Help us rise to the challenge of covering the coronavirus crisis. Our journalism is free for all to access. But we rely on your support. Donate today to power our journalists.

Here's your daily audio briefing (updated weekdays):

Voting Early, At A Hospital (Or A Farmers Market. Or A Mall. Or…)

L.A. County election officials are deploying "Mobile Vote Centers" like this one to 25 scheduled stops. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

If Jamie Wells had to vote like she did in years past, she’d be hustling home from her job in Boyle Heights at the end of Election Day and sitting in traffic for an hour to make it to her neighborhood polling place.

This year, L.A. County election officials have made major changes to where and how we vote.

And that meant that today one of the county’s three “Mobile Vote Centers” set up a polling location right outside Los Angeles County/USC Medical Center, where Wells works as a nurse.

“It’s super nice, actually. I’m surprised,” said Wells, who loved that she could vote without hassle “right before lunch.”

This primary election marks the first time L.A. County voters can cast a ballot at any one of almost 1,000 “vote centers” across the county — and not just the location closest to their home.

By the time the official March 3 primary election date arrives, the “Mobile Vote Centers” will have made 25 one-day stops across the region. Officials are setting up pop-up polling places at farmers markets, malls, workplaces -- and even at Universal Studios’ CityWalk.

Check out a full list of where the Mobile Vote Centers will appear>>

In addition to these portable vote centers, some regular in-person voting locations have been open since last Sunday; these “11-day” polling places will be open daily through the election. Another wave of voting locations will open this weekend and will remain open through 8 p.m. on March 3.


OC Mental Health Jail Expansion Could Start Soon

Bill Oxford/Unsplash

Today is the deadline for contruction companies to bid for the job of adding mental health beds to an Orange County jail that has been shut down for more than seven months already.

In July 2019, the James A. Musick Facility in Irvine closed -- temporarily -- to allow for a remodel accommodating nearly 900 mental health beds.

But construction hasn’t started yet. The O.C. Board of Supervisors first has to vote on which company will handle the construction. The remodel is projected to cost $167 million — money that came from the state.

O.C. community organizers and activists are protesting the jail expansion. Daisy Ramirez, a jail reform advocate with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, said:

“There has been a huge investment into the Sheriff’s Department and very little funding into health care services that provide community-based resources.”

Ramirex said the O.C. Sheriff's Department has historically failed to provide adequate mental health care to inmates. She wants to see community-based treatment instead of more jail beds.

But the rising number of inmates with mental illness in the jails has the Sheriff's Department concerned.

“We have a shared interest in rehabilitating inmates with mental health challenges and substance use disorders to be stable and sober, with the ultimate goal of having them not return to jail,” Sheriff-Coroner Don Barnes said in a statement.

Last August, L.A. County lawmakers killed a $2.2 billion contract to build a mental health facility for inmates. Jail reform advocates led the campaign to cancel the construction.


Warm Santa Ana Winds Are Sending Temperatures Into The 80s This Week

The sun rises over power lines in Santa Clarita, CA

If you found yourself reaching for your breeziest caftan this morning, you weren’t alone – thanks to some particularly tropical Santa Ana winds, temperatures reached the 80s in L.A. on Tuesday and will keep going in that direction through Thursday.

Things got so hot in Anaheim yesterday that the previous record high was knocked out of its spot, from 85 degrees on Feb. 25, 2016 to yesterday’s 86. DTLA, Burbank and San Gabriel saw highs of 83, and Van Nuys saw a high of 82.

Meteorologist Joe Sirard told LAist that temperatures are well over 10 degrees higher than they typically are at this time of year.

“Thirteen degrees above normal today, approximately, and then an additional 4 degrees warmer predicted [tomorrow],” he said. “So quite a bit above normal.”

The same Santa Anas are also sending gusty winds through SoCal. A wind advisory is in place until noon on Thursday in San Bernardino and Riverside counties. By Sunday, meteorologists are expecting temperatures to drop into the 50s and 60s, with a storm possibly rolling through as well.

Climate Change Will Alter California’s Coast. Here’s How The State Plans To Manage It

Carbon Beach, also known locally as "Billionaire Beach," will see significant sea level rise over time because of the effects of climate change. Photographed from the air on September 9, 2019 in Malibu, California. James Bernal for LAist

Climate change together with the impact of millions of us living along California’s coast, doesn’t bode well for our future here. That’s why today, California’s Ocean Protection Council approved a five-year strategic plan to try to address some of the issues, before it’s too late.

Key objectives:

  • Make sure the state, up and down the coast, is prepared for 3 1/2 feet of sea level rise by 2050. That’ll mean deciding what’ll stay and what’ll go, including in Malibu and Santa Monica.
  • Save and build up coastal wetlands — crucial for sequestering carbon and providing a buffer for rising sea levels.
  • Expand kelp forests, which can help fight ocean acidification.
  • Ensure beaches are largely free of poop water by 2025.
  • Stop trash from flowing from cities into the ocean by 2030.
  • Get rid of at least one offshore oil rig by 2030.
  • Possibly establish an offshore wind farm by 2026.


OC Has Only One Reported Coronavirus Case. Why Declare An Emergency?

Alyssa Jeong Perry/LAist

There still has only been one case of coronavirus in Orange County, but the county declared a local health emergency today.

At a news conference, county supervisors and public health officials said they made the declaration a day after a senior official at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention essentially said the spread of the virus in the U.S. is inevitable.

The O.C. declaration “expands our ability to respond in a nimble and flexible way” to the outbreak of the disease, now dubbed COVID-19, said County Health Officer Dr. Nichole Quick.

In particular, Quick said it gives the county the ability to request aid from neighboring counties, the state and the federal government if it runs short of funds.


Local Officials Are Making (Very Initial) Plans To House Homeless People On State Lands

Governor Gavin Newsom tours one of the trailers he sent to Los Angeles to use for emergency homeless housing along with Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. Caroline Champlin/LAist

Governor Newsom’s plan to reduce homelessness includes leasing 286 state-owned properties across California to local governments for shelters or other homeless services.

The spaces include:

  • Caltrans parking lots
  • State hospitals and armories, among other properties

All can be rented out for $1 a month plus, a $5,000 annual fee. Some local leaders are already talking about plans for the sites.


Free Doula Program For Black Moms-To-Be Gets New Life

A pilot program offering free doula services in LA is getting a second chance. Mariana Dale/ LAist

A few months ago we told you about the controversy surrounding a promising program meant to help African American moms have healthier births.

The funder, insurance company Health Net, pulled the funding from the Association for Wholistic Maternal and Newborn Health after several doulas accused the program leaders of racial insensitivity and a hostile work environment.

Several staff members were fired by the association after they filed complaints about pay and inappropriate comments about African American staff’s race, hair and bodies.

Now the program has been reborn as the Frontline Doulas program.

“To further enhance the patient experience of expecting mothers, we are transitioning a portion of our project to Diversity Uplifts, a local non-profit whose philosophy is more closely aligned with our approach to the program,” a Health Net spokesman wrote in an emailed statement.

The co-directors of Frontline Doulas are Sayida Preprah, a licensed clinical psychologist and doula, and Khefri Riley, who is also a doula. Both had lodged complaints about the original program and were fired.

“This is my community, these are my sisters,” Peprah said. “I was a Medi-Cal mom with both of my kids in L.A. County trying to figure out this system and the care of a doula, a black doula, changed my life.”

The new program will begin enrolling clients starting March 9.

Here are the requirements:

  • Live in Los Angeles County
  • Identify as Black and/or African American
  • Have an estimated due date between March 15 and June 30, 2020.

Participants will receive services including three prenatal visits, support during birth, three postpartum visits and lactation education. There will also be a fatherhood support group.

To apply, email or call (310) 817-0551.

“We’re re-framing what’s happening right now in the current crisis of black maternal and infant health into this resilience and into a re-claiming of healthy birth for black families,” Riley said.


Work Begins On New Los Feliz Homeless Shelter

A rendering of the emergency bridge housing site now under construction on the edge of Griffith Park in Los Feliz. Courtesy L.A. City Councilman David Ryu's office

The city has broken ground on the new facility — the latest in Mayor Garcetti’s A Bridge Home initiative. The shelter being built at the southeastern edge of Griffith Park will provide beds for 100 men and women experiencing homelessness.

The goal of “bridge housing” is to give people a safe, short-term place to stay while outreach workers connect them with health services, counseling and long-term housing. When a person secures that housing solution, their bed opens up for someone else in need.


New Los Feliz Homeless Shelter Is Moving 'Full Steam Ahead'

Carson Refinery Fire: What We Know So Far And What It Means For Gas Prices

The scene at a fire that broke out late Tuesday night at the Marathom Refinery plant in Carson. (Courtesy of NBC4)

Firefighters are on scene at the Marathon Petroleum refinery in Carson this morning where a dramatic fire broke out just before 11 p.m. last night. Huge flames and plumes of smoke could be seen for miles and witnesses reported hearing explosions.

As of mid-morning, the fire was contained and under control, all personnel were accounted for, and no injuries had been reported, according to a statement from the refinery. The fire did force the company to shut down a portion of the refinery.

"The safety of our employees and the surrounding community is our top priority," the company said.

The company said it had set up an emergeny operations center and that L.A. County firefighters were ready to assist the refinery's team if needed.

The cause of the fire is under investigation but officials earlier said it appeared there was an explosion in a cooling tower.

The refinery also said that air monitoring was ongoing and that no risk to the community has been identified.

Click "Read More" below for additional coverage on:

  • Why residents didn't receive alerts
  • What we know about Marathon and this refinery
  • What was released into the air
  • What it will mean for gas prices
  • What we might expect from the investigation

Ram, 'Grumpy Owl' Injured In The Maria Fire, Is Going Back To The Wild

Ram the owl wrapped up in a fire jacket, after being rescued. Photo cropped from the original. (Ventura County Fire Department)

You may have seen pictures of Ram, a great horned owl, floating around the internet last fall. The bird was found, injured, during the Maria Fire. But good news, grumpy owl fans, Ram is heading home.

Tonight, the same firefighters that rescued the owl will be there to release it back into the wild.

For those who aren't familiar with Ram, this tale started last November as the Maria Fire was winding down. A Ventura County Fire crew was in the Somis area, when they spotted an owl in a ditch.

"As they approached it, it didn't fly away. It didn't seem scared," said Mike Des Forges, an engineer and spokesman for the Ventura County Fire Department. "It wasn't acting appropriately, so they called the wildlife refuge center and they wrapped it up in their fire jackets and transported to this refuge center."

The firefighters named the owl "Ram" after their crew mascot and the L.A. Rams football team.

The crew snapped some photos of the bird wrapped up in the jacket, and Twitter users had some fun joking around with Ram's less than grateful expression at being saved.

Camarillo Wildlife Rehabilitation took the owl to a vet specializing in birds and it was treated for a broken bone.

"[The bone the owl broke] is kind if like a clavicle would be like in a human being, and it's where the two wings attach," said Nicky Thole, director of Camarillo Wildlife Rehabilitation.

She says Ram is a pretty lucky owl, because most animals caught in a fire die or hide out of fear, leaving them to heal without veterinary care.

The story of Ram, as it turns out, has a happier ending.

Why We're Reporting On The Uncertain Future Of The OC School Of The Arts

Ballroom dance is offered in one of 20 conservatories at the Orange County School of the Arts. Chava Sanchez/LAist

There's no question the Orange County School of the Arts (OCSA) is an excellent school — that's why so many students vie to get in each year.

But now the fate of the prestigious charter school is in question.


Last fall, OCSA asked the Santa Ana Unified School District to renew its charter. Nothing unusual there — the school has done that every five years since it was founded in 2000. Until now, the district re-upped without many questions.

This time around, Santa Ana Unified is pushing back, questioning the prestigious school over its admissions, diversity and fundraising practices.

I've spent months looking into how the cordial relationship between OCSA and Santa Ana Unified that lasted nearly 20 years went sour — and today we roll out the results in a special report.

To understand what drama was unfolding behind the curtain, I visited the district and the school, interviewed administrators, students and parents. I attended late-night meetings. I uncovered letters exchanged between lawyers, and gained access to admissions data and fundraising packets provided to parents that even Santa Ana Unified staff admit they hadn’t seen in their own oversight.

What I found speaks to issues bigger than this one school, like access to arts education – an issue our newsroom has been covering for more than six years— and the delicate dance of running and overseeing charter schools.


Santa Ana Renters Are Trying To Get Rent Control On The Ballot

An apartment for rent in Central Los Angeles. (Matt Tinoco/LAist)

A new law capping rent increases in California has not stopped efforts to pass stricter forms of rent control in Southern California. Organizers in Santa Ana are now collecting signatures to get rent control on the November ballot.

The new state law, AB 1482, went into effect at the beginning of this year. It limits rent hikes in most buildings to around 8% per year.

Kayleigh Levitt with Tenants United Santa Ana said that’s not enough to prevent working class renters from being pushed out of the city.

“That kind of change that we're seeing is happening everywhere,” she said. “Even a smaller rent increase can do a lot of damage to a community.”

Levitt is one of the organizers now trying to collect enough signatures to put rent control up for a vote in Santa Ana during the 2020 Presidential election. Their proposal would limit rent increases to 3% each year, or 80% of current inflation, whichever is less.

Organizers tried to get rent control on the ballot in Santa Ana back in 2018, but they failed to collect the required number of signatures (10% of the city’s registered voters). This time, they’ll need to collect even more to qualify, because voter registration has gone up in the city. They’re aiming for nearly 12,000 signatures by their July 20 deadline to qualify for the November ballot.


It’s Wednesday, Feb. 26 And Here Are The Stories We’re Following Today

Chava Sanchez / LAist

Today we bring you a special report on one of the nation's best known charter schools. Here's more from executive editor Megan Garvey:

Carla Javier has spent the last couple of years on a unique beat: arts education. It's an interesting topic to cover in California where access to the arts in school is supposed to be required, but there are clearly disparities. At the core of Carla's mission has been this question: Who does, and does not, get to learn about and make art.

And that's the question at the center of a controversy she has been following for months as the Orange County School of the Arts, a public charter school, faces off against its current authorizer, Santa Ana Unified. The school's passionate supporters argue it's special. Critics say it's more exclusive than a public school should be and that oversight has been lax.

The school's current charter is set to expire in June. We really hope you read the story and let us know what you think: The Uncertain Future of the Orange County School of the Arts

Here’s what else we’re following:

Covering Today:

  • Curry House, the popular Japanese chain, abruptly closed its restaurants across Southern California this week. Our food editor Elina Shatkin is looking into what happened.
  • Pop culture writer Mike Roe takes a look at some of the diverse creators through animation's history and the struggles they've faced, including the first African American to work at Disney; an artist who became an animator after being interned; and one of the first women in the industry.
  • California Governor Gavin Newsom is offering a bunch of state-owned parcels around L.A. for homeless services. What could be done with that land? Caroline Champlin will have the details.

In Case You Missed It:

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.