Students at Johanna Boss High School in Stockton graduate behind razor wire at the O.H. Close Youth Correctional Facility in Stockton. Gov. Gavin Newsom has vowed to move juvenile justice in California out of the adult corrections system and into the system for health and human services. Photo for CALmatters by Charlotte West

In summary

Online community college experiences growing pains. Uber and Lyft allowed to conceal drivers’ safety records. Traffic fatalities involving cyclists rise.

Good morning, California.

“Before the trial I said I’d keep an open mind. Now that both sides made their cases, it’s clear the president’s actions were wrong. He withheld vital foreign assistance for personal political gain. That can’t be allowed to stand.”—U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein tweeted.

Online community college stumbles

Calbright student Maria Garcia

Calbright, California’s online community college, launched last year with much fanfare and a worthy goal: to help adults ages 25 to 34 earn skills that could lead to better-paying jobs.

Then-Gov. Jerry Brown pushed hard to create it, despite the faculty union’s skepticism.

Chief executive Heather Hiles abruptly resigned, renewing debate about whether the state’s $140 million investment in the college was well-spent, CalMatters’ Felicia Mello reports. 

Assemblymember Jose Medina, a Riverside Democrat, has requested a state audit of the school.

Mello talked to student Maria Garcia of Antioch, who wants to be a “good hacker,” helping companies find vulnerabilities in their computer systems—while earning a living wage.

The shake-up at the top has shaken Garcia’s faith in the school.

  • “How can I trust this college?”

To read Mello’s report, please click here.

How to deal with juvenile crime

Students graduate behind razor wire at the O.H. Close Youth Correctional Facility in Stockton.

State Sen. Nancy Skinner, a Berkeley Democrat who has carried some of the most far-reaching criminal justice measures in recent years, is urging that the age for trying someone as an adult be raised to 20, CalMatters’ Adria Watson reports.

  • Skinner, as quoted in The San Francisco Chronicle: “We have 21 as the age for alcohol. We have 21 as the age for tobacco. The research definitely shows that there’s an age difference in things like impulse control.”

If it becomes law, Skinner’s legislation would mark a dramatic turn-around from 1994, when then-Gov. Pete Wilson signed into law measures, approved with bipartisan support, that opened the way for juveniles as young as 14 to be tried as adults for certain violent crimes, including homicide.

Back then, the Legislative Analyst’s Office reported the rate of juvenile arrests for violent offenses had increased 63.7% between 1987 and 1994, while the adult rate increased 20.2%.

That has changed:

The California District Attorneys Association, which often opposes such measures, has not taken a position. But the association’s Larry Morse noted that 18-year-olds are deemed old enough to marry, vote and join the military, and said “this seeming contradiction is of great concern.”

Unraveling Footnote 42

California Public Utilities Commission President Marybel Batjer

In an action noticed by no one other that a select few insiders, the California Public Utilities Commission in 2013 gave Uber and Lyft a gift: Not only could the nascent companies operate in California, but their annual reports detailing drivers’ safety records would be kept confidential.

Journalist Seth Rosenfeld, writing for the nonprofit news organization San Francisco Public Press, reported earlier this month that the confidentiality provision was inserted without public discussion in Decision 13-09-045, Footnote 42.

Unable to gain access to the secret safety reports filed with the Public Utilities Commission, Rosenfeld used other means to document the safety records of the rideshare apps’ drivers, and found:

  • More than 150 personal injury lawsuits filed against Uber in San Francisco Superior Court since 2013.
  • Seven of 47 traffic fatalities in San Francisco from 2018 through August 2019 involved ride-hailing vehicles.
  • More than half of the traffic citations in busy downtown San Francisco areas went to ride-hailing drivers over three years.
  • Insurance companies paid $185.6 million in claims related to accidents involving ride-hailing vehicles statewide between 2014 and 2016.

Democratic Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez of San Diego cited Rosenfeld’s story in a Jan. 9 letter to Commission President Marybel Batjer questioning why safety reports were confidential.

Batjer responded Tuesday that the commission is reviewing the matter, and would deliver a new decision by April 1.

  • Batjer: “I appreciate your continued attention to this matter and reiterate my concern and commitment to address safety issues that affect communities across California.”

Take a number: 455

Traffic accidents killed 455 cyclists in California from 2016 through 2018, the highest three-year death rate in 25 years, Phillip Reese reports for California Healthline, part of Kaiser Health News.

  • That translates to 3.9 bike accident fatalities per million people.
  • Nationwide, the fatal accident rate was 2.6 per million cyclists, the highest three-year death rate since the mid-2000s.

Among the factors at play: more cars on roads, distracted driving and a consumer shift toward SUVs, Reese writes.

  • Los Angeles led the state with 106 deaths from 2016 to 2018, followed by Sacramento at 47.
  • The number of deaths fell in Orange County to 32 from 2016 through 2018, from 45 in 2006 through 2008.
  • In San Francisco, eight cyclists died in 2016-2018, up from six in 2006 to 2008.

Skirmish over future of work

Andrea Vee of Redlands demonstrated outside the Capitol on Tuesday.

Republican lawmakers, seizing on what they see as an election year issue, called for repeal of far-reaching legislation that requires employers to hire workers in many situations rather than use independent contractors.

Remind me: Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the organized labor-backed Assembly Bill 5 into law last year, implementing a California Supreme Court decision limiting the ability of companies to rely on independent contractors, generally a cost-cutting tactic. 

Assemblyman Tom Lackey, a Palmdale Republican who is a likely Democratic target, told several dozen people who gathered for an anti-AB 5 rally outside the Capitol that the bill interferes with the right of workers to “use their labor as they see fit.”

  • Lackey: “Make California great again.”

Sen. Brian Jones, a San Diego County Republican running for the congressional seat vacated by the disgraced Duncan Hunter, called the legislation “the single worst piece of legislation” he had seen. He’s carrying a bill that would exempt musicians.

Democratic Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez of San Diego, the bill’s author, is carrying legislation that would “clarify” some aspects of her bill, she said. But a full repeal? 

  • “It’s not happening.”

Moms 4 Housing back story

Moms 4 Housing demonstration, Jan. 7 (Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group)

In the latest episode of “Gimme Shelter: The California Housing Crisis Podcast,” CalMatters’ Matt Levin and The L.A. Times’ Liam Dillon delve into the story of homeless and housing-insecure moms who took over a vacant West Oakland home.

Wedgewood Inc. of Redondo Beach, which buys and flips homes, owned the home. 

The occupation ended after Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and Gov. Gavin Newsom intervened.

Dillon and Levin also talk with Aaron Glantz, author of Homewreckers, which zeroes in on investment bankers and shell companies buying up thousands of California homes.

To hear the story, please click here.

Commentary at CalMatters

Wendy Ridderbusch, CalDesal: Recognizing the need for a drought-proof water supply, efforts are underway to develop several seawater desalination facilities throughout California. We need to utilize all existing supply strategies, including increased conservation, reuse, and both brackish water and seawater desalination into the mix.

Dan Walters, CalMatters: The Legislative Analyst’s Office ignores reality in its lukewarm report on a pilot program of allowing community colleges to offer baccalaureate degrees.

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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.