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Is The Blob Back?

A visitor looks out onto the Pacific at Venice Beach. (Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Given that you may have been a bit distracted over the summer – though I’m not sure why – you may not have noticed that the northeast Pacific Ocean was hit by its second hottest marine heat wave on record, with alarmingly warm water stretching from Alaska down past California.

2020 appears to be a near repeat of what we saw last year off the West Coast – when the area was hit by its now third hottest heat wave on record – but last year, surface temperatures had cooled down across large swaths of the area by November.

A sea surface temperature anomaly map from November 2019. (Courtesy of Andrew Leising at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

This year it’s still worryingly hot, especially close to the coast.

Sea surface temperature anomaly map from November 2020. (Courtesy of Andrew Leising at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

“This year it regrew from the ashes of the heat wave from last year,” said Andrew Leising, research oceanographer and marine heat wave tracker at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “I think there’s a chance that some of this heat could stick around.”

That’s concerning, because marine heat waves can lead to toxic algal blooms, which can hurt sea life and force fisheries to shut down. We’ve also seen mass sea lion and seal pup strandings, when their parents take off to go hunt for food, like squid, that’s migrated north in search of colder waters.

This is all reminiscent of the record setting “Blob” that hit the area just five years ago. Marine heat waves are becoming more common as the climate continues to warm, which of course has a ton of terrifying implications.

“That’s what we’re concerned about right now," said Leising. "Because it’s too much of a coincidence to have this many heat waves right on top of each other."

We could see things cool down a bit if strong enough winds pass over the region and mix up the warmer surface waters with the colder ones deeper down. But Leising said he's starting to see waters as much as 300 feet beneath the surface begin to warm. That's another reason to be concerned about the staying power of this marine heat wave.

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California Hits 1 Million Coronavirus Cases

(Chava Sanchez/LAist)

California hit a new milestone this afternoon: 1 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, as tracked by the Los Angeles Times.

That makes California the second state to reach that grim milestone after Texas, which reached 1 million on Tuesday.

About 2.6% of Californians have now had or currently have coronavirus that we know about, though the actual number is probably much higher, according to USC virologist Paula Cannon, who spoke to our news and culture show Take Two.

And as the state's largest county, we are a large contributor to the state number, said L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer. That's particularly true due to our recent surge in cases.

There was an average of 1,464 cases per day in L.A. County as of Nov. 3. A month earlier, that number was 988 — that's an increase of more than 33%.

The jump coincides with the reopening of some businesses, large outbreaks at work sites, and an uptick in public gatherings and meetings with others outside a household, Ferrer said.

"If collectively we fail to stop the acceleration of new cases, we will have no choice but to look at additional actions," she said. "All around the country, elected officials and public health leaders are introducing new requirements to protect health care systems from becoming overwhelmed."

Ferrer did not elaborate on what those additional actions in L.A. County might be, but said we know what we can do, and we have the tools to do it.

All in all, Cannon said we shouldn't be too hard on people. She said the big numbers in California and Texas are at least in part a reflection of the fact they are the two most populous states in the union. When looked at per capita, our state is actually trending below the national average.

In addition, Cannon said, the people most affected are those of working age, 18-49 years old. As much as the surge might be a reflection of younger people attending more parties, it also reflects a growing community of people who have to return to work.

"L.A.'s actually doing a better job than you might imagine, but again, still, you know, very high, scary numbers all around."

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LA Sheriff Villanueva Calls Guardado Inquest ‘Circus Stunt’

A screenshot of L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva at a press conference on COVID-19 in March 2020. (Courtesy of LASD)

Sheriff Alex Villanueva Thursday decried a planned coroner’s inquest into the fatal shooting of Andres Guardado by an L.A. County Sheriff’s deputy as “a circus stunt.”

The sheriff also dismissed the County Board of Supervisors’ decision earlier this week to explore the legal options for removing or impeaching him, calling it “a power grab.”

The supervisors voted Tuesday to explore options for removing the elected sheriff beyond a voter-led recall effort.

"They have not allowed me to actually do my job without their interference since the day I was sworn in," Villanueva said on our public affairs show AirTalk. The sheriff took office in December 2018.

In the case of Guardado, the 18-year-old killed by a deputy who shot him in the back after a foot chase in June, the supervisors directed Chief Medical Examiner-Coroner Dr. Jonathan Lucas to hold a public inquest.

The coroner announced the inquest this week, saying it will begin on Nov. 30. It will be a formal public process in which witnesses can be called to testify. The inquest, the first such proceeding in more than 30 years in L.A. County, “ensures that our residents will have an independent review of all the evidence and findings of our office and of the cause and manner of death of Mr. Guardado,” Lucas said in a statement.

Villanueva said inquests can be useful but argued that the coroner has already determined the manner and cause of Guardado’s death. The coroner ruled the death a homicide.

“You’re trying to create a trial for something that already happened,” the sheriff said.

This is the second time this year Villanueva finds himself at odds with the coroner over the Guardado case. In July, Lucas overrode a "security hold" by the sheriff's department and released the autopsy, which determined that Deputy Miguel Vega shot Guardado five times in the back.

Villanueva said the coroner's decision to release the autopsy before the department had been able to interview Vega amounted to interference. He accused Lucas of having “sacrificed the integrity of the investigation in a bid to satisfy public curiosity.”

Demonstrators protest outside the home of LASD Deputy Miguel Vega, who shot and killed Andres Guardado. (Brian Feinzimer For LAist)


The sheriff disputed complaints from both County Inspector General Max Huntsman and the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission that he has been uncooperative in investigating deputy shootings.

Villanueva continued his war of words with Huntsman, calling him “a political attack dog of the board [of supervisors].”

Huntsman, who is charged with monitoring department practices, has said Villanueva refuses to provide documents and access to department personnel regarding deputy shootings, discipline, hiring and other issues.

As he has in the past, the sheriff called Huntsman a liar: “He’s been dishonest since day one.”

Villanueva said he’s given the inspector general “everything he is legally entitled to.”

The sheriff’s comments reflected his resistance to outside oversight. In an unprecedented move last year, he accused Huntsman of illegally accessing department records and opened a criminal investigation of the inspector general.

Villanueva’s critics called it an act of intimidation.

The county ordinance that created the Office of Inspector General in part provides him access to department “information; documents; materials; facilities; and meetings, reviews, and other proceedings necessary to carry out the OIG's duties under this section.”

Villanueva also refused this year to respond to a subpoena by the Civilian Oversight Commission to testify about how he was handling coronavirus inside the jails, saying the panel didn’t have the authority to issue it.

In March, voters gave the commission subpoena power in response to a campaign to force the sheriff to be more transparent and accountable.

The sheriff is fighting the panel’s authority in court.

Echoing his criticism of Huntsman, Villanueva called the oversight commission “a political attack show.”

“Once they get their act together and they start behaving like a rational objective body I'd be more than happy to attend” commission meetings, he said.

The commission last month called for the sheriff’s resignation.


Villanueva also seemed to double down on his view that the arrest of our reporter, Josie Huang, was justified, while saying “there [were] mistakes made on both sides.”

Huang was tackled and arrested Sept. 12 during a small protest outside a hospital where two deputies were being treated after being shot in an ambush hours earlier.

“She got way too close to the action” while filming deputies making an arrest, the sheriff said, while adding that the deputies “were too quick in arresting her … they should have given her more time to comply” with their order to move back.

The department still charged Huang with obstructing justice. On Sept. 22, District Attorney Jackie Lacey declined to prosecute her, noting that "while deputies had reason to ask her to back up, Ms. Huang was not given the opportunity to comply with their demand."

Villanueva has repeatedly claimed, inaccurately, that Huang did not identify herself as a reporter and that she refused to comply with deputies' orders to stand back.

We debunked many of the sheriff’s claims in a previous story, which you can read here.

Huang’s arrest was decried by journalism organizations and First Amendment advocates.

The sheriff acknowledged on AirTalk that Huang was, in fact, wearing a work ID that clearly showed she was with KPCC, but he said that she did not identify herself until she was already on the ground being handcuffed, and that it was unlikely deputies would recognize "KPCC" as a local news organization.

The public should consider the "human element," the sheriff argued, and recognize that in the heat of the moment, when a handful of protesters were chanting for the deaths of deputies, it may have been difficult to tell Huang apart from the crowd.

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This San Fernando Valley Neighborhood Has The Highest Coronavirus Case Rate In LA County

A police officer mans the entrance to a coronavirus testing center in Hansen Dam Park on March 25, 2020 in Pacoima. (Photo by Frederic J. Brown / AFP)

Coronavirus cases are surging again in Los Angeles County, and one key hot spot is the San Fernando Valley community of Pacoima, which has the highest case rate in L.A.

Health officials report Pacoima has seen 506 cases per 100,000 residents over the last two weeks. That's more than 2.5 times the adjusted case rate for L.A. County during the same weeks.

Dr. Christine Park, chief medical officer for a group of community health centers that includes Pacoima Health Center, says one factor contributing to the spread is the large number of residents who are essential workers:

"So they have to go to work, and they may not have the benefit of paid time off either. So if they have symptoms, or if they test positive, not working means not getting paid."

Park says the Pacoima Health Center currently has enough test kits, swabs and Personal protective equipment, but she anticipates their needs will increase in the coming months.

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Morning Briefing: Who’s Behind LA’s Progressive Wave?

A banner in Silver Lake for Nithya Raman, who won the Nov. 3 2020 election to represent CD4 on the Los Angeles City Council. Eric Kelly

Good morning, L.A.

In writing about the progressive wave that swept our local elections, my colleague Libby Denkmann identified Ground Game L.A. as the group behind Nithya Raman’s upset win in the race for the City Council’s District 4 seat. With no prior political experience, Raman unseated incumbent David Ryu — a rare occurrence in local city council races.

Her win shined a spotlight on the nonprofit, which is emerging as a force to be reckoned with in local politics.

Born during Jessica Salans’ 2017 campaign for a city council seat, Ground Game L.A. took shape when a group of volunteers joined forces to back the candidate. Salans lost, but core volunteers saw an opportunity to coalesce the city’s progressive energy and turn it into action. According to its website, the nonprofit now publishes its own news site, and works to support renters’ rights, end police violence and clean up the environment – in addition to backing candidates.

Co-founder Meghan Choi said that Ground Game L.A. has been taken under the wing of more experienced activists, who have shown the organization how to be effective.

"We had incredibly good mentorship,” she said, “from groups that had been doing this work for a long time.”

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

Jessica P. Ogilvie

Coming Up Today, November 12

Now that Biden has won the presidential election, Josie Huang checks in with DACA recipients, who have experienced a roller coaster ride after Trump canceled the program that lets them live here legally.

Frank Stoltze analyzes a survey of LAPD cops by their union that finds overwhelming dissatisfaction with Chief Michel Moore.

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The Past 24 Hours In LA

L.A. Kids: LAUSD officials rolled out a return-to-campus plan, should L.A. County move out of the purple coronavirus tier.

Policing Law Enforcement: The L.A. County Sheriff’s Department may have violated a student journalist’s constitutional rights by unlawfully seizing his camera and phone while he covered a protest in September.

Race In L.A.: On Veterans Day, we profiled Luther Hendricks, 95, one of the first members of the all-Black Montford Point Marines, the Marines’ equivalent of the Tuskegee Airmen. The Census Bureau is reporting that non-response rates were high this year for questions involving birth date, race, and Latina/o or Hispanic origin.

Election 2020: Nithya Raman's upset of incumbent L.A. City Councilman David Ryu is the cap on a series of wins by progressive candidates and measures in the city. What does the defeat of Prop 15 mean for future efforts to reform Prop 13?

Photo of the Day

Ninety-five-year-old World War II veteran Luther Hendricks poses with some of his military honors.


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