Essential California: Orange County's death penalty case, leadership changes at Metro, President Obama in L.A.

Good morning. It is Thursday, March 12. Comedian Will Ferrell is headed to spring training, where he will play for 10 teams, including the Oakland Athletics, San Francisco Giants, San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers. Here's what else is happening today in the Golden State:


Role of jailhouse informants

Orange County’s most prolific mass shooter could escape the death penalty because of a jailhouse snitch. Prosecutors say it was purely coincidental that Scott Dekraai ended up in a cell next to an informant with a strong motivation to help out law enforcement. However, Dekraai’s lawyer argues the surreptitious jailhouse recordings violated his client’s rights. A hearing is scheduled for later today. L.A. Times

Driving public transit

Metro could soon be headed up by the man who oversaw Denver’s public transit system for six years. Mayor Eric Garcetti, chairman of the Metro Board, has been in touch with Phil Washington for at least a year. The Metro Board is expected to meet in closed session today to discuss a successor to Art Leahy. L.A. Times

Grading schools

The state Board of Education won’t use standardized tests as the major yardstick for a school’s performance next year. The move is intended to give teachers and students time to get used to new exams. Education officials also agreed to consider other factors, like dropout rates and English proficiency, in determining a school’s quality. L.A. Times



Talking tech: Mayor Eric Garcetti will attend the South By Southwest conference this weekend to talk about how Los Angeles is using data and technology to become a more livable city. SXSW

Erasing graffiti: When an Angeleno reports graffiti to 311, someone like Larry shows up. For 20 years, he’s driven around the city to paint over or clean up graffiti. This video follows him around on the job. CityLab

Keeping L.A. on its feet: In Echo Park, there is a 71-year-old man who has spent three decades repairing shoes on sidewalks and street corners. Writer Steve Lopez has video of his talk with Rafael Lopez. ”It's the people at the margins, rather than in the mansions, who make up the lifeblood of the city.” L.A. Times

"Still Alice" filmmaker: The co-director behind “Still Alice” died Tuesday after a four-year battle with ALS. Richard Glatzer was also an HIV/AIDS activist and ran the underground club Sit-and-Spin. L.A. Times

Obama-jam: President Obama will be all over town during his two-day visit to Los Angeles. This afternoon, look for road closures near LAX, Bob Hope Airport, Hollywood, Santa Monica and Century City. L.A. Times



Campus on high alert: Women on the Cal State San Bernardino campus are arming themselves with Tasers and pepper spray after a series of attacks. “A lot of people are terrified to even step inside the library now,” said one student. L.A. Times

Gunfire in the Bay: A 30-year-old mother was killed in Oakland as she shielded her children from stray gunfire. Chyemil Pierce had just picked up her children from daycare when the violent fight broke out. L.A. Times



Outlawing chewing: Chewing tobacco may soon be banned at all baseball stadiums in San Francisco. One county supervisor wants players to to stop chewing and dipping during games, from youth leagues up to the majors. CityLab



A second shot: The “world’s most depressing Starbucks” has gotten a makeover. The Highland Park drive-through now features reclaimed wood siding and patio seating. The order window was also moved away from the restroom. Eastsider L.A.

Popping with color: Southern California’s wildflowers are having a particularly good season, and hikers can’t stop posting pictures of the poppies. Curbed L.A.  

Boffo box office: China and other Asian markets helped Hollywood score another record year at the box office. Global box office receipts reached $36.4 billion in 2014. China is the largest foreign market for Hollywood films. L.A. Times

Two moms and a dad: A polyamorous Bay Area family is sharing its story to show what life is like with a husband, two wives and two newborns. “We want people to accept other ways to love. We want to empower others to love in the way they feel most comfortable.” SF Gate



In Wednesday’s Essential California, we asked you if California needed to amend its constitution to stop flag banning on campuses. Here’s what reader Robert Gorges had to say: “Anybody that doesn't want to see the American flag flying in public places can denounce their citizenship and leave this country.”

For today’s Talk Back, the city of Los Angeles is considering a plan to manage the Greek Theatre. It has reignited the debate over the privatization of public assets. Do you think it’s good for cities to allow private operators to manage public venues, zoos and golf courses? Is that work that should be done by city staff?

Share your thoughts with us on Twitter with the tag #EssentialCalifornia or send us an email: Alice Walton and Shelby Grad.



California is home to the first accredited Muslim college in America. Zaytuna College opened in 2008, offering courses in politics, religion and ethics.


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.