The Public Eye

Reports from the Bee's investigative team

September 30, 2010
Substance use is up in the U.S., lead by marijuana

As Californians mull the pros of cons of marijuana legalization, the US. Health and Human Services Department released a national survey which shows illegal drug use rose between 2008 and 2009 from 8.0 to 8.7 percent of the population (over 12 years old). The report -- which also covers "past-month" use of alcohol and tobacco -- says the hike in marijuana consumption (6.1 to 6.6 percent) largely drove the overall increase in illicit substances.

In 2009 21.8 million people took some type of illegal drug (marijuana, cocaine, heroin, hallucinogens, and inhalants, and the nonmedical use of prescription-type pain relievers, tranquilizers, stimulants, and sedatives). Of these, 16.7 million used pot. Among young adults (18-25), the percentage using illicit drug grew 19.6 to 21.2 percent between 2008 and 2009. The percentage using marijuana increased 16.5 to 18.1 percent over the same period. Among youth (12-17), overall illicit drug use rose 7.3 to 8.3 percent, and marijuana use rose 6.0 to 6.3 percent.

September 28, 2010
Latest Census release shows interesting trends in the Sacramento region

The U.S. Census Bureau today released the results of its 2009 American Community Survey. The ACS -- which replaced the 10-year "long-form" Census questionnaire -- annually collects a variety of socioeconomic, demographic and housing data from a large sample of Americans.

The Bee this morning reported on the significant drop (6 percent) in household income in the Sacramento MSA between 2008 and 2009, as well as the hike in the poverty rate (12.1 to 13.4 percent). There are other interesting changes that happened in the 4-county region in the past two years. You can browse them on this comparison chart. (An asterisk indicates a statistically significant change.) Among the 2008-09 changes:

-- The number of grandparents living with and taking responsibility for their grandchildren under 18 fell 33.9 to 26.8 percent.

-- The percentage of the foreign-born population coming from Asia decreased 43.4 to 41.2 percent, whereas the percentage born in Europe increased 14.2 to 16.4 percent.

-- The percentage of workers employed in the construction industry dropped 7.7 to 6.6 percent.

-- The percentage of people with no health insurance coverage rose 11.4 to 12.6 percent.

-- The median value of owner-occupy housing units tumbled from $350.500 to $298,000.

-- The median age of the region's population increased from 34.9 to 35.9.

-- The percentage of people identifying two or more races rose 4.3 to 5.0 percent.

September 27, 2010
Track congressional races with this handy interactive map

election.JPGThe fall election just five weeks away, political junkies are watching for signs of a political shift in the control of the U.S. House and U.S. Senate. To help them OpenSecrets.org and the New York Times have launched an impressive online map that brings together much useful information on every congressional race. The main map color-codes states and House districts to show which are solidly (or continuing) Democrat or Republican and which ones are in play this November. (19  Senate seats and 101 House seats are in play.) Clicking on a race brings up a data profile on each candidate that includes:

Campaign finance: a general breakdown of donations by PAC, individual and self-financing sources, as well as an analysis of donations by top contributors, sectors, industries and geographies.

Legislation: bills sponsored and co-sponsored by the candidate.

Voting record: individual vote on major bills, plus the total chamber vote broken out by party. 

Demographics: a statistical snapshot of the state or House district that includes race, age education, income breakdowns.

September 26, 2010
Some school agencies balk at CSBA fees

Three California School Boards Association members are showing their displeasure with the embattled nonprofit by withholding a total of $65,800 in fees, and a handful of others are joining in.

However, it appears most school districts and county offices of education are deciding to stick with CSBA, which has been engrossed in a financial scandal involving Scott Plotkin, the association's now-retired executive director.

CSBA spokeswoman Susan Swigart said of the 965 members for 2009-10, the association anticipates less than 2 percent will not renew their membership.

Some cited concerns over executive pay at CSBA. Plotkin announced in July he would retire after it was revealed he was paid $516,517 in 2008 and $403,955 in 2009 after receiving sizable bonuses and other compensation.

Plotkin also admitted using CSBA's credit cards to withdraw cash at casinos. He said he repaid that money.

The 32 members of the CSBA board of directors approved Plotkin's salary and bonuses, as well as a $43,000 severance payment.

The Sacramento County Board of Education debated at length Tuesday whether to withhold dues of $12,535. The board opted to pay its dues and send a letter of concern to CSBA.

Sacramento County schools chief Dave Gordon said he has some concerns about districts not utilizing CSBA, which he said provides valuable resources to districts such as training.

"Their staff has been of high quality in my experience, " Gordon said.

Three districts opting to withhold fees include:

Sacramento City Unified -- Will remain in CSBA this year only if the nonprofit's executive board retires and if the district's $36,161 dues are reduced by 50 percent.

Swigart said, "It is unlikely the school board's requests will be granted."

Santa Clara County Board of Education -- Will delay payment of $12,693 until trustees review findings from an independent audit ordered by CSBA.

Capistrano Unified School District -- It dropped out, citing the scandal.

-- Melody Gutierrez

September 26, 2010
Unemployed should be wary of some job offers

Authorities are warning people not to fall prey to job schemes that target the unemployed.

A lot of people are desperate for work and may be grasping for any job, which creates a great opportunity for scammers, " according to the area Better Business Bureau.

BBB cautions job seeker to beware of:

• The "employer" asking for Social Security or bank account numbers.

• The "employer" asking to check your credit report through a recommended website that will trick you into divulging sensitive financial information.

• Any job requiring you to wire money through Western Union or MoneyGram.

--Chelsea Phua

September 24, 2010
'Super PACs' proliferate, spend big money on elections

Federal court decisions, Citizens United and SpeechNow.org, opened the door for political organizations to spend huge sums on advertising explicitly supporting or opposing candidates for office. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the Federal Elections Commission has so far authorized 33 "independent expenditure-only (IE) committees" that are legally allowed to raise unlimited funds from individuals, corporations, unions and other groups. CRP has been tracking the proliferation these so-called super PACs which advocate from both sides of the political spectrum. You can see the complete list here.

You can also browse the latest campaign spending of all IE groups with a searchable database created by the government watchdog The Sunlight Foundation. The data is sortable by committee, candidate and race. To date independent expenditures total some $57 million in the 2010 federal election cycle.

California races targeted by IE groups include the U.S. Senate and House districts 3, 10, 11, 19, 32, 36, 44, 45 and 47. Barbara Boxer's candidacy, for example, attracted $57,614 in IE funds ($3,484 in support; $54,130 in opposition). Carly Fiorina, in contrast, prompted $274,065 in independent spending ($235,362 in support; $38,703 in opposition). Boxer's biggest IE supporter is NARAL Pro Choice America. Fiorina's biggest is the Susan B. Anthony List, a pro-life political organization. 

September 22, 2010
A third of US homowners say walking away from mortage is ok

More than a third of Americans say that abandoning a home mortgage is "acceptable," at least under some circumstances, according to a new national survey. The Pew Research Center found that when homes are under water - worth less than owed on the mortgage - many Americans agree that the borrower can legitimately walk away. Currently 21 percent of U.S. homeowners are in that state. mortgage survey.JPG

Racial differences in the survey responses were modest, according to Pew. Not so political differences: "Democrats are about twice as likely as Republicans to say it is acceptable to walk away (23% vs. 11%)," the report noted.

In July, according to mortgage analyst RealtyTrac Inc., lenders foreclosed on about 93,000 properties - the second-highest total since the company began collecting the data in 2005.

-Charles Piller

September 22, 2010
California losing millions from illicit cigarette trade

cigs.JPGNational Public Radio last Sunday reported on the big bite the black market in cigarettes is taking out of state excise tax collection. Criminal trade in tobacco is incentivized by the disparity in tax rates across the country. Taxes on a 20-pack carton range from 17 cents in Missouri to a whopping $4.35 in New York. Smugglers make a lot of money buying up large quantities of cigarettes in low-tax states, such as North Carolina or Virginia, and transporting them to a high-tax states, such as New York or Rhode Island.

California's tax rate is relatively small at 87 cents a carton. Even so, tax evasion is active in the state where "$182 million a year is lost in unpaid excise taxes on cigarettes," according to BOE's Anita Gore, quoted in the NPR story. In August, for example, The Bee reported federal indictments in Los Angeles and Sacramento involving 21 people and five businesses who were charged with robbing the California of $35 million in unpaid tobacco taxes.

At the same time authorities battle tax cheats, state government is losing tax revenue just because people are spending less on tobacco. Last year cigarette sales plunged 8.1 percent, the biggest year-over-year drop since 2000. That was good for public health, but bad for state health programs which lost $74 million in funding.

PHOTO CREDIT: Joe Ilagan, owner of Joe's Discount Cigarettes + More shows the Benson and Hedges cigarettes that sell for $6.16 a pack plus tax at his store in South Sacramento. Manny Crisostomo / The Sacramento Bee

September 21, 2010
In Home Supportive Services fraud task force nabs 60 defendants

A Sacramento County task force created to root out fraud in a fast-growing social service program announced it has filed criminal cases against 60 defendants for about $780,000 in fraud in the past year.

Those cases have so far led to 40 people being sentenced for fraud-related crimes and to the ordered restitution of more than $500,000 in funds.

The statistics were part of the first annual report from the In Home Supportive Services Fraud Task Force to the Board of Supervisors. The supervisors created the task force a year ago to increase scrutiny on the ballooning social service program that aims to keep elderly and disabled residents in their homes and out of institutions.

The task force is headed by the District Attorney's Office and includes staff from the Department of Human Assistance and the Department of Health and Human Services.

"There are many opportunities for fraud in this program," said Laura West, a deputy district attorney, addressing the supervisors at their Tuesday meeting. The state tried to make a program that was easy for some of the most vulnerable residents to use, but in doing so created opportunities for fraud, she said.

Sacramento County is one of the few counties that has been able to reduce the cost of IHSS cases, West told the board. The county lowered costs 2.2 percent from fiscal year 2008-09 to 2009-10 while other comparable counties saw annual increases. Santa Clara County's costs went up 3.2 percent, Alameda's went up 5.7 percent and Ventura's went up 6.5 percent.

There were a number of factors that contributed to the reduction, including the task force's efforts, West said. The reduction saved the county about $1.1 million in local funds.

Supervisor Roger Dickinson pointed out that the fraud amount is minuscule when compared to the overall size of the program. A $1.1 million savings is a fraction of a percent of the total case expenses that far exceed $200 million a year.

Dickinson also pointed out that 60 criminal defendants are less than half a percent of all care providers. The figures would seem to refute the argument made by those who assail the program - often those on the right seeking to slash the program - which is that as much 25 percent of the costs for the program go to fraud, Dickinson said.

"These numbers don't even start to scratch the surface of that figure," Dickinson said.

--Robert Lewis

September 21, 2010
Interactive: California's gay veterans

The U.S. Senate on Tuesday blocked a measure that would have allowed gays to openly serve in the U.S. military.

California gay men and women have historically -- but clandestinely -- served in military, even before "don't ask, don't tell."

Almost 20,000 Californians in 2008 were living with unmarried partners of the same sex, and were military veterans, according to U.S. Census figures. That represents about 1 percent of the state's veterans. There's likely considerably more gay veterans not living with a domestic partner.

This chart shows Californians who are living with unmarried partners of the same sex, and who are military veterans, broken down by period of military service.





Note: The Census Bureau does not ask people if they are gay. It does ask them their gender, and whether they are living with "unmarried partners." "Unmarried partners" are "those who share living quarters and who also have a close personal relationship with each other." They are not roommates, housemates or relatives, all of whom are identified separately by the census.
Source: 2006-2008 U.S. Census American Community Survey, Public Use Microdata

September 21, 2010
Drive-by shooting data hard to come by

Drive-by shootings seem to be a regular occurrence in Sacramento -- the last reported one happening in Oak Park on Aug. 31. Surprisingly, there is no national count of such crimes, as defined by the U.S. Dept of Justice as "an incident in which the shooter fires a firearm from a motor vehicle at another person, vehicle, building, or another stationary object".

But one non-profit group has tried to get a statistical handle on the problem. The Violence Policy Center tracked news accounts of drive-by shootings from July 1 through Dec. 31, 2008. The study reports 733 incidents, resulting in 631 injuries and 154 deaths. California led the nation with 148 incidents, 40 dead and 129 injured.

The VPC further analyzed the shootings in terms of victim age, time and location. The researchers found:

* Most of the victims were 18 or older. 145 of the 785 victims were identified as under 18.

* Nearly half of the incidents happened at a residence (314 of the 676 shootings where location was reported).

* 17 percent of the incidents involved shots at another vehcle.

* Most of the crimes happened between the hours of 7 p.m. and 12 am.

* Possible gang-involvement was mentioned in 17 percent of cases.

Hat tip: The California Research Bureau.

September 20, 2010
Map: Where local fatal car wrecks happen

About 160 people died on the Sacramento region's roads during 2009, similar to the number from 2008. Sacramento County saw an increase in fatalities from 84 in 2008 to 99 during 2009. That increase was offset completely, though, by a decrease in fatal wrecks in the suburbs.

This map shows the location of every 2009 fatal car wreck.

September 17, 2010
Lobbyists not as powerful as you think?

Miller-McCune magazine held a conference yesterday on the influence of lobbying on federal policy-making. Panelists discussed the non-intuitive findings of a 2009 book that found that lobbyists who spent the most money on a given issue prevailed only half the time. The authors of Lobbying and Policy Change: Who Wins, Who loses, and Why examined 100 randomly-selected issues in recent history that provoked interest group involvement. In most cases, the opposing sides cancelled each other out.

"Sixty percent of the time, nothing happens," said Frank Baumgartner, co-author of the study. "What we see is gridlock and successful stalemating of proposals, with occasional breakthroughs." So the result of lobbying is usually maintenance of the status quo.

That's not to say that money doesn't sway policy over the long run, Baumgartner observed. Power in Washington is tilted toward the wealthy, who through the years have accumulated many advantages written into law. The status quo reflects that reality.

September 16, 2010
Be suspicious of invoices in e-mail that look official

It's a form of "brandjacking," when a well-known company or consumer product is used by online scammers. Among the latest incidents to pop up: fake Amazon.com invoices for items people didn't order.

In one example we've seen, the official-looking e-mail arrived with details on two supposed electronics orders from Amazon.com, including a $4.49 order for iPad screen protectors. The shipping charge on the tiny order: a whopping $74.98.

Another suspicious tipoff: The supposed Amazon.com e-mail definitely was not from Amazon.com's corporate office.

Although these types of e-mails don't ask for personal financial information, they're considered a type of "phishing," where cyber-criminals send out phony e-mails in hopes of getting you to click on links or provide personal information, such as bank account and Social Security numbers, said Sarah Dalton, spokeswoman for the California Office of Privacy Protection.

"These are 'bad guys' who are attempting to steal from you," Dalton said. "If you have already given out any personal financial information such as your credit card number or password, change the information right away."

Her additional advice:

• Never respond to out-of-the-blue requests for personal financial information. Only give out such information if you initiate the contact.

• Never click on links in those types of "request" e-mails.

• If you think the request is legitimate, contact the company or organization by means other than what is provided. If it's an e-mail supposedly from your financial institution, for instance, use the 800 number from your bank statement or the back of your credit card.

Nat Wood, spokesman for the Federal Trade Commission, recommends that individuals report phony e-mails to the commission at "spam@uce.gov," so the information is available to law enforcement.

Amazon also allows consumers to report suspicious emails at www.amazon.com (Click on "Help").

– Claudia Buck

September 16, 2010
Rocklin Unified backs off from energy consultant

Rocklin Unified will try to cut its energy costs without the help of a $1 million contract with an outside agency – for now.

The school board voted Aug. 18 to form an advisory committee to look at ways to reduce energy use instead of hiring Energy Education, which specializes in energy conservation at school sites.

The decision came a week after the proposed contract was featured in this column.

But the board is leaving its options open. Its members said they want a report from the advisory group in four months. They will then revisit the idea of entering into an energy conservation agreement with a consultant.

District officials had hoped to reap $800,000 a year in energy savings with the help of Energy Education. The contract would cost $24,700 a month for four years and does not include the salary of an "energy specialist" and the cost of computer software. The software would have cost $13,950 the first year and $2,000 each year after that.

– Diana Lambert

September 14, 2010
Brookings: obesity costs the U.S. $215 billion annually

Obesity is said to have researched epidemic proportions. According to the World Health Organization, "Globally, there are more than 1 billion overweight adults, at least 300 million of them obese." In the United States, 27.6 percent of adults are obese (as self-reported to the Centers for Disease Control in 2009).

In a new report, the Brookings Institution attempts to calculate the direct and indirect costs of obesity to the U.S. economy. The authors analyze the economic impact in terms of four major categories: "direct medical costs, productivity costs, transportation costs, and human capital costs." Direct costs relate to the elevated risk of serious medical conditions, such as hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, stroke, arthritis, etc. Productivity costs refer to employment problems such as absentism or presenteeism, shortened work life, increased disability claims, etc. Transportation costs point to to bigger vehicles, increased fuel consumption, etc. due to elevated body weight. Human capital costs consider the measurable negative impact on educational attainment and quality of schooling of obesity.

The bottom line for Brookings? Taken all together these factors point to an economic impact of more than $215 billion a year.

September 14, 2010
State school board group releases severance package details

Nearly two months after the California School Boards Association faced public scrutiny over its top executive's pay, the non-profit released details Tuesday of its severance agreement with Scott Plotkin.

CSBA paid $43,000 to cut ties with Plotkin and to recognize him for "his long years of service" to the organization, according to a statement from the CSBA Board of Directors.

Plotkin retired Sept. 1 after admitting to using a company credit card to withdraw cash at area casinos while drawing a salary much higher than executive directors at similar non-profits.

Plotkin earned $307,805 in 2006; $384,462 in 2007; $516,517 in 2008; and $403,955 in 2009. Plotkin's base salary was much lower in each of those years, but his pay was inflated through bonuses and other compensation. In 2008, Plotkin received a $175,000 bonus and in 2009 he received nearly $75,000 in bonuses and other compensation.

The CSBA statement said Plotkin's base salary through September 2013 was $328,000. The statement said Plotkin's employment contract - which The Bee has asked for and was denied - included termination provisions that could have put CSBA on the hook for more than $1 million.

With the severance agreement complete, the statement said CSBA could now release its details.

"Rather than expending legal fees and contending with the further damage that a protracted legal battle could entail, the Board determined that the best course of action was to reach mutual agreement on Mr. Plotkin's separation," the statement said. "The Board is pleased that Mr. Plotkin agreed to the proposal."

The full statement is available online on CSBA's financial accountability page at http://www.csba.org

CSBA is not a government agency, but is indirectly funded by taxpayers. Much of its funding comes from membership dues and other fees paid by public school districts. CSBA employees receive pensions through the California Public Employees' Retirement System, of which Plotkin, 56, will be eligible.

Several area school boards have considered not renewing their membership after learning of Plotkin's pay and use of corporate credit cards.

Sacramento City Unified trustees will decide at Thursday's school board meeting as to whether the district will renew its current CSBA membership and utilize other services, which amount to $36,161 a year.

--Melody Gutierrez

September 14, 2010
Interactive: Areas where Sacramento cops spend the most time

In June, Sacramento police officers were dispatched to 30,624 different locations to investigate possible crimes. Here's where they wound up the most:

September 13, 2010
Analysis: Second Saturdays no more dangerous than others

An early morning fatal shooting in midtown has some local residents and business owners questioning whether Sacramento's popular Second Saturday Art Walk is bringing crime to the area.

But Second Saturdays aren't more dangerous than any other summer Saturdays in midtown and downtown Sacramento, according to a Bee review of police data.

For instance, about one assault happens, on average, between 2 p.m. Saturday and 6 a.m. Sunday in midtown and downtown, regardless of whether there is an art walk, according to the review, which relied on police reports from July-September 2009 and May-July 2010. The same is true of burglaries (three per Saturday) and larcenies (two per Saturday). About the only crime that showed a real bump on Second Saturdays was car thefts.

Crimes in midtown, downtown Sacramento
Second Saturdays are GREEN.






Crimes noted are: homicide; assault; robbery; burglary; auto theft; drug offenses; weapon offenses; arson; larceny; vandalism; DUI.

Totals include the neighborhoods of midtown, downtown, Boulevard Park and Marshall School.
secsat.JPG
Source: Sacramento Police Department

September 13, 2010
Report: for-profit hospitals doing more c-sections than non-profits

The investigative reporting group California Watch analyzed state birth data and found that for-profit hospitals are performing more cesarian sections that non-profit institutions in the state. All things considered, a woman has a 17 percent greater chance of a surgical birth versus a vaginal delivery at profit-making facility. Cesarians bring in up to 100 percent more revenue for hospitals than normal births. CW also found some hospitals have increased the number of cesarians performed for "non-medical" reasons, including the impatience of staff.

You can browse the data for individual hospitals here. The hospitals are ranked by the average number of cesarians per 100 "low-risk" births. Los Angeles Community Hospital is tops with 48.4 in 2007. St. Helena Hospital Clearlake is at the bottom with 6.7. Sacramento County's eight hospitals tend to rank in the middle, ranging from Kaiser South (9.2) to Mercy General (17.4).

September 13, 2010
Roseville police warn of credit card scam

Our colleagues at the Sacto 9-1-1 blog have an item of interest for those who live in the Roseville-Placer County area: The Roseville Police Department is advising consumers to carefully monitor their banking and credit card transactions, citing an unusual number of local cases in which thieves have used credit card numbers to make purchases.

Read the full post here.

September 10, 2010
CDC: prescription drug use continues to rise

pharm.JPGAnother stat that bodes ill for the effort to contain health care costs is this recent datum from the Centers for Disease Control: in the past decade the percentage of Americans taking at least one prescription drug per month rose 44 to 48 percent. Those taking two or more grew 25 to 31 percent. And those taking five or more increased 6 to 11 percent.

Of course the aging population contributed to the trend. In the period 2007-2008, 88.4 percent of people 60 and over were taking at least one prescription. Compare that to people aged 20-59 (48.3 percent), 12-19 (29.9 percent) and children 0-11 (22.4 percent).

According to the CDC, asthma medications are the most commonly prescribed drugs for children. For adolescents: nervous system stimulants (as treatment for attention deficit disorder). For adults: antidepressants. For older adults: cholesterol-lowering medicines.

PHOTO CREDIT: Frank Cable is a long time independent pharmacist at Leader Pharmacy in South Sacramento. Drug stores are expanding even in a bad economy. Sacramento Bee / Lezlie Sterling

September 9, 2010
Did drug company promote HRT with journal ghost writers?

A Georgetown University researcher asserts in a study published Tuesday that phamaceutical firm Wyeth employed ghost-written material in medical journals to "to promote unproven benefits and downplay harms of menopausal hormone therapy". The author, Adriane Fugh-Berman, claims that Wyeth (now owned by Pfizer) paid the medical communications company DesignWrite to produce reviews and commentaries that would counter research that HRT increases the risk of breast cancer. This material, published under the names of various physician-researchers, also touted the uproven benefits of HRT in preventing heart disease, dementia, Parkinson's and other illnesses.

According to Fugh-Berman medical ghost-writing has been used to manage perception of other drugs and "may infest articles in every medical journal". She calls on journal publishers, authors and academic institutions to renounce the practice.

September 8, 2010
Asia trade plummets as governor plans visit

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will lead a trade mission to Asia this week, hoping to promote California products.

The trip is controversial because California still does not have a budget. But Asia exports are a big part or California's economy.

Exports to Asia bring tens of billions of dollars to California each year. The recession has caused that trade to fall sharply.

caexport.png

Trade with Asia covers myriad industries, but is heavily focused on technology and raw materials. California even ships billions of dollars worth of trash to China each year, which that country recycles and uses to improve its own infrastructure.

Source: US International Trade Administration

September 8, 2010
RAND: diverting ER patients to clinics could save big bucks

urgent.JPGIt's no secret that too many people seek medical care unnecessarily at hospital emergency rooms. Those visits are not only costly -- to patients and the health care system as a whole -- they also lead to longer wait times at ERs. (A recent story from the Merced Sun-Star reported that wait times in 2009 rose to an average of four hours, seven minutes nationally and four-and-half hours in California.)

Yesterday the RAND organization released a study asserting that 16.8 percent of ER visits could have been handled by retail medical clinics or urgent care centers, saving the nation some $4.4 billion annually. Retail clinics can treat non-emergency conditions such as colds or urinary tract infections. Urgent care facilties can respond to more significant problems, such as minor fractures and serious cuts.

Limited hours at clinics and urgent centers restrict the percentage of ER visits that can be diverted. RAND researchers estimate that 27.1 percent of visits could be handled at alternative venues, if the latter were open longer hours.

PHOTO CREDIT: Viorica Bantea sees Lucille Cannon of Sacramento for her broken ankle at an after-hours urgent care clinic for the Family Medical Clinic office on L Street in 2008.  Autumn Cruz / The Sacramento Bee

September 7, 2010
Interactive: Gang activity in Sacramento

Like most large cities, Sacramento has struggled to cope with street gangs.

From January 2008 through June 2010, Sacramento police took 1,689 reports of suspected gang activity, according to the department's crime report database.

The map below shows which police grids saw the most reports of gang activity.

September 7, 2010
Survey: Local governments spare police from budget cuts

The number of police officers in California continues to rise, even as the number of other local government employees continues to fall, according to new census figures.

Local governments in California employed 69,429 police officers during 2009, up 11 percent from 2007. During that same period, the total number of local government workers declined 2 percent.

Those officers are getting less help, though. The number of support staff working for law enforcement agencies declined 6 percent from 2007 to 2009, the census figures show.

Local police officer employment in California, 2005-2009

September 7, 2010
Vacant areas full of weeds are hot-weather fire hazard

By Loretta Kalb
lkalb@sacbee.com

The problem: Weeds and more weeds. They carpet two areas of land in south Sacramento. One is an eight-parcel stretch in the 4900 block of 47th Avenue. The other is adjacent to Clayton B. Wire Elementary School on El Paraiso Avenue. The weeds triggered a call to The Bee from a resident who said the county, once alerted, had failed to address the problem.

The solution: The Sacramento County Municipal Services Agency is within 10 days of having the El Paraiso site cleared, said Zeke Holst, spokesman for the agency. Cleanup of the 47th Avenue site was to have begun late last week.

Holst said when the agency gets complaints, it alerts the Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District for feedback.

If the site poses a fire hazard, the county calls in a contractor. For rubbish or serious debris, other enforcement action may be needed. Either way, the process takes time, Holst said.

Residents in the incorporated areas with complaints about similar problems should call the county's main complaint line at (916) 875-5656.

To report fire hazards at undeveloped lots or overgrown pastures, call the fire district's weed abatement line at (916) 851-8934.

Or visit the fire district website, www.sacmetrofire.ca.gov, and choose "nuisance complaint" via the business/fire prevention tab.

Send Fix This tips to publiceye@sacbee.com

September 7, 2010
Nightspot's throbbing beat is annoyance to neighbors

By Ryan Lillis
rlillis@sacbee.com

Oshima Sushi in Natomas has become a popular nightspot for those wanting to avoid the downtown scene. But that doesn't mean everyone in the area is thrilled with the place.

Neighbors who live behind the restaurant on Natomas Crossing Drive are complaining that they can hear – and feel – the beat of live music at Oshima's Fugu Lounge inside their homes. They also say they can hear the crowds outside the restaurant late into the evening.

You may remember Oshima as the place where city development department employee Dan Waters was the registered owner of a cigar stand. City records showed that Waters, son of Councilman Robbie Waters, also worked on a permit for the restaurant's patio days before opening the cigar bar and that he was identified in e-mails as the restaurant owner's business partner.

The city recently renewed Oshima's entertainment permit, with new restrictions on security and outdoor music. Maurice Chaney, a spokesman for the city's Community Development Department, said the revamped permit, renewed Aug. 11, was a compromise between nearby residents and the business.

The new restrictions have erased some of the neighbors' concerns, but not all of them. "It's still too loud on weekends, which will always be the concern," said David Mayer, who said he lives 50 feet from the back of Oshima in the Carriage Lane condominium complex. "We can't have peace in our own homes."

The restaurant hosts live music on many weekday and weekend nights and is open until 2 a.m. on weekends. The restaurant's owners did not respond to several requests by The Bee for comment.

September 3, 2010
Interactive: The coolest summer in recent memory

It's been more than 25 years since Sacramento last saw a summer with fewer days over 100 degrees, according to figures from the National Climatic Data Center. Here's the number of scorchers per year going back to 1985.

100+ degree days in Sacramento, by year



September 1, 2010
Study: Illegal immigration growth stalls in California, nation

The number of illegal immigrants in California and across the nation is flat and perhaps even falling, according to a study from the Pew Hispanic Center.

The report found that fewer illegal immigrants -- and more legal immigrants -- are moving to America during the recession, particularly from Latin America. The declines are likely due to the poor economy and increased enforcement, experts said.

About 2,550,000 illegal immigrants lived in California in 2009, a decline of roughly 100,000 from 2008. That decline was within report's margin of error.

Illegal immigrants make up roughly one of every 11 workers in California's labor force, the study found.

Illegal immigrant population in California, 1990-2009



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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: fraudsquad@sacbee.com.

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