As Governor Jerry Brown touted California’s environmental initiatives and prodded world leaders in Paris to embrace tougher environmental policies during the United Nations summit on climate change, it was instructive to look back at how one of Brown’s top environmental priorities suffered a major defeat in the California Legislature this year.
That priority was to establish a 50 percent reduction in petroleum usage in cars and trucks by 2030. Brown’s failure to win its passage in an overwhelmingly Democratic Legislature clearly illustrates not only the influence of the fossil fuel lobby, but also the continued rise of a new breed of Democrats who are exceedingly attentive to big business, while tone-deaf toward their party’s traditional progressive base.
Petroleum reduction was a key part of a proposed law, introduced as Senate Bill 350, which also called for steps to increase energy efficiency in existing buildings and require that 50 percent of California’s energy come from renewable sources,
Paul Duncan, a battalion chief with California’s state firefighting agency, was at home in Northern California enjoying a day off on September 12 when he got the message: A wildfire was burning on Cobb Mountain, about a dozen miles away from Hidden Valley Lake, where he lived with his wife and two daughters.
Duncan, 46, decided to leave and help knock down the blaze because he knew the fire unit in the area was already short-staffed from putting out on another conflagration. Besides, his nearly 30 years of experience persuaded him there was no way a fire burning on a mountain to the west could burn down to the valley floor and then race eastward to threaten the Duncans’ home.
His optimism was short lived. Upon arriving on Cobb Mountain Duncan got some troubling news. The fire he was fighting was heading toward his family.
Lucy Dunn has a message for Republican lawmakers: Approve new revenue now to fix California’s decaying highway and bridge system or face severe economic consequences that will be felt throughout the state for decades.
Dunn is no big-spending liberal and you won’t find a Proud to Be Union bumper sticker on her car. In fact, she’s president of the influential Orange County Business Council and a card-carrying Republican. But to Dunn, funding long-neglected transportation maintenance and repairs is an existential issue for California’s business community.
“If you can’t move people and goods on safe roads and bridges, you cannot do business in the state,” Dunn tells Capital & Main.
This fundamental lesson was brought to urgent life in July, when a bridge collapsed along Interstate 10 during heavy rains,
Hopes were high among environmentalists when a bill designed to protect California’s drinking water was introduced in the state Assembly earlier this year. After all, California has passed some of the most far-reaching environmental laws and regulations in the nation, and the state legislature is dominated by the Democratic Party, whose members are generally inclined to vote for tougher environmental standards. Moreover, California is in the midst of a massive drought, which gave the bill more urgency. And besides, clean water isn’t a threatened desert flower or endangered minnow – it’s something everyone depends on for existence.
It never had a chance.
The measure, Assembly Bill 356 (Das Williams, D-Carpinteria), was intended to protect underground sources of drinking water from oil and gas wastewater disposal and enhanced oil recovery treatments, and called for monitoring near certain injection wells. That immediately put it in the crosshairs of the most powerful oil interests in California,
Yoel Matute had worked at a Santa Monica car wash for seven years and was upset because he believed he wasn’t being paid for all the hours he worked. So in 2012 he decided to sue in court to recover his wages.
Matute soon got an unwelcome surprise. His employer attempted to enforce an arbitration agreement – an agreement Matute didn’t even know he had signed — preventing him from filing a lawsuit. Instead, the agreement mandated that the dispute be heard in arbitration, an out-of-court process that generally favors employers over workers like Matute.
When he had originally applied for his job Matute was handed what he thought was a work application. Some parts of the document were in Spanish, others in English. Matute, who is from Honduras and can read little Spanish and virtually no English, was given just a few minutes to review it, and he did not understand any of the sections in English.
“That can’t be,” Alma Gutierrez said, shaking her head.
“Why not?” Hank Dixon shot back. “It makes money for the university and they get to, you know, what do you call it they do in college … field work, I guess you’d say.”
The two were standing in the laundry room of the Eden Arms. Dixon was installing a new drive belt on one of the dryers. She’d been walking by and he’d called her inside. The handyman continued, “Look, I’m not saying this is for sure, since it comes secondhand.”
“But this man, this gambling friend of your nephew is a lawyer?” The widow Gutierrez didn’t approve of card playing or betting on the horses. Her deceased husband had a gambling habit and more than once had lost the rent money chasing the ponies or doubling down in blackjack.
“Yeah,” Dixon answered while continuing his repair work.
“Ain’t that about nothing,” Macy Farmdale said. “Nine to zip, including the so-called liberals.” She shook her head. “What chance does the working woman have, I ask you.”
Jess Dixon said, “It’s all about keeping the big conveyor belt going, Macy. Us peasants have no choice but to fight and scrabble each day for our rice and beans.”
“Sheeet,” her friend sneered.
The two chuckled mirthlessly. They lamented the recent Supreme Court ruling wherein employees were expected to go through their end of shift security screenings on their own time—no matter if it took five minutes or half an hour.
Farmdale leaned across the lunch table toward the other woman. “This is why we need a union,” she whispered. She leaned back and had more of her chicken salad sandwich.
Jess hunched her shoulders. “That wouldn’t change the ruling. I bet them unions filed, you know,
“Man, what can I do?” DeMarkus Williamson paced, hands on his hips, head down. He was dressed in oversized basketball shorts and a tee.
“Teaflake doesn’t strike me as the forgiving sort.” Little Joe said. “But then again, you didn’t steal his money. He’s a logical cat.”
“Still,” the young man said, gesturing with his hands. “It was my girl that done it, and like he’s gonna believe I wasn’t in on it.”
“How much are we talking about?”
“She made off with a shade over twelve grand. Settin’ me up to be the chump.”
“Shit,” Little Joe said, whistling.
The two were in a rear bedroom in a clapboard house in Richmond. Out a translucent-curtained window, the metal spires of the century-old Chevron refinery could be seen in the near distance. Recently the progressives in the city, outspent mightily to the tune of $3 million by Big Oil backing its hand-picked candidates,
Little Joe had two cowboys, two kings and there was a third king face up on the table. They were playing Texas Hold’em and it had turned up on the flop—the first three cards laid down with two more to go. These were the common cards each player could try and make a hand. In Hold’em, you could play only one card of your two down ones or, if everybody had crap, all could play the five that eventually wound up in the middle of the table. At the moment, his three kings was a pretty good hand to have.
“I’ll see you fifty and I’ll bump it fifty,” Joanie Kriss said confidently. Of the three cards face up on deck, two were clubs. That might mean she had two clubs of her own and was chasing the fifth card in suit to make a flush … or was bluffing. The stakes were not Vegas level;
The two uniformed cops from Southwest Station who’d remained behind stood off to one side as residents of the Eden Arms and their neighbors continued to speculate about the shooting. Various theories were voiced but there was agreement of a sort on some facts derived from the eyewitnesses. A late model Toyota, or it could have been a Honda, rounded the far corner at a normal rate of speed. The vehicle slowed as it approached mid-block where the Arms was located. A smoked passenger window slid down some and a barrel of a gun was then rested on the window. Blam, blam, blam went the gunfire and the car roared away. The odd thing was, the weapon didn’t seem aimed at the few pedestrians around. Rather it seemed to be pointed upward.
The cops speculated the bullet that took out the window to the laundry room was a ricochet, possibly off the metal casing of the switch box on one of the telephone poles.
When I saw the subject line, “sad, sad news,” this past Monday from fellow mystery writer Reed Farrel Coleman, I figured it was to alert us in the mystery community of the passing of one of our elderly members. It damn near knocked me to the floor when I opened the email to read of the sudden passing of Jeff Fisher, the illustrator Reed first introduced me to several years ago — Jeff who played basketball and was my age.
Jeff had been doing the illustrations for “The Dixon Family Chronicles” webserial here on Capital & Main until his untimely death. He was a tall, gregarious guy and when we met that only time he was out here on the West Coast, we immediately hit it off.
Jeff struck me as a man who loved life and observed it to inform the drawings and illustrations he’d do – capturing those quirks of human expression and body language.
“Let me say again, we are not there yet. I’m not here to sell you a 50-inch HD flatscreen around the corner for a hundred bucks.” The youthful organizer grinned warmly, her eyes shining behind a pair of stylish eyeglasses. “Since its inception, this company, this giant octopus you all work for, has successfully fought off any effort to organize. Not just shop floor wide, but sector by sector. Make no mistake, we’re talking about a long, protracted struggle.”
Jess Dixon appreciated the woman’s honesty. She figured she wasn’t the only one who’d read on the Internet about the recent loss the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers had trying to organize some of the company’s tech and maintenance workers at a facility back east.
“Even in Germany,” the organizer continued, “which is a heavily unionized workforce, you have workers lining up behind the anti-union bandwagon for fear of their jobs going elsewhere.
“Hello again,” a familiar female said to Little Joe, who stood ready for flight or fight on the sidewalk. The woman who spoke leaned out of the Escalade’s open rear door. The pearl black vehicle had stopped near him on the street.
He frowned, recognition blossoming. She’d been the one with Teaflake at the burrito joint. He came closer so as to get a better look inside the SUV. “Hello yourself.” There was only her and a bald-headed driver. Well at least it wasn’t Teaflake, he reflected—though it could be one of his enforcers. He remained wary.
“Can I give you a lift?”
“Is this a rubout?” he said, only half-joking.
She laughed heartily. “You’ve been watching too many of those Jimmy Cagney movies.”
The woman was charming and his curiosity was getting the better of his apprehension. What the hell, he concluded. Dressed in slacks and a ribbed top,
Juanita Evers and Hank Dixon walked into the Mercado La Paloma on Grand at a little past one in the afternoon. The main building had been a garment factory but was now turned into an open space of mom and pop shops. There was one featuring Oaxacan handmade curios, a sports gear seller and various ethnic-style eateries. The place had been developed by a nonprofit.
“How about over there?” Juanita said, pointing to a stall offering Thai food tucked back in a corner of the expanse.
“Okay by me,” Dixon replied. “I could stand some spicy chow.”
They ordered and sat at a nearby table. He said, “You really think the congresswoman can help us?”
“She’s very interested in what the university does and wants it to do right by her constituents.” Juanita was a field deputy for Congresswoman Karen Nelson, whose district included the Eden Arms where Dixon lived.
Night. In this version of the dream, the truck fishtails through the curtain of smoke and flame. Off to the right of her MRAP, the water tanker’s metal skin has split open, sending the liquid treasure everywhere. She watches in stutter shutter clicks as the vehicle’s driver fights to keep that bad boy under control, at the same time zig-zagging past the bombed, burning panel truck.
Corporal Jess Dixon is up top manning the M2 machine gun in the open turret. She swings the weapon about in tight arcs on greased ball bearings, sighting down, wishing for a target as she fires blind. The water tanker hits a slick of burning oil and, brakes screeching, flips, and tons of steel go into a slide. Over her headpiece, not the crackle of her CO, but Whitney Houston singing “It’s Not Right, But It’s Okay.” The armored vehicle clips the tanker, but that ain’t no thing,
When New York rapper Jay-Z played the Rose Bowl last summer, he surprised 90,000 concertgoers by making a political statement. Before launching into his hit “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem),” he urged fans to vote for a California ballot initiative that would dramatically reduce the state’s prison population and re-direct money into education and treatment programs.
“Prop 47, California! Build more schools, less prisons!” he exhorted.
A few weeks later, two other public figures delivered a similar rap, albeit in a different forum. In a Los Angeles Times op-ed piece, Newt Gingrich, the Republican politician, and B. Wayne Hughes Jr., a conservative Christian businessman, similarly urged Californians to end bloated spending on prisons and reverse tough-on-crime policies that they say have failed to significantly improve public safety. Among other things, Gingrich and Hughes pointed out that California now spends $62,396 per prisoner each year,
“Son of a . . . ”
Splitting a knuckle open, Jess Dixon grunted through gritted teeth. Working to get the rusted wheel nut loose, it had come undone too fast as she wrenched on the tire iron. Her hand banged onto the edge of the wheel well.
Ignoring the pain, she hurried and got done removing the slashed tire and put the spare on and secured it in place on the hub. The spare was not in good shape, worn smooth on one side, the steel belt underneath just about exposed. She didn’t dig her job but she couldn’t be losing it either.
She got her car going and drove to work, hoping she wouldn’t have a blowout on the lousy tire. Because she got up early each morning, and knew how to change a tire and a few other car repairs from her Uncle Hank showing her,
Throughout 2011 and 2012, the eyes of the education world were focused on Adelanto, a small, working class town in California’s High Desert. A war had broken out there over the future of the K-6 Desert Trails Elementary School and its 660 low-income Latino and African-American students. When the dust settled, Desert Trails Elementary was gone. In its place was a bitterly divided community and the Desert Trails Preparatory Academy, the first (and so far, only) school in California and the U.S. to be fully chartered under a Parent Trigger law, which allows a simple majority of a school’s parents to wrest control of a low-performing school from a public school district, and transform it into a charter school.
Tiny Adelanto’s turmoil reflects a much larger battle now being fought across America between defenders of traditional public education and a self-described reform movement whose partisans often favor the privatization and deregulation of education.
Whether or not Parent Trigger represents a bold frontier in the movement to privatize the nation’s public education system, its implementation in California’s High Desert does bear some of the freewheeling aspects of the old Wild West.
Particularly when it comes to accountability and due process. Where do parents or teachers blow the whistle if they suspect a charter school is violating education code or the promises made to students in its own chartering language?
In California, the chartering school district has the statutory authority, and arguably the responsibility, to investigate violations of the law and of the school’s charter. Under Education Code §47607, it may revoke a school’s charter if the school violates the law or violates the conditions set forth in its charter.
Eight former Desert Trails teachers have emphasized to Capital & Main that it was only after frustrated parents told them that Parent Revolution said they were on their own in working out any grievances directly with Desert Trails that the teachers stepped in and took their own allegations of code and charter violations to the school’s chartering authority,