Laguna Beach police remove squatter from apartment above vacant movie theater

David Lente, 55, gathers trash barrels and suitcases outside Laguna South Coast Cinemas after being removed by officers on Feb. 3. Photo courtesy of Heidi Miller

Laguna Beach police on Feb. 3 removed a homeless man who had been squatting in an apartment above the vacant Laguna South Coast Cinemas theater.

Officers responded to 162 S. Coast Hwy. around 12:30 p.m. regarding a male transient inside an apartment, Lt. Jim Cota said. David Lente, 55, told police that one of the doors was open for him to enter.

“The locks were recently changed by the property caretakers so it was unknown how he got into the building,” Cota wrote in an email. “They just wanted him escorted off the property and advised not to return.”

Officers were unable to confirm how long Lente enjoyed the free ocean view across from Main Beach Park. He was not in custody Tuesday, according to jail records.

Electrical vehicle manufacturer Rivian earned the Planning Commission’s approval last month for its planned remodel and restoration of the landmark. The company plans to use the auditorium most days to educate the public about its mission to create sustainable products and electric vehicles. No vehicle transactions will be conducted on the property.

A Rivian spokesperson wrote in a Feb. 4 email that the company hasn’t taken custody of the movie theater.

Heidi Miller, owner of apparel retailer Tight Assets, shared photos of the eviction on a local Facebook group, which show two large trash barrels and several suitcases lined up near the theater’s ticket booth.

“We couldn’t believe all the stuff he kept bringing out!” Miller wrote in a message.

In a time when the pandemic has already slowed down foot traffic, Miller said she has homeless camping outside her Ocean Avenue storefront every day.

“The homeless are just too brazen and aggressive,” she wrote. “People are afraid to come downtown anymore. It’s tough for us retailers.”

Miller recently reported a woman for shoplifting $400 in merchandise, including a $200 handbag made by a Sawdust Festival artist.

Crimes in the downtown area are not on the rise, Cota said.

“Overall, crime in the city has decreased since the beginning of the lockdown,” Cota wrote in an email. “With the decrease in people visiting Laguna Beach during the lockdowns and the city not having the usual summer tourists in town, this brought down crime even more.”

A Laguna Beach police officer observes David Lente, 55, as he removes items from an apartment above Laguna South Coast Cinemas. Photo courtesy of Heidi Miller

The community outreach officers and business liaison officers have worked to place homeless individuals in shelters in Laguna Beach and surrounding cities. A slump in visitors has also allowed these officers to have more personal interaction with the homeless population.

“In my 26 years at LBPD, the Community Outreach Program is the most effective right now than it ever has,” Cota wrote in an email. “We take the homeless population very seriously and will continue providing the best service to them by providing shelter, food, and options for life choices.”

Friendship Shelter continues to do street research with individuals experiencing homelessness in Laguna Beach, the nonprofit’s executive director Dawn Price said. Unfortunately, the pandemic has prevented the nonprofit from continuing its daytime drop-in program.

“There more resources available right now because of COVID-19 so we’re trying to take advantage of those funds,” Price said.

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