Friday Morning News Roundup
CPUC Fines Uber Subsidiary for Failing to Report Required Data
The California Public Utilities Commission in San Francisco on Thursday fined an Uber subsidiary $7.6 million for failing to report required information about the accessibility, availability and driver safety of its ride-booking services in the state.
The five-member commission unanimously approved a proposed decision by an administrative law judge setting the fine for Rasier-CA LLC, which operates Uber’s cellphone-based service in California. The decision said the subsidiary’s failure to provide required data in three categories “was willful (i.e. inexcusable).”
The three categories were the number of requests for accessible vehicles by wheelchair users and blind people with service dogs, and how many of those requests were accepted; the number of rides requested within each zip code and how many were accepted or rejected; and the number of driver-safety problems and whether compensation was paid by insurance or other sources.
The San Francisco-based commission began requiring annual reports on the information in September 2014, one year after it decided to start regulating ride-booking service companies such as Uber and Lyft.The companies, which the CPUC calls transportation network companies, enable passengers to use smartphone applications to hire drivers to give them rides in their private cars.
The Uber subsidiary began providing the required information in August 2015. The $7.6 million fine is for failing to comply fully before that. The commission also added a $1,000 contempt fine and said it will suspend Rasier’s license to operate in California unless the full penalty is paid within 30 days.But Uber said it will pay, while also appealing to the state Court of Appeal.
“While we are disappointed by the decision, we look forward to making our case to the California Court of Appeal. In the meantime, we will pay the fine and continue to work in good faith with the commission,” the company said in a statement. The 160-page proposed decision by Administrative Law Judge Robert Mason was adopted by the commission without discussion.
The commission said Uber provided some data, but the information in the three categories was incomplete. It rejected Uber’s arguments that the requirements were burdensome and intruded on the company’s privacy and trade secrets.
“Rasier-CA failed to comply with the laws of this state and further misled this commission by an artifice or false statement of law by asserting multiple legal defenses that were unsound. Such conduct warrants the imposition of penalties or fines,” the decision said.
The commission said it needed the information to carry out its mandate of protecting public safety and assuring equal access to services. After conducting evidentiary hearings, Mason initially proposed a $7.3 million fine in July. After Uber filed an administrative appeal, Mason reaffirmed the proposed decision, but increased the recommended penalty to $7.6 million to account for 28 additional days of non-compliance between July 15 and Aug. 13.
Planning Commission to Consider Interim Controls on Mission District
The San Francisco Planning Commission unanimously voted Thursday afternoon to adopt interim controls that would require every new development in the city’s Mission district to be evaluated based on the its impact to the neighborhood.
The commission approved the proposal with some amendments, including changing the length of the controls from nine to 15 months. The interim controls would not suspend development in the neighborhood, but instead would require projects to undergo additional review if they are above a certain size or if they involve the loss of rent-controlled units or the displacement of community-serving businesses such as light industry or entertainment, according to planning officials.
The proposal has been revised and simplified several times since it was first introduced in July in the midst of a heated debate over housing affordability and displacement in the city, according to planning department officials. It was overshadowed in the fall, however, by Proposition I, a November ballot measure that would have placed an 18-month moratorium on new housing development in the neighborhood.
Proposition I however was shot down, receiving only 43 percent of the vote. The controls would apply to projects that had not yet been approved as of Jan. 14, in an area bounded by 13th and Division Street, Mission Street, Cesar Chavez Boulevard and Potrero Street.
Affected projects could require additional hearings and a review of community impacts including displacement of housing or businesses in the area, changing neighborhood demographics and affects on housing production and affordability, planning department officials said. During the meeting, commissioners noted that the new amended 15-month version would give the city adequate time to complete work on its larger Mission Action Plan 2020.
The plan, an effort involving multiple city agencies, will cover topics such as tenant protections, small businesses, opportunities for affordable housing development and housing preservation, according to planning department officials.
Expansive June Parcel Tax Measure Would Fund Bay Restoration
A Bay Area-wide measure on the June ballot that would impose a parcel tax over the next 20 years to raise funds for shoreline improvement projects is drawing broad support.The San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority, a governing body established in 2008 to allocate resources for preserving the Bay’s natural resources, voted Wednesday to put the measure on the June 7 ballot, according to supporters.
The measure would impose a $12 parcel tax from 2017 until 2037 for every property owner in the nine-county Bay Area. The “Clean and Healthy Bay Ballot Measure” would need two-thirds approval of voters in all nine counties: Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Solano and Sonoma. Exactly what projects the roughly $500 million the tax is expected to raise would fund remains unclear and would be at the discretion of the restoration authority.
The large slate of projects would include restoring wetlands and habitats for marine wildlife, trash and pollution cleanup, adding and expanding recreational activities like hiking trails and parks, and shoring up areas at risk of flooding. Half of the funding would be allocated according to the population of the area, so for example the more heavily populated shorelines of the East Bay would potentially receive more funding than the more sparsely populated areas of the North Bay.
The authority also hopes to attract other sources of funding to supplement the tax revenue. Supporters said they gathered more than 11,000 signatures in favor of the measure online. In addition to various environmental groups in favor of it, business groups and local politicians have also advocated its passage.
“The San Francisco Bay is our region’s defining feature, and this measure is an historic opportunity to leave the Bay better off for our children and grandchildren,” Bay Area Council business association CEO Jim Wunderman said in a statement.
“By acting now to restore our wetlands, we can improve the Bay ecosystem for fish and wildlife while protecting huge portions of the Bay shoreline from storm surges and rising seas,” Wunderman said.
City College Faculty Union Declars Impasse in Contract Talks
San Francisco City College’s faculty union has declared an impasse in ongoing negotiations with the administration, likely sending the negotiations to mediation, union officials said Thursday. The negotiations with the American Federation of Teachers Local 2121, which represents 1,500 teachers at the school, have been going on for 10 months and the faculty has been without a contract for 6 months with little progress, according to the union.
The teachers are complaining their pay has dropped to 3.5 percent below what they were in 2007 and the college is planning to cut classes. The college nearly lost its accreditation in recent years because, among other things, the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges found that the school was spending too much on administration and not enough on education.
The union argues those problems are continuing. The school is currently in restoration status with the commission and has to submit a report on its progress in the fall. Union president Tim Killikelly said in a statement that the college’s leadership has “allowed negotiations to languish, making no significant movement toward providing faculty fair compensation.”
This is one more sign that this administration’s priorities do not line up with quality education and the needs of students and faculty,” Killikelly said. The declaration of an impasse will move the negotiations to a mediation process by the Public Employment Relations Board.
The union had threatened to strike last month but cancelled strike plans before it began, saying negotiations had improved. The union is planning a rally and picket line at the college’s Ocean Campus Friday morning. A city college spokesman was not immediately available for comment Thursday afternoon.
Lawmaker Proposes to Ban “Bullet Button”
A San Francisco lawmaker is seeking to further expand California’s ban on assault weapons by banning the so-called “bullet button.” The state’s assault weapon ban, passed in 1989 and amended in 1999, prohibits rifles that accept detachable magazines that can be quickly removed at the touch of a button.
To be legal in California, replacing magazines requires the use of a tool.A “bullet button” is a recessed button that releases the magazine. A bullet or other small tool needs to be used to push the button because the recess is too small for a human finger. But state Assemblyman David Chiu, D-San Francisco, and Attorney General Kamala Harris think the bullet button allows for too-rapid reloading, calling their legality a “loophole.”
They are proposing legislation that would ban them, too.”This is a common sense solution that closes a dangerous loophole in California’s assault weapons ban,” Harris said in a statement. “We simply must do everything we can to keep dangerous, high capacity firearms off of our streets and out of our communities.” Gov. Jerry Brown already vetoed in 2013 proposed legislation that would have outlawed bullet buttons in California.
In his veto message, Brown said, “I don’t believe that this bill’s blanket ban on semi-automatic rifles would reduce criminal activity or enhance public safety enough to warrant this infringement on gun owners’ rights.” Chiu said the legislation would ban guns like the ones used in shootings in San Bernardino, Aurora, Colorado, and Newtown, Connecticut.”Detachable magazines cost lives, and it is more important to save lives during future mass shootings than to be able to reload assault weapons in the blink of an eye,” Chiu said in a statement.
Bookkeeper Admits Stealing More Than $1 Million from Four Employees in Five Years
A San Francisco bookkeeper has pleaded guilty in federal court in San Francisco to bank fraud and identity theft charges and admitted embezzling more than $1 million from four employers in five years.Charlyne Basada, 38, also known as Charlyna Melendres, entered the plea on Tuesday before U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer.
She pleaded guilty to one count of bank fraud and one count of identity theft and will be sentenced by Breyer on June 8. Acting U.S. Attorney Brian Stretch said that while pleading guilty to the two counts, Basada admitted in a plea agreement that she stole $1,085,919 from four employers between 2011 and 2015 by making fraudulent payments to herself through the companies’ checking accounts.
Basada worked as a bookkeeper or office manager for each of the companies, Stretch said. Stretch said Basada admitted that for some of the fraudulent checks, she falsely represented that she was entitled to wages or reimbursements. In other instances, Basada took checks intended for other vendors, wrote “CASH” in the payee line and then cashed the checks.
Basada was indicted by a federal grand jury last year on 12 counts of bank fraud, four counts of wire fraud and two counts of aggravated identity theft. She pleaded guilty to two of those counts and the others will be dropped as part of the plea bargain.
The four employers were JVM Lending, Forum Design, Korts & Knight and Becker Electric, according to the plea agreement. The maximum sentence for bank fraud is 30 years in prison and the aggravated identify theft conviction carries a mandatory two-year sentence. Basada has paid back about $22,000, but still owes her former employers $1,063,976, Stretch said.