The human cost of doing police business and at what cost
Sex and more sex scandals
The human cost of doing police business and at what cost
Sex and more sex scandals
Santa Clara County government is like a long pneumatic tube. Money gets sucked into the tube from Palo Alto, Los Altos and Mountain View.
The money comes out the other end in San Jose, where it is spent by bureaucrats on their pet project. The North County pays but seldom sees the benefits of its tax dollars.
The proposal Guardino is floating would raise the sales tax rate from 8.75% to 9% for 30 years, giving Santa Clara County one of the highest sales taxes in the country.
This extra .25% is on top of the previous 1.125% in transportation sales taxes we already pay. The sales tax proposed for this November could raise as much as $3.7 billion over three decades.
But they haven’t been as fast in creating safeguards to prevent data from being misused.
Menlo Park police, who put one such plate reader into operation over the summer, are going to City Council tomorrow to ask for permission to buy three more.
Thanks to grants from the Department of Homeland Security, every Police Department in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties has at least one license plate scanner. But not one department has a policy to regulate their use.
The scanners, usually mounted on top of a police car, automatically takes pictures of every license plate in view. The data, time and location are recorded, too. This data can be analyzed to create a permanent record of where any of us has driven.
“The tracking of people’s location constitutes a significant invasion of privacy, which can reveal many things about their lives, such as what friends, doctors, protests, political events, or churches a person may visit,” the ACLU said in a report in July.
The license plate scanners can help find stolen cars quickly. Police can raise money with the scanners by catching motorists who were late paying their vehicle registration fees or parking tickets.
All a police department has to do is park a police car with a plate scanner near a busy street, and then pull over all scofflaws.
The data local police collect is stored to buy a Homeland Security fusion Center in San Francisco, known as the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center.
The fusion Center signed a $340,000 contract with Palo Alto’s Palantir to construct a database of license plate records from local police departments, according to a report by the Center for investigative reporting.
That same report said that the San Francisco fusion Center will store license plate records for up to two years, regardless of data retention limits set by local police departments.
The police department that feels it should be erasing data on innocent residents sooner than two years will have to battle the fusion Center and Homeland Security.
Growing surveillance state
This issue of collecting license plate data comes at a time when, thanks to NSA leaker Edward Snowden, we now know that the federal government is collecting data about all Americans’ phone calls, emails and credit card transactions.
It seems hopeless for average citizens to fight the federal government over this surveillance. Leaders of both parties favor it, and a large number of Americans believe that NSA surveillance protect us from terrorists.
But while we can feel powerless to take on the federal government, average citizens can have influence on elected city councils, which are supposed to oversee Police Department.
We can demand that our city council’s tell the police to put reasonable restrictions on data collection on innocent citizens by these plate readers. It’s not unreasonable to have police delete data on innocents with in a week of its collection.
Last year, then-state Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, introduced a bill that would limit the amount of time local police departments could retain plate data to 60 days unless the agency is using the data to investigate a crime.
The bill died in the legislature after heavy lobbying against it by law enforcement and the manufacturers of plate readers.
It will be used against you
Wolfgang Schmidt, a retired colonel in the former East German secret police known as the Stasi, told the McClatchy news service in July that he was amazed by the amount of information the U.S. government collects on it’s people. “You know, for us, this would have been a dream come true,” Schmidt said.
He said the dark side to gathering such broad, seemingly untargeted amount of information is obvious.
“It is the height of naivete to think that once collected this information won’t be used, “Schmidt said. “This is the nature of secret government organizations. The only way to protect its people’s privacy is not to allow the government to collect their information in the first place.”
To get a sense of how bad things got in communist East Germany, see the movie “The Lives of Others,” which won the Oscar for best foreign language film and 2006.
It’s about the relationship between a Stasi officer and a playwright he’s assigned to spy upon, and how the government uses information to manipulate people and turn them into informants. It’s particularly relevant in light of the Snowden revelations.
Palo Alto City Council members said yesterday that the city should spend between $250,000 and $450,000 to devise a plan that would eventually lead to Wi-Fi service throughout the city and bring high-speed Internet to residents.
Palo Alto already had a “fiber to the premises” system that it uses to sell high speed Internet to a few commercial buyers. But at the moment, the fiber optic service is still expensive and is available to only a limited number of customers.
But yesterday, council members Larry Klein, Liz Kniss and Nancy Shepard and Mayor Greg Scharff who are on the technology and connected city committee, said they wanted to change that by bringing high-speed Internet access to more parts of the city.
Concept involves bring service to parks, plazas
That would likely include expanding this is existing high speed fiber network and using it to produce wireless Internet networks that would furnish Palo Alto Parks, Plaza and other “dead zone “with wireless service.
According to Scharff, “the point is to give people wireless Internet that is faster than what they get on their phone.”
According to a report by city manager James Keene, the cost of hiring a consultant to come up with a plan for getting high-speed fiber optic Internet to Paulo alto home would be between $150,000 and $350,000.
The cost of having a consultant come up with a wireless network plan would be up to $100,000.
The money for those plans would come out of the cities fiber fund reserve, which has almost the $15.3 million that the city has already made from its existing fiber system.
Palo Alto has been talking about connecting homes with a fiber optic system since the late 90s. In 2009, a $45 million plan to build such a system fell apart when Canadian-based and Axia netmedia corp. pulled out of the partnership with the city when it’s funding partner withdrew its money during the recession.
Axia turn to the city and asked for between $3 million and $5 million per year in support but the city turned it down.
Some cities, like Chattanooga, Tenn, And Santa Monica have successfully created their own fiber optic systems. Other cities fared less well. Provo, Utah, ended up millions of dollars in debt after selling their mismanaged system to Google for $1.
Smith will go to Palo Alto City Council to appeal the approval of a proposed four-story “glass box” office building that would replace the old Radio Shack store next to City Hall at Hamilton Avenue and Bryant Street.
He’s also doing an online survey of residents’ architectural tastes, and not surprisingly, most residents lean toward more traditional styles.
Smith’s research raises this question in my mind: How do we get local architects to design buildings that are more appealing to the community?
Shaming them with Top10 lists of ugly buildings might be one way to go.
A more positive approach would be a seminar where Palo Alto residents would educate architects about what they do and don’t like.
This ugly architecture issue isn’t going away. I suspect the uglification of Palo Alto will be front and center in next years City Council campaign, where four incumbents will likely seek re-election.
They’ll have to explain what they were thinking when they approved repulsive buildings like 801 Alma St. or the new Mitchell Park Library.
The car camping ban goes into effect Sept. 19, though it won’t be enforced for 90 days, and the Cubberley ban is likely to begin Oct. 19.
How will police enforcement?
Palo Alto Chief Communications Officer Claudia Keith said that the city has not yet made any special plans for the days when the laws first going to affect, despite the possible difficulty of getting some homeless who have been living at the center for months or years to leave.
She added that the city is trying to let homeless campers who live at the center know that they have to leave through police and those who work for the city’s Downtown Streets Team, which organizes homeless volunteers to clean streets.
For the past four weeks, Palo Alto police have sent extra patrols to Cubberley to walk the grounds during the evening and night.
At a city Council Policy and Services Committee meeting on Aug.13, Capt. Ron Watson said that the city was spending $3,500 in overtime costs every week just on the Cubberley patrol.
At the same meeting, Watson said that over the past weeks, police had counted 30 homeless sleeping outside at the community center and 20 people camping in their cars.
But when Oct.10 rolls around, none of those people will be able to get into Cubberley to sleep, because the city will close the entrance to the parking lots between 10:30 p.m. and sunrise, according to Keith.
While the law to close Cubberley, as well as Lucie Stern Community Center, would go into effect exactly 31 days after being approved on Sept 9, the car camping ban will be phased in more slowly.
‘Grace period” planned
Beginning on Sept. 19, there will be a 60-day “Grace period,” when people who are still camping in their cars will only be spoken to by police, Keith said.
That will be followed by a 30-day time period during which car campers will be given warnings. Soon after that, however, police will have the ability to cite both car campers and those who are found at the community centers with misdemeanors, which could result in as many as six months in jail and maximum $1,000 fine.
We reported last month the lucrative city of Palo Alto advertizing contract, valued at $450,000 dollars with the Weekly was expiring on June 30th and up for grabs.
In a previous editorial written by Dave Price of the Daily Post entitled; “bad idea newspapers” Mr. Price bitterly referred to this contract as “Corporate Welfare” describing and suggesting the city of Palo Alto was fundamentally engaged in “subsiding some news organization” in reference to the Weekly.
Questionable preferential treatment over other Newspapers
The Post also described and questioned “Honest competition” leading some to suggest that the Weekly may have engaged in illegal activities to win this contract. Mr. Price further relates; “Council decided to pay the Weekly as much as $450,000 over the next three years for legal notices and other advertising. We could understand if the city were to spend a few thousand dollars with the Weekly, but a six-digit figure reeks of a subsidy”.
The city of Palo Alto selected the Weekly because it was the only local newspaper which is adjudicated to run legal advertisements in Palo Alto.
What it boiled down to was neither the Daily Post or the Palo Alto Daily News were adjudicated, pronounced through Judicial decree that they were fit as a “newspaper of general circulation” under Government Code Section 6000-6008. They both essentially lacked accreditation to run Legal Advertisements in Palo Alto.
We discovered what we believe perhaps to be the true motives behind the city’s choice and push to have the Weekly’s lucrative contract approved and city councilman Larry Klein’s involvement discovered through a California Public Records Request Act identifying the former law offices of current councilman Larry Klein as, W. James Ware, Blase, Valentine & Klein Petitioning the court “To Have the Standing of The Palo Alto Weekly as a Newspaper of General Circulation Ascertained and Established”.
Conflict of financial interest
California government code section 87100-87105 makes it abundantly clear that “No public official at any level of state or local government shall make, participate in making or in any way attempt to use his official position to influence a governmental decision in which he knows or has reason to know he has a financial interest.”
Furthermore; California government code 87105. (a) A public official who holds an office specified in Section 87200 who has a financial interest in a decision within the meaning of Section 87100 shall, upon identifying a conflict of interest or a potential conflict of interest and immediately prior to the consideration of the matter, do all of the following:
(1) Publicly identify the financial interest that gives rise to the conflict of interest or potential conflict of interest in detail sufficient to be understood by the public, except that disclosure of the exact street address of a residence is not required.
(2) Recuse himself or herself from discussing and voting on the matter, or otherwise acting in violation of Section 87100.
(3) Leave the room until after the discussion, vote, and any other disposition of the matter is concluded, unless the matter has been placed on the portion of the agenda reserved for uncontested matters.
(4) Notwithstanding paragraph (3), a public official described in subdivision (a) may speak on the issue during the time that the general public speaks on the issue. (b) This section does not apply to Members of the Legislature.”
None of the above followed
On April 5th, 2010, a special meeting was called in council chambers to address among other consent calendar items, item 6. “Approval of Agreement with the Palo Alto Weekly for Newspaper Advertizing Services in the Not to Exceed Amount of $150,000 per Year for a Three Year Period, for a Total Value of $450,000”.
That MOTION: passed with Council Member Klein moved, seconded by Vice Mayor Espinosa to approve Agenda Item Nos. 3-9
According to state law, Attorney and Councilman Larry Klein should have recognized his legal involvement and special interests in petitioning the court in behalf of the Weekly and “recuse himself or herself from discussing and voting on the matter and “leave the room until after the discussion” and on the grounds of “a conflict of interest or a potential conflict of interest and immediately prior to the consideration of the matter.”
Penalties and Remedies
As with other politicians who have engaged in wrongful or questionable activities Mr. Klein should be fully investigated to determined if he in fact benefited financially or if he engaged in any illegal activities in light of the Bell California lucrative contract scandals.
We further believe, there should be strong penalties and sanctions imposed if in fact councilman Larry Klein benefited from the Weekly’s contract as found in California Government Code Section “7485. (a) Any person who, with the intent to violate, knowingly participates in a violation of this chapter is guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon conviction shall be imprisoned for not more than one year, or fined not more than five thousand dollars ($5,000), or both”.
In fact, the Charter of the City of Palo Alto under article VII. miscellaneous sites the following Prohibitions:
Sec. 1. Interest of officers in contracts
“No officer of the city shall be interested in any contract entered into by the city, and the general laws of the state forbidding city officials to be so interested are hereby made a part of this charter.”
Sec. 10. Coercion by council members – Campaign funds
“No member of the council shall in any manner, directly or indirectly, by suggestion or otherwise, attempt to influence or coerce the city manager in the making of any appointment or removal, or in the purchase of supplies, or attempt to exact any promise relative to any appointment from any candidate for city manager, or discuss, directly or indirectly, with any such candidate, the matter of appointments to any city office or employment.
Any violation of the foregoing provisions of this section shall constitute a misdemeanor and shall work a forfeiture of the office of the offending member of the council, who may be removed there from by the council or by any court of competent jurisdiction. Neither the city manager nor any person in the employ of the city shall take part in securing or shall contribute any money toward the nomination or election of any candidate for a municipal office.”
We further believe in light of the foregoing that the alleged severity of the matter should be fully investigated and if determined improprieties did in fact take place, Mr. Klein should immediately remove himself from the office of city councilman and the Weekly’s past contract invalidated and the money returned to the citizens of Palo Alto.
Palo Alto will close down the public showers at the Cubberely Community Center in an attempt to regain control of what city manager Jim Keene has called a “de facto homeless shelter.”
City Council members will meet with homeless advocates and church leaders Tuesday to talk about how to help the homeless now that the city has ban sleeping cars, but Keene said yesterday that no matter what, the free showers will end on August 31.
In a report to the committee, Keene said the showers are one of the key attractions make Cubberely a magnet for homeless car campers.
Despite the emotional and sometimes disruptive protests of homeless advocates who said the car can ban criminalizes homelessness, the city Council voted 7-2 on Monday to ban the practice.
The ban, which will take effect in approximately six months, with make vehicle habitation a crimes that would be prosecuted as a misdemeanor. The meeting on Tuesday is meant to take a less punitive look at ways to help the local homeless population.
In the meantime, through, some steps could be taken to help solve problems that residents and Cubberley workers have complained about, including closing the showers that have been opened in the early morning four years so that the homeless can bathe there.
In 2004, some of the homeless who camped at Cubberley asked the facility workers there to open the showers at 6 a.m. so that they could shower before work.
After the city received complaints from some of the nonprofits and businesses that use Cubberely, the hours were shortened from 6 a.m. – 10 a.m. to 6 a.m. – 8 a.m.
Not an official program
“The use of the showers is neither a formal city of Palo Alto program nor an official policy, and staff has set a closure date for public use of Aug. 31, “Keene wrote in the report to the committee.”The closure does not require action by the council.”
Later, the report says, “specific complaints have centered on individuals or groups of individuals intoxicated, lawn chairs that are set up next to RV’s, loud music coming from the parking lot on weekends, syringe needles found around campus, and encounters with half-dressed people going to the showers in the morning.”
Keene said that there was also concern with people peeing and defecating in the open, dumping sewage in the bathroom sinks, cleaning cooking utensils in bathroom sink, and fights in the bathrooms and showers, among other things.
The committee, which includes council members Karen Holman, Larry Klein, Liz Kniss, and Gail Price, will also consider closing the bathrooms at Cubberely for part of the night between 10:30 p.m. and sunrise during the time that about 20 people or more sleep at the center every evening.
“As Cubberely is currently open overnight, staff is concerned for the safety and security of the Cubberely patriots, tenants, staff and individuals residing on campus,” the report says.
Help for the homeless
According to the report, Keene proposes that the city immediately start closing the showers, give people bus fare to go use the showers at the Opportunity Center and put them in touch with case managers.
At Monday’s meeting, Councilwoman Liz Kniss and Keene both called on nonprofits and churches to help the city deal with homelessness.
“I would challenge the nonprofits to come forward and say, here is how we can put this together,” Kniss said.
Edie Keating, a member of the Unitarian Universalist Church who opposes the car camping ban that the city Council voted to pass on Monday night, said she and people representing other churches planned to attend Tuesday meeting to see how they can work with the city and local nonprofits like InVision, which runs the low income housing at Palo Alto’s homeless center.
Roaming shelter program
Keating said her church will be hosting the city’s roaming homeless shelter program, Hotel de Zink, for the month of September, and said she thinks expanding the program might be one way to help the homeless.
“I think there’s a possibility there, we’ve never had any problems with the Hotel de Zinks.” But she added that she understands why it might be hard for some churches to get their members to agree to host the month-long shelter program at their church.
“Since many churches are in residential areas, there may be push-back for using their sites as part of a distributed car camping program,” she said. “What will be important is to find sites that are well-accepted, some of them might be at businesses.”
In a decision last-night that shook the homeless of Cubberley Community Center also known as Palo Alto’s “de facto homeless shelter”, Vehicle dwellers will no longer be able to sleep in their cars or vans in a vote, 2 against and 7 for the ban on vehicle habitation.
The long two year battle some say has just begun with one local attorney William Safford vowing to represent any vehicle dweller faced with penalties at no charge if homeless vehicle dwellers are cited under the new Palo Alto city ordinance. A charging offense of a misdemeanor under the new law and California Penal Code.
Strong passions were evident as those opposed to the ordinance stepped up to the microphone pleading with council-members for compassion and to look for other solutions rather than taking away their shelter and the security of their vehicles.
Concerns for personal safety
However, many of the residence of the Greenmeadow neighborhood, which boarders Cubberley Community Community Campus, express their concerns for personal safety as a result of the growing homeless population. They feared for their safety and as one person related, even beginning to feel “paranoid”.
Councilmen Larry Klein a staunch supporter of the ban was determined to restore safety to the area and felt it was his moral obligation to do so. Liz Kniss another supporter of the ban challenged the faith based and non-profit communities to lend greater assist in finding additional solutions and out-reach services for the homeless community.
Sealed fate of Vehicle Dwellers
What sealed the fate of the vehicles dwellers were perhaps the personal tours provided by the Palo Alto police in where they discovered by way of license plate checks that many of the vehicles were not even registered with Palo Alto addresses giving rise and support that Palo Alto was in fact becoming a magnet for the homeless.
This personalized police tour uncovered 27 vehicles’ and 15 people sleeping in sleeping bags. Gail Price stated that homelessness is ‘one of the biggest social issues facing our nation’ but felt the ordinance was necessary.
The ordinance she said would not be a single action but that she would be looking for the “next” steps in helping the homeless population in Palo Alto.
Soft roll-out of vehicle habitation ordinance
Our concerns are, as the city of Palo Alto roles out there phased approach in helping the homeless and homeless vehicle dwellers that the Palo Alto police will be rousting out the homeless vehicle dwellers from their cars and sleeping bags at all hours with what they feel is “probable cause” to search their vehicles and personal possessions under the ruse of a “welfare check” as the city implements this new ordinance.
One homeless vehicle dweller, Diane Jones living in her vehicle since last November on Cubberley campus say’s she has been harassed at all hours by the PAPD knocking on her windows. “They knock and pound at the doors and windows and we “can’t get any rest”. Our question is, who’s going to police the police on reported bad behavior on their part?
Palo Alto often is on the cutting edge, and the first city to try anything. But when it comes to the proposed ban on living or sleeping in cars that goes to City Council tonight, Palo Alto is late to the party.
In Santa Clara County, 12 cities prohibit people from living for sleeping in their vehicles, while Monte Sereno and Los Altos do not. In San Mateo County, 18 cities have such ordinances, while only East Palo Alto, Colma and Portola Valley don’t. Menlo Park prohibiting overnight parking on residential streets, which effectively bans car camping.
Redwood City police Sgt. Greg Farley said the city doesn’t have an ordinance specifically banning people from sleeping in their vehicles. But he said police will knock on the door and charges up to the discretion of the officers. Typically a warning will be given, he said.
Farley said people usually move on or stay awake. If a vehicle citation is given, the first time there is a fine of $100, the second time it’s a $200 and each time after that it goes to $500, be said.
Farley said the city doesn’t receive many complaints about people living in their cars. Typically police come across commuters who pulled over off the highway to sleep.
The Kmart parking lot on veterans Boulevard is where police typically find people living in cars, but with Kaiser now taking a portion of the lot, the numbers have gone down, Farley said.
Menlo Park police Sgt. Matthew Ortega said the city has no particular ordinance for people living in their cars. But cars can’t be parked on residential streets or within 300 feet of residential zones between 2 AM and 5 AM., Ortega said. Residents have to park in their driveway or have a permit to park on the street, he said.
If a car is parked on the street during this time and person is in the car or nearby, he said the police would first ask them to move, but they could be cited for a parking infraction, which is a minimum of $25 for the first time.
At other times during the day, Ortega said police would not stop, if the car is parked legally, for a person in a car, except to maybe make a welfare check.
Ortega is aware of Palo Alto’s proposed ordinance, and he said Menlo Park may “steal” it, if and when it is passed.
Los Altos police Sgt. Cameron Shearer said that the city doesn’t have a ordinance saying a person cannot sleep in his car.
You can’t park here
There is an ordinance saying no one can stop or park a car on any street for longer than 30 minutes between the hours of 2 AM and 6 AM if there is notice posted on the block.
But Shearer said he is not aware of anywhere in the city that this is currently posted.
The number of complaints police receive regarding people sleeping in their cars is minimal, Shearer said. If police do come across someone in their vehicle for a long time, they trying to make sure the person is OK and is receiving social services, if needed, he said.
Mountain View police did not return calls Friday, but the city does have an ordnance stating no one can live in a car park on the street in residential areas.
If Palo Alto’s ordinance passes tonight, police response to people living in vehicles will be mostly complained driven, according to city officials.
It will be up to the discretion of the police officer as to whether to issue a warning for arrest and offender, but police will try to match people living in their cars with the services needed.
City attorney Molly Stump previously told the Post that a violation could result in a misdemeanor charge, but that’s “pretty far down the road.” The penalty for a misdemeanor is a fine up to $1,000 or up to six months in jail.
Former Santa Clara County public defender Aram James, an opponent of the car camping ban, said that based on his calculations, using a study completed by a legal industry trade publication, a trial for just one case, if a person were arrested for living in his car, could cost taxpayers to $10,000 a day.
James said this is money that could be spent on solutions to homelessness. He also said the number of cases that could arise from an ordinance, such as the one proposed in Palo Alto, could overburden the criminal justice system and the public defender office in Santa Clara County.
Calls to the public defender office we’re not returned last week. If council approves the ordinance banning car camping, a second we will occur no less than 11 days after the first reading.
The ordinance will go into effect 30 days after the reading, but the City Council’s Policy and Services Committee, which is made up of four council members, has recommended a phased approach that defers full enforcement for six months.