Month: September 2014

What’s Up With California’s Early Warning System?

By Monica Luhar, KCET – Sept. 15, 2014

Growing concerns over last month’s 6.0 earthquake in Napa has once again prompted a discussion about an early warning system in California and on the West Coast. While other countries like Mexico and Japan have implemented such systems, the U.S. has not. Here’s an overview of a few efforts that would benefit California.

In 2007, a coalition of researchers and engineers created a prototype for a statewide earthquake early warning system called the California Integrated Seismic Network ShakeAlert. The system contains algorithms that are able to detect potential earthquakes, including the magnitude, and location seconds before it hits.

Thomas Heaton, a professor of Engineering Seismology and director of the Earthquake Engineering Research Laboratory at Caltech, is part of a team at ShakeAlert working to make a statewide early warning system a reality for Californians.

“We’ve been working on rapid seismic information in the state of California for decades now, and part of the plan has always been to make our system so effective at churning out information that some people will get information before they get the shaking,” Heaton told KCET. “I think especially at this point in time, where everyone’s walking around with a smartphone that keeps us connected to every stupid thing that goes on in the planet, it’s kind of amazing that we don’t know an earthquake is underway,” he added.

ShakeAlert is mainly used for demonstrative purposes, but is not in its operable stage quite yet.

“While the current system could be used to operate a statewide system, all of us feel that significant software development is necessary before it is appropriate to use it to automatically control critical infrastructure,” said Heaton.

The early earthquake warning system would detect earthquakes at the epicenter a few seconds before it would hit. It would also monitor how big an earthquake would be, and help the public take preventative measures.

“The earthquake budget for USGS has steadily declined so now it’s less than one-third of where it was 30 years ago. There’s no resources to do something new here in the U.S.,” said Heaton.

Heaton estimates that if USGS gives researchers the green flag for ShakeAlert, it would roughly cost $80 million dollars for the state of California. A system developed and maintained over a period of five years for the entire West Coast region would cost roughly $120 million dollars.

The ShakeAlert system at the UC Berkeley Berkeley Seismological Laboratory did in fact give an early heads up a few seconds before the Napa quake hit this August, proving that the system could be valuable if put into active use.

ShakeAlert is funded by USGS and several other foundations, and was initially developed by a coalition that includes California Institute of Technology, UC Berkeley, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, and the University of Southern California.

SB 135
Signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2013, this state bill by Sen. Alex Padilla works to create a statewide earthquake emergency warning system in California by expanding ShakeAlert, among other provisions.

“I introduced SB 135 to make this project a priority for the state of California to acknowledge this technology exists, to make it a priority for the legislature and the governor. And to, over the next few years, deploy the system add more sensors…and develop ways to alert the public whether through Amber Alerts, signs on the freeway, or apps on the smartphones, any and every way possible,” Padilla said at an earthquake early warning conference earlier this month.

The Office of Emergency Services has until Jan. 1, 2016, to identify possible sources of funding for the system. Padilla recently organized a coalition of legislators in support of federal funding.

Federal Bills

U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein released a statement following the Napa quake pushing for federal legislation and the need for an earthquake early warning system on the West Coast, not just in California.

Two federal bills from the Senate Appropriations Committee will fund the Department of the Interior for an early-warning system, and another bill will direct FEMA to allocate grant funds for the system, according to a press release.

In July, the Appropriations Committee went forward in including $5 million in funding for the 2015 fiscal year for the Earthquake Early Warning System. It marks the first time Congress has provided funding for the system, according to a release. One of the major backers of the bill included Congressman Adam Schiff.

The funds will go toward developing the system and add more sensors, hire new employees, and working towards a fully operational early earthquake system for the West Coast, according to the release.


The Nanny’s Fran Drescher Weds ‘Inventor of Email’ Shiva Ayyadurai

Chinatown Story Slam: Growing up Asian American in Chinatown, Los Angeles

By Monica Luhar for NBC News, Published Aug. 19, 2014

For playwright Rachel Kauder Nalebuff, the mission was clear.

“I grew up speaking Chinese,” said the New York Times bestselling author, “and so I wanted to create a program to help young Chinese-American teens and everyone in Chinatown learn how to write their own story in dramatic form because it’s so important to have a platform to express yourself.”

Her workshop, the Chinatown Story Slam, invited teens from across Los Angeles’ thriving Asian commercial hub to step on a stage and tell their own stories by answering the question, what does it mean to be Asian American?

“Programs like the Story Slam are important because they instill a sense in the workshoppers that they can actively shape our culture, ” said Nalebuff.

“Teens spent several weeks during the summer drafting a series of short plays and monologues, using their family and personal experiences to explore the frustrations and challenges of being an Asian-American teen today.”

“One of the first activities we did was to look at all the movie posters of movies currently playing in L.A.,” said Nalebuff, “and none of them featured Asian Americans and so once the kids realized that, I think it kind of clicked that what they’re doing is crucial because they are taking the first step in filling in the void of stories that aren’t being heard and that by sharing those stories, which is so brave, they are enriching everyone’s culture.”

The workshop was sponsored by the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs.


Below, a look at some of the workshop participants and their stories from the final performance on August 9th.

Image: Leeda Sea, a participant in the Chinatown Story SlamPRUITT KERDCHOOCHUEN
Leeda Sea, a participant in the Chinatown Story Slam.

Leeda Sea, on dealing with family expectations:

“Being an American Asian teen growing up in Los Angeles, your parents expect a lot of you to get Straight As from school, go to college and get a job and able to support yourself and support your family, too.”

Yu Lan Cai, on having the opportunity to speak her mind:

“I’m 17, I’m Chinese and I live in Chinatown. Being involved with this workshop was an accident. I came in one day at the library and I got involved. It was an interesting workshop because I get to write little plays about my own story to get my voice heard. It’s important for us to be in this play because we normally don’t get our voice be heard, or share our message, or our feelings or our cultures. So it’s important for us to have this opportunity to express our feelings and our own heritage to everyone.”


Alan Aw, on dealing with stereotypes:

“I am 18 years old and I am Chinese Cambodian. Some stereotypes that I’ve dealt with during my teenage years was people during tutoring, asking me whether I was able to help them in math and I wasn’t able to, and they were asking, ‘why aren’t you good at math?’ Because they thought most Asians were good at math, but I was the only exception. It’s just a misconception that most Asians are good at math.”

Image: Lauren Lam, a participant in the Chinatown Story SlamPRUITT KERDCHOOCHUEN
Lauren Lam, a participant in the Chinatown Story Slam.

Lauren Lam, on what it means to be American:

“To my family, to be American means that you have an opportunity to live your dream. To my friends, it means wearing shirts, and pants with American flag patterns, hot dogs, hamburgers and watching Stephen Colbert. To me, it means people will always have clashing opinions.”

Timothy Wong, on what it means to be a man in America:


“I’ve spent so much time asking myself what a man is. My dad tells me so much he wants to build me to his standard. But after a while I’ve given up on that. I don’t have enough time to please everyone. There’s fashion magazines with muscular tan white men. And then there’s me. And frankly, I’m ok with that.”

Bill to Correctly I.D. Same-Sex Parents on Birth Certificates Heads to Governor

By Monica Luhar, KCET, August 22, 2014

California birth certificates could be getting a makeover after a bill pushing for the accurate identification and self-designation of same-sex couples on birth certificates was sent to the Governor this week.

AB 1951 would eliminate the need for same-sex parents to inaccurately place a partner’s name in the wrong “Father” or “Mother” field, according to the bill’s language. Instead, same-sex couples would be able to fill out the following options on a child’s birth certificate: Mother, Father, and a gender-neutral parent option.

In 2007, the Vital Statistics Advisory Board made changes to birth certificates by adding a section that would read “Mother/Parent,” and “Father/Parent,” to recognize domestic partners. Currently, the process follows so that same-sex parents must place a partner’s name in the “father” or “mother” categories.

Jim Faulkner, spokesperson for Equality California, explained that the bill goes one step further by accurately reflecting the gender of a child’s parent/parents by allowing each individual parent to be identified as a mother, father, or parent. “The hope is that now the law will reflect the diversity of California families as LGBT shouldn’t have to navigate the confusion created by having designations on their child’s birth certificate that do not match who they are,” he told KCET.

The bill falls in the midst of the recent June 2013 ruling which restored the right to marry for same-sex couples in California. It also falls within recent legislation that aims to honor the correct gender identity of transgender people on death certificates.

Census data shows that there are more than 590,000 same-sex couple households in the U.S with 90,000 couples, 15,000 of which with children, residing in California, according to Equality California. “There has been a decline of domestic partnerships because more same-sex couples are choosing to be married instead of registering as domestic partners,” the organization noted.

If the bill becomes law, California would become the first state that would allow same-sex couples to list themselves with an appropriate designation as “Mother/Mother,” “Father/Father,” or simply just a parent.

“I believe that parents do see themselves as mother or father and that they want to express that on their birth certificates. We shouldn’t paint over our differences by having the term ‘Parent 1’ or ‘Parent 2.’ We should give people the flexibility to reflect their relationship with their child,” Assemblymember Jimmy Gomez, the bill’s author, told KCET. “In other states, same-sex couples are forced to say Parent 1 and Parent 2. That’s why I’m emphasizing that it’s okay to have two mothers or fathers on a birth certificate.”

The bill is currently on its way to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk for approval, and, if signed, would go into effect in 2016.

An amendment to the current version of the bill would also allow current same-sex couples with children the opportunity to update their child’s birth certificate to the new birth certificate format starting in 2016, according to Gomez.

“In the long term, it will change the way people view the family structure and view each other,” Gomez noted. “In the future, it won’t be a debate; it will be something that is commonly accepted.”

California Reps Condemn Gurdwara Shooting

By Monica Luhar, August 5, 2014, KCET

Several California representatives have cosponsored a resolution condemning the fatal shooting of six Sikh Americans at a Wisconsin gurdwara that occurred two years ago today.

The resolution was announced last week at an event organized by Sikh American Legal Defense Fund. The gathering was a langar, which SALDEF described as an “anti-segregation movement” and a 500-year-old tradition to promote equality. Everyone is welcome, and vegetarian food is served to the community.

“Langar is a time when all people can sit together and eat as equals — regardless of their differences. Its tradition upholds the ideals of sharing, community, and inclusiveness,” said Rep. Judy Chu of the San Gabriel Valley. “That the horrific shooting in Oak Creek two years ago occurred while the community was preparing meals for langar demonstrates the ignorance and blind hatred of the gunman — and we must vow to never let this nation forget what happened.”

Although no Sikh Americans currently serve in Congress, the resolution comes a year after the creation of the American Sikh Congressional Caucus, in which California reps make up more than half of the membership. Its formation was announced by Chu and Representative David Valadao, whose Central Valley district is home to one of the largest Sikh populations in the country.

The resolution also serves as a way to stand against racial, religious discrimination, and violence, explained Navdeep Singh, SALDEF’s policy director.

“It is our hope that every member and the public will join stand with these representatives, the people of Oak Creek, and the Sikh American community by using this anniversary to reflect on how to create positive change in their communities,” said Singh.

Last year, SALDEF partnered with Stanford University researchers in “Turban Myths,” one of the first national studies that revealed the public’s perception of Sikh Americans. 70 percent of Americans in the study could not identify a Sikh man in a turban, and one out of five Americans had fear if they were to encounter a stranger in a turban and beard.

SALDEF partnered with Comcast in July to broadcast the first Sikh American PSA featuring Sikh American designer and GAP model Waris Singh Ahluwalia to demonstrate the shared values of being an American.

‘Puzzl3Peace’: A Celebration of Peace, Love, and Positive Vibrations


By Monica Luhar, The Aerogram, Aug 11, 2014. 

A year ago this month, the Los Angeles community mourned and came together over the passing of 20-year-old Jusdeep Singh Sethi, a multi-talented photographer and creator ofPuzzl3Peace – a spiritual movement and collection of original 35mm film photography.

In honor of his memory, there will be an opening night ceremony for Puzzl3Peace, the first annual photo and art exhibit hosted at the William Grant Still Arts Center in Los Angeles on August 16.

Puzzl3Peace symbolizes Jusdeep’s spiritual connection and love for peace. The exhibit will feature unseen photos from Jusdeep’s travels to Thailand, Peru, India, and other countries across the globe. The collection includes snapshots of historic landmarks, cultural artifacts, and the stories of everyday people that Jusdeep was able to capture through his unique lens and perspective on life.

The exhibit is also a chance to bring the artistic community together from all religious, artistic, and ethnic backgrounds.

Jusdeep initially picked up an interest in photography after taking a few classes in high school. He later dabbled with film after stumbling across his father’s vintage 1980s Canon film camera. Jusdeep was a student at Cal State University Northridge with the hopes of pursuing a career in naturopathy and holistic healing. He was known for his healing smile, and early morning sitar tunes that created a sense of calm everywhere he went.

Puzzl3Peace Flier.medium“Jusdeep himself was kind of a puzzle, and he left a little bit of himself with everyone he interacted with. It’s a legacy he left behind of interactions, and artwork, to bring peace to his loved ones,” Mandeep Sethi, hip-hop artist and brother of Jusdeep, tells The Aerogram.

Mandeep describes his brother as a very spiritual and peaceful person who was always in tune and appreciative of Mother Nature.

Sethi continues: “He was generally really in touch with the universe and the ways of the world. I would definitely say he was a heavily spiritual person, and his photography was an extension of his spirituality.”

The exhibit will feature four different components: A Puzzl3Peace Room, Jusdeep Altar Room, Jusdeep Village Group Exhibition, and the Mother Nature Performance Area which will feature live performances from artists, musicians, and poets. These rooms will provide a creative and healing space for artists and members of the community to come out and experience what it means to achieve peace through different mediums — whether through paintings, digital art, videos, or music.

According to Sethi, Jusdeep’s life mantra was to be peace, and to embody what it means to be peace and love. Before his passing, he left behind puzzle pieces, and quotes that continue to resonate with the  spiritual and artistic community:

let the new world breathe a remembrance of our existence, with each breath giving thanks, and exhaling for freedom…for this world…act local, think global. (

The opening night exhibition for Puzzl3Peace will run from 3-8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 16 at the William Grant Still Arts Center: 2520 West View Street, Los Angeles, CA 90016. The exhibit will run for two weeks following the opening night at the gallery, Monday-Friday, 12 p.m.-5 p.m. For more information, check out:

Monica Luhar is a digital producer and freelance journalist in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in NBC Asian America, KCET, and KPCC Radio, among various other hyperlocal, weekly, and national news outlets. Follow her on Twitter: @monicaluhar.