Essential California: Orange on the horizon

Inside the majestic El Capitan Theatre, with a  fancy curtain over the screen
The El Capitan Theatre in the heart of Hollywood, as pictured prior to a screening of “Raya and the Last Dragon” last Friday, when the theater reopened.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Wednesday, March 24, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

More counties were given permission this week by the state to move into less restrictive tiers of the reopening blueprint, as the brutal tide of California’s winter coronavirus surge continues to recede.

On Tuesday, six counties, including San Francisco and Santa Clara counties, advanced to the the state’s orange tier. Los Angeles, Orange and several other counties appear poised to join them in the orange tier next week if their metrics hold steady, as my colleague Luke Money reports. Counties need to record two straight weeks of qualifying data to advance to a less-restrictive tier.

[Read the story: “L.A., O.C. reach orange-tier coronavirus numbers; wider reopening could be a week away” in the Los Angeles Times]


A quick refresher on the state’s current reopening strategy: Counties are sorted into four color-coded tiers, with placement in those tiers hinging on a number of metrics. In the most restrictive purple tier, coronavirus transmission is considered widespread and indoor operations are severely limited. The tiers then descend from red to orange to the least restrictive yellow tier, where most businesses can open indoors with modifications.

For counties in the orange tier, offices for nonessential industries can reopen, though workers will still be encouraged to work from home. Capacity restrictions are lifted in stores and the indoor capacities of numerous entities, from houses of worship to restaurants and movie theaters, increase in the orange tier, among other loosened rules.

In San Francisco, Mayor London Breed made a symbolic fashion choice Tuesday as she held a press conference in the city’s downtown to mark the city’s progression into the orange tier, which goes into effect Wednesday morning. Clad in an orange dress, Breed told reporters that “San Francisco is going to come alive,” saying that “many of the restaurants and the coffee shops in the places that you’ve seen that have been struggling will hopefully be able to open again.” But Breed also urged caution, reminding San Franciscans that no one wants to see another surge.

[See also: “San Francisco celebrates move to higher reopening tier, but at least one expert is wary” in the Los Angeles Times]

Only eight counties — Fresno, Glenn, Inyo, Kings, Madera, Merced, San Joaquin and Yuba — remain in the state’s most-restrictive purple tier.

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


QAnon now pushes alarming conspiracy myths targeting China and Jewish people: “They are unifying under a giant umbrella of a common enemy. Sometimes it’s the Jews. Occasionally it’s the Asians, usually it’s the government,” said researcher Joel Finkelstein, director of Rutgers University’s Network Contagion Research Institute. “What is happening is they are fishing for different issues to cause violence with.” Los Angeles Times

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As the prospect of an Echo Park Lake closure looms, an unhoused community mulls whether to stay or go: Los Angeles city officials and homeless services providers are rushing to move as many homeless people as possible from Echo Park Lake this week in advance of an expected sweep to remove more than 100 tents and fence the entire park for repairs.

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority filled several shuttle busloads of those who decided to accept an offer of a room in a downtown hotel, as my colleagues Doug Smith, Ben Oreskes and Emily Alpert Reyes report. But by Tuesday afternoon the buses had stopped coming and dozens remained, with some tent dwellers still hoping to get into hotel rooms and others saying they believe they have a right to live in the park and planned to defend it. Los Angeles Times

An aerial photo of Echo Park Lake with tents lining the side
Echo Park Lake with tents along the west side.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

[See also: “How a commune-like encampment in Echo Park became a flashpoint in L.A.’s homelessness crisis” in the Los Angeles Times]

L.A. to start accepting rent relief applications March 30 from landlords and tenants: Tenants can apply directly, or landlords can apply on their behalf. Applicants will be chosen at random, according to a city website outlining the rules. Los Angeles Times

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President Biden urges gun controls as another mass shooting alters his pandemic-relief tour: Delivering hastily scheduled remarks Tuesday from the White House a day after a gunman killed 10 people at a Colorado market, Biden said, “We have to act.” He vowed “to use all the resources at my disposal to keep the American people safe” but called on Congress to expand background checks and ban assault weapons. Los Angeles Times

[See also: “As pandemic recedes, mass shootings again jolt America” in the Los Angeles Times]


Two women of Asian descent were beaten and robbed in San Francisco on Sunday afternoon. It remains unclear if the women were targeted because of their race, but the assaults come amid a broader surge in anti-Asian hate crimes. San Francisco Chronicle


California’s patchwork of vaccine rules: As California sees an increase in COVID-19 vaccine supply, more than half a dozen of the state’s 58 counties have dramatically expanded their COVID-19 eligibility lists to include millions more adults, including people 50 and older and those who are overweight. Gov. Gavin Newsom has said that California could make the vaccine available to all adults by May 1. But in the meantime, conflicting rules often vary by county. Los Angeles Times


Oakland launched one of the largest guaranteed income programs in the country. A pioneering universal basic income pilot program in Stockton launched by former Mayor Michael Tubbs has forged a path for other cities to follow, with Oakland joining Compton in running its own program. San Francisco Chronicle

[Previously: “What would a universal basic income mean for America? Stockton thinks it has the answer” in the Los Angeles Times]

How crying on TikTok sells books: “‘BookTok’ videos are starting to influence publishers and best-seller lists, and the verklempt readers behind them are just as surprised as everyone else.” New York Times

Prince Harry pivots to a Silicon Valley startup: The Duke of Sussex will serve as chief impact officer at BetterUp, a startup that provides coaching and mental health services to clients. CNN

A poem to start your Wednesday: “The New Decade” by Hieu Minh Nguyen.

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Los Angeles: sunny, 73. San Diego: sunny, 66. San Francisco: partly sunny, 61. San Jose: partly sunny, 70. Fresno: partly sunny, 70. Sacramento: partly sunny, 72.


Today’s California memory comes from John Vavrek:

In 1974, my brother and I moved from Pennsylvania to Los Angeles. After a couple weeks, we realized we would quickly spend all our money and hadn’t yet found work (we’re musicians). He had lived in Humboldt County before and we agreed to move there. We left up Highway 1 on a beautiful October afternoon. That night, we pulled over along a cliff overlooking the Pacific. The waves and breakers were all glowing with phosphorescence! I had never seen the Pacific at night before then and thought it must always be that way. It was like that M.C. Escher etching. I’ve never seen it that pronounced since.

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.