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Venice Update

News of Venice, CA and Marina del Rey CA

Angela McGregor Answers Warren Olney’s LA Times Article

By Angela McGregor

On Christmas Day, the L.A. Times published an op-ed piece by KCRW radio personality and Venice resident Warren Olney entitled “The cowardly way L.A. perceives its homeless only makes it harder to get them help”.  While the title may have lambasted the entire city as fearful, the rest of the op-ed made it clear that Olney’s mission in writing the piece was to specifically castigate his neighbors in the Marina Del Rey-adjacent section of Venice Beach known as the Oxford Triangle.  Olney’s piece begins, “A message posted recently to my neighborhood’s website caught my attention.  It described a homeless woman passed out on the sidewalk in the middle of the day with an open liquor bottle, her shopping cart in the street.  The writer called ‘non-emergency’ services to report the situation because it felt unsafe.”  He then goes on to ask, “What was it about this pathetic scene that seemed unsafe?”

The neighbor in question had included pictures in her original post on NextDoor which showed the woman stretched out on the lawn in front of her home, her shoes off and her arm over her face, unconscious or asleep.  As this “cowardly” neighbor pointed out in her comments to the original post, she called the non-emergency number because, in the past, they had actually responded more quickly to such situations than 911.  In a follow-up post she stated, “What I didn’t state in my (original) post is that I’m pregnant and my first priority is my personal safety of myself and my unborn child. I don’t think it’s “safe” or smart to wake up a woman who is passed out and clearly intoxicated in some way.”  Neither do I.  For that matter, if #metoo has taught us anything, it’s that no man has the right to question any woman for feeling unsafe for any reason, let alone having a drunken stranger passed out on her lawn.

Mr. Olney then went on to describe a proposed permanent supportive housing development to be built in an abandoned maintenance yard at the end of our street.  His characterization of the development — as “unaffordable to the most destitute” — is oddly inaccurate. In fact, the proposal, as described by the developer, would include a percentage of homeless individuals. Olney then invokes Rodney King’s famous quote to imply that neighbors of his who have joined together to hire an attorney in response to this project are not only cowardly, but both racist and classist.  “The project might create a “mixed” neighborhood”, Olney states, “…but many of our neighbors are so opposed to that possibility that they’ve hired an attorney for possible legal action”.

Almost a year ago, the residents of the Oxford Triangle (myself included) organized to ensure that the proposed development Mr. Olney speaks of would be built in such a way as to be an asset to the neighborhood  – neighbors rather than just a bunch of unfortunate folks who live in the massive public housing block down the street. Meetings of the Oxford Triangle Association were open to anyone with an address in our neighborhood.  Mr. Olney could have attended and added his wisdom and insight.  We would have been thrilled to have him there.  Perhaps he’d have been less likely to label any of us cowards after getting to know us.  Not once at these gatherings have I heard anyone utter a word regarding not wanting to live with “others” from a different economic strata.  In fact, some of us have firsthand experiences with homeless friends and relatives and are looking forward to being part of the solution to the problem.  

If Mr. Olney had been there, he would also know that our concerns are with (among many other things) making sure the local schools don’t become more overloaded than they already are, that our narrow streets don’t become a parking lot, that setbacks are sufficient and building heights in line with existing neighborhood specific plans.  As dire as the homeless problem may be in this city, and as high as the demand for housing in this development will be once it is completed, placing a high-density, multi-family project in the middle of a low-density, R-1 neighborhood such as ours has inherent challenges which must be worked out in order to (to quote the proposed developer) “ensure the long-term success of the project (which his firm will ultimately manage once it’s built).  Working through these challenges has, and will, take many hours of negotiations.  

And yes, we did hire an attorney. As anyone who’s tried to have their voice heard in LA knows, without a lawyer nobody at City Hall listens. Moreover, the City is represented by counsel and land-use experts as is the proposed developer.   Our City Councilman has publically taken the position that the neighborhood should arrive at a solution with the proposed developer.  However, as demonstrated by their soon-to-be adopted Permanent Supportive Housing Ordinance, the City is most interested in creating a project on this cul-de-sac which would double the population of our neighborhood, without any parking provided.  In addition, the City contends that this project — despite requiring a major zoning change to a lot the area’s specific plan has designated R-1, which once served as a repository for toxic chemicals and will now be used to house families with children — presents “no substantial evidence that the project or any of its aspects could result in significant adverse impacts”.  Hiring an attorney to understand the City’s byzantine planning and land-use rules is hardly some kind of coded evidence of NIMBY-ism.

One of of our City Councilman’s hardest working surrogates, a former Venice resident and current employee of an affordable housing developer, has been reposting Mr. Olney’s op-ed all over social media.  “Warren Olney lives in Venice and wrote a beautiful and moving piece in today’s LATimes – a perfect story for Christmas,” she prefaced one post.  Posting it to another site, she stated that this article’s message is “to care for the homeless as if they were your neighbors”, without a hint of irony. Clearly, the narrative being advanced here is that of classist, greedy homeowner versus the destitute — a damning, unjust and clichéd characterization.

In fact, all we ask, as his neighbors, is that Mr. Olney regard us with at least the same consideration and benefit of the doubt he gave that homeless woman on his neighbor’s lawn.  To do otherwise would simply be un-neighborly, and in light of all the work we’re doing to try to remedy our city’s homeless crisis, we could use his help.


Comments (6)

  1. Cora Bird

    Thank you for taking the time to address false perceptions about people in this area, very much appreciated.

  2. Warren Olney

    I won’t take space and time to respond to the many inaccuracies in this response to my column. It was not my intention to start a fight. I will say that I was not responsible for the headline, and never accused anyone of being “cowardly.”

    • Martin Flynn MD

      But it IS your column Warren, so own it, and the headline. And then please elucidate the “inaccuracies” since you indeed have picked an irrational fight but now want to walk away from the reasoned blowback by our neighborhood which is ironically, kind of cowardly.

  3. Celeste Chada

    Fantastic article. Truth. Thank you for writing this.

  4. Roger of Venice

    What a crock of sh!t. Olney is a douchebag. Treat the homeless as neighbors, yea, invite them in to smoke some meth. I would have turned on the sprinklers then sick the dogs on her.

  5. Hey

    Date your articles! So readers have an idea of the timeframe – month, day, year

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