Pushing New Bill, Barbara Boxer Slams Anti-Vaccination Parents

By Doug Oakley
EMERYVILLE -- Sen. Barbara Boxer pummeled parents who refuse to vaccinate their children during a tour of a YMCA Head Start school Wednesday where she promoted her bill requiring children in the program nationwide to be immunized. 

Boxer made the comments in the midst of a national measles outbreak that started in California. She criticized parents who are not vaccinating their children because of unfounded concerns spread by people outside the medical establishment. 

"All I'm saying is, we have doctors we can trust and you should listen to them and not some quack who comes up with a theory that is disproven," Boxer said. "I say to all those people who have a theory that has been disproven, you are not acting in the right way for your family or for society. People don't understand how dangerous this disease is. It blows my mind. You are not only endangering your child, but others and that is not right." 

Last week Boxer introduced the Head Start on Vaccinations Act with Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto. She chose the Emeryville Head Start program to advertise the bill she introduced Feb. 12 because of the program's 100 percent immunization rate, she said. 

"We're not forcing anybody to get vaccinated," Boxer said. "If you want to get into Head Start and you don't want to get vaccinated, bye, bye, go somewhere else." 

Head Start has about 1 million preschoolers in the federally funded program that gets kids ready for kindergarten. 

Boxer was joined by state Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, who will introduce a law Thursday abolishing the state's personal belief exemption that allows parents to avoid vaccinations when they enter public schools. 

This year, the measles outbreak has affected 113 people in California and 143 nationwide, according to the California Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Last year, there were 644 cases of measles nationwide, a huge spike from the 200 or so reported in 2013. Officials are blaming the spike partly on parents who are afraid the vaccinations cause autism and other dangerous side effects and partly on parents who just don't know it's important to be immunized. 

While last year's measles numbers were a huge increase compared to the year before and 2015 is off to a fast start, the outbreak is small so far compared to a three-year epidemic that started in 1989. That one peaked in 1991 with 27,672 cases, according to the CDC. 

Pan, a pediatrician, said he was working in Philadelphia that year when 900 cases were reported and six children died, many because their parents did not believe in vaccinations. 

He also criticized those who are afraid of getting their children vaccinated. Since they have had no experience with the disease, they are not afraid of it, he said. 

"Vaccines have become a victim of their own success because people have not seen the lives they save," Pan said. "There have been people who have shared misinformation about vaccinations. You can look on the Internet and see someone who says 'look at all these dangerous things vaccines can do,' but it's not true." 

Pan said in the most recent outbreak, one in five have been hospitalized and 10 infants under age 1 have gotten it because they are not old enough to be vaccinated. The death rate, he said, is 1 in 1,000. 

The fear or ignorance of vaccines runs especially deep in the Bay Area. Almost 5,000 kindergartners enrolled in Bay Area schools are without proof they've been fully vaccinated, according to the state Department of Public Health. 

And a study using Kaiser records found an East Bay cluster in El Cerrito, Berkeley, Oakland and Alameda in which parents rejected vaccines for 10.2 percent of children. 

By comparison, there was a 2.6 percent rate of vaccine refusal among Kaiser Northern California members outside of these clusters. 

Boxer said California should not have a personal exemption. 

"Refusing to vaccinate not only puts your own family at risk, but it endangers other families as well," Boxer said. 

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Fresh Food: Urban Farms Growing in West Oakland

By Doug Oakley
OAKLAND -- In most places in West Oakland, it's easier to get a 40-ounce bottle of beer and a candy bar than a fresh tomato. 

But urban gardens and small farms are experiencing a growth spurt on vacant lots and backyards, the product of a slow but persistent effort to bring in more fruits and vegetables to a vast food desert and teach people much needed business skills and healthy eating. 

"It's no secret that West Oakland is one of the premier food deserts in the city," said Bennie Patterson, community programs manager at Alternative in Action's McClymonds Youth and Family Center, which reopened a school garden at McClymonds High School this month. "It's difficult for students to go to one of these corner stores and have access to quality produce. They should have as much access as anyone else." 

The relaunched school garden, which started in 2009 and died out after a key staff member left the school, now grows pumpkins, herbs, scallions, tomatoes, kale, bell peppers and zucchini. 

Patterson said students work in the garden and learn concepts like "tomatoes don't just come from Safeway." The food it produces is distributed free to students, parents and staff whenever there is a harvest, he said. 

Probably the largest growing concern in West Oakland is City Slicker Farms, which is breaking ground next month on a $5 million public park and farm at Helen and Peralta streets, courtesy of a grant from the state of California. 

The organization has been growing food at a variety of borrowed locations and selling it on a sliding scale for 14 years now and building backyard gardens -- 250 free of charge so far -- for area residents. 

After years of moving from one plot to the next as arrangements changed, the organization will have a permanent grow space it will call the West Oakland Urban Farm and Park on a 1.4 acre lot. 

Funded with a $4 million grant and donations, the site will include a kids play area, a grass field, a picnic area, farm stand and a community garden that will allow it to double its current harvest to about 20,000 pounds of food a year. 

"The park is going to be a part of everyone's lives here," said Ariel Dekovic, interim executive director of City Slicker Farms. "You'll be a kid going to the park and there will be a food forest there. That's what excites me about that site." 

Dekovic said the park is slated for completion at the end of this year. Organizers still need to raise another $500,000, but will begin construction with the money they already have. 

Patricia Johnson, executive director of Game Theory Academy which launched in 2009, said her two plots of land in West Oakland produce flowers and vegetables that students sell to restaurants and florists. 

The idea of running the two farms -- one at 7th and Peralta streets and one at Wood and 16th streets -- is not so much to get fresh produce to the people of West Oakland, but to educate youth on how to become business people. Along the way, students learn the importance of access to fresh produce. 

"We call our farms a laboratory for job skills," said Johnson, who works with about 30 high school kids a year. "They learn the importance of showing up to work on time, filling out a time sheet, communicating professionally with adults, reading marketing plans and filling out invoices. It's also about financial and economic literacy, money management and strategic thinking." 

Another garden that sprouted last fall at 7th and Campbell streets is the Oakland & The World Enterprises project run by Elaine Brown, a former Black Panther Party leader who works for Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson. 

Brown is renting a three-quarter-acre lot from the city of Oakland for $1,100 a month, she said. 

That project currently employs formerly incarcerated area residents at $20 an hour to grow vegetables and flowers that they sell to restaurants and florists. She has been selling beats, kale, lettuce and onions to Pic├ín restaurant and selling the flowers to Everett and Jones barbecue. 

"While we figure out what to do with the rest of the property we have a deal with the Oakland Food Pantry to distribute free food," Brown said. 

Carson has funded the project to the tune of $350,000, he said. But that is just a "drop in the bucket," for the bigger plans Brown has for the site. 

She wants to build affordable housing for people coming out of prison and open a grocery store, a shoe and clothing manufacturing business and maybe a juice bar; a place where former prisoners can live and work. 

"There is no real pathway for people coming out of the joint," Brown said. "You come out, get $200 and good luck. If you are black and have a sixth-grade education and you come out of prison, you can kiss your life goodbye. You are not going to get a job." 

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