Newsletter: Essential California Week in Review — A pandemic return to school

Parents and children wearing masks wait in line outside a school
Parents and students form lines for entrance to Lankershim Elementary School in North Hollywood on Tuesday for the second day of in-class learning for L.A. Unified schools.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It is Saturday, Aug. 21.

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

Back to school. Los Angeles-area students started school Monday, a massive return to in-person education marked by pandemic-driven anxiety, excitement and early morning frustration over the failure of the district’s health screening system.

New mandates. Los Angeles County will require face coverings for anyone attending large outdoor events, regardless of vaccination status. The L.A. City Council also voted to require vaccines for city employees and in a probable first, the Culver City Unified School District has issued a vaccine requirement for children 12 and older.

Afghanistan fallout. Twenty years ago, the mission seemed direct, clear and just. But at its conclusion, the United States badly miscalculated the speed and absolutism with which the Taliban would overtake the country, and finger-pointing and postmortems began over what went wrong. Plus: Where California lawmakers stand on the Afghanistan withdrawal.

Gas industry dupe. Los Angeles and Long Beach officials hoped residents would help them decide whether to require zero-pollution electric trucks. What officials didn’t know was that some locals who urged support for natural gas trucks were being paid to do so.

Big week for the recall. Former U.S. Rep. Doug Ose said Tuesday he was dropping out of the race after having a heart attack. Meanwhile, just three of the 46 candidates participated in a debate, where they criticized frontrunner Larry Elder and one hopeful was served with a subpoena on stage. Meanwhile, Elder’s ex-fiancee emerged as one of his leading critics, with gun allegation, other claims.

Unprecedented danger. With more than a million acres burned fairly early in the fire season, California is entering uncharted territory as the record dry conditions that have fueled so much destruction will soon combine with seasonal winds.

State authorities waited to get involved — with tragic consequences. An investigation by the Los Angeles Times and the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley found that errors, misjudgments and bureaucratic conflict within the child welfare system blocked multiple opportunities to protect Noah Cuatro, who died at age 4.


Trevor Bauer accuser’s bid for restraining order is denied. A Los Angeles County judge’s decision to reject a woman’s request for a permanent restraining order against the Dodgers’ pitcher didn’t surprise legal experts. Here is a breakdown of what has happened in court and where the case is going.

Black Americans living in California’s desert. For the few Black Americans who live in the California desert, it takes willpower to feel at ease in these playgrounds, and imagination to make them feel like home. Despite the isolation and racism, the feel at home in the desert.

California’s project to protect wildlife from extinction by fire and heat. Globally, more than a million plants and animals face extinction due to habitat loss, climate change and other factors related to human activity, and this alarming loss of biodiversity is only accelerating. In California, conservationists and biologists have identified scores of species in potential peril. Some have likened the effort to a modern-day Noah’s Ark.

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1. One person stabbed as COVID anti-vaxxers and counterdemonstrators clash in front of L.A. City Hall. Los Angeles Times

2. What to do before, during and after a power outage. Los Angeles Times


3. Inside the heartbreaking conservatorship battle of a “Star Trek” legend. Los Angeles Times

4. Big waves show at wild Wedge in Newport Beach. Orange County Register

5. Remote hiking area where Northern California family was found dead treated as a hazmat site. San Francisco Chronicle

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ICYMI, here are this week’s great reads

Why does every celebrity have their own tequila brand? In 2017, actor George Clooney sold his 5-year-old Casamigos tequila brand to a British beverage company for $1 billion. Almost overnight, it seemed that every A-list celebrity was debuting a tequila label. The flood of celebrity brands has helped fuel record growth in the industry. Mexico, the source of all tequila, last year produced 60 million gallons — 800% more than two decades ago.

COVID tests are supposed to be free, but California patients are still getting charged for them. That’s because there’s a nasty loophole in the law, writes Times business columnist David Lazarus, and it’s not clear how soon it might be closed as doctors, labs and insurance companies point fingers.


Chez Panisse reimagined the way we eat. Chez Panisse turns 50 this month. Its scrappy, dreamy origin has become a legend of American food culture, and the restaurant — the phenomenon that its owner and the many, many people who worked in its kitchens and dining rooms created — molded our nation’s modern culinary sense of self. It contributed to the popularity of California cuisine, the farm-to-table movement and slow food.

Today’s week-in-review newsletter was curated by Laura Blasey and Seth Liss. Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints and ideas to