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Matthew Karapetyan figures to be a key contributor on both offense and defense for the Titans in the 2020-21 season.

San Marino High School head coach Justin Mesa won’t believe the football season has arrived until he sees the opening kickoff sailing through the twilight sky above Titan Stadium this Friday evening at 7 p.m.
And who could blame him. Since its last game in November 2019, the sport has seen so many stops and starts it should have been accompanied by the yellow flag that flies over NASCAR races to indicate a delay in the action.
But that could all end and the Titans will begin an abbreviated schedule when Burbank’s John Burroughs High School comes calling for Friday’s season-opener at SMHS.
It will certainly be the first San Marino football game ever contested in the month of March, but Mesa has waited so long for the COVID storm to subside that he would agree to just about any stipulation to allow his squad to play.
“The kids are really excited to play,” said Mesa. “They have a high energy level right now and who can blame them. After being off the field for a year and a half, we still have a long road ahead of us. But the guys have developed this ‘us against the world’ attitude that has really brought them together. They are having a good time and that is what you are looking for.”

The San Marino Unified School District discussed a strategy to bring students back to its campuses as early as Monday, Feb. 22, at its most recent school board meeting on Feb. 9. If implemented, the plan would reinstate at least partial in-
person education for students in transitional kindergarten through 2nd grade at Valentine and Carver Elementary schools.
The plan was fortified when the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health announced on Monday that they expect the state’s COVID-19 case threshold to reach the predetermined limit that had been deemed safe by health officials.
“The state permits elementary schools to reopen as soon as we reach an adjusted case rate of 25 per 100,000,” the public health department said in its news release. “We are informing Los Angeles County schools via an emailed letter that we expect to announce we have reached this threshold effective Tuesday, Feb. 16.”

Photos by Mitch Lehman / TRIBUNE
Titan football coach Justin Mesa addressed the Rotary Club of San Marino in December via Zoom.

Though Gov. Gavin Newsom’s lifting of the state’s stay-at-home order on Monday has provided some optimism, local school officials are not yet clear about the immediate future of prep sports.
While interpretations of its long-term impact will certainly vary, an announcement last week from an arm of the California Interscholastic Federation — the governing body for prep sports in the state — dealt yet another blow to the hopes of high school athletes for conducting any substantial competitions during the 2020-21 school year.
“Today, I must regretfully announce that we are canceling our 2020-21 CIF Southern Section Fall Sports Championships due to the COVID pandemic,” said the statement from the section’s commissioner of athletics, Rob Wigod.

While health officials search for new language to quantify the troubling increase in cases of COVID-19, San Marino Fire Chief Mario Rueda insisted there is no magic bullet with which to combat the pandemic.
The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health on Monday reported that a person dies from the disease every eight minutes in the county, while noting an 898% increase in cases since Dec. 1.
San Marino ended 2020 with 244 COVID-19 cases since the pandemic’s beginning, but as of press time Tuesday that number had grown to 289 — an increase of almost 20% in less than two weeks. Deaths from COVID in San Marino also increased, from 8 to 11 in just one week’s time. On a wider basis, the county approached the 1 million mark in COVID cases, with 932,697 reported as of Tuesday. Countywide, the death toll rose to 12,387.
Rueda said data has shown that in the county, outbreaks are occurring at airports, workplaces, stores, schools and fitness classes.

San Marino has another resident who has contracted the coronavirus, bringing the city’s total to nine, according to a report from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in strict guidelines against public or private congregation, known as “Safer at Home,” and has shut down all schools and businesses except those considered “essential” in order to contain its spread.
The disease, which is caused by a novel coronavirus that emerged in November, currently has no cure or vaccine and is responsible for 729 deaths in L.A. County, according to data released on Wednesday. The report also stated that there are 16,435 verified cases in the county. The report does not take into account individuals who once had the virus and may have recovered, but keeps only a cumulative total of cases as they are diagnosed.
Meanwhile, a study conducted by USC and the L.A. County Department of Public Health, which measures antibodies that are generated by those who have contracted the virus, indicates that as many as between 221,000 and 442,000 may have been infected.
“It is possible that there are many, many more who have been exposed and are asymptomatic,” said San Marino Fire Chief Mario Rueda, referencing the report. “That means that maybe up to 400,000 people have this and can infect others. Every contact that person has can lead to an infection.”
Rueda encouraged the community to continue to practice social distancing measures until health officials advise otherwise. He also said the recent heat wave could be counterproductive for efforts to stop the spread.
“The warmer weather makes it much more inviting for people to congregate,” Rueda said. “Just be on guard. We have all suffered for the past month. I encourage you to give it a few more weeks and then you can host barbecues when it is determined that it is safe to do so.
Every person you see is just another connection to a whole bunch of people and you do not know who might be infected.”
Rueda has also been researching the best methods for reopening the town to normal activities.
“It’s important for residents to know that we are not actually sitting on our hands,” he said. “We are looking around the corner so that we and our residents don’t get surprised.”
Rueda also said that the SMFD is healthy, at full strength, and responding to the dozen or so daily calls to the city’s resident support hotline.
“We have been working hard so that we are putting out pertinent information,” Rueda said. “This service has been well-received. It has provided a place for people to call when they have any questions.”
While reporting that his department is healthy and fully operational, Police Chief John Incontro mentioned a need for less speed on the streets of San Marino.
“There is a significant increase in the number of people speeding,” said Incontro. “We will be enforcing posted speed limits and we will be writing citations.”
Incontro mentioned that he recently wrote a ticket for a motorist who was traveling at more than 60 miles per hour.
“There is no traffic at all and the streets are wide open,” Incontro said. The city will be placing electric message signs at either end of Huntington Drive and on southbound Sierra Madre Boulevard to make drivers aware of speed limits and citation policies.
Incontro also said that there has been an increase in burglaries and thefts.
“There is a false sense of security that comes from so many people being at home,” the chief said. “The state is releasing 3,000 prisoners and bail for anything except violent felonies is zero. Courts are holding off until mid-May. There are a lot of crooks running around. People have to be more careful than ever. These are opportunists.”
Incontro urged citizens to “do the simple things.”
“We have noticed that residents aren’t locking their cars, homes and garages,” he said. “If it is easy for them to get to, they will take it. It goes back to what we always say, ‘Hide it, lock it, keep it.’”

The San Marino City Council chose not to establish a lead remediation ad hoc committee at its Apr. 28 meeting, citing recently acquired information that clarified claims of high blood lead levels in San Marino children.

The purpose of the ad hoc committee would have been to obtain blood lead level data from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health—information that the county has not formally sent to the city since the city’s public records request one month ago—and information from other agencies to address an Apr. 20 article published by Reuters News Agency.

Based on county data collected between 2011 and 2015, the Reuters article stated that 17 percent of children under the age of six who reside in the western Census tract of San Marino had elevated blood lead levels—the highest proportion of any census tract in the county.

Between San Marino’s two census tracts, a total of 14 percent of San Marino children were identified as having elevated blood lead levels, according to a Tribune calculation of county data.

Since the publication of the Reuters article, county public health officials explained on Apr. 26 during an emergency meeting of the city council that only three, or less than one percent of, San Marino children tested have elevated blood lead levels.

Mayor Richard Sun explained that he did not know the information that Dr. Cyrus Rangan, director of toxicology and environmental assessment at the county, provided on Apr. 26, when Sun proposed the ad hoc committee on Monday, Apr. 24.

Sun also noted that California American Water conducted water tests that week, which showed no detectable lead in 14 of 15 recent samples of San Marino water.

“One sample had one half of one part per billion. It’s one-thirtieth of the lead action level in one of these samples. This would be the equivalent of second in 64 years in one of 15 samples we found,” said Timothy Miller, senior director of water quality and environmental compliance for California American Water.

Miller added, “Your water is not aggressive. It’s generally not going to cause corrosion.”

“I don’t feel we need [an ad hoc committee] at this time. I believe the city has taken the proper action since this event occurred,” Sun continued.

“If [Los Angeles County] can share this data with us and anything related to health in advance, that’s something I’m trying to get here,” Sun added, calling for more cooperation and communication between San Marino and the county.

“I also feel, based on the facts, that we don’t need an ad hoc committee at this point,” said Council Member Allan Yung. He added that the city should urge the county to address the cases of elevated blood lead levels.

“When 17 percent of your sample shows a red mark, whether its just 5 micrograms [per deciliter], or 10 or six, I believe they should look at it. Even though they say they don’t look at it unless it’s 10 micrograms [per deciliter] or more,” said Yung.

Council Member Steve Talt invited Dr. Rangan and Maurice Pantoja, Environmental Health Services Manager of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, to speak at the council emergency meeting.

“I don’t think we need an ad hoc committee as much as we need to review our building codes to assure that we’re doing what the state recommends with respect to model ordinances to assure lead abatement or lead identification in remodeling,” said Talt, referring to an urgency ordinance on the agenda.

The urgency ordinance would require that contractors acquire Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, certification before being issued a City of San Marino permit or business license, according to Interim City Manager Cindy Collins. The ordinance, which was postponed to the council’s May 10 meeting, would also require that contractors provide “follow up documentation that any lead found had been properly abated.”

“We’d like to make it more comprehensive and spend a little more time developing that ordinance,” explained Collins.

“I’d be more than happy to take point on this,” Talt continued. “I think we’re doing what we should do at this point.”

“The reason that the county did not share the data with us is because none of the testing resulted in action on their part,” he said.

Talt added, “There was nothing that the county saw as actionable to give that information to San Marino. We didn’t know that when we started this process.”

 

“San Marino is a very, very low risk area as far as lead exposure is concerned,” said Dr. Cyrus Rangan, Director of Toxicology and Environmental Assessment for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, summarizing a two-hour emergency meeting of the San Marino City Council on Wednesday morning.

Rangan and Maurice Pantoja, Environmental Health Services Manager of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, were asked to address a maelstrom that formed locally last week when Reuters News Agency published an article claiming that two census tracts in San Marino had reported high levels of lead in young children under the age of six.

Rangan referenced the 2015 data set from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health that was based on data collected by the county between 2011 and 2015. That data was used by Joshua Schneyer, an investigative reporter with Reuters, in the article that compared the supposedly elevated numbers in San Marino to those collected in Flint, Michigan during a recent water crisis.

The data set, and the Reuters story, claimed that 17 percent of the children in the western census tract of San Marino had tested above the Centers for Disease Control reference level of 5 micrograms of lead per deciliter. Rangan, who is also a practicing pediatrician, explained that the reference level of 5 has actually decreased from a previous level of 25 and has gradually been reduced to 5. Rangan also said that the county’s reporting method can also cause public alarm. He explained that any measurement above zero is listed as a “5 or below,” even if the actual number is just 2 or 1 and that the 17 percent figure included all of the 5 or below readings.

The Office of Communication & Public Affairs of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health confirmed this in an April 26 statement to The Tribune.

“Further analysis of the data showed that 26 of these children had reported levels of 5 ug/dL and that these results were coming from the same laboratory. The detection limit for that lab was 5 ug/dL and children with blood levels below this detection limit were being reported as a level 5 ug/dL. Therefore, some or most of these children may have had levels less than 4.5, and would not necessarily represent elevated levels in a final analysis,” the statement read.

Rangan also revealed that only two readings of the 163 tests between 2011 and 2015 measured above 6: a 6.0 in 2011 and a 6.8 in 2013.

Even those, he said, are not enough to cause alarm.

“That doesn’t mean that if you have a level of 6 that you are in danger,” he said. “It just means that you are at a level where there might be intervention.”

Rangan explained that a reading of 0-5 would warrant no intervention. A reading between 5-10, he said, would warrant repeating the screening in the “next few weeks or even several months” and that a reading above 10 might incur a visit from a nurse, who would check other residents for symptoms and perform a walkthrough of the home.

“A reading above 20 would require medical intervention,” Rangan said.

Council Member Steve Talt, who pushed for the emergency meeting, asked the majority of the questions.

Pantoja reiterated that the reporting method can cause confusion.

“We used to report a reading of ‘less than 5’ as ‘less than 5,’” he said. “Looking at the number in San Marino, many of those children who were reported might be less than 5. All we know is they are ‘less than 5’ and the number that gets reported is 5. They are not all 5 or above. That number is greatly overestimated. They are probably less than 5, but reported at 5.”

Talt asked Rangan what the leading causes of lead in the environment are and the doctor was ready with his answer.

“When we list the top ten causes of lead in the environment, the top 8 are lead paint,” he said. “After that, it might be lead in the dirt outside the home or pottery. But lead paint is the number one reason, overarching across the country. There are a lot of old homes in San Marino and even if you paint over lead paint, it’s still there. Opening and closing windows creates a lead dust. Renovations and demolitions. Housing is generally the number one source of lead.”

Lead paint has been banned in California since 1978.

Other sources are medicines, food, occupational exposure to lead and those who use the element in hobbies, including firearms and gun clubs.

Because of Flint, many in San Marino immediately jumped to the city’s water source as a possible cause, but Rangan disagreed. In fact, it took 28 minutes before the word “water” was even mentioned.

“We have some of the best municipal water quality in the country,” said Rangan, who did allow for possible contamination from old pipes or the outdated use of solder in welding copper pipe.

“These numbers should not be used to determine that San Marino has a lead problem,” Rangan said in conclusion.

But he did allow that “All the sources are out there in San Marino.”

“The old homes, the hobbies,” Rangan said. “Go to your doctor when your kids are 1 and 2 and insist on a screening even if there are no risk factors. You are doing that child a great service.”

Click on the link below for more about public agencies responses to this issue.

Public Agencies Respond to Blood Lead Level Data

Approximately 17 percent of the 163 children under the age of six—residing in the western Census tract of San Marino—who were tested for lead exposure between 2011 and 2015 have blood lead levels at or below the 5 micrograms per deciliter reference level established by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, according to data obtained by The Tribune from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

This data obtained by The Tribune informed an April 19 story published by Reuters News Agency that quoted San Marino Mayor Richard Sun, who was interviewed by Reuters on April 5 at San Marino City Hall.

“I was extremely surprised to know that the [blood lead levels] in our community—two census [tracts]—were on the top 10 among all [census tracts] in Los Angeles County,” Sun told The Tribune on April 20.

“I noticed our two [census tracts] and the [census tracts] in neighboring communities like Arcadia, San Gabriel, Pasadena, South Pasadena were all on the top 10 in the list,” he added.

Interim City Manager Cindy Collins and Planning and Building Director Aldo Cervantes joined Sun during the Reuters interview.

Sun was made aware of the data when it was presented to him by reporter Joshua Schneyer, of Reuters, who acquired the data through a recent records request as part of the news organization’s national series on lead exposure.

According to the Office of Communication & Public Affairs of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, old lead-based paint—which was banned by California in 1978—was the primary source of exposure. Nearly 80 percent of San Marino homes were constructed prior to 1960, according to U.S. Census data.

“Paint is likely the main source due to the age of the housing in that area, but imported food, medicine and pottery from China could also be a factor for this community,” said the Office of Communication & Public Affairs.

The western census tract of San Marino has the highest proportion of children with blood lead levels above the CDC’s reference level in all of Los Angeles County.

Twenty-six of the 28 with reported elevated blood lead levels in the western tract had levels at or below the CDC reference level of 5 micrograms per deciliter.

“Further analysis of the data showed that 26 of these children had reported levels of 5 ug/dL and that these results were coming from the same laboratory. The detection limit for that lab was 5 ug/dL and children with blood levels below this detection limit were being reported as a level 5 ug/dL. Therefore, some or most of these children may have had levels less than 4.5, and would not necessarily represent elevated levels in a final analysis,” the Office of Communication & Public Affairs of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health said in an April 26 statement to The Tribune.

Of the remaining two cases, one child tested at 6 micrograms per deciliter in 2011 and another tested at 6.8 micrograms per deciliter in 2013. Eleven of the 28 children were five years old.

Eleven percent of the 170 children tested for lead exposure that reside in the eastern census tract of San Marino have blood lead levels above the CDC’s reference level.

As of press time, the county public health department has not yet provided The Tribune with a breakdown of the 19 cases in the eastern census tract.

According to 2010 Census data, 3.9 percent, or approximately 512 San Marino residents, were under the age of five on April 1, 2010. Collectively, 333 children under the age of six were tested for blood lead levels between 2011 and 2015. Of those 333 children, 47, or 14 percent were found to have ‘elevated’ blood lead levels.

The CDC recommends public health actions be initiated above the reference level. “We are not talking about acute lead poising,” Schneyer said in an interview with The Tribune.

California or Los Angeles County do not require blood lead level tests for children under the age of six. If a child is tested, pediatricians are required to share test results with the state, which then shares it with the county.

According to an April 20 letter from Collins to the San Marino City Council, Mayor Sun directed city staff to draft an ordinance that would require that contractors acquire Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA certification before being issued a City of San Marino permit or business license.

The ordinance, which will be on the council’s April 28 agenda, would also require that contractors provide “follow up documentation that any lead found had been properly abated.”

An emergency meeting of the San Marino City Council was held at 8 a.m. on April 26 at City Hall. The council and public heard from Dr. Cyrus Rangan, Director of Toxicology and Environmental Assessment at the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. Full coverage of that meeting starts on page A-1.

An email from the San Marino Police Department sent at 3:07 p.m. on April 21 included links to information and resources about lead poisoning and abatement.

In a statement from the San Marino Unified School District, Superintendent Dr. Alex Cherniss said, “To our knowledge, none of the referenced tests was conducted within our school district or were related in any way to the operations of our school district. The District has complied and continues to comply with state and federal testing requirements in order to ensure a safe environment for its students, and a recent drinking water sampling for lead contamination revealed safe levels at all four District schools.”

In a school district email sent to the school community at 2:46 p.m. on April 21 in response to the Reuters article, the District stated, “As part of its continuing safety efforts, the District recently conducted random drinking water sampling for lead contamination at numerous drinking fountains at all of [its] school sites. All drinking fountains tested were below the action level for the EPA & CDC.”

In a statement to The Tribune, California American Water said, “At this time, there is no evidence potable water is the source of these elevated levels of lead within the City of San Marino.”

Cal-Am Water’s full statement can be found here.