Venice Residents Sue L.A. Over Proposed Storage Site For Homeless People's Belongings

A neighborhood organization that's named itself "Venice Kids Count" filed a lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles on Wednesday, alleging the city's plan to convert a disused senior center in the neighborhood into a site where homeless people may store their belongings during the day is illegal, according to Yo! Venice.

Court documents show that the litigants behind Venice Kids Count believe the the city's decision to convert the Westminster Senior Center stands in violation of a court condemnation order, issued way back in 1950(!), that designates Westminster Park may only be used as a public park. Likewise, the lawsuit claims the failed to conduct proper environmental review, and also failed to consult the California Coastal Commission over the changes. To say the least, the fight over the Westminster senior center as storage for homeless people's belongings has been brewing for a long time.

Back in April, L.A. City Councilmember Mike Bonin proposed a litany of possible policy solutions that could work towards getting homeless people off the streets. Included in the proposals was the idea to convert a the Westminster Park senior center into a storage facility where homeless people could store their possessions during the daytime. Aside from storage, the facility would also offer bathrooms and office space for a social workers tasked with connecting homeless people to city services, according to the L.A. Times. Between the hours of 9 a.m. and 6 p.m., it is illegal for a person (homeless or otherwise) to leave their possessions on the sidewalk

Bonin's proposal to transform the senior center was met with an extraordinary amount of criticism from Venice residents. Mark Ryavec, president of Venice Stakeholders association, said to the Times in April that any storage made available to homeless people should be relegated to an industrial zone, away from residential development.

Other critics argued (and continue to argue) that the Westminster site is too close to the neighboring Westminster elementary school. As the Venice Kids Count website says, adjacent a photograph of a man sleeping on the sidewalk close to some children, "Homelessness is a tragedy. Importing homelessness next to 400+ kids only compounds the tragedy."

Incidentally, a similar disagreement between the city and residents can be found in San Pedro. As the Daily Breeze reports, a community meeting held earlier this week over a similar "navigation" and storage center erupted into a broad expression of civil discontent. Like the Venetians, San Pedro residents object that the proposed storage center is much too close to an elementary school.

At the same time, Los Angeles' endemic of homelessness continues to be a major problem. According to a 2016 homeless census, nearly 50,000 people fall asleep unsheltered each night in Los Angeles County. While the city is attempting to both build housing and offer more services, the reality is that the money to do so simply isn't there. Ballot measure HHH, just endorsed by the L.A. Times, seeks to build revenue specifically for homeless services, but is contingent upon voters supporting the measure this November. In a catch-22, municipal politicians find themselves caught between a very real need to provide some form of homeless services, and affluent constituents (and voters) who say they want those services to be provided, just not anywhere near their residences.