Newsletter: Essential California: Why Paradise was doomed

Embers blow in the wind as the Camp fire burns a KFC restaurant in Paradise, Calif., on Nov. 8. Fueled by high winds and low humidity, the rapidly spreading wildfire ripped through the town.
(Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Monday, Dec. 31, New Year’s Eve, and here’s what’s happening across California:


As California has seen a year of unprecedented death and destruction from fire, here are two stories that examine the human dimension — how hard it is to truly prepare for the danger, and how we Californians create the danger:

-- The fate of Paradise was cast long before a windstorm last month fueled the deadliest fire in California history. A Times investigation found that Paradise ignored repeated warnings of the risk its residents faced and made a series of decisions that left the community vulnerable. Los Angeles Times


-- “We’re finally realizing that human-centered activities have played a role in these most recent events, and that human activities are not going to be able to rectify the situation. The genie’s out of the bottle here, and that’s terrible and terrifying.” — William Deverell, a professor of history at USC. Los Angeles Times

The cyberattack that stalled newspaper delivery

What first arose as a server outage was identified as a malware attack, which appears to have originated from outside the United States and hobbled computer systems and delayed weekend deliveries of the Los Angeles Times and other newspapers across the country. A source says a “foreign entity” launched the attack, but the motive is unclear. Los Angeles Times

Plus: Newspaper operations slowly got back to normal. Los Angeles Times

BEST OF 2018

Essential California continues our list of the Best California stories of 2018:


The history of San Francisco, told ingeniously and movingly through the eyes of one family. They came to the city when it was booming and giving. But as postwar became Tech 2.0, things changed, for the family and their town. By Nathan Heller, The New Yorker

She was in many ways a classic Los Angeles character. Anna March threw lavish literary parties at the hippest venues, mixing high culture, feminism and social media into an intoxicating brew. Until writers started asking questions. By Melissa Chadburn and Carolyn Kellogg, Los Angeles Times

Little Gabriel Fernandez needed help. That was obvious to so many who saw his many wounds. But for all those aware of the boy’s distress — and there were shockingly many — no one stepped in to save his life. By Garrett Therolf, The Atlantic

The fire is coming, but help is not. How do you save the frail and elderly of a nursing home from the worst fire in California history? By Maria La Ganga, Los Angeles Times

Russians. Chinese. Bros. How San Francisco and Silicon Valley have become a hotbed for espionage, and why there is no John Le Carré to chronicle this cold war. By Zach Dorfman, Politico Magazine

What happened to the Salomon family? Unspeakable violence in a quiet Valley neighborhood, and no easy answers decades later. By Stacy Perman, Los Angeles Magazine


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If it’s not one thing … : Money is finally flowing to house L.A.’s homeless. But soaring rents are causing new problems. Los Angeles Times

Updated for millennials: A beloved Latino card game is being reinvented for a new generation. New York Times

Airing of grievances: Foodies express their concerns about L.A. eating, including fears that high rent means few cool eateries on the Westside. Eater Los Angeles

Home for the holidays: Seeing the parents was OK, but they loved the In N Out. The Atlantic


“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s” final season: The bard of West Covina is staging her exit, crazier than ever. The New Yorker


2020 watch, Part 1: California has experienced a big presidential drought since Nixon and Reagan. But it could be coming to an end. Mercury News

2020 watch, Part 2: The Democrats’ new obsession is Medicare for all. New York Times

“I’ve built my whole life around being conservative”: Sacramento’s “last Republican” looks back on a changed landscape. Sacramento Bee

Called off: A women’s march in Eureka is cancelled, for a reason that might surprise you. SF Gate


Free admission but … : Visitors from all over the world flowed into Joshua Tree National Park over the holiday weekend despite its facilities being closed by the federal government’s partial shutdown. Los Angeles Times

A line of cars streams into Joshua Tree National Park on Saturday despite the federal government’s partial shutdown. With no parking attendant on duty, visitors were able to enter without paying the usual $30 fee.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)


Bail-reform pilot program: Since September, judges in Compton have received several similar requests: Please reduce my client’s bail. Los Angeles Times

“My dad loved movies”: California’s liberal lion of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit did little besides work, except see movies on the Westside. A lovely tribute to Stephen Reinhardt. Politico

Anatomy of an arrest: Inside the manhunt to capture the suspect accused of killing a Central Valley cop. Modesto Bee



Lost in space: The story of Xcor and its angry ticket holders is a cautionary tale for the space tourism age. In purchasing tickets for a brief bout of weightlessness at the fringes of space, would-be astronauts are placing the ultimate speculative bet. None of the space vehicles developed by the two major players, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin, are fully operational yet despite collecting up to $250,000 per customer. Los Angeles Times

Hello, neighbor: NextDoor has changed Bay Area neighborhoods, but is it a force of good or evil? Mercury News

A taste of home: “Food opened the door to my parents’ memories in ways that words never did. The making and eating of food communicated more than any conversation, a language we adopted when English and Mandarin failed us. We folded our feelings into dumplings and lavished love into lah mian. Screaming matches about the B’s on my report card would be followed by a silent dinner table.” — Columnist Frank Shyong on food, family and understanding. Los Angeles Times

Getting threats: The limits of tolerance in the new Catholic Church for gays. A story from San Diego. New York Times

Hustle and flow: Can you be a great writer using a treadmill workstation? New York Times


Quick thinking: How the NFL is winning despite a losing streak. Los Angeles Times

Last call for the Caliph: The end of the line for a gay bar that broke down a lot of barriers in a conservative place. San Diego Union-Tribune


Los Angeles area: Sunny, 64, Monday. Sunny, 62, Tuesday. San Diego: Showers, 60, Monday. Sunny, 61, Tuesday. San Francisco area: Cloudy, 55, Monday. Partly cloudy, 55, Tuesday. San Jose: Sunny, 56, Monday and Tuesday. Sacramento: Cloudy, 57, Monday. Sunny, 55, Tuesday. More weather is here.


This week’s birthdays for those who made a mark in California:

Snap Chairman Michael Lynton (Jan. 1, 1960) and actress-director Diane Keaton (Jan. 5, 1946).

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.