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Tue, Apr

Ventura Blvd. Businesses Cry Out for Help Amid Rising Crime and Homelessness

VALLEY BUSINESS - Cruising down Ventura Blvd. on a sunny day with light traffic, signals turning green one after another, and good tunes on the radio, one can feel teleported back to a different era in Los Angeles—perhaps the era of Mayor Reardon and Tom Bradley, a simpler safer time. The Blvd. still looks intact with the many enticing shops and restaurants, some of which have been there for three or four decades. The illusion of normalcy is everywhere. The reality is quite a bit different.

Many shopkeepers and restaurants have major problems daily with drug addicts, the mentally ill, and criminals. They constantly battle theft, vandalism, and unwanted elements brazenly barging in, disrupting the ordinary course of business, and frightening customers. Most of these boulevard mainstay restauranteurs and shop-keeps feel abandoned by Nithya Rahman in Council District 4. They are frustrated beyond belief at the lack of police intervention and media attention.

Cristy Vega, owner of Casa Vega, has put herself front and center and has become a de facto spokesperson for the problems encountered on Ventura Blvd. Casa Vega, her family's restaurant, which opened in 1956, has become an institution and is a Los Angeles landmark restaurant in Sherman Oaks. Casa Vega has won a James Beard Award for being a classic American restaurant. This establishment has been serving Hollywood celebrities and locals since its humble beginnings and is under attack from the premeditated deteriorating social order in Los Angeles.

The social contract has been turned upside down after the municipal elections in 2020 and COVID-19. The election of District Attorney George (decriminalized everything) Gascón, Proposition 47, and Nithya Raman Councilwoman (Democratic Socialist of America) for District 4 paved the way for a stunning breakdown in law and order and creating a consequence-free zone for drug use and larceny.

When Casa Vega reopened during the COVID-19 lockdown as an outside dining facility, they put up a tent like many other restaurants in the valley and resumed their business. But the restaurant site had been taken over by a homeless encampment. So, Christie did what all of us would do: she called Nithya Raman's office in Council District 4 and asked for help. Christie called 20, maybe 30 times; she sent emails asking for help but was ignored. She and her sons became homeless bouncers because every night after the restaurant closed, the indigents would come back under the tent, rip down her lights, and plug in their electronic devices, only to have to be chased away again the following day. Her dedicated staff has been assaulted and threatened by vagrants. A busboy had his facial bones broken when a salsa cup was thrown at him. Another employee was stabbed by a homeless person when getting off the bus at the stop in front of her restaurant. The police response to these life-threatening incidents was untimely and ineffective.

The restaurant has been subject to incredible amounts of vandalism. A distraught homeless man destroyed the front fountain, the electrical cabinet was broken into a vandalizing, and liquids spilled in there, which almost caused a fire. Her parking lot was so fouled by human filth that they had to dig up the parking lot and lay new asphalt. The restaurant has been broken into 11 times after closing as thieves look for a safe, cash, and other valuables to abscond with.

Just when Ms. Vega thought things could not get worse, organized bands of smash-and-grab thieves came into the parking lot, took the fobs out of the valet parking stand, opened the cars, looting any item of material value while another part of the crew with portable electric saws got under the cars stealing the catalytic converters. The theft from autos in her parking lot happened more than once because Casa Vega has upscale clients in expensive cars. This prompted Chrissy Vega again to contact Nithya's office again, to ask her to vote for making it a crime to have a catalytic converter that is not yours. Nithya refused to vote for the motion creating criminal penalties for stealing catalytic converters and blamed the car companies for making converters accessible to thieves.

For Casa Vega to stay in business and provide security, they spend $100,000 a year on armed guards protecting the parking lot and the patrons. $8000 solid steel doors had to be installed as drug addicts were using that small space as a shooting den. She has put up $30,000 in security lighting to keep the street vagrants from entering the patio and manhandling the client's food. She has spent $200,000 building an 8-foot concrete wall around her patio with one point of egress and ingress so the guards can keep an eye on it and keep undesirable people out. Crissy laments that her business has spent over $350,000 to stay in business and secure itself, and the costs continue to mount. Casa Vega is a low-margin business, so they must sell over $1,500,000 worth of tacos and drinks to break even on the investments. 

Chrissy Vega believes that Homeless care is a racket. She cites an interview she listened to where an investigative reporter talked to a few homeless people who have been put into housing. They were promised all kinds of support only to find there was none. They said someone would come and help me get a job and help with my drug problems. Someone would help me with chronic medical issues. We haven't seen anybody, and nobody has come to help us. So, all these services are hype, in her opinion. The City is not following through with what they're doing except to shovel good money after bad to ineffective agencies. How can we have $1.3 Billion being thrown at the homeless, and nothing gets better? So, Vega believes all this talk of criminalizing homelessness and criminalizing poverty is very manipulative because you're a good person, and I'm a good person, we don't want to stigmatize anybody. We have empathy and compassion, but years later, and billions of dollars and funding, where is the accountability for our lack of serenity and safety? We've been patient enough with the homeless crisis. Now it's time to get some results, and that's what we're not seeing with Nithya and Gascón.

Chrissy believes that Nithya Rahman has no empathy for hard-working middle-class people whose lives are being disrupted daily by mainly male drug addicts and the mentally ill people who inhabit their streets. A distinction must be made between families that can't afford to live in LA and the criminals that run amok harassing businesses and pedestrians in this City. We can no longer afford to live in a consequence-free zone. Criminal behavior needs to stop, and in the past, we have taken the worst people off the streets and put them in prison, which makes our lives safer. "This is lousy for business, and my children fear every time I go to work that something bad could happen to me; we should not have to live like this," Vega said.

(Eliot Cohen is a 35-year Veteran of Wall Street, President of a HOA and has been part of advisory councils to the City of Los Angeles.)