Good morning, California.

“We deserve a city safe and free of public health hazards. Every time we propose a solution (to homelessness), we get slammed for it.”—Los Angeles Councilman Joe Buscaino, voting against settling a lawsuit because it will limit the city’s ability to seize property of the 2,000 homeless people on Skid Row.

An undercount of homeless students?

More than 2,500 schools report zero homeless students.

 Hundreds of California’s public schools may be under-reporting homeless students, prompting legislators on Wednesday to order a statewide audit.

Democratic Assemblyman David Chiu of San Francisco requested the audit: “We’re mystified. Are they truly not aware of these students or do they know they are there and in some cases turning a blind eye?”

Chiu’s staff spotted the issue by perusing California Department of Education data. A quick review shows that in the 2017-18 school year:

  • 2,567 schools reported not having a single homeless student.
  • 969 of those schools had 100 or more students who received free or reduced-cost meals.
  • A dozen of those schools reported having 1,000 or more students receiving free or reduced-cost meals.
  • Kern County had four schools with 1,000 or more kids receiving reduced-cost meals and yet reported zero homeless students.
  • Arvin High School in Kern County had more kids receiving free or cut-price meals than any other school in the state—2,289 out of its 2,627 students—and yet reported having zero homeless kids.

On the flip side, four of the 10 schools with the largest reported number of homeless students were in Orange County.

Students identified as homeless are supposed to receive intensive services. If schools aren’t counting them, Chiu notes, they’re not getting aid to which they’re entitled. The audit ought to be done by the end of 2019.

More questionable homeless numbers

The number of homeless Californians might be higher than the official count.

California counted 129,972 homeless people living in temporary shelters or on the streets on a particular day in 2018, far more than any other state, or so officials reported to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

  • But what if the number is far higher? That’s the implication of a report by KPCC Radio reporter Jill Replogle, based on numbers released to her in response to a California Public Records Act request.
  • California’s official estimate is based on a “point in time” census. Authorities across the state and nation seek out homeless people on a single night, and submit that count to the federal government, which provides funding based on the number. 

Replogle reported on a separate state-funded census in Orange County showing:

  • The number of people living on the streets of north Orange County was nearly 60 percent higher in 2018 than in the last official estimate.
  • In Anaheim, the number of homeless people was double the official estimate.

Santa Monica civil rights attorney Carol Sobel believes the official point-in-time count regularly undercounts the homeless population. Sobel is suing Orange County over its lack of homeless shelters. A bigger homeless population could add fuel to that lawsuit and others pending or planned around the state seeking more shelters.

Placentia police Chief Darin Lenyi was quoted by Replogle as saying the data were intended to be used to better target services:

Lenyi: “We wanted the data to be used like it was intended to be used and not for legal reasons.”

Public access to publicly funded research

The UC system is ending its relationship with Reed Elsevier.

The University of California, the nation’s largest public university, is taking a stand for open access to publicly funded scholarly research by ending its relationship with with Reed Elsevier, the world’s largest publisher of such research.

Taxpayers fund much of that research through federal grants.

The Mercury News’ Lisa M. Krieger reports: “By ending its contract, UC is the first major university system in the U.S. to insist on open access publishing, which makes research findings freely available to anyone, anywhere in the world. It also had been frustrated by the publisher’s increasingly expensive journals.”.

Jeffrey MacKie-Mason, UC Berkeley librarian and economics professor at UC Berkeley, co-chaired the negotiation team, and told me Elsevier earns as much as 43 percent profit on its journals on revenue of $1.8 billion.

UC’s statement, from last week: “Despite months of contract negotiations, Elsevier was unwilling to meet UC’s key goal: securing universal open access to UC research while containing the rapidly escalating costs associated with for-profit journals.”

UC continues to negotiate with other publishers, 20 of which publish 80 percent of the scholarly research. The decision to break off talks with Elsevier was significant, given its dominance in science, technology and medicine-related fields

Health scares for new moms

Maternal child birth complications are on the rise.

Serious child birth complications for mothers jumped 170 percent between 1997 and 2014 in California, according to a review by Stanford University researchers of 8.25 million records of births during that period. The spike occurred across ethnic groups, but especially among African-American mothers. 

  • Hemorrhage, embolism and stroke were among the complications cited in the study, funded in part by the National Institute of Nursing Research.
  • To read the full study in Annals of Epidemiology, however, you’d need to pay $35.95. Dutch publishing powerhouse Reed Elsevier owns the journal and charges for access even though much of the research was taxpayer funded. (The lead author, Dr. Stephanie A.Leonard of Stanford, kindly shared the article with me.)

Severe maternal morbidity increased by:

  • 173 percent among Hispanic women, who accounted for half of all births during the study period.
  • 179 percent among black women, or almost 2 percent of those who gave birth.
  • 175 percent among in Asian/Pacific Islander women.
  • 163 percent among white women.

The study concludes: “The persistence of the disparities highlights the need for initiatives that specifically target maternal health inequities.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom proposes an extra $7.5 million to confront the issue of black infant and maternal mortality in the next fiscal year, pushing the overall sum to $15.5 million.

Transition Watch: HHS secretary

Gov. Gavin Newsom has filled a key cabinet post.

Gov. Gavin Newsom selected Los Angeles County Department of Health Services’ deputy director for community as his health and human services secretary, probably the most important cabinet post in any governor’s administration.

  • Mark Ghaly, a pediatrician, will oversee a sprawling agency that includes a dozen departments and a $158 billion budget. Newsom has made health and mental health care a top priority, and tasked the agency with addressing the high cost of prescription drugs.
  • Ghaly, 44, is a Harvard Medical School graduate who also has a master’s of public health degree from Harvard. He’ll earn $209,943 a year.

Commentary at CALmatters

An accessible 5G network is the key to bridging the digital divide.

Mignon Clyburn, T-Mobile adviser and former FCC commissioner: Improving access to 5G-enabled technologies will be essential to creating economic parity in America. The merger of T-Mobile and Sprint represents an opportunity to bridge the digital divide on a scale that we have yet to see.

Dan Walters, CALmatters: Penal Code Section 196, enacted in 1872 when California was the nation’s sparsely populated westernmost frontier, declares that a police officer may lawfully kill someone while “arresting persons charged with felony, and who are fleeing from justice or resisting such arrest.” California’s law remains intact, described in a legislative report as “the single oldest unamended law enforcement use of force statute in the country.”

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See you tomorrow.