Newsletter: Essential California Week in Review: Heat and flames


Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It is Saturday, Sept. 3.

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

Amid soaring heat, the Route fire near Castaic has charred more than 5,200 acres. The blaze has destroyed two structures and threatened hundreds more, according to the Los Angeles County Fire Department. As of Friday morning, it was 37% contained and was expected to be fully contained by next week. Meanwhile, extreme heat spurred officials to extend a Flex Alert: “Californians are strongly urged to lower electricity use by setting thermostats to 78 or higher, health permitting, avoid using major appliances, and turning off all unnecessary lights” from 4 to 9 p.m., when the grid is most stressed. Forecasters have an eye on Sunday, which could bring the most intense temperatures of the heat wave, a meteorologist said.

A new danger to firefighters. Heat-related illnesses were reported among seven firefighters just hours after the Route fire ignited, as a confluence of climate factors come to bear on California. Experts say the combination of extreme dryness, soaring temperatures and hotter, faster wildfires is putting first responders at increasing physical risk — and the problem will likely get worse in the years to come.

Omicron-specific boosters are on the way. By mid-September, Californians are expected to be able to receive the newly FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccine booster that targets both the original virus as well as the highly transmissible BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariants. The L.A. County Department of Public Health has already pre-ordered its full initial allocation of about 170,000 doses of the Omicron booster.


The push to “de-asphalt” schools. As classes start and extreme-heat days spurred by climate change increase, hot schools are prompting parent demands to do away with blacktops and add more green space to campuses. On L.A. Unified’s “Greening Index,” which ranks campuses in order of the most asphalt and least amount of green space, only 16% of campuses meet the recommended threshold of green space, and at 235 elementary schools, 10% or less of their campus is green space.

What comes after Pelosi? Now in her second stint as House speaker, Nancy Pelosi has quietly and relentlessly promoted progressive California-backed policies on topics such as climate change, drought and healthcare. As she signals her retirement, the prospect of Pelosi’s departure has some Californians pondering what kind of power vacuum she will leave, and what it will mean for the state’s influence in Washington.

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Attorneys said the driver in the Windsor Hills crash might have been unconscious. The nurse facing six murder charges for allegedly slamming her car into traffic in August was in the throes of a “frightening” mental health crisis in the days, hours and minutes before the crash, new court records filed by her attorneys said.

Newsom’s court-ordered treatment plan for homeless people passed in the Legislature. The sweeping proposal for court-ordered treatment for unhoused Californians struggling with mental illness and addiction sailed through the Legislature on Wednesday. Lawmakers have for months raised questions over the plan’s details on funding, infrastructure and available workforce but in the end decided that a bold approach was warranted.

UCLA professors’ alleged profit-sharing scheme. A law firm commissioned by the university issued a report that concluded that three professors in the School of Dentistry singled out Middle Eastern students for extra charges, believing their wealthy government sponsors would pay them. Despite the report’s findings of misconduct, each of the professors, who deny the allegations, entered into settlements with the university and resigned. The professors are now trying to keep the report cloaked in secrecy.


COVID-19 has led to a drop in Californians’ life expectancy. California dropped to fourth place, tied with Massachusetts and New Hampshire, with a new average of 79 years, according to the CDC’s latest National Vital Statistics Report, which tracked mortality rates for all 50 states from 2019 to 2020. The virus is the third-leading cause of death in the state, per the CDC.

A bill for mandatory kindergarten is headed to Newsom’s desk. The bill approved by the state Senate this week would require children to complete a year of kindergarten before entering first grade, beginning in the 2024-25 school year. Enrollment in kindergarten declined by 61,000 students in 2020-21, according to state data, numbers skewed by the pandemic, as parents opted out during a tumultuous year of campus closures and distance learning. It’s uncertain whether Newsom will sign the bill as his Department of Finance opposed it because of its costs.

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ICYMI, here are this week’s great reads

A judge’s affair with Tom Girardi, a beachfront condo and a $300,000 wire from his firm. Tricia Bigelow, then a presiding justice of a state appeals court in downtown L.A., wanted a weekend place at the beach. She found an oceanfront condo and embarked on a luxurious makeover. To pay the substantial price tag, she did not have to rely on her judicial salary alone. Attorney Tom Girardi, with whom she was having an affair, wired her $300,000 in the week she closed on the Ocean Avenue property, according to financial records filed in a state court lawsuit. The wire did not come from Girardi’s personal bank account but from a trust account containing settlement money for clients of his law firm. The account held funds owed to cancer victims and other residents of a polluted Inland Empire community.

SoCal’s past as the sanitarium capital of America. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, tuberculosis, or consumption, as it was also called, killed more Americans than any other contagious disease. Invalidism was the back-seat passenger to California’s second gold rush: tourism. The sufferers were welcomed by the new TB tourism industry. A “sanitarium belt” extended across Southern California, from Los Angeles to the Inland Empire to San Diego.

Today’s week-in-review newsletter was curated by Jason Sanchez. Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints and ideas to

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