In California: Wildfires insurance woes. And, voters don't need to wear masks

Plus: L.A. could name a street after Kobe Bryant. And masked bandits break into a NorCal bank — but don't take any cash.

Happy hump day! I'm Winston Gieseke, philanthropy and special sections editor for The Desert Sun in Palm Springs, bringing you the best news that's fit to print on this lovely California Wednesday.

But first, a happy birthday to Kim Kardashian, who was born in Los Angeles on this day 40 years ago. 

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.

Wildfires are making parts of California nearly uninsurable

A home burns as the Camp Fire rages through Paradise, CA on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. (PHOTO BY NOAH BERGER]

As if the wildfires themselves weren't bad enough, 235,250 Golden State homes that were insured against such blazes in 2018 were denied coverage in 2019, according to new data released by California's Department of Insurance.

The Sacramento Bee reports that insurers began dropping thousands of California homeowners after paying out claims to the tune of $25 billion during the 2017 and 2018 wildfire seasons. As a result, many Californians living in wildfire-prone areas have been left without homeowners insurance.

Earlier this year, Ricardo Lara, the state's insurance commissioner, introduced AB 2367, a bill that would require insurance companies to write coverage in fire-prone areas if homeowners and communities took steps to "harden" their homes from wildfires. Home hardening includes fire-resilient roofing and siding, along with other protective features. But insurers argued that they shouldn't be forced to comply until official standards for home hardening had been established, a move that effectively killed the legislation.

Homeowners who are rejected for coverage by mainstream carriers aren't completely out of luck. Many turn to niche insurance companies or to the Fair Plan, but these plans are often expensive and limited in the coverage they offer. 

The San Francisco Chronicle cites the case of one homeowner, a retired public school teacher named Colleen Cross from the Sierra foothills, who lost coverage when her carrier, Merced Property & Casualty Co., went out of business in December 2018. Unable to find a new mainstream insurance company, she settled on a Fair Plus plan, which raised her premium from the $1,500 she paid Merced to more than $4,800. And when it came time to renew, her premium had been raised to $6,300.

According to CBS News, the areas that saw the biggest drops in coverage were the Southern Sierra northeast of Bakersfield; Northern California; and communities just north of Los Angeles. And while it was not disclosed which insurance companies had dropped policies in those areas, California's major insurers are State Farm, Farmers, Liberty Mutual and Allstate.

Dodgers off to a good start in World Series

Game 1: Dodgers players celebrate after the win.

In brief sports news, the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Tampa Bay Rays 8-3 in Game 1 of the World Series in front of a subdued and social-distanced crowd of 11,388 at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Tex. It was the smallest crowd at a World Series game since Game 6 of the 1909 battle between the Pittsburgh Pirates and Detroit Tigers.

Ballot tracking snafu sends some residents wrong mail date

A sample ballot was included in the County Voter Information Guide in the mail from the County of Riverside Registrar of Voters for the presidential election on November 3, 2020.

If you've been told your mail-in ballot is on the way and you've been running to your mailbox every day, wondering where the heck it could be, you might be living in one of at least two California counties in which our newly implemented statewide tracking system provided an incorrect mailing date.

California's mail-in ballot tracking system, BallotTrax, sent messages to voters in both Riverside and Contra Costa counties that their ballots had gone out Sept. 28, even though they hadn't.

According to California Secretary of State spokesperson Sam Mahood, messages that indicate ballots are "in the mail," as they say, can be triggered one of two ways: either when the county sets a date for ballots to be "issued/sent" in its election management system — but they're not really sent out yet — or when special barcodes used on ballots are scanned by the U.S. Postal Service. 

Despite the snafu, Mahood said the tool is a benefit for voter transparency. 

"This is the first election where the ballot tracking was required statewide, and we appreciate all of the work by county elections officials to adopt and deploy this tool," Mahood told The Desert Sun. "We continue to work with county elections officials to better refine use of this important election transparency tool."

Voters can check their (hopefully accurate) status at the site: And while we're on the subject of voting ...

Masks will not be required for California voters

Palm Springs resident Henry Chinchilla takes a selfie as he drops his Vote by Mail ballot off at Palm Springs City Hall, October 13, 2020.

Voters without a face covering or who don't follow social distancing protocols will still be allowed to vote, said Alex Padilla, California's secretary of state.

Allowing unmasked voters to cast ballots will avoid potential conflicts, according to the COVID-19 election administration guide released by the state.

Election workers are being instructed on how to allow unmasked voters to participate in the election while still keeping others safe. Face masks and face shields will be available for those who request one.

Still have concerns about voting in public? You have options: You can mail in your ballot, which must be postmarked by Nov. 3.  You can also drop your ballot into an official drop box.

Did I say "ballot box"?

Judge rejects California attorney general’s ballot boxes suit

The Simi Valley Republican Party headquarters was one site being examined for allegedly having an unofficial and unauthorized ballot drop box.

A Sacramento judge on Wednesday rejected a suit by Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra requesting that the California Republican Party disclose information about its ballot drop box program, reports the Los Angeles Times.

While Judge David Brown's decision does not stop Becerra and Secretary of State Alex Padilla from pursuing the matter further, it marks a significant victory for GOP officials who say their ballot collection campaign doesn't violate state laws.

“The California Republican Party will continue to help Californians vote safely and securely by continuing to gather ballots in trusted places, and deliver them promptly according to law,” Hector Barajas, a party spokesman, said in a statement.

L.A. City Council considers naming street after Kobe Bryant, and raccoons break into NorCal bank

NBA legend Kobe Bryant was an 18-time All-Star.

A Los Angeles City Council subset known as the Public Works and Gang Reduction Committee was set to decide Wednesday whether to consider moving forward with a proposal to rename a part of Figueroa Street as a tribute to late Laker legend Kobe Bryant, reports ABC Eyewitness News 7.

"This is a gift to the city of Los Angeles and to all the Kobe Bryant fans around the world,'' City Councilman Curren Price said upon co-filing the motion in August.

If the council does move forward on renaming the street, it would be the perfect place to go on Aug. 24, which the City Council this summer officially declared Kobe Bryant Day — based on his two jersey numbers, 8 and 24.

Two masked intruders broke into a Redwood City bank Tuesday, were apprehended and then released on their own recognizance, writes The Mercury News. The would-be bandits, both raccoons, were spotted by a customer using the ATM outside. The bank was closed at the time.

The Peninsula Humane Society and SPCA arrived on the scene, and "after about 10 minutes of chasing the raccoons around the building, the would-be felons were shooed out the door," the paper said.

“Thankfully the raccoons were not injured during their morning escapade,” said PHS/SPCA’s communications manager Buffy Martin Tarbox. “And to our knowledge, they didn’t abscond with any money.”

In California is a roundup of news from across USA Today network newsrooms. Also contributing: ABC Eyewitness News 7, CBS News, The Mercury News, The Sacramento Bee, San Francisco Chronicle.