Watchdog jury finds fault with water rate increase, hospital
By Amy Sylvestri • San Leandro Times
The Alameda County Civil Grand Jury recently made its annual report, finding fault with how water rates were raised, among other conclusions.
The Grand Jury acts as a watchdog and investigates various public authorities, then releases a report each summer.
Each year the grand jury convenes to look into anything from the board of education, to county welfare programs, to the deal that brought the Raiders back to Oakland.
This year, the grand jury’s major findings included that the East Bay Municipal Utilities District did not adequately explain why it needed water rake hikes that totaled almost 20 percent and that a local hospital district was in violation of the Brown Act.
There are 21 volunteer jurors who serve for a year. Currently, two jurors are from San Leandro.
The 2013-2014 jury consulted with Deputy District Attorney Robert Warren this year, who said that many people aren’t aware of how the Grand Jury functions.
“The law basically states that the Grand Jury can examine any local public authority,” said Warren. “The jury meets and develops a report and each report then goes to the Superior Court and to the public agency, who then must respond within 90 days.”
After the response, it’s up to the agency or its governing board whether to act on the grand jury’s recommendations.
The grand jury’s duties include bookkeeping for public expenditures and non-profits that work with the county, the inspection of conditions of jails, and looking into any charges of misconduct by public officials and employees.
“It’s up to the grand jury what they want to discuss each year,” said Warren. “We often get tips from the public or anonymous tips as to what should be looked into.”
Here’s a summary of some of the jury’s findings for the 2013-2014 session:
• The East Bay Municipal Utilities District was “not sufficiently transparent in its efforts to justify the recent rate increase to the public.” The Grand Jury said that EBMUD should have explained the need for the rate hike better and televised their public meetings.
• The Grand Jury found that the Washington Hospital Health Care District violated the Brown Act by failing to be transparent in public meetings and not making meeting packets available to the public or report matters discussed in closed session.
The jury also found that the district had a potential conflict of interest wherein district funds were awarded to a non-profit organization that employed the district CEO’s spouse.
“Despite numerous public complaints over the years concerning the district’s lack of openness, it continues to fall short of its obligation to the public to conduct business in an open and transparent manner, as befitting a public agency,” the grand jury wrote.
• The Grand Jury surveyed each city in the county as well as other public agencies about employee benefits and pensions and whether the cities’ pension funds were fully funded.
City pensions are run by CalPERS, which invests in the stock market. All current retirees have their pensions funded, but CalPERS depends on the stock market going up to fund the retirement of current employees.
San Leandro reported that 74.3 percent is funded, which would be the value of investment assets if they were sold today at market rate.
The City of Dublin reported that they were 85 percent funded, Alameda County employees’ pensions are 73.9 percent funded, and AC Transit pensions are 62. 8 percent funded currently.
Your Pension Is Just Fine... Until the Stock Market Flips Over
The way CalPERS works, the public would be on the hook to fund the difference if the stock market fell though, since pensions are guaranteed.
Each city reported that they were making the required contributions to CalPERS. The jury made no recommendation to change these policies
• A tip from the public said that the Alameda County Library system was spending too much money on employee travel expenses, but the grand jury looked at the cost and said it was justified.
• The City of Oakland needs a more solid definition of towing policies and more oversight and better record keeping on how and why vehicles are towed, the jury said.
• The City of Oakland also needs to improve its tree clipping policy and billing for fire protection. The city has potentially lost $1.4 million in un-recovered fees and fines from fire abatement in addition to the potential fire danger.
The full Grand Jury report and information about serving on the jury or leaving a tip for the jury to investigate is available at www.alameda.courts.ca.gov.