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Plus: Is Hollywood dodging California’s COVID-19 restrictions? And a killer’s coded message is cracked after many decades.
I’m Winston Gieseke, philanthropy and special sections editor for The Desert Sun in Palm Springs, bringing you some of the latest headlines in this great state of ours.
In California brings you top Golden State stories and commentary from across the USA TODAY Network and beyond. Get it free, straight to your inbox.
Bank of America admits paying millions to EDD bilkers
Earlier in the week, we reported that the amount of unemployment fraud in California may total $2 billion. Now, Bank of America has revealed that it has paid out hundreds of millions of dollars to people suspected of committing debit card fraud — and it’s trying to get that money back.
The red flag was raised when state lawmakers inquired about the bank draining EDD accounts, according to a report from abc7news.com. The bank responded that it was reversing credits on some accounts to combat fraud.
But it’s not so simple. One California resident, Ann-Marie Garvey, discovered that thieves had run up $14,000 in charges on her EDD debit card before she had even received it in the mail. Bank of America credited the entire amount back to the card but evidently had a change of heart two months later when it took all $14,000 back out, leaving Garvey with no money to live on.
In response to this and other stories, 59 state lawmakers wrote Bank of America’s CEO asking why the bank was taking money from legitimate accounts. Lawmakers said the response from the bank was vague: “Identifying legitimate claimants from among the fraudulent claimants is time-consuming and challenging.”
The report noted that Garvey, no longer trusting the bank, is now getting her benefits by check. Meanwhile, lawmakers are still trying to get to the bottom of this.
Is Hollywood dodging California’s COVID-19 restrictions?
A restaurant owner in Southern California went viral last week after posting a video of an outdoor dining area for crews working on a TV show that was only 50 feet away from her own outdoor dining space, which has been shut down by state and city officials in an attempt to stop the spread of coronavirus.
Why is one outdoor dining space acceptable while another is prohibited? A report from The Intercept’s Lee Fang suggests that the big guns in Hollywood have deployed lobbyists to win exemptions to California’s strict lockdown.
The report states that some of the state’s biggest studios have spent thousands of dollars on lobbying efforts in attempts to receive more lax guidelines from the state, including Warner Bros., which reportedly spent $22,500 on lobbyists contacting Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office for “COVID/outreach, TV/Film Production,” and Netflix, which purportedly doled out $70,725 per quarter on its lobbying efforts.
SFGate reports that the efforts have apparently paid off, “as entertainment workers were curiously listed as ‘essential workers’ in April and were notably exempted from the state’s new curfew order that was issued in November.”
California wants to join federal antitrust case against Google
California wants to join the Justice Department in its antitrust lawsuit against Google parent Alphabet Inc., one of the state’s largest businesses.
State Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed the motion Friday in federal court. “Google’s anticompetitive behavior has unlawfully maintained the company’s monopoly on internet search and search-based advertising at the expense of consumers,” he said.
The Justice Department sued Google in October. The case alleges that Google uses billions of dollars collected from advertisers to pay phone manufacturers to ensure Google is the default search engine on browsers. This, the lawsuit claims, harms consumers and stifles smaller rivals.
At the time, 11 states, all with Republican attorneys general, joined the federal government in the lawsuit. California is the first Democratic-led state to announce its intent to join the case. Google, which is based in Mountain View, has until next Friday to respond to the state’s motion.
Some clarification on California’s travel restrictions
If you’ve made plans to travel to or from the Golden State this holiday season, you might want to read this piece in The New York Times that’s boiled down the state’s complicated and ever-evolving restrictions into an easily digestible FAQ.
Here’s something I didn’t know: California hotels and lodgings (Airbnbs included) in areas under the stay-at-home orders are currently prohibited from honoring out-of-state reservations for nonessential travel unless the reservation is made for the required minimum quarantine time (14 days) and the guest plans to remain for the entire quarantine.
The article’s main takeaway is, of course: If you’re planning to travel to or from California this holiday season, the state asks that you reconsider.
California bill would require police officers be 25 or have bachelor’s degree
A California legislator is proposing the state require people to get a bachelor’s degree or turn 25 before they can become eligible to be a police officer.
The bill, introduced Monday to the state legislature by Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer, D-Los Angeles, is aimed at minimizing police use of deadly force. Supporters of the bill believe officers that are more mature and more educated are likely to exhibit greater self-control and less likely to use deadly force. Opponents expressed concern that the law could unfairly limit people who do not have access to higher education.
“This data-driven bill relies on years of study and new understandings of brain development to ensure that only those officers capable of high level decision-making and judgment in tense situations are entrusted with working in our communities and correctional facilities” Jones-Sawyer said via statement.
According to Department of Justice data, California law enforcement agencies seriously injured or killed civilians 703 times in 2019. Currently, police officers in California must be 18 years old and have a high school diploma or the equivalent.
It took 51 years to decode this message from the Zodiac Killer
A coded message from the Zodiac Killer, who killed at least five people in Northern California in 1968 and 1969, has been decoded after 51 years. The San Francisco Chronicle — the same newspaper the killer sent the message to in November 1969 — reports that it took a team of experts from three countries to crack the cipher, which says: “I hope you are having lots of fun in trying to catch me. I am not afraid of the gas chamber because it will send me to paradise all the sooner because I now have enough slaves to work for me.”
The unsolved Zodiac Killer case remains an ongoing investigation in San Francisco.
On that note, I think it’s time to start the weekend. I hope you have a very safe and informed one. We’ll be back in your inbox on Monday with more Golden State news.
In California is a roundup of news from across USA Today network newsrooms. Also contributing: abc7news.com, The Intercept, The New York Times, SFGate, the San Francisco Chronicle.
As the philanthropy and special sections editor at The Desert Sun, Winston Gieseke writes about nonprofits, fundraising and people who give back in the Coachella Valley. Reach him at [email protected].