Newsletter: Essential California: One problem with L.A.’s potential plastic straw ban

The L.A. City Council took a key step Tuesday toward restricting the use of plastic straws in restaurants, and authorizes a study on banning them outright.
(Jeff Chiu / Associated Press)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Wednesday, Dec. 5, and here’s what’s happening across California:

Let’s talk about straws for a moment. This year has seen cities across California — and the state itself — pass measures to limit the availability of single-use plastic straws in restaurants. In some cases, like San Francisco, they were banned outright. The city and the county of Los Angeles are the latest to join the fun. Both took up slightly different measures. The city asked for an ordinance to be drafted requiring dining establishments to give out plastic straws only by request, which lays the groundwork for a complete ban in the future.

These changes, which have been applauded for reducing the amount of plastic in the ocean, have also found loud pockets of opposition. One is from the those in the disabled community who say these laws create an undue burden. That’s because plastic straws are a necessity in their lives and the alternatives like bamboo or paper straws are not an adequate replacement, said Lawrence Carter-Long, the communications director for the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund.

“One of the benefits of plastic is its flexibility. That bendy upper third is actually useful for a lot of disabled people who have difficulty controlling their bite or using their hands,” he said. “They work the best for the greatest number of people.”

Carter-Long, who has cerebral palsy in his legs, explained that this issue hadn’t really been on his organization’s radar until San Francisco completely banned plastic straws earlier this year. He said his organization started getting calls from constituents who, for example, were worried about being out in the middle of day and not being able to get a drink to take a medication.


He hopes that by 2021, when a full ban in the city of Los Angeles might take effect, there will be a better alternative to plastic straws.

Similarly, Autumn Elliott, a senior counsel for the group Disability Rights California, was heartened that the city is convening a working group to help make sure this new policy doesn’t burden disabled people.

“If restaurants and other establishments stopped having plastic straws available, disabled people wouldn’t be able to do what we can do, which is walk into an establishment and order a drink and enjoy it,” Elliott said. Los Angeles Times

The latest at USC

USC vowed to improve accountability and transparency in the wake of a scandal earlier this year in which the longtime campus gynecologist was accused of sexual misconduct against hundreds of students. A dispute in USC’s Marshall School of Business is shaping up to be a key test of this new approach, and it’s pitting top administrators against some of the university’s major donors. Los Angeles Times

More about the new sheriff


Alex Villanueva has long known the feeling of not fitting in. He retired from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department after many low notes, including claims of retaliation for bucking the status quo and racial discrimination. Now he’s done the unthinkable, scoring the highest position in the department. His defeat of then-sheriff Jim McDonnell in the Nov. 6 election stunned the political establishment, while also prompting questions about whether Villanueva has the skill set to lead a department rattled by years of corruption scandals. The first-time officeholder faces a steep challenge in assuming one of the most powerful jobs in all of law enforcement. Los Angeles Times

Alex Villanueva and his wife, Vivian, attend the East Los Angeles Christmas Parade in Los Angeles on Sunday, the day before he was sworn in as L.A. County sheriff.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

A fire followed by a housing crisis

Four fires across five counties in Northern California in the past 13 months destroyed more than 20,000 homes, roughly 85% of the number of homes that have been built in those counties combined over the past decade. How will that loss affect the state’s affordability problems? Los Angeles Times

L.A. County officials are coming to terms with the fact that there is a new reality for firefighting that will require better equipment and planning. The idea is to respond to wildfires in an era of drought conditions and prolonged periods of dry, windy weather while also providing emergency medical services to 4 million county residents. Los Angeles Times

— The list of missing in Paradise once topped 1,300. Now it’s down to 11 names. Chico Enterprise-Record

— When the big fire hits, even flame-resistant homes are no match. LAist

— Simultaneous fires have long been an issue in California. But are things getting worse now? SFGate

— False flags of fires. Fake news comes marching in. Science Alert

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Called off: The annual Night on Broadway event, which aims to draw people to downtown Los Angeles’ historic corridor as part of City Councilman Jose Huizar’s plan to revitalize the area, has been canceled next year amid an FBI investigation into him. Los Angeles Times

The “No Sunday” rule: Southern California cheerleaders are battling to compete in the nationals, but an obscure rule stands in their way. Orange County Register

Movie history: The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures gave a sneak peek of what you’ll see inside, though you’ll have to wait for the opening. Los Angeles Times

Plus: Kevin Hart is set to host the 91st Academy Awards. Los Angeles Times

Eeeek! A very cool — but stressful — visualization of traffic patterns in Southern California. Curbed LA


Big win: In another defeat for the Trump administration, a federal appeals court decided unanimously to strike down a federal law that makes it a felony to encourage someone to violate immigration laws. Los Angeles Times

Shoppers beware: With the holidays here, thefts of Amazon packages from porches have become a epidemic in San Francisco. San Francisco Chronicle

Bikers beware: A landmark law designed to improve bike safety is rarely enforced. Why? LAist


Sore losers: Columnist Robin Abcarian looks at George H.W. Bush, Donald Trump and the politics of being a bad sport. Los Angeles Times

South of the border: The Central American migrants moving into Tijuana are getting pushback in Mexico as well. San Diego Union-Tribune

Plus: A photo essay of the scene in Tijuana. San Diego Union-Tribune

Dynamic duo: Sen. Susan Rubio and Assemblywoman Blanca Rubio are making history as the first sisters in the state Legislature. And they are united in taking on Trump. Sacramento Bee

Hot take: Fox News offers an alternative reason for the GOP rout in Orange County. Fox News


Appropriate or not? For many Jewish Americans, the question is not whether they will travel to Israel, but when. Now, the birthright has become a political issue, and there is debate about whether protest is a good idea. Los Angeles Times

Sweetness: Inside the See’s Candies factory’s Bon Bon Room, the candy heaven of L.A. Los Angeles Daily News

Bring it: Kobe Bryant is no longer on the Lakers, but he is still stoking rivalries, trash talking the Golden State Warriors. Mercury News

Moving on: NPR President and Chief Executive Jarl Mohn, a force in Southern California public radio for year, will step down from his leadership role but also provide a generous donation. Los Angeles Times

An under-explored story: Trump and the Vietnamese immigration crisis. New York Times


Los Angeles area: showers, 58, Wednesday; showers, 62, Thursday. San Diego: showers, 63, Wednesday; thunderstorms, 65, Thursday. San Francisco area: showers, 54, Wednesday; sunny, 57, Thursday. San Jose: partly cloudy, 59, Wednesday; partly cloudy, 60, Thursday. Sacramento: cloudy, 52, Wednesday; sunny, 57, Thursday. More weather is here.


Today’s California memory comes from Mary Rose:

“I went to elementary school in what was then a rural part of Santa Clara County (the area between Alviso and Agnew), where the seven-street set of tract homes with its tiny strip mall was the only development. At the end of the truncated block where our house was, there was a large bumper-like barricade, and beyond that were empty fields and creek beds. It was a great place to go looking for frogs, blue-belly lizards and garter snakes. Fun times!”

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.