Essential California Week in Review: California’s toxic legacy

Oil wells near the town of Maricopa, Calif.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It is Saturday, Feb. 8.

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

The toxic legacy of old oil wells. From Kern County to Los Angeles, companies haven’t set aside anywhere near enough money to ensure these drilling sites are cleaned up and made safe for future generations, creating a multibillion-dollar problem for California.

A new break? Nearly 24 years after college student Kristin Smart vanished from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, investigators and the FBI served new search warrants in San Luis Obispo County, Washington state and San Pedro.

Coronavirus quarantine. Days after jets carrying Americans evacuated from China’s outbreak’s epicenter landed in Southern California, hundreds of them are still killing time in quarantine with board games, tai chi and long phone calls.

Kobe Bryant’s complicated legacy. Since his death, a chorus of women and men has taken to social media to say they believe ignoring an alleged 2003 assault does a disservice to all sexual assault survivors — and in particular the woman who said he attacked her.

Meanwhile, a public memorial for Bryant and his daughter, who also died in the crash, has been set for Feb. 24 at Staples Center.

Fighting rent hikes. Los Angeles leaders are weighing a new strategy to control rent prices: use the power of eminent domain to acquire a 124-unit apartment building to keep 59 units at affordable prices.

California’s caucus clarity. It’s still not clear who won the Iowa caucus. But a satellite caucus in Palm Springs reported a winner: Amy Klobuchar.

Greyhound shooting. Authorities say a Maryland man opened fire on a Greyhound bus on Interstate 5 through Kern County, killing a 51-year-old woman and wounding five others Monday. Investigators say he got into a fight with another passenger.

No “Bonnie and Clyde” charges. The Orange County district attorney is dropping all charges against a Newport Beach doctor and his girlfriend who were accused of drugging and sexually assaulting several women, saying there was insufficient evidence.


One Southern California institution grows. Norms is expanding like crazy, with 20 locations. But growth for the chain looks like it’s staying the same.

And another closes its doors. For decades, Dicker and Dicker of Beverly Hills meant Hollywood glamour. But now that fur has lost its luster and California is banning new fur apparel come 2023, the store is making its final sales.

The death of a Hollywood icon. Actor Kirk Douglas died at age 103. He was known for movies including “Spartacus” and “Champion” and for playing an off-screen role as a maverick independent producer who helped end the Hollywood blacklist.

1. In Silver Lake, a vegan joint tells of how the big fish of gentrification eats the little ones. Los Angeles Times

2. How to spend the perfect three-day weekend in San Diego. Travel + Leisure

3. Now there’s cushy camping on L.A.’s trail from Pacific Palisades to Malibu. Los Angeles Times

4. Fake passengers wanted: LAX needs 500 people to test out a new airport terminal. Los Angeles Times

5. Local podcaster sheds new light on the 23-year-old disappearance of Kristin Smart. Santa Maria Times

Bonus: It’s not a story, but California’s voter status database was by far this week’s most popular link. If you haven’t already checked your registration ahead of the primary, you can do so here.


ICYMI, here are this week’s great reads

On the trail of Hollywood’s stolen Oscars: An academic navigates the strange, semi-secret marketplace for Hollywood’s most coveted statues. Crime Reads

How the Oscars’ best-picture nominees used architecture to tell stories of inequity. As usual, culture writer Carolina A. Miranda is in exquisite form with this piece. My favorite sentence? “Uplighting vegetation is the design tic of the bourgeoisie,” in reference to an illuminated cluster of bamboo trees at the Minimalist manse inhabited by the well-to-do Park family in Bong Joon Ho’s “Parasite.” Los Angeles Times

Hamilton Nolan reflects on newspaper objectivity, social media and a turbulent few weeks at the Washington Post: “Banning a female reporter from noting that a famous person was famously accused of rape is, itself, a political act. Banning a black reporter from saying that a racially motivated movement was racially motivated is, itself, a political act.” Columbia Journalism Review

Poem of the week: “What Work Is” by Philip Levine. 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 and this week Laura Blasey for all their help on the Saturday edition.)