Newsletter: Essential California: DWP’s aging pipes, medicating foster children, prosecuting officer-involved shootings

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.


L.A.’s water pipe time bomb: Time is running out for Los Angeles to replace its oldest water pipes before the end of their useful lives. A Times data analysis found that these pipes make up one-fifth of the city’s sprawling 6,730-mile water main system yet account for close to half the leaks. But it’s a $1-billion problem, and officials aren’t sure they will have enough money. L.A. Times

Port gridlock worsening: U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez will begin talks Tuesday in the West Coast ports strike as gridlock worsens at the Long Beach and Los Angeles harbors. How bad is it? As of Monday morning, 33 vessels were anchored off those ports, and an additional 55 ships were languishing at port berths. L.A. Times

Underreporting child medications: New data show that Los Angeles County officials are allowing the use of powerful psychiatric drugs on far more children in the juvenile delinquency and foster care systems than they had previously acknowledged. County officials are trying to determine how the undercount occurred. Advocates and some lawmakers have long been concerned that medications are routinely overprescribed, sometimes in an effort to make children more docile. L.A. Times


Amusement ride makeover: Universal Studios’ iconic studio tram ride will undergo its biggest makeover yet, including an overhaul of the tram itself and the introduction of a finale that includes explosions, smoke and 3-D effects. “We are putting a lot of focus on the roots of the park, on the attraction that got us here today,” said Larry Kurzweil, president of Universal Studios Hollywood. L.A. Times

Benedict Canyon compound: Saudi Prince Abdulaziz ibn Abdulaziz al Saud, a son of the late King Abdullah, hit another roadblock in his efforts to build a 60,000-square-foot home in Benedict Canyon. A state appellate court sided with the city of L.A., which wants an environmental review before the home is built. The prince’s plans are emblematic of a larger debate in Los Angeles as the ultra-rich seek to build oversize houses in the wealthiest parts of the city. L.A. Times

“Grey” reviving faded film genre? The record box-office numbers for “Fifty Shades of Grey” have some in Hollywood wondering about a revival of the R-rated sex-theme genre, which faded after a golden era that included “Fatal Attraction” and “Basic Instinct.” Not so fast, cautioned one expert: “You walk a very fine line as to whether these types of movies can do well.” L.A. Times

L.A. city ethics: Did an L.A. City Council campaign coordinate with an independent expenditure campaign by using the same political consultant? Shallman Communications sent out news releases on behalf of candidate Steve Veres before signing on to work with an independent committee backing Veres. “There are so many examples now of people finding the gray area that there is now a big push within the reform community to tighten up and clarify what 'coordination' means,” said Kathay Feng of California Common Cause. L.A. Times

Silver Lake poetry: “O, shake me a basil gimlet at Silver Lake and tell me about your tattoos, hermana.” Poet Sarah Holland-Batt offers her take on L.A. The New Yorker


California’s prison deaths: State prison inmates are killed by other inmates at a rate twice the national average. Many of the victims are child molesters, who are often targeted because of the nature of their crimes. Male sex offenders represent 15% of the prison population but nearly 30% of homicide victims. Associated Press

Landmark status: A Beverly Hills gas station just received landmark status thanks to its modern design so often associated with Southern California in the 1950s and ’60s. The Space Age gas station was supposed to end up at LAX, but when airport officials changed their minds, Union Oil Co. had it installed at Crescent Drive and Little Santa Monica Boulevard. Los Angeles Magazine

Laughing at California: “Saturday Night Live” celebrated its 40th anniversary by continuing its long tradition of making fun of California, which even included the initial decision to base the show in New York. “This decision reflected a calculation both that New York lent the set an energy it could not find elsewhere, along with a belief that Los Angeles was unsuitable because of its preponderance of, well, Californians.” Vulture

Long Beach pot shops: New rules allow Long Beach to have 18 medical marijuana shops operate citywide. The challenge, though, is deciding where to put them. A city law gives preference to industrial zones. Long Beach Press-Telegram

Prosecuting police shootings: State Sen. Holly Mitchell does not want grand juries to decide whether a police officer should be prosecuted for shooting someone while on the job. Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) says the secretive proceedings breed mistrust in communities. Meanwhile, former L.A. County Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti says he would support turning over such cases to the state attorney general. “We are dealing with a public perception by significant parts of our constituencies that because of their daily working relationship with the police, local district attorneys simply cannot be the fair, impartial and professional prosecutors that these cases require and demand,” Garcetti says. L.A. Times, L.A. Review of Books

Sale of luxury hotels: The Montage Laguna Beach just sold for $360 million, in another sign that investors are eager to get back into the luxury market. Leisure travelers had abandoned high-end resorts during the Great Recession. L.A. Times


The Academy Awards will be held Sunday in Hollywood. There have been six ties in Oscar’s history. The golden statue had to be shared in:

-- 1931-32, Best Actor: Fredric March and Wallace Beery.

-- 1949, Best Documentary Short: “A Chance to Live” and “So Much for So Little.”

-- 1968, Best Actress: Katharine Hepburn and Barbra Streisand.

-- 1986, Best Documentary Feature: “Artie Shaw: Time Is All You’ve Got” and “Down and Out in America.”

-- 1994, Best Short Film: “Franz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Trevor.”

-- 2012, Best Sound Editing: “Skyfall” and “Zero Dark Thirty.”

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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