by Edward Ring
When President Trump arrived in Los Angeles on Tuesday, he had a few words to say about the city’s homeless problem. “We can’t let Los Angeles, San Francisco, and numerous other cities destroy themselves by allowing what’s happening,” the president told reporters. “In many cases [building tenants] came from other countries and they moved to Los Angeles or they moved to San Francisco because of the prestige of the city, and all of a sudden they have hundreds and hundreds of tents and people living at the entrance to their office building. And the people of San Francisco are fed up, and the people of Los Angeles are fed up.”
In response, Mayor Eric Garcetti posted a video on social media in which he stated: “It is time for us to pause politics and not to demonize Americans who are on the street.”
Garcetti also warned the president that it’s not possible for authorities to “arrest their way out of the issue.” Instead, Garcetti would like “federal government aid to L.A. with surplus property or money to create additional shelters.”
But Trump better not release a dime of federal money until there’s a federal investigation that exposes how Los Angeles has wasted hundreds of millions on housing for the homeless in one of the most outrageous misuses of funds in American history.
To see just how ineffective homeless policy in Los Angeles has been to-date, and how Garcetti’s schemes will only destroy neighborhoods, wasting hundreds of millions of dollars, while doing nothing to solve the homeless problem, President Trump is invited to visit Venice Beach.
When you consider the population of homeless in Venice, estimated at around 1,000 people, you might not consider it to deserve the title “Homeless Hub of America.” You’d be wrong. Because what the Venice Beach homeless situation lacks in numbers, it makes up for in other ways.
First, consider Venice Beach itself, as opposed to the mean streets of downtown Los Angeles. If you want to sit on a warm beach all day, stoned on heroin and Xanax, or maybe just bask in an alcoholic stupor or savor a potent strain of weed, Venice Beach is for you.
In Venice Beach, you’re relatively safe. The well-heeled, clean-limbed residents aren’t going to form vigilante gangs and prey upon you. Quite the opposite. Most of them will look the other way, because they’re still struggling to reconcile compassion at any cost with reality.
In Venice Beach, the homeless can set up camp almost anywhere, and if this world class tourist destination is their choice, c’est la vie to those residents who’ve worked their entire lives to pay for the same privilege.
Bad Policies Exacerbate the Crisis
The fact that a place as beautiful as Venice Beach has been overrun with homeless people—with nothing the hard-working residents can do about it—is one reason it should be Exhibit A in the story of how bad policies have turned a manageable homeless challenge into an expensive, agonizing nightmare. But the corrupt, inept, utterly ineffective, shamefully self-righteous, scandalously hypocritical response of policymakers is what makes what’s happening in Venice Beach so exemplary.
The people interviewed for this article did not want their names used. The latest tactic the politicized homeless population of Venice Beach have adopted against anyone who objects to their presence is to have them “feceed,” that is, human excrement is deposited on their driveway, or at their doorway.
Once these homeless predators, networked by smartphones, find out where someone lives who has objected to their presence, watch out. These bold souls may expect a literal shit storm. One must ask: why don’t the police take a stool sample and save the DNA?
Then again, crime and punishment is different these days in California. Proposition 47, supported by an alliance of hardcore progressives and naïve libertarians, was passed in 2014. The measure was designed to eliminate “oversentencing.” In practice, that means if you steal anything worth less than $950, or if you make “personal use” of “most illegal drugs,” no matter how many times you are caught, you will face misdemeanor charges at best. Police call it the “catch and release” law.
Hello criminal. Hello drug addict. Welcome to Venice Beach, one of the most beautiful urban hotspots in the continental United States. Come on in. You don’t have to pay rent. You’re an “urban refugee.” Settle down. Do what you like. We can’t stop you.
YIMBYs and Other Useful Idiots
Not only are the residents of Venice powerless to stop criminals, drug addicts, drunks, and psychopaths from camping on their doorsteps, they are stigmatized as “NIMBYs” who lack compassion or awareness of their own privilege. Never mind how hard someone may have worked to live in an expensive and very beautiful neighborhood. It’s time to be “inclusive.” Shame on anyone who isn’t a YIMBY!
Behind pushing this narrative however aren’t the progressive activists, increasingly joined by their equally fanatical, equally delusional, libertarian allies. Those are just the useful idiots. This narrative of compassion at any cost is being pushed by powerful special interests who acquire power and profit from this game. After all, billions in taxpayer dollars are now being spent to help the homeless. But who gets most of that money? The middlemen.
Two projects planned for Venice Beach to help the homeless epitomize this scam, and justify its designation as the epicenter of homeless mismanagement gone wild. The first is a “temporary” shelter, a semi-permanent tent, which is being constructed on city owned property two blocks from the beach and boardwalk.
It is planned as a “wet” shelter, meaning any homeless person, no matter how deliriously wasted they may be, can stagger into this place and get a meal. If they’re really lucky, they’ll get a bed. Lucky, because while some 1,000 homeless people live in Venice Beach, this shelter will only have around 150 beds.
The cost? Some latest estimates put the total cost at $16 million, not including operating costs, nor including the value of the property, which could be sold for around $100 million. Imagine what could be done with that much money.
But this $16 million tent is nothing compared to the other project proposed to “help the homeless” in Venice Beach. Dubbed the “Monster on the Midway” by its detractors, this “permanent supportive housing” monstrosity will occupy 2.7 city-owned acres that are used currently for beach parking. It is in the heart of Venice, just one block from the beach.
Located amid one- and two-story residences and consuming the only parking area available to working families who stream to the beach after work and on weekends, this massive structure, planned to be up to five stories in height in some places, would house 140 units. Half of them will be offered to “artists” on low incomes, and the other half will be “permanent supportive housing” for homeless people.
And the cost?
Despite numerous public record act requests to city officials, the official estimate remains undisclosed. But similar homeless shelter projects in L.A. came in at a cost of between $430,000 and $750,000 per unit. The “Monster on the Midway” will almost certainly be in the $750,000 per unit range, for several reasons.
There is a high water table close to the beach. That, plus concerns about sea level rise affecting a structure so close to the shore, will compel extra work on the foundation. Also, the structure will be built to wrap 360 degrees around a parking garage in the center. This parking garage, unlikely to offer enough spaces to accommodate residents and visitors to the beach, will use an elevator—they call it “automated lift parking”—to deliver vehicles from the street level to the garage. Imagine the queues on North and South Venice Boulevard as people patiently wait to be hoisted up the car elevator. But why be practical?
If that weren’t enough, the structure actually will have to pass over the north end of one of Venice Beach’s scenic canals, completely covering a block of this historic amenity which is central to the identity of Venice Beach. Including the value of the property—the low estimate of the property value is $50 million—the “Monster on the Midway” will cost an estimated $155 million, which comes out to $1.1 million per unit.
But that isn’t the end of the story. For example, there is also the story of how developers who build “permanent supportive housing” are exempt from normal zoning laws including height limitations, density maximums, setback requirements, parking space minimums, and even compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act.
False Compassion Breeds Official Corruption
It’s important to review these incentives, because it clarifies exactly why Venice is the epicenter of America’s homeless mismanagement crisis. Not only are homeless people incentivized to become homeless—since there is minimal law enforcement permitted, they can migrate to a beautiful place and take over. And then, in a brutal inversion of fairness, the people who live there are vilified for objecting.
But what about the land developers and the powerful nonprofit organizations? They have an incentive to see morehomeless people. Because then they can build more structures that are exempt from the rules—justifiable or not—which govern all other construction.
Simple, very simple, math explains how preposterous—if not criminal—the situation in Venice has become. To house every one of Los Angeles County’s 60,000 homeless in the “Monster on the Midway,” or similarly expensive structures, would cost $66 billion. Got that? Just to provide “permanent supportive housing” to the existing homeless in Los Angeles.
That’s Eric Garcetti’s “vision.”
Perhaps the tone of this commentary lacks compassion for the homeless. That would be a fair criticism. But not adequately explained in most reports on the homeless population is that the majority of the allegedly 60 percent of them who are simply people down on their luck, who don’t use drugs or commit crimes, have found shelter. They either stay with friends, family, occupy legitimate campsites, or stay in existing shelters.
The majority of the homeless who stay on the street, on the other hand, are drug addicts, alcoholics, or mentally ill, along with criminals and bums. They need to be rounded up, sorted by affliction, and treated in cost-effective compounds. There are examples all over the world of well-managed tent cities that cost a minute fraction of what the “Monster on the Midway” will cost in Venice Beach. Put these compounds out in remote and inexpensive areas of Los Angeles County, and use the hundreds of millions in savings to offer humane treatment to these lost souls.
There is nothing compassionate about building million dollar apartments for a handful of homeless, condemning the rest of them to stay on the street. Venice Beach’s proposed Monster on the Midway, an out-of-place, oversized, sterile box with a veneer of architectural flourishes, is corruption incarnate. It must never be allowed to exist.
President Trump has a background in property development. He likes to build things. But he has enough common sense to know you can’t build a Trump Tower, with gilded faucets and cathedral ceilings, to house homeless people.
Before the federal government sends Mayor Garcetti any more money to help the homeless, it would be a good thing to expose this unforgivable waste of money and hold people accountable. We can hope President Trump will demand Garcetti build homeless accommodations that cost literally 1/100th as much per bed, and build them in weeks, not years, and locate them in low-cost areas of Los Angeles County, instead of on a world-class beach.
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Edward Ring is a senior fellow of the Center for American Greatness. He is a co-founder of the California Policy Center, a free-market think tank based in Southern California, where he served as their first president. He is a prolific writer on the topics of political reform and sustainable economic development. Ring, a fifth-generation Californian, has an undergraduate degree in political science from UC Davis, and an MBA in finance from the University of Southern California.