By Mark Ryavec
This might appear to be an odd question, but it has significant implications for the safety of residents and visitors in Venice.
Anyone who has lived here for the last three decades, as I have, knows that the weather we have been having is bizarre. Cool and rainy is the historical weather in winter and early spring. But since Jan. 1 we have had 18 days above 77 degrees and 10 days above 84 degrees. We hit 93 on March 14.
These conditions draw many of Los Angeles County’s 10 million residents to the beach to cool off, and a good proportion of them come to Venice. Estimates range from 11 to 16 million visitors annually. This causes a severe strain on public safety, one that is apparently not understood at the highest levels of the Los Angeles Police Department. It appears that Chief Charlie Beck and his management team do not accept that climate patterns have changed and that visitor flow to Venice has increased with it.
Two LAPD officers recently told me that on these very hot days they are “slammed” and cannot keep up with the situation. The huge increase in visitors requires that they focus on gang suppression, traffic violations, accidents, an increase in crime, more radio calls, etc.
This distracts them from enforcing quality-of-life ordinances that are important to residents, like the ban on open alcohol containers in public, harassment of residents, trespass on private property, public defecation and urination, drug dealing, illegal camping along Venice Beach and total blockage of sidewalks by transient encampments, a violation of the American with Disabilities Act. This is because enforcing these laws will usually take two officers off the beach for at least half a day to transport and book the offenders. The Beach Detail commander and officers have told me that officers cannot in good conscience be absent from Venice when the visitor numbers skyrocket.
The LAPD focus on visitors has other ramifications. For example, a plan to fully enforce the 12-5 am Beach Curfew and the ban on camping in the Venice Beach Recreation Area – including an LAPD presence in the Venice Beach Recreation Area (VBRA) at 4 am – is on hold due to the diversion of staffing to daytime hours. The result is that the VBRA continues to be a powerful magnet for transients from across the nation, including a percentage of criminals, mentally ill and the drug-addled. On a recent stroll along Venice Beach at
5 am I counted at least 26 people camping in tents, lean-tos or out in the open in sleeping bags. (Due to the poor lighting there may have been many more that I could not see.) It only takes one of these disaffected transients in a drugged-out state to lose it and someone gets hurt or killed, as we saw with the vehicle assault that left Italian newlywed Alice Gruppioni dead and 16 people injured on the Boardwalk less than two years ago. And as we witnessed just recently when a transient bit off the tip of the finger of Clabe Harley, the owner of the Cow’s End restaurant on Washington Boulevard. The transient had been harassing Harley’s customers. When Harley moved in to defend his customers, the transient attacked him – with his teeth.
As many Venetians know, Venice receives a summer compliment of about 35 additional officers starting with Memorial Day. (Some years ago, when there were several incidents of gang-related violence on the Boardwalk, the number was higher). The purpose of the additional officers is to cope with the huge increase in visitors drawn by warmer weather and school vacations. And to prevent gang conflicts that can quickly careen out of control and cause harm to innocent bystanders.
With the very hot temperatures we’ve been seeing, the LAPD should have followed the crowds and implemented demand staffing that automatically put additional officers in Venice when the temperature is predicted to go over 74 degrees.
Captain Nicole Alberca, the new commander of Pacific Division, told me recently that she had requested additional staffing for hot days but been told by LAPD headquarters to find the officers by reassigning within Pacific Division. But the visitors are largely from other parts of Los Angeles or the County’s other 87 cities, not from just Pacific Division.
If the increased summer staffing is to address the increase in visitors than logically Venice deserves the increase whenever the temps go over 74 degrees. There is even a good argument that County sheriffs should also be posted here since a large number of visitors are not from the City of Los Angeles but rather from other cities in the County of Los Angeles or from points farther away.
Captain Alberca acknowledged that when thousands of our inland neighbors seek relief in Venice from extreme temperatures, the LAPD presence is very thin in comparison with the size of the crowds and that attention to resident concerns suffers.
We have long passed the time that City and County leaders should have realized that Venice is the most popular, free recreational destination in Southern California and that it requires significantly more police resources from both the City and County whenever temperatures go up, which is now happening more frequently due to climate change.
Mark Ryavec is president of the Venice Stakeholders Association (venicestakeholdersassociation.org).