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Venice Council Narrowly Votes in Favor of Beach Storage for Homeless

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By Paul Chavez, Venice Dispatch

A divided Venice Neighborhood Council board Tuesday night narrowly voted in favor of a motion supporting the installation of a metal storage container on Venice Beach as a temporary storage unit for shelter-bound homeless people.

The 30-foot long storage unit has become a contentious issue in Venice primarily because its installation last week near the Los Angeles Police Department substation on Windward Plaza was not vetted by the community. The board voted 8-5 with three abstentions in favor of a motion supporting the Westside Winter Shelter storage pilot program that also included a request for a follow-up report on its effectiveness.

Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl addressed an audience of about 90 people and said the 160-bed Westside Winter Shelter program at the West Los Angeles National Guard Armory has not been filling up and the storage option was designed to encourage more of the homeless to use the winter shelter and its services.

“People are going to complain that the (neighborhood) council wasn’t involved. Let me take the responsibility and blame me,” Rosendahl said.

A storage container on Venice Beach near the LAPD substation that will be used as a temporary storage option for the homeless headed to the Westside Winter Shelter is shown after being installed Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2013.

A storage container on Venice Beach near the LAPD substation that will be used as a temporary storage option for the homeless headed to the Westside Winter Shelter is shown after being installed Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2013, on Windward Plaza.

The pilot storage program will end March 1 when the Westside Winter Shelter program comes to a close and will be administered by the nonprofit Venice Community Housing Corporation run by executive director Steve Clare. Venice Neighborhood Council President Linda Lucks recused herself from discussion and voting on the matter Tuesday night because she is employed by the Venice Community Housing Corporation.

The Venice Beach police substation location was chosen because it is a secure spot and close to the area where the homeless board buses each night for the winter shelter, Clare said. The pilot storage program will be run by volunteers and likely will begin this weekend or early next week, Clare said.

More than 1,000 people have used the Westside Winter Shelter so far this season, including 293 women and 84 military veterans, Rosendahl said.

Storage for the homeless will become a larger issue when the Westside Winter Shelter program ends, Rosendahl said.

Chief Deputy City Attorney Bill Carter, who also attended the meeting, answered a question from the audience on whether the federal government will require the city to provide lockers for the homeless, separate from the pilot program.

Carter said the federal government has become involved in the homeless issue and has taken away some of the city’s discretion.

“There’s a new paradigm and courts are saying that enforcement is not the answer to a lot of these homeless issues and it’s more complex than that,” Carter said.

Taking the property of the homeless and destroying it has become a Fourth Amendment issue relating to search and seizure and due process, Carter said. The city must now provide storage for found items for a certain amount of time, so homeless people can retrieve their belongings close to where they were seized, Carter said.

“We’re in that situation right now and the city’s decision is whether to appeal to the Supreme Court, or not, or try and reach a settlement,” he said.

The pilot storage program debate took up about 90 minutes of the four-hour meeting with a vocal group of homeless advocates cheering favored speakers, while opponents cited concerns over the process and location of the storage unit.

Board member Scot Kramarich said the pilot program had been discussed for months and asked Rosendahl’s district director, Arturo Pina, why discussion on it was pulled from the Venice Neighborhood Council’s agenda for its December meeting.

“The council office did not pull it,” Pina said and explained that the program was not ready to start in December.

Board member Jake Kaufman, who is chair of the Land Use and Planning Committee, also was critical of the process.

“Our (council) president, who works for this organization, pulled this from the agenda in December and nobody was talking about this before,” Kaufman said. “So Linda pulled it from the agenda because we’re not ready, and now we’re going to vote on it when the lockers are already in place. I think that process is despicable and I’m worried about the precedent it sets.”

Mark Ryavec, president of the Venice Stakeholders Association, was among the speakers opposed to the storage container and said if it wasn’t removed shortly that he would seek a court injunction for its removal because it requires a coastal development permit from the California Coastal Commission.

Other critics said the program would enable the homeless to remain on the streets, while others called it a band-aid solution.

Gary Harris, who owns a building that he lives in on Ocean Front Walk, presented a petition of about 20 people who live on his block who object to the storage locker.

“I object to treating the boardwalk like a homeless encampment. It is a park, it is a public park,” Harris said. “The locker will attract more homeless. I object to a larger population of unhoused individuals subjecting their bad behavior on our community of residents, tourists, paddle tennis players, Muscle Beach workout guys, basketball players, children and all the folks who use the park.”
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  1. Venice Vortex says:

    Paul thanks for your reporting. I think that you did a good job accurately describing the event and the issues.

  2. Deborah LaShever says:

    Of course Vortex thinks you did a good job, Paul! You quote him! AND spend the vast majority of the article quoting people in his camp! Yes, the situation is stated fairly correctly for the most part. It would have been nice, however, to get more quotes from people who were FOR the program. You quote Gary Harris and Kaufman, Ryavec, and mention “other critics” who are opposed, but you quote no one that is in favor besides Steve, who is merely explaining the program. Could have gotten a rebuttal by Linda. Could have interviewed ANY of the MANY people who showed up to support. Or quoted comments from the floor, we had MANY excellent positive comments that were not included in the article at all. I’m pretty disappointed, Paul. You usually do a more balanced job of it. This feels pretty biased–especially since the program PASSED the VNC vote!

    Also you could have included ways that people can get involved. THAT would have been very important and useful info for our community!

  3. David Ewing says:

    Paint a mural on that thing. Put an observation deck on top. Come on, this doesn’t have to be a downer. I see two people sitting on it already in the picture above. Maybe beach visitors would like to have access to something similar for stuff they bring to the beach, so they don’t have to stay in one place and guard it all day. Secure surf racks come to mind.

  4. David Ewing says:

    What Asst. City Attorney Carter told us was that the court has rejected the approach of trying to punish our way out of homelessness. We are no longer going to be allowed to simply confiscate homeless people’s belongings and send them to landfill, so we would be wise to start figuring out ways to keep our public spaces clean LEGALLY. This program is a baby step in that direction. Remember, Carter was involved in the Ramparts prosecutions, so he knows what happens when the City gets crosswise with the Feds.

    For many Venetians, it just hasn’t sunk in yet that our choices have changed. It’s no longer only a question of what we want or don’t want. It is also not just an issue of helping the homeless anymore, and it’s not about whether or not the Jones settlement agreement or the Lavan injunction covers Venice. Those were stopgap measures that pointed to where the court was ultimately headed.

    Maybe if the City hadn’t tried to game the Jones settlement agreement, the court would have pulled back, but the City showed it could not be trusted to implement the agreement in good faith. In any case, the court has now moved ahead in a more muscular way and put the City on notice that unless it starts acting responsibility, it’s going to find itself under Federal supervision – again.

    I agree that the process on this issue sucked, but let’s get a couple of things straight. Lucks put the item on the VNC agenda at the last minute last month when Rosendahl told her he was going to do the program. Minutes before the meeting, he called her again to say he had killed it. That was why she pulled it – not because she was waiting to spring it at the last minute, but because it was dead. I suppose she should have realized she was dealing with the Hamlet of CD11, agonizing and temporizing and reversing course every other moment in his internal soliloquy. It was not helpful for Rosendahl to come to the second meeting and simply say, “Blame me,” without saying why, or for Arturo to deny that the Council Office pulled the agenda item while keeping his lips sealed about why it was pulled. But as the saying goes more s**t happens because of incompetence than conspiracy.

    But we also have to ask, once Rosendahl finally decided to go ahead, should he have waited for community discussion, thereby pushing the program back until the Winter Shelter was closed and the need was gone? I don’t think it was an accident that he changed his mind back and resurrected it right at the moment when the City was facing the court’s sanction. Wasn’t that the point of Carter’s comments? Wouldn’t a failure to act have moved us closer to the brink of Federal control? At least getting this pilot program in place for a few weeks demonstrates that the City has some intention, however timid, to face up to the problem that landed it in court. After all, it’s always best for a perpetrator to show remorse, or at least a change of heart.