Newsletter: ‘Group immunity’ and the limits of fireproofing your home

Some homes in Coffey Park were undamaged in the 2017 Tubbs fire, while others were destroyed.
(Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Friday, Oct. 4, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

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As the state’s wildfires have become more destructive, California homeowners are taking more extreme measures to protect their homes, including spending thousands of dollars on sprinklers and other elaborate systems. But what if your home’s ability to withstand wildfire is also dependent on the decisions of your neighbors?

Experts say, as reporter Joe Serna writes in a new story, that those investments offer limited, if any, protection from wind-driven firestorms — and the key to avoiding the next catastrophic fire “is a term used by public health officials: group immunity.”


[Read the story: “Sprinklers and gadgets won’t save your home from a wildfire. What your neighbor does might” in the Los Angeles Times]

Safeguarding homes individually is nowhere as effective as what communities can do, the story explains. To provide a real margin of safety, entire neighborhoods need to come together to reduce brush and prevent individual homes from igniting. If one burns, they could all burn.

“Launching a group effort can be more difficult than individually protecting homes, but increasingly, communities are banding together to do just that,” Serna writes. Want to learn more about fireproofing your house? This guide explains where to start.

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


San Francisco Dist. Atty. George Gascon announced his resignation Thursday, an almost certain signal that he is preparing to challenge current L.A. Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey to become Los Angeles County’s top prosecutor in a race that could serve as the largest test yet of a nationwide push to elect progressive-minded law enforcement officials. Lacey is popular with law enforcement but has faced growing criticism from the left over several issues. Los Angeles Times



Frequent fliers, beware. Starting Oct. 29, LAX will end curbside pickup by Uber and Lyft. Travelers will need to hop a shuttle to a parking lot next to Terminal 1, where they can book their rides. Drop-offs at terminals will still be allowed. Los Angeles Times

The Dodgers started the playoffs with a 6-0 victory over the Washington Nationals on Thursday. Game 2 will be tonight at Dodger Stadium. Los Angeles Times

“Competing with the Obamas for writers” is the biggest challenge to staffing a TV show in 2019, according to a “Modern Family” showrunner. (Yes, he’s referring to the former president’s role as a Netflix producer.) The Hollywood Reporter

Two of James Franco’s former students have filed a class-action lawsuit, alleging sexual exploitation and fraud at his defunct acting school. Los Angeles Times

Can an iconic Hollywood western set rise from the ashes a year after Woolsey fire? The Hollywood Reporter


How an alarming photo of a wheelchair accident exposed L.A.’s shabby sidewalks. Los Angeles Times

These L.A. doctors are making house calls to homeless people in a quest to improve health outcomes for individuals. LAist

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Sacramento protesters rallied against the feared deportation of Cambodian Americans by ICE. Deportations of Cambodian Americans have increased 279% since 2017. Sacramento Bee

Mexicans living abroad could cast their vote online for the first time in 2021. San Diego Union-Tribune



There’s little home state love for Kamala Harris: When the senator launched her presidential bid, she counted California as a major asset. But rather than serving as a foundation, the state is exposing the cracks in her troubled campaign. Los Angeles Times

President Trump is targeting Rep. Adam Schiff as public enemy No. 1 as the president tries furiously to fend off impeachment. The Burbank Democrat is spearheading the House inquiry. Los Angeles Times

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff.
(J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)

Voter registration in San Bernardino County reached 1 million for the first time this year. San Bernardino Sun

Santa Rosa approved a proposal to raise the city’s minimum wage to $15, more than a year ahead of the state’s minimum wage schedule. Santa Rosa Press Democrat



An attorney who paid $75,000 to rig his daughter’s ACT exam was sentenced to a month in prison in the latest fallout from the college admissions scandal. Los Angeles Times

Plus, the same parents who paid to open college doors are now spending money to limit prison time. To boost their chances of a more lenient sentence, they’re “marshaling the best possible experts and the best possible arguments, some of which bear a trace of the extracurricular résumé-polishing of college applicants.” New York Times

A former UC Berkeley cheerleader is suing the school. She alleges that coaches ignored her concussion symptoms and forced her to perform stunts anyway. East Bay Times


California regulators have fined Chevron more than $2.7 million over oil leaks in Kern County. Bakersfield Californian (Read our previous newsletter coverage of the leak here.)


Hundreds of used tires were mysteriously dumped along the Russian River, incensing local watershed stewards who are eager to see someone held accountable. Santa Rosa Press Democrat

California State Parks could face sanctions for ignoring scientists on Oceano Dunes dust, after the state agency failed to follow scientists’ recommendations to reduce dust emissions from the popular park. San Luis Obispo Tribune


Chanel Miller has a message for Stanford after the Brock Turner attack: I’m not backing down to you either. Stanford students and faculty have criticized the university for twice rejecting Miller’s own choice of wording on a permanent marker at the site where Turner attacked her. Los Angeles Times

I don’t give a ... about the industry I’m disrupting.” How Silicon Valley hacked our minds and lost its conscience. Vanity Fair

See also: Tech-savvy Silicon Valley residents don’t want self-driving cars tested in their neighborhoods. (Silicon Valley pioneered self-driving cars.) Washington Post



Los Angeles: sunny, 78. San Diego: sunny, 74. San Francisco: sunny, 70. San Jose: sunny, 76. Sacramento: sunny, 77. More weather is here.


“Have lectured three times & addressed several classes; have driven a Ford and got stuck in a snow drift. The trees are full of oranges.”

— -T.S. Eliot visiting California in 1933

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, complaints, ideas and unrelated book recommendations to Julia Wick. Follow her on Twitter @Sherlyholmes.