Activists Launch Gascón Recall Attempt

Victims’ rights advocates on Saturday kicked off their recall campaign against newly elected Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. George Gascón, who has vowed sweeping criminal justice reforms to the nation’s largest prosecutor’s office.

The recall campaign group held a “victims vigil” outside the Hall of Justice downtown and planned to gather the minimum of 20 signatures required to file a notice of intent to formally begin the recall process next month. About 100 people attended the event, organizers said.

The day he took office, Gascón announced an array of sweeping changes that included ending the use of sentencing enhancements, severely restricting when prosecutors can seek to hold defendants in lieu of bail, ending use of the death penalty in L.A. County and stopping the practice of trying juveniles as adults.

He vowed to make many of those reforms during a contentious election campaign against incumbent Jackie Lacey — one in which law enforcement and prosecutors unions across California spent millions in a failed bid to defeat him. …

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

Delays Emerge in Blue Shield Vaccine Rollout

This week, 10 counties in the inland portions of Central and Southern California were slated to transition to the new vaccine distribution system helmed by Blue Shield — but limited communication, technical challenges and lack of transparency have resulted in delays for at least three counties. Meanwhile, the state is overhauling its equity program after young, healthy and wealthy residents in Los Angeles and San Francisco obtained vaccine access codes intended for vulnerable Californians.

It’s just the latest setback for the Golden State, which enlisted Blue Shield to speed up and streamline a slow and chaotic rollout. But although San Joaquin County was among those set to finish onboarding to the Blue Shield system by Monday, “nothing’s really transitioned at this point in our county,” Greg Diederich, the director of the San Joaquin County Health Care Services Agency, told me Wednesday. Diederich added that the county “didn’t get a lot of direct dialogue” with Blue Shield “until Thursday last week,” when the insurance giant passed along model contracts for vaccine providers.

Diederich: “Nobody to my knowledge has really signed that contract.”

Fresno County is also still in the process of “discussing that transition plan,” with a new projected launch date of March 1, Joe Prado, the county’s health division manager, said at a Tuesday press conference. Stanislaus County on Monday said it still hadn’t received any guidance from Blue Shield. …

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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.