Five before Midnight

This site is dedicated to the continuous oversight of the Riverside(CA)Police Department, which was formerly overseen by the state attorney general. This blog will hopefully play that role being free of City Hall's micromanagement.
"The horror of that moment," the King went on, "I shall never, never forget." "You will though," the Queen said, "if you don't make a memorandum of it." --Lewis Carroll


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Location: RiverCity, Inland Empire

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Riverside's "Other" River Returns and Another Change to the Ethics Code?


This blog's not on the press release list at City Hall but it doesn't matter because this blog had already posted on the pending hire of the former Maywood Police Department Chief Frank Hauptmann as the new Community Police Review Commission manager under "City Employee Alert"

And now it's official that he's been hired by City Manager Brad Hudson and this hiring has been met with serious criticism.

More to come...

[A tow truck driver removes a vehicle that went off the street and flipped over on Arlington Avenue.]

The photo above was taken some time after an obviously serious car accident on Arlington near Royale where a driver took the car off the road and actually flipped it over on its roof. This picture was taken just after the driver of the tow truck had put it back on its wheels. It's not that far away from where a woman drove her car at high speed off of Arlington near Hawardan Hills Street and crashed into a wall and was killed on a street which has more than its share of crosses and other memorials of people who have been killed on the Chicago/Arlington thoroughfare, with names like Ashley and Chad.

It's always best to drive carefully and not over the speed limit but it's especially true in inclement weather especially when it's not rained for a while on a street. As a person who does a lot of walking, I've seen a trip to downtown turn from four miles to 10 miles (and from 90 minute walking time to three hours), which is eight miles round trip and 20 in recent days due to the closures of Chicago Avenue, Sedgwick and other streets. It's been interesting walking these 15-20 mile round trips although the last few miles are a bit difficult but the RTA clearly moved several bus lines that go through Chicago and it's not clear where they went. After being in cities where similar events have taken place and seeing how much commitment is placed in educating the public about the rerouting of public transportation including temporary bus stops or bus stop closures, it was kind of disorienting to see what was done in Riverside for those dependent on buses for transportation. They should have issued a public service announcement in the newspaper.

Natural disasters are some that everyone faces in their lives and I've experienced my share of earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes (which curiously enough are tough to really see up close), blizzards (including sharing a tent with six people in the Rockies) not to mention nearly being killed when a 30 feet squashed a tent I was sleeping in while camping in New Zealand. I've survived a car flipping over and a fire and had a vacation extended by a landslide.

My personal favorite which was kind of fun, was getting stuck on the buckets at Disneyland for an hour during and singing the school song for over an hour with my friends to avoid the fact that we were over 40 feet above the ground somewhere over the Submarines which was better than being stuck for two hours inside the big lake of the Pirates of the Caribbean because it's very warm and humid and the pirates got on people's nerves sitting inside the boats and people wanted to start throwing things at them. The lines at Disneyland that memorable day were much shorter than those which caused the park to be shut down two days in a row recently but that's because they were having electrical issues that day on nearly every ride (though being rescued from Space Mountain was interesting!). So the lines wound up being much shorter than the rides themselves instead of the other way around.

There's a lot of things that can happen and do as nature is truly an impressive element capable of just about anything at any time. It's definitely to be respected because it can turn on people so quickly.

But while natural disasters such as last week's rains are unpreventable, there are things that can be done and that can be prevented and that's to not make an entire segment of Riverside's population including many voters feel like afterthoughts and those are the city's pedestrians. With streets closed off or under water, many pedestrians are at a loss of how to move about parts of the city. It's one thing to tell an automobile driver that they have to take a four mile detour and a completely different matter for a pedestrian and not many people realize that because most people do travel by car. And not all pedestrians are equal, some have more difficulty or challenges than others to navigate their way through the city. Mayor Ron Loveridge once called it a "walkable" city, and the only response to that, is not even close even when the streets are dry and the sun is shining. Because a "walkable" city would have more sidewalks including on large sections of main thoroughfares than is the case in Riverside which though pushing the envelope of population past probably 350,000 people has a transportation infrastructure including accessible thoroughfares to walkers that is lagging behind. And Riverside is one of the most dangerous cities in terms of pedestrian injuries and deaths in the region.

The folks who dealt with the closure of Chicago Avenue clearly didn't think of pedestrians at all when they designed the signage for the areas blocked off on both sides of the 20 foot hole all the way across the street including the sidewalks.

[Signs on Central and Chicago warning that the road is closed to drivers but not to pedestrians, This photo was taken after a vehicle drove into the construction area for some reason and then turned around and drove back out.]

This was apparent on the intersection of Chicago and Martin Luther King when there were signs stating that the southern route of Chicago was closed and there would be a detour. That sign is clearly for drivers only because it leaves the false impression that the north side is accessible when you examine it from a pedestrian point of view. A car can only turn right on Chicago and head in one direction but pedestrians can walk north or south on sidewalks on either side. So this confused pedestrians but nothing more so than the fact that whoever did the signage on this street completely forgot to put up signs about pedestrian access or sidewalks being blocked anywhere from MLK to the "hole" and also on the Central side of the closed portion of Chicago. This is significant because quite a few pedestrians were witnessed walking all the way to the barricades where the 20 foot hole is and were confused because of lack of signage and had to backtrack in some cases three blocks back to MLK.

Then again even though the strip of Chicago had gone into sign overkill in comparison for vehicle traffic, vehicles still actually drove all the way past the "road closed" signs up the barricades before turning around and driving back to Central Avenue. There's not much you can do about what happened to Chicago which was years in the making and the timeline for fixing it but putting up signs that helped alert pedestrians was something that easily could have been done to make a difference.

Two signs warning of closed sidewalks, one on each side close to an alternate route by foot would have been very useful and it's a shame that more signage was placed calling one road "local access only" which involved at least a dozen signs and none were placed to alert walkers and bicyclists to closed sidewalks. Many times even major street repairs take place where sidewalks are unmarred and the Press Enterprise coverage never mentioned whether or not the sidewalks themselves were affected. It was indeed something to see confused pedestrians but it's been very interesting seeing and hearing accounts of what it's been like for them in our city, young, old, many able bodied but not everyone. Most pedestrians are pretty much written off in between speeches by Loveridge and others about how "walkable" Riverside is, because many are youth, seniors and people who aren't affluent. In reality, those who walk around through Riverside are very diverse.

Two Mormon missionaries on bicycles were very concerned because they had encountered a deaf man who had been sitting at a bus stop adjacent to Chicago and the "local access only" road which was used by many other people anyway. They had seen him leave and walk in the direction towards the barricades and at night, it's very dark and hardly visible because the power to the street lights in the vicinity of the construction have been turned off. They spent some time searching for him and hoping that he didn't fall in the 20 foot hole. It was very kind of them and moving to hear of their concern about him and it's nice to see concern expressed about the safety and well being of pedestrians from members of a religious community.

It's not the practice of this blogger to endorse political candidates of any stripe but if anyone running for office next year were to come up with the idea of setting up a pedestrian issue ad hoc task force to examine issues pertaining to the second class populace of pedestrians of all ages, economic statuses, genders and political beliefs and talk about how to make Riverside the more "walkable" or "most livable" city, that might change this practice of endorsement.

[Riverside's river, the Santa Ana after its flooding]

Some people believe that Riverside has no river at all that provided its name and others say yes it does, it's the mostly dry Santa Ana River which came to roaring life during the days and nights of continuous rain.

But during the winter time, Riverside has another river...that could put the Santa Ana to shame.

Sedgwick Avenue: The Other River in Riverside

[What's left of the Arroyo River which appeared every time it rained]

[The damaged portion of Sedgwick Street near Victoria County Club]

[Sedgwick Avenue's concrete on top of the heavily damaged storm channel]

[What Sedwick Avenue looks like for days after it rains at least a half inch in a 12 hour period]

Sedgwick Avenue crosses from Arroyo through Victoria Country Club's golf course into the southern part of the Eastside, bridging together the second and third wards. Although like many of Riverside's streets, it lacks sidewalks, many people transverse it including people walking, with or without dogs, children from the Eastside walking in groups coming and going from a nearby school and people riding bicycles as well as vehicles through the street. However, whenever the weather changes including in the winter the dry city street turns into a raging river any time the rain gauge of precipitation reaches about half an inch within one day. And the river will often rage for days after the original rainfall. There's been coverage in this blog about this ongoing situation including photos of the river that spans up to 10-15 feet across Sedgwick and is about up to six inches or more deep, fast enough so that it most likely could knock people including children off of their feet causing injury or worse and it has flooded and trapped vehicles as well.

The street floods because any rainfall including much, much less than what fell last week and undermined major thoroughfares like Chicago Avenue causes what is already a stream passing through the golf course to overflow, overwhelming an amazingly narrow storm drain that passes underneath Sedgwick. The problem is compounded by the apparently complete lack of maintenance to ensure that the stream isn't clogged with growth particularly around the pipe itself to the point of obstructing it not to mention any flotsum that lodges inside the increasingly narrow storm pipe which the closest analogy of comparison would be to the urethra of a male domestic feline suffering from urinary blockage issues. The water stopped flowing in the pipe and rushes like a wall onto the street, across it spilling to the other side. Last week, the water must have actually been several feet high to completely destroy the chain link fencing on both sides of the stream, not to mention undermining the street itself along with tearing out chunks of concrete and causing them to flow downstream.

Days after the rain stopped, the stream for the first time in memory was completely dried up and devoid of any water. And then it was pretty much left sitting there, with torn up fencing and a crumbling street almost as much as an afterthought as the neighborhood it borders.

Until it rained again, much less than before (because this storm was mostly a force in areas where it turned to snow) and it flooded again, even more than 36 hours after it stopped raining and the only way to stop the Sedgwick is to cut off the water supply because it's more than capable of running across the thoroughfare for days on end.

As stated the stream that turns into the raging winter transverse through private property in the form of a country club golf course on both sides of Sedgwick but it's not clear who is responsible for the upkeep of the stream/spillway whether it's partially the property of the Country Club or the city exercises encroachment rules by running a public works project that goes through private property. It's not clear where the water is coming from because it's not just rain water including the latest flood of water coming through the stream which is much more and much longer lasting than the result of the rainfall that ended 36 hours earlier. Is there water being diverted to the stream from elsewhere either by the city or the golf course itself, and if so why?

Blocking any street to through traffic even a street that's pretty much been forgotten about is an undesirable situation because to block it to vehicle traffic includes emergency vehicle traffic and with Sedgwick also flooding at MLK/14th Street in the major series of storms, it makes it more difficult for those vehicles to get into a neighborhood with meandering streets. Fortunately, it's currently a holiday week which minimizes the number of school children trying to trek across the river on their way to and from school. But given that this street does flood for days on end at the slightest rain, it's going to indeed be a very long winter.

But what do the councilmen in the affected area, Andrew Melendrez (Ward Two ) and Rusty Bailey (Ward Three) done to address this situation not just now but considering that unlike the once in a decade (or hopefully longer) situation with the collapse of Chicago Avenue, this problem has gone on for considerably longer and it's not just a inconvenience and a safety risk, it's getting to be embarrassing. Not much has come out of City Hall except for one individual some months ago who said that the city was aware of it but hadn't done much about it.

[Councilman Andrew Melendrez represents the area where the river runs]

[Councilman Rusty Bailey might find that boat handy on Sedgwick's River which is close to his own ward]

[What is Foster and her Public Works Department doing to address the Sedgwick River? She might not have an engineering degree but surely she can think of something. An elected official said that her department is looking into the problem. ]

It's a shame really that the Sedgwick River has been allowed to flow freely for long periods of several winters at least before this one that might wind up in the record books. It's a shame that people have to warn children not to try to walk across a river that looks deceptively shallow but can stop a car in its tracks or injure an adult let alone a kid. The only access around it is if the golf course opens its gates on either side which have been used by people when they're available. But what has the Country Club done to address the issue, at least in terms of the stream tranversing through the property, a stream that exists outside of service as a storm drain, as it has water running through it yearlong? Why isn't more preventive maintenance done to clear the weeds and plant growth away from the storm drain opening either by the Country Club or the city's public works division? Occasionally there have been city vehicles there looking at it and there have been vehicles that look like they are associated with the Country Club looking at the river too. At this point, it appears that the storm drain pipe has been heavily damaged, crushed by the street on top of it.

Will this problem ever be fixed? Hopefully. But it makes you think about how there's not much money to pay for it given that some of the funding sources for things like sewers and related items has been borrowed against or transferred to other accounts used to buy properties, say some businesses on Market Avenue in downtown Riverside for example. And Melendrez, Bailey, City Manager Brad Hudson and Public Works Manager Siobhan Foster probably drive much more than they walk and they don't frequent that area of the city so maybe they're not aware of the seasonal river lurking there that just might have a city named after it. After all, Hudson was so scared of this area of the city, he had to get a conceal and carry weapons permit when he first arrived.

Public Works had been one of the departments hit with layoffs even as the city had provided increases to some of its management personnel and raised the cap on maximum salaries by many executive and management employees. It also engaged in the rather peculiar practice of relegating its whistle blowers to metal shacks next to toxic substance storage containers at the infamous corporate yard, which had also been the scene of alleged racial harassment in the 1990s according to lawsuits filed by current and former Black employees settled out by the city.

Riverside Hit by Major Power Outage

Earlier in the morning of Dec. 31, a huge section of Riverside was hit by a power outage which lasted over two hours before power was restored. It's not known what caused the outage but because there's been a lot of rain and then wind following that, trees collapsing is expected to be a significant cause of any power outages.

The impacted area was the majority of Canyon Crest towards Victoria Gardens, an area that is hit by numerous outages due to old electrical equipment and infrastructure which make it vulnerable. During the major heatwave last September, this areas of the city lost power three times in one week.

Ethics Complaint Time Limit to be Vanquished?

Riverside Councilman Andrew Melendrez will be proposing an additional change to the Ethics Code and Complaint process which would involve getting read of current deadlines for filing complaints.

It's interesting because Melendrez originally voted along with the Governmental Affairs Committee against their own recommendations that they brought to the city council during the annual ethics code and complaint review. The Committee which also includes Councilmen Steve Adams and Rusty Bailey lost out to the rest of the body which constituted a slim majority. But in the days after that, Melendrez did this kind of tour where he would explain to a lot of different people why he voted like he did which showed he was aware of the controversy of his decision. So now he's doing a 180 of sorts and voting to eliminate the statutory deadline which was made a bit longer. So Melendrez was hit pretty hard on his vote by his supporters including those in his ward, which has maybe in the light of the fact that he's running for mayor in 2012 has made him rethink his position.

Does he have at least three votes to pull off that change? That remains to be seen.

This report details the resolution changes that will be passed by the city council and it remains to be seen whether they were changed or watered down in that process by City Attorney Greg Priamos and it's been placed on the consent calendar but if Melendrez is introducing new language then the item should be pulled from the consent calendar so the public will have the opportunity to comment on it.

After watching what unfolded during the Year of Scandal in 2010, it seems that the ethics code and complaint process has been impacted by it and that the city council made some serious reversals on their positions both on the "24/7" language and the development of an independent panel to hear complaints involving elected officials. There was the ad hoc committee to review the code made up of board and commission chairs along with Group president, Jennifer Vaughn-Blakely and it came up with a list of recommendations which went back to the city council and mayor.

Removing the hearing process from the oh-so-biased Mayor's Nomination and Screening Committee has to be done, many city residents have called for this to happen and the timeline needs to be the next to go because its current and past inclusions do nothing about promoting ethics in City Hall except to reward those who engage in covering up ethical violations and misdeeds to keep them covered up as nearly happened with the guns, badges and cold plates scandals. One councilman up for reelection next year, Steve Adams blithly dismissed the scandals as "old news" which is was to City Hall but these were brand new revelations to the public because of the coverups. It's pretty arrogant for an elected official to even make a statement calling the revelations "old news".

But it remains to be seen what the fallout for the elected officials will be during next year's election cycle which is too close to call in light of the upsets in three ward elections since 2007. But the economy and ethics including violations will probably be two critical issues with voters in the city council elections next year. Will one or more elected officials become "old news"? That remains to be seen.

Is "The List" Back?

[Riverside Police Chief Sergio Diaz in his third round of promotions since he arrived in July goes "by the list" this time]

The Riverside Police Department greeted the holiday season by filling vacancies including a lieutenant's position held by Darryl Hurt which goes off the books next month. Chief Sergio Diaz promoted a sergeant as well (as the vacancy rate in that rank would have increased to seven spots] and at least two detectives. And unlike in his first round of 13 promotions in July just weeks after his arrival, Diaz didn't go by the book perhaps but went by the list. Meaning that the promotions for all three ranks allegedly came from candidates who topped their respective lists.
In previous rounds this year including Diaz' opening act, candidates were taken from different spots on the list, with lieutenants coming from those ranked 2,5, 6, 9 and 12 (out of 13) on the original posted list. The promotions caused quite a bit of a stir because many felt that the list was obsolete and should be done alphabetically rather than by ranking. For the women, it was ironic because for years they were told to have a chance at promotion, they had to top the lists and when they did, they were overlooked.

The promotional process had been under high scrutiny since allegations came out that every person and his mother had a stake in the process including at least one elected official, Councilman Steve Adams who allegedly exercised his discretionary power for either two or three candidates involving the filling of two vacancies. Allegedly he had tried to make "suggestions" to the incoming chief about selections but they weren't heeded. Eyebrows were raised at Diaz' first round of promotions including many officers that had been mentored by either former Acting Chief, John DeLaRosa and his mentor, now Deputy Chief Mike Blakely as well as two who had histories of disciplinary action for sexual misconduct onduty with one of them having criminal allegations of vandalism raised as well.

Some new person to the cast made the observation that the promotional system of excluding the list was interesting but problematic and that it made one wonder why there was a list in the first place. That was a sentiment that was expressed quite often but the most recent round of promotions were different in that respect in that candidates like new Lt. Jaybee Brennan and new Sgt. Kevin Townsend led their respective lists. The detectives operate under the very commonly used practice known as the "rule of three" which governed all police department promotions some years ago. But the promotions above that have more subjectivity including captains who aren't ranked at all, just listed and the captain's rank was probably the most subject to manipulation by outside parties at City Hall.

And the MOA that the detectives branch of the Riverside Police Officers' Association has with the city which is over 15 years old has assured that this rank has avoided the severe depletion that has impacted all the other ranks in the past couple years. The situation in investigations would have been very dire if that MOU hadn't been in place yet it's impacted the staffign levels of the officer level to the point where the 27 promised vacancies (and yes, it is 27 not 15 in case the city suffers a memory lapse) will only partially fill the high vacancy rate in field operations.

What's fascinating too about the promotions is that currently three high ranking members of the RPOA board, President Cliff Mason, Vice-President Brian Smith and now PAC chair Kevin Townsend are all on sergeant's probation with an election for president to take place at the end of next year. Smith successfully won his reelection as the union's vice-president in recent weeks but not too long ago, there was some strife in the association when former president Pat McCarthy was promoted to sergeant and went on probation during his second term in office.

Ultimately he ran against candidate, Det. Ken Tutwiler and was defeated. So far at least three other candidates are flirting with a run for the top spot but none so far have apparently declared. Most of the officers were reelected to the union board with the new addition being Sgt. Gary Toussaint who is now the representative of that rank replacing Sgt. Brian Kittinger who is working in an Internal Affairs assignment. With many city employees working on expired contracts because of the economic crisis, the focus has been on other issues and the union had been busy evaluating and endorsing political candidates in different local and state elections. Lately locally, the RPOA has endorsed incumbents given that they didn't have a very successful record at predicting who would win the often contentious local elections. It's been a difficult year for the police department on different levels and there's hope that next year will be better than 2010.

But the earlier part of this year was necessary, even as blame's been cast at those who delivered the message and not those who wrote the message itself. Years of problematic practices and highly unethical behavior erupted in full force this past year in a chain reaction, it was not pretty but the alternative though it might involve blissful ignorance on the part of the populace of Riverside was much worse and probably even more so than came to light in the media given the lack of transparency at City Hall, one of the reasons why the scandals clustered when they finally did find the light of day and public scrutiny. Without exposure of bad behavior and bad practices, there's not much hope of achieving anything better and the future's hardly bright if an agency is plagued by crises at the top level. Sticking one's head in the sand has never been a useful means of improving a situation after all.

Outgoing Riverside County District Attorney Rod Pacheco strikes back against allegations by an accountant that the books were cooked. But on Jan. 3, he will be leaving his brand new building complete with dome and in will be coming D.A.-elect Paul Zellerbach.

Public Meeting

Tuesday, Jan. 4 at 2 and 6:30p.m.
The Riverside City Council will meet again in its chambers at City Hall and will discuss and vote upon this agenda.
The items include this claim filed by Riverside Police Department employee Fred Haller.

Also Police Canine Officer Aldo is retiring and he will be joining his long-time partner Officer Mike Mears in retirement. Mears is the second canine officer to retire in a few months from the police division with probably the highest retention rate.

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