Thursday, March 31, 2011

Cassidy Continues His Attack On City Workers; Adds Police

By Steven Tavares

San Leandro Mayor Stephen Cassidy campaigned on changing the way city employees financed their own pensions and health benefits, but instead he may be angling to push for further cuts to its already sparse workforce.

Cassidy also make pointed remarks towards the validity of the city staff presentation and questioned the police department’s exploits in reducing crime, while unable to stymie a rise in burglaries.

“Are there certain jobs and positions that can be eliminated and consolidated in a way that we could still provide services that we do now?” asked Cassidy during Monday’s work session on next year’s fiscal budget.

“In my State of the City speech , part of it, as it was originally written, was to praise the work of the police department and they certainly deserve praise in reducing the total of crime by 25 percent, however, burglaries are up,” said Cassidy. “If you go to talk to people in the neighborhoods people won’t tell you that they feel a lot safer in San Leadnro because the burglaries uniquely effect them and they hear about, so we can say, ‘you should feel safer, crime is down,’ but that’s not their experience. So, I think just for us to be honest as policymakers in our presentations, we need to give both sides of the story sometimes. I think if there is other sides of the story, we need to hear that too because the underlining message we’re getting here is that we’ve been cut to the bone, don’t look to any further cuts to staff, preserve the status quo.”

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Hayashi Gets Slammed For Honoring California Legend

Earl Warren
Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi probably thought honoring the life of judicial and political giant Earl Warren was an issue with little downside. The East Bay legislator known for never missing out on a chance to grandstand before television cameras was criticized Wednesday by a member for wasting the assembly’s time on a trivial matter.

According to the Sacramento Bee, after praising Warren in House Resolution 10 as someone who “lived simply and never lost touch of the people,” she came under the wrath of Fullerton Assemblyman Chris Norby, who had a different view of the former chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court and California governor.

"All people are a combination of good and bad, including all of us here – Earl Warren as well,” Norby said after making reference to Warren’s involvement as attorney general in paving the way for the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, despite being noted as the one of the most socially liberal Americans of the 20th Century.

Norby said the reading of the resolution was simply wasting the Legislature’s time, but the gratuitious slam on Hayashi and the memory of one of the state’s most important political figures probably points to the levels of frustration and discord in Sacramento after Gov. Jerry Brown announced Tuesday he would no longer seek input from Republicans, who he believes are stalling his proposed budget and desire to seek approval at the ballot box to extend tax increases.

In this one case, at least, Hayashi can’t win for trying.

San Leandro Marina Nearing A Decision On Its Future

By Steven Tavares

The future of boating and other motorized watercraft hit another patch of turbulent seas after city staff attempted to bypass members of the Marina Citizen Action Committee over a report on alternatives for its harbor basin.

The San Leandro City Council was handed a 64-page study of alternatives for the Marina’s Harbor Basin earlier this month. Members of the nearly two year standing citizen action committee and a few councilmembers were upset the study was not first presented to the 32-person body.

City staff contends the direction of the harbor basin has always been under the purview of the council, while recommendation of the entire Marina development has coming under the guidance of the CAC. Councilman Jim Prola told city staff he was not pleased the council was presented with the report instead of first passing the through the appointed committee.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Daily Review Shoots Back At Quirk’s Dig Over Lack Of Coverage

By Steven Tavares

Quirk is a likely candidate
 for assembly in 2012
As reported last week in The Citizen, Hayward Councilman Bill Quirk took a sharp jab at the lack of local coverage in The Daily Review. It took a week, but the Hayward beat reporter for the paper finally fought back, although the retaliation was hardly convincing.

During a council meeting Mar. 22 Quirk voiced criticism against the much-maligned Media News outlet after a comment was made regarding public outreach. “First of all, anyone who’s waiting for the Daily Review to tell you what’s happening, that was 10 years ago,” Quirk said in response. He then went on to single out the Tri-City Voice as an alternative while erroneously noted the Review’s reporter Eric Kurhi was not present when he was, indeed, sitting among the audience.

“Well, it’s not Eric’s fault,” said Quirk, “the problem is they won’t give him the column inches to report that he would like to have and he has to cover the whole city which used to be covered by like four reporters. So it’s not his fault but it’s just — we don’t have the coverage we used to have.”

Russo to Alameda? The Wild Island Just Got Crazier

By Steven Tavares

When it comes to bizarre antics and dastardly political soap operas no city in the East Bay tops Alameda. From deposing its city attorney, city manager and hatchet jobs on councilmembers to gotcha videos of its fire chief siphoning city gasoline for his own personal use; no municipality has endured more than Alameda. Now, reports say Oakland’s own controversial city attorney John Russo is Alameda’s choice for city manager. Things on the island appear to be on verge of getting even more interesting.

The Alameda blog, The Island, reports various sources told the web site the city council has settled on Russo. The council is scheduled to discuss the matter Tuesday evening in closed session. Other reports, though, say Russo has not yet accepted the offer. The position opened Dec. 28 when the council put interim city manager Ann Marie Gallant on administrative leave. Earlier this month, Gallant filed a claim against for the city for financial damages.

If Russo becomes Alameda’s new city manager, he will leave behind his own circus of tension and upheaval in neighboring Oakland. While lauded for his tough stands against crime, notably the city’s proactive gang injunction program, it is his stance on large-scale medical marijuana cultivation sites in Oakland brought calls of uncooperativeness from the new mayor and several councilmembers. Russo’s public comments saying he would not advise councilmembers if they were to approve the so-called pot farms upset some in the community. He contends such an action puts each member at personal legal jeopardy. Medical marijuana, while legal in the state from the introduction of Proposition 215, is still illegal under federal law.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Is One Half Of Hayward's First Couple Itching To Return?

By Steven Tavares

Hayward's first couple, former city
leaders Anna May and Greg Jones
What’s up with Hayward’s Greg Jones? The former Hayward city manager abruptly quit the position around this time last year to join an ill-fated run for school board, which never fully materialized, and then shocked more people when he married the then out-going councilwoman Anna May. It was quite a year for Jones, but maybe he wants back in?

According to May’s Facebook page, the first couple of Hayward is doing extremely well navigating their status as newlyweds, but Jones has made his thoughts public on a range of issues recently as evidenced by a spate of letters to the city council. Jones is also president of the Prospect Hill Neighborhood Association, but the tone of his correspondence definitely trades on his previous job and almost comes across as stern and obviously informed, if not pushy.

In the past six weeks, Jones has submitted letters to the council regarding the Mission Boulevard Specific Plan, the Historical Preservation Program and recent update on the gang injunctions. Jones has interest in the pending preservation program as a real estate agent along with May, who is also one. The issue of gang injunctions was also pushed under Jones’s tenure at City Hall, which along with snuffing out medical marijuana dspensaries in the city, tended to favor law and order.

The recent activity begs the questions of whether Jones is missing his involvement in city politics. His popularity has not waned among city officials, many of whom told The Citizen last year, they would miss Jones’s expertise and appeared to genuinely enjoy his presence. Conversely, many of the same people questioned, in their opinion, why he would drop a nascent career and $200,000 salary in local politics for the vivacious and notoriously relationship-mobile May. At this time last year, he also mulled a possible run with May for the the city’s chronically inept school board, which to this day, remains a candidate for state receivership. In the end, as they say, love conquers all.

TO BLOG OR NOT TO BLOG If elected, San Leandro Mayor Stephen Cassidy said he would create a personal blog to better communicate with San Leandro residents. That hasn’t happened yet, but he could take some cues from nearby Hayward with apprehension because sometimes too much information can make life harder for politicians.

The City Manager of Hayward, Fran David, has such a blog featured on the city’s web site. While infrequently updated, David’s insights and prose give a keen snapshot of her political beliefs and point to a differing point-of-view from some of the city’s councilmembers. Many of her postings show a public official in touch with her best interests at the local level, but decidedly conservative in her pro-business leanings.

In one essays titled, “Run Government Like a Business” David attempts to lay out the similarities and differences between running a city and running a business. Although she acquiesces on whether one is better than the other in the conclusion, it's clear she favors board room-style government.

Such rhetoric is well within the realm of conservative talk. David’s article posted in October before last year’s general election was likely inspired by GOP gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman, who campaigned on her perceived business acumen translating well to curing California of its fiscal woes. Liberal loathe the comparison on the basis that business is meant to enrich itself with decisions also made to satisfy the bottom line of its shareholders and not the population as a whole. Earlier this week, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews noted most businesspeople make awful politicians. President George W. Bush was a failed oilman, for instance.

The point here is that while using social media, primarily blogging, is a wonderful way to communicate with your constituents (it should not become a medium to bypass journalists), but it puts some like David in a position to answers to their beliefs many times when it falls outside the realm of any specific city issue. Local politics is often not about ideology, but about more pragmatic issues like health, safety and jobs. Throw in red and blue state discourse and you’re talking about creating headaches for yourself.

Snubbing The Mayor, Flubbing The Speech

By Steven Tavares

There was a noticeable amount of no-shows last Monday night as San Leandro Mayor Stephen Cassidy presented outgoing city commissioners for their service. The snubs are not totally unexpected. Some of those “former” members became such on the recommendation of Cassidy after he became mayor at the beginning of this year.

Charlie Gilcrest, San Leandro’s political maven and top NCAA Tournament bracket manager, was more than happy to accept the mayor’s recognition for his years on the board of zoning and adjustments. Gilcrest, clad in a light-colored suit and purple tie, mentioned more names in his comments than an Oscar winners speech for supporting actress. Others were not as enthused. Kent Myers, one of former mayor Tony Santos’ top supporters was noticeably absent. Like three other who missed the regular meeting, Cassidy was forced to awkwardly scan the room for the missing dignitaries and assure they will get their recognition at a later date.

SLEEPY STATE OF AFFAIRS The State of the City address Cassidy gave Monday night was easily his most disappointing speech as mayor and possibly as bad as any as far back as his campaign. His delivery was dreadful, almost as if he was reading the text for the very first time. The staccato sound of tripping over the words and hushed, "excuse me" tone of the speech made for a forgettable 30 minutes.

The speech, itself, begged the question whether Cassidy puts much thought into speech-making. Over the past two years of covering him, he appears to have two speeches, which rotate from time to time. One is the “I’m the black sheep” address, which he inexplicably used last year at two consecutive candidates’ forums and some variation of using presidential quotes, often highlighted by President John F. Kennedy.

It’s difficult to succeed as a politician if you can’t communicate in a manner greater than the rigid construction of a paragraph-building taught to sixth graders. Cassidy's address was fraught with clumsy transitions. We are contanstly told about his supreme intellect, but his lack of preparation and presentation for such an important address is shocking. Here’s a brief description of Cassidy’s address:

As JFK once said, “As not what you can do for your country, ask what you can do for you country.” Now I am going to talk about how things are getting better in San Leandro. I think they are getting better, now I want to talk about how despite they are getting better, this is how I’m going to make city workers pay even more than their share. These are the companies still willing to do business in the city. Cue a quote from President Obama. Happy Birthday, San Leandro. Feign a smile. Speech over.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Corbett Raises Awareness On State's Power Plants After Japan Quake

State Sen. Ellen Corbett spoke to reporters Monday during a break of the Senate Select Committee on Earthquake and Disaster Preparedness. The hearing, chaired by Corbett, looked into questions of whether the state’s own nuclear power plants are prepared to withstand tremors and resulting tsunamis as destructive as those recently in Japan.


During the afternoon hearing, representatives from PG&E admitted the unknown nature of earthquakes, but believed the power plants at Diablo Canyon and San Onofre would not be endangered like its counterparts in Japan. A few senators, including Corbett, became skeptical when a PG&E geologist told the committee a new fault line discovered near Diablo Canyon three years ago has only been investigated the utility within the last six months.

Gang Injunction Program Remains On Track In Hayward

By Steven Tavares

Hayward is on track to tackle its vexing gang problem with civil injunctions used with varying effects in Oakland and San Francisco. The city could file its first injunction in Superior Court against an alleged 400-member gang sometime later this year .

A majority of the Hayward City Council registered support for the program, which was one of the highlights of the federal grant it received in 2009 to add nine police officers to its force—including three specifically for the formation of a Gang Injunction Unit. A few councilmembers voiced concern, though, over the potential for infringing on the civil rights of its residents, including Councilman Mark Salinas, who was raised in chronically crime-addled South Hayward.

“This concept of gang injunctions further fuels a very dynamic tension between urban, multi-ethnic, multi-lingual communities and an older generation of Hayward,” said Salinas. “That image is of Latino and African Americans.” He added the program has the potential to cause reverberations across how the city looks at its youth. “This tool, as oppose to other law enforcement tools, sends a very big ripple effect to how we construct on how we look at the young people in this city.”

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Lee Criticizes Obama's Decision To Bomb Libya

President Obama should have allowed Congress to debate and vote on military intervention in Libya, Rep. Barbara Lee in a statement Tuesday and on MSNBC.

“We can’t afford to be in another costly war with no exit strategy,” Lee told Tamron Hall of MSNBC. The Oakland congresswoman said U.S. intervention in the burgeoning Libyan Civil War could “exacerbate” tensions in the region. Although, the president clearly stated ground troops would not be introduced into Libya, Lee worries it could ultimately occur without formulation of a specific exit strategy.

U.S. warplanes bombed numerous Libyan targets this past weekend in effort to give cover from rebels trying to end the 42-year-reign of Col. Moammar Khadafy.

"Entering into a significant military engagement with Libya has the potential to become a quagmire that will cost lives, money and America’s standing around the world,” Lee said in a statement. “The United States must immediately shift to end the bombing in Libya, and I am committed to ensuring that the United States does not become embroiled in another war."

Cassidy Promises Balanced Budget For Coming Fiscal Year

By Steven Tavares

San Leandro Mayor Stephen Cassidy promised during Monday night a balanced budget for the coming fiscal year without the use of reserves or other accounting gimmicks.

“We must restore San Leandro to fiscal health,” said Cassidy during the annual State of the City address. The new mayor said the city will be prepared to offer a “truly balanced budget” in May. “The budget will not rely on transfers of one-time only funds to pay for on-going expenses,” he said. Cassidy declined the mayor’s monthly salary until the budget is balanced without the use of reserves, which are nearly exhausted. A recent estimate by Finance Director Tracy Vesely pegged the deficit for the next fiscal year at $1.26 million. The figure is significantly lower than the $7.3 million shortfall of less than two years ago.

Monday, March 21, 2011

With Projection Of Smaller Deficit, Cassidy's Cause Get Tougher

By Steven Tavares

San Leandro Mayor Stephen Cassidy will undoubtedly bring up his plan for pension reform for city employees during Monday’s State of the City address, but times have changed in just the few months since he took office. The main argument for convincing a skeptical city council of backing his proposal is rapidly disappearing for the good of the city, but not necessarily pension reform. His main obstacle? Things just aren’t as bad as they once were.

Back when Cassidy began his campaign for mayor, he preceded it with numerous appearances before the council ramming home the idea the city was near bankruptcy in large part of a growing obligation to city employee pensions and benefits. Back then the city’s finance director was forecasting a deficit over $7 million. Whether Cassidy won the election because of fears over the city’s budget is open for debate, although it was the main distinction in his platform over his opponents.

San Leandro’s new finance director Tracy Vesely had good news for the city earlier this month when she told the finance committee the deficit could be just $1.26 million for the coming fiscal year. The forecast takes into account no wage increases, a $300,000 increase in revenue, a modest 4.5 percent rise in CalPERS and a big if—no state takeaways. With the Legislature’s recent inability to tame the state’s budget, the specter of Sacramento dipping its hands into local coffers is always a possibility.

Is San Leandro's Brigade Of Traffic Cameras Doing The Job?

By Steven Tavares

San Leandro will reduce the number
of traffic cameras to five.
Has San Leandro begun to slowly eradicate red light violators or is the the cost of maintaining the small army of cameras lurking above its intersections rising too high?

There are currently six red light camera systems installed on city streets, but the number will likely fall by one after the City Council approves renewal of  its contract with RedFlex Traffic Systems. The new deal will run until the end of 2018.

Why the city chose to reduce the number of above-ground cameras depends on how you read the situation. San Leandro’s previous five-year lease cost the city a monthly charge of $5,800 to maintain six cameras. The proposed deal lowers the bill to $5,200 for just five—eliminating the approach at Lewelling Boulevard and Washington Avenue. Did the cameras at the particular intersection significantly lower cars speeding through red lights or did the area fail to produce enough ticket revenue?

A memo from San Leandro Police Chief Sandra Spagnoli said the program “drastically reduced the number of violations since the deployment of the camera and the lack of fines generated to cover the monthly leasing cost.”

The five other “eyes in the sky” are located at the intersections of Halcyon/Floresta and Washington; East 14th Street and Fairmont Avenue; East 14th and Davis Street and Marina Boulevard and Teagarden. The last being one of the most lucrative producers of red light traffic tickets in the Bay Area.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Bill Lockyer Hangs Up On Conservative Talk Show Host

By Steven Tavares

Treasurer Bill Lockyer
State Treasurer Bill Lockyer hung up on a conservative talk radio host Wednesday morning while discussing pension reform for public employees.

Appearing with talk show host Eric Hogue on KTKZ 1380 AM in Sacramento, Lockyer inexplicably hung up the phone after a relatively modest exchange between the two. When Hogue pressed Lockyer on why public employees deserved more generous pension plans over private sector workers, the treasurer said, “Well, you mean they should get screwed just like the private sector got screwed by Wall Street? I disagree. But thank you.” The sound of the telephone hanging up then followed.


In a press release, Hogue criticized Lockyer’s depiction of the pension issue, saying, “It’s very disturbing that the Democrats keep clamoring for a vote on raising taxes, but can’t even have a civil discussion on whether those same voters should be involved on reforming our broken state government.”

“It’s also disturbing to hear our State Treasurer dismissing the entire Wall Street institution, the bedrock of our capitalist system,” said Hogue.

He also noted Lockyer eventually called the radio station back but did not return to the airwaves. “Considering his use of foul language towards my call screener during his return second call, we decided it was best to let the Treasurer calm down,” said Hogue, “and have him back on the show another day.”

Lockyer Appointee Once Filed Lawsuit Against Election Opponent

By Steven Tavares

A Hayward attorney who filed a lawsuit last March against former supervisorial candidate Liz Figueroa alleging an incorrect ballot designation was appointed Tuesday by Supervisor Nadia Lockyer to the Alameda County Consumer Affairs Commission.

Consumer affairs attorney Suizi Lin’s appointment was approved within the consent portion of the agenda. The five-member board is charged with overseeing best business practices and consumer protection in the county.

The connection between Lin and the Lockyers goes back to State Treasurer Bill Lockyer’s days as attorney general. Lin worked as an extern in his Southern California office. She also works for the same Hayward law firm that Lockyer is employed as “of counsel.”

Last March, as the race for District 2 supervisor heated up, Lin filed a complaint with the county registrars’ office alleging Figueroa’s job description of “job developer/educator” was false. The designation was later changed.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Fear Of Retribution, Lack of Oversight Cited For Collapse of ACAP

By Steven Tavares

Alameda County Board of Supervisors President Nate Miley accepted responsibility Tuesday for his part in the rapid collapse and dissolution of the community assistance program, known as ACAP.
“I accept responsibility for the lack of sufficient oversight,” said Miley at the board of supervisor chambers in Oakland “It could have kept ACAP alive.” Miley said the program’s problems revolved around “poor planning and unsustainable spending” and added, “Clearly the program’s reputation is ruined.”

More details describing ACAP’s dissension in less than a month from helping the county’s poor to near oblivion were disclosed by the supervisors and two current employees.

Felicia Moore-Jordan, who has been employed by ACAP for over two years, said the prevailing atmosphere at the non-profit was a constant fear of termination by executives for those who questioned aspects of the program. “Retribution came to those who complained,” said Moore-Jordan.

Monday, March 14, 2011

County Program For The Poor Sends Itself Packing

By Steven Tavares

Just a few months ago the Associated Community Action Program laid comfortably in anonymity. Mostly known only by the poor who needed its assistance to live one day at a time. In just a flash—in the eyes of the 13 Alameda County elected officials who oversee the program, at least—everything was gone. Plundered by a nefarious couple or all-around incompetency, it is now slated for dissolution within the next three months. The board of directors voted last Wednesday to scrap ACAP, further jeopardizing its dwindling workforce and questioning how it will reconcile a reported $400,000 debt to vendors and Alameda County taxpayers.

None of the 13 members of the ACAP comprising every city in the county, but Oakland and Berkeley, seem to have any answers to the perceived rapid decline of the program designed 36 years ago to help combat poverty in the county. One county staffer, who asked not to be named, said the future of ACAP has long been whispered along with many putting the program’s importance low on its list of priorities. Many point to the board’s lack of participation within the last year as evidence of its unimportance. Numerous meetings were cancelled due to a lack of a quorum of seven members. Even as the fate of ACAP become widely known, a few members still possessed less than perfect attendance in the past month.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Episode 23 of the East Bay Citizen Podcast is Available

The Bay Area continues to add demographic diversity, according to the U.S. Census. Minorities in San Leandro, Hayward, Fremont and Oakland are become a larger segment of the population. Is it good for the region, bad or just the way it is. We talked about it, but if you read the papers and other web sites, it seems the need to scare white people about their lessening majority is seeping into their coverage. Do they realize it or not? And, behind her back, they call Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi, Scary Mary. So, why was she spooked to be sitting by our own Nicholas Terry at a local dinner? It’s all on the East Bay’s only political chatfest--the East Bay Citizen Radio Program.


'Minor' Modifications Made To South Hayward BART Project

By Steven Tavares

Plans to revitalize the area surrounding the South Hayward BART stationcould be greatly downsized as the developer team, including 49ers great Joe Montana, cited the potential loss of state funding and a down economy as the impetus.

Once a 788-unit housing development featuring a 60,000 sq. ft retail component on Dixon Road near Mission Boulevard when it was approved two years ago, may now look different than initially proposed. The developers Wittek Development and Montana Properties is asking the city for approval to make what it called “minor” changes to its plans by reducing the number of housing units to 346 without retail once envisioned to feature a grocery store.

Kurt Wittek told the city council Tuesday the group is worried a $47 million loan approval from Proposition 1C funding could be in jeopardy or lowered to $32 million by the state Housing and Community Development. “We made it absolutely clear [two years ago] that the project hinges on Prop 1C dollars,” said Wittek.

Safeway was identified as the potential tenant for the South Hayward BART project. Wittek characterized the retailers interest as non-existent to the extent it rebuffed offers for an initial period of free rental at the location. If the modification is approved by the city, Wittek said, groundbreaking for the project could be begin in Sept. 2012.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Sutter's Consolidation Forces Higher Rates In Bay Area

San Leandro residents are well aware of the threat to their health and pocket book as hospitals like Sutter Health move to consolidate their presence in the Bay Area and Northern California, in general. In many ways Sutter’s attempt to close San Leandro Hospital, local critics have long said, is part of a greater goal by the Sacramento-based health care provider to control pricing and remove competition from the region.

The Los Angeles Times reports there is more than anecdotal evidence that shows patients in Sutter-dominated Northern California pay far more for health care than those in the southern half of the state.

According to the report, those in the north pay $5,169 per day for health care as opposed to just $3,578 in the south. Why? Supply and demand. One in five hospitals in the north is operated by Sutter, allowing for far more control over its ability to charge higher rates.

Breaking Ground

Health care dignitaries and contractors get dirty March 9 on the site of the future Eden Medical Building on Lake Chabot Road in Castro Valley in the shadow of Sutter’s reconstruction of Eden Hospital. The Township expects the project to be completed in July 2012 and house up to 15 suites for medical practices.

Left to right: Jeff Faulkner of BNB Construction, Eden Township Healthcare District Board Chair Carole Rodgers, ETHD CEO Dev Mahadevan, David Marks of Nova Partners, Bob Swanson, representative for Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley and Kurt B. Anderson of Anderson Architects, Inc.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Fremont Holds Off Selling Redevelopment Bonds

By Steven Tavares

The Fremont City Council put the brakes on an ambitious sale of $140 million in tax allocation bonds to fund redevelopment projects amid market uncertainty and possible legislation in Sacramento.

It was just less than two months that the council became one of the first in the state to find a way around Gov. Jerry Brown’s controversial proposal Jan. 10 to eliminate redevelopment agencies across California. Fremont approved the robust tax sales just a week later on Jan. 17.

In the time since, though, not much clarity has been found as to how the governor’s plan would be implemented leading many jurisdictions, including Fremont, to find creative ways to secure millions for a bevy of public improvement projects.

The city intended to begin sale of its bonds on the volatile market Feb. 25, according to Finance Director Harriet Commons, but pulled back when a 27-page state report detailed the possible formation of an oversight agency intended to sell and reconcile remaining redevelopment assets. The city pulled back, according to City Manager Fred Diaz, who described the report as “pulling the rug from under us.” Diaz said he was initially undeterred by the report, but later relented by holding off the sale of tax allocation bonds.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

East Bay Political Clout Lessens As Population Shifts Inland

By Steven Tavares

The East Bay along with the entire San Francisco Bay Area is seeing an unprecedented change in its ethnic demographic, according to U.S. Census figures released Tuesday.

Asians and Latinos found significant gains in several East Bay cities, yet the overall flow of the population is skewing radically away from the region in droves for the Central Valley.

While the state grew by 10 percent in the last decade, the Bay Area lagged far behind. Alameda County’s 4.6 percent population increase is alarmingly low next to its neighbors in Contra Costa and San Joaquin Counties. While Contra Costa grew by 10.6 percent, hyper growth in San Joaquin is a whopping 21.6 percent. Riverside County in Southern California followed a similar shift in demographics as the East Bay and led all counties in expansion by adding over 350,000 residents, representing a 41.7 percent increase.

The large discrepancy between counties ensures East Bay congressional districts representing a portion of San Joaquin voters will now receive an even larger portion of the more conservative constituency. Reps. Jerry McNerney and Pete Stark, already representing a portion of Tri-Valley, will likely have their districts further transformed. Reps. Barbara Lee and John Garamendi will likely face similar situations in the north.

San Leandro, which grew a healthy, by East Bay standards--seven percent--still fell well behind the state average. It added over 4,500, increasing its population to 84,950. The East Bay city followed similar changes in its racial composition to nearby San Lorenzo and Hayward. With the latest census, San Leandro now possess three nearly equal racial minorities. Already one of the most diverse cities in the Bay Area, San Leandro demographic is now topped by Asians (29.3%), Latinos (27.4%), whites (27.1%) and blacks (11.8%).

Beefing Up The General Fund

By Steven Tavares

San Leandro’s general fund either became solvent Monday night or the city saved millions after approving a transfer of its real estate assets from redevelopment to the city coffers in advance of another takeaway from Sacramento this spring.

The transfer comes at no cost to the city and theoretically secures funding for a host of over 21 properties mostly located on Davis and East 14th Street. The impetus for the conveyance of properties was spurred by pending legislation that calls for an oversight agency to, in essence, brokers the sale of properties across the state before redistributing the gain within the governor’s plan for tax realignment, said Luke Sims, community development director for the city.

“If it were to remain in the hands of the agency it may be taken by this oversight agency,” said Sims, who added Monday’s proposal is viewed as an “extra precaution” against any future revenue grab by the Legislature. The redevelopment agency and city approved a previous agreement in January securing over $9 million in funding for future projects.

“Hopefully it will not be necessary,” said Sims, “but we feel it is prudent to move forward with this proposal.” Sims also noted the plan could be reversed in the unlikely event Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan for dissolution of local redevelopment agencies by July 1 fizzles before its state goal.

The council unanimously approved the transfer of assets, but faced criticism from Councilmembers Joyce Starosciak and Diana Souza, who said they feared the proceeds would be lumped together with other revenues in the general fund, which currently runs an estimated $2.2 million deficit. “Are we going to put it towards our deficit?” Souza rhetorically asked. The transfer approved Monday adds over $2.1 million to the general fund. City Manager Stephen Hollister said the amount is viewed as repayment to the city for previous loans given to the redevelopment agency.

“I support it, but this a big,” said Starosciak. “My concern is it moves into the general fund and we’re cash rich. It’s a risky decision.” Starosciak also questioned how the city is able to legally transfer funds at no cost and alluded to a similar gambit utilized recently in Hercules which has led to a recall of some members of their city council. According to the state health and safety code, said Assistant City Attorney Richard Pio Roda, it is legal for conveyance of properties within the city without renumeration. Pio Roda said Starosciak’s reading of the situation in Hercules was only partly correct. While the city transferred assets to the city, he said, the potential illegality involves separate issues occurring afterwards.

Hollister’s suggestion to place the real estate assets in separate ledger of the general fund appeared to assuage some of Souza and Starosciak’s concerns leading to the unanimous vote. Similar to the $3.1 million given to the city by Kaiser Permanente for road improvements around their new complex on Merced Avenue, $2.1 million in transfer funds will not be commingled.

Still, there remains the concern funding for remaining redevelopment projects could be abandoned or pushed to the wayside in an effort to repair a hemorrhaging budget in San Leandro. Some councilmembers, including Councilman Jim Prola, have used the $3.1 million windfall from Kaiser to illustrate a local economy that is stronger than the state continuing deficit portrays.

The city expects to begin budget deliberation in the next few months with a new budget approved by late June.

Monday, March 7, 2011

San Leandro Set To Transfer Assets From Redevlopment To City

By Steven Tavares

San Leandro is making an end-run against a costly purchase of its redevelopment properties if Sacramento repurposes tax increment proceeds towards a state-wide realignment of revenues.

The redevelopment agency will ask the San Leandro City Council for approval to transfer its real estate assets to the city at no costs before the impending July 1 deadline outlined by Gov. Jerry Brown for  abolishing the long-time and sometimes controversial local funding source for reducing blight and stimulating jobs and growth.

According to a letter from the community development director to the city, if the council stalls in transferring the agency’s assets before the possible deadline, it risks paying a far more costly market rate price for up to 21 properties, centering around its downtown transit-oriented development. “Although the city would have the option of purchasing these properties, it would be obligated to pay fair market value, with the sale proceeds being remitted to the auditor controller,” wrote Luke Sims, director for community development.

Five of the properties encompass the triangle redevelopment at Davis and Hays Street slated in the future to become Town Hall Square. Another seven properties revolve around additional downtown parking primarily on Washington Avenue.

According to the staff reports, the Davis Street property destined to become Eden Road in the city’s west side is included in the report. In another item Monday night, Funding for the $5.8 million project to build a two-lane road with undergrounding meant to entice additional businesses will be discussed. The redevelopment agency will make another bid to strengthen its right to secure funding for the project along with speeding the process for access.

Whether or not the dissolution of redevelopment agency’s across the state comes to fruition, the lack of information and details has put local cities in a position to guess at what the future holds for a slew of shovel-ready and potential projects in their respective pipelines. Rumors in Sacramento run the gamut from a likely compromise on redevelopment to proposed legislation that will keep Brown’s proposal mostly intact. There is also fear, evident specifically in San Leandro, that any proposal to kill redevelopment will also contain shifting legalese intended to undo any action done by the city council in the past two months to secure redevelopment dollars.

The city council will discuss the redevelopment situation at Monday night’s meeting and likely approve the package of items to further secure funding.

Q: Are places like San Leandro putting themselves in legal jeopardy by approving actions that appear intended to circumvent possible legislation in Sacramento?

Q: How do you feel about Brown and supporters of axing redevelopment appearing to run afoul of the voter’s will? Didn’t Proposition 22 easily pass last November forbidding exactly this type of state grab for local revenue?

San Leandro Councilmembers Laying Down Roadblocks?

By Steven Tavares

They may not be Batman and Robin, but a new dynamic duo may have much to say about how the San Leandro City Council proceeds with new Mayor Stephen Cassidy at the helm.

In recent weeks, it has been difficult not to notice San Leandro Councilwomen Joyce Starosciak and Diana Souza quietly chatting among themselves during meetings. Their apparent chumminess, which has been there for quite awhile, is becoming more pronounce as the two vote in lock-step with each other; on several occasions against the mayor’s vote.

The emerging voting bloc was no more apparent than two week’s ago when Souza and Starosciak attempted to stifle Cassidy’s wish to appoint three more members to the Shoreline Citizens’ Advisory Committee. The collective loss of 35 minutes of life for those in attendance to watch a meeting featuring more fits and starts than any other in recent memory was partly the result of Souza and Starosciak’s aim to put off giving the mayor more power. The other was Cassidy's inability to control the flow of the meeting.

At one point, Starosciak yelled out, “point of order!” before appealing to the city attorney the item needed to be agendized before being approved by the council. She was overruled and the council approved the right to appoint new members, 5-2. Souza and Starosciak voted no.

How Cassidy will massage or attempt to bulldoze the council towards his wishes is one of the more pivotal stories of this year. Souza, Starosciak and, at times, Councilman Michael Gregory can be counted to provide a near majority. The other? Councilman Jim Prola? But the most liberal member of the body is showing a willingness to work with Cassidy, at least on the surface. It may be Prola’s political acumen at work or a function of his affable personality, or both, but his alliances can sometime surprise people.

Although he typically voted with former Mayor Tony Santos, especially on liberal-tinged issues, he did not always get along with the long-time San Leandro pol. Years ago, Santos once sued Prola and his wife, San Leandro School Trustee Diana Prola. The two patched up their differences and nary an observer would guess as their past animosity.

Who knows what Souza, Starosciak and Prola are up to, but Prola is an avowed union man and Starosciak infamously alluded to Cassidy’s difficulty with labor during the mayoral campaign. With pension reform and city employee labor negotiation coming in the near future, it’s wise to keep an eye of the potential posturing by the council before the contentious issue stands front and center in coming months.

Q: What could be some of the political aims of Souza and Starosciak in being a bulwark against Cassidy's positions?

Q: Some may say they are pandering to the unions by opposing Cassidy, but do the local unions have any real power in San Leandro anymore? They couldn't even get their guy re-elected last November.

Fighting A Marina Naysayers Faction With Facts

By Steven Tavares

View of the San Leandro Marina Inn
The citizens advisory committee formed over two years ago to study development of the San Leandro Marina once numbered 33 people. The large working group has worked with developers and poured over numerous iterations of plans to, among other things, transfer the popular, but moribund Marina into a cash cow for the city. With so many voices already on the committee and a vast amount of knowledge and background on the various plans already in place, why did San Leandro Mayor Stephen Cassidy need to seek approval to appoint three additional members at this stage of the game?

“This is not to change the composition of the group, but to give an opportunity to more people,” Cassidy said in February. Of course, adding more members will indeed change the balance on the committee, by how much and whether it transforms the majority, is not known. One major reason for Cassidy’s request, which was approved by the council, is to favor a disparate group of homeowners, who have loudly and sometimes without factual information, opposed development of the marina.

A group of homeowners in San Leandro’s Mulford Gardens have longed disagreed with plans to attract more people to the marina for fear of clogging the roads leading to the shoreline which also cut through their neighborhood. Homeowners have questioned the prudence of constructing office buildings and housing on the choice real estate, but also dislike the increase of cars rolling past their homes on Marina Boulevard or Fairway Drive.

Cassidy tapped into this furor during the campaign when he told the homeowners association he favored putting any proposal for the marina to a city-wide vote. Although in typical Cassidy doublespeak, he said he also supported "responsible development" of the marina, while calling for greater community involvement for those living near the shoreline.

The cause of the those against development could be more succinct if it wasn’t dripping with blatant factual errors and misrepresentation. A web site in opposition of redevelopment calling itself “Friends of the Marina” lay out non-existent “current plans for the elimination of the San Leandro Marina“ along with the biggest whopper of all asking, “Do you want?....no harbor or marina.” The group also erroneously claims the city has spent money earmarked for the costly dredging of the marina on other projects.

In fact, there is no single, cohesive plan for the marina at this point. A meeting set for this Wednesday was cancelled last week as finishing touches for a report on the harbor basin is completed. The council may discuss the plan later this month.

The assertions on the group's web site  detailing the loss of the marina harbor and boats has particularly rankled Councilman Jim Prola, who represents the area on the council. Late last year, he called the web site "misinformation" during one council meeting. Despite Prola’s comments, he supported Cassidy’s appeal for appointing more people to the advisory committee saying, “If I was a new mayor, I would want a say, too.”

Q: Are you in favor of adding office buildings, housing and amenities to the San Leandro Marina?

Q: Is Cassidy thanking his supporters in Mulford Gardens for their campaign support by adding new members to the advisory committee?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

San Leandro’s Stance On Pot Is A Joint Effort

Underground production of marijuana using hydroponics like above are prevalent in San Leandro according to a police detective last November. An ordinance against medical marijuana could be approved in San Leandro as early as this summer.

By Steven Tavares

The political will to allow medical marijuana dispensaries and possibly grow centers in San Leandro was clearly soft Monday night as the vast majority of the San Leandro City Council favored preparation of an ordinance prohibiting legalized pot’s slow creep into the city.

The council could vote on the prohibition of medical marijuana within its city limits in 3-4 months, according to Kathleen Livermore, a senior planner for San Leandro. Only San Leandro Councilman Jim Prola spoke in favor of expanding the growing and increasingly lucrative pot trade to San Leandro. The rest of the council was noticeably tight-lipped with their opinions on the controversial issue with many merely registering a preference for the staff recommendation of the prohibition.

The issue has gained a national following in Oakland with the council clashing with its city attorney and the Department of Justice over the legality of issuing permits for large-scale growing facilities up to 50,000 sq. ft. Even though California voters approved medical marijuana in 1996 it is still illegal under federal law. San Leandro has followed a legal path recognizing the ban on pot. Its charter specifically calls for the preeminence of federal law within San Leandro.

San Leandro Capt. Steven Pricco reiterated the police department’s stance given last November saying allowing dispensaries and grow centers would increase crime with the negatives greatly outweighing the positives, namely increased tax revenue. “I believe the estimates are greatly exaggerated and inflated at this time,” said Pricco.

Prola, who has consistently supported medical marijuana in San Leandro, referred to testimony given last November by San Leandro Det. Dan Fernandez saying illegal growing of marijuana was pervasive in the city. “It’s being done so much,” said Prola, “that they can’t get a handle on it.”

During a work session Nov. 9 Fernandez said the sheer number of people growing in marijuana in San Leandro would take a full-time job to eradicate. "There are hundreds of homes growing it in San Leandro,” he said then. "It could be our only job." When Councilwoman Joyce Starosciak specifically asked how many, Fernandez said, “It’s irrelevant. There are so many.”

At one point Monday Prola briefly jostled with the police captain over the criminal element involved with medical marijuana. Pricco worried about the type of “element” medical marijuana would bring to the city. Prola shot back, “The element is already here.”

A few large scale growers reportedly from Southern California met briefly with city officials last summer with an interest in opening a facility in San Leandro, possibly in the industrial area of Williams Street near Doolittle Avenue. Then-Mayor Tony Santos said the grow centers had the potential to reap tax revenue in the millions. According to Livermore, there are no pending applications for dispensaries or cultivation sites.

Just four municipalities, including the unincorporated areas of Alameda County currently allow dispensaries. One of the closest dispensaries is located in San Lorenzo on East Lewelling Boulevard near E. 14th Street. The others includes Albany, Oakland and Berkeley, of which the last two are seeking to approve cultivation facilities.

POLITICS HOMEGROWN eastbaycitizen.com

Prola: 'It Has To Grow Somewhere'

Jim Prola
Jim Prola is San Leandro’s most liberal councilmember. Monday night, he urged his colleagues to look at expanding the burgeoning and lucrative medical marijuana trade into San Leandro. None of them registered much opinion on the subject, but all approved of the staff recommendation to move forward with drafting an ordinance banning dispensaries and grow centers within city limits. Below is Prola’s impassioned plea in favor of medical marijuana based on its inevitable legalization, safety based on regulation and compassion for those in need of pain relief:

While state voters authorized the use of medical marijuana in 1996 little has been done to regulate its cultivation and the result is a hodge-podge of basement plots and vacant storefront mini-farms and backwoods plantations. Basically, it’s keeping the industry in the black market. It invites ad-hoc electrical systems which lead to fires, burglaries, home invasions and all types of crime is associated with what we have right now. Oakland’s plan include inspections of growing sites, fire and safety codes along with a slew of other requirements.

I do think if you’re going to allow medical marijuana—and the voters did—for AIDS and cancer patients and I’ve known a lot of older people that alleviated their pain when they were undergoing cancer treatment. It allowed them to eat or drink things and keep things down. If you’re going to allow medical marijuana then you’re going to have to figure out how you can grow marijuana in a manner that is most safe. Now, growing it in back alleys and a lot of housing and everything—it’s not safe. It is absolutely not safe.

I do think in California, whether it is 2012 or 2016, marijuana is going to be legalized. There’s no doubt in mind every time it has come to a vote, it has come closer. I do think that we as a city need to be responsible and have to be able to do anything in a safe manner. I much rather see large scale cultivation or at least on a larger scale than we have it right now. A person that is sick doesn’t grow 12 marijuana plants. They can’t. They have to purchase it somewhere. Somebody has to grow it. Right now, it’s growing in our back alleys. It’s growing all over every city and I do think that if you want to eliminate the drug cartels you have to have cultivation facilities that are safe and well-guarded.

We have to be in position when it becomes legal that we have something on the books that will do this in a correct manner. I’m in favor of having ordinances in place that if this should ever become legal in California, that we will be able to have safe grow facilities rather than having backyard grow facilities, which we have right now. The same amount of marijuana is going to be consumed by medical marijuana patients. It has to grow somewhere.
POLITICS HOMEGROWN eastbaycitizen.com

Shutting Down Government Ain't A Bad Idea

A shut down of the federal government set for this Friday was averted with an extension to March 18.
By Nicholas Terry

Government. Shut. Down. Those three words, together, excite many. They are scare tactics for others.

We are now two weeks away from a possible government shut down. That's up from three days from now as House Republicans and Democrats agreed Tuesday to an extension of funding to March 18 in exchange for $4 billion in spending cuts.

The right sees it as a good idea. The left sees it as an opportunity to point the finger, again. But who loses and who benefits from a, wrongfully termed, government shut down?

A little history lesson for most on the left and a few on the right (and anyone honestly in the middle).

Between 1977 and 1980 (the era of the other economic illiterate, Jimmy Carter), the United States government had six, yes SIX, shut downs, lasting between eight and seventeen days. That said, Republicans weren’t absent from sitting in the White House during nine shut downs from 1981 to 1995 (Reagan, Bush 41 and Clinton), but they didn’t last more than two to three days.

The most famous shut down was Dec. 15, 1995 to Jan. 6, 1996 when the Republican Majority & President Clinton shut down the government for 21 days, even though most of that time was during the Christmas holiday and New Years.

However, unlike shut downs of the past, Democrats this time are really taking the opportunity to do what they do so well…scare the pants off people.

“Never let a good crisis go to waste,” said former White House Chief of Staff turned Chicago Mayor Rham Emanuel. The same was true about so many things of the past few years, most recently the shootings in Tucson, Ariz.

Bay Area Congresswoman Barbara Lee went on MSNBC (MSLSD?) just recently to talk about how the most vulnerable will be affected. How government employees will have to take furloughs and a shut down will effect people who don’t have money in the bank.

Scare tactics.

Other morons on the left are trying to scare the elderly and those who depend on social security checks each week. Someone told my mother that very thing, and I had to inform the asshat, that social security checks will still go out. Pay no attention to the idiot from New York, Rep. Chuck Schumer.

And for the record, it should be comforting to know that national security will continue, as will any contracted obligations. Medical care will be provided. Public safety and health practices will remain, planes will not go astray because air traffic control will remain. Border and patrol of the coast will still (attempt) to protect our borders. Federal prisons will still “rehabilitate” pieces of trash that are rotting away. Emergency an disaster services, the FBI, the CIA, military and the like will all remain active.

That is just a short list of what WILL remain active during a government shut down. Yes, some parks and museums may close temporary, and yes, some benefits for travel to veterans may stop. Processing passports and visas may stop. Applications processed by the ATF may stop as well. But the most vital things will remain.

Don’t get scared.

The Congress and President, most importantly, will not be able to spend, er, sorry, invest your money. The President MAY have to fly all over the country campaigning for his second term, I mean…the President may have to fly all over the country to speak down to us citizens and tell us what the Republicans are doing is wrong. He may say it’s even unconstitutional (which it’s not).

Whatever the President says or does if there’s a government shut down is a direct result of his continuing George W. Bush’s third term; outrageous spending (not investing), unaccountability and lies.

You’ve been lied to enough…there is no change and the thought of real hope is dwindling away, until campaign 2012 season, of course.

Nicholas Terry is the co-host of the East Bay Citizen Radio Program and former independent candidate for the California assembly in the 18th District.