Newsletter: Essential California Week in Review: Making progress on the Caldor fire

A smoky orange sky is reflected in a lake.
The Caldor fire is reflected off of Caples Lake, near Lake Tahoe. Weeks into the fight against the destructive blaze, fire crews were feeling “cautiously optimistic” as they turned a corner.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It is Saturday, Sept. 4.

Quick programming note: This newsletter will be off Monday for Labor Day. We’ll be back in your inbox on Tuesday morning.

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

Caldor progress. All of California’s national forests closed beginning late Tuesday as crews fought back flames. Twenty days into the fight against the Caldor fire, crews on Friday were feeling “cautiously optimistic” as they turned a corner, saying it was it was 29% contained.

Widespread damage near Lake Tahoe. So far, the Caldor fire has triggered mass evacuations in two states, torched hundreds of homes, made the air hazardous to breathe and spurred President Biden to issue an emergency declaration. And the erratic wildfire is also causing another problem for Lake Tahoe: Smoke and ash particles are clouding its world-famous crystal blue waters.

The recall effort is struggling. A new poll finds most likely California voters are opposed to the Republican-led effort against Gov. Gavin Newsom and a growing number fear the consequences of removing him from office. And what about those who have already voted? Lots of Democrats, few young people.

  • Republican front-runner Larry Elder’s support base draws from a mix of Californians who include some evangelicals, new converts, Trump backers and longtime listeners of his radio talk show who call themselves “Elderados.”
  • Former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer is the most experienced politician heading into the Sept. 14 election. But the “vanilla” Republican is still struggling to break out of the pack.

Afghanistan war ends. The last U.S. troops departed the country at almost the stroke of midnight Monday, ending America’s longest war. But it wasn’t an easy exit: The Times profiled four California Marines who were killed as they assisted with evacuations.

Roe vs. Wade poised to fall. The Supreme Court’s conservative majority has sent its strongest signal to date that Roe vs. Wade will fall, allowing Texas to outlaw abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. The decision comes as a belated wake-up call to liberals and has intensified one of the most fraught issues in American politics.


Vaccination milestone. More than 80% of eligible Californians have now received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, a milestone Newsom characterized as a “momentous occasion.” Meanwhile, state lawmakers have dropped a controversial proposal to mandate vaccinations in the state.

Community college fraud. The California Community Colleges system is investigating potentially widespread fraud involving fake “bot students” enrolled in active courses in what officials suspect is a scam to obtain financial aid or COVID-19 relief grants.

Santa Monica vs. Malibu. The two cities that make up the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District want a divorce amid disagreement over money, power, fairness and the most volatile issue of all: what is in the best interests of the children.

On the run. A Tarzana couple are on the run from federal authorities after they sliced off their monitoring bracelets and fled while awaiting sentencing for the theft of millions of dollars in COVID-19 pandemic relief funds, according to the FBI.

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ICYMI, here are this week’s great reads

Long live street couches! To the outside world, street furniture may not seem like one of the things that is, or should be, representative of L.A. But love it or hate it — and some people really, really hate it — these pieces are part of the cultural and visual fabric here. From climate-conscious collectors to photographers, plenty of Angelenos can’t get enough of free sidewalk finds.

A little labor history for your Labor Day. Columnist Patt Morrison takes you deep into the bricks, bombs and socialist utopias of Southern California’s labor movement, including the one time Los Angeles came close to having a socialist mayor.

Our television critic Lorraine Ali reflects on life as an American Muslim two decades after the 9/11 attacks: “Mourning loss is critical, and the ongoing need to make sense of a senseless act like the one perpetrated by Osama bin Laden’s henchmen is understandable. Still, it’s hard to get behind the media’s ongoing canonization of the attacks after two failed wars, thousands of lives lost and millions of people displaced, including my extended Iraqi family. I’m not sure whether there is a ‘right way’ to process a devastation so deep, with such lasting ramifications, but last week’s withdrawal from Afghanistan is a stark reminder that remembering it as a Pearl Harbor-like prelude to war is not the answer.”

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