Essential California: Villaraigosa opts out of Senate race, new questions about rail safety, will California keep its plastic bags?

Good morning. It is Wednesday, Feb. 25. L.A. park officials will celebrate the birthday of the late great Beatle George Harrison today by planting a tree in his honor in Griffith Park. The original “George Harrison tree” died last year -- due to a beetle infestation. Here’s what’s happening today in the Golden State:


Metrolink passes a safety test

Though more than two dozen people were injured Tuesday when a commuter train derailed in Oxnard, the crash could have been much worse if it weren’t for new passenger cars specifically designed to absorb such an impact. The derailment is again raising questions about the practice of locomotives pushing trains from the rear. The National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Railroad Administration are both investigating the crash. Metrolink spent hundreds of millions of dollars to boost safety after multiple-fatality crashes in Burbank and Chatsworth. L.A. Times

Villaraigosa will stay in California

In announcing that he will not run for the U.S. Senate, former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa hinted at a future gubernatorial campaign: “We have come a long way, but our work is not done, and neither am I.” Villaraigosa’s move means state Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris remains the front-runner in 2016. But it sets up a 2018 north vs. south battle royal if Villaraigosa faces off against former San Francisco Mayor (and current Lt. Gov.) Gavin Newsom. L.A. Times


Auntie Fee is no Barefoot Contessa: Don't expect a clone of Martha Stewart or the Barefoot Contessa when you tune into Auntie Fee's cooking show. The South L.A. homemaker has generated a loyal online audience not for the recipes but because, as Esmeralda Bermudez writes, "she's as unpredictable as a car chase. You never know what's going to come out of her mouth." L.A. Times

The other Koreatown loves L.A.: How the Los Angeles ZIP code 90185 has become a symbol of coolness and fashion in L.A.-loving Seoul. Boom Magazine on the Koreatown-Seoul nexus. 

Sony's top boss: Sony Pictures Entertainment’s new leader, Tom Rothman, is a former English teacher and lacrosse coach. Here are four other things you need to know about the studio executive described as a “penny-pincher.” L.A. Times

Vote early and often: While most Angelenos snooze right through municipal elections, Steve Lopez found three 18-year-old students who can’t wait to cast a ballot in next week’s L.A. city race. “I’m kind of nervous. I hope I make the right decisions in the end,” says one. L.A. Times

Five not-so-golden rings: The five reasons Angelenos don’t seem to care about losing out on the 2024 Olympics. Los Angeles Magazine


California Republicans’ uncertain future: California once produced Republican leaders such as Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. Now, the state party is so weakened that the only viable Republican who could run for the U.S. Senate is former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, a woman who has never held elected office nor given any indication that she wants to replace Barbara Boxer. Rather than focus on state or federal races, party leaders have put their efforts toward electing Republicans to city and county government. Politico

Party time for state leaders: California taxpayers shelled out $38,000 last year so the leaders of the state Senate and Assembly could be sworn in in style. Though Sen. Kevin de Leon’s $50,000 celebration was covered by the Legislature’s Latino caucus, the state still paid $28,000 for 40 staffers and security to attend. Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins’ party in San Diego cost Californians about $10,000. Sacramento Bee

Would you like paper or plastic? You will hear that question at grocery stores a bit longer than expected. The statewide ban on plastic grocery bags was scheduled to take effect this summer but now it’s on hold because a referendum on the issue has qualified for next year’s ballot. If you live in one of the 100 jurisdictions that’s already banned plastic, you’ll have to keep bringing your own bags to the store -- those laws won’t be affected by the referendum. L.A. Times


A year ago, Metrolink became the first commuter rail line to install a safety system that can override a train engineer and apply the brakes to prevent a crash. It cost $210 million to install the system. But as Tuesday’s derailment in Oxnard shows, not all crashes are preventable.

We want to hear from you -- do you commute by train? Is it a safer option than driving a car? What about the controversial practice of having locomotives push commuter trains from behind? Tell us by tweeting with the tag #EssentialCalifornia or send us an email: Alice Walton and Shelby Grad.


Monterey Park made history decades ago when it became an Asian-majority city. Now, according to the L.A. Times, the March 3 elections could make history again by electing the city’s first African American councilman; electing the first all-male council in four decades; or electing the country’s first all-Chinese City Council. Here's how the city has changed:


Whites  56%

Asians/Other  17%     

Latinos  27%


Whites  5%

Asians/Other  68%

Latinos  27%

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.