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Los Angeles’ City Council is poised to clamp down on homeless encampments, making it illegal to pitch tents on some sidewalks, beneath overpasses and near parksBy BRIAN MELLEY Associated PressJuly 1, 2021, 5:08 AM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleLOS ANGELES — Los Angeles city leaders are poised to pass sweeping restrictions Thursday on one of the nation’s largest homeless populations, making it illegal to pitch tents on many sidewalks, beneath overpasses and near parks.The measure before the City Council is billed as a humane approach to get people off streets and restore access to public spaces, and it wouldn’t be enforced until someone has turned down an offer of shelter. It would severely limit the number of places where homeless encampments have been allowed to grow and become a common sight across the city.“There are right ways and wrong ways to disrupt the status quo and improve conditions on the street,” Councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas, coauthor of the measure, said in a statement. “I am governed by a fundamental position: Before the unhoused are restricted from occupying public space, they should be … offered a suitable alternative for housing.”Among other limits, the ordinance would ban sitting, lying, sleeping or storing personal property on sidewalks that block handicap access, near driveways and within 500 feet (152 meters) of schools, day care centers, libraries or parks.The measure, which was unexpectedly announced at Tuesday’s meeting, would replace a more punitive anti-camping proposal. Police would only get involved if there’s a crime, Ridley-Thomas said.An advocate for the homeless said the measure is loosely written to allow broad interpretation for enforcement and will make most of the city off-limits to people living on the street.“Draconian is definitely the correct word,” said Pete White of the LA Community Action Network. “I think it’s impossible to comply.”White said that an ordinance that limited where people could park RVs and sleep in cars overnight left little more than 5% of streets available for parking.Homelessness has become a crisis of “epic proportions,” the measure says. It remains near the top of political agendas across the state.California is home to more than a quarter of the nation’s homeless people, according to federal data. The city of Los Angeles has an estimated homeless population of more than 40,000.A federal judge directed the city of LA to offer housing to thousands of homeless people on notorious Skid Row by this fall, though an appeals court put that on hold.Two Republican candidates seeking to replace Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom in a recall election came to LA County this week to announce their plans to address the statewide problem.While the crisis is widespread across Los Angeles, a dispute about how to solve the problem has become a flashpoint on Venice Beach, where an encampment exploded in size during the coronavirus pandemic and has left residents weary and worried for their safety after several violent incidents.Sheriff Alex Villanueva, whose deputies patrol unincorporated parts of the county, entered city turf with a homeless outreach team to announce a plan to get people into housing by July 4.His lofty overture, which has moved some people off the boardwalk but is unlikely to meet his goal by this weekend, was met with resistance from much of LA’s political establishment, particularly Councilmember Mike Bonin, whose district includes Venice.Bonin, who criticized an approach that could lead to housing at the jail Villanueva runs if people don’t leave, launched his own plan days later. That effort is being rolled out in several phases into August and promises to move people into temporary shelter and then permanent housing.Bonin was among councilmembers opposing the measure Tuesday in the 12-3 vote, saying the city doesn’t have 20,000 beds needed for the homeless. He also said the plan should show where sleeping and camping would be allowed.If the measure doesn’t receive unanimous approval on Thursday, it will face a second vote later in July before it can take effect.
An estranged brother has reluctantly testified at real estate heir Robert Durst’s murder trial that the two never got along and he feared his brother would kill himBy BRIAN MELLEY Associated PressJune 28, 2021, 8:36 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleLOS ANGELES — The estranged brother of Robert Durst, the real estate heir on trial in his best friend’s slaying, reluctantly testified Monday that the two never got along and he feared his oldest sibling would kill him.“He’d like to murder me,” Douglas Durst bluntly told jurors in Los Angeles County Superior Court.Douglas Durst, chairman of one of New York’s largest commercial real estate firms, said he had not seen his brother in 20 years and they had not spoken since 1999. He said Robert Durst was angry and bitter over an acrimonious inheritance settlement for tens of millions of dollars.Douglas Durst, chairman of the Durst Organization that owns some of Manhattan’s premier skyscrapers and 2,500 apartments, said he and his brother had fought since they were children.“He treated me miserably,” Douglas Durst said. “He would fight with me at every chance. He would embarrass me.”Despite the bad blood, Douglas Durst said he was not happy to testify against his brother, who is on trial on charges of fatally shooting Susan Berman in 2000 at her Los Angeles home. He said he cooperated with prosecutors under threat of subpoena.“There are other places I’d much rather be,” he said.Prosecutors say Berman provided an alibi for Robert Durst after he killed his first wife, Kathie, in 1982 and that he silenced his friend to keep her from telling police what she knew about the disappearance. Robert Durst has pleaded not guilty.Kathie Durst had told Douglas Durst she planned to seek a divorce from his brother, he testified.Douglas Durst said his brother told him that she had vanished a couple of days after he put her on a train to New York City from their lakeside house in Westchester County. Robert Durst said that was the last time he saw his wife.“His tone was very neutral,” Douglas Durst said. “There was no great anxiety in his tone. It seemed a little strange.”Kathie Durst has never been found, but she was declared legally dead. Robert Durst has long been considered a suspect in her death but has denied any involvement and has never been charged with a crime related to her disappearance.Douglas Durst, tan and wearing a crisp white shirt with French cuffs and a gray mask because of COVID-19 restrictions, cut a much different figure than his ailing brother.A pale Robert Durst, 78, with a shaven head that reveals a massive scar from removing fluid his skull, was seated in a wheelchair and dressed in brown jail scrubs.Durst, who has bladder cancer and several other maladies, stood up and addressed the judge to counter a suggestion by Deputy District Attorney John Lewin that he was seeking sympathy from jurors by displaying his urine bag.Durst said his head was shaved because it was the only haircut he could get in jail. He said he wants a doctor to remove a catheter.“I am not seeking sympathy from the jury,” Durst said in a throaty voice.
Attorneys for convicted murderer Scott Peterson say a juror committed misconduct by not disclosing during jury selection that she had been a crime victimBy BRIAN MELLEY Associated PressJune 26, 2021, 1:37 AM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleLOS ANGELES — A woman who eagerly sought to be a juror in the murder trial of Scott Peterson and who voted to sentence him to death committed misconduct by not disclosing she had been a crime victim, defense attorneys said Friday in their bid for a new trial.New details show Juror 7 failed to disclose her boyfriend beat her in 2001 while she was pregnant. It was previously revealed that she failed to disclose that while pregnant with another child she obtained a restraining order against the boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend, whom she feared would hurt her unborn child.Peterson, 48, was sentenced to death in the 2002 murders of his pregnant wife, Laci, and the son she was carrying.“It is apparent from her conduct before, during, and after the trial that during (jury selection) she failed to disclose numerous incidents that posed threats of harm to her unborn children,” Peterson’s lawyers said. “This enabled her to sit in judgment of Mr. Peterson for the crime of harming his unborn child.”A judge is deciding whether to order a new trial because of the allegations the juror committed misconduct by falsely answering questions during the selection process. The juror was not named in the court papers but has previously been identified as Richelle Nice, who co-authored a book about the case with six other jurors.The California Supreme Court overturned Peterson’s death sentence because prosecutors improperly dismissed potential jurors who disclosed they personally disagreed with the death penalty but would be willing to impose it.The Stanislaus County district attorney’s office declined to comment on the new allegation of misconduct, saying it would address the case in court.In court filings, prosecutors have brushed off accusations of misconduct. They included a declaration by Nice that indicated she either misunderstood or misinterpreted the questions about other legal proceedings she had been involved in.Prospective jurors were asked if they had ever been involved in a lawsuit or participated in a trial as a party or witness and if they had ever been crime victim or witness. Nice answered “no” to those questions. The defense said those answers were false.The defense noted that the restraining order was a lawsuit in which Nice testified. The prosecution and Nice said she interpreted a lawsuit as a dispute involving money or property. She explained that she considered the restraining order involved “harassment” and was not a criminal act.“I did not interpret the circumstances leading to the petition for a restraining order as a crime. I still do not,” Nice declared, according the court papers. “Minor indignities … do not stick out to me, let alone cause me to feel ‘victimized’ the way the law might define that term.”However, the defense scoffed at the characterization as “minor,” saying the restraining order case alleged that Nice’s boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend had “committed acts of violence against” her and she “really fears for her unborn child.”The defense said that by concealing facts and providing false answers, the juror undermined the jury selection process and committed misconduct that harmed Peterson’s right to a fair trial.“Mr. Peterson was entitled to be tried by a jury of 12 impartial jurors, not 11,” defense lawyers wrote.A lawyer for Nice did not return a message seeking comment.The defense said Nice “bent over backwards” to be seated on the jury.“She was willing to sit on the jury for five months without pay, although she had four minor children to care for, and though it caused her such extreme financial hardship that she had to borrow money from a fellow juror,” the defense wrote. “Juror 7’s conduct during jury selection was so unusual that the judge commented that she ‘stepp(ed) up and practically volunteer(ed) to serve.’”Laci Peterson, 27, was eight months pregnant with their unborn son, Connor, when she was killed. Investigators said Peterson took the bodies from their Modesto home on Christmas Eve 2002 and dumped them from his fishing boat into San Francisco Bay, where they surfaced months later.Peterson was convicted in 2005 in San Mateo County after his trial was moved from Stanislaus County because of worldwide pre-trial publicity.Attorney Pat Harris claims that he has new evidence to show there was a nearby burglary on the day Laci Peterson disappeared. He said she was killed when she stumbled upon the crime.If a new trial is ordered, prosecutors said they will not seek the death penalty.
LOS ANGELES — During the darkest days of the coronavirus pandemic, Martha Medina would occasionally slip into her shuttered store on Los Angeles’ oldest street to ensure everything was secure.Colorful folklorico dresses from each of Mexico’s 32 states lined the walls. Black charro suits worn by mariachis and adorned with ornate gold or silver trim hung from a rack in the back. Brightly painted Dia de los Muertos folk art skulls and figurines were safely locked behind a glass case.Missing were customers, employees and happy pulses of traditional Latin music such as cumbia, mariachi and son jarocho, the Veracruz sound.“Those days I felt very sad,” Medina said. “I had the feeling I would never open the shop again.”Back in business now but with government-imposed restrictions, Medina and other merchants and restaurateurs on Olvera Street — and those around the state — are still struggling and facing an uncertain future even as California prepares to fully reopen its economy Tuesday for the first time in 15 months.“My only hope is to continue day to day,” said Medina, who remains optimistic. “I don’t expect normal. I expect semi-normal.”California imposed the first statewide shutdown in March 2020 and is among the last to fully reopen, though businesses have operated at reduced capacity for months. It was an early model for how restrictions could keep the virus at bay but later became the U.S. epicenter of a deadly winter surge that overwhelmed hospitals in Los Angeles and other areas.More people tested positive for the virus in California — about 3.8 million and counting — and more people died — 63,000-plus — than elsewhere in the country. However, the nation’s most populous state had a lower per capita death rate than most others.For the past couple months, the state has experienced the lowest — or some of the lowest — rates of infection in the U.S. Its vaccination level also is higher than most other states; two-thirds of those eligible have gotten at least one dose.Gov. Gavin Newsom long ago set June 15 as the target to lift restrictions on capacity and distancing regulations for nearly all businesses and activities. But reopening doesn’t necessarily mean people will immediately flock to places and events they once packed.Olvera Street has long thrived as a tourist destination and symbol of the state’s early ties to Mexico. The location where settlers established a farming community in 1781 as El Pueblo de Los Angeles, its historic buildings were restored and rebuilt as a traditional Mexican marketplace in 1930s.As Latinos in California have experienced disproportionately worse outcomes from COVID-19, so too has Olvera Street.Shops and restaurants lining the narrow brick walkway rely heavily on participants at regular cultural celebrations, downtown office workers dining out, school trips and Dodgers baseball fans enjoying Mexican food before or after games. But the coronavirus killed tourism, kept office workers and pupils at home, canceled events and emptied stadiums of fans.In addition, the location does not lend itself to options that gave other businesses a chance, such as curbside pickup or takeout meals. While the city, which owns the property, has forgiven rent through June, owners are still hurting.Most businesses have reduced hours and closed a few days a week, said Valerie Hanley, treasurer of the Olvera Street Merchants Association Foundation and a shop owner.“We’re not like a local restaurant in your town,” Hanley said. “We’re one of those little niche things. If you can’t fill the niche with the right people, we’re in trouble.”Edward Flores said he has gone deep into debt running Juanita’s Cafe, a small food stand in his family for three generations. He doesn’t expect a turnaround until next year.Business is down more than 87%, he said. His best month during the pandemic hit $3,100 in sales, less than his usual monthly rent. On his worst day, he worked 13 hours and rang up $11.25 in sales.”I didn’t have a doomsday thought. I just was flabbergasted,” he said. “I thought, ‘What an incredible waste of time.’”On a recent Friday, the smell of frying taquitos filled the air as he served a steady trickle of afternoon customers stopping for a quick bite.Small groups strolled through the market where tiny stalls running down the center of the alley sell everything from votive candles of the Virgen de Guadalupe to Frida Kahlo T-shirts to lucha libre wrestling masks.Angie Barragan, who was wearing a white dress after attending a baptism at Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic Church, climbed atop Jorge, a stuffed burro, to pose for a $10 snapshot with her cousin.Photographer Carolina Hernandez handed the two large sombreros, and Barragan draped a bandolier of bogus bullets over her shoulder, propped a toy rifle on her thigh and the cousins struck steely bandito poses.Barragan grew up in East LA but moved to Las Vegas 30 years ago. Photos with the donkey were a tradition whenever she returned to LA with her mom, who died in January from heart trouble.“It’s all the beautiful experiences I had as a child, but it’s also bittersweet,” she said of her mother’s absence. “I feel like her spirit is here with us. This is one of her favorite places.”It was a more subdued scene last Tuesday — somewhat reminiscent of the ghost town the street became in late December as the virus surged and outdoor dining was halted.J.J. Crump, who brought his wife and three kids from Lake Charles, Louisiana, was underwhelmed compared to a visit four years ago.”It was shoulder to shoulder last time we were there,” Crump said.Medina’s shop, Olverita’s Village, which used to be open daily, has cut back to five days a week.She’s mindful of the lives lost in the pandemic, including several of her Mexican suppliers — an artisan who shaped large pottery vases, a leather worker and two women who embroidered shirts. She’s thinking of honoring them when Day of the Dead is celebrated in November when she hopes business will be better.“Thank God I’m still surviving,” she said. “But I need customers.”