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Contra Costa supervisor candidate debate set for April 23

Contra Costa District 2 supervisor candidates Candace Andersen and Tomi Van de Brooke will face off at the April 23 lunch meeting of the Contra Costa Council.

Van de Brooke, an Orinda resident and elected member of the Contra Costa Community College District, and Andersen, mayor of Danville, will answer questions and discuss their platforms.

The third supervisor candidate, Sean White of Lafayette, is out of town and cannot attend.

The Contra Costa Council is a nonprofit membership and nonpartisan organization that advocates for economic development throughout the East Bay.

I am the moderator and the event is open to the public.

Registration begins at 11:30 a.m. followed by the program at noon. It will be held at the Lafayette Veterans Memorial Building, 3780 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Lafayette.

Tickets are $45 for non-members and $35 for members. For reservations, contact the Contra Costa Council at or 925-246-1880.


Posted on Wednesday, April 18th, 2012
Under: Contra Costa Board of Supervisors, Contra Costa County, Contra Costa politics, Political calendar, Political events | 1 Comment »

Watch Van de Brooke vs. Andersen ed board interview

Van de Brooke


The Contra Costa Times’ editorial board interview with Contra Costa County supervisor candidates Tomi Van De Brooke and Candace Andersen on Tuesday afternoon starts with fireworks over social issues. Read full story here.

But the candidates also speak at length about a wide range of policy matters closer to the work of a county supervisor, such as budget priorities, whether or not general fund dollars should subsidize the county hospital and pension reforms.

Watch video here:




Posted on Wednesday, April 18th, 2012
Under: 2012 primary election, Contra Costa Board of Supervisors, Contra Costa County, Contra Costa politics, Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

Assembly looks at wasteful health care district spending

A friend and a foe of the Mt. Diablo Health Care District, targeted by local regulators for transfer to the city of Concord to eliminate costly elections and overhead, are among the speakers at Wednesday morning’s Assembly hearing on health care district.

Assembly Committee on Accountability and Administrative Review Chairman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, will lead the hearing starting at 9:30 a.m., which will be aired via webcast at the California Channel.

Mt. Diablo Health Care District board chairman Jeff Kasper is scheduled to speak, along with district critic and Contra Costa Taxpayers Association Executive Director Kris Hunt.  Contra Costa Supervisor Karen Mitchoff of Pleasant Hill will also testify. (Speaker list updated on 4/10/2012. LAV)

The Local Agency Formation Commission last month voted to dismantle five-member elected health care district board and turn over its limited remaining duties to Concord’s city council. The district hasn’t run a hospital since 1996. Since then, four civil grand juries and the Local Agency Formation Commission’s hired consultant have concluded that the district has spent the vast majority of its property tax proceeds — $240,000 a year — on elections, overhead and legal bills, with very few dollars going to community services or programs.

Mt. Diablo is a piker compared with other health care districts, according to a recent Bay Citizen analysis of similar agencies statewide.  It found a Peninsula district, for example, with $43 million in reserves that refused to help subsidize health insurance for the poor. It reported that 30 of 74 of California’s taxpayer-funded health care districts no longer run hospitals but continue to collect public dollars, diverting that money for administrative and legal costs, along with benefits for their directors.

“Allegations of administrative waste, wrong doing, and lack of appropriate spending priorities persist, while unmet health care needs linger in their communities,” wrote the committee in a news release about the hearing. “The committee will aim to uncover if health care districts are still the best use of public funds and if they are using their resources to promote public health and welfare, especially given the current health care environment in the state.”

The committee said witnesses will include representatives from the Peninsula Health Care District in San Mateo, the Beach Cities Health District in Redondo Beach, Mt. Diablo Health Care District in Concord, the Legislative Analyst’s Office, health care advocates and the Association of California Healthcare Districts.

The testimony will focus on the health care districts’ current and former purpose, funding mechanisms, Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) oversight, the current challenges of healthcare service delivery, if the health care needs of the state are being met and case studies of health care district expenditures, the committee said.



Posted on Monday, April 9th, 2012
Under: California Assembly, Contra Costa County, Contra Costa politics | 6 Comments »

LAFCO to interview 5 for coveted seat; Allen not on list

The powerful Contra Costa Local Agency Formation Commission, of LAFCO, which oversees orderly growth and public agency boundaries, narrowed to five the candidates it will interview April 11 for its public member seat.

It took LAFCO nearly two years last time to fill this opening after dueling factions couldn’t settle on a mutually acceptable choice. Confirmation requires at least one aye vote from each of the groups represented on its board — Contra Costa supervisor, special districts and cities.

Whether or not the vote proves difficult this time around remains to be seen.

But the central question of the prospective commissioners remains the same: How would you balance the ever-present tension between the demands of a growing population for housing, water and other services and the agency’s responsibility to control sprawl?

The short list is an impressive one: Retired Contra Costa Mayors Conference executive director and former Walnut Creek city manager Don Blubaugh of Brentwood; attorney and former Lafayette Councilman Ivor Samson; retired San Ramon city manager Herb Moniz; retired wastewater plant general manager Kathy Hopkins of Lafayette; and the commission’s current alternate public member, Sharon Burke of Alamo.

Blubaugh and Burke are the likely front-runners, but Hopkins and Samson reportedly did well in the first round of interviews.

Moniz will almost certainly draw the most attention from the environmental community, whose leaders closely monitor LAFCO’s policies on the county’s urban limit line. Moniz helped write San Ramon’s controversial failed Measure W, which would have expanded the city’s urban growth boundary into the Tassajara Valley.

Interestingly, former commissioner and one-time Concord Mayor Helen Allen didn’t make the cut.

She says county power-brokers conspired behind the scenes to keep her out and promote their own choices. But others say the outspoken woman’s dominating personality grated on her colleagues, staff and the public.

Former Concord Mayor Helen Allen

For years, the conservative Allen and appointee of the Contra Costa Mayors Conference was considered a reliable vote for new development. She pooh-poohed global climate change and said that as long as people keep having babies, local governments should help build places for them to live.

Allen has been a lightening rod for years on a whole host of issues. But she lost significant support from her elected colleagues in 2010 after she signed a letter as a LAFCO commissioner which was later used in a campaign mailer promoting a Brentwood urban growth boundary ballot measure. She narrowly escaped a move to have her removed from LAFCO.

Allen declined to seek re-election to her city council seat later that year and as a result, she was no longer eligible to serve on LAFCO as the mayors conference representative and avoided what would have almost certainly been an uphill fight to win reappointment.

She put out the word months ago that she would apply to LAFCO when the public member seat opened, citing her experience with the agency’s often arcane and complex issues.

Her chances were slim, though. She still faced concerns about her dominant personality and her past transgressions.

Allen admits she sealed her fate during the screening interviews with three LAFCO members, when she says she told them she knew she wasn’t going to be appointed and lectured them for more than 20 minutes.

Well, if you have to go out, you might as well make a lasting impression, right?

Posted on Friday, April 6th, 2012
Under: Contra Costa County, Contra Costa politics, Local Agency Formation Commission | 1 Comment »

KQED takes up Chevron defeat in Contra Costa County

Belva Davis (Photo by Greg Habiby © KQED 2009)

Watch ” This Week in Northern California” with host Belva Davis tonight and yours truly, where I will talk about Chevron’s stunning property tax appeal defeat in Contra Costa County.

The show airs at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays on KQED Public Television Channel 9 or you can watch a video archive online at

Here’s the blurb about tonight’s full line-up:

In the wake of the devastating shooting at Oikos University in Oakland, hundreds of community members attend an international prayer vigil. Meanwhile, Mayor Jean Quan calls for a renewed effort to curb gun violence and improve access to mental health services. Yahoo hands out pink slips to 2,000 employees, implementing the most significant layoff in the company’s history. New CEO Scott Thompson is expected to make further cuts this year as part of a monumental corporate restructuring. Oil giant Chevron is dealt an unexpected blow as the Contra Costa County Assessment Appeals Board slaps an additional estimated $26.7 million in taxes on its Richmond refinery, claiming the property was previously undervalued by the county. As baseball season kicks off the San Francisco Giants sign a record $127.5 million deal with All-Star pitcher Matt Cain and unveil plans for “Mission Rock,” a new waterfront development next to AT&T Park.


Mina Kim, KQED News

Lisa Vorderbrueggen, Contra Costa Times

Kara Swisher, All Things D

Rachel Gordon, San Francisco Chronicle


Posted on Friday, April 6th, 2012
Under: Contra Costa County, Contra Costa politics | 1 Comment »

Chevron loses tax appeal 27 million ways

Chevron has lost its Richmond refinery property tax appeal in the worst way possible: It not only won’t receive a $73 million refund but it has to pay an additional estimated $27 million.

Contra Costa County, cities and special districts heaved a big sigh of relief at Monday morning’s Assessment Appeals Board decision, which could have forced public agencies to repay Chevron as much as $73 million of the $129 million the company had already paid for tax years 2007-2009.

“There were a lot of people conjecturing that this wasn’t going to be a question of winning or losing but how badly we were going to lose,” said Richmond Councilman Tom Butt, whose city receives 60 percent of the property tax proceeds the refinery pays. “It was a pleasant surprise to hear that we not only beat back the appeal but we may have more money coming to us.”

In the uncharacteristically detailed and strongly worded 24-page opinion, the three-member appeals board rejected the disparate taxable values Contra Costa County Assessor Gus Kramer and Chevron had vigorously defended.

Kramer is legally entitled to set property values, but he and his staff failed to produce supporting evidence behind the numbers they entered for the refinery, the panel wrote.

Chevron’s values were based on “greatly exaggerated” calculations in some areas and outright unbelievable in others, the document also stated.  Click here to read the rest of the story.

For the full text of the appeal, click here for supplemental decision and here for main ruling.


Posted on Monday, April 2nd, 2012
Under: Contra Costa County, Contra Costa politics | 23 Comments »

Newsmakers Lesher Speaker Series is a great ride!

When Steve Lesher introduced me a few weeks ago as moderator at the Newsmakers Lesher Speaker Series’ event with Donna Brazile and Patrick Buchanan, he told the audience I had occupied that role four, may more, times.

It’s actually been seven, Steve.

I couldn’t believe it either. But photos don’t lie. (And oh, how I wish they would, especially during certain times of, shall we say, expanded waistlines?)

My vanity aside, moderating at Newsmakers has been a fabulous ride and one of my favorite perks of this job. I’ve had the opportunity to spend up-close-and-personal time with presidential candidates, authors, iconic journalists, famous television personalities and even an astronaut.

Former presidential candidates George McGovern, Newt Gingrich and Patrick Buchanan may have wildly disparate views but they were all exceptionally charming, smart and interesting.

Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, two of the most famous people in journalism, made me horribly nervous. I babbled and my jokes fell terribly flat. I wish I had a do-over on that one.

Mary Matalin and James Carville, the Republican-Democrat political pundit married couple, are the kind of people you would love to sit with on the back porch on a warm summer night, sip whiskey out of a water glass and just listen to them talk.

CNN commentator and author Donna Brazile is simply fabulous. In my next life, I want to be her sister.

And my time with Sally Ride was a pleasant surprise. The scheduled moderator became ill at the last moment and Steve asked me if I could do it. I know next to nothing about outer space other than what I had learned in Star Trek, so I called Bob McBarton, an East Bay man who knows a lot on the subject and he caught me up on the latest NASA and related news. Ride explained something that night that I have never forgotten called the “normalization of deviation.” She was talking about what led up to the horrific explosion of the spacecraft Challenger in which long-suspected questions about the o-ring — later determined to be the cause of the accident — went unanswered. I now use the concept when I see unacceptable actions or behaviors so commonplace that most people no longer view them as negative … until the issue explodes.

Newsmakers hires a photographer for each of its events, so I’m lucky to have the following record of my time with some of the nation’s most interesting people:


Newsmakers Lesher Speaker Series with Donna Brazile and Patrick Buchanan, with moderator Lisa Vorderbrueggen of the Contra Costa Times on March 18, 2012.

Newsmakers Lesher Speaker Series with Bob Schieffer, moderator Lisa Vorderbrueggen of the Contra Costa Times and her husband, Joe, on Jan. 12, 2010.

Newsmakers Lesher Speaker Series with Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, moderator Lisa Vorderbrueggen of the Contra Costa Times and Contra Costa Times Metro Editor Katherine Rowlands on Nov. 17, 2008.


Newsmakers Lesher Speaker Series with Mary Matalin, James Carville, Walnut Creek student Jessica Goodman and moderator Lisa Vorderbrueggen of the Contra Costa Times on March 17, 2008.


Newsmakers Lesher Speaker Series with Sally Ride, moderator Lisa Vorderbrueggen of the Contra Costa Times and her husband, Joe, on Nov. 6, 2007.


Newsmakers Lesher Speaker Series with Tom Daschle, Newt Gingrich and moderator Lisa Vorderbrueggen of the Contra Costa Times on Oct. 9, 2006.


Newsmakers Lesher Speaker Series with former presidential candidate George McGovern and moderator Lisa Vorderbrueggen of the Contra Costa Times on May 3, 2006.


Newsmakers Lesher Speaker Series with JC Watts and moderator Lisa Vorderbrueggen of the Contra Costa Times on May 3, 2006.

Posted on Sunday, April 1st, 2012
Under: Contra Costa politics | 2 Comments »

Ellen Tauscher endorses Van de Brooke in Contra Costa race

Tomi Van de Brooke

Ellen Tauscher

Free from the strictures imposed upon federal employees,  former Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security and former Democratic East Bay Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher has endorsed Tomi Van de Brooke for Contra Costa County supervisor.

Tauscher left her high-ranking post in February after serving three years with friend and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. A cancer survivor, Tauscher said she wanted to take time to do other things with her life. She remains a special envoy for the State Department and recently joined the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security.

One of those things Tauscher apparently wanted to do was help her friends back home with their elections. Tauscher will host a fund-raiser for Van de Brooke next week in Contra Costa County.

Van de Brooke, a Contra Costa Community College trustee and Orinda resident, is running in the June 5 election for the District 2 seat held by retiring Supervisor Gayle Uilkema of Lafayette. Also vying for the opening is Danville Mayor Candace Andersen and Lafayette solar expert Sean White.

Posted on Friday, March 30th, 2012
Under: 2012 primary election, Contra Costa Board of Supervisors, Contra Costa County, Contra Costa politics | 15 Comments »

Chevron appeal decision set for Monday in Contra Costa

The Contra Costa County Assessment Appeals board will release its decision Monday on Chevron’s challenge of its Richmond refinery values.

The oil giant seeks refunds worth up to $73 million in property taxes it paid from 2007 through 2009, or slightly more than half of what the company was assessed.

The county and cities, along with fire, parks and other dozens of other special districts, will bear the burden of any repayment at a time when most public agencies have already experienced years of declining budgets.

The three-member appeals board heard dozens of hours of testimony over the winter on the complex challenge from the county’s largest property taxpayer.

Chevron argued that Contra Costa County Assessor Gus Kramer and his staff failed to document how they derived the values and intentionally miscalculated the final numbers. (Read an excerpt of Chevron’s brief filed with the Assessment Appeals Board here.)

In response, Kramer accuses the deep-pocketed oil company of systematically bullying the county with unsubstantiated and costly appeals and lawsuits in an effort to lower its taxes.

If the board sides with Chevron, it will be the refinery’s second victory in its nearly eight-year fight with Kramer over its taxable worth.

The panel in 2010 ordered a repayment of $17.8 million on the refinery’s 2004-2006 property assessment appeal, a figure far short of what the company sought. Chevron subsequently filed a lawsuit, which is still pending.

Chevron has also appealed its 2010 and 2011 property values.

Refinery spokesman Dean O’Hair said the company remains eager to negotiate with the county a settlement of all the appeals and the lawsuit.

If the appeals board orders a refund, O’Hair said Chevron will again work with the county to minimize the financial impact on the public agencies including a phased-in repayment schedule and a waiver of interest.

The public appeals board hearing begins at 9 a.m. in the Contra Costa County administration building, 651 Pine St., Martinez.


Posted on Friday, March 30th, 2012
Under: Contra Costa County, Contra Costa politics, Richmond, taxes | 1 Comment »

Controversial Richmond department fuels PR duel

Richmond Office of Neighborhood Safety Director DeVone Boggan uncharacteristically fired off a swift and strongly worded press release in response to the broad release of a critical report prepared in the office of vocal critic and Richmond Councilman Corky Boozé. (See links below.)

Boggan called the report an unsubstantiated, error-ridden and poorly written document prepared by an unqualified intern. And he chastised the city for allowing what he called a “student opinion paper” to be distributed through the council agenda process.

“In the absence of a graduate school supervisor providing appropriate direction and feedback (particularly around biased presentations) this report should be considered nothing more than a writing exercise draft,” Boggan wrote.

The Office of Neighborhood Safety has been under fire for months after a bloody fight broke out in city hall between rival clients and scared the bejeezus out of staffers. Created six years ago, the department attempts to reduce gun violence in the community through a variety of intervention programs.

Boggan recently agreed that an independent evaluation is appropriate and has requested $375,000 for the analysis.

In the meantime, Boozé has had the agency in his crosshairs for some time. He has questioned Boggan’s $148,000-a-year salary, requested audits of the $2.6 million-a-year department and has repeatedly asked for proof of its efficacy.

The public relations spat is further clouded by the fact that Boozé is at war with the progressive majority on the council, whose members regard the Office of Neighborhood Safety as a centerpiece in their efforts to reduce community violence through non-police channels.

Readers should definitely view with caution the contents of the 12-page intern’s report issued under the guidance of one of the Office of Neighborhood Safety’s most vocal opponent. But just because Boozé has an agenda doesn’t mean all the findings in this report are inaccurate. It raises serious questions about how this agency spends taxpayer dollars that must be answered if the public is to have confidence in Boggan’s leadership in light of what happened here last year.

Read Boggan’s press release here.

Read intern Anna Johnson’s report and Powerpoint presentations out of Booze’s office here and here.

Watch video of the City Council’s March 27 discussion here. (It is item No. I-1.)

Posted on Thursday, March 29th, 2012
Under: Contra Costa County, Contra Costa politics, Richmond | 3 Comments »