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Following Grapevine closure due to snow, CHP escorts vehicles on 5 Freeway


Following a closure of the Grapevine portion of the 5 Freeway overnight due to snow, the California Highway Patrol began escorting vehicles in both directions early Tuesday morning.

The CHP closed the road about 8 p.m. Monday due to snow from the cold winter storm that lingered over the region:

But starting Tuesday morning, the CHP began escorting vehicles in groups of 100 through the snowy Grapevine in both directions between Grapevine Road in Kern County and Parker Road in Castaic, the agency said.

After telling drivers to turn around throughout the night, the CHP began bringing drivers through at 4:22 a.m.

The escorts of 100 vehicles at a time in each direction were continuing as of 5:30 a.m., the CHP reported.

The CHP reported at 5:35 a.m. that traffic was backed up on the Grapevine because several big-rig drivers waiting for escorts had fallen asleep in their trucks and had to be woken up by officers.

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California Funeral Homes Run Out of Space as COVID-19 Rages


LOS ANGELES – As communities across the U.S. feel the pain of a surge in coronavirus cases, funeral homes in the hot spot of Southern California say they must turn away grieving families as they run out of space for bodies.

The head of the state funeral directors association says mortuaries are being inundated as the United States nears a grim tally of 350,000 COVID-19 deaths. More than 20 million people in the country have been infected, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

“I’ve been in the funeral industry for 40 years and never in my life did I think that this could happen, that I’d have to tell a family, ‘No, we can’t take your family member,'” said Magda Maldonado, owner of Continental Funeral Home in Los Angeles.

Continental is averaging about 30 body removals a day — six times its normal rate. Mortuary owners are calling one another to see whether anyone can handle overflow, and the answer is always the same: They’re full, too.

In order to keep up with the flood of bodies, Maldonado has rented extra 15-meter refrigerators for two of the four facilities she runs in Los Angeles and surrounding counties. Continental has also been delaying pickups at hospitals for a day or two while they take care of residential clients.

Bob Achermann, executive director of the California Funeral Directors Association, said that the whole process of burying and cremating bodies has slowed, including embalming bodies and obtaining death certificates. During normal times, cremation might happen within a day or two; now it takes at least a week or longer.

Achermann said that in the southern part of the state, “every funeral home I talk to says, ‘We’re paddling as fast as we can.'”

“The volume is just incredible, and they fear that they won’t be able to keep up,” he said. “And the worst of the surge could still be ahead of us.”

Los Angeles County, the epicenter of the crisis in California, has surpassed 10,000 COVID-19 deaths alone. Hospitals in the area are overwhelmed and are struggling to keep up with basics such as oxygen as they treat an unprecedented number of patients with respiratory issues. On Saturday, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers crews arrived to update some hospitals’ oxygen delivery systems.

Post-holiday surge possible

Nationally, an average of just more than 2,500 people a day have died of COVID-19 in the past seven days, according to Johns Hopkins data. The number of daily newly reported cases in that period has averaged close to 195,000, a decline from two weeks earlier.

It’s feared that holiday gatherings could fuel yet another rise in cases.

In the southern state of Arkansas, officials reported a record of more than 4,300 new COVID-19 cases Friday. Gov. Asa Hutchinson tweeted that the state is “certainly in the surge after Christmas travel and gatherings” and added, “As we enter this new year, our first resolution should be to follow guidelines.”

Also in the South, the state of North Carolina officials reported a record 9,527 confirmed cases New Year’s Day. That’s more than 1,000 cases above the previous daily high.

And in Louisiana, a funeral was being held Saturday for a congressman-elect who died of COVID-19 complications. Republican Luke Letlow died Tuesday at age 41. His swearing-in had been scheduled Sunday. He leaves behind his wife, Julia Letlow, and two children, ages 1 and 3.

In Texas, state officials say they have only 580 intensive care beds available as staff treat more than 12,480 hospitalized coronavirus patients, a number that has risen steadily since September and has set record highs this past week.

In Window Rock, Arizona, the Navajo Nation remained in a weekend lockdown to try to slow the rate of infection. The tribe late Friday reported another seven deaths, bringing its totals since the pandemic began to 23,429 cases and 813 deaths. The reservation includes parts of the southwestern states of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

The number of infections is thought to be far higher than reported because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

Arizona on Saturday reported 18,943 new cases Friday and Saturday, a record for the state in any two-day period. It also reported 46 new deaths Saturday.

Third Metallic Monolith Appears, This Time in Southern California


A third metallic monolith has appeared. This time, it’s in California.

Like its counterparts in Utah and Romania, no one knows who placed the gleaming object on a hiking trail about halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The first monolith was spotted by public safety workers in a remote area of Utah on November 18. Later in the month, another similar structure was found on a hill in northern Romania, in the city of Piatra Neamt.

Both have since disappeared. According to the Associated Press, a group of athletes said on social media they broke the Utah monolith into pieces and took it away in a wheelbarrow.

The monoliths have evoked images from the sci-fi classic, “2001: A Space Odyssey,” in which a black monolith, seemingly made by aliens, appears throughout the movie and appears to have a role in human evolution.

These monoliths, however, are presumably made right here on Earth.

Bret Hutchings, who spotted the Utah monolith, said the object appeared to be manmade, calling it “more of an art form than any kind of alien life form.”

According to Reuters, some have speculated the monoliths are the work of artist John McCracken, who died in 2011. His son, reportedly told The New York Times in 2002 that his father “would like to leave his artwork in remote places to be discovered later.”



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California officers face protest while trying to oust alleged squatters from state-owned homes: report


Protesters clashed with California Highway Patrol (CHP) officers Wednesday night after authorities removed and detained alleged squatters who occupied several vacant homes in Los Angeles, according to reports.

CHP officers, many in riot gear, responded to at least one vacant home owned by the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) in El Sereno, a neighborhood about six miles northwest of downtown L.A., reports said.

As evictions got underway, a large group of protesters crowded the law-enforcement officers, FOX 11 of Los Angeles reported.

At least one video on social media appeared to show protesters clashing with authorities. Another clip allegedly showed the demonstrators slowly walking toward a line of retreating CHP officers as many shouted, “Move, b—-! Get out the way!”

Earlier in the day, members of Reclaim and Rebuild Our Community said they moved into several of the state-owned homes, which were purchased by Caltrans.

“I come here in a good way,” Iris Ge Anda of the group told KNBC-TV of Los Angeles. “Just seeking some safe shelter for me and my family.”

The group had asked Gov. Gavin Newsom to influence Caltrans into freeing up the homes for families during the coronavirus pandemic.

While some residents criticized the decision to remove them just one day before Thanksgiving, others felt the alleged squatters were in the wrong.

“I disagree with what these people are doing. Everybody gets up goes to work,” El Sereno resident Frances Valenica said. “If they want to live somewhere, tell them to apply just like everyone else did.”

A Caltrans spokesman released a statement obtained by KNBC.

“Vacant homes along the State Route 710 that were broken into are unsafe and uninhabitable for occupants. As such, Caltrans requested the CHP remove trespassers so that the properties can be re-secured and boarded up,” the statement read, in part. “Caltrans has been working with local governments to lease several of its available properties for use as temporary emergency shelters.”


Meetup to exchange game console in Southern California includes gunshots


Four men were arrested in Garden Grove when a meetup to sell a gaming console resulted with gunshots, police said.

Two men selling the console met up with two prospective buyers Tuesday night, Nov. 24, Garden Grove Sgt. Nick Jensen said.

The exchange had been set up on social media, and at about 8:35 p.m. the four gathered in the 9700 block of Royal Palm Boulevard, a residential area.

“During the meet, an altercation took place and one of the buyers brandished a firearm and fired at the sellers,” Jensen said in a statement.

No one was hit.

A loaded gun and a replica firearm were found at the scene and all four men were arrested, Jensen said. Police said the four, whose names had not been released, were not from the area and it was unclear why they met up in that neighborhood.


Oakland man charged with murder in connection with March shooting


A 26-year-old man has been arrested and charged with murder in connection with a fatal shooting in March, and police say they matched shells at that scene to another shooting three hours later, in which a 9-year-old boy was injured.

The allegations were made in charging records against Melvin Hines III, who is facing charges of murdering Eric Chavis-Reshard Jr., 32, and wounding another man during the same shooting. Hines is not facing any charges related to the shooting that injured the boy in another part of Oakland, hours later.

Police say Chavis-Reshard was shot and killed around 5 p.m. on March 3, on the 1800 block of 88th Avenue. Surveillance footage showed a green Pontiac leaving the scene, investigators wrote in court records.

Hours later, Hines was detained after getting into a police chase with officers who’d spotted him in another car leaving the scene of a shooting on the 8800 block of Plymouth Street, where a 9-year-old boy was injured, police wrote in court records.

Authorities say shell casings found at that shooting matched those at the Chavis-Reshard shooting, as well as casings found in a subsequent search of Hines’ home. When interviewed, Hines denied being involved in the shooting or driving the Pontiac that night.

Hines has pleaded not guilty and remains in Santa Rita Jail in Dublin on a no-bail hold. His next court date is a preliminary hearing, where a judge will review evidence against him and decide if there is enough to let the case go on. That has been tentatively set for Jan. 13.


Interstate Highway Billboards for Cannabis Ruled Illegal Statewide By SLO County Judge


Last weekend San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge Ginger Garrett ruled that all billboards advertising for marijuana and cannabis products in California are now illegal due to the wording in Proposition 64.

Proposition 64, which California voters passed in 2016, allowed for the recreational sale and use of marijuana to those 21 and older. Included in Prop 64 was a part banning advertising on highways as a way to help make it more palatable for undecided voters. However, in 2019, the Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC) allowed billboard advertising along highways that cross state borders, including federal and state highways, interpreting Prop 64’s language as only banning billboards within 15 miles of other states.

The change was quickly challenged later that year when a San Luis Obispo construction worker, Matthew Farmer, saw billboards advertising marijuana and said that it exposed his children to cannabis. He immediately got hold of two attorneys and filed suit in October 2019.

“He remembered that in the proposition it said that there would not be any advertising to children,” said Stewart Jenkins, one of Farmer’s attorneys, on Monday, “and that there specifically would not be advertising on interstate highways and the major state highways that get all the way to the border, like 101.”

After over a year in the court system, Judge Garrett finally ruled in favor of Farmer and that billboards on interstate highways are illegal. In the ruling, the judge made it clear that the BCC overstepped their bounds when they allowed billboards last year.

“The bureau [BBC] and its director, Lori Ajax, exceeded their authority in promulgating the advertisement placement regulation,” explained Judge Garrett in her decision.

35 interstate highways in California are immediately affected by the ruling, including major federal highways such as Interstate 5, Interstate 10, and Interstate 80.

The ban will not cover all billboards however, as Prop 64 only covered highways connected to other states, meaning all highways completely within the state will continue to be allowed to have billboards that advertise cannabis.

A Prop 64 correction

“It doesn’t matter if you are pro or anti pot,” explained Los Angeles-based cannabis lawyer Mary Harding. “Prop 64 said, in black and white, that this wasn’t allowed. I wouldn’t call it a victory for those against marijuana or a loss for the pro-marijuana people. It’s just the law being corrected to what the voters wanted in 2016. If there is any victor in this, it’s California voters.

“Those against 64 are happy at the restrictions being put back into place, and the pro-64 people should be happy that they’re bringing it to the letter of the law because next time some interpretation could limit it.”

As of Tuesday, the BCC has not said when the deadline for billboard removal will be or if the ruling will be appealed in the future.

“We are still reviewing the ruling, and it remains to be seen what the next steps will be,” BCC spokesman Alex Traverso said on Tuesday.

If an appeal is filed, the case would likely not be heard in court until next year.

“COVID right now threatens to create a logjam of cases,” added Harding. “If this is appealed it will take awhile.”


Marine veteran elected mayor in Stockton, Calif., says voters rejected Dem incumbent’s ‘defund police’ push


Republican Marine veteran Kevin Lincoln unseated a Democrat mayor in Stockton, Calif., citing the residents placing “safety and security” as their top need.

“It all boils down to improving the quality of life for all Stocktonians in our city,” Lincoln told “Fox & Friends.”

“Our homeless population … has not only plagued our city in our county but the state, and even has become a national epidemic here. It’s improving the quality of life, and again, the people of Stockton, they didn’t want to defund the police,” Lincoln said.

Despite Democrats’ confident predictions of a “blue wave” sweeping statehouses in the November election, the final results showed that almost nothing had changed. Yet in California, a Democrat stronghold, Republicans are poised to flip more House seats than in any other state.

The results have shown a significant, reversal from the 2018 midterms, which was marked by a rabid anti-Trump furor that helped Democrats flip seven House seats. Now, the GOP is on the verge of taking back four of those seats.

Lincoln said that the defund the police mantra promoted by the current Democratic mayor Michael Tubbs turned off a lot of Stockton residents, paving his way to victory. Tubbs had won his last mayoral election by a large margin.

“When there wasn’t a clear defund the police movement, there was one at our Stockton Unified Scool district when the current mayor was open about supporting that initiative,” Lincoln said.

“When you have a city that you have a third of your population is under the age of 18, people want to ensure that their kids are safe. We have one of the largest school districts in the nation with over 50 schools and over 40,000 students and, so, safety and security throughout the city of Stockton is extremely important to the residents.”


Police Commission rules fatal shooting of man holding bicycle part was justified


The Los Angeles Police Commission ruled Tuesday that an LAPD sergeant acted within department policy when he fatally shot a 31-year-old man who was holding a bicycle part that resembled a handgun in Culver City in January.

The unanimous decision, justifying the sergeant’s actions and clearing him of any punishment, came after family members of Victor Valencia told the commission during a virtual Zoom meeting that Valencia suffered from mental illness, was of little threat and deserved better.

“There’s other ways to go about things,” said Sara Cervantes, Valencia’s cousin. “What gave the reason for this officer to shoot down my cousin like he was nothing?”

Cervantes and another family member said that officers should be better trained to understand people with mental illness and see them as people deserving of compassion.

Commission President Eileen Decker told the family that the commission would hear all the evidence in the case and “adjudicate the case fairly and objectively in accordance with the law.”

The commission then went into closed session, where it agreed with recommendations from LAPD Chief Michel Moore and a separate panel that reviews police shootings that Sgt. Colin Langsdale, who shot Valencia, should receive a tactical debriefing but was otherwise in line with department policy and therefore justified in his actions.

Valencia’s killing has been protested by activists in the city who said Valencia did not have a gun and should not have been shot.

The commission’s ruling comes amid a broader discussion in L.A. about the role police should play in cases involving people suffering from mental illness, with activists and police agreeing that alternative mental health providers would be better equipped to respond to certain calls for help.

However, it’s likely the call that brought Langsdale to the Culver City street where Valencia was would elicit a police response regardless, given its nature.

According to a report Moore provided to the commission Tuesday, Langsdale responded to the area of South Sepulveda and South Venice boulevards about 12:45 p.m. Saturday after police received reports of a man with a gun — with one caller saying he was “waving it around.”

Langsdale did not have his body camera activated when he first arrived at the scene, according to police. Once he activated it, it captured Valencia already on the ground and Langsdale standing behind the open door of his police car, gun drawn.

Langsdale said he believed Valencia had a gun. Other witnesses at the scene said they also believed he had a gun. Surveillance footage from a local gas station released by police showed Valencia holding up the bicycle part and appearing agitated.

Cervantes, Valencia’s cousin, said she suffers from depression, and that L.A. needs more services and programs for people suffering from mental illness, and LAPD officers need far better training on how to interact with people in the throes of a mental health crisis.

“They need to know how to deal with people with our state of minds,” she said. “It’s not our fault that we go through this mental state.”


Judge nixes California cities’ lawsuit challenging home marijuana delivery


By MICHAEL R. BLOOD | The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES  — In what could be a temporary victory for California’s legal cannabis industry, a judge has dismissed a lawsuit that sought to overturn a state rule allowing home deliveries statewide, even into communities that banned commercial marijuana sales.

The court challenge raised a fundamental question in the nation’s largest legal pot market: Where can you buy it? The state earlier ruled a licensed delivery can be made into “any jurisdiction” within California.

But a group of local governments behind the court challenge argued that the state was usurping their authority to regulate marijuana sales within their borders.

While the cities argued that the state rule “removes local regulatory power,” Fresno County Superior Court Judge Rosemary McGuire agreed with the state that the regulation and local ordinances “do not occupy the same field and are not in conflict.”

Without a conflict, “this matter is not ripe for adjudication,” she concluded in a Tuesday order.

McGuire agreed with the state that the regulation applies to state cannabis license holders, not local governments that filed the lawsuit.

The state regulation “does not command local jurisdictions to do anything or preclude them from doing anything,” she added. “It does not command local jurisdictions … to permit delivery. Nor does it override their local ordinances prohibiting or regulating delivery.”

With the case dismissed, marijuana deliveries will continue under the umbrella of the state rule.

But attorney Steve Churchwell, who represented the local governments, said the ruling did not affect the rights of cities and counties to regulate — or prohibit altogether — cannabis deliveries within their borders.

McGuire noted the state rule “does not impact the rights of any of the (local governments) to regulate cannabis or cannabis delivery.” She added, “Local jurisdictions can impose regulatory and health and safety standards that are stricter than state laws.”

The judge’s reference to the case’s “ripeness” appeared to suggest that the debate might not be over.

Reaction to the ruling — and its potential effect on the market — was mixed.

Ellen Komp, deputy director of the California arm of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, known as NORML, called the decision a victory for recreational and medicinal users. “It’s an overreach of local control for a city to say that someone living there can’t receive a delivery from a licensed business,” she said in an email.

Cannabis attorney Hilary Bricken said the ruling preserves the status quo. Cities remain free to prohibit delivery, but if a licensed service delivers into a city that bans it, state regulators will not be involved in enforcement. That would fall to local authorities, she said.

The ruling “doesn’t really do anything to advance industry interests or increase access to state-legal cannabis for consumers,” Bricken said in an email.

Josh Drayton of the California Cannabis Industry Association said the delivery issue would continue evolving, along with the marketplace.

“It’s going to be up for interpretation moving forward . I don’t think we’re done having this discussion,” Drayton said. “It’s not settled. We are still in the midst of a cultural shift with cannabis.”

The state Bureau of Cannabis Control declined comment.


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