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Sunday, July 5, 2020

Sherwin Williams Whistleblower Charges State Agency With Corruption

Sherwin Williams Toxic Cleanup Whistleblower
 to File Complaint With Feds:
  Corruption Charged

State Department of Toxic Substances Control  
Called Out For Incompetence, Worse

City Council Listed as Responsible Party to Protect 
Emeryville Citizens

An employee with the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC)  turned whistleblower has notified the City of Emeryville that he will be submitting a citizen complaint with the United States Attorney’s office for the Northern District of California, alleging fraudulent practices of a DTSC staff member related to regulatory oversight at the Emeryville Sherwin-Williams toxic brownfields cleanup site.  Speaking as a private citizen, in a June 29th letter to the City of Emeryville and City Council, the former Sherwin-Williams project manager and current DTSC employee, Tom Price said the department has a “corruption problem” related to this toxic site and that the public may ultimately be exposed to toxins at the future residential site as a result.
Toxic soil being removed at the
Sherwin Williams site.

Mr. Price filed complaints with state overseers against DTSC staff starting back in August 2019 regarding what he called bogus sampling plans and inadequate investigation and cleanup of volatile and semi-volatile organic compounds (VOCs and SVOCs).  At the time, Mr Price charged DTSC officials of working with improper regulatory oversight, hand in glove with the residential developer of the site, Lennar Multi-Family Communities, a charge he is continuing in his impending complaint with the feds.

The impending citizen complaint by Mr. Price, who has protective whistleblower status under Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations, include complaints already made against the state-issued professional licenses of five DTSC employees, including an engineer, Jose Salcedo, whom he says “inappropriately approved site development documents” at Sherwin Williams since proper investigation and cleanup were skipped.  Former DTSC Northern California Division Chief of the Site Mitigation and Restoration Program, Mark Malinowski is also named in the citizen complaint for what Mr. Price says amounts to a cajoling of DTSC staff to inappropriately approve development plans with inadequate technical evaluations and attempting to deprive future residents of the honest regulatory oversight services which DTSC normally provides.
Mr. Malinowski has since reported to be retired although the DTSC appears to be using his services in some consultancy capacity.

Regardless of the misconduct of DTSC managers noted by Tom Price up until this point, the former project manager told the City Council it is not too late to properly clean up the site.  He said the City of Emeryville, with its authority over a grading permit which was issued to the developer, should direct DTSC to require the developer to investigate and/or excavate potentially contaminated soils from hundreds of feet of abandoned utility lines on the site that were identified on old maps from the days when Sherwin Williams was engaging in pesticide and paints manufacturing.  Writing as a private citizen in his letter to the City and the Council, Mr. Price recommended bringing a mobile laboratory to the site to complete the investigation with screening of soil gas samples for VOCs and SVOCs in the locations of the abandoned utility lines and former tanks which correspond to the planned living spaces which have not been tested yet.  Mr Price named DTSC senior staff in Southern California including Shahir Haddad and Theodore Johnson, who conducted a review of site documents and identified those deficiencies yet, he noted, they failed to recommend customary investigation and cleanup.

Speaking as a private citizen to potential risks at the Emeryville Sherwin Williams site, former project manager Price told the Tattler,  “According to guidance documents of DTSC and the United States Environmental Protection Agency, a vapor intrusion mitigation system such as the one planned for this site should not be considered a substitute for appropriate investigation and remediation. If that is skipped, the long-term protectiveness of the remedy may be compromised. That is unacceptable because these residential buildings will house sensitive receptors including pregnant women and children for decades.”
Mr. Price’s professional experience includes conducting dozens of such field investigations as a field chemist at former industrial sites and service stations across Northern California. It was noted Branch Chief Richard Hume of DTSC's Sacramento office has not responded to Mr. Price's requests for the additional investigation and cleanup of the site which has a history of being one of the most polluted sites under DTSC oversight in the region.

A long-term DTSC employee and Sherwin Williams project manager from May of 2018 to October 2019, Tom Price used the June 29th letter to the City of Emeryville and the Council to inform them that the people of Emeryville, especially the future residents at the Sherwin-Williams site, deserve the honest and professional services of the Department of Toxic Substance Control and they have not received it.  The City and the Council have not yet responded to Mr Price's letter.

After his attempts to provide appropriate regulatory oversight for the project were unsuccessful due to reported interference from Mr. Malinowski, former Northern California Division Chief of the Site Mitigation and Restoration Program at DTSC, Tom Price requested to be transferred off of the Sherwin-Williams cleanup, a request that was accepted.  He remains an employee at the department.

The Sherwin-Williams residential project will have land use restrictions owing to the toxins that will remain on the site.
The apartments being constructed, including many 'family friendly' units, will be ready for occupancy some time in 2022.
A new park adjacent to the residences will be separated from toxic soil by a geotechnical cloth product according to the DTSC cleanup plan.

A 1996 video from the UC Graduate School of Journalism (above) presupposed that underground toxins in Emeryville would be contained in a good faith manner.  They didn't count on the Department of Toxic Substances Control, a government agency tasked with regulating private sector developers and polluters, would be in bed with the very organizations it is supposed to regulate.  It's a classic case of 'regulatory capture'.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Announcing: The Emeryville Tattler Police Accountability Project

The Emeryville Tattler Police Accountability Project
Has EPD Engaged in Racial Profiling?
The Police Accountability Project Will Find Out

Public Announcement
The Emeryville Tattler is in the process of obtaining years of data from the police department that will show indications of racial profiling the department may have engaged in. With a series of Public Records Requests, we will expose the field notes currently in the possession of the Emeryville Police Department that will show among other things, the race of civilians stopped in their vehicles, and as pedestrians in the commons and when the police use force for any reason.  If the police find an individual or group of individuals ‘suspicious’ for whatever reason and they stop them, we will know the race of those stopped.  We will be enabled to compare our police department with other departments.
The resultant data collected will reveal hard truths about our police department independent of any government claims to the contrary and thus will be very helpful in delivering the police reform the citizens are clamoring for.

In the wake of the mass nation-wide racist police brutality protests rocking our country, Emeryville residents would be wise to question the police in our own little town.  It’s clear police departments around the nation are racist.  But is our own little department also racist?  If they’re interviewed on the subject, police uniformly downplay or even deny there’s a problem.  Police sometimes lie...even Emeryville police. That’s to be expected. But what is the difference between what the government claims is the case and the actual record?  That’s what we intend to find out.
The Emeryville Police Department
Is it as good as they say?  The records that will show us
belong to us.  We're going to get the records and open them.

Citizens should know that Emeryville's City Hall, scared of open citizen revolt, is attempting to seize the narrative on police reform. They're seeing this as primarily a public relations problem and they're attacking it in a two pronged way; they're playing down calls for reform while admitting some cause for reform at the margins (that they say they can be trusted with administering).  They're going out of their way to assure the citizens the police department is already effectively a priori constrained with their recent City web posting that would mollify an agitated public.  And the City Council is also preparing meetings that will putatively reveal some problems at the police department and offer some fixes.  The first such meeting is slated for late July.  However, the timing of all this newfound desire for police accountability should be seen as suspect.
The Tattler has reported on evidence of racism at EPD and the existence of an undemocratic culture there for years and the Council has shown no interest in even investigating.  From the EPD killing of a black woman, Yuvette Henderson, to the militarization of department weaponry with the wholesale issuance of assault rifles, to the racist postings by the Chief of Police on the City’s website police blotter, there has been a lot to look at for would be reformers.  Unfortunately we could not get a City Council member interested in looking at any of it.  Claims made now for self reform will not be seen as credible or good enough.

The Tattler will report on what the City Council reveals in their investigations into our police department of course, but we suspect there’s not going to be much of anything helpful brought by them.  That’s where the Tattler will step in and fill the void with actual and relevant data.  We've already begun the data collection process but so far the EPD hasn’t been forthcoming with our initial public record request.  We're undaunted and you can count on the Tattler's dogged persistence as we retrieve the public records the people have a right to see.  We hope the City Council will partner with the Tattler and use what we find to drive reform as we begin the Emeryville Tattler Police Accountability Project.  Watch this space...

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Defund the Emeryville Police Department

Defunding Is Our Best Hope For REAL 
Police Reform

Their Backs Against the Wall, Police Praise Protesters 
Against Police Racism

Next Will Come Phony Talk of 'Reform'

News Analysis/Opinion
After many retail establishments were broken into and merchandise stolen, the Chief of Police wrote a letter to the people last week telling us that looters in Emeryville are taking away from genuine and peaceful protests against the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd.  Chief Jennifer Tejada's letter told us she supports the peaceful protests going on and she said she wants “equality for all” and to “give voice to those who are marginalized” and that “racism is real”.
And with that, our chief of police is repeating what chiefs of police are saying all across the country.  Racism must end, the chiefs are saying and they're nearly tripping over themselves to announce they are allied with the peaceful protestors that have taken over America’s streets of late while denouncing looters (even as some are clearly ordering attacks against peaceful protesters).  Praising peaceful protesters against police racism has become the thing to do for police chiefs in America in June 2020.  Thus, ipso facto, each police department is not racist they would have us believe.  It must be other police departments that are the racist ones.

Next up in this archetype is massive ‘police reform’.  Like last time, police departments are going to tell us they’re going to self reform.  In fact that discussion is already being presented by many chiefs.  They say they recognize the problem police have with race and they’re ready for reform.
So what’s going to be offered up?  Sensitivity training, police attending seminars on race sensitivity, First Amendment rights and that kind of thing.  Virtually every police department in America is going to be on board because the police hear our frustrations they say.  Chief Tejada says it.  Should we feel hope and encouragement by these stirring words?  Is this going to be enough to solve this problem that Chief Tejada recognizes?
Emeryville's Chief of Police
Jennifer Tejada

She loves peaceful 
protest against police racism
in June 2020. In 2017,
she loved racist police 
blotter posts.

The answer to those questions is: we should look to what they do rather than what they say they’re going to do.

Broken Record
‘The police are going to reform themselves to address systemic racism’.  Where have we heard that before?
We’ve heard it every time the media grabs onto a compelling story with above the fold reports of a racist police culture, starting with the beating of Rodney King in 1991 and extending past the shooting of Michael Brown and the choking of Eric Garner.  Academic studies have shown it over and over; police are far more racist than the control group of average Americans.  There is an enduring  culture of anti-black racism among America's police departments and everybody knows it.
Police keep telling us during these crises that they ‘get it’ and they’re going to reform.  But policing in America doesn’t get fixed.  Since Rodney King, it’s actually gone in the opposite direction as departments get more and more militarized, police arming themselves with deadlier firepower leading to more killings of citizens, usually unarmed black men.  All this has evolved against police claiming wholesale persecution of them by the public.  They’re claiming there’s a ‘war on police’ despite the fact policing has never been safer in America than it is right now.  They’re presenting a narrative of the loathsome public that hates police that must be controlled or else police will be killed or attacked.  This is driving municipalities around the country to pour more money into police departments.  Constrained by budgets, cities increase spending on police at the expense of community services.  Emeryville's police budget now resembles the pentagon's budget as a percentage of government spending.

Where police departments across America goes, so goes Emeryville’s police department.  This is a broken paradigm.  We should never expect any police department, including the Emeryville police department to self reform.  Police departments will only change if we force them to.  That force is their budget.  We need to join with other cities who are now openly talking about changing the paradigm by going after police budgets.  We need to begin defunding the EPD.  That’s the only mechanism that will drive real change.

We must learn the only reason America's cops are talking so eloquently now about reform is their backs are against the wall.  They're hoping the talk will be enough to defuse the situation and they'll be able to stop real reform.  Indeed, every other time police faced this level of public outrage, it's been enough to eventually force a return to normal.  What’s normal?  Normal is when chiefs of police around the country feel emboldened enough for instance to castigate Colin Kaepernick for his peaceful protest of kneeling during the National Anthem.  Mr Kaepernick was outraged over racist police brutality in 2016 and so he peacefully protested.  But that was unacceptable said America’s police.  Now that their backs are against the wall, police say peaceful protest against police brutality is suddenly perfectly fine.  Just ask Chief Tejada.  Where was Jennifer Tejada when Mr Kaepernick was protesting peacefully.  We didn’t get any letters supporting him then, did we?

And what can we learn from our Chief of Police who wants us to rally behind the police who are rallying behind the peaceful protesters (she says) all while castigating the looters?  These are to be looked at as two separate groups of people she says; one good, the other bad.  What she isn’t saying (not part of the police narrative) or doesn’t know (even worse) is the peaceful protesters and the looters are one and the same.  America’s poor and working people of all colors, especially black people, have had their fill.  They’re using the only means available to them to try for change.  People pushed to the edge will turn to violence.  It’s totally to be expected.  The worse it gets for average Americans in contemporary America the more we can expect uprisings like this.  We can expect growing violence in such a downward spiral.  What isn’t helpful is our chief of police joining the chorus of chiefs everywhere trying to hang onto the narrative that empowers them at our expense.  She’s trying to keep the money flowing to the police and we’re trying to upset the dominant paradigm that only leads to more violence and more racism.  The looters and the vandals don't 'take away' from what the peaceful protesters are doing; it's all part of a greater whole, we're all in it together and it's all to be expected regardless of what Chief Tejada says.

We cannot expect vast numbers of people, the poor, working class and black people to behave in a manner that no other people would do.  People cannot be expected to be super human.  We can not have what Chief Tejada is driving us towards: a narrative that would posit black people’s civil rights are only as enduring as average people’s ability to not loot when they’re backs are against the wall and they’re rightfully angry.  We are not accepting attempts to divide us.

We should remember Chief Tejada’s record at the Emeryville Police Department.  After EPD shot and killed Yuvette Henderson, a black woman in 2015, Chief Tejada told us the State of California is wrong about the AR-15 assault rifle that killed Ms Henderson.  Chief Tejada told us that lawmakers in Sacramento who banned AR-15s have it all wrong about these weapons now carried by Emeryville police.  They are not assault rifles she says, rather simple sporting rifles.  This was her narrative when there was talk of taking away these guns from our police.  She was trying to downplay the deadly firepower of these assault weapons.  Incidentally, witnesses and forensic testimony reported the kill shot by an Emeryville police officer's AR-15 was made after Ms Henderson had been hit in the side and her gun she had flew back six feet behind her, making the kill shot unnecessary according to the testimony at the civil trial following the police clearing themselves of any wrong doing.
We should also remember Chief Tejada refused to stop posting racist crime reports in Emeryville’s official crime blotter in 2016/17.  It took nearly a year of Tattler reports for Ms Tejada to finally stop.

Emeryville should use this time to finally do something to change the unacceptable paradigm of anti-black police racism in our little neck of the woods.  It is our good fortune that our current Chief of Police is retiring now amid these epic protests.  We should use this time to drive real change and stop allowing soothing language from police attempting to save their funding, lull us back to sleep until the next crisis.  We need to think globally and act locally.  We need to use our nuclear option now at this propitious moment, and start defunding our police to force change now in the place that never changes.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Emeryville Police at East Bay Bridge Mall Protests

East Bay Bridge Mall (Emeryville)
EPD / Alameda County Sheriffs Deputies faced off protesters earlier this evening before looting began at Best Buy.

Shop owners quickly boarded up at Hollis and 40th Street
waiting for darkness.

Emeryville police joined with Alameda County Sheriffs deputies
ready to face off protesters at the Michael's Craft
store at the East Bay Bridge Center. 

Alameda County Sheriffs Office Deputies formed a line facing off protesters.

Breaking News: Emeryville Protests

Breaking News: (Emeryville)
Protesters tonight broke through metal barricade doors at the Best Buy store and streamed out with electronic merchandise.

Monday, May 25, 2020

School Board Member Proposes Official District Apology for Steve Dain Firing

School Board Member Donaldson: District Needs To Apologize for "Unjust Firing"

1976 Termination of 'Teacher of the Year' Still Isn't Resolved 
at Emery

A week of rapidly moving events at the Emery Unified School District including bad press from the Bay Area's LGBTQ community have culminated in a board member announcing she will propose the district draft an official apology for the 1976 firing of an Emery teacher who after gender confirmation surgery, transitioned to a man, ending in his termination for what the district called at the time, “immoral conduct”.  School board member Susan Donaldson said she will propose to her colleagues at the beleaguered district they write an official letter of apology to acknowledge the wrong done by the district against its former employee, Steve Dain in his “unjust firing”.
Emery School Board Member
Susan Donaldson
The announcement comes after the Emeryville City Council last week pledged to rename the street fronting the high school where he taught, Steve Dain Drive’.  The City was moved to action a year after the School Board failed to act on promises to honor Mr Dain in some other capacity following a board vote against naming the school gymnasium after Mr Dain.
Mr Dain died in 2007.

Current board president Brynnda Collins drew the ire of the LGBTQ community and the news outlet, the Bay Area Reporter during the naming debate last year after she reprimanded her colleague, then board president Barbara Inch for proposing the district honor Mr Dain with the gym name at all, calling it abjectly “political”.  She proceeded to call down Mr Dain, telling her colleagues that instead they should name the gym after “a pillar of the community”.  It was a comment that City Council member Patz called “transphobia”.
Ms Collins refused to elaborate or clarify her ‘political’ charge for purposes of this story.

The idea for honoring Mr Dain initially came some six years ago from then board member Christian Patz who learned of the fired teacher that earned ‘teacher of the year’ commendation from the district the year before they fired him.  Mr Patz proposed naming the newly rebuilt gym after Mr Dain who had been a PE teacher at Emery.  The concept did not go over well with his colleagues who subsiquently deep sixed the idea.  It wasn’t until later, after Mr Patz was elected to the Emeryville City Council and his spouse, Barbara Inch was elected to the School Board, the idea was brought up again.  The board however still resisted the idea of naming the gym by fiat with a simple up or down vote as they could have.  Instead the board members voted to consider other people to name the gym after and then do ranked choice voting.  That vote allowed three choices and Steve Dain lost to a former coach at the high school, Elio Abrami.
Board President Brynnda Collins
Naming the school gym after
the former gym teacher

Steve Dain is "political".
Steve Dain came in second place in a field of 12 choices.

Board member Brynnda Collins voted for Mr Dain as her third choice while member Cruz Vargas didn’t vote for Mr Dain at all, offering instead a vote for Steph Curry, a person who has no association with Emery Unified School District.
Mr Vargas refused to return calls from the Tattler.

President Collins, aware of a public relations kerfuffle stemming from last year’s rejection of Mr Dain followed by last week’s City Council street renaming, has been contacting local leaders (and the Tattler) to let them know she is happy the City is renaming 47th Street Steve Dain Drive.  However, she refused to comment to the Tattler whether the District would go ahead with their promise to honor Mr Dain in some other way as they promised they would last year.

Here is a portion of the text of Board Member Donaldson’s letter proposing an official apology from the district:

I will be proposing to the school board that we issue an official letter of apology to Steve Dain’s family regarding his unjust firing in 1976.  I am in support of the city naming a street after him and am so happy to see that honor, but I would like the school board to officially apologize for the action it took many years ago.  As a board, we have updated our policies to reflect that we will provide a "Safe, Nondiscriminatory School Environment for Transgender and Gender-Nonconforming” students and staff.  Now we must be the change that we ask our students to be by acknowledging this wrong from our past and apologizing for it.  There is more work to do, but an apology is a start.

Susan Donaldson
Member, Emery Unified School District Board of Trustees

Elio Abrami Gym Name: Not Political (presumably)
However, the newly named Elio Abrami Gymnasium
will have a Steve Dain Drive address.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Breaking News: Council to Name 47th Street 'Steve Dain Drive'

Council Moves to Honor Former Emery Teacher After School District Twice Fails

Breaking (City Hall):
Tonight the City Council moved to change the name of a portion of a street in town after an Emeryville PE teacher that was fired by the Emery Unified School District for “immoral conduct” in 1976 after he had gender confirmation surgery, transitioning to a man.  The unanimous vote  to rename 47th Street between San Pablo Avenue and Doyle Street ‘Steve Dain Drive’, came after the Emery School Board failed to name the school gymnasium honoring Mr Dain last summer following a tumultuous public debate there.  The vote tonight directs the staff to bring the issue back to the Council for the final OK at a future meeting that hasn’t been announced.  Emery High School and the gymnasium are located on 47th Street, a piece of infrastructure owned by the City of Emeryville.

Council member John Bauters was the most animated among his colleagues during tonight’s discussion, stating he found the School Board had “reached a new level of disappointment” and that he was “very unhappy” over their refusal to make amends for the unpropitious firing of the Emery teacher, “terminated for who they were” Mr Bauters said.  However the lone School Board supporter of the naming of the gym to honor Mr Dain last year, Board member Susan Donaldson, expressed support for the renaming of the street in a phoned in comment to the Council tonight.  “I was on the losing side” Board member Donaldson told the Council recalling last year’s School Board retrenchment on the Steve Dain issue, but she praised the Council’s vote to “right this wrong” done by the district to the former Emery teacher.
Former Emery Teacher of the Year Steve Dain
His courage will finally be remembered for all
time with the naming of our street in his honor.

The short section of 47th Street to be renamed has the AC Transit’s bus yard facility and the Emery gym and high school on it, fittingly the same address where Mr Dain was a teacher for ten years.  Notably, during his time at Emery, Mr Dain was elected teacher of the year before he was terminated by the district.  He died in 2007 at the age of 68.
There are no residents or businesses located on the portion of the street to be renamed.

After the school district balked on naming the gymnasium after Steve Dain last year, Board members announced they would seek to honor him in some other unspecified way but they failed to do that, a fact noted by Council member Bauters tonight.  Councilwoman Dianne Martinez raised the issue of Emeryville’s legacy with the renaming of the street, recalling that Steve Dain is “an important part of our history.”
But it was Mayor Christian Patz that seemed to best capture the mood of the Council, “you should be allowed to be who you are” he said as he cast his YES vote.

The City Council will make the vote official at a subsequent meeting followed by a street sign replacement, probably this summer.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Breaking News: Emeryville Police Chief Announces Her Retirement

Today, after serving four and a half years on the force, Emeryville’s chief of police Jennifer Tejada, announced she is retiring, effective in mid June the Tattler has learned.  Chief Tejada notified the City Manager, Police Department employees and the City Council of her imminent departure earlier today.   No reasons were offered yet aside from her desire to leave service.  Ms Tejada is 57 years old.  Chief Tejada's short one month notice will necessitate the City of Emeryville to begin searching for a replacement directly.

Chief Tejada was hired in September 2015 after a four and a half month search by the City of Emeryville.  She previously had been the chief of the Sausalito Police Department, having served there for four years.

A controversial chief of police for Emeryville, Ms Tejada instituted a program of “mindfulness”at the department including liberal use of officer yoga.  Sources within the department have told the Tattler over the Chief’s tenure, her managerial style is generally not well received by the rank and file who have complained it has sometimes come at the expense of basic and necessary police work. 
Retiring Police Chief Jennifer Tejada
She made the cover of 'Mindful' Magazine

in 2017.

The Tattler has often been a critic of Chief Tejada’s policing policies, especially her equipping Emeryville beat officers with 'AR-15' assault rifles in their everyday neighborhood rounds and her injecting racist entrees into the Emeryville police blotter released for public consumption.
Ms Tejada insists the rifles in question are not assault weapons, contravening public pronouncements from the State of California and chiefs of police from around the Bay Area, all of whom confirm the rifles now carried by Emeryville police do qualify as assault rifles.
The Chief was told by the City Manager to take down the racist blotter entrees after a Tattler exposé in 2016.  She finally complied after a second Tattler story caused widespread embarrassment at City Hall.

More recently, Ms Tejada was revealed to have failed to alert her officers and technician employees that the Emeryville Police Department is the Emeryville enforcement arm of the mandated Alameda County COVID-19 emergency orders, leaving the rank and file believing the Alameda County Sheriff's Office was the agency tasked with that work.  As reported by the Tattler, an unreported number of Emeryville citizen complainants were mistakenly not assisted and/or deferred to the sheriff's office as a result.

Ms Tejada leaves the Emeryville Police Department after 24 years in police work.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Emery School Board Continues Undemocratic Tradition of Appointing Its Members

Yet Another Appointment to Emery School Board
After Another Elected Trustee Resigns

Emeryville, Meet Your Newest Board Member- 
John Van Geffen; Advocate for Business Interests 
& Foe of the Working Poor 

News Analysis
In his third attempt, local attorney and former City Council candidate John Van Geffen was finally successful this week in securing an appointment to the position of Trustee on the Emery School Board, a governing body that is supposed to be elected by the people of Emeryville.  However due to recurring resignations among Board members, executive appointments to this legislative body here are often the norm.  Also common is the appointing of community members to the Board that have been previously rejected by the voters of Emeryville.  Or in the case of Mr Van Geffen, a candidate that had been previously rejected by the voters AND (twice by) the School Board.  He now takes over the position of former Trustee Sarah Nguyen who resigned earlier in the year.

This week's continuation of Emery's Board of Trustees tradition, manifested by the elevating of Mr Van Geffen, comes after his 2016 City Council bid when he came in last place in a field of six candidates.  The deeply unpopular John Van Geffen was bested by current Board member, appointee Brynnda Collins, who also lost her Council bid in 2016, coming in 5th place in the six candidate field.  Unlike Mr Van Geffen however, Ms Collins actually won a subsequent (2018) School Board bid put to the voters.
Political office aspirants facing voters is the norm in a functioning democracy except here at the Emery Unified School District where Board members commonly resign before their terms are finished.
Third Time's a Charm-
Newly Appointed School Board Member
John Van Geffen

He lost a City Council bid and two previous
attempts to get appointed to the Board.

Newly minted School Board member Van Geffen was a controversial pick for the existing four Board members with his conspicuous ‘limited government’ conservative philosophy and open hostility to Emeryville's popular and progressive minimum wage and 'fair work week' ordinances in his failed City Council bid (see the League of Woman Voters video below).  Whereas Emeryville voters (and previous iterations of the School Board) soundly rejected Mr Van Geffen's attacks on the working poor in the community in 2016, the newest iteration of the Board now see a simpatico fellow traveler they can work with.

The appointment of Mr Van Geffen to the Board of Trustees adds to two existing other appointees currently on the Board.  Not including Board member Collins who was appointed and finally elected,  the Emery Unified School Board now is comprised of only three members whom voters have elected and three that have not been either rejected at the ballot box or appointed to their Board position.  A spare majority of three were selected by the people of the City of Emeryville, a tenuous majoritarian condition given Emery's historic inability to hold onto Board members for their full terms.

Readers may wish to review Mr Van Geffen's presentation in the League of Woman Voters' 2016 City Council candidates' forum in the video below and the Tattler 2016 City Council candidates' questionnaire, in four installments:

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Police Flummoxed by County COVID Order at Emeryville Construction Sites

COVID Cat & Mouse Game Plays Out at City Construction Sites

Police Unable or Unwilling to Force Compliance

Workers at the Maz housing construction site on San Pablo Avenue got a surprise visit from the Emeryville police on Monday who, responding to complaints from citizens, gently reminded the workers they need to wear face masks to help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus in the community.  It marked the beginning of a week of community calls and police responses to this and other construction sites in Emeryville where large numbers of workers have been flouting the Alameda County Face Covering Order, issued on April 17th.  The dynamic of police prompted to show up to ensure compliance has descended into a puerile if deadly game of COVID cat and mouse, workers keeping their masks at the ready to slip on at the sight of police cars or even an Emeryville Tattler photographer (we were sneaky and quick and caught several workers before they had a chance to slip their masks on).  And so the City of Emeryville appears to be flummoxed by strong willed construction workers and rendered inert in their charge to provide public safety.  Emeryville, it would appear, is not taking the COVID-19 virus seriously.

From the beginning when the pandemic arrived in our area, the Emeryville Police Department has shown a lack of concern.  The Chief of Police, Jennifer Tejada, didn’t alert her troops to the fact that it is the municipal police departments in Alameda County who are charged with enforcement of the county order decrees for the deadly virus.  Distressingly, it was the Tattler who informed the Emeryville police rank and file, that it is their responsibility to enforce the orders.  After the Chief had been made aware it was her and her department that bears responsibility for enforcement but before the Tattler disseminated that information to the EPD personnel, the officers were oblivious to this fact.  Emeryville police officers across the department had mistakenly thought it was the responsibility of the Alameda County Sheriff to enforce the COVID orders.

Starting after they were made aware it is their responsibility to enforce, Emeryville police have mostly reported worker compliance at various construction sites in town.  But how trustworthy is that?  They’re getting calls from the public, they’re driving out to the sites and the workers are pulling up their masks before the police get out of their cars.  This is what has come to pass as effective public policy in today’s Emeryville.  Tempting fate, perhaps the police and the Chief feel they can trifle with this virus.

Some of these work sites in town have 20 or 30 workers laboring shoulder to shoulder, many without wearing masks.  This is not some piddling thing.  This is precisely the kind of public health infection risk the county face covering order seeks to stop.  Alameda County Interim Health Officer and signatory to the order, Dr Erica Pan is adamant that construction workers and others wear masks saying the failure to do so "...constitutes an imminent threat and immediate menace to public health".  Failure to comply with the order can result in a fine or imprisonment or both.

Regardless, contractors in Emeryville aren’t forcing their workers to wear masks and the developers aren’t forcing the contractors and the police aren’t forcing any of them.  But in this dysfunctional dynamic, it’s not the private sector who the Tattler will go after.  They’re to be expected to lie and cheat and cut corners, chasing their profits.  It is the public sector we hold accountable.

And so we are distressed at the idea that our city is rendered impotent in the middle of a deadly pandemic by construction workers who don’t like wearing masks.  We like to think that it would take more than mask hating workers to bring our city down in their charge to protect the public.  But so far in this age of COVID, that’s not the city we live in.  Absurd as it sounds, COVID is likely spreading in our community because the Emeryville Police Department hasn't so far had the wherewithal to defeat cleaver construction workers who quickly pull up their masks upon the sight of a police car.

Insofar as construction site mask compliance may be had as a result of an embarrassed Emeryville Police Department due to our reporting, this is not a responsibility the Emeryville Tattler wishes.  We don’t want public safety to be in our hands.  We’re not paid for this.  We are here simply to report.  It is the Chief of Police who is paid for this.  We want her and this city to start taking this virus seriously.

No Masks at Maz Work Site
Caught in a candid moment by a Tattler photographer Thursday, workers wait for a crane
to lift a modular housing component into place.  Elsewhere on the site, when they saw our camera, workers quickly put their masks on... for us and for the police.  

Sunday, April 12, 2020

COVID-19 Forces 'Maz' Developer to Negotiate With City For Affordable Housing

Finally: Something Good Comes From the 
Caronavirus Epidemic

Virus Increases Emeryville Housing Affordability

The developer of the ‘Maz’ project, a large apartment building being constructed at 3800 San Pablo Avenue, renegotiated his agreement with the City of Emeryville last week, volunteering to add 10 units of affordable housing as a result of the Alameda County COVID-19 Shelter at Home Order.  The County order includes a prohibition on construction projects during the corona virus pandemic and would have forced Holiday Development to stop all work on the 101 unit housing project because Maz was approved without any affordable units.  Rick Holiday, CEO of Holiday Development, approached City Hall Thursday offering to renegotiate his project to add a permanent deed restriction for 10 affordable units to thwart the County’s stop work order for all housing construction projects with less than 10% affordability, coming in just under the wire (actually 9.99%, 10 out of 101).

Mr Holiday has had a very difficult time completing the Maz project, formerly called ‘The Intersection’ after getting City Hall approval for it back in 2013.  The 1.1 acre project, located at San Pablo Avenue and Adeline Street has been set back two times before after an arsonist twice burned down the nearly finished five story building.  After the second fire, the developer optioned to change to modular offsite prefabricated construction.  During the interim period, Holiday also contracted with the University of California to make the building exclusively for the housing use of Berkeley students, a change that incidentally wasn’t cleared with the City of Emeryville.
Maz developer Rick Holiday

In response to citizen calls received by the Emeryville Police Department last week referencing the County work stoppage order and police visits to the site enforcing the order, Mr Holiday at first claimed that since the project is now for student use, that could be defined as low income housing. The argument was presented that with the students (at 100%), the Maz project qualifies for the County’s 10% minimum affordability mandate but was rebuffed by the City Manager Christine Daniel, according to City Hall sources.  Following that rejection and facing a County work stoppage of unknown duration, Holliday agreed to guarantee 10 units of affordable housing with an irrevocable deed restriction.
Emeryville's new housing regulations, enacted after the approval of Maz, require a minimum of 17% affordability for all projects over 10 units.

The Maz project, likely to be renamed, has been controversial from the start.  Approved in 2013 in a 3-2 City Council split vote (Kurt Brinkman, Nora Davis and Ruth Atkin voted YES and Jennifer West and Jac Asher voted NO), Maz turned away from the attempts to make Emeryville housing more family friendly and affordable being promulgated by the then progressive Council minority.   With its zero affordability all market rate housing, Maz also is not family friendly, coming in with almost no three bedroom or even two bedroom units.  Studio apartments make up fully 60% of the unit mix at the anachronistic housing project.  At the time of approval, Mr Holliday told the Emeryville Planning Commission that he saw Maz as a building filled with dynamic young [affluent] people, “Younger people seeking an interesting place to live”,  a prospect the Commission called “exciting” as they passed it over to the City Council for approval.
When it's finally finished, almost ten years after approval, the Maz apartment building will push Emeryville's housing affordability percentage down, despite last week's renegotiation and will drive down the City's already low ratio of resident families to non-families.

The Tattler criticized the project after it was approved in 2013, likening it to a “men’s dorm” owing to the predominance of tech workers drawn to such market rate housing with so many dorm-like studio units.  The ‘men’s dorm’ charge rankled conservative Emeryville business advocate and Tattler hater Rob Arias, to such an extent, he publicly accused Brian Donahue, the editor of the Tattler of being the Emeryville arsonist at a police press conference in 2017 after the second Maz blaze.
The fact that the Maz project will now be for the exclusive use of UC Berkeley students and is therefore actually a dormitory, is merely a coincidence and the Tattler makes no claim of extraordinary prescience when we called it a dorm in 2013.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Build Baby Build Hits COVID-19

Developers' Best Laid Plans No Match 
For the Virus

How California Cities Develop Will Change 

News Analysis/Opinion
Scoring a stunning victory highjacking California housing policy, multi-national development corporations and billion dollar real estate investment trusts who recently persuaded Sacramento lawmakers to legislate away the ability for California cities to maintain local control, appear to have run into a force even greater than they: COVID -19.  Poetry is invoked when such a lopsided and unexpected contest as this is joined.  Especially when the winning side is so small they can’t even be seen.  These squiggly little viruses are poised to run roughshod over the collective will of our ruling overlords and they don’t seem to care a whit about the hubris of neoliberal capitalism.  Unlike the Emeryville City Council majority, they’re downright unimpressed with all that power.  And so, as we wait for the calamity to pass, human nature, being such that it is, will no doubt reset the paradigm in its wake.
Alas, there are no guarantees we will return to the by now familiar refrain from the developer class, “build baby build”, caterwauled from the rooftops and boardrooms about the supposed existential threat of the ‘housing crisis’.  COVID-19 has taken care of that narrative, hasn’t it?
Nobody seems to be concerned with any of that now.  However, we know some new way to imagine our cities will assert itself....or maybe it's going to be the old way.  We may even collectively decide we want to return to the days when city planning served as a guiding principle for how to develop our town.

It’s pretty obvious that once this scourge passes with its economy wreaking recession in tow, things are not going back exactly how they were, in Emeryville or anywhere else.  And public policy is bound to reflect the changes.  We think that means the end, for all practical purposes, of build baby build.

It was bound to happen one way or another.  The former world, the former Bay Area real estate world, was never going to be sustainable.  The narrative from developers, that the housing shortage was here to stay until we handed the reins totally over to them, was as convenient as it was blinkered.  A market correction was bound to reveal that sham for what it was.  The only surprise is that it came in the form of a virus.

Looking beyond COVID-19, it would do us good to remember the former world.  Three Emeryville City Council members, John Bauters, Dianne Martinez and Ally Medina all told us they were throwing our lot over to the tender mercies of billion dollar developers as they sought to build baby build.  It was to be for our own good they assured us.  It was like the talking points from the former queen of the City Council, Nora Davis… except on steroids.  It didn’t matter that over the previous twenty years, Emeryville had build more than 200% of market rate housing as recommended by the Association of Bay Area Governments, the public agency in charge of Bay Area housing and jobs.  These three Council members, Bauters, Martinez and Medina  said that the fact that our population had doubled every ten years for three decades running amounted to precisely zero.  Developers wanted to increase profits and these three sought to help them by pledging their allegiance to their facile neoliberal notions of supply and demand.  So casting aside any ideas about market crashes (2007 forgotten), they cheered on Sacramento’s anti-democratic SB 330 and other legislation that takes away Emeryville’s right to decide for ourselves how we plan our town.  It’s an emergency they said and the only solution was to build baby build.

The people's will didn't enter into the Council's thinking.  However, you have to assume people moved to Emeryville over the years because there’s something about it they like.  “The small town atmosphere” is what’s commonly cited.  It’s a stretch to assume people moved here hating the small town atmosphere but betting three Council members would rise up and overturn our autonomous City Hall in order to Manhattanize the town.  We know this is false because we’ve already  collectively said we don’t want that.  We voted on the town we’ve been building (more or less) before the build baby build crew took over.  That vote was taken in the form of our ten year old General Plan…the same document John Bauters, Dianne Martinez and Ally Medina now hold in contempt.  We voted on our General Plan…and then we voted for these three Council members.  They never told us when they were asking for our votes that they would move to destroy our General Plan.  Had they done so, it’s likely they would have lost their respective elections to the Council.

If COVID-19 had not reared its ugly face and we had done to our town, through the three member Council majority, what the developers had in mind for us, the wreaking ball would have begun swinging and a town filled with unaffordable luxury apartment skyscrapers would have begun to rise up, in contradiction of our General Plan.  After that, there would be no way to go back to what we were.  The reasons we created our General Plan would have all been rendered void amid all the hulking monstrosities.
But reality was bound to catch up with this boomtown winner take all mentality.  The virus has stripped bare the hubris of the elite, be they in the corporate boardrooms, among individual wealthy real estate investors, in the Statehouse and the warren of lobbying firms orbiting it or even in the Emeryville City Council chamber.  These three Council members either got caught up in the hyperbole or they’re true believers.  Either way, it’s clear in matters of city planning, one of the most fundamental functions of any municipality, they’ve simply stopped working for us.  They should stop trying to be heroes (as they couch it), doing the bidding of the developers and start doing our bidding.  That’s what we pay them to do.
Emeryville public policy in the hands of a developer smitten City Council has long bent towards destructive forces and more enthusiastically over time, notwithstanding our General Plan.  Developers have been having their way with us it's true but now it’s going to be COVID-19’s turn. Afterward, when we’re back on our feet, we’re going to tell the developers we’re no longer impressed by them.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Sherwin Williams Developer Violates Emeryville's Construction and Noise Regulations Over the Last Six Months

Councilman John Bauters Steps Away From Dias, Addresses His Colleagues:
'Do Something to Preserve Neighborhood 
Peace and Quiet'

Planning Director has Dropped the Ball
at Sherwin Williams Site

The developer of the Sherwin Williams housing site has been violating Emeryville’s noise and construction laws over the last six months while City Hall has refused enforcement says City Councilman John Bauters who testified as much at Tuesday’s Council meeting.  Despite numerous complaints from neighbors over the last half a year at the Sherwin Williams site, Emeryville’s largest toxic waste cleanup brownfield site, the responsible department, the Planning Department, has done nothing more than offer verbal compliance requests to the multi-billion dollar housing development corporation says Mr Bauters.

Speaking as a private citizen,
John Bauters called on the City Council
override the Planning Director and
force the Sherwin Williams developer
to comply with the City's construction
and noise regulations.
At the Tuesday regular City Council meeting, Councilman John Bauters stepped off the Council podium and addressed his colleagues as a private citizen, alerting them to a litany of abuses he says Lennar has engaged in as the developer attempts to speed up their work schedule to begin building the 500 apartments the City Council have approved for the site.  Mr Bauters accuses Lennar of violating myriad noise and construction regulations over the last six months including jack hammering after hours, truck queuing in violation of their agreement, illegal Saturday work and incessant construction activity beginning too early.  The toxic clean up phase of the job is still being completed and is late by several months owing to a large amount of toxic soil the developer is removing that was not planned for.

Councilman Bauters, conflicted out of any decision making at the Council level owing to his living too close to the Sherwin Williams site,  says he and his neighbors living near the site have been beseeching City Planning Director Charlie Bryant to enforce the agreement Lennar has made with the City but they have been rebuffed.  The Planning Director has only offered “verbal requests” to Lennar according to Mr Bauters, actions that have no consequence as far as building a case to force compliance.

The lack of accountability at City Hall for resident’s concerns over the last six months at the Sherwin Williams site contributed to Mr Bauters' exasperation, “Is there ever going to be a time when residents are entitled to peace and quiet in our neighborhood and protected with the conditions of approval that you [the City Council] approved?”  he asked.  “Should a developer doing work in the City ever be concerned you will hold them accountable or will they always just get a slap on the wrist for violating local regulations?” he followed.

Owning to what they see as a lack of interest at City Hall in protecting the residents, especially by Planning Director Bryant, Mr Bauters and his neighbors have drawn up a list of two new provisions they see as being necessary to force Lennar into compliance with their development agreement.  The City should amend the Municipal Code to remove a clause that permits executive decisions from the Planning Director in such matters and give it to the City Manager they say.  The neighbors also request the start up time allowed on all Emeryville construction sites be changed from 7 am to 8 am.

The Tattler recently published a Department of Toxic Substance Control whistleblower’s account of Lennar’s actions at the Sherwin site after the former project manager for the cleanup charged his agency and Lennar with conspiring to forgo due diligence in the name of speeding up the cleanup work.  The whistleblower, DTSC employee Tom Price, says the fast and loose work done by Lennar and overseen by DTSC, enabled arsenic laden groundwater to leach past extraction wells for three years and rather than using standard cleanup protocols regarding volatile organic compounds, the developer instead just dug up wholesale, vast amount of soil to truck off the site, an action Mr Price compared with “strip mining”.  It is this improper strip mining that has pushed the schedule back and that’s likely responsible for the developer to now seek to cut the corners that have impacted the neighbors over the last six months. 
The City has been apprised of the violations with regard to the improper arsenic and VOC removal but so far have not yet responded.  If the allegations from Tom Price prove to be sustained, the actions of Lennar would constitute a breech of the Remedial Action Plan made in good faith with the City and theoretically, the developer’s ‘grading permit’ could be revoked says Mr Price.

Tuesday night, the talk was not of arsenic and VOCs but rather the illegal construction activity over the last six months.  Mr Bauters did not receive an answer to his complaints at the Tuesday Council meeting but he did take umbrage with the City's lackadaisical attitude shown to the neighbors, “There is no evidence that staff and the City has taken seriously, our [the neighbors] efforts to have this curbed and to have Lennar fully comply with you, the City Council” he said.

The commentary from Mr Bauters begins at 13:15:

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Whistleblower Accusations at Sherwin Williams Toxics Cleanup Site

Project Manager at Sherwin Williams 
Toxics Site:
Substandard Clean Up, Pressure From Developer

A rank and file Project Manager at the California Environmental Protection Agency’s Department of Toxic Substance Control (DTSC) is charging that developer Lennar Multifamily Communities, a nationwide home builder, attempted to avoid adequate investigation and clean up at the Sherwin Williams-Emeryville brownfield site in cooperation with DTSC management, potentially putting future residents at risk of exposure to poisonous volatile organic compounds.
The DTSC employee, Project Manager Tom Price, who until recently had been providing regulatory oversight for the Sherwin Williams clean up, has filed complaints with the DTSC and other government agencies over fast and loose practices he says that presumably would benefit the developer who seeks to build hundreds of apartments on the site.  Most egregiously, the developer failed to initiate groundwater pumping to prevent arsenic from migrating off the site to downstream properties as required under a 2010 cleanup plan, he says.

Mr Price alleges that soil ‘characterization’ was inadequate in the locations of planned building footprints at the site, and that an executive-level DTSC manager who has since retired, attempted to give the developer a free pass by side stepping standard DTSC protocols, including requiring adequate sampling coverage and representative sampling that would work towards the benefit of the developer.  Unacceptably high levels of ground water arsenic observed in test wells along the western boundary of the property were ignored for years he says, allowing the poison to migrate off the property toward neighboring properties downstream in violation of a 2010 Remedial Action Plan approved by DTSC.

Former Project Manager Price told the Tattler he asked to be re-assigned following his requested customary due diligence and investigation documentation after those requests were ignored.  He indicated he was getting “interference” from DTSC management at the Sherwin Williams clean up and that also contributed to his request for reassignment.

Mr. Price told the Tattler that arsenic concentrations began to exceed allowable limits at the test wells migrating off the site three years ago and that downstream property owners were not notified as would normally occur as part of a public noticing of a proposed cleanup plan amendment which the consultant and developer hoped to avoid.  He subsequently alerted his higher ups that the site was "out of compliance" with the clean up plan.  In January of this year, the consultant for the developer started collecting groundwater samples at the Bay Street Development property to the west of the Sherwin Williams site and in the path of the migrating plume of arsenic, probably as a result of Mr Price’s complaints.  However required pumping has still not occurred for arsenic laced groundwater near Temescal Creek he alleges.
The groundwater arsenic ‘off site’ migration is particularly concerning having come in the face of warnings from the whistleblower, "Despite the ground water exceedances at the property boundary which should have triggered pumping, the developer and their consultant submitted a 'modeling report'.  When the model appeared to fail, they still didn't initiate pumping and as a result, the site has been out of compliance with the clean up plan for three years" he told the Tattler.

The site still lists Tom Price as the
project manager.  Photo taken this week.
The agency has been under a lot of pressure to speed up the final clean up at the site by the developer Lennar who stands to benefit by a fast construction schedule.  Rather than conduct customary investigation, the developer appears to have opted to “strip mine” part of the site and as a result, what was originally planned to be an excavation 1000 square feet in size is now an acre and the site is covered with unplanned soil stockpiles.  Thousands of cubic yards of soil are now being off hauled, far more than what initial plans called for, Mr Price says.

The site, located at 1450 Sherwin Street, is bounded by Horton Street to the east, the former Rifkin Property and Temescal Creek to the north, Sherwin Street to the south and railroad tracks to the west.  A former paint and pesticide manufacturer,  Sherwin Williams maintained operations there from the early 1900s until it was decommissioned in 2007.  The plant manufactured various types of coating products including oil-based paints and latex paints. Other products which were manufactured at the site included extremely toxic lead-arsenate pesticides from approximately the 1920s until the late 1940s.
A series of soil, groundwater and soil vapor investigations by the DTSC were conducted at the site starting in 1988 which showed contaminants of concern including metals, volatile organic compounds, semi-volatile organic compounds, and hydrocarbons.

Contractors were still digging at the site as late as January.
Interim remedial measures, sometimes referred to as the "big dig" by residential neighbors, were initiated in the 1990s including construction of a subsurface containment slurry wall, asphalt cap, and groundwater extraction, and monitoring.  The latest clean up activity, begun in the early fall, has occurred in response to Lennar's construction timeline and has been centered on the south side of the property, previously under a concrete slab and not cleaned up during the big dig.  A remedial action plan was implemented by 2011 which involved excavation of 100,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil for off-site disposal and placing a Land Use Covenant on the property to restrict future usages.

The breakdown in normal clean up protocols served as an impetus for the complaints with the DTSC and other government agencies, starting in September.   “As a private citizen (separate from my job at DTSC), I filed complaints all the way up to the governor’s office against the developer Lennar Multifamily Communities. In my opinion, they endeavored to skip customary due diligence and investigation for hazardous substances for [Sherwin Williams], a housing development at former industrial plant.” Mr Price said.   After his replacement at the Sherwin Williams site Project Manager Bud Duke took over, Tom reports that citizen complaints that he filed, appear to have resulted in considerably more cleanup than the developer originally proposed.

The City of Emeryville has not been included in the list of government agencies Tom Price has filed complaints with but since the City issued a revocable 'grading permit' for the site to Lennar, the City theoretically has leverage to force compliance with the remedial action plan it is a signatory to.  The City, the former Sherwin Williams cleanup manger said, has interest in a proper clean up of the site for the protection of future residents.

A Lennar sign on the property line fence overstates
the condition at the Sherwin Williams clean up site.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Oversight Committee Violates the Brown Act as it Moves to Support the Brown Act

'We Had to Violate the Brown Act in Order to
 Protect It'

Does the Oversight Committee Need an Oversight Committee?

Responding to a Tattler exposé, the Measure J bond Citizens Oversight Committee of the Emery School District, violated the California Brown Act accountability law Tuesday when, without a quorum, it moved to abandon its earlier plans to jettison the constraints of Brown Act regulations.  The committee, who’s state sanctioned job it is to watch and hold accountable the School Board as they spend $95 million in Emeryville taxpayer funds, dialed back a host of this and other illegal and unseemly proposals after the Tattler story posted on Monday.   Central to the Tattler story was a planned roll back of conflict of interest policy meant to stop committee members from unduly benefitting as a result of their committee work.
With only three legitimate attending members Tuesday night, the committee, without a quorum, was legally required to adjourn the meeting according to the Brown Act.  However, moving to support the Brown Act that they had previously placed on their agenda to disregard, the committee proceed to violate the Act it meant to support.  The committee will now follow the Brown Act, they say.
The irony of the situation was not acknowledged by any attending members, the Superintendent of the Schools or the bond consultant paid to advise the committee, both of whom who were also in attendance.

One of the components of the Brown Act makes it clear that the only legitimate action any bond oversight committee can make without a quorum is adjournment.  The quorum provisions of the Brown Act are something the committee members and even the paid staff professionals are unaware of.  After the Superintendent announced a quorum was lacking, instead of adjourning the meeting, the committee voted to forge ahead and make decisions on committee policy and other topics, but only in a “recommendation” capacity in an attempt to satisfy the Brown Act.  The Brown Act does not permit that and the whole meeting was in violation.

A central complaint of the Monday Tattler story was a highlighting of the committee’s attempt to erase existing Sacramento mandated conflict of interest policy that requires committee members to wait for two years until they are permitted to bid on or do (Emery) School District jobs.  The committee, feeling the pressure from the Tattler story, agreed to back off and maintain the two year waiting period but not before the consultant weighed in on the value of the deregulation scheme.  Matthew Kolker of Government Financial Strategies, a private government consulting firm, told the attendees the idea behind nixing the conflict of interest waiting period was to “streamline the process”, presumably for those committee members who would like to profit off the District using their built up associations with colleagues.  Asked how the public would benefit by the streamlining, neither the consultant nor the committee members ventured an opinion.

The committee expressed their frustration in getting the members to dutifully attend meetings, making quorums difficult to achieve.  It was conjectured by committee members that because the District had already spent all but approximately $20 million of the original $95 million of Measure J bond money, meetings are less consequential and therefore less compelling to many members. Mr Kolker suggested by removing the conflict of interest laws that bounds committee members, perhaps the district could more easily draw potential new member interest.

After the Tattler reported on numerous violations of the Brown Act, the local media picking up the story, a crash program of Brown Act instructional meetings were conducted by a contrite Emery Unified.  To no avail apparently.  The District continues to struggle with following or even understanding this important sunshine accountability law.

Should be posted in School District executive suites, conference rooms
and at all street entrances to the school district.