Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Tuesday, Jan. 14, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.
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The white-and-blue house on Magnolia Street in West Oakland is a real place, but it’s also become a rallying cry.
It’s a three-bedroom, one-bathroom symbol of the gentrification that’s reshaping the Bay Area as homelessness numbers rise, the rapid displacement of black Oakland and a seemingly intractable California housing crisis — where investor-owned properties often sit vacant while working people can no longer afford their own neighborhoods, and a group of homeless moms taking over an empty house starts to seem like a potentially logical endpoint in an unworkable system.
In November, a group of women, known collectively as Moms 4 Housing, started squatting in the Oakland home. The activists, who moved into the home with their children, were previously either homeless or on the brink of homelessness. They said the home had been vacant for years.
But the house did have an owner: Wedgewood, a Redondo Beach real estate investment company that specializes in “distressed residential real estate,” purchased the property at a foreclosure auction over the summer for a little more than half a million dollars. That figure is 10 times what the property last sold for in 1997.
The story, which pitted the group of mothers against the Southern California real estate firm, quickly drew national attention.
A PR rep for Wedgewood told the Mercury News that the bottom line here was simple: The house was stolen property. “The home belongs to Wedgewood and the many people who invest in Wedgewood,” he said. “And the women took this house — stole this house — and have no right to it.”
The women argued that housing itself should be a human right, and that they wanted to “reclaim housing for the Oakland community from the big banks and real estate speculators.”
By early December, Moms 4 Housing member Dominique Walker’s 1-year-old son had taken his first steps in the home, and Wedgewood had served the women with an eviction notice.
[See also: “Homeless mothers who took over Oakland house get eviction notice, plan to fight back” in the Mercury News]
As the eviction process (and the challenges to it) played out over a series of court dates, the women continued to garner support from some community members and other housing activists. Large groups rallied outside the house on multiple occasions, and several City Council members voiced their solidarity.
The Mercury News reports that just before Christmas, Oakland Councilmember Nikki Fortunato Bas and representatives from two other council offices called on Wedgewood to make a deal that would allow the women to purchase the property and maintain residency there. The council president’s policy director threatened a potential government seizure of the property if they refused, which a Wedgewood rep said showed a “reckless disregard for the law.”
In the end, the law came down from Alameda County Superior Court Judge Patrick McKinney, who ruled Friday that the women had no right to stay in the house. His ruling gave the sheriff’s office authority to evict the group within five days.
Shifts of supporters began gathering outside the house before dawn on Monday to protest the pending eviction. They linked arms, forming a human shield and risking potential arrest. A 7 p.m. tweet warning that the sheriff’s department was on its way mobilized far more people, bringing the number of protesters into the hundreds. But as of early Tuesday morning, the sheriff had yet to arrive.
A quick personal note before we get to the rest of the news:
The new year is underway, and one of my resolutions is to spend more time traveling around the state, filing dispatches and finding more specific pieces of the California narrative to share with our readers. Which is where you come in. I’d love to know what questions you’d like answered, and what local stories you’d like to see covered in the newsletter.
Do you know of an individual quietly doing something extraordinary, like Richard Soto’s lifelong quest to build his own Chicano library in Stockton? Or creative solutions to community problems, like “the Window” that provides a mailing address for homeless individuals in San Jose? What about neighborhood landmarks with a fascinating backstory, like Art Beal’s Nitt Witt Ridge in Cambria? Or local battles that resonate on a larger scale, like the fight to remove the mission bell at UC Santa Cruz, the double-edged sword of tourism in Big Sur or the culture war over a planned “straight pride” parade in Modesto? Is there a community tradition in your California city or town that people should know about, like this annual high school football game that functions as “the Super Bowl of East L.A.”? Please send me a note and tell me about it.
I’d also really like to meet some of our readers around the state. I want to hear your thoughts in person, and do my best to answer whatever questions you might have about the paper and how it works. Please fill out this form if you’d like to get a coffee when I’m in town, whenever and wherever that may be!
And now, here’s what’s happening across California:
The nominations for the 92nd Academy Awards are in: “Joker” led the field with 11 nods, followed closely by World War I drama “1917,” Martin Scorsese’s gangster epic “The Irishman” and Quentin Tarantino’s 1960s fantasia “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood,” with 10 nods apiece. In other news, J. Lo was robbed, the best director category remained entirely male, and Cynthia Erivo was the only person of color among this year’s acting nominees. Los Angeles Times
With public and political pressure mounting to get homeless people off the streets of California, a task force appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom is recommending that local governments face tough new legal sanctions for failing to make progress. The 13-member task force, led by Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg and L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, is calling for an amendment to the California Constitution that would create a legally enforceable mandate to reduce the homeless population. The Legislature would have to craft the plan, which would then appear as a statewide ballot measure in November. If approved by voters, the mandate would allow the state to sue cities and counties — or even itself — if the number of people living in street encampments doesn’t decline. Los Angeles Times
Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca is probably headed to prison after the U.S. Supreme Court denied a last-ditch, long-shot request to review his case. Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti is leading a new jobs program to double Latino representation in Hollywood, in front of and behind the camera, over the next decade. Los Angeles Times
“20 Los Angeles headlines from the future.” In the next 10 years, can Los Angeles build an extensive bike network, clean up its air and river, and boost Metro ridership? Curbed’s Alissa Walker muses on the headlines she’d like to see describing the city. Curbed LA
The Dodgers definitely were cheated out of the 2017 World Series title by the Houston Astros’ sign-stealing. At least that’s what Bill Plaschke argues in his column. Los Angeles Times
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POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT
Here’s what you need to know about Tuesday’s Democratic debate. It’s set to be the smallest and potentially most influential debate yet. Los Angeles Times
The vaccine protester accused of throwing blood on California senators has been prohibited from going near the Capitol. Los Angeles Times
CRIME AND COURTS
Model Gigi Hadid is among the potential jurors for Harvey Weinstein’s New York rape trial. She was in the pool of 1`20 potential jurors summoned Monday. Los Angeles Times
An unlicensed restaurant that served UC Davis students has been ordered to pay more than $100,000 after its food reportedly caused several people to fall ill. The restaurant targeted foreign students through the popular Chinese app WeChat. Sacramento Bee
HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT
A chilly winter storm is expected to move into the northern portion of the state Tuesday before making its way down the coast to Los Angeles County by late Thursday morning. Temperatures across Los Angeles County, which have been hovering in the low to mid-60s — slightly below normal — over the past week, are expected to stay chilly through Friday. Los Angeles Times
The most despair-inducing Bay Area dishes of 2019, according to the Chronicle’s restaurant critic. Featuring heavy sausage like “a culinary boot stomping on your face,” noodles that “come out in a clump like hair from a sink drain” and sauerkraut that “spits at you and calls you a moron.” San Francisco Chronicle
Orange-picking season has begun in La Verne. Here’s where to go. San Gabriel Valley Tribune
“I want the world to know I’m 105.” That was Fresno woman Cleo Stocker, speaking to a reporter while celebrating her birthday with friends and family at Hometown Buffet. Fresno Bee
A Marin historian is on a quest to document every local dairy that has ever operated in the county. May we all follow our dreams in 2020. Marin Independent Journal
Los Angeles: sunny, 63. San Diego: partly sunny, 63. San Francisco: sunny, 54. San Jose: sunny, 54. Sacramento: partly sunny, 56. More weather is here.
Today’s California memory comes from Teresa M. Baker:
“The Redondo Beach main library in Veterans Park was the library of my childhood (after the bookmobile at school and the teeny, tiny branch near our house). Once I was old enough to ride my bike there, I spent hours in one of the big, comfortable chairs in the main room. There were big windows that pushed open and let in the sound of the surf below. The smell of the sea, the sound of the waves, and a good book — it was heaven. I have loved many libraries, but none more than this one. Concerns about seismic safety closed it in 1991, but it lives on in my heart.”
If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)