Wednesday Morning News Roundup
Salvaged Bay Bridge Steel Awarded to 5 Art Proposals
Salvaged steel from the old eastern span of the Bay Bridge has been awarded to five projects for public display, with more awards on the way, Oakland Museum of California officials announced Tuesday. The chosen projects include a public sculpture near the Petaluma River, a gate for an arts center in Joshua Tree, two public installations near the bridge and an observation platform for a park in San Francisco’s Mission Bay neighborhood, museum officials said.
The steel was salvaged from the ongoing dismantling of the old Bay Bridge, which started last summer. The Toll Bridge Program Oversight Committee, the governing body for the construction of the new eastern span, directed the museum to find artists to award the salvaged steel. The five projects chosen are the first of three rounds of awards of bridge steel. Applicants for future rounds must submit proposals by May 2 or Dec. 1 of next year.
Among the recipients of this round are San Francisco landscape architecture firm SURFACEDESIGN, which is planning an overlook and viewing platform at a Mission Bay park. The platform will be constructed of bridge trusses and other steel and a series of interactive exhibits in the park will teach visitors about the history of the bridge and its construction.
Another proposal by Oakland-based Hyphae Design Lab would create several installations in the redevelopment of the old Oakland Army Base. Development of that space as a new logistics center for the Port of Oakland is finally underway after the land was turned over to the city and port a decade ago. The proposed installations by Hyphae would incorporate the original 504-foot truss spans, fashioning them into a bridge tower that would frame the touchdown of the bicycle and pedestrian route on the new eastern span and an observation deck at Burma Road and Maritime Street with views of the port and bridge.
Another proposed installation would be built near the bridge, possibly on Treasure Island. Bay Area artist Tom Loughlin designed a sound and light sculpture from an old Bay Bridge warning light that would incorporate top beams for seating around it. Loughlin hopes the piece will evoke thoughts of the natural landscape and the tools humans have built to help them traverse it, according to museum officials.
Sculptor Paul Lorentz of Petaluma will build a sculpture from bridge trusses near the Petaluma River, a design that will feature two separate cantilevered structures with a space between them that will call to mind the power of the bridge just before its completion. The last award announced Tuesday was to the Harrison House, an arts center just outside of Joshua Tree National Park, where the bridge’s top horizontal braces will be fashioned into an entry gate. No timeline was given for completion of the sculpture and structures approved. Applicants interested in future awards can find application materials at museumca.org/bay-bridge-steel
Supervisors Vote Not to Accept State Funds to Build New Jail
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday afternoon to turn down an $80 million grant from the State Public Works Board to help fund the construction of a $240 million proposed jail. Board president London Breed presented a compromise to the board Tuesday that stops a plan to build a new jail in the city and puts in motion efforts to identify alternatives to incarceration while also determining ways to get people out of jail who suffer from mental illness and addiction, or who don’t have the financial means to make bail.
Breed said that while she won’t approve the construction of a standalone jail, she said that jails no. 3 and no. 4, located at 850 Bryant St. are seismically unsafe, decrepit and need to come down. But, Breed said, “more than the building, we need to tear down the system of mass incarceration.” Breed’s comments met with cheers from a crowd of activists in chambers who vehemently oppose the construction of a new jail. She said the new system should focus on providing effective mental health treatment and “less on the system that exaggerates the cycle of crime and recidivism.” Breed, however, said she is “certainly not opposed to a new facility” that incorporates a greater investment in mental health and substance abuse treatment.
On Monday, Breed gathered on the steps of City Hall with activists and fellow supervisors and shared her personal account of how incarceration has impacted her family. “My brother spent years in 850 Bryant,” Breed said, explaining that, “he had a drug problem and he needed treatment, not to be locked up.”
She said she’s optimistic that the board can reach a consensus without losing that state funding. She suggested that the city purchase the land proposed to accommodate the new jail and use it to house necessary city departments that currently occupy 850 Bryant St. Breed called on the city’s Public Health Department and the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department to create a working group in order to prepare for closure of jails no. 3 and no. 4 at the Hall of Justice and identify what new facilities are needed, while maintaining eligibility for state funding.
Supervisor Jane Kim said the new facility should reflect the needs of inmates. If inmates are homeless, she said, build homes, if they are mentally ill, “let’s build hospitals.” Campos said Tuesday’s decision to table the acceptance of $80 million, will send a message that the board will not support a standalone jail. Supervisor Scott Wiener said that while he supports tabling the issue, he reminded the board that in San Francisco “we have a real crime problem,” noting that if and when the city removes jail beds, the city must make sure that alternatives are in place or “we will be in trouble.”
Opponents of the project have urged the city to instead renovate existing jails in San Bruno. However, proponents, including Mayor Ed Lee, have said that solution is unworkable and would still leave the city in need of more beds and holding facilities.
Opponents of the new jail also include District Attorney George Gascon and Public Defender Jeff Adachi, whose offices have been raising awareness in recent months about alternatives to incarceration. The City Controller’s Office released a report in June showing that San Francisco’s average daily jail population peaked at 2,321 around 1993 and has since fallen to a current level of around 1,285.
Outgoing San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi said in a statement released Tuesday evening that the decision not to move forward with the new jail, “may induce a meaningful response to the increasingly complex population of people suffering with behavioral health problems, the
disproportionate incarceration of African-Americans and Latinos, and the uneven role that the money-bail system plays into the criminalization of poverty.”
Former ABAG Financial Services Director Guilty of Fraud, Admits Stealing Nearly $3.9 Million
A former financial services director for the Association of Bay Area Governments pleaded guilty to a fraud charge in federal court in San Francisco Tuesday and admitted to embezzling nearly $3.9 million from the agency.
Clarke Howatt, 56, formerly of Oakland, entered the plea before U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer and will be sentenced by Breyer on March 23. He pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud in the electronic transfer in 2014 of $1.3 million in stolen funds slated for public improvements related to a San Francisco development project. At the same time, he admitted during the plea that he stole an additional nearly $2.6 million related to a San Ramon project between 2011 and January of this year, making the total theft close to $3.9 million.
The conviction carries a possible maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. Howatt, who resigned in late January when the embezzlement began to be discovered, was in charge of bonds issued by an ABAG affiliate, the ABAG Finance Authority for Nonprofit Corporations, known as FAN. The bond proceeds were to be used for public works such as streets, sidewalks and schools to offset the impacts of building developments.
ABAG, based in Oakland, is a regional planning agency for nine Bay Area counties. The first embezzlement to be discovered was the theft of $1.3 million intended for improvements related to the highrise Rincon Hill development in the South of Market district of San Francisco. Howatt admitted in the plea agreement that he submitted a fraudulent request to FAN in Aug. 12, 2014, for reimbursement of $1.3 million for improvements supposedly made by the developer. He admitted that in fact, the actual developer had never submitted such a request and that he had the money sent to a bank account he controlled.
Howatt also acknowledged in the plea agreement that he took three similar fraudulent actions to embezzle bond proceeds intended for capital improvements related to the Windemere Ranch housing development in San Ramon. The amounts fraudulently transferred to Howatt’s bank accounts were $1,098,712 in 2011; $1,225,000 in 2014; and $256,082 on Jan. 26, 2015, according to the agreement.
ABAG said in a statement that it has obtained financial restitution from Howatt to restore the funds in all the affected accounts, and is now in the process of making the reimbursements.The agency has also taken measures to reduce the risk of theft, it said. “The accounts embezzled by a former employee will be restored in full,” ABAG Executive Director Ezra Rapport said in the statement.
“We are committed to protecting and preserving public funds and we will be working to put measures into place that will enhance our ability to detect and avert any future malfeasance,” Rapport said. After the San Francisco-related theft was discovered in late January, Howatt cooperated with ABAG, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI in the investigation, ABAG said. Howatt has been free on $500,000 bail since he was charged with the wire fraud count in February.
(News provided by Bay City News.)