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What You Need To Know Today: Seeking Questions About Robert Luna, Book Memorializes Incarcerated Japanese, Discover LA’s Debs Park

A man in a dark suit and blue tie smiles for the camera. Behind him we see a park and some sort of public monument.
Former Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna Debates Sheriff Alex Villanueva in race for LA County Sheriff
(screengrab courtesy of Fox 11)
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Good morning, L.A. It’s Friday, September 23. 

Today in How to LA: Q&A with Criminal Justice Reporter Emily Elena Dugdale about Sheriff’s race and candidate Robert Luna; plus, a sacred "book of names" memorializes Japanese incarcerated during World War II 

Thank goodness it’s finally Friday. I need to rest up because not only are we gearing up for a warm Autumn and all that comes with it (drought, wildfires), we’re also prepping for what could be a highly contentious election season.

LAist will bring you all the news you need to know leading up to November 8. Today, let’s zoom in on the sheriff’s race, specifically the lesser known candidate. 

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On Wednesday night, you saw the L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva and former Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna square off in a combative debate. Many of you likely know of Sheriff Villanueva and are aware of controversies, like the deputy gang accusations. But you’re probably wondering…who is this Robert Luna guy?

My colleague, criminal justice reporter Emily Elena Dugdale wrote a piece about Luna, who spent 36 years in the Long Beach Police Department, including seven as its chief. 

Now, with the election only a few weeks away, she wants to make sure you have all the information you need to make a decision on your ballot. And she’s starting with collecting your questions.

So, tell us: What questions do you have about L.A. County Sheriff Candidate Robert Luna before you vote? Ask us here (look for that purple “Ask a question” button).

I spoke with Emily about why she is seeking questions about Luna and why it’s so important to be thoroughly informed about both candidates.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. 

Aaricka: Why are you trying to get questions from voters about Robert Luna?

Emily: Luna is seeking to replace Villanueva as the leader of the country’s largest sheriff’s department, so it’s a critically important job. Villanueva has a record of fighting against the establishment, characterizing himself as a warrior seeking to overturn a corrupt system. Luna has condemned the sheriff for clashing with the Board of Supervisors, the Civilian Oversight Commission, and the Inspector General, even to the point of defying subpoenas calling on him to testify about things like deputy gangs. Luna says if he wins he’ll resume the department’s cooperation with watchdogs and others. But beyond that, we don’t know a lot about how he’d run the department. Would he be a reformer? Would he be comfortable with the status quo?

Aaricka: What do you want voters to consider as they think about questions?

Emily: I feel it's important to say that no candidate for sheriff is going to be immune from controversy, especially when you're dealing with large departments that have lesser degrees of surveillance and attention. And also the system and protections around policing create environments where bad behavior goes unrecognized and can be obscured.

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Aaricka: Is there anything else that I didn’t bring up that people should know?

Emily: It can be really easy to get caught up in the headlines about crime, like: this person was shot, or this person was murdered. Those are obviously very important, but there’s a lot more going on within the criminal justice system than those headline-grabbing events. For example, the sheriff is in charge of overseeing the jails and the thousands of people held in those facilities. Deputies are out patrolling the streets every day. The sheriff has deputies in school districts across the county. The department is present on college campuses. And so, it's not just the people who are getting shot and killed by law enforcement who are affected by the sheriff and their families. It's really everyone.

So I hope through my reporting, and through helping answer these questions, people can see how deeply woven policing is into the fabric of our everyday lives. 

You can share your questions about Luna with Emily here.

As always, stay happy and healthy, folks. There’s more news below — just keep reading.

The News You Need After You Stop Hitting Snooze

  • After the overdose death of a high school student earlier this month, the Los Angeles Unified School District outlined a plan to provide resources for students and mitigate the effects of overdoses in school communities. (Los Angeles Times
  • A new Saturday school in L.A. wants to teach Ukrainian American kids about their culture and language. Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the school has seen a lot of newcomers.
  • This Saturday there will be an installation ceremony at the Japanese American National Museum for the Ireicho — a sacred book of names memorializing every one of the 125,476 people of Japanese ancestry incarcerated during WWII. The book is similar to the Vietnam War memorial in DC — trying to recognize the individuals involved as opposed to treating them as a faceless mass of people.
  • Despite concerns about a return to the office, LAUSD ended remote work at its headquarters near downtown L.A. Now there’s an outbreak and 71 employees have fallen ill. 
  • The state is delaying the release of standardized student test scores in math, English and science. It’s an unusual move and comes at a time of elevated concern that children have fallen behind because of the pandemic. 
  • The personal belongings of TV darling Betty White will be auctioned off this weekend, including the original director’s chair from the set of The Golden Girls
  • Drag Musicals, haunted hayrides and a ukulele festival are all included in the list of weekend events. By the way, have you ever been on a haunted hayride? You should go to the Old Zoo at Griffith Park now through Oct. 31st!

Wait! One More Thing...Discover Debs Park, Where LA's 'Bugs Are Buggin'

A man puts his nose close to purple flowers at a park.
Brian De Los Santos takes a whiff of some purple flowers at Debs Park
(Evan Jacoby
LAist )

Why does it matter for people to get outdoors? 

That’s what How To LA host Brian De Los Santos asked Maricela “Marci” Rosales on the most recent episode. Rosales, the associate director for The Conservation Lands Foundation, had this to say:

“We are nature and nature is not separate from us. Climate change is happening. And the impact to green spaces is, you know, it hurts me because this is how we keep air quality better than how it was before. This is how we keep wildlife still living in the places that they call home.”

Brian and Marci hiked the trails at Debs Park and talked about the environment and access to nature in L.A., smelling the white sage and lavender as they walked. Debs Park is home to the Audubon Center, too, and it’s just east of the 110 Freeway near Montecito Heights – so it’s the great outdoors right in the middle of the city. So why are they there? Well, it’s because of YOU. You all told us about some of the outdoor spots we should visit and we thought…well, why not check it out?

This place holds special meaning to Marci who is also a volunteer for Latino Outdoors where she encourages people of color to get outside. Listen to today’s podcast to discover the natural beauty of Debs Park yourself. If you have a favorite outdoor spot you think we should visit, let us know here and we may profile it.

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