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LA's Program To House Homeless Residents In Empty Hotel Rooms Gets A Boost In Federal Aid

Julie Mariane gathers her belongings in a motel room last April while getting ready to be transferred to a room in a Venice Beach hotel. (Apu Gomes / AFP via Getty Images)

The city of L.A. is extending Project Roomkey, the program to house those experiencing homelessness in hotels, after a boost in federal aid.

Under Project Roomkey, L.A. would pay for those rooms up front, and then receive a 75% reimbursement from FEMA. Then late last month, President Biden signed an executive order to reimburse cities for 100% of the costs.

On Wednesday, Mayor Eric Garcetti said the city would release funds up front to extend leases on multiple project roomkey hotels through September 30th:

"LAHSA (the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority) and service provider staff will continue to work tirelessly to get our current hotel guests into permanent housing, to move new guests into those rooms and to take every single empty room in those hotels and fill them as soon as possible."

Garcetti said staff would start working to fill 300 empty rooms today.

He said half the rooms would be reserved for people who had been living on Skid Row and that staff would prioritize immediate placements for Black women, seniors, and those currently living in homeless encampments in Echo Park.

Project Roomkey has been criticized for falling short of its goals.

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Orange County's Vaccine Appointment Site Is Now Available In Spanish And Vietnamese

A mass COVID-19 vaccination site in a Disneyland parking lot. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Orange County's website for making vaccine appointments is now available in Vietnamese and Spanish.

The county opened up appointments for people 65 and older on Jan. 12, but it wasn't until last week that the site, Othena, became available in Spanish. This week, it became available in Vietnamese.

Orange County is home to the largest Vietnamese population outside of Vietnam and one-quarter of county residents are native Spanish speakers.

Orange County Health Care Agency Director Dr. Clayton Chau told the county Board of Supervisors Tuesday that while 15% of the senior population in the county is Latino, only 10% of the 100,000 or so seniors who've been vaccinated so far at county sites are Latino.

Chau said the county is currently concentrating vaccination efforts on lower-income, predominantly Latino neighborhoods:

"Mainly the zip codes in Santa Ana, Anaheim and Garden Grove have a higher percentage dying from COVID, if they get it. And so our effort working with the community is really this next two weeks to vaccinate our seniors in those areas."

Orange County health officials say Korean and Chinese versions of Othena will launch in the next couple of days.

The hotline for making vaccine appointments in Orange County has Spanish and Vietnamese options in addition to English. That phone number is 714-834-2000.

Step-by-step instructions on how to register with Othena are available in English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Korean and Chinese (simplified)

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Southern California COVID-19 Strain Is Now In Different Parts Of The US, World

A staffer hands a patient a COVID-19 testing kit at a drive-thru site at The Forum. (Courtesy of the County of Los Angeles)

A strain of COVID-19 that was first reported here in Los Angeles has been detected in other parts of the country and around the world, according to new research from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

The study found the variant in 19 states, Washington, D.C., and six countries. Researchers say it appears travelers from Southern California are carrying the virus to all those destinations.

Researchers say this strain, CAL.20C, was first seen in L.A. last July and re-emerged in October in other parts of our region and then quickly began spreading in November and December.

"CAL.20C is moving, and we think it is Californians who are moving it," said the study's co-senior author, Jasmine Plummer, a research scientist at the Cedars-Sinai Center for Bioinformatics and Functional Genomics.

According to the Cedars-Sinai research, the strain now accounts for about 44% of new infections in Southern California.

Plummer said it's not clear whether CAL.20C might be more deadly than current coronavirus strains or whether it might resist current vaccines.

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State Bill Seeks To Make California Pay For Kids' School Lunches

(Bob Nichols/USDA/Flickr Creative Commons)

State lawmakers have introduced a bill that would make California foot the bill for kids' school lunches, instead of letting their families rack up a balance for being unable to pay.

Under current law, all students must have access to school meals, and they are free for families living at or below the federal poverty line.

Students from families just above that level are eligible to get meals at a reduced fee, but they must pay the difference. AB 508 would make the state pitch in to eliminate that cost.

The bill's co-author, Democratic Assemblymember Luz Rivas (D-Arleta), says many working families are already facing serious financial hardship because of the pandemic.

"That means, when our kids go back to the classroom, low income families are going to be overburdened with school lunch debt, or these fees if they can pay."

A separate bill signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2019 guarantees kids get equal access to meals and equal treatment, even if their parents are behind in paying for them.

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This Valley Martial Arts School Went From ‘Cobra Kai’-Style Confrontations To Training For The Show

Kids training as part of the House of Champions' outdoor environment during COVID-19. (Courtesy Mark Parra)

Is the House of Champions martial arts dojo in Van Nuys the real Cobra Kai? Not exactly, but sensei Mark Parra says that some of his own experiences have felt like a true-life version of the hit Netflix show.

One key difference, he says, is that while some of the show's villains are looking out for themselves, he ultimately has his students' best interests at heart.

His school helped helped train Mary Mouser for her role as Daniel LaRusso's daughter on the series — both before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. They worked on everything from how to do a choreographed fight on camera, to classical karate forms.

The pandemic hit House of Champions hard, but he's back up to a couple hundred students through Zoom classes and an outdoor training area. And he's ready to strike hard when it comes to continuing to rebuild.

We spoke with Parra about the show, the pandemic, how House of Champions has stayed alive with Zoom classes and outdoor training, and his plans for getting back inside the dojo again.


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We're Rooting For This Big Bear Bald Eagle Pair, Which Welcomed New Eggs

Jackie and Shadow at their nest. (Friends of Big Bear Valley Facebook page)

A couple of bald eagles up in Big Bear welcomed their fourth and fifth eggs this week after losing three in January.

Mother eagle Jackie delivered the egg on Monday with father eagle Shadow by her side. On Thursday, Jackie laid another egg at about 5:22 p.m, according to Friends of Big Bear Valley, which operates the 24/7 "Eagle Cam."

This is good news for the couple. Last month, they lost two eggs to ravens and a third was broken during the laying process.

Terry Ashmore, the public liason for Friends of Big Bear Valley, says the parent eagles will begin watching the nest in turns.

"We call it 'changing of the guard.' Shadow will come in and Jackie leaves and vice versa. They just do that for the next 35 to 38 days and then hopefully we'll have a hatch and a couple of cute little chicks."

You can watch Jackie and Shadow taking care of the nest in real time on the group's website or check out its Facebook, which has all the tea.

Crossing our fingers for the eggs.

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What To Do If An LA County Vaccination Site Turns You Away On The Day Of Your Second Dose

A dose of the Pfizer BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine at UCI Health Center in Orange. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

We’re answering your questions about getting that crucial second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

If you got your first shot at a vaccine site run by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, you should get an email before your second dose is due with a link to schedule your second dose appointment.

But a lot of you asked us what to do if you don’t get that email.

We brought those questions to L.A. Public Health, which told us:

“If you do not receive an email, you can go back to the site you received your first dose, on the day of your 2nd dose appointment — 21 days after their first dose if you received a Pfizer vaccine, and 28 days after your first dose if you received Moderna.

You must provide proof of first dose vaccination or you will be turned away.

Please do not visit the site earlier than the 21st or 28th day.”

But what if you follow all of these instructions from the health department and still get turned away once you get there?

L.A. Public Health director Barbara Ferrer addressed that at a Feb. 10 briefing:

“I would encourage everybody who shows up to one of the county sites for a second dose appointment – if you've got your white slip and your [photo] identification, or you've got verification that came to you via your cell phone – please by all means ask to speak with a manager. We are honoring those forms of verification.”

Specifically, Ferrer said you can ask for a site manager. She said every vaccination site run by LA Public Health should have one.

"There are hundreds and hundreds of people — volunteers, different crews — on different days at all of our sites," Ferrer said, "so I apologize if anybody felt like you weren't able to easily get seen when you in fact have the verifications."

Again: this advice is specific to sites run by LA Public Health –

  • Pomona Fairplex
  • Magic Mountain
  • The Forum
  • LA County Office of Education
  • Cal State Northridge
  • Balboa Sports Complex
  • El Sereno Recreation Center.

If you got vaccinated somewhere like Dodger Stadium (which is run by the City of LA), or a pharmacy, they have different second dose policies.

We have more details about how to get your vaccine second dose in our appropriately named guide – How To Get The Second Dose Of Vaccine -- And Everything You Need To Know About It.

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Sheriff Villanueva's Personal Helipad Sparks Fight With SoCalGas

The helipad in La Habra Heights. (City of La Habra Heights)

On Jan. 20, an L.A. County Sheriff’s Department facilities manager sent an email to a colleague with the subject line, “DA RUSH SHERIFF SECURITY.” The manager wanted to quickly hire a vendor to build a landing pad “for a helicopter to land and pick up sheriff in the event of an emergency.”

The helicopter pad was to be built on a dirt lot a few hundred feet from Sheriff Alex Villanueva’s home in La Habra Heights.

“It is essential to the safety and wellbeing of the sheriff,” said the email, which was provided by the county counsel’s office.

But the project drew the ire of SoCalGas, which owns the property and disputes the Sheriff’s Department’s claim that the utility had approved the project. The firm fired off a cease-and-desist letter to County Counsel Rodrigo Castro-Silva, who subsequently ordered the Sheriff’s Department to halt all work on the effort while he investigates.

The department indicated in a statement that it sought to create the helipad after “a threat assessment was conducted at the Sheriff’s residence, due to numerous credible threats, doxing, and protests.” It did not offer further details of the threats; small groups of protestors have gathered outside the sheriff’s house in the months after the killing of George Floyd and shootings by deputies.

According to the statement, Sheriff’s detectives met on Jan. 14 with SoCalGas representatives and won approval “to clear a small area of land to use in the event of an emergency, which is appropriate given the remote location and absence of suitable landing areas.”

SoCalGas tells a different story.

According to the utility’s cease-and-desist letter, Sheriff’s officials informally approached company employees last August at the property, formally known as the Whittier Gas Storage Field. When the Sheriff’s officials said they wanted to build a helipad for the sheriff, “SoCalGas declined the request,” the letter states.

Then, in late January, the city of La Habra Heights received a complaint. “Our staff went out to investigate and there was some grading done on the hillside – they actually flattened out some land there,” City Manager Fabiola Huerta told us.

The city inquired with SoCalGas, which then fired off its letter to the county.

SoCalGas said its property “abuts or is in close proximity to Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva’s personal residence” and the grading of it was without authorization or approval.

Documents show the sheriff paid a paving company $4,950 to build the dirt helipad. It’s unclear how much more the county might have to pay to return the land to its original state, as requested by La Habra Heights. The city is conducting an “active code enforcement action,” said Huerta.

The Sheriff’s Department maintains it did nothing wrong.

“The goal was simply to clear a plot of land which could be utilized in an emergency for landing a helicopter, just like an intersection or school field is used as a contingency in an emergency,” it said in its statement.

Sheriff Villanueva has not commented.

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'What Does It Mean To Be Black In LA?' A Co-Worker Shares Her Thoughts

Social workers join Black Lives Matter members during a demonstration against racism and police brutality, outside City Hall in Los Angeles June 13, 2020. (Mark Ralston/Getty Images)

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.

This week, we've heard varying perspectives on being foreign-born and integrating into L.A.'s Black community. A Black man living in Inglewood, who was raised in neighborhoods across the city, shared what it was it was like to have no sense of community among Black people and to be seen as a threat by white people.

Today, we hear from Laurie, who has worked for our newsroom's radio station, 89.3 KPCC, as an account executive for more than nine years. She shares her experience moving to L.A. as a Black child from Chicago's Westside, trying to assimilate. She said she understands L.A. now as a city of "contradictions," embracing diversity but still struggling, and even perpertuating, the ills of racism.

"I have a love for the city and all the different cultures that live here. But it’s also a place where I have been discriminated against and felt the stings of racism.

"I moved to the L.A. area from Chicago when I was 8 years old where I lived with my family in mostly non-Black communities. This was quite a change from the all-Black community that I lived in on Chicago’s Westside. In L.A., my playmates were largely white, Asian, and Latino. My brother and I went to a K-8 grade school where we were the only Black children. It was painfully obvious. However, my Asian and Latino friends made the adjustment easy for us. They were very accepting of us, and we were accepting of them. But often the white children would call us the n-word or compare us to some awful stereotype that they learned at home. Since there were no Black children for us to commiserate with or sort out the racism that was directed at us, we suffered in silence.

"Growing up Black in L.A. meant being in the minority in a city full of different minorities. At times, it has felt isolating, especially since I grew up in areas that were largely non-Black. L.A. is a diverse city. That’s one of the things that I love most about it. You interact with, and therefore are accepting of, different races, cultures, and religions. Diversity becomes the fabric of your everyday existence. L.A. is a city where some aspects of Black culture have widely been accepted. However, racism is still very much alive here. As “liberal” and diverse as the city is, as a Black person, I have still faced a lot of discrimination here.

"To be Black in L.A. means dealing with contradictions. It means living in a city that has embraced diversity on many levels, while also allowing institutional racism to endure. Black communities still face endemic racism when it comes to policing, inequality in schools, lack of access to health care, affordable housing and healthy foods. L.A. is not perfect. We still have a lot of work to do. But the city has been better than most in terms of its acceptance of all cultures, including Black culture."

— Laurie M., San Gabriel Valley



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.?

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Caregivers Of People With Disabilities Turned Away At Vaccine Sites

Cindy Liu and her daughter Sammy at the beach. (Courtesy of Cindy Liu)

For weeks, parents and family caregivers of people with disabilities have qualified as health workers in the eyes of the state, and should be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine.

“They barely even looked at my paperwork. They saw the letterhead and said, ‘That doesn’t qualify you,’” said Cindy Liu, whose daughter Sammy has Down Syndrome.

The problem is piecemeal communication from county health departments, leaving many caregivers — along with staff at vaccination sites — confused.


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Suit Says L.A. Superior Court’s In-Person Hearings Are Dangerous

(Valerie Macon/Getty Images)

Five pro bono legal organizations have filed a lawsuit against L.A. County Superior Court, arguing attorneys and clients are risking “their health and lives” to show up in court for non-urgent civil matters such as eviction proceedings and traffic citations.

In a complaint filed Tuesday, the legal aid firms ask that the courts pause in-person appearances for traffic and unlawful detainer matters “until doing so no longer poses a public health threat.”

Since the beginning of this year, three people who worked in the courts died after testing positive for COVID-19, including two interpreters and one traffic clerk.

Acknowledging that the court did defer some non-essential civil business for months, the lawsuit claims those matters “indefensibly proceed now in-person.”

“As COVID-positive rates were rising, that is when courts started reopening these matters,” said Indira Cameron-Banks, directing attorney at the Skid Row-based Inner City Law Center.

“There are times where our attorneys will advocate for their clients not to have to show up, and the court will still order their clients to show up,” she said.

Diego Cartagena, president & CEO of lawsuit plaintiff Bet Tzedek, said the legal groups decided to proceed with court action after unsatisfactory responses to their concerns. Cartagena claims some clients are being called in for non-urgent matters.

“We’re talking about a citation over a cracked windshield,” he said. “Why does that need to be heard immediately and why does that have to be heard in person?”

Court spokeswoman Ann Donlan said all courtrooms have LACourtConnect or Webex options available for virtual appearances. In an emailed statement, she pointed out that the court has taken several measures to retrofit courtrooms since COVID-19, including a push to “dramatically accelerate and expand remote audio and video access capabilities in all 600 courtrooms.”

But Cartagena argues all of that technology doesn’t matter if it’s not applied uniformly. “We are still at the whim of certain courtrooms — certain bench officers — who decide, No, I’m going to require you to be in person, for matters that don’t need to be in-person,” he said.

Donlan said in an emailed statement that the court never comments on pending litigation, but added: “We anticipate that all matters brought by litigants each day across this County will be heard safely and fairly because of our commitment to equal access to justice.”

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Morning Brief: Risks, Rewards And Snow Machines: How Successful Governments Are Distributing The Vaccine

A dose of the Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

Good morning, L.A.

As Los Angeles. and many other California cities struggle to distribute the coronavirus vaccine, Long Beach — a city of nearly 500,000 — is moving swiftly.

In late January, Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia said the city’s healthcare workers were almost all vaccinated. Now, the next tier of inoculations are well underway. Garcia told my colleague Sharon McNary that 6,500 education and childcare workers and 2,500 food workers have received at least one dose. The city’s police, firefighters, 911 dispatchers, emergency workers, and residents over the age of 65 are also eligible.

In L.A. city and county, by comparison, vaccines are currently available only to healthcare workers and people aged 65 and over.

Garcia attributes his city’s success so far to the fact that Long Beach has its own health department, sparing it some bureaucratic roadblocks. Additionally, he said, city officials took a calculated risk early on.

"We made some decisions to not hold on to supply, but to run out as fast as possible,” he said. “That's helped us move along really quickly."

Across the country, states that have been the most successful in getting shots in arms have tailored distribution plans to their population’s particular needs. Alaska has vaccinated the second-highest percentage of its population (after West Virginia), and there, medical teams traverse snow-covered, mountainous terrain to administer doses “on snow machines, on four wheelers, in trucks, in airplanes, standing on tarmacs in -20 windchill … basically anywhere,” Dr. Ellen Hodges, Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation chief of staff, told the Pew Charitable Trusts.

And West Virginia has relied heavily on independent, community pharmacies and clinics, where staff often know residents personally and trust is high.

Meanwhile, California officials are launching a website they hope will streamline the vaccination process, and banking on age-based eligibility to help inoculate more people. In the meantime, legislators might well look to Long Beach for guidance — because for Garcia, it’s personal. The 727 coronavirus deaths in the city include his mother and stepfather.

"Because I've also lost both my parents,” he said, “I certainly feel like every vaccine that we get out is a potential life-saving opportunity."

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 … Meet LA’s Pop Art Nun

wonderbread, serigraph, 1962 (Photograph by Arthur Evans, Courtesy of the Corita Art Center, Immaculate Heart Community, Los Angeles, CA)

Silkscreen artist Corita Kent was known in the art world as the Pop Art Nun. A member of the order of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Los Feliz between 1936 and 1968, her work was a rebellious take on religious art. In 1966, she was named an L.A. Times Woman of the Year.

So when Nellie Scott, director of the Corita Art Center, found out that the small studio in East Hollywood where Kent did some of her most significant work was going to be razed for a parking lot, she was devastated.

"It really was just a gut punch," she said. "A plaque just wouldn't do it justice."

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