'Venice Says No' To Homeless Shelter -- Before The Meeting Even Starts
Residents packed into a hot elementary school auditorium in Venice on Wednesday night to hear about plans to open a homeless shelter in the area. Before the chairs were even filled, a chorus was voicing its opinion loud and clear: "Venice says no!"
About 1,000 people RSVPed for the event at Westminster Elementary School. There were only seats for about 400 to 450 so overflow seating was set up outside the venue. Signs were stacked up near the entrance reading "A Bridge to crime, to waste, to nowhere" and "Welcome to Garcettiville." Officials said the signs weren't allowed inside because they could obscure views.
Even the mayor was met with boos mixed in with the applause (cheers, of course, whenever he mentioned the Dodgers.)
All signs (and chants) pointed to another contentious showdown in the ongoing debate between public officials desperate to find emergency housing for the growing homeless population and local residents who cry "Not In My Backyard!"
The proposed shelter is part of Mayor Eric Garcetti's "A Bridge Home" project, which officials say will help replace the rising number homeless encampments with temporary, safe and secure housing and services for those who are seeking more permanent housing.
Councilmember Mike Bonin, who represents the area, has proposed the emergency shelter be built at the former bus yard on Sunset Avenue between Main Street and Pacific Avenue. The roughly 3-acre plot is owned by L.A. Metro, which would lease the land to the city for the temporary shelter "until they need it back to begin construction on (a planned) joint development," according to David Graham-Caso, Bonin's deputy chief of staff.
Both Bonin and Garcetti sit on Metro's board and "will continue to push from a board-level to develop the site (long-term)," Graham-Caso said.
Draft designs released earlier this week show the layout of the proposed complex, which would include separate housing, restrooms and showers for adults and youth, a central dining area, community garden and a pet play area. The plan is to house up to 154 people -- 100 beds for adults and the rest for youth.
It should surprise no one that this meeting got off to a rowdy start. A Venice Neighborhood Council meeting in August took a similar turn when a representative from the mayor's office, who had come to explain the city's bridge housing plan and the proposed site in the community, was welcomed with shouting, boos and a few chants of "lock her up!"
"I asked people around the district where should we provide relief from encampments with this program and overwhelmingly the answer was Venice," Bonin told LAist/KPCC in an interview in August. "People have died on the streets in my district and that's happening on my watch, so I think I have a moral responsibility [to do something]."
Graham-Caso clarified that the bus yard had first been proposed for development in 2016, with plans to include affordable housing units. Bonin and L.A. County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl -- who's now chair of Metro's board --co-authored a motion to explore a joint development at the site in January of that year.
Though the focus in the shorter-term is on temporary homeless housing, that long-term development goal still exists. Metro is hosting two "interactive workshops" to discuss those future plans for the bus yard.
As Councilman Bonin presented his plan to constituents Wednesday night, he faced frequent interruptions, with some attendees shouting "lies!" and "tell the truth!"
Los Angeles Police Department Chief Michel Moore was also at the meeting and had a blunt message for the unruly crowd.
"We can yell and scream at each other or we can recognize a bitter pill," he told them.
Moore, Garcetti and Bonin then took the stage to answer audience questions, most of them coming from critics of the project. Bonin's responses were again peppered with shouts of "lies" from the crowd.
In a statement given Thursday to LAist/KPCC, Bonin said he and Garcetti have heard "a range of strong opinions from Venice residents" throughout the process.
"Solutions to homelessness anywhere in Los Angeles are controversial, but action is imperative," Bonin said. "Bridge housing is an essential step in an action plan to house people and reduce encampments in our neighborhoods. Mayor Garcetti, Chief Moore and I will continue to listen and continue to answer questions about bridge housing and other solutions to homelessness."
Many of the question asked Wednesday night boiled down to one thing: why here in Venice, close to some schools?
"Why on earth would you locate the most volatile population next to our most vulnerable population?" one attendee asked.
Another woman, who said she's homeless, said she heard residents' concerns, but she supports the project and loves Venice.
"I clean the beach every morning, I clean the beach every night, and that's what Venice is supposed to be about, it's community it's love it's diversity, it's peace," she said to applause.
The last question: "Is this a done deal?"
Bonin said no. It still has to go through environmental review and public hearings.
Afterwards, outside, a group of supporters of the project held electric candles in a line. On the other side of the fence sat a row of tents.
If approved, the Venice site would be the second emergency shelter opened to serve Bonin's district under the bridge housing initiative. Earlier this month, the councilman announced a partnership between the city, L.A. County and the Department of Veterans Affairs to open a facility on the West L.A. VA campus in Brentwood for homeless veterans.
That shelter is slated to open in early 2019, with a planned 100 temporary beds, along with bathrooms, laundry and "hygiene centers" inside large, industrial tents and trailers.
Corrections: An earlier version of this story incorrectly gave today's date as Thursday. It's Wednesday (and yes, it does feel like a long week already!) LAist regrets the error.
An earlier version of this story said two upcoming Metro workshops were to discuss the Venice site as it related to bridge housing, but the meetings are to discuss the long-term use of the site after the potential temporary shelter.
Due to a communication error, we reported that Metro was involved in the approval process for bridge housing. Metro is not involved in the temporary shelter project, but is studying the long-term development of the site.
Thursday, Oct. 18, 7:15 a.m.: Additional reporting, quotes and photos from last night's meeting.
Thursday, 12:55 p.m.: Statement from Bonin, clarification about initial proposal for bus yard site.
Monday, Oct. 22, 1:55 p.m.: Correction about Metro's involvement in bridge housing project
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