Archive for the ‘Contra Costa County’ Category

Supervisors plug $1.2 Million gap for storm water Regional Water Quality Board Permit

Thursday, November 8th, 2018

By Daniel Borsuk

To address rising costs of meeting strict environmental water quality regulations, Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors on Election Day, Tuesday, unanimously approved a way to pay for a $5 million permit with the Regional Water Conservation District.

With scant discussion from supervisors and zero comments from the public, supervisors approved Contra Costa County Flood Control & Water Conservation District Division Manager Tim Jensen’s recommendation to pay for the five-year permit through service reductions.

Some jurisdictions, like San Diego and Santa Clara counties most notably have refused to pay rising storm water permit fees, Jensen said.

Jensen informed supervisors the county has about $3.2 million in funds set aside for the RWCD permit, but the there are no other funds available from the County’s General Fund to fill in a $1.2 million deficit for the certificate.

Jensen said his staff identified $510,000 of road funds and $75,000 of flood control funds that could be spent for program activities but, noted the road funds might be unavailable should state Proposition 6, the State Gas Tax measure wins in Tuesday’s election.  A Proposition 6 victory would deliver a financial blow to the county’s road fund. (NOTE: Prop. 6 failed)

The county flood control manager presented to supervisors a four-point service reduction plan that would help the county plug up the $1.2 million deficit to cover the RWCD permit.  The plan consists of:

  • Street Sweeping – Transfer street sweeping to the Road Fund even though this might not materialize if Proposition 6, the state gas tax measure, won at Tuesday’s election.
  • Inspections – Reduce inspections by 50 percent.
  • Outreach – Reduce the Public Information and Participation Program by 50 percent.
  • Calendar – Eliminate the annual calendar.

County Agricultural Crop Production Down 6 Percent

In other business, supervisors approved, on consent, the county’s 2017 Agricultural Crop Report that showed a 6% decline in gross value of agricultural crops.  During that year, agricultural crop gross value was $120,441,000, a decline of $7. 6 million from 2016, Humberto Izquierdo, Contra Costa County Agricultural Commissioner Sealer of Weights and Measures wrote in his report to the California Department of Food and Agriculture and the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors.

Izquierdo’s report cited how high labor costs and an overall shortage of farm workers have been key factors behind the longstanding decline in the county’s asparagus industry.  Today there is only one asparagus grower in the county who sells strictly at the Certified Farmers’ Markets.  The total acreage in asparagus production has decreased to less than 50 acres.  “The loss of (a 25% tariff) protection, combined with rising labor costs, have resulted in an increase in imported asparagus from 10.8 percent of U.S. consumption in 1980 to 91.2 percent in 2015,” he wrote.

The county crop report also showed that 2017 sweet corn harvested was down to 37,500 tons compared to 44,300 tons in 2016.  That corn harvest produced $18.9 million in total value in 2017 compared to $23.3 million in 2016.  Tomato harvest was up in 2017, at 209,300 tons valued at $23.4 million in comparison to 169,000 tons at a value of $19.9 million in 2016.

Shelter in Place Recognized

Contra Costa County Shelter in Place Week received official recognition from the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. Supervisors passed a resolution recognizing the 17th anniversary of Shelter in Place Day that was held November 7 at Garin Elementary School in Brentwood with a drill. At the presentation Board Chair Karen Mitchoff presented the resolution to A. J. (Tony) Semenza, executive director of Community Awareness Emergency Response, and Michael Dossey, an accidental release prevention engineer with the Contra Costa Health Services Hazardous Materials Programs.

Adoption Awareness Month

Also, at the meeting, Supervisors recognized November as Adoption Awareness Month.  Board Chair Karen Mitchoff presented a resolution recognizing the good deeds of the county’s Children and Family Services to Sandra Wohala of Concord who recently adopted two girls.

In order to adopt the girls, Wohala said that she had to move out of her 550 square foot condominium and into a house with a backyard. This year Children and Family Services placed its first ever non-minor dependent adoption. Some 2,000 children in the county receive adoption assistance.

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Antioch man found guilty of animal cruelty for dog Attack on calves in Contra Loma Regional Park

Friday, November 2nd, 2018

By Scott Alonso, Public Information Officer, Contra Costa County Office of the District Attorney

On October 31, a Contra Costa County jury found defendant Vinicio Santos of Antioch guilty of three misdemeanors, including animal cruelty. On December 1, 2017, Santos’ dog attacked the three calves owned by grazer Paul Daysh. The brutal attack left the three calves permanently injured.

Santos now faces a sentence of up to three years in county jail. Sentencing for Santos will occur on November 30 by the Honorable Leonard Marquez in Department 34 at the Contra Costa County Superior Court in Pittsburg. Restitution for Daysh will also be decided on November 30. Contra Costa County Deputy District Attorney Whitnee Goins prosecuted the case on behalf of the People for this misdemeanor jury trial.

“I am grateful the jury held the defendant accountable for his crimes. He ignored repeated orders from East Bay Regional Parks Rangers to control his dog. Consequently, these calves needlessly suffered serious injuries. We will continue to prosecute animal cruelty cases to ensure the public is protected and animals are cared for in a humane manner,” DDA Goins stated.

Santos and his dog were at the Contra Loma Regional Park in Antioch on December 1, 2017. Santos’ dog was not on leash when spotted by park rangers. After rangers saw Santos, they heard animals in distress. When the rangers connected again with Santos they saw the white Husky mix dog viciously attacking one calf, then moving to attack two more calves. Santos was told repeatedly to leash his dog and bring the dog under control. Santos ignored the rangers’ commands.

Santos was found guilty of the following misdemeanor offenses:

·         Animal Cruelty

·         Vandalism Over $400 Damage

·         Resist, Obstruct, Delay of Peace Officer

Case information: People v. Vinicio Arturo Santos, Docket Number 04-193968-5.

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County Coroner’s inquest finds Antioch man wanted for felony assault, homicide was shot, killed by Antioch Police

Thursday, November 1st, 2018

Lloyd Joseph Harris Jr. Photo by Antioch Police

By Jimmy Lee, Director of Public Affairs, Contra Costa County Office of the Sheriff

Sheriff-Coroner David O. Livingston announced this week that a Coroner’s Jury has reached a finding in the February 8, 2018 death of Lloyd Joseph Harris IV, when he was shot by Antioch Police. The finding of the jury is that the death was at the hands of another person, other than by accident. (See related articles, here and here.)

According to Antioch Police, Harris was a person of interest in a homicide case and also wanted for felony assault, and had a federal warrant for his arrest, at the time of the shooting.

The Coroner’s Jury reached a verdict after hearing the testimony of witnesses called by the hearing officer, Matthew Guichard.

A Coroner’s Inquest, which Sheriff-Coroner Livingston convenes in fatal incidents involving police officers, is a public hearing, during which a jury rules on the manner of a person’s death. Jury members can choose from the following four options when making their finding: Accident, Suicide, Natural Causes, At the hands of another person, other than by accident.

Allen Payton contributed to this report.

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Contra Costa County workers demand improved health benefits

Tuesday, September 25th, 2018

Contra Costa County workers mount protest at the Board of Supervisors’ meeting on Tues., Sept. 18, 2018. Photo by Daniel Borsuk.

By Daniel Borsuk

A number of Contra Costa County workers turned out at last week’s Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors meeting to demand that they instruct County Administrator David Twa to negotiate with nine labor unions representing county employees to produce more affordable healthcare coverage.

County workers said they pay more than any other public workers in the nine county Bay Area.  They pay more than double than their county counterparts in San Francisco and triple that of city workers in Oakland for family coverage.  Premium rates are set to rise as much as 14.74 percent in January 2019 unless the unions and county strike a better deal.

In acknowledging the county will begin negotiations with the unions starting Wednesday, Sept. 19, Supervisor John Gioia of Richmond said, “We know health care costs are high and this is why these upcoming negotiations with the nine unions will resolve this issue.”

One major reason why Contra Costa County workers pay some of the highest health care costs in the region is because the county offers more plans than other counties and cities.

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County Assessor Kramer responds to censure by Supervisors

Monday, August 20th, 2018

Gus Kramer from his website.

By Allen Payton

In a brief interview while he is out of town on vacation, Contra Costa County Assessor Gus Kramer responded to the censure against him by the Board of Supervisors at their meeting on Tuesday, August 14 over sexual misconduct allegations. (See related article).

The conversations and text between assessor Kramer and complainants were mutual and consensual, he explained. “In fact, most were initiated and or sent by one of the complainants,” Kramer stated. “No inappropriate physical behavior was claimed at all. No touching or asking out on dates of any kind.”

It was only after the two women were not chosen in civil service competition for a supervising appraiser’s position in the Assessor’s Office in 2014, were the complaints made.

“Only then did the conversations become unwelcome,” he said.

Upon being advised of their complaint, Kramer said he stopped all communication with both of the complainants, and they were advised of all of their options.

“None were pursued,” he pointed out.

The independent investigator, hired by the county in 2018, who is a female attorney in Oakland, determined there was no sexual harassment on Kramer’s part. The investigation was not conducted until this year, over three years later, when he was facing re-election.

According to Kramer, during that same time, and at least five years prior, one of the complainants had been lobbying members of the Board of Supervisors to be appointed to the position of County Assessor, should he retire or leave office midterm.

“She didn’t want to stand for election because she did not want to spend the money on a public campaign,” Kramer stated.

He ran unopposed in the June primary and won re-election for another four years.

The Board’s action occurred when neither Board Chair John Gioia nor Kramer could attend the meeting and defend himself or offer his point of view before the vote. He is considering suing the county.

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Supervisors censure County Assessor Gus Kramer for sexual misconduct; he might sue

Wednesday, August 15th, 2018

Kramer, Board Chair Gioia unable to attend meeting

By Daniel Borsuk

Contra Costa County Assessor Gus Kramer was censured on sexual misconduct charges by the County Board of Supervisors on a 4-0 vote Tuesday, paving the way for a potential lawsuit by the longtime elected official. Board Vice Chair John Gioia was absent at the meeting because he was touring the tar sands of British Columbia as part of a joint tour for serving as a Board Director on both the California Air Resources Board and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

Elected to the county assessor post since 1994, Kramer was represented by his attorney Bruce Zelis of Walnut Creek. He warned supervisors before taking action that the assessor had sought a continuance on the board censure item because of Kramer’s inability to attend the meeting and because of questions that arose about whether the supervisors had violated the Ralph M. Brown Act, the state public meeting law.

Kramer’s attorney also questioned whether the board can discipline an elected official for actions he allegedly committed three years ago and there have been no similar charges leveled against him since then.

Zelis also questioned whether the board can discipline a countywide elected official, which conflicts with the board’s resolution recommendation that states:

“There are six county departments that are managed by elected department heads: the Assessor, Auditor, Clerk-Recorder, District Attorney, Sheriff, and Treasurer-Tax Collector. These elected officials are responsible for managing the county employees who work in their departments. The Board of Supervisors does not have the power to discipline elected officials when their conduct fails to meet the standards of behavior expected of all other county department heads.”

Obviously, supervisors went against the resolution recommendation and moved to censure the county assessor, who last year earned $221,946.80 before benefits.

Zelis refused to comment further with the Contra Costa Herald about the Brown Act violation allegations or other issues about Kramer’s case, but Board Chair Karen Mitchoff of Pleasant Hill said there were no Brown Act violations when she and vice chair Gioia consulted over the proposed Kramer censure resolution prior to the meeting.

“We did not confer with our colleagues,” Mitchoff said.

This may not be the end of line for County Assessor Kramer case. The Contra Costa County Civil Grand Jury will now be handed the case to determine if the allegations involving the assessor and two female employees merit additional investigation.

Supervisors acted on a 2018 outside independent attorney investigation on two charges of sexual harassment dating back to 2015 by two initially unidentified Assessor Department female employees, one of whom has since been identified as associate assessor Margaret Eychner, a resident of Walnut Creek.

“The investigator found that, prior to mid-2015 it is more likely than not that Mr. Kramer made certain comments and engaged in conduct that two individuals who worked in his department considered to be offensive and inappropriate in the workplace.” a board report stated.

In the board’s resolution, the supervisors found “there was sufficient evidence to prove Assessor Kramer had engaged in the following conduct in 2014 and 2015:

  • Kramer frequently visited the complainant’s cubicle on the first floor and the complainant frequently visited Mr. Kramer’s office during 2014 and up to March 2015.  During these visits they discussed work related and nonwork-related matters.
  • On one occasion Mr. Kramer told her that he had given a vibrator to a woman (not a county employee) as a gift. She thought that this was inappropriate and offensive.
  • Mr. Kramer sent her two text messages in 2014 that she believed suggested a romantic/sexual interest in her. She considered the texts to be inappropriate an unwelcome.
  • In May 2014, he offered her a rose, which she interpreted to be a romantic gesture.
  • As to the second employee/witness, there was sufficient evidence to indicate that Mr. Kramer made a comment in her presence in 2008 and told a story in her presence in 2013 concerning his social interactions with women that she thought were inappropriate and offensive; and that on one occasion in 2015 he made a comment to her that she believed was intended to be sexually suggestive and considered inappropriate, offensive and unwelcome.”

The independent attorney investigator found that evidence did not show Assessor Kramer, who earned $221,946.80 in salary only in 2017, had retaliated against the two employees or had acted to “negatively impact their careers.”  In addition, the investigator’s evidence did show the assessor stopped making inappropriate and offense comments of a sexual nature to both employees after he learned of their complaints in 2015.  No further harassment complaints from the two employees or other employees have been lodged against the Assessor Kramer since June 2015.

“This is not a witch hunt and perhaps there wasn’t any retaliation,” said Supervisor Candace Andersen of Danville, “but you have to remember the county had to pay $1 million in a sexual related case involving the assessor in 2009.”  Andersen was referring to a $1 million settlement paid to Assessor department employee Bernice Peoples in 2009 that Kramer had sexually retaliated against her.

“I want all our employees to feel safe and comfortable,” said Supervisor Diane Burgis of Brentwood after voting in favor of the censure resolution.

Supervisor Federal Glover of Pittsburg did not comment on this item.

Sandy Hook Promise Impresses Supervisors

A Contra Costa County Office of Education presentation on the nationally acclaimed Sandy Hood Promise, a non-profit organization designed to prevent gun violence on K-12 school campuses, won endorsements from all four supervisors in attendance.  Supervisors plan to place a resolution of endorsement on its next board meeting agenda slated for Sept. 11.

Sandy Hook Promise and the county office of education and eventually 18 public K12 school districts in the county are expected to work with the no-cost program that Sandy Hook Promise Vice President of Field Operations Paula Fynboh says is based on a heavy emphasis on student mental wellness.

“You brought us a great gift,” remarked Supervisor Burgis.  “You have my personal support.”

County Real Estate Fraud Unit Reviewed 71 Cases in 2017/2018

Supervisors also approved without comment the District Attorney Office’s annual real estate fraud report for the 2017/2018 fiscal year during which time the Real Estate Fraud Unit reviewed 71 real estate fraud cases, an increase from 64 cases that were reviewed during the 2016/2017 fiscal year.

“Within the last year, our office has secured felony convictions in 3 different cases and has conducted preliminary hearings against another 7 defendants in complex white-collar fraud cases, involving over 2 million dollars in stolen assets,” wrote Deputy District Attorney Adam Wilks, who leads the Special Operations-Real Estate Fraud.

Because real estate fraud is a sophisticated crime targeting especially senior citizens, Wilks wrote: “Within the last year, the Real Estate Fraud Unit restored title to the home of an elderly woman after the home was fraudulently slated for foreclosure auction.  This unit is currently working with federal prosecutors to help elderly victims of a foreclosure scam in operating around the Bay Area.”

Wilks reported that in the 2016/2017 fiscal year the Real Estate Fraud Unit tracked international cases as far away as Nigeria.  “These investigations involve rental fraud, forgery, embezzlement, foreclosure consultancy fraud, short sale fraud and elder abuse,” he reported.

Established in July 1996 by the board of supervisors, the DA’s Real Estate Fraud Prosecution unit is staffed with one deputy district attorney, one senior inspector and one legal assistant.  Last fiscal year, the unit spent $399,705 for salaries, benefits, travel and necessary services.

Resolution Boosts Two County Airports Economic Assets 

Supervisors unanimously gave the county’s two airports – Buchanan Field Airport in Concord and Byron Airport – an economic boost in the form of a resolution recognizing the contributions of the two airports to the aeronautical community and economic growth of the county.

The resolution materializes when the airports, especially Buchanan Field Airport, has drawn increased development interest.  The City of Concord has made overtures to annex the airfield, but Board Chair Mitchoff, whose District 4 covers the Concord air field, said, “There is no way, no how that the city of Concord will annex the air field. It is an economic asset for the county.” Both airports are self-sufficient and do not need to use county general fund money to cover expenses. Instead both airports are moneymakers contributing about $2.77 million to the county general fund, $1.2 million to local schools, and $273,216 to other public entities from associated possessory interest and sales tax.

The supervisors’ resolution boasts how the two airports provides a base of operation to over 600 aircraft, generated about $106 million in total direct and indirect annual economic output in 2016, which includes the creation of 828 jobs, $8 million in state and local revenue and $10.2 million in federal tax revenue.

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County airport committee seeks public input on possible viewing plaza at Byron Airport

Thursday, August 2nd, 2018

A Public Viewing Plaza similar to this one at Buchanan Field in Concord is being proposed for the Byron Airport. Photo credit Nate G., posted Sept. 27, 2014.

Photo courtesy of Contra Costa County.

The Contra Costa County Aviation Advisory Committee is asking for the public’s assistance in answering a one question survey to gauge interest in and support for a “public viewing plaza” at the Byron Airport, similar to the one at Buchanan Field.

The commission will discuss the matter at their next meeting on Thursday, August 9, 2018, which will be held at 10:00 a.m., 550 Sally Ride Drive in Concord, and will be deciding if there is demand for the viewing plaza, the location for it at the Byron Airport and the cost.

Are you interested in and would you support a public viewing plaza at the Byron Airport?

Leave your response in the comments section, below or on the Herald Facebook page. Thank you for your participation.

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Supervisors OK commercial cannabis ordinance, requires voters pass tax measure in November

Wednesday, June 27th, 2018

Mitchoff calls for calm over proposed Concord detention center

By Daniel Borsuk

Contra Costa County voters will get a crack at voting on a tax measure in November on how much the county should tax commercial cannabis enterprises, now that the board of supervisors unanimously approved an ordinance establishing zoning regulations for the cultivation, distribution and selling of recreational marijuana in most of unincorporated Contra Costa County.

Six areas where cannabis enterprises would be prohibited from setting up shop include Bethel Island, Sandamound Slough, Contra Costa Centre, Acalanes Ridge, Saranap and Alamo.  During the proposed ordinance’s public hearing process there was community protests especially from Alamo residents opposed to the establishment of commercial cannabis enterprises in their community mostly for public safety concerns.

Supervisors will consider proposed tax and health ordinances linked to the commercial cannabis ordinance at their July 10 meeting.

While the commercial cannabis ordinance charts regulations established in the Framework for Regulating Cannabis in the Unincorporated Area of Contra Costa County that supervisors approved in April, at Tuesday’s meeting supervisors were more focused on how the cannabis growers can conserve water, especially underground water, for a crop known to require high volumes of water to grow at a time California seems to permanently undergo drought conditions.

As a last-minute change, supervisors were handed an alternative water service plan provided by county planner Ruben Hernandez.  This water service alternative earned the stamp of approval from supervisors and establishes rules on how commercial cannabis cultivation operations can use groundwater but must comply with regulations aimed at conserving groundwater.  For instance, a commercial cultivation business could pump groundwater when “the retail water supplier does not provide retail water service at all times during the year.”

All five supervisors signed on and supported the water service alternative even though one prospective cannabis cultivator, Israel Martinez, a Brentwood farmer, said the county’s proposed groundwater revised rules are “too restrictive” and he said he supported the earlier Planning Commission’s groundwater rules because “cannabis uses a minor amount of water.”

“I don’t support any water alternative.” said East county rancher Eric Thomas.  “I’d like to see a cap on cannabis cultivation.  This does not use any water recapture.  Why not truck in water? You can recapture as much as 90 percent of the water used,” Thomas said.

All five supervisors approved the groundwater use alternative presented by the Department of Conservation and Development and therefore they unanimously approved the commercial cannabis ordinance.

“This is not the gold rush or green rush, but there is a significant investment that’s involved in establishing these types of businesses.” remarked Supervisor Diane Burgis whose rural oriented District 3 in East County, would be a big beneficiary of the potential new cannabis ordinance should it go into effect.

Supervisor Federal Glover of Pittsburg, Supervisor Candance Andersen of Alamo, and Supervisor John Gioia of Richmond were willing to move forward on approving the commercial cannabis ordinance and accept the Department of Conservation and Development’s last-minute groundwater use proposal.

Board chair Karen Mitchoff also joined the other supervisors even though initially she preferred to wait and find out what state legislators were going to do about proposed legislation that would change the way county tax measures are passed either by a two-thirds vote or a majority vote.

Glover Unveils Keller Canyon Landfill Investigation Funding Source

Supervisor Glover announced that he has identified funds in the Keller Canyon Mitigation Fund, a fund used for an assortment of community activities in the Pittsburg and Bay Point area, to be spent for the county’s investigation into findings that there have been illegal deliveries and deposits of radioactive debris from the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard.  A price tag has not yet been disclosed for the investigation.

The mitigation fund that landfill operator Republic Services finances will spend the money associated with covering costs of hiring a specialist to conduct an independent investigation into whether there were more than two documented cases where debris from the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard wound up at the landfill off of Baily Road.

Mitchoff Calls For Calm Over Concord Naval Weapons Station Use

Board Chair Mitchoff urged citizens to refrain from protesting at the Concord Naval Weapons Station, a site that the Trump Administration plans to house detained immigrants.  Should the President’s plans materialize at the closed weapons base, the government plans to spend as much as $233 million to construct housing for detained immigrants, U.S. Congressman Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord) first disclosed the Administration’s plans last week.

The Navy has refused to disclose whether there are any plans to house as many as 47,000 detained immigrants at the closed military base.

“I specifically ask that no one march or protest,” Mitchoff said. “This may convey the wrong message to the Administration in Washington.”

Other than a protest planned in El Cerrito later this week, no protests have yet been planned at the shuttered weapons station.

$300,000 Contract Awarded from Animal Benefit Fund

On a 5-0 vote, supervisors approved a $300,000 contract to Unconditional Dog to provide animal enrichment services to dogs at the Pinole and Martinez animal shelters, but supervisors pulled the consent item for discussion because of concern over the Oakland-based company’s practices and whether County Animal Services will be accountable.

“I do support Ms. (Beth) Ward’s efforts, but the point is we need accountability,” said Dee Good.  “There should be some accountability.”

Another animal shelter observer, Carol Mason, also said the Unconditional Dog contract lacks accountability. “What kind of accountability is there at the shelters? Accountability is still important.”

Ward told supervisors her department awarded a three-month contract to Unconditional Dog in April to see if the company’s animal enrichment program does a better job in taming difficult dogs and thereby driving up the animal adoption rate at shelters.  Ward said the trial program showed some progress.

The Animal Benefit Fund will cover the contract costs.  No public funds are involved in the contract.

Supervisors asked that Ward give a report on the Unconditional Dog program in March 2019.

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