By Mark Ryavec
Recently our phlegmatic City Attorney, Mike Feuer, brought another injunction to close yet another crack house, this one in Watts. The basis of the injunction is that six people died in 12 shootings connected to the house, and four people have been arrested and 10 guns seized there in just the last year. The Los Angeles Times estimates Feuer has brought legal action to shutter three dozen similar residences that constitute dangerous public nuisances since he was elected two years ago.
However, given the opportunity to curtail Venice’s huge coastal drug emporium, otherwise known as the Venice Beach Recreation Area (VBRA), and the crime it generates, Feuer has chosen to fight his own constituents to keep it open and the drugs flowing.
If the police were to tally up the crimes committed in the VBRA or by people who camp there, the sheer number would far surpass those of any drug den closed down by Feuer.
In just two years the lawless, drug-fueled strip of grass and sand has repeatedly produced physical assaults on residents (and the homeless themselves), assaults by vehicle leading to death and multiple injuries, home invasions, burglaries, trespass, harassment, vandalism, excruciating noise violating the City noise ordinance, and endless public inebriation, urination, and defecation. This is not to mention the easy availability of cocaine, heroin, PCP, ecstasy, “bath salts,” and methamphetamine.
The opportunity to abate these noxious, illegal, and occasionally lethal acts arose in the context of the civil lawsuit the Venice Stakeholders Association (VSA) brought last fall against the City and County of Los Angeles for their maintenance of a dangerous public nuisance along the Boardwalk.
While the City owns the land, the County has a long-term lease to the areas west of the bike path and the parking lots, from which it derives considerable income to support beach maintenance and lifeguards.
The law that the Association is using requires owners (or a lessee in the case of the County) to abate nuisances emanating from their property that cause harm to residents and prevent them from “the quiet enjoyment of their homes.” This is the same law Feuer is employing to close down gang/drug hangouts elsewhere, such as the one in Watts. (It is also the same law that Westchester residents employed to force LAX to either purchase their properties or soundproof them against the noise caused by flights into the airport.)
Earlier this year when a group representing homeless individuals sought to intervene in the case, Mr. Feuer’s deputies and County Counsel, the attorney for the County, contacted the VSA and asked us to meet with them to discuss a settlement of the suit. In the course of our meeting we proposed a series of actions that we believe would largely abate the nuisances that residents have been experiencing for years. The City and County took the proposals under consideration.
Shortly thereafter the judge accepted our attorneys’ argument that the homeless advocates intervention in the case would open the litigation up to matters not outlined in our complaint and was thus not permissible. Once the potential for a much broader legal battle with lawyers representing the homeless was avoided, the City and County returned to legal fisticuffs instead of returning to the negotiating table.
So, the VSA and the five residents who are named plaintiffs in the case have had to make the time to answer interrogatories (hundreds of questions posed in legalese), search for documents and receipts and correspondence long hidden away in storage boxes, answer mind-numbing questions in day-long depositions, and raise tens of thousands of dollars to keep our own attorneys on the job.
Ironically, we are waging this fight against the legal departments of the City and County, which are funded in part by our tax dollars.
We are doing it because the situation along the Boardwalk is neither safe, tolerable nor moral. We are doing it because the City has shown, by its removal of the Occupy LA encampments from the park next to City Hall, that it has the legal and enforcement capability to remove the campers and return Venice Beach to use by the broad public, not transients who come from all over the nation to this spot because of the extreme laxness of enforcement by both the Department of Recreation and Parks and the LAPD. We are doing it because the County has the legal responsibility – and the dollars – to counsel and offer housing or return to family in their hometowns for the hundreds of individuals living on Venice Beach.
So, I have ask, Mr. Feuer, are you really so anti-resident that you will continue to fight us over our reasonable demand that our park be just as clean and safe as the park you and other City employees enjoy every day next to City Hall?
Mark Ryavec is the president of the Venice Stakeholders Association.