California Sun

Good morning. It's Monday, July 16.

A "progressive smackdown" of Senator Dianne Feinstein.
Men's rights activists use state law to propel a movement.
Elon Musk accuses one of his critics of being a pedophile.

The lede


The institution

Senator Dianne Feinstein spoke during a hearing on Capitol Hill last month.

Jacquelyn Martin/A.P.

It was a "progressive smackdown," boomed Politico.

In a stunning rebuke to Senator Dianne Feinstein over the weekend, leaders of the California Democratic Party voted by a huge margin — 217 to 22 — to endorse her challenger, state Senator Kevin de León.

It’s “the strongest signal yet of just how far to the left California’s Democratic activists have moved," a political scientist told the A.P.

Feinstein, 85, is a centrist who once preached “patience” with President Trump. De León, 51, is a liberal firebrand who has tried to convince progressives that he would take a blowtorch to the president's policies.

Yet Feinstein remains the strong favorite to clinch the November general election. How is that possible? Robert Shrum, a longtime Democratic consultant who teaches at U.S.C., told the N.Y. Times that the party vote means "close to nothing."

Everyday voters, judging from the latest polling and the primary results, remain solidly with Feinstein.

“This is not a grass-roots uprising," Shrum told the Times, "but a testimony to de León’s political skills.”

Read more in the Times and A.P.




A plane battling a wildfire passed the setting sun in Mariposa County on Sunday.

Noah Berger/A.P.

A wildfire that killed a firefighter exploded in size to nearly seven square miles near Yosemite National Park. It remained out of control on Sunday, with just 2 percent contained. Citing the dry conditions and weather outlook, a climate scientist said the blaze could pose a "major threat" to the park.


#HeToo? Men's rights activists have been using California's landmark anti-discrimination law to challenge female-focused businesses, marketing strategies, and educational programs that they say give preferential treatment to women. The activists, for example, will go "test out" bars or clubs offering promotions to women, then decide whether to sue.


For more than a century, Californians have sucked water from beneath the Central Valley to quench thirsty crops and people. A resulting dip in the valley floor — as much as 30 feet in places — is now crippling canals that rely on gravity to move water around the state.


The aspen-studded Silver Lake is an essential road trip stop in the Eastern Sierra.

Have you ventured through the amazing Eastern Sierra? Sunset Magazine put together a road trip from Lone Pine to Reno that traces the soaring mountain range past aspen-studded lakes, otherworldly landscapes, and ghost towns.


Northern California


Officials are trying to revive fish populations in the Eel River.

“It’s like turning on a whole new watershed.” More than a century ago, a tributary to the Eel River was blocked by a railroad in Mendocino County. Now a project is restoring the artery with hopes that it will also revive the once bountiful salmon and steelhead runs in the state’s third-largest river basin.


Angela Hernandez, 23, had gone missing on July 6 during a drive from Oregon to Southern California. Seven days later, Morro Bay hikers found Hernandez on the beach. Injured and dazed, she had crashed after swerving to avoid an animal then survived by using a radiator hose to siphon drinking water from a nearby stream.


Elon Musk had said he was going to try to be better on Twitter.

Kiichiro Sato/A.P.

Elon Musk has been arguing with people who accused him of shoehorning himself into the international drama over the 12 boys trapped in a flooded cave in Thailand. On Sunday, the story took a bizarre turn as the entrepreneur accused a critic of his submarine rescue plan of being a pedophile.


The waters from King's Mountain reach the Pacific at Tunitas Creek Beach in San Mateo County.

Tunitas Creek Beach, halfway between Half Moon Bay and Pescadero, is surrounded by majestic cliff walls. It's among a ranking of 14 stunning Bay Area beaches that you may not know about.


"Lot of shame, lot of embarrassment, lot of anger." Victor Hayes, a survivor of an attack by the so-called Golden State Killer, gave one of the few public accounts told from the perspective of a male victim survivor. He had a lot to say. "It’s shaped the way I’ve been my whole life," he said.


Southern California


“I just couldn’t put the uniform back on.” The Los Angeles police officer Jonathan Hall ended his career with the help of a boutique law firm that specializes in workers’ compensation cases for cops and firefighters. He filed claims saying he’d injured his knees, hips, back, and more. Then he was videotaped leading scuba dives and lifting heavy equipment.


In an unusual move, a federal judge ordered the L.A. Times to remove information from an article that described a plea agreement between prosecutors and a police detective accused of working with the Mexican Mafia. The Times did so, but said it would fight the order. “There is sort of constant effort to nibble away at the First Amendment,” said Norman Pearlstine, the newspaper's editor.


The authorities said a man accused of attacking his wife with a chain saw Whittier had been deported 11 times. An I.C.E. spokeswoman said Alejandro Alvarez-Villegas is a “serial immigration violator.” Police said he was arrested after attacking his wife in front of their children, leaving her covered in blood. She is expected to recover.


Workers harvested cantaloupes in Fresno County.

Gosia Wozniacka/A.P.

For decades, farmworkers have stooped to pluck cantaloupes from vines. Now, farmers are turning to a harvesting machine affectionately known as "The Melonator." They say they are being motivated to mechanize by a severe shortage of agricultural workers, and new wage rules that will drive up costs.


California archive


The buried city of the Central Coast

A hand-tinted photo showed crew members at work on a sphinx for Cecil B. DeMille’s film "The Ten Commandments" in Guadalupe in 1923.

Pepperdine University Libraries

Buried deep in the California sand, about 150 miles from Hollywood, is one of the film industry’s strangest legends.

It began 95 years ago, when the director Cecil B. DeMille chose a remote dune ecosystem near the sleepy Central Coast town of Guadalupe to stage his silent epic "The Ten Commandments."

For the set, he conscripted more than 1,500 laborers to erect the most elaborate set of its day, a colossal plaster replica of ancient Egypt. It included a temple roughly 800 feet wide and 12 stories high flanked by giant statues of the Pharaoh Ramses II. An avenue lined with more than 20 sphinxes, each weighing five tons, led to the temple gates.

A tent city went up near the set — staffed by military doctors and 125 cooks — to accommodate thousands of actors, extras, and crew members.

A scene from Cecil B. DeMille's 1923 epic "The Ten Commandments."

Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Center

At one point, a studio executive sent DeMille a telegram that said in part, "You have lost your mind.” The auteur pushed on. By the time he was done, the production had cost $1.4 million, a budget unheard of at the time. (The box office take was more than $4 million.)

Then, for reasons uncertain, rather than remove his “City of the Pharaohs” as he had promised, DeMille had it toppled and covered with sand. Historians speculate that he did it to prevent other directors from reusing the set, or just to save money.

DeMille later wrote, "If, a thousand years from now, archaeologists happen to dig beneath the sands of Guadalupe, I hope that they will not rush into print with the amazing news that Egyptian civilization, far from being confined to the valley of the Nile, extended all the way to the Pacific Coast of North America."

As it happened, the rediscovery came sooner. In the early 1980s, a film buff named Peter Brosnan heard the story of the so-called Lost City of DeMille.

Neil Rhodes, an archaeologist, used a straw to clear away sand from a sphinx's headdress.

Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Center

Enthralled, he studied clues of its whereabouts and pinpointed the buried set in 1983, prompting headlines worldwide. Interest spread, and digs like no other were organized as professional archaeologists sifted through the California sand for phony Egyptian relics.

They weren’t only after chunks of plaster and concrete. Also entombed were emblems of daily life from the prohibition-era 1920s, including tobacco tins and bottles of cough syrup once used to sneak sips of alcohol.

Still, the effort to unlock the secrets of the Guadalupe dunes was fitful. Funders showed little interest, and regulators were reluctant to allow digs in the sensitive wildlife area. Some critics questioned the historical significance of the old set.

“We don't see this as a fake Egypt,” Brosnan once told a reporter. “We see this as real cinema history.”

A plaster sphinx head was found during a 2017 excavation of the buried movie set at the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes.

Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Center

In recent years, excavations at the dunes have picked up, yielding a small trove of treasures that includes a lion’s paw, a pharaoh’s head, and cryptic wooden hieroglyphs.

The latest discovery was announced in November: a sphinx with a nearly fully intact head. A small museum in Guadalupe is hosting a party this Saturday to show it off.

The odyssey to recover the rest of the set isn’t over. But time is an enemy. As the years pass, more treasures are lost, ground into dust and mixed into the earth like so many past civilizations.


Thanks for reading!

The California Sun is written by Mike McPhate, a former California correspondent for the New York Times.

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