At a Zoom meeting on August 6, the L.A. Recreation and Park Commissioners voted 5-0 to allow construction of two separate homeless “towns,” constructed of pallets, at two park sites.
At the start of the meeting, L.A. Department of Recreation and Parks General Manager Michael Shull gave an update about the homeless people who are sheltering various Rec Centers.
At the onset of the Covid-19 crisis, the City approved using Rec Centers to house the homeless. Of the 42 rec centers initially set aside for the homeless, 26 shelters were maintained, with more than 1,000 people housed.
Currently there are still eight Rec Centers and 23 trailers that are housing 360 homeless. Shull noted that in the City Charter, Rec and Parks is designated for sheltering activities in states of emergency.
A commissioner asked about the 550 trailers for the homeless that the State gave to the City and were stored at Hansen Dam.
“They were initially equipped and all ready,” Shull said. “More than 80 were deployed to recreation centers. They were used as isolation vehicles for those who tested positive or were exposed to Covid-19. They were also used for rec center employees.”
“What happened to the rest?” the commissioner asked. Shull told her some of them were being used at Dodger Stadium for Covid-19 testing, and others had been allocated to other cities.
The two shelter projects that came before the Commissioners involved pallet structures (some 8′ by 8′ and others 10′ by 10′) that include a fold-up bed, windows, a ventilation system, electricity and a front door that locks.
The first “town” would be created at North Hollywood Park on Chandler Boulevard and would include 34 shelters for 64 occupants on a half-acre out of 55 acres of park land. The project would include outdoor lighting, perimeter fencing, hygiene trailers with restrooms, showers, lavatories, drinking fountains, a double gate, a new deck, ramp and stairs, a trash bin area, outdoor seating, a pet area, new power service, new asphalt paving, k-rails for sidewalks, staff parking, site lighting, a food distribution area, and designated seating areas for food services.
The second site is at Alexandria Park on Laurel Canyon Boulevard, off the Hollywood Freeway. It would occupy 1.72 acres at a 77-acre park, and would house 200 clients in 103 pallets, while including the same amenities as the Chandler Boulevard site.
The total cost is estimated at $13 million to house 270 people (about $48,000 per person). The structures would be a three-year temporary project on the park sites. Circling the News asked if that was the correct dollar amount and Jimmy Kim, Rec and Parks Superintendent of emergency managements aid, “I would not be involved in identifying these types of costs and it is outside of my area of expertise. I would assume this would be under the Mayor’s Team.”
CTN was told on August 13 that the head of the pallet program had resigned. Deputy Mayor for City Homelessness Initiatives Christina Miller will step down at the end of the month after being in the role since December 2018 and Jose “Che” Ramirez is her replacement. Ramirez, who comes from San Francisco, will oversee the Mayor’s agenda to construct temporary shelters and deliver vital services. (Deputy Mayors make $164,902, according to the L.A. City salary database.)
Councilman Paul Krekorian explained that the North Hollywood site has been an “area that has a long history of criminal activity and this project brings much needed activity to this area of the park.
“This has been an unused area of the park with a high incidence of crime,” Krekorian said. “It is a dangerous park and hasn’t been used. This [project] could deal with some of the crime.”
When questioned about his statement, Krekorian explained that there was crime because the public does not use the area because there’s no water nearby and no restrooms.
“Because of the geographical location, crime festers. This park is not patrolled,” Krekorian said. “Bridge housing comes with 24-hour security presence.”
A commissioner asked about community feedback.
Krekorian replied that in general the community is seeing bridge housing as a safe housing development.
“The bridge sites that are being opened today have strong community support.” (Sites in Griffith Park and Venice faced community opposition and lawsuits, but Assembly Bill 1197 granted the City of L.A. exemptions to environmental reviews for emergency shelters. Public Resources Code section 21080(b)(4) provides that CEQA does not apply to specific actions necessary to prevent or mitigate an emergency.)
“What about commercial owners?” The commissioner asked.
“It’s a wait and see,” Krekorian said. “This has a small impact on our parks, but it provides a greater good for the community. The proposals before you today are not about giving up recreational space, but about improving park space.”
Regarding the park on Chandler, Krekorian said, “I have never seen a single person using this area, but I have seen illegal dumping and graffiti. There’s no infrastructure to support this park, no water, no sewer. This project, with 66 beds, will include water in the area.”
Krekorian said that by moving the homeless from the park to this specific location, “We’ll be able to enforce laws in the rest of the park. It will allow us to save the park.”
The councilmember assured the commissioners, “We have support from the community as we move forward. Providing safe, secure and hygienic service – not only for the homeless – will provide a great benefit to the community.”
The people living in the “town” will receive three meals a day and “it will be a stable, safe environment for those housed there,” Krekorian said. “Obviously, this is only a temporary solution. Hopefully more services will come from the County. Longer-time solutions take time.”
L.A. resident Ron Blitzer disputed that local residents had been consulted. “I live 1/3 mile from Alexandria Park. Pilot projects such as this one should involve the community.”
Another homeowner commented, “I’m concerned with so many people who have substance abuse and mental-health issues in this area, you will not have the rosy picture that staff presents.”
After the Pacific Palisades Task Force on Homelessness presented a conversation between John Maceri (CEO of People’s Concern) and Heidi Marston (executive director of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority), Both were concerned that with Covid-19 and the economic issues surrounding it, that there would be a “tsunami” of increased homelessness.
Circling the News asked about the breakdown of those who were homeless, i.e. mental issues, drug/substance abuse and lack of income.
The People Concern’s Josh Hertz wrote in a July 29 email to CTN that “It’s generally accepted that 30 to 50 percent of unhoused people are experiencing mental illness and/or drug issues.”
The day following this meeting, U.S. District Judge David O. Carter met with L.A. Councilmembers, including Krekorian, to hear about efforts to create more shelter for homeless people camped near freeways and underpasses. Three months earlier, he had issued a preliminary injunction requiring the relocation by September 1 of an estimated 6,000 to 7,000 people camping in these locations.
In that meeting, according to an L.A. Times story (“Judge Talks Homelessness with City Council”), the judge reminded officials that “he is prepared to hold the city and county in contempt of court if they don’t make progress on building more shelter for homeless people living near freeways.”