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More Than Half Of U.S. Firefighters Battling Wildfires Are In California

Flames and smoke overtake a tree in Fairfield, California on August 19, 2020 (Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images)

There are currently more than 560 wildfires devastating large swaths of California, two of which now qualify for the top ten list of largest fires in state history. Both of those are less than 15% contained.

An exceptionally bad situation made possible by climate change — and more than our emergency response infrastructure can handle.

Randy Moore, regional forester with the USDA Forest Service Pacific Southwest Region, said:

“The resources are stretched to the limit. Crews, engines, dozers, water tenders, helicopters. They’re all working existing fires or are on mandatory rest periods."

Cal Fire, the state’s fire fighting agency, said that 96% of all their engines are in use and that nearly all of the aircraft in the western U.S. used to fight wildfires are booked.

Roughly 13,500 of the 22,000 firefighters battling wildfires across the U.S. right now are in CA.

“We’ve requested assistance of firefighting resources from outside of California, however, when the nation is on [preparedness level five] the availability of resources is really limited, and often committed to fires in other states,” said Moore.

That means they may not get all the help they need, even as the number of new wildfires grows.

As such, the focus for many incident management teams has shifted primarily towards saving lives and infrastructure, with little hope of stopping multiple blazes from consuming more and more of our hallowed forests.

Unrelenting heat, unrelenting wildfires, and an unrelenting pandemic is leaving firefighters fatigued. And, like many Californians, they’re burned out.

A scary prospect given that what’s usually the worst of our wildfire season - when the Santa Ana winds start blowing — has yet to arrive.

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Garcetti: LA Alfresco Will Stay Fresco For The Rest Of 2020

A server takes orders in the outdoor dining area at Casa Vega in Sherman Oaks. July 2020. Chava Sanchez/LAist

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti announced tonight that LA Alfresco dining permits will be extended through the end of this calendar year. The program allows restaurants to quickly get the city's permission to expand outdoor dining to sidewalks, parking lots and parklets, while their dining rooms remain closed due to the pandemic.

Over 1,400 local restaurants are now participating in the program, which Garcetti hailed as a major success (of course, it's his program, so take this with a grain of salt as we haven't independently spoken to restaurant owners about it).

One restaurant in Koreatown, Garcetti said, has been able to bring back 30 employees and is now doing "nearly" as much business now as they were pre-pandemic, thanks to Alfresco.

He also mentioned Casita del Campo in Silver Lake ("another place my wife and I used to love going"), which has now brought back 100% of its employees.

The mayor said that starting tonight, restaurant owners and managers can download their new (extended) permits and post them at their businesses.

More info can be found at


Garcetti emphasized during his weekly media briefing that the county's COVID-19 infections have decreased since last week.

Last week, the mayor said, L.A. had 14,863 cases of the coronavirus; this week that number dropped to 10,801. That's a 40% decrease, he added, saying it's a "great sign."

Deaths were also down this week, from 310 to 291.

"So here's the bottom line," Garcetti said, "the data trends tell us that what we're doing is working...But I want to be clear that this is also saying that we're not yet out of the woods. We can't relax. We can't let up. COVID-19 is still here it's still dangerous and we need to keep doing our part, we need to hold the line."

Demand for testing has decreased by about 15%, the mayor added, but the city will keep testing capacity as it is, "just in case we ever need to surge up."

As of today, he said, one of every five Angelenos has been tested for COVID-19.


The mayor said that although the county's coronavirus numbers have improved this week, flu season is just around the corner, and that the two viruses together could put additional pressure on our public health system.

He enouraged everyone to get a flu shot well in advance of winter. He said of the flu vaccine:

"They work, they're good and they help us make sure we don't have pressure in our hospitals, when folks need care from COVID-19, or other debilitating diseases."

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LA County Settles Claim It Used Tax Funds To Campaign For Tax Hikes

L.A County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Mayor Eric Garcetti celebrate the passage of Measure H. (Martin Zamora/L.A. County Board of Supervisors)

In 2017, L.A. County spent nearly $1 million in public funds on a campaign to pass Measure H, a quarter-cent increase in the sales tax to fund new services for homeless people.

It blanketed radio and TV airwaves, and ran print ads in newspapers in English and Spanish with the slogan “Real Hope, Lasting Change.”

Now, county taxpayers are on the hook for another $1.35 million to settle legal complaints about the campaign, based on state law which says governments may not spend taxpayer funds to advocate for a tax increase.

This week, the state Fair Political Practices Commission voted to approve a settlement in which L.A. County will pay $1.35 million to drop campaign finance violations, and to dismiss a separate lawsuit by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayer Association, a nonprofit organization dedicated to lowering taxes.

The state and the taxpayer watchdog group will each get $600,000 in the settlement and the remainder goes to pay legal fees.

The county admits no wrongdoing and a representative declined to comment beyond offering a written statement saying officials were “pleased to resolve this matter so we can continue to focus on the health and safety of the people of Los Angeles County.”

Association President Jon Coupal said that despite spending a few million dollars on the Measure H campaign and subsequent legal skirmish, the county will still rake in more than $3 billion in Measure H money. He says the settlement amount does not serve as much of a deterrent, which is why the Association will change its legal tactics in the future.

We're going to put bounties on these individuals who engage in this activity,” Coupal said.

He says they will use their portion of the settlement to start suing elected officials who approve spending taxpayer money on tax hike campaigns.

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California’s Adding Jobs, But Gains Are Slowing And Unemployment Remains High

(California Employment Development Department)

California gained about 140,000 jobs in July and its unemployment rate fell to 13.3%, down from nearly 15% in June.

But a new jobs report released today by the state’s Employment Development Department shows job growth in the state slowing down compared with gains earlier this summer.

Things are moving in the right direction, but not as fast as they were in June, said Taner Osman, a research manager with L.A.-based Beacon Economics. That was when many businesses were reopening, and the state picked up more than 542,000 jobs. Osman said:

“A lot of the exuberance that we felt back in June has been tempered somewhat by the slow … rate of job growth. So it's positive that jobs have been added, but we've dug ourselves quite a hole.”

L.A. County’s unemployment rate also fell last month, but it remains among the highest in the state, at 18.2%. Compared with other parts of the state, L.A.’s economy relies more heavily on jobs in leisure and hospitality, a sector where job growth was pretty flat from June to July.

Osman said if California continues on this current pace of job growth, the state won’t return to pre-pandemic employment levels until next July.


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Column: How One Bakersfield Radio DJ Is Getting Essential Information To The Essential Workers Who Pick Our Crops

(Photo courtesy of Pepe Reyes and El Gallito/Illustration by Chava Sanchez, LAist)

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When COVID-19 began to spread, Spanish-language morning radio shows in the agricultural hub of Bakersfield were helping get essential information to the most essential of workers -- the people who pick our crops.

Mis Ángeles columnist Erick Galindo introduces us to Pepe Reyes, a veteran of Spanish-language commercial radio whose warm baritone goes out each day to farm workers in the fields. Erick writes:

Pepe Reyes has the kind of voice some audio nerds probably gush over when they talk about the Golden Age of Radio. It’s a perfectly rich baritone, warm, confident, charming even.

I wonder if those audio nerds might picture a voice like that coming from a 6-foot-tall Mexican from Nogales. But Pepe has been using all that warmth to reach campesinos picking grapes, citrus and almonds on the southern edges of the San Joaquin Valley for the better part of a 40-year career in Spanish-language commercial radio.

“A lot of our listeners work the fields and they rely on us for important information and for entertainment while they work,” Pepe told me during a phone call this past weekend.

As Pepe tells him, it's all "part of the grand tradition of radio to get information to the community."



Why Grab-And-Go Sites Might Start Asking For Barcodes Or Payment

Alhambra Unified staff distribute meals at a grab-and-go site. (Courtesy of Alhambra Unified School District)

Even when there isn’t a pandemic, a lot of students depend on schools for healthy food.

So when school campuses around our area, state, and country first started to close in March to slow the spread of COVID-19, school nutrition providers quickly pivoted to serve grab-and-go meals to students in need.

Since March, schools and districts have served millions of these meals to kids in the area. Los Angeles Unified alone says it’s served nearly 55 million, as of Thursday.

They were able to do this because the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees school nutrition programs, waived some of its rules on who could receive these free meals. Instead of only offering food to students who qualify for free or reduced price lunch, the free food was available for any kid in need.

But the flexibility that made that possible has an end date, and could expire right as the new school year gets started.

“It’s tough,” said Kristin Hilleman, chair of public policy and legislation at the California School Nutrition Association. “It’s like the pause button has been hit.”

Now, school nutrition providers have the difficult task of figuring out how to feed hungry students while also abiding by the rules.

For many districts and charters, that means they might have to ask for student names or IDs, check their eligibility, and maybe even charge students the reduced meal price (40 cents) or the full cost (around $3).

It also involves explaining to community members how –- and why –- things aren't the same.


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More Than 300 Charges Filed In Downtown LA Explosion And Fire That Injured 12 Firefighters

A Los Angeles Fire Department Public Information Officer wearing a facemask speaks on the phone after a fire in a single-story commercial building sparked an explosion in downtown L.A.'s Toy District on May 16, 2020. (Apu Gomes/AFP via Getty Images)

The L.A. City Attorney's Office has filed more than 300 criminal charges following an explosion and large fire in downtown L.A.'s Toy District in May that left 12 firefighters injured.

Among the allegations stemming from the May 16 incident are fire code and safety violations at four buildings and three businesses.

City Attorney Mike Feuer laid out the charges in an announcement today:

Maximum penalties for [building owner] Steve Sungho Lee are up to 68 years in jail and thousands of dollars in fines. Maximum penalties for Smoke Tokes include up to 41.5 years in jail as well as thousands of dollars in fines. The maximum penalties for Bio Hazard and Green Buddha include up to 43.5 years in jail and thousands of dollars in files.

"The fire and explosion that ripped through the Boyd Street property caused our firefighters great suffering," Feuer said in a statement, "and came perilously close to costing their lives."

An L.A. Fire Department spokesman described the fire and explosion to LAist at the time as "one of the most significant incidents that our department has gone to in recent history." LAFD Chief Ralph Terrazas said that the incident traumatized firefighters.

The fire apparently started at 327 Boyd Street, home to three marijuana-related businesses: Smoke Tokes, Green Buddha, and Bio Hazard. It quickly spread to another of owner Steve Sungho Lee's buildings. He has been charged with 86 counts for violations at those addresses.

Two other buildings owned by Lee have also been found in violation, which Lee faces 49 additional charges for. All four properties were found to have illegal storage of hazardous materials, according to the City Attorney's Office. Arraignment in all cases is scheduled for Nov. 19.

LAist previously reported that Smoke Tokes Wholesale Distribution appears to have been a supplier of butane, which is used to make butane honey oil, or hash oil.

There was another fire in 2016 at another Smoke Tokes location that took two hours to extinguish, using about 160 firefighters.

Owner Lee has previously said that he uses sprinklers outside at least one of his businesses to clear the sidewalks of homeless encampments. He owns dozens of properties in the Industrial District, as well as properties in South L.A. Lee has previously pointed to a record of trying to help the poor, with some of his buildings occupied by nonprofit and government tenants.

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Morning Briefing: SoCal Kids' Very Different Returns To School

(Chava Sanchez/LAist)

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Kids in Southern California are facing wildly different starts to the school year. At LAUSD, students began online classes on Thursday, with significant disparities in learning experiences across racial and socioeconomic groups.

Meanwhile, 24 private schools and one public school district in Orange County, along with one school district in San Bernardino County, were approved to open in person and did so this week.

So, what do these variances mean? Well, like with most things pandemic-related, no one really knows. Some LAUSD parents are considering legal action against the district for what they see as a dismal failure to hold teachers accountable for … well, teaching. But some educators are optimistic that this school year will go better than how the last one ended.

"If we really understand what our kids need," Canoga Park Elementary School teacher Daisy Leon told KPCC’s Kyle Stokes, “we can hone in on what those needs are."

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

Jessica P. Ogilvie

Coming Up Today, August 21

Erick Galindo reports for his weekly column on a Bakersfield radio DJ who has become an invaluable resource to the farmworker community during the pandemic, trying to get essential information to the most essential of workers — the people who pick our crops.

The start of LAUSD’s school year also means it’s time for about 22,000 young children to start at the district’s early education, preschool and transitional kindergarten programs. Mariana Dale looks at what to expect, and what educators have learned since last spring.

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The Past 24 Hours In LA

Police Shooting: The Pasadena Police Department released footage from the Aug. 15 fatal shooting by an officer of a passenger who fled from the scene of a traffic stop and — according to police — pulled a gun.

California Kids: Online classes began at LAUSD, and we heard from one teacher about what she’s learned since the pandemic started. Some schools in Orange County and San Bernardino successfully petitioned to hold classes in person, and welcomed students back this week.

Money Matters: Immigrants who lack legal status can’t access pandemic-related federal stimulus money or unemployment benefits, so advocates are pinning their hopes on a new state bill. Some U.S. movie theaters begin opening on the heels of Canadian theaters doing the same. Customers are snatching up Chinese herbal remedies claiming to strengthen immunity or treat fever and other Covid-19 symptoms.

The National Stage: The third night of the Democratic National Convention featured L.A. restaurateur Lien Ta, owner of All Day Baby in Silver Lake and recently shuttered Here's Looking At You in Koreatown.

Here’s What To Do: Get married at the Bob Baker Marionette Theater, catch flicks at the American Black Film Festival online or Method Fest, peruse the works at a music-themed group art show, and more in this week’s best online and IRL events.

Photo Of The Day

White circles in the grass mark where elementary students must stand before entering a Lucerne Valley Unified school in San Bernardino.

(Courtesy of Lucerne Valley Unified)

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