By Mark Ryavec, president of the non-profit Venice Stakeholders Association
Last week our Venice Stakeholders Association (VSA) filed an appeal in our lawsuit against the City and County of Los Angeles for their maintenance of a public nuisance and dangerous conditions along the Venice Boardwalk and beach. In the suit the Stakeholders contend that these conditions deprive residents of the quiet and safe enjoyment of their homes and the Venice community of the safe use of the Venice Beach Recreation Area.
Judge Gregory Alarcon had sided late last year with the VSA against the City’s and County’s motions for summary judgment. However, when the City and County appealed his decision our organization did not file a legal brief at the appellate level due to the advice of several attorneys that such requests for a “writ of mandate” are rarely granted. Unfortunately for Venice residents, this was one of the rare cases in which that maxim did not hold up.
At that point in January we reached out to the City and asked Councilman Bonin if he would meet with us on behalf of the City to address our concerns about noise, crime, burglaries, trespass and the inability of the public and residents to enjoy many areas along the Boardwalk that have been taken over permanently by transients and vendors.
Mr. Bonin did not reply to our invitation.
This is the opposite tack from that taken by his predecessor, the late Councilman Bill Rosendahl. When we first considered filing a public nuisance lawsuit several years ago, Bill immediately asked then-City Attorney Carmen Trutanich to meet with us to see if the City could address our concerns. We had several discussions with the City Attorney’s staff and the result was that the City Attorney led several City departments, along with the council office (where Bonin was the chief deputy), in an effort to improve public safety along the Boardwalk. This included the installation of new signage that banned camping along the Boardwalk and beach and highlighted the 12 to 5 AM beach curfew. This was followed by renewed enforcement of the camping ban and beach curfew by the LAPD as long as Rosendahl was in office.
When it became evident in 2014 under the new regime of Bonin, Mayor Eric Garcetti, City Attorney Mike Feuer and Supervisor Sheila Kuehl that the City and County were not enforcing “no camping” and “no storage” laws and noise limits in the Venice Beach Recreation Area, we met with City Attorney Feuer. In the course of the meeting we told him that we were contemplating a public nuisance lawsuit. Unlike Mr. Trutanich and Bill Rosendahl, who headed off our lawsuit by ramping up City enforcement, Feuer said, “Well, it’s your right to sue.” So, we did.
Today the contrast between the City’s and County’s lack of enforcement along the Boardwalk compared to other parks continues to be striking. As we pointed out three years ago, many areas of Venice Beach are covered by tons of private possessions of both vendors and transients, while the park next to City Hall DTLA is kept in pristine condition. The same laws that govern the City Hall park govern Venice Beach, and were employed to remove Occupy LA from the front of City Hall a few years ago. But under the current authorities, little is enforced here in Venice. In fact, residents who live along the Boardwalk and walk streets have told me that the situation has deteriorated in recent months.
The City has recently amended two ordinances, LAMC 63.44, which now significantly limits what can be taken into a park in the day and requires that every item leave a park at night, and LAMC 56.11, which reduces what can be stored on a sidewalk, gives the City latitude to remove bulky items, and shortens the notice period. However, there has been no move to enforce these new laws in Venice, a failure I attribute to Mr. Bonin. If there had been, this might address some of the issues raised in our suit, and lead to fruitful negotiations with the City. But again, Bonin has not returned our call.
The law under which we brought the case is the same law the City Attorney uses to close down crack dens and other buildings that generate crime and activities which are a nuisance to neighbors. Certainly the Boardwalk, as an elongated drug emporium and crime generator, is a public nuisance the City Attorney would move to close if it was in private hands. The City’s and County’s failure to enforce their own laws against drug sales, camping, tents, noise, public inebriation, defecation and urination, and storage of private property on park land all contribute to the erosion of residents safety and quiet enjoyment of their homes.
In their appeal of Judge Alarcon’s initial decision to dismiss their motions for summary judgment, the City and County did not dispute that their lack of enforcement caused the public nuisances that residents constantly experience. Instead, they pointed to municipalities’ “prosecutorial discretion;” i.e., their right to decide what laws to enforce and when to enforce them. Without a legal brief from us rebutting this claim, the Appellate Court gave Judge Alarcon a choice of letting us belatedly submit a legal brief opposing the City and County’s position or dismissing the case. He chose the latter, which set up our right to appeal the entire case to the Appeals Court, known as a “de novo” review. Instead of just appealing the narrow issue of prosecutorial discretion we will be trying the entire case before the Appeals Court.
The case will probably be heard late this summer. Donations to the legal fund are welcome and can be sent to the VSA at 1615 Andalusia Avenue, Venice, CA 90291.