Panel sees good response to its views on issues
By Adrian Rodriguez
The Marin County Civil Grand Jury says officials are making progress on its past recommendations to prepare forwildfires, address the youth vaping epidemic and other key issues.
The assessment came in a new grand jury report that updates the results of its 2018-19 session. The panel’s inquiries last year also included topics such as addressing transportation to and from SMART train stations; improving school safety with more resource officers; abolishing the Marin Telecommunications Agency; improving municipal agency transparency and improving career technical education opportunities at high schools.
The new report is at bit. ly/39I8qWb.
The grand jury, an investigative arm empowered by the local judiciary, made the recommendation to form a countywide fire prevention agency after the devastating fires that ravaged California in 2017 and 2018. Since that report, fire officials have formed the Marin Wildfire Protection Authority. Tiburon and Belvedere declined to join. County voters also passed the Measure C parcel tax, which is expected to collect at least $200 million over 10 years, to fund the authority and fireprevention efforts. “The grand jury report helped to mobilize Marin’s voters and public agencies around the common cause of addressing the wildfire threat,” the watchdog panel said in its new report.
Marin County fire Chief Jason Weber said, “The grand jury certainly highlighted what Marinfire chiefs have been discussing for years.” He called it “a community-driven process.”
Regarding the youth vaping epidemic, the grand jury said nationwide reports of deaths linked to the devices served as a catalyst to move recommendations forward.
Since its report on youth vaping, the Marin County Office of Education made 18 presentations on vaping prevention and cessation and established 17 school site coordinators at county high schools and middle schools, the grand jury reported.
Vaping detectors were also installed at three high schools in the Tamalpais Union High School District, the grand jury said.
“The grand jury certainly gave us a bit of a boost to bring the issues to a priority level,” said Bob Curry, the head of the county’s tobacco-related disease program and a staff liaison for the Smoke-Free Marin Coalition.
In addition, county officials were busy successfully seeking approval for more strict tobacco- related policies, including flavor bans, Curry said.
The grand jury recognized that Fairfax recently updated its flavor ban to include menthol, and Novato is poised to consider a similar ban.
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All other Marin jurisdictions have already approved the prohibitions.
In its one-year update report, the grand jury said the Marin Telecommunications Agency board voted unanimously to dissolve the agency, a move the jurors had recommended.
When it came to transparency concerns, the grand jury said, the recommendations “were not fully addressed by agency responses.”
The grand jury has recommended that there be a website with a comprehensive list of all Marin jurisdictions, special districts and joint powers along with financial information on salaries for officers and employees.
“The 2019—2020 Grand Jury agrees that this remains an area where public transparency is lacking, and it was not satisfiedwith the response of Marin’s local agencies to this recommendation,” the report said.
Regarding its recommendations to increase vocational education, the grand jury reported that programs have been enhanced with better opportunities for students and parents, with improved training and counseling. As for Sonoma-Marin Area Rapid Transit, the grand jury said the service “has made modest progress on recommendations to develop plans for getting passengers to and from its stations and develop a transfer system between its Larkspur station and the Larkspur ferry terminal.”
The Transportation Authority of Marin is using grant money to study the ferry terminal connection, working with the city of Larkspur and Golden Gate Transit, the grand jury reported.
SMART has also developed discounts through the rideshare service Lyft, a pilot program for electric bikes and ticket packages for riders, the jury said.
“We’re very appreciative of the work of the Marin County Civil Grand Jury and the recommendations they bring forward,” Novato Councilman Eric Lucan, who is on the boards of SMART, Marin Transit and TAM.
“When you look at the recommendations, it was really addressed to all of the transportation organizations,” he said. “We are all working together to ensure we are creating a transportation network that works seamlessly to get riders to and from their locations and destinations.”