Newsletter: Essential California: Hoping for the best and preparing for the worst

A poll worker holds her arm in the air directing a voter.
A poll worker holds her arm in the air directing a voter to an available voting booth during early voting at the Beverly Hills City Hall parking garage on Saturday.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Friday, Oct. 30, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

As the country braces for one of its most contentious elections in recent memory, fears of potential election-related violence and unrest have necessitated unique preparations.

[See also: “Latino immigrants who’ve survived electoral violence are anxious about Nov. 3" in the Los Angeles Times]


Those fears are far from limited to the fringes. And in a country of stark divides, they’re also surprisingly bipartisan. A new UC Berkeley poll found that more than 5 in 10 Trump supporters surveyed believed postelection violence was “very likely” if there are disputes about the accuracy of the vote count, compared with 4 in 10 Biden voters.

Overall, 44% of likely California voters believed violence was “very likely” if there were disputes about the election, while another 44% called it “somewhat likely.” Just 12% said it was not likely.

[Read the story: “Fears of election violence are widespread, poll finds” in the Los Angeles Times]

Sheldon Yellen runs Belfor, one of the largest disaster recovery companies in the world. Speaking by phone on Wednesday, the CEO said that his local branches had been fielding pre-election inquiries from across the country, including in California.

“They’re not saying to call to dispatch people today,” Yellen explained, likening the calls to the same kind of prep that happens before a hurricane. The question, he said, is “If we need you, are you guys available?”

The answer, of course, is yes. The company is in “the responding business,” and they always have the plywood inventory, equipment-stocked trucks and crews of carpenters available to provide “board up” services should the need arise. Yellen said Belfor has been asked to do some preemptive boarding of businesses in California, but most inquiries end with people saying they hope they don’t have to call. (And disaster may be his business, but for the record, Yellen also hopes the calls don’t come on Nov. 3.)

He declined to discuss specific clients but confirmed that malls, luxury retailers and grocery stores had been among those making inquiries. The company is well-versed in providing such services, generally speaking, but Yellen said this was the first time Belfor had fielded these kind of inquiries in regard to an American election.

Belfor is a multinational corporation with nearly 10,000 full-time employees around the globe, but some smaller disaster recovery companies have had to scramble to meet the demands of 2020.

Fredy Rodriguez of PRC Restoration, a Carson-based disaster restoration business with about 115 employees, said the company was flooded with calls from Southern California clients seeking to board up businesses during the protests in June.

Their experience earlier this year (“really long hours” for their crews and “running to Home Depot to get whatever was available” after they’d gone through all the plywood inventory) helped shape the company’s plan for the election.

This weekend will be the first time they have teams available on standby for board-up jobs, with eight two-man crews ready and waiting to go starting this Friday, if needed. They’ve also arranged for additional shipments of plywood, should the demand exceed their warehouse inventory.

Several California police forces have put their own standby plans in place.

Earlier this month, the Los Angeles Police Department informed officers that it had designated Nov. 2 to 9 as a “special event,” with modified hours and limited time off for anyone. Law enforcement sources told my colleagues that the department does not have any specific intelligence suggesting problems but that the bulletin was put out to be prepared for any contingencies. San Francisco police officers have also had plans for discretionary days off on election day canceled.

Beverly Hills has gone even further, making the preemptive decision to close Rodeo Drive to cars and pedestrian traffic on election day and the day after, in what the city’s police chief calls a “proactive approach” to possible protests.

Of course, nothing happens in a vacuum — especially not in 2020. Across the country, election anxiety has been compounded by pandemic fears as coronavirus cases surge into their third peak. In California, an unprecedented wildfire season has also brought disruption and anxiety.

As my colleague Marisa Gerber recently reported, thousands of Californians have purchased firearms in 2020, including many first-time buyers. The spike has been attributed to fears over the pandemic, but also, in part, to people’s fears of “government collapse,” according to a recent survey conducted by researchers at UC Davis.

Here in Los Angeles, election day is also coming on the heels of two consecutive sports celebrations — the Lakers’ NBA title victory and the Dodgers’ World Series win — that escalated into violence and clashes between revelers and police this month.

During a briefing on Wednesday night, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti reiterated that there was “no intelligence” suggesting any sort of plot to carry out violence or voter intimidation at L.A. polls. But he said the city is ready for whatever may come and prepared to protect voters who will be casting ballots.

[Read the story: “Mayor and LAPD chief assure voters that L.A. is election-ready and voting is safe” in the Los Angeles Times]

“At the same time, I don’t want to buy into a narrative that there’s going to be chaos during our elections,” Garcetti said. “We prepare for the worst, but we are hoping and expect generally the best.”

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

New coronavirus spike in L.A. County brings new alarms: There were new alarming signs that COVID-19 was spreading again in Los Angeles County, with officials announcing the highest one-day increase in cases not connected to a reporting backlog since August. The county reported 1,745 new cases Thursday as well as 19 new deaths. It’s the latest evidence that after declining for several months, the novel coronavirus may be on the rise again in L.A. County and other parts of Southern California. Los Angeles Times

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People who partied after Dodgers and Lakers victories should get coronavirus tests. Mayor Garcetti is urging anyone who congregated in large groups to get tested and stay isolated for 14 days. Los Angeles Times

Can the L.A. County supervisors remove Sheriff Villanueva? Experts say the options are limited. Los Angeles Times

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In 1990, Rock the Vote and Madonna shook up politics. Will the youth vote do the same in 2020? Los Angeles Times

President Nancy Pelosi? Odds are very low, but here’s how it could happen. Los Angeles Times

A recent ad by Rep. TJ Cox (D-Fresno) includes a man who says he’s a Republican supporting Cox in next week’s election. But the man is a registered Democrat, according to public records. Fresno Bee


The number of COVID-19 infections in Orange County may be nearly eight times higher than previously thought, a new antibody study suggests. Los Angeles Times

The Trump administration is removing the gray wolf from the endangered species list. In California and Washington state, wolves would still be protected under those states’ endangered species laws. That’s not the case elsewhere. Los Angeles Times

A remote trail camera captured a gray wolf pup in Lassen County in 2017.
(U.S. Forest Service)


How San Francisco is trying to get locals to rediscover the city: With the visitors and conventioneers who normally flock to the area during the nice fall months staying away, a new marketing campaign hopes to woo locals to the attractions in their own proverbial backyards. SF Gate

Cecilia Chiang, one of the most influential figures in Bay Area culinary history, has died at 100. “Chiang made her name as the pioneering owner of the Mandarin, a bygone San Francisco restaurant that broke the mold in 1959 by bringing new levels of sophistication to Chinese cuisine in America.” San Francisco Chronicle

This Napa chef amassed a collection of 3,800 cookbooks over a lifetime, and lost nearly everything in the Glass fire. But then the donations started pouring in, with colleagues and strangers gifting her their own treasured volumes. San Francisco Chronicle

Amazon has purchased the O.C. Register’s old printing plant for $63.2 million. The online retailer plans to demolish the old printing plant warehouse and build a 112,485-square-foot “last mile” distribution center serving Orange County. Orange County Register

A poem to start your Friday: “By Bus to Fresno” by Philip Levine. Poetry and Places

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Los Angeles: sunny, 82. San Diego: sunny, 75. San Francisco: partly sunny, 66. San Jose: partly sunny, 75. Fresno: sunny, 80. Sacramento: sunny, 78. More weather is here.


Today’s California memory comes from Timm Herdt:

My passion as a 9-year-old growing up in Ohio was baseball cards. The Topps Co. that year inserted into a pack of cards an offer for a book on the building of Dodger Stadium. I read it every night for months. It seemed a magical place, and it struck me that California was where the future was unfolding. Fifteen years later, after having trekked across the country to take a job as a sportswriter at a paper in Ventura County, I walked into the press box of Dodger Stadium to cover the 1977 World Series. My future had arrived.

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.