Newsletter: Essential California: A company owned by a congressman’s in-laws comes under scrutiny

William Wages, principal owner of Vortex Construction in Bakersfield, says he is one-eighth Cherokee Indian, which allowed him to win contracts set aside for minorities. Wages is the brother-in-law of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Monday, Oct. 15, and here’s what’s happening across California:


A Times investigation has found that a company owned by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s in-laws won more than $7 million in no-bid and other federal contracts at U.S. military installations and other government properties in California based on a dubious claim of Native American identity by McCarthy’s brother-in-law. The contracts, awarded through a federal program designed to help disadvantaged minorities, were mostly for projects in and around McCarthy’s district. Los Angeles Times

Brave new world


Whether confronting an increasingly automated labor market or grappling with how the gig economy is reshaping the relationship between companies and their workers, California’s next governor will have to address the changing nature of work. That could mean rethinking how to educate Californians, remaking labor laws or considering major social safety net proposals such as a universal basic income. State government might not be able to control change sweeping the workplace, but it will have to deal with the fallout. Los Angeles Times

Plus: The full Next California series. Los Angeles Times

A new saint

In life, Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador was persecuted, shot in the heart by a single bullet while he celebrated Mass. In death, his legacy was politicized, calumniated — just about silenced. So for many on Sunday it was extraordinary to see Pope Francis at last declare Romero a saint in St. Peter’s Square. Los Angeles Times

-- Romero’s sainthood is a seminal moment for Los Angeles’ vast Salvadoran community, where his death mirrored the struggles that brought them to America. Los Angeles Times

-- “He had the heart to empower people. He had the heart to fight injustice. He gave poor people hope that someone was going to stand up against the violence and the government.” Los Angeles Times


-- The homily Romero delivered when he was killed. America: The Jesuit Review

-- Romero’s place in the church and with faith. Sojourners

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Artist Chris Toledo has spent the last two years working on a grand home in miniature in his apartment in MacArthur Park. The home, which is loaded with architectural details, is scaled down to 1/12th the size of a real home.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)


A dark tale from the shores of Silicon Beach: Allegations from current and former employees detailing a workplace soaked with sexism and harassment have thrown gaming giant Riot Games into crisis mode. Los Angeles Times

Must-see: An L.A. dreamer who sees our city in small bites, and created a world to match his fantasies. Los Angeles Times

Changing times: How art shows are shifting attitudes about gay life in Glendale. Glendale News-Press

RIP: Remembering a man who devoted his life to being an advocate for those who needed it most. Los Angeles Times

Too much of a good thing? Is L.A. experiencing a poke bubble? Eater Los Angeles


Buzz off: The bee thief rings that operate in the Central Valley during almond season. Reveal

Cautionary tale: Squatters took over this South Bay house, and many neighbors said that the law helped them stay there. Daily Breeze

Looking for clues: Investigators searched a burned-out house in the Antelope Valley for clues in the deaths of three people whose remains were discovered buried on the property last week. Los Angeles Times

Hoping for a break: Los Angeles County Sheriff’s detectives are awaiting ballistic testing to determine whether a man who was carrying a rifle when he was arrested by investigators seeking a burglary suspect is connected to a series of shootings in the Malibu Creek State Park area that left a scientist dead. Los Angeles Times


Bigger than politics: For many Corona City Council candidates, the issues are the run-of-the-mill stuff of local politics: improving traffic, better planning, a balanced budget. For Councilman Randy Fox, a pastor, the election “is a spiritual battle.” Christianity has taken center stage in a sprawling and increasingly diverse suburb. Los Angeles Times

Lend a hand? Despite a booming economy, many California cities are struggling and asking voters for new taxes. Sacramento Bee


Watch out: As sure a sign of the season as the pumpkin spiced latte, the Santa Ana winds are back and bringing fire danger. Los Angeles Times

Lights out: Extreme fire weather conditions prompted Pacific Gas & Electric to shut off power to thousands of customers in Northern California. Los Angeles Times

Biodiversity: The importance of “islands” that survive wildfires and become the way new life begins. New York Times


The black hair revolution: Black actresses, whether by choice or under pressure from Hollywood, have altered their natural hair to appeal to mainstream audiences since their first appearances in film and television — from Josephine Baker’s plastered-down coif in 1934’s “Zouzou” and Hattie McDaniel’s mammy roles in “Gone With the Wind” and beyond in which a tied-up scarf often hid her hair. But lately, as more black filmmakers and showrunners gain creative control, there has been an emergence of projects that showcase the diversity of black life — and hairstyles. Los Angeles Times

Ten percenters: Even in Silicon Valley, it’s only the super rich who are really winning in this economy. Recode

-- Why two Silicon Valley tech titans are battling over homeless policy. Wall Street Journal

West Coast, best coast: Don’t expect to be getting a Double Double on the East Coast, says In-N-Out’s president. ABC7

Up for consideration: Can a revived Harvey Milk Plaza help the Castro District reinvent itself? San Francisco Chronicle

Off on the wrong foot: Debate after a scandal-plagued USA Gymnastics turns to a veteran California politician as its leader. Desert Sun


Los Angeles area: Sunny, 82, Monday. Sunny, 83, Tuesday. San Diego: Sunny, 79, Monday. Sunny, 77, Tuesday. San Francisco area: Sunny, 76, Monday. Sunny, 66, Tuesday. San Jose: Sunny, 82, Monday. Sunny, 78, Tuesday. Sacramento: Sunny, 83, Monday. Sunny, 84, Tuesday. More weather is here.


This week’s birthdays for those who made a mark in California: State Controller Betty Yee (Oct. 19, 1957), L.A. County Supervisor Hilda Solis (Oct. 20, 1957) and Sen. Kamala Harris (Oct. 20, 1964).

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.