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Newsletter: Essential California: How one of L.A.'s fires is a parable for the city’s extreme wealth and misery

A scorched pot is among the few remnants of a homeless site where investigators believe the Skirball blaze, which destroyed more than 400 acres, started.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Thursday, Dec. 14, and here’s what’s happening across California:

TOP STORIES

Lopez weighs in on wealth and misery in L.A.

“Last week, the two worlds intersected when a cooking fire at a homeless encampment destroyed six homes and damaged a dozen others in Bel-Air, where affluent residents complain now and then about the scale of colossal estates that dwarf their own mansions. There has to be meaning in this, or it wouldn’t play so much like a parable,” writes columnist Steve Lopez. He believes these stark facts should also be a call to action. Los Angeles Times

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Plus: The Thomas fire continues to grow as firefighters battle and hopefully slow its destructive path through Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. Los Angeles Times

And: Witnesses told The Times that they saw a snapped power line arcing at the start of the destructive Creek fire. Los Angeles Times

Great story: As the Thomas fire burned closer, Arnulfo Basave worked to save a cherished Carpinteria ranch. Los Angeles Times

More allegations of sexual misconduct

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Since The Times’ Nov. 19 report detailing model Keri Claussen Khalighi’s sexual misconduct allegations against Russell Simmons, five more women have disclosed new stories about Simmons, including an alleged rape. Some of the women questioned Simmons’ personal metamorphosis through yoga and suggested that it was just another opportunity to expand his business ventures. Simmons, in a statement to The Times, denied the claims of the women in this article. Los Angeles Times

Plus: Simmons has also been accused of raping three women. He denies these claims too. New York Times

And: Go back and read about how Simmons and Brett Ratner faced allegations of sexual misconduct last month. Los Angeles Times

Blockbuster in the making

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Walt Disney Co. has finalized a $52.4-billion stock deal to buy much of Rupert Murdoch’s entertainment empire 21st Century Fox. If regulators approve it, Disney would take over the prolific 20th Century Fox movie and television studio, Fox’s 22 regional sports channels, cable entertainment brands FX and National Geographic, and Fox’s portfolio of international operations, including a fast-growing pay-TV service in India. Los Angeles Times

L.A. STORIES

Sentenced: Jurors on Wednesday voted for a death sentence for a man convicted of fatally torturing his girlfriend’s young son — a savage slaying that led to sweeping reform within Los Angeles County’s child-welfare system. Los Angeles Times

The inquiry grows: The criminal investigation of Los Angeles school board member Ref Rodriguez has expanded to include separate conflict-of-interest allegations, sources close to the case confirmed Wednesday. The expanded probe is one reason that attorneys on both sides agreed in court to a further delay in the timeline of steps that could lead to a trial. Los Angeles Times

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By design: Here’s why the Getty Center’s Art stayed put as the fires raged nearby. New York Times

IMMIGRATION AND THE BORDER

Across the border: Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has been running for president in Mexico for more than a decade. He’s floated amnesty for drug criminals. Could he win? Los Angeles Times

They’re hiring: With a mandate from President Trump to hire 5,000 new Border Patrol agents, Customs and Border Protection awarded a $297-million contract to a private company to help recruit and hire new agents and other workers. San Diego Union-Tribune

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POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT

Big news: The Los Angeles City Council voted Wednesday to impose a new fee on development to raise millions of dollars a year for affordable housing as the city copes with rising rents and surging homelessness. Los Angeles Times

L.A. is displeased: Los Angeles lawmakers pressed forward Wednesday with new requirements that likely would prevent Wells Fargo from hanging on to a multimillion-dollar contract with the city. Los Angeles Times

Going forward: “As mayor of San Francisco, Ed Lee frequently made the rounds at events like TechCrunch Disrupt and Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference to meet innovators and learn more about technology, even though at one Apple event, he admitted he hadn’t completely figured out his Apple Watch. It’s not clear if Lee’s successors will tread a similar path.” San Francisco Chronicle

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CRIME AND COURTS

Settlement reached: The Los Angeles City Council agreed Wednesday to pay up to $298,000 to settle a legal matter stemming from the death of a woman who authorities say hanged herself in a downtown jail cell. Los Angeles Times

Acquitted: A Huntington Park police officer facing multiple charges of abusing children at a police-sponsored boot camp in San Luis Obispo in 2015 was acquitted of criminal charges Tuesday. Los Angeles Times

That’s a lot of fentanyl: A 19-year-old Tijuana man was charged Monday with trying to smuggle nearly 80 pounds of fentanyl into the United States after one of the largest seizures of the deadly drug at the border with Mexico, authorities said. San Diego Union-Tribune

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THE ENVIRONMENT

Wow: The Sierra Nevada grew nearly an inch taller during the recent drought and shrank by half an inch when water and snow returned to the area, according to new research from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge. Los Angeles Times

CALIFORNIA CULTURE

SAG nominations: Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks and Daniel Day-Lewis are names synonymous with the awards season, but they won’t have to show up at this year’s Screen Actors Guild Awards show. Surprisingly, the trio of celebrated actors, who, collectively own seven SAG Awards and 29 nominations among them, were shut out of this year’s slate, likely victims of the group’s early ballot deadline. Los Angeles Times

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But: In the latest twist in this unpredictable award season, just days after “The Big Sick” was entirely shut out from the Golden Globe nominations, the Screen Actors Guild made the romantic comedy Wednesday morning’s biggest comeback kid. Los Angeles Times

Fun: Why Disneyland is the most popular spot on Earth for Instagram posters. Orange County Register

That’s cool: “Truckee, Calif., just a half-hour’s drive west of Reno, was named the ‘coolest ski town in North America’ by the Matador Network, an online travel publication.” USA Today

CALIFORNIA ALMANAC

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Los Angeles area: sunny, 77, Thursday; partly cloudy, 79, Friday. San Diego: sunny, 72, Thursday; partly cloudy, 76, Friday. San Francisco area: sunny, 64, Thursday; partly cloudy, 61, Friday. Sacramento: partly cloudy, 61, Thursday; partly cloudy, 62, Friday. More weather is here.

AND FINALLY

Today’s California memory comes from Marcus Prom:

UCLA Law graduation of my daughter was a great trip and will always be an exciting and fond memory. Beginning with breakfast at a diner in Marina del Rey, people-watching on Venice Beach, hiking up to the Hollywood sign, exploring the beautiful UCLA campus, visiting Getty Museum, fish tacos outside in Santa Monica, souvenir and suit shopping in Chinatown, coffee shop and Gov. Arnold, and my favorite, enjoying incredible dishes at Habana, a Malibu restaurant, and catching a peek of Cindy Crawford.”

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If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. Send us an email to let us know what you love or fondly remember about our state. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints and ideas to Benjamin Oreskes and Shelby Grad. Also follow them on Twitter @boreskes and @shelbygrad.


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