How to get out of your student housing lease amid COVID-19

California colleges are by and large still working out the details of what campus life will like look in the fall, even as they announce whether they’ll be open, closed or — most likely — somewhere in between.

That means some students are making housing decisions based on limited information, including the number of in-person classes they’ll have and how communal bathrooms will work.

If you’re having second thoughts about an apartment or dorm room you signed up for, you may have options.

On campus

Students who aren’t ready to face the potential new normal of dorms — such as deserted common areas and assigned bathroom stalls — can most likely still back out. The key is to check your school’s housing cancellation policy for details. Different campuses within a single university system may handle onsite housing differently. That’s the case for both University of California and California State University.

Several colleges are allowing students to cancel on-campus housing contracts — but they differ on deadlines, refund policies and penalty fees. Cal State Northridge and Cal State Los Angeles offer refunds up to to the start of the fall semester. UCLA’s cutoff for refunds is when the contract’s term begins. USC students must cancel before July 15. UC Irvine recently modified its policy to allow students to cancel before Sept. 1 for a full refund. Cal State Long Beach imposes a fee on cancellations less than 30 days before the contract begins, as well as a service fee of $275 no matter when the contract is canceled.

Many students, however, will face the opposite problem: They will not be able to secure desired housing on campus as universities move to decrease density to promote safety during the pandemic. Several campuses said they are working to offer alternative housing solutions, including consulting with local hotels and private housing owners.

“We want our students back, our students want to come back, but we have to be smart about it,” said Sheri Ledbetter, a spokeswoman for UC Irvine, who described the housing situation as a “tug of war.” UC Irvine is no longer offering incoming freshmen its two-year on-campus housing guarantee.

Off campus

Privately owned off-campus housing is a different animal. These are often regular apartments that involve leases governed by landlord-tenant law, not campus policy. American Campus Communities (ACC), a large national student housing owner and operator, falls under this category, as do housing companies that just happen to lease to a large number of students.

“Unlike universities where housing is provided in connection with academic services and is contingent on a student’s enrollment status and subject to campus restrictions, we cannot simply evict everyone and shut down a housing community,” said Jason Wills, senior vice president of development for ACC. “The lease agreement requires that our communities remain operational, provide essential services to tenants and pay utilities and real estate taxes.”

Students living in an off-campus apartment not affiliated with a university will need to take the same approach as anyone who wants to get out of a residential lease.

Before attempting to break or renegotiate a lease, do these four things:

Check your lease for an attorney fee provision. They’re common in residential leases, and they mean that the tenant is on the hook for the other side’s attorney fees if the matter goes to court and the tenant is ordered by a judge to pay up. Those fees can dwarf the cost of back rent, according to Joseph Tobener, a Bay Area attorney specializing in tenant law. That makes them a major risk factor for tenants and potentially parent co-signers.Check if your lease includes a force majeur clause, also known as an “acts of God” clause. Such clauses nullify contracts when circumstances beyond a party’s control — such as natural disaster, war or a global pandemic — arise that make the obligation impossible and impractical to fulfill. This provision is uncommon in residential leases.Determine if an amendment or change to the lease must be signed by all parties. Most require it. “So it’s not enough to get an email; you really need to get this amendment in writing,” including rent reduction or deferral agreements, Tobener said. Then you — and any roommates — need to decide whether you want to try to get a rent reduction or other arrangement to keep the unit, or whether you want to cancel the lease entirely.

Canceling a lease

Those intent on moving out should give a standard 30-day notice to vacate. The notice “would cut off your damages and trigger the landlord’s duty to mitigate” damages, Tobener said. A duty to mitigate means the landlord is required to re-rent the unit as soon as possible. Tenants can’t be charged for unpaid rent if the unit could have been re-rented and the money reasonably recouped.

Once notice is given, Tobener recommends posting an ad for the room or apartment on Craigslist or a similar platform to find applicants for the landlord. The string of applicants are evidence that the landlord could re-rent the property and mitigate damages, he said.

Another option is using your entire security deposit toward your last month’s rent. Tenants can then give a 60-day notice to vacate and use the unit during that time, Tobener said. Previously, Tobener didn’t recommend this move because it would have likely been met with a three-day notice to vacate the dwelling or face eviction. Now, under a temporary statewide eviction moratorium, tenants in California can’t be evicted. “It’s an aggressive move,” he said, “but it’s the right move so that the landlord can’t steal more than your security deposit.”

Staying put and negotiating

If you want to try to keep the unit, it’s time to put your negotiator’s hat on. Reach out to your landlord and initiate a conversation. According to Tobener, “Your leverage is that the landlord isn’t going to be able to [easily] re-rent and probably doesn’t want to deal with the collections action.”

Consider subleasing, sometimes called subletting. Some jurisdictions, like San Francisco, give tenants the right to make what’s called one-to-one replacements. In an apartment with four roommates where just one wants to move out, for example, the provision allows the remaining roommates to find another tenant to replace the one who’s leaving. Matt Briton, a tenant’s attorney in Los Angeles, said Angelenos don’t have the same right. But even if it’s not written into your local law, you can always talk to your landlord about the possibility of subleasing, Tobener said.

Tenants can also ask landlords for a rent reduction, deferral or waiver. Residents in certain places, like Los Angeles and several Bay Area cities, are eligible for a deferral during the coronavirus emergency.

For students, “the rent reduction would be temporary, until the college is back open till the school is back open,” Tobener said.

Some large student housing owners, like American Campus Communities, allow students affected by COVID-19 to apply for relief.

After having difficulty finding someone to sublet her UC Berkeley-adjacent apartment, student Saya Linney worked out a rent reduction agreement with her landlord for the summer months while she and her roommates are away.

Avoid this

Something to keep in mind: If no one pays the rent for the apartment, the landlord can go after just one person for payment under a legal principle called joint and several liability. “So they can go after the most creditworthy person, the person that has the deepest pockets,” Tobener said. That tenant would then need to seek reimbursement from co-tenants.


JetBlue to leave Long Beach Airport, move operations to LAX

JetBlue Airways, once the dominant airline at the Long Beach Airport, announced plans to relocate its Southern California hub to Los Angeles International Airport, with an eye to expand service over the next five years.

The New York-based airline plans to begin the relocation to LAX in October. JetBlue’s last day of operation in Long Beach will be Oct. 6.

JetBlue put part of the blame for the move on the coronavirus pandemic, saying the financial hit caused by the pandemic has made the airline reconsider its future in Long Beach.

“The impact of COVID-19 on our industry has forced us to take a hard look at our remaining Long Beach Airport operation, which continues to financially underperform our network despite various efforts through the years — including seeking to bring international flights — in order to make our operation at the airport succeed,” said JetBlue spokesman Philip Stewart, referring to a decision by Long Beach lawmakers in 2017 to kill a proposal to allow for international flights.

In the past few years, the relationship between JetBlue and Long Beach has been rocky.

About a year ago, Long Beach Airport forced JetBlue to give up nearly a third of its gate slots after being warned that it was in danger of violating new city regulations designed to prevent airlines from sitting on under-used slots to keep competitors out.

Several of its competitors, including Southwest Airlines, picked up most of the slots JetBlue gave up.

In addition, JetBlue had proposed adding international flights from Long Beach to Mexico and other Latin American destinations but the idea was rejected by local lawmakers and residents who feared the addition of international flights would lead to more traffic, air pollution, a drop in property values and pressure to lift the city’s restrictive noise limits.

In addition to consolidating its transcontinental flights to LAX, JetBlue says it plans to embark on an expansion to about 70 flights per day by 2025, including international flights. JetBlue now flies about 20 daily takeoffs from LAX.

“While we recognize it is bittersweet to say farewell to a community that’s been part of our company’s story from our earliest days, this move is the right one for JetBlue and our future as we think about our next decade of growth,” Stewart said.


Former NBA coach David Fizdale finds a new home court in Calabasas

Basketball coach David Fizdale, who recently spent stints with the Memphis Grizzlies and New York Knicks, is putting down roots in Southern California. The L.A. native just bought a Mediterranean-style home in Calabasas for $2.25 million.

That’s about half a million shy of the original asking price, records show.

Recently remodeled, the two-story house sits on a third of an acre in guard-gated Mountain View Estates. A clean white exterior and clay tile roof give the façade a Mediterranean feel, and inside, updated living spaces feature sleek shades of black, white and gray.

Wrought iron touches up the double-door entry and staircase, and farther in, the family room adds a custom fireplace and wet bar. Other highlights include a center-island kitchen and living room under coffered ceilings.

In about 6,200 square feet are six bedrooms and 6.5 bathrooms. Outdoors, a column-lined patio expands to a fenced backyard with a grassy lawn, swimming pool and spa

Fizdale, 46, attended the University of San Diego and eventually became an assistant coach of the school’s basketball team before landing NBA assistant roles with the Warriors, Hawks and Heat, with whom he won a pair of championships in 2012 and 2013. In 2018, he signed a four-year deal to become head coach of the Knicks but was fired midway through his second season.

A few different NBA players and coaches have landed in Calabasas in recent years. Mark Jackson put his home in Mountain View Estates on the market for $4.75 million in 2019, and earlier this year, former No. 1 overall pick Kenyon Martin listed his Tuscan-style spot for $3.599 million. In 2018, Chris Paul sold his mansion with a basketball court for $11.05 million.

Shore Behdin of Gold Star Realty Encino held the listing. Mark Goldsmith of Coldwell Banker Realty represented the buyer.


Miley Cyrus buys Hidden Hills home in off-market deal

Singer-actress Miley Cyrus has purchased a Hidden Hills home for a little over $4.95 million in an off-market transaction.

The “Wrecking Ball” singer used a trust to facilitate the deal, which closed in late June, according to real estate records. The seller was Steven Baio, the brother of actor Scott Baio.

The Traditional-style house was built in 1957, but was recently renovated and expanded. Wide-plank wood floors, vaulted ceilings and a new-look kitchen are among the features of note. A snazzy wet bar near the entry is decked out in Mercury glass.

The 1.18-acre estate in Hidden Hills has a sunken dining area, a lagoon-style swimming pool and a fenced pasture.


A home theater with a snack bar, formal living and dining rooms, a family room, six bedrooms and 4.5 bathrooms also lie within about 6,000 square feet of living space.

Outdoors on the 1.18-acre site are a sunken dining area, a barbecue pavilion and a lagoon-style swimming pool. A white-picket fence encloses a grassy hillside to the rear.

The property was most recently listed last summer at $5.099 million. Multiple Listing Service records indicate it was leased out last fall at $39,000 a month.

Cyrus has a history with the area, having sold another home in the guard-gated equestrian community two years ago for $5 million, The Times previously reported.

The daughter of musician Billy Ray Cyrus, Cyrus gained fame at an early age as the child star of Disney’s “Hannah Montana.” As a singer, the 27-year-old has released six studio albums, most recently “Younger Now” in 2017. Her seventh album, “She is Miley Cyrus,” is expected to be released later this year.


Vacation homes for $400,000 in Riverside County

Here’s a look at what roughly $400,000 buys in Palm Desert, La Quinta and Indio in Riverside County.

PALM DESERT: Designed by Hollywood Regency architect-to-the-stars John Elgin Woolf, this bright pink villa boasts a courtyard in front and golf course views out back.

Address: 47465 Tangier Drive, Palm Desert, CA 92260

Listed for: $399,000 for two bedrooms, two bathrooms in 2,068 square feet (4,356-square-foot lot)

Features: Gated community; open floor plan; walls of glass; large back patio

About the area: In the 92260 ZIP Code, based on 28 sales, the median price for single-family homes in May was $495,000, up 3.6% year over year, according to CoreLogic.

61240 Portulaca Drive, La Quinta


LA QUINTA: Misters, flagstone accents and water features touch up the backyard behind this single-story home in the Trilogy community.

Address: 61240 Portulaca Drive, La Quinta, CA 92253

Listed for: $399,900 for two bedrooms, two bathrooms in 1,845 square feet (7,841-square-foot lot)

Features: Tile floors; built-ins; kitchen with breakfast bar; covered patio

About the area: In the 92253 ZIP Code, based on 61 sales, the median price for single-family homes in May was $475,000, down 13.6% year over year, according to CoreLogic.

82540 Lordsburg Drive, Indio


INDIO: A guest casita with a private entrance provides flexibility in this spacious five-bedroom home full of earthy tones.

Address: 82540 Lordsburg Drive, Indio, CA 92203

Listed for: $379,000 for five bedrooms, 3.75 bathrooms in 3,517 square feet (7,840-square-foot lot)

Features: Landscaped front yard; living room with fireplace; second-story bonus room; outdoor kitchen

About the area: In the 92203 ZIP Code, based on 34 sales, the median price for single-family homes in May was $335,000, down 5.7% year over year, according to CoreLogic.

77020 New York Ave., Palm Desert


PALM DESERT: There’s a small swimming pool tucked behind this newly remodeled home with a modern open floor plan.

Address: 77020 New York Ave., Palm Desert, CA 92211

Listed for: $399,900 for three bedrooms, 1.75 bathrooms in 1,258 square feet (7,405-square-foot lot)

Features: Drought-tolerant landscaping; tile kitchen with walnut cabinetry; carport; mountain views

About the area: In the 92211 ZIP Code, based on 33 sales, the median price for single-family homes in May was $485,000, up 29.3% year over year, according to CoreLogic.

51925 Avenida Vallejo, La Quinta


LA QUINTA: This cozy three-bedroom expands to a variety of outdoor spaces such as a walled courtyard, a patio with a mounted TV and a saltwater swimming pool.

Address: 51925 Avenida Vallejo, La Quinta, CA 92253

Listed for: $399,000 for three bedrooms, two bathrooms in 1,220 square feet (4,792-square-foot lot)

Features: Covered entry; French doors; master suite with backyard access; two-car garage

About the area: In the 92253 ZIP Code, based on 61 sales, the median price for single-family homes in May was $475,000, down 13.6% year over year, according to CoreLogic.

81905 Avenida Estuco, Indio


INDIO: Tan interiors lead to a colorful backyard with a fire pit outside this waterfront home in a golf course community.

Address: 81905 Avenida Estuco, Indio, CA 92203

Listed for: $414,900 for two bedrooms, two bathrooms in 1,450 square feet (5,227-square-foot lot)

Features: Tile floors; window-lined sunroom; extended patio; two-car garage

About the area: In the 92203 ZIP Code, based on 34 sales, the median price for single-family homes in May was $335,000, down 5.7% year over year, according to CoreLogic.


New payday-loan rule may hit Black, Latino borrowers hardest

The Trump administration this week threw out a rule aimed at protecting working people from payday lenders.

This isn’t just the latest example of a business-friendly White House placing the interests of companies ahead of those of consumers.

It’s also the latest example of Trump ignoring the economic disadvantages of Black and Latino Americans and other people of color.

At issue is a common-sense regulation formulated by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau under former President Obama.

It required payday lenders to “reasonably” make sure that low-income borrowers can repay loans that typically carry annual interest rates as high as 400%.

The idea was to prevent people from getting trapped in endless cycles of high-interest debt by repeatedly taking out new loans to pay off the previous obligations.

More than 80% of payday loans end up being rolled over into new loans or followed within days by a new loan, the CFPB determined in 2014. Half of all payday loans result in 10 additional loans to cover the original debt.

“Payday lenders prey on poor, low-wage earners and people of color,” said Linda Sherry, a spokeswoman for the advocacy group Consumer Action.

“The federal agency specifically tasked with protecting consumers from financial abuse has thrown consumers under the bus,” she told me.

Christine Hines, legislative director for the National Assn. of Consumer Advocates, echoed that sentiment.

“Payday lenders disproportionately target Black and Latino communities, hawking their high-cost loans on working families and trapping them in a cycle of debt,” she said.

The CFPB, under Trump’s appointee as director, Kathy Kraninger, says deregulating payday lenders will “maintain consumer access to credit and competition in the marketplace” by making it easier for people to get their hands on some fast cash.

“A vibrant and well-functioning financial marketplace is important for consumers to access the financial products they need and ensure they are protected,” Kraninger said in a statement, ignoring her own agency’s data on the dangers of payday and car-title loans.

The CFPB has determined that many short-term loan recipients are “likely to stay in debt for 11 months or longer,” making them ongoing sources of revenue for a $50-billion industry that preys almost exclusively on the poor and financially distressed.

The Pew Charitable Trusts determined that 12 million U.S. adults take out payday loans every year, with the average borrower receiving eight loans of $375 apiece and paying $520 in interest.

It found that Black people are at least twice as likely as other races to seek payday loans.

Twelve percent of Black Americans turn to the high-interest loans to make ends meet annually, Pew found, compared with 6% of Latino people and 4% of white people.

Bartlett Naylor, financial policy advocate for Public Citizen, said reducing accountability for payday lenders “throws blood in already turbulent waters.”

“And yes,” he told me, “in the end it’s a racist decision.”

Maybe it’s a reflection of the times, maybe just a clear-eyed appraisal of the economic landscape. Whichever, consumer advocates see an administration implementing policies that go out of their way to harm people of color.

“Pure and simple, the CFPB has put working families of color at greater risk of falling into debt traps,” said Mike Litt of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

Along with racial disparities, Pew found use of payday loans is higher among renters, people without college degrees, and people who are separated or divorced.

Knowing all this, the CFPB originally intended the new safeguard to take effect last summer.

The Trump administration delayed implementation of the rule in response to complaints from payday lenders that the ability-to-pay requirement was too burdensome and would cut into profits.

D. Lynn DeVault, chairman of the Community Financial Services Assn. of America, the leading trade group for payday lenders, welcomed the administration killing off the rule entirely.

He said requiring payday lenders to look into the creditworthiness of loan recipients is “simply unworkable.”

Fun fact: Payday lenders held their annual convention for the first time at the Trump National Doral Miami resort in 2018 and returned to the Trump-owned property last year.

The industry has contributed more than $1.2 million so far in the current election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Three-quarters of that money has gone to Republicans.

Defenders of short-term loans make a fair point in saying borrowers often may not qualify for traditional bank loans, and that the high interest rates merely reflect the higher risk involved in lending to people living paycheck to paycheck.

That’s why the CFPB was correct in not cracking down too heavily on payday lenders. The companies perform a service needed by millions of Americans.

That said, it’s clear that this business is predicated for the most part on forcing people to keep taking out new loans and thus remain financially enslaved — and, yes, I use that word deliberately.

Payday loans are a form of economic servitude, keeping borrowers beholden to companies that know full well they profit most handsomely when customers have no escape.

There is no rational defense of such malicious business practices.

The CFPB under Obama was clear-eyed about the utility of payday loans. It repeatedly emphasized that it wasn’t trying to put payday lenders out of business.

Rather, it wanted the lenders to behave in a responsible manner, making funds available without trapping people in perpetual debt.

The CFPB under Trump has different priorities, not least giving providers of financial services as long a leash as they desire.

“The bureau protects consumers from unfair, deceptive or abusive practices, and takes action against companies that break the law,” the CFPB’s Kraninger declared.

“We will continue to monitor the small-dollar lending industry and enforce the law against bad actors,” she pledged.

If that rings hollow in light of the administration’s latest consumer-unfriendly measure, you’re not mistaken.


As COVID-19 patients fill beds, many hospitals choose not to cancel nonemergency surgeries

Three months ago, the nation watched as COVID-19 patients overwhelmed New York City’s intensive care units, forcing some of its hospitals to convert cafeterias into wards and pitch tents in parking lots.

Hospitals elsewhere prepped for a similar surge: They cleared beds, stockpiled scarce protective equipment, and — voluntarily or under government orders — temporarily canceled nonemergency surgeries to save space and supplies for coronavirus patients.

In most places, that surge in patients never materialized.

Now, coronavirus cases are skyrocketing nationally and hospitalizations are climbing at an alarming rate. But the response from hospitals is markedly different.

Most hospitals around the country are not canceling elective surgeries — nor are government officials asking them to.

Instead, hospitals say they are more prepared to handle the crush of patients because they have enough protective gear for their workers and know how to better treat coronavirus patients. They say they will shut down nonessential procedures at hospitals based on local assessments of risk, but not across whole systems or states.

Some hospitals have already done so, including facilities in South Florida, Phoenix and California’s Central Valley. And in a few cases, such as in Texas and Mississippi, government officials have ordered hospitals to suspend elective surgeries.

Hospitals’ decisions to keep operating rooms open are being guided partly by money. Elective surgeries account for a significant portion of hospital revenue, and the American Hospital Assn. estimates that the country’s hospitals and healthcare systems lost $202.6 billion between March 1 and June 30.

“What we now realize is that shutting down the entire healthcare system in anticipation of a surge is not the best option,” said Carmela Coyle, president of the California Hospital Assn. “It will bankrupt the healthcare delivery system.”

The association estimates that California hospitals will lose $14.6 billion this year, of which $4.6 billion has so far been reimbursed by the federal government.

But some healthcare workers fear that continuing elective surgeries amid a surge puts them and their patients at risk. For instance, some nurses are still being asked to reuse protective equipment such as N95 masks and gowns, even though hospitals say they have enough gear to perform elective surgeries, said Zenei Cortez, president of the National Nurses United union.

“They continue to put us at risk,” Cortez said. “They continue to look at us as if we are disposable material.”

Elective surgeries, generally speaking, are procedures that can be delayed without harming patients, such as knee replacements and cataract surgery.

At least 33 states and the District of Columbia temporarily banned elective surgeries this spring, and most hospitals in states that didn’t ban them, such as Georgia and California, voluntarily suspended them to make sure they had the beds to accommodate a surge of coronavirus patients. The U.S. surgeon general, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American College of Surgeons also recommended healthcare facilities suspend nonemergency surgeries.

The suspension was always intended to be temporary, said Dr. David Hoyt, executive director of the American College of Surgeons. “When this all started, it was simply a matter of overwhelming the system,” he said.

Today, case counts are soaring after many states loosened stay-at-home orders and Americans flocked to restaurants, bars and backyards and met up with friends and family for graduation parties and Memorial Day celebrations.

Nationally, confirmed cases of COVID-19 have topped 3 million. In California, cases are spiking, with a 52% jump in the average number of daily cases over the last 14 days, compared with the two previous weeks. Hospitalizations have gone up 44%.

Governors, county supervisors and city councils have responded by requiring people to wear masks, shutting down bars and restaurants — again — and closing beaches on the July Fourth holiday weekend.

But by and large, government leaders are not calling on hospitals to proactively scale back elective surgeries in preparation for a surge.

“Our hospitals are telling us they feel very strongly and competent they can manage their resources,” said Holly Ward, director of marketing and communications at the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Assn. If they feel the situation warrants it, “they on their own will delay surgeries.”

In some states, such as Colorado, public health orders that allowed hospitals to resume nonemergency surgeries in the spring required hospitals to have a stockpile of protective equipment and extra beds that could be used to treat an influx of COVID-19 patients.

States also set up overflow sites should hospitals run out of room. In Maryland, for example, the state is using the Baltimore Convention Center as a field hospital. California last week reactivated four “alternative care sites” — including a hospital that was on the verge of closure in the San Francisco Bay Area — to take COVID-19 patients should hospitals fill up.

But the decision to reduce elective surgeries in California will not come from the state. It will be made by counties in consultation with hospitals, said Rodger Butler, a spokesman for the California Health and Human Services Agency.

The question is whether hospitals have systems in place to meet a surge in COVID-19 patients when it occurs, said Glenn Melnick, a professor of health economics at USC.

“To some extent, elective care is good care,” Melnick said “They’re providing needed services. They are keeping the system going. They are providing employment and income.”

In Los Angeles County, more than 2,000 COVID patients are currently hospitalized, according to county data. While that number is projected to go up by a couple of hundred people over the next few weeks, hospitals believe they can accommodate them, said county Health Services Director Christina Ghaly. In the meantime, hospitals are preparing to bring on additional staff members if needed and informing patients who have scheduled surgeries that they could be delayed.

“There’s more patients with COVID in the hospitals than there has been at any point previously in Los Angeles County during the pandemic,” Ghaly said. “Hospitals are more prepared now for handling that volume of patients than they were previously.”

Although hospitals have not stopped elective surgeries, many have not ramped up to the full schedule they had before COVID-19. And they say they are picking and choosing surgeries based on what’s happening in their area.

“We were all things COVID when it was just starting,” said Joshua Adler, executive vice president for physician services at UCSF Health. based at UC San Francisco. “We didn’t know what we were facing.”

But after a couple of months of treating patients, hospitals have learned how to resupply units, how to transfer patients, how to simultaneously care for other patients and how to improve testing, Adler said.

At Scripps Health in San Diego, which has taken more than 230 patients from hard-hit Imperial County to the east, its hospitals have scaled back how many transfers they will accept as confirmed COVID-19 cases rise in their own community, said Chris Van Gorder, president and CEO of Scripps Health.

A command center set up by the hospital system reviews patient counts and medical supplies and coordinates with county health officials to study how the virus is spreading. Only patients who need urgent surgeries are being scheduled, Van Gorder said.

“We’re only allowing our doctors to schedule cases two weeks out,” Van Gorder said. “If we see a sudden spike, we have to delay.”

In California’s Central Valley and in Phoenix, where cases and hospitalizations are surging, Mercy hospitals have suspended elective surgeries to focus resources on COVID-19 patients.

But the other hospitals in the CommonSpirit Health system, which has 137 hospitals in 21 states, are not ending elective surgeries — as they did in the spring — and are treating patients with needs other than COVID, said Marvin O’Quinn, the system’s president and chief operating officer.

“In many cases their health deteriorated because they didn’t get care that they needed,” said O’Quinn, whose hospitals lost close to a $1 billion in two months. “It’s not only a disservice to the hospital to not do those cases; it’s a disservice to the community.”

This story was produced by Kaiser Health News, which publishes California Healthline, an editorially independent service of the California Health Care Foundation. KHN is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.


Adam Lambert unloads Hollywood Hills pad at a loss

Adam Lambert couldn’t quite turn a profit in Hollywood Hills. The “American Idol” alum just sold the modern digs for $2.92 million, or $75,000 shy of what he paid six years ago.

The sale arrives about two years after the glam rocker paid $6.5 million for a bigger place in Hollywood Hills West, The Times previously reported.

Stark in style, the contemporary home sits above the Sunset Strip and takes in sweeping city views from a balcony. Down below, a resort-style backyard features a spacious covered lounge across from a spa and a pair of reflecting pools.

Shades of gray cover the exterior and continue inside, including a rotunda staircase that navigates the two-story floor plan. Spread across roughly 3,000 square feet are three bedrooms, 3.5 bathrooms, an indoor-outdoor living room, a rounded breakfast nook, a chef’s kitchen and a dining room with a wine closet.

Upstairs, a master suite with a fireplace expands to a marble spa bathroom and private terrace. A guest suite, which is currently used as a music room, comes with a separate entrance for flexibility.

Lambert gained fame as a runner-up on the music competition show “American Idol” in 2009 and has gone on to release four studio albums, including 2020’s “Velvet.” The 38-year-old has also kept busy touring with the rock band Queen as part of the Queen + Adam Lambert ensemble.

He first asked $3.995 million for the home in 2017 before eventually trimming the price down to $3.35 million, records show.

Emil Hartoonian and Nicholas Siegfried of the Agency held the listing. Jonathan Sharaf of Compass represented the buyer.


Coronavirus pulls L.A. office leasing to lowest level since Great Recession

Office leasing in Los Angeles County fell to its lowest point since the Great Recession in the second quarter as many businesses reeling from coronavirus restrictions and economic uncertainty halted their searches for new space.

Leasing transactions were about 60% to 70% below normal for that time of year, according to real estate brokerage CBRE. Deals were put on hold or canceled in some cases because even walking into an office building seemed risky as the novel coronavirus spread and Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a statewide “stay at home” order in mid-March.

Future demand for office space grew uncertain as companies sent employees home to work remotely for the unknown duration of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The combination of market uncertainty and the fact that it was difficult to tour space meant that transactions dropped dramatically,” said Eric Willett, director of research in the Southwest for CBRE.

Yet, the office market remained in decent shape from a landlord’s perspective with the overall vacancy rate of 12.8% — still lower than it was a year earlier —and monthly asking rental rates holding steady at about $3.87 per square foot for Class A space.

“It’s not the worst-case scenario some were imagining,” Willett said.

The commercial rental market has stabilized enough lately that many large and small tenants feel comfortable to move forward with lease negotiations, but they are more interested in leases that last a year to 18 months as opposed to terms of five or 10 years that were common in the past.

“We’re still in a period of intense economic and medical uncertainty,” he said.

The jury is also out on how much office space per employee companies will want after the pandemic has been tamed.

Will some businesses shrink their rented office footprint by having most of their workers continue to do their jobs remotely? Might other employers bring their workers back into the office but give them significantly more personal space to prevent the spread of viruses? That would require renting bigger offices than they have now.

“We haven’t seen many move definitively in one direction yet, expanding their offices or contracting them,” Willett said. “We don’t know how those competing push-pull factors will balance out in the long run.”

Since the pandemic started, office leasing in the Los Angeles area has been led by the government sector and the continued growth of the media and entertainment companies that have been in expansion mode for several years.

Landlords have been able to hold the line on rents because occupancy is still stable, but Willet expects prices will come down as the recession continues and supply begins to more acutely exceed demand.

“There are undeniably still strong storm clouds on the horizon” that will cause distress in the office market in the months ahead, he said, “but we don’t expect the level of disruption of 2008 and 2009.”

He also predicted a “robust recovery” in the economy by the end of the year and into 2021. The Los Angeles office market will be one of the first in the country to recover, he said, slightly trailing more explosive office markets such as the tech-heavy San Francisco Bay Area and government-oriented Washington, D.C.

Other forecasters foresee a gradual economic comeback for the California and the nation. The trajectory will look like a “Nike swoosh,” according to a recent UCLA Anderson Forecast, and take about three years to return to pre-COVID levels.

The office market hasn’t been socked as hard as the retail and hospitality sectors of real estate, in which business plummeted as health restrictions were put in place for the pandemic. Apartments and industrial real estate have fared better, with continued demand, low vacancies and stable rents.


Coronavirus and unemployment imperil Texas workers

In the shadow of oil refinery towers that have risen over this Gulf Coast town for generations, Effie Williams, an out of work pipe-fitter and single mother, watched a man mow the grass and wondered how much longer she could pay the bills.

Williams, 29, was furloughed in April, when the coronavirus spread across the state. For now, she has enough savings to get by on and cover the $1,298 rent for her three-bedroom brick ranch house, but she’s not sure how long this historic slowdown will last or what will happen to her and her children.

“They say we’re not starting back up until January 2021,” Williams said.

Single mom Effie Williams, a pipe-fitter in the oil business, was furloughed in April.

(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Little is guaranteed. These are uncertain days of long lines at food banks, extra prayers at church, nose swabs in parking lots, a time when the owner of a pawn shop down the road reaches for his gun if too many people come in at once.

Coronavirus has stunned Baytown’s oil-based boom/bust economy: Nearly a quarter of residents were unemployed, nearly twice the state average and 10% more than in neighboring Houston, according to the latest report in May. As of this week, the Gulf Coast region led the state with the most unemployment claims filed, nearly 114,000, many of them oil and gas workers, according to the Texas Workforce Commission.

Last week, Gov. Greg Abbott slowed Texas’ reopening due to a spike in infections and hospitalizations, particularly in Houston, center of the state’s oil and gas industry. He closed bars, reduced restaurant capacity, limited gatherings and for the first time required people to wear masks in public in areas with 20 or more COVID cases, including Baytown.

Refinery towns along the Houston Ship Channel in Deer Park, La Porte, Morgan’s Point and Pasadena, Texas.

(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Baytown — a city of 90,000 about 30 miles east of Houston on Galveston Bay — has had about 400 COVID-19 cases and eight deaths. The mayor announced that police, already strapped during the pandemic, would not enforce the mask order or fines. A bar owner in a neighboring refinery town joined two dozen other owners and residents suing the governor over the closures. Many Baytown residents said they worried about COVID-19 but were equally concerned about the economy, which has long ensured high school graduates a middle class lifestyle.

Daniel Herrera, 26, was mowing his family’s lawn this week after losing contract jobs as an electrician’s helper at nearby plants. Two of his four brothers were also electricians at the refineries. One just found work and had his own house across town. The other was jobless and lived with Herrera and their parents.

Baytown resident Daniel Herrera, 26, was mowing his own lawn this week after losing contract jobs as an electrician’s helper at nearby plants.

(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Part-time refinery work helped put Herrera through the University of Houston, where he was studying electrical engineering.

“There’s always a lot of jobs here,” he said.

The coronavirus may alter such prospects. The nature of this region — the 1980s roughneck film “Urban Cowboy” was shot not far from here in Pasadena — is cycles of good times followed by hard truths in a frontier mix of swagger and ingrained promise that the fortune beneath the ground will take care of those who live above it.

“We’re an oil town. We depend on it. That’s Exxon across the street,” said Ronnie Hill, 75, pointing from his pawn shop, where he said business has fallen 85% since the pandemic because, “people who ain’t working can’t spend money.”

Hill also rents out several houses but said about 40% of his tenants — including unemployed oil and gas workers — can’t pay. Downturns breed desperation, he said. These days, when several people enter his store to peruse watches, gold chains and other jewelry, Hill straps his .357 Sig Sauer pistol to his hip.

“We’re stressed out,” he said.

Recent studies have shown the economic downturn wrought by the pandemic in Texas has been felt more acutely among working class communities, where many are people of color who work in industrial plants, restaurants, hotels and other front line jobs.

“Our cities have been divided into people who have to go to work and people who can work from home,” said Bill Fulton, director of the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Houston’s Rice University.

Blue collar suburbs like Baytown were “suffering significantly,” he said, while gentrifying urban neighborhoods in Houston and other large cities were faring better even as COVID-19 cases spiked. Houston received millions in federal coronavirus relief, but smaller cities didn’t, Fulton noted, even as they lost jobs and tax revenue.

“Some of the smaller cities, especially those dependent on the hotel and sales tax, will be really suffering in coming years,” Fulton said, noting West Texas oilfield towns like Midland and Odessa have seen business slow to a standstill in recent months as producers plugged oil wells.

“The refineries in Baytown are still going, but how long is that going to last?” he said.

Texas cities were furloughing and firing employees this month, and state officials have ordered agencies to cut budgets. About 35% of Texas cities saw tax revenue decrease this year compared with last, according to a survey last month of about half of the 1,150 member cities in the Texas Municipal League.

“That’s much higher than we’ve ever seen,” said Bennett Sandlin, the league’s executive director.

Baytown Mayor Brandon Capetillo said more than half of the town’s $207-million budget comes from payments by 80 industrial districts, including oil companies, which have remained steady. So has sales tax revenue, although there’s a two-month lag in reporting, he said. While many oil and gas contractors have been laid off, Capetillo expects hiring to rebound, “once the virus is managed and under control.”

The city hasn’t laid off any of its 900 employees, he said, although they had to eliminate 300 part-time employees when they closed the city water park after a staff member tested positive for COVID-19 two weeks ago. Baytown hotels that were close to capacity with oil workers before the pandemic had slowly started to fill again before the governor paused reopening last week.

“It’s kind of a wait and see what happens over the next few months before things can ramp up again,” he said. “… My concern would be more so for the mom and pop small businesses in Baytown. They don’t have the type of operating reserves for months on end to maintain payroll.”

He talks to mayors in neighboring refinery towns along the Houston Ship Channel who say the same thing is happening in Deer Park, La Porte, Morgan’s Point and Pasadena. Their small businesses now reflect changing demographics. Most honky tonks have vanished, replaced by carnicerias, washaterias and quinceañera dress shops. Baytown’s Robert E. Lee High School is now accompanied by Lorenzo De Zavala Elementary, named after a Tejano pioneer.

Baytown Chamber of Commerce President Tracey Wheeler said she worried about locally owned restaurants like El Toro and Pipeline Grill, which closed two of their three locations during the pandemic.

“People we’re talking to at small businesses really had a hard time when we shut down,” she said. “I see some of them that are really struggling.”

Baytown workers are used to weathering oil busts and natural disasters like hurricanes, she said, but with the coronavirus downturn, “It all came at the same time. That’s the hard part of it.”

Recent drive-through food distributions have drawn long lines. Hearts and Hands of Baytown, a ministry of Iglesia Cristo Viene, has been distributing 60,000 pounds of food to 900 local families weekly, said Executive Director Nikki Rincon.

“The unemployed continues to rise. Many who were furloughed have lost their jobs,” said Rincon. “I think this will be a marathon, and it is hard to predict when we will see an upturn.”

After welder Victor Alvarez, a legal resident, was laid off two months ago, his wife — a U.S. citizen — left Baytown with their 10 year-old and 10 month-old sons to join family in Michoacan, Mexico. His older brother, also laid off, lined up work at Exxon last week only to see it canceled at the last minute.

Baytown resident Victor Alvarez was laid off from his job as a welder two months ago. Soon after, his wife and two young sons joined family in Michoacan, Mexico.

(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Alvarez said some of his co-workers have tested positive for COVID-19 and survived. He worried more about the economy than the virus. He wasn’t sure whether to wait out the downturn, join his family in Mexico or travel somewhere else in the U.S. for work.

“My friends are going to other states because it’s closing in Texas,” he said.

But fellow unemployed oil worker Manuel Resendez wasn’t leaving Baytown.

“Oil and gas is what keeps Texas alive,” he said, fishing off a pier this week.

Oil worker Manuel Resendez doesn’t plan to leave Baytown. “Oil and gas is what keeps Texas alive,” he said.

(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Resendez, 54, an industry safety manager, moved to Baytown from Houston two years ago and built a new home before he lost his job during the pandemic. So did his wife, who works in construction.

He hasn’t earned less than $70,000 annually for the past 15 years and can’t imagine where he could maintain a similar standard of living without a college degree.

“We’re just waiting on it to bounce back,” Resendez said. “For me, it’s Texas or nothing.”