Newsletter: Can we open the windows yet?

Alli Coyler and Luis Garcia walk under smoky skies along Figueroa Terrace near downtown L.A. on Monday.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Thursday, Sept. 17, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

Can you open the windows yet? That’s the question many Californians are asking, as patches of actual blue — an extremely unfamiliar sight — now color the sky in parts of the state. The answer, as always, depends upon where you live.

But we’ll start with the good news. Many Californians are likely to see some improvement in air quality over the next few days, as weather conditions continue to move the smoke. (There is now enough smoke from West Coast wildfires to partially shroud the sun in parts of the Eastern Seaboard, with smoke and hazy conditions reported in areas from Maine to New York. As my colleague Luke Money reports, West Coast smoke is also expected to waft into Europe again this week.)

[See also: “Your questions about air quality answered” in the Los Angeles Times]


In the Bay Area, residents can finally breathe a little easier, at least for now. After 30 consecutive days of “Spare the Air” alerts, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District announced Wednesday that they would not be extending the alert through Thursday, ending the Bay’s longest streak of unhealthy air-quality days on record. (The previous record was set in 2018 during the Camp fire.) According to Air District meteorologist Jarrett Clairborne, the Bay will see mostly good air quality with some isolated pockets of moderate conditions Friday, with possible smoke impacts from northern fires returning Saturday.

The state’s capital has also seen some relief from weeks of bad air, with the Sacramento Bee reporting that air quality in the majority of Sacramento and Yolo counties saw “good” air-quality index readings Wednesday. According to the local Spare the Air forecast, air quality in the Sacramento region (which also includes Solano, Placer and El Dorado counties) is expected to remain moderate through Friday, before slipping back into the “unhealthy for sensitive groups” zone over the weekend.

According to the National Weather Service, the smoke layer in Southern California is also starting to thin. But Southern Californians are still unlikely to see a respite from the poor air quality in the immediate future.

Smoke from the Bobcat and El Dorado fires continues to blanket the region, and air quality is expected to range from “very unhealthy” to “unhealthy for sensitive groups” on Thursday, with a few small pockets of moderate air quality.

[Read the story: “As smoke continues to shroud L.A. County, residents worry about long-term exposure” in the Los Angeles Times]

The northernmost part of the state, some of its eastern reaches and most of the lower Central Valley will also continue to see poor air quality Thursday. Jaime Holt, a communications officer with the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, said her office did foresee slight improvements in the region, “but we don’t anticipate it returning to good air quality over the next several days.” According to Holt, the air pollution in the lower Central Valley is at its worst in the communities closest to the fires burning in the Sierra Nevada, particularly Tulare and Fresno counties.

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

The Bobcat fire continued to be a threat on several fronts Tuesday, expanding to the northeast while all eyes remained on the southern foothill communities and the Mt. Wilson Observatory to the west. Los Angeles Times

Getting your flu shot will be more important than ever this year. As coronavirus rates start to come down in some parts of the country, there’s a fear that eased restrictions or even just a perception of reduced risk will lead to a “twindemic” — a rough flu season on top of COVID-19. Here’s how you can get a flu shot in Southern California. Los Angeles Times

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


The sheriff’s combative response to a shocking attack on two deputies has sparked new alarms and criticism. Shortly after the attack, a longtime Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman posted tweets that employed racist stereotypes. Deputies also arrested a public radio reporter covering the aftermath of the shooting, offering a narrative of the incident that was refuted by videos the reporter had recorded on her phone. Los Angeles Times

Why didn’t these L.A. hotels house homeless people? A new report offers some answers. Los Angeles Times

One family’s COVID-19 nightmare shows the pandemic’s unjust burden on Latinos in California: “If you’re Latino in California — even if, like me, you have the luxury of a white-collar job that grants you the privilege of working from home — it’s almost a certainty that COVID-19 will stalk the life of someone you love,” my colleague Gustavo Arellano writes in his first piece as The Times’ newest California columnist. Los Angeles Times

“Rot at Hollywood’s playground.” After a battle over unionization and mass layoffs, Chateau Marmont staff allege racial discrimination, sexual misconduct and neglectful management. The Hollywood Reporter

Confused about voting in L.A. this November? This video will answer your questions about mail-in ballots, registration deadlines and voting centers. Los Angeles Times

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President Trump’s former intelligence director advised Trump to be careful with information provided by Rep. Devin Nunes, warning that some of it “turns out to be false,” according to a new book about the Trump administration. The exchange is detailed in “Rage,” a book about Trump by journalist Bob Woodward. Fresno Bee

Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Tulare) is the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee.
(Andrew Harrer / Associated Press)


Atty. Gen. William Barr allegedly told federal prosecutors in a call last week that they should consider charging rioters and others who had committed violent crimes at protests in recent months with sedition. People on the call were reportedly alarmed by the highly unusual suggestion that protesters be charged with insurrection against lawful authority. New York Times


Rules proposed by the state insurance commissioner offer discounts for reducing wildfire risks: After multiple years of insurers dropping homeowners’ policies in areas hit hard by wildfires, the state insurance commissioner is pushing for regulations that would offset rising premiums with discounts for mitigating wildfire risks. Los Angeles Times

Water company withdraws desalination proposal as battle over environmental justice heats up: California American Water on Wednesday withdrew its application for a desalination project in the small Monterey Bay town of Marina. The proposal had become one of the most fraught issues to come before the California Coastal Commission, which was set to vote Thursday. Los Angeles Times


The Dodgers clinched a playoff spot with a win over the San Diego Padres. This will be their eighth consecutive season with a spot in the playoffs. Los Angeles Times

San Francisco’s Muni transit system is on track to get a new multimillion-dollar, state-of-the-art sign and arrival alert network, but its downtown Metro train control system still runs on floppy disks and cannibalized parts. San Francisco Chronicle

“Too much tragedy.” Her daughter is in prison, suicidal. Her grandmother fled a fire. Los Angeles Times

The former home of science fiction novelist Ursula K. Le Guin is for sale in Berkeley. “Broad graceful bracketed eaves and Swiss scroll-sawn wooden balconies and decks look out onto San Francisco and Golden Gate views,” according to the listing. Sacramento Bee

Where to order Rosh Hashanah eats for pickup and delivery in the East Bay. Call your mother while you are at it, you know how she worries. Berkeleyside

A poem to start your Thursday: “After Paradise” by Czeslaw Milosz, translated by Milosz and Robert Hass. Rhymings (Thanks to deputy editor for arts and entertainment Alison Brower for suggesting today’s poem.)

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Los Angeles: partly sunny, 91. San Diego: sunny, 84. San Francisco: partly sunny, 71. San Jose: sunny, 78. Fresno: cloudy, 89. Sacramento: partly sunny, 87. More weather is here.


Today’s California memory comes from Diane Baumann:

My first visit to Los Angeles was in 1973. As a teenager from the New Jersey, I spent two weeks at a work camp. We lived with host families and helped Lutheran churches around Pasadena. I had my first taco at a place called Taco Bell. We spent a day in the mountains behind Altadena. I got my worst sunburn ever at Huntington Beach. I still visit as my son has abandoned the East Coast for Irvine and I am still good friends with the girl from my host family all those years ago.

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.