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Venice Update

News of Venice, CA and Marina del Rey CA

LUPC Rejects Lincoln Place Apartments at Special Meeting

By Angela McGregor

Land Use and Planning Committer (LUPC) held a special meeting Thursday (14 May) exclusively to hear input and issue a decision on the Lincoln Place Apartments project prior to the Venice Neighborhood Council (VNC} 19 May Board meeting and the Planning Commission 28 May online meeting (see: https://planning.lacity.org/dcpapi/meetings/document/66666).

Over 120 persons attended the online meeting.

At its 26 February meet, last pre-pandemic meeting, LUPC sent Lincoln Apartments applicants — Venice Community Housing Corporation (VCHC) and Safe Place for Youth (SPY) — back to the community for more input before rendering a decision on the project.

Since then, City Planning has fast tracked approval of the project, apparently using the current pandemic to bypass the Venice Neighborhood Council usual approval process, especially for such a large and controversial project.

The meeting opened with VCHC Director Becky Denison delivering a somewhat revised presentation on the project, stating that VCHC had met with representatives from St. Mark School (which is adjacent to the project), who made 26 recommendations for the project, of which VCHC incorporated just 12 (the rest they deemed “unreasonable”).

This including adding some greenery and a gate to overcome the fact that the project’s roof deck offered direct line-of-sight above the school’s playground and insisting that there had been “no firm decision” on whether or not the project would be built with Prop. 2, “No Place Like Home”, funds, which would mandate that (according to VCHC) roughly one third of the residents be suffering from severe mental illness. VCHC then offered several examples of what they said were similar projects that had either been granted the kind of density bonuses they are requesting (over 100 percent, as well as a 22-foot height increase and waiver of step back provisions).

Public commentary was overwhelmingly opposed to the project, and continued for over two and a half hours. Speakers (many of whom are active participants in the St. Mark parish programs to benefit the homeless) primarily emphasized the historic threat to public safety and the poor track record of SPY in ensuring that their clientele did not terrorize the surrounding neighborhood and the children at the two nearby schools. In neighborhood discussions with VCHC, the applicant had refused to take Prop 2 money off the table, promise to screen prospective residents in the sex offender database, or add parking.

Project has questionable safety provisions
In three years, there have been 117 calls to police and fire for incidents at SPY, which include violent crimes that resulted in school lockdowns, and the record for the SPY Bridge Housing project on Main Street is even worse — 202 police calls in two months, including one SPY client who was allowed back into the facility after vandalizing multiple cars and assaulting two women.

Lincoln Apartments would not require sobriety or treatment (several speakers mentioned SPY clients openly using drugs near SPY’s current facility). At a projected cost of $500K per studio apartment, opponents contended the project was an unconscionable waste of money in light of the nearly 60,000 homeless in Los Angeles. Finally, Venice has more current and planned PSH and affordable housing projects than all of CD11 combined: Five units of affordable housing per 100 people.

80 percent of residents within 500 feet say “no”
In all, at least 80 percent of residents who live within a 500-foot radius of the project oppose it.  There was much less public commentary in favor of the project, mainly from people who identified themselves as board members or volunteers for either SPY or VCHC. Their comments were less specific to the project and focused on the overall need in Los Angeles for this type of housing.

Longtime VCH representative and former VNC Board President Linda Lucks stated that “VCH will be managing the property, and VCH is not SPY. They have a good reputation for managing their properties, including full-time, onsite social workers.”

SPY representative Alison Hurst stated that the problems at the Bridge Housing were due to challenges posed by the pandemic and the stress it was putting on residents, “especially vulnerable youth. We need to say yes to housing of all kinds!”

Board commentary opened with questions for the applicant. LUPC member Tim Bonefeld, who was the LUPC staffer on this project, stated that he lived very close to the Bridge Housing, and that, in his estimation, “incidents are through the roof.” He asked whether onsite security guards would be hired for the new project, to which Becky Dennison responded that that was “not considered best practices” and that “people underestimate how effective social service managers are in providing security.” Alison Hurst then stated that Bridge Housing is a “very different model” from the proposed project, and does have full time security officers on site.

Both LUPC Chair Alix Gucovsky and LUPC staffer Shep Stern cited the “overwhelming and unprecedented” outpouring of opposition to the project in the form of over 800 letters, many of whom were clearly very heartfelt, from parishioners and parents torn between their sense of obligation to the less fortunate and their responsibilities as parents for the safety of their children. By contrast, the letters in support of the project, of which there were hundreds, were clearly auto-generated, many with the same name and verbiage, and over 48 percent of them came from outside of Venice.

Bonefeld suggested that, in light of the upcoming hearing at City Planning wherein the project would likely be approved, LUPC make a motion to support the project, but with a long list of recommendations that would address residents’ concerns. However, the other board members seemed to feel that the project was irredeemable, given that its primary fault was its location so close to a school and the undeniably poor public safety record of SPY. At around 10:30 pm, three and a half hours after the start of the meeting, LUPC voted to dismiss the project, 5 votes to 2.

The project will now be taken up by the VNC Board, at their online meeting on May 19th at 7 pm.