City Planning Commission votes in favor of Reese Davidson Project

By Katie Lulla

The City Planning Commission approved the Reese Davidson Project’s requested actions in a public hearing via Zoom on May 27. The Reese Davidson Project will be statutorily exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and will amend two general plans and one specific plan.

The Reese Davidson Project will replace a parking lot and two-story residential structure with a dual lot consisting of a permanent supportive housing structure, a retail lot, restaurant space, art studio and parking structure.

The hearing started with a presentation from Ira Brown, city planning associate for the city of Los Angeles Department of City Planning. Toward the end of the presentation, he highlighted the reasoning behind the exemption from CEQA.

“The project meets the definition of supportive housing outlined in Health and Safety code section 50675.14 and the requirements contained in government codes section 65651,” Brown said. “ In addition, the project is funded by measure H.”

Jamie Hall, the appellant representative, outlined the negative environmental effects of the Reese Davidson Project and stressed that the project is not entirely an affordable housing structure. He said the project could not proceed without being subject to CEQA.

“The city was indeed preparing an EIR for this project and had conducted an initial study in 2018 that showed significant environmental impacts to a variety of resourced categories including […] greenhouse gas emissions, hazards and hazardous waste, hydrology and water quality, [etc.],” Hall said. “The city, in this case, takes the position that the statutory exemption removes the requirements to evaluate and mitigate the environmental impacts of this project.”

The Reese Davidson Project’s applicant representatives, DJ Moore and Beth Cordy, spoke in favor of the project. Afterward, opposing and supporting residents were given one hour of public comment. A majority of the opposing residents were in favor of the project, but wanted a housing structure built faster, cheaper and under stricter environmental codes. Supporting residents said the benefits outweighed the potential negative effects.
Officers and commissioners then responded to the public’s concerns and support of the Reese Davidson Project. Representatives for Councilman Mike Bonin of the 11th District and Mayor Eric Garcetti said both politicians will consider community concerns for future adjustments to the housing project.
Jacqueline Wagner, chief administrative analyst in the Office of the City Administrative Office of Los Angeles, opened the officer commentary and commissioner deliberation by giving an overview of the project and emphasizing the benefits.
“The Reese Davidson community will include 140 affordable and supportive units, 50% for formerly homeless households, 20% for low-income artists, 25% for other low-income households,” Wagner said.
During the comment portion of the hearing, supporters and the opposition had differing views on this division of housing. Supporters commented that building 140 housing units was the least the Venice community could do to provide affordable housing, while opponents said the project took up too much time and money for so few units.
In the officer and commissioner commentary, the opposing and supporting residents’ views on the cost of the project were reiterated.
“[The project shows] a price tag of nearly $750,000 per unit. At this rate, it would cost over $22 trillion to house 30,000 people,” said Alex Neiman of the Venice Neighborhood Council. “[Quoting Judge David O’Carter], The humanitarian crisis on the streets of Venice is neither alleviated nor changed for those who can’t afford to wait for enough inexpensive housing to be built years later and millions of dollars over budget.”

“I do not like the cost of housing, but having worked in affordable housing for a lot of years, it’s an ongoing problem,” countered commissioner Jenna Hornstock. “And I don’t like it and I don’t blame anybody else for not liking it, but just saying ‘no’ isn’t going to fix it.”

In addition to the cost of the project, a minority of opposing residents emphasized their concerns over the theft, drug use, and an increase in violence from other bridge housing projects.
“If you wait for someone to be sober before putting a roof over their head, they will die on the street,” commission president Samantha Millman later said in response.
Other commissioners and public commenters stressed that not every homeless person is inclined to crime and that most people on the streets are not there of their own volition.
The opposing and supporting sides also commented on the ecological effects of the Reese Davidson Project. The opposition said it would be irresponsible to bypass environmental reports on the project, while supporters prioritized the benefits of low-income housing.

“The subject site is a subversive parking lot with minimal vegetation,” Brown said. “No work is propped in the existing rideaway or grand canal, which is an artificially constructed waterway with concrete sidewalks on both sides.”

Brown also stated that while the project was exempt from CEQA, all other health and public safety codes would be followed. He did not address the unprotected 24 on-site trees and 11 street trees that will be removed.

When continuing the discussion over the one site being a parking lot, opponents of the project cited the permanent lack of parking and the possible failure of the automatic parking structure that will replace the parking lot.

“What I hear people wanting is that they want to park and this project is replacing the parking,” Hornstock said. “This is maintaining that use and adding more. I think forward-thinking parking in terms of reducing [the carbon] footprint of parking with the [automation] is the future for this city.”

In addition, to the advancement of parking technology, residents in support of the Reese Davidson Project continually mentioned the project not only serving as permanent housing, but as an attempt to bring back Venice’s artistic culture. Several commissioners agreed with this outlook.

“I really hope what you get to see several years down the road when this is open and you get to use the wonderful spaces, the [artistic] uses, and whatever coffee shops it brings and celebrate this new housing for your neighbors and celebrate that the city is trying to look at a multitude of solutions for housing,” Hornstock said.

“We’re not just building buildings, we’re building community and that’s what this is supporting.

“[It’s] building a community that’s just not homeless folks, but bringing some diversity back into Venice, which is the ideal,” said commissioner Karen Mack. “If it was easy to build this kind of housing, we wouldn’t be in this crisis.”