Tensions are higher than ever about homelessness and crime in Santa Cruz County. Is there anything that can be done at the state level to address these local problems?
Homelessness and crime are often symptoms of the larger problem of poverty. Some of our communities have high poverty rates that undoubtedly contribute to homelessness and crime in our area: Watsonville has a rate of 20.4 percent, Santa Cruz has 20 percent, Aptos has 12.7 percent. In fact, Santa Cruz County has the highest school-age poverty rate in the Bay Area.
Sadly, California has the highest poverty rate under the Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM), a newly developed poverty measurement. In March, my Human Services Committee held a special hearing to take a close look at new ways to assess and address poverty in California. While the SPM will not replace the official measure for purposes of determining eligibility for assistance programs, it is a useful tool for California as we start to climb out of this devastating recession, and it can help guide meaningful conversations about how to reduce poverty in this state.
Alleviating poverty, especially childhood poverty, is a critical component to improving the state’s economic growth in the long-term. Children who grow up in poverty face significant hurdles that drastically damage their chances to grow up into productive adults. Kids living in poverty often do worse in school and experience more physical and mental health issues.
One of the ways I am working to help children in poverty or at risk of becoming homeless is through my legislation, AB 346, which would ensure that temporary shelters for youths have properly trained staff and adhere to state safety standards. This bill would create a new license for these Emergency Youth Shelter Facilities, allowing the state to review that they are serving the unique needs of runaway youth. This bill will help ensure that these kids get the services they need instead of turning to a life of crime, or becoming part of the long-term homeless population.
How will your ocean bill, the Plastic Pollution Reduction Act, help address the problem of plastic pollution in our oceans?
Of the many types of litter that end up in the ocean, plastic products have some of the most serious impacts on marine life. A 2012 study by the Convention on Biological Diversity found that 663 marine species have been impacted by marine plastic litter through entanglement and ingestion—a two-thirds increase in species from a similar study in 1998.
Marine plastic pollution imposes substantial costs on taxpayers and local governments through cleanup efforts and lost tourism revenue. A 2012 report by the US EPA found California’s coastal cities and counties spend about $420 million each year to combat litter and curtail marine debris.
AB 521 would require California to adopt a statewide goal to reduce marine plastic pollution by 75 percent by 2020 and by 95 percent by 2024. The bill requires the state government to identify the items that are the top contributors to marine plastic pollution, and then would set reduction targets for these items. It would also require the producers of these items to meet the targets within established timeframes and require the producers to pay for the administration of this program.
Within guidance provided by the agencies, producers have flexibility to determine the methods that work best for them to achieve the established targets, such as improved product design and increased recycling.
AB 521 would both reduce the source of costly plastic pollution and provide support and funding for state and local plastic pollution cleanup efforts. Ultimately, it would help reduce the amount of plastic garbage that pollutes California waterways and coastlines.