Newsletter: Essential California: How L.A. came to have the nation’s worst homeless problem

Sitting on the sidewalk, a woman who identified herself only as Ybette, 55, writes in her journal on 5th Street in the skid row neighborhood of Los Angeles.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times )

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Thursday, Feb. 1, and here’s what’s happening across California:


Why L.A. has the worst homeless problem

The number of those living in the streets and shelters of the city of L.A. and most of the county surged 75% in the last six years. Three out of four homeless people — 41,000 — live in cars, campers, tents and lean-tos, by far the biggest single group of unsheltered people in any U.S. city. If you took out Los Angeles, national homelessness would have dropped last year for the first time since the recession. People left behind by the economic recovery can’t compete with young professionals who have bid rents up to record levels. More from our “Without a Home” series. Los Angeles Times


Plus: Los Angeles City Councilman Joe Buscaino called on the Sheriff’s Department on Wednesday to investigate an incident in which deputies are seen on video driving away from a man who appears agitated and disheveled as he walks down a San Pedro sidewalk. Los Angeles Times

Clearing the records

San Francisco will retroactively apply California’s new marijuana legalization laws to prior convictions, expunging or reducing misdemeanor and felony convictions dating back to 1975. Nearly 5,000 felony marijuana convictions will be reviewed, recalled and resentenced, and more than 3,000 misdemeanors that were sentenced prior to Proposition 64’s passage will be dismissed and sealed, Dist. Atty. George Gascón said. The move will clear people’s records of crimes that can be barriers to employment and housing. Los Angeles Times


Past and present: Jorge Ramos describes his years at UCLA as a lonely new immigrant, and how Los Angeles was both welcoming and influential on the man he became. Splinter

Open for debate: Are the struggles of the Los Angeles Times part of a much larger — and older — problem with the city’s elites being unable or unwilling to step up to improve Southern California institutions? Some say it’s something larger about L.A.’s DNA. “We’ve been struggling for 50 years with weakened institutions,” says former mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. New York Times


On the ground: Of course, another way of looking at L.A. is through the little people who make it run every day. Many of them are immigrants, who not only changed Los Angeles in fundamental ways but were also changed by it. Columnist Steve Lopez take a tour of both the old and new Chinatown with a true L.A. original. Los Angeles Times

Lessons: As Trump focuses attention and scorn on MS-13, Los Angeles offers a strong clue on how to attack the violent gang. The New Yorker


Powerful position: Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti appointed his former legal advisor Rich Llewellyn to serve as the next city administrative officer, choosing an aide who has worked for him on and off since 2001. The position oversees labor negotiations and city spending. Los Angeles Times

Follow the money: L.A. ratepayers complain about big water and power bills. But that has not stopped the DWP from donating millions to charities. Why? CBS Los Angeles

Very noir: A stunning photo gallery of L.A.’s dark past. Buzzfeed


Once in a ...: The blue moon puts on a show. Los Angeles Times

Lady of the lake: And Echo Park becomes a palette for performance artist. Los Angeles Times


Under investigation: First, a homeless person is scooped up and dumped in a trash truck. Now, San Diego officials said they don’t know whether the victim was a man or a woman. San Diego Union-Tribune

Mystery patient: After five months, a “John Doe” at L.A. County-USC hospital has finally been reunited with his family. Los Angeles Daily News

Animal attack: The dogs who went on a rampage at a San Jose zoo, killing miniature horse and a donkey. The Mercury News


Arrest made: The husband of a woman whose body was found floating in a Point Loma canal in 2016 — two years after she went missing — has been arrested in connection with her killing. San Diego Union-Tribune


Memo battle: Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank) says Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Tulare) “secretly altered” a classified and controversial memo about secret surveillance during the 2016 presidential campaign before he sent it to the White House for review. Schiff’s accusation was the latest twist in the saga over the memo. Los Angeles Times

Going national: White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly slammed a Pico Rivera teacher and councilman on Wednesday after hearing remarks the educator made in the classroom disparaging members of the military. Los Angeles Times

Complicated: For California businesses, understanding the myriad immigration laws is proving challenging. CalMatters

Savings: Plant owners and consumer attorneys have struck a bargain in the long-running dispute over who pays for the failure of the San Onofre nuclear plant. Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric agreed to shave $775 million from the multibillion-dollar pact that allowed them to charge millions of ratepayers. Los Angeles Times


Crackdown: A man who once advised former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was one of four alleged johns arrested by police in Citrus Heights as part of a statewide human trafficking crackdown. Los Angeles Times


Gee, thanks: California invented one of the world’s scariest foods: carob. The New Yorker

In “exile”: Kathy Griffin felt abandoned and burned by Hollywood after the “decapitated Trump” photo shoot threw her career into chaos. Now, she has a plan for a comeback. The Hollywood Reporter

Stampede: How the ethics and norms of the Gold Rush era are on display in today’s Silicon Valley. The California Sun

Buh bye: Has Palo Alto High School removed its James Franco mural? SF Gate


Roll out the barrel: Southern California’s restaurant scene is usually focused in L.A. But it will shift to Victorville with the opening of California’s first Cracker Barrel. And this couple will be among the first to enjoy a meal there. Press-Enterprise


Los Angeles area: partly cloudy and 80. San Diego: mostly sunny and 72. San Francisco area: partly cloudy and 65. Sacramento: partly cloudy and 68. More weather is here.


Today’s California memory comes from Paul De Anda:

“I’m not a Californian, but I do have fond memories of our family driving to Colton to visit my father’s younger brother and his family. I was about 6 years old and our family lived in Somerton, Ariz., at that time, a small agricultural town. Three or four times a year my father would arrive home after 12 hours’ working in the fields and tell my mother to get all the kids ready because we were going to visit my uncle and his family in Colton. This meant loading up the six of us into a 1967 Buick Skylark station wagon with its ‘skyroof’ windows. The 3½-hour trip often ended up being four to five hours, and every place we crossed, for us small ag-town kids, was cause for excitement. First we crossed the Imperial Sand Dunes, then El Centro, Brawley and Westmorland. The first real excitement was seeing the Salton Sea with all of the boaters and water skiers on it. But the granddaddy of our trip was the T. Rex dinosaur at the Wheel Inn Restaurant. On a lucky day my dad would actually stop and we would order a piece of pie. After the dinosaur, every else was a little less exciting.”


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.