California Sun

Good morning. It's Monday, May 17.

Data shows California homicides soared 27% in 2020.
Nurses urge the state to keep mask mandates in place.
And three friends pass pandemic by train hopping to Montana.



Police investigated a shooting that left a woman dead and two others hurt in Long Beach last summer.

Kent Nishimura/L.A. Times via Getty Images

After more than a decade of declines, California's homicide rate surged 27% in 2020, the largest year-over-year increase in three decades. Roughly 2,300 were people were killed in 2020, a wave of tragedy that hit especially hard among young, Black, and Hispanic Californians. Criminologists cited increased gang violence. “They were bored,” said the leader of a gang intervention group in South Los Angeles. “And so, having nothing to do — no programs, no sports, no facilities open — the only thing they could focus on is each other.” California Healthline

Oaklandside: "Nearly as many Black people died in Oakland from a bullet in 2020 as from Covid-19."


California is facing intense pressure from some quarters to keep its mask mandates in place after the CDC said vaccinated Americans could safely forgo the coverings. The state's largest nurses union told state officials that any mask easing would put their workers at risk. “We have to understand that the pandemic is not over,” the group's president said. On Sunday, California's public health agency said it was still pondering its next move. S.F. Chronicle

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky on Sunday: “I’m delivering the science as the science is delivered to the medical journals. And it evolved.” A.P.


Ivan Hernandez, 13, took it like a soldier at a vaccine clinic in Los Angeles on Friday.

Irfan Khan/L.A. Times via Getty Images

A few dispatches from the Covid-19 fight:

In a big milestone, more than half of all Californians — or roughly 19.9 million people — have now received at least one vaccine dose. L.A. Times
An analysis found a pattern emerging across the state: The higher the vaccination rates, the lower the hospitalization rates. Mercury News
California's test positivity rate, daily infection rate, and hospitalization rate are now all the lowest they've been in more than a year.

A recent survey of CEOs placed California dead last among states for business. Yet the state's economic growth outstrips the four states at the top of the list: Texas, Florida, Tennessee, and North Carolina. The business columnist Michael Hiltzik explained the inconsistency: Such surveys don't actually measure business potential. Rather, he argues, they measure "the self-interested grousing of CEOs" unhappy about taxes and regulation. L.A. Times


Northern California


Mayor Dominic Foppoli, the wine country mayor who has been accused by eight women of sexual assault or misconduct, has turned to a bombastic Washington lobbyist named Robert Stryk to defend him. Among Stryk's strategies: Threatening to release a sex tape that he claims depicts one of Foppoli's accusers. This is the "nuclear option," Stryk told the Chronicle. “She knows if that tape comes out it will destroy her life.” S.F. Chronicle | Raw Story


The Xerces blue butterfly.

Joel Sartore

In the 1840s, San Francisco's native Xerces blue went extinct, making it the first butterfly to vanish as a consequence of urban development. Now the butterfly is a leading contender to become the first species resurrected from extinction. If scientists are successful, the journalist John Markoff wrote, "Xerces blue butterflies might once again flutter among San Francisco’s sand dunes, possibly in this decade." Alta


For an example of public works done right, take a look at this drone video of the repaired section of Highway 1 in Big Sur that crumbled into the sea in late January. 👉 Facebook

In what one transportation official described as a seven-day-a-week "ballet," crews cleaned up the site, trucked in 45,000 cubic yards of new dirt, threaded in several drainage pipes, and laid a new roadway on top. It reopened on April 23, two months ahead of the initial target and well before the vital summer tourist season.


Southern California


The Palisades fire threatened homes in the Topanga State Park area on Saturday.

Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

A wildfire tore through a Los Angeles canyon community over the weekend, blackening 2 square miles of old-growth chaparral and forcing about 1,000 people to evacuate. The cause of the Palisades fire near Topanga State Park was deemed “suspicious.” Two people were held for questioning. The blaze is among those marking the dawn of a fire season that has been starting earlier each year thanks to warmer temperatures and intensifying drought. L.A. Times | A.P.


For years, Richard Montañez told the rags-to-riches story of how he invented Flamin’ Hot Cheetos while working as a janitor at Frito-Lay’s Rancho Cucamonga plant. He wrote a memoir, spoke at Harvard and USC, and commanded appearance fees of up to $50,000. A biopic is now in the works. Just one problem: Montañez didn’t invent Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. The L.A. Times has a hell of a story on how Montañez took credit for Flamin’ Hots — and nobody at Frito-Lay stopped him.


Dick Van Dyke at home in Malibu. “I really miss getting up in front of an audience,” he said.

Marvin Joseph/Washington Post via Getty Images

Dick Van Dyke, the television legend with a career stretching back to the Truman administration, is 95 and desperate to get back on stage. His last gig was 15 months ago at the Catalina Jazz Club, where he packed the house and sang "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang." He's now poised to receive a Kennedy Center honor. The Washington Post checked in with him at his home in Malibu. "How did I get to a Kennedy award?" Van Dyke said. "You know, I never trained or did anything. I just enjoyed myself.”


Photo: Dennis Leupen

When the pandemic hit, three Los Angeles friends found themselves suddenly without jobs or a sense of purpose. So they gathered 15 rolls of Super 8 film and set off on an adventure, hopping trains and hitchhiking all the way to Montana. They knew it was illegal, Field Mag wrote, but sometimes fun takes precedence over mere rules: "They tapped into that endless spirit and culture of opportunity, grit, self-determination, and free-living that defines much of America."

See their film, "No Signal - Super 8 Train Hopping Film." 👉 YouTube (~16 mins)


5 questions with ...


Photo courtesy Roli Roti

… Thomas Odermatt, a third-generation master butcher from Switzerland and the owner of Roli Roti, a food truck company in the Bay Area famous for its rotisserie chicken and porchetta sandwich.

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

A: There is no one place to single out — from the coast to the desert to mountain lakes and the high peak Sierra mountains, all of it reminds me of my upbringing in Switzerland where natural beauty meets society. Of all places in California I would visit Redwood National and State Parks — the trees provide a reflection of natural living beauty. A special place to wander around and enjoy the diverse beauty of the state.

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

"Silent Spring" by Rachel Carlson — I am a trained farmer with a degree in organic farming. The book is rather old, but today’s climate change discussions bring us back to the 1950s and 60s, and the book is more relevant than ever before.

What’s a hidden food gem in your area? (Or your favorite place to eat?)

Well, there are many little gems I would say are worth a visit — look out for the new genre of pop-up restaurants in the East Bay and you will find some of the greatest food that you can imagine. But one of my all-time favorites is Chez Panisse in Berkeley. I enjoy this restaurant very much for the stewardship to support local farmers and farmers markets.

(And of course I would visit RoliRoti at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market on Thursday or Saturday.)

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?

I would invite the late farm labor activist Cesar Chavez; it is important that we all know his legacy is not just street signs and names. He created better working conditions for farm workers throughout California and nationally — to me he is one of the most important transplants to California. To make the dinner party a lively discussion I will invite Alice Waters, founder of Chez Panisse, and former governor Jerry Brown. The conversation would be focused on how to keep California sunny while having plenty of water in the ecosystem. Food will be the center of the topic while politics is on the sideline. For dessert we will invite a fourth guest — Eddie Murphy would join us to round out the dinner with laughter so we can get creative minds flowing.

I would imagine that food trucks have seen a boon during the pandemic. Has this been the case for your business? What do you anticipate for the restaurant industry in general over the next year, as we emerge from the worst of the pandemic?

RoliRoti has been in business for over 19 years, and we are very fortunate to have a loyal following. One of my focuses was to concentrate my business around farmers markets that build the basis of our local food movement. Our business has not been affected like a restaurant, but certainly we have seen declining sales — by March and April our business was almost back to pre-Covid levels.

I really hope restaurants can get back to serving guests, indoor or outdoor. While I appreciate the surge and demand in food-delivery apps, I want guests to know that restaurant owners have their own dreams that center around a dining experience and the joy of good companionship.

“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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