Newsletter: Essential California: Can Gov. Newsom end the death penalty?

California Gov. Gavin Newsom announces a moratorium on California's death penalty Wednesday during a news conference at the state Capitol in Sacramento.
(Peter DaSilva / EPA-Shutterstock)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Thursday, March 14, and here’s what’s happening across California:


Gov. Gavin Newsom’s bold gambit to end the death penalty is the biggest shift on the hot-button issue in a generation. 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. Here is how it is playing out:

The politics: Politicians don’t normally overrule voters. On the death penalty, Newsom just did, and he believes he can bring California with him. This is a huge risk with a history making reward. Los Angeles Times


The legalities: Newsom is clearly pushing the limits of his legal authority to do away with executions entirely. He can decide individual cases. But blanket rule? There is much debate. Los Angeles Times

The legacy: Newsom is making history on the death penalty, columnist George Skelton writes. And going where neither Jerry Brown or Kamala Harris went during their Sacramento days. Los Angeles Times

The lives on the line: Check out this stunning visualization of the killers on death row. Los Angeles Times

A death row inmate is escorted back to his cell after spending time in the yard at San Quentin State Prison in August 2016.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

The reaction: Families of some victims are outraged. “It’s just an open wound that never heals.” Sacramento Bee

Editorial: “California’s modern history reflects a population that recognizes that the criminal justice system has been too harsh on the poor and minorities.” Los Angeles Times

Plus: Of course there is a Kardashian angle. People



The college admissions scandal had its epicenter at the University of Southern California, which has seen a variety of scandals over the past decade. Of the 32 parents named in the FBI affidavit, more than half stand accused of conspiring to bribe their way into USC. Other universities, including Georgetown, Stanford, the University of San Diego and Yale, were also involved, but the alleged misconduct involving USC dwarfs all other schools. Many are asking: Why? Los Angeles Times

— Is it time for Athletic Director Lynn Swann to go? Los Angeles Times

— So why was Felicity Huffman charged but not her husband, William H. Macy? Los Angeles Times

— Some questions for Huffman about her public profile and alleged personal behavior. Los Angeles Times


— How a self-help author and “millennial expert” got caught up in the scandal. Los Angeles Times

— The high-priced world of college consultants for the super rich. New York Times

— A tale of youth sports and corruption allegations in San Diego. San Diego Union-Tribune

Silicon Valley has been caught up in the scandal as well. SF Gate


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Wild times at the DWP: The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power‘s reputation hit a low six years ago when the agency’s new billing system sent out wildly inaccurate bills. Years later, this scandal has created a second one, this time over allegations of double dealing and conflicts of interest involving attorneys handling the litigation. Los Angeles Times

Fatal plane crash: One person was killed and another injured Wednesday after a fiery collision involving two planes at the Compton/Woodley Airport, officials said. Los Angeles Times


Will they fire their agents? Hollywood screenwriters have mounting frustrations with the talent agencies that represent them. These concerns center on the long-standing practice of packaging fees and the newer trend of major talent agencies moving into the TV and film production businesses. Los Angeles Times

Definitely not Showtime: And Lonzo Ball is frustrated. Feel his pain. Los Angeles Times


In the 9th Circuit: A federal appeals court appeared skeptical Wednesday of efforts by the Trump administration to throw out California’s sanctuary laws. Los Angeles Times


Info for ICE: Civil rights groups in California want police and sheriff’s departments to stop sending license plate scanner information to a national private database, saying new public documents show federal immigration agents are using the system in breach of sanctuary state and city laws. Los Angeles Times

Arrested again: A college student from Palos Verdes Estates who was acquitted last year in a South Los Angeles killing was arrested Tuesday night on suspicion of carjacking, according to the man’s attorney and arrest records. Los Angeles Times

Say what? A Northern California high school special education teacher was arrested over the weekend after police said he created a “fight club style atmosphere” in his classroom, encouraging his students to fight each other while refereeing the brawls himself. Los Angeles Times



Down to the wire: In a hotly contested race for a seat on the Orange County Board of Supervisors, Irvine Mayor Don Wagner widened his lead Wednesday and appeared headed toward victory over former U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez following this week’s special election. Los Angeles Times


Thomas fire’s cause: Investigators have determined that Southern California Edison power lines ignited the 2017 Thomas fire in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties that killed two people and later gave rise to a massive mudflow that resulted in at least 21 deaths. Los Angeles Times

Parched no more: Southern California’s wet winter is changing typically dry Death Valley. A new lake has formed, stunning visitors. How long will it last? SFGate



Amazing tale: The epic hunt for a World War II warship that sailed out of San Diego in 1942 and into the fog of war. New York Times Magazine

Riddle me this: Why are there so many orange trees in Sacramento? Sacramento Bee

Ringing out the old: As everyone seems to have a cellphone, the old freeway callbox is becoming a thing of the past. More are being removed. The Press-Enterprise



Los Angeles area: sunny, 70, Thursday; partly cloudy, 74, Friday. San Diego: sunny, 70, Thursday; partly cloudy, 72, Friday. San Francisco area: partly cloudy, 60, Thursday; sunny, 64, Friday. San Jose: partly cloudy, 65, Thursday; sunny, 70, Friday. Sacramento: partly cloudy, 64, Thursday; partly cloudy, 67, Friday. More weather is here.


Today’s California memory comes from Ruth Blystone:


”I was born in Pomona in 1960. It was a time of mass growth and smog. My family lived a block from a cemetery with tall palm trees, which at times could not be seen. We would experience bumper-to-bumper traffic on Sunday afternoons returning from my grandparents’ home in San Bernardino. My family moved to Washington state in the mid-’60s, but the best vacations were spent in California! I recently moved back to Ventura and marvel at the majestic mountains and beautiful ocean beaches. I am so proud to be a native Californian!”

Update: We removed an item about Cal State Fullerton that turned out to have been published earlier.

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.