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Housing and Homelessness

Villanueva Didn't Notify City Officials He Was Clearing Venice Beach Encampment, Councilman Says

An image of pedestrians at Venice Beach.
Venice Beach.
(Chava Sanchez
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Venice Beach has been a sanctuary for L.A.’s art lovers, tourists and entertainment. But as the homelessness crisis has grown there, some residents have become increasingly frustrated.

This week, the tension between unhoused and housed Venice Beach residents ratcheted up in a political battle between lawmakers and law enforcement.

Taking center stage were L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin, who represents the area, and L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva.

When it comes to law enforcement in Venice, the Los Angeles Police Department has long been the agency in charge. But this week, Villanueva dispatched deputies to Ocean Front Walk — tasking them with assessing the needs of those living along the boardwalk and trying to steer them towards available services.

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LAPD Chief Michel Moore told the Los Angeles Times that the sheriff had informed him that after a few weeks, deputies would start arresting people who refuse to leave their camps. On Monday Villanueva said he'd like the boardwalk cleared by July 4.

"The city of L.A. created this problem," Villanueva said Monday in Venice. "This is a failure of leadership from the very top."

Nearly two dozen sheriff's deputies and mental health clinicians patrolled the boardwalk Tuesday, talking to some of the dozens of people living in tents and makeshift shelters.

The move prompted outrage and a series of scathing tweets from Bonin, whose approach to addressing the issue of the unhoused has come under fire from community members who feel he's moving too slowly.

Bonin called Villanueva's actions a “roadblock” to progress, accusing the sheriff of exploiting the homelessness problem for personal political gain.

It was all just for show, Bonin said on our newsroom’s afternoon program, Take Two.

“No one was notified he was coming, he didn't coordinate with us or any of the service agencies,” said Bonin. “The sheriff came and disrupted that process and took credit for some of the work that agencies and local groups have already done when it comes to providing housing services."

He went on to say:

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“We're not saying turn these into campgrounds. We're saying bring in sanitation services and security to help get these people housed so the parks can be used by the general public too.”

Everyone needs to help address the problem, Bonin said.

“People ask me, 'Well, why not do it in South LA , do it in Watts , do it in Pacoima, or do it in Lancaster,' but the thing is that every part of the city needs to be part of the solution," he said. "And each of my colleagues are stepping up and every neighborhood in the city needs to be stepping up and we here on the westside need to be a part of that too."

Some frustrated residents have taken to social media to protest the situation under the Twitter handle, Venice Beach Boardwalk.

The account has logged a video archive detailing crimes allegedly committed by homeless people against pedestrians, bike riders, homeowners and others living on the beach.

Bonin said he understands the community members' frustration but says the only route to an equitable and long term solution is to work together.

“I think everybody wants the same thing," he said. "If you are housed and you don't like people outside your house and you are suffering disruptions as a result of that, or if you are unhoused and you are suffering living and dying on the streets, the common solution for both of those concerns is housing and sheltering people. That’s what we are fighting for.”