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Housing and Homelessness

Sheriff Villanueva Says No Venice Boardwalk Homeless Arrests for July 4

An image of Sheriff Alex Villanueva wearing a cowboy hat and gesturing with his index finger as he speaks near the Venice Boardwalk.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva during his June 7 visit to the Venice Beach Boardwalk.
(Alex Villanueva Twitter)
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L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva on Wednesday backed away from his earlier threat to arrest homeless people who refuse to leave the Venice Boardwalk by July 4.

“Our July 4th date has always been a goal,” the sheriff said on Facebook Live. “Obviously it’s not a deadline because I am not going to impose a deadline artificially.”

Villanueva sent deputies with his Homeless Services Outreach Team to Venice earlier this month, even though the area is patrolled by the LAPD.

The move sent shockwaves through political circles. City council member Mike Bonin and others accused the sheriff of political grandstanding, saying he was complicating ongoing efforts to help the unhoused in Venice.

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Villanueva has not hesitated to fire back at his detractors. Using his strongest language to date, the sheriff Wednesday lashed out at local elected leaders, saying their “political wokeness” has blocked their ability to act. He suggested his foray into Venice provided politicians with a wake-up call.

“Sometimes they just need to be taken to the shed, and they need to be beat down so they start doing their job,” Villanueva said.

On Monday, Bonin launched a new effort to provide a “path to permanent housing” for homeless people on the boardwalk and promised to clear the area by early August — without arrests. Bonin said the plan was in the works well before the sheriff arrived.

The deputies Villanueva dispatched to Venice mostly escort people experiencing homelessness to social workers who are on the boardwalk, according to the lieutenant who heads the team. He said it’s all voluntary.

Villanueva: Compassion Can Be A 'Fool's Errand'

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The question of how to deal with the unhoused population in Venice has become a contentious political issue there.

The city imposed a moratorium on removing tents during the pandemic, fearing that doing so would spread the virus. In part because of that, the number of people living along the boardwalk ballooned to about 250 in more than 130 tents.

The sheriff said Wednesday anyone living in public spaces who refuses shelter should be forcibly moved into designated camping areas. He argued those who are from out of town and those who cannot afford to live in L.A. should leave the county.

Saying compassion can be a “fool’s errand” and “people are in charge of their own destiny,” Villanueva added, “we need to [raise] the level of expectation we place on the homeless populations. Let’s stop enabling dependency.”