Newsletter: Essential California Week in Review: A $5.3-million debt-relief gift

Pastor Tom Hughes
Pastor Tom Hughes of the Christian Assembly Church came up with the idea to use donations to wipe out $5.3 million in medical debt for thousands of people in L.A. County.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It is Saturday, Dec. 28.

Here’s a look at the top stories of the last week:

Top stories

Church erases debt. Working with a debt-forgiveness nonprofit, an Eagle Rock church is helping to wipe out $5.3 million in medical debt for 5,555 low-income households in the Los Angeles area.

L.A. rents are skyrocketing. Average rent in the city of L.A. has ballooned to $2,527, a 65% increase since 2010, according to a new study. That’s significantly higher than the national average of 36%. Family incomes have been unable to keep pace.

So are game ticket prices. Amid the race to outfit athletic venues with gourmet dining, luxury suites, VIP seats and video boards, going to professional sporting events has become all but unaffordable for the typical family in the L.A. area.

Waiting for a miracle. An Army officer arrived last week at the San Diego airport to a swarm of hugs and tears where his family waited for him at the curb. He came to say goodbye to his mother before her scheduled deportation date of Jan. 2.

Climate change lessons. California students are eager to engage in a growing youth climate activist movement, science educators say. But widespread science teacher shortages and the lack of training among many current teachers may hinder state efforts to implement new standards for climate change education.

Christmas storm strands drivers. A strong winter storm barreled into Southern California on Christmas Day and spent the night, dumping rain and blanketing the mountains with heavy snow. Interstates 5 and 15 were shut down until Friday morning as several drivers were left stranded for up to eight hours.


Plus: Is it safe to go to the beach after the most recent storm? Here are some precautions and commonly asked questions about rain and pollution.

Naming controversy. California is dotted with numerous racially offensive place names, many of them holdovers from the Gold Rush. One lawyer is fighting the town of Lone Pine to change the derogatory name of a historic campground.

New internet rules. A sweeping new California law that aims to rewrite the rules of the internet and make online life more transparent is set to go into effect on Jan. 1. Businesses must comply, but they’re scrambling to keep up.

Predicting homelessness. Is there a way to predict who will become homeless? These UCLA researchers say they’ve analyzed millions of interactions between Los Angeles County’s social services agencies and residents and significantly improved the odds of identifying who’s at risk.

The year that was. We asked you, our Essential California readers, to tell us about how this year’s headlines affected your lives. More than 70 of you wrote in to share your experiences. Here’s what you had to say.

1. Jody Maroni’s Sausage Kingdom bows out with a Venice Beach goodbye after 40 years. Los Angeles Times

2. He claimed Chumash ancestry and raised millions. But experts say he’s not Chumash. Los Angeles Times

3. A 111-year-old, believed to be the oldest man in the U.S., celebrates his birthday in Laguna Woods. Orange County Register

4. First of two holiday-week storms packs an unexpected wallop across the Southland. Los Angeles Times

5. ‘Our worst nightmare’: Vandalism at Persian synagogue stuns congregation. Los Angeles Times

ICYMI, here are this week’s great reads

Fake snow is in high demand. Just don’t ask how it’s made. Los Angeles Times


Chinese restaurants are closing. That’s a good thing, the owners say. New York Times

A cornucopia of riches: The fantastic crew over at Longreads have released their Best of 2019 year-end collection, which includes guest story picks for crime reporting, science, sports, essays and more. Longreads

Plus, a W.S. Merwin poem to close out your year. Poetry Foundation

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. (And a giant thanks to the legendary Diya Chacko for all her help on the Saturday edition.)