By Gary Walker
Ever since the Legado Co. bulldozed the Toes Beach dunes on Aug. 9, the talk of lower Playa del Rey has been a group of six or seven homeless men who almost immediately set up camp along the flattened dunes.
Last Friday, after months of complaints by neighbors to the California Coastal Commission as well as county and state officials, police escorted one man from the encampment and ordered him to take down three tents and remove coolers and barbecue equipment. They offered him two options — a hotel room or jail — and he chose the hotel room.
Police had been to the encampment several times since August to notify encampment occupants that it was illegal to sleep on the beach after midnight, citing the city’s beach curfew law. Campers appear to have abandoned the area since Friday’s enforcement effort by four units of LAPD Pacific Division and Beach Patrol officers.
“It’s a huge relief to this community,” said Cory Cooper, who has lived in Playa del Rey for almost two decades. “I’ve never seen the neighborhood come together like this, because this affected everybody.”
Cooper and others suspect one of the men was using and selling methamphetamine, which enraged him and his neighbors.
Friends of the Jungle, a group of homeowners who live near the beach, had organized daily phone calls about the encampment to both police and L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin’s office, and members took turns watching the encampment after midnight to call police when occupants spread out into a cordoned-off dune restoration area.
Some locals expressed so much frustration about the lingering encampment and alleged presence of drugs that there were growing concerns about neighbors trying to take enforcement into their own hands.
“There was a group that felt that they were backed into a corner and there was nothing else they could do,” Cooper said. “Yeah, I think that was about to happen. There was this undercurrent of anger on social media about this, and that was a little scary.”
When police officers respond to nighttime encampments on beaches or in parks they have the discretion to warn or cite those in violation of city curfew laws, according to Bonin’s office, and some officers issue citations after multiple warnings.
Officers made an arrest at the Toes Beach encampment in September, according to Bonin’s office, which did not know the context of the arrest.
The Coastal Commission is expected to address restoration plans for the flattened dunes next month, and has ordered Legado to fence-off the area.
Locals, meanwhile, are generally relieved the encampment is gone.
“We were being held hostage on our own beach,” said Cooper. “It’s a victory for Playa del Rey because we don’t want this to become Venice.”