When I arrived before dawn at the pork processing plant, I could see lights from the downtown Los Angeles skyline flickering a few miles to the north. It was one of those heavy, gloomy mornings — one with a thick marine layer that so many of us Southern Californians know to expect in the summertime.
I’m not new to the region, but I am new to The New York Times. I joined the paper in June after spending eight years at The Los Angeles Times, where I worked as a national correspondent. Before that, I covered state politics and policy at The Denver Post, a newspaper I grew up reading as a Colorado native.
Now, as an economics correspondent for The Times, based in Los Angeles, I’ll be roving the West and writing about this diverse and dynamic part of the country and its economic challenges.
So when I read that Smithfield Foods would close an iconic meatpacking plant in Vernon — an industrial city not far from downtown Los Angeles — and that roughly 1,800 people would lose their jobs, I kept coming back to two questions: Why was it necessary, and what will happen to the workers?
Today I published an article that captures the debate over the closing and whom is to blame — the company or California?
Smithfield officials told me that escalating costs of doing business in California led to their decision. State leaders say that contention doesn’t match the reality, noting that California’s economic growth outpaced the nation’s and that the state remained the tech capital of the country.
The Smithfield plant, associated with the Farmer John brand, dates back to 1931 and is known for its huge mural depicting a pastoral rural landscape that transports you far from the concrete corridors of Vernon. For decades, Farmer John produced the widely famous Dodger Dog.
More than 80 percent of the employees at the plant are Latino — a mix of immigrants and first-generation native-born. Most are older than 50.
Outside, I visited with Teresa Robles, 57, who has worked here since 2018. She makes $17.85 an hour cutting tripe most days.
She knew the history of the plant, and when whispers started in early June that it would close, she quickly grew concerned. She wondered if anyone would offer her a reliable job at her age, and whether she would ever find work at a comparable wage.
“They’re kicking us out with no answers,” Robles told me, blinking back tears.
The factory is scheduled to close early next year. The workers’ union says it is trying to find new jobs for its members and a buyer for the plant. I’ll be watching what happens next.
Kurtis Lee is an economics correspondent for The Times, based in Los Angeles.
Where we’re traveling
Today’s travel tip comes from Steve Mullen, who recommends a classic Los Angeles drive:
“If you want an exceptional view of the ocean, drive south from Santa Monica and when you get to the hills leading up to the Palisades, do your obligatory rubber necking out the right side of your car for spectacular views of the SoCal coastline. You’ll be looking north from the Palisades with Redondo, Hermosa, Manhattan, and Venice/Santa Monica beaches all in view on the edge of a sandy crescent holding back the great Pacific Ocean. This is the gold coast of California and the beaches where surfing, beach BBQs and the Beach Boys hail from.”
Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to CAtoday@nytimes.com. We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.
And before you go, some good news
A lucky Californian just won the lottery — literally.
A Mega Millions ticket worth $4.2 million was sold at a Vons in northeast Fresno, ABC 30 reports. It was the only ticket in California that matched all five numbers drawn on Friday. (It did not, however, match the mega ball worth $1.28 billion.)
Thanks for reading. We’ll be back tomorrow.
P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Animal symbol of Cancer (4 letters).
Soumya Karlamangla, Briana Scalia and Jack Kramer contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at CAtoday@nytimes.com.
Sign up here to get this newsletter in your inbox.