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In California: The battle to save a historic observatory from flames, and meet Mr. Kamala Harris

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Greetings from Palm Springs. I’m Robert Hopwood, online producer for The Desert Sun, bringing you a daily roundup of the top news from across California.

In California brings you top Golden State stories and commentary from across the USA TODAY Network and beyond. Get it free, straight to your inbox.

Fight for Mt. Wilson continues; bark beetles add fuel to fires

The fight to protect Southern California’s Mt. Wilson Observatory and nearby broadcast towers, valued at more than $1 billion, continues. The observatory is threatened by the Bobcat Fire, which started Sept. 6 in the Angeles National Forest near Azusa.

Back fires set throughout the day Tuesday near the observatory were effective in decreasing the intensity and spread of the flames, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

“While there is still much work to be done in the southwest and in the northern sections of the fire, your firefighters did incredible work around Mount Wilson today,” the forest service tweeted about 9 p.m. Tuesday.

The fire, which has burned 44,393 acres and is 3% contained, meanwhile expanded to the northeast overnight, according to the L.A. Times. It also jumped Highway 2, which resulted in more evacuation orders for nearby residents.

The Creek Fire, meanwhile, burning just south of Yosemite National Park, exploded into a megablaze due to a dangerous combination of drought and the state’s obsession with suppressing wildfires.  

“This is a situation many of us have been dreading over the past five years,” Chris Dicus, a professor of wildland fire and fuels management at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, told The Desert Sun. “All it would take is a single spark to ignite these trees, and that’s what we saw happen.” 

And then there is the bark beetle. Although native to the region, the beetle wreaks havoc during droughts. According to firefighting officials, between 80% and 90% of the Creek Fire’s fuel came from beetle-killed timber. 

Other fire news

Could Disneyland reopen soon?

Under pressure from the amusement industry and tourism-dependent cities, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday vowed action “very, very shortly” that could reopen Disneyland and other shuttered theme parks.

“We will be making announcements soon as it relates to theme parks and amusement parks,” he said at a briefing on the coronavirus and the state’s wildfires. “I am not here today to make that presentation, but want folks to know we are actively working in a number of sectors.” 

Newsom recently unveiled a new framework that moves counties through four color-coded stages of reopening based on their recent per-capita case counts and recent positivity rate, which is a measure of how many coronavirus tests are coming back positive. 

To unpack the new system and find out where California is in an ever-evolving public health crisis, The Desert Sun spoke with Andrew Noymer, an associate professor of public health at UC Irvine, who has been tracking the pandemic and the government’s response.

“I like the idea of the color-coded system in terms of you’ve got four tiers, probably the first three of which are the most important,” Noymer says. “I think people can understand that you’re in a crisis zone (purple), or you’re in the red zone which is still serious, or you’re simmering which is orange, or you’re moving in the right direction which is yellow.”

In the Q&A, Noymer discusses COVID-19 metrics, testing incentives, what we should expect from the upcoming flu season and school reopening.

Ventura County, meanwhile, has updated its Halloween guidance. Instead of not allowed, trick-or-treating and trunk-or-treating – a car-to-car alternative – are now listed as “not recommended.” The county’s changing guidelines could still be adjusted before the holiday.

Nation’s possible first ‘Second Gentleman’ enters spotlight

Douglas Emhoff, Sen. Kamala Harris’ husband, could become the nation’s “first Second Gentleman.” The 55-year-old entertainment lawyer also could become the first Jewish American in that role.

Emhoff, who is more used to dealing with musicians and movie studios than presidential nominees, describes what happened when his wife agreed to become Vice President Joseph Biden’s running mate, comparing to a scene from the movie “Men in Black.”

Campaign aides barged into their apartment with binders and equipment, he said.

“And I’m like, ‘Wait! Don’t we have like a week to kind of ease into this?’” Emhoff recalled during a recent campaign event. “Nope. And it was just, ‘Get to work.'”

The day after Harris delivered her acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, Emhoff made his first full public remarks to an LGBTQ Caucus virtual meeting at the convention. Soon after, he was headlining a fundraiser, and those have continued at a steady pace.

People keep asking Emhoff what his priorities will be if becomes the first male spouse of the nation’s first female vice president.

“Everyone’s got an opinion on this, which is nice to hear,” Emhoff said during a recent fundraiser. “Which means people are actually excited about the prospect of someone like me in this role – and I get that.”

More Golden State news

  • A 10,000-seat sports and entertainment arena initially slated for downtown Palm Springs is moving to 43 acres of vacant land just north of Palm Desert. The new arena, which will be home to an American Hockey League expansion team, is expected to fuel tourism, housing development and enrollment at the CSU San Bernardino and UC Riverside campuses situated nearby.  
  • Lawmakers in San Diego want Gov. Gavin Newsom to sign AB 331, which passed the legislature and has been sitting on his desk for two weeks, the San Diego Union Tribune reports. The law would require ethnic studies for high school students.

In California is a roundup of news from across USA Today network newsrooms. Also contributing: Los Angeles Times and the San Diego Union Tribune.

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