How Cubberley spun out of control

Homeless Van belonging to retired school teacher
Homeless Van belonging to retired school teacher

The growing “de facto homeless shelter” at Cubberley Community Center appears to be in large part created by the accommodating approach of Palo Alto facilities managers, public showers, and the closure of other places where the homeless used to camp.

On Tuesday during a council committee discussion about car camping, City Manager Jim Keene said that Cubberley workers had told him the community center was becoming an ill-equipped homeless shelter.

The Council committee’s decision that night to recommend a ban on car camping to the full council was at least in part a reaction to a recent increase in the number of people camping out nightly at Cubberley and the corresponding number of complaints, such as the one resident Sherry Listgarten sent to the Council on Saturday.

Homeless cart of terror for one Palo Alto resident
Homeless cart of terror for one Palo Alto resident

In her e-mail she expressed “dismay” that the city “is taking this center, which has so many well-used children’s services, and turned it into a homeless shelter.” Listgarten said that her daughter “who has never been scared if anything,” was now afraid to sit at the Cubberley library because all of the homeless there.

In many cases, residents call police to complain about the homeless. Police Chief Dennis Burns said Tuesday that there were 39 complaints about the homeless at Cubberley in 2012, up from 16 2011.

On Monday night, Burns told the council committee that police officers who walked around Cubberley found 13 people sleeping outside and 20 people sleeping in cars. That’s more than there used to be, according Kathy Espinoza-Howard, who was the division manager at Cubberley and Palo Alto’s Human Services Division from 2004 until 2009.

Espinoza-Howard told the Post that when she managed the community center, which was a high school until 1979, then became a community center that leases spaces to variety of nonprofits, there were generally about three or four people sleeping in their cars on a given night, and only a few more sleeping outside.

Alfredo Padeilla a frequent shower user
Alfredo Padeilla a frequent shower user

Espinoza-Howard said that in 2004 some of those homeless people asked her to open the showers at an early hour, at around 6 a.m., so that they could take showers before they went to work. Since there were janitors who arrived at 5 a.m., she agreed.

At that time, she said, the Opportunity Center at 33 Encina Ave. hadn’t been opened, and there was nowhere else in town for the homeless to bathe.

Open since 2006, the $24 million Opportunities Center has provided help and housing for the homeless. But according to Jill Dawson who works for the center’s managing nonprofit, InVision, free showers and laundry rooms there are only open between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. when many working people may be unable to go.

Fights, drugs, prostitution

When she managed Cubberley, Espinoza-Howard said, she saw problems in the bathrooms similar to those that are being reported today including fights, drug use and at least once, prostitution.

But when that would happen, Espinoza-Howard said, she would shut down the showers.

“It’s all about setting boundaries for people. We were very strict about behavior in the showers. We would tell them, we treat  this facility with respect or there will be no showers,” Espinoza-Howard said yesterday.

Espinoza-Howard said she would also tell people sleeping outside that they had to move after giving them a list of shelters or trying to help them get into one herself.

Keeping the homeless problem from getting out of hand, she said, was like caring for a garden. “It’s just like weeding your garden. You have to keep on it and keep on it and keep on it.”

That kind of “weeding” is no longer going on, according to Rob de Geus, the assistant director of the Community Services Department.

De Geus said that in the four years he’s been managing Cubberley, he’ has never asked people to leave, including the car campers who overstay the 72 hours that Palo Alto allows a car to be parked in the same spot.

Once a week, someone from a local nonprofit walks the campus and gives information about local shelters and services to the homeless, but that’s about it.

Complaints roll in

De Geus said that he believes the recent increase in homeless camping at Cubberley has to do with the closure of the Mitchell Park Library and the Lucie Stern Community Center, where homeless used to camp but can’t now because of ongoing renovations.

“In the last couple of years we’ve certainly seen an increase in that population,” de Geus said, “and we regularly have issues with the showers and get complaints. We’re hearing from folks every week.”

De Geus also said that he hears complaints about homeless who sometimes try to camp in classrooms that need to be locked for the night or go into rooms with catered events and take food.

Cubberley Shower Facilities and so called "Steamroom"
Cubberley Shower Facilities and so called “steam room”

Other times, people go into the bathrooms and turn on all the showers to create a “steam room” or wash clothes or cooking utensils there.

“We care about these people and they need food and a place to stay. The problem is that Cubberley doesn’t have those services that they really need,” he said.

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Vehicle Habitation plan, flawed from the beginning?

Cracked eggAfter many years of kicking around this issue, the current city council may decide the fate of hundreds, while the few bad apples will never be affected, honest working class people will be affected, and not for the better. The problems being brought up by those demanding an ordinance will not disappear, because the problems were never caused by car dwellers, but by other categories of people.

The issue at hand is the Vehicle Habitation Ordinance.  This issue has not been resolved although it has come up many times in the past in  city counsel meetings.  Interest groups, faith based churches, and a working group composed of concerned clergy, city staff and CCT members had over 10 months to work on a plan, yet when it reached the policy and services committee it quickly fizzed out.

The two sides of this issue are:

1. Human rights Advocates who do not want more government interference in our lives and more power given to the police in this society where freedom reigns.

2. People of means who do not want their peace and well being infringed upon by those of lesser means.  The demeanor of this group seems to be: “Not in my neighborhood” they pay high taxes to live in Palo Alto and they don’t want to even see one homeless person or car dweller loitering around and feel that this permissive agenda by Palo Alto is just not acceptable.

The city wants to solve the problem by pushing the car dwellers onto the Service Providers. Shelter Network is not equipped to handle yet another 55 to 100 who have needs far different than street people who have lost all their self esteem, and therefore can be treated in any fashion the service provider deems necessary.  Car dwellers are accustomed  to making their own decisions, they are more independent than street people, some of them hold down a low wage job.

The service  provider has a set of standards that most car dwellers do not fit into, and they will not amend these set of standards to qualify for their services.

Service providers exist to get funding and getting results is not imperative to them so they do the least  possible because obtaining funding is their primary goal, not finding shelter for the homeless, regardless of their claims. Their results are largely undocumented because failure to achieve is not a good thing to bring about.

Failure of the city government to grasp a clean understanding of the issue is apparent, so the issue remains an issue because nobody has actually determined the root cause of car dwelling and suggested that the root cause be treated instead the symptoms are being experimented with, leading to quick fix solutions.

It has become evident to us that Palo Alto City Council will not spend one dime on “homeless tramps” while supporting Downtown Streets team who are running a economic slavery scheme paying their recruits less than minimum wage and saving the city millions, so the city is happy to get “free labor”.

The Caste System being created by the current attitudes of “Palo Alto affluent” will enable the affluent to keep up their lifestyle at the expense of the impoverished, while supporting a Feudal type concept.

The Barons kept the peasants in line while the Kings lived a life of plenty.  It is not imaginary because that is what we are headed for if this ordinance is passed in Palo alto.  It is time we take heed to the philosophy of Martin Luther King “Free at last, Free at last, Free at last” instead of “oppress me more, oppress me more, oppress me more”.

Does Palo Alto have an obligation to those of no financial means? No city has an obligation to any certain group of people, whether wealthy or not, instead the city may want to be a role model to other municipalities simply because it’s the right thing to do. When there are billionaire developers wanting special favors from local politicians, the pressures to abide by the wants of the affluent may carry more clout than some group of human rights advocates.

We, however hold onto a glimmer of hope that those decision  makers on the city council will see the opportunity to do something positive which will appease both sides and create a real solution. Stanford university social services professor should be consulted, and this resource may come up with a real solution.

Giving the police to power to decide the fate of a category of people is surely NOT THE ANSWER. Poverty shall not be a crime in the United States of America.

Casting democracy to the wind on the homeless in Palo Alto

democracydeadDemocracy was cast to the wind this evening leaving its citizens voices dead on arrival.  The Policy and Service Committee clearly became a Politburo rather then a democratically elected body in its decision to not listen to the citizens it serves.  The last time I looked the citizens of Palo Alto were clearly in charge.  Not anymore!

Despite an overwhelming community disapproval displayed during oral communications, the council took upon itself and decided to move forward with the proposed ban making it a misdemeanor for those found inhabiting or living in their vehicle a six month jail sentence if found guilty as noted by former Santa Clara County Public Defender Aram James.

Just the first round

Attorney Aram James
Attorney Aram James

For many in attendance it was what appeared to be a crushing defeat for homeless rights.  Not so this is just the first round says Aram James a long time Palo Alto resident and attorney. He relates;

“Folks don’t hold your heads down! Tonight was just the 1st round, the opening arguments.  The politicians just played their best hand in full public view like discovery in a criminal trial we (the public) now know their best arguments–very weak at best.

Nearly thirty members of the public spoke all but two oppose this ugly draconian ordinance. Now’s the time to redouble our efforts–the full jury has not yet spoken!! Now we organize remember our weapons, jury nullification, and the defense of necessity, discriminatory enforcement and defenses to this ordinance only limited by our imagination!!!

No jury of 12 citizens will ever convict for violation of this immoral proposed ordinance!! The community united will never be defeated by self-serving politicians. It’s time to fight back elect members of the un-housed community–including vehicle dweller–to our city council”.

One thing is for sure the homeless advocates were out in force from PhD’s, lawyers, physiologists to the homeless vehicle dwellers just as predicted in the Daily Post. They really put on a “show”.

Mr. Price in his editorial seamed to vilify the homeless but if it were his newspaper racks on the line I’m sure he would be whistling a different tune. After all it’s the First Amendment he’s so proud about first and not the horrible state of homelessness on a national level.

Hopefully in round two community voices will rise to the occasion once again when full council is set to bless the ordinance so as to defeat this draconian ordinance and attack on the homeless once and for all.

Suggested legal defense strategies:

Tobe v. City of Santa Ana (1995)

In re Eichorn (1998) 69 Cal. App. 4th 382 [81 Cal. Rptr. 2d 535]

Implementation of the necessity defense in case of criminalization of homelessness

Necessary Defense from ending the threat of nuclear war

Why a fundamental understanding of jury nullification is so critical to taking back our criminal justice system

Gideon v. Wainwright – 372 U.S. 335 (1963)

Past historic Palo Alto Police soft interactions with Vehicle Dweller

Palo Alto settles Taser suit for $35K

Time is running out for those who call the streets of Palo Alto their home

Living in you carIn one of the most dramatic and important decisions facing homeless people in Palo Alto is the outright ban of those without traditional housing a unique group of homeless people known as “Vehicle Dwellers”.

On June 25th at 6:00 PM sharp a special meeting has been called by the Services and Policy Committee comprising of city council members Liz Kniss, Larry Klein, Gail Price and Karen Holmam who will consider what has been touted as:

The last stand

The last “Consideration of Ordnance Prohibiting Habitation of Vehicles”. We believe it’s a ruse and a biased forgone conclusion of the city’s ultimate intention to rid the homeless off the streets of Palo Alto. “Consideration” is just a formality in our opinion. The decision has already been decided.

At the last Policy and Services Committee meeting Police Chief Dennis Burns with all his legal weight and credibility, presented data on the number of problem calls concerning vehicle dwellers at the Cubberely Community Center a “Hot” spot of problems to bolster his claim for the need of an outright ban on homeless individuals and families from living in their vehicles.

Flawed data presented

The problem we see with his analysis is that Chief Burns presented no comparable data on other disturbance calls. Especially within the downtown area where numerous nightlife bars are located.

Of course and without question, the data presented by Chief Burns was soaked up by the committee like a basket of sponges. Besides, who are you going believe the Police Chief or the average citizen when critical police data is presented to a jury or quasi judicial body such as the Policy and Services Committee?

The city of Palo Alto as it stands is the last remaining sanctuary where those who find themselves homeless for what even the reason can live in their vehicles protected from the element and with a real sense of protection from harm.

The last time I checked the unemployment numbers for the State of California, that number has increased to over 1 million. Although our economy has improved we still have a long difficult road to full recovery.

The meeting will take place in city council chambers they do that when they expect large crowds of spectator or what Dave Price of the Daily Post described as homeless advocates putting on a “show”.

Wealth vs. Disenfranchised

In reality, there is no reason to feel optimistic about the ultimate outcome of this planned ordinance to ban the homeless off the streets of Palo Alto.

Its the disenfranchised vs wealth.  Those who have been fed with a silver spoon, living a life of privilege and distinction, gone are any traits of compassion or tolerance…..the prevailing attitude rules…”not in our neighborhood” reminiscent of past minorities forced to move elsewhere. Call the ban what you like. In our opinion it’s wrong!

Claims were made by the former Director of Planning and Community Environment Services Curtis Williams, at the last policy meeting that no other solutions were presented on how to deal with the alleged chronic vehicle dwellers plaguing our streets who have consistently violated exciting nuisance laws.

Creative ideas ignored

That’s simply not the case. To address those issues, vehicle dweller and advocate Tony Ciampi put together a series of citation warnings specifically designed to address nuisance complaints and issues. Those ideas were completely ignored.

We put forth the idea of exploring opening up Foothills Park almost two years ago to vehicle dwellers where there’s ample parking, campgrounds and where restroom facilities are located. And we sent email with a large distribution to all major stake holders including city council, Mr. Williams and the head of Palo Alto city park services.

We received no response.  Talk about being irresponsible and the audacity to say that no other ideas were suggested or presented. That’s simply not true and misleading all soaked up by the Policy and Services Committee. The cards were clearly stacked against the homeless by the collective powers at be.

Open Government and Transparency Questioned

It’s been a lopsided debate from the very beginning.  With the city attorney’s office ordering that the media remain uninvited while the Community Cooperative Team or group tasked with brainstorming for solutions met behind closed doors without public input. Which we believe was a well orchestrated planned event and a complete travesty to democracy, open government and transparency.

This should speak volumes as to the type of attorney Molly Stump is and who runs our local city government on less then equal protection of the homeless and who is unwilling to democratically debate these issue on any level. This planned city ordinance reeks of special wealthy influence.

June 25th marks the culmination of public testimony before the Policy and Services Committee passes on to city council its final version of the vehicle habitation ordinance to be rubber stamped into law. And time is running out for those who call the streets of Palo Alto their home. The clock is ticking…..

Staff Report Policy and Services Committee 6.25.13

Streets to be named after fallen PA officers

PA fallen officers in the line of duty
PA fallen officers in the line of duty

Palo Alto to City Council tonight will decide whether to name three new streets after three police officers who were killed in the line of duty.

The former Palo Alto Bowl on 4301 and 4329 El Camino Real will be converted to a four-story hotel with 26 home units, called “Monroe Place,” with three new streets formed.

City policy from 1979 requires that all new street names be approved by Council, with a recommendation first by the Palo Alto Historical Association.

Historian Steve Staiger said council made the decision in the 1970s to require city-approved street names after developers were naming streets after their relatives, friends, or even secretaries.

Steiger said the Historical Association recommended the names “Cole Court”, “Brassinga Court” and “Gene Court” for the three private streets in the new development that would be accessed through Monroe Drive.

Steiger said he was contacted by Palo Alto police, asking that the next time the association is asked to name a street, they consider three fallen police officers – Reserve Officer Theodore Brassinga, Officer Gene Clifton and Reserve Officer Lester Cole.

Small streets needed names

Staiger said in the last 10 years, the association has recommended about 20 names, but the total length of all those names combined is about 1 mile. He said with new developments, small courts, lanes, and culsde-sac pop-up that require new makes.

Staiger is the head of the committee in the association that discusses name nominations. In the past, the association has chosen names after California rivers or shorebirds found in the Palo Alto Baylands to better inform new residents significant local names.

“So many Palo Altans aren’t originally Californians. It’s a good idea to let them be aware of California history,” he said.

Most recently, Staiger said the Association recommended a park off High street near Whole Foods market to be named after and Anna Zschokke, who was the first resident of Palo Alto and build the city’s first high school.

Staiger said the officers that the streets could be named after were recommended by Chief Dennis Burns.

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It’s All About The Shizit

An Open Letter to Ms. Liz Kniss

Liz KnissMs. Kniss:

On Saturday (9/14/12) you really hit the s**t at the League of Women Voters’ candidates’ debate. (But you are no Mrs. Robinson. I saw The Graduate 29 times and you are no Mrs. Robinson.)

But you sure did hit the shizit. You found the fecal, Friend. It’s all out there now. Talk about putting your business in the street! It’s on now! Yes, it is out, Scout.

Seriously, you performed a great service. You identified what may well be the essence of support for the Vehicle Habitation Ordinance (VHO) for at least some part of the commuity. You seem to speak for—to use your phrase—“The Personal Business Faction.”

One of the proper functions of a leader is to highlight and communicate the essence of an issue–what really matters—for members of the public.

As I understand you, you are saying that for those opposed to allowing people to be free to live in/out of vehicles the main, motivating concern is where/how/when vehicle campers toilet themselves.

Is there some reason to think that houseless people forget their toilet training? Or that we are not able to figure out where bathrooms are? Don’t people using parks or just doing their jobs or chores or out running errands have the same challenge?

It can be messy, but it’s much better to get it out rather than hold it in. If it’s about the s**t, I say let it ALL hang out! I praise you for calling it what it is. So it’s about people’s personal business. I think you hit the mother lode.

It’s not about po’ folk having the nerve to live out of vehicles–when everyone knows the NORMAL thing to do would be living out of over priced housing like most everyone else in sunny Palo Alto—it’s this big unknown, nagging question, “Where do these people s**t?”

(I keep wondering if the people who seem to want to take away our vehicles have thought through where they want us to go after we lose those vehicles. Their lawns? Downtown sidewalks? The low-cost and below-market-rate housing that the Association of Bay Area Governments is “shoving down our throats”? Oh, that’s right, such housing is heavily resisted and avoided whenever possible.)

And a very white-bread, middle-class concern this is—the defecation location question. And don’t white-bread, middle-class concerns have a right to be represented and heard?

Where/how/when do houseless people s**t? Let me first say to all people so concerned—and I speak on behalf of a wide swath of hoboes, houseless, and transients when I say it–“Thank you, for making our fecal matters the focus of your concern. Who knew you even cared?”

Let me assure you all that we all take care of our toileting issues much the way you all do, with just a little less convenience.  Maybe. For all I know, my bathroom issues may be less burdensome than yours.

You’d have to ask others who sleep in cars and on the ground to get a fuller picture, but it seems to me you just figure out somewhere you can use a toilet before you go to bed and go use it before you go to bed.

Thanks to the generosity of private Palo Alto residents, there are a number of bathrooms available 24/7 in the City, even though the City itself has a policy against allowing bathrooms in parks to be available at night. Sometimes the City builds parks purposely without bathrooms. Sometimes it just closes them at night. That’s another but related matter.

I’ve been houseless here in Palo Alto for three years this past July.  I slept in the tilt-back front seat of my car in the alley behind Happy Donuts for the first year.  I just went in Happy Donuts and used the bathroom there whenever I needed to.  There is also a bathroom Jim Davis is kind enough to leave open 24/7 in his Valero station on the corner of Los Robles and El Camino Real, just down the street from Happy Donuts.

And there’s another always-open bathroom in the Safeway on Middlefield that’s open all night.  That’s not an exhaustive list, but you get the idea.  There ARE bathrooms available.  There should be MORE bathrooms available–for us, for parents and grandparents who have to take their kids home from parks because there’s no bathroom there, for shoppers, bicyclists, walkers, seniors–just folks who might need one.

After my year in the front seat of my car in the alley behind Happy Donuts, I developed swollen lower legs. I slept out on the ground in a couple of secluded spots.

Then I went into the shelter in the Armory in Sunnyvale the following winter.  That is a fine program. I was reluctant at first. But after one night, I never left. Being able to sleep safe on a mattress on a flat floor was much better for my legs—much better than when they weren’t supported in my front seat.

After the Armory closed at the end of March, I slept outside again, but it was still kind of chilly. I’d get up in the middle of the night and go to the Coin Wash next to Happy Donuts and sleep on the folding table in the back. Almost no one washed clothes there after two a.m.

Eventually I applied and got into the Hotel de Zink where you rotate from one church to another for three months.  It’s also a fine shelter program.  Both the Armory and the Hotel de Zink had bathrooms, warmth, safety, and you could stretch out flat. Plus you got a meal every night and breakfast in the morning. In the Hotel de Zink you got lunch-making materials also.

Now I’m back sleeping in my car. I lost a bunch of weight and learned from a very tall unsheltered friend who asked if she could sleep on the front seat of my car one night that I could curl up on the back seat. At least my legs are on the same level with my heart, which the doctor says is mad important for heart health. I park near Happy Donuts and have the use of their bathroom again.

Others spend the night parked in their cars nearby. Happy Donuts is one of the great houseless resources on the Peninsula. It has drawn unhoused folks from San Jose to San Francisco who need a place to spend the night.  When you’re tired of riding the “Hotel 22″ (Number 22 VTA bus), you stumble in to Happy Donuts and spend the rest of the night with your head down on the table in front of you or hanging back over your chair or nodding. Or you stay up and watch movies or play games or do school work or read or research or have interesting conversations or write or work on projects for work or for your own startup or email or browse the web for whatever you’re interested in.

The Coin Wash next door is open 24/7 like Happy Donuts and you can watch TV there, do a laundry, read, or just sit. Sleeping there can get you awakened by some interesting people at all times of the night and early morning. After being chased out a half dozen times, I began to think I wasn’t welcome and just didn’t come back anymore.

But I digress from the focus on feces.

I looked into the issues bothering the Greenmeadow Neighborhood Association (GNA) about the people camping in cars and on the ground at Cubberley.  The GNA folks also said they were quite concerned about “defecating and urination” by the people there.

One night when I was sleeping there (on a rectangular table on the plaza behind the library), I found the Foothill College men’s room was open instead of locked as usual. It was a weekend night and there was a sign on the inside of the door saying that the bathroom was open on weekend nights.

Some checking with other car campers there revealed that the bathrooms WERE actually open on SOME weekend nights.  They were SUPPOSED to be open on ALL weekend nights (why not weekday nights also?), but when the weekend custodian was the one who didn’t like houseless folks, the bathrooms were NOT open.  On the weekends when the custodian who WAS a houseless “car camper” at Cubberley was working, he left the bathrooms unlocked.

But even though the bathrooms are usually locked, there’s still always a port-a-potty at the edge of parking lot where it meets the playing fields.

So, here was my proposal to the GNA, through their very friendly, very reasonable president Zachi Baharav:  Let’s work together on getting those bathrooms open EVERY night and then your concerns are answered AND those who live there can live a little more easily—more like YOU’D like to be able to if you found that your best option was to live in your vehicle parked in some semi-friendly location.

That was at least semi-reasonable, right? Would you believe Zachi was not able to find anyone who had toilet concerns who was also willing to meet, to discuss, or even correspond on the subject? I was quite amazed.

So, that’s why my hat is off to you, Ms. Kniss.  You popped the cork, opened the floodgates, called it what it is. I do thank you for making something that wasn’t so clear a lot clearer—just how basic this concern is.  And that it must be dealt with—it can’t be ignored just because it’s icky. You have shown the way.

My statement is:  we unsheltered take care of our s**t.  We (in general) use toilets whenever available and clean up after ourselves when they are not.  We take precautions and figure out where we can go when we need to go.

There really is not as great a problem here as you might think from hearing the concerns expressed.  I’ve smelled a lot worse streets in most other places I’ve lived. Also, there are certain sights and sounds that one experiences in any and every urban location–and in most places it’s getting more like that all the time. However, in Palo Alto the houseless population—at least at Cubberley– is not increasing.

For those caught in the jaws of the economic trap often referred to as the “greatest transfer of wealth from poor and working people to the wealthy in the history of this country,” there are certain dislocations in more than just regular housing. Convenient toilet access is not the only problem.

Decisions were made, countries were invaded, dead and dying are still multiplying.  Private enrichment at public expense has run riot and still rages on barely abated.  Wars–very, very expensive wars–were waged and not paid for.  Tax cuts were lavished on the populace and not paid for. Liar loans by investment banks (well, almost) were approved.

Wouldn’t it be awfully strange if those who’ve borne the brunt of the transfer of wealth didn’t show a sign or two of despair, poverty, and deprivation? Losing jobs, homes, vehicles (from lots of causes, not just anti-vehicle habitation ordinances)–all these lead to many dislocations—some physical, some psychological. Houseless people—poor people– have many pressures, worries, fears, and things to think about—where to use a toilet is only one of those concerns.

What are we going to do, Palo Alto?  Continue with the policy of “No Potties For the Poor” (So They Can Be Further Marginalized For Public Defecation?) like the mean custodian at Cubberley?  Or are you going to be like the good custodian at Cubberley and try to solve a “problem,” instead of exacerbate it?

Don’t be an exacerbater.  Open up the bathrooms. Cleanliness for all!

I ask you, Ms. Kniss, to take up this challenge. You’ve identified the issue, clarified the issue–now bring porcelain to the poor!  Help clean up this problem.  You were the first to call it by name.  Lead the crusade. Let a thousand toilets  flush!

Chuck Jagoda, Houseless Advocate

California Assembly to restore Public Records Act

Under intense pressure from the state’s media organizations and government watchdogs, California’s legislative leaders on Wednesday backed down from proposed changes to a key transparency law that would have restricted the public’s access to government records.

“To be clear, this means that the California Public Records Act will remain intact without any changes as part of the budget — consistent with the Assembly’s original action,” Assembly Speaker John Pérez, D-Los Angeles said in a statement.

Critics had called for Gov. Jerry Brown to veto the measure, saying it would have gutted access to local government records by changing the law from a legal requirement to a “suggested best practice.”

The California Newspaper Publisher’s Association called for a veto and all of the state’s major newspapers, including this one, ran editorials on Wednesday deploring the proposed changes. Perez said the Assembly would restore the funding that reimburses local governments to comply with the law.

Assembly Speaker pro Tem Nora Campos, D-San Jose, said “we’ll be looking forward to the Senate following the lead of the Assembly.”

“This is important information for individuals to have,” Campos said. “I think this is good news for local government, and they’re not in a position to have to make any decisions” about whether to respond to public records inquiries.

State Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, was on the phone with a reporter from this newspaper when news of the Assembly bill broke and said it was too soon to know for sure what the Senate would do. A news conference with Senate leaders is set for late Wednesday afternoon.

“I’m very open to it,” Corbett said of the new bill. “We champion making public information available to the public.”

A spokesman for Brown did not respond to a request for comment.

Before the new bill broke Wednesday afternoon, Bay Area lawmakers who voted in favor of the bill said they supported the public records law — they just don’t want the state to pay for the cost of complying with it.

“Why the state should have to backfill local jurisdictions for something that really is inherently a governmental function that everybody should be complying with is beyond me,” said Assemblyman Mark Stone, D-Monterey Bay, a member of the Assembly Budget Committee.

Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, agreed, and said he though cities would still respond to public records request even if they have to pay for it themselves.

“If there’s a problem, we’ll go in and fix it,” Levine said. “There’s an always an opportunity to pass another law.”

But state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco — the only Bay Area legislator who voted against the original bill — says the situation is much more urgent.

“The history of local government has been that this is burdensome, it costs us a lot of money and we would rather not do it,” Yee said. “Absent a requirement that local government follow the Public Records Act, they are not going to do it.”

Language inserted into a budget bill last week would have allowed local governments to turn down requests for records without citing a legal reason. It would no longer have required government officials to respond to records requests within 10 days or force them to help the public by describing what records exist.

Gov. Brown had said he favored some changes aimed at reducing costs, but details did not emerge about the until a rider bill to the budget was introduced July 12, just three days before the budget deadline.

San Jose Mercury New Today

By Thomas Peele and Mike Rosenberg

Staff writers

PA racial profiling goes unchecked – Citizens’ encouraged too report police wrongdoing

Very little progress it seems has taken place since 2008 with the resignation of former Palo Alto police chief Lynne Johnson concerning her controversial orders to stop all African Americans wearing a “Doo-rag” during a series of robberies having taken place in Palo Alto involving an African American.

We believe an alleged racial profiling vehicle stop occurred in Palo Alto on University Ave and requested to review the actual Mobile Audio Video recording (MAV) which recorded the stop to confirm our uncertainties under a California Public Records Act as a third party complaint. That request was denied in complete defiance of the law.

CPRA – Section 6255. “The agency shall justify withholding any record by demonstrating that the record in question is exempt under express provisions of this chapter or that on the facts of the particular case the public interest served by not making the record public clearly outweighs the public interest served by disclosure of the record.”

Listen closely to Palo Alto Police Chief Dennis Burns commitment to the community on open government and transparency concerning the ability to review the actual vehicle stop recording (MAV) to eliminate even the slightest perception of unconstitutional motivated racial profiling by the Palo Alto Police Department.

As citizens, what should we do if we encounter or witness police engaged in wrongful racial profiling? It’s all about “citizen participation”. “It’s incumbent upon you, it is imperative; it is your responsibility to let the authorities know”. “Take responsibility”! Say’s Harold Boyd who is a former member of the Police Chief’s Community Advisory Group. And we have…….

Up-date: At a recent city council meeting I approached city attorney Molly Stomp to advise her that the California Public Records Act mandates a legal explanation. “Do you mean you received no response”?

Yes, we received a response but it was a one line code section [“MAV is exempt from the CPRA under Government Code 6254(k)-Penal Code Section 1054.5.”] of the CPRA without any legal “justification”.

“Send it to me again but I’m not going to spend a lot of time providing a “legal summary”. We got nothing to begin with!!

All this from a seemly innocuous benign front license plate traffic stop. We believe there’s more to this story and further believe the city of Palo Alto and its Police Department, is attempting to mislead the public’s trust by not revealing the MAV recording which would demonstrate that no such selective racial profiling had taken place.

Santa Clara County lawyers in the DA’s office ordered to pony up!

Lawyers in Santa Clara County District Attorney’s office yesterday were ordered to pay back up to $255,000 worth of free time they received, according to a scathing letter from the county executive’s office.

County blast’s DA’s ‘secret action’

Blasting District Attorney Jeff Rosen for his “secret action,” Deputy County Executive Luke Leung sent a letter yesterday to Max Zarzana, president of the County Government Attorneys Association union and a prosecutor in the DA’s office, demanding that the money be repaid.

As the Post reported on April 8, “Lead Attorneys,” who hold leadership roles in the DA’s office and earn about $192,000 a year, had their 5% bonus cut in September 2011 under a new contract the county negotiated with the unionized workers.

Pay Flap

To restore their pay, Rosen decided to change thousands of hours of requested vacation time off to “administrative leave,” so that employees’ time off would not reduce the amount of vacation time they had banked.

Banked vacation time can be converted to cash. An NBC investigation sparked action by County Executive Jeff Smith, who alerted the Board of Supervisors, County Auditor and County Counsel to the DA’s policy.

“At this point, we are presuming that the overpayment was accepted by the [attorneys] inadvertently, without any intention to defraud the County,” Leung wrote in the letter.

“However, this presumption is not based upon a specific investigation and may not actually be supported by the facts of the situation if there was an investigation…”

Union Outrage

Zarzana was outraged when the allegations first came out and accused Rosen of misconduct by circumventing the union contract.

Rosen maintains that he did nothing wrong and stands behind his actions fully.

“I directed does this to happen. I wanted this to happen. This is exactly what I wanted to happen,” Rosen told NBC in April.

Leung said the county is offering for the affected attorneys to pay the money back rather than launching an investigation.

“Presumably, if the [attorney’s] participation in this scheme was innocent, the county should be able to expect reimbursement for this excessive compensation,” Leung wrote.

News of the scandal sparked an investigation by the attorney general and prompted the county executive to place an administrative leave limit of 40 hours per employee, per year.

In response to Leung’s letter, Rosen issued the following statement:

“Today the Deputy Counsel Executive sent an inaccurate and misleading letter…The County Executive and I read and interpret the GAA Labor Contract differently… I do not appreciate attempts by the County Executive to bully my hardworking prosecutors.”

The DA’s office had 11 lead attorneys in 2011 and 16 in 2012. They all benefited from the policy. The DA has a total of 530 employees, including 182 attorneys.

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City of Belmont pokes red-light RedFlex camera in the eye with a sharp stick

rsz_red-light_cameraCiting the shaky ethical past of red-light camera operator RedFlex, Belmont City Council members voted last night to terminate the city’s use of the controversy devices, but not before one councilman took a moment to personally chew out some of the company’s executives who were in attendance.

Councilman chews out the company’s executives

Councilman Dave Warden blasted RedFlex for its questionable business tactics and said the red-light cameras don’t do anything to solve problems.

Warden was especially heated because he himself was the recipient of a $540 red-light camera ticket from the city of Hayward.

“I get some damn thing in the mail two months later that I don’t even remember, “Warden said, “who am I mad at now? I am mad at the city. There’s no cause and effect here. I hate these things. ”

Belmont voted 3-1 to terminate its agreement with Redflex with Councilman David Braunstein voting no and Vice Mayor Warren Lieberman absent.

The contract renewal first came up at the May 14 meeting, but the counsel asked for more information regarding reports of unethical business practices on the part of RedFlex.

RedFlex Vice President Jim Saunders tried to ease the council’s concerns last night, claiming that none of its 350 employees were involved in an alleged Chicago bribery scandal, but it didn’t seem to work.

“I just don’t buy it, “Mayor Christine Wozniak said. RedFlex has operated a red-light camera at the intersection of Ralston Avenue and El Camino since 2010. Since then, the camera has averaged 173 citations per month, according to Police Chief Daniel DeSmidt.

Daniel DeSmidt said he felt that the program had been affected and that he hoped that counsel would renew the contract.

“They’re not solving a problem. Our accident rate has not gone down, “Warden said. “All we have done is taken money and giving it to the state and given it to the county and given it to you guys, (RedFlex). We see hardly any of it.”

Councilman Vents frustration

Clearly angry, Warden even lambasted RedFlex executives for spelling his name wrong on the letter he was sent. “This whole thing doesn’t make any sense, “Warden said. “I don’t buy the argument that people feel safer.  I don’t feel any safer, I just feel paranoid.”

Warden said that cameras are not nearly as effective as a police officer would be and that all they do is deter people from coming to the city.

Susan Stephan, a San Mateo County resident, said that after being surprised with the ticket in the mail, she stopped shopping in Belmont.

“I am appalled that you guys, in these hard times, are outsourcing your police force,” she said. “Someone from Arizona signed my ticket.”

Warden offered to take Stephan out to lunch to apologize for the way she was treated. The contract will now expire on July 1 and the cameras will be shut off.

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