Newsletter: Greetings from the wine cave


Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Friday, Dec. 20, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

At long last, the interminable parade of Democratic debates came to the most important state in the nation: California. Notably absent from the Loyola Marymount stage were home-state Sen. Kamala Harris, who dropped out of the race earlier this month, and Sen. Cory Booker and Julián Castro, who both fell short of qualifying.

California figured early and often in the 2½-hour debate, including a question about climate change that specifically referenced the Northern California town of Paradise, which was ravaged by last year’s Camp fire.

But most of the California talk was made in passing, as opposed to much substantial courting of Golden State voters. (The in-passing mentions included references to California being “majority-minority” and home to more DACA recipients than any other state, as well as shout-outs to Gov. Gavin Newsom and Oakland Rep. Barbara Lee, who issued the sole “no” vote on authorizing force in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks.)

[See also: “Five takeaways from the Democratic debate in Los Angeles” in the Los Angeles Times]


Perhaps the most notable omission? Housing and homelessness, which didn’t merit a single dedicated question from the moderators — despite the debate being held in a city where a homeless man died on the steps of City Hall only a day prior, and in a state where housing issues are never far from mind.

But a Napa Valley “wine cave” — the location of a lavish Mayor Pete Buttigieg fundraiser last weekend — did became an unlikely recurring debate subject. It began with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who has spurned high-dollar fundraisers, ripping into the South Bend, Ind., mayor for his closed-door event, with Buttigieg pushing back with a barb about “purity tests.” Several others then picked up the wine cave narrative from the stage, with things taking a turn to the absurd when Andrew Yang coined the phrase “shake the money tree in the wine cave.”

Like all wine caves, this one was literal and figurative. The location in question was Hall Winery in St. Helena, which is owned by billionaire Democratic donors Craig and Kathryn Hall. Of course, the term also doubled as an easy, meme-friendly shorthand for big money in politics.

[From the archives: A 1989 Los Angeles Times story about wine caves becoming the latest “in” thing in the Napa Valley]

But jokes and metaphors aside, wine is also big business in California. The winery-owning governor of this great state was seemingly unamused by the Democrats bringing the mud-slinging into the vino den.

“Having a wine cave — It’s my business,” Newsom told a HuffPost politics reporter after the debate, per the reporter’s Twitter. “It’s how I started ... I don’t know that it’s helpful to have those kinds of debates.”


And now, here’s what else is happening:


After the Democratic-led House impeached President Trump, House and Senate leaders argued Thursday over how his Senate trial will be conducted, with the two articles of impeachment likely to remain in limbo until at least early January as a result of the spat. The Republican-led Senate is almost certain to acquit Trump of the two charges, abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, once it receives them. But the House delay in transmitting them means his trial, and presumed vindication, could be pushed back. Los Angeles Times


Julián Castro toured L.A.’s skid row on Wednesday to talk about his housing plan. Los Angeles Times

These 1920s L.A. apartments inspired one of the best noir films ever made. For the set of “In a Lonely Place,” director Nicholas Ray re-created one of his first Hollywood homes. Curbed LA

The end of a retail era: After 41 years at the Fred Segal center, Ron Robinson is closing his Melrose Avenue brick-and-mortar store in early 2020. Los Angeles Times

This mariscos master is now serving out of an underground restaurant in his Lennox backyard. His wife works the front of the house and helps with prep. L.A. Taco

Many see a divine image of the Virgin of Guadalupe in a stain on the sidewalk outside a Catholic church in Artesia. Los Angeles Times

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A proposal to allow limited boating on Hetch Hetchy Reservoir in Yosemite National Park was killed in the House. Boating on the waters has been banned for nearly a century. San Francisco Chronicle

A rainbow forms in the mist from water releases at Hetch Hetchy Reservoir in 2012.
(John Holland / Associated Press)

The California Public Utilities Commission has ruled that the state’s major utilities can’t raise their profit margins, denying the companies the higher shareholder returns they had sought. Profit margins will stay level at 10.3% for Edison, 10.25% for PG&E, 10.2% for SDG&E and 10.05% for SoCalGas. That means for every dollar the utilities spend building electric or gas infrastructure, they’ll continue to charge customers an additional 10 cents or so in profits for their shareholders. Los Angeles Times

Climate change threatens billions in the CalPERS pension fund: The California Public Employees’ Retirement System, which is the nation’s largest pension fund, says that one-fifth of its portfolio is invested in sectors at risk from climate change. Los Angeles Times


Since 2010, no police officer in the Bay Area city of Vallejo has been disciplined for using deadly force, despite multiple shootings of unarmed people — including a man holding a can of beer. And active police union leaders have been involved in the shooting investigations. The Appeal

An investigation into horse deaths at Santa Anita Park found no unlawful conduct. A special task force looked into the 30 deaths at Santa Anita during this year’s winter/spring meeting over the course of their nine-month investigation. Los Angeles Times

A former teen model who alleges she was sexually assaulted by Harvey Weinstein has filed a new lawsuit against the disgraced movie mogul, his former studio Miramax and previous owner the Walt Disney Co. Los Angeles Times


Strong storms boosted the California snowpack to the highest December level since 2015. The snowpack — a key source of the state’s water supply — measured 113% of average this week, roughly 40% higher than the snowpack during the same time in 2018. Los Angeles Times


Palm Springs has designated new pickup spots for Uber and Lyft drivers in bustling areas of downtown, which means ride-hail drivers will be directed away from main roads and riders may have to walk a block or two. “The idea is that people aren’t stopping on Palm Canyon in the middle of traffic and blocking traffic,” the city manager said. “It’s not good for the driver, or people getting in and out.” Desert Sun

No more “No Section 8” in apartment listings: Starting in 2020 when a new law goes into effect, California landlords will no longer be able to reject tenants solely because they’re using housing vouchers. Capital Public Radio

A much-hyped wave of tech IPOs was supposed to mint a whole new set of San Francisco tech zillionaires. But instead, the initial public offerings fizzled, and people merely got rich-ish, instead of mega-rich. And now? “Private wealth managers are now meeting with a chastened clientele. Developers are having to cut home prices — unheard-of a year ago.” New York Times

A San Francisco woman with a lost dog is offering a $7,000 reward and has hired a plane to fly over the city in the search for her blue-eyed miniature Australian shepherd stolen from outside a grocery store last weekend. Los Angeles Times


Los Angeles: partly sunny, 75. San Diego: sunny, 71. San Francisco: cloudy, 59. San Jose: partly sunny, 65. Sacramento: partly sunny, 61. More weather is here.


Today’s California memory comes from Peggy Whiteman:

“We immigrated from Holland and flew from Amsterdam to New York and then the train to San Francisco in 1957. I was 7 years old. There were eight of us (mom, dad and six kids) with my mother six months pregnant. My most vivid memory of when we first arrived is the cab ride to the Cable Car Motel on California Street. My teenage sisters and my mother were screaming at the top of their lungs as we went up and down the hills. Holland is completely flat and they were just terrified.”

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.