California Sun

Good morning. It's Tuesday, June 19.

The secretive group that tried to force coffee cancer warnings.
Accounts of sexual servitude at a Bay Area wellness company.
And territorial surfers at a picturesque San Francisco break.

The lede


'Bounty hunter' lawyers

Venice Grind in Mar Vista. Drink up, doctors say. Coffee is fine.

Chris Goldberg/CC BY-NC 2.0

Coffee sellers appeared to dodge a crisis after California regulators said the companies would not, after all, have to label their product as cancer-causing.

The move came after a nonprofit's eight-year legal battle to require the warnings under Proposition 65, a 1986 law that was intended to help consumers limit their exposure to harmful chemicals. Yet doctors scoffed at the notion that consuming coffee in moderation is bad for your health.

So who is behind this nonprofit? According to a report in the Outline, it's a small, secretive group of lawyers and professors who operate under the banner of the Council for Education and Research on Toxics. It has no website, social media account, or any notable public presence.

But CERT has made a name by suing "countless" companies under Proposition 65, winning million-dollar judgments along the way. Among their targets: McDonald’s, Burger King, Gerber, Kroger’s, and Toys 'R' Us.

The coffee lawsuit, launched against more than 100 companies, was poised to be another big payday for CERT before the state stepped in. Still, the group isn't walking away empty-handed: More than a dozen companies had already settled.

Read the story in the Outline.



Wind turbines in Riverside County feed the power grid and further California's environmental goals.

Tony Webster/CC BY 2.0

California officials, including the governor, are pushing a plan to cede some control of the power grid to a regional organization. Supporters say it would save money. Critics see it as a threat to clean energy goals, hitching California to coal producers like Wyoming and Utah. CALmatters' Dan Walters warned of a replay of "one of California history’s most horrendous errors."


At a time of fierce debate over immigration policy, California lawmakers added tens of millions of dollars in the state budget to help unauthorized immigrants fight deportation, including $10 million for lawyers. “Donald Trump’s out-of-control deportation force is a constant threat to our immigrant communities,” one lawmaker said.


Nearly 4,400 homes in Marin County and almost 3,700 in Orange County might not survive beyond a 30-year mortgage thanks to encroaching seawater, researchers said. Using climate change projections, they estimated that more than 20,000 homes across California would flood by 2045. One conclusion: Coastal property is overvalued.


Another step toward Blade Runner: Once a rarity, electronic billboards have popped up by the hundreds along California freeways in recent years. Now, the state government is proposing even more. It's testing commercial ads on state-operated electronic message signs that are currently limited to flashing traffic information and Amber alerts.


Devil's Punchbowl in Pearblossum is a favorite.

California is paradise. Here are some selected hiking roundups:

5 favorite redwood trails in northwest California and southwest Oregon. Record Searchlight
9 Bay Area trails with waterfall endings. Curbed San Francisco
50 essential hikes in Los Angeles. L.A. Magazine
10 Orange County hikes that take you from sea to summit. Orange Coast Magazine
The 20 best hikes across Southern California. California Through My Lens

Northern California


Google is finally breaking into healthcare. The internet giant is training machines to predict when a patient will die. A new algorithm created by the company read up on a woman with late-stage breast cancer — 175,639 data points — and rendered its assessment of her death risk: 19.9 percent. She died in a matter of days.


OneTaste is a Bay Area wellness company best known for classes on “orgasmic meditation.” But several former members said teachings were used to justify sexual manipulation. “Aversion practice” taught that you gain power and expand your sexual energy by performing sexual acts you don’t want to do, or doing them with people you find disgusting.


"There is no better food neighborhood in America than San Francisco’s Mission District." So claims the hometown newspaper in its introduction to a new culinary map of the neighborhood. It includes the "Hall of Famers of the Mission" — including taquerias, pizzerias, an ice cream place, and more.


The surfers at Fort Point in San Francisco have a reputation for being territorial.

ClatieK/CC BY-ND 2.0

"You stay away from those guys because they have this reputation of being jerks, no matter what you do." A picturesque surf break near Golden Gate Bridge is notorious for local surfers who get territorial, fast. Over the years, there have been broken boards, beatings, and attempted drownings.

Southern California


Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, the L.A. Times' new owner, named Norman Pearlstine, a veteran of Time and the Wall Street Journal, as the newspaper's executive editor. Soon-Shiong had aimed high, offering the job to the executive editors of the N.Y. Times and Washington Post. Pearlstine will be expected to rebuild the newsroom and restore the organization’s reputation.


Since 2000, the residential tree canopy has declined by as much as 55 percent in greater Los Angeles. Now new developer rules are expected to hasten the reduction. One point of concern: Trees are critical for cooling down warming cities. "We need to become a trees-first city, above all else," an architect said, "otherwise we are going to fry.”


Jay Calderon

"We're not just earthquake country, we're also volcano country." Like the risk of earthquakes, volcanic activity in California is linked to the state's tectonic foundations. Among the highest risk volcanoes are the Salton Buttes, a strange place in the Coachella Valley atop a massive, searing-hot geothermal field.


San Francisco, Santa Monica, and Los Angeles have moved to regulate the electric scooter craze. But not San Diego. Local officials have so far taken a laissez-faire approach to the trend, even as some people complain about scooter riders blasting down crowded sidewalks. “It’s the Wild West at this point,” one community leader said.

Today I learned


Did you know?

The world's tallest thermometer rises from a desert pit stop along Interstate 15.

Steve Boland/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Here are three random facts about California:

It's a question we've all asked ourselves: Where is the world's largest thermometer?

Answer: California.

Standing 134 feet, the roadside oddity rises along Interstate 15 in the tiny Mojave Desert town of Baker.

It was the brainchild of Willis Herron, a local businessman who dropped $700,000 to build the working thermometer next to his Bun Boy Restaurant in 1991. The height commemorates the hottest atmospheric temperature ever recorded: 134°F at nearby Death Valley in 1913.

Years ago, Herron told the L.A. Times that the idea for the thermometer came to him upon hearing people make remarks about the summer heat. They'd say, "'Whew! It's hotter 'n hell. How hot is it anyway?'" | California Through My Lens

The Boudin shop after moving to a location on Broadway in 1890. The business burned in 1906.

Boudin Bakery

At a San Francisco bakery, each bread loaf has a trace of the Gold Rush.

Boudin Bakery was opened in 1849 by a Frenchman named Isidore Boudin.

As the story goes, a gold miner loaned him a spoonful of sourdough starter — a fermented mixture containing yeast and bacteria — which Boudin found produced bread of a tangier sort than that of his homeland. The flavor was credited to a bacterium that thrives only in San Francisco's foggy climate. It's called Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis.

Boudin's “Mother Dough” is still used today, kept alive by adding water and flour to the mixture daily. It was once saved from a burning building after the great earthquake of 1906.

A baker told the Mercury News that without the original starter there is no Boudin sourdough. "This is like Coit Tower, the cable cars, the Golden Gate Bridge,” he said, adding, "If we run out of it, we shut the doors.” KQED

"Bliss," by Charles O'Rear.

One might expect the most-viewed picture of all time to capture some seminal historical moment.

But the strongest candidate appears to be an image of a quaint Napa Valley hillside. "Bliss," the wallpaper used in Microsoft's Windows XP operating system, has been seen by billions of eyes.

It was captured by Charles O'Rear, a St. Helena photographer who spotted a slope of iridescent green set against a blue sky while driving along a country road in 1996.

He pulled over and snapped four frames, which he uploaded to his photo agency, Corbis. Microsoft was drawn by the landscape's suggestion of serenity and freedom. For years, "Bliss" was propagated on computer screens around the world — in schools, the White House, Thai villages.

How much did O'Rear get for his photo? All he's said is that it was “extraordinary.” Napa Valley Register

Thanks for reading!

The California Sun is written by Mike McPhate, a former California correspondent for the New York Times.

The Sun is built by Marquee on Proof.

Consider becoming a member.

Please tell us how we can make the newsletter better. Email

California Sun masthead
The California Sun PO Box 6868, Los Osos, CA 93412