Newsletter: Essential California: From pot to lightbulbs to taxes, life is about to change


Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Friday, Dec. 29, and here’s what’s happening across California:


A whole new day

Starting Jan. 1, Californians’ lives will be governed by hundreds of new laws including new controls on concealed weapons, unprecedented state protections for those in the U.S. illegally, an increase in the minimum wage, legal sales of recreational marijuana and even a new state dinosaur. Here is a rundown on how Sacramento is about to change your life in big and small ways. Los Angeles Times


Flaw in the system

California’s destructive fire season highlighted the inadequacies of the emergency warnings officials employed and have prompted a push for new safety protocols. Some of the same problems occurred two months later when the Thomas fire — the largest on record in California — swept through Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. In the end, the warnings that officials did send reached only a fraction of those in the path of the fire, and emergency agencies struggled to target their warnings to the correct geographic areas. The situation left officials frustrated and looking for answers. Los Angeles Times

Where’s Donald?

Donald Trump is the first president in decades not to visit California, the most populous and economically powerful state. Even past presidents who didn’t get the state’s electoral votes made it a destination, if only for being the Golden State of campaign cash. Now it’s ground zero for “the resistance.” Los Angeles Times

BEST OF 2017

Essential California is rebooting some of the stories that moved us most this year. Have a nomination? Let us know:


Investigation: The drug is called Nuedexta and the Orange County manufacturer said it is designed to treat a rare neurological condition that causes sudden and uncontrollable laughing or crying. But there is growing evidence the drug is being improperly used in nursing homes — and wasting huge amounts of taxpayer money. Blake Ellis, Melanie Hicken and Sergio Hernandez investigated the drug and its strange history. CNN

Romancing the stone: The crazy story of the 752-pound emerald that has been the subject of a legal drama that seems to never end. After so much rancor, one question remains: Is the emerald worth $1 billion or practically nothing? Elizabeth Weil tries to find out. Wired

Archaeology as blood sport: Standing atop a road-widening project near National City in San Diego County, Richard Cerutti could hardly imagine he was about to discover something that could rewrite the opening chapter in the history of the New World. Tom Curwen on the the ancient mastodon that ignited debate over humans’ arrival in North America. Los Angeles Times

Changing scene: Oakland spent years in the shadow of San Francisco as a troubled city known for its violent streets and troubled economy. But in a dramatic upheaval fueled by Silicon Valley cash, Oakland has become San Francisco of the east. Sarah Carpenter, Brian Howey and KR Nava explore what is happening to Oakland and its soul. Medium

Woke: The rise of Kendrick Lamar as one of music’s most celebrated and beloved artists has been much chronicled. But his music — well, several specific songs — have a powerful meaning to other African American young people of his generation. They say his lyrics gave them the strength and the hope to rise out of the troubled world of South L.A. They spoke with Justin Tinsley. The Undefeated

The “pool people”: In the horror of the wine country firestorms, there were many harrowing stories of survival in a catastrophe that killed more than 40 people. But few were more dramatic than the couple who spent hours in a swimming pool to avoid being burned to death. Robin Abcarian tells their story. Los Angeles Times



As seen on TV: Is Dr. Phil helping his guests get through addiction or actually making their problems worse? Stat

What winter? Southern California reported the warmest temperatures in the nation on Wednesday and Thursday, with more in store today. Los Angeles Times

Virulent: A grim flu season is bringing more visits to emergency rooms, officials say. Los Angeles Daily News

Not just a mall: “South Coast Plaza is a playground for people with money. It is parochialism defined. But … the Segerstrom family who created, owns, and still runs South Coast Plaza have created a Rodeo Drive for all stations of life. It’s aspirational living. Whether you can afford a bejeweled Rolex that costs as much as a two-story house in the Inland Empire or only a croissant at the French bakery, the Segerstroms will treat you like a queen for a day.” — Gustavo Arellano on the mall with it all. Curbed Los Angeles



A serious problem: How the #MeToo movement is roiling Bay Area high school campuses. East Bay Times

Placard abuse: California officials were shocked to learn how many disabled car placards were issued to dead people. Here’s what they did about it. Sacramento Bee

Shakeup: A renowned cancer expert at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla has been ousted as editor of one of the world’s top science journals after being implicated in a deepening controversy over how the center treats female faculty. San Diego Union-Tribune


Sign of the times: A donation center in Santa Rosa to help fire victims must close because of repeated break-ins. “It’s heartbreaking, it’s disappointing,” one official said. “It’s really not personal. … It points to a bigger need in Santa Rosa.” The Press Democrat

Wrongfully convicted: He spent decades behind bars for murders officials now say he didn’t commit. This week, he went back the police station where the ordeal began to set the record straight. Ventura County Star



High-rise neighborhood: San Francisco is famously a city of neighborhoods. But the city has never seen a place like what is developing south of Market Street, a high-rise village of wealth and mass centered around the new Salesforce tower. Does it show the future of cities? San Francisco Chronicle

Enough already? Some California food trends that critics hope will disappear in 2018: Cereal as toppings, food made for Instagramming, and “mash-up meals” (like spaghetti grilled cheese sandwiches). Orange County Register

Plus: Was this $14 rice bowl the essential L.A. dish of 2017? Los Angeles Magazine

The force: Meet the women who really run the “Star Wars” universe. New York Times

The “Die Hard 2” guy: China is turning to a veteran Hollywood action director to make its movies better. Wall Street Journal



Los Angeles area: sunny and 80. San Diego: sunny and 73. San Francisco area: partly cloudy and 59. Sacramento: partly cloudy and 61. More weather is here.


Today’s California memory comes from Richard Emery:

“Although I had summered in Southern California, my first exposure to the delights of the area in the winter was the 1971 Rose Parade and Rose Bowl. My ex-wife’s uncle was a member of the Tournament of Roses, and he scored tickets for us. I was enthralled with the beautiful weather and pageantry of the entire day. It was one big party with 105,000 people in attendance. And to see Jim Plunkett and the Stanford Indians (now Cardinal) upset the mighty Buckeyes of Ohio State made the day that much more special. We were able to go several more years until he retired in the mid-1980s.”

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. Send us an email to let us know what you love or fondly remember about our state. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints and ideas to Benjamin Oreskes and Shelby Grad. Also follow them on Twitter @boreskes and @shelbygrad.