Dec 172013

homeless1As Homeless in the Bay Area Die of Hypothermia, Zapata Tells Council to Delay Presentation on Homeless Until Spring.

A week or two ago, during one of the cold-waves that hit the Bay Area, newspapers revealed that four homeless people died of the cold in Santa Clara county.  I asked Mayor Stephen Cassidy, on his FB page, what the City of San Leandro was doing to make sure our homeless did not meet the same fate.

Cassidy didn’t answer but, at last night’s City Council meeting, he asked that at the next City Council meeting, in January, staff report as to what the City is doing for the homeless.  City Manager Chris Zapata interrupted to say that the Council had appropriated about $100K to spend on all social programs in San Leandro, and that come the spring they’d have a presentation on that and the Council could decide then whether to allocate some of that money to helping the homeless.  It would seem that the City is currently not doing anything to help the homeless, and that Zapata believes that any policy should wait until the cold passes, even if that means homeless people in San Leandro die.

I had supported Zapata earlier on, as the first minority City Manager in this city, but I was appalled at his attitude towards the homeless.  I know they can be scruffy,  small bad and often times suffer from mental illnesses, drug addictions or both; but they are human beings.  “There but for the grace of God go I,” (for atheists like me, substitute “God” with “fortune”).

It’s appalling enough that the Mayor and the Council have not thought to inquire earlier what is being done to help the homeless, but the fact that the City Manager thinks that preventing their deaths from cold during the winter should not even be discussed until it’s too late, is beyond words.

Fortunately, Cassidy pressed on and they’ll have the presentation in January.   As for December 9th, seven homeless people had died from the cold in the Bay Area.  One of them was in Hayward.

Dec 062013


It should elect a full-time Mayor instead.

“The City of San Leandro is currently seeking the services of a state legislative advocate who will assist the City of San Leandro develop a state legislative program as well as advance its legislative goals at the state level. For additional information, please see the Request for Proposals document or contact Eric Engelbart, Assistant to the City Manager at (510) 577-3391.”

Former Assembly member Johan Klehs has been lobbying for the job and has tried to get it without going through a competitive proposal process, but fortunately the Council chose to open the process up to proposals from other lobbying firms.  The City of Alameda just hired former state Senator Don Perata for a similar role without such process, and while that’s a good way of rewarding old friends, it doesn’t guarantee the best results in Sacramento.

It’s not clear what San Leandro plans to pay its lobbyist, but Alameda’s contract is for $90,000 a year.  It may also be a waste of taxpayer money.  Lobbying Sacramento should be part of the job description for the Mayor and City Council members. They are, after all, politicians and they can and should be developing the relationships with elected officials in Sacramento to make any direct lobbying not just possible, but successful.   Sacramento, after all, is only a couple of hours away with bad traffic.

Unfortunately, San Leandro Council members have shown very little inclination to do actual political work.  For example, the only Council member who attended the holiday party thrown by Congresswoman Barbara Lee, State Senator Loni Hancock, Assembly members Rob Bonta and Nancy Skinner,  and Supervisor Keith Carson last Tuesday, was Ursula Reed.   She is running for County Superintendent so is courting political favor for her next race.   Reed and Jim Prola were the only two to attend the Democratic Party holiday party in San Leandro on Wednesday.  Parties are great opportunities to schmooze, make relationships and lobby.

An even better opportunity to do all three is the Democratic Convention which takes place every year.  There, you get access to state legislators from throughout the state in one single, fairly informal, but 2-days long event.  The Convention happens in Sacramento every other year, which makes it within driving distance.  And yet, the only Council members who attended this year’s convention were Jim Prola and Ursula Reed, who is busy with her own campaign.

One of the main reasons why our Mayor and Council members are so detached from their Council jobs is that these are all part-time positions.  This means they have other jobs that take most of their time.  Not surprisingly, the only retired member of the City Council is Jim Prola.   I have advocated before that we turn the Mayoral position into a full-time job. This would allow the Mayor to actually do his job as Mayor, in addition to represent the economic and political interests of the City in other fora.  And having a full-time Mayor could actually save us money.  A full-time Mayor need not be paid more than what Oakland’s Mayor makes currently, $137,000 a year – which is about what the City will spend in the combined salaries of a part-time lobbyst and part-time Mayor.   A full-time Mayor, however, should also be able to shoulder some of the responsibilities of the assistant City Managers.  Currently, San Leandro spends over a million dollars a year on its City Manager and two assistants.

Mayor Stephen Cassidy, however, doesn’t want to even entertain this possibility as it would not behoove him.  He’s currently a partner in a major law-firm so his current salary is probably more than twice what he’d make as a full-time Mayor.  However, Mayor Cassidy’s employment obligations are probably to blame for the fact that he has abdicated most of his responsibilities as Mayor.   The current system cheats the voters.

Before any actual changes can happen at City Hall, however, we need to elect a Mayor and Council members who actually want to do the job, and not just hold the title.  That is difficult, of course, given how little they get paid – seldom we have elections among quality candidates.  Ultimately it’s a chicken-and-egg question.

Nov 042013
Cynthia Chandler (left) and other former Cassidy supporters at the Swing the Vote for Cassidy fundraiser in 2010.

Cynthia Chandler (left) and other former Cassidy supporters at the Swing the Vote for Cassidy fundraiser in 2010.

The following open letter was left by San Leandro resident Cynthia Chandler on Mayor Stephen Cassidy‘s Facebook page.  Chandler was a strong supporter of Cassidy during his 2010 Mayoral campaign but has grown frustrated with the Mayor’s unwillingness to lead.  After attending a town hall meeting where the Police Chief gave misleading information and the Mayor disallowed continued discussion of city issues, Chandler wrote an open letter asking that Mayor Cassidy limit the power of the Chief to write ordinances. Cassidy responded saying that he would, but otherwise praising the Police and saying that his major interest was in re-negotiating the pension obligations for firefighters.  This is Chandler’s response.

Wonderful to hear Mayor Cassidy supports an ordinance to limit abuse of police power by disallowing police from drafting city policy/ordinances. I look forward to seeing how you push this important effort. Thank you!

Regarding the city’s public safety budget, thank you for breaking down resources spent in the general fund. I would appreciate a list of expenses outside of the general fund spent on policing. Also, I do not support efforts to attack firefighter’s pensions. Firefighters have a radically reduced life expectancy as result of secondary illness brought on by exposures to toxins while fighting fires. Every day, their job risks their health and livelihood into the future. I do not think it is appropriate to build a budget on the backs of working people.

Similarly, that our city’s budget was balanced significantly through passage of a sales tax through Measure Z, which by definition, as a sale tax, disproportionately impacts people with lower economic standing, is not acceptable to me as a long term solution (and thank you for opposing that tax). Nor was it acceptable for me to read in the San Leandro Times that the majority of the Measure Z tax money went to policing at a time when overall crime is low, yet our other essential safety systems, such as roads, economic development and schools are underfunded and in disrepair.

Of course, as you point out in response to my ask that you support a marijuana tax designed to fund some of our underfunded public safety needs, no one incomplete source of funding will provide us all we need to better all these neglected safety structures. That is why we need to diversify with multiple sources of income locally, and not dismiss one source as incomplete. However, in that work, I hope that you do not continue to focus on attacking the base needs of workers–how about assessing reform to our commercial tax codes in ways that will benefit small business but perhaps add tax to large box stores and other larger businesses? Concern for diversification also is why I asked you and Council Members what you are doing to build collective power among municipalities to demand from the State what we need and re-prioritization of state funding. Your answer was that was you tried and it is hopeless. I beg to differ. I have seen no effort by the city to track and inform the San Leandro public of State efforts that may harm our community with time to organize in opposition, and no effort to support and organize voters in demanding our state representatives do right by us. Your Facebook page reads like an event calendar, not a page to lead us to action. Imagine what would happen if we had a mayor able to inspire voters and encourage other local mayors to do the same. Instead, I have watched as you appear to abdicate more and more leadership to city staff and waive away larger State-oriented efforts as pointless.

Lack of mayoral leadership fueled my upset at the recent District 5 and 6 meeting when you ended the meeting despite community members still wanting to speak and city leaders willingness to stay. Regardless of the officially noticed time of the meeting, there was no need to end the meeting at that time, and capacity to continue it. Part of my upset is rooted in a belief that it is beneficial for all our community members and representatives to hear from us all — the group process builds group knowledge and accountability. My upset also was because we in the community had heard nothing from you on your personal leadership, ideas, or concerns around crime or anything else, apart from when I personally asked you to comment on whether you would support a marijuana tax to fund underfunded public safety infrastructure. I wanted all of us voters in attendance to hear from you directly and decide if we should vote for you in 2014. I want to know what you think of the police chief presenting misleading information; I want people in my neighborhood to know what you think is a safety priority and what your solutions are.

Ending the meeting as you did, you appeared to remove yourself from any responsibility to lead or respond to your constituency, and instead chose to defer these roles to staff. I am not in favor of our town’s safety policy being conflated with policing and controlled by any Chief or unelected staff person. My concerns for your leadership are compounded when I hear you thank the Chief profusely when she misleads us all, and when she proposes unconstitutional surveillance plans (like the chicken policy provision demanding permit owners submit to searches for any reason and without cause). From what I have seen, your administration is interested in maintaining that deference to staff regardless of the needs of your constituency. I look forward to learning otherwise.

Meanwhile, I believe the voting public is increasingly frustrated with politicians who appear disconnected from their base. Last week’s opinion polls in the San Leandro Times are remarkably uniform in this view. Similarly, several district members in attendance spent the one-on-one time discussing how we would rather have district meetings that are called and run by the voters around our needs. I look forward to inviting you to attend such a meeting in my district in the New Year.

Nov 012013
Mayor Stephen Cassidy

Mayor Stephen Cassidy

Stephen Cassidy has not resigned as Mayor of San Leandro.  He is even planning to run for re-election in 2014.  But for all intents and purposes he has abdicated his responsibilities as Mayor of the City in favor of being just another Council Member.

San Leandro has a Mayor-City Council-City Manager sort of government.  The powers not expressly given to the Mayor or Manager, are reserved for the Council.   While this is not a “strong Mayor” city, there are a handful of responsibilities that the Charter describes as the powers and duties of the Mayor alone. These are not optional, the Charter provides that they Mayor shall exercise the enumerated powers, not that he may.

The three primary enumerated powers of the Mayor are those to “recommend City policy,” “recommend to the Council appropriate and necessary legislation” and “recommend programs for the physical, economic, social and cultural development of the City“.   This exclusive power to set the agenda is, according to Mark Petracca, associate professor of political science at UC Irvine,  almost universal for Mayors of California cities. “It’s one of the very few explicit powers that they have.”

Cassidy, however, has abdicated this responsibility to the whole council.  “As a general rule, neither the Mayor nor an individual Council member has authority to place a substantive item on the Council agenda solely by him or herself. It takes four members of the Council to agree to hear the matter[,]” Cassidy wrote on his Facebook page.  He did not explain, however, that this method of setting the agenda is not legal under the Charter, and that it’s implemented only by his choice.

Cassidy has also been extremely reluctant to exercise his only other substantive authority as Mayor, that “to suspend implementation of any action taken by the Council”.  He’s done it once in the three years he has been in office, when he suspended the raising the flag of the People’s Republic of China.  Even then, he did so reluctantly and, apparently, in fear of the massive public outrage at the Council’s decision.


To be fair, Cassidy does exercise his administrative duties.  He does “preside at meetings of the Council,” “establish and dissolve ad hoc committees” and “represent the City in intergovernmental relations” either  “personally or by delegated representative.” He also does “report to the public from time to time on the affairs of the City” and somewhat exercise his responsibility “for public relations” by show up at the occasional community event and blogging.  He often hands off to the Vice-Mayor the responsibility to “represent the City for ceremonial purposes,” however.  Finally, if he’s fulfilling his responsibility to “provide leadership and marshal citizen participation in City activities” he is doing so very, very quietly.

But the latter powers are of much lesser importance than the former. The primary duty of the Mayor is to set the direction of the City.  This is what Cassidy refuses to do.  Whether that is because he is incapable or just unwilling to accept the political consequences, is unclear.  But the question remains:  if Cassidy won’t exercise the responsibilities of being Mayor, why be Mayor at all? If all he wants is a vote in the Council, he can just run for a seat, the one for his district will be open in 2014.  If it’s the title that he wants, perhaps the City Council can just name him “Mayor Emeritus” and San Leandro can elect someone as Mayor who actually wants the job.    Mayor Cassidy has made it clear, that is not him.

Feb 062012

It’s worse than I thought, but is it intentional or just careless?

Just ask public officials, perhaps over a few beers, how they feel about the pesky public looking over their shoulder as they try to “get things done.”   They hate it.  Public oversight means they have to worry about following the law, hiding any corrupt deals and being held accountable for their actions.

As the corruption facilitated by secrecy has dire consequences for society at large (just think of the City of Bell), the California legislature long ago passed the Brown Act to guarantee the public notice and access to government meetings, and the California Public Records Act to grant access to government documents.  Local governments have been trying to skirt them ever since.

I have noted before actual and threatened violations of these laws by the San Leandro City Council.  Recently, I’ve become aware of a number of recurring and and very serious violations that allow the City Council to deliberate secretly.  I’ve given the City the benefit of the doubt – perhaps nobody at City Hall is actually aware of the law or perhaps they’ve just been careless – and I’ve written to City officials* requesting that they cease these violations.  How (and whether) they respond, and more importantly whether they actually comply with my request to obey the law, will be very indicative of the trustworthiness and ethics of our City Officials and our City Attorney.

The following are the Brown Act violations that I’ve discovered in the last few days

The City Council Appears to Have Deliberated Secretly on the Sale of the former Albertson’s Property

The City Council agenda for Feb. 6th, 2012 lists “Conference with Real Property Negotiators”  as one of its closed session items.  It says that they are currently negotiating the “price and terms of payment” with Innisfree Ventures II, David Irmer’s development firm.  This implies that the City Council has already agreed to sell the former Albertson’s property to Irmer, or at least has discussed it; you don’t negotiate a price for a property you are not ready to sell.   The Brown Act requires that any discussion on the sale of the property as well as any instruction to the City Manager (or anyone else) to initiate negotiations for the sale of the property, must be done in open session, after being properly agendized.  A search of the agendas, minutes and other public records in the online Public Records Database maintained by the city, did not produce any records of such discussions or decisions.  It would appear that these discussions were made informally or in closed session, in violation of the law.

The City Council Mislabels Public City Council Meetings as “Closed Sessions”

The City Council publishes agendas both for its open and closed sessions.  Closed sessions usually start at 6PM and open sessions at 7PM.  Agendas for closed sessions are labeled “Closed Session” while those for open sessions are labeled  “Regular Meeting”  or “Joint Meeting with Redevelopment Agency.”   I was just informed by the City Clerk, however, that a portion of the meeting labeled closed session is actually an open session, in which the City Council can transact all sorts of business, including making required announcements.  But as the meeting is not labeled “open session,” or “regular meeting”  or anything other than “closed session,” the public has no reason to know that this is a meeting they are free to attend.  The results are that practically nobody is likely to go to these meetings, and thus nobody witnesses what was said or not said there.

The City Council Fails to Include All Required Items in the “Open/Closed Session”  Agendas

The Brown Act provides that “[n]o action or discussion shall be undertaken on any item not appearing on the posted agenda.”  However, it would appear that actions and discussions not appearing in the agenda are actually carried out in what the City considers to be the “open” part of closed sessions (hereby described as “open/closed sessions”).  This came to my attention on Friday, when I e-mailed the City Council et al. to alert them to the fact that while the Brown Act allows the City Council to meet in closed session with property negotiators, as it was itemized in the agenda for the Feb. 6th meeting, the negotiators’  identities must first be announced in open session.  The City Clerk responded by saying that there would be an open session prior to the closed session in question, thus suggesting that the announcement would be made at that point.  However, the agenda for that open/closed session only included two items: Roll Call and Public Comments.  This is, indeed, the case with all the closed session agendas that I’ve seen.  So it would appear that the City Council conducts business during these open/closed sessions that is not disclosed in the agenda

The City Council Fails to Keep Minutes of the “Open/Closed Session” Meetings.

California law requires the City Clerk to “keep a correct record of [City Council] proceedings”, and indeed, minutes and/or recordings** are produced and posted online for regular open session meetings.  This does not appear to be the case, however, with respect to open/closed meetings.  For example, there are no minutes for the Dec. 13th, 2010 open/closed session, even though a number of people (including myself) attended and made public comments at that meeting.

So basically we have a situation in which the City Council seems to 1) be holding public meetings without alerting the public about it, 2) not including all items to be discussed in the agenda and 3) not keeping minutes of those meetings – all in violation of state law.

There is yet another serious way in which the City violates the Brown Act:

The City Council Fails to Disclose the Subject of Anticipated Litigation

The Brown Act allows the City Council to meet in closed session to discuss exposures to litigation against the City.  However, the law also provides that the closed session agenda must describe the “facts and circumstances” which have exposed the City to litigation, except when such facts are not known to the potential plaintiff.  A quick look through a sample of City Council agendas from 1998 on suggests that those facts and circumstances are never disclosed, even in cases where it’s very clear that the potential plaintiff is quite aware of what those facts are (e.g. the murder of Gwendolyn Killings and the disagreement with Dan Dillman about the use of the Bal Theatre).

The disclosure of this information is very important for the public as it allows San Leandrans to keep a closer tab on how the City is fulfilling its legal obligations towards the community.  A plethora of circumstances that make litigation against the Police Department likely, suggests that there are serious troubles with that institution.  The City Attorney’s judgement that the City may be sued for employment discrimination or Brown Act violations, will shine some light into what’s going on at City Hall.  Litigation is also very expensive, so it behooves the public to keep a close eye on what the City is doing to bring about lawsuits against it.

I find this pattern of violations of Open Meeting laws to be very disturbing.    I can only hope that they will be addressed immediately by our City Officials.  I will keep you posted of any response I receive.


* I sent my initial e-mail to Mayor Stephen Cassidy, City Council Members Michael Gregory, Ursula Reed, Diana Souza, Joyce Starosciak, Pauline Cutter and Jim Prola, City Attorney Jayne Williams, Community Relations Representative Kathy Ornelas and City Clerk Marian Handa.  Handa responded to that message, also copying City Manager Chris Zapata and Assistant City Manager Lianne Marshall.

** Minutes and/or audio from meetings from January 2011 on can be found at