California magazine

September 17, 1923: The Day That Berkeley Burned

The first signs of trouble were subtle. For some, it was the strange amber hue of the midday light. Others caught the distinctive scent of burning eucalyptus. By two in the afternoon of September 17, 1923, just about everyone in Berkeley had taken note of the uncommonly warm, dry wind blowing in from the northeast. What they didn’t know was that a small grass fire over the hill in Wildcat Canyon was growing fast, leaping from grass to brush to tree—and it was about to crest the hills of North Berkeley.

From the Spring 2019 issue of California.

Q&A: Roe v. Wade Is on the Stand. Could a Grassroots Movement Save It?

Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that recognized abortion access as a fundamental right, has been contested by conservative activists and legislators since it was passed. And while the decision remains popular 45 years later, with 71% of voters opposed to overturning Roe, Trump’s recent appointments to the Supreme Court indicate there may be an opening to do just that. The size of that opening, and the stakes involved, are being hotly debated.

Losing Paradise: The “New Normal” of California Wildfires

On the morning of November 8, 2018, Don Peck awoke to the sound of bombs going off.

“It was boom, boom, boom,” recalls the retired jeweler, who had slept in late after a bout of insomnia the night before. Now, as the 70-year-old struggled to gain full consciousness, he realized it was propane tanks, not bombs, he heard. His town, Paradise, was on fire.

Peck knew that he had probably lost everything—his home, his belongings, his cat.

From the Spring 2019 issue of California.

Meet Frances Arnold, Teenage Rebel Turned Nobel Laureate

At 15, she was a class-skipping, catch-me-if-you-can maverick hitchhiking to D.C. to protest the Vietnam War. Looking back on those years now, Frances Arnold says, “Fifteen is one of those terrifying ages, where you’re frustrated because you know something’s wrong, but you have no idea how to fix it. So I did what I could, which is protest.

“But as I’ve gone through my life,” she continues, “I know that it’s my responsibility to fix it. I’m much better at fixing things than protesting.”

She pauses.

From the Spring 2019 issue of California.

“It Was a Revolution”: The History of a Berkeley Crane Engineer

In the 1970s, a crane we designed collapsed in New Jersey. It had not been built with the right material. The operator cab fell, but landed on a container full of soft cheese and the operator survived.

That failure was a result of a brittle fracture. Picture a small windshield crack that appears but doesn’t grow much until—bang—it spiderwebs across the glass without warning. That happens to cranes. A crack appears, and the maintenance people just weld over it. That’s like painting over a crack in your windshield. It doesn’t resolve the problem.

From the Spring 2019 issue of California.

Editor’s Note: Up in Smoke

One day, California will fall into the sea. That’s what we used to say, anyway.

It’s an idea that goes back to huckster-clairvoyant Edgar Cayce. It had nothing to it, of course, but has kept circulating. I suppose that’s partly because so many people are jealous of California—from the beginning an imagined paradise, the domain of Queen Calafia—but also because the state really is a dangerous place, given to flooding and drought, eruptions and landslides, earthquakes and fire.

From the Spring 2019 issue of California.

Chancellor’s Letter: Diversity Initiatives

One of my most important goals for Berkeley is to advance and expand diversity on our campus, in its broadest sense and every form. We are now launching the first wave of new, accelerated efforts to support and expand diversity among our student, faculty, and staff populations.

As these important and exciting initiatives begin, I want to share my perspectives on the values, commitments, and objectives that will guide us on the road ahead.

From the Spring 2019 issue of California.

The Twin Tunnels Are Out—Berkeley Experts Say That’s a Good Thing

The extravagantly wet winter notwithstanding, California’s water woes are far from over. But recent moves suggest Governor Gavin Newsom is leading the state into a new era of water policy. Last month, he decided to scale back his predecessor’s decades-long effort, the Twin Tunnels, to deliver water from Northern to Southern California.

“Really, the idea that two massive tunnels would be built in the Delta was always—well, a pipe dream,” says Peter Gleick.

Everything You Need to Know About Ocasio-Cortez’s Tax Plan

Americans have been arguing about taxes for decades. In recent months, soaking the rich with higher taxes has become a battle cry for progressives. Left-leaning politicians argue that higher taxes on the wealthy would reduce inequality and raise substantial revenue without damaging the economy.

Wine Is Money: How the Rich Are Changing Napa Valley’s Drink

Stu Smith and his brother, Charlie, put down a $500 option on about 200 acres of land on the slopes of Spring Mountain in 1971, eventually purchasing the property for $70,000. The views of the adjacent Napa Valley were stunning, and Smith, who had developed a passion for wine while completing his undergraduate degree in economics at Berkeley, was determined to get into the nascent California premium wine business.

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