Angry Venice residents shout down Garcetti and Bonin over homeless housing plan

By Gary Walker

Proponents of bridge housing in Venice held a quiet candlelight vigil outside while a raucous debate raged inside. Photo by Mike Dennis.

In this era of discontent, political awakenings and protests, images often convey an event’s deeper message.
As the battle in Venice over a 3.1-acre parcel owned by the city of Los Angeles on Main Street grows even more contentious, opponents of the city’s plan to use the site for bridge housing for nearly 1,000 homeless people demonstrated their displeasure at an Oct. 17 town hall meeting by waving signs that read “Stop Dumping on Venice” and “Venice Beach: Where human poop and needles are part of the fun.”

Outside the meeting, hosted by Mayor Eric Garcetti and City Councilman Mike Bonin at the Westminster Avenue Elementary School Auditorium, a group of more than 30 bridge housing supporters held a quiet candlelight vigil while nearly 500 people inside — many affiliated with the group Save Venice Beach, which is vehemently opposed to the bridge housing proposal — shouted at and interrupted Garcetti, Bonin and LAPD Police Chief Michel Moore as the three officials attempted to explain their reasons for building short-term housing.

In some ways, the vigil could have marked the passing of a hallmark of Venice’s charmed and illustrious near-past: a live and let live credo of civility and tolerance.

Carol Tantau, who lived in Venice for more than two decades and owned Just Tantau, a jewelry and gift shop on Abbot Kinney Boulevard for 32 years, viewed the meeting on social media.

“I thought it was terrifying,” said Tantau, who four years ago moved her shop to West Adams Boulevard due to skyrocketing rent increases on Abbot Kinney. “I’m really disturbed by the lack of civility. [Those opposed to the bridge housing site] had a primo lineup in front of them and to not listen to what they had to say is just plain stupid.”
Bonin unveiled a draft design of what the housing project might look like. The site, which would have 24-hour security, would house 154 individuals and families, who would be assigned caseworkers, and include units with restrooms and a kitchen.

“Not in Venice! Not in Venice!” chanted opponents of the plan.

Here is the caption: A draft design of what bridge housing at the former Metro bus yard could look like, looking west along Main Street

Loyola Marymount Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychology Deanna Cooke said cultural shifts and socioeconomic upheaval in Venice are factors that drive the divisiveness around the issue of homelessness and often ignorance about who is homeless manifests itself in uncivil behavior.

“In neighborhoods that have transitioned from very diverse communities culturally and in some cases socioeconomically we see people who are concerned about their property values and what they may perceive as a threat to them. You also have people who talk about safety, particularly when it’s about homeless men, and those fears are real to them whether they are valid or not,” Cooke said.

“This cultural change is happening near their homes and this is where they feel they can wield some sense of power,” Cooke continued. “Additionally, there seems to be no sense of decorum in our national political discussions so people feel free to express themselves in this way.”

Venice seems to be literally spilt down the middle on building the temporary housing site at the Metro yard, and Garcetti made it clear — which he has done frequently since he announced his plan to house the city’s homeless through his “A Bridge Home” initiative in April— that he is requiring all 15 council districts to construct bridge housing units.
“There’s no issue that I care about more than homelessness,” said the mayor, who was forced to pause several times due to constant interruptions. “Maybe we can find some common ground about how to house the homeless in Venice.”

That night, there was scant evidence of any sort of mutual agreement.
Nick Antonicello thinks Bonin has indirectly contributed to the boorish behavior and disrespect that dominated the town hall.

“Had Garcetti not been there it would have been a complete disaster, because Mike Bonin has certainly lost the confidence of the people in that room. And it’s of his own doing,” asserted Antonicello, a Venice resident and real estate branding professional.

While he doesn’t agree with how those against bridge housing conducted themselves, he thinks there is a correlation between their reaction to Garcetti — and especially Bonin — and how the event was conducted.
“I believe that they believe that Bonin is detached from their reality, so they act in the manner that they do. I think that there was a real contrast in styles. Garcetti clearly came across as listening and Bonin came across as strident,” Antonicello observed.

Cooke said earlier this year a similar situation took place in Washington, D.C., where Mayor Muriel Bowers and the City Council are building short-term housing in all of that city’s eight wards, or districts.
“Some neighborhoods were more receptive than others,” Cooke said.
Antonicello, who is leading a movement to separate Venice from Los Angeles, said the town hall was illustrative of why there is a contingent of Venice residents ready to break away from the big city. And this could be a watershed moment for them.

“It’s a rallying cry in that the city of Los Angeles is too detached from the citizens of Venice. Cityhood would be a natural extension of the current neighborhood council process,” he said.
Tantau said she misses her old neighborhood but not how it has become on matters like homelessness.
“But I haven’t given up on Venice,” she concluded. “I love Venice, but I’m glad that I don’t live there anymore.”