California Sun

Good morning. It's Friday, June 8.

The dying Salton Sea threatens to send up clouds of toxic dust.
A high school valedictorian has her mic cut off at graduation.
And the death penalty in a boy's "horrendous" torture killing.

The lede


Dying lake

The remains of a pier at the Salton Sea's Bombay Beach.

Matthew Dillon/CC BY 2.0

The Salton Sea, California’s biggest lake, was once a tourist mecca.

In the 1950s and 60s, the lake straddling the Imperial and Coachella valleys had resorts, beauty pageants, and boat races. Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra visited.

But the fun ended as pollution, drought, and heat conspired to transform the holiday getaway into a stinking wasteland with beaches made of fish bones. Now, according to a powerful report by Michael Zelenko in the Verge, the drying lake is threatening the health of nearby communities, where asthma rates are already among the worst in the state.

As the water recedes, it's poised to reveal 75 square miles of playa that could kick up as much as 100 tons of runoff-laced dust daily.

"The Salton Sea," Zelenko wrote, "is a dust bomb that has already begun going off."

See the story and a series of photos at the Verge.



A beach in Morro Bay earned a spot on Heal the Bay's honor roll.

zoxcleb/CC BY-SA 2.0

Beach water quality plummets when rainfall sweeps through cities, pushing filth out to sea. That explains one silver lining of California's dry weather over the past year: cleaner water. In its latest “Beach Report Card,” an environmental group gave 95 percent of Southern California beaches A grades for water quality. Northern California's marks were less reassuring, driven by troubled beaches in San Mateo and Humboldt counties.


Right wing commentators have been trumpeting a story that California made doing laundry and taking a shower on the same day illegal, punishable by fines of $1,000 a day. It's not true. Two new bills set guidelines for water agencies to follow in California's post-drought era. They encourage customers to limit water usage to 55 gallons a day, a target that a number of California cities already meet.


Democratic lawmakers are pushing a tax break for low-income people who are in the country illegally. The proposal would expand the state’s earned income tax credit so that people who do not have Social Security numbers can apply for it. "We believe all working Californians, including immigrants, should be able to afford life's basic needs," a supporter said.


In the Bay Area, construction prices have risen about 30 percent over the past three years. The surge came as California cities were already contending with an affordable-housing crunch. This has led developers to scramble for cheaper ways to build houses. Many now think salvation lies in prefabricated housing that can be stacked together like Lego bricks. One startup raised $1.1 billion in venture capital.

Northern California


Martin Luther King Jr. called 11 o’clock on Sunday morning "the most segregated hour of America.” Not much has changed since then. But in Oakland, two pastors — one the leader of a white church and the other of a black church — were moved by the racial division in the country to try an experiment: merging together. The goal isn’t just for people to gather on Sundays, but for the members to embrace as family, the pastors said.


An assailant was seen kicking a homeless man in San Francisco.

San Francisco Police Department

A bespectacled man in a suit and tie casually walked over to a homeless man on a San Francisco sidewalk and began kicking him. He then appeared to taunt the man before walking off. The assault, believed to be unprovoked, was capture on surveillance video. The police are asking for help to find the suspect.


The small coastal community of Half Moon Bay calls itself the "world pumpkin capital," hosting a popular fall pumpkin festival for nearly a half-century. But pumpkins don't pay the bills anymore. Now a longtime grower's plan to move into cannabis has carved a rift through the community. “We’re saying ‘no’ to marijuana,” one resident said. "We’re very proud of our community and we don’t want to put any dark cloud over it.”


Celebrating graduation, a high school in Petaluma cut the valedictorian's microphone during her speech. Lulabel Seitz, 17, was required to submit her remarks beforehand and was warned to stick to them. But she wanted to address a sexual assault she endured on campus and what she believed was the school's mishandling of the case. The principal defended the censoring. “We were trying to make sure our graduation ceremony was appropriate and beautiful,” he said.

Southern California


Cristin Smith, left, and Robert Pape, right, during a hearing in the Pinyon Pines murder case.

Jay Calderon/The Desert Sun

In 2006, a couple was found shot dead in their Riverside County home, a daughter's body in flames in a wheelbarrow outside. The haunting case went cold for years. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger approved a $50,000 reward. Then two men — Cristin Smith and Robert Pape, an ex-boyfriend of the teenage victim — were arrested. On Thursday, after a trial built on mostly circumstantial evidence, the men were found guilty.


A Los Angeles County woman was sentenced to life in prison and her boyfriend to death for the 2013 torture killing of the woman's 8-year-old son, Gabriel Fernandez. The death of the boy — who was left with a fractured skull, broken ribs, burned skin, and missing teeth — became a symbol of bureaucratic failure, propelling far-reaching reforms. “I hope you think about the pain you caused this child and that it tortures you,” the judge said. “I rarely say that.”


Riley McCoy, an 18-year-old in Orange County, has a rare condition that causes her skin to burn horribly if exposed to sunlight. Determined to walk at graduation, she arrived in an astronaut-type helmet and strode to the stage as the crowd delivered a four-minute ovation. “It was amazing,” her mother said. “I was so happy to see a smile on her face.” Riley interrupted, “Mom, why do you always cry?”


Coronado Bridge is America's second-deadliest bridge for suicides after the Golden Gate Bridge.

Christian Ronnel/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The Golden Gate Bridge is getting steel nets to prevent suicides. Now, Coronado Bridge, stretching two miles across the San Diego Bay, will get bird spikes as a temporary deterrent while it pursues a more permanent solution of its own. Activists who have been pushing for decades for something to be done have been frustrated by a perceived lack of political will, even as deaths mount. Coronado Bridge has been a perch for more than 400 suicides since 1969.


Rugby, football, and lacrosse. Since the Chargers left, San Diego has become home to three new professional sports teams. Next up could be Major League Soccer. A movement is afoot to bring an expansion team to the city.

In case you missed it


Most popular

Dolphins frolicked with a mother humpback whale and her calf in Monterey Bay. "The dolphins seem to really enjoy this and the whales aren't really bothered," a marine biologist said.

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

A drone camera captured about 1,500 dolphins playing with humpback whales in Monterey Bay. The dolphins were "snout riding" the whales, or provoking them to create waves they could surf in. | Facebook
San Diego has a new hero. Gabrielle DiMarco, a 23-year-old college student, caught a foul ball in her full cup of beer at a Padres game — then chugged the drink as the crowd went wild. S.D. Union-Tribune | YouTube
More than 1.2 million trees have been cut down statewide after a massive die-off. That's led to a radically altered experience for campers in suddenly sparse forests. Fresno Bee

The Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument rises abruptly from the desert floor.

Bob Wick/Bureau of Land Management

“The view from San Jacinto is the most sublime spectacle to be found anywhere on this earth.” That's John Muir describing the mountain wilderness east of Los Angeles. Here are some the adventures to be had there. Desert Sun
A Santa Rosa public bus employee got the call at 2 a.m. last October. He needed to help evacuate a neighborhood in the path of a raging inferno. Now video has been released showing the terrifying escape. Press Democrat


An item in Thursday's newsletter misstated the amount spent by a tobacco company to fight a flavored tobacco ban in San Francisco. It was nearly $13 million, not $13 billion.

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