Friday, November 2, 2012

Yes on Prop 37 - Support the Public's Right to Know

Stephen Murray

Our food, water and air are our most basic necessities. We need reliable
information about each of these so we can make the choices we need for
our health. Proposition 37 is about claiming our right to know what is
put in our food.

But I argue that it's more than just a simple labeling initiative about
genetically modified organisms(GMOs). It is the people's attempt to check
the influence of corporate money in politics, reign in the ills of
rampant corporatocracy, and protect our worlds genetic legacy.

Over the last 20 years our world's seed supply has become consolidated
in 6 transnational pharmaceutical/chemical corporations which now
control more than 60% of the world seed supply, these Big 6 are the
major opponents of Prop 37 :

Monsanto, DuPont, Bayer, BASF, DOW and Syngenta. They have spent $20 Million against.

This consolidation is reducing our food's biodiversity while
simultaneously introducing experimental genetic strains. Seed lines are
becoming extinct, seed banks are disappearing and the farmers' centuries
old practice of seed saving is being eradicated due to predatory legal
pressures by this oligarchy of chemical conglomerates led by Monsanto.

Crops aren't self-contained. It's impossible to keep a genetically
engineered gene within a single field- birds fly and pollen is spread by
the wind. Nearly all food products are contaminated by GE ingredients,
but many over-do it intentionally.

A trip down the cereal aisle offers insight to the food processors
interests: Mothers Bumpers, Kashi cereal, Kix cereal, and Back to Nature
granola, amongst many others, all say they are "Natural". Testing
reveals these Breakfast cereals contain ingredients that are between
28-100% Genetically Engineered. This misleading labeling would stop with
Prop 37. These corporations, listed in the same order as their brands
above, are also major opponents of Prop 37 :

PepsiCo, Kelloggs, General Mills, Kraft. They have spent $6 Million against.

The opponents have been caught in multiple deceits and they are spending
$1 Million dollars each day to curtail our rights. They've turned to the
tobacco and big oil spin machine to sell GMOs. Their arguments, removed
from the marketing spin, are simple and paternalistic: GMO's are safe,
you don't want to know, you're not smart enough, you can't afford it,
it's not ambitious enough, it's too late. None of these are satisfactory
or believable.

49 nations, including Europe, Japan, China, Brazil, India, and Russia
mandate labeling of GE foods. The FDA already requires labeling of 3000
ingredients, additives and processes as well as labeling for major food
allergens such as wheat, peanuts, and shellfish. According to studies
the cost to the consumer per product would be $0.001 for labeling or
less than $4/year to substitute a non-GMO ingredient.

Farmers will grow what the market demands but as consumers we are not
allowed to participate in this market, Prop 37 offers transparency and
the right to make choices  - it places democracy and rights of living
breathing humans over corporate secrecy.

Food manufacturers and the Big 6 chemical seed companies have
intimidated farmers, our legislators and congress over GMOs for the last
20 years. Our government has proven unable to arrest this predatory
corporatocracy, it's up to the people to step in.

I urge you to support Proposition 37 and our right to know.

Stephen Murray was a candidate for CC City Council in April 2012 and is active in the anti-fracking movement.

Monday, October 29, 2012

West Basin Water District - Time to Pay Attention

Gary Silbiger

I took the 405 freeway South from my home in Culver City, then the 105 freeway East, the 110 freeway South, the 91 freeway East, exited the freeway somewhere, and found my way to 17140 South Avalon Boulevard in Carson, California.  I had driven 19 miles in 30 minutes (depending on Los Angeles area traffic) until I found the West Basin Municipal Water District building (also known as the Donald L. Dear Headquarters Building).  Free parking helped.  The reception guard directed me to the elevator on my way to the Board’s monthly meeting.

What is the West Basin Municipal Water District?  Some of the major tasks of the Water District includes supplying water from various rivers to its district; utilizing the Edward Little Water Treatment Facility in El Segundo; recycling water; conserving water, and experimenting with removing salt from the ocean water to determine how to use desalinization technology. 

This Water District is one of the best kept secrets in California.  But not for long.

When I attended my first West Basin Water Board meeting on August 27, 2012 (the fourth Monday of each month), I saw the five elected members of the Board of Directors – one of whom I knew -, each representing a different part of the Water District: 

1.  Ron Smith, the owner of a realty company, has been on the Board since 2006, and represents Carson, Palos Verdes Estate, Rancho Palos Verdes, Rolling Hills Estates, Rolling Hills, and portions of San Pedro.

2.  Gloria Gray, who served 2 terms on the Inglewood School District, worked for Los Angeles County, was first elected to the Water Board in 2006, and represents Inglewood, South Ladera Heights, a portion of Lennox and Athens, Howard and Ross.

3.  Carol W. Kwan, has been a Board member since 1996, and represents Hermosa Beach, Lomita, Manhattan Beach, Redondo Beach, and Torrance.

4.  Ed Little, former City Councilmember of Culver City from 1966-1970, and owner of a car repair shop, is the longest serving member of the Water Board having served since 1989, and represents Culver City, El Segundo, Malibu, West Hollywood, Lennox, North Ladera Heights, Del Aire, Topanga, View Park, and Windsor Hills.

5.  Donald Dear, the current Water Board president, taught middle school, and was the Gardena mayor for 9 terms, has been on the Water Board since 2000, and represents Gardena, Hawthorne, Lawndale, and portions of El Camino Village.

Of course, I have known Ed Little for many years due to his term as a former City Councilmember in Culver City and his local community activities.

Three of the 5 Water Board members formerly served as locally elected representatives.  Without term limits for this Board, the current members have served 23, 16, 12, 6, and 6 years.  With Carol Kwan a candidate for her fifth term, she has been endorsed by all 4 colleagues on the Board which can perpetuate the cliquish (inside) nature of some elected bodies.  Kwan has one opponent for the November 4, 2012 election.  The other office for Water Board on the November election is seat number 5 where the incumbent, Donald Dear, is unopposed. 

When I arrived at the Water Board’s meeting room, the members were still eating or talking in one of the 2 adjoining rooms.  I was welcomed into that room and spoke with Ed Little and some of his colleagues.  After a while, the Board meeting commenced.  I had earlier that day mentioned to Water Board president Donald Dear that I might have a remark for the public comment portion of the meeting, and sure enough he asked me if I wanted to speak.  There was no speaker card to complete so I approached the podium to make suggestions for a more inclusive and transparent Board.  I suggested creating a more comprehensive e-mail list for the Board by encouraging sign-ups on line and at Board meetings, having links to the Water Board on all the city websites that are served by this Board, preparing a calendar of events on the Water Board’s website, and placing agendas at various locations in the cities affected.  President Dear commented that the suggestions sounded good.  We will see if they are implemented.

The meeting agenda was available at the Board room, but it only contained the 1 line titles – not the staff reports - of the 31 agenda items.  I sat in one of the approximate 30 seats provided in the Board room and listened to the presentations by staff and consultants with Board members occasionally making comments or asking questions.  Although almost all of the chairs in the meeting room were taken, I realized I was the only member of the public in the room.   

After a period of time, I went into an adjoining room for a glass of water – they also provided snacks – and when I returned to the Board meeting room, I found that they were at the conclusion of their meeting because a motion had been passed to approve many of the action items without any reports given or discussion had. 

I spoke with Charlene Jensen, the Board’s secretary, who took my name and contact information and placed me on the Board’s e-mail list.  You can contact Charlene at (310) 660-6229 or 

The West Basin Municipal Water District has several committees including Administration, Communications, Ethics, Finance, and Water Resources, most of which meet monthly.  Each committee consists of 3 Water Board members, one of whom is the chair, another a regular member, and the third an alternate.

Water is one of our most important resources.  We must be vigilant about those who have control of its use.  The Water Board should

take a position to stop the enormous waste of water along with the chemicals poisoning our water systems used in hydraulic oil fracturing (fracking) within its jurisdiction. 

Work with the communities of the Water Board to coordinate recycling and other forms of water conservation

Include all the minutes of meetings on the District’s website

Have past Board agendas for the years prior to 2012 on the District’s website

By the way, Ed Little has offered to arrange a personal tour of the Water District’s treatment plant in El Segundo, which he says is the only one like it in the world.  If you’d like to go, please send an e-mail to me.

This is the first of a series of articles about the West Basin Municipal Water District.

Gary Silbiger is co-editor of Culver City Progress blog and a former Mayor of Culver City.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Culver Park High School – Location, Location, Location

Pat Levinson

After decades of being located on an elementary school campus in Culver City, CCUSD’s continuation school, Culver Park HS, was relocated this summer to an area between Farragut Elementary and Culver City Middle School.

The youths and staff were moving in as construction of the temporary facilities, mostly landscaping, was in the final stages.  So, the Los Angeles Times wrote a “horror story” of just how challenging the conditions were for our youth.  Challenging?  Belmont HS in Los Angeles, with its toxic waste is challenging. A location beside a freeway on or off ramp is challenging.  Neither fits Culver Park HS.

I’ve taught and been an administrator in many school in the past 38 years with the Los Angeles County Office of Education.  My students were “juvenile wards of the court”. Okay, that translates to “juvenile delinquents.” My kind of youth: locked up or perhaps, locked out?  Physical locations included: Juvenile Halls, Probation Camps and Community Schools, many of which I located, opened and closed. Talk about challenging environments! 

Learning is learning and teaching is teaching.  And administrative support (and counseling) is vital to both. As long as youth are safe and healthy (another blog, perhaps), learning can take place almost anywhere.  Can you force youth to learn?  No, but you can persuade, despite, or sometimes because of, the physical environment.  Trust me, juvenile hall is no playground and yet hundreds of youth graduate annually from LACOE schools with their 220 credits.

What we have in CCUSD is a principal of CPHS who wants to be the principal of CPHS:  Veronica Montes.  I don’t title the school as Culver Park Continuation, because continuation school just describes the type of school.  The name of the continuation school is Culver Park HS.  Fifty-seven youth are enrolled, taking the usual high school courses:  English (Basic, Literature, Contemporary Writing, etc,); Social Science (World and US History, Government, Economics, etc.); Science (Earth, Astronomy, Biology, Chemistry); Mathematics (Basic, Algebra, Geometry); Art and Physical Education. Each student is required to perform 60 hours (total high school) of service learning in order to graduate with 220 credits. With a class size ratio max of 20 to 1, who wouldn’t want to be in this school?

The school and students enjoy having four dedicated teachers – who want to be there.  No, they haven’t been sent to the cornfield for being poor teachers elsewhere.  Like I, who opted to instruct in the juvenile court facilities, these teachers enjoy the challenge of teaching multiple subjects to youth who need creative strategies other than a “get to class, stop wandering the hallway, where are you going” environment. (Sorry, regular HS, just trying to make a point.)  Students are 16 and older, usually in the 11th and 12th grades, sometimes making up classes from the 9th and 10th grades.  Each teacher has to be competent in their areas so that each youth can receive the required classes.  Wow, tailored classes!  How cool is that?

Let us praise Ms. Lanier, Ms. Johnson, Ms. Matilda and Ms. Bentsvi who want to be those teachers, who want to be there.  We praise all teachers who want to be where they do their best work!  As I shared with Ms. Montes, my favorite grades of youth to work with before my retirement were the middle grades – 6-8.  While she didn’t shudder, she expressed her joy at working with older youth.  Some teachers delight in teaching 1st or 2nd grade (I cower), special ed. programs and identified youth, gifted or whomever. We all have our niche. (For those of you pooh-poohing why I enjoyed working with incarcerated youth, grades 7 – 12, when I just expressed my passion for youth in grades 6 – 8, I’d be happy to explain in another blog. Just think about child development…)

Here’s the point:  education includes the physical environment, but it doesn’t stop there. Learning is part of that environment and that’s all about the teachers, the support staff (para-educators, counselors, special education specialists, custodial staff) and administration.

What Culver Park HS youth apparently have is a wonderfully supportive environment – physically, mentally, academically, socially and emotionally.  While I didn’t describe all aspects of that supportive environment, Ms. Montes assures me that the CPHS Student Council is charged with campus beautification.  Ms. Montes declared, “We want the kids to own it.”

The youth will own it, if it’s in partnership with those supportive staff and the community.  It doesn’t matter if they are located on an elementary school campus, in a one-room schoolhouse or in temporary buildings. Are our youth safe and healthy?  I think so.  Therefore, it is with whom they interface and trust that makes the difference. See for yourself. The LA Times overreacted. Why am I not surprised?

Pat Levinson graduated from CCHS when dirt was new.  She received a Teacher Scholarship upon graduation and the rest was history: teaching all subjects and becoming an administrator in Juvenile Hall, Probation Camps and Community Schools for 25 years, teaching and providing educational services to foster youth for 13 years in Los Angeles County; including representing teachers for 13 years with the teachers’ association. Education included: BA from UC Irvine, M.Ed from Azusa Pacific University, and a slew of professional certificates from UCLA and the School of Hard Knocks.  She retired in June 2011 from LACOE as a Project Director for Foster Youth Services, representing all of Los Angeles County’s 81 district schools in their educational services to foster youth to the State. She can be reached at:  Pat is the recording secretary for the CC Democratic Club and a Board Member of the CC Sister City Committee.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Learning to Learn

David Voncannon
During dinner recently, my wife and I were having a conversation about the costs of a college education.  Many years ago we had the same conversation but with specific reference to our son who was a high senior and looking at colleges.  He had taken all the standardized tests, SAT etc., and done well.  He scored especially well in math and science so was looking into programs for mathematics and computer science.

As with most high school students looking to move to college he had applied at a number of schools.  As we were anxiously waiting on admissions letters he wanted to visit some of the campuses.  One of those schools was Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburg, PA which has a world renowned math and computer science program. 
The school had setup visitation programs with separate tracks for prospective students and parents.  The students were given tours of the campus, dorms and were able to meet with current students and professors.

Parents were treated to series of discussions on campus life and finances.  Finances were mostly focused to how to pay for the tuition and living expenses for sons or daughters attending their institute.  The part of the discussion that particularly got my attention was when the presenter said, “We are now looking at payment for an education being a lifelong commitment.”  At that time, approximately 25 years ago, the total cost to send our son to Carnegie Mellon would have been $40,000.  To us, not being monetarily wealthy, that was a huge sum and the concept of a lifetime commitment just made no sense at all. Ultimately our son selected a different school which was more affordable.
Our dinner conversation continued with the realization that college costs have certainly not decreased in the intervening years since our son’s college years.  The conversation then morphed into a discussion of whether a college education is still relevant taking into consideration the increased costs and the difficulty of actually getting into the classes a student needs to complete their degree.  Then my wife, being the smart woman that she is, posed a profound question which is really the topic of our discussion today.  That question is; “What does a student really learn in college today?”

I did not immediately recognize how profound that question is.  After all the answer seems obvious that a student is taught, or at least exposed to, a range of subject matter related to the career choice they have made.  But for some reason, the question stuck with me long after the dinner was completed.  The more I pondered the question the less obvious was the answer.  Does the course material and classroom experience represent everything that a student learns during their college experience?

The answer here seems obvious as well.  A college campus is a world far different than that experienced by most high school students.  For most it will be their first extended stay away from family and friends.  Expectations and responsibilities are increased dramatically.  Beyond classes and homework, for the first time, a student will be responsible for their own meals, laundry, entertainment and the myriads of other details that must be handled just to survive.  Obviously then a student learns a great deal outside the classroom.
But does the combination of experiences really compensate for the costs and difficulties related to obtaining that degree?  I would submit to you dear reader, that there are two overwhelming reasons, beyond the subject matter, that make college worthwhile.

Consider that during college you will make friends and forge bonds that will last for the rest of your life!  The personal network that is built during college will support you during moments when you believe you cannot continue.  You will provide support in return.  Some will meet your first, perhaps only, spouse or significant other.  The network a student builds during college will act as the foundation for their career offering job leads and career advice.  Those contacts form the nucleus of the network that will continue to develop throughout their life.

To understand my final point we must first embrace the concept of lifelong learning and education.  I noted earlier that a portion of what a student learns during college is the subject matter relevant to her, or his, career choice.  The downside to that is that about 70% of what is learned during college is obsolete within two years.  The implication is that to stay relevant we must constantly be learning new tools, techniques, products and concepts.

So, dear reader, my final and I think most important thought related to a college education is that a student learns how to learn.  When a person first enters college they are often overwhelmed by the difficulty and volume of material.  Out of necessity a student must learn the discipline to focus and absorb material quickly.  Every day brings new concepts added to topics introduced just a few days earlier.  Survival and success depend on learning study techniques.  Whether a student recognizes it or not, that discipline and set of techniques will remain with us long after the specific subject matter has faded.
Now consider that during our lives we will be expected to learn thousands of new products or concepts.  The techniques learned during college will enable the graduate to move forward quickly and accurately where others may flounder.  I believe that the ability to learn is probably the least obvious and yet, most valuable tool that we develop during our college experience.

Is a college education still relevant today?  I would shout a resounding YES!  In fact I would argue that with the increased competition prevalent today education is more important than ever.  It’s important to note that a person does not have to attend a college to gain knowledge, build a network, or develop discipline and learning skills.  But attending college forces the issue making the outcome more certain. 
Footnote:  To finish the story of my son’s search for a college, even though he was accepted at Carnegie Mellon he decided to attend the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, The Tarheels.  The Tarheels were a sympathetic favorite since we lived in North Carolina at that time and he was a huge basketball fan.  That was a big help on the financial side since in state tuition was considerably less expensive than any other option.  It was an emotional blow to me however since I was enrolled in a master’s degree program at Duke University when he entered college.  He graduated five years later with a degree in radio and television journalism.  Please note the extended time to graduation, caused by changing degree programs after two years.  College basketball season continues to be a friendly battle even after all the intervening years.

David Voncannon is active in Culver City working as a community spokesperson during development of the Tilden Terrace project, serving on the Culver City Advisory Council on Redevelopment and as a member of the local Chamber of Commerce.

Standardized Testing and Teacher Evaluation

Nancy Goldberg
With the settlement of the Chicago Teachers strike, some interesting questions have arisen.  Among the more intriguing statements are those regarding standardized testing and the value-added teacher evaluation process which are being  presented as  certain ways to verify  a teacher’s performance.

Briefly, standardized testing’s overemphasis undermines genuine learning.  Because the flag of accountability has been foisted by  self proclaimed “education reformers,” going to excess with standardized  testing has been  encouraged and justified.   The present data-driven focus on reform has been debilitating for our educational institutions.  Some of the most beneficial aspects of our present system are qualitative and cannot be quantified.  Almost every appealing aspect of education in America is qualitative; students will admit that they are motivated to attend school for those very courses which can’t be traditionally evaluated.  Courses like music, athletics, and student government promote characteristics among students that are essential to encourage the well-rounded citizen.

As for value added measurements…the very complexity of this evaluative method defies national public exposure.   When the evaluative devices become so distorted that logic and reason during their explanation are lost…then it’s time to unravel the knots or ignore them. 

Personally, I opt for teachers and curriculum that sustain and grow student interest.  Both function most effectively when their selection is made on the local level by the local school board.

Let’s keep our eyes on these ostensible benefits to our students.  There may be other reasons why they are being promoted.

More later…..
Nancy Goldberg is a CCUSD School Board Member recently retired from teaching at CC High School.

City Council Meeting Preview

On Monday, October 1, 2012, the City Council meets at 7:00 p.m. at City Hall, 9770 Culver Boulevard.  The agenda includes

  • Considering the creation of a resident based committee on oil fracking.  Empower the public by creating an official City Committee on Oil Fracking to study and make recommendations to the Council about fracking.  After all, who knows more about oil drilling than the victims of the oil companies.

  • Discussion pertaining to whether the City Council should agendize any of the State ballot measures for a vote of the Council.  Present your input in support of your favorite ballot initiatives appearing on the November ballot ; then try to persuade your elected officials to support your position.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Support Education Funding - Yes on Prop 30

Mona Field

Prop 30, while not going far enough to really rescue California from decades of fiscal instability, is a small and essential step towards keeping things from getting even worse.

Prop 30, also known as "the governor's initiative" is a tax increase based on both a progressive income tax (1-3% increase on those with incomes over $250,000 per year/$500,000 for couples) and a regressive but lucrative increase in the state sales tax (1/4 cent for four years).

The money will go to shore up our educational systems from kindergarten through university, and to provide resources for public safety. Everyone knows the terrible cuts in education, at every level, including the reduced classes and sessions at our community colleges and the huge fee increases for our public university systems. Prop 30 supporters include teachers, public safety employees, the California Democratic Party and many more.

Proposition 30 will

  • Stop another $6 billion in cuts to our schools this year. After years of cuts, our schools still face a $6 billion dollar budget deficit this year. If we do nothing, the cuts will get deeper. Prop. 30 stops the cuts, provides billions in new funding for our schools starting this year --- supporting everything from smaller class sizes to afterschool programs.
  • Guarantee local public safety funding. Prop. 30 establishes a guarantee for public safety funding in our state’s constitution, where it can’t be touched without voter approval. This will keep cops on the street and save the state billions in prison costs over the long term.

Opponents of Prop 30 are the usual anti-government, anti-tax crowd who believe, despite all evidence, that there is a huge amount of "waste, fraud and abuse" in government spending. Of course, there are examples of poor decision-making on the part of government officials, occasional cases of outright fraud or corruption, and just plain human error by elected leaders. But for the most part, our tax dollars are spent on what we need: education, public safety, parks and recreation, and other social goods that cannot be provided by the private, for-profit sector.

If you want to support our schools, you can tell your friends and family to vote YES on PROP 30, and join the phone banks at your local Democratic HQ. For Culver City and Westside folks, the closest place is 3916 Sepulveda.   For more information, go to
Mona Field is a Member of the Los Angeles Community College Board and a Culver City resident.