We all want to help, but squeezing most of the Westside’s homeless services and large supportive housing projects into a single neighborhood just isn’t fair
By Christian Wrede
The author is a founding member of the community group Venice Vision (fightbackvenice.org).
There has been a lot of talk in the press and among politicians lately about how “NIMBYs” must not be permitted to interfere with the city’s mission to build housing for the homeless. Theft and murder are still frowned upon, but these days it seems like there is no greater crime in Los Angeles than NIMBYism.
Well, I confess. I am what proponents of pedal-to-the-metal development of homeless housing would call a NIMBY. As a 15-year Venice resident, I have studied Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin’s so-called “Plan to End Homelessness in Venice,” and I am against it for several reasons.
First, while I welcome housing for the homeless in my community, Bonin’s plan puts too many large projects here. The average size of affordable housing developments ranges from 35 to 60 units throughout Los Angeles, but Bonin’s plan calls for three separate projects in Venice that are many times that size. These include 98 units of Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) — a subset of affordable housing designed specifically for chronically homeless persons — on the two-acre Thatcher Yard, a block from Marina del Rey; 136 units of PSH and standard affordable housing on a 2.8-acre lot a block off the sand on Venice Boulevard; and an undetermined (but presumably comparable) number of PSH and affordable housing units on the 3.5-acre Metro lot along Main Street between Gold’s Gym and the beach.
Bonin has also started converting the former senior center at Westminster Park into a storage facility for the homeless and secured approval to keep existing restrooms on the Venice Boardwalk open 24/7 for the encampments there, while working to install what he refers to as a “system of portable public restrooms” on public rights of way in other parts of Venice.
Claims that measures such as these will end homelessness in Venice are not true. As a matter of federal law, none of the units being built in Venice can be reserved strictly for Venice’s homeless, and the continued expansion of services will make Venice even more of a magnet. According to the Los Angeles County Homeless Services Authority’s annual homeless counts, the homeless population in Venice spiked 34% between 2016 (the year Bonin began rolling out his plan) and 2017, while dropping in the rest of Bonin’s district (including a decline of about 50% in Pacific Palisades) during the same period.
Which brings me to the second reason I oppose Bonin’s plan: While asking far too much of Venice, it does not ask nearly enough of other communities in Bonin’s district. The City Council long ago reversed the “policy of containment” that gave rise to Skid Row on the grounds that it is not good for communities or the homeless, and Bonin himself recently threw his support behind a new resolution calling on all 15 council members to approve 222 units of PSH in their respective districts by 2020 in order to ensure “geographic equity” in the distribution of Prop. HHH projects.
As an established homeless hub, those same principles — reversing “containment” and ensuring “geographic equity” — should apply to us. Yet more than 80% of the land Bonin has selected for Prop. HHH development is in Venice. And all told, Venice (which accounts for just 5% of the land in Bonin’s district) currently has nearly 200 PSH units in the pipeline, which is close to the goal of 222 PSH units that the council’s “geographic equity” resolution sets for entire council districts. Meanwhile, Bonin does not have any PSH planned for Pacific Palisades or Brentwood, even though they are each more than five times larger than Venice.
Finally, I am concerned about what will happen to Venice, as ground zero for Prop. HHH development on the Westside, if the city’s experiment in large-scale homeless housing fails. To date, the city has committed roughly $230 million of its $1.2-billion Prop. HHH budget for about 1,200 PSH units (PSH units cost about $450,000 each, but funding is also provided from other sources), so it appears the city is on track to deliver just 6,000 — or 60% — of the 10,000 PSH units it originally promised voters. The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, similarly, has acknowledged that it is facing shortfalls in excess of $150 million per year despite the hundreds of millions of dollars it gets each year from last year’s Measure H sales tax increase.
Venice is world-famous for its big heart and open mind, and we want to continue doing our part to help address homelessness with both services and housing. But Bonin’s plan is not fair. Piling on small communities without electoral clout is easy, but the risks and burdens of dealing with a crisis of this magnitude must be distributed evenly across all communities — including wealthy, well-connected communities that have historically been insulated from such pressures. That is what leadership on this issue looks like, and so far Bonin is not providing it.