Blogging Bayport Alameda

October 30, 2017

How the sausage gets made

Filed under: Alameda — Lauren Do @ 6:00 am

Or in this case, how an editorial/opinion piece gets written.

It’s a lovely combination of sources, PRA requests, and preconceived opinions about what occurred.  Or at least it did in the case of the City Manager and the appointment of the Fire Chief.

I put in a PRA for all correspondence to and from Daniel Borenstein shortly after the editorial piece came out, because sometimes that information is revealing in itself.

Unsurprisingly, Daniel Borenstein had a pretty good tip on what to ask for specifically to reveal whatever little documents needed to provide some semblance of corroboration for his opinion piece:

Screen Shot 2017-10-29 at 12.07.40 PM

Additionally, even though the letter received by the opinion writer did not contain any names, somehow the only two Council members to receive emails to provide comment were Jim Oddie and Malia Vella:

Screen Shot 2017-10-29 at 12.10.38 PM

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Of the two singled out, only Jim Oddie responded via email:

Screen Shot 2017-10-29 at 12.13.04 PM

And, lest anyone actually believe that the opinion writer went into this topic completely devoid of a desired framing, the last 50 some odd pages of the first packet was sent to one of the City of Alameda’s city attorneys after the city attorney both talked to the columnist on the phone and emailed response PRA records to the columnist.

The documents forwarded to the city attorney?  A packet about Mario Ambra, a former City Councilmember from Mountain View who was removed from office for a variety of City Charter violations.  The email to the city attorney was entitled “Removal without Impeachment.”  It starts around page 54 in the first file at the end of this post.

Emails Produced 10-24-17 01

Emails Produced 10-24-17 02


  1. What is confusing to me is how the Public Records request was made week before the official announcement and the City Manager letter explaining her challenges with the selection process. One would normally believe that the City Manager letter would raise some flags and a journalistic inquiry would begin. Maybe I have the timeline wrong since reading the PDFs is confusing.

    Comment by Mike McMahon — October 30, 2017 @ 7:33 am

    • I think you are right about the timeline (re the Sept 26 PRA preceeding the Oct 2 letter from the City Manager), but recall that Steven Tavares was reporting on Sept 27 that Keimach was facing “facing enormous pressure to choose the candidate backed by the Alameda International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) Union Local 689, a number of elected city officials, and Assemblymember Rob Bonta,” In other words, similar stories were getting out in the media before Oct 2. Tavares also reported a week earlier on Sept 19 “grumblings [re Keimach], incidentally, are not only coming 
from City Hall but also from the city’s powerful
 public employee unions, a bad sign for any person or entity in Alameda politics,” though at that earlier point Tavares was not reporting anything specific to the fire chief selection.

      Comment by MP — October 30, 2017 @ 8:16 am

  2. The report rom Mountain View re the removal of Mario Ambra is available on the Mountain View city website. I don’t know, but perhaps Bornstein was searching for some type of precedent for how claims of interference with city manager by city councilmembers are handled in California. There does not seem to be much similarity in the facts as described in that case and what has emerged, or been alleged, here.

    The part of the Mountain View case that proceeded to trial (resulting in removal of councilmember Ambra) concerned violation of the city charter provisions prohibiting interference with the city manager’s duties by a councilmember. Mountain View’s charter prohibited the City Council and its members from ordering, directly or indirectly, the appointment of any person to any office by the city manager.

    Alameda’s charter provision is written more restrictively and, on its face, bars more than just directly or indirectly ordering the city manager to appoint someone to fire chief. Instead, it bars “an attempt by a Councilmember to influence the City Manager in the making of any appointment”. Perhaps because of past practice under Alameda’s charter, or because of constitutional constraints, something more like the direct or indirect ordering by a Councilmember of the City Manager to hire, or not hire, a particular person, or an attempt to influence through some illegal means, rather than a mere “attempt to influence” as stated in the Charter, would be required to legally justify removal under the charter.

    Comment by MP — October 30, 2017 @ 8:19 am

  3. Admittedly, I take pleasure seeing Mr. Oddie and Ms. Vella knocked-down a peg. They certainly deserve it, and regardless what the “investigation” uncovers, the voters will have the final word come election day.

    But in a larger sense, Oddie and Vella and Bonta are no different than most State and local elected officials in California, whose actions are largely driven by union influence and union campaign contributions.

    Whether it’s the teachers union or the building trades union or any number of other public sector unions, virtually every Democratic elected official in California is beholden to union campaign contributions and the influence they wield.

    People throughout California are mystified how the rest of the country could elect an idiot like Trump. But the rest of the county is equally mystified how Californian’s can keep elect union-controlled Democrats.

    Comment by John Jay — October 30, 2017 @ 9:41 am

  4. Union, an organized association of workers formed to protect and further their rights and interests. why would anyone be against such a group of people. after all they are tax paying citizens who have banded together to have a voice in our system.

    Comment by JohnP.TrumpisnotmyPresident. — October 30, 2017 @ 10:40 am

    • The particular union in this situation is made up of tax takers, not payers.

      Comment by dave — October 30, 2017 @ 11:05 am

    • A union is a private organization, just like a bank or an oil company; their job is to look-out for themselves; a city council (or legislature) is a public organization, whose job is to look-out for the public interest; unions, banks and oil companies “buy” influence by making campaign contributions; we used to call that corruption; now we call it free speech.

      Comment by John Jay — October 30, 2017 @ 11:56 am

  5. When a union looks out for themselves, they are looking out for the people who are members of that union, it’s one of the few organizations that cares about the health and well being of their workers. It is important that we have city council members who support living wages, healthcare and retirement care, however, it’s also important that we hold our unions to a high standard especially since many of them represent publicly funded workers.

    The city has an obligation to its citizens to make choices that are in the best interest of the city as a whole. I’m wishing that this hiring process was not as contentious as it seems to have been and it does seem that the editorial writer had a clear intention of discrediting our local union beyond whatever came to pass during the Fire Chief hiring process. At the same time, I wonder whether the candidate backing out of the process when he did was an attempt to discredit the city manager. One does not leave $200,000+ on the table if they are still in contention all for the name of pride. That said, the people of Alameda deserve a clear understanding of what is going on at city hall with unions, the city manager, and city council members.

    I deeply respect the hard work and community that our firefighters provide our city, but my loyalty is to the city of Alameda and if being critical of the unions and questioning whether all parties are acting with integrity make me anti-union, then so be it. I especially hope that the claims against the city council turn out to be unfounded.

    Comment by Angela — October 30, 2017 @ 1:48 pm

    • When my union looked out for me, in almost every case except personal health issues, they were looking out for my students. When the district(not Alameda) broker federal and state environmental laws, when they broke state employment laws, when the took money for personal reasons, when they broke state education code, when the broke the fire occupancy law, I used the union to help protect the health and resources of the students and their families. As difficult as it was to address these things WITH the union, I never could have done it without them. I will always see cases like the above as the exception, and you do not govern by exception, or at least I don’t.

      Comment by Retiredteacher — November 2, 2017 @ 6:41 am

  6. Comparing and contrasting the selection of a Fire Chief:

    Comment by BarbaraK — October 30, 2017 @ 3:04 pm

  7. Is it only me or others also see a problem when the lowest city fireman, his supervisor and the manager above, all belong to the same union?

    Comment by fatso8 — October 30, 2017 @ 4:34 pm

  8. No, because it means that these folks are able to negotiate with greater power. This model also tends to nurture new members whereas a hierarchical management culture tends to keep people in their places. Unions are meant to be admired and respected, all the more reason to be disappointed by whatever the heck is going on at city hall.

    Comment by Angela — October 30, 2017 @ 7:23 pm

    • there’s nothing wrong with unions; campaign contributions are the problem; without union money, Oddie would be digging ditches for a living, Vella would be driving a bus, and Bonta would be a short-order cook at Denny’s

      Comment by John Jay — October 30, 2017 @ 9:51 pm

      • And you, apparently, would still be a racist prick.

        Comment by BMac — October 31, 2017 @ 7:06 am

        • When Bmac resorts to name-calling, you know he has run out of logical arguments. “racist prick” isn’t even a snappy retort or clever comeback.

          Comment by vigi — October 31, 2017 @ 9:41 am

  9. Wow Lauren you are hyper focused on this story, and I have to wonder why. Everyone knows how you feel about Spencer, Ashcraft and Oddie. You would be dog piling on this story if it was Spencer or Ashcraft or just Oddie. Matarreae isn’t involved. So that leaves Vella. Wonder why you are trying so hard to protect Vella?

    Comment by Eyeroll — October 31, 2017 @ 9:47 am

  10. I didn’t recognize Borenstein’s name when all of this started. The link is to an article about Borenstein from a couple of years back and below that is a comment about the article from Carla Marinucci, then a political reporter for the Chronicle.

    For more than three decades, I have been honored to know and work with Dan Borenstein, a tireless journalist and investigative reporter who repeatedly has stood up for the public’s right to know and for legislation like the Brown Act, and whose legion of work on government oversight has benefited voters at every level. I was honored to be a part of a team with him in my days at the Contra Costa Times, where his dogged work uncovered corruption in city bonds programs that resulted in the recall of four out of five Pittsburg, CA city council members.
    In the years since, he’s never stopped being a thorough, aggressive, uncompromising reporter who serves the public good with his work.
    Has he upset some on the powerful side of government? Absolutely.
    Has he riled some among powerful interests, among them in labor? Of course.
    Which is why he still represents one of California’s most admirable examples of a reporter who publishes “without fear or favor.”
    For the East Bay Express to target such a journalist is beyond laughable, especially with a piece that so lacks basic standards of good journalism.
    Its clearly time for Robert Gammon, a former student in SFSU’s journalism department, to go back for remedial coursework on the difference between public relations for particular causes, and journalism in the public interest — which is what “without fear or favor” really means.
    Carla Marinucci
    Senior Political Writer
    San Francisco Chronicle

    Comment by MP — October 31, 2017 @ 1:21 pm

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