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A Scathing Week Of Audits For California's Beleaguered Unemployment Office

Image from State Audit

It's been a scathing week of audits for California's Employment Development Department. On Tuesday, a state audit found the agency wasted 10 years after the Great Recession failing to plan for the next recession and that led to widespread delays for jobless Californians getting payments during the pandemic.

Today, a report from state auditor Elaine Howle found EDD's fraud prevention approach was marked by "significant missteps and inaction.”

Howle said the department ignored repeated warnings to strengthen its fraud detection efforts until months into the pandemic, resulting in $10.4 billion dollars in fraudulent jobless claims. The report also says EDD was unprepared to prevent claims filed under the names of inmates, which totaled $810 million. The department also failed to prevent claims coming from suspicious addresses. In one case, more than 1,700 claims came from a single address.

Another important note from the audit: in the first four months of the pandemic, the agency had just two people in charge of reviewing and stopping suspicious claims. On some days, as many as 1,000 claims needed more scrutiny.

Read the full audit:

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Covered California Will Reopen For Enrollment February, Following Biden's Executive Order

President Biden signed a series of executive actions Thursday afternoon aimed at expanding access to to health care, including re-opening enrollment for health care offered through the federal marketplace. (Photo by Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images)

President Biden issued an executive order today, reopening enrollment in the federal Affordable Care Act exchange because of the pandemic. The executive order calls for that enrollment to run Feb. 15 through May 15.

California, which has its own state-run marketplace, Covered California, will open its special enrollment period Feb. 1. It will run through May 15, to align with the federal government.

The Covered California website is displayed during a healthcare enrollment fair in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Anyone who is uninsured and eligible for healthcare can sign up. The new special-enrollment period will allow uninsured individuals to sign up for coverage without the normal "qualifying life events," like a recent loss of coverage or moving.

Covered California Executive Director Peter Lee explains:

"The action taken by the Biden Harris administration marks a significant change for the country, and the change of course in federal leadership. This will help millions of Americans get health care coverage during the worst health care crisis in a century."

Covered California estimates that 2.7 million Californians are currently uninsured, including 1.2 million who are eligible for financial help from Covered California or Medi-Cal.

Covered Califorina's current open enrollment period runs through the end of the January, for coverage starting Feb. 1.

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Filmmaker, Black Panther Historian Gregory 'G Bone' Everett Dies From COVID-19

A screenshot of Gregory Everett from his documentary, 41st & Central. (Via Gregory Everett's YouTube page)

We heard this week of the death of Los Angeles filmmaker and hip-hop historian Gregory “G Bone” Everett from COVID-19 complications. According to a statement from his family, Everett died Sunday at a hospital after weeks of struggling with the virus. He was 58 years old.

Everett was an important figure in South L.A. and West Coast hip-hop history. Everett is best known for the 2010 documentary 41st & Central: The Untold Story of the L.A. Chapter of the Black Panther Party. Everett was the son of a member of the Black Panthers himself.

We talked to activist Cliff Smith about Everett's legacy in South L.A.

Smith compared Everett’s work with Nipsey Hussle, emphasizing the importance that Everett came out of the community himself.

Smith told LAist that they were both:

“Getting recognition and acclaim for their talent and their skills, but they still have a deep connection to this community of South Los Angeles — the history of it, and the struggle. It’s a different kind of loss than had it been some celebrity filmmaker that had done the same film from outside.”


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LA Deputy Who Shot And Killed Fred Williams Takes The Fifth In Coroner's Inquest

A screen shot from the deputy's body camera video. (L.A. County Sheriff's Department)

The L.A. County Sheriff's deputy who shot and killed Fred Williams refused to testify in today's coroner's inquest, citing his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. His partner refused on the same grounds, and two detectives declined to testify, saying doing so would compromise their investigation.

A coroner’s official testified the 25-year-old Williams was shot once in the upper back, and that the bullet struck both lungs and perforated his aorta. A coroner’s investigator testified there were eight bullet casings on the ground when she arrived — suggesting the deputy fired eight times.

After less than three hours, the hearing officer, retired state appeals court justice Candace Cooper, ended the inquest for the day and said she would review sealed documents provided by the Sheriff’s Department before issuing a ruling.

The shooting of Williams on Oct. 16, 2020, was the first caught on a deputy’s body-worn camera. The department had started outfitting deputies with cameras just weeks earlier.

The department says deputies spotted Williams with a gun in Mona Park in the South L.A. neighborhood of Willowbrook. Video shows one deputy chasing him into a backyard and shooting him as he is jumping over a fence with what appears to be a gun in his hand.

The deputy said Williams had pointed the weapon at him. The video is unclear on that point.

The Williams family's attorney called the inquest a "charade."

Two deputies and two detectives also refused to testify at last November's inquest into the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Andres Guardado by a deputy last June in Gardena.


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Compton Mayor Aja Brown Will Not Run For Reelection

Compton Mayor Aja Brown thanked supporters in a video after announcing she would not run for reelection in 2021. (Facebook video screengrab)

After more than seven years at the helm of the city of Compton, Mayor Aja Brown announced this week she will not run for reelection.

In 2013, the then-31-year old urban planner won a runoff election to become the youngest mayor in city history.

“It’s not something that I grew up thinking -- that I would ever be in politics,” Brown told Fox 11 last year.

“After working for cities for a decade, I recognized that you can push from the bottom up, or you can push from the top down for change,” she said. “And the vision that I had for systemic change for Compton, I knew that I had to be in a position of influence to make that happen.”

In a statement and video posted to her Facebook page on Tuesday, Brown thanked supporters and said she will continue to serve until the end of her term on June 30. She also touted her work creating jobs and attracting new development to Compton, as well as investing in a gang intervention program that helped reduce crime to historic lows.

“Although my time of service as your mayor is coming to an end, my love and commitment to Compton is endless and burns stronger than ever,” Brown said.

She didn’t share specifics about her next career move, but hinted she would continue to be involved with the guaranteed income program she helped launch last year, called the “Compton Pledge.

Through a pilot initiative starting next month, 800 Compton residents will receive $300-$600 a month for two years, raised with private donations and administered by the city’s Community Development Corporation.

Brown’s exit from the political arena provides an opportunity for the five mayoral candidates who have been certified, as of the most recent report from the Compton City Clerk.

They include: Anthony Perry, a substitute teacher who made an unsuccessful bid for Compton School Board last year; Christian Reynaga, vice-chair of the city’s Community Relations Commission; and James Hays Jr., a former city planning commissioner who ran a successful 2018 campaign to ban marijuana sales in the city.

Amy Jimenez and Janet Lopez Ortega also qualified for the ballot. LAist has reached out to all certified candidates for more information.

“I was extremely surprised Mayor Brown decided not to run again,” Hays said. He placed third four years ago behind Brown and former Compton Mayor Omar Bradley. This time around, Hays said, he plans to campaign on infrastructure and street improvements.

“Compton has to be a more attractive city, physically," Hays said. “And that ties in with attracting business and addressing unemployment.”

There’s still time for more candidates to gather the 20 verified signatures needed to jump in the race. Without an incumbent running, the filing deadline is extended until Feb. 1. The primary election is April 20. If no candidate exceeds 50% of the vote, there will be a runoff in June.

Compton is home to more than 96,000 residents. More than two-thirds of the population is Latino, and about 30% is Black.

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Trump's 'Muslim Ban' Took Effect 4 Years Ago. Now That It's Rescinded, What's Next?

Protesters hold signs during a demonstration against the immigration ban that was imposed by U.S. President Donald Trump at Los Angeles International Airport on January 29, 2017 in Los Angeles. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Four years ago today, chaos erupted at LAX and at airports around the country the day after former President Trump signed an executive order temporarily banning citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States.

Travelers with valid visas were detained. Many were turned around in transit. Families camped out for long hours in the Tom Bradley International Terminal, anxiously awaiting news of loved ones who'd been detained as they landed. Protests erupted outside and inside the terminal. Volunteer lawyers set up tables to provide a makeshift legal clinic.

The "Muslim ban," as it became known, stalled the plans of countless people who had waited years to enter the U.S. lawfully as immigrants, or on temporary visas. The initial ban was blocked in court, but it was soon followed by another. And while parts of it were modified, along with the list of countries, it was eventually upheld by the Supreme Court.

President Joe Biden rescinded the ban last week with a new executive order his first day in office.

What happens next? Our newsroom's local news and culture show, Take Two, which airs on 89.3 KPCC, tackled that question this week. Host A Martinez spoke with immigrant rights attorney Talia Inlender of the pro bono firm Public Counsel, who was at LAX that first day.



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California Tasks Blue Shield With Fixing Beleaguered Vaccine Rollout

DOWNEY, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 26: A woman sits in her car as she waits to receive the COVID-19 vaccine at drive-through public health vaccination site. ((Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Blue Shield of California will soon be in charge of ramping up the state's slow distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. The partnership was announced on Wednesday.

The health insurance giant is expected to create a centralized network that will allocate doses directly to public health departments, hospitals and pharmacies, as opposed to the current decentralized approach that has led to inconsistencies in the rollout.

Dr. Shruti Gohil from UC Irvine's School of Medicine says the new approach makes sense, especially because of the complexity of the current vaccines, which both require cold storage and a highly organized rollout plan:

"Once you open a vial, you only have certain amount of time before you can distribute it to a person, so we need a sort of centralized approach. And short of having the resources and wherewithal through public health clinics, which we have not had for decades nationally, employing another agency that's able to do that, would be great."

State officials say they expect the transition to the new system to happen by mid-February. That's also when they're expecting more doses from the federal government.

Why was Blue Shield selected for this monumental task? The details aren't immediately clear, but the L.A. Times points out that the company is "a prominent player in California political campaigns" and "spent more than $1 million in support of Newsom’s campaign for governor in 2018 and almost $1.3 million on lobbying state government in the most recent legislative session."

Kaiser Permanente says it will also provide help to the state.


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Where's the Rain? Here Are The Times It's Expected To Reach Your Area

A look at the Southern California skies at 1 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 28. (Courtesy NWS LA)

A big rain storm is slowly making its way down from San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties, bound for L.A.

National Weather Service Meteorologist David Sweet says precipitation could arrive as early as this evening, bringing steady rainfall for much of Friday with a chance of thunderstorms.

"We're expecting somewhere between one to two inches of rain in the lowlands and about two to four inches in the mountains and in the foothills."

One worry: How that will affect debris flow in burn scar areas such as the Bobcat Fire in the Angeles National Forest. Snow levels will drop as low as 5,500 feet in the mountains, with some areas receiving up to two feet of snow.

So where is the rain and when will it get here? NWS is now warning it's been falling at as much as one inch per hour:

And also shared this forecast:

Other things to note:

  • A flash flood watch goes into effect tonight for areas of Orange County and the Inland Empire.
  • A high surf advisory is in effect now for L.A.'s coastal areas.

Missing sunny skies? They should return Saturday along with at least slightly warmer temperatures.

Be careful out there.

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We're Answering Your Questions About How To Get The Second Dose Of The COVID Vaccine In Southern California

A pharmacist at UCI Health Center preps the COVID-19 vaccine. Chava Sanchez/LAist

For the two vaccines currently available in Southern California, one dose is not enough.

Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require a second shot three to four weeks later (depending on which one you got) to provide high levels of protection against coronavirus.

Making sure you get that second dose can be very confusing. You've told us that you can’t find appointments online, that the search is making you anxious, and that you’re getting conflicting information from different sources.

We hear you and we're here to help.

We talked to public health officials and vaccine providers around the region and wrote up what we learned in a new guide called "How To Get The Second Dose Of The COVID Vaccine in Southern California."

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California Lawmakers Extend Eviction Protections Through June 

A woman walks past a wall bearing graffiti on La Brea Avenue. (Valerie Macon/AFP via Getty Images)

California lawmakers approved legislation Thursday extending the state’s eviction moratorium to June 30. As with the previous moratorium, which was set to expire in just a few days, tenants can’t be evicted as long as they pay 25% of their rent.

The new legislation also creates a subsidy program that relies on $2.6 billion in federal rent relief aid. The program will pay landlords 80% of the total amount of back rent tenants owe them as long as those landlords agree to "forgive" the rest of it and not pursue evictions.

If landlords don’t want to participate, the program will pay them a quarter of the back rent, and tenants will remain on the hook. Landlords are required to notify tenants who owe back rent about the subsidy program, which will start accepting applications in mid-March.


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UCLA, Irvine Get Record Number Of Freshman Applications Despite (Because Of?) Pandemic

Kyla Monette sits at Royce Hall on the UCLA campus. (Andrew Cullen for LAist)

Freshman applications for UCLA next fall reached record highs, even though the applications were due before there was any word on when or whether UC schools would return to in-person learning.

An additional 30,500 students applied for the Fall 2021 semester compared to the previous year, including large increases in applications from Black and Latinx students, according to a report released this morning.

"We were very ecstatic about the diversity of the pool of applicants," said Youlonda Copeland-Morgan, UCLA’s vice provost for enrollment management.

Copeland-Morgan attributes the increase to a mix of aggressive outreach to communities underrepresented at UCLA and the fact that UC schools didn't require applicants to submit standardized test scores this year.

"Students who are amazing in their academic achievements and their leadership achievements but may not shine in their test scores, I think those students felt more confident about applying to UCLA," Copeland-Morgan said. "And we're glad."

2019-2020 SAT and ACT deadlines. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

No Standardized Test — Possibly Forever

In May, the UC Board of Regents voted to suspend the requirement to submit standardized test scores to be considered for admission. And then in September, a judge ruled in a lawsuit brought by students with disabilities that UC campuses couldn't consider test scores for admission even if submitting them was optional.

In the meantime, UC Regents voted to look into developing their own test. But earlier this month, two expert panels tasked with studying that possibility determined it wasn't feasible. That leaves the test-optional policy in place until 2025, at a minimum, and possibly forever.

Whether or not campuses may opt to let students submit test scores voluntarily in the future may depend on the outcome of the disability lawsuit.

Applications Up For Black, Latinx Students Across UC System

Applications are up this year across the UC system, for in-state, out-of-state, international and transfer students. Of note:

  • Systemwide and at UCLA and UC Irvine, Black Californians made up a slightly higher percentage of overall in-state freshman applicants than last year (7% compared to 6% last year overall and for UCLA; and 6% compared to 5% last year for UC Irvine).
  • Latinx students from California also made up a larger percentage of the fall 2021 in-state applicant pool at UCLA: 34% compared to 32% last year.
  • 47% of applicants to UC Irvine would be the first in their families to attend college, according to a news release from the school.

Copeland-Morgan said that despite the surge in applications — and unlike all eight Ivy League schools, which pushed back their decision dates under a flood of applications — UCLA plans to meet its April 1 deadline to let prospective students know whether they'd been accepted.

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3 Compton Schools Will Soon Become Mass Vaccination Sites

People sit at a distance from each other as they wait to be tested at a COVID-19 mobile testing station, run by St. John's Well Child and Family Center, in Compton. (Robyn Beck / AFP)

Compton Unified School District is partnering with the largest healthcare provider in South Los Angeles to operate mass COVID-19 vaccination sites at three Compton schools.

Health workers from St. John's Well Child and Family Center will administer the shots in district gyms and auditoriums. Compton Unified will also provide extra staff.

Jim Mangiais, president and CEO of St. John's, says the only way to ensure equitable distribution of the vaccine is to get doses directly to the Black and Latino communities that have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic:

"The creation of these mega pods and using the traditional institutional providers, like pharmacies, is only going to perpetuate inequity because these big institutions have participated in the the inequitable distribution of health care services."

St. John's has partnered with Compton Unified to provide COVID testing for nearly a year.

LAUSD is also partnering with L.A.'s health department to open school campuses for vaccine distribution, starting in February. The county is also looking to partner with local private schools.


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Morning Brief: As Small Businesses Struggled, Scammers Tried To Cash In

Photo by David Knox on Unsplash

Good morning, L.A.

As many small businesses and restaurants throughout L.A. were either not receiving help from federal loans or wondering if they would have to shut down for good, one Santa Clarita man was taking advantage of the pandemic as a way to cash in.

Raymond Magana, 40, pled guilty to fraudulently submitting applications for federal Paycheck Protection Program loans for nearly $1 million. Magana claimed to have 40 employees when in fact he had none, and cited a single-family home as his office building.

His actions are reprehensible, but they’re made much more so by the fact that real small business owners were losing their livelihoods at the same time that Magana, and others like him, were trying to cash in.

Federal lawmakers announced their plan to issue PPP loans almost immediately after the U.S. began shutting down because of the coronavirus. Of the fed’s initial $2 trillion stimulus package, $349 billion was earmarked for small businesses.

But within days, many entrepreneurs realized that the program was a bureaucratic nightmare; some never heard back from banks about their applications, others were rejected without being given a reason, and still more simply missed tight application windows during which banks met their loan caps almost immediately.

Meanwhile, in L.A., loans were disproportionately approved in wealthier, whiter, Westside communities than lower-income communities of color. Plus, a large portion of the money earmarked for small businesses was in fact doled out to multi-million dollar chains, including Shake Shack, Ruth’s Hospitality Group, Inc. (the parent company of Ruth’s Chris Steak House), and Kura Sushi USA.

Some of those companies returned their loans eventually, but the federal program was out of money two weeks after launching.

Many small businesses have closed down after not receiving loans, and others have had to rethink their business strategy altogether.

Magana faces 30 years in federal prison.

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

What Else You Need To Know Today

Before You Go … The Farm Of The Future Is Vertical And In A Warehouse

The exterior of Plenty's vertical farming facility in Compton. (Stefan Slater for LAist)

From the outside, the gray and white warehouse near the corner of Oris Street and Mona Boulevard seems like a thousand other mundane Southern California buildings. But the interior, once completed, will resemble a sketch from a futurist's daydreams.

If all goes well, the 95,000-square-foot Compton facility will house rows of hydroponic towers organized into emerald walls of non-GMO, pesticide-free leafy greens that rely on LED lamps, robots, and vertical towers of plants.

The operation is run by Plenty, a San Francisco-based startup that uses vertical farming to create high-quality, nutritious plants that, in their words, "you'd actually want to eat."

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