EDUCATION POLITICS-Charter schools are, in fact, the new face of segregation, the enabling excuse for exclusivity and alienation. The Charter School movement glorifies the illusion of “choice” even while entitling homogeneity. 

This is borne out in the numbers and confessed every day via parent-to-parent euphemisms: “this school is a better ‘fit',” “‘safety’ is my top priority,” “my child only responds to a ‘nurturing environment',” “smaller class sizes are necessary for my child,” “I want my child immersed in a specialized program.”  

So much sorting and selecting sets up a double whammy for segregation. On one level families self-select according to like-mindedness and socioeconomic comfort level. At the same time the very process of school selection siphons highly involved families away from public district schools. 

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HERE’S WHAT I KNOW-California has long been a trailblazer in environmental policy but lately, times seem to be a-changin’ -- from the ousting of the Coastal Commission’s Charles Lester to efforts by the South Coast Air Quality Management District board to snuggle up to industry with cozier pollution policies.

The South Coast air board’s newly Republican majority just voted to fire longtime executive officer Barry Wallerstein and to reaffirm the recent adoption of emissions rules for refineries and other pollution sources that are backed by the oil industry.

State Senate Pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) is pushing back to prevent a rollback on environmental gains with plans to introduce legislation that will add a public health expert and two environmental justice members to the South Coast Air Quality Management District board. The environmental justice appointees would be selected by state legislative leaders, while the public health member would be a governor appointee. All three would represent communities impacted by pollution and the 13-member panel would increase to 16 members.

Ten of the current board members are city council members, mayors, and county supervisors selected by local elected officials in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, and San Bernardino counties. Three members are appointees of the state Assembly speaker, Senate leadership, and the governor. De León’s proposal would also shift from the agency members from four-year terms to at-will service at the discretion of the officials who appoint them.

The addition of an environmentally supportive voice would hopefully hand back the reins of the agency to the state legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown, leading to more aggressive policies to curb pollution in the country’s smoggiest region.

De León notes, “This has been a wholesale takeover, to the detriment of children and families who breathe these harmful contaminants into their lungs every single day. We have progressed on our policies; we cannot go backward.” 

The shift in agency policy stems at least in part due to the board’s recent appointees, Highland Mayor Larry McCallon and Lake Forest Council Member Dwight Robinson who have been upfront about placing more emphasis on the economic burden posed by tough emission standards.

Prior to his ousting, Wallerstein and his staff had proposed a reduction in the cap on nitrous oxide pollution by 14 tons per day over the next seven years. The board countered with a proposed 12 tons per day cut with delays for the steepest cuts until the end of the seven-year period. The end result may delay installation of emissions controls at major oil refineries, putting a damper on ozone reduction, a component of smog that is linked to asthma, heart disease, lung damage, and premature deaths. Southern California’s inland valleys and mountains have especially high concentrations of ozone. The air quality panel has taken heat from state regulators and the Democratic legislative leadership for its refusal to adopt more ambitious measures.

How might de León’s proposal impact air quality in Southern California? A shift in the balance on the board is posed to foster debate about a plan due later this year that will determine how to decrease emissions to meet federal health standards for ozone and fine particle pollution.

The tug-of-war is between industry supporters who resist pollution reduction measures and those focused on reducing toxic emissions and cancer risk from refineries, metal factories, and manufacturers continues. Holding the country’s largest port complex accountable for pollution-reduction targets also stands in the balance.

Amplifying the voice of support for environmentally and health-friendly air quality policies is crucial to all who live in the southland, especially to residents of impacted communities. Setting back environmental progress by giving refineries and other industries a pass on emissions restrictions or pollution control standards just isn’t a sound policy for Californians.

(Beth Cone Kramer is a Los Angeles-based writer and writes for CityWatch.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.


A CONVERSATION WITH MOTT SMITH--The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, which is slated to appear on the November 2016 ballot, has provoked an intense debate on future development in Los Angeles. The Miracle Mile Residential Association, as part of its ongoing effort to inform its residents on the pros and cons of the initiative, has produced several videos on the topic for its MMRA Channel on YouTube. (Photo above: Mott Smith)

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VOICES OF THE PEOPLE--The big-bucks three-story duplex looks like a boxy alien spacecraft that strayed off course and crash-landed among the row of bewildered 1940’s bungalows in Venice. Standing across the street from this monstrosity, long-time Venice resident John Galbraith tells a visitor: “This kind of construction is happening all over Venice. This isn’t even the worst of it.”

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MY TURN-I love traveling by train. I have used them in Europe, Asia, New York, Chicago, Atlanta, San Francisco and San Diego. In Los Angeles...not so much! In fact, probably like many of you, I have yet to take the train from the San Fernando Valley to Downtown -- even though I have every good intention of doing so…next time. 

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GUEST COMMENTARY-The State Legislature is undertaking emergency action to address the major natural gas leak in the Aliso Canyon fields – a leak that drove thousands of people from their homes last October in search of relief. Senate Bill 380 builds upon an emergency order issued by Governor Jerry Brown earlier this year. It is an urgency measure, which means the Governor can immediately sign it into law once it reaches his desk. 

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JUST THE FACTS--The $15 an hour minimum wage that will soon be the norm throughout LA County and other areas will soon be chewed up by increased Los Angeles Department Water and Power rates as well as widespread rent increases to comply with earthquake retrofit costs for thousands of older apartment buildings throughout Los Angeles.

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TRANSPORTATION POLITICS-Saturday was a day of celebration for rail fans in the San Gabriel Valley in Los Angeles. The Gold Line extension from Pasadena to Azusa opened, marred only by apparently long lines to get the return train home and then later by a big rig crash on the freeway that shut the whole line down. 

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BIKE FRIENDLY--I’ve had to spend most of the last week and a half in downtown Los Angeles, hanging around the Central Library. When I was young this would have been a terribly boring location -- not the Library itself, as I’ve always been a bookworm, but the neighborhood. Now, though, I could hardly wait for breaks so I could get outside and explore Flower Street, Seventh Street, the Maguire Gardens at the west end of the library (once a parking lot), the Bunker Hill Steps, and, well, just about everything. 

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EASTSIDER-I don’t know if City Attorney Mike Feuer has simply lost control of the City Attorney’s Office, or if he’s been drinking some of the special kool-aid they’re handing out to his staff. But here’s a nutso note on their latest legal bombshell to Neighborhood Councils: 

“If any Board member of a Neighborhood Council has a child in school, the entire Board is not allowed to vote for a grant to any private, non-profit, or LAUSD School!” 

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