L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin discusses “Operation Street Lift” during a July 31 press conference near Washington Boulevard and Strongs Drive

L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin discusses “Operation Street Lift” during a July 31 press conference near Washington Boulevard and Strongs Drive

Calling Ocean Front Walk an ‘apocalyptic scene,’ he vows to ‘marshal every city resource to turn it around’

By Gary Walker and Joe Piasecki

Not even 36 hours after holding a press conference in Venice to tout a local beautification initiative, L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin was headed to the boardwalk in the middle of the night to cart away the charred remnants of a mattress that had been set on fire south of Windward Avenue.

“I’ve had it with this bullshit. I’m getting a pickup and coming to remove it myself,” Bonin posted to Twitter at 11:41 p.m. Friday in response to a tweet about the incident by local crime blogger Alex Thomson of Venice 311.

“Sick of OFW [Ocean Front Walk] apocalyptic scene,” he tweeted after arriving around midnight with a city truck, a council office staffer and his husband.

“I’m livid about the incident and the environment that led to it, and there was no way in hell I was letting that mattress stay there overnight and tomorrow morning so it could mock residents, visitors and business owners who deserve a helluva lot better,” Bonin wrote on Facebook a short time later.

The post, on two different Facebook accounts, received nearly 300 likes and more than 20 positive comments.

In a political climate where some have come to associate neighborhood improvement efforts with sweeping gentrification that’s altering the socio-economic landscape of the once laissez-faire counterculture bastion, many are also losing patience with the frequent acts of criminal mischief and occasional outbursts of violence that plague the boardwalk — the beating of a homeless man with a folding chair in December, bottles thrown at police during curfew enforcement at the Venice Beach Drum Circle in March, a double stabbing near Windward in April.

“Venice Beach is supposed to be one of the jewels of our community. In many ways it is the face of our community. And we are going to marshal every city resource to turn it around. I’m making it my mission to turn it around for residents, visitors, tourists and local business owners,” Bonin, clarifying his remarks on social media, said Monday.

Also on Monday, Bonin said he would follow through with a number of boardwalk security measures — including the installation of LAPD-monitored security cameras — that were discussed last year after a driver plowed through boardwalk crowds, killing a honeymooning tourist and injuring 16 others.

“In September, additional security cameras will be installed along the west side of Ocean Front Walk and brighter lighting will also be installed. I will also be looking to increase police foot and bicycle patrols,” Bonin told The Argonaut.

Plans for better lighting and increased patrols got a thumbs-up from the Venice Neighborhood Council in December, but the cameras were a contentious issue that divided the board.

Calls for reducing the beach’s omnipresent homeless population by enforcing city parkland rules that prohibit overnight camping have also raised objections.

A.C. Kane, a film lighting technician in Venice, commented on Bonin’s Facebook post that the burning mattress that riled the councilman should prompt questions about the city’s management of the beach, not demonization of the homeless.

“Why is it a homeless [person’s fault about the] mattress? I know people who have had their tent/mattress lit on fire by those who hate the homeless. I wish people could get as riled up over so many people spending every night on the street as they are over one misguided act of defiance,” Kane wrote.

“Grandstanding isn’t the answer,” responded Venice activist Nick Antonicello. “A reliable sense that someone is in charge of Venice Beach is the answer. The bigger question is why can’t those responsible for doing their jobs be held accountable?”

Bonin said he is sympathetic to the plight of the homeless but cannot accept the status quo.

“We should do everything that we can to get people into permanent housing,” Bonin said, but that “doesn’t mean that [the boardwalk] should become a campground for the un-housed. We have to reprogram Ocean Front Walk. It’s a park, not a campground.”

Bonin supports the formation of a boardwalk business improvement district (BID) to leverage private resources for quality of life improvements.

“I think that’s an excellent idea,” said Tom Elliott, co-owner of the beachfront Venice Ale House and Banc of Venice Public House.

“One of the reasons that some people are afraid of a BID is they think that it will gentrify the boardwalk and bring in a lot of chain stores. But there’s is an independent spirit here that can accommodate almost any business. It’s really what you make of it,” said Elliott, a member of the Venice Neighborhood Council’s Ocean Front Walk Committee.

He points to the results of Hollywood’s BID as an example for Venice.

“Ten years ago, Hollywood Boulevard was a pretty rough place to be, especially if you were a runaway teenager. We’re getting a similar sort of scenario here, a lot of transient kids that wind up here … and unfortunately they wind up in some pretty bad situations,” Elliott said. “A BID here would have to have the component of helping to move those who need help into a position where they can get help. No one wants to just move people off the boardwalk and not get them the help they need.”

Bonin’s push to clean up Venice Beach also comes at a time when Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti is focused on revitalizing urban streetscapes through pedestrian-friendly landscape enhancements. His nascent “Great Streets” initiative pinpoints 15 stretches of roadway, including Venice Boulevard between Beethoven Street and Inglewood Boulevard in Mar Vista.

Bonin’s press conference in Venice last Thursday discussed improvements to the mile-long stretch of Washington Boulevard from Oxford Avenue to Ocean Front Walk under another city program dubbed “Operation Street Lift.”

Upgrades include roadway repaving, tree plantings and repairing curbs and gutters.

The Washington Boulevard project is the city’s second “Operation Street Lift” location, following similar work on Ventura Boulevard in Sherman Oaks last year.

“We are targeting walkable retail corridors with ‘Operation Street Lift,’” said Ron Olive, the city’s assistant general manager of street services. “This one was particularly attractive because of the connection with the bike path as well as the pedestrian traffic.”

So far, city employees have repaired 11 sections of broken sidewalk, trimmed trees, fixed catch basins, worked with businesses to remove signage that violated city codes and widened the crosswalk at the intersection of Washington and Pacific Avenue. Dubbed “continental crosswalks,” the wider pedestrian walkways are more visible to motorists and have been shown to reduce vehicle-pedestrian collisions.

“Getting the new crosswalk was something our council had wanted for a long time. It’s great that someone is actually paying attention to the condition of our roads and streets,” said Marina Peninsula Community Council President Sandy West.

Such improvements “give more life to a neighborhood” and “bring a sense of well-being to a community,” Bonin said.

“Los Angeles has a long way to go to have neighborhoods that are as good and as clean as the people of Los Angeles deserve. Block by block, neighborhood by neighborhood, we’re going to try and make this into the world-class city that we all deserve,” Bonin said. “This is one chunk of a down payment on that.”