Jason Kandel

Venice Business Owners Band Together Amid Growing Tensions

Twenty business owners in Venice Beach have joined together, planning to hire their own private security in the wake of growing tensions with the homeless population.

The news comes as business owners in LA's Pico-Robertson neighborhood are doing the same thing.

Retailers say police can't keep these communities safe on their own.

"A lot of us want to play guitar and get drunk and hang out," said Divin Sherwood, among the growing number of homeless youth in Venice Beach. "But then you have those kids who get too swirly, so they want to fight."

That's the problem, business owners along Washington Boulevard say.

They argue the homeless population is growing increasingly violent, leading to mounting tensions between the two camps.

"I've gotten punched in the face for standing in front of a building before," Divin said.

Tensions reached a boiling point Sunday when a homeless man was shot and killed following an argument outside the Cadillac Hotel.

The hotel owner is accused of orchestrating the killing. Last week the owner of Cow's End restaurant, Clabe Hartley, was seriously injured when he was hit over the head with a chair by a homeless man he tried to shoo away from his patio customers.

Last March Hartley had his finger cut off by a homeless man during another argument.

"Everybody's upset, very upset," said Vladimir Rodzai, the owner of the Terrace restaurant.

Rodzai is joining with 19 other retailers to form the Washington Square Business Association.

They plan to hire their own security team.

"That's the only way we can do it because the police now ... their hands are tied," Rodzai said. "They can't do anything. They say they're allowed to be there."

The LAPD has increased patrols in Venice Beach, but some believe more social service programs are a better solution because the majority of homeless are harmless.

"There should be a shelter here at Venice Beach," said Edward Rivera Jr., a homeless youth. "I'm surprised there's not."

Not even the homeless can agree that's going to help.

"I like sleeping on the streets," Divin said.

For now business owners say they'll take matters into their own hands.

"If it's not happening through the government or through the city services then you have to come together as a community," said Brittany Seeliger, the executive director of the Washington Square Business Association.

Business owners aren't alone. One group of residents has joined together to file a lawsuit against the city and county, saying they're not being protected because the problem spills into the neighborhoods after dark.

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