Newsletter: Essential California Week in Review: End-of-session rush in Sacramento

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It is Saturday, Sept. 14.

Get the Essential California newsletter »

Here’s a look at the top stories of the past week:

Top Stories

A gig or a job? California lawmakers rewrote the rules of employment in legislation that could give new benefits and wage guarantees to hundreds of thousands of workers across industries from car driving to construction and from stripping to fishing. After fierce debates over exemptions, Assembly Bill 5, which curbs businesses’ use of independent contractors, has headed to Gov. Gavin Newsom for a signature.

More from Sacramento: Lawmakers also passed a cap on annual rent hikes, a fur ban, a ban on facial-recognition technology in police body cameras and a bill to let college athletes profit from endorsements, and Newsom signed one to limit vaccine exemptions. Critics of the new immunization law hope to undo it with the 2020 ballot, but their path could be costly and difficult.

This tower isn’t ivory. Actress Felicity Huffman was sentenced Friday to 14 days in prison for paying to rig her daughter’s university entrance exams. Prosecutors had wanted a heavier penalty, calling time behind bars for the wealthy parents accused in the college-admissions scandal “the only leveler” against their influence. “I have learned a lot over the last six months about my flaws,” Huffman said after her sentencing.


A scandal “what if”: Could UCLA have stopped the admissions scandal five years ago? An internal investigation uncovered key elements of Rick Singer’s scam in 2014, when officials were concerned enough to interview him and brief the chancellor.

The crew was asleep. All the Conception’s crew members were sleeping when the diving boat caught fire overnight, although it was required to have a night watchman, officials say — a major revelation in the worst maritime disaster in modern California history.

Remembering the dead. The blaze’s 34 victims were athletes, immigrants, CEOs and students. Many were passionate about science, exploring and shaping the world as marine biologists, nature photographers and teachers. All were united by their love of adventure. These are their stories.

When fuel breaks prove futile. Such breaks — bands of wild land stripped of their vegetation, so firefighters can establish control lines from them — won’t stop the worst wildfires. So why is California spending millions on them?

Where’s safe to sleep? The Trump administration’s visit to L.A. this week to explore ways to remove homeless street camps left city officials confused — some cautiously optimistic about new resources, others fearful of forced mass relocations. Meanwhile, the city is considering a plan that a Times analysis found would ban homeless people from sleeping on streets and sidewalks in at least 26% of the city.

Homeless in Pacoima. It was that rare L.A. neighborhood that offered homeownership to black families barred from white areas. But the effects of racism cost many their homes. Today, its giant encampment illustrates the racial disparity among homeless people cities have just begun to address.

Lynn Swann resigns. After three tumultuous years, he’s out as USC athletic director. Good riddance, columnist Bill Plaschke says: “It’s about time someone finally decided to end a misguided tenure filled with ineffectiveness, indifference and more biting scandals than big football victories.”

“Horrible tragedy.” A deputy city attorney shot and killed his wife and son in their Northridge home before killing himself, authorities say. His daughter managed to escape to a neighbor’s home after her father tried to kill her.

Ignorant, not racist. Four elementary school teachers put on leave after circulating a photo of themselves smiling and holding a noose were not motivated by racism, but their actions were ignorant and lacked judgment, an investigator found. All said they hadn’t known it’s a racist symbol.

No supermarket strike. Tens of thousands of unionized workers at Ralphs, Vons, Pavilions and Albertsons grocery stores approved a new contract, preventing a strike that could have affected a large swath of California.

1. Finally, an answer to the question that has dogged Hollywood cocktail party chatter for decades: What movie was the biggest bomb of all time? The Hollywood Reporter

2. William H. Macy and Felicity Huffman tell their side of the college-admissions scandal. Los Angeles Times

3. L.A. might ban homeless people from sleeping on many streets. Is your neighborhood included? Use this interactive map to find out. Los Angeles Times

4. A legendary Disney Imagineer transformed his backyard into an enchanted “Mary Poppins” wonderland. Orange County Register

5. From the annals of #Vanlife: How a 21-year-old woman traveling alone around California in a refurbished GMC Vandura Explorer became a YouTube sensation. Outside

ICYMI, here are this week’s great reads

The scourge of worker wellness programs: Employers have become obsessed with improving the health of their employees. But does it do anyone any good? The New Republic

“I was Caroline Calloway.” Rare is the story that both owns the internet and also manages to be a beautiful, insightful piece of writing. But this one pulled it off. If you somehow managed to make it through the week without yet reading Natalie Beach’s account of Elena Ferrante-level complicated female friendship and her time ghostwriting for oft-mocked influencer Caroline Calloway, now is the time. The Cut

Neighbors are using these smart cameras to track strangers’ cars — and yours. Los Angeles Times

Looking ahead

Saturday Recommendation: The khinkali at Havlabar in Glendale

Havlabar’s khinkali, the boiled soup dumplings that are a staple in the Republic of Georgia.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Havlabar, a windowless restaurant in a Glendale strip mall with a menu comprising two-thirds Georgian dishes and one-third Armenian specialties, is the subject of restaurant critic Bill Addison’s recent review. There is much to delight in at Havlabar, including the khinkali (meaty soup dumplings), grilled khachapuri and sacivi (chilled chicken in walnut sauce). Here’s what Addison had to say about the khinkali (order the unfried version):

“Khinkali, pleated dumplings filled with a spiced mixture of ground pork and beef and meaty broth, are a Georgian classic. The revelers at the big tables ask for platters of boiled khinkali. Watch them and learn: Hold a dumpling in your hand by its twisted topknot and bite off a piece of its round base. Let a little steam escape and then slurp out the soup. Polish off the rest until all that’s left is the knob, which will resemble the papery severed head of a garlic bulb when you’re through. Eat khinkali quickly, before the slippery wrapper, wonderful when hot, cools and seizes into a texture not unlike latex.”

[Read the full review.]

Havlabar is located at 1143 E. Broadway in Glendale. (818) 629-0199.

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.)