Essential California: Homicides up in L.A., Sriracha's trademark problem, leadership changes at USC

Welcome to Essential California, your daily newsletter covering stories across the Golden State. Here's a look at the stories you don't want to miss. The newsletter is brought to you by reporter Alice Walton and California Editor Shelby Grad.


Troubling Start to 2015

Los Angeles is beginning 2015 with an increase in homicides, and that has police officials concerned. L.A. had 29 homicides as of Tuesday, compared with 21 for the same period in 2014. The LAPD is redeploying police to problem areas, saying the uptick in violence is tied mostly to more gang issues. L.A.'s decade-plus decline in violent crime ended in 2014 with a small increase. Officials hope it's not the beginning of something worse.

Pascal and Spider-Man Team Up

Just days after Amy Pascal announced that she would leave her post as co-chair of Sony Pictures, she's back in the news with a $40-million production deal to revamp the Spider-Man franchise. A new movie is expected to be out in two years. Pascal will also oversee the high-profile reboot of "Ghostbusters" and actress Angelina Jolie's "Cleopatra." The move makes Pascal one of Hollywood's biggest independent producers.

Mexican Mafia Parole

A former shot caller with the Mexican Mafia is seeking parole, and the family of one of his victims says they were horrified to learn he may be released from prison. The adult children of the victim, Cynthia Gavaldon, say they were never told by authorities that the case of Rene "Boxer" Enriquez was being reviewed by Gov. Jerry Brown. "He stole a piece of our lives from us, and it's not fair," says the victim's son. Gavaldon's body was found on Christmas Eve 1989 in a vacant lot in Los Angeles.


Sriracha: What's in a name? It's the hottest name in the condiment aisle and, it turns out, anyone can use it. The man behind the hot sauce Sriracha, made by an Irwindale company, never trademarked his popular product. That means David Tran doesn't see a dime in royalties when food giants Frito-Lay and Subway use the term "Sriracha." On the bright side, Tran says, it's great publicity for a company that has never had a marketing budget.

Increasing the minimum wage: For a sneak peek at what a higher minimum wage might mean for local businesses, Los Angeles city leaders should consider San Francisco, San Jose, Albuquerque and Santa Fe, N.M., as case studies. As wages increased in those areas, fears of shuttered businesses and laid off workers didn't seem to materialize. What did happen, though, was a fundamental change in how business is done

Donation dispute: Chapman University hailed a multimillion-dollar donation made by Newport Beach philanthropist James Emmi. Now, Emmi, 98, is suing the university, claiming it took advantage of his age to get the money, the Orange County Register reports. University officials deny the allegation.

San Diego water: Officials in San Diego County say they'll be just fine if the Metropolitan Water District cuts back on the amount of water it provides to local agencies. Cutbacks because of the state's drought will be considered when district officials meet in April. San Diego County once relied on the district for 90% of its water, but that has dropped to 50%. "We have anticipated this. We're prepared," said Dana Friehauf of the San Diego County Water Authority.


USC's big leadership change: The lack of female representation in California's state and local governments has received a lot of attention, but what about at the college level? USC is about to get its first female student body president in nearly a decade. That's a particularly poor track record when you consider that UCLA has had at least six female presidents since 2005. "I'm definitely encouraged by the fact that more women are running and are feeling confident," said Jessica Lall, USC's last student president.

Magic Johnson knocks Lakers: Last year, Magic Johnson promised to stop criticizing the Lakers. Well, that didn't last, with Johnson telling ESPN that team owner Jim Buss is "trying to do it himself, trying to prove to everybody that this was the right decision, that 'my dad gave me the reins,' and he's not consulting anybody." Johnson's still a fan, though. He says he pays $300,000 a season for a box at Staples Center.

Lost beacon on Wilshire: The massive Samsung neon sign atop the landmark E. Clem Wilson Building on La Brea Avenue at Wilshire Boulevard has been taken down, and it's unclear what will replace it. Curbed L.A. notes that the building has a long history of distinctive, if not disruptive, lighting.


The Powerball jackpot has reached $485 million, making it the fifth-largest lottery jackpot in American history. Your chances of winning aren't great, at 1 in 176 million. With that in mind, you would have a greater chance of:

-- Being killed by an asteroid impact: 1 in 700,000.

-- Getting struck by lightning: 1 in 12,000.

-- Having an 11th toe: 1 in 500.

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints and ideas to Alice Walton or Shelby Grad.