Group sues city to remove campsites on Venice Beach; others urge compassion for homeless

Campsites on Venice Beach have become a flagrant public nuisance, the lawsuit claims

Campsites on Venice Beach have become a flagrant public nuisance, the lawsuit claims

By Gary Walker

Complaining of “dangerous conditions” that include drug use, violence and vandalism by homeless people camping on the Venice boardwalk, five Venice residents and a neighborhood association have filed a public nuisance lawsuit against both the city and county of Los Angeles.

“The city of Los Angeles is allowing a mile-long drug emporium to exist on its property along Venice Beach, and the population occupying this extended drug den causes constant danger, crime and nuisance to the nearby residents,” said Mark Ryavec, president of the Venice Stakeholders Association. “If cities can use nuisance laws to close down crack houses, then residents can use the same laws to force the city to close down methamphetamine beach.”

Ryavec was referring to nuisance abatement ordinances, which city attorneys often employ in civil actions against landlords who are accused of breaking the law or creating a public hazard. He also likened the complaint to homeowner lawsuits against airport noise.

This is not the first time that the Venice Stakeholders Association has pursued legal action against a government entity over conditions at Venice Beach. The association sued the California Coastal Commission over a decision against overnight parking districts four years ago, later dropping that case after the group was unable to provide assurances that the city would allow overnight parking districts if the court presented the option.

The suit, filed Oct. 30, claims government has done nothing to prevent overnight camping and storage of personal effects on the boardwalk, which is designated a public park. Camping is illegal in L.A. parks.

In a statement about the lawsuit, L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin said finding housing for the homeless goes hand in hand with securing the boardwalk.

“I share the frustration with the deplorable conditions on and near Venice Beach. The condition is unacceptable for residents, for merchants, for tourists and for the hundreds of unhoused people who sleep on our streets. We need to keep our parks and neighborhoods clean and safe — we need to find permanent shelters and services for the homeless,” said Bonin, who represents Venice.

However, “As the [Venice Stakeholders Association] well knows, the courts have repeatedly handcuffed the city in its attempts to manage Venice Beach by a series of rulings on vending, on sleeping in public spaces, and on cleaning up both encampments and trash. The courts have repeatedly told the city of Los Angeles what it cannot do. While the source of the [association’s] ire is more appropriately aimed at the courts, if this lawsuit results in a ruling that tells the city what it can or must do, I would welcome it. We’re all interested in making Venice safe, clean and welcoming, and I trust that we are all also interested in marshaling the services and building the housing we need to end the crisis of homelessness in our city,” Bonin said.

In late July, Bonin called for more police patrols, improved outdoor lighting and installation of surveillance cameras on the boardwalk after personally helping to clean up a mattress that had been lit on fire south of Windward Avenue

“We should do everything that we can to get people into permanent housing, but that doesn’t mean that [the boardwalk] should become a campground for the unhoused. We have to reprogram Ocean Front Walk. It’s a park, not a campground,” the councilman said a few days after the incident.

Steven Clare, who heads the Venice Community Housing Corp. (a Venice nonprofit that provides affordable housing to low-income residents), acknowledged that some homeless people have engaged in criminal activity and loitering but thinks the lawsuit is misdirected.

“Everyone agrees that the city needs to do a better job on some of the issues in the lawsuit. There should be more regular trash pickups, more police patrols and the beach restrooms should be open 24 hours a day. But the tenor of the lawsuit is awful,” Clare said. “It depicts unhoused people as the only problem on the boardwalk when there really needs to be a public-private solution to getting unhoused people into permanent supportive housing.”

Venice property owners Gary Harris (who was bit by a transient’s dog), Jack Hoffmann, Arthur Kraus, David Krintzman and Brad Neal are also plaintiffs in the public nuisance lawsuit.