Stephen Cassidy

Stephen Cassidy is the current Mayor of San Leandro. He was elected in 2010 and is expected to run for re-election in 2014. He is a partner at a large class-action law firm, but specializes in public relations.

Cassidy has, overall, been an absent an ineffective mayor. His major focus was on bringing pension reform to San Leandro. He campaigned on a platform of forcing city employees to pay their own share of pension contributions, and thus saving the City $3M a year. While he managed to get the employees to agree to pay their share, they did so in exchange for raises of an equal amount, leaving the City with higher payroll tax obligations but no actual savings.

Cassidy has also been frequently criticized on this blog for his attempts to do away with transparency of City operations. He did away with minutes from City Council meetings, so that now the only way of knowing what was said at a meeting is to listen to the audio recording. The recordings are of such bad quality that they don’t work with transcription software. Cassidy has also consistently violated the Brown Act and, under his administration, the City has started to also violate the California Public Records Act.

Cassidy’s administration has been plagued by examples of Police corruption and abuse, including the conviction of an SLPD narcotics officer for selling drugs to an informant, the persecution of men thought to be seeking homosexual encounters near a public park, the killing of an unarmed mentally-ill man and the growth in surveillance of citizens. Cassidy has a been a big supporter of the Chief of Police and advocated that she be given a large race and multi-year contract.

Cassidy is also criticized for his lack of leadership, his inability to forge friendly relations with City, community and political leaders, and the lack of time and concern he spends on the City.

On the plus side, Cassidy is significantly more intelligent and somewhat less petty than former Mayor Tony Santos, whom he defeated in 2010.

Mar 132014

gavelAt the next closed-session meeting of the City Council, the Council will be briefed on a number of lawsuits against the City making their way through the court system.  While they are not the totality of the lawsuits affecting the City, it’s useful for citizens to know what their City’s legal team is spending taxpayer money fighting.

Police Abuse Lawsuits

Parker vs. City of San Leandro & San Leandro Police Department
Police Victimizes Crime Victim

A man was a victim of road rage, so he went home and called the SLPD. When the police came, they found him on his porch talking to a friend.  So what did the Police officer do? Take a report, you say? Why no, of course, not, this is San Leandro.  Instead Police officer Ann O’Callaghan parked across the street, drew her gun, called the plaintiff over and handcuffed and searched him.  Only then he was allowed to file a report. Also involved in this case, was SLPD officer John Kritikos.

The City’s defense? A bunch of affirmative defenses, including “assumption of risk”.  Apparently, if you call the Police to report a crime against you, you consent to being handcuffed and manhandled.

slpdbadgeUnfortunately, there have been several incidents like this one, where a witness or victim calls the Police, and they end up becoming the victims of police abuse.  I reported on a similar case last year, and two more people reported similar experiences on my Facebook page.

McDougall v. Rite Aid Corp., City of San Leandro
Women spent night in jail after trying to get a prescription filled

This is a lawsuit against Rite Aid on McArthur by a couple of patients who brought a prescription for a controlled substance. For whatever reason, the pharmacists thought it was fake or stolen and they called the police. The patients were arrested, spent the night in jail, had to post bail and one even lost her permit to drive an ambulance. It turned out, however, that the prescription was real. The plaintiffs are suing Rite Aid and SLPD, the latter for false arrest.

So, what can we learn from this? First, use the Rite Aid pharmacy at your own risk. Seriously, prescriptions usually come with the Doctor’s telephone number. If the pharmacist suspected something was wrong, they could have called the doctor. Instead, they subjected two innocent women to jail and more due to their own incompetence and even malice. I don’t shop there often, but now I’m just going to avoid it.

But SLPD is just as much to blame. They, too, could have called the prescribing doctor. If they couldn’t get a hold of him, they could have gotten the women’s information, and arrested them once they confirmed the prescription was false.  Instead, their defense is: the pharmacists told us that it was fake, and we believed them.  Ace investigators, there.

Lawrence Williams v. City of San Leandro
Police searches car without probable cause

Early in 2013, the plaintiff was driving near the border with Oakland when he was stopped by SLPD.  An officer told him he was stopped for “moving in his car”. The officers asked him to step out and asked him if he had any drugs or guns, the plaintiff said he didn’t.  Officers proceeded to search the car, even though they had no probable cause for doing so and the dispatcher told them that while the plaintiff was on probation, there was no search clause.  The SLPD officers took the plaintiff’s ID, and did not return it.

Fortunately for the City, the plaintiff has filed this pro se and doesn’t seem to know what he is doing.  I say fortunately, because the judge made it clear that the plaintiff would have to show that it was the City’s policy to violate people’s rights in this way, in order to prevail against the City itself.  A lawyer may very well be able to do so. AFter all, the SLPD itself has issued press release after press release that indicate that a car was stopped and searched with no probable cause.

Who knows, maybe a lawyer will read this and reach out to the plaintiff.

The case is 4:2013cv02302 filed in CA northern district court.

Clean The Drain! Lawsuit

Finch v. City of San Leandro

This case concerns a downhill storm drain that goes through the plaintiff’s property. The plaintiff says the City is responsible for maintaining it, but it hasn’t been doing so, so it gets plugged and the overflow from the drain flows into the plaintiff’s property.

It seems the city has two choices: it can clear the damn drain or it can engage in an expensive lawsuit to find out whether it has the legal obligation of clearing it or not. What has the city chosen to do? Fight it in court, of course.

This is the type of thing for which I think we require clear answers from our politicians.  I’ve asked Mayor Stephen Cassidy to tell us how much it would cost to keep that drain (or even all drains in public property) in San Leandro unplugged, and how much it has cost to fight this case in court for now over two years.  He responded that I should find the information myself – apparently, he doesn’t know or care to find out.

Slip-And-Fall Lawsuits

Two of the lawsuits concern falls due to badly maintained sidewalks. Alas, they both seem to be in private property.

Last year, the City settled a slip-and-fall lawsuit regarding a faulty sidewalk for $5K, but only after litigating it in court for over a year.  The legal costs are probably many times that of the settlement.

We Need Social Workers, Not Police Lawsuit

The last lawsuit the Council will consider, filed last December, is more interesting for its social aspects than its legal merit.   First of all it serves as a reminder that nobody should file a lawsuit without having someone who is able to read/write High-School level English, read it over. As it’s written, it’s pretty much incomprehensible.

But the documents filed with the lawsuit – which are confidential and shouldn’t have been entered into the record, and for that reason I’m not linking to the lawsuit -, also speak about the failure of our educational system to identify children with mental disabilities, and of our social welfare system to provide needed support to families with such children.

The case will be dismissed, most likely, the social problems remain.

Also in the Legal Pipeline

– A liability claim filed by Guy Dilling form the Santos Robinson Mortuary against the City, I’m filing a CPRA request to find out what it’s about.

– The Heron Bay HOA vs. City of San Leandro case has been taken under submission, and a decision is expected by late April.

Ilmberger VS City of San Leandro Apparently, in early 2013, the roots of a city-owned tree blocked the City-owned sewer line on Graff Ave., making the sewage from the plaintiff’s lateral line back up into their home.

– City apparently just won an appeal on a case where a paving company had sued it because it wasn’t awarded the contract .


Feb 062014
Emergency Services Director Renee Domingo speaking to the City Council

Emergency Services Director Renee Domingo speaking to the City Council

City employees in Oakland and San Leandro appear to live and work by the motto “it’s better to beg for forgiveness than to ask for permission.”  While most city councils rubber stamp whatever proposals city staff puts before them – an easier task than actually reading and analyzing long and boring reports -, some proposals are so clearly contrary to the public benefit that they are not politically tenable for council members to knowingly pass.  In those situations, staff – most assuredly with the blessing of the City Manager/Administrator – may give the Council an “edited” version of the facts behind it.   Whether the purpose is to deceive council members or provide them with plausible deniability can be discerned by how the member react once the true facts are uncovered.

Oakland city staff’s quest to build the Domain Awareness Center (DAC), a facility that would centralize the feeds from hundreds of cameras and license plate readers throughout the City, is a perfect example of how this works.  Internal e-mails obtained through the California Public Records Act make it clear that the actual purpose of the DAC is to track and subvert the activities of political protesters and labor activists in the city and port of Oakland. However, in public meetings, both staff and Councilmembers have only referred to the alleged crime-fighting uses of the DAC.   Finally, at the last meeting of the Council’s  Public Safety Committee,  Emergency Services Director Renee Domingo, who has spearheaded Oakland’s DAC project, was forced to admit that there is no data showing that existing DACs in other cities have helped to either reduce or solve crimes.

While there might be some room for argument about whether misleading the Council as to the purpose for the DAC is actually “lying”, it is absolutely clear that Ms Domingo deceived the Council about Science Applications International (SAIC)the company that was hired to build the DAC.    SAIC is a large military contractor which, among other things, works in the development, building and deployment of nuclear weapons.  Under Oakland’s 1988 anti-nuclear ordinance, the City cannot award contracts to any company that is involved with nuclear weapons.   Internal e-mails show that Domingo was aware that this was a problem in February 2013, but she didn’t mention anything about it to the City Council and the Council indeed went on and hired SAIC to build the first phrase of the project.  According to Domingo, she first heard about SAIC’s non-compliance in August,when activists brought it up – but that’s contradicted by the e-mails alluded to above.

Domingo is now proposing that the Council contract with called Schneider Electric to build phase II of the DAC. A simple google search of “Schneider Electric” and “nuclear weapons” leads to marketing materials from the company where it describes one of its main applications a being “nuclear weapons handling systems.”  It’s still unknown whether Domingo failed to do her due diligence or just hoped that activists wouldn’t find out.

No member of the Oakland City Council has held staff accountable for deceiving  them and for having the City knowingly enter into a contract that violated the City’s own laws.  Councilmember Dan Kalb campaigned on “restoring trust in City Hall“, and yet he has meekly accepted staff’s unethical behavior seemingly without a second thought.   While Kalb is not for re-election, his colleague Libby Schaaf, who has also failed to question staff over their duplicity, is running for Mayor of Oakland.  Her “no need for accountability” attitude is echoed by incumbent Mayor Jean Quan.

Things are no better in San Leandro.  Chief of Police Sandra Spagnoli routinely gives the City Council information that she knows to be false.  She has lied about things as easy to verify as the number of license plate scanners the Department has and the effects of realignment in the City.  But she also gave the Council false information about marijuana, the number of complaints they get about chickens and the dangers of overpollination.  A few months ago, the City had to settle a lawsuit brought by men after the Chief issued a press release falsely accusing them of attempting to engage in public homosexual sex.

Not only does the Chief routinely lie to the City Council, but she has also broken the law.  In 2012, the Chief was caught using Police Department staff and resources to get citizens to lobby the City Council against a proposed marijuana dispensary.  That violates both the San Leandro Municipal Code and the California Government Code.  Though City Council members are well aware of the Chief’s unlawful attempt to manipulate the democratic process, they have not called her on it.  This year, both Mayor Stephen Cassidy and Councilmember Pauline Cutter are running for re-election.

The Chief is not the only “truth impaired” member of staff in San Leandro.  When City staff decided to change the Zoning Code as a tactic in a pending lawsuit, city they explained the change as being a “routine update of the code” and only acknowledged the actual motive behind it after citizens like me brought it up repeatedly at public meetings.  After the acknowledgement, Mayor Stephen Cassidy made some noise about being more open with the community in the future, but did not take staff to task for their repeated attempts at deception.

It’s difficult to know what we can do to restore ethics and accountability in City Hall – both in San Leandro and in Oakland.  Electing the right people has to be part of the solution, but candidates with integrity are few and far between.   My strategy – exposing bad behavior at City Hall -, has seldom been an impetus for change.  Is local democracy just broken and, if so, can it be fixed?

Jan 152014
Diana Souza

Diana Souza

And, more importantly, “Can she win?”

San Leandro City Council member Diana Souza is playing the old “will I, won’t I” game vis a vis running for Mayor.

On the one hand, she has been seeking the endorsement of highly placed Democrats. On the other hand, when asked in so many words whether she’s running for Mayor, she’s denied it.

While it’s likely that what she is doing is trying to assess whether she can garner enough political support to mount a credible challenge to Mayor Stephen Cassidy, she hurts her credibility by not being straight about it.  If she does decide to run, that lack of honesty may come to haunt her.

Mayor Stephen Cassidy is profoundly disliked by Central Labor and, by extension, by many powerful elements in the Democratic party.  Souza may feel she can exploit this vulnerability.  However, Souza’s right wing ideology – she has opposed everything from urban farming to marijuana dispensaries to even discussing services for the homeless, while pushing for restricting civil liberties in town – is not likely to be well received within Democratic circles.  Souza’s insistence that the flag of the People’s Republic of China be flown over City Hall, also suggest that she has very poor political instincts.   Anyone endorsing Souza does so at their own peril.

Souza’s greatest problem, however, is that she is not actually a viable candidate for Mayor.  Not only does she not have a base (though she will lean heavily on Benny Lee‘s connections within the Chinese community), but she has accomplished nothing in the seven years she has served in City Council.  She ran with the single purpose of building a competitive swimming pool in San Leandro, but was unable to get this done due to opposition by the public. who wanted WW funds spent on a variety of projects.   Since then, she’s had no initiatives and has served as a vote for the Police Department.

Souza also suffers from a lack of campaign experience.  She ran in 2006 against Julian Polvorosa., an elderly barber and former Council member who had been pushed to run by former colleagues and showed no desire to actually be elected.  Souza did a good job of putting signs around town and getting relatives to drop off some fliers, but didn’t need to create the grass root organization that pushed Cassidy into his 2010 win.  She ran for re-election unopposed.

Souza will likely receive the support of the Police Union if she runs for Mayor.  However, that is a double-edged sword in San Leandro.  While she can expect thousands of dollars from them, police support of former Mayor Tony Santos was likely a key reason for why he lost the race.  Indeed, current Councilmember Jim Prola blames news stories about Police Union contributions to his campaign for loosing him votes at the polls.   She is also likely to have the support of the city employee union, but that will just remind voters of how she has put employee’s interests above those of taxpayers..

Her biggest problem, however, is that whatever dissatisfaction there is in San Leandro with Cassidy, extends to the Council as well.  For example, she – along with Cassidy – voted to have the major downtown property sold to a developer for a fraction of its value, so as to be occupied by a drugstore that already has two branches downtown.  She has also voted to give the Police Chief and City manager raises, while complaining there is no money for city services.  Making a case that she’s any better than Cassidy will be tough.

Her candidacy, however, could precipitate another candidate jumping into the race.  Any votes she takes from Cassidy, could help a non-establishment candidate take the plunge.

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.