Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Thursday, May 14, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.
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Ballots were marked in a parking lot adjacent to a shut-down Souplantation in Porter Ranch, at the Pampered Pooch Pet Hotel in Palmdale and within such close proximity to a drive-through coronavirus testing center in Valencia that official voter signage read, “This is NOT a COVID-19 testing site.”
But mainly they were marked at home, as voters in California’s 25th Congressional District overwhelmingly chose to vote by mail when faced with the prospect of a special election during a pandemic.
On Wednesday afternoon, Republican Mike Garcia claimed victory in the race for an open congressional seat north of Los Angeles, marking the first time the GOP has flipped a California district from blue to red in more than 20 years. The 25th Congressional District sprawls from Simi Valley, Porter Ranch, Santa Clarita and Palmdale to a portion of Lancaster.
[Read the story: “Republicans stake congressional victory, claim seat Democrat Katie Hill vacated” in the Los Angeles Times]
With Garcia in a double-digit lead, Democratic state Assemblywoman Christy Smith had issued a statement conceding, even as more than 20,000 ballots remained to be processed.
Garcia is a defense industry executive and former Navy fighter pilot. The first-time candidate will serve the not-quite 8-month-long remainder of former Rep Katie Hill’s term, with his reelection campaign already underway as he takes office. He will face off against Smith again in November in a bid to win a full two years in Congress.
The groundwork for Tuesday’s special election was laid in October, when Hill’s meteoric congressional career exploded in scandal. The freshman Democrat from Santa Clarita announced late that month that she would resign amid publication of nude photos of her and allegations that she had romantic relationships with congressional and campaign subordinates.
[See also: “Katie Hill’s fast political rise met a quick fall amid shifting politics in #MeToo era” in the Los Angeles Times]
Hill’s election two years ago had represented a major shift for the district. As my colleague Mark Z. Barabak writes, the 25th District had “remained safely in Republican hands for decades until Hill won the seat in 2018 as part of a blue wave that netted 40 seats nationwide and put Democrats in control of the House.”
Beleaguered California Republicans cheered Garcia’s victory as presaging further wins in November. But, as my colleagues noted in their story, more impartial analysts cautioned against reading too much into the results, noting the idiosyncratic nature of special elections like the one held in the 25th Congressional District.
“Garcia is something of a political unicorn,” David Wasserman, a nonpartisan elections expert with the Cook Political Report, told Barabak and fellow Times political reporter Arit John. “He’s a Republican who is a lot of things Trump isn’t: a military veteran, a son of a Mexican immigrant and an even-keeled defense executive.”
And now, here’s what’s happening across California:
California officials said Wednesday that 16 of the state’s 58 counties — most of them rural — will be allowed to more fully reopen. Amador, Butte, El Dorado, Lassen, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Sierra, Tuolumne, Yuba, Sutter, Shasta, Colusa, Glenn, San Benito and Tehama have been certified as meeting the state’s conditions for additional businesses to reopen. Gov. Gavin Newsom said talks are underway with 31 other California counties to discuss whether they can expand their reopenings. Los Angeles Times
L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti said that all Angelenos will be required to wear face-coverings outside, except for small children and those with certain disabilities. This significantly tightens city restrictions that already required masks in businesses and on public transportation. Garcetti’s announcement came as public health officials continued to ease restrictions in Los Angeles County, allowing the limited reopening of thousands more retail shops and manufacturing companies while extending the county’s stay-at-home order indefinitely. Los Angeles Times
Meanwhile, San Francisco and at least two other Bay Area counties plan to incrementally ease their social distancing restrictions on Monday, allowing some retailers to open for curbside pickup. Los Angeles Times
The L.A. City Hall corruption scandal continues: A real estate consultant has agreed to plead guilty to one count of racketeering in the ongoing federal pay-to-play corruption probe at L.A. City Hall. George Chiang is the third person in the City Hall corruption case to agree to plead guilty over the past two months. Former Councilman Mitchell Englander reached a plea agreement in March. Los Angeles Times
The Hollywood Bowl domino effect: Layoffs and furloughs followed news of the Hollywood Bowl’s season cancellation. Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles County beaches reopened Wednesday for limited, active recreational use after a six-week closure. Los Angeles Times
Popular Angeles National Forest trails and campgrounds are set to reopen Saturday — with some caveats. Los Angeles Times
POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT
Federal regulators have offered new details about problems that have delayed a $1-billion deal between California and a Chinese automaker for respirators, saying they denied certification of the masks after inspections of the company’s factories in China and a review of critical documents belonging to the project. Los Angeles Times
CRIME AND COURTS
Paul Manafort has been released from federal prison to serve the rest of his sentence in home confinement because of concerns about the coronavirus, his lawyer said Wednesday. President Trump’s onetime campaign chairman was convicted as part of the special counsel’s Russia investigation. Los Angeles Times
HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT
The coronavirus is stalling air quality and pollution rules, even in eco-minded California. Los Angeles Times
One of San Francisco’s biggest landlords is defending its acceptance of a $3.6-million PPP loan intended for small businesses. Veritas, which manages hundreds of apartment buildings and “in recent years reported a value exceeding $3 billion,” has drawn the ire of San Francisco politicos and tenant activists over the move. Mission Local
Could California’s Central Coast lead the way for the future of local food tourism? “It’s going to take time,” says winemaker James Sparks, “but people are going to want to come back here.” Sparks sees a post-pandemic renaissance for the area, practically visible from the green hills around his home in the Danish-themed hamlet of Solvang. Eater LA
Grocery stores and coffee chains gave workers hazard pay. But this rise in wages — the “hero bonuses” and “appreciation pay” — is already subsiding. With Starbucks reopening stores, those $3 raises will terminate at the end of May. So will Target’s $2 hourly raise. Kroger-owned grocery chains such as Ralphs, QFC and Fred Meyer will stop paying an extra $2 per hour Sunday. Los Angeles Times
Meet the Ojai dad who made the most notorious piece of coronavirus disinformation yet. “If you haven’t seen ‘Plandemic’ — whose claims have now been widely debunked — picture the sort of ominous conspiracy-theory video that would pop up on your paranoid uncle’s Facebook feed or in the darkest recesses of Reddit, then stir in the worst global health crisis in a century.” Los Angeles Times
NOT EVERYTHING IS TERRIBLE
North Bay residents share their favorite “pandemic pantry” recipes — which, as the name suggests, can ideally be created using items already in your kitchen. Santa Rosa Press Democrat
The world will get to relive the glory days of the iconic 1999 U.S. Women’s Soccer team on the small screen: Netflix is making a movie about the team, following its journey to the Women’s World Cup and groundbreaking success. Variety
And from the annals of idle curiosity: Here’s a look at where the players from that historic squad are now, timed to last year’s two-decade anniversary of the big game. (Mia Hamm is a part-owner of the Los Angeles Football Club, Briana Scurry is a public speaker, and Brandi Chastain runs a youth soccer club in Santa Clara, for starters.) ESPN
About 200 brush-clearing goats escaped and roamed the streets of East San Jose. Yes, there is a delightful video. NBC Bay Area
A poem to start your Thursday: “Atlantis — A Lost Sonnet” by Eavan Boland. Poets.org
Los Angeles: sunny, 75. San Diego: sunny, 73. San Francisco: partly sunny, 64. San Jose: partly sunny, 73. Fresno: windy, 80. Sacramento: partly sunny, 75. More weather is here.
Today’s California memory comes from Jaime Leon:
One of our favorite stories of life in 1954 East L.A. was how our dad and mom met: While visiting from Tucson, mom went to the supermarket. Pop was working there, restocking the milk. He says, ‘I was inside the cooler. Looking out through the shelves I saw the prettiest girl ever. I fell for her right there! She reached in for a bottle of milk. I grabbed that bottle, didn’t let go. She looked in and saw me, I asked her for a date. We dated long distance, then got married.’ Sixty-one years married, still living in East Los Angeles.
If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)