- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 27, 2015

May 24

Santa Rose Press-Democrat: Caring for county’s aging population

Elected leaders set the stage last week for making Sonoma County a national model for how to care for and interact with its aging population.

This is certainly fertile ground for such a bold initiative. Roughly one in five residents in Sonoma County is over age 60. With baby boomers reaching retirement age, that’s expected to climb to one in four within 15 years. According to the most recent census data, Sonoma County’s population of those 65 and older has grown at three times the rate of the total county population. But making this initiative, Aging Together Sonoma County, a success won’t be easy.

When the topic of seniors is raised, many tend to think of retirement communities such as Oakmont. But that’s more the exception than the norm.

Some of the greatest challenges facing Sonoma County seniors include:

-Poverty. More than four out of 10 Sonoma County residents 60 and older live in poverty, according to Supervisor Shirlee Zane, a former executive director of the local Council on Aging and a leader of this initiative.

-Housing. With rents having increased an estimated 30 percent in the past three years, median home prices now exceeding $500,000 in the county and few new housing projects in the pipeline, it will be a challenge in the years ahead to find stable, affordable places for seniors to live.

-Isolation. Among those who do have a place to call their own, many suffer from a sense of disconnection. According to the U.S. Census, 28 percent of people over 65 live alone. Meanwhile, a 2012 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that both social isolation and loneliness are associated with a higher risk of mortality in older adults.

-Transportation. Many choose to live in Sonoma County for its rural beauty and lack of urban density. But as one ages, the reality of the limitations of our transportation systems becomes evident. Seniors often are wary of giving up driving, even when they should, for fear of losing their primary connection with the community and sometimes friends and family.

-Healthy living. Studies show that seniors who feel lonely and isolated also are more likely to report having poor physical and/or mental health. Isolated seniors also are vulnerable to elder abuse, a growing problem in Sonoma County.

-Perhaps the biggest concern is how to address these growing needs at a time when government funding for such programs is in short supply. Aging Together Sonoma County seeks to confront these issues through an interwoven system of nonprofits and volunteer activities. Building such partnerships and a sense of community involvement is the right approach.

As Marrianne McBride, president and CEO of the nonprofit Council on Aging, said, the goal is a “total culture change here around aging.”

And that change needs to happen in every neighborhood and on every block. But before it can begin offering a new environment for seniors, Sonoma County first needs to do a better job of valuing what seniors have to offer. Other solutions will be more evident after that.

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May 23

Eureka Times-Standard: Lack of options at airport is killing county

Yes, Humboldt County’s Aviation Enterprise Fund is half a million in the hole. Yes, those numbers are going to get worse before they get better. No, it’s not time to give up yet.

The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors could likely rename the Arcata-Eureka Airport in McKinleyville after any collection of words drawn at random from a box of magnetic poetry in hopes of drawing more tourists to the North Coast, but the only thing that’s going to both boost business and eventually lower fares in and out of ACV are more flights.

And right now, our best hope for attracting a second airline to Humboldt County to provide those flights are expenditures from that fund, structural deficit or no structural deficit.

Continuing to limp along under the status quo, or conceding defeat in the quest to expand service at the airport - neither are realistic options. Not if you’re interested in seeing Humboldt County rescued from a future of stagnation.

Under current conditions, large employers are hindered in their search to recruit qualified professionals from across the country to live and work here. Hospitals find it increasingly difficult to attract medical specialists here - literally worsening the health of county residents. Businesses’ ability to conduct business in and out of the county is hindered, further emptying its pockets.

It’s a quality of life issue - people expect transportation options in the 21st Century. If the most affordable travel option Humboldt County can offer most of its residents remains hour piled upon hour of driving to a distant airport with better options, we’re setting ourselves up for failure.

Heading into next year, with the decriminalization of marijuana by California voters an ever-increasing certainty, there is no successful economic future one can envision for this county - regardless of what direction it takes - that doesn’t involve a stronger airport.

See Humboldt County as the Napa of bud? Going to need more flights. As a center of environmental tourism? Going to need more flights. As the North Coast’s capital of craft food and beverages? More flights, please.

Airport officials will be meeting with airline representatives in the coming months, and efforts by flyhumboldt.org to raise more money to throw at the airlines to lure them here have already gathered more than $1 million.

Try harder. Dig deeper. Humboldt County is going to have to spend more money to make money. When it comes to the success of the soon-to-be California Redwood Coast Humboldt County Airport, failure is not an option.

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May 17

Ukiah Daily Journal: The ideal public records policy

The Mendocino County Board of Supervisors is getting ready to adopt a new policy on how it will treat requests for public records.

We think that is a dandy idea if the purpose is to make sure all departments are treating public records requests swiftly and cheerfully. But we would note that this county has a poor record of complying openly with the law.

When we say poor record we mean that this county almost always takes the full 10 days allowed to produce a record, and very often takes the second 14 days allowed, but for no really good reason. The law is very clear that a public record must be produced immediately unless there is a good reason for even the 10-day time allowed. This county takes 10 days because it can. That’s not obeying the spirit of the law. The 14-day extension applies only to very specific circumstances: The need to search for records at some distant field office, the need to collect a voluminous amount of distinct and separate records, the need to consult with an outside agency that shares the records, the need to write special computer language or set up a special program to extract an electronic record. The 14-day extension is not for simply giving yourself more time.

This county also has a habit of referring all public records requests to its county counsel’s office. This is unnecessary, barring exceptional circumstances, and only serves to delay the process.

While it is a good idea to make public record requests in writing so you can track the county’s response time, the law specifically states that this is not necessary. It is also not necessary to give your name in order to request a document. This county has in the past tried to make that a requirement and we hope this new policy drops it.

The law also requires that the county employee being asked for a record be helpful to the person asking. Public records requests often cite specific records and where they are kept. But sometimes a member of the public wants to know something about county business but doesn’t know where or how the record is kept. The member of the public may request the wrong record or a record that doesn’t exist. The county employee is not allowed to say “we don’t have that record” and brush you off if he or she knows there is some record that does answer your question. In San Francisco, their excellent policy requires the employee to actually find sources within the county for the information you seek within seven days if you ask.

The county is also not allowed to charge anything more than 10 cents a page for a document. It is not allowed to factor in, for instance, the employee’s salary or the electricity used to run the copier. Most counties charge the full 10 cents as a rule. But there are counties that charge as little as a penny a page for documents that are easily retrieved.

Overall, as the county moves to update its public records policy, we hope that the purpose is not to make it easy on employees, but to make it easy for the public. It is too often the case that government spends more time trying to get around the requirements of sunshine laws than making sure they are cheerfully followed.

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May 19

Ridgecrest Daily Independent: Advice to the class of 2015

Congratulations to the class of 2015. Cerro Coso College held its graduation last week, and the high schools in the area will soon send their seniors off into the world.

It’s a great achievement after a long and winding road. But as the newly minted graduates move on, we have some bits of advice.

First, remember that even though graduating is a great achievement, it’s also only the beginning. Don’t let it become the peak achievement in your life.

But also remember to make your peak achievement match up to your own definition. For some, it could be two terms as President of the United States, or inventing the cure for cancer, while for others, it could be raising a child to go on to greater heights than ever thought imaginable. What’s important is that you can look back on your life in 50 years and know that you made a positive impact on the world in your own way.

Remember that, as the saying goes, the only things certain are death and taxes. And even then, you never know when death will come, and you never know just how much taxes will go up. But for all else, try to anticipate it and at least think of possibilities for a backup plan. Jobs can disappear without warning. Renters can be forced out when the landlord doesn’t pay the mortgage and is foreclosed on. Earthquakes or fires can strike at any time. Be prepared for this - you might have to help yourself.

Pay attention over the next few years. You’ll learn more in your first year living on your own than in decades with your parents. You’ll learn more in your first year in the workforce than in decades in school.

Going to college? Pay attention there, too. You’ll learn a lot there you’ll never learn in high school. You will meet a much more diverse group of people there - learn what you can about them. And don’t be afraid to take advantage of your professors’ office hours.

Tying into these last points, if you don’t know what you want to do yet, that’s OK. Now is the time to explore different things. Remember that point 50 years from now when you’ll look back on your life? That’s 50 years from now. There is still time to figure things out. Your true passion may well be something you learn from the diverse cast of undergrads you’ll meet.

Travel. See some other place that will take you out of your comfort zone.

Be respectful to everyone. Your attitude when dealing with others can make a huge difference for the better or for the worse.

If you don’t already know how, ask how to do some basic things around the house. Not everyone can be a gourmet chef, but knowing how to cook a box of macaroni and cheese is a useful skill. Learn how to clean dishes, how to operate a vacuum, how to change a flat tire, and how to fold and hang a pair of dress pants.

Learn how to make and stick to a budget. And try to live beneath your means - If you can afford a $50,000 car, go for the $40,000 car instead. You never know when you’ll be thankful you put less stress on your monthly budget.

Wear sunscreen.

And don’t forget those who helped you along the way to being the great person you are and will yet become.

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May 26

Riverside Press-Enterprise: Worthwhile effort to hobble ADA lawsuit abuse

State Sen. Richard Roth’s bill to encourage compliance with the American Disabilities Act, while enhancing protections for small-business owners, has passed early hurdles this month, a positive sign in a state wrought with often-abusive lawsuits.

When President George H.W. Bush signed the ADA into law in 1990, there was certainly no intention of empowering a relatively small number of litigious individuals to engage in a form legal extortion under the guise of advancing the rights of the disabled.

Yet that has too often been the reality of the ADA in states with civil justice systems long-ago skewed away from dispensing justice. Last year it was found that the Golden State leads the nation in ADA-related lawsuits, with more cases filed in California than in Florida, New York, Pennsylvania and Texas combined.

That’s in large part because California particularly incentivizes those seeking easy money to seek damages through the Unruh Civil Rights Act, which guarantees damages of at least $4,000 for any violation of any anti-discrimination law.

In California, it doesn’t matter if a violation is small, trivial or hardly perceptible. If certain signs aren’t in certain places, parking lots not precisely measured or doors not of certain dimensions, it is possible to claim these violations constitute discrimination and thus lead to settlements that can be painful to small businesses.

At this point in time, taking on the connection between the Unruh Act and the ADA is impossible. To propose separating the two to any degree will result in being cast as an enemy of the disabled, with no amount of logical or reason prevailing through the cacophony of outrage.

Sen. Roth, D-Riverside, proposes a more modest set of solutions that are still worth supporting. The proposals, by way of SB251, include business tax credits for enhancing accessibility and, most significantly, provide a pathway for business owners to be protected from violations of accessibility standards with timely fixes.

The California Chamber of Commerce has flagged the bill as a “job creator.”

While there are sure to be particular details that need more fleshing out, Mr. Roth’s bill is one of the better bills on ADA compliance seen in a while. At some point common sense must prevail and business-owners should be given a chance to fix any violations before being subject to abusive lawsuits.

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May 26

The San Bernardino County Sun: Ban microbeads - a tiny big problem in California’s water and food

The purity of the Pacific Ocean and bodies of water throughout the state has never been more important to Californians. But one threat to healthy waterways hits closer to home than many may realize.

Virtually every time we brush our teeth and wash our faces and hair, the products we use contain tiny pieces of plastic known as microbeads.

These tiny dots put in by manufacturers give cosmetics and cleaning products an exfoliant quality and make them more eye-pleasing.

After they go down drains, though, they wind up in waterways. There, they look like fish eggs to aquatic organisms, which ingest them. The effect is harmful for the sea life and for organisms farther along the food chain. Namely people.

The California Legislature is taking steps to address the problem with a bill that would ban the use of microbeads in all personal care products by Jan. 1, 2020.

AB 888, by Assemblyman Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, was approved by the Assembly on Friday in a 58-11 vote.

The state Senate should pass AB 888 too, and Gov. Jerry Brown should sign it.

It would become the nation’s strongest measure yet to restrict microbeads, and would serve as a model law for other states to emulate.

Last year, Bloom’s similar AB 1699 passed the Assembly but failed by one vote in the Senate.

Senators caved to pressure from lobbyists for personal care products. The lobbyists have pushed for an exemption for what they describe as biodegradable plastic.

But no one has been able to write a clear standard of what constitutes biodegradable plastic. And product manufacturers have better alternatives, including apricot pits and walnut husks, at their disposal.

Some industry leaders are voluntarily acknowledging the damage caused by microbeads by volunteering to remove them from their products. Proctor and Gamble said it would phase microbeads out of its Crest toothpaste by March 2016, and Johnson and Johnson has announced it will remove them from its products in 2017.

That will still leave all of the hundreds of thousands of microbeads contained in each cleanser made by other manufacturers.

Last year, microbeads were found in the Los Angeles River. This month, staff writer Paul Rogers, of our sister paper the San Jose Mercury News, reported that scientists skimming the water surface over nine large areas of San Francisco Bay in January found between 14,000 and 440,000 plastic particles, including microbeads, per square kilometer.

Don’t be fooled by manufacturers’ claims that microbeads are safe because the FDA approved them for use as a food additive. The ruling shouldn’t be construed as evidence that the tiny particles are environmentally sound.

Obviously, ingesting plastic isn’t good for fish. Less obviously, the particles can absorb toxins and bacteria that are passed along to us. They can wind up in our mouths because we eat fish - or simply because the tiny pellets may be present in toothpaste.

Microbeads are a problem in our rivers, lakes and oceans at a time when Californians are more conscious than ever of how precious those waterways are. Tell your state senator to follow the Assembly’s lead and pass AB 888.

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