Essential California: Venice Beach tents are gone, but residents say work remains

A homeless couple pack up their tent and belongings on the beach
A homeless couple pack up their tent and belongings while L.A. sanitation crews stand by in Venice on July 30.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Friday, Feb. 4, and I’m your guest host, Kim Christensen.

When I moved to Southern California in the mid-1980s, Venice Beach quickly became a go-to destination for visiting friends and family fleeing Midwestern winters for a week in the sun.

The boardwalk — not a boardwalk, actually, but a concrete promenade — was a magnet for chainsaw jugglers, artists, roller skaters, sleight-of-hand tricksters, assorted oddballs, colorful characters and the tourists who flocked to see them.

Over time, Venice also became ground zero for tensions over homelessness in Los Angeles.

Housed residents grew increasingly alarmed as tents and shanties sprouted on the sand and farther inland, particularly near a city homeless shelter. Videos of fights, fires and piles of garbage turned the popular beachside community into a social media spectacle.


Last summer, city park rangers, sanitation crews and police removed the tents from the boardwalk, and outreach workers from nearby St. Joseph Center persuaded more than 200 people to accept shelter with the hope of eventually finding permanent housing.

Now, it seems, the Ocean Front Walk of old is back, baby, with its quirky shops, beachfront restaurants, sculpted bodies, funky music and assorted sketchy characters.

Or is it?

As my colleague Doug Smith reports, the tents that lined the beach are gone, but residents say the job is far from done. Dozens of people left the boardwalk only to move to nearby alleys, joining existing encampments and starting a new one on the Venice Boulevard median.

“The crime hasn’t stopped, and the sound of people in need hasn’t stopped,” said longtime Venice resident Cari Bjelajac, whose home a block from the boardwalk has become a byway for people in distress. Her video camera captures them day and night, screaming at themselves or imaginary others, peering over fences and, in one case, wandering onto her patio.

Nor has life become easy for those who remain homeless, many of whom have dire medical needs and face mental health challenges.

Steven Hebrank, 61, told Smith that he moved inland from the boardwalk after city workers took his tent last summer. He said he has been beaten at a local coffee shop and assaulted by someone trying to steal his leather jacket.


“Every day is a terroristic attack day for me,” he said.

[Read the story: “Hundreds of tents that lined Venice Beach are gone, but residents say job is far from done” in the Los Angeles Times]

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

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Authorities release new details in a violent altercation that left a San Francisco fan in a coma. Officials faced mounting questions Thursday about why they didn’t inform the public sooner about the beating of a San Francisco 49ers fan outside SoFi Stadium on Sunday. It took three days and an inquiry from The Times before authorities in Inglewood confirmed the incident, which left 40-year-old restaurant owner Daniel Luna in a medically induced coma. Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts said Thursday that video had emerged showing Luna fell and hit his head after being punched once in “a small altercation.” Los Angeles Times

All aboard: After years of cuts, California could provide buses for all kids. The yellow school bus has become an increasingly rare sight in California. But new legislation aims to change that, a policy shift that proponents say could curb absenteeism and narrow inequities. Unlike some other states, California does not require school districts to provide buses. Some students with disabilities or those experiencing homelessness are guaranteed free transportation under federal law, but what a district provides is otherwise up to local school boards. A bill by state Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) would provide state funding for daily transportation for all of California’s 6 million K-12 students starting next year. Los Angeles Times

California offers free money for college savings fund for a child. The state’s official college savings plan is again offering low- and moderate-income households an incentive to start socking money away for their kids’ higher education. This week the plan, dubbed ScholarShare 529, announced a new round of grants that will provide up to $200 in matching contributions, plus $25 for new sign-ups. Los Angeles Times



Garcetti explains his maskless photos at Rams-49ers game. Hey, remember way back in 1992 when Bill Clinton said he’d tried marijuana as a student but didn’t inhale? L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti may have one-upped the former president. Days after facing criticism for being photographed maskless at Sunday’s NFC championship game, his honor offered this explanation for his naked face: He was holding his breath. Los Angeles Times

Would you pay $4,850 for a Super Bowl parking spot? Resellers are pushing up prices. On any given Sunday, parking at the Midas auto repair shop in Inglewood is free. On Super Bowl Sunday, it could cost as much as $1,500. And that’s not even expected to be the most expensive space near SoFi Stadium, where parking will be extremely scarce for the big game. While most spots will go for $300 to $400, some will ask as much as $4,850. Los Angeles Times

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Patients barred from doctor disciplinary hearings in California could now have a voice. For decades, California law has forbidden the state’s medical board from considering victim statements in decision-making. Legislation could reform the process. Los Angeles Times

Is recall fever waning? Failure to take down Newsom reflects a broader pattern. While COVID-19 raged and the forests burned, critics of Gov. Gavin Newsom waged a fruitless campaign to drive the Democrat from office. Newsom beat the recall in a landslide and emerged stronger than ever, making him a virtual shoo-in for a second term. But at least Californians felt great about having that opportunity to exercise their franchise, to shake up Sacramento and show the politicians who’s boss, did they not? No, they did not. Los Angeles Times


Sacramento man arrested in deadly shooting on Greyhound bus in Northern California. A 21-year-old man allegedly opened fire on passengers Wednesday evening in Northern California, killing a woman and injuring four other people. Suspect Asaahdi Elijah Coleman was arrested at a nearby Walmart in Oroville, where he had been in a fight and then stripped naked, authorities said. Sacramento Bee


State auditor says San Diego jails are so bad, a new law is needed to force fixes. With 185 deaths in the last 15 years, San Diego County jails are so unsafe and deficient that state lawmakers should intervene by forcing the Sheriff’s Department to change course, the California state auditor said in a scathing report issued Thursday. San Diego Union-Tribune

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Keep Diablo Canyon open, 75 scientists, academics and entrepreneurs tell Newsom. The pleas keep coming for Gov. Gavin Newsom to delay shutting down PG&E’s Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant in San Luis Obispo County. On Thursday, Dr. Steven Chu, former U.S. secretary of Energy in the Obama administration and a Nobel laureate, and more than 75 scientists, academics and entrepreneurs sent a letter urging Newsom to keep the plant open because of the necessary carbon-free, clean electricity it provides. San Luis Obispo Tribune

Fentanyl is a public health crisis. Is the city of San Francisco treating it like one? Fentanyl, a supremely addictive synthetic opioid, is driving a nationwide record of fatal overdoses. In San Francisco, roughly 1,310 people died from drug overdoses in 2020 and 2021. Nearly three-quarters of the victims had fentanyl in their systems, a disproportionate number of them older Black men. Fentanyl’s effects are contributing to homelessness and crime, taxing city resources and deepening political divisions. San Francisco Chronicle


Column: Should the Pasadena Laemmle be saved? Definitely. Can it be saved? It’s complicated. First the ArcLight, now the Laemmle Playhouse 7. For Pasadena, a city that prides itself on its ability to “combine world class events, science and technology, arts and culture, history and architecture with great neighborhoods,” the prospect of losing both its premium multiplex and its iconic art house theater within the span of two years is a blow. Los Angeles Times

OC Black History Parade returns to Anaheim on Saturday. Now in its 42nd year, the Orange County Black History Parade will be held this weekend in downtown Anaheim, helping usher in the observance of Black History Month. The parade, set for Saturday morning, will be followed by the Unity Festival, a cultural fair on Center Street Promenade with booths offering food, information and products, and a display of artwork by youth. Orange County Register


A 20-pound bunny. A competitive eater. Lots of salad. Who will win? Does anyone really “win” in an eating contest? You be the judge. Los Angeles Times

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Today’s California memory is from Joan Doner:

The first time I visited Yosemite was the spring of 1968. I traveled there with a few other biology students and instructors from UC Santa Barbara as part of a botany field trip. The campus we left was a wonderful, vibrant, thought-provoking environment of competing ideas and movements. Yosemite provided a contrast. I have visited many times since, but that first time the sky was the bluest, the waterfalls the loudest, and the dogwood the most beautiful. At night we slept on the ground under a million stars, and I was won over by the peace to be found in California’s beauty.

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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