But a public discussion about moving the homeless storage bins from behind the beach paddle tennis courts set off alarms among some residents. Bonin appeared before the Venice Neighborhood Council to calm things down after rumors that a senior center on Westminster Avenue was being converted into a homeless shelter.

"Venice is a place where controversy is close to the surface," Bonin said later.

He also angered advocates for the homeless by telling the Los Angeles Police Commission that people in Venice were afraid of transients.

Protesters at a Martin Luther King Jr. weekend "sleep-in" for homeless rights responded with T-shirts emblazoned, "I am house-free in Venice and I am not afraid."

During the recent morning patrol, Skinner pointed out toppled shopping carts and piles of trash left behind by encampments and public meals. But there was also a man named Al who swept his spot clean outside the planned Google site, saying: "Even though I'm in the streets, I like to be neat."

Some of the "unhoused" accuse police of harassing them with petty tickets they can't pay. "They're trying to get us so frustrated to move us out," said Gregory "Buddha" Gussner, a 1985 Venice High School graduate.

Others say police protect them from predators.

"They're humanitarians," said one homeless man trudging down the boardwalk.

Last weekend, Bonin announced stepped-up police patrols along the boardwalk in response both to complaints from businesses and some high-profile crime, including the December beating of a homeless man.

Also at Bonin's request, the city started cleaning the boardwalk twice a month, hauling unattended belongings downtown. Under another court order, the city must store the property for 90 days but will return it if the owner asks.

"They come in hazmat suits, like some bad movie," said Roberto Luis Santana, 52, an actor. "Those monies should be put into funds for housing for people."

Bonin too wants to see more housing, with medical and mental health services, to help homeless people reenter society.

But U.S. Housing and Urban Development vouchers are frozen, and the city added only 771 permanent supportive housing beds last year.

"Looking to the city to solve homelessness is like asking your plumber to rewire your house," Bonin said.

Google has given grants to Venice homeless agencies. When the tech giant moves into the new facility complex, police expect the homeless will scatter, then turn up somewhere else.

"We'll never make enough arrests or write enough tickets to get rid of homelessness," Skinner said.

gale.holland@latimes.com