Newsletter: This $800 million was meant for Native Americans. But...

A groundbreaking ceremony
Tribal council members break ground on the Ma-Chis Lower Creek Indian Tribe of Alabama’s new tribal complex and church in Elba, Ala., in 2012.
(Jason Johnson / Southeast Sun)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Thursday, Jan. 2. Julia Wick is taking a break, so today’s edition is once again brought to you by L.A. Times Deputy Managing Editor Shelby Grad.

For the last year, The Times has been investigating contracts given to groups claiming to be Native American but without federal recognition. The latest article to be published in the series is a blockbuster: Companies set up by members of a self-described and state-recognized Creek Indian tribe in Alabama have received more than $240 million in federal minority-business contracts, despite a determination by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs that there is no credible evidence the group has Native American ancestry. Federal contracts worth an additional $273 million have gone to two companies run by a member of a different Native American group in Alabama with no federal recognition as a tribe.

[Read “Two tribes aren’t recognized federally. Yet members won $500 million in minority contracts” in the Los Angeles Times]

What does the investigation add up to?


Consider: The Times has found more than $800 million in federal contracts awarded to companies whose owners made unsubstantiated claims to be Native American, although the total is almost certainly higher. The contracts were for construction, computing and other projects in 27 states, including California.

Read the full series by Paul Pringle and Adam Elmahrek:

Claiming to be Cherokee, contractors with white ancestry got $300 million

Native American minority contracts are under scrutiny as officials vow strict enforcement

House panel to vet minority contracting program after Times investigation into “Cherokee” claims

Minority contracting program plagued by lax oversight, government watchdog says

He claimed Chumash ancestry and raised millions. But experts say he’s not Chumash

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


Violent crime in Los Angeles declined for the second consecutive year in 2019. “This is one of the safest times in our history,” LAPD’s chief said. Los Angeles Times

As his trial approaches, Robert Durst admitted to writing a cryptic note that police have long believed was penned by the person who shot and killed Susan Berman inside her Benedict Canyon home nearly two decades ago. Los Angeles Times

Federal officials plan to approve a massive solar farm with energy storage in the desert outside Las Vegas, paving the way for a $1-billion project that will provide electricity to Nevada residents served by billionaire Warren Buffett’s NV Energy. The facility would generate more power than the largest solar farm currently operating in the United States, a 579-megawatt plant in Southern California. Los Angeles Times


New decade, same entry point: The magic of the Rose Parade. Los Angeles Times

The city of Burbank's Rose Parade float, a phoenix
The city of Burbank’s float, “Rise Up,” paid homage to those affected by California’s wildfires.
(Mark Boster / For The Times)

Meet the volunteers who made it happen. Los Angeles Times on YouTube

A special tribute to women’s rights. Pasadena Star-News

A source of inspiration. Los Angeles Times

Rita Moreno is a hit as a grand marshal. Pasadena Star-News

So is the tournament’s first Latina president. LAist

Your support helps us deliver the news that matters most. Subscribe to the Los Angeles Times.


Is California protecting freelancers or driving them to the poorhouse? New York Times

The state’s new privacy laws: How to take advantage of them. Mercury News

California businesses begin 2020 significantly more regulated. Wall Street Journal


A granddaughter of Walt Disney is a rebel within the world of the 1%. The New Yorker

An earthquake in television: “Friends” has left Netflix. Los Angeles Times

San Francisco is birthing a lot of neighborhoods you’ve probably never heard of. SF Gate

Lake Merritt is becoming Oakland’s restaurant row. San Francisco Chronicle

The $70-million loss for “Cats” is a painful reminder of the risky film business and further evidence of the challenges studios face drawing in audiences to theaters, even for features with stars. Los Angeles Times

As Carson Palmer has shown, you can leave California. Los Angeles Times


“The year was 2019, and this article certainly wasn’t in the plan.” So says a reporter who found organizing her life didn’t exactly check all the boxes. Los Angeles Times

Everything is great but terrible. The Atlantic

Eating your way into a happy 2020. Los Angeles Times


Los Angeles: mostly sunny, 70. San Diego: mostly sunny, 66. San Francisco: partly cloudy, 60. San Jose: mostly sunny, 62. Sacramento: mostly sunny, 62. More weather is here.


Today’s California memory comes from Helen Hernandez:

On New Year’s Day, my Mom and I would catch the RTD bus to Pasadena at 5 a.m. to see the Rose Parade. I remember standing on the sidewalk shivering cold, all bundled up. My Mom loved flowers and I did too. Sweet memories of love between Mom and daughter ❤️❤️

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.