Newsletter: Essential California: The shorter bullet train is still on track to run out of money

An elevated section of California’s high-speed rail project under construction in Fresno in 2017.
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Monday, March 4, and here’s what’s happening across California:


High-speed rail is taking center stage, and the politics are set to get uglier. The California bullet train project will probably run out money before it can fulfill Gov. Gavin Newsom’s modest plan to build a high-speed operating segment between Bakersfield and Merced, according to a Times analysis of the state rail authority’s financial records. Los Angeles Times

Disturbing images


Newport Beach school officials on Sunday said they are investigating images posted on social media appearing to show a group of partying students — arms outstretched in a Nazi salute — gathered around red plastic cups arranged in the form of a swastika. Los Angeles Times

Dispute over a deputy

The battle between L.A.’s upstart sheriff and the establishment got hotter. Los Angeles County officials have moved to reverse the controversial reinstatement of a deputy who worked as a campaign aide to Sheriff Alex Villanueva, a personnel decision that could exacerbate tensions between the county’s newly elected top cop and its governing body, the Board of Supervisors. Los Angeles Times



After years as an afterthought, California is going to really matter in the 2020 primary fight. With California’s primary a year away, Democrats vying to challenge President Trump have started swinging through the Golden State.

True, much of their time is spent behind closed doors, at cocktail parties and swanky dinners, where they hit up Hollywood and Silicon Valley types for money to spend in places like Iowa and New Hampshire. The Times produced a special report setting the table for the huge political year ahead:

-- Why shifting the date of the primary is making California more relevant. But it’s actually much more than that. Los Angeles Times

-- Sen. Kamala Harris is California’s favorite daughter. But does she have the political DNA of Ronald Reagan, the state’s last true national political icon? Los Angeles Times

-- California’s political inferiority complex. Los Angeles Times

-- So who can beat Trump? Los Angeles Times

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Democrats have a large field of declared and potential candidates, including from left: Sens. Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders and Cory Booker, former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
(Associated Press, Getty Images, EPA-Shutterstock)


Another sad chapter: More grim allegations of institutional failure in the horrific Gabriel Fernandez child abuse case. Los Angeles Times

One to watch: A case in Santa Monica could have widespread repercussions for how we elect city council members. Los Angeles Times

Going Hollywood: An inside look at how Lauren Sanchez and Jeff Bezos met and how their relationship spread through L.A.’s elite circles. “Three people in Ms. Sanchez’s extended social circle said she was giddy and in love, showing amorous texts to a number of Brentwood and Beverly Hills moms.” New York Times

Extortion plot: Two Chinese nationals have been indicted on federal kidnapping and extortion charges in the disappearance of a Costa Mesa luxury car dealer, another Chinese national who is believed to have died during the course of his abduction and whose body has never been found. Los Angeles Times


A popular shopping mall in Sacramento was closed Sunday over concerns about protests after the Sacramento County district attorney announced this weekend that two police officers would not face charges in the fatal shooting of Stephon Clark last year. Los Angeles Times

-- Why Sacramento prosecutors didn’t file charges against the officers. Los Angeles Times


-- Did Clark deserve to die? Sacramento Bee

-- And the case is far from over. Los Angeles Times


Tales from the crime lab: The amazing story of a single bullet and how it hold clues to so much. East Bay Times

A shattered respite: The inside story of a mass shooting at a Napa home for veterans. A tragedy all around. Napa Valley Register

The battle over records: Fresno says it wants to be transparent about police violence. But when it comes down to it ... Fresno Bee


No chill: The streaming-versus-movie battle is heating up. Steven Spielberg will propose rule changes that would prevent streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon and Hulu from competing in the Oscars without their projects getting a full theatrical run first. Los Angeles Times

Fantasy and reality: “Its loyalty to the past has become almost too comfortable, too focused on beauty for the times we live in: I certainly don’t think of revolution when I’m there.” — A lukewarm review of legendary Chez Panisse in the San Francisco Chronicle is raising eyebrows. San Francisco Chronicle

The changing city: San Francisco was once a banking hub. Now it’s a tech hub. Here is how the architecture is adapting. San Francisco Chronicle


The documentary “Leaving Neverland” and how it’s changing so our view of Michael Jackson. A collection of essays:

-- A sordid picture in full view. By Lorraine Ali. Los Angeles Times

-- Wrestling with our image of the King of Pop. By Wesley Morris. New York Times

-- Facts known for so long. By Maureen Orth. Vanity Fair

-- A moment of reckoning. By Amanda Petrusich. The New Yorker


Los Angeles area: Partly cloudy, 63, Monday. Scattered showers, 67, Tuesday. San Diego: Mostly cloudy, 62, Monday. Partly cloudy, 67, Tuesday. San Francisco area: Cloudy, 54, Monday. Rain, 55, Tuesday. San Jose: Mostly cloudy, 60, Monday. Showers, 58, Tuesday. Sacramento: Mostly cloudy, 60, Monday. Cloudy, 56, Tuesday. More weather is here.


This week’s birthdays for those who made a mark in California: Rep. Paul Cook (March 3, 1943), State Treasurer Fiona Ma (March 4, 1966), actor-activist Rob Reiner (March 6, 1947), Rep. Juan Vargas (March 7, 1961) and Rep. Alan Lowenthal (March 8, 1941).

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.