Val Kilmer and his daughter Mercedes spoke with USA TODAY about their new film, “Paydirt.” Kilmer also talked about the upcoming “Top Gun” sequel.


Plus: How a director made a movie with Val Kilmer even though the actor couldn’t speak. And can you make a dam bigger?

It’s August during the pandemic. Grab a Popsicle and get lost in some California-inspired entertainment.

From sunny Palm Springs, I’m Rebecca Plevin, immigration reporter for The Desert Sun. The Apple Fire has burned 28,085 acres as of Thursday and residents in the high desert community of Pioneertown, home to the popular restaurant and music venue Pappy & Harriet’s, remain under an evacuation warning. As firefighters battle that blaze, let’s jump into the hottest news of the day.

Young adults make up 60% of L.A. County’s new COVID-19 cases

Tim O’Rourke surfs with a face covering to protect him from the coronavirus, at Venice Beach, Wednesday, May 13, 2020, in Los Angeles. (Photo: Mark J. Terrill, AP)

This dang pandemic is dragging on, isn’t it! Well, some young adults have apparently decided they are done with stay-at-home precautions and social distancing measures.

Residents under age 50 now make up 60% of new coronavirus cases in L.A. County. That includes at least 45 people linked to three fraternities associated with USC who have become infected with the virus, and a group of USC graduate students who have socialized and studied together, the L.A. Times reports. 

And there’s growing concern that young adults are heading to private homes in L.A. to party, the Times says. In response, L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti on Wednesday night authorized shutting off water and electricity service to homes that have repeatedly hosted large events despite the ban on gatherings.

Water, water (problems) everywhere

There are 108 licensed bottled water plants in California, with brands ranging from Arrowhead to Crystal Geyser Alpine Spring Water. (Photo: Jay Calderon, The Desert Sun))

Refreshing? The company that produces Crystal Geyser bottled water has been ordered by a federal judge to pay $5 million in fines and serve three years probation for illegally storing and transporting arsenic-laced wastewater from one of their facilities in rural Eastern California, according to the Department of Justice.

The judge further ordered the company to implement a compliance program that will include yearly audits by a third party to ensure it complies with federal and state environmental laws, The Desert Sun reports.

Bottled water giant CG Roxane LLC owns the Crystal Geyser brand. It bottles and sells groundwater obtained from the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada mountains near one of its facilities in Olancha, about 200 miles northeast of L.A.

Visitors can see Mount Shasta in the distance over Lake Shasta and the Shasta Dam on Friday, April 24, 2020. (Photo: Matthew Brannon/Record Searchlight)

Dam! The Trump Administration has released a new environmental report on a plan to raise the height of the Shasta Dam, just five years after a similar study was completed.  The newest environmental study and feasibility report takes another look at how raising the height of the dam by 18½ feet would impact the environment around Lake Shasta and downstream of the structure, The Redding Record Searchlight reports.

By raising the 600-foot tall Shasta Dam by 3%, the proposed project would increase water storage capacity in the reservoir by 634,000 acre-feet, or more than 200 billion gallons — enough water to support two million people a year.

But the government has run into stiff opposition from environmental groups and the state of California, both of which have sued and won in court over potential impacts to wildlife and the McCloud River.

Has the Fresno County Sheriff been ‘deceptive’ about cooperation with ICE?

A detainee who gave only his first name of Jesus (center with bandaged leg) said he has been denied medical treatment for his swollen leg for more than a week at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Processing Center in Adelanto, Calif. (Photo: Jay Calderon/USA TODAY)

‘Deceptive’: Two civil rights attorneys say Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims has under-reported the number of immigrants transferred from Fresno County to officials with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a potential violation of California’s so-called “sanctuary state” laws, The Fresno Bee reports.

The dispute centers around 102 immigrants who went from the custody of the Fresno Sheriff to ICE during federal fiscal year 2018 — a figure The Bee obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. Mims said she couldn’t comment on specific numbers but, in general, most cases involve people who are released from the Fresno County jail and are immediately re-arrested by ICE inside Sheriff’s Department facilities.

According to California Justice Department data, meanwhile, the Fresno Sheriff’s Office transferred a total of four immigrants into ICE custody in the 2018 calendar year.

Recording the 102 cases as arrests instead of transfers is “deceptive to the public,” said Angela Chan, policy director and senior staff attorney overseeing the criminal justice reform program at Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus. “It’s deceptive to report four transfers when over 100 transfers took place, and those are community members who were removed from the community.”

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Adelanto Processing Center sits surrounded by Joshua Trees and open desert in Adelanto, Caif., on Dec. 3, 2019. (Photo: Jay Calderon/The Desert Sun)

Use of force in ICE detention: In June, guards at the Adelanto ICE Processing Center in San Bernardino County pepper-sprayed and shot pepper balls at more than 150 detainees following a protest.

It was among about a dozen occasions between the end of March and the beginning of July in which guards at immigration detention centers across the country have deployed force — including pepper spray, pepper balls and pepper spray grenades — in incidents involving more than 10 immigrants at a time, BuzzFeed News reports.

Meanwhile, in the six months before the pandemic, between September and March, there were two use-of-force incidents against more than 10 detainees, according to BuzzFeed.

A spokesperson for ICE acknowledged the recent uptick, saying it has “seen more incidents where groups of detainees become confrontational with staff, sometimes acting in ways that are unsafe for the general population.”

Speaking of ICE, I’m planning to watch ‘Immigration Nation,’ the new Netflix documentary about immigration enforcement, this weekend. Have you seen it?

Directing Val Kilmer when he had no voice

Director Christian Sesma recently shot the movie “Paydirt” in the eastern Coachella Valley. Here he stands near the mural “Lucha Sin Fin” in downtown Coachella by the artist Mata Ruda, July 30, 2020. (Photo: Jay Calderon/The Desert Sun)

A ‘surreal’ experience: Palm Springs director Christian Sesma said making his movie ‘Paydirt’ in the Coachella Valley with Val Kilmer was a “surreal” experience.

Semsa said he was determined to cast Kilmer in his ‘Oceans Eleven’-inspired heist flick, even though the actor lost his voice after a tracheostomy necessitated by throat cancer.

“We had to double for his voice,” Sesma said. “People thought we were crazy to do it and said, ‘he’s not in good health, he can’t even speak.’ I said, ‘ look, this is Val Kilmer, he’s one of the best actors alive from back in the day. If he likes this, he will give us a performance of some kind that I can work off of.'”

A good listen: ‘California City’ podcast

I highly recommend thenew podcast “California City” from LAist Studios. Reported and hosted by KPCC senior reporter (and my pal!) Emily Guerin, it tells the story of the sprawling, half-built city in the Mojave Desert, about a hundred miles north of L.A.

For more than 60 years, real estate developers told people that if they bought land in the desert community, they would get rich one day, Guerin explains. Thousands of people have bought into the dream, but much of the land they acquired was nearly worthless.

Asked what drew her to this story, Guerin said: “It was a city founded by this immigrant who moved West with these big dreams of kind of reinventing himself. And to do it, he did what European Americans have been doing in the U.S. for generations: He tried to convert this sort of barren land into a garden, and then market it and get rich off of it. And it just seems sort of like a timeless story, similar to the Gold Rush.”

In California is a roundup of news from across USA TODAY Network newsrooms. Also contributing: The Los Angeles Times, The Fresno Bee and BuzzFeed News.

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