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Cleaning Up: Inside the Wildfire Debris Removal Job That Cost Taxpayers $1.3 Billion

By Sukey Lewis, KQED News/The California Report

Last Oct. 23, as the wildfires that ignited two weeks earlier still smoldered across Northern California, a few hundred survivors gathered at a press conference in downtown Santa Rosa to hear an update on their next major hurdle: getting rid of the ash, toxic debris and waste left behind where their homes used to stand.

One after another, federal, state, and local officials reassured the anxious crowd. They promised that their devastated homes would be cleared safely, carefully and quickly.

Read the complete story at KQED News/The California Report.

Unaccompanied Immigrant Youth Find Refuge in Oakland Unified

By Carolyn Jones, EdSource

One night three years ago, Milton kissed his mother gently on the head, careful not to wake her, and slipped out of their home in rural Guatemala where he had lived his whole life. As his parents and six younger siblings slept, he caught a bus north. His goal: reaching the United States. He was 14.

“If I told them, I knew they wouldn’t let me go,” said Milton, who’s now 17 and declined to give his last name because he still fears violence from home, both for himself and his family. “But it’s not safe there. They’re killing people where I come from. I knew the best way to help my family was to leave and get an education and a job so I could send them money.”

Read the complete story at EdSource.

Native American Tribes Clash With UC Over Bones of Their Ancestors

By Felicia Mello, CALmatters 

As tribal archaeologist for the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, Myra Masiel uses her UC Berkeley anthropology training daily. Her mission: Track down skeletons of Native Californians extracted from gravesites over the last two centuries and shipped off to museums around the world, and return them to the tribe’s ancestral land near Temecula so they can be reburied with dignity.

But lately that quest has put Masiel at odds with her alma mater.

Read the complete story at CALmatters.

A Third of Parents Fear for Their Children's Safety at School, Survey Finds

By David Washburn, EdSource

A third of parents surveyed nationally say they fear for their children’s safety at school, but a significant majority — 63 percent — do not support the idea of arming teachers as a way to make schools safer, according to a new poll on attitudes toward public schools.

The poll, released Tuesday, also found that while a high percentage of parents supported armed officers in schools, the public overwhelmingly prefers spending money on mental health services in schools over armed officers — 76 percent to 23 percent.

Read the complete story at  EdSource.

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.