Newsletter: Essential California: From urine in a boot to talk of a military cover-up

The 144th Fighter Wing is home to more than 100 officers, including about two dozen fighter pilots who fly F-15 Eagle aircraft, and roughly 1,000 enlistees in support units.
(Tech. Sgt. Charles Vaughn / U.S. Air National Guard)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Monday, Feb. 11, and here’s what’s happening across California:


On a March morning four years ago, Staff Sgt. Jennifer Pineda of the California Air National Guard was about to dress into a uniform she had stored overnight in a stall in the women’s bathroom when she made a foul discovery. Someone had urinated in her boots. The defiling of Pineda’s boots has led to allegations that high-ranking officers tried to bury the incident, including by destroying evidence that could have potentially identified a suspect through DNA, and retaliated against a male pilot who supported her efforts to find the perpetrator, according to interviews and records obtained by The Times. Some in the wing have begun calling the ongoing saga “Pissgate.” Los Angeles Times

Pain in Paradise


Experts say the incineration of Paradise, a sleepy town of 27,000 nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, is a case study in what can go wrong when a landscape that’s prone to wildfire is disproportionately populated by those who are least likely to escape. Like the women who died in Ridgewood Mobile Home Park, most of the 86 people who died in the fire were seniors. Of the 69 bodies that have been positively identified, 53 were over the age of 65 — or 77%. This grim fact comes as no surprise to those who study the effects of wildfire. Los Angeles Times

History at the Grammys

It was a night of women shining at the Grammy Awards as Alicia Keys hosted and welcomed a slew of special guests at the start of the show, including former First Lady Michelle Obama. Kacey Musgraves and Childish Gambino were among the night’s big winners, while Cardi B became the first solo woman to win best rap album. Los Angeles Times

-- The full list of winners and nominees. Los Angeles Times


-- Jennifer Lopez’s tribute to Motown at the 61st Grammy Awards has not gone over too well. Los Angeles Times

-- Dolly Parton’s take on her all-star MusiCares tribute? “It’s sort of like watching porn.” Los Angeles Times

-- From the red carpet: best and worst dressed. Los Angeles Times

Oakland claps back


Sen. Kamala Harris used the vibrant, multiracial city as a launch pad for her 2020 Democratic presidential candidacy. But even though Harris was born in Oakland, many there don’t see her as part of the community because she grew up in Berkeley and pursued a political career in San Francisco. Los Angeles Times

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Wee-hooo, wee-hooo: Is there room in L.A. for an Orthodox Jewish ambulance service? The Los Angeles Fire Department and its firefighters’ union have said no. Los Angeles Times


Aharon Sabbagh, an emergency medical technician with Hatzolah, a Jewish volunteer ambulance service that primarily services the Jewish community of Pico-Robertson, waits for a medical call last month in the Beverly Hills area.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Smoked squid, silky gowns and social media: The Tet Festival in Orange County blends the old and new. Los Angeles Times

A wonderful history: How the Chateau Marmont became Hollywood’s glorious, decadent hideaway. Vanity Fair



Pushing back: In a sharp break with the record of his predecessor and the position of the Trump administration, Gov. Gavin Newsom will announce members of the California National Guard will be pulled from their duties along the U.S.-Mexico border. Los Angeles Times

“Pit of infection”: A border town’s crisis has nothing to do with migrants. New York Times


Hey, big spender: Gov. Newsom has requested $24.6 million and 41 new staff positions in the governor’s office next year to bulk up his Cabinet and reopen the administration’s field offices all over California. Los Angeles Times


Scary: A deputy city attorney describes contracting typhus. Los Angeles Times

Wonky talk: The one-day, $1-billion budget gimmick that has lasted for almost a decade in Sacramento. Los Angeles Times

A changing skyline: With Google slated to build a massive campus in San Jose in the coming years and a development boom downtown, a fight is brewing over the possibility of allowing taller buildings near the airport. Mercury News



A dark side: An investigation into pepper spray use has offered a rare glimpse into the secrets of the nation’s largest juvenile detention system, a place where the jailed and jailers alike sometimes struggle with the rules — and where policymakers continue seeking reform. Los Angeles Times

In Sacramento: California lawmakers try once again to make it easier to prosecute police officers for killing civilians. Los Angeles Times


Saving the lake: Arizona and California are making great strides toward reaching an accord on the future of Lake Mead, but Mother Nature will have the last word. Los Angeles Times



Throwback: Years after giving up singing, Linda Ronstadt is back on the charts with “Live in Hollywood.” Los Angeles Times

Great writing: “His leap from the Golden Gate Bridge left Kyle Gamboa’s family grief-stricken and confused. But in trying to understand his death, they found a way to help others.” San Francisco Chronicle

RIP: Ron Miller, whose visionary yet turbulent tenure in charge of the legendary Walt Disney Co. led to the creation of Touchstone Pictures, the Disney Channel, the Epcot theme park and a slew of Disney movie classics, has died. He was 85. Hollywood Reporter


On a city: “If San Francisco is so great, why is everyone I love leaving?” Curbed SF

Great interview: “Fat City,” 50 years later: an interview with Leonard Gardner. Paris Review

A storied legacy: Allensworth, the only African American town of its kind, is still a symbol for “what we can become.” Fresno Bee

“Uncharted territory”: A look inside Paradise’s post office post-Camp fire. Paradise Post



Los Angeles area: Partly cloudy, 61, Monday. Cloudy, 66, Tuesday. San Diego: Sunny, 61, Monday. Cloudy, 64, Tuesday. San Francisco area: Partly cloudy, 53, Monday. Showers, 54, Tuesday. San Jose: Partly cloudy, 56, Monday. Showers, 56, Tuesday. Sacramento: Partly cloudy, 55, Monday. Cloudy, 51, Tuesday. More weather is here.


This week’s birthdays for those who made a mark in California: Disney Chief Executive Bob Iger (Feb. 10, 1951) and actress Jennifer Aniston (Feb. 11, 1969).


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.