Newsletter: Essential California Week in Review: Social media and a murder trial

A “like” sign at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif.
A “like” sign at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif.
(Ben Margot / Associated Press)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It is Saturday, July 20. Here’s a look at the top stories of the last week.


Social media defense: In an unprecedented move, the California Supreme Court has allowed the defense in a gang-related murder trial in San Francisco to obtain private postings from Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Informant: The Los Angeles Police Department ordered a confidential informant to monitor and record meetings held by a political group that staged protests against President Trump in 2017, records show.

Biden’s Hollywood: Several of the candidates vying for the Democratic presidential nomination have significant support in Hollywood, but none has as long a history of delivering for the industry as Joe Biden.

Kern oil seep: California officials confirmed Thursday that the Kern County Chevron site was once again seeping a hazardous mix of oil and water. The seepage is at one of the locations where three previous leaks released about 800,000 gallons of the same liquid.


Movie theaters: The onslaught of content from streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon and Hulu — with more on the way — has led many to wonder if the theatrical experience itself is endangered. Will the new Alamo Drafthouse L.A. be the last stand for movie theaters?

Energy sources: A coal plant in Utah has been L.A.’s single-largest power source for three decades. It’s scheduled to shut down in 2025 — and it’s being replaced with a natural gas plant. How does that square with California’s commitment to clean energy?

Rideshare politics: Uber and Lyft paid drivers up to $100 to protest a California bill that could force the companies to treat their workers as employees.

Gas explosion: A huge explosion Monday at a house in Murrieta left a utility worker dead and 15 others injured. Officials say the incident underscores the dangers of home improvements and construction without following safety rules.

Horse deaths: In an accident as bizarre as it was tragic, two thoroughbreds lost their lives Thursday morning during training on the second day of the Del Mar racing season. After 30 equine fatalities at Santa Anita this past meeting, public perception of the sport and the safety of the horses have become national issues.

College scandal: How many students cheated to get into USC? The university has launched its own investigation to find out.

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1. A hooked great white shark dragged a fishing boat across San Francisco Bay for miles. KPIX

2. A mystery submarine spotted in Monterey Bay belongs to a former child actor. KSBW

3. Jonathan Gold’s fried chicken recipe. Los Angeles Times

4. Where did Forever 21 go wrong? Los Angeles Times

5. It was the Coliseum’s mystery mural, until a teenage detective solved its 50-year puzzle. Los Angeles Times


Can Kamala Harris prove that she’s a force for change? The inimitable Dana Goodyear profiles the California senator and Democratic presidential candidate. The New Yorker

Mass murderer? Cult leader? Musician? Fifty years after the murders that shocked the country, Charles Manson’s son wrestles with father’s legacy. Los Angeles Times

From the archives: When fast-rising food writer Javier Cabral was a 16-year-old kid in East L.A., he sent Pulitzer Prize-winning food critic Jonathan Gold a cold email that changed his life. Cabral wrote this lovely elegy for his late mentor shortly after Gold’s death last year. L.A. Taco


Saturday Recommendation: A street food market in L.A.'s Piñata District

L.A.'s Piñata District.
L.A.'s Piñata District.
(Silvia Razgova / For The Times)

Anyone who has spent sufficient time wandering the edges of downtown Los Angeles is well aware of the fantastically distinct, overlapping universe of micro-districts that exists, out beyond the office towers and 27 places to get a $12 fast-casual lunch salad. (OK, I made up the number 27, but I believe it to be spiritually accurate.)

Yes, there is the clearly defined and easily marketable Arts District, or the Financial District (although the contents of both areas have long since become more generalized than the names suggest, and the latter contains not one but two Sweetgreens). And the Fashion, Jewelry and Flower districts, whose names still remain relatively accurate.

But things get really interesting in the more condensed stretches of urban fabric devoted to even further specificity — like the hyper-specialized alleys of the “bong district,” which sells exactly that, along with assorted paraphernalia, and is centered around 3rd and Wall streets, adjacent to the Toy District. Or the dense cluster of blocks somewhere around there whose stores traffic almost exclusively in religious artifacts, and stock every possible variety of tiny plastic Jesus under the sun. I remain convinced that I once stumbled on a single block composed entirely of ribbon stores and stalls, though I have never been able to find it again.

And, of course, there is the glorious Piñata District, which spans a strip of Olympic Boulevard from South Central Avenue to Stanford Avenue and is widely understood to be a sculpture garden on par with Paris’ Musée Rodin — if Rodin had opted to work in candy-fillable papier-mâché instead of bronze, and primarily chose to depict popular children’s characters and animals.

This week, my colleague Esmeralda Bermudez delved deep into the Piñata District’s weekend street food market for an exquisite Column One on the topic. Her piece renders not just the food and characters of the market in wonderful detail, but also the unique culture and unwritten rules of this very particular section of Los Angeles. Here’s part of her opening description:

“Cumbias boom from giant speakers. Carne asada smoke clogs the air. Fryers sizzle as vendors vie for your attention. Some dance, some sing, some get down on one knee and recite poetry. Others take you by the hand and pull you to their table: Tacos! Pambazos! Tortas! Come and eat, señores y señoras! I invite, you pay.”

“It’s street food theater that overwhelms the senses and follows few, if any, norms. All those who come hunting for piñatas tend to get swept up in the show — in the birria from Jalisco, pupusas from El Salvador, nieve from Oaxaca, guasanas from Michoacan.”

The Piñata District street food market is concentrated on East Olympic Boulevard, from South Central Avenue to Stanford Avenue. Some street vendors sell every day, but the best time to attend is Saturday or Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Read In the Piñata District, a street food market is a theater that overwhelms the senses” by Esmeralda Bermudez.

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. (And a giant thanks to the legendary Diya Chacko for all her help on the Saturday edition!)