Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Thursday, Feb. 20, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.
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California has long been a thorn in President Trump’s side, part political foil and part punching bag. But he also can’t seem to keep away. On Wednesday, he wrapped up his fifth visit to the blue state since taking office, timed two weeks before the California primary.
Here’s a quick look at how Trump spent his two days in “occupied territory,” as the president’s domestic policy chief referred to the state in a tweet shortly after Trump touched down on California soil.
Tuesday: Trump took aim at L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti before the president had even landed at LAX, sparring with him on Twitter over immigration from Air Force One. Later that afternoon, he headed to Beverly Hills to meet with organizers of the 2028 Olympic Games before attending a fundraising dinner.
[Read the story: “Greeted in L.A. by jeers and cheers, Trump slams city leaders” in the Los Angeles Times]
During a briefing on preparations for the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, the president continued his penchant for slamming local leaders failing to slow the homelessness epidemic, saying that if L.A. doesn’t “clean it up fast,” he would intervene.
After a private fundraiser at the Montage Hotel in Beverly Hills, the president chose not to spend the night in “occupied territory.” He instead flew across state lines to a room at the Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas.
Wednesday: After stopping by a reception in the lobby of his Vegas hotel, the president hightailed it back to California for a high-dollar fundraiser at Oracle Chairman Larry Ellison’s Rancho Mirage estate. He was met by “boisterous protests and rallies” along the motorcade route, according to the Desert Sun. The event went ahead despite protests from Oracle employees, who called on Ellison to cancel the fundraiser with a petition arguing that Ellison’s support of Trump “does not affirm Oracle’s core values of diversity, inclusiveness and ethical business conduct.”
Air Force One departed the Coachella Valley for even friendlier climes early Wednesday afternoon, landing in Bakersfield just after 2:30 p.m. Despite losing the state in the 2016 election, Trump bested Hillary Clinton by 13 percentage points in Kern County, where Bakersfield is located. His visit was at least partially intended to shore up Central Valley Republicans ahead of California’s March 3 primary.
As my colleague Bettina Boxall detailed in her dispatch from Bakersfield, Trump then signed a memo directing federal agencies to move ahead with relaxed endangered species protections that have curbed water deliveries to San Joaquin Valley agriculture and the urban Southland. Gov. Gavin Newsom‘s administration said Wednesday that it would challenge the federal action in court.
[Read the story: “Trump vows more water for Central Valley farmers, less for fish. Can he deliver?” in the Los Angeles Times]
“In signing Wednesday’s memo, Trump sought to highlight an environmental rollback he set in motion shortly before the 2018 midterm election, when he signed a separate directive promising to bring ‘a lot of water’ to Central Valley growers, some of his biggest California boosters,” according to Bettina’s story.
Wealthy farmers — including those served by a sprawling irrigation agency that Interior Secretary David Bernhardt represented for years as a Washington lawyer and lobbyist before joining the Trump administration — stand to benefit from the relaxed protections. Bernhardt was on hand Wednesday, along with leading Central Valley Republicans, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, Rep. Devin Nunes, Rep. Tom McClintock and former Rep. David Valadao, who is trying to reclaim the House seat he lost two years ago when Democrats flipped his district.
After that, it was a wrap on California — at least for this visit — as the president headed to Phoenix for a rally.
And now, here’s what’s happening across California:
A housing bill died in Sacramento. Now L.A. business leaders are exploring their own plan. Weeks after Sacramento legislators rejected Senate Bill 50, the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce is exploring a November ballot measure to allow taller, denser residential buildings on commercial streets and in neighborhoods zoned for apartments. Unlike SB 50, the draft version of the proposal being discussed by chamber leaders would leave single-family neighborhoods untouched. Los Angeles Times
Jury selection has begun in the Robert Durst murder trial, nearly five years after Durst was arrested in connection with the execution-style slaying of his best friend. Los Angeles Times
The Zagat restaurant guide will return to Los Angeles in June after a six-year hiatus. The Infatuation acquired the Zagat brand from Google in 2018. Los Angeles Times
Veteran stand-up comic Danny Cho felt as if he’d hit a wall in Hollywood, that opportunities for Asian American performers were always going to be limited. So he took his comedy act to South Korea. Los Angeles Times
The Los Angeles City Council voted to ban the use of exotic animals for entertainment purposes, in effect putting an end to traditional circuses and similar ventures within the city. Los Angeles Times
The Topanga Canyon house where Neil Young recorded “After the Gold Rush” is for sale. Young bought the house in 1968, shortly after the breakup of Buffalo Springfield. Curbed LA
Pop Smoke, a rising New York rapper, was fatally shot in a Hollywood Hills home early Wednesday. Investigators suspect the home where the rapper was staying was targeted by the assailants. Los Angeles Times
IMMIGRATION AND THE BORDER
A proposal to convert two prisons into for-profit federal immigrant detention centers was rejected by city planners in the Central Valley town of McFarland. McFarland’s mayor announced his resignation the next morning, explaining that his vision for the city’s growth was at odds with the community’s desire to rebuff GEO Group. (GEO is a giant of the private prison industry and also operates an immigrant detention center in Adelanto.) Desert Sun
[For more background on how the proposal divided the 95%-Latino town of McFarland, and context on how the plan fit into California’s effort to phase out the use of for-profit prisons and detention centers, see this prior Desert Sun story.]
U.S. immigration agents arrested two people at a Northern California courthouse, flouting a new state law requiring a judicial warrant to make immigration arrests inside such facilities. Associated Press
POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT
Five takeaways from the Las Vegas Democratic debate: The candidates sparred over healthcare, experience, sexism and transparency, often taking jabs at former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and one another. Los Angeles Times
In his annual State of the State address, Gov. Gavin Newsom vowed to marshal the full force of his administration to alleviate California’s worsening homelessness crisis — a humanitarian imperative for the state and political necessity for a governor whose ambitious progressive agenda could be eclipsed if he fails to take effective action. Los Angeles Times
San Francisco Mayor London Breed addressed her friendship and acceptance of gifts from indicted former Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru in a lengthy Medium post. It’s not yet clear whether the city attorney’s office will separately investigate Nuru’s gifts to Breed. San Francisco Chronicle
Legal marijuana use still costs people jobs. A new California bill takes on the issue. Los Angeles Times
Concerned too many Californians were unaware they would face a hefty fine for not having health insurance, officials loosened a state law meant to push uninsured residents into buying medical coverage. Los Angeles Times
CRIME AND COURTS
Two 13-year-olds were arrested in connection with a Porterville library blaze that killed two firefighters. Los Angeles Times
“How do we honor the life of a beloved Sacramento artist? By talking openly about his death.” Hip-hop artist Ali Trotter took his own life this year after a long-fought battle with depression. Sacramento Bee
Revisionist history or just an awkward error? A Target in the East Bay was selling posters celebrating the 49ers as Super Bowl LIV champs. San Luis Obispo Tribune
Revitalization in downtown Visalia: An abandoned Art Deco building that once housed the Tulare County Courthouse is being transformed into a Roaring ‘20s-themed boutique hotel. Foothills Sun-Gazette
Los Angeles: sunny, 78. San Diego: sunny, 71. San Francisco: partly sunny, 65. San Jose: partly sunny, 71. Sacramento: partly sunny, 68. More weather is here.
Today’s California memory comes from Marilyn LaMonte:
“I grew up in the hills of Encino, in the San Fernando Valley. The date was January 1957. I woke up at 6 that morning. It was cold, and something unusual was happening outside. I looked out of our large windows and saw something I did not recognize. A beautiful soft snow was falling in our yard for as far as I could see. We built a snowman that lasted until that night. A rare sight for a 10-year-old living in the Valley.”
As a California memory bonus, here are some photos of that January 1957 snowfall.
If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)