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USC Scientists Have Found A Way To Mass Produce Kelp For Biofuel

A diver attaches seaweed to a prototype of a device called the “kelp elevator.” (USC Photo/David Ginsburg)

Could cars, trucks and planes be fueled by seaweed one day?

Researchers at USC's Wrigley Institute on Catalina Island have been testing an innovative method of growing kelp that could make that a reality, by dramatically speeding up the algae's growth process.

Kelp is considered a viable source of renewable energy. Unlike other biofuels, it doesn't take pesticides or fertilizer to produce, and it's naturally fast-growing. But up until now, there hasn't been a way to cultivate enough of it to make it cost-competitive with fossil fuels.

As The Wrigley Institute's Diane Kim explains, that's where the "kelp elevator" comes in:

"[It's] basically taking the kelp down to depths where you find an abundant amount of nutrients and then bringing them back up to near the surface where they can then be exposed to light to photosynthesize."

Instead of waiting for the seasonal process that brings the nutrients up to the ocean surface where the kelp grows, the scientists brought the kelp down, and then back up – over and over again for 90 days.

"What we found was that the depth-cycled kelp actually grew faster," Kim says. "This was really exciting for us, because, I mean, we really weren't sure how the kelp would respond to depth-cycling."

The change in underwater pressure didn't damage the kelp, like the researchers thought it might — instead the process yielded about four times as much growth as the natural process would.

The company Marine BioEnergy, designed and built the system for the study and is now designing technology for open-ocean kelp farms.

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Oscar Voting Has Finally Started -- Very Late, Thanks To Pandemic

FILE - In this Feb. 4, 2019 file photo, an Oscar statue appears at the 91st Academy Awards Nominees Luncheon in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Danny Moloshok/Invision/AP, File)

Even before the pandemic, Hollywood’s awards season ran for a seeming eternity — about six months from the launch of the fall film festivals to the final dispensing of Academy Award statuettes.

But COVID-19 has forced the industry to overhaul its trophy calendar. Oscar voting finally started today. By this time last year, the awards ceremony was already done and gone.

Over the last 10 years, all but two Academy Awards ceremonies were held in February. But with movie release schedules thrown into chaos, and the logistics of this year’s Oscar broadcast a work in pandemic progress, very few things are unfolding as originally planned.

The late start of voting in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is but one of the current Oscar accommodations.

The academy also extended the cut-off eligibility date for qualifying films, and changed a fundamental rule that once barred movies that premiered on streaming sites from competing.

That means the odds of streamers like Netflix (“The Trial of the Chicago 7,” “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” “Mank”) and Amazon (“The Sound of Metal,” “One Night in Miami,” “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”) taking home some Oscar hardware have improved.

Even though the voting has begun, you hardly need to start planning your Oscar party yet: The 2021 ceremony won’t be staged until April 25.

But even with all the delays, there’s still a clear front runner: the Chloé Zhao “Nomadland” starring Frances McDormand.


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Despite The Pandemic, Turnout In the 30th State Senate Special Election Is About Average

Assemblymember Sydney Kamlager easily won the special election for the 30th District State Senate seat. (Sydney Kamlager Facebook page)

In spite of the pandemic and the usual combination of apathy and low information in an off-year election, turnout for Tuesday’s contest for a State Senate seat is approaching typical participation rates for a special election in Los Angeles County, according to an update released today.

Democratic Assemblymember Sydney Kamlager easily won the election for the 30th District seat, avoiding a runoff to replace her former boss, now-Supervisor Holly Mitchell.

So far, the L.A. County Registrar-Recorder’s office has counted just over 77,000 ballots. That’s nearing 13% of registered voters in the district, which includes South L.A., Culver City and parts of downtown. An estimated 730 vote-by-mail ballots remain to be processed.

How does that compare with past voter interest? In the 16 State Senate special election primaries (not counting recalls) involving at least part of L.A. County since 1989, the average turnout was roughly 14%, according to data from the California Secretary of State.

The turnout in this election is already much higher than in the special election that first sent Mitchell to the State Senate.

In 2013, only 5.5% of SD 26 voters turned out for the primary election to replace Curren Price, who resigned after being elected to the L.A. City Council.


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Disneyland, Concerts, Baseball Crowds Could All Come Back April 1 Under California's New Reopening Plan

(Courtesy Disneyland Resort)

California's making a major shift to its reopening plans, allowing theme parks and other outdoor entertainment to return as soon as April 1, according to new state Department of Public Health guidelines. Attendance for all will be restricted to visitors from within California, with masks continuing to be required for everyone in attendance.


Theme parks will be allowed to reopen in the red reopening tier, rather than the yellow tier as current guidelines dictate.

Thanks to a decline in case rates and hospitalizations, along with vaccines and progress in vaccinating the most vulnerable, state Health Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said in a statement:

"California can begin gradually and safely bringing back more activities, especially those that occur outdoors and where consistent masking is possible."

The news was welcomed by theme park operators, who have been frustrated by restrictions that kept the gates closed far longer than anticipated.

“We are encouraged that theme parks now have a path toward reopening this spring, getting thousands of people back to work and greatly helping neighboring businesses and our entire community," Disneyland Resort President Ken Potrock said in a statement. "With responsible Disney safety protocols already implemented around the world, we can’t wait to welcome our guests back and look forward to sharing an opening date soon.”

Even when reopening is allowed there will be significant restrictions on attendance. They'll only be able to reopen at 15% capacity in the red tier, then 25% in the orange tier and 35% in the yellow tier — each tier requiring less risk of exposure to COVID-19 as measured by positivity rates, new cases and other metrics.

Both Orange and Los Angeles counties are currently in the purple tier, but both are making progress toward the red tier, with Orange County in particular appearing as though it may hit that target in time for Disneyland to reopen in April.


It also just so happens that April 1 is baseball opening day. Fans will be able to attend outdoor sports and live performances, even in counties still in the most restrictive purple reopening tier. However, the numbers will be severely capped at just 100 or fewer people, with only visitors from the region allowed, with advanced reservations required.

But in the red tier, capacity jumps up to 20%, then 33% in the orange tier, and 67% in the yellow tier. Concessions won't be sold while counties are still in the purple tier, but will be allowed to be delivered to people's seats in the red tier.

The Dodgers and the Angels both released statements thanking officials for these loosened restrictions, with the Dodgers saying they plan to announce a new ticket policy, as well as health and safety protocols, within days.

"Like the Governor, we're optimistic that California will continue to make progress in the fight against COVID-19 and that we can safely host fans to start the season," the Dodgers said in their statement.

L.A. County had not yet reviewed the new state guidance Friday afternoon, local Public Health chief science officer Dr. Paul Simon said at a Friday briefing. He said that officials will take a closer look.

"Outdoor [activities are] definitely better than indoor," Simon said. "We will feel a lot more receptive to venues where we can ensure that adequate spacing can be maintained."


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With contributions from Lita Martinez.

What Was The Deal With Those Benches In The LA River?

People enjoy the wooden benches that briefly appeared on the bank of the L.A. river in Frogtown. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

For a few days this week, a small stretch of the Los Angeles River in northeast Los Angeles was populated with benches where people could sit, chat, sip coffee and chill. But just as quickly as the benches showed up, they disappeared.

The benches popped up on Sunday on a stretch of the concrete waterway in Frogtown. By Wednesday evening, they were gone.

We caught up with the man who built and placed the benches. He spoke to us on the condition that he not be named because he was concerned about facing repercussions for placing the benches without permission.

He lives in Frogtown and builds decks for homes. He says he used an assortment of wood — redwood, red balau, mahogany — left over from various projects to make the benches, which are 5 or 6-feet long. It took him only two days to make four benches.

The maker told us:

"I built them for this specific location. I just watched people sitting on the concrete slope there and I had a lot of leftovers from my projects. I just put the benches together so people can sit on them while having coffee."

Jennie and Simon walk the L.A. river a few times a month. They were surprised by the wooden chairs when they saw them but were happy to have a comfortable bench to sit on. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

He had made six more benches that he was preparing to "install" when he got a call from some sort of official — "I can't remember the exact position or agency," he says — telling him he needed to remove the benches. So, on Wednesday, he did.

Angelenos have often interacted with the L.A. River in creative ways, including ad hoc coffee clubs, but maybe the benches were too much of a lawsuit risk for the powers that be.

The builder of the benches says he has given two of them to a local yoga studio and is looking to give away the rest of the benches.

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City Of LA Opens New Vaccination Site At USC

USC Downey Way Entrance. Chava Sanchez/ LAist

USC's campus will soon serve as the newest city-run vaccination site. The site is located at the corner of Exposition and Figueroa, right next to the University Park campus and the Expo Park Metro Station.

The site will take those with appointments via car or foot and accommodate patients who require additional access services. Officials will also send mobile clinics from the site into some of the areas hit hardest by the pandemic.

At his COVID-19 briefing yesterday, L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti said it's all part of the city's focus on equity, which has been a big issue of late:

"Our push for equity [has] led us to putting mass vaccination centers closer to communities in greatest need."

The USC location will open next Tuesday, March 9 and the hours will be 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Garcetti said the site will be able to administer 5,000 doses of the vaccine per day once it ramps up to full capacity. Vaccine supplies will be limited at first, he said, but more shipments of doses will be headed for L.A. in the coming weeks.

The mayor said a new initiative with Uber will help South L.A. residents without access to transportation get to the USC site. Uber will provide 15,000 free rides to the site and 20,000 rides will at half-off normal rates.

The mayor also announced a new program called the Dependent Homebound Population Vaccination Initiative, that will coordinate delivering and administering vaccines directly to L.A. residents who are homebound due to chronic disease, disability, or other reasons.

It's a partnership between the Department of Public Health and the city’s Department of Disability.

The program aims to vaccinate 300 homebound seniors next week and eventually reach Angelenos living in public housing, senior centers, and long-term facilities.

You can watch Garcetti's full coronavirus briefing here:

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LA Salsa Dancers Are Still Dancing Through The Pandemic

Dancing on the promenade. (Courtesy Solange Castro)

The COVID-19 pandemic has left people without the chance to gather in person. Well, at least officially — people have still been gathering, including salsa dancers.

Dancer Solange Castro has largely opted against gathering, even though she knows that there’s a weekly salsa dance on Venice Pier, just two blocks from her home. But she knows that a mask will do little to protect her when it’s drenched with sweat mere inches from her dance partner.

Castro wrote a book about her years dancing, Salsa Chica — which happened to come out a week before the world was shut down in March 2020. She shared with LAist how the world of L.A. salsa was shaken since that day, the evolution it had been undergoing before, and her hopes for local salsa’s future.


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Why The LA District Attorney Said No To A Joint Corruption Task Force With The Sheriff

L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva. (L.A. County Sheriff's Department)

The draft memorandum of understanding arrived at DA George Gascón’s office last month. It proposed a joint task force to investigate public corruption, saying it would be a “force multiplier.”

The response from the DA’s office was, thanks, but no thanks.

“We do not want to compromise our ability to engage in that work in an independent manner,” Gascón spokesman Alex Bastian told us. He added that the DA’s Public Integrity Division, which investigates corruption, has “significant expertise.”

Villanueva did not respond to our request for comment on why he approached Gascón about a task force.

On Feb. 27, the sheriff publicly endorsed an effort to recall Gascón, citing the DA's efforts to reduce prison sentences to address mass incarceration.

Meanwhile, Villanueva’s department is conducting criminal investigations into three current or former Sheriff’s watchdogs. He brushes aside questions about potential ethical conflicts: “The sheriff is empaneled according to the state constitution with investigative powers to investigate all crimes within L.A. County,” he told us.


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What Long Beach Is Doing To Stop Vaccine Line Jumpers

Vehicles line up at the Long Beach Convention Center when the mass vaccination site opened in January. (Photo by Thomas R. Cordova courtesy Long Beach Post)

Long Beach health officials have partially abandoned a state-run COVID-19 vaccine appointment system because it was letting too many ineligible people sign up for shots.

The state’s reservation system was so porous that city-run clinics would have leftover vaccine doses after screening out people who tried to jump the line, a city spokeswoman said.


To combat this, the city on Thursday invited seniors 65 years and older to simply wait in line at the city’s Convention Center to potentially get vaccinated without having an appointment. Today, the city is hosting a similar event for food workers from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Convention Center. They will be administering 500 shots to whoever gets there first and can show they are eligible.

Jennifer Rice Epstein, the spokeswoman for Long Beach, said the city was hosting these types of events because they were turning away so many people who’d been able to book appointments for shots but then weren’t able to prove they were eligible when they arrived.

Currently, the only people allowed to get vaccines in Long Beach are health care and emergency response workers, those 65 and older, food and agriculture workers and those in education.

The city has been directing those people to book appointments through the state’s MyTurn or CalVax website, but local officials have said the website doesn’t properly screen out ineligible people and allows anyone with a link to that day’s appointments to reserve a spot.


Because the site is state-run, Long Beach Health Department Director Kelly Colopy said the city is not able to control how many people are sharing links to appointment slots or how they are screened before signing up. After a person is directed to the state’s website, they are asked to check a box identifying their eligibility group, but they can simply select “other” or “other essential worker” without any verification.

This means city workers have to screen people at vaccination sites and turn away those who don’t qualify. In some cases, ineligible people have slipped through the cracks. It’s unclear how many.

However, the city also turned away so many ineligible people that there was sometimes an abundance of leftover shots, according to Epstein.

“We have had to turn many folks away due to link sharing so we weren’t using as much vaccine as we had planned to,” she said in an email.

This prompted the decision on Thursday to open up 500 no-appointment needed slots for seniors as long as they could prove they lived in Long Beach, Epstein said.

Any eligible people left waiting in line once the city ran out of vaccines received help to sign up for an appointment at a later date, according to Epstein.

“We also hope this will help bring out more folks for whom the registration process is difficult; we’ll sign them up on site,” she said.

A Volunteer Vaccine Navigator Has Some Tips

Volunteer Candice Kim put up a sign near her home offering to help people struggling to navigate the vaccine appointment booking systems. (Courtesy of Candice Kim)

It's one thing to be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine and another thing entirely to navigate the system and acquire it.

The barriers to vaccine access are plenty:

  • language and translation hurdles
  • email and cell phone availability
  • technology proficiency
  • the time to keeping checking various avenues, transportation, and supply limitations.

To help, some Southern Californians have stepped in and stepped up to guide friends, family and strangers through the medical maze.

We talked to Pasadena resident Candice Kim who took up the effort when her parents — who are seniors — became eligible for the vaccine. She's now a project director by day and a volunteer vaccine navigator by night.


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Race In LA: Boricua At Home, Black In The World -- An Afro Latina in Los Angeles

Nadine Romero, center, pictured with her father and younger sister in Venice Beach, circa early 1980s. (Courtesy of Nadine Romero)

In this week's Race In LA essay, contributor Nadine Romero writes about growing up Afro Latina and Puerto Rican in Los Angeles, a city in which Caribbeans are few and some people just "don't get" Afro-Latinidad, as she writes. Romero describes her dual identity:

On the inside of my home, I'm Puerto Rican. The first American-born generation on my mom's side, and the second on my dad's side, practicing the customs and traditions of my Puerto Rican heritage. Watching Spanish television programming and listening to Spanish radio stations, as well as American English television and radio.

On the outside, especially having grown up mostly in Los Angeles, in Latin American neighborhoods like Koreatown in the inner city, I am Black.

That one can be both Latina and Black was not something many of her peers understood when she was growing up in Koreatown, where she was never seen as enough of one or the other. Now she proudly describes herself to people as "a mix of three races: African, European and Indigenous."




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Meet The Man Behind The Park To Playa Trail

David McNeill, executive director of the Baldwin Hills Conservancy (Sharon McNary/LAist)

If you’re craving fresh air and exercise, the 13 miles of LA’s Park to Playa Trail could hit the spot. The final linkage for the trail was completed late last year, and you can run or bike from the Crenshaw District all the way to the beach at Playa Del Rey.

The trail is overseen by the Baldwin Hills Conservancy, and brings together a patchwork of different parks and stretches of land owned by city, county and state agencies.

It’s largely the vision of David McNeill, the executive director of the conservancy, who for 20 years pushed for a way to give the residents of South L.A. access to the outdoors in their own neighborhood.


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Morning Brief: Scheduling A Vaccine, Being A Good Ally, And Moving Sex Work Forward

A donut shop along Valley Blvd. in the San Gabriel Valley. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

Good morning, L.A. It’s March 5.

Getting a coronavirus vaccine hasn’t been easy for anyone, anywhere. There are flaws in appointment systems, low supply and, of course, line-cutters.

In Southern California, the process is made infinitely more complicated by the number of health departments in the area, all of which are taking different approaches. For example, the city of L.A. handles matters separately from the county of L.A.; Pasadena and Long Beach have their own health departments and guidelines.

But vaccine improvements seem to be coming. President Joe Biden announced earlier this week that enough vaccine supply will be available for all U.S. adults by the end of May. And with the approval of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, that goal seems like it might just be reachable.

For those reasons, we compiled a guide on how to schedule your vaccine once your turn comes. Speaking to health officials from San Bernardino, Riverside, Ventura, L.A. and Orange Counties as well as the cities of L.A., Pasadena and Long Beach, we asked how to book an appointment, how to stay current on eligibility tiers, and more.

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 Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said L.A. is "very close" to moving into the red tier of reopening. That means indoor dining, movie theaters, etc.
  • California lawmakers approved a $6.6 billion package aimed at coaxing reluctant public schools to resume on-campus classes for the youngest and most at-risk students by April 1.
  • California's sex workers are cutting out the middle man and giving back, with a little help from the internet.
  • "I think it is important for white allies to use their voice to help educate other white people." Local art student, Melissa Licari, writes about how she used her creativity to support Black Lives Matter.

Weekend Reads

There's a lot going on in the world right now, and it’s hard enough to keep up with our day-to-day lives, let alone to stay current on the news. But if you have some time this weekend, here’s what you may have missed:

Depressed by their isolation, some high school seniors in California are unmotivated to finish their college applications. (LAist)

This San Fernando grandmother is pressing officials for more information about school reopening. (San Fernando Sun)

The LA Motel, which opened in the 1940s, is going to be turned into temporary housing for L.A.’s unhoused residents. (Urbanize L.A.)

Say good-bye to Fry’s Electronics, and its iconic entryways. (LAist)

USC fraternities are opting for more environmental sustainability. (Daily Trojan)

Could banana trees be the next step in combating wildfires? (LAist)

“South LA is sick because we have a shortage of 1,200 doctors, or 10 times fewer doctors than the average community,” writes Dr. Elaine Batchlor, the CEO of MLK Community Healthcare. (L.A. Sentinel)

Finance by day, filming cops by night. Here’s how @FilmThePoliceLA gets it done. (L.A. Taco)

Food and agriculture employees — including grocery store workers, some restaurant employees, and farm workers — can now get their vaccines. (LAist)

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

Poppy & Seed in Anaheim's Packing District is now open to diners for a sneak peek. A limited menu is available for takeout and delivery. (Max Milla)

Vaccine distribution is getting somewhat better, but it’s still not time to move from your couch, for the most part. Here are some ways to stay entertained:

Celebrate Cinespia's return — to the drive-in. Watch animators show off their short stuff. Meet Oscar Quintero and his alter-ego, Kay Sedia. Compete in Outfest's virtual trivia night. Stay home and read a book for a good cause. And check out tons of Restaurant Week dining deals in both Orange County and Los Angeles. 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.

Check for updates on these stories and more. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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A Vaccine Passport To Go To A Concert? Here's What An Expert Says

A woman receives the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccine site in Long Beach. Chava Sanchez/LAist

As countries around the world embark on ambitious COVID-19 vaccination programs, governments and businesses are increasingly looking for ways to tell who has been inoculated from those who have not. One idea that’s been gaining traction is a vaccine passport.

David Studdert, professor of Medicine and Law at Stanford University, explains:

“It’s a basic verification that someone has had vaccination, or potentially even has positive antibodies from a prior infection. What actual physical form it will take, is a little bit up in the air right now.”

Early movers on this idea are embracing “some sort of digital certification,” says Studdert, like a QR code that could be carried on your phone, and it wouldn’t just be used for air travel. Vaccine passports could potentially give people clearance to go to things like concerts and sporting events -- all the fun things we did back in the “before times.”

Now, it’s unclear when something like this would actually be available to Angelenos. President Biden asked government agencies to look into it; meanwhile, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Denmark, Sweden, Hungary, Poland, and Australia are already experimenting with some version of a vaccine passport, or they are in the planning stages of doing so, Studdert told our news and culture show Take Two.


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