Sheriff Villanueva maintains he is doing the right thing by intervening in Venice to take action on the Boardwalk's homelessness crisis

The fists are out between L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva and City and County electeds over who has the authority over and correct approach to Venice’s homelessness crisis.

The fight centers around the Venice Boardwalk, where an estimated 200 unhoused individuals are living and violent crime is surging. The area is under LAPD and the City of L.A.’s purview, but Villanueva has decided to intervene citing a moment of crisis that politicians are failing to address.

This week Villanueva dispatched sixteen deputies and eight mental health workers to find out what resources unhoused Boardwalk residents need to transition to a new living space. Villanueva calls for a complete clearing of the Boardwalk by July 4 and announced his desire to work with the LAPD on enforcement measures.

CD-11 Councilman Mike Bonin is displeased. 

On Monday morning he released a 15 post Twitter blitz lambasting the track record of Villanueva’s administration and calling him “a roadblock to progress”. Bonin said that as Councilman he is personally working to offer housing and services to hundreds of people living on the street whereas Villanueva is “exploiting” the crisis and not offering “actual help.”

On Wednesday morning Villanueva clapped back.

“We’re taking action and apparently Councilman Bonin had a meltdown on social media,” said Villanueva during an impromptu press conference held on Facebook. “The point is this Mike: if you did your job, I would never be in Venice.”

Villanueva also drew sharp criticism from L.A. County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, whose district includes Venice.

“His intervention is essentially counterproductive, disrupting, and then taking credit for, ongoing efforts to provide the housing and services necessary to address the crisis in Venice,” said Kuehl in a statement released on Wednesday afternoon. 

Kuehl denounced Villanueva for not collaborating with the LAPD or providers already working on the Boardwalk.

In the Facebook press conference Villanueva explicitly criticized Kuehl and other LA politicians for “handcuffing” LAPD’s enforcement power and creating an “anarchic” situation on the Boardwalk.

“Under anarchic situations the void is filled by people who are going to break the law, they’re going to harm residents, they’re gonna destroy businesses, and they’re going to drive the economy into the toilet, which was already struggling to recover from the pandemic,” said Villanueva. “And all you can complain about is why is there a sheriff there.”

LAPD reports that crime has indeed skyrocketed in the Boardwalk area of Venice. Over the past year, robberies are up 177 percent, assaults with deadly weapons are up 116 percent and burglaries are up 85 percent.

Kuehl did not address rising rates of crime in her statement, but did attribute the increase in homelessness to the pause on disrupting encampments during the pandemic, which was mandated in accordance with CDC guidelines. 

“Like many County residents, and my LA City college Councilman Mike Bonin, I am frustrated that the pandemic has temporarily set back some of our progress re-housing people experiencing homelessness,” said Kuehl, adding that outreach efforts would now be ramping up as the public health threat recedes. 

For many Venice residents an upcoming ramp up is too late and Villanueva’s immediate action is welcome. Representatives from local organizations SHARE! housing and Friends of the Venice Boardwalk have praised the steps taken by LASD this week to assist unhoused individuals living on the Boardwalk.

Kuehl said that law enforcement led strategies are often less effective than those led by service providers and that the County and City’s approach to homelessness is “supported by volumes of research”.

The elephant in the room is the number of unhoused individuals who have travelled from out of state over the past year specifically to live on Venice Beach — a subject that both Bonin and Kuehl are hesitant to acknowledge, but Villanueva has been very vocal about. 

“We’re coming across a large number of people out of state that are descending on the strand (Boardwalk), just to enjoy the free services and the weather,” said Villanueva. “LA cannot be the receiving body for the entire nation’s homeless.”

Villanueva also took swings at Supervisor Holly Mitchell, the People’s City Council, and the LA Democrats during his press conference. 

On Tuesday the LA County Democratic Party issued a resolution standing in solidarity with the family of Andres Guardado and calling for Villanueva to resign. Guardado was shot in the back and killed by a Deputy Sheriff from LASD in June, 2020.

Villanueva accused the LA Democrats of seeking to “capitalize on a tragedy” and that they were a group of wealthy Westsiders who do not accurately represent the Democrats of Los Angeles.

Clara@smdp.com