Newsletter: Essential California Week in Review: California enters the 2020 race

Sen. Kamala Harris
Sen. Kamala Harris speaks during an appearance with Sen. Joe Biden in Wilmington, Del., on Aug. 12, 2020.
(Carolyn Kaster / Associated Press)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It is Saturday, Aug. 15.

Here’s a look at the top stories of the last week:

California enters the race. Former Vice President Joe Biden selected Sen. Kamala Harris as his running mate, making her the first woman of color on a major party presidential ticket, the first Indian American on a ticket and the first graduate of a historically Black college or university on a ticket.

And she’s the first Californian in decades. Her selection represents a rare chance for Gov. Gavin Newsom to appoint a new senator, a task that would shape his legacy. It also saw President Trump return to his favorite California talking points — and revive the baseless and racist “birther” rhetoric on which he built his political brand.

Aid remains elusive. Newsom said Monday that the state would face “massive” budget cuts if it carried out Trump’s plan to have states provide $100 of a $400 supplemental weekly unemployment benefit. Newsom and legislative leaders called on federal officials to overcome a stalemate between Congress and the president.

Hot weather, rolling blackouts: A heat wave that began yesterday may rival California’s deadly seven-day heat event of July 2006. The excessive heat is driving up electricity use, prompting the state’s electric grid operator to declare a Stage 3 emergency for the first time since 2001, leading to scattered temporary blackouts around the state.


Big names, murky decisions. For all the boldface names and huge stakes, little is known about Newsom’s economic recovery task force, including how big a role it played in the decisions to reopen California.

Murky decisions, big consequences. Los Angeles County’s response in the pandemic’s early weeks was considered a national model. Then officials rushed the reopening, undoing their progress and unleashing a new wave of illness, death and economic strife.

The cost of herd immunity. Some argue the country simply needs to power through, letting the virus spread unchecked, in an effort to achieve “herd immunity.” But the disastrous situation unfolding at San Quentin State Prison has become the latest of several cautionary tales, with dozens dead, 2,200 cases and counting, and no end in sight.

Numbers game. A public health database failure left California with an inaccurate case count, leading to the departure of a top state health official. The corrected database showed a large rise in cases, but death rates are lower than expected.

The education gap grows. A Times investigation found the divide between wealthier students and their low-income peers is rapidly widening, with stark contrasts in resources, curricula and internet access that threaten to leave some children behind.

First COVID-19 testing, soon voting. Dodger Stadium will host a polling site for November’s election, the team said, through a partnership with LeBron James’ More Than a Vote coalition. The announcement came as Trump moved to undercut mail-in voting.

College football calls time-out. The Pac-12 and Big Ten conferences are canceling all fall sports with the hope of moving their seasons to winter or spring.

Mistakes pile up. A series of errors by contractors and consultants on the California bullet train venture caused support cables to fail on a massive bridge. The event triggered an order to stop work and further delays for a project already years behind schedule.

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1. California’s 10 darkest places for stargazing. KCET

2. How a rush to reopen drove Los Angeles County into a health crisis. Los Angeles Times

3. An 18-year-old woman died in a tent next to Echo Park Lake, the second death since June. Eastsider LA

4. How white people used police to make L.A. one of the most segregated cities in America. Los Angeles Times


5. “It’s a feeding frenzy”: Palm Springs real estate inventory at historic low. SF Gate

ICYMI, here are this week’s great reads

Lillian Michelson built Hollywood’s most famous research library. Can someone give it a home? Los Angeles Times

How Joe Biden chose Kamala Harris: A play-by-play look at how the decision was made. New York Times

“Stephen, 34, and Katie, 28, had fallen in love—as young people do—while figuring out how to separate children from their parents at the border.” A juicy deep dive into the respective backgrounds of senior Trump advisor Stephen Miller and his wife Katie, and how they carved out a special place in the administration for their rhetoric and ideology. Vanity Fair

Poem of the week: “The Burning of the Books” by Bertolt Brecht. The Focus

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. (And a giant thanks to the legendary Laura Blasey for all her help on the Saturday edition.)