Politics, government and public life for Southern California

Court hears testimony on state of mental health care in California prisons

Reed Saxon/AP

Atascadero State Hospital, shown here in a file photo, cares for some of CDCR's mentally ill prisoners.

Psychiatrists and other witnesses are testifying Wednesday that state hospital units charged with treating mentally ill prisoners are dangerously understaffed. 

The evidentiary hearing is part of a long-running case on prison mental healthcare before U.S. Eastern District Court Judge Lawrence Karlton.

In opening statements, Michael Bien, an attorney for inmates, told the judge that the Salinas Valley Psychiatric Program and a similar program at a facility in Vacaville lacked enough psychiatrists to provide timely and adequate treatment to the sickest inmates.  Bien asserted the lack of staff may have contributed to the recent deaths of two inmates at the Salinas facility. "Peoples' lives are at stake,"  he told Judge Karlton.

In November, 2012 an inmate hung himself in his cell after waiting for weeks to be admitted to the program. Another inmate, who suffered from a psychological condition that creates an unquenchable thirst, died in March of this year from drinking too much water. Dr. Pablo Stewart, an expert on psychiatric care, testified that a death from such a condition was "100 percent preventable." Staff should have monitored the patient and restricted his access to water told Karlton.


Maven's Morning Coffee: LA bans plastic bags, Metro cracks down on fare evaders, Burbank gets a new city manager

Plastic Bag Manufacturers Fight Back Against Proposed Local Ban

David McNew/Getty Images

After years of delay, the Los Angeles City Council agreed to ban plastic bags beginning in 2014.

Good morning, readers. Welcome to the Maven's Morning Coffee -- a listing of the important headlines, news conferences, public meetings and announcements you need to know to fuel up and tackle your day.

The Maven's Morning Coffee is also available as a daily email. Click here to subscribe.

Today is Wednesday, June 19, and here is what's happening in Los Angeles:


The city of Los Angeles will ban plastic bags at stores beginning in 2014, reports KPCC and the Los Angeles Times.

There are no more free rides on the Metro's Purple or Red Lines thanks to newly installed gates, according to the Daily News. The transit agency expects to recoup $7 million from fare evaders.

The Montebello City Council is relying on about $1 million in reserves to balance its $45.7 million budget, according to the Whittier Daily News. "It's what we call a basic operational needs budget," says the city administrator.


John Boehner: man in the middle of immigration debate (Updated)

john boehner

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

House Speaker John Boehner is walking a fine line in the immigration debate.

A House Judiciary Committee meeting was interrupted Tuesday by demonstrators as members took up a bill that would allow local jurisdictions to enforce their own immigration laws. The bill illustrates the challenges ahead for a bipartisan comprehensive measure — and the political challenges facing House Speaker John Boehner. 

The House is moving forward on two fronts: a bipartisan bill that has yet to be unveiled, and a series of tough enforcement measures working their way through the Judiciary Committee. Boehner is walking a fine line down the middle. 

L.A. Democrat Xavier Becerra, a member of the so-called "Gang of Seven" working on the comprehensive House bill, says he "really" believes Boehner "wants to get this done." But he cautions patience, saying "the worst thing" would be to push through a bill with backing from only one party.


House plays chicken with farm bill

Michele Bachmann Joins For Americans For Prosperity Rally Against Big Gov't

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Jeff Denham (R-Fresno) is trying to protect the state's egg producers in a House agriculture bill.

The House of Representatives is debating a farm bill this week. One portion of that $940 billion measure could scramble California's egg industry. The fight is both about state's rights and hens' quality of life. 

California's Proposition 2, passed in 2008, requires hens to have enough room in their cages to stand up and spread their wings. But an amendment to the House farm bill by Iowa Republican Steve King would put a crimp in that law.

California would still be able to regulate egg farming here, but not forbid the sale of eggs from states that do not have rules on more humane cages. King calls it trade protectionism.

The battle isn't the traditional party line fight between Democrats and Republicans. Last year, a similar fight over last year's farm bill in the Senate had Democrat Dianne Feinstein defending California's law. This year, it's Fresno Republican Congressman Jeff Denham. Both cite an agreement between the Humane Society and the United  Egg Producers — which represents 90 percent of America's egg producers — to phase in larger cages over 15 years.


LA City Council honors Jan Perry with fanfare

Mayoral Candidate Jan Perry

Grant Slater/KPCC

L.A. City Councilwoman Jan Perry is leaving office after 12 years. Following her failed mayoral bid, it's unclear what she'll do next.

After 12 years in office, Los Angeles City Councilwoman Jan Perry was celebrated by her colleagues Tuesday in a ceremony that included a vote to name a beloved South L.A. project in her honor. 

Perry is termed out of her Ninth District seat. She will be replaced on July 1 by state Sen. Curren Price. 

"We have enjoyed unprecedented growth and job creation and new schools, improved parks, new wetlands and thousands of units of affordable housing," Perry said of her district, which stretched from downtown to Skid Row to Little Toyko and down to South L.A. before redistricting. 

On a 13-0 vote, the city council voted to name the South Los Angeles wetlands in Perry's honor. Using $26 million in Proposition O funds, Perry was able to turn an old MTA bus yard into a nine-acre park. 

The celebration of Perry kicked off with a performance by the USC marching band. A video of her accomplishments, with testimonials from downtown developers and nonprofit leaders, was also shown to a packed Chamber.