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Concerns Growing As Encampment Expands On Venice Boardwalk

VENICE (CBSLA) — A recent fire and explosion at the encampment on the Venice boardwalk was captured on cell phone video, but it was not the first time a tent has gone up in flames.

But this time, witnesses said they saw a man throw something into the tent before the flames erupted, nearly injuring three people standing nearby.

"So, we have complete lawlessness here in Venice," a resident who did not want to be named said.

That resident's home security camera has captured what he called a year of mayhem — a building fire one block away and tent fire after tent fire.

"We've also had an armed robbery right outside of our window of a parking lot attendant," the resident said. "And I've seen young girls go and trade their shoes for God knows what at tents."

And while residents like Brian Averill, who is on the Venice Neighborhood Council, said they're encouraged by the recent cooperation between the county and the city to get people living on the boardwalk into housing, they also said the situation has become untenable.

"I mean, I don't know if you've walked the boardwalk recently, but it's like a Third World country at this point," Averill said.

He said the efforts need to be accelerated now that the economy is opening up and crowds are returning to the oceanfront.

"Horrible things are gonna happen," he said. "And I don't mean to fear monger. That's just from being out there all the time and not wanting to see this happen."

Councilman Mike Bonin pointed to a new Los Angeles Fire Department fast-response unit dedicated to the oceanfront walk and several housing projects opening up and in the works.

"If you're dealing with the negative consequences of encampments, there's two ways to deal with this, right," he said. "Arrest those who are committing crimes — whether it's robbery, or arson or anything else — arrest them.

"But the core issue, the one that I have to power to do something about is to try to bring resources to get people off the street," he continued. "And we have been getting lots of people off the street, but people are becoming homeless faster than we're housing them."

Bonin said he knows the efforts are not nearly enough to properly address the issue, but he said more help was on the way.

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