- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Nov. 29

Fresno Bee on black student enrollment at California universities:

It has been nearly 20 years since California voters banned affirmative action in college admissions. Campus diversity here has never recovered from the chain saw that was Proposition 209.

Black student enrollment at the University of California - never great to begin with - has plummeted since the ban passed, and current levels are downright abysmal. At UC Berkeley, African-Americans have fallen from 6.3 percent of freshmen in 1995 to 2.8 percent this year. At UCLA, black students have gone from 7.1 percent to a little over 4 percent of freshmen.

That’s 977 black Bruins out of a freshman class of more than 22,500. No wonder the Twitter hashtag #BlackOnCampus has become synonymous in California for “marginalized.”

That collective retreat has been not only a source of shame but an ongoing problem in many ways for the UC system and the diverse state that depends on, and underwrites, its graduates.

Now, with the U.S. Supreme Court preparing to weigh in next month on a major affirmative action case out of Texas, California is making sure that this state’s lessons won’t be lost on the high court.

The justices should listen. Briefs filed by the University of California and Attorney General Kamala Harris make it clear that practically and socially, dropping race as a factor in college admission here was a mistake.

Federal law allows race and ethnicity to be considered in college admissions, as long as it’s just one factor among many. Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, brought by a white student who sued when she didn’t get into that elite state school, claimed that Texas discriminated against her, even with its very limited consideration of race.

In 2013, the Supreme Court heard the case, and kicked it back for review by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit. Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, said the lower court had to examine the admissions system more closely to determine whether Texas could have achieved its diversity goals with a more race-neutral system.

The 5th Circuit determined it couldn’t - no surprise to California. As the UC and Harris points out in the amicus briefs they’ve filed now that Fisher’s lawyers have again appealed that decision, Proposition 209 did remove race, and the student body demographics still haven’t completely rebounded.

A host of workarounds, from broadened admissions criteria to de-emphasizing standardized test scores, have failed to mitigate the damage, the UC noted. As a result, Harris’ brief added, the UC “has struggled” to maintain sufficient diversity.

“In the past two decades,” Harris wrote, “the number of Hispanic applicants to the University of California’s campuses in Los Angeles and Berkeley has increased 350 percent, but the number admitted has remained relatively constant.”

As campus after campus is discovering, a state whose opportunities don’t match its demographics is a state with problems. Kennedy, the perennial swing vote, should direct the Supreme Court’s attention westward, and not lead the rest of the country to reprise California’s mistake.


Dec. 1

Contra Costa Times on meeting water conservation goals:

Californians conserved less water in October than at any time since mandatory reductions went into effect in June, but officials say they are not alarmed and the state remains on track to meet its drought-triggered targets.

Still, those conservation targets won’t be enough to bail out the state if the anticipated wet El Nino winter fails to materialize, they warned.

Residential water use in October was 22.2 percent below 2013 levels, state water officials reported Tuesday, marking the first time the statewide conservation rate has slipped below 25 percent since the cutbacks were ordered.

Despite October’s dip, California is on track to meet Gov. Jerry Brown’s mandate to use 25 percent less water than the state used in 2013.

“It is pretty good news considering it could have been worse,” said Felicia Marcus, chairwoman of the state Water Resources Control Board. “I am relieved.”

Water officials said they expected the rate to drop off some because fall weather requires less outdoor watering and therefore fewer opportunities to cut back.

California also had a warmer October than average, spurring some to water more than they otherwise would have.

Marcus said October’s numbers show Californians remain conscientious about conservation despite concerns that growing hopes for a wet El Nino would undermine people’s willingness to save.

Nevertheless, the state Department of Water Resources made clear in a dire warning Tuesday that more drastic measures remain a possibility, saying it would allocate only 10 percent of contractual supplies unless there is significant rain and snow this winter. Some 23 million Californians get some of their drinking water from reservoirs and canals operated by the department.

The water level at Lake Oroville, the state’s biggest reservoir, is near an all-time low.

“Unless we get a ton of snow in the Sierra that lasts though April, every drop saved today is one we’ll be glad we have tomorrow,” Marcus said.

California urban water suppliers have cut a cumulative average of 27.1 percent over the past five months. Those who fell short, such as Beverly Hills, are being fined. The posh Southern California city forked over a $61,000 fine, state water officials reported Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the Bay Area again boasted some of the biggest savings, with 11 water suppliers cutting use by at least 30 percent. One of them - the city of Brentwood - reported a 41.1 percent reduction in October.

Other big reducers included Morgan Hill at 35.2 percent, Benicia at 36.1 percent, Contra Costa Water District at 34.8 percent for its Central Contra Costa service area and Pleasanton at 32.3 percent.

Bay Area suppliers also continued to record some of the lowest residential consumption rates in the state.

South San Francisco, San Bruno and Santa Cruz averaged 40 gallons per person per day, and San Francisco averaged 41 gallons. The state average in October was 87 gallons per day per person, down from 97 gallons in September.

The state ordered the cutbacks from June this year through Feb. 3 and is 76 percent toward meeting that goal.

“We’re on pace to meet the cumulative total (of 25 percent),” said Katheryn Landau of the water board’s office of research and planning.

The Bay Area also had some of the state’s leading punishers for wasting or using too much water.

The East Bay Municipal Utility District penalized 3,217 households a total of $248,522 for exceeding a residential limit of 1,000 gallons per day, leading the state in most customers penalized. The agency serves 1.4 million people in Alameda and Contra Costa counties.

Santa Cruz came in No. 2, with 921 household penalties.

Pleasanton dinged more than 1,000 homes and businesses a total of $566,000 this summer for failing to meet the 25 percent target. Last month, the city suspended its penalties at least through March 1 but said it would bring them back if the drought persists.

The board has scheduled a public workshop Dec. 7 to get comments on how it would extend drought regulations if they are needed well into 2016.

Meanwhile, water officials are urging Californians to not water lawns but to continue irrigating trees enough to survive the drought.


Nov. 30

Torrance Daily Breeze on California’s impact on climate change:

California, much as we sometimes like to think of ourselves as a nation-state, is not really a country - so what are so many of our political leaders doing by heading for the international climate summit in Paris?

Grandstanding, some would say. And certainly there is an element of that whenever state leaders get involved in what appear to be national issues, whether it’s global warming or Syrian refugees.

But the fact is that for decades California has been a national - and, yes, global - leader on the issue of climate change. And though three of the state leaders - Gov. Jerry Brown, state Senate President Pro tem Kevin de Leon and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti - who will arrive in Paris this week along with presidents, prime ministers and scientists, are Democrats, it was a Republican Californian who originally took the lead on the issue.

Then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2006 signed legislation that put California on a course to derive a third of its electricity from renewable sources such as solar, wind and geothermal by 2020. That legislation also established the first U.S. program to cap and trade emissions by enabling polluters to buy and sell carbon credits.

Can we get back to reality-based action on climate change instead of making it a political football?

Given the size of California’s population and economy, those moves were important on a worldwide scale. And despite the partisanship on this issue in much of the rest of the country, the work by both Schwarzenegger and Brown here shows that climate change has nothing to do with being a Democrat or a Republican. It is a simple fact of life on Earth that the increase of carbon emissions because of industrialization is warming the planet, with potentially disastrous effects. It is also a fact that it is within our capacity to slow that warming if we take serious action, right now.

That action won’t come by making an appearance at an international confab. But California is lending its support to the fight against climate change in more than symbolic ways.

This support is about scientific work as much as it’s about environmental policy. Sunday, the University of California announced it has joined, to the tune of $1 billion in investments over the next five years, a Bill Gates-led international coalition to support research and development of clean-energy technology to fight climate change. That’s a chunk of change, but UC has a chunk to invest - nearly $100 billion for research. And it’s an economic multiplier for jobs in the Golden State. Solar is predicted to be the leading energy source by mid-century - shouldn’t we be at the leading edge for efficient solar technology?

Scheduled to be presented at the UN conference is a plan by UC researchers to dramatically reduce greenhouse gases through cutbacks by the wealthiest nations and expanded green-energy availability for the poorest. They want refrigerators and cars. Investment in California clean-energy businesses can make that happen responsibly.

And Indian and Chinese students who may come here to study engineering at Caltech and UCLA could then return to their huge countries and lead the changes to help wean those developing economies away from coal.

Our state’s contributions matter in this fight to cool the planet. Not only that - they will help keep California strong.


Dec. 1

Pasadena Star-News on changes to the state’s foster care system:

It takes no more than common sense to know that children raised in a real family - whether by birth, by adoption or by fostering - stand a better chance of physical and emotional good health into adulthood than those shunted into group homes, no matter the good intents of the operators.

Yet California has about 5,800 foster youth living in large group homes, with an alarming 1,000 of them having been placed in this unnatural environment for more than five of the most formative years of their lives.

Now, after three years of work by a team of 25 state employees dedicated full time to making changes to the system, under a new law taking effect in January, the state’s Department of Social Services will begin a multiyear plan to replace privately run group homes with “short-term residential treatment centers,” where youth will mostly stay no more than six months.

The plan, detailed recently by Karen de Sa of our sister paper the San Jose Mercury News, the same reporter whose investigation “Drugging Our Kids” found that foster youth in group homes are the most likely to be prescribed excessive amounts of psychotropic medications, with more than half receiving court-approved prescriptions, is an ambitious one. Even its most ardent backers acknowledge that the problem is large and complicated and that just waving a legal wand will not make it so. That’s because each child in the system comes with familial and social problems of her or his own. Simply decrying the warehousing of troubled kids gets us nowhere toward a world in which every child would be raised in a loving environment with the same chances for success in life as their peers lucky enough to grow up with their parents in a stable household.

Some, perhaps most, group-home operators are not in their line of work - and it is a business, with state government dollars paid out for every child taken in - because it’s an easy path to riches. It is not. And the terrifying stories in recent years of appalling abuses of children in some group homes need to be understood in the context of there still being far too few beds available anywhere in the system. Even though previous state law has mandated that children taken from parents or guardians for their own safety must be placed in foster care within 24 hours, the fact remains that some have stayed in massive holding rooms - some in downtown Los Angeles high-rises - for days while social workers scramble to find better options. For the hardest to place, including infants and large groups of siblings, a Los Angeles Times investigation showed that over 100 telephone calls and other contacts must be made by social workers.

The legislation that will go into effect next month was well-planned by experts in the field. In theory, at least, the neediest children in California will live in “short-term residential treatment centers” where youth will mostly stay no more than six months. But for the program to truly reach success, more California families interested in fostering or adopting young people whose lives hang in the balance must step up and welcome them into their real homes. The solution, as ever, lies with us.

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