Following an extended and contentious debate July 17, the Venice Neighborhood Council voted 15-0 with four abstentions against a resolution that many consider to be as equally divisive as prior discussions centering on homelessness in Venice.
The local council rejected a resolution by Venice resident Mark Ryavec after a long and protracted debate that lasted well over an hour, with the final vote coming at approximately 11:30 p.m.
The resolution ostensibly asked the Los Angeles Police Department to enforce five provisions of the city’s municipal code, including prohibitions against camping, leaving possessions on city sidewalks and sleeping or lying on public right of ways.
Supporters of the resolution say groups of homeless men and women occupy sidewalks with shopping carts full of their possessions and frequently camp out and sleep on streets and alleys throughout Venice as well as along the Venice Boardwalk.
Opponents objected to the resolution, casting it as another attempt by a group of determined homeowners to expel the homeless from Venice.
The motion also had a provision that Los Angeles city officials offer referrals to “those who may need services or housing.”
Special Assistant City Attorney Jane Usher sent a letter to the council to assist them before the board voted on the resolution.
“The most overt question concerns how to best manage and deploy the limited resources of the LAPD and the city attorney for enforcement of the listed (municipal code) provisions,” wrote Usher, who handles many of the land use policies for City Attorney Carmen Trutanich. “Another concerns best practices of all kinds for responding to homeless, at risk, mentally ill and service-resistant residents.”
Ryavec said he was disappointed but not very surprised by the vote.
“The majority of this neighborhood council consistently puts the needs of a group of about 500 homeless folks above the needs of 38,000 residents,” he asserted. “The majority of this group encourages the homeless to stay.”
Ryavec is the president of the Venice Stakeholders Association, an organization that states on its website is dedicated to “civic improvement.”
Amanda Seward, who sits on the neighborhood council, disagrees with Ryavec’s contention about her council’s position regarding the homeless. “I don’t think that’s fair at all,” said Seward, who voted against the resolution.
In her letter, Usher also cautioned the local council to carefully consider the sections of the municipal code that were listed in the resolution and the ramifications of any council action.
“As to the legal questions presented by this resolution, please review the wording of each listed (municipal code section) to determine whether they are good tools for the situation affecting your community,” she cautioned.
As an example, Usher pointed to Municipal Code Section 62:61, which addresses obstructing a public street or right of way. Enforcement of the code requires four administrative citations to the same person in a 12-month period prior to a criminal prosecution.
“Similarly, pay close attention to each passage of (Municipal Code 41.18 (a), which addresses the prohibition of a person prohibiting the free passage of pedestrians on a public sidewalk) because each element must be proven to sustain a violation,” she explained.
Police officers do not enforce Section 41.18 (d) of the municipal code between the hours of 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. due to a settlement agreement that the city reached in 2008. Section 41.18 (d) address the prohibition of sleeping, lying or sitting on a public sidewalk.
“Municipal Code 56.11 is the subject of an injunction applicable to Skid Row (in downtown Los Angeles) requiring, among other things, that the city tag and store any removed property for 90 days,” Usher wrote.
That section of the code addresses the prohibition of leaving personal property or baggage on a public right of way.
Ryavec’s resolution requested that the local council ask police to enforce all of the above sections of the municipal code.
“My rationale for voting against the resolution was that it raised several policy issues and perhaps some constitutional issues,” said Seward, who is an attorney.
Ryavec said he “appreciates the compassion” that many on the neighborhood council seem to have for those who are homeless. “But there doesn’t seem to be any strong effort to make things different from where they are,” he added.
Those who supported Ryavec’s motion as well as his other local ventures, which includes securing the passage of overnight parking restrictions for oversized vehicles, namely recreational vehicles, say they only want those who are homeless and commit crimes to be prosecuted. Others see those without shelter as blight on the local community and have demanded that Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents Venice, take stronger action against the homeless.
Ryavec’s opponents say he and a vocal group of anti-homeless residents have sought to banish those who are without shelter from Venice and have questioned his tactics, including listing the home addresses of his detractors online.
The divisions on the council were also evident as time for the vote drew closer. During and after the vote, spirited discussion and accusations transpired between members.
Board member Marianna Aguilar chastised her board colleagues for what she called “inappropriate” remarks about the original motion, which some considered ill-advised and unnecessary. Aguilar, who Ryavec supported in her run for council, lambasted board members who she said referred to the resolution as “mean spirited.”
Cindy Chambers, who also sits one the Venice council and was vehemently against the resolution, countered that she was entitled to voice her opinion and Aguilar had no right to silence her.
Aguilar also scolded the members of the audience when they applauded any of the dozens of speakers who criticized the motion.
Homelessness and its proposed solutions, and to some the lack thereof, has become a highly polarized topic in Venice over the last decade.
Working with People Assisting the Homeless (PATH), Rosendahl’s office has sought to direct those who desire shelter and to reintegrate into mainstream society via transitional housing and other social services. Former homeless residents in Venice and Westchester have been moved to transitional housing thorough PATH’s efforts since Rosendahl’s “Roadmap to Homes” initiative to get more people into residential living began last year.
Seward felt it was important to pay attention to Usher’s suggestions. “My sense was that she raised some valid points,” Seward said.
The attorney, who worked on the Lincoln Place settlement in Venice and was active in the effort to save the Venice Post Office with Ryavec and others, said she understands that people are concerned about the plight of homelessness in Venice.
“We know that we have a homeless problem. You don’t necessarily want (homeless) people living in front of your home or in front of your business,” Seward acknowledged. “But they’re competing interests, and with everything that we consider we have to look at all sides of the issue.
“And this resolution raised questions about criminalizing poverty.”
Ryavec said his organization is considering a local initiative that would allow Venice residents to vote on a similar resolution that the council rejected. “It would be along the lines of when we voted for the (overnight parking districts),” he said.
A substitute motion crafted by board member Ira Koslow with Ryavec’s assistance was rejected as well.
Seward pledged to work with Ryavec to find alternative solutions to his defeated resolution.
Rosendahl’s office declined to comment on the council vote or on Ryavec’s motion.