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Essential California: Grammys and diversity, the L.A. Phil's power player, homes as hotels

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


Awards Season, Diversity Edition

For viewers Sunday night, the Grammys appeared to be a diverse affair — especially by the standards of Hollywood awards shows. But Times music editor Lorraine Ali notes that the nominee list was much less diverse than the guest list and the performer rundown: In the top four Grammy categories, just two of the 20 nominated artists, Pharrell Williams and Beyonce, were minorities. Still, compared with other awards, the Grammys have a much richer history in honoring nonwhite performers. At the NAACP Image Awards last week, the lack of nonwhite Oscar nominees was a hot topic. Said Spike Lee: "This stuff is rigged, it's not set up for us to win."

Meet a Serious L.A. Power Player

You may have never heard of Deborah Borda, the powerhouse behind the L.A. Philharmonic. But her run has been impressive. As the first of a Times four-part series on the philharmonic notes, "In her 15 years as the L.A. Phil's president and chief executive, she has presided over the opening of Disney Hall, amassed the largest budget of any U.S. symphony and instilled a corporate savviness that has increased the orchestra’s endowment nearly fivefold to $222 million." Part 2 of the series on the Phil will appear on Thursday.

When Homes Become Hotels

Los Angeles continues to struggle with how best to regulate short-term rentals, like those arranged through Airbnb. The city is missing out on millions of dollars in revenue from property owners who should be paying hotel taxes. At the same time, some owners who are paying the transient occupancy tax are  fined for improperly operating hotels in residential areas. In one sign of the uncertainty swirling around such rentals, The Times found what appeared to be hundreds of lodging businesses registered to pay taxes in neighborhoods where they generally are barred.

L.A. Stories

Venice landmark in flux: Few places in L.A. have seen such rapid and transformative gentrification as Venice. But restaurant mogul Bill Chait's recent purchase of the beloved Rose Cafe has some regulars up in arms. Chait tells Times food editor Russ Parsons that he wants to "evolve" the cuisine "but not change the feeling. The vibe of the place is great." Some in Venice worry they won't recognize the place. 

Ugly politics at L.A. community colleges: There are complaints of dirty politics in the race for four at-large seats on the L.A. Community College District board. "The nonpartisan board elections are generally swayed by the county's Democratic Party and the district's powerful faculty and employee unions. Only this year's election has been hotly contested by a rare union split for Seat No. 1, with sparks flying from a pair of feisty campaign consultants,"  says a report in the Daily News. It's the largest community college system in America, with 149,000 students and a $1.1-billion budget.

City Hall work stoppage: L.A. city employees are planning a brief work stoppage Tuesday as contract negotiations between City Hall and the Coalition of L.A. City Unions grind to a standstill. Mayor Eric Garcetti is holding firm that there should not be any raises for the next three years. He also wants employees to pay more toward their healthcare and retirement. "We can only spend what we have. I look forward to light coming down the tunnel soon, but it's not there," Garcetti says.

Where the "super-mega-rich" live: Los Angeles places fourth when it comes to where the "ultra-high net worth" live, Curbed LA reports. "Super-mega-rich" refers to people with more than $30 million in assets. The top three cities where they own homes are New York, London and Hong Kong.


California Chronicles

Aerospace highs and lows: The Pentagon's plan to spend billions of dollars on a new Stealth bomber is expected to bring a windfall to what remains of Southern California's aerospace industry, which is largely clustered in the high desert areas. But down in Long Beach, the old aerospace industry is nearing the end. One assembly line worker about to lose his Boeing job told Steve Lopez: "I've been fortunate for the last 29 years, and now I'm going to get a taste of the real economy."

Primary colors: California's much vaunted top-two primary system has done less than backers promised to reduce polarization and help moderate voices. 

Bay Area transit blues: Despite billions of dollars in new construction and incentives, the percentage of people taking mass transit in the Bay Area is declining, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. 

Finishing climate change job: Democrats are ready to propose a sweeping series of new environmental proposals aimed at reaching Gov. Jerry Brown's climate change objectives.  

O.C.’s real estate danger zone: Amid a real estate boom, Orange County is building hundreds of homes in remote canyon areas that have traditionally been wildfire corridors, the Orange County Register reports. 

And Finally...

Few Internet activities are more addictive than looking at real estate prices on Zillow. But some real estate agents assert that those automated property value estimates are highly inaccurate -- off by 26% in some rural parts of California. More alleged error rates:

San Francisco: 11.6%

Manhattan: 19.9%

Zillow says the median error rate is about 8%.

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.


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