As the nation turns to Los Angeles for Super Bowl Sunday, about 70 homeless people have been camping overnight at Venice Beach. A recent string of fires associated with transients has residents fearful those fires will spread to neighboring homes or businesses if the city doesn’t enforce an existing curfew and overnight no-camping laws, Venice Neighborhood Council President Mark Ryavec told Fox News Digital.
Last summer, about 200 homeless people were cleared from the beach, but Ryavec said the estimated 70 who have remained are among the most dangerously drug addicted or mentally ill.
Los Angeles city leadership “didn’t finish the job,” Ryavec said. He argues law enforcement needs more resources and that those LAPD officers who come once a week to clear homeless campers from the boardwalk should be doing so at least two to three times a week to be effective.
“The police and other city agencies have made a valiant effort with too few resources. They’re only out there one night a week. And basically, the campers just play cat and mouse,” Ryavec said. “The police will tell them to leave, they’ll leave and then the police leave, and they come back. So, they’re never actually gone. And our concern is another major fire and one that might include the loss of life.”
An attorney for the Venice Neighborhood Council sent a letter to Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, City Councilman Mike Bonin, City Attorney Mike Feuer and other officials earlier this month warning that the city could be liable for millions of dollars in lawsuit payouts if a fire linked to overnight homeless encampments again spreads to homes or businesses.
It came after the one-year anniversary of a massive January 2021 fire. Flames from a homeless encampment jumped to an unoccupied building, and more than 100 firefighters were called in to put out of the blaze. The owner is suing the city of Los Angeles.
The letter, dated Feb. 4, pointed out how more recently transients set fires along the Venice Beach boardwalk last month. Two intoxicated people lit a cardboard box on fire on the boardwalk, igniting and destroying a park bench. The next night, two people lit 15 trash cans on fire along the boardwalk.
“Frankly, the city and the social service agencies created the problem by making it so attractive to live outside of Venice Beach,” Ryavec said. “You have the bathrooms open 24 hours. Now there are social service agencies that constantly are bringing down and giving away free food.
“They were handing out tents, they were handing out blankets. They even have a doctor from the local free clinic coming down. Some people prefer that to, you know, actually getting their own apartment.”
Last summer, after one homeless man allegedly attacked and murdered another with a machete inside the massive homeless encampment on Venice Beach, Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva brought in teams to start clearing out tents. His teams did good work for about a month, and according to Ryavec, “so embarrassed the city and the mayor and a council member that they were compelled to put together their own social service agencies and funding and housing vouchers.”
“The sheriff is the one that forced the city to act, and we’re very appreciative of him. He took a lot of flak,” Ryavec said, explaining city supervisors argued Villanueva did not have jurisdiction.
“Basically, during the pandemic, the mayor and the council person told the police not to enforce any of the existing laws, the curfew and the camping, anti-camping and tent laws. It was entirely a mindless decision because just relocating people or getting people to leave the beach is not going to spread COVID,” Ryavec added. “There was a tremendous acceleration in crime.”
Last week, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors moved to strip Villanueva of his enforcement powers after the sheriff said he refused to fire some 4,000 employees for not getting vaccinated.
LAPD cannot pick up or impound belongings from homeless people under city law, Ryavec said, so Garcetti over the summer hired more staff for sanitation crews and trucks to remove and store such items and place them in warehouses for people to claim within 90 days. That extra staffing has since been cut.
“The trouble is that they aren’t out there often enough so that the campers do not feel there is any risk of arrest or having their belongings confiscated,” Ryavec said. “What I’ve been leaning on the mayor’s office to do is to put those bodies, that staff, back out there with the police so that the homeless campers know that not only are you going to get a ticket and conceivably can get arrested, your stuff has gone into storage, and you’re going to have to go through some rigmarole to get it back.”
Tourists, meanwhile, remain on edge after a man visiting from Florida was shot in a leg while walking from the boardwalk back to his rental car with his girlfriend. Police said a group of men wearing black ski masks pulled up and demanded the male tourist hand over his Cartier watch. Ryavec described the area where the alleged violent robbery took place as “a real hot spot” for crime.
“There have been some gang members or ex-gang members who have identified that as a place to deal drugs and as a place to rob people,” he said. “This is not the first time at that location. I think there’s a perception among a certain criminal class that there are wealthy people there, and it’s easy in and out.”