Wednesday, November 26, 2014

AG Kamala Harris Lacks a Central FOIA Log

There isn't one elected official's office I've dealt with over the years who doesn't have a person designated and paid to process public records requests. That person is responsible for keeping track of requests, complying with sunshine laws and keeping a log of all requests. But for California's Attorney General Kamala Harris that is not the case.

I've requested her log for records requests covering the period from Jan. 1, 2012, through early November, and her office replied that they need to check with field offices to gather responsive files. The office has invoked an extension so they can contact those offices, indicating there is no central requests log maintained.

This is the first instance of such an office needing more search time because they lack a central log. Let's see what the AG produces for me in early December. Here's their letter received on Monday:

We are in receipt of your below email submitted and received on November 13, 2014 by the California Department of Justice/Attorney General's Office (DOJ), in which you sought records pursuant to the Public Records Act (PRA).  

For the reasons set forth below, this office is extending the date for responding to your request to December 8, 2014.

Agencies are permitted to extend the date for responding to a public records request for fourteen days beyond the original 10-day deadline for responding under specified circumstances.  As your request was received by this office on November 13, 2014, the time established for the original response is November 24, 2014.  Fourteen days beyond this date is December 8, 2014. 

Agencies may invoke the extension for several reasons, which may be summarized as follows:

1. The need to search for and collect records from field offices or other facilities that are separate from the office processing the request.

2. The need to search for, collect, and appropriately examine a voluminous amount of separate and distinct records which are demanded in a single request.

3. The need for consultation, which shall be conducted with all practicable speed, with another agency having a substantial interest in the determination of the request or among two or more components of the agency having substantial subject matter interest therein. 

In this instance, an extension is needed to collect and examine responsive documents to your request.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

SFPD Traffic Safety Survey Omits Bad Biker Question

As someone whose main mode of transportation is a bicycle and who spends much time walking on sidewalks, I know just how dangerous our streets and sidewalks can be because of rogue bicyclists.

I've had dozens of near-collisions with bicyclists running red lights, passing me on Valencia Street on the right when I'm hugging parked cars as a slow biker or barreling at me on a crowded sidewalk.

The San Francisco Police Department is conducting a traffic safety survey and their question four, pictured, omits bad biker behavior. The survey asks: "In your opinion, what are the biggest issues impacting pedestrian safety in San Francisco?"

The choices are "Speed/Aggressive Driving", "Drivers Disobeying Traffic Signs/Signals", "Distracted Drivers", "Distracted Pedestrians" or "Road Conditions".

Nothing about aggressive bicyclists or bikers disobeying traffic laws.

That this SFPD survey was designed without addressing the behavior of bicyclists behaving badly means the results won't accurately reflect all the factors that make our urban streets and sidewalk a hazard to many people.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Gilead Spent How Much on DC Lobbyists for Hep C Drug?

(Use of this AIDS Healthcare Foundation ad is not an endorsement of their abysmal transparency policies and opposition to use of Truvada to prevent HIV transmission.)

Reporter Paul Demko knows his way around both nonprofits and the healthcare industry, and before he began writing for Modern Healthcare he plied his trade at the Chronicle of Philanthropy. We became acquainted with each other during that stint.

In early October, Demko penned an extensive look at overall healthcare lobbying in Washington with a particular focus on Gilead Sciences. One thing I learned was that a former HIV adviser to Dubya has become a lobbyist who was hired by Gilead.

Another thing was how Gilead did the soft sell in Washington about Sovaldi via a forum for Congressional staffers, showing me that such forums about Gilead's products aren't limited solely to HIV organizations.

I salute Demko and Modern Healthcare for an excellent job of following the money: 

About the same time Gilead acquired Pharmasset (manufacturer of the hepatitis C drug Sovaldi), it hired Joseph Grogan to lead its lobbying. That was the first sign that the company planned to pump up its lobbying in Washington. Grogan had held a similar post with biotechnology giant Amgen, which had a track record of influencing government policy.

Grogan joined Amgen after serving as a senior policy adviser to Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach, who was FDA commissioner during the George W. Bush administration. He also had served as executive director of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV and AIDS, whose advisory council members included Gilead CEO John Martin.

Grogan's initial task was to ensure the experimental drug [Sovaldi] passed all its regulatory hurdles. [...] Gilead also hired some of the most influential lobbying firms in Washington.

In 2011 and 2012, the company spent just under $3 million on lobbying, according to reports. Last year, that figure increased to just over $4 million, a jump of more than 40%. And through the first two quarters of 2014, the company spent $2.6 million on lobbying, putting it on track to top $5 million for the year. [...]

But the job was far from over [after Sovaldi received FDA approval]. The $1,000-per-pill price tag on Sovaldi stirred a backlash on Capitol Hill. The company's newly acquired lobbying army swung into action. [...]

“Although Sovaldi has the potential to help people with HCV, at $1,000 per pill, its pricing has raised serious questions about the extent to which the market for this drug is operating efficiently and rationally,” the letter from [U.S. Senators] Wyden and Grassley read. [...]

[In September], Gilead hosted a forum, “Curing hepatitis C—the patient's perspective,” for legislative staffers at the Rayburn House Office Building. The event featured a hepatitis C patient; Dr. Natarajan Ravendhran, a liver disease specialist and chief of gastroenterology at St. Agnes Hospital, Baltimore; and a Gilead vice president. Ravendhran earned over $20,000 in 2013 in fees and other benefits from Gilead, according to the CMS Open Payments database.

The word went out across Capitol Hill. Roughly two-dozen individuals attended the event. “It was a relatively soft sell,” said one attendee. There was no discussion of congressional inquiries into the cost of Sovaldi or acknowledgement that there was anything controversial about the drug.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Do SF People With AIDS Need NYC's ACRIA?

(ACRIA consultants Cesar Angel, left, and Hanna Tessema, held a forum in San Francisco on Nov. 14. Photo credit: Rick Gerharter.)

There are a few questions in need of answers regarding the AIDS Community Research Initiative of America, why they recently sent two consultants to San Francisco and how to locate their body of research and findings on the web. This note was sent to ACRIA folks today and when I hear back from them, I'll write a new post:

Hello Hanna and Cesar,

I was unable to make your visit forum at the San Francisco LGBT Community Center, so I'm following up with written questions about it and ACRIA's purpose in coming here.

You should check out Matthew Bajko's article in the BAR, , because it's really all I know about your forum.

1. Why did ACRIA fly you and Cesar Angel to San Francisco to chat with longterm AIDS survivors? Maybe you were invited by leaders of the Let's Kiss ASS group, and if so, lemme know.

2. How much did ACRIA spend for travel, hotel, renting a room at the center, the catered lunch and all other expenses to have you two come here?

3. Who are ACRIA's primary funders, how much have you received in the past four years from Gilead and did any drug company pay for this trip in part or whole?

4. What exactly is involved with these trainings you're putting on around the country and how will they potentially benefit a longterm PWA such as myself?

5. Why do we supposedly need ACRIA coming from NYC to host such a forum and take an interest in alleged non-cooperation between AIDS and aging groups?

6. What agreement was made between ACRIA and Let's Kick ASS for forum, what other ways are they partnered with each other and how can I obtain the written MOU between the groups?

7. At the BAR site, this comment was made by Mike Wonders:
"We have a New York based group coming out here to tell help us figure out what to do. It's all about funding the professional AIDS machine. We have endless focus groups, surveys, research, meetings, consultants, seminars, paid travel to national conferences etc"

How do you respond to his thinking, which I've heard other SF PWAs express about both ACRIA and leaders of Let's Kick Ass.

8. Your page about aging PWAs and depression, , contains no links to any of the research or findings, even though it all began in 2007. Can you provide me any links to the actual research or findings? The page also says you're in the process of publishing results. Please inform of which scientific journal will soon publish these results and when.

9. There are no links to any of the results of ACRIA drug research in the past year posted at this page: . Please provide me with links to all of the results and also consider linking to the results at that page.

10. Your only study on your site is the ROAH Report, , and it's from 2006. Why is this old study the only one on ACRIA's site? Also, financial disclosure about any funding from drug companies or other outside sources that underwrote the study, along with disclosure on the part of the researchers were omitted. Why the omissions?

11. Finally, are you or Cesar either HIV poz or over 50 or both? It's important to ask these questions to give me a better and fuller understanding of your backgrounds.

Please give me your answers in the coming days. Thanks.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Syringe Box Nailed to Larkin Street Tree

The control and prevention of HIV, hepatitis and other nasty bugs through needle distribution on the streets of San Francisco is laudable for many public health reasons.

Earlier this week, after eating a delicious vegetarian meal at Ananda Fuara at the corner of Market and Larkin Streets, I saw a syringe box nailed to a tree with a informational flyers attached.

Since the box was so high, there was no chance children or dogs would accidentally get stuck by one of the needles. Basically, I support this sort of street level effort to properly dispose of used syringes.

However, I believe it's better to have a sealed box and not one like what's shown in the photo with a removable top. Do you agree?

Friday, November 21, 2014

Which SF Sup. Had the Most Meetings With Uber Lobbyists in 2014?

In addition to following the money, good watchdogging also demands paying close attention to the professional lobbyists hired by corporations to influence politicians and legislation at San Francisco's City Hall.

(Click the images to enlarge.)

Public records at the Ethics Commission reveal that Supervisor Scott Wiener and his aide Andres Power received the most visits from Uber's lobbyists this year. There were five meetings with Boe Hayward, who began his lobbying career about five minutes after he stopped working for Sup. Bevan Dufty in 2011, and one meeting with Patty-Jo Rutland.

All five of Hayward's meetings with Wiener's aide were about opposing rideshare regulations.

Uber paid the Goodyear Peter Hayward and Associates firm $30,000 so far this year, and Rutland and her consulting company received $32,500, bringing Uber's total lobbying fees for City Hall purposes to $62,000.

Sure would be great to know what was discussed at all of these meetings Uber held with our elected officials.
City Hall Workgroup Looking at Selling SF Municipal Air Rights

When I attended the October 23 fire commission meeting I learned that the City is evaluating selling air rights over municipal buildings, which was news to me. I received information from John Updike, the head of the Department of Real Estate, that more than a million square feet of air rights above the Veterans Building are in the process of being sold.

Thanks to a public records request, I've received transcripts from that meeting which provide greater transparency about where the City is in terms of potentially selling off air rights over public properties. If the Board of Supervisors would pressure the fire department, whose current budget is $86 million, to air the commission meetings on SF GovTV, it wouldn't take public records requests to fully learn all that is discussed at the meetings.

First, let me explain that fire commission member Ken Cleaveland is the vice president of the Building Owners and Managers Association of San Francisco and their primary purpose is "advancing the commercial real estate industry through advocacy, professional development and information exchange."

It's no surprise that Cleaveland is urging movement on selling air rights, after all, it would be a financial boon to his association and its members. At the July 10 commission meeting, he made an initial inquiry:

Commissioner Cleaveland asked if the Department has ever looked at the value of any air rights they may have above fire stations and suggested deputizing someone to look into this possibility. Chief Hayes-White thought that would be a good idea and explained air right proposals were looked at in 2008, specifically to Station 13 on Sansome Street.

(Click to enlarge. Page 1 of excerpted transcripts.)

Here are excerpts of the October 23 transcripts that were provided to me by the commission's secretary:

COMMISSIONER CLEVELAND: And know what the status is of all of our -- of all of our properties, if you will. And the other thing was had we made any progress on determining if we have any transferable developmental rights, air rights above any of our fire stations? Have we done anything to determine or quantify or monetize that value? We might be able to sell. It's a very hot real estate market in order to get more money for the department.

(Page 2.)

MARK CORSO, Chief Financial Officer for SFFD, bolding added: Specifically we looked at it when it was first brought up with the Commission a few months ago, I believe. That comes up every now and then, and we discussed it with the Department of Real Estate and we are not the only department to discuss it with them. So there is a workgroup city wide looking at that. They've hired some consultants with regard utilities pricing and inventory. I believe there is a demand for, or there's actually a large want amongst many city departments to sell it so there is an issue of over saturating the market with those real estate options. And so that's one of the things with regards to timing that the Department of Real Estate is looking at. So they are working on it in conjunction with capital planning, the city's capital planning department.

(Page 3.)

COMMISSIONER COVINGTON: Thank you, Mr. President. Every time my fellow Commissioner Cleveland talks about air rights I want to bring up the fact that I would like to have us to continue to investigate the ability to build workforce housing for firefighters, police officers, and teachers.

Since developers are running out of land to build on and they can't very well construct new properties in the San Francisco Bay, it makes sense that they would look to purchase air rights for future projects. At the same time, can you blame the City for considering how to sell those air rights and produce more revenue for municipal coffers?

Now is a good time for historic building preservationists, affordable housing advocates, progressive social and urban planners, to demand more transparency from the City's workgroup looking air rights.

Since there's a workgroup and consultants have been hired, selling air rights is far enough in development to demand greater public scrutiny.
Vid: Reporters Chase German Politician into Men's Room Stall

As far as I know, German prosecutors have not brought privacy violation charges against the various journalists and persons wielding cameras who videotaped and snapped photos of a politician in a men's room while attempting to flee their questions.

Should we call those with cameras pee-parazzi? (Sorry, I couldn't resist some humor.)

Here's the story from The Local, a German news site in English, explaining what led to the bathroom incident which has been dubbed Toiletgate:

The Left (Die Linke) party chief Gregor Gysi took refuge in a toilet after two activist journalists chased him down alleging that he called them anti-Semitic.The incident was recorded and posted onto YouTube on Tuesday. 

"When I have a hit on my life, are you going to take responsibility for that?" asks Canadian-Israeli activist David Sheen as he follows Gysi down the corridor housing the Left party's parliamentary offices on the video. "Are you going to take responsibility for the threats on my life?" 

Gysi then locks himself into the bathroom, yelling "Out! Get out of here!", as Sheen continues to shout after him. The confrontation stemmed from a talk that Sheen was supposed to give with American author Max Blumenthal, a sharp critic of the Israeli state's conduct in the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict, at Berlin's Volksb├╝hne on the anniversary of Kristallnacht, November 9. 

Gysi had also sought to prevent the pair from speaking to MPs in the Linke conference room at the parliament.

Let's be grateful the German prosecutors aren't like San Francisco's vindictive Supervisor Scott Wiener. He abused the power of his office to have Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, the police department and District Attorney George Gascon investigate and prosecute me, to the tune of $26,000 in taxpayer dollars, for an impromptu photo I snapped of Wiener at a sink in a men's room at City Hall in October 2012.

I'd like to think Gysi is one politician who does not go charge-shopping against political adversaries.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

HIV Panel to Post Agendas in 2015, Minutes Require FOIL 

(Public domain photo.)

The New York State Department of Health's AIDS Advisory Council is a ludicrous mess from top to bottom. I complained yesterday about the lack of agendas on the web in advance of their November 20 meeting and that no minutes are posted on their site.

However, my chief concern was the removal of corrupt AIDS bureaucrat Gail Barouh for her misspending $179,000 in government funds as documented by a New York State Comptroller's audit. All of this was outlined in an email to the council.

My friends back East reminded me that the chair of the council is Marjorie Hill, pictured, a former executive director of the Gay Men's Health Crisis who was fired in September 2013 for numerous failures. For a refresher check out this Gay City News article about what led the GMHC board to can her.

This council isn't fully transparent and contains two members who've abused their powers as executive directors of HIV services agencies, showing just how bad things are in the Empire State in terms of AIDS accountability.

It pleases me to know my concerns have been heard and will be included in the council's minutes, but those are small potatoes compared to the large problems of corrupt bureaucrats Hill and Barouh and their ilk who run too many AIDS Inc groups and advisory panels.

This is the note Hill sent me this afternoon:

Your email was shared with me as Chair of the NYS AIDS Advisory Council. Thank you for your comments. 

Beginning in 2015, the Council’s meeting agendas will be posted on the NYS Department of Health website as an attachment to the meeting notice. I have attached the agenda for the November 20, 2014 meeting to this email. 

Meeting minutes from previous meetings are available for public inspection upon written request to the NYS Department of Health Records Access Office in accordance with Freedom of Information Law (FOIL). 

Please note that the Council does not have the authority to appoint or remove members. Members of the Council are appointed as indicated by Public Health Law Article 27-E, Section 2778. 

I have [included] the link to the statutory authority which explains this process. Your comments will be included in the public record for the November 20, 2014 meeting.
When Did SF Last Audit Local AIDS Groups?

During my DIY Democracy campaign for District 8 Supervisor, a key plank in my platform called for audits of all nonprofits receiving City dollars especially HIV groups and the AIDS programs of the Department of Public Health.

According to a story by Seth Hemmelgarn in the Bay Area Reporter, the City appropriated about $12 million for HIV services for the current fiscal year.

I asked the Controller's Office for info about when they last conducted audits of HIV programs and the last round of them for City-funded agencies was in 2007, and for groups receiving federal AIDS dollars it was back in 2008.

Six years is a long time to go without looking at the books of HIV nonprofits and there must be a push to have the Controller audit these groups again in 2015. Here's the reply from the Controller with links to the audits performed in the aughts:

"In response to your email inquiry, the Controller’s City Services Auditor (CSA) has completed the following reports related to HIV/AIDS nonprofit organizations and DPH grantees: Fiscal and Compliance Audits of DPH Contractors/Grantees:

"Review of Single Audit Reports of Nonprofit Organizations Receiving Pass-Through, Federal Funds from DPH: