|Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Tuesday, Sept. 28. I’m Justin Ray.
An eye-opening new report reveals vaccine hesitancy among those tasked with keeping the public safe.
Los Angeles County health officials have identified hundreds of coronavirus outbreaks at police and fire agencies since the start of the pandemic. They have led to more than 2,500 coronavirus cases.
But more than half of those cases have been associated with only two agencies: the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles Fire Department.
According to recent data, 56% of LAPD employees and 58.5% of sworn LAFD employees have been fully vaccinated. Those rates lag behind the 68% of L.A. County residents 12 and older who are fully vaccinated. Ten LAPD employees have died from the virus.
An LAPD spokesperson said that whenever outbreaks have occurred at their facilities, the department has “ensured cleanups or decontamination efforts were made.” An LAFD representative said the Fire Department had “taken proactive measures to minimize the likelihood of an outbreak” at its stations.
But vaccine hesitancy is not unique to L.A.’s city employees. About 90% of San Diego police officers who responded to a recent survey said they opposed COVID-19 vaccination mandates; 65% of them said they would consider quitting if the city were to enforce such a requirement, scheduled to take effect in November.
Nearly 200 San Francisco employees submitted identical letters to the city against a vaccine mandate they said went against their “God-given and constitutionally secured” rights. Dozens recently protested San Jose’s planned employee vaccine mandate, set to begin Oct. 1.
When it comes to law enforcement, numbers suggest that coronavirus is ravaging their ranks. According to data gathered by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, a nonprofit that tracks law enforcement deaths, COVID-19 claimed the lives of more officers in 2020 than gun violence, car accidents and all other causes combined.
Reporter Kevin Rector has unearthed a lot of surprising data about outbreaks within L.A.’s police and fire agencies. He also highlights what data are missing, preventing us from getting a full picture. You can read the full report here.
And now, here’s what’s happening across California:
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A surge of parents seeking remote learning for their children has overwhelmed public school programs in Los Angeles, causing teacher shortages, administrative snafus and enrollment delays. While thousands of parents have successfully enrolled their children, others appear to have struggled with the process, with many who seek help unable to get responses from phone calls and emails. Many children have missed days of instruction and, in the most extreme cases, have been unable to attend school for weeks. Los Angeles Times
Savannah Singer, 7, foreground, and her twin sister, Madelynn, attend an online school. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
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POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT
California bill aims to lower death rates for Black moms during childbirth. California has among the lowest death rates nationally among pregnant women and new mothers, but before you applaud you should know the numbers for Black moms. The most recent data available reveals that Black mothers were six times more likely to die within a year of pregnancy than white women from 2014 to 2016 and had a higher rate of death than Black women nationally from 2014 to 2017. A bill aims to change that by collecting more details about pregnancy-related deaths, diversifying the experts looking at that data and requiring them to recommend ways to reduce racial gaps. It’s nicknamed the “Momnibus” bill. Los Angeles Times
CRIME AND COURTS
The nation’s largest prosecutor’s office is moving to dismiss roughly 60,000 marijuana convictions. “Dismissing these convictions means the possibility of a better future to thousands of disenfranchised people who are receiving this long-needed relief,” Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. George Gascón said in a statement. Approximately 20,000 of the convictions expected to be expunged under Gascón’s Monday order were for felony possession or cultivation of marijuana. The remainder were misdemeanors filed in jurisdictions that do not have their own city attorney’s offices. Los Angeles Times
A group of unhoused people in San Luis Obispo is suing for the right to sleep in tents and vehicles without facing destruction of their property, harassment, fines and criminal charges. The San Luis Obispo City Council has passed multiple ordinances barring overnight access to parks and public spaces. The lawsuit accuses the city of violating the 8th Amendment by punishing people for being homeless, and the 4th Amendment for seizing and destroying property. The suit also accuses the city of violating the California Constitution’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Cal Coast News
Southern California Gas Co. has agreed to pay a settlement of up to $1.8 billion, nearly six years after the worst methane gas leak in U.S. history forced more than 8,000 families in Porter Ranch to flee their homes. In an announcement Monday, the gas company and its parent, Sempra Energy, denied any wrongdoing. The settlement comes after years of lawsuits involving more than 35,000 victims. The October 2015 leak lasted four months and caused the largest known release of methane in U.S. history. More than 100,000 metric tons of the gas, a pollutant more potent than carbon dioxide, spewed into the air. Los Angeles Times
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HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT
A lawless state park has been overtaken by off-roading, fireworks, raves. A campground in Sinkyone Wilderness State Park — about a four-hour drive north of San Francisco — is popular with weekend warriors who arrive and misbehave. Locals and officials explained that California State Parks’ staffing shortages had created serious problems. The agency is aware of the situation and working toward bringing this rogue campsite back under control. SF Gate
Heavy smoke from wildfires raging in Central California has pushed south, triggering an air quality advisory for some Southern California mountain areas. The South Coast Air Quality Management District issued the special advisory in anticipation of elevated Air Quality Index levels — a measurement of air pollution — in parts of the San Bernardino and San Gabriel mountains Monday. Smoke from the Windy and KNP Complex fires — a pair of explosive blazes in the southern Sierra Nevada region — turned skies in Los Angeles eerie shades of gray and orange in recent days and continues to sully atmospheric conditions more than 100 miles away. Los Angeles Times
A California burger restaurant has banned underage customers without a parent or legal guardian. Red Rooster Burgers & Brew, located in Garden Valley, cited incidents such as “marijuana being smoked in the bathroom,” “kiddos sitting on the baby changing table in the bathroom making out” and “ketchup and mustard being squirted into the opposite bottles and into masks and other places, then strewn around the dining area.” Facebook
No, California isn’t doomed. Some recent articles have claimed the Golden State is losing its appeal due to the population decline, housing crisis and persistent wildfires. However, New York Times opinion writer Peter Coy argues that California is well-positioned to address its failings: “Californians have grown increasingly aware of what’s wrong. California is also blessed with abundant resources that enable it to fix problems that would be daunting for less endowed states.” New York Times
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Los Angeles: Cloudy, 73. San Diego: Meet the dog who waves at everyone leaving the store. 71. San Francisco: 68. San Jose: Meet the cat that doesn’t care about your piano career. 74. Fresno: 77. Sacramento: 80.
Today’s California memory is from Eric Jay Sonnenschein:
Seven years ago, we flew with our daughter to Los Angeles so she could start her adult life. We had one week to help her find a place, buy a car, and settle in. I was overwrought. She could barely drive, had never been in L.A. or lived on her own. Every morning at 4 a.m. I awoke panic-stricken and gazed out the eastward-facing hotel window at the red line of dawn beyond the violet mountains and office towers. The sun rising over the metropolis reassured me she’d be okay. Those L.A. sunrises gave me the courage to let go.
If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)
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