Essential California: New attorney general shifts focus inward to Golden State

California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta gives a speech.
California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta promised more action on hate crimes, saying there is “a state of crisis” because of an increase in attacks on Asian Americans.
(Paul Kitagaki Jr. / Associated Press)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Monday, May 24. I’m Priscella Vega, and I’m writing from Long Beach.

After a year marred by civil and political unrest sparked by the murder of George Floyd, California’s new Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta announced a series of initiatives to help address racial injustices, biased policing, environmental polluters and a backlog of untested rape evidence kits.

For the record:

5:16 p.m. May 24, 2021A previous version of this newsletter stated that Rob Bonta was California’s top cop before he served as a Democratic Assembly member. He became state attorney general after serving in the Assembly for nine years.

Bonta’s direction is a sharp departure from the Department of Justice’s past four years of legal fighting against the Trump administration on national issues. With President Biden, a Democrat, now in office, Bonta said it was an opportunity to look inward.


And his shift in re-centering the department’s focus on the Golden State has already left a mark on supporters and critics, writes my colleague Patrick McGreevy.

A month into his role, Bonta created the Racial Justice Bureau to combat white supremacy and hate crimes, which have skyrocketed against the Asian American community in cities around the United States amid the pandemic.

The bureau will also examine indirect and explicit bias in policing, reviewing best practices and issuing guidelines for law enforcement, and create a task force to study reparations for Black residents. Bonta has also taken steps to reverse a prior policy that withheld some records on police officer misconduct. He is also working on creating a new unit to investigate fatal police shootings of unarmed citizens.

“California and the nation need leaders like Rob Bonta to meet this pivotal moment in our history with the courage, energy and tenacity it will take to shape a society more reflective of our values,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said.

Before Bonta became the first Filipino American to hold the job, he served as a Democratic Assembly member for nine years.

[Read the story “California’s new attorney general turns focus from fighting Trump to policing, racial justice” in the Los Angeles Times]

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


California officials say gas tax funding can only cover less than half of work needed. Some progress has been made, but repairs to roads and bridges have been delayed because of the state’s high cost compared to other states and by the pandemic. With another gas tax increase scheduled for July 1, some lawmakers are critiquing the snail’s pace progress. Los Angeles Times

Thousands of Californians signed up to volunteer at vaccine clinics and get a shot, but fewer than 300 were able to book shifts on the state’s MyTurn website. Officials launched the site earlier this year to help streamline the process for medical workers and the general public to volunteer. CalMatters


Nearly a year after George Floyd’s murder, longtime civil rights activists, including prominent L.A. leaders, gained a wider audience. “People finally get what we mean when we say, ‘Until Black people are free, nobody’s free,’” said Melina Abdullah, the leader of Black Lives Matter L.A. Los Angeles Times

Jai'Ree Tannan, 20, of Chino Hills
Jai’Ree Tannan, 20, of Chino Hills said he became more engaged in social justice causes in the last year.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

L.A.’s new 6th Street Bridge is rising. The new bridge will replace the original structure built in 1932 and will reconnect the downtown Arts District and historic Boyle Heights. It’s scheduled for completion in summer 2022. Los Angeles Times (This story is exclusive to Times subscribers.)

A historic Armenian church in Boyle Heights is having a post-pandemic revival. The weathered house of worship appeared as if it were nearing its end in the beginning of 2020, but many faithful are returning this year. The Rev. Armenag Bedrossian, the church’s sole pastor, believes it’s because the “pandemic was like a spiritual retreat for them to think.” Los Angeles Times


An investigation showed Orange County officials were unprepared for COVID-19. Other jurisdictions across California and the U.S. also struggled but the county’s slow response and brazen pushback against safety measures from some officials and residents made it the center of resistance. So far Orange County has seen 255,000 cases and more than 5,000 deaths. Los Angeles Times

Cases in the United States are plummeting. The seven-day average for new cases dropped below 30,000 per day last week, the lowest level in more than 11 months, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, health experts warn there is still potential for new variants to prolong the pandemic because more Americans need to get vaccinated. Los Angeles Times

The pandemic disrupted many lives, but it’s been especially catastrophic for those with dementia. Studies show that people with dementia are at higher risk of getting COVID-19 and have a harder time following safety measures. San Francisco Chronicle.


A petition to recall Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. George Gascón was formally approved. Now, recall organizers must collection signatures from 10% of L.A. County’s registered voters by Oct. 27. Los Angeles Times

With Gov. Gavin Newsom’s recall underway, where does Donald Trump stand? Some say it’s too early for Trump to share interest in tossing his hat into the ring. Others say Trump hasn’t publicly supported any candidate because recent poll data show Newsom is likely to win the recall and Trump doesn’t want to be associated with losing. Sacramento Bee


The $6-billion proposal to expand the congested 710 Freeway might violate Clear Air Act standards. It’s the latest obstacle Southern California transportation officials are grappling with. Now, they must consider starting over with a new approach. Los Angeles Times

An environmental group asked the U.S. Navy to review its operations in the Pacific Ocean to help avoid killing or injuring animals. The Center for Biological Diversity wrote the letter after two dead whales appeared to have been struck by an Australian naval destroyer. One washed ashore onto Bolsa Chica State Beach. Orange County Register

Scientists take samples from the carcass of a fin whale that washed up at Bolsa Chica State Beach.
Scientists from the Pacific Marine Mammal Center of Laguna Beach take samples from the carcass of a fin whale that washed up at Bolsa Chica State Beach for further study.
(Raul Roa / Times Community News)


The comic book character Goro Shigeno influenced Angels pitcher Shohei Ohtani’s passion for baseball. In Japan, it isn’t uncommon for popular comic books to transcend children’s entertainment and permeate everyday life. Los Angeles Times (This story is exclusive to Times subscribers.)

A viral TikTok video invited people a birthday party in Huntington Beach. Thousands showed up to “Adrian’s kickback” and prompted authorities to issue an emergency overnight curfew. Nearly 150 were arrested and will face charges of vandalism, failure to disperse, curfew violations and firework offenses, police said. Los Angeles Times

A man has more than 10,000 pieces of Palm Springs pop culture history scattered throughout his home and storage units. Marty Newman’s collection includes what he claims to be Elvis Presley’s monogrammed gate formerly at his Chino Canyon property and a jeweled belt buckle from President John F. Kennedy that was given to former Palm Springs Mayor Frank Bogert. Desert Sun

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Los Angeles: sunny, 82. San Diego: mostly sunny, 73. San Francisco: sunny, 64. San Jose: sunny, 75. Fresno: sunny, 91. Sacramento: sunny, 88.


This week’s birthdays for those who made a mark in California:

Writer Michael Chabon (May 24, 1963), singer Bob Dylan (May 24, 1941), singer Stevie Nicks (May 26, 1948), actress Pam Grier (May 26, 1949), Clippers consultant and former Laker Jerry West (May 28, 1938) and Pavement frontman Stephen Malkmus (May 30, 1966).

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

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