Newsletter: Essential California Week in Review: Oil spill offers few clear answers

Four workers in small boats wear white suits and hold tools on a rocky coastline.
Workers with Patriot Environmental Services clean up oil on Oct. 3 that flowed into the Talbert Marsh in Huntington Beach.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It is Saturday, Oct. 9.

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

Devastating oil spill with few answers. Nearly a week after a 13-inch tear in an undersea pipeline resulted in a massive oil spill off Southern California, the clues keep piling up, but the mystery of what caused the rupture and who is ultimately responsible remains unsolved.

California and federal officials had strong indications of oil on the water off the Huntington Beach coast last Friday evening, more than 10 hours before the operator of an oil platform reported it to authorities.

The owner of the offshore oil operation had emerged from bankruptcy just four years ago and amassed a long record of federal noncompliance incidents and violations.

On Friday, officials said the amount of oil that leaked might be smaller than originally projected, revising their estimate down to a maximum of 131,000 gallons.

Damage to the pipeline could have occurred weeks or months before the spill, two sources familiar with the investigation told The Times on Friday.

Changes to the hospice industry. Decades of unchecked growth in the California hospice industry will come to a halt Jan. 1, when a moratorium on new licenses takes effect along with reforms aimed at curbing widespread fraud. The changes follow a Los Angeles Times investigation.

Price of explosion. Costs from the Los Angeles Police Department’s botched detonation of illegal fireworks in South L.A. this summer have surpassed $1.2 million, even as most claims remain unresolved, bills continue to mount and residents decry a lack of progress.

A violent start to the school year. In the second full academic year of the pandemic, ugly behavior has reared its head on school campuses across the U.S. with death threats, violence and intimidation over vaccine and mask mandates.

L.A.’s city hall limbo. Nearly three months after Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti was picked by President Biden to be U.S. ambassador to India, it is unclear when the Senate might take up his nomination — creating a limbo at City Hall with no end in sight.

Fed-up Hollywood workers. This week, Hollywood crews voted overwhelmingly in favor of waging a strike if their union cannot agree to a new contract, setting the stage for an extraordinary showdown with the major studios.


Pandemic progress. COVID-19 hospitalizations have dropped by half from the summer peak, as California continues to steadily, if slowly, shake off the worst of the Delta surge. Still, vaccine misinformation persists, sinking efforts to promote the shots.

Long Beach shooting. The Long Beach Unified School District Board of Education unanimously voted Wednesday to fire the safety officer who opened fire last month on a moving car filled with young people, killing a female passenger.

Deeper investigation. The sprawling sexual assault inquiry into a USC campus gynecologist cost C.L. Max Nikias the school presidency. But many of Dr. George Tyndall’s accusers are demanding an investigation into whether Nikias or others sought to cover up the allegations, something Nikias has denied doing.

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ICYMI, here are this week’s great reads

Laguna Beach is one of the inarguable wonders of the California coast. Officials warned that the shifting currents could still push leaked oil ashore. Even if the area dodges this disaster, the specter of future ones persists because these ancient habitats remain so close to sprawling oil infrastructure and one of the busiest shipping channels in the world.

Undercounting heat deaths. In a state that prides itself on being a climate leader, California chronically undercounts the death toll and has failed to address the growing threat of heat-related illness and death. A Times analysis found that the true death toll is probably six times higher.

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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