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Disabled inmates suffer in shift to county jails

October 8, 2012, 12:05 AM | Shoshana Walter, California Watch


One day in March, a blind man was booked into the San Bernardino County jail.

A parole violator, he could see only four inches in front of his face. At the West Valley Detention Center, according to his account, deputies assigned him the upper bunk in a cell at the top of a tall staircase. “The deputy laughed at me and told me I could see just fine,” he recounted. Several days later, he missed a step and, flailing for a handrail, tumbled down the steel staircase. When he returned from the hospital in a wheelchair, deputies confiscated it. 

The blind prisoner’s account, dictated to an attorney, is one of dozens of complaints cited in a federal lawsuit alleging that the state violated the rights of disabled prisoners by not ensuring they would receive adequate care in county jails. The San Bernardino Sheriff's Department did not respond to requests for comment.

The debate over the state’s responsibility for disabled prisoners has taken on increasing importance as the state shifts the burden of housing many thousands of inmates onto the counties in a policy euphemistically known as “realignment.”


The state, facing a federal court mandate to shrink its prison population, enacted the Public Safety Realignment Act last year, flooding county jails with felons, nonviolent offenders and parolees who have been rearrested...

SF police told to follow law on entering residences

October 8, 2012, 12:05 AM | Shoshana Walter, The Bay Citizen

Jerome Scholler/Shutterstock

After a mentally ill man was shot and killed by a police officer inside his residential hotel room, the San Francisco Police Department has clarified its policy on entering homes: All residents, including those living in hotels, have the same privacy rights.

Amid little fanfare, Police Chief Greg Suhr admonished the officer and issued a training memo to the department that outlines the law. The memo states that officers are allowed to enter a residence only when there is an immediate safety threat, to prevent the destruction of evidence, when the officers are in hot pursuit of a suspect or if the residence is a crime scene.

Officers also are allowed to enter with a resident’s consent, with a warrant, to provide emergency medical assistance or if the resident’s probation or parole conditions permit searches. After the memo was distributed in July, officers were required to sign a statement that they had read and understood it.

“Members are reminded that individuals have an expectation of privacy in their residences,” Suhr wrote. “Tenants of hotels, including single room occupancy hotels, possess the same constitutional rights and protections related to law enforcement entry into their...

Armstrong's blood data shows signs of doping, expert says

October 8, 2012, 12:05 AM | Lance Williams and Matt Smith, California Watch

Brad Camembert/Shutterstock Lance Armstrong in 2011 

Cyclist Lance Armstrong’s recent fall from grace has been portrayed in books and news accounts as a thriller featuring teammate betrayals, motorcycle drug couriers and secret blood transfusions.

But as the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency prepares to release an evidence dossier detailing its reasons for stripping the cycling star of seven Tour de France titles, the most compelling evidence might be found in dry data drawn from tests of Armstrong’s blood chemistry, a world-renowned doping expert says.

Michael Ashenden, an Australian scientist who helped create a test for the blood-doping substance EPO, told California Watch that an analysis of blood samples drawn in 2009, contained in an earlier court filing, suggests that Armstrong was recklessly using banned doping methods in an effort to win the Tour de France one more time. He finished third that year.

The tipoff, Ashenden said in an interview and follow-up email, is found in three weeks’ worth of telltale readings in Armstrong’s so-called “biological passport,” a log of blood...

Navy's Treasure Island radiation report found wanting

October 5, 2012, 6:51 PM | Matt Smith, The Bay Citizen

Michael Short/The Bay Citizen A fenced-off residential area on Treasure Island warns of possible radioactivity left behind by the U.S. Navy. 

Recent U.S. Navy explanations for widespread readings of radioactivity on the former Treasure Island Naval Station don’t adequately explore the possibility that the base might have been dusted for years with radioactive ash, soaked with radioactive sewage and contaminated by radioactive garbage, California health regulators said today.

The response addressed an Aug. 6 draft report by the Navy, which was aimed at assuaging concerns about the base’s history of radioactive material. It detailed possible sources, including devices used to train sailors for nuclear war. It also described ship repair operations that occurred during an era when vessels frequently returned to the San Francisco Bay from Pacific atomic tests.

The Navy’s report is part of the process of turning the military land over to the city of San Francisco, which has approved construction of 8,000 homes there...

Mixed results for legislation linked to medical care, fraud

October 5, 2012, 12:05 AM | Christina Jewett, California Watch

Neon Tommy/Flickr Gov. Jerry Brown 

In the week following Gov. Jerry Brown's deadline for passing or vetoing hundreds of bills, those affected are examining successes and defeats that touch on cancer care, emergency rooms, prescribing, elder care and compensation to victims of corporate fraud.

Those celebrating include a group of elder advocates who sought more autonomy for the state’s elder care ombudsman. Another group of patients was disappointed, though, seeing Brown veto a bill that would have lowered the price of pills that fight cancer, bringing them in line with the cost of IV infusion treatments.

One of the bills that Brown vetoed would have changed payments related to emergency room care. The bill stemmed from a Feb. 24 legislative hearing that focused on emergency room and billing practices of Prime Healthcare. Critics have claimed the hospital chain is inflating costs through its emergency room and billing practices...

Consumer group fighting insurance rates draws fire

October 5, 2012, 12:05 AM | Will Evans, California Watch

Consumer Watchdog Campaign/Flickr California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones (far right) and Consumer Watchdog leaders deliver signatures for a health insurance measure in May. 

A consumer group that has reaped millions of dollars in fees from insurance companies thanks to a state initiative it wrote is facing a new wave of criticism from Democratic and Republican political consultants and lawmakers.

Critics note that the advocacy group, Consumer Watchdog, profits from the special insurance regulation process it not only created, but dominates. The consultants argue that the group is trying once again to use a ballot initiative to generate more revenue.

“It’s one of the all-time great scams,” said Republican consultant Rob Stutzman, who is working with an opposition research firm but wouldn’t say who is paying for the effort.

Other consumer advocates defend the system and the group.

"Insurance companies do not like effective advocates," said Mark Savage, senior attorney for Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports...

New studies add fuel to concerns over BPA

October 4, 2012, 2:05 PM | Tia Ghose, California Watch

Steven Depolo/Flickr Bisphenol A, or BPA, is a chemical used in plastics, such as in the lining of food cans. 

A new UC San Diego study suggests that the byproducts of a chemical used in plastic found in the lining of cans may disrupt human hormone function more than the chemical itself.

The study, published today in PLOS ONE, may help explain why the chemical bisphenol A, or BPA, has been tied to many health problems even though the chemical doesn’t have a strong effect on cells in a Petri dish.

“We have a candidate chemical that is doing the nasty stuff, or the endocrine disruption," said study co-author and UCSD structural biologist Michael E. Baker. "We know that BPA exposure causes a lot of endocrine problems, but if you’re analyzing BPA in urine, you may not be analyzing the chemical that’s really doing the endocrine disruption...

'Parent trigger' law divides struggling school, community

October 4, 2012, 12:05 AM | Natasha Lindstrom, The Hechinger Report

David Pardo/Victorville Daily Press Desert Trails Elementary School Principal David Mobley (left) receives 465 signatures representing nearly 70 percent of students at the Adelanto, Calif., school. The signatures are part of the state’s “parent trigger” law to force dramatic overhauls at underperforming schools. 

Doreen Diaz left the red carpet movie premiere of “Won’t Back Down” in New York City last week feeling encouraged.

But then the 47-year-old mom, a key figure in the education movement that “inspired” the feature film, headed back to the tiny desert city of Adelanto, Calif., and her tract home near Desert Trails Elementary School. That’s where the real battle over the so-called “parent trigger” law drags on, with no tidy Hollywood ending in sight.

“The movie makes it look a lot easier than it really is,” said Diaz, who started drumming up support to overhaul her local public school more than a year ago...

SF juvenile detainees prefer to stay indoors, survey finds

October 4, 2012, 12:05 AM | Trey Bundy, The Bay Citizen

Jason Henry for The Bay Citizen A large outdoor recreation facility, built in San Francisco’s Juvenile Justice Center in 2006, has sat largely unused. 

Boys and girls confined in San Francisco’s juvenile hall might rather be elsewhere, but most aren’t in a hurry to go outside.

That is according to an anonymous survey of detainees at the city’s Juvenile Justice Center, where almost two-thirds of the young offenders said they don’t like outdoor recreation.

Of the survey’s 53 respondents, only 10 said they participated in outdoor exercise every day. When they did participate, nearly a third reported spending less than an hour outside.

The survey comes after months of debate between the San Francisco Youth Commission – which conducted the poll – and the Department of Juvenile Probation over whether detainees get enough fresh air, sunlight and exercise to satisfy state regulations. By law, detainees are entitled to one hour of outdoor “large-muscle” exercise each day.

“It’s pretty clear that young people are not getting their hour a day outdoors,” commission director Mario Yedidia said after reviewing the survey results. “The culture of the institution seems like it’s not really...

Sierra Club targets lawmaker who wants to restore Hetch Hetchy

October 3, 2012, 12:05 AM | Lance Williams, California Watch

Restore Hetch Hetchy photo Hetch Hetchy Valley before the dam

The Sierra Club is spending $625,000 to defeat a Republican lawmaker who has championed one of the environmental organization’s most cherished goals – draining the Hetch Hetchy reservoir in Yosemite National Park.

Campaign finance reports show that in September, the Sierra Club Independent Action super political action committee made several expenditures targeting U.S. Rep. Dan Lungren of Gold River, who is locked in a tight race against Democrat Dr. Ami Bera, an Elk Grove physician.

The club is paying for a hard-edged series of TV commercials and mailers in the Sacramento-area district. The ads accuse Lungren of “selling out California” and practicing “oily politics,” claiming he favors tax breaks for oil companies and offshore oil drilling.

Oddly, Lungren is one of a handful of officials who has backed the Sierra Club’s long campaign to breach the O’Shaughnessy Dam on the Tuolumne River and restore the Hetch Hetchy Valley in the Sierra Nevadas. Sierra Club founder John Muir wrote that the 8-mile-long alpine valley was almost as beautiful as Yosemite itself. It was inundated 89...

Veto pits charter school autonomy against reduced-price meals

October 3, 2012, 12:05 AM | Joanna Lin, California Watch

DC Central Kitchen/Flickr

Arguing that he did not want to "erode the independence and flexibility" of charter schools, Gov. Jerry Brown last weekend vetoed legislation that would have required charters to provide low-income students free or reduced-price meals.

Brown's veto message [PDF] of AB 1594, authored by Assemblyman Mike Eng, D-Alhambra, pits student nutrition against charter school autonomy – issues that supporters said should not be at odds.

"I respect the governor's concern that charter schools thrive, but I believe that it's not necessary to choose between meals for children and good policies for charter schools. We can do both," Eng said in a statement to California Watch. 

Supporters of the legislation, which included food banks, teachers unions, the California School Boards Association and California School Employees Association, said nutritious, affordable meals were integral to students' well-being and academic performance...

SF's most dangerous intersection was paved with good intentions

October 3, 2012, 12:05 AM | Zusha Elinson, The Bay Citizen

Adithya Sambamurthy/The Bay Citizen A bicyclist rides through the intersection of Market Street and Octavia Boulevard during rush hour. 

Hayes Valley was best known for the hooker haven beneath the Central Freeway when Greg Foss moved to the San Francisco neighborhood in 1982.

The area was transformed when the city tore down the 1.2-mile double-deck structure and replaced it with Octavia Boulevard, a ground-level thoroughfare with tree-lined medians, a park and quiet side streets. Designed by noted UC Berkeley urban planning professor Allan Jacobs, it opened in 2005 to wide acclaim.

But the leafy boulevard has brought its own problems. Clogged with cars rushing to get on and off Highway 101, the corner of Octavia Boulevard and Market Street has become the city’s most dangerous intersection...

Senate report savages terrorism 'fusion centers' as useless

October 2, 2012, 7:05 PM | Andrew Becker and G.W. Schulz, California Watch

The nation’s vast network of anti-terrorism “fusion centers” for law enforcement have produced shoddy, untimely and often useless intelligence reports that have done little to keep the U.S. safer, a scathing U.S. Senate report concludes.

The 141-page report, a copy of which was obtained by the Center for Investigative Reporting, parent organization of California Watch, identified problems with nearly every significant aspect of the Department of Homeland Security’s more than 70 fusion centers, which were designed for law enforcement to coordinate their intelligence gathering.

The report marks one of the most blistering indictments to date of the Department of Homeland Security’s domestic intelligence operation. The department, investigators conclude, “has not attempted to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the value federal taxpayers have received for that investment.”

Fusion centers were created in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks as the best way to get local, state and federal officials to share terrorism-related information, speak with each other and “connect the dots” of terrorist plots before they happened...

Mobile home park residents sue owner over sewage, electricity

October 2, 2012, 12:05 AM | Bernice Yeung, California Watch

Max Whittaker/Prime Neftalí Gutierrez, 7, plays near his home in the Garcia Mobile Home Park, where the wastewater system is a network of septic tanks and cesspools.

Lilia Avila has lived for a decade in the Garcia Mobile Home Park in the Eastern Coachella Valley with her husband and three children. Ask her to describe the park, surrounded by farmland and empty lots in the unincorporated town of Thermal, and she doesn’t mince words: “It’s a pigsty,” she said.

As California Watch has previously reported, the park – which residents call Rancho Garcia ­– has an antiquated wastewater system. Avila and her neighbors flush their sewage into overloaded septic tanks and cesspools. Raw sewage has regularly backed up into her shower drain, and effluent puddles on the park grounds.

Avila said faulty electricity causes blackouts, leaving residents sweltering in triple-digit summertime heat and food spoiling in refrigerators. There are no sidewalks or storm drains. And without streetlights, the park is pitch-black at night...

State park donors feel betrayed, want money back

October 2, 2012, 12:05 AM | Katharine Mieszkowski, The Bay Citizen

Courtesy of Creative Commons Henry W. Coe State Park 

Donors in the South Bay, angry over state mismanagement of park funds, are demanding the return of hundreds of thousands of dollars they gave to keep Northern California’s largest state park operating.

The Coe Park Preservation Fund, based in Scotts Valley, donated $279,000 earlier this year to prevent the closure of rugged, 87,000-acre Henry W. Coe State Park, about 30 miles south of San Jose. 

“We’re going to ask for the return of the $279,000 back to the Coe Park Preservation Fund,” said Dan McCranie, treasurer of the group’s board. 

If the money is returned, the group plans to offer refunds to its donors.

The state, however, says it has no obligation to refund the money. “As it stands, there is no legal mechanism to actually return the money,” said Richard Stapler, spokesman for the state Natural Resources Agency, which oversees the California Department of Parks and Recreation.


But in an email, Stapler wrote that the agency does not rule out the possibility of a compromise. “We are very eager to speak with the Coe...

More Americans support torture to fight terrorism, poll finds

October 2, 2012, 12:05 AM | G.W. Schulz, California Watch

Courtesy of Air Force Staff Sgt. D. Myles Cullen Former President George W. Bush speaks to reporters about the war in Iraq after meeting with senior Pentagon officials in 2007. 

A surprising number of Americans are supportive of controversial Bush-era tactics used to undermine terrorism, and are even open to more extreme measures like using nuclear weapons.

That's what professor Amy Zegart discovered when she asked the research firm YouGov to poll 1,000 people in August. Zegart recently joined Stanford University's Hoover Institution after leaving UCLA’s School of Public Affairs, where she specialized in national security and intelligence.

The poll results showed that an increasing number of Americans supported torturing prisoners, up 14 points to 41 percent since 2007. The wording of questions can deeply influence how people answer a poll, so Zegart used the same questions from research done on interrogation techniques in 2005, before Barack Obama was elected president...

Marin County city considers tough smoking ban

October 1, 2012, 12:05 AM | Jennifer Gollan, The Bay Citizen

Noah Berger/For The Bay Citizen Ardian Totolaku smokes outside his condo in San Rafael. He opposes the city's proposal to ban smoking inside multi-family residences and on downtown streets. 

Ardian Totolaku, an unemployed restaurant worker, believes in his God-given right to smoke cigarettes. He likes to smoke while he is hanging out on the streets of downtown San Rafael and in the comfort of his three-bedroom condo on a tree-lined street not far from Highway 101.

Soon, however, the 44-year-old Albanian immigrant might be prohibited from smoking in either place. The San Rafael City Council will decide today whether to ban smoking in more than 40 percent of the city’s private residences or while sitting or standing on any sidewalk downtown.

“It's not right,” Totolaku said as he lingered outside the Fourth Street Starbucks on a recent afternoon. He took a last drag from his cigarette and added: “The government is going too far. Humans die because the Lord decides when it is time to go, not because of smoking.”

But the City Council is not waiting for divine intervention. The proposed ordinance would prohibit smoking tobacco or marijuana in any multi-family residential unit, condominium or apartment – more than 10,000 of the...

Prescription drug abuse falling among young adults, survey finds

October 1, 2012, 12:05 AM | Christina Jewett, California Watch


A new survey is the second report in recent months indicating that what some have called an epidemic of prescription drug abuse is showing signs of tapering.

The latest survey shows a 14 percent decline in nonmedical use of prescription drugs by teens and young adults from 2010 to 2011. Last month, a group that examines workers' compensation claims in California found that prescriptions for opioid painkillers – which at times have led to dependence and abuse – fell off in late 2011 after steadily rising since 2002.

The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration conducted the latest survey, which was released last week. Peter Delany, director of the administration's Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, said the reduction in use by young adults appears to reflect rising awareness of prescription drug abuse by parents and health care providers.

“I think it’s a welcome piece of news,” Delany said. "What it is, it’s a signal that there’s an improvement, and we need to keep moving that down more...

Wait time grows for veterans seeking disability benefits

September 28, 2012, 3:59 PM | Shane Shifflett, The Bay Citizen

VAOIG / Time.com A glimpse at the paper claims in the VA's Winston-Salem, N.C., office 

Veterans across the nation are waiting an average of 260 days for a decision on a war-related disability claim – three days longer than last week and 80 days longer than in mid-2011, according to data recently released by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

More than 815,000 veterans across the nation are waiting for a response from the VA this week.

An analysis by the Center for Investigative Reporting, parent organization of California Watch and The Bay Citizen, shows that in the last year, average wait times around the country slowly increased to more than a year for veterans in the nation’s most sluggish offices – Los Angeles; Waco, Texas; and Chicago among them.

The new numbers show some slow but measurable progress: The backlog at 42 of the offices shrank, while it grew at 16 other offices by as much as 2 percent, according to CIR’s interactive map...

Brown signs bills on developmental center abuse

September 28, 2012, 12:32 PM | Ryan Gabrielson, California Watch

Monica Lam/California Watch The Office of Protective Services is an in-house police force at California's developmental centers.

UPDATE, Sept. 28, 2012: This story updates to include comment from the Department of Developmental Services.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed two bills yesterday to require California’s developmental centers to alert outside police and a disability protection organization when patients die under suspicious circumstances, are abused or are seriously injured.

The state operates five board-and-care institutions for more than 1,600 people with cerebral palsy and intellectual disabilities in Sonoma, Orange, Tulare, Riverside and Los Angeles counties. An in-house police force, called the Office of Protective Services, patrols and investigates crimes against the centers’ patients...

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