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How Growing Carrots Almost Got Me Arrested

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Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

All I wanted was healthy food options and organic fruits and vegetables for my family, my neighbors, and myself

In 2003, long before a warrant was issued for my arrest for the crime of planting vegetables, I remember going to a store in South Central L.A. and picking up some tomatoes. The stickers on them read: “Coated with shellac.” That’s when it really hit me.

There was a complete lack of healthy food in my community. Growing up in South Central L.A., we had restaurants where you could sit down. But some time in the late ’70s or early ’80s, those places shut down and were replaced by fast food joints. Later, when I was raising my kids, I used to drive damn near an hour round-trip to places like Culver City to find fruits and vegetables that hadn’t been grown with pesticides.

I wanted to change all of that. I wanted to rid the streets of trash. And I wanted healthy food options and organic fruits and vegetables for my family, my neighbors, and myself.

So, in 2010, I planted towering sunflowers, kale, and pomegranates in the 10-foot-wide, 150-foot-long parkway in front of my house—the space between the curb and the sidewalk.

That same year, I founded a group with like-minded people who wanted to grow and share their own food and show others how to do it. It’s our responsibility—if we want to change our neighborhoods, it has to come from within.

We started planting gardens around the neighborhood and in peoples’ yards for free. But I learned the drawbacks. When people get something—like food in their garden—without having to do the work themselves, they don’t assign such things the same value. Unfortunately, we found that a lot of the gardens we planted weren’t being maintained.

Then, in May 2011, I got a citation to remove my garden from the city’s Bureau of Street Services—it said that, since the city has jurisdiction over parkways, I had two options: clear the “overgrown vegetation” or purchase a $400 permit. I didn’t do either, of course. The citation turned into a warrant. I got an arrest warrant for beautifying my street—a warrant for planting a carrot!

My first thought was: Bring it. There was no healthy food in the neighborhood—and those parkways were the only land where people could grow food. Plus no one was being cited for the discarded old toilets, couches and used condoms on the street—but I got a citation for bringing nature, beauty, pride, art, and a sense of peace and calm to the neighborhood. It just made no sense.

But the police never came for me. The warrant was suspended. Over the summer, LA Times columnist Steve Lopez got interested and wrote about the garden. There was a petition started in support. Then Councilman Herb Wesson got involved. In 2013, the L.A. City Council voted to change the law—it is now legal to grow food on your parkway in Los Angeles.

There has been a shift in the paradigm. Now the city is encouraging more green spaces and there are plans to utilize its 26 square miles of vacant lots to benefit underserved communities—to turn them into green space and urban farms.

The last few years have been incredible. I’ve had the opportunity to travel to the world to speak publicly, including a talk I gave in 2013 at a big TED conference that has more than two million views to date.

The message is getting out. People across L.A. (and around the world) are planting gardens at home, in schools and businesses.

These days, I’m focusing on raising funds for the Ron Finley Project, a plan to acquire an acre of land in South Central L.A. behind the city’s oldest operating library and turn it into an urban garden oasis. When it’s done, the Vermont Square library garden will consist of a greenhouse, a café in a shipping container, and a community garden where people can grow, exchange, and sell their food at a bi-weekly food stand. We’ll also offer classes and a program to use the thousands of pounds of fruit from people’s yards that go to waste each year.

Once we’re done transforming South Central L.A., the next move is to transform the world.

Ron Finley, who was raised in South Central, started a horticultural revolution. Ron spends most of his time working on changing an unjust food system by showing people the art of growing their own food. His message is simple: “Change your food, change your life!” He wrote this for Thinking L.A., a partnership of UCLA and Zocalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Infectious Disease

California Lawmakers Move to End Exemptions for Measles Vaccine

Carmen Lopez, Charles Goodman
Damian Dovarganes—AP Pediatrician Dr. Charles Goodman talks with Carmen Lopez, who is holding her 18-month-old son Daniel after being vaccinated with the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, at his practice in Northridge, Calif., on Jan. 29, 2015

More than a hundred people have been infected in a recent measles outbreak.

Lawmakers in California have moved to end parents’ right to exempt their children from school vaccinations based on personal beliefs.

The state senators said Thursday that they planned to introduce the legislation to make California the 33rd state to bar the exemption, Reuters reports.

More than 100 people have been infected with the measles in a recent outbreak partially linked to Disney California Adventure Park in Anaheim, Calif. Most of those infected were unvaccinated.

“The high number of unvaccinated students is jeopardizing public health not only in schools but in the broader community,” state Senator Ben Allen said in a written statement. He is co-sponsoring the legislation along with fellow Democrat Richard Pan. “We need to take steps to keep our schools safe and our students healthy.”

[Reuters]

TIME 2016 Election

Can Antonio Villaraigosa Become California’s Next Senator?

Antonio Villaraigosa
Richard Shotwell—Invision/AP Antonio Villaraigosa arrives at the 2013 MOCA Gala on April 20, 2013 in Los Angeles.

The former Los Angeles mayor is getting closer to taking on Kamala Harris in the 2016 race

Almost as soon as California Attorney General Kamala Harris announced her candidacy for the U.S. Senate in 2016, Democratic power brokers from Sacramento to Washington lined up to endorse her. Meanwhile, potential challengers including billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer and the state’s lieutenant governor, Gavin Newsom, said they wouldn’t run for the seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Barbara Boxer. But one faction in the Democratic establishment wasn’t quite ready for a Harris coronation. This group, made up of Latino political leaders, was electrified by another potential choice: former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Villaraigosa said he was “seriously a considering” a run on Jan. 10, and political consultants who have spoken with him since say it’s likely he will jump in. Should Villaraigosa run and win, he would become the first Latino senator from California and could be the only Mexican-American in the chamber, making him a key player on issues such as immigration. And given the powerful roles California senators tend to play inside the Beltway and the attention this race is expected to attract, the winner is likely to arrive in Washington with a high national profile.

But Villaraigosa faces tough questions as he decides whether to take on Harris, a popular attorney general with a broad fundraising network, including whether he has enough appeal outside his home territory of Southern California, and if voters will understand his decision to leave public service in 2012 to enter the private sector.

Villaraigosa chaired the 2012 Democratic National Convention and has the connections to raise the huge sums needed to run for statewide office in California, which has some of the most expensive media markets in the country. “It could easily be a $15 million primary,” says Rose Kapolczynski, a Los Angeles-based Democratic consultant and longtime campaign manager for Boxer. Here, Villaraigosa and Harris would be courting many of the same wealthy contributors. “There are only so many progressive donors in California and Kamala Harris and Antonio Villaraigosa share many of the same donors from their past races,” says Kapolczynski. (And thanks to California’s overwhelming Democratic slant and unusual election rules, which put the top two vote getters in the primary on the general election ballot, regardless of party, Villaraigosa and Harris could end up running against each other again in the fall.)

In addition to two high-profile terms as mayor of Los Angeles, Villaraigosa is a former speaker of the state Assembly and is relatively well-known throughout the state, particularly among Latino voters. “He’s going to have to be taken seriously,” says Tom Hogen-Esch, a political science professor at California State University, Northridge. “He’s got a long Rolodex and a long history in state politics and he can still command the stage.”

Harris, while popular among Democratic leaders, may have less name recognition outside the Bay Area. “I don’t think very many people know much about her,” Hogen-Esch says. “She’ll have to raise a lot of money to introduce herself to voters.”

As he contemplates a run, Villaraigosa has been calling and meeting with Democratic strategists, leaders and donors throughout the state. “He routinely reaches out to a wide circle to get advice about policy and politics. I’m not at all surprised he is calling dozens or hundreds of people,” says Kapolczynski “Some of these calls might be asking for advice, some might be taking the donors’ temperature.”

But despite his traction with voters and donors, Villaraigosa is not without flaws and vulnerabilities—some of them personal. During his first term as mayor, Villaraigosa had an affair with a Los Angeles television reporter and separated from his wife. They later divorced. The incident came years after Villaraigosa admitted to an earlier affair. Villaraigosa has also spent his recent time out of office consulting for for-profit companies, including Herbalife, which a Latino civil rights group has accused of misleading those who sell the company’s products. But the biggest downside of Villaraigosa’s time out of office may be simply that he’s been out of the news and out of the minds of voters. Harris, meanwhile, was just re-elected to statewide office in a landslide.

And beyond Harris and Villaraigosa, other viable candidates are also reportedly considering entering the race, including U.S. Reps. Xavier Becerra, Adam Schiff and Loretta Sanchez. For Villaraigosa, the decision is weighty. Losing the race would likely prevent him from running for governor in 2018 or, should Sen. Dianne Feinstein, 81, choose to retire, seeking the state’s other Senate seat that same year.

“When you lose,” says Hogen-Esch, “you get some chinks in your armor.”

TIME Infectious Disease

Feds Say Measles Outbreak Tops 100 Cases

Carmen Lopez, Charles Goodman
Damian Dovarganes—AP Pediatrician Dr. Charles Goodman talks with Carmen Lopez, who is holding her 18-month-old son Daniel after being vaccinated with the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, at his practice in Northridge, Calif., on Jan. 29, 2015

The majority of people with the disease were not vaccinated

The number of measles cases in the U.S. has reached 102, according to new numbers released on Monday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Between Jan. 1 to Jan. 30, 102 cases of the measles were reported to the CDC from 14 different states. The majority of the cases are from an ongoing outbreak linked to Disney California Adventure Park in Anaheim, Calif. The CDC says the majority of people who got measles were unvaccinated.

“It’s only January and we have already had a very large number of measles cases — as many cases as we have all year in typical years,” Dr. Anne Schuchat, the assistant surgeon general, U.S. Public Health Service said in a press conference last Thursday. “This worries me, and I want to do everything possible to prevent measles from getting a foothold in the United States and becoming endemic again.”

Medical officials have not yet determined how this year’s outbreak began, but the CDC says measles were likely brought over by travelers from overseas. The people infected in the current outbreak have exposed others at the amusement park as well as schools, day cares, emergency departments, airplanes and outpatient clinics, the CDC says. In 2014, the U.S. had the highest number of measles cases reported in over 20 years, at over 600 cases.

The U.S. declared measles eliminated in the country in 2000, meaning it was no longer a disease native to the U.S. Strong immunization rates will keep it that way, which makes parents who do not vaccinate their children a concern to health officials.

A recent poll showed 92% of physicians believe the current outbreak is directly attributable to parents not vaccinating their kids, and 72% believe unvaccinated kids should not be allowed in public schools.

The measles vaccine, called MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella), is nearly 100% effective at preventing measles, which is a highly contagious disease. In kids measles can cause serious complications like pneumonia, long-term brain damage and deafness.

The CDC recommends all kids get two doses of MMR vaccine; the first at age 12 through 15 months and the second at 4 through 6 years. Adults who are unsure whether they got the vaccine should get one, says the agency, since there is no harm in getting it a second time. On Friday, the White House urged parents to listen to health professionals on vaccinations.

Read next: Christie Says Parents Should Have a Choice on Measles Vaccine

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

MONEY Shopping

Girl Scouts Raise Cookie Prices

Ashley Rubin, 9, holds a sign during Girl Scout Troop 582's cookie training session at Beach Vineyard Church in Panama City Beach, Florida, 2015.
Heather Leiphart—AP Ashley Rubin, 9, holds a sign during Girl Scout Troop 582's cookie training session at Beach Vineyard Church in Panama City Beach, Florida, 2015.

Stocking up on your favorite Thin Mints and Samoas could put a bigger dent in your wallet this year.

Five bucks for a box of Thin Mints? That’s how much Girl Scout cookie fans will pay in some regions of California, up from $4 a year ago. In parts of the South, prices will rise to $4 a box from $3.50.

As cookie-selling season gets under way, Girl Scout councils in San Diego, Orange County, and Greater Los Angeles are hiking prices for the first time in a decade. The increase will bring more money into local scout troops—about 27% more per box by their estimates, the WSJ reports. Each council sets prices in its own region (in the New York area, prices are staying at $4.)

In March, the Girl Scouts announced that they were taking cookie sales online. It also introduced three new flavors for 2015. This latest change is attributed to increased prices charged by the baker (up 19%) and higher operating costs (up 28%), according to a statement from the Greater Los Angeles Council.

Price hike or no, the Girl Scouts say you’re still getting a bargain. At the local rate of inflation, a box of cookies should actually cost $5.84.

TIME Environment

California Let Oil Companies Contaminate Water, Report Says

'If there are wells having a direct impact on drinking water, we need to shut them down now'

California state regulators allowed oil companies to dispose of wastewater in clean groundwater supplies for years, according to a new report.

The San Francisco Chronicle, citing a review of state data, reports that oil companies built more than 170 waste-disposal wells feeding into bodies of groundwater that could otherwise have been used for drinking or irrigation during one of the area’s worst droughts in centuries. The wells are primarily located in the state’s agricultural Central Valley region, which was particularly devastated by the drought.

“If there are wells having a direct impact on drinking water, we need to shut them down now,” said Jared Bluemnfeld, regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency. “Safe drinking water is only going to become more in demand.”

Read more at the Chronicle

TIME Infectious Disease

The Disneyland Measles Outbreak Likely Came From Overseas

Mickey Mouse performing during a parade at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., Jan. 22, 2015.
Jae C. Hong—AP Mickey Mouse performing during a parade at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., Jan. 22, 2015.

Health professionals say the outbreak highlights the need for childhood vaccinations

An outbreak of measles that began in California’s Disneyland is likely to have come from overseas, health officials said Thursday.

The highly infectious disease was probably carried into the U.S. by a foreign tourist or an American returning home, NBC News reports.

Ninety-four people have now been infected with measles across eight states; 67 of those cases are linked to the Disneyland park.

“We don’t know exactly how this outbreak started but we do think it was likely a person infected with measles overseas,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Schuchat says the reason for the outbreak is because people are failing to get vaccinated.

[NBC]

TIME Infectious Disease

The City of Phoenix Is Monitoring a Thousand People for Measles

The unvaccinated among them are being asked to stay home for 21 days

Health staff in Arizona are monitoring 1,000 people, including around 200 children, who could have been exposed to measles at the Phoenix Children’s East Valley Center after a woman who visited the medical facility came down with the disease.

The woman is thought to have contracted the illness from members of a family from Pinal County who had visited the Disneyland theme park in California, the Associated Press reports. After California, Arizona has the highest measles incidence related to the recent outbreak at Disney parks, and the fear is that the outbreak could now increase dramatically.

As a public-health precaution, officials are asking all unvaccinated individuals in the group being monitored to remain homebound for a 21-day observation period, or at the very least don face masks if they venture outside.

“To stay in your house for 21 days is hard,” said State Health Services director Will Humble. “But we need people to follow those recommendations, because all it takes is a quick trip to the Costco before you’re ill and, bam, you’ve just exposed a few hundred people. We’re at a real critical juncture with the outbreak.”

Authorities are currently trying to track everyone who visited the Phoenix Children’s East Valley Center from Jan. 20 to 21. The number of unvaccinated people who may have entered the center during that time remains unknown.

[AP]

 

TIME Infectious Disease

A California High School Suspended 66 Kids Over Measles Fears

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School districts are grappling over whether to make vaccination a condition of enrollment

A two-week suspension for 66 high school students who have not been fully immunized for measles has been handed down by a California high school.

The move comes after one student was believed to have exposed 20 others to the highly contagious disease during a school field trip.

That student is being allowed to return to the Palm Desert High School according to the Los Angeles Times, and the suspended students can return to school earlier if they provide proof of immunization or are medically cleared by the Riverside County Public Health Department.

“We are simply responding, being very careful and making sure we’re taking the best care of students and staff,” Desert Sands Unified School District spokeswoman Mary Perry told Reuters.

School districts are grappling with the decision of whether or not to require students to prove they have been vaccinated before enrollment.

The homegrown measles virus, which causes rash and fever, was eliminated from the U.S. in 2000. Its reappearance and subsequent surge has created concerns over parents who do not have their children vaccinated because of fears of negative side effects.

California and the surrounding states, plus Mexico, have reported over 90 cases of measles from an outbreak that is believed to have originated in Disneyland in mid-December.

[Los Angeles Times]

TIME Health Care

California Says E-Cigarettes a Health Risk

TIME.com stock photos E-Cig Electronic Cigarette Smoke
Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME

Department of health advises Californians to stay away from e-cigs

The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) has come out against electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes), releasing a new report on Wednesday outlining their risks.

“E-cigarettes contain nicotine and other harmful chemicals, and the nicotine in them is as addictive as the nicotine in cigarettes,” CDPH director and state health officer Dr. Ron Chapman said in a statement about his report. “There is a lot of misinformation about e-cigarettes. That is why, as the state’s health officer, I am advising Californians to avoid the use of e-cigarettes and keep them away from children of all ages.”

The news comes as the California state legislature considers a ban on the devices in public places, as well as new measures against selling them to minors.

According to CDPH, e-cig use among Californians aged 18 to 29 has gone up from 2.3% in 2012 to 7.6% in 2013 and young adults in California are three times more like to use e-cigs than people over age 30. California poison centers are also seeing an increase in calls related to exposures to the liquids inside e-cigarettes. Calls increased from 19 in 2012 to 243 in 2014.

MORE: What to Know About the Science of E-Cigarettes

Nationwide, similar increases are being observed, with data from the 2013 National Youth Tobacco Survey showing that the percentage of middle school and high school students who have tried e-cigarettes doubled from 3.3% in 2011 to 6.8% in 2012.

The new report touches on the harm to brain development from exposure to nicotine during adolescence; dangerous chemicals found in some e-cigarette aerosol; and the fact that e-cigs are not FDA-approved devices for smoking cessation.

The report can be added to a growing amount of data on the risks and potential benefits of e-cigarettes. Earlier this month, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that e-cigarettes may be producing harmful chemicals known to cause cancer in humans.

You can read the full report, here.

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