CA parental rights battle gets louder

This story appeared on Calmatters

Parents, students and supporters of parental rights rally at the state Capitol in Sacramento on Aug. 21, 2023. Photo by Rahul Lal for CalMatters

It was a tale of two opposing events on parents’ role in California schools — though one was postponed because of Tropical Storm Hilary.

In one corner was the California Family Council, a nonprofit, religious organization rallying at the state Capitol on Monday with pastors, attorneys and Sonja Shaw, Chino Valley Unified School District board president, to protest a series of bills they argue prevents parents from caring and overseeing their children. Many of the same people showed up at a similar rally last week; several Southern California school boards have been battling with Gov. Gavin Newsom, Attorney General Rob Bonta and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond over book bans and other culture wars in the classroom. 

  • Shaw: “The majority of Sacramento politicians are programmed and the political cartel of Newsom, Bonta and Thurmond have a stronghold on California’s public education and use that to push their ideology — but not for long.… All the wicked, low-class politicians following their lead, listen to us. This is from us. Today we stand here and declare in His almighty name that it’s only a matter of time before we take your seats.”

Shaw specifically called out two measures she says “silence us, the parents”: Assembly Bill 1078, which would raise the threshold for school boards to ban books, from a simple majority to two-thirds; and Senate Bill 596, which would fine individuals who “substantially” disrupt a school board meeting or harass school employees. (The bill joins a number of other bills that were placed in the suspense file last week.)

In the other corner was supposed to be Thurmond, a potential 2026 gubernatorial candidate, hosting an online panel at the same time about “inclusive education” with a handful of Democrats from the Legislature’s women, LGBTQ+, Black, Latino and Jewish caucuses. In June, the education department launched a Task Force on Inclusive Education focused on diversifying textbooks.

The event, which would “highlight efforts to create safe, supportive learning environments” for students, was canceled “out of respect for the individuals and locations impacted by the tropical storm,” according to the Department of Education. (Monday’s legislative floor sessions were also canceled due to the storm, reports KCRA.) A Thurmond roundtable about combating antisemitism is still on for Wednesday, however.

But Shaw was apparently unaware about the cancellation and called out Thurmond’s panel: “This is a spiritual battle. This is a warfare.”

This “battle” between Shaw and Thurmond is a familiar one: In July, Shaw successfully pushed a Chino Unified policy to require district teachers and staff to notify parents if a student requests to identify as a different gender or otherwise identifies as LGBTQ+. (It’s similar to a bill that was blocked in the Legislature this year.) Thurmond showed up at the meeting to oppose the policy and was ultimately escorted out by security after saying the measure would put “students at risk.”

The other bills the Family Council and Shaw are pushing back against are:

  • AB 5: Require the Department of Education to develop a training course for school employees on “LGBTQ cultural competency” (currently in the suspense file);
  • AB 665: Allow children 12 and older to receive “mental health treatment or counseling on an outpatient basis” without parental consent;
  • AB 957: Require judges to consider a parent’s affirmation of a child’s gender identity or expression when it comes to granting custody. 

More Capitol news: A proposed temporary $1.50 hike in Bay Area bridge tolls to fund public transit was put on pause Monday.

Sen. Scott Wiener, a San Francisco Democrat who authored the bill, and Assemblymember Lori Wilson, a Suisun City Democrat who opposed it, jointly announced that SB 532 will be held until next year and that a group of Bay Area legislators will talk this fall about proposals to keep public transit agencies afloat to consider when the Legislature returns in January.

Wiener is acknowledging political reality: While what he called an “eleventh hour effort” had the backing of some local legislators, others were adamantly against making commuters pay more and seven Bay Area members of Congress were also opposed.

  • Wilson, in a statement: “Increasing tolls can be a significant burden to Bay Area commuters who are already dealing with high cost of living, inflation, and other expenses. From an equity perspective, tolls can have substantial repercussions especially for those where public transit is not a viable option.”

The bill would have raised tolls on seven Bay Area bridges for five years by $1.50 to $9.50, raising about $180 million a year. It was designed to supplement the $5.1 billion in public transit money in the state budget over four years, which included $400 million in new operational money for Bay Area transit agencies. But they need $2.5 billion in the next five years, according to Wiener. 

Speaking of money: Eleven local government leaders on Monday urged Gov. Newsom and the Legislature to add $1.5 billion to a proposed mental health services bond, with the additional cash set aside for cities and counties.

The group — which includes the mayors of Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Diego and San Francisco — says in a letter that the money “would allow us to serve tens of thousands more Californians who desperately need housing, treatment, and recovery resources.”

The current $4.7 billion bond issue is central to Gov. Newsom’s controversial plan to revamp mental health care and spend more on housing and services for homeless individuals.


CalMatters is hiring: We’re looking for an economy reporter, a tech reporter, a politics and campaign reporter and a state Capitol reporter (in partnership with Voice of San Diego, and updated to no longer require applicants to live in Sacramento). See all our openings and apply here.

CalMatters events: The next event is scheduled for Sept. 19, on Gov. Newsom’s push for rehabilitation over incarceration. Register here. Here’s our coverage of prior panel discussions, in May on homeownership, in June on police shootings and this month on electric vehicles and inequality.


Are CA waste sites too rare to fail?

The Phibro-Tech Inc. plant in Santa Fe Springs on June 9, 2023.
The Phibro-Tech Inc. plant in Santa Fe Springs on June 9, 2023. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters

California has a hazardous waste problem. The state makes a lot of it — millions of tons a year, including chemicals that can kill people and  shampoos that can kill fish. 

But it turns out, no one wants that toxic detritus dumped in their backyard.

The number of facilities permitted to handle hazardous waste in California has dropped 80% over the past four decades. What’s left is an ever-shrinking collection of aging facilities, many of which have a troubling history of regulatory violations and contamination on site, a new CalMatters investigation has found.

Among the key findings by CalMatters’ award-winning investigative reporter Robert Lewis:

  • Of 41 hazardous waste businesses that received shipments last year, 24 have been the subject of “corrective action” to clean contamination on their site (some tracing back to earlier owners);
  • 29 were the subject of enforcement action by toxics regulators since 2010, and 11 are operating on expired permits;
  • The majority of facilities are in communities of color, often ones with high rates of poverty;
  • State officials failed to adopt regulations that were supposed to be in place by 2018 to ensure environmental justice was a consideration in hazardous waste permitting decisions.

The tension between protecting communities and ensuring toxic waste has a place to go is playing out in Los Angeles County. There, a company called Phibro-Tech, which specializes in recycling corrosive liquid waste for the tech industry, is poised to have its permit renewed. The company has been operating on an expired one since 1996.

But state inspectors documented violations in more than 30 inspections of the site since then. The company is operating less than 1,000 feet from the nearest homes in the unincorporated, mostly Latino community of Los Nietos. The state’s own tool for tracking environmental justice issues ranks the neighborhood next to Phibro-Tech as having more of a pollution burden than 97% of the state.

  • Angela Johnson Meszaros, a managing attorney with the environmental law organization Earthjustice: “It can’t be that a system that’s held together at best by bubble gum and baling wire is the thing that we’re doing in a developed nation to manage hazardous waste.”

This is Robert’s second investigation into toxic waste this year. In his earlier piece, he reported that California sends nearly half its toxic waste to other states, often ones with weaker environmental rules. In a follow-up story, he reported that state lawmakers are planning an oversight hearing on toxics. That joint hearing for the Senate Environmental Quality and the Assembly Environmental Safety committees is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. Wednesday.

How to diversify the electorate

A voter casts their ballot at a voting site at the California Museum in downtown Sacramento on June 7, 2022. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters

A voter casts their ballot at a voting site in downtown Sacramento on June 7, 2022. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters

A poll out this month is only the latest proof: California voters are generally whiter, older, better educated than the population at large, and more likely to be married and own their homes as well.

But how to make the electorate look more like California — which the survey also says a majority of voters consider a priority?

A coalition of advocacy groups for poor people, immigrants and labor is trying to build support behind a bill for much broader automatic voter registration. Under Senate Bill 299, the Department of Motor Vehicles would be required to send details to the Secretary of State to register all eligible voters, and county election officials would have to notify them and give them a chance to refuse. Under California’s current “motor voter” law, you’re automatically registered when you go to DMV, but you can also simply opt out. The bill could also lead to automatic registration when you come in contact with other state agencies.

California has the greatest number of unregistered but eligible voters of any state, says the California Grassroots Democracy Coalition, and if everyone who is eligible but hasn’t registered signs up, that would add as many as 4.7 million voters. Many of those new voters would be younger, women and Latinos, reflecting California’s diversity. 

The coalition says it has been talking to key players, but with only four weeks left in this session, the plan is to wait until next year to push the bill. It’s co-authored by Democratic Sens. Caroline Menjivar of Van Nuys and Monique Limón of Santa Barbara.

  • Menjivar, in a statement: “Voting is one of the most powerful ways to initiate change in the United States, and simplifying voter registration will have an instant and dramatic effect on voter participation throughout California. We have taken significant steps in the right direction, but much more can be done to lift up the voices of historically disenfranchised communities.”

On representation: The blowback from the messy drawing of new election districts for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors could result in a 2024 local ballot measure. 

While any changes wouldn’t take effect until the next round of redistricting after the 2030 Census, the proponents want to capitalize on anger over last year’s line-drawing and the presumably big turnout for the presidential race, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

Part of the backdrop is the declining political power of Asian Americans: As The San Francisco Standard reports, 10 years ago, the mayor and four supervisors were Asian American. Now, only one supervisor is. 

  • City Attorney David Chiu, the first Chinese-American supervisor to represent Chinatown and former Assemblymember, to the Standard: “The trend line is not looking positive…. Hopefully, the next generation will come soon.”

The ballot measure could be superseded, or at least shaped, by the Legislature. Now, six of the nine members of the task force that draws San Francisco’s districts are appointed by the mayor and supervisors. 

Still alive this session: A bill that would ban local elected officials in cities and counties with more than 300,000 people from picking the people who decide their districts. The measure is part of a major push for more fully independent local commissions across California — and one of the biggest election changes still alive in the Legislature.

A housing loophole in Saratoga

George Hernandez (left) and Ismael Garcia work at the Quito Village Development Project in Saratoga on Apr. 13, 2023. Photo by Martin do Nascimento, CalMatters

Construction workers at the Quito Village Development Project in Saratoga on Apr. 13, 2023. Photo by Martin do Nascimento, CalMatters

From CalMatters housing reporter Ben Christopher:

One of the fiercest fights in California politics — one that divided union coalitions and led to the unceremonious death of many a housing bill — seems to have come to a quiet end in the San Jose suburbs. 

As CalMatters reported in May, of all the projects to break ground using of a closely-watched 2017 housing law meant to speed up the construction of apartment buildings, all but one were entirely set aside for lower income residents – thus avoiding a strict hiring standard, backed by some of the state’s most powerful construction unions. 

The lone holdout — “the California housing policy equivalent of a unicorn” — was the Quito Village townhouse complex in the affluent Santa Clara County city of Saratoga.

But there was a catch: PulteGroup, the project developer, wasn’t abiding by that higher standard.

Why do we care? The union-backed “skilled and trained” workforce standard has been a sticking point for housing bills for years. When Sen. Wiener introduced a bill this year to renew the 2017 streamlining law, he stripped out that requirement for projects with market rate units, arguing that it was too costly to actually produce new housing.

The fact that even this one project didn’t comply with the rule seemed to support that argument.

After CalMatters asked the City of Saratoga whether the Quito Village developer was complying with the rule, officials asked PulteGroup. That’s where things stood when the CalMatters story ran.

Now, an update: In a lengthy letter dissecting the statute, a lawyer representing PulteGroup argued that state law does not require it to abide by the stricter standard. If true, the standard would only hold in 12 cities statewide.

Anyway, the letter added, Wiener’s new bill is about to dispense with the old rules, so it’s a bit of a moot point.

  • Crystal Bothelio, a spokesperson for Saratoga: After receiving that letter, “the City concurred.”

California’s housing crisis, explained: CalMatters has detailed looks at why housing is so expensive in California and why homelessness is so persistent.


CalMatters Commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Jerry Brown proposed a federal constitutional amendment on a balanced budget. Four decades later, Gavin Newsom is pushing one on gun control.

CalMatters commentary has a new California Voices page with previous op-eds and columns, plus picks by editor Yousef Baig. Give it a look.


Other things worth your time

Some stories may require a subscription to read

Why some key unions are no longer fighting major housing bills in California // Vox

Wildfire insurance collapse is about to burn CA politicians // Politico

Schiff, famous for Trump impeachment, isn’t dominating Senate race // The Sacramento Bee

Tropical Storm Hilary obliterates rainfall records across SoCal // Los Angeles Times

California is free of drought for the first time in three years // The New York Times

Drug overdose death rates for every US county // San Francisco Chronicle

After exonerating dozens in CA, he’s focused on Latin America // The San Diego Union-Tribune

‘Powerful’ child abuse expo traveling to schools across California // EdSource

LGBTQ students returning to hostile environments, even in CA // San Francisco Chronicle

After spotlight on sexual misconduct at CSUs, Valley campuses try to meet accountability // KVPR

Robotaxis wreak havoc in SF, but San Jose, Oakland could be next // The Mercury News

SF archdiocese files for bankruptcy amid sex abuse suits // The San Francisco Standard

Oakland’s psychedelic mushroom church applies for permit to keep operating // Oaklandside

Santa Ana officials object to CA’s approval of needle exchange program // Voice of OC

Opinion: Why Gavin Newsom and Ron DeSantis should debate // Los Angeles Times

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