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Sunday, February 28, 2010
Friday, February 26, 2010
"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.
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.
Thursday, February 25, 2010
"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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Wednesday, February 24, 2010
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
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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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
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.
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
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.
[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.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.__________________
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.
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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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.
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