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‘The marriage is not working well’: Malibu and Santa Monica’s ugly school district divorce

Rocky cliffs loom over the beach at Point Dume State Preserve
Point Dume State Preserve is part of Point Dume State Beach in Malibu.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Wednesday, Sept. 1. I’m Justin Ray.

There have been many notable breakups in history: Kimye. Brangelina. Bennifer (though that one seems to be having a reboot). And now, Santa Monica and Malibu (Santibu? Malimonica?) seem to be headed in that direction.

The two cities that make up the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District want a divorce. Malibu has a secession plan heading to a key public hearing in September. If it is approved, the city would use its own property taxes to pay for its schools, would share some of those riches with Santa Monica for a decade, then cut off its former partner.

“It has come to the point where everybody feels it is best to be separate, because there is just so much history,” said Santa Monica-Malibu Supt. Ben Drati. “The marriage is not working well. We just need to be able to divide the funding so no one’s harmed.”

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Malibu has been wanting out for a while. It wants control over how money is spent on education programs and teachers, and over what courses Malibu high school students are offered. And it wants the ability to create a safety plan that accounts for the community’s particular disasters of fire, flood and mudslide.

But district divorce is easier said than done. Some in the past have been successful, but many have failed. For example, in the early 1990s, voters in three South Bay cities — Manhattan Beach, Redondo Beach and Hermosa Beach — approved an effort to reorganize. Carson, on the other hand, jumped through various procedural hoops in its effort to separate from the Los Angeles Unified School District only to have its plan rejected by voters in 2001.

The Times just published a lengthy story about the breakup. Reporter Maria L. La Ganga lays out the key points of contention and what might happen should the two split. You can read it all here: “Santa Monica vs. Malibu: A messy school district divorce over money and who gets the kids.”

And now, here’s what’s happening across California.

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A quick reminder: We published a voter’s guide to help you make your voice heard in the gubernatorial recall election.

More than 80% of eligible Californians have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, a milestone Gov. Gavin Newsom characterized as a “momentous occasion.” That level of vaccine coverage among residents 12 and older ranks ninth out of all states, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. States with even higher rates are mostly in New England, as well as Hawaii and New Mexico. Los Angeles Times

A nurse in protective gear gives a COVID-19 vaccine
Registered nurse Priscilla V. gives a COVID-19 vaccination to Dean Iida, 17, a senior at Eagle Rock High School.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
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Two California families who were in Afghanistan remain missing. Six families from the San Diego County city of El Cajon have made it safely out of Afghanistan but the whereabouts of two other families remain unclear. The last U.S. planes departed about midnight Monday, marking the end of a massive airlift in which tens of thousands of people fled Afghanistan. Los Angeles Times

L.A. STORIES

How L.A. County COVID rules could adversely affect USC and UCLA football teams. After a difficult year disrupted by stringent restrictions and ever-changing protocols, the promise of a college football season largely unburdened by the pandemic was a powerful incentive as USC urged its football players to get the COVID-19 vaccine this summer. That remained the case as the program saw its vaccination rate climb past 90% in late July. But in the weeks between, as the Delta variant picked up steam across the country, assurances of a less restrictive season for vaccinated players began to evaporate. Los Angeles Times

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POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT

Democratic lawmakers have dropped a controversial proposal to mandate vaccines in the state, a move that would have been challenging to pass in the final weeks of the legislative session and was already providing fodder for the upcoming gubernatorial recall election. Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland) said she will not pursue the proposal this year after drafts of her bill were leaked last week, saying she needed more time to craft “the strongest bill possible.” But dropping the proposal before the Legislature adjourns next week effectively leaves the decision to the governor, who could impose a vaccine mandate on his own to help protect the state from a fall and winter surge. Los Angeles Times

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Kevin Faulconer has the resumé. But can a ‘vanilla’ Republican win the California recall race? Faulconer, the former mayor of San Diego, is the most experienced politician heading into the Sept. 14 recall. But Faulconer is still struggling to break out of a pack of 46 candidates despite being considered the GOP’s best shot at winning statewide office after a 15-year drought. It’s been hard for moderates such as Faulconer to gain traction in this campaign driven by extremes. Los Angeles Times

CRIME AND COURTS

‘I’m certainly alarmed’: The California Community Colleges system is investigating potentially widespread fraud involving fake “bot students” enrolled in active courses in what officials suspect is a scam to obtain financial aid or COVID-19 relief grants. The 116-campus system is beefing up internal reporting and security measures after finding that 20% of recent traffic on its main portal for online applications was “malicious and bot-related,” according to a memo. Los Angeles Times

Graduating students are shown in caps and gowns.
An unknown number of “bot accounts” have affected the state’s community colleges.
(AFP via Getty Images)

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HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT

As the Caldor fire closes in on Lake Tahoe, crews scramble to prevent a worst-case scenario. It was a moment officials hoped would never come: The mass evacuation of South Lake Tahoe in the face of a rapidly approaching wildfire. Whether the Caldor fire reaches the famed resort town remains to be seen, and firefighters are working fast. But the strong winds moving into the area — along with the severe dryness of the state’s terrain — are a recipe for catastrophe. The evacuation comes amid a summer of extreme fire behavior, as heat, drought and wind stoke flames and strain the state’s firefighting capabilities. Los Angeles Times

Several major California law enforcement agencies are reporting COVID-19 vaccination rates that are significantly lower than those of the general population. Additionally, seven state prisons have disclosed that less than a third of their officers are vaccinated. The California prison system has suffered repeated COVID-19 outbreaks that have so far infected nearly 50,000 people behind bars, resulting in 235 deaths. The Guardian

California’s iconic trees are casualties in the war on fire. The U.S. Forest Service and Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration say cutting down and removing standing dead trees, known as “snags,” as well as living trees in overgrown stands is crucial to preventing catastrophic wildfires. Chad Hanson, a 54-year-old anti-logging activist, is not a fan. He compares such operations to strip mining. “They’re clearcutting this snag forest,” he says bitterly, “destroying all the natural regeneration and hauling the wood to a biomass facility to incinerate it for energy production, like the trees were coal.” San Diego Union-Tribune

CALIFORNIA CULTURE

L.A. Times Book Club event. The legions of firefighters battling runaway wildfires in California include the growing ranks of women inmates from state prisons. In her new book, “Breathing Fire,” journalist Jaime Lowe takes readers to California’s fire lines through the experiences of the inmates who volunteer for intense fire training and put their lives on the line. Lowe joins The Times’ Book Club on Sept. 28 to discuss the work with columnist Erika D. Smith. Los Angeles Times

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CALIFORNIA ALMANAC

Los Angeles: Overcast, 79. San Diego: 74. San Francisco: Overcast, 65. A great day for Ghirardelli chocolate. San Jose: 76. Fresno: Say hello to yeehaw corgi. Sunny, 95. Sacramento: 82.

AND FINALLY

Today’s California memory is from Darlene Salmon:

The summer before our senior year of high school in 1971, my girlfriends and I vowed we would go to the beach every day until school started. One friend drove the family station wagon and would pick us up at our houses at 10 a.m. and we’d head to La Jolla Shores. We would stay all day, sunbathing, swimming, listening to music and hanging out on the sand. We’d head home about 4 p.m. and stop at A&W Root Beer and get root beer floats. We didn’t make it to the beach every day that summer but we made it most days. It was a glorious way to spend that golden summer.

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If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments to essentialcalifornia@latimes.com.


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