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Yes, Wildfires Are Here Again

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The Saddle Ridge Fire burns near Newhall on Oct. 11, 2019. (David McNew/Getty Images)

Small brush fires have popped up in Southern and Central California as hot weather dries out vegetation — conditions we'd expect to see in our Mediterranean climate, though they're exacerbated by climate change.

So, how's it looking for fire in 2020?

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California Community Colleges Sue Federal Government Over Emergency Relief For Students

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

The California Community Colleges system has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education challenging the federal government’s decision to deny emergency aid to DACA recipients, international students and other enrollees.

California college students are beginning to receive their share of millions of dollars in stimulus funds sent to their campuses through the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF), a part of the CARES Act.

But in a lawsuit filed Monday in federal district court in San Francisco, California Community Colleges said the emergency relief “arbitrarily (places) eligibility restrictions on emergency relief funds that Congress intended to help students defray additional educational costs resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, which exclude hundreds of thousands of students, including undocumented students, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) recipients, and many students who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents.”

In a statement issued last month, Community Colleges Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley said the CARES Act “provides colleges with significant discretion on how to award this emergency aid to students.”

The lawsuit argues that “Congress provided higher education institutions with unfettered flexibility to distribute the relief to affected students as they deemed appropriate, imposing no eligibility limitations on this emergency relief for students,” and that the restrictions placed by the U.S. Department of Education are unconstitutional.

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LA Sheriff Villanueva Accuses Jail Inmates of Trying To Infect Themselves With Coronavirus

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A group of inmates at a jail in northern L.A. County intentionally infected themselves with coronavirus in an attempt to be released, according to Sheriff Alex Villanueva. The sheriff, who has faced accusations of failing to properly care for inmates, made the unusual accusation during an online news conference Monday.

To make his case, Villanueva showed videos depicting inmates dressed in jumpsuits inside a dorm drinking from the same hot water container (right before having their temperature taken, according to the department) and sniffing from the same mask. It’s impossible to determine from watching the video if those items are tainted with the virus. But Villanueva said within a week, 21 inmates from the same dorm at the North County Correctional Facility had the virus.

The sheriff declared the inmates had a “mistaken belief” that the inmates could “force our hand” to release them if they tested positive. “That’s not going to happen.” He said the inmates denied the accusation and that an investigation is ongoing.

Villanueva’s claims are an “attempt to demonize incarcerated people,” said Patrisse Cullors, a plaintiff in a lawsuit claiming the sheriff has failed to provide enough space for social distancing and other safeguards. Lex Steppling of Dignity and Power Now wondered why the video showed a room where social distancing was impossible for inmates.

“The bigger question is, what were they all doing in that room in the first place?” Steppling said.

The sheriff is grappling with a growing number of COVID-19 cases. Infections nearly doubled in the last week to 357. More than a third of the entire jail population – 4,590 inmates – is in quarantine after coming into contact with inmates who tested positive.

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LA County's Registrar Responds To Trump Claims About The 25th District Special Election

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L.A. County Registrar-Recorder Dean Logan, September 28, 2019. (Al Kamalizad for LAist)

As you may have heard, there’s a special election for Katie Hill’s former House of Representatives seat coming up on Tuesday (as in tomorrow) in North L.A. and eastern Ventura counties.

Last week, local Democrats complained that the City of Lancaster, where a high proportion of African American residents live, didn’t have an in-person vote center for the election. The local party and the campaign for Democratic candidate Christy Smith said this could disenfranchise voters of color.

On Friday, the county announced it would open a new polling place in Lancaster for the second weekend of early voting, and for Election Day, in addition to the 12 total planned for Los Angeles and Ventura parts of the district.

Now Republicans are crying foul: Party officials say the last-minute addition of a vote center is a dirty power play by Democrats hoping to hold on to the seat the party flipped in 2018.

“They are desperate and trying to change the rules to steal an election,” said GOP candidate Mike Garcia on Twitter.

And there was also this:

L.A. County Registrar Dean Logan responded today on our local news show, Take Two, which airs on 89.3 KPCC.

Logan said Lancaster’s Republican Mayor, R. Rex Parris, and other community members asked for the new location, and that critics were engaging in “selective outrage.”

“We’re unapologetic about providing opportunities to vote,” he said, adding the new vote center had nothing to do with politics. “It’s serving all voters. Our process has no relevance for who the person is voting for, it’s about making sure they have that opportunity.”

The counties mailed every voter in the district a ballot, and most will either turn them in to a secure drop box or mail them back. For those who need to go to an in-person center — either for disability access, language help, same-day registration or any other reasons — Logan said spreading out voters over more locations will also be safer during the pandemic.

GO DEEPER:

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Garcetti Responds To Weekend Crowds, Reduces Updates To Twice A Week

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Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has been providing nightly updates for two months, but no more.

In his latest update, live-streamed via Facebook, the mayor said moving forward he will go live only at the beginning and end of each week, or when there's a major news development.

During the week, the mayor's office will instead provide what he called "behind the scenes" content. As examples, Garcetti mentioned showing how coronavirus tests are processed, talking to health care workers and the people procuring critical medical equipment, and offering more information about how businesses can weather the crisis.

The rest of the mayor's update was a Q&A format with pre-submitted questions from reporters and the public (but in a departure from past live streams, which were operated like remote press conferences, reporters tonight were not given an opportunity to ask any additional questions).

What are you doing to protect Angelenos at the flower market?

Garcetti acknowledged that a lot of people were out getting flowers for Mother's Day weekend, but he insisted that city and county inspectors responded appropriately. He said "the beginning was a little bit chaotic" but that by the end of the weekend, "they had staffed up and done the right thing."

He said "each day we're going to learn those lessons" and that the city will enforce safety measures. He said city staffers spoke with 150 different businesses and ultimately handed out notices of violation to 27 businesses.

"We want to work with every business, but please read ahead of time. It is your responsibility to adhere to those as well," he said.

The hiking trails were packed this weekend. Do you think it's safe for them to be open and is it safe for the beaches to reopen?

"The county does believe that it is safe for the trails to be open. Our public health department recommended that and changed the order for all of us," Garcetti said.

But he also said safety was the responsibility of residents.

"We tell folks you have to maintain 6 feet between people. You have to have a mask when you're coming into contact, even if it's just passing by somebody on a trail. And the best way to keep your distance is to avoid crowded areas. Think about other parts of parks that you haven't been in before. And if necessary, we will shut those down — the trails that get too busy — but so far so good, it worked well."

As for beaches, Garcetti said to expect new orders from the county's public health department soon. He said he personally supports having the beaches open for active recreation (that does not mean lying on the sand and tanning).

Garcetti also said the city is exploring ways to close certain streets to car traffic so that pedestrians have safe places to get out and walk.

Are you sure it's time to begin allowing more places to reopen? It seems premature given there hasn't been a decrease in deaths.

Garcetti said the county hit its peak and while deaths haven't come down a lot, they're still stable.

He said officials are still watching the indicators closely: percentage of people testing positive, hospital bed capacity, available ventilators.

"But, we'll see," Garcetti said. "It's only successful if people adhere to the guidance given out there."

What safety protocols are in place at businesses that are offering curbside pickup?

Garcetti referred everyone to the orders themselves at lamayor.org/covid19. He said you can see checklists posted by businesses showing the steps being taken to increase safety.

The federal government gave the city of L.A. nearly $700 million for COVID-19 response. Where's that money going?

So far, the city hasn't spent a dollar of that money, Garcetti said. They're hoping to use it to reimburse the following:

  • Testing
  • Masks and personal protective equipment
  • Child care for health care professionals
  • Making sure disaster service workers can get paid
  • Economic relief for businesses

I applied for an Angeleno card. Why didn't I get one?

There are four reasons you might not have gotten one, Garcetti said.

  1. You don't live in the city: "We had hundreds of thousands of applications outside the city of L.A."
  2. Your income level might have been too high, or you couldn't prove that your financial hardship was caused directly by COVID-19.
  3. You might have had a duplicate application from the same address.
  4. The main reason is the city doesn't have enough funds, so it was a lottery system. "So if you got a no," he said, "and it was simply because you didn't win that first lottery — we did a second one, we've expanded it — and as I get more money every single week, we're expanding that to more and more people."

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Childhood Immunizations Plunge In L.A. County

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A nurse wears a protective visor while administering vaccines at St. John's Medical Center in Altrincham, England during the coronavirus lockdown. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

L.A. County health care providers gave out less than half the number of childhood vaccinations this April compared to 2019, according to the California Department of Public Health.

The number of vaccines doses provided in January and Febrary was about the same as last year, but dropped to 55% in March and 39% in April.

Dr. Ken Saul, a pediatrician in Thousand Oaks, said that if enough kids miss their immunizations, California could see an outbreak of a preventable disease like measles or pertussis.

“Pediatricians are all about being proactive and preventing disaster rather than dealing retroactively with disaster,” he said.

At Dr. Saul’s practice, families now wait in their cars to keep the waiting room empty, everyone wears a mask and sick children are scheduled in the afternoons.

AltaMed’s pediatric clinic at Children’s Hospital L.A. is offering drive-up services where kids can receive their vaccine shots in outdoor tents instead of going inside.

READ THE FULL STORY:

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Allowing Curbside Pick-Up Helped Some LA Businesses, Not Others

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Shopping in L.A.'s Flower District on Mother's Day 2020, just two days after some businesses were allowed to partially reopen in L.A. Josie Huang/ LAist

We all saw the photos of people lining up outside flower shops to buy bouquets for Mother’s Day. But what about other L.A. County businesses that were allowed to reopen on Friday for curbside pick-up, like bookstores, clothing stores and toy stores?

Eso Won Books in Leimert Park has been taking online orders for weeks, and owner James Fugate wasn't sure whether he'd see an immediate difference in sales after local officials announced that curbside pick-up was OK. But he was pleasantly surprised:

"We had a number of people come up, knock on the door, they wanted to know if we were open. So I think it really helped making that announcement."

It was a different story for April Hicks, who said almost no one came by her Pasadena clothing boutique, April Blooms, on Friday.

"I haven’t sold a dress, since, I think at least two to three months," she said. After all, who needs a cute outfit when there are no weddings or graduations?

In Santa Monica, toy store owner Maire Byrne didn't bother to reopen because she was already selling toys out of the market/cafe next door, which she also owns.

She said science kits, boardgames and puzzles were flying off the shelf.

"Things like that that are fun for the kids, and they take a little time, which is amazing for the mom," she said.

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27 Flower District Businesses Cited For Violating Social Distancing Rules

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The scene in L.A.'s Flower District on Mother's Day 2020. (Josie Huang/ LAist)

Downtown L.A.'s flower district was busy from the moment it re-opened to the public on Friday, and on Mother's Day, it was mobbed.

Customers had trouble maintaining social distancing and, as a result, more than two dozen business were cited by the City of L.A. for not adhering to "safety protocols."

Alex Comisar, who is deputy communications director to Mayor Eric Garcetti, told us via email:

"At the Downtown Flower Market, most shoppers and workers wore face coverings, but there was an increase in shopping for Mother’s Day. The City dispatched Bureau of Street Services and Department of Transportation officers to help control vehicle traffic and pedestrian circulation to mitigate crowding on Saturday and Sunday... Street Services teams spoke with more than 150 business operators each day and advised them to maintain clearances and adhere to the new safety protocols. Twenty-seven businesses received notices of violation."

KPCC reporter Josie Huang reported on Sunday that lines of customers along the sidewalk were 20 people deep. Most wore masks but not everyone. People were not spacing themselves six feet apart, either in line or in the stores.

One flower shop had signs asking people to keep the recommended distance but that was impossible for patrons given the narrow aisles.

Flower shops were among the businesses allowed to re-open on Friday, May 8. Parts of the flower district were only open to wholesalers and business owners while other areas were open to the general public.

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Former LA County Firefighter (Better Known As The Double Rainbow Guy) Dies At 57

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Even if you didn't know Paul Vasquez by name, you might know him as the Double Rainbow Guy aka the man behind the ecstatic viral video with more than 47 million views.

Vasquez, who was 57, died Saturday at an emergency room in Mariposa.

Vasquez posted about being tested for coronavirus last week but said at the time he didn't think he had it. His cause of death has not been reported.

Before being tested, Vasquez wrote, "If it’s the virus and it’s my time to recycle I look forward to coming back to a new body and starting over, whatever happens I’m enjoying the ride."

Located in Northern California, Mariposa County, which has a little more than 17,000 residents, is currently reporting 15 confirmed COVID-19 cases and zero deaths.

Vasquez lived on a small plot outside Yosemite and farmed his own food. One day, that location put him in the perfect spot to see a rare double rainbow, one that stretched "all the way across the sky" and was just "too much" for him.

Vasquez posted a very sincere video expressing joy and wonder at the rainbow and its vibrant colors, including wondering about the meaning of existence and breaking down in tears. People wondered if he was high (he said he wasn't, although he does grow marijuana plants and had another rainbow video which he was high for), and as some people do when another person is sincere, they made fun of him.

But he kept smiling through all of it, interview after interview, and on his Youtube channel with more than 4,000 videos.

L.A.-BORN FIREFIGHTER

Vasquez was born in East L.A. His dad was a bus driver, which allowed the young Vasquez to explore the city with a free bus pass.

When he grew up, he became an L.A. County firefighter who spent two years jumping out of helicopters to fight fires, according to CNN. He was still posting about firefighting just days before his death but from the perspective of someone trying to protect his home.

He transitioned into a life of the great outdoors, moving to Yosemite in 1985. He worked as a security officer, EMT and a firefighter there, before moving on to work for the National Park Service. He even spent time as a cage fighter.

Here's to an L.A. outdoors lover who helped fight fires, appreciated the little things and shared a moment that many will never forget. All the way.

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'This Is Where We Can Open Up' - Veteran Support Groups Move Online

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(sydney Rae for Unsplash)

For many of us, the coronavirus pandemic has meant more anxiety and depression. The risks are greater for military veterans who were already dealing with the pressures of reintegrating into civilian society.

We checked in with vets who are getting help through online support groups.

Former Marine Elliott Ruiz marveled at how someone anonymously dropped off diapers and bottled water after he told his Zoom group he was running low.

Greg, an Army vet who had moved out of a transitional housing program just as COVID-19 forced people to stay indoors, is two years sober and asked us not to use his last name. He said, “It’s been a real blessing” to continue his 12-step group meetings online.

READ OUR FULL REPORT:

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Nearly 40% Of Businesses Surveyed Over The Weekend Violated LA County Health Order

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Flower markets have reopened as the city inches forward along its pandemic recovery plan. How's it going so far? (Emily Guerin/LAist)

As part of Los Angeles County’s work to begin the pandemic recovery process, health inspectors conducted surveys at 410 businesses — including flower shops busy for the Mother's Day rush — that had reopened over the weekend. Of those, 162 locations — nearly 40% — were in violation of the county health officer order.

“We did see many vendors that allowed customers into stores [were] not following the physical distancing measures and not requiring customers to wear cloth face coverings,” L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said at Monday’s media briefing. “Our inspectors had to require some businesses to close, since they were not able to come into compliance.”

Ferrer had this reminder for both business owners and customers:

“We have to do our part to slow the spread of COVID-19, and it's extraordinarily important to follow the health officer orders and the directives. Businesses should not open until they can adhere to all the protocols, and they must post a completed checklist in a public place before they open so that their customers and their employees can be sure that this is a place that is able to provide the required protections... This is our new normal. It will go on for a while, and we do need to take these actions to heart.”

BY THE NUMBERS

L.A. County officials reported 591 new confirmed cases of coronavirus today, bringing the total to at least 32,258 cases countywide. In total, 948 cases have been reported in Long Beach and 551 in Pasadena (those two cities operate their own health departments).

Ferrer also reported 39 new deaths of COVID-19 patients. The total number of deaths countywide now stands at 1,569 people.

Of the 51 people who’ve died in the past 24 hours, 33 were over 65 and, of those victims, 22 had underlying health conditions, Ferrer said. Four victims were between 41 and 65 and three of them had underlying health conditions. One victim was between 18 and 40 and did not have underlying health conditions.

So far, 92% of those who have died had underlying health conditions, Ferrer said.

The death toll at institutional facilities in L.A. County — particularly at nursing homes — continues to climb. Ferrer reported that 779 residents at those facilities have died. That number represents 50% of all deaths countywide.

Here are some other key figures being reported today:

  • More than 240,000 people have been tested for COVID-19 and had their results reported to L.A. County health officials. Of those tests, 12% have been positive.
  • There are currently 1,690 people hospitalized with COVID-19. Of those individuals, 26% are in the ICU with 15% on ventilators. Ferrer noted “a slight decrease” in those numbers over the past week-and-a-half.
  • Ferrer reported that 3,614 health care workers and first responders who work in L.A. County have tested positive and the vast majority of cases are among health care workers in nursing homes and hospitals. As of today’s update, 20 health care workers have died from COVID-19, she said, and 14 of those victims worked in county nursing homes.
  • The county health department is currently investigating 359 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 there are 8,164 confirmed cases in those facilities — 5,236 residents and 2,928 staff members.
  • Ferrer gave an update on cases among pregnant women. So far, 134 pregnant women have tested positive for COVID-19 and 82% were symptomatic. Twenty-four of the 29 infants born to those women so far were tested for coronavirus at birth and all were negative, Ferrer said.
  • Ferrer said 234 cases have been confirmed among L.A. County residents struggling with homelessness — 131 of whom were sheltered. Health officials are currently investigating 23 shelter sites with confirmed cases.
  • There have now been 444 confirmed cases “at some point in time” in county jail facilities, Ferrer reported. In total, 339 inmates and 105 staff members have tested positive.

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Experts Predicted The Coronavirus Would Shift To LA's Poor, And It Has

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A healthcare worker hands a patient a COVID-19 testing kit through a car window at a drive-thru testing site at The Forum. (Courtesy of Los Angeles County)

In the early days of the coronavirus pandemic in Los Angeles, infections were concentrated in more affluent communities, but experts predicted that would soon change.

The thinking went like this: As the pandemic progressed, it would shift from the wealthy — people who before the pandemic could afford to travel, and who now can now afford to shelter at home — to the poor, who in many cases can't.

That prediction appears to have been right. The curve is not flattening for everyone. A series of reports in recent days makes it increasingly clear that low-income communities of color are being hit especially hard — and that things could get worse.

READ THE FULL STORY:

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California Gov. Newsom: Announcements On Counties Loosening Restrictions Coming Tuesday

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Gov. Gavin Newsom delivered his daily update on California's response to coronavirus Monday, including saying that announcements on local variances are coming soon. You can read the highlights below or watch the full video above.

COUNTIES LOOKING TO MOVE FURTHER INTO PHASE 2

The state had constructive conversations with 19 counties over the last three days about self-certifying to allow them to move further into Phase 2 than the state as a whole, Newsom said, with another nine scheduled today.

Announcements on counties moving further into Phase 2 are expected Tuesday — detailed guidelines for different sectors will also be released on dining, offices, and malls.

Newsom noted that he was working with Kern County on a potential variance, though its death rate and positive rates don't meet state guidelines. Their numbers are high largely due to numbers in nursing homes — Newsom noted that the state will be flexible, while also being driven by science.

WHO SHOULD BE TESTED?

Newsom noted that the state has moved beyond the CDC's guidelines for who should be tested for coronavirus, and was the first to do so. So far, the state recommends testing for essential workers, including those who are asymptomatic. Updates on testing will be provided Tuesday, Newsom said, with a major milestone being reached tomorrow, he added.

ASKING FOR $1 TRILLION FROM THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT

California and other states in the Western States Pact are requesting in the range of $1 trillion from the federal government in aid, Newsom said. The group, formed in response to the coronavirus pandemic, includes California, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, and Colorado.

TESLA'S THREATS TO LEAVE CALIFORNIA

Responding to a question about Elon Musk fighting with Alameda County over restrictions at his Tesla car manufacturing facility, Newsom noted that they support local counties with stricter regulations, which includes Alameda County. The county is working with Tesla, and Newsom said that he hopes manufacturing at the facility will be able to resume as early as next week, with modifications.

LATEST CORONAVIRUS NUMBERS

There were 25 coronavirus-related deaths of Californians over the last 24 hours, Newsom said. The number of positive cases increased overnight by roughly 1,250, he added. Hospitalizations went up 0.9%, but those in ICUs went down 0.4%.

MASKS FOR ESSENTIAL WORKERS

On Friday, the state distributed 11 million masks to critical industries, Newsom said. That includes:

  • 5 million masks for the Department of Social Services, child care facilities, in-home support services, and other Social Services-run adult and senior facilities
  • 4.2 million masks provided to farmworkers and in agriculture
  • 750,000 distributed for grocers and those in the food supply chain
  • 500,000 for the Department of Education
  • Tens of thousands to transit agencies

UNEMPLOYMENT NUMBERS

The state has distributed $13.1 billion in unemployment funds, Newsom said, with a total of 4.5 million people who've filed for unemployment insurance or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance since March 12. That includes $3.4 billion distributed last week.

When new numbers are released, Newsom said, the unemployment rate will be north of 20% — potentially between 22 and 25%.

BRINGING BACK BASEBALL

With Major League Baseball putting forward a plan today to hold games without fans, Newsom said that what will happen with baseball is still to be determined. He added that the state will be driven by public health, and that the commissioner of the MLB has told him that the organization will not do anything that isn't permitted by the state's guidelines.

WHAT'S NEXT

Newsom's Tuesday press conference will include more details on testing, he said, along with moer details on counties moving further into Phase 2.

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WME Agency Is Bloodied, But Still Standing (For Now)

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Ultimate Fighting Championship, which resumed live events on May 9, is partly owned by the struggling Hollywood talent agency William Morris/Endeavor. (AP)

There weren’t any spectators at Saturday night’s multi-bout Ultimate Fighting Championship event in Jacksonville, Florida. Outside of sports fans eager for some televised bloodshed, there was an unusually interested party watching the fights from California: the WME talent agency.

The pandemic has slashed profits for all of Hollywood’s deal makers, but few of the town’s agencies were more vulnerable to the global shutdown than WME, which has made huge bets on live events such as mixed martial arts. Over the last few days, the once high-flying WME has slashed jobs and secured an emergency $260 million loan to keep operations funded.

But the agency’s overall financial health — like an MMA combatant who’s taken too many punches — still looks wobbly.

WME’s parent, Endeavor Group Holdings, has announced plans to lay off or cut the compensation (by as much as 30%) of a third of its 7,500 total employees. Hundreds of workers at the Beverly Hills agency itself are expected to be pink-slipped. In an earlier statement, WME said it was taking “a variety of actions to mitigate the impact of this pandemic.” The company had no further comment on Monday.

Unlike other talent agencies, whose business is narrowly tied to commissions from actors and filmmakers, WME has invested billions in live events, almost all of which have been canceled or postponed.

Besides clients such as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Matt Damon, WME (the result of a 2009 merger between the William Morris and Endeavor talent agencies) acquired live events including professional bull riding, the Miss Universe pageant and a majority position in the UFC. WME also launched a production company, which has been shuttered by the coronavirus.

Those deals have left WME parent Endeavor Group with a staggering $4.6 billion of long-term debt, according to security filings tied to a failed September attempt to take WME public, the first such stock offering in Hollywood history.

Its credit rating has been downgraded to junk bond status, and last week Endeavor said it was selling part of its stake in Epic Games, which makes Fortnite.

Other talent agencies have announced layoffs and salary cuts but for now WME has the most on the line. Agency founder Ari Emanuel once wrote: “You’ll never succeed unless you take big risks.” By the same measure, you might not fail if you don’t.

READ MORE:

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LA Metro Is Now Requiring Masks On Its System, But Enforcement Is ‘A Work In Progress’

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(Courtesy Adrian Hernandez/LA Metro)

Starting today, riders on Los Angeles County’s transit system are required to wear masks or other protective face coverings.

If you’re thinking: Wait, haven’t people been required to wear face coverings while out in public for weeks now?

Yes, county health officials issued that order in mid-April as a way to limit the spread of COVID-19. But until now, the L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Agency had only been recommending people wear face coverings on its system.

Why the delay? Metro officials cited a few reasons, including “civil liberties issues” and uncertainty over who would enforce the rule — and how.

“We don’t want to put our bus operators in harm’s way. Nor do we want to put our law enforcement officers in an untenable position where confrontations with riders escalate — as we’ve seen happen in other cities,” Metro officials wrote on the agency’s news blog.

An incident in Philadelphia last month made headlines after police there dragged a man off a bus for not wearing a mask, as was required under a local transit policy. After video of the encounter spread online, the policy was rescinded.

Metro spokesperson Dave Sotero later told me what happened in Philadelphia was “a good example of what we’re trying to avoid.”

Agency officials did not elaborate on how they will ensure riders are following the rule, only saying they “will enforce this requirement to the extent that is practical.” Metro CEO Phillip Washington said in a news release that “Enforcement of this new requirement will be a work in progress.”

“As we prepare to restore bus and rail service that has been reduced due to the COVID-19 crisis, we want transit to be as safe as possible,” he said.

A mix of LAPD and county sheriff’s deputies patrol the system, along with Metro’s own security staff and contracted guards. But there’s less of a presence aboard Metro’s bus fleet, where bus operators are often the sole authority.

Agency officials said last week that 58 Metro workers have tested positive for COVID-19 — and 16 were bus operators.

L.A. Metro has taken some steps to add protections for its bus operators, including instituting rear-door boarding and installing plexiglass to shield drivers. But some bus operators have been voicing their fears about driving passengers who are not following public health orders and riding without face coverings.

The agency is launching an educational campaign to alert riders to its updated policy. Metro is also “looking at ways the agency can help riders obtain face coverings while protecting our own supply of coverings that are needed for our employees.”

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LAUSD: ‘Just About Every’ Student Now Has Laptop, Internet

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L.A. Unified Supt. Austin Beutner announced on April 13, 2020 that school campuses will remain closed for the rest of the school year. (Screenshot from LAUSD video statement)

Since the pandemic began, the Los Angeles Unified School District has been buying thousands of computers and striking deals with internet providers — all so students can access their lessons online, from home.

On Monday, Superintendent Austin Beutner declared LAUSD has hit a milestone: “just about every” LAUSD student is now “connected.” Here’s how Beutner defined “connected” in an interview with KPCC/LAist:

“We’ve confirmed they have a device that works, we’ve confirmed they have either internet access of their own or we’ve provided it at no cost to the student, and they’ve engaged in learning — meaning they’ve logged onto Schoology or some other platform being used for their school lessons.”

LAUSD high schools received devices first, followed by middle schools. Beutner’s now declaring victory after ensuring 96% of elementary students are “connected.”

He acknowledges LAUSD might have missed some families in need. But he says any district families who need a laptop can still call LAUSD’s hotline: 213-443-1300.

Beutner will provide his weekly video update at 11 a.m.

READ THE FULL STORY

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Tracking The Millions Pouring Into LA's Mayor's Fund

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Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti listens as California Governor Gavin Newsom speaks in front of the hospital ship USNS Mercy that arrived into the Port of Los Angeles on Friday, March 27, 2020. (Carolyn Cole - Pool/Getty Images)

At Mayor Eric Garcetti's nightly briefings, he often discusses case numbers, social distancing and the budget. He also namechecks the Mayor's Fund for Los Angeles, an outside nonprofit that has assumed a major role in the city's response to the coronavirus pandemic. The charity has raised $42 million for response efforts in recent weeks, an advisor said, blowing away its fundraising total of $4.3 million from the last fiscal year.

I was curious who had been giving, so I listened back to dozens of those briefings to build a database.

READ THE FULL STORY:

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LA County's Parks & Rec Director Says She's Pleased With How The Reopening Of Trails Went

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A park monitor speaks to trial users congregating at the waterfall of Eaton Canyon at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains. Los Angeles County Parks and Recreation Department

In an interview with LAist, Norma Garcia, the acting director of LA County's Parks and Recreation Department, said the reopening of hiking trails and golf courses after weeks of closure went successfully, if not perfectly.

Some "hotspots," such as Eaton Canyon at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains, saw lines of cars and dozens of people congregating at its main attraction: a 40-foot waterfall.

Garcia said the department has trained a cadre of park monitors to encourage social distancing and the use of face masks, especially in narrow parts of the trail where it is difficult to stay six feet apart.

Monitors, for example, approached trail users playing by the waterfall to tell them that it was closed and that they needed to practice trail etiquette. The waterfall is located in a portion of the park managed by the U.S. Forest Service.

READ MORE:

Crowds Flocked To 'Hotspot' Trails In L.A. County

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Morning Briefing: The Reopening Rush

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L.A.'s Flower District, Mother's Day 2020 (Josie Huang/ LAist)

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As parts of the region begin to reopen, L.A. is in a strange limbo. This weekend, local judges were ordered to wear face masks in their courtrooms, and a firm in San Diego was given emergency authorization for an antigen test. Meanwhile, hikers flooded our newly reopened trails, and visitors to the Flower Market crowded the streets.

The push-pull dynamic will likely last for a while – we’re desperate to get out of our homes and back into the world, but we don’t actually have a way to treat the disease that’s kept us inside for so long.

It’s disorienting, it’s a precarious dance, and if you decide to stay indoors a little while longer, that’s quite understandable. Here are some ways to stay sane.

Keep reading for more on what’s happening in L.A. today.

Jessica P. Ogilvie


Coming Up Today, May 11

The Venice Art Walk and Auctions head online. The Mr. Show crew reunites. World of Wonder give you more reasons to "Stay the F*** Home." and the Pacific Opera Project presents a Mozart-Super Mario mashup viewing party. Christine N. Ziemba has this week’s best virtual events.

If you listen to Mayor Eric Garcetti’s nightly briefings, you’ve heard him discuss coronavirus case numbers, social distancing, and the economy. If you listen closely, you’ll also hear him mention the Mayor's Fund. Wondering what it is? Aaron Mendelson has the story.

A fire broke out in Hollister Ranch last week, just north of Santa Barbara. It’s an indication that wildfire season isn't close – it's here. Jacob Margolis tells us why we're burning so early in the year, and why we're woefully unprepared, thanks to COVID-19.

Josie Huang speaks with Norma Garcia, acting director of L.A. County’s Parks and Recreation department, who says this weekend’s reopening of hiking trails “was very successful [but] not perfect.”


The Past 48 Hours In LA

L.A., California, The World: There are now 31,694 coronavirus cases and 1,531 deaths in L.A. County, and at least 67,096 cases and 2,700 deaths in California. Worldwide, there are more than 4 million cases and over 282,000 deaths.

The 2020 Vote: The special election to fill the remaining months of Katie Hill's congressional seat has become a bruising battle in the high desert, with both President Trump and former President Barack Obama weighing in.

Equality In The Film Industry: Mothers and caregivers working in animation hope to begin a conversation about improving industry conditions in their field, where women are historically underrepresented.

The Reopening Rush: The crowded streets of the L.A. Flower District on Mother's Day were a reminder that people are growing fatigued by social distancing orders. Hiking trails reopened on Saturday — here’s what Eaton Canyon, Temescal Canyon and Griffith Park looked like.

Health And Wellness: Judges and other staff in L.A. County Superior Court must now wear face coverings in the courtroom and other public areas. Here are 5 practical tips to stay connected during isolation. The FDA gave emergency authorization to a San Diego-based corporation to manufacture a new antigen test. Top officials in L.A. County's Dept. of Mental Health say the release of more jail inmates will strain resources.

Money Matters: Latinos in the U.S. were on an historic wave of prosperity that's now threatened by devastating job loss. Organizers of an annual county-wide diaper drive in Orange County say they're worried that having to go virtual this year will significantly reduce the donations they count on.

Yes, COVID-19 Is Still Going Around: After a group of 30-40 people got together for a birthday/Easter party in Pasadena, five have coronavirus and several others are significantly ill but uncooperative with authorities. Highland Park resident Toban Nichols described his experience of having the coronavirus, including aching gums, extreme fatigue and some disturbing episodes of not being able to communicate verbally.

Final Good-Byes: On Saturday, we lost Little Richard, the King — and the Queen, as he liked to say — of rock n' roll.


Your Moment Of Zen

Venice-based musician Matthew DeMerritt called this “a very lucky shot.” While out trying to snap a pic of the recent red tide, a heron landed in front of him. “The nice thing about herons is that they know how to stand still for long exposures,” said DeMerritt.

(Courtesy Matthew DeMerritt)

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