California Sun

Good morning. It's Monday, July 12.

Heat and drought kills a billion marine animals.
Largest wildfire of the year rages north of Lake Tahoe.
And an architect who found paradise in the Mendocino woods.



“It just feels like one of those postapocalyptic movies.”

The combination of extraordinary heat and drought across the West and Canada over the past two weeks has killed more than a billion marine animals, according to a preliminary estimate, as mussels, sea stars, and barnacles baked to death in the midday sun. Such die-offs are expected to become more frequent, with domino effects that scientists have only begun to consider. N.Y. Times


Tourists from Moldova took pictures along Badwater Road in Death Valley National Park on Saturday.

Melina Mara/Washington Post via Getty Images

Heat records fell across California over the weekend, as temperatures soared to 120 degrees in Palm Springs, 111 in Sacramento, and 114 in Redding. Most notably, prelimary readings showed Death Valley hit 130 degrees on Friday, tying the modern-day world heat record set last August. Saturday brought another record, the highest minimum temperature ever recorded in North America: 107.7 degrees. Things were expected to start cooling off Monday and Tuesday. L.A. Times | Washington Post

California's grid operator issued another flex alert for Monday to avoid any outages. A.P.


In California, there is not enough housing, not enough water, not enough university slots, and not enough good jobs. Miriam Pawel in the New York Times: "The staggering reality of 2020 has demanded a reckoning: to ignore the urgency will condemn Californians to decades of pain, a burden that will fall most heavily on those least equipped to cope."


A long-tailed weasel gripped a vole in its teeth at Bonny Doon Beach.

David Cruz, via KQED

The long-tailed weasel has been described having the heart of a lion crammed into a muscular, 8-inch body. They're fearless, commonly attacking animals far larger than themselves. Long-tailed weasels roam throughout much of California, but prefer habitats with lots of cover, making them elusive. A photographer described seeing one chasing a rabbit along the Santa Cruz Coast, "the way a cheetah hunts a gazelle." KQED

The BBC captured heart-pounding footage of a stoat, a long-tailed weasel cousin, taking down a rabbit. 👉 YouTube (~1:50 mins)


Northern California


Smoke rose from the Beckwourth Complex Fire last Thursday.

Ty O'Neil/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The largest wildfire of the year in California is now burning 45 miles north of Lake Tahoe. The Beckwourth Complex Fire, which began as two fires caused by lightning in Plumas National Forest, showed no signs of slowing as hot winds increased its size to more than 130 square miles over the weekend. At one point, it generated a gigantic pyrocumulus cloud that reached thousands of feet high and created its own lightning. Initial reports indicated that roughly 20 homes were destroyed in the town of Doyle. CBS13 | Sacramento Bee

Another blaze forced evacuations west of Yosemite on Sunday. Live fire maps 👉 S.F. Chronicle | Cal Fire


The Manhattan Institute analyzed the ratio of new housing permits to new jobs in American metropolitan areas over the decade ending in 2019. Of 20 cities studied, the three with the largest “jobs–housing mismatch” were all in California. San Francisco was worst, with roughly 3.5 jobs created for every one new housing unit, followed by San Jose, and Riverside. Among the consequences: soaring housing costs, strained job growth, and the flight of lower-income residents. S.F. Chronicle


A group of police officers sued Palo Alto for allowing the painting of a Black Lives Matter mural outside City Hall, calling it a form of discrimination. The artwork included images of Assata Shakur, who was convicted in the 1973 killing of a New Jersey state trooper, and the logo of the New Black Panthers, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has identified as a hate group. The lawsuit called the mural "offensive, discriminatory, and harassing." Daily Post | A.P.


Charles Bello sought out a quiet life in the woods of Mendocino County.

Geartooth Productions

"Now I look upon photographs of people in New York City and these buildings, they have 5,000 people. And they go into that thing and they go up there and they spend eight hours and they come down. I can't believe it! That lifestyle to me is like so foreign it could be on the moon."

Charles Bello, an architect who once apprenticed under the famed modernist architect Richard Neutra, moved with his wife into the Mendocino redwoods in 1968 to create his own idea of paradise. His wife died, but Bello is still there, alone. Aeon created a gorgeous short film about him, titled "A Little Piece of Earth." Vimeo (~15 mins)


Southern California


A boater got a close view of the "bathtub ring" around Lake Mead.

Allen J. Schaben/L.A. Times via Getty Images

"I didn’t realize it was this bad. This place is unrecognizable.”

Lake Mead is a lifeline for 25 million people across the American West, including Southern California. After years of unrelenting drought, its level is down nearly 160 feet from its high in the early 1980s. If it drops another 25 feet, the spigot of water to California will tighten. This tour of the crisis at Lake Mead includes some jarring photos. 👉 L.A. Times


Coronavirus cases are surging in Los Angeles County, with the vast majority of infections occurring among the unvaccinated. Over the three-day period that ended on Sunday, health officials reported more than 3,200 new cases, making it the first time since early March that the county saw three consecutive days with more than 1,000 new infections. The rate of new cases is now roughly triple what it was in late June. L.A. Times | L.A. Daily News


Father Joe Carroll in 2005.

Mark Boster/L.A. Times via Getty Images

Father Joe Carroll died. The San Diego priest took what began as a small charity handing out peanut butter sandwiches and turned it into an assistance network called Father Joe’s Villages that helped thousands of people annually. Carroll — who eschewed the title “monsignor” because he thought it was off-putting — had a talent for getting people to open their wallets, once talking a cop who was giving him a ticket for speeding into making a donation. “This guy touched more lives, did more good for more people, than any San Diegan has ever done,” said David Malcolm, a philanthropist. Carroll was 80. S.D. Union-Tribune | NBC San Diego


5 questions with ...


Rebecca Lewison hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.

R. German

… Rebecca Lewison, a conservation ecologist, professor, and director for the Institute for Ecological Management and Monitoring at San Diego State University.

Q: What is one place everyone should visit in California?

A: California's crown jewels are our natural landscapes. It feels like now is a perfect time to find and explore a less-visited state park or national monument in your area — chances are there is an incredible place, not as well known as a national park, that is worthy of a visit.

What’s the best book you've read or podcast you've listened to recently?        

I am a lifetime devotee of “This American Life.” Every week is another amazing story to make me think, learn, cry and laugh.

What’s a hidden food gem in your area?

My hidden food gem is Matteo in South Park, San Diego. Good vibe, delicious food, with a focus on breakfast dishes and Italian baked goods. Better yet, it's a nonprofit restaurant with proceeds benefiting regularly rotating, community-based charities and causes.

You’re organizing a dinner party. Which three California figures, dead or alive, do you invite, and why? How would you get the conversation started?

Thanks to my friends who work for the National Park Service, I've been learning about Black Californians who were environmental pioneers. People like Colonel Charles Young who worked to protect giant sequoias in Sequoia National Park and was the first Black national park superintendent. I would love to meet Colonel Young and hear about what the sequoia groves looked like back in the early 1900s. I'd also love to hear him talk about how we need to do more to address climate change and save these breathtaking trees from extinction.

There have been some alarming reports from California waters lately: the discovery of hundreds of thousands of barrels of DDT off the coast of L.A., and the prevalence of cancer in adult sea lions in the state. The drought and the state's fire season generate a lot of concern, but as a marine ecologist, what are some issues that you feel need more attention from state authorities?

A portion of my research is focused on understanding the impact of legacy and emerging contaminants on marine animals. But beyond specific concerns about contamination, this also raises a question for me of whether we want to react to environmental problems, like chemical pollution or climate change, or whether we can, as a state, be proactive to protect our environment. California's new '30 by 30' initiative is a good example of how we can be proactive, not reactive. My hope is that whether you are a private citizen or a local or state leader, we can keep working to be proactive about protecting California.

“5 questions with …” is a weekly feature by Finn Cohen, who edits the California Sun. Conversations are sometimes edited for brevity. Someone you’d like to see interviewed? Let him know:


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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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