By Nick Antonicello
After years of neglect and outright incompetence when it came to the maintenance of Venice’s Oceanfront Walk by the City of Los Angeles, we see this drastic change in public policy as one of California’s great tourist destinations received this necessary face lift from a “slum by the sea” to this a once again functional destination for locals and tourists alike.
After allowing hundreds of make-shift encampments, tent structures and alike that littered the boardwalk like the bubonic plague, suddenly the City of Los Angeles took notice and like magic, a great majority of these crime and drug infested dens of inequity have miraculously disappeared!
While much damage has been done to the landscape of the boardwalk in terms of where these encampments formerly existed, this destination that was the delight of millions is finally rising off the canvas after this self-inflicted destruction that was allowed to occur for nearly three years!
And while the controversial and unpopular Councilman Mike Bonin, who created the crisis he seemingly wants to take credit for cleaning up, there are at least ten factors why the Venice Boardwalk finally got the maintenance attention it deserved and will continue to demand.
With killings, muggings and the drug trade out of control to say nothing of the destruction of a 6,000 square foot commercial structure, what really moved those in charge to finally do something?
Specifically, why did Councilman Bonin decide to start earning his $300,000 annual city income as the highest paid councilman in the United States?
The suppositions are numerous as this “why” question is asked by locals, but what really moved LA to finally act?
Here is my “check list” of why the destruction at the beach was no longer tolerable:
1. Local pressure by Venetians who demanded action. Mike Bonin could no longer come to Venice, much less engage constituents as his credibility had evaporated to new lows and was forced to act.
2. The threat of a second recall became real with much of the backing here in Venice from individuals like VNC member Nico Ruderman and community advocate Katrina Schmitt. This recall was not going away as the Recall Bonin 2021 effort is now closing in on some 10,000 signatures!
3. The loss of any credible support from his council colleagues and Mayor Eric Garcetti, whose political career went from presidential timber, cabinet possibility to now sweating a testy US Senate confirmation hearing! His confirmation is far from certain. More importantly, Bonin finds himself in a very obvious and singular minority of one when it comes to the issue of encampments and homelessness with the rest of the municipal council.
4. Joe Buscaino comes to Venice. When Councilman Joe Buscaino (CD-15) decided to launch his mayoral kick-off at Venice, it became obvious that rampant homelessness, rising crime and the deterioration of our quality-of-life could not be on better display then at Venice Beach at a 7am morning press conference that saw the retired cop attacked by a female transient who was waving a hunting knife and Buscaino had to be whisked away!
5. The Sheriff comes to Venice. The presence of LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva no doubt shook Team Bonin at their core as they now had to contend with the county’s top elected law enforcement officer who was independent of the LAPD and has the resources, manpower and will to change the course of the homeless issue here at the beach. Bonin’s response was political and typical, but the Sheriff’s new involvement brought additional pressure on Bonin as well as a storm of bad publicity that he could no longer ignore. Sheriff Villanueva is the prime force behind the clean-up of the boardwalk.
6. National & International media attention exposes Bonin’s inability to solve the problem. Since the LA Times largely ignored the issue for years, it was national broadcast media on the plight and blight of Venice that appeared in the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, FOX News, ABC, NBC and CBS and shined a light on a homeless debacle that could no longer be white washed!
7. Soledad Ursua. The fiercely independent VNC community officer and chair of the influential Public Safety Committee, Soledad became a one-man wrecking crew when it came to media coverage both locally and nationally as she persevered in promoting this story of what was happening to Venice. Goes to show one individual who is smart and aggressive and most importantly unafraid can make a big difference in the lives of people as a volunteer because she cares.
8. A Boardwalk in Crisis. Take rampant homelessness and rising crime and add a two-year raging pandemic and the result is the shuttering of local retailers who closed in droves and many will not return. The fact is the boardwalk was becoming a ghost town and the only way to bring back the tourists was to remove the encampments so that commerce and a crime-free environment can return.
9. The Influence of Outside Agitators Backfires. Not-for-profit bureaucrats and outside political agitators who have no standing with locals tried to control the conversation and narrative when in fact this strategy backfired and woefully so! Those who live here had enough and the rhetoric of “right is now wrong and wrong is now right” fell upon deaf ears. The boardwalk is a tourist destination that was being decimated by radical thinking and politics that has no place here at the beach. Locals rose up and had enough. Crime and encampments were overwhelming Venice as a community!
10. The Time had Come, Enough was enough and Action was required. People with drug and alcohol issues, mental challenges and alike cannot live in make shift structures with no support or hope. No one wants to live in fear and squalor. A problem that had spun out of control had to be addressed. Intense media interest at all levels coupled with law enforcement intervention that was welcomed and greeted by just about everyone except Mike Bonin became painfully obvious that the time to clean up this moral mess was now as other communities believed what happened to Venice will happen in the neighborhoods of Westchester, Pacific Palisades, Brentwood and Mar Vista.
For now the boardwalk has been somewhat resuscitated, out of this induced coma implemented by the failed policies of Mike Bonin. But what will happen next and where is the commitment to continue to clean things up?
For that is a political question that needs to be answered by those who won’t dare give Mike Bonin the opportunity to destroy our community values again.
The author is a member of the Outreach, Parking and Oceanfront Walk Committees of the Venice Neighborhood Council (www.venicenc.org). Antonicello can be reached at (310) 621-3775 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor’s Note: The current total of signatures gathered is over 60% as of press time.