Newsletter: Essential California: What the fires have done to wine country


Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Thursday, Dec. 6, and here’s what’s happening across California:


California’s booming tech industry is legendary for pouring more and more wealth into the San Francisco Bay Area, but a recent government analysis suggests that a far more primitive force is now helping to shape income demographics in the region: wildfire. Data released Wednesday by the U.S. Census Bureau found that while Silicon Valley now enjoys some of the nation’s highest incomes, areas of wine country that were devastated by wildfire now have some of the lowest poverty rates in the U.S. A potential factor in that drop? Homes lost to the 2015 Valley fire forced the poorest residents to leave the Napa area entirely, according to analysts. Los Angeles Times

Amazing story: The inside story of death and survival as the Carr fire’s tornado of flames stormed Redding — and changed firefighting in a warming California. San Francisco Chronicle


Bad news for PG&E: “The deadliest blaze in California’s history is threatening to cause losses for investors who purchased the first catastrophe bond designed specifically to cover wildfire risk.” Wall Street Journal

A chance to see home: For the first time in nearly a month, some displaced residents of Concow and Paradise were allowed to return to salvage any belongings they could find. Los Angeles Times

Healing power: After the devastating Camp fire, sports are rebuilding Paradise. ESPN W

Let it burn? Author Mike Davis on a tale of two fires. The Guardian

Defending himself amid a Hollywood scandal

Marv Dauer hunkered down in the 19th Hole Restaurant at MountainGate Country Club at the base of the Santa Monica Mountains. The coffee shop offers sweeping views of the Sepulveda Pass, the 405 Freeway and the San Fernando Valley. But on this chilly afternoon, all the longtime Hollywood talent manager sees is his misery. Forty-eight hours earlier, the New York Times had published a report that showed how Dauer had pressed former CBS chief Leslie Moonves for jobs for clients while also helping the TV titan keep a lid on an allegation of sexual assault. Los Angeles Times

Leaked report: A draft of a report prepared for CBS’ board says Moonves obstructed the investigation into misconduct claims against him. New York Times

Plus: The role of casting directors in this scandal. The Hollywood Reporter

Costly program

The controversial retirement program that pays Los Angeles police and firefighters their salaries and pensions simultaneously at the end of their careers has not been “cost neutral,” as was promised to voters when they approved it in 2001. That’s the conclusion of a study called for by Mayor Eric Garcetti and City Council members earlier this year after a Times investigation found that more than 1,200 participants who entered the Deferred Retirement Option Plan had then taken injury leaves at essentially twice their usual pay. Los Angeles Times

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USC update: Los Angeles County prosecutors have convened a grand jury to hear evidence about Dr. George Tyndall, the USC gynecologist accused of sexually abusing hundreds of patients during three decades at a campus health clinic, according to two sources familiar with the case. Los Angeles Times

Rain, rain go away: Cloudy skies and scattered showers created a mess on freeways as a low-pressure system began its trek through Southern California on Wednesday. Don’t expect it to stop today. Los Angeles Times

Near Devil’s Gate Dam: L.A. County is ripping trees out of a popular hiking area to reduce the flood threat to homes and the 110. LAist

Troubling statistics: L.A. hit-and-run crimes are on track for record highs. Crosstown LA

A family’s tale: How three generations of female artists in one indigenous family tell the story of a century of change. Los Angeles Times

Back to school: Steve Lopez checks in with a man who’s still a long way from a college degree, but not in a rush and having the time of his life — at age 63. Los Angeles Times

Jerry Valencia laughs during class at Cal State Los Angeles recently. Valencia is a 63-year-old junior at the school.
(Steve Lopez / Los Angeles Times)


Big investigation: “Cities on the U.S.-Mexico border suffer in toxic air. The pollution is making people sick and cutting lives short. Little is being done to stop it.” Desert Sun


Amazing graphics: As California’s final votes are counted, here’s how the midterms helped Democrats sweep Orange County. Los Angeles Times

Back in charge: Los Angeles leaders voted Wednesday to reappoint Fred Pickel as a watchdog overseeing the Department of Water and Power, over the protests of some environmental and consumer activists who argue that he has failed to speak up for ratepayers. Los Angeles Times


Can’t make this one up: A Studio City man has been charged with illegally possessing and mistreating a tiger cub after investigators spotted the cat in a 2017 YouTube video published by controversial internet celebrity Logan Paul, authorities said.” Los Angeles Times

Part 2: An Argentine man accused of masterminding a global extortion scheme that preyed on people hoping to find love through magic spells pleaded guilty in San Diego federal court Monday. San Diego Union-Tribune


Gulp: Global emissions of carbon dioxide have reached the highest levels on record, scientists projected Wednesday, in the latest evidence of the chasm between international goals for combating climate change and what countries are actually doing. Los Angeles Times

Plus: A cooling tower at Disneyland was the likely source for all 22 cases in a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak last year near the theme park, an Orange County health official testified this week. Disneyland has denied it was the source. Los Angeles Times


Beep beep: Robot cars are now officially a real business. Mountain View, Calif.-based Waymo has launched a commercial robot ride-hailing service in Arizona called Waymo One. Like Uber or Lyft, customers will summon a ride with a smartphone app. But in this case, the car will be driving itself. Los Angeles Times

Facebook follies: ”A key British lawmaker alleged Wednesday that Facebook maintained ‘whitelisting agreements’ that gave select companies preferential access to valuable user data several years ago, offering insight into how the company balanced concerns about user privacy with the business imperative of growing revenue.” Washington Post

Plus: Internal tensions at Facebook are said to be boiling over. BuzzFeed

We’re all ears: The former music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and future music director of the San Francisco Symphony, Esa-Pekka Salonen, lays out his plans to disrupt the classical world. Los Angeles Times

Fighting on: For almost a week, it seemed everybody was talking about Kliff Kingsbury and USC except the offensive mastermind and his top suitor. But now the worst-kept secret in college football has become official: He’ll be joining the team as as its offensive coordinator. Los Angeles Times

Fun: A trip through Northern California with a professional chef. The Cut


Los Angeles area: showers, 62, Thursday; sunny, 67, Friday. San Diego: thunderstorms, 65, Thursday; sunny, 67, Friday. San Francisco area: sunny, 58, Thursday; partly cloudy, 57, Friday. San Jose: sunny, 61, Thursday; partly cloudy, 61, Friday. Sacramento: sunny, 57, Thursday; partly cloudy, 57, Friday. More weather is here.


Today’s California memory comes from Mike Letteriello:

“When we were kids in the early ’50s, my cousins and I played on the bluffs of Point Dume in Malibu when there was still grassy, open space, and little homes being built for next to nothing, long before real estate values there took off and went through a dozen roofs. My uncle bought a half an acre or so and built a little guest house on it, preparatory to building a larger house behind it. He had big plans, but for some long-forgotten reason sold the modest place soon after. But I remember one windy day on the bluffs, probably one of the two or three most memorable and wonderful days of my childhood, when we kids were in a crazy, blissed-out state, shouting, giddy with laughter, tossing things in the air to watch the wind carry them a hundred feet or more, just beside ourselves with joy. Later we watched the sun go down with all our Italian aunts and uncles cooking spaghetti and having a perfect dinner. We drove home peaceful and content.

“Later, many decades later, loaded with nostalgia, we tried to locate that little site, but of course we knew that that little house was gone, torn down long ago to be replaced with a millionaire’s mansion. The recent burn there was poignant and personal to me, because in our family the word ‘Malibu’ was legendary, and on that day so many years ago, who could have known a terrible fire was to ravage that area in a much different time?”

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.