Here's your daily audio briefing (updated weekdays):
'Carmageddon'-Like Closure Of I-5 In Burbank Coming This April
UPDATE - MARCH 13, 2020: Caltrans announced a two week rain delay for the related, long term Burbank Boulevard closure. Weather-permitting, that closure is now expected to begin March 28.
Commuters, prepare. Caltrans is planning a major 36-hour closure of the 5 Freeway in Burbank to make way for a bridge demolition.
The closure, reminiscent of 2011's "Carmageddon," is expected to run from Apr. 25 to Apr. 27 as part of a project to tear down and replace the Burbank Boulevard Bridge over the freeway.
Michael Comeaux, spokesman for Caltrans, says the specific closure points are still being reviewed, but motorists can expect the I-5 to be closed through Glendale, Burbank and the Sun Valley area.
Comeaux says the new bridge will need to be long enough to cross additional carpool lanes that are being built in both directions.
But wait, there’s more!
Starting this upcoming Saturday, Burbank Boulevard will be closed between San Fernando Boulevard and Front Street for 14-16 months. Caltrans is encouraging people to plan ahead and find alternative routes.
I-5 EMPIRE STRIKES BACK at traffic!— 5 FWY LA County (@My5LA) March 9, 2020
Use the new I-5 Empire Ave interchange in #Burbank during the long-term closure of Burbank Blvd at I-5, which starts Saturday 3/14 at 12:01 a.m. https://t.co/xA5vA0m3BI pic.twitter.com/R0fuKmEhHG
'Absolutely Stunning' Indictment Alleges Former LA Councilman Englander Took Cash Payouts In Casino Bathrooms
By Brian Frank, Elly Yu and Libby Denkmann
The allegations read like a Hollywood screenplay, with cash exchanges in casino bathrooms, pricey dinners and tens of thousands of dollars spent on alcohol.
Former Los Angeles City Councilman Mitch Englander today surrendered to federal authorities on charges that he "obstructed an investigation into him accepting cash, female escort services, hotel rooms and expensive meals from a businessman during trips to Las Vegas and Palm Springs, and later lied to the FBI about his conduct," according to a statement from the FBI.
In federal court this afternoon, Englander pleaded not guilty.
He was scheduled to be released on $50,000 unsecured bail, including conditions that he turn over his seven firearms, not have contact with any witnesses or co-defendants and not leave California without permission. Englander wore a black fleece zip-up pullover when he appeared in front of Judge Patrick J. Walsh at the Roybal Federal Building and Courthouse in downtown Los Angeles.
His attorney, Janet Levine released this written statement on the steps of the courthouse:
"Mitch is proud of the work he has done to serve his community both as a volunteer reserve police officer and public official. Despite this setback, with the support of his family and friends, he looks forward to continuing his lifelong contributions to the community that has given him so much."
The seven-count indictment was returned by a grand jury on Jan. 16 and not released until today. It alleges that Englander "schemed to cover up his acceptance of cash payments, expensive meals and escort services from a businessman – identified in the indictment as Businessperson A – who operated companies in Los Angeles relating to major development projects and sought to increase his business opportunities in the city." Businessperson A later cooperated with federal investigators.
"It's absolutely stunning, but at the same time this is now our fourth open investigation into L.A. City Hall. So it's in some ways par of the course," Rob Quan, an organizer with the advocacy group Unrig L.A. told us.
Englander, 49, represented L.A.'s 12th Council District from 2011 to 2018. He stepped down unexpectedly in the middle of his term to take a private sector job with an entertainment and sports facilities company. That company, the Oak View Group, was founded by the former chief executive of AEG, the entertainment giant behind Staples Center and L.A. Live in downtown L.A.
Englander served on the Planning and Land Use Management Committee, known as PLUM, which oversees some of the most significant development projects in L.A.
The charges in the indictment stem from an ongoing investigation into corruption at City Hall that includes multiple suspected "pay-to-play" schemes involving multiple city officials, developers, investors, lobbyists and others. In late 2018, FBI officials searched the home and office of Councilman José Huizar, who represents portions of downtown L.A., Boyle Heights and northeast L.A. Huizar has not been charged publicly.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a statement today "there is a sense of outrage whenever anyone who works in this building is alleged to have violated the trust that our constituents place in them."
"We need to get to the truth, whatever it is — and my expectation is that any City employees with knowledge or information will cooperate fully with the investigation if called upon by the FBI,” Garcetti said.
Players in the indictment:
- Businessperson A: Described as operating "businesses in the city relating to major development projects."
- City Staffer A: Described as "City Councilperson A's special assistant from June 2013 to approximately January 2018."
- City Staffer B: Described as a "high-ranking staff member for Englander until June 2017."
- Lobbyist A: Described as being registered with the city.
- Lobbyist B: Described as "a close associate of Englander."
- Developer A: Described as a "real estate developer and architect who operated his own architectural, planning and development firm."
- Developer B: Described as the "chief executive officer and owner of a construction company" in L.A.
Among the allegations of inappropriate payments:
- $24,000 for bottle service on occasion paid for by Businessperson A.
- $10,000 for bottle service paid on the same night by Developer B.
- $10,000 cash in an envelope handed to Englander by Businessperson A in a Las Vegas casino bathroom.
- $5,000 cash in an envelope handed to Englander by Businessperson A in the bathroom of the Morongo Casino.
- $2,500 bill for dinner and drinks with a lobbyist, developer and businessperson
- $300-$400 for two escorts.
A week after the second exchange of cash in a bathroom, the indictment says Englander introduced Businessperson A to Developer B at a lunch.
According to the indictment, Englander "knowingly and willfully falsified, concealed, and covered up by trick, scheme, and device material facts." The indictment goes on to quote from conversations between Englander and a person identified as "Businessperson A" in which Englander allegedly urged the person to deny having ever talked to him.
Federal investigators say in the indictment that after they first contacted Englander for a voluntary interview on Sept. 1, 2017, he tried to backdate at least one check to repay Businessperson A for what the check labeled "Vegas expenses."
The indictment notes that Englander's Form 700 -- the statement of personal economic interest that all elected officials are required to file in California -- lists $1,202 in gifts and benefits but makes no mention of cash payments or other gifts detailed by investigators. Englander's Form 700 for 2017 does detail $90 in socks and $390 in Pantages Theatre tickets, among other small items.
The FBI’s indictment alleges that Englander repeatedly used Confide, a messaging app that deletes messages immediately after being read.
In January 2018, Businessperson A wrote Englander that his attorney had received a call from the FBI. The indictiment says Englander responded "I got a call too. Very stupid. They are waiting [sic] their time with this."
It was one of a number of discussions the two allegedly had on the encrypted messaging app, after Businessperson A had begun cooperating with federal officials.
At one point, Englander instructed Businessperson A to withold information from investigators, according to the indictment, writing: "No, no, we never had discussions. Nothing ever about Confide."
The use of the app, if related to public business, may run afoul of state laws around public records.
"The use of apps like Confide by public officials to automatically delete all communications raises the significant possibility that state law is being violated,” attorney Abenicio Cisneros told us. He added that it may give the appearance “that the public official is making a deliberate effort to undermine transparency and to subvert the disclosure requirements of the Public Records Act.”
'SO DRUNK, I DON'T REMEMBER CALLING'
In addition to using an encrypted messaging app, Englander also allegedly "repeatedly instructed Businessperson A how to respond to FBI questions about the use of escorts during the June 2017 Las Vegas trip."
According to the indictment, Englander instructed Businessperson A to "falsely tell" the FBI:
"If they check your phone records and called, just go, 'I called just to see how much money'...'Say, was so drunk I don't remember calling.' . . . . Or, don't remember, maybe I dialed the wrong number, I don't know, I don't remember.'"
In another scene described in the indictment, Englander allegedly drove Businessperson A around in his car, turned up the music really loud so they could talk without being detected by listening devices and drove in circles.
The indictment has raised questions about the current councilman for District 12, John Lee, who was Englander's chief of staff. Lee was elected to replace Englander in a special election after Englander's unexpected departure.
Lorraine Lundquist challenged Lee in last week's primary election. Current vote totals have Lee with 51% of the vote to her 48%. Lee will avoid a runoff if he stays above 50% of the vote total.
After news of the indictment against her opponent's former boss became public, Lundquist said the indictment "raises many questions about John Lee’s involvement, starting with the basics: What did John Lee know, when did he know it, and was he involved in the cover-up?”
Lundquist also questioned the timing of the indictment becoming public shortly after voters cast ballots.
"The question isn’t about whether John Lee was in Las Vegas, enjoying the spoils of corruption with Englander on this particular trip — though the voters deserve to know that as well. The more important questions are whether John Lee was a witness or a person of interest in the investigation, and why he didn’t come clean with the voters about the real reasons why there was a vacant seat for him to pursue in the first place.”
In a statement released via Twitter and also by his City Council office, Lee said he was on the Las Vegas trip in question and "did everything in my power to pay for and reimburse expenses related to this trip."
(1/2) I was in Las Vegas with Councilmember Englander in June 2017, and I did everything in my power to pay for and reimburse expenses related to this trip. I was unaware of any illegal activities for which Councilmember Englander is being charged.— Councilmember John Lee (@CD12LA) March 9, 2020
Lee went on to say he had been cooperating with the FBI and would continue to do so.
READ THE FULL INDICTMENT
Aaron Mendelson contributed to this report.
This is a developing story and it has been updated as additional information has become available. This story was originally published at 10:53 a.m.
There Goes The Sun: Wet Weather Predicted Through Wednesday
Get ready for rain, fellow Angelenos. According to the National Weather Service, we are in for wet weather between Monday and Wednesday.
Beginning Monday, meteorologists predict brief heavy downpours, possible thunderstorms on Tuesday, and the potential for waterspouts – which sounds totally benign, but waterspouts are actually tornadoes, or events that look like tornadoes, that form over water.
The overall rainfall is expected to hit 1-3 inches, with up to 4.5 inches in the San Gabriel Valley. The snow level is predicted to be 7,000 feet, with 12 inches or more blanketing elevations of over 8,000 feet.
Caltrans shared a list of driving tips, including checking the forecast in advance and carrying things like water and a phone charger.
This is the second big storm of the season. The first hit in mid-January and delivered between a ¼ and ¾ inch of rain.
How The State Says California Schools Should Respond To Coronavirus
Concerns about the new coronavirus prompted Northern California’s largest school district, Elk Grove Unified, to cancel classes for this entire week — even though no students or staff are known to have the disease.
Here in Southern California, Murrieta Valley High School is closed Monday as a sick teacher awaits COVID-19 test results.
And Gov. Gavin Newsom said it’s a “question of when, not if” more schools will suspend classes amid the outbreak.
Newsom issued that statement over the weekend as the California Department of Public Health sent updated advice to local school districts about how to handle the virus. Here’s some of what it says:
- One case is enough to close schools. “If one student, teacher or staff member tests positive for COVID-19 and exposed others at the school,” the guidance says, administrators should consider canceling classes — though they should check with the local public health department about any closures.
- If schools close, don’t gather elsewhere. If a school shuts down, administrators should discourage students or staff from gathering elsewhere — at, for example, “group activities or events, religious services, after-school classes and sporting events.”
- At least two cases in the community — but no positive cases among students or teachers? The guidance still says schools should “limit visitors to the school” if they have symptoms, “consider alternatives” to school assemblies and to explore grouping recess by class to limit student mixing.
- Continue preventative measures, like sending home students or staff who have fevers or respiratory infection symptoms.
You can read the full document from the state departments of Public Health and Education here.
LA DA Jackie Lacey Is Walking A Knife's Edge As She Tries To Avoid A Runoff
You know how people say you should participate in elections because every vote counts?
Here's the latest evidence: Out of more than 1.2 million votes counted so far from Tuesday's primary, L.A. County District Attorney Jackie Lacey currently stands a grand total of 16 votes short of having the 50%-plus-one-vote she needs to avoid a November runoff.
After the latest update from the County Registrar, Lacey has 615,864 votes. That works out to 49.99% of the vote.
Former San Francisco DA George Gascón has 337,962 votes, or 27.44%. That puts him in position to face Lacey in a runoff if she ultimately fails to secure a majority of the vote.
Former public defender Rachel Rossi has 277,933 votes, or 22.56%.
There are still hundreds of thousands of votes left to count (as of Friday afternoon more than 670,000), so the matter is far from settled. The next vote total update is scheduled for Tuesday.
Here’s How Los Angeles Area Schools Are Trying To Keep Things Clean
As public health officials monitor coronavirus, school districts are trying to keep parents informed and make plans for possible closures.
Meanwhile, they’re trying to keep things as clean as possible.
Here’s what Alhambra Unified told parents in a letter last week.
And here’s a note sent to Downey Unified staff.
In case you – like me – are curious what an “electrostatic sprayer” is, here’s a video of one:
Downey Unified’s Ashley Greaney told us that the district is in the process of acquiring more electrostatic sprayers.
“We aren’t currently using them now within the classroom space unless there is a need to,” Greaney explained. “However, we’re using them in our school buses.”
The biggest school district in town, Los Angeles Unified, declined an interview. But, on its web page dedicated to coronavirus news, it wrote:
“Schools are cleaned daily by our custodial staff, who use a disinfectant solution to sanitize restrooms, drinking fountains, and lunch and food-preparation areas. They also are ensuring that all restrooms are equipped with hand soap and paper towels.”
What are you hearing from and seeing at your school? Let me know on Twitter.
Hey @KPCC listeners & @LAist readers: Are you a parent? Do you work at or w/ a local school?— Carla Javier (@carlamjavier) March 6, 2020
I'm reporting & I'd love to hear from you: What messages are you getting from schools/districts/teachers re: cleaning & #coronavirus/COVID-19?
Can I see? Can we talk? email@example.com
What questions do you have about coronavirus? Let us know below!
Long Beach City College President Fired, Employees Wonder Why
An email sent last week to Long Beach City College District employees is doing little to answer questions about why the college’s board of trustees fired Superintendent-President Reagan Romali.
Adjunct political science professor Mike Bressler read the email but was left wondering why the board wanted her out.
“It seemed to me because she was applying to different positions, but I'm just not clear,” he said.
The move was unexpected. “I was kind of surprised, yeah,” he said.
Trustees voted on Wednesday in closed session to fire Romali. She'll get one month’s paid leave first. The email from board president Vivian Malauulu wished Romali well but didn’t give a reason for the firing.
Romali could not be reached for comment.
In the last year, Romali had been a finalist for community college president jobs in Miami, Albany (Oregon) and Minneapolis (she's still in the running in Minneapolis).
No interim Long Beach City College president has been announced. The board said it would say more at its March 25 meeting.
Read the email to employees from LBCCD board president Vivian Malauulu:
It’s Monday, Mar. 9 And Here Are The Stories We’re Following Today
As coronavirus spreads in the L.A. area, city and county officials are focused on safeguarding vulnerable populations, including schoolchildren and people experiencing homelessness. Several City Councilmembers have weighed in with ideas, and LAX has reportedly ramped up precautions.
Meanwhile, an effort to create a plan that will address Cali's ballooning homelessness crisis is asking for billions.
Here’s what else we’re...
- Josie Huang looks into reports that Chinese Americans are stockpiling guns and ammo in fear of being targeted for coronavirus.
- Carla Javier finds out what steps schools are taking to improve cleanliness in the face of coronavirus.
- Mariana Dale has some advice about how to talk to your little kids about coronavirus.
- The Long Beach City College campus is still waiting for answers about why the school's president was ousted in a closed door session last week. Adolfo Guzman-Lopez has been following the story.
- Two Los Angeles City Council members presented a motion to install sanitation stations at homeless encampments, reports Brianna Flores.
- San Pedro High School teacher David Crowley's classroom will become home to the nation's first all-LGBTQ+ library, dubbed the Pride Library. Pablo Cabrera brings us the story.
- Check out our list of events coming up this week.
In Case You Missed It:
- Californians with Medi-Cal or commercial health plans won’t have to pay for coronavirus testing, if it’s deemed medically necessary.
- Here’s a quick look at California’s changing demographics.
- A list of priests who were credibly accused of sexual abuse and then sent overseas to continue working includes a handful of men from the L.A. Archdiocese.
- Some state and local leaders are hoping to pass a bill that would allot $2 billion to fight homelessness.
- Eight LAX passengers have been quarantined over coronavirus fears.
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.