From skyrocketing property values to the much-beleaguered Venice Boulevard road diet, Mar Vista has seen its ups and downs. Sadly, the neighborhood’s latest hot-potato issue is the homeless encampment that occupies the two blocks dedicated to Sunday’s popular Mar Vista Farmers Market.
Needles, human waste and tents have taken over Pacific Avenue and Grand View Boulevard butted up against the post office where produce and prepared food are being sold on Sundays. Open drug dealing and drug use goes on at the corner of Venice Boulevard and Grand View on Saturdays well into the night.
For six months now, the encampment has continued to grow and is cleared out for about eight hours per week to make room for farmers market vendors, local chefs and neighborhood families noshing on crepes and waffles.
“Currently, and for the past six months or so, we have a pressure washing truck come every Sunday morning at 5 a.m., when we coax the encampment out of the area on Grand View and up, past the market on Pacific,” Mar Vista Farmers Market manager Diana Rodgers tells L.A. Weekly in an email. “We clean up debris and then pressure wash the area between 5 and 7 a.m. It is hard to get the encampment to move but many oblige, and we clean the area. The homeless have civil rights and we have to work within the laws protecting them.”
Last Sunday’s cleanup efforts took place under police supervision and were still underway once the market had opened and while vendors were setting up. The health department’s rule is that farmers and food vendors must keep all boxes and food products sitting 6 inches off the ground.
A witness to the cleanup described it like this: “They sort of used a pressure washer, but just got the sidewalk wet and they were done in three minutes. The effort was minimal, not performed by professionals, and surely not sufficient to ensure public health. The bread stall was there early and the first to set up. The baguettes were unwrapped, and some were on plastic racks on carts and they set them directly on the wet ground. It looked like a chocolate milkshake. Don’t know what the mix was, don’t want to know. It smelled so bad, that the two women staffing the bread booth put masks on. It’s disgusting and it’s tragic. We love our farmers market.”
Neighbors, local restaurants and market customers argue that they have rights to public health and safety as well. In fact, through the efforts of a local citizen group, alleys and private properties in the neighborhood across Venice Boulevard and along Centinela Avenue have been cleared of homeless and the debris left behind, including needles and condoms.
Rodgers says the new group of homeless ferreted out by neighbors has moved to the public sidewalk by the post office where they have civil rights. “We were faced with a new crowd that we have not developed a rapport with via the task force and our staff and they did not move out of the post office lot which we have no jurisdiction over,” she says.
By 8 a.m. Monday morning the encampment was back at Grand View and Pacific, with tents lined up.
“It’s the result of a lack in leadership,” Demetrios Mavromichalis, local business owner and unofficial mayor of Mar Vista tells L.A. Weekly as he stands over a pile of used syringes in the Bowlero parking lot. “The city and councilman Mike Bonin who lives in Mar Vista himself could have done something earlier before it got out of control. You can’t clean the streets the day of an event, it’s got to be done a day in advance. The market is unsafe right now. Maybe it should temporarily close until they can get a handle on the situation. People are being put in harm’s way and the lack of action is resulting in residents taking matters into their own hands.”
Our email to councilman Mike Bonin has not been answered
A homeless issue subcommittee meeting of the Mar Vista Community Council to address the situation will take place Wednesday night at the Mar Vista Library.
Editors Note: Updated 5:20pm on Aug. 21st with L.A. County Department of Public Health Response. Read the full statement below:
The Mar Vista Certified Farmers Market (CFM) operates on Sundays. The Specialized Food Services (SFS) team has arranged to conduct an inspection of this CFM at the next available operating day to address the sanitation concerns in the below complaint.
The CFM organizer has reported to the SFS team that they have a contract for a pressure washing truck to come everySunday morning to clean up debris and pressure wash the area between 5:00 am to 7:00 am, before the CFM operates. In addition, CFM organizer stated that they are hiring an extra person to focus on ensuring the streets and sidewalks are clean and safe. In addition, the City sends out a sanitation truck to clean the streets and sidewalks on Wednesday mornings and are stepping up services to add another day to the schedule.
Environmental Health has been working in consultation with LAHSA, and has conducted a survey in this area this month to assess the sanitary conditions of the encampment.