LOS ANGELES—City officials are pushing to expand affordable housing projects amid a homelessness crisis gripping the state’s neighborhoods and coastal towns, but some of them are being countered with lawsuits and outcry from residents who say affordable housing will only attract more homeless.
A handful of Venice Beach residents called into a special Los Angeles City Council meeting on Feb. 2 in opposition to a massive affordable housing unit project that is back up for a vote after a filing mishap, despite it being approved in December.
“The changes outlined in the motion are significant errors that should have been caught in the process prior to final approval,” one resident who called into the meeting said. “The so-called correct set of exhibits to the benefit land use plan haven’t been seen by you or us the public. This is yet another fundamental flaw in this process.”
The 100-percent affordable housing project, dubbed the Reese-Davidson Community Project, will be replacing a parking lot along the Venice Canals with a three-acre, 68-unit permanent supportive housing for the homeless, with 34 units for low-income earning artists and 34 units for all other low-income households.
The total estimated cost of the project is $75 million, or roughly $535,000 per unit, and would house up to 420 people.
Funding will come from multiple sources including the city’s housing trust fund and the state’s Infill Infrastructure Grant Program, according to Venice Community Housing, one of the groups behind constructing the project.
Venice Beach currently has the most homeless people living on its streets after Skid Row—roughly 2,000—according to the most recent count. The small, eccentric community was thrust into the national spotlight last summer when the sheriff’s department and city officials conducted a cleanup of nearly 200 encampments that appeared on the famed boardwalk.
The city of Los Angeles has 41,000 homeless people, and the next homeless for 2021 count is slated for later this month. Homelessness is among the top issues for Angeleno voters this year, with 94 percent deeming it a “very serious problem,” according to a poll conducted by the Los Angeles Business Council in November.
The motion for the affordable housing project was initially passed by counselors on Dec. 1 in a 12–0 decision, but the action was rescinded on Feb. 2 after the city attorney requested a second vote because the planning department left out maps and other items on the council’s file management system that should have been present during the December vote.
Venice Beach’s councilman, Mike Bonin of District 11, said the annulment of the council’s previous approval is to “make sure we are protected” against an impending lawsuit filed by the Coalition for Safe Coastal Development in January, a nonprofit made up of Venice community members concerned about the environmental impact of new developments in the region.
The coalition filed litigation against the city of Los Angeles, Los Angeles Department of Transportation, Hollywood Community Housing Corporation, and Venice Community Housing Corporation in early January, alleging California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and other violations.
Venice Community Housing said the project, which would replace two city-owned parking lots and include the demolition of an existing one-story duplex, received a CEQA exemption because it is affordable housing. Under the 2019 passing of AB 1157, affordable housing construction in the city is streamlined for a faster approval process, permitting it to bypass traditional CEQA inspections until 2025.
But city officials are still facing legal threats from local activists who strongly oppose the Reese-Davidson Community Project. Local group Fight Back, Venice! refers to the project as the “Venice Monster” on its website.
When the project was being considered last year, the Planning Land Use Management Committee (PLUM) “waived consideration of the item” on Nov. 9, according to the city attorney’s office. PLUM usually reviews any issues pertaining to the construction of new or existing developments in Los Angeles.
Residents took issue with the committee’s waiving, with one saying “you would hope by the time a project goes to council it has been fully vetted.”
“This is not the case as the PLUM hearing was waived by Mr. Bonin,” the resident said.
It’s unclear why the hearing was waived, and Bonin’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Bonin, who is not running for reelection this year after defeating a recall attempt, defended the project and said the units will be “replacing a parking lot with housing for people who are homeless and low-income artists in Venice.”
“There is a history of litigation against any homeless housing on the west side, and out of an abundance of caution, the city attorney recognized that we needed to vote on this a second time,” Bonin said during the meeting.
“To those who have called—if you don’t want encampments, you need housing.”
But some residents have told The Epoch Times they’re concerned that Venice is becoming one of LA’s “containment zones” for the homeless at the expense of taxpayers, as Bonin does not enforce restricting encampments and other city codes that other districts enforce.
“Please step back and take a good look at this project. It is not a housing solution but an ill-conceived project with reckless use of taxpayer funds,” another resident who called into the meeting said.
The next date to vote on the Reese-Davidson Community Project has not been announced yet.
The motion will be sent to the Los Angeles Planning Commission and the mayor for review and consideration before it returns to the council for a second vote.