Essential California Week in Review: The worst, again

Flames crest a hill a few miles from Juniper Hills Road as the Bobcat fire advances north into the Antelope Valley.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It is Saturday, Sept. 19.

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

The death of a giant. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who championed women’s rights — first as a trailblazing civil rights attorney, then as the second woman to serve on the high court and finally as an unlikely pop culture icon — died Friday. Here’s what her death could mean for the election, and the inevitable fight over filling her seat.

Earthquake. A magnitude 4.5 earthquake was reported late Friday night, rattling a wide swath of Southern California. There were no immediate reports of serious damage or injuries, but the 11:38 p.m. quake was felt across the region and as far as San Diego, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The worst, again. Although fire season is a perennial challenge in California, a Times analysis found that wildfires and their compounding effects have intensified in recent years — and there’s little sign things will improve.

Deadly, again. With at least 15 deaths, the North Complex fire quickly moved into the state’s five deadliest fires ever. The initial details illustrate the speed and ferocity with which it moved and how inaccurate or incomplete information may have been the difference between life and death.

Bobcat spreads. Even as firefighters managed to save the famed Mt. Wilson Observatory, the Bobcat fire doubled in size in a week as it raced north toward the Antelope Valley, triggering evacuation orders and threatening homes. Smoke blanketed L.A., raising concerns about the effects of long-term exposure — but the weekend promised respite.


Deputies shot. The shooting of two sheriff’s deputies in Compton last weekend made for a “tinderbox moment” for law enforcement and social justice advocates. But the agency’s response to the attack raised alarms among some activists, lawmakers and watchdogs, fueling calls for Sheriff Alex Villanueva to step down.

A political fire. When President Trump visited California on Monday to address the raging wildfires, his comments denying climate change instead pushed the issue to the forefront of the election and once again put on display his tempestuous relationship with the state.

One relief effort, two disasters. As wildfires rage in the West and hurricanes pummel the Gulf Coast, disaster aid has been forced to evolve, for better or for worse. A global pandemic means no group shelters, no in-person counseling and no hugs.

For now, or for good? New numbers show the state has made significant progress in containing the spread of the coronavirus. But officials say they won’t make the same mistake twice and are keeping a tight grip on reopening standards.

No vacancy. Why did some L.A. hotels decline to house homeless people under Project Roomkey? A new report, prepared by the city’s chief legislative analyst, shed light on some of the challenges encountered by government officials as they tried to secure rooms.

Back to school inequality. The recent decline of new coronavirus cases in California has freed 25 counties to reopen schools in the weeks ahead. But while whiter, wealthier districts are relying on fewer community cases and confident planning, poorer Latino ones don’t have the same opportunities to open safely.

The award for biggest change goes to ... The Emmys. Remote pre-shows and “pajama chic” fashion are consequences of the pandemic, and they have consequences of their own: Workers who rely on awards shows are losing out on needed income.

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This week’s most-clicked stories in Essential California

1. A Hollywood screenwriter raised thousands of dollars to move large boulders into a West L.A. freeway underpass to keep homeless people out. L.A. Magazine

2. How to read and understand air quality numbers and maps. Los Angeles Times

3. “California Poem” by Johnny Cash. Poetry Foundation

4. Here are the locations and statuses of active California wildfires. Los Angeles Times

5. Your questions about air quality answered. Los Angeles Times

ICYMI, here are this week’s great reads

“The world’s on fire. We’re just trying to survive.” Robin Coste Lewis, the outgoing poet laureate of Los Angeles, doesn’t mince words with her college students. Los Angeles Times

When does a model own her own image? That’s the question Emily Ratajkowski plumbs in this powerful essay. The Cut

The 10 days that shaped a national emergency. This story examines the 10-day period from late January, when President Trump was first warned about the scale of the coronavirus threat, to early February, when he acknowledged to author Bob Woodward the extent of the danger the virus posed. Washington Post

From the archives: Here’s Chris Jones’ 2014 longform piece “Away,” which shows astronaut Scott Kelly preparing to spend a year in space. (The story also inspired the new Netflix show “Away.”) Esquire

Poem of the week: “Villanelle” by Weldon Kees. WNYC

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.)