DELIVERING DISCOMFORT TO THE POWERFUL SINCE 2009
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FABULOUS FORUM SANS WIECKOWSKI

They didn't need Bob Wieckowski anyway after a concise and informative candidate's forum in the 10th State Senate District, including Mary Hayashi, above.

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RUSSELL CITY BLUES

At a candidate's forum for the 20th Assembly District, Bill Quirk takes the brunt of questions over the controversial Hayward power plant accused of polluting the air.

GHOSTS OF SAN LEANDRO'S PAST RETURNING?

San Leandro Mayor Stephen Cassidy has a history of dividing residents. His newest strategy involves splitting its large Asian American population.

SWALWELL'S FRESH VOICE TURNS STALE

A wealthy Tri Valley family gave Rep. Eric Swalwell over $25,000 in contributions. Later, Swalwell used taxpayer money to hire the daughter for his staff.

FOUR VIE FOR VACANT COUNTY SUPERINTENDENT OFFICE

Alameda County Superintendent of Schools is retiring this year. She has a replacement in mind, but three others think changes is in the air.

CHEN: 'I DID NOT DO ANYTHING WRONG'

Alameda's council member won a seat on the City Council in 2012 and once served on the city's healthcare board, but nobody, it seems, knew about his embarrassing past.

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Friday, September 30, 2011

Strident Talk As Miley As Conflict of Interest Claim Grows Elsewhere

Sept. 30, 2011 | Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley probably looks forward to the day major road construction projects on Castro Valley Boulevard and Lewelling Boulevard are completed for so residents and merchants just stop complaining.

The sometimes high-strung and blustery supervisor sounded like he is nearing another "If you don't like me, then vote me out!" eruption this week in unincorporated Alameda County.

San Lorenzo Patch reported road work on Lewelling is nearly two-thirds complete. Miley, whose district is centered in Oakland, also represents a majority of the county's unincorporated areas.

When a resident asked Miley about aid given to certain Castro Valley business owners possibly coming to some Lewelling establishments, Miley reverted to borderline condescension. Earlier this year, several shop owners on the town's major thoroughfare complained of steeply falling revenues after extensive road construction limited car and foot traffic.

"They don't talk to me and I have a lot things I'm working on," Miley told the resident. "You snooze, you lose. Tell them to call my office."

Supe on Drug and Alcohol Funding Fiasco: Are We Opening A Pandora's Box Here?

Sept. 30, 2011 | Nate Miley's recent tough talk may preclude rising pressure stemming from his involvement with a burgeoning controversy over the counties procurement methods for handing out social service contracts.

Although, the local media has portrayed the issue as a few local communities losing funding for drug and alcohol programs, that story merely rides side-saddle to the potential of the issue becoming a wide-ranging county headache, or as Supervisor Keith Carson, said last week, having the possibility of "opening a Pandora's Box."

At issue is the perceived unfairness of two of Miley's staff members sitting on the procurement committee that was set to choose non-profits for drug and alcohol prevention dollars. Carson also had a member of his staff on this particular committee.

The difference here being, Miley's long-time girlfriend runs one of the organizations that received funding. Two groups which failed to renew funding for their programs during the procurement period appealed the decision on grounds of a conflict of interest and won. It's was first time in years, according to county staff, an appeal had been granted.

The Board of Supervisors will further discuss the issue for a third consecutive meeting next week. Miley, though, now routinely recuses himself from any discussion of the matter, but the wide-spread use of supervisorial staff members to decide who receives funding for health services contracts and who does not could set a nasty predicament for the county.

The successful appeal could ostensibly render hundreds of procurement contracts void. Carson broached the subject last week and wondered about the chilling effect such a time-consuming rewrite of contracts could do in paralysing the county. Supervisor Wilma Chan agreed saying it would "open the door to chaos." The board approved Sept. 20 to reinstate the current contracts, but only until the end of March while the matter is reviewed.

Chan said allowing staff members from supervisor's staffs to sit on procurement boards is "a strange practice" since some offices choose not to place staff on the committee while each supervisor represents different constituents and districts. "I'm not making any judgment on that," Chan said, "but that's weird, right?"

Report Finds Alameda Fire Failed to Say Water Rescue Program No Longer Existed Before Drowning

Sept. 30, 2011 | A long-awaited report investigating the drowning of an Alameda resident at Crown Beach last Memorial Day forcefully criticized the city’s fire and police department as disorganized in their response and woefully unaware of each others policies and capabilities.

“Not providing public safety personnel with the tools and training necessary to respond to water emergencies, in a city surrounded by water, place the employees in unsafe and precarious situations,” said the report written by a former state fire chief. “It is a formula for failure.”

The drowning and possible suicide of Raymond Zack gained national news and a modicum of civic embarrassment for the East Bay island community when public safety officials appeared to residents to be doing nothing in response to the over-300 pound man wading in shallow water 200 yards from the beach.

Days later it was revealed the city’s water rescue program and rescue swimmer program had been cut a few years earlier without much public notice. According to the report, though, the disappearance of the program’s is unclear and effectively hits a dead end after a March 16, 2009 fire department bulletin was issued calling for the rescue swimmers program to be put on hold. It was to be rescheduled in the next 30 to 45 days, but that never occurred. “No documentation could be found to determine why the training did not happen,” said the report.

The report is also critical of the fire department’s inability to effectively communicate the status of the water rescue programs to the City Council and community before the tragic drowning last May, noting “water rescues” continued to be part of the department’s budget even after its elimination.
One of the more damning sections of the report, authored by former state fire chief Ruben Grijalva, describes gross disorganization between fire and police commanders on the scene as how to coordinate a rescue.

According to the report, police officials first on the scene were unaware the fire department’s water rescue program had been discontinued two years earlier. It also criticizes the fire’s initial response to police as “uncooperative and inappropriate” and laid the groundwork for further disorganization as the rescue attempt continued and ultimately failed.

The Alameda City Council, which, released the 67-page report Thursday, will discuss its finding during a meeting Oct. 11.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Young Using Swiftly Created Women's Group To Advocate For His Assembly Run

Sept. 28, 2011 | Assembly candidate Rob Bonta doesn’t have a “Women for Rob” political committee and Kathy Neal, for that matter, doesn’t have a group of supporters calling themselves “Men for Kathy, but embattled AC Transit Board Director Joel Young has a hastily formed group of women advocating on his behalf after allegations surfaced he hit a former girlfriend in the face.

The group simply named “Women for Joel” is chaired by two well-known Oakland elected officials—Councilwoman Desley Brooks and School Board Trustee Alice Spearman. Also included are over 60 public officials and local women’s advocates, including Oakland School Board Trustee Jumoke Hinton Hodge and BART Board Director Lynette Sweet along with two public officials from San Leandro.

The attorney who represented Young during his court proceedings against the accuser's allegations is also listed as a supporter as is another former girlfriend. Numerous sources say the additional ex also weathered a stormy relationship with Young, although without any implication of physical violence. The woman's name was also included in court documents filed by the petitioner alleging she harassed her through repeated phone calls.

A story I wrote last week in the East Bay Express detailed the events surrounding an accusation made March 7 by his then-girlfriend that he twice hit her on the right side of her head and pulled two handfuls of hair from her scalp after finding him in bed with another woman. The accuser admitted to slapping Young in the face upon witnessing his alleged infidelity, which later undercut her legal argument with the court.

An Alameda County Superior Court judge dismissed the accuser’s request for a restraining order earlier this month to allow her to file a civil suit against Young for damages. Although, court transcripts clearly show the judge strongly asserted Young struck the accuser and also threatened slapping both with restraining orders if they did not settle the complaint, Young continues to portray the early outcome to colleagues and supporters, as a victory.

The appearance of complicity with Young and his alleged actions against the former girlfriend is becoming a growing issue for officials being asked for campaign endorsements.

Brooks did not return an email from The Citizen, but forwarded the request to Oakland corporate lawyer Meredith Brooks who is listed as the executive director for the “Women for Joel” committee.
In an interview, she denied the perception supporters of Young are, in effect, endorsing his alleged use of domestic violence. She also denied the committee was formed as political cover for Young among female voters, but admitted the group was conceived a few months after the March incident.

Although, Young was once the far-and-away the candidate for Assembly District 18 with the most fundraising as of August, a few of his opponents say they have caught up in a race just entering its early stages. The question remains whether Young can weather the accusations against him. A supporter for one of his opponents said this week, “He seems to think he can get through this, but there is no way this won’t be a campaign issue against him.”

Prevailing wisdom says Young is a dead man walking, except everyone seems to know it but him.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Brown Signs Wieckowski Bill Giving County Voters A Chance to Raise Sales Tax

Sept. 27, 2011 | Voters in Alameda County may have a unique opportunity to raise sales tax revenues to support transportation after Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski's bill effectively giving the county a one-time waiver to approve any further increases.

If successfully passed next fall, the additional tax could add up to $144 million in new revenue by 2014, according to a legislative analysis performed by the state Board of Equalization. All proceeds, according to the bill, will be set aside for numerous long-term county transportation projects.

State law places a two percent cap on county-wide sales and use taxes. But, after voters in Union City approved a half-cent sales tax increase it put the county's cumulative total precariously close to the cap. Without the Wieckowski's bill, any future county sales tax measures would have nudged the county over the legal threshold. San Leandro voters also passed a quarter percent sales tax increase last November.

The legislation signed Monday by Brown gives Alameda County a one-time only opportunity to pass a proposed half-cent sales tax increase through referendum on the November 2012 ballot. A two-thirds majority will be needed for passage during a presidential election year surely to feature high voter turnout.

Senate Republican argued earlier this month the bill would reduce jobs and further hamper the state's economy. "Today, Alameda County wants a waiver for more taxes, tomorrow it’ll be Los Angeles County," said Sen. Bob Huff (R-Diamond Bar). "This bill sets a bad precedent.”

Although the bill makes no mention to specific infrastructure projects, Wieckowski worked closely with the Alameda County Transportation Commission, chaired by Union City Mayor Mark Green. The ACTC, which recently merged with two other county transportation boards, has approved a host of freeway and streetscape improvements in Alameda County, including major transit plans such as BART's Oakland Airport connector and Warm Springs extension in Fremont.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Assembly Candidate Young Accused of Domestic Violence By Former Girlfriend

Joel Young is a rising star in the East Bay political world. Just two years ago, he was appointed to the AC Transit board of directors, and he's currently a top tier candidate for state Assembly. But over the past several months, the 34-year-old ex-football player from Cal has been quietly battling in court to save his political career. His ex-girlfriend filed a restraining order against him in March, saying he struck her repeatedly. Young then responded with a restraining order request of his own, saying she attacked him in a jealous rage. And while an Alameda County Superior Court judge recently dismissed the restraining order requests, it was not before he cast doubt on both Young and his ex-girlfriend's versions of what happened.

At a court hearing, Judge Morris Jacobsen strongly implied that he didn't believe Young's claim that his ex-girlfriend, Jessica Juarez, had attacked him after finding him in bed with another woman and that he was merely defending himself. "The injuries she sustained go well beyond the reasonable need to self-defend," the judge said, referring to the extensive bruising on Juarez's face, according to a transcript of the proceeding. "There were significant injuries on her. Well, more than necessary for a man, and I am going to take into account that it appears to me that Ms. Juarez is approximately 5-foot, 120 pounds."...

READ THE ENTIRE ARTICLE AT EASTBAYEXPRESS.COM OR PICK UP THIS WEEK'S ISSUE AT NEWSSTANDS ACROSS THE EAST BAY.

Emails Detail Controversial Lease Discussions for San Leandro Hospital

Sept. 26, 2011 | Sutter Health, the operator of San Leandro Hospital, and the Alameda County Medical Center acknowledged in correspondences the controversial lease they signed in July 2009 is expired and discussed renewal of the agreement after current litigation between Sutter and the Eden Township Healthcare District concludes, according to emails obtained by the nurses’ union.

A copy of an amended lease executed in November 2009 also details an unknown strategy by ACMC to procure $25 million in financing from the Department of Housing and Urban Development for renovation of San Leandro Hospital for acute rehabilitation services.

The California Nurses’ Association requested the information last July from ACMC under the Freedom of Information Act. A second request in August, they say, has not been answered by ACMC.

An email exchange dated May 2 between general counsels for ACMC and Sutter depict a definitive willingness to renew the lease while giving intimate insight into their discussions with Alameda County officials.

“Please rest assure that ACMC’s Board of Trustees is completely supportive of management’s firm determination to proceed with this transaction, regardless of the political theater that may attend it,” Doug Habig, ACMC’s general counsel, wrote May 2 to his counterpart at Sutter, Florence Di Benedetto.

“The ACMC Board’s position on this matter is being communicated to the Board of Supervisors. In the near future, I would like to discuss renewing the Lease Agreement for San Leandro Hospital that expired last year. We want to have a current agreement in place when the appeals process is exhausted or the District comes to its senses.”

In another email by Habig to Di Benedetto dated May 9 the ACMC attorney again reserved condescension toward the District’s legal dispute with Sutter over title of San Leandro Hospital.

“Despite the fact that the matter is currently stalled due to litigation by the District,” wrote Habig, “ACMC believes that a renewal of the lease agreement will reinforce the commitment of the parties to carry out the transaction at the earliest possible date, after all legal appeals by the District have been exhausted or some sense of reasonableness overcomes them.”

An email April 29 also refers to a conversation between ACMC, Sutter and the county where Di Benedetto, Sutter’s attorney, writes “Seems like everyone thinks that they speak on behalf of ACMC.” The email names Alameda County Supervisor Wilma Chan and Alameda County Health Care Services Director Alex Briscoe as privy to the conversation.

Although the legal wrangling between Sutter and the District appeared to be in a holding pattern for much of this year, the emails show much has been going on outside the public's view. In a June interview with The Citizen, Chan alluded to the possibility the lease between Sutter and ACMC to operation San Leandro Hospital had lapsed. The emails show Chan was more than aware of the leases expiration as early as late April. A strategy by ACMC to reconfigure San Leandro Hospital with $25 million in financing from HUD, as detailed in the amended November 2009 lease was unknown until CNA’s request for information.

The possibility of a federal dollars far in excess of the $3-6 million yearly subsidy needed to operate the hospital in its current composition, has opponents of ACMC and Sutter wondering if the same financing can be applied to maintaining the facility in its current form.

The set of emails also underscore recent comments by county officials portraying potential outcomes with San Leandro Hospital and ACMC as a win-win for the community. Despite widespread contempt for Sutter by supporters of keeping San Leandro Hospital open, the emails foster a belief county officials continue to be fixated on reviving a proposal to reconfigure the hospital under a potpourri of limited services. Such a plan would also feature an emergency room, general services, in addition to acute rehab transferred over due to the eventual closing of nearby Fairmont Hospital.

Typically known as the “hybrid plan,” this proposal has been floated about in various forms for over the past two years. The community, though, has shown waning approval for the plan and, instead, appear intent on pushing out Sutter from San Leandro Hospital by any means necessary.

A counter proposal to the growing depletion of acute rehab beds in the county was presented to the District Board of Directors last Wednesday by an attorney representing St. Rose Hospital. The underfunded Hayward facility, which has offered to join the District and operate San Leandro Hospital by tapping into a larger pool of federal and state dollars, said it can begin offering up to 130 rehab beds on its campus within the next three years. St. Rose’s offer would help offset the loss beds at Fairmont that the county aims to replace at San Leandro Hospital. St. Rose would use it underperforming skilled nurses facility, which it intends to close, to begin potentially housing acute rehab patients.

Resident Who Called Out Quan As 'Queen of Blight' Finds Cars Towed

Sept. 26, 2011 | After one cleverly delivered line, Oakland resident Ken Pratt thinks he's been the victim of reprisals for his action from Mayor Jean Quan.

"I nominate her the residential queen of blight," Pratt now famously uttered last week during a Oakland City Council meeting. The hearing, already, contentious pitted angry residents who say the city is indiscriminately imposing fines for blight homes. Pratt wowed the crowd when he displayed photos of Quan's home, featuring overgrown vegetation and wooden steps in disrepair.

According to Oakland Local, the city had a surprise for Pratt a few days later, when his cars were towed. Coincidence says a city spokesperson, but Pratt told the web site, he believes the move is payback. Councilwoman Pat Kernighan's office says they were aware of complaints against Pratt's unattended vehicles and responded to recent complaints earlier this month.

Sounds like political hardball, but elected officials usually reserve the chin music for other officials, not their constituents.

If Jean Quan is a Piggy, How Can She Clean Up Oakland?

Sept. 26, 2011 | Just forget for a second that Oakland Mayor Jean Quan may have received a series of preferential look-aways from the city while other residents received fine for their blighted yards. Let's also move away from political jargon. A "blighted" residential home really means you live in a pigsty.

So, the mayor of Oakland is the loathed neighbor whose overgrown bougainvillea becomes a metaphor for their overbearing personality. I once had a next door neighbor who consistently neglected a swarming, gnarly berry bush that tunneled under our fence, latched itself to the wall and turned the side of my house into a literal urban jungle. Suffice to say, every spring I hated that neighbor and thought, if their yard looks like this, I can't imagine what it looks like inside!

So, what if Oakland has a mayor with some of the hallmarks of a hoarder? Well, if you believe the way a public official conducts themselves in private has no bearing on their duties at City Hall, then forgive the mayor and allow Oaklanders struggling in the Great Recession to visit "Jean's Amazonian Adventure: Oakland Ultimate Staycation!"

But that's not how the humans behave. It's why we judged the sexual peccadillos of President Bill Clinton over a decade ago. It's why we uttered a collective WTF when former Rep. Anthony Weiner passed along photos of his Oscar Meyer. Locally, it's why East Bay voters now have to ask themselves whether AC Transit Board Director Joel Young is worthy of a seat in the assembly after beating his former girlfriend. Personal conduct correlates almost perfectly to how an elected official conducts business in the name of the public good.

Not only does Quan not pay attention to the overgrown vegetation on her property, she also doesn't pay her parking tickets. Remember, shortly after the mayoral election last November when Quan received the Denver Boot on her sedan outside of City Hall. She forgot to pay thousands in parking citations just like she forgot to trim her bushes.

You could forgive her if the snafu was due to a lack of finances. Everybody has that problem nowadays, but not only is Quan receiving a queen's ransom for her services as mayor, her husband, Dr. Floyd Yuen, is one of the Bay Area's most prominent health officials. Yuen also sits on the Alameda County Medical Center Board of Directors. Unless, the Quan's also have a gambling problem, it is doubtful they could not spare a few hundred for the crew from Big Sal's Gardening & Landscape to break out the pruning shears.

As a colleague of mine, recently said, "If she doesn't take care of her own shit, how is she going to clean up Oakland's?" This is true, but I believe the magnitude of this embarrassment is bigger. Think about it, which is worse? Being caught shoving cigars into an intern's bread basket or having the entire community think you are a literally a dirty politician?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

'This is Torture,' Says Hayward Mayor Sweeney on Redevelopment Payments

Sept. 22, 2011 | Michael Sweeney is quite a mild-mannered public servant, but he has one button; when pressed, agitates the hell out of Hayward's mayor. Sweeney is the East Bay's most vocal opponent of the state's proposal to continue local redevelopment agencies featuring an "opt-in" component he and many other officials routinely call ransom.

During a council meeting Tuesday night, Sweeney had more unkind words for the plan, currently under stay by the State Supreme Court. "This is torturous," he told city staff before directing his comments to viewers watching on cable access. "And those of you watching this torture at home, thank Sen. Ellen Corbett and Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi and their colleagues in the state Legislature for imposing this on us all." It is not the first time he has laid blame squarely on the city's two representatives in Sacramento and likely not the last.

A frequent attendee of Hayward City Council meeting named Jim Drake, though, said local cities complain about the state taking funding away and the state complains about the federal government. "It's a trickle down effect," he said, "Suck it up."

As Drake left the podium, Sweeney quickly reacted to the statement. "I'm sure you'll be pleased to suck it up when we have to reduce services because the state continues to take general fund money," said Sweeney.

A staff presentation detailed the process moving forward for the city to begin remittances for the initial $4 million payment next year that will continue function of its redevelopment agency. Half is due in January 2012 with the remainder in May. In subsequent years, the city will be on the hook for around $960,000 annually.

Cities in California are hoping Gov. Jerry Brown's proposal to balance the state budget through the reorganization of redevelopment agencies fails in the court. Staff is hopeful a decision by the court will be made in advance of the first redevelopment payment in January. In the meantime, the city is appealing the state for a decrease in its remittance payment, according to a staff report.

Since the percentage of its tax increment for paying tax allocation bonds and interest rose to 18 percent, the city could be in line for a reduction of over $300,000. The break could be granted because the rate is above a threshold outlined by the state controller's office. Assistant City Manager Kelly Morariu, though, said the appeal's outcome is "anybody's guess at this point."

In a sense, most California cities have been in an holding pattern regarding redevelopment since last March. "We can't do anything except status quo," said Morariu. Until the court makes a decision in the next few months, Morariu said, the redevelopment agency can only pay its debt service, meet payroll and tend to existing contracts.

In staff reports, the state's program is referred to as the "Voluntary Program." Sweeney, with a wry smile, urged staff to remove the term "voluntary" or simply add the term, "so-called" before every occurrence of the word.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Ban on Polystyrene Containers in San Leandro Starts in Late 2012

SAN LEANDRO | Sept. 21, 2011 | San Leandro passed a city-wide ban on polystyrene containers in its restaurants Monday night, but the 5-1 decision was far more contentious than first glance.

Despite one speaker saying it will be an "embarrassment" if the city did not pass the ordinance against food containers made up of the toxic polystyrene material that often becomes unsightly litter around town, the council, at times, appeared to veer in that path before approving the ordinance set to begin next year.

The lone dissenting vote, Councilwoman Diana Souza said while she was in favor of the environmental aspects of the ban, believed the ordinance was too restrictive toward the city's restaurant owners. The cost of compostable or paper containers is more costly than plastic or polystyrene. A small business owner, herself, Councilwoman Joyce Starosciak chose to abstain after issuing an anti-regulation rebuke aimed at city policies. She believes the city has failed to encourage business growth and enticements to entrepreneurs looking to move their operations to San Leandro.

"How much neurotoxin do your kids need?" Councilman Jim Prola responded. The liberal councilman first raised the issue earlier this year. According to a staff report, 70 percent of Alameda County residents already live in cities under various restriction on polystyrene containers in restaurants. Last year, Hayward passed a similar ban with far less objection from its small business restaurant owners than was exhibited Monday in San Leandro.

One long-time San Leandro business owner told the council he voluntarily switched away from polystyrene, but also criticized the ban for being too focused on one industry and chided them for following the leader. "Hey, look what we did!" he said of the council's potential aims with the ban. "You're just following Hayward's bandwagon."

Included in the approved ban on polystyrene is a grace period for area restaurant owners to find suitable options and less costly solutions to the ban. San Leandro diners will begin taking home leftovers for tomorrow's lunch in more environmentally-friendly containers starting in November 2012.

San Leandro Councilwoman Again Criticizes Mayor's Decorum, Grasps of Rules

SAN LEANDRO | Sept. 21, 2011 | Mayor Stephen Cassidy acknowledged Monday night one of the criticisms of his first eight months in office is an inability to tame the council's propensity for drawn out and often convoluted discussions.

When Cassidy abruptly ended an already lengthy discussion surrounding the city's proposed polystyrene ban, Councilwoman Diana Souza took exception. The matter had already gained a motion and a second when Cassidy called for a vote, but Souza asked for additional comment. Cassidy gruffly shot down the request and the ban passed by a 5-1 vote with Councilwoman Joyce Starosciak abstaining.

Near the end of the three-hour meeting, Souza raised "concerns about the process" and believed her voice and others on the council were being impugned by Cassidy. "I want to ensure that councilmember have an opportunity to speak before a vote is taken," Souza said, "it's important for all of us to have the same expectation and understanding going forward." She also noted an attempt to make a comment before the motion was offered.

City Attorney Jayne Williams said it was within the chair's right to call for a vote without further discussion once a second motion was obtained. Councilman Jim Prola said it was his experience motions have always been received before deliberation begins. Souza agreed. "We're changing the direction of past practice if we limit it to one or the other," she said.

It is not the first time, a councilmember has called out the new mayor for perceived breaches in decorum or deviation from previous parliamentary rules.

Last June, Souza faulted Cassidy for a habit of pushing discussion out of the public realm and into the private. "The problem I have," Souza said during another council meeting, "if we don't talk about it now, as Councilwoman Cutter says, when is the appropriate time then is it already done and we really feel like we don't have a say and then when we get to the these meetings it's like, well, our hour-and-a-half is gone, ask your question at the next meeting. When we keep pushing off these important questions to deal with, it's frustrating."

A month earlier, Souza also voice a similar sentiment. In July, Prola angrily objected to Cassidy interrupting his comments during a meeting, telling him, "let me finish!"

Dublin Councilman Challenges Stark with a Grin and a Swalwell

Sept. 21, 2011 | As the Bay Area continues a decade-long exodus to the valley, the congressional seat occupied by Rep. Pete Stark is slowly moving from the land of latte liberals in the East Bay to that of wine and cheese moderates in the valley.

Eric Swalwell, a 30-year-old Dublin councilman, who was elected to public office just last November announced Wednesday his intention to win the newly-created District 15 long-dominated by Stark. The 79-year-old representative won re-election in 2010 with 70 percent of the vote and has not dipped below that figure since 1980.

The inclusion of Swalwell in the race signals a continuing shift in the demographic of Stark's district once primarily centered over the decades in Oakland, Alameda, San Leandro, Hayward and Fremont. After the Citizens' Redistricting Commission tacked on portions of the more moderate Tri-Valley area, many politicos have looked to the east for a possible challenge to Stark's noted liberal ideology. Some expected Dublin Mayor Tim Sbranti to make the move, but he stood in support of Swalwell during today's announcement.

Swalwell, who is also an Alameda County deputy district attorney, told the Contra Costa Times he is not running against anybody in particular. He told Pleasanton Weekly: "I am running for the people who want a new voice, new energy and new ideas in a new district," Swalwell said. "In these tough economic times, I think people want bold action and leadership, so that's why I am stepping up to the plate."

Swalwell's interest in the seat has been known for months and the potentially beneficial outcome of the district's redrawn lines to include Dublin and Pleasanton only increased its probability. According to sources, Swalwell's overexuberance irritated Stark's team. Primarily, a campaign kickoff announcement previously scheduled for around Labor Day.

It is also believed Swalwell was urged by some to explore a run next year for Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley's reconfigured seat. The new District 4 supervisorial seat added Pleasanton this summer during county redistricting. The opening for any candidate for that seat from the Tri-Valley is similar to the demographic scenario with Stark's congressional seat. Like Stark, who traded a favorable area in Fremont for Dublin and Pleasanton, Miley lost parts of his base in Oakland for Pleasanton where is virtually unknown.

Although many insiders believe Stark's new district present difficulties dealing with demographics and less liberal tendencies emanating from the Tri-Valley, they believe, at least in 2012, the chances of an upset in the June 5 primary is highly unlikely. It is worth noting, the June primary will be the first to employ the successful state referendum passed last year that will pit the top two winners of the primary, regardless of party, in the general election. One long-time East Bay consultant said the new system is going to put anyone at a disadvantage against Stark. The reasoning being an insurgent underdog candidate would likely have to beat Stark twice in any given campaign cycle.

Nonetheless, many say Swalwell appears polished for his relative inexperience. His main accomplishment during his first eight months in office, though, according to his web site, was adding his city to the Livermore Valley Wine Region.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Corbett Will Not Mount Challenge to Stark in 2012

Sept. 20, 2012 | Will California Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett challenge Rep. Pete Stark next year? Is Stark retiring? Will the Mayan calendar render this conversation and all others moot by December 2012? The answer to all of the above is no, well, maybe not the last one.

Stark reiterated Tuesday that he will run for re-election for the 19th time next year. His opponent in 2012 will not be Corbett, according to a source with knowledge of her plans.

Corbett filed paperwork with the Federal Elections Commission earlier this month to form a political organization named "Corbett for Congress." The news set off speculation whether the long-time San Leandro lawmaker was aiming to mount a surprising and somewhat audacious play for the seat Stark has held since 1973.

Opening a political committee is vastly different than filing to run for the office, said the source and Corbett is merely keeping her options open for after her second term in the State Senate is complete in 2014.

If Stark and Corbett have planned a secret order of succession for 2014, they are not telling. Stark said in an interview he has no knowledge of Corbett's plans and has long counted on Corbett as an ally in the East Bay. He notes they also serve many of the same constituents and concerns.

Nonetheless, there is a palpable feeling even among Stark's biggest supporters that his retirement is inevitable far sooner than later. "There's a lot of people who think I should retire. Many of them want to run for that seat," joked the 79-year-old Stark.

If Corbett has shown her cards, it may be imperative for other candidates to also begin forming the building block of an organization or risk falling behind the fundraising gravy train. Undoubtedly the district's politicians and campaign donors, mostly populated by liberal East Bay Democrats, may eventually be pressured to handicap a potential race that may call for a political earthquake in the region's political alliances. A few political observers believe Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi will need to quickly decide on which direction she hopes move forward--the State Senate or Congress.

Hayashi's situation is complicated since she has a two-year gap between her termed out service in the assembly and a possible run for Stark's seat in 2014 or Corbett's termed out seat in the state senate the same year. Of course, the boldest move of all, would be for Hayashi to outflank Corbett and run in 2012. Most admit such a scenario is wildly off the wall, but would not put it past the street-fighting Hayashi.

Monday, September 19, 2011

San Leandro Aiming to Refinance Its Public Employee Pension Obligations

Sept. 18, 2011 | While cities in Alameda County with less union legacies push to reduce obligations to public employee pensions by asking employees to pay more toward its costs, such a tactic is failing to gain traction in San Leandro and leading to somewhat creative ways to save money.

The San Leandro City Council Monday will discuss a proposal to bypass a fight with its public employee union by proposing to pay down payments to a CalPERS side fund. To do this, the Council will need to refinance its debt to the risk pool shared by other state municipalities. The city is essentially betting it can get a better interest rate than 7.75 percent paid to CalPERS.

Poor planning from city governments a decade ago coupled with a chronically poor economy has increased stress on municipalities to provides services. According to a staff report written by the recently appointed Interim Finance Director Jim O'Leary, San Leandro could save up to $480,000 annually on interest payments through 2024 by refinancing the side fund. Earlier this year, an expert on CalPERS urged the city council to lower its debt obligations as a way of weathering rising pension costs and instability in the markets.

The city's underwriter believes the city could procure a loan at more favorable terms to the city. According to the staff report, a loan in the area of 4.61 percent could potentially be secured on the bond market, which is more than three percent less than the current rate.

Because the dollars the city may used to refinance come from publicly available funds, an Alameda County Superior Court judge would first need to validate the proposal before the city council could approve it. Approval could take up to 120 day asbsent any pushback from the public, according to the report. In addition, city staff is also evaluating whether a loan can be secured from the city's Water Pollution Control Plan Fund. Any potential bond, according to staff, could have its debt obligation lowered with the addition of a loan from the city fund.

The proposal is similar in its aims as Pleasanton's recent successful attempt at paying off its pension side fund, but differs in its execution. Last June, the Pleasanton City Council approved to remove $7.8 million in debt oblgations from its books. Instead of refinancing the debt similar to what San Leandro appears to be attempting, Pleasanton moved dollars from its non-fire retiree medical reserve fund to pay its side fund debt. The risk pool was initially set aside in 2003 for the city's police officer pension plan. Because of Pleasanton's small police force, its law enforcement employees were placed in the CalPERS risk pool. Pleasanton's police officers pay nearly 10 percent toward their pensions.

What 'Corbett for Congress' Really Means

Sept. 19, 2011 | Rep. Pete Stark's future in Congress has long been one of the East Bay's great parlor games. Will he one day set the stage for his wife to further his four decades in Washington? Might he stick it out for the remote chance his teenage son could take over the family business? There have always been a myriad number of candidates too numerous to count with dreams to supplant Stark in the House, but then there's constant delicious whispers of what happens if someone employs a type of  "nuclear option" where one big name regardless of past loyalties and ideology makes a bold mood within Stark's own party.

That scenario may have come last week when State Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett filed with the Federal Elections Commission to form a political committee for Stark's Congressional seat. Unless Corbett plans to move out of the district, what comes next is anybody's guess, but many political insiders have long described the possibility of an insurrection against Stark. Such a move might lead to a political bloodbath unseen in these parts and featuring nearly every East Bay politician of any stripe throwing their hat in the race. Here's what Corbett's bold move might mean:

2012 OR 2014? The organization formed Sept. 9 is named "Corbett for Congress." Some political committees name their organization in tandem with the year, but Corbett left hers generic. The formation of the committee took Stark's team by surprise, according to sources. They may not of been aware of Corbett's move until last weekend. Such a sneak attack will likely be greeted with anger from Stark.

Recent chatter has centered on a possible challenge from a portion of Stark's district recently drawn to include the more moderate Tri-Valley area. Dublin's freshman Councilman Eric Swalwell filed a campaign statement for Stark's seat. Although Swalwell is young and highly inexperience, his brand of politics is already well-suited for the Tri-Valley area and he has impressed many in the early stages of his possible campaign. The demographic of the Tri-Valley is problematic for Stark, but not viewed as a deal breaker, at least, not yet.

In light of Corbett's surprise, Stark may have been caught looking to the east rather than under his nose. Swalwell's run, if anything, clearly highlights Stark's undeniable Achilles Heel--his age. Almost 80, Stark was seen Saturday at a town hall in Hayward walking slumped over with the help of a cane.

A weekend informal poll of observers believe Corbett's committee merely allows her to begin beefing up her campaign coffers for a run in 2014 when she is termed out of the state senate. The filing can be read many ways, but it may say to Stark: 2012 is your last campaign for congress--retire by 2014 or face a rigorous challenge.

The move is uncommonly ballsy for Corbett for its boldness and past loyalty to Stark. In the East Bay, there is Team Lockyer and there is Team Stark. Corbett has long been allied with Stark far more than the group aligned with Lockyer, which includes rival Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi. This dynamic makes Corbett's move even more shocking absent a backroom deal with Stark.

IS STARK REALLY THAT VULNERABLE? It is very difficult to imagine an 18-time congressman who just last year won 70 percent of his district would be vulnerable. The district has not changed enough through redistricting to make a difference in 2012 and Stark is still beloved in this area for independent liberal streak. Even at 79 Stark is still very well in tune with the ideology of his constituents. An attitude of change for change sake leads some to believe Corbett's move is a message. In effect saying thank you for 40 years of work in Congress which reached its pinnacle last year with the landmark health care reform bill of which he helped craft, but it's time to go, Pete.

It could be a Machiavellian political move by Corbett. Many view her as the rightful heir to Stark's seat. At town halls and public meetings across the district, many of the same people who declare immense love for Stark also heap the same amount of affection on Corbett. Starting in 1994 as a mayoral candidate in San Leandro, Corbett's career trajectory has also led to this point. In an interview with The Citizen earlier this year she confirmed her interest for moving up to the next tier in the political ladder, whatever that may be. She had clear interest in Secretary of State office this year when it appeared Debra Bowen was in driver's seat for Rep. Jane Harman's open seat in Congress. That shot at statewide office fell through when Bowen eventually lost the special election. Obviously, the newest calculation is Stark's seat, but she is not alone in coveting the title of congress member.

THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY The next name to follow is Hayashi, who also views Congress as her destiny. Many have said it is Hayashi's goal, among many, to be the first Korean-American member of the House. She's also out of a job after next year. Many have speculated what Hayashi might do during the two-year gap leading to 2014. She could run for Corbett's open seat that year or also make a move for Stark's seat. If Corbett is in, most say, Hayashi has to follow. The inclusion of Hayashi in any race would also make for a brutal primary. Known as a cutthroat politician, she would likely turn any head-to-head campaign with Corbett into a nasty affair. Although Corbett's kind smile and demeanor belie a shrewd politician any knife fight with Hayashi might spill more Democratic blood than local officials could handle. Outside of Hayashi, the list of possible names interested in Stark's seat is too numerous to list. So long, in fact, that the number of those not interested would be way shorter than those who are.

The East Bay political scene appears to be heading toward a reorganization that no Citizens' Redistricting Commission could have created. Instead, we may be seeing something unique to this region--a visible delineation in the road where the past violently merges into the future.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Stark Calls President 'A Lousy Politician'

HAYWARD | Sept. 17, 2011 | Rep. Pete Stark, one of the most liberal and high-ranking members of Congress repudiated President Obama Saturday with a series of jabs knocking his ability and job performance.

During a town hall meeting Saturday afternoon in Hayward, Stark added to a growing perception among Americans the president has too often kowtowed to Republicans in Congress.

"He is eloquent, well-educated and a thoughtful speaker," said Stark, "but he's a lousy politician."

The sentiment among the group of constituents contained a similar tune. Numerous liberal speakers pleaded for Obama to stand up for the ideals he was elected to push forward.

Stark was not done, though. A few minutes later another speaker said the president needs to frame a consistent bulwark against Republicans who say government is the source of the nation's woes.

"The president should start selling the government as a constructive force in society," said the gentleman.

"Do you think the president is a good salesman for that?" asked Stark.

"Not particularly," said the questioner. "I don't either," Stark replied.

The 79-year-old congressman also heaped criticism on continuing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq of which most liberals say they voted for Obama to end. The state of both wars will not change, said Stark, "until we get a president we can pressure to bring the troops home."

Even though Stark says he does not know the details of Obama's job bills, he will likely support it, but was not enthused by its potential effectiveness. "I'm not sure it's going to create a whole lot of jobs," he said.

The most frequently asked question, though, involved Solyndra, which announced recently it filed for bankruptcy despite a controversial $535 million loan guarantee from the Obama administration two years ago. The Fremont solar company sits in Stark's district.

"I'm happy to say I didn't have anything to do with it," said Stark, regarding the bankruptcy. He called the swift filing causing an abrupt layoff of over 1,100 employees "in bad taste" and "chintzy."

While Stark has been vocal about obtaining severance pay for Solyndra workers, he did not answer any question of whether he was aware of the company's risk assessment which many Washington officials are now admitting was poor. The loan guarantee was announced with great hoopla two years ago with a visit from Obama who used the event to highlight his support of green tech.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Treasurer Lockyer Shows Support For Oil Severance Tax

HAYWARD | Sept. 15, 2011 | State Treasurer Bill Lockyer voiced support Thursday for taxing oil companies drilling in California--the only state in the union that does not excise a severance tax on oil production.

Speaking to students at Chabot College, Lockyer responded to a query from an audience member who asked if he supported a severance tax on drilling in the state. "Oil companies?" said Lockyer. "Yes."

The issue of how to reap up to $3 billion in new revenue from oil drilling in a time of falling tax receipts is likely to gather steam over the next year. Supporters of the tax are currently gathering signatures for a voter-backed referendum next June surely to attract vehement opposition from Big Oil interests.

Lockyer called the tax "efficient" and calculable without much argument. "Severance taxes are a really easy tax to levy," he said, "because every barrel produced clicks the meter and you're not fighting and arguing over what's down under the ground."

As the state's top banker, Lockyer has gained praised for guiding the treasury through difficult times while maintaining his reputation for veering from his party's talking points. Lockyer, though, also cautioned against ruffling the state's existing tax base.

"One of the things we always worry with tax policy is it could overburden an industry, a business or person," he said. "One of the interesting things about the oil industry is they can't move--the oil's here.

Lockyer, who also resides in Hayward, was speaking at the community college as part of its year-long 50th anniversary celebration. His comments on securing new streams of tax revenue jibbed easily with repeated calls for the state to refocus its attention on funding higher education.

The state's budget is essentially made up of funding for prisons, health care and school, Lockyer said, with little wiggle room for lawmakers to maneuver. However, he urged cuts to health care as a way to address the inequities in funding education. "If we continue to hollow out education, we won't be up to the task," he said of the future generations competition in the global marketplace.

A proposed referendum would excise 15 percent on any barrel of oil extracted on-shore or off-shore and produce an estimated $3 billion in revenue for all levels of education in the state. According to the proposed referendum, community colleges like Chabot might reap just over $1 billion from the new funding stream.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

BOS Roundup: $185k for Sheriff Deputy at Castro Valley High?

Sept. 13, 2011 | Castro Valley High School is the former stomping ground of liberal icon Rachel Maddow and the gateway between more grungy secondary schools in San Leandro and Hayward and white bread Tri-Valley preps to the east.

But, does the school recognized for its decades-long devotion to keeping the precepts of the Valley Girl persona alive really need to spend $185,000 annually on hiring a full-time Alameda County Sherrif deputy? (Full disclosure: I'm a graduate of Castro Valley High, Class of 1992. Go Trojans!)

The Alameda County Board of Supervisors approved Tuesday the contract which will be paid by the Castro Valley Unified School District. According to a staff report the contract for up to $185,000 to employ a single school resource officer will run through June 30, 2010.

This is not a new expenditure for the school district. The high school has employed a sheriff deputy for the past two decades and trained to perform various law enforcement duties in addition to indentifying students who may potentially become at-risk youths.

Although breaches in security at the high school have been few and far between, there has always been fear of nearby school violence reaching Castro Valley. School officials at nearby San Leandro High School last Friday confiscated a loaded gun from the backpack of a student caught in possession of marijuana.

Supervisors Approve Additional Construction Costs in Castro Valley as Heat Rises On Miley

Sept. 13, 2011 | The Alameda County Board of Supervisors approved Tuesday nearly $50,000 worth of additional payments to two road construction bids in Castro Valley as criticism grows over Nate Miley's handling of the unincorporated areas.

A contract approved in October 2010 for Galedridge Construction of Alviso costing over $103,000 for road construction in Castro Valley was modified adding over $23,000 in additional costs. According to a staff report, the contractor found unsuitable sub-surface soil that called for increased amount of of soil to stabilize the road for pavement. An additional drainage system was also including for potential drainage problems.

A county report declared putting the additional work up for bid would be "competitively unavailing for usual public bidding." Construction for the project began in November 2010.

An additional outlay for another project located on Center Street in Castro Valley was also approved Tuesday. The county approved the construction last March. Work began in June, but the contractor Malachi Paving & Grinding, Inc. of Oakland found heavy rains last winter "likely worsened the embankment erosion" between the time the company agreed to the project and the start on construction this summer.

The net increase in costs to the county increased by over $22,000, but since the initial contract was less than $100,000 the change is not subject to certain county requirements as larger projects might encounter.

The issue of  major road construction in unincorporated Castro Valley has proven to be a problem for Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley, who represents the area. Numerous shop owners and residents in the town have been vocal about continuing construction work on its major thoroughfare on Castro Valley Boulevard. Some business owners claim the project has deeply undercut their profitability.

The chorus of anger has risen to such a tenor that some East Bay politicos are beginning to speculate whether Miley's seat on the board is susceptible to a challenge. A county supervisor losing re-election is a very rare occurence on a board widely known to have the job stability of a U.S. Supreme Court justice. But, the net loss of a portion of his base in Oakland through county redistricting in exchange for Pleasanton still confounds many who believe the burgeoning white demographic in the Tri-Valley knows very little about Miley.

War! Dublin, Livermore Both Eyeing Large Expansion in Foothills

Sept. 13, 2011 | Coming soon to the Tri-Valley suburbia? More suburbia. The rapidly-growing city of Dublin could nearly double its size if a plan to annex over 3,300 acres of land east of the city, known as the East Dublin Specific Plan, becomes reality.

Not so fast, says Livermore, who according to AroundDublinBlog, may believe it has as much right to the tract of land as the self-proclaimed All-America City of Dublin.

The Livermore City Council unanimously voted Monday night to ask a county land commission to include the area within its "sphere" of influence. While Dublin city leaders may view the large parcel for development, Livermore officials maintain they will seek to keep the rolling hills as open space. Whether or not, annexation is a correct course of action for maintaining open space is another question.

While the land grab by Dublin may not be the stuff war between neighboring municipalities (although, more Hummers likely reside in the two cities than the entire East Bay put together), it is a story that will likely play itself out more frequently in the future as the Tri-Valley continues to expand during the next few decades.

The U.S. Census detailed the historic movement of people from the Bay Area to the more affordable suburbs to the east. Dublin's net increase in population over the last decades at nearly 50 percent greatly outpaced nearly every city in the state. By comparison, the state averaged only a 10 percent increase, while the Bay Area stumbled forward with around 5 percent growth.

As the Tri-Valley takes on more people and expands its significant tax base, it is inevitable growing pains and disputes over annexation in the future will continue.

What New Faces, Changes In Oakland May Mean for Stadium Situations

The EastBayCitizen is partnering with newballpark.org to help explain one of the region's most compelling political and economic issues--the future of professional sports in the East Bay. Below is an article from newballpark.org which has extensively covered the issue in Oakland and San Jose and places in between.

A series of changes at Oakland City Hall and the State Capitol may portend well for Oakland’s chances to get either an A’s ballpark or Raiders stadium built. Or maybe not.

First up, newly hired Oakland City Administrator Deanna Santana, late of San Jose, made two key hires in poaching San Jose Finance Director Scott Johnson and San Francisco Redevelopment head Fred Blackwell to be assistant city administrators, each with different roles. Johnson will be tasked with the responsibilities you’d normally consider as part of a city manager/administrator role, such as finance/budget and labor relations.

Meanwhile, Blackwell will be covering a redevelopment-oriented role. Scuttlebutt is that Community and Economic Develvopment Agency head Walter Cohen may be on his way out (is out!) amidst “major changes” there. Could CEDA and ORA be headed for big time restructuring? It would make sense if they want to deal with next year’s budget deficit early. That shouldn’t mean bad things for the Victory Court EIR or the Raiders project since they’re already in the pipeline. It probably means there will be fewer resources for planning and future projects, both short and long-term...

READ THE ENTIRE STORY AT NEWBALLPARK.ORG

Friday, September 9, 2011

Restraining Order Request Against Assembly Candidate Dismissed; Civil Suit on the Horizon

Sept. 10, 2011 | An Alameda County Superior Court judge dismissed a request for a restraining order made by a woman who levied allegations of domestic violence against him last March. The move paves the way for the petitioner to file a civil suit against Young as early as next week.

Judge Morris Jacobsen dismissed the request with prejudice in an order handed down last Wednesday morning after attempts at settling the complaint out of court failed. Jacobsen is the Superior Court judge who gained local attention for issuing a change in venue order in the Johannes Mehserle murder trial last year.

Young, who is hoping to replace the termed-out Sandre Swanson in the new 18th assembly district, says he will no longer pursue his own pending request for a restraining order against his accuser. Instead, Young says he will focus his attention on winning the seat next year. Alameda Councilman Rob Bonta, Peralta Community College Trustee Abel Guillen and Kathy Neal are also vying for the seat which represents Alameda, San Leandro and a swath of Oakland.

Despite the ruling, there is still lingering doubt over exactly what occurred during the early morning hours of March 7 when a woman who believed she was in an exclusive relationship with Young found the 34-year-old public official naked in bed with another woman. She alleges Young struck the side of her head in addition to repeatedly slamming her head into the bed. She says during the attack Young also pulled two chunks of flowing locks from her head. Young denies all the allegations.

Young has told many of his supporters the woman’s credibility is at issue and that it was him who was actually attack that morning. The situation appears to have done little to dissuade supporters from writing checks to his campaign, at least, until now. As of August, he easily led all candidates with over $130,000 in his war chest.

Whispers from numerous East Bay operatives say Swanson, who is eyeing a possible campaign for the State Senate, has tempered his own support for Young in recent weeks.

Stark Praises President's Job Bill For Focusing On His District's Top Concerns

Sept. 8, 2011 | Rep. Pete Stark praised President Obama's much-anticipated jobs bill unveiled Thursday evening for addressing his constituents' top concern: job creation without cuts to popular entitlements.

"Putting people to work--not gutting Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security--is the best way to reduce the debt," said Stark.

The American Jobs Act Obama previewed before a joint session of Congress hopes to instigate stagnant job growth by extending and expanding payroll taxes to as low as three percent by 2012. By lowering the tax, employees are able to realize higher paychecks, which economists believe will filter quickly through the economy and spur growth.

The plan would also feature cuts in payroll taxes for small businesses and a tax holiday for hiring new workers. Modernization of up to 35,000 schools and infrastructure repairs would make up $140 billion of the proposed $447 billion plan.
"I support a number of the policies that the President put forth tonight," said Stark. "Extending unemployment insurance benefits has a strong stimulative effect on the economy and helps struggling families keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. Infusing the states with money to keep teachers in classrooms is essential to supporting our struggling communities and our kids."

He says subsidizing paychecks through lowering of the payroll tax will prevent layoffs and created 25,000 job in California last year. Stark believes the president's plan to build schools and fortify transportation systems will not only create much-needed jobs, but also make the country more competitive in the global market.
Obama's job bill will put the onus on the recently formed Congressional Super Committee to create a higher targetst for long-term spending cuts, which may difficult, but Stark urged them to come to a consensus. "Job creation is a potent form of deficit reduction," he said. "I urge the Super Committee, tasked with slashing our deficit, to focus on this critical tool."

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Second Search For San Leandro City Manager Begins

SAN LEANDRO | Sept. 7, 2011 | San Leandro is targeting the end of the year for hiring a new city manager. If successful, the occasion will mark nearly a year since the former city manager announced his retirement last Dec. 21.

The recruiter tabbed by the city this summer to find a replacement for Stephen Hollister told the City Council she is hopeful a slate of prospective candidate will be available to them as early as the end of November. The deadline for applications is Oct. 16.

This is the city's second attempt at hiring a city manager and it continues to be a black eye for new Mayor Stephen Cassidy. Earlier this year, the mayor opted to complete the onerous search without the use of outside consultants. A much-criticized ad-hoc committee consisting of Cassidy and Councilwomen Ursula Reed and Diana Souza identified a sole candidate, but in a sign of increasing consternation among the council over Cassidy's management style, they fell short of unanimity in their support.

The unidentified candidate withdrew interests after the council reportedly approved the hire by a 4-3 vote. The perception of council infighting led to the hiring of Terri Black & Associates for over $20,000 to resume the search. The Southern California recruiter is known locally for two recent high-profile hirings of females for Oakland's city attorney position and Hayward's new police chief.

The issue of attracting a prospective city manager willing to relocate to San Leandro continues to be an issue. Although Hollister and former police chief Ian Willis attracted criticism for not living within the city, both merely lived a few miles away in Castro Valley. The symbolism remains important among residents.

"When I talk to people, boy, they bring that up almost every time," said Councilman Jim Prola. "They want a new city manager who lives in San Leandro."

Councilwoman Joyce Starosciak agreed with the sentiment that  residents want a city manager with skin in the game, but urged caution in making the demand too strong a prerequisite for potential applicants. "I don't want to start excluding people based upon where they intend to reside," she said, "and I don't want to make it look like that's going to be a very important criteria."

Cassidy also insisted  the council remain aware of keep applicant's information confidential. It is an issue nearby Alameda dealt squarely with the same night as councilmembers accused each of other of leaking information to the public. "It's not to create secrets," said Cassidy. "It is to create a zone of comfort and privacy for these individuals so we can ultimately get the best city manager candidate."

Innovative Pilot Health Care Program Coming to a San Leandro Firehouse

Sept. 7, 2011 | Alameda County Health Services Agency Director Alex Briscoe did not ask the city for money Tuesday night. Instead, he wanted the council's support allowing the county to identify one of the city's fire stations for a three-year pilot program that aims to slow rising health care costs among the poor and uninsured.

More patients in California seek care through emergency rooms than any other state in the union, Briscoe said. Much of those visits are not emergency in nature, he says, and at considerable cost to the state and county's safety net. The innovative idea hopes to mimic successful low-cost clinics currently utilized in the private sector by pharmacies like Walgreens and CVS

Instead, three full-time employees--a nurse practitioner, fire paramedic and health care coordinator--would staff clinics in proximity to county fire stations. Briscoe says the proposal is treading on what he found is goodwill among residents toward their local fire departments. Minorities and the youth, two demographics that typically ignore the heallth care system, are more likely to visit a clinic near the facilities than not, he found.

Additional clinics slated for Newark and Union City could begin as early as July 2012, said Alameda County Fire Chief Sheldon Gilbert. The program is fully funded, said Briscoe, but may eventually need one-time contributions from city governments for construction and renovations.

San Leandro Pot Moratorium Extended Another Year

Sept. 7, 2011 | The City Council unanimously extended a one-year moratorium on the business applications and zoning pertaining to medical marijuana dispensaries in San Leandro. The moratorium now runs until Sept. 20, 2012.

In the meantime, city officials say they will monitor Oakland's trip through the legal wilderness of medical marijuana for clues for how San Leandro will proceed in the future.

"It's my passion to tax, control and regulate it," said Prola, who has been medical marijuana's most fervent defender on the council.

DeHaan Accuses Alameda Council of Leaking Information; Mayor Points the Finger Back

Sept. 7, 2011 | Another round of political skulduggery erupted in Alameda as Councilman Doug DeHaan vaguely accused his colleagues of leaking confidential information regarding the city's search for a new city attorney, while the mayor accused DeHaan, himself, of being the mole.

"There continues to be a lack of confidentiality inside of City Hall regarding the identification of applicants for posting positions," DeHaan told the council Tuesday night. "These actions are not in the best interests of the citizens of Alameda." He urged the council to "search for the root of the problem," but two of his colleague took exception at the insinuation they were the leakers.

"I'm quite offended that you're saying to this council that you don't think council isn't committed to that," said Councilwoman Bev Johnson.

"You should be offended," DeHaan shot back. "I would be offended, too, and was offended."

Later, Johnson attempted to deconstruct what she believes is DeHaan's assertion implicating the entire council. "You're essentially accusing us of leaking the information," she said. You've eliminated everybody but the council by saying staff did everything they were suppose to do, so it must be the four of us. You say you're committed and the rest of the four of us must recommit."

Alameda Mayor Marie Gilmore then accused DeHaan of being the source of the leaks. Gilmore said she previously confronted DeHaan "to his face" about her belief he may have compromised closed session information to the public. "I guarantee you I did not do it." DeHaan said Tuesday night.

The impetus for DeHaan's council referral he was to confront news reports he says are too consistently correct to have not been the source of leaks from public officials. "The concern I have is we have continually through the news media and the blogger avenue have come up with second guessing of what we're doing," he said. "Sometime their second guessing is dead on and that's a concern because, indeed, if it becomes a slip of the tongue of one of us, it becomes a concern because you're jeopardizing someones chance of moving forward or applying for a job."

"Did we have a breech?" he rhetorically said to dramatic pause.

The city's human resources director told the council her department has maintain the confidentiality of applicants for the vacant city attorney position, but said there is no way of stopping intrepid reporters and citizens from viewing prospective candidates as they walk into interviews with city officials.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

San Leandro Debates Second Extension of Pot Dispensary Moratorium

City staff in San Leandro are proposing Tuesday night that the City Council reauthorize a year-long moratorium on issuing business permits to the proprietors of medical marijuana dispensaries.

Over the past two years the council has vacillated between a willingness to listen to various proposals allowing the pot trade to flourish in San Leandro and outright contempt. Despite the disapproval of Mayor Stephen Cassidy and Councilwoman Joyce Starosciak and Diana Souza, the issue is still unresolved and may continue that way.

In October 2010, Councilman Jim Prola was able to cajole an agreement to institute a shorter 10-month moratorium ending at the end of this month. Opponents called for a longer 22-month moratorium.

Although, the majority of the board may possess neither the political will or taste to further discuss the possibility of dispensaries sprouting around San Leandro, some members felt information provided by city staff in May skewed too far toward law enforcement. Vice Mayor Michael Gregory and Prola both referenced a 400-page white paper authored by state law enforcement that appeared to them as outdated.

Prola, who represents District 6 surrounding the Marina, has been the city's strongest advocate for placing regulations on medical marijuana. His position was buoyed last year after a San Leandro narcotics detective described the extreme prevalence of elicit marijuana growing and selling in the city.

“I honestly believe the crime is created by the prohibition,” argued Prola last May and who later said, “We’re allowing gangs and drug cartels to fill in the gap. We’re encouraging crime by not regulating it and controlling it like other cities are doing.”

Like many other East Bay cities, San Leandro is looking towards Oakland's handling of their bustling medical marijuana trade and regulations for guidance. Renewing the moratorium in San Leandro costs the city nothing and, if approved, would run until Sept. 30, 2012.

Guillen Nabs Early Union Endorsement in Assembly Race

Sept. 6, 2011 | A day after Labor Day, assembly candidate Abel Guillen snagged one of the first big union endorsements of the upcoming election season.

Guillen, who is running for the newly-drawn 18th District representing Alameda, San Leandro and part of Oakland, received the backing of the Service Employees Union International, Local 1021. The union represents over 54,000 service workers in the East Bay.

Union support runs in Guillen's family. Both of his parents were card-carrying union members as was Guillen. He joined the picket line last Saturday in support of lockout service workers at Castlewood Country Club in Pleasanton.

Guillen's run for the assembly follows five years as a trustee for the Peralta Community College Board of Directors. Alameda Councilman Rob Bonta, AC Transit Board of Director Joel Young and Kathy Neal are also vying for the seat replacing termed-out Assemblyman Sandre Swanson.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Stark Warns Solyndra Execs to Compensate Laid Off Workers

Sept. 5, 2011| Rep. Pete Stark warned the president of Solyndra to continue paying compensation and benefits to the over 1,100 employees laid off last week over risk federal scrutiny.

Stark called the hastily announced move by Solyndra Aug. 31 to file for bankruptcy protection "reckless, irresponsible and heartless."

"It may also be illegal," said Stark. "I urge Solyndra's leaders to quickly revisit their decision and do right by their employees."

The East Bay congressman, who represents Fremont, made reference to a federal law requiring companies with over 100 full-time employees to give at least 60 days notice before plant closings and mass layoffs. The law was created to allow time for workers to seek other employment before losing compensation and benefits.

Although, Stark anticipates management at Solyndra will attempt to procure an exemption written into the law, he was stern in rebuking them for their motives in quickly filing bankruptcy. "I don’t think it takes a well-skilled attorney to surmise that Solyndra executives knew before Wednesday morning that the plant would be shut down'" said Stark.

Solyndra shocked many last week when it announced layoffs for over 1,100 high-skilled workers at the Fremont solar plant. News of the layoffs renewed the resolve of critics who say the $535 million federal loan guarantee given to Solyndra just two years ago was flawed from its inception.

Alameda Councilman Searches for Closed Session Leakers

Sept. 6, 2011 | Alameda Councilman Doug DeHaan wants to know who is leaking the names of possible candidates for its city attorney job.

The second-term councilman will formally during Tuesday's meeting for help from his colleagues in identifying who is distributing the names of prospective candidates or procedures leading to the leaks.

"There continues to be a complete lack of confidentiality inside of city hall regarding identification of applicants for posted positions," De Haan wrote in a referral to the council.

It is not clear how extensive an inquiry into the disclosure of confidential candidates need to be since only a select few are privy to closed session meetings, including councilmmembers and the mayor.

De Haan is not the first Alameda official to express exasperation with the many instances of sensitive information has been given to local journalists and bloggers regarding the candidates for the city manager and attorney positions.

The Alameda City Council interviews candidates for the vacant city attorney position last week. John Russo, who was chosen to be the city's next city manager earlier this year was identified as the council's pick weeks before the official announcement, although, some in Oakland speculate the source of the leak was Russo, himself, who left his position as Oakland city attorney in a wake of discontent with the city's new leadership.

"Confidentiality must be upheld throughout all stages of the process, and particularly during the interview portion, thus not to jeopardize present employment of the applicant," said De Haan. "However, the selection criteria and timeline used in this process must be transparent and open to the public."

Although, the disclosure of potential candidates for high-profile opportunities can place applicants in an uncomfortable position of disloyalty to the communities they currently represent, the situation is not uncommon and potentially a benefit to citizens.

When Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts was revealed as a candidate for the same position in San Jose, the news of his interest gave the city pause before giving the city's top cop more control during times of increased homicides.

Reports in The Citizen of discontent at San Leandro City Hall, conversely, may have served prospective candidates who may have found a city government teetering in disarray before it was too late. San Leandro's search for a new city manager will likely extend into November, at the earliest, after the chosen candidate turned down the offer after the council approved him with far than a unanimous vote.

Bay Area's 10 Enemies of Labor

Sept. 5, 2011 | In another time and place, Bay Area conservative Democrats like San Jose's Chuck Reed, San Francisco's Jeff Adachi, San Leandro's Stephen Cassidy and Fremont's Dominic Dutra would be dye-in-the-wool Republicans. With their aims to siphon even more high wage jobs and benefits from regular working Americans upon the facade of economic futility, they share a few things in common. Many made their money in professions devoid of union organization. Many enemies of labor in the Bay Area are lawyers and real estate moguls. Many are fiscal conservatives with an eye on higher office who have invested significantly in the marketing of their political persona as economic reformers.

The East Bay and region at-large still maintains sizable union strength, at least, relative to the rest of the country, but on this Labor Day, the East Bay Citizen looks at 10 public officials and entities, who through their rhetoric, have pursued the worst type of politics--the demonization of the American worker.

CHUCK REED | San Jose Mayor "Captain America," as he is known, lost his shield last May when he gained national attention for attempting to pursue a so-called nuclear option with city employees. In the shadow of unrest in Wisconsin, the South Bay city became a focal point for supporters of labor nationwide.

Reed, ultimately failed at declaring a fiscal state of emergency in San Jose, which would have allowed the city to amend contracts and benefits. Such a tactic has never been successful, but it sent a chill through labor unions in the area even attracting battle-tested politicians from Wisconsin to the fray.

It is in San Jose where the fiscal ineptitude of the city is being glossed over by refrains by Reed and three councilman to target city workers. Owners in the NBA are using the same tactic by blaming the players' union for the league's deficits when it is management who freely offers generous and often time dubious contracts. Fortunately, for labor, Reed's Hail Mary attempt missed the backboard completely.
 
STEPHEN CASSIDY | San Leandro Mayor No stance against limiting workers' rights and pay can be fully justified, but the campaign rhetoric brought forth by Cassidy in 2010 defied logic. The unkept, round-faced mayor continually put down the city's employees while attempting to shame them for their perceived largess and unwillingness to bend to the city's economic realities. Every enemy of labor uses the same trick, except, the situation in San Leandro is ironic.

While Cassidy berated the former pro-union mayor, he glossed over the fact the city's two largest employee unions had actually led the way in submitting to reforms two years earlier. The attack on government workers in San Leandro is one of the most egregious and needless of any city in the East Bay. City employees have not had a pay raise in five years.

Just minutes before being sworn-in as the next mayor of San Leandro he already attempted to a potentially illegal swipe at labor when he urged the city council to postpone a vote on a new labor agreement. Despite being advised against the move, he urged for what would have likely constituted unfair labor practices and exposed the city to a lawsuit from labor.

He also worked the first six months in office for free and urged the council to lower their already pithy paychecks and benefits for public consumption. Most hypocritical of all, Cassidy told city employees to tighten their belts while he moved forward with purchasing one of the city's most expensive homes from the founder of the powerful Bay Area law firm, Meyers Nave.

JEFF ADACHI | San Francisco Mayoral Candidate Adachi is the type of person who chooses to jam a square peg into a round hole. That hole being the rear ends of San Francisco public workers. Adachi, a lawyer like Cassidy, appears to thrive on the audacity of his actions. It doesn't hurt that their background in law gives them the air of arrogance that their positions can always be successfully argued in the courts.

Even though his pension reform  proposition failed last year in San Francisco, he's back with another more blunt proposal. He's also conveniently running for mayor. While most agree if pension reform comes to The City, it will come in the form of the mayor's more palatable plan and not the proposal made by Adachi. The current city public defender may not be doing his job when it comes to workers' rights.

If passed, Adachi's plan could put generations-worth of accepted labor law on the table. Not only could the rights earned over the decades be in jeopardy in the Bay Area, but possibly used for precedent all over the nation. For instance, during the short recession of the early 2000s, some cities sought to save money by raising pension benefits to city workers in exchange for stagnant wages. The gamble did not work out as planned as the short-term savings turned into a morass of debt obligations a few years later. Now, we hear some cities doing the exact opposite.

But, if Adachi's plan is successful, the notion of a zero-sum agreement between labor and management could be obliterated leading to a further shrinking of the middle class already struggling to pay mortgages and health premiums.

MADISON NGUYEN | San Jose Vice Mayor What is worse than turning your back on labor? How about turning your back on your heritage? Nguyen was nearly recalled in 2008 after she proposed an alternative to naming the Vietnamese-heavy business district in San Jose, Little Saigon. The political connotation of the term apparently scared away Nguyen, put also riled her constituents.

The young immigrant, who praises her parents ethnic work ethic while earning a paltry living, seems to have political and cultural amnesia. Her support of Mayor Reed's pursuit to "reign" in employee pensions represent just another page in her reputation as San Jose's Benedict Arnold.

DOMINIC DUTRA | Fremont Councilman I once asked a staffer for State Sen. Ellen Corbett if they thought Dutra would be a Republican in any other city outside of the Bay Area. They smiled and slowly rocked their head in the affirmative.

After a brief respite, Dutra is back at Fremont City Hall, although how long is anybody's guess. After his appointment to replace Bob Wieckowski on the council, Dutra said he would not run for re-election. Re-election of what? Many think he will run for mayor, which would add weight to his anti-labor views.

It didn't take long for Dutra to settle into his animus towards labor. The son of former assemblyman and real estate mogul, John Dutra, the younger knows good business deals don't get made with highly-paid workers. Like Cassidy in San Leandro, Dutra is positioning a run for higher office on the precepts of having the foresight to be a fiscal reformer even before he heads to the Taj Mahal of Bad Finance--Sacramento.

SAM LICCARDO | San Jose Councilman If the Silicon Valley is the capital of high tech, then San Jose must have cloned Dutra and named him Sam Liccardo. Both have ties to real estate. Both are well-coiffed and excellently tailored and both see dollars and cents before the plight of the middle class.

Liccardo has shown himself to be brash and prone to concocting tabloid-style exclusives for himself. Recently, he dramatically released a three-year-old city report possibly detailing $30 million in government waste. It's the kind of braggadocio people in the Bay Area are not use to, but it also makes Liccardo a dangerous media opponent to labor.

While he has been Reed's right-hand man with San Jose's assault on pensions, his mixture of political ambitions and willingness to milk any issue before controversy-starved cameras makes him a loyal lieutenant in perpetrating many of the lies and half-truths anti-labor pols use against workers. Precisely, the falsehood city employee pensions are more generous than those in the private sector.

ROSE HERRERA | San Jose Councilwoman She's a bit of an anachronism. A council person in one of the largest cities in the state who comes across an uncomplicated school board member. If anything, Herrera is one this list in some cases from guilt by association.

YOUR LOCAL NEWSPAPER That your morning paper fails to take a stand in favor of labor is not a function of the decline of newspaper. In fact, your paper has never supported the union's cause. Why would editors defend working people and their right to organize to the detriment of management's own strategy to limit workers' rights among union scribes and photographers.

The Bay Area's two biggest newspapers have both took painstaking jabs at unions at both the San Francisco Chronicle and the Bay Area News Group papers. Do you really expect the Hearst Corporation or MediaNews to stand up for labor when they actively pursue to squelch it within their newsrooms? For the media, the demonization of city employees and pensions is merely an extension of their own hostility toward labor amidst creeping irrelevance.

JERRY OLSON | CASTLEWOOD COUNTRY CLUB When you lockout union workers making $12-per-hour for 557 days and run a presitigious country club in Pleasanton, you pretty much loathe the American worker. C'mon.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

NLRB Issues Complaint Saying Lockout at Pleasanton Country Club is Illegal

Sept. 5, 2011 | Union workers at Pleasanton's prestigious Castlewood County Club have been locked out exactly 556 days, but charges of an unlawlful work action against struggling employees could resolve the dispute by the end of the year.

The complaint lodged by the Naional Labor Relations Board general counsel charges the lockout forced upon over 60 employees by the swanky resort has been illegal since August 2010. A hearing before an administrative law judge in Oakland is set for Nov. 7.

Unite Here, which represents the locked out workers, believes a favorable ruling could recoup as much as $1.7 million in back wages for employees who are living off personal savings and donations to a union fund.

The dispute began in February 2010 when management cited dwindling revenues and membership. Castlewood members pay an initial $20,000 fee along with a monthly fee of over $600. Many of the locked out workers are food preparers, servers and bartenders who average just $12-per-hour. Management then proposed a steep increase in workers' the amount they pay for health care--rising to a monthly premium of over $700.

The proposal led to further confrontations between workers and management led by Jerry Olson, the club's general manager. Union members describe Olson as a fiscally conservative zealot bent on destroying labor relations with its organized employees.

The union asked its members to protest last Saturday morning in their uniforms and declaring to management they were ready to return to work. It is unlikely the offer will be well-received by management, but not all of the club's wealthy members support the stance against employees, many of whom, have served them drinks and meals over the years.

For much of the past 18 months, the sight of protesting union workers chanting into bullhorns and banging drums has been a part of the golfing experience for members of the club. Union members say not all of them support management's position. A few members have offered to contribute small amounts of monetary assistance, they say, along with delivering food and cold drinks for demonstrating employees.

Most members though would rather ignore the labor spectacle played out regularly on the back of the course's front nine. One Sunday earlier this year, it was obvious members riding in golf cart took circuitious routes around protesters while taking pains to avoid attracting their wrath.

The NLRB's complaint asserts Castlewood's lockout became illegal in August 2010 when it prososed new guidelines and continually delayed conferring with the union. One of management's desires is to gain more rights to hire non-union workers in the future. The union believes the request shows Castlewood's dispute with its employees is not about money, but about breaking the union.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Mo a No Go for Council Run Next Year

Sept. 2, 2011 | Although Sara Mestas drew just over five percent of the vote during last year's mayoral contest in San Leandro, she did draw attention for her work with the city's youth, if not a knack for busting rhymes as her rap alter ego, Mo Wiley, but has no plans to run again.

Mestas announced this week she will not compete for Councilwoman Joyce Starosciak's term-out seat in District 4, but will instead continue her focus on school at Cal State East Bay.

"At this time, I don't have any intention of running for city council," said Mestas. "I do not foresee that changing in the near future." She is currently pursuing a major in chemistry with a minor in criminal justice. She is two quarters into finishing her course work with a year and half to go.

"School is very demanding," Mestas said. "I have very little time aside from school and that is what prompted my decision not to run. It takes a lot of time and I want to give it my all and I wouldn't be able to do that."

She says she will take the down time to learn more about politics and continue working with the Junior Giants baseball program and other advocacy groups in San Leandro.

Mestas, though, did not slam the door shut on her future political aspirations saying she would entertain running for mayor again in 2014 against Stephen Cassidy.

In recent months, Mestas has consistently urged another possible candidate to run for the District 4 council seat. "I would wholeheartedly support and help Benny Lee if he runs for that seat," she said. Rumors of Lee's interest in the seat has persisted for months, but he remains noncommittal on his political aspirations .


Alameda County Officials Learn the Depth of Fiscal Problems at St. Rose Hospital

OAKLAND | Sept. 2, 2011 | Hayward’s St. Rose Hospital is borrowing from Peter to pay Paul as its increasingly dire financial situation becomes clearer to county officials already struggling to maintain its underfunded health care system.

A preliminary fiscal and operational audit of St. Rose urges the hospital’s management to institute improvements to its business process, cost containment and revenue streams.

The currently liquidity crisis became serious July 7 when St. Rose’s management requested $5 million in emergency funds from the Alameda County Board of Supervisors. Questions over the hospital’s operation and the logistics of noticing a board meeting during the August recess led to a denial of the request.

A week later, the hospital’s creditor, Cal Mortgage, extended a $3 million line of credit on the condition St. Rose procured a comprehensive audit. A full report is due in November. After St. Rose’s bid to become an independent operator in 2005, it received two years later a $43 million loan from Cal Mortgage.

On July 27, St. Rose management also asked the Eden Township Healthcare District for a $3 million short-term loan, it stated at the time, was needed to remedy a billing snafu stemming from a recently installed computer system. The inability to bill Medicare and Medicaid for work completed for over a five weeks period only exacerbated the hospital’s cash-flow problems. Alex Briscoe, the director of the Alameda County Healthcare Agency, said the billing problem has not been entirely fixed, but has recently become more than manageable.

Serious concern over possibility St. Rose could have fallen out of loan compliance initially pushed Briscoe to ask for the Aug. 30 special meeting of the board. If the hospital’s ability to pay its loan obligations came into question, he said, there was fear the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development (OSHPD) could have instituted its right to takeover the facility and make changes to its management structure. Briscoe says the current situation is far better than he initially anticipated, but acknowledges significant problem still lie ahead.

“I think it’s very safe to say St. Rose Hospital in its current form is not viable without county support,” said Briscoe. Whichever method county officials choose to support the facility, it may not include county cash, at least, for the moment.

Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty questioned whether St. Rose’s plea to financial help is merely a move for leverage in negotiating more county dollars. “Sometimes people come to us,” Haggerty said, “and they shut things down because they know it would be an unpopular thing to do and that we come in on the white horse, do a big favor and fix it.”

Briscoe says the preliminary audit specifically urges against the county giving St. Rose a quick fix. Instead, it focuses on long-term approaches for turning around its finances. Among the suggestions are staff cuts, the audit says will save over $6 million annually. St. Rose’s nurse-to-staff ratio, the audit says, is too high for a facility of its size necessitating a reduction in labor. Briscoe agrees with the assessment and says because St. Rose is a non-union shop its management will face fewer obstacles in forcing layoffs.

Despite last year’s landmark health care reform bill, the struggle to provide health care to the poor and indigent in Alameda County persists. “I’m concerned about the longer term impact all of the challenges we’re starting to get at different times has over our over-arching system,” said Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson. As a higher percentage of the county’s aging demographic continues to grow, said Briscoe, so will pressure on local officials to provide care.

One of the long-term solutions to bringing economic health to the county’s health services, Briscoe told the board is to find new public revenue streams and explore consolidation similar to St. Rose’s bid to operate San Leandro Hospital. The preliminary audit backs St. Rose CEO Michael Mahoney’s plan to become part of the Eden Township Healthcare District increasing St. Rose’s ability to qualify for bigger chunks of federal matching funds. It also allows the facility the options of offering parcel taxes in conjunction with the District to increase revenues in the future

Thursday, September 1, 2011

State Audit Committee to Examine Sutter, Other Non-Profit Tax-Exempt Benefit

Sept. 1, 2011 | Lawmakers in Sacramento will begin investigating the public worthiness of non-profit health care providers who benefit from their tax-exempt status.

The audit requested by Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett was approved Aug. 24 by the Joint Legislative Audit Committee and will focus on assessing whether tax breaks given to health institutions correlate to the public benefit. The committee will also examine how non-profits calculate uncompensated care to the uninsured and the impact of consolidation on facilities and their ability to serve communities.

The last is likely the impetus for Corbett's request as she and others in San Leandro continue to push against Sacramento-based Sutter Health's intention to close their community hospital.

“Communities across California are served by nonprofit hospitals, and we need to make sure they are honoring their commitment to serve the public that comes with their special tax-exempt status,” said Corbett. “We must ensure that our communities and their patients are getting the care, and the access to care, they deserve.”

Last year, Corbett offered a bill in the senate limiting the ability of health care providers like Sutter from transferring the assets of hospitals within health care districts. The legislation was a direct reference to Sutter, which has also fought similar pressure from local communities in San Francisco, Santa Rosa and Marin over its intent to consolidate hospitals. Critics contend the tactic is a bait-and-switch where Sutter offers to build new facilities in locations hoping to attract higher-end patients in return for closing operations in areas with concentrations of poor and uninsured patients.

Alameda County Supervisor Wilma Chan, who represents San Leandro, has long urged Corbett to use the committee as leverage against Sutter and their lawsuit against the Eden Township Healthcare District. Chan told The Citizen last June, " "If you do that, I found, agencies will pay attention," said Chan, who chaired the committee during her time in Sacramento. In a press release last week, Chan said, “Taxpayers should know what benefits they’re receiving when hospitals receive approximately $250 million in tax breaks.”

Corbett's office notes a study of 500 hospitals by the Internal Revenue Service found the public benefit of tax exemptions given to non-profits by municipalities to be relatively small.