SF Supes Axes Program to Encourage Police Not to Retire
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors decided Tuesday not to extend a program designed to encourage police officers not to retire after a report by the city controller's office found it was costing the city millions of dollars.
The Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP) was approved by voters as Proposition B in February 2008 as a three-year program intended to reduce the need to recruit, hire and train new officers to meet staffing requirements, and was supposed to be cost-neutral to the city.
However, the city controller's report in April found that the program would cost $6 million annually if it were allowed to continue past its June 30 expiration date.
The program is eligible only to police officers who are at least 50 years old, have 25 years of service, and are full-time officers.
Once officers entered the program, they had money put aside in a tax-deferred account that they would receive once they leave the force.
If officers stayed longer than they would have without the program, it would save the city money by not having to spend it on health benefits for two employees -- the retiree and a new hire -- but it would cost the city money if they retired sooner than normal.
The controller's report found that before the program, 12 percent of officers who were 55 years old with 25 years of service were retiring, while that number jumped to 33 percent after the program was enacted.
The Board of Supervisors voted 10-1 Tuesday against extending the program past June 30.
Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, who is running for sheriff in the November election, was the only member of the board to support extending the program, saying more time was needed to determine its efficiency, and that it could help stave off the attrition of hundreds of officers in the coming years.
San Francisco Police Officers Association president Gary Delagnes said that he expects the department will lose up to 500 officers in the next three years because of retirement and attrition.
Home Fire and Grass Fire Reported in San Jose
A home fire and a grass fire that were reported within 12 minutes of each other Tuesday evening on separate sides of the city caused a shuffling of San Jose's firefighting resources, a fire captain said.
At 6:43 p.m., the fire department received a report of smoke coming from the eaves of a home near the intersection of North Cragmont Avenue and McKee Road, Capt. Rob Brown said.
Three engines, two fire trucks and two battalion chiefs responded to the scene, and the attic fire was contained relatively quickly despite requiring "some extensive overhaul due to embers in the attic," Brown said.
The fire burned for about 20 minutes and was brought under control at about 7:05 p.m.
Firefighters forced entry into the unoccupied home and located a dog inside that was brought to safety in the backyard. Brown said the home's owner arrived before firefighters left the scene.
Early estimates indicate a loss of about $25,000 to the structure and its contents.
Twelve minutes after the home fire was reported, a grass fire near a U.S. Highway 101 off-ramp was reported across town near East Brokaw Road, Brown said.
At least 5 engines and two battalion chiefs responded to the 1-acre fire, which consumed some items from a nearby homeless encampment when it spread to neighboring trees. "Smoldering, deep-seated pockets of burning debris" -- such as mattresses -- had to be torn apart and extinguished, requiring extra water, Brown said.
The grass fire burned for more than an hour before it was brought under control at 8:12 p.m. Part of the problem in fighting the simultaneous fires, Brown said, was that the department's resources had to be redistributed to maintain adequate fire protection coverage across the city.
The causes of both fires remain unknown and under investigation. Heavy rains in recent weeks followed by this week's hotter temperatures have allowed lush vegetation in the valley's grassy areas to quickly become a parched tinderbox.
"We're all on a heightened sense of alert," Brown said. .
Oakland Mayor and City Council Discuss Budget Deficit
Oakland Mayor Jean Quan and City Council members met Tuesday and Tuesday night to discuss ways to balance the city's budget, which has a $58 million deficit.
Quan and council members discussed budget-balancing proposals at a closed session, one that was expected to be lengthy, that began at 1:30 p.m., according to Quan's spokeswoman, Sue Piper. A public hearing on the budget was to begin at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.
However, Piper said the council would not make a decision on the budget Tuesday night and instead was expected to take action at a special meeting on June 28. The city has a June 30 deadline for passing its budget.
Quan wants to balance the city's budget in part by getting concessions from city workers, such as having them contribute more money for their retirements.
City workers and community groups were expected to rally on the steps of City Hall at 4:30 p.m. to protest current budget proposals and present a $42 million cost-saving plan to keep frontline services intact and keep all of the city's libraries open, according to Carlos Rivera, a spokesman for Service Employees International Union Local 1021, one of the unions involved in the event.
Members of the Friends of the Tool Lending Library plan to speak at the council meeting to protest a proposal to close 14 of Oakland's library branches, group spokeswoman Lisa Ellis said.
The Tool Lending Library is housed at the Temescal branch, one of the branches that is slated to be closed. Group members will come to the meeting with rakes, shovels and drill bits to send the message that tools repair, build and improve Oakland, Ellis said.
City Council President Larry Reid said he is still hopeful that the council can agree on a budget before the June 30 deadline but that he is not optimistic because budget discussions between the city and its unions are moving slowly.
Reid said he thinks "it will be a miracle" if the city approves a budget before the deadline and he thinks it is more likely that a budget would not pass until early July. .
SFMTA Approves Muni Chief Nat Ford's Severance
The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency approved a separation agreement for executive director Nathaniel Ford Tuesday afternoon at a board meeting in City Hall.
Nathaniel Ford, the transit agency's executive director and CEO, announced last week he was resigning two and a half years before his contract's end.
The board of seven directors unanimously passed and certified Ford's resignation.
Earlier Tuesday, deputy executive Carter Rohan announced his resignation from the agency, effective July 23, SFMTA spokesman Paul Rose said.
Chairman Tom Nolan has opened the executive director position to a nationwide search. Letters of interest will be accepted through July 1. The board will not hire a search firm, Rose said.
A special meeting will be held on July 19 to discuss the search process.
Rose said the board wants to have someone in place by the time Rohan officially resigns at the end of July.
Also at Tuesday's board meeting, a representative from Senator Leland Yee's office presented a petition with more than 1,200 signatures to oppose a $384,000 severance package for Ford.
"San Francisco taxpayers and Muni riders deserve better than a completely out-of-touch public agency," said Yee, who is a mayoral candidate in the November election. .
Marin Prosecutor: James Raphael Mitchell Beat Girlfriend to Death
A prosecutor told a Marin County jury Tuesday morning that James Raphael Mitchell killed his estranged girlfriend by beating her to death with a baseball bat outside her Novato home as she held their 1-year-old daughter.
Danielle Keller, 29, was murdered the evening of July 12, 2009, her daughter's first birthday.
Deputy district attorneys Leon Kousharian and Charles Cacciatore began their case against Mitchell Tuesday by playing a recording of a 911 call to Novato police that came in around 7 p.m. that day.
A neighbor tells the police dispatcher her husband came to Keller's aid, but that Keller had severe head injuries and was already dead. She told the dispatcher the attacker had fled with the child.
Mitchell, 29, of Pittsburg, is the son of adult filmmaker Jim Mitchell, of Mitchell Brothers fame.
He is charged with murder, kidnapping, child abduction, child endangerment, stalking, and murder during a kidnapping. Mitchell's attorney, Stuart Hanlon, told the jury his client did not go to Keller's house at 3 Diablo Court intending to kill her or to kidnap their daughter.
"He was there and he will explain what happened. There is no anger. He was just begging for her to love him and let him see the baby on her birthday. There was no intent to kill," Hanlon said.
Mitchell surrendered to police in Citrus Heights when his car ran out of gas, Kousharian said. Dots of Keller's blood were found on the little girl's face, Kousharian said.
"She was under or near her mom when she was beaten," Kousharian said.
DNA tests determined that blood splatters found on Mitchell's pants and shoes were Keller's, and that a bloody bat found two feet from Keller's body had a fingerprint from Mitchell's left index finger, Kousharian said. Kousharian told the jury there were two restraining orders against Mitchell, one in San Francisco and one in Marin, prohibiting him from coming within 100 yards of Keller, who had custody of the child.
Mitchell had previously violated the restraining orders on June 26, 2009, Kousharian said. The trial is taking place before Marin County Superior Court Judge Kelly Simmons. .
Fed Prosecutors Ask to Postpone Barry Bonds Hearing
Without saying whether they plan to retry Barry Bonds on three deadlocked counts, federal prosecutors asked a U.S. judge in San Francisco Tuesday to postpone the next hearing in the case until Aug. 26.
The former San Francisco Giants slugger, who holds Major League Baseball's career home run record, is accused of lying to a federal grand jury in 2003 when he denied knowingly taking steroids or human growth hormone.
In a trial in April, a jury in the court of U.S. District Judge Susan Illston convicted him of one count of giving evasive testimony to the grand jury, but deadlocked on three other counts of perjury.
Illston had been scheduled to hold a hearing Friday to set a date for a retrial on those charges.
Prosecutors have not yet stated whether they will retry Bonds, but after the April trial, U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag said prosecutors hoped to tell Illston "as soon as possible" whether they will seek a retrial. Illston had also scheduled a second hearing on July 1 on motions by Bonds for a judgment of acquittal or for a new trial on the evasive-testimony charge on which Bonds was convicted.
Defense lawyers argued in papers filed last week that a statement by Bonds that trial jurors identified as evasive was rambling but not untruthful and was therefore not a crime. In Tuesday's filing, prosecutors asked Illston to cancel both the June 24 and July 1 hearings.
They asked her to set a briefing schedule on the motions to set aside the sole conviction, and to hear arguments on that issue on Aug. 26. The federal attorneys said they will be better able to give the judge "meaningful information" about scheduling a retrial after the defense request is decided.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Parrella wrote, "The parties will be in a far better position to provide meaningful information to the court regarding the scheduling of the pending counts that remain in this case once the defendant's motions have been heard and resolved." .
Drunk Driver Arraigned for Vehicular Manslaughter in San Mateo County
A woman accused of killing another woman in a drunken driving crash in East Palo Alto on Friday night was arraigned in San Mateo County Superior Court Tuesday afternoon.
Leylani Simmons, 25, of East Palo Alto, appeared in court with large bruises covering most of the left side of her face.
She did not enter a plea. Simmons has been charged with vehicular manslaughter, driving under the influence of alcohol resulting in great bodily injury or death, and driving on a suspended license, according to the district attorney's office.
Simmons was arrested early Monday evening at Stanford University Medical Center, where she had been recovering from injuries sustained in Friday's fatal crash, acting police Capt. Jeff Liu said. Patrol officers spotted Simmons driving recklessly on Pulgas Avenue at about 10:30 p.m., Liu said.
East Palo Alto woman Lorina Veamatahau, 22, was a passenger in the car. Police attempted to stop Simmons, but she reportedly refused to pull over and drove as far as an intersection with East Bayshore Road, where she lost control of her car and crashed, Liu said. Simmons and Veamatahau were both ejected in the crash. Veamatahau died at the scene.
Upon release from the hospital, Simmons was arrested and taken to San Mateo County Jail, where she remains in custody with bail set at $500,000. Simmons had an active arrest warrant in Santa Clara County for reckless driving and defrauding an innkeeper, according to police.
She is scheduled to reappear in court in Redwood City on Friday at 1:30 p.m.
Anyone who might have witnessed the crash is asked to call or text message police at (650) 409-6792 or email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
6 Dogs and Cat Die from Poison in Brentwod
Six dogs and a cat belonging to three families in Brentwood died Monday and Tuesday from what appears to have been poison, Contra Costa Animal Services Lt. Nancy Anderson said.
The animals, which belonged to three neighbors on Westpoint Way, began getting sick Monday afternoon, Anderson said. "It appears that they somehow ingested some type of toxin," Anderson said.
Animal Services investigators found what appeared to be meat in the backyards of the homes where the animals lived, Anderson said. Animal autopsies, known as necropsies, will be performed on the animals to determine what killed them, but so far Anderson said no suspects had been identified.
One of the victims, however, wrote on his Facebook page that another neighbor might have poisoned the animals. Leroy Moyer, with the local nonprofit organization Voices for Pets, which seeks to strengthen and enforce laws against cruelty to animals, praised animal services investigators for taking the case seriously. "It's a serious crime and it should be taken seriously," Moyer said.
Moyer said he had heard that investigators did have a possible suspect and, if an arrest is made, he said he would be working to encourage the district attorney's office to file charges.
The suspected poisonings in Brentwood came about a week after two dogs died from poisoning in Concord, Moyer said.
In that case, the dogs' owners found turkey meatballs rolled up with granules of poison in their yard, Moyer said. Moyer said he did not believe the two cases were related. .
Five-Alarm Fire Destroys SJSU Fraternity
Just last week, Harminder Toor painted his room at the Kappa Sigma fraternity house near San Jose State University and bought new furniture in anticipation of spending his summer there. His room, along with others on the second floor of the fraternity at 168 S. 11th Street, was destroyed in a five-alarm fire early Tuesday morning.
The blaze, reported at about 3:20 a.m., displaced 28 people and caused an estimated $1.7 million in damage.
"I lost everything," said Toor, a fourth-year mechanical engineering student.
He had moved off campus for the first time last week and had been busy shopping and setting up his new room.
But Tuesday, along with the new furniture, he lost his suits, laptop, PlayStation, TV, new watch and iPhone.
"I put so much work in my room," Toor said. "I know all these material goods I can get back, but it's just a pain."
Toor said he was sleeping and was awakened by the sound of people screaming and the smell of smoke. He and his fellow fraternity members all escaped safely.
San Jose fire Capt. Mary Gutierrez said firefighters entered the home and battled the blaze from inside for about 45 minutes. When it began to look like the building might collapse, they moved outside and fought the fire defensively. The blaze was controlled at about 6:10 a.m.
One firefighter suffered second-degree burns to his hands and was taken to a hospital, but has since been released.
The second floor was badly burned and there was severe water damage to the first floor, she said. "It's a complete loss," Gutierrez said. Crews were working Tuesday morning to salvage the residents' belongings.
Five chinchillas in a cage were rescued. They were agitated from all the activity, but were otherwise fine, Gutierrez said.
The American Red Cross has been called to the scene to assist the 28 people who were displaced. Gutierrez said there was a summer session under way at the university. She said the fraternity house is owned by university alumni.