Proposal to place temporary shelters in MDR sparks concern for local businesses

By Andres de Ocampo

Marina del Rey Convention and Visitors Bureau CEO, Janet Zaldua, has proposed two alternative solutions to Mike Bonin’s proposal: a homeless task force and to take a percentage of the Transient Occupancy Tax that Marina del Rey pays to LA County as an unincorporated area and allocate it to funding for other initiatives for the homeless crisis. Business images courtesy of Marina del Rey Convention and Visitors Bureau

A motion proposing to build single-occupancy temporary housing for homeless people in Marina del Rey’s Fisherman’s Village parking lot has local tourism and hospitality businesses concerned.

Councilmember Mike Bonin, District 11, authored the motion in March and writes that, “addressing our homelessness crisis requires a wide range of solutions,” and despite initiatives like Project Roomkey, Project Homekey and more, the homelessness continues to increase and, “much more must be done. Different interventions must be tried, and more locations must be identified.”

Bonin outlined four county-owned parking lots and an RV park in the proposal for temporary “single-occupancy tiny homes or safe camping” and “safe parking”. The parking lot in Fisherman’s Village, just feet away from tourist attractions like restaurants and party boat rentals, prompted many businesses to speak out.

A letter from the Marina del Rey Convention and Visitors Bureau (MDR CVB) CEO, Janet Zaldua, was written to Supervisor Janice Hahn, District 4, defining and voicing the worries of Marina del Rey’s local businesses, especially in Fisherman’s Village.

Zaldua, whose job includes attracting visitors to Marina del Rey, said that the MDR CVB is “a destination marketing organization. We promote Marina del Rey for tourism and service the voice for tourism and hospitality in Marina de Rey.”

Though the proposal is in a phase of a “feasibility study” and it is unclear what accounts for the study and what other requirements are necessary for the temporary housing site in Fisherman’s Village, Zaldua said, “We don’t feel like it’s appropriate or feasible to bring homeless pallets to a tourist attraction…Just for the party boats and accessing the water alone, a minimum of 200,000 people come through here for that.”

According to Zaldua, Supervisor Hahn responded to the CVB’s letter and Zaldua said that, “[Supervisor Hahn] acknowledges the [CVB’s] concerns and supports a feasibility study. This is a very complex issue and it’s a balance between finding support for the homeless and taking into account the needs of business owners.”

Zaldua believes that placing the temporary housing site in the Fisherman’s Village parking lot might deter tourism and families from visiting Marina del Rey, consequently affecting businesses recovering from the pandemic.

“The Marina is 800 acres and much of that is water,” she said. “We have very few open public spaces and most of those are utilized to access the beach. Many of the lots are always packed with families.”

Zaldua expanded on their position in the letter to Supervisor Hahn, saying, “Building homeless housing within a small tourist destination surrounded by visitor attractions where supportive services for the homeless are not available within the vicinity is a poorly thought-out solution for both the business sector and the homeless population in need of assistance.

“Areas within Los Angeles County that are located near medical and mental health facilities, addiction rehabilitation centers, and other supportive services should be identified first as a more practical location to shelter the homeless population.”

Though Zaldua and Marina del Rey businesses oppose Bonin’s proposal, they are, “compassionate about this issue and want to be included in the dialogue,” Zaldua said. “We’re not against temporary housing,” she said. “We’re saying that placing temporary housing in the middle of a tourist attraction is not very feasible…

“You have to consider the needs of the business owners too, family-owned businesses that have been here forever, this is their livelihood.”

Zaldua proposed two alternative solutions to Bonin’s proposal, one of them being a “homeless task force,” which would be comprised of the local businesses and lessees to facilitate dialogue amongst the Marina del Rey community. A task force existed previously in 2014, according to Zaldua, and was spearheaded by Marina del Rey’s local sheriff substation under Captain Reginald Gautt.

Another alternative solution to the temporary housing site in Fisherman’s Village, according to Zaldua, would be to take a percentage of the Transient Occupancy Tax that Marina del Rey pays to LA County as an unincorporated area, and allocate it to funding for other initiatives for the homeless crisis.

Prior to the pandemic, in a 2019 annual report from the MDR CVB, Marina del Rey’s economic impact of tourism reached $398.2 million and paid $11.7 million to LA County as a part of the Transient Occupancy Tax. Since then, the MDR CVB reported that hotel occupancy dropped 50% due to Covid-19 and the Transient Occupancy Tax payment steeply dropped to $4 million.

Many of the attractions in Fisherman’s Village and the surrounding area are struggling to recover from the pandemic, with business just starting to pick back up to pre-pandemic normalcy.

Stefano Baccianella, owner of Sapori Italian Restaurant in Fisherman’s Village, which sits next to the proposed parking lot site, said the pandemic was a struggle for everyone, including his restaurant.

“My business survived because I was working 14 hours a day [with my daughter],” he said. “I was working every day with only one guy in the kitchen and now the [county] is going to do this to us?”

Baccianella hopes for an alternate solution, but is not entirely confident in LA County listening to local businesses concerns.

“We can fight all we want [as local businesses],” he said, “but when the county decides something, they do it and they don’t listen to us… that is my fear. If it’s going to happen, I’m leaving. You start to lose money. It’s going to crush all of the business.”

Baccianella worries that “people are going to start getting the news about the Marina,” and customers and tourists will choose to go elsewhere, like Newport Beach or San Diego to eat, plan vacations or have weekend outings.

Combined with being heard by local elected officials and having a say in alternatives to the Bonin’s proposal, Baccianella said there needs to be more understanding for local businesses.

“There are no businesspeople,” he said about local elected officials. “They don’t know what it means to run a business. They email, but they don’t come to look or sit down here for a day to see how to run a business, or how we pay rent or pay our bills.”

Jennifer Kirkley-Vaughan, co-owner of Pro SUP Shop which is located on the other side of the marina facing Mother’s Beach, said that her business was lucky enough to stay open during the pandemic, but still felt the effects of nationwide business closures.

“Obviously tourism not being here in Marina del Rey effected our business,” she said. “We catered more toward local business [during the pandemic], but the overall community of Marina del Rey was hurting.”

Kirkley-Vaughan said that while it’s important to have compassion for the homelessness crisis and to find potential solutions to help, she would like the Marina del Rey community have a seat at the table for alternative solutions and doesn’t see Bonin’s proposal as practical.

“Why would you put these housing pallets for the homeless right in the middle of a busy tourism community where families are visiting?” she asked. “It just doesn’t seem like we have the proper infrastructure like roads, hospitals, mental health facilities and rehabilitation centers to make this a good solution.

“Especially after the hard year that this community has had,” she continued, “Now that tourism is coming back… To then put homeless pallets in Fisherman’s Village, it could deter tourism and this city is so reliant on tourism.”

Kirkley-Vaughan worries that, if the temporary shelters get built in Fisherman’s Village, there might be an influx in the homeless population in the Marina, which she believes could affect business in the Marina, even to the point of closures for small businesses.

To those who have opposing viewpoints to MDR CVB and Bonin’s proposal, Kirkley-Vaughan said, “We can want our business, [employees and other businesses] to do well and have compassion to find a solution, but not want [that solution] here. We’re not saying that we don’t want to help, but we’re saying let’s find a solution that will help everybody.”

Zaldua said that she got closer to many of the local businesses in Marina del Rey during the pandemic and saw the “human side and the pain” that local businesses went through.

“To shame people by saying, ‘You don’t want it in your backyard because you don’t want it by your business,’ is an unfair argument,” she said.

“[These business owners] feel like they’re going to lose everything they’ve worked their whole life for. That’s when all of the walls come down. Some of these people, during the pandemic, didn’t know what to do.”
Councilmember Mike Bonin was unavailable for comment.