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Newsletter: How much longer until California is praying for rain again?

Drivers on the 15 Freeway in Fontana during a downpour on Jan. 14.
Drivers on the 15 Freeway in Fontana during a downpour on Jan. 14.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
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Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, and it is Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023. Let’s look back at the week in Opinion.

If you had to say the opening weeks of 2023 had a theme, it’d be the rediscovery of California as a place where bad things can happen extremely quickly. Not in the way that its implacable critics (aided by some of our own elected officials) insist in certain media outlets that rejoice in exaggerating our hardship. I’m speaking of the kind of problem that would vex a political leadership of any ideology, one that involves the difference between life and death. In a nutshell (or almond shell), it’s this: Amid a relentless drought and extreme wildfire seasons, 2023 has been the year when the rain finally came back to California. A lot of it.

Since the atmospheric rivers began deluging the state the day after Christmas (which, by the way, was a balmy day even by L.A. standards), at least 20 Californians have died in floods and other weather-related disasters. Levees breached near Sacramento, and large parts of Merced County were submerged under floodwaters. It’s a deadly reminder of how totally dependent large parts of California are on aging water infrastructure, especially inland metro areas perched only a dozen or two feet above sea level. What a way for something other than water scarcity to remind us of its existence.

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Speaking of water scarcity, Los Angeles too was drenched by those atmospheric rivers, and just as in other parts of the state, we found ourselves downstream from mountains ejecting their torrents in our direction. But our concern has another dimension: We need to keep more of that water.

I wrote about this for our op-ed page, noting that the L.A. Basin’s natural geography (before 13 million people lived here) once lent itself to the kind of aquifer recharging that water managers are trying to at least partially restore. Don’t get me wrong: The flood-control infrastructure that our predecessors built last century to prevent this growing city from intermittently washing away has proved its worth. Los Angeles, despite its reputation for aridity, is surrounded by rugged mountains that empty much of their ample moisture and debris into coastal basins. Early last century, we started channeling rivers and washes to carry stormwater straight into the ocean instead of allowing it to fan out over the landscape (and occasionally destroying lives and property in the process).

This infrastructure has worked as designed. But now, we need more of that water, and we find ourselves in the tricky position of mitigating the very system that enables our existence. Somewhere, Mike Davis has to be smiling.

I know things aren’t looking good in California, but some of the doomsaying has a familiar ring to it. In the Washington Post, columnist Henry Olsen declares that recent population dips and a projected $22.5-billion budget deficit indicate gloomy times ahead for the Golden State, similar to the decline of New York state after the 1960s. Now, I don’t have a terribly long memory, and it does no good to deny the endemic and intensifying problem of housing scarcity (which is, by the way, something we’re working on). But it was only a dog’s lifetime ago that pundits obsessed over the ungovernability of California. I’d wait for at least another budget deficit to join the pile-on. Washington Post

Privileged, tormented and, finally, liberated: With his book “Spare,” Prince Harry unshackles himself from the royal family. Robin Abcarian writes: “Ultimately, though, ‘Spare’ is the story of a traumatized kid, trapped in a golden cage, who deeply loves and is deeply disappointed by his family, who liberates himself through grueling military service and good works, marriage, fatherhood and, ultimately, a relinquishment of royal life. Oh, and therapy. Lots of therapy. And psychedelics. And meditation.” L.A. Times

If you bank with the Big 4, your money has an alarming carbon footprint. Bad news for people who both consider themselves to be climate-conscious and bank at JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo or Citi: Your deposits help fund fossil-fuel extraction. “When you get right down to it, your mundane local suburban branch of the Big 4 banks might as well have a smokestack on its roof,” write Bill McKibben and Kat Taylor. “Yes, they also invest in wind and solar (and boast about it endlessly in their ads). But that doesn’t negate the damage that comes from expanding the size of the fossil fuel empire.” L.A. Times

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No, the feds aren’t coming for your gas stove. But these unhealthful appliances still need to go. The brouhaha over federal agents seizing gas stoves was, as you’d expect, an opportunistic pile-on by the far right to a regulator’s comment that new rules for the appliances could be in the offing, maybe even a ban. This forced the White House to clarify that the president does not support a ban. Still, given the health hazards posed by gas stoves, the federal government should weigh new regulations, says The Times’ editorial board. L.A. Times

Body positivity has boomed. But thinness never went away. Samhita Mukhopadhyay writes about capricious fashion tastes that subject women to constant shame: “What is considered in vogue for women’s bodies has plagued us for generations. Consider the drop-waist boyish lines of the roaring ‘20s, the slim hourglass of the Golden Age of Hollywood, the androgynous ‘twiggy’ in the ‘60s, the emaciated heroin chic in the ‘90s, or the most unattainable yet: a taut and sky-high derriere, narrow waist, large breasts and thigh gap a la Kim Kardashian.” L.A. Times

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As always, you can share your feedback by emailing me at paul.thornton@latimes.com.


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