At next debate, Democratic candidates must talk California. Here’s why

Democratic presidential candidates are slated to debate again Thursday, this time in Los Angeles. It would be nice if they discussed some specific needs of California.

Just one or two, maybe three, questions about problems particularly acute in this state. That shouldn’t be too much hassle.

California does, after all, comprise 12% of the U.S. population. We have one-third more people than the next largest state, Texas. Our economic growth outshines the country’s overall. California’s well-being is vital to the nation’s health.

So our dilemmas really are America’s, too. A president can be a great friend in helping to solve state problems — or an annoying troublemaker like President Trump.

Yes, a California-tilted debate is probably wishful thinking. And it’s possible this skirmish won’t even be held. On Friday, the candidates threatened to boycott the event because of a labor dispute at host Loyola Marymount University.

But assuming some debate will be held in California before the March 3 primary, I have a few suggested topics for the candidates:


We’ve had a deadly, destructive epidemic. Trump keeps accusing the Democratic state government of failing to clear the forests of dead trees and brush that fuel fires. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who hasn’t been in office even a year, “has done a terrible job of forest management,” the president bellows.

Fact check: The federal government owns and manages 57% of California’s 33 million acres of forests. Private landowners have about 40%. The state only owns 2.2% and local governments less than 1%.

Question for the wannabe presidents: If elected, will you promise to clean up your own forest mess? And consider joining the state in helping to clear out dead wood on private land?


It’s an old cliché, but what Mark Twain purportedly said is still true: “Whisky is for drinking, water’s for fighting over.” That’s particularly true in the West, especially in half-arid California.

The fiercest current fight is over water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. The delta supplies drinking water for 25 million people and irrigation for 3 million acres. But there’s not enough for everyone who wants it in a growing population.

The West Coast’s largest estuary has been in environmental decline because of water transfers to San Joaquin Valley agriculture and Southern California cities. Salmon runs and the coastal fishing industry are threatened with going belly up.

The Trump administration is pressing to ship more delta water to San Joaquin agriculture interests. Delta farmers, the fishing industry and environmentalists are fighting the feds.

Question for candidates: Are you with the salmon or the pistachios?

State and local taxes

As part of their federal income tax cut two years ago, Trump and the Republican Congress raised taxes significantly on many people who paid state income and local property taxes. A limit of $10,000 was placed on the amount of state and local tax payments that could be deducted on federal returns.

This socked people hard in high-tax states such as California and New York. An estimated 11 million taxpayers were hit nationwide. Last week, the House Ways and Means Committee passed a bill to lift the limit. But even if the measure gets to the Senate, Republicans are expected to kill it.

Question: Will you scrub the SALT limit and reduce taxes for many high-taxed Californians?


It’s a mess. L.A. County has nearly 60,000 homeless people. The population is at least 130,000 statewide. Sidewalks are littered with tents, and trash is strewn everywhere.

White House spokesman Judd Deere recently blamed California’s “over-regulation, excessive taxation and poor public service delivery” for a dramatic increase in homelessness. Yeah, right!

The state and local governments are trying all sorts of things, including more emergency shelters and tiny huts. But California badly needs help. We’re panhandling for federal dollars.

Question: As president, would you toss some loose change our way?

Bullet train

We have this pipe dream called a bullet train that’s way underfunded and far behind schedule. Everyone thinks high-speed rail — mimicking China, Japan and Europe — would be groovy. But those trains are subsidized by national governments. California is a big state, but it’s still only a state and can’t print money.

The last estimated tab for the Los Angeles-to-San Francisco bullet train was $79 billion. But this grand project is on a sidetrack and hardly discussed anymore. The state is now just trying to build a line through the San Joaquin Valley.

The feds have contributed only $3.4 billion and grabbed back $929 million of it. They don’t want to spend another cent. Private investors aren’t interested either. And California taxpayers would rather take the bus.

Question: Is high-speed rail in California of any interest at all? If so, how about some more bucks?


The country is so polarized that politicians are afraid to compromise on reform. Meanwhile, California is home to 2.2 million immigrants living here illegally, one-quarter of the country’s undocumented population.

Two years ago, the Legislature passed and Gov. Jerry Brown signed a so-called “sanctuary state” bill that limited law enforcement’s ability to help federal agents deport undocumented immigrants unless they’d been convicted of a serious crime. Trump is asking the Supreme Court to kill the law.

Questions: Will you work — earnestly work — to finally achieve immigration reform? And does California’s sanctuary law bother you? What should be changed about it as part of any compromise?

Voters should know the candidates’ views on these things before they cast ballots.

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California governor rejects PG&E bankruptcy reorganization plan

(Reuters) – California Governor Gavin Newsom on Friday rejected a bankruptcy reorganization plan submitted by PG&E Corp (PCG.N), the state’s largest investor-owned utility, saying its proposal fails to meet the requirements of a recently enacted wildfire law.

The decision by Newsom, sent to PG&E in a letter, complicates the company’s push to exit bankruptcy and provide billions of dollars to victims of devastating wildfires in 2017 and 2018 sparked by the utility’s power lines.

The embattled utility now has until Tuesday to further amend its plan to Newsom’s satisfaction, but his criticism of the reorganization package as it was presented by PG&E a day earlier was sweeping.

Newsom said the plan lacks “major changes in governance” and tougher safety enforcement mechanisms mandated under the state wildfire statute, known as Assembly Bill 1054, which was enacted in July.

The governor also said PG&E’s plan, including a proposed $13.5 billion settlement with victims of wildfires blamed on its power lines, would leave the company with a weakened capital structure and “limited ability to withstand future financial and operational headwinds.”

“In my judgment, the amended plan and the restructuring transactions do not result in a reorganized company positioned to provide safe, reliable and affordable service to its customers, as required by AB 1054,” Newsom wrote.

PG&E, in a statement after release of the governor’s letter, disputed Newsom’s findings that its reorganization plan fails to live up to the criteria of the wildfire law.

“We believe it does and is the best course forward for all stakeholders,” the company said. “We’ve welcomed feedback from all stakeholders throughout these proceedings and will continue to work diligently in the coming days to resolve any issues that may arise.”

State approval of reorganization plan is a necessary step before PG&E can submit the proposal for a vote by creditors and final approval from a bankruptcy judge in San Francisco.

FILE PHOTO: PG&E works on power lines to repair damage caused by the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S. November 21, 2018. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage/File Photo

PG&E filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in January citing projected civil liabilities in excess of $30 billion from wind-driven blazes in 2017 and 2018 sparked by its equipment. Those included a wildfire last year that killed 85 people and destroyed the town of Paradise, ranking as California’s deadliest wildfire on record.


In recent months, PG&E resorted to widespread power shut-offs that left hundreds of thousands of its customers without electricity for days at a time during periods of extremely high winds and dry conditions.

But the blackouts enraged consumers, regulators and politicians, including Newsom, who accused PG&E of failing through greed and mismanagement to invest in proper maintenance and upgrades of its power system over the years.

PG&E has denied putting profits ahead of public safety but acknowledged it needed to do a better job of protecting the grid from fire hazards.

Newsom had floated the idea of a state takeover of the utility if it failed to satisfy his demands, and has insisted that whatever entity emerges from bankruptcy must be “completely transformed” and more accountable.

The governor’s finding that PG&E’s reorganization plan must comply with the new law, AB 1054, is a prerequisite for the utility’s proposed civil settlement with wildfire victims.

The law creates a wildfire liability fund that investor-owned utilities can access for wildfire claims, provided the utilities contribute toward the fund and make a combined $5 billion, five-year investment toward improvement in their electrical grids.

To participate in the fund, PG&E must exit bankruptcy by June 30, putting intense pressure on the utility to resolve its complicated Chapter 11 quickly.

FILE PHOTO: California governor Gavin Newsom speaks at a news conference in San Diego, California, U.S. October 9, 2019. REUTERS/ Mike Blake

Prior to its $13.5 billion deal with victims, the company recently reached an $11 billion settlement with insurance companies and a $1 billion settlement with local governments for fire losses.

Bondholders led by Elliott Management opposed the reorganization plan championed by PG&E. However, the $13.5 billion compensation package agreed to by the utility – more generous than expected – makes it much more difficult for bondholders to upend PG&E’s plans.

Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware, and Steve Gorman in Culver City, Calif.; Editing by David Gregorio, Bill Tarrant and Sandra Maler

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Polar vortex, Midwest floods, California fires: The U.S.’s wild 2019 weather

CHICAGO (Reuters) – From a brutal polar vortex that froze much of the Midwest and East Coast in January to Hurricane Dorian that killed dozens in the Bahamas in September, Mother Nature dealt Americans a wild and deadly weather year in 2019.

FILE PHOTO: A destroyed house is seen in the wake of Hurricane Dorian in Marsh Harbour, Great Abaco, Bahamas, September 8, 2019. REUTERS/Loren Elliott/File Photo

Weather events that made headlines this year included:


The year got off to a roaring start with a polar vortex that paralyzed the U.S. Midwest and the East Coast for several days at the end of January, putting tens of millions of Americans in a deep freeze. Arctic-like temperatures as low as minus 56 degrees F (-49 C) were blamed for at least 21 cold-related deaths, including nine in Chicago. The record-breaking cold snap shut schools and businesses, grounded hundreds of flights and filled emergency rooms with frostbite victims.


A quick-melting snow from a March “bomb cyclone” storm left wide swaths of nine states flooded in the U.S. Plains and Midwest. At least four deaths and hundreds of millions of dollars in damage to homes and businesses were blamed on the historic flooding. Some of the region’s larger rivers filled to record high levels, causing levees to break. Several small towns and communities were cut off by the high waters while others were short of fresh drinking water. The flooding also destroyed billions of dollars of crops that were in storage and damaged roads and railways.

22 DEAD IN JULY HEAT WAVEAt least 22 people died during a massive heat wave that baked the U.S. Midwest, South and East Coast during the third week of July. Millions of residents in major U.S. cities including Chicago and New York were urged to stay indoors as temperatures reached over 100 degrees F (37.8 C). To make matters worse, parts of Manhattan lost power, darkening Broadway theaters, halting subways and closing restaurants and shops in a blackout blamed on a faulty piece of equipment. In downtown Madison, Wisconsin, thousands of homes and businesses lost power after fires erupted at two substations near the state capitol during the hot weather.


At least 70 people lost their lives, with more than 250 still missing, when Hurricane Dorian, a Category 5 storm, slammed the Bahamas with 200-mile-per-hour (320-kph) winds during the first week of September. It was one of the strongest Caribbean hurricanes on record and stands as the worst disaster in the history of the archipelago nation of 400,000 people. The storm reduced thousands of homes and businesses to rubble and displaced tens of thousands of Bahamians before heading north and making landfall in the Carolinas as a Category 1 hurricane. Once in the United States, Dorian flooded coastal towns, whipped up tornadoes and cut power to hundreds of thousands of people.


This year’s wildfire season in California was relatively tame compared to the epic spate of conflagrations in 2017 and 2018 that ranks as the deadliest and most destructive in state history. California, however, was not completely spared. The state’s biggest fire in 2019 was the Kincade fire, a wind-driven blaze that scorched 120 square miles (310 sq km) of Sonoma County wine country, where it damaged or destroyed hundreds of structures and forced thousands to evacuate. In all, just three fatalities were recorded in 2019, compared to nearly 150 lives lost during the previous two years.

Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Editing by Scott Malone and Sandra Maler

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Newsletter: Essential California Week in Review: Kamala Harris drops out

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It is Saturday, Dec. 7.

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Here’s a look at the top stories of the last week:

Top stories

Kamala Harris drops out. The sudden departure of California’s junior senator from the 2020 presidential race Tuesday led to a scramble as other Democratic candidates immediately moved to bolster support for their own campaigns in the state.

PG&E’s wildfires settlement. The utility, facing an uncertain future, announced a $13.5-billion settlement Friday covering some of the state’s worst fires, including the 2017 wine country blazes and the fire that nearly destroyed the town of Paradise last year.

UC medical professors’ income. A ProPublica review of almost 90 UC system health faculty members who had among the highest outside incomes at four medical schools found that about two-thirds did not report all of the money, as required.

California’s growing economy. California’s economic growth will slow next year, but even with fears of a recession, it is likely to outshine that of the nation overall, according to a new UCLA Anderson School forecast.

Toothbrushes, medicine and love letters. Items seized from migrants and asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border were saved and photographed by a janitor at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility in Arizona. Tom Kiefer’s photos are now on display as part of an exhibition, “El Sueño Americano / The American Dream,” at the Skirball Cultural Center.

Pistachio giant vs. Fresno County. A feud between two major players in California’s $2.6-billion pistachio business is embroiling the county of Fresno, which is now the target of a lawsuit brought by one of the firms, Wonderful Co.

Clay Helton stays. After months of rampant speculation on the future of USC’s football program, university leaders announced Clay Helton — whose uneven tenure as head coach saw the Trojans reach the Rose Bowl in 2016 and win the Pac-12 Conference title in 2017 before stumbling the last two seasons — will remain their coach for the foreseeable future.

A school shooting’s aftermath. Shortened classes. Beefed-up law enforcement. Mental health counselors and therapy dogs. For Saugus High School students returning to the Santa Clarita campus this Monday after the Nov. 14 school shooting that left three dead and three wounded, normal may be on the way, but not anytime soon.

Storms bring record wave. The Thanksgiving week “bomb cyclone” storm that drenched California not only set a record for the lowest pressure recorded in the state but also generated a 75-foot wave off Cape Mendocino. Here’s an explainer.

SoCal’s first luxury LGBTQ retirement community. Long a popular retirement haven for gay men, Palm Springs will soon welcome what’s perhaps the ultimate golden-age ticket: a luxury condominium community designed for active LGBTQ seniors.

The 50 best songs about L.A. How does the world hear contemporary Los Angeles? From Ice Cube to Lana Del Rey, from Slauson to Silver Lake, here’s a panoramic playlist for our city.

This week’s most popular stories in Essential California

1. These L.A. homes come with a $1-million property tax bill. Los Angeles Times

2. Explore the garage doors of San Francisco. SF Gate

3. The best hidden gem restaurant in every Bay Area city. SF Gate

4. Indicted USC administrator’s side business spotlights the university’s oversight. USC Annenberg Media

5. A troubled ex-USC football star died at 31. His family hoped that studying his brain for CTE would help others. Los Angeles Times

ICYMI, here are this week’s great reads

She was hanged in California 168 years ago — for murder or for being Mexican? Los Angeles Times

“Chaos at the top of the world.” It was one of the most arresting viral photos of the year: a horde of climbers clogged atop Mt. Everest. But it only begins to capture the deadly realities of what transpired that day at 29,000 feet. GQ

A con man’s wild testimony sent dozens to jail, and four to death row. Why did prosecutors rely on him as an informant? New York Times / ProPublica

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints, ideas and unrelated book recommendations to Julia Wick. Follow her on Twitter @Sherlyholmes. (And a giant thanks to the legendary Diya Chacko for all her help on the Saturday edition.)

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PG&E Announces $13.5 Billion Settlement Of Claims Linked To California Wildfires : NPR

Seen in August 2019, the remains of a home destroyed in Northern California’s 2018 Camp Fire.

Rich Pedroncelli/AP

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Rich Pedroncelli/AP

Seen in August 2019, the remains of a home destroyed in Northern California’s 2018 Camp Fire.

Rich Pedroncelli/AP

Utility giant Pacific Gas and Electric announced a $13.5 billion settlement agreement to resolve all claims associated with several Northern California wildfires that killed dozens of people and destroyed thousands of businesses and homes. The wildfires have been tied to the company’s equipment.

“We want to help our customers, our neighbors and our friends in those impacted areas recover and rebuild after these tragic wildfires,” said PG&E Corp. CEO and President Bill Johnson in a statement released late Friday.

The settlement fund, if accepted by a bankruptcy judge, will go to victims who lost loved ones and/or property, as well as government agencies and attorneys who have pressed the claims.

PG&E declared bankruptcy in January, saying it faced potential liabilities of $30 billion. The company hopes that the settlement will improve its prospects for emerging from bankruptcy before a court-imposed deadline in June.

The settlement covers the Camp Fire in 2018; the Tubbs Fire in 2017; the Butte Fire in 2015; and the Ghost Ship Fire in Oakland in 2016.

Victims seeking compensation will have to file claims by the end of the year. The deadline had been extended because tens of thousands of eligible victims had failed to file amid reports that many were still unaware that they could seek payments.

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Bankrupt PG&E reaches $13.5 billion settlement with California wildfire victims

(Reuters) – California’s bankrupt power producer PG&E Corp (PCG.N) said on Friday it had reached a $13.5 billion settlement with victims of some of most devastating wildfires in the state’s modern history.

FILE PHOTO: Employees of Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) work in the aftermath of the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S., November 14, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester/File Photo

The agreement helps smooth the way for the beleaguered company to emerge from bankruptcy. It filed for Chapter 11 protection in January, citing potential liabilities in excess of $30 billion from wildfires in 2017 and 2018 linked to its equipment.

“With this important milestone now accomplished, we are focused on emerging from Chapter 11 as the utility of the future that our customers and communities expect and deserve,” Chief Executive Officer Bill Johnson said in a statement.

State fire investigators in May determined that PG&E transmission lines caused the deadliest and most destructive wildfire on record in California, the wind-driven Camp Fire that killed 85 people in and around the town of Paradise last year.

They likewise concluded that PG&E power lines had sparked a separate flurry of wildfires that swept California’s wine country north of San Francisco Bay in 2017.

The agreed settlement is subject to a number of conditions and requires confirmation by the United States Bankruptcy Court, the company said.

It faces a tight deadline as it needs to exit bankruptcy by June 30, 2020 to participate in a state-backed wildfire fund that would help reduce the threat to utilities from wildfires.

“We share the state’s focus on helping mitigate the risk of future wildfires and we will continue to do everything we can to help reduce those risks across our system,” Johnson said in the statement.

PG&E had previously reached a $1 billion settlement with cities, counties and other public entities and an $11 billion agreement with insurance carriers related to the wildfires.

It has come under renewed criticism this year for precautionary power outages to guard against the risk of wildfires posed by extremely dry and windy weather.

Governor Gavin Newsom, state regulators and consumer activists have lambasted the actions as being too broad, with Newsom blaming PG&E for doing too little to properly maintain and secure its power lines against wind damage.

Utility executives have acknowledged room for improvement while defending the sprawling cutoffs as a matter of public safety.

Reporting by Bhargav Acharya in Bengaluru; Editing by Edwina Gibbs

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Neptune Society shortchanged cremation customers, California says in suit

The state attorney general sued the Neptune Society on Monday, claiming the well-known company pocketed $100 million that it should have kept in reserve for those who signed up for its prepaid cremation service plans.

As a result, many of the company’s customers failed to get full refunds if they canceled their contracts, and thousands of other prepaid customers could also lose their money if they cancel, the lawsuit says.

The company also falsely claimed to use its own crematoriums when in fact it contracted with others and illegally accelerated payments when customers died, among other misleading business practices, the lawsuit says.

Beth Dombrowa, a spokeswoman for Neptune and its parent company, Texas-based Service Corp. International, said she could not immediately comment. The lawsuit also names a subsidiary, the Trident Society.

The company and its subsidiaries are North America’s largest provider of funeral, cremation and cemetery services.

California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra and three Bay Area prosecutors said that the Neptune Society broke state law by failing to hold in a fully refundable trust more than $100 million customers paid for the cremation plans.

The lawsuit does not say that anyone lacked the money when it came time to be cremated, only that it’s a possibility because Neptune doesn’t properly set aside the money it collects. But it says the company shortchanged customers who were entitled to full refunds if they canceled their contracts.

“Everyone dies,” begins the lawsuit, noting that in California nearly two-thirds of people choose to be cremated when the inevitable happens. Many choose to prepay for those services through companies such as Neptune.

The company is “swindling customers who were simply trying to look out for their families and prepare for one of life’s most difficult moments,” Becerra said in a statement.

The suit alleges that Neptune steered 99% of customers to its Standard Neptune Plan, which included both cremation services and related products, but then illegally kept about half the money because it was earmarked for the products.

The suit says Neptune thus deceived consumers who thought all their money was protected, as required by California law.

“Consumers should expect the money paid toward future funeral needs will be fully protected and available to pay for the necessary services when the need ultimately arises so family and loved ones are not further burdened,” Marin County Dist. Atty. Lori Frugoli said in a statement.

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Storm dumps snow on Northeast after California bomb cyclone

A winter storm that brought havoc to the Midwest over the Thanksgiving weekend was rolling through the Northeast on Monday, dumping more than a foot of snow in some areas seeing their first measurable snowfall of the season.

More than 50 million people remained under winter storm advisories or warnings a week after the historic storm first smashed onto the Pacific Coast as a “bomb cyclone.”

Up to a foot of snow was forecast from northeastern Pennsylvania to central Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire before ending late Monday, AccuWeather said. Some areas of the Catskills, Berkshires and the mountains in southern Vermont and New Hampshire could see up to 30 inches.

Boston, New York City and Philadelphia and their vast suburbs were all under a winter weather advisory, according to the National Weather Service.

“An accumulation of a coating to an inch or so is possible around Philadelphia,” said AccuWeather senior meteorologist Alex Sosnowski. “Up to a few inches may fall on the New York City area with several inches likely around Boston.”

SOURCE AccuWeather, as of Dec. 2

Much heavier snow is likely in the northern and western suburbs of New York City and Boston, he said. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said his city was prepared to clear snow and ice from streets.

“With the forecast predicting snow just in time to create a messy evening commute, I urge all New Yorkers to take extra precautions, stay off the streets and take public transportation whenever possible,” de Blasio said. “Everyone must do their part.”

Albany, New York, had picked up 14.5 inches of snow from the storm as of Monday morning, making it one of the top-10 biggest December snowstorms on record for the city.

Since Sunday, the storm has already dropped 20 inches of snow in East Glenville, New York, 15 miles northwest of Albany – the highest snow total in the Northeast so far.

Highway travel was hazardous: Midday Monday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said that state troopers “have already responded to more than 740 storm-related crashes statewide.”

The storm, dubbed Winter Storm Ezekiel by The Weather Channel, began its march across the nation last Tuesday when it slammed across southern Oregon and northwestern California with 100-mph wind gusts along the coast and multiple feet of snow in the mountains. 

Bomb cyclones hitting the West Coast are rare, drawing weather service warnings that the storm could rival some of the most intense storms on record for that part of the country. 

A snow plow clears the road surface on Route 7, Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019 in New Ashford, Mass. A powerful winter storm that’s been tormenting travelers across the U.S. since before Thanksgiving moved to the Northeast on Sunday, packing one last punch of snow and ice as people make their way home after the holiday weekend.

The storm then swept east over the next four days, driving heavy snow and strong winds to a vast portion of the Upper Midwest and the Plains. The storm began pummeling the Northeast as snow, freezing rain and sleet on Sunday. 

In Buffalo, a Delta Connection flight from New York slid off a taxiway Sunday morning, Delta Air Lines confirmed to USA TODAY. None of the 64 passengers aboard the Endeavor Air CRJ-900 were injured, the airline said.

The storm story was not over in the West, however, as a separate system began to pound the region. 

In the mountains northeast of Los Angeles, nearly 9,000 customers lost power Sunday due to heavy snowfall, Southern California Edison said. 

The front, driving heavy rains and high winds after rolling onto the California coast below San Francisco, could pound areas of the state for several days, the National Weather Service said. More than 1,000 flights were delayed or canceled into and out of San Francisco on Saturday and Sunday.

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‘Travel not advised’: California travelers pounded by a cold Thanksgiving-week storm

Regina Valenzuela left her home in Bell early Tuesday bound for Portland, Ore., where she was going to pick up her aunt for Thanksgiving. Or so she thought.

She had checked the weather reports for Northern California. Snow was in the forecast, but it was just rain farther north in Oregon. No big deal, she figured.

By the time she hit Shasta Lake on Interstate 5 about 2:30 p.m., ice was thickening. Cars were sliding. She bought tire chains and kept driving.

Valenzuela made it 42 more miles, about to the Shasta County town of Castella, when traffic suddenly stopped. Thus began a 17-hour holiday nightmare, in which she was trapped overnight in her Honda Accord on the snowy mountain with scores of other motorists.

“GPS said a 30-minute delay. Then the cars started piling up,” Valenzuela said.

The motorists stuck overnight on Interstate 5 between Redding and the Oregon border before the roadway was closed caught the brunt of a cold statewide storm system that unleashed heavy rain, blustery winds and low-elevation mountain snow, prompting road closures and snarling traffic just as Thanksgiving travelers were out en masse.

The cold front originating in the Gulf of Alaska arrived in portions of Northern California on Tuesday, causing headaches for motorists. In San Francisco, which has been essentially dry for eight months, the storm brought about an inch of rain and pea-sized hail. Flooding bedeviled freeways throughout the Bay Area.

By Wednesday morning, rain was falling along the Central Coast, dampening the Cave fire burning in Santa Barbara County and allowing firefighters to get a handle on the blaze.

In Los Angeles County, motorists had a rain-slicked morning commute. Snow fell along the 5 Freeway through the Grapevine. The Los Angeles River swelled, trapping a man in a thicket of trees near Atwater Village and forcing swift-water rescuers with the Los Angeles Fire Department to come to his aid.
More rain is expected on Thanksgiving Day as forecasters, law enforcement officials and road crews try to deliver a collective message: Stay home.

“Instead of telling you the whole spiel of when not to drive, we think it’s easier to give the advice of just staying home this weekend,” the National Weather Service in Reno tweeted. “It’ll be a mess out there and we want everyone to enjoy their holiday weekend.”

“TRAVEL NOT ADVISED in Shasta, Siskiyou, Trinity and Modoc Counties,” the California Department of Transportation tweeted. “There is nothing we can say at this point other than our Maintenance forces continue working non-stop as we speak.”

Valenzuela was still stuck in her car on Interstate 5 around 7 p.m. Tuesday. Another motorist flagged down a Caltrans worker who told them the road would be clear in 10 to 15 minutes. Hours later, no one had moved.

Vehicles somewhere north of Valenzuela had blocked the interstate. She turned her car on every half-hour, just enough to warm it, then turned it off. Her gas ran low. Then the snow started “a little blizzard,” she said.

Her windshield cracked.

She saw children crying and elderly people stranded. As the sun rose, she and other motorists hiked a mile though deep snow to a gas station, where she bought a gallon of water, dumped it and filled the container with gasoline.

A man in a Range Rover “took charge” to break open a path on the interstate as other drivers helped, followed by people with hand shovels, Valenzuela said. She escaped the jam 10 a.m. Wednesday, dismayed that authorities and road crews had not helped.

The extended closures of Interstate 5 north of Redding were caused by too many motorists not having chains on their tires, leading to spinouts that blocked both northbound lanes, said Denise Yergenson, a Caltrans spokeswoman.

As snow accumulates around the cars that are stuck, plows can’t get through, she said.

“This is the first time that I remember this type of situation where we had this many people who didn’t chain up and spun out,” Yergenson said. “That’s why it took so long to open.”

Typically, ahead of storms, authorities will either look for chains on cars or ask drivers if they have chains with them in their vehicle and assume they’re being honest, Yergenson said.

By Wednesday afternoon, Caltrans had opened up the northbound I-5 north of Redding for the first time in about 24 hours.

In Southern California on Wednesday, the McDonald’s parking lot just off the 5 Freeway in Gorman had families stopping to play in the snow.

Neel Viswanathan was driving with his wife and two children from San Jose to Carlsbad, where they were going to spend Thanksgiving at Legoland.

“The kids are excited for Legoland. They’re more excited to see the snow,” Viswanathan said.

As the thin dusting of snow melted, it was picked over by excited chilly revelers. But that was enough for Viswanathan’s 8-year-old daughter, Vatsika, to make tiny snowballs. He advised her to get snow from the hood of the car, where it had piled up.

Andrea Cota and her 10-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son stopped at the McDonald’s too during their drive from Whittier to her mother’s house in Kernville for Thanksgiving.

“It’s cold!” Cota said. “This is my kids’ first snowy holiday. They’re very excited.”

Just two years ago, L.A. sat down to a Thanksgiving feast just after the high temperature hit a crispy 92 degrees — an all-time daily record.

This year, some East Coasters who hoped for a sunny California Thanksgiving said they should have just stayed home.

“I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t pack a single coat in my suitcase. I thought I would be wearing flip-flops,” said Vy Powell, who traveled from Virginia to Orange County to spend the holiday with her aging parents in Anaheim.

Powell’s flight had cut into her Black Friday shopping budget, she said.

“Now that we’re stuck at home instead of lounging at the beach, I know I’m going to spend even more money eating.”

Her brother, Harry Bui, a college student visiting from Boston, said he was having buyer’s remorse over his pre-purchased tickets to Disneyland.

“The magic of the park is taking photos of Mickey and the cool cast in sunshine,” Bui said. “Have you ever seen a bunch of online images with rain sprinkled all over? I sure haven’t.

“This weather is crappy,” he added.

In the tiny Humboldt County town of Carlotta, Nicole Baird, who owns a restaurant just off Highway 36, was still cracking up over a blunt phone call she got Tuesday from a friend who works next door at the post office.

“Hey girl, just wanted to let you know the roof blew off,” the woman told her.

Sure enough, powerful winds had twisted a portion of the metal roof above the restaurant — which is called Tornado Dave’s.

“We went outside and saw that it had literally tacoed itself,” Baird said. “It’s nothing disastrous. It didn’t put anybody out of business. It’s just — what do you call it — ugly curb appeal.”

Powerful winds rocked northwestern California, with Crescent City in Del Norte County seeing gusts of 60 to 70 mph Tuesday, said Brad Charboneau, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Eureka.

A weather phenomenon known as a “bomb cyclone” — a low-pressure system that quickly strengthens — formed off the West Coast, bringing what is believed to be the lowest pressure ever recorded in California to Crescent City on Tuesday, Charboneau said. That low pressure drove the strong winds, he said.

Tuesday afternoon, officers in the California Highway Patrol’s new office in Crescent City heard a huge bang and rushed to the window. The metal roof of Ace Hardware next door was being peeled off. Part of it landed in their parking lot.

“It was really, really loud. Everyone pulled out their phones and started recording. It sounded like a big metal sheet being thrown in the wind,” said Officer Brandy Gonzalez.

As this storm system fades by Friday, a new winter storm is expected to start hitting Northern and Central California on Saturday and persist through Tuesday, while people are returning home from the holidays.

It could then hit Southern California by next Wednesday and Thursday, forecasters said.

That storm system is expected to be fueled by an atmospheric river of subtropical moisture coming from the west.

“It’s kind of like a fire hose, which is hard to control. Right now, we’re confident that there’s going to be a rain, and a lot of it, on Saturday afternoon through Sunday,” said Carolina Walbrun, a meteorologist with the weather service’s Monterey office. “Where the heaviest precipitation is going to be is still uncertain.”

St. John reported from Secret Town, Fry and Branson-Potts from Los Angeles, and Do from Orange County. Times staff writers Rong-Gong Lin II and Sarah Parvini and photographer Al Seib contributed to this report.

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