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Fire At Carson Refinery Briefly Shuts Down 405 Freeway

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Scene of the refinery fire as captured by passersby on social media. (Brian Hayes via Twitter)

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A big fire reported at a refinery in Carson shut down the 405 Freeway for less than an hour, according to the California Highway Patrol.

The fire was covered live both on social media by witnesses and on TV by a number of local news stations.

As the fire grew visible from a distance, the Los Angeles Fire Department reminded people the area was out of its jurisdiction and would he handled by the county fire department.

Refinery fires are not uncommon in Southern Calfornia. Sharon McNary, who covers infrastructure, notes that higher gas prices for the time the refinery is shut down for cleanup and repair are to expected. A refinery in Torrance was closed for at least a year after an explosion in 2015.

LAist will have more context and details in the morning.

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Free Pupusas! Waka Flocka Flame! How College Students Are Getting Out The Vote

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Waka Flocka Flame at a voter registration concert. (Courtesy of Associated Students of the University of California)

To boost voter engagement, students at California universities are reaching out to their peers in a language they understand.

They're using a variety of enticements:

  • Concerts with singers Waka Flocka Flame and Cupcakke that include voter registration
  • Photo booth where you can don a fetching Uncle Sam or Abe Lincoln hat
  • Tote bags with customized airbrushed voting messages
  • Hands-on demo of the new L.A. County touch screen voting machine
  • Free pupusas!

The latest effort was a four hour voter engagement event at CSU Northridge titled “Politics Isn’t a Bad Word.”

Meet the student who's behind this effort:

Elon Musk’s SpaceX Is Headed To San Pedro

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Elon Musk (L) with L.S. City Councilmember Joe Buscaino (R) Photo by Branimir Kvartuc

Elon Musk’s SpaceX has been given the green light to move into the Port of Los Angeles.

The L.A. City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to approve a lease agreement for the companty to occupy a currently vacant terminal. The site will allow SpaceX to research, design and manufacture spacecrafts with the goal of sending people to Mars.

“This is an exciting item, colleagues,” councilmember Joe Buscaino, in whose district the company will be located, said at Tuesday’s meeting. “It’s crazy that here we are in 2020, preparing ourselves to send people to Mars and it’s going to happen in our own backyard.”

SpaceX will pay $1.7 million annually for 10 years to rent the space, and the lease includes two 10-year options to renew.

Buscaino noted that SpaceX will compliment a recently approved investment in the San Pedro Public Market.

Venice Opens A New Temporary Homeless Shelter With 154 Beds

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The Pacific Sunset temporary homeless shelter in Venice (Photo courtesy of the Office of Eric Garcetti)

A new homeless shelter with 154 beds for adults ages 18 and over opened Tuesday in Venice. The temporary shelter is part of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti's A Bridge Home initiative, which aims to build a new shelter in each city council district.

The Pacific Sunset shelter is located on Sunset Avenue, at a former bus lot owned by L.A. Metro. The shelter includes trailers and a large, tent-like structure. Local artists have painted murals to add a more personal touch.

Service providers People Assisting the Homeless and Safe Place for Youth will operate the shelter, providing basics like hot meals, showers, and laundry in addition to case management.

“[We] get them connected to the systems that will help move them into permanent housing,” said PATH’s Senior Director for Programming in Metro L.A., Stephen Fiechter. “We work to create a trauma-informed environment where folks get support, and we’re cognizant of the trauma that the experience of homelessness is for folks."

City Councilman Mike Bonin first pitched the shelter back in June 2018. But, as has been the case with other shelters in Garcetti's effort, there has been vocal community pushback to the new shelter in Venice, including a pair of lawsuits. Fiechter says PATH has met with residents to try to relieve concerns.

“For example, we’re able to say in those meetings [that] the shelter’s not designed so people would line up at night or during the day outside,” he said.

To get into the shelter, people will need to be added to a waiting list by local service providers. Security will also be on site at all times.

Fiechter says people will likely stay at the shelter for about six months before they move on to permanent housing.

“The hope is always as quickly as possible that makes sense,” he said. “We’re very interested in providing them the supports and the tools that they will need to live happily in their own home on into the future, and not forcing people through a system just to get them into a home.”

In the 2019 Great Los Angeles Homeless Count, Venice had a homeless population of 1,128 people.

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LA Approves Crackdown On Hollywood Tour Buses

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File: People ride a Hollywood tour bus near the Beverly Hilton Hotel in 2012 in Los Angeles. (David McNew/AFP via Getty Images)

Those big tour buses rolling all over Hollywood will soon be banned from driving, stopping and parking on certain residential streets in Los Angeles.

The L.A. City Council passed an ordinance Tuesday calling on its Department of Transportation to create a set of guidelines for tour bus operators, including listing streets deemed unsafe for them to use. The ordinance also includes a system of increasing criminal and civil fines for operators that violate the new rules.

Hollywood Hills residents have long complained about the daily onslaught of tour buses driving through their neighborhoods. City Councilman David Ryu, who represents L.A.’s 4th Council District and authored the original motion calling for a crackdown on tour buses, said the law has been a long time coming. He said in a statement:

“For far too long, unscrupulous tour bus operators have been putting their passengers and the public at risk by driving up narrow hillside roads that weren’t built for heavy vehicles, making illegal U-turns, and allowing passengers to hop on and off behind blind curves. We had no way to stop them and keep people safe. After years of working with the State and working with the City, we are finally bringing some common sense safety to this industry.”

The big tour buses are also wearing out streets that weren’t designed to handle vehicles their size, according to the ordinance, which now awaits Mayor Eric Garcetti’s signature to become official city law.

“If we are prevented from being able to go anywhere in the Hollywood Hills at any time, it's not so much a loss for us – we're gonna go to other streets,” said Jeff Napshin, president and CEO of Star Track Tours, speaking to KPCC/LAist media partner NBC4 last week.. “What's gonna happen is that view, that experience that visitors from all over the world want and want to experience of L.A., they're not gonna have that opportunity.”

The new rules were made possible after a 2017 state Assembly bill gave cities more power to regulate tour companies.

Crucial California Water Source Is Drying Up As The World Warms

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A view of low water levels at Lake Powell on March 28, 2015. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The flow of one of Southern California’s key sources of water – the Colorado River – has steadily declined by about 20 percent over the past century, and could continue to do so as the climate changes.

That’s according to a new study from the U.S. Geological Survey, recently published in the journal Science.

It's a worrying sign, since we get about 25 percent of our water from the river.

WHERE'S IT GOING?

The decline can be primarily linked to rising temperatures in the Colorado River Basin, which have increased by roughly 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit since 1913.

The amount of precipitation that’s fallen has remained pretty much the same, but much more of it has come down as rain rather than snow during that time. That's a problem for a number of reasons.

For one, snow is a crucial source of long-term water storage, slowly dolling out runoff, and keeping rivers flowing as the weather warms throughout the year.

Second, since snow reflects energy from the sun away from the Earth. When it’s not there, the Earth heats up faster, the snow melts quicker, and runoff coming down the river evaporates and is taken up by plants at a higher rate.

That means less water for us.

HOW BAD COULD IT GET?

The study’s authors estimate a further decrease in runoff of between 14–31% by 2050 as the world continues to warm.

“In the case where there’s more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, you have a larger decline of the flow than in the case where you have a smaller concentration of gases in the atmosphere,” said Chris Milly, senior research scientist with the USGS.

A big caveat: it’s notoriously difficult to predict precipitation patterns. While the amount of water falling from the sky has stayed relatively consistent over the past 100 years, there’s no guarantee it’ll continue to do so at the same rate as the climate changes.

Disney's Bob Iger Steps Down From CEO Role, Staying On As Chairman

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Bob Iger and Bob Chapek at Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge. (Courtesy Disney)

Disney CEO Bob Iger stepped down from his role as CEO Tuesday, though he will be continuing with Disney as executive chairman through the end of 2021. Iger is fresh off launching the Disney+ streaming service and acquiring 21st Century Fox.

His new position will focus on overseeing Disney's creative side, according to a company press release. It also notes that he'll be helping to ensure a smooth transition through the end of his contract next year. Under Iger's tenure, Disney has been big on acquisitions, also acquiring Pixar, Marvel, and Lucasfilm.

Another Bob — Bob Chapek — is taking over the CEO role. Chapek was most recently chairman of Disney theme parks and resorts; he also worked previously on the studio side. Chapek oversaw the opening of Shanghai Disney and the (somewhat rocky) addition of Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge to Disney theme parks. He's the seventh CEO in Disney company history, stepping into a position Iger held for the past 15 years.

Disney's board has been working on an Iger succession plan for several years, according to the release; he announced last year that he would be stepping down at the end of 2021.

PRIMARY SOURCES:

CA Lottery Isn’t Paying Its Fair Share For Education, Audit Claims

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A man shows his just purchased lottery tickets from the Blue Bird Liquor store in Hawthorne in 2018. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)

The California lottery has not been living up to its promise to support public education, according to the state auditor.

The Lottery was established by voters in 1984 to benefit schools by allocating a certain amount of its proceeds to public education. It's required by law to increase school funding in proportion to its revenues.

Here are some of the key takeaways from the audit:

  • Its failure to follow the proportionality requirement means it shorted education by $36 million in the 2017-18 fiscal year (the Lottery reports it contributed a total of $1.7 billion that year, or 1% of the state’s public education budget)
  • It's not doing enough to follow a competitive bidding process
  • The State Controller's Office has not provided sufficient oversight and even removed a significant finding from a recent audit after the Lottery disputed it

The audit echoes the findings of our 2018 investigation. We reported that while California Lottery revenues were skyrocketing, money for schools barely inched up.

A 2010 change in the law had led to a dwindling share of revenues flowing towards education — an issue that concerned auditors, who determined the Lottery “has not prioritized funding to education." We also reported that several Southern California cities, including Westminster, Garden Grove and Inglewood, had some of the highest rates of per capita lottery sales in the state.

"It's very clear that this is a system that targets the poor," Zahava Stadler, with a nonprofit that studies education funding, told us in 2018.

Both the Lottery and the State Controller's Office disagreed with many of the report’s conclusions, though the Lottery agreed to implement some of its recommendations, according to the audit.

PRIMARY SOURCES:

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LA Metro And Other Public Transit Services Are Free On Election Day

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Passengers board route 351 metro bus towards Compton Station in downtown Los Angeles. Chava Sanchez/LAist

Looking to exercise your right to vote in the upcoming primary election, if only you had a way to get there? You can ride a variety of public transit services for free on election day.

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s buses and trains are fare-free starting midnight on March 3 through midnight March 4. You can also get to a voting center via a free, single ride (30 minutes max) on Metro’s Bike Share.

Two Metro sites actually double as voting centers — the agency’s headquarters at One Gateway Plaza and the El Monte Bus Station — from Feb. 22 through election day.

Metro’s board approved free transit for state and federal elections in 2018 as an incentive to potentially boost voter turnout. Back in 2016, when California last held its presidential primary on June 7, L.A. County had about 4.8 million registered voters. About 40% of them cast ballots.

“A lack of transportation should never stand between a voter and the polls,” L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a press release. “Every vote counts in this democracy, and we have to do everything we can to help Americans exercise our most fundamental right.”

Metro isn’t the only agency providing free rides on March 3. The municipal transit departments of Los Angeles, Pasadena, Long Beach, and Culver City, along with the Antelope Valley Transit Authority, will also go fare-free. The county’s Access Services, which provides transit to county residents with disabilities, is also offering free trips to and from voting centers for riders and their companions (customers just have to tell the person booking their trip that they’re going to vote).

Not sure where the nearest voting center is to your home, work or elsewhere? We’ve got you covered. And you may have heard that voting in L.A. County has changed. We’ve got more on that here.

Curry House Appears To Have Abruptly Closed SoCal Locations

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Multiple Curry House locations have reportedly closed. (Courtesy of NBCLA)

Their website is dead, Reddit is outraged, and Twitter is blowing up with reports of Curry House closures, with some saying the parent company has shuttered Southern California locations of the popular restaurant chain specializing in Japanese-style curry dishes.

NBC Los Angeles reporter Darsha Philips reported from one closed location this morning:

And distraught fans are already mourning.

This story is developing. Our food editor, Elina Shatkin, is looking into it and will update when we know more.

It’s Official: LAUSD Primary Is Most Expensive Ever

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Los Angeles’ most expensive local elections this year are not for city council — they’re the races for L.A. Unified School Board.

In fact, two weeks ago we forecasted the school board election coming up next week could wind up being the most expensive LAUSD primary … ever.

That forecast has come true. As of Sunday, outside political groups have spent more than $6.2 million on three competitive races for LAUSD board seats.

Purchases of negative advertising make up about one-third of this year's "independent expenditures" so far. Today, we published this piece fact-checking a few common lines of attack featured in these ads.

(Kyle Stokes/LAist)

The vast majority of that spending has come from advocates for charter schools, who’ve spent $4.6 million so far. That’s triple the amount their rivals, United Teachers Los Angeles, have spent.

Pro-charter philanthropist Bill Bloomfield has been the single largest source of independent expenditures this cycle, spending $2.6 million. The California Charter Schools Association has spent a little more than $2 million so far.

That total already surpassed the previous record for an LAUSD primary — $5.7 million in March 2017 — and there’s still a week to go in this year’s election.

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It’s Tuesday, Feb. 25 And Here Are The Stories We’re Following Today

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(Chava Sanchez / LAist)

The Santa Ana winds are back, so you can expect warm and dry for much of this week. The National Weather Service is even using those words again: "record levels."

Here's what we're...

Covering Today:

  • A Cal State Northridge student is adapting traditional outreach methods to increase voter registration on campus among her generation. Education reporter Adolfo Guzman-Lopez says her effort is one of many at California public colleges and universities.
  • Metro and other public transit agencies plan to run free service on March 3 for the primary. Our transportation writer Ryan Fonseca will have the details.
  • Pop culture and entertainment writer Mike Roe also takes you inside a new exhibition at LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes that looks at the history and current state of L.A.'s "Afro-Latinx" community.

In Case You Missed It:

  • Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein was convicted of rape by a New York jury. He still faces criminal charges in California.
  • Kobe Bryant memorials have sprung up all over the city. Art Gozukuchikyan, aka "Artoon," spray-painted his within 24 hours of the Lakers legend's death. Read his story.
  • Tucked inside Prop. 13, a $15 billion school bond measure, is a break to encourage developers building apartments around transit. Some fear it could hurt certain school districts.

Help Us Cover Your Community:

  • Got something you’ve always wanted to know about Southern California and the people who call it home? Is there an issue you want us to cover? Ask us anything >>
  • Have a tip about news on which we should dig deeper? Let us know >>

The news cycle moves fast. Some stories don't pan out. Others get added. Consider this today's first draft.