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L.A. County has more people than 40 states, but its political power doesn’t reflect that

Beachgoers in Hermosa Beach
If Los Angeles County were a state, it would rank as the 11th most populous, between Michigan and New Jersey. Above: Beachgoers in Hermosa Beach enjoy their Labor Day 2021 weekend.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)
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Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Thursday, May 12. I’m Justin Ray.

When you actually look at the numbers and the data, they’re pretty shocking.

For the record:

12:19 p.m. May 13, 2022A previous version of this newsletter misstated city and county populations in California.

Los Angeles County had 9,861,224 people as of Jan. 1, 2022. Unless there have been major changes since the 2020 census, that means that only 10 states have more people. (If the county were a state, it would be ranked as the 11th most populous, just below Michigan and just above New Jersey.)

Recently, a map has been making the rounds on social media that makes this point. In the past week, it has been upvoted 84,000 times on Reddit and retweeted nearly 10,000 times on the bird app.

In terms of states, California is, of course, the most populous; our nearest rival, Texas, has nearly 10 million fewer residents. Our borders contain one in every eight people in America. Our population density gives weight to the popular saying, “As California goes, so goes the nation.” It puts us in a position to lead when it comes to policies pushed by our local and state governments, such as expanding civil rights, moving toward sustainable energy and addressing inequality (though we do have many of the world’s billionaires as well as a disproportionate share of the nation’s homeless).

States with less than one-quarter of California’s population, of course, have the same number of U.S. senators.

Eric McGhee, a senior fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California, says the relative imbalance between the biggest state’s population and its political power vis-a-vis smaller states is not new. He pointed to the fact that New York had the biggest population for decades until 1962, when California finally surpassed the East Coast state.

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But what’s different is that small states are more reliably voting Republican than they have in the past.

“That’s making the disproportionality have a partisan implication in a way that for most of American history it did not, and that’s where I think it starts to really pack a punch,” he explains. He acknowledges that not every small state can be described that way. “But there’s an increasing number of small states — like Wyoming, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Alaska — that are pretty solidly Republican,” he adds.

But McGhee says California suffers from the “winner takes all ‘’ form of politics that leaves political minorities without a voice.

“In the California context, Republicans feel like they’re left out because they are completely shut out of state policy at this point,” McGhee says. “It’s easy to feel like you’re kind of shut out of policy if your party is in the minority in a particular place.”

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

A brush fire fueled by intense coastal winds roared into an upscale Laguna Niguel subdivision Wednesday evening, burning at least 20 homes and forcing many to flee. Unlike many wildfires in the region, the Coastal fire was fanned not by Santa Ana winds from the desert but by strong gusts coming from the Pacific Ocean. Los Angeles Times

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‘I knew those houses were gone’: What it was like as fire consumed a Laguna Niguel community. Los Angeles Times

Firefighters aim water at a burning house
Firefighters battle the Coastal fire at Coronado Pointe in Laguna Niguel on Wednesday.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

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L.A. STORIES

A Glendale third-grade teacher who nearly a year ago showed videos celebrating gay pride to her students has been involuntarily transferred from her classroom for safety reasons after receiving threats. The video that has spurred the most objection — and one that some parents said crossed the line of age appropriateness — is “Talking to Kids About Pride Month.” Los Angeles Times

Glendale third-grade teacher Tammy Tiber
Glendale third-grade teacher Tammy Tiber has been involuntarily transferred from her classroom.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

The family of Anthony Avalos has reached a tentative $32-million settlement with Los Angeles County. His mother, Heather Barron, and her boyfriend, Kareem Leive, were indicted by a grand jury in 2018 on charges that they murdered and tortured Anthony and also abused two of his siblings in the household. Los Angeles Times

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Our daily news podcast

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POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT

Vivian Villanueva — wife of Sheriff Alex Villanueva — holds sway in L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, officials say. In interviews, more than 20 current and former sheriff’s officials, including many who asked to remain anonymous because they feared retaliation, said she exerts real influence within the department. “I have had many private discussions with my husband about many different aspects of the sheriff’s department, and if asked, I will voice my opinions,” she told The Times. Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, right, and his wife Vivian on Friday November 08, 2019.
(Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)

Column: Karen Bass wants to end homelessness. Are know-how and connections enough? “On the one hand, she’s got experience and connections that would be useful if she’s elected mayor. On the other hand, the homelessness epidemic is in large part the result of failures not just at the city level, but at the state and federal levels as well,” writes Steve Lopez. Los Angeles Times

CRIME, COURTS AND POLICING

Cold case gets solved. In March 1990, John Carl Burkhardt from Fontana missed a breakfast date with a friend. When the friend went to his home on Mango Avenue, the 71-year-old was found stabbed to death and his home ransacked. Police searched for his killer, but all their leads went cold. On Monday, the Fontana Police Department finally revealed who killed Burkhardt. Los Angeles Times

Immigration and Customs Enforcement has crafted a surveillance dragnet designed to spy on most people living in the United States — including California residents — without the need for warrants, a new investigation by the Georgetown Law Center on Privacy & Technology has found. Los Angeles Times

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An agent representing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is see in Bell Gardens.
David A. Marin, a field office director with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, during a predawn apprehension in Bell Gardens.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

FYI: My colleagues on Thursday are hosting a live chat about the Johnny Depp-Amber Heard trial, featuring Emily D. Baker, the former L.A. deputy district attorney who has been tracking the defamation case. Here’s the link to the Twitter Spaces event. It starts at 12 p.m. Pacific time.

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HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT

Democratic Assemblywoman Mia Bonta, wife of state Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta, disclosed Tuesday that she had an abortion as a 21-year-old. “I had to weigh all of the decisions that came with that reality. And I chose to get an abortion. I chose to own my body,” Bonta said. She added that her decision allowed her to break what she called “the cycle of poverty in my family.” She joins many public officials, celebrities and musicians who have discussed their own abortions after a leaked draft opinion suggested that the U.S. Supreme Court could strike down the landmark Roe vs. Wade decision. Associated Press

A case brought by Los Angeles city and county officials alleges that a fraudulent scheme drew in millions from health insurers through COVID-19 testing. Based on the allegations laid out in court filings, it looks as though “they just took advantage of the weaknesses in the oversight and monitoring of these activities,” said Glenn Melnick, a USC professor and expert in healthcare economics and finance. Los Angeles Times

CALIFORNIA CULTURE

Facebook whistleblowers allege the platform used blackout to alter law. Last year, hundreds of Australian emergency services and government pages were blocked on the platform. When it happened, Facebook said it was an accident. However, a whistleblower alleged the company did so on purpose due to a law about tech platforms like Google and Facebook paying news outlets. A Meta spokesperson has denied the blocking of the pages was deliberate. The company, which is based in Menlo Park, has agreed to pay outlets. Wall Street Journal

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Gun ownership data are often limited — and the NRA knows it stands in the way. California has long played a pivotal role in the study of gun violence. However, the National Rifle Assn. has filed lawsuits challenging that long-established practice. For decades, the NRA has pressured lawmakers to block the collection of ownership data — and denied that its position hinders firearms research. But in a report to board members, the NRA’s director of research and information acknowledged that the group’s lobbying has created a major obstacle. The NRA did not respond to calls or emails seeking comment. Trace / Los Angeles Times

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CALIFORNIA ALMANAC

Los Angeles: Sunny 77 San Diego: Sunny 72 San Francisco: Overcast 64 San Jose: Overcast 69 Fresno: Sunny 80 Sacramento: Overcast 78

AND FINALLY

Today’s California memory is from Kristina Lear:

I woke up early, as one does when they are sleeping in a tent on the beach in a Santa Barbara, I was hungry and headed for town. I came upon a grapefruit tree with plump fruit hanging down in front of me. Then an apricot. An avocado. By the time I reached town, I was full. Being from the northeast, I’d never experienced anything like it.

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 to essentialcalifornia@latimes.com.

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