California Sun

Good morning. It's Wednesday, Oct. 16.
Today's edition: 14 items, < 6 minutes

San Francisco EPA office calls agency actions political.
LeBron James jerseys are burned in streets of Hong Kong.
And a tour of America's most disturbing haunted house.



Andrew Wheeler, the EPA administrator, waited to testify on Capitol Hill last year.

Win McNamee/Getty Images

The EPA's San Francisco office was blindsided when the agency's administrator, Andrew Wheeler, accused California of allowing "piles of human feces" on city streets to contaminate city water. Such charges would normally be drafted by the local office. Instead, it came from a group of political appointees in Washington assigned specifically to target California, EPA officials told the N.Y. Times. The San Francisco office internally disavowed Wheeler's water pollution concerns as exaggerated and purely political. N.Y. Times


In 2017, California enacted a gas tax increase to fund road and bridge repairs. Now Gov. Gavin Newsom is being hounded by criticism over a move to shift some of that tax money from roads to rail. Republicans are calling it a bait and switch. "What the Newsom administration is attempting seems perfectly legal," wrote columnist George Skelton. "It's just politically tone deaf given what voters were promised, compounded by their long-standing mistrust of politicians." L.A. Times

Fresno Bee editorial: "This is why citizens get cynical about politicians: promises made, but not kept. Meanwhile, Californians shell out more for gas than anyone else."


PG&E executives gathered at the Silver Oak winery, north of Healdsburg.

George Rose/Getty Images

On the eve of the largest planned power outage in state history, PG&E executives wined and dined at a winery in Sonoma County. Asked about the event by the S.F. Chronicle, the utility's C.E.O., Bill Johnson, acknowledged it was in poor taste. Now a top executive involved in the retreat has been ousted. "Everyone at PG&E needs to be working to better serve our customers and earn back their trust," Johnson said. S.F. Chronicle


Felicity Huffman pleaded guilty to a fraud conspiracy charge in the college admissions scandal.

Nic Antaya for the Boston Globe via Getty Images

Felicity Huffman surrendered to a federal prison in the Bay Area on Tuesday, becoming inmate No. 77806-112. The "Desperate Housewives" actress received a two-week sentence for paying to rig her daughter's SAT scores. The prison has been described in the news media as a "Club Fed," once making its way onto a Forbes list of "America's 10 Cushiest Prisons." A.P. | Mercury News


Northern California


Firefighters walked toward a fire at the NuStar Energy facility in Crockett on Tuesday.

Doug Duran/East Bay Times, via Getty Images

An explosion at an oil storage facility in the Bay Area sent a huge fireball into the air, prompting a shelter-in-place order for 12,000 nearby residents and shutting Interstate 80 for hours. Officials were investigating whether a 4.5-magnitude earthquake played any role in the explosion at the NuStar Energy petrochemical storage facility in Crockett. S.F. Chronicle | KQED

Two earthquakes struck within hours of each other — one at 4.5 magnitude and the other at 4.7 — in different parts of the Bay Area. "It's really just coincidence," a geophysicist said. KRON 4 | S.F. Chronicle


Tax revenue from marijuana sales has helped the San Joaquin Valley town of Woodlake refurbish two parks and add a full-time police officer. Foot traffic to a marijuana dispensary, the region's first, has been credited with a 15-percent uptick in business to nearby stores. That has columnist Marek Warszawski grumbling about Fresno's foot-dragging on allowing retailers to serve the city's tens of thousands of cannabis users. "Any decade now," he wrote. "Meanwhile, we'll continue to look to Woodlake for enlightenment." Fresno Bee


The zone will allow taxis, emergency vehicles, buses, and bicycles, but not personal cars.

Transportation officials voted to ban personal cars from a stretch of Market Street, one of San Francisco's busiest thoroughfares. Once a radical idea, the move to create a pedestrian boulevard won support from just about everyone: bicycle activists, politicians, city bureaucrats, parents, and business owners. Supporters were already looking for the next street to go car-free. S.F. Examiner | Curbed San Francisco


Monterey County lets people stay rent-free at its campgrounds in exchange for 20 hours of volunteer service a week. Many of those attracted to the deal are retirees. "It's an option for them. For us, it's great," the director of county parks said. "We probably would not be able to operate our parks without those types of volunteers." Salinas Californian


Chanel Miller helped spark a national conversation about sexual violence.

Mariah Tiffany/Penguin Random House

Book critics have been praising the memoir by Chanel Miller, the woman once known as the "Emily Doe" who was sexually assaulted by former Stanford swimmer Brock Turner.

The Atlantic: "'Know My Name' is difficult to read in part because it is beautiful to read. Its lush words are accompanied by the specter of all that might have been — the shadow of the path that was, without Miller's say, so violently bent in another direction."
The New Yorker: "She is heartbreakingly resourceful, marshalling her subjectivity as evidence of a system set up to protect the potential of a boy like Turner. Miller sketches a network of complicity, the rough fringes of a larger cultural crisis."

During a "Daily Show" appearance, Miller praised two Swedish students who wandered by the attack and stopped it: "If there's guys like that that exist in this world, why do we lower our expectations?" Comedy Central


Southern California


The Joshua tree, the largest of the yuccas, only grows in the Mojave Desert.

"The state has to step up for these trees."

A conservation group filed a petition seeking protected status for the western Joshua tree under the state Endangered Species Act, citing threats from climate change and habitat destruction. If approved, the designation could curb development on thousands of acres of private desert property. L.A. Times | A.P.


The Los Angeles City Council moved to institute stopgap rules to bar no-fault evictions and rent increases over concerns that landlords are rushing to hike rents and remove tenants before new state rental rules take effect in January. "Hundreds and hundreds of families are getting evicted," a council member said. "That is going to continue unless we act really fast." L.A. Times | Curbed Los Angeles

Why didn't the landlord lobby fight the new statewide rent control law? It hopes the rent cap will dissuade cities and counties from seeking stronger measures. L.A. Magazine


A protester in Hong Kong portrayed LeBron James as money-obsessed on Tuesday.

Lampson Yip/Clicks Images/Getty Images

People are burning the Lakers jersey of LeBron James on the streets of Hong Kong. Why? Asked about Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey's tweet supporting Hong Kong protesters, James called it "misinformed or not really educated on the situation." Columnist Bill Plaschke recalled a tweet by James last January quoting Martin Luther King Jr.: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." "Sure," wrote Plaschke,"except in China, because that's where he sells truckloads of jerseys and shoes." L.A. Times | N.Y. Times


A ghastly psychiatrist does evaluations at the 17th Door.

The 17th Door

It's been called America's most disturbing haunted house. Visitors to The 17th Door in Fullerton enter a horror-filled penitentiary where a troubled young woman named Paula is serving time for murder. The waiver alone is terrifying. Participants are told to expect insects, touching, foul language, claustrophobia, suffocation, physical restraints, visual representations of rape, and post-traumatic stress disorder. The safe word is "mercy." Thousands of visitors use it each year. TOPIC | YouTube


California archive


Black Panthers conducted a formation drill at DeFremery Park in Oakland.

Pirkle Jones

The Black Panthers emerged from Oakland on this week in 1966, declaring a party that would defend African Americans from police brutality.

The revolutionaries adopted an assertive, photogenic style, with leather jackets, black berets, rifles, and lock-step formations. A generation of black youth was electrified by them. Journalists were at once fascinated and frightened. And the FBI was determined to drive them out of existence.

"The Black Panther party," FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover said, "without question, represents the greatest threat to the internal security of the country.”

His claim was helped by the party’s battle-ready rhetoric and tactics. The Panthers dispatched armed patrols to trail the police in Oakland and marched, fully armed, into the California state Capitol to protest legislation. But they also served free breakfast to thousands of schoolchildren per day in 19 cities around the country.

A man served a meal to a girl at St. Augustine's Episcopal Church in Oakland, where the Panthers' breakfast program began.

Ruth-Marion Baruch

Noting the food program, the FBI's San Francisco field office in 1969 objected to an order from headquarters to "destroy what the BPP stands for." That earned a stern rebuke from Hoover. "You have obviously missed the point," he wrote, explaining that the food program was a cover to indoctrinate young minds with "insidious poison."

Agents fanned out to warn parents that the panthers were teaching children to be racist killers. In San Francisco, rumors were spread that the breakfasts were infected with venereal disease. In Chicago, police were said to break into a church and urinate on the food.

Those and other efforts ultimately broke up the program. But a seed had been planted. Some historians now credit the Panthers' pioneering program with creating pressure on the government to expand its own efforts to feed impoverished schoolchildren. In 1975, the U.S. Department of Agriculture authorized the School Breakfast Program. It now feeds more than 14 million students every day. Eater | National Geographic

● ●

In 1968, a controversial photo exhibition at San Francisco's de Young Museum showed Bay Area Panthers at the peak of their community activism, protesting, serving breakfast, and discussing reading materials. Critics denounced it as one-sided. "We can only tell you, this is what we saw," one of the photographers said. "This is what we felt. These are the people." Here are a couple online collections of the images. Juxtapoz Magazine | The Guardian



An earlier version of this newsletter misstated the location of a fire at an oil storage facility in the Bay Area. It was in Crockett, not Dublin.

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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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