Essential California: Just leave already, 2020, and let 2021 be

Curtis McKendrick, 26, left, and  his father Robert McKendrick, 60, make their own 2021 Rose Parade march
Curtis McKendrick, 26, left, and his father Robert McKendrick, 60, made their own 2021 Rose Parade march along Colorado Boulevard on Jan. 1 in Pasadena.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Jan. 4. I’m Gustavo Arellano, filling in for Julia Wick, who’ll return later this week. I’m writing from Orange County.

Usually, for the first dispatch of a new year, a writer will preview what’s ahead in the next 12 months — the good, the bad, and the impossible (the Los Angeles Angels winning a World Series? Sure!)

But just four days into 2021 ... it’s kinda looking a lot like 2020.

Coronavirus cases across L.A. County won’t stop. Republican lawmakers stumble on with their claims that the presidential election was a sham, to the point of sedition. The working class and people of color continue to suffer disproportionately from all the chaos. Why, there was even a magnitude 4.3 earthquake near Soledad over the weekend.

When will this past hell-year ever end?

It will.

“You gotta give them hope,” is what martyred San Francisco politician Harvey Milk used to tell crowds as a challenge and promise for them to imagine a better tomorrow. And that’s the best way to approach 2021, I argued in a column last week, a theme so important to me I’m repeating it again here.

Repeat after me, gentle readers: 2020 is over. Time to move on to 2021.

Even if life doesn’t seem to want to.

But it eventually will, and The Times will be there throughout. In the days, weeks, months, and year to come, we’ll continue to do what we’ve always done: Document the good, the bad, the ugly, and the impossible that emerges from this Golden State of ours, especially in this year of opportunity.


You’re not always going to agree with what we report (and remember, folks: Our reported stories are objective; our columnists and op-ed section are not), but trust me when I say we all want the same thing: a better California for all.

Because we can’t do worse than 2020, right?

Wait a minute, Drought just called me: says it misses us.


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

Note: Some of the sites we link to may limit the number of stories you can access without subscribing.


L.A. homeless sites are “overwhelmed” by COVID-19: “These are the toughest times.” The coronavirus is hitting people living in L.A. County homeless shelters, after months of surprise it had not already ravaged a vulnerable community. Los Angeles Times

A new, possibly more contagious coronavirus strain has been detected in Big Bear. One of the people infected was in recent contact with a British traveler. Los Angeles Times

People came by to pay final respects to this East L.A. tree that went Hollywood. Too soon? 2021 is already looking better: “El Pino,” a bunya tree whose cameo in the 1993 cult film “Blood In, Blood Out” has earned it international fame, isn’t going anywhere (Bonus cut: Read my editor Hector Becerra’s original 2014 Column One on “El Pino.”) Los Angeles Times

Tourists take a selfie in front of the world-famous pine tree in East Los Angeles known as "El Pino."
Claudia Alva and her boyfriend Daniel Lopez traveled from Santa Fe, N.M., to take a selfie in front of the world-famous pine tree in East Los Angeles known as “El Pino.”
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

Seven days in December: Even as COVID surges, many in Huntington Beach shrug off the pandemic. It ain’t just me saying something’s weird in the water of Surf City. Orange County Register

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How will California’s new laws affect you? Because while most of us had to put our year on hold, Sacramento sure didn’t — even though the 372 new laws now in place is the smallest legislative crop since 1967. Los Angeles Times

A “polling place” at a Republican’s office in Orange County: A new front for election high jinks? Little Saigon’s GOP political machine is at it again. Los Angeles Times

Former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, who is considering run for governor, signs a petition to oust Gov. Gavin Newsom. “Every Californian fed up with the governor’s hypocrisy and failures should sign the recall petition,” he announced on social media over the weekend. Los Angeles Times


These “rogue” deputies were fired. So how did the Jump Out Boys win back their badges? The latest from the Xerox machine of scandal known as the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. Los Angeles Times


“Justified” or “despicable”? The twisted tale of an LAPD excessive force case. If you sue a cop for excessive force in L.A., you could be in for a wild ride. Los Angeles Times

A year like no other for L.A. crime: Homicides surge, robberies and rapes drop. COVID-19 fallout is just part of the reason. Los Angeles Times


For decades, she’s been the unsung hero of the California coast. Most people don’t know her, but Susan Hansch has been quietly saving our beaches and more for over 46 years. Los Angeles Times

Lewis MacAdams was one of California’s great conservationists. But his book-long epic poem, “The River,” may be his most enduring legacy. Poetry Magazine

“Today is the day that life has changed”: An oral history of L.A., COVID-19 and 2020. Even though she’s taking a break, Julia Wick took the time to craft this maddening narrative. Los Angeles Times

Trader Joe’s in north Fresno closes after protests over mask mandate. But did the maskholes load up on the chain’s delicious shrimp hamburger patties while they were there? Fresno Bee


Flu fighters: The 1918 flu pandemic in Oxnard. Know your Southern California pandemic history! Museum of Ventura County


Light up your holidays with hikari. Meaning “lights” in Japanese, the annual Christmas extravaganza at Tanaka Farms in Irvine goes through this weekend. Yo! Media

Rudy Salas, cofounder of mainstay Chicano R&B band Tierra, dies at 71. The East L.A.’s version of “Together” is a slow-dance mainstay across the Southland. Los Angeles Times

A two-fer from the Mojave Desert. A fun, perilous drive through Mojave Road, considered one of the nation’s best backcountry journeys, via the Los Angeles Times. And father-and-son team Mike and Forrest Minchinton shape surfboards from somewhere in Johnson Valley, as chronicled in the ever-tubular Surfer’s Journal (subscription required).


Los Angeles: partly cloudy, 65. San Diego: partly cloudy, 63. San Francisco: rain, 57. San Jose: rain, 61. Fresno: mostly cloudy, 63. Sacramento: rain, 58. More weather is here.


This week’s birthdays for those who made a mark in California:

Actor Diane Keaton (Jan. 5, 1946, former Rep. Loretta Sanchez (Jan. 7, 1960), actor Nicolas Cage (Jan. 7, 1964), singer Joan Baez (Jan. 9, 1941) and former Rep. Lois Capps (Jan. 10, 1938).

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.