By Mark Ryavec
What can we learn from the tragic death of 29-year-old Brendon Glenn, a beach dweller shot to death in a confrontation with police officers in front of the Townhouse bar on Windward Avenue on May 5?
Well, first that Brendon was yet another traveler, from Troy, New York, who was attracted to the easy life of sun, panhandling, and booze on the Venice Boardwalk. Since the homeless all have cell phones and occasionally laptops, too, the message that it’s all a great party here in Venice is constantly circulating coast to coast.
Next is that Brendon was a troubled young man, struggling to find a job while still in the grip of an alcohol addiction. He told his counselor at the Teen Project on Windward the day he died that he had started drinking at 11 am.
While all his friends on the Boardwalk are quick to remark on his friendliness, he was combative that night, getting into a physical altercation with the doorman at the Townhouse before the police tried to restrain him.
Some want to read the shooting as part of the larger national portrait of police violence towards Black men. I see it within the continuum of violent incidents stemming from the lawless, “Lord of Flies” atmosphere along the Boardwalk and elsewhere in Venice.
Here in our beachside community a supposedly civilized society allows 741 homeless people – the unofficial count from earlier this year – to live on the town’s parks, streets, and alleys and does almost nothing about it.
The result is ugly and shows the dysfunction of our city and county governments which have for too long been more focused on the care and feeding of its employees than meeting its core mission, which is the care of its residents and the indigent.
Let’s tally the victims of this neglect since just August 2013, less than two years.
A transient living in his car in Venice takes offense to a drug deal gone bad on the Boardwalk and mows down 17 pedestrians with his car, killing Alice Gruppioni, an Italian visitor in Venice on her honeymoon. The driver is now on trial.
A transient is caught on CCTV beating the crap out of another beach dweller with a chair.
In April of last year a young mother and two children barely escape a home invasion at 4:30 am on Horizon as the homeless invader breaks through a glass door pane, covers their apartment in blood from his cuts and in his PCP rage pulls two bolted sinks off the wall of the bathroom.
Over several months four more home invasions follow within six blocks of the Horizon break-in, committed by campers living along Venice Beach.
In October of 2014 a transient sleeping on a walk street attacks Robert DiMassa because Robert’s service dog had urinated near where the transient was sleeping. The damage to DiMassa was two broken ribs, severe abrasions on his legs, two black eyes and a bloodied lip. The culprit was never caught.
Then, in an incident similar to the events that took Brendon Glenn’s life, a transient went into the Cow’s End and demanded money from the patrons. The owner, Clabe Hartley, asked him to leave, and the fellow attacked Clabe, wrestled him to the floor and bit off his finger tip.
In Brendon’s case, he was harassing Townhouse patrons and passersby and the doorman tried to back him off. One report says he had earlier gone into the bar to panhandle and been evicted by the doorman. Later Brendon picked a fight with the doorman, which led to the police getting involved.
What’s the common denominator in all these incidents? The instigator was homeless (and most were white).
There is more to learn from all of this.
Why are there so many homeless in Venice and what’s being done to help them get off the street?
Well, the sunshine helps bring them here from all over the nation. (That’s why many of us are here, too.) Then there’s a slew of short-sighted court decisions and legislation that makes it much easier to live out in the open in California, and in Los Angeles in particular. This is compounded by a squishy, homeless-loving City Attorney, Mike Feuer, who had advised the LAPD to not enforce the City’s “no camping, no camping equipment and no encampments” rules (which are enforced in other city parks like the one next to City Hall).
Then there is the time honored tradition of giving complete responsibility of any area in the City to the councilmember (in this instance Mike Bonin). The result is that the Mayor and City Council have washed their hands of any responsibility for Venice despite it being a phenomenal tax generator for the City and the primary park/beach destination in Los Angeles. For example, Griffith Park has fewer visitors and yet gets park rangers, but not Venice. A recent proposal by the Venice Neighborhood Council to add a Recreation and Parks Department superintendent, accountable for management of the Venice Beach Recreation Area, to the City budget was ignored by Mayor Eric Garcetti.
At the recent LAPD community listening session on the shooting there were two notable absences: Mayor Garcetti and L.A. County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl. Their absence is also reflected in the dearth of City and County services. Other than the $350,000 that the County gives to the St. Joseph Center annually to focus on moving the 40 homeless most likely to die on Venice streets (or parks) to housing and services, there is no County or City financial support to provide any relief to the other 700 homeless folks living here (other than meager general relief which some receive). There are no counselors from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, who can arrange housing for our homeless. There is no funding for the Teen Project, which must depend on donations. There is no funding for People Helping the Homeless (PATH), which provided critical services and housing to the homeless when Bill Rosendahl was councilman.
So, Venice continues to be abandoned, with just a few LAPD officers to contain the uncontainable. The situation reminds me of Los Angeles’ early years as a wild, ungoverned frontier outpost. And as everyone knows, people get harmed or killed fairly easily in such an environment.
Mark Ryavec, a 29-year resident of Venice, is president of the Venice Stakeholders Association, which is suing the City and County of Los Angeles for maintaining a dangerous public nuisance along the Venice Beach Recreation Area.