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As COVID Decimates Budget, LA City Council Weighs Plan To ‘Stop The Bleeding’
COVID-19 has dug a $675 million hole in the city of L.A’s revenue, and on Monday the City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee convened to discuss a drastic budget-balancing plan that includes more than 1,800 layoffs.
Chairman Paul Krekorian said the committee is facing an impossible task during a “catastrophic” fiscal crisis.
“The only thing that might compare is the Great Depression, and I’m not sure that it does,” Krekorian said. “What we have before us is a tourniquet that we’re twisting to try to stop the bleeding.”
In his second Financial Status Report, City Administrative Officer (CAO) Rich Llewellyn proposed a 3% cut to nearly every department, and wiping out municipal reserve funds down to the minimum allowed in the city charter.
On top of that, Llewellyn said for the first time L.A. will have to borrow money to pay for day-to-day operations. That will mean delaying big capital improvement projects, including a planned facelift for the L.A. Zoo and installing solar panels at municipal facilities.
Krekorian called the move “terrible policy” and likened it to “putting the mortgage payment on a credit card. We’ve never done that … but we have no choice this year. The impacts on services are too unimaginable to bear.”
Despite these unprecedented measures, the CAO said, layoffs will still be necessary, including nearly 1,000 LAPD officers and more than 700 civilian LAPD employees. Departments can try to mitigate some job losses by moving employees to vacant positions that are already funded, and hardening the hiring freeze.
As the meeting stretched into the evening, members of the Budget Committee heard from city departments about the impact of proposed cuts.
LAPD Chief Michel Moore pleaded with councilmembers to find savings of $51 million elsewhere in the budget to stave off LAPD layoffs, saying the reductions would cripple public safety.
“Tourniquets are applied to preserve the most critical functions of the body, so the person does not bleed to death,” Moore said. “We have to protect our core functions, and that is police, fire and [the Department of Transportation].”
Councilmember Paul Koretz pointed out the proposed cuts to LAPD’s budget would have a greater personnel impact because of the raises and bonuses the union representing police officers negotiated in 2019, including a 3.25% pay bump due to kick in next month. (Civilian employees are also set to get a 2% raise in January, plus another 2% in June.)
Moore deflected a question from councilmember Curren Price about whether the chief believes the union should return to the bargaining table. City leaders have been in talks with civilian labor representatives about implementing partial furloughs and delaying raises, but the police union has so far refused to discuss the issue.
“That is not the role of the chief,” Moore said.
UPDATE 9:45 PM MONDAY: Late in the evening, Krekorian presented a set of proposed changes to the CAO’s report, including shrinking the number of possible LAPD layoffs to 355 sworn personnel and 273 civilian employees.
The shift drew pushback from Price and council member Mike Bonin -- who responded with a motion to require the LAPD to find savings to offset the price tag of reducing layoffs within the department’s budget, instead of spreading the cost around. That motion failed, 3-2.
The CAO’s Financial Status Report will go for a vote before the full council on Tuesday.
Extraordinary Warner Bros. Decision To Stream Its Films Might be Great for Couch Potatoes, But Fatal for Theaters
Movie theater owners have been living through one of the worst years ever, as their multi-billion dollar business has effectively vanished. And now their pandemic predicament has become about as terrifying as any Hollywood horror tale.
That’s because Warner Bros. is taking its entire slate of 17 films set for theatrical release next year and shifting them to its parent company’s nascent streaming platform, HBO Max, where the films will be simultaneously available for streaming and in theaters (both Warners and HBO are part of the media division of parent company AT&T).
That may be welcome news for many couch potatoes, who for the price of an HBO subscription will be able to stream everything in the studio’s lineup for the next year, including a new “Matrix” sequel, “Dune,” “In the Heights” and “The Suicide Squad.”
But it wasn't seen as good news on Wall Street. Minutes after Warners' announcement last week about its 2021 slate, the stock market price of big chains such as AMC and Cinemark plummeted.
Typically, theater owners will not book any movie that will appear on a streaming or pay-per-view site sooner than some three months after its theatrical debut. But that’s not the business model for companies such as Netflix, which prefer simultaneous releases, and it’s why the biggest theater chains wouldn’t show the streaming company’s “Roma” or “The Irishman.”
Ann Sarnoff, the head of WarnerMedia Studios, said this concurrent digital/theatrical model will only last a year and was necessitated by the pandemic.
Even if Warners’ 2021 titles (along with this month’s “Wonder Woman 1984”) run simultaneously at the multiplex, it’s hard to imagine a lot of customers risking a trip to a theater -- and forking out $8 for popcorn and $5 for a soda -- over the safety of their living rooms, where the snacks and drinks are a lot cheaper.
And the company's release strategy could signal a fundamental shift in how movies are distributed going forward, as other studios follow suit.
While the Warners decision was the most sweeping, other prominent distributors have pulled movies from planned theatrical releases and made them available digitally. Universal did so with its “Trolls World Tour” and “King of Staten Island” movies, and Disney followed suit with “Hamilton” and “Mulan.” Universal and Disney both have upstart streaming platforms: Peacock and Disney Plus.
On KPCC’s AirTalk on Monday, Greg Laemmle, the president and CEO of Laemmle Theatres, said the Warners decision will create more trouble for exhibitors who already have been “devastated” by the pandemic.
“It's going to create some increased competition, because people will have other options and not be forced into waiting for 90 days or some arbitrary number before they can see something at home,” Laemmle said. His chain has already been forced to sell some of its real estate to stay solvent.
LA County Hospitalizations Could Top 4,000 Within Two Weeks
After breaking its single-day record for new coronavirus cases multiple times over the past week, Los Angeles County today is reporting another big jump of just over 8,000 new cases, along with 27 additional deaths.
And as the dramatic surge in cases continues, nearly 3,000 people infected with the virus are now hospitalized, more than at any other point since the beginning of the pandemic. Nearly a quarter of those patients are in intensive care units.
County public health director Barbara Ferrer called it an "alarming" increase that will have a tremendous impact on the region's entire health care system:
"What this will mean for hospitalizations and for deaths is frightening. It's very possible that within two weeks, or even less, we could see the daily number of people hospitalized for COVID-19 at or over 4,000 patients."
Ferrer says that about 1 in 10 county residents who contract COVID-19 end up needing hospital care, so if the current trend continues, we could see an average of 65 or more people dying every day.
Ferrer said we are likely seeing a bump in cases from the Thanksgiving holiday, but she cited other reasons for the surge, including small and large gatherings both in public and at private homes, unsafe work environments, and more time routinely spent mingling with people from different households.
Only about 59% of businesses visited last week by inspectors were in compliance with all coronavirus protocols, Ferrer said.
"We don't have to actually just say, 'This is inevitable. We're going to see an overwhelmed health care system.' We don't have an overwhelmed health care system today. We have time, but very little, to get ourselves to a place where that will not be the case in L.A. County, but it would take every single one of us working hard together to get that to happen."
LA COUNTY BY THE NUMBERS
- 27 new deaths
- 7,936 total deaths
- 8,086 new cases
- 457,880 total cases
- 2,988 currently hospitalized: 24% in ICU and 15% on ventilators
- 10.9% overall ICU capacity for Southern California (the state's stay-at-home order kicks in at less than 15%)
- 3.9 million tests to date with an 11% positivity rate
Here's a look at longer-term trends in the county. To see more, visit our California COVID-19 Tracker and choose L.A. County or any other California county that interests you. These numbers are current as of Sunday, Dec. 6:
Becerra Nominated To Lead HHS, And Newsom’s Power To Fill Big Jobs Grows
The Biden Administration is beaming up California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to Washington, D.C. to run the Department of Health and Human Services.
As the New York Times first reported, Becerra has been a champion of the Affordable Care Act during the Trump Administration. He was a surprise choice for HHS, but had reportedly been in the mix to lead the U.S. Justice Department.
Becerra took over as the state’s top cop in 2017 when Kamala Harris moved to the U.S. Senate. Before that, he represented the Los Angeles area in Congress, first elected in 1992. His long career in politics provides an entertaining library of archival tape:
A young XAVIER BECERRA, Biden’s pick to run HHS, lays out his health care principles as a congressman in 1994.— Dan Diamond (@ddiamond) December 7, 2020
“We must have universal coverage. We must have portability. We must have choice of provider,” Becerra says, endorsing single-payer. pic.twitter.com/fkJVNV0DYQ
If Becerra is confirmed to Biden’s cabinet (not a foregone conclusion), he will leave almost two years of his term for a successor to be hand-picked by Governor Newsom. That will kick off another round of musical chairs, with politicians across the state angling to follow in Becerra and Harris’ footsteps, leveraging the high-profile California Attorney General gig for major career moves beyond Sacramento.
Newsom has already been wrestling with another vacancy: the governor has the power to fill Vice President-elect Harris’ Senate seat, and has bemoaned the “burden” of calls, emails and in-person lobbying that job opening has elicited.
“People just happen to show up certain places," he joked recently. "They want to babysit your kids, they offer to get groceries, get coffee.”
With the Becerra news, the Governor might want to consider changing his phone number.
California's Eviction Moratorium Could Be Extended Until End of 2021
An estimated 2 million California households are struggling to make rent payments.
Under a new proposal from tenant-friendly Democrats in the state legislature, the state’s current eviction moratorium would continue through Dec. 31 of next year.
Renters hurt by the pandemic would have until then to come up with a quarter of the rent they owe, to avoid being kicked out in 2022.
Assemblyman David Chiu, a Democrat from San Francisco, says allowing the moratorium to expire would be a public health disaster.
"The possibility that tens of thousands of folks could be forced from their homes would make COVID much more likely to spread, have devastating health consequences," he said. "We can’t allow that to be California’s fate.”
The proposal is just the opening salvo in negotiations. While landlord groups are open to extending the moratorium some amount of time, they say they can’t afford a full year of missed payments.
George Gascón Sworn In As DA, Lays Out Extensive, Ambitious Series Of Reforms
Los Angeles County has a new, reformist District Attorney, and he's wasting no time in making sweeping changes in the country's largest prosecutor's office.
After being sworn in shortly after noon today, George Gascón laid out a laundry list of immediate reforms.
Arguing that "turning public health problems into criminal problems does not serve the public interest," the new D.A. said he will "stop filing first-time misdemeanor offenses associated with poverty and mental health" — so-called "quality of life" crimes such as loitering or public intoxication. He said he'll work with police to expand social services offered at the point of contact.
Although California voters just retained the cash bail system by defeating Proposition 25, Gascón slammed bail for perpetuating class-based differences in criminal justice, and said he will no longer seek it for anyone who is charged with a misdemeanor or non-violent, non-serious felony.
In addition, anyone currently in jail for one of those types of crimes can seek a hearing to have their bail revoked, and "my office will not contest their release," he said. Experts estimate that will lead to the release of hundreds of people from L.A. County jails, Gascón said.
Calling that move "just a first step," the D.A. said that by Jan. 1, "my office will roll out a plan to end money bail in L.A. in its entirety."
But that's not all. Gascón said he will end the use of sentencing enhancements, which can add years to a sentence for those who commit crimes while listed in the state's gang database or while using a gun.
Not only is Gascón ending the use of enhancements, but he announced an "unprecedented" review of thousands of cases to see who might be eligible for early release because of enhancements. He estimated some 20,000 state prison inmates will be eligible for consideration for early release. Those who committed violent offenses and those deemed a risk to the community would not be eligible.
The D.A. said he will no longer seek the death penalty, calling it "racist" and "morally untenable," adding that he is committed to resentencing L.A. County prisoners on death row to life in prison.
Citing research that found locking up juveniles harms their health and increases the chances they'll commit future crimes, Gascón said he will stop charging juveniles as adults.
The D.A. said he's convening a "use of force review board" made up of policing experts, civil rights attorneys and community members. It will review hundreds of shootings by police officers and sheriff’s deputies going back to at least 2012, and "will make recommendations to my office as to which additional cases need to be reopened."
Gascón has already said he will reopen four shooting cases to review whether criminal charges should be filed against the officers involved.
The unions representing law enforcement and assistant DA's strongly opposed Gascon in the election, arguing that his policies would lead to an increase in crime.
The DA released a letter he sent today addressed to L.A. County's law enforcement community in which he made the case for his reforms and for collaboration, arguing, "We need to reimagine the way we’ve done business for the last half-century, and I need you at the table."
READ OUR FULL STORY ON GASCON'S SPEECH:
LA City Starts Taking Applications For $800 Relief Stipends For Food Workers
This morning, the city of Los Angeles began accepting applications for a program that offers a one-time stiped of $800 to food service workers.
The city will give out 4,000 of these stipends, but individuals must apply before midnight on Friday, December 11, when the application period closes.
L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti announced the program — oficially named the Secure Emergency Relief for Vulnerable Employees (SERVE) initiative — last week.
To qualify, applicants must...
- live within the city of Los Angeles
- be 18 years of age or older
- have had an annual income in 2019 of $58,450 or below
- demonstrate economic hardship due to a job loss, or at least a 50% reduction in income at a food service establishment as a front or back-of-house employee
Restaurants, food stands, mobile food units and push carts as well as breweries, wineries and bars that serve food on the premises all qualify as "food service establishments."
Recipients who meet the above criteria will be chosen from a randomized list.
The move comes as restaurants, already battered by the drop in revenue from the pandemic, brace for a brutal winter without outdoor dining (at least for the next three weeks) and with new stay-at-home orders that place increased restrictions on all sorts of businesses.
Newsom: State's First Vaccine Delivery Coming Next Week; California COVID-19 App Coming Thursday
While Gov. Gavin Newsom's weekly COVID-19 press conferences are usually held Mondays at noon, he delivered a coronavirus update this morning due to the California Legislature being back in session. The earlier press conference follows Southern California entering a stricter state-mandated stay-at-home order as of Sunday night, due to the region's available ICU capacity dipping below 15%.
Read highlights below or watch the full press conference above.
NEW CALIFORNIA COVID-19 EXPOSURE NOTIFICATION APP AVAILABLE THURSDAY
Gov. Newsom said that Apple and Google have joined forces to help provide exposure notifications, which Newsom noted isn't the same as contact tracing. The state is releasing an app, "CA Notify," which allows you to opt-in to notifications of potential COVID-19 exposure.
Newsom stressed that the app does not track location, and that it's fully opt-in, private, and secure.
The app's effectiveness will depend on people choosing to use it, Newsom noted, adding that Apple and Google plan to promote its use in the state. Newsom said that the state doesn't expect tens of millions users of the app, but hopes that enough users will make a difference.
The new app will be available this Thursday for Android and iOS devices. An alert about the availability of the app will likely go out Wednesday, Newsom said.
Your phone will exchange anonymous keys when you are near someone else with the app enabled. If you test positive for COVID-19 and consent for the app to alert other users, it will tell those you've been in contact in the past 14 days who have these notifications enabled.
The pilot program for this app began with the University of California system, with more than 250,000 users so far at seven campuses. Since it launched, there have been more than 60 positive test notifications.
LATEST CORONAVIRUS NUMBERS
There were 24,735 new COVID-19 cases statewide in the most recent reporting period, with a seven-day average of 21,924 cases. Over the past three days, the average was about 25,000 new cases per day, Newsom said.
The state's 14-day test positivity rate is 8.4% and continues to rise. That's up from 3.4% a month ago. An average of 209,740 tests were conducted over the past seven days. Two days ago, almost 300,000 tests were conducted in a 24-hour period. The state continues to work to increase its testing numbers.
The length of time it takes to return test results across the country has started to grow, which Newsom said is why the state has opened its own COVID-19 lab that is continuing to increase its capacity.
There has been a 72% increase in hospitalized COVID-19 patients over the past 14 days, with 10,070 patients currently hospitalized. Currently, 14% of hospital capacity is used by COVID-19 patients, while 63% of the state's beds are being used. The state also has additional surge capacity available. Elective surgeries are being pulled back in some areas as well.
The effects of Thanksgiving travel and gatherings are starting to be seen in the numbers, and those effects are expected for many days to come, said California Health Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly. The levels of transmission seen so far are likely to continue to rise due to Thanksgiving mixing, according to Ghaly.
ICU NUMBERS TRIGGER 2 REGIONAL STAY-AT-HOME ORDERS
COVID-19-positive ICU admissions are up 69% over the past two weeks. There are 2,360 of those patients currently admitted to ICUs.
Available ICU capacity is down to 14.2%.
Stay-at-home orders go into effect when any of the state's five regions falls below 15% ICU capacity. Southern California's order went into effect last night after officially going below that number on Saturday. The San Joaquin Valley region has also been put under a regional stay-at-home order.
As of late last night, Southern California has 10.9% available capacity in its ICUs, while the San Joaquin Valley has 6.3% of its beds available. This compares with 28.2% availability in Northern California, 25.7% in the Bay Area, and 20.3% in the Greater Sacramento region.
Despite still having more availability in its ICUs, the Bay Area region has voluntarily entered a stay-at-home order.
The state continues to be concerned about staffing. Newsom said this will be the most challenging issue amid the current surge of COVID-19, especially with staff being fatigued due to the length of this pandemic. The state is working with contract staffing agencies to bring in additional medical personnel and has requested additional staff from the federal government.
The Home O2 program is being used in areas that need to move patients out of ICUs to be at home with oxygen and paramedic support. The plan is for Riverside/San Bernardino to have the capacity for 100 such patients in the coming weeks, while the program goes into effect in Imperial County this week.
The state has an active group in its Health Corps of approximately 900 members ready to be deployed, and the state is asking medical workers who've recently retired or allowed their licenses to expire to join up. Qualified health care professionals are being asked to sign up on the state's COVID-19 website.
There are nine facilities in "warm status" being prepared across the state, including Fairview Development Center in Orange County with 180 beds, and the Riverside County Fairgrounds in Riverside with 125 beds. They can be activated within 48-96 hours, if appropriately staffed, according to Newsom.
FIRST CALIFORNIA VACCINE DELIVERY COMING DEC. 15
California submitted its first orders for COVID-19 vaccine on Friday, with the delivery expected around Dec. 15. The first doses will go to facilities that will vaccinate their high-risk health care workers. Those facilities have plans in place to conduct vaccinations.
Newsom said for planning purposes there will be 2.16 million first vaccine doses available in December.
The FDA is expected to approve Pfizer's vaccine on Dec. 10, and it is set to discuss Moderna's vaccine a week later.
The state's Community Vaccine Advisory Committee meets Wednesday to discuss the next phase of vaccination, "Phase 1b." The meeting will be open to the public.
The state has six steps in its vaccine process. The first step includes enrolling providers and allocating doses with local health departments.
Next, California Public Health will review local health department orders and submit them to the CDC. The state received those orders on Friday. Those orders will then be fulfilled, with Pfizer doing its own distribution, while Moderna uses McKesson. The vaccine will ship from distribution centers to California providers.
Once providers receive the vaccine, they will store it according to "cold-chain requirements," then administer the vaccine.
The state expects additional cold and ultra-cold storage units to arrive at the end of this month and in early January to help with the distribution of the vaccine.
Newsom said that this is the third wave of infection, and that a fourth isn't expected thanks to the vaccine being on the way.
CALIFORNIA AG'S NOMINATION FOR HEALTH SECRETARY
Newsom said that having current California Attorney General Xavier Becerra as Biden's cabinet pick for health and human services secretary will be a "game changer" for California, and help with the state's health care ambitions.
NEW CALIFORNIA PUBLIC HEALTH DIRECTOR: TOMÁS ARAGÓN
Newsom announced a new California Public Health Director, Tomás Aragón, who has been serving as the health officer for the city and county of San Francisco and director of the San Francisco Department of Public Health's Population Health Division since 2011.
Dr. Sonia Angell resigned the position in August, following a snafu regarding the reporting of coronavirus cases. She was replaced on an interim basis by Sandra Shewy.
The state is moving forward with a broader public education campaign, including new billboards, to get people to socially distance. The campaign includes material in English, Spanish, Hmong, Punjabi, Russian and other languages. The state is also partnering with the California Grocers Association, the California Fire Foundation and others to help spread these messages.
LAUSD Shuts Down Campuses That Had Partially Reopened
With a new regional stay-at-home order in effect, the L.A. Unified School District is shutting down all campuses that had partially reopened for one-on-one and small-group tutoring and services, Superintendent Austin Beutner announced today.
The district will also shut down child care services that were being provided on campuses for school-based employees and high-needs families, along with training programs for student athletes.
The changes — which will take effect on Thursday, Dec. 10 — will affect about 4,000 students who had been on LAUSD campuses, as well as a significant number of the 15,000 to 18,000 staff working on site on a given day.
"My commitment remains the same as I made when we were forced to close schools in March – we will not reopen schools until it’s safe and appropriate to do so," Beutner said in his weekly videotaped address. "This commitment also means we must respond to current conditions in the community."
"Because of the dangerously high level of COVID in the Los Angeles area, it’s no longer safe and appropriate to have any students on campus. We’ll also be asking those who are currently working at schools to work from home if it’s at all possible for the rest of the semester."
Four of the more than 600 LAUSD schools providing limited in-person services are listed by the L.A. County Department of Public Health as having three or more confirmed cases of COVID-19.
While the regional stay-at-home order is effective until at least Dec. 28, Beutner said LAUSD's changes to the already limited in-person tutoring and services will remain in effect until at least Jan. 10.
As written by state officials, the regional stay-at-home order explicitly allows for schools that had already opened with waivers and for these specialized in-person services to remain open. Asked why LAUSD is choosing to close these in-person services while they are allowed to remain open, Beutner pointed to public health officials who have called the spread of the virus "dangerous."
"Our goal is to have all students back on campus as soon as possible, and safe as possible, but dangerous COVID is dangerous COVID," Beutner said in an interview. "Stay at home is stay at home."
The superintendent also summarized the responses to a parent form that asked families if they'd prefer in-person hybrid learning on campus — once permitted by public health authorities — or if they'd like to continue with online-only distance learning.
Almost two-thirds of the more than 103,000 responses through the Return to Campus Program Selection Form preferred continued online-only distance learning over hybrid, while 37% said they would choose to send their kids in-person when it was offered.
The superintendent also pointed out what he called “a sobering finding”: families with higher incomes were more likely to choose some form of in-person learning than families with fewer resources.
Beutner said the district believes this disparity has less to do with schools themselves, and more to do with the challenges lower-income families are facing right now.
“The consequence of this is truly profound,” Beutner said. “Students not at school will fall further behind, which may lead to another generation stuck in poverty.”
Families considered the two options without yet knowing how exactly hybrid learning would work — like if cohorts of students would be on campus for part of a day, and doing distance learning for the other part of the day — or if they'd alternate whole days. Those details are still being negotiated with the union representing LAUSD educators, United Teachers Los Angeles.
While parents considered their choices and filled out the Return to Campus-Program Selection Form, cases of COVID-19 in Los Angeles County surged.
In virtual town halls and on the form itself, the district told families that if they did not respond by the Sunday, Dec. 6 deadline, they'd automatically be placed in the hybrid learning model, with the option to switch to online-only at any time.
Now, according to Beutner, this form will be used for planning, and another will be sent when more details are figured out and a return to campus is closer.
"No one is going to be forced into either model," Beutner told us. "Every family has the ability to choose what they think is best for their child and family at that point in time, and that point in time is not today."
Thinking a lot about this. LAUSD says it got more than 103k responses, but also says they have ~650k enrolled.— Carla Javier (@carlamjavier) December 7, 2020
Initially, LAUSD said if you did not respond, you'd automatically be placed in hybrid, with option to switch to online-only at any time. Now, there'll be another form. pic.twitter.com/RTSOtXBCmV
Beutner also reiterated his calls for a wide-ranging federal and state relief program that would cover the costs of coronavirus testing and contact tracing, cleaning and sanitizing schools, mental health support, and in-person instruction next summer to help students recover from learning loss.
“The dire situation faced by schoolchildren deserves the same extraordinary response we have come to expect after floods, wildfires and hurricanes in order to help return students to schools as soon as possible in the safest way possible,” Beutner said.
READ MORE OF OUR COVERAGE OF LAUSD AND THE PANDEMIC:
- Teachers Union Nears Agreement With LAUSD On Distance Learning
- LAUSD Unveils Roadmap To Reopen Campuses -- But It Won’t Go Into Effect Just Yet
- Teachers Union Details Stance On LAUSD In-Person Hybrid Learning
- LAUSD, UTLA Strike Deal On Some Services For Students With Disabilities
- Survey: Students With Special Needs Are Struggling With Distance Learning, Parents Say
- Who's Applying For School Reopening Waivers in Southern California?
- What You Need To Know About LAUSD Restarting Some In-Person Tutoring, Assessments
- Everything We Know About LAUSD's Program To Test Students And Staff For Coronavirus
- How LAUSD's Superintendent Has Used Special Pandemic Emergency Powers To Make Fast-Track Deals
Riverside County Faces Dire Straits In COVID-19 Hospital Capacity
Southern California ICUs are full enough to trigger state-mandated health orders for the entire region.
In Riverside County, records for new coronavirus cases were set every day last week. Currently, more than 680 people are hospitalized there with COVID-19, and 145 of those patients are in intensive care. Officials are bracing for more this week.
The county is home to 17 acute care facilities, some of which have already implemented plans for a surge in cases.
Jose Arballo, a public health spokesperson for the area, said that the biggest issue facing the county’s medical system is not a lack of beds and ventilators, but a lack of staff.
“Hospitals ... will be reaching out to try to bring in additional staff, and those staff usually come from the same pool,” he said. “And so you have 17 hospitals [requesting] the same groups of people.”
If more people start isolating now, the infection rate could drop within two-to-three weeks.
New CA Health Order Shuts Down Outdoor Dining In Pasadena
The sidewalk bordering Millie’s Cafe in Pasadena filled up Sunday morning with diners at tables separated by plastic partitions, enjoying their last pancakes and coffee on-site for at least three weeks.
That’s the length of a state health order imposed on Southern California that took effect late Sunday night.
The order includes a ban on outdoor dining at restaurants, which had already been implemented across L.A. County by a local health order issued in late November. But not in Pasadena, which has its own health department and decided to break with the county on outdoor service.
In late Nov, Pasadena broke with the rest of LA County to allow outdoor dining.— Josie Huang (@josie_huang) December 7, 2020
But tonight outdoor service even here is ending. The state is imposing a health order for SoCal because of dwindling ICU capacity.
All this will have to shut down for at least 3 wks ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/FhZRKtWj16
The new order means now even restaurants there have to stop serving patrons on the premises.
Julian Babish’s family owns Millie’s and he said the day carried some sadness.
“Our whole family works here,” Babish said. “You know, this is everything we got.”
The stay-at-home order for Southern California was triggered by the region’s ICU bed capacity dropping below 15%. As of Monday, it was 10.9%.
Public health officials have voiced concern that transmission risk is higher at restaurants because people have to take their masks off to eat and drink and may by congregating with people outside their household.
Babish, who wore a mask and face shield, agreed that controlling the pandemic with restrictions is necessary, but he said that officials have been disproportionately strict with restaurants.
“I think that's the last thing people are getting the virus from because we've been open the whole pandemic,” Babish said. “No one on our staff has gotten it.”
Babish says he's grateful restaurants are still allowed to serve takeout. Patrons have surprised him by even ordering breakfast during the pandemic.
Millie’s customer Steven Gonzalez of Alhambra was waiting for his pancake plate with his brother and sister. His siblings had driven in from the Inland Empire and they settled on meeting in Pasadena because it was open for dining.
Gonzalez, a video editor, was aware of the regional order and said “we all have to knuckle down and stay home to prevent the spreading.”
“But it’s unfortunate that the people who work in the hospitality industry have to bear the expense of it because a lot of small mom-and-pop businesses are going to close their doors for good after this,” Gonzalez said.
Leo Temory, manager of The Cellar in Old Town Pasadena, said he worried about his 20 co-workers. He said when the establishment reopened, the staff was eager to come back.
“They got off of employment. They’re relying to pay the rent with the money they make here,” Temory said. “It’s really heartbreaking and sad that we have to shut down again.”
Temory said business had actually seen a bump over the past two weeks because the rest of L.A. County had shut down outdoor dining. He spent Sunday telling customers that they were closing at 10 p.m. Sunday “for who knows how long.”
Many of the patrons, he said, had no idea a new health order was taking effect.
DA-Elect Gascón Takes The Oath Today With Promise to Lock Up Fewer People
George Gascón, a Cuban immigrant and one-time hard-charging LAPD cop who became a champion of criminal justice reform, will be sworn in as the 43rd district attorney of Los Angeles County today at noon.
Gascón defeated incumbent District Attorney Jackie Lacey in the Nov. 3 election. His election has been compared to that of Tom Bradley, who became L.A.’s first Black mayor in 1973.
But it’s not Gascón's race or ethnicity that makes his electoral victory so significant – although he is the first immigrant in modern history to serve as District Attorney. Instead, it is his progressive agenda, which stands in stark contrast to D.A.’s of the past.
Gascón will take the reins of the nation’s largest local prosecutor’s office and one that has sent more people to state prison than almost any other. He has promised to change that by filing charges against fewer people who are arrested for lower-level crimes. He also plans to end use of so-called sentencing enhancements, which saddle gang members and other people with extra prison time.
The D.A.-elect also plans to no longer seek the death penalty, end demanding bail from people accused of misdemeanors and some felonies before their release, and begin holding police officers more accountable when they shoot people, which could lead to the prosecution of more cops.
Police unions and the association that represents rank-and-file prosecutors spent more than $5 million to defeat Gascón, arguing his policies will increase crime. Building a working relationship with them will be one of his biggest challenges – especially amid an increase in crime rates.
But Gascón will have enormous power as District Attorney. He also enters office in a year when the videotaped killing of George Floyd by police sparked a wave of street protests and demands for exactly the kinds of changes Gascón promises.
Because of the pandemic, the ceremony will be conducted virtually for the first time ever.
Morning Briefing: One Stay-At-Home Order To Rule Them All
Good morning, L.A.
As expected, the capacity of Southern California’s ICUs dropped low enough over the weekend to trigger a stay-at-home order from the state, which overrides the existing stay-at-home orders from the city and county. (Don’t worry, folks, we’re in good hands!)
The order, which took effect at 11:59 p.m. last night, will remain in effect for at least three weeks – until Dec. 28 so, yes, through Christmas – but could be extended if case numbers don’t improve. My colleague Josie Huang reports that nail salons, hair salons, zoos, playgrounds, museums and more must close. Retail stores and malls can stay open, but only to 20% capacity. Restaurants can stay open for to-go services only.
The state’s restrictions were set to take effect if ICU capacity dropped to 15%. On Saturday, capacity in the region was at 12.5%. Sunday it dropped again, to 10.3%.
The San Joaquin Valley will also be subject to the state’s lockdown orders, after its ICU capacity dropped to 8.6%. California is broken up into five regions; the other three have not yet triggered the state’s order.
Some of the counties affected by the Southern California order, in addition to L.A., include Orange, Riverside, Ventura, San Bernardino and San Diego.
Keep reading for more on what’s happening in L.A. today, and stay safe out there.
– Jessica P. Ogilvie
Coming Up Today, December 7
Frank Stoltze reports on newly-elected L.A. District Attorney George Gascon’s swearing in, including his campaign promises and expected announcement of new initiatives.
After keeping restaurants open for outdoor dining following LA County's order, Pasadena must now shut down its eateries because of the state's order that went into effect last night. Josie Huang has the story.
In Riverside County, records for new coronavirus cases were set every day last week. Officials are bracing for more this week, reports Julia Paskin.
Sip holiday cocktails at home, explore L.A. architecture in miniature, watch the Troubies take on the holidays, and more. Christine N. Ziemba has this week’s best online and IRL events.
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The Past 24 Hours In LA
Coronavirus Updates: The city’s “Keep L.A. Dining” program, which offered grants to restaurants affected by COVID-19, will relaunch its website after it crashed within the first two hours of going live. L.A. County’s Department of Public Health confirmed a record-shattering 10,528 new cases of the coronavirus yesterday, and 23 new deaths attributed to the disease.
L.A. Politics: Los Angeles City Councilmember Kevin de León has laid out a plan to turn the remaining vacant Caltrans-owned homes in El Sereno into affordable housing. LAPD officers used batons against protesters outside Mayor Garcetti’s residence Sunday morning, and made one arrest.
Biden’s White House: Xavier Becerra, California’s attorney general, will be nominated for secretary of health and human services by President-elect Joe Biden.
Photo of the Day
Vehicles carry the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe during the Archdiocese of Los Angeles' 89th Our Lady of Guadalupe procession at the San Gabriel Mission. The walking procession, which normally attracts 40,000 people, featured a small car caravan instead this year.
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