Newsletter: Essential California: Mud, darkness and destruction turned Montecito into death trap

A home in the Romero Canyon area is surrounded by mud and debris in Montecito.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times )

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Monday, Jan. 15, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and here’s what’s happening across California:


Deadly mudslides

Montecito residents thought their community could survive the rains. Then the earth collapsed. Boulders crushed cars. Mud and logs tore houses apart as if they were made of dust. People stood little chance. Stories of death and survival from the great mudslide. Los Angeles Times


More about the mudslides:

-- The death toll rose to 20 with little chance of more survivors. Los Angeles Times

-- U.S. Highway 101 won’t be opening any time soon. Los Angeles Times

-- Seeking connections between epic fires and mudslides, and seeing climate change. National Geographic


-- “A nation that destroys its soil destroys itself.” Popular Science

Newsom in the hot seat

A raucous, catcalling audience and volley of sharp political attacks enlivened the first major debate in California’s 2018 governor’s race Saturday, with front-runner Gavin Newsom taking the brunt of the blows from the candidates on stage. Most of Newsom’s rivals tried at the event to chip away his dominant lead in the polls and money race as the contest, which has been sleepy for the last year, grows more visible and confrontational. Los Angeles Times



In Porter Ranch: Three years after a massive gas leak at the Southern California Gas Co. storage facility at Aliso Canyon — the largest methane leak in U.S. history — nearby residents say they’re still suffering health problems from toxins in the air. Los Angeles Times

Found: A South Bay man finds his long-lost family. Daily Breeze

Palace intrigue: A year ago, the story of Banc of California was of a hard-charging chief executive eager to turn a fast-growing institution into a household name — but fond of inside deals and potentially connected to a financier who has pleaded guilty to fraud. But over the last few months, lawsuits filed by several former insiders have told a different version of the tale. Los Angeles Times

Climate change: Two members of the Los Angeles City Council called for legal action against an array of petroleum companies, saying fossil fuel emissions have contributed to natural disasters and “abnormally intense weather patterns” that are proving costly for taxpayers. Los Angeles Times


FYI: Explaining L.A.’s rent control law. Curbed Los Angeles

Voters’ remorse: “Can I change my vote?” That was the question several motion picture academy members were asking after five women accused actor James Franco of inappropriate or sexually exploitative behavior in a Times investigation. Los Angeles Times


Trump and MLK Day: At First African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Los Angeles on Sunday morning, Senior Minister J. Edgar Boyd was met with murmurs of disapproval when he urged his mostly African American congregation to pray for the president of the United States. When Boyd asked God to hold Trump accountable for “his words, his deeds and his actions,” the disapproval turned to applause. Los Angeles Times


On track: After decades of debate, Orange County is about to get its own streetcar line. A big change in a place where the freeway has long been king. Orange County Register

Breaking down the numbers: Why Californians pay more state taxes than residents of Texas. The Mercury News

Local effect: In the Central Valley town of Mendota, the Trump administration crackdown on Salvadoran immigrants has become a full-fledged crisis. Fresno Bee

Coast guards? It might come down to California Republicans to save the coast from oil drilling. Sacramento Bee


RIP: John Tunney, the California senator who inspired a Robert Redford movie, has died. Los Angeles Times


South of the border: As homicides soared to unprecedented levels across Mexico in 2017, Tijuana registered one of the steepest increases in the country. The tally for the year was a record 1,744 homicides — almost double the record of 910 homicides set in 2016. Blame battles to control the drug trade. San Diego Union-Tribune

An enduring murder mystery: Who killed Jane Stanford, scion to the Stanford University fortune? SF Gate


Social media posts: More details emerge in the slaying of Orange County college student Blaze Bernstein. Fast Forward


San Diego’s new title: Worst sports city in America. San Diego Union-Tribune

Saga continues: Shari Redstone wants to recombine CBS Corp. and Viacom Inc. to better fortify the two medium-sized media companies at a time when other entertainment companies are scrambling to bulk up. Los Angeles Times


Out with the old: This longtime San Francisco newspaperman is not nostalgic about the city’s old skyline. He thinks the new Salesforce Tower in an inspiration. San Francisco Chronicle

Fire up the BBQ: In San Francisco, International Smoke is the hot new restaurant. San Francisco Chronicle

Rappers in the TV biz: How hip-hop, by some measures at least, is taking over television. Los Angeles Times

Live long and prosper: Why “Star Trek” endures after all these years. Wall Street Journal



Los Angeles area: partly cloudy and 73. San Diego: partly cloudy and 70. San Francisco area: cloudy and 58. Sacramento: mostly cloudy and 60. More weather is here.


This week’s birthdays for those who made mark in California: actress Betty White (Jan. 17, 1922) and astronaut Buzz Aldrin (Jan. 20, 1930).


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.