Essential California: Bill for teachers' health care, tech firms move downtown, tourism boom in Orange County

Good morning. It is Monday, March 9. A new website tracks the inter-family drama of the mountain lions in the Santa Monica Mountains. Here's what else is happening today in the Golden State:



High cost of teachers' health care

School districts across California are beginning to grapple with a time bomb in their budgets: Lifetime healthcare coverage promised to teachers and others. The price tag for retiree health care obligations has reached about $20 billion statewide — an amount systems are not prepared to absorb, and the financial burden threatens to drag down credit ratings and crowd out other budget priorities. L.A. Times

Stopping crime before it starts

The LAPD is using helicopters to stop crimes before they even take place. In their down time, pilots are flying over crime "hot spots" in the hopes that criminals will be less likely to act if they hear the buzz of a chopper overhead. "Months of data show that the number of serious crimes reported in the LAPD's Newton Division in South L.A. fell during weeks when the helicopters conducted more flights." L.A. Times

Silicon Beach moves to DTLA

Some tech firms are bucking the Westside trend and moving to downtown L.A. The lure: old spaces with character. That means you won't find many start-ups amid the modern high rises of Bunker Hill. Whether downtown will remain a serious competitor for Santa Monica, Venice, Playa Vista and the rest of "Silicon Beach"  remains unclear. L.A. Times


Lingering impact of recession: Steve Lopez writes about a family-owned auto repair shop in Glendale that shows how, even as the economy improves, anxiety and penny-pinching remain. L.A. Times

Why is the 405 so congested?: Congestion on the San Diego Freeway is worse than ever despite a $1.1-billion project to add a carpool lane in the Sepulveda Pass. The lack of discernible congestion relief on the 405, after so many prominent and public promises were made, cannot be seen as good advertising for Metro as it prepares to ask Los Angeles County residents for yet another tax hike to pay for transportation and transit projects.  LA Weekly

Toxic tests in Torrance: Were Torrance residents exposed to dangerous gases because of hazardous chemical dumping sites? The Environmental Protection Agency is now testing the air in nearby homes to determine whether gases may have seeped through a process known as "vapor intrusion." L.A. Times

City Council helps its friends: L.A. City Councilman Jose Huizar's victory in last week's election is just the latest example of what a tight group the City Council can be when an incumbent is in trouble L.A. Times

Director found dead: Dirk Shafer, director of the acclaimed mockumentary "Man of the Year" and a former centerfold for Playgirl magazine, was found dead in West Hollywood in a car. Authorities are investigating. L.A. Times

Internet throws a party: An overweight man mocked on social media for dancing could be getting a celebrity-studded party in his honor at the Coliseum. LAist



Rice won't run for Senate: On paper (and in polls), Condoleezza Rice — Stanford professor, Russia specialist, former U.S secretary of state — might seem like a Republicans' salvation to win Barbara Boxer's Senate seat. The reality is more complex.  L.A. Times

Hotel stays in O.C.: A tourism boom in Orange County has investors snapping up hotels. An estimated 46 million people visited the area last year, a 4% increase from 2013. Orange County Register

Power of Pelosi: Though she was written off by many when her party lost in 2010, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) continues to maintain control over House Democrats. "Ms. Pelosi's continued reign often surprises, but it is based largely on her ability to manage her members, one at a time." New York Times

Lawmakers top priorities: Figuring out how to pay for higher education and crumbling roads will be top priorities for state lawmakers this year. State leaders are also expected to weigh in on whether vaccinating children should be mandatory and whether terminally ill patients can end their lives. San Diego Union-Tribune

Veteran pols run for Senate: Two special elections to fill vacancies in the state Senate have veteran politicians battling one another. One race is in Orange County, and the other straddles Contra Costa and Alameda counties. L.A. Times


In Friday's Essential California, we asked for your thoughts on the decision by Ringling Bros. to retire elephants from circus performances. Here's what one reader had to say:


"Children will find other, better ways to learn about elephants. They're fascinated by, and have learned about, dinosaurs without any of them appearing in any circuses." -- Jim Bickhart

For today's Talk Back, a Los Angeles Times editorial urges Congress to reject a law that would require California to recognize concealed-weapon permits issued by other states.

What do you think? Should only Californians be allowed to carry concealed weapons in California? Or is the permit like a driver's license, which is issued by one state but recognized by all? Tell us by tweeting with the tag #EssentialCalifornia or sending us an email: Alice Walton and Shelby Grad.


How to act like an authentic San Franciscan? The Chronicle offers some tips:

-- Use "BART" as a verb.

-- Don't complain about the high prices.

-- The Golden Gate Bridge is "international orange," not red.

-- Say "The City" or "S.F.," not "Frisco" or "San Fran."

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.