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State architect: Fixing seismic oversight for schools a 'high priority'

Newly appointed State Architect Chester Widom said yesterday that he is "digging deep" and looking at all possible solutions to address issues cited in a recent audit critical of the state's seismic safety regulator for public schools.

Speaking for about five minutes near the end of yesterday's state Seismic Safety Commission meeting at the Delta King Hotel in Sacramento, Widom described his 49-year background as an architect and advocate for seismic safety. But he made only a passing reference to a California State Auditor report that found the Division of the State Architect's construction oversight to be “neither effective nor comprehensive.”

As a staff member gave each commissioner a copy of the report, Widom stressed he had been on the job for only seven days and was limited in his knowledge of the regulatory agency. He assured commissioners that the problems raised in the report and recent news reports were a "high priority" for him. He said he would be open to talking about the matter separately with individual commissioners or at a future commission meeting. Widom was tapped to lead the office by Gov. Jerry Brown in December and began working Jan. 1.

 

"I can tell you I've looked at (the audit report) very carefully, and I'm working very, very hard to address the issues that are shown in there," Widom said. 

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Bill seeks to limit school police in discipline matters

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.

The proposals come amid burgeoning concern nationally over harsh school punishment policies, and police involvement in seemingly routine discipline. Police presence on campuses nationwide has grown steadily since two teens went on a killing spree at Columbine High School outside Denver in 1999. But a growing group of juvenile-justice researchers and judges argue that putting students into conflict with officers over minor infractions – and needlessly placing kids in the justice system – increases risks students will drop out and get into more serious trouble.

Filed under: K–12, Daily Report

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

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 children:

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Bullet train bidder has history of cost overruns

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 million more than they expected, or 40 percent above the initial bids.

A company spokesman did not return a message seeking comment. CEO Ron Tutor said in the August report that attacks against him were unfounded and overruns were caused by contracting agencies changing the projects in midstream.

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Winning bid to start high-speed rail far below estimates

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 in the financial assessment.

The other four bids were:

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Lawmakers mull next steps for 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.

The influential state Legislative Analyst’s Office recommended in its budget analysis that the Legislature create an independent Office of Inspector General to oversee the five developmental centers at a cost of $500,000 to $1 million. The inspector general would have the authority to review patient complaints, conduct audits, investigate allegations of wrongdoing and help prosecute individuals who threaten patients or staff.

Shawn Martin, representing the Legislative Analyst's Office, testified that a new layer of oversight is needed because having the Department of Developmental Services responsible for its own facilities hasn't worked.

 

“They have to be independent in order to be effective,” Martin said.

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Independent oversight proposed for 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.

In its investigation, California Watch found 36 cases of alleged rape and molestation at the centers, which house more than 1,600 patients with severe disabilities. The investigation also uncovered allegations that a state worker used a Taser to inflict burns on a dozen patients at the Sonoma Developmental Center.

The Office of Protective Services, the internal police force assigned to protect residents of the state facilities, routinely mishandled cases by failing to collect evidence, waiting too long to interview witnesses or suspects, and not ordering rape kits in cases of alleged sexual assault.

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Doctors claim Prime hospital kept them from patients

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 order.

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Cambodian youth confront ‘historical forgetting’

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.

 

The survey, completed two years ago, shed light on the ricochet effect of trauma on refugee families – families “caught in the process of historical forgetting,” in the words of Jonathan H.X. Lee, an assistant professor of Asian American studies at San Francisco State University. Many of the girls’ parents arrived in Long Beach in the early 1980s after fleeing the “killing fields” of the Khmer Rouge regime, a genocide that resulted in an estimated 1.7 to 2 million deaths. Survivors of unimaginable horror, many have kept their stories untold, creating a generation of silence that has taken a profound toll on their children.

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Unincorporated neighborhood finally getting sewer service

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.

“After decades of struggling with failing septic systems, Parklawn will finally realize a dream that most of us take for granted – an adequate wastewater system,” said Phoebe Seaton of California Rural Legal Assistance’s Community Equity Initiative. “Individual septic systems have proven grossly inadequate. Leaking and leaching wastewater threatens the groundwater and human health, damages homes and hurts property values.”

The organization sued the Stanislaus County in 2004 on behalf of Parklawn residents and later worked with the county to find funds to upgrade the neighborhood’s antiquated infrastructure.

Without access to a sewer system, wastewater in the neighborhood of 328 homes pools in yards and backs up into bathtubs, residents said.

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