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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

The sightings of James Mark Rippee are all over his sisters’ Facebook account.

Someone spotted him sleeping by a furniture store in Vallejo. Someone walked him to a gas station for coffee. Someone prayed for him at Nation’s Giant Hamburgers.

Rippee, 56, developed schizophrenia after a horrific motorcycle accident more than three decades ago caused a traumatic brain injury and the loss of his eyesight. His delusions range from being an alien, to getting chased by the KKK, to being prevented from collecting his lottery winnings, his sisters say.

In September, he stepped into traffic and was hit by a car, his sisters say; he then developed a brain abscess. After weeks in the hospital and a board-and-care, he walked out. His 62-year-old twin sisters—Catherine Hanson and Linda Privatte—weren’t alerted.

Now they couldn’t find him.

Complicating things further: Hanson is bedridden with blood cancer; Privatte is legally blind and cannot drive. They’ve come to depend on a Facebook community, “Mark of Vacaville,” to be their “eyes and ears” on their brother’s situation.

The existence of the 2,000-plus member group is at once a moving testament to a community’s compassion, and an indictment of a system that often leaves the most vulnerable to fend for themselves.

Why do people as sick as James Mark Rippee sleep on our streets? Some blame laws that prioritize civil rights over forced treatment; others point to an under-resourced and uneven mental-health system that has failed to provide people like Rippee with long-promised care.

Everyone struggles with the same underlying question: What should be done?

“When we allow people to deteriorate on the streets, or interface with law enforcement that leads to incarceration, what are we doing?” asks Dr. Jonathan Sherin, director of the Los Angeles Department of Mental Health. “We’ve lost our compass.”

State lawmakers are watching a controversial new pilot program to expand forced treatment in San Francisco.

In the meantime, families watch in desperation as loved ones cycle between homelessness, emergency rooms and jail cells. Short courses of medication may lead to the quieting of voices, which, in turn, leads to a release to the streets. Often, as in James Mark Rippee’s case, the family is simultaneously shut out of the conversation and blamed for abandonment.

Some of these families are aware of the downsides of involuntary treatment, the miserable side effects of psychiatric medications, and the critical shortage of inpatient facilities. They recognize that conservatorship—in which a court-appointed conservator manages another person’s living situation, medical decisions and mental health treatment—is no panacea, and should be a last resort.

James Mark Rippee himself puts it this way: “I don’t need to be in a locked-up facility. It was like I was a hostage.”

In recent years, Rippee’s twin sisters—Hanson, the red-headed warrior, Privatte, the blonde diplomat—have redoubled their decades-long effort to get him help. They worry their own health problems might someday leave no one to fight for him.

“He is the worst-case scenario of anybody being so vulnerable on the streets,” Hanson said. “Every winter we wonder: Is this going to be the year that he dies?”


In 1967, a law passed that transformed the treatment of people with mental illness in California.

Until then, it had been fairly easy for a family member to call police to force someone into mental health treatment. Conditions in the state hospitals were frequently abhorrent: Patients wore gunny sacks, sometimes bathed just once a week, and were subjected to lobotomies and electric-shock treatments. Too often, people were locked away for life.

Republican Assemblyman Frank Lanterman and Democratic Sens. Nicholas Petris and Alan Short proposed a radical overhaul, which Gov. Ronald Reagan signed into law. When the Lanterman-Petris-Short law took effect a few years later, it established strict criteria for involuntary treatment. It imposed specific timeframes for involuntary confinement and limited involuntary holds to those deemed a danger to themselves or others, or gravely disabled. This included the 72-hour hold that police term a 5150.

But within a few decades, Sen. Petris noticed growing numbers of people with serious mental illnesses appearing on the streets and in jails.

In a 1989 oral history, Petris lamented that while the law had promised funding to treat people with mental illness in the community, Gov. Reagan diverted tens of millions allocated back to the state general fund.

“That took the guts right out of this state money for local treatment,” Petris said. “It emptied out the hospitals, but there was no follow-up treatment. … In this overemphasis to get away from this tyrannical and oppressive system … of incarcerating people so easily, we went overboard the other way.”

Even when funding was available, “Not In My Back Yard” resistance also made it challenging to locate residential and community treatment facilities. In the half-century since, much of the debate about helping people like Rippee has centered on the Lanterman-Petris-Short law. The state auditor is currently examining it; a report is anticipated this spring.

In recent years, several bills in the Legislature have been proposed to modify the law, focusing on redefining the term “gravely disabled.” Rippee’s sisters petitioned and testified last year on behalf of a bill that sought to define “gravely disabled” to include not just those who can’t provide for their own food, clothing and shelter, but also those who don’t seek needed medical treatment. It failed, in part because opponents considered it ineffective and dangerously expansive.

More than 5,000 people in the state were on permanent conservatorships, and close to 2,000 were on temporary conservatorships, as of 2016-2017, according to data collected by the Department of Health Care Services. The data is incomplete; Scarlet Hughes, executive director of the California State Association of Public Administrators, Public Guardians and Public Conservators, calls it “extremely inaccurate.” 

Last year lawmakers agreed to create a narrow 5-year pilot program that makes it easier for three counties (San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego) to conserve homeless individuals with serious mental illnesses or substance-abuse disorders. The program allows courts to conserve individuals who have been placed under a 72-hour psychiatric hold at least eight times in a year. A second law, passed this year, expanded the rules to allow 50 to 100 more people in San Francisco to be placed under conservatorship.

Civil-rights advocates have raised serious concerns: In 2018, Susan Mizner, the disability rights program director for the ACLU, described conservatorship as “the biggest deprivation of civil rights aside from the death penalty” and said the law would incentivize police to repeatedly detain homeless individuals.

So far, only San Francisco has adopted it. That reflects another reality: Different counties have different rules. Even without the pilot program, depending on where you live, public defenders, judges, public guardians and others have different interpretations of the law.

“It varies from county to county, it varies within counties,” said Randall Hagar, government relations director for the California Psychiatric Association. “What is ‘gravely disabled’ here may not be considered ‘gravely disabled’ there.”

Because counties must use local funds to pay high placement costs—and because not all counties have the same types of services available—variations are a significant concern.

Disability rights advocates insist that maintaining the standards outlined by Lanterman-Petris-Short is essential to protect people’s civil rights. Most people with serious mental illnesses aren’t refusing help, they say; appropriate help just isn’t available.

Lynn Rivas, associate director of Oakland-based Peers Envisioning and Engaging in Recovery Services, understands that families feel desperate. She knew a woman with paranoid schizophrenia who lived on the streets of Richmond. Mental-health workers tried repeatedly, but couldn’t get her to come inside.

Even though “it breaks my heart,” Rivas said, she’s willing to live with that consequence. “I think involuntary imprisonment is worse,” she said.

Heather, a program coordinator at the organization, has herself experienced involuntary treatment. In the hospital, she said, everything was taken from her, and her entire schedule revolved around medication.

“I think it’s just really cold the way they treat you,” she said. “It’s like you have a disease. … They treat you like you’re not a human being.”

Once she stabilized, she said, the hospital discharged her back to the streets, without addressing her underlying issues. The experience not only didn’t help her, she said; it made her afraid to seek help.

Some worry that public dismay about the current homelessness crisis will encourage lawmakers to strip people of their rights.

“It’s still political failures that are trying to be masked with solutions that may decrease the visibility of individuals on the street,” said Curtis Child, director of legislation at Disability Rights California. He also compares the situation of people with mental illness to that of people with developmental disabilities. For the latter group, deinstitutionalization was accompanied by the creation of regional centers, he said, “in which everyone gets a plan, everyone gets a worker.

“With mental illness, we did nothing.”

For Child, and many other advocates, the solution is not more conservatorship; it’s creating affordable housing and more robust mental health services.

“The volume of individuals who are entering homelessness on a given day is overwhelming all of our systems,” said Michelle Cabrera, executive director of the County Behavioral Health Directors Association of California. “We’ve got a serious problem on our hands.”

Dr. Amy Barnhorst, vice chair of community and hospital services for the UC Davis Department of Psychiatry, agrees that the focus should be on building out the mental-health system, not changing the law.

“It’s like cutting more doors into an empty building,” she said. “There’s not the services there. We don’t have the workforce. We don’t have the treatments. We don’t have the infrastructure.”

Even if a change in law permitted more people to be conserved, a shortage of placements and “a gross lack of funding” for county programs means there would be nowhere to send many of them, said Hughes, of the California State Association of Public Administrators, Public Guardians and Public Conservators. Earlier this year, a state budget proposal to increase the amount of funding for public guardians by 35 percent—or $68 million—failed.

County conservators receive no direct state funding, and in the past five years have received a huge influx in clients diverted from the criminal-justice system, Hughes said. Some counties went from five referrals a month to 30 or 40, she said.

“They are drowning,” she said.

Simultaneously, the number of facilities that can take them is shrinking, said Chris Koper, a legislative analyst for the organization. At one point, she said, she and some friends started listing the facilities in that county that had shut down. They stopped when they got to 35, she said: “It was too depressing.”

That leaves many conservatees in a “placement pending” status, stuck in jails or hospitals. In some cases, conservators have resorted to having staff members care for people with mental illness in hotel rooms rather than leave an individual on the streets, she said.

Most state hospital beds are now reserved for people in the criminal-justice system. Inmates with mental illness can wait in limbo for months or even years in county jails before a bed opens up. Five years ago, an average of 343 inmates with mental illness were awaiting placement. Last year, the average was 819.

“The easiest legislative fix is to expand conservatorship,” Koper said. “It then will appear that the Legislature is trying to do something. But as is often the case with social problems, the wound is so much deeper than that. And the wound will require a lot of money.”

As San Francisco has assumed new authority to place people under conservatorships, the San Francisco Chronicle found a backlog. In a locked ward at San Francisco General Hospital, individuals who were conserved were waiting four months for placement in Napa State Hospital, and even longer for a residential facility.

A woman who answered the phone at the public guardian’s office in Solano County, where Rippee lives, said she didn’t have time or permission to talk, repeating several times, “We’re extremely short-staffed.”

Gerald Huber, the county’s director of Health and Social Services, noted that even if Rippee were to be conserved, there are very few facilities in the state that accept people with traumatic brain injuries—and they are always full with waitlists.

Rippee’s sisters are aware.

“If they tell him, ‘Mark, you’re conserved’—” Privatte began.

“—where are they going to put him?” Hanson concluded. “There’s no place.”


The events of June 21, 1987, are seared in the minds of Rippee’s twin sisters:

Rippee had purchased a Harley-Davidson just 10 days earlier, but he was already talking about selling it. With his slight frame, the big bike felt unwieldy.

The family had gathered for a Father’s Day barbecue in Vacaville. Rippee, 24, was optimistic about a budding career in construction. He was popular with girls and never went anywhere without his guitar.

That evening, he took off down a country road toward Hanson’s house. A car swerved into his lane. Trying to avoid it, Rippee steered off the road into a dark field.

A neighbor heard the crash. Officers searched for an hour, following the moans, before discovering a gruesome scene: Rippee had smashed into an antique grain harvester. The impact had ripped his eyes from their sockets, knocked out his teeth, split his head open and strewn brain matter on the ground. Paramedics told the family they were so sure he was dead that they initially didn’t turn on the siren.

His sisters rushed to the hospital, where a team of surgeons was attempting to piece their brother’s brain and body back together. Their father was overwhelmed, Hanson said, and asked her to take over medical decision-making.

After Rippee stabilized, a neurosurgeon warned the family it would take a few years for him to recover from the brain injury. Then, at some point, his mental health would decline. The doctor recommended Rippee be transported to a state rehabilitation facility where he might need to spend his entire life, his sisters said.

Instead, Hanson said, their father grabbed the papers giving her legal decision-making over her brother’s care and shredded them. His only son, he insisted, was coming home.

“This is how we lost complete control,” she said.

Under his mother’s care, Rippee did heal somewhat, his sisters said. He was completely blind, had severe damage to his frontal lobe and was suicidal. But, for a time, he was able to take computer classes.

Then the delusions crept in, his sisters say. He heard voices in the air conditioner. He tried to jump out of a car on a freeway overpass, nearly pulling Privatte with him. 

Still, for years, Rippee lived with his family. For a while, Privatte housed her brother in a 60-foot trailer adjacent to her house. Neighbor Chris Plowman, at the time a volunteer firefighter, remembers seeing smoke coming from the trailer one morning and hearing Privatte scream, “Save my brother! Save my brother!”

Plowman kicked in the door and ran through the trailer, looking for Rippee. He wasn’t inside. The trailer burned to the ground.

Then Rippee threatened to kill his mother with an ax, according to his sisters, who say the family felt it was no longer safe to have him live with them. But, gradually, he ran out of other options. Local motels refused to rent to him, his sister said.

Karen Newton, an office assistant with Solano County, first met Rippee in front of the county building where she worked; he was sleeping on a strip of cardboard. She bought him taquitos, chocolate milk and clean clothes. Newton, whose own son has schizophrenia and is currently in Napa State Hospital, was disturbed by the frequent assaults she saw against Rippee, including a bad beating that left him swollen.

“The things I’ve seen in the last year have been horrifying,” she said.

In the past 15 years, Vacaville police say they have arrested Rippee 25 times, charging him with unlawful camping and public intoxication.

Sgt. Aaron Dahl, who supervises the community response unit for Vacaville Police, says he wants people like Rippee to stay inside, take medications and get help, but “that’s not the reality of how things work.”

“I wish I had a magic wand that could go help everybody,” he said. “And it’s very hard, because there’s not an easy answer for everybody. There’s just not.”

In early 2018, Privatte said her daughter saw members of a Solano County community Facebook site criticizing their family for abandoning Rippee.

The twins intensified their efforts to help their brother.

“The law has stopped Mark from getting treatment,” Privatte said. “The law. Not us.”

On April 24, 2018, Privatte told the Solano County Board of Supervisors that her brother had attempted suicide more than 20 times, and that other people beat and robbed him regularly.

“It’s not because I want to lock my brother up and be done with him,” she said, crying. “It’s because I want him to be safe.”

“What can we do to help?” asked Supervisor Skip Thomson. “Because what we’re doing is unacceptable.”

Privatte showed up repeatedly to beg the board for help. Last spring, she received an email from Thomson’s office on behalf of the county, explaining that her brother could not be conserved, in part because each time he was placed on an involuntary hold, he stabilized to the point that he legally had to be released.

“This is not a situation that we have ignored nor that we condone,” the letter said. “Simply the law requires stringent standards to impose conservatorships—standards that so far we cannot meet.”

Huber, the director of Health and Social Services, said that “many, many, many different agencies” have interacted with Rippee over the years, and the county has made—and continues to make—efforts to provide treatment. 

“I’ve struggled with this for the five years I’ve been here,” he said. “The street is not an appropriate place for him to live.”

The county this year implemented Laura’s Law, a 2002 state law which allows for court-ordered outpatient treatment. A few weeks ago, Rippee’s mother applied for it on her son’s behalf. But the program doesn’t serve someone with a traumatic brain injury, Huber said.


On Sept. 27, someone posted a picture of Rippee on the Facebook group. His head looked swollen; his sisters recognized symptoms of a brain abscess.

Privatte convinced her brother to go with her to the hospital, where he had surgery the next morning. After two weeks, the hospital transferred him to a Suisun City board-and-care. In late October, he returned to the streets.

That same week, dozens of mental-health leaders from around the state gathered in Sacramento to talk about the future of Lanterman-Petris-Short. They discussed how counties lack the resources to build out a continuum of care.

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg asked his colleagues if the debate around involuntary treatment might be reframed to insist that people have both a right—and an obligation—to come indoors. That would mean that, before the state could compel people to come indoors, they would have to have safe, appropriate placements to offer them.

“Our North Star needs to be to end this horrific situation,” he said.

A few weeks later, I found Rippee at a Vallejo strip mall, asleep on a patch of concrete littered with dirty socks and desiccated orange peels. His head rested on a blue IKEA bag, which held a pale green fleece blanket studded with burrs.

After Rippee woke up, he requested a coffee the way he likes it—a lot of sugar, a little coffee. He was friendly and talkative, his facts smoothly interwoven with delusions. He talked about the beauty of classical music. He recalled delivering pies for his parents’ business. Then he toggled to concerns about the KKK chasing him: “I’m trying to stay ahead of those guys,” he said.

Ultimately, Rippee said, he wants home with a shower and someone to care for him. He doesn’t want to be in a locked facility, but he does wish he could live inside.

“At night, it gets cold,” he said. “I just sit there and shake.

“To leave a blind man outside, you know, I just figured the county could do better than that,” he continued. “They’re not supposed to leave me outside. The United States of America is nice enough. They’re not supposed to let this happen.”

CalMatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.

Published in Local Issues

Despite speculation about bold moves—in a far-left direction, even for this blue state—Gov. Gavin Newsom and legislative Democrats actually landed a budget Thursday that’s surgical about new taxing and spending while still keeping promises to help poor Californians and working families.

Under the $214.8 billion spending plan, the state inched closer to universal health coverage, expanding Medi-Cal to all low-income young adults regardless of immigration status. State lawmakers also charted a course to increase tax credits to the working poor and boost subsidies to middle-income Californians to buy health coverage. There were significant investments in early education and housing, while a portion of the surplus was diverted to pay down pension liabilities.

While Democrats began the year with a surplus of ideas for taxing Californians, only a few strategic levies survived the negotiation process, specifically a fine on individuals who don’t have health insurance under a state mandate. There’s even a little tax relief: Parents, for instance, will get a temporary tax exemption on diapers.

One hitch? The devil is in the details, some which have yet to be worked out. Though Democrats met their deadline for a balanced spending plan, most of the underlying policy to enact the budget wasn’t hashed out—and may not be for weeks. Call it a learning curve: This was the new governor’s first time negotiating with seasoned legislative leaders who know how to count votes. Look for more action in coming trailer bills.

Here’s what you need to know about California’s new budget—including maybe, just maybe, the first steps toward the establishment of a four-year college in the Coachella Valley.

Yes to Health Care for Undocumented Young Adults

The Legislature agreed to the governor’s plan to expand Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid program for low-income people, to young adults ages 19-25. It’s a step toward offering free health care to all undocumented adults since the state already makes Medi-Cal available to children regardless of immigration status.

The Senate had proposed going further by offering Medi-Cal to undocumented seniors 65 and older. However, none of the leaders backed offering health care to all low-income immigrants.

The state expects an estimated 90,000 young adults could gain coverage when the benefit begins next year. Already, 76,000 have registered for a limited version of Medi-Cal that covers emergency services and prenatal care available to low-income people regardless of immigration status. The price tag for this expansion? About $98 million a year.

It’s worth noting the state also affirmed its commitment to restoring optional Medi-Cal benefits. During the recession, coverage for audiology, optical, podiatry, speech therapy and incontinence creams had been taken away.

Obamacare Lives: A $695 State Mandate to Carry Health Coverage

Starting next year, California will join New Jersey, Vermont and the District of Columbia in requiring residents carry health coverage or face a $695 state penalty—a fine that will go up each year with inflation.

The state individual mandate aims to replace the federal one that Republicans repealed in their effort to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. The administration says California needs to act, because without a mandate, the number of Californians without coverage—10.4 percent in 2016—will go back up. Separately, a study conducted by the University of California estimated the uninsurance rate will rise to 12.9% by 2023, or 4.4 million people, without state action.

Money raised from the penalties, about $450 million over three years, will be used to give bigger subsidies to those who purchase private insurance through the state’s health coverage exchange, Covered California.

Newsom and lawmakers hope to expand assistance to 190,000 middle-income Californians making between $48,000 to $72,000 a year, according to Health Access California, a health advocacy group.

Fear of Recall = Not Many New Taxes

The budget includes a plan to impose a fee—that still needs to be voted on—of no more than 80 cents a month on each telephone line to help digitize the state’s 911 system, which is still analog. The next-generation system would improve call delivery, better location data and incoming text capability.

Other than that and the health-care mandate, lawmakers opted against most of the new taxes proposed early in the session. In fact, California parents and women will get a sales tax exemption on diapers and menstrual products (though only for two years).

Notably rejected, given the state’s current $21.5 billion surplus, was Newsom’s push for a 95-cent tax on most residential water bills to fund-clean-drinking water initiatives in the Central Valley. Instead, the Legislature worked out a deal to clean up toxic water by diverting money generated from big polluters under the state’s cap-and-trade program.

Some environmental groups questioned using clean air money to pay for drinking water, but supporters reasoned that water is being contaminated with arsenic and other toxic chemicals from the heavy use of fertilizers, so it makes sense to draw the $100 million for cleanup from the agriculture industry’s portion of the greenhouse gas fund.

One issue that won’t be resolved this week is whether California will conform its tax code to match federal changes made by Republicans in 2017. Newsom is relying on the projected $1.7 billion increase in net revenue from that to expand the state’s earned income tax credit, the centerpiece of his anti-poverty agenda.

Assembly Democrats in swing districts are skittish about limiting deductions and losses that can be claimed by some businesses. They know the fate of former Sen. Josh Newman, who was recalled from his Orange County seat after voting to raise California’s gas tax. Tax conformity requires a two-thirds vote in the Legislature to pass, so the pressure is on.

Paying Debt and Rainy-Day Saving

Lawmakers embraced the governor’s proposal to use some of the surplus to make extra pension payments, a step Newsom says is necessary to tame the state’s $256 billion retirement liability for state workers and teachers.

The Legislature approved supplemental payments of $3 billion to the California Public Employees’ Retirement System and $1.1 billion to the California State Teachers’ Retirement System for the state’s portion of unfunded liability.

To relieve school districts across the state, the Legislature will contribute a total of $3.15 billion toward paying down their liabilities and reducing their payroll contribution rates. One difference is where it will go.

Previously, Newsom had all the extra payments going to the teachers' pension fund—a reaction, in part, to teachers strikes that erupted as he took office. Now a portion of that money will be doled out to CalPERS. The change was made in recognition that while teachers are members of CalSTRS, many other school employees from janitors to bus drivers belong in the state’s other public-employee pension fund.

Besides paying down California’s “wall of debt,” as former Gov. Jerry Brown called it, the state is shoring up for a downturn—or in Newsom-speak, “building budget resiliency.” The new budget carries a roughly $20 billion reserve from several rainy-day funds. This amount, while hefty, would be easily wiped away in a downturn. According to the Legislative Analyst’s Office, the state would need as much as $40 billion to cover the budget in a moderate recession.

Big Spending on Housing

With new commitments topping $2 billion, the budget represents the most important action the governor has taken so far on housing and homelessness. The lion’s share will target the state’s homeless population, including $650 million in grants for cities and counties to build and maintain emergency shelters, and $100 million for wrap-around care for the state’s most vulnerable residents. Another $500 million will go toward quintupling the size of the state’s affordable housing financing fund, plus hundreds of millions earmarked for cities to update their often outdated housing plans.

While lawmakers and Newsom have agreed to cut big checks, it’s not clear who’ll get the money, and with what strings attached. Big-city mayors and lawmakers want homelessness grants directed towards the state’s largest 13 cities, while Newsom wants to spread out the money to include counties.

Newsom also wants to deny transportation funds to cities not building enough housing. As of Thursday, lawmakers were still negotiating a scaled-back version of the proposal. Another Newsom proposal that speeds construction of homeless shelters by sidestepping environmental laws also remains unresolved.

Lending a Hand to Working Families

Expanding California’s earned income tax credit has quickly become one of Newsom’s signature anti-poverty programs, because it gives a cost-of-living refund to low-income working families. Lawmakers are poised to triple the program from $400 million to $1.2 billion to provide a $1,000 refund for families with children under 6 and expand income eligibility from $24,950 to $30,000.

Anti-poverty advocates had wanted Newsom to include undocumented workers who file with individual taxpayer identification numbers instead of Social Security numbers. That proposal did not make the final version of the budget. Still, the administration estimates the current expansion will increase the number of beneficiaries from 2 million to 3 million households.

The budget also will make it easier for low-income families with children to qualify for assistance, increasing the CalWORKs asset limit to $10,000 and the motor vehicle exemption to $25,000—changes that will allow people to save and hang on to cars that can get them to work.

And parents of all incomes will get a longer paid family leave to care for new babies—eight weeks, up from the current six weeks, starting in July of next year. The goal will be to boost the benefit to 90 percent of most wages, up from the current maximum of 70 percent.

The K-14 Kids Did All Right

As required by law, the lion’s share of the budget goes to public schools, with nearly $102 billion in state money to be pumped into California classrooms and community colleges, plus another $389 million in a special reserve fund for schools. Though the figure is an all-time high, California is still viewed as lagging in per-pupil spending, in part because of the high cost of living.

Democrats are also demanding more stringent oversight of charter schools, which can operate like private schools, tend to be non-union and have proliferated in big cities such as Oakland and Los Angeles. Newsom proposed prohibiting charter schools from blocking or disenrolling special-education students who require more support for disabilities. Lawmakers readily embraced that change.

The budget includes $300 million to build more kindergarten classrooms in an effort to boost full-day kindergarten programs. Newsom had initially proposed $750 million but that was reduced after a study found most part-day kindergarten programs are in wealthier communities.

After-school programs will get a $50 million boost over the $600 million or so the state is currently spending. The money will help cover the cost of minimum wage increases enacted during Brown’s tenure.

So Did the Little Ones

In emphasizing early education, Newsom and lawmakers agreed to expand day care and preschool slots by the thousands while investing in training for child care providers.

Newsom gets $50 million in seed money to start child savings accounts for college and post-secondary education. He initially asked that all of it go toward pilot projects with First 5 California and local governments, but the Legislature is designating $25 million to that. The other $25 million will create a state program with the Scholarshare program in the Treasurer’s Office.

More Free College and Help for Student Parents

Newsom and legislators delivered on a $45 million promise to fund a second year of tuition-free community college for first-time, full-time students at campuses participating in the state’s College Promise program.

Other big winners include students with children, who will be eligible to receive grants of up to $6,000 to help cover their families’ living expenses. The budget boosts by about 15,000 the number of competitive Cal Grants—a significant jump, but far less than the 400,000 qualified students who applied for the state scholarships last year and didn’t receive them.

The University of California and California State University systems will receive money to increase enrollment, and waive tuition during the summer to help low-income students graduate faster. Lawmakers also set aside funds for campuses to combat hunger and homelessness, strengthen veterans resource centers, and provide more mental health counseling. A center at the University of California San Francisco is getting a $3.5 million earmark for dyslexia screening and early intervention.

Backers of the state’s controversial new online community college fended off an effort to slash the college’s funding, clearing the way to enroll its first class this fall. And CSU will get $4 million to study five possible locations for a new campus: Stockton, Chula Vista, San Mateo, Concord and Palm Desert.

Lots for Police Training; a Little for Police Records

Reflecting the Legislature’s focus this year on reducing police shootings, the budget includes $20 million to train police officers on de-escalation tactics, and how and when to use force. Outside the budget, bills to set a tougher standard for police to use deadly force and require more officer training are advancing through the Legislature, reflecting a compromise between civil rights advocates and law enforcement groups.

Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s office will get $155,000 to implement the new state law he’d been resisting: making law-enforcement misconduct records public. Becerra will also have to report to the Legislature on how many requests his office processes, and how much time is spent on that. A judge ruled in May that Becerra must produce the records; previously he had said he would not release them until the courts clarified whether he had to.

Powering Down to Cope With Wildfires

Besides beefing up the state’s firefighting capability and disaster preparedness, California will add powering down to its to-do list for coping with climate change-driven wildfires.

The budget doles out $75 million to state and local agencies whenever investor-owned utilities decide to shut off electricity during red flag weather warnings. One note: The Assembly added language to track how the money is used.

CALmatters reporters Matt Levin, Felicia Mello and Laurel Rosenhall contributed to this report. CALmatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.

Published in Politics

Anyone who spent the weekend at the California Democratic Party’s convention—watching 14 White House contenders try to impress what one congresswoman called “the wokest Democrats in the country”—observed the following: Saturday’s most rapturous cheers went to Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who declared “the time for small ideas is over," advocated “big, structural change” and said “I am here to fight.” Sunday’s thunderous applause went to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, when he demanded there can be “no middle ground” on climate change, healthcare or gun violence.

Those who strayed from progressive orthodoxy did so at their peril.

Ex-Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper dismissed the push for single-payer health care by insisting “socialism is not the answer” Saturday, drawing a sustained barrage of boos—not just from those who embraced the label, but from those who resented it. The following day, Maryland Rep. John Delany dismissed Medicare-for-All as “not good policy,” and faced heckles and jeers.

The San Francisco confab was the state Dems’ first get-together since last year’s blowout election returned the party to its national majority in the House and devastated the ranks of elected Republicans in California. The delegates left no doubt that as they prepare for the 2020 election against President Donald Trump, they are in no mood for compromise or equivocation.

At least not when it comes to ideas that energize them.

But state party conventions—dominated in decibels by faithful partisans and zealous activists—often offer an exaggerated, funhouse-mirror reflection of what the party’s voters statewide actually think. And even the delegates can be more temperate than the room might suggest.

In one of the few choices that the 3,200-plus delegates actually made, a majority eschewed more progressive candidates and easily elected as the party’s next chairman Los Angeles labor leader Rusty Hicks. He’s a soft-spoken white guy from Los Angeles who represented what many called the “safe choice.”

Still, they gave an effusive reception to speakers who jettisoned safe choices. Here was Warren: “Too many powerful people in our party say, ‘Settle down, back up … wait for change until the privileged and powerful are comfortable with those changes,'” she said. “Here’s the thing—when a candidate tells you all the things that aren’t possible … they are telling you they will not fight for you, and I am here to fight.”

Few of the presidential candidates addressed California issues specifically, in the way they become conversant about, say, ethanol in Iowa. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who’s made climate policy a thrust of his campaign, talked about visiting the wildfire devastation in the California community of Paradise, and some candidates called for greater regulation of tech firms. But their speeches mostly sidestepped California-specific concerns and aimed wide in appealing to what Oakland Rep. Barbara Lee called the “most progressive and the most democratic and the wokest Democrats in the country.”

“This is obviously a group of activists, and there are obviously some candidates who appeal more to the activists,” Dave Min told CALmatters at a meeting of the Chicano and Latino Caucus. He lost a bid for Congress in 2018 to Rep. Katie Porter, who was backed by Sen. Warren and supported Medicare-for-All. Now he’s seeking a state senate seat.

As if to illustrate his point, minutes later, Sanders—who has done more than virtually any other politician to turn support for universal Medicare into a litmus test for progressive Democratic candidates—entered the room and was nearly trampled by selfie-seeking delegates.

Next, Beto O’Rourke, the former Texas Congressman who nearly beat GOP Sen. Ted Cruz in Texas, entered the room, unleashing fresh pandemonium. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a relative moderate, was treated to a much more restrained, if polite, reception.

That courtesy was not extended to Hickenlooper.

“If we want to beat Donald Trump and achieve big progressive goals, socialism is not the answer,” he told the convened Democrats. He was booed for roughly 30 seconds by delegates who either objected to his characterization of single-payer healthcare as “socialism,” or, in fact, believe socialism is the answer.

Regardless, the scene was unadulterated Fox News fodder.

The next day, Delaney, of Maryland, took the same approach. On the heels of Sanders’ raucously well-received speech, Delaney told the audience that universal access to Medicare “is actually not good policy.” The audience disagreed, vocally and persistently. Even New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez got in the act, tweeting that Delaney should just “sashay away.”

If this is the first time you’ve heard of Delaney or Hickenlooper, that may have been the point. Hickenlooper later told the San Francisco Chronicle that he was not seeking the crowd’s vitriol. But the fact that his campaign blasted out a press release the day of the event with the title, “Hickenlooper to California Dems: “Socialism Is Not the Answer” suggested he might have been aiming his appeal far outside Moscone Center. The following day, his campaign issued a press release citing coverage from The Washington Post and exulting: “Hickenlooper lost the room but gained a national audience.”

Besides, the Democratic Party has a history of candidates strategically saying something sure to elicit boos from a leftist crowd in order to establish their independent cred with moderates: Consider President Bill Clinton’s Sister Souljah speech, and California Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s defense of capital punishment at her state’s convention—which her campaign gleefully turned into a TV commercial.

For Julian Castro, who served as Housing and Urban Development secretary in the Obama administration and who has struggled to gain much popular support, the interpretation was clear.

“You heard the reaction,” he said, when asked by a reporter whether Democrats can compete without supporting a single-payer health-care policy. “Probably not in this state. Who knows?”

Joe Biden might disagree. The former vice president supports a policy that would allow those under the qualifying age to purchase a Medicare policy, which constitutes a moderate position among the current Democratic candidates. But at least for now, he leads in the polls—even among California Democrats.

The Biden campaign explained the candidate’s conspicuous absence at the San Francisco convention as an unavoidable scheduling conflict, though attendees of the 2018 Democratic convention may recall the chilly reception that Sen. Feinstein, another moderate, received.

The Democrats in attendance largely shrugged off Biden’s decision not to show up. Alex Gallardo-Rooker, who has served at the party’s chair since the resignation of Eric Baumann earlier this year, said that Biden was “being pulled all over the place.” Gov. Newsom also gave the former vice president a pass: “It’s a big country.” When asked about it, Sen. Kamala Harris literally shrugged—and said nothing.

The one exception was Sanders, who, during his speech in the convention hall on Sunday morning, referred to “presidential candidates who have spoken to you here in this room and those who have chosen, for whatever reason, not to be in this room.” The crowd happily booed.

Sanders was cheered as he argued that there is no “middle ground” on climate change, making a not-so-subtle dig at Biden who used the term to describe his environmental policy plan.

But to some, both supporters and detractors, the party’s choice of Hicks for chair represented its own kind of middle ground. Kimberly Ellis, Hicks’ strongest opponent who narrowly lost the race for party chair in 2017, had argued that the party needs to take a more assertive role in political messaging and agenda setting.

But with 57 percent of the vote, Hicks’ victory was decisive, and the party avoided an oft-predicted runoff election. Ellis got 36 percent.

For close observers of California politics, this might feel like deja vu. Earlier this year, the California Republican Party held its own election for chair in which Jessica Patterson, the pick of most of the party establishment, beat out an ideological upstart, Travis Allen.

At a Friday evening forum hosted by the Democratic Party’s progressive caucus, candidates for chair were asked, rapid-fire, about single-payer health insurance, a statewide ban on fracking, the Green New Deal and a moratorium on new charter schools. All six candidates were unanimous in their support.

Where disagreement arose, it was less about policy and more about the role of the party itself—whether the priority should be on building up the party as a political institution or promoting the most progressive agenda.

Asked whether the party should abandon the practice of automatically endorsing incumbent Democratic lawmakers or substantially reduce the power of elected office holders within the party, Hicks was the only candidate to say no.

Karen Araujo, a delegate from Salinas who supported Ellis, called Hicks “a safe choice.” Still, she added, “It was a clear decision. I’ll honor that and I’ll work hard for my party.”

Said Josh Newman, a former Orange County state senator who was recalled and is running for his old seat again: “It’s good to have a decisive moment where we decide, ‘OK, fair election, fair result; now let’s work on the next thing. And the next thing has to be 2020.”

Elizabeth Castillo contributed to this story. CALmatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.

Published in Politics

The federal government now requires hospitals to publish online its “charge description master”—a list of what the hospital charges for various services and items.

When this new policy, which took effect Jan. 1, was announced last year, it was heralded as an overdue move to promote fairness and transparency within our country’s expensive and often-confusing health-care system.

Unfortunately … that’s not how things have turned out.

The Independent decided to see how this new policy is working at the three Coachella Valley hospitals. I dove into my research enthusiastically, easily locating and downloading the charge masters, as these lists are called, from the Eisenhower Medical Center (EMC) and Desert Care Network (DCN) websites.

Then … well, I opened the charge masters. Just as I thought I was gaining useful information, I discovered the downloaded documents, practically speaking, are useless to any layperson who lacks a knowledge of oft-unintelligible medical terminology. It’s also nearly impossible to compare between hospitals, since each uses its own terms and formats.

Download the Eisenhower Medical Center Chargemaster here.

Download the Desert Regional Medical Center Chargemaster here.

Download the JFK Memorial Chargemaster here.

Oh, one more thing: If you have insurance, you and your insurance company aren’t paying the amounts listed on the chargemaster, anyway.

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges: “The hospital charge description master … represents 100 percent of services used by patients in a hospital setting. The use of charge masters began in the early 1950s with the advent of indemnity insurance products; in this environment, hospital rates were set based on billed charges for individual services. As the health insurance industry matured, hospitals moved to payments based on negotiated rates, and the billed charges expressed in the charge master remained largely as a rate schedule for those patients who were private pay or uninsured. … The process for updating the charge master is not intended to ensure that it is a comprehensive document for tracking relative prices. Instead, hospitals focus on adding new services and calibrating highly competitive services rather than updating rates for older services.”

Still … I wanted to ask why the charge masters from our local hospitals were so unwieldly, poorly organized and confusing.

I received no reply from Eisenhower, but I did speak briefly with Todd Burke, California director of communications for Tenet Healthcare, which runs the two valley hospitals within the Desert Care Network: Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs, and JFK Memorial Hospital in Indio. He provided a corporate statement which read: “The hospitals of the Desert Care Network focus on providing high-quality, cost-effective care to all patients we serve. We understand that the costs of health care can be confusing. When looking at the charges posted to our website, it is important to know that the charges posted are a reference price and not the amount that patients or insurers actually pay. When inquiring about actual costs of care, we strongly encourage patients to speak with their insurance provider, or if uninsured or those patients who have Medicare or Medicaid, to speak with the hospital’s financial services department.”

Burke also suggested that I reach out to Jan Emerson-Shea, the vice president for external affairs at the California Hospital Association. So I did.

“You know, people often like to say, ‘Well, I shop for shoes, and I shop for cars, so why shouldn’t I be able to shop for health care, and look at prices ahead of time?’” Emerson-Shea said. “We understand the desire for that level of price transparency, and hospitals are always willing to do the best they can to provide that information. But it’s important for people to understand that these things are different, because you’re talking about a person’s individual health-care needs. So if I happen to have diabetes, and you don’t, we might be having the same health-care procedure, but mine might be more complicated and more expensive due to my pre-existing health condition. People have to understand that everything with health-care pricing is dependent on what your actual needs are as a person, and then it’s also dictated by what your insurance coverage is—and if you are uninsured, California has a decade-old law that limits how much you can be liable for in terms of your hospital care. Depending on your income level, this state law says that hospitals are required to give you either free or discounted care based on a sliding scale. So, really, no patient ever winds up paying the dollar-cost amounts that are shown on any charge master list.”

In other words … all the hospitals in the United States are complying with this requirement to post their charge masters because they’re required to do so, yet everybody involved knows that the charge masters are of no use to anyone in the patient population?

“Yes. That’s exactly right,” she replied.

Where does this leave the discussion about cost transparency within the health-care industry?

“Legally, we are complying with what the laws and regulations require,” Emerson-Shea said. “Is it fair to say that hospitals understand that this information is not very useful, and that we’re looking for ways to make it more useful? Yes. This is not an easy discussion, but I can certainly say that our association is working with our member hospitals to figure out what other options there may be. There are some hospitals in the state that have looked at new technologies to see if there’s a way to put a price estimator on their website that allows patients to go in pre-surgery and enter their information. I think it’s certainly fair to say that there’s a live conversation going on.”

She them summed up the puzzle facing all parties involved.

“If you’re faced with having a procedure done at a hospital, you’ll be going to the hospital where your doctor practices, or you’re being taken to one by an ambulance. … Are you really going to shop around for prices in that situation? I know the California Health Care Foundation has done some research on this question, and they found that, for the most part, consumers are not shopping for health care in that way. … It is not similar to shopping for any other type of a consumer product. Still, I think it’s fair to say that hospitals are looking at how to make this information more useful for patients.”

Published in Features

On this week's polar vortex-free weekly Independent comics page: This Modern World realizes Sparky the Penguin may need a new job; Jen Sorensen just says no to billionaire presidential candidates; (Th)ink examines the difference between wall vs. cave; Red Meat enjoys the benefits of regularity; and Apoca Clips watches as Sarah Huckabee Sanders declares that everything is fine.

Published in Comics

Galileo Galilei once said, “Wine is sunlight, held together by water.” Of course, Galileo never made his way to sunny California—but if he were here now, something tells me he’d want to be at the WineLover’s Auction, taking place at the Thunderbird Country Club on Saturday, Feb. 16.

The WineLover’s Auction is the signature annual fundraiser for Coachella Valley Volunteers in Medicine. Doug Morin is the executive director of CVVIM, which operates the only free medical clinic in the Coachella Valley, in Indio at 82915 Ave. 48.

“This rose out of a study that was undertaken by JFK Memorial Hospital in 2007. The conclusion of that was the valley needed a free clinic for individuals who did not have insurance by whatever means,” Morin said. “The program was modeled after a national program called Volunteers in Medicine. … After a couple years of fundraising … in 2010, we started providing services near JFK.

“There was a lot of community support behind opening the clinic. Part of what was so time-consuming was getting the nurse practitioners, doctors and dentists to volunteer, as well as (raising money for) the operational costs and the direct patient costs, like the bandages and all the other sorts of things that are required for treatment and diagnostic services. … The county helped out by providing a county-owned office for us; our cost is the maintenance of the office space.

“Since then, we have consistently seen about 1,000 unduplicated clients every year, totaling around 3,500 visits … Many have a chronic illness that requires ongoing follow-up, like diabetes, which is our No. 1 issue that we see clients for, (followed by) COPD and congestive heart failure. We provide primary care and a few specialty services, but not urgent or emergent care. If someone breaks a leg, or has a heart attack, or an open wound, then they have to go to the emergency room.”

Morin said the clinic also offers case-management services to those in need, as well as education services. “A lot of diabetes education is designed for healthy living, to help the patient get around with diabetes and keep it stable,” he said.

“Almost two years ago, we began a homeless-outreach program around the Indio and Coachella area. We have physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses, psychologists, social workers and a number of other Individuals who work in the field. We tend to think that (homeless people) need blankets and shoes, which they usually do, but what most of them really need is medical services. Often, they’ll get vaccinations or A1C level checks in the field.

“We do all of this with about 200 volunteers and six full- and part-time staff for the year.”

Who can receive treatment at Coachella Valley Volunteers in Medicine?

“We do have eligibility requirements,” Morin said. “One is that you must be a resident of Coachella Valley. You can’t have medical insurance, or you (must be unable to afford) to use your current medical insurance, and you must be at 200 percent of the federal poverty level. For an individual, that means making only about $20,000 a year.”

So … what about the WineLover’s Auction?

“This is the fourth annual wine auction, and it has, for the past three years, raised more than $200,000 each year. Our yearly budget is $600,000 to cover patient care, so almost a third of our yearly budget is raised from this,” Morin said. “We have presenting sponsorships from both JFK Memorial Hospital and the Desert Regional Medical Center. The evening starts off with a wine reception and a general silent auction, and then moves into the dining room for the live auction. There’s not just wine, but a lot of things that are wine-related; for example, there are trips to Napa Valley, trips on yachts and cruises for several hours, some featuring foods and wine. Sometimes there’s art involved. … There’s something for everybody. The auction items’ values are anywhere from $100 to several thousand dollars.

“Our biggest wine sponsor is Chateau Ste Michelle. They provide all the wine for the reception and the dinner. They also provide a number of packages of rare wines, signed bottles and collector bottles. … To cap the evening’s festivities off, there is usually some entertainment with songs from a winner of a local talent show.”

The WineLover’s Auction takes place at 5 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 16, at the Thunderbird Country Club, 70737 Country Club Drive, in Rancho Mirage. Tickets start at $250. For tickets or more information, call 760-625-0737, or visit cvvim.ejoinme.org/winelovers-auction.

Published in Features & Profiles

Before responsible Riverside County voters go to the polls on Nov. 6, not only will they need to determine which candidates are the most qualified; they’ll need to examine candidates’ statements and positions to determine what is based on fact—and what is not.

This brings us to the race for California’s 28th Senate District—which includes the entire Coachella Valley—where incumbent Republican State Sen. Jeff Stone is running for a second term against Democratic challenger Joy Silver.

Silver is an underdog in the race. In the June primary election, Stone received 56 percent of the vote, compared to 34.7 percent for Silver—a margin of more than 34,000 votes. (A third candidate, Anna Nevenic, a Democrat, received 9.3 percent.)

We asked each candidate why he or she thought constituents should vote for them.

“Probably because I have a proven track record of being an elected official,” said Stone during a recent phone interview. “I’m completing my 26th year (of holding elected office). You never really forget who your boss is, and that’s your constituents, so you have to make sure that you’re always doing things in their best interests.

“Whether I was on the city council (of Temecula), or the board of supervisors (of Riverside County) or now in the California state government, whenever I meet with a governing body, I always feel like I’ve got my constituents sitting on my shoulder, and I ask myself, ‘Is this something they would like or not like?’ Certainly, coming to the state Senate has been a much more challenging experience, because you have a third dimension, which is not one that we had at a local level too much, and that’s partisanship. The partisanship is something you can cut with a knife.”

Silver is a small-business owner who built a successful career as a health clinic executive, senior housing developer and business consultant.

“I think it’s important for people to know that I’m not a career politician,” Silver said. “I’m an outsider who will bring real change to Sacramento, and that will include standing up to those policies coming out of Washington when they hurt all Californians. I want to bring my experience to work on our local priorities, and to fight for the values of our Riverside County constituents … all of us.”

The Independent asked what their priorities would be if elected to the four-year term.

“I carry some very basic fundamentals with me in being an elected official,” Stone said. “One is that government has limited responsibilities, mostly ensuring that our citizens are safe and healthy; and for those who don’t have financial resources, we need to make sure that we help them, especially those who want to help themselves.

“We’ve seen public safety deteriorate with all these terrible initiatives like Prop 47 (which reduced penalties for some crimes, passed in 2014), Prop 57 (passed in 2016, it incentivizes prison inmates to take responsibility for their own rehabilitation, among other things) and AB 109 (passed in 2011 in response to a U.S. Supreme Court order to reduce California prison populations, it transferred certain nonviolent offenders from the state prison system to county-level supervision). These public-safety experiments have come at the cost of a lot of lives and the demise of many businesses.”

Statistics, however, don’t support Stone’s claims. A June 21 report from the Public Policy Institute of California indicates that property-crime rates have decreased slightly since 2011, when the first of these laws was enacted. While violent-crime rates have increased slightly in that time frame, they are still about 50 percent less than year 2000 levels.

Silver said her priorities would include job creation, universal healthcare for all California residents, developing a clean energy economy, career/vocational training, the expansion of affordable housing, and advocacy for immigrant communities.

We asked if universal health care was a realistic goal.

“I do think it is an achievable goal, and with my expertise in the provision of healthcare services, I think I can help move that concept into a place (where) it can work,” she said. “We do have a large economy. Certainly, there are smaller economies in the world that are providing health care for their people, and I think that with the right plan, we can make it happen here for Californians.”

The ever-increasing cost of many prescription drugs is another concern she hopes to address.

“I feel that there needs to be a particular focus on the ability to do group purchases,” Silver said. “Certainly, I’m not the first one to come up with that. When I did work in the health-care business, and we did provide service to a mostly Medicaid patient population, the key there was for independent ambulatory surgical centers to participate in group purchases of items, and that helped us turn around and provide needed goods to the population that we were serving. I think that would be one of the ways to contain costs in a larger venue like our state.”

Stone—who ran unsuccessfully for Congress against Dr. Raul Ruiz in 2016—said the business climate is a top concern.

“I’ve been an active opponent to taxation since I started my political endeavors in 1992, and I’ve never voted for a tax,” Stone said. “We need to do a better job of keeping jobs in California. We’re seeing a flight of the middle class out of the state. We see the price of homes out of the reach of middle-class Californians. Look at the flight out of San Francisco—the liberal experiment that goes on (there) where you have ‘shooting galleries,’ which are places to shoot heroin. And you see the homeless population exponentially increasing there with people bagging feces on the street, and hypodermic needles all over the place. … Even the property values here in Sacramento have been climbing like crazy. Why? Because the people in the Bay Area are trying to escape all this horrific policy that has reduced the quality of life of the people living in those areas.”

The Independent asked both candidates what solutions they would propose to combat the proliferation of wildfires in our state.

“We have to take into consideration that the dryness is part of that issue,” Silver said. “I know that in Idyllwild, they’ve had a plan, and because that plan was in place with various stop-gap measures and ways to coordinate with local fire departments at different points in time, they were able to contain the smaller fires that were initiated by embers. I think that Northern California (communities) could benefit from a plan such as the one in Idyllwild, because they knew how to control and contain. Aside from that, we’re going to have to look at climate and environmental issues to see how we can bring down the heat factor. We have to look at how we can work with a clean-energy economy to do that.”

Stone pointed out that he’s on a committee of lawmakers looking into the spate of fires.

“This has been the worst fire season that we’ve had, and it’s attributable, in some sense, to climate change, but it’s also due to our radical environmental policies that don’t allow us to go in and thin forests and get rid of the 129 million dead or dying trees in the state of California, all in the name of ‘environmental stewardship,’” he said.

The estimate on the dead-tree population came from the U.S. Forest Service in December 2017.

“But at the same time as environmentalists have prohibited us from going in to clear brush and trees, look at how many acres now have been completely erased from California’s landscape,” Stone continued. “How many endangered species and animals have perished in all of these fires that maybe we could have prevented? Certainly we couldn’t have prevented those involving arson, which includes two (recent) fires in my district, the Cranston Fire and the Holy Fire. But in other areas of the state, we could have prevented some of these fires potentially, or at least (lessened) the magnitude of the fires had we cleared the brush.”

The facts don’t necessarily support Stone’s position—particularly his placement of blame on environmentalists for the fires. According to an article from Aug. 7 in The Sacramento Bee, “As of 2015, through the national forests, national parks, Bureau of Land Management, and others, the federal government manages more than 40 percent of California’s total (forest) acreage. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, by comparison, manages a little more than 30 percent. The Trump administration’s own budget request for the current fiscal year and the coming one proposed slashing tens of millions of dollars from the Department of Interior and U.S. Forest Service budgets dedicated to the kind of tree clearing and other forest management work experts say is needed.”

Published in Politics

On this week's seasonably muggy weekly Independent comics page: This Modern World looks again at life in the Stupidverse; Jen Sorenson debates which crowd-funded health-care plea to support; The K Chronicles celebrates even more of life's little victories; Red Meat takes the weekend off; and Apoca Clips discusses the latest move by Steven Seagal.

Published in Comics

On this week's hot and muggy weekly Independent comics page: Jen Sorenson sows collusion confusion; The K Chronicles discovers a rooster; This Modern World asks whether you're a Goofball or a Galahad; Red Meat shows concern about Wally's health; and Apoca Clips has Lil Trumpy having a vote-motivated tantrum.

Published in Comics

By many measures, the rambunctious campaign for a single-payer health-care system in California appears to be struggling.

A bill that would replace the existing health-care system with a new one run by a single payer—specifically, the state government—paid for with taxpayer money remains parked in the Assembly, with no sign of moving ahead. An effort by activists to recall Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon for shelving the bill has gone dormant. And an initiative that would lay the financial groundwork for a future single-payer system has little funding, undercutting its chances to qualify for the ballot. 

But even if single-payer is a lost cause in the short term, advocates are playing a long game. For now, it may well be less a realistic policy blueprint than an organizing tool.

And by that metric, advocates are making gains.

Riding a wave of enthusiasm from progressive Democrats, supporters of single-payer have effectively made it a front-and-center issue in California’s 2018 elections. It’s been discussed in virtually every forum with the candidates running for governor, emerged as a point of contention in some legislative races, and will likely be a rallying cry at the upcoming California Democratic Party convention.

“This issue is not going away,” said Garry South, a Democratic political consultant who has worked with the California Nurses Association, which sponsored the stalled single-payer bill. “The progressive elements who are supportive of the single-payer concept know that it’s not going to happen now; it’s not going to happen tomorrow. It’s a long-term process, and Jerry Brown is gone as of January 2019.”

The governor has not needed to stake a position on the bill, because it skidded to a stop in the Assembly last summer without reaching his desk. But state Sen. Toni Atkins, a San Diego Democrat who co-authored Senate Bill 562, said Brown was not receptive. Analyses peg the cost of a statewide single-payer system at between $330 billion and $400 billion—far exceeding the state’s entire budget. That made it an anathema to Brown’s record of prioritizing fiscal stability for state government.

“When the governor saw that we introduced that bill… all he could look at me and do is shake his head and say, ‘$400 billion dollars.’ And I kept trying to say, ‘Can we back up and talk about what you've got to do to get (there)?’" Atkins said in an interview.

“He wasn’t letting it go.”

Atkins, who will take over as Senate leader next month, said she’s not giving up on the goal of single-payer, but does not expect it to happen this year. “People are polarized on this issue in a way that’s not good for coming together to get it done,” she said.

Led by the nurses association—a labor union that embraces firebrand activism—supporters of single-payer have targeted Rendon after he shelved the bill last summer, saying it lacked critical information on how to pay for a massive overhaul of the healthcare system. They peppered social media with images that not only portrayed the bill fight as a boxing match between Rendon and the nurses, but also depicted a knife labeled “Rendon” back-stabbing the bear symbol of California.

The nurses were not involved in the campaign to recall Rendon, said recall organizer Stephen Elzie, who has since dropped the effort and is now helping Democrat Maria Estrada challenge Rendon’s re-election bid. But the nurses union leapt into the governor’s race as one of the first labor unions to endorse Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom. Single-payer has emerged as one of few issues on which the Democratic candidates disagree.

Newsom and Delaine Eastin, the former state superintendent of schools, have both said they support the nurses’ single-payer bill. Fellow Democrats Antonio Villaraigosa, former mayor of Los Angeles, and John Chiang, the state treasurer, say they want to expand health care so that everyone is covered, but not necessarily with the single-payer model that would abolish private health insurers and replace them with a government-run system.

A coalition of medical groups is lobbying against the single-payer bill, arguing that it makes more sense to protect and expand the federal Affordable Care Act, which has increased the number of Californians who have health insurance. Some members of the coalition have a history of spending big money to sway California elections. One of them, the doctors’ association, donated to Newsom before he voiced support for single-payer; it’s not yet clear if they will shift support to another candidate. 

Almost two-thirds of Californians like the idea of a statewide single-payer health-care system, although enthusiasm drops significantly if it would require raising taxes, according to polling last year by the Public Policy Institute of California. Still, Californians didn’t cite health care as a top priority when asked last month what the Legislature and governor should focus on in 2018.

The Assembly just wrapped up a series of hearings on what it would take to create a health-care system that covers all Californians. It exposed many obstacles—in both federal and state law—to swiftly enacting single-payer. For one, the state would need permission from the federal government—and perhaps an act of Congress—to shift billions of dollars from Medi-Cal and Medicare into a state-run single-payer plan. For another, if lawmakers raised taxes to fund single-payer, voters would likely need to approve changes to the California Constitution to allow the money to go to health care instead of schools. (That’s the only single-payer initiative that someone is trying to get qualified for the ballot; while a Silicon Valley tech consultant is gathering signatures for it, he doesn’t have support from the nurses’ union or any other well-financed group.)

Assemblyman Jim Wood, a Healdsburg Democrat who chaired the panel, called the single-payer bill “aspirational” and said he’s instead considering legislation that could help more Californians get health care without requiring permission from the federal government. One idea: extending subsidized health plans to adults who are undocumented immigrants.

“I believe we can actually get to single-payer, once we go through a lot of study and a lot of work,” Wood said. “But this feels, at times, more like a litmus test.”

CALmatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.

Published in Politics

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