San Jose City Council Negotiating City Employee Retirement Benefits
The San Jose City Council will hold a special meeting this afternoon to discuss moving forward in negotiations with employee bargaining units on retirement benefits. The council will defer acting on a declaration of fiscal and public safety emergency and fiscal reform ballot measures until Aug. 2, but will discuss cost analysis on the various proposals for retirement reform and the potential savings of the different plans, as well as potential opt-in reforms. Mayor Chuck Reed announced a proposal to declare a fiscal emergency in May, saying that it would rein in "skyrocketing" retirement costs and help the city avoid further cuts to services and layoffs of hundreds of workers, including police officers and firefighters. His proposal calls for setting limits on retirement benefits for new and current employees and retirees, but because the recommendations require changes to the city charter, they would have to win approval by voters. The city is considering an election possibly in March 2012. Many residents and city workers have already begun showing their disapproval, whether at council meetings or through demonstrations. Thursday evening, labor and community leaders gathered outside of City Hall for a rally organized by the South Bay Labor Council in support of collective bargaining. "They want to encourage City Council to use collective bargaining to solve pension problems rather than to declare a fiscal emergency and go to the ballot box," said Jody Meacham, a communications coordinator for Working Partnerships USA, a nonprofit founded by the Labor Council. Prior to the today's meeting, leaders and members of various faiths will hold a noontime blessing service in front of City Hall in support of collective bargaining.
Gov. Brown Speaks in SF, Optimistic About Balancing Budget, Calls for Special Election
Gov. Jerry Brown sounded optimistic in a speech in San Francisco on Thursday about solving California's budget crisis, while warning that a failure by the state Legislature to reach a deal would bring severe cuts. "It's very hard to herd the cats and get irreconcilable opposites to meet on common ground," Brown told an audience of apartment builders at the annual Pacific Coast Builders Conference at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. "But I think we have a path forward and I think we can reach it," he said. "We're not there yet but I'm confident we can get there." The Democratic governor is seeking a special election this fall to ask Californians to approve tax extensions to fill a $9.6 billion budget deficit. He needs the votes of four Republican legislators to set an election, but thus far has not been able to win those votes. Brown said he may seek a voter initiative if the Legislature doesn't set an election. But if a tax extension is not enacted through either process, "we must continue to retrench. That's not pretty," the governor said. Brown reiterated his often-repeated vow that he won't use what he called "smokescreens" or gimmicks employed by previous governors to balance the state budget. Brown needs the votes of two Republican Assembly members and two Republican state senators to create the two-thirds majority needed to set a special election, as well as to pass temporary "bridge" taxes that would be in effect until the election. Under his proposal, voters would be asked to approve a continuation of a 1 percent sales tax increase and a 0.05 percent vehicle license fee increase for up to five years. Those increases are scheduled to expire on June 30. Voters would be also be asked to reinstate an already-expired 0.25 percent personal income tax surcharge for four years beginning in 2012.
U.S. Islamophobia Rising: Favorable Rating 30%
Islamophobia is back on the rise in the U.S. despite cautious optimism in 2008 that post-Sept. 11 anti-Muslim sentiments had begun to decline, according to a new report by the University of California at Berkeley and a national Islamic rights group. The authors of "Same Hate, New Target: Islamophobia and Its Impact in the United States 2009-10" found that Americans' favorable rating of Islam is only 30 percent -- down 10 percentage points from November 2001, according to a Pew Research Center study. "Same Hate, New Target," released Thursday, was co-sponsored by UC Berkeley's Center for Race and Gender and the Council on American-Islamic Relations. It takes a in-depth look at intolerant actions and discourse and provided recommendations for combating Islamophobia in the future. "This report shows that Americans who embrace pluralism must act together to prevent Islamophobia from being accepted in mainstream society," CAIR national legislative director Corey Saylor said in a statement. "Islamophobia is the new face of an old hate that has targeted minorities throughout our nation's history." The groups defined Islamophobia as prejudice against or hatred of Islam and Muslims. After years of decline, it spiked after President Obama's 2009 inauguration, according to the report. The FBI found that 8.4 percent of hate crime victims in the U.S. in 2009 were targeted because of anti-Islam bias, according to the report.
Judge Dismisses Felony Hate Crime Charges Against Attackers of Transgender Woman
San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon said Thursday he is disappointed in a judge's decision to dismiss felony hate crime allegations against two men accused of assaulting and robbing a transgender woman near San Francisco's 16th Street BART station in April. Lionel Jackson, 32, and Maurice Perry, 37, are accused of attacking the woman on April 1 outside the BART station at Mission and 16th streets. At a preliminary hearing that ended Wednesday, Judge Bruce Chan ordered Jackson and Perry to stand trial on charges of assault, second-degree robbery and violating the victim's civil rights, but dismissed felony hate crime allegations against the pair. Gascon, speaking at a news conference Thursday at the San Francisco Hall of Justice, said he is disappointed in the judge's dismissal "despite a strong set of facts" about "an attack we believe was motivated by hate." Prosecutors said Jackson and Perry allegedly took the woman's smartphone, and when she demanded it back, the pair allegedly punched her, knocking her to the ground and yelling epithets at her. Alexandra Byerly, who was passing out condoms nearby as part of an HIV prevention campaign, testified at the preliminary hearing Monday that as the suspects were running away, one of them said, "Oh, I hate men dressed up as women." The two men were arrested shortly after the attack, which left the woman hospitalized. Gascon and Victor Hwang, the prosecutor in the case, said the district attorney's office plans to re-file the hate crime charge when the case goes to trial. Hwang said he disagrees with the judge's decision on the hate crime allegations, especially since the judge ordered the pair to stand trial on the civil rights violation, and the two charges "share the identical elements as to a biased motive." Chan had ruled that the primary motive for the attack was financial because it had started as a robbery, Hwang said. The felony hate crime allegation can add up to three years in state prison to a sentence, while the misdemeanor civil rights violation can only add up to a year in county jail, Hwang said. Clair Farley of the San Francisco LGBT Community Center said, "This ruling is troubling because it makes all of us feel as though we will not have the same protections and safeties we need if violence happens to us." Gascon said, "If we're serious about being a community of tolerance and a community of equality for all, then we need to start treating all of our citizens with equality, and we believe that this case highlights the lack of sensitivity and the lack of understanding that we have in these areas."
School District Sued for Failing to Protect Black Youths from Gang Attacks, Agrees to Settlement
Oakland civil rights attorney Pamela Price said Thursday that the New Haven Unified School District in Union City has agreed to pay $725,000 to settle a lawsuit that alleged that school officials failed to protect black youths from attacks by a Latino gang. However, school district spokesman Rick La Plante said, "There is no final settlement at the present time and to say so otherwise is premature." La Plante said final approval of the settlement is still pending and "is contingent upon several events taking place that have not yet occurred." But Price said U.S. District Court Judge Laurel Beeler approved the settlement at the conclusion of three settlement conference hearings and the district's school board approved it Tuesday night. Price said the settlement includes 13 remedial policies and programs that will be implemented by the school district to curb racial violence against black youths in its schools. She said the settlement calls for the $725,000 to be split among 12 students from six families. The suit alleged that the school district tolerated a pervasive pattern of racial violence and hate crimes directed at its black students, particularly crimes committed by the Decotos, a Latino gang. Price said the suit's goal was to force the district to take measures to protect black students and stop what she said were gang-inspired racially-motivated attacks in its schools. Price said the attacks began on Dec. 21, 2007, when Vernon Eddins, a 14-year-old black youth, was fatally shot in front of Barnard-White Middle School on Whipple Road in Union City. She said it's suspected that members of the Decoto gang killed Eddins but the case still hasn't been solved. The same plaintiffs have a similar lawsuit pending against the Union City Police Department alleging that it also hasn't done enough to protect black youths, Price said. But the Police Department said after the suit was filed that it has "a long-standing record of being responsive to supporting and defending the rights of all members of our diverse community."
Vallejo Resident Shot, 9th Homicide This Year
Vallejo police said a 22-year-old Vallejo resident was fatally shot in the 1000 block of Porter Street around 4 p.m. The homicide is the city's ninth this year, Sgt. Jeff Bassett said. The victim's name is being withheld until next of kin is notified, Bassett said. Anyone with information about this incident is asked to call the Vallejo police tip line at (800) 488-9383.
Fatal Car Crash Sparks Five-Acre Grass Fire
A fatal vehicle crash in Crockett on Thursday resulted in a five-acre grass fire, according to East Bay Regional Park District Assistant Fire Chief John Swanson. The 12:51 p.m. crash was originally reported as a car fire, according to CHP Officer S. Cakebread. Arriving on the scene, Cakebread said officers found the burning vehicle crashed into a pole at Winslow and Pomona streets. One fatality resulted from the crash, as did the fire, Swanson said. Regional park firefighters got the blaze under control by approximately 2:45 p.m. with assistance from the Crockett Fire Department, the Contra Costa Fire Protection District, and a helicopter from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, Swanson said. The fire did not cause any injuries, Swanson said. The cause of the fatal vehicle crash is under investigation. Swanson said