Debris and trash have become a fire hazard along the Venice Boardwalk

At 8 p.m. on Sunday night another homeless encampment went up in flames on the Venice Boardwalk, and residents fear that unless something is done to address the sprawling piles of possessions and trash many more dangerous fires will occur.

The fire was located at Wavecrest Ave. and Speedway and extinguished by LAFD task force 63 in under an hour. Fire personnel were able to prevent the billowing smoke and flames from spreading to nearby structures, unlike the Jan. 13 encampment fire which engulfed a vacant commercial building on the Boardwalk.

Longtime Venice Boardwalk resident Alexander Stowell said that the trash on the Boardwalk has been growing “exponentially” since last summer and now small fires occur a few times a week.

“It’s getting worse and worse and worse there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight,” said Stowell. “It’s the result of the local government deciding not to enforce 56.11 for virus reasons, but now those reasons are gone and we’re opened up. They’ve got to enforce 56.11 to get rid of the trash and those fires.”

In response to the outbreak of Covid-19 in March, Los Angeles City Council suspended the section of Municipal Code 56.11 requiring tents be taken down during the day. Then in April a judge issued a temporary injunction revoking the section of 56.11 that prevented homeless individuals from keeping over 60 gallons worth of possessions on the street.

As a result homeless encampments have largely been allowed to remain in place and there is no limit on the amount of possessions unhoused individuals can publicly store.

In Venice this has correlated with an extreme increase in the amount of trash and debris on the streets, most of which is concentrated around encampments by the Boardwalk, on Sunset Ave, Hampton Dr, Rose Ave, and Main St.

While enforced encampment clean-ups are not currently allowed, abandoned possessions and piles of trash can be legally removed. CD-11 Councilman Mike Bonin’s office is currently pursuing a policy of voluntary encampment clean-ups where items are taken when an unhoused individual is present to consent to their removal.

This effort has been unable to stem Venice’s growing trash crisis and, as a result, groups of residents have taken to cleaning the streets themselves.

“There’s tons of trash right around Google, it’s constantly overflowing and it’s just disgusting,” said local resident and volunteer Brennan Lindner. “I picked up great amounts of poop on my last clean-up; I literally had to carry a poop bucket.”

Linder helps coordinate the Venice Chamber of Commerce’s clean-ups, which is one of four regularly scheduled volunteer clean-ups occurring in the neighborhood.

Fifteen year Venice resident Cari Bjelajac, lives around the corner from Sunday night’s fire and has witnessed firsthand the nearby spike in trash and fires over the past year. When her son was recently injured in a car accident and temporarily placed in a wheelchair, she was unable to walk him down the sidewalk due to the clutter.

“I couldn’t even take him outside and walk around, because there is no accessibility for a wheelchair,” said Bjelajac. “Part of my dismay with all of this is we had to walk him in the street to get around certain obstacles. It was very frustrating.”

Bjelajac said she is highly sympathetic to the plight of the homeless and mentally ill and that she and many of her neighbors want to work to find solutions for the local homeless population. Their efforts to reach out to Mike Bonin’s office have been largely met with silence.

“As much as I’ve reached out to try to be a partner with CD-11’s office I don’t get the sense that they want to partner with me,” said Bjelajac. “It’s really difficult because I’m willing to put the time in to help address the issues in my neighborhood.”

Lindner has had a similar experience with CD-11’s office. He has reached out many times to try and find out when sanitation services and wire bin trash pick-ups are scheduled so that volunteers can coordinate their efforts accordingly.

“I can’t even get that information and it’s fine if it only happens once a week, but at least let us know so that we can plan and then if we need to assist them in some way, that would be great,” said Lindner.

Mike Bonin’s office did not respond to a request for comment.