In summary

Mental illness, substance abuse common among L.A. homeless. Voters to decide big school bond. Income inequality grows in California.

Good morning, California.

The union representing groundskeepers who maintain the park around the California Capitol has filed a grievance citing five attacks on workers by homeless people. 

The Department of General Services responded by saying groundskeepers can carry pepper spray and mace, but the state won’t yet pay for it, The Sacramento Bee reported Monday.

The Bee: “The union plans to keep pushing for the department to buy the workers pepper spray and train them on how to use it safely, said Brandy Johnson, a union representative.”

Deep look at L.A.’s homeless

Homelessness in downtown LA

More than three-fourths of the unsheltered people living on the streets of Los Angeles are afflicted by mental illness, substance abuse or physical disability—far more than officials have acknowledged, The Los Angeles Times reports.

The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority interpreted the data to produce much lower numbers, reporting that only 29% of the homeless population had either a mental illness or substance abuse disorder.

Times reporters Doug Smith and Ben Oreskes examined 4,000 questionnaires taken as part of this year’s point-in-time count, finding that:

  • 51% of the unsheltered population suffer from mental illness, including post-traumatic shock.
  • 46% of those living on the streets are substance abusers, three times the rate previously reported.
  • 47% had a physical disability or serious health problem.
  • 50% of unsheltered people had two disabilities at the same time.
  • 26% had three disabilities.

Combined, the findings could add fuel to a debate over whether to overhaul California’s Lanterman-Petris-Short Act, a 1967 law that protects mentally ill people from being held involuntarily unless they are shown to be a danger to themselves or others, a high bar.

Voters to decide big school bond

Gov. Gavin Newsom at Ethel I. Baker Elementary School in Sacramento

California voters in March will decide on a $15 billion state bond to fund construction and refurbishing of public schools, colleges and universities.

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 48 by Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, Long Beach Democrat, and Sen. Steve Glazer, Orinda Democrat. 

It would be the largest such bond in the state’s history, and provide:

  • $2.8 billion for new construction of K-12 schools
  • $5.2 billion for modernization of K-12 schools
  • $1 billion to be equally divided between charter schools and career technical education
  • $2 billion for community colleges
  • $2 billion for University of California and Hastings College of Law
  • $2 billion for California State University, potentially including a new campus, although no location is specified

Schools would be able to match funds for preschool facilities. Money would be prioritized for poor districts historically shut out of state bond dollars. 

That’s notable because, as a CalMatters analysis found, lower-income school districts historically have received less school bond money than wealthier districts.

  • Newsom: “The equity side of this is, to me, the most significant.”

Bonds are paid off over time, much like a mortgage. The 30-year cost would be about $27.4 billion, with annual payments of about $900 million a year, from an annual budget that exceeds $200 billion. 

The legislation placing the bond on the March 3 ballot passed with only one no-vote in the 80-seat Assembly and four no-votes in the 40-seat Senate, all from Republicans.

Haves and have-nots

Income inequality is growing in California.

The gap between California’s haves and have-nots is growing ever-wider, a California Budget and Policy Center analysis of U.S.Census Bureau data found.

  • For the top 5% of households, income grew by 18.6% from 2006-2018 to $506,421, adjusting for inflation.
  • Median household income in California increased by 6.4% during that period to $75,277.
  • Income for households in the bottom 20% fell by 5.3% to $15,562 in 2018, when adjusted for inflation.

The Mercury News’ Erica Hellerstein detailed the report as part of The California Divide, a CalMatters collaboration among newsrooms examining income inequity and economic survival in the Golden State.

For Hellerstein’s full report, please click here.

Access to HIV prevention drugs

Truvada is used for pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, a strategy in which healthy people routinely take antiretrovirals to reduce the risk of becoming infected with HIV. Credit: NIAID. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons.
HIV prevention drug PrEP will become available over the counter (photo, Creative Commons).

California pharmacies will start offering HIV-prevention drugs without a prescription under first-in-the-nation legislation signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday.

Senate Bill 159 by Sen. Sen. Scott Wiener, San Francisco Democrat, and Assemblyman Todd Gloria, San Diego Democrat, will allow pharmacists to dispense pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, and post-exposure prophylaxis, PEP.

The Senate health committee staff analysis: “There is clear and convincing evidence that PrEP is effective in preventing HIV transmission and lowering the risk of HIV across all high-risk groups.”

  • The California Department of Public Health estimates that between 221,528 and 238,628 Californians would meet the criteria for PrEP.
  • Roughly 133,000 people are living with HIV in California, and about 5,000 new cases are diagnosed each year.

The California Medical Association dropped its opposition after the legislators amended the measure to say people receiving PrEP would need to see a physician after 60 days.

Equality California, the Los Angeles LGBT Center, and the San Francisco AIDS Foundation were among the bill’s main supporters. 

The drug is sold under the brand Truvada, by Gilead Sciences, Inc., of Foster City.

Vaping disease death toll rises

A third Californian has died of vaping-related lung disease, the Kings County Department of Public Health reported Monday. The victim was identified only as a female.

Kings County, in the heart of California’s farm belt, was the first county in the state to identify and report a cluster of vaping-related diseases, issuing its initial public warning Aug. 12. Another vaping-related death was reported in neighboring Tulare County last month.

Statewide, the number of vaping disease-related hospitalizations reached 113, the California Department of Public Health reported Monday. A month ago, there had been 63 reported cases.

Kings County Public Health Officer Dr. Milton Teske:

  • “With sadness, we report that there has been a death of a Kings County resident suspected to be related to severe pulmonary injury associated with vaping.”

The statement provided this warning:

  • “Long-term effects of vaping on health are unknown. But a number of patients treated here are still not back to normal many weeks after hospital discharge.”

Commentary at CalMatters

Clare Coleman and Julie Rabinovitz, Essential Access Health: In California, home to the most comprehensive Title X provider network in the nation, agencies have withdrawn from program participation. These include federally qualified health centers, city and county health departments, Planned Parenthood affiliates and women’s health clinics. California could start facing some real barriers to access. 

Dan Walters, CalMatters: Government regulation is supposed to protect the public, but it also spawns political maneuvering by economic interests.


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Dan Morain joined CalMatters in March 2018. He is the former editorial page editor of The Sacramento Bee. Morain also spent 27 years at The Los Angeles Times, and has covered the Capitol since 1992.

Ricardo Cano covers California education for CalMatters. Cano joined CalMatters in September 2018 from The Arizona Republic and, where he spent three years as the education reporter. Cano...