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A Political Firestorm Is About to Hit the Capitol: Who Will Pay for Wildfire Damage?

By Laurel Rosenhall, CALmatters 

Asked this spring to identify the most important issue facing California lawmakers, the leader of the state Senate didn’t hesitate: wildfires.

Two months later — with fires blazing from the Oregon border to San Diego — legislators are poised to wade into a political firestorm sparked by last year’s historic fires and mudslides, which destroyed about 10,000 buildings and killed at least 66 people.

The biggest fight will be over liability — who pays for billions of dollars of damages from the loss of so many homes, businesses and lives? Expect another battle over how much utilities like Pacific Gas & Electric can pass liability costs onto its customers — and whether the state should step in to help. The backdrop for the drama: The scientific expectation that hotter, drier conditions brought on by climate change make it likely that California will suffer more large, intense fires.

Read the complete story at CALmatters.

Battle Ramps Up to Persuade California School Employees to Withhold Union Fees

By Louis Freedberg, EdSource

Backers of the landmark lawsuit that has the potential to substantially diminish the power of public employee unions in California and nationally are not sitting back reveling in the victory they won on the Supreme Court late last month.

The divided ruling in Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees upended the four-decade legal precedent allowing unions to levy collective bargaining fees on employees who have chosen not to belong to their union, even though they may benefit from labor contracts bargained on their behalf. They already had the right not to pay any portion of their fees that went to support political campaigns.

Read the complete story at EdSource.

Turnout Climbed to 37% in California’s Primary — Here’s the Who, Where and Why

By Ben Christopher, CALmatters

Give yourself a round of applause, California. For a decade, voter participation during midterm primary elections has been slipping down and down. Last time around, in 2014, the state hit an all-time low for voter apathy: Only 1-in-4 registered voters bothered to participate.

But this June, we broke the trend. With all ballots counted (finally), a little over 37 percent of those registered to do so got out to vote. (The secretary of state’s office has a few more days to finalize the numbers.)

Read the complete story at CALmatters.

Trump's New Guidelines Trigger Debate on Affirmative Action, but State Already Bans It

By Larry Gordon, EdSource

California is likely to be little affected by the Trump administration’s latest moves against racial affirmative action in part because the state already banned such racial preferences in public education policies and state university admissions more than two decades ago, experts said.

Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation in Washington, D.C., said that the recent rollback of Obama administration’s guidelines allowing or encouraging some affirmative action is “more symbolic than significant” nationally and that any real change on affirmative action would await possible future decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Read the complete story at EdSource. 

Is State’s Legacy Environmental Law Protecting Beauty or Blocking Affordable Housing?

By Ben Bradford, Capital Public Radio/CALmatters

Redwood City approved more than a year ago the kind of affordable-housing project California desperately needs: a 20-unit building, downtown, near transit lines, in the heart of Silicon Valley, where the state’s housing crisis is most severe. The developer was a nonprofit, Habitat for Humanity Greater San Francisco.

But today the lot remains vacant, except for a row of portable toilets, a trailer and a dumpster.

An attorney who works out of a two-story home behind the lot filed a lawsuit against the project last year, and it has since been stalled. He contends the city’s approval of the apartments violated a sweeping, decades-old environmental law, because the building could increase traffic. The Habitat building could also block the view from his home’s rear windows.

Read the complete story at Capital Public Radio/CALmatters.

Public Defender’s Immigration Team Reaches a Milestone

By Joe Eskenazi, Mission Local

In recent weeks, Gabriella Rodezno passed the bar, got a job and watched an NBA finals game in person. “I died and went to heaven,” says the 32-year-old Mission native. “I won the lottery.”

Well, jackpot.

Now, winning the lottery is pretty nice. And pretty rare. But, in a manner of speaking, it’s something Rodezno gets to have a hand in every working day now. She is one of four young attorneys hired by the Public Defender’s office on June 18, 2018, to staff its growing immigration unit, now eight lawyers strong. Because the law of the land can be bewildering, a person accused of spitting on the street and facing a minimal fine is entitled to legal representation, but a person embroiled in deportation proceedings and facing expulsion from the country is not. That’s the difference between criminal or administrative proceedings.

Read the complete story at Mission Local.

The 12 Measures That Made It Onto the November Ballot

By Ben Christopher, CALmatters

After months of signature gathering and legislative wrangling, here’s the final list of propositions that made the cut for the November election. On the list are proposals to slash the gas tax, split the state in three, reintroduce rent control, absolve major corporations of their legal debt and borrow billions to fund houses, hospitals, and water canals.

Take a look. You have four months to decide.

Read the complete story at CALmatters.

As Supreme Court Backs Travel Ban, Yemeni-Americans Grapple With Next Steps

By Farida Jhabvala Romero, KQED News

Majed Balawi has spent months and nearly $25,000 in his quest to apply for a visa for his wife, who lives in war-torn Yemen. Balawi, is a naturalized U.S. citizen and he worries his wife might not survive the ongoing bloodshed and famine faced by millions of people in that country.

"Yemen is not safe. I want to bring my wife here," said Balawi, 38, an Uber driver who has lived in San Francisco since 2009. "I can't go back to Yemen because there's a war."

Read the complete story at KQED News. 

Network of California Districts to Explore the Enigma of Engaging Parents

By John Fensterwald, EdSource

California plans to spend $13.3 million over six years to identify and replicate successful ingredients of community engagement, an essential but, for many school districts, elusive part of local control — the shorthand for setting budgeting and academic priorities under the state’s school financing law.

The new money — included in the 2018-19 budget — will fund a network that eventually will reach as many as 80 districts. The funding represents the first substantial state effort to strengthen community involvement as required under the law, known as the Local Control Funding Formula. The school funding law, which Gov. Jerry Brown championed, shifted control over decision-making from Sacramento to school districts.

Read the complete story at EdSource.

Saga of a San Francisco ‘Historic Laundromat’

By Joe Eskenazi, Mission Local

First things first, here it is. Here’s the 137-page historical study of a laundromat, underwritten to the tune of $23,000 by Robert Tillman, who hopes to build an eight-story, 75-unit tower atop where the washers and dryers now churn at Mission and 25th streets.

And it turns out that, decades ago, several groups whose actions have helped shape the Mission did meet here, organize here, paint murals here — but the building was subsequently revamped and converted into a laundromat. So this structure is not historical.

It’s a laundromat.

Read the complete story at Mission Local.