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L.A. roadway reckoning: safety advocates vs. firefighters

Essential California A coalition of community activists, labor groups and environmental organizations say the surging death toll on L.A. streets requires dramatic action. Firefighters say safety upgrades will slow response times.  ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌  ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌  ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌  February 28, 2024   View in browser Firefighters against Measure HLA stand in front of supporters of the ballot measure just before a press conference by firefighters union leaders in downtown Los Angeles on Feb. 14, 2024. (Courtesy Healthy Streets LA - Yes in HLA campaign) By Ryan Fonseca Good morning. It's Wednesday, Feb. 28 . Here's what you need to know to start your day. L.A.'s ro

CSU and a sexual harassment scandal

Investigations conducted by Cal State San Marcos found egregious sexual harassment and misconduct. But generous settlements with two professors followed.
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Los Angeles Times
Today's Headlines
Click to view images Cal State San Marcos in 2019. (Howard Lipin / San Diego Union-Tribune)

By Laura Blasey and Amy Hubbard

Hello, it's Wednesday, July 27, and before we dive into the top stories, we'd like to announce a newsletter we're launching next month called Group Therapy. The newsletter is reader-focused, meaning that author Laura Newberry (who's training to become a licensed clinical social worker) wants your questions on mental health and will consult the experts to provide some answers.

"There's so much great knowledge out there about what can help us feel better and more grounded amid the chaos of the world," Laura says. "We want to make it easier for people to find the best of that information and use it in their own lives." Learn more and sign up here.

Now, here are the stories you shouldn't miss today:

TOP STORIES

Cal State agreed to keep sexual harassment findings against two professors under wraps

Investigations conducted by Cal State San Marcos found that Roger Morrissette and David Bwambok engaged in egregious sexual harassment and misconduct, in violation of university policy. The professors' accounts of the events were found not to be credible.

Instead of pursuing disciplinary action, however, the university agreed to generous settlements, which included voluntary resignations, paid administrative leave and, in one case, expunging records of disciplinary action from a personnel file, according to university reports obtained by The Times that detail the investigations and settlements. Both Morrissette and Bwambok have denied the harassment and misconduct claims.

A university spokeswoman said the "most assured route to these individuals no longer working for the campus was via settlements." The revelations are the latest jolt to the Cal State system, where a series of scandals have called into question its handling of sexual harassment and other misconduct claims.

Jews, Muslims and other worshipers say the Roe vs. Wade reversal threatens religious freedom

Rabbi Barry Silver tells his congregation that traditional Jewish law says life begins at birth: when the baby draws its first breath. In some extreme cases, an abortion is not only permitted by Jewish law but required.

For decades, antiabortion Roman Catholic and evangelical Christian perspectives have dominated the religious conversation around abortion. But people of faith hold a variety of views on the issue, rooted in their own traditions, teachings and laws.

Leaders of religious organizations are talking internally and with one another about what the high court's Dobbs decision means for religious freedom. At stake, they say, is not just the free exercise of religious beliefs but the fear that a single theological perspective will dictate state and federal law.

L.A. County could avoid a mask mandate this week

Recent declines in cases and coronavirus-positive hospitalizations could pull the county back from the brink of a new universal public indoor mask mandate. That measure appeared likely as of the end of last week, much to the chagrin of some residents, business groups and elected leaders who characterized it as an unnecessary and ineffectual overreach.

Although it's too soon to say whether this latest wave has peaked — especially as the ultra-contagious BA.5 Omicron subvariant is still widespread — there are some hopeful signs.

More top coronavirus headlines:

Stay up to date on variant developments, case counts and vaccine news with Coronavirus Today.

Crews made gains in the massive Oak fire as the presence of a uniformed militia sparked concern

Firefighters and first responders have flooded the Sierra foothills of Mariposa County battling the explosive Oak fire. As of Tuesday, the blaze had topped 18,000 acres and destroyed more than 40 structures as crews continued to do battle. But it was the group in camouflage fatigues and surplus war vehicles that alarmed some evacuees and monitors of extremist groups this week.

As fire crews made headway against a blaze that has roared through 18,000 acres, destroyed homes and forced thousands to flee, the presence of a self-described militia who handed out food and offered help to evacuees raised concerns among some. Online, the group posts videos of itself training with rifles, shields and other equipment for what it calls the "unrest yet to come."

Those who monitor extremist groups questioned whether the group's actions were altruistic. Self-described militia groups have often inserted themselves into natural disaster zones, they said. Sometimes the groups claim to provide help and supplies, while actually promoting right-wing extremist ideologies, antigovernment sentiment and conspiracy theories.

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PHOTO OF THE DAY

A robot moves between rows of strawberry plants in a dusty field
A Tortuga AgTech robot collects strawberries in Santa Maria, Calif. (Al Seib / For The Times)

Of bots and berries. The team behind Tortuga — and experts in California's $2-billion strawberry industry — see agricultural robots as more than just labor-saving devices. They see them as the only way an industry sitting on the intersecting fault lines of climate change, water rights, labor struggles, land use and chemical regulation can adapt and survive.

CALIFORNIA

The family of a teen girl killed in a Burlington store has filed a lawsuit. Relatives of 14-year-old Valentina Orellana-Peralta are suing Los Angeles police and the officer who fired the fatal shot. They allege that the LAPD failed to "adequately train and supervise" the officers who confronted an assault suspect in a North Hollywood department store. Valentina was struck while inside a dressing room.

The 210 Freeway reopened after a five-day closure, but another is on the way. Amid a $30-million project, motorists faced logjams as crews repaired a portion of the freeway that hangs over the San Gabriel River as a bridge. A second closure will take place Aug. 17-23 along the same stretch of the eastbound 210.

Speed bumps are coming to the 6th Street Viaduct. Thanks to street takeovers and stunt driving that have caused chaos on the bridge, speed bumps are being installed — and a center median may be added, as well as fencing to keep people from climbing up the bridges' arches.

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NATION-WORLD

Californians and other Americans are flooding Mexico City. Some locals want them to go home. American tourists and remote workers are gentrifying some of Mexico City's most treasured neighborhoods. Backlash is growing.

The trial began in Alex Jones' Sandy Hook damages lawsuit. The conspiracy theorist repeatedly "lied and attacked the parents of murdered children" when he told his "Infowars" audience that the elementary school shooting was a hoax, an attorney for the parents of one of the victims told a Texas jury at the outset of a trial to determine how much Jones must pay for defaming them.

Russia will pull out of the International Space Station after 2024. The country will focus on building its own orbiting outpost, its new space chief said, amid high tensions between Moscow and the West over the fighting in Ukraine. NASA and other international partners hope to keep the space station running until 2030.

Hundreds of firefighters battled blazes in Germany and the Czech Republic. A large wildfire was spreading quickly in the eastern German state of Brandenburg, in a region with bone-dry pine forests where firefighters have to be especially careful because of old World War II ammunition still buried there.

Peru's struggling president marked his first year in office. Pedro Castillo's early popularity is in shambles, decimated by what critics characterize as a chaotic management style and corruption allegations. But in rural areas, many voters say the fault lies also with Congress, which has sought to remove Castillo twice and is eager to continue the political squabbling that has seen presidents and lawmakers seek to cut short one another's terms.

POLITICS

What to expect from the next set of Jan. 6 committee hearings. The House Jan. 6 committee has so far presented a detailed narrative, including several bombshells, of efforts by former President Trump and his allies to overturn the 2020 election. But an influx of new witnesses and evidence shows there is a lot left for the panel to say when televised hearings resume in September.

The family of a slain Palestinian American journalist lobbied Washington officials for justice. Relatives of Shireen Abu Akleh sought a full accounting of the veteran reporter's death during an Israeli military raid in May. They met for several hours in Washington with Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and members of Congress but said afterward they remained disappointed and frustrated.

The chief of federal prisons deflected blame for the system's failures, angering senators. With just days left in his tenure, Bureau of Prisons Director Michael Carvajal told a Senate panel he'd been shielded by his underlings — even though he'd been copied on emails, and some of the troubles were detailed in reports generated by the agency's headquarters.

A planned visit by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan is causing tension. Pelosi would be the highest-ranking U.S. politician to visit Taiwan since 1997. China has threatened unspecified "resolute and strong measures" if she goes ahead. Beijing objects to all official contact between Taipei and Washington, and routinely threatens retaliation. This time, the stakes appear to be higher.

HOLLYWOOD AND THE ARTS

Every Hollywood studio passed on "Bull Durham" twice. It got made anyway. The close call is one of the many illuminating anecdotes in screenwriter Ron Shelton's new book, which is at turns a making-of memoir and a guide to Shelton's creative process, going into the details of how he absorbed his own minor league baseball experiences into the script and tussled with studio executives.

Lil Nas X, Jack Harlow and Kendrick Lamar lead the VMAs, with seven nominations each. The MTV Video Music Awards released this year's nominations, with strong showings also from Doja Cat, Harry Styles, Billie Eilish, Drake, Dua Lipa, Ed Sheeran, Taylor Swift and the Weeknd.

A guide to the books on the big lists from Barack Obama and the Booker Prize. The books on both lists are diverse in every way and include crime and speculative fiction as well as a sweeping history of the New York Knicks and an examination of democracies. Obama's favorites include John le Carrรฉ's "Silverview." Among titles on the Booker Prize longlist is Leila Mottley's "Nightcrawling."

New York art galleries are flocking to Los Angeles, and it's altering the art scene. There's been an influx of established New York galleries, with 11 here or coming soon. It's a cyclical phenomenon, but why the great march west now? New York gallery owners or directors cited L.A.'s robust artist community, rapidly expanding museum scene and growing collector base among reasons for moving in. One owner cited FOMM — Fear of Missing Money.

"I was ugly-crying most of the time." Country star Wynonna Judd talked about taking part in Joni Mitchell's first full public concert since the legendary singer-songwriter suffered a brain aneurysm. At the Newport Folk Festival, Mitchell wowed her fans — including Judd, who said: "I'm still like: What the heck just happened?"

BUSINESS

Rents are spiking at mobile home parks as big-pocketed investors take over. The purchases are putting residents in a bind, since most mobile homes — despite the name — cannot be moved easily or cheaply. Owners are forced to accept unaffordable rent increases, spend thousands of dollars to move their home or abandon it.

OPINION

3 Good Things: Herding humans, "Both Sides Now" and counting tigers. Deputy Op-Ed Editor Philip Gray has his latest roundup of things to smile about. Among them: Saul the border collie saved his human. Saul located and led searchers in the Tahoe National Forest to where the hiker had fallen 70 feet, breaking a hip and multiple ribs.

Book banning is on the rise, as part of the far-right's assault on democracy. Attacks on books occupy a special place among the signposts of philistinism and anti-democratic suppression. So it's proper to be alarmed at the upsurge of efforts to ban books from public schools and libraries, writes columnist Michael Hiltzik.

California workers urgently need an $18 minimum wage. The Legislature should act this year. The heart of policymaking is accepting necessary tradeoffs. In this case, the need for poverty relief should be our top priority. The merits and established benefits of a higher minimum wage outweigh the risks to some businesses and industries.

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SPORTS

After adding USC and UCLA, the Big Ten is leaving the door open to more expansion. Kevin Warren, the Big Ten commissioner, indicated that a conference on the verge of stretching from coast to coast may not be done growing. The Bruins and Trojans are scheduled to come aboard in August 2024, but other attractive prizes could also be snagged in the coming years.

Superballs, helmet cars and ugly sweaters. The ESPN+ show "Peyton's Places," in its third season, began as a one-off way to honor the NFL's 100th season. But it became a way for Peyton Manning to tell obscure, sometimes goofy stories about the game he loves. The season finale explored the origins of the term "Super Bowl" and involved dropping 10,000 Superballs in the parking lot of Arrowhead Stadium.

ONLY IN L.A.

The skid row store willing to face the tensions of L.A.'s Black-Korean history. When Danny Park joined the business in 2015, he renamed it Skid Row People's Market. It's the latest of many names over the years, and the "everything" store tries to live up to all of them, stocking food, drinks and items geared toward life outdoors, such as drink mix, tents, cups of ice on hot days and warm socks on cold ones.

On a given shift, employees might serve as therapists, social workers, confidants or mediators. The store tries to help customers build self-esteem, express themselves, display their art, even take steps toward building credit. And among the keys to its success: Park makes sure the store remembers the fraught history between the Korean and Black communities.

FROM THE ARCHIVES

In a skating bowl, a man holds himself upside down with one arm; the other hand holds his skateboard against his feet.
July 23, 2021: Tony Hawk skates at Ariake Urban Sports Park in Tokyo to promote the new Olympic sport. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Twenty-three years ago today, on July 27, 1999, celebrity skateboarder Tony Hawk landed the first-ever 900. He performed the trick — 2½ complete rotations midair — while at the X Games. He also performed it 17 years later, at age 48, with far fewer spectators. "You could call him the ambassador of the sport," said filmmaker Sam Jones on "L.A. Times Today." Jones visited the show earlier this year to promote his new HBO Max documentary "Tony Hawk: Until the Wheels Fall Off."

"You could call him the reason [skateboarding] is in the Olympics today," Jones went on. "He's the most decorated X Games award medalist. He's invented more tricks than anybody, and he started out as this skinny kid in San Diego. … He wanted to find his thing and prove himself."

(Read about Tony Hawk's encounters with the many people who kind of know who he is.)

We appreciate that you took the time to read Today's Headlines! Comments or ideas? Feel free to drop us a note at headlines@latimes.com.

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