Essential California: Becerra goes to Washington

 Xavier Becerra in front of a podium.
Newly confirmed Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, pictured in his role as California attorney general.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Friday, March 19, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

Xavier Becerra was narrowly confirmed Thursday as the next U.S. Health and Human Services secretary, making him the first Latino to hold the position. Becerra will have to resign his current position as California attorney general, potentially setting in motion another round of political musical chairs.

[Read the story: “California’s Xavier Becerra confirmed as Health and Human Services secretary” in the Los Angeles Times]

Gov. Gavin Newsom will be tasked with appointing a replacement, filling a high-profile statewide role often seen as a springboard to higher aspirations. Becerra himself was appointed to the position by former Gov. Jerry Brown in 2016, after the previous officeholder Vice President Kamala Harris was elected to the Senate. In 2018, he was elected to a four-year term.


Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank) and Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg are among the candidates that Newsom is said to be considering as California’s next attorney general. The AG post is one of several high-profile appointments that Newsom has been tasked with in recent months. In December, he appointed then-Secretary of State Alex Padilla to fill Harris’ soon-to-be-vacated Senate seat. Later that month, the governor named Democratic Assemblywoman Shirley Weber to serve as the state’s chief elections officer, replacing Padilla.

Becerra will take over HHS — which includes the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Food and Drug Administration — just over a year into the COVID-19 pandemic. As my D.C. colleague Eli Stokols reports, Becerra will play a leading role in the Biden administration’s vaccination and testing efforts aimed at finally turning the tide of the pandemic and enabling businesses and schools to fully reopen.

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

California approved an ethnic studies curriculum for K-12 schools after years of debate: Ending a long and often divisive debate, the State Board of Education on Thursday unanimously approved a model curriculum to guide how the histories, struggles and contributions of the Asian, Black, Latino and Native American communities — and the racism and marginalization they have experienced in the United States — will be taught to millions of students. Los Angeles Times

California logged a record-breaking week of COVID-19 vaccinations. In a sign that the state’s uneven COVID-19 vaccine rollout is significantly ramping up, nearly 1 million Californians have received a shot in the past two days, data show. Los Angeles Times

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A journalist accused the LAPD of assault. Then police tried to have him prosecuted. Los Angeles Times

The 2021 Oscars will be taped live from Union Station with no option to Zoom in. Only nominees, their guests and presenters will be in attendance. Los Angeles Times

“Los Angeles’ code war against street vendors.” Street vendors and advocates say L.A. must develop a food-vending cart that meets its health code — or change the health code.Capital & Main

[See also:“New LA City Council Motion Would Stop Enforcement Against Street Food Vendors” in Eater LA]

Warner Bros. steps away from $100-million Hollywood sign aerial tramway: The studio backed away from a proposal to fund an aerial tramway to take visitors to and from the Hollywood sign, starting from a parking structure next to its Burbank lot. Los Angeles Times

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House passes “Dreamers” bill as immigration debate intensifies — at the border and in Congress: The House, voting largely along party lines, approved a bill providing a path to citizenship for so-called Dreamers, or DACA recipients. The bill would also provide permanent residence to immigrants currently in the U.S. on temporary protected status. The House also approved a second measure that would significantly expand the number of seasonal farmworkers allowed to enter the U.S. and work legally. Those votes represent the opening shot in a legislative battle likely to stretch deep into the year. Los Angeles Times

Atlanta-area spa shootings evoke renewed calls for Congress to act against anti-Asian hate: A House Judiciary subcommittee on Thursday heard from lawmakers, experts and advocates about the rise of violence and discrimination against Asian Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic and the role political rhetoric can play. Los Angeles Times

The California Legislature voted to expand paid sick leave for about 10.4 million workers, sending a bill to Newsom that mandates up to two weeks of paid time off for circumstances including COVID-19 symptoms, scheduling a vaccine or child care and schooling. Associated Press


San Francisco’s school district faces a lawsuit over its controversial renaming of 44 schools. The suit was filed by a local law firm joined by a prominent constitutional scholar. San Francisco Chronicle


Pepper spray, Instagram and buddy systems: How Asian Americans in Southern California have been dealing with rising anxiety about racial attacks since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Los Angeles Times

The strange, ambitious marriage of the Ball family and Chino Hills. LaVar Ball moved to Chino Hills nearly 25 years ago to start a family with his wife, Tina. Now, he and his basketball-playing sons have helped put the Inland Empire planned community on the map. Los Angeles Times

A man seated in a fancy convertible in front of the entrance to a mountain trail.
LaVar Ball sits in his Rolls-Royce in front of a trail where he used to train his sons in their early years at Chino Hills State Park in Chino Hills, Calif.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

USC will hold in-person graduations this spring for the classes of 2020 and 2021. Ceremonies will be stretched out over nearly two weeks, occurring twice a day from May 14 to May 25. And students will be allowed to bring only two guests each. Los Angeles Times

Museums in L.A., Orange and other Southern California counties, as well as in San Francisco, are opening. Here’s our updated list of confirmed reopening dates. Los Angeles Times

A poem to start your Friday: “Like This” by Carol Muske-Dukes.

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Los Angeles: sunny, 70. San Diego: sunny, 66. San Francisco: morning fog, 57 . San Jose: noncommittal clouds, 61. Fresno: intermittent rain, 57. Sacramento: a bit cloudy, 63.


Today’s California memory comes from Linda Sciaroni:


For a kid with a bike in San Pedro in the 1970s, adventure was just a downhill glide away. On Sundays in fifth grade, my friend and I would ride to Royal Palms, explore the tide pools looking for hermit crabs, marvel at the surfers and throw rocks into the surf. The ride home was grueling, straight uphill. My bike remained my transportation to work that stretched into the night at Ports o’ Call and at Cabrillo Aquarium; gratefully my mom would fetch me home. To be by the water late into the night is still one of my favorite things.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints, ideas and unrelated book recommendations to Julia Wick. Follow her on Twitter @Sherlyholmes.