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‘Utility’ as in usefulness, not power

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power building.
Utility journalism is about being useful to you, the reader — not about utilities like the DWP.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Tuesday, Sept. 27. I’m Jon Healey, the Utility Journalism Team’s senior editor — a title that should be interpreted as a sign of my age, not my rank.

People ask me all the time if I cover Southern California Edison and the LADWP, but that’s not what utility journalism is all about. Instead, the team’s five members write how-to stories and explainers to help Southern Californians navigate local bureaucracies, tap into the resources around them and figure out how they’ll be affected by the news.

The industry calls this “service journalism” because it’s about helping people solve problems and make decisions. And here are some recent examples that, by some strange coincidence, all happen to have been written by me: How the Fed’s rate hikes affect mortgage interest rates, how to buy a deeply discounted air conditioner with the L.A. Department of Water and Power’s help, how to sign up for emergency alerts, and how California may tax the student loan debt forgiven by the Biden administration.

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I asked our maximum leader, Matt Ballinger, for the team’s origin story. “The idea came out of conversations with like-minded colleagues, as well as my own thoughts about ways to engage local audiences with the important journalism produced at the L.A. Times,” he said. (And yes, this is what he sounds like in conversation.)

“For example, a major investigative article can expose a serious problem and prompt action from legislators or officials. That is incredibly valuable to the communities we serve. But sometimes those stories can leave a reader feeling hopeless, feeling like the problem is bigger than them or there’s nothing they can do about it. I wanted to add to that journalism that shows people their agency, shows them their place in an issue.”

Now the five of us work with other departments around the newspaper to bring utility angles to our coverage. I’m the guy who writes a lot about what Southern Californians can do in response to new government programs, laws or court rulings. My colleagues will tell you more about what they do in the days ahead.

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

Note: Some of the sites we link to may limit the number of stories you can access without subscribing.

L.A. STORIES

Read it and weep: L.A. County’s average gas price hits $5.84 a gallon. After a summer of falling pump prices, gasoline is growing more expensive again. The winter fuel blends can’t come soon enough. Los Angeles Times

There is no “i” in Angeleno. Patt Morrison makes a compelling case against the use of the word “Angelino.” Los Angeles Times

A blue city neighborhood sign spells out "Angeleno Hgts." The historic designator, however, spells it "Angelino Heights."
So which is it — Angeleno or Angelino? These signs, near the intersection of Edgeware Road and Belleview Avenue, won’t help.
(Matthew Ballinger / Los Angeles Times)

And they say Hollywood is about suspending disbelief. The Lakers aver, yet again, that they are committed to Russell Westbrook. Los Angeles Times

Check out "The Times" podcast for essential news and more

These days, waking up to current events can be, well, daunting. If you’re seeking a more balanced news diet, “The Times” podcast is for you. Gustavo Arellano, along with a diverse set of reporters from the award-winning L.A. Times newsroom, delivers the most interesting stories from the Los Angeles Times every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Listen and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT

Would Karen Bass and Rick Caruso please stop campaigning on trivialities? Columnist Steve Lopez urges L.A.'s two mayoral candidates to talk less about each other’s past failings and more about a problem that voters really care about: homelessness. Los Angeles Times

(Times reporters Doug Smith and Ben Oreskes discuss the candidates’ plans for homeless people on this recent CalMatters podcast.)

You have election-related questions? We have answers. The Times peppers its election coverage with utility pieces, and not just by the Utility Team. These include:

Did Gov. Newsom just make it harder for young children to recover the learning lost to the pandemic? Reporter Howard Blume answers your questions (utility-style!) about Newsom’s veto of two bills to mandate and expand kindergarten. Los Angeles Times

Speaking of vetoes, Newsom also killed a bill to reduce light pollution. The measure would have applied only to outdoor lights newly installed at buildings owned, leased or managed by the state, which would hardly have turned the sky North Dakota dark at night. Nevertheless, the governor said the price tag was too high. Los Angeles Times

Modular homes for thee but not for me. San Francisco says “no mas” to Factory OS’ lower-cost prefabricated units. San Francisco Chronicle

CRIME, COURTS AND POLICING

California can’t stop the feds from using private detention facilities for non-citizens, a federal appeals court rules. The 9th Circuit held that the state doesn’t have the authority to overrule Immigration and Customs Enforcement on that issue. Los Angeles Times

In other immigration news, the San Ysidro border crossing has its first woman as director. Born and raised in San Diego, Mariza Marin now oversees one of the country’s busiest crossings. San Diego Union-Tribune

Getting to California after escaping Afghanistan was tough. Returning to the practice of law has been no picnic either. Kevin Rector tells the odyssey of Masooda and Hamid Qazi, successful attorneys in Kabul who are trying to resume their careers here after their family fled the Taliban last year. Los Angeles Times

Hamid and Masooda Qazi, with their children
Hamid and Masooda Qazi, with children Dewa, 2 months; Hasib, 6; and Habib, 10.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

The U.S. Forest Service has opened a criminal investigation into the cause of the Mosquito fire. Pacific Gas & Electric said in a securities filing that the feds had determined that the blaze started near one of its power lines, and they seized one of its utility poles and related equipment. Sacramento Bee.

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HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT

Masks come off across California as COVID declines, but don’t crack the champagne just yet. Health experts warn that we may need to mask up again if the fall and winter seasons bring another wave of infections. Los Angeles Times

You may be over summer heat waves, but they’re not over you. On the plus side, the one hitting us this week is expected to wrap up Wednesday. Los Angeles Times

Changes in the state’s Medicaid contracts could force many low-income Californians to find new doctors. The new contracts, which are designed to yield better service, will require about 2 million residents to change insurance plans. Los Angeles Times

Not how I’d planned to go out, frankly. The mountain lion P-65 is the first confirmed to have died from mange, the National Park Service says. Los Angeles Times

CALIFORNIA CULTURE

A 50th anniversary victory lap for the band that put art into rock. In anticipation of Roxy Music performing at the Kia Forum in Inglewood, writer Hanif Abdurraqib explains the profound effect the band had on rock ‘n’ roll performance. (Personal side note: Hanif is from Columbus, Ohio, where I saw Roxy Music perform 46 years ago. Love is the drug for me.) Los Angeles Times

Roxy Music in 1972
Roxy Music in 1972, from left, Phil Manzanera, Bryan Ferry, Andy Mackay, Brian Eno, Rik Kenton and Paul Thompson.
(Brian Cooke)

Housing inflation, Bay Area edition. A three-bedroom, two-bath home in Cupertino sold for $2.32 million recently. It was first sold in 1970 for (checks notes) $35,000. Mercury News

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CALIFORNIA ALMANAC

Los Angeles: 92 and mostly sunny. San Diego: 81 and mostly sunny. San Francisco: 69 and partly cloudy. San Jose: 77 and partly cloudy. Fresno: 97 and sunny. Sacramento: 88 and mostly sunny.

AND FINALLY

Today’s California memory is from Dr. Colman J. Ryan:

Accepted as a Medical Resident from Ireland to UCSF, I arrived in San Francisco in March of 1970. I was graciously housed by a wonderful Irish couple in Tiburon across the Golden Gate Bridge. Gas was 36 cents a gallon and the toll was 50 cents. My 1958 Ford Galaxy cost me $400. My new “home” was in a cul-de sac. I tried to teach the kids soccer. I had never seen a kid miss a stationary ball with his foot in my life. They had never played the game. My derision was quickly quieted when I missed the softball 14 consecutive times! We agreed to teach each other our sport.

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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