Venice Council Narrowly Votes in Favor of Beach Storage for Homeless
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.
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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