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Immigrant integration varies across California

September 18, 2012, 12:05 AM | Joanna Lin, California Watch

Josh Hallett/Flickr Immigrants become U.S. citizens at a naturalization ceremony at Walt Disney World in 2009. 

When a change to federal law meant many immigrants would lose access to certain welfare benefits, Santa Clara County faced having to absorb thousands of residents in local safety net programs. So the county pursued a way to keep immigrants eligible for federal benefits: citizenship.

Since 1996, Santa Clara County has encouraged legal permanent residents to become naturalized citizens and has worked to integrate immigrants in the region. A new report by the University of Southern California's Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration says those efforts are lessons for the rest of California.

"There's a clear need for a statewide body to invest in immigrant integration," Vanessa Carter, a data analyst at the center and an author of the report, said in a call with reporters. "This body could help coordinate immigrant integration efforts and, in the end, could help build a more resilient California...

Judge dismisses Prime Healthcare antitrust suit

September 17, 2012, 12:05 AM | Christina Jewett, California Watch

Monica Lam/California Watch

A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by hospital chain Prime Healthcare Services that alleged Kaiser Permanente conspired with a health care workers union to drive Prime out of business.

The lawsuit cited the Sherman Antitrust Act, which is meant to limit monopolies, and claimed Kaiser and the union "joined forces" to drive up Prime's costs, in part, by forcing the chain to pay high wages to workers.

Judge Janis L. Sammartino filed an order granting Kaiser’s motion to dismiss Prime’s complaint Aug. 30. The order says the facts stated in Prime's complaint did not support an antitrust lawsuit. 

Sammartino wrote that she “finds that Prime Healthcare has not sufficiently pleaded specific facts suggesting a conspiracy.”

 

The judge gave Prime 21 days to file a new complaint. Prime spokesman Edward Barrera said Prime plans to do that “to address the issues raised by the court and looks forward to moving this case forward.”

The workers union, the Service Employees International Union United Healthcare Workers West, issued a statement last week from President Dave Regan: “This dismissal confirms that Prime’s lawsuit was simply an attempt to divert attention...

Researchers pinpoint antibody critical to fighting flu

September 17, 2012, 12:05 AM | Susanne Rust, California Watch

Wilson Lab/Scripps Research Institute Researchers have discovered an antibody (in red) that neutralizes the flu (in blue). 

Sifting through thousands of proteins, researchers have identified an antibody that not only prevents the influenza virus from taking hold of its victims' cells, but also cures already infected animals.

And by examining the cell and virus in their crystalline, or 3-D forms, the researchers were able to identify how this antibody effectively neutralized the virus.

The antibody grabs hold of a particular structure on the virus – a structure the virus uses to latch onto its victim’s cells.

And while researchers had known how critical that structure is for the virus, they had deemed it too small for an antibody to effectively get a hold of.

This focused binding “using only a single loop on the antibody has never been seen before, and it’s really fascinating,” said Ian Wilson, lead author and a professor of structural biology at the Scripps Research Institute. “It gives us some good idea about designs for vaccines and therapies.”

The report appears in today’s edition of the journal Nature....

Muni issues accurate on-time report

September 17, 2012, 12:05 AM | Zusha Elinson, The Bay Citizen

someToast/Flickr

For the first time in more than a decade, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency released a report on the on-time arrival rate of its buses and trains without inflating the numbers.

Muni’s vehicles were on time 57.2 percent of the time in August, leaving passengers waiting, and waiting, at bus stops and train stations, according to the report released Friday. That number was slightly down from July when the on-time rate was 60.4 percent, according to the report, which covered the first eight months of 2012.

Muni’s willingness to use accurate on-time numbers came after The Bay Citizen reported in July that Muni officials were using accounting maneuvers to boost the reported on-time rate by as much as 18 percent since 2001, according to an internal memo. The transit agency has been under pressure to improve timeliness since 1999, when San Francisco residents approved a ballot measure requiring the transit agency to be on time at least 85 percent of the time...

Chevron air monitoring program languishes

September 14, 2012, 12:05 AM | Jennifer Gollan, The Bay Citizen

Jonas Bengtsson/Flickr An Aug. 6 fire at Chevron's Richmond refinery sent thousands of people to the hospital with respiratory and eye problems. 

Six air monitoring stations that Chevron agreed to install at its Richmond refinery in 2010 were not put in place, which might have slowed warnings about the danger of pollutants released during the refinery’s disastrous August fire, city officials and air quality regulators say.

The company pledged to install the equipment as part of a May 2010 agreement with the city of Richmond that settled a dispute over how much the refinery owed in utility taxes. 

"It was clearly the intention by the city and Chevron to have these monitors in place by now," said John Gioia, a Contra Costa County supervisor and board chairman of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, who also is a Richmond resident.

But Chevron spokesman Sean Comey said there was not a “defined schedule” to install the monitors.

Residents say the monitoring stations could have helped warn the public about potentially dangerous pollution immediately after the fire broke out Aug. 6, sending more than 15,000...

Bain, Romney's old firm, gives millions to Democrats

September 13, 2012, 12:05 AM | Lance Williams, California Watch

Jim Young/Reuters Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney 

Bain Capital, the private equity firm co-founded by Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney – and portrayed by President Barack Obama’s supporters as a gang of corporate raiders – has pumped nearly $4.5 million into Democratic campaigns and causes, public records show.

A California Watch analysis of campaign finance reports shows that in the past two decades, donors with ties to Bain and its related companies have been firm financial supporters of Democratic candidates in federal and state races around the nation.

Obama has received $417,000 from Bain donors, including $182,000 for his current re-election campaign, the records show.

 

To be sure, the firm’s executives have been more generous to Romney and other Republican candidates.

Since Romney first entered politics – in a failed 1994 campaign for a U.S. Senate seat – he has obtained $4.39 million from donors with ties to Bain Capital and related companies, including the Bain & Co. consulting firm. Other Republican candidates received an additional $2.86 million.

But outside of the donations to Romney, Bain donors actually have been more generous to Democrats than Republicans, according to the records...

Advocacy groups wary of new plan for prison isolation units

September 13, 2012, 12:05 AM | Michael Montgomery, California Watch

Michael Montgomery/California Watch Cells are clustered in the C unit at Pelican Bay State Prison's Security Housing Unit.

State corrections officials are moving forward with a plan for handling prison gangs and other violent groups, including changing rules that have kept some inmates locked in special isolation units for decades. 

But the initiative is raising concern among prisoner rights advocates and some experts who worry that it will do little to improve stark conditions or cut the backlog of inmates awaiting placement into the units.

“There’s nothing I can see in this policy that will change the flow of inmates into these very expensive facilities,” said David Ward, a retired University of Minnesota sociologist who served on an influential 2007 expert panel appointed by the state to study how California manages prison gangs.

At issue are California’s four Security Housing Units, which are designed to isolate the state’s most dangerous inmates, including those connected to violent prison gangs. The units routinely have been denounced as inhumane by civil rights groups and were the focus of widespread hunger strikes last year...

Plugins to kill Facebook Timeline come with security risks

September 12, 2012, 12:05 AM | G.W. Schulz, California Watch

Niall Kennedy/Flickr Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg shows off his profile page using Facebook Timeline. 

Not all of Facebook’s 900 million global users are pleased with the mega-site’s slow lurch toward what it calls Timeline, a new profile format that displays photos, updates, wall messages and more based on when the material was posted over the lifetime of the user.

Internet security experts say the complaints have created an opportunity for hackers – special apps or browser plugins that promise to turn off the Timeline feature while also possibly misusing your sensitive personal information, such as details about where else you’ve been on the Web.

Researchers at Campbell-based Barracuda Networks looked at six such plugins available through the Google Chrome Web store that offer to remove Timeline. Plugins are downloaded and added to your Web browser – Internet Explorer, Safari, Firefox and Chrome – and can be used for everything from blocking pop-up ads to translating pages from a different language......

State political watchdog to investigate another health district official

September 12, 2012, 12:05 AM | Katharine Mieszkowski, The Bay Citizen

Michael Short/California Watch Michael Wallace, president of the Washington Township Health Care District board, is also the chairman of the board of Fremont Bank. 

California's political watchdog agency is investigating a Fremont health care district official to determine whether he violated the state’s conflict-of-interest laws.

Michael Wallace, president of the Washington Township Health Care District board, is also the chairman of the board of Fremont Bank, which has received more than $1 million in fees from the taxpayer-funded district. Wallace declined to comment on the investigation.

The California Fair Political Practices Commission's decision to investigate Wallace, made public last week, is the latest in a series of probes it has initiated following a July report by The Bay Citizen that uncovered millions of dollars in questionable transactions involving companies and nonprofits with ties to health care district officials across the state......

SF wants state to conduct new study of Treasure Island cleanup

September 11, 2012, 12:05 AM | Matt Smith and Katharine Mieszkowski, The Bay Citizen

Michael Short/California Watch Cleanup operations for hazardous materials are under way on Treasure Island. 

San Francisco will ask the state to conduct its own investigation of the cleanup of radioactive waste on Treasure Island, after receiving complaints that contractors hired by the U.S. Navy might have mishandled contaminated material.

“We would like (state officials) to go out and conduct independent scans,” Michael Tymoff, project director for the city's Treasure Island Development Authority, said in an interview.

Tymoff said his office is preparing a formal request for the California Department of Public Health to conduct a new study, and he will provide more details to the Board of Supervisors during a hearing today.

San Francisco has asked the agency "to provide assistance in addressing concerns about radioactive contamination at Treasure Island," a state health department spokesman, Ken August, confirmed in an email, adding that the agency has asked San Francisco to provide more specifics about the proposed independent survey...

Academy of Art sues state agency over Cal Grant eligibility

September 11, 2012, 12:05 AM | Erica Perez, California Watch

Becky Snyder/Flickr

The Academy of Art University has sued the California Student Aid Commission, arguing the state agency should not have ruled the San Francisco college's students ineligible for Cal Grants in the 2012-13 academic year.

Under new rules signed into law in June, California colleges must have a student loan default rate of 15.5 percent or less and a graduation rate of 30 percent or higher for students to qualify for Cal Grants, which do not have to be repaid. The law exempts colleges where less than 40 percent of students borrow federal student loans, such as community colleges.

The goal of the new eligibility rules was to focus the state's limited financial aid dollars on colleges that provide a significant return on taxpayers' and students' investments in terms of jobs and degrees. The Academy of Art was one of 154 institutions [PDF] kicked out of the program this fall – most of which are for-profit colleges...

AC Transit invalidates $13 million security contract deal

September 11, 2012, 12:05 AM | Zusha Elinson, The Bay Citizen

Richard Eriksson/Flickr AC Transit bus

AC Transit acknowledged yesterday it improperly awarded a $13 million contract to a firm with financial ties to two members of its board of directors.

Securitas Security Services won the contract in July, despite receiving the lowest score in the transit agency’s bidding process. AC Transit's board approved the deal by a vote of 3-1, even though its rules require four votes of approval.

After Cypress Security, the bidder with the highest score, raised questions about the vote during a board meeting last week, AC Transit General Manager David Armijo yesterday declared the contract with Securitas invalid, according to a memo obtained by The Bay Citizen, sister site of California Watch. In the memo, Armijo – who was present at the July 11 meeting – acknowledged the board did not follow proper procedures.

No one at the meeting appeared to notice the board did not have enough votes to approve the contract, according to the meeting minutes. Two board members were on vacation. Unlike most AC Transit meetings, that meeting...

Marijuana use in teens linked to higher risk of testicular cancer

September 10, 2012, 12:05 AM | Susanne Rust, California Watch

Mark Yuen/Flickr Pot smoke may have chemical in it that mimic hormones, causing testicular cancer later in life. 

Smoking pot as a teenager can double a man’s risk of getting testicular cancer.

But cocaine use can reduce the risk by half.

These are just some of the conclusions a team of researchers at the University of Southern California came to after interviewing more than 350 men, 163 of whom had been diagnosed with testicular cancer, about recreational drug use.

“We do not know what marijuana triggers in the testes that may lead to carcinogenesis, although we speculate that it may be acting through… the cellular network that responds to the active ingredient in marijuana, since this system has been shown to be important in the formation of sperm,” said Victoria Cortessis, lead author and assistant professor of preventive medicine at USC’s Keck School of Medicine.

The questionnaire included entries for poppers, mushrooms, Quaaludes, PCP, barbiturates and speed.

Testicular cancers are the most common forms of cancer in adolescent and adult men...

Congressional report explores history of military on U.S. soil

September 10, 2012, 12:05 AM | G.W. Schulz, California Watch

Mallory Benedict/PBS NewsHour via Flickr National Guard personnel provide security at the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla. 

Congress passed the Posse Comitatus Act more than 130 years ago to restrict the use of military personnel on U.S. soil, and the nation has long possessed an aversion to armed forces being relied upon for enforcement actions against civilians. But the spirit of the law since that time has been subject to different interpretations and is explored in depth in a recent report [PDF] by the Congressional Research Service.

“The USA PATRIOT Act broadened the permissible circumstances for the use of the military to assist law enforcement agencies in countering terrorism,” the report states, “but Congress also reaffirmed its determination to maintain the principle of the posse comitatus law. The perceived breakdown in civil law and order in Hurricane Katrina’s wake evoked more calls to reevaluate the military’s role in responding to disasters.”...

Calif. researchers create apps for health studies

September 7, 2012, 6:05 AM | Tia Ghose, California Watch

bloomua/Shutterstock

Does oversleeping make you depressed? Do certain types of patients do better on new medication?  Which streets worsen asthma symptoms?

Right now, answering those questions is beyond the scope of most medical studies. Clinical trials determine whether new drugs are effective on average, but usually aren’t large enough to look at different subsets of people. Observational studies expect participants to accurately remember what they ate or how often they exercised weeks, months or years later. And the studies are expensive and time-consuming.

The ubiquity of smartphones – and the incredible amounts of data they collect – might change all that. Several California researchers are building infrastructure to conduct clinical trials and manage health via smartphones. 

“People are walking around with increasingly smart phones,” said Deborah Estrin, a UCLA computer scientist and founder of Open mHealth, an infrastructure for medical apps...

FBI files reveal new details about informant who armed Black Panthers

September 7, 2012, 12:04 AM | Seth Rosenfeld, California Watch

Nikki Arai/Courtesy of Shoshana Arai Richard Aoki was known as the “minister of education” for the Berkeley chapter of the Black Panther Party. 

Revelations that prominent radical activist Richard Aoki was an FBI informant have prompted angry denials among his supporters, but newly released records confirm Aoki was secretly providing information to agents during the period he gave the Black Panthers guns and firearms training.

The documents from Aoki’s FBI informant file – totaling 221 pages – were released after a court challenge under the Freedom of Information Act and show that Aoki was an informant from 1961 to 1977, with only brief interruptions. The records say that at various points, he provided information that was “unique” and of “extreme...

Oakland Unified cuts off funds for private school

September 6, 2012, 11:05 PM | Will Evans, California Watch

Michael Short/California Watch Oakland school board member Noel Gallo had called for a review of the district's oversight of funds for private schools.

The Oakland Unified School District is cutting off federal funds benefiting a private school accused of abuse after determining that the church school inflated its enrollment numbers.

The district also is increasing its oversight of the federal money it doles out to pay for tutoring and teacher development in private schools.

But a California Watch investigation has found additional flaws with the district's approach to private schools, which neither of those measures addresses: The district contracts with private school teachers who lack teaching credentials to provide special instruction to struggling students.

Federal and state officials say private school teachers hired with federal money not only must be credentialed, but also must meet even higher federal standards for "highly qualified teachers." School district officials contacted in San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego say they abide by those requirements, but Oakland maintains that the private school teachers paid by the district do not need special qualifications...

Assembly kills school seismic reform measure

September 6, 2012, 12:05 AM | Corey G. Johnson, California Watch

David Sawyer/Flickr California State Capitol 

SACRAMENTO – A proposal to study seismic safety improvements for public schools – which won initial legislative support – quietly died in an Assembly committee during the last weeks of the legislative session.

The measure, SB 1271, focused on whether schools should allow staff and students to occupy unsafe structures and whether the state can penalize officials for evading California's seismic safety law, known as the Field Act. Under the bill, independent experts would have proposed improvements for the Division of the State Architect, which regulates school construction.

The Legislature went home without approving the measure, written by Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett.

 

"We did all we could do," Corbett said, "and we will continue to monitor (the state architect's office) to make sure it is fulfilling its mission to protect California’s schoolchildren and certify the seismic safety of new school buildings in a timely fashion...

Bills to reform developmental center police reach governor

September 5, 2012, 12:05 AM | Ryan Gabrielson, California Watch

Monica Lam/California Watch Donna Lazzini embraces her son, Timothy Lazzini, a resident of the Sonoma Developmental Center who died in 2005.

Two bills that would require outside police and advocates to be informed about alleged crimes against the developmentally disabled at California’s board-and-care institutions have reached Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk.

Brown has 30 days to sign the legislation – SB 1051 and SB 1522 – into law or veto the measures. Both bills are designated urgent, so they take effect immediately should the governor approve them...

Report: Ban on medical care at drug rehab centers must end

September 5, 2012, 12:05 AM | Christina Jewett, California Watch

renjith krishnan/freedigitalphotos.net

State Senate investigators are calling on lawmakers to lift a ban on medical care in residential drug treatment facilities, pointing to dysfunction and deaths in facilities stymied by outdated laws.

A report issued yesterday by the Senate Office of Oversight and Outcomes links lax oversight by the state Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs to the deaths of clients at private, inpatient drug treatment centers. It also details the way operators “tie themselves in knots” to comply with a ban on medical treatment while caring for sick people.

"Almost everyone involved in the current system of regulating residential drug and alcohol programs agrees that it doesn't work and is not good for clients," the report by principal consultant John Hill says.

 

The Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs respects the research that went into the report and is continuing to review its details, according to a statement by spokeswoman Suzi Rupp.

"The department acknowledges the critical issues addressed in this report and takes it seriously," she said. "We remain committed to protecting the health and safety of all clients served in the facilities we license and will take all appropriate action within our authority to do so...

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