Newsletter: Essential California Week in Review: Mixed progress

Douglas Emhoff in a black coat, Kamala Harris in purple, Jill Biden in blue and Joe Biden in black wave to the crowd.
Vice President Kamala Harris, her husband Douglas Emhoff, first lady Jill Biden and President Joe Biden wave from the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday in Washington, DC.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It is Saturday, Jan. 23.

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

A new administration. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were officially sworn into office Wednesday after a tumultuous transition of power. Separately, Alex Padilla became the first Latino to represent California in the U.S. Senate.

First steps. In his first days in office, Biden issued a flurry of executive orders that reversed Trump policies on immigration and the environment. He signed 10 aimed at controlling the pandemic, including directives to boost the production of vaccines and ensure they reach hard-hit communities.

Amanda Gorman. The 22-year-old Los Angeles poet was a highlight of the inauguration ceremonies, receiving widespread praise for her poem “The Hill We Climb.” She is the youngest poet to write and recite a piece at a presidential inauguration.

Trump departs, but not without controversy. In his final hours, he pardoned or commuted the sentences of dozens of people, including former advisor Steven K. Bannon, who had faced trial on federal fraud and money laundering charges, and Robert Zangrillo, a Miami developer charged in the USC college admissions scandal. The latter set off outrage and finger-pointing.

No more violence. After law enforcement officials in Washington and across California were on high alert for potential threats in response to the inauguration of President Biden, the streets of Sacramento, Los Angeles and the nation’s capital remained peaceful.

Trump’s impeachment. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) plans to send the article of impeachment against the former president to the Senate on Monday. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell issued a heated rebuke of Trump on Tuesday but said Republicans would give him time to put together a legal team and aim for a February trial.

More Capitol arrests. The fallout from the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6 continued with arrests across the country, with at least four in Southern California, including those of a doctor and a salon owner.

Mixed pandemic progress. California surpassed 3 million confirmed coronavirus cases — a mind-boggling milestone that means roughly 1 out of every 13 Californians have tested positive at some point. Meanwhile, the chances that a person hospitalized in Los Angeles will die have doubled, even as some metrics improve.

Vaccine supplies low. Vaccinating Californians 65 and over could take until June to complete, the state’s epidemiologist said Wednesday, raising new concerns about when other groups will be eligible and underscoring how rapidly COVID-19 vaccine stockpiles are dwindling.

Confusion and crashes. In the chaotic rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine, the triumphs were matched by heartbreaking disappointments and confusion as older residents struggled with crashing appointment websites while workers waited for official information that never came.

Faltering leadership. Nearly two weeks after Gov. Gavin Newsom promised 1 million doses of vaccines administered in 10 days, a series of data collection problems has left state officials unable to offer clear evidence of success or failure. And the governor’s COVID-19 briefings often leave more questions than answers, some officials say.

Fires in January? Following an unusually dry November and December, strong winds helped spark numerous wild land blazes this week in Santa Cruz and San Mateo counties. Southern California Edison shut off power to more than 78,500 customers Tuesday with more possible cutoffs.

Civil rights probe. California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra’s office is investigating whether the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department routinely violates people’s constitutional rights, after accusations of deputy misconduct, controversial shootings and resistance to oversight from Sheriff Alex Villanueva.

Larry King dies. The broadcaster whose live global TV program on CNN made him one of the most famous talk-show hosts in the world died in Los Angeles at 87.


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1. VaccinateCA, the volunteer-run database where people 65 and older can find out where vaccines are actually available, and how to make appointments. VaccinateCA

2. Watch and read L.A. native Amanda Gorman’s inauguration day poem. Los Angeles Times

3. Yep, the Secret Service really did take notice of John Mulaney’s “Saturday Night Live” monologue. BuzzFeed News

4. “In This Place (An American Lyric)” by Amanda Gorman.

5. A Santa Maria man and his 10-year-old terrier mix have become TikTok stars: “I love her more than my life.” Santa Maria Times


ICYMI, here are this week’s great reads

For officials, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s COVID-19 briefings leave questions. “Once a reassuring elixir to millions of Californians facing the harrowing unknowns of a contagious, deadly virus, Newsom’s briefings — streamed on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter and covered extensively by California news outlets — appear to have lost the impact they commanded in the spring.” Los Angeles Times

On Clubhouse, an invite-only Silicon Valley app, a conversation about the “future of S.F.” sparks familiar debates. Tipped off to the conversation by a constituent, San Francisco Dist. Atty. Chesa Boudin joined the virtual “room.” San Francisco Chronicle

“I tried to start a pandemic pod for my 5-year-old. Here’s how it went wrong.” Trying to create a social pod so her daughter could again play with her friends led this mom down a rabbit hole of awkwardness, rejection and frustration. Los Angeles Times

Poem of the week: “Are You the New Person Drawn Toward Me” by Walt Whitman. 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.)