Benny Lee

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

Jan 142015
 

butterflyNote: this article has been slightly expanded.

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:

– A professional artist/painter  and former docent at New York’s Museum of Modern Art with an MA in Art.
– An artist and Alameda County Arts Commissioner with a BA in Studio Art and an MA in Art Administration, who previously worked at the Art Institute of Chicago
– A professional graphic designer with degrees in Photography and Graphic Design
– A lawyer/artist, with a certificate in studio art & printmaking
– A retired graphic designer and artist very involved in the local art scene (ultimately appointed to the Arts Commission by the Mayor)

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

Things were better in the other parts of town.

In District 3, Diana Souza appointed Susan Harlow-Schott, the only person who applied.

In District 5, Pauline Cutter appointed Anna Edwards, an amazing African-American artist.  There were other qualified applicants, including a typeface designer and professor at California College of the Arts, a brilliant professional sculptor/artist and a curator and artist coach who worked as Deputy Director of the San Francisco Arts Commission (she was appointed to the Commission by Mayor Cassidy), but I don’t think anyone can doubt Ms. Edwards’ qualifications.

And in District 6, Jim Prola appointed Kathleen Ott-Davis, an art designer with a BA in Fine Arts over two other applicants, a professional singer of Portuguese Fado and Prola’s own wife (who paints).

The City invited people who did not reside in San Leandro, but who are involved in the cultural life of the community, to apply for an at-large appointment to the Arts Commission.  There were a couple of extremely qualified applicants, including the Executive Director and curator of a mobile public art gallery with decades of experience in art exhibitions and promotions and a Mexican American professional artist who runs an art promotion company, but neither was chosen by Mayor Cassidy.

One single at-large space remains in the Commission.

Arts Commission Applications

Dina Herrera’s application

Jan 032015
 

splitlogoCity 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 first City Council meeting of the year will be this Monday, January 5th.  It will include new Mayor Pauline Cutter and new Councilmembers Deborah Cox (Dist 1), Lee Thomas (Dist 3) and Corina Lopez (Dist 5).  Councilmembers Ursula Reed (Dist 2) and Jim Prola (Dist 6) have two more years to go before being termed out while Councilmember Benny Lee (Dist 4) is two years into his first term.

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.

– Presentation from Safe Alternatives to Violent Environments, a Fremont-based organization that works with victims of domestic violence.

 

 

Oct 102014
 
Rob Bonta with an APD officer and Councilmember Lena Tam

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’s backers 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.

Other contributors include gambling interests, lawyers, AT&T and, of course, California Waste Solutions.

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.

Oct 022014
 

NotesThese are Mike Katz-Lacabe‘s tweets from the City Council 9/15/14 meeting.  Since the Council eliminated minutes, the only written record of what happens are Council meetings are Mike’s tweets.  The Sept. 15th meeting featured two sets of public speakers, one speaking for paying ACI workers a living wage and another against the militarization of the SLPD and the purchase of the armored personnel carrier. Tweets are organized thematically, not necessarily chronologically.

Public Comments

Armored Vehicle

San Leandro Mayor Cassidy starts City Council meeting by stating that grant hasn’t been awarded to San Leandro for armored personnel carrier

Public speakers at San Leandro City Council meeting now speaking against armored personnel carrier.

Public speaker at San Leandro City Council says she called police to check on possible intruder. Showed up in military gear – scared her.

Cynthia Chandler at San Leandro City Council notes de-militarization of Richmond Police, resulting in less crime and less violence.

Mike Chase of ACLU NorCal at San Leandro City Council wants discussion/transparency about armored personnel carrier/police militarization.

Oakland resident who volunteered at Urban Shield thinks armored personnel carrier is unnecessary for police.

At end of meeting:

Mayor Cassidy suggests putting armored personnel carrier on agenda in Jan/Feb 2015 & town hall mtg – council agrees.

Paying ACI workers the living wage

Despite San Leandro’s living wage requirement, ACI workers are paid less than $10/hour. They are at City Council meeting to speak out.

In San Leandro, Alameda County Industries (ACI), a local garbage company, contracts with a staffing agency for its workers.

Public speaker says she has worked for ACI since 2012 but is a “temp” worker. She was surprised to learn about San Leandro’s living wage.

Mayor Cassidy allowing additional time during public comments for ACI workers who need translation.

International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) is helping organize ACI workers in San Leandro, who get min. wage, not living wage.

Jennifer Lin of EBASE speaks on behalf of San Leandro ACI workers during public comments – worked on city’s livable wage.

Supporting Candidates

Pamela Fobert, wife of San Lorenzo School Board trustee, is speaking on behalf of Alameda County Superintendent of Education candidate Helen Foster.

Not in the tweets, but our daughter Mika Lacabe also spoke on behalf of write-in Mayoral candidate Rascal, her Tasmanian devil stuffed animal.

Medical Marijuana Dispensary

Update on the medical marijuana dispensary operator selection process now at the San Leandro City Council meeting.

Details of ICFI‘s recommended process for San Leandro medical marijuana dispensary operator

Final recommendation for San Leandro marijuana dispensary operator expected in Spring 2015.

San Leandro Councilmember Jim Prola expresses concerns about lengthy timeline re: dispensary since City been dealing with this for years

Council Member Responsibilities / Waste Management

Vice-Mayor Benny Lee appeared before the Oakland City Council to speak in favor of giving Oakland’s trash contract to California Waste Solution, a move that would cost San Leandro millions of dollars, as Waste Managment has its transfer station here.

San Leandro agenda item on roles/responsibilities of Councilmembers is for Benny Lee, who spoke at Oakland City Council

Mayor Cassidy says letter of guidelines not violated, but spirit was “egregiously violated.”

San Leandro Councilmember Jim Prola on Lee at Oak City Council: “I’ve never seen that happen before” – maybe need more CM orientation

San Leandro CM Diana Souza on Benny Lee at Oakland Council mtg: “There were a lot of people who might have known something or could have said something.”

San Leandro Councilmember Prola suggests City Council pass resolution urging Oakland to re-open waste contract. Not enough Council support.

San Leandro City Manager Chris Zapata says he is meeting with Waste Management tomorrow about the Oakland waste contract.

City Manager

In closed session today, San Leandro City Council unanimously formed ad-hoc committee consisting of Ursula Reed, Mayor Cassidy and Jim Prola

San Leandro’s newly-formed ad hoc committee will review and make recommendations on City Manager’s performance evaluation and contract.

Miscellaneous

San Leandro City Council unanimously approves nine-member arts commission.

San Leandro City Council unanimously approves installation of two electric charging stations at parking garage & one station at water plant.

Business Improvement District (BID) for San Leandro LINKS ballots go out this week. Public hearing set for Nov. 3.

Sep 032014
 

The San Leandro City Council eliminated full minutes of Council meetings several years ago.  To make up for this, and keep San Leandrans informed of what their Council is up to, Mike Katz-Lacabe tweets from the meetings. I’ve started compiling his tweets on this blog.  You can follow Mike’s tweets at @slbytes. My comments on his tweets are on italics.

At last night’s meeting, Mike was – as it’s often the case – the only candidate for City Council that was present.

Public Comments

Al Frates condemns Vice Mayor Benny Lee for advocating for California Waste Solutions Oakland garbage contract.

Gating Heron Bay

Benny Lee recuses himself from Planning Commission appeal of new gates & fencing for Heron Bay. Lee’s a member & former President.

San Leandro staff recommendation is to not allow Heron Bay to construct a gate and fencing to make it a gated community.

There are 629 homes in the Heron Bay housing development, 451 of them detached units.

San Leandro’s General Plan discourages gated communities. Heron Bay developer told City that it would be and remain open.

San Leandro staff shows crime stats for Dist. 4, where Heron Bay is located. Lower than other districts, so public safety not compelling.

Staff presentation on gating of San Leandro’s Heron Bay

San Francisco Bay Conservation & Development Commission says that Heron Bay not complying with permit issued in 1994 for public access.

Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) opposes Heron Bay gates because they would adversely impact access to the Bay Trail.

San Leandro Planning Commission alternatives to gating: Neighborhood watch, security cameras, improve exterior lighting.

Heron Bay Atty Jeff Tepper says 479 Heron Bay homes support gates. Says residents afraid of becoming prisoners in their own homes.

Doug Siden, Director of @ebrpd, supports city policy of maintaining open access – opposed to gating Heron Bay.

Former San Leandro Mayor Tony Santos supports staff recommendation denying appeal – opposed to gating Heron Bay. Should remain non-gated

Betty Mousse (sp?) of San Lorenzo Heritage Society supports San Leandro staff recommendation to not allow gating of Heron Bay.

San Leandro Heron Bay resident supports gating. Notes that there are other ways for people to access waterfront.

Mayor Cassidy notes that visitor parking is not allowed in Heron Bay or on Lewelling Blvd. nearby making public access difficult.

San Leandro City Council member Jim Prola tried to stop development of Heron Bay. Original development called for 3,000 homes – limited to 629.

Prola says gating offers false sense of security and then suggests surveillance cameras and license plate readers.

Prola says license plate readers reduced crime in Sausalito because there is only one road into Sausalitio.

Note:  During public comments, Mike Katz-Lacabe corrected Prola, noting that the city that put license plate readers at its entrance is Tiburon, not Sausalito, and that no data supports the contention that crime was reduced in Tiburon as a result of the cameras.

San Leandro Citycouncil Member Ursula Reed notes that because she was in wheelchair, she couldn’t access waterfront because of lack of parking in Heron Bay.

After Reed says that she won’t support gating of Heron Bay, about a dozen people get up and leave. One said “Recall them all”

Note: Ursula Reed is a close ally of Councilmember Benny Lee, so Lee’s Heron Bay supporters might have been led to believe that Reed would support Lee’s interests on this matter.

San Leandro Councilmember Michael Gregory won’t support gating of Heron Bay. That’s 3 so far with Prola and Reed.  Diana Souza sounds opposed – making 4.

Mayor Cassidy says “I don’t see a public safety imperative.” for installing gates at Heron Bay.

San Leandro City Council votes 6-0 to approve staff recommendation for denying appeal – no gates for Heron Bay.

Presentation on Proposed E-cigarette Ban

Note: The Council was ready to approve the e-cigarette ban through its consent calendar back in March. The item was taken off the agenda after I pointed out that the ban included smoking marijuana e-cigarettes, even in one’s home, and that banning tobacco e-cigarettes without holding a discussion about the reasons for the ban would make the City liable to a lawsuit by e-cigarette makers.

Paul Cummings of Alameda County Public Health Dept. Tobacco Control Program suggests that e-cigarettes are gateway to regular cigarettes.

Four public speakers so far speaking in favor of ecigarette regulation at San Leandro City Council meeting.

Mayor Cassidy says that 14 of 55 San Leandro businesses sold tobacco to minors in police sting. “25%…Shockingly high.”

Presentation on Massage Parlors

City Attorney now presenting on massage parlors. SB731 in 2009 pre-empted most local massage ordinances.

Family Foot Spa in San Leandro was busted in May 2014 for prostitution.

Under current state law, San Leandro cannot enact moratorium on massage businesses that utilize certified massage therapists/practitioners.

San Leandro City Council all want moratorium on massage parlors that don’t have certified massage therapists/practitioners.

San Leandro City Attorney says Family Foot Spa did NOT have certified massage therapists/practitioners.

Note: The problem is that a massage parlor can get just a single certified massage therapist to get a business license, and then have unlicensed employees provide the services. Something other than a moratorium is needed.

Arts Commission

In a first for the San Leandro City Council, cave drawings are mentioned in discussion of Arts Commission.

San Leandro City Council unanimously approves creation of Arts Commission.

Audio Surveillance at City Hall

Note: Back in July, the City Council approved a $156K n0-bid contract to replace surveillance cameras at City Hall.  After the meeting, Mike Katz-Lacabe researched the cameras that the Police Department had recommended the City buy and found that they contained hidden microphones that would be able to transmit and record conversations.  The presence of the microphones in the cameras was not disclosed to the City Council.  Mike brought up this issue to Mayor Cassidy, who brought it up to the City Manager Chris Zapata, and at the July 28th meeting, Zapata said staff would be back with a recommendation on audio surveillance. Their recommendation is to disable the microphones.

During public comment, Mike Katz-Lacabe pointed out that audio surveillance would violate employee’s rights to discuss labor issues privately.  He also pointed out that while the City Manager says the microphones will be disabled, there will be no oversight to make sure that this takes place.  The Police Chief already tried to hide the existence of the microphones from the Council, so it would be imprudent to trust her word alone.

San Leandro City Manager says city hall surveillance cameras will have microphones disabled – except at jail.

Councilmember Conduct

San Leandro City Council will discuss roles & responsibilities of Councilmembers speaking at other government bodies at future meeting.