Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Friday, March 18. I’m Doug Smith, a reporter covering local issues, filling in for Justin Ray.
The troubles that have long beset Los Angeles County’s Central Juvenile Hall flared over the weekend when officials abruptly closed the Boyle Heights facility and hurriedly transferred about 140 minors, some with mental health and serious behavior issues, to Barry J. Nidorf Hall in Sylmar.
Probation Department employees told L.A. Times reporter James Queally that the transfer was “disorganized and dangerous” because there was little to no warning and too few employees to handle the move smoothly. Although a probation official said parents were notified, employees said many showed up at the closed facility unaware that their children were not there.
The abrupt move came days before a scheduled state inspection, after Probation Department officials discovered that they had failed to correct problems at the hall that were identified in an inspection last month. State regulators had ordered corrections at both juvenile halls after a September inspection found them unsuitable to house young people. Among the deficiencies were failure to complete health assessments for newly admitted juveniles and insufficient documentation to determine whether the county had been justified in placing youths in solitary confinement.
In November, state regulators determined that both facilities had addressed the problems, but a follow-up investigation last month at Central Juvenile Hall turned up new problems, according to a letter the state board sent to the Probation Department.
An investigator discovered that a youth had been held in isolation at the facility for 11 days and “had not been receiving exercise or recreation outside of their room,” according to the letter.
One probation official told The Times that a review of footage from the facility’s security cameras before this week’s scheduled follow-up inspection revealed that, among other shortcomings, safety checks were not being performed when children were alone in their rooms, the official said.
“While they’re preparing for this inspection … they start looking at the videos, and they realize, ‘We’re screwed,’” the official said.
Chief Probation Officer Adolfo Gonzales said Central Juvenile Hall could reopen in less than three months, but the latest setback may add urgency to a long-running discussion over whether to close it permanently.
L.A. County Supervisor Hilda Solis, who co-wrote a motion heard Tuesday for the board to study the possibility of fully closing the facility, slammed the transfer as “chaotic” and “unacceptable.”
“Given the age of Central Juvenile Hall, this is a Sisyphean task — a continuous and expensive problem to maintain an aging and decrepit facility,” the motion read. “In light of the never-ending issues with the facility’s suitability, we must question whether the facility can even be fully repaired. It is time to assess all possibilities and ask whether it makes more sense — fiscally and morally — to close Central Juvenile Hall.”
And now, here’s what’s happening across California:
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An antidote for the rising cost of gas?: As an alternative to a Republican proposal to suspend the state’s highest-in-the-nation gas tax, a group of state lawmakers proposed sending a $400 rebate to every California taxpayer. Republican leaders quickly threw their support behind the measure but vowed to still push for suspending the gas tax, a move that does not seem likely under the administration of Gov. Gavin Newsom. Fontana News Room
Drawn-out appeals are blunting the impact of huge fines for employers that violated COVID-19 rules: Nearly two years after being slapped with a $396,000 fine for lapses that seeded an outbreak among its most medically vulnerable prisoners, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation still has paid nothing, according to state records. In the cases of 110 employers fined at least $10,000 in the first 12 months of the pandemic, only 41 have paid anything, and their payments amount to just $469,468 — less than half of the combined $1,144,565 they were fined. Sacramento Bee
ACLU challenges a Fresno law restricting access to homeless camp cleanups: The law, which establishes criminal penalties for entering the buffer zone around an encampment cleanup without permission, is an assault on constitutional rights, the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California contends in a federal lawsuit. Civil rights activists say the ordinance, set to go into effect March 31, targets advocates and reporters. Fresno Bee
Top dollar for UCLA’s basketball coach: Hours before his team’s first-round win in the NCAA tournament, men’s basketball coach Mick Cronin was rewarded Thursday with a new six-year contract that’s expected to make him the highest-paid coach in the Pac-12 Conference. The new deal, which runs through the 2027-28 season, replaces the two-year extension he had signed after guiding the Bruins to the Final Four last year, which was slated to pay him $3.7 million per year. Fontana News Room
And in other L.A. sports news: The Dodgers have reached an agreement to acquire towering first baseman Freddie Freeman, who became a hero in Atlanta for his role in the Braves’ World Series victory last year — a win that came after knocking out L.A. in the National League Championship Series. The contract, which is for six years and worth $162 million, according to people with knowledge of the situation, adds a fourth former MVP to the Dodgers’ roster. Fontana News Room
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POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT
California could be a haven for transgender youth targeted in other states: A bill by state Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) would render unenforceable in California any out-of-state court judgments seeking to remove children from their parents’ custody because they have received gender-affirming surgeries, hormone therapy or other transgender medical care. Attempts by Texas and Idaho to criminalize gender-affirming healthcare for minors have so far stalled amid a national outcry, but dozens of similar bills have been introduced in red states across the country. Fontana News Room
UCLA will provide housing for all its students: Ever since UCLA built its first four dorms six decades ago, in a quest to shift away from a commuter campus, the university has known that students who live on campus do better. Now, with two new apartment buildings providing 3,446 beds starting this fall, UCLA will become the first and only University of California campus to guarantee housing for four years to first-year students and two years for transfer students. The campus plans to tout that selling point as it releases admission decisions this month. Fontana News Room
CRIME, COURTS AND POLICING
Proceedings in the rape trial of Ron Jeremy suspended: Doubts about the mental health of disgraced porn star Jeremy led a judge to pause the criminal case, in which Jeremy is charged with sexually assaulting nearly two dozen women. Six weeks before the start of trial, Jeremy, 68, was unable to recognize his attorney, refused to get into his wheelchair and was generally “nonresponsive” inside a cell at a downtown L.A. courthouse, according to his attorney, Stu Goldfarb. Fontana News Room
Columnist Erika D. Smith laments the L.A. Police Commission’s ineffectual oversight of police misconduct: On hearing a report from the inspector general that little or no discipline was ultimately imposed on most of the officers who the commission had determined violated the department’s deadly-force policies, the commissioners got tangled up in semantics. “If this is what oversight looks like, it leaves a lot to be desired,” Smith wrote. “The lack of accountability certainly doesn’t engender public trust.” Fontana News Room
Video shows man saying, “I can’t breathe” before dying in police custody in Altadena: Lawyers for a man who died in police custody after being detained as a DUI suspect released a video showing his last moments as California Highway Patrol officers hold him and forcibly draw his blood while he repeatedly tells them, “I can’t breathe.” Edward Bronstein’s death came two months before that of George Floyd, who was murdered in May 2020 by a Minneapolis police officer who knelt on his neck. A federal judge overseeing the civil case in Bronstein’s death ruled this year that the family had a right to the video. On Tuesday, its contents were disclosed. Fontana News Room
HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT
Most L.A. teachers are not ready to end mask mandate: More than half of Los Angeles Unified teachers who responded to a union poll want to continue the district’s indoor mask mandate — 58% for keeping the requirement and 42% for ending it, according to an update the union sent to members Thursday morning. Union leaders have proposed lifting the mandate at campuses where at least 75% of staff and students are vaccinated against COVID-19. Fontana News Room
Have a yearning for a fizzy, fermented drink made using Indigenous-based practices? Daniel Hernandez tracks down the few spots where he can recapture the pleasure of tejuino and the other fermented drinks he became a fan of while living in Mexico. They are typically made inside people’s homes, usually with a plant, like corn, that’s already used for a bunch of other things in Mexico. Besides tejuino, these drinks include tepache, made with fermented pineapple rinds and spices, and pulque, a most esoteric liquid, which is fermented agave sap that pours like a foggy syrup. Fontana News Room
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Los Angeles: Partly cloudy, 81. San Diego: Sunny, 76. San Francisco: Cool with weekend rain expected, 59. San Jose: Sunny but rain on the way, 67. Fresno: Sunny but showers coming, 74. Sacramento: Sunny with weekend rain expected, 71.
Today’s California memory is from Marie Davis:
From the 1950s though the 1980s, the Los Angeles Girl Scout Council (now known as Girl Scouts of Greater Los Angeles) operated a modest camp in a sweet cove on Catalina Island. 12-year-old girls from all over L.A. could have the time of their lives learning to canoe, sail, row and aquaplane, hiking to secret spots, singing through chores and around the campfire. Just girls — planning, working, and playing; learning our strengths and to be independent. Over 50 years later, we campers are still reuniting, singing, and living Scout values. Send your grandkids to camp!
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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