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An aerial view of the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico after one of the main cables holding the receiver broke on December 1, 2020. (Ricardo ArduengoAFP via Getty Images)

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Much like the Arecibo Observatory (picture above), the Keep L.A. Dining website suffered a catastrophic failure this week. While the research facility in Puerto Rico had been operating for nearly 60 years before a 900-ton equipment platform collapsed, the restaurant relief website crashed barely an hour after launching.

As of Friday at 5 p.m., the COVID-19 relief site was still down and a spokesperson for the Los Angeles County Development Authority had no estimate of when it would be back up and running.

The Keep L.A. Dining program, announced earlier this week, gives $30,000 to brick-and-mortar restaurants that meet certain criteria. But the funds are limited.

LACDA, which is overseeing the program, said the number of applications would be capped at 2,500 and the agency would start accepting them at 12:01 a.m. on Thursday, Dec. 3.

So at midnight, restaurant owners -- 6,000 of them, according to LACDA -- dutifully tried to log in and fill out their applications. They were met with buffering issues, sessions that timed out and website crashes.

Matt Glassman, who owns ETA and The Greyhound Bar & Grill, described the process as "absolutely soul-crushing."

According to LACDA, more than 300 applicants were able to register but only two were able to submit full applications.

A LACDA spokesperson says, "The portal was overwhelmed due to the surge of thousands of applicants."

The agency says it is "pivoting to an alternate portal and will adjust the timing of the [site's] reopening," suggesting the new portal won't launch at midnight. But who knows?

When the new Keep L.A. Dining portal launches, it will continue taking applications until the 2,500 cap is reached. No word on when that will happen but given how much restaurants are struggling during the coronavirus pandemic, it's a safe bet that site will also be flooded with applicants.


Elina Shatkin 6,000 users logged on, hoping to score one of the $30,000 grants to keep their restaurant afloat. Fri, 04 Dec 2020 17:35:50 -0800 Keep LA Dining Program Received Just 2 Full Applications For Relief Before The Site Crashed
A teacher at a Long Beach child care center wears a face mask when speaking to her students on May, 4. 2020. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

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Gov. Gavin Newsom's first budget included $5 million to create a long-term plan for early childhood with strategies to provide universal preschool, increase the availability of child care, train the workforce and fund all of the above.

Almost two years later, with little fanfare, the state this week released the Master Plan for Early Learning Care, a 10-year plan that could reshape programs for young children and their families -- if they can secure the funding and the political buy-in.

The 107-page plan outlines almost three dozen proposals, including providing free preschool to all 4-year-olds, expanding paid family leave and changing how child care providers are paid.

"Great roadmap, but now let's show us the money," said Ted Lempert, president of advocacy group Children Now.

The authors estimate it'll cost California an additional $2 billion to $12 billion to make all the proposals a reality -- and there aren't many details on where that money will come from.

A spokesman for Newsom's office declined to make anyone available for an interview and responded to LAist's questions via email.

It's also unclear what happens now that this plan exists. Several people who attended a virtual briefing on Thursday asked about the next steps in implementation.

"I think, you know, this is to us, in some ways, a journey to a place of starting," said Jannelle Kubinec, one of the lead authors. "It is about getting this to places that people can now take it and bring the action to it, bring the further voice, bring the next step."

The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated longstanding problems in California's early learning and care programs. Pparents often can't find affordable child care and when they do, the providers, who are largely women of color, earn poverty-level wages.

The cost of infant care for one child can take up nearly a quarter of California's median family income, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Meanwhile, child care workers in Los Angeles County make an average of $14.65 an hour.

The state agency that licenses child care reported 2,420 home- and center-based programs have permanently closed since the start of the pandemic.

"Having a master plan is great, and we're ready to get to work on it," said Max Arias, chair of Child Care Providers United, the newly formed union representing child care workers. "But we also feel that there has to be an immediate addressing of this crisis or it's gonna be difficult to implement a master plan with no workers."


Mainly, a San Francisco-based non-profit educational research organization called WestEd.

Its staff, including Kubinec, worked with several other groups including Stanford University, think tank RAND, Child Trends and American Institutes for Research.

The Early Childhood Policy Council, a group of child care providers, parents, advocates and other experts, advised on the plan's creation but didn't have the final say over what went in it. The full council met six times this year via Zoom. A larger parent engagement effort was scrapped during the pandemic but the plan noted 3,000 people attended the policy council's virtual meetings.

The authors also incorporated ideas from several other sets of recommendations from recent years including the Assembly Blue Ribbon Commission on Early Childhood Education's report.

"There's not any part of this that's simply derived from wishful thinking, this is derived from need," said State Senator-elect Monique Limón, who introduced the bill that paved the way for this year's family child care provider unionization.

The legislature authorized up to $5 million for the plan, and a spokesman for Governor Newsom said in an email, invoices are still being processed and the expectation is that the plan would come in under budget.


The master plan connects all its initiatives to four main goals:

  • Improving access to early care and education programs
  • Untangling the bureaucracy that manages these programs
  • Updating standards and training the workforce
  • Changing how the state pays providers who care for kids from low-income families.

"We have to see it as the beginning of the conversation, and work together to really think how can we make this happen now and see it as an opportunity to build a system that maybe should work for all kids and families," said Patricia Lozano, the executive director of the non-profit Early Edge California and a contributor to the plan.

We're going to break down a few parts of the plan below.

Universal Preschool

Only families who are homeless, make 70% or below the state median income (for example, a family of 4 with a household income of $70,000 or lower) or children who are high-risk for abuse can currently attend California's state preschool program. The plan envisions a preschool program that every 4-year-old could attend free of charge.

The first priority would be expanding programs at elementary schools in high-poverty neighborhoods. Then, over time, state-funded preschool would be extended to all 3-year-olds from low-income families and to children with disabilities.

Making It Easier For Families To Get Services

Right now, families applying for assistance programs like MediCal, CalWORKS and CalFresh have to apply for child care separately. It can take a lot of time and paperwork before parents and caregivers find out which, if any, of the state's myriad subsidized child care programs they're eligible for.

"I think the streamlining eligibility for programs is an example of 'how do we make this support easier for parents to navigate complex resources' to support their child's development," said First 5 LA senior vice president Christina Altmayer, one of the plan's contributors.

The plan proposes that families eligible for one program, say MediCal, are able to enroll in subsidized child care more quickly.

Changing How Providers Are Paid

Family child care provider Tonia McMillian. (Priska Neely/KPCC)

Providing high-quality child care costs more than any one source pays and providers often make up the difference by taking money out of their own pockets.

"The state's current reimbursement rate structure is overly complex and inequitable," the report reads.

Not only that, but the information California uses to pay providers who care for children from low-income families is based on data collected in 2016, even though there's more recent information available. For example, the maximum amount a Los Angeles County family child care provider can earn from the state by caring for an infant is $56 per day.

"Historically... the actual workers have had to acclimate to those organizations based on their perception of what is needed in the field," said Bellflower family child care provider Tonia McMillian. "What I like about this master plan, is that now they need to figure out how to acclimate themselves to the reality of what's happening out in the field."

The plan proposes establishing a base rate and adding additional money depending on where a provider is located, the quality of care, certain characteristics of the child like disabilities, risk for abuse, age and whether they're dual language learners.

Improving Paid Family Leave

California has offered paid family leave since 2004, when it became the first state to do so. Parents can get up to eight weeks a year to care for a new child while receiving 60% to 70% of their salary. A law that takes effect next year extends job protection for up to 12 weeks of leave for anyone who works at a company with more than five employees.

"Despite this progress, parents experiencing poverty and parents of color who need the leave the most continue to have the most trouble accessing it (paid family leave)," the plan notes.

The recommendation is to increase wage replacement rates to 90% for low-income families with newborns, increase the length of paid family leave and create new support for businesses with fewer than 10 employees while their workers are out on leave.


The word equity appears almost 50 times in the plan in relation to families, kids and the early childhood workforce. Specifically, the plan proposes that early learning and care providers who receive public funding ban suspensions and expulsions -- Black preschoolers are far more likely than their white peers to be suspended -- reserve 10% of their enrollment for children with disabilities and that providers receive more support and training to advance their careers.

California's child care workforce is largely women of color and in L.A. County they make an average of $14.65 an hour. Researchers at UC Berkeley found nationally African American and Latino early educators often fill the field's lowest-paying jobs.

Identifying Bilingual Learners

More than half of the state's young children -- 60% -- speak a language at home other than English, according to a UCLA study.

The plan calls for creating a new system to collect information about dual language learners in publicly funded early learning programs, training providers on language development and updating curriculum.


Here's where there's the most blank space on this roadmap to a better early childhood system.

The plan's authors estimate the state and families already pay about $12 billion on early learning and care every year.

Actually doing everything the plan proposes -- increasing paid family leave, universal preschool, reforming provider pay, etc . -- could cost up to twice that amount.

The plan estimates the additional costs are between $2 billion and $12 billion, "supported through public investments, business contributions, philanthropy, and family fees."

Governor Newsom's communications director, Jesse Melgar, wrote in an email that the range is so broad because the initiatives in the plan could be "achieved through different policy choices and are likely to be phased in over time."

All children entering Young Horizons's Long Beach facility have their temperatures checked before beign admitted. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

"The lower end of the estimates assumes that some increases are provided but there is not significant expansion to child care and change to program and workforce standards," Melgar wrote. "The higher end of the estimate is what it would take to fully meet the 2030 objectives described in the plan."

Some lawmakers are already thinking about how the master plan might translate into legislation in the upcoming session, though the full economic impact of the pandemic is still unknown. The most recent state budget had a $54 billion deficit.

"This is probably not something that politicians say very often, but these programs are expensive," said Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon. "They save money in the long term, but, the upfront costs are expensive."

Rendon formed a commission that issued its own set of recommendations for early care and education last year.

"The budget situation this year is going to be different than it has been in previous years, but I think we need to make this investment," Rendon said.


There are a few ways to get more involved:

  • Fill out an online survey about the plan.
  • Find out which assemblymember and senator represent you in the California legislature and tell them what you think is important.
  • Attend the next Early Childhood Policy Council meeting, Thursday, Dec. 10 at 2:30 p.m. by registering here.
  • Contact this reporter by using the box at the bottom of the page.


Mariana Dale It'll cost the state an additional $2 billion to $12 billion to overhaul California's early childhood system and there aren't many details on where that money will come from. Fri, 04 Dec 2020 11:31:00 -0800 A 10-Year Plan For Early Childhood In California With Uncertain Next Steps 
News LAist Staff Fri, 04 Dec 2020 10:30:26 -0800 Latest Updates On The Bond Fire News
At a Rose Parade float display, Thomas Lopez compares profiles with our first president. (Courtesy of Thomas Lopez)

Over the next year, we're hoping to hear your stories about how race and ethnicity shape your life and, hopefully, publish as many of these stories as we can, so that we can all keep on talking. We're calling this effort Race in LA. Click here for more information and details on how to participate.

By Thomas Lopez

"Mr. Lopez, we need you to turn in the form declaring your son's race," said the administrator from my son's school.

In second grade, we transferred him to LAUSD from his parochial school and filed the necessary stack of paperwork, save one form. That was the statement of racial identity.

It wasn't intentional, just an honest mistake. But it wasn't one the school would easily overlook. They called my wife and me individually to obtain the form.

Completing this form was not easy. My son is multiracial -- Black, white and Native American. I too am multiracial white and Latino. My wife and I are Mexican American.

From a biological standpoint, the answer for our son's identity would be different from ours because he is not ours biologically. But then again, that doesn't really matter, because race is a social construct. So, from an ethnic standpoint, he's being raised with some of the cultural norms of a Southern California Mexican American family.

The first question the LAUSD form asked is if our son is Latino or non-Latino.

Then the next question we encountered asked for his "primary" and "secondary" race.

No explanation was given for the meaning or significance of those terms. Then, probably the strangest of all instructions was that if Latino is selected in the prior question, then only a "secondary" race may be selected in the latter. In other words, Latino is essentially treated as a race in a question of its very own, and it carries primacy over all other identities. Which makes me wonder: In multiracial Los Angeles, Latinos number nearly three-quarters of the LAUSD student population. But what would that number be if mixed Latinos were counted?

I couldn't help but think that this shouldn't be so hard.

Thomas with his wife and children. (Courtesy of Thomas Lopez)

Kids like my son are not particularly unique in Los Angeles, nor is multiracial identity particularly new. As a multiracial person myself, I have been dealing with these issues my whole life.


Growing up in the suburbs of Los Angeles, the white side of my family lived closest, mostly in Orange County. They were transplants from Milwaukee, Wisconsin -- great-aunts and uncles who were older than my parents, and their children, who were my second cousins. Since my parents married late in life, my siblings and I were the babies of the family. Our get-togethers were pleasant but generally quiet affairs.

My Mexican family, on the other hand, was a different story. First, they were younger and larger in number. I literally had dozens of cousins. Second, they lived farther away, and we would do a yearly three-day trek through the Sonoran Desert to visit them in El Paso, Texas.

Thomas at around age 5 (center left, white tank top) with family members in El Paso. (Courtesy of Thomas Lopez)

As I like to say, someone was always either getting married or buried. Usually this was during our summer break from school, so you can imagine how brutal the heat was on those vacations. This experience, combined with my exposure to Mexican characters in old westerns, led me to believe for a time that Mexicans really like hot places for some reason.

My parents never explicitly taught us culture. They were more about the "soft sell." It oozed into our lives through osmosis.

Our home was chosen among the different tract home models in our neighborhood because it specifically had a slight "Mission style" design. Our home décor was a mishmash of Spanish and Mexican motifs. Bedtime wasn't "beddy-bye," it was "mimis' time."

I don't know how I knew it, but I knew that somehow I was a mixture of very different groups of people. I still remember having trouble as a child in elementary school filling out the forms on "proficiency tests." I recall sitting in a circle with my friends declaring what we "were," such as Chinese, Filipino, Japanese -- and I said half white and half Mexican. I didn't really appreciate what any of this meant in my life until I went to college.

I received a National Hispanic Scholars award, thanks to my high PSAT scores. Was I a valid recipient? When I was admitted to UC Berkeley in 1990, I didn't know if it was by affirmative action, although I did receive an "affirmative action" grant. It was a one-time grant for a few hundred bucks. I think it paid for one semester of books.


Affirmative action was stripped away by Proposition 209 in 1996 and this was recently reaffirmed with the failure of Proposition 16. I guess such generosity is no longer in style.

I studied engineering at Cal and, if I wanted, I could have buried my nose in a textbook or glued my eyes to a computer screen. But a significant part of my choice in schools was the radical reputation of the school and city.

I joined a student group focused on recruiting and retaining Latino students. One of my activities was visiting local area high schools to encourage applications to the UC. While there was never any shunning of me in the group, I couldn't help noticing that my experience as a Latino was very different from the others, and I believe it was because of my mixed upbringing.

But then I got lucky.


A student group had just formed on campus focused on mixed race students, and I started attending meetings. Among these students, I learned new ways of thinking and understanding race that echoed my own experience. It is very seductive finally finding one's "tribe" and, like becoming addicted to a drug, I was hooked.

And what better place for this to happen than Berkeley? One of the oldest nonprofit groups to support mixed race people, I-Pride, originated there. The first national umbrella organization, Association of MultiEthnic Americans (AMEA), had just formed, headquartered in Berkeley.

Thomas participates in the 2017 Women's March with other members of Multiracial Americans of Southern California, known as MASC. (Courtesy of Thomas Lopez)

The first and longest-running course on multiracial people at the time was offered on campus. And while I didn't know this then, the student group I joined was probably the first of its kind in the nation.

I would eventually come to lead the student group and even join the board of directors of I-Pride my senior year. I was very fortunate to be in the right place at the right time, with the right inclination to be a part of something.

Through my activism with these groups, I learned of a sister group known as Multiracial Americans of Southern California, or MASC. Meeting since 1986, they were among the charter members of AMEA and presented an annual conference that drew attendees from all over the country.

Like many college students do today, when I graduated, my first stop was to go back home. I was broke but I had a degree. And while it took me a while to find my first job during the recession of the early 1990s, I didn't waste any time getting involved with MASC.

Our focus at the time, along with other like-minded groups across the country, was to change federal standards to allow multiracial people to check off multiple races on various forms, rather than being forced to mark only one.

Forcing someone who is multiracial or multiethnic to choose only one race or ethnicity on a form, when they identify with more than one, is an impossible choice. Imagine being in this position and asking yourself, which race is "primary" in your life?

It is like asking a child which of their parents they love more.

Trekking through the desert for three days to El Paso taught me there was something special about these people we were visiting. I was referred to as "mijo" almost as often as by my name. While I didn't see the Mexican side of my family often, they were still a part of me, just as much as the other side of the family I saw throughout the year.

The full story of how the change in federal standards came about is long and better told elsewhere, but we were successful in 1997 when the Office of Management and Budget made it happen: For the first time in U.S. history, people could mark one or more races not only on the census form, but on any form where the data is reported to the federal government, which translates to almost all forms.

Yet while we claimed a victory at the time, it was really only a half-measure, because it only pertained to the race question.

Recall the form we had to fill out for my son from LAUSD? Latino is not considered a race on census and other federal forms, and is asked as a separate question. The update to statistical directives in 1997 didn't apply to Latinos. Thus, the federal government, and consequently all lower levels of government, don't acknowledge mixed Latino (someone who is part Latino, part non-Latino) identity.

Put another way: people like me don't count.


To this day, you will find no official data on persons like me of mixed Latino and non-Latino identity. I've coined the term "LOMA" for Latinx of Mixed Ancestry to describe this community. Some studies suggest that as many as a quarter of Latino-identified people in this country could actually identify as LOMA if given the chance.

Why does this matter? Let me give an example: A few months ago, the University of California revealed that for the first time, Latinos make up a plurality of students admitted to UC campuses this year, making up 36 percent of admitted freshmen.

Royce Hall stands at the center of the UCLA campus. The University of California system announced this year that Latino students comprised the largest racial or ethnic share of incoming freshmen. (Andrew Cullen/Andrew Cullen for LAist)

Given that Latinos have been a plurality of Californians in general for a few years already, to finally be a plurality of admitted students feels like justice at last.

But studies have suggested that the number one reason someone with Latino ancestry would not identify as Latino is because they have mixed ancestry.

Some would say this is a sign of assimilation. I would argue this has less to do with assimilation and more to do with being forced to choose only one ethnicity.

If "LOMAs" could mark multiple ethnicities, then perhaps the reported number of Latinos entering the UC system would be higher, both today and in the past. Persons marking "Latino" are not likely to stop there if given the option for multiple choice. Allowing LOMA identification could give us a clearer picture of the Latino population, and most likely increase it.

So, I continue to struggle with this. My children continue to struggle with this. And by my estimate, given the size of the Latino population, millions of people of LOMA heritage continue to struggle to be counted properly in this country. But perhaps there is some light on the horizon.

In 2015, California passed Assembly Bill AB 532, which mandated that when collecting and reporting demographic data, multiple selections must be permitted not only with racial data, but ethnic data as well. In other words, whether you consider Latino to be a race or an ethnicity, mixed-heritage Latinos must be counted. There is a grace period to implementation, but all state agencies must be in compliance with updated forms and procedures by January 1, 2022. Will California be ready?

MASC conducted a study in the fall of 2019 of how major state and local agencies count multiracial people and published its findings earlier this year. The report, titled "Half Measures" (also found at, concluded that no state or local agency we examined was yet fully compliant with the new state law, mainly due to lack of means to count Latinos of mixed ancestry. The state law has also put California on a collision course with federal standards, which don't allow for the counting of these mixed-identity Latinos, so there's still a question of if and how state and federal standards can be reconciled.

What could a clearer picture of the mixed Latino population mean for politics? Much has been made in the news lately of the number of Latinos who voted for outgoing President Trump. To be clear, a significant majority of Latinos did not support him. But I have given responses to pollsters, and I know they don't ask about mixed Latino identity. As I've described above, since no one can really say who is Latino without considering mixed identity, it's not as easy to gauge Latino support for a candidate as it may seem.

I am Latino. I am also white. I am a product of the University of California system and a lifelong resident of the state.

I have learned to be proud of California's progressive goals, but also a bit skeptical of its ability to achieve them. If California's agencies achieve the mandate of counting people like me, Latinx of mixed ancestry, then they will be the first in the nation to do so. And as California has demonstrated time and again, how it goes, the nation eventually follows.

Thomas with his wife and children. (Courtesy of Thomas Lopez)

For readers still wanting to know how I dealt with the LAUSD form, I finally got around to calling the school back, and provided them with what racial and ethnic identity I thought they should put on the forms for my son.

I had to laugh when they said my wife had already called -- and she gave them a different answer!

In the interest of maintaining domestic tranquility, I told them to keep whatever she told them.


Thomas Lopez grew up in the L.A. area and works as a mechanical engineer in the medical device industry. He is a board member of Multiracial Americans of Southern California (MASC) and is the founder of MASC's Latinx of Mixed Ancestry (LOMA) program, and an administrator of the Mixed Race Studies Facebook group. The political opinions expressed in this essay are solely those of the author, and not of MASC.

Guest Contributor When you grow up identifying as "half white and half Mexican," the task of choosing what box to check on a government form isn't easy. Fri, 04 Dec 2020 07:00:00 -0800 'I Am Latino, I Am Also White': Why A Latino Of Mixed Ancestry Struggles Each Time He Fills Out A Form

Before the COVID-19 pandemic curtailed in-person campaign events, Republican Young Kim (CA-39) met locals at a restaurant in Brea. (Josie Huang/LAist)

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The Republican Party can sometimes feel like an afterthought in California, where Democrats hold every statewide office and super-majorities in both the state Senate and Assembly.

When the 2018 Blue Wave swept seven GOP members of Congress out of office, pundits wondered if the left had wrested permanent control of even the areas of the Golden State that launched the careers of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.

2020 told a different story. Republicans are celebrating victories in four of the seats they lost two years ago -- and across the country, the GOP pulled off surprise gains in a year when Democrats were predicted to expand their House majority.

Now, Republican Party officials are working to glean lessons for holding onto purple districts in the 2022 midterms.


In Southern California, successful Republican challengers outraised Democratic incumbents during the 2020 cycle. Young Kim had a $1.5 million fundraising edge over Democratic incumbent Gil Cisneros in the 39th District, for example -- a huge change from 2018, when Cisneros was able to outspend Kim nearly 6-to-1. (That district spans parts of three counties, primarily Orange.)

"In California, our media markets are very expensive. And in 2018, we were vastly outspent," said Fred Whitaker, chair of the Orange County Republican Party. "We needed to make sure that our candidates were competitive and could be on the airwaves."

In Orange County's 48th District, Michelle Steel raised a couple hundred thousand dollars more than incumbent Democrat Harley Rouda. But in 2018, the Democrat's more than $5 million advantage blew controversial Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher out of the water.

"This year, a lot of the Democratic money went to the Midwest, for their efforts to fight the president," Whitaker noted.

Outside money still favored Democrats in both of the Orange County House races that the GOP flipped, particularly in the 48th, where Steel faced a lopsided pile of independent expenditures, including major ad buys from the Nancy Pelosi-aligned House Majority PAC.

In the 25th District in northern L.A. County and eastern Ventura County, Democrats couldn't reap the benefits of independent expenditures like they did when an avalanche of cash flowed into the race in 2018.

State Assemblymember Christy Smith narrowly failed to knock off Republican incumbent Mike Garcia, who won by a margin of 333 votes. He had served just a few months in office after a special election win in May.

Independent expenditures this cycle advantaged Garcia by more than a million dollars. That's significant, but in 2018, then-candidate Democrat Katie Hill enjoyed at least a $4.5 million leg-up in spending by outside groups, including $5 million from the Michael Bloomberg Super PAC, Independence USA.

In 2018, Hill's campaign fundraising nearly quadrupled that of her opponent, incumbent Steve Knight, while this year Smith raised $3 million less than Garcia.

The Bloomberg cash disappeared from the 25th District race this year. (The bulk of the billionaire's political investments during the presidential election appears to have gone to an ill-fated attempt to win Florida, Ohio and Texas for Joe Biden.)


Of course, money always plays a role in politics and helps campaigns get persuasive messaging out to voters. It also helps drive turnout. In 2020, L.A. and Orange Counties paralleled the national voter participation surge -- and more people voting is typically considered a positive sign for Democratic candidates.

That wasn't the case in the three Southern California House districts Republicans picked up this year. (The fourth seat picked up by Republicans is in the Central Valley, where Republican David Valadao won back the seat he lost to Democrat TJ Cox in 2018.)

Each race saw 90-100,000 more total ballots cast than in the 2018 midterms. In the 39th District, for example, Republican Young Kim got 55,000 more votes than she did two years ago.

Context matters: in 2018, California Democrats were fired up to send a message to Donald Trump; and Jerry Brown was termed out of office, placing a gubernatorial race on the ballot.

Republican Mike Garcia (left) talks to a voter after a debate at the Republican Value Center in Simi Valley on Feb. 8, 2020. (Libby Denkmann/LAist)

The GOP didn't have as much to animate its base, with Trump's reelection bid years away and the Republican candidate for Governor, John Cox, not seen as much of a contender for the statewide office.

"In 2018, the Democrats were able to nationalize the race around an issue that worked to their advantage, and that was health care," said Louis DeSipio, professor of political science at UC Irvine. "2020 was more muddled, with the presidential race absorbing a lot of the popular attention."

One theory is that the 2018 Blue Wave may have been strengthened by a lackluster California Republican electorate, which re-emerged for the 2020 presidential contest, proving these districts are still very competitive.


There's some evidence that an increasingly rare phenomenon played a role in the GOP winning back House seats this election: "ticket splitting," or voting for one party for a major office like the presidency and another party further down the ballot.

Ben Christopher with CalMatters found that in the 48th District in coastal O.C., 1 in 10 precincts opted for the GOP congressional candidate, Michelle Steel, but also picked Joe Biden for President.

A growing number of independents in Orange County, who outnumber registered Republicans, may be open to voting for a check-and-balance between the executive and legislative branch, DeSipio said.

"An anti-Trump position didn't necessarily translate to an anti-Republican position at the congressional level," he added.

Torunn Sinclair with the National Republican Congressional Committee argues Trump's impact on competitive House races was a net positive. After all, he received 1.5 million more votes statewide than he did in 2016.

"I do think President Trump was helpful. When he's on the ballot, you get turnout," Sinclair said. "These voters liked the message that [Republican candidates] were spreading, which is one of low taxes and getting the economy back up and running. And the Democrats had to run on their records."


There's greater gender, racial and ethnic diversity among newly-elected Republican members of the House. The GOP candidates who flipped Southern California House seats are a key part of that shift: Young Kim and Michelle Steel are both Korean American, and Mike Garcia is Mexican American.

Party strategists say it's a no-brainer in California to recruit candidates who reflect the diversity of their districts. Kim and Steel are also experienced elected officials, having served as state legislators and county supervisor. They came into the race with name I.D. and a base of support.

Big picture: nationwide, there will be 19 Republican freshmen women serving in the House next term, along with a record number of female GOP members overall in the House and Senate. The gains could be partly due to a years-long effort to create a pipeline for Republican women -- to recruit and train them as candidates, and provide money early to help them get a foothold in primaries.

O.C. Supervisor Michelle Steele defeated Congressman Harley Rouda, D-Newport Beach, in the 48th District. (California National Guard, Senior Airman Crystal Housman)

But there's still nothing on the conservative side of the aisle on par with EMILY's List or other powerful liberal organizations that support Democratic women running for office. The Republican Party in Congress is still overwhelmingly white, and there are three times as many Democratic women in the House and Senate as Republican women.


Down-ballot, results in the California legislature were a mixed bag: Republicans picked up a seat in the state Assembly, but lost two hotly contested state Senate races, both in Orange County. In the 37th District, Democrat David Min defeated incumbent State Senator John Moorlach; in the 29th District, former state Senator Josh Newman took his old job back, besting incumbent Republican Ling Ling Chang, who joined the legislature after Newman was ousted in a recall.

In local races overlapping with contested House districts, Orange County Democrats flipped the Irvine City Council, but Republicans defended their 4-1 majority on the O.C. Board of Supervisors.

The GOP is hoping to learn from this year's wins to make further gains in the 2022 midterms. Meanwhile, the party is gearing up to try and keep control of the Orange County Board of Supervisors seat left empty by Michelle Steel, and party leaders have an eye on the possible outcomes of redistricting, which is expected to eliminate one or more House seats in the California delegation.

"A president's first midterm is usually not good for their party," Whitaker noted. "There's going to be an intense Republican effort to take the House -- we're only 12 seats away."

Libby Denkmann Fundraising, turnout, independent voters and candidate recruitment all played a role in these highly contested California congressional races. Thu, 03 Dec 2020 17:32:11 -0800 Four Lessons From The Southern California House Seats Republicans Reclaimed In 2020
News LAist Staff Thu, 03 Dec 2020 12:21:00 -0800 25,000 Evacuated As The Bond Fire Burns In Orange County: Latest Updates News Ryan Fonseca Angelenos must stay home -- unless they need to golf, go Christmas shopping, get their nails done or shoot a music video. Thu, 03 Dec 2020 09:43:00 -0800 Garcetti Says 'Cancel Everything'. LA's New Stay-At-Home Order Doesn't Really Cancel Anything Arts & Entertainment
Dolly Parton at a press conference at the InterContinental Sydney on November 10, 2011 in Sydney, Australia. (Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

With most events, concerts and festivals canceled or pivoting online, please consider contributing to your local arts organizations or to individual artists and performers.

L.A. County's new "safer at home" order went into effect on Nov. 30. Check the status of any drive-through events listed before heading out as the new safety measures only allow occupants in each car from the same household.

Help Dolly Parton ring in the holidays. Chow down on a Foo Fighters taco. Create art alongside Kid Koala. Eat dinner (virtually) with the cast of Selena. Watch arthouse flicks at a Hollywood drive-in. Join comedian Jen Kirkman's dysfunctional Christmas. Explore the life of musical prodigy Ike White. Honor Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Friday, Dec. 4; 6 p.m. PST

Dolly Parton & Friends Holiday Special
Pandora presents a virtual event with Parton, gospel singer Tasha Cobbs Leonard and country musicians Brett Eldredge and Carly Pearce. Expect holiday tunes and traditions. Tune in 15 minutes early (5:45 p.m. PST) for pre-show trivia, chats with other fans and a virtual photo booth.

Friday, Dec. 4 - Saturday, Dec. 5

DocuSlate 2020
NewFilmmakers Los Angeles holds a virtual edition of its annual documentary film fest. Powered by Seed&Spark, the weekend's events include feature and short film screenings, filmmaker Q&As and industry panels. Friday night's feature is Wild Honey, the debut from Ava Porter and Farhad Akhmetov who examine ethnic groups across Russia and the traditional music that unites them. The weekend ends with a collection of documentary films that use animation, mixed media and experimental techniques to tell their stories.
COST: $10 - $35; MORE INFO

Comedian, author and podcaster Jen Krikman hosts her Dysfunctional Xmas Show this weekend. (Nick Larson)

Friday, Dec. 4; 6 p.m. PST

The 9th Annual Jen Kirkman Dysfunctional Xmas Show
Comedian Kirkman and surprise guests put on a virtual variety show with comedy, stories, sketches and music to unite fans and haters of the holidays. The show's streamed live from Kirkman's living room via On Location Live.
COST: Tickets start at $21; MORE INFO

Fridays and Saturdays through Dec. 19; 7 p.m. PST

The Groundlings Holiday Show: Online Edition
Members of the comedy troupe bring their annual holiday show to audiences at home. Expect a mix of original sketches and live, interactive improv. Directed by Groundlings' Leonard Robinson (Insecure), the cast includes Robinson, Lauren Burns, Michael Churven, Samantha DeSurra, Chris Eckert, Ryan Gaul, Kiel Kennedy and Ariane Price.
COST: Tickets start at $20; MORE INFO

Friday, Dec. 4; 10 a.m. - 10 p.m. PST

The New Bauhaus Screening and Q&A
LACMA screens a documentary from director Alysa Nahmias about the Bauhaus masters, including László Moholy-Nagy, who found refuge in the United States after the rise of the Nazis in Germany. Moholy-Nagy came to Chicago and started the influential midcentury school of design, the New Bauhaus. The documentary includes original interviews and archival footage. It's followed by a conversation with Nahmias. Screens on Vimeo.
COST: FREE, but RSVP recommended; MORE INFO

Friday, Dec. 4; 7 p.m. PST

Dan Guerrero Happy Hour with guest Lucie Arnaz
LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes' virtual programs continue with a happy hour conversation between Guerrero and singer, dancer and actress Arnaz. She'll share stories about her career, her father (Desi Arnaz) and his Cuban roots and her mom, Lucille Ball. Register to view on Zoom or watch on Facebook.

Cinelounge Drive-In sets up in the middle of Hollywood, offering indie and arthouse fare nightly. (Cinelounge)

Friday, Dec. 4

Arena Cinelounge Drive-In
1625 N. Las Palmas Ave., Hollywood
The movie series returns to its home behind the Egyptian Theater, taking over a parking lot to screen art house and indie films seven days a week. Tickets are now on sale for films including Wander with Aaron Eckhart and Tommy Lee Jones; The Stand In with Drew Barrymore; an HD restoration of the 2002 film The Weather Underground; Archenemy from director Adam Egypt Mortimer; and Breach with Bruce Willis and Thomas Jane. Tickets and concessions are only available with advance purchase.
COST: Movies start at $40 per car; MORE INFO

A still image from an animated scene in 'Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds with Shane Macgowan. (The Gift Film Ltd. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)

Friday, Dec. 4

Crock of Gold
Julien Temple's documentary takes an in-depth look into the life of Shane Macgowan, the hard living singer-songwriter for the Pogues. Macgowan and the band are best known for combining traditional Irish music and punk rock. The documentary features new and archival footage from the band and MacGowan's family as well as animation from illustrator Ralph Steadman, leading to a celebration of the musician's 60th birthday. The film is being released virtually on Friday.

A man poses in front of the Albi exhibition center in France on December 1, 2018, where the second Ugly Sweater World Championships was held. (ERIC CABANIS/AFP via Getty Images)

Friday, Dec. 4; 6 - 9 p.m. PST

Emo Nite: Holiday Big Show Live Stream
Join Emo Nite as they celebrate the holidays with music, guests, sweater contests, baking contests, drink specials, a photobooth and Santa.

Friday, Dec. 4

The Changin' Times of Ike White
Another music documentary opens on Friday, this time focusing on the story of Ike White, a musical prodigy who was serving a life sentence for murder in the early 1970s. His talent and notoriety captured media attention and he was able to record an album inside prison with producer Jerry Goldstein. Stevie Wonder lobbied successfully for Ike's early release from prison, and White seemed to be on the verge of stardom. But Daniel Vernon's film follows White's unpredictable journey.

Friday, Dec. 4; 6 p.m. PST

AP Comedy: Class Is Back In Session!
Watch a virtual Zoom screening of a student sketch show by USC's Asian Pacific Cinema Association. The pre-recorded sketches highlight Asian American stories and missing voices in comedy.

Barbara Morrison sings a musical tribute to the iconic jazz and blues singers who came before her, including Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan. (Courtesy of The Wallis)

Saturday, Dec. 5; 8 p.m. PST

Barbara Morrison: Standing On Their Shoulders
The Wallis' Sorting Room Sessions returns with an on-demand concert by the jazz great. Morrison presents a musical tribute to the legendary jazz and blues vocalists who came before her including Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington and Ella Fitzgerald. Ticket holders can stream the concert for 24 hours starting at 8 p.m. on Saturday.

UCLA's Center for the Art of Performance (CAP UCLA) presents Kid Koala's Music To Draw To on Saturday, Dec. 5. (AJ Korkidakis)

Saturday, Dec. 5; 3 p.m. PST

Kid Koala Music To Draw To
UCLA's Center for the Art of Performance (CAP UCLA) presents Montreal-based DJ and animator Eric San in an online event focused on building community and fostering creativity. Come together for an hour to draw, sculpt, paint, knit, code and write while Kid Koala provides wintry soundscapes and meditative vocal journeys.
COST: FREE but donations accepted; MORE INFO

Heidi Duckler Dance artists Rebekah Denegal, Raymond Ejiofor and William Jay YIvisaker can be seen in a virtual presentation of 'The RE-QUEST.' (Rush Varela)

Saturday, Dec. 5 - Sunday, Dec. 6; 6 p.m.

Heidi Duckler Dance presents a two-day virtual screening experience that invites audiences to rediscover L.A. through sound, movement and a live conversation with the artists. The two nights tell the story of the troupe's project in October, which premiered 10 works in 10 locations. The RE-QUEST features footage from seven live performances that took place in Baldwin Hills, Montecito Heights, Boyle Heights, the Fashion District, Studio City, Culver City, and Watts, and two short films shot in Koreatown and the Arts District. Different excerpts will be screened each night.
COST: $5 - $120; MORE INFO

Saturday, Dec. 5; 10 a.m. PST

Safe Place for Youth Virtual 5K
Run a virtual 5K wherever you are on Saturday morning. Tune into a virtual stretch session at 10 a.m. and then take off for 3.1 miles for a good cause. The race raises funds for Safe Place for Youth, a nonprofit that works with at-risk or unhoused/homeless youth.
COST: $25 - $50; MORE INFO

Watch an online tribute of the work of animator and filmmaker Glen Keane. (Courtesy American Cinematheque)

Saturday, Dec. 5; 7:30 p.m. PST

Glen Keane Tribute
This American Cinematheque fetes the animation veteran who created many beloved Disney characters such as The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, The Beast, Tarzan and Rapunzel. After nearly 40 years with Disney, Keane left in 2012 to create his own production company. He won an Oscar for the animated film Dear Basketball, collaborating with legends Kobe Bryant and John Williams. Most recently, he directed Netflix's Over the Moon. Keane joins in a virtual conversation with fellow filmmaker Sergio Pablos.

Saturday, Dec. 5; 2 p.m. PST

Food & Wine Classic at Home
Celebrate the holiday season with Food & Wine's Justin Chapple who hosts cooking demonstrations by chefs Kwame Onwuachi, Brooke Williamson and Douglass Williams; wine pairings with wine experts Ray Isle of Food & Wine and Leslie Sbrocco; and special appearances by Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Linda & Drew Scott, Alexander Smalls and Marissa Mullen.
COST: $25 - $30; MORE INFO

Saturday, Dec. 5; 6:30 p.m.

Selena + Socalo Dinner Event
The L.A. Times' Dinner Series brings together stars from Netflix's Selena: The Series for a Tex-Mex inspired dinner from chefs Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken (Socalo, Border Grill). Listen to conversations with the chefs, Selena creator Moises Zamora, actors Christian Serratos, Ricardo Chavira and Seidy Lopez. It's hosted by L.A. Times writer Yvonne Villarreal. The meals need to be picked up before the event at Socalo (1920 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica).
COST: $95 (two-ticket minimum; MORE INFO

The National Gallery of Art presents a lecture by film director, writer and producer Julie Dash. (Geechee LLC)

Sunday, Dec. 6; 2 p.m.

Julie Dash and the L.A. Rebellion: Architects of the Impossible
Filmmaker Julie Dash discusses her early life in NYC, the movement of young Black filmmakers who attended UCLA from the late 1960s to the late '80s and how art and politics intersect in her work. Dash's 1991 feature,  Daughters of the Dust, a fictionalized retelling of her father's Gullah family roots, became the first full-length film directed by an African American woman to receive general theatrical release in the U.S.

A pilgrim carries a statuette of the Virgin of Guadalupe on his back during the annual celebrations at the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City, on December 12, 2019. (CLAUDIO CRUZ/AFP via Getty Images)

Sunday, Dec. 6; 2 - 4 p.m. PST

Our Lady of Guadalupe (Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe)
Forest Lawn hosts a virtual celebration of the Mexican Catholic feast day, ushering in the 2020 winter holiday season. The bilingual observance, which honors the patron saint of the Americas, brings the pageantry directly to viewers' homes. The event includes a bilingual religious service, music by Mariachi Juvenil Herencia Mexicana and a Ballet Folklorico Internacional performance. The event will stream live on Forest Lawn's Facebook page.

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Sunday, Dec. 6; 1 p.m. PST

André Gregory: This Is Not My Memoir
The Library Foundation's ALOUD series presents theater director, writer and actor Gregory talking about his life with longtime collaborator Wallace Shawn. The conversation will be held via Zoom; the link will be emailed after registration. Purchases of This Is Not My Memoir through ALOUD benefit the Los Angeles Public Library.


The Last Waltz
The Morrison Hotel Gallery presents an online photo retrospective of The Band's Last Waltz concert in 1976. View images featuring Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Eric Clapton, Dr. John, Van Morrison, Ringo Starr, Muddy Waters, Ronnie Wood, Neil Young and members of The Band.

Christy Vega, owner of the 64-year-old LA dining institution, teams up with Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters to create a limited-edition taco. (Dave Schwep)

Dine & Drink Deals

Who doesn't miss going out to eat or stopping by a bar for a drink? Here are a few options from restaurants and bars as we work our way back toward normal.

  • Casa Vega partners with Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters to create a limited-edition takeout taco. Inspired by Grohl's passion for barbecue, the Foo Fighters taco ($7) features smoked brisket in a Mexican spice rub and sauce, topped with slaw, pickled onions and cilantro then served on a homemade flour tortilla. Profits from each taco will be donated to No Us Without You, which provides food security for undocumented back-of-house restaurant staff and their families.
  • Angelini Osteria provides a few takeout options for the COVID age. In addition to daily dining items, the restaurant offers Celebration Pods, which are individually packaged three-course meals for socially distanced and contact-free special occasions.
  • Chef Jordan Kahn of Vespertine continues to rotate monthly, themed take-out menus. Thursdays through Sundays until Dec. 20, the restaurant is paying homage to Kahn's past pastry work at Chicago's Alinea. He'll recreate dishes from the restaurant's inaugural year. The menu -- $95 - $115 per person with a two guest minimum -- will be available for pick-up only at Vespertine. Guests can place orders via Tock.
  • Hotel Figueroa in downtown L.A. partners with bakeshop Flouring LA for a holiday pop-up this month. Starting Saturday, Dec. 5, and then weekly on Dec. 12 and 19, Chef Heather Wong's dessert boxes are available for pre-order and pickup from 1 to 3 p.m. The eight-pieces boxes ($44) include gingerbread cake bars, peppermint meringue topped brownies, cinna-sugar donuts and Belgian sea salt chocolate chip cookies.
  • Little Dom's Booze and Meatball cart will be out and about this weekend serving up beer, wine, cocktail jars, meatballs and pastries. On Saturday, find the cart outside of Dekor Warehouse in Frogtown (3005 Gilroy St. 90039) from 12 - 4 p.m. and on Sunday, also from 12 - 4 p.m. in front of Dekor Shop on Glendale (3191 Glendale Blvd.).
    Christine N. Ziemba Dolly Parton. A Foo Fighters taco. Art with Kid Koala. A virtual dinner with the cast of "Selena." A drive-in for arthouse flicks. A cheerfully dysfunctional Christmas. Thu, 03 Dec 2020 07:00:00 -0800 Awesome Events Happening (Mostly Online) This Weekend: Dec. 4 - 6
    (via Piqsels)


    The country erupted into protests, unrest and a renewed dialogue about systemic racism following George Floyd's killing. We held the first round of a virtual conversation event series, Unheard LA: A Deeper Listen with a tie in to Race In LA. The discussion repeatedly returned to how Black and Brown people were being asked for their opinion, for resources and to answer questions on racial issues -- and how exhausting it can be.

    In response, we created Racism 101 to help our audience facilitate their own thought-provoking talks around race, with a conversation "starter kit," and extensive anti-racism resource guides to inform and educate.

    We also solicited questions from our audience -- awkward, silly, tough-to-ask questions -- that they've perhaps wanted to ask people unlike themselves but have been too shy, embarrassed or afraid to ask. We assembled a panel of 12 Angelenos willing to answer these questions so folks didn't have to ask their friends, or even strangers.


    "Why do Americans focus on calling people by a color, 'I'm Black,' or 'I'm white,' like Crayolas? People from Colombia just say they are Colombianos."

    A 9-year-old girl from Loudon County, Virginia might be able to answer this question. In February, third-grader Bellen Woodard asked one of her classmates for the "skin-color" crayon. As the Washington Post reported, "[Bellen] knew that meant the peach-colored crayon. She also knew her skin wasn't the color of peaches. She is the only black girl in her grade."

    Woodard recounted the situation to her mother later. In her child mind, she explained that she felt "disincluded." The "More than Peach" project was born. Woodard donates art kits to schoolchildren and classrooms which include a drawing pad, a personal postcard from her, a standard box of crayons (or colored pencils), and a special box of Crayola's Multicultural crayons (or colored pencils) which include hues like burnt sienna, mahogany, peach and sepia to represent diverse shades of racial/ethnic skin tones.

    (Screenshot via Amazon)

    Have you ever heard of the "Doll Tests?" They were experiments designed and conducted by Drs. Kenneth and Mamie Clark in the 1940s to test the psychological effects of segregation on Black children. In a 1985 interview with PBS, Clark said, "We did it to communicate to our colleagues in psychology the influence of race and color and status on the self-esteem of children."

    The Doll Tests studied 253 Black children ages 3-7, 134 who attended segregated nursery schools in Arkansas and 119 who went to integrated schools in Massachusetts. They were all shown two dolls with white skin and yellow hair and two dolls with brown skin and black hair. They were asked which doll's race they identified with most and which they preferred to play with.

    A Black child shows a preference for a white doll in "American Denial," a film about social science and race relations. (Gordon Parks/The Gordon Parks Foundation)

    Most of the Black children preferred a white doll, assigning it positive traits and saw the brown-skinned dolls as "bad." One boy in rural Arkansas, when he was asked which doll was most like him, smiled and pointed to the brown doll, according to an account by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. "That's a n*gger. I'm a n*gger."

    The Supreme Court cited Clark's work in its landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision which integrated schools...under the law at least.


    O'Neil was born in Jamaica, has lived in L.A. for 20 years. He's the father to three kids, including a biracial daughter who is Black and white.

    "Americans focus on calling people of African descent by a color because it's a systemic result of a negative label that was meant to describe the slaves. We didn't decide to call ourselves "Black." Slavers did. I have yet to meet one "Black" person. It's as woven into our society as any past racial transgression from the past, and to face it, means to look upon an ugly history, that most would rather ignore. 'Lets ignore it and maybe it will go away one day.'"

    Carene describes herself as a proud Black Armenian Angelena. As an artist, she says that her rmulifaceted identity informs her work. She breaks down how America's legacy of enslavement of Blacks and white supremacy pushes the conversation about Blacks and whites to the forefront, but doesn't ignore other groups.

    Pat, a native Angeleno raised in East L.A., contemplates how class and colonialism play a role in this binary way of thinking:

    "We tend to call people by their color because it has such historical and current meaning. The United States has such a deep history of racism and that is expressed in many ways. It is somewhat similar to classism in Colombia, where there is similar, deeply entrenched colonialism. We too are deeply classist, but it tends to get buried under the racism."


    Do you have a question that you'd like to ask as part of Racism 101? Tell us.

    Dana Amihere We solicited your awkward, silly and tough-to-ask questions about race as part of Racism 101. Now we're sharing the answers from our project panelists. This time, we're answering, "Why do Americans focus on calling people by a color, 'I'm Black,' or 'I'm white,' like Crayolas?" Wed, 02 Dec 2020 18:00:00 -0800 Racism 101 Asked And Answered: Why Does Talking About Race In America Focus So Much On Skin Color, Usually Blacks And Whites?
    Tables and chairs are arranged under pop-up tents for outdoor dining in Culver City on Friday, Nov. 20, two days before L.A. County restaurants had to stop offering outdoor dining. (Elina Shatkin/LAist)

    Our news is free on LAist. To make sure you get our coverage: Sign up for our daily newsletters. To support our non-profit public service journalism: Donate Now.

    When we said the L.A. County Department of Public Health had received tons of pushback over its recent ban on outdoor dining, we weren't kidding.

    Several Los Angeles County cities including Beverly Hills, Lancaster, West Covina and Whittier are so mad about it, they're thinking of launching their own health departments.

    It wouldn't be an easy process. It would likely cost millions of dollars, it would require approval from the state of California and it wouldn't happen fast. That hasn't stopped several SoCal cities from exploring their options.

    Currently, only a few cities in L.A. County have their own health departments -- Long Beach, Pasadena and Vernon.

    Long Beach fell in step with couny officials and has banned outdoor dining, but Pasadena decided to continue allowing it -- for now.

    Whether or not outdoor dining is responsible for the record-setting spike in COVID-19 cases we're currently seeing is an open question. A lack of contact tracing means researchers and public health officials often can't pin down the exact sources of coronavirus transmission.

    Meanwhile, as part of a lawsuit filed by opponents of the outdoor dining ban, a judge today told Los Angeles County's Department of Public Health it must provide scientific evidence to justify the ban. But the judge declined to immediately lift the ban. The hearing where the health department must present its evidence is scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 8.


    On Tuesday night, the Beverly Hills City Council unanimously approved a resolution opposing the county's outdoor dining ban.

    The council also directed the city attorney to explore legal action against the county and directed staffers to look into creating an independent city health department, possibly in conjunction with other municipalities.

    Councilmember Lilli Bosse told AirTalk host Larry Mantle, "We, too, took a very, very strong stance -- unanimous against -- and completely disagreed with the county supervisors' vote... We felt very strongly that they got it wrong. They made a decision with absolutely no data showing any correlation between the outdoor dining and COVID."

    Like the representatives from these other cities, Bosse said she thinks the decision to forbid outdoor dining for three weeks was done arbitrarily and without the science to back it up.

    Bosse said, "We received over 900 emails. I don't think we've ever received that many on any issue... And almost 100% of them were in favor of opening up the outdoor dining. We received them from employees, from the restaurant owners, from the residents. They were pleading with us to save this."


    The Lancaster City Council has called a special meeting for tomorrow, Thursday, Dec. 3, to focus on two items: issuing a vote of no confidence in the health department's director, Dr. Barbara Ferrer, and directing staff to gather the necessary documentation and resources they would need to start their own public health department.

    Today on KPCC, Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris said on AirTalk, our public affairs show, that he thought creating a city-based health department was "inevitable."

    Although Parris acknowledged that doing it in the midst of a pandemic wasn't the best time, he said, "We are going to do it. We've lost all confidence in L.A. County Public Health, and for a lot of good reasons."

    Parris said Lancaster might join forces with nearby Palmdale and Santa Clarita to start a joint health department, and that the city is working with Supervisor Kathryn Barger on the matter.

    Parris also wasn't concerned about funding a local health department. "We really aren't in a financial crisis in Lancaster at all," he said. "I don't see the funding of it to be an obstacle."


    The West Covina City Council on Tuesday night voted 5-0 to consider starting its own health department and to discuss potentially loosening some county restrictions on restaurants and other businesses.

    West Covina Mayor Tony Wu said on AirTalk that he has talked to representatives from eight other San Gabriel Valley cities that are interested in teaming up with West Covina in that effort.

    "I think with all this, it's going to lower the cost big time," Wu said. "And don't forget, the health department has the income, meaning application fee, meaning inspection fee, meaning just like building and safety, it can pay for itself."

    A recent report from the California State Auditor's Office warned that if West Covina doesn't resolve ongoing structural budget deficits, the city could face bankruptcy, according to the Whittier Daily News.

    West Covina could also consider contracting with Pasadena's health department.


    Whittier is considering establishing its own health department or joining neighboring cities, including West Covina, to form a regional health department.

    "The county, with this ban, has come in and done a one-size-fits-all, rather than a scalpel to take care of the situation," Whittier Mayor Joe Vinatieri told ABC7.

    Editor's Note: This story has been updated. An earlier version did not include Vernon in the list of cities with their own health department.

    Elina Shatkin Beverly Hills. Lancaster. West Covina. Whittier. They top a growing list of cities who are thinking of launching their own health departments. Wed, 02 Dec 2020 16:10:00 -0800 Cities Might Ditch LA County's Health Department Over The Outdoor Dining Ban
    Luther Chen operates Luther Bob's fried chicken out of a ghost kitchen in Los Angeles. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

    Our news is free on LAist. To make sure you get our coverage: Sign up for our daily newsletters. To support our non-profit public service journalism: Donate Now.

    It was nearly midnight and Luther Chen, owner of Luther Bob's fried chicken, was already in bed when his phone rang. The kitchen at his business was still open and its phone number goes directly to his cell, so he picked it up and answered, "Hey, it's Luther with Luther Bob's."

    The customer was stunned. According to Chen, all he could muster was, "Luther, like Luther Bob Luther?"

    Chen laughs as he recounts the story, "He couldn't believe it for a second, and then he put it on speaker phone and he was like 'Yo, guys, it's Luther,' and I could hear like six dudes say 'Yo!'"

    Luther is on the logo, his smiling face sketched in black and white on a blue sticker and attached to every order, but he's also a real guy, so maybe it shouldn't have surprised customers that the Luther would answer the phone. But it's not like you can dial up Trejo's Tacos and have a chat with Machete or call Chuck E. Cheese to complain about their unbalanced ticket-prize scale and get a giant mouse on the phone.

    Luther Chen prepares a fried chicken sandwich at his ghost kitchen. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

    In fairness to Chen's stunned fans, it's easy to see why Luther Bob might seem out of reach. His restaurant functions as a ghost kitchen. It has no tables, no chairs, no brick-and-mortar storefront, just a minimalist kitchen designed for takeout and delivery in a large building full of nearly identical spaces. If you've ever opened a delivery app and noticed a bunch of nearby restaurants you've never heard of, there's a good chance several of them are ghost kitchens.

    Although many of these are micro-businesses, founded by one or two people, prominent brands and big-name chefs have also jumped on the bandwagon, supplementing their restaurants with delivery-only kitchens to expand their reach. Chen, like a growing number of cooks, caterers and home chefs, chose a ghost kitchen because it allowed him to launch his business quickly, and without many of the expenses or regulatory hassles that come with a sit-down eatery.

    During the COVID-19 pandemic, ghost kitchens have another advantage. Because they were never designed for dine-in service, they haven't been subjected to L.A. County's stop, start, stop rollercoaster of public health restrictions.

    Food delivery accounted for an estimated $35 billion in industry revenue as of January 2020. Restaurant Hospitality projected that number would increase tenfold by 2030 -- and that was before the COVID-19 pandemic. Since March, as indoor dining has been curtailed and more customers turn to food delivery apps, eating restaurant meals at home has become more tightly woven into everyday life. That doesn't mean it's an easy game to win.

    A fried chicken sandwich from Luther Bob's. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

    Chen, who opened Luther Bob's ghost kitchen in February of this year, runs the entire operation out of a tiny rented space in a retrofitted Pico-Union warehouse and has only two employees. Operating out of a 300-square-foot kitchen (less than one-third the size of an average commercial kitchen but normal for a ghost kitchen), they brine, dredge and fry hundreds of pounds of chicken each day. Luther also does the ordering, stocking and social media management.

    Because of space limitations, his equipment is as basic as it gets.

    "You really have to have technical chef skills. We don't have built-in timers, we don't have programmed friers," Chen says.

    As sales have increased, Chen has invested five figures into kitchen upgrades to simplify and expedite the cooking process. He has also started outsourcing some of his prep work, sharing proprietary recipes with suppliers to save time.

    Because he doesn't get to put up a sign or interact with customers, Chen tries to emphasize design and branding in hopes that Luther Bob's will become a recognizable entity. He recently shifted away from working in the kitchen so he can focus on administrative tasks as he negotiates with suppliers and prepares to launch new packaging.

    Chen has done well with the ghost kitchen model -- he has built a loyal customer base and sales have grown steadily -- but between the massive cut that delivery companies take and the difficulties of increasing production in a tiny space, he doesn't see it as a viable long-term solution.

    "I think of the ghost kitchen model as an incubator but as a scalable concept, I'm not sold on it," Chen says.

    Instead, his current ghost kitchen is a way for him to field-test his product and refine his process while demonstrating high demand for his crisp chicken tenders and snappy sauces.

    "In the long run, our future is not going to be limited to ghost kitchens," Chen says.

    For some newer entrants into the ghost kitchen scene, the outlook appears a bit rosier.

    Erick Black holds a slab of pastrami at the ghost kitchen he uses for Ugly Drum. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

    Erik Black, owner of pit-smoked pastrami pop-up Ugly Drum, has only been in the ghost kitchen game since mid-September 2020 and things are going well. During the first couple of weeks, Black says, he was selling more of his smoky, Texas BBQ-inflected pastrami sandwiches than he could make.

    Ugly Drum found success as a stand at weekly food market Smorgasburg L.A., where Black would pile thick slices of meat onto Bub & Grandma's sourdough. He was open just a few hours on Sundays and had time to chat with customers. With his Deli.Delivered ghost kitchen concept, he's now open for lunch seven days a week with an expanded menu of sandwiches, drinks and sides but without the face time. His work has shifted toward process and organization as he tries to perfect his system.

    Black says of his small kitchen staff, "They're doing a really great job making the sandwich the way I'd make it, so I don't need to be there to hand-sell each sandwich," like he would at Smorgasburg.

    Instead, he has been working on scaling up his matzo ball soup, making sure the recipe works in 60-quart and larger batches. "People don't realize how much work soup is," Black says. But, he adds, "I get into that kind of thing, figuring it out. That's been fun."

    Erick Black slices pastrami for sandwiches at Ugly Drum. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

    It took him awhile to find the right space and to outfit it for smoking pastrami. He has been bouncing back and forth between his North Hollywood smoking kitchen and his prep kitchen, which is connected to Bludso's Bar and Que on La Brea. Black says he enjoys diving into logistics as much as he liked slicing and stacking on the line.

    For Black, the advantage of the ghost kitchen model is simple -- lower overhead and lower cost of entry. It has given him the room to fiddle with the menu and try out a few cocktails, time that can be hard to carve out at a brick-and-mortar. High buildout costs and permitting issues mean, "You have to have it all figured out when you open and if you don't, then you don't make it," Black says.

    Freshly sliced smoked pastrami. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

    Here, though, he has the freedom to refine the concept without paying astronomical rent. Black knows how important creative freedom can be. Ugly Drum was supposed to be a hotdog stand. When he first popped up in July 2013, he threw his pastrami sandwich on the menu as a lark. Customers kept ordering it instead of hot dogs, so he switched gears.

    Black would love to get customer interaction back -- either at a reopened Smorgasburg or in a brick-and-mortar space or both -- but he sees the ghost kitchen setup as a sustainable model, at least until indoor dining becomes feasible again. Even when that happens, he may stick with the concept.

    A spicy fried chicken sandwich from Howlin' Ray's. (Ben Mesirow for LAist)

    Restaurants with established reputations like Ugly Drum or hot chicken superstars Howlin' Ray's, which opened a Pasadena ghost kitchen in September, are in an ideal spot to capitalize on the format. High-end chefs like Michael Mina, who just opened a new ghost kitchen concept in Glendale called Tokyo Hot Chicken, are also cashing in on the strategy to expand the reach of their brands.

    There's another, perhaps less obvious, segment of the restaurant industry making successful use of ghost kitchens: medium-sized chains that want low-overhead footholds in high-rent areas.

    The wagyu cheesesteak at Capriotti's. (Christopher DeVargas/Courtesy of Capriotti's)

    Elevated sandwich shop Capriotti's, known for its roasted turkey sandwiches and cheesesteaks made with wagyu or Impossible beef, is a perfect example.

    Capriotti's CEO Ashley Morris says he first heard about ghost kitchens two years ago and was immediately excited by the idea.

    "We put it in our innovation pipeline and said we really want to be a leader in this space, because I totally thought it could work," he says. It took time to find the right real estate, but over the last several months, according to Morris, they "went after it hard and heavy."

    Capriotti's has opened ghost kitchens in Pasadena and Koreatown, two areas where a full-size storefront might be prohibitively expensive. The added bonus of these delivery-focused spots is an expanded coverage area and customer base. Their Koreatown location is mostly geared towards downtown lunchers and hungry USC students.

    A sandwich from Capriotti's ghost kitchen. (Ben Mesirow for LAist)

    "We've gotten to open and operate in this urban area where historically we can't," Morris says. Lower startup costs don't mean they've lowered their revenue expectations. In fact, Capriotti's expects its urban ghost kitchens to bring in the same returns as its traditional shops, and early results have been good. The Pasadena location is exceeding projections while business in downtown L.A. is growing, according to Morris.

    He doesn't think ghost kitchens will replace brick-and-mortar restaurants but he is considering opening more of them and incorporating some virtual brands -- secondary concepts with narrow menus run by the same staff from the same location under another name. Cappriotti's is looking at a fully vegetarian virtual brand as well as one for breakfast sandwiches and another focused solely on beef.

    As more chains and independent restaurants explore virtual brands, it has touched a nerve among some frequent app-based diners. Several readers have reached out to LAist to complain about restaurants repackaging themselves dozens of times as if they were new concepts, and about feeling tricked after they accidentally ordered from the same old spot down the block. A tempest sprung up in a teapot earlier this year when people discovered that Pasqually's Pizza in Philadelphia was run by a chef from the Chuck E. Cheese universe and that the pizzas from the two businesses were baked in the same ovens.

    Yes, it would be disappointing if you thought you were ordering from a new, independent restaurant only to discover you had ordered a pie from a brand focused more on plastic ball pits than pepperoni. On the other hand, choosing a restaurant based on in-app recommendations from a delivery service is like forming your political opinions based on your sketchy uncle's Facebook links.

    If you're concerned with the ethics of this branding tactic, take a minute to scroll through Instagram or Google. You should be able to figure out which restaurants are independent, single-focus kitchens and which are repackaged entities.

    In fact, the lower barrier for entry with ghost kitchens is reminiscent of a trend born at another dire time for the food industry -- the fancy food truck craze that took root during the recession of the early aughts.

    The best ghost kitchens, like the most popular food trucks, will probably leverage their success to move on to greener, more permanent pastures. As Morris puts it, if you don't evolve beyond a ghost kitchen, "Did you really build a brand? Or are you just offering a food service?"


    Ben Mesirow They live and die by delivery. Without a location, are they building sustainable brands or just offering fancy catering? Wed, 02 Dec 2020 07:00:00 -0800 LA's Ghost Kitchens Aren't An Illusion -- But Beware Of Phantom Branding
    Answers to possible test questions about the United States are written on a whiteboard during a U.S. citizenship test preparation class for immigrants, June 16, 2016 in Perris, California. (ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images)

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    Is there a better, more appropriate way to end 2020 than by making the U.S. naturalization test just a little more punishing?

    That's what the Trump Administration did last month, when U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced it was revising the civics portion of the test to add 28 more potential questions -- questions that are slightly more subjective, and therefore more difficult to answer, than before.

    Those questions went into effect Tuesday, Dec. 1.

    Here's how it works: Applicants are given a list of 128 potential questions in advance. When they sit down for the test, a USCIS officer will ask them 20 questions from that list. The whole process is verbal -- no multiple choice, no writing down your answers. You need to get 12 answers right to pass.

    How is that different than before? The old version of the test had 100 potential questions -- meaning 28 fewer flashcards to study. The officer would ask 10 questions and you'd have to get six right to pass.

    "The new test increases the number of questions that applicants must study from 100 to 128, it doubles the number of questions they must answer correctly to pass the test, and it requires a much higher level of English language fluency to pass," said Rosalind Gold, Chief Public Policy Officer for the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund, an L.A.-based non-profit that works on immigration and naturalization issues.

    The questions are also more slightly more subjective than before. It's subtle, but makes a difference. For example, one of the new questions is:

    Supreme Court Justices serve for life. Why?

    This isn't an simple question with one correct answer such as What year was American founded? or How long is a Congressional term?

    It's a lot more subjective than that.

    First of all, this isn't something every American inherently knows. Most of us are aware that Supreme Court Justices don't have term limits, but we might have just thought, Well, that's the law, right? Wrong. Nowhere in the Constitution are term limits actually specified. (Article III says that judges of both the Supreme Court and lower federal courts "shall hold their offices during good behavior.") Speaking of vague ...

    To make the question more complicated, there's been healthy political debate about this issue for years. Some believe life terms really do help shield Supreme Court Justices from political influence. Others think there should be term limits on justices. You could write a book on this question, but here's the answer the citizenship test is looking for: To be independent (of politics) or to limit outside (political) influence.

    If the person taking the test answers slightly differently, it's up the USCIS officer to decide whether or not their answer meets the criteria for correctness.

    See what we mean by subjectivity? How would you answer this question? Now imagine that English isn't your first language, and try again.

    "Under the federal law governing citizenship, people are only required to know enough English to use words in ordinary usage ... or to know basic English," Gold explained. "So by complicating the language in the questions, by introducing vague concepts, and by not permitting applicants to provide a concrete answer, the new test creates an unfair and unnecessary obstacle for the nearly nine million legal permanent residents who are eligible for U.S. citizenship."

    As if all this isn't difficult enough, one of the answers to an old question has been changed to be ... WRONG.

    Here's the question:

    Who does a U.S. Senator represent?

    If you're thinking the answer is "the people in their state" or "all of the people in their state," you'd be right ... on the previous version of the test.

    If you gave that answer today, you'd get the question wrong (!!).

    That's because the Trump Administration changed the correct answer to "citizens of their state," which, Gold from NALEO says, is factually incorrect.

    "Senators represent everyone in the state, not just citizens," she told LAist. "The concept of representation does not just exist to say that lawmakers only represent the people who have the right to vote. Otherwise, you'd say that the lawmakers could ignore what is in the best interests of children, or immigrants who are in the nation legally."

    The new version of the test also added this question: Who does a member of the House of Representatives represent? The answer provided also specifies citizenship: Citizens in their (congressional) district.

    However, the U.S. Census specifically counts all residents of a state to determine representation in Congress -- again, not just U.S. citizens.

    The Trump Administration is currently pushing a plan to exclude immigrants without legal status from the census count that determines how many seats each state gets in Congress. It's under consideration by the Supreme Court as of this week. But right now, in the reality we are living in, these elected officials represent "the people" in their congressional district, not just "the citizens."

    Gold said that while we don't have evidence that the new language used in both these questions was intentionally meant to leave out non-citizen immigrants, "the changes do reflect a deeply flawed understanding of our nation's democratic processes."

    A US citizenship test review booklet and notes are seen during a citizenshipt test prearation class in Perris, California, June 16, 2016. (ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images)

    Here's another example. The old test had this question:

    The idea of self-government is in the first three words of the Constitution. What are these words?

    The answer to the above question is very straightforward. There's only one correct response: "We the People."

    Now the question has been changed to this:

    The U.S. Constitution starts with the words "We the People." What does "We the People" mean?

    See the difference? It's a lot harder because it's basically an essay question in disguise. You could do a dissertation on this.

    Here are some of the answers that USCIS will be looking for:


    Popular sovereignty

    Consent of the governed

    People should govern themselves (Example of) social contract

    See what we mean by "more difficult" now?

    Here are some more of the new/revised questions.

    Ready to test yourself? (Answer key below).


    1. What is the form of government of the United States?

    2. Name one thing the U.S. Constitution does.

    3. Why does each state have two senators?

    4. Name two important ideas from the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.

    5. Many documents influenced the U.S. Constitution. Name one.

    6. Name one power of the U.S. Congress.

    7. Why do U.S. representatives serve shorter terms than U.S. Senators?

    8. The President of the United States can serve only two terms. Why?

    9. The executive branch has many parts. Name one.

    10. Why is the Electoral College important?


    1. Republic, Constitution-based federal republic, Representative democracy

    (If you just answered "Democracy" and this was a real test, it would be up to the USCIS to determine if you are right or wrong. FUN!)

    2. Forms the government, Defines powers of government, Defines the parts of government, Protects the rights of the people

    3. Equal representation (for small states), The Great Compromise (Connecticut Compromise)

    4. Equality, Liberty, Social contract, Natural rights, Limited government, Self-government

    5. Declaration of Independence Articles of Confederation, Federalist Papers, Anti-Federalist Papers, Virginia Declaration of Rights, Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, Mayflower Compact, Iroquois Great Law of Peace

    6. Writes laws, Declares war, Makes the federal budget

    7. To more closely follow public opinion

    8. (Because of) the 22nd Amendment, To keep the president from becoming too powerful

    9. President (of the United States) Cabinet, Federal departments and agencies

    10. It decides who is elected president. It provides a compromise between the popular election of the president and congressional selection.

    We're not going to list all 128 questions, but you can find them here. And if you want to do a fun game of compare and contrast, you can find the old questions here.


    Gina Pollack The new U.S. citizenship test that took effect Tuesday includes 28 more potential questions for applicants -- questions that are both more subjective and more difficult than before. Wed, 02 Dec 2020 06:00:00 -0800 The U.S. Citizenship Test Just Got Harder. Would You Pass?
    L.A. County firefighters work to stop flames from reaching a house under construction on Dume Drive in Malibu during the Woolsey Fire on November 9, 2018. (Brian Feinzimer/Fein Image)

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    As strong Santa Ana winds batter our bone-dry Southern California hills, which haven't seen substantial rain since last spring, authorities are warning everyone to be on alert for fires.

    The National Weather Service is saying conditions are "particularly dangerous," comparing them to those that caused the massive Thomas Fire in 2017.

    In anticipation, the Los Angeles County Fire Department is sending out strike teams to problem areas so that they can respond quickly to any fire.

    To find out what it's like waiting for the worst, last year on a red-flag night, I took a trip out to Station 89 in Agoura Hills, where Strike Team 1103 Alpha was hunkered down.


    By the time I got there at 9 p.m., the firefighters had already eaten a taco dinner and were ready to crash.

    Wind gusts of up to 80 miles per hour were expected to hit the Santa Monica Mountains that night, raising the fire risk in the steep hills between the 101 Freeway and the beaches of Malibu.

    At any minute the team might have to wake up from a dead sleep and go.

    "We want to be in the s**t," said Engineer Jeff Kimura. "We always say 1103 is the tip of the spear. We want to be there first, do as much as we can and take care of business."

    Most of the prep work had already been done.

    Any items they'd need, like brush boots, shirts, and goggles meant to protect their eyes from ash, had been laid out. Cards listing critical radio frequencies had been pre-written so they could communicate in the field. Maps of the area were pulled up on GPS in the cabin of the truck. And they'd taken a trip to REI to buy some snacks and ready-to-eat backpacking meals in case they had to be out in the field for a while.

    "The Woolsey Fire we were up for 38 hours straight the first couple of days. We were just following the fire, putting house fires out," said Kimura.

    "You get really hangry after a little while. After the first couple of strike teams, you're like OK, on this next one you're like I'm going to pack some extra food, some extra bags of jerky."


    Santa Ana winds cause erratic fire behavior, which is obviously a big risk to firefighters on the ground.

    Just the week before, Kimura and his colleagues had had a close call on another wind driven event -- the Tick Fire -- out in Santa Clarita.

    They were in a narrow valley trying to protect a house, when a wall of flames began to close in behind them far more quickly than they'd anticipated, he said. They had less than a minute pack up their hoses, jump in the truck, and race away.

    "The fire was licking the engine. We actually burned a couple of stickers, melted a light, and made it," said Kimura. "Fifteen-30 seconds later we would've been driving through fire."

    In the days before the red flag, 1103 had already driven the nearby mountains, spotting escape routes and safe areas they could retreat to if everything went pear-shaped.

    "It's kind of like you're a doomsday predictor and you're trying to predict the worst-case scenario," said Captain Eric Tucker.

    "A true safe area might be an area where you can stand there and the fire's going to burn by you, and you're going to be able to stand like I am right now with no safety equipment, no protective equipment or anything like that."

    Also crucial to prep are conversations with veteran firefighters.

    "We have some individuals on the job who've seen a lot of fires and they'll tell you, 'Oh, I've been on this same fire five times over the course of 35 years on the job,'" said firefighter Greg Thomas.

    "Fires like to burn the same. Even though it's a different wind event, the wind's stronger so it's going to burn a little different, but fires go pretty much in the same area if they start in the same area."


    When asked about people's behavior during wildfires, Firefighter DJ Russell said he's most concerned about homeowners who don't leave when evacuation orders are issued.

    "If people decide to stay at their house, that's their decision, but if they get in our way while we're trying to save others it can be frustrating," he said.

    Chief Steve Cabrera said that sometimes they'll find property owners, clad in fire gear, planning on protecting their homes from encroaching flames, all on their own.

    "We try to let the guys know, 'Hey this guy's committed, he's going to stay. It's his property, he's going to protect it,'" said Cabrera.

    "We do warn them that the ultimate danger is them dying. So I might tell them, 'If it gets really bad, duck inside your house and come out if your house starts burning down, obviously come out where it's safe.'"

    "Usually when you say, 'You may die,' their face changes a little bit. And we've had that conversation and they've said, 'Yeah, I think it's time to go.'"


    Eventually, 1103 booted me out so that they could get some sleep, which was a good move, because just seven hours later the Easy Fire broke out in Simi Valley about 15 miles away.

    Pushed by strong winds, it crept right up to the edge of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.

    1103 and countless other groups converged on the blaze, and in less than 24 hours the fire was brought under control.

    A close call on a day with high winds, but they were fortunate -- it was no Woolsey Fire. While three structures were destroyed, no lives were lost.

    Jacob Margolis With big, unstoppable wind driven wildfires still a possibility, L.A.'s firefighters need any edge they can get. Wed, 02 Dec 2020 06:00:00 -0800 LA's Fire Conditions Are 'Particularly Dangerous' Right Now. How Firefighters Are Getting Ready
    A customer orders at Love Hour's parking lot pop-up. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

    As 2020 draws to a close, small businesses have persevered despite it all ... not only because of SoCal's innovative culture, but because they've figured out how to serve new markets. And, quite frankly, because they've had to.


    In March, as stay-at-home orders were put in place, Heathyr Lawrence of Mantrap -- a Costa Mesa-based fashion brand that's been around since 1989 (no small feat in fashion) -- turned a spare bedroom into a studio, seeking a safer way to work from home. It's a cheery white-and-pink space filled with samples and patterns and photos of all the work she's done over the years -- ad styling, costume and shoe design, ready-to-wear lines, she's done it all in fashion. At first, Lawrence gave away elastic and supplies to friends who were making masks and went about her design business as usual. But then, she realized maybe she should jump into the mask game too. Using leftover fabric from previous collections, Lawrence began making runs of masks that quickly sold out. As October approached, she decided to try a bat mask design.

    Heathyr Lawrence at home in Mantrap's studio. (Giuliana Mayo/LAist)

    "You know, I didn't really have any expectations to be honest with you," Lawrence said. "And I did it. And it was crazy. Crazy! I couldn't make them all myself."

    Until then, Mantrap's customer base had been "very pink and kitty," and -- except for mask sales -- it was looking like it was going to be a slow year. Once her bat masks hit Instagram, though, they went viral. Traffic to Mantrap's online store exploded, bringing in a more diverse clientele than she had ever seen. Now, post-Halloween, still with more orders than she can make at home, Lawrence sends out sewing work to a contractor who completes the work in a local factory. "It was a pretty good season for bats," she joked.

    A look inside Mantrap's Costa Mesa studio. (Giuliana Mayo/LAist)

    Lawrence has moved on to her next seasonal item: knit Christmas sweater masks and other holiday wear. That said, she's still selling plenty of bat masks: "I feel like [the coronavirus pandemic] totally brought my company back to life in a strange way."


    L.A'.s restaurant industry has been hit hard. According to a National Restaurant Association survey, 1 in 6 restaurants that were open in March will be closed by the end of the year. Stay-at-home orders issued in mid-March closed Love Hour's doors to customers. The quarantine left one of the Koreatown bar and restaurant's co-owners, Jimmy Han, with no revenue stream -- for himself or his employees. With the help of federal paycheck protection loans, though, he was able to furlough his employees, then slowly reopen -- with a twist.

    Diners eat inside Love Hour's pop-up parking lot dining tent, prior to the city of L.A.'s latest pandemic dining restrictions. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

    He turned the burger joint's unassuming parking lot into a bustling -- but socially-distanced -- outdoor dining space. Han, grateful for the parking lot which gave him the ability to still serve customers under the city's new rules, invested in tents, lights, chairs, branded crates and plants to create a welcoming (and very Instagrammable) al fresco dining "room."

    "We're fortunate enough to have a parking lot and a lot of outdoor space so we can still work with what we got," Han said. "But all the other restaurants that don't have an outdoor space? Every first of the month, they're expected to pay rent, loan payments, and any other bills and expenses."

    On Wednesday, Friday and Saturday evenings, patrons can order online or walk into the lot to get their hands on what TimeOut LA calls one of the "best burgers" in town. Following last week's order to close outdoor dining, however, they'll only be able to get takeout, a "gut punch" for the Love Hour team after finally reopening and gaining momentum. Han points out that without stimulus help from local and federal government, there's only so long any small restaurant can stay afloat under these restrictions.

    (Left to right) Duy Nguyen, Jimmy Han and Mike Pak, business partners in Koreatown's Love Hour. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

    "I think more than anything, what we need is assistance from the government, whether it's PPP loans again, or disaster loans, or some kind of stimulus. With government assistance, we can afford to be safer, and do what we can to keep the business going. And, at the same time, keep people safe."

    Next up to keep the cash coming in at Love Hour? Merch. Skateboard decks, shirts, hoodies -- all branded in their signature yellow, black and red to help make up for the losses of in-person dining sales while they wait out this latest order from the city. "I mean, help us help our staff and help us stay alive. Buy some Love Hour merch for Christmas gifts," Han playfully suggests.


    It might not be one of the first industries to come to mind when thinking of what the coronavirus has left reeling, but the pornography business has suffered massive financial losses. Best estimates put annual earnings from porn at around $5 billion worldwide. With shoots shut down for months earlier this year because COVID-19 test kits weren't readily available, the effects on the porn industry and local economy are still undetermined. But Aiden Starr (as she's known in the industry), a veteran performer, director and producer, says she's seen big changes to the business.

    A veteran of the adult industry, Aiden Starr works online from her downtown L.A. studio. (Courtesy Aiden Starr)

    "I was directing, really an ungodly amount of pornography, and my company was executive producing pornography ... and then COVID happened, and it just ground to a crazy halt," Starr said.

    Her skepticism about testing accuracy and concern about possible exposure on-set brought her back in front of the camera, where she now performs solo on OnlyFans, an online content subscription service popular with sex workers. It was a major career shift for Starr after years of directing and producing for other companies.


    Speaking about the adult industry overall, Starr said: "We test for a million things, and we just added COVID onto that. The test comes out positive, and the shoots get cancelled, and it blows all these resources and time. It's nearly impossible to shoot right now."

    In terms of her own comfort levels, she said: "Some people are able to pull it off with certain performers, but it's a risk and it's dangerous. And I just feel more comfortable doing solo stuff right now until it seems like it's leveled out, or a vaccine is available."

    Starr's return to on-camera work has been a time for self-reflection too. "I decided to start just doing self-shot content, which is weird, because I'm 41," she said. "And, you know, I have a 41-year-old's body. So it was like a really big adaptation for me, getting to know my body again, as opposed to when I was in my 20s, and I shot a lot of pornography. Becoming the focus of my content was probably the biggest change."

    Shooting solo scenes in her brightly lit downtown L.A. studio for fans online, instead of the dozens of films or scenes she would normally produce in a year, has meant a loss of "hundreds of thousands of dollars." But she's making it work while she holds out for a vaccine and a safe return to work as usual.


    What does a distiller do when most of the bars and restaurants in the country are closed? Make hand sanitizer. Beautifully-balanced and thoughtfully composed hand sanitizer -- not the simple, mass-produced unscented stuff the other guys crank out. That's what Morgan McLachlan, master distiller at L.A's Amass, did in her spare time stuck at home earlier this year, pandemic looming, and pregnant with an April due date.

    Morgan McLachlan holding a bottle of sanitizer she developed for Amass. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

    "I was pregnant with Arthur, and it was like the very last couple days of February," McLachlan said. "I decided that I was just going to make some hand sanitizer for myself, because I couldn't find it anywhere. It's transformed ... into a significant business unit within our company."

    A self-described "hippie princess," McLachlan previously developed a gin for Amass from botanicals native to L.A., including cardamom, reishi mushroom and marigold. She'd also dabbled in perfume for years. So she grabbed some essential oils from around the house to whip up her first batch of sanitizer called "Four Thieves," a spicy earthy scent made with aloe, cinnamon, allspice, clove and more.

    "The creative process is really the same building gin and building aroma profiles for perfume," she said. "A lot of it's like flavor pairing, but also creating bass notes, middle notes, top notes -- things that you get at the beginning of the experience, things that you get at the end."

    Amass vodka and gin taking in the sunset on McLachlan's porch. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

    McLachlan said Amass had been talking about expanding into a botanic brand that focuses on personal care products as well as spirits, but the pandemic really pushed their hand. She has since developed two other scents and they're developing a soak to be released for the holidays called "Forest Bath," inspired by her Canadian roots.

    "It really came from me wanting to go home to the Pacific Northwest," McLachlan said. "I developed a fragrance out of essential oils that smelled like where I'm from, because I can't go there right now."

    Necessity and nostalgia helped Amass find a new product and way forward in the pandemic, adding 15 new full-time jobs to keep up. The company has also donated sanitizer to frontline workers and Dig Deep, an organization that delivers clean water to Navajo reservations. As for the future, McLachlan hopes people recognize the importance of hospitality. "All of those little things that we just sort of took for granted," she noted, "I think we're gonna really savor more on the other end of this."

    Giuliana Mayo L.A.'s small businesses are coming up with creative ways to navigate the coronavirus economy; some are even flourishing. Tue, 01 Dec 2020 18:30:00 -0800 The Pandemic Pivot: How Small Businesses Are Staying Afloat
    L.A. County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl (left), California Governor Gavin Newsom (center), San Francisco Mayor London Breed (right). (left to right: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images, Justin Sullivan/Getty Images, Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

    Our news is free on LAist. To make sure you get our coverage: Sign up for our daily coronavirus newsletter. To support our nonprofit public service journalism: Donate now.

    Here's the thing about being a public figure, especially a political one: If you're going to talk the talk, you better walk the walk.

    It looks bad (really bad) if you insist people follow all of many the coronavirus health protocols in place right now-- like wearing a face mask, not travelling to see family over the holidays, avoiding people outside of your immediate household and not eating sit-down meals at restaurants -- then don't adhere to them yourself.

    But when has that ever stopped a politician? Rules that apply to the rest of us don't apply to them, right?

    In that spirit, we present this list (which we're happy to keep adding to) of California politicians who warned us about the dangers of eating at restaurants but did it anyway.

    • Gavin Newsom - On November 6, as coronavirus cases began to surge in California, the governor attended a birthday party with 12 people in Napa County. The dinner, held at The French Laundry, one of the fanciest and most acclaimed restaurants in California, was for one of Newsom's political advisers and included families from several different households. Although the event was allowed at that time, it's exactly the type of gathering Newsom has been urging Californians to avoid. The blowback has been fierce, forcing Newsom to issue an apology: "While our family followed the restaurant's health protocols and took safety precautions, we should have modeled better behavior and not joined the dinner." You think?
    • London Breed - A day after Newsom's dinner, the San Francisco mayor went to dinner at The French Laundry (yes, the same restaurant!) with seven other people from an unknown number of households, reports the San Francisco Chonicle. Like Newsom's dinner, the meal occured in a semi-enclosed space, which didn't violate state or Napa County guidelines at the time but it went against general health advice to avoid being around people outside your household without social distancing or wearing masks. Breed's spokesperson told the Chronicle that the mayor has, in recent months, dined outside at several restaurants to help support them. But with the number of COVID-19 cases surging, "She is once again limiting her actions and is encouraging all San Franciscans to do the same."
    • Sheila Kuehl - On Tuesday, November 24, hours after she voted to uphold a ban on outdoor dining at local restaurants, the L.A. County supervisor was spotted dining outside at Il Forno Trattoria in Santa Monica, reports FOX11. Earlier that day, during a discussion at the Board of Supervisors meeting, Kuehl had said, "It's a bit of magical thinking on everyone's part to think that at any restaurant anywhere, the server keeps a six foot distance, I think, from the table where he or she is taking an order." That didn't stop her from going out to eat that night. Kuehl's spokesperson issued a statement that said, "She did dine al fresco at Il Forno on the very last day it was permissible. She loves Il Forno, has been saddened to see it, like so many restaurants, suffer from a decline in revenue. She ate there, taking appropriate precautions, and sadly will not dine there again until our Public Health Orders permit."
    • Sam Liccardo - The mayor of San Jose admitted he broke safety guidelines when he went to Thanksgiving dinner at his parents' home. The meal was attended by eight people from five different households. Although it was served outdoors at distanced tables, Liccardo later issued an apology: "I understand that the state regulations, issued on November 13th, limit the number of households at a private gathering to three. I apologize for my decision to gather contrary to state rules, by attending this Thanksgiving meal with my family. I understand my obligation as a public official to provide exemplary compliance with the public health orders, and certainly not to ignore them. I commit to do better."

    If you think these actions don't have real-world effects, think again.

    In Redondo Beach, Eat at Joe's owner Alex Jordan has vowed to defy L.A. County's outdoor dining ban. The place was full of customers on Monday afternoon, reports NBC4.

    Outside the diner, Jordan hung a banner that reads "The French Laundry, Patio Dining," a clear dig at Newsom and his dinner party.

    Seen your local pol noshing, sipping or partying with people in violation of coronavirus regulations? Tip us!

    Elina Shatkin If you're going to talk the talk, you better walk the walk. Tue, 01 Dec 2020 17:33:00 -0800 A Running List Of CA Officials Who Warned Us About Eating At Restaurants, Then Did It Themselves
    Fish tacos. (Shan Li Fang/Unsplash)

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    This story has been updated with additional information.

    Los Angeles County officials today announced details of their Keep L.A. County Dining grant program, an effort to help restaurants that have seen their business plummet due to COVID-19.

    The program will give $30,000 to brick-and-mortar restaurant owners (sorry, no pop-ups or food trucks) who qualify to spend on employee payroll, operational expenses and adaptive business practices they need to institute to stay open.

    The devil, however, is in the details and many restaurants won't qualify for the funds. To be eligible, restaurants must...

    1. be located in the County of Los Angeles but NOT in the cities of Los Angeles or Pasadena.
    2. have a fixed brick and mortar location with a full-service kitchen
    3. have fewer than 25 employees
    4. have a current heath inspection grade of "C" or better
    5. have been established and operating no later than March 4, 2020
    6. NOT have more than five business locations
    7. NOT be a corporate-owned franchise
    8. NOT have already received assistance from other L.A. County CARES Act programs
    9. demonstrate their business experienced hardship due to a COVID-19 closure and reduction in revenue

    In addition, the Los Angeles County Development Authority, which is overseeing the program says restaurants that had been offering outdoor dining on Nov. 24, before the three-week, countywide outdoor dining ban went into effect, will be placed at the top of the list.

    A spokesperson for LACDA tells LAist that the Keep L.A. Dining grants exclude restaurants in the cities of Los Angeles and Pasadena is because the city of L.A. received its own CARES Act funding while Pasadena has its own public health officer and is not following the L.A. County public health order that prohibits outdoor dining.

    Two people walk down a Burbank street that has been closed to vehicular traffic so restaurants can serve food outside during the coronavirus panademic, on Nov. 23. (Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images)

    The Keep L.A. County Dining grant program will start taking applications on Dec. 3 at midnight and will stop accepting them on Dec. 6 at 11:59 p.m. -- or whenever 2,500 applications are submitted.

    It's a safe bet the number of applicants will top out quickly, so if you're thinking of applying, start preparing your materials ASAP.

    The program was approved by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors last week, not long after the supes upheld the Department of Public Health's temporary ban on outdoor dining.

    A parklet at Berlin Coffee Shop, on E. 4th Street in Long Beach. (Brad Davis, AICP/Flickr Creative Commons)

    In Long Beach, Mayor Robert Garcia yesterday proposed a similar program -- a $5 million fund to help restaurants, bars and breweries that are struggling to stay afloat in the wake of new restrictions on outdoor dining.

    The money would come from future federal coronavirus relief funds awarded to local governments to help small businesses although the pool of money could potentially be larger, depending on the size and availability of that next stimulus package.

    Long Beach secured more than $40 million from the first round of CARES Act funding earlier this year.

    The Long Beach City Council is expected to discuss the proposal at its next regular meeting Dec. 8.

    Additional reporting by Emily Henderson

    Elina Shatkin Restaurants located in the city of L.A. can't apply for the $30,000 grants. Tue, 01 Dec 2020 11:23:08 -0800 LA County Launches A Grant Program For Struggling Restaurants -- But How Many Will Qualify?
    Arts & Entertainment
    "SPECTRUM" at Netflix headquarters in Hollywood. (courtesy Kilroy Realty)

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    Attending a grand unveiling right now isn't a great idea (social distance, everyone), so public art reveals are going virtual in the time of COVID-19. That includes the new site-specific piece, "SPECTRUM," on Netflix's Hollywood campus, which makes its debut today. The piece, a mosaic made up of 39,000 stainless steel sequins, reflects light in a way that resembles -- appropriately enough -- a woman's face on a giant video screen.

    Arist Maggie West. (Courtesy Kilroy Realty)

    Los Angeles-based artist/photographer Maggie West works in bright, glowing images. "SPECTRUM" is meant to explore gender expression, with the young woman intentionally depicted as androgynous. West has often worked to bring attention to causes she believes in. Her previous work includes a series on the gender spectrum and portraits inspired by body positivity and modern womanhood.

    "I think of 'Spectrum' as a new, revisioned take on a classic Hollywood portrait," West said in a statement. "This is my first public art piece that will be a permanent part of the landscape, and as someone who lived in Hollywood for over 10 years, it really means a lot to be doing a piece which is going to be here for years and years to come."

    You can watch the virtual reveal online here at 10 a.m., with the program repeating on a loop until 4 p.m. The live reveal includes video interviews, live chats, behind-the-scenes footage, and aerial cinematography of the installation itself.


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    It's part of a collaboration with the company that owns the real estate where Netflix's headquarters, along with the rest of the accompanying "On Vine" campus, is based. (Netflix also has space at Sunset Bronson Studios in Hollywood.)

    "Now more than ever, we need avenues that inspire," Kilroy Realty CEO John Kilroy said in a press release. "In a post-pandemic world, the role of public art will be even more important."

    "SPECTRUM" is also meant to pay tribute to Hollywood's heritage, according to Kilroy. It's placed next to the Netflix entrance.

    "'SPECTRUM' augments the design on so many different levels, and in this case the architecture and the art become one," project architect Joey Shimoda said in a press release.

    "SPECTRUM," as seen from the street. (Courtesy Kilroy Realty)

    The combination of the art and the building's entry creates what Shimoda called "a singular experience," taking visitors through "a six-story high passage into the building."

    West's art has been seen in cultural institutions such as the California Academy of Sciences, as well as being used by brands and celebrities.

    As the piece awaited its big reveal, it was covered with a message that encouraged people to "be curious." It will likely be viewed by many others once the curious can more freely move about the city once again.

    Mike Roe It's a 6-story-high mosaic depicting an androgynous young woman, titled "SPECTRUM." Tue, 01 Dec 2020 10:00:00 -0800 Netflix HQ Gets A New Face -- A Mosaic Made Of 39,000 Steel Sequins
    A server wearing a mask and face shield takes orders from customers at a restaurant in Beverly Hills on November 23, 2020. (ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images)

    By Anna Almendrala for Kaiser Health News

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    COVID-19 outbreaks have affected restaurants throughout Los Angeles County, from a Panda Express in Sun Valley to UCLA's Bruin Cafe. If you live in Los Angeles, you can access health department reports about these outbreaks online.

    But in most of the country, diners are left in the dark about which restaurants have been linked to outbreaks of the virus.

    Restaurants appear to be among the most common places to get infected with the COVID-19 virus, but contact tracing in most areas has been so lackluster that few health departments have been able to link disease clusters to in-person dining.

    When KHN contacted the health departments serving the 25 most populous counties in the U.S., only nine could confirm they were collecting and reporting data on potential links between restaurants and COVID cases.

    As of Monday, 13 of the 25 counties hadn't announced changes to their indoor restaurant dining policies, despite record-setting numbers of new COVID infections in the U.S.

    While public health researchers are convinced indoor dining is a risky activity in areas where COVID-19 is spreading, getting solid data to justify restaurant restrictions has been difficult. It takes in-depth, resource-heavy disease investigations to determine where people were exposed to the coronavirus, and those contact-tracing efforts have never gotten off the ground in most of the country.

    This has made it hard to develop more specific information about risky restaurants and bars, and may have contributed to an overall feeling of powerlessness in the face of the pandemic among people and officials.

    Outdoor tables are covered with plastic bags to prevent use outside a coffee shop in Glendale on November 29, 2020, as restaurants prepared for tightened Covid-19 restrictions. (ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images)

    It didn't have to be this way, said Dr. Bill Miller, a senior associate dean of research at the Ohio State University College of Public Health.

    "We've really missed an opportunity" to use contact tracing systematically to provide "useful information to give us ideas of where we might need to be intervening," he said.

    For contact tracing of other infectious diseases, such as HIV/AIDS, investigators usually ask patients to think through all the contacts with whom they might have shared a virus. They also dive further into the past to try to determine who might have infected the person in the first place.

    But U.S. contact tracing for COVID-19 hasn't taken this approach, in part because of a lack of resources and public trust. Contact-tracing departments are stretched thin, gathering minimum data and facing a suspicious and often uncooperative population.

    Contact tracers in Maricopa County, Arizona, prioritize learning the names of individuals over the locations where the coronavirus may be spreading. With the exception of long-term care facilities and a few other locations, investigators don't consider something an outbreak until they can trace 10 potential cases to a location, said Ron Coleman, a county spokesperson.

    Families, couples, and friends dine out outside a restaurant for Thanksgiving dinner on November 26, 2020 in New York City. (Scott Heins/Getty Images)

    As winter looms and people increasingly gather indoors, many local governments are flying blind, lacking the data to create and adjust COVID restriction policies that could make a meaningful dent in rising case rates.

    "Imagine there's some major sporting event," Miller said. "You might miss an entire cluster that came out of a social situation" if you didn't check whether, for example, a COVID-positive person had gone to a crowded bar to watch it.

    The COVID virus spreads mainly through respiratory droplets that an infected person can release by sneezing, coughing or talking, and a restaurant meal combines several high-risk activities in a single setting: going maskless to eat and drink, meeting up with people outside your household "bubble," and chatting over a leisurely meal. If the meal takes place indoors, poor ventilation aggravates these risks because of the virus's potential to linger in still air.

    Published research on the role restaurants play in the pandemic is highly suggestive. Taken altogether, the studies paint a scary picture of how potent restaurants can be in spreading COVID-19.

    People eat outside Hot and Cool Cafe, a Black-owned small business in Leimert Park on November 24, 2020. (PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images)

    A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study across 10 states found that those who had tested positive for COVID-19 were more than twice as likely to say they had dined at a restaurant in the two weeks before their illness began, compared with those who tested negative. Dining at a restaurant was the only activity that differed significantly between those who tested positive and those who tested negative for the coronavirus.

    For example, that study seemed to show no increased risk of infection linked to shopping, gathering with 10 or fewer people or spending time in an office, said Kiva Fisher, a CDC epidemiologist and lead author of the study.

    Not surprisingly, restaurant restrictions appear effective at slowing viral spread in a community. Out of the many social distancing restrictions states chose to implement at the beginning of the pandemic, shutting down restaurants had the strongest correlation to reducing the spread of the disease, according to researchers at the University of Vermont.

    A recent Stanford University-led study that used mobile phone data from different cities to create a simulation of viral spread suggests that restaurants operating at full capacity spread four times as many additional COVID-19 infections as the next-worst location, indoor gyms.

    The model predicts that only about 10% of "points of interest" -- public places where people gather -- account for over 80% of infections that occurred in public places, said Jure Leskovec of Stanford University, lead author of the mobile phone data study.

    "There are a small number of these superspreader sites that account for a large majority of infections," he said. One characteristic of superspreader sites is that "people are packed and stay there a long time."

    Employees work in a Burbank restaurant that is only open for to-go or delivery orders on November 23, 2020. (ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images)

    Still, none of these studies can definitively prove that restaurant dining causes infections, the researchers said. Identifying any individual restaurant case or cluster requires the kind of shoe-leather investigation that few communities in the U.S. have been able to conduct.

    "You'd have to follow the person and have a lot more detail and information to be able to make that claim," said CDC epidemiologist Fisher.

    Many countries have succeeded in following individual trails of virus. In China, for instance, contact tracing revealed how a restaurant's air conditioning unit may have carried a positive patient's viral droplets from one table to two others, infecting nine other people.

    In Japan, investigators use contact tracing to identify clusters of disease where people live or congregate. Out of about 3,000 cases confirmed from January to April in that country, investigators could identify 61 clusters, 16% of which were in restaurants or bars.

    The failure to achieve comprehensive contact tracing means that decisions about whether to close restaurants, or how many customers to allow at a time, have relied heavily on the local political climate. Because the data from contact tracing is sketchy, it's not always easy to correlate a community's restaurant restrictions with case rates.

    Servers clean tables inside Mel's Diner in West Hollywood on November 30, 2020, after Los Angeles County officials banned outdoor dining at restaurants, hoping to halt the latest surge in coronavirus cases. (ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images)

    In San Diego, where indoor dining had been permitted with restrictions since the debut of the state's tiered reopening system in August, 9.2% of COVID-infected residents reported visiting a bar or restaurant up to two weeks before their symptoms appeared. All indoor dining ended in the county Nov. 14 because the county reached a threshold of case reports that led to state-required closings.

    In Houston, meanwhile, 8.7% of COVID-positive people interviewed for contact tracing listed a restaurant, cafe or diner as a potential source of exposure since June 1. Restaurants there have been allowed to operate at 75% of indoor capacity since mid-September.

    Other local governments have contact tracing completion rates so low that the data gleaned may not be meaningful.

    For example, in Philadelphia, only about 2% of the COVID patients interviewed by contact tracers reported going to a restaurant, and the city allowed restaurants to reopen for indoor dining on Sept. 8. But it's not clear how representative the city's figures are. In one recent week, Philadelphia investigators were able to reach only 29% of the 2,110 positive cases they sought to contact. Despite this, indoor dining was stopped on Nov. 20 to combat a surge of cases.

    In California, the state restricts the operation of establishments based on overall case and positivity rates in each county. But counties with more robust contact-tracing programs, like Los Angeles, have been able to glean striking insights from interviewing positive patients.

    Empty patio tables separated by plastic dividers are adorned with American flags at Mel's Diner in West Hollywood on November 30, 2020. (ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images)

    In Los Angeles, about 6% of COVID infections have occurred among restaurant customers, according to the public health department, though only outdoor dining has been allowed there since the state debuted its current tiered system in August.

    That data suggests that even outdoor dining may spread the virus, said Shira Shafir, an associate professor of community health sciences and epidemiology at UCLA.

    She gets takeout regularly to support the restaurants in her neighborhood but hasn't eaten out since February, having concluded it isn't worth the risk to herself and other patrons, or to the restaurant workers.

    "I don't want to ask someone else to take a risk that I'm unwilling to take," she said.


    Kaiser Health News Public health researchers believe restaurants are among the most common places to get infected with COVID-19 but contact tracing has been so lackluster that few health departments have been able to link disease clusters to in-person dining. Tue, 01 Dec 2020 09:27:00 -0800 COVID On The Menu: How Failed Contact Tracing Leaves Diners in the Dark
    Women perform during a cheongsam contest at Hengdian World Studios on June 23, 2018 in Jinhua, Zhejiang Province of China. (Zhou Jianshi/VCG via Getty Images)

    Our news is free on LAist. To make sure you get our coverage: Sign up for our daily newsletters. To support our non-profit public service journalism: Donate Now.

    Brianna Lee is one of 12 Racism 101 panelists, a group of diverse Angelenos with strong voices, tapped to answer questions asked by our LAist audience. Visit for more information on the project and to read other panelists' responses. Click here to ask your own question.

    Q: At what point does appreciation for another culture cross over into appropriation?

    I don't really see this as something where "appreciation" is on one side and "cultural appropriation" is on the other, with a clear delineation between the two. I think what we're talking about is all considered cultural appropriation, it's just some kinds are more harmful than others.

    Strictly speaking, cultural appropriation is the adoption of some element of another culture -- food, language, practices, fashion, etc. Anyone who lives in a place that is exposed to more than one culture appropriates; it's impossible to live in a globalized society where appropriation doesn't happen. I don't think it's inherently good or bad.

    But appropriation is harmful when it contributes to the further marginalization of an already marginalized group.

    If it reinforces stereotypes, erases cultural origins or exploits aspects of another culture for social or financial benefit (and not the benefit of the group it's appropriating from), it's harmful appropriation.

    Context and power dynamics matter here.

    That's why a white American who decides to learn to cook Chinese food won't elicit much outcry. In fact, it's celebrated and encouraged as a way to expand and diversify their worldviews through food.

    A display of Chinese take-out food and appropriate serving and eating items includes a Chinese-theme patterned bowl, saucer, and soup spoon, condiments, a teapot and tea, and four take-out containers containing (left to right) shrimp lo mein, pork-fried rice, sliced chicken and snow peas, and sweet and sour chicken, 1970s. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

    But say a white American decides to sprinkle some soy sauce on their food and call it Chinese. Then they start doing it on all their food and building up a personal brand as an "expert" on Chinese cuisine. Then they start profiting from it and begin being recognized for this fake culinary expertise as an "influencer."

    Now we've moved from innocuous to harmful acts of appropriation that have reduced Chinese culinary culture and knowledge to a caricature, with no benefit to actual Chinese people.

    Sometimes things get even messier than this.

    Different affinity groups -- based on race, ethnicity or gender identity -- have experienced different degrees of marginalization, and their members' reactions to specific acts of cultural appropriation will vary as a result.

    Since I'm Chinese American, I'm going to dissect one low-stakes example that dominated several conversations I had with other Chinese Americans for a short period of time: the Great Cheongsam Kerfuffle of 2018.

    The Kerfuffle began when a white teenager in Utah decided to wear a Chinese dress called a cheongsam (also known as a qipao in Mandarin) to her high school prom. She posted a photo of herself wearing it on Twitter.

    Then a Twitter user who appeared to be Asian American commented, "My culture is NOT your goddamn prom dress." Cue thousands of retweets, likes, and internet comments lambasting both the prom-going teenager and the offended Twitter user.

    The story was amplified even more when the New York Times picked it up.

    The Times reported divided reactions, between many Asian Americans who expressed annoyance and anger, and people in China who seemed happy that a white American was embracing a beautiful aspect of Chinese culture.

    Setting aside the questions about whether it's OK for the internet to pile on a private individual (a teenager, no less) for her fashion choice at a private event, there are a few things to unpack here.

    First, it's not a mind-blowing idea that people in China, Chinese immigrants and American-born Chinese might all have different views on things, including cultural appropriation. In this case, I think the more relevant question is: Why?

    Let's take my mom, for example. She emigrated from China to California in the '70s, and is generally fine with non-Chinese people wearing Chinese fashions. She'll even help friends buy them if they're interested. When I told her about the controversy with the cheongsam and the prom, she was genuinely confused. "Why would people be mad about that?" she asked.

    Much of her experience with race in America has been struggling against perceptions of Chinese inferiority. By the time she came to the U.S., the stereotype of Chinese immigrants as cheap, uneducated labor pervaded her community. She faced overt discrimination, was told to "go back to your country," and seethed anytime she heard a denigrating remark about China -- including from American-born Chinese -- because she knew it affected how people perceived her as a Chinese immigrant.


    The advancement of Chinese people in America and the surge in China's global influence have been a tremendous source of pride for her. So when any opportunity comes up to teach another person to appreciate an aspect of Chinese culture, she jumps at the chance. Someone admires a cheongsam -- great! They want to wear it -- even better.

    Context around the cheongsam matters, too. The dress doesn't have any kind of sacred or religious meaning, which immediately makes this situation different from, say, Native American headdresses at Victoria's Secret fashion shows.

    In the case of the prom, it wasn't being worn in an inappropriate context, either. The dress traces back to Shanghai in the 1920s as Chinese women were embracing Western concepts of gender equality and traditional gender roles. Over time it came to symbolize luxury and modernity, though in more recent decades it's become associated with tradition, too.

    But today, Chinese women wear cheongsams for fancy dress-up occasions all the time: weddings, beauty pageants, cultural celebrations. I wore one at my own wedding -- and I'll admit that before this controversy came up, I didn't know anything about the cheongsam's origins. (Honestly, I'm not sure how many Chinese people know about those origins either, the same way that many Americans may not know much about the origins of the three-piece suit or the white wedding dress.)

    Given all of this, it's pretty reasonable for a Chinese person to see a white girl wearing a cheongsam to prom and find nothing objectionable -- or even be pleased. It's also pretty reasonable to be outraged, too.

    Consider that, for many Asian Americans, much of our experience with race in America has to do with erasure.

    Asian American people and stories have largely been absent from popular culture and national narratives. TV shows, books, movies, music, toys -- only very recently are we starting to see a bit more representation in these areas. But for most of our lives, this representation was missing, or relegated to silent background characters or one-dimensional caricatures. There never seemed to be room for Asian Americans to be represented as whole people, with the same depth and fullness as white people seemed to be granted all the time.

    (Mick Brown via Unsplash)

    However, there have been a lot of Asian elements.

    Remember when lots of people started getting tattoos of Chinese characters without really knowing what they meant?

    Remember Gwen Stefani and the Harajuku Girls, her band of Japanese background dancers who largely came off as props?

    Remember the TV show "Firefly," in which half the in-show universe was permeated by Chinese language and culture, yet no Chinese people actually seemed to exist there? (Seriously, what happened to all the Chinese people?)

    Remember Katy Perry dressing up as a geisha?

    And in the middle of this, the cheongsam made a lot of appearances, too: at awards shows, on sitcoms, in Delia's catalogs.

    In so many of these cases, the aim didn't seem to be to celebrate Asian cultures so much as to flatter (mostly) white people.

    We can have entire separate conversations about whether each of these examples by themselves is harmful cultural appropriation. But collectively, this superficial celebration of Asian aesthetics while continuing to widely ignore Asian American people and experiences is the context for which a person could see a white girl wear a cheongsam to prom and get upset.

    So what's the answer here? Is this an example of harmful cultural appropriation, or is it not? My take is this: It's all of the above, and none of the above. Because I don't think this is the right question to ask.

    What bothered me most about the Cheongsam Kerfuffle was not the act of wearing the dress itself. It was the idea that the question at hand was, "What are non-Chinese people allowed to do?" and not, "Why do Chinese people feel the way they do about this?"

    Kynt Cothron (left), in a cheongsam, arrives with Vyxsin Fiala at the 60th Primetime Emmy Awards in L.A. The duo competed on "The Amazing Race." (Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

    If we were to draw clear boundaries around what does or doesn't constitute harmful cultural appropriation in all cases, a lot of people would be satisfied. They'd have the relief of knowing they were in the clear.

    But I'm not interested in arbitrating individual actions on behalf of an entire group of people (too much responsibility!), and more importantly, we wouldn't learn much. We'd allow the simple "this is OK/this is not OK" framework to bludgeon the nuances of the situation and future conversations: This isn't cultural appropriation, so you don't have a right to be angry. Which, by the way, is exactly what happened in the case of the prom.

    By instead asking, "How does this make you feel, and why?" we give ourselves the opportunity to explore the diversity within groups of people and learn more about the experiences that shape our perspectives. We allow ourselves to ask more complicated questions.

    Would it seem better if a Chinese friend encouraged that Utah teenager to wear that cheongsam?

    Is it different when it's a white person doing it versus a Black person?

    How did we feel when Nicki Minaj put chopsticks in her hair and modeled herself after Chun-Li?

    Was it weird that a lot of Asian American girls I grew up with also put chopsticks in their hair in the '90s, even though it's not a thing that originated in Asian culture?

    By the way, these make up a lot of discussions I have with my Asian American friends -- they just never seem to get the chance to penetrate into wider conversation.

    But also, by asking deeper questions, we get to center the conversation around the experiences of marginalized groups, rather than on the potential faux pas of other people. And in the end, that'll help us all learn a lot more.


    Do you have a question that you'd like to ask as part of Racism 101? Tell us.

    Brianna Lee "If we were to draw clear boundaries around what does or doesn't constitute harmful cultural appropriation in all cases, a lot of people would be satisfied," writes Brianna Lee, part of the LAist newsroom and a Racism 101 answer panelist. But as Lee explains, she isn't interested in making the masses comfortable. She'd rather make them think, talk and learn. Mon, 30 Nov 2020 13:30:00 -0800 Racism 101: At What Point Does Cultural Appreciation Cross Over Into Appropriation?
    Angelica Tome does a chalk drawing of a red AIDS ribbon on Castro Street in San Francisco. World AIDS Day has been observed on December 1, since 1988. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

    With most events, concerts and festivals canceled or pivoting online, please consider contributing to your local arts organizations or to individual artists and performers.

    L.A. County's new "safer at home" order goes into effect on Nov. 30. Check the status of any drive-through events listed before heading out as the new safety measures only allow occupants in each car from the same household.

    Enjoy drag queen hijinks for a good cause. Listen to the cast of Ma Rainey's Black Bottom discuss August Wilson's work. Honor World AIDS Day. Work on your DIY projects with other crafters (remotely). Tune in for KPCC/LAist's Unheard L.A.

    Jinkx Monsoon and BenDeLaCreme attend Hulu's "Happiest Season" Premiere at The Grove on November 17, 2020. (Rachel Murray/Getty Images for Hulu)

    Monday, Nov. 30; 6 p.m. PDT

    'Twas the Night Before Give-mas: A Virtual Benefit Variety Fundraiser
    Outfest kicks off the holiday season with a variety show that doubles as a fundraiser right before Giving Tuesday. Marc Malkin hosts the night of original sketches, drag queen hijinks and live music. Expect special appearances from Margaret Cho, Charlie Carver, Janaya Future Khan, Candis Cayne, Steven Canals, Jinkx Monsoon, Ben DeLaCreme and Out100 honorees. The show will be livestreamed on ( and Outfest social media @outfest).
    COST: FREE, but donations accepted; MORE INFO

    Monday, Nov. 30 - Wednesday, Dec. 30

    6100 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Woodland Hills
    This holiday light show honors a multitude of cultural traditions as guests drive through nearly a million lights timed to seasonal songs. The experience includes a "Holidays Around the Globe" display, a wintery forest surrounding the Valley's version of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, North Pole mountains and a snowflake tunnel. There are plenty of photo opportunities, plus Santa and Mrs. Claus will be on hand with candy canes. WonderLAnd is closed on Dec. 24 and 25. Advance purchase is highly recommended.
    COST: Tickets start at $60 per vehicle; MORE INFO

    Tuesday, Dec. 1

    Where Will You Be? HIV/AIDS and the Poetry of Perseverance and Commemoration
    The Broad presents a virtual program in honor of World AIDS Day with Black AIDS Institute founder Phill Wilson, artist and entrepreneur Maurice Harris and poet and performer Pamela Sneed. Drawing inspiration from poet and activist Pat Parker's poem, "[Boots are being polished]," the title has political implications and demands remembrance.

    View this post on Instagram

    A post shared by Alex Theatre (@alextheatre)

    Tuesday, Dec. 1; 7 p.m. PST

    Laugh It Off Comedy Night
    The night of stories and comedy is streamed live from the stage of the Alex Theatre in Glendale with a lineup that includes Matt Kirshen, Ty Barnett, Kristin Key and Alonzo Bodden. Held on Giving Tuesday, ticket purchases become a donation to Glendale Arts. After the tickets are purchased, guests will receive information on how to tune into the show.
    COST: $20.21 - $100; MORE INFO

    Tuesday, Dec. 1; 10 a.m.

    SPECTRUM Art Reveal at on Vine
    This virtual event unveils a new public art piece that coincides with the completion of Netflix's new campus in Hollywood. Spectrum was created by Maggie West x SparkleMasters and explores beauty, gender expression and wonder. The event includes commentary and live virtual chat with guests.

    Actors Colman Domingo (top left), Glynn Turman (bottom) and Michael Potts (top right) explore playwright August Wilson's 'Ma Rainey's Black Bottom.' (Courtesy of the California African American Museum)

    Tuesday, Dec. 1; 5 - 6:30 p.m. PST

    Man of Change: August Wilson's Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
    The California African American Museum hosts an online discussion focusing on the upcoming Netflix adaptation of Wilson's play. Starring Viola Davis and the late Chadwick Boseman, it tells the story of a Chicago music studio in 1927 where blues singer Ma Rainey joins her band for a recording session. Listen to cast members Colman Domingo, Glynn Turman and Michael Potts explore Wilson's work and their roles and the upcoming release, which was adapted for the screen by playwright, director and actor Ruben Santiago-Hudson. RSVP for Zoom instructions.

    Tuesday, Dec. 1 - Friday, Jan. 1, 2021

    Sleepy Hollow Holiday Lights Extravaganza
    Sleepy Hollow Neighborhood
    Roberts Rd., off Pacific Coast Highway, Torrance
    This candy cane lane with zillions of lights and displays is tucked into a South Torrance neighborhood. Walking at a safe distance offers a more relaxed way to view the lights without worrying about holding up the cars behind you. Park on Pacific Coast Highway, Calle Mayor or Prospect.

    Radha Blank, writer-director of 'The Forty-Year-Old-Version', receives the Vanguard Award from the Sundance Institute. (Jeong Park / NETFLIX 2020)

    Wednesday, Dec. 2; 4:30 p.m. PST

    Vanguard Award: A Celebration of Radha Blank
    The Sundance Institute honors Radha Blank, the writer, director and star of The Forty-Year-Old Version. She'll be in conversation with last year's honoree, Lulu Wang, as well as filmmaker Julie Dash and actor Octavia Spencer.

    Wednesday, Dec. 2; 12 p.m. PST

    Christopher Nolan, Tom Shone and Kenneth Branagh
    Film critic Shone convinced filmmaker Nolan to cooperate on his book The Nolan Variations: The Movies, Mysteries, and Marvels of Christopher Nolan. Along with Branagh, they'll take part in a virtual discussion of the book as well as Nolan's work, process and creativity. Organizers ask that attendees support their authors and local bookstores by purchasing a copy of The Nolan Variations from Chevalier's Books.

    L.A. Louver holds a live virtual conversation with artists Sarah Awad and Rebecca Campbell. (Courtesy of L.A. Louver)

    Wednesday, Dec. 2; 2 p.m. PST

    Live Conversation with Sarah Awad and Rebecca Campbell
    L.A. Louver gallery presents a live virtual conversation with artists Sarah Awad and Rebecca Campbell. Their works focus on the figure, from Awad's abstraction and allegory to Campbell's use of personal narrative. Artists will be available to answer audience questions during the live Q&A.

    Wednesday, Dec. 2; 12 p.m. PST

    Celluloid Space: Hollywood's Cold War
    The Wende Museum's latest lunchtime discussion focuses on Hollywood and the films it made during the Cold War. Tony Shaw, a history professor in the U.K., and Joes Segal, the Wende Museum's chief curator, discuss communism on celluloid.

    Unheard LA revisits stories from past shows as starting points for deeper listening and conversations. (KPCC/LAist)

    Wednesday, Dec. 2; 6 p.m. PT

    KPCC In Person: Unheard LA
    KPCC/LAist's live storytelling series returns in a virtual format (revisiting stories recorded for radio broadcast). Listen to Alex Alpharaoh, Joe Limer and Cara Lopez Lee tell tales related to "home." The program is hosted by Bruce Lemon Jr. and Race In LA's Dana Amihere.
    COST: Pay-what-you-can, from free to $20; MORE INFO

    The Bite LA's Winter Holiday & Stocking Stuffer Sweets Crawl will be open select dates and times throughout December at Legg Lake in South El Monte. (Courtesy of Bite LA)

    Thursday, Dec. 3 - Sunday, Dec. 27

    The Bite LA: Winter Holiday & Stocking Stuffer Sweets Crawl
    Legg Lake
    Whittier Narrows Recreation Area
    751 Santa Anita Ave., South El Monte
    At various times and dates throughout the month, the holiday experience offers a drive-through that includes a Stocking Stuffer Sweets Crawl, a *Sno-Ball* Fight (with cotton plush balls), stories and songs with Santa from the Yule Log Stage and an ugly car sweater contest for those who gussy up their ride.
    COST: $38 per person (ages 5+); MORE INFO

    Thursday, Dec. 3; 6 p.m. PST

    What Are Today's L.A. Women Fighting For?
    Zócalo wraps its When Women Vote series with NHMLA with a panel discussion that examines the challenges women in Los Angeles, particularly lower-income and Black and brown women, face such as health disparities, housing struggles and human trafficking. Panelists are California state senator Maria Elena Durazo, artist Judy Baca, Social Venture Partners Los Angeles executive director Christine Margiotta and civil rights activist Connie Rice. The event is moderated by Angel Jennings of the Los Angeles Times.

    Taylor Russell is one of the actors participating in the 2020 Academy Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting Awards and Table Read. (Jake Rosenberg)

    Thursday, Dec. 3; 10 a.m. PST

    Academy Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting Awards and Table Read
    Actors Stephanie Beatriz, Michael Peña, Lou Diamond Phillips and Taylor Russell participate in table reading of selected scenes from this year's five winning scripts from the 2020 Academy Nicholl Fellowships. The award recipients and their scripts are James Acker's SadBoi, Beth Curry's Lemon, Vanar Jaddou's Goodbye, Iraq, Kate Marks' The Cow of Queens and Jane Therese's Sins of My Father. The event is hosted by Aldis Hodge and directed by Burlee and Abel Vang.

    Thursday Dec. 3; 5 p.m. PST

    B.Y.O.C. (Bring-Your-Own-Craft)*
    Craft Contemporary hosts a virtual craft and networking night. Share your handmade holiday projects then chat and craft with an online community. Craft Contemporary will also present handmade holiday decor including popcorn garlands, clove pomander balls, yarn ornaments and paper-crafts.

    Thursday, Dec. 3 - Sunday, Dec. 6

    Filmocracy Fest
    The festival's streaming platform offers more than 20 narrative features and documentaries, 25 short films and access to Q&As, panel discussions, coffee time, happy hour and trivia challenges with prizes. Features include The Brain That Wouldn't Die, Her Name Was Jo and Things We Dare Not Do.
    COST: Individual tickets start at $12, passes available; MORE INFO

    Sushi Ginza Onodera in West Hollywood offers new "Mon" seasonal omakase for takeout and delivery. (Sushi Ginza Onodera)

    Dine & Drink Deals

    Who doesn't miss going out to eat or stopping by a bar for a drink? Here are a few options from restaurants and bars as we work our way back toward normal.

    • DTLA restaurant Poppy + Rose hands out free chicken sandwiches in exchange for clothing donations from Dec. 1 (Giving Tuesday) through Dec. 6. Owners Michael and Kwini Reed team with Brown Bag Lady to collect new or nearly-new gloves, coats and blankets. While supplies last.
    • Randy's Donuts opens a new outpost in Torrance (23330 Hawthorne Blvd, Suite 1) on Tuesday, Dec. 1. All guests receive a free raised glazed donut from 6 a.m. to noon, and those who follow @randysdonuts on Instagram get a free raised glazed donut from 12 to 8 p.m. A ribbon cutting takes place at 11 a.m.
    • Sushi Ginza Onodera , which has two-Michelin stars, is offering delivery for the first time with a decadent and expanded menu. Items include a new Mon box, a seasonal sushi nigiri set with 12 and the vegetarian Original Sukeroku box. Orders can be placed via TOCK or by calling 323-433-4817 at least two hours before pickup or delivery time.
    • Salt & Straw recently opened its first scoop shop in Culver City. It's located at the the Culver Steps (9300 Culver Blvd.) and is open from noon to 11 p.m., daily.
    Christine N. Ziemba Enjoy drag queen hijinks. Listen to the cast of "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom." Honor World AIDS Day. Cozy up to a holiday-themed concert. Mon, 30 Nov 2020 07:00:00 -0800 Top Online And IRL Events Happening This Week: Nov. 30 - Dec. 3
    5-year-old Leah Diaz opening a kindergarten care package sent by the Rowland Unified School District. (Courtesy of Chanel Martinez)

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    In a video recorded by his mom Maria Fonseca, 5-year-old Noah tears open a manila envelope to discover -- and immediately begin to read aloud -- the book, "My Papi Has A Motorcycle."

    "Do you love it?" Maria asks.

    "Vroom!" Noah roars like an engine. "Yeah!"

    5-year-old Noah Fonseca is seconds away from discovering his new book in this screenshot from a video recorded by his mom, Maria Fonseca.

    During this year of virtual classes, the Rowland Unified School District is turning to an old school communications method to supplement learning: It's sending out a care package of books, supplies and a little surprise to about 900 San Gabriel Valley kindergarten students every two weeks.

    "It's really an opportunity for us as kindergarten teachers to help kids feel seen, and from the start, tell kids that they belong in school, this is your community," said Noah's teacher, Ashley McGrath.

    Across the country, kindergarten enrollment has dropped during the pandemic. Rowland Unified, which serves almost 13,000 students students from Rowland Heights, West Covina, La Puente and Walnut, is no exception. District Superintendent Julie Mitchell said parents told staff they couldn't imagine distance learning with kids that young. When teachers came up with the care package idea, her response was, "don't hesitate, sprint forward," she said.

    "Who doesn't like to get mail?" Mitchell said. "Everybody likes to get mail, and when you're 5 mail is amazing."


    There are also opportunities to pick up materials from the schools. The teachers hope the care packages will help bridge the gap between the virtual classroom and the students' homes. (The district has provided each kindergartener with an iPad for online lessons.)

    "We wanted to make sure that kids knew that we were really thinking about them all the time," McGrath said.

    The teachers talked to each family one-on-one at the start of the year and asked about their needs. McGrath also considered her own childhood as she and her colleagues decided what to send to the students.

    Rowland Elementary School kindergarten teacher Ashley McGrath conducts class over Zoom from her garage. (Mariana Dale/LAist)

    Her family emigrated from Vietnam and her grandmother often took care of her. McGrath remembered getting detention in third grade after completing her homework in pen.

    "Every day, I would bring this one pencil that I had to and from school, and I forgot it at school that one day," McGrath said. "I didn't have things like that in my home."

    At Rowland Elementary where she teaches, most kids come from low-income families and some are unhoused. Overall, the district's students are 64% Latino, 20% Asian, 8% Filipino, 4% white, 2% African American. Another 2% identify as another group.

    The twice-monthly packages include basic supplies like paper and pens in addition to books (there's a list of them here) and other little surprises.

    McGrath has each item and the quantity required catalogued on spreadsheets, including 912 stuffed elephants to stand in as reading partners, 902 slinkies to remind students to "stretch" out words and 902 pairs of foam dice for math lessons.

    "We had to invent the process as we went along," said district purchasing director Rosana McLeod, "because we've never really done this in such a large quantity."

    Mario D. Flores and Daniel Meneses both work in the Rowland Unified warehouse and help prepare the packages sent to the students. (Mariana Dale/LAist )

    Federal funds to mitigate learning loss during the pandemic helped pay for the materials and shipping. The effort to buy, sort and package each item includes just about every department in Rowland Unified.

    Stock delivery worker Mario D. Flores has worked in the district's warehouse since 1985 and runs the gray countertop machine that prints the postage for each package.

    "We've been here since day 1. We've never left," Flores said. His grandson is learning from home at a nearby school district and misses his friends. Flores imagines how the students here must feel the same.

    "To us it's a blessing, knowing we're doing something for the kids," Flores said.

    Kindergartener Noah Fonseca reads one of the books he received in the mail to his baby brother. (Courtesy of Maria Fonseca )


    At the beginning of the year, moms Maria Fonseca and Chanel Martinez, whose daughter Leah Diaz is also in McGrath's class, worried their kids would fall behind in online kindergarten.

    Martinez said her daughter is an outgoing social butterfly who loved going to preschool, but now cries some mornings when it's time to log onto Zoom for class.

    "Sometimes I don't know what to do," Martinez said. "There's only so much you can say or do."

    Fonseca, a nursing student and also mom to a 9-year-old daughter and 4-month-old son, said Noah is a firecracker who's easily bored.

    "I wanted him to be challenged and I know sometimes that is a little bit hard when it's not in the classroom," Fonseca said.

    Martinez and Fonseca said constantly communicating with McGrath has helped put them at ease.

    Ashley McGrath said the Rowland Unified School District kindergarten teachers chose books featuring diverse characters to send the students. "We wanted kids to be able to see themselves in their books." (Mariana Dale/LAist )

    "I love the fact that the school has worked with us, getting them the tools that they need," Fonseca said.


    Every item in the care packages connects to the kindergarten curriculum. Take what Ashley McGrath described as the "super super special stretching out" slinkies sent in mid-October.

    On a Thursday that month, McGrath sounded out the word "books" from her garage-turned-Zoom-classroom as the students watched from their iPads -- at least one student was in a car and another tuned in from a doctor's office waiting room.

    "B-b-b-boooooks, b-b-booooks."

    As she spoke, McGrath stretched a safety cone orange slinky horizontally. The kids mimicked her motions.

    The most effective lessons engage different senses, said Wendy Ostroff, who teaches educators about cognitive development and neuroscience at Sonoma State University and wrote the book, "Understanding How Young Children Learn."

    "The next time when you have to think about stretching out a word, if you have a visceral experience of using your body and using the slinky to do that, then you can think of it as just activation of more parts of the brain," Ostroff said.

    Ashley McGrath helps her students label the objects in a drawing created by one of their peers. (Mariana Dale/LAist)

    The packages can also help students feel more connected, even if they're miles away from teachers and their classmates, according to Amanda Moreno, associate professor and director of the child development program at the Erikson Institute in Chicago.

    "If they're getting physical materials in the mail, that helps children to understand that there is a real person, this is not just a cartoon, this is not just a fake thing that I'm seeing on the screen, like I would watching TV, right?" Moreno said. Once kids have the technology that allows them to access their classes online, she said, getting them to sign on and engage with the lesson can be another challenge.

    "It's emotions and attachment that allow for that sense of motivation and belonging, from which all of the learning can then take place," Moreno said.

    McGrath doesn't limit herself to teaching from the garage. She carries the iPad through the house, stepping over her daughters' toys to label doors and appliances with sticky notes and inviting students to do the same -- the Oct. 27 package included three packs of regular and mini sticky notes for each student.

    "My house is a disaster. And that's OK, but we learn a lot about our families," McGrath said.

    She ends each Zoom lesson the same way she would end the day in the classroom.

    "I love you, I love you, I love you. I love you, Lexi. I love you, Julian," making sure to say each student's name as they disconnect.

    "If every kindergartener could come out of our kindergarten program this year knowing that they see themselves in school, that they are loved, and that they are safe ... then I would be really happy," McGrath said.

    Mariana Dale What does it take to ship 912 miniature elephants in the mail? Determined teachers and a little creativity. Mon, 30 Nov 2020 06:00:00 -0800 How Snail Mail Connected This San Gabriel Valley School District To Its Youngest Students 
    (Photo by Dee @ Copper and Wild on Unsplash)

    L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer is pleading with the public to follow the new safer-at-home order that takes effect on Monday, suggesting that if too many people fail to follow the protocols, officials may have to impose stricter restrictions.

    Ferrer told reporters Saturday that the county is in the midst of the largest coronavirus surge it has seen so far, with the number of new cases and hospitalizations skyrocketing.

    "We can still turn this around," she said, "but it will take significant collective action."

    Ferrer was blunt about the consequences of failure: "Dead people don't get a second chance."

    "If this doesn't work, and two to three weeks from now we find ourselves in a worse place, we're going to have to go back and look at what else do we have as options," she added.

    Health officials say it will take two to three weeks to see if people are generally following the new safety protocols.

    The county reported 3,123 new COVID-19 cases and 19 additional deaths Saturday. Officials said those numbers were likely low, because testing centers were closed for Thanksgiving and testing was limited on Friday.

    The new health order will last for three weeks, until Dec. 20. Everyone is urged to stay home as much as possible, and gatherings with people outside your household are prohibited, except for church services and protests. (The right to protest is protected by the U.S. Constitution.)

    Most businesses will remain open, but with reduced maximum occupancy.

    Ferrer stressed the importance of wearing a mask and maintaining a safe distance from others when out in public.

    Our news is free on LAist. To make sure you get our coverage: Sign up for our daily coronavirus newsletter. To support our nonprofit public service journalism: Donate now.

    Josie Huang Amidst the largest surge of coronavirus cases so far, and rapidly rising hospitalization numbers, L.A. County's top public health official pleads with the public to follow the new safer-at-home order that takes effect Monday. Sun, 29 Nov 2020 09:44:00 -0800 A Plea To Follow The Safer-At-Home Order: 'Dead People Don't Get A Second Chance'
    An activist who supports the "reclaimers" burns smoke in a ceremonial fashion between a scrimmage line of CHP officers and protesters. (Brian Feinzimer for LAist)

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    On Wednesday and Thursday, California Highway Patrol officers forcibly removed activists occupying empty homes in El Sereno and made numerous arrests. But members of the group say they won't stop advocating for the vacant homes to be used to shelter the unhoused population.

    The targeted properties were among 460 the California Department of Transportation bought in decades past as part of the plan to connect the 710 to the 210 in Pasadena. That plan collapsed; the state has sold or leased most of the homes, but 163 remain empty.

    Members of the Reclaim and Rebuild Our Community coalition first took shelter Wednesday morning in 20 of the vacant homes. The last group of occupiers, or "reclaimers," as they call themselves, were removed late Thursday night.

    CHP made 62 arrests over two days: 21 people who refused to vacate the homes and 41 protestors who were trying to prevent the removals. Video from the scene showed officers in full tactical gear dragging people out of the homes and using battering rams to enter some houses.

    "It did not come as a surprise but it was disheartening to see that they would execute that type of violence in front of our families," said Iris De Anza, a Reclaim and Rebuild Our Community member who occupied one of the homes.

    The CHP defended its actions, saying the people occupying the properties were given the opportunity to vacate before they were removed.


    "The images I saw last night are heartbreaking and unacceptable," said LA City Councilman Kevin De Leon, in a statement Thursday. De Leon, who represents El Sereno, said his office is providing hotel vouchers to provide temporary shelter to the families removed by CHP.

    But the activists don't want a temporary solution. They're asking Caltrans to transfer ownership of all the homes to the El Sereno Community Land Trust, which they say will ensure the properties are used for the unhoused.

    "These families have tried everything," said De Anza, a freelance artist and mother of three who was recently living in her car. "We've tried to work with the city. This became a last ditch effort to take back these empty homes. It's a crime to have houses sitting empty, when so many people are out on the streets."

    In a statement, Caltrans said the activists had to be removed because the homes are unsafe. It said it's been working to lease several homes as temporary shelters, and recently signed a lease with the city of L.A. to use 22 of them as transitional housing.

    The agency said it's working to sell the remaining homes, and is committed to making sure they're used for affordable housing.


    The effort by De Anza and the 20 families in her coalition is part of a larger movement in Los Angeles and beyond to "reclaim" vacant properties.

    In March, a group called Reclaiming Our Homes began occupying a dozen other houses in El Sereno owned by Caltrans. Earlier this month, that group announced it would be moving into some of those properties legally, as a result of the deal between Caltrans and the city. Those 22 previously vacant homes will be leased to the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles for up to three years and managed as part of the city's Transitional Housing Program.

    The local "reclaiming" initiative also takes inspiration from a recent effort in Oakland, where a group called Moms 4 Housing occupied a home and convinced the owner to sell it to the Oakland Community Land Trust on their behalf.

    "Land trusts are good vehicles for ensuring that property development serves the community," said Sua Hernandez, El Sereno Community Land Trust's executive director.

    Hernandez said the state and city haven't determined whether the trust will play a role in managing the Caltrans properties, but conversations have begun.

    "Community folks feel that those vacant properties should come back to the community because of the history of how they were taken away from the community," said Hernandez. "Caltrans time and time again took affordable housing out of circulation to build freeways through poor communities."

    Meanwhile, activists are urging Gov. Gavin Newsom to allow the families to return to the houses they were occupying. They're also asking for all charges against those arrested in recent days to be dropped.

    Aaron Schrank Over the past few days, California Highway Patrol officers removed activists occupying empty Caltrans-owned homes in El Sereno. The actions were part of a larger effort to "reclaim" vacant properties for the region's homeless population. Fri, 27 Nov 2020 17:29:00 -0800 Occupations, Forced Removals, Arrests in El Sereno: The Fight Over 'Reclaiming' Vacant Homes
    A nurse at a Nov. 23 vigil outside UCLA Medical Center for health care workers who died from COVID-19. (Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images)

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    As the number of coronavirus cases continues to surge, L.A. County officials on Friday afternoon issued a new safer-at-home order that bans public and private gatherings with people not in your household, except for church services and protests.

    The order goes into effect Monday, Nov. 30, and lasts three weeks, until Dec. 20.

    It allows most businesses that were open to remain open, but it reduces their maximum occupancy. Playgrounds and cardrooms must close.

    Schools and day camps can remain open as long as they stick to reopening protocols, but if they have a COVID-19 outbreak (three or more cases over 14 days), they must close for 14 days.

    Patty Sanchez wears a mask to protect against coronavirus as she exercises in a San Fernando park on on Nov. 24. (Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images)

    The new order urges everyone to stay home as much as possible, and to cover their mouth and nose when in public. Here are the other details:

    • Occupancy limits at various businesses; all individuals at these sites are required to wear face coverings and keep at least six feet of distance:
      • Essential retail (such as grocery stores) - 35% maximum occupancy (currently it's 50%)
      • Non-essential retail (includes indoor malls) and libraries - 20% maximum occupancy (currently it's 25%)
      • Personal care services - 20% maximum occupancy
      • Fitness centers operating outdoors - 50% maximum occupancy
      • Museums galleries, zoos, aquariums, botanical gardens operating outdoors - 50% maximum occupancy
      • Mini-golf, batting cages, go-kart racing operating outdoors - 50% maximum occupancy
    • Outdoor recreation activities, all of which require face coverings (except for swimming) and distancing:
      • Beaches, trails, and parks remain open; gatherings at these sites with members outside your household are prohibited.
      • Golf courses, tennis courts, pickleball, archery ranges, skate parks, bike parks, and community gardens remain open for individuals or members of a single household. Pools that serve more than one household may open only for regulated lap swimming with one person per lane.
      • Drive-in movies/events/car parades are permitted provided occupants in each car are members of one household.

    Earlier this week, county officials halted in-person service at dining and drinking establishments, requiring restaurants, bars, breweries and wineries to return to only takeout, delivery and drive-through.

    On Friday, L.A. County's Department of Public Health confirmed 4,544 new cases of COVID-19, 24 new deaths from the virus and 1,893 current hospitalizations. That put the five-day average of new cases at 4,751, above the 4,500-threshold officials had said would trigger a new safer-at-home order.

    The infection rate has risen dramatically over the past month; officials now estimate that one out of every 145 L.A. County residents are infected with COVID-19.

    The spike in cases has health officials worried that hospitals -- and their staff -- will be overwhelmed by sick patients.


    Elina Shatkin The temporary order lasts three weeks. It bans all public and private gatherings with people not in your household, except for church services and protests. Fri, 27 Nov 2020 16:17:00 -0800 LA Has A New 'Safer At Home' Order And It Starts Today
    (Eamonn M. McCormack/Getty Images)

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    Beware! The season of goodwill and cheer also offers prime pickings for con artists.

    L.A. City Attorney Mike Feuer is warning consumers about holiday scams, including one that starts with an email offering to sell handwritten letters from Santa to your child, usually for the price of $19.99.

    "Don't click on the link," Feuer advises in a video. "It takes you to a website promising to sell you a customized letter from Santa. In the best case, you're simply out $20. In the worst case, you just shared your credit card information with potential scammers who could now use it for identity theft."

    Feuer also warned people of another scam that takes place via email and social media. This one starts with a "convincing invitation" to sign up for a gift exchange. You typically have to provide your name, address and other personal information and tag friends. Then, you're invited to send a modest gift to a stranger.

    "You're left buying and shipping gifts to unknown individuals in hopes that the favor is going to be reciprocated and that you'll receive the promised number of gifts in return. Unfortunately, it doesn't happen that way. Just like any other pyramid scheme, it relies on the recruitment of individuals to keep the scam afloat," Feuer said.

    You can report suspected scammers to the L.A. City Attorney's Office by clicking here.


    Elina Shatkin The season of goodwill and cheer also offers prime pickings for con artists. Fri, 27 Nov 2020 13:02:00 -0800 Don't Get Scammed By Santa This Holiday Season
    Passengers wait in line to check-in for Delta Airlines flights at Los Angeles International Airport on Wednesday, November 25, 2020. (PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images)

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    With the number of coronavirus cases surging, people have been urged not to travel over the Thanksgiving weekend -- and some listened.

    At Los Angeles International Airport, holiday traffic is a bit higher compared to the last two months but it's way below what it was last year.

    "Last year, we have over three million passengers traveling throughout the two weeks surrounding the Thanksgiving holiday," said LAX spokesperson Heath Montgomery. "There were individual days last year where we had 250,000 [people] come through LAX. This year we're not seeing anything like that nor did we expect to see anything like that."

    Officials with the airport say if you really have to fly, make sure you follow the current protocols, which include wearing a facemask and maintaining social distance.

    Travelers arriving at LAX, Van Nuys Airport and Union Station are also being urged to sign a form acknowledging California's recommended 14-day quarantine period.


    Pablo Cabrera People were urged not to travel over the Thanksgiving weekend -- some listened. Fri, 27 Nov 2020 07:00:00 -0800 LAX Thanksgiving Travel: How'd We Do?
    A wildfire burns in Sylmar, Calif., Friday, Oct. 11, 2019. (AP Photo/David Swanson) (David Swanson/)

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    Strong, dry winds are here, which means that if you live in an area that is prone to burning, you should be ready to go in case a fast-moving fire breaks out.


    Even if there isn't a nearby fire when you go to sleep, you could be forced to leave quickly in the middle of the night. All it takes is a spark from a power line or a passing car to kick off a small blaze. With wild winds, small blazes can become massive fires in record time.

    If the National Weather Service issues a Red Flag Warning -- a combo of high winds and low humidity -- you should get ready to go, especially if you live in an area that is prone to burning.

    Obviously, the threat depends on the intensity of the wind event.

    The L.A. County Fire Department understands what can happen and positions strike teams in places like Santa Clarita, Malibu and other dry, mountainous areas that could get hit.

    If they're ready, you need to be as well.


    When the Saddleridge Fire broke out near our house last year, we saw the writing on the wall and packed our bags in case we had to evacuate in the middle of the night or early the next morning -- which we did.

    We considered what we'd pack if we had to go on an extended vacation (and for some reason had to bring tax documents and jewelry).

    We packed:

    • A week's worth of clothes for each family member
    • Medicines
    • Baby formula, diapers, wipes, etc.
    • A few gallons of water and snacks
    • Camping gear
    • Jewelry and cash
    • Important documents (we keep these in their own box ready to go whenever)
    • Hard drives and computers

    I set these by the door so they could easily be grabbed and thrown in the car. If you have the option, consider keeping these things in your car overnight.

    If I'd had the foresight, I also would have made sure that our car's gas tank was filled when the Red Flag Warning was issued.


    You may or may not find out until there's a conflagration bearing down on you.

    In that case, obviously, get out as quickly as possible.

    There's also a chance, depending on when a fire starts and how fast it moves, that you'll receive an alert on your phone.

    If you have a smartphone, you're likely already signed up for Wireless Emergency Alerts -- the same system that distributes Amber Alerts. Counties and cities can choose to utilize them in a worst-case scenario but they're sometimes reluctant to issue them unless the situation is dire. Officials don't want people unsubscribing from the system because they're getting pestered with messages.

    Both L.A. County and L.A. City have their own alert systems that you need to proactively sign up for. You can choose to receive texts which may arrive in the middle of the night when there is some sort of emergency event, like a wildfire.

    That said, your power, cell and internet service might be down. So listen for law enforcement or firefighters outside telling people to get up and go.


    If you're right in the path of a fire that has already kicked off and you know the winds are blowing in your direction (pretty much out toward the ocean during a Santa Ana wind event), you should consider leaving before mandatory evacuation notices are issued.

    Much like leaving Dodger Stadium in the 7th inning, it could help you avoid getting stuck in bad traffic.

    It took us about four hours last year to drive from L.A. to Santa Ynez when trying to escape smoke from the Saddle Ridge Fire.


    That's a deep question. In this context, we'll be in much better shape when the rainy season starts.

    That should be some time in late November or early December although sometimes it takes longer and this is a drought-prone area.

    Remember the Thomas Fire that started in December 2017? It burned into January 2018 because of the delayed rainy season.



    Jacob Margolis If you live in an area that is prone to wildfires you should have your go bag ready as soon as strong, dry winds show up. Thu, 26 Nov 2020 13:45:00 -0800 Red Flag Warnings? How To Prepare
    CHP officers, activists and residents gather as officers face off with protesters on Sheffield Ave. and Poplar Blvd. (Brian Feinzimer for LAist)

    Our news is free on LAist. To make sure you get our coverage: Sign up for our daily newsletters. To support our non-profit public service journalism: Donate Now.

    Additional reporting by Brian Feinzimer and Lita Martinez.

    An activist decries the actions of CHP officers and Caltrans on Sheffield Ave. and Popular Blvd. in El Sereno. (Brian Feinzimer for LAist)

    California Highway Patrol officers detained several people during a tense Thanksgiving eve standoff after activists occupied a number of empty El Sereno homes owned by Caltrans.

    The transit agency previously bought the homes with taxpayer money (and, in some cases, eminent domain) as part of its plans to connect the 710 freeway in Alhambra to the 210 freeway in Pasadena. After six decades of debate and lawsuits, that project was officially killed in 2018.

    Activists use their bodies to block CHP vehicles from leaving with detained "reclaimers" on Sheffield Ave. and Poplar Blvd. (Brian Feinzimer for LAist)

    Activists from Reclaim and Rebuild our Community think Caltrans should allow people who are experiencing homelessness to live in the empty houses.

    In a press release issued before the action, the organization said:

    "We, a group of houseless activists and families, are taking this situation into our own hands... The system has failed all of us -- especially communities of color by creating this housing crisis which has worsened with COVID and the economic crisis... In the midst of this multiple layered crisis, the governments are holding on to thousands of buildings... that should be used for affordable housing."

    CHP officers attempt to gain control of a crowd of activists and protesters on Sheffield Ave. and Poplar Blvd. (Brian Feinzimer for LAist)

    LAist has reached out to the California Highway Patrol to confirm details of yesterday's action but has not yet heard back from the agency.

    Photojournalist Brian Feinzimer, who documented the protest, says when he arrived in the early afternoon, he saw a handful of CHP officers stationed outside a few houses. When he returned at around 9 p.m., he estimates he saw approximately 30 activists and 40 to 50 CHP officers, some in tactical or riot control gear, facing off in front of a house near the intersection of Concord Ave. and Midvale Place.

    An activist who supports the "reclaimers" burns smoke in a ceremonial fashion between a scrimmage line of CHP officers and protesters. (Brian Feinzimer for LAist)

    According to Feinzimer, one of the CHP officers declared an unlawful assembly, but protestors ignored the announcement and continued demonstrating.

    "CHP officers were moving between multiple homes to clear out activists," Feinzimer says. "It was a cat and mouse game, sort of. The activists were using themselves as a physical shield to try to prevent officers from getting into the homes."

    An activist who supports the "reclaimers" speaks with a resident of Sheffield Ave. who opposes the actions of activists. (Brian Feinzimer for LAist)

    Lydia Ramos, a resident of Keats Street in El Sereno, told Feinzimer she does not support the activists and most of her neighbors feel the same way.

    "I am all for advocacy for homelessness," Ramos said. "There's all kinds of resources out there, especially right now... but if they choose to come and just illegally, blatantly think that, 'I can take over,' I'm not okay with that.'"

    Activists undertook a similar action in March of this year, "reclaiming" an empty home at 3135 Sheffield Avenue in El Sereno.

    Earlier this month, members of Reclaim and Rebuild our Community announced they would be moving into some of those properties legally. It's part of an unprecedented partnership between Caltrans and the city of L.A.

    The houses, which had previously been vacant, will be leased to the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles for up to three years. During that time, people such as "reclaimer" Marta Escudero, who spent more than a year and a half couch-surfing before occupying one of the El Sereno properties with her two daughters, will be allowed to live in the homes while they look for a more permanent living situation.

    Ramos said the past occupation had been a magnet for drugs and crime.

    CHP officers remove an activist from a vacant home on Sheffield Ave. (Brian Feinzimer for LAist)

    Feinzimer says that the CHP briefly retreated, then showed up en masse with more officers. At that point, according to Feinzimer, approximately two dozen officers formed a perimeter around the home while a small tactical entry team made its way inside.

    "As they are entering the home, the activists outside are shouting, 'Shame on you? What are you doing? Why are you using these weapons?," Feinzimer says.

    A CHP tactical team removes an activist from a vacant El Sereno home owned by Caltrans. (Brian Feinzimer for LAist)

    CHP officers carried a few people out of the home and detained a couple more who were standing outside it. As officers attempted to move the detainees into patrol cars, protestors tried to block them, creating a standoff at Sheffield Ave. and Poplar Blvd.

    "It basically turned into a scrimmage line and protest between 10 p.m. and midnight," Feinzimer says. "The CHP tried to disperse the group but the group didn't disperse. At one point, they fired some sort of audible munition into the air, kind of like a flash bang."

    A Caltrans employee observes the standoff between demonstrators and CHP officers while they clear out a vacant Caltrans home in El Sereno on Wednesday, November 25, 2020. (Brian Feinzimer for LAist)

    Sometime between 11:30 p.m. and midnight, the CHP broke down its scrimmage line and left, according to Feinzimer. He says when he returned at approximately 2 a.m. and drove around, he says it looked as though the CHP had reassembled its teams

    "I couldn't get any closer because several streets had been blocked off," Feinzimer says.

    A demonstrator pleads with a CHP officer standing guard over a home in El Sereno while a tactical team removes activists who had occupied the residence. (Brian Feinzimer for LAist)

    The CHP has not responded to LAist's request for comment. A spokesperson from Caltrans issued a statement that says:

    "Vacant homes along the State Route 710 that were broken into are unsafe and uninhabitable for occupants. As such, Caltrans requested the CHP remove trespassers so that the properties can be re-secured and boarded up.

    Caltrans has been working with local governments to lease several of its available properties for use as temporary emergency shelters. Recently, the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles signed a lease with Caltrans to use 22 vacant Caltrans-owned properties in the 710 corridor for the city's transitional housing program.

    As Caltrans continues to sell the remaining homes on the corridor, it is committed to working with local entities and other stakeholders to ensure the properties are used for affordable housing."

    A teenage girl detained during the protest screams in the back of a CHP vehicle. (Brian Feinzimer for LAist)

    Caltrans owns 163 homes in the 710 corridor.

    In 2019, Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill that allows city entities and nonprofit tenants residing at Caltrans properties along the 710 corridor to purchase the homes at fair market value. But many of these homes still remain unsold and unoccupied.

    A CHP tactical team, armed with assault rifles, enters a vacant Caltrans owned home occupied by activists. (Brian Feinzimer for LAist)
    A scuffle breaks between activists and CHP officers as they attempt to remove detained "reclaimers." (Brian Feinzimer for LAist)
    Neighbors watch as protesters and CHP officers face off on Sheffield Ave. on Wednesday, November 25, 2020. (Brian Feinzimer for LAist)
    An activist stands with a CHP officer's baton pointed at his stomach as officers attempt to gain control of a protest on Sheffield Ave. on Wednesday, November 25, 2020. (Brian Feinzimer for LAist)
    A scuffle breaks out between activists and CHP officers who are attempting to remove detained "reclaimers." (Brian Feinzimer for LAist)


    Elina Shatkin Officers and "reclaimers" who had occupied several houses in the neighborhood ended up in a tense, late-night standoff. Thu, 26 Nov 2020 13:00:00 -0800 CHP Removes Activists From Empty El Sereno Homes Owned By Caltrans
    Singer Gwen Stefani attends a party to introduce her Harajuku Lovers children's collection at Duff's Cakemix in 2015 in West Hollywood. (Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

    Our news is free on LAist. To make sure you get our coverage: Sign up for our daily newsletters. To support our non-profit public service journalism: Donate Now.

    UPDATE: This post was updated to include Mike Roe's response.

    By Giuliana Mayo and Dana Amihere


    The country erupted into protests, unrest and a renewed dialogue about systemic racism following George Floyd's killing. We held the first round of a virtual conversation event series, Unheard LA: A Deeper Listen, with a tie-in to Race In LA. The discussion repeatedly returned to how Black and Brown people were being asked for their opinion, for resources and to answer questions on racial issues -- and how exhausting it can be.

    In response, we created Racism 101 to help our audience facilitate their own thought-provoking talks around race, with a conversation "starter kit," and extensive anti-racism resource guides to inform and educate.

    We also solicited questions from our audience -- awkward, silly, tough-to-ask questions -- that they've perhaps wanted to ask people unlike themselves, but have been too shy, embarrassed or afraid to ask. We assembled a panel of 12 Angelenos willing to answer these questions so folks didn't have to ask their friends, or even strangers.

    Here are several of our panelists' responses to one of the questions that we received.


    Q: "At what point does appreciation for another culture cross over into appropriation?"

    Singer Eliza Doolittle performs during Day 3 of the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival 2011 held at the Empire Polo Club. (Charley Gallay/Getty Images)

    Q: "How do you feel about dressing up for Halloween as a character that is a different ethnicity from yours, if you don't change your skin color or hair?"

    Is it OK for me to collect crafts from another culture? Is my Halloween costume offensive? There's a gulf of difference between a white woman collecting Mexican pottery out of admiration for the artistry and a group of sorority girls dressing up as "Mexicans" in ponchos and sombreros for a party.

    The distinction isn't always so obvious in popular culture. Sometimes cultural appropriation feels like one of those, "I'll know it when I see you know it kind of things:" The feather headdresses crowds at Coachella, Katy Perry dressed as a geisha, Gwen Stefani with her Harajuku crew and who could forget Angelina Jolie's faux locks in the early aughts' "Gone in 60 Seconds?" Our panelists really dug in and brought their experiences and perspectives to the table to give you a few takes on this hot button issue.


    Donna, a local artist who proudly identifies as Black and queer, was passionate when she told us how she distinguished appreciation from appropriation:

    Roseanne, a descendent of several tribes originating from New Mexico, had this to say about cultural appropriation:

    "This is a challenging question. Admiration for another culture is flattering when it is done with respect. Asking for permission from the people in that culture to photograph and allowing the people to invite you to participate is the appropriate way to ensure that you are not appropriating. Avoid imitating the people of the other culture or replicating their crafts/goods is my best advice."

    RELATED: Racism 101 Asked And Answered: "What's The Deal With The Word 'Cholo'?"

    ...and had this advice about being respectful around Halloween:

    "This is a great question. I feel that it is better not to portray someone from another ethnic group. There are many issues with dressing up as another ethnicity. For example without complete knowledge of the ethnic group one can not fully understand the culture. Therefore although innocently, one may not understand the sacred, spiritual, or general importance of regalia or clothing specific to another culture. Wearing a costume portraying another culture even if you don't change your hair or skin can be hurtful and may be interpreted as a mockery to those from the culture. So, refraining from this practice would be my advice."

    Mike, from our LAist newsroom, describes himself as mixed race. He had a thoughtful response to culturally insensitive Halloween costumes:


    Do you have a question that you'd like to ask as part of Racism 101? Tell us.

    LAist Staff We solicited your awkward, silly and tough-to-ask questions about race as part of Racism 101. Now we're sharing the answers from our project panelists. This time, we're answering, "How do you feel about dressing up for Halloween as a character that is a different ethnicity from yours, as long as you don't change your skin color or hair?" and "At what point does appreciation for another culture cross over into appropriation?" Thu, 26 Nov 2020 07:30:00 -0800 Racism 101 Asked And Answered: Celebrating Multiculturalism Vs. Being A 'Culture Vulture'
    Arts & Entertainment
    The Lighting of the Bay at Newport Dunes Waterfront Resort begins on Friday, Nov. 27. (Photo courtesy of Newport Dunes)

    Coronavirus is still wreaking havoc on schools, stores, businesses and events. With in-person concerts, talks, comedy shows, food festivals and other gatherings cancelled, we have turned our events column into a "nonevents" column. It will remain this way as long as social distancing and stay-at-home orders are in effect.

    During this difficult time, please consider contributing to your local arts organizations or to individual artists and performers.

    Run for puppies. Hunt for elves. Drive through a Dodgers holiday experience. Enjoy snow flurries. Eat a stinky burger. Watch a kitschy Christmas holiday slideshow. Shop a unique pop-up market.

    Friday, Nov. 27 - Thursday, Dec. 31

    30th Annual Lighting of the Bay
    Newport Dunes Waterfront Resort
    1131 Back Bay Dr., Newport Beach
    Starting Thursday, guests can gaze at the festive lights on more than 40 holiday trees and floats. They are illuminated at dusk.

    Friday, Nov. 27; 6 p.m. PT

    The Jerky Boys
    Johnny Brennan, one-half of the original comedy duo, returns to release the first Jerky Boys album in almost 25 years. Brennan is joined by performers Frank Rizzo, Sol Rosenberg, Jack Tors and new characters for a livestreamed release of The Jerky Boys Live.
    COST: $15 - $25; MORE INFO

    A still from Whirlybird by Matt Yoka, an official selection of the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. (Courtesy of Sundance Institute, photo by Los Angeles News Service)

    Friday, Nov. 27 - Sunday, Nov. 29; 10 a.m. - 10 p.m.

    Whirlybird Screening + Q&A
    Film at LACMA presents a screening of director Matt Yoka's documentary. The film focuses on the pioneering helicopter reporter Zoey Tur and then-wife Marika Gerrard, who covered pivotal moments in L.A. history, from the L.A. riots of 1992 to O.J. Simpson's Ford Bronco chase in 1994. The turbulence of the era was matched by the turbulence of their family life. A post-screening discussion with Yoka follows the film screening on Vimeo.
    COST: FREE, RSVP recommended; MORE INFO

    Friday, Nov. 27; 4 and 7 p.m. PT

    Louie Anderson
    Argyros Plaza at Segerstrom Center
    600 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa
    Comedian Louie Anderson makes his Segerstrom Center debut in an outdoor, in-person show. The veteran comic's career has spanned more than 30 years and includes stand-up shows and TV series including Baskets and the game show Funny You Should Ask. The ticket price for this show is for one socially distanced viewing area (or "pod"), which includes up to six seats. Only you and those attending with you will be seated in your assigned pod.
    COST: $240; MORE INFO

    Rooftop Cinema Club returns, opening with a drive-in of screening of 'Grease' at the Santa Monica Airport. (Courtesy of Rooftop Cinema Club)

    Friday, Nov. 27 - Wednesday, Dec. 30

    Rooftop Cinema Club
    The Drive-In at Santa Monica Airport
    3233 Donald Douglas Loop S, Santa Monica
    The film series returns as a drive-in, opening with Grease on Friday night at 7 p.m. The season's other titles include Frozen 2, Jurassic Park, Home Alone and 10 Things I Hate About You. The late night screenings have all been cancelled due to L.A.'s COVID curfew.
    COST: $30-45 per car, depending on occupancy and screening time; MORE INFO

    Friday, Nov. 27

    Run for Puppies: Golden Friday 5K
    Golden Road's Golden Friday 5K run/walk is being held virtually on Friday, so run or walk 3.1 miles wherever you are on that day. There's still time to register, participate and donate to Wags & Walks dog rescue.

    Friday, Nov. 27 - Thursday, Dec. 24; 5 - 11 p.m. PST

    Dodgers Holiday Festival 2020
    The world champion Dodgers hold a drive-through holiday experience with a light show, LED video displays, fake snow and interactive displays that honor the boys in blue. Guests must remain in their vehicles and wear a mask if the windows are rolled down. Tickets must be purchased in advance.
    COST: Starts at $55 per car; MORE INFO

    Fridays and Saturdays through Dec. 23; 6 - 8 p.m.

    Holiday Snow Flurries
    The Point in El Segundo
    850 S. Pacific Coast Highway, El Segundo
    Watch magical snow flurries every 30 minutes on Friday and Saturday nights.

    Alamo Drafthouse holds a live online screening of 'Zappa,' followed by a Q&A with director Alex Winter. (Roelof Kiers, photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)

    Saturday, Nov. 28; 5:30 p.m.

    Zappa Watch Party + Live Q&A
    Watch a documentary crafted from more than 1,000 hours of rare footage from Frank Zappa's personal collection. The film includes interviews and appearances from his widow Gail Zappa and several musical collaborators such as Mike Keneally, Ian Underwood, Steve Vai and Pamela Des Barres. Stick around for a Q&A with director Alex Winter. In order to participate in this viewing party, you need to join the Virtual Scener Theater at showtime.
    COST: $9.99; MORE INFO

    Saturday, Nov. 28 - Sunday, Nov. 29; 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.

    Unique Markets Holiday Pop Up
    777 S. Alameda St., downtown L.A.
    Shop the 13th annual holiday pop-up featuring handcrafted items from more than 50 designers, emerging brands and artists such as Lunika Designs, Remedium, Nice Beast and Pocketsquare Clothing. The festival is being held outdoors with booths spaced eight feet apart. Masks are required. Admission with online pre-paid tickets only.
    COST: $10 - $20; MORE INFO

    Saturday, Nov. 28; 4 p.m. PST

    Magic for Humans (at Home) with Justin Willman
    Magician Justin Willman presents an interactive hour of magic and comedy for the whole family through Zoom. Willman can see, hear and interact with the audience in real time.
    COST: $25; MORE INFO

    Saturday, Nov. 28 - Friday, Jan. 1

    Downtown Solvang
    Solvang's annual Julefest starts with a lineup of holiday offerings set up for the COVID era. There are light displays, celebratory scenes and holiday vignettes throughout the town. During the Nisse Adventure, which also begins on Saturday, participants can take part in a city-wide hunt for the Solvang Nisse (Christmas elves). Many of Solvang's shops, Danish bakeries, restaurants and wine tasting rooms will be set up like European night markets.

    Saturday, Nov. 28; 6 p.m. PST

    Charles Phoenix Holiday Jubilee Livestream
    Get in the spirit of the holiday season with a YouTube jubilee. Kitschy pop culture specialist Charles Phoenix presents a living room slideshow of past, present and future traditions. He'll also discuss recipes and food ideas. A Q&A follows.
    COST: $25 - $40; MORE INFO

    Hollywood Legion Theater and Retroformat Silent Films present a drive-thru screening of Harold Lloyd's silent comedy masterpiece, 'The Freshman.' (Courtesy of Hollywood Legion Drive-in)

    Saturday, Nov. 28; 5:30 p.m.

    The Freshman
    Hollywood Legion Theater
    American Legion Post 43
    2035 North Highland Ave., Hollywood
    The classic silent comedy, directed by and starring Harold Lloyd, is introduced by Suzanne Lloyd Hayes, Lloyd's granddaughter. Retroformat musical director Cliff Retallick provides live keyboard accompaniment. Each ticket includes unlimited popcorn, one soda and one candy for each passenger.
    COST: Tickets start at $75 per car; MORE INFO

    View this post on Instagram

    A post shared by THE WALLIS (@thewallisbh)

    Through Sunday Nov. 29; 5:30 - 9 p.m.

    Visions in Light: Windows on The Wallis
    Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
    Intersection of Canon Dr. and South Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills
    TZ Projects, the city of Beverly Hills and Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts present a drive-by/walk-by experience that celebrates culture and inclusion. Works by more than 40 established and rising artists including Damien Hirst, Lauren Halsey, Alison Saar, Genevieve Gaignard and Greg Ito are projected on the Wallis' walls. Please follow all safety protocols while viewing the installation.

    The SGV staple, Twoheys, opened a new location in South Pasadena on Nov. 18, 2020. (Courtesy of Twoheys)

    Dine & Drink Deals

    Who doesn't miss going out to eat or stopping by a bar for a drink? Here are a few options from restaurants and bars as we work our way back toward normal.

    • Twoheys, an SGV staple since 1943, recently opened a South Pasadena outpost, bringing the Original Stinko burger, onion rings, sundaes and other concoctions from its soda fountain to a new neighborhood. The restaurant is closed on Tuesdays.
    • Miracle at The Ordinarie, a Christmas-themed pop-up, returns to Long Beach. The Ordinarie is transformed into a kitschy, Instagrammable Christmas wonderland with Christmas-inspired cocktails and food. The pop-up begins on Friday, Nov. 27 and runs through Dec. 30. While there's no dining in, takeout is still available, and you can walk through the over-the-top Christmas display to pick up your order.
    • Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream has released a limited-edition Sparkling Berry Punch Sorbet flavor made with sparkling wine from Chandon. For an even more decadent treat, scoop the sorbet into a coupe glass and top with more bubbly. The sorbet is available on Jeni's website, Jeni's scoop shops and select retailers.
    • Prince Street Pizza officially opened in West Hollywood (9161 Sunset Blvd.). Father and son owners Frank and Dom Morano have recreated their NYC storefront, importing their proprietary mozzarella cheese and a New York City water filtration system, which they say is key for their crust.
    • Speaking of pizza, Brooklyn Ave. Pizza Co. recently opened on the ground floor of The Paramount along Cesar Chavez Ave. in Boyle Heights. Angeleno Chef Mario Christerna's menu honors his heritage, offering items like mole pizza and Flamin' Hot Cheetos wings. The pizzeria's name is a throwback to the street's name in the early 1900s, Brooklyn Ave.
    Christine N. Ziemba Run for puppies. Hunt for elves. Drive through a Dodgers holiday experience. Enjoy snow flurries. Eat a stinky burger. Get lit. Thu, 26 Nov 2020 07:00:00 -0800 Post-Thanksgiving Things To Do Online And IRL: Nov. 27 - 29
    Adwoa Blankson-Wood wears a chiffon scarf-mask designed by Mantrap. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

    Our news is free on LAist. To make sure you get our coverage: Sign up for our daily coronavirus newsletter. To support our nonprofit public service journalism: Donate now.

    It would be an understatement to say that 2020 hasn't been great for fashion. Or anything, really. Even the 2020 dumpster fire jokes have gotten old.

    We've now endured eight months of barely seeing friends and family. We've lived in stretchy pants and sweatshirts, only dressing from the waist-up for Zoom calls. And with no weddings, parties or nights out to look forward to, many of us have given up on fashion altogether.

    Meanwhile mask-wearing has become a daily habit -- damned if you leave the house without one. And with what looks like many months of masked life ahead of us, those cloth face coverings might be the most exciting (ok, the only exciting) fashion accessory we have.

    So why not spice things up a bit? Instead of hiding behind a bland utilitarian mask you picked up at the drugstore, how about upping your fashion game and giving your outfit a little more personality? While you're at it, you might as well support local businesses. God knows they need all the help they can get right now.

    L.A. is full of designers who have heeded the call and bravely turned their talents to mask-making. The objects they're making aren't just fabric scraps tied together with string; the City of Angels is full of some of the most beautiful, whimsical, even extravagant masks that are sure to give your pandemic look a little pizzazz.

    Whether you want something cute for the little ones, a holiday gift for a friend, or something fashion-forward for yourself, these L.A.-based stores and designers have just the mask you're looking for.


    Adwoa Blankson-Wood models a brocade bat mask designed by Mantrap. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)


    Designer Heather Lawrence's bat mask flew off the shelves and into the internet's inner-goth heart last month. But Mantrap's selection isn't all dark. This Costa Mesa-based brand is also pumping out Christmas sweater masks, luxurious scarf masks, and even a so-called 90s housewife mask that comes with a matching scrunchie. These masks are fun, locally-made and we're not afraid to say it: even sexy. ($14-$45)


    Embroidered cotton mask by Kevan Hall. (Courtesy Kevan Hall)

    Kevan Hall

    Hall is known for his glamorous creations, having dressed the likes of Salma Hayek, Celine Dion and Charlize Theron. Now he's making masks to add a little glamour to your grocery-grabbing ensemble. Made from vintage cotton, these embroidered masks are hand washable and all kinds of fabulous. ($18-$28)

    Model wears a chiffon scarf-mask by Eva Franco. (Courtesy of Eva Franco)

    Eva Franco

    It's a mask, it's a scarf, it's a mask-scarf! Franco is a former soap star who originally hails from Transylvania. How's that for an L.A. backstory? When the pandemic hit, she added masks and matching airplane seat covers to her line for those who don't want pandemic air travel to limit their color coordination. ($13-$30)


    A silk leopard print mask by Deborah Lindquist. (Courtesy Deborah Lindquist)

    Deborah Lindquist

    Lindquist, a self-described "eco designer", has been making masks since March, using fabric remnants from her collection. She's even created masks using up-cycled concert T-shirts, perfect for the music fans in your life. This means her offerings are limited and sell out quickly, so get that Morrissey concert tee mask before another Mozz fan snaps it up. ($16-$30)


    Adwoa Blankson-Wood in a mask by Zimarty. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)


    These origami-inspired masks are designed by Sci-Arc alum husband-and-wife team Ziba Esmaeilian and Maysam Ghaffari. They started designing and manufacturing "wearable architecture" in 2014, focusing on elaborate jewelry. Zimarty added masks to the mix earlier this year. Hand washable, they're made from Kraft-tex, a German engineered U.S.-made paper fabric. ($45)


    Adwoa Blankson-Wood models a newspaper print cotton mask by Tina Martinez (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

    Tina Martinez

    Martinez is a quilter, master food preserver and classically-trained chef (who also happens to be the wife of KPCC's very own A Martinez). Seriously, what doesn't this lady do? Martinez started making masks earlier this year, with the colorful fabric she normally uses for her elaborate quilts. She's got several different patterns to choose from, depending on your fit and size (there's even masks for the little ones, too). You can browse her creations on Instagram @sewcialtina. (Visit her page for pricing.)

    Adwoa Blankson-Wood models a wax print cotton mask by Amba (Chava Sanchez/LAist)


    These masks are designed by Ghanaian American duo Essie Blankson-Turner and Jessi Ashanti, who normally specialize in colorful home goods made from fair trade fabrics. Their 100% cotton West African wax-print masks are reversible, customizable (pick your own prints!), triple-layered and even come in kid sizes, so the whole family can step out of the house in style. ($10-$18)


    The L.A. Zoo's cotton mask riffs on California's state flag. (Courtesy L.A. Zoo)

    LA Zoo

    Even L.A.'s beloved Griffith Park animal habitat has gotten in on the mask game. The zoo store has a lot of cute masks, but this riff on the California flag is a real standout. It's machine washable, adjustable and comes in both kid and grownup sizes, so everyone in the family can show their support for this L.A. institution. ($5-$10)

    "Hollywood Africans" mask by Basquiat (Courtesy The Broad Museum)

    The Broad

    The Broad is selling four masks, featuring some of the colorful, frenetic designs featured in much of Basquiat's work, in this case the artist's 1983 painting, "Hollywood Africans." Masks are washable, double-layered with a filter pocket and nose wire, and make quite the artistic statement piece when you're out and about. ($25)

    Children's mask by Noodoll (Courtesy The Hammer Museum)

    The Hammer Museum

    These playful masks by U.K. toymaker, Noodoll come in three different colors and are perfect for adding some fun to mask-wearing for the little ones in your life. They're 100% cotton and machine washable, with adjustable ear loops. Plus, they're just all kinds of adorable. The cuteness potential is real.. ($12)

    Have a favorite LA mask-maker you recommend? Let us know on Twitter @LAist. And stay safe out there.


    Giuliana Mayo Buy local. Stay safe. It's a win-win for all. Wed, 25 Nov 2020 17:45:34 -0800 LAist's Guide To The Most Fashionable Face Masks in LA
    'Tis the season for college application essays. The deadline to apply for the University of California Fall 2021 semester is Nov. 30. (Kat Stokes via Unsplash)

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    High school seniors all over the state may be spending their Thanksgiving break chewing their nails to shreds as they race against the end-of-month deadline (which has been extended to Dec. 4) to apply for the fall 2021 semester at University of California schools.

    One especially anxiety-producing section they may have left until the last minute: the personal insight questions. You know, "Tell us why you're amazing in 350 words or less." (You can read UC's actual personal insight questions for this year here. Applicants have to answer four out of eight questions. And you can watch our TikTok video for more tips on writing an essay for any college or university.)

    This year, college essays may be more important to an application than ever, since high school grades, extracurriculars and standardized tests have largely been sabotaged by the pandemic.

    And the reality is, most students are on their own when it comes to writing their application essays.

    "There are absolutely going to be tens of thousands of kids who will sit down on November 28 here in the state of California with a deadline looming and just look at the prompts and have to start writing with no parent or sibling who's going to be able to offer much guidance," says Arun Ponnusamy, chief academic officer of the for-profit counseling service Collegewise.

    The cost of tailored college prep offered by firms like Collegewise is beyond the financial reach of many families. (Collegewise also provides free resources for students and educators.)

    High school guidance counselors, meanwhile, are often helping hundreds of students with their college applications. California has one counselor for every 612 public elementary and secondary students, the fifth highest ratio in the nation.

    What about parents? Students whose parents don't speak English well or didn't go to college probably can't get much help at home. According to the California Department of Education's latest language survey, about 4 in 10 public school children speak a language other than English at home.

    Wen Le (left) and Monserrat Garcia get feedback on their college application essays during a virtual workshop hosted by Girls Inc. (Screenshot from Zoom)


    Nonprofit and government-funded college prep programs are left to fill in the college application help gap as best they can.

    One such program is Girls Inc. of Orange County's College Bound: Virtual Grad Lab. The 90 12th grade girls accepted to the program this year get (virtual) hands-on help developing a list of prospective schools, navigating financial aid decisions, and filling out admissions and scholarship applications. Part of the program is a six-week virtual essay-writing workshop where two to three students are paired with a trained, volunteer writing coach.

    At the final session, on a Thursday evening in early November, volunteer coach Russell Arons helped seniors Montserrat Garcia and Wen Le polish up a few of their essays. Arons read one of Le's essays, about how her experience as a 1.5 generation Vietnamese immigrant drives her desire to become an immigration lawyer.

    Draft paragraphs of one of Bolsa Grande High School senior Wen Le's essays in response to a UC personal insight question. (Illustration by Chava Sanchez/LAist)

    "I have little, minor adjustments in the first three paragraphs -- wording, tenses. I do want to talk the most about your ending," Arons tells Le.

    Garcia and Le say it's been hard writing these essays, digging into the heart of their own experiences and expressing their feelings about them on paper.

    "I've never really told anyone about what I write in my essays because it's very, like, personal," says Garcia.

    Le says: "For me it was really hard to get to know who I am ... For most high school kids like us, we always have to constantly catch up with the material, learning from other people's perspective, learning about other people's lives, but not our lives."


    For these girls, turning their gaze inward took a little prodding. It's the same skill that Richard Reyes aims to teach high school students -- at scale -- through his nonprofit Plus Me.

    When Reyes launched the organization in 2013, the idea was to share inspiring stories with high schoolers in hopes of inspiring them. (Reyes's own inspiring story is about how he overcame a major health scare and an initial rejection from his dream school, Occidental College, to become the first in his family to get a bachelor's degree -- from Oxy.)

    But a few years ago, it hit him that it wasn't enough just to share other people's stories.

    "I realized, like, all of these kids do not know what their stories are," he said. "And then I thought to myself, 'Did I know what my story was in middle school or high school? No, absolutely not!'"

    Now, Plus Me teaches storytelling to students in dozens of Southern California middle and high schools. Its writing program targets high school juniors, so that when it comes time to apply for college, they've got a journal full of material to mine for college essays.

    The nonprofit Plus Me teaches storytelling skills to students in Los Angeles Unified and other districts in Southern California. (Jill Replogle/LAist)

    "I think when students are able to articulate who they are and showcase their journey, I think they have an upper hand because they're able to really paint the picture to the university of what they're going to bring to their campus and how they're going to evolve," Reyes said.


    As with other aspects of college admission, essays are, no doubt, vulnerable to cheating, like having someone else write your essay. But admissions officers are on alert for scams, including prose that seems unlikely to have flowed from the mind of a 17- or 18-year-old, says Ponnusamy, who worked in college admissions at UCLA, Caltech and the University of Chicago before joining Collegewise.

    "The minute I see a John F. Kennedy quote and I see your dad's a lawyer, I'm like, uh, yeah, someone else got involved with this," Ponnusamy says. "That's just not how a typical 17- or 18-year-old talks."

    Admissions officers say students will not be rewarded for trying to impress them. "Don't use a bunch of language that isn't you because it comes across as incredibly ungenuine," says Dale Leaman, executive director of UC Irvine's Office of Undergraduate Admission.

    For students without stellar grades or test scores, or whose time spent outside of school doesn't fit neatly into an extracurricular category, the college essay offers a space to explain who you are and what makes you tick.

    Plus Me's personal narrative journal takes students through exercises designed to help them reflect on their lives. (Jill Replogle/LAist)

    But the exact purpose of essays and the weight they're given in admissions decisions varies greatly from school to school, and even within schools, says Temple University assistant professor of higher education Joseph Paris. (Some, including the California State University system, don't include essays in the admissions process at all.)

    At elite institutions where applicants are likely to have similarly impressive grades and test scores, essays can help identify truly exceptional candidates. At other schools, essays may be used to determine whether a student who barely meets other admission criteria should get in.

    Paris notes that in current discussions about how to make access to higher education more equitable, essays have not faced the same kind of scrutiny as, say, standardized tests. (The University of California system was recently forced to drop standardized tests as criteria for admission and is now working to develop a more equitable test for possible use in future admissions decisions.)

    So, can application essays open doors for students with less privileged educational and social backgrounds? Maybe, Paris says, but it's hard to control for differences in students' access to college counselors or college-educated family members who can help.

    "It is a way to capture information from an applicant that otherwise may be missing from the application entirely," he says of essays. "Is it the best possible way? I'm not confident that it is."

    Video essays could be more revealing, he says, or possibly a series of pointed, multiple-choice questions, almost like a personality test, that could then be cross-referenced with other parts of a student's application to control for privilege.

    Collegewise's Ponnusamy agrees that privilege is baked into essays just as it is in other aspects of college admissions.

    "If you've gone to a school that just has lots of resources, chances are you're going to have lots more resources to create a great essay," he says. "But I will also say I think admissions officers recognize that and are on the lookout for kids who show potential."

    Ponnusamy remembers from his own days as an admissions officer that essays written by students who dream of going to college are often much more compelling than those written by applicants who assume they will.

    "Which is why structure, grammar matter a lot less than the story being told," he says. "And I think all teenagers have amazing stories to tell."


    Nov. 30, 2020: This article was updated to include the new deadline for UC schools.

    This article was originally published on Nov. 25, 2020.

    Jill Replogle Essays are just one of many factors considered on a college application. But learning to write them can be a skill for life. Wed, 25 Nov 2020 07:00:00 -0800 With UC Application Deadlines Looming, Students Face A Holiday Weekend Writing College Admission Essays
    The Apodaca cabin in Big Santa Anita Canyon. It was one of 17 rustic cabins that burned in the Bobcat Fire in September 2020. (Sharon McNary/LAist)

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    The Bobcat Fire that burned over the San Gabriel Mountains in September destroyed 17 primitive cabins in the Angeles National Forest above Arcadia, consuming some vacation homes that had been held in the same families for generations.

    The cabins in Big Santa Anita Canyon were in many cases over a hundred years old, artifacts from Southern California's great hiking era of the early 1900s.

    One of those burned cabins belongs to the Apodaca family. Patriarch Daniel Eliseo Apodaca bought the place in 1969 from a friend. For the next 50 years, it was the center of family life, site of birthday parties, kids' sleepovers and holiday celebrations.

    I visited the remains of the cabin with his two daughters recently, during one of the first opportunities for journalists to head down the canyon and see the aftermath of the fire.

    A sign posted near Chantry Flat with distances along the Gabrielino National Recreational Trail. The sign lost one of its legs to the Bobcat Fire in September 2020. (Sharon McNary/


    The trail down the canyon is so steep that vehicles aren't permitted. Hiking is the only way in. The first half-mile of fire road is paved and beyond that it's dirt road, and a narrow bridge. That's why pack mules and donkeys are hired from the Adams Pack Station up near the Chantry Flat picnic grounds to carry anything heavy down into the canyon.

    It's a trek the two women made many times in their childhood.

    "There's little spots that have deep memories for me and for my siblings," Ria Apodaca said, as her younger sister Gina Fenard hiked alongside.

    Ria Apodaca, left, along a paved section of the burned-over Gabrielino Trail, with her sister Gina Fenard and Gina's children Eva, 12, and Hugo, 8, and husband, David Fenard. (Sharon McNary/LAist)

    "This cabin is such a big part of our dad's (life.) It was definitely his passion," Fenard said.

    Their father grew up in Boyle Heights, served in the Army, and became an accountant after college. He loved jazz and mariachi. Fenard says he filled the cabin with family, friends, mementos and live music.

    Ria Apodaca holds a photo of her father, Daniel Apodaca, when he was younger. He died Aug. 31, 2020 at age 85, a week before the Bobcat Fire broke out. (Courtesy Ria Apodaca)

    "Our dad was Mr. Show and Tell and would always be like, 'oh, come on in. This is the piano. This is my collection of old cowboy photos'," Fenard said.

    She said he loved filling the cabin and patio with oversized, impractical curios, like two giant mining barrels that hikers sometimes mistook for trash cans. But he outdid himself with the full-size upright piano.


    Daniel Apodaca recruited six men who used two dollies and some sheets of plywood to roll the piano more than a mile down a rough dirt trail.

    "They rolled it on the dolly and then the other part of the crew would go to the front of that dolly, slide the piano and that dolly, slide it down a little more and then pivot the other dolly in front for a mile," Fenard said.

    They spent as much effort braking the roll of the dollies downhill to keep the piano from running away from them as moving it, she said.

    Her father didn't even play the piano -- he'd just invite random hikers passing by to come in and play. He often said he wanted to post a sign outside the cabin inviting piano players to perform.


    After a 1.5-mile trek, we go over a narrow bridge and around a bend, and the remains of the cabin come into view. Only the stone walls, fireplace and chimney still stand.

    The sisters have already visited a few times. With friends, they cleared away most of the ash and piled hazardous metal the fire didn't burn into one corner.

    "This is what's left of the piano," Apodaca said, pointing to a hunk of cast iron and a tangle of metal wires.

    Ria Apodaca with a cast iron piano plate, all that remains of a piano her father Daniel Apodaca hauled into Big Santa Anita Canyon to his cabin, which burned in the Bobcat Fire. (Sharon McNary/

    Their elderly father visited the cabin on aging, shaky legs three years ago. The steep climb out would be his last. He was 85 when he died on August 31, one week before the Bobcat Fire started.

    "This year has brought us a lot of a lot of grief and a lot of sadness," Apodaca said. "A lot of things that have happened that are out of our control, but coming down here and shoveling ash is actually, for me, part of a healing process."

    They intend to rebuild, but whether they can is an open question.

    The Apodaca cabin in Big Santa Anita Canyon before the September 2018 Bobcat Fire. (Courtesy David Nikoloff)


    By the 1930's there were hundreds of cabins in the canyon, but floods and fires over the years reduced their numbers. Before this year's Bobcat Fire there were just 81 cabins. Now there are only 64. The owners of the 17 burned cabins are waiting to learn if the rustic vacation homes can ever be rebuilt.

    It's a big question because the cabins are privately-owned but located on public land, allowed as vacation homes under recreational residence permits meant to preserve historic structures -- but not necessarily to allow new cabins.

    Big Santa Anita Canyon Permitees Association President Ben Fitzsimmons says the local management of the Forest Service has sounded supportive of the 17 burned cabins being rebuilt, in the same historic style as before, but that prospect is "extremely uncertain."

    "A lot of it is up to the Forest Service, it depends on the safety of the environment, the fire, various other factors," Fitzsimmons said. "And then we have the logistical challenges of rebuilding. Not every cabin owner is able to rebuild. It's a major undertaking to pack everything in."

    The Forest Service says it will make a cabin-by-cabin decision, based on flood risk and other potential hazards, applying safety and other land use standards that did not exist a century ago when many of them were built.

    "We must determine that it's safe to rebuild," said Justin Seastrand, a supervisory natural resource specialist with the U.S. Forest Service, whose portfolio includes the cabins.

    He said any cabins to be rebuilt would have to be outside the boundaries of a 100-year flood plain for the canyon, free of geologic risks, and accessible to emergency and official vehicles.

    That will be a tall order for some of the burned cabins that are on the other side of a hikers' footbridge, or close to the creek that runs down the canyon, or below slopes that burned and could be inundated by mud and debris in a heavy rain.

    The Forest Service denied the rebuilding applications of about a dozen similar cabins in the Cleveland National Forest that had burned in the 2018 Holy Jim Fire, Seastrand said.

    Ria Apodaca and her sister Gina Fenard inside the remains of their family cabin that burned in the Bobcat Fire. The cabin is in Big Santa Anita Canyon. (Sharon McNary/

    Still, the family wants to pursue an application to return the Apodaca cabin to its former state.

    "We're coming together with a spirit to be able to rebuild something," Ria Apodaca said. "And this year hasn't provided us with many opportunities to do that."

    For now, Ria says they will use the remains of the piano for some kind of an art piece dedicated to their father and their shared memories.

    Sharon McNary The Bobcat Fire burned 17 of the 81 primitive recreational cabins in Big Santa Anita Canyon, destroying homes that contained generations of family memories. Some families will face a challenge to rebuild. Tue, 24 Nov 2020 17:13:08 -0800 'It Was His Passion' -- The Rustic Cabin Destroyed By The Bobcat Fire
    Arts & Entertainment
    Participants in the audio perormance "A Walk In My Neighborhood pass by this pedestrian bridge, which crosses the L.A. River in Atwater Village. (Gina Pollack/LAist)

    I bought a ticket on a whim. Because I miss people. I wasn't even sure what an audio tour was, but I hoped the act of going somewhere -- anywhere -- might stimulate the part of my brain that currently feels like the shriveled heirloom tomato I planted in April, with such high hopes.

    A street sign along the route of "A Walk In My Neighborhood." (Gina Pollack/LAist)

    "A Walk In My Neighborhood" delivered, with a hyper local/hybrid theater approach. The piece isn't a traditional play. This was more like a performance piece + guided tour + art project + interactive podcast, all in one.

    Creator Katie Lindsay calls it an "audio walk experience." And it's a testament to artistic resourcefulness.

    Artists have had to find all manner of creative outlets during the coronavirus pandemic. Like Zoom magic shows, or writing letters to people as a ghost, or using every social media tool in existence. But Katie wanted to do something uniquely her own.

    I parked near a residential Atwater Village intersection on the dirty-gray morning of my tour, ready to be inspired. A masked 20-something was waiting with a clipboard.

    She checked my name off a list, directed me to cross the street, and told me to put on/in my headphones. I hit play on the pre-downloaded Spotify playlist that came with my ticket. A warm female voice began to vibrate in my earbuds:

    Hello, friend. Welcome to a walk in my neighborhood.

    If you don't know me, I'm Katie.

    I invited you here because this walk is the way I feel connected. And how I reconnect when the insanity of the world we live in feels too much to bear.

    I invited you here because I miss you.

    I didn't know Katie, but she felt familiar. Like an old friend I knew from college but hadn't talked to in a while.

    I followed her directions and began to walk down the block, passing single-family homes, drought-plagued lawns, parked cars -- all of the things you might expect in a suburb-inside-a-city LA neighborhood.

    This tour is a solo event. Even if you go with a group, you'll be separated. But it never felt lonely. Instead, it was strangely intimate, in the same way that listening to your favorite podcast often feels like the a close personal conversation between you and the host, who seems to be speaking directly to you.

    "I kept thinking about what it means to be present with people," Katie told me later, when we spoke over the phone.

    Director Katie Lindsay on her Atwater walk, with her dog Friday. (Photo credit Robin Cloud)

    "And, you know, it's a crazy moment we're in, where that presence, that very thing that makes theater and art --the kind of art that I make -- so special... is now dangerous," she said. "So how do you do that? How do you do that live moment of connection and surprise and joy and liveliness and presence without endangering each other?"

    Katie found a way to answer her own questions by taking stock of her isolation and considering what she had to work with.

    She asked herself, "What's actually right in front of me? What do I take for granted that I actually get to see every day? Is there some space here that we can embrace alongside how horrific everything is?"

    Then she considered her daily walk.

    It's a relatable activity.

    I've been walking circles around Angelino Heights for seven months, for example. I know when the sun shifts from one side of Kensington to the other. I know where the nicest patch of grass is and which of my neighbors has a banana tree. I've picked out which home I'd buy if I had a 1.25 million dollars lying around (the well-kept Victorian with built-in bookshelves and a wrap-around porch).

    I love my neighborhood. But I am so weary of this walk that I've done a thousand times and will do again tomorrow.

    The walk passes Atwater's horse stables. (Gina Pollack/LAist)

    The genius of "A Walk In My Neighborhood" is simple: going on someone else's walk is a huge relief.

    With earbuds in, I was a tourist in my own city. Was I in Atwater Village or rural France?

    I passed stables with horses (Katie explained that her wife rides horses, which is part of the reason they moved to this specific neighborhood). I grew up not so far away from this neighborhood and had never seen these stables, or even known they existed.

    Everything was a revelation. What was that?! An average baseball field?! Amazing! I'd never seen that baseball field before!

    Was the grass actually greener in Atwater Village?

    The fog parted, and the voice led me into a scrubby patch of dry trees that she's dubbed "the fairy forest." She asked me to close my eyes and listen to the sounds. I heard birds, a few flies, the humming of the 5 freeway. I was there. Present. Alert. Fully aware of my surroundings.

    A patch of dry trees near the L.A. River that Katie Linday calls "the fairy forest." (Gina Pollack/LAist)

    Further along the walk I hit the new pedestrian bridge crossing the L.A. River.

    "The story of this river is actually the story of the city," Katie's voice says, in my earbuds.

    A man fishing in the L.A. River, passed during "A Walk In My Neighborhood." (Gina Pollack/LAist)

    Katie says her formative years were spent inside a "Westside bubble," before moving to New York for a decade. A Walk In My Neighborhood is more than a chronicling of her daily walk, it's her way of reacquainting herself with the city she grew up in, but didn't really know.

    The voice in my ears gets introspective. "I've been reckoning with the history," Katie says, "of how my family got here, how the society I participate in exists, and asking myself, 'What's my relationship and my responsibility to the original indigenous people of the land?'"

    I was invited to close my eyes again and imagine what it looked like when the Tongva-Kizh people first settled here, before concrete lined the river bank, before the pollution, before people with nowhere else to go formed encampments on what is now a bike path. She asked me to imagine all the people - the Spanish settlers, the indigenous tribes, the modern tourists and residents - who have spent time looking at this river.

    A Walk In My Neighborhood isn't just about the land we live on, though. It's about the community we're missing. Katie found a way to reach a germ-free hand out of the virtual void and say, Take a walk with me.

    "The pandemic is still isolating all of us...and people still seem to really be struggling," Katie told me. "I was definitely depressed this summer, and not feeling like myself.I feel a little bit more like myself now actually, having done this piece. I get a lot of joy from being able to connect with people in this way."

    Who knew Atwater had horse stables? I didn't. (Gina Pollack/LAist)

    There are also surprises during A Walk In My Neighborhood, but I'm not going to spoil them. (Ok, one involves a musical instrument, but I will not reveal any more!)

    I'll just say this: during the 90 minute performance / tour / experience, I did not check my email. I didn't spend even a minute doomscrolling. I didn't look at my phone at all. I walked away feeling like I'd taken an actual, true deep breath. And, for a tiny sliver of time, I felt a little less alone.

    A Walk In My Neighborhood sold out for it's first run in October and was extended through the end of November. There are a limited number of tickets still available for Thanksgiving weekend. A portion of the proceeds goes to supporting indigenous groups like NDN Collective.

    But if you don't make it to an installment of Katie's walk, don't despair. Consider asking a friend to wear a mask and take you on their daily stroll. It might prove just as refreshing. Or, if you're feeling extra creative, consider making an audio walk experience of your own. I'll be the first one to buy tickets.

    Whatever you choose to do, just remember to think outside the literal box of your living quarters.

    An empty baseball field in Atwater. (Gina Pollack/LAist)

    🚨NEW SERIES ALERT! LAist's How To (New) L.A. is a collection of step-by-step guides and practical information for navigating your life in Los Angeles. Up is down. Day is night. High is low. Left is mustard. This is L.A. right now. Here's how to live in it.

    SAFETY Is It Safe Out There?
    • GOING PLACES What's Open & All The Rules
    • WORK Getting Your Unemployment Money
    • QUARANTINE/ISOLATION What To Do If You're Sick -- Or Might Be
    • MASKS Confronting The Maskless (c/o An FBI Hostage Negotiator)
    • MENTAL HEALTH Finding Mental Health Support
    • CHEAT SHEET Top 5 Things To Know
    • LAW ENFORCEMENT The Scope Of LA's Police
    • RESTAURANTS Delivery Tips That Help LA Restaurants
    • CIVIL RIGHTS The City's New Civil Rights Department
    • ELECTION How Voting Works Now
    • THEME PARKS Adventuring Without Leaving Your Couch
    • KITCHEN Cook Like These LA Chefs


    Gina Pollack We tried this audio theater experience in Atwater Village. And it delivered. Tue, 24 Nov 2020 16:38:47 -0800 Tired Of Your Neighborhood Walk? Try Someone Else's

    The homeless encampment on Rose Avenue along the Penmar golf course in Venice. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

    Our news is free on LAist. To make sure you get our coverage: Sign up for our daily newsletters. To support our non-profit public service journalism: Donate Now.

    For months, homeowners living near Venice's Penmar Golf Course complained to anyone who'd listen about filth, crime and late night noise coming from the large homeless encampment on Rose Avenue.

    The encampment had started with just a few tents last year. When the pandemic hit and homeless people got pushed out of other areas, it grew into a bustling community of about 100 people living in tents and structures made of tarps, blankets, and wooden pallets.

    The makeshift homes lay against the golf course's chain link fence, on a dirt jogging path under a canopy of trees.

    "I think you have to be a particular kind of person to live in Venice," said Jenny Cooney, who's lived in the neighborhood for 21 years. "There's something about it. That's I think what attracted the people who live in Venice to it. There's a little edge to it. And that edge was fine, until recently."


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    Most of the men and women living in the encampment arrived there after the coronavirus outbreak shuttered homeless services and disrupted daily survival routines.

    Ian Richards had been homeless in Long Beach before setting up his tent in Venice.

    "We make our own little systems that get us money in the day, but all that stopped with the Covid," Richards said. "I was like, 'I'm either going to watch everyone I know start scrambling for resources and backstabbing each other, or just go figure out a new way in a new place anyway.' So I ended up here, and I like it out here."


    Normally, the city would be doing encampment sweeps that would force people to temporarily take down their tents and move. But due to COVID-19 health concerns, those were stopped. So the tents stayed and the encampment grew. Cooney claims that's when things really began to affect homeowners' quality of life.

    "All of the sudden we all felt like we were living in a war zone," she said. "Active drug dealers, prostitution, and bike chop shops everywhere. We'd call the police and the police would say, 'Sorry, we'd like to help you, but we're being told we're not allowed to do this, this and this.'"

    A makeshift shelter on Rose Avenue in Venice. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

    The homeowners say they tried everything to get the city's and county's attention.

    They petitioned the city to move the jurisdiction of the jogging path to the Recreation and Parks Department, and ban camping on it. That didn't work. They tried to piggyback on a federal lawsuit forcing the city to clear encampments near freeways. That didn't work, either.

    They even hired a private security guard to patrol the encampment and an outreach worker, for a couple of months, to assess people's housing needs.

    "But there was a certain point where we just couldn't afford to pay for it, and we were feeling like, this is crazy, we're paying for all of the things the city is supposed to pay for," Cooney said.

    Jenny Cooney has lived in her East Venice home for 21 years, around the corner from the site of a large homeless encampment. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)


    Many of the unhoused people camped along Rose Avenue said they appreciated the sense of community.

    "There's some magic going on," said Johnny D. Gibbs, an encampment dweller who grew up in Riverside. "Venice is blessed. I love the town. I'm into diversity, meeting people of all cultures. It's more than just being a bum, because I'm not a bum. I'm a person who is socially displaced."

    A few shelters down, a mohawked man who goes by "Ka" (pronounced "Kay"), echoed those sentiments.

    "There's nowhere like Venice in the world, it's a great place to be, especially, honestly, with the homeless community," he said.

    "Because, unlike these guys," he said, pointing to the homes across the street, "how often do you see these guys actually talking to their neighbors or actually just sitting outside? I don't know this man from Adam. I just know his name. I don't even know if that's his real name. But I live two doors down from him, and I trust this man at my house if I'm not home or vice versa."

    Johnny D. Gibbs doesn't always stay at the encampment on Rose Ave. but he visits his tent there every couple of days. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)


    As the encampment grew, Cooney joined with dozens of other residents to collect evidence showing how it was creating a dangerous situation for the people living in it, as well as for neighbors across the street.

    Homeowner Chie Lunn was at the center of this neighborhood watch effort, conducted primarily on Slack and Nextdoor groups as well as mass emails.

    "Imagine getting five emails sometimes a day, from five separate incidents with video, audio," Lunn said. 'It's about documenting what's going on in your area and bringing that all together."

    The audio and video included disturbing sights and sounds that came from the encampment at night: drug deals, arguments, even assaults.

    When Lunn purchased her family home last year, the encampment wasn't there. As a parent, she's now dealing with problems she wasn't prepared for.

    "When you move anywhere in Venice, you know that your heart is about small businesses, artists, creativity, helping your brother, neighbor, all of these things," Lunn said.

    "But it's not about defecating on sidewalks. It's not about explaining to your daughter why there's penises out when you bike ride to the beach, having your son almost get hit by a car because he can't go on the sidewalk or the bike lane. Those are not the things that you expect to have to deal with on a day-to-day basis."

    They shared all the information they gathered with St. Joseph Center, the main homeless nonprofit in Venice, and Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, the lead agency managing homeless services in L.A. County, as well as L.A. City Councilmember Mike Bonin's office and other local agencies.

    But nothing on the street changed, and the homeowners got more frustrated.

    Meanwhile, the unhoused residents didn't appreciate being constantly filmed, and weren't shy about letting the homeowners know.

    Chie Lunn got the message.

    "I don't know who's living in this trailer," said Lunn. "I don't know who's living in this structured house right here. I know that on the street, right here, right outside my home, the woman across from me wrote that 'this is war. F--- your peace, this is war.'"

    Cars drive next to an encampment on Rose Avenue in Venice. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)


    Across the street, Ashley, the woman who wrote that message, stood outside her shack made of tarps, sheets, and old furniture.

    It was a street sweeping day. As the machine hummed along the curb towards her, Ashley stood on the black asphalt next to her bike, refusing to move. It veered around her and continued on its way as she yelled after it.

    "We don't tell you how far your crap can be from the street, we don't tell you what kind of car you can drive, so why do it to us?" she shouted.

    Ashley moved from Arizona three years ago with her now ex-husband. She'd been camped outside the Penmar Golf Course for five months. The standard sweeps may have stopped, but she said city workers had been coming through about twice a week, hassling her to make sure there's three feet of space on the path for pedestrians.

    "Even though nobody really walks over here because they are scared of us," Ashley said. "But they will go and touch your stuff, and they'll take it. And depending on who's working on the sanitation crew, some of them will destroy it and take it."

    She says she feels dehumanized, having been recorded by neighbors, harassed by city workers and insulted by passing drivers. Even with all that, the encampment is still where she wanted to be.

    "What about the fact that maybe some of us like being out here because we're free?" Ashley said. "We don't pay any bills. We don't have any curfews. We don't have to follow anybody's rules. Out here, we're free."

    That's where things stood on Rose Avenue. Tensions rising on both sides of the street, and no resolution in sight.

    The situation began to change one morning in September, just after 6 a.m., when Chie Lunn looked out her window and saw the tall pine trees across the street engulfed in flames. The fire had spread from a camp stove in one of the tents underneath the overgrown trees.

    A cell phone photo shows an encampment fire scorching several trees on Sept. 14. The fire prompted the city to trim the trees, clear the encampment and offer housing to those displaced. (Courtesy Arya Rahimian )


    Lunn said she was immediately worried for her unhoused neighbors.

    "It's not about us," said Lunn. "We have freaking sprinklers, water hoses and such. The thing we've constantly expressed over and over again is we don't want deaths."

    It was one of about a dozen fires reported at the encampment in recent months -- a fact of life for encampment residents like Ashley.

    "The one that burnt the tree there worried me, because I thought the other trees were going to catch on fire," she told me. "Somebody threw something on the grill because they were mad. It was a vengeful thing."

    Meanwhile, Councilman Bonin had become increasingly concerned about what was now the largest encampment in his district.

    He wanted to try a new approach, known as "Encampment to Home," where shelter would be offered to everyone in the group at the same time, rather than providing services to people on an ad hoc basis.

    "People in an encampment are a community, and addressing a community collectively is often an appropriate and helpful strategy," he said.

    Bonin was having a hard time getting traction for the idea. But when the homeowners, concerned about the fire risk coming from the overgrown trees, asked the city to trim them back all along the golf course, the situation began to shift.

    To do that, the city said it needed access to the trees, which meant it would need to clear out the homeless encampment.

    With 100 people facing displacement, Bonin said that's when L.A. County and local housing agencies finally agreed to provide outreach, services and hotel rooms to the encampment dwellers.

    "It should not take a trigger like that to get this sense of urgency," he said. "This is the sense of urgency we should have everywhere."


    The proposed solution relied on Project Roomkey to provide vacant hotel rooms for encampment dwellers on Rose. The program, which was set up by California, L.A. County and LAHSA during the pandemic, provides hotel rooms for thousands of homeless people who are older than 65 or have a health condition, although it's shutting down next year.

    City sanitation crews haul away tents, tarps and debris along Rose Avenue in October, as some encampment dwellers agree to leave in exchange for hotel vouchers. (Aaron Schrank/LAist)

    Throughout October, social workers with the St. Joseph Center went structure to structure, offering one-week motel vouchers and the promise of long-term housing to anyone willing to turn in their tent, pack up their belongings and agree not to come back.

    The effort's initial results were mixed, St. Joseph Outreach Coordinator Dawan Moses said while making his rounds one day.

    "So far, we tried to get what we call the low-hanging fruit, the people who we knew were interested, that we had rapport and relationships with," Moses said.

    Some were saying yes to the motel offer, including a man named Art. His hands and face were covered in abscesses, which, he said, had developed over recent months.

    "I have to, for my health," Art said, as he reluctantly packed his belongings. "I told them I was injured yesterday and I needed time and they still came and tried to rush me."

    There was no shower at the Rose-Penmar encampment -- just a portable toilet shared by dozens -- and Art said he desperately wanted to wash his body.

    A group of unhoused folks clean up and organize their belongings after some accept hotel vouchers from the city. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

    While Art rode off on his bicycle to Venice's Marina 7 Motel about a mile away, others declined the offer.

    Leo Ferguson, 53, who has been camping in Venice for 30 years, wasn't interested.

    "When somebody's, like, paying for me to stay at a motel or that stuff, I feel like I'm kind of under their supervision, or I'm their responsibility now," Ferguson said.

    Cameron Prior, who's been living in a tent along the Penmar Golf Course fence for a year, said he'd probably just move to a nearby street.

    "When they kick us out to trim the trees, it seems like we're not going to be able to come back," Prior said. "It's for the benefit of the golf course. Those guys pay good money to tee off and play their nine holes, they don't want a bunch of homeless people hanging around."

    The nearby Marina 7 motel in Venice is one of the locations where former residents of the Rose-Penmar encampment are now staying. (Aaron Schrank/LAist)


    Some who were approached with the motel offer dismissed it as unfair, including Ka.

    "I'm turning it down because it's too much like an ultimatum," Ka said. "In order to get the hotel, we have to make it so we can't be here. And if we return here, then we lose our hotel. And then they're telling me they might not have any rooms available that would be pet-friendly. Well, I have a dog. So you're handing out ultimatums, not helpfulness."

    Ka was preparing a pan of jumbo shrimp with his neighbor, Kyle Freeman-Smith, who also didn't like the offer.

    "They're just going to keep on seeing what they can get away with because we allow it," said Freeman-Smith. "I'm tired of allowing it. So, I'll go to jail, if that's what I have to do. I'm staying here."

    Gabriel Durkin-White, a West L.A. resident who organizes with Streetwatch LA, also said the offer isn't fair to the men and women camped at Rose-Penmar.

    "I don't think they should be offering people services in that punitive a way," said Durkin-White. "It's not a choice when the city comes in and says, 'We're evicting you because your wealthy neighbors don't want you to exist across the street for them,' and handing out one-week motel vouchers."

    At the end of October, the city began clearing and fencing off sections of a dirt jogging path where more than 100 people had been camping. (Aaron Schrank/LAist)

    When I returned to the encampment a few days later, even more tents had disappeared. I found Kyle Freeman-Smith, cooking pancakes this time, who was sticking to his guns.

    But his friend Ka had changed his mind. Social workers had found him a dog-friendly room in South L.A.

    "Yeah, I'm taking the deal," said Ka. "It seems like the easiest thing to do, seems like the smartest. Get me inside, get me resources, get me what I need, and I ain't gotta worry about nothing. They're giving us a chance."

    L.A. city workers trim trees, including those recently burned in an encampment fire. (Aaron Schrank/LAist)


    Freeman-Smith may have wanted to stay, but when I returned to Rose Avenue on tree-trimming day, the entire jogging path had been cleared. The whole street was closed to traffic, aside from the two dozen yellow city trucks working on the trees.

    Chie Lunn's husband, Phil, was standing on the sidewalk.

    "I'm just blown away that the city has mobilized, what, six cherry pickers? I've never seen a city operation like this before, it's crazy," he said.

    The effort on Rose Avenue was being met with a mix of hope and skepticism on both sides of the street.

    "It's happening and we're grateful, and we support it, but we're not going to believe it until we see the actual results," said Chie Lunn. "And that'll take about a month and a half. I think that a quick cleanup is going to be really great. I just hope to see that everyone is getting long term care."

    Without long-term housing, neighbors worry they'll see the same people across the street again soon, or in another part of Venice.

    "I'm glad we were able to find a solution that included getting housing," said Jenny Cooney. "Not a solution to just get them off the block, because that's like a game of whack-a-mole. We don't just want to have police come and kick people out. You are going to have to keep doing outreach."

    Throughout their efforts, the members of the homeowner group said they learned just how disorganized L.A.'s system to address homelessness really is.

    "It's too fragmented," said Arya Rahimian, who purchased his home on Rose Avenue, his first, last year. "You've got the city responsible for housing, the county responsible for services. Nobody knows how or why there's a division. You also have all these other agencies and nonprofits involved. They all want to help, but nobody really wants to take the responsibility."

    Homeowner Arya Rahimian on Rose Avenue in Venice. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

    Cooney said it's up to the neighborhood to get the various agencies on the same page.

    "It's staggering to me that it's such a mess here. They do not talk to each other," she said. "We need to get all the people in the same room and do something about this."

    A total of 70 people who were living in the former Rose Avenue encampment have been put up in local hotels on a week-to-week basis, according to the St. Joseph Center. But whether they'll find permanent housing is up in the air.

    Those who didn't accept the motel offer simply moved on to set up tents in other parts of Venice.

    When the metal fence around the jogging path comes down, it's unclear what authority the city would have, if any, to prevent people from returning to their former community.

    I called Kyle-Freeman Smith recently, to ask him about his next moves. But he didn't answer.

    So I texted him: "Will you come back to the street after the tree-trimming?"

    He texted back just one word: "Yeah."


    Aaron Schrank After months of pressure from homeowners, the city decided to offer motel vouchers to about 100 unhoused angelenos camped in tents along Penmar Golf Course. But it's unclear if this will be a long-term solution for anyone. Tue, 24 Nov 2020 16:22:47 -0800 Where Unhoused People Saw Freedom, Their Venice Neighbors Saw A 'War Zone'
    Easlake Juvenile Court near downtown Los Angeles. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

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    In an effort to reconceive the county's juvenile justice system, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors committed Tuesday to moving forward with a sweeping plan that aims to replace locked facilities with "a home-like setting."

    The board unanimously passed a motion that calls for eventually ending the Probation Department's supervision of juveniles, passing control to a new Department of Youth Development.

    Instead of holding young offenders in the county's two juvenile halls and six probation camps, the board agreed to explore how it could place them in "more of a home-like setting in communities, still with public safety in mind," as Supervisor Sheila Kuehl described the plan at a Monday press briefing.

    The board committed to transitioning to the "care-first" model by 2025, "pending resolution of the necessary legal, budgetary and legislative issues."

    While the number of juveniles in detention has dropped considerably over the years, L.A. County currently holds some 500 young people in its locked facilities.

    The motion, co-authored by Kuehl and Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, was based on an October report from the board-established Youth Justice Work Group. Its report recommends establishing Safe and Secure Healing Centers: "small, community-based therapeutic housing, with a range of security, to serve as alternatives to juvenile halls and camps."

    Placing youth in the Healing Centers would keep them close to their community, instead of being shipped to a facility in another city or county. They would then retain access to their local school and support system.

    Various reforms have reduced the population of incarcerated young people; state data shows the average daily population in L.A. County has steadily fallen since 2003, when it was more than 3,700. But that has "led to increasing racial disproportionality [and] increasing disproportionate burden of the justice system on Black and Brown young people," said Taylor Schooley, a senior researcher at the County's Office of Diversion & Reentry.

    Young people of color are "significantly" overrepresented in L.A. County's justice system, according to the Youth Justice Work Group report. "Black youth are nearly 15 times as likely as white youth to be referred to Probation," it says, with Latino youth more than three times as likely as white youth to be referred.

    The current juvenile detention system "did not protect [youthful offenders], it did not rehabilitate them, it did not value them -- at such a massive cost to the county and society," said Milinda Kakani, a senior policy associate with Children's Defense Fund-California who spent the last two years representing youth in L.A.'s juvenile justice system.

    In 2018, the average annual cost in California to incarcerate a child in a county juvenile hall was $285,700, according to a report from the Pacific Juvenile Defender Center and the Youth Law Center.

    Former juvenile detainee Kent Mendoza told Monday's briefing that the time and money spent to incarcerate him was wasted.

    "Instead of being provided with a mentor that could support and guide me, I was pepper sprayed or put in solitary confinement," said Mendoza, who is now manager of advocacy and community organizing at the Anti-Recidivism Coalition.

    "Instead of learning about life -- how to be professional and about the things I should expect once I was released into the free world -- I was released with a criminal record and labeled a gang member," he said.

    Isaac Bryan, co-chair of the Reimagine L.A. Coalition, also backed the board motion. The coalition was behind Measure J, the recently-passed initiative that requires the county to set aside 10% of its unrestricted revenue each year to housing, youth development, mental health care and criminal justice diversion programs.

    "There may be a need for even more resources, which is why we allocated youth development as one of the major categories that Measure J funding can go towards," Bryan said.

    To accommodate probation officers' concerns about their jobs, Kuehl noted that the motion includes an order to explore how to transition workers currently in the probation officers union to roles at the Department of Youth Development.

    The motion sets an objective of making an initial investment of $75 million in the Department of Youth Development in the fiscal year that begins next July.

    Robert Garrova Instead of holding young offenders in the county's two juvenile halls and six probation camps, the board agreed to explore how it could place them in "more of a home-like setting." Tue, 24 Nov 2020 15:09:00 -0800 LA County Wants To Move From Locking Up Juveniles To A 'Care-First' Approach
    Alejandro Mayorkas speaks onstage during Festival PEOPLE En Español 2015 in New York City. (Brad Barket/Getty Images)

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    President-elect Biden's pick to lead the Department of Homeland Security was an infant when his family fled Cuba and eventually settled in Beverly Hills.

    If confirmed by the Senate, Alejandro "Ali" Mayorkas would be the first Latino and first foreign-born DHS Secretary, in charge of a sprawling portfolio that includes border security and immigration enforcement.

    "While DHS affects everyone, given its critical role in immigration matters, I'm proud that for the first time ever, the department will be led by an immigrant, a Latino, who knows that we are a nation of laws and values," Biden said today at a press conference to announce Mayorkas and other top national security and foreign policy nominees.

    Biden added his cabinet choices "reflect the idea that we cannot meet these challenges with old thinking and unchanged habits."

    Advocacy groups welcomed Mayorkas' nomination.

    "We are a country of immigrants, and we need leaders that reflect our values to enact bold and systemic changes to get us closer to a more just and inclusive society," said Jacqueline Martinez Garcel, CEO of the Latino Community Foundation.

    Mayorkas was the U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California, where he spearheaded federal prosecutions in Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura, and five other surrounding counties. He later steered U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in the Obama Administration and helped craft the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA).

    The pick sends a message to DACA recipients, who have watched outgoing President Trump try to dismantle the program, said Angélica Salas of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights L.A.

    "What the Biden and Harris administration are saying is they are extremely serious about returning these young people to the legal status that they deserve," Salas said. "Instead of living a life of survival they will finally be able to thrive in the country that has always been their home."

    Mayorkas' legal colleagues also applauded the news of his nomination.

    "Ali is a proud son of Los Angeles, and he's a product of L.A. having done much of his schooling and professional life here," said David Marcus, a partner in the law firm WilmerHale and a former Assistant U.S. Attorney during Mayorkas' time at the Department of Justice.

    "He has a way of making people feel like they matter," Marcus added. "And that's because to Ali, every person does matter."

    The new DHS chief will have a lengthy to-do list: Biden has pledged to reverse a slew of hard-line Trump administration policies, including eliminating the "public charge" rule, restoring the asylum claims process, expanding the number of refugees the U.S. accepts annually (reduced by more than 80% under Trump), and rescinding the ban on travel from several Muslim countries.

    "Ali will have the opportunity to right the ship," said former DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano. Mayorkas was number two at the department during Napolitano's and Jeh Johnson's tenures.

    "[DHS] is a behemoth, and it's a management challenge," Napolitano said. "He can take hold of the reins quickly and begin to restore the department to what it was originally envisioned to be."

    "This is a good day for people who want a reversal of all the harm the Trump administration has caused to our immigrant community," Salas said.

    In a tweet, Mayorkas pledged to "work to restore faith in our institutions, and protect our security."

    Libby Denkmann The President-elect says he will nominate Alejandro Mayorkas for DHS Secretary. Tue, 24 Nov 2020 14:53:00 -0800 Biden Picks A Cuban-American LA Attorney To Reverse Trump's Hard-Line Immigration Policies
    Some lanes on Colorado Blvd. in Old Town Pasadena will be closed to create more outdoor dining spots for restaurants. (Julia Paskin/KPCC)

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    Pasadena will allow restaurants to continue outdoor service -- at least for now. City officials are still analyzing the data and could decide to put the kibosh on dine-in restaurant service in the future.

    It's a sharp break from the decision made by Los Angeles County public health officials, who on Sunday issued a temporary order requiring restaurants to halt dine-in service for three weeks.

    The mandate, which many restaurant owners fear will devastate their businesses, goes into effect on Wednesday, Nov. 25. During this period, restaurants in most of L.A. County will only be able to offer food via takeout, delivery and drive-through.

    However, some cities in the county, such as Pasadena and Long Beach, have their own health departments, which regulate restaurants in those areas.

    The city of Pasadena issued the following staement:

    "The city of Pasadena will allow restaurants to remain open for outside dining with guidelines in place and continue to assess its COVID numbers, work closely with Huntington Hospital and give as much advance notice as possible if the City's Order is going to change in any respect.

    We need to balance our growing numbers and the economic hardship of restaurant personnel. Behind every employee is a family and in many cases they are the sole providers. We want to gain compliance through education so we'll continue to work with the restauranteurs although it's imperative everyone follows the rules to slow this surge otherwise a State directive could supersede our local Orders."

    At a Pasadena city council meeting on Monday night, officials discussed the issue. Mayor-elect Victor Gordo expressed support for keeping outdoor dining open and said, "I am glad that we're untethering from the county and recognizing our own healthcare jurisdiction," reports the Pasadena Star News.

    In this case, the ultimate decision rests with Pasadena's public health department, not its city council.

    The agency has typically followed L.A. County's Department of Public Health, issuing the same kinds of restrictions on public gatherings, restaurants and businesses. If Pasadena public health officials continue to allow restaurants to offer outdoor dining, it would be a major policy break between the city and the county.

    Elina Shatkin Officials could change course but if they don't, it will be a major policy break between the city and the county. Tue, 24 Nov 2020 09:45:12 -0800 Pasadena Will Keep Outdoor Dining Open -- For Now
    A June 2019 rally in Little Tokyo to oppose a Trump administration plan to use Fort Sill Army base in Oklahoma as a detention center for immigrant children and other immigrant detainees. (David McNew/AFP via Getty Images)

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    President-elect Joe Biden has promised to put the coronavirus health crisis and economic recovery at the forefront of his agenda once in office. But his administration is also expected to address immigration -- and to use executive orders to reverse many of outgoing President Donald Trump's most controversial immigration policies.

    The Biden administration has plans to restore the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, and discontinue the use of Pentagon funds to build a wall at the southern border.

    But will he go beyond rolling back the Trump administration's policies, and commit to bringing about comprehensive immigration reform legislation, as he's promised to do? And would Congress support this kind of immigration agenda?

    "Joe Biden has to keep his promise if he wants to avoid being in the shadow of Barack Obama -- of being called deporter-in-chief. I believe he will keep that promise," said Paola Ramos, a journalist and author who is the former deputy director of Hispanic media for the 2016 Hillary Clinton campaign and a host for Vice News.

    "It's not only the politically right thing to do, or the moral right thing to do," she said. "I think not doing anything can really cause Democrats a lot of harm in the long term."

    In a recent interview for Take Two's immigration special, "The Invisible Wall," host A Martinez spoke with Ramos and with Mike Madrid, a Sacramento-based Republican strategist and co-founder of the Lincoln Project, about what they think the political landscape looks like for immigration moving forward.

    Here's what they had to say. (Responses have been lightly edited for clarity.)

    Given that the Biden-Harris team will need to put the pandemic and the economy at the forefront, what's the argument for addressing immigration in the first 100 days? Why would it be important to do something? Or is it?

    Paola Ramos: One of the critical reasons why Joe Biden will step into the White House in January is because of the way that immigrants and Latinos organized for him. For instance, we know that the reason why Maricopa County, Arizona flipped is because young Latinos organized for their parents -- people that were deported under Joe Arpaio, people that were racially profiled under Joe Arpaio.

    So it's not only the politically right thing to do or the moral right thing to do. I think not doing anything can really cause Democrats a lot of harm in the long term. It can cause them the vote of confidence -- a vote that if Joe Biden does not uphold his promise, as we saw with the Obama administration, can have pretty big and serious implications for Democrats in the long run.

    (Note: Joe Arpaio is the former sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona who became known for his hardline tactics against undocumented immigrants. He lost his bid during the Republican primary earlier this year for his old position as Maricopa County sheriff.)

    Mike Madrid: There's both a moral element to addressing immigration, along with a political one. This has been a fight deferred for too many decades. It's long overdue. The system is broken. Up until this point, I believe both sides sought partisan advantage, frankly, by not fixing it. We have to remember that both George W. Bush, who I helped get elected, and Barack Obama essentially chose not to push this and spend the political capital to get this done.

    I believe the dynamics are much different now in this environment. I think with a very thin majority, Nancy Pelosi can probably work to get the Democratic votes together and I think Kevin McCarthy actually has some incentive to get this deal done, as does Mitch McConnell, I think. I think it's really going to take the leadership of Joe Biden at this point. But it depends on whether the Democratic Party has other priorities as they did in 2008 or if they finally want to get this deal done. I believe they can if they forced the issue.

    (Note: Immigrant advocates criticized President Obama over his administration's handling of deportations and his failure to fulfill a campaign promise for immigration reform, particularly after the 2008 election when both the House and Senate were Democratic. )

    We know that immigrating to the U.S. has never been easy. Policy problems long predated Donald Trump, which is why many presidents have talked about the need for reform. What can you tell us about the persistent problems that have led many to believe that our immigration system is fundamentally broken?

    Ramos: In every story where I'm covering Latinos or immigrants, they remind me that this isn't Trump's problem. The wall isn't Trump's problem. The system isn't his. It's been this way for decades at this point. Let's remember that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was created [in 2002] and the very premise of it was the criminalization of others. Moreover, a couple of years ago it was the Obama administration who deported more than three million people. It was the Obama administration who built a lot of the detention facilities we have now.

    I think one of the most important things the immigrant community is looking for is having a DHS secretary who understands that the system is fundamentally broken, that has an extensive background on immigration and that respects the United States' humanitarian obligations. I think immigration advocates are looking to have the right person ... that can recognize and say out loud that our immigration system is broken.

    Madrid: Immigration reform is always very difficult to do, which is why it's oftentimes a once in a generation event. We began this journey essentially with the 1965 INA (Immigration and Nationality Act). We didn't get it done until 1986 with the Immigration Reform and Control Act, and we have not touched it since. It is politically fraught, but like I said, I do believe that the politics now allow for a win for both sides -- if this is done right.

    At the same time, I do believe Donald Trump and Trumpism is not going anywhere. I believe he will be catcalling from outside the system and probably threatening Republican members who dare to do the right thing to get this done. But I think that getting this done will actually help some Republican members. I think it will happen, but I may be pollyannish when it comes to this. I thought it would happen in 2000 and it didn't. But again, I think the politics allow for it now. We saw a split vote in Arizona and the Rio Grande Valley, so because of the Latino diversification, I think both parties have an opportunity to get a real deal done.

    We've been hearing from immigration attorneys and experts that many of President Trump's policies can be reversed through executive order, but others might take more time. What would you say is the one policy Joe Biden needs to prioritize in his first 100 days?

    Ramos: First of all, I'd say all of them, because a lot of them are really easy to roll back. A lot of the Trump agenda was based on executive orders, so doing rollbacks is something pretty simple Joe Biden can do. But if I had to focus on two, I would say he has to revive DACA. He has to reinstitute that. I also think he needs to restructure ICE's enforcement priorities. He needs to ensure that we go back to Barack Obama's enforcement priorities, which focused on going after folks with criminal records. I think that's going to make a big difference. I think it'll send the right message to the immigrant community.

    Madrid: I genuinely think it's a comprehensive problem at this point. There's no tinkering around the edges. It has to be fixed from top to bottom, or you're just kind of like putting Scotch tape around a plumbing problem under the sink. It may work for a little bit, but it's ultimately going to burst out and I think that's kind of where we're at.

    Mike, we've heard a lot about how the Trump administration took a protectionist attitude toward immigration. Do you think that is representative of a wider thinking among GOP members who are still in power in Congress ?

    Madrid: I think that has become the dominant thought. When I was first working on this issue in the Bush administration in 2000, the pre 9/11 era, there was a very different school of thought with Republican leaders and frankly, even the rank-and-file voter has changed markedly. The party has become much more isolationist, much more protectionist and much more nativist. I think that is the dominant thought from top to bottom, from elected leadership down to the voter base. So there's not a whole lot of voices like mine in the party anymore. I'm kind of a quasi-Republican at this point. But I also don't believe I'm alone.

    Paola, as a Democratic strategist, what do you think Joe Biden's biggest challenge will be and how important are those Senate seats in Georgia to getting a consensus on immigration policies?

    Ramos: Joe Biden has to keep his promise if he wants to avoid being in the shadow of Barack Obama -- of being called deporter in chief. I believe he will keep that promise. I think that the role of Kamala Harris will be fundamental and important. Let's not forget that the very first bill that she introduced was one focused on immigration. It was about giving immigrants access to counsel as they cross the border.

    Even if Democrats lose Georgia, if Biden does what he does best, which is be an incredible negotiator, he can get immigration reform done. It will take prioritizing the issue and keeping his promise. I feel pretty confident because I think they know what the stakes are if they don't.

    Can the U.S. reconcile its relationship with the immigrant community both here and abroad?

    Madrid: I don't know that it can be reconciled, but it can write a new history going forward. This country, whether right or wrong, has a long history of doing that. I'm not sure that you're ever going to get a nativist population ... at least half of us --[to] go through a reconciliation process, but we can start something new going forward.

    Ramos: I think communities are traumatized. Pain has been done. They feel betrayed. But I think Joe Biden did a very important thing during one of the debates, which is that he apologized and he's centered immigration in the first 100 days, so I do feel optimistic that some of the damage can be undone.



    Marina Peña Will President-elect Joe Biden go beyond rolling back the Trump administration's controversial immigration policies, and commit to pushing immigration reform legislation? Mon, 23 Nov 2020 15:05:00 -0800 How Will A Biden Administration Tackle Immigration After Four Years Of Trump?
    A memorial to Andres Guardado. (Josie Huang/LAist)

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    For the first time in nearly 40 years, Los Angeles County's coroner is holding an inquest. The proceedings that begin next Monday will focus on the fatal shooting in June of Andres Guardado by a sheriff's deputy in Gardena.

    While the inquest will seek to determine exactly what happened, its findings will not affect any potential criminal or civil cases related to the incident.

    Guardado, 18, was shot five times in the back by Deputy Miguel Vega in the driveway of an autobody shop. Vega's attorney said Guardado reached for a gun he had placed on the ground. Guardado's family says it does not believe he had a gun. The shooting sparked days of angry protests.

    The inquest is the latest sign of a new scrutiny of law enforcement's use of force in an already extraordinary year that has seen widespread unrest in the streets, the partial defunding of police departments and the election of a new district attorney who promises to give greater consideration to filing criminal charges against officers who shoot people.

    Even with all those factors, Medical Examiner-Coroner Dr. Jonathan Lucas might not have taken the rare step of ordering an inquest -- there have only been 13 since 1931, according to his office -- if it weren't for the dismal state of relations between the county and L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva.

    The Board of Supervisors, the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission and Inspector General Max Huntsman have all repeatedly clashed with Villanueva over what they claim is his repeated obstruction of their efforts at oversight, his lax disciplinary policies, and his failure to address the problem of violent deputy cliques, among other things.

    In October, the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission called on Villanueva to resign. Two supervisors have echoed that call, and earlier this month the board directed staff to explore legal options for removing the elected sheriff from office.

    The sheriff has defended his record, insisting that he's fully committed to transparency and accountability. He accuses his critics in county government of being motivated by politics, noting that a number of them supported the man he defeated in Nov. 2018, former Sheriff Jim McDonnell.


    In September, the supervisors unanimously urged Lucas to conduct an inquest into the Guardado shooting. The vote followed a summer of protests over the George Floyd killing and police brutality in general.

    "You have to think about the political environment that we are in right now," Supervisor Hilda Solis told us.

    County officials also increasingly have lost faith in the integrity of deputy shooting investigations under Villanueva, Solis said, citing his resistance to oversight by Huntsman.

    "The County Sheriff's Department's refusal to comply with state law and permit monitoring of their investigations of themselves deeply undermines law enforcement," Huntsman said in a statement when the board passed the motion calling for an inquest.

    The inquest is designed as much to reveal more about sheriff investigations as the shooting itself, said Solis. "It would certainly shed more light on how the sheriff's investigation proceeds -- what he's doing, what he's not sharing."

    Villanueva dismisses the inquest as a "circus stunt" by the supervisors and the coroner.

    "He's a day late and a dollar short," Villanueva said of Lucas. "We know pretty much all of the facts that are available on this case."


    Inquests date back centuries and once amounted to a group of villagers gathering around a body to figure out the cause of death. Modern medicine has made them nearly obsolete.

    Some L.A. County inquests focused on the famous -- one involved the death of Marilyn Monroe. Three of them investigated a homicide by a law enforcement officer.

    Under state law, inquests may be conducted by the coroner or an appointee -- and with or without a jury. In this case, Lucas has appointed retired state Appellate Justice Candace Cooper to hear the case. Unlike in past inquests, there will be no jury.

    Cooper alone will decide which witnesses and documents to subpoena, which questions to ask, and the final determination. The law is narrow; it only allows an inquest to determine the circumstances, manner and cause of death, and the findings cannot be used in any criminal or civil case.


    In a briefing to reporters in August, Sheriff's Commander Chris Marks said two deputies on patrol spotted Guardado standing on the sidewalk talking to some people in a parked car outside an auto body shop shortly before 6 p.m. on June 18.

    "At some point, Mr. Guardado was seen in possession of a handgun and then ran southbound down the driveway," Marks said. The deputies gave chase on foot, and "ultimately caught up to Mr. Guardado at the rear of the business, where a deputy-involved shooting occurred," he said.

    Friends of Guardado said he was working as a security guard at the auto body shop, but he had no security guard license and no uniform, according to Marks, who added the location had been the scene of a shooting 11 days earlier.

    There's no video of the deputy shooting Guardado -- the department said detectives had removed the digital recorder for the property's security cameras as part of their investigation into the previous shooting. And sheriff's deputies only started wearing body cameras last month.


    An autopsy commissioned by the Guardado family and the coroner's autopsy -- released despite the sheriff placing a "security hold" on it -- found Guardado had been shot five times in the back. Toxicology tests found no drugs in his system.

    The coroner's decision to release the autopsy before sheriff's investigators had finished interviewing witnesses was unprecedented.

    In another highly unusual move, Deputy Vega's attorney issued a statement giving his client's version of the incident. Guardado complied with commands to stop, put his hands in the air, place the gun on the ground and lie face down, according to attorney Adam Marangell.

    But as Vega was preparing to handcuff him, Guardado reached for the gun, the attorney said.

    For longtime South L.A. activist Najee Ali, the biggest outrage is that the autopsies revealed that Vega shot Guardado five times in the back.

    "I don't give a damn whether he had a gun or not, the fact is he was shot in the back," Ali shouted at a rally near the scene of the shooting.

    One key witness who may provide more insight into what happened is Vega's partner, who has said he partially saw what happened.


    Candace Cooper, the presiding officer appointed by the coroner, declined to be interviewed before the inquest.

    She has been described by various lawyers as one of the most respected jurists in Los Angeles.

    Cooper, who is Black, grew up in the Crenshaw District when it was mostly white. The daughter of an LAPD officer, she got her law degree from USC.

    In the 1970s, she was a trailblazer who went to work at some of the city's biggest law firms, including O'Melveny & Meyers and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher.

    "She was one of the few black females that was brought into a major law firm," said longtime civic activist Virgil Roberts, who is managing partner and founder of the law firm Bobbitt and Roberts. He has known Cooper since the '70s.

    In 1980, Cooper was appointed as a judge on the Municipal Court and rose from there to eventually serve as a justice on the California Court of Appeal, including eight years as the presiding judge.

    She retired from the bench in 2008 and currently works in dispute resolution as a mediator and arbitrator.

    "She has that calm, self-confident demeanor that you would expect of a lawyer," Roberts said. "Think of her as a female Obama."

    In a 2010 interview with USC, Cooper acknowledged her widely praised temperament.

    "I think one reason that I got a lot of accolades for judicial temperament is that everyone that comes into my court has the same status -- the homeless person, a police officer," she said. "People appreciate that."


    The last inquest in L.A. was in 1981. The coroner convened a jury to examine the controversial death of 21-year-old Cal State Long Beach football star Ron Settles inside a jail cell in the city of Signal Hill.

    Police said Settles, who was black, hanged himself after fighting with officers. But after nine-and-a-half days of testimony, the jury ruled 5-4 that he died "at the hands of another" -- a term of art for homicide. The case attracted national attention and there were calls for criminal charges to be brought against the officers, who had refused to testify.

    But because the law doesn't allow the district attorney to use the findings from an inquest, the D.A. declined to file charges. The Settles family and community activists were outraged.

    In 1970, the coroner called an inquest into the death of famed Mexican-American journalist Ruben Salazar. Salazar had been killed by a tear gas projectile fired by a sheriff's deputy during a Chicano Vietnam War protest in East L.A.

    The inquest was broadcast live on local TV stations on a rotating basis, with Tom Brokaw anchoring part of the hearings. Archival footage shows Chicano activists angrily leaving the hearing as the focus of the inquest turned to the political views of protest organizers.

    In the end, the inquest determined that Salazar died at the hands of another, but not whether the deputy intended to kill him.

    "It didn't really solve the problem that the authorities had set out to solve, which was to quiet the questions and to leave the public with a feeling that justice had been served," said journalist Philip Rodriguez, who produced a documentary film on Salazar.

    The inquest into the shooting of Guardado may also fail to quiet public anger over the killing. But it may at least provide a closer look at what happened the day Guardado was shot -- and how the Sheriff's Department conducted its investigation.

    "It provides a forum for airing testimony and documents that are otherwise kept out of the public eye," said Loyola Law School Professor Eric Miller.

    It can often take a long time for the full story to emerge. In the Salazar case, it was in 2011, more than 40 years after he was killed, that a civilian watchdog agency that had been allowed to review thousands of pages of Sheriff's department documents concluded that deputies committed a series of tactical blunders, but there was no evidence they had targeted Salazar.

    Frank Stoltze A sheriff's deputy shot the 18-year-old five times in the back in June. The inquest, the first in nearly 40 years, won't affect any potential criminal or civil cases. Mon, 23 Nov 2020 13:54:00 -0800 LA Coroner Uses Rare Inquest to Probe Deputy's Killing of Andres Guardado