In summary

Ethnic studies plan hits roadblock. Federal class-action suit against California prisons drags on. Family reaches settlement in prison suicide.

Good morning, California.

“We have to step into the void and take action where the federal government has failed to do so.”—California Environmental Protection Agency Secretary Jared Blumenfeld, announcing the state would ban the widely used agricultural pesticide chlorpyrifos.

  • The L.A. Times: The Trump administration halted an Obama-era ban.  California, six other states and environmental and labor groups have sued over that move. Chlorpyrifos has been linked to developmental disorders.

A pause in ethnic studies plan

Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond with Assemblyman Marc Berman, Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson and Sen. Ben Allen.

California education officials are willing to delay an ethnic studies plan that elicited thousands of comments and complaints, many of them that it leaned too far left and was anti-Semitic, CalMatters’ Elizabeth Castillo reports.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, appearing at a press conference Wednesday with members of the Jewish legislative caucus, said: 

  • “Ethnic studies is to really give those who have historically been minorities a chance to have their history reflected. We have to find a way to have a broader conversation about what will be included.”

California Board of Education President Linda Darling-Hammond, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s appointee, wrote that the proposal failed to meet the goal of being “accurate, free of bias, appropriate for all learners in our diverse state, and align with Governor Newsom’s vision of a California for all.”

California’s Department of Education has been working on an ethnic studies model curriculum as required by 2016 legislation. The comment period ends today. The curriculum is supposed to be in place by March 31, 2020.

Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, a Santa Barbara Democrat, said the plan needs to incorporate anti-Semitism and referred to her experience growing up in Boston. She faced bigotry and was called a racist name. 

  • Jackson: “We need to teach kindness, we need to teach empathy, we need to teach compassion because children are not born as bigots and so it’s critically important that we get this curriculum right.” 

For Castillo’s in-depth look at the plan, please click here.

The forever prison lawsuit

San Quentin Prison.

The suicide rate in California prisons is rising, while the vacancy rate for psychiatrists in the prison system sits at 30%.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has been battling a federal class-action lawsuit over psychiatric care in prisons since 1990.

On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Kimberly Jo Mueller of Sacramento, presiding over that case, cited the vacancy rate and a delay in state spending to add new beds for mentally ill inmates, writing that “essential remedial measures cannot continue to be delayed unnecessarily or indefinitely.”

Attorney Michael W. Bien, representing inmates in the case, provided numbers:

  • In 2016, the suicide rate in the state prison system was 21.8 per 100,000 inmates.
  • In 2018, the rate was 26.3.
  • So far in 2019, it’s 24.6 per 100,000.
  • Bien: “We are ending up with more acutely ill people in prison. It is a bad place for them to be. They get sicker, and suicides are up.”

What’s next: A hearing is set for next month on the case, Ralph Coleman, et. al., vs Gavin Newsom. When it started, the case name was Coleman vs. Pete Wilson.

A suicide in Chino

Erika Rocha committed suicide in 2016 at the California Institution for Women. Photo courtesy of The Sacramento Bee.

Erika Rocha hanged herself in her cell at the California Institution for Women in Chino on April 14, 2016, one day before she was to appear before a parole board hearing at which she was expected to be granted her freedom. 

Rocha, serving time for attempted murder, had made numerous suicide attempts, starting at age 7, and her suicide was “foreseeable and preventable,” the Rocha family’s lawyer, Lori Rifkin, told The Sacramento Bee

Now, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has settled a suit by Rocha’s family for $1,501,500, The Sacramento Bee’s Sam Stanton writes.

  • The settlement includes $1,500 to build a swing set in Las Flores Park in La Verne, with a plaque to be engraved with this message:
  • “‘In loving honor of Erika Rocha, November 7, 1980-April 14, 2016.’”

To understand why Rocha’s family insisted on the swing set, please click here.

Take a number: 17.34 million

The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation pays millions in lawsuit settlements.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, which will have an annual budget of $12.6 billion in the 2019-20 fiscal year, has paid the following sums to settle lawsuits, not counting class action pay-outs:

  • $17 million in 2016-17
  • $16.64 million in 2017-18
  • $17.34 million in 2018-19.

Warren steps into state politics

Elizabeth Warren addresses California Democrats in June.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, making clear she will compete hard in California’s Democratic presidential primary, endorsed labor-backed legislation intended to provide protections to gig economy workers by classifying them as employees rather than independent contractors.

  • Warren, writing in The Sacramento Bee: “I believe in markets and in providing entrepreneurs the chance to succeed. But markets without rules and workplaces without labor protections are ripe for exploitation.”

CalMatters’ Ben Christopher writes that Warren is differentiating herself from other Democratic presidential contenders by taking an early stand on Assembly Bill 5 by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzale, San Diego Democrat. 

  • Gonzalez, on Warren’s embrace of AB 5: “I think it’s pretty damn cool.”

Warren is supporting a bill that is organized labor’s top priority of the year, in a state where labor has proven that it can deliver votes to its favored candidates

California’s leading Democratic presidential candidates, Sen. Kamala Harris and Tom Steyer, have not yet voiced their positions on AB 5.

Calif. Dreaming in West Hollywood

West Hollywood was the nation’s first city to ban fur product sales.

Across California, gay neighborhoods have been changing, a result of gentrification and greater social acceptance of LGBTQ people. 

But California’s biggest gay enclave —the city of West Hollywood—is working to maintain its gay population, CalMatters’ Elizabeth Aguilera reports in the latest installment of our California Dream collaboration.

The city founded in 1984 has focused resources on the LGBT community, officials say.

In Sacramento, meanwhile, West Hollywood lobbies on municipal issues that matter to all cities, pushing for policies that have implications far beyond its 1.9-square-mile borders.

In the current session, the city is lobbying for rent control and in support of a statewide ban on fur product sales. West Hollywood is a strong rent control city and was the nation’s first city to ban fur sales.

It lobbied for legislation signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom that says police cannot use a suspected prostitute’s possession of condoms as probable cause to make an arrest. The bill by Sen. Scott Wiener, San Francisco Democrat, is intended to curb the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

In 1999, West Hollywood lobbied hard for domestic partner legislation signed by then-Gov. Gray Davis, so city workers could become part of the California Public Employees’ Retirement System and receive health care benefits.

Hard to imagine now, but that was a very big deal 20 years ago, as this story by my former L.A. Times colleague Jenifer Warren shows.

Commentary at CalMatters

Chris Martin and Sharon Rapport, Housing California, and Corporation for Supportive Housing: Shelters are short-term responses, not the long-term solution to California’s homelessness crises. That’s why our policies and resources should focus on the right to housing, not a right to shelter.

Dan Walters, CalMatters: Sponsors of a “split roll” ballot measure to increase property taxes on commercial real estate are withdrawing it from the 2020 ballot and will seek to place a revised version before voters next year.

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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.

Barbara is a master's student at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism, where she studies new media. She holds an undergraduate degree in journalism from Sacramento State, where she served as editor...