California Editorial Rdp – Merced Sun-Star – The Homeless Times
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California Editorial Rdp – Merced Sun-Star

Dec.  19

The Mercury News on the good, bad in much-needed plan for Bay Area housing crisis:

A coalition of divergent Bay Area interests has come together on a plan to confront the region’s housing crisis. 

The group’s so-called CASA Compact, unveiled last week and up for its first public review at the Metropolitan Transportation Commission on Wednesday, provides a serious foundation for a much-needed discussion.  It hits the target on several fronts but misses the mark on others. 

It recognizes, for example, that easing the crisis requires addressing rent gouging, reducing barriers to residential construction and changing zoning around transit stations to enable denser housing. 

But it fails to examine how much responsibility employers, especially in the Silicon Valley, have to participate in solving the crisis.  And while calling for more housing near job centers, the compact ignores the traffic-easing potential of providing more jobs near housing centers, especially in the suburban East Bay. 

Since the Great Recession, the Bay Area has added 722,000 jobs but constructed only 106,000 housing units.  The result is more people living in tighter quarters, soaring rents, increasing homelessness, overcrowded public transit and bumper-to-bumper traffic as commuters move farther out to find affordable housing. 

Corralling the divergent interest groups is challenging.  The coalition brought together housing advocates, labor groups, politicians, city officials, transportation planners, developers, major employers, business interests and the rental-housing owners to develop a consensus. 

It’s great that the coalition began this conversation 18 months ago, and it’s important that it move forward with alacrity.  But the discussion must put data-driven policy ahead of special-interest politics and include participation from all regions of the Bay Area. 

With more than 50 participants, the coalition’s exclusion of elected officials and policymakers from the suburban East Bay — with its less-costly housing and growing job centers in Concord, Walnut Creek, San Ramon and Pleasanton — was glaring. 

On the specifics, the compact recommends reasonable provisions to curtail rent gouging, protect tenants from unfair evictions and assist those who are living month-to-month and in danger of missing rent payments. 

It also provides much-needed proposals to encourage construction of accessory-dwelling units, what were once known as in-law or granny units.  Removing regulatory barriers to their construction could significantly add to the region’s housing supply. 

Similarly, the proposal to streamline the permitting process for multi-unit projects is long overdue.  But the notion that builders must agree to effectively pay union wages to benefit from faster processing of their applications will discourage smaller builders and further drive up the cost of housing. 

The call for higher-density construction around major transit stations, such as BART and VTA, makes sense.  But the proposal to lift height and density limits along bus lines should be a nonstarter.  It’s a misguided idea that will only discourage much-needed bus expansion into residential neighborhoods. 

The notion of designating all publicly owned surplus land for residential development, regardless of zoning, would not only undermine local control, it would in some cases be counterproductive. 

There are parts of the Bay Area, the South Bay in particular, that can’t get enough housing fast enough.  But encouraging development of job sites, rather than housing, on some surplus land in the East Bay could ease the commute gridlock headed toward Silicon Valley. 

The CASA compact calls for re-establishment of local redevelopment zones that re-allocate new property tax dollars.  But the proposal seems to ignore the decades of abuse that prompted Gov.  Jerry Brown to shut down this scheme soon after he was elected in 2010. 

Finally, how will we pay for all of this? The funding plan is one of the most disappointing aspects of the compact.  There’s no analysis of what major employers are paying and the benefits they’re receiving. 

It’s time for an independent review and a demand that key businesses, especially in the Silicon Valley, fully contribute.  We can’t keep raising property and sales taxes, driving up the already challenging cost of living in the Bay Area, and hiking bridge tolls to fund solutions. 

It’s great that the region is finally having this housing discussion.  It’s overdue.  And it needs to move forward quickly.  But it also needs to be done right. 


Dec.  15

Ventura County Star on high school sports needing more scrutiny:

Bullying, test scores, aging facilities, drugs, truancy — the list of challenges facing our public schools seems to be endless and eternal.  And after two recent Star stories, it’s unfortunately safe to say that conflicts and abuses in high school sports programs remain on that list, too. 

First, The Star revealed that Dave Guenther was removed as coach of the girls basketball team at Buena High School in Ventura over allegations that he misused school funds and violated policies and protocols. 

Then on Friday, The Star reported the abrupt firing of Matt Lewis as head football coach at Royal High School in Simi Valley.  Lewis claims he’s the victim of a smear campaign by parents upset over their sons’ lack of playing time. 

Although these two cases are vastly different, they both reflect shortcomings in how schools and districts oversee their sports programs.  In one case, the system apparently was abused by a coach, and in the other, apparently by parents.  But in either, these kinds of problems will continue until campus administrators, district officials and school boards gain a better handle over the programs. 

Guenther was removed as coach in October and moved from Buena to a teaching position at another Ventura campus.  District officials refused to say why, so The Star successfully requested Guenther’s discipline file and other documents under the California Public Records Act. 

The documents revealed a host of questionable spending by Guenther on behalf of the team.  That includes a $31,000 all-expenses-paid basketball trip to Hawaii in 2012 for which he brought along 11 adults and his own children — just for the team to play a few games, not a tournament.  The expenses included “flights, hotels, food (including a meal at Benihanas), surfing lessons, gifts, a Macy’s necktie, sunscreen, coffee, gift certificates, interest on a credit card (and) an elaborate luau for 30 people,” the documents say. 

“You .  appear to have arranged for individual basketball games in Hawaii apparently to enjoy a trip to an exotic locale,” a reprimand letter says.  It says Guenther explained away the nearly 1-1 ratio of adults to students (the average ratio for such trips is 10-1) by saying each adult had a specific role, including, believe it or not, a “surfing and snorkeling instructor.  “

The money largely came from donations and fundraising and was administered through an Associated Student Body account, and Guenther claims some of it was paid back.  In a rebuttal letter to the district, he also said he was never told the expenditures were a problem until this year, and that he and other coaches never received any training on spending policies or protocols. 

We agree that’s a serious district shortcoming if true, and that administrators need to make such training a priority.  But coaches, ASB officials, athletic directors, assistant principals and others need to show some common sense.  Spending district funds on surfing lessons and luaus should have raised some alarms, starting with Guenther. 

Lewis was fired as coach for unspecified reasons (he’ll keep his teaching duties) even though he led Royal to its first league championship in 14 years.  He told The Star a small group of parents have wrongly accused him on social media of treating players badly, benching them for speaking up and screaming at them. 

“There are policies in place to protect students from cyber bullying, but no mechanism to protect teachers and coaches,” he rightfully pointed out.  Simi Valley deserves an explanation of why Lewis was let go — and better policies and protocols defining the roles and expectations of parents of student athletes. 

It’s a tall order for our public schools.  But without improved communication, transparency, financial scrutiny and general oversight, the taint will continue on many of their sports programs. 


Dec.  15

Los Angeles Times on California’s new school rating tool being better, but still flawed:

After years of work and some ludicrous missteps, California’s annual report card on schools is finally up and measuring educational performance.  It’s improved from its early iterations, and there’s a fair amount to like about it.  But the new system is still lacking in many areas; the state shouldn’t consider its work done here.  The reports can be hard to parse, and they make schools look like they’re doing a lot better than they are. 

That’s not helpful to parents or the public.  There are few things parents are more interested in than the quality of the schools to which they entrust their children; providing that information is a key responsibility of the state Department of Education.  The general public has a stake in this too, given the investment taxpayers are making in public education. 

The new California School Dashboard replaces the old Academic Performance Index, which provided simple numerical scores for each school, based almost solely on results from the state’s annual proficiency tests.  The API was abandoned a few years ago for a legitimate reason: Judging a school’s entire performance on two tests, each given once a year, was a blinkered way to measure educational efforts.  Besides, it didn’t reveal much. 

In contrast, the dashboard provides information about many more aspects of education — including graduation rates, suspension rates, parent engagement and the like.  And for parents willing and able to throw themselves at the reports, there’s a mountain of information contained therein.  The question is how many parents will do the work.  If they rely on the simple color charts instead of looking closely at the information, they might get a misleading idea of how their children’s schools are doing. 

Early versions of the dashboard were a lesson in confusion.  The state started with a grid of color-coded squares that were almost indecipherable.  Those gave way to a lineup of pie charts with colored pieces that were just about as bad. 

The new and official version improves on that with a series of colored graphics that look like fuel gauges.  They make a lot more sense and give, at a glance, a sense of where that school stands on the various measures: red at the “empty” end where performance is low, up through the rainbow to excellent performance in blue or a full tank of gas.  Parents can then link to more in-depth versions of each measurement.  The reports are easy to find online at caschooldashboard.  org. 

Serious problems remain, though, especially in the metrics that make schools look better than they should.  If that was the state’s goal here, it’s doing the public a real disservice.  One example: Schools can have low test scores and still come out looking great on “college and career readiness.  “

A big part of the problem is that there is no reasonable or objective measure of what good performance consists of.  Schools are measured against each other, not against a standard of excellence, and they get extra credit for improvement. 

So, for example, the Los Angeles High School of the Arts has low test scores in both English and math.  Its graduation rate is also down in the below-average orange zone.  Only 42% of its students graduate ready for college or a career.  Yet it receives a nice, above-average green rating on the fuel gauge because the statewide average also is only 42%, and it got extra credit for improving significantly over last year.  Most parents wouldn’t view 42% as a good graduation rate, especially considering that it doesn’t take into account all the dropouts who certainly aren’t college- or career-ready. 

Graduation rates and suspension rates are measured the same way on the colored gauge — how they come out against other schools, not whether they’re objectively doing well.  The numbers are there, for parents who dig below the surface, but they shouldn’t have to go that deep to get an accurate reading. 

In order to get a stellar score on “parent engagement,” it’s enough for schools to do an annual survey of their parents and report the results.  The parents might have very negative things to say in the surveys.  They might say that no one talks to them and that they feel unwelcome.  But as long as the school reports the survey results, it’s in good stead. 

The same kind of thinking applies to whether schools have enough qualified teachers.  Schools need report only on how many teachers aren’t certified for the jobs they’re doing.  It doesn’t matter how many are “mis-assigned.  ” In other words, these scores are about compliance with filling out forms, not about meeting the needs of students and families. 

The dashboard itself earns a middling yellow rating on the fuel gauge, mainly for depth of information and continuous improvement.  But the state should recognize that it has a long way to go for the dashboard to reach stellar blue. 

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