Newsletter: What’s next, locusts?


Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Wednesday, Oct. 16, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

Get the Essential California newsletter »

Lucy Jones, the high priestess of seismic science, issued her tweet a little more than 20 minutes after the magnitude 4.7 earthquake hit Central California on Tuesday afternoon.

“Today’s M4.8 near Hollister is too far from yesterday’s M4.5 to be connected,” she wrote, referencing the slightly smaller temblor that had rattled the Bay Area late Monday night. So much for trying to calm one’s nerves with a balm of aftershock inevitability, or make sense of the shaking ground with any narrative through-line from one earthquake to the next.


Neither quake caused any serious damage. But the ground visibly shaking in parts of the state less than a week after mass blackouts and major wildfires is certainly a reminder of the general precariousness of life in California, as well as the specific seismic forces that put the East Bay at high risk of a major earthquake.

This is, of course, nothing new. You live here and know full well what you signed up for, which is nothing short of a potential litany of bad things in biblical proportions. (“Follow the links to more information about a specific disaster,” an official webpage for the state department of public health helpfully explains, before going on to say, in nicely organized, paragraph-long sections, how earthquakes, floods, wildfires, landslides, tsunamis, power outages and extreme heat might come to ravage the state, respectively.)

Don’t worry, I won’t waste your time with any blathering about disasters and the unsteady California psyche, or offer bargain-rate poetry on paradise in perpetual destruction. (It’s all already been said, and better, many times before.) But the fact is, disasters have shaped the state — both physically and culturally — throughout our history.

And the only real certainty of California living is that they will continue to do so. All we can do is prepare and respond.

I have been revisiting a really smart story by my colleague Melanie Mason, written in the lead-up to the most recent gubernatorial election, about how the legacies of California governors are often shaped by natural disasters. She quotes former Gov. Gray Davis, who faced an unexpected power crisis while in office. ”A governor should expect that his agenda is going to be interrupted at some point by natural or manmade disaster. It’s just going to happen,” Davis tells her.

[Read the story: “Natural disaster is inevitable in California. And it can define a governor’s legacy” in the Los Angeles Times]


“How a state’s chief executive responds when calamity strikes often makes it into the history books,” Mason continues. But that response isn’t just confined to the camera-ready aftermath, when a governor shows up in a windbreaker to tour the ravaged landscape and promise to rebuild.

“The choices a governor makes ahead of disaster are no less consequential — and often present high political risk with little payoff,” Mason continues, citing a professor of political science who says that governors tend to get more public reward for crisis response than disaster preparedness.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s response to the PG&E blackouts brought an early test with, as Politico put it, “the shadow of Gray Davis” looming over him. It was arguably a largely unwinnable political situation, and Newsom changed course as public anger at the utility steeped to a boiling point. His well-staged excoriation of PG&E came, as Sacramento reporter Taryn Luna noted in her story, more than 36 hours after the blackouts began and struck a different tone than the message he delivered just a day earlier.

[Read the story: “For Gov. Newsom, PG&E power outages offer political rewards — and some big risks” in the Los Angeles Times]

Newsom is still relatively new in his tenure at the helm of the state, but his governorship (along with his larger political future) will probably be defined, at least in part, by disasters that have yet to strike.

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


The Los Angeles City Council took a stopgap step Tuesday to stop no-fault evictions and rent increases, following fears that landlords are hiking rent and removing tenants before new state rental rules take effect in January. The council instructed the city attorney to draft an emergency ordinance that would stop landlords from evicting tenants without sufficient cause, such as failure to pay rent. They also voted to draft an ordinance that would limit rent increases for the rest of the year and block some evictions. Los Angeles Times

An explosion at a NuStar oil storage facility on Tuesday afternoon sent a huge fireball into the air in West Contra Costa County, shaking buildings and rattling windows for miles around and igniting a fire that was expected to burn for hours. Officials ordered residents in two small East Bay communities, Crockett and Rodeo, to shelter in place due to potentially unhealthy air contaminants, and residents were evacuated from the tiny community of Tormey. The I-80 was closed in both directions. San Francisco Chronicle


The first Asian American woman to lead L.A. County is retiring. Sachi Hamai, a low-key figure known for championing women in leadership and implementing the county’s sales tax hike to tackle homelessness, is leaving her post as chief executive officer after a three-decade career in county government. Los Angeles Times

Hollywood’s overworked, underpaid assistants: A Twitter hashtag sheds light — and online outrage— on the entertainment industry’s labor practices. Variety

USC will relinquish control of the Gamble House in Pasadena. The international pilgrimage site for devotees of the Arts and Crafts style and point of pride for USC’s School of Architecture will be managed by the new Gamble House Conservancy. Los Angeles Times

Golden Age Hollywood’s “male madame” to the stars has died at 96. Scotty Bowers claimed to have arranged liaisons for everyone from Rock Hudson to Bette Davis and “helped keep the (often queer) secrets of contract players who were bound by morality clauses during the heyday of the studio system.” The Hollywood Reporter

Dozens of new apartments for homeless people could rise in Chatsworth after the Los Angeles City Council voted to fund a rare proposal to build such housing in the northwestern stretches of the San Fernando Valley. Los Angeles Times

Your support helps us deliver the news that matters most. Subscribe to the Los Angeles Times.


A dead body in the Tijuana River caused 14.5 million gallons of sewage-tainted water to spill into the United States. Federal officials reported that the body had clogged the pumps in the river intended to prevent polluted water from flowing over the border. San Diego Union-Tribune


Twelve Democratic presidential candidates crammed on a debate stage for a very long time and many things were discussed. And then, in what can only be described as an act of very high-concept performance art, Anderson Cooper asked the contenders to tell America about their most surprising friend. Here are seven other takeaways. Los Angeles Times

San Diego Republicans failed to endorse a candidate for the 50th Congressional District. This marks the first time incumbent Rep. Duncan Hunter has failed to get the Republican Party’s full support. The six-term congressman is preparing for a federal trial on charges of campaign finance violations and faces three high-profile Republican opponents. Los Angeles Times

In other state congressional news, the GOP wants to knock off Rep. Josh Harder, but the Central Valley Democrat has more cash than anyone else. The freshman rep has consistently outraised Republicans in the race by huge margins. Modesto Bee

We know that trying to keep all 53 of our California congressional reps straight is a Sisyphean task, so here’s your quick Josh Harder refresher: He’s the guy who recently brought a giant dead swamp rat to Washington. He is also one of the seven Democrats in “purple” districts who flipped seats formerly held by Republicans during the 2018 midterms.

The fashion hits and misses of 2020 campaign merchandise, from messaging misfires to the best color schemes. Los Angeles Times


Did Sacramento pot businesses pay bribes? The FBI is investigating whether payoffs to public officials were made in exchange for favorable treatment and license approvals. Sacramento Bee

A thief stole a $20,000 Salvador Dalí etching from a San Francisco gallery. San Francisco Chronicle

Actress Felicity Huffman reported to a Northern California prison, where she will spend two weeks behind bars for conspiring to rig her daughter’s college entrance exams. Huffman will serve her sentence at the Federal Correctional Institution in Dublin, which is approximately 340 miles — and one stunning fall from grace — away from her home in the Outpost Estates section of the Hollywood Hills. Los Angeles Times


A bacteria outbreak at a state prison in Stockton has cost California $8.5 million and doesn’t appear to be going away seven months after it infected two inmates, one of whom died. Sacramento Bee


San Francisco will ban cars from Market Street. The municipal transportation agency unanimously approved the $604-million Better Market Street Project to transform Market Street between Octavia Boulevard and the Embarcadero and restrict private vehicles between Steuart and Gough. Curbed SF

As developers try to meet the needs of the growing 55-plus homeowner market, a Palm Springs project is using a novel twist: marketing specifically to LGBTQ seniors. San Bernardino Sun

How TheRealReal took consignment global — and very high-end. The San Francisco-based platform for selling previously owned luxury goods became the first clothing reseller to go public last year. (BTW, this story was written by the great Susan Orlean, in case that changes your level of interest in clicking a link about the fancy consignment business.) The New Yorker

A “miniature Burning Man” will soon come to the outskirts of Kern County. The nonprofit San Diego Collaborative Arts Project is putting on the show. Bakersfield Californian

A historic Cambria schoolhouse was relocated across town. The structure was built in 1881. San Luis Obispo Tribune


Los Angeles: partly sunny, 87. San Diego: sunny, 77. San Francisco: cloudy, 62. San Jose: cloudy, 70. Sacramento: cloudy, 76. More weather is here.


Today’s California memory comes from Dr. Richard L. Carhart:

“It was 1983 and I was finishing a post-doc at USC when I first saw the Seal Beach Pier. Being from the Midwest, I had never really seen anything like it before and I made a point of paying homage, as it were, whenever I was near the beach. Then came the storm. Seeing that gaping hole in the mid-section of the pier was startling, and little did I know at the time that subsequent storms and fires would have a similar effect. But the pier always returned in spite of it all. I see this now — some 35 years later — as a metaphor for how things manage to endure, simply because we would have it no other way.”

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.