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Bill seeks to limit school police in discipline matters

April 30, 2013, 3:05 AM | Susan Ferriss and Ben Wieder, Center for Public Integrity

Vanessa Romo/KPCC.org Students protest last year in Los Angeles against school police tickets issued heavily at middle schools, low-income schools. 

As the national debate grows louder over deploying police in schools, the largest state in the union ­– California – is considering a bill that would require schools to set “clear guidelines” defining the role of school police and limit their involvement in disciplinary matters.

The Golden State joins Texas and Connecticut ­­­– home of the December Newtown school shootings – in considering legislation that would set limits on how schools involve police officers in discipline. Colorado adopted limits last year...

To mark 1906 quake, resources to teach kids about disaster safety

April 18, 2013, 12:05 AM | Kelly Chen, California Watch

To commemorate the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire and follow up on our investigation into the seismic safety of California’s schools, the Center for Investigate Reporting is teaming up with the American Red Cross Bay Area Chapter today for a “prep rally” on seismic preparedness. The event at the California Academy of Sciences will provide resources and tips for families on what to do in an earthquake. It will also feature appearances by sports stars Jerry Rice and Kristi Yamaguchi. Activities begin at 9:30 a.m. Click here for more details.

Photos of major earthquakes in California since 1906

We also have some great resources for...

Bullet train bidder has history of cost overruns

April 16, 2013, 10:24 AM | Christopher Cadelago, U-T San Diego

California High-Speed Rail Authority

SACRAMENTO – The lowest-bidding partnership for the first segment of California’s high-speed rail line includes a firm with a history of cost overruns and costly lawsuits.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority on Friday announced that the American joint venture of Tutor Perini/Zachry/Parsons was the “best apparent value” with a low bid of $985 million – below the $1.09 billion bid by the next-lowest bidder.

On construction projects in California, the lowest bidder has a strong advantage in the eventual selection process. Rob Wilcox, a spokesman for the authority, declined to comment on bidders as the matter is finding its way to the authority’s board of directors.

“Five world-class teams competed for this opportunity, and the process is ongoing,” Wilcox said.

 

The first segment of the estimated $68 billion system is proposed to run 28 miles from Madera to Fresno in the San Joaquin Valley.

According to an August report by The Bay Citizen, sister site of California Watch, 11 major projects in the San Francisco Bay Area completed by Tutor in the last dozen years cost local governments $765...

Winning bid to start high-speed rail far below estimates

April 15, 2013, 10:14 AM | Tim Sheehan, The Fresno Bee

High-Speed Rail Authority

A trio of American companies outbid four other teams of contractors vying for the contract to build the first segment of California's proposed high-speed train system in the San Joaquin Valley – and for several hundred million dollars less than state engineers estimated.

The consortium of Tutor Perini Corp. of Sylmar, Zachry Construction Corp. of Texas and Parsons Corp. of Pasadena offered the low bid of less than $1 billion. Five construction teams submitted bids in January to the California High-Speed Rail Authority for the first stretch of the rail line from east of Madera to the south end of Fresno.

Engineers for the rail authority – the state agency in charge of developing the statewide train system – had at one time estimated that the 28-mile portion would cost between $1.5 billion and $2 billion to design and build. More recent estimates suggested the bids would likely come in at $1.2 billion to $1.8 billion.

 

The Tutor Perini/Zachry/Parsons bid of $985,142,530 was deemed the "apparent best value" by the rail authority, based on a total score that considered both the price and the technical expertise of the competing companies. While Tutor/Perini/Parsons had the lowest technical score of the five bids – 20.55 out of 30 possible points – it also racked up 70 out of 70 points...

Lawmakers mull next steps for developmental centers

April 11, 2013, 7:09 PM | Amy Julia Harris, California Watch

Max Whittaker/For California Watch People with developmental disabilities and their supporters call on lawmakers to shut down the state's developmental centers. 

SACRAMENTO – State lawmakers weighed today whether to appoint an inspector general to oversee state centers for the developmentally disabled and close a center in Sonoma where patients suffered the worst instances of abuse, neglect and sexual assaults.

During a daylong hearing, members of a Senate budget subcommittee on health and human services heard testimony from state officials and advocates for the developmentally disabled but did not indicate what action they might take.

The proposal to create an inspector general met with opposition from the Department of Developmental Services, which objected to its cost. The idea also found little support among advocates and family members of the disabled, who say the state-run centers should be shut down...

Independent oversight proposed for developmental centers

April 10, 2013, 5:19 PM | Amy Julia Harris, California Watch

Monica Lam/California Watch The Office of Protective Services is an in-house police force at California's developmental centers.

The state’s influential legislative analyst is recommending that the California Legislature create an independent Office of Inspector General to monitor state developmental centers where police failed to properly investigate patient deaths, abuse, sexual assault and neglect.

The proposal from the Legislative Analyst’s Office comes in response to an 18-month investigation by California Watch into rapes and other instances of patient abuse at the Sonoma Developmental Center and four other board-and-care centers around the state.

“Given the vulnerable nature of the population served by the Developmental Centers, and the ongoing nature of the health and safety problems that have plagued the Developmental Centers for more than a decade, we believe such additional oversight in the form of an Office of Inspector General is warranted,” the analyst’s office said in its budget analysis for the coming fiscal year.

 

A Senate budget subcommittee on health and human services is scheduled to discuss the proposal Thursday...

Doctors claim Prime hospital kept them from patients

March 29, 2013, 12:05 AM | Christina Jewett, California Watch

Monica Lam/California Watch

A dozen Southern California doctors are accusing the leadership of a Prime Healthcare Services hospital of refusing to notify them about their patients because they won’t engage in profit-driven practices, according to a request for a restraining order filed this week.

The San Bernardino County physician group suing Chino Valley Medical Center and its director say it has been asked to needlessly admit patients from the emergency room into hospital beds, according to the lawsuit filed Wednesday in San Bernardino County Superior Court. The group’s doctors also have been urged to document patient conditions as more complex or severe than they are, the filing says.

The doctors suing the hospital maintain that both practices are meant to drive up hospital bills. The result of their refusal to go along, they say, is that they’re not receiving what they characterize as legally mandated notifications when their patients land in the hospital.

 

The physicians have asked the judge to lift the alleged freeze in communication, saying it puts fragile patients in danger. A hearing is set for April 19 on the temporary restraining...

Cambodian youth confront ‘historical forgetting’

March 28, 2013, 6:05 AM | Patricia Leigh Brown, California Watch

Richard Hartog/California Watch Community organizer Ashley Uyeda, second from left, listens during a group youth session at the Khmer Girls in Action offices in Long Beach with Christine Sam, 16, in yellow, Malin Ouk, 17, and Kunthea Sin, 18.

LONG BEACH – Youthful rebellion can come in many guises, from being anti-Google to defending animal rights. But for an all-female group of Cambodian American teens in Long Beach, home to the country’s largest Cambodian community, the target of their adolescent disaffection is their parents’ generational hopelessness.

“We felt the word ‘action’ was important,” said Sophya Chum, an organizer for Khmer Girls in Action, an activist group whose members, young Cambodian American women, surveyed some 500 of their 1.5-generation (those who immigrated to the U.S. as children) and second-generation peers to better understand the issues affecting their lives. Their findings are the basis of Show Youth the Love, a health and wellness forum held last month...

Unincorporated neighborhood finally getting sewer service

March 27, 2013, 1:26 PM | Bernice Yeung, California Watch

Max Whittaker/Prime Arleen Hernandez frequently has to unclog her backed-up shower because of the aging septic tank at her Parklawn home.

The unincorporated neighborhood of Parklawn, one of hundreds of impoverished California communities that lack basic services, celebrated a breakthrough this month when Stanislaus County broke ground on a new sewer line connecting the district to the city of Modesto.

Parklawn, which has grappled with deficient septic tanks for about 60 years, is an unincorporated island of county territory nearly surrounded by Modesto. Around the state, such densely populated unincorporated neighborhoods on county land have long suffered from government neglect and lack some combination of sewer systems, clean drinking water, sidewalks, streetlights and storm drains...

What's at stake as community colleges face budget cuts?

March 27, 2013, 6:05 AM | Kelly Chen, California Watch

Public Policy Institute of California Fee increase at California community colleges over time

A new report by the Public Policy Institute of California examines how nearly $1.5 billion in budget cuts in recent years has limited access to the state’s community college system.

I asked California Watch’s higher education reporter, Erica Perez, to help break down what the changes mean for the 2.4 million students who attend community colleges. Below are excerpts of our conversation.

California community colleges have experienced a cut of nearly $1.5 billion between 2007-08 and 2011-12.

The Public Policy Institute of California report states: “Student enrollment rates in California’s community colleges have dropped to a 20-year low in the wake of unprecedented cuts in state funding. Colleges have reduced staff, cut courses, and increased class sizes – all of which have led to declines in student access.”

According to a recent California Watch report, fees have...

Join our discussion on Pomona's developmental center

March 25, 2013, 6:20 PM | Marie McIntosh, California Watch

California Watch invites you to share your insights and experiences regarding the Lanterman Developmental Center in Pomona. On April 3, reporter Ryan Gabrielson, who has covered the state’s developmental centers in his series Broken Shield, will participate in a discussion on topics ranging from the closure of the Lanterman Developmental Center to soaring overtime pay for the centers' police force.

What does this development mean for the city of Pomona, the developmental center and its patients, and the people who live in surrounding communities?

We invite stakeholders to discuss this and other questions. The conversation will be moderated by Joaquin Alvarado, chief strategy officer for the Center for Investigative Reporting, the parent organization of California Watch. Gabrielson will discuss his investigative findings and answer questions.

Details

When: April 3, 6:30-8:30 p.m.

Where: UC Riverside Extension campus, Conference Room A

1200 University Ave., Riverside

$5 parking on-site

RSVP: This event is free to the public, but registration is required: http://lantermandc.eventbrite.com.

For East African women, moving from Cheetos to mushmush

March 25, 2013, 12:00 AM | Patricia Leigh Brown, California Watch

Carlos A. Moreno/California Watch The gatherings are meant to help daughters of East African women to understand their heritage and to encourage mothers to adapt healthy versions of American favorites like quiche and pizza.

SAN DIEGO – For many daughters, the kitchen contains their mother’s secrets. In the tumult of pots and pans, the pinches of sugar and salt, reside recipes perfected over time without cookbooks, experience and intuition the only guides.

For East African daughters in City Heights, a neighborhood that is a major West Coast portal for refugees, the opportunity to cook twice a month as a group with their mothers is a chance to steep themselves in Somali, Ethiopian and Eritrean culinary traditions, passed down orally through generations.

“We have a common goal: to learn from each other,” said Ayan Sheikh, a recent graduate of CSU Bakersfield and a nurse, who missed the cooking group so much at school that she asked her aunt to post the sessions on YouTube.

The gatherings started two years ago with 10 mothers and daughters; today, there are more than 30 regulars. The group has multiple goals: helping daughters growing up in the U.S. to understand their heritage while encouraging mothers to adapt...

Stories to make you rethink your relationship to water

March 15, 2013, 1:50 PM | Kelly Chen, California Watch

We drink it, we bathe with it, we even swim in it – but we may not often think about water. What is the source of the water we're drinking? What happens when whole communities don't have access to clean water? Here are four stories that explore how we interact with water.

We spend $11 billion a year on bottled water, but we don’t really know where it comes from

Kate Sheppard of Mother Jones reports most of us don’t know where our water comes from, due, in part, to regulations around bottled water. “In order to be called ‘spring water,’ according to the EPA, a product has to be either ‘collected at the point where water flows naturally to the earth’s surface or from a borehole that taps into the underground source,’ ” Sheppard writes. “Glacier water” and “mountain water” aren’t regulated by the EPA.

In some parts of unincorporated California, wastewater backs up into toilets, sinks and showers

Max Whittaker/Prime Francisco González pours bleach into pits where he diverts his washing machine and kitchen sink. ...

Some Calif. retirement trustees cancel Hawaii conference plans

March 8, 2013, 12:05 AM | Jennifer Gollan, California Watch

nemuneko.jc/Flickr.comThe Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort, site of this year's National Conference on Public Employee Retirement Systems, has five swimming pools.

At least three board members overseeing underfunded municipal retirement systems in California have scrapped plans to attend a conference in Hawaii even as conference organizers defended the gathering after a recent California Watch report revealed that some pension funds planned to send as many as five board members each at public expense.

Conference organizers also removed from their website a “2013 Attendance Justification Tool Kit,” which suggested that pension trustees rationalize their attendance at the conference as a way to network and boost their pension funds...

New director to take over troubled Sonoma disability center

March 7, 2013, 5:38 PM | Amy Julia Harris, California Watch

Mike Kepka/San Francisco Chronicle Giant palm trees stand at the main gate of the Sonoma Developmental Center, which houses about 500 patients. 

A former employee of the Sonoma Developmental Center has been tapped to head California’s largest full-time care facility for the severely disabled, at a time when the institution is struggling to reinvent itself in the wake of patient abuse scandals.

The Department of Developmental Services announced Wednesday that Karen Faria, who worked at the Sonoma Developmental Center from 1985 to 2005, will become the embattled facility's latest executive director starting April 1.

The appointment comes in the wake of a California Watch series that uncovered serious allegations of patient abuse at the Sonoma Developmental Center. The reported abuses included cases of rape and molestation as well as allegations that a state worker used a Taser to inflict burns on a dozen patients.

The California Watch investigation exposed these cases and focused on failures of an internal police force to get to the bottom of the abuses. One-third of the 36 alleged rapes occurred at the Sonoma board-and-care center – one of five such facilities in California that house about 1...

What's driving privatization of public transit?

March 7, 2013, 6:05 AM | Kelly Chen, California Watch

Michael Short/California Watch In Fairfield, officials have outsourced the city's public bus service to MV Transportation. 

As more cities turn to private companies to run public transit systems, our recent investigation shows that privatization may not be the silver bullet that cash-strapped municipalities were hoping for.

In Fairfield, where the city’s suburban landscape makes it difficult to provide reliable and comprehensive bus service, local officials are finding it hard to hold its contractor, MV Transportation, accountable. Transit reporter Zusha Elinson found that “over a two-year period beginning in 2008, the company was fined 295 times for a total of $164,000” for late arrival times and drivers speeding, being out of uniform and using cellphones while driving.

Behind the fines, however, is a much larger ideological debate: Is privatization of certain industries like transit, which some traditionally consider to be public domain, a good thing?

We asked Elinson to break it down for us.

Q: Why are more cities turning to private companies to run their public transit systems?...

How NASA scientists are turning LA into one big climate change lab

March 4, 2013, 11:49 AM | John Metcalfe, Climate Desk

John Metcalfe/The Atlantic Los Angeles on a "clear" day, as seen from atop the CLARS monitoring station, which remotely tests the atmosphere above more than two dozen points in the Los Angeles Basin.

Southern California’s Mount Wilson is a lonesome, hostile peak – prone to sudden rock falls, sometimes ringed by wildfire – that nevertheless has attracted some of the greatest minds in modern science.

Today, Mount Wilson is the site of a more terrestrial but no less ambitious endeavor. Scientists from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena and elsewhere are turning the entire Los Angeles metro region into a state-of-the-art climate laboratory. From the ridgeline, they deploy a mechanical lung that senses airborne chemicals and a unique sunbeam analyzer that scans the skies over the Los Angeles Basin. At a sister site at the California Institute of Technology, researchers slice the clouds with a shimmering green laser, trap air samples in glass flasks and stare at the sun with a massive mirrored contraption that looks like God’s own microscope...

In one Calif. school district, teachers help teachers get better

February 19, 2013, 10:07 AM | Stephen Smith, The Hechinger Report

Stephen Smith/The Hechinger Report Writing coach Jandella Faulkner helps students at Edison Elementary School in Long Beach use "thinking maps" to tell a story. 

LONG BEACH – Jandella Faulkner crouches beside a table of busy third-graders in Jennifer Larsen’s class at Edison Elementary School. The students have pencils in hand, outlines spread around them, and a story about penguins and otters in progress.

Faulkner stands to call across the room: “Loving how this group is already talking, Ms. Larsen.” Then she swoops down on another table of young authors.

Faulkner is a teaching coach in the Long Beach school district. Her job is to train a select group of teachers at Edison Elementary, including Jennifer Larsen, in a new literacy curriculum called Write From The Beginning. It’s part of a districtwide training system that relies on teachers working with each other to improve classroom practices. So, with Faulkner’s help, Larsen and the other site coaches at Edison train their colleagues at the school how to use Write From The Beginning in their own classrooms...

Prime hospital chain acknowledges it faces 2 federal investigations

February 6, 2013, 12:05 AM | Lance Williams, California Watch

Ana Venegas/The Orange County Register Dr. Prem Reddy, founder of Prime Healthcare Services, recently gave a presentation on Medicare billing practices to doctors at a Texas hospital that Prime’s nonprofit foundation acquired.

The Prime Healthcare Services hospital chain has acknowledged it is the target of two federal investigations: a U.S. Justice Department probe of its Medicare billings and an inquiry into alleged violations of patient confidentiality laws.

The San Bernardino County-based company disclosed the investigations in a Jan. 2 filing with the state health department in Rhode Island, where Prime hopes to buy its 22nd hospital.

Prime’s filing marked the first time the company has said it is facing a federal investigation. Until now, the company has steadfastly denied being the subject of any such probes.

Prime claims its Medicare billings are legal and proper, and the company shows little sign of backing away from the kind of aggressive billing practices that have made it the focus of official scrutiny...

Excerpts from Reddy’s presentation to Texas doctors

February 6, 2013, 12:05 AM | Lance Williams, California Watch

On Jan. 2, Knapp Medical Center in Weslaco, Texas, was bought by a nonprofit foundation associated with Prime Healthcare Services, a fast-growing California-based hospital chain that is under federal investigation for aggressive Medicare billings.

Soon after, Dr. Prem Reddy, Prime’s founder and CEO and the foundation’s president, instructed Knapp’s doctors on how to boost their Medicare payouts using the same controversial strategies that have made his company the target of federal scrutiny.

According to an hour-long recording of his presentation, Reddy encouraged the doctors to augment their patients’ charts with multiple secondary diagnoses for what he called “comorbid conditions.” Medicare pays hefty treatment bonuses worth thousands of dollars per case for treating patients who suffer from specified “major complications and comorbidities,” federal records show.

Reddy also urged the doctors to find reasons to admit Medicare patients to the hospital rather than treating them as outpatients, saying the Medicare payouts would triple.

More than two years ago, two California congressmen asked Medicare to investigate Prime, saying they suspected the chain was committing a form of Medicare fraud called “upcoding,” or exaggerated diagnoses. Millions may have been lost, the lawmakers wrote in a letter. On Jan. 2, Prime disclosed to health care regulators in Rhode Island that it is facing a U.S. Justice Department probe over its billing practices...

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