Tuesday, September 22, 2020
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“Romeo & Juliet; Virtually”

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Romeo & Juliet Virtually

Before there was internet, before television, before the telephone and telegraph, there was Romeo and Juliet, the oft-told tale of star-crossed lovers and the warring families that are the death of them. Needless to say, Shakespeare couldn’t have conceived of a performance where his characters never come face-to-face. But these are pandemic times, and pandemic times call for inventive measures.

That much can certainly be said for Romeo & Juliet; Virtually, which has the Montagues and Capulets in quarantine, where they meet and love and clash and die on Zoom. How well it works depends largely on what you’re looking for, but there’s no denying that a lot of work has gone into this re-imagined classic.

First off, let’s be frank: if you’re unfamiliar with Romeo and Juliet, this is not the way to get your first taste. In the interests of briskness so as to avoid trying your online attention span, director Miles Berman and adapter Steven Vlasak have cut their source material by half ― losing, for example, all Montagues save Romeo and Mercutio. (Mercutio’s not actually a Montague in the original, but here he’s combined with some of Romeo’s kinsmen.) More importantly, by removing the section referring to the fact that Romeo is head-over-heels in love with someone else before he ever meets Juliet and instantly transfers his affections to her, this RAJ pivots away from one of the play’s central themes: the fickleness of young love. (Remember: Shakespeare’s Juliet is just 13 years old.)

Instead, Berman and Vlasak load their thematic eggs in the intolerance/hatred-of-the-Other” basket. We don’t know wherefore the Montagues and Capulets began their feud, but it’s clear that now their beef is based on otherness. (Tybalt: “[…P]eace? I hate the word / As I hate hell, all Montagues, and thee.”)

But is that really what Romeo & Juliet; Virtually is about? Probably not. More than anything, this show seems to be a simple entertainment and perhaps this is where it most succeeds. For starters, it’s good fun watching how Berman and co. move the action forward without ever (well, almost ever) bringing the characters face-to-face. The screen (a YouTube live stream) is an ever-shifting array of rectangles whose size and orientation vary from scene to scene, as the characters Zoom in pairs and groups, on laptops and smartphones, stock still or in motion. This show is not a staged reading: it’s a fully blocked theatrical event. Yes, it’s loose, but it’s anything but random.

Despite the above-mentioned loss of the fickleness theme, Romeo & Juliet; Virtually maintains the self-important immaturity of Shakespeare’s characters in the form of everyone’s need to broadcast their lives online. More than the COVID-19 pandemic (a bit of backdrop made explicit by an opening newscast and the Capulet Family’s Zoom Masquerade Quarantine Party), it’s the new normal of 21st-century online living that frames why these characters are looking at each other on screen rather than eye-to-eye. (Frames it, but doesn’t always explain it. Don’t go looking for logical consistency ― just make room under the suspension-of-disbelief umbrella that is status quo in theatre.)

Although no-one’s going to confuse her with a 13-year-old, Stephanie Kutty imbues Juliet with an appropriate TikTokish callowness. Her life is drama, and she’s the star, living nothing but the highest highs and the lowest lows  ―  and always into the camera. Hopefully Paris Moletti can better join her in that juvenile space by bringing more animation to his Romeo during the show’s short run. (I caught a press preview, so expect a bit more polish by then.)

On the whole the acting is more than adequate. This is not a Shakespearean troupe, yet they manage the dialog just fine. As Pops Capulet, John DiDonna is exceptional, the kind of guy I always want with my Shakespeare. And the entire cast manages to contemporize their characters, sometimes to the point of fully naturalizing them (e.g., Myles McGee’s Mercutio).

Essential to the entertainment value of this project are the laughs, almost all of which emanate from the performers rather than the Bard. (R&J is not one of his wittiest.) The standout here is Amber Stepp as Nurse Nan. The dialog between Stepp and Kutty is some of the play’s best stuff (it helps that Juliet and Nan’s being constantly in touch is one place where the internal logic of why they’re online works perfectly); and Stepp slays as a verklempt wedding guest.

Although Romeo & Juliet; Virtually is not a proper introduction to what may be Shakespeare’s most famous work, it’s certainly a look at what can be done to keep theatre (a)live during the current plague on all our houses. And hey, you just might be entertained in the process.
Romeo & Juliet; Virtually by Miles Beyond Entertainment

Times: Friday–Saturday 6:00 p.m. (log-on/preshow begins at 5:30 p.m.)
The show runs through August 29
Cost: $7-$9
Details: https://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/6970
Venue: Hollywood Fringe Festival Online

City of Long Beach Develops System to Connect Providers to Personal Protective Equipment and an Online Exchange Platform for Facial Coverings

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LONG BEACH – The City of Long Beach has developed a system to connect providers with personal protective equipment (PPE), as well as a way for people to donate goods and services and access to facial coverings through an online exchange platform.
Request for Medical PPE:
Various qualifying organizations in need of PPE, including healthcare facilities, medical providers, shelters, adult day care and long-term care facilities, may request supplies via the City’s longbeach.gov/COVID19 website, under “Resources for Healthcare Providers.”
Equipment Donations to the City:
To streamline and manage the donations and offers of assistance to the City of Long Beach, the City also has developed an online form at, http://longbeach.gov/health/diseases-and-condition/information-on/coronavirus/help/
The new form can be completed by local businesses and community volunteers interested in providing assistance.
The form will help the City organize donation offers such as business facility use, transportation and delivery services and personal protective equipment. Additionally, donations of food and hygiene kits for persons experiencing homelessness and offers of volunteer services in a variety of skill areas are captured by the form. All information provided is electronically safeguarded for privacy and reviewed to determine the best match with City operational needs.
Creation of an Online Exchange for Facial Coverings:
Face masks and coverings for an individual’s personal use can be purchased through a marketplace created by the Long Beach Post in partnership with the City of Long Beach. Mask makers and businesses can register via the Vendor Registration form. https://shop.lbpost.com/vendor-registration

Earthquake Damage In San Pedro

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On Sept. 18, a 4.5 Magnitude earthquake struck the San Gabriel area. It was felt throughout the Harbor Area. Although no serious damage was reported some neighborhoods in San Pedro went briefly without electricity.

Minutes after the shaking stopped LAFD received a call for flooding at 7th and Weymouth where a piece of the street cracked open and ruptured a water main turning the streets into a river.

Hundreds of rocks and debris could be seen spewing from the crack in the road as mud and pebbles piled on the street corners. Some residents in the area stated that they had no running water and another neighbor showed me a video of her faucet spewing light blue water.  

DWP arrived about an hour later and were working on the incident.

Long Beach Convention Center will serve as LA County Vote Center

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LONG BEACH— Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn has announced Sept. 21, that the Long Beach Convention Center will serve as a Vote Center for the 2020 Presidential General Election. Voters will be able to vote-in person or drop off their mail-in ballots at this location starting Oct. 30 through Election Day on Nov. 3.

“I want this to be the most accessible, convenient, hassle-free election for voters in LA County history, and that means giving voters options of how and where to vote” said Supervisor Janice Hahn. 

This election, every registered voter will be sent a mail-in ballot. Voters can choose to vote-by-mail and track their ballot’s progress using the new Ballot Trax tool, vote in person at any LA County Vote Center, or drop their ballot off at a Vote Center or one of the county’s ballot drop boxes.

Select Vote Centers across LA County will be open beginning Oct. 24. All Vote Centers will be available beginning Oct. 30.  Every Vote Center will be open every day from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. during the early voting period. On Election Day Vote Centers will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.To check voter registration status, visit lavote.net. If a voter has moved, changed their name, or would like to change political party affiliation they must re-register to vote either online or with a paper form. The registration deadline is Oct. 19 to be mailed a Vote by Mail ballot.

Environmental Films Discussion Magnifies Need For Diplomacy

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By Melina Paris, Editorial Assistant

Over the past three-and-a-half years, we’ve watched the Trump administration bend trusted institutions to its will by rolling back decades of environmental protections for the sake of helping fossil fuel companies hoard profit and power. So much so, people of conscience are starting to believe that the only way forward for ecological and progressive change is to eliminate these institutions. As a result, public-private partnerships are  viewed with prejudice. This can be problematic.

Earlier this year, I reviewed two environmental films, Beyond The Brink: California’s Watershed [an educational video] produced by Jim Thebaut, president of The Chronicles Group followed by Planet Of The Humans by director Jeff Gibbs and executive produced by Michael Moore.  

Jim Thebaut of Chronicles Group

In California’s Watershed, former landscape engineer, Thebaut, presented solutions for dispersing water from California watersheds through the Sierra Nevada forests to supply California’s agriculture and the commons. California’s Watershed asserts that the production of biofuels, produced through selective burning of forest trees, can play a part in providing a sustainable and healthy California watershed. 

In building evidence for this solution, the video presented serious environmental and water supply issues in terms of agriculture and posited that forest overgrowth of trees from a century of fire suppression has degraded the ability to store water. But it didn’t connect on an ecological level how producing biofuels would help. Further, biofuels come along with a host of other problems which were not evaluated or quantified in the brief length of this video. However, in a later conversation with Thebaut he discussed more solutions for forest water channels not discussed in the video. 

California’s Watershed is connected to a longer film titled Beyond The Brink [www.youtube.com/Beyond-The-Brink]. The full length film posits if forests are restored to a density historical to the 1900s, the hypothesis is that it may be possible to get more run off from the Northern Sierra with restoration of mechanical thinning of forests and controlled fire. The film showed the benefits resulting from the production of biofuels like, opportunities for public private partnerships, utilizing biomass as a carbon resource and converting biofuels into things people need.

Director Jeff Gibbs speaks to Bill McKibben of 350.org

Planet Of The Humans has been criticized for presenting outdated information. Gibbs failed to present any dates or timeline in the film on events that he claims are important

Planet concludes that no matter how many green energy options humans create, the problem of resource depletion will never be solved without reducing consumption. The film also posits that renewable energy sources, including biomass energy, wind power and solar energy, are not as renewable as they are portrayed to be. Yet, Gibbs did not present any firm solution to the myriad of issues his film depicted.

However, biofuels is where Planet and Beyond The Brink merged, albeit from different angles. Planet presents it as utter destruction where Beyond The Brink introduces it as a solution, through public private partnerships.

When we sat down, Thebaut mentioned his new project, a book and film for which the working title is Turning Back The Doomsday Clock. It begins on the same premise as Planet but is based on observations different from Gibbs’. It’s based on two sources: Thebaut’s observations, which is filming for the last 50 years around the world and his work as a regional environmental planner. It’s also based on the results of the Global Trend 2035 Study, published by the National Intelligence Council. The project involves research and consultations with people in the United States government and globally to review key trends, their implications over the near and long term and how emerging trends might combine to produce alternative futures.

“They predict horrifying things happening through 2035,” Thebaut said. “Like global conflicts and water and food shortage. They don’t say climate change because of the policy at the Whitehouse but you can confer it.” 

Thebaut’s assessment of Planet, in part, was that Gibbs was critical of corporations, the private sector. Thebaut said that the government has to create and establish policy, but that we can’t ignore the capabilities of the private sector in terms of implementing policy. They have creativity, environmental engineering, science. While he’s not a cynic when it comes to these types of people, he said he’s also a realist when it comes to Wall Street and those realities. 

“We have to depend on people who understand what’s at stake,” Thebaut said. “It’s in an urgent situation and to get anything done it’s going to require diplomatic strategies and coalitions that will have to be put together by almost every country in the world. We have to change the dialogue and the political landscape. But I’m making the assumption that we can transcend these situations even if Trump is elected.”

I was interested in Thebaut’s take on the  assertion in Planet that solar and wind energies are based in coal. He has reservations about coal, saying there are many alternatives for renewable energy. 

“There has to be a mix of different sources of power energy,” Thebaut said. “There’s also a lot of study going on in thermal energy and tidal power with oceans. Science has to evolve and we’ll meet demands.” 

Thebaut aligns with the use of solar wind and tidal energy, even nuclear power is a clean energy. As a regional environmental planner he created numerous environmental impact statements and planning studies under the national and state environmental policy act. He said we must have the technologies to create mitigating measures and the knowledge on how we can mitigate the impact.

Population Growth

“The other thing Gibbs mentioned but really didn’t get into is we’re going to have 10 billion people on the planet by 2050, projected,” Thebaut said. “Going back to California, and looking at the water system that we have, the Delta and so forth, it was built at a time when we only had 10 to 12 million people in California, approximately. It was projected for 20 million people, approximately. We’re now close to 50 million so obviously the infrastructure that’s required has to catch up to reality.”

Thebaut noted that California is the fifth largest economy in the world. It is also part of the mediterranian climate part of only five regions in the world that have this climate   which are the world’s food baskets. 

“That’s really ignored,” Thebaut said. “One of the reasons we have the COVID-19 global pandemic is we have compromised the global ecological system. We need cooperation from China, the European Union and the Middle East, everybody working together to solve these problems. The United Nations is a place for us to sit down together to create diplomacy, partnerships and coalitions. They have development goals that we need to pay attention to.”

Biofuels and Fire 

Thebaut addressed the issue raised by Gibbs’ Planet of the Humans, biofuels and their impact on the environment. The effects of this were highlighted in Planet showing the displacement of the Amazon’s indigenous people. Brazillian President Jair Bolsonaro in 2019, annulled a 10-year-old regulation that had banned the expansion of sugar-cane planted in the Amazon in favor of producing non-food crops for corn ethanol, which in addition to rendering people homeless, has created an even larger carbon footprint. Thebaut said this was a compromise of the global ecological system; we must learn how to design within the ecological system and not compromise the integrity of the environment.

“Mother Nature created a wonderful forest, the watershed,” he said. “We had policies that changed all that, like the fire suppression policies to protect the gold miners living in the mountains who didn’t want wildfires affecting their work. That was a compromise of the integrity of the system and now we’re paying the price.”

Thebaut said Native Americans have a history of using fire for land management. Their knowledge can inform the California wildfires. Sonali Kolhatkar of KPFKs Rising Up With Sonali recently interviewed Mechoopda tribal member Ali Meders-Knight about this. Meders-Knight collaborates on environmental education and land management at Chico University. She said using fire for land management coincides with other things that are necessary like controlling insects, lowering insecticides [using smoke to filter insects to plants] and as part of maintenance, regularly using cooling or light fires in already thinned out areas, creating white smoke which is a large-scale fire break. This practice has made plants fire adapted. The New York Times also published a story highlighting an Aboriginal burning program begun seven years ago in Australia which has cut wildfires in half and reduced carbon emissions by 40%.

Thebaut is looking at biomass technologies to see what can be accomplished. He is concerned about using biomass for energy but said there are many other uses for biomass and we need to look at the science in entirety. He posited biomass might be useful with the right kind of technologies to mitigate environmental consequences. Yet he noted that Gibbs’ film Planet made a good argument that the consequences may not be as healthy as they should be.

“There is a science associated with biofuels, he said. “In my film Beyond the Brink, we discuss the potential for biomass, what these wood products can create. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean anything right now because most of the wood that they’re pulling out of the forest, literally thousands of dead trees don’t have much use. They’ve been bombarded by beetles.” 

Thebaut’s answer is to harvest those dead trees, remove them and redesign the forest. He realizes that sounds like taking mother nature and turning it around but that’s what has to be done, like creating meadows which he cites as a way to get water.

“These issues transcend political ideology. There are members of the environmental community who don’t even want the dead trees cut down, which shows a lack of understanding of what the problems are.” 

He said once we recreate the forest, we’ll be generating new water into the system. Because even the dead trees are absorbing water, and holding a lot of it back. We can remove some of the dams, like on the San Joaquin river and create infrastructure which will be used for groundwater recharging. 

Yet, even dead trees, a part of natural recycling, continue to benefit future generations of living things by sheltering animals and improving groundwater. When forest trees fall often their root system comes up, creating holes in the earth which serve as a natural reservoir, trapping rain water until it can seep down into the ground.

Further, a 2015 Geos Institute study revealed that thinning combined with biomass energy production may increase, rather than reduce, greenhouse gas emissions. The study cited a 2010 scientist letter to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and included several signatories of the National Academy of Science. Even with this combined information on trees and greenhouse gas it stands true, as fires blaze throughout the West Coast, we cannot afford to wait. We must solve this crisis. This is where Thebaut’s work can help.

Thebaut said we must help mother nature and redesign the watershed but we need support. 

“To do that we need support from the state government, the federal government, the United States Forest Service. Congress needs to understand the reality of the consequences because it’s a national security issue. We’re talking about food security for the nation and the economy of the state. [This is] water that comes from the mountains that supplies one-third  of the water supply for Southern California.”

We must find the solution for both the watershed and neutralizing the carbon debt from the production of biofuels, in the U.S. and worldwide. Thebaut presents a part of the solution but as he said it’s an urgent situation and only alongside global coalitions, diplomatic strategies and a combination of different sources of power will the human race reach these goals.

www.chroniclesgroup.org and www.youtube.com/Beyond-The-Brink

More COVID Testing Available

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LOS ANGELES —The City of Los Angeles, in partnership with Curative Inc. and CORE (Community Organized Relief Effort), is providing free COVID-19 testing to ALL Los Angeles County residents, whether or not you are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.

The test is free, whether or not you have insurance. If you have insurance, the provider may bill your insurance carrier for the cost of the test. By law, the insurance company may not charge you any co-pay, deductible, or any out-of-pocket expense for the test.

Priority for same or next day testing is still given to people experiencing symptoms, and certain critical front-line workers who interact with the public. Testing at the drive-thrus is by appointment only, but walk up testing is available at mobile test locations.

More than 130 facilities across the County now offer free COVID-19 testing. 

Details: Register for a test using the interactive map or directory at www.corona-virus.la/covid-19-testing 

NC Nurses win Union for the First Time

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Asheville, N.C. — In a mail-in ballot election, registered nurses at Mission Hospital Healthcare North Carolina Division voted 70 percent in favor of joining National Nurses United on Sept. 17. It’s the biggest hospital union victory in the South since 1975 and the first-ever election win for a union at a private hospital in North Carolina. NNU will represent 1,800 registered nurses at the hospital.

The successful union drove pit workers against HCA Healthcare, the nation’s largest hospital corporation with 184 hospitals in the United States and the United Kingdom. In February 2019, HCA paid $1.5 billion for Mission and six other nonprofit hospitals in western North Carolina.

NNU represents about 10,000 nurses at 19 HCA facilities across the country. The union drive at Mission Hospital is NNU’s largest campaign ever undertaken in North Carolina.

In the wake of the takeover by the multinational corporation, nurses saw patient care standards and working conditions quickly deteriorate. Four nurses initiated the union drive in May 2019 over cuts in staff, poor communication, and lack of access to basic supplies and personal protective equipment.

Washington and Oregon Join California in Pilot Project Using Google and Apple Exposure Notification Technology to Slow the Spread of COVID-19

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SACRAMENTO — Gov. Gavin Newsom Sept. 16, announced that Washington and Oregon, members of the Western States Pact, will participate with California in piloting a project to test promising exposure notification technology. These states join other members of the Western States Pact, Colorado and Nevada, along with states and universities across the country, in piloting this technology.  

Announced Sept. 11, by the California Department of Public Health and the California Department of Technology, the pilot project will test the Exposure Notification Express mobile application pioneered by Google and Apple. The app confidentially notifies individuals who may have been exposed to someone who tested positive for the virus. Privacy and security are central to the design of the technology, which does not collect location data from any device and never shares user identities. Users must opt-in to the technology.  

Through the Western States Pact, governors and legislative leaders from five western states requested $1 trillion in direct and flexible relief to states and local governments to preserve core government services like public health, public safety and public education, and help people get back to work.

After Labor Day COVID-19 Numbers See Increase In L.A. County – 38 New Deaths and 1,160 New Positive Cases Confirmed

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The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health or Public Health has confirmed 38 new deaths and 1,160 new cases of confirmed COVID-19. To date, Public Health has identified 257,271 positive cases of COVID-19 across all areas of L.A. County and a total of 6,324 deaths. 

There are 780 people now hospitalized with COVID-19 and 31% of these people are in the ICU. The number of daily hospitalizations has returned to levels seen early in the pandemic.

Because it is highly likely that both flu and COVID-19 will be present in L.A. County this year, Public Health advises residents to protect themselves from the flu by getting the flu immunization.

Every year, tens of thousands of people nationwide are hospitalized or die from flu-related illness. Considering the toll COVID-19 has had on our healthcare system, now more than ever it is important to be protected from influenza by getting immunized. Not only is getting immunized important because it is safe and provides protection against the harmful effects of influenza, it can also help keep people out of the hospital which will conserve hospital resources that may be taxed with both influenza and COVID-19 circulating at the same time.

You can get the flu immunization from your regular health care provider or local pharmacy. Flu immunizations are also provided at no-cost or low-cost at various locations throughout the County. 

Details: www.publichealth.lacounty.gov 

Millionaires versus Markets: Big Money Battles Prop. 15

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A pool at Terranea Resort. Terranea is attempting to stop Prop. 15, which would tax commercial properties based on the market price rather than purchase price. Photo courtesy Terranea Resort.

The corporate owner of Terranea Resort has spent $250,000 to defeat Proposition 15, while Carson’s largest landowner, the Watson Land Corp., has spent $99,000. Terranea is used to getting its way: It bullied Rancho Palos Verdes into giving it an $8.2 million rebate when it opened in 2009 and later partnered with Donald Trump, who was once a principal shareholder in New York-based Vornado Realty Trust, an S&P 500 company that has also spent $250,000 to defeat Prop 15.

The reason is obvious: Prop. 15 would tax commercial and industrial properties based on current market value, rather than decades-old purchase prices, raising an estimated $6.5 billion to $11.5 billion annually for K-12 schools and community colleges, counties, cities and special districts, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office. And, 92% of that money would come from the top 10% of commercial properties, according to a property tax roll analysis by Blue Sky Consulting in July. In other words, it would come from folks like Terranea, Watson and Vornado. 

“This is a choice between perpetuating a tax break for the wealthiest corporations in our state or expanding the critical local services to reduce homelessness, reduce emergency wait times and improve our neighborhoods — at zero cost to residents,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said earlier this year.

A recent deceptive No On Prop 15 TV ad portrays a black family barber shop as the prime target of Prop. 15, with the added ominous warning that “they admit homeowners are next,”  but the ad flies directly in the face of the facts.

The proposition exempts properties worth less than $3 million — except for owners whose total holdings exceed that threshold — and has other provisions protecting small businesses: “Prop. 15 would not affect the assessment of residential property (including owner-occupied homes and residential rental property) or property used for commercial agricultural production,” according to an analysis by the California Budget and Policy Center. “The measure would also create new exemptions for business personal property (such as equipment, furnishings and supplies): small businesses would be able to exempt all of their business personal property from taxation, and other business taxpayers would be able to exempt the first $500,000 in business personal property.”

In short, Prop. 15 bends over backwards to ensure that it’s not a broad tax increase, but rather narrowly targets those who’ve long gotten by paying far less than their fair share. But that hasn’t stopped Prop. 15’s opponents from trying to argue the opposite. On Aug. 5, Superior Court Judge James P. Arguelles ruled that a key paragraph of the voter guide arguments against Prop. 15 — claiming that it could lead to higher taxes for homeowners — be removed as “misleading if not outright false.”

But courts can do nothing about lies on TV.

“Our worst recession isn’t the time for the biggest property tax hike ever,” the barbershop ad concludes.

 But taxes won’t go up for years — and passing them onto tenants is a whole other story.

“This change would be phased in over several years, beginning in 2022-23, following a process established by the Legislature,” the California Budget and Policy Center report explained. “If at least 50% of a property (determined by square footage) is occupied by small businesses, the property would not be assessed until 2025-26 at the earliest.”

Beyond that, California Budget and Policy Center policy analyst Kayla Kitson told Random Lengths, “Prop. 15 includes a series of provisions that would protect many small businesses from property tax increases while also providing them with new property tax cuts.” For example, “The measure would create a new tax exemption for personal property, which will result in overall tax cuts for many small businesses,” exactly the opposite of what the ad threatens.

More broadly, “We think it’s important that Californians understand what Prop. 15 would do,” Kitson said. “Why focus on commercial and industrial properties only? This is because a small portion of the commercial and industrial properties in California are very valuable but have not been reassessed in decades, so their assessed values under current law are much lower than their market values. And this has created inequities between taxpayers and resulted in significant lost revenue for local services for people across California communities.”

The mysterious “they” who “admit homeowners are next” could not be reached for comment. Because, alas, “they” do not exist.

Campaigning in a Different World

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Left, Tanya Ortiz Franklin, a lawyer who works for Partnership for Los Angeles Schools. Right, Patricia Castanellos, former deputy director for Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy.

Top District 7 vote-getters in school board race look to distinguish themselves in new political environment

The District 7 top vote-getters were decided in April 2020, but the campaign focus was simply on who is going to replace the steady hand of Richard Vladovic. Which faction is going to get the upper hand on the board, pro or anti charter school advocates?

The top vote-getters were former Los Angeles Harbor commissioner, Patricia Castellanos, who served as deputy director for Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy and was the policy director and community organizer with Strategic Concepts in Organizing and Policy Education. And the other was Tanya Ortiz Franklin, a UCLA-trained lawyer who works for Partnership for Los Angeles Schools.

In the wake of the pandemic and the George Floyd demonstrations, Los Angeles Unified has  cut the budget of its school police and defied the Donald Trump administration’s order to open schools in the fall. School funding is still an issue, but who benefited from the Paycheck Protection Program and who didn’t is also an issue.

The following is a question and answer interview Random Lengths News sent out to the candidates this past July. We received their responses in August.

RLn: If you were to grade the Los Angeles Unified School District on its handling of the challenges presented by the pandemic and the movement to defund the police, what grade would you give and why?

Patricia Castellanos: The district’s main goal in managing through the pandemic and movement for racial justice in the wake of George Floyd’s murder should be protecting the health and safety of our students, their families and the school community. This must be balanced with the economic uncertainty and pain that the pandemic has caused for so many, as well as the learning needs of our students.

The district was right to rely on science and data to close our campuses in March, and to require 100% distance learning when our new school year starts. I believe that decision saved lives. We see other parts of the nation rushing to reopen schools and usher parents back to workplaces — despite alarming surges in hospitalization and fatality rates.

With the new year approaching, the district must improve dramatically to meet the needs of our families. First, the district should do more to communicate with parents and students. As a parent of a second-grader in LAUSD, I know there will be tough decisions to be made, but parents need as much time as possible to prepare and plan. The decision to shift to 100% distance learning was announced only weeks ago. Also, I believe that the district should do more to connect with black and Latino families, whose children make up over 80% of the student population. I have been engaged with hundreds of parents through virtual meetings and surveys, many of whom have called for more communication from the district. Lastly, the district must address the low participation rates in distance learning among vulnerable students.

Tanya Ortiz-Franklin:  If our objective as a school district is, as I believe it is, to prepare all students to graduate ready for college, career and life, then grading should be based on expectations of taking efficient action in service of reaching this objective. Where an A demonstrates exceeding expectations, a C meets expectations for eligibility for higher education and during school closure, apparently everyone receives no lower than a D (which is still sufficient for graduation).

In responding to the pandemic and defunding school police the district earns a C and a D, respectively. In mid-March, the district took swift action based on clear values of what would be most needed for our students to continue learning — daily food distribution for all and getting devices and internet connectivity to as many students as possible. As the weeks went on and students experiencing the heaviest burdens of the pandemic still lacked devices or internet access and the district’s priorities shifted away from them to starting a summer school program they could not access, their grade suffered as well.

On the issue of school police in this historic moment to demonstrate that black lives matter, the grade is based on taking efficient action for black students’ preparation for college, career and life. Black youth have been leading the call to decriminalize students for years and the district waited until the last minute to take action for next school year with no cohesive approach to Los Angeles School Police. The superintendent created his task force without youth, teacher or parent leaders — a task force that has yet to meet though they were supposed to report back by the end of summer — and the board rehashed the same arguments and allegiances during two excruciatingly long board meetings.

RLn: Do you believe the LAUSD has been centering students’ academic and social-emotional needs with its decision not to reopen schools in the fall and defunding the LAUSD police? Detail your reasons why you believe it has or has not.

PC: Our  students learn when they feel safe. In managing LAUSD’s current challenges, the district is right to prioritize the health and safety of our students, their families and our school community. The decision to not reopen schools in favor of distance learning was based on overwhelming scientific data. There is no doubt that for the great majority of students the best place for them to learn and grow — socially, emotionally, academically — is in school alongside their teachers and classmates. Much more work must be done about our students’ learning needs, including dramatically improving distance learning for ALL students, improving communications with all parents and improving support for students with special needs. But the decision to not reopen schools saved lives.

Also, the recent decision to redirect funds from the LAUSD police to services that support black students was the right decision. It provides critical support for our high-needs schools in the midst of a national call for racial justice and healing. 

TOF: No. I believe the district is centering public health in the decision to not reopen schools this fall, as they should, and is centering politics in the issue of defunding police. If the district centered students’ academic and social-emotional needs in these decisions, there would be a more comprehensive plan with a timeline for decisions to be made with the meaningful engagement of students, parents, educators and school staff.

I have spent the last few months centering students’ academic and social-emotional needs alongside fellow educators as we prepare for school reopening at 19 LAUSD schools. We started by setting goals for the year — not in state assessments and academic growth as we traditionally do, but in ensuring that all students have devices and internet connectivity, that relationships are the foundation of learning and that we have the tools we need to support meaningful student engagement in diverse ways. This led us to develop an array of distance learning and family engagement resources to support an optimistic launch to the 2019-20 school year, even as we await many crucial decisions from the district.

RLn: Do you believe that charter schools in Los Angeles County receiving $78 million in Paycheck Protection Program loans is as big a problem as some are making it out to be?

PC: We must do everything we can to protect our schools from the immense economic hardship brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Fortunately, as public entities, our schools have benefited from a continued funding stream from the state, plus access to federal CARES Act funding. Charter schools continue to be funded by these public sources as well.  However, as the pandemic continues and revenues for the state decline, public education, which is already underfunded, is at risk for further cuts and underfunding. If the federal government is going to provide additional funding to charter schools, outside California’s school funding mechanism, then neighborhood public schools should be eligible for those additional funds as well.

TOF: Nonprofit organizations around the country breathed a sigh of relief when they could access PPP loans to maintain job security and health care for employees and their families, just as government entities did when the CARES Act came through. It’s important that federal dollars provide a safety net for our most vulnerable populations as well as those serving them.

RLn: With three months remaining until the general election in November, what challenges, if any, beyond the ones mentioned in this questionnaire, do you see emerging in the next couple of years and what will it take to address those challenges?

PC: California continues to rank near 43rd in the nation in per-student spending, reflecting a public school system that has experienced decades of under-funding. The COVID pandemic exacerbates this crisis. Our communities are struggling under the weight of COVID, the recession, job losses and housing and food insecurity. With the state’s economic uncertainty and the lack of leadership at the national level, parents are concerned about drastic budget cuts when our students need resources more than ever. The district, local, state and federal administration must step up and raise revenue for our public schools so that our students can learn and teachers can teach.

TOF: The looming economic recession, especially because LA Unified has teetered on the fiscal cliff for years, is a huge concern that must be met with courage and a deep understanding of how cuts impact the classroom. Even with the hope of Proposition 15 and the school bond measure in November, LAUSD must still move towards equitable funding. That is, the fight for enough cannot mask the fight for fairness.

Additionally, meaningful community engagement in decision-making continues to be an opportunity for improvement in our district and is even clearer during this time of distance learning. Now that some students are thriving working at their own pace (almost practicing for college) and others are deeply struggling with the lack of resources and human connection, our education system has the insights to make really different decisions about teaching and learning in partnership with families, so that every student has a tailored experience for the best educational outcomes possible.

Fog In the Media

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Even the weather girl should know which way the wind blows

Sitting, as I do most early mornings, drinking coffee on my back porch, I can hear the distant barking of harbor seals from the main channel.  Recently the weather gal on CBS Channel 2 News forecast that day to be one of the hottest days of the week before reporting on the smoke conditions from the fires. I could hear the bellowing of foghorns from the ships in the port. The weather report didn’t mention the inversion that creates fog, which happens when hot air temperatures meet colder water. It’s a phenomenon that sailors and surfers know well.

Even though each of these ships, large and small, are outfitted with the most advanced GPS and radar, they are still dependent upon the ancient service of the fog horn and probably still a sailor on the bow watch to help navigate the blind gray mists of the waters here.  The horns have their own distinctive tones allowing vessels to communicate with and to audio locate other craft in the area through the mist. It is a technology that predates all the sophisticated digital equipment on the bridge of any modern ship and is there in case other systems fail.

Now I only bring this up because the multi-billion dollar shipping industry still uses this antiquated form of communication as a fail-safe measure. I also use it as a metaphor for what’s missing in the fog of digital communications these days. For all intents and purposes the meteorologists, as the weather gals and guys are called, rely on all of this sophisticated Doppler radar and satellite imaging to forecast tomorrow’s temperatures without knowing the micro climes of temperature inversions along the coasts.

On this particular day, CBS Channel 2 News got the forecast wrong by double digits and then the burnt orange clouds of smoke from the San Gabriel fires lowered the temperatures too. This gave an eerie cast to the shadows on the ground as I walked to work.

All of this is not dissimilar to the fog of disinformation that is blanketing our city and national politics, especially in the remaining weeks before the November election. There’s a bleak perception that grays out all information as being equal and that each of us is left to navigate these treacherous waters by either dead reckoning or digital device alone.  Political forecasters are about as accurate as the weather gal on Channel 2 News with best-guess estimates. The polling numbers only add anxiety to smoking distractions of daily scandals and social media conspiracies.

The captain of this ship-of-state, the orange tweeter, celebrates this bleak chaos adding more smoke to create enough confusion to navigate into a second term — lying as he did this week while meeting Gov. Gavin Newsom in Sacramento and denying climate change science. CBS news reported the exchange with an unchallenged equivalency between the science and the idiot denier. The exchange went like this:

“We’ve had temperatures explode this summer …. We want to work with you to really recognize the changing climate and what it means to our forests and actually work together with that science,” said Wade Crowfoot, California’s secretary for natural resources.

“That science is going to be key because if we ignore that science and sort of put our head in the sand and think it’s all about vegetation management, we’re not going to succeed in protecting Californians.”

“It’ll start getting cooler. You just — you just watch,” the president said.

“I wish science agreed with you,” Crowfoot said.

“Well, I don’t think science knows, actually,” he said.

And the CBS reporter made not one remark exposing Donald Trump’s continued denial of the overwhelming evidence on climate science and global warming.

This comes on the heels of the revelation from the famous journalist Bob Woodward’s report in his new book Rage in which he actually recorded the president as saying he knew the coronavirus was a significant threat early on.

During a Feb. 7 recorded phone call with Woodward, Trump recognized that the virus was dangerous.

“It goes through the air. That’s always tougher than the touch. You don’t have to touch things. Right?” the president asked. “But the air, you just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed. And so that’s a very tricky one. That’s a very delicate one. It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flus.”

Woodward also reported that Trump said, “This is deadly stuff.” Then Trump went on to lie about the COVID-19 virus to the entire nation and denying all of the scientific data on the disease and continues not to wear a mask.

It has become apparent that this captain Trump would just as soon scuttle the ship of fools in a fog of deception and outright lies to keep his campaign afloat. And his merry crew of tricksters — Roger Stone, Postmaster Louis DeJoy, Chad Wolf, acting director of Homeland security and Michael Caputo, whom the White House appointed to serve as HHS assistant secretary for public affairs — are all onboard with this plan. They continue spreading false information and deflect all criticism.

That plan, if one can call it a plan, is to support every lie, nutty conspiracy theory and false claim against Democratic candidate Joe Biden and his running mate Sen. Kamala Harris that Mr. Trump can conger up out of his delusional Adderall-addicted paranoia.

So be prepared for the final assault of this disinformation campaign to fog your vision, which creates a smoke screen to hide the truth.  And that truth is the fact Mr. Trump is losing this campaign by his own deceit over the COVID-19, racial injustice and the economic disaster he allowed to manifest because of his own incompetence.

There may be few political foghorns to use as fail-safe options in this, but even the weather gal on Channel 2 should know which way the winds are blowing. Do you?