Why Los Angeles Officials Voted to Cancel an Almost $2 Billion Contract


California Today

Thursday: A shift in thinking about jails and mental health. Also: Virtual restaurants, and dance parties.

Jill Cowan

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CreditDamian Dovarganes/Associated Press

Good morning.

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My colleague Tim Arango has this dispatch from Los Angeles County, at the heart of debates about the roles of jails as mental health facilities:

The men’s jail in downtown Los Angeles is often referred to as America’s largest mental health institution, a dystopian, run-down facility where mentally ill inmates are often chained to the furniture.

Ill-equipped to handle the swelling ranks of the mentally ill, the jail has fed into another of the city’s intractable social problems: homelessness, with a revolving door between the jail and nearby Skid Row.

City leaders for years have known it was a problem, but have never agreed on a solution.

That long fight over the future of incarceration in Los Angeles reached a crucial point this week. On Tuesday, the Los Angeles board of supervisors voted to cancel a nearly $2 billion contract for a new facility it had described as a mental health treatment facility and approved in February, in the face of opposition from activists who said the building was just a new jail in disguise.

“Really what we have is people living their lives, a lot of them living on Skid Row, a cycle of poverty, a cycle of drug addiction and mental illness, and then we have jails,” said Patrisse Cullors, chair of Reform L.A. Jails, a coalition of groups that has put forward a ballot initiative to change L.A.’s jail system, and a co-founder of Black Lives Matter. “We don’t have an in-between infrastructure.”

County leaders placed the decision to end the contract in the context of the broader national movement to change the criminal justice system, to emphasize treatment for substance abuse and mental illness, and to reduce jail and prison populations that swelled during the era of mass incarceration. Even as efforts have been made around the country to reduce prison populations, Los Angeles, despite its reputation as a progressive haven, has been a laggard.

[Read more about why L.A.’s homeless population has surged.]

Hilda L. Solis, a county supervisor, described Los Angeles’s new approach as, “care first, jail second.”

Sheila Kuehl, another supervisor who has pushed to replace jails with treatment, said at Tuesday’s meeting, to cheers from activists in the audience: “Incarceration is itself an experiment, and it’s an experiment that has failed. There are a lot of countries that have said, this is not the way to go.”

Ms. Kuehl, in her remarks, evoked the devastation that the era of mass incarceration has had on minority communities and compared the decision to cancel the jail contract and find a new approach on criminal justice with the decision by the British Parliament to end the slave trade in 1807.

Now, county leaders have to come up with a new plan, which could take years and will, officials say, be based on studies that are ongoing to determine how many of Los Angeles’s thousands of inmates can be diverted from jail to treatment facilities.

“This issue around criminalizing mentally ill people is actually not just an L.A. issue,” said Ms. Cullors. “L.A. is the microcosm of what’s happening across the country. You can go to Cook County in Chicago. You can go to Rikers Island in New York.”

She continued, “If Los Angeles gets this right and is able to build a model, this could be a blueprint for the rest of the country.”

(We often link to sites that limit access for nonsubscribers. We appreciate your reading Times coverage, but we also encourage you to support local news if you can.)

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CreditMarcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

How would a big earthquake feel where you live? Here’s an interactive that describes what kind of shaking you’d experience and how much damage might be caused. [The Los Angeles Times]

Lawmakers blasted Pacific Gas & Electric’s plans to shut off some power lines in fire-prone conditions. [The San Francisco Chronicle]

— A state lawmaker said the accused gunman in the Poway Synagogue shooting didn’t have a valid hunting license when he bought the weapon used in the attack. “I don’t know where the mistake was made,” Anthony Portantino, a state senator, said. [ABC 10]

— “Don’t be evil.” Here’s a long read examining three miserable years inside Google, the happiest company in tech. [Wired]

“Delivery used to be maybe a quarter of my business,” one owner of multiple restaurants said. “Now it’s about 75 percent of it.” Hence, virtual restaurants. [The New York Times]

— “How do we bring a real-life Wakanda Institute to Oakland?” A former baby store in Oakland’s gentrifying Temescal neighborhood is becoming a center for the abolition of prisons. [KQED]

— It’s not a condo, it’s not an apartment: It’s tenancy in common. And it’s a kind of housing that’s cropping up around Los Angeles. [Curbed Los Angeles]

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CreditJayne Kamin-Oncea/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

— Anaheim and the Angels are set to take another swing at negotiating a long-term stadium lease. [The Orange County Register]

— Colin Kaepernick hasn’t played in the N.F.L. since 2016, but he’s the nation’s third-most recognizable football player. Questions about that came up as Jay-Z, a vocal advocate for social justice, announced a partnership with the league. [The New York Times]

Tiger Woods, 43, and Serena Williams, 37, are both from Southern California and live about 25 miles apart in South Florida. They’ve bonded recently over the trials of aging in human bodies and parenting as two of the world’s greatest athletes. [The New York Times]

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CreditEmily Berl for The New York Times

If you’ve been enjoying listening to California music as much as we have, we’d like to invite you to a dance party.

Well, Jon Pareles, The Times’s chief pop music critic, has said he won’t bust any moves. But I will. (At least a few.)

I’ll be talking with Jon about the sounds of the Golden State at the San Francisco Public Library on Aug. 28 and at the Los Angeles Public Library the following day. We’ll move from discussion to dancing. (I should mention that, because our partners at the Library Foundation of Los Angeles were so great, the L.A. event is already sold out. We’re sorry — we’ll try to do more.)

Then, on Friday, Jon will be chatting with my colleague Sona Patel in San Diego at the Central Library.

Here’s where you can sign up to join us in San Francisco. And here’s the sign-up for the San Diego event.

Hope to see you on the dance floor.

California Today goes live at 6: 30 a.m. Pacific time weekdays. Tell us what you want to see: [email protected]. Were you forwarded this email? Sign up for California Today here.

Jill Cowan grew up in Orange County, went to school at U.C. Berkeley and has reported all over the state, including the Bay Area, Bakersfield and Los Angeles — but she always wants to see more. Follow along here or on Twitter, @jillcowan.

California Today is edited by Julie Bloom, who grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from U.C. Berkeley. Happy birthday, Dad!



Jill Cowan is the California Today correspondent, keeping tabs on the most important things happening in her home state every day. @jillcowan

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