Newsletter: Essential California: Some L.A. pensions are so huge they exceed IRS limits, costing millions extra

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Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Monday, Dec. 17, and here’s what’s happening across California:


Dozens of retired Los Angeles employees are collecting such generous retirement pay that they exceed pension fund limits set by the Internal Revenue Service, saddling taxpayers with additional costs, a Times data analysis has found. Their lavish pensions forced the city to establish an “Excess Benefit Plan” to pay what the pension system cannot legally cover, using money that could otherwise be tapped to fix sidewalks, fight homelessness or hire more cops. In all, the little-known fund has paid $14.6 million to 110 retired employees since 2010, The Times’ analysis showed. Los Angeles Times

New session, fewer Republicans


As recently as five years ago, the GOP held close to half the mayoral and city council seats in California. But after the November election, the party’s local ranks have thinned, and that could hurt the party further as it loses its bench of up-and-coming political prospects. Democrats will hold 49% of all seats in local government, Republicans 38% and unaffiliated lawmakers — those stating no party preference — 11%, according to figures compiled by GrassrootsLab, a nonpartisan Sacramento research and data firm. Los Angeles Times

Lonely days: For the Republicans left in the Legislature, fewer lawmakers will have to do more work. Los Angeles Times

The early line on 2020: Will the next president come from California? Don’t count on it. Los Angeles Times


Making their voices heard: Thousands of teachers, students and union allies marched through downtown Los Angeles on Saturday, from City Hall to the Broad museum, a month ahead of a possible strike that L.A. educators have threatened if the district doesn’t meet demands that include retroactive raises, smaller class sizes and more nurses and counselors. Los Angeles Times

A photographer to watch: In quiet yet visceral works, Zoe Leonard captures the frailty, pain and eccentricities of human life. Los Angeles Times


An artist’s protest: Shepard Fairey said he will insist on removal of his own mural if the L.A. Unified School District paints over the artwork of Beau Stanton at a school in Koreatown. Los Angeles Times

Moving on: L.A. Phil violinist Vijay Gupta is leaving the orchestra and taking his song to the streets. Los Angeles Times

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Vijay Gupta, pictured outside the Midnight Mission on skid row, is leaving the Los Angeles Philharmonic to focus on activism, including his Street Symphony, which performs for the homeless and in jails.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)


A worried community: Their faces were grim, but with their voices united in a common cause, Vietnamese Americans rallied in Little Saigon on Saturday to protest the Trump administration’s push to deport thousands of war refugees. Los Angeles Times


Plus: “A Trump administration push to deport Vietnamese nationals is compounding the GOP’s problems, possibly cementing the loss of a coastal county that had long been the epicenter of Republican power in California.” Politico

Steps from the border: In Roma, Texas, residents must choose: Help the Border Patrol, or border crossers? Los Angeles Times

Plus: Patrolling a land of secret signals and signs on the Texas-Mexico border. Los Angeles Times


What to do with a mall? A new law could break the stalemate over housing on the site of a near-vacant Cupertino mall. Los Angeles Times

Hit the ground running: Greig Smith wants to ensure a “smooth transition” after Mitchell Englander steps down from West Valley LA City Council seat. Los Angeles Daily News


In D.C.: Rep. Adam Schiff plans to obliterate Trump’s red line. The New Yorker

Throwing it back: Recalling Gov. Jerry Brown’s first Supreme Court choice as his final pick faces confirmation. Cal Matters


A mother’s story: Saturday marked the 12th anniversary of the day when Charlene Lovett lost her teenage daughter to a hate crime that cast a spotlight on racial tensions in the Harbor Gateway area of Los Angeles. Her book, “Invisible Division: A Mother’s Story of Her Murdered Child,” was published this month. Los Angeles Times

The tax man cometh: San Diego is trying to boost tax revenue from the city’s dozen legal marijuana dispensaries by auditing them and tightening restrictions on sales to medical cannabis patients, which are tax-exempt. Los Angeles Times



Scary stuff: Officials are scrambling to stabilize the crumbling Del Mar bluffs, with four collapses having occurred since August. Los Angeles Times

Dr. Elon & Mr. Musk: Life inside Tesla’s production hell. Wired

Sending the wrong message? “State authorities this week delivered on a controversial deal struck last year that handed oil companies and other major polluters a multimillion-dollar windfall. Critics pounced on what they characterized as a giveaway to industry.” Cal Matters

Rough stuff: “A new report slams the U.S. Forest Service response to a massive 2016 wildfire near Big Sur as ‘inappropriate, excessive and ineffective’ and calls it emblematic of the agency’s overall spending tactics.” KQED


At the box office: After a slow two weeks for new movies, fresh wide releases dominated the top five at the box office. Sony’s “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” premiered in first place with $35.4 million, in the range of analyst predictions of $32 million to $39 million, according to figures from measurement firm Comscore. Los Angeles Times


Disruption city: Netflix’s movie blitz takes aim at Hollywood’s heart. New York Times

Fun: They left their jobs at a law firm and digital ad agency to create hoodies that fold into plushies. Los Angeles Times

Wow! “A property owner who illegally demolished a 1936 Twin Peaks house designed by a renowned modernist must rebuild an exact replica of the home rather than the much larger structure the property owner had proposed replacing it with, the City Planning Commission ruled this week.” San Francisco Chronicle

A culture clash: “Two former members of the Azusa Pacific University Board of Trustees say they did not resign in response to the recent turmoil over the school’s ban on romantic LGBTQ relationships but instead as a result of broader concerns regarding financial mismanagement and ‘theological drift.’ ” San Gabriel Valley Tribune


Los Angeles area: Partly cloudy, 65, Monday. Sunny, 67, Tuesday. San Diego: Partly cloudy, 65, Monday. Sunny, 66, Tuesday. San Francisco area: Partly cloudy, 57, Monday. Partly cloudy, 59, Tuesday. San Jose: Partly cloudy, 61, Monday. Partly cloudy, 63, Tuesday. Sacramento: Partly cloudy, 59, Monday. Partly cloudy, 60, Tuesday. More weather is here.



This week’s birthdays for those who made a mark in California: L.A. City Councilman Curren Price Jr. (Dec. 16, 1950), Rep. Steve Knight (Dec. 17, 1966), director Steven Spielberg (Dec. 18, 1946) and actor Brad Pitt (Dec. 18, 1963).

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.