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Under High Demand, California Declares Stage 3 Power Emergency, Then Lifts It. What You Need To Know

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FILE: The sun rises over power lines along a smokey horizon during the 2019 Saddleridge Fire in Newhall. (Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images)

The California Independent System Operator or CA ISO on Friday night declared a Stage 3 Electrical Emergency, marking the first time this level was reached since the state's 2001 power crisis. That order was in place for about 2 1/2 hours before being lifted.

In a statement, CA ISO officials said they began "ordering utilities to implement rotating power outages" about 6:30 p.m. and were able to stabilize the grid just before 9 p.m.

CA ISO manages the power load across the entire state of California, including Southern California Edison’s very large service territory.

When the ISO is calling a stage 3 emergency, that can be serious for our region.

Why did this happen on a really hot day? Most of our power comes from solar and wind, some from gas-powered generating plants. At sundown, when solar power goes away, and if the wind is also low, and people come home and turn up their lights and air conditioning, the demand for power is highest. That puts a big strain on the electrical grid.

And when you have consecutive days of high power usage and warm nights of continued air conditioning happening, then the equipment can’t cool down and a utility runs the risk of parts of its system shutting down. That puts more demand on other parts of the system.

So rolling blackouts are a way of managing the demand (also called the load) on the system. It can keep the power grid from getting too much load and having a more serious outage.

What can we do?

  • Turn off lights, and everything else that you don’t need to run.
  • Hold off on running the dishwasher or washer and dryer.
  • Keep your refrigerator and freezer closed.
  • Unplug appliances that are not needed.
  • If you need air conditioning, turn it to 80 or so to give the system a break.
  • Charge up your devices now before the power goes off.

One important note: the CA ISO does not include Los Angeles LADWP or a few other cities that work directly with L.A., like Burbank. The LADWP told customers it had sufficient power to avoid rolling outages. Still, if you are in the city of L.A., it would help the system if you cut down on your power use.

That's because the longer this heat spell lasts, the harder the DWP’s aging equipment has to work. With less rest, the system is more likely to have breakdowns.

The extreme demand for power in this heat wave is creating a serious situation. Before the rolling blackouts were canceled, SoCal Edison officials said in a statement:

Southern California Edison has been directed to reduce its electrical load. This is being accomplished by taking circuits, or “blocks” of customers, out of service on a rotational basis until CA ISO can sustain reserve levels.

The controlled rotating outages will last about one hour for each rotating outage group, but could be shorter or longer in duration, depending upon circumstances. More information on rotating outages and affected communities can be found at: www.sce.com/rotatingoutage.

"In anticipation of several days of high heat, Southern California Edison has taken the necessary steps to prepare for the heat wave and crews will be available to make repairs as quickly and safely as possible,” said Tony Edeson, SCE’s director of Grid Operations.

Check the status your power provider:

MORE ON THIS HEAT WAVE

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Extreme Heat, Two Wildfires, And Potential Mudslide Risk...On Top Of Coronavirus. It's LA 2020.

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Published
A firefighter watches the smoke and flames from the Ranch Fire in the hills in Azusa, California, on August 14, 2020, 25 miles (40kms) east of Los Angeles. (Photo by Apu GOMES / AFP)

It's gonna be hot this weekend. Like reeaally hot.

Temperatures could hit 108 degrees in the valleys, a hellish nightmare, especially for folks without AC.

That heat, plus critically dry brush and some moderate wind gusts, have fire officials warning the risk for fires is extreme. Yes, we're saying this weekend there will be extreme heat and extreme fire risk.

Already this week, two fires in the forest, the Lake Fire and the Ranch 2 Fire have burned through thousands of acres and forced evacuations. More than 5,000 homes are still threatened in the Lake Hughes area.

Officials say some of the terrain near the Lake Fire hasn't burned since 1968, which is why it's more difficult to contain.

Some of the Angeles National Forest has now been closed through the end of the year — that’s because the risk of more fires is just so high.

The order impacts the Cottonwood, Spunky Canyon, and Sawmill-Liebre campgrounds, along with a small section of the Pacific Crest Trail, about 13,000-14,000 acres total (which is only 1% of the forest as a whole).

"Closing an area is never an easy choice. However, it is our responsibility to continue to protect our communities before and after the fire as well as heal the land as quickly as possible," said Rachel Smith, Angeles National Forest Deputy Forest Supervisor.

Forest officials say if conditions get better, they plan to use the closure to do needed improvements to prepare for the next possible disaster: mudslides.

We ... can't even process that right now.

If you are planning on going elsewhere in Angeles Nat. Forest this weekend, officials are not allowing anycampfires, camp stoves, or BBQ's. In other words, please don't light anything on fire.

TIPS ON STAYING COOL AND SANE:

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OC Public School District Says It Will Seek A Waiver To Reopen Elementary Campuses

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School districts in Southern California are struggling to achieve distance learning with students who don't have access to computers or broadband connections. (John Moore/Getty Images)

The Los Alamitos Unified School District has submitted an application to Orange County health authorities for a waiver to reopen its elementary schools.

Until now, all of the publicly announced waiver applications submitted to the Orange County Health Care Agency came from private schools. If approved by county and state public health officials, the Los Alamitos district would be cleared to begin some form of in-person instruction for about 3,600 students in preschool through 5th grade.

The waiver application process can take weeks. District Superintendent Andrew Pulver said all classes will be online when the school year begins on Aug. 31 while the application is under review.

To apply, the district had to write and execute a safety plan, and consult with teachers and staff, parents, and the community.

The move to reopen elementary campuses drew mixed reaction. Some parents advocated fiercely for the reopening of the district's six elementary campuses. Others, like Elissa Frederick, are worried. Frederick, who has two elementary students and a high schooler in the district, sent an email to the superintendent listing her concerns with the district's proposed approach, and posted a copy to Facebook.

She said:

"I was very nervous to post it. I really thought I was gonna get attacked. And I was quite surprised — to the point of tears — with a lot of the messages and comments that I was getting."

Some area private schools included recent parent survey results as part of their waiver applications. Los Alamitos Unified did not.

The district did survey teachers, though: according to its waiver application, a little over 60% of elementary certificated staff supported the decision to apply.

It's unclear, though, how much parent or teacher support is needed to get a waiver approved or how much dissent is needed to get it denied. The official process as laid out by the state and county only calls for "consultation" with these groups.

Pulver said the district ultimately decided to apply for the waiver to give parents a choice.

"For those families who weren't comfortable with it, we have an option for them which is what we call 'Los Al at home' — it's a 100% virtual option," Pulver explained. "But what we didn't have was an option for families who were looking for something different than that."

We'll keep updating our maps and reporting on these waivers as we learn more from public records requests and readers like you.

Know something I should know? You can email me at cjavier@scpr.org.

MORE ON THE WAIVERS:

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In Communities Hard Hit By The COVID-19 Recession, A Dental Emergency Can Hurt Especially Bad -- In The Wallet

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(Photo illustration by Chava Sanchez/LAist)

With coronavirus raging through Southeast Los Angeles, the last place I wanted to be this week was in a dental chair in a Cudahy strip mall, with my mouth uncovered and wide open.

But that's where I was Tuesday. It couldn't be helped. I was in agony the entire weekend with a bad toothache so when Monday rolled around, I knew I needed medical attention. My dental adventure led me to three different dentists in two days and cost me close to $2,000 -- even after I found my dental insurance card.

The experience also led me down a rabbit hole into our dental health system, where I discovered that Black and Latino people are more likely to have dental health issues primarily due to a lack of information and access to preventive oral care.

READ THE COLUMN:

MORE FROM ERICK GALINDO:

How (And Where) To Get Relief As LA Goes Into A Brutally Hot Weekend

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Here's a look at Friday highs in Southern California from the National Weather Service. (Screenshot via the NWS)

It’s going to be a hot-hot weekend.

UCLA Climate Scientist Daniel Swain says this heat wave is going to last a week to 10 days, with unusually warm nights, and very hot temperatures inland.

It's so hot that local cities and counties will open their cooling centers.

These are free, indoor, air-conditioned refuges from the heat, and because local governments are sponsoring them, they should be COVID-compliant. That is to say, you should have enough elbow room so you’re not breathing in what somebody else is breathing out.What’s different during this year’s heat spell? In pre-pandemic times there were lots of cheap and free places we could go to beat the heat. Most are now closed. Forget about going to the movies, live theater, indoor restaurants, indoor ice skating and roller rinks.

Los Angeles County and city pools are all closed, and so are most public pools operated by smaller cities, so those are not an option for cooling off. L.A. County-operated splash pads are free and open this weekend. Details here.

What is open?

Swain told us:

"The ocean is the clear choice, but there's only so much space on the beaches, and it could really complicate people's ability to to stay distance from one another."

And yes, L.A. County and city beaches are open this weekend, with the usual physical distance and mask rules in place. Also open: County-run swim beaches at Bonelli, and Santa Fe Dam recreation areas. [Note: Castaic is closed because it’s a staging area for firefighters working the Lake Fire.] Those places get crowded on weekends and operators may limit how many people may get in, so if you plan to go, get there early.

Open air shopping malls are not the coolest options, but most will have shade and places to buy a nice tall lemonade. Think Americana in Glendale, The Grove, Citadel Outlets, 2nd & PCH in Long Beach.

But indoor mall-walking or sitting is out. Indoor malls like the Glendale Galleria were open during a brief few weeks starting in May, but when coronavirus cases rebounded, they were closed again in late July. Stores at shopping malls accessible from outside are still open.

Big stand-alone indoor retailers like Walmart and Target are open, but you probably can’t wander aimlessly for hours or sit around in the patio furniture displays, so, again, not a prime option.

It’s the same sad story with local museums. They were reopening in May and June, but were ordered closed again in early July.

You might try finding a shady green spot in the carefully curated outdoors. Several of L.A.’s spectacular open spaces are open during the pandemic. L.A. County operates the Arboretum in Arcadia, Descanso Gardens in La Canada Flintridge and the South Coast Botanic Gardens in Palos Verdes and all are open. Huntington Library is also open. However, those and other public gardens might require advance reservations and paid tickets.

If you don’t mind a drive, Lake Arrowhead is going to be about ten degrees cooler than the L.A. Basin this weekend. That’s still pretty hot, but it’s a tourist town, the shops are open and COVID-compliant, which means you need to wear your mask when you’re not eating your ice cream cone.


COOLING CENTERS IN L.A. COUNTY

Quartz Hill Library

Open Friday, August 14 to Sunday, August 16 from noon to 8 p.m.
5040 W. Avenue M-2, Quartz Hill

Stevenson Ranch Library

Open Friday, August 14 to Sunday, August 16 from noon to 8 p.m.
25950 The Old Road, Stevenson Ranch

Claremont Library

Open Friday, August 31 to Saturday, August 1 from noon to 8 p.m.
208 N. Harvard Avenue, Claremont

Salazar Park

Open Friday, August 14 to Sunday, August 16 from noon to 8 p.m.
3864 Whittier Blvd., Los Angeles

Valleydale Park

Open Friday, August 14 to Sunday, August 16 from noon to 8 p.m.
5525 N. Lark Ellen Ave. Azusa

Topanga Library

Open Friday, August 14 to Sunday, August 16 from noon to 8 p.m.
122 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga

CITY OF L.A.

Canoga Park Senior Center

Open Friday, August 14 to Monday, August 17 from noon to 8 p.m.
7326 Jordan Ave., Canoga Park

Sherman Oaks East Valley Adult Center

Open Friday, August 14 to Monday, August 17 from noon to 8 p.m.
5056 Van Nuys Blvd. Sherman Oaks

Pecan Recreation Center

Open Friday, August 14 to Monday, August 17 from noon to 8 p.m.
145 S. Pecan St. Los Angeles

Slauson Recreation Center

Open Friday, August 14 to Monday, August 17 from noon to 8 p.m.
5306 South Compton Ave., Los Angeles

Lafayette Recreation Center

Open Friday, August 14 to Monday, August 17 from noon to 8 p.m.
625 S. Lafayette Park Pl., Los Angeles

EL MONTE

Grace T. Black Auditorium

Open Friday, August 14 to Saturday, August 15 from noon to 6 p.m.
3130 Tyler Avenue, El Monte

BURBANK

Buena Vista Library

Open Friday, August 14 to Monday, August 17 from noon to 6 p.m.
300 N Buena Vista St., Burbank

GLENDALE

Griffith Manor Park

Open only Friday, August 14 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
1551 Flower Street, Glendale

Pacific Community Center

Open Saturday, August 15 to Tuesday, August 18 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
501 S. Pacific Avenue, Glendale, CA 91204

SAN FERNANDO

Las Palmas Park

Open Friday, August 14 to, August 16 from noon to 6 p.m.
505 South Huntington Street, San Fernando

PALMDALE

Chimbole Cultural Center

Open Friday, August 14 to Thursday, August 20 from noon to 6 p.m.
38350 Sierra Hwy., Palmdale

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What's Next For Ethnic Studies In The Cal State System?

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Melina Abdullah at an Aug. 12 event to support her appointment as dean of the university's new college of ethnic studies. (Adolfo Guzman-Lopez/LAist)

California is undergoing two ground-breaking developments in ethnic studies.

The first is a forthcoming requirement that all students in the 23-campus California State University system take a three-unit ethnic studies course. What that course looks like is still to be determined but it's expected to be in place in three years.

The second could put one of those Cal State campuses on the national map. Later this month, California State University Los Angeles will open a new college of ethnic studies that will bring under one roof the departments of Asian and Asian American Studies, Chicana(o) and Latina(o) Studies, and Pan-African Studies.

The question of who will lead that new school has pitted supporters of Melina Abdullah, co-founder of Black Lives Matter-L.A. and a professor of Pan-African Studies at Cal State LA, against the university's president, William Covino. Abdullah and her supporters have been actively lobbying for her appointment as dean of the new school, particularly under the Twitter hashtags #drabdullah4dean and #FreedomCampus.

On Friday, Abdullah shared a message sent by the university's provost to the Cal State ethnic studies faculty on Thursday night saying she will not be considered for either dean or interim dean.

(Screenshot provided by Melina Abdullah)

The dispute escalated last week after Covino named Stewart Kwoh, the founding president and past executive director of the legal and civil rights organization Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles, as interim dean. (Full disclosure: Kwoh is a life trustee of the board of Southern California Public Radio.)

In the full 23-campus Cal State system, there's debate over a plan approved last month by the system's board of trustees requiring students to take ethnic studies or courses with a social justice component to graduate. Opponents favor Assembly Bill 1460, which would require students to take a three-unit course in one of four ethnic studies disciplines: Native American studies, African American studies, Asian American studies, or Latina and Latino studies.

UPDATE, 1:35 p.m. -- This article was updated to reflect an email sent to Cal State ethnic studies faculty saying Melina Abdullah will not be appointed dean.

READ THE FULL STORY:

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Gov. Newsom: State COVID-19 Positivity Rate Down To 6.2%

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Gov. Gavin Newsom gave an update on California's response to the coronavirus. You can watch the video above and follow this post for updates.

LATEST CORONAVIRUS NUMBERS

There were 7,934 COVID-19 cases reported Thursday, but that includes 4,429 cases from the state's backlog, with 3,505 new cases. This is the last day that backlog cases will be included in the state's total, Newsom said. A county breakdown will be released Monday on how the backlog of cases impacted each county, as well as an update on which counties are on the state's monitoring list.

The seven-day average of coronavirus tests is 137,102.

There is a 6.2% average positivity rate over the past two weeks — that's slightly up from 6.1% the week before. Newsom said that 6.2% rate is a positive sign.

Hospitalizations continue to decline — a 20% decrease over the past two weeks. COVID-19 patients are currently using 7% of the state's hospital beds. ICU admissions are down 14.3%, with 20% of the ICU beds being occupied by COVID-19-positive patients.

Newsom thanked everyone for doing "outstanding work" being responsible and helping to reduce COVID-19's spread in California.

HOW THE STATE IS PREPARING FOR SCHOOL THIS FALL

In address the upcoming school term, Newsom reiterated the importance of in-person instruction, describing distance learning as "sub-optimal." Still, more than 90% of students will begin the school year with distance learning — Newsom added that it's arguably close to 95 or 97%. He promised more details related to which schools are able to open, based on the county watchlist, on Monday.

The state has supplied personal protective equipment (PPE) to schools to prepare for when in-person instruction does begin again:

  • 18 million+ masks and face shields
  • 58,000+ no-touch thermometers
  • 1.5 million+ gallons of hand sanitizer

But Newsom said that still isn't enough.

When it comes to bridging the digital divide, Newsom noted the following:

  • 73,000 devices delivered to school districts statewide
  • 100,000 hotspots delivered to school districts statewide — the California Public Utilities Commission has made 87,000 hotspots available
  • 96% of school districts have reported at least starting to provide technology to students for distance learning, as of the end of the school year
  • 91% of parents say they have the technology needed for distance learning, as of late July
  • 71% of school districts are confident students and families will have the tech needed for distance learning, as of a July survey

State Board of Education President Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond noted that small group, in-person instruction will potentially be allowed for special needs students. The state will release guidelines on this next week. The guidelines used for childcare centers are being further developed to apply to this instruction, Darling-Hammond said.

MORE ON BRIDGING THE DIGITAL DIVIDE

While Newsom said it wasn't comparable to the difficulty in obtaining PPE earlier in the pandemic, he did say that the worldwide demand for computer technology for distance learning has made securing that technology difficult.

Internet service providers have a responsibility to expand no-cost and low-cost plans, Newsom said, to ensure all Californians have access to online learning.

The governor announced an executive order that he said would prioritize bridging the digital divide through state government. It directs agencies to pursue a goal of 100 Mbps download speed. It outlines actions to accelerate mapping, data collection, funding, deployment, and adoption. And, Newsom said, it asks the state's Broadband Council to create a new action plan.

COVID-19 EDUCATION FUNDING

The state secured an additional $5.3 billion to support schools during COVID-19, according to the governor. All of the state's schools that were eligible to receive that funding are currently receiving it, Newsom said. Some 80% of the state's funds prioritize low-income students, students with disabilities, foster youth, homeless students, and English-language learners, he said.

Of that funding, Los Angeles Unified is receiving more than $450 million. Other major receipients include Fresno Unified (nearly $87 million) and Elk Grove Unified (more than $44 million). More details about how much different school districts have been allocated are available on the state's coronavirus website.

RELIGIOUS SCHOOL REOPENING AGAINST HEALTH ORDERS

When asked about a religious school in Central California reopening against health officer orders, Newsom expressed his disappointment with Immanuel Schools in Reedley, saying he hopes the school makes the right decisions when it comes to modeling good behavior.

STATEWIDE HEAT WAVE

Noting the extreme heat forecast for this weekend, the governor asked Californians to reduce their electricity use between 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. as much as possible, to lower the strain on the state's electricity distribution system.

HIGH-CAPACITY MAGAZINES

Newsom responded to a federal court ruling overturning the state's 2016 ban on high-capacity magazines, noting that guns don't kill anyone without bullets unless used as a blunt instrument. Newsom said he believes the law was "sound" and "right," adding that he'll address the possibility of appeal after reviewing the decision.

U.S. POSTAL SERVICE SLOWDOWNS

Newsom characterized cutacks at the U.S. Postal Service as the "weaponization" of the postal system. Arguing that this should be a nonpartisan issue, the governor noted concerns about the removal of some sorting machines and the timeliness of essential medicine deliveries.

Responding to concerns about coronavirus-related delays, the state legislature passed, and Newsom signed into law, legislation that says ballots postmarked by election day will be counted if they are received up to 17 days later. That should allow enough time for all ballots to be received by elections officials, he said.

The governor said he expects that there will be a deal made at the federal level to fund the Postal Service.

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With BCD Tofu House, Hee Sook Lee Built More Than A Restaurant Empire -- She Created A Cultural Phenomenon

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(Illustration by Chava Sanchez/Image of Hee Sook Lee Courtesy of Eddie Lee)
Hee Sook Lee built an L.A.-based restaurant empire based around soondubu. (Courtesy of Eddie Lee)

When BCD Tofu House founder Hee Sook Lee arrived in Los Angeles in 1989, she didn't come to launch a Korean restaurant empire. Or to sell BCD soup starter kits at H-Mart. Or to create a cultural touchstone for Korean kids growing up in L.A. She came to the United States so her children could master English.

Lee was used to putting others first. When she was in middle school, her father suffered a stroke so Lee had skipped college to work. She wanted to help her mother who had been washing dishes in restaurants and selling wares in the flea market to support her four daughters. Lee was the second oldest but, according to family lore, the most responsible so her mother told her, "You are the son of the family now."

Years later and living in the U.S., Lee was in her 30s, married to a successful restaurateur and busy raising their three sons but she yearned for a career of her own. After studying graphic design at Santa Monica College and diamond-grading, she had an idea.

"Many Korean immigrants were creating successful restaurant businesses here," Lee said in an interview for Seoul of LA. "I felt confident that I could do well with this business if I worked with Korean food."

A pot of soondubu (a stew of soft tofu) at BCD Tofu House in 2015. (Insatiable Munchies/Flickr Creative Commons)

"NO MIDDLE GROUND"

Lee died July 18 at age 61 after a six-year-long battle with ovarian cancer.

Her oldest son, Dr. Eddie Lee, has taken over for his mom as interim CEO. Trained as an internist, he has spent the last three years working part-time as a physician so he could serve as BCD's vice president. In 2019, he ramped up his BCD duties to full-time. Without knowing it, he had been apprenticing under his mother for two decades, watching as she grew a single restaurant into an international brand.

Eddie describes his mom as a social introvert but one who enjoyed playing host and bringing the Koreatown community together through food. She was also a "passionate perfectionist" who delighted over perfectly-seasoned kimchi and a savvy business owner to haggle over everything from produce prices to contracts and rents.

"She has a very gentle smile but behind that, she has nerves of steel. She's one of the best negotiators I've ever seen," Eddie says.

Her first daring leap was the decision to build her business around soondubu jjigae, a bubbling stew of silken tofu in a fiery broth reddened by gochujang. BCD servers will ask what spice level you prefer, from mild to rip-out-your-sinuses-hot, which some claim to blast away any nascent colds and incipient hangovers.

In many Seoul restaurants, soondubu is as ubiquitous as "chicken tenders and french fries or spaghetti bolognese," says Daniel Lee Gray, who operates food tours throughout South Korea.

"It's like down-home food," said Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee, chef and author of Quick & Easy Korean Cooking: More Than 70 Everyday Recipes. "You make it to have something warm and spicy in the winter. This isn't what you serve to guests."

Soondubu is a humble dish but Lee believed she could sell it in the U.S. as the main event.

A bubbling bowl of soondubu jigae topped with an egg. (Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee)

According to her son Eddie, the proverbial lightbulb went off one Sunday during church.

He and his brothers would get hungry while sitting in the pews of the Berendo Street Baptist Church. After the service, they would clamor to go to a nearby restaurant for soondubu.

"Every Sunday, we would always want to eat there," Edward recalls. "And she was like, 'Oh, that's interesting.'"

In 1996, Lee opened her first BCD Tofu House on Vermont Avenue in Koreatown. There, she fine-tuned her secret combination of broth and seasonings.

At the time of the launch, the family was temporarily living in Las Vegas. Being in another city didn't stop Lee from overseeing every aspect of her new business.

For the first year, she commuted almost daily between Vegas and Los Angeles, Eddie recalls. In the morning, Lee would catch the first Southwest flight from Vegas to LAX. As soon as she landed, she would drive to a downtown L.A. market to pick out her vegetables then show up at BCD to work in the restaurant. At night, she'd fly back to Vegas.

"I literally didn't see her for a year," Eddie says. "That's just my mom. When she does something, it's like there's no middle ground. You do it all the way."

Before the pandemic, diners enjoy a late night meal at BCD Tofu House in Koreatown. (Chava Sanchez/ LAIST)

GOING 24/7

Lee had named her restaurant after Buk Chang Dong, the Seoul neighborhood where her husband's aunt had owned a soondubu restaurant. Her husband, Tae-Ro, a lawyer-turned-businessman always supported his wife's ventures, even as her restaurants eclipsed his. He was a big help as she tested foods in the kitchen.

"They're really, really close partners but I think they just kind of decided early on to not butt heads. My dad has his restaurants in Korea, a few restaurants in Las Vegas. And my mom had her thing. That's a very smart and wise decision they made early on in their marriage," Eddie says.

Today, the bright green and orange BCD logo can be spotted at 13 restaurants, most of them in California -- including Torrance, Irvine and Fullerton -- along with a few in Texas, New Jersey and New York.

The outpost on Wilshire Boulevard -- the third and most famous BCD Tofu House -- opened in 2000 and became wildly popular, in part, because Lee kept it open 24 hours a day. Even during the coronavirus pandemic, it continues to offer take-out at all hours.

Hee Sook Lee stands outside the Wilshire location of BCD Tofu House at its reopening, which followed renovations. (Courtesy of Eddie Lee)

Edward Lee says when his mom told her family about the possibility of going 24/7, everyone was skeptical. Would many people want to eat Korean food late at night? Wouldn't they prefer a burger or maybe a plate of eggs and hashbrowns at Denny's?

Lee pushed back.

"She said a lot of Korean people work late. There are a lot of Koreans who work in the garment industry, and they work really odd hours, who just need a place to eat, late at night or early in the morning," Eddie says.

The BCD sign glowed into the night and garment workers weren't the only ones drawn to it.

Noah Cho, a food columnist for Catapult, recalls visiting the Wilshire location as a college kid in the late 1990s, at the peak of the AZN pride scene.

"It would be jampacked. It was old-school ravers, wearing baggy JNCO jeans with a white tank top with a visor. Like I had dyed-blond hair and green contacts. It was that look," Cho says.

At first, the late-night BCD crowd was predominantly Asian but that started to change as Korean kids at UCLA and USC brought their non-Asian friends to the restaurant after a night of clubbing or bar-hopping.

The late hours also drew restaurant and bar employees from outside Koreatown.

"You could get a really good, soul-restoring bowl of soup to finish your night. As industry people started finding it, word-of-mouth about it started coming out a little bit more," Cho says.

Daniel Gray Lee says his food tours in Seoul would attract Americans who had been to BCD restaurants in Los Angeles and insisted on going to the one in Seoul, which they thought was the original.

Lee had to break it to them that BCD was actually a Korean American brand that had only opened locations in Asia after finding success in the U.S. (The locations in Tokyo and Seoul have since closed.) He learned how BCD had served as an introduction to Korean culture for some of his clients.

"After BCD, they would want to try other restaurants. They would want to watch Korean TV shows. It made them want to come to Korea," Lee says.

BCD also won fans thanks to Lee's savvy business decisions. For one thing, the price point was always good. Today, a bowl of soondubu and all the sides runs you about $14.

The banchan plunked down by servers is so plentiful, you can get full on it before the main course arrives.

At BCD Tofu House, customers are served rice that's scorched on the bottom in earthenware bowls. (Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee)

Cecilia Hae Jin Lee says BCD's soondubu wasn't the most celebrated --- that distinction would probably go to Beverly Soon Tofu, featured by the late Anthony Bourdain on his CNN show Parts Unknown -- but BCD had a reputation for consistency, quality and flourishes such as having servers scrape the bottom of a bowl of stone-pot rice.

"You'd have the crispy, burnt rice bits at the bottom, and then they pour hot water in and make nurunji, which is super old-school and very Korean. It made her restaurant feel special," Cecilia Hae Jin Lee says.

Eddie Lee says his mom was always looking for ways to distinguish her restaurants from the competition. For instance, the soondubu came with jogi -- a whole, fried yellow croaker fish.

Crisp, fried yellow croaker fish, known as jogi, accompanies the soondubu jigae at BCD Tofu House. (Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee )

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Lee is a culinary pioneer. With BCD Tofu House, she created a format that restaurants around the country have copied. For many Korean Americans, the brand remains a favorite and its soondubu is a beloved comfort food.

Writer Katherine Kim says after she recently finished interviewing an elderly homeless couple in her job as senior communications editor for Koreatown Youth + Community Center, she asked them where she could treat them to lunch. The wife instantly requested the BCD Tofu House on Western.

"When we went there, it was clear that she had been a patron for a long time because the waitstaff knew her and the manager knew her. It was a place where she had a full meal again. She said this was just such a treat for her," Kim says.

In 2013, BCD's image took a hit when the chain and Hee Sook Lee were named in a class action lawsuit filed by hundreds of employees who alleged they had experienced wage theft. A 2015 settlement awarded $3 million to the workers.

Eddie Lee describes the lawsuit as a difficult time for his mother.

"As she focused so much on growth [of the company], there was a lot on the back end, the human resources, that had lagged behind the growth of the business. And I think there were some mistakes," Lee says.

The exterior of the original BCD Tofu House, on Wilshire Blvd. in Koreatown. August 2020. (Elina Shatkin/LAist)

He says his mother has cared deeply for her employees and notes the company has continued to provide health benefits to its employees, including those who have been laid-off, during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Eddie, BCD has used some of the money it received from a PPP loan to keep servers' wages at their pre-pandemic level, including what they would've made in tips.

For BCD fans, the lawsuit was a distant memory, if they knew about it at all. After learning of Lee's death, they paid tribute to her on social media, praising her contributions to the culinary scene, to the Korean American community and to Southern California.

Not only does BCD hold a special place of honor among the Korean diaspora, it has also captured the popular imagination of people in South Korea. Check out the celebs on Korean variety shows.

"When they're talking about visiting the U.S. and coming to L.A., they say that you have to make a stop at BCD," writer Katherine Kim explains. "It's definitely L.A. It's very SoCal."

It was always a happy surprise when Korean celebrities showed up at the restaurant but it also made perfect sense. After Parasite won Best Foreign Language Film at the 2020 Golden Globes, Bong Joon Ho and his team ended up at the BCD outpost on Wilshire.

Daniel Lee Gray, who has lived in Korea for approximately two decades, said Hee Sook Lee had become famous in her native land because of BCD's success in the United States.

"There's so much pride there when someone is able to do that overseas. It just makes people very proud of their culture and their traditions," Grey says.

In the Korean American community, Lee was known as much for her charity work as for her business savvy.

She helped lead the non-profit Global Children Foundation, which started by providing relief to poor children living in South Korea but expanded to provide services around the world.

Hee Sook Lee (left) was a longtime supporter of the Global Children Foundation, an organization founded by Korean American women. (Courtesy of Eddie Lee)

Locally, BCD has donated meals. In May, the chain worked with KYCC to provide 80 meals to low-income seniors. With the pandemic showing no signs of ebbing, there are plans to revive the partnership.

Lee also made an effort to support civic life, contributing to Korean American politicians of both major parties.

Orange County Supervisor Michelle Steel befriended Lee in 2003, when she was pulling together a group of prominent Korean American to meet Carly Fiorina, then the CEO of Hewlett Packard.

Long after Fiorina's bids for the U.S. Senate and the presidency ended, this group of Korean American women met monthly, calling themselves "Carly's Girls."

Orange County Supervisor Michelle Steel (top row, third from right) befriended Hee Sook Lee (far right, top row) when she arranged a dinner for Carly Fiorina. (Courtesy of Michelle Steel)

Steel, who is garrulous and outgoing, was immediately drawn to the quieter Lee. They discovered their birthdays were three days apart and started celebrating them together.

"She was always giving -- and not just love. She would bring little lipsticks or tofu or fermented fish," Steel says.

After Lee was diagnosed with cancer six years ago, she continued to attend many of the "Carly's Girls" meals. In fact, Steel didn't know about her friend's diagnosis until three years into Lee's battle with cancer.

BCD Tofu House founder Hee Sook Lee stayed involved in the business even as she waged a six-year battle against cancer. (Courtesy of Michelle Steel)

Steel says Lee made an effort to live life more loudly after her diagnosis -- quite literally, singing karaoke instead of smiling in the corner.

"I didn't know she was in pain at all because she never told us that she was in pain," Steel says.

In the last three years, as Lee's family members convinced her to step back from the business and focus on her health, Eddie took on more of the day-to-day duties. His mother, however, still liked to visit the restaurants.

"She loved interacting with customers. The Korean community is really pretty small. So, often at the restaurant, she'd see someone she knew from church or someone from the gym or someone from another business," he says.

BCD Tofu House founder Hee Sook Lee stands in front of the logo for her famous restaurant. (Courtesy of Eddie Lee)

She would go to their table to greet them in Korean and send over complimentary dishes.

Today, Eddie is the only son in the family business. His brothers work in finance in New York.

He is still processing his mother's death. If she were alive, he says she'd be thinking about where to open the next BCD location. (They had come close a few times in recent years to choosing a spot in the Bay Area.) She'd also be thinking of more ways to innovate.

"We'd go to any restaurant and we'd always be critiquing the food. She'd always be thinking, what's next? What's the next trend?" Eddie says.

She thought so much about BCD, the family would tease her.

"The running joke was she actually has four sons and that her restaurant BCD is actually our youngest brother," Eddie says.

That "brother" isn't so little anymore but Eddie has made it his job to look after his mother's baby for her.


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Lake Fire Updates: Blaze Grows To Over 11,600 Acres; Containment At 12%

Updated
Published
Firefighters work to extinguish hotspots from the Lake Fire at Pine Canyon Road in the Angeles National Forest, by Lake Hughes, 60 miles north of Los Angeles on Aug. 13, 2020. (Apu Gomes/AFP via Getty Images)

Fire crews are in the third day of battling the Lake Fire, which broke out Wednesday afternoon and quickly exploded, forcing hundreds of people in the Lake Hughes area to evacuate. The wildfire is burning in the Angeles National Forest between the Antelope and Santa Clarita valleys.

As of this morning, over 11,600 acres have burned and more than 5,400 homes and other structures are threatened. Containment is at 12%.

No injuries have been reported, but three structures have been destroyed, according to fire officials.

A key objective today: keeping the fire "north of Castaic Lake, south of Highway 138, east of Red Rock Mountain, and west of Tule Ridge," officials said in an 8 a.m. incident update. Firefighters are preparing for "near critical fire weather conditions" beginning this afternoon as gusty onshore winds move into the area.

Here's what we know so far about the blaze and firefighters' efforts to contain it.

THE BASICS

  • Acreage: 11,637 acres
  • Containment: 12%
  • Structures threatened: 5,420
  • Structures destroyed: 5
  • Resources deployed: 1,159 firefighters
A firefighting aircraft drops retardant over a section of the Lake Fire burning in the Angeles National Forest on Aug. 13, 2020 near Santa Clarita. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

MANDATORY EVACUATIONS

  • Lake Hughes Road west of Pine Canyon and north of Dry Gulch Road
  • Everything east of Ridge Route Road
  • Everything west of Lake Hughes Road and Fire Station 78
  • Everything north of Pine Canyon and Lake Hughes Road
  • Everything south of Highway 138

EVACUATION CENTERS

For people (due to public health guidelines, evacuees must remain in their cars):

  • Highland High School | 39055 25th St., West Palmdale
  • Castaic Sports Complex | 31230 Castaic Road

For animals:

  • Castaic Animal Care Center (31044 Charlie Canyon Rd)
  • Lancaster Animal Care Center (5210 W. Avenue I)
  • Palmdale Animal Care Center (38550 Sierra Highway)
  • Antelope Valley Fairgrounds - large animals only (2551 W. Avenue H in Lancaster)

ROAD AND TRAIL CLOSURES

A portion of Angeles National Forest near the Lake Fire has been closed through the end of the year under an emergency order from the Forest Service. Only residents and landowners will be permitted access. You can see a map of the Lake Fire Closure Area above.

The map below shows additional road closures:

This map shows road closures in the area of the Lake Fire as of Thursday, Aug. 13. (Courtesy Los Angeles County Fire Department)
  • San Francisquito Canyon Road from Slater Lane to Spunky Canyon
  • Lake Hughes Road from Ridge Route Road to Pine Canyon
  • 3 Points Road from Highway 138 to Pine Canyon
  • Old Ridge Route from Highway 138 to Pine Canyon

WEATHER CONDITIONS

On Thursday, Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl Osby said authorities are bracing for a "very hot, dry weekend" with triple-digit temperatures over the next few days. As of Aug. 1, the Angeles National Forest had increased the fire threat from "very high" to "extreme." Parts of the area on fire had not burned since 1968, according to officials.

HOW WE’RE REPORTING ON THIS

News producer Itxy Quintanilla is reaching out to fire officials. LAist's Ryan Fonseca is anchoring digital coverage. This is a developing story. In all cases, we strive to bring you the most accurate information in real time and will update this story as new information becomes available.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

For the latest information straight from local emergency officials, check the following websites and social media accounts:

We'll update this story as we learn more.

MORE ON THIS YEAR'S WILDFIRE SEASON:

FIRE RESOURCES

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Ranch 2 Fire Updates: What We Know So Far About The Wildfire Burning Near Azusa

Updated
Published
A firefighter battles the smoke and flames from the Ranch 2 Fire in the hills in Azusa on Aug. 14, 2020. (Apu Gomes/AFP via Getty Images)

A brush fire near Asuza Thursday afternoon spread to more than 2,500 acres overnight, prompting evacuations.

The blaze, now dubbed the Ranch 2 Fire, was reported at 2:45 p.m. in the Azusa Canyon area near North San Gabriel Canyon Road and North Ranch Road, according to the Los Angeles County Fire Department. It was threatening homes, but was later reported burning away from the foothill cities and into Angeles National Forest.

Residents of Mountain Cove were asked to evacuate, but that order was lifted late Thursday night, Azusa police announced.

Angeles National Forest and police officials at one point reported the fire had grown to 3,000 acres, but reassessed it at 2,500 this morning.

Firefighters "are prioritizing the security of the perimeter along Mount Cove community and Highway 39," officials said, adding that they're bracing for increased fire activity due to high temperatures and dry conditions today. An extreme heat advisory is in effect and temperatures could reach 108 degrees.

There have not been any injuries reported or damages to structures yet, according to the fire officials.

Here's what else we know about the Ranch Fire and firefighters' efforts to contain it.

People stand next to flames rising from the Ranch 2 Fire in the San Gabriel Mountains above Azusa on Aug. 14, 2020. (Apu Gomes/AFP via Getty Images)
THE BASICS
  • Acreage: 2,500 acres
  • Containment: 0%
  • Resources deployed: 100 firefighters
EVACUATION SHELTER (evacuations were lifted late Thursday night)
  • Azusa Pacific University | 701 E. Foothill Blvd.
ROAD CLOSURES:
  • State Route 39 (northbound) at Sierra Madre Avenue
  • State Route 39 (southbound) at East Fork Road

HOW WE’RE REPORTING ON THIS

News producer Itxy Quintanilla is reaching out to fire officials. LAist's Ryan Fonseca is anchoring digital coverage. This is a developing story. In all cases, we strive to bring you the most accurate information in real time and will update this story as new information becomes available.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

For the latest information straight from local emergency officials, check the following websites and social media accounts:

MORE SOCAL FIRE COVERAGE:

FIRE RESOURCES

Our news is free on LAist. To make sure you get our coverage: Sign up for our daily newsletters. To support our non-profit public service journalism: Donate Now.

Morning Briefing: Wildfire Season Begins In Earnest

Updated
Published
The Ranch Fire in Asuza. (Ian Adams/LAist)

Never miss a morning briefing. Subscribe today to get our A.M. newsletter delivered to your inbox.

Wildfires are nothing new in California these days, but to add them to the already apocalyptic feel of 2020 seems … unnecessary.

Yet, here we are. The Lake Fire broke out on Wednesday afternoon in Lake Hughes, an unincorporated area in the Angeles National Forest. It’s already burned 10,500 acres and is at 0% containment. To put that in some context, the past 10 wildfires (not including this one) reported by Cal Fire burned an average of 1,025 acres.

According to Robert Garcia, the U.S. Forest Service Chief, “it will be a major fire for several days.” More than 1,000 firefighters are on the scene, and they’re no doubt hoping to get some containment before the weekend, when temperatures are expected to reach almost 100 degrees.

On Thursday afternoon, a second fire broke out, this time in Azusa Canyon. The Ranch Fire is nowhere near as big as the Lake Fire, with 500 acres burned at last count, but the dual blazes – and the hot weather approaching – signal that more could be on the way.

Keep reading for more on what’s happening in L.A. today, and stay safe out there.

Jessica P. Ogilvie


Coming Up Today, August 14

A new school of ethnic studies at Cal State L.A. and a forthcoming California university rule put California at the forefront of requiring students to take ethnic studies. But there's currently a struggle over who gets to shape what the programs and classes look like. Adolfo Guzman-Lopez has the story.

Assimilation as an immigrant is hard. How do you fit in and stay rooted in the country and culture you’re so proud to be a part of? For Marina Peña, it was a new friend, tastes of home, and a whole lot of Harry Potter.

Never miss an LAist story. Sign up for our daily newsletters.


The Past 24 Hours In LA

Fire And Water: The Lake Fire broke out Wednesday afternoon and quickly exploded to more than 10,000 acres within a few hours, with 0% containment as of Thursday afternoon. The Ranch Fire began in Azusa Canyon on Thursday afternoon. Environmental activists who believe that clean water flowing back into the ocean is wasteful received a ruling in their favor in a lawsuit against the cities of Los Angeles, Burbank and Glendale.

Policing The Police: The L.A. County Sheriff’s Department is moving to suspend or terminate 26 employees in connection with a 2018 incident in which East L.A. deputies attacked colleagues at a party.

Reopening And Funding: Here are the SoCal districts that have applied for school reopening waivers. President Trump appeared to confirm that he opposes Democrats' proposed boost in funding to the U.S. Postal Service for the express purpose of making it harder to expand voting by mail. (Though later in the day he said he wouldn't veto a bill with that funding.)

Here’s What To Do: Attend a couple of drive-through comedy nights, create your most Instagrammable dish for a summer potluck, and more in this week’s pandemic-approved events.


Photo Of The Day

Flames from the Lake Fire burn on a hillside in the Angeles National Forest.

(Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Help Us Cover Your Community

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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.

This post has been updated to reflect changes in what's coming up for today.


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