Essential California: French Laundry fallout intensifies

A view of the Fairmont Kea Lani's resort, where more than half a dozen California lawmakers met for a policy conference.
A view of the Fairmont Kea Lani resort, where more than half a dozen California lawmakers convened this week for a policy conference.
(Fairmont Resorts & Hotels)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Thursday, Nov. 19, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

Anger over the perceived hypocrisy of California lawmakers continued to boil over Wednesday, as newly published pictures raised doubts about Gov. Gavin Newsom’s claim that his French Laundry dinner was held outdoors and the names of more lawmakers attending a Maui junket surfaced.

The photos in question, which were first published by Fox 11 Los Angeles on Tuesday night, show a group of 12 people representing six households sitting at a table in a private dining room with a roof, three walls and another wall open to the outside with sliding glass doors. The woman who took the photos told Fox 11 that at one point the sliding glass door was closed, but that detail has yet to be confirmed.

[Read the story: “Photos raise doubts about Newsom’s claim that dinner with lobbyist was outdoors amid COVID-19 surge” in the Los Angeles Times]


To add insult to injury, two top officials from the California Medical Assn. — a leading organization representing doctors in the state — were among those in attendance at the dinner, which was held to celebrate lobbyist Jason Kinney’s 50th birthday. Newsom apologized for attending the dinner on Monday, saying he should have practiced what he preached and again asking Californians to “minimize mixing” with other families.

[See also: “Newsom, legislators face anger over party and Hawaii trip” in the Los Angeles Times]

As our Sacramento bureau chief John Myers writes, “The timing of both gatherings — Newsom attended the party at an exclusive Napa Valley restaurant on Nov. 6, legislators are in Maui this week — could not have been worse in terms of political symbolism.”

All of this comes as the state hits a pandemic crisis inflection point, with cases skyrocketing and Thanksgiving just a week away. On Wednesday, the U.S. COVID-19 death toll surpassed 250,000, the highest in the world. For context, that figure is roughly equivalent to the entire population of Pasadena and the entire population of Burbank, combined, and then some. If Californians decide to flout recommendations and gather for Thanksgiving in big celebrations, the resulting increase in disease could give authorities no choice but to consider more severe restrictions than those in place today to avoid overwhelming hospitals.

The state also issued a travel advisory Friday urging all Californians to avoid nonessential travel to other states, lest they further the spread of the virus. All of which intensifies the anger over the decision made by more than half dozen a California lawmakers to attend an annual policy conference at a luxury Hawaiian resort this week.

[Read the story: “Facing increasing criticism, California legislators defend Hawaii trip during COVID-19 surge” in the Los Angeles Times]

As my colleague Patrick McGreevy reports, the conference — which is sponsored by the Independent Voter Project and held at the Fairmont Kea Lani Hotel in Wailea — has faced criticism in the past because it is partly financed and attended by special interests, including businesses and labor groups, that lobby legislators.

The complete tally of California lawmakers who are at the conference remains unclear. But those in attendance include Assembly members Blanca Rubio (D-Baldwin Park), Wendy Carrillo (D-Los Angeles), Jordan Cunningham (R-Paso Robles), Heath Flora (R-Ripon), Frank Bigelow (R-O’Neals), Chad Mayes (I-Rancho Mirage) and state Sen. Andres Borgeas (R-Modesto).

Carrillo’s presence at the conference was confirmed after she seemingly forgot to disable location sharing on a tweet thanking her district for reelecting her. Her district spans from East L.A. to Echo Park, and the tweet was sent from Kihei, a beachfront town about 15 minutes from the Kea Lani.

The opulence of both indiscretions — a nine-course dinner at a world-famous restaurant and several days at a Hawaiian resort where even the street-view rooms will set you back upward of $500 a night — certainly adds salt to the wound. Many Californians have been financially devastated by the pandemic, and the latest round of restrictions puts even more businesses and livelihoods in jeopardy.

But the true offense goes far beyond the tropical mai tais or wine country small plates. We remain in the midst of a public health emergency in which the rippling effects of individual actions and gatherings will determine our collective safety. By publicly flouting state guidelines, our leaders have put the credibility of that very guidance at stake — right at the moment when they (and we) need it most.

[See also: “Gavin Newsom’s hypocritical French Laundry fiasco harms California’s COVID-19 efforts” from the Sacramento Bee editorial board]

It is frustrating and rage-inducing to be asked to hold ourselves to a higher standard than our elected officials, especially now after so many long months of sacrifice. But our shared fate through the dark months ahead is dependent upon just that.

There may be fewer role models, but the guidance is no less urgent and the danger is no less critical.

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

Why the third wave of coronavirus could be the most difficult for California: This third coronavirus wave is particularly troubling because “we never got back down” to a low baseline number of cases, said Dr. Sara Cody, the Santa Clara County health officer and a key architect of the nation’s first regional stay-at-home order. Even worse, this surge is happening during the traditional cold-and-flu season, exacerbated because people tend to stay indoors, where it’s easier to pass along germs. Moreover, California won’t be able to count on help from other parts of the country. “Everyone is experiencing a surge at the same time,” Cody said. Los Angeles Times

Police-backed rules hurt Black and Latino renters searching for housing in California. Nearly 2,000 communities in the U.S. and elsewhere have approved policies that encourage landlords to evict or exclude tenants who have had some level of interaction with law enforcement. Los Angeles Times

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Coronavirus is surging in L.A. and officials still aren’t entirely sure why. For months, Angelenos have been prohibited from exercising inside gyms, watching movies in theaters and dining indoors at restaurants. It was with these restrictions in place that L.A. County in early October achieved its lowest case numbers since the spring. The success, however, was short-lived. Los Angeles Times

If you practice yoga, thank this man who came to the U.S. 100 years ago. Paramahansa Yogananda found in Los Angeles the perfect home base for an organization that remains a worldwide spiritual force to this day. Los Angeles Times

A filled auditorium
Paramahansa Yogananda giving first lecture at a capacity-filled Los Angeles Philharmonic Auditorium in 1925.
(Self-Realization Fellowship)

The Hollywood president: Here are all the celebrities former President Obama name-drops in his new book, including Meryl Streep leaning over “to softly recite in Mandarin the lyrics to a song about clouds that she’d learned for a part years ago” at a White House dinner party. Los Angeles Times

L.A.-born writer Charles Yu was awarded the National Book Award in fiction Wednesday. Written in the form of a screenplay, his book “Interior Chinatown” is a satirical novel about the intersection of Hollywood tropes and Asian stereotypes. Los Angeles Times

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There will be more women of color sworn in to the 117th U.S. Congress than ever before, with at least 51 women of color elected and ballots still being tallied in two close races. Los Angeles Times

California’s state budget faces a dramatic boom-and-bust period over the next four years, analysts said Wednesday, describing a roller-coaster period that could begin with a $26-billion tax windfall and later plunge to a projected deficit of $17.5 billion by the middle of 2025. Though the gradual trend toward budget shortfalls was expected when lawmakers and Gov. Gavin Newsom crafted a state budget in June, the large supply of extra cash is a surprise. Los Angeles Times

Rep. Devin Nunes is, once again, suing the Washington Post. This is the eighth defamation lawsuit that the Central Valley congressman has filed in two years. Fresno Bee

President-elect Joe Biden taps César Chávez’s granddaughter for a White House post. Julie Chávez Rodríguez, a Delano, Calif., native, will serve as director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs. Vida en el Valle


The San Francisco public defender’s office launched a website where members of the public can search for police records of misconduct. The tool is believed to be among the first of its kind in the country. San Francisco Chronicle


One person has died in a fire that ravaged the Mono County town of Walker. The Mountain View fire ignited Tuesday afternoon and has scorched nearly 29,000 acres in the Eastern Sierra along the Nevada border. Los Angeles Times


California’s food banks will get a shake-up on Jan. 1. Although the head of the new organization that will be distributing food assures the transition will be smooth, any disruption in the system could mean that people go without food in the middle of the pandemic. Sacramento Bee

UC Berkeley to change names of LeConte and Barrows halls due to “controversial legacies.” Their original namesakes were early, prominent members of the university faculty who also promoted racist rhetoric and colonialist ideas. Los Angeles Times

Palmdale’s space race continues: The process of selecting a permanent headquarters for U.S. Space Command is likely to finish sometime early next year, and Palmdale remains among the dozens of communities in the running. LAist

Twelve indie holiday craft fairs you can still shop this year, in person and online. Los Angeles Times

A poem to start your Thursday: “I’m Learning Nothing This Night” by Reginald Dwayne Betts.

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Los Angeles: sunny, 72. San Diego: sunny, 68. San Francisco: partly sunny, 61. San Jose: partly sunny, 63. Fresno: sunny, 64. Sacramento: partly sunny, 61. More weather is here.


Today’s California memory comes from Davis Barber:

I had already faked being sick when the 1971 Sylmar earthquake closed my sixth grade school. So while my friends were playing, I was stuck inside. As mom worked, I dared to join my pals. I wanted to show off my new mini-bike, so they came to my backyard. Then someone hit the throttle and it flew out and into the swimming pool. Luckily, my brother was strong enough to lift it out and my mother would never know. Sadly, it was not to be. Her first words when she got home were, “Davis, why are there tire marks on the bottom of the pool?” I was so busted.

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.