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.
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,
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,
OAKLAND – The growing nationwide movement by cities and counties to raise the minimum wage is currently centered here in the Bay Area, and its success couldn’t be more urgent for workers like John Jones III.
Jones, 40, is a licensed aircraft mechanic but works as a Burger King security guard in downtown Oakland, making $10 an hour — $1 more than California’s minimum wage. His life is a series of financial challenges and daily indignities as he struggles to support his wife D’Nita, his 12-year-old son Kai and his newborn boy, Josiah.
To take a shower in his apartment, Jones has to use pliers to turn on the water because the knobs are broken. He can’t complain to his landlord because he’s behind on the rent. When his family runs out of toilet paper, Jones cuts paper towels into quarters to save a few bucks. He covers the windows in his bedroom with blankets because he can’t afford curtains.
The latest sign that the nation’s 14-year romance with the for-profit cyber charter industry might be cooling came last week when the Board of Trustees for Pennsylvania’s scandal-plagued Agora Cyber Charter School discussed completely severing its relationship with K12 Inc., the nation’s largest for-profit cyber charter management and curriculum supplier.
The action came nearly three weeks after an August 5 vote by Agora’s board to not renew its management contract with the online learning giant beginning with the 2015-16 school year.
Agora had been the jewel of K12’s 29-state network of virtual charters, accounting for 14 percent of the company’s annual revenues of $848.2 million. So when news of the August 5 decision came to light during an August 14 K12 Fourth Quarter investor conference call, it sent K12’s high-performing stock into a nearly 13-point tailspin. The call-in’s moment of revelation can be heard here:
A consumer-rights bill that would require upholstered-furniture manufacturers to clearly disclose whether furniture sold in California contains flame-retardant chemicals recently received a huge boost when furniture manufacturers dropped their opposition to the measure and decided to support it. Senate Bill 1019, which is backed by firefighters, environmentalists and consumer protection advocates, is being bitterly fought by the chemical industry, whose campaign against regulation and clear public disclosure of flame-retardant chemicals is reminiscent of Big Tobacco’s fight against government controls.
The furniture makers, however, switched sides after state Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) agreed to an amendment clarifying the definition of flame retardants.
“AHFA [the American Home Furnishings Alliance] and principal members of the furniture coalitions withdraw our opposition of the bill pursuant to the inclusion of the amendments agreed upon to define flame retardant chemicals and offer this letter of support for S1019,” Bill Perdue, AHFA’s vice president for regulatory affairs,
Whether California consumers will continue to enjoy the convenience — and suffer the environmental guilt — of toting their groceries in free, disposable plastic shopping bags may be decided on Thursday.
That’s when Senate Bill 270, the latest version of a statewide measure that would phase out single-use plastic bags in California’s grocery and convenience stores, pharmacies and liquor stores, comes up for a full floor vote in the state Assembly. The bill, which also mandates a 10-cent charge for paper bags, was introduced in February by state Senators Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) and Ricardo Lara (D-Long Beach).
If it survives Thursday’s Assembly vote and is signed by the governor, it will make California the first state in the nation to adopt a ban even as it replaces 86 local bag ban ordinances covering more than 115 cities and counties — including San Francisco,
As Sacramento shifts into its August overdrive this week, three key health care reforms have been attracting fierce lobbying attacks by business interests and the hospital and health insurance industries, to keep them from advancing out of the Senate Appropriations Committee for floor votes. August 31 is the deadline for the full Assembly and state Senate to pass any bills destined for the governor’s desk.
AB 1522, known unofficially as the Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act, was introduced by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) with the support of the California Labor Federation. It would make California, after Connecticut, the second state to require employers to provide paid sick leave for all of its workers. (The California Labor Federation is a financial supporter of Capital & Main.)
AB 503, the proposed hospital charity care law, introduced by Assemblymen Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont) and Rob Bonta (D-Oakland),
One night last year, as the public debate about economic inequality began to sharpen, California State Senator Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord) was walking to the Berkeley premiere of a documentary film focused on that very subject. Inequality for All, narrated by former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich, had been executive-produced by the man DeSaulnier was walking with that evening, Stephen M. Silberstein. At the time, DeSaulnier was casting about for ways to attack economic inequality and during their walk Silberstein, a software entrepreneur and philanthropist, mentioned an idea he’d been working on to help tackle the problem.
Until the 1980s, corporate CEOs were paid 30 times the amount the average worker received, but today, according to some conservative estimates, they make about 330 times that. What if, Silberstein proposed, state corporate taxes were tied to a company’s annual CEO compensation relative to its employees’ wages? DeSaulnier liked what he heard and so,
It might surprise many to learn that business people all over America have joined the fight against economic inequality. Here are 10 notable, wealthy individuals who have advocated for ending tax cuts on the rich and increasing programs for the poor:
Jon Coupal is nothing if not blunt when he describes one motive behind a Ventura County ballot measure that would replace the “defined benefit” pensions currently enjoyed by county employees and replace them with 401(k)-type plans for all future hires.
“This is meant to be a template for other counties,” Coupal tells Capital & Main. By that, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association’s president means the measure’s conservative and libertarian backers see the “Sustainable Retirement System Initiative” as the newest and most promising weapon in their assault on California’s public employee retirement plans. Having failed to place similar measures on state ballots in 2012 and 2014, a coalition of wealthy individuals, anti-tax activists and government privatizers has seized on an aspect of California law that allows 20 counties to fashion their own public employee retirement policies apart from the CalPERS system that administers such policies for nearly all of the state’s remaining 38 counties.
When Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu struck down the tenure rights of the state’s public school teachers last month in Vergara v. California, his decision was hailed by Theodore J. Boutrous Jr., lead attorney for the plaintiffs, as “a terrific, wonderful day for California students and for the California education system.”
The lawsuit, which had been brought on behalf of nine California schoolchildren, argued that the retention of “grossly ineffective” teachers through five due-process statutes violated the students’ civil rights.
The suit and its accompanying public relations blitz had been bought and paid for by Silicon Valley entrepreneur David Welch under the umbrella of Students Matter, Welch’s personal Menlo Park education reform nonprofit. Welch made his fortune designing large-capacity fiber optic transmission systems for the global service-provider market.
For years firefighters and environmentalists have warned of the dangers from upholstered furniture treated with flame-retardant chemicals that are linked to cancer, decreased fertility, hormone disruption and lower IQ development. Although state safety regulations allow the use of flame retardants, they are not required — the choice is left to manufacturers. Today Californians wishing to buy a sofa or easy chair free of toxic chemicals are in for a surprise when they try to get information in stores about the presence or absence of flame retardants. An informal survey of West Los Angeles furniture showrooms recently encountered these scenes:
Every year Los Angeles’ Cedars-Sinai Medical Center releases a glossy brochure called Report to the Community. Among the doctor profiles and research-breakthrough stories are several dry metrics dealing with the number of beds, total patient and outpatient days and, perhaps most impressively, the year’s dollar value for something called “community benefit contributions.”
Cedars, which is the state’s third highest-earning nonprofit hospital, claimed $640.3 million as its 2012 community benefit contribution.
This number turns out to be the real point of the report. Because under state law all not-for-profit hospitals must justify their continuing tax exemption as charitable institutions by demonstrating that they are providing a community benefit — free charity care to indigent patients and what California calls “activities that are intended to address community needs and priorities primarily through disease prevention and improvement of health status.”
Whether Cedars and California’s other nonprofit hospitals have been living up to that charitable obligation is a question that Assembly Bill 503,
Last April, when Federico Lopez and his sanitation team were ordered to clean a Taylor Farms storage area, the 23-year-old didn’t like what he saw.
“I went into the hallway that they expected me to clean,” Lopez remembers. “There was pigeon feces, dead pigeons, dead bats and black mold. I’m certified for that, but the rest of my coworkers weren’t.” The crew had only been given dust masks for the job by the temporary labor contractor who employed them.
When Lopez raised concerns about the cleanup, he says Taylor Farms, which is the world’s largest producer of cut vegetables and salads, assured him everything was fine and not to bother with the mess. He says that later that evening, an equally unequipped and untrained night crew cleaned the room. Shortly after, Lopez was given his notice after only three weeks on the job.
This month Assemblyman Roger Hernandez (D-West Covina) heard Lopez’s and other stories in the Central Valley town of Tracy from about 200 mostly Latino Tracy Farms workers and family members.