Essential California Week in Review: Bracing for worse

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It is Saturday, Sept. 26.

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

Fire risk remains high. California is already in the midst of the worst fire year in its recorded history. Now high heat and strong winds in the forecast bring new risk, with parts of the Bay Area and other regions in Northern California facing critical fire danger this weekend. Meanwhile, Californians are divided sharply along party lines on the role climate change is playing.


Unfathomable milestones. Coronavirus deaths in California topped 15,000 on Sunday while the United States crossed its own milestone this week, surpassing 200,000 deaths. Los Angeles County officials are trying to prevent more as they anxiously wait to see if Labor Day brought a new spike in cases.

Leaving students behind. Families in Boyle Heights, South Los Angeles and Watts struggled with access to computers while facing job losses and food insecurity, hampering online learning, a survey found. A class-action suit on behalf of parents argues that L.A. Unified School District has left tens of thousands of Black and Latino students without a basic education.

Metro cuts. The L.A. Metropolitan Transportation Authority slashed its budget Thursday by $1.2 billion, locking in steep reductions to bus and rail service for nearly a year. The agency has been pummeled by a plunge in sales tax revenue during the COVID-19 pandemic.

No more rooms at the inns. L.A. County began winding down its Project Roomkey program to provide hotel rooms for homeless people at high risk from the coronavirus. The county’s initiative peaked at just over 4,300 guests — about 30% of its ambitious goal — leaving behind a mixed legacy.

The twilight of gas. Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday issued an executive order to require all new cars sold to be zero-emission vehicles by 2035 in a phase-out of gas-powered cars and light trucks. Here’s how his plan would work.

Special status, but still at risk. State officials took the unusual step Tuesday of granting temporary endangered species status to the western Joshua tree — but will still allow 15 solar energy firms to raze Joshua trees that stand in the way of their shovel-ready projects.

New protests. Thousands of protesters gathered in L.A. after a Kentucky grand jury on Wednesday brought no charges against the Louisville police officers in the killing of Breonna Taylor, as that city faced what one woman called “a lot of hurt.” On Thursday night, a driver plowed through a group of protesters in Hollywood, striking at least one person.

LAPD is using facial recognition. It has used the software nearly 30,000 times since 2009, new figures released to The Times show, with hundreds of officers running images from surveillance cameras and other sources against a massive database of mug shots. For years, officials have provided vague and contradictory information about how and whether the department uses the technology.

A new college admissions scandal. The University of California let “inappropriate factors” influence admissions decisions, with four campuses admitting 64 students who had connections to donors or highly placed staff over more qualified applicants, according to a state audit released Tuesday. In one case, UC Regent Richard Blum, a wealthy financier and Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s husband, wrote an “inappropriate letter of support” to get a student get into Berkeley, the audit found.

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1. L.A. Times shaken by a summer of turmoil and scandals. Los Angeles Times

2. California favors Biden, but Trump still raised $61 million. Who are the donors? Los Angeles Times

3. A woman bitten by coyote on Marin County beach walked nearly two miles back to her car, then drove to a hospital. Marin Independent Journal

4. Burglars are switching to homes in San Francisco as tourists, and their cars, stay away. San Francisco Chronicle

5. Check your voter registration status. California Secretary of State

ICYMI, here are this week’s great reads

What if President Trump loses but won’t concede? How a constitutional crisis could play out. Los Angeles Times

A neighbor asked for a tomato. This is where the story gets weird. Washington Post

Want to start a bagel business in a far-flung corner of the world? This is the woman you call to make it work. New York Times

“I picked up a drink and casually set fire to my life.” How addiction nearly destroyed an award-winning San Diego reporter. The Guardian

Poem of the week: “Pookie” by Brandon Leake. YouTube

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.)