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.