California Sun

Good morning. It's Friday, Feb. 1.

Peter Thiel props up a journal peddling junk science.
A huge penthouse aims to break a record in San Francisco.
And a look back at the quirky surf community of San Onofre.



Snow blanketed the Tahoe area last month.

Heavy snow storms in January have set California up for a healthy water supply through the summer. State officials said the Sierra snowpack, which refills reservoirs during the warm months, had increased from just 69 percent of normal on Jan. 1 to precisely 100 percent. More is on the way: Storms this weekend are forecast to drop as much as 5 feet of snow.


Bullseye Sport gun shop in Riverside.

Jae C. Hong/A.P.

No other state beats California for its sheer quantity of gun laws. But the National Rifle Association has been energized by President Trump's realignment of the U.S. Supreme Court. "Winter may very well be coming for gun laws in California," a spokesman said. "We may be able to knock more than a few of those out."


"Highly educated elite meritocrat." "Crusading, rough-elbow prosecutor." "Canny machine pol." "Telegenic rhetorical brawler."

N.Y. Times columnist David Brooks said he found himself weirdly in agreement with President Trump on Sen. Kamala Harris: She's the toughest progressive America has seen in a long time.


California used to spot wildfires from lookout towers perched atop hills. Today, more 60 of the structures are available for the public to rent across the West. Among them is Bear Basin Butte, pictured above, with 360 degree views of the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Siskiyou Mountains to the east. Here are a couple rundowns of the best lookouts.


A 1921 Mediterranean Revival is up for grabs in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles.

Richard Horn, courtesy of Bryan Abrams

A few fanciful homes on the market:

A Mediterranean Revival estate in Los Angeles was built for a film director in the 1920s. Curbed called it a "time capsule from Hollywood’s heady early days." Price: $5.25 million. Curbed
Is there a market in San Francisco for a $41 million home? A penthouse with a library, sauna, and panoramic views would be the most expensive home ever sold in the city.
A converted 1877 church is for sale in a gorgeously remote area of Gold Country. The confessionals are now storage space, and the altar is a kitchen counter. Price: $1.2 million. Circa

Northern California


An abandoned bowling alley on Treasure Island.

Asthma, rashes, lumps, children's hair loss, and cancers. Treasure Island has a spectacular location in the San Francisco Bay, but scores of people who rented old military homes at the former Naval base have reported mysterious maladies. Reuters published a months-long investigation into the toxic legacy of the island.


"Would you want to live if you knew you were losing your mind?" Jason Hairston appeared to have it all. The California native was a college football star who played two seasons in the N.F.L. He settled near Sacramento, where he had a beautiful family, a thriving business, and countless admirers. He was also convinced he had C.T.E. After his suicide, he was proved to be right.


Peter Thiel at Trump Tower in 2016.

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel is funding a scientific journal, with contributions from heavyweights like Noam Chomsky and George Ellis. But a survey of its published work revealed junk science mixed in with serious scholarship, including articles that argue against the theory of evolution and dismiss the scientific consensus on global warming.


A federal appeals court blocked a San Francisco law that required health warnings on ads for soda. In an 11-0 ruling, the panel said the ordinance would violate the beverage makers' free speech rights. "This fight is not over," the author of the ordinance said. "These drinks are not safe, and as with cigarettes, we have an obligation to warn people of their health risks."


Photo: Humboldt Redwoods State Park

Here's Charles Kellogg, a Californian born with the "throat of a bird." That's at least how the N.Y. Times explained Kellogg's remarkable ability to perfectly imitate the whistles, squawks, hoots, and trills of virtually any bird. (Here's a recording. It's crazy.) Born in 1868 and raised in the wilderness of Lassen County, he rose to pop star fame as a vaudeville performer and later became a campaigner for the protection of the redwoods.

Kellogg drove around in a hollowed-out tree that's been called the world's first mobile home. It's on display at Humboldt Redwoods State Park.


Southern California


In a federal crackdown on birth tourism, three people who operated businesses in Southern California were arrested and charged with immigration fraud and other crimes. The authorities said thousands of mothers-to-be paid up to $80,000 each to come to California, stay in an upscale apartment, and give birth so their children would have American citizenship.


A vigil was held last November in Long Beach for transgender people who were killed over the past year.

Scott Varley/Torrance Daily Breeze via Getty Images

Last year, Los Angeles had its most reports of hate crimes in a decade. Nearly 290 hate crimes were recorded in the city, with the L.G.B.T. community targeted more than any other group, even as overall crime trended downward. Other big cities, including San Francisco, saw similar increases in hate crimes.


An ingenious business idea emerged in San Diego thanks to the growing nuisance of illegally parked electric scooters. Two entrepreneurs launched a company called Scooter Removal, which collects the scooters then charges the owners — Bird, Lime, and others — a $45 impound fee to get them back.


Loomis Dean/Time & Life Pictured/Getty Images

In the 1930s, word spread about a surfing paradise with some of the longest, smoothest rides in California. Soon surfers hauling giant redwood planks were converging on San Onofre, and a quirky community formed. "Someone always had a guitar or ukulele, and after we surfed our brains out, someone would pass the bottle and we'd play Hawaiian music on into the night," one old-timer told the San Onofre Parks Foundation.

In 1950, LIFE magazine sent a photographer to capture the freewheeling life of San Onofre's "beach bums." Here's a collection of his photos.


In case you missed it


Lunchtime at Guerrilla Tacos in Downtown Los Angeles.

Here are five blurbs that got big views over the past week:

Chefs were asked to weigh in with their favorite Los Angeles taco. One named an off-menu taco: "Eat this before you die and you've experienced one of the tastiest things ever cooked." L.A. Magazine
Cayucos, a quintessential surf town, has been miraculously untrammeled by overdevelopment. A travel writer said it "just might be the best beach town in California." Mercury News
Stargazers say there's no better time to get the full effect than crisp winter nights. Here's a rundown of four International Dark Sky locations in California. S.F. Chronicle
San Francisco got its name on this week in 1847. Here's a great series of photos from the time, titled "The real 10 oldest photos of San Francisco." Curbed San Francisco
Capital Public Radio combed through 100 years of fire data to create a fascinating map showing the perimeters of more than 20,000 wildfires across time. Capital Public Radio

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

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