Newsletter: Essential California: Missed signs in L.A. fire recruiting; seeking clues in Metrolink crash

Good morning. It is Thursday, Feb. 26. Why is Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s favorite movie a comedy about a disastrous flight out of LAX? He’ll explain this evening at a screening of “Airplane!” hosted by Zocalo Public Square. Here’s what else is happening today in the Golden State:


Move along, nothing to see here

For years, top brass in the L.A. County Fire Department ignored evidence that the recruitment process had been corrupted by nepotism and cheating, according to records and interviews. Fire officials were told in 2008, 2010 and again in 2012 that recruits had access to confidential exam materials, yet they didn’t take any action. The process to become a county firefighter is so competitive that 95% of applicants are rejected. L.A. Times

After the Metrolink crash, a search for answers

More details are coming in on what caused a Metrolink train to derail Monday in Oxnard after it struck a truck caught on the tracks. The 54-year-old driver of the truck panicked and fled after failing to push his 2005 Ford F-450 out of the way, his attorney said. It was also revealed that a proposed $35-million bridge project at the rail crossing had been delayed for years. L.A. Times

Please welcome to our stage, er, courtroom ...

It was quite a scene in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on Wednesday as Robin Thicke took the witness stand -- and the stage. Thicke sang, played the piano and even danced a little in his seat during testimony for a copyright lawsuit pitting him against Marvin Gaye’s children. At issue is whether Thicke’s 2013 hit “Blurred Lines” infringed on Gaye's 1977 song "Got to Give It Up.” L.A. Times‎ 


A vote for lower election turnout: Who can be against something that could increase Los Angeles’ dismal voter turnout? Well, some City Council candidates believe that shifting L.A. elections to years when more people vote could lead to costly campaigns that favor incumbents. L.A. Times

It's a bird, it's a drone: Have you noticed anything odd in the skies of the Valley? A Singapore-based location marketing firm has been flying small drones to determine mobile device locations, apparently by tracking Wi-Fi and cell signals. VentureBeat

Roommate not included: In an unusual strategy, a Canadian developer is building a downtown high-rise consisting entirely of fully furnished units. Apartments in the 33-story tower will come with everything a new tenant might need, down to pots, pans and big-screen TVs. L.A. Times

Culture by the click: Finding history and culture in Los Angeles just got a little easier. Along with the Getty Conservation Institute, the city launched an online database of L.A.’s historic homes, institutions, bridges and gardens. Most of the 20,000 entries include maps, pictures and a bit of historic trivia. CityLab

LiLo's probation extended: To serve her sentence for reckless driving, actress Lindsay Lohan met with charity volunteers at a meet-and-greet event. To an L.A. judge, that and other activities fell short of community service. L.A. Times


Drugs + guns = trouble: In two-thirds of police shootings in San Diego County over the last 20 years, the suspect was under the influence of drugs. The most predominant drug: methamphetamine. More than 40% of people shot by police were either on parole or probation. L.A. Times

Diamond in the rough: A heart-shaped diamond given to actress Elizabeth Taylor by then-husband Richard Burton was auctioned by Christie’s in 2011. An anonymous buyer paid $8 million for the piece, known as the "Taj Mahal," but canceled the sale because of a dispute over the age of the stone. Now, Christie’s wants the actress’ estate to repay more than $7 million from the sale. L.A. Times

Plant-based curriculum: Director James Cameron and his wife, Suzy Amis, say their private school in Calabasas will become the first in the U.S. to be “plant-based.” As he puts it: “The average person would say vegan, but we say whole food, plant-based. It’s about raising kids who don’t think it’s strange or exotic or worthy of a pat on the back to be doing the right thing for the living biosphere.” Hollywood Reporter

An Angel may face the music: The L.A. Angels are bracing for penalties after outfielder Josh Hamilton met with Major League Baseball officials over an undisclosed disciplinary matter. L.A. Times

Another way S.F. can cost you: Fake monks are targeting tourists in San Francisco. It’s the age-old “bracelet scam.” SF Gate

A bottle of red, a bottle of white: California was responsible for nearly all of the country’s $1.49 billion in revenue from wine exports in 2014. Exporters say they saw growing demand for wine in South Korea, Vietnam, Singapore and Taiwan. L.A. Times


In Wednesday’s Essential California, we asked for your thoughts on Metrolink safety. Reader Cheryl Petty said that although she believes that commuter trains are safe overall, “crossings need to be eliminated.” Her other ideas: “elevate the cars or elevate the train for safety and speed.”

Reader John Reynolds rides the Metro Red Line as well as the Metrolink through Orange County. He said this week’s crash “in no way alters my preference for the rails over the roads.” He added: “I don't know the relative safety of one over the other, but the predictability of the rail, coupled with the comfort of the ride, makes it a no-brainer for me to choose rail.”

Now, we want to know how you would answer this: Can kids be good without God? That’s the question L.A. Times writer Patt Morrison posed to professor Phil Zuckerman in their conversation on secular parenting. After you watch a video of their conversation, please let us know what you think about the role religion plays in teaching children right from wrong. Tell us by tweeting with the tag #EssentialCalifornia or sending us an email: Alice Walton and Shelby Grad.


Stadium scoreboard: New estimates show that the NFL's Rams could make substantially more money in Los Angeles than they could by remaining in St. Louis. The proposed greater stadium capacity -- 80,000 seats versus 65,000 -- is a big part of the equation. Here’s how the money breaks down, the L.A. Times reports:

Los Angeles

-- Total revenue: $475 million

-- Profit: $225 million

St. Louis

-- Total revenue: $350 million

-- Profit: $125 million

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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