Archive for the ‘Contra Costa County’ Category

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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Graves concedes to Becton in District Attorney race

Friday, June 15th, 2018

By Allen Payton

In the face of interim appointed District Attorney Diana Becton’s growing lead, her main opponent in the June election, on Thursday Supervising Assistant D.A. Paul Graves sent out a letter to his supporters conceding the race.

Becton now has 921 more votes than is needed to win, with 50.49% of the vote, up from 50.01% in the last update on June 8. The County Clerk’s office announced on Wednesday that they have approximately 10,000 ballots left to count and that some of those might be disqualified.

In addition to thanking his supporters, during a brief interview Friday morning, Graves also thanked those who voted for him.

A Heartfelt Thank You

Dear Friends and Supporters,

Nearly all the votes have been counted, and although it is very close, it is unlikely we will have a runoff in November. This afternoon, I called Diana Becton to congratulate her on her expected election as District Attorney.

I am grateful for the support of Contra Costa’s law enforcement community and firefighters, Marc Klaas, and the support and confidence of my fellow prosecutors.

I have been especially moved by the survivors who have reached out to reconnect, and in doing so reminded me why I am a prosecutor. Most of all, I am grateful for the support and encouragement I have received from friends and my family, most of whom already knew that I was probably a better prosecutor than a politician.

I want to say to all my supporters that your dedication to this campaign has been humbling and inspiring, and I complete this chapter knowing that I would do it all over again for the privilege of fighting the good fight alongside you all. We didn’t just fight for “change,” we fought for the right change, and I know that we will continue to fight for the safety of our communities and justice for crime victims.

Most of all, we can be proud of our effort and that we maintained our integrity throughout this election, including the appointment process. The District Attorney’s office is an office built on trust, and we met our obligation to the people of Contra Costa with the type of campaign we ran from start to finish – armed with real knowledge, focused on real issues, and fueled by real, local grassroots support.

Now we must come together and support our newly-elected District Attorney for the sake of Contra Costa residents who are counting on us to put politics aside for their benefit and safety. This campaign has ended, but our worthy cause continues in our courtrooms every day.

Thank you all from the bottom of my heart,

Paul Graves

According to County Clerk-Registrar of Voters Joe Canciamilla, the final election results are expected to be announced next Friday, June 22 by 5:00 p.m. Please check back later for that final update.

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In Memoriam – former Antioch resident and Contra Costa Deputy Sheriff Don Bell passes at 71

Thursday, June 14th, 2018

Contra Costa County Deputy Sheriff Don Bell, left. Photo provided by his family.

Don Stuart Bell, a veteran of the Vietnam War and a former Contra Costa County Sheriff Deputy, died unexpectedly on Saturday, June 2, 2018 at age 71.

He is survived by his wife, Sandy Harter-Bell; his children Don Scott Bell, Leanne Herrick, Debra Peeling, and Dawnyll Hooker; and his grandchildren, Garret, Elizabeth, Alex, Ashlyn, Michael Patrick and Elijah. He is also survived by his siblings; John Bell and Susan Hoff.

A Celebration of Life will be held on Thursday, June 28th at 2 pm at the Folsom Veterans Hall – 1300 Forrest Street, Folsom, CA 95630.

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Nationwide Operation Broken Heart results in online child exploitation arrests in county

Wednesday, June 13th, 2018

Investigators with the Contra Costa County Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force recently participated in the nationwide Operation Broken Heart, a nationwide effort to investigate individuals exploiting children on the internet. Throughout March, April and May, the team conducted investigations of subjects who distributed child pornography over the internet and focused on individuals traveling to Contra Costa County to meet minors to engage in sexual activity.

In addition to the proactive investigations the ICAC team participated in, a significant school outreach program was also undertaken to teach parents and students about the risks associated with smartphones and social media. During the three-month period, investigators and prosecutors delivered presentations at six schools, reaching 140 parents and over 300 students. During the 2017/2018 school year, the ICAC task force has delivered presentations to over 300 parents and over 2,800 students in Contra Costa County.

The three-month nation-wide operation by the ICAC Task Force Program resulted in the arrests of 2,300 suspected online child sex offenders.

“No child should ever have to endure sexual abuse,” U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said. “And yet, in recent years, certain forms of modern technology have facilitated the spread of child pornography and created greater incentives for its production. We at the Department of Justice are determined to strike back against these repugnant crimes. It is shocking and very sad that in this one operation, we have arrested more than 2,300 alleged child predators and investigated some 25,200 sexual abuse complaints. Any would-be criminal should be warned: this Department will remain relentless in hunting down those who victimize our children.”

Some notable arrests and investigations conducted during Operation Broken Heart include:

-On April 6, 2018, investigators arrested Russell Meirose of Milpitas, California. Meirose was arrested after chatting online with someone he believed to be a 13-year old girl and enticing her to meet for sex. Meirose was arrested at a hotel in Pleasanton after he rented a room for the girl and himself. The girl he was talking to was actually an undercover police officer. Meirose has been charged with multiple felonies including attempted lewd acts with a child and arranging to meet a minor for sex.

-On April 19, 2018, investigators arrested Andrew Lund, a fourth grade teacher and school supervisor at Glen Cove Elementary school in Vallejo. Lund was arrested after it was determined he was sending harmful material to a person he believed to be a minor and attempting to arrange a meeting with that 14-year-old girl for sex. In reality, Lund was chatting with an undercover police officer. When investigators searched his house in Vallejo, they located child pornography on Lund’s cell phone. Lund has been charged with possession of child pornography and sending harmful material to a minor, among other charges.

In conjunction with Operation Broken Heart, on May 25, 2018, which is nationally recognized as Missing Children’s Day, the ICAC task force executed three search warrants in Contra Costa County, targeting offenders distributing child pornography.

-Investigators with the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office, Contra Costa FBI Safe Streets Task Force, San Ramon Police Department, United States Secret Service, San Jose Police Department, Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office and the Contra Costa County Probation Department served a search warrant in the 1200 block of Elmwood Drive in Walnut Creek. Investigators located a significant quantity of child pornography on computer devices inside of the home and the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office is currently reviewing the case for potential criminal charges.

-Investigators with the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office served a search warrant in the 200 block of Hillside Ave in Antioch. Investigators located a significant quantity of child pornography on computer devices inside of the home and arrested Raymond Myers for possession of child pornography. The Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office is currently reviewing the case for potential criminal charges.

-Investigators with the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office and Homeland Security Investigations, Child Exploitation Unit, served a search warrant on Brush Creek Drive in Pittsburg. Investigators located a significant quantity of child pornography on computer devices inside of the home and the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office is currently reviewing the case for potential criminal charges.

The Silicon Valley Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force is managed by the San Jose Police Department. In Contra Costa County, detectives and investigators from the Walnut Creek, Martinez, San Ramon, Concord and Moraga Police Departments, the Sheriff’s Office, Contra Costa County Probation Department and Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office participate in the task force along with Special Agents from the United States Department of Homeland Security and the United States Secret Service.

Parents are encouraged to discuss online safety with their children and can visit the website www.kidsmartz.org for further information. If you believe your school or community organization would benefit from a smartphone and social media awareness presentation, please contact Deputy District Attorney Lauren Whalen at lwhalen@contracostada.org or Senior Inspector Darryl Holcombe at dholcombe@contracostada.org.

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Becton expands lead, may have won Contra Costa District Attorney’s race, Graves not conceding

Friday, June 8th, 2018

Election results as of Friday, June 6, 2018. From cocovote.us.

By Allen Payton

After counting about 20,000 of the remaining ballots from Tuesday night’s election in Contra Costa County, appointed Interim District Attorney Diana Becton has expanded her lead by another 1,000 votes to 50.01% over her main opponent, and Supervising Deputy District Attorney Paul Graves who now has 42.29%. She now leads him by 11,398 votes. To avoid a runoff in the November election, she only needs to win by 50% plus one vote.

However, Graves is not conceding, yet.

“There are still thousands of provisional votes to be counted,” said Katie DeFerraria, his campaign manager. “When the votes are all in there will be an opportunity for comment. Right now, Paul Graves will continue to focus on his responsibilities as a prosecutor for the people of Contra Costa.”

According to County Clerk-Registrar of Voters Joe Canciamilla, his office has counted “174,000 ballots so far, and we have 50,000 vote-by-mails to go and 10,000 provisionals. So, 60,000 total, roughly.”

Asked when the next update will be, her responded, “We’re going to hopefully have all of the vote-by-mail done and a semi-final by Wednesday. Then on June 22 we should have a full, final report with the provisionals included.”

For all of the latest election results in the county, click here.

Please check back Wednesday for the next update to the election results in Contra Costa County.

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