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Love Letters to California – The New York Times

The state might be drought-stricken, fire-ridden and wildly expensive, but our readers love it all the same.

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It’s been a long week, so this morning I’m offering a little serotonin boost to carry us into the weekend.

Last month, in honor of Valentine’s Day, I asked you to submit love letters to your corner of California. You emailed me dozens of charming tributes to Santa Cruz, Aliso Viejo, Glendale, Sausalito and more.

I was able to publish only a handful, but today I’m back with another round. Your odes are heartfelt and goofy and, frankly, they prove that love really can be blind. Enjoy.

“When I moved to Long Beach from Philadelphia more than a decade ago, I thought SoCal would never feel like home. I missed the sense of history and the distinct seasons that characterize Philly. Stuck in traffic on the 405, I even missed SEPTA. Over the years, however, I have come to appreciate much about Long Beach — especially the birds. Most mornings, my son and I wake up to a cacophony of wild parrots that frequent the tall palm trees near our house. Spotting the pair of peacocks that wander around our neighborhood is a favorite pastime. And I find true joy in watching the hummingbirds hover outside our dining room windows while I work from home these days.” — Gwen Shaffer, Long Beach

“‘Why do you stay there?’

Because I was born here 10 days after Loma Prieta.

My dad poured detergent soap in the fountain by the city limits as a kid.
My mother’s mother sighed with delight when she first visited — San Francisco was the closest city in America to her hometown.

Here, my great-grandfather sold suits in ways that were maybe a little sketchy.
Here, I ran into my dad on BART and we did the N.Y.T. crossword together.
Here, I stood and fought eviction and its violence.

And here, I see the ghosts of so much of my family gone, but their presence remains.
Here is home.

Where a mutt and a refugee’s daughter who identifies as nothing else identifies as San Francisco’s own.” — Sarah Hartman, San Francisco

“I LOVE the seasons in San Diego. Yes, the seasons. Being a native, I grew up hearing the transplant residents commiserating, ‘There are no seasons here!’ as they stood in their driveways, happily donning sunglasses and short sleeves.

They’re missing it, I’d think. The changing shadows, the subtle and beautiful shifts in the Chinese oak trees, the brilliant and changing hues in the morning and evening skies, the homey smell of wet neighborhood streets, the ebb and flow of the scents of desert herbs … and so much more.” — Sylvia Padilla Sullivan, San Diego

“When I moved from Ohio to Sacramento in 1976, California was suffering from a serious drought that I was not aware of at first. I marveled at day after day of sunshine and blue sky … even into winter! I thought I had moved to Camelot! And now, after all these years and more drought and forest fires, I still think of California as my Camelot.” — Mary Kay Goodley, Sacramento

“I’m a Bay Area girl through and through and every part of my life has been indelibly shaped by the long-term love and commitment this Golden State and I have shared. My youngest daughter and I were both born at El Camino Hospital in Mountain View. My closest friends are the very same friends from Kennedy Jr. High, Monta Vista High (go Matadors!), and my college days at U.C. Berkeley. I met the love of my life here (he went to Stanford and the rivalry is real), got married in an epic Indian wedding for the ages here, and our two girls were born here. My parents live here, my bestest friends live here, and my work for over two decades in the nonprofit/education sector has taken place here. Literally and figuratively, California and my heart are inextricably entwined.

And here’s what I know to be true — when you can go for walks outside every day, when you can cheer on the incredible sports teams that we are proud to call our own, when during a pandemic you can easily see your loved ones outside and go for hikes amid stunning landscapes and eat delicious meals at incredible restaurants outside on a winter’s night … if there is a heaven on earth, it is the Bay Area, and I’m so thankful to have known and to be loved by it.” — Aditi Goel, Los Altos

For more:
In the mood for romance? Read the latest from Modern Love.

Does the songwriter of “I Love L.A.” actually love L.A.?

What songs best capture the spirit of the Golden State?

Once full of hope, Oakland cannabis sellers face a harsh reality.

Ride share fuel costs: A rise in gas prices has made it difficult for many Uber and Lyft drivers to justify the work. One San Francisco-area driver said he was barely breaking even.

Plea to Putin: Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger recorded a video directed at Russian citizens telling their president, Vladimir Putin, to end the war on Ukraine. Schwarzenegger is among just 22 accounts Putin follows on Twitter.

Drought check: Drought conditions are predicted to continue across more than half of the continental United States through at least June, with most of California returning to “severe” or “extreme” drought status.

Transgender youth refuge: State lawmakers plan to introduce legislation that could make California a legal refuge for displaced transgender children, The Associated Press reports.
Abortion legislation: California lawmakers on Thursday voted to make abortions much cheaper for people on private health insurance plans, The Associated Press reports.

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

Police video released: A video from two years ago depicts police officers kneeling on the back of a man who was pronounced dead hours later. The man, Edward Bronstein, yelled, “I can’t breathe,” in the footage.

Mask mandate poll: More than half of Los Angeles Unified teachers want to continue the district’s indoor mask mandate, The Los Angeles Times reports.

Basketball: The N.B.A. may soon get its first Orthodox Jewish player, and he’s from Los Angeles, The LAist reports.

Middle school crash: Eight adults were injured when a car smashed into a Perris middle school on Wednesday, The Associated Press reports.

U.C.L.A. housing: Two new apartment buildings will make Los Angeles the first U.C. campus to offer four-year housing, The Los Angeles Times reports.

CENTRAL CALIFORNIA

Abortion politics: Reuters takes us inside the struggle to open an abortion clinic in Visalia — and what it says about America’s complicated and emotional politics of abortion.

NORTHERN CALIFORNIA

New reservoir: A plan to build a giant reservoir in Colusa County got a huge boost when the federal government signaled its intent to loan the project nearly $2.2 billion, The Associated Press reports.

San Francisco recall: A new poll finds that 68 percent of voters support recalling District Attorney Chesa Boudin of San Francisco, SFGate reports.

Ukraine: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine hits close to home for the people of San Francisco’s Little Russia, The San Francisco Examiner reports.

Bear theft: A man who took two bear cubs from their den in Shasta County pleaded guilty to possession of a prohibited species, The Associated Press reports.

Court appointee: The Senate on Thursday confirmed Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley as a federal judge in San Francisco, The San Francisco Chronicle reports.
Spicy green garlic chicken soup.

Today’s tip comes from Luz Consuelo Triana-Echeverría, who lives in Minnesota.
“My favorite place to visit in California is Palm Springs during February or March, when it’s still very cold in Minnesota. My boyfriend used to go every year but now that he passed, I still go by myself. We made it a tradition to stay at a hotel with a nice pool where not surprisingly, we meet many Canadians and Minnesotans trying to beat the cold.

One nice trip is to take the Aerial Tramway, where you can appreciate the Chino Canyon as you arrive to the San Jacinto Peak and have lunch at the nice restaurant on top of the mountain. Another day, I drive through Chino, where I always stop at a fig plantation and buy figs for the rest of the year.

On another day, I cannot help but drive through Joshua Tree National Park, where if I’m lucky to be there during the perfect week, my sight is embellished by the presence of wildflowers everywhere. But the most amazing place in Palm Springs is the oasis of California Palms on the San Andreas fault lines. When I’m driving through the desert, it’s mesmerizing to see a green area far away. As I get closer, that greenery starts becoming a reality, but once I’m right there, the incredible width and length of the palms are just jaw dropping. Because who would expect to find dense and luxuriant palm trees in the middle of the desert?”

Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to CAtoday@nytimes.com. We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.
A new book about the many constellations of communities in the Southern California desert.
After a major fire swept through Sequoia National Park’s Giant Forest six months ago, the famous grove has been either closed or open to visitors on a limited basis.

But park officials recently announced that the Giant Forest — home to five of the largest sequoias on the planet — is once again open seven days a week, The San Francisco Chronicle reports.

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Do you think rideshare and delivery drivers need better protections?

Rideshare and delivery drivers in Massachusetts are on strike today to protest low wages amid nationwide inflation. Drivers for companies like Uber, Lyft, and Grubhub gathered today at the State House to put pressure on lawmakers to make these corporations provide higher wages and union rights.

“Uber is making record profits by underpaying us. It’s exhausting, especially as we struggle to provide for our families,” said Uber driver and Massachusetts Independent Drivers Guild member Ehab Hilali in a statement. “I sometimes work 60 hours a week just to pay my car insurance, gas, and other work expenses. That’s why we’re calling on our politicians to fix this now. We need the right to form a union so we can finally hold Uber accountable and negotiate higher pay for drivers.”

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Because drivers for these apps are considered independent contractors, many don’t make enough to keep up with the rising cost of living, and benefits are not guaranteed. In 2021, Boston Uber drivers earned a median of about $26.50 an hour, according to Uber.

The company takes 25% in fees for every trip they complete, but some drivers told MassLive that they’ve recently seen service fees of up to 50%. Some are discouraged from continuing the job, which has led to complaints from riders in the past.

During the height of the COVID-19 lockdowns when fewer rideshare drivers were available, Boston.com readers expressed frustration at the long wait times and delayed service.

“Lame public transport, labor laws scaring gig workers…common man suffers,” one reader said.

We want to hear from rideshare and delivery app drivers in Massachusetts about your recent experiences. Do you want to see higher wages and union protections? Are you struggling to make ends meet as everyday prices rise?

Share your thoughts with Boston.com by filling out the survey below or e-mailing us at community@boston.com and we may feature your response in a future article or on our social media channels.

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At Berkeley Law, a debate over Zionism, free speech and campus ideals

On the first day of the fall semester, Erwin Chemerinsky, the dean of the law school at the University of California, Berkeley, learned that a student group created a bylaw that banned supporters of Zionism from speaking at its events.

Chemerinsky said he rarely used profanity but did so in that moment. As a constitutional law scholar and co-author of a book about campus free speech, Chemerinsky said that he knew the group, the Berkeley chapter of Law Students for Justice in Palestine, had the legal right to exclude speakers based on their views.

But he also knew the bylaw, which eight other student groups also adopted, would be polarizing within the law school and used as a cudgel by forces outside of it.

Santos was registered to vote at a modest townhouse in Queens that he does not own, but he moved away before the election. His former landlord, Nancy Pothos, 72, said Santos had been a tenant for two years before moving at the end of August.

Santos’ campaign spokesperson and his lawyer didn’t respond to a list of questions about his company, possible discrepancies in his biography or the criminal case in Brazil.

The controversy, pushed along online by conservative commentators, hits two of the pressure points in campus politics today. The bylaw was adopted as antisemitism is rising across the country. And some critics of academia have cast left-wing students as censors who shout down other viewpoints, all but strangling, they say, honest intellectual debate.

That collision of issues all but guaranteed a tense debate over free speech, even if a broad swath of speech experts say that student groups are allowed to ban speakers whose views they disagree with.

“A student group has the right to choose the speakers they invite on the basis of viewpoint,” said Chemerinsky, who is Jewish and a Zionist. “Jewish law students don’t have to invite a Holocaust denier. Black students don’t have to invite white supremacists. If the women’s law association is putting out a program on abortion rights, they can invite only those who believe in abortion rights.”

Chemerinsky said that excluding speakers based on race, religion, sex or sexual orientation would not be allowed, but he noted that the student groups were excluding speakers based on viewpoint. True, he said, many Jews view Zionism as integral to their identity, but such deep passions do not change the law.

Other legal experts noted that the controversy showed just how mangled the understanding of the First Amendment had become, even at a place like Berkeley, the epicenter of the 1960s free-speech movement. The debate, they said, should focus on whether these bans align with the academic ideal of open, intellectual debate. Even if student groups can prohibit speakers, should they? And should such bans be codified — formally adopted with a bylaw?

“There’s a real confusion about freedom of speech as a cultural value and freedom of speech as a legal concept,” said Will Creeley, the legal director of Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, a free-speech advocacy group.

The issues are not limited to the Justice in Palestine group. Campus groups often invite only those they agree with. Hillel, the Jewish student group with hundreds of chapters on college campuses, also has rules prohibiting speakers who “delegitimize” Israel.

In August, Law Students for Justice in Palestine announced that it, along with the eight other groups, had adopted a provision that it would “not invite speakers that have expressed and continued to hold views or host/sponsor/promote events in support of Zionism, the apartheid state of Israel and the occupation of Palestine.”

The student group said the ban was meant to promote the welfare of Palestinian students and was part of a broader provision aligned with the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel.

Some Jewish students expressed concern and tensions flared within the law school. Noah Cohen, a law student at Berkeley, said the bylaw was an example of how antisemitic rhetoric was being normalized in the United States. Cohen, who described himself as a Jewish supporter of Palestinian rights and statehood, said the bylaw made him and many other Jewish students feel “singled out and targeted.”

In public statements, Law Students for Justice in Palestine rejected the accusation that its bylaw was antisemitic. It says that being Jewish is an identity, while Zionism — the support for a Jewish state — is a political viewpoint. It welcomes and supports Jewish speakers who are not Zionists, the group said.

“Supporting Palestinian liberation does not mean opposition to Jewish people or the Jewish religion,” the group said in a statement to the Berkeley law community. Members of the group did not respond to messages seeking an interview.

After learning about the bylaw, Chemerinsky met with the university’s Hillel rabbi and spoke with several Jewish students, but, aside from concerns within the law school, the reaction was relatively muted, he said.

That changed, he said, after Kenneth L. Marcus, the civil rights chief of the U.S. Education Department during the Trump administration, wrote about the bylaw in September in The Jewish Journal under the explosive headline “Berkeley Develops Jewish Free Zones.”

Marcus wrote that the bylaw was “frightening and unexpected, like a bang on the door in the night,” and said that free speech does not protect discriminatory conduct.

The article went viral.

Chemerinsky said he learned about Marcus’ article, which he described as “inflammatory and distorted,” while he was in Los Angeles for a conference. Chemerinsky said he typed out a response to the article, which was appended to it, and then didn’t think much of it. That afternoon, he was deluged by emails. At an alumni event that night, the law school’s perceived hostility to Jews was “all anyone wanted to talk about.”

In an interview, Marcus, a Berkeley law school alumnus, said he was contacted by law students there who were concerned about the bylaw. He said he spent weeks trying to support them and wrote his article after Berkeley did not “rectify the problem.”

Not allowing Zionist speakers, he said, was a proxy for prohibiting Jews. The provisions, he said, are “aimed at the Jewish community and those who support the Jewish community,” even while acknowledging that the policy could allow Jewish speakers and bar those who are not Jewish.

The article stoked outrage. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and singer Barbra Streisand both tweeted about it. “When does anti-Zionism bleed into broad anti-Semitism?” Streisand wrote.

Politicians called for action. Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., said in a statement that funding to the groups should be conditional on revoking the provision. Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., said that the Education Department should investigate “whether and how federal taxpayer dollars are used to discriminate against Jewish and pro-Israel students” at the university.

In many ways, Chemerinsky was well suited to navigate the issues. In 1999, he helped found the Progressive Jewish Alliance, a social justice group based in Los Angeles. He is also co-chair of the National Center for Free Speech and Civic Engagement at the University of California and a co-author of a book on campus speech.

But the past semester has been a challenge. Many students have been doxxed and harassed for their connection to the bylaw, Chemerinsky said. In the weeks after Marcus’ article, he added, a right-wing group that describes itself as a media watchdog drove trucks near campus comparing the students who adopted the bylaw to Hitler, and included the names of the students who were in the organizations that adopted the bylaw, even if they voted against it.

As the semester ended Friday, Chemerinsky was still dealing with the fallout.

The Office for Civil Rights at the Education Department said Dec. 13 that it would open an investigation into whether Berkeley responded appropriately, according to Arsen Ostrovsky, one of two lawyers who filed a complaint on behalf of the International Legal Forum, a group based in Tel Aviv, Israel.

Opening an investigation does not imply that the office has determined that the case has merit, according to a letter sent to Ostrovsky by the Office for Civil Rights.

Chemerinsky said the complaint, which calls on Berkeley to “immediately invalidate” the bylaw, includes the same flawed assumptions from previous attacks. He said he was confident that Berkeley was on “strong legal ground.”

“Every dean or school administrator always worries about being accused of discrimination,” he said. “I never imagined I would be accused of discrimination against Jews.”

 

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Hochul urged bolster health care for retired public workers

A bill meant to strengthen health care services for retired public workers once they enroll in the Medicare program is sitting on Gov. Kathy Hochul’s desk for her consideration.

An organization that represents a half million retired state and local government workers in New York is urging her to sign it.

The measure is meant to ensure retired people in New York who worked for municipal governments or the state do not lose Skilled Nursing Facility care once they enroll in the Medicare program upon turning age 65.

Medicare-eligible retirees under the program are allowed 20 days of coverage with a three-day prior hospital requirement. But for retirees who are enrolled in the Empire Plan, they can access up to 120 days of coverage with no prior hospitalization requirement.

The Retired Public Employees Association calls this an imbalance in health care coverage for people who need it the most as they age. The bill sitting on Hochul’s desk since Monday is meant to address it.

“Public employees work their entire careers under the promise and expectation that when they retire, their existing benefits will not diminish. It’s time for New York to uphold that promise and end inequities in skilled nursing care,” said Edward Farrell, the group’s executive director. “With the stroke of a pen, Gov. Kathy Hochul can end age discrimination by providing 225,000 Medicare-primary retirees in the NYS Health Insurance Program Empire Plan the same access to skilled nursing care that is available to Empire Plan enrollees who are still working.”
Prior attempts to make changes to the program have fallen short in recent years.

 

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