California Sun

Good morning. It's Monday, Jan. 3.

Doctors voice optimism even as coronavirus cases surge.
Woman's desperate bid to rescue her daughter from fentanyl.
And family members mourn man killed by shark in Morro Bay.



Juan Carrillo took a Covid-19 test at Long Beach City College on Dec. 27.

Brittany Murray/Long Beach Press-Telegram via Getty Images

Coronavirus numbers are exploding in California. Statewide daily cases have risen nearly 360% since mid-December; hospitalizations are up 75%; and the test positivity rate is now nearly 16%, up from 2.2% in early December.

Medical experts say the situation will get worse before it gets better, yet a number of them have expressed surprising optimism. Dr. Bob Wachter, known as one of the more cautious voices on the pandemic, said by early February we could be in a place where Covid-19 "is, in fact, 'like the flu'" — with almost everyone protected by vaccines or recent infections. “I think it’s hard to paint a scenario, absent a new surprise, where we’re not in pretty good shape by the early part of the spring,” he said. KGO | S.F. Chronicle

Wachter made his case in a Twitter thread. @Bob_Wachter


Other coronavirus developments:

Young adults are driving the coronavirus surge in the U.S., officials say. More than 70% of infections in Los Angeles County from Dec. 22 to Dec. 28 were among adults younger than 50. L.A. Times | The Guardian
UC Irvine fired a physician for refusing to get vaccinated. Dr. Aaron Kheriaty claimed in a lawsuit to have a natural immunity to Covid-19 after being exposed to the virus. O.C. Register | L.A. Times
With many students returning to class Monday, school districts are holding firm with in-person teaching. But many are embracing tougher protocols. In Los Angeles, teachers were ordered to wear medical-grade masks. NBC Los Angeles | S.F. Chronicle | Bay Area News Group



Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a whopping 770 new laws in 2021. Here are a few highlights of those that took effect on Jan. 1:

Derided as a pipe dream not so many years ago, the $15 minimum wage is now the law in California. West Hollywood went even further, establishing the country's highest minimum wage — $17.64 — for hotel workers. USA Today | The Hill
California's universal voting by mail is now permanent. Voters in all statewide elections, regardless of whether they signed up for absentee voting, will get a ballot in the mail. L.A. Times
Bad cops will have a harder time jumping from one police force to another under a law that allows the state to strip problem officers of their badges. CalMatters

Other measures addressed working conditions, housing, and health care. CalMatters | L.A. Times


Joan Didion in Berkeley 1981.

Janet Fries/Getty Images

Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Hilton Als on Joan Didion: "Her genius — and it was genius — lay in her ability to combine the specific and the sweeping in a single paragraph, to understand that the details of why we hurt and alienate one another based on skin color, sex, class, fame, or politics are also what make us American." New Yorker


Northern California


The El Portal Trailer Park has offered low-cost housing to workers in Yosemite since the 1950s. Just before Christmas, residents of the small community got letters from the park giving them 90 days to pack up and leave — with no compensation. Yosemite wants to use the area for staging construction equipment. “It’s just wrong," one tenant said. "I know that eminent domain happens everywhere — it’s progress — but people get paid.” Fresno Bee


Last May, Laurie Steves quit her job, packed up her Seattle apartment, and moved to San Francisco in a desperate quest to rescue her 34-year-old daughter from fentanyl on the streets of the Tenderloin. She had no idea what she was up against. Her daughter explained: “The city is way too easy for people with nothing to get by. That’s why I’m still here nine years later. You get by with doing drugs and suffer no consequences. I like it here.” An incredible longread by Heather Knight. 👉 S.F. Chronicle


Battery Townsley in the Marin Headlands at sunset.

Defending the entrance to San Francisco Bay has been a military preoccupation since the Spanish era. For nearly two centuries, cannons of all sizes ringed the Golden Gate, ready to fire on invaders that never came. Among the most impressive was a huge gun hidden in the Marin Headlands during World War II that could sink a battleship from a distance of 25 miles. Battery Townsley was decommissioned in 1974, but it lives on today as a weekend explorer's delight. Reached along a short coastal hike, it's said to be one of the finest perches for a sunset in the Bay Area. 7X7 | Roadside America


Southern California


Mater Dei coach Bruce Rollinson, above, told police his football program had no hazing problem.

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

The president of Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana has resigned after facing tensions with the coach of the school's top-ranked football program and his supporters. Father Walter Jenkins, who started the job in July, commissioned an investigation into the culture of the football program in November. The school had been accused in a lawsuit of trying to cover up a locker-room altercation that left a player seriously injured. Mater Dei said Jenkins' departure had no connection to the litigation. O.C. Register | NBC News


"We've lost Tom."

The victim of a fatal Christmas Eve shark attack in Morro Bay was identified as 42-year-old Tomas Butterfield, who had arrived in town from Sacramento to spend the holiday with his mother. The attack was described as exceptionally rare. Since the 1950s, California has recorded just 14 fatal great white shark attacks. When asked if the water is safe, Morro Bay's harbor director said: “My answer is always, ‘It’s never safe or unsafe; it is what it is.’ It’s just the wilderness." L.A. Times | The Tribune


The path to Beacon's Beach in Encinitas.

In the last century, the sea rose less than 9 inches along California. By the end of this century, the rise could exceed 10 feet. Yet proposals to retreat out of harm's way have met fierce pushback in coastal communities. Outside magazine wrote about how opponents blocked a seemingly prudent proposal to move a small parking lot along an eroding bluff in Encinitas. “Often people want things they don’t realize are in conflict," said Julia Chunn-Heer, of the Surf­rider Foundation. "‘I want a walkable beach’ and ‘I want things to stay the same.’ Well, which do you want more, the trail or the beach?"


A man pushed another man to his death in the path of an oncoming train in San Diego on Saturday, the authorities said. Lt. Andra Brown told reporters that the men had been walking on the platform when the suspect attacked "without provocation.” He remained at large Sunday. The victim was described only as a man in his 60s. FOX 5 San Diego | KGTV


5 questions with ...


Photo: Jared Murray

Christine Schatz, a Los Angeles-raised artist, songwriter, and producer who performs and records as Shiloh Eyes.

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

A: The Central California coast. There are so many cute towns that line the shore. I’ve actually been wanting to check out Cambria.

What’s the best album by a California artist you've listened to recently?

Women in Music Pt. III” by HAIM. It’s a perfect road trip album, wonderfully melodic, and undulates between high-energy pop and mellow, introspective moments. I also think it’s so cool that HAIM is a band of three sisters from L.A.

What’s a hidden food gem in your area?

I love CaCao Mexicatessen in Eagle Rock! Their chips are amazing and sprinkled with a special seasoning. And you can’t go wrong with their tacos.

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?

Joan Didion, Greta Gerwig, and Kristen Stewart because they are all talented women I’d love to learn from. I’d ask them about their creative process and what their experience growing up here was like.

You moved away from California for about six years. What was the thing that struck you the most about the place when you returned?

The good energy. When I returned, I went back and forth between Palm Springs, L.A., and the Bay Area. All have unique characteristics, and I can appreciate something different about each place. The desert is calming, L.A. is stimulating, and the Bay Area is just beautiful — a trail lover’s paradise.

“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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