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Essential California: A blueprint for ‘endemic,’ but what will heal social rifts?

People walk under palm trees on a sunny day at the beach.
Visitors enjoy the mild weather at Venice Beach on Thursday, after Los Angeles County relaxed its outdoor masking rules.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)
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Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Friday, Feb. 18. I’m investigative reporter Paige St. John, filling in from Northern California — that OTHER California.

It is easy from here to understand the often impossible situation Californians face in finding state unity.

Gov. Gavin Newsom gave a peek Thursday at what lies ahead should coronavirus cases surge again, while also trying out a bit of branding. Endemic, anyone? Whatever you call it, the state plan includes mask stockpiles, vaccine delivery systems and testing programs. And, yes, universal mask orders might return in the most urgent scenario.

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Not in the blueprint was how to heal California from the social rifts caused by COVID-19 even as the virus itself becomes less of a threat.

In Fresno, school board meetings remain roiled over masks and vaccine policies, requiring metal detectors and police monitoring. Demonstrations over mask requirements shut down a high school in Humboldt County, in part organized by a “grass-roots political legal prayer” group engaged in “biblical citizenship” and what it calls “patriot meetups.”

But over in the Bay Area, residents are still masking up, even when they are not required to.

In Redding, a group of physicians is asking the City Council and the Shasta County board to oppose vaccination mandates. It’s not the vaccines that trouble them; it’s divisions caused by COVID-19 policy they seek to remedy.

“Our sincere hope is that this can serve as a future roadmap for this community to come together, unite and find a better path forward,” gastroenterologist Dr. Paul Dhanuka told the City Council before a standing-room-only audience.

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

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A Texas jury found former Angels employee Eric Kay guilty of supplying the drugs that killed pitcher Tyler Skaggs in 2019. Los Angeles Times

For more on the long search for answers in Skaggs’ death, Sports enterprise writer Nathan Fenno produced a riveting investigation into the case last year. Los Angeles Times

A hiker missing since Tuesday in the Los Padres National Forest was found in “good condition.” He spent two days in the wilderness as a winter storm blasted the area. Los Angeles Times

L.A. STORIES

The election for Los Angeles mayor is nine months away, the primary in four, but polls are already trying to measure the field. U.S. Rep. Karen Bass has the early lead in this UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll co-sponsored by the L.A. Times. Read more about Bass’ campaign here, and one of her challengers, Rick Caruso, here. Los Angeles Times

L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva accuses the county Board of Supervisors of “political cowardice and opportunistic pandering.” He sent the board a cease-and-desist letter demanding it stop using the phrase “deputy gangs” to refer to secretive groups within Sheriff’s Department stations whose members often sport matching tattoos. Los Angeles Times

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POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT

Two years of COVID school closures have created a powerful political force in California: angry parents. Columnist Mark Z. Barabak notes that Democrats have only to look at the recent recall of three San Francisco school board members to see the trouble that lies ahead. Los Angeles Times

It wasn’t just frustration over closed schools that doomed the board. Editorial writer Laurel Rosenhall in a commentary says the recall was driven by bad decision upon bad decision — from a ridiculed attempt to rename schools, to racist tweets and failing to listen to students struggling to get a quality education via Zoom. Los Angeles Times

And after the recall, some pundits are seeing San Francisco not as a lefty outlier but as a potential bellwether for Democrats and Republicans alike heading into this year’s midterm elections. Los Angeles Times

CRIME, COURTS AND POLICING

New laws to give youthful offenders a second chance — no matter how bad their crime — are shaping criminal justice in California. A Humboldt County judge this week sentenced Mauricio Johnson to 150 years to life, the outcome of a plea deal after Johnson admitted to murdering a 16-year-old and her parents after he was discovered with the girl in her bedroom. California in 2017 passed laws eliminating life without parole sentences for children. A youthful offender, Johnson will be eligible for parole in 25 years. Prosecutors said that was the maximum punishment available. Mercury News

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HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT

Premature births are a problem in the United States. Is this medicine helping? For a decade, Covis Pharma has promoted its drug, Makena, as a solution — even after the FDA said studies showed the expensive drug did no good. Times reporter Melody Petersen shows federal regulators two years ago told the drugmaker to take Makena off the market — and the company refused. Los Angeles Times

Here’s what Covis Pharma had to say in response. Los Angeles Times

CALIFORNIA CULTURE

“It was a matter of time.” So says cafe owner Harrison Dwelley on Oceanside’s conversion from blue-collar city to hip beach hangout. Take a tour with Christopher Reynolds through the artisanal coffee spots, beach walks and brew pubs. How gentrified can the locale for TNT crime drama “Animal Kingdom” be? Oceanside’s last remaining strip club was razed in 2021. Los Angeles Times

Need another, totally California, example of reinvention? How about a bodybuilder who becomes an actor, governor, climate change activist, and then ... Zeus? Los Angeles Times

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CALIFORNIA ALMANAC

Los Angeles: Sunny, 74 San Diego: Sunny, 68 San Francisco: Partly cloudy, 62 San Jose: Partly cloudy, 70 Fresno: Sunny, 72 Sacramento: Partly cloudy, 68

AND FINALLY

Today’s California memory is from Dan Rothermel:

As a Jersey boy in the 1960s, nothing was cooler than the Mamas and the Papas and the dream that my life would be so much better in California. Motivated, I headed west with stops in Ohio for three years, then one more year in Arizona. Finally, given the chance to teach fifth-graders at Patrick Henry Elementary in Anaheim in 1970, I knew I had found a home in Southern California. Living in a studio apartment at the South Bay Club, I was doing my best version of “California Dreamin.’” Thank you Michelle, John, Denny, and Mama Cass.

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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 to essentialcalifornia@latimes.com.

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