Monterey’s history as a Spanish, Mexican and United States capital of California is well documented and has become a cottage industry in the small city that hugs the Pacific Ocean. But there are a few stories clouded in mystery, or simply misunderstood for more than a century. Two of which I recently dug into for the San Francisco Chronicle, shedding light on two historical topics beloved by many—pirates and cheese.

California’s only ‘pirate’ raid in history was actually about independence
Volleys of cannon fire echoed through the adobes of Monterey, followed by a group of privateers storming the city from the sea with cannon, muskets and pikes. Eventually they pulled down the Spanish flag before hoisting up the blue-and-white stripes of Argentina under a Californian sky. Read more…

The competing legends of Monterey Jack cheese
The origin story of Monterey Jack cheese is complicated, no matter whom you ask or what version they tell you. It may encompass some or all of the following: a prosperous Mexican land-grant family fallen from grace, a shrewd Gold Rush land baron, the colonization of California’s Central Coast, and possibly a bullfight gone awry. Some historians believe its tendrils even extend to ancient Rome. This semisoft white cheese, homogenized and ubiquitous in dairy aisles across the U.S., carries with it the near entirety of California history dating to Spanish colonization. Read more…

 

For some respite from a few years of writing about cops, crime, mayhem and disasters, I’ve started writing stories about the intersection of adventure sports, politics and history in the state of California.

Here are a few highlights of recent interviews: Chris Burkard, surf photographer who looked to the Arctic for inspiration; Jeremy Jones, a big mountain snowboarder-turned climate activist; and Frosty Hesson, an avuncular big-wave surfer who’d pioneered Mavericks and always ready to impart life-wisdom. Many more stories to come.

Surf photographer and SLO native Chris Burkard shares his favorite local spots
Chris Burkard has become synonymous with images of the icy landscapes and deadly cold waters of Alaska, Norway, Iceland and Russia, and his work is recognized beyond the surf world. In the 33-year-old’s short career, he has published eight books, directed four films, garnered more than a dozen awards, given a TED Talk, and gained 3.3 million followers on Instagram. Forbes named him a top social influencer in 2017. Read more…

Q&A: Jeremy Jones on why the outdoor industry needs to speak out about climate change
While hiking atop crusty springtime snow on a ridgeline in California’s John Muir Wilderness, pre-eminent big-mountain snowboarder Jeremy Jones wondered whether or not his descent down the slope would be the last by anyone on skis or a snowboard because of lack of future snow. Read more…

Surfing legend Frosty Hesson’s guide to California’s most iconic breaks
Large statured and emblazoned with platinum-white hair, surfing icon Richard “Frosty” Hesson is often found standing near his home at the end of 36th Avenue in Santa Cruz, watching the swell come in, as he has for decades. He’s quick to strike up conversations with people passing by. His face might not be familiar, but his nickname is. Read more…

Fires jumped from wildlands into the city of Santa Rosa, one of the largest cities in the San Francisco Bay Area, on Oct. 8. In the end, 24 people lost their lives and more than 5,000 homes were destroyed displacing thousands in Sonoma County alone.

This is where I lived and worked. My job at The Press Democrat took me to the frontline of the blazes and to the response mounted by municipal, county, state and federal agencies.

For our efforts The Press Democrat was awarded the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news. Here are some clips from documenting the devastation in what is now the most destructive wildfire in California’s history.

Most SoCo Alert calls failed to connect in first hours of Sonoma County wildfires (Dec. 15)
Sonoma County prosecutors charge six landlords with price gouging (Dec. 7)
‘Please hurry up it’s really close’: Speed, terror of fires revealed in 911 calls (Dec. 5)
Mendocino County Sheriff examines lessons learned from Redwood Valley fire (Nov. 9)
Carl’s Jr. in Santa Rosa catches fire while making burgers for first responders (Oct. 26)
ICE statement about wildfire-related arson arrest ‘misleading and inflammatory’ (Oct. 19)
State prison firefighters on the frontlines of Sonoma County wildfires (Oct. 19)
Firefighters close in on full containment as Sonoma County turns toward recovery (Oct. 17)
Homes destroyed by fire outside of downtown Sonoma (Oct. 14)
Sonoma County’s emergency alerts face scrutiny in wake of deadly wildfires (Oct. 12)
Sonoma, Napa fires wreak havoc with gas, electricity & cellphone service (Oct. 10)

In the following months the politically liberal, yet agricultural, Sonoma County in Northern California passed resolutions to protect undocumented immigrants.

The sheriff promised to restrict cooperation with ICE agents at the county jail but never did. My reporting on that fact forced the Sheriff’s Office to moved quick, getting ahead of the “Sanctuary state” bill in Sacramento. The Trump Administration took notice and repeatedly attacked the county in both rhetoric and action for months.

Sonoma County law chiefs steer clear of state and federal feud (March 7, 2018)
Trump administration threatens to subpoena Sonoma County (Jan. 24, 2018)
Sparring between California and feds reaches new level (Jan. 20, 2018)
ICE chief slams Sonoma County sheriff’s immigration policy on Fox News (Jan. 3, 2018)
ICE statement about recent arrest ‘misleading and inflammatory’ (Oct. 19, 2017)
‘Sanctuary state’ law doesn’t spell significant change for law enforcement (Oct. 5, 2017)
Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office watchdog under scrutiny (Sept. 16, 2017)
Recent killing by immigrant puts Sonoma County & ICE at odds (Aug. 30, 2017)
ICE flagged Santa Rosa man two weeks before he allegedly killed girlfriend (Aug. 21, 2017)
Sheriff’s Office to limit ICE cooperation at Sonoma County Jail (Aug. 13, 2017)
Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office still notifying ICE on inmate releases (Aug. 5, 2017)
Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office still notifying ICE on inmates (May 10, 2017)
Hundreds march in Santa Rosa in honor of Cesar Chavez (April 2, 2017)
Sonoma County law enforcement chiefs detail immigration policies (Feb. 25, 2017)
1,000s skip school, work to support ‘Day Without Immigrants’ (Feb. 16, 2017)
‘Day Without Immigrants’ protest to counter President Trump (Feb. 15, 2017)