Community Council Secretary Chris Spitz received damning emails about actions taken by City and County officials as they sought to use several beaches and parks to house the homeless.
Spitz had requested information through the California Records Request process, especially regarding the proposed use of the Will Rogers State Beach parking lot.
She received some of the emails before the August 10 announcement by the City that it would not go forward with the project because of “infrastructure constraints” and a lack of fire hydrants.
But, Spitz received additional emails after the announcement and made them public (her summary can be found on Pacpalicc.com).
“These documents further confirm the extent to which public officials worked to advance their misguided plan to use state beach parking lots for homeless housing,” Spitz wrote in the PPCC document.
City Councilmen Mike Bonin and Mark Ridley-Thomas brought the idea to house homeless on public land, such as parks and beaches, to the City Council in May, asking members to approve a feasibility study.
Before he voted, Councilman Mitch O’Farrell specifically asked if he was only voting for a feasibility study. He was told yes.
An argument was made, “How could anyone be against voting for a feasibility study?” It passed 13-1.
Through emails received by Spitz, it became apparent that Bonin’s office had already started working with City and County officials, including Supervisor Sheila Kuehl’s office, in August 2020, eight months prior to the vote.
SEPTEMBER 2020: As they worked through logistics, Bonin staff member Krista Kline asked Allison Wilhite (City Administrative Officer – CAO) by email, “Any idea how long the due diligence is going to take for the Will Rogers Site? Mike is asking.” Wilhite replied that there was a lot to work through and the Coastal Commission would need to be contacted.
“Great,” Kline answered. “I think the planning guy (Erick Rangel, I think!) from Beaches and Harbors can help with that.
Rangel wrote in emails: “The preliminary plan for the parking lot is to install 20 – 50 of the pallet shelters in the parking lot. Each shelter is roughly 10 ft. x 10 ft. and will utilize two parking spaces (side by side). A parking space will be left empty in between each shelter. Electricity will need to be provided, so some infrastructure will need to be installed.
“The participants will (or can) remain on the lot throughout the day and night. Security would be provided around the clock. Plumbing will not be necessary, but showers will need to be either brought in or set up near a water access (for participant use). A temporary chain link fence was also discussed, to fence in the shelters from public parking. They are seeking to utilize a parking lot for an extended period of time, more than a year (from what it sounded like). A second meeting is to be scheduled to measure the lot and check for electrical and water.”
OCTOBER 2020: Proposed locations for the pallet programs are made available and include Dockweiler State Beach and Marina del Rey parking lots, with aerial views of the three sites and the number of public parking spaces that would be taken up in each lot.
Kerry Silverstrom (Chief Deputy Director L.A. County Department of Beaches and Harbor) asks for sewer and water plans to give to the City.
Ismael Lopez, facilities planner for L.A. County, sends the files for the proposed lots.
NOVEMBER 2020: It became apparent the County was ready to go along with the plan but was asking for revenue replacement from lost parking revenue ($35,904 annually or $107,712 for three years at Will Rogers State Beach).
DECEMBER 2020: Silverstrom wrote the City of Los Angeles would be reaching out to them up about the pallet shelter programs at Will Rogers and Dockweiler State Beaches and the Marina del Rey launch ramp. “Do you think any of us can help the City, or would it be someone at Public Works? . . .I have a meeting with Kuehl’s new homelessness and housing Deputy next week, and I’ll want to have all the information ready for her. “
JANUARY 2021: The City confirmed that the existing infrastructure could meet the needs for domestic water and sewer, but that a new fire hydrant would be needed. “We will need to connect to the water line running along PCH, this will be a challenge and may require overnight work,” Marina Quinonez of the City Bureau of Engineering said.
David Thomas of Beaches and Harbors wrote: “Please let us know if there is anything else you need to verify capacity for electrical, sewer and water. Our water and sewer should be able to handle it at all locations . . . I can give you the panel amperage at the locations at a later meeting.”
Bureau of Engineering cost estimates for Will Roger State Beach 75 home village is $3,091,615.
FEBRUARY 2021: Wilhite confirmed that “The supervisor’s offices (Supervisor Kuehl and Hahn) have expressed initial support for the projects.”
MARCH 2021: City General Services asks Wilhite, “Do we have any hard deadlines?
She replied, “We need them to be constructed and occupiable by December 16, 2021. . . .construction would take 4-6 months, inclusive of time to bid the project, so we will need approval soon, no later than June 1.”
Kline, Bonin’s representative, wrote on March 9, “The boss is firmly set on all of the dates. “
APRIL 2021: Bonin announces publicly, in his newsletter, that he has identified “safe-camping” at the three beach locations and also in Westchester and Mar Vista Parks. He writes, “Each of these locations will require a feasibility analysis from city agencies and will be subject to public hearings as they move forward.”
He fails to mention the studies that have been ongoing since fall of 2020—almost eight months of planning.
MAY 2021: The L.A. City Council approves the feasibility study, unaware that Bonin’s office and County and City officials were already well into planning.
But, the project is on hold momentarily, because the County still wants payment for parking revenue loss.
JUNE 2021: Mayor Eric Garcetti sends a June 17 letter to Supervisors Hahn and Kuehl, indicating his support for the project and requests that Beaches and Harbors waive the requirement for the City to pay for lost parking revenue.
The City starts to receive letters from lawyers from local organizations, such as the Community Council, the Pacific Palisades Residents Association, Venice Stakeholders Association and Beaches and Parks for All. “Mr. Bonin’s constituents are lawyered up,” Richard Llewellyn (CAO) wrote.
In a June 22 email string, City officials recognize that approvals from the State would be needed for the State beaches (Will Rogers and Dockweiler).
July 2021: Circling the News reached out to Kuehl and Hahn, asking about using public spaces for the homeless.
Kuehl’s spokesperson Barbara Osborn wrote in a July 2 email, “Our office neither supports nor opposes the proposal at Will Rogers. We are open to discussing the feasibility of any site, but of course, very few sites turn out to be feasible. That’s one of the many reasons that make resolving our housing crisis so difficult.”
Hahn’s spokesperson Liz Odendahl was contacted on June 30 and again on July 7 and asked, “Is it acceptable to take public space away from children and families? Especially the working poor, who use beaches and parks as their ‘front yard?’”
Odendahl replied on July 7 and apologized for the delay, but simply added, “We do not have a comment.”
An April 29 letter from Hahn to the Marina del Rey Association was shared with CTN. In that letter Hahn writes, “Please know that I understand your concerns and will not support any project that will impede public access to the launch ramp.”
CTN asked Hahn’s office on July 7 if anything had changed. “No, that has not changed,” Odendahl replied.
The latest emails received by Spitz showed that the City and County were working together to house homeless at the beaches and in parks. Why was the plan hidden from communities? Why were public meetings not held?
Spitz explained at the September 9 PPCC meeting that if officials had observed the Governor’s statewide pandemic emergency order (still in effect), a year of planning would have been unnecessary.
Under the order, the state’s Standardized Emergency Management System (SEMS) guidelines apply: “State resources are generally not allocated for use by local governments unless there are no equivalent resources available at the county level.
According to the Office of Emergency Services (OES), the city would have had to 1) make a formal request to use the Will Rogers parking lot for this purpose; 2) the county would have had to decide if there was other county or city property that could be used for homeless housing; and 3) “If no feasible county or city property exists, only then can state property be considered for approve by the Governor’s OES.”
The PPCC Executive Committee concluded, “We hope and trust that this ill-conceived idea will not be raised again – and that appropriate safe sites, not involving beaches or parks, will be found to house the homeless in Los Angeles.