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LAPD resumes enforcement to clear tents in Venice Beach

A man drags his bedding after a sweep of homeless encampments on the Venice Beach boardwalk on June 26.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

In an abrupt turnaround, Los Angeles police will resume enforcing a ban on homeless people pitching tents and lean-tos on the beach and grass areas around the Venice boardwalk.

On Wednesday, LAPD Chief Michael Moore emailed Venice homeowner and activist Mark Ryavec that he and Westside City Councilman Mike Bonin had decided police would not enforce an anti-camping law in Venice in light of concerns from health officials that displacing homeless people could spread the novel coronavirus.

But the next day, Moore said in a follow up email to Ryavec that Bonin had decided to leave the decision to the LAPD. Department officials chose to reverse course, saying officers will begin cracking down on camps on the sand immediately and those on grass areas after the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority has had a chance to find spots in shelters for people.

Ryavec, who heads Venice Stakeholders Assn., said the homeless people violated safety guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control by moving in over the last few weeks as the virus continued to spread.

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“All new arrivals have traveled from somewhere else so they are in violation of CDC guidance,” said Ryavec.

Lisa Redmond, a Catholic Workers homeless services volunteer, said homeless people are arriving in Venice in greater numbers in part because the city has recently revived a practice of conducting intensive cleanups of homeless encampments that commonly pop up around city homeless shelters. Redmond said a couple recently told her they left San Pedro for Venice after losing their belongings in one such cleanup.

“A lot of their items were all thrown away and they knew it was going to be consistently happening ,” Redmond said. “They need to have places for these people to go.”

And more homeless people have come to the area as the pandemic has cut off their usual sources of food and other services, Redmond added. “Local church volunteers stopped bringing food, but a lot of people would bring leftover catering food, food from film productions and office conferences. All of that stopped as well. “

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Ryavec said the city is doing “a terrible job” providing homeless people with shelter and housing, but added that it is leaving Venice “looking like a Third-World Gasoline Alley.”

LAPD Deputy Chief Justin Eisenberg objected to the notion police would be “clearing camps,” saying officers will ask people to take down their tents voluntarily and cite violators. Nightly counts in the area around the boardwalk tally about 50 tents, he said, and police have seen an increase in violent crime this month, including four shootings and a stabbing.

“It should be noted that encampment compliance and enforcement measures actually help achieve CDC guidelines in improving sanitary conditions and reducing bulk to allow for increased spacing,” Eisenberg said.

The Venice cleanup flap is part of a decades-long fight over how the city should deal with homeless encampments and the sanitation issues that arise in them. .

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Early in the pandemic, the City Council voted to stop requiring homeless people to drop their tents in the daytime, so they could shelter in place in adherance with orders aimed at slowing the spread of the virus. City officials since then have repeatedly assured critics that intensive camp cleanups in streets and parks had been largely suspended because they force homeless people to take their tents down and move out of the way for sanitation equipment, potentially exposing them to the virus.

But the hands-off approach was upended somewhat late last month, when the City Council voted to resume the aggressive cleanups around shelters.Councilmembers including Joe Buscaino, who represents San Pedro, said the streets were increasingly filthy and the city needed to fulfill its promise to keep additional encampments from forming around the shelters. Bonin voted against the measure.

Civil rights lawyers in April obtained a preliminary injunction barring the city from destroying homeless people’s large belongings without a warrant. And earlier this week, they filed a motion to hold the city in contempt for allegedly crushing and discarding a homeless person’s tent and violating notification rules during an August camp cleanup.


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