Newsletter: Essential California: Billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong nears a deal to buy the L.A. Times

Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong in 2014.
(Danny Moloshok / Associated Press)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Wednesday, Feb. 7, and here’s what’s happening across California:


In the works

Los Angeles biotech billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong is nearing a deal to buy the Los Angeles Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune from its parent company, Tronc, according to two people familiar with the talks. The nearly $500-million deal, if consummated, would return The Times to local ownership after 18 years and represent a major shift for Tronc, which has long built its strategy around owning newspapers in the country’s largest cities. Los Angeles Times


Major drop-off

USC, known nationally for its aggressive fundraising operation, saw contributions plummet in the second half of 2017, a period in which scandals roiled its medical school. An internal accounting reviewed by The Times shows donations to the university were down nearly $100 million between July and December of last year compared with the same time frame in 2016. The falloff represents a 22% decline and was particularly severe at the Keck School of Medicine, where donations dropped by more than half, or roughly $45 million. Los Angeles Times

Live from Tulare

After years of toiling against the surveillance state, sounding alarms about privacy intrusion and Orwellian law enforcement overreach, civil libertarians now find their talking points have been hijacked by the man they are usually used against. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes suddenly sounds like one of them. Los Angeles Times

Plus: The Nunes memo made the congressman a national name. But his California district cares about water, not Russia. Los Angeles Times



Back to Mexico: Maria Barrancas stood in the backyard of her mother-in-law’s home, alone but for a pig and some hens. It had been about a week since she packed up her life in Gardena and left for Mexico with her partner and their two children. There, in the small, dusty Sinaloa town of El Aguaje, the isolation hit her. Her three older children were still in California. She was in a country she hardly remembered, having left for the U.S. 32 years ago at age 15. Los Angeles Times

One giant step: In a historic first, SpaceX launched the world’s most powerful operational rocket from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Tuesday. By nailing the giant rocket’s first flight and landing its two side boosters on the ground, the Hawthorne company set the stage for faster and cheaper launches of satellites — particularly lucrative national security satellites and other cargo. Los Angeles Times

Change for the homeless: Two orange meters that accept donations of loose change for homeless services will be installed in Grand Park in downtown Los Angeles. L.A. Daily News


Cool story: Trump wants a border wall. See what’s in place already. New York Times



Follow the money: If Democrats are going to regain control of the U.S. House and return Nancy Pelosi to the speakership, they must forge a path through California. A close look at the latest money picture in the competitive congressional races shows Democratic candidates already are raising historic amounts of money, even in unexpected districts. Los Angeles Times

Settlement stands: The $25-million settlement reached in two Trump University class-action lawsuits can go forward, after a federal appeals court Tuesday rejected one student’s objection. Los Angeles Times

Milestone for S.F.: San Francisco is on track to open its first two safe injection sites this July, a milestone that will likely make the city the first in the country to embrace the controversial model of allowing drug users to shoot up under supervision.” San Francisco Chronicle

Ominous poll: “California Republicans’ hopes for re-election in 2018 may rest on separating themselves from the unpopular President Trump. A new poll shows that’s not happening as the year begins, at least in two of the state’s most competitive congressional districts.” McClatchy


Disturbing case: Authorities believe a man killed his wife and dismembered her body in an abandoned Pasadena restaurant, placing her remains in a suitcase that he then carried aboard a Metro Gold Line train. Los Angeles Times


In court: The 1987 movie “Wall Street,” in which Michael Douglas’ character utters the famous line “Greed is good,” became the latest point of controversy Tuesday in the Waymo-Uber trade secrets trial. Los Angeles Times

More fallout: Any California registered lobbyist found to have committed sexual harassment could be banned from similar work for up to four years under a plan introduced on Tuesday at the state Capitol. Los Angeles Times


A rave review: Times film critic Kenneth Turan writes that the film “Black Panther” is a royally imaginative standout in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Los Angeles Times

Big move: In another major shakeup for Sony Pictures Entertainment, the Culver City-based studio is removing three executives as the company orchestrates sweeping changes to its home entertainment and television businesses. Los Angeles Times

Mudslide aftermath: “Phillip Frankland Lee and partner Margarita Kallas-Lee are still not up and running at their new restaurant collection inside the Montecito Inn on the Central Coast, but they count themselves lucky.” Eater LA


Yum: “In San Francisco’s Chinatown, a food hall wants to showcase the best of China.NBC News

Um: Can you still date a co-worker? Well, it’s complicated. Wall Street Journal


Los Angeles area: sunny, 81, Wednesday; sunny, 82, Thursday. San Diego: sunny, 77, Wednesday; sunny, 75, Thursday. San Francisco area: sunny, 70, Wednesday. Sacramento: sunny, 73, Wednesday; partly cloudy, 73, Thursday. More weather is here.


Today’s California memory comes from Glen Williams:


“The first time I drove into L.A. was in 1966, coming from the Bay Area to visit a girlfriend who had returned home from college. As I crested Mulholland, a giant bowl of split pea soup lay in front of me. As I dove into the green air, not only could I not see buildings, I could barely see the car in front of me. My eyes burned; my throat hurt; and my only thought was ‘How do people live in this?’ I had arrived during one of the many days of Stage 2 or greater smog alerts that year. Fifteen years later, I overcame my memory of that day enough to come to L.A. for a job interview. I was astonished to discover a different world; one in which leaded gas was banned, eliminating the green soup, and smog alerts were no longer part of daily life. AQMD deserves kudos for its unending efforts to continuously improve the air quality. There are folks living in L.A. for years who have no idea what a Stage 2 alert even is. Wow.”

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.