California’s racialized policing reaches into every aspect of society. We rely on the police not just stop violent crimes, but to act as social workers, as marriage counselors, as nuisance abatement, and to enforce order in our schools. Bringing police into schools has brought disturbing trends like metal detectors and random searches of students, this criminalization of students has only one outcome: to feed the school to prison pipeline.
For years students and activists have called for an end to policing on campus.
Los Angeles Unified School District, LAUSD, doesn’t rely on LAPD to police campuses, instead they have their own police force. The LA School Police is the fifth largest police department in the county. There are 88 cities in LA, plus the County has the Sheriff’s Office, and out of all those cities LAUSD has one of the largest police forces.
As one would expect, the budget for LAUSD’s police force is large. Its operating budget in 2018 was $67,340,000. This $67 million includes a counter terrorism unit.
In 2014, this same police force caused widespread backlash when they announced their plan to buy surplus military equipment. Under an agreement with federal government, local law enforcement can buy or lease things like armored personnel carriers, assault rifles, and grenade launchers.
The Los Angeles School Police Department, which serves the nation’s second-largest school system, will return three grenade launchers but intends to keep 61 rifles and a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected armored vehicle it received through the program. – Los Angeles Times, September 16, 2014
At the time, school police administrators argued that this equipment was needed in the event of terrorist attack or mass shooting. Ultimately they returned the grenade launchers, but kept 61 rifles and an MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle).
Since being purchased, none of these have been used.
Random searches haven’t been shown to increase student safety.
LAUSD published Bulletin 5424.2 in October 2015. BUL-5424.2 authorizes and sets the process for conducting random searches of students from 6th grade to 12th grade. This covers not only LAUSD campuses but colocated magnet schools and charter schools as well.
To ensure an effective learning environment by maintaining a safe and secure campus, secondary schools are authorized to implement random metal detector searches. These are administrative searches. This policy does not include searches conducted by law enforcement. – BUL-5424.2
The process seems cold-heartedly straight forward: secondary schools must conduct daily random searches, students can only targeted based on an administrator’s suspicion that the student is violating policy and that the search will reveal evidence of these violations, and searches are supposed to random to avoid bias.
Additionally, each school is to conduct random locker searches, with a mandated minimum of 10 lockers searched everyday.
If a student is selected for a search they leave the classroom, are taken to an empty classroom or office, asked to empty their pockets and remove metal (belts, jewelry, etc), then they are wanded. If the wand detects metal, they are asked to make sure they removed all the metal from their person, then wanded again. If the wand alerts again, the search may escalate to pat downs. This is all in addition to the bags being searched.
Written in the exacting language of administration this policy only has one intended outcome: to criminalize students.
Administrators and teachers don’t need actual evidence of wrongdoing to order searches, only a belief. They don’t need a reason to search a locker, they are mandated to search.
What is even more curious about these policies is that they are separate from law enforcement searches. This isn’t a matter of a school knowing that there’s a threat and asking law enforcement to intervene. It is simply the school exercising power over the bodies of students, either by random occurrence or unevidenced belief.
If we organize our schools around the idea that students are criminals, then our administrators will see each student as a criminal waiting to be caught.
These policies are only feeding the school to prison pipeline.
LAUSD still treats students punatively: suspensions, expulsions, and arrests. These punishments have a negative impact on student achievement and can hold them back later in life.
Across California 280,000 students are suspended every year, meaning that they miss days or weeks on instruction. There is no way to make up for this lost classroom time. Students who may already be having problems in school are pushed further into crisis and further behind.
Around 6,500 students are expelled from California schools every year. This means that thousands of students are left without any kind of immediate educational opportunities. After being forced out of LAUSD they can move to charters or private schools, but there is no follow up despite the mandate that every child in California have access to a quality education.
Alternative education programs are lacking, leaving students with as little as 2 hours of instruction a week.
Tens of thousands of students are handed even more dire punishments: referrals to the police. In 2013-2014 22,246 students were referred to local police for their behavior. 9,540 were arrested. This means nearly 10,000 students in 1 year were put through the crucible of the juvenile criminal legal system. Arrests, court appearances, and possible incarceration do not lead to education.
There is hope, after years of fighting advocates are rolling back harmful policies.
Groups like Students Deserve and the Students Not Suspects coalition have been pushing back against random searches and criminalization for years. Finally, on Tuesday June 18th, 2019 the LAUSD Board voted 4 to 3 to end random searches. The student advisor also voted to end the searches, but their vote is not part of the official tally.
This will not end random searches immediately. Instead, random searches will be ended by July 2020, with a pilot program beginning in a handful of selected schools.
While this is still far short of the demands to end student criminalization it presents a bright step forward. California students will have to contend with armed police on campus, punitive administrations, and a criminal legal system that privileges incarceration over education.
Every student in California has the right to an education. Our schools need to be places that privilege the safety of every student, not institutions there to enforce law and order. As our police state creeps further and further into the classroom we will continue to see too many students left behind and forced out. Compassion, not enforcement, should be the guiding principle.
California’s housing crisis has taken decades to develop, and it will take years to fully solve. In the short term we must pursue policies that stop the cycle of debt and criminalization. California can bring immediate relief to our neighbors who are suffering, we are only lacking political will.
We are making progress, but it’s not enough.
Despite gains in transitioning people from living on the street to housing, we are seeing more Angelenos ending up homeless year over year. In 2018, the city of LA was able to house 21,000 people, but saw a net increase of 16% in homelessness.
In 2016 Measure H and Measure HHH each secured more than a super majority to create new funding for permanent supportive housing. $1 billion over 10 years on the county level and $1 billion over 10 years on the city level. It was estimated that the city of LA would build 10,000 permanent supportive housing units in that span of time.
Mayor Garcetti tried to buttress these proposals with his A Bridge Home plan, which requires each City Council district build one temporary shelter to provide emergency relief while services and permanent arrangements were made.
It’s incredibly bizarre to me that right after the homeless count comes out, the council would take up a motion like this which seems dead set at kicking the poorest when they’re down. The people that are harmed by these [towing] practices are the most vulnerable who are already in situations where they run the risk of falling into homelessness. – Ace Katano, LA County Public Defender
So far, all of these plans have failed to live up to their promise.
Instead of 10,000 units of housing, LA will (probably) only build 6,000. And even that prediction may be too rosy. As time passes, the cost per unit increases and the number of units drops. It took nearly 1,000 days for the city to open 1 permanent supportive housing facility.
Bridge shelters are also stalled across the city. Despite the supposed ease to open and low costs to maintain these shelters, only 3 have opened.
Moreover, each bridge shelter brings increased policing. Mayor Garcetti pledged $30 million to fund the shelters, but he also pledged $29 million to police the areas around them. For anyone unable to secure a bed, the city is not promising help: it is promising sweeps, theft of personal property, and jail cells.
We simply are not building shelters and permanent housing as fast enough. There are too many roadblocks to creating new capacity, and it is killing our neighbors. Last year 918 people died living on the streets of LA.
The lack of shelter options has left many Angelenos with only one option: living in their vehicles. Be it their car or RV, many have opted for the only shelter available.
It is time for California to embrace ideas that will bring immediate relief to our neighbors.
Our housing and eviction crisis is rooted in the increasing cost of rent and declining wages. Since 2000, the median rent in Los Angeles rose 32% and the median wage dropped 3%. We tie rent increases to inflation, but wages don’t have a guaranteed increase. As full time employment is harder to come by and gig work dominates new hires, the average worker does not have the purchasing power to afford even a modest apartment.
This has brought us to a point where an estimated 600,000 people in LA County are paying 90% of their income in rent alone. Rent that doesn’t earn them a tax deduction. Rent that doesn’t build equity. Rent that competes with food and healthcare costs.
We need long term solutions like rent control and public housing to truly address this crisis, but in the meantime there are short term policies that can bring relief.
AB 516 has proven to be a lightning rod for opposition from homeowners and LA politicians. The bill would make it harder for cities to tow and impound vehicles that are left parked for more than 72 hours, that have accumulated parking tickets, or that have expired registration. As the housing and eviction crisis has escalated, so has the number of people relying on their vehicle for shelter.
In LA, 16,500 people are estimated to be living in their cars. This includes working families and people who were economically stable just a short while ago. Pushed out of their homes by increased rents and stagnant wages, many people have only their car left. Squeezed by the high costs of being unhoused, people cannot afford to pay every parking ticket or renew their registration on time.
The city’s opposition to AB 516 puts them in danger by criminalizing them, seizing their assets, and using lien sales to recoup the cost of impound. Not only will the city take your car, they will sell it and pocket the proceeds!
AB 516 would provide a measure of protection for people left in this situation. It’s not perfect. Too many of our neighborhoods lack adequate parking, but this is because LA has more cars than households, not because our neighbors living in their cars are a unique burden.
Safe Parking LA has been offering people living in the vehicles safe accommodations, but the need is greater than the demand. Currently, only about 300 spaces are available. There are plans to expand, but those would only add another 300 spaces. Without aggressive funding from the state the need will not be met.
The state legislature declined to move forward on bills that would protect tenants, cap rents, and reform Costa-Hawkins. Instead of building a foundation of equity, we will see at least two more years of increasing rents, increasing evictions, and increasing homelessness. We can’t turn out backs on short term solutions that can alleviate suffering. We have to act now.
AB 516 and Safe Parking are good ideas that can be implemented quickly. Either will take some of the pressure off our unhoused neighbors. But, like all of these solutions, they are coming far too late. Too many people have died, too many people are suffering, too many people have lost their homes because of political inaction.
It’s time to be bold and demand real action. Every day that we delay means that 3 more Angelenos will die.
The Point in Time homelessness count is the most important data that has been produced in Los Angeles this year. LA County saw a 12% increase from 2018, meaning that 58,936 of our neighbors are sleeping without permanent shelter on any given night. LA City was worse, seeing a 16% increase with 36,300 of our neighbors living without permanent shelter. These increases came despite gains in housing people. Our leaders are pushing sweeps as the solution, when what our neighbors need are services.
Our housing crisis is killing us.
The evidence is everywhere. On Skid Row in Los Angeles, 14,000 homeless persons were arrested in 2016, including for urinating in public and other “quality of life” offences, while overall arrests in the city were declining. For those wondering what the problem is, the answer is not hard to find. In 2016 there were only nine public toilets available for some 1,800 homeless individuals on Skid Row. The resulting ratio of one public toilet per 200 individuals would not even meet the minimum standards the UN sets for Syrian refugee camps. – Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights
In 2018, Los Angeles was able to house more than 21,000 people. This is a big increase over 2017 when 17,000 people were able to transition into housing. But this isn’t enough to keep up with the number of people who are losing housing.
This crisis has a body count. 918 people died on the streets of LA last year. That’s 2.5 people per day. In the span of your work day one person will die, needlessly.
Living without shelter guarantees that you will have contact with the police. Overall crime and arrests have dropped in the last decades. Except for people without housing. Arrests of the unhoused increased 30% in 2018. Overall, LAPD made 14,000 arrests of unhoused Angelenos in 2018. To make matters worse, 30% of LAPD’s uses of force were against people who have no place to live.
The city of LA has a population of about 4 million. 36,300 (at the minimum) live without permanent shelter. That’s 0.9% of our population. And yet LAPD targets them for harassment, violence, and arrest more than anyone else.
Race plays an outsized role in this crisis. Black Angelenos are about 11% of the city’s population, but 38% of those without permanent shelter. This mirrors the racialized policing tactics that we see across the city. LAPD is far more likely to arrest or kill someone if they are black than any other demographic.
Instead of offering help, our politicians play the blame game.
Sensational headlines spanned the globe last year when a typhus outbreak was reported in downtown Los Angeles. Initial reporting linked the disease to large encampments around downtown, specifically the community of Skid Row. Despite the fact that this chain of events made no sense, politicians sprung into action to call for more sweeps, more harassment, and more arrests.
Once the initial shock wore off the real facts surfaced. Typhus infected fleas had infested city hall, carried by rats who took up residence because of LA’s poor maintenance of its own buildings. In fact LAPD was recently fined for failing to maintain a clean and safe office. At least one LAPD employee was sickened and one City Hall employee is suing the city because of her illness.
This “medieval” outbreak didn’t come from Skid Row, it came from City Hall’s negligence. But there is a public health crisis on the streets of LA. Tens of thousands of people are left without basic hygiene facilities. Showers, toilets, garbage pick up, food storage, basic first aid, clean clothes, laundry facilities; the list of needs goes on.
Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, visited Los Angeles while studying homelessness in America. His report back to the UN is a scathing indictment of how LA is handling this crisis. Our lack of compassion is clearly visible in places that would not even meet the standards of refugee camps in war zones.
We demand services, not sweeps.
Los Angeles currently uses a complaint driven model that privileges people who own property over those who are unhoused. Using the city’s 311 system business owners, homeowners, and tenants can call to give the location of encampments and bulky trash. These calls trigger a multi-part process. First, the Bureau of Sanitation sends out a team to the location to confirm the report.
If they confirm an encampment, then the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) conducts outreach. This outreach is supposed to offer housing and health services, but result in very few placements in permanent or temporary shelter. A notice is posted in the area announcing that a sweep will happen sometime in the next 24 to 72 hours. Last, Bureau of Sanitation workers, accompanied by armed police officers, arrive to clean the area.
Reports from DSA-LA Streetwatch have shown that this model rarely matches reality. Sweeps can be unannounced. Often, the cleaning only serves to throw out people’s possessions, leaving the sidewalks unwashed. Private capital like scooters are left in place, despite blocking access and creating obstacles for ADA access.
When the targets of these sweeps complain they are threatened with arrest. If they have more possessions than can fit in a 60 gallon plastic bag, the police and sanitation workers will arbitrarily decide what they can keep. Tents are supposed to be left alone, but unattended tents will be thrown out. Sanitation workers will use discarded food as an excuse to declare a tent a health hazard, giving them cover to throw out someone’s only shelter.
Under an agreement with the federal courts in Jones v. Los Angeles, the city is supposed to make sure that they are not throwing out vital documents or medications. But we know that this happens all the time. Joe Reyes lived on the streets of Koreatown, where he worked odd jobs to earn money.
He was a longtime resident of the neighborhood before high rents forced him out of his apartment. While away from his tent, a sweep was conducted. Workers threw out his possessions, including medications that he needed for a heart condition. Two weeks later, Joe was dead from his heart issues.
This complaint driven model is inhumane and deadly. The City of Los Angeles, as well as every other city in the state, must adopt a service driven model.
But what does this model look like?
Showers, both permanent and temporary installed in areas with proven need.
Empty trash, much like you receive weekly trash pickup.
Restrooms, both permanent and temporary.
Vector control, to stop the spread of illness through rodents and insects.
Internet, access to communication and information are human rights.
Cleaning supplies, so that people can maintain their space and retain their dignity.
Electricity, to provide a basic standard of living.
Sharps containers, to keep individuals safe and provide basic medical access.
Until the city adopts a policy based on dignity and compassion people will die, every day. Police and sanitation workers are not qualified to offer assistance. Destroying possessions and making arrests further traumatizes people already under pressure. We know what will solve this crisis: housing and services.
At the state level, we see anemic solutions. Governor Brown pledged $300 million to homeless services, less than 15% of what LA County and LA City pledged under Measures H and HHH. Governor Newsom has empaneled a new commission that simply recreates work already being done. We need real solutions. There are simple steps that can be taken now to lessen the suffering.
Groups like Koreatown for All, Nolmypics LA, Shower of Hope, Invisible People, Los Angeles Community Action Network (LACAN), Ground Game Los Angeles, and too many others to name, are working on the ground now. They need the support of our government and they need our help to reclaim the narrative. Human dignity must come first.
Since the passage of SESTA/FOSTA there has been a growing awareness that the criminalization of sex work is dangerous and deadly. Under the guise of protecting children and trafficking victims, these laws punish vulnerable workers.
Sex work is work.
When we were at the 2019 California Democratic Party Convention in San Francisco we saw how much energy many different groups brought. There were demonstrations by Sunrise Movement, by Healthcare for All, and by the Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP).
The demonstration by current and former sex workers was probably the bravest. Today we stigmatize sex work and criminalize workers. Women and men face constant harassment by the police and IRS, who do not think they do legitimate work.
Workers are not only threatened while working. An arrest or conviction can make it harder to get housing, maintain a career in another industry, or access benefits. Since much of this work cannot be legally reported as income, workers can’t contribute to their own Social Security or provide proof of income to access tuition assistance or job training. It can become a cycle of entrapment.
This stigma has been around for centuries even though we still call sex work “the world’s oldest profession.” Despite advances in sexual education, sexual health, and moves towards inclusivity, workers in this industry are left out of the conversation.
And this has deadly consequences.
Former California Attorney General Kamala Harris is very proud of her record as a prosecutor. During her time in office she made it a priority to identify and shut down online communities that advertised sex work. Time and again she would couch this in terms of protecting trafficking victims and minors. She targeted websites like Backpage and Seeking Arrangements. What she did not mention was that many of these websites provided a safe place for sex workers.
Backpage allowed workers to vet their clients, to share information on dangerous individuals, and to organize to protect themselves. What’s scary is that we can actually quantify how dangerous closing Backpage was. And not just to sex workers, but to all women.
According to a 2017 study by Scott Cunningham and John Tripp of Baylor University, Gregory DeAngelo of West Virginia University, when Backpage opened in a new city the overall female homicide rate dropped by 17.4%. That’s an astounding number.
The study not only provides concrete evidence that criminalizing sex workers is dangerous, it also leaves us with some uncomfortable questions to grapple with: How can the government provide protection for minors and trafficking victims? What role can the internet play in providing a safe environment? Is there a cohort of violent men in our society that will kill if they don’t have access to sex?
None of these questions can be easily answered, but what’s more troubling is that we aren’t even trying to answer them. Instead, our politicians and prosecutors are focused on putting people in jail for sensationalist headlines.
SESTA/FOSTA has a body count.
On a federal level legislation to criminalize sex work is incredibly popular. SESTA/FOSTA was sold as a way to curb trafficking and protect minors from abuse. And while these are both laudable goals, the legislation doesn’t achieve those aims. SESTA/FOSTA made it easier to crackdown on websites were services were sold and that drove many workers underground.
Now, instead of a community that was able to protect each other, there was no safety net. Men and women has to trust that their clients would not harm them while knowing that if they were harmed they could not go to the authorities. Police aren’t trusted and adding new ways to throw someone in prison will not build trust.
LGBTQ workers are especially at risk for houselessness and violence. Without support many young people are left without the basics that they need to build a stable life. We know that trans women face disproportionate risk and are per capita the most vulnerable people in America. Any policies that criminalize sex work will make their lives even harder.
There are legitimate concerns that not everyone who engages in sex work is totally consenting. Survival sex work is not seen as a first choice, but rather a necessity. Victims of trafficking are often seeking escape from terrible situations and are willing to take whatever chance they can for a better life: be this leaving home or trying to emigrate. What is missing from our current conversation is the notion that no one should be in that position in the first place.
A society that has a robust social safety net, that provides housing and food and education would leave no one behind, and put no one in a position that compromises their autonomy to earn a living.
On a policy level our politicians can only speak and think in terms of criminalization. There is no discussion about the dignity of doing work that you enjoy, as a consenting adult. The news is dominated by stories meant to paint all sex work as dangerous and dirty. Our puritanical attitudes towards sex have painted us into a corner.
When we criminalize sex work we rob people of their basic dignity. We hamstring our ability to provide real safety and security. We further traumatize victims. The solution to trafficking is not to drive an entire industry underground or to take away the agency of every consenting adult.
Every worker deserves dignity and protection. Sex workers are workers.
We can build a better future for everyone by building a society that provides healthcare, education, and protection for everyone.
The 2019-2020 California legislature session started out promising. But the last couple of weeks have seen bold ideas crushed by powerful lobbies. Bold ideas to protect renters went up only to have their teeth removed.
The real estate lobby still dominates California.
2018 was the year of the renter. Across California millions mobilized to collect signatures, knock doors, and vote for Proposition 10. Since 1996, California has been dominated by Costa-Hawkins. This bill, put forward by the landlord lobby and passed in a rush, has stopped cities from passing any kind of rent protection for more than 20 years.
It was a direct reaction to the City of Santa Monica wanting to update rent control. Along with the Ellis Act, it has lubricated the eviction machine. Landlords are free to push rent as high as they want to drive out tenants. If that doesn’t work, they can use Ellis to kick out everyone as long as they meet certain conditions. Coupled with the rise of Airbnb, cities across the state are seeing some of the nation’s worst eviction rates.
Even though Prop 10 lost, it was popular in big cities, where the majority of California’s 17 million renters live. Big counties like San Francisco and Alameda voted yes for rent control. So did Los Angeles, the nation’s second largest city.
But that wasn’t enough to overcome the nearly $100 million that was spent to oppose it. Some of the wealthiest men in the nation put down big money to protect their profits. Corporate landlords like Blackstone, and infamous billionaires like Sam Zell and Donald Sterling (yes, that same Donald Sterling who was deemed too racist to own the Clippers) funded a misinformation campaign.
Our legislators were listening and saw the support for Prop 10. Multiple bills to rein in sky rocketing rent and protect tenants were put forward.
- AB 36: Would expand rent control to any building that has been a rental property for more than 10 years.
- SB 529: Would have guaranteed tenants the right to organize without fear of retaliation, compelled landlords to negotiate, and allowed tenants to withhold rent under certain conditions.
- AB 1481: Would end no cause evictions in California.
- AB 1482: Would impose a statewide rent cap by limiting rent increases to inflation plus 5%.
And then they were systematically gutted in favor of landlords.
AB 36 originally applied to any building that was 10 years old or more, then it was amended to push that back to 20 years or more. We know that a significant amount of development has happened in the last decade. These buildings have high rents and have driven gentrification at a brutal pace. It passed the California Senate and will be moving to the Assembly. But it will do nothing to force new developments to be affordable.
SB 529 was hailed by tenant groups across the state as a landmark piece of legislation. Rent strikes have become increasingly popular as a way to force slumlords to the table. But these actions are risky for tenants. In Los Angeles, buildings covered under the Rent Stabilization Ordinance have some protections. This process is called REAP, the Rent Escrow Account Program. Under REAP tenants suffering substandard conditions no longer pay rent to the landlord, instead they pay it into an escrow account controlled by the city until the landlord fixes the problems. After the rent strike provision was removed completely, SB 529 went to the Senate floor on May 29th, and lost by 1 vote. It needed 21 votes to pass, but 3 Senators cast no vote at all, leaving only 20 Ayes. Two of the abstainers are Democrats.
AB 1481 was originally written to keep people in their homes by forcing landlords to prove that they had a good reason to evict. After a round of amendments to bill is no longer about stopping evictions, it now simply charges landlords a fee to evict. Depending on how long a tenant has lived in the building, the landlord has to pay them either two or three months rent to get them out. While this sounds reasonable, if you are living in a building and paying low rent what you receive will probably not be enough to cover the cost of a new apartment. And big corporate landlords, who are becoming larger every day, can easily afford the fee and then pass that cost along to the next tenant. It also added a sundown provision so the law would effectively repeal itself in 2030.
AB 1482 originally limited any rent increases to inflation plus 5% and would impose a hard limit of 10%. In a bit of good news it expanded protections for affordable housing covenants giving local governments the chance to buy these buildings to keep them affordable. Then, and apparently at the author’s request, it was inexplicably amended to sundown in 2030. While 10 years of rent control is better than no rent control there is no reason to end these protections. AB 1482 passed the Assembly, but it’s fate in the Senate is uncertain.
Throughout this process the heavy hand of the landlord lobby was seen in everything. The California Association of Realtors and California Apartment Association worked hard to trim protections. They demanded 3 year limits, negotiated weaker language, and used the threat of campaign donations to sway votes.
In the end, the landlord lobby won. Instead of 4 strong bills that would protect tenants across the state, we have two watered down bills that have another crucible to negotiate and two bills that are effectively dead for this session.
We can’t ignore the obvious: our legislators are mostly property owners. Only 1 member of the California legislature does not own their own home. And 60% of our elected representatives are landlords. We don’t have tenants in power and without those voices we will never see the kind of legislation that we need.
We’re running to not just rein in rent and stop the eviction machine. We’re running to build public housing. We’re running to build density to achieve sustainability. We’re running to expand public transit. And we’re running to create a Green New Deal to provide good paying, clean jobs for everyone in California.
Net Neutrality is a critical part of our democracy.
A free and open internet is under threat from large tech monopolies and the politicians that they fund. At the federal level, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is now under the control of former Verizon lawyer Ajit Pai. One of the first things Mr. Pai did was to reverse protections put in place by the Obama administration.
Instead of requiring internet service providers (ISPs) to treat all data as equal, the new FCC is allowing large companies to decide what you can access. Instead of allowing a democratic internet, companies like AT&T want to control what you read, watch, and learn. If we don’t give the people a voice, we will face a future of high costs, slower speeds, and restricted choice.
Network neutrality—the idea that Internet service providers (ISPs) should treat all data that travels over their networks fairly, without improper discrimination in favor of particular apps, sites or services—is a principle that must be upheld to protect the future of our open Internet. – Electronic Frontier Foundation
Despite the exponential innovations that we have seen since the internet became publicly available, we have not seen the same growth in competition. Most neighborhoods have only one or two major providers to choose from. And despite being the home of the most successful technology companies in the world, California ranks 12th in internet connectedness.
This is a national problem too. Americans pay more for slower broadband speeds. We invented the internet, but we rank 10th in speed. And we are 114th in terms of cost, making the US the most expensive developed nation for internet service.
Without regulation large companies will continue to drive up costs and underdeliver service.
The democratizing power of information is being restrained by billion dollar companies, but California can fight back. As the most populous state we have an incredible amount of power that we can exercise.
Senate Bill 822 is “the gold standard” of state level net neutrality bills. It was finally passed by the California legislature and signed by Governor Jerry Brown in 2018. But its path to becoming law is a lesson in how big money continues to stand in the way of progress.
SB 822 was first proposed by California Senator Scott Wiener in 2018. Immediately it was praised as an effective way to push back on the Trump administration’s attack on net neutrality. It passed through the Senate and went to the Assembly.
It was in the Assembly where the trouble began. When the bill went before the Assembly Committee on Communications and Conveyance the chair, Miguel Santiago, introduced midnight amendments. These amendments removed restrictions on ISPs ability to throttle or restrict certain websites. Santiago takes donations from the largest telecoms in the country, like AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon.
After weeks of negotiation the strong language was restored to the bill. It was then combined with Kevin de León’s SB 642 that would stop the state of California from doing business with companies that do not follow strong net neutrality rules.
In October of 2018 Governor Brown signed the restored bill. But the damage was already done. Major telecoms showed their power and the representatives who take their donations showed their willingness to cooperate. Ultimately, it took both major public outrage and political courage to win.
We know that AT&T and Comcast will spend huge money to fight consumer protections. They will buy ads to scare consumers. They will have their lobbyists flood the airwaves. They will push amendments through committees in the middle of the night.
Now that net neutrality is the law in California we need to protect it, from the Trump FCC and the large ISPs. But this is just the beginning, we need to push for more. Rural communities still have less internet access than they should. ISPs push rates higher while neglecting to upgrade their infrastructure. Companies like Google and Amazon collect private data to monetize with no oversight. The gig economy uses the internet to push down wages and exploit workers. California must lead the nation in an internet that builds communities, not one that erodes them.
Freedom of information is paramount in our fight for a better democracy. We know that it’s only a matter of time until Comcast calls in another favor. Without committed representatives in the Assembly, all this effort will be rolled back.
Rent gouging is putting families at risk and reshaping our communities.
Imagine waking up one day and finding that your rent is going to double. What would you do? Could you afford twice as much for rent with only 1 month to plan? For many families this nightmare is a reality.
Many buildings in Los Angeles are protected from this by our Rent Stabilization Ordinance (RSO). Passed in 1978, the RSO caps yearly rent increases to about 3% a year and protects renters from no-cause evictions. These protections allowed many tenants to stay in their homes despite housing prices rising around them. But in 1996 the California legislature passed a law called Costa-Hawkins.
Costa-Hawkins was pushed through the Assembly and Senate by developers, and even then it barely won a majority. Costa-Hawkins stopped any city in California from passing new rent control laws. It also froze any existing rent control laws at the date it was first passed. That means that only apartment buildings built before 1978 in Los Angeles are protected. To make things even harder on working families, Costa-Hawkins outlawed rent control on any single family homes.
For 22 years this law went unchallenged. That is, until Proposition 10 was put on the ballot to repeal Costa-Hawkins. If passed it would have allowed cities to pass new renter protections and returned local control to the people most effected. Unfortunately, it did not win. Los Angeles and San Francisco both voted in favor of Prop 10, because tenants knew how much it would help.
Since then we have seen landlords across the city using massive rent increases to push out tenants they don’t want. There’s a land rush in LA and landlords want to clear out working families to make way for wealthier tenants.
In 2018 the Burlington tenants went on the largest rent strike in LA history. The strike started when they were suddenly hit with increases that nearly doubled their rent. Working families and seniors on fixed incomes were faced with a sudden crisis. Fight the landlords to save their homes or try to find a new place to live immediately.
With the help of the Los Angeles Tenants Union and the Eviction Defense Network they formed Burlington Unidos. Even by pulling together as a community they weren’t able to save every home. Each unit had to go through a separate eviction proceeding, most of the tenants prevailed but some did not. After 6 months on rent strike the landlords canceled the rent increases and agreed to negotiate.
This rent increase was defeated, but not without cost. Months of worry and thousands of dollars were spent to fight this greed.
In Chinatown, families at the Hillside Villa apartments are looking at the end of their affordable housing covenant. These covenants last for 30 years, guaranteeing affordable rents and protections. In exchange for keeping rents low, the landlord is offered tax incentives. But even these incentives haven’t kept the landlord honest.
While the building continues to degrade, wealthier renters have been moved in at market rate, but the tax incentives are still claimed. Some of these families were displaced from downtown to make way for the Staples Center. Having survived one forced eviction, they are fearful of losing another home.
Pleas to the city for protection have gone unheeded, but by working with the Los Angeles Tenants Union they have won some legal victories. These wins are tenuous, the landlord doesn’t have to sign a new housing covenant. But these wins have only come through organizing and building community.
It’s amazing that these tenants and organizers have had the courage to organize. That when faced with displacement they fought for their homes and won. But it shouldn’t be this way.
California can stop this from ever happening again if the Assembly and Senate pass AB 1482. Authored by Assemblyman David, AB 1482 steps in where Proposition 10 couldn’t. It caps yearly rent increases to 5% plus the increase in cost of living. In most cases that would mean inflation.
This would mean that tenants could still see increases as high as 8%, based on current inflation. But that is far more manageable than 50% or 100% increases. Combined with other bills before the state legislature this year there is hope for tenants. Now we need to hold our Assembly Members and State Senators accountable.
You can take action now!
Call your representatives, tell them you support tenants, and that they must vote Yes on AB 1482.
Tenants work hard to pay the rent, but landlord greed threatens their homes. We have to stand with tenants and make housing a human right.
California tenants need the right to organize.
Our housing crisis is an eviction crisis. Tenants are not only facing steep costs to move into a new home. They are also facing threats from massive rent increases, Ellis act evictions, and short term rental schemes. In short, tenants are under siege by the forces of capital.
“You are putting humans out on the street with nowhere to go.” – Robert Evans, Expo Tenant
Tenants work hard to pay the rent, working two or even three jobs. But landlords can evict tenants for no reason at all, putting families on the street. A landlord with enough money to own an apartment building has enough money to afford a lawyer. Working tenants don’t have the money to afford an expensive trial.
Too often this is a lonely fight. Each tenant is trying to protect their home by themselves. It’s scary facing an uphill battle that may cost you your home.
These numbers don’t even count the people who choose to move because their stagnant wages make staying unaffordable. Families are moving out of LA in record numbers because they can’t raise their children in a city where costs rise while workers earn less.
Eviction and displacement stories are too common.
The Ellison is a rent controlled building in Venice. Since it first opened it has provided affordable housing for people from all walks of life: teachers, nurses, and artists. It was a quintessentially Venice place to live. That is until Lance Robbins bought the property.
Robbins is probably one of LA’s worst landlords. He’s been sued by the city many times for failing to maintain his buildings and has been called a slumlord by at least one judge.
“If you are wondering why the rental housing market in a place like Venice Beach is so tight, look no further than your nearest laptop. Fire it up and find dozens of websites advertising hotels and houses ‘just steps from the sand.'” – Robin Abcarian, Los Angeles Times
The demand for hotel rooms in Venice climbs every year. Robbins and his management company can charge hundreds of dollars a night, pocketing obscene profits. Instead of 57 units of affordable housing, The Ellison is now home to only a handful of residents. The rest of the units are now hotel rooms, the courtyard is a de facto lobby, and weekly public events bring party goers enticed with free wine tastings.
Most of the long term tenants chose to leave on their own. Why would you continue to pay rent to live in poor conditions? Years of neglect left the elevator broken, walkways unusable, and ceilings deteriorating. No matter how much they asked for repairs, building management did nothing. Faced with a dilapidated building and a hostile landlord it seemed like the only choice.
Others decided to stay and fight for their homes. But it has been a very long road. Despite years of complaints, lawsuits, and orders from the city to stop; Robbins has continued his quest to pocket as much money as possible at the expense of tenants’ health and wellbeing.
The tenants that stayed have only been able to because they organized, and even then it has taken an incredible amount of courage. They still pay the rent on time every month. They help each other navigate the broken building to deliver groceries and make doctor’s appointments. It looks like the city might finally bring them some relief, but it has taken far too long.
They are not alone, demand for new expensive housing makes tenants across the city targets.
Along the Expo Line corridor rent prices have spiked and longtime residents have been forced out. 7 buildings adjacent to the University of Southern California were sold to Chung Suk Kim and Hae Jung Kim in 2018. Instead of meeting their tenants, they immediately posted eviction notices.
“They are, in short, a developer’s dream come true: the perfect land grab in the never-ending game of speculative development.” – Jacob Woocher, KNOCK.LA
It didn’t matter that these tenants were up to date on the rent or had raised their families there, it only mattered that that landlords wanted to turn the biggest profit they could. LA’s Rent Stabilization Ordinance didn’t cover the buildings, so the tenants had no legal protections from eviction.
They organized and fought, but in the end they lost. 80 people lost their homes without protection under the law. Now those units rent for $3,000 a month.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Senator Elena Durazo has introduced Senate Bill 529 (SB 529) that will give tenants the right to organize tenant associations, withhold rent for poor conditions, and protect them from retaliation. This is a complex crisis and it requires a complete solution.
Right now, SB 529 is being debated in the California Senate and it is target number 1 for landlords and developers. The forces of capital are fighting as hard as their money can to stop tenants from organizing and gaining legal protections.
Housing is seen as a way for landlords to earn income, not as a place for people to live. We need to change this, we need to make housing a human right.
We’re committed to seeing these protections enshrined in law. You can make sure that happens.
Imagine universal healthcare in California.
What if you never had to pay to see a doctor? What if your medications were free at the point of sale? What if hospital bills were a thing of the past? That’s the promise of the Healthy California Act (SB 562), and that’s our promise too.
SB 562 is a groundbreaking idea. Everyone in California would be covered. Health conditions and immigration status would not be barriers to care. Families would save an average of $1,000 a month. Diabetics would no longer have to worry about getting insulin.
“Californians want a single payer system that puts patients’ health and wellbeing at the center not insurance industry profits.”
– Bonnie Castillo, National Nurses United
So what happened?
The Healthy California Act was introduced to the California Senate in February 2017 by Senators Ricardo Lara and Toni Atkins. California was not the first state to consider covering everyone under a state plan. Hawaii and Vermont both have laws that are effectively single payer healthcare. 17 other states are also considering single payer plans.
SB 562 would put an end to some of the most costly parts of our privatized system. It would end healthcare premiums, saving individuals and families thousands of dollars a year. It would end deductibles that force patients to chose between paying for care or paying the rent. It would guarantee access to medications that save lives.
Maternity and neonatal care would be available to every parent in the state, not just those wealthy enough to afford it. Patients would no longer need to wait for a crisis before seeking treatment. Preventative care and wellness would be guaranteed. Mental healthcare services would be open to everyone.
And by everyone we mean everyone: every person who lives in California would be covered regardless of health conditions or immigration status. Something that even the Affordable Care Act does not guarantee.
People were excited about the possibility of finally bringing relief to 40 million patients. Unions and advocacy groups immediately voiced their support for the idea. The California Nurses Association held rallies across the state and hit the road to spread the word that we would finally see a sane healthcare system. Politicians took to the airwaves to talk about how revolutionary this would be. Patients and caregivers hoped that they would no longer be burdened by high costs that ration care and shorten lives. It looked like we would witness history, as California would become the biggest state to take a stand against the insurance industry.
On June 1st, 2017 the California Senate voted 27 to 14 in favor of SB 562. This meant that the last hurdle the bill needed to clear was the Assembly.
“Which is to say that we will keep pressure on the coward Rendon until his office guarantees that 562 gets a real hearing next year, and barring that we will build the coalition necessary to get every Californian covered as soon as possible.” – KNOCK.LA
All that momentum was brought to a halt by Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon. Rather than allowing our representatives to boldly voice their support for universal healthcare, he chose to shelve the bill. Rendon put the interests of insurance companies above the people of California. Insurance industry allies in Sacramento created excuse after excuse for this failure of leadership.
But that has not stopped the dream of universal healthcare. Doctors, nurses, and patients are still fighting for a system that puts people over profit, not just in California but across the country.
Right now hope is stalled in the state house. Nurses, patients, and caregivers are pushing for change, but our representatives aren’t hearing them. Twice California has failed to move the Healthy California Act towards a full vote, even though 70% of the country supports a single payer system.
Universal healthcare is in reach for California.
Nowhere else in the developed world does anyone pay so much for such poor results. Every day our neighbors suffer and die from curable and preventable illness simply because they cannot afford the exorbitant costs of treatment. We need a single-payer system, and we need it now.
“Anyone who has struggled with poverty knows how extremely expensive it is to be poor.” – James Baldwin
Healthcare should not be contingent on your income. Healthcare should not be contingent on your job. Healthcare should not be contingent on the whims of an insurance adjuster. Healthcare is a human right.
Healthcare must be free at the point of care. And healthcare must be universal.
The Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, granted access to health insurance to millions of Americans. But the legislation was written by the medical insurance industry to protect themselves, not to help us.
Leaving health insurance in the domain of the “free market” is a deeply flawed solution. As long as the profit motive remains in healthcare, insurers will be motivated to skimp on care, deny coverage and drive up premiums and deductibles — hurting their patients at every stage. We must value people over profit. Always.
“…the uninsured rate in California dropped by nearly half, from 16% in 2013 to an all-time low of 9% in 2016. However, 2.9 million Californians remained uninsured.” – California Healthcare Foundation, 2018
The Affordable Care Act expanded coverage to millions of people, but it has done nothing to bring down prices. Year after year the state of California allows premiums to increase by double digits. In 2018 the average increase across the state was 12.5%, in 2019 it is estimated to be 9.7%.
Now, people are paying an average of $500 a month or $6,000 a year, just for coverage. Families are paying more than $1,000 a month. That doesn’t include deductibles or the cost of care. 10% of income is going into the pockets of health insurance bureaucracies.
“Over the past five years, the average annual deductible among all covered workers has increased 53%.” – Henry J Kaiser Family Foundation, 2018
High deductibles, co-pays, and the cost of treatment are also climbing, nearly doubling costs for anyone who has insurance.
This is impacting lives. If families are spending nearly $20,000 a year in premiums and deductibles, then they have no money left over to save for retirement or emergency expenses. Average workers are left with a dire choice: health or savings.
Many people are choosing to go without coverage altogether, leaving them with few options if they get sick. Instead of preventative care overseen by their primary doctor, they are forced to seek help in emergency rooms where bills easily reach thousands of dollars for one visit. Long term health suffers because people wait until they are in crisis. These costs continue to add up for patients and the state.
Meanwhile health insurance CEO’s are paid millions of dollars a year to oversee a system that is bankrupting families. And those profits are then used to protect their monopoly on our health by funding politicians to block a fair system. As long as our healthcare is privatized patients will suffer physically and financially.
“Four in 10 adults, if faced with an unexpected expense of $400, would either not be able to cover it or would cover it by selling something or borrowing money… Over one-fourth of adults skipped necessary medical care in 2017 due to being unable to afford the cost.” – US Federal Reserve, 2018
Many life saving drugs are also kept out of reach of patients, pharmaceutical companies hide behind patents to protect profits and insurance companies deny life saving medications because of the price.
The cost of insulin, a critical part of managing diabetes, nearly doubled between 2012 and 2016. There is absolutely no reason that any drug that has been in use since 1921 should ever double in cost, let alone doubling in just four years.
Image from the Health Care Cost Institute, 2019
We can choose to continue to tinker and tweak the system as it stands now, hoping for a future that is slightly better. Or we can choose the solution that has worked over and over in countries across the world: provide single-payer, universal healthcare for everyone.
With a single-payer system:
- We save an incredible amount of money
- Life-saving medication won’t be out of reach for those who need it
- Workers aren’t tied to jobs they don’t like by insurance they cannot afford to lose
- Families don’t go bankrupt because of serious illness — right now 42% of cancer patients exhaust their life savings within 2 years
- Small employers don’t have to worry about picking an insurance plan for their employees, or renegotiating those terms every couple of years
In truth, our country needs a federal Medicare For All plan like what Bernie has been championing for years. But we cannot afford to wait for Congress to solve this for us. California is the world’s fifth most powerful economy — we can afford to make the Healthy California Act a reality. We can show the rest of the country that a healthy future is possible.
Better and more preventative treatment reduces the risk of minor injuries turning into catastrophic woes. It’s time we joined the rest of the world in treating health as a public good, not a commodity to be traded for profit.
The costs of healthcare has a direct impact on issues like housing as Californians are squeezed by increasing costs on all sides.