Political Battle Erupts Over Homeless Encampment On Venice Boardwalk

Venice Beach has long been a haven for the artsier elements of the entertainment industry. There were pioneers such as Dennis Hopper and Tony Bill. Newer arrivals have included Robert Downey Jr., Maria Bello and, for a time time, Julia Roberts, who later sold her home to Tim Robbins.

But the pandemic, increasing home prices — fueled even further by an influx of Silicon Valley types — and L.A.’s overwhelming homelessness crisis have turned the haven into a nightmare for some, especially along the Boardwalk where a sea of tents has overwashed the beach. Residents are not happy.

The growing political battle over homelessness on the Venice Boardwalk escalated on Tuesday, with City Councilman Mike Bonin lashing out at Sheriff Alex Villanueva’s plan to dispatch deputies to Ocean Front Walk — outside his agency’s jurisdiction — to meet with the homeless population there and begin an effort to clear the encampment.

Villanueva told reporters Monday that deputies will talk to people residing in an encampment at the beach to determine what they are doing to move from being homeless to having a place to stay. He said the homelessness crisis within Los Angeles city limits prompted him to take action.

You can see video of Villanueva’s comments Monday on the Boardwalk below.

Bonin shot back in a 15-post Twitter storm Tuesday morning, accusing Villanueva of exploiting the homelessness problem for personal political gain and deeming him a “roadblock” to progress.

“He didn’t call to offer services or housing, which would help,” Bonin wrote. “He went on a PR blitz, promising his own notorious brand of justice. To anyone familiar with Villanueva and LASD, that’s incredibly ominous. Any involvement from Villanueva is troubling, especially for people concerned with civil rights.”

Bonin went on to detail a series of issues that have plagued Villanueva’s administration, including allegations of rampant deputy gangs within the department and ongoing disputes with the county Board of Supervisors and the inspector general overseeing the agency.

The homelessness problem in Venice “is a serious crisis,” Bonin wrote. “We need people interested in solving it, not exploiting it. He is a roadblock to progress. … Villanueva is exploiting Venice to spread the nefarious lie … that crime and homelessness are caused by progressives and that the only fix is tougher laws, longer sentences and more prisons.”

Bonin is not without his critics, however. Last month, at a press conference to address the Palisades Fire — which may have been set by a homeless arsonist living in the hills — Bonin was booed and shouted down by residents calling for his resignation.

That protest was sparked in part by Bonin’s proposal to explore housing homeless people in temporary cabins and camping sites in West Side parks and beach parking lots. It came one day after a Los Angeles Times investigation revealed that fires related to homeless encampments have nearly tripled year over year. According to the paper, in the first four months of this year there were 24 such blazes a day. Those calls accounted for 54% of all fires responded to by the LAFD.

Bonin represents much of the city’s affluent West Side including Pacific Palisades, Brentwood, Venice, Mar Vista and Westchester.

Residents have taken to social media to protest the situation, with one Twitter handle, Venice Beach Boardwalk, covering street-level events in detail. It regularly posts video of alleged assaults by homeless people on pedestrians, residents and others living on the beach.

Villanueva said on Monday his visit was “to view the failures of local politicians in regard to the homeless crisis.” He said the agency’s Homeless Outreach Services Team would be dispatched to the beach Tuesday “assessing Venice in order to triage the crisis and develop an action plan to compassionately offer services while employing common sense in the regulation of public space within Los Angeles County.”

And on Tuesday, a reporter from KNX1070 radio posted video of what appeared to be LASD deputies fanning out on the Boardwalk.

He told reporters he would like to see the Venice Beach encampment cleared by the Fourth of July holiday. He also accused Bonin and Mayor Eric Garcetti of hampering the Los Angeles Police Department in its ability to do its job as it relates to such encampments.

“I’m not going to blame LAPD whatsoever,” Villanueva told CBS2. “I think they can definitely do the job. They’re more than capable, have good leadership. However, if they’re hamstrung by politicians that don’t want them to do their job. Well, then they’re left in a very, very bad situation.”

On Monday, City Councilman and mayoral hopeful Joe Buscaino also visited the Venice boardwalk for a campaign event, which was disrupted when a woman was spotted nearby holding a knife. A struggle with police ensued, leaving an LAPD captain with a minor cut. That was caught on video by a local reporter. See tweet below.

Buscaino and Bonin sparred during a council meeting last month over Bonin’s request for a study of using westside parks or beach parking lots to house homeless Angelenos. Buscaino dismissed the idea out of hand, and was the sole dissenting vote against the feasibility study. Bonin shot back that he would be willing to explore temporary housing sites for the homeless in Buscaino’s council district.

City News Service contributed to this report.

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