Interim Chancellor promises a more thorough vetting before contracts are finalized

December 15, 2020

By David Rowe, Copy Editor/Staff Writer

Despite concerns expressed about the new Peralta safety plan, the board of trustees unanimously approved contracts for Zulu Community Protection and Marina Security Services at its special meeting on December 14. 

Newly-elected board president Cindy Napoli-Abella Reiss recused herself from the vote for Community Ready Corps (CRC), the third security firm under consideration, since she “endorsed, supported, and donated to” the organization and its former CEO, Carroll Fife, who recently won a seat on the Oakland City Council. The $2.1 million CRC contract was approved without opposition by the rest of the board. 

Prior to the vote, new board vice president, Nicky Gonzalez Yuen, asked Interim Chancellor Carla Walter if the administration is “adequately assured that the vendors that we’re using…have met all the necessary licensing requirements and other legal requirements to engage in the public contract that we’re about to vote on.”

Walter assured the board that “we have done the appropriate due diligence, we’ve checked each of the contractors’ backgrounds and their readiness for completing this work.” 

Walter admitted, however, that the district had not yet confirmed such items as workers’ compensation and insurance, which she described as “the next step” in the process. Over the next two days, she explained, Peralta will send “a checklist of all the things that [the new vendors] need to provide the district to cover the assurances that we need to make sure that they are ready.”

New Trustee Dyana Delfín Polk asked Walter if there is a “plan B’ should one or more of the vendors not meet the district’s standards. Walter said she “felt very strongly that a Plan B won’t be necessary” but will check back with the board to “discuss what possibilities are available” should that situation arise.

As reported in The Citizen earlier this week, security firms in California are required to have a private patrol officer (PPO) license issued by the California Bureau of Security and Investigative Services (BSIS). While Marina and A1 Protective Services, which provides security services at Berkeley City College, both appear on a license database search tool with PPO licenses, The Citizen was not able to find them for CRC or Zulu.  

The Peralta contracts for Zulu and Marina both stipulate that the firms must have PPO licenses. Interestingly, that requirement was omitted from the contract for CRC. The Citizen asked Mark Johnson, Peralta district spokesperson, about this detail, but he has not yet responded. 

In an email exchange with Robert Dabney, the owner and CEO of Zulu, he informed The Citizen his firm is working out a relationship with a subcontractor who holds a PPO license and he believed this will satisfy the Peralta requirement. The Citizen asked BSIS spokesperson, Michelle Cave, if this arrangement meets state guidelines but she was unable to provide a definitive answer without more information. 

The higher than anticipated cost for the security plan and the absence of a mental health component also raised concerns at the meeting. The total annual cost for the three security contracts is $6.2 million compared to $3.8 million for the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO), an increase of $2.4 million. There was some confusion on this point, since the Zulu contract showed two different amounts. The district negotiated a separate three-year contract with A1 Protective Services in November 2019 for approximately $1 million per year.  

The current contract with ASCO runs out on December 31, leaving only two weeks to complete the transition over the holidays. 

Increased mental health services for students was a critical element of the “Action Plan for Holistic Safety and Wellness for the Peralta Community Colleges and District” approach advocated for by the faculty, student and classified professional group called  Black Minds Matter at Peralta. While it was not affordable as part of the initial plan, Yuen said “we’re coming back to deal with mental health” and asked Walter to provide a more comprehensive overall budget.  

Trustee Bill Withrow, who expressed hope the new security plan could save money when he spoke at The Citizen Trustee Candidate Forum in September, said the district will “have to find ways to cut back” to cover the increased costs or it may ”wake up next year and say ‘we’re out of money.’”  Withrow reiterated his support of community policing but also expressed concern about “crime coming in from the sidelines” at the Peralta campuses. 

New Trustee Kevin Jenkins, attending his first meeting as a voting member, asked Walter what metrics will be used to measure success when the contracts are up for renewal at the end of 2021. Jenkins also expressed a desire for meetings to be held between the new contractors and the stakeholders at the Peralta colleges before the new arrangement goes into effect on January 1. He acknowledged “there are tremendous concerns about the transition and the quickness that it is happening.”

Walter said such meetings would need to be held next week due to the holiday vacation schedule.  While she did not rule it out, she suggested it might be “more beneficial” to hold the meetings early next year. 

As a result of coverage in The Citizen, KTVU-TV, local Fox affiliate, ran a story on the Peralta security plan in its evening newscast on December 15 featuring reporter Henry Lee.