(Editor’s note: This is part two of a three part series exploring why the City turned a Rec Center parking lot into Safe Parking, taking spaces away from patrons.)
In 2016, the L.A. City Council approved an 18-month pilot program: Safe Parking, which is highly regulated.
Car owners must register with the program and people are given a service provider. Those using the space must enter the lot by a certain time. The gates are closed. A guard is stationed on the site and all of those who are using their cars as homes are given help. A bathroom is available. In the morning, the gates open and the cars leave the site.
The initial pilot program expired, but in July 2021, the City Council moved the program to the Department of Transportation, which would be “Determining and approving the rates, maximum legal parking time, and the hours of operation of an off-street parking facility under the control of the Department when the City Council has approved and funded the use of the parking facility for a Safe Parking program, or for any other homeless program or project.”
That updated program is set to expire in June 2023.
Over in Westchester, the “safe parking” program has had mixed results. In September 2018, the Westchester Neighborhood Council of Westchester/Playa (NCWP)voted to support a trial Safe Parking program that would be “limited to 6 vehicles (excluding RVs) for up to 90 days at the secured lot located at 7166 W. Manchester Avenue, under the direction of Safe Parking LA and LAHSA (next to the Courthouse and Councilman Mike Bonin’s office).
The WNC recommended that priority be given to women and families. The Council was told the lot would operate between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m., seven days a week, with trained security on the property at all times during operation. ADA-accessible toilet facilities were to be provided by the program. The NCWP requested a minimum of 60-day report on the functioning of the program (via the NCWP Homelessness Committee).
In general, the Westchester community was onboard for the smaller lot and celebrated the various successes.
But without warning in October 2020, the Safe Parking site was moved to the pool/ballpark parking lot. Neither the neighborhood council nor the residents were asked or told about the change of venue – and the size increased from six to 25 cars.
Although CTN does not have the records of why the lot was moved and who made this decision, other emails obtained through a public records request show that Silvia Guiterrez (Executive Director of Safe Parking L.A.) wrote on June 22, 2021, to Hannah Levien (Bonin’s Acting District Director): “Our permit to continue being at the Westchester Pool expires at the end of June. What’s the process to create a new Right of Entry permit to extend it?”
Levien sent the email to Lizka Mendoza (Westchester Recreation Center Director) and Francisca Castillo (Recreation and Parks Gender Equities) and asked, “Can you make sure the ROE for safe parking is renewed?”
On June 28, Brenda Aguirre (Superintendent of Emergency Operations and Citywide Aquatics), responded: “At this time we are not able to extend the ROE due to the impact on programming.”
Guiterrez replied they had 18 people in the program and wanted a two-week extension ending on July 14.
Then, Councilman Bonin sent a June 29 email to RAP General Manager Michael Shull. “This is a terrible move by RAP, and I am requesting in the most emphatic terms that this decision be reversed immediately and the ROE extended.
“On May 7, RAP met with my office and LAPD to come up with a plan of action to resolve issues with this program,” Bonin continued. “To date, RAP has implemented none of those plans.
“To evict people from the safe parking program, in the middle of the biggest homelessness crisis in the history of Los Angeles, is unacceptable. To do so with a mere few days’ notice is disgraceful.”
Shull met with his staff and members of Bonin’s office at Westchester Park on June 29. Levien in a follow-up email wrote that for RAP to extend the permit, Safe Parking had to move to the area closest to Lincoln. “This area will be fenced in and accompanied by a gate on both ends that the Safe Parking security guard will need to open and close at the beginning and end of each day of operation.”
She wrote in that email that “CD11 is deeply appreciative of the flexibility by RAP and by Safe Parking to make this work.”
RAP then re-issued a temporary permit for 25 private vehicles, a portable washing station and a portable toilet, from July 1 through October 3. A subsequent August 3 agreement extended the permit to July 4, 2022.
Residents and the Neighborhood Council were never included in the conversation or asked for their advice/opinion.