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2020 Census Kicks Off Today Despite Pandemic

Representatives of LA-based community organizations are promoting census participation in historically undercounted populations—despite the coronavirus outbreak. (Robert Garrova/LAist)

The 2020 Census has begun.

Homes across the U.S. are now receiving mailers inviting them to participate. But there's no question that there have been some complications in recent days.

A census kick-off event in Downtown LA was planned for this morning, but was cancelled over coronavirus concerns. Still, community members showed up — even though most elected officials expected to speak weren’t there.

“The threat of today cannot hurt us for the next decade because of a poorly executed census,” said Efrain Escobedo, vice president of California Community Foundation, which offers funding and outreach support to local organizations for census outreach.

Escobedo said the impact of the coronavirus pandemic goes beyond one census event being cancelled. Instead of in-person canvassing of populations at risk of being undercounted, outreach teams are shifting to phone banking, and one-on-one meetings.

“That means more work, but I think we’re prepared to do it.”


  • While most people are getting mailers asking them to respond online, there are two types. The mailer you get depends on your area’s response history.
  • Some areas in L.A. may also receive a Spanish version and paper questionnaire.
  • If there’s no response, the notification process can continue to late April with up to five mailed attempts.
  • Homes must respond by April 30 if they don’t want to have an enumerator — literally a person employed to take the census — come to their door.
  • The last day to respond to the 2020 Census is July 31.

Individuals can get assistance in 13 languages total, including English, on the phone. All census mailers will include a sheet with toll-free numbers for these languages so homes can call them to ask questions or give their answers over the phone. Additionally, the U.S. Census Bureau has created tailored videos and language guides for completing the census online.

This year the census will be conducted primarily online for the first time. So starting today, Americans are encouraged to visit the census website to fill out the count—even if they’re in quarantine.

Have Questions about the 2020 census? Ask us here.

Sheriff's Department Limits Jail Visits; ACLU Wants Some Inmates Let Out

The Los Angeles County Twin Towers Correctional facility in downtown Los Angeles. (Andrew Cullen for LAist)

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department announced today that they are suspending visits to jail inmates, with an exception for attorneys and professionals representing their clients. The move came after the limitations were recommended by the Los Angeles County Correctional Health Services to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19.

Inmates are especially susceptible to the virus because they live in close quarters, may have poor health and may receive inadequate health care, inmates advocates say.

The civil liberties group, ACLU of Southern California, is asking the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department to decrease the number of inmates in the jails in an effort to tackle a potential outbreak.

They also want them to provide free soap to inmates, which inmates usually have to purchase.

“We see it as a public health issue,” said Jacob Reisberg, ACLU of Southern California’s jail conditions advocate. “It is almost inevitable that it will be transferred to the public outside because of the fact people are constantly circulating in and out of jail.”

The Sheriff’s Department says no inmates have tested positive for COVID-19, but it’s working with the L.A. County Department of Health Services to prepare for a potential outbreak.

Here's what the ACLU is asking for:

  • Early release for vulnerable inmates — including the elderly and people with underlying health problems — who don’t pose a physical safety risk to the public
  • Release or bail instead of jail for people who commit minor crimes
  • Free soap and access to warm water for all inmates
  • Virus screening for staff and information about how the jails will operate if staff is infected with the virus

The ACLU offered to meet with Sheriff Villanueva to go over in detail their request, which they laid out in a letter this week.

The Sheriff’s Department has not yet responded to a request for comment from LAist on the ACLU letter.

The ACLU is also asking L.A. District Attorney Jackie Lacey, judges and public defenders to consider bail rather than bail for elderly, pregnant and other vulnerable offenders.

Read the ACLU's letter to Sheriff Villanueva:

'We're Swamped': LA Backlogged On Testing For Coronavirus

Medical workers at Kaiser Permanente French Campus test a patient for the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, at a drive-thru testing facility in San Francisco, on March 12, 2020. (Josh Edelson/Getty Images)

Testing Californians for the novel coronavirus remains hampered by a lack of key chemical components.

Calling it “imperative,” California Governor Gavin Newsom forcefully called upon federal officials, including at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to provide “all the ingredients” for the tests.

“The tests are not complete,” Newsom said at a press conference Thursday. “meaning the test kits do not include in every case the RNA extraction kits, the reagents, the chemicals, the solutions…. I’m surprised this is not more of a national conversation,” he said.

Unlike a pregnancy test, the coronavirus kit isn’t ready to go right out of the box (Newsom likened it to buying a printer without ink). The kits are configured more for a research lab than a hospital, and it takes four to six hours to perform the test on patient samples.

About 1,500 Californians have been tested, though it’s likely that thousands of people have been exposed to the virus.

To fill in the gaps, Newsom said chemical components to complete the tests were being shared throughout the 18 labs in the state currently carrying out the testing. He said Quest Diagnostics, which has a lab in San Juan Capistrano, will open two new labs in California by the end of the month. He said the three labs, once online, will be able to process more than 5,000 tests per day.

Newsom said the state has distributed more than 8,000 kits to health care providers and is looking to centralize testing to increase efficiency.


Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer told KPCC that the county’s labs tested 100 people over the last week and a half and are facing a significant backlog.

“We’re swamped,” Ferrer said, encouraging health care workers to send kits to commercial labs that have recently started offering testing.

Ferrer said her agency filed an application with the federal government to offer drive-through testing and is awaiting their approval.


Heavy Rain Brings Flooding And Risk Of Debris Flows

LA County FD makes a rescue at a Lakwood drainage canal (Credit: Los Angeles County Fire Department)

Heavy downpours of up to an inch of rain per hour fell in some parts of Southern California, flooding streets, and bringing the potential for mud and debris flows in areas that burned in recent years.

The National Weather Service put out flash flood warnings that an inch or more of rain could fall per hour in North Riverside County, Orange County and Southwest San Bernardino County through early Thursday evening.

A flood advisory was in effect in parts of Los Angeles County where one-quarter to one-half inch of rain was possible through Thursday evening. Around 4:30 p.m. those heavy rainfall rates were hitting hillsides near the Getty, Saddleridge, and Tick fire burn scar areas.

Heavy amounts of rain on recently-burned hillsides can release mud and debris flows that can destroy homes and roads. Los Angeles County Public Works’ mudflow forecast, however, predicted no heightened risk debris or mudslides from Thursday’s storm.

Some of the heavier rain rain was 1.6 inches falling over six hours near Interstate 10 in El Monte, and a similar amount at the Hollywood Reservoir, according to the Los Angeles County Public Works rainfall map.

Thursday’s all-day rain added to the sense of abnormality amid dozens of announcements of event cancellations and venue closures to slow the spread of the Coronavirus.

One positive note - a wave of work-at-home orders from many companies and online learning directives from colleges reduced traffic - and potential accidents - on the soaked freeways.

Areas particularly affected:

  • Coachella Valley streets, which act as part of the region’s flood control system, were under water. One woman posted a photo of a car radiator deep in water in Palm Desert Thursday afternoon.
  • Los Angeles County Fire Department were sent Thursday afternoon to a drainage canal in Lakewood to rescue two people trapped by rising water near Clark Ave. and E. Del Amo Blvd. One was pulled from water and the other from a precarious spot under a bridge.
  • Another high water rescue of a possibly homeless person was undertaken before 5 p.m. near Lincoln Ave. and Rincon Street in Corona.
  • A marine storm warning expired around 4:15 p.m., however a chance for thunderstorms remained.
  • In the Inland Empire, Caltrans reported a mudflow on eastbound Highway 60 in the Badlands stretch between Moreno Valley and Beaumont. State Route 62 also flooded in Twenty-nine Palms.

Showers were expected to continue Friday and resume Monday.

Santa Monica-Malibu School District Orders Kids To Stay Home For 2 Days

L.A. County Public Health officials display a sign laying out information about the novel coronavirus at a news conference to discuss confirmation of the first local case (Alyssa Jeong Perry/LAist)

The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District sent a text message to parents today telling them to keep their kids home on Friday and Monday.

The message sent by district Supt. Ben Drati says a person with children in the district's schools has been exposed to coronavirus, and that there was a higher-than-normal absentee rate on Thursday. Here's the full text:

Dear staff, parents and guardians of all SMMUSD schools, preschools, child care and Infant Toddler Center,

In an abundance of caution, we are “dismissing” students from attending school Friday, March 13, and Monday, March 16, 2020. A dismissal indicates teachers and staff will still report for duty on campus, while all students will not be on campus, for any purpose. This includes all schools and programs in Santa Monica and Malibu including childcare, infant toddler program, preschool and grades TK-12 and our adult school.

Staff and teachers will receive additional instructions from your school administrator or director, later today. Please plan to report to work tomorrow.

We are taking this action to thoroughly clean our schools and evaluate the state of illness in our communities in order to make an informed decision for Tuesday into next week. We are aware of a community member with children in our schools who was exposed to coronavirus. We have noticed a higher than normal absentee rate on our campuses today and will take this time to determine if students are ill, with what type of illness, or if parents are keeping students home during the coronavirus pandemic. This allows us time to consult with our local agencies and consider the status of this health emergency in LA County and the communities we serve. Staff and teachers will prepare for possible school closures next week.

We will continue our frequent communications with you.

Please visit our dedicated Coronavirus webpage for previous communications and our FAQs.

Please stay healthy.


Dr. Ben Drati, Superintendent

An announcement was also posted on the district's website.

Long Beach Halts Grand Prix

A shot from the 1990 Grand Prix on the streets of Long Beach (Ken Levine/Allsport/Getty Image)

Under orders from city officials, organizers of the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach on Thursday canceled the 46th edition of the street race amid the growing fears of the Coronavirus.

Just earlier this week, Grand Prix Chief Executive Officer Jim Michaelian said he expected the event to take place with heightened precautions for spectators. But city health officials opted to expand on a state mandate to cancel or postpone events with 250 or more people.

The city order applies to large-scale events including conventions, festivals, parades and sporting events.

Mayor Robert Garcia said in a statement:

“We recognize that this decision affects tens of thousands of residents and visitors, and for some will create immense financial hardship. But our top priority must be the health and well-being of our community and this is absolutely the right thing to do.”

The Grand Prix was expected to draw roughly 185,000 people to Downtown on April 17-19.



LAUSD Teams Up With Public TV On Remote Learning

LAUSD Supt. Austin Beutner has announced a remote learning partnership with public television stations in response to the coronavirus outbreak. (Kyle Stokes/LAist)

With 700,000 students, Los Angeles Unified is the nation's second-largest school district -- so how will the district keep learning going in the event schools close in response to COVID-19?

Television will be part of the answer.

Schools Supt. Austin Beutner announced today that LAUSD will team up with public television stations to provide educational programming to students.

“We’re pleased that we will share today … a plan that we and PBS have developed to provide on three channels programming rich instructional content that teaches to standards, that allows our students to have continuity of learning at every level,” he said at a Thursday morning press conference.

In official announcements, the district, PBS SoCal, and KCET laid out the details of how the partnership would work.

“The plan is for all students to have access to free educational resources at home provided by the local public media organizations, both on-air and online, regardless of their broadband access,” the district wrote in the announcement.

Here's how it will work:

  • PBS SoCal will have programming for students TK/K-2nd grade, from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • KCET will feature content designed for high school students.
  • The announcements differ on exactly which grade levels will be served by the district’s station, KLCS – PBS SoCal’s says 3rd-12th, while LAUSD’s says Pre-K through 12th.


Disneyland, Universal Studios Closing Due To COVID-19

Visitors attend Disneyland on Feb. 25, 2020 in Anaheim. (David McNew/Getty Images)

It's time to cancel your visit to the Happiest Place On Earth, as well as its distinguished competition.

Disney announced Thursday afternoon that it was closing both its Southern California parks as of Saturday morning. Universal Studios followed with its own closure announcement. The decisions came despite California Gov. Gavin Newsom stating that an order banning large gatherings wouldn't apply to these theme parks.

Here's what Disney said about why they were taking the highly unusual step:

"While there have been no reported cases of COVID-19 at Disneyland Resort, after carefully reviewing the guidelines of the Governor of California's executive order and in the best interest of our guests and employees, we are proceeding with the closure of Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure."

Disneyland's closure extends through the end of the month, as of this announcement, while Universal park officials said they plan to reopen March 28. Disney's hotels will stay open until Monday to help visitors make travel arrangements. Universal's CityWalk and the Downtown Disney shops will remain open at this time.

This is the fourth time that Disneyland has shut down in its history. The others were after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, after the 1994 Northridge Earthquake, and after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. The park remained open after Walt Disney's death.

Disneyland was previously linked with a large measles outbreak in 2014-2015, with 147 people ultimately infected. The outbreak was traced to a traveler who was infected overseas, then visited the park while infectious. Last year, there were concerns that a New Zealand teenager who visited the Disneyland and other Southern California locations may have infected others, followed in October with an L.A. County resident with the disease also visiting Disneyland.

Disney also notes that it will continue to pay its park staff during the closure. They have offered to work with visitors who want to change or cancel visits, but noted that they expect a lot of calls. The closure follows Disney's annual shareholders meeting on Wednesday, when they also released details on their Marvel-themed land set to open this summer.


Steps LA City And County Are Taking To Prevent Coronavirus Spread (As Of March 12)

(Screenshot from County of Los Angeles live stream)

Dr. Barbara Ferrer, director of the L.A. County Department of Public Health, provided an update today.

Some key takeaways:

  • There are three new cases of COVID-19 in L.A. County. One person was exposed through close contact with someone who became sick after attending the AIPAC conference in Washington, DC. The source of exposure for the other two cases is unknown, bringing to four the number of cases attributed to community transmission. One of the three individuals is hospitalized.
  • There are now 32 cases in the county (which includes four in Long Beach and one in Pasadena)
  • The county’s lab has tested 100 people over the last week and a half. There is a significant backlog -- “we’re swamped,” Ferrer said, and encouraged people to use commercial labs that have recently started offering tests. Those commercial labs have tested 120 people so far.
  • The county is in the process of submitting an application to the Food and Drug Administration to do some drive-thru testing.
  • The county hopes to be able to announce as soon as Friday that it has secured temporary housing for homeless people who have tested positive for COVID-19, as well as for homeless people who need to be quarantined.

Earlier today, Ferrer joined a number of city and county leaders who gave an update.

Some key takeaways...

From L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti:

  • City departments are canceling all non-essential community events of 50 or more people
  • He is banning events or conferences on city property that would have more than 50 people
  • No more than 50 visitors will be allowed in city buildings at a time
  • The city has canceled all non-essential travel by city employees
  • City Hall is also closed to all non-city employees
  • Hand-washing and sanitizing facilities will be available at city properties

From Sheriff Alex Villanueva:

  • 5 L.A. County firefighters and 3 L.A. Sheriff’s deputies are quarantined at home after responding to a 911 call on Mar. 9 in Walnut for an individual who later died of the coronavirus. None of those quarantined have any symptoms at this time.
  • 911 operators will now screen callers about COVID-19 exposure to help reduce the risk to first responders.
  • County Emergency Operations Center is moving to Level 1, which means it will be fully staffed with leaders and experts from every county department, as well as with outside experts.
  • He’s canceling non-essential department travel and events and limiting the number of people at essential events (tomorrow’s academy graduation ceremony will be limited to the sheriff, cadets and two guests for each cadet)
  • Staffing and resource levels will otherwise not be reduced, so that first responders can continue to serve the community

Ferrer stressed that absent a vaccine, the community's primary means for fighting the spread of COVID-19 is social distancing, a general term for avoiding large gatherings and increasing the physical distance between you and others.

At the same time, Ferrer and other leaders sought to reassure the public that these are precautionary steps designed first and foremost to protect the most vulnerable among us.

Ferrer reminded the public that there are two critical actions everyone can take:

  • If you have even mild symptoms or think you're sick, stay home
  • Wash your hands frequently

This story will be updated.

Pasadena Unified School District Board To Consider Emergency Declaration 

The Pasadena Unified School District board will vote on an emergency coronavirus declaration on March 12, 2020. (Pasadena Unified School District)

The Pasadena Unified School District board of education will hold a special meeting this afternoon to consider a resolution that would:

  • Declare “emergency conditions exist at the Pasadena Unified School District.”
  • Allow the district to execute contracts without the normal bid solicitation process
  • Authorize PUSD Superintendent Brian McDonald “to take any and all actions necessary to ensure the continuation of public education, and the health and safety of the students and staff at the district sites.”

Those actions could include “provision of alternative educational program options,” moving staff and students around, and “directing staff to serve as disaster service workers.”

To pass, the resolution must be approved unanimously.

Los Angeles Unified’s school board also approved a similar emergency declaration earlier this week.

For context: Yesterday, the City of Pasadena confirmed its first case of COVID-19.

According to the city, the individual who tested positive “was known to have close contact with a confirmed case outside of Pasadena, and has been in quarantine since the exposure occurred.”

The City of Pasadena had already declared a local public health emergency last week.

You can read the full resolution as proposed below. The PUSD board meets at 4:30 pm.

Ex-LA City Councilman Mitch Englander's Trial for Alleged Corruption Coverup Starts May 5

Ex-L.A. City Council member Mitch Englander leaves court on Thursday, March 12, 2020. (Libby Denkmann/ LAist)

Former City Councilman Mitch Englander, who surrendered to federal agents on Monday and faces seven counts of obstruction of justice and lying to the FBI, now has a trial date.

At the federal courthouse in downtown L.A. on Thursday, U.S. District Judge John Walter scheduled Englander’s trial to start May 5. The next hearing in the case will be a status conference on April 20.

Hearings to set a trial date are normally ho-hum affairs. But Judge Walter asked for a lot more information from U.S. Attorneys about the case they’ve built against Englander and, potentially, other city officials.

The most important detail? There are more dominos to fall in the broader corruption investigation into pay-to-play schemes at city hall, particularly related to the Planning and Land Use Management, or PLUM, committee -- the powerful body that can make or break a development project in Los Angeles.

Here are more tidbits we learned at Thursday's hearing:

  • In court, Asst. U.S. Attorney Mack Jenkins said Englander is just one part of a larger corruption problem — “he is one of the symptoms, clearly.” Jenkins later added, “There are wiretap calls. There are a lot of them.”

  • The FBI had a special agent in Vegas during Englander’s June 2017 trip. Judge Walter asked, did the agent participate in the $24,00 in bottle service that Englander and other city employees allegedly enjoyed during the trip? U.S. Atty Jenkins replied, “He was left out. Apparently the only person (who was left out) that night.”

  • Businessman A -- the FBI's code name for a cooperating witness who is key to this case -- was involved in cabinetry and automated smart home-like devices (like garage door openers). He was attempting to "groom" multiple city officials to improve his business. "He had a product. He wanted to sell it to developers," Jenkins said.

  • The wiretap calls that first alerted the FBI to Englander's suspicious trips were between someone referred to in the grand jury indictment as City Staffer A and another city councilmember (not Englander). Englander is referenced "several times" on the calls, "including his conduct in Las Vegas." But much of that evidence will be redacted from discovery in this case, because it potentially compromises other ongoing investigations.


PAC-12 Cancels All Sport Competitions And Championship Events

A basketball is shown on the court during a quarterfinal game of the Pac-12 basketball tournament last year. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Ge

The announcement came this morning:

The Pac-12 Conference has made the decision to cancel the remainder of the Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Tournament and all Pac-12 sport competitions and Pac-12 Championship events, effective immediately, until further notice. This decision has been made in consultation with our member universities in an effort to limit the spread of the virus and in the interest of the health and safety of our student-athletes, campus personnel, working and event personnel, and all those who attend Pac-12 events.

The PAC-12 is made up of:

  • University of Arizona
  • Arizona State University
  • University of California, Berkeley
  • UCLA
  • University of Colorado Boulder
  • University of Oregon
  • Oregon State University
  • University of Southern California
  • Stanford University
  • University of Utah
  • University of Washington
  • Washington State University

Flash Flood Watch Issued For Riverside And San Bernardino Counties

null Courtesy NWS San Diego

The National Weather Service has issued a flash flood watch starting Thursday morning for Riverside and San Bernardino counties. Record rainfall fell on parts of the Inland Empire Tuesday, including Palm Springs.

A series of powerful downpours tapered off Wednesday for much of Southern California. But NWS meteorologist Joe Sirard advised residents to keep an umbrella handy for the next week or so.

"It looks like over the weekend, another storm system is going to come down from the north... and start bringing showers into the area," he said. "What that means for us is that we're going to have increasing amounts of rain across the area, especially by later Monday, Tuesday into Wednesday."

Snow levels are expected to drop next Tuesday in our local mountain ranges from the San Gabriel to San Bernardino mountains. Forecasters warn the snow could impact travel.

NWS San Diego oversees parts of Riverside and San Bernardino counties. You can follow their office on Twitter for the latest updates.

L.A. Port Truck Drivers Lose Work To Coronavirus

Cranes stand idle at the Port of Los Angeles on Wednesday. (Mario Tama / Getty Images)

The spread of the novel coronavirus is rippling through the world economy, and the impact is especially strong for workers at L.A.’s ports — the busiest in the country.

With parts of China locked down to fight the infection, traffic at the Port of L.A. declined 23% in February compared to the same month last year.

Many truck drivers who haul goods out of the port have lost work. But some have more security than others.


Newsom Says Canceling Big Gatherings 'Will Save The Life Of One Or More People You Know'

LeBron James at a Lakers game against the Brooklyn Nets at Staples Center on March 10, 2020. The NBA suspended its season the next day because of coronavirus fears. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) Harry How/Getty Images

California public health officials said Wednesday night that public gatherings of more than 250 people should be canceled or postponed to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19.

It's a major step in this fast-moving public health crisis, one that Gov. Gavin Newsom said is necessary to save lives.

“Changing our actions for a short period of time will save the life of one or more people you know. That’s the choice before us. Each of us has extraordinary power to slow the spread of this disease. Not holding that concert or community event can have cascading effects — saving dozens of lives and preserving critical health care resources that your family may need a month from now. The people in our lives who are most at risk – seniors and those with underlying health conditions -- are depending on all of us to make the right choice.”

Public health officials says smaller gatherings can continue if it's possible for attendees to have 6 feet of space from each other.

You can read the full guidance here.



Morning Briefing: Coronavirus In LA, Port Workers, OC Sheriff Scandal And More

(Chava Sanchez / LAist)

Closures, cancellations and new precautions due to coronavirus concerns are happening almost faster than we can keep up. In case you missed it, the World Health Organization said yesterday it's now officially a pandemic.

Because of the volume and speed of the news, we’re adding a new section here that’s dedicated solely to our COVID-19 coverage. We hope you check it out. But if you want a brief respite from pandemics (totally understandable), please take a look at what else we’re…

Covering Today:

  • Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes recently gave his administration's first monthly news conference, addressing the evidence booking scandal that's been unfolding at his department. Pablo Cabrera brings us the details.
  • We're paying attention to the food of Portugal (which happens too rarely, in our opinion) and bringing you seven great variations of pao doce in Southern California.
  • Our picks for events tonight include a Pussy Riot show in OC, a documentary about the plastic pollution crisis and a performance of French chansons by the Grammy Award winner, Julia Migenes. [And yes, we'll watch to see if any get canceled.]


What We Know:

What We're Following:

  • Port workers are seeing much less work due to coronavirus economic slowdown. David Wagner compares two types of workers and how they're affected differently.
  • Groups doing census outreach to Asian American communities were relying heavily on events to get the word out, reports Caroline Champlin. Now that events are getting canceled, they're losing some chances for outreach.
  • Josie Huang looks into how coronavirus is affecting L.A.'s low-wage, typically immigrant food workers who don't get paid time off. And, how does their predicament affect food safety?

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