Grand jury berates County and Cal Fire for post-CZU response

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The Santa Cruz County Civilian Grand Jury released the results of its last eight surveys, which typically explore the inner workings of county and city government operations.

Although survey subjects are required to submit responses, they are not required to make the changes recommended in the reports. Most are required to respond publicly within 30 to 60 days.

The Grand Jury, made up of 19 inhabitants of the department, this year reviewed three of its 2017-18 investigations and found that many of their recommendations have been implemented. Reports often provide portraits over time of the public’s perception of how taxpayers’ money is used and how various aspects of government are managed.

This year’s reports cover the county’s response to the pandemic and examine the Santa Cruz County prison system, including several inmate deaths and violence, in addition to criminal conduct, including sexual assault, by correctional officers .

Leaders prepared for the CZU response

In the scathing report titled “The CZU Lightning Complex Fire – Learn… or Burn?”, The Grand Jury focused on how the County Oversight Board and County Administration have supported the residents of Bonny Doon, Davenport, Last Chance and Boulder Creek in the aftermath of the county’s worst fire.

“The people whose lives were devastated were, and are, rightly outraged by the lack of leadership from their elected leaders,” the report said. “The people of our county rightly continue to express their doubts and dismay at their devastating experiences and their ability to withstand future fires. “

The report says supervisors failed to recognize that they were responsible for adequately addressing residents’ concerns about forest fire preparedness.

Additionally, the Grand Jury denounced Cal Fire for the disparate “lessons learned” presentations that took place in Santa Cruz and San Mateo counties. The one in Santa Cruz lasted only nine minutes, while the one in San Mateo lasted 40 minutes. Supervisors did not hold Cal Fire responsible for the lack of analysis, the report said. Further, there is no provision in the contract between the County and Cal Fire to provide such analyzes.

“This gap is disappointing and unacceptable,” the report says.

The county was also drilled for its response to a 2020 grand jury inquiry that examined the county’s preparedness for wildfire risk. The responses, the report said, “show a lack of engagement with the material and a lack of understanding of their role as county advocates” and should be reconsidered.

In its recommendations, the Grand Jury says supervisors should ask Cal Fire about its preparedness for future fires. The board should also develop a policy for receiving and recording residents’ questions and concerns.

In addition, county policy should require “timely after action reports” for major fires and should advocate additional resources from the state for fire prevention and protection.

Hunt the Covid

The report titled “Chasing the Pandemic” examines the effectiveness of the county’s Covid-19 screening and contact tracing efforts, and describes the Santa Cruz County Public Health Division as “well-trained, skilled and well-trained professionals. informed ”, which protected residents during the pandemic.

But the county’s website is not helping residents enough to find Covid-19 testing sites. In addition, the Save Lives Santa Cruz County website is not properly informing the public about the work being done to manage the crisis and is not communicating the extent of the pandemic, according to the report.

The Public Health Division should therefore update its website and strengthen its public awareness, including providing weekly updates and video reports, the jury recommends.

Bring broadband

The challenges of providing broadband Internet service throughout the county – a goal in the making for 10 years – are manifold. This includes reducing mountains of paperwork and assessing the safety and infrastructure issues associated with the fire danger.

While the county has a plan to do so, it has committed the technological sin of allowing this plan to become obsolete.

The county should immediately update its 2015 broadband master plan to reflect regulatory changes at state and federal levels, the Grand Jury said in the “Activate, Connect and Give Up” report. These changes, according to the report, should reflect the difficulty of bringing the service to rural areas of Santa Cruz County and the challenges posed by the CZU complex.

Jurors recommended that the county apply for funding to help pay for the increase in broadband service and investigate the possibility of the county owning and maintaining its own broadband system.

Additionally, the county is expected to work with the Santa Cruz County Office of Education to continue providing internet service for the 2022-2023 school year.

A look at the main prison

In its mandatory annual review of the county’s prison system, the Grand Jury focused on allegations of sexual assault and illegal sexual behavior by correctional officers that occurred in 2017 and 2020, both of which were successful. to convictions.

The report, titled “Justice in the Jail,” also looked at several separate incidents involving inmates, including self-harm and assault, both in 2018.

Jurors also considered one suicide and one homicide, both occurring within a two-day span in October 2019, and the death of a mentally disturbed inmate in May 2020.

The Grand Jury also investigated a power outage that lasted for more than 24 hours in September 2019, including the emergency power system.

“Ultimately it comes down to management issues, having sufficient resources and a need for more effective oversight and public transparency,” the report said.

The Grand Jury recommends either appointing an Inspector General or a Sheriff’s Supervisory Board, or bringing the matter to the voters.

In addition, the report says the county should increase prison staff, as understaffing and mandatory overtime is “detrimental to performance, staff morale and contributes to human errors that can threaten health and safety. safety of staff and detainees “.

The prison should also review its policy of providing razors to inmates, the report said, and should hold monthly meetings on the condition of facilities.


To view the full reports, and those from previous years, visit bit.ly/3jsH0KL.


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