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Morning Scoop: Underwater portraits, government fraud, the struggling Murrieta middle class


Good morning from the City Desk. A sampler of some of the fine stories in today's paper:

The economic crisis has hit the Inland Empire hard, reaching deep into the middle class. In Murrieta, where struggling real-estate agents, housewives and businessmen are lining up at the food pantry, the middle class may just be disappearing, David Kelly writes.

A rapidly expanding state program designed to provide caregivers to the impoverished elderly and disabled is falling prey to all sorts of scams and swindles,  many of which aren't being investigated, reports Evan Halper.

Daniel Wheeler, originally  from Cleveland, has created what may be the perfect Southern California job. He jumps into people's swimming pools all over the area to take photos of their homes and gardens from a unique underwater perspective.

State measures on the May 19 ballot would take money from a community mental health program and a program for children under 5 to help balance the budgets, writes Sacramento columnist George Skelton, who says everyone has to sacrifice and share the fiscal pain.  

His legacy may hinge on the results, but the governor isn't popular right now. So he's mostly leaving the public fight for the budget-related ballot measures to more sympathetic types -- including teachers and firefighters and paramedics, Michael Rothfeld writes.

In Santa Monica, people wait for years to get plots in community gardens. Now the city is thinking of trying something new -- linking waiting gardeners with homeowners who don't mind the chance for some free landscaping, writes Ruben Vives.

A UCLA neuroscientist who has been targeted by animal activists is organizing an April 22 rally to support research that uses animals in what he calls a humane and regulated way, Larry Gordon reports.

We're following Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano in Los Angeles today as she visits various sites, including LAX and the Port of Los Angeles. We'll bring you other news as we get it.

-- Nita Lelyveld

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L.A. Now is the Los Angeles Times’ breaking news section for Southern California. It is produced by more than 80 reporters and editors in The Times’ Metro section, reporting from the paper’s downtown Los Angeles headquarters as well as bureaus in Costa Mesa, Long Beach, San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Riverside, Ventura and West Los Angeles.
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