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Newsletter: Essential California Week in Review: Water cutbacks and the imperiled Colorado River

Aerial view of a large dam and reservoir with desert mesas in the background.
Hoover Dam stands in front of Lake Mead, whose exposed banks show how low water levels have dropped on the Colorado River-fed reservoir.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
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Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It is Saturday, June 18.

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

Major water cutbacks loom for California and other Western states as the shrinking Colorado River nears a “moment of reckoning.” As the West endures another year of unrelenting drought worsened by climate change, the river’s reservoir levels have fallen so low that major water cuts will be necessary next year to reduce risks of supplies reaching perilously low levels, a top federal water official said. The Bureau of Reclamation is in talks with the seven states that depend on the river to develop a plan for the reductions in the next 60 days.

More on the climate:

  • “Why are golf courses still a thing?” The golf industry has long weathered the resentment of nongolfers; now, owners and managers of links are the target of state water officials. They’re being required to reduce water use under new drought restrictions in parts of Southern California. Managers say they’re preparing to dial back their sprinklers and let some green grassy areas turn brown. How brown? That depends.
  • An explainer on the effects of La Niña, as it looks like the weather phenomenon may stick around for a rare third year.
  • Your native plants look dead. Here’s what to do.

Home sellers are cutting their list prices as more buyers hit pause. The growing number of price cuts, a trend showing up in data from Southern California and across the nation, is one of the strongest signs yet that the previously red-hot market, fueled by low mortgage rates and all-cash bidding wars, is cooling.

Gascón’s policies may have led to reduced prison time for the man who went on to kill two cops. Justin Flores, who shot and killed two El Monte police officers, could have faced significantly more years in prison because of a previous burglary conviction when he was last charged with a crime in 2020. But one of Los Angeles Dist. Atty. George Gascón’s most heavily criticized policies may have led to a significantly lower sentence, according to documents reviewed by The Times.

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Jury selection got underway Monday in the Kristin Smart case. It’s one of California’s most famous cold cases. Smart vanished 26 years ago. Fellow student Paul Flores is accused of her murder. His father is charged with being an accessory to the crime.

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California lawmakers approved a preliminary budget, but there’s still no deal on gas rebates. The Legislature sent Gov. Gavin Newsom a preliminary plan totaling more than $300 billion that included $8 billion in tax rebates. But negotiations between Newsom and Democratic legislative leaders were continuing. Lawmakers expect to reach a deal with the governor later this month and amend the placeholder budget with a final spending plan.

In other political news:

  • A California bill would give $1,000 a month in short-term guaranteed income to homeless high school seniors, no strings attached. They’d receive a check from April to August of their senior year, an attempt to “disrupt the cycle of homelessness at this age group,” said state Sen. Dave Cortese (D-San Jose).
  • A bill to accommodate working parents failed. It would have expanded job protections to employees tending to “family responsibilities” and banned employers from firing workers because of abrupt parenting needs. But the bill — which employer groups said could lead to uncapped time off — did not pass a key gatekeeper committee.
  • Rep. Karen Bass pulled ahead of rival Rick Caruso in the primary election for Los Angeles mayor. The boost came from a surge of vote-by-mail ballots that also benefited several other progressive candidates.
  • Republican Orange County Rep. Young Kim advanced to the general election, beating back a last-minute challenge from a fellow Republican. She’ll face off with Democrat Asif Mahmood for the seat centered in inland Orange County.

Cannabis lounges could be coming to Ojai. A plan to allow three local pot dispensaries to open lounges where people can smoke, vape or consume edibles may be getting a green light from the Ojai City Council.

Amazon plans to begin delivering some packages by drone to homes in a few Northern California communities this year. Residents of San Joaquin County farming towns Lockeford and Acampo, as well as parts of Lodi, will be able to order from Amazon Prime Air. A spokesperson said drones can carry packages that weigh 5 pounds or less — such as beauty items, office and tech supplies, batteries and household items.

Officials are looking for the taggers who spray-painted 30 sites in Yosemite National Park. Most of the graffiti on the Yosemite Falls Trail were 3 feet by 3 feet, though some were as large as 8 feet by 8 feet. Officials are seeking the public’s help.

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The L.A. City Council voted to ban the dismantling and selling of bicycles on city streets. The aim is to deter bike thefts in the city and “open-air bicycle chop shops,” where people dismantle stolen bicycles, sell the parts or reassemble them to be sold. Critics charged that it would lead police to target homeless people and people of color.

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ICYMI, here are this week’s great reads

California’s U.S. Forest Service firefighters are facing a morale crisis. The work — backbreaking physical labor that pays an average starting wage of $15 an hour, not including hazard pay and overtime — is tougher than ever as fires grow in size and severity. But pay raises promised in last year’s federal infrastructure bill remain in limbo. Low wages have combined with skyrocketing housing costs to ensure that many firefighters can’t afford to live where they work. As California faces what is expected to be a punishing fire season, only 62% of federal firefighter positions here are filled. Longtime firefighters note that Target pays up to $24 an hour for some starting workers. One firefighter said: “We’re getting paid $15 an hour to put our lives on the line.”

He calls his business ethos “doing well by doing good.” Developer Martin Muoto’s work to preserve affordable rentals in South L.A. and build housing for homeless people has won praise from the likes of Oprah Winfrey and L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, who see his work as an important step in dealing with the city’s housing crisis. But his for-profit, investor-backed model has racked up criticism from tenants’ advocates, who say he’s maximizing profit at the expense of tenants’ quality of life. The dueling views reflect the conflict inherent in a for-profit company with a social mission — and what a battlefield affordable housing in L.A. has become for tenants and landlords alike.

Inside the MAGA world scramble to produce findings suggesting the 2020 election was stolen. Since the violent attempt on Jan. 6, 2021, to stop certification of the 2020 election results, much of the scrutiny has been trained on what President Trump knew, as well as the involvement of those closest to him, including his chief of staff, Mark Meadows. But it was dozens of true believers gathered in hotels in Washington and at a South Carolina plantation who collected the information upon which the Trump campaign based its unsubstantiated claims that the election was stolen.

Today’s week-in-review newsletter was curated by Amy Hubbard. 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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