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The quest to find L.A.’s biggest influencers

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Good morning. It’s Monday, June 10. Here’s what you need to know to start your day.

A new Times series explores the people shaping L.A.

Who are the key people shaping the ever-evolving city of Los Angeles?

The Times looks to answer that question in an ambitious new series, L.A. Influential, featuring more than 100 profiles of Angelenos who are putting their imprint on the myriad cultures, institutions and industries that make the city what it is.

“Historically, influence in Los Angeles was an easy proposition: Those who had power used it at the expense of everyone else,” Times columnist Gustavo Arellano wrote in an introduction to the series. “Since the 1992 riots, a new philosophy has taken hold in L.A. as the population diversified and the old guard largely high-tailed it out of here: Influence can come from anywhere, and woe to those who don’t realize that.”

The project was a year in the making, crafted by more than 100 reporters and editors from across the newsroom, who spent that time exploring the layers of influence in L.A. and the people who wield power — though not always in a spotlight.

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“There are the obvious choices — and many more surprises,” Gustavo noted. “People who you don’t think deserve to be noted here and people you couldn’t imagine Los Angeles without.”

The dozens of profiles and essays also feature portraits shot by Times Pulitzer-Prize-winning photographer Christina House. The subscriber-exclusive series is being published online in six installments each Sunday, with a special print section coming in July.

The first installment was “The Creators,” focused on artists leaving a mark on film, TV, music and more.

Among them: fishmonger Liwei Liao. He’s shaking up the seafood game with his meticulous process of dry aging fish and his mantra that “fresh is boring.”

“His fish crops up on menus across the Southland — and across the country — be it in tacos or on fine dining tasting menus,” Times food writer Stephanie Breijo reports. “Next time you visit your favorite L.A. restaurant, look for ‘dry-aged’ on the menu. … You most likely will have Liao to thank.”

Also featured is Amanda Gorman, the former Los Angeles youth poet laureate who became an instant icon when she recited her poem “The Hill We Climb” during President Biden’s 2021 inauguration. “Her unifying verses were drafted into a war erupting in classrooms over the inclusion of diverse authors addressing race and gender,” wrote Times fellow Jireh Deng. Last year, a Florida school restricted access to her iconic poem, leading the 26-year-old Gorman to become a powerful advocate against book banning.

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The latest category, dubbed “The Connectors,” was published Sunday, highlighting the L.A. power brokers who “connect the dots” of influence.

Those include Casey Wasserman, who Times reporter David Wharton notes is now the face of L.A.’s upcoming 2028 Olympic Games. That means Wasserman — the man in charge of organizing the Games — will be the one to take the blame if the city goes over the $7-billion budget and taxpayers have to cover the cost.

There’s also Fran Drescher, the president of SAG-AFTRA who led the actors union through a tough battle with streaming giants and Hollywood studio titans.

“Drescher became one of the most powerful people in Los Angeles by holding firm, despite pressure and personal attacks, until her 160,000-member performers union won its most generous deal in decades,” writes The Times’ Meg James.

And Times reporter Taryn Luna profiled Juan Rodriguez. The Democratic political consultant has worked for former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Vice President Kamala Harris when she was California’s attorney general, and Gov. Gavin Newsom, among others. The son of El Salvadoran immigrants aspires to be California’s next political kingmaker.

“I was always so intrigued by how power was always next door to the people who didn’t have it,” he said. “It made me believe at the time that politics could be the great equalizer.”

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There are dozens more pieces to explore, including profiles on Tyler, the Creator, Eva Longoria, Kevin Feige, LeBron James, and Jonson and Alice Chen.

Look out for more installments of L.A. Influential online over the next four Sundays, featuring “The Money,” “The Disruptors” and “The Establishment.”

Today’s top stories

Surfers float in the foreground as a large cargo ship floats in the distance.
Container ships wait to be unloaded at the Ports of L.A. and Long Beach in 2020.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Climate and environment

Politics

Other big stories


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Commentary and opinions

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Today’s great reads

A young child with bare feet plays with small plastic toys on a sidewalk next to a tent.
A migrant child plays with his toys in front of his family’s tent along Towne Avenue in Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Hundreds of children live on Skid Row. Can L.A. do more for them? Skid Row is not a place for children. And yet there are more than 200 children living there now with their families, Times reporter Paloma Esquivel wrote. “Some are asking whether there are immediate steps that city and other officials should take to improve the quality of life for children on Skid Row as long as they remain,” Paloma reported.

Other great reads


How can we make this newsletter more useful? Send comments to essentialcalifornia@latimes.com.


For your downtime

The ube custard-filled turon from Chaaste Family Market in Pasadena.
The ube custard-filled turon from Chaaste Family Market in Pasadena.
(Ariel Esteban)

Going out

Staying in

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And finally ... a great photo

Show us your favorite place in California! We’re running low on submissions. Send us photos that scream California and we may feature them in an edition of Essential California.

A boy stands on a beach and looks up at a large blimp flying overhead.
Wesley Leicher, then 6, enjoys a friendly visit from the Goodyear’s “Wingfoot Two” airship in the skies over Hermosa Beach in January 2022.
(Miles Leicher)

Today’s great photo is from Miles Leicher of Los Angeles: the high-flying Goodyear blimps that dot SoCal skies.

Miles writes: “Goodyear blimps have been based in the Los Angeles area for nearly a century, yet they still manage to inspire awe and excitement from children and adults alike. Pair that with a sunny SoCal beach day (in January, no less) and it’s a winning combination.”

Have a great day, from the Essential California team

Ryan Fonseca, reporter
Amy Hubbard, deputy editor, Fast Break

Check our top stories, topics and the latest articles on latimes.com.

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