By Gary Walker

Fight Back Venice is challenging Councilman Mike Bonin’s account of what happened at the Venice temporary housing location

The discovery of suspicious devices on and around the Venice bridge housing site on Main Street on Jan. 2 resulted in police evacuating the immediate area and closing nearby streets for over five hours.

The Los Angeles Police Department’s Bomb Squad was called to the site at Main Street and Sunset Avenue at approximately 5:30 p.m. There they examined the devices, which had been designed to look like explosives, and removed them from the area.

Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin, who represents Venice, said police informed his office that none of the objects contained the necessary fuel to cause an explosion.

“I am grateful to the men and women of the Los Angeles Police Department, especially those in Pacific Division and the bomb squad, for their quick, professional and exemplary work. And I am grateful to the neighborhood residents, who responded patiently and calmly to this attempt to frighten and inconvenience them,” Bonin said in a statement on his Facebook page.

Fight Back Venice, a community group that vehemently opposes bridge housing and has emerged as one of Bonin’s most ardent critics, accused Bonin of exaggerating the potential threat days after the devices were found.

“Publicly available information from the LAPD appears to indicate that there were never any explosive devices at (or near) the bridge home Venice site and that the LAPD does not believe there was a connection between the construction of bridge home Venice and the (non-explosive) devices found in Venice over the New Year’s holiday,” the group wrote in an email.

The group also disseminated several statements attributed to police officials claiming to contradict Bonin’s statements, including one from LAPD Pacific Division Capt. Steven Embrich.

“I can assure you that none of the devices recovered from the site would meet the definition of an explosive,” states an email sent to The Argonaut from Fight Back Venice, which they attribute to an email from Embrich to Christian Wrede, a Fight Back Venice member.

Reached on Jan. 6, Embrich denied that he had contradicted Bonin’s Facebook post.

“That is not true and I do not have an idea why they would say that. I referred them to a statement from the department,” Embrich wrote in an email to The Argonaut.

Contrary to Fight Back Venice’s claims, LAPD’s official statement does not draw any conclusions about any possible connection to the objects and the housing facility.

“The devices were found on and near the construction site of a new bridge housing facility and an adjoining street. While the motive is unclear the department continues to work to identify if the bridge home site or the homeless community was a target,” the statement reads.

The accusations and continued acrimony underscore how incendiary the debate over homelessness in Venice has become as the temporary housing facility gets closer to fruition.

“This is an appalling incident perpetrated by a disturbed and cowardly person or persons. If it was meant to slow or halt progress on providing bridge housing, it failed. It is unacceptable and inhumane for people to be living and dying in sidewalk encampments in our neighborhoods. It is imperative that we get people off the streets. We will not be intimidated, and we will not back down from providing solutions to our homelessness crisis,” Bonin wrote on Facebook.

The discovery of the devices comes three weeks after a Los Angeles Superior Court judge dismissed a lawsuit by the Venice Stakeholders Association to halt the constriction of the facility, claiming that the city violated the California Environmental Quality Act after the project was granted an
exemption from the environmental statute.

The 154-bed facility is slated to be completed by the end of the month.

The incident is being investigated by LAPD’s Major Crimes Division. Anyone with information relevant to the investigation is asked to contact 1-877-LAPD 24-7 (1-877-527-3247).