Challengers to Bonin’s reelection bid draw from frustration about homelessness and development

By Gary Walker

Long-simmering tensions over the impacts of rampant homelessness and rapid development on quality of life in Venice have boiled over into a hotly contested Los Angeles City Council race.

In the March 7 primary contest, incumbent Mike Bonin faces two opponents — both of them from Venice — challenging his bid for a second term representing nearly 400,000 residents of L.A.’s primarily coastal 11th Council District.

The challengers are working to build public support for their campaigns by hammering what they see as Bonin’s weaknesses.

Venice Stakeholders Association President Mark Ryavec, a relentless critic of the city’s response to homelessness in Venice, is tapping into homeowner frustrations about campsites and vehicle-dwelling along the beach and beyond.

Former Venice Neighborhood Council member and slow growth advocate Robin Rudisill, meanwhile, is speaking to concerns that excessive commercial and residential development is changing the character of Venice and other Westside communities for the worse.

Far from defensive, Bonin is running on his record of addressing those quality of life issues and others.

The three candidates have been invited to a candidate forum at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 16, at University Synagogue in Brentwood.

A Westside Regional Alliance of Councils debate set for Feb. 27 at Windward School in Mar Vista has prompted more controversy, with only Bonin on record as planning to attend. Bonin’s campaign released a statement chiding his opponents for backing out, with Ryavec and Rudisill countering that organizers ignored their notifications of prior commitments.

Bonin comes into the race with endorsements from L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, a close ally, and the LAX Coastal Chamber of Commerce as well as a distinct financial advantage.

As of the city’s Jan. 26 campaign finance reporting deadline, Bonin had raised more than $410,000 in campaign cash. Ryavec — who has pledged not to accept contributions from developers, those who live outside the council district or any campaign contribution more than $250 — had raised about $32,500. Rudisill’s campaign had not reported any fundraising activity.

Despite those disadvantages, Ryavec and Rudisill must find significant support outside their Venice home turf in order to blunt Bonin’s incumbency advantage and force a runoff in May.

Rudisill, who draws from a decade of advocacy work to restrict development and protect public access to coastal areas, said that she’s finding similar concerns in other parts of the council district.

She’s pitching herself to voters as someone who is both outside of the political elite but also seasoned by government experience on the neighborhood level, particularly on the council and butting heads with City Hall over growth and development.

“This council race is about the dire need for change in our city’s leadership. I don’t remember ever seeing this much discontent for Council District 11 or for our city government overall,” Rudisill said.

Ryavec, whose advocacy group has sued the city for allowing homeless campsites to persist along the Venice Boardwalk, also hopes to ride a wave of voter discontent.

“I have defied expectations in obtaining 1,400 signatures on my nominating petitions. I am assisted in this by the widespread antipathy this incumbent has engendered across the district with his arrogance and lack of response to resident concerns,” he said.

Ryavec is perpetually at odds with many traditional advocates for the homeless, many of them critical of what they call his hardline, enforcement-based approach. But in social media forums and other public settings, he’s finding support among residents who complain that residential areas are being inundated with homeless campsites and related debris.

The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s annual homeless counts documented 1,006 homeless people in Venice in 2015 and 889 homeless people in Venice in 2016, a decrease of roughly 11.6%.

In a recent political mailer sent to Westchester voters, Ryavec touts his work to proliferate overnight parking restrictions in Venice and promises to do the same for Westchester.

Last year Bonin — a major backer of November’s voter-approved $10 billion affordable housing bond, which Ryavec opposed as an unfair tax — rolled out a multi-part plan to address homelessness in Venice that included building new housing on city property, quadrupling the number of social services outreach workers and allocating $1.1 million for rapid rehousing interventions .

Ryavec’s other stated priorities also include an increased police presence in neighborhoods and response times and relieving traffic congestion by deploying more traffic control offers. He recently accused Bonin of “stealing his proposal” to deploy more officers from other police department units to patrol cars; Bonin’s campaign has dismissed that claim as nonsense.

“If you look at my first four years you’ll find a pretty powerful track record,” Bonin said.

That includes installing security cameras at Venice Beach, supporting the formation of the Venice Beach Business Improvement District, helping to block a medical marijuana facility from opening in Mar Vista and brokering a deal to stop the northward expansion of LAX into Westchester.

“Without question,” he said, “I think any city council race should be about who is the most qualified and who is able to get things done for those they serve.”

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Editor’s Note (Feb. 23): This story has been changed to correctly state that LAHSA homeless count data shows an 11.6% decrease in the number of homeless people in Venice between 2015 and 2016. The original story incorrectly reported an 11% increase.