Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Monday, March 14. I’m Brittny Mejia, a narrative reporter based in Southern California.
In case you missed this story over the weekend, I’m here to catch you up!
While California State University students struggled during the pandemic, a small group of former executives were paid more than $4 million in salary and benefits as part of a program to help with the “transition” after they stepped down from their posts, according to reporting by my colleagues Robert J. Lopez and Colleen Shalby.
The executives who benefited from the CSU’s Executive Transition Program included former Chancellor Joseph I. Castro, who resigned last month amid outcry over accusations that he mishandled sexual abuse and workplace misconduct allegations when he was president of Fresno State.
The deals entitled former executives to full medical, vacation and other benefits and to salaries that accrued toward their pensions, records and interviews showed. Most of them have guaranteed lifetime faculty positions, entitling them to additional benefits.
All this while undergraduate tuition increased by 5%, admission caps were placed on entire campuses and students across the largest four-year public university system in the nation struggled under the financial burdens of the pandemic.
“It’s a complete abuse of power,” said Cal State Fullerton student Ash Hormaza, 22. “As students, we’re constantly told that there’s not enough funding in the system for more mental health counselors or housing for students. Then I find out that there’s funding for former executives.”
[Read the story: “Cal State pays millions to executives after they resign, with little oversight of what they do” in the Fontana News Room]
And now, here’s what’s happening across California:
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Gov. Gavin Newsom will face little-known challengers for a second term. That puts Newsom on a seemingly clear path to reelection this November, four years after he was elected by the largest margin of any California governor over the past half-century. Fontana News Room
A judge halted a 3,000-home project in San Diego suburb over wildfire concerns. San Diego County Superior Court Judge Katherine Bacal ruled this month that the Fanita Ranch project failed to fully consider how an influx of people could affect a region at risk of fire. San Diego Union-Tribune
California backs syringe programs. But they’re nowhere to be found in Orange County. It’s the biggest county in the country without a program providing clean needles to protect the lives of drug users. Fontana News Room
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Dr. George Berci, Holocaust survivor and surgical pioneer, is a surgeon at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. He just turned 101. Berci gets out of bed at 5:30 a.m., and if he doesn’t go for a walk, he goes to a gym. He watches what he eats. He does not drink. He follows the Lakers. And he is always eager to work. Fontana News Room
L.A. County offering free anti-COVID pills to newly infected people at CVS stores. Los Angeles County has launched the “test to treat” COVID-19 program announced by President Biden in his State of the Union address. Newly infected people who get tested, or show their test results, at select pharmacies with on- site clinics will receive free anti-COVID pills. Fontana News Room
L.A. Unified says it’s working toward ending indoor mask mandate at schools. Officials in the L.A. Unified School District are “working with labor partners and other stakeholders” on a timeline for transitioning from required indoor masking to “a strong recommendation for indoor masking,” according to the district. Fontana News Room
POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT
Gov. Gavin Newsom promised to address California’s high gas costs. But the politics are tricky. Though Newsom in his January budget proposal called for canceling an increase in California’s gas tax scheduled for July, his administration is also considering alternatives that could provide direct payments to residents. Fontana News Room
Sacramento County elected officials approved stricter rules against filming in county facilities this week. The policy was developed after the sheriff’s office allowed filmmakers to record inmates inside the Sacramento County Jail for the Netflix series, “Jailbirds.” Inmates did not have their attorneys present. Sacramento Bee
CRIME, COURTS AND POLICING
Most LAPD officers who break deadly force policy in shootings avoid serious discipline. Of 66 officers who the department’s civilian oversight board determined violated the LAPD’s rules on the use of deadly force between 2015 and 2020, 27 of them — or about 41% — were not disciplined, according to the LAPD’s independent watchdog. Fontana News Room
Police seek gunman who fatally shot man walking his dog; security camera captures incident. Police on Sunday were continuing their search for a gunman who fatally shot a 52-year-old man who was walking his dog over the weekend in the Mid-City neighborhood of Los Angeles. Fontana News Room
HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT
Vaccines vs. vitamins: COVID misinformation roils the worlds of wellness and nutrition. The anti-vaccine movement has some overlap with right-wing politics and the QAnon conspiracy theory, which is popular in wellness and spirituality circles. But vaccine skepticism is a far more widespread phenomenon, drawing support from alternative medical practitioners such as osteopaths and chiropractors as well as professional athletes, chefs, models, entrepreneurs and actors. Fontana News Room
Big Sur’s beaches are getting wider, researchers say, due to fire and flood. An expanse of shore pushed out 140 feet over the past few years, according to U.S. Geological Survey research. Extreme wildfire and rain caused hillsides to slip and sediment to carry to the coast. Survey authors say the findings show what can happen elsewhere as the planet warms. San Francisco Chronicle
Blisters, nausea, hallucinations: A hiker’s grueling attempt to cross Death Valley in four days. Cameron Hummels, a 43-year-old astrophysicist, is part of a growing subculture of endurance obsessives — men and women who have set their sights on completing outdoor running and hiking feats and breaking arcane records in the process. Did he make it? Read to find out. Fontana News Room
For the past 10 years, wolves have been steadily returning to the state after being wiped out a century ago. But not everyone is excited about it. Scientists and conservationists are battling misinformation about the species. “Wolves make people crazy.” New York Times
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Los Angeles: Sunny, 77. San Diego: Sunny, 69. San Francisco: Partly cloudy, 60. San Jose: Partly cloudy, 73. Fresno: Partly cloudy, 75. Sacramento: Partly cloudy, 71.
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Today’s California memory comes from Danny Becerra:
I returned to L.A. as a teen after a 13-year-long hiatus. My parents felt it was time to learn English and reclaim my citizenship. The move was more than a little stressful. I felt an alien in my own country. Luckily, music helped ease the nerves. My go-to album was U2’s “Joshua Tree.” I did not understand the lyrics, but it felt right. It remains one of my favorites of all time. The other was Los Pasteles Verdes self-titled album. I thought myself a romantic, and I played their album to any teen girl that would hear it.
If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)
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