Newsletter: Essential California: Goodbye to all that

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It is Saturday, April 27. Before we get to the news, your dedicated Essential California tour guide, Ben Oreskes, has some news to share:

When I first started at the Los Angeles Times, I remember a day that started near a horse farm on the verdant slopes of Woodland Hills and ended among skyscrapers in downtown Los Angeles. As I searched for some unifying theme for this city, the contrast disoriented me. How could all this be Los Angeles?

It led me to a famed but maybe apocryphal line from the eminently quotable Dorothy Parker: “Los Angeles is 72 suburbs in search of a city.”

Like Parker, I came here by way of New York City, and like the famed satirist, writing has always been a manic, terrifying process for me. Still, six days a week I produced a newsletter that hopefully brought some coherence to the storylines shaping this crazy state many of you call home.


After more than two years, this will be my last newsletter. During that time your tips, complaints and compliments made this process a pleasure, and the support of editors Shelby Grad and Scott Sandell made Essential California cogent. Through the links I shared and the memories I culled, I learned tons about my adopted home.

The newsletter took me everywhere from Venice to Visalia, Auburn to Anaheim. I covered convulsions ofprotest in Berkeley and wildfires in Malibu. These stories sharpened my understanding of why California attracts so much attention and lives on in the imagination of so many people who moved away or never even lived here in the first place.

During the Woolsey fire I wandered through the charred wreckage of Malibu homes thinking about how this community could come back. The world knows of Malibu and its stars, but what about the lifers who don’t live in the fancy homes hidden from public view?

Atop Point Dume, I met one of these natives — a former Marine — who spent those trying days calling out spot fires on a radio. His friends would take his calls and ride their motorcycles in an effort to help firefighters.


Robert Spangle monitors the Woolsey fire from Point Dume.
(Benjamin Oreskes / Los Angeles Times)

That story made its way into this newsletter along with so many others. This little slice of your inbox will continue to be a venue for great journalism when my friend Julia Wick takes over Essential California on Monday. I’ll allow her to fill you in on some of the changes coming, but know that you’re in great hands.

Finally, I want to share an email I recently received.

“I neglected to specify that Essential California starts my online day,” Marylee from Turlock wrote.

“The stories you choose are of great interest, and provide a segue into the L.A. Times, to which I would not have subscribed had it not been for the connection provided by your excellent publication.”

This flattering comment stuck with me. I always thought of the newsletter as a front door into The Times — a paper that has so much to offer. Our brightest days are ahead of us. My time on the newsletter coincided with internal tumult that went beyond the well-documented demise of print journalism. Too often we were the story. Now, though, under new management and ownership, we have a reinvigorated sense of mission to tell the tales that animate this state. That doesn’t happen unless readers like you pay for our work. So on my last day of writing this newsletter, I humbly ask you to subscribe, if you haven’t already.

Your dollars will go a long way toward sustaining the mission of the Los Angeles Times and guaranteeing that great stuff like the Essential California newsletter sticks around for years to come. Through the years, this newsletter thrived because of the great work of so many other journalistic outlets big and small. Our state’s outlets have been hit hard by layoffs, but I saw everyday all the great journalism done by my colleagues in other newsrooms. So I hope you support their vital work as well.

You can still find me at or (213) 238-8436. I’ll still be telling your stories. So please reach out and let me know where I should be looking.




Your longtime Essential California author standing on an empty 110 Freeway in 2018 after a rapper named "Dephree" climbed atop a sign and brought traffic to a screeching halt.
(Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times)


Pot connections: Few local politicians have championed marijuana as loudly as Aide Castro. She says the drug was crucial to treating a thyroid condition. And as a Lynwood city councilwoman, she was the driving force behind that city’s decision more than two years ago to become one of the first in Los Angeles County to embrace the newly legalized industry. But while she was helping approve Lynwood’s cannabis regulations, Castro was also quietly making money from the industry, a Times investigation found. Los Angeles Times

Complicating matters: Los Angeles Fire Department officials said their response to the massive Woolsey fire was complicated by requests from local politicians, according to a document reviewed by The Times. “A significant number of requests by political figures to check on specific addresses of homes to ensure their protection distracted from Department leadership to accomplish priority objectives,” according to the LAFD’s after-action review on the most destructive blaze in Los Angeles County’s modern history. Los Angeles Times

About those high gas prices: The governor of California was frustrated. Seeking answers to why the state’s motorists were digging ever deeper into their wallets to fill up the gas tank, he called for a special investigation. That’s what Gov. Gavin Newsom did last week. And it’s the same action then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger took almost exactly 13 years ago. So what did the 2006 investigation reveal about the high cost of gas in California? Not much. Los Angeles Times

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Measles outbreak: Los Angeles County health officials told more than 1,000 college students and staff members who might have been exposed to measles to stay home this week, in one of the largest quarantine orders in state history. Los Angeles Times

A shift in the trend: The Southern California median home price dipped slightly in March from a year earlier, the first annual decrease since 2012 and a sign of a remarkable downshift from the once-sizzling regional housing market. Los Angeles Times

Lotta moola: An Orange County jury awarded $2 million in damages this week to a UC Irvine neurosurgeon who alleged in a lawsuit that the University of California Board of Regents and the former dean of UCI’s School of Medicine violated whistleblower protection laws when he was retaliated against for filing a grievance against his supervisors. Los Angeles Times

Wow! The U.S. Navy is drafting new guidelines for reporting UFOs. Politico

More on the controversy: Luke Walton wrote the foreword in accuser Kelli Tennant’s book. Here’s what he said. Sacramento Bee

Bittersweet ending: The Clippers’ season ended Friday at Staples Center with a 129-110 loss to the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors in Game 6, but columnist Helene Elliott says their time to shine as a team is just beginning. Los Angeles Times


1. “The mystery of Business Casual.” The Atlantic

2. Just how hard is it to fight a parking ticket in L.A.? Here’s one Angeleno’s story. Los Angeles Times

3. L.A. County’s homeless population is growing — but not as fast as they’re dying. Los Angeles Times

4. “The Wing lands in Los Angeles.” The Hollywood Reporter

5. Bavel is our 2019 Restaurant of the Year. Los Angeles Times


Amazing story: A sixth-grader was sick of coloring. So she skipped six grades to attend Cal State L.A. Los Angeles Times

One woman’s tale: Breast cancer stalked every woman in her family. She was determined it wouldn’t get her. Los Angeles Times

Behind the story: For a daughter of immigrants, a story stirs up memories of her own family. Los Angeles Times

Wild: How a hijacked listing for one of L.A.’s most expensive homes led to a $60-million lawsuit. Los Angeles Times

Ruff ruff: “Men are dogs, some more so than others. There are those, for example, who wear puppy hoods, harnesses, chain collars and tails while out and about. Sometimes they appear in packs. While hardly as mainstream as walking the red carpet with kink-adjacent accouterments, dressing up doggy style has become more visible in San Francisco and beyond.” New York Times

A fire’s unfathomable toll: The Shepherds followed their dreams to a ridge in Mendocino County. In a flash of flame, everything changed. San Francisco Chronicle

Plus: Students live in tents, do homework under flashlights and deal without textbooks months after California’s massive Camp fire. BuzzFeed

Quick plug: Before you go, check out this great new song by a local musician named “Petey.” Soundcloud

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.