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2020 Investigations — Year In Review

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(Dan Carino for LAist)
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This week, we’ll be looking back at our coverage of 2020, one of the strangest, most difficult years through which many of us have ever lived. Reporting on it was hard, and at times very painful. But even through the tragedy of the coronavirus, there were some bright spots. Today, we’ll take a look at some of our newsroom’s award-winning investigations.

While our team of reporters and editors are busy bringing you daily news and insight about all aspects of life in Southern California, we’re also hard at work on other projects: our investigative and enterprise stories.

Some of these stories originate as leads from trusted sources. Others begin when we get tips from readers like you. And some just start with a simple question.

An investigative or enterprise story might take a few weeks to report, edit, fact check and publish; more often, though, they take months, or even more than year, to produce. We put the time — and considerable human and financial resources — into these stories because we believe in the power of journalism, in transparency — in the public’s right to know. Our investigative and enterprise stories don’t just aim to break news; we produce them to shine new light on wrong-doing by those in power, to point out social inequities. to provide original insight and analysis, and to help our readers better understand the players and inner workings of the region they call home.

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This year, before the pandemic hit, we’d gotten off to a big start, with two major investigations into Southern California’s housing crisis that exposed dangerous — and even deadly — conditions at the bottom rung of the rental market, as well as a deep dive into a simmering battle at a highly regarded Orange County public school.

During the pandemic, we brought you more stories about conditions at public institutions and private facilities that laid bare the way race and class determine who’s most vulnerable to COVID-19.

Some of these stories were reported Elly Yu and Aaron Mendelson of our investigative team, while others were done by beat reporters such as Carla Javier and Jackie Fortiér, who despite their daily reporting obligations made the time to bring you stories we know you care about.

Deceit, Disrepair and Death Inside A Southern California Rental Empire By Aaron Mendelson
Virtually unknown to his tenants or the public, Mike Nijjar is one of the biggest landlords in California, with connections to a vast rental empire centered in some of the poorest parts of Southern California. But while Nijjar lives in a 12,000-square-foot hillside mansion with six bedrooms, nine bathrooms, a waterfall, a tennis court, a reflecting pool, a screening room and a vineyard, his tenants fight off roaches, rats, bedbugs, bees, maggots and mold, all while struggling to get even minor issues fixed. In one case, officials said conditions at a property connected to Nijjar were so bad that an infant died. (Read the story)

Facing The Music: The Uncertain Future Of The Orange County School Of The Arts By Carla Javier
A standoff with the Santa Ana school district could bring down the curtain on one of Southern California’s most popular — yet highly controversial — charter schools. The battle has been brewing for years, if not decades. It includes finger-pointing over who’s at fault; hurt feelings and high emotions all around; lawyers, of course; and children — lots of them — caught in the middle. (Read the story)

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Neither Human Nor Ghost: Chinese Immigrants Scrape By In San Gabriel Valley’s Boarding Houses By Yingjie Wang
In the modern-day tenements of L.A.’s San Gabriel Valley, known in the community as “boarding houses,” one- and two-bedroom apartments are home to thousands of Chinese immigrants who live in overcrowded, unsanitary and potentially deadly conditions for days, weeks or months at a time. Many boarding houses operate in violation of housing laws, but the substandard conditions persist, despite repeated vows by city leaders to crack down. (Read the story)

LA's Nursing Homes Serving Black And Brown Patients Are Hardest Hit By Coronavirus. What's Going On? By Jackie Fortiér (with additional reporting by Elly Yu) Every night, after walking a mile home from her job as a certified nursing assistant in East Los Angeles, Alma Lara-Garcia would strip off most of her clothes before she went in the house. "I didn't care if the neighbors saw," she said. "I would take off my overshirt, down to my camisole and take off my shoes and pants before I'd go in." Only then did she feel it was safe to enter the home she shares with her four teenage children. She knew the coronavirus was circulating at the nursing home where she worked, Buena Ventura Post Acute Care Center. But she had no idea it would kill so many of the elderly residents she cared for, or that she would become one of dozens of staff members to fall horribly ill. (Read the story)

Immigrant Detainees At Adelanto Say Officers Pepper-Sprayed Them For Peacefully Protesting By Elly Yu
Immigrant detainees at Adelanto Detention Center say they were injured or left struggling to breathe after officers in riot gear shot pepper bullets and discharged pepper spray at them, allegations that were first reported by LAist. Four detainees were treated at an off-site medical facility, and multiple detainees told LAist that officers used that force as they staged a peaceful protest against continuing lockdown conditions — conditions that included the requirement that they remain in their cells for at least 23 1/2 hours a day. (Read the story)

'10 To A Room, A Few Feet Apart': Advocates Say LA County's Incarcerated Youth Are At High Risk By Stephanie O’Neill
For a story that LAist broke this past spring, attorneys and advocates for youth offenders said children and young people held at juvenile facilities across L.A. County were unable to practice social distancing, not being given access to adequate soap or hand sanitizer, eating and showering communally, and lacking basic protections from the coronavirus. "We need to get as many kids out of the system as quickly as possible,” said Dr. Elizabeth Barnert, an assistant professor of pediatrics at UCLA who is a pediatrician at Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar. (Read the story)

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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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