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‘Nobody is doing well’: The frantic operation to get stranded San Diego County students, parents out of Afghanistan

Evacuees at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan
U.S. Air Force service members guide evacuees at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Wednesday.
(Associated Press )

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Thursday, Aug. 26. I’m Justin Ray.

Among thousands of individuals waiting to leave Afghanistan are at least 24 students and 16 parents from San Diego County.

The families from the Cajon Valley Union School District in El Cajon were taking a summer trip abroad. Cajon Valley School Board President Tamara Otero said the families had tickets to fly out of Afghanistan, “but unfortunately they were not able to get to the airport.”

“The biggest concern is that the Taliban closed the airport,” Otero said. “We are so worried about our students that are stuck there. We’ll do the best we can to get them out.”

Cajon Valley Supt. David Miyashiro told school board members via text message that he and other staff met virtually with Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Bonsall) and his staff about the situation. He said the families are on special visas for U.S. military service and that the Department of Defense considers them allies.

Miyashiro said the district provided information on the families and that government officials are working to locate them.

“Congressman Issa and his staff are working diligently to determine the facts on the ground, any bureaucratic barriers that can be removed, and the best ways to help those stranded leave Afghanistan and return home safely. We won’t stop until we have answers and action,” Jonathan Wilcox of Issa’s office wrote via email, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.

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The families were not part of an organized trip, having traveled on different dates, according to television station KTLA. Fraidoon Hassemi, an Afghan who works as community liaison for the El Cajon Valley Union School District, has spoken to the families, KTLA reported. “Nobody is doing well,” Hassemi said. “They are trying their best to get to the airport, get to their gates and get on an airplane. The situation is very horrible.”

When asked about the families, a State Department spokesperson told The Times: “As President Biden and [Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken] have made clear, our first priority is the evacuation of American citizens from Afghanistan. We have been in communication with American citizens in Afghanistan, providing guidance to those interested in repatriation regarding when and how they should travel to the airport compound. This is a dynamic and volatile security environment, and we take seriously the priority we attach to the safety and security of American citizens.”

Biden declared Tuesday that he was sticking to his Aug. 31 deadline for completing the U.S. pullout as the Taliban insisted he must. Blinken said Wednesday there are about 1,500 people who may be Americans remaining in Afghanistan as evacuation operations proceed.

Here’s what else we know about the San Diego-area families stuck in the country.

Further reading:

  • Here’s where California lawmakers stand on the Afghanistan withdrawal. As the Taliban takes over Afghanistan with little resistance, California lawmakers, like many Americans, have watched, stunned at the rapid fall of a government the U.S. spent 20 years trying to stabilize. Nancy Pelosi, Kevin McCarthy, Dianne Feinstein and Devin Nunes have weighed in on Biden’s decision to pull out.
  • Afghan Americans in San Diego pressure Biden and Congress to act as Taliban takes over. San Diego’s Afghan and Afghan American community has been closely monitoring Twitter feeds, WhatsApp and news broadcasts with increasing heartbreak as the country reverted to Taliban control. Many have family members stuck in the country. Several community leaders have joined with others across the country to create a coalition of Afghan American voices to find ways to help those in Afghanistan reach safety.

And now, here’s what’s happening across California.

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L.A. STORIES

One of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s top appointees at the Fire Department testified that her agency is “a very hostile work environment” for female firefighters — and accused Garcetti of failing to take the situation seriously. Rebecca Ninburg, who has spent nearly six years on the Board of Fire Commissioners, described complaints from a former Los Angeles firefighter, whose story was recently covered by The Times, about allegations that male firefighters exposed themselves to female co-workers. “The women are not safe to speak. They cannot talk about their — what has happened to them. It is not safe to do that,” Ninburg testified. Los Angeles Times

Adult film star Ron Jeremy indicted. Jeremy has been indicted in Los Angeles on more than 30 counts of sexual assault stemming from allegations made by more than 20 women that span the last quarter-century. Jeremy, 68, faces a dozen counts of forcible rape, seven counts of forcible oral copulation, six counts of sexual battery by restraint and various counts of sexual offenses on women with foreign objects or while they were asleep, according to an indictment unsealed Wednesday. Jeremy has denied all wrongdoing and pleaded not guilty. His attorney could not immediately be reached for comment. Los Angeles Times

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POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT

Democrats feel helpless on recall ballot’s second question, Times reporter (and former Essential California writer) Julia Wick writes. With the recall election three weeks away, many Democrats are flailing for answers about how to approach the ballot’s second question: If Newsom is recalled, who do you want to replace him? The governor’s camp has been urging voters to leave the second question blank. That advice has landed well with some but left others confused and frustrated. Many party faithful say they feel powerless over how to meaningfully weigh in on such a crucial question. Los Angeles Times

Marijuana’s unbelievable sales. At a time when many businesses are seeing declining sales and consequently tumbling revenue, marijuana is having a moment. Numbers released this week indicate a jackpot in pot. The state raised $817 million in tax revenue during the 2020-21 fiscal year, state officials announced this week. That figure is 55% more than was collected in the previous fiscal year. California voted to legalize the nonmedical use of marijuana in 2016. The state makes revenue off of the devil’s lettuce in two ways: a retail excise tax and a cultivation tax. For the 2020-21 fiscal year, the state’s revenue from the former was $652 million; the latter, $165 million. Legislative Analyst’s Office

The U.S. Capitol Police are opening a field office in San Francisco. Back in July, The Times reported that the Capitol Police said threats against members of Congress has increased. Officials told the San Francisco Chronicle that even before the Jan. 6 insurrection, a hyperpartisan environment has created an increased risk of domestic terror and violence, particularly from white supremacist-linked groups. Home to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) and other prominent members of Congress, California gives the law enforcement agency a western base to investigate claims of threats made against members. San Francisco Chronicle

CRIME AND COURTS

A former paralegal for the San Francisco Board of Appeals is suing the city, alleging she was fired for whistleblowing. Katy Sullivan stated in the lawsuit that she learned that a printout of text messages between Board of Appeals President Darryl Honda and former Planning Commissioner Dennis Richards went missing. She says she sent an email “to call out the fact that the documents were missing,” according to the lawsuit. Sullivan then filed a whistleblower complaint with the controller’s office. She was fired in December. “The city is committed to maintaining a workplace free from unlawful retaliation, including protected whistleblower activity,” a spokesperson for the office of San Francisco City Atty. Dennis Herrera said. San Francisco Chronicle

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HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT

Unvaccinated people, riskier behavior: What is fueling L.A.'s coronavirus surge. A new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found that more than 71% of COVID-19 infections between May 1 and July 25 in Los Angeles County were among the unvaccinated, compared with about 25% among fully vaccinated people, and about 3% among the partially vaccinated. There are also signs that unvaccinated people tend to engage in behaviors that are more likely to spread the coronavirus, while vaccinated people more often take actions that reduce transmission risk. Los Angeles Times

Coronavirus particles emerge from the surface of cells cultured in a lab.
Coronavirus particles emerge from the surface of cells cultured in a lab. More than 71% of COVID-19 infections from May 1 to July 25 in L.A. County were among the unvaccinated, compared with about 25% among fully vaccinated people, a CDC study found.
(National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases)

CALIFORNIA CULTURE

Former employees and executives of Valley Public Broadcasting Station say a revolving door of CEOs and an exodus of staffers leaving a “toxic work environment” have affected the programming quality and profitability of the San Joaquin Valley’s largest public media outlet, a Fresno Bee investigation has revealed. The investigation also raised questions about conflict of interest and compliance with public broadcasting policies. Current Valley PBS leadership denies any wrongdoing. While acknowledging missteps in recent years by former executives, they say the ship has since been righted. Fresno Bee

There appears to be a cat café coming to Sacramento. According to its site, Capital Cat Café aims “to increase the number of cats adopted in the Sacramento area while providing the community with an inviting place to socialize with the cats, a place to relax, work, and enjoy food and beverages.” Its Instagram page claims the establishment is coming in winter 2021. Sacramento Business Journal

Krispy Kreme will give two free doughnuts to Americans who have received at least one vaccination shot and bring in a valid vaccination card as proof. The promotion runs for one week, starting Aug. 30. To find a store, go here and click “Find a shop.” Krispy Kreme

Free online games

Get our free daily crossword puzzle, sudoku, word search and arcade games in our new game center at latimes.com/games.

CALIFORNIA ALMANAC

Los Angeles: Stay Frosé chasing, 91. San Diego: 83. San Francisco: Try beekeeping. 72. San Jose: 82. Fresno: Watch a video of a Golden retriever pup, 97. Sacramento: 94.

AND FINALLY

Today’s California memory is from Irlene Terrell. It is pretty amazing:

As a child living in South-Central Los Angeles, I always wanted to be a nurse. Whenever a playmate got hurt, I was the one who applied the Band-Aid. In my last semester at Fremont High School in 1969, I had an elective choice, drill team or a CNA class. I chose the latter. Upon completion I received a certified nursing attendant certificate. I worked part time as a CNA while attending college. My ultimate educational goal was a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing. I received my BSN degree in 1976 from Cal State Los Angeles and launched my career with Los Angeles County Department of Health Services. I was first employed by Harbor General Hospital in Torrance. After four years I transferred to the county’s Public Health Department. I worked in public health community clinics in South Central for the remainder of my tenure with L.A. County. I gave 31½ years of service as a public health nurse in which 28 years were in supervision. I retired in 2008. I enjoyed helping the people of my community throughout the years. I encourage all young people to have a goal in life and follow your dreams. The rewards are immeasurable.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments to essentialcalifornia@latimes.com.


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