The Public Eye

Reports from the Bee's investigative team

May 28, 2010
BP's California spills
British Petroleum and its subsidiaries have been the subject of roughly 8,000 reported incidents of spills, emissions and leaks of oil, chemicals and gases into the environment since 1990, the nonprofit Sunlight Foundation reports.

About 275 of those spills, many of them minor, were reported in California. Here's a list of all of them, drawn from National Response Center data.

BP California spills, 1990 to present:
May 27, 2010
State immigration caseload revisited
A few more details on California's immigration court caseload:

Since 2005, the number of pending immigration cases has jumped 60 percent in California,
according to Syracuse University's Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.

That's roughly double the national increase; in fact, roughly one-third of the nationwide increase since 2005 can be explained by the jump in California's pending cases.

While Mexicans and others from Latin America make up a big portion of the backlog, former residents of China are gaining fast. About 6,000 Chinese are waiting for their cases to be heard by California immigration courts, double the number from 2005.

The Syracuse researches said the backlog mostly relates to increased enforcement actions flooding a system with too few judges.


May 27, 2010
Sac Police web site is loaded with crime stats

The Sacramento Police Department just released its 2009 Annual Report which contains a good summary of crime trends in the city (p. 10-11). You can see a slow decrease in both violent and property crime over the past five years. There's also a set of color-coded maps showing where violent and property crimes occur the most.

This data is derived from raw statistics city police generate from reported crime calls. Data geeks will appreciate that this information is available in tabular databases on the SacPD site (in both txt and dbf formats). Since the tables contain fields such as location, time of day and crime type, you can do a lot of neat analysis in conjunction with GIS (electronic mapping). For example, the Bee's Phillip Reese in 2006 used GIS and crime incidents to show that a lot of street crime occurs within walking distance of stores that sell liquor. More recently, he found areas of Sacramento where hit-and-run accidents happen the most often.

Of course, most people are just concerned with crime near their homes and workplaces. The Bee's CrimeMapper database can help you locate reported crimes in your neighborhood. Just punch in an address and a distance (radius) from that point and CrimeMapper will quickly produce a list of incidents located in that circle. The site includes data from the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department, as well as Sacramento, Elk Grove, Roseville, Lincoln, Rocklin and Folsom police departments.

While we're on the subject, check out the Bee's Arrest Logs, a brief listing of individuals arrested in the region in the past five days. Name, age, charge, bail amount and city of residence are included.

-- Pete Basofin       

May 26, 2010
Budget deficit or not in Rancho Cordova? You be the judge.
Today, The Bee ran a story detailing the projected budget deficits of every large city and county in the region -- deficits totaling more than $300 million.

Most cities and counties were upfront about how much they needed to cut. A few said they had balanced budgets, but noted they were also shifting money from reserves. Citrus Heights said it had a bona fide balanced budget, with no cuts or fee increases or reserve shifts needed.

Absent from our story, though, was Rancho Cordova. A graphic listing all of the deficits for the region simply listed the city as "N/A."

Here's the backstory:

Rancho Cordova's city manager Ted Gaebler told The Bee the city's upcoming budget was balanced. He also said it was going to be balanced only after spending cuts and fee increases.

But if your budget -- which the city council has not yet adopted -- isn't balanced without proposed fee increases or cuts, then you have a deficit, right?

No, said Gaebler. Repeatedly. "Our budget is balanced."

Not sure Rancho Cordova residents and businesses will see it that way once they read this this council agenda item, asking them to pay increased fees " to prevent the need for further declines in service levels that have been necessary in order to produce a balanced budget for the upcoming fiscal year."

May 26, 2010
Banking crisis reduces ranks of small California banks
Banks across the nation are recovering from the financial crisis - but in California, recovery has been weak for many community banks whose lending is essential to towns and rural areas statewide. In the first quarter of 2010, institutions insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. turned an aggregate $18 billion profit, according the most recent federal data.

Thumbnail image for sw0312cd.JPG
Insured banks and thrifts in California earned $674 million, compared to a loss of $91 million a year earlier. However, some of the smallest community institutions - those with assets of less than $100 million - are still deeply troubled. Overall, they lost $6 million in the first quarter, compared to a $28 million aggregate loss a year earlier. In the last year, the FDIC reported, 22 of those small lenders have either failed or been absorbed into larger institutions. (Cartoon by Signe Wilkinson)

-- Charles Piller
May 26, 2010
California's immigration hearing backlog - worst in nation
California - by far the biggest magnet for people seeking to move to the United States - also has the dubious distinction of taking the longest to adjudicate cases of those trying to gain legal status. The average immigrant waits 619 days for a hearing before a special immigration courts - more than 40 percent longer than the national average.

 In Los Angeles, where most cases are heard, this (at right, below) is a typical scene (Los Angeles Times photo by Allen J. Schaben).

Thumbnail image for IMMIG COURT24.jpg
The average wait there is 713 days according to a report by the Transaction Access Records Clearinghouse, a project at Syracuse University that collects and analyzes federal records.

The average wait in San Francisco was 411 days. Sacramento does not have a special immigration court. Nationally, average wait times and overall case logs - 30 percent above numbers seen just 18 months ago - are at all time highs.

-Charles Piller

May 25, 2010
Vandals destroy five trees on 19th Street in midtown

The problem: Five young trees planted by the city of Sacramento on 19th Street between Q and R streets were broken off at the trunk by vandals. Some of the trees were planted just a few months ago.

The solution: The Urban Forestry Division of the city's Transportation Department inspected the damage last week.

"They have been destroyed," said Linda Tucker, spokeswoman for city transportation. "We will need to remove them and replant them in the fall, as the weather will soon be too hot for newly planted trees."

Cost will run about $300 per tree, including trees and labor.

Through attrition, Urban Forestry is spread thinly. Staff levels are down to about 20 people working all city streets, caring for some 100,000 trees, including many older trees.

Reports about problems can be made by calling 311. But unless public safety is at risk, city staff may be unable to respond immediately. In some cases, needed tree removal or pruning may not occur until a neighborhood is cycled into the maintenance schedule.

-- Loretta Kalb

May 25, 2010
Group seeking utility-rate rollback turns in signatures

The push to place an initiative on the November ballot that would reverse an upcoming hike in city of Sacramento utility rates is moving forward.

The campaign said it has filed more than 8,600 signatures with the Sacramento city clerk from city voters who support placing the initiative on the ballot.

Those signatures are now in the hands of county elections officials, who will do a random sample to see whether supporters collected enough signatures from registered city voters to place the initiative on the ballot. At least 5,420 valid signatures must be gathered.

County elections officials have until July 2 to validate the signatures. If enough signatures are valid, the Sacramento City Council must place the initiative on the city ballot.

If voters approve the initiative, the 9.2 percent utility rate increase for city residents set to take effect July 1 would be reversed and utility rates would be frozen for another year.

In the future, the council could raise utility rates only to cover inflation-related costs. Any rate hikes above the rate of inflation would require voter approval.

In a press release announcing the filing of the signatures, the initiative campaign said the measure would give "the people of Sacramento some measure of control over, and protection from, their dysfunctional city utilities department." Utility rates have far outpaced the rate of inflation in recent years, the statement said.

Jessica Hess, a spokeswoman for the city Department of Utilities, said a rollback of the rate increase and a one-year freeze for rates would result in a $20 million hit to the department's water, sewer and solid waste funds. City staff are investigating what impact that would have on staffing and service levels.

-- Ryan Lillis


May 24, 2010
What recovery? Bank failures double this year compared to 2009
Although the federal bailout stabilized the banking system, bank failures are continuing at at rapid clip. Check out the latest federal tally. More than twice as many banks and savings and loans have been seized by regulators this year as in the same period last year: 73 in 2010, and 33 in 2009.

Banking analysts have long been warning us to expect a bumper crop of failures among small- to medium-sized community and regional banks this year. Many of the big banks that teetered on the edge of collapse had made bad bets on exotic mortgage securities. But most of the smaller banks are feeling the effects of residential mortgage foreclosures (such at the one pictured here) and, increasingly, commercial property loans going bad.

Thumbnail image for Mortgage Aid.jpg The number of California banks that folded also rose, from four to five. Those included Oakland's Innovative Bank and San Rafael's Tamalpais Bank, both of which closed on April 16.

-Charles Piller

May 22, 2010
Shopping for a kid's gift? Buyer beware
About that cute holiday gift you got last year for the small child in your life...You might want to check in from time to time with the Consumer Products Safety Commission's recall list. During the last month alone, a raft of apparel, blankets and toys were recalled. Among them, Step2 Co.'s Push Around and Whisper Ride buggies, sold at major retailers through March, caused at least 28 injuries to young children when the buggy handle suddenly detached.buggy.jpg

Fly Dragonfly (aka Queen Bee), a remote-controlled helicopter toy distributed by Imagine Nation Books Unlimited/Books Are Fun of Boulder, Colorado, has the inconvenient tendency to burst into flames. It was sold at gift fairs in hospitals and offices nationwide.


According to the consumer agency's archives, 16 toys have been recalled so far this year - the same number as had been by this time in 2009.

-Charles Piller

May 21, 2010
Cash in hand, but they still need your votes ...
Well known fact: State legislative races often come down to which candidate can raise the most cash.

capital.JPGLess known fact: Most of the money raised by candidates comes from outside the area they will represent.

A study released Tuesday by the nonpartisan research group MAPLight,org found that California lawmakers raised 79 percent of campaign funds from outside their districts.

In other words, legislators raised almost four out of every five dollars in campaign funds from outside of where their constituents live.

More than half of the state's lawmakers raised 80 percent or more of their campaign funds from outside their districts. Nineteen lawmakers raised 90 percent or more of their funds from outside their districts. No lawmaker raised more than half of their funds from in-district.

In the greater Sacramento area, MapLight flagged and ranked these legislators by the percentage of contributions they received from donors outside their district:

#18 Assemblywoman Alyson Huber 91 percent
#53 Assemblyman Ted Gaines 83 percent
#44 Senator Sam Aanestad 85 percent
#60 Senator Dave Cox 82 percent

"Not a single legislator in California raised the majority of their campaign funds from in-district, where their voters live," said Daniel Newman, executive director. "Instead of a voter democracy, we have a donor democracy."

--Phillip Reese

May 21, 2010
Bear market doesn't hamper bear viewing
Despite the recession, Yosemite National Park saw an increase in visitors last year.

About 3.7 million people visited Yosemite during 2009, a 9 percent increase from the year before, according to the latest National Park Service statistics. That's the most visitors Yosemite has seen during any year since 1996.
Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks also had more visitors last year than during prior years, with almost 1 million coming to Kings Canyon and about 600,000 visiting Sequoia.

It was a little less crowded at Lassen National Park and Point Reyes National Seashore, which both posted small drops in visitors from 2008 to 2009.

Looking to avoid the crowds in Yosemite? Go in February, by far the least busy month, with 79,000 visitors last year. August was busiest at the park: 643,000 visitors.

--Phillip Reese

May 20, 2010
California to Texas Educators: "No thanks"

A move by Texas educators to revise social studies textbooks has one California state senator pressing to ensure that Texas doesn't mess with us.

On Monday, the Senate Appropriations Committee passed legislation by Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, to ensure that California textbooks aren't subject to the same curriculum changes proposed in Texas. Yee is worried that, because of the large number of public school students in Texas, the "extreme right-wing curriculum changes" could influence textbooks nationwide.

Some historians have criticized the revisions as being historically inaccurate and an attempt to rewrite history. Proponents of the Texas plan say the current historical narrative has been hostile to religion and capitalism, and that the liberal left is distorting the proposed curriculum changes.

Among the changes, which recently got preliminary approval by the largely conservative Texas board of education, include replacing terms such as "capitalism" with "free-enterprise system." Another amendment requires that lessons on the McCarthy era include discussion of communist infiltration of the U.S. government. And, hip-hop would be dropped from the list of the nation's important cultural movements while including country and western music.

- Marjie Lundstrom

May 19, 2010
The Governor's budget -- in brief
The image below shows the words Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger used most often when unveiling his latest budget last Friday. Created with Wordle.-- Phillip Reese
gov speechgood.jpg

May 19, 2010
Courts Watch: Report finds computer project flawed, but vital

For several months, The Bee has been writing about a massive state court computer system in the works for close to decade that is meant to link all state courts.

An October article gave a bit of history on the California Court Case Management System (aka CCMS), which has been marked by delays, increases in scope and an ever ballooning price tag. The Bee estimated the total project cost could reach $2 billion when all is said and done.

Some disgruntled judges began complaining about the system -- and other state court spending -- last summer after the Judicial Council decided to close state courts one day a month for budget reasons. This prompted the Legislature to ask the state's Chief Information Officer to review the project.

That report was released late last month. The findings in a nutshell: the project is rife with flaws and the AOC didn't do the best job of managing the work, but given the possible benefit and how much has already been spent, it's best to keep going.



May 18, 2010
Roseville finalizes terms of city manager contract

Roseville's new City Manager Ray Kerridge will be paid an annual salary of $237,300, with an additional $21,357 in deferred compensation, under a contract proposed by the city.

That salary maintains Roseville's top spot among salaries for local city executives, but is well below what it paid its previous city manager.

Former city manager W. Craig Robinson was paid $273,800 annually. Kerridge earned $215,260 annually as Sacramento top executive.

City officials note that while Roseville in considerably smaller in population, the city runs it's own electricity generation and distribution department.

The council is expected to officially hire Kerridge at its May 19 meeting. Under the agreement, Kerridge would start June 17 on a four-year contract. He will not receive a car allowance.

Stung by their experience severing the city's relationship with Robinson, the proposed contract with Kerridge has a termination date and gives the city more options to sever the relationship without a huge payout, officials said.

Robinson's contract also called for $21,084 in deferred compensation, a $750 per month car allowance, no termination date, and required severance payments or 12 months' notice unless the manager were actually convicted of a "felony involving moral turpitude."

The council is also expected to discuss a "golden handshake" early retirement plan for city workers. The May 19 meeting, at city hall 311 Vernon. St., starts at 7 p.m.

May 18, 2010
Money Trail: Plumbers flood area races with cash
In case you missed today's story, The Bee found The Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 447 has given almost $760,000 since 2007 to support local candidates, committees and measures. To put that in context, it's more than the sheriff's deputies, police officers, metro chamber and mega-developer Angelo K. Tsakopoulos gave combined.

If you want to check out the full list, or search for other major donors, visit the Secretary of State's online database.
May 18, 2010
Money Trail: Court upkeep costs big bucks

Being a landlord is a real headache sometimes. Just ask the Administrative Office of the Courts, which took over control - and maintenance - of state court facilities from the counties.

The AOC - the staff agency of the state courts' policy -making body, the Judicial Council - took control of the courthouses in 2003 as part of a broader effort to centralize control of the state's judicial branch.

As a result, the office is now responsible for all of the costly little fixes that arise. The AOC approved $27.3 million worth of "Trial Court Facility Modification Costs" for fiscal year 2008-09, of which $7.9 million have been completed. Another $27.3 million in costs were approved for this year, of which $5.3 million had been spent as of April 12, according to a cost breakdown obtained by The Bee from one of the many state judges complaining about AOC spending.

Click here ( Trial Court Facility Mod Costs.pdf ) to see the full list and hunt for your own eyebrow-raisers. It cost $8,021 to remove gum from in front of the Sacramento Superior Court; $20,000 has been approved to replace clocks in the 44 courtrooms in Sacramento; it cost $1,669 to replace "broken feminine dispensers" in the Fresno County Courthouse; $3,141 was spent at the Madera County Superior Court to replace junipers near the front entrance with rose bushes.

"The top priority of the courts should be to stay open," said Dan Goldstein, a San Diego Superior Court judge and one of the directors of the Alliance of California Judges, a group formed to rail against AOC spending and Judicial Council leadership. "We're seeing precious resources being spent on rose bushes and scraping gum off the sidewalks."

It's important to know that the judicial branch has been in a state of turmoil for some time as Chief Justice Ronald George (seen above swearing in the governor) has continued his push to centralize control of the courts, which had operated for decades as virtual fiefdoms. Some judges' discontent bubbled to the surface last summer after the Judicial Council started closing state courts one day a month to save money. This prompted some on the bench to complain that costly construction projects, a massive ongoing computer project and the ballooning AOC staff should be cut before closing courthouse doors.

And, despite the occasional eyebrow raiser, most of the items on the maintenance list actually seem pretty normal.

"As you can see, the vast majority of the items are routine maintenance expenses such as fixing leaky pipes, removing asbestos from workplaces, repairing leaking roofs, etc.," AOC spokesman Philip Carrizosa wrote in an email to The Bee. "To be sure, some of the items were quite expensive such as repairing the roof at the Wiley Manuel Courthouse in Oakland (line 14) which was built in 1982 and whose roof was nearly 10 years past its useful life."

-- Robert Lewis
May 17, 2010
Lockdowns - more common in California prisons
Lockdowns -- in which prisoners are restricted to their cells for long periods, without time in the exercise yard, prison jobs or recreation -- are common in California prisons. In my recent investigation of behavior modification programs, I found many inmates got out of their cells for as little as one hour a week. The prisoner pictured below in a Corcoran facility, bathing himself in a sink in his cell, had been locked down for months. Massive overcrowding often sparks violence that leads to lockdowns.
RB Corcoran BMU 4.JPG

This is not the norm nationally, I was told by Jeffrey Beard, who heads Pennsylvania's prisons. In his state and many others, lockdowns are rare -- and when they do occur, short. In the last 30 years, the longest lockdowns in his state lasted just a few days. Long lockdowns, and the deprivation and isolation they represent, are one more reason that most experts regard California's prisons as among the most troubled in the nation.

--Charles Piller
May 17, 2010
California and Sacramento foster care numbers plunge

The number of children entering foster care in Sacramento and all of California is plunging, a trend being viewed as both remarkable and concerning.

A new report from the Public Policy Institute of California shows that, since 2000, the state has had a 45 percent drop in the number of children in foster care - even as the population of children increased. That development is reflected in Sacramento County, where the number of children in foster care dipped by about 35 percent between a peak in October 1999 and a decade later, according to data compiled by UC Berkeley's Center for Social Services Research.

While the study concludes that California has made "some remarkable advances" in the last decade, successfully moving children out of foster care and into stable placements, there also has been a "worrisome increase" in the percentage of children who return to foster care.

Again, Sacramento County has experienced the same trend. A Bee investigation published in June 2008 revealed that, among the 20 largest counties, Sacramento had the highest percentage of kids who land back in foster care within two years of Child Protective Services returning them to their families. Some child advocates blamed the churn on a push within Sacramento CPS to reunite families, along with poor assessments by social workers.

Sacramento County's re-entry rate has shown steady improvement in the last few years, though CPS officials acknowledge that steep budget cuts are affecting the way the agency does business.

"As a result (of budget and staff cuts), CPS is focusing resources on children with the most critical needs, and opening investigations only on cases that meet the strict legal definition of abuse or neglect," CPS officials said in a statement released this week.

-- Marjie Lundstrom

May 15, 2010
Do prison behavior units boost mental health costs?
For my recent series on behavior modification programs (called "BMUs") in the state prisons, I tried to learn whether the units are increasing prison costs during our state's current budget crisis. Officials said they were unable to compare the cost of BMUs to other prison housing. But when I visited Calipatria State Prison, prisoners said extreme deprivation and isolation in the behavior units had pushed many to use psychotropic drugs -- an expensive line item for prisons.

PK_PRISONS 0071.jpg"Damn near everybody...since they've entered the BMU, they're in mental health," said inmate Derek Hardy, 32. "How's this supposed to be helping somebody when everybody's in mental health and getting on these medications?...I'm one of them people because this is cruel and unusual punishment right here." (Hardy is on the top cell bunk, above.) See an audio slide show of prisoners talking about conditions in these units here.

-- Charles Piller

May 14, 2010
Cougar warnings lifted on American River Parkway

This spring, joggers on the American River Parkway trail have had more to worry about than daredevil cyclists or wandering dogs on extended leashes. Try a mountain lion sighting.

Sacramento County rangers in March posted signs on a two-mile stretch of the trail between the Sunrise Bridge and Nimbus Fish Hatchery warning that mountain lions had been spotted in the area.

After a thorough investigation, the signs now have been removed. Steve Flannery, the county's chief ranger, said he seriously doubts mountain lions lived in that area, bordered by Gold River. "But we like to take precautions and warn people as promptly as we can," Flannery said.

Flannery said the sightings were reported by workers at a security company that patrols Gold River.

"We were skeptical, because there's very limited habitat over on that stretch of the parkway," Flannery said. "That's not a very good hunting (area) for a lion."

Flannery says that twice in the past 10 years the Department of Fish and Game has verified sightings of mountain lions - but no "incidents," meaning direct contact with humans - on the county stretch of the parkway.

-- Sam McManis

May 14, 2010
Recession's toll harsh on single mothers, elderly

More California women are vying for fewer jobs -- and single mothers have been among the hardest hit, a new study finds.

The employment rate for unmarried women with children declined by 4.7 percentage points between 2006 and 2009, going from 67.5 percent to 62.8 percent, according to a report released Tuesday by the California Budget Project.


The drop curtailed the strong employment gains made by single women supporting families in the 1990s and early 2000s.

California's unmarried women with children were nearly twice as likely as their married counterparts -- both men and women -- to be unemployed in 2009. The jobless rate for unmarried women with children was 14.8 percent in 2009.

Meanwhile, the number of employed women ages 55 to 69 with jobs rose by 2.0 percentage points between 2006 and 2009, an indication that many older women were forced by the economy to put off retirement, the report found.

The whole report can be found here. (Note: PDF file).

- Phillip Reese

May 13, 2010
Amariana's foster mom is subject of police review

More than two years after the death of 4 1/2-year-old Amariana Crenshaw, a new report into conditions inside the girl's foster home is being reviewed by Sacramento police for possible criminal charges.

The state's Community Care Licensing Division, which oversees children in foster care, is attempting to put Amariana's foster mom, Tracy Dossman, permanently out of business.

The state's investigation also has piqued interest in local law enforcement. Because the report alleges the girl was hit by Dossman, and sustained at least 17 injuries before her January 2008 death, city police are looking to see if there's a criminal case, said spokesman Sgt. Norm Leong.

Leong said detectives have determined that the allegations will "not assist" their homicide investigation. However, the report alleging numerous licensing violations is being reviewed for possible child abuse or child endangerment, too, he said. "It is being looked at, but we don't know if there's enough there," Leong said.

Amariana's charred body was removed from Dossman's rental property near South Natomas after at least one Molotov cocktail ignited on or near the child.

Police have said that Amariana was asleep on the floor of the vacant home. But several forensic experts who reviewed the autopsy for The Bee said they believed she was already dead when the homemade firebombs erupted around 3:30 a.m.

The state, which focuses on licensing violations, found that Dossman's story about putting Amariana to sleep on the floor of the empty house violated department regulations and Amariana's "personal rights."

The state detailed a series of alleged violations in the foster home, including a locked refrigerator and deadbolts on the children's doors.

Dossman continued to care for foster children until this year, when the state ordered that she stop. She is challenging that decision. Police will have to weigh the statute of limitations, which precludes the filing of some child abuse-related charges, Leong said.

-- Marjie Lundstrom

May 13, 2010
Prison investigation draws fire -- and ire
Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for RB Corcoran BMU 9.JPG

We knew readers would respond to Charles Piller's latest investigation, about allegations of prisoner abuse in special "behavior management" units at prisons. And respond they have, beginning with a string of spontaneous comments on the promo for the two-part series, seconds after it popped onto Friday afternoon. Many readers were angry, saying we gave convicted felons -- many of them well-versed in lying -- too large a platform. A few were furious, suggesting the reporter spend a few nights in a cell with his new buddies. But amid the anger and fury and name calling were some measured thoughts on both sides.

If you have a strong stomach for conflict, take a look for yourself. In addition to the online commenters, others reached out to the reporter directly and they had some intriguing things to say as well:

Thank you for your work on the California Prison Behavior Modification Units. You are delving into areas which need to be brought to the surface. Please disregard the vitriolic retorts from the mostly correctional officers commenting. Their hate filled verbiage only serves to substantiate what you are reporting on. There is much more than you will ever be allowed to see or hear about, but your work is not in vain.

Yes, (criminals) are sent to prison for a crime, they have lost their freedom, to be "locked" away from society...Does this mean that they should be punished physically? Emotionally? Denied the basic human rights? To suffer? To suffer inhumane conditions?

Interestingly, that second email came from a former probation officer whose son has served time in prison.

If you want to hear Charlie discuss the story, and respond to some of the accusations of liberal bias in his own measured way, listen in to his interview with our partner, Capitol Public Radio, here.

-- Amy Pyle

May 5, 2010
Textbook mistakes and parking lot scams

The latest Public Eye column published in The Bee takes on the powerful textbook industry and wins -- plus warns innocent drivers of an ingenious parking lot scam.

Math books replete with errors will be replaced at area school districts at the cost of publisher Macmillan/McGraw-Hill.

It has offered to replace its elementary math series, which includes student and teacher textbooks, teacher resource guides and student workbooks, at both Sacramento City Unified and Folsom Cordova Unified school districts.

Sac City Unified spokesman Gabe Ross said the district had paid the company $1.3 million for the books. Folsom Cordova Unified spent $600,000.

Staff at both districts voiced concern over errors found in the math series in a Bee story last month. Teachers said math problems didn't add up, lesson plans did not connect to homework assignments and the answer key had mistakes.

McGraw-Hill spokeswoman Mary Skafidas said the firm contacted every California school district that adopted the math series and offered to replace the materials. "Our intention is always to provide programs with the highest quality," Skafidas said.

New materials are expected to arrive the first week of August.

Ross said "McGraw-Hill has been very responsive to the situation and has gone above and beyond to rectify the situation."

- Melody Gutierrez and Diana Lambert


Check out parking lot attendants' badges, IDs

If you use a downtown Sacramento parking lot, beware of people posing as parking attendants to collect parking fees.

A Sacramento woman is out $10 after paying a man who directed her to a parking space in a lot operated by Priority Parking at 16th and J streets a week ago.

She was in a hurry to attend a luncheon. As she drove into the lot, she said a man approached her. He was wearing a black jacket with a patch on it, similar to those worn by security guards. He directed her to a parking space, followed her to the spot and said the fee was $6. When she gave him a $10 bill, he said he didn't have change. The woman told him keep the $10 and asked for a receipt. The man said he would give her the receipt when she returned.

Instead, she came back to find a $23 parking ticket from Priority Parking on her vehicle. She was told by the company she should have deposited the parking fee in a machine in the lot and displayed the ticket, or receipt, in her vehicle. The company waived the $15 penalty, but told her she would have to mail in $8 for the parking fee.

Irma Gomez handles parking violations for Priority Parking, which operates 50 downtown lots. The company has parking attendants at some lots, but Gomez said, "All of our people have logos on their shirts. They wear white shirts with their names and a badge with their photograph."

Gomez said reports of people posing as parking attendants are rare. If attendants collect fees at a lot, they always provide a receipt, she said, because the receipt must be displayed in the vehicle. She said drivers always should note the name on the badge.

- Cathy Locke

About The Public Eye

Welcome to The Bee's newest blog: Public Eye. In the coming months, you will see us breaking news here as well as following up on investigations we have published with tidbits, news breaks and behind-the-scenes descriptions of our news-gathering process. Know of a wrong we could right? Send our fraud squad your tips at:

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