Federal bailout requested for restrooms overrun by homeless, fires in Venice Beach
California Democrat lawmaker Ted Lieu is requesting that the House provide funds to restore restrooms in Venice Beach that controversially cost over $2 million to build in 2021. Credit: @DyingVenice via X
A proposed $4.8 million federal bailout to clean up the public restrooms on the iconic Venice Beach boardwalk is drawing criticism from some residents who say the money will be wasted until the root issues of homelessness and drug dealing are addressed.
Mark Ryavec, president of the Venice Stakeholders Association, characterized the state of the public bathrooms as “frightful” and emphasized their urgent need for attention. But he said throwing federal money at the problem wouldn’t effectively address the rampant drug use and mental illness among the homeless people who are currently using the facilities.
“They will be beautiful for a month or two, and then they’re going to start their descent back into hell,” Ryavec predicted to Fox News Digital about what would happen if the money is spent. “People are sleeping in them, doing prostitution in them because there is no enforcement as there should be.”
He added, “Frankly, we’re wasting taxpayer money.”
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(@DyingVenice via X)
In photos and videos shared with Fox News Digital from residents, homeless tents have encircled the restrooms like a makeshift village, and the walls are blackened by fire ash and graffiti. Trash and used needles left by transients are littered on the ground.
The controversial price tag for constructing a single restroom facility on the boardwalk was an estimated $2 million in 2021. A more expensive proposal was put forward this year, but some say this federal lifeline wouldn’t make a dent.
“It will look almost exactly the same as it does today unless they change their policies,” 30-year Venice Beach resident Sean O’Brien told Fox News Digital. “We used to call these bathrooms the shooting galleries where people would go in and shoot heroin. Now people live in them.”
Just a few feet away on Santa Monica’s boardwalk, a man was stabbed to death by a homeless person outside the beach’s restroom last week. O’Brien said the restrooms need security guards monitoring the activity that happens inside, otherwise more violent attacks could happen.
“You fix the bathroom without fixing the cause of it,” O’Brien said. “So, the bathroom is just gonna get destroyed again.”
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Venice Beach photos taken between July 11-17 (@DyingVenice via X)
Residents say the area is usually clean after the sanitation department’s weekly cleanups. But it can backslide to its former state just as fast due to the revolving door of homeless transients cycling in and out of the boardwalk.
Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., whose district encompasses Venice Beach, wrote a letter March 31 requesting federal funds from the House Appropriations Committee to restore the facilities. He said the restrooms on the boardwalk are in “dire need” of restoration for both functionality and safety.
“The project is an appropriate use of taxpayer funds because Venice Beach is a popular site for residents and tourists,” Lieu said in his letter. Fox News Digital reached out to Lieu’s office for comment but did not hear back by time of publication.
Brian Averill, a member on the Venice Neighborhood Council, said the currently “unusable” bathrooms may need hired attendants to keep watch outside of them if they’re going to be used by the 10 million people who visit the beach each year.
“Do we need bathroom attendants? Do we need to gate them off? It’s just not working, bathrooms shouldn’t be rendered unusable two years after you drop a couple million on them,” Averill said to Fox News Digital. “It’s not good public policy.”
Another longtime resident and an advocate with the local group Friends of Venice Boardwalk, Cari Bjelajac, said she supports the $4.8 million restoration project, but said it needs to go beyond brick and mortar, arguing assistance to the homeless in the area must also be implemented.
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“I don’t know why we can’t do a few things at one time,” she said. “I’m looking at it in the bigger focus that these were ill-designed bathrooms from the get go, [because] a first responder cannot get to a person in any kind of circumstance.”
The boardwalk has struggled since the COVID-19 pandemic to contain the homeless problem after the City of Los Angeles rolled back its restrictions on camping in public spaces to mitigate the spread of the virus. Those restrictions were put back into place until more than a year later.
Last year, the district cleared 226 homeless people from the boardwalk. Now, there are as many as 40 there on any given day and weekly encampment cleanups across the entire neighborhood.
“Many of us are here on the ground, working to make sure that the county in particular takes responsibility for the fact that public health, mental health and drug addiction are not being treated with the kind of urgency that the situation requires,” Bjelajac said.
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Traci Park, the Los Angeles Councilwoman representing the district encompassing Venice, also supports the request for federal dollars to get the bathrooms cleaned up.
A spokesperson for Park’s office told Fox News Digital the money to rehab the bathrooms is necessary, but said they are also looking for “proactive strategies” to prevent them from deteriorating.
Park, who campaigned in 2022 on a promise to crack down on encampments in the area, has cleared several large encampments around her district since her term began. This includes the clearing of dozens of RVs belonging to nomads parked along LA’s ecological reserve, the Ballona Wetlands, last week.
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“Our office has been in close contact with the police department and our friends at the park rangers and have asked for proactive strategies that are actually now in place, including checking on the bathrooms at least three times a day,” Park’s spokesperson said.
According to the latest estimations from Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, LA’s central hub for homeless resources and statistics, LA’s population of homeless on the Westside jumped from 4,604 to 6,669 from 2022 to 2023.
Countywide, homelessness jumped 9% on any given night to 75,518 individuals. In the City of Los Angeles, there’s been a 10% increase, with an estimated 46,260 people on the streets.
Jamie Joseph is a writer who covers politics. She leads Fox News Digital coverage of the Senate.