Newsletter: This Bay Area city will keep flags at half-staff until Congress passes gun control legislation

People leave the Gilroy Garlic Festival after a deadly shooting on July 28.
(Nhat V. Meyer / Associated Press)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Friday, Aug. 9, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

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The mayor of San Rafael certainly doesn’t seem like a California radical.

We’re talking a bespectacled 74-year-old with an MBA and a CPA. This is a guy who has served as the chair of the local chamber of commerce, been the president of his homeowners association and boasted to reporters about having a single-digit handicap golf game at one of San Francisco’s most exclusive athletic clubs.

Suffice it to say, Gary Phillips is not the type of elected official who usually makes national news at city council meetings.


But 12 days ago, a gunman opened fire, with a military-style semiautomatic rifle that is illegal to own in California, at the Gilroy Garlic Festival, killing three people 100 miles southwest of his city. And then came El Paso. And then Dayton.

Like many Americans, Phillips felt frustrated and hamstrung to make change. “I see Congress right now doing nothing,” he said over the phone. “So finally, I just got fed up with it.”

At Monday’s City Council meeting, Phillips declared that the Marin County city would be keeping its flags at half-staff until Congress takes significant action on gun control.

The dictum will apply to all flags on city property, of which there are about 10, according to Phillips.

“I’ve been requested a number of times, through our fire chief and oftentimes initiated by our president, to lower the flags for a period of time, usually two, three or five days,” Phillips recalled. “Which we have done, like I presume every other city in the country. Each time it’s bothered me, because my comment to myself has always been, is that all we’re going to do?”

Phillips told me that he didn’t have a specific threshold or policy checklist for what would constitute sufficient action. “They need to figure out what’s the most appropriate thing or things to do, so I’m not going to specify,” he said. “But I’m not satisfied with them doing nothing.”

California has some of the toughest gun laws in the nation, but, as the Gilroy shooting made clear, stringent state laws don’t necessarily protect Californians from guns purchased in other states.


“I suspect, like most mayors, I feel an obligation to our residents and those that are visiting San Rafael, for their safety,” he said.

[See also: “Column: Gun control has been doomed by single-issue voters. Will that ever change?” in the Los Angeles Times]

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


L.A. County might scrap a $1.7-billion jail contract to focus on mental health. County supervisors are expected to vote next week on whether to end the contract to replace the dungeon-like Men’s Central Jail downtown and start fresh on a plan for replacing the antiquated facility — a major policy change after months of grappling with the project’s direction. The potential decision comes amid growing unease about whether Los Angeles County’s incarceration policy focuses enough attention on mental health treatment. Los Angeles Times

A burn victim has died from his injuries nine months after surviving the Camp fire, bringing the death toll from California’s deadliest fire to 86. Chico Enterprise-Record


Gov. Gavin Newsom has granted a pardon to noted activist Susan Burton, who founded the Watts-based A New Way of Life Reentry Project. Burton was convicted of drug-related crimes before dedicating her life to helping other women transition from prison to society. Burton’s pardon was one of seven granted by Newsom this week. Los Angeles Times

Susan Burton, a former inmate who now helps other women transition from prison to society, was granted a pardon Wednesday by Gov. Gavin Newsom.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

How many more did the Manson family kill? The LAPD is investigating 12 unsolved murders. Los Angeles Times

Kanye West’s foray into solving the affordable housing crisis hit a snag when West was cited by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works for constructing his reportedly “Star Wars”-inspired structures in suburban Calabasas without the proper permits. Curbed LA

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The Fresno Unified School District board of trustees voted to censure board member Terry Slatic amid rising legal costs and pleas for Slatic’s recall. Fresno Bee


Authorities say that the man accused of stabbing four people to death in a rampage across two Orange County cities is a known gang member, but the slayings are believed to have been random and the suspect is not thought to have known his targets. Los Angeles Times


Human-caused climate change is increasingly harming oysters in Tomales and San Francisco bays and could soon devastate shellfish across California, according to a new UC Davis study. San Francisco Chronicle

The so-called “watermelon snow” on the ground in August at Yosemite National Park is actually colored pink from a pigment in algae. And no, you shouldn’t eat it. Fresno Bee

A mountain lion crossed the 405 Freeway in mid-July the first time, according to the National Park Service, that a GPS-collared mountain lion has crossed the freeway since tracking began. Los Angeles Times


The Los Angeles County Fair’s operators are beefing up security after the recent mass shootings. Los Angeles Times

Four San Francisco tourist attractions may soon get surge pricing to deal with crowds. SF Gate

This Bakersfield 16-year-old has 350 hens and sells an average of 75 to 90 dozen eggs at farmers markets every weekend. Bakersfield Californian

This longtime falconry service keeps Orange County from being overrun with birds. Daily Pilot

Carmel Valley residents are battling over the future of the beloved Mid Valley Shopping Center after plans to replace a family-run auto shop with a wine tasting room lit up Nextdoor, a neighborhood-level online social network. The announcement raised larger questions about whether there was a plan underfoot to transform the shopping center into “a tourist-serving destination.” Monterey County Weekly


Los Angeles: sunny, 81. San Diego: partly sunny, 74. San Francisco: sunny, 70. San Jose: partly sunny, 80. Sacramento: partly sunny, 86. More weather is here.


“In California, it is not yet too late.”

— Journalist Neil Morgan, 1969

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Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints, ideas and unrelated book recommendations to Julia Wick. Follow her on Twitter @Sherlyholmes.