Analysis: Recent California newspaper editorials

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May 27

Merced Sun-Star: Mentally ill people must be treated, like it or not

Our intent is not to demonize the mentally ill; we must not assume they are violent.

But study after study and incident after incident has shown that, left untreated, people with certain forms of mental illness are more dangerous to themselves and to society than others.

Elliot Rodger provides the most recent, heart-wrenching example. He was being treated for mental illness, according to what is known about the 22-year-old man who massacred six students in Isla Vista and wounded 13 others before killing himself Friday.

Whatever care he was getting, it was insufficient.

It's an all too common story with a predictable end.

Some civil libertarians contend, wrongly, that people have a right to be left alone — no matter how ill. That makes it too easy for government to abdicate its responsibility to treat people who often are so sick they don't realize the danger they represent until it's too late. Far too often, there are warning signs — just as there were with Rodger.

The Los Angeles Times reported that Rodger's mother repeatedly called authorities after seeing a dark video her son had posted on YouTube. Santa Barbara County sheriff's deputies visited his apartment and concluded they could not hold him. Maybe the visit would have turned out differently if a mental health professional had come along. The Hollywood Reporter said in the hours before the massacre his parents were frantically searching for their son, fearing he would harm himself or others. There are more examples.

In October 2010, Pima Community College in Tucson, Ariz., suspended Jared Loughner after five run-ins with campus officers. College administrators urged him to get mental health care.

Loughner instead withdrew from college and three months later shot six people to death and seriously wounded Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

In February 2001, UC Santa Barbara student David Attias used his car to kill four people. His father had urged his adult son to take his anti-psychotic medication. His son refused, as was his right. Attias was found not guilty by reason of insanity, and spent 10 years at Patton State Hospital in San Bernardino County.

In January 2001, Scott Thorpe shot and killed three people in Nevada County, including college sophomore Laura Wilcox. Thorpe's psychiatrist concluded Thorpe did not meet the criteria for being held for treatment, despite pleas from Thorpe's brother, then a police sergeant.

The Legislature responded by passing Laura's Law, which allows counties to establish courts that can order outpatient treatment for severely mentally ill people. Only Nevada, Yolo and Orange counties have fully implemented the law.

A multitude of studies have shown that people suffering from schizophrenia and, to a lesser extent, bipolar disorder are more likely to commit violent crimes. Mixed with alcohol, the propensity is far greater.

The Treatment Advocacy Center cites a Canadian study that said there was "no doubt" about the relation "between psychosis and violence" and noted that those in the "immediate social circle" of the mentally ill person are "most at risk."

Rodger started by killing his roommates.

Laura's Law should be implemented and enforced across the state — including Stanislaus, Merced and San Joaquin counties. Its tenets must include "assisted outpatient" and court-ordered treatment. When implemented and monitored, treatment reduces hospitalization and homelessness, but also allows a much more effective response by law enforcement if a problem develops. In the weeks ahead, much will be revealed about Rodger's warped sense of entitlement, misogyny and ability to legally buy guns.

All or part of that might be relevant. But this state and nation must confront its unwillingness to more aggressively treat people who are severely mentally ill. We can start here by fully implementing Laura's Law.

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May 22

Monterey County Herald: Salinas police must regain trust

Just the fact that police have shot two people to death this month in Salinas would be enough to create an atmosphere of fear and distrust in any community.

That the second shooting was captured on a camera-phone video by a witness and then went Internet-viral in the depiction of the victim apparently walking away as he was shot, makes angry protests on May 21 understandable.

These are the times we live in — when word of mouth has been replaced by nearly instant word-and-picture of social media, and "official" explanations lag far behind — it often can't undo the initial people's verdict.

For all that, the scene on May 21, according to Herald journalists who were there, teetered on out of control. For hours. And the tension is still simmering, even as police released new videos Thursday that might explain what led to the latest shooting. At the same time, community members were due to meet Thursday night to plan additional protests that, if nothing else, will keep much of the city on edge.

We're not making excuses for throwing bottles at cops, but before people judge the protesters consider what has happened to erode the already fragile relationship between Salinas police and many of the people they are sworn to protect.

— While the case is unrelated, the corruption charges in King City earlier this year also involved a Latino community — mainly low-income and powerless.

— In Salinas, anger was already palpable after Osman Hernandez was shot to death by police after he waved a lettuce cutter outside Mi Pueblo market May 9.

— Then came the shooting in East Salinas by two police officers of a man brandishing landscape shears and acting erratically.

As we said, people are angry and they're scared.

At the same time, we urge community leaders to work diligently to help keep people calm and to use non-violence as their answer to questions police must answer.

Police responded calmly and responsibly on May 22 in the face of intense provocation and they should be applauded for that. Moreover, people can't be excused for breaking the law, no matter how suspicious they are of police legitimacy in their neighborhood.

Still, the Salinas PD and the city find themselves facing more than an angry mob. Police Chief Kelly McMillin has asked for time to provide more information and for the community to be respectful of officers who are trying to do their job.

McMillin has been working to improve the relationships between his department and the Alisal neighborhoods — and now has to start over again, which he tried to do in the face of tough questions at a news conference Thursday afternoon.

But it takes more than words to create trust. And that is McMillin's — and his department's — challenge.

Many people are convinced there's a double standard for how police respond in Anglo and Latino neighborhoods. How McMillin handles this perception, and how his department conducts its investigation of both shootings, provoked or not, will go a long way toward rebuilding trust, or further eroding it.

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May 27

The Sacramento Bee: California needs to clean up its own messes, not ship it to other states

California's Department of Toxic Substances Control has acknowledged a basic lesson our parents teach: We need to clean up our own messes.

After a half-dozen years of study, hearings and hand-wringing, the department last week finally approved Chemical Waste Management's request to expand its 1,600-acre hazardous-waste landfill in a remote part of Kings County known as Kettleman Hills, on the west side of Interstate 5. It is overdue.

Without a doubt, some nonprofit organization will appeal. That is their right. But authorities weighing the protests should recognize the effort that went into the decision to grant the permit and the consequence of overturning it.

During the years when the permit application was pending, Waste Management dramatically reduced the amount of waste it would accept. But California continued to produce more than its share of hazardous waste, 1.7 million tons each year, and sent it by rail to other states, where rules are more lax.

Consider the hypocrisy: California authorities couldn't bring themselves to allow for the disposal of the mess created by Californians. But California was perfectly happy to agree to ship toxic material to Nevada, Utah, Idaho and other states, which have less stringent laws governing what constitutes hazardous waste and how it must be disposed of.

The Kettleman Hills facility accepts almost all solid, semi-solid, and liquid hazardous waste, including asbestos, concrete, fuel, lead, heavy metals and solvents, and contaminated soil from brownfields. It does not take biological agents, infectious wastes, radioactive material or explosives.

Concerns about the landfill have come from a small environmentalist group in San Francisco and some residents of Kettleman City, on the east side of Interstate 5.

Babies in Kettleman City have been born with birth defects, and individuals have developed cancer. But investigations by state and federal scientists and public health experts have failed to find any connection to the landfill.

Kettleman City relies on wells that pump water containing arsenic, a carcinogen that has been linked to birth defects. Well water also contains benzene, a toxic byproduct of the petroleum beneath Kettleman City.

Waste Management has offered to help pay for a new water treatment plant, if it receives the permit and can expand its operation. Any suit could delay construction of a filtration facility.

The permit, approved under the leadership of Debbie Raphael, the outgoing director of the Department of Toxic Substances Control, requires that Waste Management reduce diesel trucks' air emissions by prohibiting the use of trucks built before 2007. There also will be increased air sampling, an improved containment system to control spills and regular meetings with Kettleman City residents.

The Department of Toxic Substances Control, meanwhile, has embarked on an ambitious effort to reduce by half the amount of toxic waste generated by 2015.

The concept is simple: The best way to avoid having to clean up a mess is to not make a mess in the first place, the sort of lesson any good parent would teach.

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May 27

Los Angeles Times: Los Angeles doesn't need a City Health Commission

For more than a year, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation has been on a mission to create a Los Angeles city agency to serve as a counterweight or cudgel to Los Angeles County, which provides public health services and has sparred with the nonprofit over contract and billing issues.

The foundation initially proposed a ballot measure that would have forced the city to sever health services contracts with the county and create a city health department at a cost of $260 million.

The end result will be a powerless panel of volunteers with no real mandate, no clear mission and probably no impact on public health.

When the city and county sued to knock the measure off the ballot, the foundation changed course and started gathering signatures for another initiative — this one to create a City Health Commission that would review county health services contracts, set goals for improving health in Los Angeles and study the possibility of creating a city health department. Again, AIDS Healthcare collected enough signatures to qualify for the ballot, giving the City Council two bad options: Spend $4 million to put the measure to voters in November, or forgo the election and create the commission.

The Council on Tuesday gave in to the foundation's extortion scheme and voted unanimously to create a City Health Commission. That's understandable but unfortunate. When the city of Los Angeles can't manage street paving, tree trimming, community plans, police overtime and various other core services, it's unacceptable that a special interest group can essentially force the city to establish an unnecessary commission. The foundation proposal calls for the 15-member volunteer commission supported by paid city staff to be "revenue-neutral," but it doesn't say where the money will come from to pay for the board.

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May 22

The Palm Springs Desert Sun: Do all we can to limit wildfire impact

Folks who live in the Southern California mountains have an obligation to do all they can to reduce the impact of wildfires.

They have many reasons to do so, such as insurance discounts if they follow the recommendations of the National Fire Protection Association. Of course, the biggest motivation is self-preservation and protecting the lifestyle they've chosen: to live amid the peaceful pines.

Residents in and around Idyllwild know this well and have been working hard to prepare for what will likely be an extremely dangerous fire season. The Mountain Fire, which burned 27,000 acres in July, and the Silver Fire, which burned 20,000 acres and destroyed 48 structures in August, are still fresh and frightening memories.

Cal Fire's Pine Cove station, which recently doubled its staffing, inspected 300 homes last week, checking buffer zones, pine needles on roofs, overgrown trees and debris piles. The Mountain Communities Fire Safe Council administers federal grants for fire abatement programs such as Shake Shingle Replacement. Its goal is to refit 110 homes with fire-resistant composites.

Since Jan. 1, Cal Fire has responded to more than 1,350 wildfires, nearly double the average for this time of year. With California in its third year of drought, the growing effects of climate change and summer less than a month away, The Desert Sun fears it will only get worse. When Santa Ana winds blew into San Diego County during triple-digit temperatures last week, 11 fires erupted, burning 26,000 acres and dozens of homes. Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency.

California has more homes close to fire-prone wilderness areas than any other state. According to Verisk Insurance Systems, nearly 2 million California homes were at high or extreme risk last year.

The Obama administration recently predicted it would spend $2.4 billion fighting wildfires this fiscal year, nearly triple what was spent a decade ago.

The International Association of Wildland Fire estimates wildfire suppression costs local, state and federal taxpayers a total of $4.7 billion a year. The number of U.S. homes destroyed by wildfire rose from 861 in 2000 to 4,244 in 2012 — an average of 2,970 homes a year.

The expense of fighting wildfires prompted California to enact a $150 annual tax per residence in fire-prone areas. The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association sued, charging it's an illegal tax that goes into the general fund instead of Cal Fire and that some parts of the zone are not at risk. The class-action suit may reach court this year.

As homes are added to forests, firefighters are compelled to fight every fire to protect lives and property, preventing the natural occurrence of wildfires. Dense vegetation built up over the years causes fires to go out of control and burn too hot, killing trees instead of generating new life. Under normal circumstances, fires release nutrients into the soil, stimulating plant growth. New plants absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen, which reduces global warming in the long run.

Homes in or near wilderness areas are a fact of American life, especially in California. Governments that approve those homes should use extreme caution, build in appropriate buffer zones, insist on fire-resistant materials and consider exterior sprinklers designed to protect structures. Controlled burns should be carefully managed to reduce dense underbrush. Firebreaks should be smartly planned and maintained.

In the hot, dry conditions of a Southern California summer, wildfires may be inevitable and costly. But that doesn't mean we're powerless to minimize the impact.

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May 22

The Riverside Press-Enterprise: Sheriff's officials right to suspend federal immigration holds

Kudos to the Riverside and San Bernardino county sheriff's departments for suspending their participation in a controversial and constitutionally suspect federal immigration enforcement program.

At the very least, the move should protect county taxpayers from potentially costly litigation. But the decision also highlights yet again the need for comprehensive immigration reform.

Both departments last week announced they had ended — for the time being, at least — their partnerships in the Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureau's 287(g) program, in which sheriffs hold illegal immigrant inmates at county jails until federal agents can investigate or schedule deportation hearings.

In practice, 287(g) — which refers to the section of the Immigration and Nationality Act where the program is codified — has led to abuses of due process.

The local decision follows a federal court ruling in Oregon last month. U.S. District Court Judge Janice M. Stewart ruled that Clackamas County officials violated a woman's Fourth Amendment rights by holding her for nearly two days after she served a short stint for domestic battery. The judge noted the woman had not been charged with a federal crime, nor had she any other warrants or orders for deportation.

Although it makes sense for local authorities to cooperate with federal agents, that shouldn't come at the expense of constitutional rights. Remember: constitutional protections extend to everyone within the U.S. borders, without regard to race, ethnicity, or even immigration status.

Local police and county sheriffs are in a tough spot. Fighting crime in the community requires cooperation from residents — citizens and noncitizens alike. Riverside and San Bernardino counties have sizeable populations of illegal immigrants. Programs such as 287(g) hamper public-safety priorities by discouraging otherwise law-abiding people from contacting police for fear of being arrested.

Yes, we know: to say illegal immigrants are "law-abiding" is to invite the rebuke that they are law-breakers by definition — what part of "illegal" don't we understand? The reality is, they aren't going away, and there is no political will in California or Washington, D.C., to round them all up and deport them.

At the same time, we're mindful of the consequences illegal immigration has on public health, welfare and safety. Local emergency rooms are overtaxed with uninsured immigrants. Public schools are filled with the children (many of them U.S. citizens by birth) of illegal immigrants. Roughly 12 percent of California's prison population consists of non-citizens from Mexico and Central America.

Immigration and customs enforcement remains a federal responsibility. (Don't forget, the U.S. Constitution specifies that only Congress, not the states, has the power to establish a "uniform rule of naturalization.") Widespread complaints from local governments about lax federal enforcement were what spurred Congress to include 287(g) in the 1996 immigration reform law. Eighteen years later, the system is breaking down again.

The Oregon court ruling means ICE will need to revise its policies and procedures when it comes to due process and probable cause for holding illegal immigrants. But the problems with 287(g) are simply a microcosm of the confusion, dysfunction and bureaucratic inertia that already beleaguer the federal immigration system.

One of these years — sooner rather than later, please — Congress needs to get down to the hard business of comprehensive immigration reform. Tinkering around the borders won't do for very much longer.

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