California Sun

Good morning. It's Monday, March 4.

California contends with rising suicides among firefighters.
Newport Beach students make a swastika and flash Nazi salutes.
And a half-marathon runner either shatters records or cheats.

Firefighters battled flames in Santa Clarita in 2016.

David McNew/Getty Images

Suicides have been rising among firefighters, a worrying trend as California's intensifying fire seasons put more strain on emergency personnel. A national survey of firefighters found that nearly half had suicidal thoughts. One in five reported planning a suicide. "It's chronic, repeated exposure to everyone's worst day," a health researcher said. L.A. Times

Separately, as Joan Didion noted, the ease of life in California is an illusion. Now climate change is revealing the cost of maintaining it. Bloomberg


When Gov. Gavin Newsom announced his intention to downsize the state's high-speed rail ambitions, he explained that we couldn't afford it. But according to an analysis by the L.A. Times, the project doesn't even have enough money for the more modest route between Bakersfield and Merced. L.A. Times | KTLA

Also, while California leaders debate high-speed rail, it's already had major consequences for Central Valley communities, where houses have been boarded up, businesses moved, vineyards ripped out, and a highway realigned. L.A. Times


Gavin Newsom, then lieutenant governor, and President Trump in Paradise on Nov. 17, 2018.

Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

"'I just want to tell you you're a great president, and you're one of the smartest people I've ever met.' That’s what he said. Will he admit it? No, I doubt it. But that's what he said." That was President Trump at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Saturday recounting a conversation with Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Newsom has called Trump a "joke and a racist" who should step down. Trump has called Newsom a "clown" who "wants open borders."


A tree in Tuolumne County said to be the site of numerous hangings, in an undated photo.

San Jose Public Library

Thousands of Mexicans were lynched in the American West from the mid-19th century until well into the 20th century. Justification included cattle theft, cheating at cards, refusing to play the fiddle — even witchcraft. Now descendants of the victims are bringing attention to the neglected history.


A camel was loaded at Drum Barracks in Los Angeles, circa 1865.

Huntington Digital Library

Had the Civil War played out differently, the camel may have assumed a place alongside the horse and cowboy as a symbol of the Wild West.

It was on this week in 1855 that the U.S. Congress funded an experiment to introduce camels as military pack animals to cross the West's harsh deserts. Several dozen were shipped from Mediterranean ports and put to work moving salt, dry goods, and mail between Tucson and Los Angeles, proving stronger and more self-sufficient than horses or mules.

But the humped creatures also had disadvantages: they had terrible tempers and scared horses. Moreover, the camels were tarnished by an association with Jefferson Davis, who had been the lead advocate of the experiment. After he left the U.S. to become president of the Confederacy, the camels languished. Some were allowed to escape; others wound up in circuses. And a few dozen were sold for about $50 apiece from a military installation in Benicia, where a historic building is known to this day as the Camel Barn.


Northern California


Stevante Clark, brother of Stephon Clark, addressed protesters in Sacramento last March.

Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images

The two police officers who fatally shot Stephon Clark, an unarmed black man, won't face charges in the 2018 killing that set off a series of protests in Sacramento. After a nearly yearlong investigation, the county's top prosecutor, Anne Marie Schubert, said evidence supported the officers' claims that they thought Clark was pointing a gun. It turned out to be a cellphone.

Schubert also chronicled the two days of chaos that led up to Clark's encounter with police. He was accused of attacking his girlfriend and researched ways to kill himself. Clark's mother reacted with outrage to the disclosures. "She wants to go on a smear campaign on his character and his actions," she said. Whatever his actions prior to the shooting, she added, "It's not justification. That is not a permit to kill him."


Oakland teachers ended their seven-day strike after agreeing to a contract deal that includes an 11-percent salary increase and a one-time 3-percent bonus. "Our power in the streets prevailed," a union leader said. But not everyone was happy. School nurses said the deal did nothing to address their bloated workloads. "We are furious and we feel like we've been completely thrown under the bus," one said. East Bay Times | KQED

Separately, video emerged of an Oakland school board member choking a teacher during an altercation at the picket line last week. East Bay Times | NBC Bay Area


First responders followed boot prints and granola wrappers to locate the girls in the woods on Sunday.

Humboldt County Sheriff's Office

The disappearance of two little sisters set off a frantic search in Humboldt County over the weekend. On Sunday, 44 hours after they were last seen, Leia, 8, and Caroline, 5, were found in rugged wilderness about 1½ miles from their home, dehydrated and cold but in good spirits. Officials said they survived on granola bars after wandering into the woods. "This is an absolute miracle," the county sheriff said.


Sonoma County ranks No. 1 in California for repetitive losses under the National Flood Insurance Program. For some business and homeowners along the Russian River, last week's flooding is seen as a trade-off for living in paradise. The owner of a damaged hotel said he would be doing his fourth renovation: "But it will reopen bigger, better, and more sparkly than before."


Pilots commonly run into trouble in the mountains running along the eastern edge of California.

An area including much of the Sierra Nevada range has been dubbed the Nevada Triangle. With corners in Fresno, Reno, and Las Vegas, the triangular area has become a graveyard for an estimated 2,000 aircraft in the last 60 years, far outnumbering those in the infamous Bermuda Triangle. Scientists say winds from the Pacific create a powerful downdraft as they cross the jagged mountains, slamming small aircraft to the ground.


Southern California


The sun set last month on the Cadiz Valley, the subject of an intense water debate.

Jenna Schoenefeld for the Washington Post via Getty Images

The Trump administration has helped revive a proposal to tap an aquifer roughly the size of Rhode Island under the Mojave Desert and sell the water to thirsty Southern California cities. But the so-called Cadiz water project is fiercely opposed by environmentalists who say it would wipe out springs that sustain desert plants and wildlife. Gavin Newsom has yet to weigh in as governor.


An image from Twitter showed a swastika surrounded by young people.

Images posted on social media appeared to show a group of high school students in Newport Beach flashing Nazi salutes while partying next to red plastic cups arranged in the shape of a swastika. School officials opened an investigation. "I was simply devastated to see that," a school board member said. She added: "We obviously need to do a better job of providing education and awareness." O.C. Register | L.A. Times

The outrage followed a recent incident in Ojai that involved nine middle school students lying down during lunch in the shape of a swastika. Ventura County Star


Court documents filed last week revealed the unlikely head of one of the nation's largest neo-Nazi groups: a black man named James Stern from Moreno Valley. Stern said he tricked the former leader into handing over the National Socialist Movement by telling him the move could ease his legal troubles. Stern's first move as president? Asking a judge to find the group culpable in the violence at the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville.


Bre Tiesi-Manziel posed after her half marathon.

Bre Tiesi-Manziel, a model and wife of former N.F.L. quarterback Johnny Manziel, appeared to have made running history at a half marathon in Temecula Valley last month. According to recorded times, she ran the first half at a pace of 14:15 per mile, then ran the final 6.7 miles at a blistering 4:00.7 per mile — beating the women’s world record for the mile six times in a row. Either that, reported Deadspin, or she cheated.


The Sierra Madre wistaria grew into a behemoth from a 75-cent vine.

Iris Schneider/L.A. Times via Getty Images

The world’s largest blossoming plant is growing at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains. Planted in 1894, the freakishly large wistaria, or "Lavender Lady" as some call it, bursts forth with a million purple blossoms each spring. Unfortunately for the public, it's tucked mostly out of sight, stretching across two homeowners’ backyards. Your one chance to see it is during the annual Sierra Madre Wistaria Festival, coming up on March 17. "It's worth the wait," wrote Atlas Obscura.


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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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