Essential California: Blue Shield's status, rough days for LAPD, future of Orange County's district attorney

Good morning. It is Wednesday, March 18. For a shade under $13 million, you could own Tom Cruise’s home in Hollywood Hills West. Here's what else is happening today in the Golden State:


Blue Shield as a for-profit?

A state agency has quietly revoked the tax-exempt status of Blue Shield of California. The move comes as the nonprofit faces criticism over rates, executive pay and more than $4 billion in financial reserves. The California Franchise Tax Board wants Blue Shield, the state's third-largest health insurer, to file tax returns dating to 2013, which could cost the company tens of millions of dollars. Blue Shield is appealing the decision. L.A. Times

Rough days for LAPD

A rookie Los Angeles Police Department officer was fired Tuesday after he was named as a murder suspect. Another cop was accused of trying to smuggle a Mexican citizen into the country in the trunk of a car. The stakes are high as the LAPD works to move past the image of an abusive, corrupt department. L.A. Times

Durst behind bars

Murder suspect Robert Durst was scheduled to be relocated Tuesday night to a mental health facility at a Louisiana state prison because of an acute medical condition, authorities said. A local magistrate ordered that Durst be provided with hydrocodone, a powerful opiate, as necessary for pain. That revelation came as he remains in a New Orleans jail cell. L.A. Times


"The most hated woman in Beverly Hills": Jody Litvak is responsible for making the Metro Purple Line extension a reality, even as some officials in Beverly Hills try to prevent tunneling under the city’s high school. Los Angeles Magazine

Heat kills: Poppies in the Antelope Valley were burnt to a crisp as a result of the region’s record heat. “Wow, Mother Nature pulled the rug out from under us,” state park officials said. L.A. Times


"The Rackauckas way": Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas is often described as a fighter, but can he survive a judge’s decision to remove him from the prosecution of a mass killer? Rackauckas still plans to run for reelection in 2018. “Call it resilience, call it defiance, but this seems to be the Rackauckas way.” Orange County Register

A murder case with a twist: Last year, L.A. County sheriff’s deputies mistakenly shot two men in West Hollywood who had been held hostage by a crazed roommate. The Sheriff’s Department says the shootings, which left one man dead, were legal and justified. Now, the roommate is facing a murder charge. LA Weekly

Murder in wine country: A Napa Valley vintner killed a business partner in his vineyard and then later turned the gun on himself, authorities said. The murder-suicide was believed to be the result of a dispute over a loan. SF Gate

S.F. police under fire: Prosecutors and defense attorneys in San Francisco are reviewing about 1,000 criminal convictions to see whether they were the result of bias. It’s the latest fallout from text messages sent between officers that included hate speech against gays and minorities. L.A. Times


2016 election: State Sen. Bob Huff (R-Diamond Bar) will run for the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors next year. The Senate minority leader plans to campaign for the 5th District, which will have an open seat for the first time since 1980. L.A. Times

Family business: Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-Los Angeles) paid his wife and stepdaughter $120,000 over a two-year period to work on his reelection campaign. The move is perfectly legal, but “the perception looks troubling,” said a representative with Common Cause. Daily News


Losing groundwater: Farmers are sucking so much water out of the ground in the Central Valley that the earth is sinking as much as a foot a year. Groundwater supplies are shrinking at such a rate that more than 1 million acres of farmland may be taken out of production in the coming decades. L.A. Times.

A call for restrictions: State officials want more California cities to restrict residents’ use of water. That includes fewer days when property owners can water their lawns. Restaurants should serve water only on request, and hotels should give guests the option of not having their linens washed every day. L.A. Times

A dire forecast: California’s groundwater supply and snowpack levels are at all-times lows. “We're not just up a creek without a paddle in California, we're losing the creek too,” writes a water scientist for NASA. L.A. Times


Food deserts: Pierce College is home to 22,000 students and zero cafeterias. It’s not alone -- the L.A. Community College District closed cafeterias at most of its campuses for an annual saving of about $700,000. That’s left most students relying on food trucks or packing lunches at home. L.A. Times

College transfers: Community college students who complete an associate’s degree could be fast-tracked into one of nine historically African American universities under a new agreement. The California Community Colleges’ transfer agreement is similar to one already in place with the California State University system. Sacramento Bee


Marathon lights: A photo collage of Friday’s light display -- 124 spotlights shooting up into the sky -- honoring the Los Angeles Marathon. Curbed LA

Wild car chases: The definitive ranking of Los Angeles’ 10 craziest police chases. Thrillist

Feline stowaway: A cat that walked away from its South Carolina home in 2013 has turned up in Riverside County. The orange tabby named Kevin appears to have criss-crossed the country in the back of a trailer. L.A. Times

California’s missions: Another look at Franciscan friar Junipero Serra and the state’s missions. L.A. Times


In Tuesday’s Essential California, we asked for your feedback on the way American history is taught in the classroom. Here’s what you shared:

“History is supposed to help us learn from past mistakes, and sugarcoating history rots the brain. Veracity on all levels will inspire generations that will create their own history. Hopefully, a more noble history.” -- Bill Shannon

“We need to teach history with all the blemishes so that we may learn from our mistakes. That is the reason for teaching history.” -- Ray Waters

“I recall my high school, in an attempt to spare us the ugliness of the Vietnam War, banned discussions about what was going on there. Forty years later I am still learning about that ‘missing period’ of history.” -- Paula Trudeau

Today, we want to know what you think about the Department of Water and Power. A Los Angeles Times editorial suggests that the utility should be run more like a business than a bureaucracy. What do you think DWP officials could do to build more trust in the utility? What have your recent experiences with DWP been like?

Share your thoughts with us on Twitter with the tag #EssentialCalifornia or send us an email: Alice Walton and Shelby Grad.


At 0.96 square miles, Hawaiian Gardens is the smallest city in Los Angeles County. Vernon has the smallest population of any city in the county, with an estimated 114 residents.

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.