Newsletter: Welcome to Stage 2

The Fairfax Cinema in Los Angeles is closed but still sends a message.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Friday, May 8, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

Well, the beginning of California’s gradual easing of the stay-at-home order is officially underway. Welcome to the first day of Stage 2.

The newfound ability to replenish your puzzle stash with some nonessential curbside pickup at the local toy store certainly does not mark the end of the lockdown, or even the beginning of an end to our radical disruption. But to paraphrase Winston Churchill, one could certainly argue that we’ve reached the end of the beginning. Now, on to the long road ahead.


On Thursday, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced new coronavirus safeguards and protocols for retail stores and workplaces eligible to reopen Friday and in the weeks ahead, as well as more details on what counties will have to do to move further through Stage 2.

[Read the story: “Newsom unveils rules governing how quickly California communities can reopen businesses” in the Los Angeles Times]

What’s happening now

Here in Los Angeles, as well as in many other places around the state, book, music and toy stores, florists, sporting goods retailers and clothing stores can now reopen for curbside pickup, unless barred by tougher local restrictions. San Franciscans will have to wait a longer: Officials there announced that storefront pickup for eligible retailers can begin on May 18.

What’s happening next

Earlier this week, Newsom made clear that the state’s second phase of reopening wouldn’t happen all at once — some Stage 2 businesses will reopen after others. On Thursday, he unveiled rules that will guide how and when that can happen for individual California communities.

Under the plan, in-restaurant dining, car washes, shopping malls and some office buildings could also be allowed to reopen in coming weeks if public health officials in a county are able to demonstrate that the spread of the coronavirus has stabilized there. County officials must prove to the state that they have adequate testing and hospital capacity and the ability to isolate people with the virus, and trace whom they have contacted.

“We’re moving forward but we’re doing it, always, with an eye being led by the data, by the science, by public health,” Newsom said.


The return to restaurant dining rooms will probably happen on a more expedited timetable in less-populated parts of the state. Counties will be barred from moving forward if they have more than one coronavirus case per 10,000 residents or have had a single COVID-19 death in the prior two weeks.

It’s a high bar that appears to apply equally to counties such as Modoc, with a population of 10,000, as it would to Los Angeles County, home to roughly 10 million people. Meeting these requirements will probably be months away for L.A. County, which remains the state’s primary coronavirus hotspot. Health officials sadly announced 51 new coronavirus-linked fatalities in the county on Thursday alone.

The economic toll

With millions of Californians out of work and many businesses facing financial ruin, the economic impact of the pandemic has put increased pressure on Newsom to begin reopening California and ease his stay-at-home order, as my Sacramento colleagues Taryn Luna and Phil Willon explain in their story.


The pandemic has also plunged California into the worst budget deficit in state history. An analysis released Thursday by advisors to Newsom shows the state facing a $54.3-billion budget deficit through next summer, raising the possibility of deep spending cuts or substantial new tax revenues to make up the difference.

That estimate, as Sacramento Bureau Chief John Myers explains in his story, accounts for a rapid erosion of tax revenues and a growing need for health and human services programs.

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

In a frantic effort to secure face masks and respond to the coronavirus crisis, California has committed to spend more than $3.7 billion on no-bid contracts, scores of them with businesses that have no track record with the state. A Times data analysis found that nearly a third of those funds — about $1.2 billion — has been earmarked for suppliers of goods and services that do not appear in the state’s database of contracts before the COVID-19 outbreak. Los Angeles Times



The lockdown of “nonessential” businesses has upended the beauty industry and wellness culture in L.A., where self-presentation is an art form. Los Angeles Times

L.A. is expected to draw about 22 million fewer visitors this year and lose more than $13 billion in tourist spending, according to a forecast commissioned by the local tourism board. Los Angeles Times

The Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission has voted to subpoena L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva to appear at its next meeting to discuss his handling of the coronavirus outbreak in the jails, marking the first use of a powerful new oversight tool. Los Angeles Times

The gondoliers of Naples Island in Long Beach are still serenading, but without any passengers in their boats. Long Beach Post


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How the post office became a potent weapon for Democrats: The financially imperiled post office — long a punching bag for the right — has become a surprisingly potent and resilient symbol for a fractured Democratic Party anxious for unifying causes. Los Angeles Times

San Jose’s mayor offered a formal apology to a top black city administrator whom he had publicly reprimanded during a tense exchange. Mayor Sam Liccardo’s apology came a day after the president of the local NAACP chapter submitted a letter demanding a public apology. Mercury News


The California Department of Motor Vehicles will reopen 25 locations to people with appointments on Friday, including offices in Los Angeles, Inglewood, Glendale and Santa Ana. Los Angeles Times


The Justice Department moved to drop its prosecution of Michael Flynn, President Trump’s first national security advisor and the only White House official charged during the Russia investigation, in a dramatic undoing of one of the most high-profile cases brought by former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. Los Angeles Times


At least 138 employees at a meat-packing plant in Central California have tested positive for the coronavirus. The company employs about 900 workers at two plants in Hanford and Vernon and continues to operate. Los Angeles Times


Souplantation — the popular buffet-style dining brand— is closing all of its restaurants permanently. The restaurant was founded in San Diego 42 years ago. Los Angeles Times

The San Diego-based company that owns the Souplantation restaurants is selling its assets to affiliates of Cerberus Capital Management.
The San Diego-based company that owns the Souplantation restaurants is selling its assets to affiliates of Cerberus Capital Management.
(San Diego Union-Tribune)

How Hmong and Lao volunteers on the North Coast are serving their communities. Volunteers are distributing Southeast Asian food staples, first-aid kits, school supplies and health information related to COVID-19 translated into Hmong and Lao. North Coast Journal

Just in time for Mother’s Day, L.A. flower shops can reopen for curbside pickup Friday, giving florists a chance to sell on one of their biggest days of the year. Los Angeles Times

Meanwhile, San Francisco’s health director is urging residents not to visit their mothers on Mother’s Day, even if wearing masks and keeping six feet apart. Unless residents live in the same households with their mothers, “the greatest gift we can give to our mothers this Mother’s Day is to stay away,” said Dr. Grant Colfax. Los Angeles Times


How hip-hop royalty found a new home on Instagram Live: “Rappers, producers, D.J.s and entrepreneurs have turned that space into a nightclub, a telethon, a variety show, a history lesson, a talent show and much more.” New York Times


Along a stretch of waterfront in Solano County’s Suisin City, “silly walking” is encouraged. Tired of all the doom and gloom, a local decided a little levity was needed to make life fun again. So she put up signs, roped in neighbors and encouraged people to do their thing. Vacaville Reporter

Fancy a loaf of fresh bread lowered down to you via basket and rope? In San Francisco’s Bernal Heights, two furloughed restaurant chefs have started a pop-up bakery out of their living space, using a novel system to deliver the goods to street level. San Francisco Chronicle

Forget sourdough, start “birding.” Here are seven apps to help you identify all those neighborhood birds you just started noticing. Los Angeles Times

A poem to start your Friday: “The Mystery of the Hunt” by San Francisco poet Michael McClure, who died Monday at 87. Poetry Foundation


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Los Angeles: sunny, 85. San Diego: sunny, 75. San Francisco: partly sunny, 69. San Jose: partly sunny, 91. Fresno: sunny, 98. Sacramento: sunny, 96. More weather is here.


Today’s California memory comes from Karen Magruder:

My family has a long-held tradition of Sunday rides. Living in the north L.A. area and the eastern part of the Inland Empire, they would randomly choose a direction and go for a few hours and then return home. Every time they came to towns that then were essentially wide spots in the road, my great-grandmother Adela Strang would say, ‘Now, what little berg is this?” My grandmother, Marquita Strang, would say, ‘Duck, it’s a bridge!’ By the time my cousins and I came along, there were an awful lot of bridges! They always brought their lunch and would eat while they drove. Not many restaurants back then.


If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (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, ideas and unrelated book recommendations to Julia Wick. Follow her on Twitter @Sherlyholmes.