Essential California: Oscar winners, L.A. County fire's cheating scandal, California's warmest winter

Essential California is a daily collection of the best reporting on the Golden State. The newsletter is brought to you by reporter Alice Walton and California editor Shelby Grad.


A night for “Birdman,” and calls for justice

An Oscar season that began with complaints about lack of diversity among the nominees ended on a decidedly political note. “Birdman” won the Academy Award for best picture and for best director, Alejandro G. Iñárritu. It is the second year in a row that a Mexican director has won that honor. Iñárritu ended his speech by calling for fair treatment of Mexican immigrants living in America. He wasn’t the only winner to use his time on the stage to call for social change. Actress Patricia Arquette spoke out for equal pay, and musician John Legend touched on the importance of voting rights. Common and Legend also struck notes of equal justice in their remarks. "There are more black men under correctional control today than were under slavery in 1850," Legend said. Their award for best song was the only Oscar for "Selma," the civil rights historical drama some felt was snubbed. L.A. Times

Big drop in drug arrests

Proposition 47, the landmark California ballot measure that downgraded drug possession and minor thefts to misdemeanors, was supposed to shift the focus from jail to rehab for drug offenders. But it’s also had another effect. Narcotics arrests have dropped by 30% in Los Angeles and 48% in areas patrolled by the L.A. County Sheriff's Department, as busy police officers decide that the time needed to process cases is not worth it. L.A. Times

L.A. County Fire Dept. cheating scandal widens

Last year, a Times investigation found that an unusually high number of family members of Los Angeles County firefighters were hired by the department and that insiders had access to the job interview questions and answers that were supposed to be confidential. An audit launched as a result of the coverage has now brought new bombshells: 17 sworn department officials, including one battalion chief and 10 captains, had obtained the entrance exam questions and answers and sent them to others, including to non-county email accounts. L.A. Times


NFL seriously looking at L.A.: For the first time in more than 20 years, the NFL’s return to Los Angeles seems like more than a hope and a prayer. “Now that there are multiple clubs in it, the passion is building and the commitment to get something done on the part of those clubs is very public,” said Eric Grubman, an NFL senior vice president and the point man on bringing pro football back to Los Angeles. L.A. Times

Parole denied for former gang member: Gov. Jerry Brown denied parole for a former member of the Mexican Mafia who later became an informant and developed relationships with law enforcement. Rene Enriquez is serving a life sentence for two murders. L.A. Times

High murder rate for black men: Violence continues to threaten the lives of African-American men, and their murders often go unsolved.”Some years, the homicide rate for black teens and young black men here was twice that of Honduras — infamous for having more murders per capita than any other country.” Daily News

Council race focuses on downtown: The downtown skyline could look dramatically different depending on the outcome of the race between Councilman Jose Huizar and former County Supervisor Gloria Molina. Molina has accused her opponent of giving into special interest groups such as developers and labor unions. Huizar says those allegations are election-year gimmicks. L.A. Times

Record heat in California: The West Coast continues to enjoy its warmest winter on record while the East Coast remains buried in snow with record-low temperatures. Of course, the warm weather comes during the state’s ongoing drought. L.A. Times


Right-wing pro-pot argument: U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of Orange County has become an unlikely supporter for the legalization of marijuana. The conservative says it’s an issue of states’ rights and personal responsibility. SF Gate

Women in Silicon Valley: Women are leaving the tech industry in droves, often because of what they describe as “hostile” work environments.  “Women in tech say filling the pipeline of talent won't do much good if women keep quitting — it's like trying to fill a leaking bucket.” L.A. Times

Sikhs seek justice in American courts: A U.S.-based Sikh group is trying to use the American court system to hold prominent figures in India responsible for violence against Sikhs after the 1984 assassination of Indira Gandhi. The latest attempt involved actor Amitabh Bachchan, a Bollywood star who had a small role in “The Great Gatsby.” L.A. Times

Camp Trouble: Camping was once a central part of the California experience, but the number of campers is beginning to decline. Fewer people are willing to rough it, and there is more competition for more “developed” outdoor activities (with running water). Boom

Disneyland ticket prices: Starting Sunday, the price of tickets to Disneyland rose. The theme park remains more popular than ever, even though single-day prices have risen 140% since 2000. Is the $100-plus coming soon? Orange County Register


In 2014, just 4.6% of films from major studios were directed by women. Sony Pictures Entertainment had the most women at the helm. Here’s how that figure compared to previous years, according to the L.A. Times

-- 2012: 7.6%

-- 2013: 5.8%

-- 2014: 4.6%

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.