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The Sears Store In Boyle Heights Is Closing Its Doors For Good Next Month

The Sears building in Boyle Heights on May 10, 2020. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

The historic Sears building at the corner of Olympic and Soto has been a mainstay of Boyle Heights for generations. But now the store is closing its doors for good...sometime next month.

The enormous retail complex (two MILLION square feet) first opened in 1927, and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2006.

While most of the building has been empty since the early 1990s, the Sears retail operation, owned by Transformco, only recently announced it was liquidating its inventory.

Michael Lisicky is a writer for Forbes, and covers the history of department and retail stores in America.

He says what happens to the building next is anyone's guess:

"At this point, talking to the developer, everything seems stalled. I know that there was supposed to be over a thousand residential units – that's [no longer happening]. So, at this point, it'll just be, more or less, an office and commercial space."

Sears was once one of the largest retailers in the country. Today, there are just 29 locations still open around the United States.




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Speed Cameras On LA Streets? Local, State Officials Want To Allow Cities To Launch Pilot Programs

New York City launched its speed camera program in 2014 and has recorded reductions in speeding and crashes. (Courtesy New York City Department of Transportation via Twitter)

Saying "enough is enough," State Assemblymember David Chiu announced new legislation to reduce "completely preventable" traffic deaths in California by allowing cities to develop and launch speed camera pilot programs.

The bill, AB 550, is being co-sponsored by the cities of Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco, and San Jose.

Speaking during a virtual press briefing, Chiu, D-San Francisco, said it's common knowledge that "speed kills," but not enough has been done to hold drivers accountable.

"When a driver traveling 20 miles per hour hits a pedestrian, there's a 90% chance that pedestrian will survive. At 40 miles an hour, the chance of survival drops to 20%. These numbing statistics become background noise for some who chalk it up to car culture, who treat it as an acceptable cost of driving. But at a certain point, we have to say enough is enough, because these deaths are completely, utterly preventable."

The bill would direct the state’s transportation agency to develop guidelines for speed camera pilot programs so local cities could launch their own versions. The bill would require the programs to be run by local transportation agencies, not police. There are also provisions in place aimed at addressing equity and privacy concerns.


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Theme Parks Have A Plan To Keep You Safe From COVID-19. Step 1: No Screaming

File: Lois Eldridge (L) and her twin sister Linda White brave Deja Vu during the media preview of the rollercoaster on Aug. 24, 2001 at Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia. (Peter Brandt/Getty Images)

Theme parks are coming back a lot sooner than expected in California, following changes to the state's reopening guidelines that will allow the parks to open as soon as April 1. The organization that represents theme parks across the state has a plan for how they will make you feel safe, along with some requests for those about to partake in thrill rides.

That includes keeping your mask on throughout the park, unless you're in a designated eating and drinking area. They're also working to "mitigate the effects of shouting" — in other words, helping to reduce the particles spraying from your mouth onto others when the Incredicoaster starts going really really fast.

Along with face coverings, the trade organization recommends that parks consider modifying seat loading patterns to help with potential concerns caused by those shouts. They note that guests facing in one direction on most rides will help — of course, that may not be that comforting when you're behind someone else who can't avoid letting out a scream.

The parks organization also recommends promoting and monitoring physical distancing, limiting mixing by grouping family/household units together, and limiting interactions through the use of signs, staff, recordings, and barriers.

Individual parks will all have their own plans specific to their sites, so we'll keep an eye out for what Universal Studios, Disneyland, and others are doing in their efforts to keep visitors safe while also reopening before most people are vaccinated.

While the state is changing when exactly parks can reopen, they’ll still have to follow state reopening guidelines. These industry recommendations are largely in line with the state, though those state guidelines currently go further than the industry recommendations in many areas. Starting April 1, theme parks within counties in the red tier — which includes both Los Angeles and Orange counties — can reopen at a maximum of 15% capacity under the new state guidelines. It's requiring small groups, with a maximum of 10 people or three household groups, with no mixing between groups.

For indoor attractions, time restrictions are being required. There's also no indoor dining allowed, a required weekly worker testing program, in-state visitors only (with minimal travel recommended based on the state's travel advisory), and online ticket purchases only.

Even once counties move into lower tiers, indicating moderate or minimal spread, the maximum capacity the state plans to allow remains at 35%. It's unclear when theme parks will be allowed to go back to their full capacity.

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At Least 2 Dead After Huge Fireworks Stash Blows Up Inside An Ontario Home

Fireworks went off inside a home in Ontario on March 16, 2021. (Courtesy of Ontario Fire Department)

At least two people are dead after a huge explosion rocked an Ontario neighborhood Tuesday. The city tweeted that a large stash of fireworks ignited inside a home.

The people who died were "in the area" of the explosion, Ontario Fire Dept. Chief Raymond J. Gayk told us.

The blast sent a huge plume of smoke into the air — many people shared photos and video on social media.

Earlier in the day, officials asked residents to shelter in place or evacuate the area as they looked for potential hazardous materials on the ground, according to a tweet from the city.

Authorities said late Tuesday that the evacuation area will be closed overnight:

To accommodate displaced residents, the city opened the De Anza Community Center as an emergency shelter.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

LA Is Opening Up Again, But Please Use Caution, Health Officials Say

People enjoy lunch at Grand Central Market as indoor dining reopens in Los Angeles, on March 15, 2021. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP)

Los Angeles County health officials are urging the public to keep wearing masks and abiding by social distancing guidelines, as restaurants, gyms, museums and movie theaters begin to reopen at limited capacity this week.

With more people intermingling, L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer says people need to be even more careful, not less, to avoid a surge in cases like we saw last summer:

"It is hard when things open up. You do feel better, and there is so much reason for optimism right now. But we're going to temper the optimism with like, let's play by the same rules and keep each other safe, until everyone has a chance to get that vaccination."

Ferrer says health inspectors are out visiting businesses that are reopening, making sure they're in compliance with safety protocols.

If people follow the safety protocols and things go well, she says L.A. County could move from the Red Tier to the Orange Tier in a few weeks.

For more info about restrictions in each of the state's reopening tiers, take a scroll through this handy PDF.

And for some more context, here's the breakdown of tiers, by color:


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'Progressive' Peter Hardin To Challenge Todd Spitzer For OC DA Seat

Peter Hardin. (Courtesy of Peter Hardin)

Peter Hardin today declared his candidacy in next year's Orange County District Attorney election. He said incumbent DA Todd Spitzer has created "a vacuum of leadership" that has led to "a sea of outrageous scandals."

Hardin, 42, rose to the rank of Captain in the Marines and served in Afghanistan. After arriving in Orange County in 2012, he spent a year as a deputy DA and two years as a Special U.S. Attorney before going into private practice.

Hardin describes himself as a progressive, although he does not promise the kind of sweeping reforms being instituted by L.A. DA George Gascón. He said sentencing enhancements can result in excessive sentences and may increase recidivism, but he's not ready to say which ones he would stop using.

Hardin said he is in favor ending cash bail and he would not pursue the death penalty. He would get rid of the DA office's DNA database, and while saying "by and large" law enforcement officers are "heroes ... I won't be afraid to prosecute [police]officers when they break the law."

Spitzer was elected to the office in 2018, defeating incumbent DA Tony Rackaukus who was running for his sixth term. Spitzer has been sharply critical of Gascón's decision not to pursue more aggressive sentencing. Last month, Spitzer released "guiding principles" which included the statement that he would stop "systemic mass incarceration." After he released that statement, an L.A. Times editorial asked if Spitzer — who it points out has "built his career on 'tough-on-crime' rhetoric" — was "trying to have it both ways?"


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Fatal Deputy Shooting Highlights The Need To Stop Using Police For Mental Health Crises

A Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputy sits in a patrol car in a file photo from 2016. (Photo by Maya Sugarman/KPCC) Maya Sugarman/KPCC

L.A. County Sheriff’s deputies were sent out on a “medical rescue/suicidal person call” in East L.A. Sunday. The man who prompted the call ended up dead. While details are still scarce, the incident is yet another example of why reform advocates -- and law enforcement -- want to get police out of the mental health business.

Deputies arrived at the 100 block of North Rowan Ave. to find a man with a kitchen knife inside a car, according to a Sheriff’s Department statement. It said he ignored their commands to exit the vehicle. A Mental Evaluation Team (MET) — which consists of a specially-trained deputy and a Department of Mental Health clinician — was dispatched.

But the department said before the team could arrive, the still unidentified man got out of the car holding the knife, ignoring commands to drop it, even after deputies used a “less than lethal stun bag.”

It said the deputies opened fire when the man charged at them with the knife. He was taken to a local hospital, where he died.

The episode raises the question of whether the situation might have had a peaceful outcome if the Mental Evaluation Team had made it in time.

The patrol unit requested the MET "about three minutes" after it was notified of the call, said Sheriff's Lt. John Gannon.

The department's approach since 2018 has been to have MET teams "co-respond and arrive as close to the same time as possible with patrol,” Gannon said. But the deputy who works on the MET at the East L.A. station was out sick on Sunday, so the next closest team was dispatched from Lakewood, he said.

The episode highlighted “the downside to not having enough units," Gannon said. The department has 33 MET units, but that's not enough to fully meet the need, he said.

The LAPD recently launched a pilot program designed to dispatch its Mental Evaluation Unit teams — comprised of an officer and a mental health worker — at the same time as officers responding to the initial call. And the city of L.A. has committed itself to developing an unarmed model of crisis response that would divert non-violent calls for mental health and substance use situations away from law enforcement.

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Vaccine Talks: Getting My Father Vaccinated Before He Gets COVID-19 Again

Arturo's parents, Armandina and Jose Cecena. (Photo by Arturo Cecena)

This is part of a series of conversations that Cal State Northridge students had with loved ones about COVID-19 vaccinations. Planning your own conversation with family or friends? Here are some tips.

Arturo Cecena, Tarzana / Palmdale

My parents wanted the vaccine way before they had COVID-19.

My mother is a retired cafeteria worker and my dad is a mechanic. They were both really scared and careful in not letting anyone in their home, fearing they were going to get the virus. But after a visit from my sister and brother-in-law, they contracted it and we had the scare of my father being admitted to the hospital.

He ended up getting pneumonia in both lungs. After staying in the hospital for four days, he returned home with an oxygen tank that he now has to carry everywhere.

Thankfully my mother now has an appointment with Kaiser Permanente for March 11 to get her first dose of the vaccine.

But my father still has to wait to get his because he is on medication and using that oxygen tank 24 hours a day. We are not sure when he will stop using the tank, and we are not sure when he will be able to receive his first dose of the vaccine. I hope he is able to receive his first dose soon so he does not get the virus again, because we don’t know if his body is strong enough for a second infection.


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Morning Brief: Five Million Angelenos Eligible For Vaccine, Newsom Claps Back, And A Night Hike

A sign outside Grand Central Market, as businesses slowly start to reopen. March 15, 2021. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

Good morning, L.A. It’s March 16.

Beginning yesterday, a new tier of Angelenos became eligible for the coronavirus vaccine.

Now qualified are people between the ages of 16 and 64 who have a disability and/or certain high-risk health conditions; public transit workers; and people who live or work in so-called “congregate living spaces,” such as homeless shelters, domestic violence shelters, and prisons or jails.

According to county estimates, more than five million L.A. residents and employees are now eligible. That’s a lot to manage, and my colleagues Jackie Fortiér and Carla Javier broke down the details.

To begin with, anyone with a vaccine appointment will need to bring a photo ID (it does not need to be government issued), and proof of living or working in the county. For folks who qualify because of a health condition, the honor system is being used; you won't have to provide proof of your condition, although you will be asked to sign a document attesting to your status.

For folks who qualify because of where they work, proof isn't necessarily needed either, but it’s a good idea to bring a work badge if you have one, or a letter from an employer.

There won't be enough doses for everyone who is eligible right away. Supply has been low since the vaccine was first introduced, and while it’s getting better, it’s still not enough to meet demand.

But Angelenos seem to be largely on board with getting vaccinated. At least 1.8 million residents had received one shot as of March 12, and nearly 900,000 were fully vaccinated.

Case numbers continue to go down as well, and L.A. County is now in the red tier. That means businesses and restaurants can slowly begin to reopen, albeit at limited capacity and with safety protocols still in place. Plus, the L.A. Unified School District reached an agreement last week with the teachers’ union to reopen for in-person classes.

I don’t want to say that things are heading back to normal; there is no going back to how things were, and none of us can forget what we learned while living through a global pandemic. But for now, I’ll say this: for the first time in a while, hope appears to be on the horizon.

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

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What Else You Need To Know Today

  • L.A. City Councilman Joe Buscaino will run for mayor in 2022.
  • Gov. Gavin Newsom has largely ignored the attempt to oust him from office, but this morning he fired off some tweets.
  • As part of a series of conversations that Cal State Northridge students had with loved ones about COVID-19 vaccinations, one young woman wants to see her brother, a cancer survivor, get the vaccine.
  • L.A. District Attorney George Gascón is pushing to review cases of prisoners who had years added on to their sentences. Reginald Wheeler hopes to be among them.
  • The Academy Award nominees are more diverse than they’ve been in years past.

Before You Go … This Week’s Outdoor Pick: St. Patrick’s Night Hike

Take a night hike on St. Patrick's Day in Griffith Park. (fredcamino, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

Looking to get outside this week? Look no further than Griffith Park, where the group Hiking With Friends is hosting a nighttime jaunt on St. Patrick’s Day.

Or, if you’re feeling more of a stay-warm-inside type of vibe, you have other options: Spend time with Michelle Obama and her pals, Waffles and Mochi. Catch the long-awaited "Snyder Cut" of Justice League. Score a bunch of St. Patrick's dining and drink deals. Soak in SXSW without traveling to Austin. And more.

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