Newsletter: Essential California: Congestion at ports, diversity in UC system, more mansions in Malibu

Essential California is a daily collection of the best reporting on the Golden State. The newsletter is brought to you by reporter Alice Walton and California Editor Shelby Grad.


Harris tries to clear the field: State Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris has entered what some might consider enemy territory as she tries to lock up the race to succeed retiring U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer. Harris’ mostly likely opponent is former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. But this week, she got the endorsement of the L.A. police union as well as several prominent L.A.-area politicians. She was also in Hollywood to raise money for her bid. So where does this leave Villaraigosa? He is under pressure to say whether he will challenge Harris for the Senate seat. "I'm not going to make a comment about the Senate race until I have something to say. And right now, I don’t have anything to say other than what I've already said,” Villaraigosa said. If he decides to wait and run for governor, he’s likely to face another Bay Area Democrat. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom is setting his sights on 2018 by creating a fundraising committee that will allow him to raise as much as $56,400 per donor if they support his bid for governor in both the primary and general elections.

California’s dirty water: A Los Angeles Times analysis found that the wastewater created by oil companies engaged in fracking had benzene levels 700 times the level federal standards allow. State oil and gas regulators acknowledge that for years, oil companies were allowed to inject wastewater back into protected aquifers. “The problem is foundational and it's serious,” said to the head of the state Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources.

Port congestion: Shipping companies will not allow employees to take cargo containers off ships at West Coast ports for four of the next five days. Shipping company representatives say the companies don’t want to pay overtime to workers they believe have intentionally slowed down operations. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Assn. remain locked in a bitter contract dispute.  


Demographics of UC system: A quarter of the students at UC Santa Barbara are Latino, but overall, the Sacramento Bee found, Latinos are vastly underrepresented in the state’s higher education system. Latino students account for almost half of the state’s high school graduates but just 22% of undergraduates in the UC system and 35% percent in the Cal State system. “You can’t sustain the strength of California’s economy if you don’t do a better job of educating our population,” said the executive director of the Campaign for College Opportunity.

Sign crime: A Lake Forest councilman who championed stiffer penalties for illegally removing campaign signs was charged Wednesday with that very crime.

Golden pursuit: A fascinating reminder on how modern California was born in a manic quest for fortune: “Once upon a time, certain capitalists, undeterred by inconveniences of either geography or geology, employed the forces of water to tear California apart,” writes the Los Angeles Review of Books.


Coffee company move-out: Columnist Steve Lopez examines Farmer Brothers' decision to lose its coffee bean operation on the border of Los Angeles and Torrance. The company’s leadership says it’s headed to a “low-cost state.” “The city and state need to get mad as hell when companies threaten to leave," Lopez writes. "They should take a machete to some of the red tape they have created, and offer more incentives for businesses to stay.”

Malibu mansions: Is the Coastal Commission selling development rights to the highest bidder? That’s what some are saying in Malibu, where a developer wants to build five blufftop homes that would average 11,000 square feet over 24 acres of land. In exchange, the developer would give $2 million to the state, $1 million to the city and 1.74 acres to Malibu for a recreational site.

Raccoon special on Aisle 2: L.A. County health officials are investigating reports that an Asian supermarket in Temple City was selling dead raccoons. A video that circulated on social media showed bodies of the animals in the frozen meat section. A supermarket employee said some customers use raccoon in certain dishes.

DWP union’s fight continues: It appeared last year as if a peace agreement had been reached in the long-running fight between the powerful Department of Water and Power union and Mayor Eric Garcetti. Union leadership seemed to give the OK for city officials to audit use of ratepayer money by two nonprofit trusts. But two weeks into the audit, the union leaders stopped being so helpful. It’s unclear what the city’s next move may be. 

Greek Theatre operations: The popular Greek Theatre music venue is caught in a war between two major music companies. The Los Angeles City Council rejected the selection of Live Nation to take over operations at the Greek. Some members argued that a competing proposal from Nederlander and AEG would bring in more revenue for the city. Neighbors had also sided with Nederlander, the current operator, because of fears that LiveNation's acts would bring more traffic and noise. 


How much are non-Californians willing to pay to attend a University of California campus? Out-of-staters already pay $23,000 more than in-state students. Some legislators want to increase that figure to offset in-state tuition, which could remain flat for a fourth consecutive year. How does California’s out-of-state tuition stack up against that of some other states?

- University of Michigan: $41,500 to $46,900

- University of Virginia: $39,000 to $44,000

- University of California: $35,100

- University of Washington: $33,500

- University of Wisconsin, Madison: $26,600

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints and ideas to Alice Walton or Shelby Grad.

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