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California Editorial Rdp

June 10

Los Angeles Times on myths about homelessness:

To our dismay, we in Los Angeles have become increasingly familiar with homelessness. But some of the things we “know” about the phenomenon are simply untrue. Dealing with the problem requires knowing the facts and dismissing the myths.

It also requires understanding why those myths persist.

Begin with the falsehood that most homeless people come from out of town, drifting here from colder climates or meaner streets in order to live a life of relative ease on L.A. sidewalks and freeway medians.

Not true. The official counts and companion studies of L.A.’s growing homeless population have consistently shown that most homeless people have lived in Los Angeles for at least 10 years. These are our longtime neighbors who were priced out of their apartments by rents that are rising faster than their incomes, or who were struck by some crisis that rendered them unable to keep a permanent roof over their heads. It may have been a job layoff, a divorce, a cataclysmic and costly health breakdown, an addiction.

The proportion of homeless in L.A. who are in fact relatively new arrivals pretty much tracks with the numbers in other big cities around the nation. Homeless people do not flock to L.A. for the sunshine.

But there are two points about supposedly newly arrived homeless that require attention. One has to do with homeless youth. Los Angeles, particularly Hollywood, has long been a destination for young people who feel shunned or mistreated by their families and leave their homes in other parts of the nation. The latest homeless count showed a troubling jump in youth homelessness, including kids from out of town. Deeper study is required to understand and respond to this phenomenon.

The second point is that some people are coming to L.A. from other parts of Southern California. As The Times recently reported, some L.A. officials are accusing neighboring municipalities of pushing their own homeless populations across city limits, dumping their problems on Los Angeles.

This is an old problem. More than a decade ago, the county’s first comprehensive response to homelessness completely fell apart because cities like West Covina and Santa Clarita would not participate and instead encouraged their homeless to go to L.A. Los Angeles itself has had a profoundly inadequate and untimely response to homelessness, but some neighboring cities have been even more irresponsible and must be held accountable.

Another homelessness myth is that most people are on the street because they are mentally ill. Again, not true — although it’s easy to see why the misunderstanding persists.

Counts and studies consistently find that between a quarter and a third of homeless people are seriously mentally ill or have serious substance abuse problems. But substance abusers and the mentally ill are the most visible face of homelessness because their behavior draws the most attention. And mental illness is more prevalent among people living on the street — and in public view — than among their homeless counterparts who are couch-surfing or living in cars or shelters.

The nation broke its promise to provide community-based care and treatment for the mentally ill following the closure of state mental hospitals beginning in the 1970s. It’s a promise that ultimately society must keep, and for which it must pay.

If we were to house all seriously mentally ill homeless people in Los Angeles (and we should), homelessness would immediately become less evident. But of the more than 100,000 people in the county who were homeless at some point last year, two-thirds were not dealing with serious mental health problems or addiction problems, but fell into homelessness because of the widening gap between wages and housing costs.

Another myth: L.A. isn’t doing anything about the problem. Also not true. The city and county housed more than 20,000 last year, including people who had fallen on economic hard times and many who could not care for themselves because of mental or physical health problems.

But it’s clearly not enough. As people were lifted out of homelessness, more fell in. The net increase was about 17 per day.

It is exasperating, and it leaves the region to wonder whether the proper next step is to double down on current solutions, or somehow change course.

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June 9

Mercury News & East Bay Times on California vaccination legislation:

Gov. Gavin Newsom needs to get on board with the effort to close a loophole in California’s vaccination law.

The governor inserted himself into the public health debate Saturday by voicing concern over proposed legislation that would give government officials the final say on whether a child should be granted a vaccine exemption.

“I like doctor-patient relationships, bureaucratic relationships are more challenging for me,” Newsom said June 1 in San Francisco after giving a speech at the California Democratic Party Convention. “So it’s just a broad stroke. I’m a parent, I don’t want someone that the governor of California appointed to make a decision for my family.”

Oh, my.

It’s a nice sentiment. The implication is that this is a choice issue, akin to the abortion debate. It’s not. The real issue is safety. And given the level of misinformation surrounding the vaccination debate, the governor needs to make that clear. The unwarranted surge in parents choosing not to vaccinate their children is creating a serious public health risk throughout the state.

Under the law, parents would retain the right to choose whether their child should be vaccinated. They just wouldn’t be able to enroll an unvaccinated child in a California public or private school without a state-approved medical exemption.

The law wouldn’t be necessary if a small number of California physicians would begin acting more responsibly.

California adopted one of the strictest childhood vaccination laws in the nation in the wake of the Disneyland measles outbreak in 2014-2015. The bill, SB 277, was authored by state Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento. As a Harvard-educated pediatrician, he knows the importance of immunizations. The law requires children to be vaccinated to attend public or private schools. It allows for a medical exemption if there is a clear medical reason that a child should not be vaccinated.

Pan says a few “unscrupulous physicians” are handing out medical exemptions like candy to anti-vaccination parents who continue to ignore repeated, peer-reviewed studies confirming that fears over the safety of vaccines are unfounded.

Santa Clara County Public Health Officer Sara Cody says that a minimum 94% immunization rate is needed to prevent outbreaks of deadly diseases such as measles. The statewide vaccination rate has fallen from 95% in 2015 to 90.4%, and 10 Northern California schools have kindergartens where more than 32% of children have medical exemptions.

Pan’s proposed legislation, SB 276, would require that the California Department of Public Health review medical exemptions granted by doctors and certify that they meet criteria established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The bill passed the state Senate on May 22 and will be considered by the Assembly later this month.

The CDC says that medical exemptions should be reserved for the fewer than 1% of children who have major health concerns, such as allergic reactions to vaccinations, cancer or auto-immune disorders. It’s not just those children who anti-vaccination parents put at risk. Infants too young to be vaccinated can be exposed to an outbreak.

Measles is a highly contagious disease that infected hundreds of thousands of children and killed an estimated 400 to 500 people every year until a vaccine was developed. It’s imperative that the governor voice support for legislation that will protect the health of Californians from needless future outbreaks.

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June 8

The Tribune on legislation that would ban miniature shampoo and conditioner bottles:

First, plastic shopping bags ... then drinking straws ... and now mini shampoo bottles are on the environmental hit list.

A bill making its way through the state Legislature seeks to outlaw those tiny, complimentary plastic bottles of “personal toiletries” like shampoo and conditioner that come standard in just about every hotel room.

Violators would be issued a warning the first time but could be fined $500 for repeat offenses.

It’s a well-meaning gesture. But it’s a timid move that will do little to stop the flood of plastic waste that’s choking the planet.

Mini shampoo bottles are not Plastic Enemy No. 1.

They didn’t even make the Top 10 list of plastic litter collected during the state’s 2018 beach cleanup day. (That distinction belongs to cigarette butts with plastic filters. Food wrappers came in second, and plastic beverage bottles, third.)

There are so many other things to worry about: plastics used in industry, like fishing nets and those giant sheets of plastic used on farm fields; everyday things like plastic water bottles and disposable razors and containers that hold everything from laundry pods to cat treats; and miniature things like, yes, tiny shampoo bottles but also action figures and key chains and pill bottles and sporks and pingpong balls.

But mini shampoo bottles?

The bill’s sponsor, Assemblyman Ash Kalra, D-San Jose, calls the ban on small plastic bottles “low-hanging fruit,” according to the news website CalMatters. He’s got that right.

There’s nothing wrong with interim measures that have already been passed or are being proposed at both state and local levels, mostly taking aim at particular products.

For instance, the city of San Luis Obispo passed an ordinance last year that bans single-use plastic bottles and cups at Farmers Market, Concerts in the Plaza, and other events on city property. Some vendors reported switching to aluminum cans as a result.

That’s commendable.

But let’s not kid ourselves into thinking those are major achievements when they are actually baby steps.

Let’s not lose our sense of urgency about what it’s going to take to solve this problem of plastic waste that’s littering our highways and byways, filling up our landfills, and threatening our rivers and oceans.

And speaking of oceans, if you think the Great Pacific Garbage Patch — that island of floating junk — is bad news, scientists have discovered that plastics aren’t just floating on top of the sea. There are bits of plastic found deep in the ocean as well.

To use the more scientific language from the June 6 Scientific Reports article from the journal Nature: “... growing evidence demonstrates that plastic is accumulating within the animals, bottom sediments, and trenches of the deep sea.”

This is scary stuff.

It makes the proposed ban on mini shampoos seem pathetically short-sighted and insignificant. (To make matters even worse, there is a giant loophole in the bill: Hotels could still give away the small bottles upon request.)

There is another bill making its way through the Legislature that is far broader and deserves more attention and support.

The Plastic Pollution Reduction Act — the Senate version is SB 54 and the Assembly version is AB 1080 — aims to cut down on plastic waste through source reduction, recycling or composting.

It sets benchmarks to be achieved by manufacturers of single-use plastic packaging and certain plastic products. For example, by 2030, manufacturers would have to demonstrate that 75% of their recyclable products are actually being recycled. (It’s estimated that only 14% of plastic is currently recycled in California.)

But that’s not enough.

For starters, how about doing something about the closure of recycling facilities in California?

In the past five years, 40% of the state’s recycling centers have shut down, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Speaking of recycling, why not raise the deposit on plastic beverage bottles?

It might discourage consumers from buying beverages in plastic bottles in the first place, and encourage more recycling.

And why the long wait for legislation to take effect?

Even the shampoo bottle ban would be phased in over years; hotels with 50 or more rooms would have to comply by 2023, and other lodgings by 2024.

How hard is it to replace individual bottles with larger dispensers like the ones used in gyms?

Or, for that matter, why can’t guests bring their own shampoo and conditioner?

California, for all its environmental awareness, is lagging in efforts to cut back on plastic waste.

We cannot afford to wait for government to act.

We have it in our power to reduce consumption of single-use plastics in our homes, our businesses, our day-to-day lives. If we haven’t already used that power, it’s time we did.

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