Gov. Gavin Newsom promotes using state-owned trailers to house homeless people

Gov. Gavin Newsom repeatedly promoted a temporary solution to California’s most visible problem this week during a tour on homelessness that began at a shelter in the Sierra foothills and ended in a vacant city-owned lot in the shadow of the Oakland Coliseum: The state would dispatch 100 travel trailers to provide immediate shelter.

Newsom and his aides publicized their plan again Thursday, posting a video on social media showcasing a caravan of 15 trailers traveling down the highway toward the Bay Area, where the shelters were on display for a news conference.

“We need to tackle the issue of homelessness head on,” the governor tweeted. “Eight days ago, I issued an executive order to rapidly increase housing and shelter options across CA. Just a few days later, we’re deploying trailers to communities in need to provide services & shelter.”

“California is responding to a crisis,” tweeted Jason Elliott, Newsom’s senior counselor for housing and homelessness.

Advertisement

Standing next to the governor on Thursday, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf announced that the 15 trailers would house 50 to 70 people in her city. But with federal estimates suggesting more than 150,000 Californians lack permanent housing — with more than 100,000 living outdoors or in their cars — 100 trailers would fail to help even 1% of the population in need across the state.

“On one hand, it’s a little bit of a publicity stunt, but on the other hand, it’s evidence that someone is finally paying attention to this,” said Steven Maviglio, a Democratic strategist and former communications director for Gov. Gray Davis. “Does it solve the problem? No. Is it a start? Yes.”

While their benefits will be limited, the trailers are symbolic of the public pressure Newsom faces to address homelessness, motivating the governor to show he’s trying to tackle the problem — a top-of-mind concern to California voters — with a sense of urgency, Maviglio said.

A poll released by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California this week found that 23% of likely voters considered homelessness the most important issue for Newsom and the Legislature in 2020, followed by housing costs and availability at 11%.

Advertisement

“This is something the state can do right now, today, to help members of the public,” said Brian Ferguson, a spokesman at the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, who said the trailers were sent to Oakland from Butte County, where state workers were using them in response to the Camp fire.

Rob Stutzman, a Republican consultant and former communications director to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, said he doesn’t fault Newsom for using the trailers to show action on homelessness, which is difficult to do by touting wonky spending proposals and policy changes.

“There are no pictures of that,” Stutzman said. “It’s hard to demonstrate to voters that ‘I get it, something needs to be done and I’m doing something.’ This at least presents a visual of something tangible that demonstrates he is doing something, but you have to be careful not to somehow oversell to voters that he thinks this is an actual solution.”

Newsom told reporters that he recognized the trailers didn’t offer a permanent resolution to the problem.

“This is a deeply temporary solution to the crisis at hand,” he said. “No one is in denial about the scale and scope of the crisis, either, and none of us are naive that 15 trailers … is going to solve the crisis. It’s about catalyzing a focus, catalyzing investment and beginning to leverage our resources and resourcefulness to meet this moment head-on.”

The governor has described the trailers and dozens of tents he intends to deploy as a way to establish triage centers for state, local and social service groups to connect with the homeless population in different communities and offer assistance.

Newsom’s staff provided few details in response to questions about the deployment of all 100 trailers, which they said would be made available by the end of March. It has not been determined which communities will receive them. The governor’s office anticipates that up to 11 people could fit in each trailer and said it will be up to local governments to decide what to do with them, including whether the trailers will be connected to electricity or water.

The plan is just one example of efforts Newsom included in his proposal to spend $1.4 billion on homelessness in the new state budget. The governor called for allocating $750 million to a new California Access to Housing and Services Fund to support rent subsidies and develop affordable units to provide more stable housing options.

Advertisement

If approved by the Legislature, the funding would follow a plan to provide $650 million to communities this year to address homelessness. Through executive order, the governor has also tasked his administration with identifying excess state land and property that could be used for short-term emergency shelters.

Stutzman said Newsom’s ability to solve or at least stem homelessness could define his administration. For better or worse, the governor has publicly acknowledged that he owns the problem.

“We’ve seen public polling that shows this is an increasing crisis in the minds of voters and it cuts across ideological spectrums,” Stutzman said. “The risk is that if there’s a public health crisis that comes out of this, or if the problem continues to grow at a substantial volume, then he could end up being defined by this crisis, which is uniquely pronounced in California.”

Woman missing in Butte County for six days is found alive

A woman in the early stages of dementia who went missing six days ago was found alive Wednesday by a helicopter crew searching for her in Butte County.

Paula Beth James, 68, was last seen the evening of Jan. 9 in Oroville, where she lives, and was reported missing the following day.

Butte County Sheriff’s Office deputies, detectives, search and rescue teams, and pilots spent more than 100 hours scouring the region in search of James. They’d been desperate to find her before a massive storm reaches the area, which is under a winter storm warning for the next two days.

About noon Wednesday, a sheriff’s helicopter was flying over the Butte Meadows area when a sergeant spotted a vehicle below, covered in snow, about three miles from the Bambi Inn. It matched the description of James’ silver 2018 Toyota 4Runner.

Advertisement

The pilot landed the helicopter, and two Sheriff’s Office employees hiked over to the 4Runner, which sat in a snow-covered area about 150 yards off the road. Inside, they found James, alive.

The first responders worked quickly to get James to a hospital.

“We hadn’t given up, and we’re so happy with the outcome,” said Megan McCann, a public information officer with the Sheriff’s Office.

James was conscious, talking and cold when the search team found her, McCann said.

Advertisement

Butte Meadows is about 55 road miles north of Oroville. It is unclear where James was headed, but authorities think she might have left home to meet a friend for lunch.

How James survived the elements as long as she did remains for now unexplained. Authorities hadn’t been able to interview her Wednesday evening but were eager to learn how James kept herself safe while awaiting rescue, McCann said.

“That is what everyone is wondering, including us,” McCann said.

Pilots are supposed to dump jet fuel in unpopulated areas, not over neighborhoods

To make an emergency landing, a pilot will try to get the airplane down to its landing weight so there are more options in case of an aborted landing attempt. How and where that fuel dump happens depends on the type of emergency, said Tom Haueter, former director of the National Transportation Safety Board’s Office of Aviation Safety.

The Federal Aviation Administration and most airlines want pilots to dump fuel over an unpopulated area, such as an ocean, said Douglas Moss, aviation consultant and a retired United Airlines pilot.

That point was also made in a statement issued Tuesday by the FAA.

“The FAA is thoroughly investigating the circumstances behind today’s incident involving a Delta Airlines flight that was returning to Los Angeles International Airport. There are special fuel-dumping procedures for aircraft operating into and out of any major U.S. airport. These procedures call for fuel to be dumped over designated unpopulated areas, typically at higher altitudes so the fuel atomizes and disperses before it reaches the ground,” the agency said in a statement.

Advertisement

delta-path.png

Pilots will typically alert air traffic controllers of the emergency fuel release and the air traffic controllers will try to direct the plane, said Haueter, who now serves as a consultant on aviation safety and accident investigations.

The drop will typically happen at an altitude of 5,000 feet so the fuel vaporizes before hitting the ground. But if there is a severe emergency, plans may change. “The real key is to know what’s the nature of the emergency,” Haueter said.

According to Flightradar24, Tuesday’s flight never got above 8,000 feet, and was at about 2,300 feet when it passed over Park Elementary School in Cudahy at 11:53 a.m. The plane showered jet fuel on school children.

Advertisement

Delta Flight 89 — a Boeing 777 — had taken off from LAX with 149 passengers on board and was en route to Shanghai when it turned around and headed back to the L.A. airport due to engine trouble.

The flight is typically a 13-hour nonstop. This one lasted about 25 minutes.

In an emergency, the captain is “authorized to break any rule in the book,” Moss said. “He still tries to adhere to as many of the rules as he can, but the bottom line is his actions must be in the best interest of safety.”

Ross Aimer, chief executive of Aero Consulting Experts, said fuel dumping is very rare.

“I don’t remember anyone dumping fuel over population,” he said.

Sheriff’s detective was killed after helping someone in need

Det. Amber Leist was waiting on a red light Sunday afternoon when she noticed an elderly woman fall in the crosswalk in front of her car.

The off-duty detective with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department put her car in park and hurried to help the pedestrian safely cross at the intersection of Whitsett Avenue and Riverside Drive.

When Leist headed back to her personal vehicle, she was struck by a vehicle traveling east on Riverside Drive.

Leist “was an outstanding detective who would lead by example, and she definitely led by example through her act of kindness, and we consider this an on-duty death,” Sheriff Alex Villanueva said at a news conference.

Advertisement

The driver stopped and tried to help Leist. She was taken to a hospital but died from her injuries. She was 41.

The Los Angeles Police Department is investigating the incident, which is at this time considered an accident.

Leist started her career with the Sheriff’s Department at the North County Correctional Facility in Castaic.

She then worked at the Lancaster station before spending five years at the West Hollywood station, where she worked patrol and as a school resource officer before she was promoted. Flags were flown at half-staff Monday throughout West Hollywood in memory of Leist.

Advertisement

“She was a treasured member of our Weho family and we are in mourning,” Councilman John Duran said on his Facebook page.

Leist is survived by her parents and two sons, ages 20 and 17. Her older son is on active duty with the U.S. Navy.

“What she did, it was heroic for her to go out that way,” Leist’s son Daniel Laney told KTLA-TV Channel 5. “I love her for that. She’s always had a kind heart.”

Capt. Edward Ramirez of the West Hollywood station told KTLA that Leist took a majority of the station’s domestic violence cases because she was empathetic and thoughtful.

She was remembered as someone who would buy food for people experiencing homelessness and stop on the freeway to help drivers in need.

“Amber was never off duty, always looking to do a good deed, and unfortunately the good Lord decided to take her doing one of those deeds,” Ramirez said.

Uber driver arrested on suspicion of raping passenger in Fontana, police say

Police in Fontana arrested an Uber driver on suspicion of raping a passenger Sunday.

The woman passenger told investigators that she had been drinking with friends and requested a ride to a home in Fontana. At some point, she either fell asleep or passed out in the vehicle, and she awoke to the driver assaulting her, the Fontana Police Department said in a news release.

The driver, Alonso Calle, 32, later called police and said he had consensual sex with a passenger in his car at McDermott Park, authorities said. He told police the woman was “very intoxicated” but said she offered him sex, investigators said.

Calle was arrested on suspicion of rape and booked into the West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga.

Advertisement

Uber banned Calle from the ride-hailing app after his arrest and is cooperating with law enforcement, said Navideh Forghani, a spokeswoman for Uber Technologies Inc.

“What the rider reported to police is extremely disturbing and has no place in our community,” Forghani said.

Calle’s arrest comes days after prosecutors in Orange County charged an Uber driver with two felony counts of sexual penetration and two misdemeanor counts of sexual battery. That driver is accused of repeatedly assaulting an intoxicated woman he had picked up at the Tustin police station in July 2018.

Last month, Uber released an 84-page safety report revealing that in 2017 and 2018, nearly 6,000 total reports of sexual assault were made, including 464 allegations of nonconsensual penetration or rape, 587 reports of attempted rape and 3,000 complaints of nonconsensual touching of a sexual body part.

Advertisement

In April, three Los Angeles County women who say they were sexually assaulted by predators who posed as Uber drivers filed a lawsuit against the San Francisco company alleging it didn’t do enough to protect them.

The ride-hailing company has announced several additions to its app focused on providing support to passengers and drivers during crises, including the ability to text local police departments, a four-digit PIN to verify a passenger is in the right car, and an experiment that allows the company to record and review audio during a trip.

Times staff writer Johana Bhuiyan contributed to this report.

What causes dangerous tule fog in California’s Central Valley, and why is it becoming less common?

Opaque tule fog, a staple of winter in California’s Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys, is the bane of motorists because it can reduce visibility to zero and cause massive freeway pileups.

But it is also beloved by growers of crops such as almonds, apricots, cherries, peaches and pistachios because it helps the trees to satisfy the dormancy requirement necessary to produce flowers and fruit. The trees need this rest period to produce high yields during the growing season.

And in the dry Central Valley, it’s a natural part of the ecology.

Love it or hate it, a study a few years ago by researchers at UC Berkeley found that the trend is for less and less of the pea-soup fog.

TULE-FOG-california_tmo_2011017_lrg.jpg

A satellite photo shows California’s Central Valley socked in with thick, white tule fog.

(NASA / Los Angeles Times)

Advertisement

Why is it called tule fog?

Tule fog is thought to arise from wetlands full of tules, Schoenoplectus acutus, a reed or rush common to marshes in California.

A Spanish army officer, Commandante Pedro Fages, discovered a huge freshwater lake in the southern San Joaquin Valley while searching for deserters in 1772. The sloughs and marshes around the lake’s shores were lined with these rushes, so he named it Los Tules. The name comes from a Nahuatl word, tullin, for similar reeds in the marshes around Mexico City.

Fages is the same explorer who found thickets of wild grapevines in a canyon in the Tehachapis and named it Cañada de las Uvas, or Grapevine Canyon.

Advertisement

Tullin is the root from which Tulare Lake, Tulare County and the town of Tulare derive their names. A tulare is a tule marsh. But Tulare Lake, once one of the largest lakes in the West, has dried up because the streams and rivers that fed it were diverted and the water is used for agriculture and municipalities.

Many Native American groups used tules to make baskets, bowls, mats, hats, shelters, boats and even duck decoys.

Yokuts Making Tule Boats

A pair of Native American men construct a boat, called a balsa, using tule bulrushes in California, in the late 1920s or early 1930s.

(Bobbi Onia / Underwood Archives / Getty Images)

To say something is “out in the tules” is a common expression roughly equivalent to “out in the boondocks.”

How does tule fog form?

The Central Valley’s thick tule fog is a type of radiation fog that forms on calm, clear nights, usually after a soaking rain, when the Earth gives up its heat — radiates its heat like a radiator — into space. Note that this happens on clear, starry nights, not when there’s cloud cover forming a cozy blanket that holds in the planet’s warmth. Fog can also form near any water, such as lakes, streams and aqueducts.

1. Fog forms when pale winter sun, however weak, warms the ground during the day, and is followed by a clear night with winds less than 5 mph.

la-me-fog-panels-first-01.jpg

2. Heat radiates from the ground into space, cooling the air near the surface. This nighttime cooling can get an assist from cold air sinking into the valley when winds are light.

la-me-fog-panels-second-02.jpg

3. As air near the ground cools to the dew point, or saturation point, moisture condenses around minuscule particles of dust, pollen or pollutants (condensation nuclei), forming tiny droplets of water that make up the fog, which is simply a cloud near the ground.

la-me-fog-panels-third-03.jpg

Advertisement

4. As the fog layer deepens, the ground is blanketed and no longer radiates heat directly into space. But radiational cooling continues at the top of the fog layer, causing it to grow thicker and deeper. The droplets of water in the fog are extremely tiny — less than one thousandth of an inch in diameter — and it would take 10,000 of them to cover the head of a pin.

la-me-fog-panels-fourth_Artboard 4.jpg

The fog usually reaches its peak density at 7 a.m., according to Stephen LaDochy, a professor in the Geosciences and Environment Department at Cal State L.A. The fog may continue to thicken as a result of convection in the morning hours.

“In the dry Central Valley, plants, especially native plants, love the extra water that this fog provides,” said Bill Patzert, former climatologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Agriculture in the Central Valley, which accounts for 95% of U.S. fruit and nut production, also depends on the winter chill to promote the proper development of buds, flowers and fruit. To achieve high yields, fruit trees need the sustained periods with temperatures below about 44 degrees Fahrenheit during prolonged periods of tule fog.

Researchers Dennis Baldocchi and Eric Walter reported in 2014 that, based on satellite data, the number of winter fog days has decreased by an average of 46% over the last 32 winters. They hypothesize that the decrease in winter fog is occurring along with and contributing to a reduction in winter chill. Winter chill is likely to decrease further with global warming.

Warming because of climate change, in addition to the effects of urban heat islands and air-pollution control, may decrease the frequency of tule fog events, said LaDochy, the Cal State L.A. professor.

Pollution becomes a factor in fog formation because soot, dust and vehicle exhaust provide the tiny airborne particles, or condensation nuclei, around which water vapor condenses to form clouds, fog and haze.

But if population growth and urbanization continue in the Central Valley, the reduction in air pollution may not last, LaDochy warns.

Advertisement

Driving in the fog

Pileups involving more than 100 vehicles have occurred in the San Joaquin Valley. One of the worst such fog-caused chain-reaction accidents involved 108 vehicles, and closed Highway 99 for more than 12 hours in November 2007. The collision unfolded over 10 minutes, and resulted in two fatalities and 40 injuries.

Collisions such as this prompted Caltrans to develop a $12-million detection system to alert motorists of thick fog along an especially accident-prone section of Highway 99 south of Fresno.

The California Highway Patrol suggests that, if possible, drivers postpone trips until the fog lifts. Those driving in foggy conditions should drive with lights on low beam, the CHP says. Drivers should not follow too closely behind other vehicles and should avoid crossing traffic lanes. Visibility can be reduced to 10 feet, and the fog can be disorienting, causing motorists to drive faster than they realize. Drivers should not stop on highways except in emergencies. Drivers and passengers should move away from disabled vehicles. Drivers are urged to watch for CHP pace vehicles to guide cars through the fog.

la-me-tule-fog-graphics-headlights-01.jpg

(Paul Duginski / Los Angeles Times)

All this shows that, although tule fog may come on little cat feet, it has a surprisingly bigfooted effect on California’s environment, agriculture, commerce and public safety.

California could soon have a new state park, but governor won’t say where

California is in the land market to create a new state park. The only questions are — where? And at what price?

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Friday that he wants legislative leaders to dedicate $20 million from a one-time budget surplus to help purchase new public parkland, possibly creating one of the largest new state parks in decades.

In his budget briefing, the governor declined to state where the new park might be, suggesting the purchase price could “go up” if he revealed details. But for several days, Bay Area lawmakers have been lobbying the governor to help appropriate $20 million — the exact amount he proposed Friday — to help preserve a legendary property, the N3 Ranch near Livermore.

la-me-new-park05.JPG

Wildlife on the ranch.

(Todd Renfrew/California Outdoor Properties)

Advertisement

California state parks officials declined to comment late Friday, but it has been known since Wednesday that funding was coming together to make an offer on the ranch, which covers nearly 51,000 acres of mostly untrammeled Bay Area wilderness that is home to elk, deer and hundreds of species of migrating birds.

The Nature Conservancy and the Trust for Public Lands — the nation’s two largest conservation organizations — have already secured commitments to cover $30 million of the negotiated purchase price, state Sen. Steve Glazer (D-Orinda) said.

He and 14 other Bay Area lawmakers, including state Sen. Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont) have argued that a $20-million appropriation from the state, if approved, would help complete the N3 Ranch purchase package and create one of the largest public parks in the state.

“This is a matter of urgent concern because this irreplaceable property is for sale now,” Glazer said. “Nonprofit conservation groups have assembled funding commitments that could finance more than half the cost. We need to move on this quickly.”

Advertisement

“The N3 Ranch property is a critical asset in the efforts to protect our open spaces and fight climate change — Californians deserve this opportunity to be provided clean air, clean water and access to parklands,” added Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan, (D-Orinda). “I am proud to be working with my colleagues to preserve this natural treasure.”

la-me-new-park06.JPG

the rarely visited 80-square-mile ranch within an hour’s drive of San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose, Stockton and Modesto.

(Todd Renfrew/California Outdoor Properties)

But that won’t be easy. Todd Renfrew, broker and principal owner of Vacaville-based California Outdoor Properties, said the N3 Ranch was listed for sale in July 2019 for the first time in 85 years and has attracted purchase offers and interest from around the country and world.

The current asking price: $72 million.

The owners are two Southern California sisters who don’t want to sell the property piecemeal, Renfrew said in an interview. “They want to whoever buys the ranch to keep it whole.”

“So far, I’ve shown the property to 14 prospective buyers,” he added. “Most of them want to remain confidential, but several are qualified to buy the whole thing.”

Roughly 500 head of cattle roam the rarely visited 80-square-mile ranch within an hour’s drive of San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose, Stockton and Modesto. An estimated 80% of the property, including 9,600 acres of the Alameda Creek watershed, captures drinking water for Bay Area residents and millions of Californians.

la-me-new-park03.JPG

Roughly 500 head of cattle roam the rarely visited 80-square-mile ranch.

(Todd Renfrew/California Outdoor Properties)

Advertisement

The property comes with a four-bedroom headquarters, a one-bedroom annex, a bunkhouse, shops, outbuildings, four cabins for employee housing, 14 hunting cabins and some cattle.

“It’s quite a place,” Renfrew said. “This is a landscape that looks like it did more than a century ago.”

Eric Garcetti endorses Joe Biden for president

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who flirted with the idea of running for president but skipped the 2020 campaign, endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden for the Democratic nomination on Thursday.

Garcetti will be one of Biden’s highest-profile supporters in California’s March 3 primary, but the endorsement is unlikely to have any practical impact on the highly competitive race. Dianne Feinstein, the state’s senior U.S. senator, is also supporting Biden. And Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia, a former endorser of Sen. Kamala Harris until she dropped out of the presidential race, announced his support for Biden on Thursday.

“We need Joe Biden to bring our nation and world together during these most divided and dangerous times,” Garcetti said. “I know that from Day One, he will heal our nation, repair our relationships abroad and get things done — and will be a true partner in solving the national homelessness crisis.”

Biden is a solid front-runner in national polls of Democratic voters but is in a tighter race for the lead in California, where polls show Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts running nearly even with the former vice president. The 416 delegates at stake in California’s Super Tuesday primary are the biggest prize of the campaign for the party nomination.

Advertisement

Since Garcetti was first elected mayor in 2013, he has devoted much time to building a national political network. He is a member of the Democratic National Committee and vice president of the National Conference of Democratic Mayors. The Los Angeles Times found he spent nearly one-third of his time outside California in a one-year period ending in September 2017, including trips to states with crucial presidential contests, such as Iowa and New Hampshire.

After almost two years of weighing whether to make a bid for the White House, Garcetti announced at City Hall a year ago that he would not run in 2020, saying, “This is what I am meant to do and this is where I want to be.”

Left unsaid was that the surge in homelessness on his watch would have posed a huge challenge in a presidential race. Tent encampments have sprouted citywide on freeway overpasses, in underpasses and along sidewalks, alleys, beaches and riverbanks.

Advertisement

Biden was in Southern California for a two-day visit. On Thursday, he toured a $1.5-billion bridge replacement project in Long Beach with Garcia.

“This bridge will carry 15% of all of America’s cargo by truck up across the bridge connecting Long Beach to Los Angeles. During the Obama-Biden administration, they provided the funds for us actually to construct this bridge. And so we’re very grateful to the leadership that the vice president really was all about when it came to infrastructure,” Garcia said. “He is ready to lead our country on day one.”

Biden later attended a fundraising reception in Irvine hosted by former Sen. Barbara Boxer, former Ambassador James Costos and Reps. Harley Rouda and Lou Correa. On Friday, he is scheduled to raise money at a luncheon in Hancock Park.

Garcetti, who was a California co-chair of Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign, has longstanding ties with Biden. Garcetti’s endorsement of Biden was first reported by the New York Times.

In 2015, Biden dined with Garcetti at Getty House, the mayor’s official residence, after the two participated in a Los Angeles climate-change summit. In 2014, Biden joined Garcetti in promoting an increase in the city’s minimum wage.

“Democrats are blessed to have such an extraordinary field of candidates,” Garcetti said in a statement Thursday, “but I will never forget what Joe Biden has done for my city and our nation.”

Biden released a statement Thursday afternoon calling Garcetti “one of the best mayors in this country who has done incredibly innovative things to improve the lives” of city residents. The mayor will serve as a national co-chair of Biden’s campaign.

Advertisement

On the anniversary of Timothy Dean’s death, his family files suit against Ed Buck

The sisters of a gay man who died in the West Hollywood home of Ed Buck last year have filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the wealthy Democratic donor, alleging he was a drug dealer who preyed on black men and injected their brother with a lethal dose of crystal methamphetamine for his own sexual gratification.

Joyce Jackson and Joann Campbell filed the lawsuit Tuesday, the first anniversary of the death of their 55-year-old brother, Timothy Dean. Dean was found dead from a drug overdose inside Buck’s West Hollywood home Jan. 7, 2019.

It was the second time in less than two years that a black man had died of an overdose at Buck’s home. After significant outcry from activists, Dean’s death prompted authorities to launch an investigation into Buck’s actions.

Attorney Hussain Turk, who is representing the families of Dean and Gemmel Moore, who was found dead in Buck’s home in July 2017, said it took unreasonable efforts from the community to get the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office to look at the information they had gathered about Buck, a longtime donor to the Democratic Party and a fixture in West Hollywood.

Advertisement

Buck has been indicted on federal charges of providing the meth that led to the deaths of both Moore, 26, and Dean. The L.A. County district attorney’s office has also charged Buck, 65, with battery and operating a drug den. He has pleaded not guilty and remains in federal custody.

Prosecutors allege Buck preyed on vulnerable gay black men who were homeless, addicted to drugs or working as escorts and lured them to his Laurel Avenue apartment, where he manipulated them into doing drugs for his sexual gratification.

“The issue of sexual violence has become very salient thanks to the #MeToo movement, but one of the failures of the movement is that really only wealthy, white women are trusted when they come forward with allegations,” Turk said. “Had the victims in this case been white or wealthy, then we firmly believe that the claims would have been taken much more seriously.”

Several men have claimed Buck injected them with methamphetamine as they slept. In one instance, a man said Buck referred to him using a racial slur, according to the lawsuit.

Advertisement

The suit alleges that Buck “had a predatory and injurious system of soliciting black gay men and watching them cling to life while battling symptoms of methamphetamine toxicity after he intravenously administered large doses of the drug to them.” The men engaged in sexual acts with and in front of Buck in exchange for compensation in the form of temporary housing, money, alcohol, marijuana and other substances, court records show.

On occasions before Dean’s death, Buck had injected the man with crystal methamphetamine without his consent and then forced him to watch hardcore pornographic films and perform sex acts, according to the lawsuit.

When reached by phone Wednesday, Buck’s attorney, Seymour Amster, told a Times reporter that he was not aware that a civil lawsuit had been filed. He did not have an immediate comment.

Amster has previously told The Times that critics had unfairly used race to blame Buck for the deaths, saying, “Some people who all of a sudden have media attention are trying to divide the races.”

The lawsuit accuses Buck of sexual battery, assault, hate violence, negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress as well as other crimes. A separate civil lawsuit filed by Moore’s family last year, which in addition to Buck names L.A. County and Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey, is still ongoing.

A Times analysis of campaign finance records shows that, since the mid-2000s, Buck has given more than $500,000 to political candidates and causes, almost all of them linked to the Democratic Party. Forty politicians currently holding office in California have received donations from Buck, including Lacey, Gov. Gavin Newsom, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, and U.S. Reps. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) and Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank). Some politicians have returned the money.

“The goal is holding not only Ed Buck to account, but also the county and the leaders who are supposed to be protecting everyone in Los Angeles,” Turk said.

L.A. County can help thousands of mentally ill inmates avoid arrest and homelessness, study finds

More than 60% of the inmates with a mental illness in the Los Angeles County Jail would be eligible for diversion if there were more facilities capable of providing supportive care, according to a study released Tuesday.

Such a move would save the county hundreds of dollars a day in incarceration costs for each inmate and, for many, end a cycle of being arrested and released, then becoming homeless and getting arrested again, the medical director of the county’s Office of Diversion and Reentry, Kristen Ochoa, said at a news briefing. Thousands of inmates could be taken out of the criminal justice system, she said, citing the study conducted by the nonprofit research agency Rand Corp.

“This is a tool I hope we can use to its fullest,” Ochoa said. “I think all we need right now are resources to increase our capacity.”

About 30% of those in the county jail each day are either in the mental health ward or receiving psychotropic medication. That number stands at about 6,000, after rising steadily in recent years.

Advertisement

The Rand report, which confirmed the findings of an earlier study by the Office of Diversion and Reentry, was conducted to determine how much the county should scale up its community-based mental health services to divert all eligible inmates.

In the four years since the L.A. County Board of Supervisors created Ochoa’s office, it has secured the release of more than 4,400 inmates convicted of felonies or ruled mentally incompetent to stand trial. The cost for housing them is about $70 per day, compared to $600 per day for incarceration, Ochoa said.

The Rand study looked at a sample of the 5,544 inmates with a mental illness to determine whether they would qualify for diversion and whether they met the clinical standard for it. Researchers found that 60.8% would be eligible and another 7.5% might be eligible but would require further assessment.

No overall numbers, either in dollars or in community treatment facilities, were cited in the study, which was limited to one day and did not account for those who might decline diversion or be refused it by a judge.

Advertisement

However, Ochoa conceded, any number “would be a big one.”

The supervisors on Tuesday praised the diversion program, but also expressed reservations about how hard it would be to provide additional mental health facilities.

“This makes sense. The outcomes for people will be so much better,” Supervisor Janice Hahn said. “But I think there’s a lot of hard work out there in real life on actually building this kind of capacity in our communities. I find my biggest frustration currently is just locating shelters for the homeless.”

Supervisor Kathryn Barger, the board chair, said she is focused on building community clinics.

“It is about access to outpatient care,” she said. “Until we do that, diversion is going to fail.”

Retired Judge Peter Espinoza, director of the Office of Diversion and Reentry, said that getting eligible inmates out of jail benefits both their clinical outcomes and the public’s safety.

“Often forgotten is that the vast majority of the people we’re talking about, they’re coming out of the jail eventually — either to us or they’re going to be on their own,” he said. “And we are satisfied that when they come to us, their outcomes are greatly improved and their recidivist behavior is greatly reduced.”

An earlier Rand study of inmates with felony charges who were sent to a diversion program found that 14% of them had a new felony conviction after a year. Espinoza said that number was “unbelievably low” for a “population which is very vulnerable, very sick and on probation.”