San Francisco Bay Area Friday Morning News Roundup

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Oakland: Auditor Accuses Councilmembers of Interfering With Contract

Oakland City Auditor Courtney Ruby issued a report Thursday alleging that City Council members Desley Brooks and Larry Reid interfered with the bidding process for the demolition and remediation process at the former Oakland Army Base.

Ruby's report also alleges that Brooks interfered with city workers in her efforts to get two teen centers built in her district in East Oakland, the Rainbow Teen Center and the Arroyo Viejo Recreation Center.

In addition, Ruby said Brooks threatened a city employee's work assignment and one of Reid's aides interfered in administrative affairs by directing parking officials to fix two of the aide's personal parking tickets.

Ruby said Reid's aide tried to "intimidate" parking officials and acted "inappropriately" toward the parking officer who issued the tickets by using profanity and trying to slap the tickets out of the officer's hand.

In her report, Ruby said she found "a general culture of interference within the city" which "appears to be felt across many city departments and is perceived to come from multiple councilmembers."

Ruby said some staff, including people in senior management positions, declined to speak with her office during her investigation "because of their fear of councilmembers' retaliation."

In a separate letter to Oakland residents, Ruby said, "This report strikes at the very integrity of Oakland's government.

Employees should be able to do their jobs without being subjected to undue influence from councilmembers and citizens and businesses should be able to live and transact business in a city that they know plays by the rules."

Reid and Brooks didn't return phone calls Thursday seeking comment on Ruby's report.

Ruby alleged that Brooks and Reid favored the Turner Construction Group in its bid for the Oakland Army Base project.

But in a letter to Ruby that's included in her 64-page report, Reid said, "Under no circumstances did I, at any time, direct staff to issue a RFP (request for proposals) on behalf of the Turner Group as it relates to the Oakland Army Base development or any other development project within the city of Oakland."

Reid said he was only trying to make sure that local firms had a good chance of getting the contract, which originally was set to go to an out-of-town firm through a non-competitive process.

Ruby said Mayor Jean Quan and City Administrator Deanna Santana "should not tolerate abusive treatment of their staff by councilmembers or their aides" and continue to educate staff that they should make a report anytime a councilmember inappropriately yells at or threatens them.

San Jose: State Agency Says San Jose Must Give Back Land for A's Stadium, Official Says Deal Still On

A state agency found Thursday that the city of San Jose improperly transferred $148 million in assets from its former redevelopment agency including parcels for a potential stadium for the Oakland A's but an official said the ruling does not jeopardize the stadium deal.

State Controller John Chiang said that San Jose must return to its San Jose RDA Successor Agency oversight board the stadium parcels and other property and cash it took from its former redevelopment agency.

Chiang said San Jose shifted the assets after a state law went into effect in 2011 dissolving RDAs. The city will have to transfer titles to about $138 million in land and improvements to the oversight board, said controller's office spokesman Jason Roper.

That property includes about 13 acres transferred to the San Jose Diridon Development Authority, a city joint powers authority, and optioned to A's owner Lew Wolff for a possible new stadium in downtown San Jose.

The group sold the option on parcels along Montgomery Street between West San Fernando and Park Avenue south of Diridon Caltrain station to Wolff in 2011 for about $7 million, its appraised market value for ballpark use, said Richard Keit, managing director of San Jose's oversight board.

Wolff's optioned land and two separate parcels meant for parking lots together have a book value of $29.1 million when the costs of demolishing buildings and relocating businesses are included, which can be expensive, Keit said.

While the controller's office declared the Wolff option property must go back to the oversight board, Wolff has a signed contract that must be honored and he will ultimately get the land back, Keit said.

"We believe the third-party option is legally binding for the A's," Keit said. "It's a legal agreement."

Keit said his legal argument is similar to one used Wednesday by a Superior Court judge in Sacramento that an RDA board could not void a stadium contract by the city of Santa Clara to give the San Francisco 49ers $30 million in redevelopment tax money.

But the controller's office said Thursday that the city signed the third-party contract with Wolff in November 2011, five months after the state law's June 28 cutoff date, Roper said.

Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese, an alternate member of the oversight board, said the controller's ruling would not hurt the A's stadium proposal.

"It doesn't kill the deal, it sends it back to square one," Cortese said. 

Regional: Two Berkeley Women Who Challenged Prop 8 Say They Will Be Proud and Excited At Supreme Court Arguments Tuesday

Two Berkeley women whose bid to marry will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday said Thursday they will be proud and excited to be in the courtroom in Washington, D.C., during the arguments.

But Kristin Perry, 48, and Sandra Stier, 50, said they want the focus to be on the case and not on themselves.

"We are very excited to have the end in sight," said Perry. "We think that when we get to the Supreme Court and hear Ted Olson arguing on our behalf, we'll be very proud and very moved."

Olson, of Washington, D.C., is one of two lead attorneys in the lawsuit filed in federal court in San Francisco in 2009 by Perry, Stier and gay couple Paul Katami and Jeffrey Zarrillo of Burbank.

He will argue for the plaintiffs on Tuesday, urging the court to rule that Proposition 8, California's voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage, is unconstitutional.

On the other side, Charles Cooper, also of Washington, D.C., representing the sponsors of Proposition 8, will be urging the court to uphold the 2008 voter initiative.

The sponsors, who contend that state voters were entitled to choose a traditional definition of marriage, are appealing a decision in which the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco struck down the measure last year.

Perry and Stier, who will fly to Washington, D.C., on Sunday, spoke in interviews at the San Francisco office of Olson's law firm, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. "We feel honored to be in this role," said Stier.

The two women said, however, that they don't know where they'll be sitting in the courtroom and don't care whether the justices notice them or even know who they are.

Instead, they said, they hope the justices will give all their attention to the arguments.

"Our job is just to bear witness at this point," said Stier. "We're just a California couple that wants to get married." 

The high court's decision is expected by the end of June.

Contra Costa Co.: Details Revealed About Shooter Who Killed CHP Officer Last September

An investigation into the shooting death of a California Highway Patrol officer on Interstate Highway 680 near Alamo last September found that the shooter was mentally troubled and pro-guns.

The Contra Costa County Sheriff's Office report released Thursday comes after CHP Officer Kenyon Youngstrom, 37, was shot and fatally injured after pulling over a driver with an obstructed license plate on southbound I-680 on the morning of Sept. 4.

The shooter, Christopher Boone Lacy, was shot by a fellow CHP officer who arrived at the scene. Both Youngstrom and Lacy were later pronounced dead at John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek.

In the months since the roadside shooting, authorities investigated Lacy's motive and background, interviewing as many as 100 family, friends, neighbors and co-workers.

Investigators analyzed data from Lacy's computers and other digital devices.

The investigation revealed that Lacy had suffered a mental breakdown in 1997 while he was in college.

He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Police found a handwritten suicide note at his home that is believed to have been written during his college breakdown. He earned his master's degree in computer science from San Francisco State University in 2005.

A year before the shooting, family members told authorities that Lacy had become a "loner," and moved to Corning, Calif., where he lived in a trailer.

He worked temporary jobs in Silicon Valley where he had a rented room in Sunnyvale.

Six of his computers revealed that Lacy had a lot of literature about libertarianism and the Sovereign Citizen Movement, and that he was a fervent supporter of the second amendment.

Also on his computers, Lacy had a "wish-list" that included "solar panel, water filter, sleeping bag, pond fence, bulletproof vests."

He had also visited a website about creating explosives.

The gun used to fatally wound Youngstrom was registered to Lacy and lawfully purchased in 2010. He did not have a concealed weapons permit.

His Jeep Wrangler that he was pulled over in was registered in his name.

The report concluded that there was no indication that Lacy intended to kill or assault law enforcement officials, although he strongly identified as a Sovereign Citizen and rejected the idea of government and laws.

SF: Former Alcatraz Residents Return to Island for 50th Anniversary of Closure

Alcatraz Island, which hosted its last inmate 50 years ago Thursday, was also home to prison workers and their families who returned to the island Thursday morning to mark the anniversary and recount their lives there.

The federal penitentiary closed on March 21, 1963, in part because of the high costs of maintaining the facility on an island in the middle of the Bay, according to Superintendent Frank Dean from the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which now oversees the property.

"Just as the inmates couldn't wait to get off the island, the public couldn't wait to get on," Dean said, noting that the abandoned prison has now become a tourist attraction drawing 1.5 million visitors each year.

But the closure brought an end to a colorful period of life for many correctional officers, other prison workers and their families who lived on Alcatraz.

Jim Albright, who came to Alcatraz as a correctional officer in 1959, said life on the island was "sometimes very exciting, sometimes very fearful, sometimes very boring."

More than 60 families of the workers lived in homes on the island and all mingled together at the social hall.

"We were just a small town, that's all," Albright said. His wife had to be taken off a boat in the middle of the night to give birth in San Francisco to their daughter, who he said later had trouble getting her passport because authorities did not believe she had lived on Alcatraz.

John Mahoney, another correctional officer at Alcatraz, took the last boatload of inmates off the island and said the men, convicted of murders and other major crimes, were considered extremely dangerous.

"You had to do something very serious to be on Alcatraz," Mahoney said. "These guys were pretty tough," he said. "When they decided someone was going to leave this world, they left it."

However, the inmates had respect for the guards, Mahoney said. No correctional officers were injured by a prisoner during his seven years on the island, he said.

SF: Judge Refuses to Reduce Bail For Man Who Rammed Police With Stolen Taxi 

A San Francisco Superior Court judge Thursday declined to reduce bail for a man who allegedly stole a taxi last week and used it to ram a police car, prompting an officer to shoot more than a dozen rounds at him.

The attorney for Peter Russell, 25, had argued for his $175,000 bail to be reduced or removed so he could go to a rehabilitation facility to be treated for alcoholism after the incident last Friday.

However, Judge Jerome Benson said Thursday that the case was too serious for Russell to be set free on a lower bail, citing the violent attacks on the taxi driver and police. At about 4:30 a.m. on March 15, Russell allegedly began jumping on the hood of a taxi near Jackson and Buchanan streets in San Francisco's Pacific Heights neighborhood and smashed its windshield, police said.

The cab driver fled and Russell got behind the wheel and drove away. Officers soon tracked the car to Jackson and Spruce streets in Presidio Heights, where they tried to block it from fleeing.

However, Russell allegedly drove straight at the officers, ripping off one of the doors of the police vehicle in a collision, the judge said Thursday.

One officer jumped out of the way and avoided injury while the other officer fired his service weapon at Russell. Benson said the officer fired 14 shots at the vehicle "because of the danger he felt the defendant posed to the public."

Russell allegedly fled in the taxi, which was found abandoned shortly afterward at Bay and Octavia streets near Fort Mason.

Russell was found a half-block away and taken into custody. He had a blood-alcohol content of at least .15 percent at the time of the incident, according to the judge, while defense attorney Stuart Hanlon said Russell was also taking antidepressants.

"It's a really difficult and sad case," Hanlon said Wednesday.

He had argued that Russell be released to Ohlhoff House, a San Francisco-based recovery center for people with drug or alcohol programs, saying Russell had already gone there on his own last year and completed a program.

However, Assistant District Attorney Nicole Crosby argued to keep the high bail because of the public safety risk Russell posed. He remains in custody on carjacking, assault on a police officer, DUI and reckless driving charges and will return to court again on March 28.

Morgan Hill: Teacher Charged With 10 Counts For Spiking Kids Cups With Sleeping Pills

A Hollister woman was charged Thursday by the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office with 10 misdemeanor counts for allegedly spiking cups used by pre-schoolers with sleeping pills.

Deborah Gratz, 59, a preschool teacher, was charged with five counts of attempted child endangerment and five counts of assault for allegedly putting the sleep aid Sominex into kids' sippy cups, Deputy District Attorney Sumerlie Davis.

The defendant, who is out of custody on supervised release, is set to be arraigned March 26 in the South County Courthouse in Morgan Hill, Davis said.

Gratz, who had worked at the Kiddie Academy in Morgan Hill since 2007 and supervised nap times of about 10 children aged one and two, Davis said.

On March 8, a fellow teacher noticed Gratz allegedly placed the Sominex into the water cups of the kids and confiscated the containers before they could drink from them, Davis said.

Teachers said they found residue of the sleep drug, which contains a warning not to administer to anyone under 12 years old, in five of the cups, Davis said.

The matter was reported to police on March 11, the Monday after the incident, Morgan Hill police arrested Gratz that day, Davis said.

The district attorney's office cannot prove that any children were actually drugged with anything and filed the charges based on the police report, Davis said.

Oakland: Three People Charged in Fatal Shooting Incident

Three people have been charged in connection with a shooting incident at an East Oakland house Sunday morning that stemmed from the theft of some marijuana and left one man dead and another man wounded.

The incident also led to a lengthy standoff with police before one of the suspected gunmen was arrested.

James Shawn, 26, has been charged with murder for allegedly fatally shooting 27-year-old Cruz Mendoza of Oakland at a house party in the 1400 block of 25th Avenue about 1:20 a.m. Sunday Oakland police officer Phong Tran said in a probable cause statement filed in court that Shawn confronted Mendoza because Shawn was upset that his marijuana had been stolen.

Shawn also is charged with two counts of assault with a semi-automatic firearm for allegedly shooting at 20-year-old Javier Duenas of Oakland, who was hit in the neck but has been treated for his injuries and released, and at Chio Choy Saelee, who wasn't hit.

Although Duenas allegedly was a victim in the incident, in an unusual twist he's been charged with shooting into an occupied dwelling for allegedly shooting at Shawn, who wasn't hit, after Shawn had shot him and with being a felon in possession of a firearm.

In addition, Duenas' girlfriend, Analicia Guerrero, is charged with carrying a concealed weapon for allegedly trying to get rid of Duenas' gun.

Oakland police arrested Shawn at about 8 a.m. Sunday after he was found hiding in a yard adjacent to the house in the 1400 block of 25th Avenue.

SF: Judge Declines to Issue Temporary Order Blocking City Nudity Ban

A federal judge Thursday turned down a request by five nudism activists for a temporary restraining order blocking a San Francisco ban on nakedness on public streets, sidewalks and transit vehicles.

U.S. District Judge Edward Chen said in a written ruling that a motion filed by the activists last Friday was not accompanied by evidence, was "lacking in details" and was "lacking in any substantive legal argument in support."

The five plaintiffs filed the motion for a temporary restraining order together with an amended version of a lawsuit challenging the ban. The ban went into effect on Feb. 1.

Three days before that, Chen dismissed an earlier version of the lawsuit that claimed the measure violated the right of free speech. Chen said nudity is not protected speech because it is not "inherently expressive."

The amended lawsuit claims police are enforcing the ban in an unconstitutionally discriminatory way by targeting the plaintiffs in events they organize, but not others who go nude in other events.

In addition to refusing the request for a temporary restraining order, Chen declined to set a hearing on a motion for a preliminary injunction, which would be the next step in the case, for the same reasons of lack of evidence and detail.

But he said the plaintiffs could refile a request for a preliminary injunction if the motion is "properly briefed and supported."

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are San Francisco residents Mitch Hightower, George Davis, Russell Mills and Russell "Trey" Allen and Berkeley resident Oxane "Gypsy" Taub.

Their lawyer, Cristina DeEdoardo, said she plans to file a new request for a preliminary injunction.

"We're disappointed but we will continue the struggle," she said.

The law enacted by the Board of Supervisors last year bans public nudity on streets, sidewalks and transit stations and vehicles.

It makes exceptions for young children and participants in parades and fairs that have received permits.

Separate city laws restrict nudity in restaurants, public seating areas and parks.

Contra Costa Co.: Officers Testify Alamo Man Repeatedly Harrassed Neighbor Before Allegedly Killing Her

Multiple cameras captured an Alamo man allegedly beating his neighbor and pushing his wife to the ground, ultimately killing her, law enforcement officers and Contra Costa County prosecutors said Thursday.

A preliminary hearing began Thursday for Michael Littman, 59, who is charged with murder and assault for allegedly striking and fatally injuring his next-door neighbor, 59-year-old Doris Penico, on the steep driveway between their homes in Alamo on Aug. 27, 2012.

The alleged attack came after years of tense-turned-hostile relations between the Littmans and Penicos stemming from the use of a shared driveway and an easement on the Littmans' property, according to prosecutors.

Deputy District Attorney Molly Manoukian said that in the last couple of years before Penico's death, Littman became increasingly aggressive toward his neighbors, videotaping and photographing them on numerous occasions.

Contra Costa County sheriff's Detective Brandon Garry testified Thursday that he examined more than 100 video files, photos and documents seized from the defendant's home documenting the Penicos' actions in the shared driveway or on their own property.

In 2010, the Penicos had hidden surveillance cameras installed at their home with a view of their driveway.

Beltran testified that in the surveillance footage, Littman can be seen "many times" recording the Penicos in their driveway.

Surveillance footage from last February shows Doris Penico running away from Littman, who was "walking very briskly, very aggressively toward her," he testified.

Later that day, the hidden cameras captured the woman walking down the driveway as Littman pulled into the driveway in his van.

He then turned into the driveway, making no attempt to slow down and prompting her to jump out of the way into some mulch off of the driveway, the sergeant testified.

The Penicos' cameras captured the alleged Aug. 27 assault against Victor Penico and the fatal injuries suffered by his wife, according to prosecutors.

Footage from Littman's iPhone showed him recording the couple, and not responding when they asked repeatedly why he was filming them.

That footage ended with a scuffle, prosecutors said.

Around 11 a.m. on Aug. 27, sheriff's deputies responded to 3036 Stonegate Drive for a report of a fight among neighbors.

Contra Costa County sheriff's Sgt. Paul Murphy testified Thursday that he arrived to find Penico lying on the ground, her son holding a bloody T-shirt to her head and her husband, shirtless and with blood on his face, standing beside her.

Penico told officers that his wife had been backing out of the shared driveway in her station wagon when she noticed Littman filming her with his cellphone.

She stopped and asked him repeatedly why he was recording her, then got back into her car and called her husband, who was inside the house, according to prosecutors and law enforcement officers' testimony Thursday.

Bay Area Friday Morning Weather Forecast

Sunny skies are likely in the Bay Area this morning. Highs are expected to be in the mid 60s, with northwest winds up to 10 mph. Clear skies are likely this evening.

Lows are expected to be in the mid 40s, with westerly winds up to 15 mph. Sunny skies are likely Saturday morning.

Highs are expected to be in the lower 60s, with winds up to 15 mph in the afternoon.

 

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