RECENT POSTS

Prop. 36: No Life Sentence for ’3rd Strike’ if Nonviolent

By Michael Montgomery

This story was co-reported by Monica Lam in collaboration with the Center for Investigative Reporting 

(Monica Lam: CIR)

Members of a San Quentin self-help group for three-strikers meet with reporter Michael Montgomery. Most say they are here for non-violent crimes. (Monica Lam: CIR)

Some 26 states have passed “three strikes” laws, which impose long prison terms for repeat offenders. But only in California can prosecutors seek a life sentence, even if the third strike is for a relatively minor felony, like drug possession. That could change, if voters approve Proposition 36 on the ballot this November.

In 1997 Norman Williams was sent to state prison for a 25-to-life sentence. His crime: stealing a jack from a tow truck in Long Beach. Because Williams had two previous burglary convictions, he was swept up by California’s three strikes law. Williams was sent to a maximum-security lockup alongside murderers, rapists and other violent criminals.

“I never wanted to do my whole life in prison. Nobody wants to be caged like that,” says Williams.

“We want to remove the worst offenders from society for the sake of our communities, and we want to do it no matter what it costs.”

But thanks to the help of an attorney and some Stanford Law School students, Williams got out. On a recent day, I met him in front of a halfway house in San Jose, where he directs cleaning crews for a program that provides work for ex-offenders. Williams says cleaning, especially floors, is the only thing he learned while locked up. Continue reading

Audio: Nader Tells Bush Haters It’s Still Not His Fault

(Don LaVange: Flickr)

(Don LaVange: Flickr)

by Lisa Aliferis and Jon Brooks

Some liberals still like to play the alternative-history parlor game called “What if Ralph Nader Hadn’t Run For President in 2000?” The chain of events in this butterfly-effect narrative unfolds something like this:

  • Without Nader on the ballot, the votes he received in Florida go instead to Al Gore, giving Gore the presidency, uncontested.
  • George W. Bush becomes a spokesman for Valvoline instead of the nation’s 43rd chief executive
  • Under President Gore, Sept. 11, the Iraq War, the Hurricane Katrina disaster, and the financial crisis never happen. The nation enters into a Pax Americana in which prosperity reigns, the environment is protected, and Honey Boo Boo is taken into the care of child protective services.

Continue reading

Explaining the Difference Between Props 30 and 38, Dueling Tax Initiatives

Teachers at Angeles Mesa Elementary School in Los Angeles review voter information on Proposition 38 during a recent teacher union meeting. (Ana Tintocalis: KQED)

Teachers at Angeles Mesa Elementary School in Los Angeles review voter information on Proposition 38 during a recent teacher union meeting. (Ana Tintocalis: KQED)

Education advocates in California say public schools will either sink or swim based on the outcome of two competing tax initiatives on the November ballot — Proposition 30 and Proposition 38. While both aim to protect students from more devastating budget cuts, they go about it in very different ways.

To better understand what is at stake for California’s public schools, I started off by visiting the headquarters of the Los Angeles Unified School District, the largest district in the state.

LAUSD has had to cut about half a billion dollars from its budget every year for the past five years because of the state’s money problems. Class sizes have swollen to more than 40 students; the school year was cut by five instructional days, and teachers have lost their jobs.

The person behind every difficult financial decision is Megan Reilly, the district’s Chief Financial Officer.

“The biggest challenge for Governor Brown is convincing [voters] that state government can be trusted to spend their tax dollars wisely and effectively.”

Her office is perched on the 26th floor of a skyscraper in downtown Los Angeles. Stacks of papers and financial reports are piled on and around her desk. Although she has a sweeping view of the city, she can’t take her eyes off of a series of large monthly calendars on the wall.

November 6th, Election Day, is circled, underlined and highlighted.

“I don’t think you can not think about it,” Reilly says. “We’re just in limbo because everything is critical about what is going to happen at the November election.”

Reilly views the election as a watershed moment for schools, because if voters do not approve Prop. 30 or Prop. 38, L.A. Unified — along with most other districts in California — will be pushed further down the road toward insolvency. Continue reading

Can a Penny-an-Ounce Soda Tax Curb Obesity?

Jorge Cota has lost more than 70 pounds since giving up soda and making other changes to his diet. (Mina Kim: KQED)

Jorge Cota, 17, has lost more than 70 pounds since giving up soda and making other changes to his diet. (Mina Kim: KQED)

Jorge Cota says he always gets a little nervous when he comes to Children’s Hospital in Oakland for his bi-monthly weigh-in.

“I’m wondering oh, did I lose this much weight, or did I not lose this much, if I gain weight I’m going to be mad,” says the 17-year-old high school football player from Tracy. “It’s just a lot of things going through my mind that I get nervous about when I come to the doctors, especially here.”

It was here at Children’s, about a year ago, that Jorge learned his health was in trouble.

“They told me that I was a pre-diabetic, that I also had high blood pressure, and they thought there was something wrong with my heart or my kidneys.”

“It was a scary moment,” Jorge’s mom Linda Ramos says. “When they were telling us, he started crying, he was scared, and that woke him up.”

At 16, Jorge was 5’11” and weighed 321 pounds.

“So I was a pretty big boy,” Jorge says with a smile.

His drink of choice was Dr. Pepper. Jorge says he’d drink two or three cans or bottles of soda a day. That added up to as much as 50 teaspoons of sugar.

“We just cut it out,” Linda Ramos says. “Not only the soda cut out, the way I cook at home for him, the junk food, the way we shop.” Continue reading

What’s at Stake for Obama’s Health Care Law in California This Election?

Photo by Gabriela Quiros, KQED Science

On KQED Public Radio’s The California Report Magazine on Friday, Scott Shafer talked with Marian Mulkey, the director of the Health Reform and Public Programs Initiative at the California HealthCare Foundation, a health-policy think tank (and a funder of the show).

Edited transcript:

SCOTT SHAFER: First of all, the Affordable Care Act has gradually been getting phased in nationwide. Give us a sense of what’s been happening up to now, right here in California.

MARIAN MULKEY, CALIFORNIA HEALTHCARE FOUNDATION: California has implemented many of the early provisions of the Affordable Care Act, making some new extensions of coverage available, for example, to young adults, assuring that pre-existing conditions are covered for children, and implementing many of the early programs — one for people with pre-existing conditions is in place and covering people already.

California has taken steps in terms of planning and establishing a state-based exchange, which is the marketplace by which people will be able to view their choices, identify what’s available for them and access federal subsidy support for buying coverage.

SHAFER: And it’s fair to say California has been further out in front on that than pretty much any other state?

MULKEY: Yes, California was early in determining it wanted to have a state-based exchange and moved quickly, immediately after the passage of the law in 2010 to start one up and to make some initial decisions. Continue reading

Los Angeles Measure B: Mandating Condom Use in Adult Films

By Stephanie O’Neill

The city of Los Angeles passed a condom requirement for adult film performers earlier this year. Measure B would expand the requirement to the entire county. (Shawn Latta: Flickr)

The city of Los Angeles passed a condom requirement for adult film performers earlier this year. Measure B would expand the requirement to the entire county. (Shawn Latta: Flickr)

The City of Los Angeles garnered worldwide attention earlier this year when it became the nation’s first city to require male adult film actors to wear condoms while performing.

But the landmark law only applies to film shoots that require a city permit and does not include adult films shot in studios.

Now voters will determine if the requirements should be expanded to all of Los Angeles County. Measure B would direct the Los Angeles County Health Department to enforce broader condom requirements at all adult film shoots countywide, studios included.

The AIDS Health Care Foundation backed the city ordinance and is now behind Measure B. They say both the city ordinance and the county measure are intended to save lives.

“You really can’t argue that people who go to work at a job really ought to be putting their health at risk,” says Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Health Care Foundation. “We put a thing at the conclusion of a film saying ‘no animal was hurt in the making of this film.’ We can’t say that about these films when it comes to people, real life people.” Continue reading

Arguments For, Against Prop 37′s GMO Labeling Requirement

Most of the corn in the U.S. is grown from genetically engineered seeds. (fishhawk: Flickr)

Most of the corn in the U.S. is grown from genetically engineered seeds. (fishhawk: Flickr)

One California proposition that is getting nationwide attention is Proposition 37. It requires labeling on raw or processed food that’s made from certain genetically engineered materials. It also prohibits calling any foods “natural” on the packaging — if those foods are made with genetically modified organisms (GMO). Supporters say consumers have a right to this information. Opponents say the measure is misleading and full of loopholes.

The California Report’s Scott Shafer talked with science reporter Amy Standen on Thursday about Prop. 37. Here’s an edited transcript of their discussion:

SCOTT SHAFER: Let’s begin with a background question. How are genetically modified foods used right now; how prevalent are they?

AMY STANDEN: Very prevalent. In fact, pretty much everything you’ll find in the middle of the supermarket — everything from sodas to crackers to cereals to cookies — almost all of those foods contain genetically modified ingredients. That’s because most of the corn, soy and a lot of the rice grown in the U.S. is grown from genetically modified seeds.

SHAFER: And what does that mean? How are they engineered and why? Continue reading

Richmond Residents Weigh in on Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Tax

Yes on N, Richmond soda tax mural

Yes on Richmond soda tax mural, by artists Mike Rich with Chris Khali of "Dunk the Junk." (Photo: Kristin Farr)

Two California cities – Richmond in Northern California’s Contra Costa County and El Monte in Los Angeles County — have proposed a one-cent-per-ounce tax on sugar sweetened beverages, including sodas and energy drinks. The Community Coalition Against Beverage Taxes (funded by the American Beverage Association) has spent approximately $3.5 million to defeat the measures. The coalition argues that it’s a tax on the poor, and it will hurt small businesses.

No on N, Richmond soda tax billboard

Argument against the sugar-sweetened beverage tax include that it is a tax on that poor & will hurt small businesses. (Photo: Kristin Farr)

In Richmond, non-profits like Fit For Life and the Richmond Progressive Alliance are urging the community to vote yes on Measure N on November 6th. They argue the tax is a step forward for the city, and that revenue for the taxes can be used to fight childhood obesity.

I visited Richmond Main Street’s Spirit and Soul Festival and the city’s Certified Farmer’s Market to see what some Richmond residents thought about the measure. Most of the people I approached didn’t know about the tax, and many were undecided. Below are three responses from people in support of the proposed tax, and three in opposition.

NO ON MEASURE N

Keira Chatman-Green:


“I think that it is absolutely ridiculous. If I have a Diet Pepsi and I want a Diet Pepsi, I’m gonna get it. If the soda cost a dollar and then I had to pay a dollar fifty or something to that effect, I’m going to pay it ‘cuz I want a Pepsi. Healthier food is more expensive than junk foods. So I can definitely see if they raise the taxes on junk food and lower the taxes on healthier foods such as vegetables and different fibers and different stuff like that, than that would make more sense. But just taxing junk food alone? Absolutely not. I think that the focus should be on education and children and raising the children, period. And stopping the violence in Richmond. Instead of soda, and chips and cookies.” Continue reading

Making Sense of the Very, Very Complicated Prop 31

(Justin Brockie:Flickr)

Among other items, Prop. 31 gives California's governor new powers over spending during a fiscal emergency. (Justin Brockie:Flickr)

Among the 11 propositions on the statewide ballot this fall is a measure that would bring sweeping changes in governance to California. As Rachael Myrow suggested Friday morning on The California Report, it would also win a prize for “most changes in one measure.” The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office has identified nine big ideas in Prop 31.

To break it down, Myrow turned to John Myers, political editor for Sacramento television station KXTV.

Here’s the edited transcript of their conversation:

RACHAEL MYROW: Who’s behind the measure? What is “California Forward”?

There has been a long, raging debate in government reform circles about whether we need incremental change or large systemic change. I think Prop. 31 puts its foot in both categories.”

JOHN MYERS: California Forward is a bipartisan group, formed a few years ago to work on ideas about how to fix what’s broken in California governance. They’ve been bankrolled by foundations. Their political activity is mainly bankrolled by a billionaire international investor, and that political activity really focused on this initiative — which they got on the ballot with his help.

RACHAEL MYROW: They’ve held forums around the state in recent years talking about how to make California government more effective. What is it they propose with Prop. 31? Continue reading

Movie Theater Chain Lines Up Against Richmond Soda Tax

No on N, Richmond soda tax billboard

Billboard (Photo: Kristin Farr)

Cinemark – owner of the Century movie theater line – has jumped into the debate over Richmond’s proposed tax on sugary beverages, known as Measure N.

Last quarter, the company contributed more than $107,000 in non-monetary contributions against the measure, from Jul 15 to Sep 30, according to KQED News Associate Richmond Confidential.

Rachel de Leon of Richmond Confidential visited the only movie theater in town, Century Hilltop Sixteen, to see how some of the money is being spent. “I saw that the employees behind the concession stands were wearing ‘No on Measure N’ t-shirts, and there were several large posters hanging up saying ‘No on Measure N’ and listing off why this would be harmful to businesses.”

The theater also plays an anti-soda tax trailer before movies begin. So far, the “No On ‘N’” campaign has spent more than $2 million fighting the measure.

Listen to the story:

Play audio:
Audio player needs Flash9+ (download) and JavaScript.

Read the full Richmond Confidential report here