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New Trump Immigration Ban Stirs Worry in SoCal

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Immigrants receive assistance with their U.S. citizenship applications at a Citizenship Now! event in Feb. 2018 in New York City. (John Moore/Getty Images)

President Trump on Wednesday signed an executive order to temporarily ban many green carder seekers from coming to the U.S.

The ban starts Friday and lasts for two months. It further extends the wait for green card seekers, some of whom first applied decades ago.

But the move is far less wide-ranging than Trump had indicated in a tweet earlier in the week.

His order exempts green card applicants who are the minor children and spouses of U.S. citizens.

It also has a carve-out for health care workers, including nurses and doctors and people doing work that is “essential to combating, recovering from, or otherwise alleviating the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak.”

Joseph Villela of Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles called the new order “a lot of noise.”

The ban did not come as a surprise to Manju Kulkarni, executive director of the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council, who believes Trump's order is less about protecting U.S. jobs during the coronavirus crisis than it is about restricting immigration.

“It's part of the overall Trump administration effort to halt or dramatically decrease the number of immigrants coming to the United States,” she said.

READ THE FULL STORY HERE:

LA Will Provide Some Rental Relief For Tenants Slammed By Coronavirus

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Council President Nury Martinez co-sponsored the motion. (Libby Denkmann/KPCC)

The city of L.A. moved today to provide more help to renters slammed by the coronavirus pandemic.

The City Council voted to create a rental assistance program, and to initially fund it with $2.2 million.

People making 80% or less of their area’s median income will be eligible; they will have to document how COVID-19 has hurt their finances.

The money will go directly to landlords; it will cover up to half a month's rent, with a maximum of $1,000 per month and $3,000 over the life of the program.

The fund is modeled after one set up last year to assist tenants who saw rent hikes before a statewide rent control law took effect.

READ OUR FULL REPORT:

LA Says Yes To Rental Help, But No to A Citywide Rent Hike Freeze

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LA Sheriff Villanueva May Get Back Some Of His Frozen Money

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L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva (Kyle Grillot for LAist)

The L.A. County Board of Supervisors may give Sheriff Alex Villanueva part of what he wants: They'll consider a motion next Tuesday that would unfreeze $83 million of Sheriff's Department funds.

Villanueva wants all $143 million the supervisors froze last fall in an effort to pressure him to eliminate tens of millions of dollars in red ink. He's still running a deficit.

The sheriff says he needs the money to keep processing rape kits, replace old patrol cars, keep search-and-rescue helicopters aloft, and maintain hygienic conditions in the jails during the pandemic.

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, who co-sponsored the motion, says the $83 million "will totally cover everything he said he needed."

The money would include $7.6 million for face shields, gloves, N95 masks, paper jumpsuits, booties, thermometers and cleaning supplies.

READ OUR FULL REPORT:

LA Supes May Unfreeze $83M Of Sheriff's Budget For Coronavirus, Other Issues

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In LA, Critical Workers Can Get Tested Now Even If They're Asymptomatic

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Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti is now encouraging asymptomatic individuals to get tested for COVID-19, particularly residents and staff of nursing facilities, grocery store workers, first responders and healthcare workers.

"I'm very excited to be able to announce tonight that starting tomorrow we will make testing available to all critical workers that are on the frontlines with or without symptoms," he said in his nightly address.

The mayor said he wished the city could open up asymptomatic tests for everyone, but right now the priority will be given to people in these high-risk groups.

He added that Los Angeles is likely still two to three weeks away from seeing a peak in coronavirus cases, as the count continues to rise.

ENFORCING BUSINESS CLOSURES

  • City employees have now visited over 1,700 businesses, including 47 from today, to enforce the closing of those deemed non-essential by the stay-at-home orders.
  • After an "added nudge," most businesses do become compliant with the city's orders, said LAPD Chief Michael Moore.
  • But currently 86 businesses have violated city policy by refusing to comply, and those businesses will face "enforcement action," Moore said.
  • The city attorney has now filed 25 legal complaints against those businesses to pursue criminal prosecution, including a "potential substantial fine."
  • The mayor asked anyone who sees businesses violating these rules to report them here.
  • Today, the city is also launching the L.A. Protects Business Ambassador Program, which Garcetti says will "focus on physical distancing workstations, disinfection protocols, and ensuring the county's physical distancing protocol is complete."

"Ambassadors will document any company they think should be referred to the city's Office of Wage Standards if they're not abiding by the law, as well as worker safety issues that could be raised with Cal OSHA," Garcetti said, "and repeat violators will be referred to the police department for further action."

HANDLING THE HEAT WAVE

  • Despite a forecast for warmer weather this weekend, LAPD is asking people not to congregate at beaches; Moore said that most Angelenos have been compliant with stay-at-home orders:

"I'm going to ask everyone to exercise that social contract of our own responsibility and hold ourselves accountable and avoid those non-essential activities. Take a walk on a, on a sidewalk in a shaded area, find space by yourself...but avoid those common areas here in Los Angeles, and save the police the awkwardness of having to admonish you and advise and direct you for something that you already know."

  • For those people who do not have air conditioning at home, the mayor said he is currently in talks with the Department of Recreation and Parks to open cooling centers that will allow for social distancing, especially in some of the hotter parts of L.A., like the valley.

HOUSING UPDATES:

  • The city has created a sample letter that anyone can send to their landlord asking for rent relief. It can be found here. The template has already been downloaded 50,000 times, the mayor said.
  • Garcetti urged the public to remember that landlords cannot force anyone to provide documents of lost income or proof of economic hardship, and no one is required to sign any payment agreements.

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Don’t Be Surprised By A Hot, Hot LA Summer

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Huntington Beach during a 2018 heatwave (Photo by Frederic J. Brown / AFP)

Usually, during April, temperatures in L.A. hover between 70 and 80 degrees.

On Wednesday, they reached as high as 90 in parts of the San Fernando Valley.

A few scorching days aren’t indicative of how hot our upcoming summer may be. But if we look at long-term climate trends, we can see that it’s been consistently, miserably hot during the summer for much of the past decade.

California’s had its hottest five years on record in the last six years. And both L.A. and California as a whole had above average temperatures the first quarter of 2020.

If we look at the entirety of the globe? It’s been alarmingly hot, with the second-hottest first quarter on record.

“The fact that it’s so warm in early 2020 ... is both remarkable and it suggests that there’s a good chance that 2020 might set a record as the warmest year since our estimates began in the mid-1800s,” said Zeke Hausfather, Director of Climate and Energy at The Breakthrough Institute in Oakland.

Long-term warming trends are a direct result of humans pumping massive amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

If you’re hoping that a downward trend in emissions during coronavirus quarantine might help, don’t get too excited.

Greenhouse gas emissions can last for hundreds, if not thousands, of years in the atmosphere, so nothing short of widespread sustained reductions will have any sort of sizable impact on our bleak-looking climate future.

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PHOTOS: Anti-lockdown Protesters Make Their LA Debut

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A woman dressed in red white and blue holds a sign reading "the constitution has no #virus clause!" Chava Sanchez/LAist

Anti-lockdown protests hit Los Angeles today, after making waves across the country. About 50 cars lined up outside of City Hall to honk and hold up signs with messages like "lock up the sick, not the free" and ""the science is clear, re-open California." The protest was organized by a facebook group called Operation Gridlock.

Despite the media attention they're received, anti-lockdown protests are relatively small in the grand scheme of it all. Research shows that the majority of Angelenos (95%) support the city's stay-at-home policy if it means slowing the spread of coronavirus.

See the full story and photos below:

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Georgia Wants To Open Movie Theaters, Hollywood Shrugs

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Box office at Regal Cinemas in downtown Los Angeles with signage alerting to its temporary closure. (Chava Sanchez/ LAist)

Despite epidemiologists' warnings against loosening social distancing restrictions too soon, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp suggested the state's movie theaters could start selling tickets as soon as next Monday.

But even if Georgians show up in droves at the multiplex, they may have to wait a while to see any new releases. Hollywood studios would have little economic incentive to release movies without guaranteed screenings in major markets like New York and Los Angeles.

The National Association of Theater Owners said Wednesday that opening up theaters in a few states could undermine the entire business.

READ THE FULL STORY:

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live

WATCH: Join Us To Unwind Live With Lulu Miller & Erica Williams Simon

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Take a break and stop by our virtual lounge!

Join us at 4 p.m. today for an hourlong conversation with NPR science reporter and Invisiblia cofounder Lulu Miller and entrepreneur and author Erica Williams Simon.

They’ll be talking about writing, public media, and stories from home.

OUR UNWIND SERIES ARCHIVE:

OUR NO-PANIC SERIES ARCHIVE:

MORE VIRTUAL EVENTS

Deaths From Coronavirus Top 725 In LA County; 40% Of Victims Lived At Institutional Facilities Like Nursing Homes

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Screenshot courtesy L.A. County via YouTube

Los Angeles County officials reported 1,318 new confirmed cases of coronavirus today, bringing the total to at least 16,435 cases countywide.

L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer also reported 66 new deaths of COVID-19 patients. Of those victims, 48 were over the age of 65, she said, and 38 of those people had underlying health conditions.

The total number of deaths countywide now stands at 729.

Ferrer also provided a racial breakdown of the confirmed deaths, based on information confirmed for 582 of the victims. According to the latest available information:

  • 15% African American [9% of county residents]
  • 18% Asian [15.4% of county residents]
  • 37% Latino or Latina [48.6% of county residents]
  • 27% White [26.1% of county residents]
  • 2% identified as belonging to a different race or ethnicity

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County officials are now reporting that 292 residents at institutional facilities, mainly nursing homes, have died. That represents 40% of all deaths countywide. Ferrer had this to say regarding how the county will change its approach to testing at nursing homes in particular:

"... in the past, we have done a lot of our infection control protocols around an assumption that we needed to worry about people who were symptomatic and test people who were symptomatic... But it turns out that we were wrong, and with new information it's become clear that asymptomatic people are capable of spreading the virus. And this is particularly true in a facility where all of the care for most of the residents happens — because employees are bathing people they're feeding people, they're moving people they're in extraordinarily close contact with the people who reside there — and really helping to make sure that those people have what they need every single day. But in having what they need, it's become clear that part of that is our obligation to make sure that we're able to test all residents and employees for the virus, regardless of whether they show symptoms or they don't."

Ferrer also announced that five staff members from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will join the county health department's staff, starting tomorrow though May 10. Those workers will "help us do visits to the skilled nursing facilities and assist with improving all of our infection control practices," she said.

Dr. Christina Ghaly, director of the county's Department of Health Services, said that the latest data show that COVID-19 cases are "leveling off" in the region, but noted that the projections modeling is not a "crystal ball."

"New infections are not yet decreasing and we continue to have a need to maintain physical distancing measures to prevent an increase in cases of COVID-19, and to avoid excessive strain on the hospital system across the county," Ghaly said.

Here are some other key figures being reported today:

  • More than 90,000 people have been tested for COVID-19 and had the results reported to county health officials. Of those tests, 15% have been positive.
  • There are currently 1,791 people hospitalized with COVID-19. Of those individuals, 30% are in the ICU, with 19% on ventilators.
  • In total 3,902 people who've tested positive for coronavirus in L.A. County have "at some point" been hospitalized, Ferrer said, which represents 24% of all positive cases.
  • Ferrer said 100 cases have been confirmed among L.A. County residents experiencing homelessness — 55 of whom were sheltered. She noted the outbreak at Union Rescue Mission accounted for the sharp increase.
  • The county health department is currently investigating 272 institutional facilities where there's at least one confirmed case of COVID-19. Those sites include “nursing homes, assisted living facilities, shelters, treatment centers, supportive living and correctional facilities,” Ferrer said. The county reports that 1,826 residents at those facilities and 1,289 staff members have tested positive, for a total of 3,115 cases confirmed cases.
  • There have now been 96 confirmed cases “at some point in time” in county jail facilities, Ferrer reported. Thirty-four inmates and 62 staff members have tested positive.
MORE ON CORONAVIRUS:

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LA's Immigrants Feel The Pressure of Sending Money to Home Countries

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As the US economy reels, immigrants have less money to send to family abroad. (Chris Ratcliffe/Getty Images)

The economy has taken a big hit since the COVID-19 crisis began—forcing many L.A. immigrant workers to make tough decisions, including whether to pay bills here or send money back to their home countries.

Last year, U.S. immigrant workers sent around $150 billion overseas — $36 billion of it to Mexico.

That’s rapidly changing, though. Experts expect to see a large drop in remittances to workers’ home countries, likely affecting millions of households abroad who depend on remittances.

READ MORE:

Pandemic's Economic Impact Hits LA Immigrants — And Their Families Abroad

Census Bureau Wants To Take Your Coronavirus 'Pulse'

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This worker lacks legal immigrant status so he cannot get unemployment insurance or federal stimulus funds. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

With just over 50% of households having responded to the 2020 census, and with the looming possibility of changed census deadlines and an undercount caused by the pandemic, the Census Bureau has decided to launch a $1.2 million experiment called the "Household Pulse Survey" to try to gauge the economic toll of the coronavirus pandemic.

The bureau tells NPR that survey responses -- combined with demographic information such as race, ethnicity and income -- could help policymakers figure out how best to get through the crisis and better understand its impact on employment, education, health, food and housing security.

The survey will be conducted only via email, with no word yet on how the Census Bureau would account for the many households not reached via that channel.

Questions will include:

  • Are you getting enough food to eat?
  • How often have you been bothered by feeling depressed or hopeless?
  • Did you wait to see a doctor because of the pandemic?
  • How many hours are you spending teaching any children in your home?

Results of the new household survey are also set to be published weekly on the bureau's website, along with a similar one for businesses.

NPR's Hansi Lo Wang reported earlier today that the current Spanish version of the "Household Pulse Survey" incorrectly states that its purpose is to help with "planning for the 2020 census"—misinformation likely to lead to a lot of confusion.

READ THE FULL STORY:

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Gov. Newsom: President Trump Promises Hundreds Of Thousands More Coronavirus Testing Swabs For California

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File: Democratic then-gubernatorial candidate Gavin Newsom speaks during election night event on Nov. 6, 2018 in Los Angeles. Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

In Gov. Gavin Newsom's daily update on California's response to the coronavirus, he provided updates on the six factors the state is looking at as it decides when to start easing stay-at-home restrictions, particularly around testing and tracing. He also said President Donald Trump had just directly promised him significant numbers of swabs over the next few weeks. You can read highlights below or watch the press conference above.

FIGURING OUT WHEN WE CAN LIFT RESTRICTIONS

The governor said he can't give a specific date for lifting restrictions, but that the state could provide updates on the six indicators being monitored. Newsom noted that essential scheduled surgeries are beginning to be scheduled as part of the shift in the state's restrictions. But he said that lifting restrictions is like a dimmer switch that may need to be lowered once more, with restrictions returning.

Across California, the state has asked county coroners to look more deeply into how many people may have previously died from the coronavirus before the disease was known, Newsom said. The state has asked for officials to look at deaths going back to December, helping to create a better understanding of the disease's spread.

Newsom said the "vast majority" of calls the state is receiving from the public are urging caution as California looks at when to loosen stay-at-home restrictions, as opposed to those asking for the state to loosen restrictions quickly.


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Newsom later addressed the issue of timing on lifting restrictions on our newsroom’s public affairs show, AirTalk With Larry Mantle on KPCC.

"At the end of the day, it’s all about building trust, and our capacity to meet this moment, to meet this disease head on is at the speed of trust,” he said. He added that having the state come together and abide by stay-at-home orders allowed him to be able to lift certain restrictions, like allowing essential surgeries.

"But it is analogous, to use a metaphor, of skydiving," he said. "You open up your parachute and now you're slowing down — that doesn't mean you take the parachute off before you land.”

INCREASING TESTING CAPACITY

Testing and tracing are "foundational" in being able to reopen public recreation, Newsom said. More than 465,000 Californians have been tested so far, but that number is inadequate to modify stay-at-home orders, the governor said.

The state is currently at 16,000 tests per day, up from 2,000/day at the end of March, with a goal to get to 25,000 tests per day by the end of this month.

The state's medium-term goal is to get to at least 60,000 tests per day. It wants to be able to provide 25,000 tests per day for essential workers, with at least another 35,000 per day for others, California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said.

Eventually the state hopes to get far beyond the 60,000 tests per day figure.

There are currently more than 600 testing sites, with 251 core testing sites, Newsom said. About half the sites said they need more swabs, while others need what's used to send the swabs in for testing. The diagnostic side of testing is less stressed, according to Newsom.

The governor said he spoke with Trump less than an hour before his briefing, with the president promising that the state will be able to get a minimum of 100,000 swabs this week, 250,000 swabs the week after, and significantly more after that.

While it would be ideal for everyone to be able to be tested, Newsom said he wants to make sure that testing is available in every area, including rural and remote parts of the state, as well as urban centers servicing black and brown communities. Newsom announced 86 new testing sites meant to address "testing deserts," with the state using a heat map to track these areas.

The state has made a deal with a private company to provide 1.5 million antibody tests, but Newsom noted that there are still concerns about those tests.

TESTING AND TRACING METRICS

There are four "workstreams" for the state's testing/tracing indicator, Ghaly said, providing key metrics for each.

  • Accelerate equitable COVID-19 testing

Key metrics:

- Deploy 25,000 tests per day by April 30
- Establish 80-100 new testing sites
- Identify 5 new high throughput sites

  • Establish contact tracing workforce

- Issue survey to counties
- Develop statewide training academy
- Train 10,000 Public Health Connectors

  • Develop isolation and quarantine protocols and supports

- Develop guidelines for isolation
- Identify regional alternate isolation sites
- Build private-public partnerships to support those who isolate

  • Deploy data management system and tools

- Publish a symptom-check app
- Deploy data management platform
- Establish data dashboard for the public

CONTACT TRACING

The state is looking at training 10,000 staff to work on tracking and tracing patients and their contacts, Newsom said, including re-training current state workers.

Looking at the range of those with coronavirus who have been hospitalized and in ICU beds, the numbers are stable enough that there is confidence in moving forward, Ghaly said.

Ghaly went over what contact tracing is and why it's important — the ability to track the contacts of those with coronavirus helps to suppress the spread of the virus, avoid outbreaks, maintain health care capacity, and modify the stay-at-home order, Ghaly said.

Gov. Newsom spoke with AirTalk about the timeframe for getting 10,000 staff trained, noting that the state had a "wonderful backbone" of tracing expertise in place in county hospitals. Those staff would be able to help set up an online training portal for additional personnel to get up to speed, he said.

“We’re talking over the course of a number of weeks to really see those numbers take shape,” he said. “I don't want to over-promise in this space, but we have been able to get a census of possible workers, and we have confidence in that 10,000 number in a relatively short period of time.”

LATEST CALIFORNIA CORONAVIRUS NUMBERS

The state's current coronavirus numbers, particularly hospitalizations and the number in ICU beds, are showing stability, Newsom said.

Yesterday, 86 Californians died from coronavirus, Newsom said — a 6.8% increase over the previous day. But he added that there's been a modest decrease in hospitalizations, down 0.2%, while ICU numbers went down 1.8%.

MORE CORONAVIRUS UPDATES

Last week, the state disbursed $2 billion in unemployment claims to help those directly affected by COVID-19, Newsom said.

You can listen to more details about Gov. Newsom's remarks in his interview with AirTalk below.

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Netflix's 'Circus Of Books': How This Straight Couple Nurtured A Gay Meeting Place For More Than 30 Years

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Karen and Barry Mason at Circus of Books. Courtesy Netflix

Netflix's latest effort to distract you from your reality by telling you surprising stories about other people's realities is Circus of Books.

The documentary tells the story of the somewhat square couple that ran the West Hollywood store — known for selling hardcore gay porn and being a meeting place for gay men — for more than 30 years.

The film was made by Barry and Karen Mason's daughter, Rachel. All three of them talked with LAist about the film, the store's storied place in L.A. gay history, and how their shop would have fared in the current coronavirus epidemic.

READ THE FULL STORY:

No More Than 10 People Allowed On Some LADOT DASH Buses

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Courtesy LADOT

In an effort to strengthen social distancing, the Los Angeles Department of Transportation is limiting the number of passengers who can ride its DASH buses.

Starting today, the city's 30-foot buses will carry no more than 10 riders at a time. Its 35-foot buses will cap passengers at 12.

"We will continue to closely monitor all CDC guidelines that may apply to our services," LADOT officials said in an alert for riders.

The city's bus service has already been running on a reduced schedule and instituted fare-free, rear-door boarding in late March.

MORE ON PUBLIC TRANSIT AND CORONAVIRUS:

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Musso & Frank Shows Some Old School Moxie And Sues Its Insurance Company

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The Old Room at Musso & Frank. (Tina Whatcott Echeverria)

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One of Los Angeles's oldest restaurants has sued its insurance company, a harbinger of the lawsuits we'll likely see as more businesses file coronavirus-related claims with their insurers — and get denied.

Musso & Frank, which turned 100 years old at the end of 2019, has filed a lawsuit against Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance USA, alleging the insurer wrongly denied its claims. The filing was first reported by dot.la.

In the 243-page suit, which you can read here, Musso's attorneys state the restaurant paid all its premiums (nearly $4,000 per month or $46,919.15 for the period from June 30, 2019 to June 30, 2020). On March 19, Musso's filed insurance claims for business income losses due to COVID-19.

On April 1, just under two weeks later, the restaurant received word Mitsui Sumitomo had denied its claims.

Musso's attorneys allege the restaurant's claims were "not properly investigated" and that Mitsui acted in bad faith. In addition, Musso's attorneys claim Mitsui Sumitomo's denial of this claim is part of an "ongoing pattern and practice."

Musso & Frank is beloved for its stiff martinis, its red-jacketed waiters and its "continental" cuisine. But the oldest of old school joints may have a tough battle.

As described in the suit, Musso's insurance policy has a clause that states Mitsui Sumitomo "will not pay for loss or damage caused by or resulting from any virus, bacterium or other micro- organism that induces or is capable of inducing physical distress, illness or disease."

Musso & Frank isn't the only restaurant to sue its insurer.

In late March, Thomas Keller, the chef behind the French Laundry, Per Se and Bouchon, filed suit in Napa County against insurer Hartford Fire Insurance Company. He wants to establish a legal precedent that states the company must cover coronavirus-related business losses. (Keller is also serving on President Donald Trump's "economic revival industry group" for restaurants.)

This week, Pez Cantina in downtown L.A. sued Travelers Indemnity Co., seeking a court declaration that its suspension of business under a city order represents a "direct physical loss" as defined in the restaurant's policy.

We're following this story and reaching out to representatives for both Musso and Mitsui Sumitomo.

READ MORE OF OUR CORONAVIRUS & FOOD COVERAGE:

A 3.7-Magnitude Quake Shook LA Overnight (Lucy Jones Slept Through It)

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Courtesy USGS

A 3.7-magnitude earthquake jolted some Los Angeles County residents awake just after 12 a.m. Wednesday.

The quake was centered in the unincorporated area of View Park-Windsor Hills north of Inglewood. It was originally listed as a 3.8, but was later downgraded.

And just in case the overnight temblor has you wondering how Southern California would fare if a major quake struck right now, we thought about that, too.

And if you did feel it, the USGS is looking for your feedback.

As for seismologist Lucy Jones, well, she slept through it but had this report this morning:

GO DEEPER:

THE BIG ONE IS COMING. GET PREPARED

We don't want to scare you, but the Big One is coming. We don't know when, but we know it'll be at least 44 times stronger than Northridge and 11 times stronger than the Ridgcrest quakes last year. To help you get prepared, we've compiled a handy reading list

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Students Ask College Systems For More Support During COVID-19 Emergency

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The campus of Glendale College, a community college. (Adolfo Guzman-Lopez/LAist)

A coalition of students from University of California, Cal State and community college campuses is asking administrators for more help coping with the coronavirus crisis.

The California Students Higher Education Advocacy Round Table wants campuses to help students with housing on and off campus, assistance for disabled students, access to campus wi-fi and other support, the group said in a letter sent on Wednesday to top administrators at California's higher education systems.

Amine Al Moznine, a member of the new group and a student at De Anza College in Cupertino, said:

“This way we combine all of our best thoughts and work together to advocate for the same goal, which in my mind means we’re far more likely to get the results we desire."

READ THE FULL STORY:

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Do Internet Offers For Low-Income Families Come With Strings Attached?

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A student receives a laptop computer for remote learning in front of L.A. Unified's Bell High School. FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images

For years, L.A. neighborhoods like Watts and Boyle Heights have been stuck on the wrong side of a “digital divide”: few families in these low-income communities have access to computers and high-speed internet.

This long-standing problem has become an acute educational crisis during the pandemic. Many children, particularly those in middle- and high school, need internet access in order to do their homework.

Since the coronavirus struck, internet companies have offered to bridge this divide. AT&T, Charter Spectrum and Comcast are running deals to connect low-income households to the internet for little or no cost.

Do these offers live up to their advertising? Not according to an organization that runs public schools in Watts, South L.A. and Boyle Heights.

(At least one of those providers, AT&T, said that there may be a miscommunication about what's in their offer. But we'll get to that in a second.)

Staff of the organization — the Partnership for L.A. Schools — made calls to six different internet companies, posing as customers in Watts trying to sign up for free internet services. The organization released a report today about what they learned:

  • Limited service in Watts. The Partnership’s staff found that Charter Spectrum and Comcast service there is spotty, meaning AT&T is the only provider most families in the 90002 zip code can use. USC researchers have said that many broadband providers pass over low-income neighborhoods — and with little competition, residents sometimes pay higher prices.
  • ‘No free trial available.’ AT&T advertises that it’s offering two free months of its already-discounted internet service for low-income families. But the Partnership reports that “most callers were told that no free trial is available.” Instead, callers were told they had to “sign on for a $59.99/month offer after the 60 days.” In pockets of Watts served by Spectrum, callers were also asked to sign up for full-cost services after the initial 60 days expired.
  • No Social Security number? The Partnership found that callers who couldn’t provide a Social Security number to AT&T were asked to put down a $99 deposit.

"This is a public relations win for [these companies] to announce special offers during this time," said Chase Stafford, the Partnership's director of policy and planning and the lead researcher on the project. He added:

"That's great. We want companies who deserve praise to get it. But we need to ensure that actual services match up to what they’re saying in announcements."

We reached out to AT&T for a response. The company said the Partnership's report appears to confuse the company's Access service — targeted to low-income customers — with its standard, full-price internet service.

"We further expanded Access program eligibility temporarily to households wth children" receiving free or reduced-price school lunches, said spokesman Jim Kimberly, who encouraged anyone interested in the service to apply online.

So what's the source of the miscommunication? Kimberly couldn't say for sure — but he did note that anyone hoping to sign up for the low-cost service must call a different phone number than for normal service: 855-220-5211 (in English) or 850-220-5225 (in Spanish).

Spectrum also offered a response to the Partnership report:

  • "Spectrum Internet [is] widely available throughout Watts, East L.A., and South L.A.," wrote spokesman Dennis Johnson. "It is possible that a survey respondent who lives in a multiple-dwelling unit isn’t serviceable because we don’t have an agreement with the property owner to wire the building."
  • On March 16, Spectrum launched a "60-day free internet offer for families with school-aged children and professional educators who are not currently Spectrum Internet customers," Johnson said. The company also offers a low-cost internet service option aimed at low-income families.

This post was updated at 9:05 a.m. to include a statement from AT&T.

This post was updated at 2:10 p.m. to include a statement from Charter Spectrum.

GO DEEPER

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Kura Sushi Got A $6M Gov't Loan. They Have Access To Millions In Cash Already

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Published
Kura Sushi USA is majority owned by a Japanese conveyor belt sushi restaurant chain. (Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP via Getty Images)

The "revolving sushi bar" restaurant Kura Sushi is one of the 112,967 small businesses in California that have received a Paycheck Protection Program loan so far.

That's the $349 billion loan program created by Congress to encourage companies to continue paying their employees.

But the Irvine-based company might not seem like a small business: it has 25 locations in five states, $24 million in cash on hand, and access to $20 million more through a loan from its majority stockholder, a Japanese company.

“It’s outrageous that companies that know they have funding available to them are asking for this kind of money,” said John Kabateck, the California state director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses.

READ THE FULL STORY:

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Morning Briefing: Planting Victory Gardens Amid Staggering Job Loss Predictions

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Published

I’ll admit that I'd never heard of victory gardens before reading LAist contributor Hadley Meares’ story on their history in L.A. For those in the same boat: victory gardens are home or community plots, cultivated during financially unstable times (wartime, historically) to reduce reliance on communal resources.

The idea came about during WWI in England, and the name “victory garden” took hold in the U.S. during WWII — a patriotic rallying cry with the implication, as you can no doubt infer, that each garden planted brought the country one step closer to triumph.

Now, Angelenos are rebooting the idea for 2020. (One modern update? If you’re so inclined, you can grow weed in there). It certainly feels like the victory garden’s moment to shine: we’re stuck at home, looking for ways to keep busy; we’ve been specifically asked to limit our trips to the grocery store; and gardening has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety.

Of course, urban farming alone won’t solve our problems, which are mounting by the day. But it’s one small way we can contribute, and it’s also a way to briefly lose track of our worries, to let our minds temporarily drift to the simplicity of a leaf, a flower, a seed, and the hope of something new to come.


Coming Up Today, April 22

Sheriff Alex Villanueva claims that if county officials don't unfreeze $143 million, he won’t be able to keep jails supplied with cleaning and hygiene equipment to combat the coronavirus. Frank Stoltze has the story.

Kyle Stokes examines why low-income residents of South L.A., Watts and Boyle Heights are having a difficult time signing up for free or low-cost internet being advertised by major providers like AT&T.

Aaron Mendelson will monitor the L.A. City Council as it debates several motions designed to protect renters during the coronavirus pandemic.

L.A.'s Mexican immigrants face a double challenge during the pandemic, reports Alyssa Jeong Perry: Whether to pay for food and rent here, or keep sending money back home.

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The Past 24 Hours In LA

L.A., California, The World: There are at least 15,140 coronavirus cases in L.A. County. There are 33,897 cases in California, and over 2.5 million cases worldwide. More than one-third of L.A. County’s deaths were people living in institutional facilities, including nursing homes, treatment centers and jails.

Job Loss: According to a forecast released last night by the non-profit Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation, the economic slowdown and safety measures caused by the pandemic will cause 2,816,700 Southern California jobs to disappear by May. That would push unemployment past 31%, well over double the height of the Great Recession. Mayor Eric Garcetti urged anyone experiencing psychological stress and/or depression to get help. In the same news briefing, L.A.’s mayor questioned why California (the most populous state) got the fewest federal small business loans.

Easing Restrictions: Gov. Newsom said guidelines for easing stay-at-home orders in phases in California will be announced Wednesday. Meanwhile, the White House's coronavirus task force convened as political wars continue over how the U.S. will move into reconstruction after the pandemic.

Experiencing The Great Outdoors: Many Angelenos are interested in cultivating a victory garden. Here’s a history of how they’ve been implemented in the city. Meanwhile, L.A. has some of the worst air in the nation — again.

Courts And Classes Online: After facing criticism from county attorneys and judicial advocacy groups, L.A. County will implement remote video hearings in 32 courtrooms across 17 courthouses. Cal State Fullerton will begin the fall 2020 semester online, the first college in the nation to announce such plans. Top LAUSD officials, including Superintendent Austin Beutner, joined KPCC's AirTalk to discuss the district’s remote learning, and how those adaptations will be paid for.

Tiger King And Sushi Chains: Releasing the docu-series Tiger King right when stay-at-home orders were issued proved quite fruitful for Netflix, bringing in more than double the number of new subscribers than what had been forecast. Kura, an Irvine-based sushi restaurant chain with locations in five states, got $5.9 million from the Paycheck Protection Program, despite having access to a $20 million line of credit from its parent company.

A River Champion Passes Away: Lewis MacAdams, known for founding the Friends of the Los Angeles River (FoLAR) to advocate for the waterway's restoration, died today at age 75 from complications due to Parkinson's.


We Want To Tell Your Stories

Everyone has a story about where they were on days like 9/11 or the moon landing. The coronavirus pandemic is different.

This story is made up of millions of smaller ones, and its impact will be with us for a long time. L.A.'s schools, freeways and workplaces have been shut down. It literally hit home, where the majority of us (who are lucky enough to have one) were told to remain isolated. Every Angeleno has been left to negotiate a new way of living, and navigate what has already shaped up to be one of the worst recessions in living memory.

Our newsroom wants your help documenting this historic time and its aftermath. What has it been like for you? What have been your ups, your downs? What do you want your future self to remember?

We invite you to join us in creating the diary of a city in the time of coronavirus. Pick any day that stands out to you, and share it with us. A KPCC/LAist journalist may be in touch to follow up. We'll read every response, and nothing is shared without your permission.


Your Moment Of Zen

Venice Beach is closed off now, but a sailboat on the horizon never gets old for us.

(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

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The news cycle moves fast. Some stories don't pan out. Others get added. Consider this today's first draft, and check LAist.com for updates on these stories and more. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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