California Sun

Good morning. It's Monday, June 11.

The threat to PG&E appears increasingly existential.
What Anthony Bourdain adored about California cuisine.
And everyday heroes who bathe, feed, and offer hope to the homeless.

The lede


Trouble for PG&E

Fire damage next to a vineyard in Santa Rosa last October.

Marcio Jose Sanchez/A.P.

A long-awaited report by CAL Fire found that a dozen of the Wine Country fires last October were sparked by PG&E-owned power lines.

The electric utility has been pushing to limit its liability, or least pass the costs on to customers. “I think that is now off the table,” a Sacramento lobbyist told the S.F. Chronicle.

The prognosis looks increasingly grim for PG&E. CAL Fire sent its findings to district attorneys for possible prosecution, and more than 100 lawsuits have already been filed seeking to hold the company accountable for a firestorm that killed 45 people and destroyed 8,880 buildings.

Insurance claims from the fires are nearly $10 billion. PG&E's liability insurance? $800 million.

Read more in the Chronicle and Press Democrat.



John Cox with a supporter in San Diego last week.

Gregory Bull/A.P.

“These are people who want their California dream back. They’re not asking for a government handout." The Republican candidate for governor, John Cox, is drawing support from suburban and rural regions — from San Bernardino to Fresno to Shasta counties — where people believe high taxes, overregulation, and illegal immigration are ruining California.


Anthony Bourdain adored California cuisine. He couldn't resist a Double Double from In-N-Out. He was a big fan of Swan Oyster Depot and House of Prime Rib in San Francisco, which he regarded as a leader of cooking as counterculture. Of Los Angeles, he said: “The Los Angeles I love is about the family-run restaurant. This is one of the last major cities for that.”


Some hotels built in 19th-century California are still standing — and you can stay at them. The 1859 Historic National Hotel near Sonora, for example, has operated continuously since it opened a decade after the start of the Gold Rush. The authentic saloon features the original back bar and a stamped-tin ceiling.

Northern California


Yosemite's El Capitan is the climbing world's most celebrated slab of granite.

Felix/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

A witness to the fatal plunge of two veteran climbers on El Capitan recounted the final horrific moments. The climbers were using a risky technique known as simul-climbing to increase their speed, when something went awry. “He heard Klein yell 'Oh f—' as the rope pulled him off the wall. A split second later he too whooshed through the air, still attached to the rope.”


In 2013, two Sonoma County sheriff’s deputies spotted a 13-year-old holding a plastic pellet gun. They swung behind him in a patrol car. One officer yelled "Drop the gun!" As the boy turned, the officer opened fire, killing him. Now Sonoma County’s lawyers are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to shield the deputy from being sued by the boy's parents. They stand a good chance of prevailing.


Out of kindness, the owners of a market in Stockton were letting seasonal migrant workers stay overnight in pitched tents or vehicles in their parking lot. Then the government intervened. State law, an official explained, requires a permit to provide accommodations for five or more farm workers. “It’s very hard,” said one of the owners. “We are Catholic and we are told to help the poor people. That’s why we do it.”


Kevin Durant talked to reporters in Cleveland on Saturday.

Carlos Osorio/A.P.

If some people think Kevin Durant ruined the N.B.A., he thinks that's their problem. The Warriors' second straight championship title revived complaints over the star's controversial decision to join the team in 2016 and create an invincibly talented squad. “My responsibility is to whatever team I play for," he said. "All that other stuff, that’s on y’all.” The victory parade is Tuesday.


A Northern California property that's roughly the size of San Francisco has been listed for $31 million. Lone Pine Ranch is 42 square miles of redwood forests, oak woodlands, and grassy meadows straddling Trinity and Mendocino counties. It also includes a 5,300-square-foot historic home with 10 bedrooms that fronts the Eel River, teeming with salmon and steelhead migrating from the Pacific.

Southern California


Paula Coleman, right, leads a class called “Keeping Your Job." "Because something happened in life doesn't mean it’s the end," she said.

Genaro Molina/L.A. Times

"I'm just a person who cares." Many people look down on the homeless, or feel frightened by them. For others, the seemingly ubiquitous sight of the destitute on Southern California's streets provoked them to act. Here are the stories of six everyday heroes who bathe, feed, teach, and offer hope to the homeless.


Republican House candidates, overall, garnered more votes in Orange County than their Democratic counterparts. The heart of Reagan country may not love President Trump. But many people there think the state Democrats have reacted to the president in irrational and sometimes hysterical ways. “There’s a very palpable sense that the left has overplayed their hand,” one policy expert said.


A $5 million donation to the Orange County campus of Chapman University set off a bitter controversy. Why? The money comes from the conservative Charles Koch Foundation, and faculty critics say it comes with strings attached. The Chapman donation funds an academic center focused on economics, but one aimed at drawing liberal arts majors into courses exploring the moral underpinnings of capitalism.


Kermit the Frog greets visitors to the Skirball.

Timothy Norris

"One thing is certain in these difficult times: The world could use more Muppets." An exhibit at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles traces Jim Henson's development from his days working in black-and-white TV with puppets lip-synching hit songs to his commercial work featuring an early Kermit the Frog, and to one of the earliest all-digital characters, Waldo C. Graphic.


Murphy Ranch is an abandoned compound built by 1930s Nazi sympathizers in Malibu’s Rustic Canyon.

J. Jakobson/CC BY-NC 2.0

Waterfalls, sweeping city views, and picturesque ruins. Here are eight hiking trails with spectacular endings in Los Angeles.

California archive


San Francisco's meanest gang

An artist’s depiction of a crowd surrounding the gallows as the Australian gang leader Long Jim Stuart awaited his execution on San Francisco’s Market Street Wharf in 1851.

U.C. Berkeley, Bancroft Library

In the early days of Gold Rush California, murder and mayhem were the order of the day. And for a time, perhaps no class of rogues spread so much terror as the Australian ex-convicts of San Francisco.

Thousands of Aussies crossed the Pacific to try their luck in the goldfields. Many gained honest employment, worked hard, and raised families.

But others, according to Terry Smyth’s book “Australian Desperadoes,” arrived with thieving in mind.

Portsmouth Square, the historic heart of San Francisco, circa 1850, where John Jenkins, a so-called Sydney Cove, was hung from a beam.

U.S. Library of Congress

Ex-convicts from the British penal colonies in Australia formed a gang in San Francisco known as the Sydney Coves — after the prison slang for “fellows” or “chaps.” As Capone later ruled Chicago, the Coves dominated the underworld of mid-nineteenth-century San Francisco at a time when the city swarmed with rough men chasing fast riches.

Their base of operations was Sydney Valley, three city blocks of gambling rooms, brothels, and other dens of iniquity that sprawled from the slope of Telegraph Hill near the waterfront.

The gangsters wore cabbage-tree hats, carried bowie knives, and were said to walk with “swinging gaits” adopted during years in leg irons. Among their ranks were swindlers and thugs with nicknames like Big Brummy, Dutch Charley, Singing Billy, and the gang’s leader, Long Jim Stuart, a tall, curly-haired killer who wielded .44 caliber double barrel pistols.

A depiction of a devastating fire in San Francisco on June 22, 1851. The Sydney gangsters were blamed for burning the city at least a half dozen times.

U.C. Berkeley, Bancroft Library

Anti-foreigner paranoia was on the rise in California, and San Francisco’s crusading press seemed to lay every manner of criminality at the feet of the swaggering colonials in Sydney Valley. Even so, writes Smyth, their reputation for treachery was well earned.

The gangsters' stocks-in-trade were highway robbery, murder, and arson, a maneuver they employed to create chaos so they could loot homes and businesses. Some shopkeepers paid the Coves to ensure that their place wouldn’t be torched.

In time, San Francisco’s business class had enough. They formed a group of “respectable” vigilantes. The Committee of Vigilance, as it was known, would move swiftly to exact justice, unrestrained by an ineffectual police force or “quibbles of the law.”

Sharpshooters of the Committee of Vigilance in 1856. Anger over the criminality of Australian gangsters was a catalyst for its formation.

Oakland Museum of California

On this week in 1851, they got their first victim, a Sydney Cove by the name of John Jenkins who was captured after stealing a safe and lynched that very night.

Before long, the vigilantes spotted Stuart himself walking along the road. Captured, he gave up the names of about two dozen members of his crew, making outlaws of all of them. The chase was on. At least three more Coves were lynched, including Stuart, while others were sent to prison or deported to Australia. Many of the rest simply scattered.

It was over. The criminal enterprise lasted just two years.

The lawlessness of Sydney Valley, however, lingered. The area became the Barbary Coast, an empire of vice that endured for more than a half-century. The strip clubs that today dot Broadway in downtown San Francisco are said to owe their lineage to the Australian gangster-entrepreneurs that first set roots there.

A depiction of lynching of Samuel Whittaker and Robert McKenzie, both associated with the Sydney Coves, who were hung from beams before a jeering crowd said to number in the thousands.

U.C. Berkeley, Bancroft Library

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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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