Humans Accelerate Species Extinction, College Costs, District Elections
KPBS Midday Edition / May 6, 2019
A new report from the United Nations finds humans are accelerating the extinction of over 1 million plants and animals. Also, the cost of California public universities has spiked over the past four decades, City Councilwoman Jen Campbell has politics in her blood, a California couple is planning their new home in their backyard and cities in San Diego County are switching to district elections to increase diversity, but it is working?
Speaker 1: 00:00 Run by a diversity report as sounding a devastating alarm about the state of the natural world. Among its findings are that almost a million plant and animal species are on the verge of extinction, and that loss is undermining the health and quality of life worldwide. Moreover, the report by the intergovernmental science policy platform on biodiversity and ecosystem services finds that humans have caused the bulk of the loss for the KPBS climate change desk. Joining me by Skype in the New York Times newsroom is times reporter Brad Plumer, who's written about the UN report. And Brad, welcome to the program.
Speaker 2: 00:39 Thank you for having me.
Speaker 1: 00:41 Now, nearly 150 authors from 50 nations worked for three years to compile the report for the UN. Can you tell us what are some of the other headlines from this report?
Speaker 2: 00:52 Yeah, so this is basically a summary of the best biodiversity research that has been out there. So there's been an enormous amount of research. I think they relied on thousands and thousands of studies, uh, on the decline of nature over time. So one thing they found is that in most of the world's major land habitats, you know, basically the average abundance of plant and animal life that was originally there before humans really started transforming the landscapes. Uh, that abundance of plant animal life has fallen by 20% or more. And, uh, most of it has come over the past century. So it says at one point that we're altering the natural world at a rate that's unprecedented in human history. So it really shows that we are just completely transforming the planet with a huge impact on the world around us.
Speaker 1: 01:39 Does the report say anything about what kinds of species face the biggest threat of extinction?
Speaker 2: 01:46 So it gets into very large categories. Amphibians, uh, are, uh, extremely threatened. You know, at one point it says that, uh, roughly 40% of all amphibian species around the world, uh, or at risk of extinction because of human activity. Coral reefs are another one. Marine mammals it think goes out also as a particularly threatened. But really it's just all across the board.
Speaker 1: 02:12 How much of this declined as the reports say is linked to climate change?
Speaker 2: 02:16 So it basically gives five big factors in order of importance. And the first is land use change. You know, forest being cleared for farmland is a huge one. The next biggest is a over exploitation of species, so that could be hunting, that can be killing elephants and rhinos for ivory. Matt can be overfishing in the oceans. So that's number two. Then it says number three is climate change and up until now, climate change has not been a huge reason why nature has been declining, but it's really starting to make its mark. And a growing number of species are basically going to be threatened with extinction in part because the local that they have evolved to survive in our shrinking or shifting and basically because of human activity, whether it's deforestation, building roads, cities, farms, a lot of these species don't have enough room to move and they don't have enough natural habitat to ensure their long term survival.
Speaker 2: 03:17 What are the other two reasons that the report talks about for the decline in nature? The movement of invasive species around the globe is a big one. And then the other one is pollution. Water pollution, uh, is a big one. You know, we dumped the enormous amount of untreated wastewater into rivers and streams. Lancer declining coral reefs are very vulnerable to water pollution. So those are the final two. How does the report say the vanishing species and biodiversity will affect human existence? This is what's new about the report. You know, there've been other reports in the past that have talked about the decline of nature and the decline of biodiversity. What this report was charged with doing and what they did differently was really show how closely connected human wellbeing is with the fate of other species. For instance, wetlands that are out there help clean up water that humans ultimately used for drinking.
Speaker 2: 04:11 You know, mangrove forests and coral reefs arong along the coast. They help blunt tropical storms that come in and flooding, so they actually protect people on the coasts. There are tremendous number of wild insects and B's that help pollinate our fruits and vegetables, which are hugely important for crop production. And also it talks a little bit about how having a lot of biodiversity can really help humans in the future. So, for instance, right now humanity relies on fewer and fewer plants and animals for food. And the report talks about how that can be a real risk or food production. It can make our agricultural systems more vulnerable to pests and diseases and having more wild varieties of plants and crops and animals can really help us prepare for a future where climate change is bringing extreme heat and drought and other dangers. Does the report, do you have any hope that this collapse can be fixed?
Speaker 2: 05:06 Well, it does talk about, uh, a number of past success stories. So when countries and governments and conservationists have really made a concerted effort to protect endangered species, they've been pretty good at fending off extinction. I mean, you see that here in the u s by and large when species get listed on the endangered species act, you know, we do a pretty good job of at the very least, preventing them from going extinct. And it talks about how a growing amount of the world's land has been protected by national parks, wildlife refuges, wilderness areas. Uh, so that's growing. But it also cautions that despite these sort of good trends, basically, uh, that's not enough to protect their decline in nature and biodiversity, that not enough of the most biologically important areas on the planet are protected. That many refuges are potentially at risk of being undermined by climate change, which could shift the geographic ranges of different species and things like illegal logging and illegal fishing continue to increase and, uh, threatened a number of habitats. I've been speaking with New York Times reporter Brad Plumer. Brad, thank you very much. Yeah. Thank you.
Speaker 3: 06:20 [inaudible].
Speaker 1: 00:00 Going to college is a dream for many people. However, for a growing number of today's students, that cost of college is a financial burden, but that hasn't always been the case. In California, the nonpartisan California budget and Policy Center analyzed college costs to over the last 40 years. Among their findings is that tuition costs for the California State University system saw a more than 1300% increase in annual tuition and fees since 1979 similarly, university of California tuition cost increased six fold and the same time period. Joining me is Amy Rose and analyst for the California budget and Policy Center who took a look at how much college costs today compared to 40 years ago. Amy, welcome. You often hear adults say that they had to work part time while going to college to earn their degree. Your analysis shows it's much more of a financial burden now than 40 years ago. What changed?
Speaker 2: 00:55 Well, a couple of things changed. So the first thing to keep in mind is the rising cost of tuition and fees and that's largely due to state disinvestment. So historically the state paid most of the cost of higher education at California as public institutions. For example, in the early 1980s general fund spending per student at the UC was around $25,000 and today it's down nearly 50% about $13,000 per student. And so in response to these budget cuts, colleges have turned to the students to make up for lost revenues.
Speaker 1: 01:29 Housing is a big expense for many areas of California. Are there plans to provide or financially assist students who go to college?
Speaker 2: 01:37 Yeah. So that's uh, one of the greatest challenges students face in obtaining a college degree. In terms of housing costs, it's important to consider rents relative to income. So when incomes do not keep pace with rising housing costs, housing becomes unaffordable and students are hit especially hard by unaffordable housing costs because their ability to work full time is disrupted by being in class and the financial aid to help them cover living costs has not kept pace with the rising rents.
Speaker 1: 02:04 So we know that housing costs have certainly gone up, but the cost of food has also gone up. Is there anything the state or the universities can do to help shoulder some of that burden?
Speaker 3: 02:16 Yeah, one thing that the universities can do is increase students' access to and awareness of support for food program. So in California we have the CalFresh program, which is our state level version of um, of snap of the food stamp program. Um, and a lot of students aren't aware that this resource is available to them. The application for applying is very confusing. There's a lot of regulations and rules around who can apply. And so by providing colleges with funding to have counselors or support staff on campus to help students navigate that process can really help students make ends meet in terms of having adequate food available.
Speaker 1: 02:57 You know, the, the Funding University of California
Speaker 2: 03:00 and California state schools primarily came from the state, you know, over time, more of that financial costs has shifted over to students. Why is that? That's a great question. This a cost shift from the state to the student. It really undermines California's commitment to ensuring a quality higher education. And we see these decreased funding streams, especially during times of recession. So when the economy is weak, one of the greatest areas hit first is higher education and so in order get into balance us, but it's the university's turned to the students and a number of presidential candidates have proposed making college tuition free. Is that a workable solution you think given the cost of housing? I think one of the issues with free tuition for everyone is that there is an equity aspect missing. So when you are waiving tuition and fees for middle and high income students who can't afford to pay your significantly increasing the cost of that program when we think that age should be targeting the most needy students and you bring up the concept of back in my day a, that's when people bring up their reality from 40 years ago of going to college, paying for it with savings or a part time job and and graduating with little debt.
Speaker 2: 04:14 Is there a generational hurdle that has to be overcome before solution is found? Yeah, I think it's important for legislators especially to understand just how different the situation is today. This whole back in my day narrative suggest that past generations did not struggle to make ends meet and they don't have significant student loan debt. They were able to get by just fine. But when we look at the cost of housing tuition back then, it's reasonable to assume that yeah, many students were able to work their way through college. And when we look at the same data for today's students, it's a much different picture. And so to cope with these increased costs, many students are taking out loans, they're working multiple jobs, they're taking part time classes, they're dropping courses or they're skipping this semester it was all together, which means it's taken them much longer to graduate.
Speaker 2: 04:58 And so what plan should students follow now to ease the burden of paying for college? That's a great question. I think um, financial aid is a great help for low income students. I'm definitely staying in state is one option in state tuition for California students is significantly cheaper than out of state tuition. I think starting at a community college can be a great place for students who struggle to make ends meet because the cost is much less than starting at a UC or CSU. And so what policies can the state developed to help ease college costs for students? Yeah, so the good news is that the situation students are in today are a direct result of policy decisions, which means that choices leaders make today will have a profound effect on the students of tomorrow. And so while the university systems cannot control housing costs and the reason regions and which they're situated, the state has the ability to make policy choices that take us in a different direction. We can invest in higher education by adequately funding our colleges and address the how high housing costs by increasing the production of affordable housing. In the meantime, we can reform how state financial aid is distributed and institutions can improve on campus awareness of an access to available support like the CalFresh program and federal financial aid. Right. I've been speaking with Amy Rose and analyst for the California budget and Policy Center. Amy, thank you so much for joining us. Thanks Jason.
Speaker 1: 00:00 If you've been following California's housing crisis, you've probably heard of Nimby, not in my backyard, and you might heard of UMB. That's yes in my backyard. Well now you can add [inaudible] to your housing vocabulary. Parents in my backyard, more and more California seniors are turning to accessory dwelling units or AED use as they age. As part of our Grain California series. Cal Matters. Matt 11 brings us this profile. Yeah,
Speaker 2: 00:31 Paul beam is the kind of guy who laughs at his own dad jokes. A fan going to drive the drive
Speaker 3: 00:38 wall walls.
Speaker 2: 00:40 Can you get that dry? We're going to drive the dry wall
Speaker 3: 00:44 walls.
Speaker 2: 00:46 I just made that up and the 63 year old retired school teacher shows me around the ATU getting built in the backyard of his San Jose home. You might call them in law units or granny flats. And so you are in actually the living room and you got a couple of skylights here. You've got three skylights and the tells it to you feels bigger than it's 500 square feet. But that's still a lot smaller than the home. Just across the yard where he lives with his wife, Rosa, which means less room for lots of things like arguing the threshold there is going to have a sign, no fights allowed. From this point in you can tell Paul's excited about is Adu. Even the attic, there is no light in the attic unlike the book. But you can take a peek up there if you'd like. But what he's really excited about is what the Adu means for his family.
Speaker 2: 01:35 My daughter is a teacher in her husband is a counselor. Their combined income is not enough to afford a home here. So they began to look at the Sacramento area as an alternative. Paul didn't want to drive that far to see any future grandkids, so he and Rosa made their daughter and offer. They would build an adu in the backyard where Daniella and her husband would live and pay rent and in the future, one potential is that my daughter and my son and I lived there for a number of years and then at some point they would move into our house in Rosa and I would move to the Adu. Paul wasn't sure how his daughter would react. The beams are a tight knit family, but nobody's dream home is their parents' backyard. I thought they'd want to deliberate and think about it and they practically spontaneously said that would be great. Back at the Atu, Paul tells me the family is making almost every design decision together down to the direction of the floorboards. Should they go horizontal or perpendicular to the front door. And uh, we took a vote and I was overruled. That's not the first time that's happened. They've made the bathroom wheelchair accessible with a grab bar for the shower. It's just good foresight I think at our apartment,
Speaker 4: 03:00 Paul's daughter Daniella told me she feels that tinge of guilt at the thought of her parents one day moving to the backyard. But Paul says he's looking forward to it.
Speaker 2: 03:07 What matters to me is family get togethers and so forth. So it may seem to you like this would be a problem area, but for me it's not,
Speaker 4: 03:18 especially if it means his grandchildren are in earshot of his jokes.
Speaker 1: 03:23 Joining me is reporter Matt Levin of Cal Matters. And Matt, welcome to the program. Thanks for having me. Now in the case of the beans, do they have a big backyard or is it a tight squeeze to get in this a d you this accessory dwelling unit, how much space do you need?
Speaker 4: 03:41 So their backyard is a pretty spacious backyard. They used to have a pretty full fledged garden where the Adu now stands. And if you are going to build an adu in your backyard, you're better off having a big one. Um, you know there are kind of smaller scale 80 use that you can build or you can even convert a garage if you don't have too much space in your backyard. And those units are often cheaper. But for the most part, you do need some space back there if you want to go this route.
Speaker 1: 04:10 Now these units used to be called granny flats, isn't that term used anymore?
Speaker 4: 04:15 So it is definitely still used, although arp would prefer that you not use it. They view it as kind of a, as a pejorative where it conjures an image of, oh, we're just going to take poor grandma and plop her in the backyard and forget about her for 10 years or whatever. Um, so their preferred Noman nomenclature is a ATU accessory dwelling unit or in law unit. They're trying to get away from granny flats.
Speaker 1: 04:40 How much red tape is involved in getting permits for these 80 years.
Speaker 4: 04:45 So it really depends on what city and or county you live in. Some are much easier to get permits and have much lower fees associated with use than others. San Diego actually has a pretty good reputation now, um, after state laws and local laws have changed, kind of facilitating the, the building of a to use other localities, not so much.
Speaker 1: 05:07 Well, besides providing a place for the adult kids or older parents, how else can d use be used? Can they be built and just be used as an additional rental unit on the property?
Speaker 4: 05:18 Yes, and a lot of older homeowners are using 80 use for just that reason. Let's say they're retired, they're on a fixed income social security, build an adu in the backyard and get some rental income to supplement your lifestyle.
Speaker 1: 05:34 Just adding an adu affect the property tax for the entire lot.
Speaker 4: 05:38 No, you only get charged additional property tax based on the additional value that the adu brings to your property, which is another reason why it's so enticing to older homeowners because of the way California does property taxes, they're going to be paying a steep property tax hype if they a new home.
Speaker 1: 05:59 Now I know there's been a boom in these adu, the Adu permits here in San Diego. Are there any statistics on how popular this idea is becoming across the state?
Speaker 4: 06:11 So there's not great data statewide on the number of 80 years that that are being built, but at the city level there's some decent data. San Diego seen a pretty big increase. San Jose, some other bay area suburbs have actually seen a pretty big increase. By far the biggest jump has happened in Los Angeles, the city of Los Angeles. So in 2018 they received 67 times as many applications for a to use as three years ago. There's a big boom going on there.
Speaker 1: 06:40 So our state officials actually hoping that these ads will make a big dent in California's housing shortage.
Speaker 4: 06:48 They are governor Gavin Newsome hopes to build 3.5 million units by 2025 that's the size of the state's housing shortage according to some state estimates when you talk to state lawmakers who are proponents of [inaudible], one of them told me, you can put me down for a cool million quote unquote. I think that's kind of a rosy estimate to be honest. But they, there's a lot of faith being put in eight to use as a potential solution to the housing crisis that doesn't engender the opposition from a lot of cities in homeowners that other solutions do.
Speaker 1: 07:23 Now you described the beams as a tight knit family. Is it fair to say though that this kind of set up might not work for everybody?
Speaker 4: 07:31 Yes, it would not work for me. Um, I kept prying and asking, aren't you guys going to get into conflicts over something, right? You living in the backyard and your, your parents living in the main house and then vice versa when this switch happens. And they were basically, they basically said, yeah, probably, but we really value family and we don't anticipate this being a huge problem for us. So I, I think it isn't a solution for everybody depending on how well your family kind of gets along. Um, but for those that do it for the beams, it, it seems to work.
Speaker 1: 08:10 I've been speaking with reporter Matt Levin of Cal Matters and Matt, thank you so much. Thank you. This story comes to us from our California dream collaboration. You can find out firstname.lastname@example.org.
Speaker 1: 00:00 Cities up and down the state are making changes to how they conduct local elections. Often prompted by lawsuits backed by the California Voting Rights Act Council members in all but five cities in San Diego county are now being elected by district instead of in city wide elections. The point is to increase diversity on city councils by giving minority populations a chance to elect someone who represents just their area. KPBS reporter Claire Treg us or talked with Douglas Johnson who runs a company called National Demographics Corporation that helps cities plan out who votes for which candidate. She started by asking if the change to district elections is making a difference in the diversity of the councils.
Speaker 2: 00:43 In most of them we've only had one election and the the districts work either two or three of the districts have an election one year and then the other two or three have an election in the next year or so. Roughly half of the districts have held an election and we haven't seen a big switch. I haven't gone back to vista which switched earlier than the others. I think that did increase the number looking nose there, but in pal may and in most of these cities we're not seeing any changes. Is that it's too soon to tell or we'll see how. It will be interesting to see how much change there is. We did a little look at the jurisdictions that switched in 2016 in 2017 when we went back because statewide there were 16 cities that have their first election in 2016 in 2018 there were about 80 so we have not been able to go back through all of them yet. Part of the challenges is that there were a few elections, there are more uncontested races when you have districts and so when we go back to look, there may have been an election, but it was uncontested so it's not in the registrar's reports and so we have to go through city by city and figure out all the details and that takes a lot of time.
Speaker 3: 01:50 Are there any trends that you're seeing across the state in terms of these switches and whether they're having any impact or not?
Speaker 2: 01:58 It's still somewhat anecdotal, but the jurisdictions where Maldef Racio you came in or a group like that, um, we do tend to see changes. The big one I was talking about his Mercy Ed. Um, if they didn't get a California button where it's like the letter, they almost certainly would have gotten a federal voter and sec letter. Uh, they literally are separate and half by a railroad and all the council members had always been north of the railroad, the heavily white area and half the population of south. So they split and elected three Latinos in the first election. So definitely we're seeing these kind of traditional voting rights situations where it makes a difference without a doubt. Then we have jurisdictions like Poway where citywide, the city was about 12% Latino and the most Latino district we could draw was up 15%. Well 12 to 15, you know, that's a margin of error change because probably doesn't have a heavily Latino neighborhood where we could draw a concert you'd seat so that green districts was never going to make a big difference in the representation or empower any traditionally underrepresented area. So we see unfortunately more of those. But that's not to ignore the fact that there are the Mercedes out there. Yeah.
Speaker 3: 03:10 So it sounds like for switching to district elections to make a difference, the city needs to have some diversity in in the first place. Maybe
Speaker 2: 03:20 interestingly, it actually needs to be, yes, diverse but a pocket. It has to be kind of geographically concentrated. So what we see in places like Encinitas, like Poway is diverse populations, but without the traditional housing segregation that historically has been the pattern in California. And so when we draw districts, we can't draw a concentrated African American or Latino or Asian American seat. And that's what's really needed is both a diverse population but still somewhat housing segregated. So that with a lock off geographically concentrated populations can be drawn into a district.
Speaker 3: 03:57 Are there other factors that determine, you know, whether making the switch to district elections will make it more successful in increasing diversity?
Speaker 2: 04:08 A big part of it is if the push comes from the local community. One of the things that's often forgotten by kind of the gadfly types at these district meetings is that districts, you just the first step, you still didn't have to win the election. So for example, in Modesto, which had a multimillion dollar lawsuit, $5 million spent on both sides in this lawsuit, the court ordered in a district map and know Latina ran, well one ran, but he was just out of the navy and he, he had a myspace page. There was half. Why low Sandra Bullock movies and half why I'm running for city council, no grass roots community, you know, candidate ran the one who are thought we'd run and forgot to file a, he missed the deadline. So it is very much needing to be know local activists, grassroots folks who will both push for districts and carry that forward into the campaign.
Speaker 2: 05:02 Kind of like what we saw in Anaheim, Anaheim, you had uh, a very grassroots movement that pushed very hard for districts, got districts and then transition right in the campaign. And those folks became the volunteers and the candidate when we're getting these kind of like on carpet bomb. The letters coming in and just hitting every, every letter. There's no grass roots, there's no community involvement. Sometimes a little bit springs up around the issue, but not enough to run a campaign on. And that's where we kind of see the falling down of even if you get a stronger Latino seat, you still don't have the campaign based, the volunteers, the candidate and the network.
Speaker 3: 05:39 Can we consider a couple other local examples including Elica home? Can you, can you talk about what happened when they switched?
Speaker 2: 05:47 Yeah. El Cahone was kind of a fascinating process because it's really a community, uh, spring in the Middle Eastern community really just starting to, they were very effective. They actually didn't get the math they wanted, but they got a map that was still very friendly to the community. And I'll be curious to see affection, not getting the math they really wanted, fires them up even more and carries that momentum into the campaigns. Um, El Cahone has that odd structure where there's one district of one year and three districts up the other year, and then the mayor's, uh, separate at large. So there one district wasn't the Middle Eastern area in 2020 it will be when the test really comes for if that grassroots activism turns into campaign activism and all the signs are that it will just the fact that it was not one or two people claiming to speak for the community.
Speaker 2: 06:42 It was, you know, 60 or 80 people from the community showing up. Um, you know, translator's translating for folks that were new immigrants that didn't speak English, um, and the sophistication and their pitches actually drawing a map, getting it. So it was a legal map and having a series of presenters presented and they focus a lot on what were the community centers. You know, they didn't talk about candidates and no one ever does and these presentations, but all signs are that they have thought that through and, and a half in mind, probably multiple candidates who will run for that seat or this layering of shots at two seats and the map that ultimately got adopted. And what about a Escondido? Can you talk about that example as well? Yeah, that was kind of a wild one. Uh, in making their transition. They were before we had the rules that we have now we have the California Voting Rights Act, but not what we call ab three 50, which created this, send a letter, hold five hearings process.
Speaker 2: 07:44 So back then there was a lawsuit, a settlement, the creation of this somewhat unusual independent commission. They had adopted a map and then the map didn't work. You know, if you look at the precinct election results, the Latino candidate won every precinct in that district except one. But the incumbent, Mr Gallow one that one precinct by such a huge margin that he overcame his loss and all the other precincts. That's not what we tried to do our map. So we'll do that one precinct should not have been in there. Then we saw this year in Escondido where the challenges presented by how the map was drawn. We're overwhelmed by the, by the general wave, a democratic wave and, and in Escondido Latino wave that propel ability now in that seat. So we'd showed both the districts by themselves are not always the, the, the complete answer and that we have to be careful how we draw those districts as well.
Speaker 1: 08:44 That was Douglas Johnson, who runs a company called National Demographics Corporation speaking to Kpbs reporter Claire Traeger. Sir.