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The two-story apartment building at 920 Everett Street tagged with graffiti. (Courtesy of Chinese Community for Equitable Development )

Sniffing fumes of spray paint that had wafted inside her apartment last Sunday, Khinn "Kim" Ung walked outside her building on the edge of Chinatown and was shocked by what she saw.

From top to bottom, the six-unit apartment complex at 920 Everett Street had been tagged with giant pink hearts and the money bag-carrying mascot of the Monopoly game, the face obscured by a hot pink face mask.

There was an American flag, and the words "For Rent" and "Welcome."

"The whole apartment looked so ugly," Ung said. "Oh my God, it looked like a ghost house."

No one saw who tagged the complex. A cleaning crew has left little trace of the graffiti.

The incident raised plenty of questions for the tenants, mostly immigrants from Southeast Asia. Ung said she saw the landlord, Victoria Vu of VF Developments, on the premises that day. Vu has been trying to force the tenants out during the pandemic. According to Ung and activists helping the tenants, that's the first time Vu's been spotted at the building.

It's the latest chapter in the tenants' quest to stay in their apartments. With three owners in the last year, few renters have been caught up in the churn of L.A. gentrification as dramatically as the people at 920 Everett Street.

We first reported on them in the fall of 2019. Their building had been sold by their long-time mom 'n pop landlord to a new owner, American Collateral, which had given them 60 days to leave. The tenants, who include 71-year-old Vietnamese grandmother Dieu Pham, traveled to Brentwood looking for the landlord's home, protesting along tree-lined, monied streets.

American Collateral then sold the building to VF Developments this past January.

The tenants' joy of escaping eviction was short-lived. In February, Vu gave the tenants 60 days to leave so she could renovate the building. (Her Instagram bio reads: "I Enjoy Collecting Properties & Transforming Dirt to Diamonds.")

Pham, who has diabetes and high blood pressure, worried about having nowhere affordable to go during the pandemic.

"I'm scared of getting sick," said Pham, who shares a $1,250/month, 2-bedroom apartment with her daughter and two grandchildren. "I just want to live peacefully."

Khinn "Kim" Ung (l) and Dieu Pham (r) at a protest in front of their complex in Aug. 2019. (Josie Huang/LAist)

At the moment, the tenants can't be forced to move. That's because the state's Judicial Council -- which sets policy for the courts -- has suspended all eviction proceedings during the pandemic.

But the possibility of eviction still looms large. The Judicial Council's order freezing eviction proceedings expires on Aug. 14 -- and the panel hasn't yet said whether it will extend it.

Meanwhile, Vu refuses to accept rent checks from Ung and the other tenants; doing so would void her order that they leave.

The tenants have not given up and, month after month, have tried to pay the rent.

Last Saturday, the day before the tagging episode, Ung joined other tenants who tried unsuccessfully to personally deliver the rent to Vu at her house in Costa Mesa. The tenants were joined by activists with the Chinatown Community for Equitable Development.

As heavy metal blared from Vu's house, Bryan Sih, a volunteer with CCED, spoke through a megaphone.

"She wants to flip a house," Sih said of Vu. "Six affordable housing units for people who already faced the worst displacement, through war, through American imperialism."

Another volunteer, Isabella McShane, blasted Vu for her role in displacing other Vietnamese people.

"I'm ashamed to know you are Vietnamese," McShane said. "This is not why we came to this country, to evict our own people!"

An older woman Vu referred to as her mother verbally sparred with the group and called the police to complain that the group was taking video of their interactions. The police, as shown on the video taken by CCED, said the group was within its right to assemble.

The next afternoon, the graffiti appeared on the apartment complex.

Ung said she recognized the blonde Vu at the Everett Street property from seeing her at her house in Costa Mesa the day before. A passerby told a CCED volunteer that he saw two blonde women and a Tesla.

Asked about the graffiti incident, Vu's lawyer Linda Hollenbeck said, "I am not going to confirm anything about her or the properties."

In an Instagram post, CCED accused Vu of being behind the vandalism.

A couple living at another VF Development property says Vu has a history of harassing tenants she wants to leave so she can rent out units at higher rates.

Amanda Lyons lives with her boyfriend Brian Shaw in one of five rent-stabilized units at a Silver Lake building Vu has managed for several years. They claim there have been a number of attempts to worsen their living situation. Water and gas, they said, are regularly shut off, often without notice. At times their rent checks have been returned for no apparent reason, they added.

Lyons said in April, Vu gave them about one day's notice before crews were to enter their apartment for two days. The notice said updates were needed -- including replacing floors that Vu's attorney described as reeking of animal feces and urine. She said Vu backed off after they complained to the city about being made to leave their home in a pandemic.

Vu sent a notice to the couple in 2018 threatening to evict them under the state's Ellis Act, which allows landlords to withdraw rent-stabilized units if they're being taken off the rental market or if the building is being demolished. Months later, Vu informed the couple that she had cancelled the Ellis Act filing, they said.

Hollenbeck declined to comment on the Silver Lake property.

Because Lyons' and Shaw's unit is rent-stabilized, they cannot be ordered to move out like the tenants at Everett Street, which was built in 2000 -- too late to be covered by the city's tenant protection law.

"I feel terrible for them," Lyons said. "I've been there. They just need to keep their heads up, stay strong."

Over on Everett Street, Ung said all she wants is to know she has a safe place to stay as COVID-19 continues to stalk L.A.

She has been out of work since the pandemic shut down Hollywood Park Casino, where she dealt cards. But Ung, who came to the U.S. as a refugee from Cambodia, has saved up money to keep paying the rent on the 2-bedroom apartment she shares with her 20 year-old son.

"We work every day so hard," Ung said, growing tearful. "But no -- they push you. It looks like a nightmare."

CCED volunteer Craig Wong says the tenants have demonstrated strength by banding together to fight for a stable place to live.

"It doesn't guarantee they're going to win," he said. "But what it does do is it positions them so they have a real shot at it."

Josie Huang Tenants at the six-unit apartment complex on the edge of Chinatown have been fighting to stay in their building, which has changed owners three times in the last year. Fri, 07 Aug 2020 11:55:00 -0700 Vandalism Is Latest Hit For Tenants Fearing Eviction In Pandemic
Janet Martinez, left, and Odilia Romero of CIELO (Photo illustration by Chava Sanchez, LAist/Photo by June Canedo, CIELO)

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I was sitting on a stoop in South Central a few days ago when I saw a guy take his mask off, pull out a can of spray paint, and tag the side of a wall.

He was tagging in a sea of signage: Lalo's Birreria, Ochoa Tires, a 24-hour lavanderia, construction signs and a big blue sign from the Department of Public Works boasting about improvements in the area. The bottom half of that sign was covered in red spray paint.

"The importance of language," I thought.

I was on that stoop waiting for Odilia Romero and Janet Martinez, two women who have dedicated their careers to the idea that language is a basic human right.

They run the nonprofit Comunidades Indigenas en Liderazgo, better known as CIELO, which works closely with local indigenous communities and among other things has provided cultural awareness training for police. CIELO recently raised close to $1 million to provide coronavirus relief aid to L.A.'s hard-hit Meso-American indigenous communities.

Native communities all around the country are being hit disproportionately hard by the pandemic. But it's particularly hard for indigenous people who are part of the Latin American diaspora.

They do not have a centralized tribal system to help with the most basic communication, to begin with. Meso-American indigenous communities are often erased or overlooked by being lumped in with Latino populations, according to Odilia. This further complicates getting government assistance or traditional forms of aid.

The money raised by CIELO sounds impressive but, as I would soon find out, it's a drop in the bucket to help some of the region's most disenfranchised people. In the case of Meso-America's indigenous -- most of whom are immigrants from places like Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras -- many are undocumented and are struggling economically without government aid.

As it was explained to me, at $400 for each family, $1 million only helps 2,500 families, which the organization estimates accounts for a small fraction of L.A.'s Meso-Americans.

Just over half a million of the money CIELO has raised has already been put into "the hands of Zapotec, Mixe, Chinanteco, Chatinos, Quiches, Kanjobales, Akatekos, Maya Yucateco, Mam, Chontal Akatecos, Amuzgos, Nahuatl, and Totonacas," according to Janet.

"Dude, people are really struggling," she said.

The struggles are more than financial. One in three Meso-American indigenous people living in Los Angeles has experienced coronavirus, or knows someone close to them that has, according to a community survey by CIELO.

But there are obstacles to getting good care, especially this: Many of them cannot read, write or speak English or Spanish or any "mainstream" language.

"I wish when these communities go to hospital because they have COVID-19 symptoms, that there were someone there that speaks their language," Odilia said. "When they make critical decisions, like intubating someone in their family, someone should be there that speaks their language. It is a basic human right."

A few days ago, Odilia and Janet arrived together, relieved me of waiting on my stoop, and let me into the CIELO offices in Historic South Central.

We were all wearing masks and sat six feet apart. Odilia was wearing a face covering styled after a traditional tribal mask from the Mexican state of Guerrero. Janet was wearing a mask with a map made of Mexico's 68 recognized languages.

Their masks are more than style choices. Odilia said they were political statements and hopefully an example to the communities CIELO serves.

Getting indigenous people to believe that COVID-19 is a real threat has been a challenge, she said. Aside from the language barriers they face, many look up to Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, known as AMLO, who recently said he'd wear a face mask "when there is no corruption."

"It's a problem because people really believe in AMLO," Odilia said. "And he's out there saying there's no scientific proof that masks prevent the spread of COVID."

"But there is," Janet interrupts. "There is scientific evidence that masks help to stop the spread."

AMLO's skepticism, even as Mexico has the third most confirmed coronavirus deaths, is only part of the problem.

With so many dialects -- there are 350 estimated variations of Mexico's indgenous languages alone -- Janet said the organization relies on bi- and tri-lingual stakeholders to communicate within small subsects of these communities. These include organizers, tiny business owners, and the DJs who often throw parties for Meso-American community members. But some of these stakeholders have also been a problem.

"There was a DJ who threw these parties and he was a real non-believer, a total AMLO supporter," Odilia said. "He kept saying, 'It's not real.' And he just announced that he is positive."

Odilia says large gatherings are also a problem, primarily funerals.

"Something that is very sacred to the Zapotec community is death. So a lot of people continue to have rosaries, having people over. And I think that is where a lot of the infections happen," she said.

Janet pointed out that the skepticism has waned as the pandemic has gone on, but they also have to deal with the capitalism of it all.

"A lot of people in the community are essential workers," she said. "Many work in restaurants. Many also work in the garment industry. There is a high demand for masks. Well, they are usually the ones making the masks."

According to Odilia, the owners and managers in the garment industry "are still making them work while being sick with COVID, risking the rest of the communities that are working there. So they're not speaking out because they are told 'if you speak up, we're gonna close the [warehouse] and all your friends are gonna be jobless.'"

Last month, L.A. County's health department closed down one Garment District business that had more than 300 confirmed COVID-19 infections.

If you take all these obstacles and circumstances into account, $1 million is barely scratching the surface of a humanitarian crisis in the making. Even if a vaccine does come, how do you get information out about it in hundreds of beautiful languages that have been in existence since the dawn of civilization?

Despite all that they've seen, Janet and Odilia are optimistic that they'll continue to find a way to reach folks. They also find beauty in how those who they have helped have in turn offered to cook, sing and dance for them. Some people have been calling and leaving messages in Zapotec, Mixe, Chinanteco and other native languages to thank Janet and Odilia.

Musicians have even offered to play for them.

"One of things that's really unique about this is that they would say, 'No worries. When you have an event and all of this is over, we're going to come play for your event.' It's a reciprocal relationship. And I think it's important to make that distinction," she said.

Janet also noted that the idea of reciprocity is ingrained in Meso-American traditions.

"This is solidarity," she added. "I mean, obviously, we don't operate with that expectation, but we know that it's like a cultural norm in the pueblos. That's practice. 'Hey, if you bring sodas to my party, I will bring sodas to yours.'"

I asked Odilia if I could hear some of the messages they've been getting. She played one by a Zapoteco man who just wanted to say hi and make sure they were doing well. I don't understand Zapotec, but he sounded sanguine.

As the words bounced into the air from Odilia's iPhone, I thought about how each ancient syllable was being kept alive by this modern technology and these incredible women.

"The importance of language," I said. And then I got up and walked out the CIELO offices back into the L.A. sun.

About the Mis Ángeles column: Erick Galindo is chronicling life in Los Angeles for LAist. He took on this role after serving as our immigrant communities reporter. Erick came to us last year from LA Taco, where he was the managing editor of a James Beard award-winning staff.


Erick Galindo One in three indigenous Meso-Americans living in Los Angeles has experienced coronavirus or knows someone close to them that has, according to a group that serves local indigenous communities. Fri, 07 Aug 2020 10:00:00 -0700 Mis Ángeles: They Raised $1 Million in COVID-19 Relief To Help LA's Indigenous Communities. Here's Why It's Not Nearly Enough
Proyecto Pastoral has prioritized caring for children from essential worker families and those who have special needs or are in foster care. (Courtesy Proyecto Pastoral)

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The coronavirus pandemic caused more than half of Los Angeles day care centers to close by April. Among those that stayed open was Centro Alegria, a child care facility in Boyle Heights run by the nonprofit group Proyecto Pastoral.

"We rose to the responsibility and the commitment that we've made to our families," said Executive Director Cynthia Sanchez. "The staff, every day that they came in, put their fears aside."

They followed all of the state and local safety guidelines for child care, Sanchez said -- no parents were allowed inside the center, staff ramped up the cleaning and started wearing masks, groups of kids were limited to 10 or fewer.


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But despite all of their best efforts, five teachers at Centro Alegria have tested positive for coronavirus in recent weeks. And while the center's prevention efforts meant it didn't have to shut down entirely, it was left scrambling to figure out how to continue to operate safely.

The outbreak illustrates the difficulties child care providers face in interpreting and implementing differing guidelines from state and local agencies that they often find confusing. Providers say they're overwhelmed by the amount of information out there.

"When everything got shut down, I had a lot of providers calling me. And they were like, 'so what are we supposed to do?'" said longtime child care provider and union organizer Tonia McMillian. "And I told them I don't know."


For starters, it's tricky to figure out exactly just how many coronavirus cases are linked to child care.

The California Department of Social Services, which licenses child care facilities, reports that there have been 302 coronavirus cases linked to child care in Los Angeles County as of Aug. 5.

But as of July 30, the L.A. County Public Health Department had confirmed just 52 coronavirus cases associated with 35 different child care facilities, including the outbreak at Centro Alegria.

Officials at neither agency were able to directly explain the discrepancy -- they say it could be because they gather information differently.

Both are relying on direct reports from providers -- but it's not clear how many providers are actually filing reports with both the county and state. The L.A. County Department of Public Health said it also finds out about cases linked to child care through contact tracing.

"Given this, the number of cases associated with child care facilities that DPH is aware of would not match up with the numbers of cases that day care facilities report to (the) California Department of Social Services, simply because the source and system of reporting for the two groups are different," an L.A. County Department of Public Health spokesperson said in an email.

It may be that some L.A. County providers aren't aware that they are supposed to file reports of COVID-19 cases to both the state licensing agency and county health officials.

According to the statewide figures, the number of coronavirus cases in child care staff, children attending centers and their parents increased nearly 71% in July. There are now 1,709 cases that have been reported statewide with 33,469 licensed child cares open.

Michael Smit, a pediatric infectious diseases physician at Children's Hospital Los Angeles, said it's likely the coronavirus cases in child care are not a result of children spreading the virus, but rather a reflection of the transmission happening in the larger community. But the data-gathering discrepancy makes it difficult to track potential sources of outbreaks in local communities.

"That's a little bit difficult to interpret without having the more granular data to be able to analyze," he said.

Children play in an outdoor space at Centro Alegria, a child care center in Boyle Heights operated by Proyecto Pastoral. "We see the work, keeping the centers open, as being critical to helping our families and community thrive and survive and be resilient and stay safe through this crisis," its executive director said. (Courtesy Proyecto Pastoral)


In Boyle Heights, where Proyecto Pastoral is located, there have been 3,380 COVID-19 cases as of Aug. 5, according to the county Department of Public Health. The agency also categorized East Los Angeles as an area with a high need for more testing. The county's infection rates in the Latino community spiked in April and the virus is disproportionately affecting people of color overall.

Between March and June, an average of 10 kids a day came to Proyecto. Among them was the 4-year-old daughter of Stephanie Trujillo, a behavior specialist who was happy that her child had a place to go after LAUSD campuses closed in March.

"I see so many people struggling right now and I'm just grateful that I still got to continue my normal routine," she said.

As more L.A. businesses reopened, more families needed child care, and by mid-June Centro Alegria was seeing daily about 30 children separated into small groups.

Proyecto staff notified the L.A. County Department of Public Health that one teacher, who'd recently been out sick, tested positive for the coronavirus on June 27.

"They shared that, because of that person having been out, that they really hadn't put anyone else at risk, right? So that there was no need, they said, to test anyone else," Sanchez said. "But we did have people get tested anyway."

Within a few weeks, four more teachers reported they had tested positive for COVID-19. Trujillo's daughter came into contact with one of them.

"My first instant reaction was scared," Trujillo said, but she was reassured by phone calls from the center staff sharing updates and information from the health department.

She and her daughter quarantined for two weeks before returning to the center. "Coming back, I felt safe," Trujillo said.

Parent Stephanie Trujillo says her 4-year-old daughter enjoys making crafts like this painting at Proyecto Pastoral. (Courtesy Stephanie Trujillo )

After the fifth case was confirmed on July 17, Sanchez said the health department told Proyecto to conduct a deep cleaning before reopening the following Monday, but did not provide any specific guidelines for how to conduct the cleaning.

The child care center's director instructed the cleaning company based on information from the state's Department of Social Services and the Department of Education. Every single thing a child might come into contact with -- toys, furniture, floors -- was disinfected, along with the center's computers, walls and countertops.

Proyecto provided LAist with a copy of the county's inspection report from July 23. The health department made a few recommendations, including logging temperature checks and updating the HVAC filters, and concluded the center's procedures "meet or exceed guidelines issued by Los Angeles County to reduce the risk of spread of COVID-19."

"We did everything we were told to do and then some, but my realization is [that] in the future we will do more," Sanchez said. For example, were the center to ever reach three cases of coronavirus again, she'd close and reevaluate.

"We're reflecting on what our responsibility is to ensure safety of the community of the staff and the children," Sanchez said.


Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, it's been up to each California child care provider, whether they watch kids in their home or at a center, to decide whether to continue operating.

Providers have maxed out informational conference calls and there are daily discussions on social media on navigating the changing guidelines from state and local agencies, where to find supplies and how to entertain kids in new socially distanced ways.

Tonya Muhammad runs a home day care in Hawthorne. She's been in the business for 30 years and hosts a podcast and Instagram account called Daycare Chronicles 101 to advise other providers.

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A post shared by Tonya Muhammad (@daycare_chronicles_101) on

"I had to resort to alcohol -- like buying a gallon of alcohol from a dental supply place and breaking it down to where it would meet the qualifications to be a disinfectant," Muhammad said. She's also paid up to $20 a can for Lysol spray.

A recent survey from The Center for the Study of Child Care Employment found 38% of California child care providers say they still don't have sufficient cleaning supplies and worry about exposure to COVID-19.

Recently, when a parent arrived to pick up their child from Tameika Lackey's home child care in Long Beach, she mentioned she'd just come from the emergency room after exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19.

"I start(ed) spraying the door, mopping the floors, just sanitizing because I still had kids here," Lackey said.

Lackey said the Long Beach Health Department advised her to wait until the test results came back before deciding to close. After a week, she still hadn't heard anything from the parent and the child had not returned.

"I'm still scared to keep continuing and I don't know what's going on inside my home. Even though I clean every day, it still scares me," Lackey said.


Mariana Dale There are relatively few cases of the coronavirus linked to L.A. child care centers, but the data is inconsistent and there's been at least one outbreak at a center here that says it followed safety guidelines. Fri, 07 Aug 2020 09:45:00 -0700 A Child Care Center Followed The COVID Safety Guidelines. It Still Had An Outbreak

Lisa Brenner This is not a drill. Changing rules. Changing payments. Changing qualifications. And millions of people trying to figure out a system that was inscrutable to begin with. Fri, 07 Aug 2020 06:35:00 -0700 A Step-By-Step Guide To Getting The Most Money Possible From Your Unemployment Benefits In California
Shirlee Smith, pictured in 1955. (Courtesy Shirlee Smith)

Over the next several months, 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 Shirlee Smith

Los Angeles, 1956.

Cedars of Lebanon Hospital was where the old-time Hollywood stars went for medical treatment -- the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor and Burt Lancaster.

It was the Palace of the Stars as hospitals went. And I'd just been hired to work there.

I arrived on a late Friday afternoon. I wasn't looking to see Marilyn or any other stars. I was there for my new job work schedule for the upcoming week.

I sat in the hospital's ornate lobby, taking in the Picasso prints and the other high-end artwork adorning the walls, while I waited to meet their telephone department's Chief Operator.

When I asked the receptionist to please let the Chief Operator know I was there, she gave me an unfriendly nod, and told me to have a seat.

I waited to be called. I waited. I waited.

I'd landed this job in a most unusual way.

My previous employer was Pacific Bell; I had been trained by them as a long-distance operator.

When I applied to work at Cedars of Lebanon, I'd simply called the hospital and asked to speak with the Telephone Chief Operator. Once she was on the line, I explained that I was hoping they had an opening on their switchboard, and I quickly let her know that my previous employer was Pacific Bell.


Hired on the spot -- on the telephone. To be a Ma Bell switchboard operator back then was the top of the telephone operator game.

Cedars of Lebanon Hospital and Mount Sinai Hospital merged in 1961 to form Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, pictured here. The old Cedars of Lebanon building at 4833 Fountain Avenue is now owned by Scientology. (Gabriel Bouys/AFP via Getty Images)

"Get here as soon as you can to sign papers and get your work schedule. You're starting on Monday," I was told.

My new boss went on to emphatically say, "Don't go to our employment office, just ask for me in the lobby."

"I'm on my way," I told her.


I was born in Los Angeles, in 1937, to young parents who had migrated to California from the South as youngsters, each of them with parents who came west believing this was the Promised Land.

Growing up, my parents made sure I didn't know why their families came here. They never told me about segregation, about lynchings. Never once mentioned anything that took me beyond piano lessons, violin lessons, recitals and the Los Angeles Philharmonic children's concerts every Saturday.

Then came 1955, when I was hired at age 18 by Pacific Bell -- it was about the same time the local newspapers were reporting Marilyn Monroe had checked into Cedars of Lebanon for surgery.

This was also the year when I'd heard something about a boy -- a Negro boy, as we were called then -- named Emmet Till being brutality murdered in Mississippi for allegedly flirting with a white woman.

How or where I heard this, I don't know. But it wasn't a conversation that took place in my home.

And I wouldn't say Monroe's surgery got discussed, either.

My parents didn't think to put an emphasis on news -- and certainly not on race.

As a young kid, if I got called the "N-word," and told my mother about it, her response was, "If you were walking down the street and someone yelled 'dog' at you, would you think they were talking to or about you?"

Their goal was to protect me, and I understand that now. They wanted for me to be blissfully unaware of the horrors their families had fled, and to grow up like any other American girl in the California sunshine.

But it left me unprepared for what happened at Cedars of Lebanon that Friday.


Waiting in that hospital lobby to meet with the Chief Operator, I had a limited view of who I was to other people, and therefore I had no knowledge of what the circumstances might be that left me sitting there for such a long time.

I had a new job, after all. As I waited and waited and waited, I only thought about what cute outfit I would dress in for my first day at work. I'd just about made that decision when I saw the receptionist talking on her telephone, and from time to time glancing in my direction.

She didn't stay on the call very long, and after hanging up, she stood up and loudly cleared her throat, at the same time beckoning to me.

I moved to her desk where she had returned to sit.

"You'll need to catch the elevator to the employment office on the second floor," she said.

"No, no," I responded to her and tried to continue, "I'm to meet with the..."

"We have a clerk typist job for you," she said.

"No, I'm already hired as a switchboard operator. I start next..."

She stood up and leaned toward me, while at the same time abruptly cutting me off from explaining why I was there.

"No," she said emphatically, then: "We don't hire colored girls to work our switchboard."


My parents had brought me up to be respectful.

"But...But...," I meekly responded.

And in trying to protect me, they also brought me up to be unaware of racial injustice.

Remember my mother's response to the N-word, how she didn't call it for what it was?

Having been taught that America was beautiful, even though my skin wasn't white, my life at the age of 19 had me believing I was just like anyone whose skin was white. This is what my parents had wanted me to believe.

In the Los Angeles that my parents were careful to guide me through -- philharmonic concerts, events at the Hollywood Bowl, enrollment in a junior high school where my older sister and I were two of five Negro students in a student body of 1,500 -- they managed, with the best of intentions, to keep me misguided.

They never talked about what they had to have known about racial conflict in America, and closer to home, racial disparity in Los Angeles. Coming from where they came from, L.A. was still their Promised Land, and they weren't about to spoil that dream by exposing their children to harsh reality.

My high school history books didn't focus on truth, either, and taught us that slavery was a happy time -- evidenced, in part, by slaves singing while they picked their benevolent master's cotton.

I didn't know -- how was I to know?

Dazed, I left the hospital and took the local streetcar back home.


What happened that day was the beginning of my education.

Not so much in the first few years, when I was busy starting a family. But then the 1960s hit.

In 1966, the "We don't hire colored girls on our switchboard" incident came to life for me. I was reborn at the same time the Black Panthers were born. The sixties taught me what I suspect my parents had hoped I would never learn.

In the sixties, I learned that America was not beautiful, and that my dark skin didn't let me in the same doors white skin would have.

True, in Los Angeles, there were no drinking fountains or public restrooms with signs that read "colored" and "white."

But thanks to my rebirth, I came to read the "colored" and "white" signs that were hidden, those signs that had existed at Pacific Bell Telephone Company and at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital. Same as an illiterate person, at the time these experiences had happened, I didn't know how to read them.

At Pacific Bell, they trained new-hire colored girls with colored girls, and new-hire white girls with white girls. And the white girls they hired didn't have to wait as long to start.

A sign in 1961 Jackson, Miss. which reads 'Waiting Room For Colored Only by order Police Dept.' (William Lovelace/Getty Images)

In my case, they came to interview me at home, after having cleared the initial company interview. This was something the white new hires didn't go through.

At Cedars, the woman who hired me on the telephone thought I was white because of my employment at Pacific Bell, and a voice honed by my exposure as an operator and family environment.

Once arriving at the hospital that Friday afternoon to sign my papers and be given my work schedule for the upcoming week, my real skin color quickly generated for them the displaying of invisible "white only" and "no colored" signs.

From 1956 to 1966, I still didn't know white America. How was I to know that all the teachings that had been sent my way were not about who I was seen to be?

Thank God Almighty, I learned to read.

Thank God Almighty, I was born again.

From the comfort of my living room couch, in 1965, I watched news footage of Watts burning. Hearing chants of "Burn Baby Burn" was unsettling.

In the months that followed, news reports focused on an organization of young Black folk who wore black leather jackets and black berets: the Black Panthers. They held gatherings in Los Angeles assembly halls and with raised fists and militant rhetoric, they demanded change.

Protestors on the burned out streets of the Watts District after the race riots in 1965. (Keystone/Getty Images)

From what the news channels presented, the group was menacing. However, what I learned when I got off my couch and drove to the Los Angeles Sports Arena and heard Eldridge Cleaver, H. Rap Brown and Huey Newton speak, that was a very different story.

Fortunately, my parents hadn't taught me I was only who society determined I could be. In 1967, I applied for and was accepted by the High Potential Program at UCLA. And in 1974, then a single parent of five kids, I graduated with the honor of Departmental Scholar in Sociology.

Shirlee Smith, former Pasadena Star-News columnist with Star-News editor Rick Arthur showing off her first place award for commentary at the L.A. Press Club Awards. (Courtesy Shirlee Smith)

I believe in kicking down doors. I don't carry the keys for the traditional kind of entry.

Years later in 1994, as a guest opinion columnist for the Pasadena Star-News, I received a first place award for opinion commentary from the L.A. Press Club. Standing at the podium, I saw a sea of white faces in the room, with the exception of one Black cameraman. And I asked them, how could they feel they represented Los Angeles when there was no diversity in the room?

My experience at Cedars of Lebanon in 1956, when the doors were closed, opened my path for a lifetime of kicking them down. That experience didn't make me less. It made me more.


Shirlee Smith is motivated every time our uptight society says she can't; she likes to prove that she can. She's on a mission to help others prove they can. Shirlee is a parenting consultant, motivational speaker, storyteller and a workshop presenter, as well as a mother and grandmother. She was named a Black History Month Local Hero by KCET/Union Bank in 2012 and is an award-winning former columnist for the Pasadena Star-News.

Guest Contributor She'd been hired over the phone. All was well until she came in, and her new employer saw she was Black. Here's how having one door closed in her face put her on the path toward a lifetime of kicking other doors down. Fri, 07 Aug 2020 06:00:00 -0700 'We Don't Hire Colored Girls': After A Job Rejection In 1956, A Young LA Telephone Operator Began Kicking Down Doors
Tonia McMillian is a longtime child care provider based in Bellflower. (Priska Neely/KPCC)

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The pandemic has put caregiving front and center. Parents now working from home have scrambled to care for their kids without their usual support systems. When daycare and child care centers closed, many family, friends, and neighbors stepped up so parents could earn a living. Caregivers and providers who have kept their doors open have had to take on extra responsibilities to keep families safe, stretching their resources.

Last year, before the pandemic began, KPCC/LAist passed out cameras to a group of parents, inviting them to document their lives. An online gallery featuring their stories will launch soon. (Stay tuned!)

And now we're ready to do it again -- this time focusing on people who care for other people's children. We are looking for 12 participants who reflect the broad spectrum of experiences of caregivers and educators in Southern California. This can include family, friends, or neighbors, professional or informal caregivers, those who speak English or other languages, educators who work with kids in the subsidized child care system, those who are caring for kids of essential workers, those caring for children with special needs, grandparent caregivers, aunties, and more.

We want to know: What is important to know about your life as a caregiver or educator?

People who are interested can apply below by Sunday, August 9 ( (Or in Spanish at You are also welcome to nominate caregivers or educators who you think would be good for this.

Some things to know:

  • No photography experience is needed. In fact, we encourage people who have never done this kind of thing before to participate. We'll lend participants a camera and provide them with all the tips and support they need.
  • Participants will gain photo skills, have an opportunity to tell their story via KPCC-LAist platforms, and hopefully impact the way that decision-makers think about early childhood. They will also work closely with editors and reporters to share their experiences.
  • The time commitment is:
    • Attending three (virtual) meetings
    • Taking photos and gathering audio through the course of the project
    • Doing an audio interview with a reporter
    • And, depending on health and safety guidelines, attending one event online or in person in the Spring/Summer of 2021.
  • Participants will receive a modest stipend for their participation.

If you're interested yourself or know someone you want to nominate please fill out the form below and KPCC/LAist's early childhood team will read every response. We will not share anything publicly without your permission.

Stefanie Ritoper Our newsroom is seeking caregivers and educators in Southern California to document what it's like to care for others' kids during a pandemic. Thu, 06 Aug 2020 16:05:52 -0700 Do You Care for Kids Ages 5 and Under? We Want Your Help
Students at Leland Street Elementary School in Los Angeles' San Pedro neighborhood. (Kyle Stokes/KPCC)

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In 2013, when California inaugurated a new system for funding K-12 education, state policymakers offered a trade-off: Schools would face fewer restrictions on how to spend their state money, but they would have to publicly justify that their spending aims to help low-income students, English learners or foster youth.

Districts officials write their public justification in a document called the Local Control Accountability Plan, or LCAP -- the cornerstone of California's school funding system.

But last week -- and not for the first time -- state officials ruled that the Los Angeles Unified School District was far too vague in its LCAP about how it used more than $1 billion in state money aimed at helping those three vulnerable groups of students in the 2019-20 school year.

"LAUSD did a really bad job," said Nicole Gon Ochi, senior staff attorney for the law firm Public Advocates, "of showing the community what the heck it was doing with this money, why it was doing it, whether it was working."


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This is the second time LAUSD officials have faced questions over how they spent money aimed at low-income students, English learners and foster kids. In 2017, LAUSD disbursed an extra $151 million to 50 district schools to settle a similar complaint -- also from Public Advocates.

But unlike three years ago, the state's latest ruling only requires LAUSD to make changes in how it crafts future LCAP documents. The ruling does not require LAUSD to make retroactive changes that could result in new or different spending. (Gon Ochi said the complainants may still ask the state to reconsider.)


Public Advocates filed its latest complaint last summer on behalf of two LAUSD parents. They argued the structure of LAUSD's LCAP made it impossible to track district spending on different initiatives or to determine which low-income kids, English learners or foster youth these initiatives actually helped.

State officials agreed. One illustrative example: In its LCAP, LAUSD rolled more than $880 million in spending -- about 80% of the funding at issue -- into one, bloated category, covering a hodgepodge of expenditures ranging from counseling, to AP exam fees, to library services and more.

"It appears," the state's July 30 ruling reads, "that the district has included districtwide actions together with schoolwide actions as well as actions that apply to high school grades together with actions that apply to elementary grades."

LAUSD officials had defended themselves by arguing they were attempting to follow the state's previous LCAP guidance in writing the document this way. The state's ruling rejects this particular claim.



The ongoing clashes between the state's largest school district, Public Advocates and other advocacy organizations highlights tensions inherent in the LCAP process.

In LAUSD's case, defenders have argued that Public Advocates is using the LCAP process to micromanage the district. In rejecting one portion of Public Advocates' complaint, the state ruled the LCAP is not required to "include everything [a district] plans to do in a given year. Such a requirement would be overly burdensome."

California policymakers originally conceived of the LCAP as the object of a vibrant conversation. Districts could use feedback from parents, and maybe even from teachers, students and community members, to shape their spending priorities -- and then weave it all together into an LCAP that creates a narrative for often-inscrutable budget documents.

But last fall, we spoke to a number of experts who said that for many districts, the LCAP process has become more of a compliance exercise than an opportunity for genuine community engagement. They suggested that while LAUSD likely needed to do more to adapt, there are ways the LCAP process might also need to change.

Public Advocates' Gon Ochi recognizes the tension. While she does point to LCAP success stories, she said the quality of districts' efforts to seek and incorporate genuine feedback into their spending plans still varies widely.

"I feel," said Gon Ochi, "like all of the great stories and best practices that we're hearing about are hard to replicate."

Kyle Stokes The state says LAUSD wasn't clear on how it planned to spend $1 billion in funds targeted to low-income students, English-language learners and foster kids. Thu, 06 Aug 2020 13:50:00 -0700 Once Again, The State Has Dinged LAUSD Over Its $1 Billion Plan For Helping High-Need Students
News Megan Garvey Thu, 06 Aug 2020 08:18:24 -0700 Garcetti: City Will Shut Off Water And Power For Party Throwers 'Flagrantly' Violating Health Orders News
Firefighters wait in an open field as flames make their way across a hillside during the Apple fire last week. (Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images)

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By the time December rolls around, it's not uncommon for California firefighters to feel burned out, especially in recent years.

Months of battling unrelenting fires in brutally hot, dry, and windy conditions, can leave them physically and mentally wrecked. It's only the rainy season that can offer some respite -- assuming it shows up at all.

This year, the burnout has come early.

"Nevermind October, November, this September. The burnout is here right now," said Gad Amith, Battalion Chief of Emergency Medical Services with Cal Fire Riverside.

In a candid conversation, Amith said it's not just the very active fire season that his crews are contending with, but fears and frustrations related to COVID-19.

"People are worried about their families. They're worried about being exposed. About getting sick. It creates behavioral challenges. Nothing about this is easy," he said.

In between fighting fires, firefighters get called out on emergencies, which means constant interaction with the public in the middle of a pandemic.

Now, even on routine calls, they have to don full PPE, decontaminate when they arrive back at the station, and then stay separated from colleagues who they spend their 72 hour -- and sometimes longer -- shifts with. They've got to remain masked at all times, eat separately, and sleep in different quarters. And there are certainly no visits from family or friends to break up the monotony and let out stress.


"The reality is the stress load they face increases their risk for burnout and increases their risk for PTSD in a substantial way," said Dr. Suzy Bird Gulliver, a psychologist and the director of the Warriors Research Institute of Baylor, Scott, and White Health.

"All of the things that you try to do to help with mental health around disaster are exponentially harder to do during this pandemic," said Gulliver. "You want to promote calming. You want to promote connectedness. You want to promote accurate information. Those three things alone are challenging to do during this pandemic. And that's the place I think that our firefighters are struggling so much, because the places that they normally go for calming are no longer available to them."

These mental health challenges can have big implications.

Firefighters suffer from PTSD at higher rates than the general population.

Amith, who said they've been planning for how to handle COVID-19 since February, told me recently:

"I was at several of our stations today visiting some of the folks and some of the guys said they don't see the light at the end of the tunnel any longer. And that's kind of a pretty common point being made."

Like Gulliver, he said he's concerned about a rise in cases of PTSD in firefighters because of all the additional challenges everyone is facing this year.

Amith said captains are making the rounds through Cal Fire Riverside stations, trying to keep an open dialogue and let firefighters vent. It's part of stepped up efforts to check in on how their crews are holding up.

"We have a lot of our firefighters that suffer from an anxiety because of this. And you know, some of them are seeking help. We have programs designed to help people with emotional problems. With stress on the job. And a lot of our guys are seeking that kind of help right now because it's having an impact," he said.


Like the rest of California, the number of positive cases amongst Cal Fire members is growing. Just this week 18 tested positive and 80 people are quarantined as a result of possible exposure.

In the coming months the Santa Winds will arrive, which is typically when we see the largest fires of the year.

"I gotta tell you, by the time we get there, time wise, our guys are going to be tired and worn out. They're going to be out to lunch. It's going to be tough. I'm not looking forward to it," said Amith.

"There are no good choices. No good options. Everything is difficult, but you know what can I tell you? The world has changed in the last five months and we have to change with it. And so, we are having to make some very difficult choices."


If You Need Immediate Help
If you or someone you know is in crisis and need immediate help, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or go here for online chat.
For more help:

Jacob Margolis A Cal Fire Battalion Chief in Riverside talks about how, like the rest of us, his firefighters are struggling with unrelenting disasters. Thu, 06 Aug 2020 07:00:00 -0700 'The Burnout Is Here': Firefighters Struggle As COVID Takes A Toll
The exterior of Namaste Spiceland, an Indian market and restaurant, in Pasadena. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

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Since moving to Southern California a year-and-a-half ago, I have spent an inordinate amount of my free time searching for Indian restaurants I could love. Along the way, I've developed feelings about the state of Indian food in Los Angeles. Strong feelings. Maybe nitpicky feelings. In a city where international cuisines thrive in all their regional glory, it still surprises me that the options for Indian food are so limited and muted and hard to find.

Some restaurants, catering to a more mainstream (read: white) palate, lack the dynamic flavors that make the best Indian food so layered. It's not that they're not spicy enough, they're not spiced enough. Others, including several of the city's best known spots, are expensive and serve small portions of ordinary dishes, turning off many South Asians. When you're the only Indian person in an Indian restaurant, you know something's off. These restaurants may be by us, but they don't feel like they're for us.

My family and I often joke about paisa vasool, a Hindi or Gujarati term for getting your money's worth. We mention it when we go to a buffet. ("Make sure to show up hungry!") We bring it up when we buy passes to a hot springs resort. ("Make sure to stay all day!") We refer to it when we go to the movies. ("Make sure to pick a good one!") We're joking... but not really. I can't imagine my parents flying from New Jersey, where the options for Indian food are much broader and of better quality, and taking them to a restaurant that charges $4 for a samosa and $8 extra for a half-plate of achaar. They would probably shake their heads and tell me they could've made this at home.

Namaste Spiceland in Pasadena. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

Striking the perfect balance between authenticity -- food that tastes as though it has been made by and for the diaspora -- and affordability is hard, but I have finally found my answer. Namaste Spiceland, a two-shop chain with a location in Pasadena and another in Thousand Oaks, elevates the Indian grocery store/cafe model with delicious, low-cost meals and an excellent array of fresh and frozen parathas and desserts.

Casual and unassuming, Namaste Spiceland serves both North and South Indian food. Crisp dosas and humongous parathas complement stellar gulab jamun, milky sweets and eggless pastries. The grocery store has a wide array of desi snacks and ice creams as well as a small selection of fresh vegetables and fruit.

"We've been around Pasadena a long time, and there was a need for an Indian store and Indian food. There are some restaurants there, but not of this concept," says Harsh Malik, who co-owns the venture with his cousins Rahul Chawla, Kapil Chawla and Tarun Arora. They opened the Thousand Oaks location at the end of 2015 and branched out to Pasadena two years later, in December 2017.

A server at Namaste Spiceland fills a plate of food in the pre-pandemic era. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

I learned about the place from L.A. Taco editor and Taco Chronicles scout Javier Cabral, who patiently listened to my complaints as a desi transplant to Southern California. As soon as I walked into Namaste Spiceland, I was reminded of the day-trips my family made to Edison, New Jersey, an Indian American hub 25 miles away from our home. To anyone familiar with those minimal, food-focused establishments, Namaste Spiceland will feel wonderfully familiar. The fluorescent lights, the square cafe tables, the plastic cutlery, the polite and to-the-point cashier who takes your order.

"If you compare to the East Coast, [the Indian population in L.A.] definitely is smaller," Malik says. "L.A. is scattered. It's not like if you go to Edison, where you can find everything. Here, you can find little pockets. Some are in the Valley, some are in Artesia, Pasadena. It's all scattered."

He's right. Los Angeles isn't merely a city of neighborhoods, it's a city of neighborhoods within neighborhoods within neighborhoods.

Namaste Spiceland's portions are generous and the prices, low. Samosas cost a mere $1.25. It's certainly not the only good Indian restaurant in greater Los Angeles but it's one of the few where I can get an entree and a gulab jamun this good for only $9. Malik tells me he and his business partners have made a conscious decision to keep their meals affordable.

"We don't want somebody to come once in three months or four, we want them to come more often," Malik says.

Vegetable Korma, paneer and rice from Namaste Spiceland. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

The menu is expansive. You can order fresh South Indian dishes, such as dosas and uttapam, or Bombay-style street snacks like pav bhaji and vada pav. Or you can opt for a combo meal, which lets you take advantage of the premade sabzis and daals available at the counter. I go to Namaste Spiceland when I'm too tired to cook or when I'm homesick and craving a vada pav that rivals the ones I've had in Mumbai or Edison.

"Our food is mostly home-cooked style. There is very minimal usage of cream and we tend to go fresh. Our menu changes every day so what you see on the menu today is not going to be there tomorrow. Nobody else does that," Malik says. While I can't confirm his claim since I haven't tried every Indian restaurant in the county, I can say that I have yet to find another Indian restaurant in L.A. that rotates their menu this way.

The thing I love most about Namaste Spiceland is how the food tastes -- home-cooked. It's as though the chefs are preparing the same meals they would make at home, for themselves and their families, then opening their kitchen to the rest of us. Living thousands of miles away from my family, I don't take that for granted.


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Like many small business owners, Malik can often be found working the register, serving chai and guiding customers through the grocery aisles. He is humble and quick to brush off praise. His employees often speak to me in Hindi, something I haven't experienced anywhere else in L.A. They tell me I can pay when I'm done eating, a small action but one that makes me feel like I belong here.

At some of L.A.'s more upscale Indian restaurants, my South Asian friends and I have spent up to four times what we'd pay at spots like Namaste Spiceland, Annapurna in Palms, or Jay Bharat in Artesia for the same dishes. We've also had white waiters explain to us dishes we've been eating our entire lives. We end up wondering, who do these upscale spots cater to -- and who do they exclude?

Malik, who now lives in the San Fernando Valley, immigrated from Delhi to Southern California in 2001, when he was 21 years old. I ask him if he has always been into food and he points to his sizable stomach. "Come on," he says. I clarify: Has he always worked in food? "On and off," he replies.

Customers at Namaste Spiceland in Pasadena, during the pre-coronavirus era. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

As we talk, Malik asks me what my favorite item on the menu is. I tell him I find it hard to choose between the dahi puri, the papdi chaat, the vada pav and the pav bhaji. He urges me to try the googli paratha. Named after a cricket ball, it's a stuffed flatbread designed to deliver a surprise. If you ask what's inside, Malik will say you have to try it to find out. Don't sleep on the gulab jamun, which you should ask the staff to warm up, and pick up a tub of paan ice cream on your way out.

Malik says the coronavirus has slowed business but he's taking it in stride. Since mid-March, Namaste Spiceland has been functioning as a grocery store and takeout-only cafe. Workers behind the counters are now protected by sneeze guards and only six to seven customers are allowed inside the store at a time. Signs and markings on the floor remind visitors to stay six feet apart. Malik now sells toilet paper, hand wipes and hand sanitizer. When bigger supermarket chains sold out of those precious goods, Namaste Spiceland had them in stock. He also continues to offer grocery and meal delivery.

"It's just a phase," Malik says. "It's [happening] with everyone. Everybody wants it to be over soon and we want everybody to be safe."

A couple of the prepared dishes available at Namaste Spiceland in Pasadena. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

If I have any quibble with Namaste Spiceland, and I admit it's a petty one, it's the name. It feels like it's playing off people's limited knowledge of Indian culture with a word that has been so thoroughly co-opted by Big Wellness that it has become meaningless. Malik explains that he chose the name because he wanted something catchy. Namaste "basically means hello," he says, and Spiceland refers to the many spices he sells, not just from India but from Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Thailand and the U.K.

Namaste Spiceland serves a broad clientele, and Malik says he decided on Pasadena for the second location partly because of its diversity. "It's not just the Indian population. There's a mixed crowd. Like right now, you see there's all-mixed crowd here," Malik tells me. On the pre-Covid weekday afternoon in February when we met, the restaurant was half-filled with South Asian diners and half-filled with Latinx, Black and white patrons.

My friend Priya Sharma, an Indian American who grew up in West Covina, noticed the same thing. Namaste Spiceland manages to cater to a diverse clientele while still feeling like it is by and for Indians, no easy trick.

Assorted sodas and Indian drinks at Namaste Spiceland. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

"I think the Indian food scene in L.A. tends to feel a little foreign to South Asians," she says. "It feels like it doesn't belong to us. Sometimes we see it in a westernized menu item, sometimes we see it in the actual name with buzzwords that are meant to make the place sound exotic to a Western audience. I get it. The immigrants who run these places are business savvy and they know what's going to bring in people. But I think Namaste Spiceland does a great job of finding that balance."

"Foreign" is the key word here. In trying to appeal to a non-South Asian eaters, many restaurants end up losing their Indian customers. Not Namaste Spiceland. I love its homestyle Indian food and generous hospitality -- and I definitely get my money's worth.


Virali Dave Namaste Spiceland caters to a diverse clientele but still feels like it's run by Indians, for Indians -- and that's no easy trick. Thu, 06 Aug 2020 06:00:00 -0700 For One New Jersey Transplant, This Indian Restaurant Feels Like Home
Arts & Entertainment
Lena Waithe speaks during "Graduate Together: America Honors the High School Class of 2020" on May 16, 2020. (Getty Images/Getty Images for EIF & XQ)

Coronavirus is 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.

Peep crazy cult movie art. Attend the online PaleyFest. Catch a screening of Queen & Slim with Lena Waithe and Dev Hynes in person. Adopt a kitty looking for a forever home. Learn the history of the Colorado Street Bridge. Check out gems from the Disney archives.

'You Never Had It - An Evening with Bukowski' is a found footage film of an interview with Charles Bukowski in San Pedro in 1981. (Film still from 'You Never Had It - An Evening with Bukowski')

Friday, Aug. 7 (opening)

You Never Had It - An Evening with Bukowski
This lost footage film is a love letter to Los Angeles featuring Charles Bukowski. It was rediscovered by the director Matteo Borgardt's mother, Silvia Bizio, an L.A.-based journalist and HFPA veteran. The film features Bizio as she spends a wine and cigarette-filled evening interviewing the author in 1981 in his San Pedro home. The Kino Lorber release is timed to what would've been Bukowski's 100th birthday.

Friday, Aug. 7; 4 p.m. PDT

Out in Public
UCLA Film & Television Archive's Virtual Screening Room presents a screening of shorts from the Outfest UCLA Legacy Project, which highlights different LGBTQ+ moments in history and ways of being queer in public.

Friday, Aug. 7; 7 p.m.

Play Your Part: A Benefit for Yola
Attend a virtual fundraiser for the L.A. Phil's Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles (YOLA) and its learning programs with a free online concert and workshop featuring Brandi Carlile, Gustavo Dudamel, Thomas Wilkins, members of the L.A. Phil and members of YOLA.
COST: FREE, but donations encouraged; MORE INFO

Friday, Aug. 7 - Sunday, Aug. 9

Craft Lake City
This year, Utah's largest local arts festival returns online for its 12th edition. Check out more than 250 local artisans, builders, vintage vendors and craft food creators, attend workshops and connect with makers directly online.

Gallery1988's Crazy4Cult show goes online this year. Artwork will be revealed on Friday at noon. (Image: Dany Paragouteva)

Friday, Aug. 7 at noon (opening)

14TH Annual CRAZY4CULT Show
Gallery1988's annual most popular group show debuts its works exclusively online this year. View paintings, prints, sculptures and pins inspired by movies.

Edward James Olmos attends the 'Queen & Slim' Premiere at AFI FEST 2019 on Nov. 14, 2019, in Hollywood, California. (Emma McIntyre/Getty Images)

Friday, Aug. 7; 7 p.m. PDT

Dan Guerrero Happy Hour with guest Edward James Olmos
Guerrero's biweekly En Casa con LA Plaza livestream series returns for a conversation with actor, director, producer and activist Edward James Olmos. The session will be broadcast on Zoom and Facebook Live.

Friday, Aug. 7; 4 p.m. PDT

John Ridley's Nō Studios Events: Ryan Alexander
John Ridley's Nō Studios presents a number of digital events for members of his Milwaukee-based physical space as well as for artists and art lovers. This week, Nō Studios Unplugged x Next Showcase features a live music set by musician and producer Ryan Alexander. It will be available to view on the Nō Studios website and on its YouTube channel.
COST: FREE, but RSVP encouraged; MORE INFO

Friday, Aug. 7 (opening)

Virtual PaleyFest LA
The Paley Center's annual, in-person TV festival moves to a new online format beginning this week, with screenings available to members on YouTube on Aug. 7 and to the public on Monday, Aug. 10. Spotlighted shows include: Dolly Parton's Heartstrings (Netflix), Justin Bieber: Seasons (YouTube), Late Night with Seth Meyers (NBC), The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon), Mrs. America ( FX on Hulu), One Day at a Time (Pop TV), Outlander (Starz), Ozark and Queer Eye (both Netflix). There's also an exclusive Schitt's Creek conversation available exclusively to Citi cardmembers and Paley Center Members.

Friday, Aug. 7; 7 p.m.

50-Year Retrospective: The Flights of Apollo: "After Apollo 13 - What Changed?"
Santa Monica College's John Drescher Planetarium continues its Friday night events in August with live virtual shows presented on Zoom. Each night starts with a Night Sky Show at 7 p.m., followed by the featured presentation at 8 p.m. This week, senior lecturer Jim Mahon talks about the nearly fatal Apollo 13 mission and how it had far-reaching effects on the number and types of lunar missions NASA was ultimately able to fly.

Saturday, Aug. 8; 8 p.m.

The Drive-in at Hotel Figueroa: Queen & Slim
Hotel Figueroa DTLA
Athena Lot
818 James M. Wood Blvd., downtown L.A.
Women Under the Influence and YOLA Mezcal present a new drive-in film series that amplifies the work of women, BIPOC and LGBTQ voices. The series kicks off with a screening of Melina Matsoukas' Queen & Slim, introduced by writer Lena Waithe and with soundtrack composer Dev Hynes (aka Blood Orange). All proceeds will benefit the social justice organizations Trap Heals and WoW Project. Next Saturday (Aug. 15), the series screens Love & Anarchy (1973) by director Lina Wertmuller.
COST: $40 per car; MORE INFO

Saturday, Aug. 8 - Sunday, Aug. 9; 6:30 p.m. doors

The Princess Bride / Fight Club
Lakeview Park
5305 E. Santiago Canyon Rd., Silverado
Street Food Cinema hits Orange County with drive-in screenings of The Princess Bride on Saturday and Fight Club on Sunday. Food will be available onsite; outside food and beverages are also permitted. Guests must stay in their cars except when ordering food or using restrooms; masks are required when interacting with staff. No tickets will be sold at the door.
COST: $20 per car, plus $8 per ticket (each person must have a ticket); MORE INFO

Michelson Found Animals hosts a Cuteness Overload: Kitten Adoption Week from Aug. 8 to 17. (Jennifer C. via Flickr/Creative Commons)

Saturday, Aug. 8 - Monday, Aug. 17

Cuteness Overload: Kitten Adoption Week
The Michelson Found Animals Adopt & Shop and NBC's Clear the Shelters team up for a virtual adoption event that aims to find homes for more than 50 kittens. Starting on Aug. 8, check the website for potential pets. They're accepting applications Aug. 8-12 via the website. Starting on the 12th, families and kittens will have a virtual meet-and-greet. If there's a match, an in-person adoption appointment will be set. Adoption fees are two-for-one, if you adopt two kittens.
COST: $150 (adoption fees); MORE INFO

A virtual celebration of the Colorado Street Bridge begins this week. (Courtesy: Pasadena Heritage)

Sunday, Aug. 9 - Saturday, Aug. 15

Virtual Celebration of the Colorado Street Bridge
Pasadena Heritage kicks off a weeklong celebration of the Colorado Street Bridge, which opened in 1913. The events include a custom and classic car cruise, a lecture on the bridge's history and children's activities.
COST: $20 - $25; MORE INFO

Sunday, Aug. 9 - Saturday, Aug. 22

7th Annual Burbank CoVedy Festival
The virtual comedy fest features a lineup of shows, podcasts, workshops and Q&As with more than 250 participants and performers from around the world including Michael Rapaport, Rob Paulsen, Jackie Kashian, Jimmy Pardo, Laurie Kilmartin and Jimmy Dore.
COST: Ticket prices vary ($5 - $25); MORE INFO

Sunday, Aug. 9; 12:30 p.m. PDT

Walt Disney Archives Lecture Series: Photo Library Presentation
This pre-recorded segment from the Disney Archives features Cesar Gallegos, Heather Hoffman, Michael Buckhoff and Maggie Evenson as they discuss the 20th Century Fox/Disney photo collection. The presentation highlights rare images from the library. Ticketholders will receive a private link to view the presentation at 12:30 p.m. on Sunday.
COST: $5 - $10; MORE INFO

Through Sunday, Aug. 30

7th Annual Los Angeles Diversity Film Festival
The LADFF features 57 official selections -- features and shorts -- from 17 countries around the world. Dedicated to storytelling from marginalized voices, all films stream at LADFF for the first time in festival history.
COST: $7.99 per film or shorts program; MORE INFO

Employees Only has transformed their next door parking lot and launched Summer Social Club with physically distant protocols in place. (Employees Only)

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.

  • It's Black Restaurant Week. Started four years ago in Houston, it has expanded to nine cities in the U.S. -- including L.A. where it features 39 spots. Want more options for Black-owned restaurants? Here you go.
  • Employees Only in West Hollywood has transformed their next door parking lot and launched Summer Social Club. This multiweek festival, which runs Wednesdays through Sundays, offers a rotating roster of events, food pop-ups and wellness activities all while ensuring socially distant seating and space.
  • Perry's Joint in Pasadena is holding its 10th annual scholarship fundraiser. Contribute through Aug. 12 to a Go Fund Me campaign set up for three local scholarship recipients off to four-year colleges. Or, order takeout or delivery from Perry's on Saturday, Aug. 8 from 11 a.m. - 4 p.m., when owner Perry Bennett donates 100% of the proceeds to the fund.
  • Beginning on Friday at noon, Botanica Restaurant and Market in Silver Lake converts its kitchen into a Levantine pop-up called Kabob Party. The food is available Wednesday to Sunday from noon to 8 p.m. (for pickup via Toast and delivery via ChowNow), alongside the market goods, natural wines, and spirits.
Christine N. Ziemba Peep crazy cult movie art. Nosh hard during Black Restaurant Week. Adopt a kitty. Catch a screening of "Queen & Slim" with Lena Waithe and Dev Hynes. Thu, 06 Aug 2020 06:00:00 -0700 The Most Fabulous Online And IRL Events This Weekend: Aug. 7 - 9
A massive home in the Hollywood Hills was the site of a large party Monday night that ended in gunfire and the death of a 35-year-old woman. (NBC4LA)

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UPDATE: LA Mayor Says City Will Shut Off Water And Power For Party Throwers 'Flagrantly' Violating Health Orders

District 4 Councilman David Ryu introduced a motion today that aims to "crack down" on rowdy COVID-19 parties in Los Angeles.

For years now, residents of L.A.'s ritzy hillside neighborhoods have objected to so-called "party houses." They're usually rental or Airbnb spots that become makeshift nightclubs and host hundreds of people.

"The proliferation of it has become out of control, especially now during the pandemic because of the bars being closed," said Anastasia Mann, president of the Hollywood Hills West Neighborhood Council.

There is a party house ordinance already on the books, passed in 2018, that imposes thousands of dollars in fines for violations. And an existing L.A. County order that prohibits gatherings during the pandemic applies to the City of L.A. as well.

But members of neighborhood councils in areas that regularly see the wild parties say many wealthy party organizers and homeowners are undeterred by fines.

Ellen Evans, vice president of operations with the Bel Air Beverly Crest Neighborhood Council, said it was galling to see people disregard public safety in her neighborhood.

"It's completely an outrage, because anybody who's sitting at home really trying hard not to come in contact with others feels that others should have the same obligation," she said.

A 35-year-old woman was killed at a house party in the Beverly Crest area earlier this week. Guests were seen arriving in party buses and there was a food truck on site. LAPD officers responded to noise and traffic complaints, but said they lacked the authority to shut down the party. Hours later, shots rang out, hitting several people.

Amid the increased scrutiny of party houses, Councilman Ryu wants the Department of Building and Safety, Water & Power and others to come together to figure out what "deterrence tools," can be used, including utility shut-offs.

And at his Wednesday afternoon Covid briefing, Mayor Eric Garcetti said he is "authorizing the city to shut off Los Angeles Department of Water and Power service in the egregious cases in which houses businesses and other venues are hosting unpermitted large gatherings.

"Starting on Friday night, if the LAPD responds and verifies that a large gathering is occurring at a property, and we see these properties reoffending time and time again, they will provide notice and initiate the process to request that DWP shut off service within the next 48 hours."

Last weekend, a gathering at Sassafras Saloon in Hollywood got the attention of City of L.A. officials. City Attorney Mike Feuer's office said it "referred the community complaints we received to [the Department of Public Health] for investigation. If they refer a case to us we will review it for possible criminal prosecution."

At her regular briefing today, County Health Director Barbara Ferrer said:

"We are ... responding to thousands of complaints each week related to non-compliance ... One thing for certain is that we will not be able to arrest our way out of the pandemic."

Robert Garrova District 4 Councilman David Ryu introduced a motion Wednesday that aims to "crack down" on rowdy COVID-19 parties in Los Angeles. Wed, 05 Aug 2020 16:04:36 -0700 Residents Of LA's Ritzy Hillside Neighborhoods Say 'Party Houses' Proliferate During Coronavirus
George Guzman's portrait. (Courtesy of Kevin Scanlon)

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A call was put out on Instagram: Free masked portraits, DM for address. A sign popped up in the yard for passers by and a community of friends, strangers, and social media followers came by to document this strange time we're all trying to get through.

It was the idea of Kevin Scanlon, an award-winning Los Angeles-based photographer, who normally shoots celebrities (Cate Blanchett, Donald Glover and Neil Young, to name a few.) Scanlon's jobs had dried up at the beginning of the pandemic and he was looking for another way to create and connect.

So over three weekends in May an unassuming driveway in Los Feliz turned into a legit, if slightly make-shift, portrait studio.

"This project is helping me cope, you know?" Scanlon said. "I'm sort of trying to come to terms with how to read people by their eyes and only by their eyes, that's all we get now. Plus I get to see my friends again, who I haven't seen in a long time."

Pictured from left: Photographer Kevin Scanlon, Jennifer Verdier and Skippy Simon gather for portraits on May 17. (Alison Nieder for LAist)

There's much talk about people not wearing masks these days and the reasons behind that, but in Scanlon's driveway, people thoughtfully explained why they were wearing masks and how they were navigating life in a pandemic.

From left: Blake Anderson, Hailey Magoon and George Guzman's portraits. (Courtesy of Kevin Scanlon )

Jennifer Verdier came by for a portrait and a visit. She hadn't been outside the house for anything except groceries and essentials and seemed almost giddy.

"Kevin and I are old homies and I saw [the Instagram post] this morning and thought, why not do a pandemic photo shoot?... I don't go out very often, I'm like a feral cat. At this point I haven't been this far from my house since it was cold out."

From left: Serena Dao and Giuliana Mayo's portraits. (Courtesy of Kevin Scanlon)

The mood in the driveway was friendly; folks chatted as they waited their turn, watching as people stepped up to the backdrop that was taped to the side of the house and sandbagged down to create a DIY studio. Scanlon worked using two different cameras, a medium-format and a 35mm, toggling between the two as he gave direction to his subjects from behind his outlaw-style bandana mask. Several times he gently instructed his subjects, "chin down" and "a little closer to me."

"I talk a lot during photo shoots, which I'm sure a lot of publicists hate me for, because they just want to get the shot and go...but, to me, having a conversation allows people to forget that they're being photographed and to generate those authentic moments that I'm after," Scanlon said.

Pictured from left: Bill Ungerman and Gabriel Langenbrunner's portraits. (Courtesy of Kevin Scanlon)

Everyone who came to the shoot had a different kind of mask, their personality on display. Some were homemade, some store bought, some improvised scarves, and some were military-like filters. And it wouldn't have been a gathering in Los Angeles without a few (unmasked) pups thrown in the mix, too.

Skippy Simon came with an agenda, double masked and gloved. He wanted people to understand how very crucial it was: "I want people to wake up and realize: Hey, wait a second, maybe I should be taking this (expletive) a little more seriously."

For a few people, the experience was poignant. Becca Weber spoke of how exciting it was to have a reason to shower that day, then got a little choked up while talking about what it meant to her to be there.

Pictured from left: Becca Weber, Rachel Nagelberg and Monique Bean's portraits. (Courtesy of Kevin Scanlon)

"I think that capturing people in this moment in time is something we'll want to look back on. Finding little bits of sunshine or sadness. There's just so much that we can't see behind people's masks right now. I'm a pretty smiley person and I feel like I have to do so much's just cool to be around people again... I didn't realize I would be so emotional."

Pictured from left: Suzanne Barnes and Stephanie Stein's portrait. (Courtesy of Kevin Scanlon)

Costume designer Suzanne Barnes spoke of the challenges to the film industry brought on by COVID-19. "It will take a lot of getting used to, but obviously I understand it's necessary and safe... I know we're all going through it, we're all in it together, which is really important."

One hears that a lot lately, that we're all in this together. And you know what? For a few hours, from a safe distance, on a sunny afternoon, on the side of a busy road, we kind of were.


Giuliana Mayo Dozens of Angelenos showed up to a Los Feliz driveway to have their masked portrait taken in a DIY pandemic photoshoot. Wed, 05 Aug 2020 08:25:00 -0700 Pandemic Portraits: A Celebrity Photographer Documents Masked Angelenos
An apartment for rent in Central Los Angeles. (Matt Tinoco/LAist)

Advocates of rent control collected 7,749 signatures to put a rent control ballot measure before voters in Burbank this November. The effort has a real shot: A majority of households in the city are renters, and a California-wide proposition to pave the way for rent control captured 54% of the votes in the city in 2018, even as it failed badly statewide.

But the rent control measure has been met with waves of resistance from Burbank's elected officials. First, the city clerk filed a legal challenge over the language on the petition. Then, Burbank's City Council -- which earlier this year formalized their opposition to rent control -- added their own challenge, charging that the initiative "fatally conflicts" with the city's charter.

In July, a judge found the city clerk's legal arguments "not persuasive." On Friday -- the last day for ballot measures to appear in November -- she'll hold a hearing on the city council's objections.

What she decides will determine whether Burbank voters have a chance to weigh in on rent control in their city, which would apply to units built before 1995. The measure would also give new powers to a Landlord-Tenant Commission and create new barriers to evictions.


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When Margo Rowder moved from East Hollywood to Burbank in 2017, she felt "sheer terror" about moving into a city without rent control, where landlords can evict without a stated reason.

Rowder had been active in Burbank politics even before she arrived, working on the campaign of city council candidate Konstantine Anthony. After moving to town, she founded the Burbank Tenants Rights Committee in 2019 and began collecting signatures for a ballot initiative on rent control.

"It's time to really think about -- and do more than think about, actually help -- the folks who are the backbone of our city stay in their homes," she told LAist.

Rowder personally gathered about 2,000 signatures, and Anthony collected another 3,000, she says. (Anthony is running for city council again this year; Rowder is managing his campaign.)

Burbank City Hall (City of Burbank)

Altogether, the county registrar found that the effort collected the 7,749 verified signatures -- more than enough to qualify for the November ballot.

So Rowder was surprised when she learned about the city clerk's objections. So was attorney Fred Woocher, who represents the Burbank Tenants Rights Committee.

"When this first came to me, my take on the city clerk's position was 'this is just crazy'," Woocher said.

In a legal filing, attorneys for the city and clerk Zizette Mullins argue that the copy of the initiative that voters signed left out required language. So did a version published in the local newspaper. Judge Mary H. Strobel rejected that argument and ordered Mullins to certify the initiative. Mullins declined an interview request for this story.

But, by the time the judge ruled, Burbank's city council had filed their legal challenge. They argued that the initiative conflicts with the city's charter, and that the revamped Landlord-Tenant Commission "would create an entirely new branch of government in the City -- with powers greater even than the City Council."

The opposition from Burbank's council comes a few months after they voted to adopt a legislative platform that opposes rent control.

While discussing the platform, Burbank Mayor Sharon Springer made her position clear: "I think it's just detrimental," she said, arguing that rent control disincentivizes new housing construction. Springer declined an interview but said in a statement that "Burbank is committed to our housing and affordable housing goals."

Woocher, the attorney for the tenants group, is wary of the council's legal arguments, calling it part of a "gauntlet of meritless legal challenges" in a court filing. He questioned why the city is using public funds to fight the measure, instead of letting voters decide.

"It sure looks to me like people are just coming up with some excuse after another to try and prevent this thing from going to a vote," he said in an interview.

Rowder, the advocate, was more succinct. "The claws have come out," she said.

Judge Strobel will decide on Friday whether voters in Burbank -- with more than 100,000 people, one of L.A. County's more populous cities -- will see the initiative on their ballots in November.


Tenants across California have been squeezed by soaring rents in recent years, but the issues have festered for decades.

"Rents are star-bound, squeezing the budgets of low- and fixed-income residents," declared a 1980 Los Angeles Times article. "The housing scene in the Glendale-Burbank area is bleak and authorities see little improvement in sight. Especially hard hit are renters."

Then and now, tenant advocates pitched rent control as a means of addressing the issue. Burbank's neighbor, Los Angeles, enacted rent control in the 1970s. Its other neighbor, Glendale, limited rent increases in 2018, stopping short of full rent control.

Landlords fiercely oppose it. "It just becomes a disaster for everybody living in a city," said Dan Yukelson of the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles. He said it would lead to substantial overhead costs for the city, large corporations snapping up more properties, and less new housing.

He said that Burbank should give last year's AB 1482 -- a statewide measure that caps rent increases at a maximum of 10 percent for many units -- a chance to work.

The politics of housing have been heating up all over the state. "Calls for rent control in more places have probably gotten louder and more consistent," said Mike Lens, who studies housing at UCLA. "Policymakers are paying more serious attention to [rent control] as kind of an emergency response to these various rental affordability crises."

But it's a break-glass-in-case-of-emergency type of solution, Lens added. Right now, Angelenos are contending with a shortage of affordable housing and rising homelessness. And that was before a pandemic and recession.

Fewer than 20 of California's 482 cities have rent control measures, according to the advocacy group Tenants Together. Beverly Hills, West Hollywood and Los Angeles are among them, though the specifics differ from city to city.

Politicians often look less favorably on rent control measures than their constituents, Lens said. Partly, that's because landlords have more political power than their tenants, and are often big campaign donors and well-connected in city government. Lens pointed to the tens of millions that landlord groups spent to defeat Proposition 10, the 2018 ballot measure that attracted majority support in Burbank. (A sequel to that measure, Proposition 21, will appear before California voters in November.)

In Burbank, a small number of property owners control big chunks of commercial and residential land.

Similar pressures motivated Sacramento activists to collect signatures for a rent control ballot measure this year. It faced a legal challenge from the city council, as in Burbank. Last week, a judge granted the city's request to keep the measure off the ballot. Tenants there said they would lodge another legal challenge.



Aaron Mendelson A proposed rent control ballot measure has been met with waves of resistance from Burbank's elected officials. Wed, 05 Aug 2020 05:59:59 -0700 Will Burbank Voters Weigh In On Rent Control? A Judge Will Decide
The U.S. Census logo appears on census materials received in the mail. (Photo Illustration by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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The U.S. Census Bureau has announced it will complete the 2020 census count a month earlier than planned, with the new deadline to end door-knocking and self-response set for September 30, instead of Oct. 31.

The bureau also intends to have data compiled for political apportionment finished by the legal deadline of December 31st.

Doug Johnson, a research affiliate with Claremont Mckenna, thinks given delays in response caused by the pandemic, that timeline is impossibly scrunched.

"They're going to try to get everything done on the regular timeframe, but it's going to be a Herculean task," Johnson said.

In-person canvassing doesn't even start in L.A. County until August 11.

And so far, only 59% of households in the county have responded.

It means census workers will have less than two months to count the other 41%, which is an unlikely goal.

So, Johnson said, it's very likely historically undercounted communities like renters, immigrants, and people without internet access could be missed by a rushed census. That's because those communities are typically best reached in person.

"They need that door-to-door knock to get the full count," he said.


In L.A. County, considered one of the hardest-to-count regions in the country, these changes are a particularly big problem, especially considering California's political representation was already to take a hit due to population losses.

The decision to end the counting a month early has been criticized by many as politically motivated.

"It is difficult to come up with any explanation but Republican and white advantage," said Keshia Morris Desir, the census project manager for government watchdog organization Common Cause.

In a letter to the Census Bureau on Monday, Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer asked that the government explain the basis for its decision.

Ending the census earlier has another implication. Johnson said if the count continued through October, as was planned, the data might not be crunched until next year, at which time President Trump may no longer be in office -- and wouldn't be presiding over the final census tallies that determine political representation for the states.

In addition, with the process shortened, Johnson expects the Census Bureau will need to do extra work to estimate the county's population, like using survey and post office data to determine information about households left uncounted.

Typically, this estimating process is kept to about 2% of the nation's households, he said, but this year it could end up being much higher.

"Obviously it adds a degree of randomness and inaccuracy to the count," Johnson explained.

And while the bureau can approximate general numbers, courts have ruled that they can't approximate race data. That means undercounted racial and ethnic groups wouldn't be accurately represented.

Laura Daly, a data analyst with racial justice organization Advancement Project California, said identity information is critical for protecting communities from redistricting, for example, or identifying which demographics are particularly hard hit by COVID-19.

"If you don't exist in the data, then people take advantage of that and decide not to represent you," Daly said.

Daly said her group is working to resolve confusion over the timeline change, and to encourage people to self-respond through food drives and car caravans.



Leslie Berestein Rojas The U.S. Census Bureau has announced it will complete the 2020 census count a month earlier than planned, with the new deadline to end door-knocking and self-response set for September 30, instead of Oct. 31. In-person canvassing doesn't even start in L.A. County until August 11. Tue, 04 Aug 2020 18:41:51 -0700 'It's Going To Be A Herculean Task': Shortened Census Time Stresses Hard-To-Count LA
An empty classroom at El Sereno Middle School. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

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Los Angeles County health officials announced on Tuesday that they will not consider requests for waivers to reopen elementary schools until the coronavirus case rate falls.

State education officials issued requirements on Monday for applying for the waivers under a plan rolled out more than two weeks ago by Governor Gavin Newsom. Counties on the state's COVID-19 watchlist are required to do distance learning unless the county is no longer on the watchlist for at least two weeks, or they obtain a reopening waiver that allows campuses to reopen.

But with coronavirus cases still high, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health announced that it will not consider any waiver requests right now.

"This decision will be reconsidered once the case rate falls to the levels recommended by the State," the county department of public health said in a press release.

Health officials said the decision was based on the state's recommendation that counties with coronavirus rates at or above 200 cases per 100,000 residents do not accept any waiver applications. Los Angeles County's case rate currently is 355 per 100,000, according to the health department. The department wrote:

"We know that to many families, this is a disappointing announcement, but it's based on the existing science and data that is guiding all of our decision-making. We need to ensure the health and safety of our children, school teachers and staff and all of their families."

Case rates in San Bernardino and Riverside counties are also above the state guidelines. But health officials in Orange County said the current case rate there is 149.5 per 100,000 residents. The waiver application process remains open for Orange County schools and officials have posted an application form.

According to the Orange County Health Care Agency, most of the more than 50 schools who have reached out with early interest in the waivers were private schools. (We spoke with the head of one of those schools recently.)

And many of the county's largest public school districts-- including Capistrano Unified, Santa Ana Unified, and Garden Grove Unified -- have already anno unced they will begin next school year with online learning.


Reopening waivers are only available for grades TK-6. As California Health and Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly explained, that is because distance learning has been particularly challenging for young learners.

"Based on the current best available scientific evidence," the California Department of Public Health says in its waiver documentation, "COVID-related risks in schools serving elementary-age students (grades TK-6) are lower than and different from the risks to staff and to students in schools serving older students."

Now, let's follow an application through the process, as laid out by the state.

First off: the superintendent (for district schools), executive director (for charter schools) or principal (for private schools) has to make the request for a waiver.

The individual requesting the waiver will fill out a version of the form below, which asks for:

  • The date of the proposed reopening
  • If and when the applicant consulted with labor unions or staff, parent organizations, and other community organizations
  • What the school's reopening plans are, including:
    • how they plan to keep things clean
    • maintain physical distancing
    • create small cohorts that stay together
    • ensure everyone who can wear face coverings does wear face coverings
    • and screen and test staff for COVID-19, among other measures.

CDPH's sample letter says applicants will also have to attach evidence of the "consultation" with labor partners, parents, and community organizations, as well as a published copy of its reopening plans, and submit it all to the local health officer.

The decision of whether or not a waiver is granted is up to the local health officer, who must consult with the state Department of Public Health via another form.

Here's what that form says about health and safety, epidemiological date, hospital capacity, and testing:

If the school or district is in a county where the 14-day case rate is "more than two times the threshold to be on the County Monitoring List (>200 cases/100,000 population)," then the state Department of Public Health recommends schools in that county should not be considered for a waiver.

You can check the current status of counties on the state's COVID-19 monitoring list here.

Local health officers can grant waivers with conditions, like only allowing a certain number of schools to reopen, or permitting schools to open in phases.

If and when a school campus does reopen for in-person instruction -- whether it's because the county where it's located has been off the state COVID-19 watch list for at least two weeks or because it's been granted a waiver -- there are still pretty specific guidelines to follow, including physical distancing and face masks, among other safety and health measures.


Fall is fast approaching, and many of Southern California's largest public school districts have already publicly announced their plans to begin the new school year in August with distance learning, including L.A. Unified, Long Beach Unified, and the San Bernardino City Unified School District.

But there are critics of keeping campuses closed until the county where the school is located is off the COVID-19 watch list for two weeks.

The Orange County Board of Education voted last week to pursue litigation over the state directive. A spokesperson for the law firm Tyler & Bursch, which is representing the county board, said they hope to file the lawsuit this week.

And that's not the only local lawsuit challenging the directive.

Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified Board of Education member and parent of two teens Matthew Brach was called out at a recent board meeting because he is one of several plaintiffs in another case against the governor.

This is an ongoing story and situation. We will update this story as we learn more. If you have relevant information to share, please email reporter Carla Javier.


Carla Javier But for now, health officials in Los Angeles County will not consider these requests. Tue, 04 Aug 2020 17:50:00 -0700 LA County Health Officials Won't Grant School Reopening Waivers Until COVID Rate Drops
LASD deputies holding batons during a protest. The Sheriff's budget could get cut by more than $100 million if voters approve a charter amendment in November. (Brian Feinzimer For LAist)

Los Angeles County voters will have a weighty fiscal decision on their hands November 3. (Add this to the slate of local candidates, a long list of state ballot measures and -- oh, yeah -- President of the United States.)

County Supervisors voted on Tuesday to place a charter amendment on the ballot to require the county to spend a sizable chunk of its budget on programs such as housing, youth development, mental healthcare and criminal justice diversion programs.

If approved, the county would be required to designate at least 10% of its locally-generated, unrestricted revenue to community investment initiatives. In the event of a budget emergency that threatens mandated programs, Supervisors could vote to reduce that amount.

Amending the county's charter to make the 10% threshold permanent takes voter approval. This was the final Supervisors' vote on the matter after ongoing debate since the idea was first approved on July 21.

Supporters have dubbed it the "Reimagine L.A. County" charter amendment because it was developed with the support of groups in a coalition of that name, including the United Way, L.A. Community Action Network, Abundant Housing and more.

The motion was co-authored by Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis. It passed 4-1, with Board Chair Kathryn Barger the lone "no" vote, citing concerns about county worker layoffs and impact to public safety.

"I just don't feel that we should be cutting off our nose to spite our face as relates to investing in our community," Barger said last month on KPCC's AirTalk.

Barger added it was "irresponsible" to "handcuff future boards" with a charter amendment.


This fiscal year, the county's 2020-21 budget is just under $35 billion. (For context, this is more than three times larger than the City of L.A.'s $10.5 billion spending plan.) Most of the county's funding comes from the state or the federal government. About $8.8 billion is drawn from local taxes -- that's the county's general fund, officially known as "Net County Cost."

The charter amendment would address a slice of that: the $4.9 billion that is unrestricted (not designated to a specific purpose), locally-generated revenue. If approved by voters, the amendment would reallocate $360-496 million of that money to community programs, according to a projection from the county CEO's office.

Diverting hundreds of millions of dollars of county funds would undoubtedly mean cuts for the Sheriff's Department's budget. For example, the County CEO's office estimates the charter amendment would siphon about $114 million from this year's law enforcement budget -- though in practice, the changes would begin to take effect in the next budget year, starting July 1, 2021, and ramp up over a three-year period.

But Kuehl's office says the amendment is not aimed at defunding law enforcement.

"[It] does not specify where cuts will be made and cuts are not expected to come from any single department," Kuehl said in a statement. "The Sheriff currently receives $1.873 billion in locally-generated County funds, in other words, 1 in every 5 County tax dollars go to LASD."

The amendment explicitly prohibits the 10% diverted funds from being spent on the Sheriff's Department, District Attorney's office, Probation or Superior Courts.

Libby Denkmann If voters give the green-light, this could mean reallocating $360-$496 million from other budget priorities, including a $110 million cut to the Sheriff's budget. Tue, 04 Aug 2020 17:30:46 -0700 L.A. County Voters Will Decide Whether To Divert Over $110 Million From Sheriff's Department To Community Investment Programs

Water faucet (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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The city of Bellflower wants to sell its aging water system to a big for-profit water company that is better able to manage it. But the deal could fall through. That's because state regulators say the price is so high, it could hurt water customers across Southern California.

The Bellflower dilemma illustrates the difficulty that hundreds of small, aging water systems face throughout California. State water policy calls for tiny struggling water systems to be acquired by larger, more stable water systems that have the capacity to fund needed upgrades.

But the law also calls for fair prices to be paid for such systems. So the argument is over what the fair price for the Bellflower system should be, and whether a fair-market price that buyer and seller agree upon would burden water consumers elsewhere.


California American Water Company -- the fourth-largest in the state serving more than half million people -- wants to buy Bellflower's tiny water system for $17 million. Bellflower voters okayed the sale in 2016. The City Council approved it the following year. So the local stakeholders are fine with the deal.

But then it hit a roadblock at the state Public Advocates Office. It's an independent arm of the state regulator known as the Public Utilities Commission, and it's there to look out for the rights of utility ratepayers and to keep rates reasonable and low.

"The proposed acquisition price is grossly inflated and would ultimately result in rate increases for a significant number of customers, not just in Bellflower, but throughout the state and in particular in the Los Angeles district," said Richard Rauschmeir of the Public Advocates Office.

The office said in public filings that the price of the Bellflower system was so high, it could raise water rates for Cal-Am customers by .5% to 3% across the state. Instead, it recommended a lower price of about $9 million, which is equal to the water rights that would come along with the water system.

An administrative law judge agreed that the price was too high, and went even further. In a proposed decision issued in March, the judge said the Bellflower system was in such poor repair that Bellflower should pay someone else $5 million to $9 million to take it off the city's hands.

The judge initially recommended the state Public Utilities Commission reject the deal when it was to come up for a vote on Thursday, Aug. 6.

"Hogwash," said Bellflower City Manager Jeff Stewart. "That's my one-word response to that. The market determines the value of the systems."

(UPDATE: On Wednesday, Aug., 5, the judge granted Cal-Am's request allowing the utility to do a new study of the current condition of the water system and estimate its value. The judge gave Cal-Am, Bellflower and the Public Advocates Office until late September to settle on a price tag for the water system.)

Stewart says state law requires the city to get fair market value. He pointed to the lengthy public review process that the sale underwent. Also, he said breaking up the system and selling the water rights and high-capacity well separately would add up to the disputed sale price.

Cal-Am spokesman Kevin Tilden said the judge and the advocate office wrongly totaled up the valuation of the water system as if the millions of dollars in needed repairs were going to be done in the first years of Cal-Am's ownership. It would take longer to do all the repairs, so the costs would be spread over its customer base more gradually, not all at once, Tilden said.

The price increase to its customers in Los Angeles, Ventura and San Diego counties would be only about 50 cents per household over the first few years after the sale, Tilden said.

The company has letters of support for its purchase from various elected officials including in the city of Montebello, which wants to sell its water system to a larger operator. Assemblywoman Christina Garcia, a Democrat who represents Bellflower, says she supports the sale.

The California Water Association, an industry group for investor-owned water utilities, says the judge's rejection of the sale wrongly overturns the desire of city residents who voted in favor of it, and it would put a chilling effect on other cities' effort to sell their water systems.


Why should we care when a water giant wants to buy a tiny water system for a whole lot of money? The issues resonate beyond Bellflower, its population of 75,000, and its 1,800 municipal water connection customers and a big investor-owned utility company dickering over a sale price. The issues story go to the heart of whether California can achieve its goal of providing safe water for all.

California was the first state in the nation to declare that safe, clean, affordable and accessible water is a human right. That principal was added to the state Constitution in 2012, partly because California is full of small water systems that have not been maintained well enough to provide clean, affordable and accessible water.

One of the aims of California water policy, since 1997, is to encourage small, struggling water systems to be acquired by bigger, more capable systems. But that law also requires the utilities to pay fair market prices.

Cal-Am says that creating a market where cities are willing to sell water systems they no longer want is encouraged by prices tags like the $17 million for Bellflower's system.

The Public Advocate Office argues the opposite, that setting a unreasonably high price on the system benefits only Bellflower and Cal-Am, but harms the consumers who ultimately have to pay the costs to buy and fix the water systems, along with a set profit as high as 9.25% to Cal-Am on all those expenses.


The dispute in Bellflower is over how the price was set.

There were some problems in the valuation Cal-Am initially put on the water system, which the Public Advocate Office called overstated and unreasonable. For starters, the valuation failed to account for some $25 million in needed upgrades, the advocate office said.

Most of Bellflower's underground pipes are made of a now-discontinued type of asbestos and concrete pipe, and Bellflower's pipes break twice as frequently as similar pipes in other water systems. That means the system should have been assigned a lower value because the pipes have depreciated so much from when they were installed.

But Cal-Am used a 2014 city-commissioned report that valued Bellflower's system as if it were constructed recently with new PVC pipe, which is less prone to breakage and cheaper to replace, so the valuation of the system was far higher than it should have been, the Public Advocate Office said.

Bellflower City Manager Jeff Stewart and Cal-Am Vice President Kevin Tilden want the Public Utilities Commission to hold off on a vote over the sale on Thursday, and re-evaluate the sale price using an analysis that focuses on the effect of the sale on the next three years of water rates.

This story has been updated.

Sharon McNary Bellflower wanted to sell its aging water system and it found a willing buyer, but the state says the price is so high it will burden consumers far outside Bellflower. Tue, 04 Aug 2020 17:19:14 -0700 A Small City Wants To Unload A Leaky Water System, But Regulators Say Not So Fast
A second-grader uses a computer to participate in an e-learning class on May 1, 2020 in Bartlett, Illinois. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

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Across Los Angeles last spring, public school students reported huge variation in how different teachers handled their classes after the coronavirus hit.

After campuses closed, some teachers hustled to recreate their pre-pandemic classrooms through a series of virtual meet-ups and chats. But the L.A. Unified School District did not require live, daily video instruction -- meaning other students saw and heard very little of their classmates or teachers after the lockdown.

Now negotiators for the district and United Teachers Los Angeles hammered out a plan designed to ensure more consistency in students' experiences when online classes resume in two weeks.

The tentative agreement, reached over the weekend and announced Monday, establishes a standard daily school schedule -- 9 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. -- and requires teachers in most grades to provide at least 90 minutes of live, "synchronous" instruction each day.

Under the deal, the first two days of LAUSD's academic year -- Aug. 18 and 19 -- will also be set aside for staff training, student orientation, and for ensuring kids have the laptops, internet devices or textbooks they need to begin classes in earnest on Aug. 20.

"Online instruction in the new school year," Superintendent Austin Beutner said in a video update, "will have more structure and standards and increased interaction between teachers and students. Schools will also provide one-on-one support -- both in person and online -- for students who need it most."


In a Facebook Live update to teachers union members, UTLA officials said the schedule strengthens the district's "crisis distance learning" program -- without accepting a district-proposed 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. schedule that the union contended would "micromanage" teachers' schedules.

"We never wavered from what we thought was the best crisis distance learning program possible," said Arlene Inouye, co-chair of the union's negotiating team, "knowing that we're living in an unprecedented pandemic where flexible schedules and supports absolutely must be provided."

According to a joint statement, the L.A. Unified School Board and UTLA's membership must ratify the agreement before it takes effect. The school board meets Tuesday. UTLA members will vote early next week.

If approved, the deal would expire at the end of December. The deal would also need to be renegotiated if LAUSD decided to reopen campuses, even for limited numbers of students.


Many of the broad strokes of Monday's agreement were mandated by a change in state law that requires "daily, live engagement" between students and teachers in all California public schools this fall. The new mandate made LAUSD's prior agreement with UTLA untenable.

California's Senate Bill 98 also requires public school teachers to take attendance each class period -- and restores the link between daily attendance and schools' funding.

The stakes of the negotiation were high. Some parents have bemoaned the inconsistency of last spring's program -- and have been agitating for more live instruction. LAUSD's own data also shows Latino and Black students were less likely than their white peers to meaningfully participate in online lessons. Similarly, students with disabilities and English learners were also less likely to engage.

One group of four parents -- through the advocacy organizations Parent Revolution and Innovate Public Schools -- may even file legal action against LAUSD. In a letter to top district officials last week, the parents' lawyer argued LAUSD deprived students of their right to an education under the state Constitution. The letter also asked pointed questions about the forthcoming deal with UTLA.

On Monday, the advocacy organizations issued a statement saying the new deal is an "insufficient improvement over the failed remote learning environment too many families experienced last spring."


California's new state law re-imposes requirements that students receive a minimum number of "instructional minutes." These minimums range from 180 minutes in kindergarten to 240 minutes for 4th through 12th grades.

LAUSD's new arrangement uses these minimums to structure schedules for each grade level:

Every Monday, students in some grade levels will have lighter loads of core coursework, with time set aside for teachers to attend trainings or plan lessons.

From Tuesday through Friday, students will spend more time in "synchronous" lessons. In general, "synchronous" means live lessons with teachers available virtually to offer real-time feedback -- but could also mean teacher-guided "peer-to-peer learning."

When students aren't engaging in live lessons, they'll be receiving "asynchronous" instruction -- which could mean independent, off-line work or pre-recorded video lessons. Even email communication counts as asynchronous instruction.

In many grade levels, there's time carved out of each day for small group lessons -- live or otherwise -- to address students' academic or socioemotional needs.


A few takeaways:

  • Mobilizing an army of substitute teachers. The deal calls for substitutes to be used to pinch-hit in a number of capacities, like leading breakout groups and helping teachers with their own virtual lessons. They could also play pivotal roles in special education, covering for special ed teachers who are attending Individualized Education Plan meetings or assessing a student. UTLA bargaining team member Victoria Casas made a pitch to substitutes to fill out a survey informing administrators of their availability: "Make sure the district knows how much you want to work, because the [subs] who want to work are going to be given work."
  • Administrators may sit in on virtual lessons, but they won't be evaluating tenured teachers. Under the deal, principals must give teachers prior notice that they'd like to observe and get the teacher's permission to record a lesson. But observations for teacher evaluations will be limited to teachers who have yet to receive "permanent" -- aka tenured -- status.
  • LAUSD cannot require teachers to return to campuses until they reopen for everyone. The district had initially proposed requiring teachers to lead distance learning lessons from their classrooms, but dropped this demand late last week. The deal explicitly makes this voluntary.
  • In special education, students with "similar goals and needs" may meet with psychologists and therapists in groups, "as appropriate." Last spring, many parents said regular physical, occupational, speech or behavior therapy sessions -- mandated in their students' IEPs -- were slow to resume, even long after general education classes had started up again.


On Monday, Beutner also unveiled district officials' broader plans for handling distance learning -- and for how the district may operate if and when coronavirus numbers take a turn in a positive direction.

Even during distance learning mode, Beutner also said tutoring from LAUSD staff will be available by appointment, either on-campus or online, to "students who need it the most." Saturday school options will also be offered.

In classes, the district's "Back to School" plan also calls for formal assessments of students to resume -- which will likely give teachers, at least at the classroom level, a portrait of how much "learning loss" has occurred since campuses closed on March 13.

When the school year begins, LAUSD will offer supervised care for the children of district employees at their school site from Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. In his video address, Beutner said the state's guidelines on essential workers allow the district to provide this support.

If public health conditions allow the district to reopen campuses to students, Beutner previewed plans to attempt to offer on-campus child care -- with LAUSD staff supervision -- to any students who aren't in classes.

But in his video address Monday, Beutner repeated one of his longstanding refrains: the public health conditions do not yet allow for reopening campuses. He said district officials will be watching both case counts and the rate at which COVID-19 tests come back positive in L.A. County.

For now, he said, "the threat from the virus is currently too great."

Kyle Stokes The deal aims to put LAUSD in compliance with California's new distance learning law. Mon, 03 Aug 2020 18:26:00 -0700 After Deal With Teachers Union, LAUSD Students Can Expect (Some) Live Lessons Every Day
Sheila Pharris-Moweta, from Neighborhood Housing Services of L.A. County, hopes to get a cleanup of her own started. (Caitlin Hernandez/LAist)

By Caitlin Hernandez and Giuliana Mayo

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Back in June, in the midst of Black Lives Matter protests, Dime Jones put up a post on Instagram asking people to come help clean up South Central Los Angeles. It was a huge success. More than 400 volunteers turned out. Then came thousands of social media posts, followed by Jones' forming Clean Up South Central, a nonprofit organization dedicated to continuing the work.

And now Angelenos have heeded Jones' Instagram call to action for a second time. Dozens of volunteers gathered their gear and cleaning supplies on Friday to do the work, this time in Watts.

Kelly Helmich and other participants clean up under the I-105 freeway on Central Avenue. (Caitlin Hernandez/LAist)

Many had been there for the first cleanup. Since that June event, Jones shared in a post that she'd "received a DM every day to do another cleanup." The event Friday was smaller in numbers, but still drew a crowd with some attendees saying they want to plan their own similar movements.

"At the time of protest, it was a great idea to not just protest, but to do some stuff, so, we've been following her and we decided to come out today and join her," said Sheila Pharris-Moeta of the non-profit organization Neighborhood Housing Services L.A. County.

Sky Bennike and her friends scrubs walls to remove grafitti along Central Avenue. (Caitlin Hernandez/LAist)

Pharris-Moeta, who stood out in a bright orange shirt and wide-brimmed straw hat, hopes that she and fellow coworkers could "get some ideas about how to do smaller socially-distanced cleanups." They hope to gain support to clean up more cities.

Lasoye Oladapo wielded an orange leaf blower as crews headed down Central Avenue. It was his second cleanup with the group.

"I'm just grateful for what I have," Oladapo said. "I've got a stable job, a roof over my head, healthy family and friends so I just decided to give back."

Oladapo noted that there were no words to express how it felt to see people make a direct, positive impact on a community.

Jones echoed his sentiment.

"Honestly, it's taken on a path of its own and I'm just happy to be a part of it," she said.

Tamia Matthis attended the first Clean Up South Central action, which was right down the street from where she lives. She says the streets are staying clean, something she hopes will be true for Watts.

"It's nice to have it not directly in South Central," she said. "But in Watts -- I feel like Watts is kind of overlooked in Los Angeles."

Tamia Mathis came to clean up as an alternative form of protesting, but noted that more neighborhoods still need help. (Caitlin Hernandez/LAist)

As for what she sees in the cleanups, Matthis said it's still an alternative form of protest. But just like with people standing in the streets -- signs in hand -- it's drawing fewer numbers on a regular basis, though the problems are still there.

"Well, one thing is that [Jones'] first event had such a bigger turnout, and I'm really disappointed because I feel like people are done doing the work and the work is not done," she said. "I need people to continue to come out and clean up because there's so many neighborhoods in Los Angeles that kind of just like need that little boost, that little uplift."

She said she's heard of more cleanups happening independently organized by other groups.

As for when Jones' next Clean Up South Central event may be, she was unclear, noting "don't wait for anybody to tell you when to do it, just do it."

LAist Staff Angelenos from all over gathered again in a Watts strip mall parking lot to protest -- weed wackers and leaf blowers in hand -- by cleaning up Central Avenue. Mon, 03 Aug 2020 11:45:19 -0700 South LA's Cleanup Protests: 'Don't Wait For Anybody To Tell You When To Do It'
Arts & Entertainment
Flaca takes a shot in Marco Finnegan's Lizard In A Zoot Suit. (Courtesy Lerner Books)

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Los Angeles's Zoot Suit Riots were an incident Latinx writer/artist/teacher Marco Finnegan says he remembered from watching the play Zoot Suit on PBS. But he didn't see the riots get attention very often, beyond popping up in the '90s swing revival song, "Zoot Suit Riot," and being seen from the perspective of white cops in the film, L.A. Confidential.

"It was just this weird thing in Chicano culture that you didn't really hear about," Finnegan said.

While L.A. had the largest population of Mexicans outside of Mexico in the 1930s and '40s, Finnegan didn't see that reflected in books or movies. So he ended up doing a deep dive on the Zoot Suit Riots, and the result is the new graphic novel he spent the past three years on, Lizard In A Zoot Suit. It tells the story of two Latinx teen girls going up against racist servicemen and a government-funded scientist -- with the help of a mysterious creature.

The project began with Finnegan talking with his mom about family memories of what happened. The riots happened over a week in 1943, when Navy servicemen and other white Angelenos attacked young Latinos who wore elaborate "zoot suits," a popular fashion at the time.

Zoot Suiters appear before a grand jury following the Zoot Suit Riots, on June 15, 1943. (Herald Examiner Collection, courtesy L.A. Public library)

Finnegan's project could have been a non-fiction history -- but as someone who enjoys the more fantastical, he decided to add a fable-like element to the story.

"I never saw kids like me having adventures," Finnegan said. "So many of the stories that feature Chicanos usually are about trauma, or oppression, or gangs, or overcoming something. And I didn't want to negate or diminish any of that, but I also wanted to say that adventures can happen to kids like us too."


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Lizard In A Zoot Suit's cover. (Courtesy Lerner Books)

That's when Finnegan got the idea of combining the riots with the efforts to drive Latinos out of their Chavez Ravine homes, as well as a significantly lesser-known myth from L.A. history: underground Mayan lizard people.

Wait. What?

OK, there were no actual lizard people, but geophysicist/mining engineer George Warren Shufelt did get permission from the city in the early 1930s to explore an old legend: under the city of L.A. were supposedly tunnels -- and treasure -- allegedly left behind by a race of... well, lizard people. Shufelt had promised that any treasure he found would be split with the city 50/50, and the effort was approved amidst the depths of the Great Depression.

"And I said, well, let's just assume that there really were Mayan lizard tunnels underneath L.A., and let's say that we fast-forward this, and they're using the riots as a way to dig up these people's homes and to hunt these creatures down," Finnegan said.

It's a departure from real life -- and yes, there is a literal lizard in a zoot suit at one point in the story -- but it's rooted in the real Chicano experience of the early 20th century.

A woman named Josie wearing a zoot suit in 1945 while waiting for the Red Car at E. 41st St. and Long Beach Ave. in Los Angeles. The restaurant on the corner is El Tonga. (Courtesy L.A. Public Library)

The story also centers around twin sisters Cuata and Flaca, with Cuata fitting more traditional gender norms while Flaca is a zoot-suiter herself. Each is rebelling in her own way. Finnegan was inspired after seeing "pachucas" of the time wearing those suits.

"Not every girl at every time falls into a category," he said. "These girls were tough, man. They were out there pulling cops off of their boyfriends, and getting into fights, and sticking up for themselves. And they were painted very poorly at the time -- they were either ignored, or they were painted as 'loose,' or 'gangsters.' I don't feel like there was a lot of support coming for them from either side."

Another piece of real-life history that gets rolled into the story: the "Sleepy Lagoon murder." It was a gang fight that resulted in one man's death, and gave authorities reason to believe young Chicanos were a menace. The case was seen as a precursor to the Zoot Suit Riots, fueling racism against Mexican-Americans. Finnegan uses the lagoon setting to dovetail with his story featuring a lizard person.

While filled with historical context, Finnegan's graphic novel is aimed at the young adult audience. The violence is shown as real, but not graphic, and there's a sense of uplift throughout. He hopes that the representation seen in his book can inspire others.

"I wanted it to be something that maybe these kids who were in the book would have enjoyed at the time," Finnegan said. "It becomes detrimental to your self-esteem to only see yourself as the gardener, as the maid, as the bad guy, as the thug."

He hopes that kids reading the book will see young people who look like them and families that speak like them. The book uses a mixture of Spanish and English, and doesn't translate for those who don't speak the language, using context clues in the artwork to communicate meaning. He also hopes that the book will inspire readers to dig deeper themselves.

Finnegan also sees the book as being more relevant now than when he started working on the project.

"You could set that story in the riots of the 1990s in South Central, and change some styles, and change maybe a couple of demographics, and the story would still resonate," Finnegan said. "You could fast-forward that story to last month, and that still resonates."

The Zoot Suit Riots had two different ideas of what being an American means coming to a head.

"And I think that's a lot of what we're doing now," Finnegan said "You have these extremes of, well, does being an American mean being silent? Or does it mean speaking up?"

Lizard In A Zoot Suit is available this Tuesday, Aug. 4. You can read a sneak preview of the new graphic novel below:

Mike Roe Chicano history meets sci-fi legend in "Lizard In A Zoot Suit." Mon, 03 Aug 2020 09:00:00 -0700 The Zoot Suit Riots Meet Underground LA Lizard People In This Graphic Novel
Arts & Entertainment
William Conrady, 80, and Bruce Hubbard keep pace on a monthly guided hike through Griffith Park on March 3, 1978. (Pam Kleinburg/Herald Examiner Collection/Los Angeles Public Library Collection)

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Like many Angelenos, journalist Charles Fleming didn't always think of the City of Angels as a walker's paradise.

"I was a car guy and a motorcycle guy - not a walking guy, especially not when I was in L.A. - until I was sidelined by back problems and back surgeries," Fleming recalls. "The only thing that relieved the pain was light walking, so I started walking. As I got stronger and was walking farther, I decided to investigate the forgotten public staircases of my Silver Lake neighborhood. I got hooked, fell in love with a city that I'd known principally as a series of off-ramps."

Through his books Secret Stairs and Secret Walks, his L.A. Walks column in the Los Angeles Times and public tours, Fleming has introduced thousands of locals to some of the city's best spots to stroll. With COVID-19 quarantine restrictions limiting many of our social outlets, more Angelenos are exploring the city by foot.

"I know from direct personal experience that people have been induced to investigate walking and hiking by the 'stay at home' quarantine period because I have gotten so many letters from them saying that," Fleming says.

They're hardly the first. Angelenos have always loved a good trek, whether it's an urban stroll among manicured gardens or a strenuous hike with scenic views.

The Silver Lake Stairs, circa 2010. (Spot Us/Flickr Creative Commons)


From the beginning of the American period in Los Angeles, city boosters sold Southern California to the rest of the world as an outdoor paradise, waiting to be discovered.

"'Ah, there!' Behold, three young ladies of fashion determinedly, though circumspectly, hiking up the Mt. Lowe trail in the year 1902. Mountaineering was quite the thing in those halcyon times, but if anyone had so much as mentioned hiking outfits with 'shorts' to these gals, they probably would have hidden their blushes in the shubbery." (Herald Examiner Collection/Los Angeles Public Library Collection)

"To our careless critics in the eastern press, who assume that everything here was lost in what they call a collapsed boom... can a man in health or a man out of health ask for any better home?" the Los Angeles Times asked in 1889. "The fact remains that outdoor life is possible and enjoyable here for 300 days of every year."

Hiking would become an early expression of this SoCal spirit.

"As far back as the late 1800s, the mountains of Los Angeles were drawing walkers to trails above the communities of Pasadena, Altadena and Sierra Madre -- many of them trails left by the Gabrielino and Tongva native people and later developed and expanded by [naturalist and author] John Muir," Fleming says.

This enthusiasm for the outdoors led to the region's "Great Hiking Era," which ran roughly from the 1880s to the 1930s, according to historian Mark Landis.

"Hundreds, and perhaps even thousands of hikers used to travel up and down these trails every week-end," Arthur N. Carter wrote in a 1937 edition of Trails Magazine. "The procession of laughing and singing hikers would begin early Saturday afternoon and continue until dusk, or, on Sunday afternoon, the hikers came down, many of them foot-sore and subdued, and climbed onto the special Pacific Electric cars waiting to take them back to Los Angeles and adjacent towns."

These hordes of hikers were encouraged by an enthusiastic local press, which ran op-eds by doctors touting the health benefits of walking.

1938: Two women, possibly mother and daughter, hike through Hollywoodland, in this view that captures a little bit of the San Fernando Valley. (Herman J. Schultheis Collection/Los Angeles Photographers Collection/Los Angeles Public Library Collection)

"Great is the joy of spending the entire time in the open air, among the trees and birds, where all is harmonious, at the seashore, the lake or mountain, where are found renewed vigor and health, after indulging in exercise of fishing, rowing, driving, riding, walking, hill or mountain climbing," the Los Angeles Times reported in 1904.

It was also an acceptable form of exercise for women and children. "Every woman who does not have active occupation should walk from three to five miles each day," a local doctor told the Los Angeles Times in 1893.

The "great outdoors," especially the areas owned and operated by the government, were technically open to everyone, regardless of race. People of color could use public trails, parks and boardwalks although they faced prejudice and were sometimes denied service by private vendors, according to historian Alison Rose Jefferson, author of Living the California Dream, African American Leisure Sites during the Jim Crow Era. "The civil rights laws said these places were open to all, but sometimes incidents of discrimination did happen," Jefferson tells LAist via email.

Charles Lummis in "frontier" dress with a sarape slung over his shoulder sits for his portrait. (Security Pacific National Bank Collection/Los Angeles Photographers Collection/Los Angeles Public Library Collection)

Some of L.A.'s early tastemakers and trendsetters were prodigious walkers and hikers.

"One of the leading citizens of the early Los Angeles metropolis was a prodigious walker," Fleming says. "Charles Lummis was working as a newspaperman in Cincinnati when, in 1884, he was offered a job by the Los Angeles Times. Lummis accepted and walked to work -- literally, covering more than 3,500 miles, on foot, over a four-month period. He was given the job of city editor when he arrived, and would later go on to work as city librarian and to found the Southwest Museum."

According to historian Mark Landis, the first popular trail of the Great Hiking Era was in Arroyo Seco Canyon. It was built in the 1880s by Commodore Perry Switzer who also built a rustic camp approximately 15 miles up trail. It came to be known as Switzer Camp or Switzer-land.

"The going was a little tough... with some 60 stream crossings, either on foot or, twice a week, on a pack-mule," historian Paul R. Spitzzeri writes of the trail. "The reward, however, was the ability to camp in a gorgeous spot, including a nearby waterfall, just a short distance from 'civilization.'"

Other popular rest spots would soon open along Southern California's mountain trails.

"Nearby, a prospector named Charley Chantry built tents and hired donkeys to ramblers, and Chantry Flats, named after Charley, still offers donkey rentals at Adams' Pack Station," Fleming says. "You can hike Charley Chantry's trail past the site of his original campsites today. In Sierra Madre, you can still visit Lizzie's Trail Inn, which for 100 years outfitted hikers making their way up the Mt. Wilson Trail. Lizzie isn't selling meals anymore but people are still climbing the trail."

The view from Chantry Flat Road on Feb. 9, 2020. (jingke888/Flickr Creative Commons)

Hiking Mount Wilson, the peak of the San Gabriel Mountains, would also become a popular trip. "Pilgrims pass by in... khaki shorts, skirts, following the lead of puttee legging... Some 'hike' upwards without casting a look behind," the Los Angeles Times reported in 1909. "A large square pasteboard tacked to a tree naively announced that a couple are making the ascent on their very wedding day. The boulders are daubed with such messages as 'Hello, Bill,' [and] 'Keep moving,' in big capitals and red paint."

Exterior view of Mt. Wilson Toll House. Sign on left reads, "Private way to entrance to toll road to Mount Wilson..." (Security Pacific National Bank Collection/Los Angeles Public Library Collection)

The payoff was at Mount Wilson's peak according to Times columnist Lee Shippey:

"One stirring hiking trip includes a start up the Mount Wilson trail at about 11pm which brings the hikers to the peak at about sunrise - the night view is one never to be forgotten. Here and there through the darkness, 6,000 feet below, the little starry towns bloom out, with great cities lying in the background like seas of light."

Panoramic night view of the lights of Los Angeles and the adjoining cities, as far distant as 60 miles, as seen from Mount Lowe. Photo taken by Prof. Ferdinand Ellerman, an astronomer at Mount Wilson Observatory. (Security Pacific National Bank Collection/Los Angeles Public Library Collection)


Not everyone wanted to get that close to nature. For those who preferred more "civilized" roams, there were the wealthy and overwhelmingly white Victorian enclaves of Hollywood and Pasadena. The flowering grounds of painter Paul De Longpre's Hollywood estate, located at what is now Hollywood and Cahuenga boulevards, would become one of L.A.'s earliest walking meccas. Opened to the public in 1901, it was packed with day-trippers and tourists, who often found De Longpre strolling or painting in his garden.

Paul De Longpre's home was located on the west side of Cahuenga Blvd. at Hollywood Blvd. on property he obtained from Mrs. Daeda Wilcox Beveridge after he moved to Los Angeles in 1889. The artist, who was born in Lyons, France, desired 65-foot-deep lots on which to develop an extensive flower garden. At one time, he had 4,000 roses, which he masterfully depicted in his paintings. Many tourists visited his garden and art gallery over the years. The home was demolished in 1927. (R. & E. Co. Photo./Security Pacific National Bank Collection/Los Angeles Public Library Collection)

In 1907, the Los Angeles Times reported on a group of Shriners who had come to visit the gardens:

"In and out of the brilliant gardens there wandered such companies of the red-fezzed nobles and their wives and sweethearts that every walk was packed and every bower filled... In the pretty summer houses at various points through the grounds, refreshments were served by young ladies who carried baskets of the choicest flowers for distribution as boutonnieres and gave them out with winning smiles that at once made a hit with the Shriners."

De Longpre died in the house in 1911 and the estate, along with its beautiful gardens, was demolished in the 1920s.

An amusement park boat ride inside of Busch Gardens, located next to the Anheuser-Busch brewery in Van Nuys, in the San Fernando Valley. (Security Pacific National Bank Collection/Los Angeles Public Library Collection)

In 1909, beer baron Adolphus Busch and his wife, Lily, opened the gardens of their Pasadena estate to the public, giving birth to the original Busch Gardens.

Featuring a 14-acre, formally planted "upper garden" and a 16-acre, informal "lower garden," the Busch Estate, the ruins of which can still be seen today, attracted visitors from around the world.

"At times, it seemed that every walk in both gardens were crowded with sightseers. In addition to this, every seat was filled the greater part of the time. The day was delightful and almost everyone was out of doors," the Los Angeles Times reported in 1910.

The Great Hiking Era was also a time of expansion for L.A. County's public park system.

A boat on Echo Park Lake, circa 1937. (Herman J. Schultheis Collection/Los Angeles Photographers Collection/)

"I am drawn to water, so I love walking around Lake Hollywood or up to the lesser known Peanut Lake and around Echo Park's lake, MacArthur Park's lake and the former Eastlake, known now as Lincoln Park, and Hollenbeck Park," Fleming says. "These last four were constructed by the leaders of a new city that was determined to create safe, attractive spaces for people to enjoy the California sunshine they came to Los Angeles to find. More than a hundred years later, they're still doing that."

MacArthur Park, created in the 1880s under the name Westlake Park, was later renamed after General Douglas MacArthur. This picture, from 1937, gives an aerial view of the park looking east from the top of the Elks Club Building. (Security Pacific National Bank Collection/Los Angeles Public Library Collection)

In the years before World War I, there was no better place to promenade and peacock than MacArthur Park (then known as Westlake Park), which was surrounded by what was, at the time, one of L.A.'s fanciest neighborhoods.

In 1896, the Los Angeles Times reported on a day filled with society swells:

"All day the walks were crowded... two well-dressed young men, with canes, gloves, stiff hats and all the gorgeous paraphernalia of the youth of the century, were wandering in majestic magnificence around the drive, when a puff of wind lifted the hats of both from their heads, gently depositing each under the wheels of a passing carriage... another man, who was escorting two ladies, and who was descanting fluently to them of the glories of the universe in general and Southern California in particular, was wandering near the edge of the boathouse platform, and calmly stepped over the edge into eight feet of water."

Even graveyards like Evergreen Cemetery (which had always been open to people of all races and religions, both for burial and visitation) and Hollywood Forever (which had not) were laid out as walkable parks, meant to be enjoyed in multiple ways -- walking, carriage rides, picnicking, memorial events.

Bathers swim in the water or sit on the beach in front of the bathhouse, aka the Plunge, at The Long Beach Pike. When the Pacific Electric line to Long Beach was built, this bath house was built on the beach, near the end of the street car line.Opened in 1902, the Pike ran until 1979. (Security Pacific National Bank Collection/Los Angeles Public Library Collection)

If a stroll among the dead wasn't your thing, there were the coastal boardwalks and piers. One of the most popular was the Long Beach Pike. Opened in 1902, its concrete walkway was 35 feet across and lit at night by twinkling Edison bulbs, hence its nickname, the "Walk of a Thousand Lights."

While all Southern Californians were technically allowed on the Pike, some of them faced racism and discrimination. In 1910 Charles Looff built a hippodrome on the Pike and banned Black patrons except at certain times. In an article for KCET, historian D.J. Waldie says Looff posted a sign that read:

"'Colored people and their friends are welcome after 9 o'clock Saturday nights.' When African-American visitors protested, Looff told the Los Angeles Times that "his amusement is run for ladies and children and he will not agree to any modification of his rules."

The Pike closed in 1979 but in its heyday, it was a place "where fully dressed vacationers could stroll, visiting the shops and other attractions on the land side of the walk, and stepping off the sand and water on the other side," according to historian Joan Mickelson. During the 1920s and 1930s, the number of Los Angeles parks, both public and private, boomed, feeding the popularity of walking and hiking as pastimes.

Exposition Park, circa 1937: Originally named Agricultural Park in 1876, the 160-acre site was developed and served as an agricultural and horticultural fairground until approximately 1910, when t was renamed Exposition Park. In 1913, it was formally dedicated and became the home to the county Museum of History, Science and Art. Senator John Works dedicated the fountain as a commemoration of the Owens River Aqueduct whose grand opening coincided with the park's opening. (Herman J. Schultheis Collection/Los Angeles Photographers Collection/)

In 1927, the city-funded Exposition Park became a fashionable stroll when it was transformed into a resplendent rose garden with a central pond, pergolas and a fountain that changed color at night. Rachel Robinson, widow of baseball legend Jackie Robinson, recalled loving the garden as a child, the only place her mother would allow her walk alone.

A year later, Huntington Gardens, with its magnificent museum and formal gardens, opened in San Marino. Susan Turner-Lower, Vice President for Communications at the Huntington, says her research points to the gardens being open to people of all races (except for young children) from the start.

1941: Fern Dell, part of Griffith Park, is so named because it is covered with ferns and other luscious tropical growth. This photo shows vegetation on both sides of a walking path which crossing over what is probably a small creek. (Security Pacific National Bank Collection/Los Angeles Public Library Collection)

In the early 1930s, the weird and rustic Fern Dell opened in Griffith Park. According to the Los Angeles Times, a "walkway with rustic seats line the side of the ravine and occasionally cross the babbling stream on picturesque bridges built of stone and logs." The dell proved popular with photographers and tourists, who tramped in with buckets so they could drink the stream water, which they believed had been blessed with magical powers by Native Americans who once called the area home.


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Although people of color were technically welcome to camp and hike in government-owned parks and nature reserves (such as Griffith Park and Catalina Island) and did so when they felt safe, they were often barred from beaches and swimming pools. So Black Southern Californians created their own resort centers. In Living the California Dream, Jefferson describes Val Verde, known as "the black Palm Springs," and Lake Elsinore, both of which boasted ample opportunities for swimming, camping and hiking in nature.

L.A.'s Great Hiking Era drew to a close in the late 1930s. World War II was on the horizon, and the rise of freeways and car culture made walking seem like a boring, old-fashioned pastime. But Southern California has never stopped delighting us with its walking paths, parks, hiking trails and outdoor wonders -- and maybe the coronavirus pandemic will inspire people to seek them out.

Hadley Meares From Los Angeles's earliest days as a city, boosters have sold it as an outdoor paradise, waiting to be explored on foot. It still is. Mon, 03 Aug 2020 08:00:00 -0700 Take A Walk From LA's 'Great Hiking Era' And Stroll Back In Time
Arts & Entertainment
A scene from the 'Parkland Rising' documentary, which airs on The Young Turks website and YouTube page. (Abramorama)

Coronavirus is 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.

Go forest bathing at The Arboretum. Find out how xenophobia smells. Listen to two BFFs talk about Big Friendship. Watch a documentary on young activists as they attempt to change gun control laws. Gather the kids for an online cooking class with chef Jet Tila.

Monday, Aug. 3; 4 p.m.

Parkland Rising
Watch the documentary that follows young activists from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and their families as they turn the tragic 2018 mass shooting at their school into stricter gun control laws. Directed by Emmy-winning filmmaker Cheryl Horner McDonough, the film will be streamed live on The Young Turks YouTube channel and

Monday, Aug. 3; 9 - 10:30 a.m.

Smells Like Xenophobia: An Olfactive History of Otherness
The Institute for Art and Olfaction has been holding a number of online workshops during the pandemic. On Monday, drop in for a history and culture lesson that explores "centuries of allusions to olfactive disgust in the rhetoric of hate." This Zoom class covers tough subject material and uses some disturbing images.

Monday, Aug. 3; 7:30 p.m. PDT

breakfast lunch dinner
The Echo Theater Company holds an online reading of this three-course play written by Kira Obolensky. Watch the ebbs and flows of a middle-class Midwestern family over a 21-year span. Taking place mostly in a modest urban kitchen, the family strives to nourish and be nourished, both physically and emotionally. Samantha Cavestani, Brian Henderson, Megan Ketch and Carol Locatell star. Abigail Deser directs.

Monday, Aug. 3; 5 - 6 p.m.

Lapkus and Tompkins VS The Cloud Goblin (Live-stream)
Comedians Lauren Lapkus and Paul F. Tompkins perform an online, two-person improv set. The livestream link will be sent in an Eventbrite confirmation email.
COST: $5 - $10; MORE INFO

Monday, Aug. 3; 8 a.m. - 11:59 p.m.

Yellow Face
Sierra Madre Playhouse offers an encore online presentation of a reading of David Henry Hwang's semi-autobiographical play. It will be available to registered viewers on YouTube beginning at 8 a.m. on Monday. Since the reading runs two hours with a brief intermission, guests must start to watch by 9:30 p.m. in order to see the entire event.
COST: FREE with RSVP, but donations accepted; MORE INFO

Chef Jet Tila, pictured above at a Sabra hummus pop-up last year in New York, teaches a workshop for Rachael Ray's cooking camp for kids. (Brian Ach/Getty Images for Sabra)

Wednesday, Aug. 5; 11 a.m. PDT

Rachael Ray's Yum-o-Cooking Camp
The Food Network star and her celebrity chef friends are running a free, online cooking camp for kids (and their families) through Aug. 14. On Wednesday, learn how to cook beef and broccoli stir fry with perfect jasmine rice from L.A.'s own Jet Tila. After registering for the class, participants will receive an additional email with Zoom link, recipe, ingredients and necessary utensils. Proceeds from donations will be split between the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and Rachael Ray's Yum-o! scholarship for students to attend Florida International University's Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management.

Wednesday, Aug. 5; 6 - 8 p.m. PDT

Forest Bathing
Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden
301 N. Baldwin Ave., Arcadia
The Arboretum brings back its wellness classes, with masks and physical distancing required to participate. On Wednesday, experience forest bathing, a Japanese-inspired practice of Shinrin Yoku. This form of nature therapy is said to boost immunity, reduce stress and improve cognitive functioning. Ben Page will guide participants through the walk and explain how best to interact with the land. Limited to 15 people.
COST: $35 - $45; MORE INFO

Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow discuss their new book, 'Big Friendship.' (Milan Zrnic, courtesy of ALOUD )

Thursday, Aug. 6; 5 p.m. PDT

Big Friendship: A Conversation
Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman, bicoastal bffs and podcast cohosts (Call Your Girlfriend), discuss their book Big Friendship with writer Glory Edim, founder of the Well-Read Black Girl book club and network. They'll talk about platonic love and how social science proves the value of friendship. The event takes place via Zoom. A link will be sent after RSVP.
COST: Free - $31 (includes book); MORE INFO

Thursday, Aug. 6; 6:45 p.m. PDT

Out of the Blue: Stories of Surprise
The Moth's virtual Mainstage show features stories that are told (not read) about startling discoveries, bolts out of the blue and uncovered truths. Hosted by Jon Goode, the show will be streamed via Zoom.
COST: $15 per household; MORE INFO

Through Sunday, Nov. 1

Archive Machines
The Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery's physical space in Barnsdall Park remains closed so this year's juried exhibition moves online. The interactive web format asks both artists and guests to engage with various activities. The exhibition, which brings together 44 artists whose works examine archival structures and materials, features work by Jamie Adams, Caroline Clerc, Natalie Delgadillo, Danny Jauregui, Dina Kelberman, Audrey Leshay, Maura Murnane, Lenard Smith, Allison Stewart and Rachel Zaretsky.


Lunchmeat VHS Six Pack
The indie printed magazine that celebrates the obscure and esoteric in cinema, particularly horror and exploitation films, teams with the Alamo Drafthouse to offer six films that celebrate old school VHS culture. Films included in the bundle are WNUF Halloween Special (2013), Split (1989), Invasion of the Scream Queens (1992), CreepTales (2004) and the documentaries At The Video Store (2019) and Adjust Your Tracking (2013). These films are available in an HD digital format.
COST: $13 for rent and $42 to buy; MORE INFO

The Oyster Gourmet at the Grand Central Market in DTLA celebates National Oyster Day on Wednesday, Aug. 5 (The Oyster Gourmet)

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.

  • The Oyster Gourmet at Grand Central Market celebrates National Oyster Day on Wednesday, Aug. 5, and guests who visit the oyster-shaped eatery receive 50% off all oysters and 50% off paired wines* for al fresco dining at the Market. You can also get your bivalves to go through the OYTOGO transportable oyster platter. The oysters are presented on ice to be enjoyed up to 4 hours after pick-up and complete with all the traditional accoutrements. Platters ($45-$120) must be ordered 24 hours in advance. (The 50% off deal does not apply to platters on National Oyster Day.)

  • Gelato Festival in West Hollywood has teamed with SHERBINSKIS cannabis brand to launch the vegan gelato and sorbet desserts, Sunset Sherbert and Bacio Gelato 41 with zero THC/CBD. The treats are available in pints, cones and popsicles, running from $9 to $18 and are available at SHERBINSKIS namesake dispensary in Fairfax and at Gelato Festival.

  • Terra, Eataly LA's outdoor rooftop restaurant, launches a cocktail collaboration series with beverage experts, bartenders and distilleries to showcase different cocktails each week. Ventura Spirits pops up every Thursday in August from 5 to 9 p.m. A portion of the proceeds go to the Restaurants Care relief fund.

  • Chef Dave Beran open Tidbits by Dialogue, a 30-seat, temporary wine bar and small plates restaurant located on the second floor patio of the Gallery Food Hall overlooking the 3rd Street Promenade. The menu changes often and will be driven by the farmers market. Tidbits is open Wednesday through Saturday starting at 4 p.m.

  • Rustic Canyon has added "Snack Time," every Wednesday to Sunday from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. Their version of happy hour offers more casual fare as well as fancy snacks and cocktails in the restaurant's new parking lot patio.
Christine N. Ziemba Go forest bathing. Find out how xenophobia smells. Listen to two BFFs talk about friendship. Grab the kids for an online cooking class with chef Jet Tila. Watch a documentary on young gun control activists. Mon, 03 Aug 2020 06:00:00 -0700 The Best Online And IRL Events This Week: Aug. 3 - 6
Chris Ellsworth helps an evacuee with finding hotel rooms for his family. (Josie Huang/LAist)

Wildfire evacuees used to be able to count on sheltering at their local high schools or rec centers. But those fleeing the Apple fire in Riverside County are finding out that the coronavirus has eliminated that option.

Socially distancing wouldn't be possible had the American Red Cross set up dozens of cots in the gym of Beaumont High School. Instead, volunteers are trying to place evacuees in hotel rooms, which the Red Cross books and pays for.

"We're gonna need a place to sleep tonight," said Richard Dixon, 93, as he and his wife, Barbara, sat down to fill out an application.

The Cherry Valley couple were among the 7,800-plus people ordered to evacuate as the Apple fire has spread over 20,516 acres since Friday afternoon.

Cal Fire Capt. Chris Bruno said more than 1,200 firefighters from across the state were battling the blaze, which was at 12% containment as of Sunday afternoon.

But he said the Apple fire had a lot of potential to get bigger because of the high temperatures, low humidity and fuel beds -- the dried vegetation on hillsides.

"The western-facing slopes dries out that fuel bed, and then that is just primed for the wildland fires," Bruno said.

As of Sunday afternoon, the American Red Cross had helped just under 40 people -- a tiny sliver of the estimated 7,800 people displaced since Friday evening by the fire, the region's largest so far this year.

But word had begun to spread on social media that the Red Cross was offering rooms to evacuees. Marcella Mejia of Banning came by the high school after seeing the information on Facebook. She needs rooms for herself, her husband and their three children.

Firefighters had knocked on their door Friday night telling them to evacuate. The family quickly gathered their two dogs and 15 chickens and transported them to a friend's home. They've stayed with friends for the past two nights.

"We were told when we moved to Banning that it was a very high-risk area for fires," Mejia said. "But you never imagine this happening."

Rooms were not always immediately available. Chris Ellsworth, the Red Cross volunteer leading operations at the high school, said that other evacuees were independently looking for rooms, as were departments responding to the Apple fire, such as the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

"You have a number of different groups of people looking for the same set of limited resources," Ellsworth said.

Richard and Barbara Dixon socially distanced in the Beaumont High School gym as they waited for their hotel assignment. (Josie Huang/LAist)

Richard and Barbara Dixon had gotten a hotel room through the Red Cross on Friday, but it was for only one night. When they didn't see the Red Cross in the high school parking lot on Saturday, they found another room on their own.

The couple then realized the Red Cross had moved operations indoors and came by on Sunday for help. The couple was asked to review a list of coronavirus symptoms and make note if they had any.

"Muscle pain, fatigue, loss of taste or smell, nausea," Richard Dixon intoned. "No. No problem."

The couple asked to wait for their hotel assignment in the gym. A volunteer led the Dixons to the stands and asked them to socially distance from others.

The couple, misunderstanding the instruction, gamely sat apart from each other as he mustered a laugh: "What you gotta do, you gotta do."

Josie Huang Social distancing requirements means the American Red Cross can't provide cots at the local high school. Sun, 02 Aug 2020 15:33:41 -0700 The Apple Fire -- And Coronavirus -- Leaves Some Evacuees Scrambling For Shelter
This sign was taped to the gate of Mayor Eric Garcetti's residence on Saturday, Aug. 1. (Josie Huang/KPCC)

Hundreds of protesters gathered outside Mayor Garcetti's mansion Saturday afternoon to call for the cancellation of rent during the pandemic.

The timing of the event -- the first of August -- was intentional, with some protesters pointing out it was the fifth "rent day" since stay-at-home orders put many people out of jobs and behind on the rent.

The protest planned by the People's City Council, was without major incident until the event ended nearly three hours later, when dozens of police started to clear out the street outside the Getty House.

After LAPD grabbed a teenager to be cited for being a pedestrian in a roadway, tensions escalated quickly, as protesters promised to help the teen get out of police custody.

LAPD said officers arrested three people on suspicion of battery on a police officer; on suspicion of resisting arrest; and suspicion of trying to free an arrestee.

The day had started playfully with a mariachi band blaring out bouncy tunes, even as protesters spoke urgently about the need to cancel rent.

A faux eviction notice was taped to the front gate of Getty House, telling the mayor that "you are hereby notified that you will be evicted from your mansion if you do not cancel rent within 3 days of receipt of this notice." (Getty House is the city-owned official residence for the mayor.)

During lulls in the music, people would take turns speaking, with some such as protester R.J. Dawson predicting a swell of evictions once the city's temporary moratorium lifts.

"Then we're going to be asking for them to house us because now we're part of the unhoused population," Dawson said.

Landlord groups have sounded the alarm that cancelling rent would bankrupt apartment owners.

But Nicole Donanian-Blandón with the People's City Council and the L.A. Tenants Union said renters need to be protected from landlords pressuring them into predatory agreements that force them "to hand over their stimulus checks (and) set up these really impossible rent payback programs, which is all illegal."

Donanian-Blandón and other protesters also called on Garcetti and other officials to create more homeless housing in vacant hotel rooms. As of mid-July, L.A. County had housed fewer than 4,000 homeless people in hotels, short of its 15,000 person goal.

"We know that the only cure for this right now is to be able to shelter in place and be able to have a home,"Donanian-Blandón said. "And they can't do that if they're on the street and then also being swept up by the city."

Protesters moved from the mayor's office to the intersection of Wilshire Boulevard and Crenshaw Boulevard for about a half hour, as police watched from street corners.

A cluster of protesters jeered at some of the officers. On a street corner, a Black LAPD commander verbally sparred with protesters.

But the situation stayed calm until the protest began to break up around 4:40 p.m.

The Mayor's residence received another visit early Sunday morning. This time it was Black Lives Matter-LA protesters speaking out on LAPD reforms and defunding the police.

Josie Huang Three people were arrested as the nearly-three hour protest was breaking up. Sun, 02 Aug 2020 08:58:35 -0700 Garcetti Gets A House Call From Protesters Demanding Protection For Renters
An "I Voted" sticker is included in a mail-in ballot package. (ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)

By Chris Nichols/Capital Public Radio

President Donald Trump on Thursday repeated what election experts across the United States say is a false distinction between "absentee" and "mail-in" voting, one that experts say threatens to sow confusion and undermine confidence in this fall's election results.

In a tweet that grabbed the nation's attention -- mostly because Trump suggested postponing the Nov. 3 election (something only Congress can do) -- the president also claimed absentee voting is "good," while again making the false assertion that mail-in voting is "fraudulent."

What Is Absentee Voting?

For decades, people have been allowed to request absentee ballots if they were sick, disabled or were traveling during the election so they could cast their vote by mail. A majority of states, however, no longer require voters to submit a reason to request an absentee ballot. The term has been phased out in many states, including California, in favor of "mail-in" voting or "vote-by-mail."

In a recent article, found Trump, who voted by mail himself in 2018 and again in this year's primary, has on numerous occasions said absentee voting includes stronger safeguards and verification.

Elections experts from California to Colorado to Florida told us that's simply not the case.

"There's really no distinction," said Darren Hutchinson, a law professor at the University of Florida and an elections expert, reacting to Trump's effort to draw a line between absentee and mail-in voting. "So, it's basically a falsehood that's been repeated over and over and over again."

There are 34 states plus Washington, D.C. that offer what's called "no excuse" absentee voting, also simply called mail-in voting, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Under that system, voters do not need to attest that they will be out of the voting jurisdiction on election day, or that they cannot get to the polls because of an illness or disability.

There is no special process that absentee out-of-town voters go through that other mail-in voters do not, Hutchinson said.

There are eight states, including Texas, Indiana and New York, where in-person voting "remains the only option unless people can provide an approved reason not related to fear of the coronavirus," according to The Washington Post.

Hutchison said elections officials in these states simply check to ensure an approved excuse is listed on the form, but they do not verify those excuses.

'Fundamentally, it's the same thing'

Election experts said the same safeguards and verification process apply to all methods of voting. To register, a voter must be a citizen of that state and be of voting age.

"Fundamentally, it's the same thing," said Amber McReynolds, Denver's former director of elections and chief executive officer of the National Vote at Home Institute. "Ballots are handled exactly the same regardless of whether or not it's an absentee ballot or a vote-by-mail ballot."

Jessica Levinson, an elections expert at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, called Trump's effort to draw a line between absentee and mail-in voting "a largely false distinction."

"It is not the case that there is one bucket of absentee balloting that is much safer, and then vote-by-mail just lacks all integrity, or vice versa," she said.

Levinson added that some of the confusion over the terms absentee and mail-in voting is generational. In California, election officials are phasing out the term absentee, but it was commonly used within recent decades. Whether someone uses it "is really more of an indication of when you started applying to vote-by-mail."

Also in California, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a law in June requiring counties to send all active registered voters a mail-in ballot about a month before the Nov. 3 election.

Newsom said the move was necessary so that people would not have to risk their health by voting at polling places amid the COVID-19 pandemic. California will also provide some in-person voting options.

Six other states plus Washington D.C. plan to automatically send mail-in ballots to voters. Many other states allow voters to request those ballots.

Sam Mahood, spokesman for the California Secretary of State's Office, agreed there's no distinction between absentee and mail-in voting.

"We essentially do not use the term 'absentee' anymore in California," Mahood wrote in an email.

Hutchinson, the Florida law professor, said the president should be well aware that absentee and mail-in voting are now essentially the same thing.

As for why Trump continues to make this false distinction, Hutchison suggested the president "is trying to create uncertainty about the outcome" of the Nov. 3 election.

"It's just a way of having people question the outcome if he loses," he said.

CapRadio and PolitiFact California will continue answering questions about vote-by-mail and fact-checking similar topics through the November 2020 election. Email us your questions at, or contact us on Twitter or Facebook.

LAist Staff An "I Voted" sticker is included in a mail-in ballot package. (ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images) By Chris Nichols/Capital Public Radio President Donald Trump on Thursday repeated what election experts across the United States say is a false distinction between "absentee"... Sat, 01 Aug 2020 10:00:16 -0700 Election Experts Say Trump Draws False Contrast Between Absentee And Mail-In Voting
(Photo by Flor Del Desierto via unsplash/Illustration by Chava Sanchez, LAist)

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My first time in El Paso, I was on a cross-country road trip.

I had been indoctrinated by the images I had seen on TV and film about Texas. Big flags. Big steaks. Fried and slathered in white gravy.

I remember ordering a chicken fried steak that was kind of terrible. And I realized, in each terrible bite, that I didn't know El Paso. Luckily for me, just outside the small restaurant, in a strip mall parking lot, there was a taco truck.

It was there, eating tacos as my cell phone carrier switched back and forth from AT&T to Mexico's Telcel, that I realized El Paso was a lot like me: American, made by Mexican ancestors, and really neither of those at the same time.

I remember feeling this kind romantic hopelessness as I drove along El Río Grande.

This Monday marks the one-year anniversary of the last time I was reminded of this fatalistic feeling, the day last August when 23 people were murdered at an El Paso Walmart by a racist who drove all the way down from a Dallas suburb to this beautiful Mexican American passageway to stop "the Hispanic invasion of Texas."

It's a stark reminder that images matter. Words matter.

The El Paso I once had in my head, a Texas from cowboy movies and the Food Network, was both the opposite of what the murderer had in his head -- a border town under siege, as the border is often portrayed in President Trump's pontifications -- and the ideal imagined image he was trying to save from people like me.

It's a tragedy that will stay with me like visions of flickering lights from Juarez across the pitch black waters of the International Reservoir at night.

Even as I sat in Southeast Los Angeles 12 months ago, trying to somehow will accurate representation of Mexican American existence into mainstream media, film and TV, I could feel the pain and bravery of the Anchondos who died shielding their infant son.

Days later, I cried tears over images of the handmade crosses, each representing someone who was killed. And all last summer, I lay in bed thinking about what it must be like to be Guillermo Garcia laboring over multiple wounds in his hospital bed.

I remember thinking about writing a movie about Guillermo, and that maybe if there were more movies, shows, stories about people like him, there would be fewer people trying to kill us.

Here was a man who, against systemic racism, achieved the idyllic American Dream. He married his high school sweetheart. They had a boy and a girl. Guillermo was big and strong. He earned the nickname Tank as a foreman on construction sites.

On Aug. 3, 2019, an otherwise beautiful Saturday morning, Guillermo was raising money for his daughter's soccer team by selling snacks outside of a Walmart when a man, who drove 10 hours overnight, opened fire from an assault rifle. Guillermo had to use his relatively large body to shield his wife and son from a barrage of bullets.

And somehow, he survived and was in the hospital recovering while the nation dealt with a barrage of many more bullets at mass shootings in Dayton, Ohio; Odessa and Midland, Texas; Santa Clarita; New Orleans; Jersey City. And a few days before El Paso, in Gilroy.

Because long before the coronavirus pandemic, gun violence has been a plague disproportionately killing Black and Latin American people.

Guillermo was in the hospital as COVID-19 raged across the country. Finally, Guillermo died from his wounds, nine months after the massacre, in the middle of the pandemic, having never left the hospital to go home to his wife, son and daughter.

He was my age.

I've been to El Paso many times since that first clueless stop years ago. Some of the best food I have had were tripas tacos from an El Paso taquero and trompo tacos at a rodeo. Some of the best people I have met are from El Paso, like a woman named Arlene who took me to eat pupusas and talk about the failures of the two party-system.

One weekend a few years ago, I sold hats for a narcocorrido banda at a festival held on the racetrack of the Sunland Park Casino, just outside El Paso. All along the track, Latino and Latina street vendors sold toys, popcorn, tamales and more to a packed arena of Mexican American families. It was like a true turn-of-the-century portrait of Southwest Texas.

I'm wondering now, in the midst of a brand new civil rights movement, how many of those people there that weekend might have been at or around the Walmart on Aug. 3, 2019.

If any of them were, I wonder if they ever imagined that they would be with us forever, like all of those who died, as we try and will a true portrait of America into existence.

About the Mis Ángeles column: Erick Galindo is chronicling life in Los Angeles for LAist. He took on this role after serving as our immigrant communities reporter. Erick came to us last year from LA Taco, where he was the managing editor of a James Beard award-winning staff.


Erick Galindo "I wonder if they ever imagined that they would be with us we try and will a true portrait of America into existence." Fri, 31 Jul 2020 16:04:36 -0700 Mis Ángeles: Why Those Who Died In El Paso Will Remain With Us Forever
Staff of the Fullerton College Grad to Be Program: (left to right) Thomas Choe, Maria Laura Etcheverry, Melisa Valdovinos, and Gilberto Valencia. The center helps the campus' undocumented students. (Courtesy of Fullerton College)

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A Department of Homeland Security memo released Tuesday takes aim at the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, dampening the hopes of some college students. But it's also emboldening the advocates who help these students to carry on with their work.

The memo states that no new DACA applications will be approved, and current DACA recipients must pay nearly $500 to renew their permit yearly instead of every two years. It also lays out reasons to dismantle the program -- a devastating and terrifying message for one Southern California college student.

"I came from the Philippines when I was seven years old," said a 22-year-old college student who asked to be anonymous because of her immigration status.

She's enrolled in the DACA program, which gives her protection from deportation and authorization to work. She plans to transfer from her community college to UCLA in the fall. The DHS memo was tough news for her.

"It makes me scared for what the future holds. I know the Trump administration is just going to keep coming [after DACA]," even though, she said, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last month against President Trump's attempt to dismantle the program.


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The administration made clear in the memo that the steps it's taking against longtime U.S. residents are part of its broader approach to stop people from immigrating to the U.S.

In the memo, Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf wrote: "I am concerned that retaining the policy creates some risk of communicating the contrary message and encouraging such illegal conduct by suggesting a potential for similar future policies."

The 22-year-old student said, "Everybody thought, you know, [United States Immigration and Citizenship Services] will start taking applications again, so that new students, new people could apply for DACA."

She said last month's Supreme Court ruling gave some of her undocumented friends hope that they could enroll in DACA, but not anymore.


Immigrant rights advocates, though, are sending the opposite message.

"We are going forward with helping people prepare their paperwork," said Anna Manuel, a staff attorney with the University of California Immigrant Legal Resource Center.

Her office helps undocumented college students at all but one of UC's nine undergraduate campuses. She said last month's Supreme Court ruling led more undocumented students than usual to seek help from her office to apply for DACA. Manuel said there's pent-up demand for the program because applications haven't been approved for several years.

This week's memo is not law, Manuel said, and its directives could be set aside through a legal challenge. "Or there could be an election [result] in November where it's not moot" to send in DACA applications, she said.

So that's leading Manuel and her colleagues to continue organizing webinars and other programs to help students prepare their DACA applications. The process can take months.

By one count there are about 75,000 undocumented students enrolled in California's public colleges and universities. Most campuses have hired staff to help support students who are undocumented with academic, legal, and financial help.

Fullerton College, which enrolls more than 700 students who are undocumented, is undeterred by the DHS memo.

"We still will be providing resources and referrals for [undocumented] students," said Cecilia Arriaza, the director of Fullerton College's Transfer Center. She also oversees Grads To Be, the program that serves students who lack legal immigration status.

"You're coming to an educational institution and we ask you about your goals or where you want to transfer," Arriaza said. "But it's hard for students to get to that point if they're worried that they or their parents will be deported."

Summer break and the pandemic has made it hard for Arriaza and her staff to check in with students. But she's moving forward with plans to offer a video conference check-in next week to answer students' questions.

Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled Cecilia Arriaza's name. LAist regrets the error.

Adolfo Guzman-Lopez The Trump Administration has said it won't approve new DACA applications and makes the case for dismantling the program weeks after a Supreme Court ruling in DACA's favor. Fri, 31 Jul 2020 15:47:29 -0700 Immigrant Advocates Say Federal Dismantling Of DACA Not A Done Deal
A lone pedestrian walks past closed businesses in Hollywood on April 23, 2020. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)

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California lawmakers grilled the director of the state's unemployment office in a hearing on Thursday, saying too many Californians have been unable to access unemployment benefits due to a confusing and unresponsive bureaucracy.

"Because of [the Employment Development Department's] failures, our constituents are depleting their life savings, going into extreme debt, having trouble paying rent and putting food on the table," David Chiu (D-San Francisco) told EDD director Sharon Hilliard.

Unemployed Californians have had trouble applying for benefits online. And when they need help, many can't get through to anyone on the phone. Some have now been waiting months.


Hilliard said EDD has been swamped, processing an unprecedented 9.3 million claims since the coronavirus pandemic began. For reference, she said EDD processed 3.8 million claims during the worst year of the Great Recession.


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The department reports that close to 890,000 applicants who may be eligible for payments still have not been paid.

Hilliard said most applicants in that group have not completed the steps necessary to certify for benefits, but she said EDD is aware of 239,000 claims still needing department resolution. She said those claims would be completed by September.

Applicants are facing long wait times to get their claims processed. During normal economic times, EDD delivers payments to 80% of applicants within three weeks, according to the Legislative Analyst's Office.

But during the pandemic, only 62% of Californians have been paid within three weeks of applying, compared to the nationwide average of 69%.


To meet the increased demand, the department has expanded call center hours for technical support to 12 hours per day, seven days a week.

But EDD's core call center -- staffed by 100 caseworkers -- is only open four hours per day on weekday mornings. Applicants on the department's callback list are waiting four to eight weeks to be contacted, on average.

"We realize that the current call center operations are not currently serving all of our customers in a timely manner," Hilliard said. She said the department plans to expand the hours of its core call center, but she did not say when.

This week, the Governor's office announced the formation of a "strike team" to reform EDD. Hilliard said the department will contract out a complete overhaul of the state's outdated technology infrastructure starting in October.

Lawmakers said these actions aren't happening quickly enough for the millions of unemployed Californians who desperately need financial help.

Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris (D-Laguna Beach) said, "All of these timelines seem totally out of step with the urgency of the moment we're in."

Meanwhile, Congress is currently negotiating a potential extension of federal unemployment benefits, now that the extra $600 per week provided by the CARES Act has expired.

Democrats want to renew the weekly $600 federal payments, but Republicans are pushing to cap total benefits at 70% of workers' past wages.

Hilliard said making those calculations for each Californian would be challenging, and could take the department up to 20 weeks to program into its computer system.

David Wagner The director of California's Employment Development Department says they've been swamped, processing more than twice as many claims during the coronavirus pandemic as they did at the height of the Great Recession. Fri, 31 Jul 2020 12:20:18 -0700 Pressure Mounts On California's Unemployment Office As Hundreds Of Thousands Wait For Benefits
Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham testifies before the House Oversight Committee in this July 2019 file photo. NPR has learned the bureau recently decided to end door knocking on Sept. 30, increasing the risk of an undercount. (Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images)

By Hansi Lo Wang | NPR

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The Census Bureau is cutting short critical door-knocking efforts for the 2020 census amid growing concerns among Democrats in Congress that the White House is pressuring the bureau to wrap up counting soon for political gain, NPR has learned.

Attempts by the bureau's workers to conduct in-person interviews for the census will end on Sept. 30 -- not Oct. 31, the end date it indicated in April would be necessary to count every person living in the U.S. given major setbacks from the coronavirus pandemic. Three Census Bureau employees, who were informed of the plans during separate internal meetings Thursday, confirmed the new end date with NPR. All of the employees spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear of losing their jobs.

"It's going to be impossible to complete the count in time," said one of the bureau employees, an area manager who oversees local census offices. "I'm very fearful we're going to have a massive undercount."

Asked why and when the decision was made to move up the end of door knocking, the Census Bureau replied in a written statement Friday: "We are currently evaluating our operations to enable the Census Bureau to provide this data in the most expeditious manner and when those plans have been finalized we will make an announcement."

About 4 out of 10 households nationwide have still not participated in the constitutionally mandated count of every person living in the U.S., and self-response rates are even lower in many communities.

This month, the bureau began deploying door knockers to visit unresponsive homes in certain parts of the country. Door-knocking efforts are expected to roll out nationwide Aug. 11.

It's unclear how much longer households can submit census responses on their own by going online, over the phone and by mail. The bureau's website -- which as recently as Thursday still listed Oct. 31 as the end of the "self-response phase" that began in March -- now reads that phase will last until the end of field data collection.

The condensed door-knocking time frame increases the risk of leaving out many people of color, immigrants and other members of historically undercounted groups from numbers that are collected once a decade to determine each state's share of congressional seats, Electoral College votes and an estimated $1.5 trillion a year in federal tax dollars for Medicare, Medicaid and other public services.

Former Census Bureau Director John Thompson warns that with less time, the bureau would likely have to reduce the number of attempts door knockers would make to try to gather information in person. The agency may also have to rely more heavily on statistical methods to impute the data about people living in households they can't reach.

"The end result would be [overrepresentation] for the White non-Hispanic population and greater undercounts for all other populations including the traditionally hard-to-count," Thompson wrote in written testimony for a Wednesday hearing on the census before the House Oversight and Reform Committee.

This last-minute scheduling change to the largest and most expensive field operation for the 2020 census comes as the bureau has been publicly sending mixed signals about its plans for finishing the count.

In April, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, a Trump appointee who oversees the bureau, asked Congress to extend the legal deadlines for reporting census results because the bureau said it needed extra time to complete the national head count during the coronavirus pandemic.

Later that same day, President Trump suggested that Congress did not have a choice in approving the deadline extensions in light of the pandemic.

"This is called an act of God," Trump said. "This is called a situation that has to be. They have to give it."

So far, only Democrats have introduced legislation that would grant the bureau's request.

On Wednesday, the bureau quietly updated its website and removed a key reference to Oct. 31, the previously announced end date for conducting follow-up visits. The bureau's website now says it is "working to complete data collection as soon as possible, as it strives to comply with the law and statutory deadlines."

Arturo Vargas -- CEO of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund, which is helping to promote census participation -- called the update "alarming."

"We are concerned over what seems to be an abandonment of the request for the additional time that both the White House and Census Bureau have already acknowledged is required for a full and accurate census," Vargas said in a statement. "It is too late now for the Bureau to change course, and the next COVID-19 relief legislation should reflect that reality."

The White House, according to the bureau's updated webpage, did ask for an additional $1 billion to fund "accelerated efforts" for completing counting "as quickly, and safely as possible." In their proposal for relief aid released on Monday, Republicans in Congress offered less than half of that amount with no deadline extensions.

During a hearing Wednesday before the House Oversight and Reform Committee, Steven Dillingham -- the bureau's director and a Trump appointee -- gave lawmakers little insight into why the timing change was made.

Rep. Jimmy Gomez, D-Calif., repeatedly asked Dillingham whether he supports the bureau's request to extend the census deadlines.

But Dillingham did not answer the questions.

Asked by Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Md., if he was aware that the Trump administration reportedly wants to wrap up counting quickly so that the president can receive the census apportionment numbers by the end of the year, Dillingham replied: "I'm not aware of all the many reasons except to say that the Census Bureau and others really want us to proceed as rapidly as possible."

But top career officials at the bureau -- including Tim Olson, the associate director for field operations -- have publicly warned since May that the agency can no longer meet the current deadlines.

Pressed by Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., Dillingham said he "can't agree" with Olson's assessment, noting the bureau has "many more assessments ahead of us here."

"President Trump and Mitch McConnell are demanding the American people finance their political manipulation of our democracy," Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., chair of the Oversight and Reform Committee, said in a statement after the hearing. "Rushing the census to completion means that census workers will not have enough time to follow up on the non-responses, an essential operation designed to find and count the hardest to reach communities."

The office of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and the White House press office have not responded to NPR's requests for comment.

The pandemic has forced the bureau to scramble to find alternative locations for onboarding newly hired census workers, and the bureau is expecting public health concerns to increase the number of people who don't show up to be trained or to work.

Moving up the end date from Oct. 31 for door knocking is likely to throw the census, already upended by months of delays, deeper into turmoil as hundreds of thousands of the bureau's door knockers try to figure out how to conduct in-person interviews as many states grapple with growing coronavirus outbreaks in the middle of hurricane season.

"That date doesn't mean anything to me after today," a Census Bureau official told NPR on Wednesday, speaking on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation from superiors for speaking out.

"It's embarrassing because we have been discussing this in presentations and conversations with staff," the official added. "I'm hurt that they 'suddenly' changed their minds."

News about the Sept. 30 end date for door knocking apparently had not reached all of the bureau's staff by Thursday morning when Jeff Behler, director for the bureau's New York regional office, said during a press briefing that local census offices in New England, New York, New Jersey and Puerto Rico were still scheduled to continue visiting unresponsive households through the end of October.

"Are we doing anything to accelerate?" Behler said during the briefing organized by the Association for a Better New York. "I would say, not really."

On Wednesday, during a hearing full of nonanswers and roundabout responses to lawmakers' questions, Dillingham did appear certain about at least one topic.

The director of the Census Bureau testified that he first learned about Trump's plans to attempt to exclude unauthorized immigrants from the census numbers used to reapportion seats in Congress not from any internal discussions, but from a news report "late on a Friday" that said "such a directive may be coming down."

"I will swear to it all day long under oath," Dillingham said after Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., looking incredulous in a remote video feed, reminded him that he was testifying under oath.

Gomez, another House member who joined the hearing remotely to question Dillingham, left the bureau's director with a stern warning before stepping away from the camera.

"It seems like there's an obvious pattern that you're not in control of the Census Bureau," Gomez said. "Your name will go down in history if this is the worst census ever conducted by the United States government. You're not going to run away and say that this was only because of the Trump administration later on. You will be responsible."

This story was originally published on

NPR NPR has confirmed the Census Bureau will end door knocking at unresponsive homes on Sept. 30, amid growing concerns the White House is pressuring the bureau to stop counting soon. That could lead to a major undercount of people of color. Fri, 31 Jul 2020 11:49:45 -0700 Census Door Knocking Cut A Month Short Amid Pressure To Finish Count
AltaMed's promotora Estuardo Ardon shuffles around with their mobile census kiosk. (Caitlin Hernandez/LAist)

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It's hard to miss the pop-up canopy outside the AltaMed clinic in East L.A. It's an outdoor waiting space where patients often line up. With a large banner reminding folks to get counted in the 2020 Census, it doubles as an active place for civic engagement.

Since March, AltaMed has been active in efforts to inform Angelenos about the census. In fact, responding to the census is even given as a "prescription" to patients before they leave.

AltaMed is also the only clinic organization to have its own census kiosks in L.A., with few other groups having the resources to fill that technology gap safely.

AltaMed's outdoor waiting area in Commerce on July 10, 2020. (Caitlin Hernandez/LAist)

"One of the things that I've been telling our legislators is that, if we did have access to fund someone here for an entire day, for seven days a week -- because that's when we're open -- we'd be able to be really, really successful," said Jennie Carreón, the associate vice president of civic engagement for AltaMed.

But funding for their kiosks is set to expire again at the end of July, which is a concern for Carreón, considering the county self-response rates is still under 60% and that there's a lot at stake in the census for community clinics.

"We are in the middle of a pandemic and financial economic downturn, resources all around will be scarce, and that includes funding for [federally qualified health centers] and hospitals," Carreón said. "This is why it is so important that underserved communities fill out the census so that we don't have additional social structural barriers to add to an already challenging environment."


There are concerns that the combination of layoffs, low census turnout and increased Medicaid eligibility for people who've lost work could create a strain on resources for the clinics in years to come. Among other factors, census data helps determine how much federal funding these clinics get.

Federally qualified health centers, or FQHCs, such as AltaMed, are facilities that receive funds from the Health Resources and Services Administration to offer primary care in medically underserved areas. AltaMed is among the dozens of clinics operating in L.A with this designation.

The Community Clinic Association of Los Angeles County is a coalition of private nonprofit community clinics and health centers whose 65 members, including AltaMed, serve 1.7 million patients each year at more than 350 sites. Many of the association's member clinics are FQHCs.

As many Angelenos have lost work this year amid the pandemic, this opens the door for increased Medicaid enrollment. Louise McCarthy, president and CEO of the clinic association, said that while an anticipated increase in demand has yet to hit, analysts are watching the numbers.

"By standard California mass, Los Angeles [is] usually a third of the state. That means you'd be looking at potentially a million new Medicaid enrollees here," McCarthy said.

McCarthy said that currently 63% of their patients rely on Medicaid, and many clinics have already lost a lot of their funding because of the coronavirus, despite the CARES Act and state protections. Low census response could make things much worse.

"If we get under-counted, the funding that comes to the states to support our Medicaid program could potentially force the state to cut back," McCarthy said. "If any cuts come to programs for some health centers, it will be a more immediate impact than for others just based on how much cash they've got in the bank."

It could also hurt the recruiting of staff, McCarthy added. Community health centers are placed in identified areas that lack medical resources. But these communities compete for funding through a ranking system -- with L.A. County having an overall higher need than its neighbors. If you're higher up the list, you have more access to funds, including a program that community clinics use to attract new providers by paying down student loans.


The financial stability of the federally qualified health centers is more precarious than ever, which is why Carreón and McCarthy see census work as necessary. And while the 2020 Census doesn't ask about income, it works to further inform data gathered by the U.S. Census Bureau in other surveys in combination with patient income data.

"One of the struggles of Los Angeles is we've got the Malibu skew," McCarthy explained. "Our data is skewed by incredibly wealthy folks living not too far away from folks who are in either extreme poverty, or are generally low income. We have to always make sure that the folks who are hardest to count get counted. Otherwise, our more affluent neighbors are going to make L.A. look a lot more resourced than we really are."

More affluent residents tend to complete the census in higher numbers. This frequently leaves undercounted folks -- many in non-white communities -- out of the equation because they're not represented in the data. To help alleviate this issue, community clinics are ramping up their outreach.

The Community Clinic Association of L.A. County hopes to boost responses to the census by working with the bureau and its members to host mobile kiosks at clinic sites in early August. These will be outdoors to reach patients getting COVID-19 tests or picking up donated food.

Some clinics are distributing flyers at food drives and adding information to text and phone call appointment reminders. AltaMed is working on extending its kiosk to October, but its sites will still do census engagement though its staff and materials.

"We've been here for 50 years," said Carreón, "and we're going to be here for another 50 years -- God willing."

Caitlin Hernandez As the pandemic continues to curb in-person census outreach, community clinics are working to boost census response numbers to help the communities they serve -- and their future. Fri, 31 Jul 2020 07:00:00 -0700 Living On A Razor's Edge During The Pandemic, Community Clinics Are Urging Census Turnout
Tracy Park began writing an illustrated letter as an outlet for her feelings around an encounter with an anti-Asian racist. (Tracy Park)

Over the next several months, 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 Tracy Park

Most people of color in America recall their first encounter with a racist. I'm not sure my daughters will, seeing as one of them was still too young in late February of 2020 to consume solids.

But I will remember it for them -- playing in our local pocket park, the usual chaos of preparing the kids to leave, and then the parting shot by a young man hanging out with a couple friends by the park entrance that made me turn my head, wondering if I'd heard him correctly.

Had he really just ordered me to get my "coronavirus babies" out of the park? While my daughters blissfully ignored the exchange, I stood just outside the park gate seething and doing a sloppy risk analysis in my head about whether or not to confront the man.

When you're with your children, fear for their safety nearly always wins over the need for righteous retribution. We left, but I couldn't let it go.


I hadn't had any snappy comebacks ready on the spot, so as only a true "reenact-and-rant-at-the-mirror-an-hour-later" person would, I wrote every mean and clever remark I wished I could have said to that man in a letter.

I continued adding to it with each new anti-Asian incident I heard about in the news or from other Asian American friends. Then, my Korean immigrant mother was harassed on her usual Northridge neighborhood walk by a man setting out his trash bins. He told her she had better watch her back, and continued to call after her as she power-walked on. By that time, I was seeing red.

I was furious that my family, my friends and my fellow Asian American community members were frightened to leave home even just for necessities. I despised feeling like the racists and xenophobes held a power over us, that their hatred and acts of intolerance would factor into our decision-making about going outside at all.

And more than anything, I hated feeling afraid.

Then I remembered that xenophobia involves a deep and primal fear of difference. Racism is borne of the most primitive insecurity a person can feel. It is a fear so profound that the person experiencing it can no longer correctly identify it as fear. And as angry as I was, I could not help but regret the richness and connection all these terrified people will never know (by their own choice).

The letter I was rage-writing began to change as I tried to understand that fear, and how it must feel when you realize the world is evolving away from you.

While I rage-wrote, my toddler would rage-draw alongside me with the darkest colored crayons she could find. If the paper size was insufficient, her scribbles would spill over onto the table, the walls and MY sketchpad.

Watching her, I decided to add illustrations to the letter. I ditched my normally premeditated approach and attempted to draw as freely and unapologetically as she does, even using her favorite black jumbo crayon (which I now have to replace).

Although this letter is addressed to the racists out there, I share it now to bring strength and solace to anyone feeling powerless in the face of this resurgence of fear masked as hate. Trust me, you don't want to trade places with those who hate.

Our fear is fleeting. Theirs is forever.


Tracy Park is a freelance animation producer, artist and zinester who has been fortunate to call Los Angeles her home for the last 15 years. She is the proud daughter of Korean immigrants and the proud but exhausted mother of two Korean-ish hellions.

Guest Contributor I began writing this illustrated letter as a way to shed my fear of the person who racially insulted my children. By the end, I remembered that racists are the ones who are truly afraid. Fri, 31 Jul 2020 06:00:00 -0700 'Dear Racist': How Rage-Writing Turned To Rage-Drawing For An Artist Who's Fed Up With Anti-Asian Hate
A sign taped to the front gate at Granada Hills Charter High School's main campus on Zelzah Avenue. (Kyle Stokes/LAist)

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Two months ago, after a teachers union protest, KPCC/LAist identified a handful of Los Angeles charter schools that had accepted money from a now-$659 billion federal loan program aimed at helping small businesses stay afloat during the coronavirus pandemic.

Back then, we didn't know how common it was for charter schools -- publicly-funded, tuition-free schools -- in the L.A. Unified School District to receive loans from the Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP.

After our own analysis of federal data and charter schools' board documents, we now have a much better idea how common it is. The answer: very common.

  • So far, lenders have granted PPP loans to 49 different organizations that run charter schools in the L.A. Unified School District.
  • These 49 loan recipients collectively run more than half of the 224 charter schools in LAUSD.
  • In LAUSD, charter schools' PPP loans total at least $73.3 million, but because the Small Business Administration doesn't publish precise loan amounts, the total could be as high as $136.4 million.


Last spring, Congress created the Paycheck Protection Program to help employers struggling to make payroll and rent amid the uncertain economic conditions brought on by the pandemic.

Since PPP's inception, watchdogs have raised questions about whether these emergency loans have been reaching their intended targets. See: restaurant chain Shake Shack returning its PPP loan amid public outcry.

Compared to the Shake Shack controversy, there's far less debate about whether charter schools can qualify -- at least legally speaking. Charters are run by nonprofit organizations, and nonprofits with fewer than 500 employees are eligible for PPP loans.

"It's not like they're sneaking into the program," said Ricardo Soto, the chief advocacy officer for the California Charter Schools Association.

But teachers unions and other critics contend PPP money was not truly intended for charter schools.

Unlike other small businesses, charters' primary revenue stream -- from the state and federal governments -- has not stopped flowing during the pandemic. By borrowing these sums, critics say charter schools are diverting money meant for cash-strapped employers struggling to pay rent or make payroll.

"It's not right for charters to act like a business on Monday and a public school on Tuesday," said Clare Crawford, a senior policy advisor with In The Public Interest, a nonprofit policy and research center that's skeptical of charter schools.

"Having it both ways," Crawford said in a statement, "leads to double dipping and unethical raids on the public till."

A Facebook Live video shows supporters of United Teachers Los Angeles holding a protest outside the home of a charter school board member. The teachers union opposes a plan to have Gabriella Charter School 'co-locate' on the campus of the LAUSD-run Lizarraga Elementary. Gabriella's administrators also oppose the move; they already share space on the campus of Trinity Elementary, and LAUSD's plan would split the school between two campuses. (UTLA Facebook Page/Screenshot)

Defenders point out that, like their district-run peers, charter schools are also handing out meals to families, buying new laptops for distance learning and shouldering other extraordinary costs of pandemic response -- but unlike big school systems, Soto said charter schools have limited options to pay for these expenses.

For example, LAUSD used voter-approved bond dollars to purchase laptops for all of its students; charter schools can't bring bond issues to the ballot.

"This was a lifeline for [charters] to be able to continue to operate," said Soto, "and serve their students, serve meals and provide security to their employees at a time when there was a lot of uncertainty."

But a PPP loan could potentially do far more than shore up cash flow. If borrowers use PPP money on essential expenses like payroll or rent, federal officials intend to forgive the loans. Rather than bridge loans to weather a financial crisis, Crawford says some charters are using PPP loans as low-risk lines of credit.

"What we're seeing in many [charter school] board documents," said Crawford, "is people saying, "Hey, worst case scenario, we get a 1% interest loan'."

Crawford also contends the state and federal governments did set aside funds to help charters manage these costs. In total, 220 LAUSD charter schools received $33.3 million in dedicated aid from the CARES Act. (District-run schools participating in the federal government's Title I program got this money, too.)

FILE: A group of around 50 teachers and parents from El Camino Real Charter High School in Woodland Hills held a protest on Sept. 28, 2016. They were protesting amid a controversy involving the school's then-principal, Dave Fehte, who's since left the school. (Kyle Stokes/LAist)


California's publicly-funded schools are also bracing for a hit to their cash flow. The state balanced its budget this year by planning to delay payments to public schools -- which means many public schools will be forced to borrow money one way or another.

While big districts can borrow at more-affordable rates, Soto said many charter schools might otherwise have to borrow at rates in the high single-digits; charters can't beat the 1% interest rate of a PPP loan.

The deferrals began last month -- and some school leaders say the impact was immediate.

Greg Wood, the chief business officer at Palisades Charter High School, says a $4.6 million PPP loan was instrumental in allowing the school to make payroll in June.

"That's the ultimate definition of 'paycheck protection,'" said Wood, adding that Pali High faces more than $6.5 million in deferred state payments in the coming year.

The protection only extends so far. Three weeks after accepting the PPP loan, Pali's governing board voted to notify five non-teaching employees that their jobs might be eliminated in 60 days. Another 18 staff -- campus safety aides, office workers and a cafeteria clerk -- might see their hours reduced. Wood said none of the cuts have actually been carried out yet.


A few takeaways from our dig through Paycheck Protection Program data:

  • In LAUSD, most PPP funds went to small charter school operators. Of the 49 charter organizations that received PPP money, 36 operate one or two schools in LAUSD. The average number of jobs reportedly "retained" by accepting these loans was 158.
  • In LAUSD, most PPP loans are small enough that they'll have less federal oversight. While PPP borrowers have to certify that their loan meets a legitimate need, the U.S. Small Business Administration has decided to certify that all loans under $2 million were taken out in good faith. Only seven loans to LAUSD charters were for $2 million or more.
  • In LAUSD, most PPP loans weren't approved until after Congress re-filled the pot. After banks began taking applications on April 3, the first round of PPP funding quickly ran out -- and many small businesses reported difficulty accessing the money. But in LAUSD, most charters -- 36 out of 49 -- had their applications approved after April 24, when President Trump approved an extra $321 billion for more PPP loans.
  • The largest LAUSD charter networks don't appear to have applied. Alliance for College-Ready Public Schools, which operates 25 charters in LAUSD, appears to have not applied. KIPP L.A., which operates 15 charters in the district, also doesn't appear in the Small Business Administration's database.

While LAUSD's largest networks did not accept the funds, some larger charter networks have separate entities that handle administrative functions and "national" operations.

We identified at least one of these national offices for an LAUSD charter network that received a PPP loan: Green Dot, which operates 16 schools in LAUSD, and received a loan of $1-2 million for its national office. (Federal data only lists loan amounts as a range.)

UPDATE, Sat., Aug. 1: The database published by the U.S. Small Business Administration lists a loan of less than $350,000 to PUC National, an organization linked to 11 LAUSD charter schools.

We included this information in our initial list of PPP recipients. We included all loans listed in the SBA database that were linked to LAUSD charter schools, using their names or addresses to identify them, and folded them into our existing list of PPP loans that we'd built using schools' board documents.

But after publication, on Friday afternoon, Jacqueline Elliot -- PUC Schools' co-founder and the current president and CEO of PUC National -- reached out to say she was confused to see PUC National listed.

Through a spokesperson, Elliot said PUC National had decided against following through on a PPP loan offered by their credit union. She forwarded an email exchange with the credit union as documentation.

Later Friday evening, Elliot forwarded a second email from a credit union staffer, dated July 31: "This email is to confirm the cancellation of your PPP loan with USC Credit Union. No funds were taken for this loan, and no paperwork was signed."

"Apparently," Elliot wrote, "the PPP loan team at the USC Credit Union did not follow up when [a PUC staffer] sent the initial e-mail to them to cancel the loan.

"They had the process on hold," Elliot added, "waiting for us to complete the paperwork, which we never did because we had decided not to take the loan."

How, then, PUC National appeared in the SBA's database, is not immediately clear.

A sign outside Granada Hills Charter High School, pictured in the summer of 2017, lists the national championships won by the school's acclaimed Academic Decathalon program. (In 2019, after this photo was taken, the team claimed another national title.) (Kyle Stokes/LAist)


Granada Hills Charter High School, the sought-after charter in the north San Fernando Valley, received a PPP loan of more than $8.3 million -- the largest loan amount we were able to directly confirm in board documents.

In our database, Granada's loan is not only unusual for its size. With its PPP money, Granada officials reported they would retain 443 jobs, the most of any charter in our dataset. Unlike most LAUSD charters, Granada received its loan on April 11 -- a time when many other prospective PPP borrowers were struggling to win approval.

Granada does have money in the bank. In June, school officials reported they had about $15 million in cash reserves -- equivalent to roughly 20% of the school's expenditures.

When told of these figures, Crawford questioned why Granada would need a PPP loan: "They don't have the need for the funds," she said in an interview.

Granada's executive director, Brian Bauer, contended the situation is more complicated.

Bauer said the school's reserve alone is not enough to weather the state's payment deferrals: "Conservatively," Granada expects a total of $13 million in funding to arrive between two and six months late. The school also faces higher payments on a facilities bond and will take a hit from a change in state law that freezes funding for growing schools. The PPP loan will help bridge the gap, Bauer said.

"The only thing certain right now is the ongoing uncertainty," said Bauer.


The findings in our newsroom's analysis of charter data mirror the findings of In The Public Interest's much broader look at charter schools across California receiving PPP loans.

Along with volunteers from Parents United for Public Schools, Crawford and In The Public Interest found California charter schools received at least $240.7 million -- and potentially more than half-a-billion dollars -- in PPP loans.

Not all charter schools in L.A. County are authorized by LAUSD. In the county as a whole, the organizations identified 75 loans, worth at least $89 million.

In Orange County, the organizations found 15 PPP loans to charter schools worth at least $17.3 million.

The organizations identified several loans they likened to Shake Shack's returned PPP funding: more than $51 million in loans to 12 different business entities all belonging to California's Learn4Life chain of charter schools, which reportedly employs more than 1,900 people across those entities.

Crawford said local charter school regulators -- often the districts and county boards that authorize them -- should be asking questions about how charters have spent this money.

And as state and local governments consider more aid for public schools during the coronavirus crisis, Crawford urged policymakers to prioritize schools that did not receive PPP money -- including larger charter schools -- for additional funding.

"It's not saying, 'Let's never give these schools another dime,'" she said. "There are a lot of schools that didn't access this money, so let's start based on need and reinforce equity."


Fri., July 31 -- A spokesperson for Para Los Niños, a non-profit that runs charter schools but also manages after school, Head Start, and other programming, reached out to say that their PPP loan "will be used on non-charter school related salaries and expenses."

Fri. July 31 -- On Friday afternoon, PUC National shared an email from their credit union stating, "We have put in a request to cancel the loan." We updated the story on Friday evening to reflect this information Friday evening, but asked PUC National for more documentation of the organization's claim that they never accepted PPP funds.

Sat. Aug. 1 -- Later Friday evening, a PUC National spokesperson forwarded a second email stating that PUC National had taken "no funds" from the PPP program. On Saturday at 11:15 a.m., we updated the story again.

Kyle Stokes LAUSD charter schools have received at least $73.6 million in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans. Thu, 30 Jul 2020 12:51:00 -0700 Why So Many LAUSD Charter Schools Ended Up With Coronavirus Relief Loans For Small Businesses
Forager Jess Starwood sits in front of a wall of jars filled with herbs and mushrooms she has foraged. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

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"People are so used to seeing food come in plastic," Jess Starwood says as she scrambles up the side of a wild cherry tree, just north of Santa Clarita. Perched between two branches, she dangles a basket from one hand and plucks fistfulls of bright red cherries with the other. They're more tart than supermarket cherries, with a super-sized pit in the center. "The first time people eat something fresh off the tree, they're completely blown away," she says.

By sunset, her car is stuffed with buckets of wild fruits and herbs -- acorns, redcurrants, prickly pears, manzanita, white pine and a few mushrooms. For Starwood, who has been foraging commercially for five years, scouring California's public lands for wild food is a familiar dance.

Before the coronavirus pandemic upended the world economy, she was making a comfortable living foraging wild fruits and herbs and selling them to some of L.A.'s top restaurants. But when dining rooms shuttered and restaurants switched to takeout, the demand for her services ground to a halt. Now, instead of selling what she forages to chefs, she's sharing it with her friends and neighbors.

Wild cherries near Los Angeles. (Evan Jacoby for LAist)

Starwood helped establish farm + forest, a community supported agriculture program (or CSA) where she offers weekly food boxes to about a dozen subscribers in the Thousand Oaks area where she lives.

It's not the first time she's pivoted in the face of disaster. When Starwood started foraging in 2011, she still had an office job at a marketing firm in Santa Barbara. It paid well but she was unhappy. After a few years, she decided she wanted to quit and focus on foraging full-time. She says her husband wasn't keen on the idea. "He felt that I should have gone back to work at the office because it made more money," Starwood says.

They separated in 2015 and after a rough divorce, Starwood says she fell into a deep depression with "nothing but a car and $10,000 in debt." Her voice trembles as she recalls how scared she felt about losing custody of her daughters.

"A lot of times, people with depression, they've lost connection with a purpose in life," Starwood says.

Jess Starwood tries to remove cactus thorns from her hand. (Evan Jacoby for LAist)

One day, in the midst of her sorrow, she forced herself to go for a walk around her neighborhood. A few days later, she took a hike in the woods. Eventually, as she began spending more time outside, she found the sense of purpose she had been craving. "Being in the forest can be so healing," she says.

Over the next two years, what had begun as a fun way to feed herself and her daughters became a way to pay the bills. "Now, that's just my life," Starwood says, scanning the dense brush for redcurrants. She finds a cluster and pops one into her mouth. "That one was sour!" She chuckles and reaches for another fistfull.


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By 2019, Starwood was the head forager for multiple restaurants in Los Angeles. At acclaimed kaiseki spot n/naka, in Palms, chef Niki Nakayama made drinks from Starwood's prickly pears. At Yapa, a Peruvian-Japanese restaurant in Little Tokyo, her wild cherries became a vibrant sorbet topped with pickled redcurrants. Cooks there also milled flour from her acorns and used it to make pasta.

Many wild foods require extra processing before they're ready for the dinner table. Yapa's head chef, Richard Lopez, says that's what makes these dishes so special. His goal is to create a menu he could have served in California a century ago, before ingredients could be easily flown in from across the world. Lopez calls Starwood's foraging "a huge pillar in this concept [we're] trying to create."

Although wild foods have increasingly appealed to chefs in the past couple decades, foraging is hardly new. The practice precedes modern civilization by millennia and is still a main food source for indigenous communities around the world. For many cultures, there may be no clear distinction between foraged and cultivated foods.

To satisfy American consumers' growing appetite for wild foods, commercial foragers like Starwood might drive hundreds of miles, scramble up the sides of mountains and make their way through dense forests, all while hoping someone doesn't beat them to their favorite patch of ramps or elderberries or porcini mushrooms. The industry has grown so big, competition among foragers can be fierce and has prompted concerns about sustainability.

Foraging has always been tough work but it offers an alternative to people who prefer to spend their days tromping through the woods instead of sitting at a desk. Most foragers don't report to a boss and they get paid by the pound, eliminating race and gender-based wage gaps, at least in theory. During good years, foragers can clear six figures by selling to restaurants and grey-market buyers.

The COVID-19 pandemic shattered all of that.

Dried mushrooms and herbs collected by forager Jess Starwood sit in jars in her home. (Chava Sanchez/LAist )

As restaurants closed or scaled back their menus, foragers across the country saw their wages shrivel up like a chanterelle in the summer sun. But foragers are a resilient bunch, and many saw the virus as a chance to test their self-sufficiency. "It's almost like foragers have been planning for a pandemic their entire lives," Starwood jokes. "Well, I do have a pantry full of [homemade] preserves."

The sentiment is popular among her peers. Mushroom hunters in Northern California, Oregon and upstate New York are selling locally, to their friends and in their communities, or drying their bounties to sell in the fall.

Some foragers, like Pascal Baudar, have turned to Zoom. After stay-at-home orders were issued, Baudar started offering online classes, teaching people to make beer, wine and other fermented items using foraged foods. He says Zoom has allowed him to expand beyond his Southern California audience, giving him "new opportunities to teach and make it viable financially despite the pandemic."

The pandemic also highlights the importance of food justice, especially for Black and brown communities that often struggle to get access to healthy food. Food activist Ron Finley believes cultivating wild foods can help bridge this gap.

"In our community, we don't have any kinds of healthy food," Finley says. "Am I going to wait for you to put it there or am I going to do it myself? That's the lesson: do-for-self, do-for-community."

For Starwood, losing her restaurant clients meant she lost a source of steady income but it also allowed her to broaden her reach. When she and a neighbor started their CSA subscription service, their ultimate goal was to grow and forage enough food to feed their entire street: about 30 homes. That meant a lot of foraging.

Forager Jess Starwood holds a chicken of the woods mushroom. (Evan Jacoby for LAist)

Over Memorial Day weekend, she joined dozens of foragers for an annual porcini hunt on Mt. Shasta. They met in the woods, using secret GPS coordinates to find each other. That day, she scored more than a hundred pounds of porcini mushrooms, which she offered at $20/pound for her CSA members.

"I feel like wild foods have turned into gourmet food, and they can be really high-priced," Starwood says. These weekly produce boxes let her offer what she forages and farms at more affordable rates.

It's critical for people to have access to healthy, wild foods, Starwood believes, and CSAs like hers "get it right to the people."

Forager Jess Starwood picks wild cherries near Los Angeles. (Evan Jacoby for LAist)

Pivoting her business model also gave her more control over her schedule. She's using the time she spent on weekly restaurant deliveries to write a book: an introductory guide to mushroom foraging.

"We adapt to change," Starwood says, describing herself and her fellow foragers. It seems fitting that the pandemic would also guide the next step in her journey.

Starwood says the current economic uncertainty was the chance she needed to pause and reflect on what's most important to her -- sharing the joy of foraging with people.

Whenever restaurants fully reopen, she's not sure she'll sell to them again. "Chefs seem to be a little more specific about what they want and when," she says. "I'd rather follow nature's abundance."

Starwood's CSA offers pick-ups on Tuesdays from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. in Thousand Oaks, at the intersection of Hillcrest & Rancho Roads.


Evan Jacoby Jess Starwood used to forage wild fruits and herbs for some of L.A.'s top restaurants. When they fully reopen, she's not sure she'll sell to them again. Thu, 30 Jul 2020 10:45:00 -0700 Foraging In A Pandemic Means Digging Up A New Business Model
News Ryan Fonseca It was centered in the northern San Fernando Valley city of Pacoima -- just west of the 210 Freeway -- and struck at 4:29 a.m, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Thu, 30 Jul 2020 07:02:00 -0700 A 4.2 Magnitude Earthquake Jolted LA. Here's What We Know So Far News
Two disposable latex gloves left in a Target shopping cart in Eagle Rock. A new motion passed by the L.A. City Council raises the fine for littering this kind of PPE in public spaces. (Caroline Champlin/LAist)

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The Los Angeles City Council passed a motion this week to raise the fine for littering personal protective equipment trash, like masks and gloves.

The penalty for littering everyday garbage in L.A. is $200, according to Councilman Bob Blumenfield's office, but this measure would increase the fine to $250, the maximum amount for an infraction in the city. Blumenfield introduced the motion.

"Right now, you can go to any supermarket and if you stand out there for 15 minutes, I guarantee you're going to see someone come out, take their masks or gloves off, and throw them on the ground," Blumenfield told LAist.

A child-sized mask left in the parking lot of Eagle Rock Plaza. (Caroline Champlin/LAist)

We took the councilmember up on that challenge.

At the parking lot of Eagle Rock Plaza in Northeast L.A., we didn't see anyone actively litter, but discarded PPE wasn't hard to find. Disposable blue latex gloves languished in the child seat of a Target shopping cart. A used child-sized mask featuring Disney characters baked on the asphalt.

Ruth Lee was stocking up on camping supplies at the shopping center and noticed the PPE trash.

"I usually like to pick up trash and throw trash out, but I don't want to touch other people's masks and gloves. I think it's unsanitary," Lee said.

While the PPE debris has made Lee less willing to clean up after others, she isn't optimistic about the new fines changing anyone's behavior as far as not littering -- or even the possibility that more people will be caught in the act of littering.

"I've never seen anyone dispose of it personally," Lee said. "People litter. I don't know how you're going to catch this."

Blumenfield said he understands that concern, and doesn't expect most people littering to be caught in the act.

"There's no way, with everything going on in Los Angeles, that there's going to be this 'PPE litter police' out there watching everybody," Blumenfield said. "But people need to know that there is a consequence."


Caroline Champlin The motion targets potentially contaminated masks and gloves being discarded in public spaces, like streets and waterways Thu, 30 Jul 2020 07:00:00 -0700 LA City Council Raises Fines For Littering PPE
Arts & Entertainment
Plastique Tiara speaks on stage during 'RuPaul's Drag Race' at an Emmy FYC Panel & Reception last year. (Randy Shropshire/Getty Images for VH1)

Coronavirus is 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.

Catch Thai flicks while eating Thai snacks at a pop-up drive-in. Check out a documentary about Bob Marley. See stars from RuPaul's Drag Race werk it at the Rose Bowl. Enjoy a virtual production of the Bard's Measure for Measure.

Friday, July 31 - Sunday, Aug. 2

Drive 'N Drag
Rose Bowl Stadium
1001 Rose Bowl Dr., Pasadena
RuPaul's Drag Race stars sashay back to the stage at this drive-in event. Watch Asia O'Hara, Plastique Tiara, Kameron Michaels, Jaida Essence Hall, Vanessa Vanjie and Violet Chachki werk it from the safety of your car. Choose from several show times throughout the weekend.
COST: $69 - $139 (admission for two), $25 for each additional person; MORE INFO

Friday, July 31 - Sunday, Aug. 2; 7 p.m.

Thai Movie Drive-In
Ayara Thai
6245 W. 87th St., Westchester
Ayara Thai restaurant partners with the Tourism Authority of Thailand to screen movies in the restaurant's parking lot. Watch Thai films paired with movie snacks like pad Thai chicken nachos, sweet potato doughnuts and Thai sai oua hot dogs. The lineup includes BTS: Bangkok Traffic (Love) Story on Friday, Laddaland (Saturday) and Bad Genius on Sunday. Tickets must be purchased in advance; no tickets will be available at the door.
COST: $50 per car (and includes a snack kit); MORE INFO

Friday, July 31 - Saturday, Aug. 1

Digital Dessert Goals
The weekend of sweets reimagines itself for a virtual space, offering two days of baking demos, live panels, interactive workshops, a vendor marketplace with special deals and virtual goodie bags. $1 of each ticket goes to No Kid Hungry.

Friday, July 31 - Friday, Aug. 7

15th Annual Film Independent Forum
The forum moves online this year with a mix of live talks, workshops and pre-recorded content. Meant as a way to inspire filmmakers to take charge of their art and careers, topics include financing, production and distribution of films and digital content across multiple platforms. Discussions also include ways to operate within, and respond to, the current health crisis and social justice protests. Speakers include Lulu Wang (director, The Farewell), Elissa Federoff (president of Distribution, NEON Pictures); and Dawn Porter (director John Lewis: Good Trouble).
COST: Passes: $49 - $99; MORE INFO

Tunde Adebimpe stars in 'She Dies Tomorrow,' written and directed by Amy Seimetz. (Jay Keitel)

Friday, July 31; 7 p.m. (doors)

ArcLight at the Drive-In
Vineland Drive-In
443 Vineland Ave., City of Industry
Catch a special screening of the thriller She Dies Tomorrow, written and directed by Amy Seimetz. When a woman believes she'll die tomorrow, her conviction might be contagious, affecting others in town. The evening starts with a pre-show DJ set by the Mondo Boys (composers of the film's soundtrack) at 8:30 p.m. and a live virtual conversation with the filmmaker and cast following the film. The film screens at 9 p.m.
COST: $30 per car; MORE INFO

Friday, July 31 - Saturday, Aug. 1

Overnight Family Fishing and Camping
Santa Fe Dam Regional Park
15501 E. Arrow Highway, Irwindale
Can't get away for a family vacay this summer? Camp overnight at Santa Fe Dam through a program with L.A. County's Parks and Recreation Department.
COST: $10 per person, free for kids 11 and younger; MORE INFO

Friday, July 31

Rebuilding Paradise
National Geographic Documentary Films releases Ron Howard's latest film, which captures the resilience of a community ravaged by wildfire. For every ticket sold, $1 will go to charities supporting the town of Paradise, California. The film opens on Friday with virtual screenings as well as a drive-in screening at the Vineland Drive-In in the City of Industry.

Friday, July 31; 4 p.m.

This Is Me: Letters From The Front Lines
Diavolo | Architecture in Motion, an L.A.-based dance company, presents the premiere of this dance film on the Saroya's website, Facebook page and YouTube channel. The work traces the journeys of military veterans and first responders while capturing the resilience of the human spirit.

Friday, July 31; 5:30 p.m. PDT

Mavis 80 Livestream
Watch a Newport Folk Revival presentation that was recorded at The Theatre at Ace Hotel in Los Angeles last year. The show features the great Mavis Staples along with Jason Isbell, Brandi Carlile, Ben Harper, Trombone Shorty, Grace Potter, Phoebe Bridgers, Lucius, M. Ward and Joe Henry.
COST: $30 - $55; MORE INFO

Friday, July 31; 7 p.m. PDT

Mexican American Art Pop with Nancy Sanchez
Tune into an En Casa con LA Plaza program that features a conversation with and performance by singer-songwriter Nancy Sanchez. Her music blends elements of Mexican folkloric, jazz, Latin alternative and pop, and her songs have been featured on TV shows including Vida and Mayans MC. Tune in via Zoom or Facebook.

Friday, July 31 - Saturday, Sept. 5

From Italy with Laughter: A Comedy Film Festival
The Italian Cultural Institute Los Angeles teams with distributor True Colors to present the inaugural online film festival. Watch two Italian comedies online each weekend starting with the U.S. premieres of The King's Musketeers / Moschettieri del Re - La Penultima Missione (2019) on Friday and Letscleanapp / Tuttapposto (2019) on Saturday.

Shakespeare on the Deck presents a virtual production of 'Measure for Measure.' (Courtesy of Shakespeare on the Deck)

Friday, July 31 - Saturday, Aug. 1; 8 p.m.

Measure For Measure
Shakespeare on the Deck offers a virtual presentation of the Bard's play about the loose morals of the citizens of Venice (Italy, not California). The theater company creates an interactive Zoom experience in which attendees can watch a live and socially distanced production from various perspectives. Ticketholders will receive a virtual program that includes background on the show, themed recipes and, for those of legal age, a drinking game.

Saturday, Aug. 1 - Sunday, Aug. 9

Daze Between
This festival of live and archived performances as well as storytelling celebrates the life and music of Jerry Garcia, 25 years after his passing. Watch sets by the Grateful Dead, Dead & Company, Bob Weir & The Campfire Band, Amos Lee, Circles Around The Sun and Dark Star and a screening of Move Me Brightly. Content will be streamed live across several sites. Proceeds from the festival will benefit the Rex Foundation, a nonprofit that aims to secure a healthy environment and promote the arts.

Friday, July 31

This Bob Marley documentary coincides with what would have been the reggae legend's 75th birthday. Directed by Kevin Macdonald with Ziggy Marley as one of its producers, the film combines concert performances, documentary footage and numerous interviews including Bob Marley, Rita Marley, Cedella Marley, Ziggy Marley, Jimmy Cliff and Chris Blackwell. The film opens locally (virtually) at the Laemmle Playhouse 7 Cinemas.

Saturday, Aug. 1; 6:30 p.m.

C(ovell) in the C(loud)
ABC Interactive Presents an interactive livestream event that's based on the troupe's long-running show that took place at Bar Covell. The show is a three-hour immersive theater spectacle that includes 45 minutes for a preshow, a 1.5-hour main performance, and 45 minutes of post-show entertainment. Escape into "The Game," which takes place in a world of clowns, fortunes, magic and the absurdity of your own experience. There are multiple ticket tiers, but they fall into two categories: interactive participation or passive watching. Either way, ticketholders must must have a desktop computer (Mac or PC) so they can call in on Skype and Zoom simultaneously from the same camera. Passive tickets must include proof of a $10 donation to one of several select charities. Add-on purchases available.
COST: $10 (donation) - $75; MORE INFO

Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar & Grill is one of the restaurants participating in the Wing Showdown 2020. (Courtesy of Wing Showdown 2020)

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.

  • Off The Menu and Uber Eats team up to bring celebs' personal recipes to local restaurants for the Wing Showdown 2020. Shaquille O'Neal, Jessie James Decker, Snoop Dogg, Tyler Cameron, Tyra Banks, Zac Posen and Anthony Anderson are among the participants. You can try their wings through Aug. 2 via Uber Eats. The wings will be available at restaurants including Alta, Mel's Drive In, Craig's, Krave and Hatch Yakitori + Bar.
  • Akasha in Culver City opens a new outdoor patio for dining from Wednesdays through Sundays from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. The restaurant's cafe/marketplace is open from 11:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday. It also offers various takeout options.
  • Mírame, founded by Michelin star chef Joshua Gil and Matthew Egan, just opened in Beverly Hills, offering contemporary Mexican cuisine for takeout or patio dining.
Christine N. Ziemba Catch Thai flicks or a documentary about Bob Marley. Watch drag stars werk it at the Rose Bowl. Attend a virtual production of the Bard's "Measure for Measure." Thu, 30 Jul 2020 06:00:00 -0700 This Weekend's Most Fabulous Online And IRL Events: July 31 - Aug. 2
U.S. Army Spc. Makayla Montz and Pfc. Marc Jules Ocampo, California National Guard medical support team members, prepare to work at a skilled nursing facility April 29, 2020. (Capt. Jason Sanchez/California National Guard)

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Soldiers from the National Guard are being deployed across the country to assist overwhelmed health departments and skilled nursing facilities hit hard by COVID-19.

Here in the Golden State, California National Guard soldiers are being stationed in nursing homes, doing everything from taking care of both residents' daily and medical needs to rearranging furniture and disinfecting facilities hit hard by the virus.

They're also traveling the state running mobile pop-up testing sites.

Colonel James Ward, the Joint Surgeon for the state National Guard, said health facilities can get strapped for staff fast. "It's unexpected, a bunch of people get exposed, and then they call the state and say, 'Hey, we need help'," he said.

That's where the National Guard comes in, with "rapid medical strike" teams of around eight to 10 people. Ward said that includes a variety of positions, including medical doctors, physician assistants, nurses, physical therapists, respiratory therapists, even behavioral health and field medics.

More than 200 medical personnel have responded, going to 25 nursing homes, two hospitals, and two other medical centers since the virus hit. Early on in the pandemic, they had as many as 13 rapid medical strike teams spread across the state as health care facilities scrambled to staff up against the virus. Now, as staffing demands have eased it's down to five.

Ward said in general these strike teams stay at a location for 72 hours to six days to get them over the staffing crunch.

"Once they're stable, and they're good to go, we literally reset and we wait for the next mission," he said.


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Sometimes those missions can be pretty long. Captain Serenity Holden oversees a team that runs mobile COVID-19 testing centers across the state. These mobile teams have done around 20,000 tests so far.

I reached Holden at the hotel where she and her team isolate themselves when not on duty. They've been living in hotels since the beginning of May.

"I was definitely not expecting this to be a long-term assignment," she said, laughing.

And no one did. But now Holden is stationed in Sacramento County operating a high-demand drive-through testing site. "There's been lines before we got there, and we've hit our maximum capacity within two hours," she said.

Her team also set up pop-up testing sites at more than 40 nursing homes. "They have been so locked away from everyone, so that everyone seems so very happy to just to get some interaction with people," Holden said.

But she said not everyone is happy to see soldiers in uniform on their streets and in their nursing homes. Holden said some nursing homes have been worried, asking if the soldiers will show up in tanks -- "are you going to show up with guns?" she said.

One Sacramento resident told a local TV news station that seeing soldiers made things more intense. People were already on edge because of the national guard presence during recent protests.

Holden said her team of soldiers who swab people for the virus try to be less intimidating. Their uniforms, for example? "They're basically pajamas. We don't have a bunch of guns," she said.

The Department of Defense says over 3,000 National Guard soldiers across the country have tested positive for COVID-19.

In California, Colonel Ward said they've had better luck. "It's not been an excessive amount, any different from what's going on in the community. We monitor that closely," he said.

But the virus shows few signs of slowing down here. Just recently, California for the first time hit more than 150 COVID-19 deaths in a single day.

Emily Elena Dugdale With overwhelmed health departments calling for help, National Guard soldiers get unusual assignments running COVID19 testing sites and assisting nursing homes. Thu, 30 Jul 2020 05:00:00 -0700 As Coronavirus Surges in California, National Guard Soldiers Fill Staffing Gaps
A sign reading "Gone Fishing" is pictured on the window of a closed barber shop in Santa Monica on July 28, 2020. Many business owners and workers are relying on unemployment insurance as shops remain closed. (Valerie Macon/AFP via Getty Images)

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California lawmakers say if Congress does not renew federal unemployment benefits that are now expiring, the state could step in to fill the gap.

That extra $600 per week in unemployment benefits is thanks to federal legislation passed early in the coronavirus pandemic. Losing it would have massive ripple effects.

Millions of Californians have been getting those benefits. An unprecedented 8.7 million unemployment claims have been filed in California since the pandemic began.

And those federal payments have now pumped more than $26 billion into California's unemployment system. But the extra $600 is now expiring, and so far Congress hasn't come up with a plan to extend it.


Without that federal money, Californians would receive a median weekly payment of just $339 in state unemployment insurance, according to a recent analysis from researchers with the California Policy Lab.

UCLA economist Till von Wachter, one of the researchers, said that without the federal $600 boost:

"About half of Californians would have weekly benefits that put them below the federal poverty line."

Congress is split on extending the federal benefits. Democrats in the House of Representatives have passed a bill that would maintain the $600 weekly benefit. But Republicans want to reduce the payments to $200 per week, arguing higher payments discourage people from going back to work.

Sacramento lawmakers -- worried about the high cost of living in a state where many people were barely hanging on prior to the pandemic -- say that if the federal benefits are eliminated or greatly reduced it could be catastrophic. They're now considering a plan to replace those benefits with state funds.


A group of state lawmakers tasked with developing California's economic stimulus plan has proposed taking action to make up for "shortfalls resulting from if the federal government does not extend the $600 per week payment."

California Assemblyman Phil Ting said without that help, cash-strapped Californians could end up facing eviction.

"At a time when we're telling everyone to stay at home, we want to make sure they have the ability to stay at home rather than be out on the street," Ting said.

Ting said the proposal is in nascent stages, but it would likely involve borrowing money from the federal government and paying it back with increased taxes on employers down the line.

"If we need to make up that difference so that people can stay in their homes, I think it'd be an investment that would be well spent," he said.

California has borrowed money from the federal government in the past when unemployment payments have gone up. It took the state more than seven years to repay the debts racked up during Great Recession.

Attorney Michael Bernick -- a former director of the state department that runs California's unemployment office -- said raising payroll taxes during a time of such great economic uncertainty could hurt the state's chances at economic recovery.

"Increasing payroll taxes on employers is probably the last thing we need now," Bernick said. "It's a disincentive to hire people. And what we need are incentives to hire people."

For now, nothing is set in stone. Before introducing any legislation, California lawmakers are waiting to see if Congress reaches a compromise to extend the federal benefits.

David Wagner An extra $600 per week in federal benefits has been a lifeline for out-of-work Californians. Now it's going away. Here's what state lawmakers plan to do about it. Wed, 29 Jul 2020 17:40:11 -0700 Could California Step Up To Replace Expiring Federal Unemployment Benefits?
News Megan Garvey Wed, 29 Jul 2020 12:49:48 -0700 How Voting Will Work For The 2020 Election