It’s time for the city and county to end permanent homeless encampments that pose safety risks to residents

By Mark Ryavec

A lawsuit claims that city and county officials have created  a public nuisance by failing to enforce an overnight camping ban along Venice Beach Photo by Mark Ryavec

A lawsuit claims that city and county officials have created
a public nuisance by failing to enforce an overnight camping ban along Venice Beach
Photo by Mark Ryavec

 

Editor’s Note: The author is president of the Venice Stakeholders Association.

The murder of Eun Kang five years ago should have taught city officials that allowing transients to permanently occupy residential areas while doing nothing to understand who they are or to help them get off the street will inevitably lead to assaults on residents in those areas.

Kang, a 38-year-old expectant mother living on Electric Avenue in Venice, was raped at knife point and then stabbed to death in December 2009. Boneetio Washington, a convicted felon who had earlier been committed to a state mental hospital, was charged with three counts of capital murder, as Kang was expecting twins. Washington had frequently traveled to Venice from Culver City, where he was crashing in a parking lot, for the free feeding program at a local church.

The other lesson Los Angeles city officials should have learned is that providing services to transients will attract more transients. Within the transient population are some lethal individuals, and so it follows
that the larger the homeless population, the greater the chance of it containing dangerous individuals.

I think that former Councilman Bill Rosendahl, former City Attorney Carmen Trutanich and former Pacific Division Commander Jon Peters understood this. Their actions, including ramped up enforcement and enforcement of the beach curfew, helped decrease the homeless population in Venice while also helping many into housing through programs such as St. Joseph Center’s Project 40 and outreach from People Assisting the Homeless (PATH).

This cannot be said for their successors. In the past four months, there have been four home invasion robberies in my neighborhood, an area bounded by  Abbot Kinney Boulevard, Ocean Front Walk, Venice Boulevard and Westminster Avenue.  In each of these incidents, residents — including children in two of the cases and a pregnant woman in another — were at home at the time. One brazen daylight break-in, in which a woman fled to her rooftop, was filmed by a passing neighbor and went viral online.

The encampments along Venice Beach and adjacent blocks, on 3rd Avenue and on Venice Boulevard are the incubator for these and many other forms of noxious behavior, from assaults and burglaries to car break-ins, trespassing and vandalism, and defecation, urination and inebriation on public and private property. The up-all-night meth addicts on the boardwalk also produce a cacophony of shouting, fighting and skateboard riding that deprives residents of sleep night after night.

This is why the Venice Stakeholders Association has joined with individual residents to sue the city and the county
of Los Angeles for maintaining a dangerous public nuisance at Venice Beach. Under California law, property owners (i.e., the city and county) must abate conditions on their property (the boardwalk, grassy areas, parking lots and sand) that deprive residents of the quiet enjoyment of their homes. This is the same body of law that cities use to seize crack houses and, in reality, the boardwalk has become one long drug emporium.

Our goal is to have Venice Beach treated the same as other L.A. parks, where camping and camping equipment is not allowed. We also want all other existing laws enforced to the full extent consistent with recent court cases. This means that Los Angeles Municipal Code 41.18, which bans lying, sitting or sleeping on public rights of way such as sidewalks and parkways, and which is enforceable between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. despite the so-called “Jones settlement,” should be strictly enforced during those times, each day without fail. The city and county should also confiscate anything left on public property and, as required by the court decision in the Lavan case, store it for 90 days so that it can be retrieved by its rightful owner.

In addition, we want the city to look ahead to the expected end of the Jones settlement in the near future, when the required minimum of 1,250 supportive housing units for the chronically homeless are completed.  At that point the city should immediately implement a program to offer transients who occupy public property three choices:  accept a ride to a shelter, move on, or get cited under LAMC 41.18. This will help those who want housing and protect the public by removing encampments from areas close to homes.

Finally, we want the city and county to step up and accept that these souls are not originally from Venice and that Venice does not have the resources to house them. The city and county need to commit funding and personnel for a program that will quickly implement a “housing first” model to counsel and house those campers who want housing. From Santa Monica’s experience, this will require the daily collaboration of the L.A. County Mental Health Department, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, non-profit social service agencies PATH and The Teen Project, the LAPD and EMT personnel of Los Angeles Fire Department.

Such an effort would cost a lot of money, but this burden cannot and should not be borne by the residents of Venice alone. The city and county must take the lead in helping those who want to leave Skid Row West while also protecting those who live and visit Venice.

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