Del Rey and Westchester will designate secure parking lots for people who live in their cars

By Gary Walker

Vocal contingents of Venice, Korea-town and San Fernando Valley homeowners have pushed back hard against the city’s plans to erect temporary housing for the homeless on underutilized public land in those neighborhoods.

Not so in the under-the-radar Los Angeles enclave of Del Rey, south of Mar Vista and east of Marina del Rey, where neighborhood leaders are actively seeking to host a temporary housing facility and have started conversations with their constituents about possible locations.

“The homeless situation is different than in the past. There are families that are trying to survive who couldn’t afford the rent or the mortgage,” said Del Rey Neighborhood Council President Scott Dellinger. “We’re trying to compassionately help solve the problem.”

In the meantime, both the Del Rey Neighborhood Council and Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa have embraced the idea of designating “safe parking” lots where people who live in their cars can sleep overnight and access security and social services.

The Westchester-Playa council voted Sept. 11 to designate the lot at Westchester Park, on Manchester Avenue near Lincoln Boulevard, a city-backed Safe Parking Program site. Expected to come online in early 2019 with initial space for up to six vehicles, it’s the fourth location in Los Angeles to be designated a city-sponsored safe haven for vehicle dwellers.

The Del Rey council voted unanimously in late September to host Los Angeles’ fifth Safe Parking Program site at the Culver Marina Little League parking lot off Culver Boulevard and abutting the Ballona Wetlands. The lot is expected to open in early 2019 with initial space for 10 vehicles. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife, which oversees the land where the baseball diamonds and parking lot are located, supports the safe parking plan but contractual discussions are pending.

“We believe as a community that we must not ask other communities to solve the problems for us but rather take the lead in providing opportunities for those in need right in our neighborhoods,” said Del Rey Neighborhood Councilman Matt Wersinger, chair of the council’s homeless committee. “In the end, this is a humanitarian crisis, and we must approach it as such.”

Julie Valdez, a member Culver-Marina Little League’s board of directors, told the Del Rey council’s land use and planning committee that she has concerns due to prior incidents of vandalism to the field, restrooms and snack bar facilities by transients living in Ballona Wetlands encampments.

“We have an open mind about Safe Parking, but we want to make sure that our concerns are heard,” Valdez said.

Those who wish to utilize any of the city’s safe parking lots must pass a screening by Venice-based homeless services provider the St. Joseph Center, which gives priority to those sleeping in the immediate area and provides outreach assistance to help transition them out of their cars and into housing. A security guard also remains onsite throughout the night, said Safe Parking L.A. Director Scott Sale.

Individuals, couples and families are required to stay in the designated area during the night, Sale explained, and Safe Park L.A. will provide hygiene facilities if the parking site does not already have them. Participants must also have a valid driver’s license and vehicle registration, as well as proof of vehicle ownership and auto insurance.

“The goal is to eventually get people into permanent housing,” Sale said. “In less than six months we’ve given out 175 parking passes, and we haven’t had any complaints.”

The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s 2018 Homeless Count found 264 homeless people in Del Rey, including 199 people sleeping in vehicles — 65 in cars, 72 in vans and 62 in RVs. There were 317 unsheltered homeless people in the Westchester-Playa area, including 148 sleeping in vehicles — 36 in cars, 28 in vans and 84 in RVs.

The safe parking lots in Del Rey and Westchester can accommodate cars or vans, but not RVs.

Westchester-Playa council member Scott Carni visited the safe parking site in Koreatown to see how the program operated and instantly became a supporter for a similar program at Westchester Park.

“Everyone considered the place their home — a place where they can go to every night and not have to worry about their safety or where they were going to park or if they would be targeted. We spoke to a few of the people, and all of them were very proud to talk about the program and how much it’s made a difference in their lives,” Carni said. “These folks are very interested in getting back on their feet and getting back to normal.”