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Bathrooms and storage: Debating Venice's plans to help the homeless




The boardwalk at Venice Beach, Calif.
The boardwalk at Venice Beach, Calif.
ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

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In an effort to quell the burgeoning homeless population in Los Angeles and specifically Venice, Westside Councilman Mike Bonin is proposing a plan to allow round-the-clock bathroom and storage access for the homeless.

The plan outlines several sites to be converted into facilities for the homeless. Among other things, it would open the bathrooms at Venice Beach all day and night and reopen the Westminster Senior Center on Pacific Ave. to become restrooms and storage for the homeless. There’s also a provision to turn a city-owned parking lot on N. Venice Blvd. into housing for the homeless and public parking.

Councilman Bonin and Venice Stakeholders Association president Mark Ryavec joined Larry to share their thoughts on how this proposal addresses the homeless problem in Venice and around Los Angeles.

Interview Highlights

If you have restrooms unlocked at night in Venice Beach, how are you going to keep people from living in them?

Bonin: The bathroom question is one I’m going to be duking out in the city budget process this year because it’s going to cost more to have them open later for security, for maintenance, for cleanliness and stuff like that. What I should say, though, is that I lived a block and a half from Venice Beach for 18 years. The number of times I looked out my back window and saw someone urinating on my building…and it wasn’t homeless people, it was tourists. This is about giving anybody an opportunity a place to go to the bathroom.

But will it be able to be used for that as opposed to people moving into it to sleep overnight and get out of the elements?

Bonin: The bathrooms in Venice Beach are actually tall and small, so it’s not a space you could actually lie down in.

What do you think about 24/7 bathroom access, Mark?

Ryavec: This has been proposed by homeless advocates in Venice for many years and has been roundly rejected by the residents and the business community. One of the things [Councilman Bonin] has not spoken to in this proposal is that to allow anyone to use the beach restrooms in Venice overnight will require that he roll back the beach curfew from 12-5 a.m., otherwise someone will be subject to citation or arrest if they step across the boardwalk and out to those beach restrooms. We are opposed to relaxing the beach curfew because it’s the only enforcement mechanism that has some proactive effect at cutting down on camping on boardwalk and along the beach and also on the crime that was associated with those bathrooms being open.

What if there are attendants on duty around the clock?

Ryavec: It’s unrealistic to think the city is going to pay someone to be there overnight for each one of those restrooms. I think that’s a ridiculous cost. Our organization continues to believe putting in restrooms is simply more enablement and will make it harder to get people off the street. 

Many of the belongings to be stored in the old senior center will probably be dirty or smell bad. Is there a proposal to clean those belongings? 

Bonin: The city has had a phenomenal program for the past few years downtown run by Chrysalis, which employs people who are formerly homeless, and they’ve had a very successful storage program down there. Yes, it involves some cleaning and it also involves some intake into our coordinated entry system to get folks into services and housing. 

Mark, what about converting the old Westminster Senior Center?

Ryavec: We’re particularly opposed, as are the residents in the area, to turning the Westminster Senior Center into storage. That area has been a crime generator for years because of the homeless people camping there. The cops in the last year or so have cleared it and really gotten the crime there under control. What [Councilman Bonin] is proposing to do is to bring back a couple hundred people who would constantly be coming to check in their stuff or get stuff out of there. We’ve identified another site in an industrial zone that’s very nearby where the city could rent a warehouse space and accomplish the same storage without forcing it right on the residents.

What about the loss of parking that would come from converting city-owned parking lot into housing and how would that housing work?

Bonin: There wouldn’t be any loss of parking. The proposal is to build the housing over parking, so there will be no net loss. There could, perhaps, be a gain in parking. There won’t be encampments, it’s going to be housing. We have some beautiful examples in my district. Del Rey, for example, has three or four different projects and folks don’t even know they’re there or that they’re homeless housing because they blend in. 

Are you concerned that, with Venice creating these supports for homeless residents, it will attract more homeless to Venice?

Bonin: I’ve heard people say that. It fails to acknowledge that what we’re doing in Venice is a city and county-wide strategy. We’re going to be doing this in lots of other places. A couple of my colleagues are talking about storage in their districts. We’re going to be building housing on city-owned properties throughout the city, so that magnet effect isn’t going to happen if this happens everywhere else in the city. I just happen to be the first one out of the gate because the problem is so big in my city and inaction just makes things worse.

What's your sense of the source of Venice's homeless?

Ryavec: I disagree with [Councilman Bonin] about why we have so many homeless in Venice. It’s because of a very attractive combination of sun, beach, drugs, all the fast food outlets, and almost no enforcement of existing laws down there. I’ve had a long relationship with The Teen Project down there and the LAPD homeless task force. The staff at both those organizations will tell you that a significantly large number of the homeless population in Venice Beach, unlike elsewhere in L.A., are from out of state or certainly out of L.A. It’s a Mecca, particularly for young people, coming to live this vagabond lifestyle and engage in a lot of drug activity and partying. Venice  is being expected to carry burden of these folks, which is often very heavy when you’re thinking of home invasion, assaults, public defecation and urination, intimidation. There are a lot of folks who live in Venice that aren’t comfortable going out on the boardwalk.

Note: This interview has been edited for clarity.

Guests:

Mike Bonin, Los Angeles City Councilman representing Council District 11, which includes Venice, West Los Angeles, Brentwood, and Pacific Palisades

Mark Ryavec, president of the Venice Stakeholders Association