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Sunday, July 29, 2018

City of Emeryville Makes Police Station Fire Trap Legal by Proclamation

Building Official Promoted to Fire Official Proclaims Formerly Illegal Fire Hazard OK

City Manager Says it's "Less Than Ideal"

Public Safety Still at Risk at Police Station

Unidentified employees at the Emeryville Police Department, operating without authority and in secret, purposely altered their building's approved design by adding locks to a set of public fire escape doors and in so doing permanently blocked legal egress, putting public safety at risk over the last six years.  Such is the City's finding according to James Holgersson, Emeryville's City Manager as presented at Tuesday's City Council meeting.  With the untoward and eyebrow raising official version of the facts, the City finally provided answers to some basic questions in the slow rolling police station scandal.
Left unanswered at the City's revelatory mea culpa meeting however is why in 2012, after the building received final signed off approval from the Building Department and the Fire Marshall following a major remodel, the police felt it necessary to place locks on the doors, taking away the only emergency escape from the second floor public lobby.  Regardless, the City Council failed to act to return the public fire egress on Tuesday, citing a legal technicality freeing them from forcing the police to unlock the doors.

For their part, the police on Tuesday cited unspecified "changes in Police Department security policy functions" in 2012 as the reason for their unilateral locking of the fire doors.  The City Council notably,  didn't bother to ask what the "changes" were that necessitated such a drastic move by the Police Department.
The City Manager reported inexplicably the police might have been "unaware" the locking of the public fire doors would put public safety at risk and that regardless, the Building Department is "rarely notified when such changes are made" (even though by law it is required to).

For the record, it is illegal in Emeryville and other cities to perform unauthorized work on buildings, including work that impacts a fire escape path of egress without permission from the Building Department.  Mr Holgersson is alleging the work performed by the police was not authorized.  Police personnel are not given powers to interpret the fire code on their own and any unilateral claim made by them that they would escort people out of a public lobby in the event of a fire is not recognized by law.  Only a city's fire official could render such a judgment.  Such a judgement for Emeryville's police station didn't exist for the first six years of this scandal.

The findings presented to the City Council included the admission that the police operated without permission from the Building Official or the Fire Marshall and that the locked doors violated the California Fire Code and left the public with no legal fire escape for six years.  The City Manager revealed that a correction to the violation only occurred starting sometime after July 1st of this year when the City Council elevated the chief building official, Victor Gonzales to include the title of Emeryville Fire Official.  Mr Gonzales, with his new title subsequently ruled the locked doors OK because he says, the Police Department has given their promise to escort the public to safety in the event of a fire.  The State grants the Fire Official of any municipality authorization to so ignore the Fire Code it was noted.

"Less Than Ideal"
The City Manager, James Holgersson told the City Council that although the locked fire escape doors at the police station are now legal by proclamation from Mr Gonzales (as of July 1st), public fire safety there is still not good; a condition he called "less than ideal".  The Alameda Fire Department agreed with the City Manager; an Emeryville representative calling the condition "less safe" than the California Fire Code's provision that the public be able to vacate a building on its own in case of fire.

The City Manager, after noting the less than ideal public fire safety at the police station recommended the City Council approve one of three solutions that would comport with the Fire Code. Mr Holgersson's recommendations were not popular with the Council who said NO to all three citing Mr Gonzales's new ruling that the law doesn't mandate such a public fire escape.
The three fire escape choices offered to the City Council Tuesday included a new exterior stairs added to the building, moving of the public lobby downstairs and the construction of a new ground level public lobby addition to the building.  Of the choices offered to the Council, inexplicably left out was the cheapest and easiest; the simple return to the previous condition; that being taking the locks off the fire doors.

New 'In House' Fire Official
On June 21st, before Victor Gonzales was elevated to Emeryville Fire Code Official (on July 1st), when he was serving only as the chief Building Official, Mr Gonzales told the Tattler, regarding the lack of a fire escape,"Mistakes were made and we're working on a fix."  The City of Emeryville is now maintaining the "fix" is to make Mr Gonzales the Fire Code Official and then deem what was formerly illegal, now legal by proclamation by this in house fire official.  Notably, an independent fire official, as Emeryville had prior to July 1st, might have ruled in favor of the California Fire Code version of a fire escape, causing the City embarrassment and costing money.  In that case, Mr Gonzales himself would have been on the hot seat as chief Building Official owing to his failure to act to protect the public over the six years, warned as he was about the situation.

The City Council failed to act on Tuesday and did not indicate a plan to cure or correct the "less than ideal" public safety situation at the Emeryville Police Department building regardless of the still lingering questions the public has a right to know the answers to.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Stanford Health Care Draws Labor Dispute

Stanford Health Care Low Wage Policies for Contractors at Odds With Emeryville Values 

Stanford Health Care, a large out patient health services clinic on Hollis Street that opened up just last year to great City Hall generated fanfare is in the midsts of a labor dispute with a local union for hiring contractors that don't pay prevailing wages and/or provide sub-standard benefits.  The primary union in the dispute, Carpenters local 713 says they set up a protest on Hollis Street because Stanford Valley Care, a Stanford Health Care affiliate is not operating in good faith and is undermining community values by "denying its workers area standard wages and benefits."  Other Bay Area Stanford Health Care centers have been the site of similar protests.

The sting of a labor dispute is perhaps a bit more painful in Emeryville.  The town has distinguished itself by seeing to it workers here are paid a living wage, our Minimum Wage Ordinance famously is among the most progressive in the nation.

Just a few years ago with hopes brimming for a respected community health facility to be realized for our town, Stanford hosted a gala ribbon cutting ceremony, attended by local dignitaries as work was begun building the Hollis Street clinic site. The full City Council was in attendance along with the CEO David Entwistle as the politicians took to the mic, pouring on the bombast about how Emeryville's newest corporate partner will be an asset to the community, "Stanford has worked at integrating into our community" gushed then Mayor Scott Donahue, large scissors proudly at the ready.

That was Stanford has been revealed to be just another corporate entity that does not honor labor.  Overheated politician talk of 'community asset' and 'integrating into our community' now serves as a reminder that building community is a unglamorous and ongoing process, best when it's free from glad handing and self congratulating politicians.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

City Hall Doubles Down on Fire Hazard at Police Station

City Explores New Addition at Police Station to Solve Fire Escape Problem

Price May Climb to $1 Million or More
on Work Deemed Unnecessary

Staff Doubles Down on Lack of Accountability 

Police Station Runs Afoul of California Fire Code

Complaint Opens Investigation

An internal City Hall memo, recently intercepted by the Tattler brings new revelations about how the City's police station building came to be in violation of the California Fire Code and left the public vulnerable in the fast moving Emeryville police station fire escape scandal: illegal and non-permitted work was performed, adding locked doors blocking off escape. The addition of the locked doors was done sometime after the 2012 major remodel of the building the memo states, by unknown people, presumably police personnel.   Equally intriguing and inexplicable is the assertion made by the memo's author, City Manger James Holgersson, that by placing locked doors blocking egress for the second floor public lobby, the City is not in violation of the Fire Code but he is advising that the City Council spend money to add a legal fire escape nonetheless.
Mr Holgersson is suggesting that the City of Emeryville go above and beyond the legal minimum to the tune of a million dollars or more and provide a fire escape that's not necessary (according to his reading of the California Fire Code).

In anticipation of Tuesday's City Council agendized discussion on the lack of a fire escape for the public lobby at the Powell Street station, the City Manager released the memo to the Council informing them the City is not bound by regulations spelled out in the California Fire Code requiring public buildings to provide emergency legal egress because he says the police have promised to escort citizens out of the building in the event of a fire.  However, the California Fire Code, a state mandated suite of regulations that govern egress for both public and private buildings, does not provide the police escort idea as an acceptable permanent replacement for the delineated 'paths of egress' codes spelled out in Chapter 10 of the voluminous document.

Interim City Manager James Holgersson
Emeryville should spend up to a million dollars
on a fire escape at the police station even though
it's not legally needed he says.
The Alameda County Fire Department has opened an investigation into the matter as a result of a Tattler complaint.

Mr Holgersson, acknowledges in the July 11th memo that the police escort idea, legal in his mind, is nonetheless sub par and the City is presented with "the opportunity to reassess and how to improve the public access and egress in the building."  As such, the Council is being directed to consider one of three what he asserts are voluntary improvements to help the public with emergency egress.  The three choices consist of building a new set of exterior stairs out the front of the building (as the Tattler reported on June 21st), moving the public lobby downstairs or building a new addition to the police station on the ground level and put the public lobby there.  A local building contractor gave a cost estimate for the solutions ranging from as much as $300,000 for the stairs, $750,000 to move the public lobby downstairs to as much as $1 million or more for a new addition.

Chapter 10 of the California Fire Code, BE 1003.6 Means of Egress Continuity clearly states "Paths of egress shall not be interrupted by a building element." Section 1031, Maintenance of the Means of Egress as well as BE 1025.2.6, Doors within the Exit Path all address the illegal condition at the police station.

The memo claims "changes in police security policy functions" after the completion of the 2012 $3.7million police station remodel brought the locked set of doors blocking the public fire escape, work performed without a building permit by unknown person(s).
Any work done without the benefit of a permit, especially work that would constrain a public fire escape is a violation of the California Fire Code as well as a violation of the Emeryville Building Department and Public Works because it involves a public building.

More Redactions
In related news, a Tattler Public Records Request for documents related to the police station fire escape was answered by City Hall on Monday, several days after what the law allows.  The document dump, some 138 emails in all, mostly detail discussions about how and when internal meetings about the issue should take place.  The City, adding to the already redacted information presented to the Tattler, is withholding an unknown number of documents that speak substantively to the issue, citing the following:

The City asserts that certain other documents are exempt from disclosure under Government Code, § 6254(a) as they are preliminary drafts, notes, or interagency or intra-agency memoranda that are not retained by the public agency in the ordinary course of business, and because the public interest in withholding those records clearly outweighs the public interest in disclosure.

The Tattler has run a number of stories on the fire hazard at the police station, starting in 2016 but has hit a wall of redacted information on this issue.  City Councilman Scott Donahue said he intends that the City make a legal fire escape that comports with the California Fire Code and also that accountability will follow, regardless of any assertions to the contrary from the staff, "We will find out what went wrong" he said.

The July 11th memo may be read HERE

Friday, July 20, 2018

Emery School Board Majority Violates Brown Act (Again)

Again With the Brown Act Violation:
School Board Can't Seem to Get It Right

New Superintendent's Baptism By Fire

Board Member Donn Merriam
Violates the Brown Act routinely,
but at least he's sanctimonious 

about it.
The Emery Unified School District's Board of Trustees, known for their ongoing problems with transparency, especially violations of the government accountability sunshine law known as the Brown Act, again violated central quorum provisions of the Act at a special July 13th emergency meeting, the first meeting attended by Emery's new Superintendent of the Schools.  The District, despite having been repeatedly caught violating the Brown Act over the years and having responded with stepped up training sessions administered by their attorney, has had great difficulty staying within the provisions of the law.  The July 13th meeting, conducted without a proper quorum, is technically void and any decisions made at the meeting are consequently not lawful.  It is unclear if the District will acknowledge the encumbrance such an illegal meeting engenders and calls to the District went unanswered.

In their usual vacation month, in what should have been a simple housekeeping event to cross 'T's and dot 'I's, the Brown Act challenged Emery School Board once again managed to bungle it.
Board Vice President Bailey Langner
She's an attorney who doesn't know
about the Brown Act.
The emergency meeting, a one item meeting, was set to clear up an undisputed procedural exigency regarding election order; an item the previous Superintendent John Rubio likely missed at the last regularly scheduled meeting, incidentally his last at Emery.  The problem stemmed from the fact that two Board members, President Brynnda Collins and Barbara Inch were both out of town and unavailable, however member Baily Langner, also out of town, phoned in to the meeting via telephone conference call from her employer's law firm office in San Francisco.  Only members Donn Merriam and Cruz Vargas were present in the room.  The three Board members conducted the meeting in that configuration but the Brown Act, very clear on such meetings, delineates that it is expressly not legal to have one member calling in (with two members not in attendance) from outside the District's boundaries.

Member Donn Merriam has been on the Board for almost four years and has been present at three different Brown Act trainings and Board Vice President Bailey Langner, the Chair of the July 13th meeting, is an attorney and one would expect her to know about the Brown Act.  Member Cruz Vargas, recently ousted from his position as Board President by his colleagues, read the school bylaws around meeting agenda items and claimed that the other Board members didn't understand them yet he was silent during this meeting.  Mr Merriam, it should be noted, was quite sanctimonious in his denials of his previous violations of the Brown Act even in the face of the Superintendent acknowledging the Board's culpability, as was the case in a particularly egregious event reported on by the Tattler and the East Bay Times in 2015.

Ousted Board President 
Cruz Vargas
This latest bungling of the Brown Act by the Board majority could have reverberations in the upcoming election season.  Both Donn Merriam, who was elected to the School Board in 2014 and Bailey Langner who was appointed to the Board but who's term is up, could be seeking election to their seats this November.  Mr Merriam, who has shown a fondness for developers and who has opposed transparency and audits seems especially vulnerable.  Ms Lagner, in addition to showing a laissez-faire view of the Brown Act and transparency in general has been criticized by parents and teachers for being detached from District concerns.

The July 13th meeting, the first Board meeting attended by Emery's new Superintendent Quiauna Scott represents a veritable baptism by fire for the new Schools Chief, a quick introduction to the lackadaisical view the Board has on transparency and legal mandates.

GOVERNMENT CODE 54953 (3) If the legislative body of a local agency elects to use teleconferencing, it shall post agendas at all teleconference locations and conduct teleconference meetings in a manner that protects the statutory and constitutional rights of the parties or the public appearing before the legislative body of a local agency. Each teleconference location shall be identified in the notice and agenda of the meeting or proceeding, and each teleconference location shall be accessible to the public. During the teleconference, at least a quorum of the members of the legislative body shall participate from locations within the boundaries of the territory over which the local agency exercises jurisdiction, except as provided in subdivision (d which only applies only to Health Agencies). The agenda shall provide an opportunity for members of the public to address the legislative body directly pursuant to Section 54954.3 at each teleconference location.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Opaque City: Emeryville Clams Up

Is Emeryville Hiding Something?

Unnecessarily Blacked Out Public Info, Violation of Public Records Act

What Could Possibly Go Wrong With This?

Emeryville is acting like its got something to hide.  The public is asserting their right to see their own information that's ensconced at City Hall and the City is in lockdown mode.  Even to the point of breaking the law.
It's all as a result of a still unfolding debacle at the police station.  There the City's incompetence is on full display regarding the lack of a fire escape for the second floor public lobby as reported by the Tattler and the East Bay Times. The whole thing has been a major source of embarrassment for City Hall and so they're responding by battening down the hatches: If no harmful information gets out, then no harm will come to them.  That's what they must think.
How else to explain why the City of Emeryville would return a 100% redacted architect's plan of the police station the Tattler requested under a duly noticed public records request?  Or the fact that the City has utterly ignored another duly noticed request for internal documents related to the City's bungling of the fire escape at the police station?

Emeryville Transparency
The 100% redacted architect's drawings represent a furtive transgression that is particularly outlandish.  Using a spurious argument about another municipality keeping prison plans secret, Emeryville will not let the public see even their own public lobby represented in the drawings.
We're trying to establish what went wrong with the lack of legal egress for the part of the police station that's open to the public and they're saying the public can't even see that limited part of the drawings.  We understand they have an interest in keeping secret those parts that are sensitive, like where the weapons are stored or the fire escape paths of egress for police personnel but the public lobby is already public...we can see it with our own eyes...right now.  We just need to verify about when illegal work was conducted making the lobby a fire trap without a legal escape for the public.  Was it part of the 2012 major remodel at the police station?  Was it done afterward? The drawings would show that.  And then we could answer what went wrong. But the City is throwing a blanket over the whole thing, using their legitimate right to block from view sensitive information about the police as a cudgel against our rights to see the parts we're allowed to see and to block our seeing our government's own failings.  It's as obvious as it is thuggish.

Equally pernicious is the City's total breakdown of the ideals of transparent government with regards to the State of California mandated Public Records Act: they're not releasing documents about the police station fire escape the Tattler requested back in June.  A government agency has 10 days by law to provide duly requested public documents.  In special circumstances, for instance when the request is extremely broad and would necessitate the fetching of a very large number of documents, a city is allowed to take an additional two weeks to produce requested information.  That extra amount of time has come and gone with this request and the City of Emeryville is now in Emery Unified School District territory...meaning the City is keeping company with that highly dysfunctional School District by simply ignoring the Public Records Act.  Again, particularly thuggish behavior.

All this makes us ask, why?  Is it just incompetence the City is hiding?  Or is it something worse?   As one Tattler reader recently commented; how is it the City could think this path they're taking is going to turn out well?  It's like they settled in on the Nixonian tactic of deception by cloaking, either by cool calculation or in a hot panic but either scenario engendered their asking the question, common to all vain and hubristic governments, "What could possibly go wrong?"

The City of Emeryville recommends this company to other cities with lots of secrets to hide-
They're good to repeat customers and they offer bulk user discounts.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Police Station Fire Escape Fiasco Expands: Local Press Picks Up Story

City Hall Recalcitrance Draws Fire From 
East Bay Times

The East Bay Times, who's beat includes Emeryville, reports on the story of the City's continuing failure to provide a public fire escape at the police station after a $3.7 million remodel dating from 2012 broken by the Tattler in 2016A June 21st follow up story revealed a recalcitrant City Council had done nothing to alleviate the illegal condition.  After a July 3rd Tattler story that highlighted a police building plan document obtained by a Public Records Request that was completely redacted by Emeryville's overly secretive Police Chief, now the East Bay Times has joined in, picking up the still emerging story of City Hall incompetence and possible malfeasance.
From today's East Bay Times:

Emeryville police building may get new stairs after safety oversight

By ALI TADAYON | | Bay Area News Group

EMERYVILLE — The Emeryville Police Department is tasked with keeping residents safe, but if a fire were to break out at its building, people in the lobby would have no safe way out unless an employee unlocked the doors to the stairs.

To remedy the situation and ensure that people can get out of the building quickly, the city proposes building an exterior staircase from the second-floor lobby to the ground that the public could use, Chief Building Official Victor Gonzales said.

The second-floor lobby is where people go to talk to police officials and take care of other business.

Brian Donahue, who runs the The Emeryville Tattler blog and works as a contractor, said he believes the new staircase could cost the city around $300,000. Gonzales did not provide an estimate as to how much....

Read the rest of the story HERE.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Total Censorship With Police Department Fire Escape: 100% Redaction of Public Record

Redact City-
What the City Doesn't Want You to Know About the Police Dept Remodel That Left 
the Building Unsafe:

Police Chief Blacks Out Entire Public Record

Document received from City Hall in response to Public Records Request. 

The City of Emeryville, citing an obscure 1973 case law decision that allowed the government to withhold prison building plans from the public, blacked out building plans of the Hollis Street police department to the public inquiring about the City's failure to provide public fire escape egress at the police building.  The architect plans, produced for the City as part of a 2012 $3.7 million remodel of the the City's Public Safety Building at 2449 Hollis Street, putatively shows a State of California mandated fire escape at the second floor public lobby that was removed, illegally, at some later date.  We say 'putatively' because Emeryville's Chief of Police, Jennifer Tejada, has totally redacted the publicly owned plans so we can't know for sure.  However, the architect, retained by the City for the 2012 remodel, recently assured the Tattler he did provide for public egress at the second floor lobby and the plans, if we could view them would prove it.  The architect, Don Dommer of Albany based Dommer and Associates, upon hearing of a lack of a second floor public fire escape at his building, is conjecturing somebody must have done illegal work closing off public access after his contract with the City was complete.

The Tattler originally brought the issue of no public fire escape at the police station to the City at a Council meeting in 2016 and with an accompanying 2016 Tattler story but City Hall resisted the call to correct the public safety issue, waiting until after a second Tattler story on June 21st.  Assurances are now being offered from the Chief Building official, Victor Gonzales, that the City plans on making the police station legal, in the wake of the June 21st story.  Mr Gonzales is postulating a new set of exterior stairs could be added out the front of the building to make the building code compliant.

As Emeryville City Hall moves to fix the illegal fire trap at the police station public lobby (presuming they will), the public is left with questions of culpability.  Blacked out building plans notwithstanding, the question about when the fire escape was removed is less important to know than who removed it and if that subsequent illegal work was permitted by the Building Department.  Emeryville's Building official Victor Gonzales hinted he might at least share culpability as reported in the June 21st Tattler story when he said, "Everybody makes mistakes" and "I'm doing the best I can."

Chief Tejada's claim the information about the public fire egress at the station is secret and if made known to the public would compromise police safety, is overwrought and the full redaction of this public document is not warranted.  Because government is transparent and not permitted to withhold the public's right to know their business if it is being done to hide government malfeasance, these questions of who removed the public fire escape at our police station will be answered and this redaction impediment will not serve to deter.

The Tattler requested the building plans via a Public Records Request two weeks ago and accompanying the document filled with blacked out drawings ordered by Chief Tejada was the following dubious justification:

”The City of Emeryville finds ...under Government Code section 6255(a) and Evidence Code section 1040, public agencies have been able to withhold building plans for a correctional training facility and detention facility from the public on the grounds that individuals may use the information to plan an escape, which would threaten the safety of the communities. Thus, the benefits of non-disclosure outweighed the benefits of disclosure of the building plans for these buildings utilized by law enforcement....”