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Essential California: Warnings about deadly mudslides came too late

Essential California: Warnings about deadly mudslides came too late
A member of a search-and-rescue team inspects property near a home on Glen Oaks Drive in Montecito. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Friday, Jan. 12, and here’s what’s happening across California:

TOP STORIES

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Warnings about deadly mudslides came too late

Officials had been warning for days that heavy storms could produce strong mudflows. But when the rains moved in early Tuesday morning and the storm proved much worse than forecasters predicted, emergency agencies struggled to get the word out to Montecito residents on their cellphones about the urgent danger. By the time alerts finally got out, it was too late for most residents still inside their homes. There was no way to escape. Los Angeles Times

The makings of disaster: The Thomas fire was halted on the steep slopes just above Montecito, sparing the enclave. But the same dramatic landscape that made the Thomas fire so hard to fight — making it the largest fire on record in California — propelled rivers of mud and rock on a devastating rampage, toppling houses, tossing cars around like pieces of Legos and carrying 3-foot-wide boulders all the way to the beach. “It’s almost unimaginable what I saw today,” one official said. Los Angeles Times

More about the mudslides:

Rescue crews continued to search for survivors amid the mud and wreckage of Montecito’s massive debris field on Thursday, but acknowledged that the window to save lives was rapidly closing. Among the dead: four children. Los Angeles Times

— Montecito residents returned to a “war zone.” Los Angeles Times

— Surveying the damage from the air. Los Angeles Times

La Conchita feels Montecito’s pain. The town has been there before. Ventura County Star

— Who is still missing? KEYT

From the state capital

There has been a lot of talk in Sacramento of taking action to ease California’s housing crisis amid rising rents. But a bill that would have led to the expansion of rent control in California communities died in an Assembly housing committee Thursday. Los Angeles Times

Plus: Breaking down Gov. Jerry Brown’s final budget. Los Angeles Times

L.A. STORIES

More on the way? A venomous sea snake found slithering on the sand in Newport Beach earlier this week was one of a growing number of the serpents apparently drawn far north of their usual habitat by the spread of warm ocean temperatures. Los Angeles Times

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Not good: A part fell from an airliner taking off from John Wayne Airport and landed on a moving vehicle recently in Newport Beach. Los Angeles Times

It’s art: If you see floating stages on Echo Park Lake this weekend with a vocalist crooning a siren song through ginormous wooden bullhorns as brass musicians march on the shore, don’t be confused. You’ve just entered Pacific Standard Time. Los Angeles Times

POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT

Shutdown OKd: Diablo Canyon, the last remaining nuclear power plant in California, will begin shutting down operations in six years, after state regulators Thursday unanimously approved a plan outlining details of the closure. “We chart a a new energy future by phasing out nuclear power here in California,” one official said. San Diego Union-Tribune

Big settlement: Energy giant BP has agreed to pay California $102 million as part of a settlement of allegations that it overcharged the state in sales of natural gas. Los Angeles Times

Virtual school: Gov. Brown wants California to launch its first fully online public community college to help 2.5 million young adults without college credentials gain skills for better jobs and greater economic mobility. Los Angeles Times

Lonely: In the Bay Area, the fear of living in a place no one can afford. The Mercury News

With friends like this: So how helpful was Oprah Winfrey to Hillary Clinton in 2016? Politico

CRIME AND COURTS

DNA testing: The mystery over the killing of Orange County pre-med college student Blaze Bernstein took another twist. Los Angeles Times

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“El Chapo” godson: A man considered to be the highest-ranking Mexican cartel leader to self-surrender to the United States pleaded guilty in San Diego federal court Wednesday to a scheme to distribute and import methamphetamine, heroin and cocaine to the U.S., authorities said. Los Angeles Times

RIP: Dave Toschi, the San Francisco police detective who led the long-running yet unsuccessful investigation into the Zodiac serial killings a half-century ago, has died. Associated Press

THE ENVIRONMENT

Blown away: Back in February, a 199-mph gust was clocked in the Sierra. Now experts say it was the fastest wind ever recorded in California. SF Gate

CALIFORNIA CULTURE

Social media switch-up: In what could be the biggest refocusing of social media in years, Facebook says it’s going to focus more on friends and family and less on news. New York Times

History lesson: How coffeehouses in the Bay Area helped launch the anti-Vietnam war movement in the 1960s. New York Times

Whodunit: Was that Northern California home really built by Frank Lloyd Wright? Millions are at stake, and potential buyers are demanding proof. Wall Street Journal

Re-envisioned: The Irvine Spectrum, one of the region’s biggest malls, has to fill space vacated by Macy’s. It’s plan: A lot of gourmet food. And it’s part of a larger trend. Orange County Register

What’s on your fingernail? First there were fitness wearables. Then the focus turned to fashionable wearables. The latest evolution, seen throughout this week’s CES in Las Vegas: more functional, futuristic — and sometimes far-fetched — wearables. Los Angeles Times

Coming forward: The creator of the Media Men List, an anonymous, crowdsourced spreadsheet documenting allegations of sexual misconduct by men in the publishing industry and other media, identified herself. Los Angeles Times

No Golden Globes repeat: A diverse slate of Director’s Guild nominees. Los Angeles Times

Whoops: About Elon Musk and that Silicon Valley “sex party”… . Business Insider

CALIFORNIA ALMANAC

Los Angeles area: mostly sunny and 71. San Diego: mostly sunny and 69. San Francisco area: foggy and 58. Sacramento: partly cloudy and 60. More weather is here.

AND FINALLY

Today’s California memory comes from Diego McCoy:

“I am a third-generation San Diegan. I loved growing up there — the trips to the beach at 16 with our friends. We would go to Mission Beach and La Jolla the most. We had to drive down and get a spot before 10 a.m. (that is huge when you are 16!). We would all lie down the sun, reading our books, eating our snacks, running into the water. When we were at Mission Beach, we would walk to Jack in the Box or Roberto’s. The food tasted so good after being in the sun so long. We would just sit and talk and sleep in the sun and flip over before we burned. Those were the days. Trying to get the perfect tan and hanging out with your friends! The ’80s in San Diego.”

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