Friday, January 31, 2014

Parker Tops Quan in Fundraising; Tuman, Schaaf Also Impress

Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, Bryan Parker,
Libby Schaaf, Joe Tuman.
ELECTION 2014 | OAKLAND | MAYOR | Port of Oakland Commissioner Bryan Parker showed a slight fundraising lead in campaign finance reports released Friday. Parker topped Mayor Jean Quan in a strong showing for four of the top candidates.

Parker reported a cash balance of $140,706 through the end of 2013, which included $76,107 in fundraising from the last half of the year alone.

The haul easily topped Quan's early fundraising totals showing a cash balance of $120,255, according to campaign finance reports. They include contributions of $63,636 in the second half of the year. Quan also maintains $30,000 in personal loans to her campaign, said the report.

Friday's finance reports, however, included two strong fundraising showings by Joe Tuman, who entered the race last June and Councilmember Libby Schaaf, who announced her candidacy last month. Tuman quickly raised $155,300 to top the field of candidates in the last six months and reported a cash balance of $131, 142.

Schaff also did exceedingly well within an even shorter time span, reporting $124,210 in total donations, including $700 from fellow Oakland Councilmember Pat Kernighan. Schaaf's ending balance stands at $119,838.

Oakland civil rights attorney Dan Siegel did not file a finance report and a sixth declared candidate, Patrick McCullough reported $100.


PARKER...........$ 76,107
QUAN.............$ 63,636

Thursday, January 30, 2014

David Erlich: Assemblyman Rob Bonta's Challenge From the Right

ELECTION 2014 | ASSEMBLY | 18TH DISTRICT | After just a year in Sacramento, Assemblymember Rob Bonta is firmly entrenched within the Democratic leadership. In fact, a few tweaks here and a few arm pulls here and Bonta could have been in the conversation to become the next speaker. That job went to Southern California Assemblymember Toni Atkins. But, for the time being, no Democrat will dare challenge Bonta in the 18th District. However, a tough-talking libertarian with a biting sense of humor wants a shot.

San Leandro's David Erlich is often seen at City Council meeting with a wicked Tea Party rejoinder ready for launch during the public comment period. In recent years he's sort of taken over the mantle of town naysayer once belonging to the irascible Lou Filipovich, who passed away last year. Erlich, however, doesn't badger staff or admonish council members with a crooked pointing of the finger like Filipovich. "I know what you're up to," Filipovich often said in the best old codger voice you would expect from a person who ran for every office from Congress to City Council and lost over two dozen times.

This week, as the San Leandro City Council heard a report from its Washington lobbyist, Erlich couldn't help himself as he listened to the list of various federal grants potentially available to the city. "Let's have a little fun with this, tonight," Erlich declared, as he appeared before the council in an orange t-shirt evoking thoughts he had just escaped from Santa Rita. Joking aside, Erlich has honed his small government message over the past few years railing against the massive regional housing and transportation plan, known as Plan Bay Area. (Watch video below of Erlich speaking last Monday.)

“We’re actually going to the federal government and asking for money and we’re $17 trillion in debt,” he said. “We’re like hooked on heroin.” Later, Erlich criticized a comment made earlier by the city’s legislative lobbyist about President Obama using executive powers to move forward certain policies. “That’s no longer a president, that’s a dictator," he said. "Maybe it’s a good thing we have a little gridlock in Washington.”

Near the end of his two-minutes, however, Erlich said instead of seeking grants from what he called a bankrupt federal government, the city should be fiscally self-sustainable. Erlich, in fact, might be running for the wrong office. In 2010, Stephen Cassidy upset the sitting mayor in San Leandro by employing the same rhetoric. Where was Cassidy last Monday night? He was in Washington with hundreds of other U.S. mayors bending over backwards in hopes of bringing home a little piece of the federal pie.

(VIDEO) Ro Khanna Was For Mike Honda Before He Was Against Him

ELECTION 2014 | CONGRESS | 17TH DISTRICT | Looks like Rep. Mike Honda’s campaign team has be mining the Internet for gold and found it. A few days after the campaign struggled to defend against an aggressive pair of offensives moves by Khanna, a new video has surfaced showing Khanna doing the worst thing possible. He said something nice about his future opponent!

Honda’s campaign released a minute-long YouTube video from March 2012 of Khanna praising Honda. Khanna says, “Mike Honda is an outstanding congressman for our area” and goes on to describe him as Washington’s go-to-guy for Asian American-related issues. The video ends with the tagline : “Mike hasn’t changed.”

At the time of the remarks, Khanna was contemplating a run for Pete Stark’s seat in the 15th District. Despite impressive fundraising totals, he relented. Last year, he announced his candidacy for Honda’s Fremont and South Bay 17th District seat.

Despite the excellent framing of the video to portray Khanna’s current criticisms of Honda as disingenuous, its may not be clear what type of voters it might attract. Surely, the rank-and-file Honda supporters will eat it up. There is already a bit of crowing on social media today following the video's release. And then there are the realists. What was Khanna suppose to say that fateful night almost two years ago? Look at that guy over there, doesn’t he looks like a white-haired Care Bear? I should probably run against him next year. No. The cynical among us will undoubtedly add, never believe anything a politician says, but those people probably don't even bother to vote.

Khanna’s problem is this: how do you explain away what you said about your current opponent within the narrative framed by Honda? It’s though and frankly, if you can’t neutralize it in a sentence, it just sounds like stammering and may linger for much of the election.

UPDATE: Tyler Law, the press secretary for Khanna's campaign, responded Thursday afternoon: "His campaign touts that 'Mike hasn't changed.' That's exactly the problem, and it's clear with this kind of silly attack. What the people of the 17th district don't need is more stale, tired political games. They need, and deserve, a real debate about ideas for the future. That's a debate Ro is ready to have. We hope Congressman Honda can 'change' enough to allow for that."

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Bonta's Second Try for Distributing Condoms in State Jails Passes Assembly

ASSEMBLY | 18TH DISTRICT | Oakland Assemblymember Rob Bonta's first attempt to expand the distribution of condoms to state inmates in order to fight the impacts of high rates of sexually-transmitted diseases failed last October when Gov. Jerry Brown sidestepped the issue and vetoed the bill.

This week, the State Assembly approved Bonta's reworked bill that focuses this time around on formulating a five-year plan for the distribution of condom in state prisons. Sexual intercourse among prisoners, however, is illegal although Bonta has long stated the consequences of unprotected sex for both prisoners and the population, at large. “Sexually transmitted disease is a tragic reality of life in prison," Bonta said last week.

The bill vetoed by Brown last year was more direct in allowing for a pilot program to begin distribution of condoms. Brown, though, did not tackle the efficacy of the program nor the potential health concerns. In a veto message, he wrote, "The Department [of Corrections and Rehabilitation] currently allows family visitors to bring condoms for the purpose of the family overnight visitation program."

Within both iterations of the prison condom bill, economics play a large part in the effort. Bonta says the cost of the program could be as low a $1.39 per prisoner. Conversely, taxpayer-paid medical bills for incarcerated HIV/AIDS patients can run as high as $24,000 annually. “The data speaks for itself. Over the life of the patient, a single infection can cost the state hundreds of thousands of dollars. The long-term benefits to vulnerable communities, and to the budget, are well-worth the modest state investment in providing condoms to state prisoners," he said.

Bonta has another prison-related bill up for reconsideration from the last legislative session. A bill allowing community colleges full funding for courses offered in jails awaits a vote before the full Assembly. Bills from the previous session must be approved in the house of their origin before this Friday.

Corbett Calls for Investigation into Fannie Mae Illegally Taking Fees for Short Sales

STATE SENATE | Fannie Mae may have illegally received borrower's contributions to short sales in violation of a California state law authored by State Sen. Ellen Corbett. In a letter sent Tuesday by Corbett and Santa Rose State Sen. Noreen Evans, they ask State Attorney General Kamala Harris to investigate the collection of over $3 million in fees from over 1,200 short sales in California on behalf of the government-backed Fannie Mae.

The state law passed in 2011 was aimed at protecting California homeowners, many of which possess a disproportionately large number of underwater mortgages stemming from the Great Recession. The law specifically forbids lenders from collecting fees to begin the process of a short sale—often a last resort for borrowers hoping to retain proceeds for at least some portion of the remaining debt balance on their home loans.

Corbett was critical of Fannie Mae for allowing its smaller service providers apply the state law and urged for repayment of the fees. “Throughout this process, Fannie Mae has taken a hands-off approach, letting their servicers decide not only how to interpret the law, but also how to correct the situation without proper oversight. This is simply unacceptable,” said Corbett.

A remediation plan in response to the violation of state law was drafted by Fannie Mae last October. But, in a separate letter to its CEO Tim Mayopoulos, Corbett and Evans admonished him for failing to adopt consistent guidelines. “In effect, Fannie Mae took no initiative to ensure that California laws were followed and their borrowers protected.”

Oakland's Nuclear Free Zone Law Proving Troublesome for Future of DAC

OAKLAND CITY COUNCIL | PRIVACY | Oakland’s Nuclear Weapons Free Zone Ordinance is adding quite a bit of snowy static for future of the Domain Awareness Center (DAC). The City Council’s Public Safety Committee moved forward a recommendation to select a new vendor for the second phase of the controversial surveillance center late Tuesday night, but not before all four members raised serious questions whether the latest contractor may be ineligible due to its potential participation in nuclear weapons-related businesses.

“It appears the folks who are most qualified to do these things are companies that conflict with the values this community has set forth in procurement policies,” said Oakland Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney, who added, her position toward the DAC since last July has significantly changed. “I am more disturbed by the DAC than I was at the first hearing in 2013.”

Earlier in the committee meeting, Ahsan Baig, the director of the city’s Department of Information Technology, said the potential DAC contractor, Schneider Electric, Inc., self-reported no nuclear weapons-related activities during the procurement process. However, concerns by local media and privacy activists asserting otherwise led the city to request further information from the company, which it has not yet received. Assistant City Administrator Arturo Sanchez said the vendor seeking the DAC contractor is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the larger Schneider Electric enterprise, which may work in nuclear weapons-related enterprises, but the smaller company seeking the contract in Oakland does not.

“If something is a wholly-owned subsidiary, that’s part of the company,” said Councilmember Dan Kalb. “That’s not for debate.” Kalb also admonished city staff for a passage in the proposed resolution allowing the administration to choose another vendor without council approval. “The provision of it not coming back to council is not going to happen,” Kalb said. “It’s kind of shocking the administration would even ask us for that again after we rejected that so many times.”

Councilmember Libby Schaaf also registered concern over the legality of the vendor’s proposal within the city’s nuclear weapons free zone law, approved by voters in 1992, and which also negated a similar contract from a different vendor late last year. “I continue to have questions about whether or not Schneider meets all of the applicable laws,” she said, and like the rest of the committee believes the issue before them Tuesday night was more appropriate for a discussion by the full council next week. Gallo, despite voicing strong support for the need of a citywide surveillance hub to fight crime in Oakland, noted the possibility the current vendor may not be complaint. He urged city staff to return a clear up or down determination on Schneider’s nuclear weapons activities.

As with other public meetings involving the DAC since last summer, dozens of speakers passionately urged against its presence in Oakland. However, the tone was more subdued and without the shouting and name-calling that has overshadowed other meetings. “There is a reason why all of the DAC contractors are also involved with nuclear weapons,” said Oakland privacy activist Mary Madden. “Mass surveillance is an injustice you subject upon people that you are at war with.” Others remain concerned repeated disclosures over the past year of secret government intrusion into personal privacy made public by Edward Snowden will also lead to abuses of the DAC’s surveillance capabilities.

A new public privacy policy requested last July by the City Council may be offered for public vetting as early as next week, city staff said Tuesday. However, Schaaf said she was disappointed over the slow response to drafting the document and urged for greater use of the public’s input in its creation. A public hearing is slated to be held before the final draft is presented to the council later this year.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Touting a Message of Falling Crime Rates, Quan's Car is Broken Into

OAKLAND | MAYOR | Maybe elected officials in Oakland should think about taking public transportation? On Monday night, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan had her car vandalized, said her spokesman. Quan's vehicle sustained one broken window, but nothing was stolen, said Sean Maher. Quan was attending a community meeting in the Oakland Hills Monday night when the incident occurred.

Quan’s political rival, Councilmember Larry Reid spilled the beans Tuesday afternoon during a Community and Economic Development Committee meeting. The tidbit was squeezed between a rant over enticing business development to Hegenberger Road and the perception among many, he says, that Oakland is too dangerous to visit. "Even my mayor had her car broken into last night," Reid said.

The act of vandalism is quickly becoming a badge of honor for Oakland mayoral candidates. Last December, Joe Tuman, a university professor running his second bid for the mayor's office this year, also had his automobile vandalized in Oakland. It was the second occurrence, he says, in the previous six months. Tuman used his poor luck to his advantage by parlaying it into a fundraising vehicle.

For Quan, the incident is an unfortunate development for her re-election bid, which rests on convincing voters Oakland is in a state of economic renewal and lowering crime rates.

Coincidentally, Quan and Oakland Police Chief Sean Whent passed out free steering wheel locks last Saturday at Clinton Park in Oakland.

NOTE: Comments from Quan's spokesman was added to this article Tuesday night.

The Skinny: Hayward City Council Preview, Jan. 28, 2014

Hayward City Council Preview
777 B Street
Tuesday, Jan. 28, 7 p.m.
Twitter hashtag: #haymtg.
Twitter handles: @zermenoformayor @hwdcouncilman @almendall

GENERAL PLAN HOUSING ELEMENT Staff is recommending the City Council approve a modification to the General Plan Housing Element, including, specifically the South Hayward BART/Mission Boulevard Zoning Ordinance. The change includes adding a definition for transitional and supportive housing units, which the staff report stresses is not equivalent to emergency shelters or homeless day centers. Instead, they include provisions for housing to aid resident who may need short-term housing like victims of domestic violence, veterans and previously homeless individuals transitioning to permanent housing. Supportive housing may include, for instance, those with disabilities

WHAT IT MEANS If Hayward does not make the change, it puts itself in jeopardy of a legal challenge, or worse. State law calls for these provisions in the housing element. Therefore, the entire General Plan could be invalid because of the omission of transitional and supportive housing element. “In addition, if the City is sued,” says the staff report, “the courts could impose requirements for land use decisions until the General Plan and Housing Element are compliant. It should be noted that the requirements and penalties have increased in severity over the years.” If the resolution is passed Tuesday night, it will return to the City Council Feb. 4 for adoption.

BE AWARE The City Council will formally order its general election be held June 3 for the election of a new mayor and two members of the council. Councilmember Marvin Peixoto is up for re-election and Councilmember Mark Salinas is running for mayor.

Once again the council was scheduled to meet with its labor negotiators in closed session. However, the closed session was canceled, according to a revised agenda. City employees have been without a contract for almost one year.

The Beacon Award is presented by Pacific Gas & Electric to the City of Hayward for energy savings in city facilities.

Jan. 14, Councilmember Al Mendall turned heads on the City Council when he advocated for Alameda County to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour. If they won’t do it, he said, then Hayward should take the lead…A 45-day moratorium was placed on the issuance of business licenses for tobacco stores, e-cig and hookah lounges in Hayward. The determination is needed for the city’s planning department to sort out the lack of zoning-specific language for such businesses in the municipal code. Some council members, though, also registered concern over the health of children.


Monday, January 27, 2014

The Skinny: Oakland City Council Committee Preview, Jan. 28, 2014

Oakland City Council Committee Preview
1 Frank Ogawa Plaza
Tuesday, Jan. 28, begins at 9:30 a.m.
Hashtag: #oakmtg

DAC RETURNS In a committee item likely to attract a great deal of attention from Oakland’s vocal privacy activists, the public safety committee will look to pass to the full council a $1.6 million professional service contract to Schneider Electric, Inc. for the design, building and maintenance of the second phase of the Domain Awareness Center, a port and citywide surveillance hub in Oakland. (Item 6). WHAT IT MEANS Those same privacy activists will point to an East Bay Express article last month that asserts Schneider Electric, the corporation seeking the DAC contract, also dabbles in nuclear weapons production. If so, that is clearly in violation of the City’s Nuclear Weapons Free Zone Ordinance. A city staff report, however, says Schneider Electric does not work in relation to nuclear weapons. A lawsuit is pending against the city that hopes to block the DAC, if it moves forward. Also within the agenda item is a provision for the committee to switch gears and drop Schneider Electric and authorize staff to begin negotiations with another vendor on its evaluation ranking list without council consent.

BE AWARE An informational report on automated safety speed cameras near schools will be submitted to the committee, at the requst of Councilmember Desley Brooks. The staff report, however, finds safety speed cameras are illegal in California. Typically, such cameras are legally employed at busy intersections to record red light violations and railroad crossings. (Meeting starts 6 p.m. Committee members: McElhaney, Kalb, Schaaf; Gallo, chair)

HOUSING FORECLOSURE DATA A staff report shows the number of Notices of Default in Oakland were unchanged in October and November of last year, but represent a 54 percent decrease from a year ago. Short sales have also slightly decreased. However, homeowner association-related foreclosures have risen, said the report (Item 4). WHAT IT MEANS Like most economical indicators in every segment of the local economy, the overall picture shows Oakland is bouncing back, but not as fast as its residents and homeowners need it to be. In addition, this item may bring attention back to the council's ill-fated attempt to look further into an anti-foreclosure strategy similar to nearby Richmond. At the time, Councilmember Desley Brooks said she merely wanted detailed analysis on the extent of the foreclosure problem in Oakland.

BE AWARE The city will accept $50,000 from Oakland Maritime Support Services as part of a court finding last November it violated the Clean Water Act by allowing storm drain water from its trucking maintenance facility to enter the bay. As owner of the property at the Oakland Army Base, the city agreed to pay $300,000 to settle the suit along with a pledge from the plainants not to challenge the transfer of OMSS to a new property at the Port of Oakland (Item 3)…The committee also looks to adopt a resolution to locate funding to construct a walk path along San Leandro Creek (Item 6). (Meeting starts 2 p.m. Committee members: McElhaney, Schaaf, Kernighan; Reid, chair.)

BE AWARE A report on the city’s unfunded liabilities, requested by Councilmember Libby Schaaf, is presented. Let’s cut to the chase, the number stands at $1.64 billion, which includes capital improvements, workers' compensation and pension costs…A city staff report is also offered detailing the Radio and Telecommunications Fund Report, which shows a budget of over $3.5 million. Last week, a study found the city’s Radio Shop inadequately funded and potentially an impediment to the long-term success of its public safety radio system. (Meeting starts at 9:30 a.m. Committee members: Brooks, Kaplan, Kernighan; Schaaf, chair) 

LIFE ENRICHMENT COMMITTEE - A report requested last summer details the long-term outlook for the Oakand Art & Soul Festival. (Meeting starts at 4 p.m.)



Hayward's Indoctrination to Education

Stan "Data" Dobbs
HAYWARD | EDUCATION | Former Hayward Councilmember Olden Henson often bestows the honorific of commander on his city’s superintendent of schools because, well, he served in the U.S. Navy. “Commander” Stan Dobbs, though, prefers the nickname, “Data," as in, he's a guy who analyzes the numbers and comes to a precise conclusion to solving a problem. The numbers in Hayward have long shown the struggling school district’s graduation rates need improving and it seems Commander Stan “Data” Dobbs is using the military’s goal of molding a group of personalities into one seamless fighting machine.

Last Friday, Dobbs led hundreds of students at Hayward’s Glassbrook Elementary School in audibly reciting an eight-point pledge.

  • I am a Hayward student and proud to be college bound.
  • I pledge to join the 1000’s of other Hayward students on the pathway to college.
  • I will be focused and determined, courageous and tenacious.
  • I pledge to set goals that I will not only reach but surpass.
  • I pledge not to procrastinate when there is work to be done.
  • I will find and use resources that will help me to be prepared.
  • I will follow these values in my pursuit of higher education and other opportunities of a lifetime.
  • I am a Made in Hayward student and I am college bound.

The pledge was signed by each student. However, if students were to decide a different path to personal enlightenment other than college is better solution, there is no provision for them mopping the deck of the U.S.S. Dobbs as punishment.

Last week, the school district said the pledge is part of Dobbs’s on-going “Made in Hayward” program to increase student testing scores and keep struggling students on course for graduation. Dobbs was named superintendent last June replacing Dr. Donald Evans who took the same position in Berkeley.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Time for Swalwell to Start Owning Up to his Record of Legislative Mulligans

CONGRESS | 15TH DISTRICT | ANALYSIS | Rep. Eric Swalwell is for extending unemployment insurance, which is nice. But, why didn't he righteously stand for over 1.3 million out-of-work Americans the first time around when he voted for a short-term budget proposal that noticeably did not include renewed funding for unemployment benefits?

This week, Swalwell said without a hint of pretense, he is now a major defender of restoring these benefits. "I came to Congress to fight for families like these--who worked hard, played by the rules, and lost their jobs through no fault of their own," he said. Swalwell then plumbed a prime quote in a column last week by the Washington Post's Dana Milbank, who triumphantly portrayed him saying,“I ask unanimous consent to bring up H.R. 3824 to end the Republicans’ refusal to extend unemployment benefits that affect 355,000.”

All this common man bluster, however, is designed to deceive voters in the 15th Congressional District, make them believe Swalwell is in their corner, when in fact, he's merely taking all sides of an issue. Swalwell now says "Extending unemployment benefits is the right thing to do and makes economic sense. Failure to extend emergency unemployment insurance will cost the economy 240,000 jobs this year." Conversely, when fellow East Bay Rep. Barbara Lee was confronted with the House budget compromise, she voted no and called leaving unemployment benefits on the table "morally wrong" and "economically stupid."

In addition, Swalwell's latest publicity push now features 20 other House Democrats who also support extending unemployment insurance. However, in December, the group Swalwell professes to lead, a bipartisan group of freshman representatives called the United Solutions Caucus, sidestepped the issue. Are we to gather a moderate Swalwell who reaches across the aisle to solve problems, including whether an out-of-work American will eat tonight, actually means turning his back on the least fortunate and siding with Republicans? Whether Swalwell is a "flip-flopper," a politician without a moral compass, a casualty of the House Democratic leadership or a victim of his own naivete, he has played this game of obfuscation before.

Last February, Swalwell voted for the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), which allows the government access to your personal Web histories. (Read "Swalwell's Finger to the Wind Relationship with Private Rights") You may recall, some of the biggest Internet sites went dark for a day in protest of the bill. However, in May, Edward Snowden pulled back the veil on the National Security Agency's prying eyes and the issue of privacy became the story of the year. In July, an amendment tucked inside a defense appropriation bill contained a prohibition on the NSA's policy of collecting wholesale cell phone records of innocent Americans. Swalwell, of course, was now all for the amendment and took to social media to express his strong support for privacy rights.

On both occasions, Swalwell was offered a fortuitous mulligan to retake shots that swung wildly to right. However, if you listen to how the local corporate media tells it, the past votes never happened. There is nothing to see here. The young congressman shows up for public meetings and uses Skype to speak to City Councils, they repeat like a drumbeat. According to them, Swalwell never voted against unemployment insurance and he never voted for government intrusion in your private lives.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Joe Tuman Does Not Want Oakland to Be the 'Detroit of the West'

Joe Tuman announcing his candidacy for 
Oakland mayor last summer. 
PHOTO/Steven Tavares
ELECTION 2014 | OAKLAND | MAYOR | Give Oakland mayoral candidate Joe Tuman credit for looking voters straight in the eye. His first campaign video, posted Thursday afternoon, features Tuman making his case for change in Oakland as the camera tightly frames his face. There is absolutely no room for anything but reading the human face's innate honesty in such tight quarters and Tuman pulls it off. If he didn't they probably would have canned the video or added cutaways to hide any slight poker tells in Tuman's eyes and head movements.

In the video, shown below, Tuman makes the case that change "does not come from inside City Hall, but from outside." He adds, Oakland's renaissance will come from creating jobs, supporting small business and greater funding for public safety and roads. More provocatively, he says, "This is the only way Oakland moves away from being a Detroit of the West and again join cities around the Bay Area in being healthy and productive economically and feeling safe for the people who live here."

Assemblyman Quirk Says He Paid Out of Pocket to Attend Criticized Maui Junket

ASSEMBLY | 20TH DISTRICT | A recent report revealed 18 previously undisclosed California legislators attended an all-expense, lobbyist-paid junket to Maui late last year. One of the lawmakers named in the article was Hayward Assemblymember Bill Quirk. However, Quirk says, although he attended the days of meet and greets and conferences offered, the costs came out of his own pocket.

“I paid my own way to Maui, hotel, airfare, and meals,” said Quirk. “Took vacation time and did some scuba diving.” A photo posted Dec. 3 on Quirk’s assembly Twitter account shows him and his son on the water in scuba gear. In addition, the main background photo on the same Twitter page shows Quirk, outfitted in a black wetsuit, following a small octopus.

Eight additional state legislators had previously confirmed their attendance at either of the two special interests Hawaiian junkets since early December. In recent years, the lack of transparency inherent in these lobbyist-driven trips, often held in exotic locales, has attracted unwanted attention for lawmakers.

Last summer, the same reporter revealed Berkeley Assemblymember Nancy Skinner attended a similar all-expense paid junket, this time to Cuba. She repeatedly declined to comment on her attendance. This is apparently a typical response.

All of the 18 legislators named in the Calnewsroom article, for instance, declined to discuss the junket. Quirk’s office said the first-term assemblyman choose not to seek attention for paying his own way and felt it was not their place to discuss the attendance of other lawmakers.

Critics, however, say the junkets reveal the true nexus between special interests groups and the people who write the state’s laws. Others go further by asserting the lavish trips are a reward or enticement for legislators to support their preferred special interests bills.

Even though, Quirk paid his own way, he confirmed attendance at a conference discussing low carbon fuels. A few of the junket’s sponsors included Southern California Edison and PG&E.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Ro Khanna’s Most Important Campaign Finance Number is Zero

Ro Khanna
ELECTION 2014 | CONGRESS | DISTRICT 17 | So, Ro Khanna pulled down another $402,000 in campaign donations. So what? Who cares? How many yard signs does that buy? Will you be overjoyed by the appearance of another dozen campaign mailers flooding your mailbox? Khanna has now raised over $3.2 million and, believe me, it will be spent on gaining your attention in some way or another and paying consultants five-figure monthly paychecks.

However, forget about the $2 million in the column listing cash-in-hand. It’s merely a giant flexing of Khanna’s financial muscle directed at his opponent, Rep. Mike Honda. The most important number on that report is zero, as in, the amount of money Khanna has received from political action committees. This figure, too, is a form of psychological warfare telling Honda, not only did we vastly out-fundraise you once again, but we did it without the mother’s milk of modern political campaigning, special interests donors.

Pulling down blockbuster fundraising numbers in a congressional race and not even being labeled as the incumbent is a major paradigm shift for Khanna. It allows him to spend like a House incumbent while plausibly presenting himself as a Washington outsider, and with Congress's approval numbers in the teens, nobody wants to be construed as a Beltway insider..

While chatting it up with numerous politicos in the East Bay, from Oakland to Fremont, inside and outside the 17th District, I encounter a similar refrain when it comes to Honda. It's an almost institutional description that in every case evokes grandfatherly love and affection. No doubt this is true, but it’s also a strength that can be flipped into a weakness, if properly attacked.

It only takes one instance of Honda acting counter to his warm reputation to shatter this perception. And if you take that away, what do you have left over? An excellent public servant, but also an entrenched member of the widely-loathed and broken Congress greasing his re-election campaign with special interests money. You don't want to be that guy when your opponent is grinding out a reputation for eschewing the
evil lure of dirty Washington money and, you know, also has a couple mil in the bank ready to be spent.

East Bay Legislators Agree with Brown’s California Comeback Theme

Gov. Jerry Brown in San Leandro last year.
PHOTO/Steven Tavares
LEGISLATURE | Gov. Jerry Brown’s State of the State address Wednesday morning highlighted California’s economic resurgence, while noted its future challenges. The early response from some East Bay members of the State Legislature echoed the governor’s sentiment.

“I think he did a great job of two great things: celebrating some of the great successes of the state over the last few years and also being realistic and identifying some of the challenges that remain ahead of us,” said Oakland Assemblymember Rob Bonta. He praised the governor for an uptick in job creation and the stunning multi-billion dollar surplus following years of steep budget cuts, along with identifying the state's employee pension uncertainty, aging infrastructure and the impending fallout from the state’s extremely dry winter. (Watch a video clip of Bonta's comments below.)

Fremont Assemblymember Bob Wieckowski issued a statement Wednesday saying he agreed with Brown’s assessment the state is in comeback mode. “California is moving forward and we are not turning back,” said Wieckowski. He also backed Brown’s attention to strengthening education through increased spending and made another push for additional funding for the state’s court system. “We have to be careful with the temporary surpluses that we are experiencing, but there are areas where it’s important to restore some of the cuts caused by the Great Recession,” he said. “I would like to see a larger restoration to ensure that courtrooms stay open so people can resolve their legal issues as soon as possible.” Wieckowski is the chair of the Assembly Judiciary Committee.

State Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett said, “I firmly believe that California’s best years still lie ahead,”while focusing on Brown’s comments relating to education, in addition, to improvements to transportation infrastructure. “In order to truly revitalize our economy long-term, we must continue to make the necessary investments in education—from early childhood through college,” said Corbett. “The Governor’s budget a few days ago also highlighted this commitment and I certainly know that future generations of Californians and East Bay residents will benefit by prioritizing education and bolstering their ability to succeed following graduation and beyond.”

Oakland Mayoral Candidate Bryan Parker Embraces Bitcoin

ELECTION 2014 | OAKLAND | MAYOR | A growing number of businesses and even some countries are beginning to recognize the power of the digital currency Bitcoin. Now, add Oakland mayoral candidate Bryan Parker to the list of early adopters.

In a press release subtitled, “Someone in government who actually wants your Bitcoin,” Parker announced a fundraiser hosted in Los Angeles by the co-founder of Go Coin, a payment processing company that focuses on transactions involving Bitcoin. Parker says he believes Bitcoin can help foster social change in Oakland.

“Bitcoin is a tool we can use to dissolve inequality, be it social or economic, and facilitate change for whole communities,” said Parker, also a Port of Oakland commissioner. “I see the role of technology as solving real world problems, like job creation, in lasting ways, such as providing merchants cost-effective gateways into e-commerce and online markets.”

This is not Parker’s first foray into cutting edge forms of campaign fundraising. Last June, he used crowdsourcing to raise over $23,000 in less than 24 hours. Parker’s pitch on the Web site, Crowdtilt, ultimately raised $59,727 by July 1, surpassing the campaign's goal of $50,000.

Bitcoin’s growing acceptance made news last week, when the NBA’s Sacramento Kings announced they would accept the virtual currency as payment. In addition, the German government has recognized Bitcoin as "private money" and the United Kingdom may study a similar option.

Parker is in a field of challengers hoping to unseat Mayor Jean Quan that include, Councilmember Libby Schaaf, university professor Joe Tuman, civil right attorney Dan Siegel and businessman Patrick McCullogh.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Skinny: Alameda City Council, Jan. 21, 2014

Alameda City Council Preview
2263 Santa Clara Avenue
Tuesday, Jan. 21, 7 p.m.
Twitter hashtag: #alamtg

HARBOR BAY PARKWAY REZONING A proposal to rezone a vacant lot at Harbor Bay Parkway will be discussed Tuesday night. With plans to redevelop the property for a restaurant apparently off the table, the City Council will now hear a proposal that may pave the way for the construction of an office building. The area is currently zoned as “open space.” A staff report found a restaurant on the premises might receive limited success and improvements would need to be made to connect the property to the street and the Bay Trail walk path (Item 6C).

WHAT IT MEANS An acre of dirt and asphalt on prime waterfront land is a waste of tax revenue waiting to be collected by the city. In addition, Alameda should be mindful of potential competition for waterfront restaurants and amenity-rich office complexes in nearby San Leandro. Officials in that city are moving closer to transforming the popular, but moribund San Leandro Marina into a destination for diners and workers.

BE AWARE Appointment of John McCahan to the city’s Housing Authority Board of Directors appears on consent (Item 6A). Proximo Distillers, LCC, which owns alcohol brands, Jose Cuervo, 1800 Tequila and Alameda’s Hangar One, will sign at 10-year lease at Alameda Point. The company plans to also open a brand/tourism center at the factory (Item 6D).

The city’s community development department and the City Council will proclaim 2014 historic preservation season.

Jan. 7, the council approved forming the Alameda Landing tax district to pay for infrastructure in the new and growing neighborhood. A second reading of the ordinance takes place tonight (Item 6B). >>> SEE IT FOR YOURSELF


Oakland City Council to Commemorate Founding of Historic East Bay Biker Club

OAKLAND CITY COUNCIL | The East Bay Dragons will go from a bad-ass black biker club to respected community leaders Tuesday night when the Oakland City Council presents the group with a resolution commemorating their founding 55 years ago.

Councilmembers Desley Brooks and Larry Reid will honor the group, believed to be one of the first all-black biker clubs in the country, when it was formed in East Oakland. The resolution praises them for "being a positive social outlet for African-American men in Oakland," along with its local activism. "The East Bay Dragons Motorcycle Club, when dealing with a community often battling negativity and violence, have remained a symbol of positive community activism, and pride within Oakland and within the African American community."

However, the biker club was not always a symbol of peace. In 2011, a member was gunned down in front of the club's headquarters on 88th Street and International Boulevard. A similar killing occurred decades earlier. In a first-person history written by its founder, Tobie Gene Levingston, he describes the early turmoil the club faced following the murder of one its members and the retaliation that followed.

"One of our member, Z, got himself shot and killed on the street corner right out in front our clubhouse late one Friday night," Levingston wrote in Soul on Bikes: The East Bay Dragons MC and the Black Biker Set, published in 2003. "Z didn't meet his maker alone. He took down one of their boys too, the ones that set out to kill him...In a blink of the eye, the shootout ended. Z got shot in the head, and the gunman never made it back to his car. Two black men lay face down on the sidewalk. Blood everywhere. One their guys and one of ours. Both gone."

Later, he adds having no previous knowledge of the events leading to the shootings. "God knows I'm not one to judge another man over what he does or doesn't do with his life. We aren't saints here; we've all had our ups and downs."

The Skinny: Oakland City Council Preview, Jan. 21, 2014

Oakland City Council Preview
1 Frank Ogawa Plaza
Tuesday, Jan. 21, 5:30 p.m.
Twitter hashtag: #oakmtg

PUBLIC SAFETY RADIO INTEROPERABILITY Last July, some council members asked for a side-by-side analysis of Oakland's current police and fire radio system versus the regional network favored by the rest of Alameda County and Contra Costa County, known as the East Bay Regional Communication System (EBRCS). An analysis presented last summer detailed concerns long stated by public safety that Oakland's P25 radios were often inoperable in emergencies and failed to adequately link up with outside agencies. A new study says most of the concerns have been fixed. In addition, says the report, it is recommended Oakland stay with its current system rather than join EBRCS. It is estimated the long-term costs of joining the regional system could be $25 million over the next five years, says the report. Tuesday's agenda item, however, also recommends authorizing the city administrator to enter negotiations with EBCRS and bring a transition plan back to the council within 90-120 days (Item 13).

WHAT IT MEANS This issue has long upset Alameda County officials and just about every public agency involved in EBRCS who believe Oakland is stubbornly attaching itself to a failed system, which also places the seat of the county in an island unto itself. The argument of throwing good money after bad is often lodged at Oakland city administrators who have gambled on the P25 system. However, critics counter by noting the obvious, Alameda County rests in earthquake country and also contains important assets which could attract the interest of terrorist groups. In addition, nobody really knows how the current arrangement will hold up in the case of dire emergency, but here's a potential scenario.

BE AWARE The city announces a settlement with Tony Ray Jones for $125,000 stemming from a Feb. 12, 2012 officer-involved shooting (Item 7.5). Council will approve awarding a $4.6 million contract to rehabilitate sanitary sewers in the areas including 20th Street, San Pablo Avenue, Telegraph Avenue, Alice Street, And 12th Street (Item 7.10). A first reading of an ordinance creating a Bicyclist and Pedestrian Advisory Commission will be read (Item 7.11); a $5.8 million no-bid contract for parking meter installation and management will be discussed (Item 15) and an Memorandum of Understanding will be presented for city to partner with Alameda County to operate the West Oakland Youth Center (Item 19). The MOU calls for a one-year contract with the county to run the center with two one-year options for renewal.

Councilmembers Desley Brooks and  Larry Reid will present a resolution to the East Bay Dragons Motorcycle Club on their 55th anniversary; Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney will honor the East Bay Warriors youth football and cheerleading squads for participating in the Pop Warner Super Bowl.

Jan. 7, a resolution to expand the Latham Square pedestrian plaza on Broadway passed (6 ayes, Kaplan, Kalb abstained) to expand to 9,500 square feet, but also to eliminate a lane was met with opposition. The council unanimously approved Councilmember Dan Kalb's resolution supporting statewide legislation for cell phone kill-switches to combat rising theft; and it approved $177,000 to fund an external police academy in conjunction with the Alameda County Sheriff's Department; .>>> READ THE MINUTES >>> SEE IT FOR YOURSELF


Friday, January 17, 2014

Study: Hospitals will be Hampered by Legislation Asking Non-Profits for Tax-Exempt Accountability

ASSEMBLY | HEALTH CARE | A state legislative audit two years ago found non-profit hospitals receiving lucrative tax-exemptions lack accounting for the amount of charity care they provide. Last year, East Bay Assemblymembers Bob Wieckowski and Rob Bonta authored a bill based on the audit's recommendations. Wieckowski pulled the bill last May.

However, a study released Thursday by the California Hospital Association, authored by former South Bay Rep. Tom Campbell, says any future legislation would make it increasingly difficult for providers to offer care to the poor and uninsured. It may also inadvertently affect the success of Covered California, the state’s version of the Affordable Care Act, it says.

“The sponsors of such public policy base their recommendations on the assumption that non-profit hospitals do not provide sufficient public benefit to justify their non-taxed status,” said the report issued in conjunction with the Berkeley Research Group.

Despite AB 975 not being currently debated in the State Legislature, Wieckowski defended the bill in a statement Thursday. “These important medical facilities receive millions of dollars in favorable tax treatment by Californians and in return are expected to provide lower-income residents in their communities free or reduced-cost medical care," said Wieckowski.

“However, as reports have repeatedly noted, there is no statutory standard or methodology to calculate the level of charity care currently provided and each hospital organization calculates their levels differently. Audits have also found that some non-profit hospitals do not submit their community benefit plans as required.”

In many ways the debate whether non-profit health care providers offer enough charity care to the communities they reside, at least, commensurate with the tax breaks they receive began, in San Leandro. The threat of examining the non-profit status of large non-profits like Sutter Health, was used by local officials, in part, as a negotiating tactic to end a nearly five-year saga to keep San Leandro Hospital from closure.

An audit requested by State Sen. Ellen Corbett and Alameda County Supervisor Wilma Chan found no mechanism for the state to calculate whether taxpayers were getting much in return for tax-exemptions given to non-profit hospitals. "We saw that each hospital had its own method to calculate its costs to provide health care services for which it did not receive compensation (costs of uncompensated care)," said the report, released in August 2012. "Indeed, no statutory standard or methodology for calculating these amounts exists."

Berkeley Sit/Lie Campaign to Pay $3,750 Penalty for Election Violations

Measure S was defeated in November 2012
by four percentage points.
BERKELEY | The ill-fated campaign committee which advocated in 2012 for a controversial sit/lie ordinance in Berkeley agreed to pay $3,750 to settle a citizen complaint that it violated the city’s election laws. Last November, the Coalition for Berkeley Civil Sidewalks, Yes on S and the city’s Fair Campaign Practices Commission (FCPC) agreed to enter a stipulated judgment for failing to properly disclose and itemize 58 cash payments over $50 and failing to report $530 in non-monetary payments to Election Day canvassers.

The closed door negotiations between the commission’s staff counsel and the Yes on S campaign, however, had previously agreed to a lower $2,750 settlement. After two motions, one to increase the amount and one to approve the recommended settlement, which is voluntary, failed following consecutive 3-3 ties, the attorney for Yes on S agreed to raise the amount. Afterwards, John Caner, the CEO of the Downtown Berkeley Association, who was named in complaint, called the commission’s punishment “$3,750 for an honest mistake.“

Opponents of the Yes on S campaign, however, maintain, Caner specifically, used the previously undisclosed cash donations to pay canvassers who themselves were homeless, in effect, paying people who may be most affected by the measure’s goal of ridding the poor from sitting on sidewalks in Berkeley’s commercial areas. The FCPC said this underlining issue which moved Berkeley residents Bob Offer-Wistort and Patricia Wall to lodge an official complaint last August, was not within its jurisdiction.

Wall, who worked on the campaign against the sit/lie measure, said she believes the commission’s initial penalty was too lenient. “This behavior is essentially being condoned,” said told the commission. “Fines should indicate punishment. This is not punishment. It’s a mere gesture.” Wall called the alleged recruitment of homeless canvassers “sleazy.” Not far away, Caner quietly repeated from his seat, “that’s not true” as Wall further denounced his alleged actions. “We did not recruit homeless people,” Caner told the commission.

Offer-Wistort disagreed and added he and others personally met canvassers who, indeed, said they were homeless. “This is stuff I saw with my own eyes,” he said. “I don’t care how much you fine Mr. Caner. It doesn’t make a difference to me. I don’t see any correlation between a dollar amount and justice being done. What I care about is the actual story getting out. I think we operate with a politics of shame when we use people based on their economic status to work against their own interests.”

Dean Metzger, an FPCP commissioner, called the entire incident “shady” for the lack of transparency on the part of the Yes on S campaign and initially advocated for a penalty over $50,000. “To put this under the rug, I think it’s something that does a disservice to the citizens of Berkeley.” Dave Ritchie, the vice chair of the commission, also pushed for increasing the penalty while arguing Caner and the Yes on S campaign were not local political neophytes. “This campaign was not run by a group of people who came out of the woodwork and knew nothing about the city.” Ritchie said the initial penalty was low and “should be something so people actually pay attention to the law.”

In an interview afterwards, Caner said, “There was nothing to hide as far as I’m concerned” and agreed to the increased penalty to achieve immediate closure. “We lost, but the thing is, I feel really good about the campaign we ran. We did it with a lot of integrity. I think the dialogue was good and I want to work with these people in the future. I don’t hold a grudge and, thank God, I just want to put this behind us.”

A version of this article appears in the East Bay Express.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Hayward Councilmember Mendall Advocates for Raising Minimum Wage

Hayward Councilmember Al Mendall, right,
wants Alameda County or Hayward to raise
the local minimum wage to $12 or $15. 
PHOTO/Steven Tavares
HAYWARD | MINIMUM WAGE | There is a growing push in the East Bay calling for a steep bump in the minimum wage. Hayward Councilmember Al Mendall added his name to the list while admonishing the paltry wages offered by large corporations for exerting pressure on the local safety net.

"I want to add my voice to those calling for an increase in the minimum wage," Mendall announced Tuesday night during the public comment portion of the Hayward City Council. The call was unprompted and appeared to have caught the rest of the council dumbstruck.

Even though the state minimum wage is slated to ultimately rise to over $10 per hour, Mendall said,  “I would like us to go further than that.”  He advocated for urging Alameda County to raise the base wage to either $12 or $15.

“If we can’t do it countywide, then I would encourage my colleagues on the council to do it locally," says Mendall. "Talk about tens of thousands of people just in Hayward alone whose lives could be improved by this and it’s something we can do. That’s money that comes into the economy. They’re going to spend it and its going to help local businesses by bringing in more revenue into the local economy. So, it seems like the right things to do, for us.”

Mendall, a council member elected in 2012, estimates 20,000 people in Hayward may be living in poverty even though many are fully-employed. Multinational corporations such as Walmart, Taco Bell and McDonald's, he said, "make billions in profits from that labor while those folks aren't even able to food on their table and have a decent place to live and they work 40 hours-a-week." The low wages, he said, amounts to the state and local government subsidizing the working poor through various safety net programs.

On the same night as Mendall's call for economic equality, the Richmond City Councill directed its city staff to draft three proposals potentially allowing residents there to raised the minimum wage to either $11, $12.30 or $15. Last week, Oakland mayoral candidate Dan Siegel promised to immediately increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour, if elected next November.

Swalwell Email Asks, Do You Support Unemployment Benefits? Check Yes or No

Click the image for a larger view
CONGRESS | 15TH DISTRICT | Some will assert a political moderate is merely someone who doesn't believe in anything, a Cafeteria Catholic picking and choosing positions within a clearly defined doctrine designed to be followed as a whole and not by its individual parts.

In December, Rep. Eric Swalwell took a hit from some in his congressional district when he voted for a bipartisan budget plan that failed to extend unemployment benefits to over 1.3 million Americans. In a statement made through his bipartisan caucus of freshman moderates, Swalwell noted the bill was not perfect, but he also failed to specifically acknowledge leaving unemployment benefits on the table as one of its downsides. "No legislation can be all things to all people, but we cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good," said the statement.

Swalwell and other Democrats up for re-election this year, however, get another stab at rebuffing challengers who may used the vote to negatively portray them as inconsiderate to those currently in economic hardship. The U.S. Senate discussed the issue last week before Senate Republicans squashed the bill on Tuesday. Swalwell made statements indicating he was now firmly in favor of extending benefits, but is he really or not totally sure?

Curiously, also on Tuesday, Swalwell sent an email to constituents plainly asking, "Should Congress extend unemployment insurance?" They are then urged to click yes, no or don't know. However, the email makes it clear Swalwell already favors extending benefits this time around. "It's the right thing to do for millions of Americans who are trying to support their families, and it is the right thing to do for our economy," he said.

Swalwell used a similar tactic late last year when he asked voters whether they wanted to allow cell phone use on domestic flights. On this issue, Swalwell, a self-promoted frequent flier, also declared opposition beforehand to the proposed Federal Communications Commission plan. No nearby passenger yammering on their cells. However, can we be sure he doesn't also support crying babies across the aisle in Seat A3?

Hayward Tries to Kick the Habit with ‘Timeout’ on Tobacco, E-Cigs Business

A woman with a version of an e-cigarette.
HAYWARD CITY COUNCIL | HEALTH | It is too easy to buy a pack of smokes in Hayward, says city staff, and the number of e-cigarette retailers and hookah lounges in the city has risen starkly in recent months. Seven of Hayward’s eight e-cigarette establishments have opened its doors in just the last 11 months, said staff, which urged Tuesday night for a 45-day moratorium virtually every type of new business offering tobacco, e-cigarettes and hookah pipes. The urgency ordinance, called a “timeout” by some council members, was unanimously approved Tuesday night. The moratorium, the city says, will allow their planning department to more clearly define language in the current municipal code that is silent on establishments selling tobacco products in Hayward. It does not affect any current establishments.

Although there was relative uniformity of thought by the council, for instance, most agreed the effects of e-cigarettes is not known and while there is anecdotal evidence electronic nicotine-delivery device may help wean smokers off of cigarettes, some were skeptical about its overall health benefits. The discussion, however, became one of the first instances of a proxy mayoral debate when Councilmember Mark Salinas, one of three members running for mayor this year, including Councilmembers Barbara Halliday and Francisco Zermeno, framed the issue as a public health problem--one Hayward is losing.

Hayward has 146 retailers selling tobacco and other nicotine-delivery devices, which include grocery and liquor stores and shops dedicated solely to selling cigarettes in bulk, said a staff report. “I find it utterly unacceptable that we have 146 stores that sell cigarettes and all this stuff,” said Salinas, who added he received a large number of emails urging against the moratorium emanating from outside of Hayward. “Gaze across our city, every single strip mall and every single corner just about has a cigarette store. Even on the most minimum level, it’s like 146? Really? We can’t even get grocery store in our city, but if you sell tobacco--100 percent--come on down.” Salinas also noted the city’s ranking as one of the unhealthiest cities in Alameda County, according to a 2010 report, as related, in part, with the prevalence of cigarette retailers.

Zermeno shot back, “I do disagree that the 150,000 people that make up Hayward are the unhealthiest of Alameda County. I do believe we ought to fight these negative portrayals of our city. I don’ think they are right and we don’t need to accept them. We are proud city and should be working on the positiveness of Hayward and not negative things somebody may want to say about us.”

Nevertheless, the issue of cigarettes retailers and its related e-cigarettes and hookah establishments could return to the council next month. The 45-day moratorium is set to expire Feb. 28. If city staff indicates a need for additional time to study the issue, a 10-month, 15 day moratorium on new tobacco, e-cigarette and hookah lounges could be enacted with council approval. Similar moratoriums exist all over the state, including locally, in Richmond and Rohnert Park, said city staff. Last November, Union City passed a prohibition on hookah bars and businesses that sell and allow e-cigarettes to be consumed, also known as vaping.

The co-owners of the Hayward vaping store, It Is Vapor 5, said their business cleared $1.2 million in its first year and employs 14 workers earning an average of $12.50 per hour. Stephen Hernandez, co-owner of the shop, claimed his products have helped over 5,000 people quit smoking cigarettes and his establishment was even singled out last year by Rep. Eric Swalwell for being “the model business of the entire area.” Hernandez later asserted nicotine occurs naturally in other foods such as potatoes, various greens and strawberries, which led Mayor Michael Sweeney to later mock his comments. “Instead of putting strawberries on my corn flakes, I should sprinkle some nicotine? Is that really credible?” said Sweeney.

Councilmember Al Mendall said the moratorium would allow the city time to sort through the issue, but he was also skeptical about some studies on the effects of vaping and conceded, “To me they strike me as no worse than tobacco products.” Halliday added, the focus should be on preventing young people from ever getting into the smoking habit, but adults should also retain freedom to decide on their own. “Some though may be helped by e-cigarettes to greatly cut down their nicotine intake. I don’t want us to do anything that might prevent someone from being a little healthier," she said. "In the end, people need to make their own choices.”

A History of Raising Water Rates In South Alameda County

ALAMEDA COUNTY | This is the Alameda County Water District's most recent history: over the past 12 years it has raised water rates on its 336,000 customers in South Alameda County by percentages of 7, 6, 6, 5, 8, 4, 6, 9, 8, 9, 17 and this past week another 7.

Now the Bay Area News Group reports the same water district plans to spend $280,000 on research and publication of two books chronicling its 100-year history. A 450-page volume is planned along with a smaller pictorial version of the district's history slated for a run of 15,000 copies, said the paper.

In recent years, public officials at the water district have pushed through rates increases on Fremont, Newark and Union City residents to improve its aging infrastructure and pension obligations.

The dubious expenditure of creating a book of its history will likely raise the ire and water temperature of their customers.

Besides, when it comes to obscure special districts, everyone knows the best reads come not from water districts, but local sanitary districts because everybody wants to read that shit.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Wieckowski: Budget Cuts to State Judiciary Hurting the Poor

Assemblymember Bob Wieckowski Tuesday
in Sacramento calling for increased spending
on the state's court system. 
PHOTO/Asm Wieckowski
ASSEMBLY | BUDGET | Access to justice is hard to come by if the courts are fighting to keep their doors open. All segments of the state budget labored through significant cuts over the past few years. The state courts system is no exception and like most areas of state government, noticing rising revenues and a budget surplus, its is looking for their share of the larger pie.

Fremont Assemblymember Bob Wieckowski on Tuesday urged for reinstatement of some of the over $1 billion cut from the judiciary’s budget during the Great Recession. Last week, Wieckowski praised Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget proposal allotting $105 million to the courts. As chair of the Assembly Judiciary Committee, Wieckowski said the governor’s proposal should be a “down payment” toward the $266 million the courts will need to begin addressing past reductions.

The pinch has been felt by poor who, in many cases, do not possess the financial ability to pay for suitable legal representation. “Low-income Californians have been especially hit hard because they are the most vulnerable to the loss of their legal rights and the burden of court budget cuts have fallen most heavily on services disproportionately used by low-income parties,” said Wieckowski. “The impact on the poor is even greater because funding for legal aid services has been slashed.”

At a press conference in Sacramento also attended by State Sen. Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye added, 205 courtrooms have been closed, 51 courthouses and people are forced to often drive long distances just to have their day in court.

Richmond May Ask Voters To Significantly Increase Minimum Wage

RICHMOND | MINIMUM WAGE | An Oakland mayoral candidate has an idea to raise the city’s minimum wage to $15. The Richmond City Council is way ahead on that front. On Tuesday, it will discuss a resolution potentially giving voters the opportunity next November to raise the minimum wage to as high as $15 per hour.

In addition, the council will be presented alternative proposals raising the minimum wage to $11 and $12.30 per hour. Any of the three proposals would give Richmond one of the highest base wages in the Bay Area. Richmond Confidential reported, “The proposed minimum wage hike would exempt businesses with less than 10 employees and those operating less than two years in Richmond with fewer than 26 workers.”

The Great Recession hit Richmond harder than most cities. It has been plagued in the past with rising crime, unemployment and a high-rate of foreclosures. Crime was down last year and the improving economy has helped the city, however, not enough for a progressive wing of the council that has shaken up the establishment in recent months. First, with an anti-foreclosure program to assist homeowners in reducing principal on their mortgages which received national attention and now, potentially, a ballot measure to significantly raise its minimum wage.

Richmond’s strain of progressive activism is showing signs of influencing Oakland, its larger neighbor to the south. The Oakland City Council dipped its toes into the anti-foreclosure debate last fall before toning down its interest following veiled threats from its business community. However, last week, Oakland mayoral candidate Dan Siegel pledged to make raising the minimum wage to $15 a centerpiece of his campaign to unseat Mayor Jean Quan.

If the proposal could somehow rise from campaign rhetoric to a bonafide piece of city legislation it may greatly hinge on whether progressive candidates can capture the two open seats being vacated this year by Council President Pat Kernighan and Councilmember Libby Schaaf, who is also running for mayor.

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Skinny: Oakland City Council Committee Preview, Jan. 14, 2014

Oakland City Council Committees Preview
1 Frank Ogawa Plaza
Tuesday, Jan. 14, begins at 9:30 a.m.
Hashtag: #oakmtg

NO-BID CONTRACT Committee will discuss awarding a $5.8 million no-bid contract to IPS Group, Inc. to install 4,300 parking meters in Oakland. Price includes wireless, credit/debit card-enabled meters and installation. WHAT IT MEANS No-bid contracts always raise eyebrows, especially ones for $5.8 million. However, of the four companies, a comparative ranking showed IPS Group was vastly superior. Same vendor installed meters in Berkeley and San Francisco. If approved by the council, Oakland’s streets could have new parking meters by the end of May. (Meeting starts at 9:30 a.m. Committee members: Brooks, Kaplan, Kernighan; Schaaf, chair)

WEST OAKLAND YOUTH CENTER The $7.6 million youth center located on Market Street may have a partner to operate the facility. The committee will discuss allowing Alameda County to run the center under a proposed one-year contract starting Feb. 28, along with a pair of one-year mutual options. WHAT IT MEANS The county has experience in programming these types of centers. If approved by the council, it will have to give the county access to existing funding resources already allotted to the center and maintain city oversight over the partnership. (Meeting starts 4 p.m. Committee members: Gallo, McElhaney, Kaplan; Brooks, chair)


OAKLAND ANIMAL SERVICES In response to an article in the East Bay Express describing the inability of the Oakland Animal Services to adequately care for cats and dogs, the committee begins discussions of whether to move oversight of the shelter from Oakland Police Department to another city department or a non-profit such as the East Bay SPCA. WHAT IT MEANS People at City Hall read the Express and it gives the council the opportunity to revisit whether monitoring animal shelters is a job the police department should be doing, especially one with limited resources. (Meeting starts 6 p.m. Committee members: McElhaney, Kalb, Schaaf; Gallo, chair)

BE AWARE The issue of Internet caf├ęs offering sweepstakes gaming comes to Oakland after Hayward and San Leandro made moves last year to ban them in their cities (Public Safety Commitee). Look for a proposal allowing the city administrator to negotiate a multi-year contract for the operation and management of eight city-owned parking garages (Public Works Committee).

Bay Area House Delegation gets Younger with Rep. George Miller's Retirement

Rep. George Miller to retire this year.
CONGRESS | The Bay Area's graying congressional caucus will get yet another shot of new energy with the retirement of Rep. George Miller following four decades in Washington. The announcement Monday morning was quickly followed by a list of potential candidates to fill Miller's Contra Costa County district. However, State Sen. Mark DeSaulnier wasted no time and made it official just a few hours later.

A list of other local politicians potentially interested in the seat, includes Assemblymembers Susan Bonilla and Joan Buchanan, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia. All are Democrats.

Elected in 1974, Miller rose to become one of the Bay Area's most liberal members of Congress. In statement Monday, he said, "I’m proud of what I have been able to accomplish on behalf of children, working people and the environment, in my district and for our country, especially passage of national health care reform. Now, I look forward to one last year in Congress fighting the good fight and then working in new venues on the issues that have inspired me."

Miller, 68, was elected to 20 terms in Congress and is its fifth most senior member and one of the last sent to Washington on the heels of the Watergate scandal. He will serve out the final year of his most recent term.

The aging Bay Area caucus, however, is seeing an infusion of youth. In 2012, the defeat of Pete Stark, another 40-year veteran of Congress, and the retirement of Lynn Woolsey the same year brought two young freshman into the delegation. In addition to Miller's retirement, it could get even younger this year if Rep. Mike Honda is unable to retain his seat in the South Bay's 17th District.

The Skinny: Hayward City Council Preview, Jan. 14, 2014

Hayward City Council Preview
777 B Street
Tuesday, Jan. 14, 7 p.m.
Twitter hashtag: #haymtg.
Twitter handles: Francisco Zermeno @FranciscZermeno; Mark Salinas @hwdcouncilman; Al Mendall @AlMendall

MORATORIUM ON SMOKE SHOPS City staff recommends issuing a 45-day moratorium through Feb. 28 on the establishment of new tobacco and e-cigarette retailers, along with cigarette lounges, vapor bars and hookah bars following what a staff report describes as a noticeable uptick in applications for each type of business in Hayward. There is also a gray area within Hayward’s existing ordinances over zoning for these types of tobacco-specific businesses (Item 7).

WHAT IT MEANS The city says it needs more time to sort through the proliferation of businesses showing interest in bringing even more cigarette smokers and those craving nicotine in other forms their fix. There’s also the health factor of these businesses promoting the unhealthy vice of smoking to Hayward, already one of the least affluent and unhealthy communities in the East Bay. Ostensibly this moratorium is as much about stopping Hayward children from gaining access to cigarettes and other products like some fruity flavored products currently on the market targeting young customers. If the short-term 45-day moratorium is approved Tuesday, it could be renewed as early as Feb. 18 for another 10 months and 15 days, if staff still requires additional time.

BE AWARE A proposal for $1.35 million to lease a new fire engine, eight police patrol cars and four motorcycles will come before the council Tuesday (Item 4). New Hayward firefighters will soon pay up to 15 percent toward the cost of their pensions, under a new agreement (Item 5).

NEGOTIATIONS The council will again meet with labor negotiators in closed session. City employees have been without a contract since last February. At the last council meeting, representatives for SEIU 1021 presented the council a petition of over 5,000 Hayward residents urging them to negotiate a new contract with the union.

Dec. 17, the council finalized an ordinance prohibiting simulated gambling devices in Hayward. Testimony from city staff confirmed a housing developer had illegally cut down a number of trees in the area without a permit. Discussions over the possibility of a tax measure in 2014 for new facilities, primarily a new library and/or police station. Rep. Eric Swalwell addressed the council.