California’s COVID Comeback Intensifies, But Officials Say There’s No Cause for Alarm

Outbreak investigations. Disrupted work schedules. Canceled vacations. Wearing masks.

Sound familiar?

COVID-19 is making a comeback in California. Coronavirus levels in wastewater are on the rise in the state’s most populated areas, and hospitalizations continue to tick upward as residents return from trips and head back to school.

The latest rebound, seen both in public health data and at-home tests, has led some to question what — if any — new measures they should consider taking to protect themselves. With Labor Day weekend right around the corner, some may wonder whether they should scale back or alter their plans.

While residents should be aware of current trends, and the steps they can take to reduce their risk of infection, the higher transmission rates aren’t “a cause for alarm,” Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said.

“We want everyone to enjoy this last weekend of the summer, and we think this can be easily done with some simple basic safety measures,” she said.

Such steps are taking on increasing importance given the first sustained COVID flare-up in months.

Coronavirus levels have more than doubled in Los Angeles’ wastewater since the start of summer, state data show, although they remain less than half of last winter’s peak. The rate at which reported test results are coming back positive is also up, now at 13.2% across California; at the start of summer, it was around 4%.

“These higher rates of transmission, while they’re not a cause for alarm, they do translate to more outbreaks in L.A. County, across schools, work sites and healthcare facilities,” Ferrer said. “Unfortunately, this often means missed days of work, missed learning and increased risk for those who are most susceptible to severe illness.”

In L.A. County, as of Thursday, there were 128 outbreak investigations in which new cases have appeared in the last four weeks. Eighty-six were in healthcare or community care settings, 20 in workplace settings, 12 in educational settings — including the L.A. Unified School District headquarters — five at sites serving people experiencing homelessness and five at correctional/detention facilities.

A number of work sites in the entertainment industry have experienced outbreaks recently, including the Directors Guild of America in Los Angeles, “The Masked Singer” studio at Red Studios Hollywood, Lionsgate Entertainment in Santa Monica and Walt Disney Feature Animation in Burbank, according to the county’s public health department.

People with COVID-19 are asked to stay home for at least five days after their first symptoms or their first positive test, whichever comes first.

The California Department of Public Health calculates that for every 100 people with the coronavirus in the state, 118 others are being infected by them, the highest transmission rate all summer.

During a news conference, the first held in months after what she acknowledged has been a “relatively calm summer,” Ferrer struck a largely calming tone. Coronavirus spread, though increasing, is nowhere near as far-reaching or disruptive as during the pandemic’s earlier phases.

Over the last week, Ferrer said, L.A. County has reported an average of about 571 new coronavirus cases a day — essentially double the figure from a month ago.

“Case numbers are relatively low compared to many other points this past year,” she said. “I also want to note that it’s a bit unfair to make those comparisons because there’s less reportable testing.”

Official case tallies have long been an undercount because of the prevalence of at-home testing, and that gap has only widened as public health departments wind down their screening efforts.

Though the rise in infections is also accompanied by an increase in hospitalizations, the latter does not appear to be climbing at a rate comparable to past surges.

New weekly COVID-19 hospitalizations in California have doubled since the beginning of summer but remain less than half of last summer’s peak — possibly because of enduring immunity from past vaccinations or infections.

Nationally, new weekly COVID-19 hospitalizations are more than double since the start of the summer, but only one-third of last summer’s peak.

The dramatic decrease in severe illness and hospitalization explains why there is little appetite for tactics such as universal mask-wearing orders, the last of which ended in Los Angeles County 18 months ago. Even mask-wearing requirements for healthcare workers have ended in recent months; most California counties dropped the requirement in April, and L.A. County ended its order on Aug. 11.

Masking orders at certain sites, such as workplaces, have been ordered specifically to quell an outbreak. Some hospitals have returned to mask mandates; Kaiser Permanente Santa Rosa recently imposed one for hospital employees in response to the latest increase in coronavirus infections.

“The immunity is stronger today than at any other point in the outbreak,” Dr. Mandy Cohen, the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a recent video briefing. “That means we’re moving toward COVID-19 being a more manageable illness with less severe illness.”

Compared to last summer, “we’re in a much different and better place in August of 2023,” Cohen said. “We have stronger immunity and tools to protect ourselves: We have vaccines, at-home tests, effective treatments and common-sense strategies like washing your hands and staying away from people when you’re sick.”

She added: “However, COVID-19 remains riskier if you’re unvaccinated, and riskier still if you are unvaccinated and [have] not had COVID as a prior infection. Your age and your underlying health conditions also matter.”

The rise in infections illustrates the importance of getting the newly updated COVID-19 vaccine as soon as it becomes available, possibly by mid-September if authorized as expected by federal authorities. The vaccine will be especially important for older people.

About 70% of COVID-19 hospitalizations are among those 65 and older, Cohen said. Those most at risk continue to be older people who are not current on their vaccinations. At least 45,000 COVID-19 deaths have been recorded nationally this year.

Immune protection from COVID-19 “does decrease over time. And we have to remember that the COVID virus continues to change,” Cohen said. And with mutations constantly keeping scientists watchful, “people need to make sure that they’re staying up to date on their COVID vaccines.”

For people who have never been vaccinated, and for some older residents and those at higher risk, it might be better to get the existing vaccine now and not wait for the newer version, Cohen said.

Still, getting the older shot now could delay a person’s ability to get the new shot. Patients should talk to their healthcare providers for individual advice.

People can get a COVID-19 vaccination and a flu shot at the same time. Generally, everyone 6 months and older should get an annual flu shot, officials say; the best time is in September and October.

This year’s COVID-19 vaccine, which will be reviewed at a CDC advisory committee meeting on Sept. 12, is designed against the Omicron subvariant XBB.1.5, unofficially known as Kraken.

Officials have been closely watching another upstart Omicron subvariant, BA.2.86, nicknamed Pirola. Not many cases have been identified in the U.S., but there is concern it could be more capable of causing infection in people who previously have had COVID-19. More study is needed.

Studies are still underway to evaluate the effectiveness of the forthcoming vaccine, according to a risk assessment by the CDC, although it is expected to remain “effective at reducing severe disease and hospitalization.”

Health experts continue to advise taking reasonable precautions to avoid COVID-19 infection. Though most people no longer wear masks routinely, some officials say that masking up in the highest-risk settings, such as on public transit and while boarding and exiting an airplane, can make a difference.

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

Hotel Guests are Caught In Middle

Morning drumming, disrupted nuptials, violence — it’s no vacation for L.A. visitors during strike.

Children shrieked and splashed in the water, and a couple on an anniversary staycation floated at the edge of the hotel pool, nursing their blended beverages.

Alea Britain had checked into Hotel Maya the night before and was planning to spend the day jet-skiing with friends. Nothing appeared out of the ordinary since Britain had arrived at the waterfront Hilton property overlooking the Long Beach skyline.

“I had no idea there was a strike,” she said. “I haven’t noticed anything.”

But a few hours later that Friday, it was unmistakable — drums, megaphones, striking workers marching to demand higher wages and better working conditions.

“Our fight is to keep a roof over our heads,” shouted union leader Ada Briceño during the Aug. 11 protest, speaking for the 15,000 hotel employees striking for a new contract. “We are, right now, one paycheck away from homelessness. We are, right now, living in our cars.”

More than six weeks since the rolling strikes began, this had become the defining tableau of L.A.’s summer of labor — workers chanting in red T-shirts as guests, some appearing perplexed, others a bit sheepish, lug their suitcases past them and into the lobby.

The writers’ and actors’ strikes will take a while to reach consumers still enthralled by “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer,” blockbusters finished before the twin work stoppages in Hollywood. But the series of hotel walkouts, which began during the busy weekend before the Fourth of July, hit travelers right away.

This summer, tourists visiting Disneyland,the Anime Expo and the L.A. leg of Taylor Swift’s Eras tour have often been greeted outside their hotels by picketing workers represented by Unite Here Local 11. But because the strikes have happened in waves, targeting hotels in different regions on different days, some tourists, even those who see themselves as ardently pro-union, haven’t always known quite how to respond.

The union sent out a news release last week asking people to boycott three hotels where violence had flared against strikers, including Hotel Maya, where a picketer was recently punched in the head during a chaotic altercation at a wedding. But before that, the union had adopted a distinctly quieter stance, merely listing the hotels without contracts on its website and asking that people “not patronize” them.

Although some Southern California hotel customers did change their plans, others — especially those visiting from out of town — said they either didn’t know about the strike or had booked nonrefundable stays ahead of time. In online reviews for the hotels targeted for strikes, several guests vented frustrations with both hotel management and picketing employees in the contract dispute.

“If you want to have a peaceful vacation choose another location,” wrote a tourist who stayed at 1 Hotel West Hollywood in August.

“Pay your workers!” wrote another, who left a two-star review for the Holiday Inn Los Angeles LAX Airport, noting that protesters showed up around 5 a.m. “I know that workers don’t want to do this and don’t want to disturb guests, but they’re left no choice.”

Another visitor, who stayed at the hotel while in town to see Swift, criticized what she called “abrupt behavior” from the strikers and complimented the hotel for blaring Swift’s music to drown out their chants.

“This is awesome customer service,” she wrote. (The hotel responded: “We truly appreciate your wonderful comments!”)

::

Emma Eblen was on her couch recovering from COVID-19 and scrolling through email when she spotted a subject line that said “Congrats!”

When she was finally convinced it wasn’t a scam, the 30-year-old began to shake with excitement and dialed her friend with the news: She’d won a pair of tickets to see Swift in L.A. through a giveaway hosted by Capital One. They immediately searched for hotels and chose the Los Angeles Airport Marriott because a chartered bus could pick them up there and take them to the stadium.

It was a bit odd that the hotel reservation was nonrefundable, she recalled thinking at the time, but for two nights at around $800, the friends decided it was their best bet. It wasn’t until a week before the trip, while searching a Facebook group for concertgoers, that the Olympia, Wash., resident learned of the strike.

“Oh, my God,” Eblen thought, her mind immediately jumping to her parents, both members of a theater union. “Crossing a picket is one of the worse things I could ever think of.”

But there were almost no options left on Airbnb, and she knew she couldn’t afford to eat the cost of the nonrefundable reservation. Winning the tickets had felt like a dream — she couldn’t stop thinking about her 15-year-old self crying along to “Teardrops on My Guitar” on the radio years earlier — but now she felt sick with guilt at even the thought of crossing a picket line.

In the end, it never came to that; although other hotels in the Marriott chain were picketed, hers was not. Still, she said, she’d been awakened by 6 a.m. chants from picketers at a hotel across the street.

As part of its strategy, the union has targeted events expected to draw thousands to the region, including the annual meeting of the American Political Science Assn., and Swift herself.

In a plea to the pop icon, whose out-of-town fans boost hotel prices in the cities she visits, the union borrowed the name of one of her albums. “Speak Now!” their letter reads, “stand with hotel workers and postpone your concerts.”

A few days after releasing the public letter to Swift, whose six sold-out concerts went on as planned, the union again drew headlines, filing a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board highlighting what it called a pattern of violent incidents and property destruction at picket lines. It specifically listed the three hotels it has now asked people to boycott — Hotel Maya, Fairmont Miramar in Santa Monica and Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort & Spa in Dana Point.

In late July at the Dana Point hotel, Maria Hernandez, who works as an assistant server at the hotel’s Knife Modern Steak restaurant, said she spotted celebrity chef John Tesar, who runs the restaurant, walking toward the picket line. She began recording on her cellphone as he walked toward her and flipped her off.

“Take your union, and shove it up your,” he says, punctuating his delivery with an expletive and then hurling an insult at her in Spanish. “You’re a bad person. You’re a lazy pendeja.”

After that, Hernandez said, he snatched a drumstick out of her hands. She told him she knew who he was and that what he was doing wasn’t right, she said, and he then told her that he would recognize her when she came back to work.

“I was afraid,” she said, “that I would get into trouble or get fired.”

In an interview, Tesar said that while staying at the hotel during a vacation with his three children — 12, 5 and 2 — protesters had jeered at, filmed and made hand gestures toward him and his children, calling him a “terrible person.” In the days since then, he said, he’s received several death threats and been called a racist.

The former “Top Chef” contestant acknowledged that, after a protester flipped him off on the last morning of his stay, he used a metal spoon to break the picketer’s drum.

“I was protecting my children,” he said. “I’m anything but a racist. … I’m a New Yorker, I’m sorry, I speak in profanities. I’m a chef. We curse in the kitchen. I apologize if it offended anybody.”

After Maisha Hudson and Shawn Parker got engaged, the bride-to-be reached out to a wedding planner she knew from her college sorority, who sent over a list of potential venues.

Intent on a waterfront view, the Inglewood couple picked Hotel Maya, and in January, six months before the strike began, the couple signed a contract and put down a deposit to reserve their August date, according to interviews with Maisha Hudson-Parker, as she’s now known, and her wedding planner, Deborah Croom.

It wasn’t until Aug. 1, four days before her ceremony, the bride said, that she learned from the hotel that there might be strikers there on the day of her wedding. With friends and relatives flying in from across the country, shifting to a different location on short notice felt impossible — friends had scrambled to move a wedding in 72 hours last year, she said, and ended up paying $70,000.

Hotel managers apologized for the inconvenience, Hudson-Parker said, but assured her she wouldn’t be able to hear anything because the picketers often gathered in the front of the hotel, not at the back of the property near the water, where the ceremony would take place.

Not long after sunrise on her wedding day, she woke to the sound of bullhorns, and the hotel offered to move the ceremony into an indoor ballroom. But it would have been a tight squeeze for her 226 guests, the bride said, and she’d picked the venue specifically for the outdoor view of the water.

Instead, the hotel put up mobile metal fencing to block the outdoor ceremony area from a publicly accessible pathway along the shoreline. Before the ceremony, the bride said, a few of her guests asked the striking workers if they’d mind pausing their picket for 30 minutes so the couple could exchange vows in quiet. They refused, she said, leaving her and many of her guests — among them union members and supporters — in an unenviable position.

The bride said she’d donated water bottles during the Los Angeles teachers’ strike and had friends in the writers’ strike. Croom said she spent much of the day thinking of her parents, who were union members — her mother a teacher, her father working in the shipyards — and heard their voices in her head: “You should never cross the picket line.” But by the time they learned the venue was one of the locations to be picketed, both women said, payments had already been finalized and guests were preparing to fly out.

On the afternoon of the ceremony, as guests mingled in the outdoor plaza decorated with bouquets of burnt orange and crimson flowers, smooth music crooning from the speakers competed with the sound of drums and picketers chanting, “Hotel Maya, escucha, estamos en la lucha.” (Hotel Maya, listen, we are in the fight.)

Frustrated, wedding guests began to record videos of the picketers gathered on the other side of the fencing. “They’re trying to mess up her wedding,” one guest says in a recording shared with The Times.

Another clip shows a moment of commotion, as the mobile fencing gets hoisted into the air and people rush toward it from both sides. On the other side of the fence, a man in a black shirt — described by the union in a tweet as a hotel guest — runs up to a picketer and pummels him on the side of the head.

Carlos Cheverri Canalés, the worker who was punched, said in an interview that he thinks he lost consciousness briefly because the next thing he remembered was waking up to shouts. Recently hired as a line cook in the hotel’s lounge, he said, he didn’t yet have health insurance and was worried about medical bills.

“I was punched in the head,” he said, “for trying to have a voice.”

Another worker on the picket line that day, David Ventura, said he saw security guards, at the direction of a nearby manager, abruptly lift the chain link fencing, ramming it toward the workers. Worried that people might get knocked over, the bellman said, he rushed forward to help his co-workers.

“I was trying to take care of my people,” he said. “It would behoove the owners to do right by us at the bargaining table.”

In a statement, the Long Beach Police Department — whose officers arrived at the scene and eventually escorted the bride, in her flowing, ivory-colored gown, into the ceremony area — said four demonstrators were injured by a man who also destroyed a speaker. Police said the suspect, whom the bride said she didn’t know, fled before police arrived.

At one point, the bride said, she had tears in her eyes and asked a protester to please respect her wedding. “He yelled at me,” Hudson-Parker said, “and told me I should have known this was coming.”

The ceremony started an hour and a half late, which squeezed the timeline for photos and cost her the time to dance with some of her elderly guests who left once it got dark.

The hotel has apologized, Hudson-Parker said, acknowledging it wasn’t properly prepared. The hotel’s director of human resources did not respond to requests for comment, and two other executives declined to comment. In an email about the incident to elected officials, Heather Rozman, president of the Hotel Assn. of Los Angeles, wrote that “guests had to be protected by both hotel security and Long Beach Police because of threats leading up to the wedding ceremony.”

Asked about the incident, a union spokesperson contended that workers were fully within their rights to protest by the wedding and that guests frustrated or inconvenienced by the strike should focus their blame on management.

“It’s the hotel’s responsibility,” spokesperson Maria Hernandez said.

During the protest at the hotel almost a week later, picketers unfurled a bold red banner reading “Boycott.”

As the workers marched in circles, volunteers from the National Lawyers Guild’s legal observers program, called as a precaution by the union after the wedding altercation, meandered through the crowd with notebooks. Off to the side, several hotel managers and executives watched.

Jesus Grimaldo, 79, who has worked at Hotel Maya for nearly four decades, addressed the crowd in Spanish. His health is failing — he’s a cancer survivor twice over and recently had a heart attack — but he can’t afford to retire, he said, because his $20-an-hour wage is too low. He supports his wife, as well as his daughter and grandchild, who live with them.

“What we are asking for,” he said, “is fair and just.”

A few guests observed from the lobby.

One of them, Christopher Ricci, who was in town for a convention put on by Kawai Pianos, owns a small piano store in Rhode Island. The brief boost in profits sparked by people’s COVID-19 lockdown-era hobbies had long ago disappeared, he said, and business was again on the decline.

“I feel empathy for them,” he said of the striking workers. “The way things are with inflation, you’ve got to try to pay people what they deserve.”

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

LA Hotel Owners Forced to Rent to Homeless Instead of Tourists

Officials say that hotel owners are breaking city law

The Los Angeles Housing Department announced this week that 17 owners of residential hotels in the city have received warnings over letting out rooms to tourists, highlighting that they are breaking city law if the rooms aren’t being rented out to city residents instead.

In total, 21 residential hotels, which are single rooms and used as a means of affordable housing, were cited as breaking the law. According to the city, the owners are specifically breaking the 2008 Residential Hotel ordinance, which specifically established a moratorium on the demolition or conversion of residential hotel units to any other use, including hotels. Its ultimate aim was to keep in place as many low-cost rentals as possible to keep housing available for lower-income, elderly, and disabled citizens in LA.

However, hotel owners, between the ordinance, Project Roomkey, and more recent initiatives by Mayor Karen Bass to increase motel and hotel housing for the homeless, have felt squeezed in choosing what to do with their own property. Many renters are behind on payments, with owners finding it hard to collect payment or evict residents due to several state and city laws. Some have found loopholes over renter violations and safety concerns, while others have simply let out rooms to tourists or set up Airbnbs to help bridge the gaps in payments and between renters. Still others have simply sold their property, putting all renters residing there into jeopardy as a result.

A crackdown this month, initially asked by Mayor Bass, on the hotel owners led to warnings being issued over tourists getting rooms over long-term low-income renters.

“So many are behind on rent,” said Anjali Singth, a motel co-owner in Los Angeles, to the Globe on Friday. “The COVID laws delayed payments for years. What can we do? Renting rooms against the ordinance is a way to stay in business, but now the city is denying us that.”

The Los Angeles City Council is also due to take action, with a motion to be considered soon that will have the Housing Department report on their enforcement of the residential hotel law. The Department will also soon say how enforcement methods of the ordinance can be improved.

The LA residential hotel ordinance

“I know very dramatically the impact of not having that enforced because that means more houses, more low-income units, that we as a city have to figure out how to build,” explained motion author and City Councilmember Bob Blumenfield. “It means more people on the street and more services and more costs and more human suffering. The loss of residential hotel rooms to tourist units may be exacerbating our homelessness crisis.”

“Nobody’s ever come to me and said, ‘We don’t have the money to enforce our residential hotel conversion law’. Now that I’m aware of it, I’m going to do what I can to make sure that it does get enforced.”

However, hotel owners are fighting back against the ordinance. Many are saying that they are a ‘hotel first’ and have hired lawyers to challenge the city ordinance. Others that were given warnings conversely sent in proof that they haven’t had hotel guests for years, only residents.

Click here to read the full article in California Globe

California Has Made Voting Easier, But Regular Voters Still Skew White and Old, Poll Finds

Voting in California has never been easier.

Eligible residents can get help in 10 languages. Ballots are sent to registered voters’ homes. They have a month to drop a ballot off in boxes around their municipality. That’s on top of multiple days of voting in person and the ability to register to vote up until the last minute.

Despite all that, the people who vote most often remain older, whiter and wealthier than most Californians, according to a new survey from UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies.

Just under 4 in 10 of the state’s registered voters are what Berkeley defined as regular voters — those who have cast ballots in at least five of the last seven statewide elections. Berkeley researchers determined the frequency of voting by verifying the voter histories of more than 6,000 registered voters whom they surveyed.

That pool of regular voters is 71% white, a share that is significantly larger than the white share of registered voters. Latinos, at 14%, were underrepresented among regular voters. Those frequent voters were also disproportionately over the age of 50.

Roughly another 4 in 10 registered voters are either infrequent voters — those who have voted only once or twice in the last seven elections — or people who haven’t voted at all despite being registered. That group is about one-third white but about 40% Latino.

Infrequent voters are also much more likely to be young, to be renters and to be unmarried, Berkeley found.

Registered voters who identified as Asian or Pacific Islanders were also more likely to be infrequent voters or to not have cast a ballot in the last seven elections.

Black voters were represented about equally in each group.

Asked why they didn’t vote more often, registered voters who cast ballots infrequently or never cited a lack of information or interest. About 3 in 10 said they didn’t know enough about the candidates or the issues to vote. A similar share said they were “not that interested” in the contests.

About 1 in 4 registered voters who didn’t vote frequently or hadn’t voted at all said they felt their vote didn’t matter much or that no matter how they voted, special interests and big money controlled politics.

Fewer than 1 in 10 said that voting was inconvenient or confusing.

By contrast, those who vote regularly said they did so to “stand up for the candidates and issues I believe are important” (65%), “to influence the direction of state and local government” (64%), or because voting is “an important civic duty” (62%).

The poll results “dramatize the differences that we knew existed. The differences are just profound. … It’s two very different worlds,” said Berkeley IGS poll director Mark DiCamillo.

“The state has invested in trying to make voting easier. That’s what the state is doing when it’s sending out ballots early,” DiCamillo added.

“What still needs to happen is the communication of the value of voting to voters. And that’s the task ahead.”

The prospect of Latino voters coming to the polls in numbers proportional to their 40% share of the state’s population and transforming local and state races has tantalized activists and analysts for years. But it has not come to pass.

The latest example came last year when Rick Caruso ran for Los Angeles mayor.

Part of his strategy rested on the idea that he could engage working-class Latino voters with an army of paid door-knockers and messages about public safety, corruption and homelessness.

Polls showed that those issues potentially could mobilize voters, and Caruso’s large fortune gave him tens of millions of dollars to spend on televised advertising to drive home his message.

Nonetheless, turnout lagged in neighborhoods that were majority Latino, one reason Caruso lost the race to then-Rep. Karen Bass by 10 points. 

California has been relatively successful in getting people registered to vote. The state has just under 22 million registered voters, 82.3% of the eligible population, according to the most recent statistics from the secretary of state’s office. A decade ago, 76% of the eligible population was registered, and a decade before that, 69%.

California’s level of registered voters is significantly higher than the nationwide average, which was 69% in 2022, according to the Census Bureau.

But the state has lagged in actual voter turnout.

In the 2022 midterm elections, California’s turnout was 43% of the voter-eligible population, which ranked the state 35th in the country, according to statistics compiled by the U.S. Elections Project, based at the University of Florida.

The state’s efforts to increase voter participation have included a law adopted in 2021 requiring that every voter be mailed a ballot.

A large majority of registered voters, 63%, say voting is easier now that ballots are sent a month before election day, the Berkeley poll found. Just 27% said the new law had caused no change in the ease of voting, and 4% said voting was harder.

Reflecting the partisan division nationwide over voting, 77% of Democrats said that it’s now easier to vote, while among Republicans, 36% said so and 49% said the law had not changed how easy it is to vote.

About two-thirds of registered voters said they thought it was the state’s responsibility to expand voter outreach among underrepresented groups. About the same number of registered voters said they’d back devoting more state money to this mission.

Candidates for statewide office next year — including in the race to replace Sen. Dianne Feinstein — have already emphasized the importance of turning out voters who have either been ignored or are not in parts of the state that receive as much attention.

Political consultants in California say, however, that it’s a tall order to engage and excite potential voters who are less well off and are concerned with the tasks of getting through the day.

Click here to read the full article at the LA Times

Click here to read the full article at the LA Times

Bandits Hit Gucci Store in Century City

The brazen daytime heist by nine men is the latest targeting the luxury brand.

The Gucci store at a mall in Century City was robbed Monday by a large group of thieves, in a grab-and-dash heist that was caught on video, according to the Los Angeles Police Department and video of the incident.

A group of at least nine men could be seen sprinting out of the store around 3:10 p.m. Monday in video posted to Twitter. The LAPD confirmed that there was a robbery at a store at Westfield Century City mall. It was not immediately clear if the men were armed or if anyone was injured.

The video shows at least nine men wearing hoodies sprinting out of the entrance to the Gucci store with merchandise overflowing in their arms.

Bystanders looked on and took video, while a lone security guard walked helplessly behind the men as they sprinted away, the video shows. A suited man who appeared to work for Gucci could be heard on the phone calling the police.

It was not immediately clear how much was stolen or if any arrests had been made.

The LAPD could not provide any information on the amount of merchandise stolen, and declined to name which store at the mall was robbed. A spokeswoman for the department said she also did not know how many men were in the group of robbers.

The thieves drove off in a white SUV and a red Kia, according to the LAPD.

The robbery came just weeks after a Gucci store in San Francisco was robbed by a group of men who made off with about $48,000 in stolen goods.

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

California Needs Thousands of Nurses, but Leaders Can’t Agree on How to Fill Jobs

Ashley Hooks always planned to retire at Lakewood Regional Medical Center, where she has been a nurse for 12 years. But now, Hooks said, staffing issues are so bad and burnout so severe that she’s rethinking how she wants to spend the rest of her career. 

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the number of nurses at the hospital dropped from just below 500 to 330 according to her union’s roster, said Hooks, who is 53.

“It wasn’t even this difficult during the height of the COVID pandemic,” she said. 

Hooks’ stress reflects pressure many California nurses are under because of steep understaffing that she and others say is driving many professionals out of the industry.

According to the Hospital Association of Southern California, nursing vacancy rates among local hospitals exceed 30%. Prior to the pandemic the average vacancy rate was 6%.

“Within the last year and a half or so, it’s really gotten worse,” Hooks said.

Now the Legislature is looking at several ideas to address the nursing shortage by bringing more early-career nurses into the field. But so far, the groups with most to gain — or lose — are at odds over how to solve the staffing problems afflicting California’s health care workforce. 

“There is a lot of trauma in the nursing workforce. The numbers are not good.”JOANNE SPETZ, THE INSTITUTE FOR HEALTH POLICY STUDIES AT UC SAN FRANCISCO

Labor organizations and hospitals want nursing schools to prioritize certain applicants for admission, such as people who already have experience in the industry.

“We don’t have enough nurses entering the system as opportunities are opening up for them to leave the system,” said Peter Sidhu, a nurse and executive vice president of United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals. 

But the schools say that won’t help them graduate more nurses. They need more faculty and more hands-on training opportunities to increase class sizes. 

Hospitals and unions say they don’t have much time to waste. Estimates show California faces a shortage of about 36,000 licensed nurses, according to the UC San Francisco Health Workforce Research Center on Long-Term Care

Preliminary data from a statewide survey conducted in 2022 shows nurses cut back on the number of hours worked per week since 2020, and nearly half the workforce reports symptoms of burnout, said Joanne Spetz, director of the Institute for Health Policy Studies at UC San Francisco, who has studied nursing workforce issues for more than a decade.

More nurses, even those as young as 35, are thinking about leaving the profession entirely or retiring within the next two years, and half of the workforce had at least one patient die of COVID-19, Spetz said. 

“There is a lot of trauma in the nursing workforce,” Spetz said. “The numbers are not good.”

Union-backed bills for nursing shortage

Labor advocates say the nursing shortage creates a vicious cycle. The nurses on shift wind up doing more work. They get burned out and flee the industry, worsening the problem. 

Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals turned their attention to the state’s community college system, where graduates can earn degrees to become nursing assistants, licensed vocational nurses or registered nurses. Both groups say community colleges offer the most affordable and efficient way to earn a nursing degree.

One of their ideas aims to help high school students get into nursing schools faster. Another would give entry-level workers the chance to move into more skilled and higher paid positions like nursing.

Sidhu’s union is sponsoring a bill that would create a pilot program for high school students who take extra classes to have preferential admission into a community college nursing program.

second measure, which is co-sponsored by SEIU and the California Hospital Association, would require community colleges to set aside 15% of enrollment slots for health care workers looking to further their education with a more advanced degree. They say helping current workers get higher-paying jobs within health care will help with retention. 

“When we talk to our hospital members, workforce issues are the number one thing that keep them up at night,” said Jan Emerson-Shea, spokesperson for the California Hospitals Association. “We also hear from employees that they’ve tried getting into community college programs, but because they’re so impacted, it can take them three, four or five years to get into the program.”

California colleges skeptical of union bills

But community college and some university nursing school leaders contend neither bill will boost the number of graduates. Nursing programs are full, they say, and the proposals do nothing to expand the number of admission slots.

“These bills come up and I wonder who on earth would propose something like this to impact the community colleges without getting our input,” said Tammy Vant Hul, south region president of the California Organization of Associate Degree Nursing Program Directors. 

Vant Hul is also dean of nursing at Riverside City College, the second largest community college nursing program in the state. High school students would not have completed enough prerequisites to apply directly to a nursing program, much less be guaranteed admission, Vant Hul said, and existing health care workers already get additional points during the admissions process. 

The problem isn’t generating career interest in nursing; it’s creating more spots, program leaders say.

Karen Bradley, president of the California Association of Colleges of Nursing, said nursing programs have an overabundance of competitive applicants.

“We have not had a dip at all in enrollment in my program. I have a waiting list,” said Bradley, who is also dean of California Baptist University’s nursing program. “Every dean is going to tell you that they have a waiting list or enough qualified applicants that they turn away students.”

About 14,000 new students enrolled in nursing programs during the 2020-21 school year, according to the Board of Registered Nursing’s annual school report. That’s about 1,000 fewer students than the previous two years due to smaller class sizes, but schools across the state received more than 55,000 applications, a 10-year record.

The bills’ sponsors say they have spoken with the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office, which has not taken a position on any of the workforce bills.

Separate from the bills, United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals lobbied for a $300 million investment over five years to double the state’s nursing school capacity. It was included in the state budget Gov. Gavin Newsom signed earlier this summer.

The details of how the money will be spent have not been decided, Sidhu said, but it could be used to increase faculty salaries and overcome other factors that limit class sizes.

More room needed for California nurse trainees  

Representatives for nursing programs say the money will be helpful, but they’re worried about other bottlenecks that they say prevent them from enrolling more students.

Lack of nursing faculty caps class sizes, for instance, with potential educators instead choosing to make more money working in health care. They also say hospitals are not offering enough opportunities for their students to get hands-on training.

“As we move forward with the nursing shortage, clinical placements are an issue. So many hospitals kind of downsized their willingness to bring on students during the pandemic, and those spots never came back,”  said Linda Zorn, legislative chair for the California Organization of Associate Degree Nursing and executive director of economic and workforce development for Butte-Glenn Community College District.

third proposal in the Legislature attempts to clear that hurdle by guaranteeing clinical placement spots for community college students. A mix of opponents are fighting the bill, including hospitals, four-year universities and some community college advocates who say it will take spots away from other students and overwhelm nursing staff.

“Some hospitals aren’t big enough. They can’t take on hundreds of students. They have 25 beds,” said Sarah Bridge, senior legislative advocate for the Association of Health Care Districts, which represents primarily small, rural hospitals in the state.

During the 2020-21 school year, the most commonly cited reason by nursing schools for decreasing class sizes was “unable to secure clinical placements,” according to the Board of Registered Nursing’s annual school report, in part due to workforce challenges resulting from the pandemic. The report states that more than 15,000 students were impacted by restricted training spots compared to roughly 2,200 students during the 2018-19 school year.

“So many hospitals kind of downsized their willingness to bring on students during the pandemic, and those spots never came back.”LINDA ZORN, LEGISLATIVE CHAIR FOR THE CALIFORNIA ORGANIZATION OF ASSOCIATE DEGREE NURSING

Bridge said many small and rural hospitals also are teetering on the edge of a financial crisis. It costs about $7,000 to train one student, not including the salary cost of nurses who supervise students. Multiply that by the number of student trainees accepted and some hospitals can’t foot the bill, Bridge said.

Zorn said nursing schools know they have to be sensitive to how many students get sent to any one hospital, which is part of the reason many are skeptical of the bill. The number of student training spots recently has been limited by the profession’s thinly stretched workforce. 

“It can close down the rural hospitals if you don’t have the correct staffing,” Zorn said.

Leaders from four-year degree programs also say the proposal would displace their nursing students in favor of community college students.

The bill sponsors say the intent of the legislation is to create more training capacity, not to displace existing students, as some critics have claimed, said Eric Robles, legislative director for United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals. 

Click here to read the full article in CalMatters

Suspected Los Angeles Racist Recording Leaker Questioned By LAPD

Former Federation of Labor Director of Finance questioned by police

The leaker behind last year’s major racist recording scandal in Los Angeles, that resulted in several LA City Councilmember resignations, has been found according to new reports from several publications.

The recording, which also featured a conversation on how they could manipulate City Council boundaries and help reconfigure power, made national and international news in October of last year following being leaked, largely due to the racist language in the recording. The leak itself sparked widespread protests in the city, with the outcry from the scandal causing both Los Angeles County Federation of Labor President Ron Herrera and Los Angeles City Council President Nury Martinez to resign in disgrace. In addition, Councilman Gil Cedillo left office a few months later in disgrace, while Councilman Kevin de Leon managed to barely avoid resignation and a recall attempt due to lingering support from the Latino community in his district.

While the scandal has cost many lawmakers their positions and, likely, has ended the careers of all involved from moving upwards, there has remained an open question: Who leaked the recording in the first place? The audio is known to have been recorded in October 2021, with the four discussing council redistricting and Councilman Mike Bonin, a white and openly gay Councilman, and his young black son.

“Bonin thinks he’s f—ing black,” said Martinez in the audio. “He handled his young Black son as though he were an accessory. They’re raising him like a little White kid. I was like, this kid needs a beatdown. Let me take him around the corner and then I’ll bring him back.”

Martinez then proceeded to use slurs against the eight-year-old child, saying in Spanish “Parece changuito” or in English, “He’s like a monkey.” Other slurs and derogatory comments followed, with Martinez proceeding to disparage whites, blacks, and indigenous members of the Latino community.

Possible leaker questioned by LAPD

Following the two resignations, the LAPD opened up an investigation in late October into who leaked the recording. As the recording broke California’s law stating that all parties need to consent to being recorded, both civil and criminal penalties are possible for the leaker. For the last nine months, an investigation has been ongoing within the LAPD, with no major updates having been made.

On Thursday, new reports found that Santos Leon, the former Director of Finance for the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, has been questioned by the LAPD over recording software that was on his work computer. It has been alleged that he used this software to use on Herrera’s meeting.

The LAPD has remained silent on the issue, largely due to it still being an open investigation. Leon has also remained silent on the issue.

“We are unable to comment on it because it’s an open investigation,” said LAPD spokesman Officer J Chavez on Thursday.

Legal experts noted that the leaker would likely face charges, but due to the effects of the leak, would face a an unknown fate in the courts.

Click here to read the full article in the California Globe

In-N-Out Bans Employees From Wearing Masks

California fast-food institution In-N-Out Burger announced that it will soon ban employees from wearing masks in five of the seven states in which it operates restaurants, according to an internal memo leaked Friday

The exceptions? Workers in California and Oregon will still be able to mask, if they choose, to protect themselves from COVID-19 and other illnesses.

According to the memo, employees will no longer be allowed to wear face coverings come August 14, unless they have a medical note. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The policy was implemented to “help to promote clear and effective communication” between employees and customers.

“We are introducing new mask guidelines that emphasize the importance of customer service and the ability to show our Associates’ smiles and other facial features while considering the health and well-being of all individuals,” the memo said.

If employees want to continue wearing a mask, they must provide a medical note for “a specific medical condition or health concern that requires them to wear a mask” to their manager or In-N-Out’s human resources department. Approved employees must wear a company-provided N-95 mask. (The company did not provide a reason for wearing a company-issued mask versus one purchased by the employee.)

The note “should clearly state the reason for the exemption and include the estimated duration, if applicable,” the memo added.

Failure to comply may result in disciplinary action.

Dr. Judy Stone, an infectious disease expert and writer, denounced In-N-Out’s new policy on Twitter, saying that it violates COVID-19 recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and “endangers” employees.

Still, others online voiced their approval of the announcement, agreeing that it would improve customer service and that the move was appropriate, claiming the pandemic is over.

This is not the first time the beloved burger institution has come under fire for pushing back against pandemic health policies.

In October 2021, In-N-Out’s San Francisco location was forced to close its doors temporarily for flouting a local mandate that required indoor customers to show proof of vaccination.

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

Iconic Venice Beach Boardwalk Continues to be Occupied By Homeless Groups During Spiraling Crisis

Authorities in California have ceded prime real estate on the Venice Beach boardwalk to a rotating cast of vagrants — a microcosm of the insanity plaguing the Golden State amid its spiraling homeless crisis.

For weeks, a vagrant surrounded himself beneath a pagoda along with boardwalk with a dump of grimy grocery carts, tarps and blankets, galling footage posted online showed. He and a friend reportedly rejected aid from police, city workers and LA County Park Rangers — who threw up their hands and let the beachfront takeover persist.

As online outrage grew, Los Angeles cops finally cleared the beach bum this week, only to have a different hobo immediately take over the spot — and all but shut-out taxpaying residents or tourists from enjoying it.

“It’s like they are babysitting [the homeless population],” Reza Karimi, 60, owner of the sunglasses store Good See Co., and whose prime location on the boardwalk is just steps away from the hobo-filled pagodas, told The Post.

“Here I pay taxes, I work every day, but these people are given money for free and yet they still do whatever they want and ruin the city.”

Scott Beers, who took over the primo real estate with his girlfriend, promised to keep it cleaner than the previous “tenant.”

“He had tents up and trashed this whole area up. You can’t have that here,” said Beers, 57.

“I’ve had homes before so I get it,” said Beers, who keeps his belongings neatly stacked on an airport luggage cart. “These people pay millions of dollars to live by the beach and they don’t want to see that s–t all over the place.” 

Beers, who claims to have abandoned a 28-acre cattle ranch and dairy farm in Nevada for life on the streets following his wife’s death, sang the praises of the free services available in the beachside community.

“Venice is my favorite because you can get hot showers every day. You can go out to the food bank three days a week. There is a church nearby that gives you a hot meal. And you can’t beat the views!” he said, noting that he gets by with panhandling and $221 a month from “general relief” funds from the Welfare Office. 

Locals ripped the game of beach bum whack-a-mole.

“People [who have been previously removed] have come back and sleep out on the beach and the boardwalk,” said Jessica, whose family has run a business on the boardwalk for decades. 

“The tourists do get scared. They see people screaming or acting out near the shop and they turn around and don’t want to come back.”

California has 171,000 homeless people, representing 30% of the nation’s entire homeless population, according to a June report by the University of California, San Francisco. 

Click here to read the full article in the NY Post

LA Homeless Crisis: Mayor Bass Signs Updated Declaration of Emergency on Homelessness

LOS ANGELES – Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass Monday signed an updated declaration of a state of emergency on homelessness to further expedite affordable housing and bring unhoused Angelenos inside.

The mayor’s updated declaration comes just six months after she took office, where on day one, she declared a state of local emergency on homelessness.

“Over the first six months of my administration, we’ve seen thousands of Angelenos come inside and thousands of units expedited,” Bass said during a Monday morning press briefing at City Hall. “That’s the urgency that must continue with added collaboration and coordination with the City Council in this emergency.”

“We are in an emergency every single night,” she said, noting that thousands of Angelenos sleep on city streets or in their cars, and up to five Angelenos are “dying on our streets each night.”

The homelessness crisis is a matter of “life and death,” Bass said.

“While we’ve made progress, there is absolutely much more work that needs to be done,” she said. “That’s why we will sign an emergency declaration, an updated emergency declaration, that continues our momentum confronting the homelessness crisis and build more housing in Los Angeles.”

The updated declaration will allow the mayor additional “emergency powers” and enhance collaboration with the City Council on the following:

-coordinating and issuing rules;

-expediting contracting;

-ordering contracts; and

-emergency service of city employees.

Under the updated declaration, it also expands the criteria needed for the mayor to declare an emergency on homelessness. The City Council will consider renewal of the order every 90 days, and it will end if members do not renew it.

When Bass took office in December, as part of her initial declaration of emergency on homelessness, she launched Inside Safe, a program that led to tents coming down around the city and brought more than 1,300 Angelenos inside motels and other temporary housing.

Bass took a moment to thank the Council, L.A. County Supervisors and her partners for “locking arms” on the issue and confronting the homelessness crisis with urgency.

In addition, the mayor’s mandate expedited the building of affordable housing projects and focused efforts to maximize the use of publicly owned land for housing projects.

“We cut red tape and we fast tracked approval,” Bass said when talking about how housing developments continue to move forward.

Bass, who was joined by Council President Paul Krekorian and Council President Pro Tempore Marqueece Harris-Dawson, said Monday’s action will continue “access to tools and powers to make sure that we are using every resources possible at the scale that is needed to save lives and restore our neighborhoods.”

Click here to read the full article at Fox11

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