Venice: Sheriff Alex Villanueva visited the Venice Boardwalk on Monday morning to share details on his plan to address the area’s homeless crisis. Clara Harter

In a break with jurisdictional tradition, L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva announced his intention to clear the Venice Boardwalk of its unhoused population by July 4.

According to Villanueva, in the coming days the Sheriff Department’s Homeless Outreach Service Team will be speaking with individuals experiencing homelessness on the Boardwalk to determine what resources they need to find shelter elsewhere.

Villanueva said his department will work with the LAPD and use several pathways to shelter individuals including Project Roomkey beds, City and County shelters, non-profit housing facilities and approved camping sites.

“We’re going to designate where people can pop up their tents, but it’s not going to be in the middle of a tourist destination destroying businesses,” said Villanueva. “This is not Venice. This is a horror show that’s been foisted on this community.”

Both crime and homelessness have spiked on the Boardwalk since the start of the pandemic, impacting the economic recovery of local businesses and spreading fear among residents.

Earlier on Monday morning a woman experiencing homelessness approached L.A. City Councilman Joe Buscaino with a knife while he was holding a press conference on the Boardwalk. On Sunday, an unhoused individual assaulted a 70-year-old street performer on the Boardwalk. And on June 3, a separate unhoused individual stabbed a security guard multiple times outside of the nearby Arbor Collective store.

Homeless outreach and enforcement in Venice is under the City of L.A.’s purview. Neither CD-11 Councilman Mike Bonin nor Mayor Eric Garcetti have announced a plan to address the situation on the Boardwalk where tents now number over 200.

“The City of LA created this problem; this is a failure of leadership from the very top all the way down. If I go there to the end of Santa Monica, I don’t see any tents,” said Villanueva, pointing to the end of the Venice Boardwalk where the string of tents abruptly ends.

Prior to the knife-wielding incident, Buscaino made a similar observation that morning saying, “Behind me in Santa Monica is common sense. Here in Venice is nonsense.”

Villanueva said that as the leader of the Sheriff’s Department he has the authority to address breaches of the peace in any area of the County, although traditionally his department has deferred to local authorities. He said he is confident in his ability to meet the July 4 goal of clearing the Boardwalk and is unfazed by those who believe he is overstepping his bounds.

“The people who say it’s not your jurisdiction are the very same people that are not getting the job done and now if I’m going to embarrass them, so be it,” said Villanueva.

The Sheriff’s Homeless Outreach Service Team has already begun speaking with the unhoused individuals on the Boardwalk.

“What we do is we connect everyone humanly possible with any outreach component that can help them better their lives,” said HOST Director Lieutenant Geoffrey Deedrick. “We’re kind of a collaborative bridge if you will.”

Deedrick said that during his team’s work on the Boardwalk so far, they have met people with a wide host of needs including mental health and substance abuse. He also said that many people reported traveling to Venice from out of state.

Venice has had a longstanding unhoused population on the Boardwalk. However, this population increased significantly during the pandemic when enforcement of no camping laws was relaxed to allow individuals to safely shelter in place.

Villanueva said he believes the tolerant attitude towards homelessness in Los Angeles is in part driving the number of people living on the City’s streets and that resuming enforcement is an essential part of addressing the crisis.

“We should have a higher expectation or quality of life here in LA County,” said Villanueva. “Yes, we have to be compassionate, but we also have to have some common sense and some tough love.”

Clara@smdp.com