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Venice Update

News of Venice, CA and Marina del Rey CA

Venetians Vent at Bridge Housing Town Hall

Alex Cohen, moderator, Chief of Police Michel Moore, Mayor Eric Garcetti, and Councilman Mike Bonin

By Angela McGregor

The announcement and requests for RSVPs for the 17 October, 6pm community meeting with Mayor Garcetti and Councilman Mike Bonin to answer questions about the proposed Bridge Housing Facility at the vacant MTA lot on Main & Sunset was blasted out via email and social media several weeks ago.

Within days anyone attempting to sign up to attend received a notice that the event at Westminster Elementary was full. On Nextdoor and Facebook, members of local groups which oppose the project speculated that, since the notice was sent to everyone in CD11 and not just Venice, priority had been given to the project’s supporters. After all, back in June, at the so-called “Bridge Housing Town Hall”, dozens of Bonin/Bridge Housing supporters had arrived early from all over the city, via a chartered bus, carrying professionally pre-printed signs declaring “Venice Says Yes”.

At a press event at the proposed site on October 15th entitled “Let Venice Speak”, Venice Stakeholders Association President Mark Ryavec declared, “Even though there is not enough room for Venice residents at the Westchester Elementary School auditorium, the invitation for the event was sent to all of Council District 11, from Pacific Palisades to Westchester. We also have been informed that Councilman Bonin has recruited homeless advocates and social service employees from throughout the city to attend and urged them to sign-up early, displacing Venice residents.”

Shortly thereafter, the RSVP site was re-opened, and arrangements were made for overflow seating at the event.

Nevertheless, those opposed to the project arrived early to ensure that their presence was felt inside the venue. By 4 pm — with an hour to go before the doors would open — members of Save Venice Beach and Fight Back, Venice had already set up tables and were handing out printed t-shirts (“Recall Bonin”, “Venice Says No”, “I Walked Here, I Wasn’t Bussed”) and small signs (“Stop Dumping on Venice!”) along with bottles of water.

Standing under the hot sun, they traded personal stories of transient-related crimes that had grown more menacing and more frequent as the numbers of encampments had increased — package and bicycle thefts, break-ins, needles and feces strewn over their sidewalks, alleys and all over the beach. One resident showed a video his wife had made of a homeless man skateboarding up to her, yelling threats and obscenities. Some had lived in Venice for decades, and had seen not only an escalation of crime but increasing unwillingness by the police to even confront the criminals. Their opposition to the Bridge Housing facility at the MTA yard stemmed from a belief that the project would attract yet more transients — and more crime — to their neighborhood.

Meanwhile, at Councilman Bonin’s booth, staffers handed out “Venice Says Yes!” flyers along with information packets touting the project.

The auditorium filled quickly once doors opened, and the crowd was loud and boisterous well before the event began, about half and hour late, chanting “Venice Says No!” and “Recall Bonin” and unfurling large banners (“Venice: Where Needles and Feces are Part of the Fun!”) along the walls. Forms for submitting questions were provided, and passed to the front of the room by the handful.

The event was moderated by Alex Cohen, the former host of NPR’s Morning Edition on KPCC. She began by imploring everyone to be civil in order to allow all of the questions to be answered, before introducing Mayor Garcetti and Councilman Bonin to a chorus of boos, and the LAPD Chief of Police, Michel Moore, to applause.

Mayor Garcetti began the meeting with a Powerpoint presentation, struggling to be heard over the crowd. According to his statistics, between 2010-2018 Los Angeles has housed roughly 32,000 homeless individuals, with the number of homeless (according to LAHSA’s count) rising during that period from 38,717 to 52,765. Garcetti framed the Bridge Housing development in stark, simple terms — either build it or “maintain the status quo”. Both Garcetti and Chief Moore explained that, because of legal challenges, the City cannot clean up encampments without first offering the occupants some type of shelter.

With Proposition H funds, the City has hired 1,000 outreach workers who are now in training, some of whom would be dispatched to Venice to persuade occupants of neighborhood encampments to take advantage of the facility. Bridge Housing will be staffed by all variety of social service workers, including mental health professionals, to determine the best way to move occupants off of the streets. Garcetti pointed out that the first Bridge Home Facility — El Pueblo, which opened a couple of months ago, near Olvera Street — has already transitioned 11 people, including one individual who only stayed for a couple of days. The proposed facility in Venice — 154 units on 3.1 acres — would be roughly three times as large. With an average stay of four months or so, within 3 years perhaps as many as 900 individuals could be moved off the streets.

Bonin then spoke, greeted by more boos and catcalls and constantly interrupted by the crowd, especially when he insisted that the homeless are no more inclined to commit crimes than anyone else. He showed a graphic of several homeless individuals and began to tell their tragic tales as if to imply that the crowd’s opposition to the project was simply due to a lack of sympathy and understanding — a tactic which resulted in loud cries for his recall. He defended the proposed location by pointing out that, of the 2000 homeless in all of CD11, about half are in Venice. Venice’s homeless population is also younger, whiter and more likely to be a victim of domestic violence. Both he and Mayor Garcetti insisted that Bridge Housing is “essential” to ultimately “solving” homelessness in Los Angeles. Finally, the MTA lot is “guaranteed” to be temporary, since the MTA is already in the planning stages to develop the property.

Chief Moore spoke last, and began to deliver a rambling speech about the LAPD frequently being called upon to “solve every problem in history” including “turning Okies away at the border”. Citing the city’s resilience after the Northridge Earthquake and 1992 Riots, he stated that we need to have confidence in our elected officials. Much to the chagrin of the crowd, he also stated that Venice receives less police attention because violent crime rates here are much lower than in other areas of the city.

Questions then commenced. To the question of requiring sobriety within the facility, Bonin stated that “housing first” without a sobriety requirement had been proven most effective, but also said that, if the community insisted, such a requirement could be instated. As to the question of what to do with service-resistant transients who already refuse temporary shelter beds, both he and the mayor explained that these facilities — which are pet-friendly, contain ample storage for belongings and allow couples and families to stay together — are a much more attractive option that existing emergency shelters. In addition, Chief Moore said that he could not arrest or otherwise move along street campers without first determining their unwillingness to take advantage of an existing option like Bridge Housing.

One questioner pointed out that both Carol Sobel and the Legal Aid Foundation have threatened lawsuits should the city proceed with its plan for increased clean ups in conjunction with Bridge Housing. Mayor Garcetti stated that prior lawsuits only occurred because the city “didn’t listen” and said that he would meet with these groups to determine how best to work with them.

Questioning continued until well after the announced 8pm end time for the event. Toward the end, someone asked if the project was a “done deal”, to which Bonin stated that it was not, because it still requires an EIR, permits and City approval. Outside of the exit door, homeless advocates organized by United Way lined up facing the departing crowd, silently holding up signs in support of the project along with lit candles.