Failed Los Angeles Councilman Mike Bonin must be recalled

He isn’t good at his job, it’s as simple as that — A community in pain — To understand the desperation and fear just walk the streets of CD 11 — You won’t believe your eyes — This recall is different from the others in California’s recent “recall fever” — Nonpartisan effort led by two members of Mr. Bonin’s party

The people of Los Angeles Council District 11 have some questions. They live in the wealthiest district in the wealthiest city in the wealthiest county in the wealthiest state in the wealthiest country in human history. Why, then, they ask, have large swathes of the community come to resemble war zones, with accumulating body counts?

Actually, forget “resemble” — large swathes of CD 11 are literal war zones, blocks and neighborhoods contested by gangs and cartels that prey on the homeless and terrorize the housed. Residents want to know why people die on the streets, the vast majority of preventable causes, on a weekly and sometimes daily basis. Why are the nights filled with the tortured screams of lunatics and addicts left to languish and perish in their own personal hells, with nary so much as a bottle of water offered by one of the myriad nonprofits and city agencies that circle the district like jackals around a dying animal? Where have the billions voters approved out of their own wallets to “solve homelessness once and for all” ended up?

Why are the most hideous of crimes — gang rapes, gunfights, stabbings, brutal assaults, violence of every sort — no longer so much as remarked upon? In February 2020 a 29 year old graduate student was beaten, gang raped, and left for dead in a public bathroom in Venice. A horrific crime that in any rational society would be front page, even national news — and one single obscure local blog even bothered mentioning it. It was just another day in Mike Bonin’s paradise: he’s turned Venice Beach into Rape Town, USA.

All of which raises the biggest question of all: In the midst of the accelerating decline of one of the world’s most beautiful places … where in the bloody Hell is Mike Bonin?

A recall motivated by facts, not politics

An elected official’s job is to be visible and available to his or her constituents, to assure them their concerns are being heard by their government. In the parlance of our times, people expect their leaders to be present. It’s the reason people remember the councilman’s predecessor Bill Rosenthal fondly. Mr. Rosenthal was a politician and a gladhander, but he cared for the district and the people he represented. And he was smart enough to know that the way to keep his job was to deliver for them. He didn’t change the world, he did his job. An obituary in a local blog remembered him as an “honest man.”

Mike Bonin is not a leader nor an honest man. As covered by the Westside Current earlier this month recent public records disclosures provided fresh insight into his character. In January 2020 he concocted a story about a bomb threat at the soon-to-open “Bridge Home” homeless shelter in Venice. He strongly implied that his own constituents had planted it. He doubled down and amplified the lie even after the LAPD emailed him and also went public with directly contrary information based on their investigation. His bald-faced lie — one that amounts to an accusation of a federal act of terror, planting a bomb on government property, worse yet as an act of political terror — stands to this day.

That’s just a recent example of the kind of person who represents CD 11. It’s as if Mr. Bonin is playing a political version of stop hitting yourself with his own constituents. An accounting of his deceit would require chapters and go back years. Witness his craven flip flop on public safety, when in the space of a few weeks he went from LAPD champion to posting “F**k the police” on his personal twitter feed.

All of which explains why, as the recall campaign progresses, you’ll encounter individuals of all political stripes who are unified in their desire — indeed, their sheer desperation — for leadership in their community. For an object lesson in how badly Mr. Bonin is faring, ask homeless folks in CD 11 what they think of him. In 2019, a transgender man died of an intentional heroin overdose in an encampment in front of the Mar Vista Library. I visited the camp the next evening along with community leader and former city commissioner Lydia Grant. We handed out blankets and hygiene kits and spoke to individuals living in a small row of tents on Grand View Avenue.

For an object lesson in how badly Mr. Bonin is faring, ask homeless folks in CD 11 what they think of him.

A man who identified himself as “Hippie” was as blunt as could be: “F**k Mike Bonin.” Hippie, who was a line order cook before a pair of heart attacks cleared out his bank account, had a lot to say about the MIA councilman. He said that he had never been offered services of any kind. An admitted heroin addict he said he wanted to get clean.

Two other individuals in a nearby tent shared similar sentiments. While homeless people, particularly addicts, can be notoriously unreliable storytellers these guys came across as sincere. I believed them when they said Mr. Bonin and his confederacy of taxpayer-funded nonprofit profiteers are what stand between them and the hope of recovery. In any case, regardless of the veracity of the details of their lives their disdain for Mike Bonin was as true as the day is long.

As encampments proliferated and human misery metastasized throughout CD 11 the councilman responded with an ambitious program of … carefully scripted, self-aggrandizing town halls. His public appearances had the sincerity, spontaneity, and human warmth of Soviet Komsomol rallies. As conditions deteriorated in the community and his constituents pressed him for solutions he restricted even those limited appearances. And when people began actively criticizing him he vanished like an apparition into the dusty bureaucracy that constitutes Los Angeles city government. Over the last two and a half years his public appearances have been so rare that they’ve become a sort of political Groundhog Day: If Mike Bonin emerges from his Mar Vista bungalow and sees his shadow CD 11 is in for six more months of spiraling social decay.

The only times he does appear publicly these days are when he is shamed into it. This summer, after years of neglect he moved to clear the worst encampments and most troublesome individuals off the Venice Boardwalk. The reason was that his colleague on city council gave a press conference on the Boardwalk where he called out Bonin. A week later L.A. Sheriff Alex Villanueva began his own enforcement program. Only then did Mr. Bonin act.

Over the last two and a half years his public appearances have been so rare that they’ve become a sort of political Groundhog Day: If Mike Bonin emerges from his Mar Vista bungalow and sees his shadow CD 11 is in for six more months of spiraling social decay.

By any reasonable metric he is a failed leader. That isn’t a political statement, it’s the only possible conclusion based on facts. Nor is the recall borne of some personal vendetta — though there are plenty of people in CD 11 who have ample cause for personal grudges against the councilman. He’s just not good at his job. It is as simple as that.

A feeling of desperation

Every so often a person does something so horrifically beyond the pale that it exposes something essential about their soul. Mike Bonin inadvertently does this sorts of things with startling frequency. Everyone in CD 11 remembers the night he quite literally turned his back on a mentally distressed homeless man who was attempting to start a fire with his bare hands. Mr. Bonin encountered the man in the course of a walking tour of yet another planned “road diet” in Del Mar. The man was pouring some sort of accelerant onto a small fire and rambling incoherently. Mr. Bonin stood over the man for a few seconds as the flames expanded, then turned on his heel and walked away. Mind you there is an LAPD station directly across the street from where the incident occurred. All he had to do was pause his political event for five minutes to help a fellow human being, and he couldn’t even muster that scintilla of humanity.

That single moment is all anyone needs to know about Michael J. Bonin. Someone who treats another human being like that, least of all one who is helpless and suffering in plain sight, has no business representing the people. That kind of icewater blood makes for bad, bad decision making.

Someone who treats another human being like that, least of all one who is helpless and suffering in plain sight, has no business representing the people. That kind of icewater blood makes for bad, bad decision making.

There is genuine fear in the air in CD 11 these days. Fires, break-ins, assaults and attacks, rapes, even murders are weekly and daily occurrences. Residents, women in particular, often are afraid to venture outside. And yet the worse things get the less engaged the councilman becomes.

In council he consistently opposes even incremental efforts to address illegal encampments, such as a motion introduced in September that would allows the city to start cleaning up larger camps upon sufficient notice, offer of services, and the like. Despite overwhelming public support, particularly among his own constituents, Mr. Bonin was one of two councilmembers to vote no.

The most dangerous individual in Los Angeles

When all is said and done the issue boils down to what people see in their own neighborhoods with their own eyes every day. It’s what their children see, scenes that no child should witness are horrifyingly quotidian in Mike Bonin’s CD 11. The degree of sheer human misery and depravity on display on the streets of CD 11 rivals anything you’ll find in the most desperately poor third world countries. I should know, I’ve traveled through many of them. In fact, CD 11 homeless camps are in some ways worse than what you’ll encounter in places like Malawi, Nepal, Burma, or Xinjiang Province, China. In those places people are desperately poor and often lack basics like clean water. But they also have communities, neighborhoods, families. Social structures and support networks often composed of generations. In contrast, the men and women languishing on the streets and in public spaces throughout Mike Bonin’s CD 11 are alone.

The only thing worse than going through Hell, is going through Hell alone. A typical scene in Mike Bonin’s CD 11. Photo by Christopher LeGras

When it comes down to it, Mike Bonin is a predator. He has built — oh, let’s call it a “career” — on the backs of the weakest, most vulnerable, and most helpless. Addicts and individuals with crippling mental, psychological, or physical disabilities are essential to his political life, and he devours them the way Freddy Kruger devours souls. Actually, as between the two most people would take their chances with the latter — at least there’s a fighting chance, and at least the death is relatively quick. Under Mike Bonin people are tortured for weeks, months, and years, for their agony is succor for the multibillion dollar Leviathan known as the homeless industrial complex, for which Mr. Bonin is Exhibit A.

It is no stretch to say that Mike Bonin is the most dangerous individual in Los Angeles. Which is what makes this recall different from all the others. The Gavin Newsom recall was led by conservative Republicans, and the flailing effort to recall George Gascon smacks more of sour grapes than anything.

When it comes down to it, Mike Bonin is a predator.

In contrast, the effort to recall Mr. Bonin is nothing less than a matter of life and death. Every moment he is allowed to remain in office, thousands of lives are at risk, and thousands more are at risk of being victimized by horrific crimes. Our environment and open spaces will continue to be defiled by illegal camping, cooking, dumping, defecation and urination, drug manufacturing and use, and the steady accumulation of trash, detritus, and contamination. Multiple destructive, often toxic homeless fires will continue to burn every day and night.

And unless and until he is removed from office those nights will continue to be filled with the screams of Mike Bonin’s innumerable victims.

Is Mike Bonin really housing the homeless of the Venice Boardwalk – or just hustling them out of sight?

Interviews in Westchester, Santa Monica, elsewhere confirm what residents suspected — Homeless moving to those communities from Venice — Not offered services or housing — But Mr. Bonin’s senior staffer demanded a homeless person be removed from in front of her office

Meanwhile, a homeless person was injured in a shooting in Westchester Park in front of Mr. Bonin’s office on Saturday night — Witnesses, including homeless themselves, live in fear — Mr. Bonin’s staffers caught on camera assaulting a news crew

An all-too-familiar sight in West L.A. on Mike Bonin’s watch. Photo courtesy KTLA

L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin’s last ditch effort to clean up the homeless encampments on the Venice Boardwalk appears to be floundering. Under intense pressure from constituents, his peers on council, and most recently Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, late last month Mr. Bonin launched the “Encampments to Homes” program. He promised to house 200 people from the boardwalk for $5 million (for the mathematically inclined that’s $25,000 per person for temporary shelter with no guarantee – for that matter no mention – of long term solutions). For the last two weeks he’s posted regularly on social media about the number of people allegedly removed so far. As of this he claimed that 110 people were “sleeping indoors” (again, doing a little math, at a rate of 110 people every three weeks it will take 54 weeks to house all 2,000 estimated homeless in that part of Venice alone).

While it’s impossible to verify the numbers, interviews, research, news, and common sense suggest a very different scenario is unfolding. According to a story in the Washington Examiner over the weekend, many Boardwalk homeless are not accepting services and moving indoors but simply are relocating to new illegal encampments elsewhere. Ira Koslow, the president of the Venice Neighborhood Council’s (VNC) Board of Directors, said, “There are empty spaces now, but if you go to the north…that’s now doubled and jammed. They moved from one end to the other, and there’s no repercussions.”

More than a few Venice residents share his hunch. VNC Public Safety Committee Chair Soledad Ursua told the all aspect report, “We knew this was coming when Bonin announced the initiative. He’s had seven years to clean the boardwalk and now he expects people to believe he can do it in six weeks? Now we learn that he’s essentially rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. And no one in CD 11 should be surprised. He’s not solving the crisis, he’s running for his political life.”

Mr. Bonin’s track record justifies residents’ skepticism that “Encampments to Homes” will prove any less of a failure than Mr. Bonin’s many other broken promises. There are still links to videos on his council website in which he boasts that the Rose Street Bridge facility, which he rammed through over vehement local concerns, would shelter the homeless living in the immediate neighborhood. In its first year and a half the facility had the opposite impact, turning the area into what many describe as a veritable war zone.

In all of this, of course, it is most often the homeless themselves who suffer the worst and longest. Every day living in a tent on the Boardwalk or on a sidewalk is one day farther from home, hope, and even sanity. It is well-documented that extended periods of street living can inflict permanent mental and emotional damage. Coupled with the mental illness and addiction that are homelessness’s cause and handmaiden and the depths of their hell become unimaginable. Yet that is precisely the place Mr. Bonin has consigned thousands of his “unhoused neighbors.” People in CD 11 and across L.A. can be forgiven their skepticism that his new effort will help people who need it most.

Rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic

On Sunday I joined Jessica Rogers, Communications Director for EnvisionLA, and a camera crew as they visited locations in Mr. Bonin’s district (disclosure: I’m on the board of EnvisionLA). We spoke with homeless people living in Westchester Park, where Mr. Bonin coincidentally has a field office, and confirmed people had arrived from the Boardwalk in the last few days. A woman who asked that her name not be used because she lives in fear of an abusive ex-boyfriend told Ms. Rogers that she knows about a dozen people in her immediate area of the park who previously lived at the Boardwalk encampment.

We meet up with Westchester resident and advocate Julie Zahler. She regularly checks on folks living in the park, has gotten to know many of them and established a degree of trust. She brings food, clothing and other essentials. In a videotaped interview she confirmed to Ms. Rogers that she had just met with “a group of new individuals to the park who all have moved from Venice Beach with the clearings and found their way up to the park.” She had just spoken with four individuals who witnessed last weekend’s shootings and were understandably reluctant to give their names or appear on camera. All had just arrived from the Boardwalk.

Later that afternoon we visited Ocean Park Beach, just over the border from Venice in Santa Monica. One of the first things we noticed in the parking lot was a battered old school bus with a badly faded American flag paint job. Venice residents came to know that bus all too well as it was parked near the Whole Foods on Lincoln Avenue for several months. It’s another indication of the migration of Venice’s homeless population to other areas and even other cities. Walking along the bike path we encountered an individual in a tent who identified himself as Matt. He was in a sort of stupor, whether psychological or drug-induced it was impossible to tell. Sprawled on a filthy mattress he said, “Just came up here. Was just down there, now I’m here. Maybe tomorrow I’ll be over there.”

Mr. Bonin has even abandoned is own back yard

Miguel Centeno keeps his orange van parked about 50 feet from the front door to Mr. Bonin’s field office. A graduate of nearby Loyola Marymount University, where he recently applied for a Masters program, he’s dubbed himself “The Mayor of Mike Bonin’s Parking Lot.” Asked if he had been offered housing or services he echoes what the others told Ms. Rogers: “I’ve been here two to three months, and no one has ever approached me.” He even tried walking into Mr. Bonin’s office and was told no one could help him “immediately.” Given that he has lived fifty feet from the office door for months one wonders how Mr. Bonin and his staff define that concept.

It’s bad enough that Mr. Bonin hasn’t offered services to the homeless people living literally within feet of his own office. It’s even worse when you learn that his senior staff actually sought to have them removed. Two weeks ago The Venice Current and other outlets obtained a copy of an email from Hannah Levein, Mr. Bonin’s “Acting District Director” for Westchester, to another city department in which she sought the removal of a homeless person from the doorway. Again, it cannot be emphasized enough: Even though neither Mr. Bonin nor his staff have lifted a finger to assist the homeless people outside the office, they demanded that at least one of them be removed. Because “my office looks directly at the entrance” and apparently actually seeing a homeless person caused her some personal discomfort. She demanded a response ‘as soon as possible.” Mind you, this was at 10:28am on the first Monday she was back in the office. Of all the issues confronting CD 11 and the city of L.A. her own personal discomfort was paramount.

PLEASE let that sink in for a long, long moment. Because at this point it’s really all anyone needs to know about Mike Bonin and the sorts of individuals he chooses to employ.

From the “You can’t make this stuff up” file. Document courtesy of The Venice Current.

Even that isn’t the whole story – with apologies to every late night commercial ever, but wait, there’s more. Last week a news crew from Fox11 Los Angeles approached Ms. Levien as she walked to her car. The reporter was trying to ask about the email, but another of Mr. Bonin’s staffers physically accosted the reporter – a woman barely half his size – even brandishing an object to push her away. Based on the footage Mr. Bonin’s staffer committed felony assault, battery, and false imprisonment, while violating a journalists’ First Amendment rights. He initiated physical contact and forced the woman out of his way, even brandishing an object at her. He used his height advantage to intimidate her. Real tough guy.

As of today he remains on the city payroll.

So Mike Bonin is failing yet again, even in his own backyard. He’s lying and dissembling again. And now his staff are assaulting and violating the rights of reporters. At this rate, Mike Bonin is going to recall himself.