Clara Harter, Santa Monica Daily Press
March 3, 2021
In July 2019, when Chie and Phillip Lunn bought a house for their 7 and 10-year-old children on Rose Avenue there was not a single tent across the street. Since then a sprawling RV and tent city has sprung up on their doorstep and their quality of life has nosedived.
In the past nine months the family claims they have dealt with three RV fires spewing toxic fumes, feces and needles on their property, loss of safe access to the Rose-Penmar Walkway and Penmar Park, street fights, vandalism, thievery, physical threats and more.
Fearful for their children’s safety and fed-up with what they perceive as an uneven enforcement of property and parking laws, the couple is suing the City of L.A. for its failure to address the area’s homelessness crisis.
“It completely infects your lifestyle and emotional wellbeing when you’re constantly seeing drugs, violence, vandalism, and fires,” said Chie. “I grew up in a home with violence. I made a personal goal to not have children in that environment, and here I am buying my first home, introducing my two children to a level of trauma I vowed I would never let them experience.”
Attorney Jeff Lewis filed a complaint on Jan. 29 on behalf of the Lunns and another plaintiff, Davin Lagarde Green, whose property was seized by the City from Rose Ave.
They are seeking compensatory financial relief as well as a court injunction that will force the City to take action against the encampments and associated issues.
The Lunns claim that the City has neglected its duty to maintain the neighborhood and that their property and quality of life has been severely damaged as a result.
Lagarde alleges that the City unjustly seized her property and in doing so also violated her First Amendment rights.
“The big issue is the City’s failure to address the RVs and homeless situation in that immediate neighborhood,” said Lewis. “But the interesting wrinkle about this case is a First Amendment issue, as some political speech was written on a cargo container that was promptly and immediately removed by the City we think to stifle that political speech.”
The Lunns had helped Lagarde acquire a cargo container as she had no home or rental address. The container sat on Rose Ave. alongside the many tents and RVs, but unlike these housing set-ups it had a political statement written on the side.
The container read “Monument to Absurdity, 56:11” in protest against the City’s selective enforcement of Municipal Code section 56.11.
This law allows the City to seize and destroy homeless people’s belongings based on the item’s size. It was suspended by U.S. District Judge Dale S. Fischer on April 13, 2020, however Green’s cargo container was seized by the City on April 30.
While Green’s container was removed, the City has taken no action against the 20 to 30 illegally parked RVs on Rose Ave. and Penmar Ave.
Additionally, the City allowed a trash and drug filled bus to sit on Rose Ave. for six weeks after it had caught fire and been abandoned by its residents.
While the RVs have avoided enforcement by removing their license plates, the Lunns claim that they and their neighbors frequently receive parking tickets.
“It’s really a disparate treatment case in terms of how the residents who live there, try to park there and try to use the city park are treated very differently than the homeless who have the RVs and are allowed to have basically erected a shanty town,” said Lewis.
The Lunns said they used to love living in Venice and do not have blind animosity towards unhoused individuals. They have on several occasions aided distressed homeless people living by their house.
However, they are fed up with the crime, pollution, and fires that the City has failed to address, which they believe creates an dangerous environment for all community members.
The plaintiffs are not the only Angelenos driven to the breaking point by the City’s policies around homelessness.
Their case in many ways is a microcosm of the LA Alliance vs. City of L.A. case, which was filed in March 2020 by a coalition of Downtown business and homeowners in response to the escalating homeless crisis on Skid Row.
The LA Alliance argues that conditions on L.A.’s streets are inhumane and tax money spent on homeless response has been wasted.
Both cases are awaiting court judgment and the City of L.A. Attorney Office declined to comment on Green and the Lunns’ allegations at this time. The case number is 2:21-cv-00872.