Irvine Finalizes ‘Hero Pay’ For Grocery Workers

A $4-an-hour pay bump lasting through the summer is expected for workers at larger grocery and drug stores in Irvine starting in late March.

The extra hazard, or “hero,” pay is a new mandate the Irvine City Council approved Tuesday, Feb. 23. It makes Irvine the first Orange County city to adopt a pay-boosting measure that cities including Long Beach, Los Angeles, Montebello, West Hollywood and several Bay Area communities have also put in place.

Buena Park city leaders also approved a temporary hike of $4 an hour on Tuesday, but the council must take a second procedural vote before it would it would go into effect.

Supporters of the pay boosts say grocery and pharmacy workers deserve to be compensated for continuing to show up to work and serve the public during the coronavirus pandemic, potentially putting their health or that of their families at risk. …

Click here to read the full article from the Orange County Register.

New Coronavirus Variant Spotted in California Raises Alarm

Scientists are raising concerns over a new coronavirus variant that has been identified in California.

Two studies due to come out soon suggest the variant, which the virologists call B.1.427/B.1.429, might not only be more contagious, but may also cause more severe disease.

A team of scientists at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), tested virus samples from recent outbreaks across the state and found the new variant was becoming far more common. It wasn’t seen in any samples from September but by the end of January it was found in half of them.

A major caveat: the research is in its very early stages, has not been published or peer-reviewed and needs more work. …

Click here to read the full article from CNN

California OKs $600 Stimulus Payments For 5.7 Million People

California lawmakers on Monday cleared the way for 5.7 million people to get at least $600 in one-time payments, part of a state-sized coronavirus relief package aimed at helping those with low-to-moderate incomes weather the pandemic.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said he will sign the bill into law on Tuesday, one day after it passed the state Legislature by a wide margin.

Fewer people will get these payments as compared to the federal relief checks Congress approved last year. But state lawmakers are aiming the money to reach the pockets of people who were left out of those previous checks, including immigrants.

People who are eligible for the money should get it between 45 days and 60 days after receiving their state tax refunds, according to the Franchise Tax Board. …

Click here to read the full article from the Associated Press.

Oakland Plan To Replace Police With Mental Health Workers In Disarray

As protests against police brutality swept Oakland in June, the City Council took a bold step toward rethinking public safety: It set aside $1.85 million for a new program to dispatch counselors and paramedics to mental health crises, instead of armed law enforcement officers.

Eight months later, the Mobile Assistance Community Responders of Oakland program, known as MACRO, has yet to get off the runway. And on Wednesday, two community organizations that were vying for the contract bowed out.

“This is very disappointing to say the least,” Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas wrote Thursday in an email to city officials, announcing that the two groups — Bay Area Community Services and Alliance for Community Wellness, also known as La Familia Counseling Service — had pulled their applications.

The city mental health program, billed as a temporary pilot originally set to begin in January, represents an experiment in redistributing police funding that is playing out in cities across the U.S. In Oakland, the effort is complicated by politics. A battle flared up this month over which nonprofit would receive taxpayer funds to handle duties that have long fallen on sworn police officers. …

Click here to read the full article from the San Francisco Chronicle.

San Diego Pays Top Dollar For Hotels To House The Homeless

The city of San Diego appears to have paid above-market rates for the two Residence Inn hotels it purchased late last year for just over $106 million, properties that city officials are relying on to help reduce the homeless population across the community.

According to an analysis of sales data obtained by The San Diego Union-Tribune, the Residence Inn Mission Valley cost taxpayers $67 million — not including a $502,000 broker’s fee paid by the buyer — or just under $349,000 for each of 192 rooms.

That was the highest per-room cost for any hotel sold in San Diego County last year — and it was based on a valuation that was set weeks before the global coronavirus pandemic wreaked havoc on the hospitality industry.

The Kearny Mesa Residence Inn, also bought by the city of San Diego last year, was acquired for $39.5 million, almost $275,000 for each of its 144 rooms. Both properties closed escrow on Nov. 25. …

Click here to read the full article from the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Some Californians Are Cutting The Vaccine Line

Say you’re under 65, you’re pretty healthy — and you’re at the back of the line for COVID-19 vaccines in the Bay Area.

Maybe you’ve seen others in your age group on social media — acquaintances, celebrities, the wealthy and powerful — somehow getting their first doses of Moderna or Pfizer vaccines. Maybe you’ve also seen an opportunity to score an inoculation, or thought about seeking one out.

But then you wonder: Should I? Is it ethical?

California’s rocky vaccine rollout, plagued by supply shortages and poor communication, has created conditions that lead people to ask such questions, according to bioethicists and government officials.

The state has ramped up its efforts: As of Friday, 10.7% of California residents had received at least one dose of a vaccine, near the U.S. average of 10.8%.

Still, mixed messages at the county and state levels have created confusion about who’s eligible to get a vaccine and how they can get them. And inefficiencies in the decentralized system have created situations where some relatively young, healthy Californians have gotten away with receiving vaccines before those higher on the priority list. ….

Click here to read the full article from the San Francisco Chronicle.

L.A. County Elementary Schools Are Cleared To Fully Open

Los Angeles County elementary school campuses are cleared to fully reopen for the first time in nearly a year because of dropping coronavirus rates, health officials confirmed Monday night.

County Supervisor Janice Hahn tweeted out the news before the official confirmation, with a celebratory tweet in the late afternoon: “L.A. County has officially reached the State’s threshold for reopening elementary schools. Starting tomorrow, schools can reopen” if they have submitted and posted the necessary paperwork with county and state officials.

“This is what we have been working towards,” Hahn added.

The milestone will not result in an immediate reopening of campuses in Los Angeles Unified, the nation’s second-largest school system. District officials and the teachers union are in negotiations over what a return to campus would look like — and it isn’t clear that either side is ready for an immediate resumption of in-person instruction. …

Click here to read the full article from the L.A. Times.

Southern California Is Origin of New COVID-19 Variant

A new variant of COVID-19 found in Southern California is coursing across the United States and around the world, a new study finds.

The variant — called CAL.20C — was first found in July in Los Angeles County. It reappeared in Southern California in October, then spread in November and December, with a regional surge in coronavirus cases.

The variant now makes up nearly half of COVID-19 cases in Southern California.

It’s not clear whether CAL.20C might be more lethal than current coronavirus variants, or whether it might resist current vaccines. New research is underway Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles to help answer those questions. …

Click here to read the full article from U.S. News.

LA County’s pandemic toll: 7,500 small business, 400,000 jobs lost

Los Angeles County lost more than 400,000 jobs and saw 7,500 small businesses permanently shuttered last year as COVID-19 upended the region’s economy, a new report finds.

Industries that depend on in-person customers and employ low-paid workers were hardest hit because they weren’t able to pivot to a remote-work model, the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp.’s “Pathways for Economic Resiliency” study says.

The county’s restaurants and food-service outlets suffered the deepest impact, with a loss of 104,600 jobs between February and October of 2020. On-again, off-again mandates from the state and county forced many restaurants to close or reduce staffing.

The average annual wage for restaurant positions – including such jobs as waiters, waitresses, cooks and dishwashers – is $25,000. …

Click here to read the full article from the L.A. Daily News.

Criminal Rings Loot Billions In Unemployment Funds

California officials say hackers, identity thieves and overseas criminal rings stole an estimated $11.4 billion in unemployment benefits last year.

But the extent of the fraud might grow far larger: billions more in jobless payments are under investigation. The Employment Development Department said Monday that 17% of payments made between March 2020 and Jan. 16, 2021, have been flagged as potentially fraudulent.

California Labor Secretary Julie Su told reporters in a conference call Monday that of the $114 billion the state has paid in unemployment claims during that time, about 10% has been confirmed as fraudulent.

Su says the state did not have sufficient security measures in place and criminals took advantage of the gaps. Since the pandemic began, the EDD says it experienced more than five times more claims than in 2010, the worst full year of the Great Recession. …

Click here to read the full article from CBS Local