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The company who cried retail theft? Walgreens store closures cause uproar in San Francisco

People walk in to a Walgreens retail store.
(Charles Krupa / Associated Press)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Monday, Oct. 18. I’m Justin Ray.

In June, a video of a man’s brazen robbery inside a San Francisco Walgreens went viral. The suspect behind the theft of approximately $978 worth of merchandise was detained and charged days later, according to the San Francisco Police Department.

The incident has been heavily cited by those looking for a more aggressive approach to law enforcement in the city. However, a recent announcement involving retail theft is being met with a different response.

Drugstore chain Walgreens said it would be closing an additional five stores in the city, bringing the number of shuttered locations to 22 in the past five years, according to San Francisco Chronicle. The company has cited “organized retail crime” for the closings.

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Instead of cries for a crackdown on crime, the news has been met with intense skepticism.

The Chronicle published a story that, citing data from the city’s Police Department, pointed out how one store set to close “had only seven reported shoplifting incidents this year and a total of 23 since 2018.” While it is important to note that not all incidents are reported to police, the five stores being shut down “had fewer than two recorded shoplifting incidents a month on average since 2018.”

Some have also pointed out the company’s prior plans to reduce its stores. In an August 2019 SEC filing, Walgreens stated that it planned to close approximately 200 following “a review of the real estate footprint in the United States.”

San Francisco’s own leaders have openly questioned the company’s claims.

“They are saying [retail theft is] the primary reason, but I also think when a place is not generating revenue, and when they’re saturated — S.F. has a lot of Walgreens locations all over the city — so I do think that there are other factors that come into play,” Mayor London Breed said last week.

Supervisor Dean Preston posted on Twitter a thread calling out news outlets for accepting the company’s justification for the downsizing.

“Media reports have accepted without analysis Walgreens’ assertion that it’s closing due to retail theft,” Preston wrote, in part. “Is Walgreens closing stores because of theft or because of a pre-existing business plan to cut costs and increase profits by consolidating stores and shifting customers to online purchases?”

Walgreens didn’t respond to the Chronicle article when asked for a comment on the paper’s claims. Instead, the company said in a statement: “Organized retail crime continues to be a challenge facing retailers across San Francisco, and we are not immune to that. Retail theft across our San Francisco stores has continued to increase in the past few months to five times our chain average. During this time to help combat this issue, we increased our investments in security measures in stores across the city to 46 times our chain average in an effort to provide a safe environment.”

Further reading:

In July, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation to reestablish a law enforcement unit coordinated by the California Highway Patrol that is focused on combating organized shoplifting rings in California.

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

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L.A. STORIES

Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas says he won’t resign, plans to fight bribery charges. In his first public comments since he was indicted, Ridley-Thomas said he wouldn’t resign and plans to fight federal charges that were revealed this week. Ridley-Thomas is accused of conspiring with Marilyn Louise Flynn, former dean of USC’s School of Social Work, to steer county money to the university in return for admission of his son Sebastian into graduate school with full tuition and a paid professorship. The 20-count indictment includes charges of conspiracy, bribery and wire fraud. Los Angeles Times

Anger grows in Carson as noxious smell sickens residents. For nearly two weeks, an overpowering foul smell — likened to rotten eggs, a dead body and poop — has been wafting from the Dominguez Channel, which spills into Los Angeles Harbor. Even as residents try to keep a sense of humor, they are outraged by the slow response by government officials. Los Angeles County officials say the smell is caused by hydrogen sulfide — a flammable, colorless gas known as “sewer gas” — coming from decaying vegetation in the channel that has built up because of the drought. Los Angeles Times

The Dominguez Channel, the source of a foul odor in Carson, as seen from Avalon Blvd.
Richard Mootry, who said he works nearby at a Verizon store, looks out at the Dominguez Channel, the source of foul odors in Carson.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

The union representing Hollywood crews moved closer to reaching an agreement on a new contract with the major studios that would avoid a historic strike. The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers have narrowed their differences and are nearing an agreement on a new three-year contract covering some 60,000 film and TV industry workers, said three people familiar with the negotiations who were not authorized to comment. The alliance represents the major Hollywood studios such as Walt Disney and Warner Bros. along with newcomers Apple, Amazon and Netflix. Los Angeles Times

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POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT

LAUSD says it’s hiring 922 mental health workers; 75% of the positions sit empty. Thousands of students have returned to LAUSD classrooms for in-person instruction. Many are still coping with the mental stressors they experienced over the last year and a half of the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 relief funding has allowed the district to open up 922 new psychiatric social workers and resource navigator positions. But they’re still behind on filling the roles — only 25% of the total allocation have been hired thus far. KCRW

Unhoused man found dead at Sacramento Safe Ground camp. Kelvin Peterson, 30, was found dead in his tent at a sanctioned Safe Ground tent encampment in Sacramento. Guests set up a memorial in the space at the edge of the dirt lot where Peterson’s tent used to be. The coroner’s office has not determined the cause and manner of Peterson’s death. “I am heartbroken to hear of the death of a much-beloved resident of our WX safe ground,” said City Councilwoman Katie Valenzuela, the driving force behind opening the Safe Ground. Sacramento Bee

CRIME AND COURTS

The city of Sacramento quietly paid $11 million to a family last year. One of the largest payouts in city history, the settlement came after an elderly woman and her grandson were hit by a car in a crosswalk. In January 2018, QuiChang Zhu, 72, and Jian Hao Kuang, 6, were using a crosswalk, according to a lawsuit filed in Sacramento County Superior Court. The intersection has no traffic lights. A sedan driver struck the pair, killing Zhu and causing severe injuries to Kuang. The crosswalk had existed for years on the busy corridor, but prior to the incident, it appeared the city had removed most of the paint, but left imprints or depressions where the painted rectangles had been. The city also removed pedestrian warning signs. Sacramento Bee

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HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT

Oil wells in the backyard. Wilmington and the neighboring community of Carson are home to five oil refineries, as well as the Wilmington Oil Field — the third-most productive patch in the United States. Wilmington is also home to more than 50,000 residents, more than 90% of whom are people of color. The drilling can impact the health of residents. In fact, millions of Californians are affected by neighborhood drilling — the practice of exploring for oil right in the middle of communities, next to the places where people live, study, and seek medical care. Capital and Main

CALIFORNIA CULTURE

8 things that might surprise you about growing up in 1960s Hollywood. What’s it like to grow up on TV? Actor-director Ron Howard, who famously got his start as Opie on the ‘60s classic “The Andy Griffith Show,” has a stock answer: “It seemed utterly normal, because it was the only childhood I ever had.” Howard and his brother and fellow child actor Clint, who was 8 when he starred in “Gentle Ben,” share recollections of their unique upbringing in “The Boys: A Memoir of Hollywood and Family.” Here are a few surprising bits of trivia about 1960s and 1970s Hollywood that the Howards reveal in the book. Ron and Clint Howard joined L.A. Times Book Club readers last week. Los Angeles Times

How a friend’s divorce affected my own marriage. I have always been a fan of our L.A. Affairs series. This story perfectly exemplifies what is so important about these stories; this tale contains honesty and candid emotions you don’t usually come across. The writer explains how a wedding gift she gave her friend was returned to her after a divorce, and that had a profound impact on her own marriage: “The truth was, this slice of the past had every trigger in it. The years between then and now had been a bigger challenge than I expected.” Los Angeles Times

Couple sitting on a chipped coffee mug.
(Hannah Agosta / For The Times)

The longtime general manager of NBC-affiliated New Orleans TV station to make big move to lead Los Angeles stations. In the broadcast world, Joel Vilmenay is making a huge leap. He’s jumping from New Orleans, the No. 50 television market, to Los Angeles, the No. 2 television market. The move happens after The Times broke the story that the highest-ranking CBS television station and news executives had regularly engaged in questionable conduct and inappropriate comments involving people of color. NOLA

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CALIFORNIA ALMANAC

Los Angeles: 67 San Diego: Get some kitten love. 67 San Francisco: Overcast, 61 San Jose: 65 Fresno: Buy an inflatable life-sized whale to make your neighbors question your judgement. 67 Sacramento: 71

AND FINALLY

Notable birthdays:

John Lithgow was born Oct. 19, 1945. We caught up with the actor when he starred as Fox News chief Roger Ailes in the film “Bombshell.”

Snoop Dogg was born Oct. 20, 1971. The music legend is apparently working on a children’s album.

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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