California Sun

Good morning. It's Friday, March 15.

A gritty take on "Fresh Prince of Bel Air."
Pushing back against the Guy Fieri haters.
And a tour of mystery-filled Death Valley.



A recent view of the Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve near Thousand Oaks.

California is now 100 percent drought-free for the first time since 2011. That's according to the panel of government and university experts at the U.S. Drought Monitor, whose determination is not to be confused with Gov. Jerry Brown's lifting of the drought emergency in 2017. "The reservoirs are full, lakes are full, the streams are flowing, there's tons of snow," a government scientist said.


The latest on the college admissions scandal:

People linked to the scheme to buy freshman spots at leading colleges faced a mounting backlash. William McGlashan, a Silicon Valley executive, was ousted from a private equity firm. Hallmark fired actress Lori Loughlin, and Sephora cut ties with her daughter, Olivia Jade Giannulli, a USC student and YouTube star. NBC News | Mercury News
Two people quit the board of trustees at Sage Hill School, a prominent prep school in Newport Beach. Douglas Hodge and Michelle Janavs were accused of paying bribes to get their children into USC. L.A. Times | O.C. Register
A group of students joined a class-action lawsuit against USC, UCLA, and other colleges, saying they were cheated by an admissions process "warped and rigged by fraud." CNN | Washington Post

California voters rejected a rent control measure on the November ballot. Now Democratic lawmakers are trying again, unveiling legislation that would give cities more freedom to impose their own rent caps. More than half of Californians meet the federal definition of "rent burdened," meaning they spend more than a third of their income on rent.


A Hollywood Hills home was built for a pair of artists in 1956.

Pacific Union

Some eye-catching homes on the market:

A Hollywood Hills home sits atop an expansive lot with walls of glass and stunning views. Designed by one of the most important modernist architects, Richard Neutra, it's been described as a "masterwork" by the L.A. Conservancy. Asking: $6 million. Curbed Los Angeles
Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch is for sale at a deep discount. Buyers usually pay a premium for celebrity pedigree, but the asking price for the whimsical estate in Los Olivos has fallen from $100 million in 2015 to $31 million. It was unclear how a damning HBO documentary would weigh on the minds of potential buyers. CNBC | Town&Country
A turreted "castle" is one of the Bay Area's more unique properties. Built in 1988, the structure includes huge beams, 25-foot-tall ceilings, undulating brick patterns, and doors hand-carved to fit odd shapes. Asking: $3.5 million. Sacramento Bee |

Mike Davis is best known for "City of Quartz," an attack on gated-community urbanism.

Wikimedia Commons

On this week's California Sun Podcast, host Jeff Schechtman chats with Mike Davis, the iconoclastic historian of Southern California. Davis discusses how the rush to build edge cities, freeways, and subdivisions paved the way for what he sees as nature’s revenge.

Subscribe on iTunes or Spotify.

A ghostly approach into Death Valley.

Death Valley — one of the lowest, most arid places on earth — is also among the spookiest. The 5,300 square-mile expanse is home to fewer living towns than ghost ones, with names like Bullfrog, Chloride City, and Skidoo. Here's a tour of five great Death Valley ghost towns by KCET, and a comprehensive list by Legends of America.


Northern California


Caltrain riders in San Francisco, where commutes have worsened.

With its high-paying jobs and obscene housing costs, San Francisco is a breeding ground for super commuters. A new report found that more than 120,000 Bay Area residents spend at least three hours commuting every day. The S.F. Chronicle published a great interactive feature on 11 major transportation projects intended to ease the agony — and when they'll be done.


Bloomberg published a disturbing account of how Elon Musk's paranoid style of leadership led him to try to destroy a whistleblower named Martin Tripp. Among the revelations: A bogus warning was issued that Tripp was planning a mass shooting, and rumors were spread that he was possibly homicidal and part of a grand conspiracy.


Guy Fieri seems like an altogether good dude.

D Dipasupil/Getty Images

Guy Fieri, culinary personality and Santa Rosa resident, has been a regular object of ridicule among food critics, most famously the N.Y. Times's Pete Wells. “When we hear the words Donkey Sauce,” he wrote in a takedown, “what part of the donkey are we supposed to think about?” Now the S.F. Chronicle's Peter Hartlaub is pushing back in a defense of the mayor of Flavortown. "Like MC Hammer in the 1990s, the nature of Guy Fieri's sins has never been clear," he wrote.


Fun fact: The tip of San Francisco's iconic Transamerica Pyramid is made of glass. Pictured above is a recent view captured by photographer Ryan Fitzsimons from a helicopter hovering above the tower — one of the West's tallest. A villain's secret lair? No. It houses a beacon that warns airplanes to steer clear and spreads cheer during holidays.


Southern California


After a yearlong investigation, a civil rights group issued a damning report on conditions at three Orange County homeless shelters. It chronicled reports of physical and sexual abuse, neglect of residents with disabilities and mental illnesses, and bedbugs so rampant they would crawl on you if you sat down. "People who have been to jail have said jail is better than this shelter," one homeless resident said.


No one seems to be able to explain the horse deaths at Santa Anita Park.

Another horse died at Santa Anita Park, the historic track near Pasadena. That makes 22 since December. Now Santa Anita will become the first racetrack in the nation to ban the use of medication and whips on racing days. "What has happened at Santa Anita over the last few weeks is beyond heartbreaking," the park owner said in an open letter.


Platform Holly looms in the distance off the Santa Barbara coast.

Seven oil platforms are scheduled for decommissioning off the coast of Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, a welcome development for residents who see them as eyesores. What to do with them is undecided, but some biologists are warning that marine life would be devastated by the removal of structures that now serve as artificial reefs. "If you totally remove a platform, you kill not just the fish but hundreds of millions of invertebrates," a researcher said.


A still from Morgan Cooper's "Bel-Air" trailer.

A filmmaker produced a trailer that imagines the 1990s sitcom "Fresh Prince of Bel Air" as a gritty drama set in 2019 — and people can't get enough of it. The video has more than 2 million views. Fans are pleading for the concept to be made into a full-length project.


In case you missed it


The hillsides in Lake Elsinore have erupted in shades of orange.

George Rose/Getty Images

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

The Super Bloom is on. Here's a series of photos by the A.P. from Borrego Springs and another by the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin captured near Lake Elsinore. A.P. | Inland Valley Daily Bulletin
Olivia Jade Giannulli was aboard the yacht of the billionaire chairman of USC's Board of Trustees when charges against her mother were announced. TMZ | Hollywood Reporter
Frank Lloyd Wright designed every last detail of the Marin County Civic Center, but died before it was finished. Here's the unlikely story of how the center was built by the S.F. Chronicle, and photos by Thomas Hawk on Flickr. S.F. Chronicle | Flickr
Even the Central Coast, one of California's most tenaciously dry regions, is now free of drought conditions. The Tribune has some great before-and-after satellite views of the region's watery transformation. The Tribune
Experimental jazz clubs and offbeat coffee houses began moving into Los Angeles's Sunset Strip in the 1960s. "New York City had the Village — but we had Sunset Strip," a historian said. Here's an great account of the strip in the '60s. Curbed

Be a friend

The California Sun relies on personal recommendations to grow its audience. If you've been enjoying the newsletter, please consider sharing it with a friend. Here's the sign-up page.

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
Wake up to must-read news from around the Golden State delivered to your inbox each morning.