In summary

Achievement gap persists in California schools. A widely used pesticide is banned, while another remains. Camp Fire cleanup nears completion.

Good morning, California.

“Raw sewage overflows and other pollution from Mexico along the Tijuana River that jeopardize human health are unacceptable.”—Sen. Dianne Feinstein, announcing Senate approval of almost $20 million to address pollution that regularly results in San Diego County beach closures.

Yawning achievement gap remains

The achievement gap in English skills.

About half of California’s public school students are behind in reading and only 40% are proficient in math, the latest statewide tests show.

Test results did inch up in the incrementally-steady-but-painstakingly-slow pattern that defines California’s push for equity in education, CalMatters’ Ricardo Cano reports. Kids who come from lower-income parts of the state and African American and Latino students continue to lag.

  • 39% of economically disadvantaged students were proficient in the reading exam and 27.48% in math.
  • 69.5% of students from higher-income areas passed the English exam, and almost 59% were proficient in math.

The L.A. Times: “Black students are the furthest behind, with about 20.55% meeting math standards and 33% meeting English throughout California. The Los Angeles scores are slightly lower, with about 20% meeting math standards and 31.95% meeting English.”

California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond: 

  • “Education equity should mean equity for all students and right now. We are not there.”

Scores have gone up about 7 percentage points in English and math since the 2015 debut of the Common Core-based Smarter Balanced exam. 

Money matters: California is spending $71.2 billion this year on public schools, kindergarten through 12th grade, in general tax and property tax revenue. The overall state budget is $208 billion this year

To read Cano’s full report, please click here.

A widely used pesticide no more

An almond

California struck an agreement Wednesday with chemical companies to end the use of the widely used pesticide chlorpyrifos in 2020. The pesticide is a neurotoxin that is thought to be most damaging to the developing brains of children.

Legislation to ban the pesticide was placed on hold pending the outcome of negotiations between the California Environmental Protection Agency and chemical companies such as Corteva AgriScience, formerly known as Dow AgroSciences, the largest manufacturer.

Val Dolcini, deputy secretary for Agriculture at the California Environmental Protection Agency, noted that it’s the first time the state has canceled the use of a widely used pesticide. The product is used on almonds, alfalfa, citrus, grapes and other crops.

Hoping to ease the hit on farmers, California is spending $5 million to research alternatives to it.

  • Dolcini: “There is a cost to every action, but we try to balance that with additional research into alternatives that make sense.”

Farmers will be able to use the pesticide in 2020 but not beyond. Unsold stocks can be sent to other states where it will remain legal.

The L.A. Times’ Geoffrey Mohan called chlorpyrifos “something of a poster child for the Trump administration’s rollback of regulation.” Trump’s former U.S. EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, halted an Obama-era ban of the product.

Mountain Lion P-30, 2013-2019

Mountain Lion P-30, born April 2013 (photo, National Park Service)

Two mountain lions that died in the Santa Monica Mountains in the past two months ingested types of rat poison that would have been banned by legislation that stalled this year.

The bill by Assemblyman Richard Bloom, Santa Monica Democrat, faced opposition from the American Chemistry Council, California Chamber of Commerce, apartment owners and pest control companies. Environmentalists supported it. It could be revived in 2020.

  • Rodenticides found in the body of the cougar called P-30 found in September included bromadiolone, brodifacoum, chlorophacinone, difethialone and diphacinone, The L.A. Times reported
  • Each was named specifically in Bloom’s legislation.
  • The L.A. Times: “The big cat’s body showed no sign of trauma, but a necropsy found that he had bled to death internally as a result of rat poisoning. … Five liters of unclotted blood were found in his abdomen, according to a news release by the National Park Service.”

A 4-year-old female cougar, P-53, was discovered in August. She had many of the same poisons in her system.

Such poisons are used by a variety of businesses, including marijuana growers, to kill rodents by thinning their blood and preventing clotting. Predators die after eating animals that have ingested the poison.

Camp Fire cleanup continues

Burned trailer from the 2018 Camp Fire in Paradise, California. March 2019. Photo by Byrhonda Lyons/CALmatters.
Burned trailer from the 2018 Camp Fire in Paradise

Work is winding to a close on the massive cleanup of debris left by the most destructive wildfire in state history even as hot, dry winds blow across the state and leave Californians on edge.

CalMatters’ Julie Cart describes the effort at the scene of the deadly Camp Fire, the scale of which is staggering.

  • More than 3.6 million tons of debris have been hauled away from Paradise.
  • That’s twice what was removed from the World Trade Center site after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
  • 3,000 workers cleared environmental and health hazards such as asbestos and caustic chemicals left in the wreckage of homes and businesses.
  • Crews also sorted melted metal and hauled it to recycling centers, and trucked soil and ash to landfills.

What’s so environmentally awful about burned towns? 

David Hornung, who oversaw the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health’s response to the Tubbs Fire that ravaged Santa Rosa in October 2017: 

  • “Think about all the things in a house. There are televisions, electronics, dishwashers; it’s really complex.” 

Computers and other electronics contain lead, mercury, arsenic and other dangerous chemicals.

  • “Then you have plastics and composite material,” which may release hydrochloric acid, sulfur dioxide and heavy metals when burned. “You get a real complex mixture of chemicals.” 

Money matters: The taxpayer cost exceeds $1 billion and could rise to $1.6 billion.

A reorganization focused on work

Labor Secretary Julie Su

To make sure Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Future of Work Commission doesn’t produce a report that sits unread in the cloud, his labor secretary is reorganizing the Labor & Workforce Development Agency to execute its findings and recommendations. 

Labor Secretary Julie Su plans to create a Future of Work Department that will focus on points of entry for the worker, the employer and colleges and technical schools for career pathways. The goal is to make government more accessible.

Su oversees seven departments, boards and panels serving workers and businesses, enforcing labor laws and administering such benefits as workers compensation, unemployment insurance, disability insurance and paid family leave. 

  • Su: “What I want to do is eliminate the ‘next window’ problem, or ‘you’re in the wrong line, go to this line.’ We want to create one line in which people can get what they need, when they seek help from the government. It’s about taking powers you already have and putting it under one streamlined, efficient and accessible department.” 

The Future of Work Commission meets Thursday at Stanford’s Design School, focusing on technological changes impacting work.

A telecom powerhouse hangs it up

State Sen. Scott Wiener, a San Francisco Democrat, is shown testifying in from of the California Assembly's Communications and Conveyance Committee on SB822, a bill that would create a net neutrality policy in the state of California.
Bill Devine, left, testified against California-only net neutrality legislation in 2018.

AT&T’s Bill Devine, one of the most influential Capitol players you’ve never heard of, is retiring after spending decades shaping telecommunications policy.

Devine has been at the center of every piece of telecom-related legislation during his 23 years in Sacramento working for AT&T.

Devine joined AT&T in November 1983, working in Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles before moving to Sacramento in January 1996 to lead the company’s legislative affairs operation.

  • Ken McNeely, AT&T president of the Western Region: “He is a master of navigating the legislative process in Sacramento, and enjoys a well-earned reputation for adapting to California’s ever-changing political arena to achieve success.”
  • Devine: “I have been proud to help be a part of our efforts as we have invested billions of dollars each year in California, ensure that our first responders can communicate during emergencies, and deployed technologies we couldn’t dream about three decades ago.”

Money matters: Part of AT&T’s clout in the Capitol is due to its campaign spending: $3.4 million to California state causes and candidates since 2017, including donation of $923,000 to the California Democratic Party and $633,000 to the California GOP. AT&T sponsors annual golf tournaments at the state’s top courses to raise money for legislators.

Commentary at CalMatters

J.P. Rose and Tiffany Yap, Center for Biological Diversity: California should list mountain lions under the state endangered species act. Listing imperiled cougar populations under our endangered species law would finally give state and local decision-makers a clear legal requirement to protect them.

Dan Walters, CalMatters: Some high-profile political issues appear headed for the ballot next yearunless they don’t.


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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.

Judy serves as hub editor of the California Divide project, a five-newsroom collaboration covering economic inequality. Prior to editing, she reported on state finance, workforce and economic issues. Her...