Grand Jury Faults Behavior of Alameda Councilmembers

Plus, council rejects server farm, and get ready for 341.

Two Alameda councilmembers violated the city’s charter by interfering in the city manager’s duties to independently hire a new fire chief, the Alameda County civil grand jury concluded in a report released Monday.

“The Grand Jury’s investigation revealed a pattern of conduct by two councilmembers that, taken together, amounted to inappropriate interference in the fire chief hiring process and resulted in lasting damage to the city,” the grand jury reported.

Although the report did not name the officials, it is understood they are Councilmembers Jim Oddie and Malia Vella.

Among the findings is a determination that Alameda’s city charter lacks enforcement of its non-interference rules and councilmembers should receive annual training on governance issues. It is within the grand jury’s power to seek the removal of an elected official for malfeasance related to their actions, but it did not do so.

The report quotes for the first time the infamous audio recording secretly made by then-City Manager Jill Keimach of a meeting between her and Oddie and Vella. An independent investigator did not review the audio recording out of fear of abetting a potential crime. Surreptitiously recording of another is a crime in California punishable by fines and imprisonment. The Alameda County DA’s office, however, listened to the audio recordings after determining that Keimach had a reasonable belief that the councilmembers were attempting to coerce her into hiring a fire chief backed by the local firefighters’ union. The DA’s office did not find evidence of wrongdoing in the recordings.

The 55-minute recording capture Oddie and Vella lobbying Keimach on the positives of hiring the union-backed candidate. Keimach remarks that simply selecting the union’s choice for the job would be the easiest solution. Oddie then added, “And if he does and you pick him, I mean, you’ll have to be able to tell the folks that think you were pressured that you weren’t.”

The meeting concludes with Oddie jokingly telling Keimach, “And just to be clear … I know I didn’t tell you who to hire, and I don’t think [Vella] did either, so just to be clear [laughs loudly].” The grand jury said it believes, “These joking words were intended to erase 55 minutes of pressure to hire the labor candidate.” The report adds that Keimach repeatedly voiced discomfort over feeling pressured.

The jury also concluded that a letter written by Oddie to Keimach that recommended the union candidate violated the city charter prohibition on council interference. “[Oddie]’s letter was a direct and very public violation of the charter provision prohibiting councilmembers from attempting to influence the city manager in making an appointment,” the grand jury wrote.

It also found that the two councilmembers attempted to use a performance review of Keimach as leverage.

“It was clear that [Oddie] supported a specific candidate and tried to connect the issue to the city manager’s evaluation,” the grand jury wrote. “[Vella] also brought up the fire chief selection process and inquired about how to communicate with the city manager. Rather than using the evaluation process as a tool to communicate expectations, goals and priorities, it appeared that the process was being hijacked to accomplish individual councilmembers’ goals of installing their preferred candidate for fire chief.”

In response to the report, Oddie said, “I am pleased that the Grand Jury has concluded its deliberations and happy that the jury determined that no further accusation proceedings are warranted.” Vella said in a statement, “Today another independent review of events put into motion in 2017 by former City Manager Jill Keimach show again that her allegations against me were baseless.”

Alameda Rejects Server Farm

The Alameda council flatly rejected a proposed waterfront data center that had sought to use bay water to cool its banks of computer servers.

Nautilus Data Technologies was seeking a 15-year lease for three buildings near the bay on West Oriskany Avenue at Alameda Point. Opposition toward the proposal had steadily risen in recent weeks. Yet June 18’s unanimous rejection of the lease was a rare accomplishment in a city known for its fractious political landscape.

Nautilus had sought to rehabilitate roughly 86,000 square feet of space at the former Alameda Naval Air Station. It planned to employ an untested method of cooling computer servers, which consume lots of energy hog in the form of air conditioning. Bay water was to be pumped through a 60-inch pipe, circulated through the building, then discharged back into the bay. The project was portrayed as a novel and an environmentally friendly solution for lowering the servers’ temperature. But as environmentalists and the members of the public joined the discussion, questions grew regarding the proposal’s impact.

Had the lease been approved, Nautilus would have been required to obtain up to a dozen permits before it could move forward. CEO James Connaughton said approving the lease posed no risks to the city or environment. “Either we pass muster, and there’s no environmental impact, or we don’t, and there’s no environmental impact.”

In rejecting the proposal, Alameda officials potentially left up to $25 million in revenues on the table for the city’s utility, Alameda Municipal Power. “Money isn’t everything,” said Mayor Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft, fearing the impact on the bay outweighed potential financial benefits.

In Other News …

The grand jury also sharply criticized the Alameda County Board of Supervisors for mishandling the process that eventually led to loss of federal funding for the controversial Urban Shield police emergency training event. … One of BART’s new trains broke down Monday between the Lake Merritt and 12th Street stations in Oakland, forcing hundreds of passengers to exit through a dark tunnel. … A six-month pilot parking program for people living in their RVs opened Friday in Oakland on a city-owned property near the Oakland Coliseum. … A Department of Homeland Security agent was spotted at Berkeley City College seeking student record information from the school, Berkeleyside reported. … According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Alameda County’s Asian-American population is now larger than its white population, SFGate reported. … Alameda, Contra Costa, Santa Clara, and San Francisco counties all appeared on a list of the seven most expensive counties in the U.S., SFGate reported. …

Under Donald Trump, the federal government has sent the state less than the half the amount the Obama administration doled out in infrastructure funding, the Sacramento Bee reported. … The state auditor found California State University failed to disclose a $1.5 billion surplus, all the while raising tuition by 90 percent for its 480,000 students, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. … Google will invest $1 billion to help ease the housing crunch in the Bay Area that it helped exacerbate over the past decade. … Gov. Gavin Newsom apologized for California’s historical treatment of Native Americans, the Chron reported. … Rep. Eric Swalwell told the San Francisco Chronicle that if he does not qualify for the next round of presidential debates in July, he will bow out and run for his seat in Congress. …

Parts of western Alameda County and Contra Costa County will soon begin receiving the new 341 area code. … Hall of Fame thoroughbred trainer Jerry Hollendoffer was dismissed from Golden Gate Fields in Albany and Santa Anita in Southern California after a fourth horse he trains died at a meet. 


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