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.