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Venice Update

News of Venice, CA and Marina del Rey CA

Councilman Bonin Updates VNC and Homeless Committee on His Progress for “Ending Homelessness in Venice”

Councilman Mike Bonin has written a letter to the Venice Neighborhood Council (VNC) and to the VNC Homeless Committee updating his plan for “Ending Homelessness in Venice” and has included other projects and programs relating to homelessness.  Councilman Bonin presented his program in April 2016 as a Town Hall at Westminster Elementary School.

This is Councilman Mike Bonin’s introduction to his “Ending Homelessness in Venice” Town Hall given last year in April outlining what he planned to do.

This is the letter.

Last year, I hosted a community meeting at Westminster Elementary School to offer updates on plans and proposals to address the homelessness crisis in Los Angeles, and especially in Venice. I am writing to provide the Venice Neighborhood Council with another update on the elements I unveiled a year ago, as well as other homeless projects and programs.

The elements of the implementation plan fall into several categories:

  1. Preserving Affordable Housing
  2. Providing More Affordable Housing
  3. Providing Homeless Housing
  4. Coordinated Entry System
  5. Enhanced Outreach and Expanded Services
  6. Street Strategy

1. PRESERVING AFFORDABLE HOUSING

While it is essential for Los Angeles to build more affordable and homeless housing, those efforts will be futile if the City does not preserve existing affordable housing stock.

Mello Act Reform – The Mello Act is an important tool in preserving, replacing, and creating affordable housing in the Coastal Zone. The City is currently operating under Interim Administrative Procedures, which implement the provisions of the Mello Act but leave room for stronger protections. At my urging, the City is drafting a permanent ordinance to implement the full protections of the Mello Act within the City’s Coastal Zone areas.

Next steps: A draft should be available for public review by this summer, and I hope for it to be adopted this fall.

Short-Term Rental Regulations –Unregulated short term rentals have an adverse effect on the housing supply and reduce affordable housing stock in our neighborhoods. Working with Council President Herb Wesson, I proposed that the City adopt new regulations for short-term rentals that would protect affordable housing and that would be easily enforceable once enacted. The City’s proposed Home-Sharing Ordinance was approved by the City Council’s Housing Committee last December with some amendments, and is awaiting a public hearing before the City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee.

Next steps: I anticipate the planning committee will hear the matter in June, with consideration by the full City Council shortly after that.

2. PROVIDING MORE AFFORDABLE HOUSING

Utilizing Public Land for Affordable Housing: Metro Bus Yard – After the Metro bus yard shut down in 2015, I introduced legislation to the Metro Board, calling on the agency to enter into a joint-development agreement to build affordable housing at the site of the former bus yard. Metro’s policy requires that at least 35% of housing units in its development projects are affordable. While 35% is a good floor, I would like to see a larger number of affordable units in this project.

The process for this property is lengthy and complex — and any proposed project will be heavily shaped by extensive community input. Currently, Metro is working with the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board to determine the scope and extent of the required environmental remediation of the property. Depending on the environmental findings, remediation could take as little as a year or as much as several years. The remediation will include removing most of the buildings and concrete on the property.

In the meantime, Metro’s will lead community workshops to make sure any proposed project for the site reflects neighbor’s input on density, height, design, parking, and any potential other uses (such as open space or neighborhood-serving retail). Metro will heavily advertise each meeting and step in this process to make sure neighbors have ample opportunities to participate and offer their suggestions. Metro will procure a design consultant and I anticipate the community outreach process on these guidelines will begin in late summer. I will ask ask Metro to begin that process with a briefing for the Venice Neighborhood Council.

Once the community has weighed-in on what they want to see at the site, Metro will issue a Request for Proposals (RFP) to seek a qualified developer to design a project. Once Metro chooses a developer, that developer will craft a formal proposal, and begin the extensive public process that includes a hearing at the VNC’s Land Use & Planning committee, the VNC Board, the Zoning Administrator, the Area Planning Commission, the CIty Council, and very likely the Coastal Commission. Each body affords an opportunity for public input.

Accessory Dwelling Unit Legislation –  For generations, affordable housing advocates have been pushing for legalization of “granny flats,” or “accessory dwelling units,” also known as ADUs, as a quick and easy way to provide low-cost housing. ADUs are small apartment-style living units typically above a garage or in a guest house. For years, the construction of these units has been prevented by onerous development standards, but thanks to changes in state and city law, that is changing.

On January 1 of this year, two state laws (AB 2299 and SB 1069) took effect, mandating that cities allow ADUs without requiring a cumbersome and expensive process. The City is crafting its “enabling ordinance,” outlining how that will work in Los Angeles. The City Planning Commission approved a proposal in December 2016, and the Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) Committee held a public hearing on the proposed ordinance in March. The PLUM Committee recommended some changes to the draft ordinance that would further enable the development of ADUs, for example, by increasing the maximum allowable size for detached ADUs from 640 sf to 1,200 sf and by allowing moveable “tiny homes” to qualify as ADUs. The PLUM Committee also directed the City Attorney to prepare a final version of the ordinance, which will be considered at an upcoming Planning Committee meeting and then by the full City Council.

Next steps: The ordinance was recently approved by the Council’s Planning Committee and should be voted on by the City Council in the next few months.

3. PROVIDING HOMELESS HOUSING

Utilizing Public Land for Affordable Housing: Venice Dell/Pacific Parking Lot - Last year, Mayor Garcetti, the City Administrative Officer and I announced that the city would allow nonprofit housing developers to work with communities to prepare proposals for dozens of new housing projects throughout the city at surplus, underused or vacant property owned by the city. One of the potential housing sites identified is the parking lot in the median of Venice Boulevard, between Dell and Pacific Avenues. The City granted Venice Community Housing and Hollywood Community Housing the opportunity to craft a proposal for housing at the site.

VCHC began conducting public outreach, hosting more than 30 meetings and listening sessions over a period of 40 days. VCHC then incorporated feedback from those listening sessions into a conceptual proposal for the site, which they presented to the community on March 9. The concept presented on March 9 does not yet include design or architectural specifics, but rather identifies some of the features the eventual proposal is likely to include, such as: improving the canal banks, and adding neighborhood-serving retail and artistic workspaces along both North and South Venice Boulevard.  Additionally, I have insisted that the amount of parking available to the public be maintained in addition to the parking that is required for the tenants.

VCHC is now hosting listening sessions and living room conversations in the area to get feedback on the ideas they included in the conceptual proposal. VCHC will then incorporate feedback the community input into a design for the site, and then formally submit a proposal, and start the development process with the City. That process includes a hearing at the VNC’s Land Use & Planning committee, the VNC Board, the Zoning Administrator, the Area Planning Commission, the PLUM committee of the City Council, CIty Council, and very likely the Coastal Commission, and each step will afford opportunities for public input.

Next steps: VCHC will continue community engagement before unveiling a formal proposal for the site.

Utilizing Public Land for Affordable Housing: Thatcher Yard - In addition to the Dell/Pacific site, the former Thatcher Maintenance Yard was also included in the initial list of underused and surplus city-owned properties available for consideration for homeless housing. The City granted Tom Safran & Associates (TS&A) the opportunity to work with the community and submit a formal proposal for consideration and approval.

Just as VCHC has done for the Dell/Pacific site, Safran and Associates will conduct significant community outreach before designing and proposing a project, which will then go through the city’s normal development process (including hearings at VNC’s Land Use & Planning committee, the VNC Board, the Zoning Administrator, the Area Planning Commission, the PLUM committee of the City Council, CIty Council, and very likely the Coastal Commission, with opportunities for public input at each hearing throughout the process). In total, the process will likely take 2-3 years.

Next steps: TSA will begin and conduct extensive community engagement before crafting and unveiling a formal proposal for the site.

Expanding the Rapid Rehousing Program - One of my priorities has been to find quick and nimble ways to get people off the streets and into housing. While permanent supportive housing is a solution, it is not the only solution, and it is often not a fast solution. Rapid Rehousing is another solution.

Rapid Rehousing programs essentially provide short-term rental subsidies to people who are newly or episodically homeless, perhaps providing a minimal amount of services, allowing people will low barriers to re-entering the housing market to get off the streets quickly.
I have made expanding Rapid Rehousing a priority. In last year’s budget, I successfully advocated for such funding, increasing City funding for RRH from $0 to $6 million. In Venice, RRH was managed by St. Joseph Center, which is the lead agency for homelessness on the Westside of Los Angeles County, and the program has already placed 41 people in housing since the current contract period began last August.

In next year’s budget, the mayor is proposing that Rapid Rehousing be paid for through the new county-approved revenue source, Proposition H.

Next steps: Continue to fight for Rapid Rehousing funds and see that a proportionate amount is spent to alleviate homelessness in Venice.

Using Shared Housing - Another quick and nimble solution is the use of shared housing. It has proven effective here in Venice. Most federally funded housing vouchers require a tenant to lease their own unit. But with as little as a monthly disability check, many people living on the street can be rehoused with roommates.

I am pushing hard for both the county and city to use shared housing more extensively. Last month, the City Council approved my proposal to help the Westside-based Self-Help and Recovery Exchange (SHARE), launch a pilot project in Council District 11. My action provides funding to SHARE to hire more personnel to locate available shared housing.

Next steps: Launch the pilot program with SHARE; elevate shared housing as a strategy citywide and countywide.

Supporting Reunification Efforts – The VNC recently passed a resolution, advancing the Reduce Return Rehouse (RRR) principles put forward by the VNC’s Homelessness Committee. One of the key elements of this strategy is to facilitate family reunification when possible and appropriate.

I applaud the Homelessness Committee for its hard work, and I have pledged a $3,000 grant to get this program off to a healthy start.

Next steps: Continue to support the VNC’s Reduce Return Rehouse (RRR) initiative.

4. COORDINATED ENTRY SYSTEM (CES)

Venice Forward - One of the key strategies to better address homelessness countywide has been the use of a “coordinated entry system,” a merger of the efforts and the data of all service agencies and government entities to better prioritize and allocate services. While there is an increasingly robust CES countywide, I identified a need for a Venice-centric CES, and formed Venice Forward in 2014.

Venice Forward is a multi-agency collaborative to end homelessness in Venice. Every month, residents, business owners, nonprofits, and government employees meet to discuss increased coordination of homeless services in Venice, and to strategically implement elements of the comprehensive homelessness strategy.

Venice Forward has been successful in some aspects and fallen short in others. Venice Forward has succeeded at improving coordination among service providers, and in identifying new policies that will help get people living on the street the help they need — such as cutting a frustrating amount of red tape that prevented mental agencies and the fire department from sharing information about people in frequent need of services from both agencies.

But Venice Forward has fallen short in its goal of bringing together residents, business people, and members of the faith community to be part of the collaborative. Venice Forward will be recruiting more participating from those communities.

Next steps: Increase participation in Venice Forward.

5. ENHANCED OUTREACH AND SERVICES

Venice City, County, Community, Outreach Team (Venice C3) – Last year, I partnered with Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, the St. Joseph Center, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), the Department of Mental Health, Department of Health Services, Behavioral Health Services, Venice Family Clinic, and LAMP Community to launch a County-City-Community partnership (known as a “C3”) to bring services directly to people living on the streets of Venice. This program replaces VCHIP, a program which focused on only the most high-need individuals, with a program that can help anyone with its multi-disciplinary team.

The C3 model was selected for this work because it has been incredibly successful in other areas where it has been used, and five months into the Venice C3’s work, the outreach is yielding results. To date, C3 outreach workers have engaged nearly 200 people, and have helped or provided services to 85 people. C3 has moved more than forty people off the streets and into interim housing, and found permanent housing for 11 people. This program is focused on the 3rd and Rose area.

The program model is most successful when all three Cs’ are participating. To that end, I encouraged the Venice Forward C3 Community Subcommittee to start meeting. This group is the community advisory committee available for those neighbors who want to support the mission of C3 and get people off the streets of Venice. The community engagement component of this C3 has not been as strong as it could be. I encourage anyone with an interest to email Taylor Bazley on my staff (taylor.bazley@lacity.org) to be updated on pending meetings.

Next steps: Continue C3 program at the 3rd and Rose area.

LAPD HOPE Team - The City dedicated a unit of 10 officers and a sergeant to specialize in homeless outreach within LAPD’s West Bureau. Based out of nearby Pacific Division, the unit works in collaboration with the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) and the Bureau of Sanitation to conduct homeless outreach, and improve the Police Department’s response to homelessness.

With this dedicated focus on improved police response, the HOPE team has helped transport 46 people to shelter, and has helped nine people either find permanent housing or be reunified with their families since August of last year.

Venice Homeless Taskforce - LAPD Chaplains Regina and Steve Weller have impressed residents of Venice with their ability to build a trusting rapport with almost anyone on the street, and with the their ability to convince people who seem resist to leaving an encampment to accept housing. Earlier this year, I awarded the Wellers a $62,000 grant to help fund their work in Venice. With the first $32,000 of this grant, the Wellers have connected 38 people with housing.

Next steps: Once the Wellers exhaust the remaining $30,000, I will be awarding them an additional $50,000 to continue their work in Venice.

Treating Mental Illness: Exodus – The County Department of Mental Health has reopened Exodus Recovery Treatment facility, and now offers Urgent Care beds for those in a mental health crisis, Services include: psychiatric crisis center open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days per year; mental health assessment; medication evaluation and management; therapeutic interventions; social services and referrals including a variety of discharge plans that range from home to hospital; services provided by an interdisciplinary team doctors, nurses and therapists. The newly operational facility is a critical link in our region’s response to the epidemic of mental illness.

Next steps: Support the continued operation of Exodus.

Education & Youth Employment – I helped secure a new site for Safe Place for Youth (SPY) which now runs, among other programs, an in-house education and employment specialist. This specialist manages a three step program to assist young people in creating and implementing a plan, as well as matching them with employment opportunities.

This program is critical to supporting youth towards housing and towards self sufficiency. In the last year SPY has helped 227 youth and have secured employment for 33.

While their results are impressive they could use help for even greater success. SPY youth often just need the opportunity for an interview to prove their qualifications. By contacting SPY they will identify a youth that might be a good fit and you can interview that candidate as you would any other candidate. Their youth just need a chance to compete and your business could gain a valuable employee which doing some real social good.

6. STREET STRATEGY

Storage - The most controversial element of my homelessness strategy has been my proposed to use the former Westminster Senior Center as the site for voluntary storage so that people living on the streets have an alternative to leaving their belongings in the sidewalk encampments that have proliferated in the community.  (See separate story regarding storage.)

In response to my proposal, the Venice Neighborhood Council and its Homelessness Committee asked the City to consider a “mobile storage” option. I asked the City Administrative Officer (CAO), Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, and Chrysalis (the service provider for voluntary storage in downtown Los Angeles) to evaluate the mobile storage proposal, as well as other suggestions made to VNC and to my office.

I look forward to your feedback on the CAO memo and I am eager to move quickly to implement voluntary storage. At my urging, the City Budget for Fiscal Year 2017-18 contains funding for voluntary storage as we cannot continue to wait while people are forced to keep their belongings on streets and sidewalks, and by offering storage options, we can keep our neighborhood cleaner and safer.

Lava Mae Showers - A key part of the street strategy has been to provide access to basic hygiene services. I recruited the San Francisco-based non-profit Lava Mae to expand to the Los Angeles area earlier this year. Lava Mae offers homeless clients on Rose Avenue showers and other hygiene services out of a converted bus once a week. Lava Mae has been working with Venice C3 to encourage their clients to get connected with housing opportunities. The organization, which currently splits its time between Venice and in Downtown LA, is hoping to soon expand and provide two separate trailers — one for exclusive use on the Westside and another for exclusive use downtown.

Next steps: Support Lava Mae in its continued operation in Venice.

Restrooms - I successfully secured funding to allow the Department of Recreation & Parks to keep one of the beach restrooms open for 24 hours. Tourists and people without homes, lacking another option, often urinate and sometimes defecate in public, or even on private property. The bathroom has been slow to open as the City Attorney’s office irons out legal issues, and legislation enabling the restrooms at the beach to remain open will be heard by the City Council in the coming weeks.

Next steps: City Attorney to release draft ordinance allowing the Recreation & Parks Commission to operate selected bathrooms at Ocean Front Walk 24 hours per day.

Safe Parking - People clinging to the bottom rung of the economic ladder and living out of their cars need a safe place to park while the housing they need to get off the street is built.

I have been urging the City Council for years to adopt a Safe Parking program. It is my hope that Los Angeles might establish a program similar to the model used in Santa Barbara where  churches, nonprofits, and others have offered parking spots for people who are registered to park in the evening hours. In order to register for the safe parking spot, people must first enroll in available services and sign up for housing vouchers. Once we implement such a plan, this process will reduce our vehicular dwelling homeless population.

For the second year in a row, I secured funding in the City Budget for this program, and LAHSA is seeking a nonprofit to operate the program. LAHSA issued an RFP to identify a nonprofit to  manage the program, but did not get any responses. At my direction, LAHSA is rewriting and reissuing the RFP.

Next steps: LAHSA selects an agency to operate the Safe Parking program. —

Thank you for your time and the opportunity to update you on the work I am doing to combat homelessness in Venice. I am enormously grateful for your partnership, as well as the work of terrific local nonprofits such as SHARE!, St. Joseph Center, Harvest Home, Safe Place for Youth, the Homeless Task Force, VCHC, New Directions, Venice Family Clinic, New Directions for Veterans, 1736 Family Crisis Center, Chrysalis, Exodus, First to Serve, and the United Way. The work ahead will be difficult, but I am encouraged by our shared progress and I am excited about the future of Venice.

Councilman Mike Bonin

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