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Today’s Headlines: L.A. County says no lockdowns are planned

Shoppers in Los Angeles Fashion District
Shoppers visit the Los Angeles Fashion District on Monday.
(Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times)

Hello, it’s Wednesday, Dec. 22, and here are the stories you shouldn’t miss today:

TOP STORIES

Biden’s new Omicron strategy, and no lockdowns for L.A.

As the Omicron variant of the coronavirus is expected to cause breakthrough infections, President Biden is urging Americans to get vaccinated and boosted. Biden has also outlined strategies to curb Omicron’s effect, including deploying 1,000 troops to hospitals and setting up more vaccination sites. The administration will also purchase 500 million at-home rapid tests that will be available to Americans free of charge starting next month.

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Omicron has prompted some countries to institute new curfews or lockdowns — but no such measures are planned in Los Angeles County, a top health official said this week. Meanwhile, Gov. Gavin Newsom said California will mandate boosters for all healthcare workers in hopes of improving immunity and protecting hospitals.

On Monday, L.A. County confirmed 60 new cases of the highly mutated variant, exceeding the 49 reported statewide as of Wednesday. Also, the crowded conditions at some Inland Empire hospitals are generating concern, with some smaller ones requesting tents and portable medical facilities to help keep up with demand.

More top coronavirus headlines

Stay up to date on variant developments, case counts and vaccine news with Coronavirus Today.

Texas abortion law spurs copycat measures

Texas’ so-called vigilante anti-abortion law was upheld by the Supreme Court earlier this month, and now political leaders in other states are backing similar legal schemes.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has said he would lead the passage of a California law modeled after the Texas statute but targeted at the gun industry. It would allow citizens to sue to stop selling, distributing and manufacturing assault weapons and ghost guns.

Last Wednesday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis proposed a law aimed at public school instruction, giving parents a financial incentive to sue schools if teachers appear to be instructing students on critical race theory, an academic framework that analyzes how many legal principles, as well as government and business actions, stem from racism.

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Vanessa Bryant wants justice after a deputy trainee showed images of Kobe Bryant’s body

Two days after Kobe Bryant was killed in a helicopter crash, a deputy trainee at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department showed photos from the carnage at a bar. When Sheriff Alex Villanueva found out about the incident, he quickly offered deputies amnesty from discipline if they came clean and deleted the images.

The sheriff insists he did the right thing. But the possibility that photos might surface underpins a lawsuit by Vanessa Bryant now being fought in federal court. The Board of Supervisors has already agreed to pay $2.5 million to settle two of the suits. But Bryant and members of one other family have refused to settle.

Two huge solar farms get the federal OK

The Interior Department has given the green light to two huge solar farms in the California desert that could eventually cover 2,700 acres in Riverside County. Federal officials say they would generate enough electricity to power 132,000 California homes.

At the same time, the new solar farms offer a reminder that the transition to renewable power — although badly needed to limit the worsening wildfires and deadlier heat waves of the climate crisis — comes with environmental challenges. Conservation groups and tribes have grown increasingly concerned about the potential for solar, wind and geothermal power plants to destroy sensitive wildlife habitats and disrupt sacred landscapes.

The Biden administration has started denying Afghans’ requests to enter U.S.

Humanitarian parole allows people to enter the U.S. for emergency or public-interest reasons. Parole is issued on a case-by-case basis and is typically reserved for dire circumstances. Still, it has been used to quickly bring in thousands of people after wars or environmental disasters.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services typically process 2,000 parole applications annually. But since July, it has been flooded with more than 30,000 from Afghans alone. So far, Citizenship and Immigration Services has approved 135 cases. Advocates say the government belatedly set unnecessarily steep barriers in the process that many Afghans can’t surmount.

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PHOTO OF THE DAY

a man with a mustache looks at a signed baseball that he holds in his hand
How the gift of a 1963 baseball connected two Oxnard men. Oxnard resident Buddy Salinas, 69, holds a baseball signed by the 1962 Milwaukee Braves, including fellow Oxnard native Denny Lemaster. Salinas discovered the ball while working as a plumber in 1980 and recently decided to return the ball to Lemaster, connecting two men who share a hometown and a love of baseball.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

CALIFORNIA

Gascón launches juvenile diversion program as critics claim it goes too far. Minors accused of a wide array of crimes, including robbery, sexual battery and arson, will be eligible for a new diversion program launched by Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. George Gascón that spares offenders from criminal charges and requires them to make amends in other ways.

He dodged a Mexican Mafia death sentence for 26 years. Then his luck ran out. Donald Ramon Ortiz knew he was a marked man. Authorities knew it too. Then, last month, a man walked up to Ortiz and fired a bullet into his head, leaving him to die in the street in Chino. He was 59 years old.

L.A. mayor joins Native Americans in solstice celebration and prayer for COVID dead. The event came as Los Angeles is formally developing strategies to increase diversity and compensation equity at all levels of the city workforce and correct harms that its educational systems have perpetrated against minority students, including Native Americans.

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NATION-WORLD

U.S. population growth fell to its lowest rate ever during the pandemic’s first year. The U.S. has been experiencing slow population growth for years, but the pandemic exacerbated that trend. The coronavirus curtailed immigration, delayed pregnancies and killed hundreds of thousands of U.S. residents, according to figures released Tuesday.

As Brazil looks to the future, its president looks to Trump. Ten months before the next presidential election, Brazil is more polarized than at any point in recent memory. At the center is President Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right nationalist who rode into office on a wave of populist anger, considers Trump his “idol” and insists that there are only three possibilities for his future: reelection, jail or death.

HOLLYWOOD AND THE ARTS

Bono joins Matthew McConaughey to belt out a joyously over-the-top sequel in ‘Sing 2.’ It’s a vibrant, amusing comedy whose story, from returning writer-director Garth Jennings, may be a bit overstuffed for its intended audience, writes our reviewer.

How accurate is ‘Being the Ricardos’? We break down what’s fact and what’s fiction. Now available to stream on Amazon Prime, the film takes place during a dramatized week of production on “I Love Lucy” in 1952 as Ball’s suspected ties to communism were under investigation by the House Un-American Activities Committee.

The crisis of democracy is a media crisis. And the mainstream press is losing. The long-haul chaos culminated in 2021, exhausting traditional newsgathering organizations while energizing the far-right media, writes television critic Lorraine Ali.

BUSINESS

Halliburton failed to stop the Aliso Canyon gas leak. Now it claims evidence was stolen. Southern California Gas Co. hired Halliburton-owned Boots & Coots, a well-control company, to get the blowout under control. A state agency has questioned whether crucial computer modeling was conducted, but the company claims the evidence it did was stolen from a Best Buy parking lot.

Kellogg Co. workers ratify tentative labor contract, ending strike. Employees, who have been on strike since early October, approved a tentative contract at the company’s four U.S. cereal plants. The contract covers approximately 1,400 workers in Michigan, Nebraska, Pennsylvania and Tennessee.

SPORTS

The NHL reportedly will withdraw from the Olympics amid a COVID surge. The league informed the NHL Players’ Assn. on Tuesday that it was retaining its right to withdraw from Olympic participation because there was a material disruption to the season, the person said. The NHLPA was not going to dispute the decision. An announcement was expected Wednesday.

NBA has ‘no plans’ to pause the season as COVID cases rise among players. Through Tuesday afternoon, at least 82 players from 20 teams were believed to be in the league’s COVID protocols, though those numbers tend to change almost on an hourly basis.

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OPINION

Biden’s flurry of nominations will bring generations of diversity to federal courts. Instead of following the Obama administration’s approach, which didn’t win many confirmations, the Biden administration is taking a page from the Trump playbook by moving forward aggressively on nominations — and using the process to advance political and policy interests.

Looking back on a plague year and ahead to more political upheaval. The midterm election is less than 325 days away. Because 2021 was so much fun, why not live it again?

2021 IN REVIEW

Ten things that shaped the art world in 2021. It didn’t make sense to do the usual “best of” list of exhibitions for 2021, so art critic Christopher Knight has compiled a list of things that seem especially relevant in the art world, ranging from the NFT boom to long-overdue reckonings.

How Taylor Swift reclaimed 2012 to win 2021. As the year draws to a close, the biggest sellers are almost certain to be Adele’s latest, “30,” followed by … Taylor Swift’s “Red.”

The year in Latin music. Many artists emerged from the first throes of the pandemic taking bolder risks than ever before in their work, from Selena Gomez recording her first Spanish-language album to Los Bukis resurfacing after a 25-year hiatus.

ONLY IN L.A.

Closeup of a padlock and plywood on a double door.
The Sherman Oaks Marie Callender’s is now shuttered.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

In the late 1990s, there were more than 150 Marie Callender’s restaurants. Today, there are 27. Among the chain’s biggest fans: the renowned film critic Leonard Maltin and his wife, Alice.

The couple was devastated to learn their favorite location in Sherman Oaks — the San Fernando Valley’s last — closed this fall.

But Marie Callender’s, the beloved Southern California-born pie purveyor, has struggled for years. In a world racked by pandemic, political turmoil and natural disasters, this is a tale of heartache over the loss of one of those factories of nostalgia that feel as though they really come alive during the holidays: the family-dining chain restaurant.

FROM THE ARCHIVES

Two young women, one wrapped in a blanket and one smoking a cigarette, huddle together on rocky ground.
Dec. 22, 1935: Two women sit outside the mouth of a cave in Elysian Park.
(Los Angeles Times)

Eighty-six years ago today, a cave-in occurred at Elysian Park, trapping two men. The next day, The Times reported that the “amateur explorers,” ages 25 and 29, were inside a “mysterious old tunnel” beneath the park when they were “imprisoned by tons of earth in dank air and stagnant water.” A friend with them managed to escape and run for help. Apparently, the tunnel had captured the imagination of one of the men, who was described as “an amateur writer” looking for an exciting new topic.

Above, the trapped men’s wives wait outside the tunnel for word. The men were rescued by “firemen with picks and shovels and electric lanterns.” The Times did not include an opinion from the wives on their husbands’ misadventure.

We appreciate that you took the time to read Today’s Headlines! Comments or ideas? Feel free to drop us a note at headlines@latimes.com. — Elvia Limón, Laura Blasey and Amy Hubbard


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