Newsletter: Essential California: A minor league baseball video scandal and Fresno’s political landscape

Fresno Grizzlies mascot Parker plays to the crowd at Chuckchansi Park during a game in August 2007.
(Kurt Hegre / The Fresno Bee )

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Wednesday, May 29, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

Fresno Bee reporter Carmen George wasn’t supposed to be working on Monday night when she attended a Fresno Grizzlies game on Memorial Day.

For the record:
9:00 AM, May. 29, 2019 An earlier version of this article stated that Devin Nunes represented Fresno in Congress. Jim Costa and TJ Cox also represent parts of Fresno in Congress.

But then the minor league baseball team played a video on their scoreboard that suggested Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) was one of America’s “enemies of freedom.”

The 3½-minute video, which is billed as a “Memorial Day Tribute” on YouTube, features audio from Ronald Reagan’s 1981 inaugural address paired with stirring images of soldiers and Americana. That is, until roughly the three-minute mark, when Reagan’s narration references “potential adversaries” and “enemies of freedom,” and the sitting congresswoman’s face appears — sandwiched between images of Kim Jong Un and Fidel Castro.


“It was so shocking and startling that I immediately felt like I needed to put the reporter cap on and at least let people know that this had happened,” George told me over the phone yesterday. She tweeted about the video just after 7:30 p.m. Monday.

Within “seconds and minutes” of the video going up, people started reacting to it; by Tuesday morning, the incident between doubleheader games at Fresno’s Chukchansi Park had become a national story covered by nearly every major media outlet.

The team apologized via Twitter at 9:15 p.m. Monday, writing that the editing was “misleading and offensive” and explaining that the video had been produced outside their front office. They issued a second tweet just before 11 p.m., clarifying that they had played the video “without seeing it in its entirety first,” and apologizing “unconditionally” to Ocasio-Cortez, and well as the team’s fans and community.

(See also: “Rep. Ocasio-Cortez responds to ‘hateful’ video at Fresno Grizzlies baseball game” in the Fresno Bee)


Located smack-dab in the center of California in the San Joaquin Valley (an area referred to as the “breadbasket of the world” for its agricultural dominance), Fresno is often thought of as a conservative bastion. But the uproar over the video speaks to the fact that Fresno isn’t actually as conservative as coastal California thinks it is.

The downtown Fresno skyline is seen below the snow caps of the Sierra Nevada and clouds along the foothills in 2009.
(Craig Kohlruss / The Fresno Bee)

“At first blush, a lot of people think that Fresno County is very conservative, but I don’t think that’s the case,” said Jim Boren, former executive editor of the Fresno Bee and current director of the Institute for Media and Public Trust at Fresno State. “I think it’s very split between Democrats and Republicans. It’s not the obvious conservative California.”

Sure, Fresno has a Republican mayor (and has had one in office since 1997) and parts of the city are represented by Republican Devin Nunes in Congress. But Democrats Jim Costa and TJ Cox also represent parts of Fresno in Congress. And the “majority-minority” city recently elected a City Council where the majority of members are Democratic Latinos. Plus, demographics are continuing to shift.

“We talk about Fresno as being the tale of two cities,” Matthew Jendian, chair of Fresno State’s sociology department, explained. The whiter, more affluent north part of Fresno “looks very different — culturally, religiously, politically and economically — than the south part of Fresno.”

(Go deeper: “Fresno’s Mason-Dixon Line” in the Atlantic)

Those “two cities” have been shaped by a history of ethnic and racial segregation. North Fresno has long held more political power than south Fresno, which Jendian categorizes as “much more progressive.”

“Although it doesn’t have the population that south Fresno does, north Fresno has the voter turnout rate that tips elections. But that’s a matter of time,” he added.


Meanwhile, Chukchansi Park, where the Grizzlies play, appears to remain a venue for Fresnans of all kinds. “I don’t know the demographics of their stand, but anecdotally, it seems like a fairly broad cross-section” of people, Jendian said.

And now, and here’s what’s happening across California:


Before West Hollywood College Preparatory School was linked to a national college admissions scandal, administrators gave hundreds of high school diplomas to would-be college students who never attended a class there. The recipients, who paid about $300 for a diploma, were steered to the school by local for-profit colleges. Los Angeles Times

The Lakers drama has gotten even crazier, with a major deep-dive on the failed reboot of the NBA’s crown jewel. ESPN

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The San Fernando Valley is large (225 square miles) and it contains multitudes (34 neighborhoods). Here’s where to find goat biryani, esgargots, Tijuana tacos, hummus, double cheeseburgers and more on the other side of the hill. Los Angeles Times


Should L.A. curb charitable fundraising by politicians? Council members aren’t so sure. Los Angeles Times

Pasadena’s ArtCenter College of Design has opened a space downtown. LA Downtown News

Amid the Lakers craziness, LeBron James has reportedly been doing his best to court free agents with fancy dinners at Nobu Malibu. Eater LA

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California could lose a congressional seat for the first time in state history after the next census as population growth flattens. There are also fears of a potential census undercount in California, which could compound those flattening population numbers. Capitol Weekly

Fresno’s longtime chief of police has yet to declare his candidacy for mayor, but this columnist thinks Chief Jerry Dyer will be the frontrunner in Fresno’s 2020 mayoral campaign as soon as he officially wades into the race. Dyer is retiring as police chief in October and current Fresno Mayor Lee Brand announced he wouldn’t seek reelection earlier this month. Fresno Bee

(See also: “The Remarkable — Sometimes Shocking — Career of Fresno’s Top Cop,” KQED’s in-depth look at how Dyer has remained police chief in one of California’s biggest cities “by escaping scandal time and again” from April 2019.)

An investigation found that dozens of California government agencies failed to provide sexual harassment training to supervisors in recent years. Capitol Public Radio

Former VP Joe Biden is reportedly planning a San Francisco and Silicon Valley fundraising blitz, which would be his first Bay Area fundraising trip as a 2020 candidate. CNBC


Confused by California’s broken prisons and the fight to fix them? Here’s a condensed timeline of the cascading series of problems, produced as part of an ongoing partnership between ProPublica and the Sacramento Bee. ProPublica

“We’re not at war.” Stockton is reeling after another violent weekend that left two dead after two separate shootings within hours of each other. There was a 40% drop in homicides in Stockton last year, but the city is now on pace to surpass the total number of 2018 homicides before the halfway point of 2019. ABC 10


Here’s how wildlife crime sleuths solved one of California’s most baffling poaching cases. Mercury News

A spring snowstorm turned Yosemite into a winter wonderland. And yes, the photos are great. Fresno Bee


For the first time, the famed Michelin Guide has released a “Bib Gourmand” list for all of California, including restaurants in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Diego and Orange County, among other parts of the state. The Bib Gourmand highlights what the guide calls “affordable restaurants.” Los Angeles Times

Less than a third of prospective lawyers pass the California Bar exam. Above the Law

Amid an ongoing housing crisis, several California school districts have approved employee housing or are considering it. Mercury News

Farther north in Redding and Shasta County, the elderly population continues to grow. But there’s not nearly enough affordable housing for seniors. Here’s one woman’s story. Redding Record Searchlight


Los Angeles: sunny, 74. San Diego: sunny, 69. San Francisco: partly sunny, 65. San Jose: partly sunny, 76. Sacramento: sunny, 85. More weather is here.


And who knows more about traffic / Than a Los Angeles poet, anyway?
inaugural Los Angeles poet laureate Eloise Klein Healy

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (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, ideas and unrelated book recommendations to Julia Wick. Follow her on Twitter @Sherlyholmes.