Tag Archives: California

Higher Rates, Missed Pickups: L.A. is Hearing a Rash of Complaints About its New Waste Removal System

Source: David Zahniser, Los Angeles Times, August 7, 2017

Eight months ago, the Los Angeles City Council voted to overhaul the way trash is picked up at tens of thousands of businesses and large residential buildings, giving the work exclusively to a select group of companies. Backers of the program, championed by Mayor Eric Garcetti, said the new system would increase recycling, roll out cleaner-fuel trash trucks and improve workplace safety for sanitation workers. But the new program, known as RecycLA, is not being universally welcomed by the businesses and residents who will rely on it for their trash pickup. In recent weeks, customers have begun complaining about soaring prices, uncollected trash and calls to their new waste hauling companies going unreturned. …

UC employees, students protest in support of contracted valet workers

Source: Sharon (Yu Chun) Zhen, Daily Bruin, July 31, 2017
 
About 500 University of California workers and students protested the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center’s treatment of contracted valet service workers outside the medical center Friday.  Valet service workers, who help park visitor and guest vehicles at the medical center, are contracted through ABM, a facility management company. Beginning in August, however, the hospital will lay off many valet workers because it will no longer be contracting out valet services, said hospital spokesperson Tami Dennis. Instead, it will offer in-sourced full-time, part-time and student positions. … John de los Angeles, communications director of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees 3299, the UC’s largest union, said the medical center would only offer 30 positions for the in-sourced program, even though the program currently employs 80 workers.  Several students and workers said they think the hospital will carry out the layoffs because the contract workers received a pay raise. …

Justice Department moves forward in its case against ETMC, Paramedics Plus

Source: Roy Maynard, Tyler Morning Telegraph, May 12, 2017

The U.S. Department of Justice continues to build its case against East Texas Medical Center and its ambulance division, Paramedics Plus, in what they say is a $20 million kickback scheme to ensure Paramedics Plus retained lucrative contracts. Most recently, Justice Department attorneys filed a list of people they expect to depose in coming months. In all, more than 100 people could be deposed as this case moves forward. The government also filed a proposed schedule, which outlines when fact discovery will take place, when expert discovery will occur, deadlines for motions and trial preparation and finally, an expected timeframe for the start of the trial – summer of 2018. … In January, the Justice Department announced it would intervene in a lawsuit against ETMC and Paramedics Plus brought by a whistleblower – former employee Stephen Dean, who was Paramedics Plus chief operating officer. According to the suit, ETMC and Paramedics Plus paid more than $20 million in kickbacks and bribes, including cash payments to Oklahoma officials. …

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You Paid For It: Pinellas Commissioners discuss ambulance kickback settlement Tuesday
Source: Mark Douglas, March 21, 2017

Former U.S Attorney Brian Albritton told Pinellas County Commissioners Tuesday that a federal lawsuit alleging ambulance fee kickbacks could have cost taxpayers as much as $1 billion if they lost in court. Commissioners agreed to settle the case involving Paramedics Plus Sunstar ambulance service for $92,700 and to forgo an estimated $500,000 in uncollected ambulance fees from patients. They will also have to pay legal fees to Albritton who the county secretly hired last year to resolve the case. Pinellas commissioners discussed the case publicly Tuesday for the first time since Eight On Your Side first broke the story of alleged kickbacks and a federal investigation of Pinellas County’s ambulance contract last month. That settlement, signed March 7 by Vice-Chair Kenneth Welch, requires the county to pay $92,700 to federal prosecutors, the Florida Attorney General and attorneys for the whistleblower–a former executive with Paramedics Plus. It also requires Pinellas County to turn over all documents and evidence gathered in the course of the county’s own internal investigation, and to cooperate with an ongoing federal investigation and whistleblower action filed against Paramedics Plus in Texas.

… Since 2004, Paramedics Plus has operated as Pinellas County’s exclusive ambulance provider under the county-owned brand name Sunstar. The current county contract with Paramedics Plus amounts to about $50 million a year. In 2014, a former high-ranking executive of Paramedics Plus filed a whistleblower action in Texas that alleged an ongoing ambulance fee kickback scheme that stretched from Pinellas County to Oklahoma and California for over a decade. The scheme alleged by the whistleblower and federal prosecutors in a related legal action included so-called “profit cap” rebates that essentially funneled overcharges from Medicaid and Medicare to Pinellas County and other local governments that oversee public ambulance contracts. County leaders in Pinellas insist the “rebates” or “kickbacks’ in Pinellas totaled only $35,000 or so and ended up in county bank accounts, not someone’s pockets. In Oklahoma, the whistleblower suit alleges those kickbacks amounted to as much as $20 million. Federal prosecutors in Texas have cited specific acts of corruption in Oklahoma that include kickbacks, political payoffs and self-enrichment involving Paramedics Plus executives and government overseers in Oklahoma. … Pinellas County Administrator Mark Woodard says the settlement has no impact on the county’s ongoing $50 million a year contract with Paramedics Plus because the company has not been charged criminally or been found guilty of anything.

Feds Intervene in Alleged $20M Ambulance Kickback Scheme
Source: Eric Topor, Bloomberg BNA, January 27, 2017

A Texas health system paid an Oklahoma agency and its president $20 million in cash bribes in exchange for lucrative ambulance service contracts over 15 years, federal prosecutors said ( United States ex rel. Dean v. Paramedics Plus, LLC , E.D. Tex., No. 14-cv-203, complaint in intervention 1/23/17 ). The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Texas partially intervened Jan. 23 in a whistle-blower lawsuit, filed under court seal in 2014, accusing East Texas Medical Center Regional Healthcare System (ETMC) of paying the kickbacks to Oklahoma’s Emergency Medical Services Authority (EMSA). Specifically, the government said ETMC concocted the kickback scheme with EMSA president and co-defendant Herbert S. Williamson, and paid the kickbacks through checks, bank wires and inflated service contracts, mostly through ETMC’s ambulance service company, Paramedics Plus LLC. The government said it paid the defendants over $70 million in Medicare reimbursements and over $38 million in Medicaid reimbursements just from 2009 through 2013, and it was seeking treble damages on all payments tainted by the kickback scheme, plus monetary penalties for each individual false claim submitted. The FCA authorizes monetary fines of up to $11,000 for each false claim submission. The U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment on whether criminal charges against Williamson would be coming in the future. … The complaint describes how Paramedics Plus, which contracted with the EMSA to provide ambulance services within the EMSA’s jurisdiction, was forced to “cut corners” due to the amount of its revenue that went to paying kickbacks. Paramedics Plus “avoided training and personnel expenses” to make sure enough money was available to pay kickbacks to the EMSA and Williamson, according to prosecutors. The complaint alleges Paramedics Plus executives were forced to forgo paying drivers and paramedics retention bonuses to stem high paramedic turnover because the company “would not have enough excess profits to make [Williamson] whole.”

3-year, no-bid extension for Alameda County’s ambulance contract, despite firefighter criticism

Source: Matthias Gafni, Bay Area News Group, May 10, 2017

Alameda County supervisors extended their ambulance contract with Paramedics Plus by three years despite fierce criticism by firefighters complaining the process wasn’t open for competitive bids and changes in service delivery were not included. … The agreement will lessen fines for failures to hit response times, saving the company about $3.5 million, along with other givebacks from the county, such as reimbursements for some 5150 (mentally unstable) transports and a continued break from paying support fees totaling about $5.5. million annually. The company has said it is bleeding money during its contract and needed the breaks, especially from the “draconian” fine system. Firefighters have complained that the extension should not have been awarded without a proper open bidding process. They believe ambulance service has suffered, and a change to the delivery system, similar to the Contra Costa County model pairing firefighters with private ambulance companies, is preferable. The vote came days after a judge dropped Alameda County from a federal lawsuit alleging it accepted illegal kickbacks from Paramedics Plus. The county was dropped from the suit because it agreed in April to pay $50,000 to the feds and $21,000 in attorney fees for accepting payments from the ambulance company. The company claims the agreement was legal. …

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Opinion: Contra Costa ambulance deal slightly helps response time, but has taxpayer risk
Source: Daniel Borenstein, Contra Costa Times, November 2015

The private-public partnership, apparently the first in California, is probably the best option available because it should slightly speed response time and reduce service duplication, and might enable the county to tap some federal dollars that would otherwise be lost. … But Contra Costans should realize that the plan carries downside financial risk and, contrary to some suggestions, probably won’t provide significant upside benefits for the beleaguered Contra Costa Fire Protection District for years, if at all. … An outside consultant, using current collection rates, estimates that the fire district will collect $39 million the first year and pay out, primarily to AMR, $37 million, netting a $2 million profit. But there are two major caveats. First, the consultant, former Livermore-Pleasanton Fire Chief Stewart Gary, warns in his analysis that declining numbers of patients with insurance to fully cover ambulance bills makes projections difficult and presents “one of the largest risks.” Second, the new venture will need about $9 million of seed money to cover early operations before bill payments start coming in. That advance will come from the fire district’s reserves and must be repaid.

Supes approve new cost-saving ConFire/AMR pact
Source: Martinez News-Gazette, July 26, 2015

In a search to further savings in a cash-strapped district, Contra Costa Fire has proposed a new partnership with its longtime ambulance provider, American Medical Response. ConFire will take over responsibility for billing and collecting insurance reimbursements as well as the liability if anticipated revenue doesn’t materialize. AMR will essentially function as a subcontractor providing ambulances and paramedics for a set fee. The new approach comes with added risks for taxpayers, but CityGate said that declining insurance reimbursements threaten all public agencies responsible for providing ambulance services. If private providers can’t turn a profit, they said, taxpayers could be asked to keep them afloat. Alameda County’s ambulance provider, Paramedics Plus, recently asked for an injection of $5 million of public funds to cover some of its losses. Contra Costa supervisors said they were still on board with ConFire’s plan and directed the county to proceed with negotiating a five-year contract that would take effect next year.

Union-backed bill to cut contractor work draws ire

Source: Kate Bradshaw, The Almanac, May 3, 2017
 
A California Assembly bill, backed by government unions, that would set limits on how cities contract for services has drawn vehement opposition, and some support, from Menlo Park residents who emailed the City Council in recent days. … Backed by union organizations – the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO, and the California State Council of the Service Employees International Union – the bill would require cities and counties to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of using city employees to do the job versus hiring a contractor. Government agencies would have to show that no city workers would be displaced, demoted or given fewer hours because of the contract. Also, the contractor would have to reimburse the city for the cost of the analysis. …

California bill would blacklist contractors involved in U.S.-Mexico border wall project

Source: Katy Murphy, San Jose Mercury News, April 25, 2017

Contractors would have to choose between building a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico and doing business with California under a legislative proposal that advanced in the Senate Tuesday.  As California continues to fight the Trump administration’s agenda, Senate Bill 30 by Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, would blacklist companies who help to build the controversial border wall that President Donald Trump has promised to build — a project estimated to cost more than $20 billion, funding the president has yet to secure. …

In a bid to ease student debt, California considers a role in helping refinance private loans

Source: Melanie Mason, Los Angeles Times, April 18, 2017
 
State treasurer and gubernatorial hopeful John Chiang is wading into the increasingly high-profile debate over college affordability with a new push for California to play a role in alleviating the burden of high-interest private student loans.  Chiang is sponsoring legislation that would create a $25-million fund that would offer a degree of protection to student loan providers. With the state assuming some of the risk, the measure’s proponents say financial institutions will be more likely to offer lower interest rates to those carrying student debt. … The proposal, which is being carried in the Legislature by Sen. Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica), is among a swell of measures introduced in the Legislature this year aimed at tackling the high cost of college. Allen and Chiang will unveil the legislation at a Capitol news conference Tuesday. …

Oakland, CA sues California Waste Solutions over recycling contract error

Source: Cole Rosengren, Waste Dive, March 27, 2017

The city of Oakland, CA has filed a lawsuit against its recycling service provider, California Waste Solutions, in Alameda County Superior Court over a “draftsman’s error” that allows the company to charge significantly more than intended​ for moving recycling bins, as reported by SFGate.
Single-family homeowners are charged $27.85 to have their recycling bins pulled to the curb and that fee was supposed to be the same for residents in multi-unit buildings. Instead, the contract allows California Waste Solutions to charge up to $776.13 for this service at multi-unit buildings. That fee is meant for full-size dumpsters, not standard bins. While no one has reported the company charging this full amount yet, multiple customers have seen rate increases since the city’s current contract began in 2015. The city is suing to cap the rate at its intended amount and recuperate an unspecified amount of overcharges, with interest, that resulted from the higher rate. …

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Waste Management Launches Referendum Drive to Win Back Oakland Garbage Contract
Source: Sam Levin, East Bay Express, September 4, 2014

…Now, Waste Management is taking another route to fight CWS’ award — collecting signatures from voters in the hopes of passing a referendum to overturn the council’s decision. Waste Management, a Texas-based corporation, has hired local political strategist Larry Tramutola to help lead the referendum effort, according to David Tucker, director of community and public relations for Waste Management. Tucker told me that the company began collecting signatures over the weekend and has to turn in petitions within thirty days of the city finalizing its decision to award the garbage contract to CWS. That means that by September 26, Waste Management has to collect roughly 21,000 eligible signatures, representing 10 percent of the city’s voters. If successful, the award of the contract to CWS would be put on hold until Oakland voters have an opportunity to directly weigh in on a referendum overturning the city’s ordinances authorizing CWS to take over the franchise. …

Waste Management sues Oakland over $1 billion trash contract
Source: Will Kane, San Francisco Chronicle, August 18, 2014

The nation’s biggest trash hauler sued the city of Oakland on Monday claiming that the City Council illegally steered a $1 billion contract to a local garbage company with which it has “personal and political connections.” The suit, filed in Alameda County Superior Court by Waste Management, claims that Oakland’s City Council at the last minute steered the 10-year contract to collect garbage, recycling and compost in Oakland to an ill-prepared local company over the objections of city staffers, who argued the big Texas firm was in the best position to win the deal. The council awarded the contract to California Waste Solutions, a West Oakland recycling company that, the suit said, had not held a garbage-hauling contract in the United States, submitted proposals that were late and did not comply with the city’s contracting rules. In addition, the city gave that company confidential information about Waste Management’s pricing and proposal, the suit said. The suit asks the court to overturn that decision and effectively award the contract to Waste Management….

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State-Funded Child Care Agency 4C Council Placed Under Audit

Source: Jennifer Wadsworth, San Jose Inside, March 22, 2017

… The Community Child Care Council of Santa Clara County—known as 4Cs, or 4C Council—lost Renales’ case file and fell behind on paperwork. She found out that the publicly funded nonprofit overstated her income by $5,800 a year, understated her family size and miscalculated her subsidy. The agency, which relies on roughly $45 million a year in government funding, has also fallen several thousands of dollars behind on payments to her child care provider, Action Day Primary. … Employees at 4Cs say that at least 100 cases went missing at one point, prompting a manager to order staff to stop what they’re doing and go on a “scavenger hunt” until they found them. Another source say 4Cs is so backlogged that in addition to missing files, there are more than 1,000 unassigned cases. … Last week, a handful of attachés from the California Department of Education (CDE)—the nonprofit’s primary funder—walked into the 4Cs north San Jose headquarters to begin an in-depth audit. … The 4C Council is responsible for subsidizing child care for more than 5,500 children in Silicon Valley. Since last fall, San Jose Inside has reported about the rampant dysfunction, crippling staff turnover, shuttered day cares and missing retirement payments at the 45-year-old agency. New details now indicate that the future of 4Cs—the South Bay’s single largest taxpayer funded nonprofit—grows increasingly uncertain. …

… Under Villaseñor’s leadership, day care centers have closed and families that depend on subsidies fear losing them because 4Cs misses deadlines. Day cares that depend on 4Cs to reimburse them have gone months without getting paid. … Contractors have operated with little oversight, leading to a lawsuit filed earlier this year against 4Cs for allegedly failing to prevent two girls from being sexually assaulted by an employee at one home day care. Despite tens of thousands of children in need of child care, according to a Santa Clara Child Care Needs Assessment, 4Cs struggles to meet enrollment targets and routinely fails to hire enough teachers to meet the one-per-eight student ratio. It’s not for a lack of funding either, as the nonprofit has returned millions of dollars in federal grant money in years past. … Other problems have only come to light because of a protracted battle between employees who voted to unionize. In February, San Jose Inside reported on a retiree’s pension payments being withheld. Two weeks after that story was published and seven months after her last day on the job, the retiree, Gloria Pena, got her first check in the mail. Meanwhile, four sources familiar with the situation say the nonprofit’s attorneys have admitted at the negotiating table that both pension accounts run afoul of federal law. According to union reps, Villaseñor also excluded an entire category of staffers from receiving pensions, misclassifying teachers and their aides as temps even if they worked at 4Cs for several years. …

15 Lawmakers Plotting to Privatize America’s Public Lands

Source: EcoWatch, March 17, 2017

…Despite the irreplaceable value these places hold, in recent years, a concerted effort has been driven forward by certain senators and U.S. representatives to seize, dismantle, destroy and privatize our public lands. These lawmakers are backed by fossil fuel corporations and other extractive industries that already squeeze massive profits out of America’s public lands and only want more. In order to realize this goal, every year these corporations push millions of dollars toward federal lawmakers to motivate them to introduce and pass legislation that would have the effect of either fully privatizing public lands or opening them up to unfettered extraction and development. The Center for Biological Diversity issued a report that analyzed 132 bills that were introduced in the past three congressional sessions, between 2011 and 2016, and identified the lawmakers who authored and cosponsored the greatest number of these bills. The list of “Public Lands Enemies” that emerged includes nine members of the U.S. House of Representatives and six U.S. senators from eight western states: Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

These 15 Public Lands Enemies are:
1. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah)
2. Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah, 1st District)
3. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah)
4. Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz., 4th District)
5. Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.)
6. Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah, 2nd District)
7. Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska, At Large)
8. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.)
9. Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho, 1st District)
10. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah, 3rd District)
11. Rep. Mark Amodei (R-Nev., 2nd District)
12. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska)
13. Rep. Steve Pearce (R-N.M., 2nd District)
14. Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif., 4th District)
15. Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.)

Read full report.

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How Politicians Are Using Taxpayer Money To Fund Their Campaign To Sell Off America’s Public Lands
Source: Matt Lee-Ashley, ThinkProgress, June 18, 2014

…According to a ThinkProgress analysis, the American Lands Council (ALC) — an organization created to help states to claim ownership of federal lands — has collected contributions of taxpayer money from government officials in 18 counties in Utah, 10 counties in Nevada, four counties in Washington, three counties in Arizona, two counties in Oregon, two counties in New Mexico, and one county in Colorado, Idaho, and Wyoming. In total, county-level elected officials have already paid the ALC more than $200,000 in taxpayer money. A list of these counties and their “membership levels” can be seen on the ALC website. Since its inception in 2012, the ALC has been working with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative front group backed by the oil and gas industry and billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, to pass state-level legislation demanding that the federal government turn over federally owned national forests and public lands to Western states. So far, Utah is the only state to have signed a law calling for the seizure of federal lands, but Nevada, Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana have passed bills to study the idea and further action is expected in statehouses during 2015 legislative sessions….