TIME Environment

California Catastrophes: Why is the Golden State Always a Mess?

First it's droughts, then wildfires, then mudslides. But despite how it seems, the coast isn't really cursed

California is burning. In several places. Of course, this is news, especially since lives and property are at risk—but in a sense, it isn’t news at all. California burns every year at around this time. California is also sliding downhill. That isn’t really a headline either, since mudslides are annual events too, as a result of torrential rains in the non-burning part of the state. So far this year the slides have caused one death.

California’s Central Valley, meanwhile, is dangerously parched, as a drought that’s already lasted three years shows no signs of letting up. The only hope for desperate farmers is that a long-awaited El Niño weather pattern kicks in later in the year, bringing heavy rains (at which point, see above under “mudslides”). And then there’s the next major earthquake, which is sure to come sooner or later—probably sooner given California’s luck.

In fact, it almost seems as though the state is a disaster magnet. That, however, is something of an illusion. Much of the American West is more or less starved for rainfall, with the exception of the immediate Pacific Coast. It’s hardly a surprise that the region as a whole suffers from periodic droughts; all it takes is a ridge of heat and high pressure to park itself off the Pacific coast and most rainfall will veer northward into Canada before dipping bock down into the inland U.S. The dried-out forests and grasslands that result are then ready fuel for fires caused by lightning or human carelessness. When rains do start, steep hillsides that have been logged or burned or overdeveloped are prone to mudslides.

These are by no means problems unique to California. But the state is so huge, and the population so large, that natural disasters there simply affect more people than they do elsewhere in the U.S. Still, for those of us watching from the other side of the continent, it sometimes seems like you’d have to be a little bit crazy to live in California. But then you consider Mt. Whitney or Yosemite Valley or the Coast Range or the redwood forests—never mind the southern California warmth and the Pacific Ocean as your swimming pool.

So maybe it’s not entirely crazy to live in California. What is entirely crazy is the need to push the envelope—to build houses on hillsides and in forests which may be the most gorgeous locations in the nation’s most gorgeous state, but which are often the most dangerous in terms of natural hazards. If you lived on an airport runway and got hit by a plane, it would be a tragedy—but an entirely predictable and preventable one.

We’re not immune to this sort of craziness out East: we keep putting houses on beaches, for example, when we know perfectly well that they could wash away with the next storm. Once you get away from the shore, though, you’re relatively safe. On this last point, the East may have the edge: Move inland in California, and you could end up next to an active volcano.

MONEY Millennials

The 15 Most Expensive Cities for Millennials

Skateboarder on the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California
And the "winner" is...the City by the Bay. Jordan Siemens—Getty Images

Finding an affordable place to live is hard, especially when you're just starting out. Here are 15 cities where you'll be pinching pennies.

In June, I moved out of my college dorm room into what I thought was a reasonably priced apartment. I need two roommates to afford the monthly rent, and my room lacks space for anything more than a bed and tiny desk. But I figured those were luxuries my peers in other big cities gave up in their first apartment, too, right?

Wrong.

A new report from RealtyTrac ranks New York, my home town, as the one of the least affordable areas for millennials in the entire country. The study ranked counties with at least 100,000 people by the percentage of median income one needs to spend in order to make a median housing payment or pay an average rent bill on a three-bedroom property. In order to focus on young people, RealtyTrac only included areas where millennials make up at least 24% of the population, and where the percentage of young people has increased over the past six years.

When it comes to least affordable counties to buy a house, four of NYC’s five boroughs take up almost a third of the list, with Manhattan (New York County), Brooklyn (Kings Country), the Bronx (Bronx County), and Queens (Queens Country), each “earning” a spot.

The West Coast isn’t off the hook, either. Beating out Manhattan for the dubious honor of most expensive city for young people is San Francisco. Buying a median-priced three-bedroom house—$950,000 as of this April— in the City by the Bay will cost median income earners more than 78% of their wages.

In terms of renting, the picture changes—but only slightly. Bronx county is the least affordable of the nation’s millennial-heavy areas, not because three-bedroom rent—averaged at about $1,850 a month—is particularly expensive, but because median incomes are relatively low. In 2014, the median Bronx household is estimated to make only $32,891.

For residents of San Francisco, renting is actually relatively more affordable than buying. Leasing an apartment will take about 40% of a median earner’s income, almost half of what the usual housing payment would take away.

OK, we all knew New York and San Francisco were going to be expensive (just maybe not this expensive), but there are some surprising names on the list, too. Our nation’s capital takes up two spots on the most unaffordable homes list, and snowy Denver, Colorado, comes in before Portlandia‘s notoriously expensive namesake.

(No word on whether Denver has restaurants that inform you how many friends your chicken dinner had growing up.)

Renters will also notice that some cities they thought were cheap are a lot less affordable than expected. Baltimore, home of The Wire, is the the second least affordable city, behind the Bronx. Philadelphia comes in third, but the good news is that millennials have been surging into the city recently. From 2007 to 2013, Philly’s young-person population has increased by a fourth. At least you’ll have people your age to complain to about the rent.

What’s also notable are the cities not on this list. Hubs like Boston, San Antonio, Chicago, Houston, and San Jose are nowhere to be found. That doesn’t mean they’re cheap, but their prices might be more manageable than most people realize.

Check out the full list below for even more information.

More: The 5 Cities That Have Recovered Most—and Least—From the Recession

 

TIME foreign affairs

The Upside of Putin’s Warmongering

RUSSIA-UKRAINE-CRISIS-SANCTIONS
Russia's President Vladimir Putin stands in front of the 6 meters long Tsar Pushka (Tsar Cannon), one of the Russian landmarks displayed in the Kremlin in Moscow, on July 31, 2014. MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV—AFP/Getty Images

Putin’s madness has created a new Sputnik moment that should spur California into investing in science and math education

Here are two words Californians should say to Vladimir Putin: thank you.

California, with its historic reliance on defense-related industries, never quite recovered from the end of the Cold War. Today, Los Angeles has fewer jobs than it did in 1990. Fortunately, Putin seems intent on giving us a new Cold War.

Let’s stipulate that Putin’s crushing of dissent at home, his seizing of the Crimea, his wars against Ukraine and Georgia, and his bullying of European neighbors are bad for the peace and security of the world. But all this Russian madness—not to mention the threatening, nationalistic expansionism of Putin’s Chinese ally President Xi Jinping—presents an opportunity for California.

The belligerence of Russia and China could boost a host of California industries. Aerospace could benefit from increasing insecurity among Russian and Chinese neighbors, since more countries will be inclined to increase their spending on defense, and to curry favor with Uncle Sam by buying American. California’s space industry could become much more important as the United States moves from collaborating with the Russians in space to competing against them—and against a growing Chinese space program. And Silicon Valley’s data security firms are already booming in part because of widespread concerns about Russian and Chinese hackers, not to mention the intrusive behavior of U.S. intelligence agencies.

The threat of Putinism also could change the politics of oil and natural gas production here—more domestic production serving as another counter to Russia’s oil-based economy. (Maybe we’ll hear politicians from the San Joaquin Valley, where development of the Monterey Shale’s natural gas could be an economic game-changer, accuse fracking opponents of being soft on Russian imperialism.) Alternative energy businesses—from wind to solar to geothermal—should also find it easier to wrap their pitches in national security terms. It’s no longer about merely ending our reliance on Mideast oil, but also about declawing the Russian bear.

California’s softer industries could prosper too. Hollywood, which has struggled to develop compelling bad guys since the end of the Cold War, can mass-produce Russian villains again. As for tourism: With headlines of downed aircraft and bombings everywhere, isn’t it tempting to stay closer to home and go to Disneyland, or check out the minions at Universal Studios?

The big question, of course, is whether our governments, our industries, and our people are still in a position to exploit this moment. The pessimistic view: Our dysfunctional governing system will keep us from seizing the moment. The optimistic: Our persistent economic struggles (at least outside Silicon Valley) and the dangerous provocations of Russia and China might spur us to action.

The promise of this moment may be greatest in the aerospace industry, which is smaller but still cutting-edge, producing drones, satellites for commercial purposes, and space start-ups like Elon Musk’s SpaceX. And there is precedent for revival. After collapsing in the post-Vietnam funk, aerospace rebounded in the ’80s, headlined by the F-117 Stealth aircraft, the B-2 bomber, and the space shuttle. Unfortunately, more recently, as defense spending increased after 9/11 and the industry expanded elsewhere, California aerospace continued its decline.

As important as stopping Putin is stopping Texas or another state from becoming the next California, the place the world turns to in its hour of need. Putin’s pronouncement that he will revive his own aerospace industry, at the same time the Chinese military continues it buildup, should rally us to offense. Putin’s madness has created a new Sputnik moment that should also spur us into investing in science and math education; California needs hundreds of thousands more technically and scientifically skilled workers, for good times and bad.

The state has established a military council and created incentives, but it should go further, and provide seed money to fund business investment and research that serve both national security and the state’s economy. How to pay for it? Why not establish an emergency “Putin tax” on certain items (liquor, cigarettes, oil, and big houses would be fitting) or a “Putin break” from regulations for priority industries?

It’s time for the governor to call a “security council” summit of California officials, business leaders, and scholars. The perfect venue would be Fort Ross State Park, in Sonoma County, site of a settlement established by the Russians in the early 19th Century, with the goal, not yet realized, of colonizing America. It’s a beautiful place, and a powerful reminder that there are few things more enduring than the need to keep Russian czars in their place.

Joe Mathews writes the Connecting California column for Zocalo Public Square. This piece originally appeared at Zocalo Public Square.

TIME Family

No ‘Loud’ Children Allowed in California Restaurant

California's Coastline A Top Tourist Destination
The entrance to Old Fisherman's Wharf at sunrise in Monterey, Calif., on April 6, 2013 George Rose—Getty Images

The establishment, much to the chagrin of some parents and tourists, has banned high chairs, booster seats, strollers and crying babies

One restaurant on the Monterey Peninsula’s historic Fisherman’s Wharf is turning heads with a policy aimed at preventing patrons from bringing loud children or infants into the eatery.

The Old Fisherman’s Grotto has explicitly laid out its policy with both signage and on its website stating that no high chairs or booster seats will be permitted on the premises, while loud children and crying babies are not allowed to sit in the dining room.

The policy, which the Grotto has had in place for at least two years, has been met with shock and disbelief from tourists and parents visiting Monterey.

“I think kids need to know how to behave in restaurants, and if you don’t take them to them, they don’t know how to behave, and they shouldn’t be kept hidden away, so I think it’s ridiculous,” tourist Teresa Colombani told KSBW news.

However, the restaurant’s owner is sticking to his guns.

“If a place has the rules, that’s what the rules are,” owner Chris Shake told the broadcaster. “You go in and abide by the rules or you find a place more suitable for you.”

Despite the criticism from the occasional passerby, Shake said the policy has yet to affect his business.

“I haven’t had a down year for over 20 years, and our business continues to grow.”

TIME Environment

Unprecedented California Drought Restrictions Go Into Effect

Poor water conservation could cost you up to $500 a day

California implemented emergency water-conservation measures today as it struggles to cope with an ongoing drought that has sapped reservoirs and parched farms across the state.

The new rules — the first statewide curbs on water use since the current drought began nearly three years ago — can lead to fines of up to $500 per day for using a hose to clean a sidewalk, running ornamental fountains that do not recirculate water and other wasteful behaviors. The regulations will be in effect for 270 days, unless they are repealed earlier.

Officials have said they don’t expect to issue too many tickets. Instead, they hope the rules will promote conservation by making it clear how serious the drought in California has become.

“We were hoping for more voluntary conservation, and that’s the bottom line,” Felicia Marcus, chair of the State Water Resources Board, told TIME when the body voted to approve the regulations on July 22. “We hope this will get people’s attention.”

An earlier effort to do that landed with a thud. In January, Governor Jerry Brown issued an emergency declaration and called for residents to voluntarily cut their water use by 20%. Earlier this month, a state survey found that California actually used more water in May than the previous three year average for that month. With the entire state experiencing some degree of drought and 80% of it in an extreme drought, the new measures are the latest effort to wake residents to the crisis.

“We can’t count on it raining next year or even the next,” Marcus said.

TIME weather

California Firefighters Battle ‘Sand Fire’ Blaze

Around 1,500 firefighters in Northern California were trying to contain the Sand Fire Sunday, officials said. The blaze has so far destroyed at least 10 homes and forced hundreds to evacuate

TIME weird

Person Who Left Dolls on Little Girls’ Porches Not a Huge Creep After All

Handout of a combination photo showing two of the porcelain dolls found on doorsteps of numerous residences in the Talega community of San Clemente
A combination photo showing two of the porcelain dolls found on doorsteps of numerous residences in the Talega community of San Clemente, Calif., July 24, 2014. Oragne County Sheriff's Department/Reuters

Each doll resembled a little girl who lived in the house

There are few things spookier than opening your front door and finding a porcelain doll that looks like your young daughter, but that’s exactly what happened to eight families in a Southern California town.

Many residents were freaked out by the dolls, and thought there could be some kind of stalker on the loose. “I’m actually thinking the worst, like someone creepy watching our children and I’m actually pretty scared about it,” Mary Robin Baziak told NBC Southern California. “(Someone) found a China doll on her stop that looked like her daughter.”

The dolls, which started appearing on doorsteps in San Clemente on June 16, had initially stumped police. But the Orange County Sheriff’s Department announced Thursday that they’ve identified the person responsible as a woman who went to church with some of the families and didn’t mean any harm. “Investigators have concluded that her motivation was out of goodwill and that she intended it as a kind gesture,” the Sheriff’s Department said in a press release.

 

MONEY

What Six Californias Would Really Look Like

Under a tech mogul's proposed breakup plan, some "states" are more equal than others.

Tim Draper, the Silicon Valley venture capitalist behind companies like Tesla and Skype, has a crazy idea. In order to make California more responsive to the needs of local communities, it should be broken up into six separate states: South California; Central California; North California; West California; Silicon Valley; and Jefferson.

This concept might seem more fit for a speculative novel than reality, but Draper’s dream may actually get its moment in the sun. On Tuesday, he informed USA Today that his Six Calfornias campaign had received 1.3 million signatures—far more than the roughly 808,000 required for the initiative to appear on the 2016 ballot.

Draper’s proposal still has virtually zero chance of ever happening. Even if the ballot initiative is approved (a December Field Poll showed only a quarter of residents support it), a California breakup would require the approval of Congress. And it is all but impossible to imagine a GOP-dominated House ever approving a plan that could potentially create 10 new Democratic senators.

That said, the venture capital mogul has apparently captured the imagination of many Californians who yearn for a more representative and responsive government than the one in Sacramento. In that light, it’s worth examining what six new Californias would really look like.

The major flaw in Draper’s plan is that the six new states he has outlined are not economically equal. In fact, they’re so unequal that many have wondered if the whole concept isn’t just a techno-libertarian plot to free Silicon Valley from having to share its wealth.

Under the breakup plan, some new “states” would be getting a pretty good deal. Others, well, not so much. Here’s a breakdown of each region and how it compares on various economic metrics. (All state comparisons are relative to the current United States.)

The common theme: Things look pretty darn good for Silicon Valley and West California (which includes Los Angeles), at the expense of making Jefferson and Central California two of the poorest states in the union.

Major Cities

Silicon Valley: San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose

North California: Sacramento, Santa Rosa

West California: Los Angeles, Santa Barbara

South California: San Diego, Anaheim

Central California: Fresno, Bakersfield

Jefferson: Redding, Chico

Population

West California: 11.5 million (8th in the U.S., similar to Ohio)

South California: 10.8 million (8th in the U.S., similar to Georgia)

Silicon Valley: 6.8 million (14th in the U.S., similar to Massachusetts)

Central California: 4.2 million (27th in the U.S., similar to Kentucky)

North California: 3.8 million (29th in the U.S., similar to Oklahoma)

Jefferson: 949,000 (45th in U.S., similar to Montana)

Personal Income Per Capita

Silicon Valley: $63,288 (1st in U.S., similar to Connecticut)

North California: $48,048 (7th in U.S., similar to Wyoming)

West California: $44,900 (15th in the U.S., similar to Illinois)

South California: $42,980 (21th in the U.S., similar to Vermont)

Jefferson: $36,147 (40th in the U.S., similar to Arizona)

Central California: $33,510 (50th in the US, similar to Idaho)

Percentage Living in Poverty

Silicon Valley: 12.8% (35th highest U.S., similar to Colorado)

North California: 13.7% (28th highest in U.S., similar to Illinois)

West California: 15.2% (21st highest in U.S., similar to California)

South California: 17.8% (7th highest in U.S., similar to West Virginia)

Central California: 19.9% (2nd highest in U.S, similar to New Mexico)

Jefferson: 20.8% (2nd highest in U.S., similar to New Mexico)

Median Home Price in Largest City

Silicon Valley (San Jose): $708,500

West California (Los Angeles): $520,500

South California (San Diego): $494,500

North California (Sacramento): $247,400

Jefferson (Redding): $207,600

Central California (Fresno): $165,000

Number of State Universities

West California: 9

Silicon Valley: 7

South California: 7

North California: 4

Central California: 4

Jefferson: 2

Sources: Zillow.com, U.S. Department of Commerce, United States Census Bureau, Huffington Post, California Legislative Analyst’s Office, 2008-2012 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates.

TIME Crime

California Judge Rules Death Penalty Unconstitutional

Lethal Injection Execution
Walls Unit in Huntsville prison where lethal injections are carried out on inmates in Huntsville, Texas. Jerry Cabluck—Sygma/Corbis

Uncertainties and delays over executions violate the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment, says federal judge

A federal judge ruled California’s death penalty unconstitutional Wednesday, saying uncertainties and delays over executions violate the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

In his 29-page decision, U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney, a Republican-appointed judge in Orange County, vacated the death sentence of Ernest Jones, who was sentenced to death in 1995 for the rape and murder of his girlfriend’s mother, while making a lengthy and detailed critique of the death penalty.

“The dysfunctional administration of California’s death penalty system has resulted, and will continue to result, in an inordinate and unpredictable period of delay preceding their actual execution,” Judge Carney wrote. “Indeed, for most, systemic delay has made their execution so unlikely that the death sentence carefully and deliberately imposed by the jury has been quietly transformed into one no rational jury or legislature could ever impose: life in prison, with the remote possibility of death.”

Since the death penalty was reinstated in California in 1978, more than 900 people have been sentenced to death while only 13 have been executed. More than 90 have died awaiting their executions, and more than 40% have been on death row for longer than 19 years. California currently has 742 inmates on death row, the most in the U.S. according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Death penalty experts and law professors called the decision unprecedented on Wednesday. “It’s the first time I can think of since the 1970s that a judicial opinion has taken on the death penalty as a whole rather than just the individual,” says Hadar Aviram, a law professor at the University of California Hastings.

It’s unclear how binding the ruling will be outside of the Jones case. Elisabeth Semel of the University of California-Berkeley’s Death Penalty Clinic says the state is likely to appeal to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, potentially opening up a new chapter in the legal wrangling over the death penalty in California.

“Certainly, prosecutors will argue that the order does not have the effect of ‘automatically’ invalidating the death penalty in the cases of other individuals who have been sentenced to death or who are facing capital prosecution,” Semel wrote in an e-mail. “But also, certainly, there will and must be efforts to give the ruling traction on behalf of other defendants.”

The ruling may also give fresh urgency to calls from anti-death penalty advocates for a state referendum on executions, and may prompt Gov. Jerry Brown to re-evaluate how the system functions. Gil Garcetti, a former Los Angeles district attorney and a spokesperson for SAFE California, an anti-death penalty group, called the decision “historic.”

A spokesperson for the state’s attorney general’s office says it is reviewing the decision.

TIME animals

This Dog Surfing Competition is Totally Gnarly

Get ready for some ruff waves

What’s cooler than surfing? Surfing with your dog. And not just riding the same board as your pet, but pushing your pup to ride a wave on their own. That’s what the dogs in Unleashed, the largest dog surfing competition the U.S., do, and they rock at it.

Hanging 20, the dogs perch on top of the boards as the waves sweep toward the beach. When the wave collapses, the canine surfers hop off, no harm done (some are wearing adorable life jackets, just in case).

But are the dogs scared to go on the surfboards? Are their owners forcing them into unwanted roles as surf bros? Eric Felland, owner of the champion of the large dog heat, tells The Guardian that his dog “loves what he does.” Fellow owner James Wall says “it’s hard to say it’s cruel; some dogs like it some dogs don’t.” One thing’s for sure—it’s great for everyone watching.

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