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LA County Lays Out Plan To House 15,000 Homeless Angelenos

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An unhoused Angeleno staying under a freeway underpass. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

Los Angeles County has committed $308 million to an ambitious COVID-19 recovery plan with the goal of quickly finding homes for 15,000 people experiencing homelessness, according to Heidi Marston, director of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA).

The funds will be used to buy hotels and lease apartments and houses, including some from the private rental market, and begin moving people who were sheltered in hotels and recreation centers at the beginning of the pandemic into actual residences.

Many additional people who were identified by LAHSA during the pandemic as being medically vulnerable or over age 65 will also be housed under the plan.

The $308 million will come largely from the federal government -- the CARES Act as well as Medicaid. Marston said housing all 15,000 people will ultimately require more than just this funding commitment -- the full plan as budgeted requires $800 million -- but that this initial commitment is enough to get the ball moving.

“We have the bandwidth and the resourcing to really scale up in a different way," Marston said. "And we have the market that looks different than it normally does. So we don't want to let the moment go to waste."

READ MORE ABOUT THE HOMELESSNESS CRISIS:

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All Those Illegal Fireworks Came With A Price: Really Bad Air Quality

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A young couple strolls through Ascot Hills watching the city light up with DIY fireworks displays on July 4, 2020. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

Southern California is experiencing the worst air quality in a decade thanks to widespread use of 4th of July fireworks.

Some air monitoring instruments even became too filthy to function.

Jo Kay Ghosh with the South Coast Air Quality Management District says burning fireworks emit unhealthy levels of particulate matter into the air.

"Breathing high levels of particulate matter can cause both respiratory problems, as well as heart attacks, it can aggravate asthma. It can also lead to difficulty breathing and other mostly respiratory or cardiovascular effects."

Ghosh says weather over the holiday weekend trapped the firework smoke close to the ground instead of allowing it to clear out.

Some of the worst areas include North Hollywood, Anaheim and Downtown Los Angeles.

STAY INFORMED:

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More Than Half Of CA Mobile Home Parks Haven’t Been Inspected In The Last Decade, Audit Finds

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The California Trailer Grove mobile home park in Pomona. (Aaron Mendelson/LAist)

State workers didn’t inspect more than half of California’s mobile home parks between 2010 and 2019, there are no written policies for selecting which parks should be inspected, and inspectors don’t document their work thoroughly.

Those are the findings of an audit of the California Department of Housing and Community Development. HCD oversees mobile home parks that are home to hundreds of thousands of Californians, making sure they’re safe and habitable. But it could be doing a better job, State Auditor Elaine Howle said.

In a letter, HCD Chief Deputy Director Zack Olmstead said he agreed with suggested changes, including documenting all visits by inspectors, guidelines for which parks are prioritized for inspections, and better communication with park owners and residents.

The limited number of inspections does not violate state law, which only requires HCD to inspect 5% of the nearly 4,500 parks under its jurisdiction each year.

The requirements have changed dramatically over time: In 1967, the Mobilehome Parks Act required HCD to inspect every park annually. By 1973, the number of required inspections was zero. The particulars have continued to fluctuate in recent years.

HCD is part of a patchwork of rental housing regulators in the state. The agency oversees mobile home park inspections, while cities and counties oversee apartment buildings. Single family rentals receive little regulatory scrutiny.

A KPCC/LAist investigation of rental empire PAMA Management found that HCD documented extremely poor conditions at Southern California mobile home parks.

At the California Trailer Grove in Pomona, inspectors found 111 health and safety violations in 2016, including a long-running sewage problem. The park had been the site of a typhus outbreak the previous year. HCD suspended its license in 2016 and again in 2018.

At 4J’s Mobile Home Park in Oildale, an HCD inspector found residents living in unlicensed mobile homes, and an imminent electrical hazard in January 2016. Weeks later, a five month-old girl died at the park in a fire. An attorney with the California Department of Real Estate wrote that the “complete disregard for all Health and Safety Code statutes and regulations that are intended to protect the public led to the death of an infant.”

READ OUR INVESTIGATION INTO LOW-INCOME HOUSING

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Lawyer For Deputy Who Shot Andres Guardado: It Was Self-Defense

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A Father's Day march protesting Guardado's killing. (Brian Feinzimer for LAist)

After an independent autopsy found that L.A. Sheriff’s Deputy Miguel Vega shot 18-year-old Andres Guardado five times in the back, Vega’s lawyer issued a statement saying his client acted in “self defense” as Guardado reached for a gun.

The statement did not cite any corroborating evidence or independent witnesses, and Vega hasn't yet spoken to Sheriff's investigators about his version of events. His lawyer, Adam Marangell, said Vega is scheduled to be interviewed by investigators on Monday.

On the evening of June 18, Vega spotted Guardado with a gun in his waistband and Guardado fled down a driveway, Marangell said. The encounter began outside the auto body shop in Gardena where Guardado worked as a security guard.

As Vega gave chase, Guardado removed the gun from his waistband as the deputy repeatedly ordered him to stop, said Marangell. He said Guardado eventually did stop, “turned around, and raised both hands in the air while still being armed.”

Vega ordered him to drop the weapon and lie face down on the ground, which he did, Marangell said, adding that the gun was “extremely close” to Guardado’s right hand. He said Vega holstered his weapon and began approaching Guardado to handcuff him when Guardado “clearly and unmistakably tried to grab the firearm,” prompting Vega to draw his weapon again and open fire.

Vega’s partner, Chris Hernandez, confirmed seeing a gun in Guardado’s waistband, his attorney Tom Yu told the Los Angeles Times. Hernandez had a partial view of Guardado beginning to lie on the ground when he heard Vega’s order for him to drop the weapon, followed by gunfire, Yu said.

The department has not said whether it has recovered any video that captures the encounter.

Guardado’s family ordered the independent autopsy after the Sheriff’s Department placed a “security hold” on the official autopsy, arguing that it needs to conclude its witness interviews before releasing it. Guardado’s parents said in a statement that the autopsy results “confirm what we have known all along, which is that Andres was unjustifiably killed.”

The case has prompted angry protests and national attention, as it came amid the outcry over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Sheriff Alex Villanueva says the state attorney general and the FBI have agreed to monitor the investigation.

READ OUR FULL COVERAGE:

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A State Bank For California? An LA Lawmaker Hopes It Could Help With Pandemic Recovery

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Assemblyman Miguel Santiago of Los Angeles speaks at a press conference in April. (Presley Ann/Getty Images for Emergency Supply Donor Group)

Under a proposal from a Los Angeles lawmaker, a statewide, publicly-owned bank could be created to help with economic recovery as California continues to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic.

Assembly Bill 310 would set up a banking system owned and operated by the state rather than private investors. Initially, it would operate using existing funds from "I-Bank," a state entity that issues bonds for infrastructure and private development projects.

Assemblyman Miguel Santiago, who co-authored the bill, says the bank would fill a void where Wall Street and the federal government have failed small businesses and underserved communities.

"Let's take 10% of the money that California already holds in its checking account, and let's help Main Street. We can structure a bank that actually is accountable to the people and does what the people want it to do."

In a press advisory, Santiago's office says the state-owned bank could help with recovery efforts "by lending to small businesses at reasonable rates and provide local governments with a stable source of financing."

Los Angeles voters rejected a measure to create a city-operated bank in 2018, but a law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom last year now allows California cities and counties to form their own public banking systems.

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Sheriff Says Robert Fuller’s Death Was A Suicide

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Offerings left at the base of the tree where Robert Fuller’s body was found hanging. (Emily Elena Dugdale/LAist)

The L.A. County Sheriff’s Department said today that the death of 24-year-old Robert Fuller has been deemed a suicide.

Fuller was found hanging from a tree in a Palmdale park on June 10.

His death sparked anger and frustration in a community with a history of racism and harassment by the Sheriff’s Department.

LASD Commander Chris Marks said the investigation found that Fuller had a history of mental health issues. He said there were no signs of a struggle or of trauma on Fuller’s body, and investigators found “several prominent linear scars” on Fuller’s wrist “consistent with suicidal intent.”

[If you or a loved one needs help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Los Angeles County maintains a 24-hour bilingual hotline at 800-854-7771]

He discussed — but did not show — evidence of Fuller using an EBT card at a Dollar Store to buy a red rope similar to the one used in the hanging.

Marks said the Las Vegas Police Department reported that Fuller tried to take his own life there in February. He cited three other instances since 2017 at hospitals in California, Nevada and Arizona in which Fuller reported having suicidal thoughts.

We’ve reached out to the Fuller family’s attorney for comment.

Sheriff Alex Villanueva said he understood that some were frustrated by what seemed like the “maddeningly slow” pace of the investigation, but he said the fact that it took less than a month meant this case was “one of the easier ones.”

The California Attorney General and the FBI have been monitoring the investigation. Many in the community have called on the Attorney General to conduct an independent investigation.

You can watch the full update from the Sheriff's Department below:

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More Than Half Of Prison Wildfire Hand Crews Unavailable Due To Coronavirus

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Peak wildfire season now runs from July to as late as November. Last week alone, there were 628 fires in California, and there have been 4,112 wildfires this year as of July 5 — a significant increase over the same time last year and much higher than the average of 2,580 fires for that period.

Those figures are courtesy of Gov. Gavin Newsom, who delivered an update Thursday on the state's wildfire preparedness amidst the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. You can watch the video above and read highlights below.

THIS YEAR'S FIRE SEASON

So far, despite the uptick in the overall number of incidents, this year's wildfires have been more contained. The state's goal is to keep fires under 10 acres 95% of the time, and the average number of acres burned this year has gone down compared to both last year and historic averages. And while five of the last 10 years included some of the state's most destructive fires ever, last year was below normal.

Still, this past winter was a "very dry" winter, Newsom noted.

"We are in peak fire season. That means that fires aren't going to just go out as the sun goes down," Cal Fire Chief Thom Porter said, speaking at the same briefing. "They're going to start burning through the night. They're going to start burning into the chaparral, or brush-covered landscape. They're going to start burning into the forest. This is the time of year where fires start to get bigger and more difficult to control."

So far this year, Cal Fire law enforcement has arrested 45 arsonists, Porter said.

PRISON OUTBREAKS IMPACT HAND CREW AVAILABILITY

Due to quarantine and prisoners that have tested positive for COVID-19, the state is substantially down in terms of firefighting hand crews and personnel, Newsom said. These teams prepare the fire line for firefighters. The state corrections department partners with the state on 192 crews — but only 94 are available. The state's conservation corps is also down in total number of crews.

An additional 858 seasonal firefighters are being authorized through October due to this, Newsom said, and six additional crews as part of the California Conservation Corps. Porter said he doesn't expect to get to capacity with its prison hand crews this year.

LATEST CORONAVIRUS NUMBERS

Yesterday, there were an additional 7,031 coronavirus positives, Newsom said. The state's seven-day average is 8,043 positives per day.

The seven-day positivity rate and the fourteen-day positivity rate are both at 7.3%. There were 149 deaths reported yesterday, though Newsom noted there have been some reporting issues, including lags. Due to those fluctuations, with one day last week as low as six deaths, he said that he wanted to emphasize the average over the past week: 73 deaths per day.

Hospitalizations were up 0.4% yesterday, while ICU numbers went down 0.1%. However, over the past two weeks, hospitalizations are up 44% and ICU numbers are up 34%.

There are 26 counties currently on the state's coronavirus monitoring list, but L.A. County was one of four counties cited as being of particular concern, Newsom said.

CORONAVIRUS MEETS FIRES

Cal Fire is practicing new protocols as part of the response to COVID-19. This includes physical distancing while fighting wildfires, keeping people physically distanced when they're evacuated, special cleaning of Cal Fire facilities, and physical distancing at wildfire briefings.

Porter asked the public to wear masks to help keep firefighters and emergency responders safe.

Evacuees may not be put in traditional shelters, but instead hotels, Governor's Office of Emergency Services Director Mark Ghilarducci said. There won't be buffets for evacuees, but instead individual meals. There will also be additional medical staff, Ghilarducci said. There's also a plan to separate people who are potentially COVID-positive from those who aren't.

SHIFTS IN FIGHTING WILDFIRES

Newsom said that the state's approach to wildfires needs to change as the climate changes, with hotter highs, drier drys, and wetter wets.

As PG&E comes out of bankruptcy, Newsom said that they are required to institute new wildfire safety measures and the state of California is able to regulate them in a way it's never been able to regulate a private utility before.

The governor spoke in front of a new Cal Fire helicopter at a Northern California base. The state's newer helicopters allow for more firefighting in evening hours, Newsom said.

The new state budget includes funding for new wildfire cameras, wildfire modeling, and more, Newsom said. It also includes an $85.6 million investment allowing for an additional 172 permanent staff salaries.

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Immigrant Ingenuity Takes Hold In OC During Pandemic With Clinic Testing 'Booths'

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Annie Eun takes a nasopharyngeal swab from Miranda Mears using a testing booth modeled after a South Korean design. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

This is a story about immigrant ingenuity during a pandemic: two health clinics run by immigrant women in Orange County have adopted an innovative way of testing used in South Korea, involving a "booth" style approach complete with glass partition and built-in industrial rubber gloves.

Ellen Ahn of Korean Community Services created the Korean-style testing booth for her Buena Park health clinic by replacing and customizing a door. Soon to follow suit was her friend, Tricia Nguyen, who oversees Southland Integrated Services serving the county's Vietnamese American community.

Click below to see what they did.

READ THE FULL STORY:

Will 'Wet Markets' Be Bled Dry By LA City Council?

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Owner Abdel Salam Elhawary works the register at L.A. Fresh Poultry. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

Last month, the Los Angeles City Council passed a motion, proposed in the wake of COVID-19 by councilmembers Bob Blumenfield and Paul Koretz, that could signal the beginning of the end for live animal markets, also known as "wet markets."

On its face, the motion is about two things: disease prevention and animal cruelty -- although there are no known COVID-19 cases attributable to wet markets, and in-house slaughtering isn't necessarily more cruel than what occurs at industrial slaughterhouses.

For the handful of live-animal market owners and employees in L.A., the motion is a threat to their livelihoods. For wet-market shoppers — who are mostly people of color it could change the way they buy, cook and eat.

READ THE FULL STORY

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Most PPP Loans Went To Wealthier Parts Of LA

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An employee at Tak's Coffee Shop eats lunch at a booth surrounded by protective plastic shields. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

New data released by the Small Business Administration this week shows that L.A. County's wealthy, whiter Westside received far more Paycheck Protection Program loans than lower-income areas of the county where residents are primarily people of color.

In L.A. County, businesses in the 33rd Congressional District, which stretches along the coast from Malibu to Palos Verdes, received 12 times as many loans as the 44th District, which includes communities like Compton, Carson and San Pedro.

The loans were designed to help small businesses affected by coronavirus, and were part of the stimulus package passed by Congress in March.

READ OUR FULL ANALYSIS:

Closed Businesses Can Get Sewer Rebate For All Those Missed Flushes

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Businesses whose bathrooms went unused during the pandemic can claim a rebate (Lazar Gugleta for Unsplash)

Los Angeles County is home to nearly a quarter-million businesses, many with toilets that sat unflushed during the coronavirus stay-at-home orders. Bathroom and kitchen faucets didn’t run much either.

Now, companies that cut back on the amount of wastewater flowing into the sewer system can get a break on their sewage bills. The Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts are offering rebates to companies that had to shut down, under a program announced this week. They’ll be able to save up to 80% on their sewer charges.

The districts cover 78 cities and some unincorporated areas. It’s unclear how much the rebates will reduce the districts’ revenue, which is expected to be somewhat lower this year due to the shutdown.

“This program is about charging people fairly if they’ve had reduced use of the sewer system during this pandemic,” said Districts spokesman Bryan Langpap.

Companies will have to show property tax bills and a year’s worth of water bills ending in June to demonstrate they discharged less wastewater into the system. But not everybody’s included -- Los Angeles city sewer bills are based on water consumption, so companies that used less and flushed less are already paying less.

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Morning Briefing: Doctors Brace For A Surge

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Wash your hands, friends. Chava Sanchez/LAist

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Coronavirus is roaring back into L.A. with a vengeance, and the situation is getting serious (again). Speaking to Elly Yu, an emergency room doctor who works in downtown L.A. said that hospitals are bracing for a surge (... again).

“Patients being held in the emergency room waiting to go upstairs to a bed” is now an everyday occurrence, said the doctor, who did not want to be identified. “We are about to enter a very, very difficult several weeks.”

This news comes as more than 2,000 Angelenos are currently hospitalized with the virus – an all-time high, up from 1,400 four weeks ago. In California, 11,694 new cases were reported on Tuesday.

Barbara Ferrer, L.A. County’s public health director, said the region has reached a “critical juncture.”

Keep reading for more on what’s happening in L.A. today, and wear your damn mask.

Jessica P. Ogilvie


Coming Up Today, July 9

Wealthier, whiter areas of L.A. County received far more Paycheck Protection Program loans than lower-income areas, where residents are primarily people of color, reports Emily Guerin.

Get your pop art fix, catch Atom Egoyan's latest movies, learn how to dance in the Bollywood tradition and more. Christine N. Ziemba has this week’s best online and IRL events.

Live animal markets (a.k.a. wet markets) fill a need for thousands of L.A. residents, reports Yingjie Wang. City officials want to ban them – but first, they need to figure out what they are.

Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts are offering rebates on business sewer charges.Turns out you flush the toilet a lot less when you’re closed. Sharon McNary has the story.

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The Past 24 Hours In LA

#JusticeForAndresGuardado: An independent autopsy commissioned by Andrés Guardado's family found that the 18-year-old was shot five times in the back by an L.A. County Sheriff’s deputy.

Coronavirus Roars Back: More than 2,000 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19 in L.A. County – an all-time high. The county’s public health director said the region is at "a critical juncture in our pandemic.” Fourteen firefighters with LAFD have tested positive, and there were 11,694 new COVID-19 cases yesterday in California.

The State Of The Pod(cast): In Episode 6 of LAist Studios' podcast, "Servant of Pod with Nick Quah," Nick chats with veteran YouTuber and podcaster Hank Green about what will happen to the industry, now that it’s flush with cash.

Saving The Citrus: UC Riverside scientists have found the first substance capable of controlling citrus greening disease, which has devastated farms in other states and now threatens California.

To support our non-profit public service journalism: Donate Now.


Photo Of The Day

A young couple strolls through Ascot Hills watching the city light up in with DIY fireworks displays, which later caused air quality to plummet in L.A.

(Chava Sanchez/LAist)

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