California Republicans agree they need to change. But how?

Larry Elder, left, and Gov. Gavin Newsom
Republican gubernatorial candidate Larry Elder, left, at a campaign stop in Los Angeles on Sept. 2. Gov. Gavin Newsom, right, meets with Latino leaders in East Los Angeles on Aug. 14.
(Irfan Khan; Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Friday, Sept. 17. I’m Laura J. Nelson, filling in for Justin Ray.

After years as the political underdogs in California, Republicans thought they’d found a winning campaign in their push to oust Gov. Gavin Newsom. Instead, the recall effort backfired badly, delivering Newsom and the Democratic Party a major victory and highlighting the fault lines in the state GOP.

As my colleagues Seema Mehta and Melanie Mason explain in this deep dive, the tug-of-war between ruby-red conservatives and moderate Republicans has made it hard for the party to make progress. Conservatives want to lean into the culture wars, focusing on such issues as abortion, gun control and illegal immigration, and moderates try to downplay those social issues and emphasize business-friendly policies.

There’s deep distrust among the grass roots of the professional political class of consultants, lobbyists and many elected officials. And no clear leader has emerged to unite those factions and mount a serious challenge to Newsom in 2022.


Former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, long seen as the Republican with the best shot at winning statewide office, finished a distant third in the recall. Larry Elder, who captivated the conservative base, has cast doubt on whether he will run again, saying that even with a bigger war chest, “the thing is daunting.” And a new UC Berkeley poll, co-sponsored by the L.A. Times, has found that Newsom would win easily against any of the top four Republicans who ran in the recall election.

Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the last Republican to win statewide office, said the party’s behavior — doing the same thing over again and expecting a different result — is “the definition of insanity.”

The one thing Republicans seem to agree on is that the party needs to change. But how? You can read more here.

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

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Wait, what is that? Times real estate reporter Roger Vincent has the scoop on the design for a bold new office tower on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. The architects call the $500-million, 28-story building “the Star,” but the Twitterati say the renderings look more like a chancla, a toe or an “enormous see-through parking meter.” Los Angeles Times


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Does anyone want to be mayor of L.A.? One of Southern California’s most powerful politicians told Times City Hall reporter David Zahniser on Thursday that she won’t run to replace Mayor Eric Garcetti. Known for her blunt public statements and focus on working-class issues, City Council President Nury Martinez would have upended the race, which features only two major political figures: City Atty. Mike Feuer and City Councilman Joe Buscaino. Los Angeles Times

Housing laws: Two zoning bills that Newsom signed Thursday are designed to make it easier to add small apartment buildings in existing neighborhoods. The first, SB9, aims to streamline the process to split lots and convert houses into duplexes, potentially creating up to four units on a property. The other, SB10, will allow cities to rezone some parcels in urban areas, including near public transit, for up to 10 units. San Francisco Chronicle


Sheriff gangs: Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva has argued that there’s little he can do to rein in gang-like groups among his deputies, saying that an attempt to stop them from joining would violate their constitutional rights. But in a confidential memo obtained by the L.A. Times, county lawyers say he does have the power to crack down on the groups, which have been accused of glorifying violence and have cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars in legal payouts. Los Angeles Times

Impound controversy: A federal appeals court found four years ago that it’s unconstitutional for police officers to impound vehicles for 30 days if the drivers do not have valid licenses. The California Highway Patrol still seizes thousands of vehicles per year, often leaving the driver to pay more than $1,000 in towing and storage fees. Cal Matters

Take two: The effort to recall George Gascón, the progressive district attorney in Los Angeles County, has fizzled out. Organizers say they have fewer than half the 580,000 signatures needed to trigger an election but will try again. Los Angeles Times


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The battle to protect the world’s largest trees: A wildfire is burning about a mile away from the most prominent grove of giant sequoias at Sequoia National Park, which includes the General Sherman Tree, thought to be the largest tree in the world. Firefighters are preparing to make a stand there, raking brush and wrapping the trees in fireproof blankets. The Mercury News

Snow in Death Valley? The blanket of white in the world’s hottest area is actually a phenomenon called “salt flowers,” caused by recent rainfall. Los Angeles Times

Bighorn sheep vs. high-speed rail: Plans for a high-speed rail line between Southern California and Las Vegas call for a 6-foot barrier in the middle of Interstate 15 that would separate cars from trains. Naturalists are now pushing for a wildlife bridge to be included in the project, saying it would help bighorn sheep cross the freeway. Los Angeles Times


“He and Shonda were at each other’s throats.” A juicy excerpt from a new book about “Grey’s Anatomy” sheds light on why showrunner Shonda Rhimes killed off television heartthrob Dr. Derek “McDreamy” Shephard after 11 seasons. The Hollywood Reporter

Manifesting weight loss: Marianne Williamson is best known for her woo-woo spiritualism and her debate performances during the 2020 election, but she’s also the author of a diet book. (Who isn’t, really.) Michael Hobbes and Aubrey Gordon take a deep dive into her advice, and her history with AIDS nonprofits in Los Angeles, on their podcast that debunks junk science in the worlds of wellness and nutrition. Maintenance Phase


It’s pistachio season — go nuts! Sure, you can buy them in the bulk bins whenever you want, but they’re fresh for only a few weeks per year in early fall. Our colleagues in the Food section suggest four ways to use them in recipes, including in the Middle Eastern dessert Knafeh Nabulseyeh. Los Angeles Times

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Wearing sunscreen is always a good idea in California, but especially today. Los Angeles: 78, sunny. San Diego: 74, sunny. San Francisco: 64, sunny. San Jose: 81, sunny. Fresno: 94, sunny. Sacramento: 87, sunny.


Today’s California memory is from Mike Spencer:

In 1990 the senior police reporter at the Contra Costa Times sold me his Honda 400 motorcycle. It was just after covering Loma Prieta earthquake at UC-Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. I taught myself to ride, poorly, at Wildcat Canyon in Berkeley. In 1991 on a hot dry windy day, as a reporter, I followed firefighters on the motorcycle to a fire in the Oakland hills. A wall of flame came up over all of us. We ran. I found the bike three days later, burn marks on the seat but I rode it home.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

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