Friday, August 30, 2013

San Leandro Mayor Dropped Excessive Pounds Through The Oprah Diet

Cassidy: many cheeseburgers ago.
PHOTO/Shane Bond
SAN LEANDRO | Mayor Stephen Cassidy was once one of those fat guys who drank Diet Coke during San Leandro City Council meetings. Now he drinks what The Citizen’s Shane Bond reported was “green sludge” at a meeting last July. An “investigation” in May questioned how Cassidy had transformed himself from a rotund city official to a somewhat svelte version of his notorious self in just 60 days (!).

Some believed Cassidy had undergone a weight-loss procedure to account for the rapid loss of weight, as evidenced by a before-and-after graphic showing the mayor at a public meeting in March and another of a noticeably thinner Cassidy at a event in San Leandro in May.

Now, Cassidy is coming clean saying the transformation is due to a strict adherence to a tightly-relegated portion-control diet and exercise regimen offered by Kaiser Permanente. In fact, one council member told The Citizen, Cassidy is on the same diet used last year by Oprah Winfrey to drop 25 pounds in just six weeks. The diet plan, however, is very expensive, but Cassidy, who is up for re-election next year, can chalk up the personal expenditure to remaking his poor public persona around the city and the East Bay as a gruff, uncompromising bully.

Nevermind, the unknown health ramifications Cassidy may have been facing before proceeding with the crash diet, San Leandro politicos suspect the new Cassidy on display in recent months is a campaign creation. In fact, Cassidy often partakes in idle chats with other officials now; jokes and grins like he's happy to be in the company of constituents. In a few council meetings, he appeared to back off from firing back or belittling colleagues who challenged his positions or sometimes peculiar handling of meetings.

Although, we can’t help but think why Cassidy, as mayor of the fattest city in Alameda County, according to a state report earlier this year, wouldn’t use the weight-loss gambit to inspire his constituents into good health and exercise rather than taking advantage of free-delivery of Whoppers at the Burger King on East 14th Street, he certainly smiles a lot now. Although, with a little bit of green sludge caught between his teeth.

Skinner’s Gun Bills Escape The Suspence File

LEGISLATURE | A slate of Assembly bills heard in the State Senate Appropriations Committee Friday stood the chance of hearing Boyz II Men’s “End of the Road” upon banishment to the suspense file.However, two controversial gun control bills offered by Berkeley Assemblymember Nancy Skinner cleared the committee, along with legislation by Oakland Assemblymember Rob Bonta that would combat the spread of sexually-transmitted diseases in state prisons with the distribution of condoms.

A majority of the outstanding bills from Assemblymembers Skinner, Bonta, Bill Quirk and Bob Wieckowski lived to see another day before the end of the current legislative session on Sept. 13. Bills approved today move for debate on the Senate floor.

Skinner’s AB 48, which prohibits the purchase of high-capacity magazines and requiring reporting of ammunition sales to the U.S. Department of Justice, was given the green light by the committee. Another firearms related bill authored by Skinner that cleared the committee Friday, AB 1131, increases the wait time to five years for possessing a gun for those who communicate to a licensed psychotherapist intent to harm another. Current law marks the prohibition at just six months.

Bonta’s bill, AB 999, caused some opposition for technically allowing inmates to break the law by having sexual relations while incarcerated. The bill sets up a pilot program for distributing condoms to state prisoners. The rationale behind the legislation, however, is to limit the spread of sexually-transmitted diseases, like AIDS, while incarcerated.

A bill by Fremont Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski to allot $1 million from the general fund for spinal cord injury research also cleared the committee. The expenditures would fund the Roman Reed Spinal Cord Research Act at the University of California approved last year. Reed was a former Chabot College football player who was paralyzed during a game in 1994.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

'Seeing Is Believing': Yet Another Hayward Video Goes Viral

HAYWARD | Beauty pageant meltdowns are common and often horrific. When Hayward resident Joanlia Lising stepped daintily toward  hosts of the 2013 Miss Philippines USA pageant, she could never have foreseen the hot mess that would follow.

When asked which of the five senses she would prefer, Lising answered, "seeing." You can see the rest for yourself here:

One might ask is the second viral video to go viral world-wide featuring Hayward in as many weeks one of the reasons Mayor Michael Sweeney is stepping down next year?

Last week, a shocking video of a mother at Hayward's Cannery Park reared back and cold-cocked a skateboarding teenager who accidentally collided with her young son was picked up nationally and by the Daily Mail in England.

Surely, neither video will make the city's year-end highlight reel.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

God Calls Off Larry Reid’s Campaign For Oakland Mayor

OAKLAND//2014 ELECTION/MAYOR | During a long Oakland City Council budget meeting last June, Councilmember Larry Reid grew frustrated with the topic debated that night. His comments veered off course, peppered with an abnormal use of the word “freaking.” A clarion call followed. Reid added he just might run against Mayor Jean Quan next year. However, there was a caveat. Reid said it wasn’t his decision to run against the Great Satan, but one befitting a higher power.

“You know what?" said Reid in late June, "I don’t know, maybe I should freaking run for mayor of this city and the more I think about it, the more and more I’m just waiting for a signal from God.”

Well, God has spoken, or has not, at least regarding Reid’s run for Oakland mayor, but according to the San Francisco Chronicle, Reid’s daughter talked him out of mounting a campaign next year in long heart-to-heart chat.

Reid insists he could have summoned the $400,000 he said last month would be needed to run a strong campaign against Quan, according the Chronicle. In fact, every single American bank note, says the same thing, “In God We Trust.” But, in the meantime, the big guy upstairs is going with Bryan Parker, Joe Tuman, for now, and maybe some other surprising candidate, because you know, God works in mysterious ways.

Sweeney’s Departure Next Year Leaves A Wide-Open Mayoral Race In Hayward

Two terms is enough for Michael Sweeney.
HAYWARD//2014 ELECTION/MAYOR | Two weeks ago, when striking city employees in Hayward mocked Mayor Michael Sweeney for taking a vacation while they stood outside City Hall demanding a new contract, long-time observers uttered a similar refrain: “What? Sweeney took a vacation?”

Citing a new direction in his life outside of the mayor’s office, Sweeney announced Wednesday he will not seek re-election next year. It seems Sweeney, 63, and his reclusive ways is in line for a few more vacations in the coming years.

Sweeney’s announcement is a surprise to some, but many Hayward politicos had speculated he might leave office after two terms. The belief began to rise when Councilmember Francisco Zermeno announced his campaign for mayor this spring, whether Sweeney ran or not.

The decision appears to be a personal choice to end nearly two decades in public office following stints in the State Assembly and advocacy in Hayward. Most observers believe Sweeney’s prospects for re-election next year were high. He last won re-election in 2010 against a write-in candidate and winning over 98 percent of the vote.

Wednesday’s news sets up a wide-open mayoral race in Hayward likely to be one of the most interesting in the entire East Bay. Hayward holds its elections in June without a November run-off.

Along with Zermeno, who has been campaigning through the summer, many of his colleagues on the City Council have either voiced interest in running for mayor or could potentially become candidates following the newly-open seat.

They include Councilmembers Barbara Halliday and Mark Salinas who have reportedly showed interest to various community members in running. In addition, some believe Councilmembers Greg Jones and Marvin Peixoto could throw their hats into the race. Do the math: the list of potential candidates is nearly the entire current council. Former Councilmember Olden Henson, who lost his seat last year after 18 years, is also mulling a run.

A scenario featuring essentially a proxy at-large city council race clearly favors Halliday, a capable council member, who incidentally could be the only woman in the race. In the 2012 council race, Halliday received the highest number of votes in a field full of male candidates, including three of the potential candidates this time around. It’s an equation that may come into play again in 2014.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Pivotal Raiders Corporate Event Last Month Seen As Unsuccessful

COLISEUM AUTHORITY//RAIDERS | The Raiders and the National Football League said lagging corporate support in the East Bay is hampering the team's bottom line. So, the Coliseum Joint Powers Authority (JPA) led by Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley moved to fill the deficiency with a corporate event at Raiders headquarters in Alameda featuring local politicians and past heroes of the silver and black.

However, some officials tell The Citizen the event held last month  was ineffective and failed to entice a strong showing of the region's corporate heavyweights willing to aligned themselves with the team and its quest for a new stadium in Oakland.

It's one of the reasons why Save Oakland Sports, an advocacy groups hoping to keep the city's three professional sports teams in town gathered Monday at the den of Raiders fans, Ricky's Sports Theatre in San Leandro to discuss plans for their own event to draw the attention of the Chevrons, Cloroxs and Oracles in the Bay Area.

Rumors of the Raiders possibly returning to Los Angeles have periodically percolated in the press, while a conceit over the past few month floated by the team's ownership urging the city, county and its fans to line up corporate sponsorships for the team to be viable in Oakland along with a new stadium to replace the aging Coliseum, have placed greater urgency on the subject. In addition, the Raiders, like the A's, both have leases at the ballpark expiring at the end of their respective seasons.

The uncertainty over the Raiders has its notoriously faithful and rabid fans parsing every single words coming out of team management's mouth. Tom Blanda, a Raiders executive who attended Monday's meeting, said to the delight of the group, "We want the Raiders in Oakland." Later, when Blanda announced the team would donate 800 tickets per game this season for Oakland students, he added, the number of free tickets could rise in each of the next two years. A Raiders fan with exceptional listening skills quickly jumped on Blanda's words indicating the team's planning process in Oakland goes beyond this season.

Government, however, moves at a glacial pace. While the Coliseum Authority, which runs the facility, acknowledges the need to replace the stadium built in 1966, how it will be funded is a major question. Similar to comments made by Raiders owner Mark Davis to the Oakland Tribune over the weekend, Blanda says time is of the essence. "Help us create a sense of urgency," said Blanda. "What we need the politicians to understand is that we're running out of time. Tell them now is the time to rally."

The Authority is scheduled to meet Sept. 20 to unveil specifics from an Authority-funded study into building a new stadium at the current Coliseum property. Preliminary findings released last month found a 56,000-seat open-air football stadium could cost upwards of $1 billion based upon new facilities currently being built in Minneapolis and Atlanta, among others. However, the Raiders and the NFL also have their own study over the feasibility of a new stadium for the team in Oakland. A scenario whereby any positive findings in the Authority's report could be blunted by less-than-stellar prospects in the team's findings is something one JPA board member understands could occur.

Coliseum Authority board member Chris Dobbins said Monday night, "We know that could happen, but we have to stick to our stated goal, we want them to stay." He reiterated local officials need to feel a sense of urgency for moving forward with a specific stadium plan in light of Davis's public opposition to signing another short-term lease at the Coliseum without a plan for new stadium in place.

The Save Oakland Sports group hopes to hold their own corporate event sometime in November. In the meantime, its members sounded unified in showing the team their willingness to gather strong support in the business community. Dr. Death, a particularly passionate Raiders fan, even for the infamously loyal tribe, and one who travelled from Sacramento for Monday's meeting, said fans need to be highly proactive or risk losing the Raiders. With tinges of locker room bravado, Dr. Death added, "I don't take what's given to me, I take what I want."

Sutter Health’s Epic Fail

HEALTH CARE | It seems San Leandro Hospital got out from under the thumb of Sutter Health in the nick of time. The California Nurses Association on Tuesday harshly criticized the hospital provider for potentially putting patients at risk when its $1 billion records keeping computer program went dark for most of the day on Monday.

Doctors and nurses were unable to access or input patient information such as types of medication and dosage from 8 a.m. Monday morning to late in the afternoon, the nurses union said, and affected Sutter facilities in Northern California, including East Bay hospitals in Berkeley, Oakland and Castro Valley. The inability to access the computer program, named Epic, forced hospital employees to “work blind,” the union added.

A scheduled system upgrade last Friday allowed doctors and nurses to view patient’s file, but not input new data. However, it is not clear whether Sutter’s problems with the computer system are related to Friday’s upgrade. Last July, Sutter encountered trouble with the Epic program and the hospital provider has struggled recently with breaches to its computer security. Over the past year Sutter and the California Nurses Association have also encountered numerous skirmishes on the labor front all over Northern California.

Stacey Wells, a Sutter spokesperson acknowledged Monday’s problem “caused intermittent access challenges in some locations.” She noted specific backup procedures are available and were followed during the time timeframe the system was down and the confidentiality of the patient’s records were “secure and intact.”

“CNA’s allegations should come as no surprise to anyone given their protracted labor dispute with us,” said Wells. “It is interesting that CNA nurses use the same platform at Kaiser and have not challenged the Kaiser system.”

CNA claims the Epic system is not only for keeping track of patient’s record, but also to maximize the amount of profit it can squeeze from each customer. In a statement, Tuesday, the nurses union says Sutter Health management reportedly kept track of every dime. Even a total loss of $6,332 was detailed in an internal memo. “This department will not survive if we continue to operate this way,” said the email. “If you do something that is chargeable, charge for it!!!”

At Alta Bates Summit in Oakland, because of computer problems, patient’s histories were 2-3 days old, said a nurse there. At Alta Bates in Berkeley, nurses reported delays in surgeries and the delivery of babies. “We did not have information on the history of our patients. Nurses could not determine or administer proper meds when the system failed and the pharmacy backup system failed. If it were not for the nurses going above and beyond, it could have been disastrous,” said Beth Sherry, a registered nurse in the labor and delivery department.

As the hospitals in the Bay Area and the state at-large consolidate into big players such as Sutter Health and Kaiser Permanente, the business practices of these non-profits, some of which generate over $1 billion annually, have elicited greater scrutinizing by local and state officials and often at the behest of the powerful nurses union.

A report last year found the charitable benefits provider’s like Sutter give back to the community are far less than the tax breaks it receives with its non-profit status. The seemingly successful bid this year to keep San Leandro Hospital open despite Sutter’s protestations since 2009, put into question whether Sutter valued profits over the welfare of the community. In the past month, control of San Leandro Hospital was passed on to Alameda Health System.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Wieckowski Bill Allowing Non-Citizens To Serve On Juries Awaits Passage

Fremont Asm. Bob Wieckowski
ASSEMBLY 25 | Americans rarely enjoy jury duty, but a bill by Assemblymemeber Bob Wieckowski may test whether non-citizens will show much more enthusiasm passing judgment on their peers.

Wieckowski’s bill, which originated in the Assembly Judiciary Committee of which he chairs, would allow non-citizens in the state to serve as jurors. The bill passed the Assembly Thursday and awaits Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature. The Fremont legislator, who is a candidate for the State Senate next year, says the bill will fill a shortage of jurors and allows a taste of citizenship for lawful permanent residents.

“Immigrants are our friends. Immigrants are our neighbors. Immigrants are our co-workers and immigrants are our family members,” said Wieckowski on the Assembly floor. “They are part of the fabric of our community and they benefit from the protection of our laws.”

However, before any opposition could be raised, the vote was called showing the bill’s clear passage, but was halted. Nevertheless, Oceanside Assemblymember Rocky Chavez, a Republican, questioned whether there is a shortage of available citizens able to serve as jurors. He claims just 165,000 Californians served on juries last year out of 9 million summoned.

“I think there is something called a jury of your peers who understand the nuances of living in America,” said Chavez, who added not every country abides by the notion of innocent until proven guilty or taught to question government authority.

Wieckowski’s 25th Assembly District ranges from Fremont down to portions of San Jose. It also contains one of the highest concentrations of minority groups, specifically South Asians, in the entire country.

The boundaries of the 10th State Senate District currently held by Sen. Ellen Corbett, who is termed out next year, stretch even further north to include Hayward, which offers the largest bloc of Latino voters in the Bay Area. Together, Asians and Latinos in the 10th District hold a slim majority of the electorate.

Earlier this month, a bill allowing non-citizens to serve as poll workers, authored by Oakland Assemblymember Rob Bonta, was passed by the Legislature and also awaits the governor's consideration.

Jean Quan, Mayor Of Snoozeville?

OAKLAND//2014 ELECTION | Last July, I walked up to an opponent of the Plan Bay Area transportation strategy approved by the various mayors, council members from around the region later that night and showed him a photo I had just snapped of Oakland Mayor Jean Quan in a state of dreamland. “Oh,” the activist deadpanned, “it’s not an official meeting until Jean Quan falls asleep.”

According to numerous people I’ve spoken with recently, Quan’s propensity for dozing off in public is nearing ubiquity and may become a huge problem of optics for her re-election campaign. After all, any political consultant without much talent could compose an effective campaign mailer accusing Quan of being asleep at the wheel as violent crime continues to be a problem and the town’s beloved sports team seek addresses elsewhere. Leadership, Quan’s detractors and opponents for her seat, say has been missing from her first term in office. What says checking out like literally falling asleep on the public stage?

One source this week speculated she just may be working both ends of the candle too hard or maybe the trips to Snoozeville are a medical condition. To which I replied, whether the problem is medical in nature or not, her campaign team better make it so in the same fashion a pot smoker must search for a doctor who will conveniently prescribe medical cannabis for an itchy ear lobe.

This subject will become a big issue in the next year. Mark it down. All the campaigns are poised to seize upon the Quan sleepy meme. Bring up the subject and the response is typically a weird mixture of quiet disgust and growing glee at the enormous opening Quan is leaving for her opponents to exploit.

Rabid Oakland City Council audience members have longed mocked Quan for appearing like she was sleeping while at the dais. However, most times it appeared she was simply resting her eyes. As many of us well know, those meetings can be long and tedious. But, she was clearly in deep sleep at the Oakland Convention Center last July for the approval of Plan Bay Area--a night, it should be noted that ended over three years of regional discussions over the future of high-density housing and transportation in the area for the next 30 years!

Worst of all, forget going night-night at highfalutin meetings of government bureaucracy, but there are claims Quan fell asleep recently at a funeral for a toddler recently killed in Oakland. Whereas Quan's inability to fight the Sandman sounds ludicrous and almost humorous, checking out during the services of a murdered baby is infinitely worse than not even showing up in the first place.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Video Of Woman Clobbering Teenager In Hayward Goes Viral

Hayward has made national news in the past week in odd ways. First, the demolition of Cal State East Bay's iconic Warren Hall became newsworthy when geologists used the rumble to gauge the stability of the notorious Hayward Fault.

Now, a viral video of a woman clobbering a skateboarder at Hayward's Cannery Park has been picked up all over the world and garnered over 1.1 million hits on YouTube. In fact, it's the biggest beat down to hit Hayward since the East Bay Citizen ran Jesus Armas off the school board last year!

Watch the video below:

State To Audit BART’s Finances; May Take Seven Months To Complete

ASSEMBLY 20 | Hayward Assemblymember Bill Quirk is a man of science, a discipline predicated upon precise information. On Wednesday, a state audit of BART’s finances requested by Quirk will hopefully get the numbers straight.

The Joint Legislative Audit Committee approved the request after discrepancies were reported between the average wages of BART employees. BART management and union employees have been in a bitter labor dispute for much of the summer that is yet unresolved. An average annual wage of over $79,000 for BART train operators and station agents offered by management, widely reported by the local media was found to be skewed by the inclusion of six-figure salaries received by BART’s upper management. The average wage is somewhere around $64,000.

“This call for an audit is about accountability and transparency. The state has an obligation to make certain taxpayers know where their money is going,” said Quirk. “Unfortunately, recent events have made it clear that there are disagreements on several critical issues including employee salaries by classification, expenditures versus revenues to determine a structural deficit or surplus, projected costs of future capital improvements, and ongoing worker’s compensation practices regarding the use of temporary employees, just to name a few.”

The audit is also supported by Bay Area Assemblymembers Nancy Skinner, Rob Bonta, Tom Ammiano, and Phil Ting, along with State Sens. Ellen Corbett, Loni Hancock, Mark Leno and Mark DeSaulnier, who ruffled some union feathers by questioning BART’s right to strike.

The audit was first initiated by Quirk in July and will include BART’s finances during the past four years ending June 30, along with projected revenues and expenditures. According to the state auditor, a report may not be issued before spring 2014.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Corbett's Call For State Audit Of Limo Industry Approved

STATE SENATE | Ellen Corbett is continuing her attempts to crack down on the state’s charter-party limousine industry following findings this week the tragic limo fire on the San Mateo Bridge earlier this year was ruled an accident.

On Wednesday, an audit of the charter-party carriers limo industry sought by State Sen. Corbett was approved. The Joint Legislative Audit Committee plans to investigate how fees from limo carriers are spent by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC); whether rules are being abided by and how readily the commission is enforcing existing safety regulations. The CPUC grants limousine providers state licenses. It is also charged with conducting investigations and vehicle inspections.

Corbett’s call to dig deeper into the charter-party limo industry, follows the fiery death of five woman in a limo travelling last May on the San Mateo Bridge. The CPUC ruled the fire that emanated from a faulty driveshaft caused the accident. However, reports of the incident highlighted by the desperate attempts of the passengers to easily exit the burning limo, was the impetus for a bill offered by Corbett in June calling for limos to install additional rear exit doors and push out windows.

“The untimely deaths of five young women on the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge in May has forced all of us to recognize the importance of enhancing limo safety requirements in California in order to ensure that passengers remain safe,” Corbett said in a statement. “This audit will delve into the CPUC’s financial account that funds the oversight and regulation of limousines in our state. We want to ensure that every dollar collected for limo safety in California is indeed going toward that end.”

Corbett has used the power of a state audit in the past with a degree of success. In 2012, she directed another state audit to investigate whether non-profit hospital providers pay in community benefits is commensurate with the millions in tax breaks they receive from the state. The audit found no uniform accounting mechanism for non-profit hospital to provide for charity care.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Wieckowski Bill Authorizing County Transportation Tax Measure Heads To Governor’s Desk

ASSEMBLY 25 | A tweak in the state law that would allow Alameda County and Contra Costa County to again consider a transportation tax measure next year was approved last week by the State Senate.

The bill offered by Fremont Assemblymember Bob Wieckowski now sits on the governor’s desk for approval after the Legislature’s upper house approved AB 210, 25-12. It allows both counties to exceed the two percent sales tax limit laid out in state law on a one-time basis and for a potential transportation measure to be placed on the ballot sometime before 2020. However, many cities and local public officials are pushing hard for the exemption to be executed sooner than later.

Measure B1, a similar transportation sales tax measure was narrowly defeated last year to the consternation of officials and constituents in the more liberal parts of the East Bay. Despite garnering over 66 percent of the vote, Measure B1 failed to reach the requisite two-thirds majority for approval of tax measures by a mere 700 votes. Its demise was located in the Tri Valley where only one precinct in the entire area approved the tax.

Proponents of the transportation sales tax before and now say the East Bay’s aging roads and freeways need to be repaired and in some cases modernized to handle the flow of goods through the Bay Area and further influx of commuters.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Governor Signs Corbett’s Sexual Harassment Bill; Two Others Pass Assembly Committee

State Sen. Ellen Corbett
LEGISLATURE | More bad news for San Diego Mayor Bob Filner.

Gov. Jerry Brown, this week, signed a bill authored by State Sen. Ellen Corbett that clarifies existing law making sexual desire by alleged harassers in the workplace not a condition for proving the victim's case.

The impetus for Corbett’s legislation came from a 2011 same-sex harassment case when an appellate judge found the plaintiff had not proven sexual desire by the defendant. Until now, such proof was a requirement for the claim to proceed.

“The result confused sexual harassment law and seemingly weakened the protections against sexual conduct that leads to a hostile work environment,” said Corbett. “I thank Governor Brown for signing this important legislation that protects all individuals whenever they are sexually harassed in the workplace, regardless of motivation.”

On Tuesday, an Assembly committee moved Corbett’s “Made in California” marketing label closer to the governor’s desk. “It is important that consumers are well able to differentiate between goods produced in state compared to products made in other states or even abroad,” said Corbett.

The same Assembly committee also approved a bill long-supported by Corbett to boost the font size on prescription labels to at least 12-point. Corbett believes slight change will help the state’s aging population as it is expected grow in the coming decades.

Kaplan Calls On Congress To Restore Head Start Funding

Rebecca Kaplan
OAKLAND | Calling on the feds to intervene on the local level is nothing new for Oakland Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan.

In the past, for instance, she has excoriated the federal government for looking askance while financial institutions like Goldman Sachs were left unscathed by their malfeasance. That indiscretion left cities like Oakland paying dearly for the effects of the Great Recession. Now, she says Congress is letting down Oakland's children.

On Wednesday, Kaplan urged Congress to restore full funding to Head Start, the federal program relied upon many low-income residents in Oakland and Alameda County, at-large, to help prepare young children for the beginning of their school years.

Kaplan says Oakland already did it part. Earlier this year, $1.5 million in federal funding for Head Start was unilaterally cut by Congress through sequestration. However, the Oakland City Council’s voted to fill-in the cuts in its latest fiscal year budget approved last June. In the meantime, Oakland’s budget remains cash-strapped. “I call on Congress today, with a deep sense of urgency, to restore full federal funding for the Head Start program,” said Kaplan in front of the federal building in Oakland. The rally was organized by the Service Employees International Union, Local 1021.

“The federal cuts to Head Start across America are nothing more than collateral damage from congressional dysfunction commonly known as sequestration,” Kaplan added. “But let’s be clear: it is simply unconscionable that Congress would act so quickly to protect themselves and the well-connected from sequester-based inconvenience in air travel, while continuing to impose devastating cuts to Head Start and other vital programs that help working families who need it the most.”

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Tough Talk As Hayward City Employees Hunker Down

Striking Hayward city employees assemble in front of City Hall Tuesday evening. PHOTO/Steven Tavares
HAYWARD//STRIKE | Members of the Service Employees International Union, Local 1021, the same labor union involved in the dispute with BART management, say Hayward officials have failed to negotiate with the union since February. In July, the city declared an impasse in negotiations, which was followed by a strike vote, union members overwhelmingly approved. “Seven months ago, they said, this is our proposal,” said Linda Reid, a building permit technician in Hayward for 11 years. “And it’s been seven months of delay—take it or leave it.”

Hayward, like almost every city in Alameda County has navigated through budget shortfalls since 2008. In 2011, the city closed a $20 million shortfall primarily through concessions from city employees. However, Fran David, Hayward’s city manager has long held a firm line against the city’s union groups pushing for radical changes to the city’s structural debt. The union says it has given back 12 percent of wages over the past few years to help the city’s bottom line, while its membership cannot survive with another 5 percent cut, as proposed by the city.

“We have drawn the line,” said Daryl Lockhart, an SEIU Local 1021 leader at a noon rally Tuesday. “This is the line. We’re not taking no more concessions. When our backs are against the wall, we come out swinging. This is the first part of the swing, then there’s a belly blow, then there’s a chin check, then there’s a knockout.”

Management has not budged from offering the 280 street maintenance, water treatment and building permit employees a similar package agreed to this year by the firefighters union in Hayward. That deal called for no wages increases through 2015 and up to 17 percent to the cost of their pension. Steve Sommers, the lead negotiator for the union says management is ferreting away money, while refusing to discuss the pots of money the union says it knows exists. “This is the beginning of a long fight against lies and corruptions,” said Sommers. “You can’t take money out of here and put it there and say you don’t have money here. That’s what they’ve done. They did it before, they’re doing it now and it’s all lies.

Hayward’s Mayor Michael Sweeney and the entire City Council has distanced itself from the labor discord since the beginning of the year. However, as part of its annual list of council goals, it urged the city manager to bring the city’s finances in line. Sweeney, as former state assemblyman, is currently on vacation during the August recess. It’s a dichotomy union leaders sought to exploit Tuesday while vowing to flood the next Hayward City Council meeting next month with a “sea of [SEIU] purple shirts.” “At some point with the mayor lying on the beach somewhere and the city council on vacation, said Pete Castelli, an SEIU representative, “they’ve got to come home and that’s when are going to be held accountable.”

Striking Hayward City Employee Hit By Van While Picketing

Paramedics tend to Hayward city employee Jerry Schilling after he was struck
Tuesday morning by van while picketing. PHOTO/SEIU 1021
HAYWARD//STRIKE | Just hours after 280 Hayward city employees began a three-day strike Tuesday morning, a picketing worker was hit by a van.

The accident occurred around 9 a.m. Tuesday when a man driving a white van attempted to pull into an underground parking garage at Hayward’s City Hall. According to witnesses, the driver, described as an elderly man, turned into the parking lot entrance and struck Jerry Schilling, a 20-year street maintenance leader for the city, in the legs. “As soon as Jerry looked, he hit him. Just pushed him,” said Jose Medina, who has worked in the city’s water treatment department for the last 15 years. Schilling then yelled at the driver, “You hit me!” said Medina, “and the driver moved forward again.”

According to Medina and other witnesses, the driver, yelled “get out of the way” after striking the union member. “This guy had no intention of stopping. He just wanted to bully his way through. It’s just like what the city is trying to do to us—trying to get their way, not negotiating.”

Picketers say there were ready for the possibility of replacement workers hired by the city from a staffing agency in Pleasanton being surreptitiously bused in through the underground parking garage. The driver was seen leaving the parking garage over an hour later. Schilling was taken to the hospital.

Correction: the city confirmed Tuesday afternoon the driver of the van was a resident doing business at City Hall. A police investigation into the accident is ongoing, said the city manager's office.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Hayward City Employees Prepare For Three-Day Strike

Striking Hayward city employees set to picket
in front of Hayward City Hall starting Tuesday.
HAYWARD//STRIKE | In Hayward, the confluence of an uncompromising city manager, a complacent City Council and city employees hoping for relief following three years of concession have led to a three-day strike set to begin Tuesday morning.

Two hundred eight members of the Service Employees International Union, Local 1021 have been without a new contract since April. Union street maintenance crews, water treatment and animal control workers, along with library assistants approved a strike last June. Last week, negotiations with the city hit an impasse leading the union to make good on its threat to strike, starting 6 a.m., Tuesday. The union says it will hold solidarity rallies each day in front of Hayward City Hall at 12 p.m. and 5 p.m.

On Monday, the city filed a complaint with the California Public Employees Relations Board against the union alleging it negotiated in bad faith. “We have continuously negotiated in good faith with SEIU Local 1021 since September of 2012; and are frustrated by the tactics utilized by Regional SEIU leadership that appear to be to the detriment of our Hayward employees,” said Hayward City Manager Fran David in a statement.

Hayward’s city leadership has maintained the union should follow other bargaining units in the city who, like firefighters, previously agreed to no wage increases through 2015 and paying up to 17 percent towards the cost of their pensions. SEIU Local 1021 last received a wage increase in 2010.

The city says it has replacement workers ready to take over union member’s shifts if the strike proceeds as planned.

In each of the past four budget years, Hayward has closed substantial budget deficits on the back of concessions from workers. In 2011, it closed a $20 million shortfall with city employees help. Again, in 2012, city employees help slash the expected deficit significant through concessions. The city, however, claimed last June, a slowly recovering economy still hasn’t closed its budget uncertainty.

As far back as 2011, Hayward’s city manager has stated a discernible hard stance against city employees. In a blog, hosted on the city’s Web site, David routinely railed against workers and urged greater changes to its structural deficit. David alluded to the refrain in Monday’s statement. “This is not a problem to be solved by more revenue:” she said, “it is a paradigm shift that must be addressed for the long-term health of our community and the security of our employees.”

SEIU Local 1021 says the city has avoided any tangible negotiations with the union since February. Gary Jimenez, vice president of Local 1012, says workers merely want to recoup some of the lost wages its gave back to the city over the past few years. “After losing more than 12 percent of their wages, these workers are expected to simply take what the city put on the table—amounting to another 5 percent loss–without substantive bargaining and with numerous [unfair labor practice] violations by the city,” he said .

Few members of the Hayward’s City Council have taken strong stances either for union membership or the city manager’s position. However, it has unanimously approved specific city goals to tamp down employee costs. The union chided Hayward Mayor Michael Sweeney for being on vacation through the end of the month while the city faces an impending labor crisis, along with other council members taking off for the annual August recess.

Petition Asks Oakland City Council To Send Message To Russia Without Love

Nakhodka, Russia looks a bit like
the Port of Oakland.
OAKLAND//CIVIL RIGHTS | An online petition is urging the City of Oakland to end a sister city relationship with its Russian counterpart in protest of the country’s anti-gay laws.

The petition located at MoveOn.org is nearing its 1,000 signature goal as of Monday afternoon and hopes to send a message by asking the City Council to pass a resolution suspending its relationship with Nakhodka, Russia.

“We can and should send a message: we value and cherish our lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender residents and will not tolerate discrimination against our LGBT brothers and sisters by a sister city,” says the petition posted by an Oakland resident.

The Russian Parliament in June passed legislation banning the distribution of gay “propaganda”, gay adoptions and pride events in the country. Civil rights groups and President Barack Obama have criticized the law, while some have urged countries to boycott the coming Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.

The California Legislature may also weigh in on the controversial law. A resolution authored by State Sen. Mark Leno would urge the state’s public retirement systems not to invest in the future with Russia and has gained the support of Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg.

Nakhodka is an Eastern Russia town near the port city of Vladivostok. Oakland’s sister city relationship began in 1975. Oakland is also linked to Dalian, China; Da Nang, Vietnam, Fukuoka, Japan; Funchal, Portugal; Ocho Rios, Jamaica; Agadir, Morocco; Santiago de Cuba, Cuba; and Sekondi-Takoradi, Ghana.

Oakland is not the only East Bay city with a Russian sister city. Berkeley has a cultural exchange with Ulan-Ude, which boast the largest bust of Vladimir Lenin in the world. Union City has a partnership with a section of Moscow and San Jose is linked with St. Petersburg, Russia.

'Data' Dobbs Denies Ever Dropping Candidacy For Hayward Superintendent

HAYWARD SCHOOL BOARD | Hayward’s new Superintendent, Stan Dobbs, claims he never dropped out of the superintendent race in a recent interview with the East Bay Citizen at the July 24 board meeting despite evidence that proves otherwise. Dobbs blatantly told The Citizen that “I don’t know anything about this pulling out,” even though Dobbs own legal counsel contacted the Hayward school board’s legal counsel in June citing “harassment” as reason enough for him to seek work elsewhere.

When pressed further, citing an email from the school board’s legal counsel, Mary T. Hernandez, to the Hayward school board that references Dobbs receiving “harassing phone calls, leaks of confidential information and damaging erroneous information,” Dobbs shot back with “You don’t have an email from me saying ‘I’m pulling out.’”

However, the email clearly states Dobbs' intention to pull his name from consideration just days before the school board approved his one-year contract. "I just received a call from Mr. Dobbs' legal counsel," wrote Hernandez. "She told me that he is withdrawing as a candidate and is no longer interested in the position. I asked her if there was any way to change his mind, did he want to make a counteroffer, etc.? She said no, because of the 'harassment' he has been experiencing."

When reminded of these facts, Dobbs refused to continue discussing the topic further and instead tried to change discussion. “There are so many things going on in the district that we can talk about and make change. I really would like a discussion on those kind of things.” Dobbs, in an effort to further avoid questions, said positive discussion was needed.

On other topics Dobbs was asked to talk about former Superintendent Donald Evans and what positive and negative actions he made and what he would do differently than Evans. Dobbs kept his answer short, praised Evans, and then ended the interview in the middle of a follow up question claiming he needed to speak to his constituents. Dobbs worked under Evans at the Hayward Unified School District up until last November when Dobbs took a position with the San Diego Unified School District.

The email penned by the school board's legal counsel also refers to The Citizen, albeit without directly naming this publication. The “harassing” phone calls referred to The Citizen questioning Dobbs about his resume and his Stanford Executive Certificate which a contracted law firm claimed he did not have in a short phone interview on June 13. These findings were later proved erroneous when board member and Dobbs supporter, John Taylor, finally produced evidence of Dobbs' certificate more than a week later.

But in between that time Dobbs had dropped out of the race, claiming harassment but also, according to other inside sources, wanted a larger contract similar to former Superintendent Donald Evans. Dobbs’s actions to cut loose appeared to influence some board members, such as Taylor and board member Lisa Brunner to argue for a larger contract which he received at a tune of $229,000.

Shortly after the interview, the board president, William McGee, confirmed to The Citizen that the entire board did receive an email stating that Dobbs had pulled out. Also, board member Luis Reynoso says he received the email as well from Hernandez.

Despite his clear reticence in taking the job as interim superintendent, Dobbs said during his first meeting two weeks ago that he wishes to focus on math to improve critical thinking and analytic thought. He also promised to tackle the “32 percent who did not graduate last year” and called it his “32 Plan.” He also wants to place greater focus on intervention, credit recovery and direct counsel and services to at risk students and families.

Shane Bond is an East Bay Citizen contributor. Follow him on Twitter @Shane_Bond_

Friday, August 9, 2013

Ms. Santana, The Writing Is On The Wall

OAKLAND | Oakland City Administrator Deanna Santana never looks happy. If the sheer weight of Oakland’s problems perpetually on her shoulders wasn’t enough, her own job security now seems perilous.

Matthew Artz’s article Friday shows the discontent from labor and various other groups in the city has reached Mayor Jean Quan’s office. "Deanna is part of a very broad team that I have, and I think the team is doing a very good job," Quan told the Oakland Tribune.

She didn’t bother to praise Santana in the fashion a professional sports team owner might drop the perfunctory phony declaration of full support for the head coach, but sidestepped the actually boss of the City Administrator’s Office and her job performance.

This is notable and portends for yet another shakeup at City Hall following the embarrassing turn of events last May when three different police chiefs took control of the department within a span of 72 hours.

When asked specifically about Santana’s job security, she declined to “speculate” on the matter. Technically, as the person who hires and fires the city administrator, Quan is the only person able to speculate on Santana’s future.

To be sure, Santana has committed quite a few unforced errors in just the past year. She has interfered on numerous occasions with the implementation of reforms at the police department, low-balled union negotiators and infuriated labor leaders by summoning police officers to one bargaining meeting.

Don’t forget she created an embarrassing incident earlier this year when she asserted Oakland A’s co-owner Lew Wolff had never sent the city a proposal for a new five-year contract at the Coliseum. Turns out she did. It was just in a stack of papers left over from Christmas break.

In hindsight, it seems Santana, herself, knows her time in Oakland is nearing an end. In this week’s East Bay Express, Santana sent a lengthy letter to the paper claiming its spate of articles describing her meddling in police reforms were personal in nature.

Whether it be angry occupiers, residents pushing to clean up the police department, business owners with broken windows, irate union members or concerned sports fans hoping to keep Oakland’s team, Santana could withstand the storm. Without Quan in her corner, she’s a goner. Maybe she’ll be happy somewhere else?

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Swalwell The Schmuck

CONGRESS 15 | If anybody has an idea what Rep. Eric Swalwell is trying to accomplish with his peculiarly hysterical postcards from Israel, you're a mensch.

Swalwell always claims he's in firm control of his social media accounts, so we can more than assume the array of photos shared with his followers over the past week has some purpose in his bid for re-election. In the meantime, enjoy some of the goofiest and truly head-scratching political images you will ever find in the East Bay.

Let's start the photo gallery with this one:

The idea of taking a picture of yourself praying at the tomb of Jesus is strange, as one person tweeted Thursday night. But, taking the next step to upload it to Facebook is weird. The intimacy of prayer is usually not something any person, even a politician, would normally portray, unless they were guilty of something and needed the image showing atonement.

Second, Jesus be like, "thanks for dressing up!"

"Please, please, please, let me beat Ellen Corbett. I'll do anything."

This one will go real nice with a growing volume of "Camp Congress" photos showing Swalwell playing various games as representative. For Corbett's campaign team, it might look real nice next to the one of him playing goalie against former members of the U.S. National Team and another in full baseball gear during the Congressional baseball game in June.

I miss you mom! I'll be back home Sunday night!
Love, Eric.

Honda's Bid To Create Space On Social Security Lasts A Day

Ro Khanna, Rep. Mike Honda
CONGRESS 17//2014 ELECTIONS | Rep. Mike Honda was ready to pounce on a potential distinction between him and his fellow Democratic challenger Ro Khanna. Social Security would be the issue marking a significant insight into Honda’s campaign strategy. If Khanna can seemingly conjure up $1 million with a snap of his fingers, Honda would have to make inroads with blue collar South Bay voters and race him to the left.

However, it’s kind of difficult to create daylight on any issue if you’re opponent easily matches your rhetoric. While Honda organized the campaign’s first showdown in the front of a Social Security office in Fremont for Wednesday, the runup the day before signaled he would call for Khanna to “scrap the cap” on the social security payroll tax for earners of over $113,000. Except, by 9:30 a.m. the next day, Khanna’s campaign sent supporters an email affirming his support for social security. In the email, he noted his parent’s enrollment in the program along with his opposition to Obama’s chained-CPI proposal. The cap could even be lifted, Khanna added. So much for that.

Although a local media report covered Honda’s event, they neglected to mention the daylight Honda attempted to gain had been closed. In fact, supporting increased monthly social security checks is hardly a difficult pivot for a Democrat to make. In addition, the rich and powerful contributors Khanna has courted over the past two years are hardly the captains of industry and One Percenters you equate with such economic prowess. Silicon Valley is the land of the nouveu riche, not the Vanderbilts and Carnegies of the world, at least, not just yet. These are nerds and geeks with greater memories of struggling to survive on Top Ramen than what they will achieve today and in the future.

This is what makes Silicon Valley such an interesting region to host an intra-party congressional race pitting an incumbent from the old school and a challenger somewhat from the future of California, in both race and idea. Like it has been mentioned before, social security or any other issue will not cut it for Honda. This race is still about immigration reform. Whichever, candidate notices the shift in the wind first and tacks correctly, will likely win next year..

Bonta's Non-Citizen Poll Worker Bill Heads To The Governor's Desk

Asm Rob Bonta
ASSEMBLY | Non-citizens in California may soon be able to help voters at the polls. A bill by Oakland Assemblymember Rob Bonta passed the Assembly Thursday, 46-22, that would allow up to five permanent residents to work at Election Day polling location and possibly aid voters lacking proficiency in English. The bill awaits Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature.

Despite its easy passage following approval of slight amendments in the State Senate, Republicans led by Assemblymember Tim Donnelly lodged a spirited debate. “In order to become a citizen, you have to actually exhibit your proficiency in English,” said Donnelly, a potential gubernatorial candidate next year. “We’re essentially saying we’re going to change everything.” Donnelly added Bonta’s bill will undermine voter confidence in the election process.

However, Donnelly’s reference to military personnel veered the discussion to an entirely different place, unrelated to the bill on the floor. Watsonville Assemblymember Luis Alejo demanded an apology, while another Republican assembly member attempted to add an amendment to the bill recognizing servicemen.

“I think people are observing and recognizing and calling out a paradox those lawful permanent residents are allowed to serve in the military, but not allowed to serve as poll workers,” Bonta said on the Assembly floor.

The notion non-citizens would aid voters lacking a strong grasp of English was challenged by Modesto Assemblymember Kristin Olsen. Under the law, poll workers cannot enter the voting booth, read election materials; only hand them ballots. “None of this requires nuances of the English language,” she said.

Over 3 million voters in the state are not English-proficient, said Bonta, and a shortage of multi-lingual poll workers will likely get larger with further changes in demographics. According to the bill, polling inspectors must be citizens. Idaho and Washington state already allow permanent residents to work polling places.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

East Bay Assembly Trio Criticize BART For Faulty Wage Numbers

ASSEMBLY//BART STRIKE | East Bay Assemblymembers Rob Bonta, Nancy Skinner and Bill Quirk were critical of BART management for misstating the true average wages of train operators and station agents.

During testimony Wednesday before the Board of Inquiry ordered by Gov. Jerry Brown to convene, BART management revealed the often quoted $79,000 average pay actually includes management's wages. The figure is actually $63,000 and $64,000, according to BART.

“We’re pleased today’s meeting redirected focus on the ultimate goal of finalizing a fair contract that continues to ensure a safe, dependable public transit system," said the lawmakers, in a joint statement. "The panel asked important questions, obtaining documents and testimony that revealed the true financial picture of BART, the actual wages workers earn, and the significant safety issues confronted by employees every day."

Over past few months, the veracity of the higher wage figures were disputed by members of the two labor unions representing workers. Nonetheless, they were reported often by many local news outlets.

The Board of Inquiry is expected to release a report on Friday. There is a possibility the three-member board could recommend for a 60-day cooling off period while employees continue to work without a new contract.

Oakland Begins Investigation Of Goldman Sachs For Rate Swap Deal

OAKLAND CITY COUNCIL//GOLDMAN SACHS | Debarring Goldman Sachs would be huge news. However, Oakland’s bill to prove their culpability is also quite large. Last week, the Oakland City Council approved a $226,000 budget to hire an outside consultant to investigate Goldman Sachs’ controversial rate swap with the city.

The 1998 Goldman Sachs deal with the city, of which, some now say was rigged to fail, will cost Oakland nearly $11 million through 2021. Although, most agree nothing can be done to change the binding contract without incurring even greater costs, the City Council has pushed over the past year to beginning debarment proceedings against Goldman Sachs doing business with the city in the future.

Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney called it a “pretty significant contract” and asked, “What am I getting?” Councilmember Libby Schaaf, who once suggested simply reading Rolling Stone to understand Goldman Sachs’ corporate behavior, said, “I was surprised about how much this could costs us.” Both McElhaney and Schaaf even suggested asking attorney’s and financial experts to volunteer time to the investigation. That is not possibly, said an assistant city attorney, since any administrative hearing for debarment of Goldman Sachs would need to maintain its independence and neutrality.

“If you’re balking at the cost now, the cost of debarment will be much more,” added Oakland Mayor Jean Quan. She believes Goldman Sachs’ next move following any debarment proceeding would be to sue the city. “You will be in court a long time. This is pretty serious business.”

Some have charged the city administration with dragging its feet on merely setting the first step toward debarment. Councilmember Desley Brooks has sharply criticized City Administrator Deanna Santana’s office for neglecting to offer timely reports on the issue. As it has bounced around the City Council and committee hearings over the past year since direction was given to seek debarment of Goldman Sachs, a power play between Santana and Brooks over who controls the investigation has ensued. In April, the newly-seated City Council reaffirmed its decision to debar Goldman Sachs while recognizing a role for the Council. Yet, little movement has been made other than last week’s allocation to fund a preliminary investigation.

Successfully debarring Goldman Sachs from city contracts would be a stunning, somewhat symbolic rebuke by Oakland. In the Great Recession-era it would also be unprecedented and potentially mimicked across the country by other municipalities who also believed they were swindled by the financial behemoth.“If we can show Goldman Sachs needs to be debarred,” said Council President Pat Kernighan, who supported the resolution, “I think that would be really significant in the whole country.”

During a meeting last week that appeared to betray Oakland’s standing as an icon of progressivism—the City Council approved funding for a citywide surveillance center and made the possession of makeshift weapons at protests a misdemeanor—the Goldman Sachs issue is a return to pure populism for some members.

Councilmember Dan Kalb said he supports a debarment investigation because “I’m disgusted at Goldman Sachs for what they did to our city and many other cities.” But no member has been stepped up to the Goldman Sachs soapbox more than Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan.

Last week, she urged Washington to get involved in the process. “When we look at the malfeasance of Goldman Sachs, it would be really nice if the federal government took this on. It is really a nationwide issue and the misconduct of these corporations has caused financial devastation throughout the country,” said Kaplan. “I support us moving forward because someone has to step up and say that behavior is not okay.”

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

State Lawmakers Struggle With Domestic Drones And Privacy Safeguards

Drone replica displayed last February in Alameda County. PHOTO/Shane Bond
ASSEMBLY//DRONES/PRIVACY | As two high-profile drone bills sit in Assemby, members of its Public Safety Committee continue to grapple with the rapidly changing growth and privacy implication that stems from the potential use of public and private unmanned aerial systems, better known as drones.

At a hearing Tuesday in Sacramento, the issue of the affordability of domestic drones coupled with steep advances in imaging have made it difficult for legislators to keep pace with sufficient laws and regulations.

“I’m very concerned,” said Hayward Assemblymember Bill Quirk, who acknowledged domestic drones could help keep residents safe, “but, if not regulated, pose great invasions of privacy.” During the special hearing on the implications and oversight of domestic drones in the state, Quirk was among lawmakers who questioned the potential for infringement of citizen’s privacy.

Quirk had greater concern for domestic drones use by paparazzi and law enforcement, than some private uses of aerial systems for agriculture uses and geological studies. “You can get a system that looks at a large part of a city,” said Quirk. “Do we allow an officer to have a reasonable suspicion and fly over any time?“ he asked. “Do they need a warrant?”

Two bills aim to clarify laws regarding to domestic drones. A senate bill authored by Southern California State Sen. Alex Padilla would make it illegal to spy on people using domestic drones and required police to obtain a search warrant before deploying them. The legislation has been framed by some as a response to the potential use of drones by Hollywood paparazzi.

However, the Federal Aviation Administration has made the commercial use of domestic drones illegal until 2015. In the meantime, law enforcement entities around the state have begun to apply for permits authorizing their use after the moratorium ends. Padilla’s bill passed the State Senate earlier this year and currently sits in the Assembly Public Safety Committee.

Another drone bill authored by Assemblymembers Jeff Gorell and Steven Bradford hopes to accomplish many of the same restrictions as the Padilla bill, but also looks to help Southland drone businesses flourish. Some estimates see the aerial unmanned vehicle industry as a potential $2 billion a year business. A related bill offered by Gorell would also carve out income tax breaks to state drone contractors.

Linda Lye, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, says the State Supreme Court already ruled unmanned aerial flights over private homes are illegal. She testified the state’s own Constitution clearly lays out the right to privacy. “Drones can enable the government to gather comprehensive information about when, where and how we conduct our business,” she said.

Lye, who has also spoken out in Alameda County against a plan by the sheriff to purchase two drones last year and a week ago against the Domain Awareness Center in Oakland, refuted criticisms by some in law enforcement that regulations on domestic drone use could curtail its usefulness in fighting crime and search and rescue operations. Instead, she responded the question should be: “Why does law enforcement have unfettered use of technology they never used before?”

Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean told the Assembly committee, he and others in law enforcement strongly support privacy regulations on how domestic drones are deployed, but added wide swaths of back country in his county make proving probable cause in such expanses difficult to combat, what he says, are violent drug cartels flowing from Mexico. When asked by a committee member whether he can envision fitting domestic drones with weaponry, he said, “I can t imagine ever wanting to add a weapons system on one. I wouldn’t even want one on a helicopter.”

Earlier in the hearing a professor of engineering at U.C. Merced testified domestic drones are prone to crashes. The criticism is often lodged by proponents of domestic drones. “We always lose to gravity,” said Dr. YangQuan Chen. “It’s not if, but when it will crash.” However, later, Sheriff Dean demonstrated a crash of a 12-pound drone is equal to that of a small stack of papers hitting a table.

San Francisco Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, the chair of the committee, took a more pragmatic view of the quick rise of domestic drones, their potential misuse and those who may seek ways to nullify its coming ubiquity. “If there are people who want it for nefarious reasons or not,” Ammiano said, "there’s the possibility they can also create something that disables it.”

Monday, August 5, 2013

Swalwell Goes To Israel

Rep. Eric Swalwell
CONGRESS 15 | Rep. Eric Swalwell already has his hands full closing the inherent East-West divide in the 15th Congressional District, but he thinks he can help the generations-long dispute between Israel and Palestine.

The freshman congressman and 35 other members of Congress, led by Rep. Steny Hoyer, left Sunday for Israel. The contingent will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas during the seven-day trip.

The pro-Israeli lobby in Washington has been kind to Swalwell before and after his election to Congress last November. Various Israeli organizations have contributed greatly to his campaign going back to last year. Many of the same groups again contributed to Swalwell's campaign, according to the most recent campaign finance reports.

The trip was organized by the American Israeli Education Foundation, which is affiliated to the powerful American Israeli Public Affairs Committee.

In media reports today, Swalwell said his primary interest in the trip is to evaluate Israel’s methods and responses to terrorism, including its technology.

Swalwell is currently a member of the House Committee on Homeland Security and has advocated in the past for greater funding for security at airports and at BART, which runs through his district. Swalwell has also backed the Alameda County Sheriff’s proposal for domestic drones in cases of emergency. He also backs the use of more lethal forms of drones in the Middle East.

According to Swalwell’s congressional Web Site, he advocates for a two-state solution in Israel, but urges Palestinians to negotiate directly with Israel, and without pre-conditions.

Cuba Libre: Skinner Attended Foreign Junket Organized By Powerful Lobbyist

Skinner spent $2,400 in campaign funds for
her summer trip to Cuba last June.  
ASSEMBLY//CAMPAIGN FINANCE | Mix a bit of white rum with Coke, add a splash of lime and the cocktail may jettison you to the island of Cuba. The sweetened concoction is not dissimilar to the interaction of Sacramento politics and shadowy lobbyists.

Incorporate powerful special interests with a group of state legislators along with copious amounts of campaign money and, if you’re like East Bay Assemblymember Nancy Skinner, you touchdowned in Cuba last June for days and nights of salsa dancing, sightseeing and drinking the aforementioned Cuba Libre from 1950s era rooftops.

According to John Hrabe at Cal Watchdog, Skinner and seven others legislators—two yet to be indentified—traveled to Cuba last June as guest of the powerful lobbyist, Darius Anderson. Skinner spent $2,400 in travel expenses, according to her campaign finance reports released this month.

Big-name corporations and special interests linked to Anderson’s firm, writes Cal Watchdog, contributed nearly $13,000 to Skinner’s campaign since 2011, including AT&T, DirecTV, Entertainment Software Association, Pfizer, SKS Investments, LLC and the United Food and Commercial Workers union.

The junket also included embattled Southern California State Sen. Ron Calderon, who's offices were raided last June by the FBI. According to Cal Watchdog, the U.S. State Department's prohibition against travel to Cuba was circumvented by a non-profit organization backed by Anderson, which organized the trip.

Foreign jaunts are nothing new for East Bay legislators. In 2009, former Assemblymember Mary Hayashi’s lobbyist-sponsored trip to Spain was the sixth-highest expenditure in the entire Legislature that year. A year later, State Sen. Ellen Corbett and Skinner, also spent the summer break on the Iberian Peninsula for a 12-day trip to tour the country’s exploits in clean energy.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Nearly 90% Of Bonta, Quirk’s Donors This Year Are Unions, Special Interests

Asms. Rob Bonta and Bill Quirk.
ASSEMBLY//CAMPAIGN FINANCE | East Bay Assemblymembers Rob Bonta and Bill Quirk both won election to the Legislature last year. While Bonta quickly moved to the top tier of Democratic legislators in the lower house, Quirk laid low and learned the intricacies of Sacramento. However, both are benefiting from the parties deep roots within labor unions and special interests. According to campaign finance reports released this week, nearly 90 percent of their campaign coffers were padded with union and special interests money.

Bonta, who represents the 18th District in Oakland, Alameda and San Leandro, received $264,376 through the first half of this year, according to finance reports. He spent over $162,000 for an ending balance of $168,807. However, a large percentage of Bonta’s expenditures were set aside pay to alms to the statewide party and help some local campaigns pay off past debts.

The Democratic State Central Committee received $34,785 from Bonta over the past six months. The total is not unusual and illustrates Bonta’s growing power in Sacramento. He also donated $1,000 to Abel Guillen, his opponent for the assembly last year. In addition, he contributed to the campaigns of former Oakland City Council candidate Sean Sullivan, Alameda Councilmember Lena Tam and Alameda County Supervisor Wilma Chan. Bonta also dabbled in Southern California politics, donating $1,300 to the successful mayoral campaign in Los Angeles of Eric Garcetti.

Unions across the state from firefighters, police officers associations, nurses, health insurance groups, dentists and numerous trades poured over $230,000 into Bonta’s re-election campaign. Just under 12 percent of Bonta’s contributions came from individual donors.

Many of the same special interests also gave to Quirk, although in smaller amounts. Over the past six months, Quirk, who represents The 20th District in Hayward and most of the Tri-Cities, received $126,971 in contributions. He spent only $26,000, according to finance reports. Most of his expenditures were earmarked to a political consultant. His remaining balance stands at $100,321.

Like Bonta, just over 12 percent, or $15,600, of the contributions to Quirk’s re-election was from private individuals. Among Quirk’s biggest contributors is Calpine, which donated $4,100. The new Russell City Energy Center, a natural gas-fired power plant in Hayward, which Quirk supported as city councilmember, is scheduled to go online soon.

Despite the large amount of campaign finance dollars received by either legislator, neither has an opponent next year. There have been rumbling Dr. Jennifer Ong may challenge Quirk for a rematch of last year’s race, but her finance reports list just over $1,700 in her 2012 account. Quirk beat Ong by just over 900 votes.

There is another reason why Bonta and Quirk need to build war chests despite the lack of a credible challenger next year. With changes to term limits, last year’s freshmen now have the opportunity to entrench themselves in Sacramento for 12 years total, instead of 8.