Friday, February 27, 2015

Friday Must Reads: Developer Proposes High-Rise Hotel Next to Lake Merritt; Oil Companies Illegally Dumping Toxic Wastewater in Open Pits

by Robert Gammon
Fri, Feb 27, 2015 at 10:15 AM

Stories you shouldn’t miss:

1. An Oakland-based developer is proposing to build a 280-room, high-rise hotel next to Lake Merritt, the Trib$ reports. The proposal by Creative Development Partners is part of plan that includes refurbishing and reopening the shuttered Henry J. Kaiser Center, which is owned by the city. The hotel proposal is one of at least two development plans being considered by city staffers.

2. Oil companies in California have been illegally dumping toxic wastewater into hundreds of shallow, unlined open pits in the Central Valley, the LA Times$ reports, citing new information released by state regulators. The revelation raises fresh concerns about the contamination of groundwater in California. Federal officials recently found that the state had been allowing oil companies to inject fracking wastewater into drinking water aquifers.

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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Berkeley High Retaliation Case Results in State Complaint Against School District

by Sam Levin
Thu, Feb 26, 2015 at 2:13 PM

  • file photo / STEPHEN LOEWINSOHN
  • Brian Crowell.
A Berkeley High School teacher who says that administrators punished him for raising concerns about the history curriculum has won an initial victory in his retaliation case. Brian Crowell, a Berkeley High history teacher since 2007, argued in a complaint to the state that his supervisors unfairly disciplined him after he criticized the school's history curriculum for failing students of color. In 2012, he asked his then-principal, Pasquale Scuderi, why ninth-grade history lacked an ethnic studies component and questioned whether this constituted a violation of school board policy. Administrators subsequently gave him an unsatisfactory performance evaluation and directed him to participate in a program for poorly rated teachers. 

Crowell's case was the subject of an April 2014 Express cover story, "Berkeley's Unequal Punishment of Teachers," which investigated claims that the Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) has unfair teacher evaluation and disciplinary procedures that administrators have used to punish outspoken instructors. Now, the California Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) — the state agency that reviews labor complaints involving public school teachers and other government employees — has issued a preliminary decision in Crowell's favor. That means the state will be issuing a formal complaint against the school district over its treatment of Crowell. 

See More:
The Battle Over Teachers' Seniority Rights
Berkeley's Anti-Union Shift 

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Oakland City Councilmembers Want Repeal of State Welfare Rule that Restricts Aid to Families with Newborns

by Darwin BondGraham
Thu, Feb 26, 2015 at 11:30 AM

Annie Campbell Washington.
  • Annie Campbell Washington.
Oakland city councilmembers Annie Campbell Washington and Desley Brooks have introduced a resolution in support of California Senate Bill 23, a law that would repeal the maximum family grant rule, a restriction against increased welfare payments to poor households that have newborn children. The resolution calls the maximum family grant rule discriminatory, and states that “the MFG rule has not led to changes in birthrates among poor women but has resulted in women being forced to make desperate decisions that endanger the health and safety of themselves and their children.”

Under California’s current welfare system, if a child is born into a family already receiving aid through CalWORKs, the state’s cash aid program, the family’s benefit amount will not be increased to help pay for essentials like diapers and child automobile safety seats. The maximum family grant rule that caps assistance was passed by the California legislature in 1994. That same year conservatives swept into the US Congress, and Republicans, through the party's Contract With America, pressed a package of welfare cuts that included a similar cap on assistance. President Clinton supported the cuts to welfare, and the federal government passed legislation in 1996. But California Governor Pete Wilson beat Clinton and the US Congress to the punch by advocating for a similar package of welfare cuts and restrictions at the state level.

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Thursday Must Reads: Oakland A’s Throw Cold Water on Coliseum City; Oakland Unified Raises Wage Offer for Teachers

by Robert Gammon
Thu, Feb 26, 2015 at 10:15 AM

Stories you shouldn’t miss:

Lew Wolff.
  • Lew Wolff.
1. Oakland A’s co-owner Lew Wolff told the Trib$ that he has no interest in the proposed Coliseum City development, and would rather have a new stadium surrounded by acres and acres of surface parking. Wolff’s comments threw a wrench into negotiations between the city, the county, the Oakland Raiders and the A’s over plans for new facilities for the teams. City officials have long contended that the only way to finance new facilities for the sports teams — without using taxpayer dollars — is to build a housing, hotel, and entertainment complex, too. But Wolff said that Coliseum City would take up too much space and would force fans to park in parking structures — which he doesn’t want.

2. Oakland Unified officials have upped their wage proposal to teachers and are now offering a 10.5 percent pay bump over the next eighteen months, the Trib$ reports. However, the district is also still demanding that teachers give up their seniority rights in cases in which schools are forced to downsize.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Richmond Selects New Councilmember — Finally

by John Geluardi
Wed, Feb 25, 2015 at 12:42 PM

Tom Butt.
  • Tom Butt.
The Richmond City Council ended a two-week logjam last night by selecting a new councilmember to the seat left vacant when Tom Butt was elected mayor in November. The selection ends, for the time being, a rift among leftist political factions that together have made Richmond one of the most progressive cities in the country. 

By a vote of 4-0-2, with Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA) Councilmembers Gayle McLaughlin and Jovanka Beckles abstaining, the council selected attorney Vinay Pimple, 47. Pimple has little government experience, although he has volunteered extensively in Richmond as a writing coach in city high schools and as a math and reading tutor for Literacy for Every Adult program (LEAP). Pimple, a volunteer with Richmond Trees, also has planted roughly 400 saplings on city streets. Pimple, who is visually impaired, is also a former software engineer and English teacher.

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Kaiser Still Failing Mental Health Patients, State Investigation Finds

by Sam Levin
Wed, Feb 25, 2015 at 11:05 AM

Kaiser Richmond. - BERT JOHNSON / FILE PHOTO
  • Bert Johnson / file photo
  • Kaiser Richmond.
In June 2013, the California Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC) issued a $4 million fine against Kaiser Permanente, the Oakland-based healthcare giant, for failing to provide adequate mental health care services. The fine, which was the second-largest penalty in the department's history, came with a cease-and-desist order demanding that the nonprofit corporation immediately correct a number of serious violations. The Express investigated shortcomings in the healthcare nonprofit's mental health care system as part of our "Deadly Delays" series on Kaiser last year (see "A Flawed Model for Care").  

This week, DMHC released results of a follow-up survey it conducted over the last year-and-a-half to analyze Kaiser's progress, finding that in numerous key areas, the organization still has to correct serious deficiencies. While Kaiser has made improvements in how it tracks mental health patients and how it reports data to the state, DMHC's investigation found that Kaiser's behavioral health services are still not sufficiently accessible and that the nonprofit continues to provide inaccurate and misleading information to patients about the services it offers. 

See More: 
The Trouble with Kaiser's Technology
Kaiser Spends $20 Million Opposing Ballot Measures

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Wednesday Must Reads: Plastic Bag Ban Put on Hold; Obama Vetoes Keystone XL Pipeline

by Robert Gammon
Wed, Feb 25, 2015 at 10:13 AM

Stories you shouldn’t miss:

1. State officials put California’s ban on plastic bags on hold for at least twenty months, because the plastic bag industry has gathered enough signatures to place the issue on the November 2016 ballot, the LA Times$ reports. The industry’s measure, which seeks to overturn the plastic bag ban, collected more than the required 110 percent of 504,760 signatures needed to qualify for the ballot. The bag ban was scheduled to go into effect this summer.

2. President Obama vetoed Republican-sponsored legislation that would have required approval of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, the LA Times$ reports. The Keystone, which was strongly opposed by environmental groups, would have shipped dirty tar sands oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. There are apparently not enough votes in Congress to override the president’s rejection of the Keystone.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

California Lawmaker Seeks Stricter Community Benefit Standards for Nonprofit Hospitals

by Sam Levin
Tue, Feb 24, 2015 at 12:54 PM

  • Bert Johnson / file photo
  • Kaiser Oakland.
In exchange for massive tax breaks, private nonprofit hospitals in California are required to provide community benefits. But healthcare advocates have long argued that many of the large nonprofit hospital systems in the state have fallen short in this social obligation and have failed to provide meaningful benefits for low-income people — raising questions about whether the tax-exempt status of these organizations is truly justified. The debate was the subject of a recent Express cover story, "Fatal System Error," which examined disparities in how private nonprofit hospitals and public institutions care for poor and uninsured patients in the East Bay. 

Now, state Senator Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont) and a group of healthcare advocates are pushing to reform the way the state regulates nonprofit hospitals through legislation that would establish clearer standards for community benefits. Senate Bill 346, which Wieckowski and the California Nurses Association announced today, would create specific definitions for "charity care" — meaning free or discounted health services that hospitals provide to low-income patients — and would establish new requirements for how nonprofits report their community benefits. 

See More:
The Trouble with Kaiser's Technology
Berkeley Health Center Leaves Confidential Medical Records Behind

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Tuesday Must Reads: Cal Students to Protest Campus Sex Assault Conference; Oakland Councilmember Pushes for Department of Race and Equity

by Robert Gammon
Tue, Feb 24, 2015 at 9:51 AM

Stories you shouldn’t miss:

1. Students are planning to protest a national conference on sexual assault at UC Berkeley on Wednesday, saying the campus has not done enough to investigate and prosecute sex crimes, the Bay Area News Group$ reports. Students are also upset because they say Cal officials have not fully included them in the planning of the conference. Students say that UC Berkeley needs to solve its own problems before holding itself up as a national leader.

Desley Brooks.
  • Desley Brooks.
2. Oakland Councilmember Desley Brooks is pushing to create a new city department on Race and Equity that would eliminate bias in city actions and services, the Trib$ reports. Brooks noted that police continue to stop and search African Americans at disproportionate rates and that neighborhoods in low-income areas do not get full access to city services.

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Monday, February 23, 2015

Bay Area Law Enforcement Agencies Rush to Obtain New, More Powerful Surveillance Systems

by Darwin BondGraham
Mon, Feb 23, 2015 at 4:12 PM

A surveillance camera recently installed near Hayward City Hall runs on solar power and transmits footage wirelessly, in real time to police officers' smart phones. - DARWIN BONDGRAHAM
  • Darwin BondGraham
  • A surveillance camera recently installed near Hayward City Hall runs on solar power and transmits footage wirelessly, in real time to police officers' smart phones.
Despite recent uproars over drones in San Jose and Alameda County, Bay Area law enforcement agencies are racing to acquire controversial surveillance technologies.

On Tuesday, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors will decide whether or not to accept a cellphone tacking system that the Sheriff's Office has requested. Called a “Stingray,” the device is manufactured by Harris Corporation, and is being offered to Santa Clara County at no cost thanks to a half-million-dollar grant from the State Homeland Security Grant Program. However, the cellphone tracker will cost the county $42,150 a year to operate and maintain.

According to the San Jose Mercury News, the Santa Clara County sheriff’s effort to obtain the cellphone tracker was a virtual secret until last week. And Harris Corporation maintains non-disclosure agreements with the law enforcement agencies that have purchased similar devices, therefore the equipment’s technical capabilities, and how police officers use it, are topics shrouded in secrecy.

The Oakland Police Department, among other agencies in the Bay Area, already owns a Stingray. But Oakland wants a upgrade. The Oakland police, in partnership with the city of Fremont and the Alameda County District Attorney, are hoping to obtain Harris Corporation’s latest “Hailstorm” model.

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