Democracy, drugs and dismissiveness: What I saw on election day

Voters made their voices heard at Lafayette Park Recreation Center.
Voters made their voices heard at Lafayette Park Recreation Center.
(Justin Ray)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Wednesday, June 8. I’m Justin Ray.

Tuesday was a strange day for me.

My goal was to hear from voters and get a sense of the vibe in Los Angeles on election day.

The first place I visited was a voting center in Lafayette Park Recreation Center, between Koreatown and Westlake. A “religious voter” named Maria told me she doesn’t trust putting her mail-in ballot into a drop box, so she went inside the vote center to submit it. Another voter said she wanted to support politicians who help children stay safe.

Speaking of keeping kids safe, that was on my mind when I visited a second voting location at Vermont Avenue Elementary School in the Adams-Normandie neighborhood. There was another school nearby, and I accidentally entered a graduation party. I was not stopped, nor was there a gate to prevent me from entering. I felt odd as a Black man among a group of kids in caps and gowns.

A voting center at Vermont Avenue Elementary School, located in the Adams-Normandie neighborhood.
(Justin Ray)

When I eventually got to the poll location, I spoke to a voter who told me he wanted to make his voice heard because of gas prices and homelessness.

“I’ve seen California falling apart for the past 10 years. It doesn’t look good to me,” Terrence told me. “You see drug paraphernalia on the streets. It’s really bad.”

Speaking of drugs, as the next experience I had was transpiring, I was thinking, nobody is going to believe me when I write this. I wanted to visit one last location: a voting center on skid row. The city was not charging fares on election day so I took a bus into downtown.

The only empty seats were near the back. Right after I sat down, a man straight up pulled out a pipe containing a substance I couldn’t quite make out, but wouldn’t recommend, and lit it. People getting off the bus had to walk by him. I was outraged because a little girl was at the front of the bus. I began smelling smoke and wondering if I would experience a secondhand high. I was worried because I still had to file this newsletter. How would I explain to my editor that I couldn’t write it because I was on Jupiter?

I was already on edge because a man in the very last row was periodically screaming and kicking. That man eventually stood in front of my seat yelling and rambling. I was afraid, and I thought about how I had just written about this very thing. When the pipe man’s stop came, he told the yelling guy, “Hey, we’re getting off.” My problems went away with their absence from the bus.

The James Wood Community Center voting site on skid row
The James Wood Community Center on skid row was a voting center.
(Justin Ray)

Eventually, I made it to skid row, where there were not many people entering the voter location. I noticed that there was a food stand next to it. I asked the two customers and a woman serving tacos if they had seen people with “I Voted” stickers. They said they hadn’t. I asked them if they were voting, and everyone said they didn’t care.

The moment I won’t forget is what the food vendor said. Sasha, a mother of seven, who can be found at @nachotacoyomama on Instagram, said she wasn’t voting because of the inaction of politicians.

“Look how everything’s going. Why do you think our opinion matters when it doesn’t even matter when it comes to our children?” she said. “If it had more to do with our community I would vote. But when it comes to them killing our children and doing other things in the streets when it comes to the Black community, no one cares. So why should we vote?”

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

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Cody Abril, of Fullerton, exits after voting early in the General Election at California State University.
(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

You can visit our election page for live results, but here are some early projections:

$6 for a gallon of gas? Try nearly $10 in this coastal California town. In the town of Mendocino, a gallon of regular now costs $9.60. Gas prices have surged in the last several months and California boasts the highest prices in the nation. An owner of a gas station in the area explained why she had to increase prices. Los Angeles Times

The price of a regular gallon of gasoline has been increasing month over month.
The price of a regular gallon of gasoline has been increasing month over month.
(Rob Nikolewski/San Diego Union-Tribune)


The ghosts of L.A.’s unbuilt freeways. There is no Beverly Hills Freeway. Nor does the 2 connect to the 101. What even is the 90? These are the freeways that didn’t happen as planned. Los Angeles Times

It’s called the “zipper merge,” and traffic-jammed California drivers do it all wrong. If you are a driver, you might want to read this article explaining how to perform the traffic maneuver. Los Angeles Times

Traffic backs up on northbound 405 in November 2021
Traffic backs up on northbound 405 on Nov. 24, 2021.
(Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)

LAUSD principal fosters misconduct and retaliation, say students and staff. Teachers who work at Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. Middle School in the Arlington Heights neighborhood told Knock LA that its principal “regularly belittles them,” and “fosters a hostile culture and unfairly targets Black and brown children.” The Los Angeles Unified School District said in a February 2022 statement that “Los Angeles Unified is an equal opportunity employer. The district complies with all laws governing the employment of applicants.” Knock LA

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Dianne Feinstein’s career in politics. Social media has been discussing this profile of the oldest sitting senator: “As the storied career of one of the nation’s longest-serving Democrats approaches its end, it’s easy to wonder how the generation whose entry into politics was enabled by progressive reforms has allowed those victories to be taken away.” One of the more provocative lines of the story addresses rumors about her declining cognitive abilities: “Is a diminished Sen. Feinstein better than a junior California senator?” asked one of her former staffers. “I would argue, emphatically, yes.” The Cut

A local candidate called the 2020 election fair. Now she faces attacks in rural California. Natalie Adona, who is Asian American and running for office in a predominantly white, rural Northern California county, was the subject of a red-lettered campaign mailer. It called her a cruel name, and provoked outrage by some elected officials and residents who called it racist. Adona’s sins, in the eyes of her detractors? She called the 2020 election legitimate, and she enforced a mask mandate in a county office. Los Angeles Times

Assistant county clerk recorder of Nevada County Natalie Adona
Assistant county clerk-recorder of Nevada County Natalie Adona has been targeted with attack ads.
(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)


Judy Huth, a California resident who has accused Bill Cosby of sexually abusing her when she was a teenager, took the stand Tuesday for the second day of her testimony in her civil case against the disgraced comedian. Fighting back tears, she recalled the alleged assault in 1975: “I was freaking out.” (Warning: this story discusses sexual assault.) Los Angeles Times

Bill Cosby  during a news conference in Elkins Park, Pa., Wednesday, June 30, 2021.
(Matt Rourke / Associated Press)

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California’s free mental health phone line has received tens of thousands of calls. However, its future is uncertain. Therapy and other mental health services can be prohibitively expensive. The California Peer-Run Warm Line has been serving residents regardless of their needs or insurance status since 2014. It is staffed 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. However, the three-year state pilot funds that support it are set to expire this year. San Francisco Examiner


Palm Springs can move forward with removing the statue of former Mayor Frank Bogert from outside City Hall after a judge finalized a tentative ruling. Judge Carol A. Greene denied the issuance of an injunction that would have prevented the move. The statue has been seen as a painful reminder of the racist policies in the city’s past. Desert Sun

The Angels, who have seen a 12-game losing streak that negated a promising start to the season, fired manager Joe Maddon on Tuesday and named third-base coach Phil Nevin as interim manager. Los Angeles Times


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Los Angeles: Sunny 82 San Diego: Sunny 70 San Francisco: Overcast 70 San Jose: Overcast 83 Fresno: Overcast 99 Sacramento: Overcast 95


Today’s California memory is from Vicki Stewart:

In the late ‘60s we were living in Alameda while Dad, an AF fighter pilot, was in Korea. We loved our time there. Do you believe my mom let me and a friend take the bus into San Francisco to shop? I remember riding down Haight-Ashbury! The music, the fresh fruits/veggies, the trampoline park and Alameda High. Its traditions, plays, music were great. I remember a school band played “Sugar Shack” for the first time. I also remember the day I walked into Latin class to hear the speaker announce the shooting of Kennedy. How can you forget that?

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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