Essential California: The U.S. Senate field, changes at Sony and Disney, another data hack

Welcome to Essential California, your newsletter covering stories across the Golden State. This edition looks back on the big events of the week. The newsletter is brought to you by reporter Alice Walton and California editor Shelby Grad.


Senate shadows: Could next week be the week former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announces his campaign for the U.S. Senate? Former Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez said his close friend is "very, very close" to making a decision. If Villaraigosa runs, that would pit him against fellow Democrat Kamala Harris, the state's attorney general. And that, writes The Times’ George Skelton, would be an epic matchup of Latino versus black, north versus south. "While that's not new in party politics, the openly acknowledged battleground — ethnicity — is unprecedented, at least in modern times," Skelton noted.

Orange County milestone: Leaders in Orange County's Latino community say that redistricting is responsible for a Board of Supervisors that now is dominated by Asian American politicians. The Orange County Register notes that with the election of Andrew Do, there are three Asian Americans on the board. There are no Latino representatives, even though Latinos make up more than one-third of the county’s population. "Do had assets that seemed to prove decisive, including ubiquitous access to the hyper-connected, politically engaged Vietnamese-speaking community of Little Saigon in central Orange County, who voted in large numbers, many of them by mail-in ballot," the Los Angeles Times reported.

Sacramento gets religion: This week, we met Frank Erb, the "pastor to California's leaders." Erb leads weekly (and bipartisan) Bible sessions with legislative leaders. "They are faced with challenges and temptations that the average person doesn't typically encounter. So anything we can do to help them to be strong personally and ethically is a good thing for everybody," Erb said. He's not always successful, though. Last year, one of his regulars, former state Sen. Roderick Wright, was convicted of perjury and voter fraud.

Big money for L.A. City Council: An unexpected issue has emerged in some L.A. council races: Are City Council members overpaid? Several candidates in the March 3 contest say they would return part of their pay if they are elected. Each member makes nearly $185,000 a year, compared with $112,500 for their counterparts in New York and $117,000 in Chicago. Some see the raising of the issue as a bit of a ploy, but others believe it's a legitimate concern in tough budgetary times. As one candidate put it, "I frankly don't think we're worth" that much.


Pascal out at Sony: It was a long time coming, but Sony co-chair Amy Pascal stepped down this week. The move came just months after hackers infiltrated the studio and released Pascal's personal emails, which revealed that she had made racially insensitive jokes about President Obama. Pascal's tenure marks the end of an era. "In recent years, Pascal also helped shed Sony's image as a studio solely interested in box-office performance and created a destination for critically acclaimed dramas,” the Hollywood Reporter wrote.

Succession planning at Disney: The company's future became a little clearer this week as Disney's parks chief was named its chief operating officer. Thomas Staggs' promotion makes him a front-runner to succeed Chief Executive Bob Iger, whose contract with the company runs through June 2018. It's a highly coveted job — last year, Iger was paid $46.5 million. "Tom has been a star since the second he arrived at Disney," said former CEO Michael Eisner.


Insurance company hacked: For customers of Anthem Inc., now would be a good time to change passwords and check credit reports. The insurance giant found itself answering to the feds after a data breach exposed the personal information of 80 million people. "The attack on Anthem should sound the alarm bells for Americans,” said Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas). The hack went unnoticed for several weeks, which is actually a relatively short period of time, according to security experts.


Measles vaccination rates: Private child care centers have lower measles vaccination rates than do their public counterparts, a Los Angeles Times analysis found. Preschools in the affluent Westside, southern Orange County and the South Bay also tended to have lower vaccination rates. In light of the measles outbreak, the University of California system announced that starting in 2017 all new students must be vaccinated against measles, reports 89.3 KPCC.

Importing smog: Experts say smog from China is making its way across the Pacific Ocean and increasing ozone levels in Western states. The pollution could lead to asthma problems, heart and lung disease and even premature deaths. "People think of these pollutants as relatively short-lived and think they don't make it that far. But we've realized it's all connected," a UC Davis atmospheric scientist told The Times.


Beverly Hills fight: Is it charity or self-promotion? That’s the heart of a fight in Beverly Hills, where school courtyards and playgrounds can be sold to the highest bidder. "The fundraising effort has triggered a spat between two Beverly Hills real estate agents over the naming of a courtyard at El Rodeo Elementary. The move prompted a host of allegations — of a sweetheart deal, advertising disguised as philanthropy and professional jealousy,” the Los Angeles Times reported.

Homelessness in Brentwood: The two don’t seem a likely pair, but the affluent community counted 70 homeless men and women during a recent survey by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. Volunteers were told to look for "weathered skin," "poor hygiene," "lots of stuff.”

First Muslim judge: The state’s first Muslim judge talked about how his religion influences his courtroom style. Judge Halim Dhanidina follows Ismaili, a Shiite tradition known for valuing education, gender equality and civil institutions.


Besides waiting for Villaraigosa, here are a few things to watch for:

"Sniper" shot down? ”American Sniper” has dominated the box office for weeks now, pulling in $255.6 million and astonishing Hollywood. But this weekend, it could be toppled from the top spot by something less intense: "The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water." We should also know by Monday how well the $179-million "Jupiter Ascending" does. 

Drought watch: Northern California is getting a drenching over the weekend, thanks to a so-called atmospheric river. Then we’ll see what all that rain does for California’s alarmingly low reservoir levels and snowpack.

Measles spread: New numbers will be released on the outbreak. The number of cases continued to increase in the last week, though some experts are hopeful that the spread could level off soon.

Greek Theatre vote: The L.A. City Council is set to decide whether to reject Live Nation as the new operator for the Greek Theatre.

Sunday: The Grammy Awards at Staples Center.

Monday: Candidates’ forum for the L.A. City Council’s 4th District.

Friday: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House in Hollywood reopens after renovations.

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.