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Essential California: Operation Varsity Blues, by the numbers

Essential California: Operation Varsity Blues, by the numbers
USC is among the universities targeted in the scheme. (Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Wednesday, March 13, and here’s what’s happening across California:



In allegations that sent shock waves through academia, federal prosecutors on Tuesday accused top CEOs, two Hollywood actresses and a legendary fashion designer of taking part in an audacious scheme to get their children into elite universities through fraud, bribes and lies. The scheme, which began in 2011, centered on the owner of a for-profit Newport Beach college admissions company that wealthy parents paid to help their children cheat on college entrance exams and to falsify athletic records of students to enable them to secure admission to elite schools. Los Angeles Times

By the numbers

50: That’s how many people have been charged in the scheme. They include current and former coaches and administrators at UCLA, USC, Stanford, Yale and Georgetown.

$200,000: That’s at least how much families were expected to pay to get their kids into the school. Some spent as much as $6.5 million.

$1.3 million: That’s how much one USC sports administrator was allegedly bribed to help parents take advantage of the relaxed admissions standards for athletes even though their children were not legitimately being recruited as athletes. She along with the school’s star water polo coach were fired.

$15,000: That’s the charitable payment in the bribery scheme that former “Desperate Housewives” star Felicity Huffman allegedly made to help boost her daughter’s SAT score. She’s been indicted after FBI agents showed up at her home with their guns drawn, according to a source. There’s some question whether her planned Netlflix project will continue.

$500,000: That’s what Lori Loughlin of “Full House” fame and her husband, Mossimo Giannulli, the creator of clothing brand Mossimo, allegedly paid in bribes in “exchange for having their two daughters designated as recruits to the USC crew team” even though they did not participate in crew.

$25 million: That’s how much prosecutors allege that Newport Beach admissions consultant Rick Singer was paid by parents to help shuttle students through “the side door.” He has pleaded guilty.

More news and notes about this mushrooming scandal

— “They had wealth and power, but they still cheated to get their kids into elite universities,” writes columnist Steve Lopez. Los Angeles Times

— “For years, Felicity Huffman seemed like one of the most grounded women in Hollywood. One massive college admissions fraud later, it turns out, she wasn't,” writes Mary McNamara. Los Angeles Times

— “How innocent they appear in retrospect, those days when it felt as if athletic director Lynn Swann’s refusal to fire football coach Clay Helton marked a new low point for USC’s athletic department,” writes Dylan Hernandez. Los Angeles Times

— One of Silicon Valley’s most prominent voices for ethical investing is implicated in the college admissions bribery scandal. Recode

Terrifying study


In the most extensive study to date on sea level rise in California, researchers say damages by the end of the century could be far more devastating than the worst earthquakes and wildfires in state history. A team of U.S. Geological Survey scientists concluded that even a modest bit of sea level rise — often dismissed as a creeping, slow-moving disaster — could overwhelm communities when a storm hits at the same time. Los Angeles Times

Newsom halts the death penalty

Gov. Gavin Newsom will sign an executive order on Wednesday to impose a moratorium on the death penalty in California, vowing that no prisoner in the state will be executed while he is in office because of a belief that capital punishment is discriminatory, unjust and “inconsistent with our bedrock values.” The order will prevent the state from putting prisoners to death by granting temporary reprieves to all 737 condemned inmates on California’s death row, the largest in the nation. It will immediately close the execution chamber at San Quentin State Prison and scuttle the state’s ongoing efforts to devise a constitutional method for lethal injection. No inmate will be released and no sentence or conviction will be altered, the order says. Los Angeles Times


A break in the case: A man described as a friend of the mother of the 9-year-old girl found dead in a duffel bag on a Hacienda Heights trail has been charged with murder, prosecutors said Tuesday. Los Angeles Times


Strong column from Robin Abcarian: A woman’s past abuse is triggered by a TSA pat-down at LAX. She wants some answers. Los Angeles Times

Big changes at LACMA: The Los Angeles County Museum of Art took a momentous step in collapsing American art and European painting and sculpture into a single curatorial department. Sound bizarre? It is, writes art critic Christopher Knight. Los Angeles Times

“Yo” parking: These guerrilla parking signs in Angelino Heights were removed, but their creator hopes to inspire others. LAist


Pulling back abroad: The Trump administration has taken another step to cut back services to people seeking to legally enter the U.S. and focus instead on a ballooning backlog of immigration cases, announcing that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services would close all its international offices. Los Angeles Times


Worrying: A passenger with measles had a layover in LAX last month, possibly exposing hundreds of people to the disease. The warning comes amid outbreaks across the country. Los Angeles Times

Following up: Rep. Mike Levin, a vocal opponent of plans to extend the 241 toll road through south Orange County, has called on the governor’s office for increased oversight of the local tollway authority after a Times article revealed questionable payments to the agency’s public outreach consultants. Los Angeles Times

New bill alert: “Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., unveiled a bill Tuesday requiring carbon monoxide detectors in federally subsidized public housing, after an NBC News investigation showed how a widespread lack of the devices posed a threat to millions of low-income families.” NBC News


The docs are flowing: Documents from the two misconduct cases are among the first released by the Los Angeles Police Department under a landmark state transparency law that requires law enforcement agencies to publicly disclose records of internal investigations into police shootings, severe uses of force and confirmed cases of sexual assault and lying by on-duty officers. Los Angeles Times

A lawmaker is charged: The Fresno County district attorney charged California Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula (D-Fresno) on Tuesday with one misdemeanor count of cruelty to a child, three months after the state legislator was arrested on suspicion of injuring one of his daughters. Los Angeles Times


Water wars: The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California has moved to seal California’s participation in a landmark Colorado River drought management plan over the objections of the river’s largest user. Los Angeles Times

The blob’s effects: Tropical jellyfish, eels and sea butterflies are pouring into California’s coast, thanks to a “warm-water blob.” Los Angeles Times

Look, up in the sky! Scientists were bracing for a butterfly collapse. Now they’re everywhere. Los Angeles Times


Coffee shop or “peep show”? The town of American Canyon, population about 20,000, is trying to shut down a coffee shop by asking the kind of oddly philosophical question you might contemplate while nursing a cup of joe: Is a cafe still just a cafe if the baristas are wearing close to nothing? Los Angeles Times

The sports landscape: “As I watched ‘The 3252,’ LAFC’s passionate supporters group which stands, chants and sings in unison at every home match, I couldn’t help but think about the Chargers,” writes columnist Arash Markazi. Los Angeles Times

Here we go again: The official breakfast cereal power rankings: Part I. Los Angeles Times

Tim Berners-Lee: The World Wide Web turns 30. Where do we go from here? Wired


Pricey: The state tourism board is giving $600,000 to Michelin for a new California guide. San Francisco Chronicle


Los Angeles area: sunny, 69, Wednesday; partly cloudy, 70, Thursday. San Diego: partly cloudy, 64, Wednesday; partly cloudy, 69, Thursday. San Francisco area: sunny, 58, Wednesday; partly cloudy, 58, Thursday. San Jose: sunny, 62, Wednesday; partly cloudy, 62, Thursday. Sacramento: cloudy, 62, Wednesday; partly cloudy, 61, Thursday. More weather is here.


Today’s California memory comes from Vincent Valenzuela:

“I was born and raised in San Diego. I remember when the fishing fleets were home-ported there. The fresh seafood that was always available. One of my fondest memories of childhood was the ride to Lakewood to visit my aunt and uncle. This was before any freeways existed. Getting up very early and stopping in Laguna Beach for breakfast. What a beautiful drive it was. That is one of my California memories.”