Newsletter: A YouTube star’s fans listed his mansion as a homeless shelter. Then the needy showed up.
Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Friday, Aug. 2, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.
It would be near impossible for any one story to capture even a sliver of the contradictions of life in Los Angeles, circa 2019.
But this headline, which ran in the Los Angeles Daily News alongside an excellently reported story by Ariella Plachta on Monday, certainly offers a slice of the city’s darker contradictions: “Homeless people keep arriving at Tarzana mansion thinking it’s a shelter, but it’s really a prank by online trolls.”
The story itself — which involves a YouTube star and a tent city and the burn of a promised opportunity that doesn’t pan out when you are already so very down on your luck — unfolds a bit like a Russian nesting doll, peeled back piece by piece.
Let’s start with a new-looking mansion in the San Fernando Valley, just off Reseda Boulevard. “It has these big white walls around it and planters and a lot of security, like two gates and cameras,” Plachta told me. “And if you sort of peek over the wall, you can see this amazing infinity pool.”
Now, let’s add another layer. We live in an age where a not-small number of people make their living as professional streamers, broadcasting themselves to the world on platforms such as YouTube and Twitch. Most of them play video games, but some are what they call “life streamers.” Imagine that friend of yours who uploads eight or 10 Instagram stories a day, of them eating dinner or going to the store or just doing whatever, but on mega-steroids and maybe prankishly crossed with an episode of Johnny Knoxville’s cult MTV show “Jackass.” Now, imagine that they’re streaming it live, potentially to tens of thousands of people, all of whom could be providing instantaneous feedback.
Paul Denino, a skinny 24-year-old known as “Ice Poseidon” to his army of fans, has been a pioneer of the genre, so prominent as to be almost synonymous with the act of IRL streaming itself.
Denino’s ardent fans don’t just watch, they troll and engage and routinely go to war with the very idea of there being any flimsy membrane of separation between live performer and viewer.
They phone in pizza deliveries, flood restaurants where Denino is eating with calls about fake emergencies and generally try to insert their antics into the livestream. They also frequently up the ante with a more nefarious procedure known as “swatting,” where a fake bomb or hostage threat leads authorities to swarm the area. Denino was banned from Twitch after a high-profile swatting incident involving a bomb threat at the Phoenix airport led to the closure of several runways.
But back to Tarzana. Denino was thinking big when he rented that mansion off Reseda Boulevard in February for the princely sum of $25,000 a month. According to Plachta’s story, he had plans for turning it into some kind of “streamer house,” although they never quite panned out.
Also February: While Los Angeles was experiencing one of the coldest, rainy winters in recent memory, digital warriors engaged in an act of online trolling that would have widespread consequences of rippling cruelty. They added the address of Denino’s Tarzana mansion to Google Maps as the “Ice Poseidon Homeless Shelter,” complete with photos of cots and fake user reviews.
Paul Read, a homeless advocate, said he first heard about the “shelter” from some friends who were staying in a large encampment in Encino. “They were asking, ‘Hey, have you heard about the Tarzana shelter? We want to go there and check it out and see if we can stay there.’ ”
Read was surprised when he initially heard talk of the new “shelter,” because usually advocates and service providers like him are aware of the plans long before any new beds open. “It seemed kind of weird. And sure enough, we find out it was a hoax,” Read said.
“Sadly, some people I know had gone up there and found out the hard way. Of course, it really brought them down and got them upset, because they were hoping for something that they had been waiting for for a while,” he said, explaining how there was a deep scarcity of existing shelter beds in the Valley.
Given the rain at the time, which can cause flooding in the Encino encampment, individuals were particularly desperate for a place to stay. “A lot of people had no place to go. It was the worst year probably in a while for this to happen, because more people were fooled,” Read said. Some of them even traveled long distances by bus, foot or bike to reach the house.
Denino moved out of the house months ago, but the current residents told Plachta a man and a woman recently came to the house looking for shelter. Google Maps only removed the phony listing this week, thanks to Plachta’s reporting.
Speaking on the phone Thursday, Plachta told me that working on the piece “really made me think about all of these really active worlds online, that our mainstream society doesn’t always know about.”
“But this story is just one instance of the way that they can have consequences in real life,” she said.
And now, here’s what’s happening across California:
The man who opened fire Sunday at the Gilroy Garlic Festival did not appear to target people of a particular race, a law enforcement official said Thursday, pushing back on speculation — fueled by racist comments posted on the gunman’s Instagram account — that he was motivated by white supremacist beliefs. Los Angeles Times
The lot where Nipsey Hussle died is now surrounded by a chain-link fence. Construction crews erected the fence Thursday around the lot of an L-shaped strip mall in South L.A. where Hussle lived out his dreams — and where those dreams ended when he was gunned down March 31. The 8-foot-high fence is around the parking lot and Hussle’s store, The Marathon Clothing, which has turned into a magnet for tourists but has been closed since his death. Los Angeles Times
The food team took “The Farewell” director Lulu Wang on a San Gabriel Valley food crawl. Los Angeles Times
Hollywood Bowl rehearsals are a soothing morning escape. And they’re free. Los Angeles Times
San Francisco’s highly regarded Wise Son’s Jewish Delicatessen will be opening in West Los Angeles, in the Westwood Boulevard location vacated by the just-closed Lenny’s Deli. Eater LA
The rising demand for scripted shows on streaming services is having an impact in a decidedly un-Hollywood area of Los Angeles: the neighborhood of Pacoima, where Quixote Studios is unveiling a $30-million facility. Los Angeles Times
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POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT
California is the first state in the nation to require notification of toxic “forever chemicals” in water, thanks to a new law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom this week. Desert Sun
Heterosexual couples can now register for domestic partnership in California. California has recognized domestic partnerships since 2000, but the previous law only applied to same-sex couples who, at the time, were not allowed to get married. The new law was written by San Francisco Democratic state Sen. Scott Wiener, whose office said that couples might prefer domestic partnerships because they are “not associated with traditional gender-differentiated roles” that come with marriage. Capital Public Radio
Missing McFarland City Manager John Wooner has been identified as the man found in a submerged car in the Kern River. Bakersfield Californian
CRIME AND COURTS
Oceanside police say the “Brewery Bandit” has been busted. The prolific thief was suspected in at least 20 business burglaries across a swath of north San Diego and southwestern Riverside counties. San Diego Union-Tribune
HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT
Crews for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power recently bulldozed hundreds of federally endangered plants in Topanga State Park, and both state and city authorities have launched investigations into DWP’s actions, part of a wildfire prevention project aimed at replacing wooden power poles with steel ones. Los Angeles Times
About 110 households displaced by the Camp fire will be moving into temporary FEMA housing starting this week. The project is the largest and most costly FEMA housing site in California. Chico Enterprise-Record
This radical Baptist church preaches LGBTQ hate just miles from California’s Capitol. Los Angeles Times
Half of California workers have no retirement savings, according to a new report. Mercury News
A proposed “Straight Pride” event proposal has prompted a rare reaction from Modesto’s highest-profile business. Modesto Bee
A Sacramento minister is “praying for a miracle” after accidentally donating a heirloom family Bible. Sacramento Bee
Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s son, Rep. Jimmy Panetta, and granddaughter were at the Gilroy Garlic Festival just hours before a gunman opened fire on attendees. After the shooting, Secretary Panetta spoke with a reporter about white supremacy, terrorism and gun control. Salinas Californian
Los Angeles: sunny, 86. San Diego: partly sunny, 78. San Francisco: sunny, 70. San Jose: partly sunny, 81. Sacramento: sunny, 95. More weather is here.
“Gold in their mountains, / Oil on their coast; / Dreaming in celluloid / Profits them most.”
— Bertolt Brecht, “Hollywood Elegies”
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