Thursday, May 15, 2014

Thursday Must Reads: California Targets Dark Money; Bay Area Home Prices Reach Pre-Recession Levels

by Robert Gammon
Thu, May 15, 2014 at 10:00 AM

Stories you shouldn’t miss:

1. Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation that targets so-called dark money political campaigns — shadowy nonprofits that engage in political activity and keep their donors secret. In recent years, dark money groups, especially those funded by the billionaire Koch brothers, have wielded an outsized-influence over US politics. Under the new law, all dark money nonprofits that spend at least $50,000 in a year on politics must publicly reveal their top ten donors, along with any contributor who donates more than $10,000, the LA Times$ reports. The new law takes effect July 1.

2. Bay Area home prices continued to soar in April, rising to pre-recession levels, with the median home price in Alameda County reaching $615,000 — the highest since August 2007, just before the housing crash, the Mercury News$ reports. The median home price in Contra Costa County rose to $475,000, the highest since November 2007. Skyrocketing prices are being driven in large part by the lack of homes on the market and pent up demand.

Sean Whent
  • Sean Whent
3. Oakland Mayor Jean Quan and City Administrator Fred Blackwell gave Interim Police Chief Sean Whent the job of permanent police chief, the Chron and Trib$ report. Whent has won praise from court overseers, civil rights attorneys, and police watchdog groups for helping OPD finally live up to federally mandated reforms. In addition, crime has dropped substantially in Oakland since Whent took over as interim chief last year.

4. California schools are the most segregated in the nation, the Mercury News$ reports, citing a new study from UCLA. California students are more likely than ever to attend racially segregated schools that tend to be overwhelmingly white in wealthy areas and black and Latino in low-income portions of the state.

5. Childcare facilities are full of toxic flame retardant chemicals that have been linked to lowered IQs and hormone disruption in kids, the Chron reports, citing a new UC Berkeley study that examined facilities in Alameda and Monterey counties. Last year, Governor Brown signed a bill that allowed furniture manufacturers to not use flame retardants, but the hazardous chemicals persist in old furniture and mats that kids take naps on.

6. Groundwater depletion in California’s Central Valley appears to be triggering earthquakes, the LA Times$ reports, citing a new study published in the scientific journal Nature. The removal of groundwater for agricultural and consumer use changes pressure in the earth, likely leading to more temblors.

7. And the state Assembly is moving forward with a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags, after legislators agreed to provide financial subsidies to manufacturers that change over to reusable plastic bags, the Mercury News$ reports.

$ = news stories that may require payment to read.

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