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Newsom must do more to protect Californians from climate change and wildfire

A sign is posted in front of a home that was destroyed by the Dixie fire
A sign is posted in front of a home that was destroyed by the Dixie fire on Sept. 24, 2021, in Greenville, Calif. .
(Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Friday, Sept. 30, and I’m Anita Chabria, The Times’ California columnist.

This week, my colleague Erika D. Smith and I published a four-part series that asks an unpopular but crucial question: Should California rebuild every vulnerable town burned by wildfire?

Our natural instinct is to offer aid to our fellow citizens in need — be it from fire, flood or other natural disasters such as the hurricane that devastated Florida this week.

But Erika and I spent months talking to climate scientists, fire officials, elected officials, residents who have been burned out of multiple homes and those who are in the process of rebuilding from the ashes of tragedy. What we found is a hard truth — the combination of climate change and cost means that rebuilding, in many cases, is a fool’s errand.

The chance of fire striking again is not just a risk, but a near certainty, meaning we are putting people back in harm’s way with our good intentions.

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That’s why Erika and I are making the case to call it quits on our unqualified commitment to restore every town struck by catastrophe. It’s not that we don’t care about these communities. We do. We also are tired of seeing heartbreak repeated, at an enormous cost.

In the tiny Northern California town of Greenville, which burned almost entirely in last year’s Dixie fire, we discovered that, when all is said and done, it will probably cost about $1 billion to rebuild a place where about 300 people plan on returning.

We are rooting for Greenville and the many wonderful people devoting themselves to bringing back a town they love, but we also see it as a call to action for Gov. Gavin Newsom.

California needs a comprehensive land-use plan that looks at where and how we rebuild through the lens of science, not sentiment. We have to decide if we will continue to allow new homes to be built in high-risk zones for fire, and if we do, how much responsibility we are collectively willing to take when they inevitably burn.

There are no easy answers, but our political leaders owe it to us to work on these painful uncertainties now.

I hope you’ll take some time to look at these columns, which can all be found here.

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

A terrifying 70-mile crime scene: Wild pursuit, freeway gun battle end in father, daughter dead. In an agonizing story that leaves many unanswered questions, L.A. Times reporters Salvador Hernandez and Noah Goldberg look at the bizarre shooting of a man and his daughter near Barstow this week by deputies who suspected the teenager of being in danger after her father, Anthony Graziano, shot and killed her mother. Los Angeles Times

Gas in Los Angeles now costs $6.26 a gallon as average price jumps 15 cents overnight. Already on the rise, gas prices in Los Angeles jumped another 15 cents over the last 24 hours, according to data from the American Automobile Assn. Los Angeles Times

Suspect arrested after pedestrian, three dogs are fatally struck in downtown Los Angeles. A man and his three dogs were hit and killed by a driver in downtown Los Angeles early Thursday morning, according to authorities. Los Angeles Times

How a twice-convicted con artist went from scamming Manhattan elites to L.A. dive bars. This story by reporter and noir author extraordinaire James Queally came out a few days ago, but it’s such a great read I’m giving it space — David Bloom swore he knew Netflix co-Chief Executive Ted Sarandos. He flashed email exchanges with Rams executives and promised Super Bowl tickets to fellow dive bar denizens in the dark confines of the Frolic Room. Los Angeles Times

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AROUND CALIFORNIA

Former utility executives agree to $117-million settlement over California wildfires. The former executives with Pacific Gas & Electric have reached a $117-million settlement agreement in connection to the 2017 North Bay fires and the 2018 Camp fire, officials said. Los Angeles Times

Oakland school shooting that wounded six was gang-related attack. At least two gunmen and an accomplice are believed to have been involved in a shooting at an East Oakland high school campus this week in which two students and four staff members were wounded, two critically, police said. Los Angeles Times

OC doctor pleads guilty in $20 million Medi-Cal fraud scheme. The Orange County physician pleaded guilty Wednesday to orchestrating a scheme to defraud Medi-Cal out of $20 million. OC Register

Another ‘sanctuary city’ abortion ban dies in California after attorney general’s warning. After California A.G. Rob Bonta warned Temecula against passing a local abortion ban, the City Council in a heated meeting Tuesday voted not to pursue the measure. Los Angeles Times

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THE ENVIRONMENT

Photos: Stanford just built the world’s largest digital camera to make ‘a 10-year movie’ of the night sky. In a sterile room within an unmarked warehouse hidden in the hills west of Stanford University, engineers in white bodysuits have built the largest digital camera on Earth. San Francisco Chronicle

Four in a row: California drought likely to continue. After its driest three-year stretch on record, California braces for another year with below-average snow and rain. Conditions are shaping up to be a “recipe for drought.” CalMatters

Bison country is changing — and not for the better. But the future is unwritten. This technically isn’t a California story, but since our own Sammy Roth is such a great writer, you get it anyway: “For the second time in two years, I found myself staring down a herd of bison. It was a gorgeous morning at Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota, home to vast grasslands pockmarked by prairie dog burrows and cavernous badlands carved by the Little Missouri River and its tributaries.” Los Angeles Times

CALIFORNIA CULTURE AND OPINION

Demián Bichir isn’t just lucky. Even Brad Pitt and George Clooney can’t do what he can. Demián Bichir firmly believes that being a good parent means doing whatever it takes to protect your child, setting a good example and never, ever breaking the rules. Los Angeles Times

Column: Farmworkers just rolled Newsom. What does it say about the Latino vote? Turns out “Sí, se puede” isn’t just a rallying cry. It’s a threat. Gov. Gavin Newsom just learned that the hard way. Los Angeles Times

Scammers have seized on student loan forgiveness. Here’s how to avoid them. The federal government moves at the pace of cold molasses, so you shouldn’t be surprised that the U.S. Department of Education has yet to reveal how to apply for the student loan debt relief it promised in August. Los Angeles Times

Didar Singh Bains, ‘Peach King’ who built Northern California’s Sikh community, dies. In 1980, Didar Singh Bains pitched a plan for what he hoped would be an annual Sikh parade in his hometown of Yuba City, Calif. But his peers, in a town of 19,000 about 40 miles north of Sacramento, pushed back, fearing violence and unrest. Los Angeles Times

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CALIFORNIA ALMANAC

Los Angeles: 82 and partly cloudy. San Diego: 75 and partly cloudy. San Francisco: 75 and partly cloudy. San Jose: 87 and sunny. Fresno: 91 and sunny. Sacramento: 92 and sunny.

AND FINALLY

Today’s California memory is from Steven Frisch:

I came to California one misty spring morning over snowy peaks, across watery valleys, to emerald green hills where no one asked any questions. Here you can love, strive, accept, grow and be. Here I realized that all the things I learned as a child about faith in the future, service to community, love of nature, and finding your place, were true, here as well as there.

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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