Newsletter: Essential California Week in Review: Ballots, boxes and basketball

Caitlin Harjes and Angel Santiago place their ballots inside an official Orange County ballot drop box.
Caitlin Harjes of Orange, with Angel Santiago of Santa Ana, places her ballot inside an official Orange County ballot drop box on Thursday.
(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It is Saturday, Oct. 17.

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

Ballot box battle. California’s attorney general and chief elections officer on Monday sent a cease-and-desist letter to Republican Party officials demanding that they immediately stop using private ballot collection containers marked as “official.” The GOP insists the boxes are legal.

Shattering records. Election day is more than two weeks away, but more than 1 million Californians had already returned their mail-in ballots by the end of this week, according to the state — the most ballots collected by mail at this point in any state election.

Planning for chaos. The Los Angeles Police Department has informed all its officers that they may need to reschedule any vacations around election day as the agency prepares for possible protests or other unrest.

The Lakers’ 17th title. The team won its first NBA championship in 10 years Sunday night with a 106-93 victory over the Miami Heat. But in downtown Los Angeles, the celebration came to a tumultuous end: At least 76 people were arrested, and LAPD projectiles seriously injured people in the crowds.

Conservation efforts torched. Until a few weeks ago, the West Fork of the San Gabriel River was one of the most abundant wildlife habitats in Los Angeles County. Then the Bobcat fire swept through, setting back efforts to save protected species.

Trump waffles on aid. After first rejecting California’s request for disaster relief funds to help with six wildfires, the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Friday reversed its decision and approved it. The rejection briefly had counties scrambling to figure out what to do during the state’s worst-ever fire season.

California’s cleanup. A bankruptcy court ruled Friday that Exide Technologies may abandon its shuttered battery recycling plant in Vernon, leaving a massive cleanup of lead and other toxic pollutants at the site and in surrounding neighborhoods to California taxpayers. Newsom said the state intends to appeal.

Confronting Glendale’s past. The city’s racist history has cast a long shadow that Glendale is now taking steps to remedy. It is the first city in California, and just the third in the nation, to pass a resolution apologizing for its history as a sundown town.

Not canceled, but discouraged. State health officials are advising Californians to skip trick-or-treating this Halloween — though their new guidelines, released Tuesday, stop short of banning it amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Another day, another jet pack? A China Airlines pilot approaching LAX reported seeing a jet pack on Wednesday, less than two months after two pilots reported passing a person with a jet pack in August. It’s become one of the most intriguing aviation mysteries Los Angeles has confronted in years.

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1. A tiki bar in Solvang owned by a longtime Disney employee might the most “magical” in California. SF Gate


2. Where to find fall colors in Southern California. Los Angeles Times

3. Why is a Stanford doctor promoting herd immunity at the White House? Bay Area experts explain the controversy. San Francisco Chronicle

4. An unlikely Pasadena love story: The high-school bromance of Eddie Van Halen and David Lee Roth. Los Angeles Times

5. “At North Farm” by John Ashbery. UPenn Writing Center

ICYMI, here are this week’s great reads

Going Sohla: After leaving Bon Appétit, chef Sohla El-Waylly now has her own show — where she’s paid fairly for her fantastic creations. New York Magazine

Theo Henderson has influence but no house. His podcast, “We the Unhoused,” is made from wherever he can charge his phone. Curbed


The world’s richest king, his mysterious fortune and protesters who want answers. A deep dive into Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn. Los Angeles Times

Poem of the week: “What Kind of Times Are These” by Adrienne Rich. Poetry Foundation

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.)