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Newsletter: Essential California Week in Review: Mask rules loosen across L.A.

A blond woman raises a Ukrainian flag and holds a sign that reads "Stop Putin"
Kseniia Korniienk, 28, protests Russia’s invasion of Ukraine along with over 100 others at the federal building in Westwood on Thursday.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)
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Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It is Saturday, Feb. 26.

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

Ukrainians in California decry Russia’s attack. As word spread that Russian President Vladimir Putin had ordered an invasion, California’s diaspora watched, stunned but not surprised. They fear for loved ones nearly 6,000 miles away and are ready to spring into action to provide aid.

Mask rules loosen across L.A. Health officials say fully vaccinated individuals can shed their masks indoors, and the L.A. Unified School District dropped its outdoor mask mandate Tuesday. But that does not mean face coverings will suddenly disappear or that the pandemic is over, experts say.

But the CDC still recommends masks. While many Americans can shed masks in public indoor settings under new federal health guidance unveiled Friday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommends Los Angeles County residents wear them because of high levels of COVID-19.

L.A. must add more homes to zoning plan. Los Angeles must rezone to accommodate an additional quarter-million new homes by mid-October after state housing regulators rejected the city’s long-term plan for growth. And the cost of failure could be high, experts say.

Larger and more destructive wildfires pose new threats to water supply. Researchers determined that increasing forest fire activity is “unhinging” western U.S. stream flow. But too much water comes with hazards, including increased erosion, flooding and debris flows.

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Bill would exempt UC, Cal State from environmental review. In the wake of a potential student enrollment crisis at UC Berkeley, a new bill would exempt public universities’ housing developments from California’s arduous environmental review process.

Meanwhile, UC smashes records for first-year fall applications. For the second straight year, the University of California shattered records for first-year fall applications, drawing the largest and most diverse applicant pool ever despite pandemic challenges.

Storm brews around Spitzer videos. Orange County Dist. Atty. Todd Spitzer is facing increasing scrutiny after a video of him saying the N-word while quoting an example of hate speech surfaced this week. The video comes on the heels of racist comments he allegedly made while discussing the case of a Black murder defendant.

Fatburger family under investigation. Federal authorities have been investigating CEO Andrew Wiederhorn and examining one of his family member’s actions as part of an inquiry into allegations of securities and wire fraud, money laundering and attempted tax evasion.

Beekeepers turn to sting operations. Each year, honeybees are trucked to California for almond tree pollination. But that also leaves them vulnerable to theft, and beekeepers are now turning to GPS tracking devices, surveillance cameras and other anti-theft technology.

A 500-pound problem in South Lake Tahoe. He has many names: Hank the Tank, Jake, the Big Guy. To wildlife officials, he’s a “severely food-habituated” bear who was alleged to have broken into nearly 30 homes — until DNA evidence revealed they were the work of multiple bears.

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ICYMI, here are this week’s great reads

Fresno Police Chief Paco Balderrama on policing. In the latest installment of his series on police chiefs of color, Justin Ray spoke with Balderrama about misconceptions about policing, how being a person of color does (and doesn’t) affect the way he does his job, and a controversial moment in his tenure involving a protester.

Even freeways that don’t get built leave a scar. Just over a decade ago, the state of California gave up on plans to build the proposed 238 Freeway in the East Bay city of Hayward. But blight and resentments linger.

Where’s the love? Here’s why Kamala Harris’ California poll numbers stink. What may be surprising — at least superficially — is the fact that Harris isn’t doing better among those who presumably have a rooting interest in her success, her fellow Californians, writes columnist Mark Z. Barabak. But there is no such thing as a favorite son or daughter in California politics.

He thought it was a date. Instead, he walked into a deadly MS-13 trap. On Jan. 19, someone picking through the trash at La Tuna Canyon came across the body of a young man. Court records and interviews illustrate the untethered and precarious existence shared by MS-13 members, one defined by crude, subsistence-level crimes and punctuated by flashes of extreme violence.

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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 essentialcalifornia@latimes.com.

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