Newsletter: Essential California week in review: Group home failed its ‘most vulnerable’ children

The Casa Libre shelter for migrant youths near MacArthur Park.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It is Saturday, May 25. Here’s a look at the top stories of the last week, including a major Times investigation into a group home for migrant children in Los Angeles.


“Vulnerable children.” Los Angeles lawyer Peter Schey has long been a trailblazing courtroom defender of immigrant youths. When he opened Casa Libre, a shelter for homeless migrant children, he intended the shelter to care for “the most vulnerable.” But the shelter has frequently failed to meet basic requirements for state-licensed group homes, a Times investigation found.

Here’s what Paloma Esquivel, who with Cindy Carcamo reported and wrote the story over six months, had to say about the process of investigating Casa Libre:


“Cindy and I always knew this would be a difficult story to report. As we started making phone calls to ask about Casa Libre, we heard from some in the immigrant rights community who were familiar with problems there but hesitated to speak publicly because they feared our story would put a black eye on the larger movement to protect immigrant rights.

“One of our first steps was looking at Casa Libre’s state licensing file, which documented years of violations of rules meant to protect children. We also began tracking down and interviewing people who had worked at the home. In the end, we talked with more than a dozen current and former Casa Libre workers who described various problems throughout the years.

“But we always knew that the key to telling Casa Libre’s story would be the firsthand accounts of those who had lived there. These are young migrants who have struggled with homelessness, abuse, trauma and poverty and who might understandably shy away from the publicity that an L.A. Times story could entail. We found several who were ready not just to tell their stories but to allow us to use their names in our report. Their willingness to do so made this story possible.”

What’s up, Lakers? Magic Johnson, who abruptly resigned in April, went on national television Monday to make public his criticism of Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka. But the Lakers had initially intended for Monday to be all about new coach Frank Vogel.


Shattered windows, gang graffiti. L.A. County’s juvenile halls are so chaotic, some officers are afraid to come to work. On Thursday, state Department of Justice officials paid two facilities a visit.

The watch has ended. “Game of Thrones” ended with an exhale rather than a bang, according to TV critic Lorraine Ali. Still, does the finale of one of the most-watched shows in history mean an end to appointment TV and live communal viewing?

Secret USC records. Files released Thursday show that USC received a report from a group of medical experts saying there was evidence that its longtime campus gynecologist, Dr. George Tyndall, was preying on vulnerable Asian students and had signs of “psychopathy.”

Lower pay, higher costs. A major L.A. Times investigation into Lyft’s Express Drive program shows that drivers who rent their cars through Lyft pay a premium and earn less than other drivers for the ride-hailing service. Strapped to make ends meet, some even sleep in their cars.

Bad blood. The acrimonious relationship between President Trump and California has grown even more fraught in the aftermath of the state’s deadliest wildfire on record. Now the Trump administration wants to cut payments to California for fighting wildfires on federal land.

Rail future. At 80, L.A.’s Union Station is trying to reinvent itself for a future in which rail plays a major role in Southern California transit. Even as passenger numbers drop, Metro has spent more than $21 million on efforts to beautify and restore the station since 2013.

Birth of a rock star. Elton John played eight shows in six nights at L.A.’s Troubadour club in 1970. They helped turn him from an odd-named unknown into rock’s biggest star since the Beatles. Now those same shows are centrally featured in the biopic “Rocketman.”

Wrongfully convicted? Despite courts overturning their convictions, some exonerated people are denied restitution by the state of California because they can’t prove their innocence beyond a reasonable doubt.


LAX noise. Inglewood spent millions of dollars in public funds to soundproof middle-class areas of the city but bypassed one of the poorest neighborhoods, where the noise from the LAX flight path is actually loudest.


College success. She got into college with extra help — without cheating — and through extraordinary effort. Los Angeles Times

Hard time. California’s jails are so bad, some inmates beg to go to prison instead. The Marshall Project for the Los Angeles Times

Forced apart. He voted for Trump. Now he and his wife raise their son from opposite sides of the border. Los Angeles Times

Last caravan. Hope for salvation at the U.S.-Mexico border died along with two Honduran teens. LA Mag

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1. A 102-year-old Ladera Heights woman is being evicted to make way for the landlord’s daughter. Daily News

2. “The story behind L.A.’s beautiful, ephemeral jacaranda blooms.” LAist

3. Here’s the fix from the DMV for your Real ID driver’s license. Los Angeles Times

4. A “magic” echo chamber has been discovered in a San Francisco BART station. San Francisco Chronicle

5. City of Commerce officials’ bad blood led to a brawl at a desert resort. Los Angeles Times


Saturday Recommendation: Glass Beach in Fort Bragg

Glass Beach in Fort Bragg, Calif.
(Praveen P.N / Getty Images)

Our weekly recommendation offers a succinct pitch for a single great thing around the state — be it a restaurant meal, a specialty bookstore or the stairs to climb for the best view of an iconic vista.

Way back in 1906, residents of the Northern California coastal town of Fort Bragg established a dump site on the coast.

“Back in the day, they didn’t have a landfill, so the citizens would come and pull their trucks up to the end of the cliff and dump all their trash into the ocean,” Loren Rex, superintendent of public safety for California State Parks’ Mendocino Region, explained.

The site moved a few times along the coast over the ensuing decades as the trash piled up. The area now known as Glass Beach functioned as a dump until 1967.

But from trash came surreal treasure. Today, Glass Beach is famous for the preponderance of sea glass lining its shores.

“Glass Beach was formed as all the glass bottles were broken over the rocks. Over the years, the water roughed them up and turned them into polished glass,” Rex said. “That’s why all the glass pebbles are down there in Glass Beach.”

The main section of Glass Beach was incorporated into MacKerricher State Park in 2002 after a large-scale cleanup. But Rex explained that there are actually three sections of Glass Beach: the one owned by the state park system, plus two pocket beaches to the south, which previously belonged to Georgia-Pacific, a manufacturing giant that operated a major lumber mill in the area until the early aughts. According to Rex, the headlands portion of that former mill site was recently acquired by the city of Fort Bragg, which opened those two beaches to the public.

“The public was very excited, because the state park version has been open for years and years. It was picked over pretty heavily, with all the glass on the beach,” Rex explained. “But the new section the city opened up was just recently opened, so the beaches still have a lot of big glass deposits on them. Much more than the state beach does.”

One small caveat: Enjoy (and Instagram) the wondrous bounty of colorful glass to your heart’s content, but please don’t fill your pockets. Local rules ask visitors to leave the sea glass on the beach.

Glass Beach is at Elm Street and Glass Beach Drive in Fort Bragg, Calif. Fort Bragg is about 3½ hours north of San Francisco, and a short drive from Mendocino.

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints, ideas and unrelated book recommendations to Julia Wick. Follow her on Twitter @Sherlyholmes. (And a giant thanks to the legendary Diya Chacko for all her help on the Saturday edition!)