Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Alameda County ambulance provider needs $5 million from taxpayers to continue services

A change in the county's payer mix since 2010 
led to mounting losses, says Paramedics Plus.
Proposal fails with Carson's no vote; Miley's recusal

BOARD OF SUPERVISORS | The exclusive provider of ambulance services in Alameda County says it needs a $5 million infusion of cash to stanch mounting loses since signing the contract five years ago.

Changes in the economics of heath care over the past few years has resulted in far fewer patients using commercially insured providers, which typically pay higher premiums for service, said county staff and a representative for Paramedics Plus, which has provided ambulance services in the county since 2010.

At the time, Paramedics Plus executives estimated nearly a quarter of its users would be paying the higher standard. Therefore, allowing the deal to financially pencil out for the company. Instead, the figure is now about 16 percent, well below the forecast and “causing a significant gap in balanced billing,” said a county staff report.

The proposed injection of $5 million in one-time funds, however, failed Tuesday to gain the required four-fifths majority vote of the Alameda County Board of Supervisors. Tony Schwartz, president of Paramedics Plus, expressed disappointment, but suggested the company and county will continue to seek a solution for propping up the ambulance service.

Despite support from a majority of the board, Supervisor Keith Carson’s strong vote in opposition was amplified by the recusal of Supervisor Nate Miley, whose daughter is employed by Paramedics Plus.

Carson questioned Schwartz at length about the company's business model in other states, in addition, to its profitability. Although Carson lauded the ambulance provider for its past performance, he also questioned yet another unbudgeted expenditure for the county, which only last Friday approved $80 million in cuts to balance its next fiscal year budget.

From debt regarding Alameda Health System and unfunded liabilities to $175 million in obligations to the Coliseum, Carson said the county is making too many disparate financial decisions in a disjointed fashion. “We’re not looking at the cumulative debt,” said Carson. “What is the impact on the future of this county?”

Controversy over Paramedics Plus acquiring the exclusive contract in 2010 instead of the previous provider centered around allegations the Texas-based company purposely underbid the contract as a pretext for entering the California market. AMR, which previously held the county contract, sued Paramedics Plus for violating the state’s predatory pricing laws. But an Alameda County jury later found in favor of Paramedics Plus.

Propping up the ambulance provider may prove cheaper for the county than any other options available, including a takeover of the company’s operations or searching for another provider, county staff said Tuesday, both of which would be cost prohibitive to taxpayers,

Schwartz told the board Tuesday afternoon. “If we’re not the providers, the cost will be more.” He added, the additional $5 million will not make the company whole, but reduce losses estimated to run as high as $10 million over the life of the current contract.

Alameda County Supervisor Wilma blamed inaction by legislators in Sacramento for failing to provide solutions for a number of similar financial failures for ambulance providers across the state. Chan said she supports the expenditure, which she noted, does not come from the general fund, but a $9.3 million EMS trust fund set aside for times like these.

The typically verbose Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty said the alternative to paying $5 million in aid "will cost us three times as much,”. He predicts the southern and eastern portions of the county, which Haggerty, in part, represents, will be hit hardest by any disruption in ambulance services. If not, he later warned, “You might as well throw grandma in the trunk and drive to the hospital.”

Monday, June 29, 2015

City Hall Insider: agenda notes from around the East Bay, June 30

OAKLAND/June 30, 5:30 p.m.
Biennial budget must be approved Tuesday night

FINAL BUDGET MEETING It’s down to the wire for the Oakland City Council to approve its 2015-17 $2.3 billion biennial budget. June 30 is the state deadline for municipalities to approve fiscal budgets for 2015-16. Tuesday night’s meeting could be a long one despite the short agenda. And the rafters will again be packed with residents after an Alameda County judge issued an order for the Oakland City Council to reopen the City Hall chambers gallery. But expect those seats and others to be packed with union members getting in their last word on the next budget. Councilmembers Rebecca Kaplan, Desley Brooks, Noel Gallo and Dan Kalb also have proposed amendments to the council president’s budget.

ALCO BOARD OF SUPES/June 30, 9:30 a.m.
$54m youth correctional facility gets partial funding

CAMP SWEENEY REBUILT A day after an Alameda County grand jury report documented the overall clean, but dilapidated state of the San Leandro criminal justice youth center known as Camp Wilmot Sweeney, the board will allocate $15 million toward rebuilding the facility. The total cost of the rebuilt is $54 million with $35 million coming from a state community corrections grant. $532,000 will also come from the Alameda County Probation Department’s fiscal management rewards fund. The facility has been criticized in the past for being outdated. In the current grand jury report also detailed flaws in the current camp’s video and audio surveillance.

MORE $ FOR ALAMEDA BRIDGE REPAIRS Getting in and out of Alameda at night through the Park Street and High Street Bridges has been difficult over the past few months. Repairs and rehabilitation of both bridges have been ongoing for months. The board last year approved up to $2.25 million to do the job. But cracked welds and replacing worn out traction studs will need another $720,000 to finish the job, says a county staff report. The Alameda County Public Works Department will ask the board to approve a waiver to forego the bidding process for the additional work by the existing company already doing the work.

HAYWARD/June 30, 7 p.m.
City wants to entice residents to participate in local govt

#ENGAGEHAYWARD Participation in city government has not been one of Hayward’s strong suits in recent years. City Council meetings are sparsely attended and exasperated by an extreme media desert exists in most of Southern Alameda County. To foster greater public engagement, the city is proposing to employ various social media techniques to the mix. “The foundation to #EngageHayward is design thinking—focusing on the resident side of engagement rather than the city side,” said a city staff report. The proposal is four-pronged: video and social media; Reddit-style web site; hack-a-thons and “City Hall to You,” which is similar to Hayward’s Neighborhood Partnership Program, essentially bringing city leaders to neighborhood meetings. If approved, #EngageHayward could begin in September.

Grand jury: Fremont defied spirit of transparency with email retention policy

Unsaved city emails are purged after just 30 days

GRAND JURY REPORT | FREMONT | The Alameda County city government closest in proximity and ethos to Silicon Valley is apparently living in the technological dark ages when it comes to email retention and transparency.

An Alameda County grand jury report released Monday strongly faulted the City of Fremont for an email retention policy that subverts state transparency laws by deleting government emails after just 30 days. It also called for the city to completely overhaul its email policy.

Cities in the state must abide by a government code requiring emails to be retained at least two years. However, in Fremont, city officials and staff are allowed to label all unsaved emails as “preliminary drafts.” In addition, they are allowed to pick and choose which emails are saved or purged. If no designation is given, according to the grand jury report, they are automatically purged after 30 days.

Read the entire Alameda County grand jury report here

Fremont was not openly flouting the law, according to the report, but justified its policy by using a 24-year-old state attorney general opinion that is “contrary to the spirit of open and transparent government and must be changed,” said the report.

“From the Grand Jury’s perspective, Fremont’s questionable logic appears to exempt all emails (unless separately saved) from disclosure, even though the Public Records Act specifically includes emails,” said the report.

Furthermore, the grand jury found little evidence city officials and employees are trained to discern what constitutes an email that should be retained or deleted after the 30 day period.

The cost of storing up to one million emails, according to the grand jury's findings, was used by the city to justify its current retention policy. But, the report later found the cost is no longer prohibitive and technology exists that could lower the amount to about one percent of the city’s allotted $5.5 million budget for information technology.

But the cost of purging emails so quickly is more than monetary. Citing the recent investigations into the handling by PG&E of its pipeline explosion in San Bruno, “the inappropriate conduct of public officials involved in this case would not have become known had it not been for the retention of emails that enabled the public to uncover wrongdoing and demand accountability,” said the report. "Emails were often key to determining whether there was misconduct by government agencies.”

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Court allows Eden Township to pay $19 mil in damages to Sutter over 10 years

Court will allow Eden Township Healthcare District
to pay $19.7 million in damages to Sutter Health over
the next 10 years rather than all at once.
Chan wants Eden Township to provide hospital with additional financial help

SAN LEANDRO HOSPITAL | An Alameda County Superior Court judge has granted a hardship request by the Eden Township Healthcare District to pay the $19.7 million in damages it owes to Sutter Health over the next decade instead of a lump-sum payment that threatened the district’s financial viability.

In the ruling issued last week, the court sided with the district’s petition to pay the $19.7 million over ten years plus interest based on the one-year Treasury bill rate. Eden Township Healthcare District CEO Dev Mahadevan said the elected board of directors is ready to make its first payment on June 30. Sutter Health could still appeal the hardship decision, but it is unlikely.

After the healthcare district, which covers much of Southern Alameda County, sued in 2009 to block a bid by Sutter Health to gain control of San Leandro Hospital and close its emergency room, a state court ruled in Sutter Health’s favor four years later. Damages from the estimated losses to Sutter Health, incurred at the hospital during the legal fight, were set at $19.7 million. The district, however, maintained that being forced to pay that amount all at once could force the public agency into bankruptcy.

In a side deal, Sutter Health had pledged to donate the $19.7 million to San Leandro Hospital’s new owner, Alameda Health Systems, along with $22 million to operate the hospital’s emergency room. The judge's ruling, thus, raises questions about the hospital's financial viability, since it will not be receiving the $19.7 million right away.

Stacey Wells, vice president of communications and public affairs for the Sutter East Bay Medical Foundation, said the organization was disappointed with the court’s decision. “The district has assets that can and should be liquidated to resolve this judgment instead of its continued efforts to avoid payment.”...


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Another Wieckowski aide loses a winnable city council race

Wieckowski aide Tim Orozco lost his San Jose
City Council race Tuesday despite $232,000 in
support from the South Bay AFL-CIO.
Orozco loses in San Jose; Fernandez failed in Hayward

STATE SENATE | DISTRICT 10 | Even with the pocket books of labor unions and big-name local endorsement, another of State Sen. Bob Wieckowski’s staff has failed in a bid for local office.

Tim Orozco is the second Wieckowski staffer to lose a city council race in the past year. Preliminary results in Orozco’s race for San Jose’s District Four City Council seat show him trailing Manh Nguyen by more than 13 points, or just under 1,300 votes.

In June 2014, another Wieckowski staff, Rocky Fernandez, failed to win one of two seats on the Hayward City Council. This came despite over $100,000 in contributions from an independent expenditure committee backed by SEIU Local 1021. The union was angered by the Hayward City Council's decision to impose wage cuts on city worker. The committee also benefited another labor candidate, Sara Lamnin, who finished first.

Orozco’s defeat, however, is far more sobering for a labor movement in the Bay Area that can’t seem to get its act together. The defeat follows labor's stinging defeat in State Senate District Seven to Steve Glazer.

The South Bay AFL-CIO Labor Council spent $232,000 in support of Orozco and $16,000 opposing his opponent, who enjoyed more than $60,000 from the Silicon Valley ChamberPac, according to finance reports. Orozco’s own campaign account also raised over $84,000. But the overall campaign finance strength apparently did little to sway San Jose voters.

In fact, the San Jose City Council runoff Tuesday was shaded with some scandal. Nguyen was criticized for moving to the district shortly before filing for his candidacy. And later, it was reported Orozco had twice been arrested for DUIs in the past and lived with his mother. San Jose’s special election was triggered by Kansen Chu’s election last November to the State Assembly.

Fernandez’s campaign in Hayward last year did not involve any controversy, but similar to Orozco, the large expenditure by labor in his favor amounted to little progress in overturning the existing anti-worker tenor of the City Council. Fernandez finished a distant third and out of the running among seven candidates in the Hayward at-large race.

Call it the Curse of the Wieckowski?

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Oakland approves new city Department of Race and Equity; funding amount to come

Oakland Councilmember Desley Brooks
Brooks' proposal ultimately win unanimous approval

OAKLAND CITY COUNCIL | Councilmember Desley Brooks’ proposed Department of Race and Equity, after months of ups and downs, was given the green light Monday night by the Oakland City Council. Exactly how much is allocated in the forthcoming fiscal year budget starting July 1, however, is not yet known.

“Race is the issue that is the elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about or address,” Brooks said during the special council meeting. In late January, following a spate of nationally-publicized police brutality incidents, Brooks first proposed the creation of the new department to monitor the city's policies toward equity for all residents. A second new department will debut in Oakland sometime this year. Mayor Libby Schaaf is proposing a new Department of Transportation.

Despite months of uncertainty among Brooks’ fellow councilmembers about the need for expanding the city’s bureaucracy, Monday’s vote was unanimous. The amendment to the city ordinance was co-sponsored by Councilmembers Rebecca Kaplan Anne Campbell Washington.

Whereas, the mayor’s budget released April 30 allocates just $150,000 toward elements of Brooks’ proposed department, Council President Lynette Gibson McElhaney’s budget proposes $500,000 to fund two full-time equivalent positions for an executive director and analyst. The City Council will decide how much to allocate toward to the new city department before the June 30 deadline for the next fiscal year budget.

Councilmembers Abel Guillen and Noel Gallo, in recent months, both questioned whether the new department would duplicate the city bureaucracy already working on race and equity. Guillen offered an amendment to Brooks’ proposal Monday night asking the city administrator to provide a report on how each city department would collaborate with the new department.

Brooks, however, called the amendment “not friendly” and urged for its defeat. “He is effectively trying to slow down the start of this dept,” said Brooks. Guillen denied the characterization and later withdrew the motion.

Ingredients for an Alameda political controversy: rice, hugging and clapping

Alameda Mayor Trish Spencer
Mayor told Filipino sister city group her kids eat rice

ALAMEDA | There was an audible gasp followed by quizzical looks from a crowd earlier this month when Alameda Mayor Trish Herrera Spencer welcomed dignitaries from Dumaguete City — Alameda’s sister city in the Philippines. And now some people are calling Spencer’s comments racially insensitive and embarrassing to the Filipino American community in Alameda.

The flub occurred June 5 as Spencer greeted the sister city’s mayor, his staff, and members of the community. Spencer said her children, like Filipinos, eat “white rice.” Spencer’s remarks were recorded, and then slowly disseminated around the island.

Fearing a small-scale diplomatic controversy was about to erupt following the delegation’s four-day visit, a Filipino-American activist sent a passionate letter apologizing for the mayor’s remarks. The letter, however, has also caught the attention of Alameda’s political establishment, which is often at odds with Spencer. And the incident could now alienate Spencer from the city and region’s fast-growing Filipino community.

However, this isn’t the first time that Spencer, a surprise winner in last fall’s mayoral election, has come under fire for her comments, nor is it the first time a recording has fueled the fire.

In the audio clip obtained by the Express, Spencer’s short speech is disjointed and littered with incomplete thoughts. (In an interview later, Spencer admitted that it was an off-the-cuff speech.) During her remarks, Spencer struggled to convey the cultural similarities between Alamedans and Filipinos. “I have many Filipino friends,” she said. “Our children grew up … eating rice — white rice!” Spencer followed up the comment with a booming, cackling laugh...


Monday, June 22, 2015

City Hall Insider: council agenda notes from around the East Bay, June 22-24

OAKLAND/June 22, 5 p.m.
City Council presents its own budget; housing report

MCELHNAEY BUDGET PROPOSAL Council President Lynette Gibson McElhaney’s budget proposal released June 19 adds to the mayor’s plan focusing on public safety, jobs and infrastructure. Within the council proposal is an additional focus on the youth and seniors, along with equity and diversity. “The amendments offered here refine the Mayor's proposals to reflect what I believe are priorities and values expressed by members of the Council over many months of public discourse,” said McElhaney. Among the highlights: $350,000 for re-entry Job Corps; maintaining funding for day laborer centers; $150,000 to help enforce the city’s new $12.25 an hour minimum wage ordinance; expanded hours for Oakland Public Library; unfreeze three positions for abatement of illegal dumping and litter.

BROOKS TRIES AGAIN Councilmember Desley Brooks’ plan to create a Department of Race and Equity began in February and its path through Oakland government has surely been circuitous. Brooks’ plan is back on the council agenda Monday night after she indicated the new council budget proposal also submitted tonight gives the proposed department short shrift when it comes to funding. Mayor Libby Schaaf’s budget proposal included $150,000 toward elements of Brooks’ plan and Council President McElhaney’s proposal bumps it to $500,000. Both amounts are far less than what Brooks asked for. So, here’s the upshot: Can Brooks muster the same type of togetherness for her plan that she exhibited in pushing through the controversial Lake Merritt luxury tower sale last week after it seemed fated for defeat?

OAKLAND/June 23, 9:30 a.m.
HOUSING REPORT Oakland's housing market continues to be hot. A report Tuesday in the Community and Economic Development Committee shows median home prices in Oakland rose 17 percent in April to $507,750. Median rental price, though, have also skyrocketed by 22 percent over one year ago to $2,200 a month, but flat since last December, says the report. There were 160 notices of default through the first quarter of 2015, which is down from 193 during the same period last year. During the same committee hearing, Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan will offer a resolution supporting affordable housing developers.

ALAMEDA COUNTY/June 23, 9:30 a.m.
After closing $80 mil shortfall, county budget adoption on Friday

BUDGETPALOOZA Alameda County's $2.3 billion budget rightfully gets much attention from the Board of Supervisors. Four budget hearings are scheduled for this week alone following months of analysis and deliberation. Hearings are scheduled for Monday (11 a.m.), Tuesday (2 p.m.) and Wednesday (1 p.m.) with the likely adoption of the budget that includes $80 million in cuts, coming on Friday (11 a.m.).

HAGGERTYBALL Board President Scott Haggerty will read a commendation Tuesday honoring the Golden State Warriors on their NBA championship. Haggerty also presented the team with a commendation earlier this month for winning the Western Conference title. However, Haggerty's speech last Friday at the victory parade in Oakland didn't go so well with many pundits who criticized him for its length and fans who tried to drown out his remarks by chanting Warriors!.

HAYWARD/June 23, 7 p.m.
City manager gets a small raise; budget approval

CONTRACT RENEWALS City Manager Fran David was widely derided for telling the Bay Area News Group she felt underpaid at a time when the City Council led by her urging imposed wage cuts on city employees. Now David, along with City Attorney Michael Lawson, are receiving one-year contract renewals. After a tentative agreement with city employees in the can, David still won't receive a raise. Her salary stays at $222,642 a year. The same goes for the city attorney. Lawson will continue to earn an annual salary of $185,103, according to a staff report.

WELCOME TO THE 21ST CENTURY Say goodbye to downloading the entire 400-page agenda packet just to read one city staff report. Hayward has one of the most outdated municipal Websites in the entire Bay Area. Perusing government information is onerous on the Hayward site and watching video of meetings can be an adventure. Granicus, the meeting and information management company that is used by nearly every local government in the area is coming to Hayward. The City Council will approve a $129,000 contract with the company Tuesday night.

ALAMEDA/June 24, 7 p.m.
Search firm seeks public preference for next city manager

CITY MANAGER SEARCH Technically, this is not a council meeting, but a town hall for the public to voice the attributes they desire in the search for a new city manager to replace John Russo, who left Alameda in May for the same job in Riverside, Calif. The special meeting is required since a majority of the council will likely attend the town hall, but the regular business of the City Council will not be conducted Wednesday evening.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

San Leandro approves workforce agreement long sought by progressives

San Leandro Councilmember Jim Prola sought
a community workforce agreement during his first
term, but the proposal failed by one vote.
Pact sets $1 mil threshold for construction projects.

SAN LEANDRO CITY COUNCIL | For years, progressive members of the San Leandro City Council had sought a Community Workforce Agreement (CWA) with the area’s building trades union. On Monday, the council unanimously approved a three-year pact with the trades that city officials say will provide high wages for its residents and help build the local economy.

“It’s been a long-time coming,” said Councilmember Jim Prola. “It’s something that I’ve wanted for some time.” During the lead up to the 2010 elections in San Leandro, Prola and others attempted to pass a similar CWA, but the legislation failed by one vote.

The agreement assigns the Alameda County Building and Construction Trades Council as the sole bargaining representative for construction projects valued at more than $1 million. The monetary threshold was pegged at $1 million due to concerns the pact gives the trade union too much power, said San Leandro Mayor Pauline Russo Cutter.

“This is a major initiative,” said City Manager Chris Zapata said of the approved agreement. Later, he called it the “third-best week” the city has had since his tenure began in 2011 and following the opening of Kaiser Permanente and the Pacific Sports Complex, both near Marina Boulevard. The agreement featured an open dialogue between the unions and the business community, added Zapata. “Although there wasn’t always agreement, there was always civility.”

The labor agreement also includes provisions that 30 percent of the workforce for projects be set aside for San Leandro residents. “We’re going to take care of families and put some young people in the pipeline for a career in the future,” said Councilmember Lee Thomas.

Monday’s night’s CWA follows a Local Inclusion Policy passed last year that favors San Leandro-based companies who bid for city contracts. And it’s also another sign the San Leandro City Council is displaying a more deliberate progressive slope after a moderate insurgency led by former San Leandro Mayor Stephen Cassidy fizzled leading to his decision not to seek re-election last fall.

Yet with no shortage of capital improvement projects either underway or in the pipeline, the lone point of contention during Monday’s discussion revolved over whether non-union companies should be required to use San Leandro residents as their core employees.

The question was broached by Cutter, but the council voiced support for keeping the provision as written. Councilmember Corina Lopez said with the number of large construction projects in the city, higher wages will help residents keep pace with rapidly-rising costs of living in the East Bay. “I think this CWA is something that is positive, obligatory, necessary, and the right way to use our tax dollars.”

Hayward may seek greater campaign finance transparency

Hayward Councilmembers Greg Jones and
Al Mendall may be targeted by unions for their
vote to impose a wage cut on city workers.
Some CMs may fear union reprisal in 2016 election

HAYWARD CITY COUNCIL | With an eye toward a likely contentious municipal election next year, the Hayward City Council is exploring a proposal, its backers say, will bring greater campaign transparency to its city elections.

On Tuesday, Hayward City Attorney Michael Lawson detailed changes to the election code that could require candidates and independent expenditure committees to print the top four donors to its campaign on election materials, such as direct-mailers.

The plan is essentially the DISCLOSE Act, a noteworthy bill that stalled in the State Assembly last year, in part, due to opposition from labor unions. “It’s not necessary to be a policy wonk to understand the influence of money in politics at the national, state and local level,” said Lawson.

Hayward has stringent campaign finance rules already on its books. Candidates who accept spending limits can receive individual contributions up to $1,295 with a spending cap of $66,009. Those who do not can receive unlimited contributions, but only up to $250 per individual. Over the last decade, no candidate has declined to follow the voluntary limits, said Lawson.

Tuesday’s discussion was scheduled as a work session item, meaning no definitive action was made by the council. But there was a clear direction by the council to staff for greater scrutiny on the outside influence of special interest committees, an issue which will likely dominate the 2016 City Council elections featuring four at-large seats.

Union officials from SEIU Local 1021, which represents over 300 city employees, vowed to defeat each Hayward councilmember who voted for the imposition of a five percent wage decrease on city workers in February 2014. Four months later, the union helped one of two labor-backed candidates win a seat on the council, but in the process spent over $100,000 in independent expenditures. The specter of big money determining the 2016 election in Hayward may be on the minds of some councilmembers in local races that typically cost less than a fifth of what SEIU spent last summer.

“That is absolutely appalling that a city of this size has an election where people spend that type of money,” Councilmember Marvin Peixoto said of the union’s outlay last year. “And I’m telling you, the average person in Hayward, they can’t afford to compete with that.” Peixoto voted for imposition, but still won re-election last year, while spending next to nothing in campaign expenditures.
Others who may be targeted by the unions in 2016, include Councilmembers Al Mendall and Greg Jones, and to a lesser degree, Francisco Zermeno.

Councilmember Elisa Marquez, who is a likely candidate next year, expressed discomfort with the political nature of the agenda item Tuesday night. “It feels very self-serving and I question our ability to be objective in making those recommendations.” Marquez was appointed last July to serve the remaining two years of Barbara Halliday’s council term after being elected mayor.

Following the council’s direction, city staff will bring back a more detailed piece of legislation for the council's approval in coming months.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

UPDATE: Sandre Swanson’s State Senate campaign gets another big endorsement

Rob Bonta endorses Sandre Swanson for SD9.
Asm Bonta follows State Sen. Hancock’s support

STATE SENATE | DISTRICT 9 | Sandre Swanson’s bid for the State Senate next year now has support from two of the most popular legislators in the district.

Following State Sen. Loni Hancock’s endorsement two weeks ago, Swanson’s campaign earned the support Wednesday of Assemblymember Rob Bonta, who represents Oakland, Alameda and San Leandro.

“Sandré has been one of the most effective, principled, and visionary leaders in the East Bay,” Bonta said in a statement. “I have always admired Sandré’s deep personal commitment to fighting for our East Bay values. He is someone that has stood up and done the right thing for our community, time and time again, showing a track record of being a true leader.”

After Swanson was termed out of the Assembly in 2012, he was replaced by Bonta. Swanson has also supported both of Bonta’s Assembly campaigns.

The Eighteenth Assembly District, which Bonta represents, composes roughly half of the much larger Ninth State Senate District seat sought by Swanson.

Former Assemblymembers Nancy Skinner and Wilma Chan, currently an Alameda County supervisor, are also likely candidates in the June 2016 primary.

UPDATE: On Thursday, Assemblymember Tony Thurmond announced he is also endorsing Swanson for the State Senate. Thurmond represents the Fifteenth District, which is the other half of the senate district Swanson hopes to represent next year.

No longer a reason for East Bay pols to fear pension-buster Daniel Borenstein; he was wrong, you were right

BANG editorial writer Daniel Borenstein led the 
pension reform debate for years, but it failed to 
scare East Bay officials to join his calls for austerity.
Prola: 'I don't respect him. I don't respect his paper'

By Darwin BondGraham and Steven Tavares

PENSION REFORM DEBATE | "Dan needs no introduction," said Richmond Mayor Tom Butt at an April city council meeting, as Daniel Borenstein, an influential columnist and editorial page writer for the Bay Area News Group, walked up to the microphone to talk to city leaders about Richmond's retirement debts. "For people on the city council who have had to run for office, we've all been out there to [Borenstein's] inquisition where he has thrown obscure terms at us, and quizzed us on what we're going to do about it, where he's thrown fear into the hearts of all of us," Butt said with a smile.

Borenstein quickly launched into his Power Point presentation. He warned that Richmond's unfunded retirement debt was $446 million, or $4,150 per resident, calling it the "biggest enchilada." The city's retiree medical benefits debt totaled another $125 million, he said. His essential argument — one that he has repeated dozens of times in columns and editorials — was that, over the years, Richmond, like many cities, contributed too little to its retirement fund, building up an unfunded liability that could lead to financial catastrophe. "It's like charging last night's steak dinner on your home mortgage," he told the councilmembers, using one of his favorite folksy sayings.

For much of the past decade, Borenstein has been waging a campaign against what he views as the financial irresponsibility of elected officials and public sector labor unions, zeroing in on one issue in particular: public employee pensions. In columns and editorials, he has warned that looming debts threaten to "strangle," "choke," and "bankrupt" communities. He's called public employee pension systems "unsustainable," and scolded cities such as Oakland for "living beyond [their] means."


Alameda County supervisor attended NBA Finals game; read his mail, instead

Not a big fan of basketball: Alameda County 
Supervisor Keith Carson used the county's box at 
Oracle Sunday to read his mail during the NBA Finals.
At what would be the Golden State Warriors' penultimate victory before Tuesday night's NBA championship clincher, one Alameda County supervisor in attendance at Sunday's Game 5 at Oracle Arena may have bolstered the perception among some there is a lackadaisical attitude among East Bay elected officials toward keeping its three professional sports teams in town.

Word is that among the 20 or so people sitting in Alameda County's box at Oracle Arena to watch Sunday night's NBA Finals game was Supervisor Keith Carson.

While everyone was cheering for the Warriors at one of the most entertaining games of the post-season, Carson, was instead, ruffling through his mail.

Mind you, not email, but snail mail.

Carson perused a thick stack of county-related correspondence that had piled up over the week, said observers, while others enjoyed the Warriors win over Cleveland.

There continues to be perception that Oakland and Alameda County officials are not exactly clamoring to keep the Raiders in Oakland, while slowly moving forward with the Athletics on a new ballpark. Public officials all tend to believe the Warriors moving to San Francisco is far from certain.

Meanwhile, one aspect of the relationship between East Bay officials and their sports teams that has alluded discussion. In addition to Carson reading his mail at the NBA Finals, the reality is there are very few local elected officials who are anywhere near what you might call a sports fan. Could this be where the apparent lack of urgency toward the stadium situation in Oakland emanates? Who knows? Economic factors certainly cloud the issue, but that's a given in stadium deals all over the country.

However, around here, most of these decision-makers tasked with saving the teams wouldn't know the difference between Kenny Stabler and a stapler.

Monday, June 15, 2015

City Hall Insider: Agenda notes from around the East Bay, June 15-17

OAKLAND/June 17, 5:30 p.m.
Lake Merritt land deal returns to council

E. 12TH ST, PART III It’s the Oakland public land deal that forced a shutdown of the City Council in May by protesters and nearly went down in flames two weeks ago before Councilmember Desley performed a parliamentary save to keep the proposal from defeat. The East 12th Street parcel remainder sale, an empty acre property near Lake Merritt slated for a 24-story luxury apartment tower, returns to the council Wednesday night (Tuesday's regularly scheduled council meeting was moved to Wednesday to accommodate the Warriors game). The item was continued at the June 2 council meeting after it became clear the requisite votes for passage had eluded the $5.1 million sale to developers. Critics of the proposed deal, along with some council members two weeks ago, question whether the deal is illegal under the state's Surplus Lands Act. The law requires up to a quarter of units built on the property be set aside for low-income housing. The East 12th Street parcel is slated for market rate housing with no affordable housing. Councilmember Abel Guillen, who represents the area of the proposed sale parcel has worked with developers to gain up to $1 million in community benefits, including funding for nearby Fairyland and a skate park. Some resident, though, were somewhat skeptical the terms represent specific benefits to this particular area.

RESOLUTIONARY Two pending bills currently in the Legislature and another county initiative have resolutions in their support Wednesday night. Assemblymember Rob Bonta's bill (AD1240) to provide K-12 students with free breakfast before the school day begins has the backing of the City Council. A constitutional amendment to reform Proposition 13 (SCA5), co-authored by State Sen. Loni Hancock, calls for a "split roll" of corporate property taxes that could raise over $9 billion in revenue for the state, said its authors. A resolution offered by Councilmember Dan Kalb issues support for Alameda County's proposed Community Choice Aggregation, a program that could give residents another option for purchasing their energy other than PG&E.

HAYWARD/June 16, 7 p.m.
Campaign transparency; crime report

CAMPAIGN DISCLOSURE A proposal from Councilmember Al Mendall hopes to apply the DISCLOSE Act, a legislative bill providing greater transparency to campaign finance that failed last year in the Assembly, to Hayward's future mayoral and council elections. If approved, it would require candidates to disclose the top four donors to its campaign on political mailers and other related paraphernalia. The bill was torpedoed in Sacramento last year by Hayward Assemblymember Bill Quirk. Labor unions groused the new rules would be used to malign their efforts and contributions for pro-labor candidates across the state. Incidentally, Mendall may be a target of labor during his re-election bid in 2016 after voting for a wage imposition against city workers in February 2014.

CRIME UPDATE Residents in Hayward often convey concern over the perception that crime is on the rise. Two years ago, the City Council laid out certain performance standards for its police department as part of its annual list of priorities. Hayward Police Chief Diane Urban will brief the council on the department’s progress from January through March of this year. The burglary rate is down 15 percent, according to the department. Auto theft is also down 7 percent and larceny is 3 percent below a year ago. The 6 percent overall decreased in all categories is just above the 5 percent rate prescribed in the council’s priorities. In addition, there was one reported homicide in Hayward earlier this year, said the report, and the city’s 25 body-worn cameras have been deemed “durable” by the department.

ALAMEDA/June 16, 7 p.m.
Waterfront phase of Alameda Point to get approval

ALAMEDA POINT Site A of the Alameda Point development at the former Alameda Naval Air Station could see approval of the 68-acre mixed use plan on Tuesday night. The waterfront section of the development includes 800 multi-family residential units, of which include a quarter are set aside for affordable housing. In addition, the plan consists of 600,000 square feet for retail, commercial and hotel space, according to the staff report. The proposal also seeks to maintain the military feel of the former base, while repurposing existing building and constructing new ones.

SAN LEANDRO/June 15, 7 p.m.
Street to be renamed after fallen S.L. officer

LABOR PACT As a reminder that San Leandro is still union-strong, the City Council will decide Monday night whether to approve a three-year Community Workforce Agreement with the Alameda County Building and Construction Trades Council. The pact would make the union the sole bargaining representative for San Leandro construction projects valued at $1 million or more. Last year, the City Council approved a Local Inclusion Policy that favored San Leandro-based companies who bid for city contracts. If approved, the agreement would begin on Jan. 1.

DAN NIEMI WAY In July 2005, San Leandro police officer Dan Niemi was killed following a traffic stop on Doolittle Avenue. Almost 10 years later to the day, the city plans to rename a portion of Hays Street between East 14th and Davis Street after the fallen policeman.

FREMONT/June 16, 7 p.m.
City to make solar affordable; streamline permitting

SOLAR SALE Fremont, with its proximity to Silicon Valley, often leads the East Bay into the future. The Fremont City Council hopes to continue its leadership for encouraging residents to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by teaming with the City of Walnut Creek in a program that lowers the cost of installing solar cells on homes. The bulk purchase of solar photovoltaic installations, through a program called East Bay SunShares, lowers its cost  to residents and, in addition, homeowners can receive a 30 percent federal tax income credit through the end of 2016. The council discussion Tuesday night involves giving the city manager direction to team with Walnut Creek in the program. Also, on the agenda is an ordinance streamlining the permitting process for installation of small residential rooftop solar systems. Among the changes is a reduction in the number of city inspections of solar installations from two to one.

Will the Eden Township District sacrifice itself for San Leandro Hospital, again?

Eden Township Healthcare District Board of
Directors at a meeting last year.
ETHD can pay $17m damages now; dissolve

SAN LEANDRO HOSPITAL | An old wound is being reopened in the years-long fight to keep San Leandro Hospital in operation. Alameda County and hospital officials say the community hospital, despite various subsidies, continues to incur monthly losses of up to $1 million, and they say the hospital could be forced to close unless the Eden Township Healthcare District hands over $17 million. However, Eden Township officials say the healthcare district can't afford to pay the $17 million all at once, and being forced to so would bankrupt the public agency.

The dispute over San Leandro Hospital stems from a long legal battle between Eden Township Healthcare District and the nonprofit giant Sutter Health. Eden Township had long sought to keep the hospital open — along with its emergency room — and had sued to block plans by Sutter Health, which used to own the hospital, to close it and convert it to an acute rehabilitation facility. Ultimately, the case ended in 2013 — mostly in Sutter Health's favor, but with an amicable solution. Eden Township was ordered to pay Sutter Health $17 million, but instead of shuttering the hospital that predominately serves uninsured patients and those on Medi-Cal from San Leandro and Oakland, Sutter agreed to a separate deal brokered around the same time by Alameda County Supervisor Wilma Chan to transfer ownership of the hospital to Alameda Health Systems (AHS).

Sutter Health also offered a $22 million subsidy to keep the hospital's emergency room in operation for at least two years. In addition, the City of San Leandro agreed to pitch in $3 million, spread over three years. And Sutter pledged, with some fanfare at the time, to donate to the hospital the $17 million in damages it won from Eden Township. Most observers, in 2013, believed the announcement was an attempt by Sutter Health to salve the public relations disaster it endured when it had tried to close San Leandro Hospital. Back then, city and county officials also believed the infusion of cash would help the struggling hospital's become profitable and later expand.

But Eden Township officials now say they were never involved in the talks with Chan and Sutter and that the healthcare district cannot afford to pay in one lump sum the $17 million it owes. In fact, Eden Township officials have petitioned the court to allow it to pay the $17 million over time.

"We were out of the loop," said Lester Friedman, a member of Eden Township board of directors, referring to the 2013 talks with Chan and Sutter.


Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Wieckowski proposes excise tax for excessive water use

State Sen. Bob Wieckowski at the Oro Loma 
Sanitary District waste water plant in April.
Levying tax would be voluntary and fund conservation efforts

STATE SENATE | DISTRICT 10 | With California in the midst of a worsening drought, Fremont State Sen. Bob Wieckowski is proposing an excise tax to punish water wasters across the state.

An urgency bill introduced Wednesday would give local water agencies the power to tax excessive water users up to 300 percent the cost of water to the district.

However, Wieckowski’s bill would not make the punitive tax mandatory, but voluntary, and allow for the revenues to be split between the local water district and the State Water Resources Control Board. In addition, all the revenues from the excise tax would be used to fund additional water conservation efforts.

Earlier this spring, Gov. Jerry Brown called on the state to reduce water use by 25 percent. Last month, farmers in Sacramento and San Joaquin County agreed to give up a quarter of their allocated water in exchange for assurances from the state it would not impose further limits on their water use.

Wieckowski said Senate Bill 789 is another tool for local governments to reduce water use as the state struggles toward its fifth year of drought.
“There is no excuse for excessive water use,” said Wieckowski in a statement. “Whether it is mega-mansions keeping their lawns lush and green, bottled water companies buying a town’s water cheap and selling for large profit, or companies using way too much water in the production of their goods or services, local entities should have the ability to charge them appropriately for their wasteful consumption.”

Hancock backs state constitutional amendment to reform Prop. 13

State Sen. Loni Hancock is co-authoring Senate
Constitutional Amendment 5.
Proponents say amendment could raise $9bn in taxes

LEGISLATURE | State Democrats, including East Bay State Sen. Loni Hancock, want corporations and large real estate owners to pay their fair share of property taxes by rolling back portions of Proposition 13, passed in 1978 to limit rising real estate taxes.

An amendment to the state Constitution proposed Wednesday would assess corporate property taxes by its current value, not when the property changes hand. It’s a loophole often used by corporations to skirt paying higher property taxes and often derided by progressives in the East Bay.

The proposed amendment, by authored by State Sen. Holly Mitchell and co-authored by Hancock, would raise up to $9 billion in new taxes for the state, according to the Los Angeles Times, and not pertain to residential homeowners.

Reforming Prop. 13, however, will take much effort, the authors and proponents concede. In addition to requiring a two-thirds majority for passage in the Assembly and State Senate, any change to the state constitution would also need to be approved by voters in 2016—a presidential election year.

Yet,even if the amendment is unsuccessful in the Legislature, it may still have life. Hancock told the AP she believes the issues should give taken to the voters, regardless.

Monday, June 8, 2015

City Hall Insider: City Council agenda notes from around the East Bay, June 8-11

ALAMEDA COUNTY/June 9, 9:30 a.m.
County eyes $65m deficit; Santa Rita fills its cells

BALANCING THE BUDGET Alameda County Administrator Susan Muranishi will present the board with a budget proposing to balance a $65 million budget shortfall reported last April. While daunting, the gap is the lowest in Alameda County since before the onset of the Great Recession in 2007-08.

GIVE US YOUR TIRED AND CONVICTED A week after approving an agreement to house inmates from Sonoma County at Alameda County’s Santa Rita Jail, there is still more space in Dublin. Another deal, this time with Monterey County will extend a contract due to expire at the end of the month for another year with an option for 2017. The highest daily rate offered by Alameda County is $125.

OAKLAND/June 8, 4 p.m.
Housing equity roadmap; Henry J. Kaiser's future

MORE BUDGET HEARINGS The closer Oakland gets to the June 30 deadline for approving its biennial budgets for 2015-17, the more irritable councilmembers will become. The City Council will continue the long slog Monday afternoon toward tweaking Mayor Libby Schaaf’s budget and inserting some of their own pet projects.

June 9, 9:30 a.m.-6 p.m.
HOUSING EQUITY ROADMAP An elucidating report on Oakland’s worsening housing equity problems will be delivered to the Oakland City Council Community and Economic Development Committee Tuesday afternoon. Few details in the report are new, but the compilation, in itself, reveals a city struggling to maintain its current residents and character. Oakland’s median rental prices are skyrocketing, as are the cost of new ownership, says the report. Home ownership in East Oakland, for instance, has plummeted by 25 percent from 2006-2013 and the current numbers are certainly higher. In addition, during the last Census, the number of young people in Oakland dropped by nearly 17 percent. By comparison, the entire county only lost 4 percent of its youth population. The “Housing Equity Roadmap” comes on the heels of Councilmember Desley Brooks’ proposal to create a Department of Race and Equity in Oakland that would deal with most of the issues detailed in this report.

HENRY J. KAISER DEVELOPER In another Community and Economic Development Committee agenda item, the potential for rehabilitating the historic Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center near Lake Merritt has captured the imagination of residents. But, there are some in the community who question the city’s proposed Exclusive Negotiating Agreement with Orton Development. At a committee meeting two weeks ago, some councilmembers questioned whether inclusion of a hotel in the project is prudent for the site or another location nearby. The committee is also seeking additional information about the proposed developer’s financials. The developer, according to a supplemental staff report, has the requisite amount of equity and liquid assets to fund the job.

HAYWARD/June 9, 7 p.m.
No money for paying down unfunded liabilities

UNFUNDED LIABILITIES Hayward has one of the largest concentrations of union residents in the East Bay. But, its City Council has also been one of the most aggressive in terms of pay and benefits for its public employees. The council will hear a report on the city’s unfunded liabilities that shows its proposed fiscal year budget for 2015-16 barely balanced, but without doing much to lower its future obligations. The city’s finance director says, although the budget is balanced, its teetering on the edge of falling into the red with any changes before its approval. Regarding CalPERS, the city is proposing to allocate the minimum required payment, while paying nothing toward retirement and health care benefits. Essentially, it's how the budget pencils out, its finance director said last week.

ALAMEDA/June 11, 7 p.m.
Documented homeless on the Island: 17

HOMELESS SURVEY A report on the state of homelessness in Alameda documented a grand total of 17 people, but only 8 were interviewed. Three indicated they were veterans. Half of those interviewed said they had previously accessed the Alameda Food bank, while several told canvassers they had used local emergency room services several times in the past.

LAURA’S LAW The council will decide whether to send a letter to the Alameda County Board of Supervisors in support of implementing Laura’s Law. The county supervisors have discussed for more than a year whether to approve an ordinance that would allow for care of documented mentally ill patients without their consent. The issue has strong ties to Alameda following the killing of a Berkeley man by Daniel DeWitt, a mentally ill patient who had repeatedly decline treatment for his ailment. Daniel DeWitt is the grandson of former Alameda Councilmember Al DeWitt.

SAN LEANDRO/June 8, 7 p.m.
Will that medical tank make S.L. safer?
WORK SESSION San Leandro Police Chief Sandra Spagnoli offers the City Council an overview of the city’s emergency operations and preparedness during a work session Monday night.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Regulatory medical cannabis bill co-authored by Bonta passes Assembly

Assemblymember Rob Bonta
ASSEMBLY | 18TH DISTRICT | A bill co-authored by East Bay Assemblymember Rob Bonta and two other Southern California Democrats that would offer the state a mechanism for overseeing its notoriously under-regulated medical cannabis industry passed the Assembly Thursday with clear bipartisan support, 60-8.

Assembly Bill 266 creates an Office of Marijuana Regulation under the purview of the governor and enacts a licensing structure for medical cannabis dispensaries to conduct business. Local governments would also be allowed to continue their own current oversight and licensing in their jurisdiction, according to the legislation.

Since voters passed Proposition 215 in 1996 to allow the sale of cannabis through dispensaries to patients with a physician’s approval, the burgeoning industry has seen little local and state oversight. Authors of the bill say other states have exceeded California's efforts to provide medical cannabis to needy patients. In recent years, several states have gone a step further and legalized cannabis altogether.

All three of the legislation’s author represent areas with strong presences of medical cannabis dispensaries. Bonta in Oakland and Assemblymembers Reginald Jones-Sawyer and Ken Cooley in Southern California

The authors called Thursday’s vote “historic” for its wide-ranging support on an issue that has in the past polarized Sacramento.

When one Republican lawmaker Thursday disagreed with the bill’s ability to limit children from getting access to cannabis-infused snacks, according to the Associated Press, Assemblymember Jim Cooper, said of the industry, “It’s the wild, Wild West.”

Bonta responded, AP reported: "There was a reference to the wild West, and that is what this bill is trying to move away from."

The bill heads to the State Senate for consideration starting later this month.

Political tit-for-tat kicks off big intraparty East Bay State Senate race

State Sen. Loni Hancock, right, kept her word
Wednesday when endorsing Sandre Swanson in SD9..
STATE SENATE |9TH DISTRICT | When Loni Hancock, the current holder of the Ninth State Senate District seat, announced Wednesday she was endorsing Sandre Swanson to succeed her in 2016, it should have come as no surprise.

The deal between the Oakland and Berkeley heavyweights was forged more than three years ago when each other’s political trajectories were on a collision course in 2012.

Sandre Swanson, termed out of the Assembly seat representing Oakland and Alameda, was seriously eyeing a intraparty run against Hancock’s re-election in the redrawn district. The potential race had politicos salivating, if not, for the novelty then of Democrats facing each other in the general election because of the new open primary process.

It didn’t happen because Swanson relented to voices within to party to sit out the race for an anticipated field clear of candidates in 2016.

In January 2012, Swanson officially endorsed Hancock and she vowed to return the favor. In a press release that included Swanson’s backing for Hancock, she said, “I endorse Sandre Swanson in his effort to run for the 9th Senate District in 2016. If I am fortunate enough to be re-elected, I can’t think of a better person to succeed me in the Senate.

Hancock apparently kept her word…to the letter. In a statement Wednesday, Hancock recycled nearly the exact same wording from 2012 to announce her endorsement of Swanson this time around.

Nevertheless, the announcement is the first big news of what should be one of the headlining races of the 2016 campaign season in the East Bay and a feather in Swanson’s cap. Since being termed out of the Assembly in 2011, Swanson served in Oakland as deputy mayor in Jean Quan’s administration.

In addition, to Swanson, the race will likely include two other well-known progressives—former Assemblymember Nancy Skinner and Alameda County Supervisor Wilma Chan, who also served in the Assembly more than a decade ago.

For those still bruised (annoyed?) by the recent intraparty State Senate race in the Seventh District last month, next year’s campaign in the Ninth District will likely be different. Neither of three Democrats veer much from the progressive side of the political spectrum in contrast to the split seen between the labor-backed Susan Bonilla and the moderate Steve Glazer favored by business interests.

A better comparison to the Swanson/Skinner/Chan race next year is the 2012 Assembly race in the Eighteenth District between Rob Bonta, Abel Guillen and Joel Young, which Bonta won in a November nail bitter.