2007 2008 Merced County Grand Jury Final Report

From the 2007 2008 Merced County Grand Jury Final Report

Livingston Police Department


On August 21, 2007, members of the Grand Jury inspected the police department facilities at 1446 C Street, Livingston, CA.

The Grand Jury members met with Chief Bill Eldridge who provided an overview and a tour of the entire facility and provided a question and answer period. The chief also introduced some of his staff who made presentations concerning their areas of responsibilities which covered crime analysis, gang suppression activities, training and community service.

Chief Eldridge has been with the Livingston Police Department since 1992. He is very proud to serve and is completely involved in the department and the community. The Department facility was opened in 1998 and the building and grounds are clean and well maintained. The Health Department and the Fire Department inspections are current. The department is comprised of 35 staff members including an Animal Control Officer as well as paid and unpaid Reserve Officers. The patrol vehicles are well secured in a designated parking area. There are adequate and clean kitchen break room facilities for staff personnel and officers.

The Grand Jury members were shown how evidence was processed, documented and stored. The evidence room is well secured and organized; logs are current and efficiently handled. All records are backed by computer input and meet the required retention rates. The dispatch center is well staffed and contains first rate equipment that is arranged for ultimate efficiency and accessibility. The weapons locker is well managed and properly secured under dual control.

Upon completion of the tour, the Grand Jury members met in the office of Chief Eldridge. He explained his philosophy on law enforcement and community involvement. His department has built a very strong relationship with the schools in the community. Officers provide outreach and education at the Middle School and the High School including such programs as the Gang Resistance, Education and Training (GREAT) program, Neighborhood Visit program, “Every 15 minutes” program, Red Ribbon Week, Toys 4 Tots, Coats 4 Kids, Safe School Program, and Sober Graduation Night. Police Department On-campus School Resource Officers provide Traffic Safety Education in the classrooms.

Chief Eldridge organized the Police Department Citizen Volunteer Program which has grown from two original members in 2000 to a current complement of ten. Their efforts are aimed at crime prevention services and community awareness programs. They patrol the streets of the City in specially marked police vehicles and report to on-duty officers. They participate in Neighborhood Watch, vehicle abatement, bicycle rodeos, Fourth of July celebrations, animal control, traffic control and fingerprinting. They also assist dispatch personnel by answering business telephone lines, handling citizen inquiries and providing general clerical services.

Traffic Safety is important to the department. Each major area of traffic safety is addressed including drunk driving, passenger restraint usage, speed enforcement, bicycle helmet use and unlicensed drivers. In particular, drunk driving and seat belt checkpoints and aggressive traffic enforcement send a strong message to traffic violators. 7


The Livingston Police Department is a highly organized, progressive and professionally managed department which serves the needs of a fast-growing community. All sworn officers and the support staff are to be commended for their efforts.


COMPLAINT # 07-08-01, 07-08-03 & 07-08-06

Livingston City Council


Several complaints were received from residents of Livingston about three members of the city council of that city. Specific complaints alleged that city staff was being harassed, non-agenda items were being voted on at council meetings, the Brown Act was being violated and improper conduct was taking place. The Grand Jury found that city staff are being intimidated, some improper requests of city staff are being made, one member of the council, Councilman Rodrigo Espinoza, did not comply with the California Health & Safety Code, the public is unaware of how to obtain copies of official minutes of council meetings and council meeting rules are not being followed. The Grand Jury also found that serious personal differences among city council members are negatively impacting the ability of the council to govern the city effectively.


The complainants, of which there are three, allege that three members of the Livingston City Council, Mayor Gurpal Samra, Councilman Rodrigo Espinoza and Councilman William Ingram, repeatedly interrupt the work of and harass the city hall staff, vote on non-agenda items at City Council meetings, violate the Brown Act, and engage in conduct which is questionable and/or unethical. The Grand Jury agreed to investigate the complaints. All three complaints are related, so the Grand Jury decided to combine them into one investigation.

Method of Investigation

The County Administration/County Services Committee interviewed each of the complainants separately. All three stated that their primary complaint was that certain members of the city council do not follow proper procedures and protocol in contacting city hall staff, and that they make unreasonable demands of the staff. The complainants also stated that:

The position of a Code Enforcement Officer, urgently needed in the city, had been provided for in past and current budgets, but has not yet been filled.

Some council members’ conduct and decision making is unethically made for self-gain and not in the best interests of the community which they were elected to serve.

Council member Rodrigo Espinoza has purchased property in the redevelopment area while he is a director of the Redevelopment Agency, thus creating a conflict of interest.

The committee also interviewed several senior city officials, members of the city staff and a member of the public, as well as city council members. One member of the council, Mr. Rodrigo Espinoza, even after being subpoenaed, refused to answer any questions, citing his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. He also refused to sign any documents, even the standard admonishment against discussing any matters or questions asked of him by the Grand Jury.

The committee also reviewed audio recordings and published minutes of city council meetings, (27)

memoranda of record written by city officials and staff, city ordinances and other official documents. Several grand jury members also attended selected city council meetings.


City staff members universally agreed that some members of the council habitually interrupted staffs workday to request special attention to council members’ concerns. These requests were documented in letters and memoranda. Many staff members felt intimidated by the council members, fearing they could lose their jobs and/or have their department’s budget cut if they did not acquiesce to the requests.

Senior city officials and staff members, as well as the council members interviewed, all agreed that contacts between the council members and staff should go through the City Manager, but this protocol is obviously not consistently being followed.

The three council members have made requests of city staff that are inappropriate and could be considered unethical. One example of this was an incident when a city staff member was asked to certify that a relative of the councilman had performed some community service which the relative had not actually performed.

The position of Code Enforcement Officer was budgeted for in the 2006-2007 city budget, and again in the 2007-2008 city budget, but has never been filled. There is disagreement among council members as to whether direction has been given to the city manager to fill the position. Councilman Ingram stated that the city manager had been instructed by the council to fill the position, but this was not confirmed by any other council members. City hiring officials stated that they had not been told to fill the position, and could not do so until the council directed that the position be filled.

Published minutes of city council meetings are incomplete and inaccurate. This finding was also addressed by the previous grand jury in their report on Complaint # 06-07-15. However, further inquiries revealed that the official minutes of council meetings consist of the audio recordings of such meetings. Those recordings are available for purchase by the public at a nominal cost. Published (written) minutes are essentially a synopsis of council meetings.

Allegations of Brown Act violations could not be substantiated. Although numerous witnesses stated that the three council members were often seen together, none could confirm that any city business was being discussed by the three. Since the Brown Act explicitly permits social contact (CA Government Code 54952.2(c) (5)) among elected officials, the grand jury found no violations.

City Council members allow their personal differences and conflicts to interfere with voting and decision making. This negatively affects the community.

Council member Espinoza did purchase property within the Redevelopment area while he was a Director of the Redevelopment Agency. The California Form 700 was filed, but the purchase was never entered into the city council minutes, as required by California Health & Safety Code, Section 33130 (a). Since the filing of the Form 700 does constitute public disclosure, the grand jury does not believe there was any intent to conceal the purchase on Mr. Espinoza’s part, and it is possible that the failure to enter the facts of the purchase in council minutes is merely an administrative oversight. Since Mr. Espinoza refused to be interviewed, the grand jury was unable to clarify this matter any further. 28

The committee randomly selected and reviewed several audio recordings of city council meetings and was unable to verify that the council members regularly vote on non-agenda items.

The grand jury also noted that time limits for individual comments (three minutes per individual as written in council meeting rules, and stated by the Mayor at each meeting) are not observed.


Council members should carefully consider all actions they might wish city staff to take, to ensure that such actions are in the best interests of the city as a whole, not merely for the benefit of selected individuals. They would be well advised to consult with the city manager first to obtain his and staffs recommendations.

All council members should strictly observe the protocols implied by the City Organizational Chart and make requests of city staff only through the City Manager, except in emergency situations.

Council should resolve their differences with respect to the need for a Code Enforcement Officer, and direct the city hiring authority accordingly. There appears to be a real need for such a position, and the grand jury recommends that the position be filled as soon as possible.

The council should make it very clear, perhaps through an ordinance, that the official minutes of council meetings are the audio recordings of such meetings. Further, copies of these recordings should be made readily available to the public at cost. One possible way to do this would be to provide copies to members of the public at no cost if the person desiring such a copy provides a blank audio tape on which to copy. Since not everyone has access to playback equipment, the city should provide for a room and equipment which the public can use for this purpose.

Although no Brown Act violations could be substantiated, council members should be aware that even the appearance of impropriety is to be avoided by elected officials. Council members should try to avoid frequent gatherings which tend to instill public suspicions.

All council members should make every effort to cast aside their personal differences in favor of the best interests of the City of Livingston.

Councilman Espinoza should resign from his position as a Director of the Redevelopment Agency. Further, he should immediately enter into the next council meeting’s minutes, notification of his purchase of property within the redevelopment area.

Council should, with the assistance of the city attorney, enforce the three-minute rule for public comment at all city council meetings.

Response to Complaints 07-08-01, 07-08-03, 07-08-06

(The City’s Response is in a PDF Image format which I haven’t been able to upload just yet. However, it is available as part of the entire Grand Jury Report : pages 29-32)


Evaluation of Response – 2007 -2008 Grand Jury Report

This evaluation is in reference to the response made by the Councilmen of the City of Livingston to Complaint 07-08-01, 07-08-03 and 07-08-06.

The Grand Jury is dismayed by the response because the investigating committee found the complaints about staff interference to be clearly documented in a letter and other written memoranda. Regrettably these documents cannot be made public because they would reveal the identity of Grand Jury witnesses, a clear violation of the law. However, the overwhelming body of written documentation and testimony from numerous witnesses makes it undeniably clear that city staff is being intimidated and badgered by council members.

The response stated that the published minutes of council meetings present an accurate and complete summary of the meetings and that audio recordings are made and available to the public. The response does not state which version is the official one. However, it does state that the minutes are placed on the agenda for review and approval. If that is the case, the published (written) minutes must be the official ones. They however, do not reflect the identity of citizens who present comments or complaints, nor do they reflect the substance of such comments. The response also stated that the three minute rule for citizens’ comments at council meetings has been enforced since December, 2007. Members of the Grand Jury personally attended a city council meeting after that date and noted that no effort was made to enforce the rule.

Finally, the response stated that council members do not take into account any personal differences they may have when considering their decisions. It was painfully obvious to Grand Jury members who attended that council meeting that the council members did indeed allow their personal feelings to influence their votes.

The overall response to the Grand Jury’s findings and recommendations reflect an arrogance and attitude of superiority which does a disservice to the citizens of Livingston.


COMPLAINT # 07-08-07



The Grand Jury received a complaint that a developer gave a check in the amount of $55,000 to the city of Livingston to possibly gain favorable treatment for the developer. After investigation, the grand jury found that there was no violation of the law in the donation, or contribution, to the city.


The grand jury received a complaint from a citizen of Livingston, alleging that a developer, Ranchwood Homes, had improperly given a check in the amount of $55,000 to the city of Livingston in exchange for certain favors concerning the construction of a sewer pipeline in the Livingston area. The grand jury decided to investigate the complaint.


The assigned grand jury committee interviewed the complainant and senior members of the Livingston city staff. The committee also consulted county counsel for advice. The city staff explained that it is common practice for developers to make contributions to cities when they are working on projects in the cities and discover they have realized savings on a particular project. Staff went on to say that the $55,000 was part of a saving realized by the developer when he was allowed by the city to change from a concrete pipe to PVC pipe during construction of the sewer line. The city then used the contribution to purchase two pick-up trucks which are to be used at the city’s waste water treatment plant. Since the two trucks cost slightly less than the $55,000, the balance will be used for future maintenance of the vehicles. County counsel advised that there is nothing illegal about such contributions, which are commonly included in many development agreements. Counsel pointed out, however, that such potential contributions normally are included in pre-construction development agreements, which was not done in this instance. The contribution thus gave the appearance of impropriety.


The grand jury finds that there was nothing illegal involved in Ranchwood Homes making the contribution to the city of Livingston.


The city of Livingston should ensure that potential contributions such as the above should be agreed to by developers and the city in written agreements prior to the beginning of any construction.


COMPLAINT # 07-08-08


Brown Act Violation


The Grand Jury received a complaint alleging that three members of the Livingston City Council were believed to have violated the Brown Act. The Grand Jury investigation uncovered no evidence of a Brown Act violation; therefore, no recommendation was made.


The Grand Jury received a signed complaint alleging that three members of the Livingston City Council were seen together at a local restaurant. The complainant believed that a meeting was held and that city business was discussed and decisions on how to vote at the next council meeting were made that would affect the city and the community.


Members of the Grand Jury read the complaint and decided an investigation was justified. The Law & Justice committee met with the complainant. After an extensive interview with the complainant, the committee determined that the complainant had not heard any city business being discussed by the councilmen, nor did the complainant know of anyone else at the restaurant who may have overheard any of the conversation. The committee decided that any other interviews would result in the same findings and determination.


Since the Brown Act expressly permits social contact (Government Code 54952.2(c)(5)) among elected officials, the committee determined that no proof of a Brown Act violation existed.


No further action is necessary on this complaint.


COMPLAINT 07-08-09

City of Livingston

The grand jury received a complaint alleging that the city of Livingston is not following the rules of publishing complaints in its city council minutes, nor is it publishing action(s) taken on such complaints.

The grand jury declined to investigate this complaint because its subject matter is being investigated as part of another complaint.

COMPLAINT 07-08-10

City of Livingston

The grand jury received a complaint alleging that the city of Livingston is not making accurate minutes available to the public.

The grand jury declined to investigate this complaint because the subject matter is part of an earlier complaint which is being investigated.

COMPLAINT 07-08-11

City of Livingston

The grand jury received a complaint alleging that the city of Livingston is expanding its wastewater treatment plant without obtaining the proper permits or completing required Environmental Impact Reports.

The grand jury declined to investigate this complaint because this complaint was investigated by the 2006-2007 grand jury and the city of Livingston is preparing its response to that investigation at this time.

COMPLAINT 07-08-12

City of Livingston

The grand jury received a complaint alleging that the city of Livingston is in violation of the California Public Records Act.

The grand jury declined to investigate this complaint because the subject matter is part of an earlier complaint which is being investigated. 41

COMPLAINT 07-08-13

City of Livingston

The grand jury received a complaint alleging that the city of Livingston is illegally purchasing property outside of its city limits.

The grand jury declined to investigate this complaint because the jury believes the complaint is frivolous.

COMPLAINT 07-08-14

City of Livingston

The grand jury received a complaint alleging that the city of Livingston is violating previous grand jury recommendations.

The grand jury declined to investigate this complaint because not following grand jury recommendations is not a violation of the law.

COMPLAINT 07-08-15

City of Livingston

The grand jury received a complaint alleging that developer influence is causing conflicts of interest within the city of Livingston.

The grand jury declined to investigate this complaint because its subject matter is being investigated as part of another complaint.

COMPLAINT 07-08-16

City of Livingston

The grand jury received a complaint alleging that the city’s growth rates as projected by its planning department are inaccurate.

The grand jury declined to investigate this complaint because projected city growth rates are inherently inaccurate and therefore not illegal or improper. 42

COMPLAINT 07-08-17

City of Livingston

The grand jury received a complaint alleging that the city is "targeting" land outside its city limits and sphere of influence.

The grand jury declined to investigate this complaint because planning city growth is a normal and proper function of city planning, whether or not such plans eventually come to fruition.

COMPLAINT 07-08-18

City of Livingston

The grand jury received a complaint alleging that the city is violating the Brown Act because it did not meet the requirements to post legal notice of meetings on the city’s web site.

The grand jury declined to investigate this complaint because it appeared to be a frivolous complaint.

COMPLAINT 07-08-19

City of Livingston

The grand jury received a complaint requesting the grand jury revisit a complaint that was investigated by the previous grand jury.

The grand jury declined to investigate this complaint because the city of Livingston has not yet responded to the earlier complaint in question.


COMPLAINT 07-08-27

Livingston Police Department

The grand jury received a complaint alleging that the Livingston PD used improper arrest procedures, committed a rude and warrant less entry into the complainant’s home and failed to follow police guidelines prior to detention of an individual related to the complainant.

The grand jury was unable to investigate this complaint because the complainant did not respond to numerous attempts to contact him to obtain further information concerning the complaint


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