Newsletter: Essential California: On death row, ‘reality hasn’t set in’

Colleen Hicks stands in her backyard in Bolinas, Calif. Hicks has high hopes that her boyfriend Douglas “Chief” Stankewitz, who has been on death row for 42 years, will be freed after Gov. Gavin Newsom’s decision to declare a moratorium on the death penalty.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Monday, March 18, and here’s what’s happening across California:


As the news about Gov. Gavin Newsom’s decision to declare a moratorium on the death penalty rippled through San Quentin, Douglas “Chief” Stankewitz said in a telephone interview, there were no celebrations, no cheers among the 737 condemned men on the largest death row in the United States. “Some have talked about it,” said Stankewitz, the first person to land on California’s death row after capital punishment was reinstated in 1978. “Other ones, I guess, feel numbed. They don’t believe what’s happening.… It’s like when people get sentenced to death. They get numb for a week or two. Reality hasn’t set in.” Los Angeles Times

End of an era


Thirty-four years ago, Rupert Murdoch showed up in Hollywood with $250 million, buying a stake in the 20th Century Fox film studio — even though he had little interest in making movies. The scrappy Australian newsman, then known for his clamorous tabloids, was viewed with suspicion. Skeptics assumed he was a corporate raider intent on stripping value from the studio. Instead, Murdoch rescued a threadbare operation from financial ruin and turned it into the centerpiece of a growing empire that has reshaped the entertainment industry. Now, Murdoch is dismantling his life’s work: a kingdom worth more than $100 billion. On Tuesday, his largest company, 21st Century Fox, will be broken apart. Los Angeles Times

More admissions scandal fallout

Officials at many leading private colleges and universities say they are working harder than they ever have to seek, recruit, enroll and support high-achieving, low-income students. They are increasingly tapping their vast resources to try to lift those on the bottom. But the admissions scandal that has caught the nation’s attention is reinforcing old stereotypes. Los Angeles Times

-- USC athletic director Lynn Swann says he’ll stay at USC for the long haul. Those are long odds. Los Angeles Times


-- The college cheating scandal hit these Eastside high school kids hard. Los Angeles Times

-- A prominent La Jolla family is linked to the massive college admissions scandal. Who are the Kimmels? San Diego Union-Tribune

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The Pied Piper of Balboa Beach: Dick Dale manifested a quintessentially Southern California story, forged in surf, sand and rock ’n’ roll. The electric-guitar playing son of a Lebanese father melded elements of the music of his ancestral homeland with roaring instrumental rock sounds emerging in the late 1950s and helped pioneer the American genre known as surf music. He died at 81. Los Angeles Times

South L.A. explosion: A 9,000-gallon tanker truck leaking gasoline caught fire and triggered an explosion in South Los Angeles early Sunday, blasting off manhole covers, igniting surrounding structures and sending a huge column of black smoke into the air, authorities said. Two women were injured in the blast. Los Angeles Times

Dan Rodriguez, a supervisor with the Los Angeles Sanitation Department, stands near a manhole cover that was split in two.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Rewriting the history books: Women were missing from history lessons in schools. An effort in California would change that. Los Angeles Times


Oy vey: How the Los Angeles Lakers blew it. New York Times


Getting creative: It goes by different names in every immigrant community — the keh in Koreatown, the hui in Chinatown, the tontine in Cambodia Town. In a city with an economy that often closes out immigrants, these financing methods are often the only way to break in. Los Angeles Times



Thoughts on rent control: The L.A. Times Editorial Board says California lawmakers can’t address the real-time pain and upheaval caused by the state’s housing crisis without some kind of tenant protections. Los Angeles Times

Growing backlogs: The Justice Department touts new immigration judges amid its struggle to reduce a huge backlog. Los Angeles Times

In town: Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind., who is likely to become a presidential candidate, was recently in West Hollywood fundraising at Bar Lubitsch. Washington Post



$$$$$: In the more than two years since California voters approved the licensed growing and sale of recreational marijuana, the state has seen a half-dozen government corruption cases as black-market operators try to game the system, through bribery and other means. The cases are tarnishing an already troubled rollout of the state permitting of pot businesses as provided for when voters approved Proposition 64 in November 2016. Los Angeles Times

Plus: San Diego considers cannabis lounges. San Francisco set the standard. Los Angeles Times

Very scary: Two Laguna Beach families were the recent targets of a “virtual kidnapping” scam in which they were told one of their children had been abducted and would be killed unless they paid a ransom, police said. Los Angeles Times

In court: “The academic who helped Cambridge Analytica vacuum up private information from tens of millions of Facebook profiles sued the social media giant on Friday, arguing that the company defamed him when it claimed he had lied about how the data was going to be used.” New York Times



This is why we can’t have nice things: Calling the stampede a “poppy nightmare,” Lake Elsinore officials announced Sunday they had shut access to the popular poppy fields in Walker Canyon, where crowds had descended in recent weeks to see the super bloom of wildflowers. Los Angeles Times

Muddying the waters … er, air: Trump’s EPA science advisors are sowing doubt about the health risks of air pollution. Inside Climate News

Across the state: How sports stadiums circumvent environmental laws to streamline their way to reality. Long Beach Post



Ripped from the headlines: Why is everyone so obsessed with Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes? There’s a bestselling book, hit podcast and a new documentary. Los Angeles Times

RIP: Tom Hatten, the longtime Los Angeles television personality who kept generation of kids — and adults — company as host of “Popeye and his Friends” and the “KTLA Family Film Festival,” has died. He was 92. Los Angeles Times

Box office report: Despite four new wide releases this weekend, Disney’s “Captain Marvel” maintained the top spot for the second weekend in a row. Los Angeles Times


Going after the leaker: When Elon Musk tried to destroy a Tesla whistleblower. Bloomberg Businessweek

Live from spring training: The Dodgers’ David Freese continues to chase baseball’s euphoric feeling. Los Angeles Times


Los Angeles area: Sunny, 77, Monday. Partly cloudy, 70, Tuesday. San Diego: Sunny, 70, Monday. Partly cloudy, 66, Tuesday. San Francisco area: Partly cloudy, 68, Monday. Cloudy, 63, Tuesday. San Jose: Partly cloudy, 77, Monday. Cloudy, 70, Tuesday. Sacramento: Partly cloudy, 75, Monday. Cloudy, 71, Tuesday. More weather is here.



This week’s birthdays for those who made a mark in California: Former Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas (March 18, 1943), L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin (March 19, 1967) and Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw (March, 19, 1988).

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.