California Sun

Good morning. It's Friday, Sept. 4.

San Diego stands alone in fight against the coronavirus.
Home insurers eye retreat from fire-prone communities.
And the fate of banana slugs in scorched Big Basin.

Please note: The newsletter will pause for the holiday weekend. Back in your inbox on Tuesday.



Flames raced down a hill near a neighborhood in Azusa on Aug. 14.

Apu Gomes/AFP via Getty Images

Last year, California banned home insurers from abandoning wildfire-prone areas. But the ban is about to expire, and insurers are poised to retreat, potentially devastating housing markets across the state. An environmental professor said the logic for insurers was pretty straightforward: “Why am I insuring something that I know is going to be destroyed?” N.Y. Times


"It’s going to be downright brutal."

Virtually all of California will be under an excessive heat warning through Labor Day weekend. Forecasters said all-time temperature records could fall, with some places up to 22 degrees above average on Sunday. California's power grid operators urged residents to conserve energy to avoid a repeat of last month's blackouts. L.A. Times | A.P. | USA Today


On this week's California Sun Podcast, host Jeff Schechtman talks with Buffy Wicks, the assemblywoman who became a symbol for working moms when she brought her newborn to the Capitol after being denied a proxy vote. Wicks talked about how, especially now, mothers are under extraordinary pressure. "I don't think it was about me," she said. "It was about this experience of parents of especially younger kids." California Sun Podcast

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☝️ That's Empire Mine State Park.

There are few better places to immerse yourself in California's Gold Rush past than the mine near Grass Valley in the northern Sierra, where some 367 miles of tunnels were carved undergound. All told, miners pried more than 360,000 pounds of gold from the mountain depths by the end of operations in 1956, making the Empire Mine among the most productive gold mines in American history. The riches accrued to the owner, William Bourn, Jr., are evident in the Empire Cottage, an English manor-style mansion built on the property in 1898. Visitors can stroll through the opulent rooms and garden, then venture into the honeycomb of mines that paid for them. Atlas Obscura | L.A. Times


Northern California


The Justice Department plans to bring an antitrust suit against Google as soon as this month, sources told the N.Y. Times. Attorney General William Barr overruled career lawyers who said they needed more time to build a strong case. Barr is said to have taken a deep interest in the case, which could give President Trump and Barr an election-season win. N.Y. Times | Gizmodo


The latest from Salongate:

Erica Kious, the owner of the salon Nancy Pelosi visited on Monday, tearfully denied setting the lawmaker up. For Pelosi to call herself a victim, Kious said, "is beyond shameful.” S.F. Chronicle | KGO
Kious has become an instant celebrity among many conservatives. A GoFundMe started by a Nevada Republican has raised more than $120,000 for her. Mercury News
The story struck a chord with many Americans. On Thursday, 13 of the top 25 top-performing link posts on U.S. Facebook were about Pelosi's hair appointment. @kevinroose

The Humboldt marten is cute but ferocious.

The ridiculously cute Humboldt marten has been granted threatened species status. The cat-sized, weasel-like animal was pushed to the brink of extinction after decades of trapping and forest clearing. In more recent years, it's faced a new threat: toxic pesticides used in illegal marijuana growing along the redwood coast. North Coast Journal


Banana slugs abound in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Now that we know Big Basin's redwoods will be OK, a reporter checked in on another natural wonder in the Santa Cruz Mountains: the California banana slug. A biologist reassured her that the slugs were likely slumbering underground when a wildfire roared past. She also shared some fun banana slug facts: They can impregnate themselves, and they will sometimes chew off one another's penises.


Southern California


Among California’s 10 most populous counties, only San Diego has met the state criteria to resume indoor dining and reopen theaters, museums, and gyms. Moviegoers are expected to go see Christopher Nolan's “Tenet” at theaters this weekend. Even SeaWorld is welcoming guests back. One reason for the county's success, experts say, is very aggressive contact tracing. A.P.


Wildfires tearing through the Sequoia National Forest have gone largely under the radar as historic blazes lay siege to the Bay Area. But the SQF Complex, which was ignited by lightning two weeks ago, has spread more than 72 square miles, threatening mountain communities and majestic sequoias. It's only 1% contained. Visalia Times Delta


Santa Maria tri-tip.

Ken Hively/L.A. Times via Getty Images

It's sometimes said that every other home in Santa Maria has a barbecue pit in the back yard. The Santa Maria Valley, located between Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo, is California's barbecue heartland, home of the culinary tradition known as Santa Maria style. Its roots trace to the 19th century, when ranchers threw Spanish-style feasts for their vaqueros after big cattle roundups. The cuisine centers on cuts of beef cooked over coals of red oak and seasoned minimally with black pepper, salt, and garlic. Barbecue sauce is heavily frowned upon. The sole condiment at traditional restaurants: fresh salsa. The Takeout

Here are 12 essential Santa Maria barbecue spots across the Central Coast. 👉 Eater Los Angeles


In case you missed it


Tad Jones in New Mexico in 1975.

Ishan Vest/The Hanuman Fellowship Archives via N.Y. Times

Five items that got big views over the past week:

Tad Jones lived as an ascetic in the forest along the coast near Santa Cruz. He knew his way around, but he couldn't outrun the wildfire that swept through the mountains on Aug. 18. N.Y. Times
Sky Brown, of Huntington Beach, is a 12-year-old skateboarding prodigy with dreams of qualifying for the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo. Here she is attempting a "mega ramp." 👉 @tonyhawk (~1:40 mins)
"It's interesting that people here wear whatever they want." Here's the comedian Alexis Gay on things New Yorkers say when they move to San Francisco. 👉 @yayalexisgay (~1 min)
Wallace J. Nichols, a marine biologist, wrote his daughter a letter breaking the news that their home in the redwoods north of Santa Cruz burned to the ground — a day after she left for college. Outside Magazine
Early this year, a study found that California would need to deliberately burn 20 million acres to put a meaningful dent in wildfire numbers. A reporter talked to several fire scientists about how we got here. ProPublica

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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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