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Pioneering San Francisco Law Firm Turns 50

Since it first opened its doors in 1971, Public Advocates charted a unique course as an innovative, nonprofit law firm that didn’t just litigate in the courts but used a wide array of advocacy tools including administrative complaints, petitions, and community activism to advance the interests of its clients.

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During this 50th Anniversary year, Public Advocates will commemorate the many people who have built its legacy over the years, and its legal and advocacy victories through a social media series and a dedicated website.
During this 50th Anniversary year, Public Advocates will commemorate the many people who have built its legacy over the years, and its legal and advocacy victories through a social media series and a dedicated website.

By Isabel Alegría

Public Advocates Inc., the first public interest law firm on the West Coast and among the first in the nation, launched its 50th Anniversary celebration on Tuesday to honor its legacy of five decades as a champion for the rights of low-income communities and people of color in California.

Since it first opened its doors in 1971, Public Advocates charted a unique course as an innovative, nonprofit law firm that didn’t just litigate in the courts but used a wide array of advocacy tools including administrative complaints, petitions, and community activism to advance the interests of its clients.

“Off the starting block, Public Advocates was squarely on the side of working people, people of color, women, seniors and children. It leverages the law and the power of community organizing to ensure the people’s interests have as much sway in courtrooms, the legislature and boardrooms as those of the rich and powerful,” said Guillermo Mayer, president & CEO of Public Advocates. “From integrating the SF police and fire departments, to championing renters’ rights in SOMA and Oakland and consumers’ rights in banking, insurance and telecommunications, to shaping the nation’s most equitable school funding formula, Public Advocates has been on the frontlines– not just to fight, but to win.”

And the wins have been significant. Among Public Advocates’ landmark victories is Serrano v. Priest, which eradicated the use of local property taxes in determining school funding levels which heavily favored districts with wealthy residents. Before the court’s decision in the 1970s, vast disparities between wealthy areas like Beverly Hills and poorer ones like Baldwin Hills resulted in affluent schools receiving more resources.

In another landmark education case, Williams v. California, the state reached a settlement with Public Advocates and co-counsel to provide the most basic necessities to public school children–textbooks, safe and sanitary campuses, qualified teachers, particularly for English learners, and a system to hold school districts accountable. Public Advocates continues to monitor the settlement.

Years later, Public Advocates built on both cases with its role in shaping the Local Control Funding Formula, a significant and historic shift toward a simpler, more rational and equitable school finance system that aims to improve outcomes by providing increased and improved services each year to meet the education needs of low-income students, English language learners and foster youth.

For decades, California’s public school administrators mis-assigned tens of thousands of Black students to classes for the “Educable Mentally Retarded,” based on faulty IQ tests. In a first-ever opinion, a court ruled in Larry P. v. Riles that the use of standard IQ tests to place Black students in such classes was racially biased and invalid. In 1986, Public Advocates successfully halted the use of I.Q. tests for placement of Black students in special education classes.

“Public Advocates’ visionary founders, Bob Gnaizda, Justice J. Anthony Klein, Sid Wolinsky, and Peter Sitkin started a law firm that would have a profound impact, bringing benefits to countless Californians, especially our youth,” said Bob Olson, chair of Public Advocates’ Board of Governors. “Their legacy lives on to this day, fueling the groundbreaking work of Public Advocates’ expert staff in education, housing, climate justice and transportation.”

An example is Public Advocates’ advocacy in 2014 to establish a revenue stream for local bus service by tagging a share of proceeds of the California Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund to be directed to low-income communities. A few years later, Public Advocates built on the win to secure $400 million for transit operations in the gas tax bill SB 1, doubling the State Transit Assistance program.

Over the last decade, Public Advocates has redoubled its commitment to working in partnership with community-based organizations throughout California, a cornerstone of its legal and advocacy approach since Public Advocates’ earliest days. Currently, Public Advocates works in close partnership with groups such as Californians for Justice, PICO California, the ACLUs of Northern and Southern California, Urban Habitat, Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN), the Partnership for the Future of Learning, Students Making a Change, Housing Now! and ACCE.

During the pandemic, Public Advocates mobilized its partnerships with key allies in education and housing advocacy as the threats of eviction loomed and economic insecurity increased among students and their families, who struggled with distance learning. Long-standing partners worked with Public Advocates to communicate the needs of affected communities to lawmakers. The effort yielded important wins, including an eviction moratorium and unprecedented new funding for schools.

And they took the needs of children seriously, too. In 1985, Gnaizda represented two 7-year-olds in California who sued Pacific Bell for failing to disclose to them that they would be charged $.50 every time they dialed a Santa Claus line.

During this 50th Anniversary year, Public Advocates will commemorate the many people who have built its legacy over the years, and its legal and advocacy victories through a social media series and a dedicated website. The celebration culminates in a gala planned for Oct. 20, 2022, at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco.

For more information, please visit our dedicated website, here.

Activism

California-Hawaii NAACP Conference Sues Sec. of State Shirley Weber 

The Elections Code provides for a 20-day period to review the ballot materials and file any legal challenges. Because all legal challenges to ballot materials for the November 8, 2022, statewide general election must be completed by August 15, 2022, the lawsuit was filed on August 1.

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Rick Callender, California-Hawaii conference president of the NAACP, and Shirley Weber, California Secretary of State.
Rick Callender, California-Hawaii conference president of the NAACP, and Shirley Weber, California Secretary of State.

By Edward Henderson, California Black Media

The California – Hawaii State Conference National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (“NAACP”) NAACP and Conference President Rick Callender have taken legal action against California Secretary of State Shirley Weber asking that a statement included in the Argument Against Proposition 26 in the ballot pamphlet for the Nov. 8, 2022, statewide general election be removed.

Prop 26 would permit federally recognized Native American tribes to operate dice games, roulette and sports wagering on tribal lands. On-site wagering at privately operated horse-racing tracks in four specified counties for betters 21 years or older would become legal as well. The proposition also imposes a 10% tax on sports-wagering profits at horse-racing tracks and directs portion of revenues to enforcement and problem-gambling programs.

The lawsuit is challenging a statement from the “No on Prop 26” opposition using a quote from Minnie Hadley-Hempstead, former president of the NAACP’s Los Angeles branch. Hadley-Hempstead’s opposition statement read as follows:

“‘We oppose Prop 26 to protect young people from developing lifelong gambling addictions that often lead to ruined finances, relationships, even homelessness and crime.’ Minnie Hadley-Hempstead, retired teacher and President Emeritus of the Los Angeles NAACP Branch.”

The lawsuit claims the quote gives “the false and misleading impression” that the NAACP opposes Prop 26. The NAACP endorsed Prop 26 in February 2022. In addition, the Los Angeles branch of the NAACP has not endorsed the No on Prop 26 campaign. The NAACP bylaws prohibit local branches from taking positions contrary to the state branch. The lawsuit also raises concern about how the quote was obtained.

“The NAACP is proud to stand with Indian Tribes in strong support of Prop 26 to help further Indian self-reliance,” Callender said in a statement given to California Black Media (CBM). “We are outraged that the card room casinos and their No on 26 campaign would deceptively use the NAACP name in its arguments despite our strong support. We are suing to have these dishonest statements removed from the ballot arguments so it does not mislead voters.”

Callender’s lawsuit further points out that the position ‘President Emeritus’ does not exist within the NAACP and the only branch that can clear use of the trademarked term NAACP in support or opposition of any legislation is the state branch of the organization.

A declaration in support of the lawsuit from Hadley-Hemp. stead describes how she believes she was misled or misunderstood when she was asked to give the statement by Betty Williams, former President of the Sacramento Chapter of the NAACP.

Hadley-Hempstead declared that she was under the impression that Williams still worked for the state branch and believed that her statement against Prop 26 was in solidarity with Callender and the position of the state branch.

In her declaration, Hadley-Hempstead says “If I had known that Ms. Williams wasn’t working on behalf of NAACP, I would have said no right away…… As a long-time NAACP member, I would not agree to lend my name to a public document that took a contrary position to the official NAACP position and would not knowingly violate the NAACP’s bylaws.”

“The card room casino operators responsible for the deceptive No on 26 campaign have a well-documented and deplorable track record of flouting the law,” Callender told CBM. “They’ve been fined millions for violating anti money-laundering laws, misleading regulators, and even illegal gambling. We are suing to prevent their misleading statements from appearing in the voter information guide sent to tens of millions of voters.”

The Elections Code provides for a 20-day period to review the ballot materials and file any legal challenges. Because all legal challenges to ballot materials for the November 8, 2022, statewide general election must be completed by August 15, 2022, the lawsuit was filed on August 1.

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Activism

Marin County Offers Booklet to Parents to Prevent Preteen Substance Abuse

Each middle school teen is different and there is no single right way to address their changes, experiences, and their transition to middle school. But the book endeavors to help parents more objectively understand and support their children.

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Top: Mother and daughter talking (From care.com). Bottom: English and Spanish covers of the booklet “Let’s Start Talking.” Go to letstalkmarin.org for more information, downloadable digital booklets, and video recordings of recent “Let’s Talk” community discussions.
Top: Mother and daughter talking (From care.com). Bottom: English and Spanish covers of the booklet “Let’s Start Talking.” Go to letstalkmarin.org for more information, downloadable digital booklets, and video recordings of recent “Let’s Talk” community discussions.

By Godfrey Lee

Marin County District Attorney Lori E. Frugoli recently distributed an informational booklet “Let’s Start Talking – A Parent’s Toolkit for Understanding Substance Use in Marin County Through the Middle School Years” at the San Rafael Elks Lodge 1108 on Tuesday, July 19.

The toolkit booklet was created with support from the Marin Prevention Network and the Marin County Office of Education. The booklet was also translated and published in Spanish under the title “Hablemos.”

The booklet begins by saying that although drug usage among 7th graders remains low, their substance abuse can increase as they grow older. Parents and caregivers can still lay the foundations to support preteens/teens as they grow and help prevent negative consequence from substances use. This involves knowing the facts, communicate openly, and focus on relationships and resilience.

Each middle school teen is different and there is no single right way to address their changes, experiences, and their transition to middle school. But the book endeavors to help parents more objectively understand and support their children.

The major life experience for middle schoolers is the start of puberty, where their bodies, brains, and social environments rapidly and dramatically change, along with their hormones levels and emotions. The booklet says, don’t joke about or dismiss the child’s puberty process as being unimportant.

Parents are still in charge and should also teach and model healthy coping skills. Accept the child even while they are investigating their own identities and their attraction to the other or their own sex.

Their adolescent brain is not fully developed until about the age 25, and they are still growing in its management of reasoning, decision-making, planning, and impulse control. Their peers become more important, their circle of friends may change, and need to become more independent from their parents.

All teens face a lot of risks. Social media gives a lot of unfiltered information that can be disturbing. Other risk factors include mental health issues, attention deficit disorders, trauma, bullying, family substance and drugs abuse, the family rejection of their same-sex identity and thoughts of suicide.

Teens can still be protected with parental monitoring and involvement, a positive self-image, community and school norms and behavioral expectations, positive coping and self-regulation skills, positive and healthy peer relationships, school and community connections, and a sense of belonging to a healthy group.

Peer pressure and social norms are powerful during the middle school age, and the child’s social relationships can tip the scale toward risk or protection. Parents or caretakers can still meet and know the child’s friends and their parents, and also ask questions concerning the safety of their children. Parents can also spend time with their teens to stretch their minds and find opportunities for their teens to meet and work together with other youths with similar interest in groups and clubs.

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Activism

Domestic Violence Group Honors Community Advocates from Around the State

The California Partnership to End Domestic Violence (CPEDV), a coalition representing over 1,000 survivors, advocates, organizations, and allied individuals, was one of the organizations whose proposal for funding was omitted from the budget. Nonetheless, they remain dedicated to seeking recognition for individuals and organizations that are creating safe havens and providing services for individuals affected by domestic violence, the group’s leadership says.

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The California Partnership to End Domestic Violence (CPEDV), is a coalition representing over 1,000 survivors, advocates, organizations, and allied individuals.
The California Partnership to End Domestic Violence (CPEDV), is a coalition representing over 1,000 survivors, advocates, organizations, and allied individuals.

By Edward Henderson, California Black Media

As the ink dries on the California state budget recently signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, many special interest organizations are deep into planning for how they could use funds allocated towards their respective causes. While some have been left frustrated by the omission of their initiatives from the state spending plan, their important work in California communities continues.

The California Partnership to End Domestic Violence (CPEDV), a coalition representing over 1,000 survivors, advocates, organizations, and allied individuals, was one of the organizations whose proposal for funding was omitted from the budget. Nonetheless, they remain dedicated to seeking recognition for individuals and organizations that are creating safe havens and providing services for individuals affected by domestic violence, the group’s leadership says.

At their annual membership meeting, they presented the ‘2022 Partnership Awards’, a ceremony honoring seven women who have challenged root causes of domestic violence and infused equity into how they’ve engaged survivors and communities.

LaRae Cantley (recipient of the Bravery Award) advises the nation’s largest U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD Continuum of Care,

LaRae Cantley (recipient of the Bravery Award) advises the nation’s largest U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD Continuum of Care,

LaRae Cantley (recipient of the Bravery Award) advises the nation’s largest U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD Continuum of Care, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), on the creation of their lived experience boards. With deep roots in Los Angeles, Cantley’s voice has been heard across the state and nationwide in her systems change work.

“I’m living proof of how the truth will bring a change about you,” Cantley reflected upon hearing the news of her award. “The organization I’m working with, the Full Frame Initiative, continues to pursue brave efforts as we partner to build a world where everyone has a fair shot at wellbeing.”

Dr. Amber Gray (recipient of the Equity Award) of Lake Elsinore started the Volunteer Services Unit at Gray's Trauma-Informed Care Services Corp

Dr. Amber Gray (recipient of the Equity Award) of Lake Elsinore started the Volunteer Services Unit at Gray’s Trauma-Informed Care Services Corp

Dr. Amber Gray (recipient of the Equity Award) of Lake Elsinore started the Volunteer Services Unit at Gray’s Trauma-Informed Care Services Corp, allowing individuals to earn volunteer hours while resourcing domestic violence agencies with the needed staffing. Her organization focuses on educating providers on the latest evidence-based trauma-informed care research. She has worked in violence prevention and intervention for 26 years.

Cat Brooks (recipient of the Partnership Award) of Oakland leads the Anti Police-Terror Project and Justice Teams Network

Cat Brooks (recipient of the Partnership Award) of Oakland leads the Anti Police-Terror Project and Justice Teams Network

Cat Brooks (recipient of the Partnership Award) of Oakland leads the Anti Police-Terror Project and Justice Teams Network, providing survivor-centered interventions designed to decrease criminalization and end violence cycles.

Colsaria Henderson (recipient of the Karen Cooper Beloved Community Award) of Newark is a leader in local, statewide, and national anti-violence, anti-poverty, and racial justice advocacy efforts.

Colsaria Henderson (recipient of the Karen Cooper Beloved Community Award) of Newark is a leader in local, statewide, and national anti-violence, anti-poverty, and racial justice advocacy efforts.

Colsaria Henderson (recipient of the Karen Cooper Beloved Community Award) of Newark is a leader in local, statewide, and national anti-violence, anti-poverty, and racial justice advocacy efforts. As Board President of CPEDV, she helps ensure that a diverse coalition strategically unites to promote the shared goal of ending domestic violence in California.

Yojo Kim (recipient of the Cultural Responsiveness Award) of San Francisco has provided consistent case management, emotional support, and survivor-centered advocacy for queer and transgender survivors of domestic violence at the Asian Women’s Shelter.

Lidia Salazar (recipient of the Equity Award) co-facilitates organizing work to end criminalization at Community United Against Violence, as well as programming and community-based training in Healing Justice that raises consciousness and allyship across the broader San Francisco Bay Area. Her work as an advocate for survivors of violence began 12 years ago in Los Angeles and includes leading a non-profit organization, managing programs, providing counseling to survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, and hate violence, facilitating support groups, providing training for community members and service providers, and supporting the leadership of LGBT Black and Latinx survivors of violence.

Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (recipient of the Bravery Award) was one of the founders of Domestic Violence Solutions for Santa Barbara County in 1977. Jackson, who served in the California State Senate from 2012 to 2020, representing the 19th District in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, was a steadfast champion for survivors and a range of issues impacting women and girls while in government.

“I am most honored to receive this award from you today. Thank you so much”. Jackson said as she received her award. “I hope that someday, as a result of the work you’re doing, we can end domestic violence.”

Learn more about The Partnership and the work they are doing in California to fight Domestic Violence.

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Rick Callender, California-Hawaii conference president of the NAACP, and Shirley Weber, California Secretary of State.
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