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California icons under fire, Thursday night horrors and more

It was a tough week for California icons. Welcome to the Essential California newsletter. I'm Times California Editor Shelby Grad, and here's a look at some stories from the week you shouldn't miss.

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California Legends Under Siege

Let's start with California's two longtime U.S. senators: Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer. Elected in 1992, both have won most reelections by comfortable margins, despite some tough challengers. But a new USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll shows that a majority of voters don't want them to seek reelection. The sentiment appears to be more about new blood than about Boxer's or Feinstein's policies. According to the poll, 59% of respondents said they would like to see new candidates. Feinstein, 81, is up for reelection in 2018; and Boxer, who just turned 74, faces election again in 2016.

So who is waiting in the wings? Times political editor Cathy Decker has a few potential Democratic candidates: Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and his predecessor, Antonio Villaraigosa. The race for a California Senate seat, Decker points out, could be a familiar geographic battle between L.A. Democrats and Bay Area Democrats.

Another icon on the defensive is John Muir, whose passion for preservation saved Yosemite and played a key role in establishing the national park system. But a new generation of environmentalists believes that Muir's views are out of step with today's needs. As The Times' Louis Sahagun writes: "Muir's notion that immersing people in 'universities of the wilderness' - such as Yosemite - sends the message that only awe-inspiring parks are worth saving, at the expense of smaller urban spaces. Critics also say Muir's vision of wilderness is rooted in economic privilege and the abundant leisure time of the upper class." To prove their point, critics point to Muir's apparent double standard when it comes to squirrels.

(Bonus: Check out our 1914 obituary of Muir, with the memorable headline "Earth He Loved Reclaims Him.")

Then there is Charles Lummis, the famed writer and early booster of Los Angeles. His Craftsman home in Highland Park has long been a stopping point for historians and fans. But now, the future of Lummis House is in jeopardy.

Stuck in Bad Traffic?

When it comes to Southern California traffic, rush hour seems to be constantly expanding. Bad traffic starts earlier in the morning, runs later in the evening and even spreads to the weekends. Although it may all seem to roll together, three companies that analyze traffic patterns using GPS technology have concluded that the worst time for traffic is... Thursday night.

Here's some other depressing traffic data: It should take just 14 minutes to get from Santa Monica eastbound on the 10 Freeway to downtown L.A. On a Thursday night, the same drive takes 65 minutes. Laura J. Nelson and Thomas Suh Lauder break down the worst of the commutes.

Ghost of Dorner

The Los Angeles Police Department once again was confronted with the aftermath of the Christopher Dorner rampage this week. Dorner went on a string of shootings last year after claiming that he was unfairly fired from the department. The LAPD spent 20 months examining its discipline system. The report found a widespread perception of bias within the department, even though some statistics seem to contradict that sentiment.

Lawyers Lose Their Luster

Trial lawyers were once the big dogs of California politics. But not anymore. Their latest defeat came on election day with Prop. 46, which would have increased limits on certain medical malpractice damages. As The Times' Melanie Mason wrote in her analysis: "The defeat caps years of declining influence for one of the Democratic Party's most stalwart allies."

P.S. Some Final Good Reads

Steve Lopez on the woman who pulled herself out of the hell of skid row.

Kurt Streeter on the tragedy of street crime that shaped a South L.A. playwright's life and work.

Our hot, dry year is making Southern California air quality worse.

Sure, Irvine is now America's safest city. But remember when hungry lions roamed its streets?

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