Some good news today for the hard of hearing and for student loan borrowers

Two people walking on a college campus
The U.S. Department of Education has begun accepting applications for one-time loan forgiveness. Above, the University of San Diego.
(Gary Robbins / San Diego Union-Tribune)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Monday, Oct. 17. I’m Jon Healey, senior editor of the Utility Journalism Team, the group that explains things and tells you how to do stuff.

Last week the bad news was relentless. Los Angeles city’s governing body descended into chaos because of a leaked recording of a racist exchange among Latino council members; the county recorded its first cases of a new COVID-19 subvariant; Disneyland raised its ticket and parking prices again as core inflation hit a new high nationally; the Dodgers’ spectacular season ended ignominiously.... Ugh.

It’s almost enough to make you want to leave the newspaper on the porch. Almost.


So before we get into more of the hard stuff, let’s talk about a couple of good things that are happening right now.

Today, the market for hearing aids is set to become significantly more affordable. That’s because devices that previously required a prescription and an expensive custom fitting will now be available over the counter.

Professional-quality hearing aids still aren’t cheap — prices start around $800 — and people with severe hearing loss will still need the help of a specialist. Most people with slight to moderate hearing loss, though, will save hundreds or even thousands of dollars by buying and fitting devices to their needs without the intervention of an audiologist or an otolaryngologist.

And the cost of devices should come down over time as more consumer electronics companies jump into a market previously dominated by medical device makers. That might not happen right away, though — Sony’s new line of hearing aids start with two models priced at about $1,000 and about $1,300.

For the millions of Californians with sizable federal student loan debts, meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Education started accepting applications over the weekend for one-time loan forgiveness. Up to $20,000 in relief is available to borrowers who meet the program’s earning limits (less than $125,000 for a single tax filer or $250,000 for a couple).

Although the program was announced in August, it took the Education Department weeks to develop and release a beta version of the online application form. It’s a model of simplicity — borrowers have to supply just their name, address, date of birth, Social Security number and contact information, then certify under penalty of perjury that they meet the income limits.


The beta version, which the department says is designed to to “help us refine our processes ahead of the official form launch,” may be available only intermittently. And in the meantime, at least two federal lawsuits have been filed by Republicans to try to block loan forgiveness. So if you have federal student loan debt and you meet the program’s income limits, you might want to act soon.

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

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People marching in a protest
Hundreds of Oaxacans and protesters from other Indigenous communities march on Friday.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

L.A. Latinos grapple with familiar colorism against Black and Indigenous people in racist tape. “The comments about Black and Indigenous people exposed a prejudice against darker skin that, while certainly not ubiquitous, still runs deep in the community and is rooted in the colonial eras of Mexico and Central America.” Los Angeles Times

The council president resigned. Should the new district maps go too? The scandalous conversation on the leaked recording focused on how redistricting would affect Latino political power. “I don’t think that these [district] lines are credible at this point in the eyes of many in the city,” City Atty. Mike Feuer said Thursday. “The only way to erase the taint of what was recently disclosed, and to assure the legitimacy of the lines we have, is to redraw them.” Los Angeles Times

Heather Hutt, interim Los Angeles city council member.
Heather Hutt, interim council member for the Los Angeles’ 10th District, at City Hall in August.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

‘I’m a Black woman, not a pawn.’ The forgotten victim of L.A.’s racist tape scandal. Columnist Erika D. Smith writes that Heather Hutt, an interim member of the L.A. City Council, has become collateral damage. Los Angeles Times

Asian American leaders in L.A. say their communities “do not want to be used as a scapegoat or political wedge.” Reacting to the leaked audio, a group of prominent Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders warn that inflammatory rhetoric leads to hate crimes. LAist

Dodgers hitter Freddie Freeman during team's losing playoff efforts against the Padres.
Dodgers hitter Freddie Freeman during team’s disastrous 2022 playoff series with San Diego Padres.
(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

The fallout from the Dodgers’ playoff loss continues. Many reasons explain Dodgers’ collapse. But a supposedly “rigged” playoff format isn’t one of them, columnist Bill Shaikin writes. Los Angeles Times

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Rose Espinoza
Rose Espinoza is a longtime La Habra city councilwoman and Orange County’s first Latina elected official.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Latinas are an emerging force in Orange County politics. More than two dozen Latinas are running for local government positions in Orange County this year, a huge increase from a decade ago. That’s due in part to the switch from at-large elections to voting by district. Los Angeles Times

How Donald Trump changed the political makeup of the Bay Area’s richest cities. A story in charts. San Francisco Chronicle

With Californians in distress, will inflation help Republicans take control of the House? “A plurality of voters surveyed statewide in a September poll by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California cited jobs, the economy or inflation as the most important issue facing the state.” Los Angeles Times

Why not take the L.A. City Council out of the redistricting process entirely? Columnist George Skelton makes the case for creating a truly independent redistricting commission for the city, as the state and the county have done. Los Angeles Times


Authorities identify carjacking victim killed after being dragged under his SUV for more than two miles. According to the county coroner, it was a 63-year-old Larry Walker of La Habra. A suspect is in custody. Los Angeles Times

Two officers and a horse
Whittier police care for horse after rider arrested on suspicion of being under the influence.
(Whittier Police Department)

DUI suspect on horse leads Whittier police on chase. Which makes you wonder: Would drinking water have helped? Los Angeles Times

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Ports reveal unprecedented surge in harmful emissions. “Record cargo volumes and pandemic-related supply chain disruptions created unprecedented logjams of container ships in San Pedro Bay in 2021, which resulted in the highest levels of air pollution at Southern California’s twin seaports in a decade, according to port officials.” Los Angeles Times

Low water at Shasta Lake threaten the state. With the lake’s level down two-thirds, federal officials are cutting allotments to Shasta and other Central Valley Project reservoirs. Those reductions threaten the state’s farms, population hubs and fish. Wall Street Journal


Three people standing against a gray backdrop, center, of the Black Eyed Peas will play a halftime show at the East L.A. Classic high school football game Friday.
(Los Angeles Times)

Texas has its Friday Night Lights. The East L.A. Classic has The Black Eyed Peas star, who grew up in Boyle Heights, hopes his halftime show at the East L.A. Classic high school football game Friday will be a celebration for his beloved community. Los Angeles Times

Just as Californians are moving to Texas, so are Texans moving to California. If Texas expats who have arrived in California since 2000 had their own city, it would be close to the size of San Jose — about a million people. Los Angeles Times

Here are details from another Hollywood gala you weren’t invited to. It was the second annual Academy Museum Gala, and yes, there’s a slideshow. Hollywood Reporter

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Los Angeles: 78, sunny. San Diego: 73, partly sunny. San Francisco: 69, partly sunny. San Jose: 74, mostly sunny. Fresno: 81, sunny. Sacramento: 77, partly cloudy.


Today’s California memory is from Betty Sansom Peasley:

March 10, 1933, our house in East Los Angeles began to shake; we were experiencing a 6.4 earthquake. Long Beach was hit the hardest. I was in the 4th grade at Eastman Street School. All schools were closed because of damage. Bungalows with solid floors and roofs and roll-up canvas sides were our classrooms when we returned to school. They were warm that spring, but cold that winter. I am now 97 and live in Maine.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

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