Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It is Saturday, April 22. Here's what you don't want to miss this weekend:
Life-altering licenses: Two years ago, driving got less stressful for Leticia Aceves and 850,000 others who received California driver's licenses through a landmark state law meant to help undocumented immigrants become more integrated into society. Now President Trump's crackdown on immigration has made some of those license-holders anxious. They worry that the cards will be used to identify them as being here illegally and lead to their deportations. Los Angeles Times
An opening salvo from Washington: The Justice Department on Friday fired an opening shot in the Trump administration's crackdown on so-called sanctuary cities, sending letters to nine jurisdictions, including the California Department of Corrections, asking for proof that they are cooperating with immigration enforcement, and indicating they are at risk of losing federal grants. Los Angeles Times
Jobs gains: San Francisco, Riverside and San Bernardino counties saw the largest job gains in the nation from 2014 to 2015, according to newly released data from the Census Bureau. Los Angeles Times
Plus: California's jobless rate has fallen below 5% for the first time since 2006. Los Angeles Times
Schiff in the spotlight: He's never garnered this much attention. So now political insiders are wondering whether Rep. Adam Schiff will use his role in the Russia probes as a springboard to the Senate. Politico
Don't just walk by: Few people enter a gold container in the middle of downtown Los Angeles' Grand Park. But they should. The Portals Project connects different parts of the world through a network of shipping containers outfitted with video conferencing equipment. CNN
THE STORY BEHIND THE STORY
This week, Times reporter Louis Sahagun published a bombshell story about how the trees of Southern California are dying at an alarmingly fast rate. He reports that there's one type of beetle that could kill as many as 27 million trees in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties. He explained that this story started when he was writing another piece about the "evil botanical empire of weeds," which are thriving as a result of the deluge of rain.
Your Essential California team caught up with Sahagun to learn about how this story came together. This interview has been condensed and edited:
EC: Tell us a little about your background. How long have you worked at the paper?
LS: I am a full-time staff writer at The Times of 35 years who specializes in environmental issues. I grew up in Southern California. My memory kicks in in the muddy ditches of my mother's farm workers camp in what is now Whittier Narrows in the Montebello area.
I've always been very interested in these things, because of these impressions of urban wildlife that were burned into my psyche unforgettably as a Mexican American kid in those ditches in Whittier Narrows.
EC: So how did this story come together?
LS: The idea came to me that along with flowers this drenching was also spurring massive blooms of weeds — the dark side of the record rains. I went throwing my net out for information, and among the people I interviewed was Jerrold Turney, plant pathologist for Los Angeles County. I was talking to him about the weed bloom, and in the course of that conversation he made reference to what he called an "unprecedented loss of trees throughout Southern California."
EC: How was this story different from similar articles you've written in the past?
LS: What [Turney] introduced me to in those incidental comments was a whole different way of viewing this problem. Not just that it was the worst loss. But instead of approaching the issue from bug by bug by bug, I should view it from the point of view of the trees and a changing landscape. No one really knows what to do about it at this point, and it's important to keep in mind that this is not a bug story. This is about an artificial landscape. It's a paradise irrigated with imported water.
EC: What was the breakthrough moment in your reporting when you really knew you had a story?
LS: One of my sources said if you don't contact forestry researcher Greg McPherson you're not doing it right. The source said [McPherson] just came up with an analysis that is the first attempt to quantify the extent of the problem.
Until now [my reporting] was kind of full of ambiguous superlatives, but not a real fixed number. His preliminary results show an estimated 27 million trees are at risk in a 4,244-square-mile area of Southern California.
These trees are at risk from only one of the pests laying waste to our urban forests. I thought to myself: "This is interesting. We're now talking about our backyards, our street medians, our parks. We're not talking about bark beetles in the Sierra Nevada or pine trees on some remote mountaintop. These are our trees."
This week's most popular stories in Essential California:
1. Frank and Steven's Excellent Corporate-Raiding Adventure. The Atlantic
2. The trees that make Southern California shady and green are dying. Fast. Los Angeles Times
3. California is home to eight of the 10 cities in America where air pollution is worst. Quartz
4. Break away from the USA? The effort to cleave California faces its own split. Los Angeles Times
5. "Outrageously reckless": Woman gets prison in road-rage killing of motorcyclist. Los Angeles Times
ICYMI, here are this week's Great Reads
Master Matchmakers: He wanted Jewish, liberal and not so tall. The dating service gave him some, not all. Then the Yelp war began. Los Angeles Times columnist David Lazarus explains how Daniel Levine "paid $5,000 to the dating service Master Matchmakers to help him find true love. Now, instead of a soul mate, he has a sworn enemy in the form of the company's chief executive, Steven Ward." Los Angeles Times
Don't sleep on Mexico: Read here how President Trump may have underestimated Mexico as he bullied the country on the campaign trail and now while in the White House. It turns out, Mexico could hurt the United States very badly. The Atlantic
Kerr gets profiled: Steve Kerr's Golden State Warriors are cruising right now in the playoffs, and their coach is the King of Cool. The former player "has won enough championship rings to necessitate a second hand and compiled the most successful start to a coaching career in the NBA — like, ever." Bleacher Report
#TBT: On January 28, 1969, crude oil and gas erupted from a platform off the coast of Santa Barbara. Alarm over the disaster reverberated around the world, energizing the nascent environmental movement and leading to a slew of legislative changes. Read this complete oral history of the disaster and how it's effects are still felt today. Pacific Standard
The blame game begins: Casualties of a monster wildfire at Big Sur are blaming the "Wildfire Gig Economy." By that they mean the accidents shine a light on worker-protection issues arising from the reliance on large numbers of private contractors. KQED
Sunday: Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust's 25th annual community Yom HaShoah Day of Holocaust Commemoration event at Pan Pacific Park.
Monday: California State Science Fair begins in California Science Center.
Thursday: "An Evening of Reflection: 25 Years After the Los Angeles Riots," held at USC.
Saturday: 25th anniversary of L.A. riots.