Tuesday Morning News Roundup
Station Improvements Planned For Embarcadero, Montgomery Bart Stations
BART is seeking the public’s input for improvements at the Embarcadero and Montgomery stations in downtown San Francisco and will be holding two in-station events today and on Thursday, respectively.
The transit agency is looking at various options to ease overcrowding at its two busiest stations, BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost said.
BART averages a weekday ridership of over 400,000 people per day, according to BART’s website. During its peak periods, almost half of all riders either board or exit at the Embarcadero and Montgomery stations, where the platforms are the smallest in the system.
Trost said the transit agency is conducting outreach for the $410,000 study, scheduled to be published in spring 2016. After that, BART will have to find funding to make the improvements, and Trost said the agency is not sure where the money will come from or when the improvements would take place.
BART workers have slowly been removing “bulky” items, such as broken payphone kiosks, from the platforms to make more space, Trost said.
“We’ve pretty much been doing everything we can think of that doesn’t cost a lot of money or require a lot of planning to make space on the platforms,” Trost said.
BART is hoping to gather riders’ top three priorities for the improvements, so staff can assess the estimated costs and look for funding sources.
Some suggested ideas include building new side platforms on the opposite side of the existing tracks, reconfiguring the platform for a more efficient use of space, upgrading elevators and escalators, or installing sliding doors adjacent to the tracks, which Trost said can help improve safety for riders trying to cram into packed trains.
The improvements are part of BART’s Station Modernization Program, a directive from the BART board of directors to its staff to make the stations more comfortable, improve station functionality, safety, access, appearance, and overall customer experience.
To chime in on the improvement plans, the public can fill out an online survey for the Embarcadero and Montgomery stations by Nov. 7 at https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/EmbarcaderoSt and https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/MontgomerySt.
An in-station event is scheduled for today at the Embarcadero station from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. and from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.
BART representatives will be available at the Montgomery station on Thursday from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. and from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.
CCSF Trial Begins As State Chancellor Testifies College Does Not Deserve Termination
The chancellor of California community colleges testified in Superior Court on Monday that he believes a commission’s decision to terminate the accreditation of City College of San Francisco “was not an appropriate action.”
“I believe the college does not deserve to have its accreditation terminated,” Chancellor Brice Harris told San Francisco Superior Court Judge Curtis Karnow.
Harris, who oversees the state’s 112 public community colleges, testified on the first day of the trial of a lawsuit filed by San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera against the western regional branch of the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges.
Herrera claims the commission violated the state’s Unfair Competition Law by using unfair, biased and illegal procedures when it decided in 2013 to terminate the college’s accreditation.
He is seeking a court order overturning that decision and requiring the Novato-based commission to start a new evaluation process.
The termination was originally due to take effect on July 31, but in January, Karnow issued a preliminary injunction suspending the termination until the completion of trial proceedings.
Karnow is hearing the case without a jury and is expected to issue a written decision sometime after the close of the five-day trial.
Herrera filed the lawsuit last year on behalf of the people of California. City College itself is not a party in the case.
The unfair practices alleged by Herrera include a perceived or actual conflict of interest in the appointment of Commission President Barbara Beno’s husband, Laney College Career and Technical Education Dean Peter Crabtree, to a 2012 committee evaluating the San Francisco college.
The lawsuit also alleges that committee and a follow-up committee in 2013 had too few academic members, as opposed to administrators; that the commission failed to provide the college with due process to respond to its charges; and that it was biased against the college’s mission of “open access” to the community.
The commission in court filings has denied that it was prejudiced or unfair and contended the decision to withdraw the accreditation was “absolutely correct” and was based on “enormous problems facing CCSF.”
The group’s 2013 decision cited alleged problems with financial accountability, institutional governance and compliance with standards for instructional programs and student support services.
During cross-examination by commission attorney Andrew Sclar on Monday, Harris said that when the commission issued its report in July 2013, he believed the college was “significantly out of compliance” with accrediting standards.
The report and conversations with Beno led him to urge the community college system’s board of governors to appoint a special trustee, Robert Agrella, to replace the college’s elected board of trustees in leading reforms, he said.
Since then, however, Harris testified, “I’ve learned that there is a tremendous amount of teaching and learning going on at the college and it is serving students in the community.
Herrera’s first witness Monday was City College English professor and faculty union leader Alisa Messer, who said she was shocked to learn after the evaluation that Beno’s husband was on the committee.
Both sides in the trial have said in court filings that they plan to call Beno as a witness. Lawyers from Herrera’s office expect to call her to the stand this afternoon, according to an office spokesman.
In addition to the preliminary injunction granted by Karnow, the college received a second reprieve in July when the commission granted its application to seek a newly created status known as “restoration” while it attempts to meet accrediting standards.
A new evaluation team is scheduled to visit the college the week of Nov. 17 and the commission is expected to decide in January whether to grant the status, which could last for up to two years.
The commission has argued in a brief filed with Karnow that the new process gives the college the second chance for evaluation that it wanted, and that further court orders are unnecessary.
But the city lawyers contend the restoration option puts the college in a precarious position because the commission’s future decision can’t be appealed and because the college would have to be in full compliance with all accreditation standards, rather than the normal, substantial compliance.
Former Prisoners Could Find Opportunity In Ambitious West Oakland Project
From a trash-strewn vacant lot in West Oakland a group of community leaders hope a “field of dreams” will sprout in an ambitious plan to develop an enterprise to give people coming out of prison a chance at a better life.
Led by former Black Panther Party chairwoman Elaine Brown, the group of organizers, business leaders and investors hopes to have work on an urban farm in the vacant lot at Seventh and Campbell streets started in the next few months.
The lot today is a dusty garden of scattered weeds, abandoned tires and broken glass lined by graffiti-covered walls and rickety fences looped with barbed wire.
But in the run-down lot the founders of the newly-formed nonprofit Oakland and the World Enterprises, Inc. sees not blight but opportunity for convicted criminals trying to find their way after prison, and a future for the once bustling neighborhood.
Brown said Monday that while the project will start with an urban farm, the group hopes to construct a 12-story building of housing and businesses, all owned by the people who live and work there, intended to be people coming out of prison or in a situation where they’re at risk of going to prison.
Brown and the coalition she has assembled hope to address a litany of problems facing West Oakland, including the loss of working class jobs, the destruction of the neighborhood’s economy, forced displacement from rising rents and the challenges of reintegrating people who have spent time in prison.
As incarceration rates have skyrocketed over the last 30 years, communities like West Oakland have struggled to reintegrate people getting out of prison. Opportunities are scarce with few employers willing to take a chance on someone who served prison time.
City Councilwoman Lynette Gibson McElhaney cited the construction of the massive post office and the above-ground BART tracks through the corridor as something that disrupted the thriving community, a largely black community that remained prosperous despite the challenges of the 40s, 50s and 60s.
The project could be slow to start, as first the soil must be tested for contamination. If it turns out to be polluted, they will take the first steps in building the farm with raised beds and aquaponics, urban farm activist David Roach said.
Meanwhile, Brown said fundraising efforts are beginning in earnest and they will begin recruiting marginalized residents to come work and devising a pay scale for them.
The founder of Mo’ Better Food, Roach has worked with other local urban farming and healthy food initiatives in West Oakland like City Slicker Farms and People’s Grocery.
But Brown said they aim to have the project grow far beyond that, incorporating athletic shoe and clothing manufacturing businesses, a fitness center, a tech hub, retail outlets, a juice and fresh food bar and low-income housing into a 12-story building to be constructed on the same lot.
The farm won’t go away with the building’s construction — the top two floors will still be devoted to growing produce, Brown said.
Opportunities will continue for former inmates, who they intend to employ at every step in the construction.
If all goes well, she said they hope to break ground on the building in about a year.
But Monday was all about celebrating the acquisition of the plot, a home base and springboard for their dream of “1,000 businesses to bloom” giving opportunity to West Oakland’s most troubled residents, Brown said.
Castro Valley Doctor Is Charged For Insurance Fraud Scheme
A Castro Valley doctor and his office manager have been charged for an alleged insurance fraud scheme, Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley said Monday.
The charges against Dr. Douglas Abeles and Gabriela Cuevas, his office manager, indicate that for several years he falsely and fraudulently billed insurance companies for medical services that weren’t provided, O’Malley said.
Abeles had an orthopedic medical practice in Castro Valley but also owned and operated at least four medically-related businesses from an office at a different location at the Castro Valley-Hayward border, according to O’Malley. Cuevas managed those businesses for Abeles, she said.
The businesses included drug testing urine analysis for medical offices that contracted with Abeles and it was through the businesses that Abeles and Cuevas allegedly fraudulently billed insurance companies for lab reports, O’Malley said.
Abeles has been charged with 31 felony counts, including insurance fraud, grand theft, conspiracy, filing false claims and false personation of another. Cuevas has been charged with multiple counts of the same offenses.
O’Malley said the charges were filed following a joint investigation by her office and the California Department of Insurance and Abeles surrendered on an arrest warrant.
She said the investigation “required extensive and diligent investigative work, entailing the meticulous collection of evidence,” because large insurance fraud schemes are often highly sophisticated.
State Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones said, “This physician’s systemic abuse of the medical services system inflates premiums for all Californians who eventually end up footing the bill for this type of fraud.”
Jones said, “Our detectives, investigators and law enforcement partners spend countless hours to root out those who abuse the insurance system for their own personal financial gain. The Alameda County DA’s Office was an invaluable partner in moving this case forward.”
Board Of Supervisors To Vote On Giving Themselves Raises
The Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors is set to decide today whether or not to give itself a $32,000 raise.
The board will vote on a proposed ordinance that would bump up their annual salaries by about 33 percent, from $97,483 to $129,227 per year, according to county documents.
The board is poised to approve the salary boost after voting 4-1 last week to direct county staffers to draft an ordinance for the proposed increase.
If adopted, the raise would be the board’s first salary hike since 2006, when the county supervisors voted to give themselves a 60 percent pay raise, followed in 2007 by a 2 percent cost of living increase, according to county officials.
The proposed $32,000 increase amounts to about 70 percent of a Contra Costa County Superior Court judge’s salary, according to county officials.
As part of the salary proposal, the board has the option to permanently equate their salaries to a percentage of the Superior Court judges’ income. Contra Costa County is one of three Bay Area counties that doesn’t tie its salaries to those of superior court judges, according to County Administrator David Twa.
Except for San Francisco County, where the Board of Supervisors sets its salary by civil commission every five years, and San Mateo County, which also establishes its salary by ordinance, most Bay Area county supervisors have set their salaries at anywhere from 47 to 80 percent of county judicial salaries, according to Twa.
“There’s always concern and backlash to any increase, and my hope is that by setting it long-term to where we think it should be, it just institutionalizes an ongoing linkage that takes it out of our hands,” Supervisor John Gioia said at the board’s meeting last Tuesday.
Most of his colleagues say that while the board approving its own raises is always controversial, a pay increase is overdue.
Supervisor Karen Mitchoff called the proposed salary hike “reasonable” and noted that even with the increase, the supervisors’ salaries would fall below those of county department heads, for whom the board recently approved raises.
Supervisor Candace Andersen, the sole “no” vote for the proposed increase, said now isn’t the time for the board to gives itself a raise beyond 2 or 3 percent, which is comparable to the raises being offered to county employees.
Representatives from some county workers’ unions are also taking issue with board’s proposed raise.
“If you take action to give yourself raises now, you are sending a strong message to the working people in this county – that you don’t care about their financial well-being, only your own,” Public Employees Union, Local 1 business agent Eileen Bissen told the board.
Vince Wells, a Contra Costa County Fire Protection District captain and president of the fire district’s union, Local 1230, questioned the timing of the board’s proposed salary raise, noting that his union is also overdue for a raise. He said the union has had 12 meetings with county negotiators to work out a new contract and expects there to be a dozen more meetings before any agreement is reached.
The Board of Supervisors meeting starts today at 9 a.m. in the Board Chambers at the County Administration Building at 651 Pine St. in Martinez.
Driver In Crash That Killed Sj Woman Suspected Of DUI
A 23-year-old man was arrested after getting into a crash on Interstate Highway 880 in Fremont early Sunday morning that killed a San Jose woman, according to the California Highway Patrol.
His 2015 Chrysler 200 struck a 1995 Honda Accord on southbound I-880 near Stevenson Boulevard shortly before 3 a.m.
The Honda’s driver, identified by the Alameda County coroner’s bureau as 25-year-old Irma Bran Jimenez, died from her injuries.
Two passengers in the Honda, a 22-year-old man and a 2-year-old boy, were both injured. The man suffered major injuries and the child’s injuries were minor, the CHP said.
The Chrysler’s driver was not injured and he was arrested on suspicion of driving while intoxicated and booked into Santa Rita Jail. His name has not been released.
All lanes of the highway were blocked while the CHP investigated the crash. The lanes reopened just after 5 a.m.
Roadway Reopens Hours After Dead Body Discovered
A major thoroughfare in Newark reopened Monday evening several hours after the discovery of a dead body shut down the roadway.
Officers were notified around 1:25 p.m. of a possible dead body along the edge of the roadway on Thornton Avenue, where they located a man’s body, according to Newark police Cmdr. Michael Carroll.
Carroll said the man has not been identified and that he did not know whether foul play was suspected in connection with his death.
Police shut down Thornton Avenue between Gateway Boulevard and Willow Street for several hours and reopened it around 6 p.m.
Reward Is Increased For Suspect In Possible Road Rage Homicide
The reward for information leading to an arrest in the fatal shooting of 30-year-old Perla Avina in a possible road rage incident in East Oakland on Sunday afternoon has been increased to $30,000, police said Monday.
Avina was a passenger in a black 1998 Toyota Camry traveling south in the 400 to 600 blocks of 98th Avenue shortly after 12:30 p.m. on Sunday when she was shot at least once, according to police.
She was pronounced dead at the scene.
Investigators believe the shooting may be linked to a road rage incident, police said.
No suspects have been arrested in connection with the killing.
Oakland police said they aren’t releasing any new information on the incident Monday.
The reward offered by Oakland police and Crime Stoppers of Oakland had been $20,000 before it was increased Monday.
Anyone with information on the case is asked to call the Oakland police Homicide Unit at (510) 238-3821 or Crime Stoppers of Oakland at (510) 777-8572.
SJSU Student Dies Of Injuries In Hit-And-Run Collision While Walking Next To Campus
A pedestrian struck and critically injured by a suspected drunken driver early Sunday next to San Jose State University died Monday afternoon, according to San Jose police.
The victim was pronounced dead at 1:53 p.m. Monday, police spokeswoman Sgt. Heather Randol said.
Police did not release the victim’s name but members of SJSU’s Delta Sigma Phi fraternity announced on Twitter and a page set up on www.gofundme.com stated he was Chi Lam, who was an engineering student and the historian of the fraternity chapter.
Lam was killed when a motorist crashed into him at 12:59 a.m. Sunday as he walked across the street in the 100 block of South 10th Street at the far northeast end of the college campus, Randol said.
Police later arrested the suspected driver, Solomon Friese, 22, and booked him into the Santa Clara County Main Jail on suspicion of felony hit-and-run resulting in serious injury, Randol said.
Friese allegedly drove away from the collision scene, crashed into a parked car on South Eighth Street at East San Salvador Street, then exited his vehicle and fled into his apartment prior to surrendering to police officers a short time later, police said.
Lam was taken to a hospital suffering from critical and life-threatening injuries and remained there until his death Monday afternoon, police said.
Delta Sigma Phi plans to hold a fundraiser for Lam’s family on Thursday at the 4th Street Pizza Company restaurant at 150 E. Santa Clara St. in San Jose, from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m., according to the local chapter’s website.
Lam was a member of the fraternity since he pledged for it in fall 2012, was in his sixth year at SJSU working on an undergraduate degree in computer engineering and had been expected to graduate next spring, according to the GoFundMe fundraising page.
He was also a member of SJSU’s Vietnamese Student Association and the Union of North American Vietnamese Student Associations, according to the site.
“Chi is remembered as a kind-hearted, genuine person that consistently made others smile,” his supporters wrote on the GoFundMe website.
“His gentle tone and encouraging words brightened the lives of many and left a significant impact on all those he had conversations with,” they stated. “He was also an avid photographer, artist, designer, runner, and great basketball player.”
The fundraising website took in more than $9,300 by Monday afternoon toward its goal of $50,000 to aid his family in paying for expenses associated with Lam’s death, organizers stated on the website.
Police Ask For Help In Finding Woman Missing Since Friday
San Jose police said Monday they are seeking the public’s help in locating a woman who has been missing since Friday.
Nelly Aguilar Santoyo-Hernandez, 39, was last seen around 7 p.m. Friday at the MetroPCS Store located at 158 S. Jackson Ave. in San Jose, police said.
Police said they located her car in the parking lot. She is described as a Hispanic woman roughly 5 feet 5 inches tall who weighs about 175 pounds with brown hair and brown eyes.
Anyone with information about her whereabouts is asked to call the San Jose Police Department at (408) 277-8900.
Man Shot After Argument In Restaurant Sunday In Visitacion Valley
Two men were shot in San Francisco’s Visitacion Valley neighborhood over the weekend, police said Monday.
The first shooting was reported in the 1500 block of Sunnydale Avenue, in the area of the Sunnydale housing projects, at 10:46 p.m. Saturday, police said.
The 28-year-old victim was shot in the leg and stomach and was taken to San Francisco General Hospital with injuries not considered life-threatening, police said.
Investigators are looking for two men in their 20s in connection with the shooting. They remained at large as of Monday morning, according to police.
The following morning, an argument led to another shooting near the intersection of Bayshore Boulevard and Hester Avenue, police said.
The shooting was reported at 11:56 a.m. Sunday. Two groups of people were arguing inside a restaurant there and then went outside, where the 21-year-old victim was shot in the leg.
Police found him at 25th and Utah streets and he was taken to San Francisco General Hospital with injuries not considered life-threatening.
Police have not released any description of the suspect in that case.
Man Arrested For Setting Off Fireworks To Celebrate Giants’ Win
The San Francisco Giants’ game today that could clinch the World Series against the Kansas City Royals will be broadcast on a Jumbotron screen in Civic Center Plaza, city officials announced Monday.
Game 6 of the World Series is scheduled for 5:07 p.m. today in Kansas City, Missouri. The Giants lead the seven-game series 3-2 so would clinch their third title in five years with one more win.
“Our Giants have shown their magic once again as this improbable group of players refuses to quit,” Mayor Ed Lee said in a statement. “The game that could clinch may be in Kansas City, but we’re creating an October Together opportunity in front of City Hall for families to gather and cheer on the Giants.”
The mayor’s office is working with the city’s recreation and park and police departments to enforce a zero tolerance policy for alcohol or drugs at the plaza.
Those attending the broadcast at Civic Center Plaza are encouraged to get there early and to take public transportation via Municipal Railway or BART.
Off-Duty Chp Officer Finds $120k In Cash In Roadway, Police Return Money To Owner
A man’s life savings have been recovered after an off-duty California Highway Patrol sergeant found over $120,000 in cash in the middle of a Concord roadway, CHP officials said Monday.
While driving in a personal car on Concord Boulevard recently, the sergeant had to swerve around two bank deposit bags in the roadway to avoid hitting them, according to the CHP.
The sergeant made a U-turn and went to retrieve the two bags, which had tire marks on them, and looked inside to find “a lot of cash,” CHP Contra Costa area spokesman John Fransen said.
CHP officials said the off-duty officer, a 20-year CHP veteran who has asked to remain anonymous, immediately alerted authorities and handed over what amounted to more than $120,000 in cash to Concord police.
Police were later able to locate the owner of the lost cash and returned the money to him.
In a prepared statement, the sergeant said returning the money was simply “the right thing to do.”
“I am paid to uphold the law and it’s my job to set the example whether I’m working or not,” the sergeant said. “I am happy to hear the rightful owner was identified and that the money has been returned”.
CHP Golden Gate Division Chief Avery Browne seized the opportunity to praise the sergeant, noting that, “On too many occasions our personnel do not pause to be recognized as they feel they were simply doing their job.”