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Essential California: Montecito death toll rises to 17 as rescuers search for survivors

Essential California: Montecito death toll rises to 17 as rescuers search for survivors
A home off Romero Canyon Road in Montecito is inundated by mud. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It's Thursday, Jan. 11, and here's what's happening across California:



Horror in Santa Barbara

Teams of rescuers waded through hillsides blanketed by mud and debris looking for victims of mudflows that killed at least 17 people, as the full scope of California's deadliest flooding event in several decades came into grim focus. While firefighters dug through battered homes, helicopters searched for survivors who might be trapped behind roads made impassable by downed power lines and waist-high muck. In the Romero Canyon area above Montecito, scores had been marooned since Tuesday morning. Los Angeles Times

The latest on the mudslides:

Seventeen people remained missing Wednesday. Officials fear the death toll could rise. Los Angeles Times

— Santa Barbara County officials chose not to send an emergency alert to cellphones warning of mudslides until destructive flooding had already begun in Montecito. Los Angeles Times

The 101 Freeway through Santa Barbara County is expected to be closed through at least Thursday night because of massive debris on the freeway. Los Angeles Times

Watch as Oprah trudges through shin-deep mud after powerful rainstorm pummels her neighborhood. Los Angeles Times

Is a Democratic wave coming?

Vista Republican Darrell Issa will not run for a 10th term in Congress, he announced Wednesday morning. Issa became the second California Republican this week to announce his upcoming retirement. On Monday, Fullerton Republican Rep. Ed Royce announced he would not seek reelection Beyond shaking up the California political landscape, the two retirements are a signal that the GOP fears a Democratic wave election that could sweep them from power this fall. Los Angeles Times

Plus: Royce's retirement from Congress started an Orange County edition of musical chairs. Los Angeles Times

And: Assemblyman Rocky Chavez (R-Oceanside) said he's joining the fray in the 49th Congressional District hours after Issa's announcement. Los Angeles Times


In Weinstein news: Weinstein Co., the troubled movie and television studio founded by the disgraced mogul, is closing in on a sale to a group of investors led by former Obama administration official Maria Contreras-Sweet, according to people familiar with the matter. Los Angeles Times

Plus: There are still some speed bumps, including one of its key backer's hefty baggage. The Hollywood Reporter


Trojan update: USC is expected to decide this week whether sophomore De'Anthony Melton will play this season, his attorney told The Times. Los Angeles Times

By the ocean: Will the ruins of San Pedro's Sunken City finally open to the public? A new report finds it's technically possible but financially tricky. Curbed LA


ICE raids: U.S. immigration agents descended on dozens of 7-Eleven stores nationwide Wednesday, including three Los Angeles franchises in Koreatown and one in Culver City, sending a message that immigrants in the U.S. illegally will have to look over their shoulders while at their places of work. No arrests were made in Southern California, according to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman. Los Angeles Times

"Dreamer" victory: Jirayut "New" Latthivongskorn, who graduated from high school in Sacramento, was one of five Dreamers who sued the Trump administration over ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. When a federal judge sided with him this week, "I was literally shaking for about two hours," he said. Sacramento Bee

On the other hand: "We believe that decision was wrongly decided. Once again, another West Coast judge has rendered a decision that if it would go to Supreme Court, we're sure it would be overturned," Vice President Mike Pence said, echoing President Trump's criticisms of the federal judge. Politico


Joe says: Former Vice President Joe Biden had sharp words of advice for President Trump on Wednesday in downtown Los Angeles: "Grow up. Stop focusing everything through the prism of me," Biden told a sold-out crowd at the Orpheum Theater. "The childish behavior of 'My button's bigger than your button.' It's not just ridiculously funny, it's dangerous." Los Angeles Times

The budget proposal is out: Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday unveiled a state budget for 2018 that totals $190.3 billion. Here's some of what it would pay for. Los Angeles Times

No worries: Brown wants to spend $4.6 billion from new gas taxes and vehicle fees on repairing California's roads and bridges and improving rail systems, even though voters might repeal the levies in November. Los Angeles Times


Steyer speaks: Billionaire Democratic donor and activist Tom Steyer sat down with the Los Angeles Times to talk about his future, his impeachment campaign, "Need to Impeach," and the Senate race between incumbent Sen. Dianne Feinstein and state Senate leader Kevin de León. Los Angeles Times


More swatting allegations: A Los Angeles man accused of making a hoax phone call that led to a fatal police shooting in Kansas is now wanted in Canada for a similar alleged "swatting" call made a week before. Los Angeles Times

Missing student: The body of a college student who went missing while home in Orange County on winter break has been discovered near a park in Lake Forest, where he was last seen, authorities said, Wednesday. His death is being investigated as a homicide. Los Angeles Times

In search of: The Golden State Killer raped more than fifty women and likely murdered 10 or more people in the 1970s and 80s . He was never caught, but one woman began investigating the case and blogging about it on her website. The New Yorker


Fallen firefighter: The San Diego County firefighter who died last month fighting the Thomas fire in Ventura County was putting out a spot fire when he found himself trapped by flames, according to a preliminary report released by Cal Fire this week. Los Angeles Times

By the Bay: "Oakland has failed to report hundreds of thousands of gallons of toxic sewage spills that have sickened animals, damaged property, and polluted waterways, including Lake Temescal." East Bay Express


Again?! An Aeromexico flight into San Francisco International Airport came close to landing on the wrong runway, federal officials said Wednesday, putting at risk another plane that occupied the airstrip. SF Gate

Reach out: Planning to try pot for the first time now that its recreational use is legal in California? Let us know. Los Angeles Times

Rap's legal woes: Rap has long been one of the few genres where an artist's real-life troubles can translate into fame. So the story of XXXTentacion's rise underscores rap's fraught battle with the law. Los Angeles Times

Interesting installation: L.A. artist Rodney McMillian peels back the facade on the ultimate symbol of power: the White House. Los Angeles Times

Milestone: Golden State Warriors player Kevin Durant hit a 22-foot jumper to become the second-youngest player in NBA history to reach the 20,000-point club. San Francisco Chronicle

Cool! Fresno-resident Molly Friel has qualified for the U.S. Olympic marathon trials at age 50. Runner's World


Los Angeles area: sunny, 71, Thursday; partly cloudy, 75, Friday. San Diego: sunny, 68 Thursday; partly cloudy, 69, Friday. San Francisco area: foggy, 57, Thursday. Sacramento: partly cloudy, 57, Thursday; partly cloudy, 59, Friday. More weather is here.


Today's California memory comes form Steve Sibold:

"For a kid growing up in a small town in Canada in the 1950s and 1960s, California appeared as a magical and futuristic place blessed with sunshine, freeways, Hollywood and boundless energy. As I watched the Rose Bowl games on TV every New Year's, I resolved to one day live in the Golden State. I finally achieved my California Dream when, at age 55, I took a leave of absence from my law firm in Calgary, Alberta, and enrolled in UC Berkeley's Master of Laws program as a Fulbright Scholar. It was worth the wait — California didn't disappoint! Go Bears!"

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. Send us an email to let us know what you love or fondly remember about our state. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints and ideas to Benjamin Oreskes and Shelby Grad. Also follow them on Twitter @boreskes and @shelbygrad.