Roundtable: Kamala Harris And San Onofre, Unenforceable Traffic Tickets, Labor's Richard Barrera
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April 22, 2016 12:18 p.m.
Amita Sharma, investigative reporter, KPBS
Kelly Davis, freelance investigative journalist
Mario Koran, education reporter, Voice of San Diego
Related Story: Roundtable: Kamala Harris And San Onofre, Unenforceable Traffic Tickets, Labor's Richard Barrera
Welcome to our discussion of the week's top stories. I Mark Sauer and joining me at the KPBS roundtable are investigative reporter [Indiscernible] and freelance investigative journalist Kelly Davis and reporter Mario Koran of voice of San Diego. Hi Mario. Good to see you.
[Indiscernible] the front runner to replace Senator Barbara boxer is under fire. It all has to do with a multimillion I'm sorry multibillion-dollar deal pay for the shutdown of [Indiscernible] Harris and her investigators [Indiscernible] secret deal under this chief regulator and SoCal Edison. The [Indiscernible] they're not so much picking her now. Is very dramatic Pac-10.
Generates the 15 one, Harris investigators went in and search the home of former Public Utilities Commission or. There they found handwritten notes that basically showed that [Indiscernible] had met in private in secret in Poland with the former executive of Southern California Edison and together they had basically come up with a plan that closely resembled the final deal, the final [Indiscernible] settlement agreement which repairs on the upper three $3 billion in cost. Now why was the Emperor, it shut out the public, it shut consumer groups from those negotiations. He put consumer groups at a disadvantage.
This is the open to permit process. What was the public being told. They were told that that settlement agreement was a big win for consumers. They were told that that settlement agreement was the product of a tough negotiation between Edison and consumer groups. They were told that they would probably get about $1 billion in refunds. The reality is that the $3.3 billion on the four covers the expenses for the replacement on electricity now that it's no longer running after the radioactive leak and it covers the rate of return on the investment for the owners Southern California Edison and as TNG even though the plant is no longer generating electricity.
You interviewed former [Indiscernible] with his role in all this. He represents consumers in this. He's had a lot of motions. He tried to get the settlement of return.
He was happy about this Harris read and is discovery?
Initially they gave Kamala Harris high marks for that short . Search she went to the home of a powerful figure. He was the head of the PDC for multiple terms and is married to a powerful Democratic Senator. He's a former head of stock to Southern California Edison. His well thought of in certain circles. If she hadn't gone there, none of us would have ever known about this meeting in secret. None of us would've known how the deal for 703 was initially hash.
He has changed his tune a recently. Why is that?
He's puzzled by what Kamala Harris has done and not done. Subsequent search warrants that were obtained by Kamala Harris for the offices of the PDC and Southern California Edison headquarters were not executed the way they were for Michael Peevey. They went Michael Peevey's home and took what they wanted. The other search were convinced were simply dropped.
With a bite from Gary. Let your yes to said.
You don't drop it off at the front door and say send me your records. That's the whole point of the search warrant. You go in and execute the search warrant and seized the records because you're concerned that in a disappear.
Okay. His point is you did the whole boot bold move but you're not following through. You're just asking folks to send you stuff.
Is puzzling people. Some of the other issues are, the law firm that's representing the Public Utilities Commission in, Harris inquiry is the same law for representing the employees of the PDC. Now prosecutors don't like that. They frown upon that. They know it dissuades potential whistleblowers from coming forward because those whistleblowers now that the same lawyer representing may is representing Bob who I want to rat out.
So it's a conflict there.
Writes of Kamala Harris has an challenge that representation. And then there's the issue of privilege. The search words that Kamala Harris handed over to the PDC and Addison asked for documents. Edison turned over some. The PDC held some asserting privilege. Kamala Harris hasn't challenge that privilege even though it's a criminal investigation and there's legal precedent to say that you don't get to assert privilege in a criminal investigation.
That bring another voice your. US turned Doshi attorney Jason [Indiscernible].
The PDC is the state. If the PBC is the state and the state is the client back to control the privilege. Betsy was capable of waving in. So the person at the top the state's governor Brown and he can waive the privilege.
This is a complicated story. Kelly do you think the public is engaged in following this?
This has been very complicated winter somewhere first could be that now there's a lot of stuff going in behind-the-scenes. At the risk of bringing down his wrath is he a little impatient? Is he trying to goad her to speeded up.
Is Gary trying to get from these answers out there as the voters [Indiscernible]
The secret meeting in Poland place in March 2013. As I understand it, it's and obstruction of the does justice. That put an end to investigation of what happened at 703 I state regulators. The statute of limitations runs out after three years. When people are questioning the timing there may be grounds for that.
There's another curious part about that. That's this. [Indiscernible] has asked for communications between Governor Brown's office and the PUC would quarrying San Onofre . Those publications are not being turned over. Is also asked for information for Governor Brown's office and other power companies. Kamala Harris is representing Governor Brown's office in that requests for documents. It's raised a number of questions as to how she can represent the governor's office in this case in which the documents that are being sought are relevant to her every criminal investigation. So, her offices have looked. There's big ethical firewall between our civil division which is representing Governor Brown and a criminal division.
She won't talk about the investigation. She said her spokesperson said he doesn't want to jeopardize the integrity of the investigation. One of allegations been thrown at her in terms of how she's handled this raise issues in the midst of a US Senate campaign and she's a Democrat and she's not about to prosecute powerful executives at a utility company in the Public Utilities Commission who were appointed by and Democratic Governor.
Will be will wait and watch. We're going to move on now. California Western school of Law in San Diego often attracted court to help low income challenge traffic tickets. But they found that the city is actually the guilty party and in the process revealed an ugly truth about traffic tickets and how they affect the poor.
Kelly let's start with the attorney and who was she.
Her name is Coleen Cusack and she runs the traffic court clinic. It gives the students at Cal Western practical experience representing folks who want to challenge traffic infraction or other infractions.
They just may not have the money?
Yes. Some of those are speeding tickets and when you challenges speeding ticket the police officer will arrive in court with what's known as a traffic survey. Sometimes the code speed service.
That if someone challenges the ticket.
It's supposed to provide justification for setting the speed limit on that particular portion of road. State law is very particular on what all the traffic survey needs to contain. When it's in court and some wants to challenge their ticket. Coleen was finding that not only were 70 survey is way outdated after 10 years they expire, they need to be done again because Rose conditions change. She also found that defendants were not getting the entire survey. They have to be conducted in a very specific way. The fascinating read.
Most people aren't even aware of the surveys.
There are very strict rules on how they should be conducted. That's all contained in the school survey that supposed to be available for defendant.
What caused the attorney to look into the surveys further. She kept saying the same name popping up.
If a survey is more than five years old or seven years old they can be certified that nothing has changed on the road. So she can sing the stamp and it's signed by a guy named Tai a Palusky whose a traffic engineer. That is expert testimony and even if you're a defendant in traffic court you're still entitled to cross examine and subpoena witnesses. So she thought, and the subpoenaed him. She sent him a subpoena and he basically told her to buzz off. She did it again and said you must respond to the subpoena. This is a criminal subpoena. You can't just blow it off.
So this is an employee of the city whose job it is to stand behind the surveys.
You can't ignore criminal subpoenas.'s to go through whole process and a judge's permission. He just didn't show up.
Can a city employee Jusco wrote?.Just go rogue. Or do you think you the support of his supervisors?
Eisinger city employee and your Hegedus a subpoena to check with your legal advisor. In the city attorneys for me now. It's not a requirement that he consults with the attorney's office.
Could he be held in contempt of court?
Absolutely. There's can be hearing late may. -- There's going to be a hearing late may.
That fits the general interest your audience. And that is, can police actually give tickets out on streets that have invalid survey's?
No they can't and they do. These are police officers that are ticketing people uncertain structures of road and a lot of them I talked to Coleen, and another attorney do these cases all the time, police officers now which routes have expired traffic surveys but they still ticket people. So a lot of folks will just pay the ticket, one 200 challenge the ticket will go in and the police officer won't show up or is Coleen for me, one case recently the professor showed up and stood up and said that traffic survey.
What is generally the cost of the ticket.
I think the cheapest for 0 to 15 miles of the Spirit is 291. If you're 15 or above it goes up closer to $400.
Many of to get time off and fight it in the attorney.
FUS set up a payment plan is to pay money. If you miss a payment you can be fined $300. Your license can be suspended. A lot of studies recently have shown this creates a vicious cycle for folks who don't have $300 to pay a fine.
On read this. It's from the lawyers committee. Only money grants access to the courts. Obviously a question of basic fairness. That Coleen Cusack had found. She said her goal is not to get tickets dismissed broadly but to get the city surveys done.
To get to collect the money to do the work.
What is the city's response to your story? Under think you were disturbed.
At the circle back. I didn't get any response initially to my questions to interview this traffic engineers I've got quite a few emails from folks.[ Laughter ] They thanked me for helping them. This is about basic fairness and following the law and not necessarily about letting people drive crazy over the road.
Could this overwhelm the courts if the judge says I agree and were going to now start checking everyone these tickets, ruin the surveys? Can the courts handle such a thing?
Traffic court is a very busy court. I don't know. We will see how this plays out.
Most folks if they had the means credit check, go to traffic school, it's been expunged. You don't see a lot of people come in and say I demand a trial let's subpoena people.
It definitely gets whittled down by the time it gets to the trial.
We all move on. Labor unions have suffered an enormous decline since the 1950s. Membership has dropped from 35% to 11%. Richard Barrera believes the labor movement is the answer to society's ills. Period in December at up to give away talking about making ends meet in San Diego.
Hundreds of thousands of families in our community that don't earn anywhere near a Knoff paid the basic cost of living in San Diego. A typical family of four to be able to pay housing costs, to, transportation, childcare. That upwards of $60,000 a year.
Visit to the school board race been a member since 2008. But his former job led to conflicts of interest. So Mario's extensive story said. Tell us why did you decide to look into this fellow?
Is an election year for one. He will be running for his third term on the school board. It's the third time he ran unopposed. He's probably going to be on the school board a third time. Family sat down to get a profile to talk to people about Richard Barrera people have this narrative starting to emerge that he was a real pair those power in San Diego unified. Sounds like a lot of people agree with that sentiment.
Is maybe not a huge name as the city Council may be but he they handle billions of contracts. There's all sorts of money and society's future at stake. These are powerful individuals. It interesting the sunlight here. Privacy believes so strongly in the importance of the labor movement. The clip you just heard is a perfect representation clip you could play. He seems to believe in his soul that the way towards economic justice is education and living wages. He's been remarkably successful at moving the district forward and he sees it as complete complement. That would've been before he was the head of the San Diego Imperial labor counties and after. He's no longer on the board continues to be involved.
Will get to those issues in a minute. You open your story with Barrera but the San Diego unified board and fill your leadership boards at the Sweetwater district. Very interesting. How that come to be.
Sweetwater has a checkered past. In 2014 you are subject to play to pay District Attorney [Indiscernible] Barrera says that ever since then they took out of school board members labor's been interested in board members down there to be supportive of labor. He said that to his role he's been involved that way. Last year we found out that there were three high-ranking people in San Diego unified who moved from San Diego unified to Sweetwater. It seems cozy. He confirmed it. He said basically he made phone calls on their behalf because he known them he knew the people Sweetwater said he was calling on behalf of them.
What you colleagues say about this? Is he respected generally?
His universally respected. I don't know if these universally liked. But I think his universally respected. Think people that disagree with his politics look upon him in all that he's able to bring some people together and build so much consensus for a label vision in the context is controversial. He's able to pull his agenda forward and people are still willing to work with him. Nobody is called Barrera a bully.
How is he able to do that? Is that the power and force of his personality?
It's a great question. I think that's what made him such a compelling character to look into. I can't speak to everything that makes them influential. I do know I can identify with people that say he's an unlikable guy. He's very respectful and interested in building consensus, he's a likable guy.
We do have a conflict of interest issues your. When he was on labor Council and the school board. That seems like a pretty obvious conflict of interest. Billions in bond money paid for construction of the schools how do you have a fun but those camps.
It's Rayford ask how can be the head of the labor Council and expect to keep it separate from your work on the school board. Epic that's a very fair question to ask him. There's no conflict at all. He doesn't have to say I'm wearing my labor have now and when my school that now because they sort of work together.
You imagine scenarios where he would put the school district to give a higher wage perhaps a certain unions working on verse construction projects.
There's been times when they've done not. They made decisions that put the district in an operating deficit. From the decisions Barrera waiting on took the district that way.
You talk about conflict, there's a conflict of interest there's applied to Symantec the job. Respectively each organization says there interest will be primary. He will honor us.
Used for this tight rope even though he's not officially with counseling more obviously his heart was with labor and workers. That's not necessarily when you think about conservative board members that have multibillion-dollar contracts and how he mentions that.
A couple seconds left did he ever have to recuse himself or some these projects are working on?
Good question. We first took the job of labor Council the district update legal [Indiscernible] said he could hold posted jobs they did recommend that they recuse himself.
He hasn't really had to do that.
He hasn't had to. Notice asked him. There's no conflict.
We're out of time. He will look forward to the campaign coverage as we move ahead. That does laptop another week of stories that the KPBS Roundtable. I'd like to thank my guess [Indiscernible] journalist Kelly Davis, and tran 19. All stories discussed are available on our website KPBS.org. I Mark Sauer thanks for joining us today on the Roundtable.