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Essential California: BuzzFeed's new investor

Good morning. It is Wednesday, Aug. 19. Which emoji do Californians use more than others? Here's what else is happening in the Golden State:

TOP STORIES

Monumental problems

It has been a year since President Obama declared the San Gabriel Mountains a national monument, but little there has changed. Among the eyesores: overflowing trash, graffiti and roadkill. Federal funds have not been allocated, charitable contributions have slowed, and the U.S. Forest Service says it isn’t planning major changes to the wilderness area. Los Angeles Times

Exide cleanup may balloon

Removing lead-contaminated soil from thousands of homes near a battery recycling plant in Vernon could become the largest environmental cleanup of its kind in the state’s history. As many as 10,000 homes may have been affected by contaminants from the Exide Technologies plant. “Every day, week or month that goes by, our children are being exposed to the poison that is lead,” said Mark Lopez, head of East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice. Los Angeles times

Old media meets new

NBCUniversal’s $200-million investment in BuzzFeed is the latest example of traditional media organizations looking to young, Web-oriented companies for new audiences. “Every major entertainment company should be doing the same thing,” said Eunice Shin, Los Angeles director of Manatt Digital Media. “It’s really hard for NBCU to go digital themselves and start from the ground up. It’s against the grain of who they are. It makes sense to acquire or invest.” Los Angeles Times

DROUGHT

Economic fallout: So far, the drought has delivered a $2.7-billion hit to California’s economy, according to a UC Davis study. There are 10,000 fewer seasonal farm jobs and lower yields on rice, alfalfa and corn. And pumping groundwater is costing farmers an additional $590 million this year. Sacramento Bee

Drought, then rain, then trouble: Flooding may come once the drought is over, but the state is unprepared. “Degraded soils can’t absorb water well, meaning the water will simply rush through a field, rather than steadily seep through healthy soil and recharge the groundwater supply.” Grist

Gone dry: The only naturally occurring year-round lake in Orange County has gone dry. Barbara’s Lake is now dried, cracked earth. The last time this happened is believed to have been in the 1930s or 1940s. Coastline Pilot

L.A. AT LARGE

California living: Ventura County is the most desirable place to live in America, based on scenery and climate. That’s according to the federal government’s “natural amenities index.” In fact, California is home to all 10 of the highest-ranked counties. Washington Post

Peace out: Here’s one person who may disagree with that index. Last month, former Times journalist Scott Timberg wrote about his desire to leave Los Angeles, arguing that it had become unlivable for anyone who wanted a good public school and an affordable place to live. Now, he’s headed to Georgia. Los Angeles Magazine

Union dues: Perhaps the only time Hollywood actors won’t boast about their salaries is when it comes to paying union dues to the Screen Actors Guild. Four years ago, union officials adjusted how they collect dues so that members who make more than $1 million would pay more. But the change wasn’t communicated to members, and some — including Ray Liotta, Helen Hunt and Lou Diamond Phillips — said the union actually inflated their earnings. Los Angeles Times

Luxe Angeles: Downtown Los Angeles is getting a W hotel. It will be part of a $700-million complex across from Staples Center. It’s the third L.A. location for the luxury chain. Los Angeles Times

TV changes: Why did longtime weatherman Garth Kemp suddenly leave KABC-TV Channel 7? LA Observed

POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT

Campaign stop? Former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is looking more like a gubernatorial candidate these days. Fresh off a fundraiser for Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential campaign, Villaraigosa took off on a “listening tour” in the Central Valley. “The visits familiarize Villaraigosa with agriculture, water and other issues that governors — and would-be governors — need to master.” Los Angeles Times

COURTS AND CRIME

Arts for inmates: The state of California is reviving an arts program for prison inmates. A 1987 study of the program found that it could reduce prison violence and recidivism rates. “Who do you want coming home? The bad-ass gang banger, or the guy with some emotional awareness?” said Troy Williams, who studied Shakespeare during his time at San Quentin State Prison. Orange County Register

Stamp collector: An Orange County postal worker is accused of stealing more than 13,000 stamps. A grand jury indicted Vanessa Van-Kellogg on charges of taking the stamps during a 2012 shift. In a plea agreement, Van-Kellogg acknowledged the rest of the embezzlement in exchange for leniency at sentencing. OC Weekly

EDUCATION

Education policy: Critics say that L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti should be more involved in the city’s public schools. In a new Op-Ed piece, the mayor outlines what City Hall is doing for students. He cites the city’s new minimum wage, anti-gang programs and efforts to get all students library cards. “What I’ve set out to do is work with educators and families to increase the possibility that our students succeed,” he writes. Daily News

First day of class: Here’s what it looks like when 650,000 children return to the classroom. Los Angeles Times

Profiting from veterans: An analysis by the Los Angeles Times found that for-profit colleges received $8.2 billion from the latest GI Bill. But many of those schools now face intense scrutiny for what critics say are misleading job placement figures and deceptive marketing practices. Los Angeles Times

CALIFORNIA CULTURE

Rewriting history: The film “Straight Outta Compton” chronicles the rise of N.W.A but fails to explore the rap group’s misogynistic and sometimes violent treatment of women, Dee Barnes writes. She reflects on what it means to see the movie ignore her story of being attacked in 1991 by N.W.A member Dr. Dre. (He pleaded no contest to the charges.) Also, Allison P. Davis questions why the film degraded and shamed one woman for a laugh. Gawker, The Cut

Wild kingdom: When 91-year-old Bob Kost of Newport Beach heard about the American dentist who shot and killed Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe, he was sick to his stomach. That’s because Kost and his family spent 14 years caring for baby tigers, lions, jaguars and even a gorilla on behalf of St. Paul’s Como Zoo. Orange County Register

A giant gesture: After Game 7 of the 2014 World Series, Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner was presented with a new truck by a very nervous Chevrolet manager who became a social media hit. Whatever happened to the truck? This week, Bumgarner presented it to his dad. SF Gate

GOLDEN STATE PERSPECTIVES

L.A. vibes: Los Angeles isn’t Stockholm, and City Hall shouldn’t force it to become the transit and bike utopia it can never be by removing car lanes as part of its Mobility Plan, Santa Monica business owner Bruce Feldman writes in a Times Op-Ed article. “People from all over the world have moved here to live in tidy bungalows with backyards and plenty of fresh air and sun, far from work and shopping, not in the cramped, dark apartments near noise and business activity that are typical of older urban areas.” Los Angeles Times

Traffic-stop training: “Training, training and more training,” writes columnist Patt Morrison in introducing her interview with the LAPD’s William A. Murphy, deputy chief of the department’s Police Sciences and Training Bureau. “We teach that every single encounter, you have to do it right, because if you don’t, it could be on the front page of the newspaper or in a video. And not only is your job on the line but the reputation of the Police Department.” Los Angeles Times

CALIFORNIA ALMANAC

San Francisco will have low clouds and 71 degrees. In Riverside, clouds will break for sun as temperatures reach 90 degrees. San Diego will start the day with low clouds and 77 degrees. Los Angeles will have clouds and then sunshine and reach 81 degrees.

AND FINALLY

American Airlines will offer chartered flights between Los Angeles and Havana, Cuba, starting in December. Round-trip tickets will cost $950 to $1,100.

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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