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Essential California: The complexities of Venice’s homelessness crisis

Rows of homeless people's belongings are covered in tarp
Rows of homeless people’s belongings are covered in tarp as visitors walk along Ocean Front Walk in Venice on April 16.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Friday, June 11. I’m Melissa Gomez, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

Venice, a popular tourist spot, has long dealt with a homelessness crisis. Its concentration of unhoused individuals is second only to skid row in downtown Los Angeles.

As many as 2,000 people sleep along the sandy sidewalks, often in tents or recreational vehicles and sometimes in the front yards of residents. The situation has led to increasing tension in the neighborhood as trash piles up and crimes occur. Many residents have directed their anger at city officials, whom they blame for letting conditions along the boardwalk worsen. One wrote:

“The beatings, the murders of senior citizens, the fires, the victimization of housed and unhoused, the black RV terrorizing families in a school zone, the unanswered emails, unreturned phone calls; there is no excuse for your absence and neglect.”

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My colleagues Doug Smith and Benjamin Oreskes chronicled the story of Venice in a piece that explored the complexities of the situation, as well as the future of the boardwalk.

The issue became more complicated on Monday when Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva sent foot patrols to Venice, where they began clearing tents. The move raised questions as to whether Villanueva overstepped his purview. Councilmember Mike Bonin, who represents the area, criticized Villanueva’s actions, saying the sheriff, instead of offering help, was on a public relations push, “promising his own notorious brand of justice.”

The origins of Venice can be traced back to 1905. Developer Abbot Kinney created a tourist spot with canals, a main street of faux Venetian buildings and an amusement pier. The beachside community, after a period of neglect, became one where families of modest income could afford to live, including “intellectuals and beach bums who renounced capitalistic life.”

My colleagues spoke at length with Bonin, who has represented the 11th District since 2013, about his vision for a humane clearing along the boardwalk. He outlined a plan that would begin as a gradual approach, in coordination with homeless service providers, but gave no specific timeline.

“So once all the resources are fully lined up, then they will start offering housing to people, and anyone from that area says that they’re into it, that they want it, then if the number of available beds matches it, they’ll go right in,” Bonin told my colleagues.

[Read the story, “Homeless camps, trash and crime have transformed Venice boardwalk, eluding easy solutions,” in the Los Angeles Times]

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

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Note: Some of the sites we link to may limit the number of stories you can access without subscribing.

After a U.S. district judge overturned California’s three-decade state ban on assault weapons, state officials vowed to fight the decision. California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta filed an appeal to the federal court decision, saying the ban is an “important tool” to protect Californians. Gov. Gavin Newsom called the effort to ban assault weapons “a fight California will never back down from, period.” Los Angeles Times

When the Fresno City Council voted to fly the rainbow flag to commemorate Pride month at City Hall, the mayor at first resisted the effort. Until he heard from constituents. Jerry Dyer heard emotional stories from gay, lesbian and transgender people about being ostracized. Afterward, he changed his mind. Los Angeles Times

Seven women accuse a longtime teacher at a private high school in Santa Rosa of inappropriate, sexually charged behavior and misconduct. The women, graduates of Sonoma Academy, allege that he abused his position as a mentor. Press Democrat

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L.A. STORIES

Real estate heir Robert Durst was hospitalized this week. Durst, who is facing a long-delayed murder trial, was found “down” and not in his wheelchair, the judge said. Los Angeles Times

“I should have seen these red flags,” said a TV writer who worked on Netflix’s “Selena: The Series.” Writers for the show said they felt disrespected, overworked and underpaid, while the show dominated Netflix’s top-10 charts in several countries. Los Angeles Times

THE CORONAVIRUS

The decline in college spring enrollment was steepest in California. A report found that a drop in community college students, many of whom faced pandemic-related challenges, largely contributed to the state’s 5.3% decline. Los Angeles Times

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Should I still wear a mask? People who are vaccinated no longer will need to wear a mask, experts say, but some might continue to do so anyway. Los Angeles Times

POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT

Katie Hill, once a rising Democratic star, struggled with anxiety and suicidal ideation after nude images of her were shared online without her consent. Now she’s fighting to make revenge porn a federal crime and considering a second run for office. Los Angeles Times

Former Congresswoman Katie Hill
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Vice President Kamala Harris delivered remarks in Guatemala, where she told people considering traveling to the U.S.-Mexico border: “Do not come.” California Latino leaders shot back, saying that seeking asylum is legal and a matter of life and death for some. Sacramento Bee

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Big recall energy. Gov. Gavin Newsom is far from the only California politician staring down a people’s revolt. Local recall attempts have flared across the state in recent months, from rural Northern California to the southern border. Los Angeles Times

CRIME AND COURTS

Two Orange County right-wing extremists, including a former police chief, are among multiple people who have been indicted for their roles in the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection. The grand jury indictment alleges that the men organized travel plans and discussed bringing weapons to the Capitol on social media and in text messages. Los Angeles Times

An East San Jose school district is suing four former school board members. The Alum Rock Union School District alleged that the former board members failed to return “excessive and wasteful” compensation and that each owes the school board more than $10,000. Mercury News

A group of current and former Black employees of Long Beach have filed a class-action lawsuit against the city, alleging a system of racial discrimination. The plaintiffs include an employee who said he was accused of stealing batteries and another who said she was kept in an unclassified, vulnerable position for 19 years. Los Angeles Times

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HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT

Santa Clara County officials approved a mandatory water restriction as the drought threatens drinking water sources for residents. The Santa Clara Valley Water District, which serves as the county’s wholesale water provider, also pressed cities and private water companies to put water wasting rules in place. Mercury News

CALIFORNIA CULTURE

Women’s health and wellness is a billion-dollar business, but menopause is rarely discussed. Dr. Jen Gunter has long tackled misinformation about women’s health, and her latest book educates readers on menopause. Los Angeles Times

Inaugural poet Amanda Gorman will join author Tracy K. Smith for a virtual Ideas Exchange event. The Los Angeles Times is hosting the event on June 23. You can buy tickets here.

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CALIFORNIA ALMANAC

Los Angeles: Sunny, 72. San Diego: Sunny, 73. San Francisco: Sunny, 64. San Jose: Sunny, 73. Fresno: Sunny, 84. Sacramento: Sunny, 81.

AND FINALLY

Today’s California memory comes from Elaine Farris, writing in response to Wednesday’s memory:

I just wanted to confirm Sulekha Hilton’s memory of snow in Woodland Hills in the ‘80s. This was real, not a dream. My girlfriend lived there and called to tell me it was snowing. I grabbed my tiny daughter and headed for Woodland Hills from Hollywood. Not much snow, but a fun excursion.

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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Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments to essentialcalifornia@latimes.com.


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