Newsletter: Essential California: The mudslide Montecito knew could come and wasn’t ready for

A rainstorm sent mud and debris roaring through neighborhoods in Montecito, killing 23 people and prompting rescue and evacuation efforts. (Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Thursday, Dec. 20, and here’s what’s happening across California:


Santa Barbara County officials were warned decades ago that the county’s dams and basins couldn’t protect Montecito from a major mudslide. Over the years, few gave much thought to the condition of the 17 basins built along the mountains’ edge from the Goleta area to Carpinteria — until the Thomas fire last December left the slopes bare and vulnerable to rapid erosion. On Jan. 9, a storm unleashed mudslides that ravaged the idyllic community, killing 23 people, destroying 130 homes and causing hundreds of millions in damage. An eight-month Times investigation found that government officials did not heed the decades-old warnings to build bigger basins that could have made the mudslides far less catastrophic — and that Santa Barbara County failed to thoroughly empty the existing basins before the disaster, drastically reducing their capacity to trap debris. Los Angeles Times

More scandal for the Catholic Church


The Archdiocese of Los Angeles knew for at least 13 years that a bishop had been accused of sexual abuse at a parish but did not inform the public until this week, despite repeated vows to disclose such information. The archdiocese promised to release the names of clergy accused of wrongdoing as it paid out a record $740 million in various settlements to victims of priest abuse. But Bishop Alexander Salazar’s name was not disclosed in several lists released by the church, even though he’d been investigated by the Pasadena Police Department in 2002. Salazar has long maintained his innocence. Los Angeles Times

The battle over driverless-car safety

As autonomous-car companies unveil their test vehicles on city streets, they are also unleashing their lobbyists on Congress with an urgent mission: Keep California regulators at bay. The prospect of California writing the rules of the driverless road does not sit well with auto firms. California’s outsized influence over car companies — most notably the state’s sway over air pollution and fuel economy rules — has been a source of consternation for the auto industry for decades. The regulatory muscle the state has used to force manufacturers to adopt new technologies is a long-running point of industry agitation. Los Angeles Times

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Headed for a strike: The union representing Los Angeles teachers announced Wednesday that it will strike on Jan. 10 if a settlement is not reached by then. An agreement with the Los Angeles Unified School District seems increasingly unlikely as each side dismisses the other’s position as untenable. Los Angeles Times

The remembrances flow: Penny Marshall broke ground as a director, but on TV she was loved as Laverne. Los Angeles Times

Sad story: She’s desperate to get her four grandchildren out of foster care. A stranger is offering her help. Los Angeles Times

After the fires: Rent gouging is making it hard for fire victims to afford interim homes. LAist


The migrant crisis: “Decades after the U.S. stopped institutionalizing kids because large and crowded orphanages were causing lasting trauma, it is happening again. The federal government has placed most of the 14,300 migrant toddlers, children and teens in its care in detention centers and residential facilities packed with hundreds, or thousands, of children.” Associated Press

A motivating factor: For drug traffickers testifying against “El Chapo,” the S visa is the ultimate prize. Los Angeles Times



Coverage denied: Medicaid patients suffer as layers of private companies profit. Kaiser Health News

Helping hand: “San Francisco Mayor London Breed has asked Gov. Jerry Brown to release her brother from prison, where he has served nearly two decades of a 44-year sentence for a manslaughter conviction in the death of a San Francisco woman, according to the mayor’s office.” San Francisco Chronicle

Endangered institutions: The Fresno Bee and the war on local news. GQ

Locked and loaded: California has new gun control laws for 2019. Here’s what you should know. Sacramento Bee


Uh oh: A Los Angeles police commander who was charged with public intoxication after an altercation with Glendale police in April should lose her job, a disciplinary board decided Tuesday. The ruling on the dismissal of Nicole Mehringer, made by a three-person LAPD Board of Rights panel, must be approved by Chief Michel Moore. Los Angeles Times

Released: Former Detroit Lions wide receiver Titus Young was released from prison last weekend after serving almost 20 months for assaults in Los Angeles and Carlsbad. Los Angeles Times


Wild: At least two people were arrested after a burglary in Orange County that triggered a police pursuit through Los Angeles early Wednesday, authorities said. Los Angeles Times


Heartbreaking: Nikko, a 35-year-old white-handed gibbon, died less than a month after zoo matchmakers moved the ape from his longtime home in Oakland to pair him with a lonely gibbon in Santa Barbara who had recently lost her mate. Los Angeles Times

That skunk! The terrible smell of all that weed being grown is outraging some Californians who live near commercial grow sites. New York Times


Big news for people like Yasiel Puig: Major League Baseball, the Major League Baseball Players Assn., and the Cuban Baseball Federation agreed to a groundbreaking deal Wednesday that would permit players in Cuba to sign with major league clubs without needing to defect from the island. Los Angeles Times

Stocking stuffers: Three worthy books for the California reader. Los Angeles Times

Podcast: An inside look at L.A. football, from Pete Carroll to Sean McVay. Los Angeles Times

Facebook’s wild ride: The cost of living in Mark Zuckerberg’s world. The Ringer

Beautiful: He saved his horse from a wildfire. They helped each other heal. WBUR

LeBron’s L.A.: How LeBron James’ $765 million empire is thriving here. ESPN


Los Angeles area: cloudy, 73, Thursday; partly cloudy, 69, Friday. San Diego: partly cloudy, 68, Thursday; partly cloudy, 64, Friday. San Francisco area: partly cloudy, 55, Thursday and Friday. San Jose: partly cloudy, 63, Thursday; partly cloudy, 60, Friday. Sacramento: partly cloudy, 57, Thursday; partly cloudy, 58, Friday. More weather is here.


Today’s California memory is not so much a memory but a song from Cora Jean Castagnaro:

“My aunts used this ditty to help them remember the order of Los Angeles streets.

From Main we Spring to Broadway and over the Hill to Olive,

Oh, wouldn’t it be Grand if we could Hope to pick a Flower on Figueroa?

I use it too.”

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.