2024 Civil Grand Jury Reports

We celebrate California's Civil Grand Jury session of 2023-2024 with a review of some findings and results from across the state.

PUBLISHED JUL 7, 2024 6:16 P.M.
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In civil grand juries, citizens make sure the actions of California’s local governments add up.

In civil grand juries, citizens make sure the actions of California‚Äôs local governments add up.   Michail Petrov   Shutterstock/standard

One of the civic joys of June is that the civil grand juries in California’s 58 counties are wrapping up their one-year terms and releasing their annual reports. These reports document the grand juries’ investigations into the functions of government agencies operating in their counties, and include their findings and conclusions.

The government entities that are the subject of civil grand jury reports have 60 or 90 days, depending on the type of entity, to respond. Some responses are already filed, and the rest will drift in over the next several weeks.

Civil grand juries are mandated in the California Constitution and Penal Code, and are made up of ordinary citizens who apply to serve and are selected by a panel of judges. This arrangement is designed to give citizens a “watchdog” role in the oversight of local government. Civil grand juries  create an opportunity for local citizens to provide feedback about the working and effectiveness of local government, and can be a means of rooting out corruption or illegal behavior.

What We’re Seeing

Government dysfunction and disarray were discovered in many of the civil grand jury reports, with several notable examples.

The San Joaquin County Civil Grand Jury report on the Tracy City Council leads off with a blistering critique: “The City of Tracy is plagued with a city council that cannot form a civil, cohesive governing body willing to set aside differences and personal agendas for the benefit of City residents.” Ouch.

The same grand jury also released a report faulting the Stockton city council and city government for Brown Act violations, a festering hostile work environment, and a government too influenced by the controversial founder of the infamous 209 Times website. Wow.

Meanwhile, in Santa Clara County, the civil grand jury found the Santa Clara City Council was beset by irreconcilable differences, stating “The broken relationships among the members of the Council and the inability of Councilmembers to work together as a cohesive group have undermined the effective governance of the City.” Oof! 

The same grand jury also found the city had been “outplayed” in its deal to build a stadium for the San Francisco 49ers, leading Santa Clara Mayor Lisa Gilmore to respond on social media with: “We negotiated agreements to protect Santa Clara’s general fund which was a good thing. But we trusted the 49ers ownership to act legally and ethically which was a mistake.” Yikes.

A lack of transparency and accountability was also a recurring theme.

The Sacramento County Civil Grand Jury put a spotlight on the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors giving themselves “a massive 36% salary increase” in a procedure lacking transparency and riddled with math errors. Sketchy.

On a more mundane level, the folks in the Santa Clara County Grand Jury went deep into the weeds of the countywide procurement process, finding deficiencies in record keeping, performance tracking and centralized contract management. This sloppiness leads to making everything take longer than it should, with little accountability. There’s an app for that! Just kidding. Record keeping and accounting across all the departments in a county with a $12.5 billion annual budget is a huge operation with a lot of moving parts. That there is room for improvement is no surprise.

Closer to my home, the Santa Cruz County Civil Grand Jury tried to determine if residents of so-called “inclusionary housing units” meet the low-income requirements that have been stipulated in the municipal code since 1979. But they couldn’t, because “ the City keeps no records, does no tracking, gathers no data, and has no evidence to determine if preference is being given to local residents and local workers when renting Inclusionary Housing units.” Say what?

This is just a small selection of civil grand jury reports from the 2023-2024 session. As this is being written, all 58 California counties are convening civil grand juries for the 2024-2025 session.

How to Get Involved

Civil grand juries present a unique opportunity for California residents to make their local governments work better, and in the citizen’s interest. Consider serving on a civil grand jury.

While the civil grand jury has statutory authority to undertake investigations in local government agencies and report their findings and recommendations, they have no enforcement powers. 

It’s up to local residents, community groups and local newsrooms to be aware of the activities of the local civil grand jury and to follow through with civic action to initiate change in local government when called for.

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