Sunday, August 30, 2015

Drain the Swamp....or More Will Be Harmed in Venice

Breaking News – Another Fatal Shooting in Venice

The Venice victim tally since August 2013: 

  • Deranged transient living in his car in Venice mows down 17 pedestrians on Boardwalk with his car and kills young Italian woman in a rage over being ripped off in a drug deal gone bad.
  • Transient brutally assaults resident Robert DiMassa on walk street because DiMassa's service dog urinated on the sidewalk near where the camper was sleeping.
  • Five home invasions - four by wasted, mentally ill transients - in a six block area centered on Windward and Riviera.
  • Clabe Hartley's fingertip bitten off by transient on Washington Blvd.
  • Homeless Jose Gonzalez dies April 19th after suffering a blow from transient Thomas Glover on Abbot Kinney at California. 
  • The death of transient Brendon Glenn on May 5th in altercation with LAPD on Windward. 
  • Transient Jason Davis shot on July 14th by LAPD at Groundworks Cafe on Rose after approaching police with a knife.  He later died of his wounds.
  • Two transients shot on the Boardwalk at Dudley on August 30th, apparently in a fight over camping spaces.  One dies at the scene and one is transported to the hospital. 

Message to Mike Bonin and Eric Garcetti:

Drain the swamp:  stop the camping along Venice Beach and the walk streets, stop the storage of tons of transients' stuff on Venice Beach, bring back the City's ordinance banning "sitting, lying, sleeping" on sidewalks and establish 300 foot buffer from residences for camping or unattended items.

Or more people - residents, visitors and transients - will be harmed in Venice by the lawless conditions the City continues to allow to exist here.

Monday, August 24, 2015

City Leaders Garcetti, Bonin and Cedillo Delay New Protections for Residents

Venice Sidewalk Blocked on Horizon

Under amendments proposed by Councilman Bonin, city trash crews would have to sort through piles like this to separate out medications, documents and "household items" before they could cart it away, store the stuff, and free up sidewalks for public use.  This would render the new ordinance unenforceable since city crews don't have the time for this nor want to take the chance of missing a protected item and being sued.

Return Protections To Venice Residents…

Columnist Mark Ryavec.
Columnist Mark Ryavec.
By Mark Ryavec

Back in the mid-80s, when I was serving as the chief deputy to the Los Angeles County Assessor, my boss Alex Pope came to me with a “Homeless Bill of Rights.” An ACLU attorney had given it to him over lunch and asked him to get the Los Angeles county supervisors to adopt it.

The attorney told Alex that it would help attorneys for the homeless advance their lawsuits, including those against the city and county. If my memory serves me, the document was similar to Senate Bill 608, the “Right to Rest” bill, which recently stalled in Sacramento, but also with a provision protecting the personal possessions of the homeless. This latter right was later the subject of the Superior Court’s Lavan decision, which required the city to give notice of removal of personal items from sidewalks and to store them for 90 days.

Fast forward 30 years and we can see that the cumulative effect of recent court decisions, including Lavan, has had the same effect as that long ago ACLU proposal: the voiding of vagrancy laws that have for many years protected residents from the negative effects of transient campers. In addition to the usual hot spots for transient encampments, we now see them throughout the city. I would suggest that this was the real goal of the homeless advocates. It’s a form of extortion, though residents in some areas of the city bear this burden far more than others.

The result of the Lavan Decision (hands off homeless possessions), Jones settlement (sleep anywhere you want), and the Desertrain Decision (sleep in your vehicle anywhere you want), is three fold.  First, vagrancy laws are gutted and transients can live outside anywhere they want. Second, there is no pressure at all to leave the street. Third, it is much more attractive to live on the street in Los Angeles, with its moderate weather (and lack of regulations), than in Detroit or Chicago and other points east and north, with their extremes of heat, cold, and rain.

So, it should not come as a surprise that the homeless population here has increased, that more and more of the population is not from L.A., and that they have spread all over the city. For example, the Pacific Palisades has gone from almost no homeless to having them camping on their beaches, bluffs, and parkways. And predictably the response of some people is to start raising funds to counsel and house those newly on their doorstep.  That’s exactly the result the homeless advocates want: to put the homeless in everyone’s face so that the “housed” public acts to succor them and pressure their elected officials to house them. It’s a brilliant strategy but callous in the extreme.

It attracts homeless individuals, which includes the drug addicted, mentally ill, and criminally-inclined, to our city in large numbers, in some instances from homes they were living in before coming to L.A. We know this in Venice from the large number of campers for whom our organization has provided bus fares to return home to welcoming family members in distant states.
The loss of vagrancy laws also puts a huge burden on residents and businesses in the popular venues – think Hollywood and Venice, for example. It exposes some to assault; remember the transient that bit off part of the finger of restaurateur Clabe Hartley, and others to home invasion; we had five within six blocks of my home last year.

And it results in the tragic death of those who in their drug or mental derangement tangle with the police; already two dead in Venice this year, who were not from L.A.

The cry from homeless advocates to not “criminalize the poor” is fatuous. Societies have rules to protect themselves from noxious behavior. Certain situations – urban encampments of homeless near residents, public defecation, urination and inebriation, frequent late night noise, drug use and sales – all set the stage for worse: theft, trespass, assaults, and home invasions.

Due to the misguided efforts of Mayor Eric Garcetti and Councilmen Mike Bonin and Gil Cedillo, the potential of two new ordinances to restore some balance to the situation is on hold and at risk.
The mayor has directed city departments to not enforce the new ban on storage of personal items overnight in city parks.  This allows the Venice Beach Recreation Area to remain a highly desirable campground for hundreds of “travelers” from all over the country and abroad. The mayor’s delay on the parks ordinance is inexplicable since no council members have proposed to amend it.

The mayor also asked city departments to not enforce the new, tighter restrictions on storage of personal items on sidewalks and asked the City Council to remove the misdemeanor penalty for violations. Bonin and Cedillo’s motions to accomplish this will gut the sidewalks ordinance by, among other measures, removing luggage, backpacks, clothing, documents, and medication, and household items from the definition of items that can be collected by the Department of Sanitation if not removed after 24 hours.  Neither Sanitation workers nor LAPD officers have the time to sort through piles of “stuff” to find all the items that would get a pass from collection by city workers.
The mayor apparently fails to understand that under the Lavan Decision and the new ordinance, personal documents and medication will not be disposed of; they will be stored for 90 days and a notice left at the collection site with details of how to retrieve them.

With no possibility of a misdemeanor violation campers will not move their stuff for city cleanups or after the 24-hour grace period.

With no ability for the city to collect luggage, backpacks, clothing, documents, medication, and household items, the encampments in Venice on walk streets, on Third Street, and occasionally along Venice Boulevard will continue and spread, as we have already seen them creep into the Oakwood neighborhood.

With a stalemate on the language of amendments at the City’s Homelessness Committee, the mayor should get out of the way and tell city department heads to enforce both ordinances immediately. The pendulum has swung so far in recent years that the inmates are now running the asylum. It’s time to return some protections to our long-suffering residents who right now feel powerless to protect themselves.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

VSA Calls for Amendments to New Sidewalks Storage Law, Establishment of 300 Foot Buffer Zone for Residences

On July 21st the VSA submitted comments to the City Council's new Ad Hoc Committee on Homelessness regarding the new sidewalks storage ordinance and new parks storage ordinance.

The VSA is calling for a 300 foot setback from all residences that would allow the City to immediately remove any items left unattended on sidewalks or parkways.  The setback would help prevent the development of encampments right next to homes.

The VSA also called for the Committee to not remove the phrase "personal items such as luggage, backpacks, clothing, documents and medication, and household items" from the definition of property that can be confiscated if left on the sidewalk over 24 hours.  Excluding these items would place an impossible task upon the LAPD and Department of Sanitation to sort through every pile of stuff left on the sidewalk to differentiate between those items and everything else.  This requirement would render the ordinance unenforceable.  The letter also notes that no confiscated property would be destroyed as in the past but would be cataloged and stored for 90 days to allow retrieval by the owner, so no medications or personal documents would be lost.

The VSA also called upon the Committee to urge the Mayor, Department of Rec. and Parks and LAPD to immediately start enforcement of the new ban on storage of personal property in parks at night.  The letter notes that unlike the sidewalks ordinance there are no amendments pending on this new rule.

The full text of the letter is below.

July 21, 2015

Councilman Jose Huizar
Chair, Ad Hoc Committee on Homelessness
City Hall
200 North Spring Street
Los Angeles, CA  90012

Re:  CF 14-1656 and CF-1551

Dear Councilman Huizar,

I am president of the Venice Stakeholders Association, a non-profit organization representing the public safety concerns of Venice residents.

As your committee considers amendments to the new sidewalks storage ordinance (LAMC section 56.11) and the new parks storage ordinance (LAMC section 63.44) we wish to advise you on several issues.

Venice residents have long suffered from a large and frequently troublesome transient population.  The failure over many years of the City and County of Los Angeles to abate the public nuisance stemming from the Venice Beach Recreation Area (VBRA) led the organization to bring a lawsuit against the City and County last year.  This suit is pending.  One of our principal demands is for the City and County to enforce existing laws against camping in the VBRA and against the storage of personal property in the park after closing hours.  The recent re-codification of LAMC 63.44 provides clear language on these points and we look forward to its enforcement.

No Amendments Are Proposed to the Parks Ordinance (LAMC 63.44).

It is our understanding that none of the amendments proposed in Motion No. 5-A and Motion 5-B now before your committee concern the parks ordinance (LAMC 63.44) nor should they be applied to the parks ordinance.  We would ask that your committee not change LAMC 63.44 and that you urge the Mayor, the Department of Recreation and Parks, the Police Commission and the Los Angeles Police Department to begin enforcing the ordinance. 

The VBRA is a nationwide magnet for many individuals, increasingly those who leave homes in distant states to travel the country and end up living rough on Venice Beach, enticed by moderate weather, easy availability of drugs, lax enforcement, sympathetic tourists good for a few dollars, and misguided social services groups who provide food (but no counseling or housing).  We believe that an end to camping and storage of tons of personal possessions in the VBRA will lessen its attractiveness and in the end increase public safety for residents and the public at large.

Amendments Proposed to Sidewalks Ordinance (LAMC 56.11) in Motion 5-A. 

We variously support and oppose certain amendments to the new version of LAMC 56.11, the sidewalks storage ordinance, as proposed in Motion 5-A.   We address each of the proposed amendments below.

2.g. (Revisions to definition of “Personal Property”)

While amending the definitions section 2(g) to remove the term “Personal” from “Personal Property” may appear to be benign, as the phrase “Personal Property” is used throughout the ordinance any revision to delete the term “Personal” must be carried through to the entire ordinance.    

The second part of the proposed amendment would delete the phrase “personal items such as luggage, backpacks, clothing, documents and medication, and household items” from the definition of “Personal Property” (or, as proposed, “Property”).  This change is far from benign, as it effectively means that the City could never remove items in these categories from sidewalks.  Thus, we believe that this phrase should remain in the definition. 

The clear intent of the decision in Lavan v. City of Los Angeles, 693 F.3d 1022 (2012), was to allow the temporary placement of personal possessions on the public right-of-way during the day so the owner could leave those possessions long enough, as the court put it, “to perform necessary tasks such as showering, eating, using restrooms, or attending court.”  It is reasonable to assume that the list of “necessary tasks” set forth in the Lavan decision was not exhaustive, and that other personal business such as visiting a doctor’s office, going shopping, looking for a job, and the like, would qualify.  However, one thing all of these “necessary tasks” have in common is that they can be performed within a matter of hours. 

Under the ordinance as already amended, personal items such as luggage, backpacks, clothing, documents and medication, and household items left unattended during these excursions for “necessary tasks” will be protected from removal as long as they are removed within 24 hours after notice is given.  That is more than enough time for the owner to return to his or her possessions and move them from the sidewalk.  The ordinance as already amended reasonably excludes from this safe harbor those items which, by definition, do not reasonably qualify as “personal possessions” for purposes of Lavan, such as bulky items like furniture or large quantities of smaller items that collectively have a volume greater than a 50 gallon bin.

The proposed amendment in Motion 5-A would categorically remove “personal items such as luggage, backpacks, clothing, documents and medication, and household items” from the definition of “Personal Property” (or “Property”).  This would effectively mean that these categories of items could remain at all times, even after 24 hours’ notice is given. 

This is not a prudent revision to the ordinance.  The point of the 24-hour notice period is specifically to deal with these “personal items” that Lavan protects from immediate seizure.  After the expiration of the 24-hour period, all of these items - luggage, backpacks, clothing, documents and medication, and household items – should, and must, leave the sidewalks.  Otherwise, they cumulatively result in the development of encampments, which become a threat to public health and safety due to drug use, food waste, and public defecation, urination and inebriation. 

Moreover, the segregation of various forms of property as between so-called “personal items” and other items for purposes of removal by the City creates a distinction that cannot be navigated by the Los Angeles Police Department and the Department of Sanitation, which are responsible for cleanups of the sidewalk after the requisite 24-hour notice is given.  These departments simply do not have the capacity to sort through all of the various items left on the sidewalk more than 24 hours to separate out just the “luggage, backpacks, clothing, documents and medication, and household items” from all the other items.  Thus, this proposed amendment would result in the entire ordinance not being enforceable.  

While we appreciate the concern about not confiscating documents and medication evidenced in Motion 5-A, it should be borne in mind that under the ordinance as presently amended such items are not to be destroyed, even when they are confiscated.  Instead, they are stored and available for retrieval by their owners.  This is not at all like the situation that obtained in the incidents that gave rise to the litigation in Lavan, where medications and documents were seized and immediately disposed of. 

Finally, while Lavan had the arguably laudable goal of preserving personal items such as medication and documents from immediate seizure and/or destruction, the fact is that for the sake of their owners these items should not remain unattended on the sidewalks for long periods of time anyway.  The possibility of theft is palpable at any public site, and those living in public spaces should not be encouraged by the law to leave personal documents and medications unattended with the belief they will be there when the owner returns.

2(n) and 2(o) (new definitions of “attended” and “unattended” property.)

Initially, we note that Motion 5-A makes no specific proposal about how to define “attended” and “unattended” property.  Before definitions are amended into the ordinance, we would ask that they be circulated to the public.

Further, we question whether it is necessary to define “unattended” and “attended” property, as the ordinance does not make this distinction anywhere, and in fact appears to intentionally avoid the distinction.  The ordinance presently includes no reference to “unattended” property, and the only reference to “attended” property is in section (5), which states that even property that is “attended” at the end of the 24-hour notice period must be removed.

With that said, if a definition is necessary we would argue that “attended” property should be defined narrowly as property that is within 5 feet from its actual owner, and that all other property that is not defined as “attended” is “unattended” property. 

3(b) (clarification of authority to impound stored property)

We support the revision of section 3(b) to read that “All stored property in public areas may be impounded by the City with proper notice, or as outlined in this code section.”  This is a more accurate statement of the City’s actual authority under the ordinance.

3(c) (simplification of provision concerning moving stored property to another location)

We support the revision of section 3(c) to change the second sentence to read simply that “Moving stored property to another location in a public area shall not be considered to be removing property from a public area.”  The original language concerning “returning personal property to the same block on a daily or regular basis” is properly removed as it is somewhat ambiguous and the language in any event is subsumed under the prohibition of “moving stored property another location.”

3(i) (addition of new provision allowing removal of property that interferes with sanitation or maintenance work)

We support the addition of subsection 3(i) to read:  “Property that interferes with planned sanitation or maintenance work may be removed and impounded following pre-removal notice.”   

3(j) (addition of new provision allowing immediate removal of property that interferes with sidewalk passability)

We support the addition of a new subsection 3(j) to provide for immediate removal of property that interferes with sidewalk passability, including ADA access, but we recommend that instead of the language proposed in Motion 5-A, the language should be more specific as to the requirements of the ADA, and should read as follows:  “Property that interferes with sidewalk passability, including passage by the disabled under the American with Disabilities Act, may be removed and impounded without prior notice.  For the purposes of this section, a passage way of at least five feet, the distance to allow two disabled persons in wheelchairs or assisted by a walker to pass in opposite directions, shall be maintained at all times free of any personal property.  Post-removal notice shall be provided as set forth in Section 56.11, Subsection 4(b) below.”

5 (replacement of language concerning failure to remove attended property)

We support the replacement of section 5 concerning the removal of “attended” property, but we recommend that instead of the language proposed in Motion 5-A, the following language should be used:  “Removal of Attended Stored Property.  Once ownership of Stored Property is asserted and the owner is present, the City shall first give the owner the opportunity to immediately comply by removing the Stored Property from a Public Area.”

Additional Amendment Requested to Add New Section 3(k) (stored property within 300 feet of residences).

In addition to the amendments and revisions discussed above, we would ask that another subsection 3(k) be added to read:  “Personal Property placed in Public Areas within 300 feet of a residence may be removed and impounded at any time without prior notice.  Post-removal notice shall be provided as set forth in Section 56.11, Subsection 4(b) below.”

The reasons for this additional amendment are obvious, especially in Venice but increasingly throughout the City:  The proximity of encampments to residences has brought on a host of noxious and dangerous incidents, from trespass on private property, storage of personal possessions on private property, constant late night noise exceeding the City noise ordinance, and urination, defecation and public inebriation on private property or nearby public property, to home invasions, burglaries and assaults.  The City must establish a barrier between these nuisances and residences under its obligation to protect residents’ right to the quiet enjoyment of their homes.

We appreciate that adding the additional amendment may risk further litigation along the lines of the Lavan case.  However, even with a 300-foot storage free buffer zone around residences there will remain hundreds of miles of sidewalks in commercial and industrial zones throughout the City where personal property could be stored subject to the limitations ensured by Lavan and the amended ordinance.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on these proposed amendments.

Monday, June 29, 2015

City Attorney Feuer Fights To Keep Venice’s Outdoor Drug Emporium Open

City Attorney Feuer Files Injunctions Against Drug Dens, Yet Fights To Keep Venice’s Outdoor Drug Emporium Open

Columnist Mark Ryavec.
Columnist Mark Ryavec.
By Mark Ryavec

Recently our phlegmatic City Attorney, Mike Feuer, brought another injunction to close yet another crack house, this one in Watts. The basis of the injunction is that six people died in 12 shootings connected to the house, and four people have been arrested and 10 guns seized there in just the last year. The Los Angeles Times estimates Feuer has brought legal action to shutter three dozen similar residences that constitute dangerous public nuisances since he was elected two years ago.

However, given the opportunity to curtail Venice’s huge coastal drug emporium, otherwise known as the Venice Beach Recreation Area (VBRA), and the crime it generates, Feuer has chosen to fight his own constituents to keep it open and the drugs flowing.

If the police were to tally up the crimes committed in the VBRA or by people who camp there, the sheer number would far surpass those of any drug den closed down by Feuer.

In just two years the lawless, drug-fueled strip of grass and sand has repeatedly produced physical assaults on residents (and the homeless themselves), assaults by vehicle leading to death and multiple injuries, home invasions, burglaries, trespass, harassment, vandalism, excruciating noise violating the City noise ordinance, and endless public inebriation, urination, and defecation. This is not to mention the easy availability of cocaine, heroin, PCP, ecstasy, “bath salts,” and methamphetamine.

The opportunity to abate these noxious, illegal, and occasionally lethal acts arose in the context of the civil lawsuit the Venice Stakeholders Association (VSA) brought last fall against the City and County of Los Angeles for their maintenance of a dangerous public nuisance along the Boardwalk. While the City owns the land, the County has a long-term lease to the areas west of the bike path and the parking lots, from which it derives considerable income to support beach maintenance and lifeguards.

The law that the Association is using requires owners (or a lessee in the case of the County) to abate nuisances emanating from their property that cause harm to residents and prevent them from “the quiet enjoyment of their homes.” This is the same law Feuer is employing to close down gang/drug hangouts elsewhere, such as the one in Watts. (It is also the same law that Westchester residents employed to force LAX to either purchase their properties or soundproof them against the noise caused by flights into the airport.)

Earlier this year when a group representing homeless individuals sought to intervene in the case, Mr. Feuer’s deputies and County Counsel, the attorney for the County, contacted the VSA and asked us to meet with them to discuss a settlement of the suit. In the course of our meeting we proposed a series of actions that we believe would largely abate the nuisances that residents have been experiencing for years. The City and County took the proposals under consideration.

Shortly thereafter the judge accepted our attorneys’ argument that the homeless advocates intervention in the case would open the litigation up to matters not outlined in our complaint and was thus not permissible. Once the potential for a much broader legal battle with lawyers representing the homeless was avoided, the City and County returned to legal fisticuffs instead of returning to the negotiating table.

So, the VSA and the five residents who are named plaintiffs in the case have had to make the time to answer interrogatories (hundreds of questions posed in legalese), search for documents and receipts and correspondence long hidden away in storage boxes, answer mind-numbing questions in day-long depositions, and raise tens of thousands of dollars to keep our own attorneys on the job.

Ironically, we are waging this fight against the legal departments of the City and County, which are funded in part by our tax dollars.

We are doing it because the situation along the Boardwalk is neither safe, tolerable nor moral. We are doing it because the City has shown, by its removal of the Occupy LA encampments from the park next to City Hall, that it has the legal and enforcement capability to remove the campers and return Venice Beach to use by the broad public, not transients who come from all over the nation to this spot because of the extreme laxness of enforcement by both the Department of Recreation and Parks and the LAPD. We are doing it because the County has the legal responsibility – and the dollars – to counsel and offer housing or return to family in their hometowns for the hundreds of individuals living on Venice Beach.

So, I have to ask, Mr. Feuer, are you really so anti-resident that you will continue to fight us over our reasonable demand that our park be just as clean and safe as the park you and other City employees enjoy every day next to City Hall?

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

VSA Opposes the Car Camping Bill - AB 718

June 16, 2015                                               
Senator Robert M. Hertzberg, Chair
Senate Committee on Government and Finance
State Capitol, Room 408
Sacramento, CA  95814

Re:  Opposition to Assembly Bill 718 (Chu) – 
       Removal of Regulatory Authority: Vehicles

Dear Senator Hertzberg:

I am writing on behalf of our organization to urge you to vote against Assembly Bill 718 (Chu).

The Venice Stakeholders Association is composed of residents in Venice, California, dedicated to improving neighborhood safety in our beach community.

We led the effort to remove over 200 RVs and campers from our community that previously occupied the curbs in front of our residences on a full-time basis, with all the problems attendant to the use of residential streets as an urban campground.

We are currently suing the City and County of Los Angeles for maintaining a dangerous public nuisance along the Venice Beach Recreation Area, which resulted from the City and County’s failure to enforce the Beach Curfew and the existing ban on camping in City parks.  We also have lobbied for the reinstatement of enforcement of the City’s ordinance banning lying, sitting, sleeping on public rights-of-way.

Our opposition to AB 718 is driven by our experiences over many years with the noxious effects of people lodging in their vehicles in residential neighborhoods, which would be allowed under AB 718.

We have seen on many, many occasions car campers use residential gardens, parkways, car ports and garage aprons as latrines.  We have been frequently awakened at night by all the late night noise of fights, arguments and drunken partying that these campers generate.  We have been forced to park several blocks away from our homes as the parking in front of homes is taken up by those living in their vehicles.  (And we’ve seen overnight restricted parking for our neighborhood rejected three times by the California Coastal Commission, so that is not a solution to the dearth of parking we face in Venice.) We’ve cleaned up all the trash dumped by car campers on our parkways and streets.  We witnessed the assault-by-vehicle by drunken car camper Nathan Campbell, angered at drug deal gone bad, upon 17 pedestrians on the Venice Boardwalk, which left Italian visitor Alice Gruppioni dead.  We live in fear of car break-ins and residential burglaries as vehicle lodgers forage for funds to support their drug habits.

We would ask that this bill be rejected and that instead the Legislature support the proposal before the Los Angeles City Council to create a handful of parking areas located at significant distance from residences where a pilot program can be introduced to test the concept of vehicular lodging under a permit system and in collaboration with social service agencies.  Leaving on the street those who are forced by circumstances to live in their vehicles is not a solution and they should not be abandoned to such a life.  AB 718 simply locks in place a desperate lifestyle while offering no alternative.

Thank you for your consideration of our views on this bill.

Sincerely yours,

Mark Ryavec

Mark Ryavec, President

cc:  Senator Ben Allen

NOTE: please send your email opposing AB 718 to these staffers in Sacramento:

Friday, June 5, 2015

What Would It Cost? An Estimate Of Housing Venice’s Transient Population

Columnist Mark Ryavec.
Mark Ryavec.

I was recently asked by a New York Times reporter what I would ask Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti to do to address Venice’s persistent problems with encampments of homeless people, which place a terrific burden on the quality of life of residents and business owners alike.

Since the Mayor has already raised enough money to ward off a serious challenger in his re-election race and we don’t want his dialing-for-dollars skills to get rusty, I told the reporter I would ask the Mayor to apply his considerable fund-raising talents to properly fund the several struggling social service agencies in Venice that have a proven record of placing people living on our streets in housing or transporting them to safe homes in their hometowns.

We even have an estimate of the costs to guide His Honor. In the course of brief settlement negotiations with the City and County regarding our public nuisance lawsuit, we consulted with several agencies about what they estimated would be needed to counsel, transport and/or house the roughly 741 individuals living on Venice’s sidewalks, alleys, and parks. This is what we learned.

The County has for several years funded St. Joseph Center about $350,000 per year to counsel and house the 40 most vulnerable homeless in Venice and it appears this funding will continue. As one of 40 are placed in housing or leave the area (or die on the street), St. Joseph counselors move to the next person on the list.

Since 2009 St. Joseph has housed approximately 120 individuals through this effort and they report 95 percent have remained in housing. They also housed an additional 50 chronically homeless, severely mentally ill individuals from the streets of Venice since 2012 through their mobile health team in partnership with Venice Family Clinic, funded by the County Department of Mental Health.

One would think the numbers would start going down, but there’s been a year-to-year increase in our homeless count. That’s due to the failure of the City to enforce rules against camping along Venice Beach and the ill-conceived Jones settlement, so while St. Joseph and other agencies move people off the Boardwalk and our parks, the City’s welcome mat invites more here.

Asked the cost of moving, for example, another 100 campers off Venice Beach into housing, Paul Rubenstein of St. Joseph quoted an annual budget of $556,000, or $5,560 per person.

People Helping the Homeless (PATH), headquartered in Hollywood, has been fielding a two person team to reach out to Venice’s campers since October but reports only placing 16 clients into transitional housing and permanently housing just five. They say they focus their efforts on transient “hotspots” identified by Councilman Mike Bonin.

PATH’s executive director Joel Roberts says it would cost $12,000 to $15,000 per person depending on each client’s mental health, level of drug addiction, years on the street, etc. Multiplied by 740, that’s a huge number, almost $10 million. It would fund staff counselors, transport, housing and other services.

Other agencies in Venice suggest that more can be accomplished at less cost. Since March of 2012 The Teen Project, which is located at homeless ground zero on Windward Avenue, has placed 28 young people in housing and has transported 109 to safe homes in their hometowns, a total of 137 kids off the street in three years. This has been accomplished on a shoestring of donations from the public.

The agency says it needs about $225,000 annually to expand its efforts to place in housing or transport back home the 100 to 150 young adults (16 to 24 years of age) remaining in Venice (and those that keep coming to campout on the beach due to lax enforcement). This would fund more counselors, transportation, rehab, food and most importantly, temporary housing while their clients get counseling leading to jobs and/or return to school.

Kacy was on the streets for three years, in the Bay Area and then in Venice. Timothy Pardue, director of The Teen Project, helped him return to Joplin, Missouri where he is now working with his brother in construction. The Teen Project, which is located at 70 Windward Ave., has placed 28 young people in housing and has transported 109 to safe homes in their hometowns, a total of 137 off the street since March 2012. Photos courtesy TheTeenProject.
Kacy was on the streets for three years, in the Bay Area and then in Venice. Timothy Pardue, director of The Teen Project, helped him return to Joplin, Missouri where he is now working with his brother in construction. The Teen Project, which is located at 70 Windward Ave., has placed 28 young people in housing and has transported 109 to safe homes in their hometowns, a total of 137 off the street since March 2012. Photos courtesy The Teen Project
The Project’s costs per person are much lower since these young people are generally in much better health, do not have a long history of drug or alcohol dependence or mental illness, and are just generally more resilient. They also are more likely to want to return to their hometowns and families, so no or little housing is required in those instances.

Another low cost, effective service is the LAPD Homeless Task Force (HTF), comprised of police officers and two chaplains from the Venice Foursquare Church. Since just the first of this year, HTF have placed 72 people into safe harbor. Venice Stakeholders Association provided almost $5,000 for bus fares and meal vouchers for 19 who returned home to families of origin and for the first month housing costs for nine people and for one who entered rehab. The Venice Foursquare chaplains volunteer their time but there is a need for additional “boots on the ground.” Approximately $144,000 per year in funding would allow the HTF to add five counselors and cover housing, transportation, meal vouchers, hygiene kits and return home fares.

One of the fallacies that some homeless advocates perpetuate is that there are no shelter beds or affordable housing available for transients living in Venice. Their frequent refrain is “You can’t kick them off the Boardwalk or Third Street because there is nowhere for them to go.” This is not supported by the evidence.

St. Joseph’s Rubenstein notes that about a quarter of those living along the beach and on Third Street would be eligible for housing vouchers from the City Housing Authority due to their health vulnerability. This would allow them to afford market rate rents, though probably not in Venice. He says that funding for master leasing of apartments and shared housing inland would allow his agency (and others) to move the rest – those not eligible for vouchers – off the street and into housing. So the problem is not a lack of housing, it is a lack of funding.

The Teen Project, like the Ocean Park Community Center in Santa Monica, also rents apartments (or whole apartment buildings; i.e., master leasing) inland in less expensive areas and offers them to their clients, which makes it possible to get them off the street immediately if they are willing. The only hurdles are lack of funds and the resistance of some young travelers to give up their druggy lifestyle on the Boardwalk.

So, that leads to our standing request to the Mayor that he direct the Department of Recreation and Parks and the LAPD to fully enforce the Beach Curfew, the laws against camping, camping equipment and encampments in the Venice Beach Recreation Area at any hour and the law that everything that’s brought into the park during the day be removed at dusk. The City must also return to enforcing the ban on lying, sitting or sleeping on public sidewalks, at least within 500 feet of residences. It is only when adequate services and housing for the homeless come together with stronger enforcement of existing laws will we be able retire “Skid Row West” as the moniker for Venice Beach and lower the current risk of harm to vacationers, residents and the homeless alike.

So, Mr. Garcetti, please start dialing.

Mark Ryavec is president of Venice Stakeholders Association and former co-chair of the Venice Neighborhood Council’s Ad Hoc Committee on Homelessness.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

From Yo Venice May 15 Edition

Another Tragedy in Venice

By Mark Ryavec

What can we learn from the tragic death of 29-year old Brendon Glenn, a beach dweller shot to death in a confrontation with police officers in front of the Townhouse bar on Windward Avenue on May 5th?

Well, first that Brendon was yet another traveler, from Troy, New York, who was attracted to the easy life of sun, panhandling and booze on the Venice Boardwalk.  Since the homeless all have cell phones and occasionally laptops, too, the message that it’s all a great party here in Venice is constantly circulating coast to coast. 

Next is that Brendon was a troubled young man, struggling to find a job while still in the grip of an alcohol addiction.  He told his counselor at the Teen Project on Windward the day he died that he had started drinking at 11 AM.

While all his friends on the Boardwalk are quick to remark on his friendliness, he was combative that night, getting into a physical altercation with the doorman at the Town House before the police tried to restrain him.

Some want to read the shooting as part of the larger national portrait of police violence towards Black men.  I see it within the continuum of violent incidents stemming from the lawless, “Lord of the Flies” atmosphere along the Boardwalk and elsewhere in Venice.

Here in our beach-side community a supposedly civilized society allows 741 homeless people – the unofficial count from earlier this year – to live on the town’s parks, streets and alleys and does almost nothing about it.

The result is ugly and shows the dysfunction of our city and county governments which have for too long been more focused on the care and feeding of its employees than meeting its core mission, which is the care of its residents and the indigent.

Let’s tally the victims of this neglect since just August 2013, less than two years. 

A transient living in his car in Venice takes offense at a drug deal gone bad on the Boardwalk and mows down 17 pedestrians with his car, killing Alice Gruppioni, an Italian visitor in Venice on her honeymoon.  The driver is now on trial.

A transient is caught on CCTV beating the crap out of another beach dweller with a chair.

In April of last year a young mother and two children barely escape a home invasion at 4:30 AM on Horizon as the homeless invader breaks through a glass door pane, covers their apartment in blood from his cuts and in his PCP rage pulls two bolted sinks off the wall of the bathroom. 

Over several months four more home invasions follow within six blocks of the Horizon break-in, committed by campers living along Venice Beach

In October of 2014 a transient sleeping on a walk street attacks Robert DiMassa because Robert’s service dog had urinated near where the transient was sleeping.  The damage to DiMassa was two broken ribs, severe abrasions on his legs, two black eyes and a bloodied lip.  The culprit was never caught.

Then, in an incident similar to the events that took Brendon Glenn’s life, a transient went into the Cow’s End and demanded money from the patrons.  The owner, Clabe Hartley, asked him to leave, and the fellow attacked Clabe, wrestled him to the floor and bit off his finger tip.

In Brendon’s case, he was harassing Townhouse patrons and passersby and the doorman tried to back him off.  One report says he had earlier gone into the bar to panhandle and been evicted by the doorman.  Later Brendon picked a fight with the doorman, which led to the police getting involved. 

What’s the common denominator in all these incidents?  The instigator was a transient.

There is more to learn from all of this.

Why are there so many homeless in Venice and what’s being done to help them get off the street? 

Well, the sunshine helps bring them here from all over the nation.  (That’s why many of us are here, too.)  Then there’s a slew of short-sighted court decisions and legislation that makes it much easier to live out in the open in California, and in Los Angeles in particular.  This is compounded by a squishy, homeless-loving City Attorney, Mike Feuer, who had advised the LAPD to not enforce the City’s “no camping, no camping equipment and no encampments” rules (which are enforced in other city parks like the one next to City Hall).

Then there is the time honored tradition of giving complete responsibility of any area in the City to the councilmember (in this instance Mike Bonin).  The result is that the Mayor and City Council have washed their hands of any responsibility for Venice despite it being a phenomenal tax generator for the City and the primary park/beach destination in Los Angeles.  For example, Griffith Park has fewer visitors and yet gets park rangers, but not Venice.  A recent proposal by the Venice Neighborhood Council to add a Rec. and Parks Department superintendent, accountable for management of the Venice Beach Recreation Area, to the City budget was ignored by Mayor Garcetti.

At the recent LAPD community listening session on the shooting there were two notable absences: Mayor Garcetti and County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl.  Their absence is also reflected in the dearth of City and County services.  Other than the $350,000 that the County gives to the St. Joseph Center annually to focus on moving the 40 homeless most likely to die on Venice streets (or parks) to housing and services, there is no County or City financial support to provide any relief to the other 700 homeless folks living here (other than meager general relief which some receive).  There are no counselors from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, who can arrange housing for our homeless.  There is no funding for the Teen Project, which must depend on donations.  There is no funding for People Helping the Homeless (PATH), which provided critical services and housing to the homeless when Bill Rosendahl was councilman.

So, Venice continues to be abandoned, with just a few LAPD officers to contain the uncontainable.  The situation reminds me of Los Angeles’ early years as a wild, ungoverned frontier outpost.  And as everyone knows, people get harmed or killed fairly easily in such an environment.
Ryavec, a 29-year resident of Venice, is president of the Venice Stakeholders Association, which is suing the City and County of Los Angeles for maintaining a dangerous public nuisance along the Venice Beach Recreation Area.