Benny Lee is represents District 4 (Washington Manor) in the San Leandro City Council. He is the former president of the Heron Bay Homeowners Association and a member of the Asian Community Cultural Association of San Leandro.
His campaign for City Council was characterized by vile personal attacks against his opponent Lee, a conservative, became a Democrat after deciding to run and flip-flopped on key positions such as his support of marijuana dispensaries.
After receiving over $4K in campaign contributions and independent expenditures from the Police, Benny Lee has consistently voted on their favor. For example, he’s voted to increase surveillance of San Leandro citizens, to ban medical marijuana facilities and to allow police to enter private property without warrants, if people get a permit to keep chickens or bees.
In September 2013, Lee proposed to honor the totalitarian regime of the People’s Republic of China by racing the PRC flag over San Leandro on October 1st, the day that commemorates the Red Army victory in the Chinese civil war and the establishment of the Maoist communist regime, which would lead to deaths of 73 million people, the greatest democide in history. When confronted with China’s continues horrendous human rights violations, Lee refused to even acknowledge them saying simple that he is for “freedom of speech” – only to then try to get my Facebook Page that criticizes him banned.
Lee’s latest stunt is to lobby the Oakland City Council to not contract with the garbage company that has its transfer station in San Leandro. This will mean the City will lose multiple millions of dollars in taxes. See http://www.sanleandrobytes.com/archives/016548.html
Update: On Sept. 20th, the City Council voted 6-0 (with Benny Lee abstaining) to approve a third marijuana dispensary in San Leandro.
Short months after approving licensing a second marijuana dispensary in San Leandro, the City Council is considering adding a third license: one that would be granted directly to Blüm, a dispensary chain that already has three locations. Blüm scored highest in the last application process, but the dispensary license was granted to Davis Street, likely because of the close relationship between City Council members and the would-be operators of such facility. Faced with the prospect of a lawsuit by Blüm, the City is considering just creating a third license and granting it to them.
But is it a good idea to have three marijuana dispensaries in San Leandro? I was a very big proponent of having multiple licenses for marijuana dispensaries from the start. I lobbied the City Council and spoke at numerous community meetings to that effect. But with two dispensaries in the works within San Leandro, and the prospect of more dispensaries opening in other areas, I think it may be wise to wait. The regulatory scheme for operating dispensaries is both untested and strict, and the zoning restriction for these facilities place them outside residential areas, in locations badly served by public transportation. It may be wiser to let these dispensaries open, analyze how they work and what accessability problems patients encounter, and then perhaps modifying the regulatory and zoning scheme before granting further licenses. By then, recreational marijuana may be legal in California, which might create new challenges that will also require adjustment of our regulations.
In any case, the San Leandro City Council has a history of making careless policy changes to respond to litigation, brought up by careless actions by the Council, compounding mistakes and causing needless trouble. Let’s hope they don’t follow on their own footsteps.
These are Mike Katz-Lacabe’s tweets from this year’s San Leandro Police Department report on itself to the City Council. While video of the meeting is available online, the Council no longer takes minutes of its meetings. This meeting took place on Feb. 4, 2015. There was no discussion of racial profiling.
⇒ indicates an instance in which San Leandro Police Chief Sandra Spagnoli “misspoke”. My comments are in italics.
– San Leandro Police Dept. annual report to the City Council at 7pm tonight at City Hall – 835 E. 14th St. Agenda
– San Leandro City Council meeting on annual police presentation beginning with a 20-minute video produced by Dolphin Graphics.
– Initial focus by San Leandro Police Dept. presentation is on community outreach and public events.
– More on SLPD use of Weibo: 163,000 followers. No estimate on how many are real.
– Diversity of SLPD: 92 white 5 unknown 27 hispanic 10 black 15 asian 1 other
– That’s the entire department – not just the sworn officers. Despite repeated asking by Mayors and Council members, year after year, SLPD Chief Sandra Spagnoli has yet to release the demographics of actual sworn officers. City Manager Chris Zapata has not been able to get her to comply with the Mayor’s requests.
– Indigo Architects of Davis hired for SLPD expansion into south offices conference room. Est. cost: More than $6 millionSLPD
– Captain Ed Tracey: “We don’t just eat donuts.” When discussing a new break room and micro mart for the police dept.
– From 2013-2014, SLPD says that crime dropped 5%. From 4750 Part I crimes (defined by FBI) in 2013 to 4526 Part I crimes in 2014.
– There was no information provided about San Leandro’s crime rate, which takes into account the city’s population.
– Last year, SLPD had three officer-involved shootings and tasers were used 10 times.
– Last year, SLPD received 25 complaints. When the police department investigated itself, three complaints were sustained.
– San Leandro residents have registered 56 cameras with SLPD. Goal for 2015 is to get that number to 100.
– CALEA certification for SLPD’s dispatch center is being considered in 2015.
– San Leandro Councilmember Benny Lee: “Police are just like us. They have to go back to their families on a daily basis.”
– San Leandro Councilmember Corina Lopez asks for information on languages spoken by sworn officers, speaking to diversity of languages.
– San Leandro Councilmember Lopez asks about gun buyback program. “I’m always a fan of that.” Despite no evidence that they are effective.
– Despite acknowledging doubts about effectiveness of gun buybacks, Chief Spagnoli supports them.
– SLPD Captain Ed Tracey: We don’t have much of a gang problem in San Leandro. ⇒But that’s not what SLPD told the State government when it was looking for grant money:
– From April 2014 CalGRIP report: The San Leandro PD “reports that gang activity in the target Eden Area is a growing concern.”
⇒San Leandro Councilmember Ursula Reed: Do photos of arrestees always get sent out with Nixle? SLPD Chief says its all or nothing. A quick look at Nixle shows that this is not true.
⇒SLPD Chief says all agencies working with NCRIC keep license plate data for 1 year. That is wrong. Not Alameda and Menlo Park.
⇒Spagnoli also suggested that the San Leandro City Council had approved the 1-year data retention policy currently in place, when there was no such vote.
– Former San Leandro Councilmember Diana Souza at tonight’s meeting, but didn’t speak as she has done at two recent meetings.
– San Leandro looking to use Justice Mobile app in near future for access to state/federal criminal justice info
– SLPD Chief: vehicle thefts at BART parking lots are NOT part of San Leandro’s auto theft statistics.
– In response to San Leandro Councilmember Prola, Chief Spagnoli says Oakland PD are committed to moving to EBRCS
– San Leandro Police annual presentation to City Council didn’t mention license plate readers, red light cameras or comm. surveillance cameras But Mike Katz-Lacabe brought them up during public comment, thus Councilmembers asked about them during Council questions
– There are four license plate readers in San Leandro’s downtown parking garage.
– Five San Leandro police cars currently have license plate readers, according to Sgt. Ron Clark.
– Spagnoli wants license plate data from parking garage to be sent to NCRIC joint fusion center. Spagnoli’s husband works for NCRIC
– San Leandro Councilmember Lee asks for data on effectiveness of license plate readers. SLPD response: No data – only anecdotes.
– San Leandro PD has been using license plate readers since March 2008 and has yet to produce any data on their effectiveness..
If you start seeing a lot of sad and mediocre public art in San Leandro, you know whom you have to blame: the past and current members of the City Council who chose to appoint friends to the newly created Arts Commission instead of people with any sort of knowledge or experience in the Arts.
When the City Council created an Arts Commission to decide on how to beautify San Leandro though art, they had the opportunity to populate it with outstanding artists and arts professionals. Instead, three Councilmembers, Michael Gregory, Ursula Reed and Benny Lee, decided to chose their friends and political supporters, despite their obvious lack of qualifications in comparison to other applicants.
In District 1, Michael Gregory appointed his friend Jeni Engler to the Arts Commission. Jeni is a very nice woman, an elementary school teacher, a great volunteer with Friends of the Library and a great supporter of the theater program in her church. She and her husband have been friends with the Gregories for a long time, they attend the same church and Michael Gregory honored them with a service award in 2013. However, Jeni Engler does not have either an educational nor professional background in either fine or performing arts, and she listed no art involvement beyond supporting musical theater.
The people Michael Gregory did NOT choose included:
In District 2, Ursula Reed appointed friend and political supporter Dina Herrera, whom she had previously appointed to the Parks & Recreation commission, despite the fact that Herrera did not file her application to the Commission until after the date when the Council was supposed to announce their nominations. Indeed, Herrera’s application was not included in the packet I received from the City Clerk because I had specified I only wanted those available to Council members before they made their decision. Herrera has been a strong supporter of Reed, endorsing her in multiple races and participating in her political fundraisers. According to Herrera’s application, her qualifications for being in the Commission are: “I am an active community member. I would love to help beautify San Leandro and my own children perform in San Leandro’s Theater Programs”.
In order to appoint Herrera, Reed rejected the timely filed applications of:
– An Arts professor/writer/reviewer/judge/curator/art producer with a BA in Studio Art and an MA in Curatorial Practice.
– A graphic designer with experience producing Latin music shows.
In District 4, Benny Lee appointed friend and political ally Martin Wong, who listed no involvement with the arts in his application beyond being vp or a church chorus. Lee rejected:
– A local artist
– The technical director of the California Symphony Orchestra, who has a BA in Sociology
– A Mexican American community member with a BA in Anthropology and coursework on museum curating
City Manager evaluation, new “Hostage Negotiation” vehicle & new Vice Mayor also on agenda
Update: I have heard back from City Attorney Richard Pio Roda. He says that the City does not believe that the potential plaintiffs in the case that will be discussed in closed session are aware of the facts and circumstances that will enable their lawsuit. He confirmed that the case in question did not involve “an accident, disaster, incident, or transaction”, for example, a police shooting, where the potential plaintiff is aware that they have been harmed.
The Council Agenda for this Monday is very light and includes 2 closed session items (those that are discussed without the public being present). It also includes this Council’s first Brown Act violation.
The Brown Act allows a City Council to discuss very few issues in closed session. One of those is pending litigation against the City (CA Gov code 54956.9), including situations where “based on existing facts and circumstances, there is a significant exposure to litigation against the [City]” (54956.9(d)(2)). However, the Brown Act also requires that if the “facts and circumstances … that might result in litigation against the [City] … are known to a potential plaintiff … [these] shall be publicly stated on the agenda or announced“ (54956.9(e)(2)). Under former Mayor Stephen Cassidy, the Council almost invariably broke this section of the law, and the pattern seems to be set to continue under Mayor Pauline Cutter. However, she’s been advised of the potential violation and she could choose to cure the situation by announcing the facts and circumstances of the potential litigation during Monday’s meeting.
The law does not require that the City announce such “facts and circumstances” if these are not known to the plaintiff, but such situations are rare. For example, the family of the woman who was shot to death by the San Leandro Police Department less than a month ago, is not only aware of the fact that she was killed, but they have retained an attorney. If the City Council will be discussing this case in closed session – and if they are not, they definitely should be -, there is no legal reason whatsoever for them to not disclose such fact.
According to the Agenda, the City Council will also meet in closed session to conduct the City Manager‘s evaluation, though given that three of the seven members of the Council have never worked with the City Manager before, it’s difficult to see how they’d be able to conduct and independent evaluation of his performance.
Open session items of interest include:
– The vote for a new Vice-Mayor
– Allocation of $71K (up from $60K) for the SLPD to get a new “hostage negotiation” vehicle. This is in addition to the paramilitary armored vehicle that the SLPD wants the City to acquire.
Rob Bonta with an APD officer and Councilmember Lena Tam
San Leandro’s Assemblymember takes money from insurance companies and police, while supporting Benny Lee and Deborah Cox
Campaign finance disclosures were due earlier in the week and it’s always a good idea to find out who “owns” our elected officials.
I took a look at Assemblymember Rob Bonta’sbackers and while unions are by far his biggest contributors, he has also taken a fair amount of money from insurance companies.
After spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to get Bonta elected in 2012, police unions continue to support him. It’s not a surprise. Bonta has a been an advocate for the militarization of the police, while in the Alameda City Council he voted in favor of acquiring an armored personnel carrier and while in the Assembly he has refused to carry any legislation that would put any type of limits to police power.
In all, Rob Bonta took in almost $200K in the last 3 months and over $550K this year alone, even though he is running for re-election against San Leandro’s own Republican David Erlich who has raised less than $5K.
So what has Bonta done with this money? He’s given the Democratic party about $85K, as it’s expected and, he’s supported other candidates. In San Leandro, his largess went to two candidates: Benny Lee and Deborah Cox. They both got $1K. Not surprisingly, they are both heavily backed by the police department and are expected to rubber stamp whatever the police puts before them (Lee has so far).
One person Bonta has not endorsed is Councilmember Pauline Cutter, who is running for Mayor of San Leandro . Now, everyone in the Alameda County Democratic Party and the Alameda Labor council, in addition to the political establishment in San Leandro, has rallied behind Pauline. While she is not the most progressive candidate, she is a solid Democrat, a hard worker and the most independent member of the City Council. She is not a rubber stamp for the City Manager/Police Chief, which is why the Police Union endorsed Diana Souza. If Bonta wasn’t in the pocket of the police union, he would have likely endorsed Cutter by now. Endorsing Souza would be a losing proposition, after supporting the raising of the Chinese flag, voting in favor of red light cameras and taking money from California Waste Solutions (CWS), Souza is likely to come out third on the race, behind Dan Dillman. Bonta’s support of pro-police/pro-Chinese flag/pro-CWS candidates extends to his home city of Alameda, where he is now backing Stewart Chen.
Ultimately, politicians cater to their backers because they help them not just be elected, but become more powerful within the political structure. As long as voters automatically elect incumbents, this will remain the case. But the open primary system may make it easier for Democratic candidates to lounge successful challenges against Democratic incumbents – in particular when these tacitly support unpopular positions such as raising the blood soaked Chinese flag over our cities.