," said Quirk. "I don't know who got them to come out and it is what killed it."

The President of the HPOA Mike Sorensen agreed having the union speak out against policy was not normally done, but he said officers wanted to give the council more information to make their decision. "It's more or less not about setting policy, but providing information," said Sorensen. "Since we're out there dealing with all the issues there's no better way."

Sorensen said nobody from the top urged the union to stand against the controversial dispensaries officers say caused an uptick in crime and diverted resources away from the entire city. "We get the agenda items and we saw what they were voting on," said Sorensen. "Those of us on the board talked about it and thought it was necessary to come down and that was it."

Every councilmember other than Quirk spoke against pegging the dispensaries issue as a priority for the year with a mixture of approval of its medicinal qualities with doubt about saddling the overworked city staff with more work. Councilman Francisco Zermeno said he did not want to live next to a dispensary, while Councilman Kevin Dowling, who is running for Alameda County supervisor, poked holes in supporters' arguments saying among other things, the success of marijuana in the Netherlands bears no relation to the culture in the United States where firearms are more readily available.

Only Sweeney did not speak on the subject, although he struggled throughout the night with a painfully raspy voice. He did, though, offer the podium to Police Chief Ron Ace only after the motion to proceed with dispensaries was overwhelmingly denied.

Ace struck an obedient pose, but disagreed with the need of dispensaries in Hayward and asked which more deserving priorities would be cut in favor of medical marijuana. "If you want me to do what you hired me to do and that is to provide a safe city for the citizens of Hayward," said Ace. "If you want me to look into medical marijuana dispensaries, you tell me what you want me not to do."

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Councilman Quirk's Remarks on Medical Marijuana

Hayward Councilman Bill Quirk was hoping Tuesday night to push the city towards pursuing medical marijuana in its future. The following remarks by Quirk failed to move his fellow councilmembers, but his oration revealed a city feverishly attempting to distance itself from the controversial issue and highlighted the power of the police department in leaning against the issue that likely to jump to the forefront in the minds of Californian's later this year.

This is the fourth time we will be voting on this and I think it should be the last. Again, I am not saying we need to approve medical marijuana, I'm saying we should study it. We approved this with a majority as a part of our priorities last year, but we did vote to delay until we found out what the federal government's policy would be. When that policy came out, we again had a vote and we said let's go ahead with that. The mayor, of course, was opposed and he said let's have a work session on this and we'll discuss it in more detail. That never happened. We asked staff to do it. It never happened. The city manager said, well, we'll just approve it as part of out priorities for next year. I said that would be fine and I expected that there wouldn't be the sort of venomous attack on this without ever doing the studies. Without [medical marijuana advocate] Dale Gieringer here talking about the success of Oakland. We had success here in Kern County, Santa Rosa. Berkeley's business of the year was a pot dispensary. We have a dispensary here with a woman who has been running it for 10 years.

Staff is saying it wasn't successful. Tom's [Lemos, former dispesary owner] was successful. There was a robbery. When they got security those problems went away. My house has been robbed twice since I've been on the city council. Do you want me to move out of town? We have murders at Southland Mall. We have bank robbers. Do we want to close all of those because there are ocassional problems? There have been less problems with robbing of medical marijuana in L.A. than there have been in banks. One of the reasons poor Tom was closed is the council decided, with my objection, they shouldn't be in downtown. He came up with a place only a block or so away from where this Hayward unincorporated area clinic is located. The council decided because some people brought a petition forward, not to go ahead with that location.
Again, what I'm asking staff to do right now is stop asking us whether we want to do this and if we do it tonight it will be the fourth time--we've never had to get four votes on anything before--but, there is always a first time.
[Former City Manager] Jesus Armas came up with a place outside of downtown. Tom thought it was fine. We got a new acting city manager. She felt it was not fine. It was a part of downtown. It has never been defined as downtown. The council said not to go ahead. At that time, I wasn't ready to push it. The reason I wasn't was because under the Bush administration, for instance, the City of West Hollywood was actually prosecuted by the federal government for trying to come up with very strict regulations. They wanted to restrict among other things, who could approve a medical marijuana card and who couldn't. The federal government said, no you can't do this and we are going to go after you.

We have a different federal government now. Yes, it is still against federal law, but the federal law is stupid and we have to do something to tell it's stupid. I mean, my God, we have a Congress now that can't do anything about global warming, they can't do anything about health reform. It will be years before we see them do anything about medical marijuana or anything else. So, we have to take responsibility at a local level. Again, what I'm asking staff to do right now is stop asking us whether we want to do this and if we do it tonight it will be the fourth time--we've never had to get four votes on anything before--but, there is always a first time.

Three Directors Asked To Recuse Themselves Over Surgery Center

The Citizen 
The sale of the Eden Township Healthcare District's share of the San Leandro Surgery Center sought by Sutter Health is still up in the air, but the nagging appearance of a conflict of interest among certain boardmembers was again raised in a legal question with wide-ranging implications for the fight to keep San Leandro Hospital open.

The District's lawyer Colin Coffey recommended at Wednesday night's meeting three current boardmembers recuse themselves from voting on the sale of the District's partnership in the San Leandro Surgery Center to Sutter for over $1 million. Coffey of the law firm Archer Norris, replaced the fired Craig Cannizzo last December, said Directors Dr. Bill West, Dr.Vin Sawhney and Dr. Rajendra Ratnesar posed instances of conflicts of interest from income derived from business transactions with Sutter in the past 12 months.

West and Ratnesar were deemed to have a conflict of interest due to since terminated directorships at Eden Medical Center. Sawhney, according to Coffey, has received income from services provided to San Leandro Hospital for indigent care in the last year.

The legal question brought forth by Coffey could have game-changing ramifications for a board that has quickly become far more offensive in their tactics comfronting Sutter's bid to turn the hospital over to the Alameda County Medical Center to become an acute care rehabilitation facility without emergency room services. It is not yet clear whether one or all of the recused boardmembers could also be excluded from participating in any dealings between the District and Sutter over the fate of San Leandro Hospital.

"The board and the District have been endeavoring in the past month or so to explore a variety of conflict of interests issue arising both from the past and past experiences that have made some controversy of conflict of interest that have been pursued through special counsel to bring some expertise in the area of public official conflict of interests laws and that review has also reflected current board potential conflicts of interest," said Coffey.

Afterwards, Coffey again confirmed legal counsel was investigating additional conflcits of interest if and when they arise. When asked if the legal implications of three boardmembers recusing themselves for a possible transaction with Sutter and  the surgery center and whether that could be applied to conflicts of interest with the same boardmembers and San Leandro Hospital, he said, "It could part of everything or nothing."

The trio of boardmembers were notified earlier in the day Wednesday, while Sawhney said he only learned of the potential conflict of interest as he walked in the door. For this reason, the board voted 4-1 to postponed a decision on the surgery center for second consecutive meeting.

In addition, postponing the vote sidestepped a potentially old-fashioned method of gaining a quorum since the dismissal of three members would have left only two voters. Under these circumstances, which could still return to discussion, Coffey said under the legal theory of the "rule of necessity" the three excluded members would draw straws to secure one member to regain voting rights and gain a quorum.

Despite, the odd turn of events, the Director of the San Leandro Surgery Center Shelia Cook said the District needs to close the deal soon. "We have already been put off," said Cook. I feel this is just another ploy to put this off again."

Cook also attempted to quell fears by many in the audience that Sutter's potential partnership in the center would damage San Leandro Hospital economically and said the hospital conglomerate is still interested in making the deal. "We are not looking to take any business away from San Leandro Hospital," said Cook. "Sutter Health is not going to change any decision they have made in the action to become a partner of San Leandro Surgery Center. By delaying this, you are punishing the surgeons, not Sutter Health."

Yet, many still sport a strong antipathy towards anything Sutter. Labor representative Mike Brannan of the California Nurses Association thinks dealing with Sutter sends the wrong message. "A move to sell the surgery center--something that Sutter Health wants--would be a signal to the community that the board is not serious about the bigger picture and fighting to keep San Leandro Hospital open."

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Medical Marijuana in Hayward is Up in Smoke

The Citizen
Hayward City Councilman Bill Quirk gave an impassioned speech on behalf of medical marijuana, but it did not come close to swaying his colleagues. The council was not debating whether to allow the return of medical marijuana dispensaries to the city, merely to direct staff to study the issue as one of the city's priorities for the year.

After a public comment period lasting over an hour, Quirk failed to conjure up a second to his motion in support of exploring medical marijuana after a fiery lecture to the city staff for failing to act on three previous directions by the council and the failure of the federal government to act on the topic that is slowly gaining acceptance in the state. Quirk also rebutted numerous claims Tuesday night by law enforcement who say the dispensaries are a magnet for crime.

"My house has been robbed twice since I've been on the city council. Do you want me to run out of town?" said Quirk. "We have murders at Southland Mall. We have bank robberies. Do we want to close all of those because there are ocassional problems?"

Quirk pointedly called the federal government's stance on medical marijuana "stupid" and urging municipalities like Hayward to led the way. "It will be years until we see them do anything about medical marijuana or anything else, so we have to take responsibility at a local level," said Quirk.

Councilmember Barbara Halliday and Olden Henson both articulated support for the benefits of medical marijuana, but hesitated to support the issue as a priority for the city. Councilman Francisco Zermeno told the large gathering at city hall he believes medical marijuana belongs in hospitals and not storefronts. "In our minds we see it now as a marijuana store and it would be downtown and it is something I would never want," said Zermeno. "I would want it in a medical facility because it is a medical issue."

Councilmembers may have been cautious to support the issue after the Hayward Police Officers Association (HPOA) said they would not support the reintroduction of the dispensaries because it will further tax an already strained police force with more crime.

HPOA President Mike Sorensen, citing an uptick in crime at the city's two previous pot clubs on Foothill Boulevard, said a return of the businesses would "In turn jeopardize the safety of local businesses, visitors and the community at large." Numerous police officers expressed a litany of crimes in the area, they say, was due to the attraction of criminal elements to the clubs.

Dale Gieringer, one of the co-authors of the landmark Proposition 215 that legalized medical marijuana in California, said many in law enforcement are stoking old fears regarding the use of marijuana. "There is a certain old-school element with fears about this that are the typical fears but I think they are projecting their experience with the illegal marijuana market to the legal marijuana market," said Gieringer.

Despite Hayward's decision to sit out a burgeoning issue that gained steam last year when U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced the federal government would not crack down on pot clubs. In the past month, supporters of legalizing marijuana in the state succeeded in placing a ballot initiative on the November ballot. Gieringer said he believes many concerns described at Tuesday's hearing stem from the issue currently lying in limbo between acceptance and its criminal past.

"The problem is there hasn't been an 100 percent transition from the illegal market to a legal market. We're about halfway there and you still have a problem," said Gieringer. "For example, the supply system is still pretty much underground. Banks won't deal with it, so there's a lot of cash around and that adds to concerns we shouldn't have in a legal system. We're evolving towards that, but people are caught in between at the moment."

Nevertheless, the stigma of marijuana is still pervasive and a difficult political issue to skate around. Hayward resident Jack Horner, who is highly visible in community outreach, admonished the council for  spending time on the issue when the city is struggling to prosper.  "Pot shops are a deceitful pretense that will bring all sorts of problems to our city," said Horner. "No amount of conditions on the use permit will change that. No amount of income to our city through taxes will justify the strain that it will put on our already strained resources."

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

LiveTweeting from Hayward City Council

  1. HPOA President says a city official did not urge police union to speakout; says they acted alone.
  2. After motion fails, ending discussion, Mayor Sweeney oddly invites police chief to speak on subject.
  3. Quirk gave an empassioned plea to have city look at possibility.
  4. Motion to direct staff to explore medical marijuana by Councilman Bill Quirk fails to get a second--fails.
  5. In addition to whispers heard here, The Citizen obtained earlier today an email from councilmember also making such an assertion.
  6. There are rumors here a city official urged police union to speak out against medical marijuana.
  7. Police officer: "drugs masquerading as medicine."
  8. Police officers appear to be cherry-picking previous crimes or alleged crimes in Hayward med. marijuana facilities.
  9. Ciry Union makes rare stance against policy issue. Hayward Police Officers Assoc Pres. Speaks out against medical marijuana dispensaries.
  10. Councilman Olden Henson just called Hayward, "an industrial giant." ????? As opposed to what? Castro Valley?
  11. San Leandro councilmembers NEVER leave the dais during meetings. In Hayward, they cut out all the time!
  12. County assessor says Hayward property assessment has dropped 9% or $1.3 billion.
  13. Hayward in the red this year an additional $2.3 million says city staff primarily from loss of sales tax. Reserves to drop $1.1M to $18.1M.
  14. Council approves motion 5-2 to ask city staff to work out kinks with Waste Mgmt over notification of prop owners over delq garbage bills.
  15. Garbage bill ordinance discussion has turned into WM's billing and communication with proprty owners.
  16. Waste Management has become a villain to many property owners in chambers tonight. WM rep is here. owners ready to pull out knives.
  17. Councilman Francisco ZermeƱo is curiously beginning to look like Sherman Helmsley (George Jefferson).
  18. Councilman Bill Quirk is probably a bad poker player. He is very expressive during hearings, which for me, is great!
  19. About people claiming to pay on time: working in bank, whenever customer says they never bounce checks, a search would show they bounced 12.
  20. Nobody has cited a bad economy for renters not paying garbage bill or any other bill. Report acknowledges this fact.
  21. Garbage bill ordinance ?: Do property owners assume risks like tenants not paying garbage bill or not?
  22. When someone says they've paid their garbage bill on time for 18 years, I think, you probably didn't.
  23. Public speaker on ordinance to collect delq. garbage bills from owners: "people only rent because they have bad credit."
  24. Cameraman from KRON covering themeeting. 5 HPD officer ominously standing against back wall of chambers. Plenty of seats available, boys!
  25. Police Officers Association is believed to state objection to dispensaries in the city for the first time tonight.
  26. City attorney also finds city does not have to offer notice or public hearing on subject before enacting prohibition.
  27. Report: med. marijuana dispensaries "could result in increase of crminal activity disproportionately taxing the city's public resources."
  28. Hayward agrees with basis of Prop 215, med. marijuana use for "seriously ill patients"
  29. The stance set by the Hayward city mgr and attorney appears to draw a hard line against med. marijuana dispensaries.
  30. Hayward Mayor Michael Sweeney struggling with a very gravely voice tonight.
  31. Beautiful facility in Hayward, but is a detailed checklist of how to clean your hands necessary? Fav: No. 2 rub palms together.
  32. LiveTweeting at Hayward City Council. About 2/3 full.