Some of us are no strangers to the struggles associated with actually caring about your neighborhood. Things don’t always go YOUR way. Communities are made up of different people. Different people have different ideas, opinions, priorities and concerns. We all can’t get our way. At some point you may have heard of a law that is so outdated or mundane you can’t believe it is still an active law. Laws change over time, but one thing you can count on when it comes to changing existing laws or creating new ones… the process is SLOW.
We have suffered a few blows this year with several laws relating to the homeless. Frustration has hit a boiling point between laws, rights and litigation that impact what The City of Los Angeles and LAPD can do to uphold and enforce things that impact our safety and quality of life. So guess what, scavenging for recyclables in garbage cans in The City of LA is against the law. Against the law! It is a crime. A law, on the books. You don’t get to decide, I don’t get to decide… it is a law – that is it. Do people scavenge every day? Is it THOUSANDS of dollars that should go to The City? Yes. Do some people think it is ok? Yes. Does law enforcement enforce that law? No. I hear some people call the police when scavengers go onto their private property and dig through their cans. I have never, ever heard of an arrest being made or a citation being written. So imagine if someone sued The City of LA because they don’t enforce that law, and the money from recycling the thousands of bottles and cans that should go to The City shouldn’t go to line the pockets of the scavengers that pick the items illegally. There is BIG money there and goodness knows The City could use it. Why isn’t there an uproar? Because nobody really cares apparently. My point is, sometimes given the scope of our resources – not everything gets enforced…even when some ask for it to be, and if just a few people care chances are nothing may ever happen. That is just how it is. Although technically LAPD could enforce that law, the care and concern of the citizens and the overall impact of what it would take away from other issues does not warrant it getting much attention. That is just one example.
When LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and Councilman Mike Bonin visited the Venice Beach Boardwalk Wednesday night, residents and business owners dished an earful about the homeless, the criminal transients, violent crime and those using Venice to hustle under the radar. Nearly every issue involved a lawsuit, which either impedes or stops LAPD or The City from maintaining effective management of a situation. For instance, asking for more officers to deal with the abundance of visible misdemeanor crime. The answer is “it isn’t a situation we can arrest our way out of” … meaning that arresting those people gets them off the street for a few hours, and they are right back out to do a crime again. The system doesn’t allow for the punishment for the crime to stop the crime from happening…. so a different approach is needed and sometimes the answer isn’t easily definable.
Let’s take camping at the beach. LAMC 63.44 has language regarding camping in the park. That is an existing law. BUT – a more recent lawsuit has allowed the homeless to have “personal belongings”. Well, what if those belongings are camping supplies? History has shown that a judge is not going to rule against another judges ruling especially when things are not specifically defined (i.e. vague) and are more recent that possibly old and outdated decisions, and they also recognize social trends. So given the most recent ruling, that the homeless are allowed to have belongings… the law will probably bend towards that favor. Given the litigious nature of the situation a more creative solution needs to be created… and the reality is maybe there is no remedy. Remember, The City of LA LOST the ability to clean up skid row based on health and environmental reasons – allowing the streets to be piled in stinky rotten squalor. A court decided that and also denied the appeal.
Although it was frustrating, Chief Beck and Mike Bonin suggested recognizing that we are going to have to realize the issues aren’t going to just go away with tickets and arrests. We are going to have to work WITH The City to figure it out. Pending litigation and existing laws have to be developed, generated, vetted, lobbied for and voted for to be put in place. That is a process that starts with us, migrates through the Council Office, develops into law…or doesn’t and is voted into place… NOT what anyone wanted to hear but that is the process. That is how our democracy works. No quick answers. Sometimes no right answers. To be specific, when it comes to The Jones Settlement The City already knows that if they meet the number of shelter beds required to meet the settlement… another lawsuit will be filed immediately because we still won’t have adequate space or facilities to house the homeless so not much will change. The homeless will be able to sleep in the streets for the foreseeable future until we (meaning the people who live in The City develop and vote for a new solution). Mind you, almost TEN years later The City wasn’t able to generate 1,250 shelter beds…so what would that reasonable magic number be? How would it be calculated? You see how complicated this is…
What has The City learned? Sometimes in order for things to change, we need to change. It is better to negotiate than to litigate (not every time but sometimes). We all want what we want… but the reality is we aren’t all going to get what we want. But maybe if we are all willing to compromise a little… we will move forward a little. The council office changes. LAPD command staff changes. Everything changes and sometimes you don’t make headway with one person but you eventually will with another. For instance, we wanted the bong shops off the beach. There is existing clear law that has to do with children, schools, how things are displayed and advertised…etc. Well, given the new lax laws regarding medical marijuana… we were advised that those laws trump the pre-existing laws about bongs and such… and those things are legal now. Although our focus was the influence of bad drugs on kids… overall because of legal uses we’d never win. Similarly efforts to form a BID in Venice have been attempted several times and they run out of steam for several reasons, usually because of hitting a legal roadblock that makes things just not work out given our local layout. But, new people come in with new creative angles of getting things done and all of a sudden things move forward again.
When lawsuits are filed… things STOP. My preference is to work with LAPD and work with The City Council, learn and compromise if I have to – and if it is something you really care about, prepare for a long fight. I have learned a tremendous amount asking questions and while the answers as to why some laws aren’t enforced are astonishing, at the end of the day the complicated reasoning winds up making sense, it just isn’t obvious unless you ask and take the time to understand. People sue The City every day. What has impacted Venice so much in the last year is existing law being undone because it is determined that people have rights, or that laws are vague. Creating defensible laws isn’t easy… but if you are going to sue The City of Los Angeles … at least put some strength behind your assertion that won’t be easily trounced by very recent, very strong rulings. You’d be better off putting your money towards a legal expert to write new laws. In the meantime….while litigation is pending… as history has shown any and all efforts surrounding the topic come to a complete halt.
So, while the spirit of recent lawsuits filed on behalf of “Venice residents” give the implication that people just aren’t going to accept conditions in our neighborhood anymore…. a lawsuit isn’t necessarily going to fix it. In fact, it just might make things a lot worse. The burning question stands, what will you do when you lose?
In LA, the trend is clear. If you want the cops to take the blight off the streets, YOU might have to provide a place for them to put it first. Figure that one out.