San Leandro

Jun 182011

Martin A. Francis

San Leandro is not a rich town.  Unlike other cities we don’t have museums, art galleries or even a French restaurant, but we do have a vexillologist all of our own.  On June 11th, Martin A. Francis was proclaimed by the City Council as San Leandro’s official vexillologist.  The Council  also proclaimed June 14, 2011 to be “Martin A. Francis” day.

Mr. Francis is an 84-year-old retired school custodian with a special and interest for the American flag.  He has coordinated the city’s Flag Day celebrations for 35 years and given countless presentations on the flag at local schools, churches, libraries and community organizations.  In 2004 he received the Mayor’s Award of Excellence.

Congratulations to Mr. Francis!

Update. Martin Francis passed away on Sept. 23, 2011.   Read and comment on his obituary.

Jun 172011

San Leandro is a diverse town.  The latest census numbers show that there about equal numbers of whites, Asians and Latinos in town, African-Americans making another 11% of the population.  You will see this wonderful diversity when you visit our schools, our public library, our parks or community festivities.  You will not see it, however, at City Hall.

Last Monday the City Council carried out a work session on the issue of racial diversity in the city’s workforce.  The city’s Human Resources consultant, Steve Harman,  and the Chief Police, Sandra Spagnoli, both gave very brief presentations about diversity in their departments.  The data they brought was scant but telling.  Sixty one percent of the total City workforce and 62% of the Police force is white.

These numbers, moreover, don’t tell us about the type of jobs held by members of racial minorities in San Leandro.  Are blacks and Latinos working for the city as accountants and public work specialists, or as street cleaners and gardeners? City Hall needs to make this clear.  We do know, however, that there are very few minorities at the upper echelon of city government and that 71% of the last 14 people hired at the city (which included the Chief of Police and the Finance Director) are white.

The situation at the Police Department may be even grimmer.  While Spagnoli did not disclose the number of minority sworn officers, Mike Sobek, the head of the San Leandro Police Officers Association,  spoke during public comments and mentioned that (out of the 90 or so sworn officers) only two are black and two Latino (including himself).  There doesn’t seem to be any Asians.  They did say that 13% of officers are female, while the number might look low it is better than the national average of 8% or so.

Fortunately both Chief Spagnoli and Sobek seem to understand the real importance of diversifying the force.  Spagnoli told the Council that Police forces must reflect the ethnic diversity of the communities they serve, and she’s making changes in the recruitment and promotion process at the SLPD to accomplish this goal.  Spagnoli also wants to get more officers that are bilingual, have college education, special training and live in San Leandro.   Applications for SLPD positions will now be accepted in an ongoing basis, allowing the SLPD to build a richer application pool.  It would help this process, however, if the SLPD posted job openings on their website.  Promotions to sergeant positions will no longer be based entirely on an interview with police higher ups, but on objective criteria as well, and require people from outside the SLPD in the interview panel.  This latter change comes as part of the settlement agreement with the female officers who sued the city for sexual discrimination.

During public comments, Sobek spoke of the need to not just open the process to minority applicants but to specifically recruit them.  He suggested the Police go to colleges with diverse student populations and suggest law enforcement careers to students who might not have considered them before.  Having a Police force which is diverse not only ethnically, but ideologically would likely help in establishing good relations with the community as a whole.

Sobek had many very positive things to say about Spagnoli – in particular he spoke eloquently about how she’s helping the force gain a sense of focus and purpose.  It seems she’s really bringing a level of professionalism the force was lacking.  From the outside, it’s difficult to know how she’s handling the “rotten apple” problems within the SLPD, and as head of the Police Union Sobek is not an unbiased observer, but his words of praise for Spagnoli seemed heartfelt and I’m hoping they reflect a commitment within the SLPD hierarchy and union to create a police force with is both clean and committed to the community they serve.

Back at City Hall, the idea of diversifying the workforce seems to be new and novel at the City management level.  While recruitment of individual positions varies, it seems clear that the city has not done anything to promote job openings among minority populations.  The city does not even advertise its jobs in places like Craigslist, preferring to use the San Leandro Times and its own website.   The City Council, however, seems to be listening to the tolling of the bells and sent the message that they want a more open process.   The Council’s real commitment to diversity will actually be tested in their choice of a new city manager.  Signs so far are encouraging, last month they started the city manager hiring process anew when they couldn’t find a suitable candidate with a good understanding of diversity issues.


Jun 132011

SLPD officers involved in fatal shooting identified.

Anthony Morgan and Ryan Gill have record of police brutality.

The arrest of San Leandro Police Officer Jason Fredriksson for furnishing marijuana to a confidential informant with whom he was having an affair has put the San Leandro Police Department (SLPD) in the spotlight. In its wake, there have been several allegations of misconduct by Fredriksson and other San Leandro police officers. The SLPD has responded with its usual wall of silence and the City Council continues to look the other way. It’s hard to know how deep the problems at the SLPD are, but it’s becoming more and more clear than the Fredriksson case may be the tip of the iceberg.

Gwendolyn Killings

In late December 2010, a San Leandro police officer shot to death Gwendolyn Killings, an African-American woman from Hayward. Killings was driving a car that had been reported stolen earlier in the day; SLPD officers spotted it and chased it until it crashed just after the Oakland border, near the San Leandro city limits. The passenger got out of the car and fled. The two officers got out of their own car;  one officer chased the escaping passenger while the other approached the stopped car. That officer shot and killed Killings while she was in the car. The police would later say that the officer was afraid Killings would put the car in reverse and hit his partner. However, witnesses said the car was boxed in and couldn’t go anywhere. The SLPD has not disputed that account. The case is being investigated by the Oakland police as the shooting happened in Oakland, but no report has been released so far.

The Oakland Police, however, have released documents identifying Ryan Gill and Anthony Morgan as the two SLPD officers involved in the incident. We don’t know at this point which officer shot Killings but both officers have a history of allegations of police misconduct that should concern anyone interested in having a clean police department.

San Leandro Police Officer Ryan Gill

Ryan Gill, 33, is an affable and well-liked officer. He was named San Leandro Officer of the year in April 2011 and is admired for his broad knowledge and as a mentor of younger officers. He started his police career in the Oakland Police Department and was there for 7 years – which casts doubts on how  objectively Oakland PD will investigate their former colleague. In 2003, Gill shot to death an unarmed man. Gill and his partner entered the apartment of the victim while he was sleeping, woke him up and claim they were trying to restraint him when he struggled and tried to get Gill’s gun. Both Gill and his partner shot him. The City of Oakland settled the ensuing lawsuit. In another lawsuit settled by Oakland, Gill was accused of beating a man while arresting him. In a third incident, Gill walked out of a review board conduct hearing where he was to be questioned about a charge of falsely arresting a teenager after his partner ram a car into him.

San Leandro Police Officer Anthony Morgan

Gill’s partner, Anthony Morgan, has spent less time in the press but probably just as much in the courtroom. A quick search of the district court’s database shows two recent lawsuits against Morgan for police brutality. One was settled, but the other one is still open.

Unfortunately, the Killings shooting has not been the only recent killing at the hands of San Leandro Police. In 2005, SLPD officers tasered a man to death; the city settled that lawsuit for nearly $400,000. And Morgan is far from being the only SLPD officer with a history of brutality. Tricia Hynes, the lawyer most often appointed by Meyers Nave to represent the city in litigation, boasts on her webpage of how – thanks to her representation – the City of San Leandro only had to pay a few hundred thousand dollars in damages to seven plaintiffs who were beaten by a dozen SLPD officers while searching a home during a 4th of July party. She is even prouder of another case in which the brutal beating of an unarmed man by SLPD officers only cost the city $20,000.

Gill was hired by then-Police Chief Dale Attarian, an old-style San Leandro cop during whose tenure the City was subjected to multiple lawsuits for civil rights violations, sexual harassment and discrimination and police brutality. Attarian was hired by former City Manager John Jermanis, himself a product of the old-all-white-boys network that ruled San Leandro for decades. Jermanis’ hand-picked successor, Steve Hollister, was a former policeman and did not keep a close eye on the SLPD. Under both men, SPLD officers learned that they could do as they pleased with almost no risk of consequences.

SLPD Chief Sandra Spagnoli

It’s a new day in town, however. Sandra Spagnoli was recently hired as Police Chief with the express purpose of reforming the department – at least ridding it of its culture of sexual harassment. It is too soon to know whether she’ll undertake real, rather than purely cosmetic reforms. So far the indications are mixed – Spagnoli investigated the allegations against Fredriksson, but only after an independent witness had contacted multiple authorities with his accusations. Spagnoli has done nothing to discipline the handler of a police dog that got loose and killed another dog earlier in the year – and Gill was named “officer of the year” after Spagnoli became Chief.

San Leandro needs more than a perhaps-well-intentioned Chief of Police to clean up the Police Department of any criminality or maverick behavior by its officers. It needs elected officials willing to tackle the issue of the police head on. This is hard, because politicians usually kowtow to the police union in order to get their support during elections – Council members Ursula Reed and Joyce Starosciak, in particular, have relied on heavy police support for their campaigns. Starosciak herself is married to an Alameda County Deputy Sheriff.   However, even the strongest police advocates should note that a department that allows criminal behavior and abuse by its members tarnishes both the city and the institution of the police itself.

The City of San Leandro needs to do two things to nip this problem in the bud. One is to appoint a strong City Manager with experience dealing with insubordinate Police Departments. The other is to form a Citizens Police Oversight Commission (aka Review Board) to evaluate complaints of police misconduct, help set hiring practices and discipline standards and act as a liaison with the community. Currently, the city of Oakland is considering following San Francisco in getting private citizens to investigate allegations of Police misconduct, we might want to look into that as well. While Police Officers are protected by an incredibly generous bill of rights, a Citizens Commission could at least identify systematic problems within the police department and push for their resolution.

The question is whether the City Council has the political will to push for a meaningful review of what’s really going on at the Police Department, or whether the powers-that-be in San Leandro will just hope that the community forgets about the recent incidents and pray that there are no big scandals during their term of office.

Jun 112011

The California Citizens Redistricting Commission seems to have listened to us, and is keeping San Leandro whole in the new district maps.  However, they’re cutting our long association with Hayward and we will now be bunched with Oakland/Alameda for both the California Assembly and Senate districts.  This means that from a practical point of view it’s unlikely that any San Leandran politician will be able to be elected to the California Legislature – Oakland politicians are not only better known, but they are able to tap into deeper pockets for campaign contributions. But candidates for state office will still have to pay attention to San Leandro and our particular issues if they want our votes.  It’s not the ideal situation, we’d have more political clout if we were part of a district that included Hayward, but it’s better than the alternative of being cut in two, as the earlier maps suggested.

Sandre Swanson, who represents the 16th Assembly district that currently includes Oakland, will be termed out and several city council members from Oakland and Alameda are expected to run for his seat in 2012.  I’m sure we’ll be seeing them around these parts soon.   As for the Senate, we’ll be in a district that will now include both our current Senator, San Leandro native Ellen Corbett, and Loni Hancock of Berkeley.   At this point it’s impossible to know who will be our state senator come 2012.  Depending on what number the Redistricting Commission assigns to that senate district, there may be an election for that senate seat in 2012 or a senator may be appointed to the seat until 2014.

San Leandro will not be lumped with Oakland in the new Congressional district (sorry Barbara Lee fans), but rather we will be part of a new district that goes as far south as northern Fremont/Newark and that includes of all Livermore and areas further to the east. This is an area currently represented in congress by both Pete Stark and Jerry McNerney.  Stark is one of the most liberal members of Congress, while McNerney is a somewhat conservative Democrat.  This new district will be heavily Democrat, but with a strong conservative base.   It’s difficult to know what will happen if this district map is finalized.  Stark could chose to run against McNerney in a primary, or against Zoe Lofgren, who will take over the southern part of Fremont/Newark that Stark currently represents.  More likely, he’ll chose to retire. He’s 80 years old and in ill health, and still has a young family he could spend his last years with.   Ellen Corbett has expressed interest in running for Congress before, and she may be willing to confront McNerney in a primary election.  Indeed, this may be her only if not best chance to continue in politics.

Of course, the maps issued today are the first draft.  The Redistricting Commission will continue hearing testimony and may redraw the maps based on that.  For that reason, I think it’s still important to continue writing to the Commission and asking them to make sure that San Leandro is kept together in the final maps.

Jun 092011

There is talk around town that San Leandro School Board President, Morgan Mack-Rose, may challenge District 2 Council Member Ursula Reed in the November 2012 elections.   Mack-Rose will neither confirm or deny the rumor.

Both women ran very good campaigns back in 2008 (full disclosure, I actively helped Mack-Rose with her campaign for School Board) – Reed defeated former Council Member and then-current School Board Member Linda Perry, while Mack-Rose easily won over incumbent School Board president Ray Davis.   Both women were new to politics and ran mostly grass roots campaigns, though Reed also benefited from backing by Police, Firefighters, labor and businesses.

Ursula Reed

In recent years, though, Reed has been losing some of her support.   She has developed an inconsistent voting record and has not seemed fully prepared at some City Council meetings.  More importantly, she has shown little leadership despite her recent role as Vice Mayor; I can’t think of a single initiative she has spearheaded.   Personally, I’ve been disappointed with her votes in favor of red-light cameras, action minutes and going forward with the Faith Fellowship case, though I’ve applauded her vote against a permanent ban on medical marijuana dispensaries in San Leandro.

Morgan Mack-Rose

Mack-Rose, meanwhile, has strong progressive credentials and a reputation for dedication and hard work.  While her interests so far have been in schools, her recent appearance at an Education Rally shows her to be an inspiring speaker and practical thinker, which gives her great political potential.   Winning against Reed would be difficult, incumbents tend to win by large margins in San Leandro, but Cassidy showed that it could be done last November and Mack-Rose like challenges.

Still, only time will tell if the rumors are true and if Reed has anything to worry about.