A national mushroom grower could be on the hook for millions of dollars worth of damages and penalties after local authorities accused the company of intentionally dumping toxic production waste from its Morgan Hill site into an adjacent creek.
The Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office announced in a Dec. 27 press release that it has filed a $67 million lawsuit against Monterey Mushrooms in relation to the illegal dumping allegations, which center on the company’s Hale Avenue farming and production site in north Morgan Hill.
The DA’s lawsuit claims Monterey Mushrooms has “on numerous occasions and for years, pumped wastewater from its water holding pond and process water holding tanks at the Morgan Hill facility into Fisher Creek,” reads the press release from the DA’s Environmental Protection Unit.
Monterey Mushrooms spokesman Bruce Knobeloch said in a statement the company is “shocked and disappointed” by the lawsuit, which follows recent “active communication and dialogue” with the DA’s office dating back to incidents that occurred during the “catastrophic winter storms” of 2016 and 2017—incidents the company claims were not intentional. Since those storms, Monterey Mushrooms has worked with county and state environmental regulators to prevent future incidents, reads the company’s statement.
Much of the illegally dumped wastewater contained toxic levels of ammonia, according to the DA’s Office. Fisher Creek flows into Coyote Creek, which flows into San Francisco Bay. “Businesses should never make illegal and dangerous tradeoffs between pollution and profit,” District Attorney Jeff Rosen said after his office filed the complaint, which alleges dozens of unfair business practices and state Fish and Game violations. “We will vigilantly protect the health of our county’s waterways.”
The investigation started with leads from a local citizens group, which passed on information about potential illegal dumping to the California Department of Fish and Game, Deputy District Attoryen Denise Raabe said. Fish and Game officials contacted the DA’s office, and the two entities continued the investigation into Monterey Mushrooms’ Morgan Hill facility.
The intentional illegal dumping began in early 2016 and continued to spring of 2017, reads the DA’s press release. Monterey Mushrooms allegedly pumped harmful wastewater from its holding ponds into waterways in order to dispose of the waste without incurring additional costs.
The Morgan Hill facility also allowed contaminated stormwater from its compost processing and used compost areas to flow into the waterways, the press release continues. The grower is accused of using overflow pipes, culverts and hoses to divert wastewater into fields, and subsequently into Fisher Creek. Other pipes allegedly dumped wastewater directly into the creek.
A photo released by the DA’s office shows a pipe flowing with “production waste” into Fisher Creek. On Jan. 7 and Jan. 8, 2017—two of “many” occasions documented by investigators—authorities estimated that Monterey Mushrooms pumped about 700,000 gallons of wastewater into Fisher Creek during a 48-hour period, the DA’s office said.
On other occasions, investigators sampled the wastewater discharged into the waterways and tested for various toxic substances. In one instance, the wastewater contained ammonia as nitrogen at 90 milligrams per liter. The amount of nitrogen defined as “acute toxicity” is 17 mg/L, as set by the Federal Environmental Protection Agency.
The high levels of ammonia in Monterey Mushrooms’ production waste are created by the use of used horse stable hay and poultry manure in the company’s growing process, authorities said. Coyote Creek is home to steelhead trout, California tiger salamanders and California red-legged frogs.
The statement from Monterey Mushrooms notes that during the times mentioned in the DA’s press release, winter storms flooded Coyote Creek from Anderson Dam north to San Jose and caused major damage to the Oroville Dam in northern California.
“Our Morgan Hill facility was inundated by these record storms and rainwater volume, which resulted in a record release of process water, primarily rainwater, leaving the property,” reads the company’s statement. “Due to this experience, the company has collaborated with county and state agents and spent millions of dollars to install additional storage, as well as engineer the separation of stormwater.”
It concludes: “Monterey Mushrooms has a long history being a responsible member of the community and is committed to the highest standards of environmental compliance.”
Monterey Mushrooms, Inc. is one of the nation’s largest mushroom growers. The company’s corporate headquarters are in Watsonville, and it has offices and production facilities in 12 states, including California, and Mexico.
This article was originally published in San Jose Inside/Metro Silicon Valley sister publication, the Morgan Hill Times.
The year began with a puff of smoke as California’s legalization of recreational cannabis use went into effect on Jan. 1. Everyone from cardholders to newbies and recidivists lined up outside of pot shops all over San Jose—the only South Bay city to allow dispensaries.
Even those who don’t indulge in the devil’s lettuce could be forgiven for wondering whether they were in the grips of some kind of terrible trip. Paranoia and the kind of magical thinking many of us engaged in while listening to Pink Floyd in our freshman dorm rooms seemed to be the norm in 2018.
Over the course of these past 12 months, it has become painfully clear just how much influence social media has over our daily lives. January began with Facebook introducing major algorithm changes. In an effort to combat the proliferation of fake news and foreign influence campaigns, the social network de-emphasized all news—effectively emphasizing your crazy uncle’s meme rampages and your ex-lover’s vaguebooking.
And it’s only gotten worse from there, as continued revelations of tech giants playing fast and loose with our personal data have continued to surface. Google even tried to build a search engine for China, codenamed “Dragonfly,” that, according to The Intercept, would require logins before searching, track user locations and archive personal search histories with a Chinese partner that would have “unilateral access” to the data. Google CEO described the initiative as “early stage” since only 215 employees, according to an internal memo that Google ordered recipients to delete, were working full-time on Dragonfly.
And then there’s Elon Musk. The man behind everyone’s favorite electric car and those awesome reusable rockets started the year by shooting a Tesla Roadster into space. He proceeded to make headlines by smoking a blunt on Joe Rogan’s podcast, beefing with rapper Azealia Banks on Twitter, messing with global markets through a series of erratic tweets, planning to go to Burning Man with girlfriend and electronic music composer Grimes, then announcing he would not go to Burning Man on account of an SEC investigation into whether he had misled investors. In September he accepted a $20 million handslap but was redeemed for all his craziness when the Model 3 started breaking sales and safety records.
Beyond the foibles of the tech industry, there was plenty more to shake our heads about. The #MeToo movement took down Dominic Caserta; a subcontractor working on a downtown development used slave labor to erect a pair of highrises; and Stanford University researcher and psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford stood up to the now Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh by recounting her memories of a high school party where she says he forcibly groped her.
Boxy apartments sprouted on the former sites that once gave the valley its character, San Jose lost two more hardware stores, Lowe’s and Orchard Supply. Someone even stole the freakin’ old neon sign! Now, where are people going to buy blue tarps to live under?
It’s enough to make anyone’s head spin. This final Metro Silicon Valley issue of the year is all about looking back on all the strange, infuriating and preposterous things that went down in 2018 and saying, “Sayonara!”
Weed the People
Californians rang in the New Year by standing in long lines to buy legal weed—no medical card required. It took more than a year to implement, but Prop. 66, passed by voters in 2016, ushered in a new era by expanding access to anyone over the age of 21 and replacing the longstanding nonprofit requirement with a new corporate model.
San Jose City Hall booted a marble statue of Christopher Columbus. Public pressure from indigenous and Latino activists was cited, but truth was, the oversized tchotchke matched grandma Carmella’s living room better than the modernist municipal building designed by pervy architect Richard Meier. The tribute to the European colonizer was gifted to the city decades ago by a local Italian-American club, which volunteered to find a new piazza for the polarizing monument.
After resigning as Milpitas city manager for allegedly misspending taxpayer money to cover his personal legal battles, Tom Williams had no problem finding well-paying jobs, thanks to a little help from his friends. He worked as a private land-use consultant while shopping around for another public sector gig, which he finally landed in his hometown of Millbrae despite his reputation.
Folks who donated to the bond campaign under John Lindner’s purview were shocked to learn that the Franklin-McKinley School District trustee had been spending it to remodel his home and jet-set with his family, among other things. As a condition of his plea deal, Lindner relinquished his post and agreed to pay back $18,550—more than $10,000 short of the sum he stole.
McCormick & Schmick’s, the upmarket seafood and steak house at the San Jose Fairmont, got temporarily shuttered by health inspectors who found vermin and other ickyness in the kitchen.
Once one of the country’s largest daily papers, the Mercury News got battered by more layoffs as part of cost-cuts campaign by its mansion-buying hedge fund overlords. The cuts came on the heels of a Pulitzer win for the Merc’s regional chain’s coverage of the deadly Ghost Ship Fire.
Winchester Goes Hollywood
San Jose’s Winchester Mystery House, a Victorian mansion rendered long ago into an architectural oddity by a rich widow’s paranoia, made its big-screen debut. The horror flick starring Helen Mirren as the titular heir of the Winchester rifle fortune was forgettable, but it sparked renewed interest in the legend of Sarah Winchester and her stranger-than-fiction mystery home.
Mummy’s the Word
An enterprising East Palo Alto resident tracked down the guy who burglarized his home by matching surveillance footage to the suspect’s music videos. For Victor Bell, a 24-year-old Redwood City rapper known as Mummy 500, life apparently inspired his art. Police say Bell, who was already on parole for residential burglary, rapped about breaking down doors and making off with stolen goods. They arrested him when he showed up to a meeting with his parole officer wearing jewelry from both burglaries.
It was a scandal of epic proportions with profound implications for democracy in the digital age. When the Guardian broke news that the Cambridge Analytica firm misused data of scores of millions of Facebook users, it sparked outrage on both sides of the Atlantic. In the U.S., it raised questions about the effect of voter manipulation on Donald Trump’s ascendance to the presidency. Across the pond, it set off state-led inquiries into its sway on public support for Brexit.
Capping off a stunning downfall for Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes, the federal Securities and Exchange Commission accused her blood-testing startup of tricking investors by lying about everything from how the technology worked to how much revenue it was raking in. The federal complaint cemented the legacy of Theranos—and its once-high-flying CEO—as the latest cautionary tale of Silicon Valley hype and hubris.
As allegations of mishandled sexual abuse claims began to mount against Presentation High, patrons responded by more than doubling their donations to the embattled parochial school. Alumnae director Kristin Cooke Schneider boasted about the cash haul, saying support has “never been stronger” and that community members “have a positive shared experience, and they sent that message loud and clear.” They sent a message, all right, and it didn’t sit well with the former students accusing the school of ignoring their claims of sexual misconduct.
ICE to Meet You
Bay Area counties pride themselves on their “sanctuary” policies, which basically forbid local authorities from automatically cooperating with federal immigration agents. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers, however, managed to gain entry into local jails. San Francisco Sheriff Vicki Hennessy apologized and Santa Clara Sheriff Laurie Smith called it “a mistake.”
This year, speculators got hot on Bitcoin before losing their shirts. Reports of people betting the farm on the new cryptocurrency made headlines and then … the bottom fell out. But 2018 also marked the year that people really started paying attention to blockchain. It’s still unclear if there is a future for cryptocurrency, but plenty of Silicon Valley thinkers believe that blockchain technology—Bitcoin’s foundation—will be a game-changer. By decentralizing and encrypting data, it will make the world a better place. Now, where have we heard that before?
Fund and Games
A Nonprofit Quarterly investigation into sexual harassment at the billion-dollar Silicon Valley Community Foundation rocked the donor-advised fund manager to its core. Revelations that one of its top fundraisers, the magnetic Mari Ellen Loijens, would bully or sexually harass her subordinates led to a brutal public reckoning that resulted in her departure along with that of CEO Emmett Carson.
One of Silicon Valley’s stodgiest law firm’s decided to cash in on cannabis. Hopkins & Carley attorneys Chuck Reed—who as San Jose mayor initially took a hard line of marijuana decriminalization—and colleague Mark Heyl spearheaded the firm’s fledgling cannabis practice.
Santa Clara Councilman Dominic Caserta faced allegations of nearly two decades of sexually harassing, bullying or groping girls and women, including a report that he wore nothing more than a bath towel around campaign workers. During his campaign for a Santa Clara County supervisor seat, two young campaign staffers came to Metro/San Jose Inside to expose his misconduct, prompting Caserta to resign from the council, suspend his campaign and otherwise withdraw from public life.
Oh, the Caucasity
Campbell Union High trustee Matthew Dean thought he’d school some teens by whitesplaining how to toughen up in the face of adversity—even if they’re called the N-word by a peer. The two-term schools official and former Campbell mayor used a parable about fat-shaming his son to illustrate how kids need to find the “diamond” in demeaning insults hurled their way. One 17-year-old recipient of Dean’s wisdom begged to differ. “When you’re called the N-word, there’s no diamond in that,” Muskaan Sandu said. “There is danger in that.” Dean opted against running for re-election.
Dopesmoker, by San Jose stoner metal trio Sleep, is arguably the most ambitious metal album of all time. The hour-long single track takes everything heavy from the genre, slows it down by about a hundred beats per minute, and creates something so earthshaking it approaches biblical proportions. More than two decades after their initial breakup, Sleep returned, releasing The Sciences on April 20 (natch). The album has garnered high critical praise and serves as the soundtrack to many a smoke sesh.
Aaron Persky, the Santa Clara County judge who became the face of rape culture after sentencing Stanford rapist Brock Turner to mere months in jail, got democratically ousted from the bench, despite opposition from a local legal community that feared it would chill the bench’s independence. It marked the first successful judicial recall in California in nearly nine decades.
The Don Elevator
Don Morrissey’s professional descent from lieutenant to sergeant and then deputy was no secret at the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office or in the ranks of the Deputy Sheriff’s Association he presided over as president. But the details that led to him losing his sergeant stripes didn’t become public until he appealed his demotion using his union’s funds. Records appended to his court petition offered a rare glimpse into the law enforcement disciplinary process, which is far more opaque in California than most other states, and cost Morrissey’s political allies—like sheriff hopeful John Hirokawa—dearly.
On Oct. 12, 1974, 19-year-old newlywed Arlis Perry was found slain at the altar of the Stanford Memorial Church. Someone had rammed an icepick through her skull and violated her with church candles. Semen was found on a nearby kneeler and a palm print was imprinted on one of the candles, but it wasn’t enough to catch the killer, so the case went cold for 43 years. In June of 2018, investigators found evidence pointing to Stephen Crawford, the campus security guard who told cops he discovered the body the morning after the murder. But just as police were closing in on his San Jose apartment, Crawford picked up a gun and took his own life.
A butt-naked cyclist hauling ass down Highway 101 slowed traffic as rubberneckers tried to memorialize the brazen commuter with cellphone pics, some of which went viral. The same guy was spotted earlier in the day sans clothes outside a local massage parlor. San Jose police eventually caught up to the guy, who was sent to the hospital instead of jail.
Tales from the Encrypt
The human toll of misinformation became painfully clear when residents of a rural Indian town of Rainpada near Mumbai, India saw videos on WhatsApp warning of outsiders abducting children. They they beat five strangers to death and authorities were unable to trace the source of the videos. A spokesperson for Facebook-owned WhatsApp told BuzzFeed News “We believe that building ‘traceability’ into WhatsApp would undermine end-to-end encryption and the private nature of WhatsApp. … WhatsApp remains committed to working with others in society on the challenge of misinformation though we will not weaken the privacy protections we provide.”
Blocked and Banished
It started with Apple halting distribution of Alex Jones’ podcasts, but the other major social media platforms quickly followed suit. YouTube terminated his channel. Facebook deactivated four of his pages. Spotify pulled all his programming for “hate content.” Twitter took its sweet time but finally caved, excommunicating the controversial media figure who turned fear-mongering into a cash cow, and arguably provoked actual violence such as the shooting inspired by his “pizzagate” conspiracy theory about politically connected pedophiles.
A tiff between a rancher and a landowner in South County escalated into a Wild West caricature that left a bunch of cattle carcasses riddled with bullet holes and resulted in the alleged gunslinger’s arrest on animal cruelty charges.
Mural of the Story
For more than three decades, “Mural de la Raza” captivated onlookers with its detailed tapestry of Chicano culture and civil rights history. The artist, Jose Mesa Velasquez, created the painting on the side of the old Payless ShoeSource building in San Jose’s East Side with help from a local community center. The beloved mural mysteriously vanished one night—that is, all but for the face of the Virgin de Guadalupe—prompting a public outcry. The artist wound up suing the landlord, claiming the new property owner broke the law by neglecting to tell him about the planned cover-up.
Beth Laurine, the interim head of San Jose Regional Hospital’s emergency department, ranted her way out of a job by railing against “dirty illegals” on her then-public Facebook page. The nurse, who hailed from a Pennsylvania suburb, then tried to blame the messenger for her inability to find a job after outing herself as an apparent xenophobe.
A subcontractor working on the twin high-rise Silvery Towers in downtown San Jose had to pay a six-figure settlement and face criminal charges for apparently enslaving workers. Federal investigators say Nobilis Construction CEO Job Torres Hernandez, who was hired by high-rise developers Full Power Properties, required undocumented Mexican immigrants to work tortuously long hours by day and sleep in squalid shipping containers by night. Legal observers called it the most egregious labor trafficking case in recent memory, and it earned the glistening skyrise across from San Pedro Square a new nickname: Slavery Towers.
It’s an old con, but with a digital twist. A snail-mailed letter threatens to expose some deep, dark secret unless the recipient coughs up a small fortune in Bitcoin to keep it hush-hush. Apparently someone thought they’d cast their net among affluent Silicon Valley denizens with guilty consciences and money to burn. It’s unclear how many fell for the scam, but the Santa Clara County District Attorney issued a PSA of sorts to caution people against taking the bait.
Book of Jobs
Apologists for Steve Jobs love to talk about the late Apple co-founder’s charisma, intellect and uncanny ability to be right. In a heartbreaking memoir, Small Fry, Lisa Brennan-Jobs forced the world to confront her father’s dark side. He refused to install heat in her bedroom, denied that the Apple Lisa was her namesake and on his deathbed told her she smelled “like a toilet.” But even Brennan-Jobs, whose paternity her father denied though a DNA match confirmed it, says she forgives him.
It may pale compared to his other missteps—which include calling a rescue diver a pedophile, abandoning his post as Tesla chairman and making headlines with his weird, erratic tweets—Elon Musk’s toke on Joe Rogan’s podcast became the billionaire’s most most-memed foible of 2018. It also drew a very public rebuke from the U.S. Air Force and prompted an investigation by NASA.
Menlo Park gynecologist James William McCarrick allegedly found his job so arousing that state regulators are trying to revoke his license. According to the California Medical Board, Dr. McCarrick got carried away with his infatuation for a young patient he’d bombard with dick pics and cringey sexts between hook-up sessions.
While local officials quibbled over the when, where and how much of temporary homeless shelters, a group of activists chose to ask for forgiveness instead of permission. Hope Village sprang up on a vacant state-owned lot in San Jose as an act of civil disobedience, a way to show the city what an organized homeless camp could look like. Though the site was forced to relocate, the media attention forced local politicos to lend a hand by finding a new spot for the experiment and finding money to someday scale out.
Jennifer Chang played a long con during her time as accountant for the city of Cupertino. Prosecutors say the former civil servant stole a combined $790,000 from taxpayers by cashing fraudulent checks over the span of 14 years.
Hidden inside a cave in Israel, Stanford researchers discovered the earliest-known beer-making operation, which appears to predate cultivation of the first cereals. The 13,000-year-old brewery suggests that our ancestors learned how to ferment grains before figuring out how to bake them.
That’s What She Said
Christine Blasey Ford stood before the Senate Judiciary Committee, raised her right hand and swore to tell the truth. The unassuming Palo Alto University psychology professor then recounted what she could about the night 36 years prior when she said then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanagh sexually assaulted her. By the end of the four-hour hearing, Blasey Ford had proven herself as a believable witness. Kavanagh was nonetheless confirmed to a lifetime judicial appointment.
Jimmy Oh, Geez!
This was supposed to be the year. Things were looking up for the 49ers after the team snagged Jimmy Garoppolo from the Patriots halfway through last season. The rising star closed out the year by winning every game he played. It appeared that the storied franchise of Joe Montana and Steve Young might finally have a team that could justify the construction of Levi’s Stadium. Then Garoppolo, who fans had been calling Jimmy Gesus, tore his ACL in the third game of the 2018-19 season. There’s always next year.
Paint the Crown Red
Silicon Valley’s ties to Saudi Arabia came under renewed scrutiny after the brutal slaying of WashPo journalist Jamal Khashoggi, whose murder the CIA would later pin on the kingdom’s Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman. The Saudi royal famously hobnobs with Silicon Valley elites while SoftBank—the largest tech investment fund on the planet—pumped billions of Saudi dollars into U.S. startups, including a host of them in the Peninsula, South Bay and the rest of the Bay Area.
Well, That’s Settled
San Jose ended its practice of using cute undercover cops to honey-trap gay men by public park lavatories back in 2016. But a federal civil rights lawsuit stemming from the discriminatory enforcement lasted another two years. The settlement hammered out between SJPD and the plaintiffs’ self-described “toilet lawyer” Bruce Nickerson won six-figure payouts for several of the wrongfully arrested men. But bigger still, it grants Nickerson access to arrest records so he could find other gay men victimized by the agency’s enforcement.
Let Us Prey
The latest wave of accountability for deviant priests prompted the San Jose Diocese to release the names of 15 clergy members “credibly accused” of sexually abusing children. But the move came ahead of a more consequential announcement from the California Attorney General’s Office, which announced that—for the first time ever—state prosecutors would investigate the Catholic Church for the sins of its fathers.
Tran of Attack
There’s never a dull moment with Milpitas Mayor Rich Tran, whose foray into office involved a plagiarized Obama speech and cribbed Jay-Z apology followed by repeated pronouncements about his aspirations to “go viral.” In the lead-up to his re-election, Tran’s political foes tried to paint the mayor as something worse: a communist, an awkward hugger and an offbeat rapper. By year’s end he announced a run for Santa Clara County supervisor, potentially against Councilman Anthony Phan—the guy who admittedly created the communist-flag mailer.
Goat Outta Here
A livestock rustler made off with a herd of 60 goats—all of them preggers—right after Turkey Day. The incident made for some snarky headlines, but it was no joke to Brian Allen, the Morgan Hill landscaper who relied on them for his landscaping business.
Sign of the Times
In another mysterious theft that grabbed South Bay headlines, someone pilfered the big illuminated Orchard Supply Hardware sign from the site of the original San Jose store off of San Carlos. The property owners filed a police report, and as of press time, the sign had yet to be located.
California Highway Patrol officers became suspicious when a Tesla driving at 70 mph around 3:40a, on U.S 101 didn’t respond to lights and sirens. Los Altos Planning Commission chair Alexander Samek, 45, turned out to be asleep at the wheel. Officers pulled in front of the autopiloted vehicle to slow it to a stop and arrested Samek for driving—or not driving—under the influence.
Sealed documents from an old lawsuit by a defunct app became an unlikely thorn in the side for Facebook, which was already reeling from a year of damaging exposure that began with the gut-punch that was the Cambridge Analytica scandal. A 2015 complaint filed by Six4Three over a bikini photo-finding app called Pikini made headlines this fall when the U.K. government acquired sensitive records as part of an inquiry into #FakeNews. The trove of questionably acquired data suggested that Facebook considered selling user data prior to 2014—something the social media giant has denied doing.
Making Up for Lost Time
The S.F. 49ers gave the star treatment to a fan who’d been wrongfully imprisoned for 20 years for a murder he didn’t commit. The team flew Malcolm Scott and his brother out to a game at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, where they reportedly rolled out the red carpet for him, offering a tour of the venue, a chance to meet the team’s GM John Lynch and one of his all-time favorite players, linebacker Keena Turner.
The Google Effect
Google’s plans to build a new headquarters in downtown San Jose cleared a critical hurdle when the city sold more than 10 acres of public land to the search and advertising giant. That’s a small fraction of the development footprint, which is expected to transform 50-plus acres around the Diridon Station into a dense urban hub of offices, shops, eateries and public plazas linked by pathways and adorned with public heart. It’s a dream come true for business boosters, but a source of anxiety for residents who fear the new corporate neighbor will exacerbate already exorbitant housing costs.
Annual holiday culture wars and the ongoing #MeToo reckoning ignited debate about whether radio stations should play the 74-year-old Christmas classic, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” Throughout the U.S., several radio stations pulled the song off the air, igniting heated debates on TV news and social media. San Francisco radio station KOIT initially yanked the 1940s duet for its predatory undertones. But uproar from listeners prompted the station to change its mind.
New Feature Request
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo gave electric scooter companies an ultimatum: Get off the sidewalks or split. The mayor advised Bird, Lime and other scooter startups to come up with a geo-fencing feature to prevent riders from traveling along sidewalks. Otherwise, he threatened to ban them outright.
Santa Clara County District AttorneyJeff Rosen’s office files about 40,000 criminal cases a year on behalf of 1.8 million residents in its jurisdiction. The agency wields broad authority to limit the liberty and even the lives of defendants it prosecutes.
So, it’s only fair for the public to know how the DA’s Office deals with wrongdoing by the people tasked with fulfilling its mission.
The First Amendment Coalition (FAC) contended as much earlier this year in asking for records of sexual misconduct involving employees at the district attorney offices of the seven largest California counties, including the 600 or so folks who work for the local DA. Each responded with varying degrees of transparency. And only one—the San Diego County DA—prompted the FAC to sue.
Through a California Public Records Act (CPRA) request of its own, Fly recently obtained the local DA’s response: a heavily redacted log of 30 claims from 2013 to spring of 2018.
There’s not much to see. All but seven incident summaries are entirely obscured by black bars; even those reveal just fragments of already brief entries. And no names are named. From what little we can glean, it appears there was one case still under investigation at the time of the CPRA request in early 2018—but no details were made public.
In June 2017, to cite another example, a consultant named Vernon Crawley sustained a claim about a supervisor giving unwelcome neck-and-shoulder massages to female colleagues, engaging in a sexual relationship with a subordinate and exhibiting “sexual favoritism.” In May 2016, someone in another case complained about inappropriate comments about race and sexual orientation in the evidence tech unit. The allegations were sustained and everyone involved got a letter about the findings.
In August 2015, someone heard an attorney using “sex talk” in the office. Assistant District Attorney Terry Harman spoke with the accuser, who denied grousing about “sex talk” but said some lawyers had been “unprofessional when they ‘talk loud’ and use ‘F-bombs.’” Whoever Harman spoke to made sure to say that she finds the lawyers “really nice,” and didn’t want to “make a big deal out of this” and insisted that she wasn’t “complaining.” Harman planned to resolve the matter by posting an advisory on the office bulletin board about behaving professionally at work.
In August 2013, someone accused a program manager of “sexual harassment/gender discrimination.” The complaint was sustained and finalized a year later. Three months prior, a law clerk trainee reportedly leered at a woman’s behind. Supervisor Mary Dimeo surmised that it could entail sexual harassment if the clerk was giving the woman “elevator eyes.” She reminded him of the policy, which, she concluded, “he understood.”
In the final days of his fourth and (presumably) final term as California’s chief executive, Gov. Jerry Brown spoke at the Sacramento Press Club, offering parting, and remarkably candid, tips on how to best govern the Golden State.
The hour-long conversation in the ballroom of the Sacramento Masonic Temple was moderated by Los Angeles Times columnist George Skelton and Miriam Pawel, author of the family biography, The Browns of California.
Brown, now 80, drew upon experience gleaned over 16 years as governor, plus job experience as attorney general, secretary of state, mayor of Oakland, and a three-time presidential candidate.
Tip Number 1: “Avoid overexposure”
Pawel asked Brown if he had learned anything from his father, Pat, who served as the state’s governor between 1959 and 1967. “One thing I learned was not have an open-ended press conference every week,” the governor said. The reason: reporters have the nasty habit of calling you out when you contradict yourself.
“It’s hard to be consistent in the face of an ever-complex, ever-unfolding story,” he said.
Sure enough, this was Brown’s first-ever visit to the state Capitol’s reporters club since returning to Sacramento as governor in 2011.
But when Skelton asked whether the governor planned on commuting the sentences of any of the 739 people on death row in California, Brown made it clear that he was not there to provide fresh fodder to the reporters in the room. “If I said something that would give you a story,” he said. “I’m not here to make news, I’m here to enlighten.”
Tip Number 2: Don’t try to make everyone happy.
Ever since running for governor in 1974 on the promise to introduce an “era of limits,” Brown has cultivated a reputation as willing to buck his party’s big spending tendencies.
Apparently, there is political logic to being a budgetary tightwad.
“The idea that you’re going to make people happy and build a lot of support by doing a lot of stuff, frankly, it turns out that there’s a downside,” he said. “The more that you do, the more that people are empowered to demand that you do even more.”
Tip Number 3: Do try to make some people happy
As a politician known for sprinkling Latin into his speeches, Brown paid tribute to the wisdom of the phrase quid pro quo.
“In politics, you should take care of your friends,” said Brown, noting that both Michael Picker, president of the California Public Utilities Commission, and Rose Bird, former chief justice of the California court system, started out working for his various campaigns. “Loyalty is important. Keep the meritocracy within limits.”
But there are limits on repaying loyalty too.
“Politics is a difficult business,” he said. “You need to raise massive sums of money from people who all want something and if you give it to them directly you’ll go to jail. But if you don’t give it to them in some form, you won’t be elected to the next office.”
“So you square that circle.”
Tip Number 4: Don’t get distracted by ideological labels
Brown was Oakland’s mayor between 1999 and 2007. That stint taught him that just because someone claims to represent a particular viewpoint that you happen to share, that doesn’t mean that they have the best idea.
“People show up to city hall and argue for the stupidest things in the name of all good things,” he said. “Environment, labor, historic preservation, ethics, police accountability. Everybody’s got a good story.”
Tip Number 5: If you’re running for president, don’t do it out of California
“Nixon paved the way” for Californians running for the White House, he said. “He moved to New York.”
With so many early primary states located on the east coast and the daily news starting three hours earlier, “proximity is a key issue that works against Californians.” That could change in 2020. Last year, California legislators voted to bump up the 2020 state primary to March 3.
Brown tackled other topics, all the while honoring his pledge not to say anything too newsworthy. On the state’s high-speed rail, he assured Skelton that it will be built. “I think at our age we shouldn’t be driving,” he said.
On the recent court ruling out of Texas, which declared the entirety of the Affordable Care Act known as Obamacare to be unconstitutional, Brown said that he was “not really worried about it,” confident that the ruling will be overturned. And if it isn’t, there will be electoral hell to pay for the Republicans, he said, allowing Democrats to replace Obamacare with “something even better.”
On his imminent departure from elected office, he said that he will miss the constant activity that comes with the job. “I like sparring with the press, I like raising money, I like attacking my opponents, I like being attacked by my opponents,” he said.
But come Jan. 7, he will be giving that all up and heading up to his ranch in Colusa County, where he said he’ll have to deal with “real rattlesnakes.”
CALmatters is a nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.
Earlier this spring, we met Marni Rubin, a wine seller and educator from San Carlos, who channeled her frustration about the 2016 election into political activism. She helped launch the South Bay chapter of the Sister District Project, a fledgling female-led progressive group determined to turn America blue—one state-level district at a time.
Well, results from the most-anticipated midterm elections in living memory are in, and Sister District-backed candidates managed to push a blue wave (or depending on your sense of scale, a ripple) to take back the House, and some state legislatures along with it.
“Though we have a mostly blue California, we were able to help the big blue wave nationwide through organizations like Sister District,” Rubin said in a follow-up interview with San Jose Inside.
Through phone-banking, texting, canvassing, fundraising, an appearance by former presidential candidate Martin O’Malley, and even an arts and crafts fair, the local Sister District chapter raised over $157,000 for progressive candidates across the nation. They mailed out 7,500 postcards, made 4,476 phone calls and sent over 6,000 texts. “The really fun part,” Rubin said, “is letting people plug in to do something for democracy.”
At Sister District South Bay, Rubin’s main goal was to flip two seats in the Colorado State Senate—a District 16 race supporting challenger Tammy Story and a District 24 race supporting incumbent Faith Winter—to hand the state’s legislature to Democrats.
Sister District’s plan is part of a larger initiative to achieve more blue “trifectas”— states in which Democrats control the governorship, the state senate and the assembly—in toss-up districts across the nation. That often means leaving pristine Tahoe-blue districts in California behind and pursuing assembly and state senate races for swing districts in red-to-purple states like Virginia and New Mexico.
“Since we have a Democratic legislature, many Democratic congressional representatives and two Democratic senators here in California, it often feels like we can't really make a difference,” Rubin said. “Knowing that we can help candidates outside of California with resources and voter contact helps me, and our volunteers, feel much more effective, and that's there's something we can do to bring about progressive change.”
Rubin joined her fellow Sister District compatriots at a local Round Table Pizza last month to watch the 2018 midterm results come in. As the night continued, it was apparent that Democrats would indeed—as predicted—win the House.
“There were about six or seven of us [Sister District South Bay members] there,” Rubin said. “It was very exciting to get live results.”
But, most importantly, both Story and Winter would win their state races and give Colorado a trifecta. That’s a farm team victory which Rubin hopes will set up a major league-win in 2020. All from the ground up.
For Sister District, that’s where the big wins lie. “[Sister District] candidates won 16 of 24 races,” Rubin said. “Overall, we achieved our goal of moving the needle left.”
Dems did however, lose ground in the U.S. Senate, and they’re still split between a progressive and legacy-driven caucus both in the House and in state legislatures in the South and Midwest. Despite all that, Rubin believes Sister District has paved some critical inroads to a more progressive government. Post-midterms, Sister District is looking to partner with fellow progressive organizations and more organizations led by people of color to diversify their political push.
“We’re trying to start a movement that will last,” Rubin said. “I’m really proud of it. It’s something to last past any election.”
A manual ballot recount changed the outcome in one of the smallest and oldest school districts in the South Bay. Nida Moragas Spetter went from fourth to third place in the four-candidate Orchard School District race.
Spetter—a cafeteria worker and longtime Parent Teacher Association volunteer at the one-school, 900-student district in north San Jose—initially finished just six votes behind Joseph Zanone, a narrow enough margin to trigger a second tally.
Election officials at the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters found out in the redux that a batch of 36 ballots was left out of the original results “due to human error,” according to a news release announcing the results.
“It’s been like a rollercoaster,” Spetter, who now holds a two-vote lead over Zanone, said in a phone call Friday. “But honestly, Joe is a very good candidate and I campaigned with him. So, either way the kids will be the winner here.”
With Spetter, the five-member Orchard school board has two new trustees. First-time candidate Jeff Tang was the top vote-getter in the race, garnering nearly 29 percent of the 3,554 ballots cast. Incumbent Stephanie Hill came in second with 1,420 votes.
Spetter said she looks forward to collaborating with her new colleagues on some of the toughest issues facing the 153-year-old school district, such as declining enrollment and the city’s plans to run a freeway overpass through the K-8 campus.
The hand tally of the Orchard district results was one of five, but the outcome remained the same for the other races for Cupertino City Council, the Oak Grove and Luther Burbank school boards and a school bond Measure HH.
Immigration lawyers, activists, public officials, clergy members and residents gathered outside the federal immigration office in Morgan Hill Thursday to protest reports of “inhumane” treatment of detainees, and to demand the facility be shut down.
The protestors also wanted to send the message that residents can support the Rapid Response Network of Santa Clara County, a community of activists and attorneys that works to provide immigration detainees with legal counsel and ensure their rights are upheld. They urged their fellow protestors to “report ICE activity” by calling the response network at 408.290.1144.
Immigration attorney Dorothy Ma described an incident earlier this month when an immigrant detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents was denied due process while forced to sit in a van outside the Morgan Hill field office on Vineyard Court before he was transported to a processing center in San Francisco.
ICE officers refused to allow Ma to consult with the client because the field office does not provide a secure meeting area for attorneys or other visitors, said Ma, a staff attorney for the organization Amigos de Guadalupe. An ICE supervising officer told her the client was sitting outside in a van while agents arrested more immigrants to fill the vehicle with more people to be processed in San Francisco, Ma said.
The case came to Ma’s attention when the detained immigrant’s mother called her office immediately after ICE officers arrested him. Ma traveled to the Morgan Hill facility that morning to provide “field representation” for the man, even though she was ultimately denied. Ma estimated that the man, who is a recipient of the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, sat inside the van for at least five hours before he was finally transported for processing. During this time, he was denied legal representation while ICE set his bail amount and served him with documents to initiate deportation proceedings.
“It is absolutely crucial during this window of time for us to be able to speak with the client, because the clients who are detained and have representation fare better at every stage of the immigration process,” Ma said. “Because there was no secure area (at the Morgan Hill ICE field office), I couldn’t advocate for him for a very important stage.”
She added that the constitutional right to due process is not supposed to be delayed or withheld due to the detainee’s custody location. “The right to counsel starts immediately” after arrest, Ma explained. “If they can’t provide basic legal and safety rights here, then this center shouldn’t be existing,” Ma said to about 30 protesters.
ICE spokesman Richard Rocha said in response to a request for comment, “The ICE office in Morgan Hill is solely administrative space and does not have space to process or detain individuals nor is it set up to offer attorney or family visits. ICE routinely stops at the Morgan Hill office to allow detainees an opportunity to use the restroom en route to other permanent ICE facilities where full access to attorneys is provided.”
Protestors at the Dec. 20 event held signs with giant letters written in magic marker: “SHUT IT DOWN!” and “We demand due process!” among them. The protest occurred amid growing nationwide concern over federal immigration enforcement practices under the President Donald Trump administration. Mentioned at the demonstration was a 7-year-old girl who died last week in federal agents’ custody after she illegally crossed the U.S. border with her father.
Some of those present at the rally demonstrated in previous protests against ICE outside the Morgan Hill office, which has been at its current location on Vineyard Court since 2016. Mayor Rich Constantine was one of the speakers.
“I’m here to tell you that the city of Morgan Hill (and) the Morgan Hill Police Department do not condone the actions that are being … perpetrated” by ICE, Constantine began. “I don’t blame the men and women who work for ICE, but their job is being dictated … by this administration. The actions of this administration have made it difficult for this country to fulfill its constitutional rights.”
Constantine explained that his parents are immigrants from Jamaica. “They came here the same reason all immigrants come here—because they wanted a better life. And that is what this country was founded on,” he said.
The mayor urged the assembled protestors to continue to peacefully resist inhumane immigration policies, by calling their elected representatives and spreading the word. Also speaking at the demponstration were Amigos de Guadalupe Executive Director Maritza Maldonado, Advent Lutheran Church Pastor Anita Warner and Rapid Response Network Attorney Coordinator Luis Angel Reyes Savalza.
Savalza said at least 15 Mexican nationals have been arrested by ICE agents in Santa Clara County in the month of December so far. These immigrants are often “picked up” by ICE officers while on their way to work.
“We know these things because we have a network, to ensure due process is protected for everyone,” Savalza said. “ICE officers have categorically denied their right to counsel, a constitutional right for citizens and non-citizens.”
Like other activists present, Savalza implored the crowd to call the network’s hotline any time they see ICE activity in their community.
“This is the first step: exposing what ICE is doing,” he said.
This article was originally published by San Jose Inside/Metro Silicon Valley sister publication, the Morgan Hill Times.
Scammers. You might think of them as the anti-Santa Clauses. They’re watching, waiting and given the opportunity, they’ll make their holidays bright at your expense. But, with good sense, and with some tips from South Bay authorities and the AARP, there’s help to stop you from paying for someone else’s holiday shopping.
The most straightforward advice, according to Gilroy police Sgt. Jason Smith, is to use a little common sense. “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” Smith said.
Phone scams are common, where the scammer uses “spoofing,” or fake phone numbers to make it seem that the caller is local. One of the most common types of phone scams is fake calls from scammers claiming to be from the IRS, threatening to arrest the victim if they don’t pay their taxes.
“The IRS isn’t going to come to your house and arrest you for not paying taxes,” Smith said. “No government agency or legitimate business is going to request or demand payment in gift cards. When in doubt, you can always ask for a callback phone number and let them know you will be contacting your local police department to verify the validity of their call.”
For bargain hunters, Craigslist, the internet’s unofficial garage sale, can be a great place to find anything from lawn chairs, kittens, places to live or even jobs. It’s also a good place for scammers to stalk their prey.
An example of a common Craigslist scam happens when a distant person sends the victim a real-looking check for a job, apartment or any other service. The scammer then instructs the victim to cash the check, keep half, and send the other half back to the scammer. Only when the victim sends the scammer their part of the money does the bank discover the check is fake, leaving the victim on the hook for the missing money.
“I would suggest to always meet in person in a visible public area to make an exchange of goods; only accept a cash payment,” Smith said.
Since the ’50s the AARP has fought to advance and protect the interest of older Americans, who are often the target of scammers.
As online purchases soar during the Christmas shopping season, online scams increase as well. The AARP warns customers to avoid steeply discounted items meant lure shoppers into fake online sales and to always rely on popular websites with strong safety records.
Seasonal job seekers are also often the targets of scammers, and since more than 500,000 people take seasonal jobs, there are plenty of targets. Scammers will pose as potential employees, using fake websites to gather the victim’s personal information to steal their identity. The biggest red flag are jobs that offer a lot of money for very little work. If the job looks too good to be true, it probably is.
Holiday travelers are another target of scammers who use copied photos and details of rental properties on third-party websites to book fake rentals. The AARP recommends never paying for a rental until you see it yourself and always verifying the listing with hotels directly before booking.
In winter, scammers claiming to be from utility companies use threats of shutting off power, water or heat unless the victim pays up. Scammers will insist that the victim did not pay their bill, and through fear tactics, they can extract money or personal information. The AARP recommends that potential victims hang up immediately when they get these calls and to call their utility provider to confirm their billing status.
This article originally appeared in San Jose Inside/Metro Silicon Valley’s sister publication, the Gilroy Dispatch.
A coalition of women’s groups are calling on people to join a postcard campaign to fight Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ pending rollback of Title IX regulations.
The Enough is Enough Voter Project has teamed up with Women’s March Los Angeles and the National Women’s Law Center to generate 100,000 postcards before the end of the public comment period for the U.S. Department of Education proposal, which would narrow schools’ obligations to people who report sexual misconduct.
DeVos’ plan—pitched as a way to make the process more fair to the accused and the institutions involved—marks a departure from Obama-era rules for Title IX, a landmark civil-rights law that bans gender discrimination in federally funded schools. If approved, it would basically raise the evidentiary standard for such complaints from a preponderance to “clear and convincing.”
DeVos’s regulations follow comments she made to an invitation-only audience in September 2017, outlining President Trump’s views on sexual misconduct claims. “Survivors, victims of a lack of due process, and campus administrators have all told me that the current approach does a disservice to everyone involved,” she told the audience.
Enough is Enough founder Michele Dauber, the Stanford professor who recently led California’s first successful judicial recall in nearly nine decades, begs to differ. She said the policy revision on the table would be devastating to victims of sexual violence. If the rule had been in place when USA Gymnastics coach Larry Nassar was abusing his victims, she said, Michigan State would have been unable to hold him accountable.
“That’s how extreme this is,” Dauber said.
“Betsy DeVos is trying to destroy Title IX and take us back to a time when rape and harassment were just accepted as part of what women had to put up with,” she said in announcing the postcard drive earlier this week. “Well, we aren’t going without a fight.”
The postcard drive is part of a broader effort joined by A-list celebrities, college activists and civil rights groups to bombard the powers that be with public input.
If the internet is good for anything, it’s flooding policymaking agencies with public comment during the feedback-gathering phase. Last Week Tonight host John Oliver famously leveraged air time to convince so many viewers to submit public comments in favor of net neutrality—alas, to no avail—that it crashed the FCC’s website.
Enough is Enough is taking an analog approach with its snail-mail drive. If you’re a child of the pre-digital age, you may already know how these postcard campaigns work. Request a pack (which you can do online, if so inclined), write a message (or use one pre-written by Enough is Enough), and send the card back. Organizers will then make sure it finds its way to Washington D.C.
“We are going to make sure the public is fully informed and that every voice is heard and every comment is counted” Dauber resolved.