Essential California: A life vest for those who feel like they’re drowning

A person hugging themselves around the shoulders while swirls of color and light surround them
(Carolina Rodríguez Fuenmayor / For The Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Wednesday, Oct. 5. I’m Lila Seidman, a mental health reporter who lives in — and loves — the San Fernando Valley. (Don’t @ me.)

My colleague Deborah Netburn recently asked, “Does anyone else feel as if they’re drowning?

Recent harrowing stats suggest they do — or at least that they feel some form of “not good.” A poll of young adults in California found that more than 75% reported anxiety in the last year and upward of 50% reported depression. More than 30% said they’d had suicidal thoughts. An annual survey that measures Angelenos’ satisfaction with their lives fell 5 points compared with last year. At 53 out of a possible 100, it was the lowest score since the survey began in 2016.

So if you’re struggling, you’re not not alone. And although no one — including this media outlet — can magically wave the pain away, we created a series to make it more manageable.


In “How to Save a Life,” reporters from across the newsroom contributed stories to inspire, build community and promote self-discovery — all in the service of healing.

There are firsthand accounts of individuals overcoming difficulties, such as data reporter Sandhya Kambhampati’s decision to stop meticulously tracking her long COVID symptoms and pick up a paintbrush instead and game critic Todd Martens finding mediative solace in virtual reality.

The series spotlights the explosion of Korean Americans seeking mental health help and how teaching kids yoga can help them find a sense of calm in a chaotic world.

You can also find a comprehensive list of resources, including hotlines and low-cost counseling services. I provided the 411 on 988, a new three-digit mental health crisis line intended as an alternative to calling police. These can be a lifeline for you or a loved one who don’t know where to turn for help.

For less dire circumstances, here are 12 places in Los Angeles that will nourish your soul. (My personal happy place, the Velaslavasay Panorama gardens, made the list.)

And if you read just one story, make it Thomas Curwen’s painful, powerful exploration of circumstances surrounding a former Times journalist’s death by suicide — including the questions that continue to haunt his loved ones.

We hope this series offers some hope. 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.


6.49 a gallon?! If you drive a car in California — or have a pulse — you’ve noticed a surge in prices at the pump. A gallon in Los Angeles will set you back an average of $6.49, a historic high. Unlike the nationwide spike in gas prices this summer, the recent bump is unique to the Golden State and some of its Western neighbors. It illustrates the vulnerability of the state’s energy market as it tries to reduce dependence on gas-guzzling cars. Los Angeles Times

Descendants of UC Hastings law school founder sue over name change. Last year, college officials voted to change the name of UC Hastings law school to remove reference to its founder, whose legacy includes profiting off the killings and displacement of Native Americans in Northern California. Days ago, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill reversing a 19th century law that required the school to keep its founder’s name forever or the state would need to pay his descendants $100,000 plus interest. Six relatives of Serranus Clinton Hastings filed a suit Tuesday to claim the money. San Francisco Chronicle


For the birds. Augustine Hurtado is something of a modern-day St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals. The 65-year-old believes his purpose is to feed and look after as many as he can — especially cats, pigeons and seagulls. “I didn’t choose this. I grew up with it in my heart,” Hurtado told columnist Steve Lopez, saying it must be God’s will. Los Angeles Times

Eviction protections ending. After nearly three years of COVID-19 emergency restrictions, landlords in Los Angeles will once again be allowed to evict tenants who have fallen behind on their rent. The vote by city leaders on Tuesday allows the eviction protections to end as of Feb. 1. 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.


A bad bet. Online sports gambling companies, California tribes and card rooms have spent more than $410 million on a pair of dueling ballot measures to legalize sports betting in person and online. A new poll shows little chance voters will approve either measure in November. In fact, those who saw costly ads touting the measures were more opposed to them. Los Angeles Times

Grousing over gas on the O.C. coast while fearing climate future. In a congressional district that straddles Orange and San Diego counties — and could help determine which party controls the House — gas prices are a key consideration in the run-up to the election. But climate change weighs on voters’ minds. Republicans in the area tend to take more moderate positions on environmental policy than in other parts of the country. Los Angeles Times

November election two-fer. Check out The Times’ voting guide for Los Angeles ballot measures and electoral endorsements that include state, county, school board officials and more.


FBI agent nailed for protecting L.A. fraudster. When a phony lawyer who made a fortune from identity theft flashed an FBI parking placard to Burbank police, he hoped to avoid problems during a traffic stop. Instead, he triggered a series of events that led to the conviction of a decorated FBI agent on federal charges of bribery and money laundering. Los Angeles Times

A series of killings in California are related, authorities say. Five men were ambushed and shot to death in Stockton over several months. On Tuesday, a sixth fatal shooting that occurred last year in Oakland was connected to those five. “By definition, you could probably very well call this serial killings,” Stockton Police Chief Stanley McFadden said. Sacramento Bee

Paul Flores ‘hunted’ Kristin Smart before killing her, prosecutor says. Smart was last seen walking with Flores near residence halls on the Cal Poly San Luis Obispo campus on May 25, 1996, after attending a party. A prosecutor told jurors that Flores, a fellow student, had “hunted” her for months, frequently appearing where she was, including her dormitory. Flores is on trial, accused of murdering Smart and disposing of her body, which was never found. Los Angeles Times

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Wily coyotes. Carl, a coyote who stalked San Francisco parks, was shot last year after it was deemed that he had lost his fear of people. There are concerns that the death of an alpha male like Carl could trigger a breeding frenzy, prompting some wildlife experts to sound the alarm not to feed the animals. San Francisco Chronicle


“The Love Boat,” but for real. A new dating show inspired by the (amazing) TV classic will include cameos from two of the original crew members. Instead of a rotating cast of celebs, “The Real Love Boat” will feature singles looking for love and competing in “chemistry and compatibility challenges” aboard a cruise liner. Los Angeles Times

For the record: An item in Tuesday’s newsletter referred to Tim Grobarty. The Long Beach Post columnist’s last name is Grobaty.

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Los Angeles: 81, partly cloudy. No chance of meatballs. San Diego: 73, partly cloudy. Slight chance of spaghetti. San Francisco: 70, partly cloudy. San Jose: 84, sunny. Fresno: 93, mamma mia! Sacramento: 91.


Today’s California memory is from Patricia Phillips:

My grandparents were from a small island off the coast of Croatia called Brac. My grandpa was from Postira, and my grandma was from Dol. After they traveled to the U.S., they met for the first time in Hollister, where they married and then moved to Los Angeles — specifically, to 5115 S. Main St., where I lived with my grandparents, my dad and his three brothers and sisters, and my little sister. As I walked home from school one day, my aunt met me and told me that my grandpa, a waiter who worked in the shipyards during the war, had died. He had not been feeling well and had stayed home, but feeling better, he went back to the yards. There he saw the yard physician, who pronounced him fit! He walked out of the doctor’s office and died. Throughout WWII, we had a first-aid wagon in our yard. It had no motor, but it was filled with bandages and first-aid equipment. The blackouts were a scary time.

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