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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Skinner Focuses on Energy Conservation and Taxes in Slew of New Bills

Asm. Nancy Skinner
PHOTO/East Bay EDA
ASSEMBLY//LEGISLATIVE UPDATE | Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner produced 20 new bills this month covering a wide swath of topics, but three ringed true to the Berkeley representative's traditional focus on energy conservation and another three on taxes. Skinner also added another bill related to firearms in addition to her well-publicized firearms bill she introduced last month.

Skinner made headlines when she proposed AB 48 that seeks to crack down on ammunition and guns by banning clip capacities larger than 10 rounds and require any person selling ammunition to be licensed and the buyer to show I.D. Skinner produced another bill, AB 1296, related to firearms to amend section 26800 of the penal code to revoke the license of a dealer of firearms if he or she breaches prohibitions or requirements required of a firearms dealer.

But Skinner’s history of activism and legislative experience is filled with energy conservation and renewable efficiency advocacy. Following that history Skinner produced a trio of new bills that seek to further her energy goals.

AB 489 states that existing law requires a regulatory proceeding to “develop a comprehensive program to achieve greater energy savings in the state’s existing residential and nonresidential building stock”. Furthermore, the Energy Commission is required to fund these activities from the Federal Trust Fund consistent with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. But Skinner’s bill wants to repeal this provision requiring the commission to fund these activities by this method.

AB 1131 is only a minor adjustment for extending a reporting date for the implementation of the Clean Energy Upgrade Program that seeks to help reduce costs for property owners that seek to implement renewable energy improvements. Current law requires authority to submit a report to the Legislature regarding the implementation of such programs by January 1, 2015 and Skinner wants to extend it to 2017.

As for AB 1258 Skinner wants to require the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to open a new proceeding or expand the scope of an existing proceeding to determine the potential use of hydroelectric facilities and pump storage facilities. California is the second largest hydroelectric producer in the U.S.

Skinner also has a trio of tax bills that speak to her liberal cred. One would disallow the use of net operating loss carrybacks by individuals and corporate taxpayers. This bill, if passed, would result in paying a higher tax and therefore will require a two-thirds majority vote.

Another tax related bill deals with corporate punishments if corporations fail to pay delinquent taxes or penalties. The bill states “subject foreign non registered limited liability companies to contract voidability where the foreign non registered limited liability company is subject to suspension or forfeiture for failure to file a tax return or for failure to pay delinquent taxes, penalties, or interest.”

The third tax bill merely requires the minimum contribution taken from an individuals tax liability, that they voluntarily designated on their return, to be given to the California Breast Cancer Research fund to meet the minimum contribution amount for the 2013 year.

Other bills expand various topics including nutrition, athletic trainers, occupational hazards, improvement on the notice of default of a person’s mortgage and dentistry education. Skinner is also introducing a bill related to inmates health care that would require an inmate to sign up to Medi-Cal 30 days before their scheduled release.

Quan Gives ‘Shoutouts’ To City's Successes In Annual Address; Says A's Belong In Oakland

OAKLAND//STATE OF THE CITY | Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, just two years from facing re-election, used her annual state of the city address to face the city’s problem with violent crime. She also used the platform to be the city’s cheerleader-in-chief, not only for its burgeoning arts scene, but its sports franchises.

During Quan’s 73-minute speech she laid out no new plans for quelling the violence on the streets of Oakland already beset with 12 homicides in the first two months of the year. However, Quan did call for leaders in Washington to pass gun control legislation. “If we want to stop the killing in Oakland,” said Quan. “We have to have these federal laws.” Quan said there is no reason for teenagers to access to what amounts to a “machine gun,” but added the city already prohibits the legal selling of firearms. “The guns killing our children were not bought in Oakland,” she said.

With a police force currently at a decade-low of 611 officers, according to report given to the City Council’s public safety committee on Tuesday night, merely hiring additional police officers is not as easy as it may seem. Getting back to a high of over 800 officer--a level not seen since 2009--means recruitment, training and hiring of new cops could cost $73 million, she said, a figure some believe is greatly inflated. Yet Quan says it is doable. “It’s not unreachable,” she said, “but not an easy thing and that’s why we need a community discussion.”

Unemployment is down, new jobs are up and the construction of the BART/Oakland Airport connector continues, said Quan, but a sense of safety still eludes many residents. “As mayor, there is nothing more important to me than the safety of the individual,” she said. However, Quan also said bringing hope to the city’s wayward youth “is as important as hiring new officers.”

Oakland’s growing national prestige as a haven for the creative-minded played prominently in the second half of Quan’s speech. Twitter users under the growing and entertaining hashtag: #oakmtg, instantly turned Quan’s repeated use of the phrase Wednesday night of “shoutout” for comic relief. “Oakland Mayor @JeanQuan seems to think she is giving an Oscar speech not a State of the City Address,” tweeted Oakland resident, @HarryElephante.

Not only did she give shoutouts to many in law enforcement and other city leaders, she curiously mentioned U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag, sitting in the front row, a constant thorn in the side of the city’s cannabis community.

Shoutouts were also reserved for Oakland’s growing list of highly-praised chefs and artists, along with a pledge of support for First Friday, the lively monthly street festival sullied last month by gun violence. This Friday’s event will be dry, she said. “We’re going to spend a little time on the theme of making peace in the world and particularly in Oakland.”

Quan, however, did not reserve a shoutout for Oakland A’s owner Lew Wolff. Early in the speech, she described one of her tough days on the job being meeting with the mercurial owner seemingly bent on moving the team to San Jose. “I got to tell you, we’re not giving up on any of the teams,” she said of the A’s, Raiders and Warriors.

She then equated the city’s uphill climb to save its sports franchises to the A’s memorable come-from-behind run last season to the American League West title and the scene of fans who loudly saluted the team following their playoff loss to Detroit. “Even when we lost that night, it is an experience I will never forget,” she recalled. “We were screaming and shouting and not moving and clapping and we were basically telling Lew Wolff, ‘Now, tell Major League Baseball that this city and these fans don’t care.’ The A’s belong in Oakland.”

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Bonta’s Bills Have A Decidedly Local Flavor For Steps Curbing Gun Violence

Asm. Rob Bonta
ASSEMBLY//LEGISLATIVE UPDATE | When Oakland Assemblyman Rob Bonta was named chair of a select committee on curbing gun violence in the East Bay, it came as no surprise. Five of Bonta’s crop of 19 pieces of legislation deal specifically with guns in a district dominated by the city’s continually high rate of homicide.

In light of the Newtown, Conn. shooting last December, all levels have government have brought the issue of gun in America to the forefront of national discourse. Although California has one of the most stringent laws concerning the purchase of assault weapons, Bonta’s legislation looks to further tighten state law.

Two well-publicized bills would place an unspecified tax on the sale of ammunition. Tax revenue would then be earmarked to aid cities with high crime rates, not surprisingly, Oakland, included.

Assault weapons and other types of firearms cannot be purchased in California. However, those types of guns already owned by residents were exempted by a grandfather clause. But, AB 174 would end provisions of those exemptions. The spot bill, as of yet, gives no additional details.

AB 1020 would mandate the state attorney general send purchasers and sellers of firearms a letter within the 10-day waiting period for buying guns notifying them of laws pertaining to gun trafficking and the safe storage of weapons.

With AB 514, Bonta attempts to get school-age children in his 18th Assembly District involved in lawmaking. The bill hopes to enact the “Safe Schools for Safe Learning Act of 2013” with help from students who are asked the question, “What would make you feel safer at school?” The bill says the wording of the act will be based upon the answers his office receives from students in the district.

Gallo Derides Regulatory Commission’s Cannabis Report, Says ‘I Had A Different Upbringing’

OAKLAND CITY COUNCIL | Oakland may be one of the most cannabis-friendly cities in the nation, but count Councilman Noel Gallo out when passing around a blunt. The Fruitvale District 5 representative derided the city’s policies on medical cannabis during Tuesday’s public safety committee hearing. A report by the Cannabis Regulatory Commission raised concerns over the disproportionate number of persons of color arrested for possession in Oakland along with recommendations for allowing cannabis smoking in designated areas, such as dispensaries.

Despite few comments from the committee’s four other members, Gallo, known for espousing strong family values, registered clear opposition to the report, although, he later said he supports medical cannabis.

Gallo, who chairs the public safety committee, said he disagrees with his colleagues. “I had a different upbringing,” he said, as he described contemporaries in his youth whose attitude was, “taking care of my family wasn’t cool.” He later peppered his remarks with references to Woodstock-era musician Carlos Santana, friends “being too cool for school” and drug use in the late 1960s “being fly.”

As a former Oakland school board member Gallo said he often encountered elementary school students caught with bags of cannabis, either using the drug themselves or “making drops for mom and dad.”

“I saw what happens. I see who always fails,” Gallo said referencing Latino youths.

The commission’s report, previously known as the Measure Z Community Oversight Committee until last year, says Oakland is missing out on economic benefits due to a ban on smoking cannabis inside dispensaries. Numerous cannabis-friendly groups have avoided bringing business to the city because of the prohibition, the report says.

Gallo was undeterred saying he is opposed to the economic benefits and tourism aspects of cannabis in Oakland and recalled family members in the southwest who tease him by saying, “Here comes Noel from the city of hope and dope.”

Even with a significant drop in cannabis-related arrests in the region and state and law enforcement officials who clearly state such offenses are nowhere near a priority, the commission reported sobering statistics showing blacks and Latinos in Oakland are being targeted by police. Of the 452 arrests for various cannabis offenses in 2011, blacks (74.5 percent) and Hispanics (13 percent) made up a vast majority of arrest. Just 5 percent of those arrested were white and 3.7 percent were of Asian descent.

“Cannabis does play a significant role in providing probable cause (most times
in public places such as a street comer or vehicle) for officers to further engage a suspect,” says the report quoting Oakland PD representatives, “often resulting in a search of property or person.” Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney called the statistic “shocking on the face of it.”

Councilmember Dan Kalb, in response to the entire document to be presented to the entire council, said he is not certain “wholesale changes” need to be made, specifically to Oakland’s prohibition against smoking cannabis in designated areas, but urged an open a dialogue on the issue.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Corbett Keeps Focus On ‘Made In California’ With Latest Crop Of Bills

State Sen. Ellen Corbett
STATE SENATE//LEGISLATIVE ROUNDUP | It is wise to keep in mind State Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett is running for Congress when studying her latest crop of legislation. In fact, there is ample evidence she may run on the slogan, “Made in California.” A trio of her 25 authored and co-authored bill seek to help keep business in the Golden State.

SB 124 would give contractors bidding to install their clean energy products at California State University’s a five percent preference, as long as the entire chain of its production is made in the state. In addition, SB 469 gives a 10 percent preference to contractors for the purchase of public transit vehicles made exclusively in California and SB 12 would create and fund through donors a “Made in California” label.

Corbett is also having another go with bills in the areas of prescription drug labeling, computer privacy and electronic cigarettes. SB 204 and SB 205, in tandem, would stipulate pharmacists offer non-English translations on prescription bottles, while aiding seniors with the use of large 12-point sans serif fonts on labels.

Companies and agencies that retain critical personal information are already required to notify consumer when their data systems are breached, but SB 46 expands the scope of what types of information triggers such a notification to data other than just financial matters.

The crusade against electronic cigarettes led by Corbett two years ago continues with SB 648. The bill seeks to include e-cigarettes, already growing in popularity, to other prohibitions of tobacco in various public places. It would also ban advertising of e-cigarettes in state-owned or occupied buildings.

Honda Names Campaign Team For Race, As Of Yet, Without A Challenger

Rep. Mike Honda
CONGRESS | Mike Honda made another early move for re-election in 2014 by already announcing his campaign team this past week hoping to get an early start on heading off potential competitor, Ro Khanna, a former Deputy Assistant Secretary in U.S. Department of Commerce.

According to a press release Honda hired Terris, Barnes & Walters as his campaign management and media consulting team who has done work with Rep. Mike Thompson, State Sens. Jim Beall and Bill Monning and the late Tom Lantos, among others. Incidentally, Khanna once opposed Lantos for Congress in 2004. Michael Terris was also Pete Stark's political consulant last year during his unsuccessful bid for re-election in the 15th Congressional District.

Berry Barnes, the lead consultant on Honda’s team stated in the press release, “I’ve known Mike for 20 years and have seen the amazing things he has accomplished for the people of Silicon Valley. He is known and loved by this community. He is the right guy at the right time to help grow our local economy. He is also a national leader on core issues like education and job creation.”

Honda also hired Lake Research Partners for polling, Full Court Press Communications for communications and social media and re-hired Lamar Heystek as his field director. Furthermore, Honda has received another early endorsement from Democratic National Committee Chair, Howard Dean and 20 members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.

Honda’s early endorsements and campaign team announcement further confirms the 17-term congressman’s fears of being usurped by another young up and comer. After Eric Swalwell defeated long-term incumbent Stark last fall, insiders started talking about Honda fearing a loss in 2014 for re-election.

Khanna, 36, who use to work for the Obama administration, may strike that blow thus dampening more of the old power base in the East Bay that use to consist the likes of State Treasurer Bill Lockyer and Stark.

Khanna, however hasn’t even officially announced a run for the 17th yet. Last year he thought of running in the 15th against Stark, but decided against the idea and instead endorsed the firebrand incumbent and even hosted a fundraiser for him. Khanna likely hoped that Stark would retire in 2014 if he was re-elected thus giving him a chance to face off against State Senator Ellen Corbett. Khanna had raised $1.2 million for a run for Congress last year in one financial period raising eyebrows from local politicos and media.

Khanna had revealed to The Citizen last November that he was to meet with Corbett to discuss the 2014 election season and the deal offered was for him to run against Honda to avoid interfering with Corbett’s faceoff with newly elected congressman, Swalwell. Since then Corbett has told The Citizen that she thinks Khanna will go for Honda instead of Swalwell in 2014 even though Khanna has yet to publicly commit to that.

But Honda appears to likely ward off competition by soliciting endorsements, campaign contributions and bolstering his ranks for potentially a difficult battle in 2014. If Khanna defeats Honda it would become the second time in two years an entrenched incumbent is defeated by a young challenger in the East Bay, whereas just a single incumbent congressman in California had lost in the previous decade years when Rep. Jerry McNerney beat Richard Pombo in San Joaquin County.

Shane Bond is an East Bay Citizen contributor.

Monday, February 25, 2013

San Leandro Mayor Pushes For Dropping Long-Time Attorney Firm Meyers Nave

Man on an island: Mayor Stephen Cassidy, left.
PHOTO/Natalia Aldana
SAN LEANDRO | The San Leandro City Council looked over a legal services analysis report last Tuesday that reviewed the financial costs and drafted options to either stay or not stay with the city’s long term contract with the Meyers Nave, firm that supplies San Leandro with their city attorney.

The discussion during Tuesday’s night council meeting ended with entire council voicing strong support for Meyers Nave, except Mayor Stephen Cassidy who preferred a deeper look at going in-house or putting a bid out for competing firms to offer their own contracts. No vote was made during this discussion item.

“I would look beyond option one. We are not the main consumer of legal services here, we should be talking to the department heads,” said Cassidy. “I think there is a benefit for in-house because we don’t have to worry about the result of a fee or charge, we lose that under the current model,” and “I think it is a mistake if we are to look at this contract and not put it out for a bid.”

Cassidy’s push for an examination at other options was accompanied by no other other reason than financial or the convenience of having an in-house attorney stationed in city hall. But it is rumored, albeit without solid evidence, that perhaps going in-house would provide Cassidy with more oversight and influence. The belief likely stems from critics over the first two years of his term, who describe Cassidy as relentlessly uncompromising. The rest of the council appreciated Meyers Nave’s institutional knowledge because of their two and a half decade relationship with the city.

The founder of Meyers Nave, Steven Meyers, was an in-house attorney for San Leandro in 1985 but after being lured by other city’s for his professional help he went private and established a contract with San Leandro. Because of Meyers Nave’s long term institutional knowledge the city has retained the contract. In the meantime, Meyers Nave expanded their reach to 23 cities, including many in the East Bay, providing a city attorney or other legal services.

A sticking point during Tuesday’s discussion was the payment method between the city and Meyers Nave. Currently the city operates with Meyers Nave on a retainer, plus additional services rate, rather than an hourly rate, also known as a market-based fee. Chris Zapata, San Leandro's city manager, told The Citizen that Meyers Nave is not happy with the current payment method because they claim they are working more than what they are paid for within the retainer. Currently the rate is at $28,000 a month.

Also, Zapata said that the convenience of having an in-house city attorney isn't a major issue because Meyers Nave is available by phone every day of the week.

Currently, a contract with Meyers Nave is cheaper than going in-house. The projected sum of Meyers Nave’s contract for this year is at $950,000, although may be subjected to higher cost depending on what litigation the city may become embroiled in, compared to an in-house cost at $1.2 million.

But this is the second consecutive mayor that Meyers Nave’s relationship with San Leandro was questioned, whether for financial or personal reasons.

Cassidy's predessor, Tony Santos, said he would have tried to drop the contract with Meyers Nave. “I planned on making it public,” said Santos, “If I had been re-elected.” According to Santos, former issues were with Jayne Williams, Meyers Nave’s city attorney for San Leandro, advising the city manager more than advising city council and making “erroneous,” statements during closed session meetings which he would not further elaborate on. Santos wanted to look at putting a bid out for competing firms to make a pitch. Santos also admitted that he had conducted his own research during his time as mayor and found that San Leandro spent less for legal services contracting with Meyers Nave than neighboring cities that were in-house.

Santos is confident his dissatisfaction with Meyers Nave is different than Cassidy’s. But Cassidy's lone opinion differing from the rest of the council has raised some suspicion.

Shane Bond is an East Bay Citizen contributor.

Quirk's First Flurry Of Legislation Focuses On Streamlining Government, Renewables

Asm. Bill Quirk
ASSEMBLY//LEGISLATIVE ROUNDUP | On Feb. 19, just three days away from the deadline for new legislation in the California State Legislature, freshman Assemblyman Bill Quirk made like one of those exotic chefs on any given number of cooking game shows who struggle because of one deflated soufflé, only to rally at the last second to produce a full-course meal.

By Friday, Quirk’s first crack at legislation since winning a seat in the Assembly last November produced 13 bills now being groomed to run the body’s gauntlet of analysis and committee hearings. If the initial batch of potential laws authored by Quirk is any indication, his opening gambit is meant to bolster campaign promises to streamline government, if not, in a symbolic fashion.

A vast majority of Quirk’s slate of bills involve removing slight impediments from the levers of government. AB 492 would allow offenders of nonviolent drug offenses to face revocation of probation hearings outside of the area they reside. On a similar note, AB 625 would allow for identification cards from correctional facilities to be accepted as a single source for a notary public. And AB 535 would make changes to the state’s emergency alert system to include alerts in case of minors suspected of being abducted by the child’s custodian or guardian.

Quirk also offered a slate of bills friendly to the renewable energy community. During the campaign, Quirk often touted the future of new and renewable going as far to stand firmly in his support of the natural gas-fired Russell City Energy Center under construction on the Hayward shoreline. AB 448 would allow renewable energy sources produced out of state for end-users in California be counted toward an existing renewable procurement plan.

Another bill, AB 1078, would merely add a passage to the California Water Plan encouraging the use of new water recycling technology. While AB 686 hopes to exempt recyclable materials as they pertain to hazardous waste when recycled within a single facility.

Alcoholic beverage special interests get two nods from Quirk. One bill, AB 949, would allow the manufacturers of distilled spirits the ability to create paid tasting events on their premises. AB 593 would order a review of the Department of Alcohol Beverage Control’s on-site license review process for restaurants. The bill seeks to ensure a more expedited manner for restaurateurs to procure approval for alcohol licenses.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Throw This Blue Dog A Drone: Swalwell Blows Up His Liberal Cred

THE SUNDAY COLUMN | Eventually young Rep. Eric Swalwell was going to have to face the fact more than half of the 15th Congressional District is far more liberal than his hometown in the Tri Valley. When the issue gun control became the taste of the month among national and local public officials, Swalwell went with the tide—a noticeably blue tide. What are conservatives and friends of the Tea Party suppose to think when the candidate they deemed better than Pete Stark took their votes and turned his back sharply against one of their core beliefs, the Second Amendment?

I'll take two of these, says Alameda County
Sheriff Gregory Ahern.
PHOTO/Shane Bond
The issue, however, as it is framed was a no-brainer for Swalwell. The Tri Valley that solidly backed Swalwell last November is not sufficiently wrong-headed on gun control. Since the current issue was framed in the shadow of the Newtown, Conn. shootings, for the Tri Valley, slightly conservative as it is it would never turn its back on protecting school children.

But, now here comes a tough one. What to do about Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern’s plan to purchase two drones? Here’s where the peculiar conservative pragmatism of the Tri Valley becomes so vexing. Libertarians naturally become worried about the potential of drones flying overhead taking pictures of their backyard and snooping on their privacy, but the flavor is different in places like Dublin, Pleasanton and Livermore. In those relatively safe, white communities, those beliefs go out the window when it comes to your privacy, not theirs. Instead, you routinely get the backwards police state rhetoric of “if you don’t want drones flying over your backyard, then don’t break any laws.”

This is the lunacy Swalwell must face when he tries to thread the needle between placating those voices shopping at Nordstrom’s in Stoneridge Mall, while fruitlessly convincing liberals in Hayward and Fremont that he’s a younger alternative to progressives like Rep. Barbara Lee and Stark.

It was quite predictable that Swalwell would attempt to tip-toe to the side of Ahern’s drone scheme. Swalwell is, of course, a former Alameda County assistant district attorney, with a father and brother in law enforcement, along with another sibling seemingly hidden away like Billy Carter and Roger Clinton.

Swalwell told The Citizen last week that he hopes the use of local drones will be within constitutional boundaries but voiced no opposition to their use. Such framing is a red herring since nobody can question its constitutionality, as of yet, since Ahern has not even purchased the drones nor put them in action. Yet, shouldn’t we assume an elected official will always conduct the business of their office in defense of the Constitution? Let’s not play games with this. Eric Swalwell, a congressman representing the liberal East Bay, supports domestic drones in Alameda County. Think awhile about what that means.

Quotable
“Some people when they see a pretty girl walking down the street think she’s a prostitute. Yeah, some of the girls walking down the street are prostitutes, but not every girl is a prostitute. We are not the kind of organization that they are talking about. We do not do the things they are saying in here.”
-Ron Doyle, owner of a Hayward Internet sweepstakes business, Feb. 19, on why he’s establishment is being singled out by the City of Hayward..

The Week That Was
The Citizen led the way this week in stoking anxiety and attention of Oakland A’s fans this week with accusations made by Oakland City Administrator Deanna Santana that A’s owner Lew Wolff neglected to send a well-publicized letter asking for a five-year extension of their Coliseum lease. However, egg was on Santana’s face on Wednesday we she admitted a mistake and had indeed received the letter last December. Problems still exist with the Coliseum City proposal, chief among them that Wolff will absolutely not talk to the city. This escapade surely won’t help on that front.

In Oakland, the City Council allocated more money to help law enforcement tamp down chronic violence on its streets in cooperation with the California Highway Patrol.

A local pastor in San Leandro urged his flock to “flood” City Hall with a form letter opposing a proposed ordinance allowing medical cannabis dispensaries. During a sermon Feb. 3, according to recordings obtained by The Citizen, the pastor said the matter of eradicating pot from San Leandro is in the Lord’s hands.

Hayward became the latest city to block Internet sweepstakes cafes from growing. City leaders placed a 45-day moratorium on granting business licenses for such establishments.

In a major and hugely symbolic victory, union workers at Pleasanton’s Castlewood Country Club agreed to a new three-year contract just 12 days shy of the anniversary of a nearly three-year lockout by a zealous anti-union general manager at the club. Instead of paying monthly health care costs of $956 for $12-$14-per-hour wage earners, union members agreed to pay $225. It’s the same concession the union says it made at the beginning of the labor dustup.

In Dublin, Abe Gupta was appointed to replace Rep. Eric Swalwell on the Dublin City Council, while Pleasanton gears up for a $250,000 write-in ballot special election slated for May to fill new Mayor Jerry Thorne’s seat on the council. The Tri Valley city better known to most in the county as the home of Stoneridge Mall has recently become a curious stronghold for Republican city leaders.

Tweet of the Week
Leland Yee
“@eastbaycitizen Certainly could! Tragic loss that should have been avoided.”
-State Sen. Leland Yee (@LelandYee, Feb. 19) in response to this tweet from The Citizen:

“If someone asked Sen. Leland Yee about the suicide of Mindy McCready, I'm 100% certain he would pontificate.” Last week, Yee criticized Cal officials for not suspended basketball coach Mike Montgomery for shoving a player during a game last week.

Best Reads
>>>Steven Malanga take a lengthy look inside the California Public Employees Retirement System. (City Journal, Winter 2013).

>>>Fremont's Ro Khanna is becoming the go-to-guy around various Op-Ed pages when it comes to the future of manufacturing in America. Here's another piece involving five my myths about manufacturing jobs. (Washington Post, Feb. 13).

>>>With the California Republicans set to gather next Friday in Sacramento for their annual state convention, this year featuring Karl Rove, here's on primer on the party's dim road ahead. (The New York Times Magazine, Feb. 17)

Swalwell Supports Obama’s Use Of Drones; Hedges In Alameda County

Model of a Predator drone outside Alameda
County Administrative Building, Feb. 14.
CONGRESS | Rep. Eric Swalwell told The Citizen recently that he “trusts the president,” and “fully supports him and doesn’t want to take away authority from him,” when it comes to his use of drones but only hopes he “keeps Congress more in the loop.”

Swalwell has been quiet on drone warfare since the controversial topic took the mainstream media by storm after the White Houses’ white memo was leaked to NBC earlier this month.

Instead Swalwell has spent much of his time sponsoring other members’ bills such as the Violence Against Women Act and gun control.

But Swalwell’s congressional neighbor, Rep. Barbara Lee, on the other hand has been very critical of Obama’s use of drones because of broad and vague regulations, not to mention her demand for the repeal of the Authorization of the Use of Military Force Act that as implemented after Sept. 11, 2001 and been one of the reasons used by the Obama administration for international drone use.

Last year, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, an ardent support of drones, calculated the total lives taken to be at 4,700 including civilian lives. In 2009 alone some 700 civilians lives were taken in Pakistan from American drone strikes. Swalwell said the loss of civilian life is something, “no one wants to see,” a similar message Graham has said himself.

Two U.N. rapporteurs called for investigations last year into Obama’s drone strikes citing the potential violation of international law and even raised questions of war crimes. An American CIA official also recently stated that drone attacks in Yemen have had a counterproductive influence in supplementing anti-American semitism thus fanning the flames of terrorism.

Others in Congress and some in the media think Obama’s use of drone warfare as an “overreach,” but Swalwell gave an astounding, “Overreaching!? No!” when asked of this. Although Swalwell agrees with Lee for keeping Congress informed he certainly hasn’t provided the same explicit concern as his colleague. Lee said in a letter to Los Angeles Times that Obama’s use of drone warfare should “shake Americans to the core.”

In addition, the Department of Homeland granted $1.2 million in funds last year to help assist counties that sought drones for domestic law enforcement. Last month Swalwell joined the Homeland Security Committee and serves on the Transportation Security Subcommittee. Although no major bill concerning drones has passed through the committee yet, given Swalwell’s confessions, its likely he wouldn’t stand in the way of drone use but rather urge caution for privacy rights.

“I spent seven years in the District Attorney’s office and I went out of my way anytime we exercised search and seizures that we would follow the constitution. I think we should do the same thing with drones and we should have constitutional protections and we should be respectful of privacy,” Swalwell told The Citizen.

A portion of the federal grant is currently being utilized by Alameda County Sheriff’s office who are considering the purchase of two drones for search and rescue operations. Many cities in Swalwell’s district contracts with the Sheriff’s department but Swalwell has been unusually quiet on the incredibly controversial issue percolating recently in the county.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has been aggressively critical of the regulations drafted by the Sheriff’s department accusing the police of booting much of the ACLU’s recommendations to safeguard privacy. Swalwell won’t say if he supports the use of local drones but nor will he say he opposes them. Instead he merely hopes they “follow the constitution,” with no further comment.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Hayward Becomes Latest To Crack Down On Internet Sweepstakes Businesses

HAYWARD CITY COUNCIL | Ron Doyle’s Internet café is located in the shadows of Hayward City Hall, but the owner says those inside are doing more than hovering over his business. A countywide bid to shut down businesses like Doyle’s that offer Internet sweepstakes has been simmering for months with emergency ordinances popping up from the Alameda County Board of Supervisors to San Leandro.

This week the Hayward City Council unanimously approved a 45-day moratorium on extending business license to operators offering these types of gaming services after the state Attorney General’s office issued an alert over its illegality.

“We conduct our businesses legitimately, legally, we don’t break any laws,” said Doyle, owner of Net Connection at 778 B Street. “I resent that fact I’m being told I’m doing something illegal when I’m not.”

Doyle owns a similar establishment in unincorporated San Lorenzo also under threat of closure by the county. “You guys are being lied to, being exaggerated to," said Doyle in comments directed at city staff. "This is America. I went to war to protect us from tyrants and that’s what they are doing. They’re trying to bully us. We’ve done nothing wrong and I resent the fact they want to shut us down.”

Councilmembers Barbara Halliday and Mark Salinas, however, said in the last week they made trips to Doyle’s business and found what they believe is evidence of gambling. Halliday said she saw Vegas-style games like Blackjack on computer screens. “If people are not going in there to play theses games, then what exactly are you selling?” asked Halliday.

Customers purchase time to connect to the Web, said Doyle, along with the ability to play games. However, he says they are not games of chance, but have pre-determined results no different than the popular Monopoly game at McDonald’s where customers peel off game pieces from cups for a chance to win prizes. Halliday countered saying the public library located nearby offers free Internet service.

Salinas said he also swung by Doyle’s Net Connection recently and reported every computer screen featured “card games.” “Why is there a need for a bouncer and security guard if it’s an Internet services business?” Like any other business, Doyle contended, he says security guards are needed to keep “riff raff” from coming inside.

“I know the gentleman believes he’s running a legitimate business, but this is not the type of business we want in Hayward,” Halliday later said. “Nobody is demanding more internet gambling. I have not heard one person say this.”

Nevertheless, Doyle says the city is erroneously lumping him together with other Internet café businesses he admits break the law, but he is not one of them. “Some people when they see a pretty girl walking down the street think she’s a prostitute,” Doyle colorfully said. “Yeah, some of the girls walking down the streets are prostitutes, but not every girl is a prostitute. We are not the kind of organization that they are talking about. We do not do the things they are saying in here.”

Although city staff had defined the proposed moratorium to prohibit new Internet cafes in the city with four or more terminals, Councilman Greg Jones moved to further tighten the measure. “I’m not sure it’s restrictive enough,” said the former Hayward city manager. “They way it is defined, it could be circumvented.” City Attorney Michael Lawson agreed, yet added, the moratorium could be tweaked after the initial 45 days. “I think we’re leaving the door open for the next 45 days,” Jones cautioned. The council agreed and moved to lower the number to a single computer.

NOTES: Rookies Mendall, Jones Seem Like Rising Stars In Hayward

HAYWARD CITY COUNCIL//NOTES | The key to a Hayward renaissance has always focused on curing its struggling school district, but its future also lies in rehabilitating the areas around the South Hayward BART station. It is not only an unsafe neighborhood, but it is also no good reason to visit other than hopping on the BART trains and virtually escaping to another Bay Area locale.

Greg Jones, Al Mendall
The Hayward City Council last Tuesday pretty much admitted as much while sorting out problems with parking around the BART station. “This is a tough area of town,” said Hayward Mayor Michael Sweeney, who also challenged BART to cooperate with the city to fix this downtrodden part of town. Sweeney said any new revenue from charging for parking had no clear priorities attached to them or which entity gets first dibs on the proceeds. “What about lighting, graffiti, garbage, street sweeping? It sounds to me like there are some issues her to be resolved.”

“There’s some trust going forward here that some of these needs in this part of South Hayward will be taken care of,” Sweeney bluntly said Tuesday night in the direction of two BART officials in attendance. “I hope you will not disappoint us.”

JONES: AIDING AND ABETTING? On two occasions Tuesday night Councilman Greg Jones sounded like he was laying out blueprints for bag guys to commit crimes in Hayward. Jones said creating demand for parking near the South Hayward BART station would likely push more people to park their cars on nearby Mission Boulevard. “This isn’t an advertisement,” said Jones who grinned when he grasped what he was inadvertently saying, “but cars will get broken into.”

Later, during discussion of a moratorium on Internet sweepstakes cafes, Jones again laid out a possible loophole for businesses offering these types of gaming products by noting they could circumvent the ordinance by limiting them to four computers. However, this time Jones led the way in shutting down its possibility by successfully adding a friendly amendment to the motion, lowering the threshold to one computer.

RISE OF MENDALL AND JONES The council two newest members, Greg Jones and Al Mendall, shined Tuesday night. Not only did Jones act decisively with keen insight on what the proposed moratorium on sweepstakes business might not achieve, but Mendall also peppered discussions throughout the night with thoughtful questions. He also showed an innate desire to jump in front of issues rather than sit in the backseat.

Maybe it’s that or Mendall was just enjoying the psychological advantage of standing over his colleagues on the dais Tuesday night. Due to a bad back, Mendall stood for the entire four hour meeting. Either way, the new kids on the block are forcing a positive change in the council’s hierarchy, which may make someone like Mark Salinas seem like yesterday’s story.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Wieckowski Wants Issue Of Reversing Citizens United On 2014 Ballot

ASSEMBLY | At the end of the last legislative session, Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski successfully passed a resolution calling for Congress to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s contentious Citizens United decision. Now the Fremont legislator wants to put the same matter before voters in 2014.

If passed by the Legislature, the bill (AB 644) offered by Wieckowski Thursday, would place the issue of excessive and unregulated campaign finance dollars unleashed by the 2010 higher court ruling on the 2014 mid-term ballot in November. If approved by voters, it would call on the state’s congressional delegation to introduce and support an amendment to the U.S. Constitution effectively reversing the Supreme Court ruling.

“Now it’s time to let all Californians have their voices heard,” said Wieckowski. “This is an issue people feel passionately about because they know the campaign finance system is skewed against the interests of the working poor and middle class.”

Liberal cities around the nation have sporadically passed grassroots measures in opposition of Citizens United since its ruling. A similar ballot measure will appear on the ballot in next May’s mayoral race in Los Angeles, while the San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved a resolution last year also calling for Congress to act.

Despite the overwhelming presence of super PAC money attempting to sway last November’s presidential and congressional races, the status quo remained. Democrats were still able to retain the White House and the U.S. Senate, while Republicans held their majority in the House.

Oakland Official Says Sorry To Wolff While Urging For Communication

OAKLAND COLISEUM | Two days after two Oakland officials accused A’s co-owner Lew Wolff of failing to forward a letter last December indicating his interest in extending a new five-year lease at the Coliseum, both officials apologized after discovering they had indeed received the correspondence, according to an East Bay news report.

Oakland City Administrator Deanna Santana said she found Wolff’s letter amid a collection of unread emails sent during the holiday furlough period. Assistant City Administrator Fred Blackwell also apologized to Wolff for their comments at a Save Oakland Sports event on Monday. Blackwell has been the city’s point man in negotiations for Coliseum City and told fans Wolff will not speak to city leaders and called for new ownership.

The revelation is another black eye for Mayor Jean Quan’s administration which, in the past, has been accused of fudging facts and figures when it comes to rising crime in the city. Although all parties now realize their error, it is not clear when the mistake was discovered. Quan sent an email to The Citizen Tuesday evening, around 8 p.m., maintaining she never received copy of the letter and only learned of its contents last December from media reports.

Regardless of the controversy this week, there are palpable signs behind-the-scenes maneuvering is going on between all parties from the city, county, the A’s and Major League Baseball. The Los Angeles Times also reported Wednesday a nondescript article claiming “tentative guidelines” for the A’s to relocate to San Jose. However, the report also acknowledges it may not mean the team would ever move to the South Bay.

Pretty confusing stuff, but Rhamesis Muncada, a blogger who has extensively covered the A’s stadium saga believes the underlining issue of compensation due to the San Francisco Giants to relinquish their rights to San Jose may not be as pressing as many believe.

In any case, Blackwell and others have reiterated a belief in the next 60-90 days being crucial for the future of Coliseum City. We might be wise to listen to how he parses his words in the coming months.

Union Workers At Pleasanton Country Club Agree To New Contract Nearly Three Years After Contentious Lockout

LABOR | Food service workers at Pleasanton’s tony Castlewood Country Club, locked out for nearly three years, finally have a new contract. Unite Here Local 2850, the labor union representing 45 cooks, servers, and bartenders at the club announced the approval today of their new three-year deal. The union also has called off its boycott of the club.

Rising health care costs had been a contentious issue between union and management, with management proposing a 40 percent increase in employee contributions to their health care plans. But under the deal, workers will pay the same amount each month as the union says it initially offered Castlewood management before it locked out its staff in February 2010...

READ THE ENTIRE ARTICLE AT EAST BAY EXPRESS

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Hayward Assemblyman’s Musician Son Poses In The Buff For S.F. Bay Guardian

Bill Quirk's son, Ian, on the left.
PHOTO/Matthew Reamer, SFBG
ASSEMBLY | Assemblyman Bill Quirk’s dour demeanor has been written to death, but his son definitely does not take after his infamously straight-laced father.

In the Feb. 13 San Francisco Bay Guardian cover story that featured rising Bay Area bands, Quirk’s son, Ian, a drummer for the group Trails and Ways, talked about their body of work and, well, their bodies of work.

The Oakland quartet, whose music the weekly described as “dream pop,” posed semi-nude with paper maps covering their—again—“personal instruments.”

While the young Quirk’s musical career appears to have great possibilities, the first few months of his father’s first term in the State Assembly has been without distinction. With just two days left before the deadline to introduce new legislation, Quirk, who represents the 20th District covering Hayward, the Tri Cities and parts of Fremont, has offered just a single bill.

Although it’s very early in Quirk’s term, his slow start in Sacramento has given rise to whispers among possible opponents in 2014, including Dr. Jennifer Ong, the Democrat he defeated last November by just 917 votes.

Local Pastor Urged Congregants To Oppose San Leandro’s Proposed Pot Dispensary Ordinance

SAN LEANDRO | Following two hours of testimony from San Leandro residents over a proposed ordinance allowing up to two medical cannabis dispensaries within city limits, council members commented upon the seemingly even number of those in favor and against.

However, a week earlier the pastor for San Leandro’s Heritage Baptist Church urged members of the congregation to “flood” the city’s office with a letter writing campaign against the plan.

“They need a flood there,” said Pastor Alan Fong said during a Sunday sermon Feb. 3 for the need to sign a form letter to be given to city officials in opposition of dispensaries. [AUDIO of the sermon can be heard below.]



At the Feb. 12 informational hearing regarding the city’s proposed ordinance, four council members made note of the large number of letters received from the church. Councilmember Diana Souza, also an opponent of pot clubs in San Leandro even noted 95 percent of the correspondence came from members of Heritage Baptist Church, located on Merced Street.

“We must let the city know there’s a strong voice of strong opposition against medical marijuana dispensaries in the City of San Leandro,” Fong said in the recording.

Councilmember Jim Prola also noted the inordinate number of letters from one group, but cautioned the strength in numbers did not constitute citywide opposition to dispensaries. Over 100 members of the church also attended the well-attended Feb. 12 hearing.

Whether the ordinance, which has no timetable for discussion at the City Council level, is ever passed, its future is in the hands of the Lord, according to a recording of the sermon earlier this month. “We’re not going to win this in the power of the flesh,” preached Fong. “It’s going to be in the power of God.”

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Oakland Officials: A's Owner Won't Talk To Us; Says He's Playing Games


OAKLAND | Oakland city officials had tough talk for Oakland Athletics owner Lew Wolff Monday night accusing him of manipulating the media and virtually ignoring talks with the city over a new stadium.

“Lew Wolff won’t talk to us,” said Oakland Assistant City Administrator Fred Blackwell at an event in Oakland for the grassroots group, Save Oakland Sports, while adding a change of ownership “would do wonders to negotiations.”

Oakland City Administrator Deanna Santana accused Wolff of playing games in the media, reiterating a much-publicized letter details a desire by Wolff to renew the team’s lease at O.co Coliseum was a ruse. Santana said Wolff never forwarded the letter to city and county officials, only to the media.

“When you saw the recent letter Lew Wolff put out that was highly-covered through the media about his desire to stay and negotiate a lease extension for five years with the city and with the county, what you should know is that letter was never forwarded to the JPA or it was never forwarded to the city and county, it was forwarded to the newspaper. It’s just some of the game-playing we struggle with without them being at the table in good faith in order to have discussions around these negotiations when the media is feed a different impression.”

Oakland Mayor Jean Quan’s office confirmed Tuesday afternoon the city never received Wolff’s correspondence. Sean Maher, communications director for Quan said the city only recently confirmed it was not received and only responded last December to press inquiries regarding the contents of the letter. “We read about it in the press and saw the letter that way, and responded publicly on the assumption it was in the mail,” Maher said.

“This all sounds very confusing to us,” Bob Rose, director of public relations for the A’s. “Mr. Wolff indeed sent the letter and the Mayor's office confirmed they received it.”

The A’s nearly five-year flirtation with moving to San Jose is still the subject of a so-called “blue ribbon” committee of Major League Baseball officials. A report has yet to be issued and baseball Commissioner Bud Selig has long been silent on the subject of relocating the A’s. Blackwell says the lack of a resolution is frustrating, along with constant erroneous leaks over the years. Nothing will happen regarding a new ballpark in Oakland, said Blackwell, unless the all the parties meet. “We have to sit across the table with someone that wants to talk to us,”

While the A’s seemingly have no interest in staying in Oakland. The Warriors, however, due to an exclusive negotiating agreement with San Francisco for a new waterfront arena, cannot legally talk to city officials and the Raiders and NFL are interested in the Coliseum City plan, yet very skeptical. For sports fans in the East Bay, this is a very dour scouting report showing the prospects, at this point, of keeping the trio of franchises in Oakland unlikely.

Blackwell, a former head of San Francisco’s redevelopment agency, knowingly mocked the prospects of the Warriors building a futuristic-looking arena on the bay. “We haven’t any dialogue on prospects of staying with the existing site,” he said. “We will be waiting with open arms when they get exhausted with that process.” Building on the water is a state issue, says Blackwell, along with the property at Pier 30-32 already being high-traffic areas. “We know it’s not going to be a slam dunk,” said Blackwell. “No pun intended.”

Although the Raiders are the only franchise in town actively in negotiations with Oakland and Alameda County about Coliseum City, complications still exist. Blackwell reiterated comments made last month identifying the Raiders as an “anchor tenant” for the project he viewed as potentially the largest transit-only development project in the state. However, the Raiders and the NFL still appear skeptical of the viability of the Raiders in the East Bay.

“We seldom have meetings when [the Raiders] don’t mention being 32 out of 32 teams in revenue,” said Blackwell. While grassroots support for keeping the A’s in Oakland has been strong, Santana says the lack of organized corporate support for the Raiders concerns the NFL. Citing weekly meetings with the Raiders, Santana said the NFL is looking for signs of county-wide and regional support for the Raiders.

Added Blackwell: “It’s not enough to say, if you build it, they will come. I hate to say it, but corporate support is more important to them than fans.” When it comes to selling lucrative suites for Raiders games, the discrepancy in the amount of revenue the 49ers are receiving at their new Santa Clara home and what the Raiders get “is like this…” Blackwell said with his arms outstretched wide.

The city and county, however, do not want to reprise the debacle following the 1995 return of the Raiders from Los Angeles and renovation of the Coliseum that included the outfield structure unaffectionately referred to as Mount Davis. The city and county are still saddled with over $100 million in debt, which Santana said was recently refinanced. The deal eats up nearly $10 million annually from Oakland’s general fund, Santana said. And any future stadium proposal must have the huge debt “baked-in” to the deal, she said.

She also expects to soon choose a firm to perform the site plan study approved last month by the Oakland Coliseum Authority. A handful of bids were quickly received by the city just days after the request for proposals was released in late January. “We have a tremendous amount of urgency right now,” said Blackwell. “The next 60-90 days are critical.”

NOTE: A version of this story appears in the East Bay Express.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

A Lack of Trust in Local Goverment Grows Amid Oblivious Elected Officials

PHOTO/Shane Bond ILLUSTRATION/Steven Tavares
THE SUNDAY COLUMN | Oakland Civil Rights Attorney Michael Siegel stood before the Alameda County Board of Supervisors' Public Protection Committee last Valentine’s Day and told them what he thought about a proposal by the Sheriff’s Department to purchase a drone (now, apparently, two, says Sheriff Gregory Ahern). The gray-haired sheriff in a civilian's suit and tie listened, leaning slightly forward, his head positioned angrily with eyes peering at Siegel as the lawyer said, “The sheriff is saying trust us and we’re saying we don’t trust you.”

Just one sentence summed up the real controversy in Alameda County and drones and while very real concerns of public privacy are very worrisome, they stem from one clear channel of belief. After Occupy Oakland, the Oscar Grant protests and decades-long distrust of the Oakland Police Department, it is clear, no matter the substance of the argument—well-reasoned or poorly thought out---we don’t trust law enforcement. And why should we?

Even though, Ahern went out of his way last Thursday to assure the public his drone(s) would only be used for search and rescue emergencies. It is not difficult to understand for those of you that have been kettled in the streets of Oakland and injured by sheriff’s deputies to envision all those protocols for ensuring our privacy will be thrown out the window the moment law enforcement deems the expression of political speech too intense for the status quo to accept and begin violently cracking down. At that moment you can imagine the drone hovering nearby and their use only to be later denied.

Remember when Iraq War vet Scott Olson was blasted with a exploding can of tear gas? It didn’t happen, according to law enforcement, until it was proven to be true, ironically, with the citizens’ own use of personal drones with an eye on the action (i.e. smart phones).

When near-historic crowds of Oakland residents flooded City Hall last month in protest of the city hiring famed crime stopper William Bratton for a consulting contract, the same cries of “we don’t trust you” cascaded from the chambers’ galleries. In the same vein as Sheriff Ahern saying he won’t infringe on your privacy, the city denied Bratton’s infamous use of “stop-and-frisk” would ever be part of the equation for fixing Oakland’s crime problem. Passionate screams of “bullshit!” could be heard from West to East Oakland.

Yet, they move forward without listening to the voice of so many people, largely discounted because they seem to sound and look like the protesters once ensconced in tents at Frank Ogawa Plaza, and, as the local media so masterfully achieved in making them appear less desirable than rabies and gonorrhea, their legitimate concerns and anger don’t mean much to those elected by the people.

This lack of trust in government in Alameda County is not just a police thing, but pervasive at the intersection of  Corporate America and the mayor's office. Since covering government in the East Bay in 2009, I have noticed quite a correlation between corporate interests, particularly rich land developers, and a lack of trustworthiness. Whether it be home builders looking for a quick buck by saturating the Tri Valley with housing or 49ers great Joe Montana fucking over the people of Hayward by slowly shifting a once-gleaming transit-friendly development surrounding the South Hayward BART station into a no-frills run-of-the-mill project meant to pad his bottom line, but leaving one of the least desirable parts of Hayward left holding the bag, too good to be true is always the case.

When Sutter Health, the worst offender of corporate greed in this region makes a deal with a local entity, watch out. Sutter, however, plays no act of remorse, however, when it gobbles up a competing hospital and shutters its doors while leaving the county to pay for the welfare of the least fortunate looking for health care. In the past six months, a deal to keep San Leandro Hospital open for three more years by way of a Sutter ally, the Alameda County Medical Center (ACMC) operating the facility fell through. Sutter has been trying to close San Leandro since 2009 so it can attract patients to its new building in nearby Castro Valley. When the San Leandro City Council asked the CEO Wright Lassiter of ACMC what assurances would they have the hospital would remain open in 2015, he said he could give none. In reality, following past history, the deal would have meant the hospital would be closed far sooner than later and for that answer, give Lassiter credit, his half-truth is a rare occasion when an Alameda County public official kind of told the truth.

Quotable
“The court finds that under the circumstances presented, there was no moral blame attendant to the conduct of responding officers and firefighters.”
– Alameda County Superior Court Judge George C. Hernandez in a five-page opinion Feb. 11 finding Alameda police and fire were not in the wrong for doing nothing while a man ultimately drowned himself at Crown Beach in May 2011.

The Week That Was
The issue of the tragic drowning of Alameda resident Raymond Zack in 2011 is finally put to rest. The Memorial Day death of Zack who waded into the bay water at Crown Beach hoping for someone to save him in the waist-deep surf as police and fire stood by seemingly paralyzed by the island’s bureaucracy brought unwanted national attention to Alameda and bruised its sense of itself. This week, an Alameda County Superior Court judge found public safety has no moral or legal obligation to help someone like Zack. It’s hardly the ending Alamedans were looking for.

Asm. Rob Bonta
Oakland Assemblyman Rob Bonta continued his rise in Sacramento after being named by Speaker John Perez to chair a special select committee on gun violence in the East Bay. Rep. Barbara Lee offered a bill in Congress to establish a cabinet-level office named the “Department of Peacekeeping.” It’s no secret Lee is looking to expand her power in the Democratic Party and the Beltway. Maybe creating your own bureaucracy is the best way for advancement?

The slow burn toward San Leandro becoming a safe harbor for medical cannabis dispensaries moved forward last week when a full-house of residents attending a special city council meeting to discuss the proposed ordinance allowing up to two permits within city limits. On the whole, those in favor and those against were fairly even. However, the naysayers all seemed to belong to the congregation of a predominantly Asian American Baptist church in San Leandro.

Another packed public meeting occurred at the Alameda County Board of Supervisors’ chambers Thursday for what became an informational hearing on drones in the county. Sheriff Ahern made news by stating he would like not one, but two drones, depending on the vendor the department chooses. But Alameda County counsel Donna Ziegler said the Board really has no legal authority to tell Ahern how to do his job as sheriff. As the coordinator handling mutual aid in the region, Ahern said, his drones could be used from Monterey to the Oregon border. Watch out, Humboldt County!

Tweet of the Week
“Would everybody stop tipping off the Sheriff about how they're gonna hack his #drones? Jeez. Security culture, people! #alcomtg.” – Oakland resident @GonzoOakland responds, Feb. 14, to questioning of the Sheriff Ahern’s comments that the drones he plans to purchase cannot be hacked.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Lee Introduces Pair of Bills to Create 'Department of Peacebuilding'; Send Special Envoy to Iran

Rep. Barbara Lee looking to create a
cabinet-level seat for herself?
CONGRESS | Rep. Barbara Lee introduced a bill Friday calling for the creation of a Department of Peacebuilding and a cabinet-level secretary position. Lee also called for a special envoy and open diplomatic relations to Iran.

Lee called America’s culture violent and unacceptable in a press release on Friday. “On our streets and across the globe, the pervasive presence of violence has infected the lives of millions, and it is far past time we address it as a nation. We invest hundreds of billions each year in the Pentagon, in war colleges, military academies, and our national defense universities all to develop war tactics and strategies. Now we need that kind of investment in peace and nonviolence here at home,” said Lee.

The mention by Lee of America’s vast military expenditures is an arrant call for drawing down the country’s military might and instead invest in domestic, peaceful, social services. Lee was one of the few members of Congress to vote against the war in Afghanistan and was even recently awarded Peacemaker of the Decade by the Mt. Diablo Peace and Justice Center. Lee also mentioned former liberal Rep. Dennis Kucinich as an influential part of the bill because of his own “peacebuilding” efforts during his time as congressman.

“The Department of Peacebuilding advances the good work of my friend and former colleague Congressman Kucinich and has the potential to reduce suffering on a national and global scale while saving billions of dollars through violence reduction and increased economic productivity,” added Lee.

The proposed department would develop national strategies and programs for violence reduction both domestically and internationally.

“Working across agencies, the Secretary of Peacebuilding would sponsor conflict prevention and dispute resolution initiatives, facilitate peace summits between conflicting parties, encourage community policing, and support efforts by local community and religious groups to reduce gun violence, racial and ethnic violence, and prevent violence against women and LGBT Americans,” stated Lee’s press release.

Cosponsors include Reps. Robert Andrews, Yvette Clarke, John Conyers, Jr., Janice Hahn, James McGovern, Chellie Pingree, and Jared Polis.

Also on Friday Lee introduced the “Prevent Iran from Acquiring Nuclear Weapons and Stop War Through Diplomacy Act,” which would create a high level Special Envoy to Iran, according to Lee’s press release. Although Lee emphases keeping Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon she also advocates to pursue “direct, sustained, bilateral and multilateral negotiations,” with Iran in order to prevent war and support human rights.

Lee's bill wants to eliminate the “no contact” policy that “prevents State Department officers and employees from making any direct contact with Iranian counterparts.”

Original cosponsors include Reps. Earl Blumenauer, John Conyers, John Dingell, Keith Ellison, Rush Holt, Hank Johnson, James McGovern, Jim Moran, Betty McCollum, and Bobby Rush.

Alameda County Hosts First Public Battle Over Use Of Domestic Drones

PHOTO/Shane Bond
ALAMEDA COUNTY BOS//DRONES | After months of contention and concern, the residents of Alameda County were finally afforded a public hearing Thursday afternoon to discuss the potential purchase of aerial drones by the county sheriff's department. Activists, many wearing neon colored stickers stating “No Drones,” joined various organization leaders in Oakland to express their dismay in the lack of privacy concerns over the drones and fear of how they will be used.

Replica of proposed drone sought by
the Alameda County Sheriff's Department
PHOTO/Shane Bond
Since the idea of Alameda County purchasing drones has appeared in the public forum, the necessity of the drones has been heavily questioned, ranging from its capabilities, cost effectiveness, intended use, transparency to the public, and protection of privacy, among others. The Alameda County Sheriff’s Department guaranteed, “strict guidelines will be used to ensure the use of drones for law enforcement purposes will not be used to violate the privacy of county residents.” However, several groups like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) appeared yesterday to say they feel not enough has been done.

One of the latest pieces of information to emerge from Thursday’s hearing was that supervisors may not have the authority to prevent the sheriff from spending money allocated to the department for the purchase of drones, according to Alameda County Counsel Donna Ziegler. In addition, Ahern must first receive authority from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to deploy a drone, and no authority will be sought, as Ahern points out, until or if they acquire the drones. Ahern also revealed to the board he intends on purchasing more than one drone, depending on the chosen vendor.

Thursday’s meeting was for the two-member committee comprised of Alameda County Supervisors Richard Valle and Scott Haggerty to hear concerns and receive information from various parties to make recommendations to the sheriff’s office for the purchase of drones, but the board made no formal resolution.

Going back to late last year, the sheriff’s department asked the supervisors to approve a $31,646 federal grant to help pay for the drones, indicating the department was far closer to acquisition than they had led the public to believe. The money is part of a $1.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The agenda item was halted in August after outcry from the ACLU, and the department guaranteed no purchases would be made until it was discussed with the public.

The item at the center of the debate is the Dragonfly drone, an unmanned aerial system. These small aircrafts weigh in at four pounds featuring a four-foot wingspan, limited to 400 feet above ground level, 2,000 feet within line of sight, flown only during daylight hours and can remain airborne for 12-25 minutes, said Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern. So far only four counties in the country currently use drones, and if approved, Alameda County would become the first in California.

Alameda County Commander Tom Wright and Captain Tom Madigan began the public hearing by outlining the intended purposes and features of the drones. Madigan seemed determined to express the drones would not be used for surveillance, as has been the primary topic of debate. Rather, he said the drones would be used for preventing crimes such as the Oikos University shooting incident from April of last year, at which the protesters Thursday scoffed and jeered in disbelief. Madigan continued to say their main intention with the drones is to “minimize the loss of life,” and they believe it to be a tool of necessity and effectiveness. “Every kernel of information that you can get can make the difference between life and death,” said Madigan.

Following the presentation by the sheriff’s office representatives, three keynote presentations were made, primarily that of Linda Lye, an attorney for the Northern California division of the ACLU. Lye, who has become one of the main fixtures of the drone debate in the county, has worked to provide the sheriff’s office with recommendations for privacy.

Ahern said the department continues to say they are willing to work with Lye and the ACLU to ensure privacy is upheld. However on Thursday, Lye was adamant in reminding the board that although she commends the sheriff for taking strides in putting a privacy policy in writing, “the privacy policy still lacks essential and enforceable safeguards,” and urged the board to not approve the purchase of drones until said safeguards can be made. The ACLU recommends that before the acquisition of drones, Alameda County leaders should review the policy to look at a cost-benefit analysis that weighs benefits as well as risks to individuals.

According to Lye, the policy as proposed “invites” surveillance, and the sheriff’s department has still not made it clear if reports will be accessible to the public. She affirmed the ACLU acknowledges potential benefits to drones in preventing crimes; nonetheless the lack of information regarding collected data to fusion centers, or areas where any information can be collected and viewed by second or third parties, is of great concern to the ACLU. The ACLU fears the information can be used to infringe on the rights of private citizens, and previous recommendations to work on transparency have been rejected or ignored. “We do not question Sheriff Ahern’s good intentions on this, but we need to draft a written policy so that a future sheriff, or future staff, could not misinterpret the policy.”

The main concern for the ACLU was that of the fourth amendment, which guards against unreasonable searches and seizures, along with requiring any warrant to be judicially sanctioned and supported by probable cause
. The concern lies in how law enforcement will use any information against citizens in times of protest and in conjunction with reporting identities of any protesters. The ACLU believes the sheriff should be limited in what information is gathered and how it is used, as so far no clear policy states as such. “It is essential that you the supervisors weigh in on this issue. We are not asking you to micromanage the sheriffs office,” said Lye, “we are asking you to weigh in on a very large, very significant, and fundamental public policy question about how law enforcement interacts, how it collects information on the citizenry.”

Trevor Timm from the Electronic Frontier Foundation underscored the importance this issue has on voters, relating he has never seen an issue that “so unites both sides of the aisle.” Michael Siegel representing the grassroots group Alameda County Against Drones asked for a complete ban against drones, strongly stating they “oppose the use of public resources to buy machines to surveil and suppress our communities.”

Ahern reiterated much of Madigan’s statements of promising to ensure privacy and that the drones would not be used or equipped with militarized weaponry. In response to the ACLU’s concerns regarding fusion centers used by various federal and state law enforcement agencies to gather intelligence, Ahern said they have “no desire” to retain that data and privacy issues are the major concern of their department. “We do not ever want to breach that privacy concern.”

Haggerty, who appeared disconnected throughout the hearing, and fairly abrasive to Lye, said he does not “foresee our sheriff going into peoples homes or backyards to acquire private data” with the drones, calling Ahern “one of the best sheriff’s in the United States,” to which only a single person clapped in approval. Haggerty questioned the ACLU on how they are dealing with private citizens currently purchasing drones for personal use, to which Lye responded, “A private individual doesn’t have the power to put me in jail, or prosecute me, or investigate me.” Haggerty finished by saying he agrees the policy should be revisited to ensure privacy is upheld.

Valle followed with a grandeur expression of his dedication to uphold the constitution and his mission to guarantee the privacy of Alameda County residents is respected. Valle agreed with Haggerty that this issue should be reviewed meticulously in all areas so as to be certain drones are of cost value, necessary and do not violate first or fourth amendment rights of residents.

The roughly hour and half presentations were followed by an hour and a half long comment portion from residents, predominantly those expressing objection to the purchase of drones. “I am really tired of losing my liberty for some false sense of security,” said one member of ACAD, mirroring the roughly 30 members of the community.

Ahern told The Citizen he does not have a specific deadline or timeline for this issue, but his next step is to continue to work with the ACLU to “tighten up our draft,” adding his main concern is to ensure the diverse voices of residents are respected. Ahern also expressed issue with the off-color comments made by many in the crowd to his character, stating he feels it is unfortunate some are choosing to focus their negativity on him to express their issue with the drones.

In response, Lye felt the hearing was a positive step and a “dramatic improvement,” but related there is still more work to be done. As Valle pointed out, “that dialogue is just beginning.”

Natalia Aldana is an East Bay Citizen contributor.

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