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7 min readJan 18, 2022


Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Monday, Dec. 27. I’m Justin Ray.

By now, you have heard that the Los Angeles Police Department killed a 14-year-old girl at a Burlington clothing store in North Hollywood last week, only a few days before Christmas.

The victim has been identified as Valentina Orellana-Peralta. The teenager was in a fitting room with her mother trying on dresses for a quinceañera, an LAPD source confirmed.

Officers were responding to a report of an assault with a deadly weapon at the store. When they arrived, authorities encountered a man they said was assaulting someone, and they opened fire, according to the LAPD. It was not immediately clear what prompted the officers to shoot.

The man was taken into custody and died at the scene, a spokesperson for the department said. When officers fired their weapons, their gunfire penetrated a wall, which killed the girl in the dressing room. Authorities said that they found a metal cable next to the suspect whom officers were confronting, but that no gun was recovered.

The case has caused an uproar, with many citing the shooting as the latest example of officers being too quick to draw and fire their weapons.

How often are officers fatally shooting people? Here are some numbers, and how they compare to previous years.

LAPD Chief Michel Moore promised to release body-camera and surveillance video from the North Hollywood incident by Monday.

More stories about the shooting:

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

Note: Some of the sites we link to may limit the number of stories you can access without subscribing.

Joan Didion died Thursday morning at 87. The celebrated prose stylist, novelist and screenwriter chronicled American culture and consciousness with cool detachment and humor. The Times remembered the literary giant in a series of stories about her legacy.

Joan Didion, masterful essayist, novelist and screenwriter, dies at 87. The author bridged the worlds of Hollywood, journalism and literature in a career that arced most brilliantly in the realms of social criticism and memoir. Here, The Times explains all the contours of her career.

How Joan Didion’s Sacramento childhood shaped her life, and her take on California. “She had a complicated relationship with Sacramento. She also had a real love for it,” said Rob Turner, co-editor of Sactown magazine, who interviewed Didion in 2011. “It perhaps was constraining while she was here, she had her eyes set on bigger things.”

Photos: Joan Didion, masterful essayist, novelist and screenwriter. The Times shows many moments of her life, including bonding with her daughter, a visit to Alcatraz prison, and receiving a National Humanities Medal from President Obama.

Remembering Joan Didion: A look back at her writing, interviews and more: Here’s a collection of past coverage from The Times, including book reviews, interviews and more on the late writer.

Joan Didion at her home on Sept. 28, 2005.

(Jennifer S. Altman / For The Times)

Will this pandemic ever end? Here’s what happened with the last ones. This is not humanity’s first time staring down a seemingly unstoppable disease like COVID-19. Pandemics, epidemics and outbreaks have plagued us throughout history. Just in the past century, we’ve survived a few. How did those end? And how might we get ourselves out of this one? Jessica Roy breaks it down. Los Angeles Times


Why do street upgrades take so long in LA? A lot depends on who represents your neighborhood. LAist sought out to figure out why certain neighborhoods have to wait longer for left-turn arrows — which the Los Angeles Department of Transportation says leads to a significant reduction in conflicts among people driving and walking — to get installed. The outlet found that at the core of the issue is “how projects are funded — or not — and which projects City Council members prioritize. Those two factors are often linked,” Ryan Fonseca writes. “I don’t feel like the department charged with ensuring traffic safety, LADOT, feels like they can do projects without the blessing or, frankly, urgency of the council offices that represent those areas,” said Madeline Brozen, deputy director of the UCLA Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies. LAist

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Some California races to watch in 2022 that will say something about national politics. There are elections taking place next year that will speak to the national political landscape. For instance, the June 7 vote on whether to recall San Francisco’s embattled district attorney Chesa Boudin echoes larger conversations about criminal justice. Californians are also very likely to vote on whether to legalize sports betting in 2022. Additionally, Orange County “will be ground zero for battleground House races this year.” SF Chronicle


2021 is Oakland’s deadliest year since 2006. Homicides have been on the rise in many major U.S. cities since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Oakland is among the hardest hit. Police have investigated 133 killings, marking the city’s deadliest year since 2006. “The youngest victim this year was Alia Musleh, who died just before her second birthday along with her father, 37-year-old Esam Musleh, in an arson fire at their East Oakland home,” Oaklandside reports. Oaklandside

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California hospitals are not ready for an Omicron winter. “The healthcare system underwent a stress test with COVID last winter, and we failed,” says Dr. Jeanne Noble, director of COVID response for the emergency department at the UC San Francisco Medical Center. However, despite the throttling of California’s medical system, little has changed. “In interviews with doctors, nurses, hospital administrators and advocacy groups, a clear picture emerges: Hospitals trying to turn a profit will find a way to keep most of their beds occupied most of the time, and they’ll use the lowest staffing levels possible,” Mark Kreidler writes. Capital and Main

A jump in child COVID-19 hospitalizations in New York is being seen as a warning to get more children vaccinated in California and elsewhere as the Omicron variant continues to surge. The Omicron wave hit New York before California, where cases have been spiking in the last week. California officials said they are monitoring the rise in child hospitalizations. While unvaccinated people are at highest risk of contracting the virus and suffering severe illness, the Omicron variant’s mutations enable it to increase the risk of breakthrough infections among those who are vaccinated. Los Angeles Times

A 31-year-old man was pronounced dead Friday morning from a shark attack off the coast of Morro Bay in what is believed to be San Luis Obispo County’s first such fatality in 18 years. County officials are contacting family members before releasing the man’s identity, said Eric Endersby, Morro Bay harbor patrol director. Los Angeles Times

A 31-year-old man was killed by a shark Friday morning near Morro Rock, shown in 2016.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)


Satu, a 26-year-old male orangutan, died after collapsing, the San Diego Zoo said. The zoo, which announced the orangutan’s death Thursday on Facebook, said in an emailed statement that the ape had been under veterinary care for a serious illness, with initial findings suggestive of cancer. The zoo said he recovered well from a recent medical exam but later collapsed and efforts to resuscitate him were unsuccessful. “Satu was known to be patient, curious, engaging and sensitive. He will be greatly missed by the wildlife care specialists, medical team, volunteers, and guests alike,” the zoo said. San Diego Union-Tribune

An investigative series on psychedelics. I have been listening to a compelling podcast series by New York magazine that is worth a listen. It tells two stories: how microdosing and psychedelic therapy work, and how they can be abused. One of the early stories told in the podcast involves a California woman who pursues a career as a guide (i.e. someone who helps monitor people as they go on a trip). She discovers through training that veteran guides have participated in or turned a blind eye toward sexual assault. NYMag

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Los Angeles: Rainy 52 San Diego: Rainy 57 San Francisco: Rainy 48 San Jose: Rainy, 47 Fresno: Rainy, 45 Sacramento: Rainy 47 Would you try this?

Timothée Chalamet was born Dec. 27, 1995. He had many hilarious and entertaining moments with his “Dune” costar Zendaya throughout the promotion of the film.

Denzel Washington was born Dec. 28, 1954. This year, we talked to the “Little Things” star about releasing a film during the pandemic.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments to essentialcalifornia@latimes.com.

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