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In Sherman Oaks, NIMBYs Loudly Draw A Line Against Homeless Housing -- And Threaten Recall

Los Angeles City Councilman David Ryu attempts to speak to a crowd of residents, many of whom jeered, booed and took up chants of "Recall!" at a Sherman Oaks community open house meant to share information about local homeless housing proposals. (Screengrab courtesy Facebook video by Rick and Robin Marcelli)
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As Los Angeles leaders push to address the homelessness crisis gripping the city, some residents have pushed back with protests, petitions and calls for removing district representatives from office.

Those who oppose housing homeless people in their neighborhood share a common opinion: opening shelters will draw more homeless people to their communities, boost crime, weaken public safety and tank home values.

And it is those opponents who have dug in their heels in communities around the city, including Koreatown, Venice and most recently in Sherman Oaks, where a neighborhood meeting meant to provide residents with information about homeless housing initiatives and potential sites devolved into angry shouting last week.

In a planned protest, residents drowned out the conversation with boos and chants of "No common sense" and "Recall!" -- directed at City Councilman David Ryu, who hosted the open house event at Notre Dame High School on Sept 20.

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"As soon as Councilmember Ryu got the microphone and started to talk, it all broke loose," said Robin Marcelli, 64, who attended the meeting with her husband, Rick Marcelli.

The Marcellis, who own a home in Sherman Oaks, said they and their neighbors have had to deal with trespassing, theft, break-ins and death threats from people they call "criminal transients." The Marcellis say the troublemakers live in and around a nearby river wash.

The couple said despite constant calls to the police and letters to the offices of councilmembers Ryu and Paul Krekorian, things have only gotten worse -- and that's why they don't want homeless housing sites opened in residential neighborhoods.

"A line had to be drawn here," said Rick Marcelli, 69, adding that's what motivated the couple to confront Ryu last week.

The Marcellis, who lead their neighborhood watch group, said they weren't expecting such a large turnout and were "shocked" at the level of anger of the crowd.

Advocates for homeless services within the neighborhood were also at the meeting, some of them waving signs reading "Everyone in," referring to an initiative by the United Way of Greater Los Angeles. But the opposition was louder and more fierce, shouting down Ryu and other officials who tried to speak and holding signs including "It's our $ and we have a say," "PSH = more crime" and "Cover up."

From Councilman Ryu's perspective, the contentious meeting was a success.

"I was very, very encouraged at the meeting," Ryu said in an interview with LAist. "We had a phenomenal turnout. It would have been worse if nobody came."

Ryu described angry residents booing him and threatening to remove him from office as "passionate about solving homelessness."

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"Everybody knows homelessness is a huge issue (and) Sherman Oaks is not exempt from it," he said. "This is where we start that discussion."

In August, Ryu proposed two locations within his Council District 4 to construct housing for homeless residents. The first, at 15314 Dickens St., is Los Angeles Department of Transportation property being eyed for a Permanent Supportive Housing site. The second, at 5161 Sepulveda Blvd., has been suggested as an "emergency temporary housing" site under Mayor Eric Garcetti's bridge housing initiative.

District 4 Councilman David Ryu has proposed using a portion of land at 5161 Sepulveda Blvd. in Sherman Oaks, owned by the U.S. Army, as an emergency homeless shelter under Mayor Eric Garcetti's bridge housing initiative. (Image courtesy Councilman Ryu's office)

The site at Sepulveda is owned by the U.S. Army and Ryu said city staff has yet to visit, but plans to do so soon to conduct a feasibility study.

"It's so early in the process, but I wanted to include the community early," he said.

A petition against proposed housing plans in the neighborhood has nearly 2,100 signatures.

Ryu said supportive housing is only one part of addressing homelessness crisis. He also noted that L.A. voters overwhelmingly supported Prop HHH with 77% of voters approving the $1.2 billion bond to build some 10,000 units of homeless housing.

MAP: Where Emergency Homeless Shelters Could Be Built In L.A. Under Mayor's Plan

But the Marcellis are among Angelenos who feel the city's efforts to help homeless people are coming at the expense of taxpayers, which makes them more anxious about their future here.

"It's almost as if we're being forced to go live someplace else," Robin Marcelli said. She said she's still waiting to hear how city officials will vet potential residents at these new homeless housing sites.

The city's plan calls for housing people in the same neighborhoods where they currently are living on the streets. That's why, according to District 4 officials, the sites won't "attract criminal elements to the neighborhood and are intended to make the community safer."

When Garcetti announced the plans, he laid out a carrot-and-stick proposal, promising additional resources from police and sanitation crews in the areas that open bridge housing shelters.

That said, Ryu acknowledged, "many (residents) are scared, many are uninformed." He said he empathized with worried community members and would continue to work to address "fears and concerns."

LA EXPLAINED: Why does L.A. have so many homeless people?

Rick Marcelli draws a distinction between homeless residents in need of a helping hand -- which he supports -- and those he calls "criminal transients." Either way, he argues that "tough love" is the answer.

"You already comply as a citizen, as a taxpayer, or you don't," he said. "You want me to have compassion for people who don't care about themselves?"

The lifelong Los Angeles resident has an extreme alternative: have the federal government step in and move them out of the urban area.

"I'm proposing maybe you build a reservation for these homeless somewhere out it the desert with all the help that can be given," he said. "When we interned the Japanese during the second World War, we didn't intern them in the city."

[Note: The United States has apologized for incarcerating more than 100,000 people -- mostly Japanese immigrants and their families, many of whom were American citizens -- during WWII. In 1988, then-President Ronald Reagan called the decision a "grave wrong" when he signed a federal law that paid reparations to those held in internment camps.]

Ryu said the concept of sending homeless people to remote camps is illegal -- and dangerous.

"These are residents of Los Angeles, citizens of the United States," Ryu said. "These are individuals who also have human rights... they are our neighbors and we have to work together to come to a solution."

If the two proposed sites do end up getting approved, they would join two other projects already in motion to address homelessness in Ryu's district.

The LGBT Center's Anita May Rosenstein Campus will create more than 200 affordable housing units in the heart of Hollywood. (Courtesy Councilman David Ryu's office)

The LGBT Center's Anita May Rosenstein Campus broke ground in March 2017 in the heart of Hollywood and is set to open in 2019. The site will include 98 units of affordable housing for seniors, 25 units for youth, and 100 beds for homeless youth, according to Ryu's office.

The other project will create a women's bridge housing site with 30 beds at 1403 North Gardner St. in Hollywood, the site of a former city library branch. The project was approved for funding in May 2018 under Proposition HHH, which voters passed in 2016. Now city officials are working with community members to select a service provider and hash out plans to beautify and preserve as much of the existing site as possible.

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