Category Archives: Local elections

KQED News: Benicia considers strengthening campaign finance ordinance against lies and misinformation

Benicia Considers Proposal for City Hall to Fact-Check Political Ads During Elections

KQED News, by Ted Goldberg, October 18
Valero’s oil refinery in the Solano County city of Benicia. (Craig Miller/KQED)

Benicia lawmakers are considering a proposal that could eventually require the city to fact-check political campaign advertisements — a novel response to alleged election misinformation that could face legal scrutiny.

The ordinance comes after a political action committee funded by Valero, the oil giant that runs a refinery in town, tried to influence voters in the last two city council elections. The company’s involvement in city politics also came as the Valero plant experienced two of the region’s worst refinery accidents in the last four years.

The ordinance was co-authored by Mayor Steve Young, whom the Valero PAC opposed in the last election. He said the committee put out ads that manipulated photos of him and distorted his record.

Now, Young said, the city should consider whether its campaign regulations “can be amended to prohibit digital or voice manipulation of images and whether any lying can be prohibited.”

The PAC, dubbed Working Families for a Strong Benicia, raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the 2018 and 2020 city council elections. Both votes revived debate between some city officials and environmentalists on one side, who want more regulations on the refinery, and oil executives and unionized refinery workers on the other, who say they fear the city’s real motivation is to shut the plant down.

In 2018, two candidates backed by the PAC, which is also funded by several labor organizations allied with the refinery, won seats on the Benicia City Council. Another candidate, an environmentalist who was opposed by the committee, lost.

Last year, Young won the mayor’s race despite the PAC’s opposition to his candidacy. The ads said that he was against affordable housing and that he didn’t need a job because he receives a pension from previous local government work.

The mayor said he does want cheaper housing and there’s nothing wrong with receiving a pension. He said Valero’s opposition to him began in 2016, when the Benicia Planning Commission, which Young was a member of, voted to reject the company’s crude-by-rail proposal.

“Steve Young wants to turn Benicia into a place where young families can’t afford to live and work,” one flier stated. “Who would vote against kids playing at the ballpark? Steve Young did,” another one said.

Young and the proposal’s co-author, Councilmember Tom Campbell, said the ads mean the city should do a better job of making sure future elections are fair and honest.

But turning the government into a fact-checking body would be ripe for a legal challenge, according to Jessica Levinson, a Loyola Marymount University professor specializing in election law.

“We know the First Amendment does in fact protect lies,” Levinson said in an interview. “I think this is absolutely open to a legal challenge the second they pass it, if they do.”

“Who decides what’s an embellishment, what’s misleading, what’s just an omission versus what’s actually a lie?” Levinson asked.

Since the 2016 election and the beginning of Donald Trump’s presidency, misinformation has become one of the biggest issues in American politics, said Levinson.

“We are tackling a situation where there are more lies and there’s more technology that allows us to lie than for sure the framers every dreamed of,” she added.

At the same time, the local news industry, which traditionally acts like a fact-checking body, has been decimated. Benicia gets some news coverage but is often overshadowed by larger Bay Area cities like San Francisco and Oakland.

“One of the things that keeps me up at night is not just misinformation and disinformation and the fact that people believe it, but the fact that we have a dwindling press corps and particularly in smaller jurisdictions,” Levinson said.

The details over how the city would fact-check political ads has yet to be worked out. The proposal, set to go before the city council on Tuesday, would forward the issue to Benicia’s Open Government Commission, a body that would consider changing the city’s election campaign regulations. The commission would work on new rules and forward them to the city council next April.

Valero fought with the city’s last mayor, Elizabeth Patterson, after she called for more regulations to be placed on the refinery following a May 2017 power outage that led to a major release of toxic sulfur dioxide and prompted emergency shelter-in-place orders. Less than two years later, the plant had a series of malfunctions that led to another significant pollution release.

Jason Kaune, the PAC’s treasurer and head of political law at Nielsen Merksamer, a Sacramento-based lobbying firm, declined to comment. Representatives for Valero and unions that supported the committee did not respond to requests for comment.

BREAKING: Benicia Recall Effort Falls Far Short

BUSD Trustees Sheri Zada and Mark Maselli retain confidence of Benicia residents

Facebook post, by Alan Zada, August 23, 2021
[Mr. Zada’s source for this was a phone conversation with Laura King of the Solano County Registrar of Voters office at 5pm today.]

The Benicia School Board recall against Sheri Schulman Zada and Mark Maselli is dead.  The deadline to submit the signatures was today.  The proponents of this uncalled for recall effort were only able to get 177 signatures out of the required 4,000 (only 4%).

Thank you everyone that stood up against bullying of two outstanding school board members.

Alan Zada
Benicia

Solano Police Lieutenant will not challenge Sheriff Tom Ferrara in 2022

Fairfield police lieutenant pulls out of race for Solano County sheriff

Vallejo Times-Herald, by Kimberly K. Fu, 
Fairfield police Lt. Dan Marshall

Nearly a month after declaring his sophomore run for Solano County sheriff, Fairfield police Lt. Dan Marshall has announced he’s pulling his candidacy.

To put it simply, it’s all about family.

“I just started rethinking things,” he said by phone Wednesday. “My daughters are going to be home for another year and then they’re off to college, and I got to spend time with my son… You can’t get time back.”

When he announced his candidacy, Marshall was more than ready to hit the campaign trail. Both sons, who serve in the military, were away at different bases at the time. But recently, one son was home on leave and they spent ample time together before the young man left for Hawaii, where he will be stationed for the next three years

Their time together gave him pause.

With his adult sons on their own and his daughters about to embark on their own journeys, the timing for political aspirations no longer seemed appropriate, he advised. And so, after lengthy conversations with his family, he pulled the plug on his run.

Politics, he said, are not in his near future.

“I would never say no,” he emphasized, “(But) Right now I’m going to focus on my family and my career with the Fairfield Police Department and on community service.”

He offered thanks to all of his supporters and promised to continue to serve the community in other ways.

Marshall has been with the Fairfield Police Department for 22 years.

His stated goals for his sheriff’s bid included “solving serious crimes, finding solutions to intractable problems like homelessness and recidivism, and implementing reforms to promote transparency and ethics within the office.”

The lieutenant had aimed to be a “new sheriff for a new era, someone with the energy and passion to steer the office into a 21st century law enforcement model, focusing on public trust and transparency, employee wellness, and a strong Solano community focus.”

Solano Sheriff to seek reelection, despite controversy

JohnGlidden.com, by Scott Morris, May 28, 2021
Solano County Sheriff Tom Ferrara. (Courtesy Elect Thomas A. Ferrara Sheriff-Coroner 2022).

VALLEJO – Solano County Sheriff Tom Ferrara announced on Friday that he would run for reelection in 2022, seeking another four-year term after 10 years in the position.

Ferrara has faced recent controversy after it was revealed that several deputies posted symbols of the Three Percenter anti-government militia on social media. Ferrara declined to investigate the extent of extremism in his department, falsely said the FBI cleared the deputies of association with extremist groups, and has faced calls for new oversight of his office.

In a video message posted on Facebook Friday morning, Ferrara touted the support of the deputies’ union and the correctional officers’ union. “Now more than ever Solano County needs proven leadership,” Ferrara said. “I have shown this type of leadership through multiple disasters, civil unrest and the pandemic, which we’ve all experienced in the last few years.”

Ferrara was appointed sheriff in 2012 after his predecessor retired. He won his first election unopposed in 2014 and fended off challenges from sheriff’s Deputy Daryl Snedeker and Fairfield police Lt. Dan Marshall in 2018.

But Ferrara has faced political controversy and protest in recent months after an investigative report revealed that three high-profile members of his staff had openly displayed Three Percenter emblems on social media pages.

They included Sgt. Roy Stockton, a Vacaville councilmember who was endorsed by Ferrara, Sgt. Cully Pratt, the department’s former public information officer, SWAT team member Sgt. Ty Pierce, and Deputy Dale Matsuoka, the department’s homeless outreach coordinator.

In response to the revelations, Ferrara said in a statement that the employees named “all serve this agency and this community with passion and dedication.”

Ferrara argued that the deputies had intended to show support for the 2nd Amendment, but Three Percenter groups often call for violent resistance to the federal government if they interpret restrictions on gun possession as against their interpretation of the Constitution. Three Percenter groups have been implicated in bombing and kidnapping plots and the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

The sheriff later defended the deputies by writing in letters to Benicia Black Lives Matter and the Solano County Democratic Central Committee that he “consulted with the FBI, who confirmed none of my employees are members of any extremist organizations.”

But the FBI disputed Ferrara’s statement, saying that it did not track participation in extremist groups nor is it “sufficient basis for an FBI investigation.”

Unsatisfied by the sheriff’s response, members of Benicia Black Lives Matter have called for the Solano County Board of Supervisors to create an oversight board of the sheriff’s office.

But only Supervisor Monica Brown supported even discussing the suggestion. Meanwhile, the Solano County Republicans have organized in opposition to any new oversight.

Benicia Black Lives Matter has continued to protest the sheriff’s office, including staging a rally outside the sheriff’s office on the anniversary of the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.


Scott Morris is an independent journalist in Oakland covering policing, protest and civil rights. If you appreciate his work please consider making a contribution.