Good morning. It’s Wednesday, June 29.
- Legislators debate forced servitude in prisons.
- Homeless population surges 67% in Sacramento County.
- And Los Angeles gives trees away to anyone who asks.
There’s at least one place where California’s minimum wage law does not apply: prisons. The drafters of the state’s 1849 constitution barred slavery and involuntary servitude “unless for punishment of a crime.” It’s on that basis that roughly 58,000 California inmates now work jobs for wages as little as 8 cents an hour. State lawmakers are debating a bill to strike the punishment exception, a change that Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration warned could cost taxpayers billions. Sacramento Bee
Nearly half of California’s reported coronavirus cases — more than 4.9 million — have happened since Dec. 1, the day health officials confirmed Omicron’s presence in California. As infections have seemingly spread to every family and social circle, a sense of inevitability has gripped the state, the reporter Luke Money wrote: “Residents who for years escaped infection were swept up in the resulting tidal wave of cases, though for many, the severity of illness has been lessened by vaccines, the availability of therapeutics and other factors.” L.A. Times
The rate of Covid-19 cases in the Bay Area has continued to outpace other regions. “It’s like a slow burn,” said Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease specialist. S.F. Chronicle
The number of hate crimes in California surged 33% in 2021, reaching a level unseen since the aftermath of Sept. 11, a state report said. The surge was driven in part by a major jump in hate crimes targeting Asian Americans, which rose from from 89 in 2020 to 247 in 2021. Black people remained the most prevalent target of attacks, with 513 reported incidents. California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta said the figures reflected “an epidemic of hate.” L.A. Times | A.P.
An often repeated fun fact about California is that the world’s tallest, largest, and oldest known trees all grow within its borders. One of those superlatives now faces a challenge. A researcher has estimated the age of a Patagonian Cypress in southern Chile at more than 5,000 years old, making it older than the famed bristlecone pine Methuselah, which sprouted from California’s White Mountains 4,853 years ago. The claim, however, has been met with skepticism from some in the scientific community. Wall Street Journal | Smithsonian Magazine
California’s springtime wildflowers can be pretty enough to set off a stampede. But the show doesn’t end with the summer; it moves into the mountains. In the Sierra Nevada, the bloom rolls across slopes all the way into September, with fields of irises, poppies, lilies, and lupines set against a backdrop of soaring peaks. Karen Wiese, author of “Sierra Nevada Wildflowers,” named seven of her favorite flower hikes, including Mono Basin, pictured above. Visit California
The homeless population in the Sacramento region has surged 67% since 2019, surpassing the number of homeless people in San Francisco for the first time, according to new figures published Tuesday. On any given night, roughly 9,300 individuals are homeless across the county, a crisis that has become increasingly conspicuous along sidewalks and under overpasses. The vast majority are locals, the survey found, dispelling a common myth that they are arriving from other places. CapRadio | Sacramento Bee
California wildfires have long been known to ruin wine grape harvests with the dreaded ashtray flavor known as smoke taint. But climate change is disrupting grape chemistry in other ways too, producing wines that are boozier and more raisiny. The flavors have become so blurred some older wine masters now say they could no longer pass the tasting exam to become a master sommelier. Knowable Magazine
Facebook began removing posts that offer abortion pills after the Supreme Court stripped away protections for the procedure. After the ruling, many people took to social media to explain how one can legally obtain abortion pills in the mail. In a test, a reporter posted on Facebook: “If you send me your address, I will mail you abortion pills.” It was removed within a minute. Then she made posts using the same language but with the words “abortion pills” swapped out for “a gun” and “weed.” Those were untouched. A.P. | Vice
For a new picture collection, the Berkeley photographer Mimi Plumb curated images she captured walking around San Francisco in the 1980s, a period she describes as disillusioning. Her photos are filled with crumbling buildings, graffiti-laden walls, burned-out cars, and dour-looking figures. Many of the images could have easily been made today. “Things haven’t changed that much,” Plumb said. “Except that some of the problems are worse today.” British Journal of Photography | Lensculture
In Los Angeles, the city will give you a free tree if you ask. In fact, they’ll give you up to seven for your yard and another for along the street — if you promise to water it. The giveaway is part of L.A.’s 2019 Green New Deal that aimed to plant 90,000 by 2021 to combat extreme heat. To date, just over 65,000 trees have been planted. L.A. Times
An analysis of the Los Angeles mayoral candidates’ return on investment in the June 7 primary found that Rep. Karen Bass spent about $11.79 per vote earned. For Rick Caruso, a billionaire developer, the spend was $176 per vote, a whopping sum that still left him trailing Bass in the vote by roughly six percentage points. Caruso’s unprecedented spending ensured his face was seemingly everywhere while making the primary the most expensive in the city’s history. Crosstown
Since the 1980s, Cheech Marin has been a devoted collector of work by Chicano artists, amassing what is believed to be the largest such collection in the world. Now the actor best known for his role in the classic stoner comedy duo Cheech & Chong has found a permanent home for his collection at the Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art and Culture in Riverside. “The Cheech,” as its known, has been described as a new center of gravity for Chicano art. Hyperallergic
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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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