By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
California’s ranking last week as one of the worst states in which to raise children — and Maine’s selection as the best —- was a yawner for many L.A. parents. We’ve been told so often that our children are doomed to a lifetime of gun-toting savagery because we chose to procreate here that the big news story left us cold.
But something about the rankings from the Children’s Rights Council in Washington, D.C., didn’t look right, so we decided to take a hard look. Sure enough, we discovered that the council’s bottom six states — California, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Louisiana and Washington, D.C. — are also the highest in black and/or Latino population. And most of the top states — Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire and North Dakota — are lily-white. California (No. 46 on the Children’s Rights list) is No. 2 in total black population (2.4 million), No. 1 in Latino population (9.94 million) and No. 2, behind New Mexico, in percentage of Hispanic population (30.8 percent). By contrast, New Hampshire is 44th in black population, Maine is 46th, North Dakota is 48th, and Vermont is 51st (the list includes the 50 states plus Washington, D.C.). (All figures are from U.S. Census Bureau, 1997 population estimates.)
A simple case of racism? we wondered. The problem was, racially diverse Connecticut and Massachusetts also made the Children’s Rights Council Best Of list (No. 2 and 3 respectively). So we decided to call the Child Welfare League of America in Washington, a 79-year-old organization that works on issues of abused and neglected children, foster care, and adoption, for some perspective.
Spokesperson Joyce Johnson explained that the Children’s Rights Council grew out of the fathers’ rights movement of the ’70s and ’80s. The group’s big issue is joint legal and physical custody of kids after divorce. "I’m skeptical of their agenda," Johnson said. "They made a lot of states look bad."
"This was not an objective study," agreed professor Jorja Prover of UCLA’s School of Public Policy and Social Research. Prover said the study relied on negative factors that have been linked to single-parent families, such as dropout and teen-pregnancy rates, and ignored positives, including prenatal health care and after-school enrichment programs. "Research can be wonderful in terms of giving us information, but it can also push a point of view," Prover said.
So, before you all start streaming back East in search of the halcyon days of childhood, OffBeat has a handy-dandy list for you.
Top 10 Ways To Judge State-Ranking Studies:
1. Consider the source.
2. Consider the source.
3. Consider the . . .
Community groups have long protested defense contractor Rocketdyne’s failure to clean up toxic wastes at its Santa Susana Field Laboratory in the hills between the Simi and San Fernando valleys. But this week, it was a cleanup plan that raised hackles.
The state Department of Toxic Substances Control has proposed letting the company excavate contaminated soil from one of the filthiest sites at the Rocketdyne facility, the sodium burn pit. In the old days, Rocketdyne workers would chuck barrels of sodium into two water-filled pools and fire guns at the containers to burn off wastes (sodium mixed with water ignites spontaneously). Left behind in the process were PCBs, dioxin, mercury, the rocket-fuel oxidizer perchlorate, and radioactive contagions, according to state officials.
Rocketdyne already has removed 10,000 cubic yards of radioactive soil from the pit, and now wants to replace 3,200 cubic yards of contaminated soil with "clean" dirt topped with native vegetation. Activists at a July 28 public forum protested that the bedrock is contaminated and should be removed or capped as well. The issue took on new urgency after the Environmental Protection Agency in July found perchlorate in water in a Simi Valley spring four miles from Rocketdyne.
"Rocketdyne has a plastic tarp over it now, but it wants to just dig out the contaminants and back-fill the pits without proven protection against water infiltration," said Dr. Shel Plotkin of the Southern California Federation of Scientists. "To save a buck, they’ll allow the pits to further pollute the ground water and put nearby residents at risk." Plotkin wants Rocketdyne to cap the pit with clay, compacted soil and a plastic liner. The EPA continues to investigate the source of the perchlorate in the spring; the state is expected to approve a cleanup plan within the month.—Michael Collins