Monday, May 18, 2020

Letter to the VNC Board re: Some History of Transitional Homeless Housing in Venice

Dear Members of the Board of the Venice Neighborhood Council:
 
I would like to share some history about the area along Lincoln that will be the focus of one of our agenda items on Thursday evening. 

I am not making a comment about that item or how I will vote on it; I am simply relating some history that may be of value in your decision making on Thursday. 

Eight or nine years ago Councilman Rosendahl approached me and asked what I thought about placing a large transitional housing facility in the building that is now occupied by Chalk Preschool at 2201 Lincoln Boulevard. 

The Councilman was being pressured by County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and his deputy Flora Gil Krisiloff to permit a transitional housing facility in Venice to address our already troublesome homeless population.

At time the building was empty and available for lease. I drove the area and noticed the several churches, schools and preschools that were in close proximity to that building. 

I told a councilman that if he proposed a homeless shelter at that location that it was likely the parents of the children who were enrolled in those schools would come after him with pitchforks. 

I advised him to look in the then largely commercial, office, and even light manufacturing area just south of Cosco and just east of Lincoln, along Del Rey Avenue. 

In turn, Rosendahl asked Venice real estate broker Brad Neil to see if he could find an appropriate building for use for the  homeless shelter in the area. Brad found and negotiated the purchase of a two story office building on Beach Avenue, near Del Rey Avenue. 

The intent was to create a 40 bed transitional housing facility - a mini bridge housing facility - in that existing structure.  It could have housed 40 people in cubicles, with 20 women upstairs and 20 men downstairs. It would have been modeled on OPCC's transitional housing facility in Santa Monica at 16th and Broadway. 

Neither Rosendahl nor his chief of staff Mr. Bonin worked very hard at finding the funding to purchase it for use as transitional housing, i.e., for 90 to 120 day stays. Instead (and I was in the meeting), Mr. Bonin presented the deal that Brad had negotiated to Steve Claire, executive director of the Venice Community Housing Corporation, not for transitional housing, but for permanent supportive housing, with only 20 beds.  The existing building was bulldozed and VCHC built Gateway Apartments on the site, at an ultimate cost of $500,000 per unit.

It was a colossal missed opportunity to: 

1. Build transitional housing adjacent to Venice, and 

2. Place it at some remove from schools and residents.


Monday, May 4, 2020

Please Support Our Penmar Neighbors

As many of you have seen, in the last six months the jogging path on Rose Avenue along the Penmar Golf Course has gone from zero campers to over 65 campers and tons of tents, furniture, barbecues, and debris.  With them has come harassment, vandalism, car thefts and break-ins, burglaries, assaults, defecation and urination on public and private property, open drug sales and use, constant noise, and the usual burdens associated with this population.

The residents there have been lobbying for months to have the unimproved dirt path deeded to the Recreation and Parks Department so that the park rangers can enforce the removal of private possessions and bar camping.  They are now sponsoring the change.org petition below, with a goal of 5,000 signatures. 

Please help them.

https://www.change.org/p/los-angeles-city-council-rose-avenue-beautification-along-penmar-golf-course

Sunday, April 26, 2020

VSA Files Brown Act Complaint against Councilman Bonin regarding Illegal Collusion with Colleagues and Bias

VSA attorney Jeff Lewis has filed a complaint under the Brown Act, California's public meeting law, and common law, charging Councilman Mike Bonin with violations of both laws.  

"In comments proposing use of federal stimulus funds to purchase distressed properties to convert them to homeless housing, Bonin revealed both bias and that he has already rounded up support of the city council to support this plan prior to public participation, a clear Brown Act violation," said Mark Ryavec, president of the VSA.

Mr. Lewis' letter is below.



Steve Houchin, Deputy City Attorney

Office of the Los Angeles City Attorney

200 N. Main St., Floor 7

Los Angeles, CA 90012



RE: Brown Act Violation



Dear Mr. Houchin, 


I am litigation and land use counsel for Venice Stakeholders Association (“VSA.”) As you may be aware, VSA, founded in 2009, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to civic improvement. The VSA supports slow growth, the limits of the Venice Local Coastal Specific Plan, neighborhood safety, better traffic circulation, increased parking for residents, neighborhood beautification projects, historic preservation, habitat restoration and protection of coastal waters. 


VSA has been monitoring press reports about Councilman Mike Bonin’s plan to use federal stimulus funds to buy distressed properties for homeless housing. VSA is very concerned with the City’s role in placing real properties in a distressed condition and then capitalizing on that circumstance. However, putting that policy decision aside for a moment, VSA raises two time-sensitive and important procedural issues to your attention. 


First and foremost, in one recent report*, Bonin told news reporter, Bill Melugin, that “the city council supports the proposal and is looking to fast track it….” This statement suggests that Bonin has been communicating, directly or indirectly, with other council members to build support for this policy decision without complying with the Brown Act. In the event of litigation to enforce the Brown Act, a deposition of Bill Melugin would confirm that conversation took place. VSA requests that your office investigate Bonin’s conduct and to remind him that the City remains subject to the Brown Act even during a pandemic. 


Second, Bonin’s statements to the press suggest that he has already determined how he would vote on the issue of using federal funds to purchase distressed properties. To the extent that Bonin is ever asked to vote on whether to acquire distressed properties, he has demonstrated sufficient bias as to require his recusal.**


VSA notes that when the City was proposing to amend Municipal Code section 85.02, Bonin was required to recuse himself due to his prior, vocal stance on the issue. VSA requests that the City Attorney’s office similarly advise Bonin of his obligation to recuse himself on this issue. 


VSA appreciates your attention to this important issue and we look forward to your prompt and written response.


Very truly yours, 


Jeffrey Lewis



*See 216 Sutter Bay Associates v. County of Sutter (1997) 58 Cal.App.4th 860, 877 [holding that Brown Act prohibits serial meetings by majority of legislative body to engage in collective deliberation on public business]. 

**See “LA City councilman proposes using federal stimulus funds to buy distressed properties for homeless housing,” published April 23, 2020 and available at: https://www.fox5ny.com/news/lacity-councilman-proposes-using-federal-stimulus-funds-to-buy-distressed-properties-for-homelesshousing April 24, and see, e.g., Woody’s Group, Inc. v. City of Newport Beach (2015) 233 Cal.App.4th 1012, 1021–1022 [holding that council member whose conduct creates probability of actual bias must recuse from land use decision]. 


Thursday, March 26, 2020

VSA Files Amicus Brief in L.A. Alliance Suit against the City and County of Los Angeles

Here is an excerpt from the VSA brief:

VSA urges the Court to order the city and county of Los Angeles to focus all temporary housing for the homeless on structures, buildings and tents that allow for ample and enforceable self-quarantine.  

As the president of the non-profit VSA for the last ten years I have been deeply involved in addressing the exponential increase in the homeless population in my community.  At one point I was the co-chair of the Venice Neighborhood Council’s Homelessness Committee and currently serve as a Community Officer on the Venice Neighborhood Council. I hold a BA in psychology from UCLA and an MA in Urban Studies from the CORO Foundation/Occidental College. On a personal note, for many years I watched as my parents dealt with my drug- and alcohol-addicted younger brother, who would have been homeless had they not converted their garage for him to live in for most of his life. 

As you know, the City of Los Angeles is currently re-purposing city recreation centers for use as temporary shelters for the homeless. While the concept of converting recreation centers to shelters appears appropriate in this crisis, it is contraindicated by the nature of the population itself.

At least 50%, and possibly a higher percentage, of the homeless population simply lacks the required self-discipline to abide by any social distancing protocols. Over 50% are either mentally ill, substance addicted and/or anti-authoritarian, or just too young to accept the seriousness of the situation (as we saw with partying students on the beach in Florida recently). One has only to look at the pandemonium at Third and Rose in Venice on March 24th in the following video to see that social distancing is not being observed: https://veniceupdate.com/2020/03/25/25310/ 

Also, the very nature of living on the streets for prolonged periods with addiction, poor hygiene and sanitation, and lack of medical care, have rendered many in this population immuno-compromised. A larger proportion than the general population have underlying conditions, which puts them more at risk to COVID-19: heart disease, hypertension and/or diabetes.

The result is that placing them in recreation centers on cots on six-foot centers will assure that the virus will spread quickly among the homeless as well as the caregivers who at this time are not expected to have the necessary personal protective gear needed to prevent transmission. It also will put those over 60 and the high percentage that are immuno-compromised or have underlying conditions at greater risk than other options. (I would add that this analysis applies equally to Bridge Housing facilities, which are large communal living facilities, with no possibility to self-quarantine.) 

Apparently, the County Sheriff understands the need to thin out jail populations to slow the spread of the virus in jails, but Mayor Garcetti and members of the City Council proceed in contradiction to the obvious, packing homeless into recreation centers and Bridge Housing. 

All the homeless, but especially those over 60 and/or those with underlying conditions or immuno-compromised systems, should be given a priority in rooms in motels, hotels, student dormitories or military-style tents to self-quarantine. 

At UCLA alone, a student housing blog reports there are beds for over 10,000 students, many of which are empty due to the university’s closure. There are thousands of beds at other Los Angeles-area colleges and universities, such USC, Loyola, Pepperdine, etc. These institutions are likely to be closed through the end of August, possibly longer. Students remaining in campus housing may be moved all together in one or two dormitories, freeing up other dormitory rooms for the homeless during this crisis. Major institutions such as UCLA and USC have student health centers which are not now seeing students, which could be moved into action to serve the homeless. Either dormitory kitchens or local, under-utilized restaurants could deliver daily meals. Campus security along with the LAPD could help maintain social distancing. 

Similarly, military-style tents set up on 10-foot or even 20-foot centers on the playing fields or parking lots of stadiums, such as the Rose Bowl and Coliseum, with plenty of bathrooms and even showers in players dressing rooms, and food concessions, would be preferable to recreation centers which have little bathroom and shower capacity.

Of course, the best solution would be the State’s lease of thousands of now-empty low-priced motel and hotel rooms to allow for self-quarantine, especially for those with the virus or those over 60 and/or with underlying conditions.

In light of all the information coming out of Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong, wide-spread testing, tracing and self-quarantine for everyone is the only path to slow the spread and contain the virus. This is not possible on sidewalks, in recreation centers (or even in Bridge Housing).

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

City Recreation Centers as Corona Virus Incubators

This is the letter I sent today to the members of the Westside Regional Alliance of Councils (WRAC) - that is, neighborhood and community councils in council districts 5 and 11 - in response to the question of the conversion of city recreation centers to homeless shelters:

Ms. Zar,

I would like to share with WRAC members my thoughts on the question of the re-purposing of City recreation centers as homeless shelters in response to the corona virus pandemic.

As some of you know, I have been involved in addressing the exponential increase in the homeless population in my community of Venice for many years.  At one point I was the co-chair of the Venice Neighborhood Council's Homelessness Committee.  I also hold a BA in psychology from UCLA and for many years watched as my parents dealt with my drug- and alcohol-addicted younger brother, who would have been homeless had not my parents converted their garage for him to live in for most of his life.

While the concept of converting recreation centers to shelters appears appropriate in this crisis, it is contraindicated by the nature of the population itself.

At least 50%, and possibly a higher percentage, of the homeless population simply lacks the required self discipline to abide by any social distancing protocols.  Over 50% are mentally ill, substance addicted and/or are anti-authoritarian, or just too young to accept the seriousness of the situation (as we saw with partying students on the beach in Florida recently).

Also, the very nature of living on the streets for prolonged periods, with addiction, poor hygiene and sanitation, and lack of medical care, have rendered many in this population immuno-compromised.

The result is that placing them in recreation centers on cots on six foot centers will certainly assure that the virus will spread quickly among the homeless as well as the caregivers who will not have the necessary personal protective gear needed to prevent transmission. It also will put those over 60 members and the high percentage that are immuno-compromised at greater risk than other options.
 
I would add that this analysis applies equally to Bridge Housing facilities.

Apparently the County Sheriff understands the need to thin out jail populations to slow the spread of the virus in jails, but the Mayor and Councilman Bonin proceed in contradiction to the obvious, packing homeless into Bridge Housing and recreation centers.

As I was quoted in the LA Times recently, the homeless, especially those over 60 and/or those with underlying conditions, should be given a priority in motels, hotels (and possibly empty student dormitories) to self quarantine.

In light of all the information coming out of Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong, self-quarantine for everyone is the only path to slow the spread and contain the virus.  This is not possible in recreation centers or Bridge Housing.


Thank you for your consideration,

Mark Ryavec, Community Officer, Venice Neighborhood Council

Monday, March 16, 2020

Lawsuit Calls for Immediate Housing of Homeless/ADA Enforcement


Taxpayer Lawsuit Filed to Force Housing of 
All Homeless in Less Expensive Facilities

Attorney Elizabeth Mitchell of the law firm of Spertus, Landes and Umhofer, representing the homeless, property owners, residents and the disabled, has filed a lawsuit in Federal Court to force the City and County of Los Angeles to house all of its homeless in less expensive facilities as soon as possible.

The suit contains 14 causes of action, including:

Negligence

The City and County have breached their duty to their citizens to keep their communities’ streets open and available for movement of people and property.

Mandatory Duty

Basic shelter is “medically necessary” insofar as it is “reasonable and necessary to protect life, to prevent significant illness or significant disability, or to alleviate severe pain” and the City and County’s failure to provide the same to its homeless population constitutes a breach of its duty under California Welfare & Institution Code Sections 17000 and 10000.

Public and Private Nuisance

The City and County have caused a substantial and unreasonable interference with the enjoyment of citizens’ property, whether that be a building owned or room rented; each have suffered and continue to be threatened with respect to their health and welfare, by reason of the constant threat of disease and the experience of human waste, trash, and encampments outside their property.

Inverse Condemnation

The actions by the City have limited, damaged, and/or burdened the owners’ property and/or business so substantially they rise to the level of a regulatory taking, yet no compensation has been provided.

Waste of Public Funds and Resources

The City and the County have spent enormous amounts of public funds on the homelessness crisis in ways that have had little or no effect on the crisis, and thereby wasted those public funds.

Violation of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)

Numerous acts by the City constitute a “project” under CEQA, including the power-washing scheme which flushes thousands of tons per year of toxic substances into our oceans. The City’s decision to settle Mitchell v. City of Los Angeles is another example of a “project” in the Skid Row area; permitting unlimited property accumulation in the area has caused untold amounts of human waste, trash, debris, and toxic substances to wash into our waterways. Substantial evidence exists that the growing homelessness crisis may have a significant effect on the environment.  Yet no review has ever been done, in violation of the CEQA.

Violation of the California Disabled Persons Act and American with Disabilities Act

The City and County are failing to uphold their obligations to maintain clear and accessible sidewalks and public rights-of way for its disabled residents and visitors, resulting in regular violations of the California Disabled Persons Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. These violations are obvious and known to the City and County both through their own inspections and various reports of blocked sidewalks due to encampments through its own reporting mechanisms, such as 311. Defendants and its agents and employees have failed and continue to fail to provide reasonable accommodations for disabled persons using public sidewalks.

Violation of Due Process and Equal Protection

By enforcing the law in some areas and declining to enforce the law in others, and by abdicating their duties under the law, the City has arbitrarily determined where homeless encampments may or may not be located and what communities should be affected, without following their own respective procedures and in violation of both state and federal law. This has placed a disproportionate burden on some persons, communities, and businesses over others.

Violation of State-Created Danger Doctrine

Defendants have affirmatively created or increased the risk that citizens would be exposed to dangerous conditions, which placed these citizens specifically at risk, and these citizens were harmed as a result.

Uncompensated Taking

The actions by the City have limited, damaged, and/or burdened the property owners so substantially they rise to the level of a regulatory taking, yet no compensation has been provided.

Municipal Liability for Unconstitutional Custom or Policy

The City and County acted with deliberate indifference, and conscious and reckless disregard to the safety, security, and constitutional and statutory rights of citizens.

Towards the objective of housing all unsheltered homeless persons as soon as possible, the suit asks for immediate funding and of proven less-costly housing models, including:

1.       Large membrane tents capable of housing 100 people that may be constructed in a few months (cost: $10,000 per bed), e.g., the Union Rescue Mission just erected one at that price.
2.       Large military-grade inflatable tents (cost: $6,000 per bed).
3.       Pallet shelters (cost: $2,000 per bed).
4.       Tent “Kits” capable of housing a family of four, with furniture, refrigerator, heater and electrical generator (Cost: $500 per bed, $2,000 per kit).
5.       SHARE Collaborative Housing, two persons per bedroom in existing single-family homes and multi-family buildings (Cost: $500 to $700 monthly rent self-financed by each individual’s SSI, General Relief and other benefits; $8,000 cost per annuum per person for management, peer-counseling and other social services).

The suit would also require the City to maintain 36-inch ADA access on all sidewalks all the time.