Newsletter: UCLA prof who mapped the costs of incarceration in L.A. wins a MacArthur

UCLA professor Kelly Lytle Hernández, who was awarded a MacArthur fellowship Wednesday.
(John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Thursday, Sept. 26, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

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Congratulations, 2019 is now officially just another year when you didn’t win a MacArthur.

Yes, I’m talking about the the famed (and famously mysterious) “genius” grants awarded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the latest recipients of which were announced early Wednesday morning. The 2019 class of MacArthur geniuses includes a philosopher, a theoretical geophysicist, a poet — and three Californians.


UCLA professor Kelly Lytle Hernández, a scholar of race, mass incarceration and immigration and director of UCLA’s Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies, was given the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship, which comes with a $625,000, no-strings-attached award. Two East Bay residents, Oakland landscape architect Walter Hood and Berkeley attorney and restorative justice pioneer Sujatha Baliga, were also among this year’s recipients.

[See also: “How MacArthur Fellowship winner Walter Hood turns landscapes into sculpture” in the Los Angeles Times]

Much of Lytle Hernández’s work has focused on policing in Los Angeles, and the forces that led the county to operate the largest jail system in the United States. Her award-winning 2017 book “City of Inmates” traced the city’s history of incarceration from the late 18th century through the 1960s, with a focus on the role race has always played. Her innovative interactive “Million Dollar Hoods” project mapped the disparate impact of the Los Angeles jail system on various parts of the county, showing how much the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the Los Angeles Police Department spend per neighborhood to incarcerate residents. They found that L.A.'s massive jail system was “largely committed to incarcerating residents of just a few neighborhoods.”

So will the MacArthur change things for the woman whom NPR recently dubbed a “rebel historian”?

“I hope the fellowship provides an even larger umbrella for myself and other scholars who are doing this kind of movement-driven scholarship to have more flexibility, to have more — you almost want to say credentials,” she told the New York Times.

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


President Trump didn’t just ask the Ukrainians to investigate Joe Biden — he also wanted them to look into a California company. During the 30-minute phone call, President Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for a “favor” while discussing U.S. military aid to the besieged country. Beyond Biden, Trump also wanted Zelensky to investigate CrowdStrike, a cybersecurity firm that did work for the Democrats in the 2016 election. The technology company is based in Irvine, but Trump apparently believed it operated from Ukraine. Los Angeles Times


These L.A. parents don’t want to assign a gender to their baby, so the government did it for them. Los Angeles Times

Jay Brissette, right, is raising 1-year-old Azul without an assigned gender.
Jay Brissette is raising 1-year-old Azul without an assigned gender.
(Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)

The streamers are stocking up for a subscriber war, with eye-popping deals made to license shows like “Friends,” “Seinfeld” and “The Big Bang Theory.” Here’s what’s driving the sky-high prices for these TV libraries. The Hollywood Reporter

“Big Brother’s” season was marred by allegations of racism. It’s not the first time. The series — unlike a number of its reality-TV competitors — has consistently had a predominantly white cast since its first season in 2000, and racial tensions have previously cast a shadow over the high jinks and hookups inside the house. Los Angeles Times

Each year, UCLA picks one book to be the “common experience” for new students. For the first time this year, new students will be asked to listen to a podcast instead: KCRW’s “There Goes the Neighborhood,” which focuses on gentrification in Los Angeles. UCLA Newsroom

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Sen. Elizabeth Warren has jumped into the lead in the Democratic nomination race in California, a new poll finds. It shows Warren has widened her base of support and begun to separate herself from her rivals. Los Angeles Times

Darrell Issa is expected to run against embattled Rep. Duncan Hunter. After months of publicly considering mounting a return to Congress, the nine-term former congressman appears to be on the verge of formally announcing his candidacy for San Diego County’s 50th Congressional District seat, which is one of the most conservative districts in California. (Quick refresher: Hunter is the one who won reelection last November despite facing criminal charges regarding his alleged misuse of campaign funds.) Los Angeles Times

Here’s what four California school districts did to reduce the number of students contemplating suicide: Data, training and teaming up with nonprofits and other government agencies are key, according to officials. Inland Valley Daily Bulletin


Homeless people could lose the right to sleep on sidewalks if Western cities have their way. The city of Los Angeles is joining L.A. County and dozens of other municipalities in submitting an amicus brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to hear a challenge of Martin vs. City of Boise — a landmark lawsuit that has allowed people to legally bed down on sidewalks overnight. If the court were to take up the case, which is far from certain, it could reverse a decision by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that has prevented cities and counties from sending law enforcement to enforce ordinances to shoo away homeless people or to clear their encampments. Los Angeles Times

Riverside County prosecutors announced they would not file criminal charges against an off-duty Los Angeles police officer who fatally shot an intellectually disabled man in June during an altercation in a Costco store in Corona. Los Angeles Times

Mendocino County’s district attorney sent a “scathing” letter to the Willits police chief, criticizing him for hiring a “badly tainted” officer with a checkered history in his former position with the Eureka Police Department. The D.A. plans to dismiss criminal cases that require the officer’s testimony for prosecution. North Coast Journal


The Butte County Sheriff’s Office has revised its official number of Camp fire victims down from 86 to 85 after determining that some of the unknown remains actually belonged to a victim who had already been identified. Chico Enterprise-Record


Juul Labs CEO Kevin Burns is stepping down amid reports of a mysterious vaping-related lung illness and scrutiny from state and federal officials. Los Angeles Times

A new California city for 120,000 people is rising five miles from Fresno. Fresno Bee

Customers start lining up at 7 a.m. for this $16 haircut in San Francisco. The owners view the affordability as a public service for the neighborhood — a tidy, professional cut shouldn’t have to be a luxury. SF Gate

Apple picking season has arrived in Oak Glen, a small town in the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains. San Bernardino Sun

Two of the Central San Joaquin Valley’s largest agribusiness companies announce a “historic” merger.Fresno Bee

How WeWork’s “fiasco” could threaten Silicon Valley’s rich and powerful. SoftBank, WeWork’s largest outside shareholder, has helped reshape the entire landscape of tech investing in the Valley. Recode

Employees at a San Diego children’s museum filed an official petition to unionize with the National Labor Relations Board, making them the first museum in San Diego County do so. Cultural institutions may not be widely associated with unionized workforces, but they’ve been home to a growing number of unionization campaigns. Voice of San Diego


Los Angeles: partly sunny, 79. San Diego: partly sunny, 74. San Francisco: sunny, 76. San Jose: sunny, 85. Sacramento: sunny, 89. More weather is here.


Today’s California memory comes from Julia Smith:

“I was born on May 11, 1937, at Mary’s Help Hospital, San Francisco. My father was a laborer on the Golden Gate Bridge and lost his job that day, because it was finished. On my birth certificate he was listed as ‘unemployed laborer,’ as father’s job! He had always claimed he was the first one to drive across the bridge. My mother was born in Richmond, after the big quake of 1906. My father had a bachelor’s degree in economics, but this was the depth of the Depression. I have always loved my bridge.”

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, complaints, ideas and unrelated book recommendations to Julia Wick. Follow her on Twitter @Sherlyholmes.