City workers removed planter boxes from Fourth Avenue on the morning of Aug. 7, about 36 hours after the planters appeared
Photo by Maria Martin

Curbside planter boxes are the hot new trend in Venice — not for their rustic chic, but because they discourage homeless people from establishing encampments alongside homes and businesses. Without a city permit, they’re also illegal. But the city’s sudden enthusiasm for ripping these planters out, after years of doing nothing to address the underlying public safety and quality of life concerns prompting people to install them, also sends a troubling message: indifference.

Last Monday about three dozen metal planters showed up along Fourth Avenue between Rose and Sunset, a partly residential area near the crowded Third Avenue homeless encampments that some call Skid Rose. By the next morning the city had issued removal citations. By Wednesday morning city workers were already destroying them. In L.A. that’s like half the lifespan of an abandoned couch!

Early Thursday morning, city workers showed up at Lincoln Hardware to enforce immediate removal of more than a dozen metal planters adjacent to its parking lot on the southwest corner of Palms Avenue and Lincoln Boulevard. The hardware store installed the planters about six months ago after LAPD officers cleared a large encampment there.

While many of Venice’s homeless are law-abiding citizens whose homelessness is a result of economic hardship, personal misfortune or mental health struggles, this encampment was more of a bicycle chop shop than makeshift housing. Aggressive occupants frightened customers, and one even had the nerve to shoplift bolt cutters from the hardware store, a clerk tells The Argonaut. Now there’s nothing preventing their return.

In this space we’ve previously condemned hateful and threatening speech toward the homeless, such as calls to make Venice “unsafe” for homeless people by “whatever means necessary.” We still do. We also recognize such comments are fueled by frustration that the housing and shelters the city has promised have yet to materialize, leaving neighborhoods with little agency to discourage large encampments and few resources to help encampment occupants find healthier accommodations.

Unpermitted planter boxes may be illegal, but they’re also acts of desperation by housed people who don’t know what else to do or where to turn to for help as their streets descend further into chaos. It’s distressing to watch fellow human beings forced to live in Third World conditions. It’s scary when some who appear aggressive, mentally disturbed, under the influence of drugs or engaged in criminal activity set up camp near your home or workplace, and there’s nothing you or anyone else can do about it. Removing planter boxes without providing legal alternatives for addressing quality of life issues related to encampments will only fuel increased animosity toward the homeless. As frustration grows, housed residents are starting to believe that the city cares more about the rights of the homeless to do as they please than the rights of the housed to feel safe in their neighborhoods.