Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Bring Back the Blotter!

Two years ago, the Hayward Police Department joined the public safety website Nixle. Each week, the department would post a blotter to the Nixle platform. It provided an informative description of recent criminal activity, the corresponding police response, and the outcome.

In March of this year the regular posting of the blotter abruptly stopped with a promise that it would return three weeks later in a new and improved format. Two months have now passed since it was supposed to have returned.

(Message posted to Nixle by Hayward PD in March)

When I inquired to staff as to what was going on, I was told that the blotter was discontinued because it was thought that it cast Hayward in a bad light. It would return when it could be figured out how to present the information in way that didn't reflect so negatively on the city.

Huh? This doesn't really seem to jibe with the PD's previous message. But if what I was told is true, we're probably in for a long wait. How do you put a happy face on criminal activity?

CrimeMapping.com still appears to be updated by the department. But with descriptions of only one or two words in length, the information is hardly useful or interesting. What's more, this kind of limited reporting actually does make the city look bad, because it only indicates widespread criminal activity and not successful policing in the form of identifying suspects and making arrests.

To be useful to residents and businesses (and therefore the department itself), the reporting should be detailed and accurate without any unnecessary censorship or spin. It should also include mug shots like those included in the Union City Police Blotter. Geo-referencing the information to an interactive map is also nice, but without a truly descriptive narrative it is of little value.

Please bring back the blotter.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Free photovoltaic systems for qualified homeowners

Last month, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that some low-income homeowners are eligible to receive free solar arrays that typically cost $15,000 or more. According to the article, the generous giveaway is made possible through a California program managed by Grid Alternatives, an Oakland based, non-profit company.

Upon browsing the Grid Alternatives website, I was confused to find program eligibility requirements that apparently differed from those mentioned in the article. While I personally wouldn't qualify under the requirements of either list, I wondered how anyone could if the requirements of both needed to be satisfied. So out of curiosity, I decided to contact the company to find out more.

As it turns out, Grid Alternatives purchases and installs solar panels using subsidies acquired through multiple State programs having different qualifications. Depending on a client's particular situation, the company will seek funding from the appropriate source.

Of course, "appropriate" is a subjective term. Some argue that none of this is appropriate, since it all appears to be a questionable gift of public funds.

Whatever the case, it is what it is. So I figured I'd just share what I've learned for those who might be able to take advantage of the opportunities while they last.

The two programs currently worth trumpeting are the Single-family Affordable Solar Homes (SASH) program and the Low Income Weatherization Program. The SASH program is the more established of the two (for photovoltaics) and the one most prominently featured on the Grid Alternative's website at the time of this posting. The Low Income Weatherization program is the one highlighted by the Chronicle article.

The common fundamental prerequisites for both programs are:

  1) The homeowner must live in the home, and
  2) The household must earn no more than 80-percent of the area median income (AMI)
        (based on the previous year's tax return).

For those living in Alameda County, the income limits are as follows:


Single-family Affordable Solar Homes (SASH) Program

The Single-family Affordable Solar Homes or SASH program is a solar incentive program intended to fully or partially subsidize the installation of a photovoltaic system for low-income homeowners. It's offered through the California Solar Initiative (CSI) and is overseen by the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC). The program has a budget of $108.3-million and is managed by Grid Alternatives on the PUC's behalf.

In addition to the common requirements previously described, this program requires that the home be classified as "affordable housing" as defined by the Public Utilities Code 2852.

If not, the home should otherwise be located in a qualified census tract. In Hayward, current qualifying census tracts include those shaded in green and blue on the map below. These can change from year-to-year; so what qualifies this year may not in future years and vice-versa. (This census tract qualifier is a new one that was recently approved by the State and is not listed on Grid Alternative's website at the time of this posting.)

Blue and green shaded area = Currently eligible census tracts in 2015.
Purple shaded area = Previously eligible census tracts, but no longer.


Low Income Weatherization Program

The Low Income Weatherization Program has traditionally disbursed funds to organizations like Hayward's Spectrum Community Services for repairing or replacing inefficient, energy consuming appliances and systems in low income households.  But thanks to the greenhouse gas-reduction funds generated by California's Cap-and-Trade Program, it now also provides money for Grid Alternatives to install photovoltaic systems for low income homeowners.

While the Weatherization Program currently has a smaller budget than the SASH program, the funding windfall generated by cap-and-trade, together with a legislated minimum allocation requirement, suggest that this program will potentially offer greater opportunities in the future.

In addition to the common fundamental requirements previously described, this program requires that the home be located in a disadvantaged community. A disadvantaged community is an area disproportionately burdened by environmental pollution and socioeconomic issues as established by the California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA), In Hayward, this is the red shaded area on the map below.

Only Hayward's western most neighborhoods have been assigned this designation. This is obviously based upon a recognition that these neighborhoods are primarily disadvantaged by their proximity to the Russell City Energy Center. Strangely, however, the delineated boundary doesn't appear completely rational or fair. While the area includes the Eden Shores Community, where some homes are currently valued at over a million dollars, the boundary appears to deliberately exclude the more economically depressed neighborhood portions surrounding Mt Eden Park. These excluded portions are closer to the power plant, are clearly at a greater disadvantage, and are seemingly more suitable candidates of current and future offers of assistance in terms of program requirements and objectives.

Future boundary changes are possible, according to CalEPA. Therefore, it should be incumbent upon the City Council and Assemblyman Bill Quirk to lobby hard for the proper expansion of the disadvantaged area. Considering that they didn't offer any resistance to locating the offending pollution source in the community in the first place, it's the least they can do now. 

Red shading represents a disadvantaged area that potentially  qualifies low-income homeowners
for free or greatly discounted photvoltaic systems.

If all of this seems a bit convoluted, that's because it is. These are multifaceted bureaucratic programs with evolving rules and conditions. Be sure to contact Grid Alternatives if you think you qualify or are otherwise uncertain. As the programs' adminstrator/contractor, only they can definitively determine and correctly explain how they might be able to assist.