California Sun

Good morning. It's Tuesday, July 24.

The Trump administration readies for an epic emissions fight.
Fukushima's radioactive imprint is found in California wine.
And a photographer captures the gritty side of San Diego.

The lede


Clean-air combat

A hazy sunset in Los Angeles. California's tough air-pollution standards have cut air pollution sharply.

That was KPCC environmental reporter Emily Guerin reacting to a news report from Bloomberg that the Trump administration would seek to revoke California's authority to set its own strict auto emissions targets under a waiver granted by the Clean Air Act.

The E.P.A. has expressed annoyance with the outsize role played by California, the nation’s largest car market, as a national arbiter of fuel economy standards. A dozen states follow California's vehicle rules.

The proposal, if finalized, promises to set off a protracted courtroom battle.

“We have the law on our side," a member of the California Air Resources Board told Bloomberg, "as well as the people of the country and the people of the world.”

Read the story in Bloomberg.




Per-pupil funding is at its highest in three decades. Voters just approved a tax on the rich to help pay for schools. Yet California's public schools are facing potential cuts to programs, staff, or both. Why? Ballooning pension costs. Over the next few years, schools may use more than half of all new revenue to cover the debt. And that's as teachers bargain for raises.


A jackhammer crew worked on the construction of Shasta Dam in 1940.

Bureau of Land Management

For a century, California built dams pretty much everywhere it could. More than 1,500 now plug the state's waterways. But the era of dam-building is in transition. As the state prepares to hand out $2.7 billion for new water-storage projects, the emphasis is on next-generation projects that will store more water in underground aquifers.


The Tuolumne River feeds into the San Joaquin River, with diversions along the way.

San Joaquin Valley districts take so much water out of the Stanislaus, Tuolumne, and Merced rivers that their average flows are as little as a fifth of what they'd be without dams and diversions. Now state regulators want to require greater flow to improve conditions for endangered salmon. Critics say the plan could take some of the nation's most fertile farmland out of production.


Full-bodied, oaky, with a hint of radioactivity. Researchers set out to find whether the radioactive cloud unleashed by the 2011 Fukushima meltdown could be detected in California wines. Sure enough, the wines they tested — rosé and Cabernet sauvignon — had increased levels of radioactive material. (Don't worry. It's not considered harmful).


Northern California


Jasmine Malone held a sign during a vigil for 18-year-old Nia Wilson, who was stabbed to death tat the MacArthur BART station in Oakland.

Lorin Eleni Gill/A.P.

“In my close to 30 years of police experience, it was probably one of the most vicious attacks that I’ve seen.” The police arrested a 27-year-old transient suspected of fatally stabbing an 18-year-old woman and wounding her sister in an unprovoked attack on a BART station platform in Oakland. It was the third killing in the transit system in less than a week.


Willie Brown Middle School was the most expensive new public school in San Francisco history, thanks to huge contributions from Silicon Valley titans. There were laboratories for robotics and digital media, Apple TVs in every classroom, and Google Chromebooks for students. It all sounded terrific. But a fundamental problem was overlooked: San Francisco is too expensive for teachers.


"We literally can't have an operation without straws." Overlooked in the debate over banning plastic straws: bubble tea. As San Francisco gets ready to vote on a straw ban, hundreds of businesses that serve the popular Taiwanese drink with tapioca pearls are trying figure out non-plastic alternatives. They could pose a big increase in cost.


A fur seal pup on the Farallon Islands.

Jason Jaacks/Bay Nature Magazine

A colony of northern fur seals was eliminated from the Farallon Islands off San Francisco in the 19th century. After a hunting ban, they started to return in the late 1990s. Two decades later, there are roughly 2,000 of the big-eyed seals. The recovery is considered one of the Bay Area’s great conservation success stories.


Southern California


Roughly one in five California children — about 2 million altogether — live in poverty. But statistics fail to capture "the look in the eyes of a child wise beyond her years," wrote the L.A. Times columnist Steve Lopez, who told the story of three children who were forced to move into a shelter on skid row with their parents.


Traffic in the Los Angeles community of Playa del Rey.

“How many more people need to die in order to prove this to you?” Even as traffic deaths surge in Los Angeles, speed limits keep going up. Why? A law designed to discourage speed traps has created the unintended incentive to raise speed limits or lose the ability to write speeding tickets.


Law enforcement officials in Riverside County said in sworn testimony that a man being arrested for making threats on social media was resisting arrest when he was attacked by a sheriff’s K-9. But video footage obtained by the Desert Sun showed the man prone with his hands cuffed behind his back as an officer guided the dog to repeatedly bite his leg.


Dan Harmon apologized over a disturbing comedy sketch.

Two Hollywood figures faced outrage after digital content from their pasts was unearthed and spread on social media. James Gunn was fired as the director of “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” over tweets that made light of pedophelia and rape. Dan Harmon, the co-creator of “Rick and Morty,” deleted his Twitter account after a 2009 video surfaced that showed him simulating rape on an infant doll.


Hikers strolled along a path in Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area, a hidden gem about five miles west of downtown.

Richard Vogel/A.P.

Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area is one of most spectacularly undervalued retreats in Los Angeles. Transformed from oil fields into a 338-acre park, it boasts amenities on par with Griffith Park — miles of hiking trails, oak and eucalyptus groves, a trout-stocked lake, a Japanese garden, and cinematic views — with a fraction of the fanfare. L.A. Magazine put together an online tour.


California camera


Crips and the cosmos

Throwing up gangs signs in Southeast San Diego.

Los Angeles may be California's gang capital, but San Diego has its share of crips, bloods, and other street tribes dedicated to mayhem.

The photographer Miguel Valencia has been venturing into the gritty corners of South and Southeast San Diego to capture the epidemics of gangs, drugs, prostitution, and homelessness.

"My vision is to bring awareness, inspire and tell the stories about people really living those lifestyles," he told a photography blog. And there's another motivation, he added: Many of his subjects are likely not long for this world. Phoblographer | Instagram

“Grizzly Peak Boulevard at Claremont Avenue, Oakland, 2011.”

John Chiara

John Chiara makes pictures the old way — really old.

The San Francisco photographer constructs his own box cameras — known as camera obscuras — that draw light through a small hole onto large sheets of photographic paper.

For a project on California, Chiara lugged a camera the size of a small elephant around the state and positioned it in front of quiet landscapes and architectural scenes. A single picture took about half a day.

The pictures invite anomalies — light leaks, flares, and exaggerated colors. Critics say the results pulse with a heart missing from images that aspire to perfection. Lens Culture | L.A. Times
The artificial light of modern cities cancels our view of the stars and, to a degree, the wonder they bring at our place in the cosmos.

Gavin Heffernan, a Los Angeles time-lapse photographer, has been raising awareness about the issue of light pollution with incredible videos of the starry skies in some of California's darkest places. They've gotten hundreds of thousands of views online.

Here are a few of his videos on Vimeo: Kings Canyon National Park | Death Valley | Borrego Springs


Monday's newsletter mischaracterized a shooting in Los Angeles. The police said the gunman, Gene Atkins, wounded his grandmother, not that he fatally shot her.

Thanks for reading!

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

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