California Sun

Good morning. It's Friday, Dec. 14.

A searing look at life inside Tesla's production hell.
A community born of 1960s idealism on the Sonoma coast.
And a look back at the bursting of the Baldwin Hills Dam.



With state coffers overflowing, what are Californians' spending priorities? According to a new poll, universal health care and free community college lead the list. Residents are much less enthusiastic about two of outgoing Gov. Jerry Brown's top priorities: high-speed rail and building reserves for an economic downturn.


An inmate on San Quentin's death row.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

In a N.Y. Times op-ed, six former governors called on Gov. Jerry Brown to grant clemency to 740 death row prisoners. "Among a governor’s many powers, none is more significant than signing a death warrant," they wrote. "That’s why we halted executions in our states, and we call on Gov. Jerry Brown of California to do the same."


Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said she grew uncomfortable with the Republican Party's direction.

Tani Cantil-Sakauye, the chief justice of California, revealed that she had left the Republican Party after watching the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. "You can draw your own conclusions," said Cantil-Sakauye, who re-registered with no party preference. Independents became California's second-largest voting bloc this year, surpassing Republicans.


San Diego, Los Angeles, Fresno, San Francisco, Sacramento. A nationwide wave of bomb threats targeted schools, businesses, and other locations across California on Thursday. The messages, which demanded payment in bitcoin, appeared to be hoaxes. The perpetrators probably just hoped to get lucky, experts said. "I can't recall a cyberterrorism threat this widespread before," said one.


This is Hot Creek in the Inyo National Forest. Its headwaters start in the upper reaches of the Sierra, then mix with magma-heated water that percolates up from the creek bed. The result — steaming, pale blue water set against a soaring mountain landscape — is a breathtaking sight. It's also a trout's paradise, which makes Hot Creek a bucket-list destination for fly-fishers.


Northern California


Elon Musk has been under a lot of pressure.

Joshua Lott/Getty Images

"Everyone in Tesla is in an abusive relationship with Elon." Charles Duhigg interviewed dozens of current and former Tesla employees to find out what it was like to work at Tesla as Model 3 production ramped up and Elon Musk melted down. In one anecdote, Musk was trying to figure out what was wrong with a malfunctioning module when a young engineer was brought over to help him:

"Did you fucking do this?" Musk asked him.

"I'm not sure what you're referring to?" the engineer replied apologetically.

"You're a fucking idiot!" Musk shouted back. "Get the fuck out and don't come back!"


"They are a terrible company and, on a personal level, I don't want to have anything to do with them." Facebook began paying journalists to ferret out fake stories and political propaganda after the 2016 presidential election. Some of the journalists now regard the move as a PR stunt. The company has ignored their concerns, one said. "They clearly don't care."


Kerch Thomas, a Sonoma County man, answered his phone and heard a woman, hysterical. "Daddy, I'm in trouble," she said. Then a man came on the line. He said he was with a Guatemalan crime organization. If Thomas wanted to see his daughter again, he'd have to pay $10,000. Thomas raced to deliver the money, but first checked with law enforcement, who confirmed that his daughter was just fine.

A sheriff said phone scams are common, but not one so extreme. "This is the first time we've heard that one," he said.


Photo by John Lambert Pearson/Wikimedia Commons

This is Sea Ranch, a community born of 1960s idealism along the Sonoma coast. It's a place of eerie calm, with no grocery stores or movie theater but abundant solitude and almost dictatorial tastefulness. Its architect, Lawrence Halprin, was inspired by the Pomo Indians, a tribe who believed in living lightly on the land. A N.Y. Times writer said the homes meld into the surroundings — "like archaeological relics of some ancient utopia."


Southern California


Members of the Mongols motorcycle club in a San Pedro park in 1991.

Michael Montfort/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

A federal jury found the Mongols motorcycle gang guilty of racketeering and conspiracy, meaning it shares responsibility for violence and drug-dealing committed by members. The decision also moves the government closer to taking control of the Mongols' trademark name. That would allow law enforcement to stop members and literally take the jackets off of their backs.


In the last decade, the University of California's enrollment of Chinese students has grown more than eightfold. Now some faculty members at U.C. Santa Barbara are complaining about their poor English-language skills and penchant for cheating. One art professor retired partly out of frustration. "My role turned from educator to enforcer, and I didn't want to do it anymore," he said.


A mural of Ava Gardner at a school in Koreatown sparked controversy.

Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

Los Angeles's school district said it would remove a mural of Hollywood star Ava Gardner after Korean groups complained a sunburst in the painting resembled the Japanese Imperial flag. L.A. Times art critic Christopher Knight criticized the decision. "Deceptive claims have been weaponized to shut down free speech," he wrote. "The school mural is not the scandal; LAUSD's imminent censorship is."


"There is a health crisis in Kern County." Even as California has made significant strides in cutting air pollution since the 1970s, Kern County continues to face an epidemic of Chronic Lower Respiratory Disease. Its residents are about 28 times more likely to die from respiratory diseases than people in San Francisco.


Workers inspected the crumbled Baldwin Hills Dam on Dec. 20, 1963.

Los Angeles Public Library

It was on this day in 1963 that an earthen dam in Los Angeles burst and sent a 50-foot wall of water hurtling into the surrounding neighborhood. The Baldwin Hills Reservoir disaster killed five people and damaged or destroyed 277 homes. Early warnings prevented the losses from being far worse. Still, it took a generation for the neighborhood to recover.

The drama unfolded live on TV — as a pencil-thin crack developed over several hours into an enormous gash — broadcast from a hovering KTLA helicopter in what became a precursor of airborne news coverage.


In case you missed it


Photo by Nacio Jan Brown

Here are five blurbs that got big views over the past week:

During the height of the hippie era, a photographer made a study of the scene that swirled along Berkeley's Telegraph Avenue. The work is now considered a classic of street photography. Rag Theater | American Suburb X
In the 1980s, at least 4.5 million monarch butterflies wintered along the California coast. This year? As few as 30,000, an 87 percent drop from just the year before. The Guardian
Gov. Jerry Brown sounded a pessimistic note on whether the state's housing crisis is even solvable. "There's a lot of resistance to changes, to density in neighborhoods that don't want density," he said. "In many ways I don't blame them." NPR
This 9-acre Stargazing Desert Retreat is a whole town in the high desert with a saloon, a church, a blacksmith shop, and a renovated ranch house. Yours for $1.5 million. Press-Enterprise
In 1976, marijuana fell from the sky in Yosemite. A drug smuggler's plane ran into trouble and crashed near a high-altitude lake. When word spread that three tons of marijuana was sitting in the snow, the hunt was on. Men's Journal

Thanks for reading!

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

The Sun is built by Marquee on Proof.

Consider becoming a member.

Please tell us how we can make the newsletter better. Email

California Sun masthead
The California Sun PO Box 6868, Los Osos, CA 93412
Wake up to must-read news from around the Golden State delivered to your inbox each morning.