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Local Issues

12 Dec 2019
State Sen. Jim Beall is angry. Four times now, he has introduced legislation to better enforce state and federal “parity” laws, which require equal treatment of mental and physical health problems. Four times, that legislation has failed. As he enters his final year in the Legislature, the San Jose Democrat plans what he calls a “full-frontal assault.” “I’m going to put even more effort into next year,” Beall said, “because I’m madder than hell about it.” California’s parity mandate was signed into law in 1999, and a federal parity law followed in 2008. But the state has struggled to ensure those laws work‚ which helps explain why parity feels like an empty promise to so many Californians. More than half of Californians believe that most people with mental health conditions can’t get the services they need, according to a poll conducted last year by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the…
11 Dec 2019
The California State Auditor’s Office recently launched a new tool, available to anyone with an internet connection: an online dashboard that aggregates, compares and ranks the financial stability of more than 470 California cities, based on detailed and publicly available information. “For the first time, Californians will be able to go online and see a fiscal-health ranking for more than 470 cities based across the state,” State Auditor Elaine Howle proclaimed in a news release announcing the launch. “This new transparent interface for the public, state and local policy makers, and other interested parties, is intended to identify cities that could be facing significant fiscal challenges.” The most compelling feature of this new dashboard is the interactive map of California. To uncover relevant financial details, any user can run their cursor over the geographic area correlating to any one of the 470 cities whose financial data is included. When the…
12 Nov 2019
The auditorium at the UC Riverside’s Palm Desert Center was filled with more than 150 attendees when Riverside County Supervisor V. Manuel Perez spoke at the Adult Justice System Symposium on Oct. 30. Perez talked about the innovative programs and services now utilized by the Riverside County Probation Department to help citizens re-integrate into their communities after being released from prison—and he spoke passionately about why the issue is important to him. He elaborated on those reasons in a subsequent phone interview. “I’m very proud of the fact that I grew up in Coachella, and that I grew up (the child of) immigrant farm workers who did everything that they could to support their children,” Perez said. “But the 1980s and ’90s in the city of Coachella were tough. It was crazy. La Eme (the Mexican mafia in the United States) and the local gangs ran the city and ran…
31 Oct 2019
Of the dozens of education bills that Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law this year, few will have a more practical impact on everyday lives than the new, later start times for California’s high schools and middle schools. The signing of Senate Bill 328 by Democratic Sen. Anthony Portantino marked a milestone for the decades-long public-health movement to awaken public schools to the detrimental effects of adolescent sleep deprivation. But it also brought to a head a charged debate among school boards, administrators and parents over who gets to decide when to start a community’s school day. For some California high-school students, the new law will make little or no difference; for others, it will push back school start times by 90 minutes or more. Here’s what we know about California’s landmark new school start times law. 1. What does the new law actually do? School districts in the state…
17 Oct 2019
Julie Su wants the world’s fifth-largest economy to remain a global juggernaut. To do so, California’s labor secretary acknowledges, the state will need to position its workforce for the jobs of the future—a catchall term that encompasses not only the promise of innovation, but also the dystopian threat of increased income disparity. Economists project massive upheaval from disparate forces such as automation and an aging population. California’s challenge, as Su sees it, is to roll with those disruptions while making sure jobs here continue to pay a living wage, offer worker protections and accommodate working families. In short, she wants the future of work to bridge today’s wealth gap. A labor and civil rights attorney—and past recipient of a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant—Su has been leading the Future of Work Commission alongside Chief Economic Adviser Lenny Mendonca and Senior Adviser on Higher Education Lande Ajose. They have been hosting meetings…
10 Oct 2019
In a steady but painstakingly slow pattern that has come to define California’s push for equity in education, statewide test scores inched up incrementally this year—though about half of the state’s students are behind in reading, and only 4 in 10 students are proficient in math. The results of the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress tests, administered to some 3.1 million students in grades 3-8 and grade 11, were recently released by the state Department of Education. Now in their fifth year, the scores told more or less the same story of incremental growth they have been telling since the state began using the test to measure student performance under newer, more-rigorous Common Core-based standards. On one hand, education officials say, the scores are moving in the right direction: Statewide marks either rose or stayed flat in every reading and math portion of the exam, except for eighth-grade…
03 Oct 2019
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Like most college students, Bianca Rojas has a lot to balance—classes, papers, exams, research and so on. Unlike most of her peers, the 25-year-old California State University, Long Beach, sociology major also has two extracurricular obligations: Jasper and Adeline, her toddlers. Each semester, she said, she carefully budgets her financial aid, calculating the credits she can afford, given the needs of her family. It’s stressful: Last semester, she and her partner, a student at Cal Poly Pomona, had to at times take turns skipping classes to tend the children. “I had to seek counseling because I was just overwhelmed,” Rojas said. “It was a really difficult time, because it was just not enough resources available. You find out too late, like, ‘Oh there’s not going to be childcare for you at this time.’ It’s like then what do you do? Not go to school?” Gov. Gavin Newsom had students such…
18 Sep 2019
It was a rude awakening to examine the murky underworld of human trafficking while working on this story about the Second Annual Anti-Human-Trafficking Conference, sponsored by Coachella Valley Sexual Assault Services (CVSAS). The event will take place Friday, Oct. 18, at the Westin Mission Hills Golf Resort and Spa in Rancho Mirage. According to a July piece at BusinessInsider.com: “The United States, along with Mexico and the Philippines, was ranked one of the world's worst places for human trafficking in 2018. In the U.S., there is no official number of human-trafficking victims, but estimates place it in the hundreds of thousands. … The most human-trafficking cases have been reported in California, Texas and Florida, but every state in the U.S. has reports of human trafficking. … More than 300,000 young people in the U.S. are considered ‘at risk’ of sexual exploitation.” A large percentage of individuals who are trafficked wind…
05 Sep 2019
The last few years have been quite transformative for the Desert Healthcare District (DHCD). First, there was the need to change the board of directors election process from an at-large standard to a district-based approach, in order to comply with the California Voting Rights Act. As that process moved ahead, voters in the eastern Coachella Valley last November approved the district’s expansion beyond its antiquated Cook Street boundary, creating the potential for improved health-care access and services in the eastern valley—while necessitating that the district figure out how to fully fund services in the expanded district. That voter edict resulted in the launch of yet another rezoning process, which is currently under way. Through these administrative and organizational challenges, the DHCD has continued to provide support to local health-care providers and community-service programs, addressing needs such as homelessness, public health and behavioral health. It was against this backdrop on July…
29 Aug 2019
The city of Santa Monica plans to give money to hundreds of additional seniors to help them with the rent—expanding a pilot program that offered between $200 and $660 a month to nearly two-dozen seniors. “We’d like to expand this program tenfold,” said Andy Agle, Santa Monica’s housing and economic development director, about the program that launched last year. “We’re taking our program from $200,000 to $2 million a year. That’s a huge ramp-up.” Agle said he anticipates Santa Monica will now be able to help 250 to 400 senior households with the added cash. Although Santa Monica saw a 3 percent rise in senior homelessness over the last year, no one in its rental subsidies pilot program suffered that fate. “It’s really showing some success,” Agle said. Kaye, 70, who didn’t want her last name used, has been part of that program, known as Preserving Our Diversity, since its…

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