By Jim Smith

 

Forget about the wars, forget about global warming, and forget about obnoxious weed blowers, the Santa Monica Airport, illegal fences and rent gouging. Nothing has attracted more strong feelings in Venice lately than the issue of RVs.

The atmosphere has gotten so heated that a few Venetians have become obsessed by the topic and seemingly spend all their waking hours blogging to each other about their latest horrifying sighting of a recreational vehicle. Just when it seemed we were finally done with the overnight parking districts (OPDs) scheme, where all of us would pay a fee to the city of Los Angeles to park on our streets at night, up pop more acronyms and assorted euphemisms like OVO (overheight vehicle parking), “safe parking” and “streets to homes.” And as the issue gets outside publicity, more RVs head this way.

Here’s the problem with these so-called solutions: OVO would ban RVs from city streets between 2-6am. It would prevent access to the coastal zone in the same way that OPDs would have, and will likely draw the ire of the Coastal Commission. Another effect will be for RV owners to downsize to a van, which is not covered by the OVO ordinance. Banning RVs from beach lots is an even more flagrant abuse of access for all.

“Safe parking” sounds like a great idea. The problem is in the implementation. It’s been talked about for several years without any result. Suggestions of various parking lots that could be used for overnight RV parking have been made to the L.A. Councilmember’s office, where they have disappeared down a black hole. Of course, nearly any lot would probably attract NIMBY (not in my back yard) protests. Another problem is the apparent need by city and social service agencies to make repressive rules that would treat the adult RV owners like children. This urge to clientize anyone who falls within their clutches seems to be endemic with social service types.

Lastly, “streets to homes” is about the removal of the poor from Venice. Those who blame the homeless and RV dwellers for their circumstances share a belief expressed by the Los Angeles Real Estate Voice, which says, “The vast majority of the people living out of their cars are doing so because they want to: it’s a lifestyle choice.” The truth is that for nearly everyone who is homeless or living in an RV it’s because of economic necessity. Sure, long time Venetians would rather live in a vehicle than live in a roach-infested tenement in Hollywood or the Valley. Who wouldn’t?

The goal of many of the property owners and landlords who seem to be at the heart of the anti-homeless crowd is to get the poor out of Venice, thereby supposedly raising their property values.

The first step is to remove the homeless and the RVs. Then demolish low-income housing, followed by conversion of as many rental units as possible to upscale condominiums. To accomplish this they must change the traditional role of the police from fighting crimes against people (rape, assault, murder) and crimes against property (burglary, robbery, theft), and instead use them as a tool of social enforcement. In other words, make them take the side of the rich against the poor.

The police would become a militarized force for gentrification. This begins with a concentration on petty crime using former Chief William Bratton’s “broken window” policy, which is now being administered by his successor, Chief Charlie Beck. As applied in Venice, the police are used to implement the “stick” of Councilmember Bill Rosendahl’s “carrot and stick” approach to the homeless and RV owners. The carrot has yet to appear.

Implementation means “sweeps” of both homeless and RVs, looking for “failures to appear,” “broken tail lights,” “expired registrations,” and other petty infractions. While the violations may be petty, the tickets are not. Poor people, who don’t have enough for everyday necessities, are plunged into the criminal “justice” system of mounting fines, jail time and loss of their possessions. The overall goal is to create a climate of fear that will impel those being targeted to leave Venice.

I have been told by a number of different people, all homeless or living in RVs, that the police have told them that if they see the person in Venice again, he or she will go to jail. Many of the homeless experience regular rotation to county jail and back to Venice. Some have given up living in their chosen community and have left for another city where the cycle is likely to start all over again. As local homeless people disappear, the collection of cans and bottles from residential trash cans is being taken over by immigrants, who may be the next target if the homeless are driven away.

But removing the homeless and the RVs from Venice is easier said than done. Property owners have mistakenly blamed the homeless for the decline in their property values. Their vision apparently does not go beyond Walgrove Avenue. The entire country, and most of the world, is in a severe depression that is driving down the value of all investments, and which started with the housing crisis of 2008. Even if there was not a single homeless person or a single RV anywhere in Venice, property values would not rise.

The current official unemployment rate in California is 12.9 percent. The real unemployment rate (which was changed by the Clinton Administration) is around 23 percent. At the bottom of the Great Depression of the 1930s, the unemployment rate was about 30 percent. One and a half million people are now “99ers,” that is, they have exhausted their 99 weeks of extended employment. Some of these will have no choice but to climb into an RV while others will be on the streets.

For those who still have a job, or a trust fund, this is merely a recession. For those who have lost nearly everything, it is the worst depression imaginable. There were 325,000 foreclosures across the country in August, the latest month to be reported. California led the nation. In 2009, there were 2.8 million foreclosures. California, Florida, Arizona, Illinois account for 50 percent of the foreclosures. In addition, a massive number of delinquent home loans have not yet reached foreclosure, say economists. Not all of the people who have had foreclosures have bought an RV and headed for Venice yet.

If your home was foreclosed, or you were evicted from your rental unit, would you rather sleep on the street or in a comfortable, if small, recreational vehicle? Prices for RVs are now at $1,000 or under for a 10-year-old model. That’s less than a month’s rent in most Venice apartments. It’s just the ticket for people who have lost nearly everything, including their jobs, and are trying to survive with odd jobs or government assistance.

As more and more cities adopt restrictions against RVs that are even more stringent than OVOs, more campers will come to Venice. Strict enforcement of punitive laws against those in RVs will not solve the problem. It will only force those in RVs to be more stealthy, to downgrade to vans or to begin living on the streets. Unless the homeless are rounded up and put in camps like the Japanese-Americans were during World War II, the issue must be considered a social problem, not a police problem. Unfortunately, the problem cannot be solved solely in Venice. We are not an island.

Here are some suggestions that may help:

  • Create a massive public works and jobs program to rebuild America’s infrastructure. This was done in China instead of a bailout of the banks. As a result, China has avoided most of the ill effects of the depression.
  • Pass a law in the legislature to ban restrictions on RV parking anywhere in the state. This will make all cities, rich and poor, share in whatever burden RVs cause.
  • Stop using the police to solve a social problem.
  • Open all public lots to overnight parking. Tap into the sewer line for waste disposal wherever feasible.
  • Create an annual basic income for all. This will alleviate poverty and eventually eliminate it. In addition, it will eliminate the social service bureaucracy that siphons off funds that should go to the needy. A basic income can be paid for by ending military adventures around the world and by instituting a maximum income ceiling. This is not a new, nor a radical proposal. It was proposed by the Governor of Louisiana, Huey Long, nearly 80 years ago.

 

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