Essential California reading: Missed signs in L.A. fire recruiting; seeking clues in Metrolink crash
Robin Abcarian
Commentary, news and analysis
Amid drought, a turf war between residents and homeowners associations

Rancho Pacifica, a gated community of spectacular multimillion dollar homes in the hills east of Del Mar, is not immune to the ravages of the California drought. Residents, who can easily afford massive water bills, have sought to reduce their water consumption — not just because they have to, but because they want to.

Brian and Frances Holloway, retired custom home builders who live in a palatial 9,000-square-foot Mediterranean, installed artificial turf in their backyard five years ago. After Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency last year and urged Californians to reduce their water consumption by 20%, the couple decided to get rid of their water-sucking front lawn as well.

Not so fast, said their homeowners association. Like many HOAs in upscale neighborhoods around the state, it keeps an iron grip on issues like house color, alterations, parking and landscaping. Now, the Holloways are locked in an escalating struggle with their HOA.

"They have to control everyone's life,"...

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Women are setting the stage for a red-carpet rebellion

The red carpet, I've always thought, is Hollywood back-scratching at its best.

Celebrities, treated more or less like objects, get free publicity, free dresses and the warm glow of knowing that they've reached the top. In turn, fashion designers and stylists get the kind of exposure that only enhances their businesses and reputations.

Everybody's happy, right?

OSCARS: The movies, the actors, more

But even viewers who don't know a peplum from a pothole can see that something is amiss when a star is asked about her dress and pretends not to understand the question.

"I don't know what to say," Nicole Kidman told Ryan Seacrest on the Grammys red carpet Feb. 8, when she and her husband, country music star Keith Urban, paused to chat.

Kidman is a fashion icon. She has worn some of the most spectacular haute couture that has ever appeared on the red carpet, and has been richly rewarded with fashion and cosmetics contracts. Was she just in a bad mood? Had she actually purchased her Thierry...

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From young cancer patient's parents, a special plea to vaccinate

When I walked through the door of Carl and Jodi Krawitt's well-appointed hillside home the other day, I could tell their 6-year-old son Rhett was not super happy to see me. I'd interrupted him as he was getting ready for a swimming lesson. It was easy to read his expression:

Please mom and dad. Not another reporter?

I don't blame him.

Quite unexpectedly, Rhett has become the angelic public face of the pro-vaccination movement in California. Almost four years ago, Rhett was diagnosed with leukemia. He spent 156 nights total in the hospital, his father told me.


FOR THE RECORD: An earlier version of this column said that Rhett Krawitt spent 186 nights in the hospital. It was 156.


Rhett missed out on swimming lessons for years because he had a port in his chest that couldn't get wet. Although he looks perfectly healthy now, years of chemotherapy and other drugs have temporarily weakened his immune system. He can't yet tolerate vaccines.

When the measles outbreak...

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Yes, you can check your cellphone while driving -- but is it worth it?

Last September, Andreas Sundquist was on his way to San Francisco International Airport to pick up his girlfriend when traffic on Highway 101 near Redwood City suddenly came to a stop. Fearing he'd be late, he picked up his smartphone to check the GPS map. Was it road work? Had there been a fender bender? Or something worse?

A CHP officer who saw Sundquist, 35, look at his phone pulled him over and gave him a $162 ticket for violating Section 23123 (a) of the California Vehicle Code, which prohibits using a cellphone while driving. Sundquist was confused. He thought he had read that it was OK to look at a GPS map while behind the wheel.


California Journal: A column in the Jan. 31 California section about checking cellphone maps while driving misidentified California's 5th District Court of Appeal as the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.

"But since this person in authority was giving me a ticket," he said, "I was like, whoops, I guess I messed up."


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The return of foie gras to California menus offers food for thought

Chef Ken Frank, one of California's most outspoken proponents of foie gras, opened the door of La Toque's walk-in refrigerator. All sorts of wonderful aromas hit me in the face — mushrooms, savory reductions, the iron smell of raw meat. Frank bent down next to a dangling pig carcass, looking for foie gras. No luck.

A few minutes later, executive sous chef Daniel Gomez Sanchez wandered over holding a small lobe of foie gras that he found in the prep kit of one of La Toque's line cooks. Wrapped in plastic, it was pale yellow, almost as firm to the touch as cold butter. The rest of the restaurant's stash had already been portioned out for the evening's $80 four-course tasting menu, where it would be served seared, with persimmon and cherry vinegar oolong broth, for a supplement of $15.

On Jan. 7, a federal district court judge unexpectedly ruled that California's ban on foie gras conflicted with federal law, which regulates poultry ingredients. And just like that, after an absence of two...

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Revisiting the Romneys' La Jolla beach house -- and its car elevator

You remember Mitt Romney's California beach house? If you don't remember the house, surely you remember plans for that infamous car elevator?

In March 2012, Politico revealed that Mitt and Ann Romney's renovation of their $12-million beachfront home, one of three they owned, would include a two-level, four-car garage with a mechanized lift: "The cars," Politico reported, "will have their own separate elevator."

Romney was a rich Republican presidential candidate already having trouble convincing voters he understood the struggles of everyday Americans. The elevator would feed that perception until the end of the race.

In reality, though, the car elevator was a nifty — if expensive — design solution for the house on Dunemere Drive, a narrow street of pricey homes jammed together on overbuilt lots with jaw-dropping ocean views. The location would have made for a picturesque Western White House, something the country has not had since the days of Ronald Reagan with his mountaintop ranch...

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