Essential California: Welcome to Oscars season

Benedict Cumberbatch, in costume as a rancher, holds a paper rose in a movie scene
Benedict Cumberbatch, right, in a scene from “The Power of the Dog.”
(Kirsty Griffin / Netflix)
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Good morning and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Wednesday, Feb. 9, and I’m Liam Dillon, your guest host for the day.

Let this also be your official welcome to Oscars season. Tuesday morning, nominees for the 94th Academy Awards were released in advance of the March 27 ceremony at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood.

The biggest early “winners” were “The Power of the Dog,” Netflix’s western drama, which led all films with 12 nominations, and the Warner Bros. sci-fi blockbuster “Dune,” with 10. Also on the nominee list for best picture: “Belfast,” “CODA,” “Don’t Look Up,” “Drive My Car,” “King Richard,” “Licorice Pizza,” “Nightmare Alley” and “West Side Story.”

Reporter Josh Rottenberg offers some key takeaways from the nominations, including the unsurprising domination of streaming services; half the best picture nominees come from a streamer or were released simultaneously in theaters and via streaming.


Oscars history already has been made with the nomination of Troy Kotsur, the first Deaf male actor to receive an Academy Award nod, for his supporting role in “CODA.” It’s the same for Jane Campion, the first female director to be nominated twice, for “The Power of the Dog.” (Her first nomination was nearly 30 years ago, for “The Piano.”) Danish animated documentary “Flee” made history as the first to be nominated across three feature film categories: documentary, animated feature and international film.

Among the Oscar snubs garnering the most attention is a pair of musicians, Lady Gaga and Alana Haim. Both pop stars had garnered buzz for their performances in “House of Gucci” and “Licorice Pizza,” respectively.

Our culture columnist and critic Mary McNamara writes that themes involving families played well among the nominees this year. Our experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic, she writes, have involved an inordinate amount of time both hunkered down with some loved ones and separated from others, with some suffering deep loss.

This has been the case with my family. One of my most regular pleasures over the last couple of years has been opening a bottle of wine at home on a weekend night with my fiancé while we watch a movie. “The Power of the Dog,” “Dune,” “Belfast” and “King Richard” all were great, and now we have a list of even more to see.

You can see a full list of the Academy Award nominees here. And our full gamut of Oscar coverage is linked here.

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


Note: Some of the sites we link to may limit the number of stories you can access without subscribing.

L.A. County is likely a few weeks away from lifting its indoor mask mandate, public health officials said Tuesday. Such a move could come no later than the end of April unless a new coronavirus variant poses a threat. Los Angeles Times

But with statewide rules easing sooner, many are wondering what’s next for mask requirements for K-12 students. California’s indoor mask mandate for vaccinated residents will remain through Feb. 15, but state officials didn’t announce what will happen in schools, and Los Angeles, which has seen significant virus transmission due to the Omicron variant, is going slower. Los Angeles Times

A week of unruly mandate protests led a school district in Stanislaus County to ban maskless students from campuses and postpone a school board meeting due to safety concerns. There has been a threat of violence against high school staffers over mask rules in the Oakdale school district, its superintendent said. Police are investigating the threat, allegedly made by a parent. San Francisco Chronicle


The University of California has agreed to pay a $243.6-million settlement to resolve lawsuits from more than 200 women who alleged they were abused by a UCLA gynecologist. This agreement comes on top of a $73-million class-action settlement involving more than 5,000 patients going back to the early 1980s. More than 300 patients are continuing to sue over the conduct of Dr. James Heaps. Los Angeles Times

Prosecutors have declined to criminally charge Dodgers pitcher Trevor Bauer following allegations that he sexually assaulted a woman last year at his Pasadena home. Bauer has maintained that the two had rough but consensual sex. A Major League Baseball investigation into Bauer’s conduct is ongoing. Los Angeles Times


City Council members are moving to target bicycle “chop shops” on the streets, but critics called the motion a thinly veiled attempt to criminalize people living in homeless encampments. The council voted 10 to 4 to ask City Atty. Mike Feuer to draft a law prohibiting bikes from being repaired or sold on city streets. Los Angeles Times

A woman with a few old bikes outside a blue tarp tent
Honey Etcitty stands with one of the many bikes she has assembled or repaired while living homeless on skid row. “I work on bikes from scratch,” Etcitty said. “It’s the only way I get income.”
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

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A judge dismissed charges against three LAPD officers accused of falsely documenting people as gang members. The charges were part of a broader scandal in which six officers were charged. After two weeks of testimony, the judge ruled that prosecutors did not have enough evidence to proceed against the three officers who were accused of misrepresenting gang affiliations in a single case, “not a pattern” of offenses. Los Angeles Times

Seven months after their South L.A. block was blown up in a failed LAPD fireworks detonation, current and former residents could see millions in recovery funds. City officials laid out $5 million in spending for housing of displaced residents, repairs and other assistance, including nearly $1.2 million in LAPD funding already allocated to the recovery effort. Los Angeles Times

A sign on a fence outside boarded-up homes says "Destroyed by LAPD"
A home on East 27th Street in October, several months after an LAPD fireworks detonation damaged the South L.A. neighborhood.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

An investigation into degrading text messages sent by Eureka police drags on behind closed doors. Nearly a year after the Sacramento Bee revealed that police officers had sent vile messages about women and homeless people, there’s been little made public about the investigation into the officers’ conduct. The city has spent $250,000 on its investigation and commissioned a 200-page report, which it has not released. Sacramento Bee

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Meet Gary Gragg, the Bay Area horticulturalist who has dedicated his life to the delicious and nutritious avocado. Gragg is on the lookout for different avocado varieties — there’s more than just Hass out there! — and wants to propagate and sell the diverse fruits. San Francisco Chronicle

Two Bay Area communities are struggling with birds. In Sunnyvale, an attempt to rid the downtown of what the Mercury News calls its “growing crow problem” has led city officials to shine a $20 handheld green laser into trees over the last two weeks. But now the Federal Aviation Administration is warning that the laser plan might be hazardous for low-flying planes. Mercury News

And in nearby Mountain View, a flock of almost two dozen wild turkeys has taken roost at the NASA Ames Center. They’ve been pecking at cars, blocking traffic and even posing a threat to aircraft operations. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is trying to trap and relocate the birds. Mercury News


SoFi Stadium in Inglewood gets its star turn on Sunday as the host of Super Bowl LVI. The stadium, which opened in the fall of 2020, cleverly incorporates the California landscape, and even its cheapest seats — though hardly “cheap” at $6,000 a pop for the Super Bowl — provide great views of the action, writes our columnist Carolina A. Miranda. Los Angeles Times

An empty SoFi Stadium with its large, circular video board in the center
The upper decks at SoFi Stadium feel close to the action — that’s partly due to their vertical pitch.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Former college football legend Ricky Williams talks with our Adam Tschorn about his new cannabis brand, “Highsman,” a nod to his 1998 Heisman Trophy-winning season as a running back. Williams is a longtime cannabis activist. Los Angeles Times

UC San Diego researchers are receiving $500,000 from a new NFL initiative to study whether cannabis can help athletes manage pain and recover from injuries more quickly. The research will be done on professional rugby players in part because cannabis remains a banned substance in the NFL. San Diego Union-Tribune

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Los Angeles: hot, 88 San Diego: sunny, 79 San Francisco: sunny, 70 San Jose: nice, 74 Fresno: sunny, 73 Sacramento: sunny, 72


Today’s California memory is from Fikre Mariam Tsehai:

In 1967, when I was a student at the Haile Selassie University in Addis Ababa, our sociology professor, Dr. Brown, used to say, “I am from California, the best place on Earth, next to paradise.” I can only visualize paradise while still living, but I can certainly visit California. So I did. In 1997, I visited San Diego and Los Angeles. And most recently, in November 2021, I was in San Diego to celebrate Thanksgiving. Dr. Brown is right — the best place on Earth!

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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