Newsletter: President flies through wildfire smoke to ignore climate change

President Trump speaks to reporters as he arrives at Sacramento McClellan Airport for a briefing on wildfires.
President Trump speaks to reporters Monday as he arrives at Sacramento McClellan Airport for a briefing on wildfires.
(Associated Press)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Tuesday, Sept. 15, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

“It will start getting cooler, you just watch,” President Trump said during a briefing Monday with California and federal officials, shortly after Air Force One flew through wildfire smoke to land at McClellan Airfield just outside Sacramento.

[Read the story: “In California, Trump continues to deny climate change is real: ‘It will start getting cooler’” in the Los Angeles Times]

The president of the United States once again ignored the scientific consensus on climate change during his brief visit to California, echoing the same willful denial seen in his repeated assertions that the coronavirus would “go away” on its own. (Nearly 200,000 Americans have died since the president first made that assertion, and devastating fires turbocharged by climate change continue to rage across the West Coast.)


As my colleagues write, Trump deflected questions about whether climate change was a driving force behind California’s historic wildfires this year during Monday’s briefing, saying instead that major fires can be attributed to what he described as a failure to properly manage the state’s forests, including the need to cut more fire breaks.

[Read the story: “Trump’s antagonistic relationship with California overshadows his visit to check on wildfires” in the Los Angeles Times]

Is forest management a part of California’s fire problem? Absolutely, and during his remarks Monday, Gov. Gavin Newsom acknowledged that state and federal officials have fallen short in the area. But just as scientists had predicted for decades, climate change has made things much, much worse, fueling California’s record-breaking wildfires, heat and smog. Newsom also recently noted that the federal government owns a little more than half of California’s 33 million acres of forestland, compared with the 3% owned by the state.

[See also: “Is climate change worsening California fires, or is it poor forest management? Both, experts say” in the San Francisco Chronicle]

The death toll from California’s wildfires has swelled to 24, as authorities continued to search for people still missing. Major fires continue to burn across the state, with firefighters toiling to keep multiple blazes from reaching populated communities.

[See also: A map of where fires are burning in California from the Los Angeles Times]

Two California cities — Los Angeles and San Francisco — currently rank among the 10 most polluted places in the world, as smoke from the fires continues to choke our skies.

“It’s a boxed-in feeling,” North Hollywood artist Carole J. McCoy told my colleague Hayley Smith. “Not being able to go outside, because I have asthma and allergies, takes away the one thing that was a sense of freedom and peace.”

More on the air quality issues:

  • How to read and understand air quality numbers and maps. Here’s what all those numbers and colors actually mean. Los Angeles Times
  • Your questions about air quality answered, including what you need to know about masks and running your air conditioner. Los Angeles Times

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

A glimmer of good news: Over the last seven days, just 3.5% of COVID-19 tests in California came back positive, the lowest rate since the state began reporting the data in late March. A month ago, the positive test rate was nearly twice as high. Los Angeles Times

School campuses in affluent areas plan to open quicker than those in low-income, mostly Latino ones. The recent decline of new coronavirus cases in California has freed 25 counties to reopen schools in the weeks ahead. But school district leaders face disparate situations and complicated decisions. Los Angeles Times

Note: Some of the sites we link to may limit the number of stories you can access without subscribing.


More than a week after the Bobcat fire ignited in the rugged terrain of the Angeles National Forest, it has emerged as an unusual menace that has evaded fire crews and terrorized local communities — despite burning no homes or causing any injuries. Los Angeles Times

South L.A. activists seek dialogue with the Sheriff’s Department after deputy shooting inflames tensions: In the wake of Saturday night’s shooting of two L.A. County Sheriff’s Department deputies in Compton, several activists have come forward to denounce the violence and urge the department to engage in more dialogue with the community. Los Angeles Times

L.A.’s 99-year-old late-night steakhouse Pacific Dining Car is auctioning off an array of items from its historic Sixth Street restaurant. The auction listing spurred an outpouring of worry from fans, but the restaurant says it is not going away entirely — it will still sell steaks online, for the time being. Eater LA

The main dining room of the Pacific Dining Car in downtown Los Angeles is made to look like a train dining car
The main dining room of the Pacific Dining Car in downtown Los Angeles. (This particular sign doesn’t appear to be for sale, but several others are.)
(Nick Agro / Los Angeles Times)

What is a COVID-19 waiver, and should you sign one before working on a set? As production companies attempt to resume filming, many crews are being asked to sign away their right to make any claims against the production if they get sick. Los Angeles Times

Diesel bookstore launches a GoFundMe to survive the pandemic as others struggle. At Diesel in Brentwood, the outpouring of support from customers and fellow booksellers — many of whom face the same threats — has been heartwarming, said a co-owner. Los Angeles Times

Underground mariscos: Here are eight new DM-only ceviche spots in Southern California. L.A. Taco

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The 9th Circuit overturns an injunction protecting TPS holders: A federal appeals court decided 2-1 Monday that the Trump administration may deport hundreds of thousands of immigrants who previously received temporary protected status for humanitarian reasons. Los Angeles Times


“Tell me: Where are you going to go?” Longtime environmental advocate and former Gov. Jerry Brown dismissed the latest round of talk about people fleeing California, making the point that climate change is a global crisis. New York Times


A lawsuit alleging a brutal and unconstitutional crackdown by Los Angeles police during protests this summer is expected to take years to resolve, even if a settlement is reached along the way. Los Angeles Times


In the clouds of Venus, scientists may have found signs of extraterrestrial life. “The notion that the Venusian phosphine could have been produced by living organisms may seem absurd, the team members acknowledged. And yet it’s one of the most plausible theories they have.” Los Angeles Times


Ann Getty has died at 79. The philanthropist was a major fixture in San Francisco society for decades. San Francisco Chronicle

Kids rejoiced when school reopened in a rural Northern California town. Then the Slater fire left many students homeless. Los Angeles Times

Please don’t call the cops on restaurant pop-ups, says Chronicle food critic: “I swear to god, if I hear about one more pop-up having to shut down during this pandemic because some anonymous fool wanted to rain on everyone’s parade, I’m going to lose it,” she writes. San Francisco Chronicle

In rugged Mendocino County, these WiFi-equipped school buses will help ensure students can connect for distance learning. The Willits school superintendent said he decided to utilize school buses since drivers can’t perform their normal routes during distance learning. Willits News

A poem to start your Tuesday: “California Poem” by Johnny Cash. Poetry Foundation

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Los Angeles: sunny, 87. San Diego: sunny, 82. San Francisco: partly sunny, 71. San Jose: partly sunny, 78. Fresno: sunny, 91. Sacramento: sunny, 89. More weather is here.


Today’s California memory comes from Drew Arroyo:

I was lucky to be born and raised in the beautiful Bay Area. As an over-energized junior high school student, in the pre-internet era, my brothers and/or buddies and I used our seemingly endless creativity to entertain ourselves, and each other, on the long, hot summer days. Once out of our homes, we’d build BMX jumps, light firecrackers and occasionally swipe a few beers from an open garage. Often, we’d pelt passing cars with neighborhood fruit to entice a thrilling chase! We’d also re-create our favorite scenes from “Raiders of the Lost Ark” with Typha latifolia (“corn dog plants”) dipped in scavenged gasoline and then ignited. It’s amazing no one broke a bone, lost an eye or burned down anything of significance. Good times!

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.