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Troops Bring Military Efficiency To Cal State LA Vaccination Center

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A California Army National Guard soldier directs cars toward the vaccine lanes (Sharon McNary/LAist)

About 200 troops in fatigues started their deployment at Cal State LA on Tuesday, part of the federal government's attempt to speed up vaccinations and get 150 million people their shots in 100 days.

The troops came from Fort Carson, Colorado and the California Army National Guard, and organized the operation with military efficiency. On Tuesday they vaccinated 3,000 people. Ultimately it's hoped they'll be able to handle 6,000 a day.

It's a quick process. Platoons of ten cars are instructed to drive forward bumper-to-bumper into the vaccine lane set up in a large parking lot.

"Once they're all lined up," said Sergeant First Class Gerardo Guzman, "each customer gets a questionnaire. And then shortly after one of our medics will go ahead and administer the vaccine."

After a short wait to make sure there’s no bad reaction, all ten cars are released and the next ten drive in.

At a press conference at the site, Governor Newsom said the location had been chosen to be near communities which had been hit disproportionately hard by the pandemic.

"This is a framework of focus, not just on efficiency, not just speed, but on the issue of equity," he said.

He made clear that the site's allocation of vaccines will be supplied directly by the federal government, and would not affect California's allocation.

Sgt. First Class Gerardo Guzman said he was proud to be doing this work. "Personally, I took the vaccine myself. So this is something I do believe in."

You'll need an appointment to get a vaccine at the site. Go to myturn.ca.gov

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Gascón Resigns From California DA Association: It 'Fails To Support Us'

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DA George Gascón. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Calling it a group “solely for those willing to toe the ‘tough on crime’ line,” L.A. District Attorney George Gascón resigned today from the California District Attorneys Association. Only one other of the state’s 58 DA’s has left the group – reform-minded San Joaquin County District Attorney Tori Salazar left last summer.

While Gascón is a Democrat and Salazar is a Republican, both agree that the CDAA, which wields powerful influence in Sacramento, has failed to embrace what they see as much-needed reforms in the criminal justice system.

In his letter announcing his resignation, Gascón cited the group’s all-white board of directors as an example of its failure to evolve.

“The absence of a single person of color on CDAA’s 17-member board is blinding,” Gascón wrote. “This is the leadership that sets the direction for an organization of elected prosecutors, all of whom disproportionately prosecute communities of color at a time when the nation is facing a reckoning over systemic racism.”

Gascón also denounced the CDAA for supporting a lawsuit by the L.A. Association of Deputy District Attorneys that seeks to derail some of his reforms. A judge earlier this month granted the association’s request for a preliminary injunction to block Gascón from forcing his prosecutors to seek the dismissal of sentencing enhancements in thousands of cases.

He said the CDAA’s decision to “abandon prosecutorial discretion … a hallmark of the profession … is proof enough CDAA has lost its North Star.”

CDAA President Vern Pierson fired back at Gascón, saying in an email that his move "appears to be a publicity stunt to divert attention from his favoring criminals at the expense of victims and growing calls for his recall." Pierson, who's the El Dorado County DA, called Gascón's remarks about the group's all-white board "disingenuous," since Gascón ran against CDAA board member and former L.A. DA Jackie Lacey, who is Black.

Gascón is a founding member of the Prosecutors Alliance of California, which was created last year to promote reforms in the criminal justice system.

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Conception Dive Boat Captain Pleads Not Guilty To 'Seaman's Manslaughter' Charges

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The 75-foot Conception, based in Santa Barbara Harbor, burns after catching fire early September 2, 2019 anchored off Santa Cruz Island, California. (Photo by Santa Barbara County Fire Department via Getty Images)

The captain of the Conception dive boat which broke out in a deadly fire in 2019 has pleaded not guilty to nearly three dozen federal charges. Federal prosecutors say he failed to properly train his crew on fire safety, and did not post a roving night watch.

Jerry Boylan surrendered to authorities before his first appearance in federal court in downtown Los Angeles this afternoon, but was released on $250,000 bond.

Boylan was first indicted in December on what's known as "seaman's manslaughter." The Conception incident one of the deadliest maritime disasters in modern American history, killing 33 passengers and one crew member on board.

The unusual charges against the captain were based on laws put in place before the Civil War, to hold captains accountable during a time when ship sinkings and accidents were far more common.

Last year, the National Transportation Safety Board found that if just one crew member had been awake when the fire first broke out, that the tragedy could have prevented.

Boylan's trial is set to begin on March 30th; if convicted, each of the three charges carries up to ten years in prison.

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LA Zoo Reopens Today With Safety Precautions. Here's The List

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Courtesy LA Zoo (Photo credit Jamie Pham)

The Los Angeles Zoo reopens to the public today for the first time since early December, when it closed its gates due to the statewide regional stay-at-home order.

Here are some of the measures in place:

  • Masks: you can't tour the zoo without wearing one. Same goes for kids two and older. (You can buy an animal-themed one at the gift shop.)
  • Everyone, even members, need to buy their timed-entry ticket online at www.lazoo.org/reopening. The last time of the day you can reserve is 3 p.m.
  • As you navigate the one-way paths, you can't stroll and sip. All drinking and eating has to be done at a standstill.
  • Kids aren't allowed to press their faces against the glass at the exhibits -- even touching the glass is a no-no.
  • Some high-touch exhibits remain closed, as are the in-person presentations that normally draw a crowd.
  • Keep your physical distance. The zoo says one zebra length should do it.

For more info and a full set of safety requirements, ticket info, and FAQ's, visit the zoo's reopening website.

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Officials Charge Mama's Lu Dumpling House With Falsifying $11 Million In Sales — And Avoiding $1 Million In Sales Taxes

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Xiao long bao aka soup dumplings. (Charles Haynes/Flickr Creative Commons)

UPDATE: This story has been updated since it was published to include a quote from Anna Tang, who owns one of the Mama Lu's restaurants in Monterey Park.

California is cracking down on Mama's Lu Dumpling House, a popular San Gabriel Valley restaurant known for its xiao long bao (soup dumplings). In January, siblings Yan Lu and William Lu were charged with underreporting millions of dollars in sales and not paying the related sales taxes. Last week, the pair pleaded not guilty in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

In 2018, the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration began investigating Mama Lu's (how the restaurants are commonly known) as well as several associated companies — Mama's Lu Dumpling House Corp., HY Gourmet, Inc. and Mama Lu Dumpling House Monterey Park, Inc.

That investigation revealed a 10-year scheme, starting in 2008, in which the Lu siblings allegedly underreported more than $11 million in sales and evaded more than $1 million in state sales tax by falsifying monthly sales reports for their restaurants, according to a press release issued by the California Attorney General's office.

An investigation by the California Franchise Tax Board also revealed that by allegedly underreporting their sales, William and Yan evaded paying more than $650,000 in state income tax.

There are multiple Mama Lu's locations, including two in Monterey Park.

After this story was published, Anna Tang, who in 2015 bought the Mama Lu's at 501 W. Garvey Ave. in Monterey Park, reached out to us and wanted to make it clear that she has no connection to the Lus or the charges against them.

In an emailed statement, Tang said:

"These charges are in no way associated with the current operations of this particular location. I purchased one of the two Monterey Park locations of Mama Lu's in November of 2015 and have been operating the business independently of all other Mama Lu's locations. We have no other business affiliations with the Lus.

I purchased the restaurant because I've been a longtime fan of Mama Lu's revered dumplings and wanted to continue to carry on Mama Lu's legacy as a beloved dumpling institution for over a decade here in San Gabriel Valley. I hope I've been able to provide some clarity to the situation and want to assure our customers that I am a responsible business owner and only hope to continue delivering the same quality dumplings that everyone has come to know and love."

Tang owns and operates another restaurant, Mama's Dumpling House in San Gabriel, which also is not affiliated with Mama Lu's.

As for the Lu siblings, they face 17 counts including conspiracy to file false sales tax returns, filing false sale tax returns and filing false income tax returns.

"There will always be consequences when you rip off California's taxpayers," said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra in the press release. "Blatantly flouting the law in order to avoid paying taxes takes money away from California's communities."

You can read a the full complaint here.

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LA County Reaches Threshold To Reopen Schools. What Does That Mean For LAUSD?

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An example of what a reopened LAUSD classroom could look like. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

For the first time since the pandemic began, L.A. County has reached a threshold for reopening school campuses -- but that doesn’t mean the L.A. Unified School District is ready to bring students back.

Over the last month, Superintendent Austin Beutner has pushed back against pressure to reopen schools, and has criticized messaging from the state and county health departments.

“Changing and inconsistent guidelines undermine the trust all in the school community need to have that their schools are as safe as possible,” Beutner said in his weekly address on Monday.

L.A. County reaching this reopening threshold is partially on account of dropping case rates, but also because the conditions for in-person instruction have recently changed.

Until early January, counties in the most restrictive "purple" tier, such as Los Angeles, were not allowed to open school campuses. That changed when Gov. Gavin Newsom released the Safe Schools For All plan, a funding proposal meant to encourage districts to reopen schools for the youngest students.

According to that plan, which has yet to be finalized, districts can reopen classes for transitional kindergarten through second grade in counties reporting 25 positive coronarius cases out of 100,000 people, a rate that is still deep in the purple tier.

After that proposal was released, the state altered its health guidance to allow TK-6 grade classes to reopen in-person once the new threshold is reached in a county.

While L.A. County has now met that first requirement of lowered cases, LAUSD also needs to propose a reopening safety plan with the support of the district unions, including United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA). That expectation is still far from met.

Beutner said the district sent a draft plan to the state last month, but it's missing the union's sign-off.

The district and the teachers' union were hoping to come to an initial agreement in late January, but bargaining has now stretched on for weeks longer as vaccinations and case thresholds have emerged as sticking points.

UTLA leaders have made it clear they don’t support a return to campus in the purple tier.

“We remain firmly in the Purple Tier, which indicates [an] extremely high-risk level, and health officials are concerned that the more contagious variants spreading in our community could lead to another spike,” UTLA President Cecily Myart-Cruz said in a union update video on Friday.

The union is also pushing for all teachers to be vaccinated before returning to campuses, a precaution that Gov. Newsom and officials for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have called unnecessary.

The L.A. County Department of Public Health has indicated that educators will be a prioritized group, but they likely won’t be eligible to receive shots until March.

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Blue Shield's COVID-19 Vaccine Plan: More, Faster, And Fairer

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A pharmacist at UCI Health Center preps a dose of COVID-19 vaccine. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

Blue Shield plans to significantly ramp up the distribution of vaccines across California as it takes over running the operation, according to its contract with the state. The effort will include monthly goals for vaccinating “under-resourced or disproportionately impacted populations.”

Blue Shield agreed to create an algorithm to determine where to allocate vaccine doses based on equity and other factors, as well as to centralize vaccination data.

Of course, drastically scaling up the number of daily doses will largely depend on the supply sent to the state.

The highlights:

  • Making vaccines accessible. For 95% of those living in urban areas that means a “sufficiently healthy person” being able to drive (or be driven to) a vaccine site in under 30 minutes. In rural areas the trip would be under 60 minutes
  • Vaccinating 3 million people per week by March 1 and 4 million people per week by April 30, supply permitting
  • Having providers administer 95% of doses within one week of receipt
  • Establishing in March a monthly vaccination goal for underserved populations

Kaiser Permanente is expected to sign a separate contract with the state to run a vaccination program for its 9 million members (and non-members) that will include overseeing two or more mass vaccination sites and helping to vaccinate "hard-to-reach and disproportionately impacted populations," according to a letter of intent released Jan. 29. Kaiser may also participate in Blue Shield’s network, according to the Blue Shield contract.

Both companies have agreed that they will run the programs at or near cost and "will not profit," according to the letters of intent. California will pay Blue Shield no more than $15 million during the term of the contract for costs.

My Turn will remain the state’s vaccine portal for residents to sign up for appointments and notification on when they qualify.

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Cal State LA Site To Administer Thousands of Vaccine Doses Per Day

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The large vaccination site at Cal State LA is scheduled to start vaccinating eligible community members on Feb. 16, 2021. (Screenshot of Cal State LA video)

Gov. Gavin Newsom today delivered an update on California's response to coronavirus at the opening of a new vaccine center at Cal State L.A. [You can watch this full remarks above.]

A couple of key takeaways:

  • About 3,000 doses were set to be administered today at the Cal State Los Angeles vaccination site, which is federally funded.
  • Officials say they will be administering 6,000 doses a day by the end of the week.

The Cal State L.A. site and a similar one at the Oakland Coliseum are the first of 100 vaccination sites that the Biden Administration has promised to open in its first 100 days.

Congressman Jimmy Gomez spoke to the significance of selecting Cal State L.A. for the vaccination site:

"To open up this site, on the eastside of Los Angeles, in a community that has been disproportionately impacted by COVID — when it comes to infection rates, when it comes to death rates, when it comes to just access to health care — this is a big deal."

Two mobile vaccination units that are part of the Cal State L.A. site are set to head out into the surrounding community this Thursday.

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How Did LA Restaurants Fare On This Pandemic Valentine's Day?

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Wine glasses at a restaurant. (Chuttersnap/Unsplash)

Valentine's Day is the single busiest day of the year for restaurants but going out for a romantic meal isn't quite the same in a pandemic. Indoor dining at restaurants in Los Angeles County is still forbidden. Although outdoor dining — with restrictions — was recently reinstated, how appealing was that option for couples?

"We're on 7th and Mateo, so we're having to make guests eat outside where there are big rigs driving by and tons of cars," says Brittney Valles, who owns Guerrilla Tacos in downtown L.A. She opened outdoor seating last week, hoping to pick up some extra Valentine's Day business. But the weekend wasn't as busy as she'd hoped.

"[Guests] are eating on the street and right on the other side of the window, they're looking at our beautiful restaurant. So it's literally a different environment for our guests," she says.

For other restaurants, the first official Valentine's Day during the COVID-19 pandemic went well. For the first time, many restaurateurs this year offered romantic prix fixe meals for takeout as well as dine-in.

At Manhattan Beach Post, Fishing with Dynamite and The Arthur J, chef and owner David Lefevre says outdoor dining at all three spots was booked for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday — and the four-course Valentine's take-out menu sold out.

"We're still a little bit down over last year but with Valentine's Day, it's mostly couples that are dining. So if you have a table for four people, you're only seeing two people at it. So you're not normally as efficient as you could be. With to-go, it doesn't matter so you actually can do some pretty good sales with that.," Lefevre says.

Manhattan Beach recently closed some of its streets to cars to allow extended patio seating. In early December, the city reclassified certain outdoor areas to allow people to eat food in them.

Anecdotally, the Valentine's weekend looks like it gave many local restaurants a boost. But with or without the holiday weekend, Valles says small restaurants are hurting and she encourages people to order from independent eateries if they can.

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A 2014 State Audit Tackled Sexual Violence On College Campuses. Gaps Remain. This Is What's Changed

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A student outside the Aztec Student Union at San Diego State University. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

A 2014 California State audit that looked into how colleges and universities in California responded to reports of of sexual harassment and sexual violence drew a blunt conclusion: “California Universities Must Better Protect Students by Doing More to Prevent, Respond to, and Resolve Incidents.”

“We had so little programming around sexual violence before the audit,” said Doreen Mattingly, an emeritus professor of women’s studies at San Diego State. “Students didn't know where to report. They didn't know what the reporting process was.”

The audit targeted Chico State, UC Berkeley, UCLA, and San Diego State and issued dozens of recommendations for these campuses, University of California and California State University system administrators, as well as state legislators.

It’s been more than six years since those recommendations urged regular training of students and employees and that administrators take steps to inform those students and employees of university policies and practices regarding sexual violence. Campus interviews suggest substantive changes have taken place -- but big gaps remain.

Perhaps chief among them continues to be underreporting of sexual violence. While campuses have made reforms, it’s widely understood that reports of sexual violence are only the tip of the iceberg of total incidents.

“We know that the vast majority of individuals who experience some type of violence do not report it,” said Jennifer Wagman, a professor in the department of community health sciences at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.. “It's been estimated that maybe 10%, maximum, of victims or survivors of assault or misconduct report to anyone.”

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Morning Brief: LA School Officials To Discuss Campus Police, And Supporting Black Students

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Los Angeles School Police officers watch students lining up to pass through a security check point in the aftermath of two apparent racially motivated student brawls at Thomas Jefferson High School (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

Good morning, L.A. It’s Feb. 16.

As the Los Angeles Unified School District considers reopening, education officials are also attempting to implement reforms they agreed upon months ago: Reducing the presence of police officers on school campuses, and providing better support to Black students.

Today, the LAUSD board will hold a special meeting, during which they’ll work to hammer out the details of cutting the school police budget by $25 million. The amount reflects 35% of the school police’s overall operating costs.

My colleague Caroline Champlin reports that the meeting has been a long time coming. The board voted in favor of the budget cut in June, but delayed implementing any proposed changes after pushback from activist groups on both sides of the issue.

At the time of the June vote, advocates who wanted to see police officers removed from campuses secured the support of the local teachers’ union, United Teachers Los Angeles.

Research has shown that Black students can feel targeted by on-campus police, and that officers’ presence detracts from learning. Those in favor of on-campus police, however, argue that they’re trained in de-escalation, and help keep schools safe.

Some who’ve advocated for the reduction in on-campus police want to see the money redirected into programs specifically targeted to Black students. At today’s meeting, the board will also consider a program aimed at doing just that.

The program, called the Black Student Achievement Plan, was previewed by LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner in his weekly Monday address. Calling it “a series of unprecedented actions to help Black students," Beutner added that the U.S. has been “systematically failing Black children as a country,” and that schools must be part of the solution.

Beutner said he hopes to have the plan completed in March and incorporated into the school budget for the 2021-2022 school year.

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


What Else You Need To Know Today

  • California is partnering with the federal government to open a new vaccine site at Cal State L.A. today.
  • And the Los Angeles Unified School District’s first school-based vaccination center will open this Wednesday to serve school employees.
  • As part of our Black in L.A. series, a biracial woman who has lived in neighborhoods across L.A. shares her struggle to find a space where she's felt truly at ease.
  • The city of L.A. will temporarily prioritize second doses of the coronavirus vaccine.
  • A coalition of community activists called for the firing of any LAPD employee who created or shared a Valentine’s Day-themed photo of George Floyd that reportedly included a caption reading, “You Take My Breath Away.”
  • In California, those who have received the coronavirus vaccine are more likely to be white than any other race or ethnicity.
  • As part of our Racism 101 series, our panelists answered, "What are the racial slights and microaggressions you've seen or experienced in the workplace you wish your coworkers would just stop doing?”

Before You Go… Here’s What To Do This Week

Japan House LA presents a new exhibition of woodblock prints by some of Japan's great artists including Katsushika Hokusai. (Courtesy of Japan House LA)

It’s the week after Valentine’s Day, and we’re still socializing from our couch. In the next few days, you have an array of options for how to enjoy your spare time, if indeed you have any:

Learn how plagues shaped the history of perfume. Consider the greatness of Miles Davis. Reconsider the legacy of Abraham Lincoln. Gaze at Japanese woodblock prints. Sit in on a conversation between Sacha Baron Cohen and Eric Idle. Celebrate Mardi Gras with jambalaya, po'boys and other Creole eats. 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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New Mass Vaccination Site At Cal State LA Opens Today

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The large vaccination site at Cal State LA is scheduled to start vaccinating eligible community members on Feb. 16, 2021. (Screenshot of Cal State L.A. video)

Demand for vaccines in Los Angeles is much greater than the supply, but help is on the way with a new vaccine site opening at Cal State L.A. today.

The Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, the National Guard, the Department of Defense, and FEMA are working together on the large vaccination site, which is part of the federal effort to put up 100 vaccine sites in 100 days. The organizers aim to give 6,000 shots a day. These shots will be in addition to the vaccine allotments the state gets each week.

“Having this here for the community is really going to be a gamechanger,” Cal State L.A. executive vice president José A Gómez said.

Communities like Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles are among those hit hardest by COVID-19 in LA County.

Dave Stone with Cal OES Fire & Rescue said they also chose Cal State L.A. because of all the different ways you can get there.

If you have access to a car, you can drive through for your shot. But if driving isn’t an option, there’s public transit.

“Cal State Los Angeles is a transportation hub,” Stone explained. “It's got a train station here, it has a bus terminal, and it has a MetroLink that comes into this location.”

After things are up and running on the Cal State L.A. campus, the plan is to send mobile teams into the community, to bring shots to eligible individuals at community centers and schools.

If you are eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccine, you can register for an appointment on the state’s MyTurn website.

With additional reporting by Jackie Fortiér.

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READ OUR ONGOING COVERAGE OF THE COVID-19 VACCINES IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA: