Newsletter: Blackouts, broiling heat and a fire tornado

A man pauses from working out under the hot sun on Santa Monica Beach on Saturday.
A man exercises at Santa Monica Beach on Saturday under a blazing sun. The heatwave is expected to continue through the week.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Monday, Aug. 17, and here’s a quick look at the week ahead:

The Democratic National Convention opens on Monday. Meanwhile, President Trump will be hitting battleground states as counter-programming to the convention. He’ll be in Minnesota and Wisconsin on Monday and Arizona on Tuesday.

The NBA playoffs also begin Monday. Both the L.A. Clippers and the Lakers are in the playoffs.

On Tuesday, the Golden State Killer — a former policeman who pleaded guilty in June to murders and other crimes that terrorized California in the 1970s and ‘80s — will be sentenced in Sacramento.

Tuesday will also be a big moment on the national stage for Long Beach Mayor Robert Garciahe’ll be featured as one of 17 party “rising stars” delivering the DNC keynote address. (This is the same speaking slot that jump-started then-state Sen. Barack Obama’s national political career in 2004, but the catch this year is that the honor is being divided 17 ways.)


[See also: “The Democratic National Convention has gone virtual. Here’s how to watch” in the Los Angeles Times]

Wednesday will be an even bigger night for Californians at the convention, with vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi slated to speak. Gov. Newsom will speak Thursday, which is the same night Joe Biden will deliver his speech.

On Friday, actress Lori Loughlin and her husband will be sentenced for their role in the college admissions scandal.

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

The state faced its most serious energy shortage in nearly 20 years over the weekend, as Californians with nowhere to go blasted their AC from home during a searing heat wave, and demand soared. The body that runs the electric grid for most of California declared a statewide Stage 3 emergency Friday evening, and California saw rolling blackouts across the state for the first time since 2001. The COVID-19 pandemic has also caused cities and counties across the state to rethink how they operate cooling centers, another crucial component of how the region protects its residents during heat waves. Los Angeles Times

Note: These blackouts are different from the “public safety power shut-offs” that left millions of Northern California PG&E customers without power last fall. The public safety power shut-offs are a wildfire-prevention tactic, whereas the goal of the controlled shutoffs is to avoid longer and more widespread outages due to equipment failures that can result when high demand overburdens the system.

Wild weather: Rare lightning storms struck the San Francisco Bay Area and the Monterey Bay region Sunday morning, sparking multiple vegetation fires in Santa Clara, San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties. Meanwhile, brush fires continued to burn in Southern California, and a massive wildfire in Northern California spawned rotating columns of flames, prompting forecasters to issue a rare fire-related tornado warning on Saturday. (Fire tornadoes are rare but not unheard of in California. One was observed at the Lake fire in northern L.A. County last week, and the 2018 Carr fire spawned a fire tornado that was roughly 1,000 feet in diameter.) Los Angeles Times

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Los Angeles Unified School District has announced a massive COVID-19 testing and tracing initiative for all students and staff, aiming to create a path to safely reopening campuses. If the plan comes to fruition as described, it would be one of the most extensive to date for an American school district. It remains unclear, however, how quickly it would be implemented and when in-person learning could resume. Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles won’t ticket for street sweeping violations until October at the earliest. Parking enforcement on street-sweeping days has been suspended since April. The city had previously said officers would resume writing the $73 tickets Aug. 16, but Mayor Eric Garcetti announced the latest postponement Friday. Los Angeles Times

“Discovering Griffith Park,” a history-rich guidebook by Casey Schreiner, gives one of the country’s largest, greatest city parks its due. (You may know your way around Bronson Cave, but did you know that Griffith J. Griffith, who donated the land to the city as a Christmas gift in 1896 with the stipulation that it be used only as an open-to-the-public park, also tried to kill his wife in a drunken rage? She survived but lost an eye, and his legacy is typically referred to as “complicated.”) Los Angeles Times

Diamond Bakery on L.A.’s Fairfax Avenue has survived a lot over 74 years. Loyal customers and a GoFundMe campaign hope to carry it through the pandemic. Los Angeles Times

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A federal judge has ordered immediate testing of all detainees and staff at a Bakersfield immigration detention center where COVID-19 was spreading for weeks while officials refused to test for the virus. Los Angeles Times


Spurred by fears that President Trump is trying to eviscerate the U.S. Postal Service to help him win reelection, Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Sunday abruptly summoned the House back to Washington this week to pass a bill aimed at rolling back administration cutbacks that could cripple widespread mail-in voting.

Congressional Democrats also called on the recently appointed postmaster general to testify Aug. 24 at an emergency hearing by a House committee about cost-cutting moves that led to steep slowdowns in mail service in much of the country over the last three months. Los Angeles Times


A Bay Area medical examiner and vocal critic of the federal response to the coronavirus pandemic resigned and moved her family to New Zealand. “The abrupt move punctuated months of frustration with her own work environment, where she said coroner deputies would sneak through a back entrance to avoid temperature checks and homicide detectives would walk into the morgue without masks.” San Francisco Chronicle

East Bay water managers released about 50,000 gallons of sewage into the estuary between Oakland and Alameda on Saturday morning after a power outage caused equipment to fail at a wastewater treatment plant. San Francisco Chronicle


Nearly half a century ago, Chicano activists occupied Catalina Island. “Outside the island, it’s a part of Southern California history that is known by a fair amount of people, mostly Mexican Americans whose roots go back generations. But many other people, probably most, have no idea about the event.” Los Angeles Times

Activist David Sanchez on Santa Catalina Island
Activist David Sanchez, who founded the Brown Berets and led them in their 1972 occupation of Santa Catalina Island on behalf of the Chicano movement, treks to the spot where the group camped in Avalon nearly five decades ago.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

“Agent of colonialism” or a “saint for our times”? Junipero Serra’s legacy divides California Latinos. Los Angeles Times

Her mom inspired this San Diego-born author’s book on race and identity. Then came the Hollywood bidding war. Los Angeles Times

[That book — “The Vanishing Half” by Brit Bennett — is this month’s L.A. Times Book Club pick. Bennett will join book club readers on Aug. 25 for a virtual conversation with Times writer Carla Hall.]

Support for backyard hens in Bakersfield grows as advocates attempt for legalization within city limits. The Bakersfield City Council recently directed staff to draft an urban hen ordinance that would allow chickens in many parts of the city — a prospect that, if passed, “frightens some residents just as much as it excites others.” Bakersfield California

A poem to start your week: “Ripe Cherries” by Athena Kildegaard. The Writer’s Almanac

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Los Angeles: partly sunny, 89. San Diego: partly sunny, 80. San Francisco: partly sunny, 80. San Jose: partly sunny, 94. Fresno: sunny, 109. Sacramento: partly sunny, 109. More weather is here.


This week’s birthdays for those who made a mark in California:

Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison (Aug. 17, 1944), UCLA Chancellor Gene Block (Aug. 17, 1948), actor Sean Penn (Aug. 17, 1960), Google co-founder Sergey Brin (Aug. 21, 1973), former Gov. Pete Wilson (Aug. 23, 1933) and 12-time Olympic swimming medalist Natalie Coughlin (Aug. 23, 1982).

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.