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Should FEMA Pay For COVID-19 Burials?
More than 18,000 Angelenos have died of COVID-19 since the pandemic began. Now, assistance could be on the way to help grieving families bury their loved ones.
The L.A. County Board of Supervisors voted today to explore ways to locally implement a federal program, designed to reimburse families for COVID-19-related burial costs.
The last coronavirus relief package passed by Congress included $2 billion to help with funeral expenses, through December 31 of last year.
FEMA is still working out how to implement the program, but Supervisor Hilda Solis, who authored the motion, said the county needs to get started on planning now for how to distribute those funds when they arrive. Her statement:
"I have heard from so many of my constituents, as well as staff at funeral homes, of this real and devastating toll on families. Residents have had to organize car wash fundraisers, GoFundMe online campaigns, and food sales to come up with the money to lay loved ones to rest...Los Angeles County has a responsibility to help provide for a proper burial, allowing dignity for those who have died from COVID-19 and closure for their mourning families."
The approved motion directs officials to assess the feasibility of implementing the FEMA burial cost program in L.A. and report back in 30 days.
READ THE MOTION
LA County Officials Move To Make Vaccination Sites More Accessible By Public Transit
The L.A. County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a motion to help more people get to and from vaccine sites.
While there are now more than 300 vaccine distribution sites dotted across the county, actually getting to one without a car can be challenging –- especially for seniors, people with mobility issues, or those who rely on L.A.'s sprawling public transportation system.
The motion, authored by Board Chair Hilda Solis, directs the county's Emergency Management and Public Health departments to find ways to either re-route existing bus routes closer to vaccine sites, or find other ways to make the sites more accessible.
The motion explains:
"Until the COVID-19 vaccine is available in every neighborhood, there are significant inequities like access to transportation that must be addressed.
With inclement weather, limited appointment availability, and a limited but growing number of vaccine sites, the county has a responsibility to partner with transportation operators, authorities and companies to ensure community members, particularly those 65 and older, can access our vaccination sites with ease"
Solis says the motion will ensure that everyone can get the vaccine, including the county's most vulnerable residents:
"Mobilizing more accessible options to the vaccine is integral to a successful vaccination campaign. It's not only a matter of equity, but, in my mind, it's also a matter of ethics. It's the right thing to do."
Supervisor Janice Hahn said Uber reached out to her office to offer free or discounted rides to vaccine sites. Hahn suggested that could be another potential option for increasing access.
Meanwhile, starting next week, officials say the Department of Public Health will send mobile vaccination teams directly to housing developments in the county's hardest-hit communities to vaccinate homebound seniors.
READ THE MOTION
Lawsuit Says Lancaster Uses Fines To 'Punish Poverty'
The city of Lancaster has been accused of illegally imposing huge fines on homeless and poor people in an effort to "punish poverty," according to a lawsuit filed by the ACLU and UC Irvine's Consumer Law Clinic.
The suit says that Lancaster's administrative citation system "discriminates on the basis of both race and poverty." The L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, which enforces the citations as Lancaster’s police force, is also named in the complaint.
Fines of $500 for a first offense and $1,000 for a second offense can be imposed for sleeping outside or even sitting outside "without a reason," the suit says.
It also slams the city for creating a Catch-22-like system that requires the person issued the citation to pay the fine in full before they can appeal it.
At the same time, Sheriff's deputies issue citations to Black people at disproportionate rates in Lancaster, according to the complaint. Adrienna Wong is an attorney with the ACLU of Southern California:
"We were able to confirm what members of the community have told us, and what the history of Lancaster really shows, which is a pattern of disparate and increased enforcement against Black members of the community there."
Citing publicly available data on sheriff's department activity in Lancaster, the suit alleges "40% of the people that LASD reportedly stopped to enforce Lancaster's municipal code were Black, and more than half were reported to be homeless." About 20% of the city is Black, according to U.S. Census data.
In an emailed statement, Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris said the city takes the allegations seriously and will address them.
"Lancaster has been reviewing the existing administrative citation to ensure that it will benefit public health, safety and welfare, while providing persons who commit such offenses an opportunity to avoid criminal proceedings and possible convictions," Parris said.
The Sheriff's Department did not have an immediate comment.
Oscars Name Shortlisted Films In Feature Documentary And International Categories
The Academy Awards won’t be handed out -- in whatever pandemic-friendly way its organizers settle upon -- until the end of April. But to separate the Oscar wheat from so much chaff, committees within the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have released their shortlist of the best works in some select categories -- with Barack and Michelle Obama making the cut.
The abridged finalists in nine different races announced Tuesday mean that thousands of Oscar voters won’t have to sift through hundreds of submissions. In the documentary feature category, for example, the shortlist whittled 238 eligible movies down to 15 finalists.
Similarly, in the race for Best International Feature (formerly known as the foreign language film), submissions from 93 countries were trimmed to 15 contenders. But Oscar voters are required to watch every shortlisted entry before voting for a winner.
The shortlisted categories include hair and makeup, visual effects, song, score and three short film categories -- animated, live action and documentary.
The documentary field was especially distinguished this year, and the finalists include “Crip Camp,” a film about disability rights that was released by Netflix under the Obamas’ production company, Higher Ground Productions. (Their company won the top documentary prize last year with “American Factory.”)
But “The Dissident,” a movie about Saudi Arabia’s assasination of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, was left out; its director, Bryan Fogel, won the Oscar for “Icarus” three years ago.
If, by some means, the Oscars is able to include live musical performances, the potential nominees include an array of top performers: Janelle Monáe for “Turntables,” from the documentary “All In: The Fight for Democracy''; H.E.R. for “Fight for You” from “Judas and the Black Messiah''; John Legend for “Never Break,” from the documentary “Giving Voice”; and Sacha Baron Cohen for “Wuhan Flu” from “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm.”
Here are the shortlisted works in for documentary feature and international film categories:
“All In: The Fight for Democracy”
“Dick Johnson Is Dead”
“The Mole Agent”
“My Octopus Teacher”
“The Painter and the Thief”
“The Truffle Hunters”
“Welcome to Chechnya”
INTERNATIONAL FEATURE FILM
Bosnia and Herzegovina, “Quo Vadis, Aida?”
Chile, “The Mole Agent”
Czech Republic, “Charlatan”
Denmark, “Another Round”
France, “Two of Us”
Guatemala, “La Llorona”
Hong Kong, “Better Days”
Iran, “Sun Children”
Ivory Coast, “Night of the Kings”
Mexico, “I’m No Longer Here”
Russia, “Dear Comrades!”
Taiwan, “A Sun”
Tunisia, “The Man Who Sold His Skin”
City Attorney Rejects LA Council Member’s Push For Lawsuit Against LAUSD: It's 'Adversarial'
A proposal by L.A. Councilmember Joe Buscaino to file a lawsuit seeking to force the L.A. Unified School District to reopen its campuses was rejected today by City Attorney Mike Feuer’s office.
“The city attorney doesn’t support a lawsuit,” a spokesperson for Feuer told LAist. “A lawsuit is an adversarial move.”
Buscaino introduced a motion at Tuesday’s council meeting requesting the City Attorney “to report to the City Council on legal options to compel the Los Angeles Unified School District to immediately reopen its school campuses and resume in-person instruction for students, including, but not limited to, initiating litigation, or joining existing litigation.” Councilmember Gil Cedillo seconded the motion.
"I know our public schools well. My dad was a public school teacher, principal and volunteer for 60 years, my kids were educated by the LAUSD and I've worked closely with the District on issues from literacy to school safety. We all understand how urgently important it is to reopen our schools, and to do so safely. The best way to achieve these shared goals is to work together, not as adversaries. I will help in any way I can.”
In an interview, Buscaino vowed that he would “keep prodding.”
“We’re still pushing, because words are great, but we also need to have a tool in place to hold the district, the county, the state accountable,” he said.
Besides offering some specialized, small-group instruction last semester, LAUSD campuses have remained closed throughout the pandemic. Currently, COVID-19 cases are above the state threshold for in-person classes, but local public health officials have predicted the district could become eligible to reopen this month.
In his weekly address on Monday, LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner indicated that he expects vaccinations for teachers, in addition to lower case rates, before he would reopen schools.
Buscaino took that announcement from Beutner as evidence that his threats of a lawsuit may have pushed the district to start forming a reopening plan.
“It’s very encouraging to see momentum toward finalizing a plan to reopen our schools safely,” Buscaino said. “If my actions leading up to today has helped elevate and shed light on the importance of safely reopening our schools...then it was well worth it.”
In response to Buscaino’s suggestion, an LAUSD spokesperson referenced an earlier statement from Beutner, criticizing Buscaino’s proposal.
White House Press Secretary Was Asked About The Newsom Recall Effort. Her Answer Was... Weird
At this morning's White House press briefing, a reporter asked press secretary Jen Psaki about where President Biden stands on the effort here in California to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Here's what she said:
"I have not – I have not spoken with the president about the reported – the recall, I should say, or the efforts to recall former Gov. Newsom.
Obviously, he is somebody who he [the president] has been engaged with in the past. They have a range of issues they have common agreement on, from the need to address climate change, to put people back to work, to address the Covid crisis, and you know, we remain closely engaged with him and his office."
If you read that closely, you might have caught the flub: "former" Gov. Newsom.
Aside from the use of that adjective to describe the very much current governor, the comments were interpreted by some as a less-than-clear endorsement of support for Newsom.
Psaki later tweeted, "the President clearly opposes any effort to recall Gavin Newsom."
In addition to sharing a commitment to a range of issues with @GavinNewsom from addressing the climate crisis to getting the pandemic under control, @POTUS clearly opposes any effort to recall @GavinNewsom— Jen Psaki (@PressSec) February 9, 2021
Organizers of the recall effort need to collect about 1.5 million valid signatures by March 17 to get on the ballot.
City Of LA Has Some First Dose Vaccine Appointments Available This Week
UPDATE Wednesday, 6:30 p.m: City Of LA Says Vaccination Sites Will Temporarily Close Because First Doses Are Low
Most of us know by now that the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines require two doses, either three or four weeks apart, depending on which one you get.
This week, L.A. County is prioritizing those second doses, which means all appointments at the county's mega vaccination sites, like the Forum and Magic Mountain, are reserved for second dose appointments only.
Today, though, Mayor Eric Garcetti announced that the city of L.A., which runs its own vaccination sites (Dodger Stadium is one of them), announced it has appointments available for first doses this week.
The vaccine is the key to ending the pandemic.— MayorOfLA (@MayorOfLA) February 9, 2021
Appointments for the COVID-19 vaccine are available now.
Anyone who is 65+ or a health care worker in L.A. County is eligible for a vaccine.
Sign up online at https://t.co/naMSTBoW89 or call (833) 540-0473 for assistance. pic.twitter.com/wH8gJN7SgF
A spokeswoman for Mayor Eric Garcetti's office says they're not sure how long those first dose appointments will be available... but if you're in an eligible group and haven't been able to get an appointment yet, it's worth a try.
READ MORE ABOUT GETTING THE VACCINE:
- How To Get The Second Dose Of Vaccine — And Everything You Need To Know About It
Alhambra Teachers Push Back On Gov. Newsom: 'Make Us A Priority' For Vaccines
LAUSD teachers aren’t alone in pushing back on Governor Newsom's assertion that schools can reopen before all teachers are vaccinated for COVID-19.
On Saturday morning, Tammy Scorcia, president of the Alhambra Teachers Association, was handing out bags of groceries at a drive-up food distribution event for students and families. Each bag contained fruit, vegetables, macaroni and cheese, and canned protein.
Scorcia said the pandemic is highlighting pre-existing gaps in social services.
“The inequity is growing,” she said, pointing out immigrants without documentation are not eligible for CalFresh or federal nutrition benefits.
She said teachers must be vaccinated to return to in-person classroom instruction.
“Make us a priority. Get our teachers shots -- because they’re ready to get back,” she said.
For now, the COVID-19 case count in L.A. County is still too high to qualify for school reopening under state law. And on Tuesday, Newsom said if vaccinations are a prerequisite to schools reopening, then resumption of in-person learning is "very unlikely."
READ THE FULL STORY:
50 Years Ago Today The Deadly Sylmar Earthquake Terrified Southern California
Today marks the 50th anniversary of the Sylmar Quake — also called the San Fernando Quake — which damaged the Van Norman Dam and led to the evacuation of 70,000 people.
The magnitude 6.6 earthquake struck at 6 a.m. and ultimately killed 64 people and caused $500 million in damage. That damage included the startling collapse of the newly-built Olive View Hospital in San Fernando (pictured below).
Seismologist Lucy Jones says that collapse — and other significant damage throughout the region — led to many new safety regulations and substantial changes in building codes. And in 1981, a decade after the quake, the city of Los Angeles passed the very first retrofitting ordinance.
"And that was revolutionary when it happened. It was a big fight to get it through. But the ability to go back and say, 'you've got to fix that old building' has been critical to improving our safety in California."
The Sylmar Quake also led to the creation of the National Earthquake Hazard Reduction Program, which funds most of the U.S. Geological Survey work on earthquakes.
Listen to our full interview with Lucy Jones, who spoke to our newsroom's local news and culture show, Take Two, which airs on 89.3 KPCC:
MORE ON THE SYLMAR QUAKE
- The Disaster that Helped the Nation Prepare for Future Earthquakes: Remembering San Fernando (USGS)
- 50 years ago, the Sylmar earthquake shook L.A., and nothing’s been the same since (L.A. Times)
THE BIG ONE IS COMING. GET PREPARED
We don't want to scare you, but the Big One is coming. We don't know when, but we know it'll be at least 44 times stronger than Northridge and 11 times stronger than the Ridgecrest quakes in 2019. To help you get prepared, we've compiled a handy reading list:
- Your Guide To Surviving The Big One
- For Earthquakes, Forget The 'Go-Bag.' Here's How To Prepare
- How To Not Get Life-Threatening Diarrhea After A Major Earthquake
- 10 Earthquake-Related Questions To Ask Your Landlord Immediately
- Listen to KPCC's Podcast The Big One: Your Survival Guide
NTSB Investigators: Bad Weather 'Did Not Sneak Up' On Pilot In Crash That Killed Kobe Bryant, 8 Others
The NTSB’s preliminary report found several decisions made by the pilot were in direct contrast to federal standards. One finding:
The excessive speed, entering the clouds, the rapid rate of climb and the left turn were not consistent with his training.
Investigators say the helicopter pilot, Ara Zobayan, was flying under a policy called Visual Flight Rules, meaning he needed to avoid the clouds covering the area.
Zobayan was climbing through the clouds when the helicopter banked abruptly and plunged into a hillside in Calabasas. Investigators found that Zobayan likely became disoriented while flying through the clouds because he lost visual references, leading him to turn the helicopter, which caused the crash.
NTSB investigators didn’t mince words. One of them — Bill English — went so far as to say the weather “did not sneak up” on the pilot and that once Zobayan became disoriented, he seemingly “did not reference his instruments, did not understand them, or did not trust them.”
Investigators described the crash as preventable, the pilot as experienced, and his employer, Island Express Helicopters, a generally safe charter operation that had a safety management system, but there were holes in its development and implementation.
The board says pilot training for how to handle disorientation, including practicing with simulators, could help them avoid crashes.
Vanessa Bryant, Kobe's widow, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the company last year.
Also contributing to the accident, the board said Tuesday, was the pilot's likely "self-induced pressure" to please a high-profile client and a bias toward continuing with the established plan. It also cited the helicopter operator's inadequate review of its safety management processes.
The group on board the helicopter was traveling from Orange County to Bryant's Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks.
Following today's hearing, U.S. Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) announced he would add two new provisions to the Kobe and Gianna Bryant Helicopter Safety Act which he first introduced last year with fellow Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein. According to a news release from his office those are:
- require new standards for initial and recurrent pilot training for relevant helicopter operations
- convene a multidisciplinary panel to evaluate technologies effective for training pilots to recognize the onset of spatial disorientation.
On The Duality of Being A Black Man. One Response To Our Question: 'What Does It Mean To Be Black In LA?'
The theme of LAist's Black History Month coverage this year is: “What does it mean to be Black in L.A.?” We'll publish reponses from community members and staff throughout the month. Add your voice to the conversation below.
Yesterday, we shared two different perspectives from Black Angelenos, an LAist reader and reporter Emily Elena Dugdale, who have roots in other countries. Their dual identiies as a Kenyan American and Colombian American,respectively, helped them find a greater sense of community in L.A. and has led to discomfort having to "'choose to fit in a racial box."
Today, a lifelong Angeleno who has ties across the city explores his duality as a Black man: struggling to survive as he's perceived as a threat and striving to thrive in a city he feels connected to by his relatives and ancestors.
"I’m a Black man, but I was never part of a gang. For one, I was considered a square because I didn't push a line, and because I was always more of a brainiac. In the 1990s and 2000s, being smart and Black wasn't as cool as it is, rightfully so, today. That came with it's fair share of social challenges. Early on, I never felt like I fit in anywhere. Rapper Earl Sweatshirt described it best in his song, 'Chum,' in which he said, 'Too Black for the white kids and too white for the Blacks.'
"I wasn't blessed with the opportunity to grow up on one side of town. I have homies from the Westside, Eastside and South Bay who have lived their entire lives solely in those regions. My family moved a lot, which meant I was always an outsider. And, navigating L.A. neighborhoods there was a color consciousness you had to have. Red, blue, purple, orange were all colors that when worn, could get you killed. Certain baseball teams and football teams had symbolic meaning and wearing them in the wrong neighborhood could also get you killed. If the threat wasn't from other Black males who suffered from what I call 'color trauma,' then it was from the Latino gangs or the police, who correlated 'Black male' to 'enemy.' The threat of death was always imminent, or at least it sure as hell felt that way. At one point, I got shot simply for being mistaken for a gang member.
"Today, as a husband and father of three, being Black in L.A. means something different. To be an adult is an accomplishment. There's a sense of pride that comes with the phrase, 'If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere' because it's true. L.A. is tough, man. It's so densely populated and everyone is fighting for their right to the space, so it produces strong people. I believe I'm stronger because of how I had to orient my mind around the moves I made growing up.
"From a philosophical perspective, I'm more connected to the reality that African American people were founders of Los Angeles, and that history, like a lot of Black contributions, was nearly wiped from the books. I'm more connected to the fact that I'm part of the history of the Great Migration from the South, as families looked for greater opportunities in the North, Midwest and West to escape Jim Crow’s persecution. I'm humbled by that.
"Today, I live in Inglewood. The city was once a major hub for the KKK (there was a regional headquarters in Downtown L.A.) and is becoming a gentrified entertainment mecca. Being Black in L.A. means I'm part of the 8% of Black people who are still here, fighting for the space that was once a place of refuge for my relatives and ancestors, that became a place that not only terrorized me, but taught me to love who I am, be proud of where I'm from and, ultimately, how to find success in city where it's tough to just survive, let alone thrive. It's a gift and a curse, but what is life without duality?"
— Tommy, Inglewood
MORE ON BEING BLACK IN LA
- On Being Black In LA: Finding Community As An Immigrant
- On Being Black In LA: 'A Slow Burn Of Anti-Blackness'
- On Being Black In LA: Erasure Of The Black Community That Once Was
- On Being Black In LA: Code Switching To Survive Crossing Racial Lines
- On Being Black In LA: Being Bused Across Town Opened Up City As 'A Place Of Possibilities'
MORE FROM RACE IN LA
- The 8%: Exploring The Inextricable Ties Between L.A. And Its Black Residents
- Racism 101: Facilitating Deeper Conversations On Race
- Racism 101 on Take Two: How to Be an Ally, Code Switching for Survival, Deconstructing 'Defund the Police', Legacy of Slavery
- Race In LA: How Does Your Race Or Ethnicity Shape Your Life?
The first installment of our The 8 Percent project began exploring the inextricable ties between L.A. and its Black residents — how Black migration, community and culture have shaped and changed L.A. For Black History Month, we’re homing in on a more specific experience — yours. Tell us: What does it mean to you to be Black in L.A.?
Morning Brief: Short Supply Is Still CA’s Biggest Vaccine Obstacle
Good morning, L.A.
In the effort to vaccinate Angelenos against COVID-19, the main problem — as we’ve reported — is supply. State officials, who allocate the vaccine to all 58 counties, are working on it, but efforts at all levels of government still need to be ramped up.
At a press conference yesterday, Gov. Gavin Newsom said that California received one million doses of coronavirus vaccines last week. He expects to see that number increase slightly every seven days, so that by next week, it’s up to 1.2 million.
But as long as the vaccine requires two shots, inoculating the state’s entire population of adults ages 18 and over — approximately 30.4 million people — while receiving 1.2 million vaccines per week would take almost a year. And that’s if distribution played out perfectly.
It’s “simply not enough … everybody recognizes that, from the President on down,” Newsom said.
The federal government set a goal of vaccinating 100 million people in 100 days. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has said the plan is ambitious but possible, despite the fact that President Joe Biden was starting from scratch in creating a distribution strategy.
In L.A., city and county officials have been working to set up supersites that are capable of handling thousands of residents each day. The county is currently operating supersites at the El Sereno Recreation Center, Magic Mountain, The Forum, the Pomona Fairplex, the Balboa Sports Complex, Cal State Northridge, and the County Office of Education.
The city is operating five large-scale vaccination sites, at Dodger Stadium, San Fernando Clinic, Lincoln Park Clinic, Crenshaw Clinic, and Hansen Dam.
And last week, two new supersites opened locally, at Cal Poly Pomona and Cal State L.A. According to County Supervisor Hilda Solis, there are now more than 340 vaccination sites in L.A. County, including not just large-scale operations, but also pharmacies and health clinics.
Newsom noted yesterday that 4.65 million Californians have been given at least one dose of the vaccine, and the pace of inoculation now is “double where we were just a few weeks ago, triple where we were a month or so ago.”
Still, for this week, L.A. County officials are prioritizing giving out second doses. And serious concerns remain over data indicating that Black and Latina/o Angenelos are being vaccinated at less than half the rate of other racial and ethnic groups.
“The goal is indeed to eventually have vaccination sites everywhere from schools to local community centers to trusted service providers, based in people's neighborhoods,” Solis said. “The supply remains our biggest challenge, and the logistics of cold storage, the short lifespan of these vaccines are also obstacles in our mass vaccination campaign.”
Keep reading for more on what’s happening in L.A. today, and stay safe out there.
What Else You Need To Know Today
- L.A. County health officials have confirmed five cases of the coronavirus strain originally detected in the United Kingdom.
- LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner said the district’s schools are not ready to reopen.
- A judge issued a preliminary injunction blocking L.A. District Attorney George Gascón's effort to remove sentencing enhancements from current cases.
- Here's why some people feel mildly sick after getting the COVID-19 vaccine, even though the shot doesn't contain the live virus.
- An LAist reader who immigrated from Kenya and an LAist reporter who was born in Colombia and raised in America share two very different experiences on being Black in L.A.
- Teachers from the Alhambra School District are adamant that it's not possible to go back to the classroom safely without vaccinating teachers.
- L.A. native Amanda Gorman made history as the first poet to perform an original piece at the Super Bowl.
Before You Go … Here’s What To Do This Week
Valentine’s Day is coming up, and that means a lot of love-and-heartbreak-themed activities. Here are a few, as well as some options that have nothing to do with love at all:
Listen to The Moth’s tales of love and heartbreak. Learn to cook vegan coconut flan. Tune in to a panel discussion about the Black women of rock and roll. Catch a screening of Minari, the story of a Korean American family that moves to an Arkansas farm. Bite into a half-off pizza deal on National Pizza Day. And more.
Help Us Cover Your Community
- Got something you’ve always wanted to know about Southern California and the people who call it home? Is there an issue you want us to cover? Ask us anything.
- Have a tip about news on which we should dig deeper? Let us know.
The news cycle moves fast. Some stories don't pan out. Others get added. Consider this today's first draft, and check LAist.com for updates on these stories and more. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
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