City Council Set to discuss tenant protections…….again.

evictionOn December 18, 2018 more than 25 speakers, including tenants telling compelling stories of near homelessness, severe rent hikes and heightened anxiety, the El Cerrito City Council directed city staff to come back with an ordinance for Just Cause Eviction and a plan to develop a Rent Registry.  In January, when Council reconvened for the first meeting of 2019, the staff did not present an ordinance for review.  Instead, the city staff recommended, and the city council accepted the proposal to have  a study session in February.

Let’s fast forward to February.  The city council will be meeting on the 19th to review a package of “tenant protections.”   These protections include:

 Just Cause for Eviction

 Rent Registry

 Tenant Relocation triggered by rent increases

What is missing from the agenda on Tuesday is a discussion about a temporary anti-gouging measure for rent increases to be in effect while the city establishes new policies to disrupt displacement of our residents. In December, at the city council meeting, the Human Relations Commission made a compelling argument for such a measure, in addition they asked for the formation of a housing committee to craft a long term solution to rising rents.  The resolution can be read here.

El Cerrito Human Relations Commission Resolution on Tenant Protections

 

Come out for either meetings and help us maintain a city where all people can afford to live.

Follow up to City Auditor’s November 2018 Report

FOLLOW UP THE CITY AUDITOR’S REPORT OF 2018

 

audit lookBackground

Last year the Finance Director of El Cerrito, Mark Rasiah, hired a new auditor to ensure that the city had a thorough review of the finances. In November of 2018 the City Council received a report from this auditor that raised concern among council members as well as residents in attendance. The ECP initial blog post on that presentation can be found here.

The auditor’s findings raised quite a few questions for us, and we submitted questions in a letter sent to the Finance Director soon after the meeting.  We met with the Finance Director and the new City Manager, Karen Pinkos, on January 24, 2019. Both the City Manager and Finance Director were eager to clarify what they felt were misrepresentations by the auditor when he spoke at the city council meeting. We also had a follow up phone call with the Finance Director on February 6, 2019.

What We Learned

The City Manager and Finance Director explained that the “transfer” of funds is actually a common practice for continuous operating costs.For example, the Integrated Waste Management (IWM) (Recycling Center) continuously generates revenue into the general fund and continues to expend those funds on a revolving basis.What is not  part of a continuously operating budget is the debt that began to accumulate in 2012 due to the statewide shutdowns of redevelopment agencies. According to Mr. Rasiah, the city completed several projects that were never repaid as anticipated, when our Redevelopment Agency ceased to exist. According to the City Manager, the city is involved in litigating the taking of redevelopment money to pay down state debts.  We link to several articles on that below. The Finance Director explained all of this to the city council on January 15, 2018. The presentation can be found here and his slides can be found on page 174 here.

cityhall

Currently, the city plans to comply with the audit findings by selling several properties previously purchased by Redevelopment. The Finance Director aims to eliminate the loan from the Recycling Center in the 18/19 Fiscal Year through a mid-year budget modification. If he cannot pay it all off then the balance will carryover into FY 19/20 for repayment. The balance of the loan as of June 30, 2018 is $317,966.

Timing and the Audit – Who Knew What and When

The entire audit was done much later than usual due to the availability of the new auditor. The Finance Director received the initial report in August, and the document required a thorough review by him before release. The former City Manager, Scott Hanin in his report to Council on September 6, 2018, stated that the audit had been released but only made an very vague reference to the issues raised by the auditor. He stated “This was the first year that the new auditors audited the City’s financial records and as a result they made several prior period adjustments in accordance with auditing standards that had not been applied before by the previous auditors, Maze and Associates. The link to that report is here. He also stated that the council would be getting their copies of the CAFR that week which is earlier than the Finance Director told us they received it. There is a question as to why none of the city council members asked staff about the issues after reading the CAFR (which is admittedly a difficult document to read and understand.)

The Finance Director reported that City Council received a hard copy of the Comprehensive Financial Report (CAFR) in October and it went online as public information in early to mid October.

audit findingsIn mid-October, with the report finalized,  the Finance Director made the decision to bring the auditor  to the city council to provide further explanation. The Finance Director said it is atypical that the auditor report the findings to council and this is the first time for a city council presentation in recent memory.  The presentation occurred on November 20, 2018.

Although some community members speculated that the timing of the report was intentionally delayed given the Measure V election, the City Manager and Finance Director both stated that the presentation after the election was a coincidence and that the CAFR was online prior to the election. In regards to the Financial Advisory Board (FAB) The Finance Director stated that FAB did not see any issues with the auditors report that required further review.

Future Plans

The issue of fund transfers alarmed the auditor as well as the staff and city council.  The presentation, which the City Manager thought to be more alarming than necessary, did shed light on the need for the Finance Department to be more transparent and create a paper trail. The Finance Director commented on the lack of documents or even notes to explain some of the earlier practices of the fund transfers conducted by the Finance Department. The Finance Director stated that the city will continue to budget  continuous operating funds like IWM, but these would be handled differently than what the auditor called loans. When asked if there would be a written policy, the Finance Director stated that the Financial Advisory Board (FAB) reviews the policies of the city annually. The FAB is just finishing up this years review. This item will be addressed during the 2019 review which occurs at the end of the calendar year. FAB also reviews the CAFR annually. The review happened as part of a budget review this year (because the CAFR was not completed until August). This past year the review happened in June 2018 and the minutes are linked to here.

The City Manager did agree that the city could do a better job of getting information to the public in a more accessible way. She did point out that the city budget is now easily accessible online via a contract with Open Government. That can be accessed here.

Further Resources/Information

El Cerrito Settles Redevelopment Case.

El Cerrito Surrenders Redevelopment Money to the state

 

From GMO to Biofortied

gmo-bell-pepper-injections

As genetically engineered product manipulators work against what many say is a well-deserved bad name, they continue to push for public acceptance. According to the Waking Times and other publications, the latest push very aggressively leads towards relabeling GMO as “biofortified”.

Biofortification cross-breeds certain food crops to increase needed vitamin and mineral content without genetic engineering. An example would be to increase the vitamin or iron content of sweet potatoes, moving certain areas of the planet towards better nutrition, including nutrition for areas with soil depletion.

The results of a 2010 study show that the number of respondents who find GMOs dangerous had shot up to 79% in 2016, while just 18% thought GMOs are not dangerous, and 4% said they did not know.

Screen Shot 2018-02-22 at 7.33.40 PM

However when asked in the same time frame, only 7% of the average (wo)man on the street stressed that GMO labeling was most important in their consideration of food quality, and only 6% wanted more info about where or how food was grown or processed.

In spite of the lower indication of worry exhibited in the more casual inquiry, the consistent flow of evidence pointing to the biological and ecological harm related to GMO products is causing consumers to increasingly avoid brands that contain GMO. GMO companies have therefore “adopted” the term “biofortified” as a new idea to divert consumers from regarding GMOs as health detractors and into seeing these products as health promoters.

Codex Authority

Under the jurisdiction of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, Codex Alimentarius is a collection of codes and guidelines that standardize world food trade, safety, and production. The Codex standard allows use of the term “biofortified” for the cross-breeding of vegetables to increase the content of certain vitamins and minerals as a nutrition boost to malnourished populations.

In an apparent effort to exercise control over Codex influence, a primary GMO engineering company is pressuring Codex delegates to broaden the definition of “biofortified” to include foods that are genetically modified. The National Health Federation (NHF), the only natural health advocate delegate at Codex, reports that many of the delegates saw the deception in this attempt. Even so, the topic was tabled for further consideration at the November, 2018 Codex convergence in Berlin under a new chairperson, Dr. Anja Brönstrup, a Policy Officer at the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL).

Dr. Brönstrup did not call upon any of the international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) signaling her that they wanted to speak. Only the sponsoring INGO, the International Food Policy Research Institute, was allowed to speak, and then only on the broadened definition of the term “biofortified”. The NHF however was able to submit written comments stating its position against the proposed definition.

At days end Chairwoman Brönstrup suddenly stated, “I am referring this definition back to the Codex Committee on Food Labelling [CCFL],” proclaming that the GMO-inclusive definition would be sent to CCFL for its review and probable approval.

INGO Resistance

A strong resistance to GMO engineered foods in many European countries spawned a movement which has led to a moratorium in the EU and hostility towards imported genetically modified (GMO) products. The considered healthy alternative to GMOs in the EU is termed “biofortified,” just as “organic” is used in the U.S.

Blue-Corn-Seeds

In addition to confusion in Europe, the U.S. population’s consideration of “biofortified” could easily be paired with “organic,” encouraging perception of the broadened term to support health, instead of containing perceived GMO health detractors.

NHF President Scott Tips said: “It is a very sad state of affairs where we have come to the point where we must manipulate our natural foods to provide better nutrition all because we have engaged in very poor agricultural practices that have seen a 50% decline in the vitamins and minerals in our foods over the last 50 years. We will not remedy poor nutrition by engaging in deceptive marketing practices and sleight of hand with this definition.”

In May of 2019 at a gathering in Ottowa, Canada CCFL delegates will continue to review the conflict of the term “biofortified” being broadened to include GMO products. Opposers of the broadened terminology are encouraged by the fact that the Final Report of the Nutrition Committee meeting, upon which the CCFL must rely, will not include the misleading impression that there is broad support for GMO-inclusive biofortification.

A sharp eye, detailed concentration, and uncommon knowledge is already required for consumers to decode food labels. Deceptive infusion of GMO into biofortified terminology can only further confuse the situation. The conflict now depends on objections from the EU and others to prevent this mis-terminology. However even if GMO companies are unable to broaden biofortification, it is almost certain that they will continue to promote GMOs to consumers in other ways.

For more information on the attempt of the GMO engineering industry to infuse genetically modified organisms into the definition of “biofortification,” see the following sites, from which this information was derived:

Natural Blaze – GMO Foods Will Soon Be Mislabeled As Biofortified

Biology Fortified – The scary truth behind fear of GMOs

WAKING TIMES – MONSANTO TRYING TO HIDE GMO FOODS UNDER THE TERM ‘BIOFORTIFIED’

Natural News – Monsanto’s latest marketing ploy: Labeling GMOs as “biofortified”

We Demand Smart Community-Informed Border Solutions

20181006_151807

Please contact your Congressional representatives and the bipartisan conference committee by February 15!

In the debate about border walls, the (false) alternative to wall has been “increased border security” including more drones, surveillance and an increased Border Patrol presence.

This is not a smart solution. More policing and militarization of the border will lead to increased racial profiling and anxiety in border communities. We don’t need more militarization at the border any more than we need more militarized police forces in our hometowns.

What we DO need is community-informed solutions developed by those most heavily impacted.

The BEST POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS we have found are from The U.S.-Mexico Border Policy Report of 2008. It includes 13 pages of excellent recommendations from their task forced that included the faith community, law enforcement, academics, civic leaders, attorneys and community organizations along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Please consider emailing the letter below to your representatives in Congress through their websites (takes 6 minutes). Note: you will need to reformat the paragraph breaks once you copy and paste the letter.

If you have an extra 30 minutes, please email the senators on the conference committee listed below who are tasked with negotiating an end to the logjam with President Trump vis-à-vis the border wall.

Please reject border security that puts communities at risk – Propose Smart Solutions

Dear ______ ,

I call on you for a border approach that involves affected border communities who understand their situation and their needs.

An armed Border Patrol presence around existing and planned border walls has proven to be lethal too many times according to Southern Border Communities Coalition* that tracks deaths at the hands of the Border Patrol.

The blanket “increased border security” alternative to more walls is NOT a smart solution. More drones and Border Patrol agents too often go hand-in-hand with racial profiling and detention of people who are citizens or those with legal immigration status. This increases anxiety in the community.

According to Ann Williams Cass, Executive Director of Proyecto Azteca and a health care researcher, a recent study of Hidalgo County’s colonias (near McAllen, Texas) found a shocking 80% FOOD INSECURITY RATE among residents because they are too afraid to leave their neighborhood to shop, for fear of being arrested. For comparison, according to the USDA in 2017**  only 11.8% of US households were food insecure. Most of those families in McAllen have money, transportation and access to food stores – but they and their children are going hungry out of fear of arrest. This is just one of many serious and invisible implications of racial profiling and high security along the border.

The Border Patrol needs better vetting as part of their hiring process as well as better training. According to Politico reporting in The Green Monster: How the Border Patrol Became America’s Most Out of Control Law Enforcement Agency the Border Patrol has had serious problems including hiring members of the MS-13 gang and averaging one arrest per day of its own agents in a seven year period.

The US-MEXICO BORDER POLICY REPORT (2008) proposes the BEST COMMUNITY-INFORMED POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS I have seen. PLEASE incorporate their excellent suggestions (pages 21-34).

https://law.utexas.edu/humanrights/borderwall/communities/municipalities-US-Mexico-Border-Policy-Report.pdf

Thank you very much.

Sincerely,

 

*https://www.southernborder.org/deaths_by_border_patrol

**https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/food-nutrition-assistance/food-security-in-the-us/key-statistics-graphics.aspx#children

Continue reading “We Demand Smart Community-Informed Border Solutions”

Will the ‘Wall’ be Funded by Cutting SNAP and Medicaid?

medicaid

Reportedly the White House is proposing to replace Medicaid with block grants using waivers, allowing state ‘flexibility’ in issuing funds, while also lowering the ratio for able-bodied adults without dependents to receive food stamps.

Many hospital administrators throughout the nation maintain that the use of block grants will place a cap on federal funding for medical coverage, assigning an added financial burden to states in filling healthcare funding gaps. The result would be further limiting the number of people covered by healthcare, and/or reducing payments to hospitals for care of the uninsured. Nursing homes would also experience payment reductions.

Chip Kahn, CEO of the Federation of American Hospitals, “questioned whether the [Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] can legally allow these waivers.”

The American Hospital Association (AHA), accompanied by other hospital groups, are also in vehement opposition of a block grant, and previously enacted their concerns by contending against such a proposal in 2017, offered as an Obamacare repeal by South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham and Louisiana Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy.

“We have long voiced concerns about how block granting Medicaid could ultimately result in losses of coverage and negatively impact access to quality care,” stated Ashley Thompson, AHA Senior Vice President of Public Policy.

Currently White House policy seems to bypass statutory precedent with fiat dominance. It also seems that the administration may be looking toward funding the ‘Wall’ with revenue extracted from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Medicaid.

snap-food-stamps-facebook

Just as the current briefly relieved government shutdown has placed burdens on public services, pulling funds out of food and healthcare programs heavily impacts state finances and the plight of those in need. Recipients of the provisions from these programs would experience further food and healthcare insecurity.

Congressional Democrats are apparently poised to combat SNAP reductions and block grants that would replace Medicaid.

“Hell no,” tweeted Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania. “If the Administration tries to decimate Medicaid through executive action after its scheme was rejected by Congress and the American people, I will fight it with everything I have.”

Sen. Casey continued, “That fight will be through legislation, in the courts, holding up Administration nominees, literally every means that a U.S. Senator has.”

The political issue is the action to preserve SNAP and Medicaid as much needed public resources. The conceptual issue is mandating the role of Congress as the originator of laws which the administration must follow.

If you are concerned about the possibility of reduced funding to SNAP and Medicaid, please contact your Congressional representatives to pressure for continued funding at current levels.

Find more on the administration’s actions in respect to SNAP and Medicaid in the following articles, from which the above information was derived:

DAILY KOS: Hospitals ‘furious’ at Trump’s Medicaid block grant proposal

POLITICO: Trump wants to bypass Congress on Medicaid plan

Modern Healthcare: Medicaid block grant waiver reports revive hospitals’ funding worries

DAILY KOS: Trump administration plans to bypass Congress, institute Medicaid block grants

DAILY KOS:Trump administration unveils plan to make more Americans go hungry

The Effects of the Government Shutdown

government shutdown

Closing out its fourth week, the Federal Government shutdown continues with no limit in the forecast. December 22 marked the occasion when the funding that would continue government operations went unsigned in a border wall dispute.

Interests with economic reserves barely feel the shutdown effects. But those on the government payroll, or on government services, are significantly affected.

Among agencies and agency employees affected was the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), with a block on issuing flood certified flood insurance, preventing banks by federal law from approving federally backed home mortgages and causing projected millions in lost revenue. Since the block placed added stress on banks and financial institutions, on December 21 — hours before the shutdown — Congressional interests temporarily reauthorized the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), allowing FEMA flood insurance certifications to flow through May of 2019.

Even though FEMA strongly maintained that the Anti-Deficiency Act prohibits government agencies from entering into contracts or spending money if the projects aren’t funded, Congressional supporters of the flood insurance extension suggest the NFIP will ‘obtain’ its own funding.

“Now we can work on long-term reforms. We can make the program sustainable without it becoming unaffordable,” stated Louisiana Sen. John Kennedy.

Meanwhile, roughly 800,000 federal employees are furloughed or working unpaid; thousands of contractors are temporarily out of work; key agency approvals are causing business slowdowns; the Small Business Administration is closed down for assistance to small businesses; many imports are going unprocessed; grants and contracts processing is delayed; and thousands of businesses with contracts tied to the federal government could lose a cumulative $200 million a day.

The Transportation Security Administration is anticipating the inability to make payroll to its  TSA employees. And millions of Americans are becoming even more food insecure as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) could be disrupted.

You can express your concern for the Government shutdown by urging your Congressional representatives to pressure for financing to reopen the Federal Government.

For more detail on the Government Shutdown see:

 

El Cerrito Celebrates Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

mlk celebration

This extended weekend, January 20th and 21st, El Cerrito celebrates the birthday and memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The recognition starts at 4:00 PM, Sunday, January 20, with a screening:

“Cracking the Codes: The Racial Inequality”

Held at El Cerrito High School Performing Arts Theater

540 Ashbury Ave. El Cerrito, CA 94530


Monday, January 21st, begins the Holiday recognition with:

  • A Rally at 8:30 AM
  • A Parade assembling at 9:30 AM. The Parade leaves at 10:00 AM from El Cerrito City Hall, 10890 San Pablo Ave.
  • A Celebratory Program honoring the Holiday at 11:00 AM, held at the El Cerrito High School Performing Arts Theater

Wishing everyone a joyous Celebration!