Archive for the ‘California Politics’ Category

Kamala: AG “Boots on the Ground” in Spill Probe

Friday, June 5th, 2015

raw-1Playing oil spill tourist, state Attorney General and Democratic U.S. Senate wannabe Kamala Harris dropped by Santa Barbara Thursday, a visit that her staff kept insisting was official business but that sure felt like a campaign stop.

In the ancient tradition of high-profile California politicians, General Harris commanded the attention of most of the TV news cameras in Southern California, striking a pose before the Santa Barbara Channel, the state’s most beguiling symbol of enduring conflict between the splendors of nature and the abominations of corporate rapacity.

In brief remarks to reporters, the 2016 Democratic front-runner was definitely leaning nature’s way.

“It’s something that we’re taking very seriously,” she said when asked if she’s seen evidence of criminality on the part of Plains All-American Pipeline, the Texas-company that owns and operates a 24-inch pipeline that ruptured on May 19, spewing more than 100,000 gallons of 120-degree oil into the sea.

“And we’ve got boots on the ground, and in terms of my office, I’ve got almost a dozen attorneys combined with folks who are helping with our investigation to work with the local and state and federal agencies and to do our independent investigation,” she added.

Boots on the ground? A dozen attorneys? Goddam, boys, let’s get our asses headed back to Houston pronto!

So much for the official business.

raw-2A staff of four press aides from the AG’s office kept reporters penned up in a corner of the parking lot at Refugio State Beach, far away from Kamala’s private meeting with Plains officials and the inter-agency group conducting the clean-up and far away from her inspection of the actual oil-rinsed beach.

By the time she finally stood up before the cameras and consented to just over five minutes with TV types, the thought occurred that perhaps she had just come for pretty pictures, not for a substantive colloquy on the Man vs. Mother Earth conflict.

Kamala speaks! For what it’s worth, Calbuzz did get to advance a few quick questions in the 2:42 minutes it took to walk with her to her waiting car:

Coastal Commission: Harris, noting that she’s the governor’s lawyer, refused to be drawn into the controversy created when Gandalf suspended the authority of the Coastal Commission in dealing with the environmental impacts of spill: “I can’t talk about my relationship with my client, so I’m not going to answer but I do know the governor is taking this spill very seriously.” Clearly.

Trade: Harris said if she was in the Senate today, she would vote with organized labor and against President Obama, her erstwhile ally, and oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal: “Basically the way I feel about it is, we’ve got to be able to protect American workers and balance, also talk about this issue (pointing to the aforementioned Channel), talk about what we need to do about having environmental standards around those trade agreements and I haven’t been satisfied that it meets those concerns.”

FullSizeRender-2Iran: On the other hand, she said she would stand in the Senate with Obama on his efforts to negotiate a nuclear deal with Iran: “The point he’s making is, he’s trying to strike a balance around between creating a dialogue and an opportunity for a dialogue in that region and I support what he’s doing. And I’ll also say that we’ve got to, basically have some time period and some restraint on the use of force authorization and I support that the three year term that he has proposed is right.” Please diagram this sentence.

A final word on stagecraft: It’s hard to mess up a shot with the Santa Barbara coastline, but whoever did the advance for this trip did their best.

Instead of having the cameras set up to shoot her at an angle, Queen Kamala stood with her back directly to the sun and the wind, leaving her to struggle vainly with her hair, her hands in almost every shot, and her skinny little mic looking sad and lonely standing next to a big stout palm.

Grade: C-

Photo credits: Paul Wellman and Barney Brantingham, Santa Barbara Independent.


We Are the Seven Percent: Drought, What Drought?

Thursday, June 4th, 2015


The big news in the just-out PPIC poll is that Californians now consider the drought the most important issue facing the state. The most fascinating data point, however, is this: seven percent of state residents say their neighbors are doing too much to combat the drought.

For those keeping score at home, that makes for 1.7 million Californians who worry Bob next door doesn’t wash his car enough, Blanche across the street only waters her lawn once a day while Mona and Fred haven’t topped off the pool in a week.

Doing too much? Really? Who are these people?

With a strong heart and an optimistic spirit, we committed to finding out, and began by demanding PPIC fork over their crosstabs.

(A brief digression: Right about now we’re picturing Mark Baldassare, PPIC’s CEO and chief polltaker, going all red in the face, clutching his chest and collapsing flat on the floor in his high-end. S.F. Financial District office digs. So for the record: seven percent – about 120 people of the 1,706 surveyed – is way too small a sample size to ascertain anything whatsoever, and what you’re about to read is completely unscientific and has a margin of error of plus or minus 86 gazillion percent. Your mileage may vary).

To resume: these are some of the characteristics of what we quickly labeled “the knucklehead cohort” in the poll. Among the 7 percent:

-35% lives in the Central Valley, more than L.A. and the Bay Area combined.

-57% describes themselves as conservatives.

-55% has only a high school education.

-65% has incomes of $40K or less.

-25% thinks Gov. Gandalf’s mandatory water conservation is too much.

tricorneSo: whining farmers in tricorne hats who can’t afford to pay their water bill, despise Jerry Brown’s social engineering and plan to vote for fellow H.S. grad President Scott Walker.

But how many acre-feet is that? Oddly enough, more than two-thirds of this group – about 80 actual adults in our utterly unrepresentative sample – say the drought is a big problem, while just 17 percent say it’s “not much of a problem.” Go figure.

According to the latest figures from the USGS, the average Californian uses 181 gallons of water a day, which means this bunch sucks up 7,927,800 gallons a year.

That’s enough to produce 12,891 Quarter-Pounder combos supersized, which is probably what these people normally eat. (You can duplicate our findings using information found here, here, here, here and here. We dare you).

In large part because we didn’t try, Calbuzz was unable to reach any of these survey respondents, sources said. However, well-informed speculation suggests the 7 percent, if asked, would explain their blind ignorance optimism thusly:

-I’ll give you my hose when you pry it from my hot, dead hands (49%).

-Can’t hear ya, got the tub runnin,’ call back later. (18%)

-Haven’t seen a thing about it on Snapchat (14%)

-Just got back from Uranus (10%)

-We don’t take calls from telemarketers (8%).

(May not sum to total due to rounding).

knuckleheads-always-welcomeAll of which, for some reason, puts us in mind of that great line from the Southern novelist Charles Martin:

“It’s so dry, the trees are bribing the dogs.”

No animals were harmed during the writing of this post.

P.S. The new poll from the Public Policy Institute of California really does have some an interesting stuff in it. You can find it here.

Brown Rolls Back Coastal Act Suspension Order

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2015

Jerry BrownUpdate June 6: Gov. Brown reversed his order suspending the power of the Coastal Commission late Friday, a classic move of dumping disagreeable news at the end of the week, timed to land in the dead zone between when reporters have left for the weekend and before everyone’s on to something new on Monday.

Calbuzz gets results. His new proclamation is here.

Pick up earlier story: California environmental advocates were pleased when Jerry Brown moved swiftly on an emergency proclamation to expedite clean up of the Refugio Oil Spill in Santa Barbara.

Then they read the fine print.

In a precedent-setting move, the governor in his order quietly suspended the landmark California Coastal Act. With the action, Brown crippled the authority of the Coastal Commission to ensure that Plains All-American Pipeline meets the coastal law’s toughest-in-the-nation environmental standards in cleaning up and restoring damaged beaches and nearby habitat. Plains is the company that owns the pipeline which ruptured and spilled more than 100,000 gallons of oil into the ocean on May 19.

“It makes no sense to suspend the very law that was created by a citizen initiative, in response to the massive 1969 oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara, to address situations like this,” Susan Jordan, director of the California Coastal Protection Network, said of Brown’s order,

susan“If anything, this is the time to make certain the Coastal Act’s protective policies are administered and enforced,” she added.

So far, the spill had damaged about 40 miles of coastline, killed more than 100 birds and mammals and closed more than 100 square miles of fishing area and two state beaches.

Late Tuesday, a coalition of more than two dozen environmental organizations statewide called upon the governor to rescind the suspension of the Coastal Act.

In a letter to Brown, the groups said restoring the authority of the Coastal Commission  in connection with the spill, is necessary in order to ensure clean up is “undertaken with environmental sensitivity and with the guarantee of full restoration and mitigation once the emergency has passed.”

linda-krop“The oil spill resulted from a weakening of oversight of the pipeline,” said Linda Krop, chief counsel of the Environmental Defense Center and one of the state’s most experienced and respected lawyers in dealing with coastal issues.  “Now is not the time to exacerbate the damage by weakening the Coastal Act requirements for mitigation and restoration.”

Low-ball red tape: In announcing his May 20 order, Brown declared that it “cuts red tape.” It was telling that his announcement didn’t highlight the suspension; he low-balled his undercutting of the commission, tucking that language into section 5 of the document — below eight “whereas” clauses and one “therefore.”

Evan Westrup, Brown’s press secretary, referred questions about the proclamation to the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, one of several state agencies within the so-called “Unified Command” which is overseeing operations at Refugio beach.

Deputy Director Kelly Huston of that office said the Coastal Commission is being “notified” about the work being done under the order, adding that Brown’s exemption action was necessary “in enabling the most effective response by those responsible for emergency response.”

“It’s the intent of the administration to ensure the Coastal Commission is actively involved when and where necessary,” he said.

Melissa Boggs, senior environmental scientist with the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response, also has been working with the inter-governmental spill team. She said that the clean up is being carried out carefully and with full consideration for “preserving important resources.”

spillWithin the environmental community, however, the Coastal Commission’s robust and rigorous regulations long have been recognized as the gold standard.

Moreover, the environmental coalition in its letter notes that the commission already has a process for verbally and immediately granting emergency waivers and permits, although the need to move with great dispatch was a purported raison d’être for the governor’s suspension order.

Had the commission led the process, Plains eventually would have had to comply with the state’s most stringent regulations for marine, beach, wetlands and other habitat restoration; now the company possibly could elude them.

“This is the first time in history that the Coastal Act and the authority of the Coastal Commission has been suspended,” said Jordan, whose organization is based in Santa Barbara.

“Given the provisions in the Act to act expeditiously in the event of the emergency, this suspension was ill-advised, unnecessary and has set a significant adverse statewide precedent that should not be underestimated.”

Oil-Spill-Bird-lc-630x420Sand and cobble: At first glance, the dispute might seem mere political wrangling, but there is considerable substance to it.

Clean-up and healing of the extensive environmental damage Plains inflicted requires management of a maddeningly complex process, which includes interlocking systems and sciences, from biology, geology and administrative permit law to metallurgy, pipeline engineering and an array of health and safety regulations.

The size and shape of berms, the amount of beach kelp available to arthropods that feed baby plovers, even the granularity of sand and cobble, are a few of thousands of factors involved in restoring the coastline and nearby areas.

Who controls that process is significant, because it determines what environmental standards Plains must meet; California’s broadest, deepest, most specific and time-tested benchmarks and guidelines derive from the Coastal Act, administered by its commission.

“With all due respect to the good work of the other state agencies in addressing this oil spill, the Coastal Act is not ‘red tape,’” said Jordan, “and no other state agency is empowered to enforce its legal mandate and protective policies.”

125_jerry_brown_toutQuick history lesson: As every school child knows, the law was spawned by passage of Proposition 20, a 1972 initiative that, for the first time, treated California’s 1,057-mile coastline as a system, not a patchwork of stretches governed and shaped by the whims of local politicians.

It passed 55-to-45 percent, following a series of events that threatened the coast: the disastrous 1969 Santa Barbara spill, energy company efforts to pack the coastline with nuclear plants and development proposals for hoards of houses, hotels and condos.

(Irony worth noting: then-Secretary of State Jerry Brown put the measure on the ballot despite the threat of litigation by major corporations that opposed it; he later boosted Prop. 20 by publicizing major campaign contributions against the measure from special interests; in 1976, a young Governor Brown signed the legislation that permanently enshrined the initiative as the California Coastal Act. But we digress).

This just in: Of course this is not the first time Brown in recent years has pushed major environmental law aside by executive action.

He recently suspended the keystone California Environmental Quality Act in his emergency proclamation on the drought; several years ago, he famously suspended CEQA on behalf of developers of a proposed NFL stadium in L.A.

14.4-Million-Elegant-Mediterranean-Mansion-in-Santa-Barbara-California“The governor has a penchant for putting loopholes into important environmental laws,” said Patrick Sullivan, climate media director of the Oakland-based Biological Diversity Center. “He’s not respectful of the Coastal Act, the Coastal Commission or CEQA.”

Secret Calbuzz bottom line memo to Gandalf: Hey man, the value of our Santa Barbara-based World Marketing Headquarters and Calbuzzard Retirement Bungalow could plunge if this mess isn’t cleaned up right. Let’s get our best team on the field, okay?

A version of this column will publish in the Santa Barbara Independent edition of June 4.

Santa Barbara Spill: Case Study of Post-MSM News

Wednesday, May 27th, 2015

Oil-Spill-Bird-lc-630x420The most enterprising story, amid the far-flung news coverage of last week’s ruinous leak of acrid, viscid, noxious oil that fouled miles of Santa Barbara’s splendid coastline, disclosed a disturbing and intriguing fact:

The pipeline that spewed the toxic stuff onto the beach and into the water is the only one in the county not equipped with an automatic shut-off valve.

The reasons why, which should surprise exactly no one who’s not recently arrived from Uranus, derive from decades of fierce anti-regulatory efforts by the courts and Congress.

First, the oil companies that installed and operated the pipeline used their legal muscle to deny local regulators the authority to supervise it; today, the only agency with any jurisdiction is the (all rise) federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

Thanks to anti-government crusaders in the House and Senate, who despise the very notion of regulation, however, all-mighty PHMSA (which, as every schoolchild knows, is pronounced “pisma”) apparently is so underfunded that it’s skimped on sending staff representatives to regular inter-agency safety meetings held in Santa Barbara.

“We’re flying blind,” said county Energy Division czar Kevin Drude…According to Drude, the equipment the county requires of other pipeline operators is so sensitive it can detect the loss of 20 barrels of oil over a 20-hour period. By contrast, the Plains pipeline leaked about 2,500 barrels worth of oil in a matter of a few hours before the company’s crew manually shut it down.

As Governor Gandalf might say: Dantur opes nulli nunc, nisi divitibus.

sea lion 2_1432305171233_18672094_ver1.0_640_480One for the J-school textbooks. The scandal came to light through the intrepid efforts of Nick Welsh, the wizened executive editor of the weekly Santa Barbara Independent, who published it just two days after the ooze started flowing at Refugio State Beach (full disclosure: at least half of your Calbuzzards write a freelance state politics column for the paper).

Beyond its immediate news value, the story is significant as part of a post-MSM journalism case study that the environmental incident provides.

As a political matter, last week’s accident received widespread media attention, less because of what happened – a relatively small amount of oil defiled beaches, killed and tormented wildlife – but more because of where it happened; another Santa Barbara oil spill, orders of magnitude larger, famously birthed the environmental movement, in 1969.

As a media matter, the event is noteworthy as an illustration of how news is gathered and disseminated in a digital world of niche operations and fragmented audiences: much of the most crucial information did not originate with huge and well-financed national outlets; rather it made its way up the news food chain, from small but energetic and highly motivated local enterprises.

Luddites and weenies: A community of fewer than 90,000 residents, Santa Barbara is a kind of media petri dish. Without a truly dominant news source in town, a small collection of startups, “alternative press” reporters and a few mainstream outlets scrambled to tell a big and fast-moving story for modest-sized and largely distinct audiences, while local citizens and out-of-town reporters alike grazed over their offerings to piece together a complete picture.

The tale of Welsh’s scoop is instructive. While others in his small newsroom moved aggressively to cover the breaking news, he worked the phones and scanned documents to excavate and master the complex and confusing details about the broken pipeline’s operation by the Texas-based Plains All-American oil company.

With less than 24 hours before the paper’s weekly deadline for its print edition – still by far the primary source of its ad revenue – he had to break his hurry-up investigation on the Independent’s website, however.

nickA Luddite throwback type, Welsh was pained to miss the dead-tree edition which, because of print deadlines, published with a full color cover boldly trumpeting some local theater awards. Only a small, last-minute strip headline signaled to readers that the paper had any coverage of the town’s biggest story of the year.

As Welsh and colleagues kept updating on the web, the MSM meanwhile engaged in some throwback behavior of its own – ripping off his story without any credit.

Two days after the Independent posted the piece online, the AP’s Brian Melley rendered his own version, which doubled back on Welsh’s sources, for benefit of a national audience. The powerful wire service put it out without a word acknowledging where the story originated.

Oleaginous icon: Lara Cooper, a reporter and photographer for Santa Barbara’s online-only Noozhawk fared better in getting credit where credit was due.

With even fewer reporters than its competitor, Noozhawk offers its readers a strictly local, meat-and-potatoes daily report that includes a strong focus on community news (“Refugio oil spill inspires hands-on learning project for Ellwood students” was the hed on one of its folos this week).

Tom Bolton, the site’s editor, is another old-school type who’s morphed into an online impressario. He’s one of those guys who likes to sleep with a police scanner, and was quick to dispatch Cooper, apparently the first newsie on the scene (she later described smelling the stench of oil from inside her car, more than a mile away; at first, she thought her engine might be imploding).

lara cooperCooper swiftly saw, captured and posted an image of a guy, standing in oily thick water and trying to reach a befouled waterfowl while his buddy strained to keep him from falling into the oleaginous mess. Hustling for a hyper-local, start-up site, she managed to produce the iconic photo of the event, which was picked up by the Wall Street Journal, The Guardian and CNN, and ran four columns across the top of the Washington Post’s front page..

For another distinct audience, the local aggregation site Edhat  linked to a range of primary information: top stories from various news organizations; press releases from politicians and Plains; updates from the public agencies, led by the Coast Guard, working on the clean-up.

It also carried out another key function of the digital era, serving as a public square for local reaction and opinion, by hosting the most lively comment board focused on the disaster.

More bodies into the breach: All that said, the nonpareil importance of financial resources was demonstrated anew in the comprehensive and contextual coverage of the By God L.A. Times.

Located 90 miles from Santa Barbara, the LAT launched a fair-sized platoon of reporters and photographers, emerging as the daily newspaper of record for the Refugio spill. Although the paper’s newsroom has endured multiple rounds of cuts in recent years, it still boasts roughly 500 employees, and did a nice job of covering all quadrants of the story, with breaking news, color, analysis and enterprise.

(Surprise, surprise, it also stiffed the Independent by rolling out its own version of Welsh’s excloo, a yarn that carried three – 3, count ‘em, 3 – bylines, without a word of credit to the veteran local scribbler’s outfit).

Among the highlights of the LAT’s coverage was a lovely, first-day scene-setter by Steve Chawkins, the paper’s last staffer based in Ventura County, which adjoins Santa Barbara.

On the sand, Peuyoko Perez, an auto parts driver from Ventura, sang a mournful ode — a “willow song,” as he called it — in a Chumash dialect. He said he was paying homage to nature and to the sea, and was pleading for willow-like flexibility among conflicting interests in cleaning up the mess and preventing future disasters.

“This is an attack against the land, animals, fish, human beings — and I’m tired of it,” he said. Amid darkened clusters of seaweed, he looked out at the ocean. He said he planned to burn sage later in the day for cleansing.

We await with interest a folo on how the sage burning is working out.

On the political front, it was left to our old pal Cathy Decker to put the accident in context, with an analysis comparing it to the 1969 catastrophe.

Los Angeles Times reporter Cathleen DeckerBut there is another, more positive reason why this disaster may prove less politically meaningful: So much of the organizational hard work was accomplished back then that there are fewer fixes to make.

In the wake of the 1969 spill, governmental agencies were created to protect the environment; their workers stalked the beach in white suits last week, replacing the volunteers who in 1969 tossed hay at the sea to soak up oil. Environmental groups sprang to life and have stayed potent.

Decker also noted that offshore drilling has become a settled issue in California, with drill-baby-drill conservative Republicans who choose not to follow the moderate path established by former Governor Pete Wilson, routinely getting stomped in statewide elections.

Paging Senator Carly and Governor eMeg…











‘The Hunting Ground’: Human Truths of Campus Rape

Tuesday, May 26th, 2015

annie clark 2By Susan Rose
Special to Calbuzz

On May 13, California moved aggressively against rape on campuses, issuing a directive to all state colleges to “notify authorities when a sexual assault is reported.”

Attorney General Kamala Harris and U.C. president Janet Napolitano jointly issued a set of guidelines to encourage collaboration between campuses and law enforcement, in order to improve responses to sexual offenses. California schools must adopt policies implementing the directive by July 1st.

At the same time, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) is investigating 111 colleges and universities for  “possible violations of federal law over the handling of sexual violence and harassment complaints.”

The state’s action followed last year’s report by the White House Council on Women and Girls, “Rape and Sexual Assault: A Renewed Call to Action.” That study acknowledged that “one out of five women, or nearly 22 million, has been raped in their lifetimes.”  A comprehensive look at rape and sexual assault with a focus on college campuses, the report describes the “most at risk” victims, the physical and economic costs of rape and the lack of response by law enforcement.

Reporting rates for campus sexual assault are very low; on average “only 12% of student victims” are willing to file claims.  As a result, rape survivors suffer from a wide range of physical and mental health problems “including depression, chronic pain and anxiety,” the report said.

map“The Hunting Ground.” Amid all the statistics and official statements, a new documentary puts a heartbreaking, human face on the epidemic of campus rape and sexual violence. I recently attended a screening of the film, “The Hunting Ground,” at UC Santa Barbara. When it ended, I felt sick, and angry.

“The Hunting Ground,” produced and directed by Amy Ziering and Kirby Dick, begins with the images and sounds of several young women joyfully receiving their college acceptances, then follows them through their experiences of assault on campus, often in their first year, and their attempts to find justice and resolution.

The filmmakers use both data and personal narratives to tell their story. Statistics buttress the film’s thesis: women who are victims of rape and assault are mistreated or ignored when they seek help from the very institutions that are responsible for their safety.

The film focuses on educational institutions that enable rape culture on campuses to continue.  Incident after incident in the film depicts the lack of response from college administrators, campus police and local law enforcement.

One key element: college sports teams are glorified in the American university system, and fraternities often encourage their members to pursue women students.  When the perpetrator is a member of the school football team, the victim receives no help or support.  Victorious college teams result in increased fundraising from alumni.

jameis 2.0Money is motivation for the players, also, as success on a college team can lead to a career in professional sports.  The case of Jameis Winston and Erica Kinsman-highlights the high stakes.

A Heisman trophy winner and first pick in the NFL draft by Tampa Bay this year, Winston signed a four-year contract worth $23 million. While attending Florida State University, Winston was charged by Kinsman with sexual assault.  Cleared of charges, he has countersued for $7 million dollars for alleged false claims.

The film follows the extraordinary efforts of Annie Clark and Andrea Pino, two women (pictured above) from University of North Carolina, who move from being “victims to survivors to activists,” as they connect the dots of what is happening nationally and to bring attention to their cause.

Clark and Pino created an organization called “End Rape on Campus” that provides education and information about Title IX and how to file a federal complaint.

They began by filing federal discrimination complaints and holding press conferences, and their tireless efforts have brought more awareness to the issue and greater advocacy on behalf of victims.

A landscape of violence: As tragic as it is, rape on campus is just one element of widespread violence that pervades many areas of American society. Whether in the military, domestically within families, or on streets and campuses, women historically have been sexual targets – the hunted.

Historically, law enforcement agencies have not made a priority of rape and sexual assault. There long has been a lack of willingness to pursue cases, and insufficient resources to resolve the number of complaints filed.

Finally, a nationwide discussion is coalescing around these issues.

amyBefore “The Hunting Ground,” Ziering and Dick’s 2012 film, “The Invisible War,” brought attention to rape in the military and helped result in hearings and legislation.  More than half a million women have been raped in the armed services; according to the Pentagon, sexual assault has increased in the military by 35 percent between 2010 and 2012.

Efforts by Human Rights Watch have brought awareness to the national problem of untested rape kits kept in police storage rooms.  The massive backlog resulted from inaction by police departments and other local and federal agencies.

Now, policy makers are increasing budgets to fund additional technical staff to do DNA analysis in an effort to eliminate the backlog; some progress has been made but thousands of kits still remain untested in the U.S.

In 2013, President Obama signed the third iteration of the Violence Against Women Act.  This legislation approaches the issue of violence on numerous fronts.  It creates tougher penalties for offenders, incentives for arrests and prosecution, and support for domestic violence response teams.  The Act includes funding for direct services for victims of rape and sexual assault and training for sexual assault teams, law enforcement and criminal justice professionals

Despite all the activities, particularly on the federal level, sexual assault complaints on campus are increasing according to data released in 2014 by the Office of Civil Rights.

It is so far unclear from the data whether this is because women feel safer to file reports, or efforts to prevent sexual assaults are failing.

thehuntingground_quotesA search for solutions. What institutional changes must we make to protect our young women?  Is it possible to create an educational system that respects women and makes their safety and well being a priority?

“The Hunting Ground” does not provide answers but leaves little doubt that great change is needed. Feminist filmmaking at its finest, it has brought national attention to violence against women; but young women are not any safer today on college campuses.

After a showing of the film last month this at The Feminist Majority Foundation in Los Angeles, Amy Ziering spoke about how she hoped to help bring more, and faster, changes:

We’ve already received well over 2,000 requests to screen “The Hunting Ground” at colleges and high schools across the nation. We are heartened by this response and hope it helps to transform our culture and compel institutions to more fairly adjudicate these crimes and better support survivors.

Violence against women has long been imbedded in our American culture. Making the issue of rape and sexual assault part of our national political dialogue is essential, but it will take years before the Office of Civil Rights completes their campus investigations.

We have the knowledge and the tools to turn this around, but do we as a society have the commitment to eliminate it? Change could occur nationally if college leaders are willing to step up their efforts and an educational curriculum that defines violence as unacceptable is implemented at all school levels.

California now has taken the first step.  It’s a start.

Susan_RoseSusan Rose, former Executive Director of the Los Angeles City Commission on the Status of Women, served eight years on the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors and is a board member of Emerge California, a Democratic group working to help women achieve elected and appointed office. Her last piece for Calbuzz reported on California legislation to end the state’s rape kit backlog.